My DVD folder is full. There were a surprising number of early June releases that were worthy to be reviewed. And by that I mean action, adventure, sci-fi, comedy, you know, the kind of stuff I like.
This months installment is a star-studded affair. There are mega stars galore from Morgan Freeman to Keira Knightley and all points in between. And it’s a banner month for 5 Quick Reviews because 80% of the movies I review are pretty good including two of the best movies I’ve seen all year. So… yeah.
To the reviews…
First up… a sci-fi indie
The Machine (Content Media)
Written & Directed by Caradog W. James
The Machine is a mildly cool movie about two super-scientists who create an Artificial Intelligence for the military. There’s the normal thing where the scientists want to save lives, particularly one scientist’s daughter, who has a traumatic brain injury, and of course the military who wants to create killer robots that can think for themselves.
So much good stuff buried under bad acting and bad music. A fine story about Artificial Intelligence and scientific ethics. But there was too much added on. The lead actress (Caity Lotz who played Black Canary on Arrow) is hot, has a great body and is a good fighter but she can’t act, not even as a robot. So bad, the movie becomes unwatchable.
The story, about a man trying to save his disabled daughter, by making advances in brain implants, while the company that finances him is using the research to make a humanoid weapon, is a great story. But the bad acting and awful music ruin the movie.
Skip it. (It’s a good story but it is a unwatchably bad movie)
Next up… Get off my plane…
Non-Stop (Universal Pictures)
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by John W. Richardson, Chris Roach and Ryan Engle
Non-stop is an airplane action mystery that looks good going in. Who is killing the passengers on the plane, one by one? Liam Neeson is on the case. Liam Neeson is on the phone. He has a particular set of skills.
This should have been a cool movie. It has a great cast. Including Michelle Dockery (from Downton Abbey), Lupita Nyong’o (from 12 Years a Slave) and Julianne Moore (from my fucking dreams). And there’s more than enough room for terror at 30,000 feet. But the movie is boring. The next paragraph may be a little spoilery but… The movie is boring.
Non-Stop has too many fake outs and the plot becomes convoluted quickly. The great cast is underutilized. And even the mystery is flat. Non-Stop is boring. There were so many roads they could have gone down that would have been more interesting. The movie teases us with a more interesting story but instead delivers something boring.
Skip it. (Swing and a miss)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Starring Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Léa Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray & Owen Wilson
The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson at his best. I love his work (even though there’s a stark lack of “color”). I couldn’t help but notice the complete absence of “color”.
And then it hit me.
It is the lack of color that makes it so funny and so quirky. The influence of black people in the world and around the world is absent in every facet of his films. It is that absence that is precisely what is weird about them. That thing that is not quite right with the music and the wardrobes and the set decoration, even the attitudes.
There is no funk. There is no soul. There is no bass in the music or slang in the dialogue. It is the whitest of worlds without even a hint of the influence of black culture… And it is hysterical. It makes for a world that is so fucking funny.
It is not that his movies are simply absent of black people. The absence of black people is a huge element to the movies. It is not a bug but a feature. It is why his world is so… off. So odd. So funny. It is an extremely white world. Love to visit. Wouldn’t want to live there.
But Wes Anderson is fast becoming one of my favorite filmmakers and The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of his best. There is a great plot, great writing and a lot of funny actors giving quirky, dead-pan, comedic performances and the customary sweetness.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is fantastic.
Rent it (Unless you don’t like Wes Anderson and if that’s the case then what the hell is wrong with you? Are you some kind of freak?)
Next up… the best movie ever made…
The Lego Movie (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Written by Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman and Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
The Lego Movie is an amazing work of art. Sublime in its beauty. Funny, touching, exciting, romantic, completely and outrageously silly, stunningly philosophical and intelligent. It is just wonderful… Oh my god. It’s a movie starring a bunch of toys and it’s one of the best movies I have seen in a long long time. Yes. It really is that good.
Fantastic cast. Extremely well-written. A movie that adheres to a theme. These are toys. They are toys. Oh my god It’s a movie starring a bunch of toys. And I know, Toy Story did the whole living toy… story a long time ago. But not like this. Not this good.
These are toys with a history. With a political and religious ideology. The imagination of creating a world within a world within a world. And I know Wreck-it Ralph did it just a little while ago but not like this. Not this good. The Lego Movie is an amazing work of art.
And don’t get me wrong, it is utterly and unapologetically silly and childlike. But it is also one of the most sophisticated stories and one of the best movies I have seen in a long long time. A nomination for best picture oscar. And it’s a movie starring a bunch of toys.
Oh yeah… And Batman.
Rent it. (I’m going to buy this one if that wasn’t already clear from how much I loved it)
Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (StudioCanal UK)
Directed by Declan Lowney
The great Armando Iannucci and the hysterically funny Steve Coogan are at it again with their iconic character Alan Partridge. A failed talk show host. A failed morning DJ. A failed talk show host again. Alan Partridge is one of my favorite absurd fictional characters.
Before Ron Burgundy there was Alan Partridge: Created by Armando Iannucci, the mastermind behind The Thick of It (with Peter Capaldi) and Veep (with Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and the very funny Steve Coogan. Alpha Papa is a hilariously funny and exciting Alan Partridge adventure.
In Alpha Papa, Alan Partridge is working as a mid-morning DJ when the studio is taken over by a large corporation. One of his colleagues, who does not take his firing well, takes the radio station hostage. The versatile Colm Meaney plays the hostage taker and Alan Partridge is thrusts back into the limelight through all the media coverage. Which is, if you know Alan Partridge, exactly what he wants. He is loving it.
So, as Alan plans to make the most of the armed siege, comedy ensues. Alpha Papa doesn’t get up to speed quickly but once it does it is a very funny movie. One of the best Alan Partridge stories I’ve seen. Absolutely his best film.
If you don’t know Alan Partridge, don’t worry. You can start with this movie. Even if it isn’t familiar, it’s still very funny. And a good silly British comedy.
Rent it. (If you can find it)
Next up… the return of Jack Ryan…
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Paramount Pictures)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
International espionage finds a young Jack Ryan in Russia on the hunt for insider trading terrorists while also trying to maintain a relationship with his fiancé who thinks he must be cheating on her because of all the secrecy but if she’d just marry him already then he could tell her that he’s in the CIA. You know, that old chestnut.
This is Tom Clancy’s famous spy at the very beginning of his career. Shadow Recruit is a little slow at first but it’s still a good origin story and a good movie.
Kenneth Branagh directs the movie and stars as the Russian bad guy trying to destroy the American economy. He is a fine director and a decent actor. He still hasn’t matched his first film for the sheer artistry and excellence (Henry V is on my top ten of all-time) but Kenneth Branagh has proven time and again that he’s a good story-teller.
Shadow Recruit has a great cast. Keira Knightley does an American accent that her beauty helps me forgive (it’s pretty bad). Kevin Costner plays an older agent and mentor to Ryan. (The second recent movie I’ve seen with Costner as an old CIA operative) and Chris Pine does a good Jack Ryan (not as good as his Captain Kirk but still pretty good).
There is nothing special in Shadow Recruit. It is not exceptional but it’s not a bad film. It is just your standard international espionage fare with pretty people and lots of guns and chases and spies. Slow at the beginning but action packed toward the end.
Rent it. (If you like a good spy thriller)
So to recap…
There were two movies about the military trying to make their own killing machine; The Machine and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. One with by far better acting than the other but both with pretty good stories.
There were two movies about cartoonishly strange worlds with really cool and interesting characters; The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Lego Movie. Two of the best movies I have seen all year that I recommend highly.
And there were two movies about men with a particular set of skills trying to survive a hostage situation; Non-Stop and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. One of them unpredictably bad and the other predictably good.
And that’s it. There were some good movies this time. All of them worth a look. Only four of them I recommend but two that I could not recommend highly enough.
Go watch some movies.
See you on the couch,