Monday, January 25, 2016

What I Watched - January 17-23 2016


Crimson Peak (2015) AVI
 - I managed to avoid most of the hype about this Guillermo del Toro-directed gothic horror so didn't have any expectations going in, other than what comes with having del Toro's name attached (which means it is usually excellent). While I didn't flat out love this movie, I did enjoy it and I have to give kudos to Guillermo for producing something as close to the old Corman/Price Poe movies as we've seen in decades.
The house in this movie is one of the greatest settings for a haunted house movie - the leaves falling through the busted roof make for some beautiful, haunting scenes. Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain stand out in the acting department. In the end the ghosts in this movie actually play little part in proceedings, making this more of a dark, gothic period mystery than an out-and-out horror movie. Worth seeing for the visuals alone though.

The Kingdom, season 1 (1994) DVD
- I have owned this Danish series on DVD for years but have only now gotten around to watching it. I have heard a lot of good things said about it, but unfortunately I found that it didn't live up to the hype for me. The man behind this series (which influenced Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital series, which I also haven't seen) is Lars von Trier. I've seen exactly one of his movies, Antichrist, which I found to be beautifully shot and weirdly trippy, but mostly nonsensical. I was expecting something along those lines with this four-part first season, but instead it's a fairly straight forward narrative about a hospital with ghosts.
What made it hard for me to really take to it was the fact it felt like a Danish version of ER with a ghostly sub-plot. It's more about relationships between doctors, nurses and patients than it is the supernatural. I have season 2 on DVD and will give that a watch at some point, hopefully it gets better.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2015) Netflix
-  If you're a fan of baseball like me you'll enjoy this Netflix original documentary about Bing Russell (Kurt's dad) who brought an independent minor league team to Portland in the 1970s, snubbing his nose at the game's establishment and doing things his own way with a ragtag bunch of MLB castoffs. Even if you don't like baseball, this is masterfully told (Kurt himself regales about his late dad) and will appeal to any fans of the underdog.

Wake in Fright (1971) Netflix
- Quirkly little Australian movie about an English teacher who gets marooned in a small Outback town and has to deal with the hard-drinking, hard-living locals. Top acting performances (including by the always-great Donald Pleasance, naturally playing a drunk) and desolate scenery make this an intense tale of how civilised man can give in to his basest instincts when presented with the opportunity. Don't go in expecting a horror movie or exploitation though, it's a drama first and foremost.

Central Park Five (2012) Netflix
- After recently digesting the infamous Making a Murderer series, I stumbled upon this similar documentary about five young black and hispanic men wrongly imprisoned for the rape and attempted murder of a jogger in New York's Central Park in the 1980s. This is another fascinating watch, and all it does it increase my unease about police confessions.

Call Me Lucky (2015) AVI
- A correspondent on a popular website I frequent named this their top documentary for 2015, so I downloaded it, not knowing anything about it. The synopsis let me know it was about a "cutting edge" comedian who I'd never heard of, Barry Crimmins. It starts off that way, telling Crimmins' life story and how he got into comedy, then how he alienated crowds with his political rantings. But then the doco takes an unexpected turn into much darker territory - I won't spoil it, but it makes for some unpleasant viewing. I take my hat off to Crimmins for talking about it, and it's important that conversations are developed about this subject, but it made this hard to enjoy.

Detroit 9000 (1973) Netflix
- On the surface this seems like a run-of-the-mill 70s blaxploitation b-movie, but while it features a lot of the tropes of that sub-genre (jive-talking pimps, crooked politicians, street thugs etc) it's more of a police action thriller. Unlike a lot of the blaxploitation movies, this one doesn't make all the white characters bad guys (the two main cops are one black, one white), and has a black politician as the main villain. Veteran actor Alex Rocco is great as the hard-boiled white cop, although his voice is so distinctive that every time he talked it made me think of his voice work on The Simpsons as Roger Meyers jr. As you would expect from a 70s cop flick, proceedings lead up to a lengthy car chase, which is pretty damn good. An enjoyable time-waster.

Zathura (2005) Netflix
- I let my five-year-old son choose a movie for the family to watch for the night. As we'd just seen Jumanji he chose the "sequel", Zathura (it's not really a sequel, but is based on a book by the same author and the plot is similarly about a magic board game). While enjoyable, this one doesn't measure up to Jumanji. The CGI is better (given the time that had passed between movies) but that's about it. This one gets mentioned as "Jumanji in space without Robin Williams" and that about sums it up.

Ex Machina (2015) AVI
- Another movie that got a lot of love on people's Best of 2015 lists. It tackles the subject of AI (artificial intelligence) in androids, by telling the tale of a young man who works for the biggest search engine in the world (Bluebook - clearly a stand in for Google). He wins a raffle and gets to fly to the remote home of the company owner, where he discovers that his boss has made the ultimate android. His job is to test her and find out if she can pass off as a human. But naturally he falls in love with this "girl" and finds out that his boss isn't being completely truthful. I'm not going to give away anymore of the plot, but this is a fantastic scifi thriller which is beautifully shot and full of excellent acting performances. It could almost pass off for a prequel to Blade Runner in a way. Highly recommended.

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