Smaragdgrün (2016)

I should have paid attention to that little word “finally” in the synopsis. The fact that this is the third movie in a trilogy explains a lot. I had no idea. I just thought it would be fun to watch a German movie about time-traveling teenagers.

In any case, I should have known it wouldn’t be much fun to watch a fantasy movie—especially a widescreen version of one—on a screen that’s only maybe eight inches across. Not only did I have a hard time appreciating the costumes and special effects, I had a hard time reading the subtitles.

I can still say I enjoyed listening to the movie, though!

Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot (2015)

aka They Call Me Jeeg Robot (2015)

The Italian language is beautiful. This movie is not.

Blood, death… more blood, more death…

I mean sure, the thief with a heart (and watch) of gold saves the day, inspired by the manic pixie dream girl, but the path drips with gore. I liked the villain almost as much as I liked the protagonist, if not more. The villain’s music video was maybe the best part of the whole movie, even though it involved quite a lot of death. I mean, you gotta hand it to the guy. He had style.

Though I’m not interested in seeing any more movies about this superhero, the ending of this one made it seem like it was the origin story for a series.

Dark Matter (Season 1)

If you squint really hard when you watch Dark Matter, you can pretend you’re watching a crappy remake of Firefly, because there are some similarities.

In a time when humans have colonized many worlds across the galaxy, in which the little people’s concerns are ignored by a heartless government, a crew of misfits attempts to unravel not a few mysteries while struggling just to survive.

That could describe either show. This “formula”, while intriguing—entertaining, even—means comparatively little if you haven’t got Joss Whedon writing the scripts, though.

On the other hand, two seasons have already been made and they’re working on Season 3, so it would seem audiences decided the characters have at least a modicum of enduring appeal. I, too, like the show enough to keep watching. I am curious where the plot’s going.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/dark-matter-season-1/id1005305661

See below for more thoughts on the show, including SPOILERS.

Continue reading Dark Matter (Season 1)

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

Ex-Major Jack Reacher gets in plenty of fight scenes in the Halloween-themed sequel Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, but this movie is as much a family drama as a thrilling whodunit. I liked it less than Jack Reacher (2012) because it was less funny.

Reviewers seem to rate this sequel adequate at best, which means it’s unlikely this book series will continue on film. (Tom Cruise will just have to find another way to make money.)

The premise is that when Reacher arrives in Washington D.C. to meet up with Major Turner, a friendly woman he’s only spoken with on the phone, he finds out that she’s been arrested by the military police. He doesn’t believe for a minute that she’s guilty. Those who framed her are dangerous and determined to keep their secret safe; Reacher has to rescue Turner, protect a girl who might be his daughter, and solve the mystery that cost two of Major Turner’s men their lives.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/jack-reacher-never-go-back/id1159012561

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

The Saint (1997)

Do you like to watch actors acting like they’re acting? If so, you will enjoy Val Kilmer’s antics in The Saint. The protagonist, an efficient mercenary on the cusp of retiring with 50 million dollars, switches accents as easily as he switches names, taking on the identities of various Catholic Saints and producing Russian, Australian, Spanish, German, Afrikaans, and American voices to avoid detection.

The science he’s been hired to steal is “cold fusion”, a process that can produce unlimited low-cost energy. That’s clearly bogus, and the 90s communications technology is laughable (it’s been 20 years!), but the spy plot is still fun. It’s the classic story of the thief with a heart of gold… The hero not only charms an attractive female physicist (played by Elizabeth Shue), he gets the better of an unscrupulous communist demagogue and saves countless Russians from freezing to death in energy-starved Moscow. Hooray for technology!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-saint/id291675377

Broadchurch (Season 2)

I liked Season 1 of Broadchurch better than Season 2 of Broadchurch. Switching between two plots was clever but made the show less unified. It was also darker.

The second season brings in three new lawyer characters as well as two characters from D.I. Hardy’s previous, unresolved case. Two of the three lawyer characters are urban outsiders, and despairingly cynical, pragmatic, and detached in their approach to the law and in their manner of dealing with people generally. The two characters involved in the other case belonged in another town and didn’t know anyone. In contrast, all the characters in the first season, apart from (the big-city journalist and) the tortured soul D.I. Hardy himself, were locals with skin in the game, and that game was the only game in town.

The dual nature of the second season is in fact reflected quite well on the DVD cover, where you can see a photo of the dramatic beach cliffs imposed on a photo of the two main characters in the woods. The DVD cover for the first season just had the two of them standing on the beach itself.

Part of what made the second show darker was just the yuckier nature of the Sandbrook crime, but I think I liked the second season less mostly because it was thematically darker. I think it’s common for sequels to have to be. In the first story, the readers or viewers are introduced to the characters and the world they live in, and the main character starts from a position of relative weakness and overcomes obstacles until finally he or she winds up in a position of relative strength. As an encore, what else can you do but rip that character apart? You often have to destroy that first victory to create a new challenge. The character has to start at square one again, except that it can’t be exactly the same starting point—that would be tedious—so you’ve got to make the starting point a worse one than before. The character then has to scramble, not to succeed on some externally directed quest but to defend his or her very life, outlook, or core principles. The goal is not to triumph but merely to survive. I think that such stories, while they may be ‘deeper’, are harder to write and harder to enjoy. Beginnings are (relatively) easy.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/broadchurch-season-2/id953297364

Next year when Season 3 of Broadchurch airs, we’ll see how they do with endings, which are also pretty tricky.

Broadchurch (Season 1)

In shows like Lie to Me and House, M.D., there is one mystery per episode. There’s only one mystery—well, one murder mystery; lots of minor “mysteries” and secrets—in Season 1 of Broadchurch, which lasts 8 episodes. I suppose I was expecting a police procedural, but this is a drama. There are lots of long, musical shots of sunsets and waves crashing, and the whole thing feels very melancholy, very human. It wasn’t happy, but it was clever and it was satisfying.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/broadchurch-season-1/id674190653

Update: I am given to understand that the series Gracepoint is an American remake, with David Tennant, of the same plot… but different.

Robin Hood (1973)

Disney’s Cinderella has more cat-and-mouse antics in it than us grown-ups tend to remember it having; Disney’s Robin Hood, similarly, seems to have more marching in it than I would have thought possible. It’s a charming story, though, possibly in part because of all that celebratory marching!

I love the despicable babyishness of Prince John, the adorable aspirations of the rabbit kid who wants to be just like Robin Hood, Marion’s demure wistfulness about her childhood sweetheart… and the way the snake somehow has eloquent body language despite not having a body. (Snakes are so awesome!)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/robin-hood/id656527876

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat as well as a few other thoughts on the movie.

This post is part of a series on versions of the Robin Hood legend.

Continue reading Robin Hood (1973)

Robin Hood (2006–2009)

It’s cheesy and historically inaccurate, but this Robin Hood series has its moments.

The scenes that take place outdoors in the forest are more convincing than the ones that use the same indoor and outdoor sets over and over; Sherwood Forest, though, is very much a character in the show and an important presence. Regarding the human characters, I would definitely say that the bad guys were more interesting than the good guys by a mile.

I would recommend the show if you’re looking for some lighthearted entertainment with some interesting characters and can overlook the show’s obvious flaws. Or if you’re just interested in any and all variations of the Robin Hood myth.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/robin-hood-series-1/id275354656

See below for more about the characters and why they’re interesting, even if they do make a lot of Evil Overlord mistakes. (No specific spoilers.)

Continue reading Robin Hood (2006–2009)

Inferno (2016)

In Inferno (2016), Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) and some woman follow a trail of clues that are tied to European religious art and history, as in The Da Vinci Code, only this time the focus is Dante, and Langdon doesn’t know how he got to Italy or why there are people chasing him. The movie doesn’t seem to be popular with viewers or reviewers, but it was plenty entertaining, if you ask me.

What makes the complicated puzzle plot work for me? Partly, it was Langdon’s initial puzzlement about what’s going on, which puts the audience right in the thick of things—we’re not looking over the shoulder of a pompous art expert, we’re looking over the shoulder of a confused victim. We catch glimpses of memories or dreams but, like Langdon, we can’t quite catch hold of them, and whether or not we know where we’re going, we have to keep moving.

Partly it was the amazing Italian settings. I mean, hiring Tom Hanks is expensive, but the filmmakers also apparently rented every major tourist attraction in Florence, and one or two in Istanbul as well, stopping in Venice along the way. Or they just recreated a bunch of famous places in a studio in Budapest, one or the other. (Actually, some of both.)

Partly it was the freakishly believable terrorist, an extremely rich but extremely delusional white guy who gave a bunch of TED talks about how humanity cannot allow the world’s population to double again and who took it upon himself to try to solve the problem by developing a virus that, when released, would cause immense amounts of pain and suffering but also ensure the survival of the race… by cutting the world’s population in half—decimating it, one might even say—like the Black Death did when it made way for the Renaissance.

Partly it was that I particularly liked one of the secondary characters. While I found the villain’s death cult genuinely threatening, I found his pragmatic mercenary quite amusing. (In this much at least, reviewers seem to agree with me.)

Why wasn’t the movie liked?

Maybe it was too cerebral and not actiony enough. Thrillers have to have Bond gadgets in them, not Renaissance paintings.

Maybe, as more than one reviewer says, it’s the related problem that Tom Hanks’ talent is “wasted on the role of Dr Robert Langdon, an academic who is sort of a brainier, duller Indiana Jones.”

Or maybe it’s just that Dan Brown’s novels aren’t very different from each other (or particularly deep), and it hasn’t been long enough since the last installment for people to find his offering very, well, novel.

Anyway, upshot: if you don’t go in expecting the art-historical conspiracy-theory trail-of-clues plot to resemble what spy movie heroes and real-life detectives typically do to prevent catastrophes and solve crimes, respectively, then you may, like me, be entertained. The plot of Inferno is needlessly complicated and fundamentally illogical, but (unlike that of Point Break) it’s still coherent.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/inferno/id463979057

Keep reading for a detailed summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Inferno (2016)