Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken

25,000 Miles and Nine Movies Later…

On my round-the-world trip over the last two weeks, I anticipated having enough time while in flight to write several good blog posts, a new anarchist manifesto, and perhaps the great American novel.  But alas, the toll that airports and international travel took on me meant that instead I watched movies and slept.  So, instead of a post extolling the virtues of libertarian brutalism, you get movie reviews from 36,000 feet.

I’ve ordered them from worst to best, hoping that means you’ll make it all the way to the end.

If you don’t have that much time, skip to the end and read the last one, it’s well worth your time.

World War Z

Yawn.  Another zombie movie.  Bradd Pitt is a UN investigator caught in the middle of a zombie outbreak.  He’s tasked with finding a cure by tracking down patient zero.  His motivation: the military will throw his family off the ship they’re on if he doesn’t play ball.  Very nice.

Zombie movies are already unbelievable enough, so a good one has to have some other aspect or take to really be entertaining.  World War Z doesn’t do anything to help itself in this regard.

I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that Pitt’s character eventually finds the cure and saves the day after flying all over the world in a C-130 and Hungarian Airlines jet.

Skip it.

Score: 2/10

3 Days To Kill

Kevin Costner plays a CIA agent who is somewhat of a cross between Liam Neeson in Taken and Jason Bourne.  The premise is that he has incurable, terminal cancer and so decides to retire from killing people to rekindle his relationship with his teenage daughter.  Predictably, the CIA has other plans and offers him a new drug which can cure him if he will only do “one last job” for them.

The movie is predictible, the script is not great, and Costner does not play well in the role as the quasi-bad guy.  He should do better movies than this.

The best I can say is that it was good for falling asleep to on the plane.

Score: 3/10

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

This is another Kevin Costner movie.  Not really, but Costner plays yet another CIA agent, specifically Ryan’s handler, in this pseudo-prequel to the Jack Ryan series.  Chris Pine (the new Star Trek movies) plays a reasonable Jack Ryan and Keira Knightley plays his future wife Cathy.

I say pseudo-prequel because the pivotal moment for young Ryan which propels him into the Marines and later into the CIA is 9/11.  I can only assume this means a whole series of new Jack Ryan movies starring Pine.  The CIA recruits Ryan after a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, and then has him complete his MBA and begin working as a Wall Street compliance officer in order to uncover terrorist financial activity.

The story centers around a plot by the Russians, of course, to crash the world economy and Ryan’s attempt to stop them.  Kenneth Branagh is not terribly convincing as the head of the Russian plot.  Unfortunate, as he is pretty good actor.

The movie is mildy entertaining, but formulaic and not very original.

Score: 4/10

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ralph Fiennes plays the concierge of the titular hotel in a fictional eastern European country in the late 1960s after a war.  He gets framed for murder and recruits his lobby boy to help absolve himself.  This is a semi-dark comedy that I found funny at times but slow going.

F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, and several others all have cameos.

The majority that I saw was entertaining but I did fall asleep near the end and was not compelled to restart and finish it later when I woke up.

Score: 5/10

X-Men: First Class

First Class is the story of how Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) become friends, fight the evil Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), and later become enemies.  McAvoy and Fassbender play their characters well, Fassbender a bit better, but Bacon just doesn’t come off right as a mutant supervillain.  Maybe I’m just tired of Kevin Bacon.

Overall entertaining for a superhero movie, but nothing that really distinguishes it from the other X-Men movies.

Score: 6/10


This movie stars Joel Kinnaman (A Swede who you probably haven’t seen in anything else) as RoboCop, Gary Oldman as the scientist who creates him, Michael Keaton as the greedy head of OmniCorp, a multi-national defense manufacturer, and Samuel L. Jackson as the uber-nationalistic talk show host Pat Novak.  I fully expected this to be a remake of the original RoboCop and that I would turn it off shortly after starting, when the worship of cops began.  I was quite surprised.

Unlike the original which is set in a future dystopian, crime-ridden Detroit, the new version is set in 2028 but with the US still in the midst of the Iraq/Afghanistan war and manages to pitch today as the dysopia instead.  The movie opens with US troops using OmniCorp’s android-like “drones” in the Middle East and accidentally killing a teenage boy live on TV.

OmniCorp wants to start selling their wares to US law enforcement so they need to put a human face on their drones so people will be more accepting.  Enter RoboCop.

Maybe I read too much into it, but the film seemed to be a total repudiation of the US’s use of drones, the militarization of the police, and the idea that we must give up liberty to have security.

The movie is worth seeing if only for Sam Jackson’s monologues lampooning the neoconservatives who foment and defend war.

Score: 7/10

Out of the Furnace

This movie stars Christian Bale and Casey Affleck as brothers in a small Pennsylvania steel mill town who get mixed up with the local loan shark (Willem Dafoe) and a New Jersey hillbilly underground fight promoter Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).  Forest Whitaker fills out the main cast as the town sheriff at odds with Bale’s character over a woman.

Out of the Furnace is a dark, disturbing, sometimes slow, but still interesting movie.  The opening scene is uncomfortable to watch as DeGroat beats a man senseless at a drive-in movie after he assaults his girlfriend.  We get a bit of antiwar sentiment as Affleck’s character, who is sucked into bare-knuckle fighting to pay off his gambling debts, rants at his brother about how he’s different after four tours in Iraq, and how he can never go back to the way he was before.

Woody Harrelson is fantastic as the strung-out, drug dealer/hillbilly mafia don.  Think Natural Born Killers meets Haymitch Abernathy, but more sadistic.

To say any more would give too much away.  Don’t expect to feel good after seeing this movie.  I can’t say exactly what point the movie was making, but it’s one of those that sticks with you for some reason.

Score: 7/10


This movie was very surprising to me.  I expected it to be a pro-NASA movie, but it was not.  Other than the fact that the two characters, played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, are NASA astronauts, more than anything else this is a survival movie.  I was totally surprised by how intense it was and how it held my attention.

The other surprising thing is that Bullock and Clooney are the only two visible characters (you hear the radio chatter between them and earth) in the whole movie.

Bullock plays a scientist recruited by NASA to upgrade the Hubble telescope with a new technology she has developed.  During the mission a missile strike by (who else) the Russians on a defunct satellite causes debris to destroy the telescope and their shuttle.  Their only hope now is to make it to the International Space Station’s last escape pod before the debris storm circles the earth again in 90 minutes.

Untethered in space and running out of oxygen, Bullock is superb at showing the fear and panic that would overtake someone alone in space.

The simulated weightlessness is fairly realistic but the ten minutes of spinning after the accident had me a bit queasy, even on a small, airplane screen, so I can only imagine I would have puked all over in an IMAX 3D showing.

I won’t give away the ending to this one either, but I would say it’s worth watching once it comes to Netflix or Amazon.

Score: 7/10

Tim’s Vermeer

Tim's_Vermeer_2013This is by far the best thing I watched during my travels.  Yes, I know it’s a documentary.  The gentleman next to me leaving Sydney recommended it.  As soon as he said that Penn and Teller produced it I was sold, but the premise is so intriguing I think I would have watched it anyway.

Tim Jenison is an inventor who pioneered computer animation, graphics, and live TV production software starting in the 1980s.  He apparently made so much money at it that he can now indulge his very esoteric hobbies.  The documentary chronicles his five year project to unlock the mystery of how the 17th century, Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer was able to render such photo-realistic scenes compared to his contemporaries.

Jenison studies and analyzes Vermeer’s paintings and believes he has figured out how it was done using the science of optics.  He then sets out to recreate Vermeer’s The Music Lesson using the techniques he surmises Vermeer used.

As you see throughout the movie, Jenison is a real renaissance man (no pun intended), hand crafting every single prop seen in the painting from scratch in order to recreate Vermeer’s studio.

I won’t give away any more than that because it is fascinating to watch, but I will say that Penn, Teller, and Jenison make a compelling case for the melding of science and art.

My only complaint with the movie, which is minor, is that there are the few bits of foul language which, while not gratuitous, could have been edited out without detracting from the story.  I really want my kids to see this documentary so I’ll just have to do a bit of strategic muting when we watch together.

Absolutely fantastic.

Score: 9/10

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This entry was posted on June 26, 2014 by in 1 Suck!, History, Movies and tagged , , .

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