Sacred Games & Mr Sunshine – The Review (preview) (with age conundrum)

Either because the censorship goons block things or because Netflix severely restricts content by region I don’t have access to most of my queue out here.  As a result I’ve watched a lot of random stuff lately.

If I get around to it (hopefully tomorrow) I’ll review all of Sacred Games and the first few episodes of Mr Sunshine.

In the meantime, help me, please help me with this huge crisis.

From Mr Sunshine, Lee Byung-hun is how old?  See him below here in his US Marine Corps regalia and snazzy early 20th Century bespoke suits?   How old?

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Wrong.  Dude is 48.

Now here’s Kim Tae-ri.  She’s how old?

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Wrong.  She’s 28.

At first I couldn’t get around the fact that to me, Kim looks like she’s 16.  So it got weird where Lee is involved in this relationship with an underage girl and all.

But she’s not, she’s 28.  But I still think she looks under 20.

Then there’s Lee.  Dude looks like he’s 28 but is in fact 48.

And so:

1) I’m an idiot.

2) There is nothing that makeup or costumes can’t cure to make actors look two decades younger than they really are.  Think science will conquer death?  Wrong, immortality lies in a makeup drawer.  I guess.

3) Should it be considered a little weird that these two folks have two decades age between them in what is at least half a love story’s worth on content?  Maybe.  But this happens all the time in the entertainment industry.  And probably is accurate to the period as well.

4) In real life, the situation would be reversed.  They’d each look two decades older than they really were.  Korea was a complete mess of tears, conquest, unforgiving weather, and brutality during that time.  In many ways, it still is.

5) Is Lee supposed to be 48 in the Series despite his looks?  If so, it makes sense that he’s only just a captain because it shows flashback scenes where he’s fighting as an enlisted man.

6) Is Kim supposed to be 28 in the Series despite her looks?  If so, it makes sense as she’s essentially referred to as an old maid for not being married yet many times in the Series.

7) In conclusion, I”m still and idiot.  See you soon.

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Godless – this was good

Netflix has rolled the dice on an awful lot of content.  They’ve placed their faith in a business model where they generate their own stuff and not show other people’s stuff.  In short, they want to be HBO, not a distributor like Blockbuster [cue scene of creepy cemetery with Blockbuster jingle playing in background].

The problem is as they’ve transitioned to this model they’ve ended up producing or contracting a large amount of garbage.  In other words, Netflix is no longer infallible and falls into the same trap as other content creators.  Sometimes things work out, sometimes they’d don’t.

If you’re looking for one where Netflix mostly succeeds, you can safely go with Godless.  This was good.  It wasn’t great, but good.  With all the recent Netflix failures I’ve had, I’ll take good, and be happy for the experience.

As Western’s go, this one’s pretty straightforward.  The plot almost doesn’t quite matter.  What you get is incredible acting, set design, costumes, etc.  And you can then check out your brain and enjoy the experience.  The plot isn’t magical, but it works and works well.  You care what happens to these people.  You’re invested in what’s happening on screen.

Where it nearly comes off the rails is in tone, which is why I can’t consider it great.  I could list several examples.  Instead I’ll just list one:

Is this a shocking, horrific Western like Unforgiven?  It certainly starts out that way.  The very first scene is a town massacred with a child hanging from a church.  But, then later in the series they seem to forget about this horror and it becomes some kind of cooky Western where in a battle where thousands of bullets are flying they won’t allow themselves to show one horse shot (because everybody loves horseies) and an important villain comically gets shot out a window into a pile of flames.  Not the biggest of problems, but often in Godless the tone just didn’t make sense.

My biggest two positive takeaways:

1) They take their time.  Did you ever think a modern series would take 15 minutes of screen time just to show how a cowboy tames a wild horse?  I didn’t.  And I loved it.  In a world where studios think the viewer’s attention span is eight seconds this idea is to be supported.

2) Jeff Daniels.  I don’t get why people don’t think Daniels is one of the great actors of our time.  This is a dude who can play an outstanding role as random dude (a), George Washington, a comedy idiot, a Civil War general, and here in Godless an absurdly creepy villain.  Daniels is simply amazing.  Godless is worth it just to see him go at it.

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This was good.

Hostiles & Fort Apache – and how to properly capture misery on screen

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Misery seems to be the trend lately with just about anything you can watch on screen.  We’ve written about this a lot lately, including just a few days ago.  It’s everywhere.

Take two movies I watched on my last plane flight.  First off, The Last Jedi.  I remember Star Wars growing up, I loved it.  What fun.  So did we really need a Star Wars movie where Luke was sad, tired, and depressed?  Where Solo is a corpse?  Where all the other main characters are confused, angry, etc, etc?  Forget all the plot controversy, it was just an unhappy movie to watch.

The other airplane flick I caught was Hostiles.  This Western had a reputation as violent and covered with despair.  It was certainly that, the opening scene involves the murder of three children including an infant.

Overall, I didn’t hate Hostiles, I kind of enjoyed it.  But it’s not a great movie.  Why?  Because other than the awfulness, I’m not really sure what the movie was trying to do.  At the end of the movie I was asking myself: “What was the point of all that?”

Instead of running my mouth and complaining about all this malaise and darkness in our entertainment again, I’m instead going to contrast Hostiles with another dark movie in Fort Apache.

Granted, this is unfair.  Hostiles has some top name actors but they’re not legendary.  It’s directed by some random guy.  Fort Apache has two screen legends and probably the guy in the top three of directors all time.  It’s like comparing a rabid panther against a duck in a cage match.  But bear with me, because there are a lot of similarities between these movies.

They’re both traditional Westerns that focus upon the Army, specifically the cavalry.  Both have humanized and sympathetic portrayals of the American Indians.  Each has a substantial number of the main cast die on screen.  And they end with an intent that you reflect upon the misery you’ve just watched.

I’m going to focus on the endings of these movies because otherwise this post would be sixteen pages long.

Hostiles ends with Christian Bale’s character burying Wes Studi in his native land.  Then a stereotypical gang of racists comes up and demands Bale dig up Studi’s corpse.  A gunfight ensues in which everybody dies except Rosamund Pike, Studi’s grandson, and Bale.  Pike and her now adopted son go to Chicago, Bale is going to walk away, but ultimately gets on the train with them as it pulls out.  Roll credits.

Fort Apache ends with Henry Fonda getting most of his regiment wiped out in a foolhardy battle worthy of Custer.  John Wayne actually wants to duel his regimental commander at one point to stop it.  Then Wayne and Miguel Inclan (playing the Apache warlord Cochise) have a poignant conversation about the situation.  Cochise lets Wayne and his remaining soldiers live.  We end with Wayne now the regimental commander and when confronted with the myth of Fonda’s last stand by reporters, Wayne lets the myth live.  As in, Wayne lies.  Roll credits.

So what was the point of Hostiles?  Well, I think what they were going for is at the beginning of the movie Bale hates Studi and only his orders are keeping him from murdering Studi straight up.  Yet by the end of the movie Bale is willing to shoot his own kind to defend Studi’s grave.

Okay, got it.  But the problem is that’s all there is going on.  In the meantime there is the aforementioned on screen murder of three children, three women are raped (off screen), numerous very bloody battles, and the final scene in which pretty much everybody dies horribly.

So if all Hostiles has is Bale simply learns not to hate at least one Indian and his family, then what exactly was the point of all the murder, rape, violence, gore, etc?  Was it to set the scene and mood?  Was it to provide the action and shock that the writers and director seem to think a modern movie demands?  You could have told the story of Hostiles with maybe only one or two people gunned down.

That they didn’t do this means that any character progression in Bale, that he ends up a better person, is simply just lost amidst the gore, the awfulness, the constant death.  It’s why as the viewer I had to actually think about what the point of the movie was afterwards.  Because in the moment all you can feel is the violence shoved right in your face for two hours.

Contrast all of this with Fort Apache.  At it’s heart this movie is a study of Fonda’s character.  It’s about how an otherwise decent, hardworking man can be consumed by arrogance, racism, and narcissism that leads to the unforgivable sin where a military commander loses most of his men in a battle that need not ever have been fought.

It gets even worse with Wayne.  Wayne ends the movie by perpetuating the myth that Fonda’s actions were right, just, and glorious.  Then Wayne takes his regiment and leads them on the attack against the Apache.  All the moments Wayne had where he conversed with Cochise, where he knew Fonda was wrong are blown away by the simple act: Wayne is going to do his duty.

And thus you see the point of Fort Apache is the great wheel that was the Indian wars of the American West.  Everybody gets ground down in what in the end was a series of savage endless wars that lasted decades.  Decent guys in Wayne, Fonda, and Cochise trying to do the right thing, their duty, leads to death where alternatives were still available.  It’s brutal to consider.

Fort Apache accomplishes all of this without a single gory murder, rape, or scene where Wayne and/or Fonda are shown in some kind of vicious traumatic rage, or hatred, or crying or screaming like crazy people, all things in Hostiles repeatedly.  Yeah, this is a movie made in 1948 so of course it’s tamer, but the point remains valid.

I think television and movies are going down two trends.  The idea is that a tale must be an adventure theme park ride or it must shock you.  In both cases, the plot is a side concern.

The Jurassic movie recently came out.  I’m sure that film will make over $1B.  It has a plot that probably makes no sense, but that doesn’t matter.  People see this movie because it’s a theme park ride where dinosaurs eat people.

Where Hostiles could have really taken it’s time with a thick plot full of thought and motives, it instead spends most of its on screen time in the shock category.  And thus, its message gets lost in the darkness.

I don’t need all my entertainment to make me happy.  Dark movies have their important place.  But give me the Fort Apache kind any day.  That’s the way to do it.

they get away with it

Being rich and powerful must be sweet.  You can basically do whatever you want.  You can buy expensive cars or booze or giraffes.  Or I guess sexually harass whoever you want.  Now you might have been shocked by the idea that Harvey Weinstein could do so many horrible things to so many women for decades without getting exposed, but when you really think about it this is pretty straightforward.

Why didn’t at least one of his many victims (especially in this twisted age of social media) say even one or two things to someone that made this stick before last week.  Some of the most well known and powerful celebrity women and feminist advocates on the planet have now fingered this guy.  Why didn’t one of them tweet like three years ago, “Harvey Weinstein is a deviant sexual predator, he tried to rape me. #rape #yesallwomen”

Why?  Because Weinstein was powerful.  It’s as simple as that.  Weinstein was one of the top five guys in Hollywood.  He ended people’s careers in seconds.  It’s the way of things.  One of the themes I’ve noticed these last few days as women finally spoke out is their internal dialogue about what was going through their brains when Weinstein did his evil acts.

All these women in their own way mention some kind of cost / benefit analysis.  They’re in fear and protection mode as they try and escape the clutches of this shit creep.  But at the same time their brain is in fear mode about what Weinstein will do to them if they don’t give in.  This type of analysis is older than humanity itself.  It’s been playing out with evil rich and powerful men since before fire was invented.

We’d like to think in our super modern and connected culture that people can no longer get away with this.  But they still do, because it’s still human nature.  All the tweets in the world can’t change the human brain.

Regardless of what you think of Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy I think you can make a reasonable claim that if either of those guys worked at the Sizzler for minimum wage, that both of them would have done severe jail time and been disgraced.  Instead, they are both essentially American heroes.

I’m shocked that Dennis Hastert ever got caught for the horrible things he did to boys.  But if you’ll remember, Hastert wasn’t initially caught for sexual crimes.  They wrapped up Hastert for violating the government limit of how many $10K bank account withdrawals you can make without reporting it to the tax man.  Only later did the authorities realize what the money was for.  Otherwise Hastert would have gotten away with it.

I’m not sure what all this means, other than that as always humanity is on a perpetual quest to self improvement.  It also means you have to take a rather cynical view of what people say.  Especially if the person talking is rich and powerful.

Weinstein’s been a big time bankroller for women’s rights and so forth for decades.  And that whole time … , well, that’s also why they get away with it.  It’s the smokescreen to cover up who they really are.

Notice how Weinstein is already making the usual public relations statements about screwing up, learning, personal growth, etc.  He doesn’t seem to realize he’s truly done.  He still things he’s in control.  That’s how twisted his brain is.  He still thinks he can get away with it.  That’s the biggest thing to learn about this above all.

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Rich and powerful bad dude, rarely caught.

Leviathan – the movie that makes you realize your life ain’t so bad

Movies can do many things to improve your quality of life. They can make you smile, entertain the hell out of you, make you laugh, scare you of the dark in a good way, and so on. They can also make you realize your life just ain’t that bad. Thus when you wake up in the morning after viewing such a movie you’re like, oh, well, at least I’m not those people.

This is Leviathan. It’s essentially an ancient tale. The weak have their land stolen by the powerful. And things go from there. It just happens to fascinate me because the tale is Russian, and is one of the better Russian movies of the post-Soviet realm. Please be sure to enjoy this kind of thing while you can. For one of two things will likely occur in the near future:

– Filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev will eventually give up his independent streak and be coopted (he’ll sell out) by the totalitarian state (for whatever reason) and become a tool of the system like other noted formerly awesome filmmakers such as Nikita Mikhalkov or Zhang Yimou.

or

– Vlad and his buddies will simply ban such films from being made.

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know what you are getting yourself into when the film’s money shot is a distraught child sitting next to a whale skeleton

Leviathan is set in modern Russia’s north. Not Siberia, but rather the Kola Peninsula. Specifically Murmansk Oblast, home to reindeer, discarded nuclear submarine hulks, fish processing infrastructure, and lots of other cold things. It’s a place that all things being equal, human beings probably have no business living there.

The first few minutes of the movie are nothing but nature shots as Zvyagintsev makes damn sure you realize this place is the end of the planet. Not a word of dialogue occurs until about five or ten minutes in as you the viewer are acclimated to a wasteland of concrete, rock, and snow. This tone remains throughout the entire film.

The protagonist is Kolya, a middle aged car mechanic, drunk, husband, hothead, father, and part time firearms enthusiast who is having his fairly decent sized home unjustly expropriated by the state for a fraction of its total value. He enlists the help of his friend and/or brother who’s a lawyer from Moscow. Also within the mix are Kolya’s second wife and son. Crucially, his son is by his first wife.

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As you can imagine in this kind of movie, everything goes swell. The local mayor is a paragon of decency, the courts do their job well, the cops can be counted upon to keep law and order justly, folks drink only in moderation, the local economy is humming along with glorious abandon, kids get along well with their parents and are otherwise well adjusted, and so on.

Bizarrely this wire brush beating of a flick was actually 1/3 funded by the Russian State, who apparently didn’t bother to read or approve the script. I’m rather shocked they let the film stand as is. I think the reasons are thus:

– Vlad is only pictured in the movie once, as a nondescript portrait in the local mayor’s office. He is otherwise not mentioned or discussed.

– Since all of the film’s arch-villains are all local politicians and authorities, it fits perfectly with the authoritarian propaganda narrative. As in, if folks view the Russian state as predatory and corrupt, it’s because the local authorities are to blame, not national level leadership. After all, it’s your local traffic cop bribing you on a Wednesday afternoon, not the Minister of Forestry. If only Vlad knew the truth, he’d clean up that local filth.

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fuck all four of these parasites

So Zvyagintsev got away with it, somehow. The result is a darkly haunting movie that deals with living under a predatory state that sees its citizens as nothing more than cash machines. But Zvyagintsev takes the story to another level by incorporating the deep flaws of average human beings that struggle because they’ve had all the powers of man and nature pinning their necks against bare rock for almost all their lives.

It this weird, twisted, screwed up world where lunatics are being voted into office by those who rightly feel the modern world has left them behind, it’s worth exploring a character study on how human beings who would otherwise be normal, can be turned into puddles of despair by their surroundings and the events that shape their lives. That is, no matter how squared away your life currently is, if you lived there too, maybe you’d be just like them. It’s a very cynical thought, but worth exploring.

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not the place to live

why do we enjoy some bad movies and hate the others?

So you catch three hotel movies across three days because you’ve lost your mind with work and they crank in at 13%, 6%, and 14% on the Rotten Tomatoes cult. Is your quality of life improved or degraded? Well, it depends. At home you’d suffer because there’s so much else to do. But in a ditch hotel that for cost purposes is at a place where you can walk nowhere, where your boss has the only rental car and won’t share, and so you’re just killing time? Well, it can work. And so it did.

Say I get a movie at home and folks say it’s good, but it ain’t, then I get angry. When I get a movie at the hotel and I know it’s bad, and it’s bad, I can just laugh at the movie and enjoy it. Then I’ve killed off a section of the multi-day six pack and at least about 90 minutes of my evening. Then I can read some and go to bed. One night closer to going home.

And so on my latest lengthy epic journey at one point I caught two movies in a Texas hotel and the third one the day after in Wisconsin. They were Black Rose, Extraction, and Last Knights. Three movies that nobody has ever heard of let alone watched. None of these three films ever hit the American theater. They were available to my eyeballs purely out of Netflix’s desire to throw content at you.

So where did this leave me? Black Rose is not really good, but holds your interest. Extraction extracted my brain. I actually enjoyed Last Knights, I mean I really liked Last Knights.

Why? Let’s get into it! Because why not? Oh my, I’m such a loser!

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Black Rose

From a bunch of joint American and Russian production companies you’ve never heard of comes 46 year old Alexander Nevsky’s masterpiece in which he directs, writes, and stars. Nevsky is apparently a former bodybuilder. Black Rose is not his first starring role nor journey into the movies, but it sure seems so.

The plot is brutally simple, Russian girls are getting killed in LA. The LAPD can’t get it done. Nevsky is a Russian cop who’s brought in as a ringer. He teams up with LAPD reject and former time assassin Kristanna Loken in a bid to stop the serial killer, before he kills again, and time runs out, for another Russian woman, and she is murdered, by the killer.

It’s everything you would expect it to be. We get dialogue worthy of 1987’s best action flicks, Nevsky has several (like seven) long montage shots of him walking on LA beaches, investigating Russian businesses, and shopping at the local K-Mart. Nevksy is a loose cannon. Loken is the more scientific analyst. They get Adrian Paul to play the Chief, which is backwards, but whatever it works.

But it’s the mystery that actually holds your interest. For whatever reason, Nevksy’s likely use of Soviet weightlifter drugs did not inhibit his ability to write a decent murder plot. I always love a good mystery that keeps you guessing until the last moment. Even if after you know the answer it seems dumb. And boy does the villain’s final answer sure seem dumb. But, I was into it, I wanted to know the answer.

My biggest problems with this flick are that there’s not nearly enough action and Nevsky is too much like 1980’s robot Arnold. When I’m promised a bad action movie, I need stupid action. Nevsky only kills like three people in this whole movie. I think a car only blows up once. There might be six minutes of combined action available. I guess Nevsky was trying to be serious with his work? But come on.

Also, Nevsky seems to think that acting like robot Arnold circa 1982 (before he could speak English) is the way to go. He spends the entire movie with a mask of the T-100. He doesn’t even really yell at the bad guys. It looks like he popped motion sickness pills before each scene. I’ll try not to get into him too much on this, Arnold only became charismatic on screen once he knew the language, but it makes the flick less fun when the main character is a block of wood.

Overall, we’ll give it two stars.

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Extraction

Do you like money? Who doesn’t. I know for sure Bruce Willis does. Because it’s the only explanation for his presence in this garbage flick. This thing barely qualifies as a functioning movie. It’s got a plot, characters, and they have like things in the movie, like cars and buildings. But that’s about it.

There’s the CIA, spies, people get beat up, whatever. I think this line actually appears in the film, “Sir, I cannot eliminate the target as we have not determined where the package is at this time. We should consult our latest protocol.” Did I watch it? Yes. Did it serve its hotel purpose? Yes. Is it one of the worst I’ve ever seen?

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Last Knights

Why? Why do I like this movie? Apparently folks hate it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s well shot, has great acting, a good story that you don’t realize until like 3/4 of the way through is based off a classic Earth tale, and it’s different. As far as these sword films go, it’s done differently. Don’t let the foolish studio generated clickbait movie title fool you, the folks who made the film clearly cared. Why do we enjoy some bad movies and hate the others?

1) Acting: With Last Knights we get Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman. They don’t disappoint. Both of them are superb in this flick. These guys have been in some terrible, terrible movies, so it’s not like their Shakespeare’s ghost or anything, but they both give it a great effort and it pays off. Their characters effectively suit their acting talents. I don’t normally like Owen, but in this film he’s great, probably the most I’ve liked him in a role. Freeman is Freeman, you know what you get, and I’ve always liked Freeman. Contrast that with Extraction where Willis looks like he’s hungry and can’t wait for the scene to end so he can go get a sandwich. I’ve already talked about Nevsky. The other two leads in Extraction failed middle school drama and/or one or both of them are MMA fighters which is why they were cast, I can’t remember which.

2) Unique: I won’t blow the whole plot by saying that this is a different sword slashing movie. In the first five minutes you realize this. This is (by way of Freeman’s narration) a multi-racial society ruled by a cast of knights that’s different from your usual feudal / medieval structure. They also go out of their way to create a different look to this world. The costumes, the sets, the way people behave is about as far from Game of Thrones or whatever Viking stuff you can get. Even their swords look unique. When Hollywood can only generate films based on characters that were first created in 1936, it’s refreshing to see a film willing to do crazy stuff and take risks. Yes, ultimately you discover that the film is based on an ancient tale, but it’s so subtle and revealed so late in the movie that the surprise is actually welcome and exciting. It sneaks up on you and you’re happy that you recognize the tale that you’re now in.

3) Interesting Dialogue: In the first twenty minutes we get great scenes where Owen talks to some page, Owen and Freeman speak, Freeman meets the villain, and so on. Whereas Black Rose and Extraction have dialogue written at the fourth grade level, Last Knights had me rewinding scenes so I could watch them again. It wasn’t necessarily because the dialogue was fast paced or that I didn’t understand what was going on, I just felt like I wanted to rewatch it immediately. I almost never do this. You can tell they went through a lot of trouble to write sharp, exciting scenes right up front. You may have met Owen’s character only seven minutes prior, but you already know who he is, what he’s about, and already you like him and are rooting for him. And who can’t root for Freeman as the wise revered father of the realm? Did Nevsky entertain me? Yes. Was I ever actually rooting for him? Nyet.

Catch Last Knights if you can. Catch Black Rose if you’re bored or something. You can bin Extraction.  Will you love Last Knights as much as I did? Or is this just a fluke? Well, on the Rotten Tomatoes cult the audience reviews for these flicks (unlike the critic reviews) have a disparity. Black Rose gets 10%, Extraction 17%, and Last Knights jumps all the way to 46%. So clearly I’m not the only degenerate in the audience who liked Last Knights so much more. I say give it a shot, and feel free to blame me if it bombs for you.

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contemplating Sean Bean’s imminent demise

Sean Bean partially narrates this game I’m playing and it got me chuckling.  Once upon a time folks got to see Sean Bean brutally decapitated in Game of Thrones (that show I no longer watch).  This was the first of many main character deaths in that horror fetish of a series.  But at the time folks tried to rationalize what had just occurred.  I specifically remember saying to my brother, “It’s that much more dramatic because it’s Sean Bean.”

Wait, what?  That’s probably one of the dumber things I’ve ever said.  And man, do I spout some dumb shit.

For you see, Sean Bean does in fact die in everything he’s in.

And here’s even a Funny Or Die skit where Sean expresses his desire for a piranha based doom.

Sean Bean is only 58 years old, but perchance before he hits 60, he’ll be attacked by aliens.  They won’t come to conquer Earth, they’ll just come for Sean Bean.  And he’ll probably be smiling.

“Oh, hay there lads, got a ray gun I see?  Well, make it slow, if ya can.”