Quick Hit Movie Reviews

This really was not a good weekend for new releases.  I had some stuff to do anyway.  But since I stayed home to work on said things, I figured I needed a different project of sorts.  I recently purchased a poster from Pop Chart Labs in the form of a Fill-In Filmography.  The idea is you fill in circles based on how many of these 1,500 movies you’ve seen, and how much of each circle you fill in depends on how many you actually liked.

Well, after I hung the poster, I filled in what I could with a pencil and had only seen somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 movies.  There are a fair number there I want to see anyway.  Why not finally catch up on a couple of them?

At any rate, here are some quick reviews for the ones I saw this weekend.  And these are so quick, I’m just slapping letter grades on them like I do with my student essays.

Sunshine (2007)

OK, we’ll start with a weird one.  An international crew of astronauts are delivering a bomb to reignite the sun and save the human race.  They’re the second such expedition, and they’re also humanity’s last hope.  As they get closer and closer to their destination, tempers flair, things start to break, and people start dying.  Director Danny Boyle is someone whose work I generally like but don’t love.  Sunshine fits that general pattern.  It focuses a lot on the psychological aspects of long term isolation in a cramped space for a while.  Sunlight is portrayed as literally addicting.  But then in the third act, the movie seems to become some kind of slasher movie.  That seems to be a bit of a left turn.

I don’t know how a manmade bomb could reignite a dying sun, but here we are.  The final product here is worth the trip for the most part, but wasn’t what I would call a crowdpleaser.  Still, that was quite the impressive cast.

Grade:  B-

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Yeah, somehow I’d never seen Conan the Barbarian before.  I remember my parents had it on some cable channel once and I got to see the beginning, but I got sent off to bed about the time Arnold Swartzenegger finally showed up.  Well, I’ve seen the rest now.

Based on the character created by Robert E Howard, this was one 80s idea of manliness.  That’s not surprising coming from, let’s say, eccentric director John Milius.  Men weld steel, and even women who weld steel also seem to be there to have (consensual) sex with.  There’s blood and vengeance and a big, muscular guy grunting.  Like the first Rambo movie, Conan keeps the main characters’s dialogue to a minimum.  That’s to the strength of both movies, though for very different reasons.  Combine that with the presence of actors like Max von Sydow, Mako, and James Earl Jones, and you have a movie full of people with really impressive voices.

Questionable gender politics aside, this was a good sword-and-sandal type of movie.

Grade:  B

Frozen (2013)

Yeah, I hadn’t seen Frozen before either.  I may get out to the movies very frequently now, but that’s a relatively recent development.  I know I wasn’t doing that in 2013.  Besides, all the hype and fervor around the thing made me reluctant to see it anyway.  Plus, every time I heard someone reference the snowman building song, I thought of this.

But here we are, and, well, Frozen is delightful.  Turning things on their head, we have a movie where male characters are either evil or inconsequential.  This is a girl power thing about the love between the two sisters Irma and Edna.  OK, I have no idea why gloves hold in ice powers, but here we are.  Beautiful animation, good songs, and “Let It Go,” something I was getting sick of in 2013-14, was the showstopper it was supposed to be.

You know, I think I remember hearing the original plot, based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen,” had a very different outcome.  But then the executives heard “Let It Go” and realized that was not a villain’s song.

Grade:  A

Brazil (1985)

Wait, did I say Sunshine was the weird one?  That was only because I  hadn’t seen Brazil yet.  Danny Boyle has nothing on Terry Gilliam.

The best way to describe Brazil is to imagine someone took George Orwell’s 1984 and made a parody of it.  This dystopia isn’t an efficient system of people watching people.  Instead, it’s a a world where ducts run through every room, TVs are fairly old fashioned, and everything is run through a bureaucracy.  Everything will get you a receipt.  The plot follows low level government functionary Sam Lowry as he tries to get a woman he has inexplicably fallen in love with off for a crime she didn’t commit.  This is the sort of movie where the rebels, represented by Robert De Niro, is just a heating and air conditioning tech who doesn’t want to fill out paperwork.  And it’s a dystopia, so it won’t end well for Sam.

Or maybe it does.  It depends on what you think “ending well” means.

Grade:  B+

Ex Machina (2014)

Yeah, somehow I’d missed this one too.

In the strangest of all Star Wars movies, General Hux travels to eccentric tech billionaire Poe Dameron’s house to see if an android Poe invented, one Lara Croft, can pass the Turing Test.  Can this android, a machine with lifelike hands and face, pass for sentient?  What follows is a movie about what makes a person human.  Poe sees the machine as a machine he can use and abuse as just another product.  Hux begins to doubt even his own humanity as things get weirder.  And Lara, well, she has something going on that may be beyond anything anyone programmed her for.

I generally dig smart sci-fi, and Ex Machina is no exception.  Considering how much I enjoyed writer/director Alex Garland’s next film, Annihilation, that isn’t surprising at all.  And the special effects in this one were truly awesome.

Grade:  A

The City of Lost Children (1995)

Holy crap.  What does it say when I think Frozen might be the most normal movie I watched in this batch?  And for added bonus points, The City of Lost Children isn’t just weird.  It’s French-style weird.

In a movie that seems to be something of a fairy tale in an industrial hellhole, a mad scientist is kidnapping small children to steal their dreams.  Apparently, the scientist himself is some kind of genetic experiment, and he’s aging prematurely because he can’t dream.  Among his assistants are a little person woman, six identical clones with narcolepsy, and a brain in a tank that tells the scientist the kids only have nightmares because he’s evil.  And that’s all in the first five minutes.  It isn’t long before the scientist’s agents kidnap the adopted brother of a simple-minded circus strongman (American actor Ron Perlman).  The strongman then teams up with an orphan girl thief to eventually rescue the kids.

So, who is this movie for?  I could almost see it as kid’s entertainment if not for a few violent moments.  It’s more surreal and silly than anything else.  I don’t quite know what to make of this one.  It’s whimsical and creepy at the same time.

And if you’re wondering how Perlman’s French was, well, if that was his real voice (and I think it was) and the subtitles were accurate, his dialogue was all in broken French.  So, I don’t know.

Grade:  B, but mostly for the commitment to whatever they were trying to do here.


So, six more movies on that big poster.  Not bad for a single weekend.

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