Reviewing (or Wrecking) Ball Rolling

Here endeth capsule reviews of movies seen in the last month.

Gremlins II (1990): I’ve seen this twice in the last month, and would easily place it in my top dozen movies. It’s gleeful, energetic, and hugely inventive, with a series of brilliant gags: ‘Fire, the untamed element…’; Leonard Maltin’s cameo; the rupturing of the fourth wall halfway through; the intellectual Gremlin (‘Now, was that civilized?’); and the musical number. Great soundtrack (which I’m currently using as my ringtone).
(The gags reel is worth watching for the monkey and the Gremlin.)


Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (2003–2007): Why are these critically panned? Maltin and Kermode in the Guardian both loathe it. And yet they’re terrific films. The first one is definitely the weakest; the series hits its stride with the second two, which are exuberant and high-spirited, with some terrific set-pieces (the cannibals’ island, the fight on the wheel, Jack Sparrow in the Locker, the naval battle at the end), and a theme of adventure and freedom versus mercantile capitalism and bureaucracy. But then I thought that The Lone Ranger was the best film of 2013.


7 Years in Tibet (1997): A great adventure film, about an Austrian climber in Tibet, just before the Chinese occupation. What makes it stand out is the unusual setting and the superb cinematography. Reminded me in part of David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia), The Man Who Would Be King, and, of course, Tintin in Tibet.


The Last King of Scotland (2006): Gripping account of Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda. Two great performances: Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, who is at once jovial, hearty, & larger than life, and bloody terrifying; and James McAvoy as a likeable young doctor who falls under Amin’s spell, becomes his physician, and belatedly becomes aware of the horrors of the regime. Remarkably tense second half, with a palpable atmosphere of danger; the escape from the airport is edge of the seat stuff.


Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989): This is where I lose all intellectual credibility (bummer), but this is fun. Like the seemingly stupid but good natured and enthusiastic duo, it’s enormously likeable. Its heart is in the right place, and, although it may not seem like it, so is its brain: the time loop jokes are clever; the mall scene is funny (Genghis Khan in the sports shop); and it has Freud psychoanalysing a psychiatrist (‘Tell me about your mother’). What’s not to like?


Saving Private Ryan (1998): Unusually for a Steven Spielberg movie, this is almost completely uninvolving. Too long by at least an hour, it goes on and on and on. No suspense; no engaging characters (except, briefly, for the always likeable Matt Damon). In essence, it’s a silent movie, with a soundtrack of gunshots and explosions.


The Two Faces of January (2014): A thriller without much thrills. Atmosphere is sterile; and there are only three characters, all of whom are miserable. Cinematography lousy: digital camera, shallow depth of field, handheld. Score is wannabe Bernard Herrmann: lots of turbulent strings. Based on a Patricia Highsmith novel—who wrote the books that were adapted into Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley (both good movies); she also wrote a (pretty stupid) book about pets that killed their owners: savaged by gerbils.


Insomnia (2002): Doesn’t live up to its name; decidedly soporific. This is one of those dreary films in which the color is muted and the soundtrack is a couple of violin chords and a piano. Story unengaging, and lacking humor, warmth and really much reason for watching. Ah well, at least Inception and The Prestige are interesting.