Category Archives: Movie/TV Reviews

Review: Tut

When I watch a series like this, I’m always willing to suspend my disbelief a bit. For instance, I’m totally OK with the fact that the Spike TV miniseries Tut wasn’t subtitled in ancient Coptic. Seriously, that was fine.

Dreamy-faced Avan Jogia as Tut

Dreamy-faced Avan Jogia as Tut

“Fine” could also describe the facial features of the actor portraying the boy who was thrust onto the Pharaoh’s throne at ten years old, after his father’s death. (Tut’s father Akhenaten has a fascinating story himself.) Trouble is, that’s not at all what forensic scientists discovered through painstaking research and digital reconstruction on the remains of Tutankhamun. Indeed, the more realistic visage of the boy king is decidedly less romantic, lending credence to the claim that Tut had many health issues, most likely handed down to him from centuries of inbreeding.

But hey, let’s consider Spike’s target audience. Tuff guys making short work of their enemies and squiring jiggly girls has been (until recently, with the addition of new programming to appeal to women as well) pretty much the benchmark of anything the network would sink this much promotion into, so no surprise there. I pretty much expected it going in.

Ben Kingsley as Vizier Ay, adviser (and treacherous plotter)

Ben Kingsley as Vizier Ay, adviser (and treacherous plotter), in one of 613 stony stares

What struck me most was my rather odd tendency to squint my eyes or narrow my brows at some of the silliness in what should have been serious moments. Brilliant actor Ben Kingsley (obviously doing someone a favor or needing to pay a gambling debt or something) had so many meaningful solo glances during this series, it got to the point of being rather funny. The thought occurred to me, in a bored, goofy moment, that he might as well just break the fourth wall and totally give up a Frank Underwood. Would that not have been cool? I ask you.

Of course, there were the obligatory jiggle parts and seemingly hours-long battle scenes, but what taxed me the most was the glossing-over of who Tut really was (according to historians): a kid pushed into leading his country, having no idea what he was doing, forced to marry his sister, not remotely blessed in the looks department, and vanquished as a nobody after his death, with everything he ever said or did erased from all records, until the accidental discovery of his tomb in 1922. Without giving up too much of the plot, suffice it to say that he definitely did not die the way the writers of the series claimed. Maybe a little too much suspension of disbelief here.

And can I just share something while in my state of digression? Why, why, why do directors allow the ridiculous shing! sound of metal when a character lops off a guy’s head or pulls a sword out of somebody’s breadbasket? It’s like they’re removing the sword from a sharpening stone instead of soft tissue. Is the music teacher from Ohio the only one bugged to no end by this? It’s right up there with a movie character getting kicked or punched, and it sounds like a cabbage being smacked with a hammer. (Oftentimes, that’s what it actually is.)

Back to business here. The female leads in the series (those of Tut’s sister and his true love, a common girl from an enemy tribe) definitely provide major eye candy, but I found them surface, contrived and tiresome. It will not surprise you to learn that the Queen, Tut’s sister, was a sniping, jealous, conniving witch, and that Lover Girl was gorgeous and independent, yet completely naive of the Queen’s machinations against her until it’s too late. Pretty formulaic.

Still, it was a somewhat entertaining tale, which, fortunately, I recorded, so I could FF through the dozen or so commercials at every break.

As for anything approaching historical agreement, it’s a laffer, but don’t let that stop you. Instead, watch it for Kingsley’s eyeballing, and the outrageously campy performance — the absolute best of the whole piece, in my opinion — of Alexander Siddig as the scheming priest, Amun: a definite funny highlight, right down to his doing his own guyliner in one scene, to losing his everlovin’ mind in another. Hilarious.

On the Rat-O-Meter scale of five cheeses, I give Tut:

Review: Gone Girl

Having never 1) read the book or a review, or 2) seen a single trailer, I went into Gone Girl knowing absolutely nothing. Good thing, too. That is the best way to approach it, because truthfully, the plot twist is revealed so early on in the film, knowing anything beforehand would have been pretty disappointing (assuming, that is, that the author of the novel took a bit more time to expose the dastardly innards). Besides, if you want spoilers, you can find the entire plot anywhere on the web.

So I can’t reveal a lot in my review today, other than to say there is some good acting, and David Fincher knows how to creep a viewer out completely by wringing out of actors their most disturbing and off-center performances (think Fight Club, The Game, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Seven, Zodiac). Indeed, Rosamund Pike is quite effective in her portrayal of Amy, a writer and wife of a writer, who goes missing from the couple’s Cape Girardeau, Missouri home one fine summer morning.

The film centers around the terrible things we do to each other in relationships, but Fincher takes it to another, more visceral and sickening level. Evil, even. Again, I don’t dare reveal too much, or you will go into the experience with a foreboding you possibly wouldn’t otherwise have felt.

It’s safe to say that the film is dark, violent, and deals with uncomfortable situations. It’s definitely not a “date” movie. Lord, no. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend watching it with your SO at all. I’m glad I viewed it alone. And it’s not that the story line (while a tad contrived and too predictable too soon) is bad, per se, but rather the characters are so messed up, they’re hard to care about — and if you’ve read any of my past reviews, you’ll know that investing in a movie’s people is important to my experience. On that scale, this film flags. But there’s plenty to the unfolding of the story to still keep your interest. In fact, it’s quite the “page turner,” to use a literary term. On that score alone, and for the en pointe desperation of the cast in general, I recommend it. I’d be interested in comments (no spoilers, please) if you do see it.

On the Rat-O-Meter scale of five cheeses, I give Gone Girl:

Review: The Interview

I’ll get straight to the point.

  1. Mug face #287

    Mug face #287

    In the annals of doing everything that makes horrible movies horrible, this one could possibly stand alone in its horribleness. And I’ve seen Ishtar and Battlefield Earth.

  2. James Franco is the worst comedic actor in Hollywood — perhaps the entire world. If I was supposed to hate him in this film (he plays a clueless, self-absorbed talk show host), it worked — but for all the wrong reasons. His punchline deliveries were so unfunny, his shucking-and-jiving so over the top, his facial expressions so incredibly forced and rehearsed, all I felt was embarrassment for him. This, from the guy who gave a fine performance in 127 Hours. I didn’t hate him in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Oz the Great and Powerful, or Spider-Man, either (admittedly, these were all dramatic roles). But this…this was unspeakable. I have high school actors who know how to be funny. Franco? Not funny.
  3. Strangely, the guy who plays North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un gives the only performance remotely worth watching. (The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy runs a close second.)
  4. If I were the real Kim, I’d be offended, too. Not for being portrayed in a movie that involves a plot for my assassination, but rather for being portrayed in the same cinematic space as James Franco, who is perhaps the worst comedic actor in the entire world.
  5. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that the whole ridiculous mess was cooked up by Sony.
  6. To say this film is satirical is a brazen insult to satire.

OK, backtrack a moment.

  1. I’ll admit: I don’t like bathroom-and-body-part gross-out butt-and-flatulence humor. The movie’s unrelenting obsession with hind ends got old pretty fast.
  2. I stand by my previous statement that making a movie like this was a stupid idea, obviously foreshadowing a less-than-glowing review.
  3. I know, I know. Geez, consider the source. We’re not talking Terence Malick here. I get that. But we’re not talking junior high boys looking at Penthouse, either. (Or maybe…hmmm)

Wilson Morales said it best in his review for Black “[It] feels like a Saturday Night Live sketch that went longer than it should, with the writers having nowhere to go after the laugh meter reached its peak early.”

And it’s not that I hate silly, stupid movies — I don’t, necessarily. But I like silly movies to have some redeeming qualities: 1) good acting, 2) a decent story to tell, 3) well-drawn characters who, at some point, encourage the audience to “pull” for them, and 4) a memorable script. The Interview had a lot of stuff…just not anything slightly resembling 1-4.

Bottom line: While I thought the whole thing was pointless and distasteful, I think part of it could have been salvaged by a better actor in the lead role. Perhaps James should step away from comedy and stick to writing poetry, or, I dunno…hosting the Oscars, maybe.

Other than all that, it was great. Me? I want my $6 back from YouTube.

On the Rat-O-Meter scale of five cheeses, I give The Interview RtB’s first-ever:



Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Some films are hard work, even if they’re great; you really have to put in overtime to hang onto the story, or care about certain characters, or achieve some manner of closure at the end. The Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t one of those movies.

If you’re a fan of Wes Anderson, this one is a shoo-in. I’ve come to the point where I don’t even need to see the credits roll– I just know it’s an Anderson film. Why? There are several reasons, all having to do with color, patterns, quirky locations, whimsical suspension of disbelief (where you know it’s impossible, but you’re enchanted by it anyway because the director makes no effort to mask its improbability with zippy special effects), and stories and characters that are ever-so-slightly off. This is why I like Wes Anderson films.

However, a treatise on what makes a movie “Wes Andersony” is better left to those who know his work more intimately. Back to Budapest.

As with many Anderson stories, the tale takes place completely in the past — the 1930s in this case, between the major European wars — in a made-up Bavarian country. Ralph Fiennes is brilliant as the hotel concierge who befriends and mentors a shy, awkward, yet exceptionally intelligent lobby boy, with whom he eventually shares a crazy adventure involving art theft, murder, a prison escape, and a beyond-silly alpine ski/toboggan chase filmed in obvious miniature (which, of course, makes it all the more enjoyable). Fiennes’s performance in this film could stand as the singular reason to watch it; he will be forever linked to that role, as Gene Hackman is to his part in The Royal Tenenbaums. Spectacular, and fun to watch. If he isn’t nominated for a Best Actor Oscar come January, I’ll be disappointed.

And speaking of actors, Anderson uses the standard horses in his stable of performers, who would all probably do the gig for free just to work with him. Among the usual suspects: Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, and others. To some, this might seem tedious, but to me, it’s a familiar, comfy blanket of knowing what to expect.

One thing, though…through no fault of his own, the wonderful F. Murray Abraham, around whose character the movie centers, spoke in a tone so exactly like his role as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus, I couldn’t separate the two. It was as if at any moment, I expected to hear him speaking Italian. Weird.

The ending was the perfect mixture of nostalgia, satisfaction and sadness, with a huge nod to the sanctity of family and enjoying what life gives you, and treasuring the memory of what it takes away.

If you liked Moonrise Kingdom, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Royal Tenenbaums, you’ll like this film even more.

On the Rat-O-Meter scale of five cheeses, I give The Grand Budapest Hotel:

Review: 700 Sundays

Since this traveling one-man show has been on and off Broadway for ten years now, you’d think I’d have heard about it. But I was clueless until a couple of nights ago.

While I’m not a lifelong Billy Crystal fan (yes, I enjoyed When Harry Met Sally and City Slickers, but I never followed his stand-up stuff, outside of watching him emcee the Academy Awards), I must say I was surprised and delighted to see a very real, loving (albeit sometimes rambling) portrait of his Eisenhower-era childhood on Long Island, and his larger-than-life father, Jack Crystal, who had a huge influence on his development as an artist and a man.

Jack was a record store owner (Commodore Records in Times Square was his lifelong career) and concert producer, which enabled his young son Billy (youngest of three boys) to meet and rub elbows with the hottest names in jazz at the time. Most entertaining were his stories about cutting up with Billie Holiday, and going to concerts with his dad.

Oftentimes, comedians come from sad, hurtful pasts that drive them towards covering up the pain with humor. Not so with Billy Crystal. He had what many would call a perfect childhood: living in the suburbs with parents who adored and encouraged him, and offered him every available opportunity to be who he wanted to be.

While the tribute is funny, it stalls sometimes, with Crystal obviously wanting to include every obscure story about every obscure jazz player who ever teased him or made him feel like a million bucks. And, obviously, it’s Billy Crystal, so the borscht-belt jokes about passing wind and the male libido were a bit too numerous for my taste, but bottom line: this is a man who adored his parents, and the show is an enormous thank-you card to them for all to see. I had tears more than once, especially when Crystal the actor put Crystal the comedian aside and described the two very dark days when his parents died. It was emotional and real and not contrived in the least. I loved it.

If you can find it on HBO or elsewhere, definitely watch it, especially if you’re a Crystal fan. I had no idea he was surrounded by all that great jazz his whole life. It was an entertaining look into what — and who — made him who he is.

On the Rat-O-Meter scale of five cheeses, I give 700 Sundays: