Six Capsule Movie Reviews: finishing the mop-job on 2015



The Martian

Easily the best science fiction movie of the year, “The Martian” offers an imaginative yet believable topography of the red planet, as well as a sympathetic character in Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut. Director Ridley Scott gives the flight crew the same kind of realistic, low-ley camaraderie as he achieved in “Alien,’ which compared favorably to Howard Hawks’ work in “The Thing From Another World.” Jessica Chastain strengthens the empathetic bond between Damon and the audience with her committed concern for the survival of her imperiled crew mate.  The film’s climax goes a bit over the top with some flight maneuvers that are a mite ridiculous, but we are cheering with such enthusiasm that Scott gets away with it.


Bone Tomahawk

It would not surprise me to learn that Quentin Tarantino had secretly financed this bomb just to make his own neo-Western look good.  “Bone Tomahawk” is like “The Hateful 8” with all the life sucked out of it, all the humor desiccated. This dry-boned piece of garbage is troglodyte cinema at its most inexpressive. Beware.



I really wanted to like Abel Ferrara’s film of director Pasolini’s final day on Earth, but his intentional obfuscation of chronicled facts left me cold. The potentially intriguing idea of casting Pasolini regular Ninetto Divoli as Epifanio failed to create the desired epiphany.  And giving the name Ninetto Divoli to Pasolini’s assassin was a crime against  history.  Willem  Defoe has become one of the screen’s most tiresome actors, and his Pasolini is dead from the start.  Ferrara does a poor job of convincing us that “Salo,’ Pasolini’s final film, was anything more than a sado-pornographic fantasy, when in fact that film was the one of the saddest confrontations with the true horror of diplomatic immunity any film-maker has dared to make. I am convinced that Ferrara did all he could to penetrate the Pasolini myth and bring the real man back to life for some minutes, but I fear that Ferrara’s Pasolini remains deeply embedded in Ferrara’s own soiled soul, clinging to his rotten guts in terror of being seen.


In the Heart of the Sea

As a big fish monster movie, Ron Howard’s historically inaccurate  telling of the sinking of the Essex, the tale that inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” is much scarier than Spielberg’s over-rated “Jaws.”  But try telling that to anyone who saw “Jaws” as a teenager at the drive-in in the summer of 1975 and they will cut out your tongue.  Sea adventures have always presented a challenge to the film-maker, and Howard has met the challenge well.  At  least for me.   I was able to lay aside my prejudices against CGI and believe in this strange watery world of storms and monsters. And I have to admit, I was riveted to the screen and the movie scared the hell out of me.


Diary of a Teenage Girl

There are underage music clubs where kids can go crazy without worrying about being hassled by some pervy adults.  Some movies should also be off-limits to adults.  I am sure  “Diary of a Teenage Girl”  will resonate for many teenage girls who have experienced unusual and/or traumatic sexual initiations.  But why would an adult, especially an adult male, want to watch a movie about a 15 year old’s sexual relationship with her mother’s boyfriend? I asked myself that question after sitting though about 20  minutes of the film, then left. I just felt I had no business being there.  I didn’t want to be a fly on the wall of a teenage girl’s bedroom, eavesdropping on her as she made private entries into her diaries.  But a lot of teenage girls might love this movie. They might identify with, not always the particulars, but the general  anxiety of the adolescent experiencing physical and emotional distress  as they edge against the entrance into the adult world.


In television, it is common to have half a dozen unrelated stories ping ponging in one series. It doesn’t work like that in the movies. “Ashby” is television writer Tony McNamara’s second attempt at directing a feature film, and it is a narrative nightmare.  Here are some of its plots: A CIA assassin with three months to live seeks redemption so he will go to heaven and be reunited with his wife.  Although retired, he finds cause to make three more kills before dying. A high school kid who is new in town struggles to make the football team.  Although a Hemingway-reading geek, he makes the team and becomes a touchdown-making hero as well as an unconventional master of team motivation.  The cutest girl in school is crazy about him, but he plays it cool and keeps his distance until realizing what a fool he has been.  This kid also becomes best friends with the assassin, for whom he is inadvertently functioning as a getaway driver. The kid’s mother has a series of  sexual relationships with the town’s lowlifes.  His father is always on the road on business and never keeps his promises to visit on special occasions.  Etcetera.  Etcetera.  I don’t know of a director who could unify so many silly plots into a cohesive movie, and Tony McNamara is so in love with his own material that he can’t see how lame it is. But, with Mickey Rourke as the assassin, up and comer Nat Wolff as the kid, Eric Roberts’ daughter Emma as the girlfriend, and comic Sarah Silverman as the licentious mother, “Ashby” is an entertaining mess.


23 thoughts on “Six Capsule Movie Reviews: finishing the mop-job on 2015

  1. Nice roundup, Bill. I fancy The Martian, because of Ridley Scott, and I was interested to read that you liked In The Heart Of The Sea too, so will think more about that one.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. Hi Pete. Hope you are having a wild weekend. I’m taking it easy as usual. Both the Martian and The Heart of the Sea are well above the average fare. i wasnt expecting much from either, but thoroughly enjoyed both. I cant say the same for the Revenant, Despite its many qualities, it put me to sleep seven times before I finishing watching the whole of it. Now it remains at my bedside as my Insomnia cure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The clips I have seen of ‘The Revenant’ reminded me of ‘Jeremiah Johnson.’ I always had a soft spot for Pollack’s film, and thought it was something very different, at the time. I will probably wait a year or two, and watch DiCaprio on TV.
      Regards, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. i usually try to judge a film on its own merits. not on my own interests. the most disgraceful thing a critic can do is give a good review to a bad movie he likes or a bad review to a good movie he doesnt like.


      2. Well, I’m not a critic, then. I don’t watch a lot of films because I’m sure seventy percent are a waste of my time. I don’t see anything morally wrong liking a bad film. Guilty pleasures are just that. Take The Fifth Element. Total trash yet I find it amusing every time I catch it playing on television. Also, if you look hard enough, you will find something wrong with every film. I can forgive mistakes if there is enough right about it.


      3. i find it important to see everything. whether r not i like or dislike any particular film is a matter of little import. what is important is trying to understand what the film-makers were trying to do, and how well they succeeded in their efforts. i though the hateful 8 a despicble film and the revenant an above average one, yet i enjoyed the trash of the former and disliked the pretense of the latter. still, i wont pretend the hateful 8 was a good movie, nor the revenant a particularly bad one.


      4. “whether or not I like or dislike a particular film is of little import” Really? I don’t see how you can keep that bias out of a review. Structurally you can break it down and analyze it, but a significant part of a film’s success in the mind is whether you approve or not — if it’s a comedy, did you laugh? If it’s a drama, were you captivated? That two thumbs up or not is subjective. That subjectivity is important. I don’t want to read 100 posts about a film and they all sound the same. The power of the effect a film has on the viewer should not be undervalued.


      5. first, when i was working as a critic I rarely knew anything about a movie before seeing it.So whether it was a comedy or a drama was something I had to determine for myself during the watching of it. Second, read the reviews of The Revenant and you will find most of them say the same thing. Critics are a notoriously parasitic bunch, writing as a herd,not as individuals. Third, there will always be a bias in the tone of a review, but not so much in the analysis. Fourth, very few movies have an appreciative effect on a critic, who sees most of them at 10am screenings, which are often followed by another screening at noon. For a critic, a movie is the work that awaits him on his desk. it is not a night on the town, as it is for the paying audience. Even now,I watch most movies with no knowledge about them other than the title, and maybe the top-listed cast names.So I dont have an advance prejudice for or against the movie. But I have known many critics who will give a bad review to a movie just because they don’t like vampire movies or they hate mel gibson….and give a favorable review to a movie just because meryl streep is in it, and they have been raised to believe she is a great actress.


      6. i dont know anything about the golden globes, but the academy awards are usually rigged to increase the box office of a movie with a high budget and low returns..the revenant will win because it cost $135 million and only grossed half a million on opening weekend and $40 million in total so far. the acting awards are one way the studio has of controlling the arc of an actor’s career.


      7. you are lucy to have seen it on a big screen where i imagine those digitally manipulated Images that originated in “natural light” might have been visually engrossing. I certainly found nothing engrossing in the narrative content, which I mentally reduced to the observance of a a big, lumbering man with abnormal features, covered in hair, blood,scabs, and filth, who takes up more screen space than he deserves that he can pass himself off as orson welles. mostly, it remind me of an M. Night Shyamalan con, coasting on ambiguity until reaching a revelation that is supposed to make you think the movie is a lot better than you thought it was.


    2. LOL. Okay, I know where you stand! I read “The Martian” but one of the few who haven’t seen it yet. “In the Heart of the Sea” was panned by many, but I love that time period and Moby Dick, so will get around to it soon. Nice mini-reviews, Bill.


      1. Tre were no sogs.hanks cindy. I was surprised to see the martian winning a Golden Globe for best comedy or musical. I didnt see it as a comedy at all, and there were no songs.


      2. Both were decent movies. Nothing memorable, but good for what they were. Joy was the only golden globe winner that made my top ten. The Assassin and Youth are the only 2 movies I would even consider for any kind of best picture award.


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