Week 5 of 2019 (1/28 – 2/3)


Hooray! I made it through the first month of this year-long challenge! Here are this week’s listings:

1/29The Man Who Knew Infinity2015
1/30Big Top Pee-wee
Pee-wee’s Big Holiday
1/31The Congressman2016
2/1Kung Fu Yoga2017
2/3Body of Lies2008

January 28

Day 28 of the 2019 Movie Challenge and we’re watching something brand new today! (Seriously… it was just released a few days ago.)

2019’s Polar is an adaptation of the Dark Horse graphic novel series and stars Mads Mikkelsen as an assassin who finds it hard to retire when his employer doesn’t want to let him go. Even if you’re not a professional assassin, if you’re exceptionally good at your job you might be able to relate to an overly attached boss.

Holy crap, this movie is amazing! If you’re a fan of Luc Besson’s 1994 masterpiece The Professional or the more current John Wick series of films, you will dig this spawn of those two. This movie is incredibly violent (a la John Wick), sometimes almost comically so, and there’s some nudity so it’s probably NSFW. But Mads Mikkelsen is terrific in this and Vanessa Hudgens does a fantastic job as a young woman he meets while in hiding and takes under his wing a bit (shades of Natalie Portman’s work in The Professional). There’s also a brief appearance from Jackass star Johnny Knoxville and a surprising turn from Richard Dreyfuss!

The plot is pretty straightforward, but the driving action kept me on the edge of my seat for most of its runtime. And there’s a twist at the end that caught me by surprise, which is hard to do, so extra kudos!

January 29

Day 29 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Wow, the first month is nearly over. I’m liking my odds here…

Today’s movie is 2015’s The Man Who Knew Infinity, a biopic of Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan starring Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons.

Ramanujan’s work (started with no formal training) has led to major mathematical breakthroughs in a number of fields and is still the basis for scientific work being conducted today. Nearly all of his theorems, recorded before his untimely death at age 32, have since been proven to be correct.

The movie itself is a straightforward drama, although not as emotionally stunted as Castles in the Sky which I watched back on January 5. But this is a feature film and a drama, so you have to have the feels. Ramanujan’s time at Cambridge happened over the course of World War I and you get to see that as well in background, as Trinity College’s open areas were used to treat the injured brought back from mainland Europe. You also see hints of the colonialism and racism inherent in the period.

Dev Patel (who had his big breakout role in Slumdog Millionaire) is terrific as Ramanujan, as is Jeremy Irons, of course, portraying mathematician G.H. Hardy as the other side of this brief partnership & friendship. This movie was really well done and I’m glad I watched it, because I learned more about the field of mathematics and the people involved than I knew before. Watching this, you may notice some parallels with other math-centric films, especially 1997’s Good Will Hunting, where Ramanujan is specifically mentioned at one point.

January 30

Day 30 of the 2019 Movie Challenge!

I was originally planning to watch Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, and I did, but just like with the Crocodile Dundee double feature I did back on 1/14, I realized there was another movie I hadn’t seen. So I added 1998’s Big Top Pee-wee to the mix.

While neither film will ever replace the absurd majesty that is Pee-wee’s Big Adventure for me, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday was really, really funny! It’s another road trip-style movie like Big Adventure, but without the drama of the missing bike. Big kudos to Joe Manganiello (playing a fictional version of himself) for showing off his comedy chops… every scene with him in it was terrific and silly.

In fact, Pee-wee appears to play the straight man to everyone else in this movie. He also partially serves this role in Big Top Pee-wee, but that movie is far weaker than the other two. It tries to sort of link itself as a sequel to Big Adventure in the beginning, but the main story doesn’t really grab you the way the other two do. It’s also missing a lot of the Rube Goldberg-style inventions that the first one had as well.

It’s not really feasible to try to link these any of these movies together. They’re all sort of detached episodes featuring the same central character. They have some common elements, like beginning with a dream sequence in each movie, as well as some terrific physical comedy throughout from Reubens as Pee-wee. But it’s like they are all different iterations of his life… perhaps even as a psychedelic, absurdist version of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. Anyway, if you enjoyed Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Big Holiday is a worthy successor movie. Skip Big Top unless you’re a completionist.

January 31

Day 31 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Made it through 1/12 of the calendar year and going strong.

Today’s movie is a nice uplifting story, if a bit political. 2016’s The Congressman stars Treat Williams as a freshly-divorced Maine congressman who gets caught up in overhyped drama & retreats to an isolated island in his district to help resolve a local fishing issue.

I rather enjoyed this movie. In the current political climate where everything is super-polarized, it’s nice to see a movie that pokes a little fun at that as well. Treat Williams does a great job at playing a man who’s feeling beaten down by a system he wants to uphold. The villagers on the island are a hoot and the resolution of the film is sweet and inspiring. If you’re looking for another indie film along a similar plot line, I’d recommend 2013’s The Grand Seduction, a comedy about a Canadian island community who tricks a doctor from the city into moving there.

February 1

Day 32 of the 2019 Movie Challenge and we’re into February!

Today’s film is 2017’s Kung Fu Yoga, starring the apparently indestructible Jackie Chan. This is sort of a follow-up to a previous movie, 2005’s The Myth, with Chan reprising his role as the archaeologist/treasure hunter… Professor Jack Chan. This film was a China/India co-production that filmed in a number of international locations, including Iceland. And they’re searching for a lost Indian treasure that (POSSIBLE SPOILERS) is not what everyone thinks it is.

The movie was pretty all right. It was a bit of a challenge at points to follow because the movie was half in Mandarin (although there were English subtitles) and half in English. Basically, when the Chinese characters are talking amongst themselves, it’s in Chinese, but when they interact with any other nationality in the film, it’s in English, which was a clever mechanic. The action scenes are really well done, as is always the case with Jackie Chan’s films — I mean, he’s been at this for over 40 years, I think he knows what he’s doing by now. The comic aspects of the fights are still there, but were toned down quite a bit from past movies he’s known for, in particular the films he’s made in the US. They’re much more in line with films like the Armour of God/Operation Condor series he did, which also covered treasure hunting.

There’s a special bit at the end of the film, before the credits, something never before seen in a Jackie Chan film… a Bollywood dance number (I kid you not!). This made me laugh the hardest out of everything in the movie and made the whole thing worth watching.

February 2

Day 33 of the 2019 Movie Challenge!

Today, I realized to my shame that I had a slight gap in my actually having seen all the Bond movies. So I watched the Roger Moore-era Moonraker, released in 1979. Bond faces off with Hugo Drax, a (presumably) billionaire businessman and genius who has decided to wipe out all human life on Earth using multiple space shuttles he has built. The only reason the CIA & MI-6 get involved is that Drax steals a shuttle he built for the US.

There’s probably a reason I haven’t seen this until now. I’m not the biggest fan of the Roger Moore era. That’s not an indictment of his performance as much as the plots and gadget-heavy goofiness. I feel the same about the Pierce Brosnan era, too, except for GoldenEye which was actually written for Timothy Dalton’s Bond. Additionally, Moonraker was specifically developed to capitalize on the success of Star Wars, as a lot of things were at the time. Unfortunately, it makes this outing one of the goofiest of the entire franchise. Still, it is a Bond film and it has some fun moments.

February 3

Day 34 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! On this Superb Owl Sunday, I did the only sensible thing… I watched a political spy thriller in 2008’s Body of Lies.

With direction by Ridley Scott and a roster of terrific actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong and an early-career Oscar Isaac in a supporting role early in the film, you would think this would have really hit it big. But it’s just a middling action picture. DiCaprio comes across as miscast in his role as a CIA agent trying to build up assets to infiltrate Al Qaeda and Crowe practically phones it in. (Seriously, he spends 90% of his screen time on the telephone.) The whole thing just comes across as tepid to me, including a contrived romantic subplot that never really has a chance to develop. Oddly enough, those were the scenes were DiCaprio was the most believable.

I’m not totally surprised that this ended up not doing well at the box office. This film was kind of sandwiched between better work from most of the people involved in the movie. As a result, the movie feels slapped together and less than what it could have been. If you want a more gripping story along these lines, check out Traitor starring Don Cheadle (also released in 2008) or the Showtime series Sleeper Cell.

I felt like this last month flew by with almost no problem meeting the challenge of watching something new every day. There have been points where I wasn’t sure if I had seen the movie already or not, because I either had seen bits of it or heard so many quotes from it that it was just in my brain on some level. I’ll touch on that more in a moment.

This first month overall was interesting. I definitely a good cross section of genres in my selections. I’ve thought about being more strategic in my movie watching plans. So far, I’ve basically just picked something from the sizable queues I have stored up on the various streaming services, something that I had a yen to see or that I was just in the mood for. Once or twice, I ended up picking a different movie than the one I planned because my first choice couldn’t be watched offline. I suspect, that as the year goes, I may just need to plow through my queues more in order. I’ve been good about only stockpiling stuff that I’m sure I haven’t seen, but there are a few things I like to save to rewatch at some point for (additional) fun.

In terms of what I’ve watched so far, the best thing I saw was Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, followed closely behind by Polar. It really was a very powerful documentary and I find I’m still thinking about it even three weeks later.

One of the main things that stood out for me this month was how many of these movies were released within the last 10 years (24 of out of 31 were released after 2000). I look at some of the older movies and recall seeing them in the movie theaters. As discussed yesterday on my podcast, it really makes me feel old. Big Top Pee-wee turned 30 in 2018, Hang ‘Em High turned 50, and Algiers is 80 years old! Motion pictures themselves as a commercial enterprise are a little over 120 years old in total, so to know that there’s pretty much no one left alive on Earth from a time before movies were widely available is mind-blowing.

Then again, provided the human race doesn’t implode in the next 10 years, at some point there will be no one alive on the planet who remembers a time before television or the Internet. Author (and mostly all-around good egg) John Scalzi wrote about this a few years ago on his blog as it pertains to his own writing. It’s worth a read and worth thinking about our places in the grand scheme of things.