Week 52 of 2019 (12/23 – 12/31)

12/23All is Bright2013
12/25The Christmas Chronicles2018
12/26King Solomon’s Treasure1979
12/28Master Z: Ip Man Legacy2018
12/29Ip Man 4: The Finale2019
12/306 Underground2019
12/31The Secret
Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve
(Click on the dates to jump to the entries below)

December 23

Day 357 of the #2019MovieChallenge! We continue the #12DaysOfChristmasMovies with 2013’s dramedy All is Bright. Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd star as two Canadians who try to get rich quick by selling Christmas trees in New York City.

The film starts in Quebec, when Giamatti plays Dennis, a paroled thief who just wants to see his daughter (who’s been told he’s dead). When he wants to raise money to buy her a piano, but cannot find a job, he’s forced to team up with overly chatty René (Rudd), another former criminal who also stole his wife, but who has been working the Christmas tree angle already. They deal with various issues as well as their conflicting outlooks on life. Some hilarity ensues.

This was a small movie done on a relatively small budget. Giamatti and Rudd are great together and I want to see them pair up on EVERYTHING now. There’s also a great supporting turn from Sally Hawkins as Olga, who buys a tree for her vacationing bosses and makes a connection with Dennis. It all works in that very indie film way. The ending is satisfying, but a little bittersweet, and there’s a twist I didn’t expect at the climax but loved anyway.

This isn’t a terribly Christmas-y film, but it is about a Christmas gift as well as the trees and the holiday season, so it counts!

December 24

Day 358 of the #2019MovieChallenge! We head into the homestretch of the #12DaysOfChristmasMovies with the new animated Netflix movie Klaus. A young slacker (Jason Schwartzman) is sent to a remote village to establish regular mail service and ends up helping a hermitic woodsman (J.K. Simmons) become a legend.

I enjoyed this take on the Santa Claus origin story. Although the story takes quite a bit of time to get going, it does move at a decent pace after that. I also thought it was interesting how they sort of dialed back on things getting too zany, though it does toe the line more than once. In addition, I liked the animation style, which reminded me very much of the 2000 Disney film The Emperor’s New Groove.*

The performances were all right as well. Schwartzman gave Jesper a manic energy he doesn’t usually bring to his live-action roles. Likewise, Simmons’ Klaus is very serene and quiet for most of the film, rarely ever raising his voice, again a reversal from a number of other roles he is known for. There is also great supporting work from Rashida Jones as a schoolteacher who has had to take up selling rotten fish, and Will Sasso and Joan Cusack as the heads of the two rival clans in town, who go out of their way to try to keep the family feud going.

Overall, this is a fun tale. I don’t know if it will hold up to repeated viewing, though… I guess I’ll find out next year!

*No surprise here, as director Sergio Pablos is himself a Disney animation veteran from that era, although I don’t think he worked on that particular film.

December 25

Merry Xmas! As a holiday treat, this post is super-early (mostly because my sleep cycle is off). Anyway, it’s Day 359 of the #2019MovieChallenge, and we’re closing out the #12DaysOfChristmasMovies with 2018’s The Christmas Chronicles. Kurt Russell stars as Santa, whose job delivering gifts on Xmas Eve gets turned upside down after two kids stow away in his sleigh.

I’m not going to be a Grinch about this today. It’s a good Christmas movie, with quite a few laughs and even some touching moments. Russell gives an interesting, more modern spin on Saint Nick. Judah Lewis​ and Darby Camp​ do a good job as the kids who end up helping him save the holiday… admittedly, after causing the problem in the first place. There’s also good supporting work from Kimberly Williams-Paisley​ as their mom, along with some cameos from Oliver Hudson as their father, and his mom Goldie Hawn​ as Mrs. Claus.

Overall, this was a good one to watch this holiday season. If you’re feeling like a double-header after opening gifts, I’d definitely pair it with Get Santa, which we watched back on December 16 for a similar feel… or you can wait until next year and watch it with the upcoming sequel.

December 26

Day 360 of the #2019MovieChallenge! We return to our non-holiday ways with 1979’s King Solomon’s Treasure. A group of adventurers, led by the legendary Allan Quartermain, go on a search for… well, the title explains it, doesn’t it?

There have been other adaptations of the Allan Quartermain books, portrayed most notably by Richard Chamberlain in two films in the 80s and Patrick Swayze in a 2004 mini-series. But this time out, our hero is played by John Colicos, best known for his work in Star Trek and the original Battlestar Galactica. He’s joined in his quest by Patrick Macnee and NCIS star David McCallum. There’s no female lead per se, but Britt Ekland appears in a supporting role as a Phoenician queen.

This movie is not all that great all around. In addition to the usual treasure hunt perils of these types of stories (angry “natives”, quicksand, etc.), there are guys in Roman garb, a volcano, and stop-motion dinosaurs. Also, this particular cut that’s available has quite a few dropped frames and skips here and there. Mainly I picked this because I was interested in seeing Colicos in a hero role for a change, instead of the villains I’ve seen him play. I’m not sure who the audience is for this in today’s world, but I’ve seen a lot worse out there.

NOTE: You might be able to find this movie for free on YouTube, but I will neither confirm nor deny it.

December 27

Day 361 of the #2019MovieChallenge! Today’s pick is 2018’s Bumblebee, the prequel/spin-off/reboot of the Transformers film franchise. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Charlie, a teenage gearhead who discovers and befriends our wayward Autobot hiding out on Earth.

This movie was a G-D delight! I laughed all the way through the movie and did get hit in the feels in the right places as well. Ultimately, this is the first Transformers movie I’ve wanted to see since the actual first one premiered in 2007. I don’t completely despise the Michael Bay-directed films, but the robots in that film have way more personality than the humans. This film at least has a good balance with only a little bit of cringeworthy performance… and no giant robot testicles, so that’s a plus!

The acting was well done. Steinfeld was pitch perfect as Charlie, who discovers a dormant Bumblebee in car form just before her birthday and brings him back to life. She delivers well on acting out the comedy next to a CGI partner, as well as bringing all the emotion to it. She struggles to deal with her family (Pamela Adlon as her mom, Steven Schneider as her step-dad, and Jason Drucker as her little brother Otis) and fellow teens while hoping to escape all this and start a new life. Bumblebee (voiced in the beginning by American Assassin star Dylan O’Brien) stumbles around a bit, adjusting to his new world in some hilarious sequences. Joining Charlie in her quest to help Bee is Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Charlie’s neighbor who has a serious crush on her.

Going against the good guys in this are Sector 7 (represented by John Turturro in the earlier movies), led this time out by Agent Burns (John Cena) and Dr. Powell (John Ortiz). They have mistakenly teamed up with Decepticons(!) Dropkick (Justin Theroux) and Shatter (Angela Bassett). These folks were all great in this. While I feel like Cena’s performance was just a little too much, I also feel like that was supposed to be the case, so I let it go. I’d also like to give a shout-out to Peter Cullen for reprising his role yet again as the voice of Optimus Prime in a small supporting role.

Overall, this is a far better film to start with if you’re planning to watch all the Transformers movies. They do have more films planned and if they’re in the same vein as this one, they can just shut up and take my money.

December 28

Day 362 of the #2019MovieChallenge! Today’s pick is the 2018 kung fu film Master Z: Ip Man Legacy*. Max Zhang reprises his role from Ip Man 3 as Cheung Tin-chi, who has given up teaching Wing Chun to be a simple grocer and look after his son. But just when he thought he was free… Michelle Yeoh and Dave Bautista co-star.

I feel like I’ve done a disservice on some level to this genre, as I haven’t picked one for the Challenge since we watched Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga way back on February 1. I really enjoy these movies and tomorrow’s pick is in this genre as well. But anyway, back to the review.

I really enjoyed the movie. The entire Ip Man series has been great fun to watch, dramatic license towards history notwithstanding. I also appreciated the chance to see what happened to Master Cheung after the last movie. The film does a good job, similar to Ip Man 2 & Ip Man 3 (to a lesser extent), of illustrating the societal problems that arose between East and West, since Hong Kong was still controlled by the British during the period. There was quite a bit of racial discrimination shown as well as corruption on the part of the foreign merchants and businessmen.**

Zhang is still great as Cheung, a man who is almost hiding from himself in shame after his pride led him to make some bad choices in the past. After he helps local signer Julia (Yan Liu) in her struggle with some gangsters, he comes into conflict with the gang’s boss (Yeoh), who is trying to make them a more respectable and legitimate business. At the same time, she’s also being foiled in that by her younger brother (Kevin Cheng), who pulls a Fredo Corleone and sides with foreign businessman/drug smuggler Owen Davidson (Bautista). Obviously, a lot of fight scenes ensue.

The real heart of this movie is the relationship between father and son, as Cheung tries to provide the best he can for his boy. You see this in “Ip Man 3” as well, and it really works. While I felt like the fights were good, they don’t quite match up to other films in this series and genre. The boss fights are exceptional though, and Yeoh & Bautista do fantastic jobs throughout the movie. If you’ve seen any of the Ip Man series so far, you should see this one as well.

*This is, obviously, the film’s English title.
**I mean, this IS a Chinese movie. Of course they’re going to show it that way. Doesn’t mean it isn’t true, but again, dramatic license…

December 29

Day 363 of the #2019MovieChallenge! Today’s pick is the brand new Ip Man 4: The Finale. Donnie Yen reprises the role once more as the story heads to 1960s San Francisco, where Master Ip, after receiving a cancer diagnosis, is trying to secure a future for his son Ip Jin. He finds himself in conflict with the local Kung Fu masters there, before they all run afoul of a racist Marine sergeant (Scott Adkins).

This was a worthy finale to the series, which has a potential spin-off in last year’s Master Z, which we covered yesterday. Yen is in fine form as Master Ip, who is struggling to stay connected to his son Jin after his wife’s passing. Kwok-Kwan Chan (aka Danny Chan) reprises his performance as Bruce Lee from both “Ip Man 3” as well as the Chinese TV series “The Legend of Bruce Lee” from 2008. It’s not a large role overall, but he provides Master Ip with transportation to America as well as support during his visit. Adkins, who appears to have a role in just about every action movie of the last decade, is rather over-the-top in this one — more a function of the script than anything else — as Gunnery Sergeant Geddes, who zealously believes that the Chinese are inferior and that Karate is the only thing that should be taught to the Corps.

The script has some flaws, mostly pertaining to knowing how the Marine Corps or the INS actually operated in the period, but they’re forgivable. It’s a good addition and coda to the series that has maintained a decent level of consistency over the last decade. If you’ve seen all the other movies (and if you haven’t, you should!), see this one, too.

December 30

Day 364 of the #2019MovieChallenge! Today’s film is the 2019 Netflix action movie 6 Underground. Ryan Reynolds leads a team of independent covert operatives to topple a dictator.

I wanted to enjoy it. I did. I mean, Ryan Reynolds, the hope of a classic Michael Bay action flick… what could be wrong with that? Turns out, it was just not for me. The film is too frenetic, there’s little to no setup for the little amount of story they have, and I really don’t have any sympathy for the heroes of this film. I’m certainly not rooting for the villain, but there is usually a bit more time spent on the main characters in order for the audience to have a connection. It’s ultimately, to me, a lot of soulless, mindless violence for very little reason, like they put the wrong parts of the “Mission: Impossible” and “Fast and the Furious” franchises into a blender

The performances are all right for this. Reynolds can do this kind of role in his sleep at this point, and it almost looks like he does. I almost feel like he did this movie as a favor to his friends, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The rest of the team is good in their roles. Mélanie Laurent is the most veteran actor in the bunch, with strong showings also from Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton”) and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (“Widows”, “Murder on the Orient Express”).

Overall, this is a good entry for Michael Bay fans or even for fans of plot-lite action movies. But I just didn’t jibe with it. Hell, I sat through all three “xXx” movies and still thought this was too frenetic and meaningless.

December 31

Day 365 of the #2019MovieChallenge! That’s right folks, a whole year has gone by and I decided to really make this last day count. So I picked not one, not two… not three, but FOUR movies watch! And none of them are related to one another!

First up was 2006’s The Secret, the (in)famous documentary about the Law of Attraction. While it has some interesting ideas in it, they’re buried beneath overly dramatic music and footage and presented like something the History Channel would air these days if it involved aliens. It’s a 90-minute infomercial that basically sells positive thinking without actually getting into deep specifics on actual techniques or how to wed it with action. There are no end of books published both before and since this film that talk about this stuff better, so go check those out.

Second was the 2013 documentary Money For Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve. Narrated by Liev Schreiber, this film covers the history of the Federal Reserve as well as past major mistakes and the effect of the then-still-fresh Great Recession of 2008. I found it interesting and I appreciated the discussion of the Fed’s role in creating the circumstances in which so many of the recent economic bubbles have occurred and may occur in the future. If it had one flaw, it was very long. It felt like there was not enough material to effectively cover a feature-length documentary.

Next up was the 2009 indie film Footprints. Sybil Temtchine stars as a woman who wakes up with amnesia in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (now the TCL Chinese Theatres) and spends the day on Hollywood Boulevard trying to figure out who she is, while interacting with various characters. This movie comes across as far more ethereal than I describe it. It’s a bit of a head trip… not bad, but I think you really have to be in a contemplative mood to watch this. The performances were good and it really does capture a bit of what Hollywood is actually like on a typical day around the time that I first moved to L.A. It’s worth seeing for folks who love old Hollywood (lots of references) or just want a taste of things on the boulevard!

And, finally, we come to the last film of this entire challenge! This one was recommended to me by my old friend Justin Schmid last year, during an exercise that ended up inspiring this whole challenge in the first place. 2006’s Kenny is a mockumentary that served as Australian actor Shane Jacobson’s breakout work at the time. He and his brother Clayton wrote and produced (with Clayton directing) this look at a man who makes his living maintaining and repairing portable toilets at various events in the Melbourne suburbs. At one point, he even travels to Nashville for an international toilet convention. While his personal life has suffered through his dedication to the work, he even gets a chance at a possible romance with someone new.

This wasn’t too bad, although it’s not my usual fare. There were some very funny moments and it’s interesting to note that the convention he goes to in the US and the company he works for are all real. I think this goes well for folks who like the works of Sasha Baron Cohen (“Borat”, “Ali G In Da House”) or the films of Christopher Guest (“Waiting for Guffman”, “Best in Show”).

P.S. If you’re interested, Justin has a blog where he writes about travel, biking, parenting, food and a whole lot more. Check it out!