13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (B). Remember American Sniper? If you enjoyed that movie—and I mean the battle scenes, not the back-at-home scenes—then you will like 13 Hours. This is the story of the September 11, 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. How accurate it is, I must leave to others, but as a movie-going experience, I enjoyed it. We experience the events mainly from the perspective of six CIA contractors—former Navy SEALS and the like who live at a secret CIA base not too far from the diplomatic compound. Thanks to their training and remarkable musculature, they are, of course, basically an army unto themselves, and they do almost all of the fighting in the movie. Unfortunately, they aren’t fleshed out too well as characters, and I had a hard time telling some of them apart. (It helped that two of them, John Krasinski and David Denman, used to be on The Office, where they played romantic rivals for the affections of receptionist Pam Beasley.) Of course, the main thrust of the movie is that the diplomatic compound was badly under-secured and that the State Department—or somebody—was at least criminally negligent for not sending whatever help was available. I didn’t perceive the movie as too much of an attack on the present administration or the then-secretary of state, but it definitely puts the lie to the administration’s and press’s initial reports that the attack was a local protest that got out of hand instead of a planned and premeditated assault. Anyway, I thought the battle scenes were engrossing and conveyed well the “fog of war” in a strange land where the enemies and friendlies were virtually indistinguishable. On the down side, there is a decent amount of cheesy dialogue to be endured. Still, it’s definitely one of the better efforts from director Michael Bay (The Island, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen).
Anomalisa (B). This is a strange movie—but it was written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), so it could hardly be otherwise. It’s a stop-motion animated movie made with felt puppets, rather like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But it’s justifiably rated R for “strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and language,” so on the other hand it’s really not like Rudolph at all. The main character is Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I), a middle-aged guy who is deep in the grip of the existential blues as he lands in a rainy Cincinnati on a quick, banal business trip. But Lisa (voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Spectacular Now), a nice young woman with self-esteem problems, rather steals the show. Anyway, the movie is a pretty effective portrayal of the loneliness, angst, and boredom of life. Is it more than that? Hard to say. But it kept my interest, and that counts for something.
A TV review from The Movie Snob — a guy who watches very little TV.
The Last Man on Earth: Season One (B). The premise of this sit-com intrigued me: Take a standard last-man-on-earth scenario, but play it for laughs. Will Forte (Nebraska) stars as Phil Miller, a very ordinary guy from Tucson who just happens to be the only survivor of a virus that seemingly wiped out everybody else on the planet. Including all the animals. The first season is only 13 episodes, but they are so packed with twists and surprises that I really can’t say anything else about the show without committing spoilers, so I’ll just say that I thought it was creative and occasionally pretty funny. The extras on the DVD set are nothing to write home about—some deleted scenes that aren’t particularly funny, a couple of episode commentaries that don’t add much to the experience, a couple of other short items about the creation and making of the show. Just watch the show itself and see if it’s your cup of tea.
Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (B). Happy MLK Day! As a government employee, I had the day off, so I thought I’d check out this new documentary. I presumed I would have the theater virtually to myself, but surprise! There were probably 60 or 70 other moviegoers there for the 1:15 show. Who’d have thunk it? Anyhoo, I knew nothing about Peggy Guggenheim going in, so this documentary–biopic was very educational for me. PG was born in 1898 and lived until 1979, and in between she became one of the most influential people in the art world, despite having no formal training. Instead she had some money (being an heiress), a good eye, and some excellent advisers, as well as a personality that allowed her to meet and befriend (ahem) many of the artists who came to define the 20th century. Jackson Pollock was apparently one of her discoveries. Anyway, she lived an unconventional and seemingly pretty sad life, but it made for an interesting movie. Among many other things, I learned that both parents of actor Robert De Niro (Stardust) were artists whose work was shown by Guggenheim back in the day. Worth seeing, if you like this sort of thing.
Joy (B). So, I saw this movie about inventor and marketing mogul Joy Mangano a couple of nights ago. As I was driving home, I thought, “How odd that I have never seen or really even heard of this person before.” When I got home, I retrieved my mail, and, lo and behold, there she was on the cover of a Bed Bath & Beyond flyer, touting her redesigned Miracle Mop. Anyway, I basically agree with Mom Under Cover’s opinion that this is a pretty good movie. It’s Jennifer Lawrence’s picture all the way, and she (Winter’s Bone) delivers her typical go-for-broke performance. Like Mom Under Cover says, Joy is basically a human weeble–she continually gets knocked down, but she always gets right back up. I enjoyed watching her fight to realize her dream, with various degrees of help and hindrance from her divorced parents, her beloved grandma (Diane Ladd, TV’s Alice), her ex-husband, her jealous half-sister, and her dad’s flamboyant foreign girlfriend, played with flair by Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet). Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) has basically a glorified cameo as the QVC manager who gives Joy her big break. The ending wrapped up a little too quickly and easily for my taste. But on the whole, I enjoyed it.
Laggies (C). It seemed like this 2014 release was barely in the theaters at all, even though it stars the winsome Chloë Grace Moretz (Dark Shadows) and the toothsome Keira Knightley (Atonement). It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t very good either. Knightley stars as Megan, a 28-year-0ld Seattle woman who has failed to launch. She’s been dating her high-school boyfriend for 10 years, and despite having some sort of graduate degree she “works” by twirling an advertising sign in front of her dad’s accounting firm. She chances to meet some cool high-schoolers, and she winds up running away from her real life and staying with Annika (Moretz) and her divorced dad (Sam Rockwell, Moon) for a week. Not sure I’d let some stranger move into my house for a week on my kid’s say-so, but okay. Ellie Kemper (They Came Together) has a thankless supporting role as a humorless member of Megan’s old high-school posse. Gretchen Mol (The Notorious Bettie Page) pops up in a tiny role. It’s not a very believable movie, and Megan isn’t a particular believable (or likable) character. Still, I liked this better than Your Sister’s Sister, also by director Lynn Shelton.