They did, in fact, make a movie based on the game Battleship, and I have, in fact, seen it more than once. And it is awful but compelling. There are aliens. There is Hot Tim Riggins. There is Rihanna for some reason. And there is the USS Missouri.

The premise? Aliens come to Earth, and they isolate the Hawai’ian islands and knock out communications. So they must be destroyed within the little impregnable dome they have made in the Pacific, by people who are already there, with the help of tsunami buoys, which make a helpful grid. Also Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch, who is probably named something, but in a movie this silly I can’t even care at all) is possibly pissing away his Navy career but also dating the Admiral’s (Liam Neeson, for no reason whatsoever) daughter (Brooklyn Decker).

MV5BMjI5NTM5MDA2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjkwMzQxNw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_So, like, it’s a game of Battleship, and also there is ludicrous romantic drama.

Now! For a change! The girl has stuff to do! She finds nerds and veterans to help her fight the aliens on the island while Hot Tim Riggins is fighting the aliens at sea. Hot Tim Riggins has with him both Landry (Jesse Plemons, and, yes, again, I’m sure he has a name in this movie but it doesn’t matter) and Rihanna. He also has the assistance of the Japanese Navy in the person of Tadanobu Asano.

You may be wondering how you could possibly have a movie called Battleship in a time when the Navy no longer uses them. And then you may recall that this movie takes place around Hawai’i. And you may recall that the USS Missouri is berthed, still, in Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor. And you may manage to ignore that her engines are gone and her guns are full of cement. And if you do all these things, you will love this movie, because the payoff is incredible.

Is this a good movie? No, it is not a good movie. It is asinine and ridiculous and a feature-length advertisement for the United States Navy. But it is also relentlessly gleeful and it knows exactly what it is doing, and it is so, so watchable.

Director: Peter Berg
Rating: PG-13
Length: 131 minutes
Score: unrateable. amazing.

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MV5BOTM2NTI3NTc3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzM1OTQyNTM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Solo: A Star Wars Story is basically Space Oliver Twist followed by Space Any Double-Cross Movie. Maybe particularly that later Pirates of the Caribbean movie that didn’t make any sense. That is: Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) grows up in a gang of thieves led by a disgusting worm, and then he escapes to the glamor of smuggling, via the army. Since it is directed by Ron Howard, it at least resembles, in many useful ways, a film.

Also there is a girl, Kira (Emilia Clarke). Oh, sorry. Qi’ra.

Oh man. I was lukewarm on her until I realized her name was stupid for no reason, and now I hate her. She starts out also as one Fagin’s Lady Proxima’s gang, but she does. not. escape. She is forced to enter a life of misery and crime and large jewelry as organized crime honcho Dryden Vos’s (Paul Bettany) right hand lady. She and Han of course meet again, and this is most of the movie.

But first Han has to enter his own life of crime, via a small gang of smugglers: Beckett (Woody Harrelson), Val (Thandie Newton), and Rio (Jon Favreau). They are disposable, but they teach him valuable lessons about trust and introduce him to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). Lando still owns the Millennium Falcon (with all her upholstery and other, you know, useful parts), and dresses like it’s the sexy space-70s. Billy Dee Williams should be extremely flattered. Lando is the best part of this movie, because Donald Glover appears to be having the time of his life, and his character makes sense.

The women in this movie are okay. At least they dress more or less appropriately to context, so that’s a step forward on The Last Jedi. There may be a fleeting moment when the film passes the Bechdel test, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as an angry rebellious droid provides almost the right amount of moderately intelligent humor and social commentary (she is worse than K-2SO, but that’s a hard act to follow).

It was fine. I don’t think it was necessary. Sure, it’s neat to meet Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), but I already knew about as much about Han’s past as I wanted. Ugh. Why was there a girl? Just give me Han, Chewbacca, and Lando. I would watch hours of that.

Stray observations (Spoilers):

  • Darth Maul? Why.
  • Han’s surname is made up on the fly by a bored Imperial pencil-pusher. Possibly I love this.
  • I want Edna Mode to talk to Lando about his wardrobe.

Director: Ron Howard
Rating: PG-13
Length: 135 minutes
Score: 3/5

“Disney made a movie about Polynesia” is not a sentence calculated to get me to buy a ticket. “Jemaine Clement plays a giant evil crab” might have done better, but no one told me.

MV5BMjI4MzU5NTExNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzY1MTEwMDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Moana is really good. It’s simple, compelling, and well-executed. Also gorgeous. A young Polynesian woman (Auli’i Cravalho) is raised to be the chief of her island. She has a kooky and mystical grandmother (the inimitable Rachel House), a cute pig, and a very stupid chicken. Then things on the island start to die, and Moana must go on a quest to restore the heart (a small jade token) to the goddess Te Fiti. To do this, she enlists the help of the demigod Maui. Who is played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Obviously.

He is arrogant and hilarious; she is naïve but plucky.  They encounter monsters, gods, and the ocean, which is usually on their side but also can get tetchy. The best of these is a giant crab called Tamatoa, who is the god of something or other and is voiced side-splittingly by Jemaine Clement.

Romance at no point enters the story, even in negation. This is markedly better than the treatment in Brave or Frozen. In fact, across the board Moana is much more the girl-power film those were trying to be. And as far as I can tell it’s not racist.

Stray observations:

  • Like, Moana, I’m excited for your freedom and self-actualization and stuff but you literally don’t know how to handle an out-rigger and it was stupid to steal one and head off by yourself.
  • The coconut pirates are baffling and unnecessary.
  • “Oh, I see. She’s taken a barnacle, and she’s covered it in bioluminescent algae. As a diversion.”

Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall, Chris Williams
Rating: PG
Length: 107 minutes
Score: 4/5

MV5BYWY5ZjhjNGYtZmI2Ny00ODM0LWFkNzgtZmI1YzA2N2MxMzA0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_UY268_CR2,0,182,268_AL_.jpgThis movie is perfect.

In it, you watch a man go mad as European empires destroy the Middle East on purpose.

It is not happy.

T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole, terrifyingly young and beautiful) is seconded from his minor post in an office in Cairo to the Arab revolt against the Turks, under Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness). His companions in this are Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif), whom we meet when he shoots, sight unseen, a man drinking from one of his wells, and Harry Brighton (Anthony Quayle), who puts in a masterful performance as a stolid and unimaginative British soldier. There are some higher-ups about, as well: General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) and the éminence grise Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains, who incidentally lets you get from Humphrey Bogart to Orlando Bloom in three moves).

There to help you with the difficult bits is an American reporter (Arthur Kennedy), who asks Lawrence pertinent questions to which he can give dotty answers, and documents the whole spectacular swashbuckling thing.

And it is spectacular. Lawrence swans about in white robes, his followers achieve the impossible, and even the Army in Cairo gives grudging and then unstinting respect. Then of course it goes badly and the War barrels towards its close and we, Lawrence, and Harry watch Dryden mention a Mr. Sykes and a Mr. Picot and Feisal make one or two extremely cutting remarks and it is emotionally draining.

No expense was spared in the production and it is splendid. The soundtrack you have heard and it it is great. The film is slow, but this is not old-fashioned pacing; it is meant to convey the distances and the desperation. Nowadays Alec Guinness would not be cast as Prince Feisal nor Anthony Quinn as Auda; this is certainly some sort of victory but not necessarily a cinematic one. Sir Alec in particular is just really good in the role. He gets most of the best lines.

The story-telling is superb. It is surprisingly lacking in both moralizing and melodrama, but your sympathies are constantly shifting. Lawrence, from naïve but attractive, becomes horrible yet still compelling. Ali, who kills a man before you meet him, becomes in some ways the moral center of the piece. And Harry–watch Harry.

Stray observations:

  • What, in your opinion, do these people hope to gain from this war?” “They hope to gain their freedom. …Freedom.”
  • It is technically rated PG, but it is worse than that for anyone with a rudimentary imagination and sense of humanity.
  • Possibly I recommend breaking it over two days, both for convenience and palatability.
  • This is my favorite movie, and I think it is the best movie ever made.

Director: Sir David Lean
Rating: PG
Length: 216 minutes
Score: 5/5, but also unrateable

Remember when this movie came out? It was kind of a while ago and it’s difficult to recall my feelings on it. Wait, no it’s not. I loved it. I loved new Q. I loved Ralph Fiennes. I loved the Barbour jacket. I loved the theme song. I loved the old Aston.

Most of all, I loved that it wasn’t Quantum of Solace.

MV5BNDVhZmJiYWMtNmIzMC00ZWNiLTkzZDYtNGNlZmViMGM4OGExXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTIzOTk5ODM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_But it turns out that this isn’t actually good, just by virtue of not being a steaming pile of garbage. Yes, it has everything you want out of a Bond movie: hot car, casino, some crack shooting, a fight on top of a train, rivers of booze. Many of these things it has more than once, as an apology for its precursor.

And therein lies the problem: this movie has far too many acts, even for a Bond movie. By my count, we have:

  • Istanbul
  • drunken obscurity
  • London
  • Shanghai
  • Macau
  • dumb island
  • London redux
  • the A-9
  • the Highlands

That is too much. Combine Shanghai and Macau. Leave out the dumb island. Maybe spend less time not eating scorpions in drunken obscurity. Or give the girl there at least one line.

Then you have time to spend on new Q (Ben Whishaw), who is a delight. Of course Q is now a tiny nerd! And time for the rest of MI-6, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who inject a pleasingly average Britishness and a velvety steel respectively. I suppose you can also spend time on Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), but please let it be different time, and please let it be less sad, somehow. Old Moneypenny was less sad, possibly because she had less of a chance? I don’t know, but fix it.

Other than that, fine. Silva (Javier Bardem) is menacing; his face is weird and off-putting even when all of it is there. Severine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe) is very tall and very beautiful, so that’s nice. Kincade (Albert Finney) is old and great and dresses exclusively in Barbour. Judi Dench denches it up, and is magnificent because of course she is.

Oh: and Adele. Adele is perfect. Yelly, ballady, incomprehensible. Perfect Bond song.

Stray observations:

  • The elevator is cool and all but that’s a borderline Mission: Impossible stunt and these new Bonds are supposed to be vaguely within the realms of possibility.
  • Cut the shaving scene. Burn it with fire. It is nauseating and unsexy and unnecessary.
  • During M’s scene with Mallory, early in the film, the continuity people blow it badly with her briefcase. I noticed in the cinema.
  • What is the health and/or life insurance like as a henchman? Because I’m going to go with “not good enough.”

Director: Sam Mendes
Rating: PG-13
Length: 143 minutes, which is solidly half an hour too long
Score: 3/5

You know how this goes.  Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) fights in WWII, is romantically involved with a New England WASP, Kay (Diane Keaton), and seems unlikely to become involved in his father’s crime family.  But his father (Marlon Brando) is shot and his brother Sonny (James Caan) is a hothead, so poor Michael has to become a mobster. His sister Connie (Talia Shire) is also around, and she is so badly treated and her psychology is so opaque that I pray for her to go back to Rocky.

In the second installment, we see young Don Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro), from his tragic childhood in Sicily through his gradual and seemingly passive slide into organized crime in New York. This is in parallel to Michael’s rise through casinos and hotels from Las Vegas to Cuba, where of course he sees the revolution happen. Kay’s not sold, and then he has to murder his brother Fredo (John Cazale). Also he blackmails some senators.

In the third installment, we see a director’s ego run amok.  I haven’t seen it in ten years and I hope I never do again.

I was re-watching these because you’re supposed to be familiar with them. I internalized so little of them last time that I didn’t get the “IT Crowd” episode entitled “Jen the Fredo.” So on the one hand it’s probably good that I can get references, but on the other: I still hate mob movies. Yes, these films are grand and the drama is sweeping, but everyone is unpleasant and hateful and sometimes you end up with a horse’s head in your bed. And Pacino, while he has not yet got to the point where his acting seems to be dictated by a sadist with pins, is an unconvincing blank. Everyone else is better, but that mostly tends to throw his flatness in your face.

Also, wow, are the costumes bad.  Some effort is made with cars and the width of ladies’ skirts, but hair, suits, and decor are just early 70s, and it’s dire.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Rating: R
Length: a billion trillion minutes
Score: unrateable

MV5BNThjMzczMjctZmIwOC00NTQ4LWJhZWItZDdhNTk5ZTdiMWFlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDYyMDk5MTU@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Nope, I don’t like mob movies. Even the good ones. Just like prison movies. There’s just something about the squalor and the casual violence that puts me off.

This one is a true story! Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) goes from childhood to mob peon to informer. He can’t actually achieve much, because he’s not all Sicilian (his father’s Irish), in which boat he joins Jimmy Conway (the very Irish Robert DeNiro). The chappie who can become a made man, Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), is rather unfortunately a touchy, sadistic nutbar. The film opens as we dispose of the body of a man who reminded Tommy he used to shine shoes. It turns out he’s not quite dead. It’s disgusting.

On the way, we meet Henry’s wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco), who doesn’t seem very bright, but she will give him a blow job when he gives her shopping money and doesn’t seem to mind being slapped around, so that’s nice. He cheats on her repeatedly and flagrantly. Sometimes with Debi Mazar!

The film is well-written, well-shot, and well-paced, but it’s also super fucking gross. And the tone is not lacking in admiration. Which bothers me. Sometimes you have to make movies about things that aren’t nice, but this is too glamorizing. Henry is supposed to be sexy and appealing, at least until the coke really makes his face go blooey. And then you’re supposed to feel bad for him when Paulie (Paul Sorvino) will only give him $3200 to go away. I don’t.

The only good thing about this, as far as I can tell, is that Robert DeNiro is still trying.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Rating: R
Length: 156 minutes
Score: 3/5

Northanger Abbey is perhaps Jane Austen’s least appreciated book, at least by me, for much of my life. I thought it would be like the others, but it’s not. It’s even spoofier, and it’s a spoof of Gothic novels. Now, Gothic novels are kind of bad. The Mysteries of Udolpho is remarkable chiefly because absolutely nothing (and nothing shocking) happens in it.

Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) has read too many novels, and she thinks life resembles them. When she ends up in an old country house, she nearly ruins her life by treating it and its inhabitants as if it were a castle in a Gothic novel.

MV5BMjA1ODE4MzAwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTAyMjE2MQ@@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_

This TV adaptation is near-perfect. The younger son of the Tilney house, Henry (JJ Feild), likes her, and is tolerant of her many faults. He calls her on them, but not insultingly. His sister, Eleanor (Catherine Walker), is gentle and mature. If they were the only three people in the novel, you might observe, it would be very boring. But Catherine also encounters less virtuous and much dumber people: Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan), who is an insincere fortune-hunter who tries to entrap both Catherine’s brother and Henry’s; John Thorpe (William Beck), Isabella’s brother, who is a blowhard and wants to marry Catherine for her (nonexistent) money; Captain Tilney (Mark Dymond) and General Tilney (Liam Cunningham), who are cold-hearted and generally unpleasant.

My only real quibble with it is that John Thorpe is not good-looking enough to be a plausible alternative to Henry. He’s unbearable and he looks like the back end of a cab. It’s not charming for Catherine to be taken in. But everyone else is great–JJ Feild is exactly handsome enough for Henry, Felicity Jones is adorably but not irritatingly naïve, and all the adults are hilariously one-dimensional dramatic types. Carey Mulligan is hateful.

Of this run of made-for-TV Austens, this is the most pleasant. It’s like a small gelato of period cuteness.

Director: Jon Jones
Rating: so delightfully light
Length: 84 minutes
Score: 4/5

Spoilers, obviously.

As a pretty severe Star Wars nerd, I disliked this movie. I resent the toxic combination of fan service to the original series and spiteful defiance of the existing Extended Universe. This was a crappy riff on The Empire Strikes Back and I wish it had been Dark Force Rising. You could even cast Oscar Isaac as Grand Admiral Thrawn. He’s been painted blue before.

MV5BMjQ1MzcxNjg4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzgwMjY4MzI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_

As a person who has seen a film before, I hated this movie. Somehow, at two and a half hours long, it managed to be both frenetic and boring. Even the laughs were telegraphed and rather joyless. Most of the emotional beats relied on the real death of Carrie Fisher, which is cheap and lazy.

Look. A Star Wars movie does not require six acts, especially if nothing really happens in most of them, and it would be easier to care about some of these people if they weren’t stupid. If a single errant TIE fighter will destroy your entire squadron of bombers, perhaps your formation needs reconsidering. If you’re infiltrating a fancy casino, don’t break everything, and don’t trust the first guy you meet in jail. You met him in jail. If your mutiny only lasts for thirty seconds because you didn’t do some very basic forward planning, maybe every insulting thing Laura Dern has said to you is true.

Oscar Isaac is still ludicrously handsome (and in case you were forgetting, both Carrie Fisher and Laura Dern are there, slightly creepily, to remind you). The lightsaber battle of Kylo Ren and Rey against the red people was visually striking and the final battle on the mineral planet was visually stunning, with its trails of blood-red salts. Porgs are cute. But this patchwork preachy nonsense is not a movie.

Stray observations (VERY SPOILERY):

  • Astral projection is asinine and if Luke was just going to die anyway he could have just shown up. And the bait-and-switch with Leia’s death was not only cheap but actually offensive.
  • Laura Dern is cool and all, but why do women in the military command structure of the Resistance wear drapey and impractical clothes? Mon Mothma wasn’t a general, and Carlist Rieekan never showed up anywhere in his goddamn pajamas.
  • Hey, Poe? I know you love your droid, but a lot of people just died. Read the room.
  • “I’m with the Resistance.” Cool, Rose. He’s eight, and doesn’t look especially politically aware.

Director: Rian Johnson
Rating: PG-13
Length: a way, way too long 152 minutes
Score: 2/5

MV5BMTcyNzk5NDg1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTM5MDQxNDM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Not your mother’s buddy-cop comedy,” we are told. I wish it had been. I would have liked it a lot more. Instead it was tonally inconsistent and gory.

LA, some time, some universe. Lots of different species live there: the Elves are all rich, the Orcs get the crap beaten out of them by the LAPD in front of their wives, the humans seem pretty standard. Ward (Will Smith) is a human cop, and he’s been shot in the chest by an Orc robber. Now his new partner, Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), is an Orc. No one is thrilled about this, and Ward’s police friends (Margaret Cho, Ike Barinholtz, some others) are impressively gross about it.

I expected this to be a parable about racial difference, and if the jokes had been as good as the first ten minutes promised, that would have been a solid film. But no, there’s a bunch of supernatural nonsense instead. There are (gasp!) evil Elves, led by Noomi Rapace, and a crazy Elf lady with a magic wand that drips glowing blue goo and kills people (Lucy Fry), and gangs of mean Orcs and gangs of mean humans, and a lot of not making sense. Oh, and a prophecy!

It may have been better as a series, à la “Almost Human.” Then the world-building would have been less rushed, and the magical Feds (Edgar Ramírez and Happy Anderson) might have been more than vestigial, which probably I would have enjoyed. Or at least understood.

Director: David Ayer
Rating: TV-MA
Length: 117 minutes
Score: 2/5