Life Without Principle (Johnnie To, 2011). When in doubt, go to Johnnie To. This wasn’t the first time I was wandering the Internet, looking for something to watch, and opted for a Johnnie To film. Every one I’ve seen has been OK at worst, with Vengeance being much better than that. Life Without Principle lacks the gunplay one expects from To, but that’s only a problem if you fixate on it. The story, about how several “unimportant” people deal with the global financial crisis, grabs you in a different way from the usual, but it is just as gripping. To also uses a subtle narrative technique that was all the more effective for sneaking up on you (this isn’t Pulp Fiction). Life Without Principle can be taken as a straightforward crime drama, but the context (regular people in extreme situations, with greed, personal and global, always in the mix) makes it a movie that is a bit more than a genre piece. 7/10.
Olympus Has Fallen (Antoine Fuqua, 2013). Every year on our anniversary weekend, we check out a movie, usually something mindless. The tradition started on our honeymoon in 1973, when we saw Alec Guinness in Hitler: The Last Ten Days. (Last year was fairly upscale: The Avengers.) We narrowed our choices to a movie with The Rock, the new Star Trek, and another movie with The Rock. As often happens when each of us has their own choice, we chose middle ground, picking a movie we’d never heard of that had Morgan Freeman in the cast. Gerard Butler was the lead, and he was fine and virile as required. The movie was stupid, obvious, and efficient, which is to say, it wasn’t a bad choice given the context. It wasn’t all that good at any particular thing, but it moved along, and Rick Yune did a very good job as the kind of villain you find in James Bond movies (he had practice, of course, being a Bond villain in Die Another Day). It borrowed liberally from other movies (usually better movies, so the comparisons weren’t kind), most notably Die Hard. Worth watching five years from now when you’re sitting at home, bored, and it shows up on TNT. 6/10.