Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Richard Linklater puts together great character movies. He is not necessarily worried that something must happen, but is worried that we as viewers know who the characters are, and what they think and feel. Often, this manifests in long dialogues and metaphysical discussions between characters (as in the Before... trilogy). This film has its own device for how to portray character and remarkably it works (and doesn't feel like a gimmick is pushed on you). Linklater filmed his cast every summer over the course of 12 years, and put together a fantastic story of a boy growing up. Our first scene is Mason at the age of 6, and we end with Mason going off to college. The transitions between capture life for this one boy in this one time. It is not universal, but there are universal themes for adolescence and family that everyone can connect with. And even though there is good supporting work, this film is definitely made excellent by the performance of Ellar Coltrane in his role as Mason. 

5 stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Picking up a few years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cesar and his monkey friends have taken over the redwoods of Marin county (north of San Francisco). They have not seen people for years and believe them to be extinct. In fact, most people have died out, but there is a small colony surviving in San Francisco. The virus has burnt itself out and the remaining people are starting to work at rebuilding civilization. The first step to rebuilding civilization is electricity, so a team of explorers travels north to see if the hydroelectric plant there can be fixed to provide power to SF. People, meet Apes. Of course there is tension, and fear, and racism (Apeism?). But quality leadership leads us past all that, working toward a better life for everyone. Kind of fun to see ideas of racism and pacifism and nationalism portrayed in such an extreme environment that it really becomes obvious what the thinking about these ideologies is. Well done. Entertaining and a bit of thinking.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

White House Down

Channing Tatum is a capitol police looking for work in the White House. His daughter is a politico and huge fan of President Jamie Foxx. When they are there to tour, terrorists take over the building nearly completely. Of course, the 'nearly' is required so that Tatum and his daughter can save the day and save Foxx. This is similar to Olympus has Fallen, but with a homegrown terrorist operation instead of a foreign one. And this was better. Maybe the father/daughter thing? Maybe Tatum is a better 'down on your luck' kind of guy than Butler? Maybe the small amount of political dealing that went along with the invasion? Not exactly sure. But let's be clear, this was not tons better, just a bit. If you are going to choose only one White House terrorist film to watch late at night, this one gets it by a margin.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Wolverine

X-men episode with Hugh Jackman as the wolverine. This episode picks one event in the long, storied life of Logan (rescuing a Japanese soldier from the Nagasaki explosion) and creates an entire action/drama based on the effects of this decision. There is (as there always is) some initial apathy from Logan, after which he finds a damsel in distress to rescue/protect. Formulaic and predictable. Which is exactly what you are paying for.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Fault in our Stars

Based on the novel by the same name, this is a story of romance and searching for the meaning of life among teenage kids with cancer. Hazel Grace meets Augustus in a support group, and the fall slowly in love, each trying to protect the other. They are able to joke about, cry about, and talk dispassionately and rationally about their disease. And they are able to not talk, when not talking is appropriate. So while this is in many ways a typical teen romance, it is also an atypical look into how to have a health outlook on life, regardless of the health of the actual life. Stays pretty true to the book, and about as entertaining. Not excellent, no surprises, but a strong adequate.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Edge of Tomorrow

Sarah Connor meets Groundhog Day? Aliens have invaded earth (some fluke crashing of an infected asteroid) and have devastated Europe. Tom Cruise is a media officer in the army and gets thrown into the Normandy-like invasion of France when he gets caught in a time loop. While it may be his own personal hell, it is exactly the gimmick needed to defeat the alien brain. But he need the help of former time-looper Emily Blunt to get him through. I really liked this movie, both in concept and execution. The time loop concept has the potential to get real cheesy or rely on goofy gags, and there is a bit (enough) of that for comic relief. But we don't get stuck there, and the editors use well paced "flash images" to show quick sequences of 10-15 resets in a row. Our brains can (and do) fill in all the repeated details and sameness without having to see it. It is a perfect combination of showing enough, but not too much. My only complaint with this film is with the ending. I expect with time travel movies to be at least a little bit unsettled at the end, not sure how things are or should be. This left me with a completely tidy package... too tidy. A bit of temporal mess would have been more satisfying.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fast & Furious 6

This is pure money-making, action, franchise gold. Vin Diesel and his gang get back together to help the cops get a bad guy (also fast car experts) and win themselves pardons and the return of a member of their family along the way. There will be street races, fast cars, explosions, gun battles, hand-to-hand combat scenes and very little in the way of unnecessary dialogue. Duane Johnson is really obvious, even in this group, as a caricature of himself, barely able to do more than quote his lines. And I love Gina Carano developing as an up and coming action star in her own right (see Haywire). It is nice to see summer franchise movies know their own limits, but still seem fresh enough to continue to entertain.
3 stars (out of 5)