Monday, February 6, 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

The xXx program is an off-book, special program that the US government uses to solve problems that the laws won't allow it to solve. The xXx agents are all highly trained with special skill-sets usually acquired in the X-games. This installment finds the agents pursuing Pandora's Box, an electronic gadget that can break any encryption and that the bad guys are using to crash satellites into the earth. Of course there are good good-guys and there are bad good-guys and there are good bad-guys and the fun of this film comes partly from sorting all those out. The rest of the fun comes from the stunts and ridiculous action sequences. As a sucker for both of these types of fun, I call this movie a win.

3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Founder

The historical fiction story of Ray Kroc and his "founding" of McDonalds Corp. The short version of the plot is that Ray is a midwest salesman who encounters the McDonalds brothers and their restaurant in San Bernardino. He enters into an agreement with them to be their franchise liaison and, after a bit of success, takes over the company. The impact of the film, however, is not just a relaying of the history of the company. Instead, it is a commentary on capitalism. I am sure that every person who watches, probably dependent on their existing bias, will "see" a different message - critique or praise - about capitalism. In the end, do I feel bad for the McDonald brothers? Do I hold Kroc at fault for his enthusiasm and hustle? Or is the world a better place because of how this story played out? A great portrayal of this story, and well suited for discussion with friends over coffee afterward.

4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lion

The based-on-a-true-story story of a young Indian boy from the sticks who gets stuck on a train and transported for a couple days to Calcutta. He doesn't know the name of his town, or where he is and joins the orphan community in Calcutta. Eventually, he is adopted by an Australian couple, where he "lives the good life" growing up. Jump forward to his adult life, and he begins a quest to find his original home based on a few vague memories and Google Earth imagery. It really is an astounding story and portrayal of both the survivor instinct in humans as well as the long term emotional impacts that surviving can have on a person. Well done.

4 stars (out of 5

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hidden Figures

This film is awesome. I hate to build up expectations for films because the viewing can never match the anticipation (see any Star Wars movie ever released after 1980). But in this case, expectations exceeded. This is the story of three African-American women in the 1960's who work in the West Computing Group at NASA's Langley Lab. The computing groups were groups of women who functioned as computers, calculating trajectories and friction coefficients and anything else that needed calculating in the process of running a space program. The west computers were the temporarily employed black women. The east computers were the permanently employed white women. This story follows three of the women (one mathematician, one engineer, one supervisor/programmer) who are friends and working to contribute to the US space program. The story telling here is fabulous, alternating between hilarious, subtle, heartbreaking, and ordinary. The supposedly covert racism that, from the perspective of today seems so overt, definitely draws seemingly 21st century responses in the form of eye-rolls and sassy rebuttals, subtly breaking the 3rd wall in a wink-wink with the audience. I loved the portrayal of these women as strong, and enduring, and the smartest in the room. Well done.
5 stars (out of 5)

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Magicians (Serial)

Season 1

This SyFy series is based on the book by the same name by Lev Grossman, which I loved. Grossman was involved in the making of this, so it is clearly in line with his vision, and very true to the storyline and feel of the books. The storyline follows Quentin, who attends Brakebills school of magic. He finds himself, along with his friends, needing to protect the world from The Beast. To do this, they need to travel to the fictional world of Fillory. Think of this as a cross between Narnia and Harry Potter. This is not high drama, or dark comedy. More teen-drama, which is also true to the book. I am not sure if I liked it because it was good, or because it was familiar. Probably a bit of both. The overall feel was a bit CW or MTV, which is lightweight for those who are looking for Orphan Black/Black Mirror dark sci-fi. So knowing what it is, I enjoyed it.

3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Captain America: Civil War

The Avengers are now the global police, independent hunters of criminals. To start out, they are chasing a bad guy, and bad things happen, and a few innocent bystanders are killed. The governments of the world step in to put some bureaucratic controls and checks/balances on the Avengers. However, only some of the Avengers are willing to submit to this. So we get Iron Man going legitimate and Captain America going rogue. When the Winter Soldier (Bucky) is reactivated by a bad guy, the two sides disagree about how to handle the situation. And it breaks the Avengers unity forever. A fun introduction of Black Panther and Spiderman, and of course, epic battle scenes make this well worth the time I spent watching it.
3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, December 30, 2016

Loving

The historical fiction telling of the story of Richard and Mildred Loving. These two lived in Virginia in the 60's and, since it was illegal to get married or co-habitate as a mixed race couple in Virginia, they traveled to Washington DC to get married. Unfortunately, the marriage license made no difference to the Virginia law and the two were arrested, sentenced to a year in prison or 25 years probation if they left the state. Then a couple of ACLU lawyers pick up their case and take it to the supreme court, to set the national law allowing interracial marriage. Those are the facts. Beyond the facts, this film tries to capture the drama and angst that these two experienced over the course of 10 years. From the opening line "I'm pregnant", I picked up on a sense of impending doom. How will this turn out bad? What tragedy will unfold? And this sense was never resolved, instead holding me in tension throughout, as I waited for the shoe to drop. But it never did. This was the nicest, most pleasant depiction of racism that I have seen. Even the ugliness was cordial. And all of this cordiality was sitting on top of the sense of impending doom. I am not sure what the filmmakers were aiming for in terms of tone, but the juxtaposition I experienced rang false. The personal tension came through, but the overt tension was non-existent. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic, the result of my history coming from dramatic films. Maybe this is really how it was.
4 stars (out of 5)