Monday, March 5, 2018

Lady Bird

Hmmm. A coming of age story of a high school girl who attends private, catholic school, doesn't get along much with her mother, and is just on the odd side of things. Maybe because I see these kids every day, this is not really novel. Just a fictionalized version of my reality. Kids have friends, but sometimes they don't, they despise a parent, but appreciate their support, they need to get away, but love their home, etc. Life at this age is a series of contradictions that range from trivial to apocalyptic. The writing was good, the acting was good, the story was good. Somebody tell me why this is better than average, or more important than films that make me think about compassion or fighting abuse of power or why to convert my belief system into action.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Red Sparrow

Jennifer Lawrence plays a young ballet dancer, the prima in the Russian Bolshoi. When during a performance she breaks her leg, her entire life and financial support system is destroyed. In to the rescue is her Uncle, a high ranking Russian special police officer with an opportunity to make some money and provide for herself and her mother. It turns bad, and Lawrence is sent off to spy school (whore school) where she learns how to use any means necessary to get information from a target. The rest of the film then follows our newly minted spy as she takes on a job of finding a mole and protecting herself and her mother. In many ways, this is a traditional new-cold-war, spy thriller. But it wasn't fun. So even though films like Atomic Blonde and Baby Driver were equally graphic, they were fun and this was not. I think it has to do with how personal this film is. The violence (physical, emotional, sexual, etc.) is deeply personal here. There is no 'gamification', no sense that the brutality is comic, or stylized. Instead it was disturbingly close, bringing into the open a raw striving for power, and the traumatic effects that power and violence has on a person. Maybe the writing and acting here is stronger, the ownership by Lawrence of who this character is, and the life that has been put upon her, where often the actors are not given this opportunity. But if this is so, I might want more. Push me harder so that I have to think about this power/brutality relationship. Most people will miss this point and merely walk away dissatisfied. I nearly did.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Bollywood heist film where the corrupt national government seizes the crown's gold as a way to enrich itself. When the queen is locked up and calls on her loyal followers to steal back the treasure before it reaches the capital city, they respond quickly. As the film progresses, we are let on to increasingly complex machinations by the queen, culminating in a final showdown. I like the Indian flavor on this film, with the rural vistas, using camels as a distraction, and the urban chase scenes. And a couple of moderate plot twists are sprinkled throughout to keep you on your toes.
3 stars (out of 5)

Turbo Kid

Released in 2015, is a straight out of 1980, sci-fi, B-movie classic. In the post-apocalyptic future of 1997, everything is warlords and scavenging and water is the currency of import. We follow a kid who is fascinated with comics and wishes he was a hero. He meets a cute robot and together they take on the local water warlord. It is silly, and marginally fun.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Black Panther

It was good. Really good. But am I just on the cultural bandwagon, or was it really good? The plot follows the ascension to the throne of King T'Challa after the assassination of his father in the last Avengers installation. He is King of Wakanda, a central African country that has built amazing technology and prosperity based on having extensive vibranium resources from an ancient meteor strike. And all of this prosperity is kept secret (with vibranium based cloaking devices) from the world, making Wakanda one of the most isolationist countries in existence. With the vacant throne, there is talk about being more expansionist, and a cousin with a claim to the throne shows up.

What I particularly like about this film is pacing. With most action/comic movies, if I have time to think I am bored. Mostly because there is nothing to really think about. But here, the movie offers appropriate time to think, and to think about weighty cultural/political issues. What is the responsibility of the wealth to the global poor? Is it possible to be politically benevolent without striving for empire? What are the mechanisms to transmit cultural values from one generation to the next? How does the voice of the diaspora affect the thinking of those at home? Does a history of oppression and colonialization necessarily mean a future of the same? Can 'one side' unilaterally change the thinking of 'the other side'? The fact that I am asked to think about these things, and am given time during viewing to formulate thoughts well enough for them to stick is amazing. Add in to these important issues the fact that the film is full of action, cool tech with pretty good physics (love the Chladni figure title sequence) and superhero banter that made me laugh out loud and you really have a great film. This is what sci-fi is all about.
5 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Fate of the Furious

#8 in the franchise and the formula has been optimized. Minimization of character depth, as always, seems to be a priority coupled with regular car action, intra-squad humorous bickering and deification of Vin Diesel. And since that is the known formula, we can't complain that the movie doesn't follow some other path, or achieve some other goal. It does what it sets out to do extremely well.  The story that ties this installment together finds Charlize Theron as the bad guy, blackmailing Diesel to work for her, against his team/family, to steal nuclear codes and a submarine. He does so with exceptional efficiency, purportedly causing confusion with his now former team/family. But as a viewer, there is never any real tension. We know that team/family is the ultimate priority and somehow everything will work out. And it is not a spoiler to reveal that it does. Because that is the final term in the formula.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Step Sisters

Set on the campus of a fictional university, the greek system is clearly divided between sororities and black sororities. The black sororities have a long tradition of participating in Step competitions and shows and it is part of their historical/cultural pride as black students. Then a white sorority gets put on probation and is about to have its charter pulled. The solution (presented by the Dean) is to have his black, Harvard aspiring intern teach the white sorority girls how to Step and enter them into the school competition. How could anything go wrong? I love watching dance films like this, and usually there is a cultural appropriation plot device that is used to give the story tension and an arc. But I wonder about the message. Is cultural appropriation OK if it is approved of by the culture being appropriated? How many of those cultural representatives (people) need to approve? Or is the approval in this case only in the fact that a bunch of money was donated to a cultural center? Or is the normalization achieved when the mainstream (read white) newspaper praises the overall effort? Can a people own a culture, or does cultural evolution always push current members beyond their comfort zone? This was not a great film, by any means. But thinking gets a bump in my ratings.
4 stars (out of 5)