Friday, October 9, 2015

The Martian

First of all, an excellent film. I loved the book, and the film does not disappoint. This is pure space sci-fi, with the primary fiction being that we are witnessing the third manned mission to Mars. After that, it is all science. Mark Watney is stranded on the planet after his crew does an emergency departure during a storm and leaves him for dead. Watney is the team botanist and mechanical engineer, so he is constantly calculating and improvising his resources to stretch sustaining his life one more day. With this life or death tension riding over the entire story, we manage to be entertained by Watney's approach to life, his interactions with NASA, and by the fact that as the omniscient viewer we see the silliness and/or audacity of many of the decisions that are made. I love that this came across as sci-fi realism and was simultaneously able to capture the excitement and joy and passion of science.

5 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Pierce Brosnan continuing to develop his action hero chops. Here he plays "The Watchmaker", the cold, calculating, professional assassin, bad guy. Milla Jovovich is the U.S. State Department rising star who is sent to London to oversee the security of granting visas to the U.S. Brosnan is hired to initiate a terror attack and Jovovich is the only one who can stop him. I will say this is pure action, but I suppose I mean that it is only action. If you want to see a prototypical film where the characters are truly one-dimensional, this should be your case study. We know absolutely nothing about the character background or motivation. In fact, I have given you above the entire backstory for the to prime characters. So if a mindless action film with no real stunt work or clever plot is what you are looking for, look no further.
2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Set in China in the mid 19th century when warlords were competing for control of their local regions. When one warlord kills a powerful rival on the site of a Shaolin temple, he has solidified his grip on power. Until, of course, his grip slips. Another rival betrays him, kills his family and our warlord is forced to retreat to that same temple for safety. He has a conversion and ultimately becomes the protector that the temple has been looking for. Nothing really new here, but a well done period drama with quality martial arts and consistently engaging story. Reminded me of the IP Man series.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Berlin Job

A British film that is so British that I needed subtitles. It follows a couple of brothers who are the underworld crime bosses in charge of London. One is trying to get out of the business by initiating a final big deal. Of course, the deal goes bad (losing $50 million of drugs). So the brothers need to call in favors and negotiate extensions in an effort to get themselves out from under this loss. Who do you trust and how do you get a ton of money quickly? Clearly another heist is in order. I didn't really find anything novel or exciting here. Only watch if you need a late night diversion.
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Four girlfriends in England find themselves in the middle of a jewel heist... sort of. They find themselves interacting with the aftereffects of a heist. The mechanism of this film, however is what makes the film. The film is really told four times, once from the perspective of each of these girls. So that each retelling fills in additional details. This works particularly well here since, even though the story is happening to the four girls, only in the first minute and last minute are all four ever together. So there are pieces of information that only one will know, and this information is essential to a full understanding. So for the mechanism, and the careful implementation of this mechanism I give full praise. For the actual story, not-so-much. I suppose I am evaluating the story based on whether the story would be good without the mechanism. In this case no. So...
3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, September 4, 2015


Sort of a TiMER, Brazil - ish coming of age story that probably is intended to get the viewer to think about social stereotypes and the idea that our intelligence is pre-determined. In this context, every person is tested at some point in their pre-adolescent years and their individual frequency is revealed to them. Our protagonists in this case are a high frequency (the highest) girl and a low frequency boy, who bump in to each other. In this world, such a massive difference in frequencies coming into physical proximity result in some sort natural disaster (explosion, lightning strike, birds falling out of the air, car crash, etc.). The bigger the difference in frequency, the quicker the disaster and in this case disaster happens after 60 seconds of proximity. So our potential lovers are unable to be together. But we follow them through the next 20 years, with occasional attempts to meet, until our low frequency finds a way to circumvent the problem. Follow this with strange conspiracy theory, novel aural science, and revisionist interpretation of historical art. Overall, this was strange enough to keep me watching just to find out how everything resolved. And might be fun to discuss the ideas of intelligence as a nature v. nurture after watching with your philosophical friends. But it just wasn't excellent.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Colosio: El asesinato

A nice historical fiction retelling of the story of Mexican politics in the 1990's. The setting is the presidential elections where Colosio is the candidate of choice for the long reigning PRI party. During the campaign, Colosio is assassinated, and this story follows the detectives who are charged with uncovering who was behind the assassination. Clearly this is a highly politicized investigation, with the full force of multiple political inquiries, corruption, divided loyalties, and cover-ups in play. I particularly enjoyed this as a bookend of the story of PRI, having just read the Mexican political story The Underdogs from the early 1900's.

3 stars (out of 5)