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)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck is the lead character in this character driven drama. And he nails it. The short version of the plot follows Affleck as he returns from his Boston maintenance man job to his hometown of Manchester after the death of his older brother. While making arrangements as the last living relative, Affleck encounters his past in surprising and difficult ways while trying to navigate a future for both himself, and his now fatherless nephew. There is a lot of angst here and Affleck wears it well. He has mastered the vacant eyes looking off to the side that suggest "it's possible for me to go there, but I can't because of where it would take me". This is the pure emotional struggle of a man who can't deal with the past, but is truly kind-hearted and wants to do right by his nephew. There is enough humor here to keep viewers from fully diving into Affleck's world, and I would guess that it is this humor that keeps him afloat too. An excellent portrayal of reality... loved it.
5 stars (out of 5)

La La Land

A true movie musical. Emma Stone is an aspiring actress, going through the grind of auditions, and working faithfully as a barrista. She crosses paths with Ryan Gosling, a talented Jazz musician who is so interested in tradition and pure Jazz that he often can't get jobs. They meet, they break out in song, they dance, they inspire each other to be their better selves, they sing some more. I suppose I am not the traditional target audience for musicals (e.g. I don't like them), but this was a pretty good story and not a traditional hollywood 'feel-gooder'. I liked John Legend's role, I liked the musical numbers that were not singing, but instead were jazz background. This felt true to the film and the style and seemed to be more seamless than the break-out-in-song traditional numbers. I liked the LA scenery, and I liked the Sliding Doors retrospective at the end. Don't call me a musical convert, but consider me entertained.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Arrival

Amy Adams plays a linguist called into action when several alien pods appear on earth. One of them is hanging out in Montana, and the pods are just hanging around. Powers that be are working to communicate, to see if this is a hostile or friendly visit. Adams is the one for the job. She (and physicist Jeremy Renner {who has no real purpose other than eye candy in a nice gender role reversal}) spend a lot of time in the alien pod, and interacting with the aliens (who they refer to as Abbot and Costello). The beauty of this film is the slow unfolding of knowledge, both for the characters and the viewers. The painstaking work and long hours of scientific inquiry are effectively shown, including the frustration, the small breakthroughs, the teamwork, the inklings of ideas as they germinate, the risks and leaps of logic that are needed. But don't get me wrong, this is not a science process documentary. This is straight up sci-fi that will push your thinking about society, and science, and relationship and probably a bunch of other stuff. And one of the best I have seen in awhile.
5 stars (out of 5)