Saturday, March 21, 2015

The End of the Affair

The setting: Ralph Fiennes is having an affair with Julianne Moore during WWII in London. When an act of God causes the affair to end, Fiennes hatred, anger and jealousy are exposed as he reintegrates himself into Moore's (and her husbands) life. This is a VERY DRAMATIC film. So much so that it is not any fun. It seems to me that one might have an affair because they are unhappy in their current circumstance. In this situation, the affair would serve to increase happiness. However, there is so much angst here that it seems the affair does not make anyone happier, even on the surface. And when the affair ends the emotional strings are pulled even more taught. I suppose I felt throughout that I was being manipulated to feel. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind feeling. But I prefer to come by it honestly, sans manipulation.
3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Switch

After a pretty good experience with Blended, I took a shot at another romantic comedy. Or should I say half a shot. Jennifer Aniston is having a baby, gathers a sperm donor, and wears her angst and anxiety on her sleeve throughout. When her best friend turns out to be the donor... And then I couldn't watch anymore. Just plain bored. Sorry.
1 star (out of 5)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Small Time

Christopher Meloni is a lifetime used car salesman. The lot that he and his business partner started and built into a successful small business is in many ways, the love of his life. When his son decides to forego college to come learn the trade, he is honored and conflicted. Does he want better for his boy? By admitting yes, does he devalue his own life work? I found this to be an introspective look at family relationships, self-value, identity, and hopes and dreams. A bit of a downer midlife reflection coupled with the anticipation of the next generation pushes this toward a conflicted, emotional ride. I like the realism with which the relationships were portrayed and how the satisfaction and/or disappointment were registered with a glance or a sideways look. Ultimately this is a subtle, yet powerful exploration of identity.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Romantic comedy, Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore. A Brady Bunch scenario with with reluctant parents and cute kids thrown into extraordinary situations (African safari vacation) that somehow turns out to be a them vacation for "Blended Families". In many ways, this plays like an extended PSA sponsored by some agency that wants to provide support for kids whose parents remarry. In other ways, it is a typical (and often cute) romantic comedy that works primarily based on chemistry and authenticity of Sandler and Barrymore in their roles. This is not film, or cinema. But it was mostly entertaining and a decent weekend diversion.
3 stars (out of 5)

McFarland, USA

What a great story. Mr. White (Costner), a down-on-his-luck football coach, moves his family to McFarland in the central valley of California to take the only teaching/coaching job he can find. His younger daughter voices what the rest of the family thinks: "Are we in Mexico"? What transpires over the next 2 hours is a transformative experience for White, his family, seven kids, their families and the entire town of McFarland. The film does not skirt the racial and class tensions, nor does it focus on them as THE conflict. Instead, we learn how what is really a cross cultural experience enlivens and enhances both cultures. There is nothing here that is unpredictable or surprising. But everything falls together the way a good sports film should. Best sports film I have seen since Moneyball, but good for entirely different reasons.

5 stars (out of 5)

22 Jump Street

Picking up where 21 Jump Street left off, Tatum and Hill are now sent undercover in college to (again) bust up a drug ring. While I was not particularly enamored with the first, I found this more entertaining as a send-up of the genre. The established bro-mance between the two principles allows the story to have more fun with the ongoing relationship. They go through all the stages of a stereotypical film romance (clingy, therapy, breaking up, etc.) which is not particularly funny, but comical as satire and commentary on the genre. The culmination of this send-up comes after the credits with the "previews" for future installments of the franchise (all the way up to 34 Jump Street or so). Nice.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Set in Johannesburg South Africa, the police force has installed a robotic peacekeeping unit that has helped to decrease the crime rate to almost nothing. Dev Patel is the inventor of the robot, but has bigger dreams of developing an actual autonomous AI for the peacekeepers. His competitor is Hugh Jackman, who has developed a larger, meaner robot that is controlled by a human via neural connector. Patel finds a way to install his AI prototype on a robot destined for the trash heap and it is born as Chappie (to a criminal mom and dad by the way). What I particularly liked about this film was the way it made me think about AI, and the development of consciousness. Of course, there are tons of holes in Chappie's development which were necessary to make an appropriately paced film. But how an AI would learn and grow and develop ethics are interesting. And how having a single AI takes the cat out of pandora's bag (so to speak).
4 stars (out of 5)