Saturday, March 11, 2017

Fences

Based on a play. Oh so obviously based on a play. Troy (Denzel Washington) is a working class guy in the 60's, in his 60's. He goes to work, has a drink on weekends and tries to support his family out of a deep sense of responsibility. This family consists of an older son (trying to be a musician), a second wife and their teen son, and a brother who is a mentally impaired war veteran. The film/play follows Troy over about a year. I emphasize play because there are lots of speeches and long monologues. I felt very "preached at". So an interesting look into these characters, but I could have done with less words, I guess?

3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

Set at the end of the Vietnam war, a helicopter squadron (led by Samuel L. Jackson) is tasked with escorting a geological survey of a newly discovered island in the south pacific. Turns out this is an interface between the hollow earth (where large creatures live) and the surface. So this survey crew encounters (and is decimated by) King Kong after dropping seismic charges all over the island to verify this hollow earth theory. Consider the theory verified. We then follow the science and military cohorts as they work to escape the island. In many ways a classic Kong film, which could also be viewed as derivative. I will say that Samuel L Jackson does not once use his inside voice in this film. Take it for what it is worth.

3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Logan

This film has been getting rave reviews. Partially because this is R-rated, it is targeted toward adults and, like Deadpool, that has its pro's and con's. In effect, this is the dramatic counterpart to Deadpool's comedy. The story is set a decade ahead with Logan taking care of a physically failing Professor X. This physical failing is coupled with mental failing, so he has "psychic seizures" that are potentially deadly for anyone nearby. Enter into the picture a young girl seeking transport north. She is being hunted, and only Logan can help her. So... road trip.

The film earned its rating via gory body count and language. But the dramatic themes were lost on me. I saw the thinking about legacy, the struggle with responsibility aging parents, care for the next generation. But this, to me, came across as standard issue drama. The fact that it was in a superhero world might be different, but not different enough to say this was a high quality drama. It was an average drama. And a pretty good superhero flick.

4 stars (out of 5)

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)