Monday, December 31, 2012


Daniel Craig as James Bond. I guess it is just a different Bond than I grew up with, so it will never be THE James Bond. But as a decent action film, very nice. Great chase scenes, a little (very little) bit of intrigue, a bit revealed from the character's history, and some clever humor and nods to the past. I think a Craig-Bardem grudge match is quite interesting, regardless of the characters. Bardem is simply the best sociopath out there right now. He is flat-out creepy. With overall low expectations going in, I can say that all my expectations were fulfilled.

One general observation is that any time I am watching a film and thinking about something else, or about editing or how the film was made, then the film probably missed something. Here it was the green screen. I think it is fair to expect high quality effects in big budget films and when the green screen is low budget enough for me to notice, then someone overlooked the details of their job. When your protagonist is standing on a road overlooking a vista and pondering both past and future, there is no reason for the viewer to be thinking "Wow, that is particularly bad green screen masking". Do I ask for too much for my $12?

3 stars (out of 5)


Very much the same storyline as Lauren Oliver's Delirium trilogy. In the film (released in 2002, well before the book was written) we have a society that has decided that emotion is the root of all evil. As a result, the society has decided to drug all members into a state of senselessness. A special police force is created, called the Clerics, and charged with hunting down and executing all "sense offenders". This includes destroying all nostalgia, art, music, etc. Christian Bale plays the chief cleric and of course, must deal with his own developing emotions. This was an adequate effort, but not extraordinary. For example I wonder, if everyone was really drugged to remove all emotion, why would anyone ever smile or smirk. You either get automatons or you don't. While Bale is generally very good, he didn't have much to work with here. I would have loved to see a bigger role for his kids and the development of those relationships into a bigger portion of the plot. In terms of action, I did appreciate the hand-to-hand combat with pistols. A fine mixture of martial arts with the added necessity of keeping your opponent from ever getting any sort of inside position to allow firing of their weapon. That particular scene was well done. Apparently this never went to wide release in the theaters, so most of us missed it 10 years ago. Thanks Netflix...
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

This is 40

Or more appropriately, This is 40 minutes too long. I like to think I am the target audience for almost any movie. I can appreciate teen humor, am looking forward to seeing Pitch Perfect, like a good RomCom, historical drama, action spy thriller and will even enjoy the occasional period piece. But I don't get This is 40. I mean, I get that the characters are realizing that not everything is as "good" as it used to be. But does that make a movie. The writing is not clever enough, the plot does not move enough and the jokes are not funny enough to entertain. I chuckled twice. Otherwise, I found myself looking around more often to see facial expressions of those around me. Was I missing something? Unfortunately, no. There was nothing to miss.

2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, December 9, 2012


While any story of Lincoln is a story about the Civil War, this is more about the 13th amendment abolishing slavery and the political machinations that surrounded its passage. It was not part of my awareness that the amendment passage was so tied to the negotiations to end the war. What I will remember about the process, even though it was not a highlight of the film, is that the continuation or cessation of the war was extremely political and extremely ideological. So even though Lincoln/Seward manipulated peace negotiations to achieve a political goal, it turns out that even when the constitutional abolition of slavery was irreversible,  it still took several months and thousands more lives before the Confederates would surrender. Perhaps the fact that abolition was constitutionally guaranteed by the political process led to a reenergized southern leadership to fight for an ideological win. And there was just enough imagery of war shown to really remember that this was the most brutal of wars. This was not an exciting or even entertaining film. But it was good to see.
3 stars (out of 5) 


Fascinating historical fiction. If you don't know the story, during the Iran hostage situation in the early 80's, several embassy employees escaped capture and hid out with the Canadians. The US government needed a way to get them out of the country. Presumably, if they were discovered, the fact that they were hiding in the first place would support the Iranian government accusation that US embassy employees were spies. Enter Ben Affleck. His CIA character is able to concoct a crazy scheme by which he poses as a location scout for a film, flies into Iran, connects with the hiding Americans and they all fly out together as part of the film scout team. Only sounds crazy, but it was better than the idea of buying the 6 Americans bicycles and asking them to ride 300 miles to the Turkish border where they could try to sneak across.

My own recollection of the actual time and events is limited to seeing lots of yellow ribbons on trees. I have to memory of the story portrayed here. I also have to memory of the footage that was shown on public news. Affleck uses this actual footage to set tone and remind viewers of the national and international mood during the situation. As a film, this was entertaining and engaging. As a history lesson, it is at best an approximation - romanticizing the weeks of sitting around, smoking, drinking, discussing. Nobody is arguing the veracity of the facts portrayed (let's just say liberty was taken). Instead, we are treated with a stylized view of an important historical event in this country that is fully colored by being in the middle of the cold war. I wonder if a filmmaker could make an alternate history film of the same events taking place 20 years later. It would look more like invasion, I am sure, and less like 400+ days of negotiations with no hostages killed.
4 stars (out of 5) 

Monday, December 3, 2012


This film wasn't bad... just forgettable  I actually watched this as a late night diversion last month some time and, while I am sure it diverted me in the moment, it immediately left my head as the credits rolled. Maybe were I the target audience of those who find it impossible to forget Taylor Lautner, the film would have made a lasting impact. Instead, I was the target audience of those who appreciate a good action film with some plot intrigue. On those grounds it failed. Lautner is a "normal" high school kid who parties too much and has a couple of friends that don't quiet fit in. He finds out that his entire life is actually a ruse as he is unwittingly part of an unofficial witness security program (his father is a spy and this is the only way of protecting his son from all the bad guys). Some bad guys find out where Lautner is, chase him and are ultimately outsmarted by the kid. Father and son reconcile (sort of) in the end. Thankfully, this was not intentionally built as a franchise, so the odds of seeing a sequel are pretty slim.
2 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Man on Wire

Won't give you the full re-review (see original here) but this is a fascinating and well filmed documentary about an astounding man and event. French wire-walker Philippe Petit accomplishes a performance art heist as he sets up and accomplishes a high wire act between the two towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. We get the development of the heist as well as an exploration of Petit's personality as he participates heavily in the documentary.
5 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pieces of April

First saw this a couple of years ago (see original review). It remains one of the best Thanksgiving films I have seen (which I will admit is not an abundant category). Meet the neighbor oddity with family disfunction with massive boyfriend points. It doen't get much better than this.
Still - 5 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Better Life

We get to follow the story of an undocumented LA gardener. He has a teenage son who is navigating all the social pressures of high school and he has an opportunity to go into business for himself instead of working for someone. This is a good father-son relationship film, where the son is seemingly ambivalent  but clearly respects the father. Hard luck puts them together, each respecting the other a bit more. This is not a happy tale, but lets us in on the subtleties of how difficult life can be living under the radar in this country.
4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I love a good time travel movie. And based on seeing the preview, this one intrigued me. "Time travel hasn't been invented yet. But it will be in the future". Of course, the criminal underworld is able to take advantage of this technology and we get a storyline. The future criminals send people back in time when they want to get rid of them. In the past, they are killed and there are no bodies to take care of or mess to clean up. But what happens when the guy sent back for you to kill is the older version of yourself. Meet the dilema faced by our protagonist Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis. We get a pretty good look at how the inevitable time contradictions play out. Although I am never really sure how the people in the past get the message about when a target is going to show up, since you can't just put an ad in the newspaper for some future person to read like you do when you go forward in time. In the end we get a nice (in my mind) recognition of the cyclical nature of violence and a non-hollywood solution. Very entertaining with a decent attempt at exploring the depth of how difficult culture change really is.
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Robot & Frank

My friend Joel has a standing rule about movies... they can't possibly be any good unless they have a dinosaur in them. My position is not as strong as his, but I probably feel similarly about Robots. I might say that any movie with a robot is a better movie than if the robot was not in it. My second favorite genre of film is the heist. So you can see that we have here the potential of a great film. Frank Langella is fabulous as a former jewel thief who is given a Robot as a personal assistant to help him as he ages. Actually, his son forces the robot on him with the threat of being put in a home if he does not comply. Frank begins to anthropomorphize Robot and we all fall for the sentimentality. Add in some great performances of over-the-top hipsters of the future and this is plays out as a cleverly comic film. At the same time, we are asked to think about what role family plays with the elderly and what role purpose in life plays in making life meaningful at any age. Well done.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Finding Nemo (3D)

I know...

This was my first experience with XpanD 3D technology. Instead of multiple images with different polarizations (one for each eye), these active glasses flicker back and forth between the eyes in sync with theaters projection system. The result was removal of the edge/peripheral effects that always bothered me. On the down side, my nose was tired at the end of the film. Those glasses are heavy. As for the film, Nemo is a great film and it seemed like a perfect setup for 3D. A world that was deep. My only experience with real life scuba fascinated me because for the first time in my life I was in a 3D world and I hoped some of that would translate to the screen. And some of it did. But aside from a few of the panoramic views of the coral reef, it seems a bit dull (purely speaking of 3D wow factor here). Maybe the sign of a good 3D is that you aren't always thinking of the 3D? Maybe not? I am not sure here since in the past I have always been thinking of the 3D (in a bad way).

Don't have to say much about the actual film since it is part of popular culture now. A great look at an undersea world with lots of good environmental consciousness thrown in. I actually showed this film in my environmental science class once and challenged the students to list every environmental concept that they encountered. They pulled out paper and started the list. After about 100, they gave up and watched the 2nd half of the film. And I still like the turtles... dude.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Goodbye Solo

Solo is a Senegalese cab driver in Winston, North Carolina. He usually drives the night shift and one night picks up William, a passenger that makes a trip reservation for 10 days later. When Solo gets a bit suspicious about William's intentions, he finds a way to become his "regular driver" over the next week and their lives become intertwined. Solo is engaging, honest and interesting. He has hopes and dreams, struggles with present reality and seems to be an all around decent person. Perhaps only because I have seen this recently, but reminds me a lot of Driss in The Intouchables.  Unfortunately, in a two person film, you really need to be able to develop both characters to hold interest. William is too much of a blank slate to warrant any real care. So we get a promising, but ultimately only adequate, film that scratches the surface of what it could be.
2 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Premium Rush

In spite of the fact that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is in this film and the fact that he is a good actor (see 50/50), there is not much acting in the film. That said, this film does not require much acting. It is pretty much a constant action film, all set up by bike messengers in New York. A nice little plot that gets Gordon-Levitt delivering something valuable that a bunch of people want, a little inter-office tension (fixie vs. gears) and lots of great biking. Of course the messengers are a bit crazy (texting and riding in Manhattan? Really?), but that is the point, right? They are also people and this doesn't drop to the level of Crank (although that wasn't bad for pure summer fluff). Everything in this genre is compared to Speed and this is similar. I might even say better since it is not about terrorism and death and killing. Good, clean summer fun. Hold on to your popcorn.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hope Springs

What could have been extremely cheesy and overplayed and caricature was only moderately so. And even then, not so much as to distract from quality acting and a decent story. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play a couple entering their 31st year of marriage. They have routines so fixed that the bacon and sunny side up egg slide off the griddle and onto the plate every morning just as Jones sits down for breakfast. Streep's character is a bit disaffected, not feeling the love and excitement that she envisioned and wanting to recapture the magic. She signs them up for an intensive week of therapy in Maine, throws down the ultimatum, and the stage is set. What is remarkable about this film is the sincerity of the characters. They are real people with real problems. Jones is well out of his comfort zone and his face is able to portray in a glimpse his anguish and dissatisfaction, while Streep can do the same with discovering a simple pleasure. It is not groundbreaking and the story is largely predictable. But it is quality acting and fine entertainment while prompting you to be just a bit introspective about your own relationships.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Intouchables

Sometimes the story is not what makes a film good. In this case the story is typical. Philipe is a middle aged man constrained to a wheelchair. Actually, he is an extremely wealthy middle aged man constrained to a wheelchair, put there by a paragliding accident that broke his neck. Driss is a Senegalese immigrant to France who finds his way into a job as Philipe's caretaker. There are no surprises in how this starts or how it plays out. What makes this a great film is the dynamic personality of Driss. He is a big, happy, goofy guy who finds a way to be interested in you. He doesn't have it all together  but he has enough together to get it started.  And then the chemistry between Driss and Philipe, as they learn to draw strength from each other, develops. See this film.
5 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bourne Legacy

A reboot of sorts. We have the history of Bourne, including the Treadstone and Blackbriar projects that culminated with The Bourne Ultimatum. Here we find that these were not the only projects that the U.S. is involved in to develop super-soldiers. In fact, they were only the beta-versions. Now we have Outcome and Larx. Jeremy Renner is Outcome 6. This super-soldier is a GMO, with a chromosomal change that increases mitochondrial efficiency by 1%. Just enough to make you that much stronger and smarter. Just enough to give you an edge. Or the ability to cross Alaska on foot and fight wolves with your hands. Renner is a good choice for a super-soldier. His is serious and solid. Not a lot of emotional range is shown, but that is primarily the script (2/3 of the film is backstory on the Outcome project when Renner is emotionless). And like all good summer action films, he simultaneously saves, and is saved by, the girl. Doesn't really get much better.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Mechanic

Jason Statham has two characters. Frenetic bad-ass and Morose bad-ass. Don't mess with either of them. Just know which one you are dealing with so you know how much time you have to run. Here, he plays a professional hit-man working for the anonymous syndicate. He does what they tell him and doesn't ask questions. When the next job that comes through is his mentor, it is just another job (clearly we are setting up the Morose bad-ass character). He finds out he was lied to and begins the path towards vengeance. Along the way, he becomes a mentor himself and we wonder if history simply repeats itself or can one break out. That is an attempt at depth, but this is really a straight up action film. A well done offering (these can be really bad) but nothing extravagent. I simply enjoy watching Statham be Statham.
3 stars (out of 5)

Total Recall

I don't remember the details of the original, only the basic story line and that Arnold was in it. This is probably a good thing, since I remember the original being very good and don't want to watch movies just to compare. In this offering, the world created is fabulous. After global chemical warfare, the surface of the earth is basically uninhabitable. The two remaining outposts for humanity are United Free Briton and The Colony (formerly known as Australia). The political power and wealth lies in UFB, the underclass and laborers are in The Colony. To transport between the two locals, a 17 minute bus ride takes you through the center of the earth is a sort of ultra-modern funicular. Fun. There are enough plot elements tied to the details of this transport to make you think that the science is well thought out and consistent, but it is sufficiently in the background to not need to divulge all the details and blow the fact that the science is not quite right. A fine line to walk and well done here. The remainder of the plot comes from the political/power struggle between these two human outposts. Every modern mind-bending plot must now be compared to Inception. Here we are shown characters who are not sure what is real and, to a lesser extent than Inception but still present, as viewers we are also not quite sure if we are seeing "reality" or "memory". Put all of this together with a truly fabulous world reminiscent of Blade Runner but not nearly as dark so that we can actually enjoy traveling around. Somehow, though all of this fun does not quite become an altogether "must see" event. It is good and entertaining. It is probably better on the big screen. It is not the movie event of the year.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

After a tremendous amount of hype and expectation for this film, and then a lot of mediocre reviews, I was a bit wary. But this was a good movie. It is a good story with good characters. One of my big disappointments is when a serial film or book is clearly a setup for the next film or book (best recent example is the second book of the Matched trilogy). In these cases, the film itself is not actually very good, but ties together the previous story with the supposed next story as a necessary bridge. I understand the nature of graphic novels and that you have to always set up the next, but you also have to tell story and you have to have some resolution. Otherwise you are just jerking the audience around. I must say that Nolan does an excellent job of avoiding this common pitfall. The story is complete (I don't remember much from the earlier installations and didn't feel lost), the story resolves and the door is open for the future. My only complaint is that I had a hard time understanding Bane much of the time. It seems like you could have developed a different device to satisfy the same physiological purpose without covering the mouth. Hathaway is an excellent CatWoman and I really like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in pretty much anything he does (see 50/50). This is an entertaining conclusion to the current Dark Knight trilogy.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday Night

There are films and there are movies. Films are "better", but movies are more enjoyable. The best entertainment comes when you get a film that is also a movie. Friday Night is clearly a film. And I would say even more specifically, an art film. Whatever you do, don't read these prior sentences with a derogatory tone. I mean this description in the best sense. Directors often use cinematographic (is that a word) techniques in lieu of dialogue to set tone and communicate message. This can be done splendidly (see first part of Wall-E) or it can be exceedingly ineffective in actually communicating (see Limits of Control). In all cases, the filmmaker must remember that the technique cannot replace storytelling. Here, the lack of dialogue is replaced by texture. Fully a third of the film is slow, close up pans across wallpaper, curtains, car doors, faces, and cityscapes. The tone is introspective and suggests appreciation for environment. This is well done and as the viewer, I felt like I was in the same frame of mind as the protagonist Laure. As for the plot, we are set in Paris and Laure has just finished packing her apartment for a move. It is Friday night and she is leaving for the last time to go across town for dinner with some friends. Enter Parisian transit strike. Stuck in her car traveling blocks per hour, a stranger (Jean) gets in to her car (still minimal dialogue). One thing leads to another and Laure takes a little detour. This is an erotic (although not explicit) love story that has as many plot holes as any other film (how does traffic suddenly disappear when Jean drives?). But the point is not necessarily plot consistency. Perhaps it is something else... Just remember, it is a film, not a movie.
4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

In Time

Here is an interesting, if not entirely new, idea. Time is currency. In the dystopian future portrayed here, every human has a clock embedded into their arm that is connected to their biochemistry. People are born with 1 year on the clock and it begins running when they turn 25 years old. Two tiny details follow: 1. whatever your body looks like when you are 25, that is what you will look like for the rest of your life, and 2. "the rest of your life" ends when the clock runs out. Now, you can get a job and they will pay you in time. Want to buy a coffee, cost you a couple of days. But you can earn those back and more if you have a good job. So literally, time is currency. This film then follows Justin Timberlake as he attacks the class system that has developed between the haves (1000's of years on their clocks) and the have-nots (living day-to-day or hour-to-hour). And we find that because of this currency issue, the time on your clock may not be the time you have to live, because you do have to eat after all. This wasn't a strong movie, and it is not going to get any acting or writing awards, but I like movies that make me think. This has lots of avenues that you could pursue.
3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

Built as a summer popcorn movie and delivers as a summer popcorn movie. Just make sure you get the extra large popcorn as this times out over 2.5 hours. There is nothing new or fabulous here that we have not seen in the other films. The transformers are so well drawn that you don't think twice about their characters (we have come a long way from Roger Rabbit). Lots of action, lots of earth saving heroism. The girlfriend wears white throughout the destruction and never gets dirty, never has her makeup smeared and is always fabulous looking. The main critique here is the length. Why do the parents show up at all? Why do we need the job search, or the mailroom? Take your scissors to about 45 minutes of film and we are talking.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Big Year

A big year refers to a birding event where birders keep track of how many unique species they observe in a particular geographic area within a year. This film tracks Owen Wilson (reigning North American record holder), Steve Martin and Jack Black as they set out to have a Big Year. The film used birding as a vehicle for plot, but the charm of this lies in the relationships developed. All three of these comedic actors are known for playing over-the-top roles, but here are appropriately understated. And each, as a result of the process of their big year, comes to a new and deeper understanding of some part of their life outside of birding without needing to resort to sappy over-sentimentality. 
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, July 16, 2012


I am not a big fan of Indian films. Maybe I just haven't seen enough of them, or enough good ones. What made Kurbaan interesting was that it felt like a straight forward U.S. post 9/11 stop the next terrorist attack film. But it came from the Indian perspective. The story follows a Muslim man and his Hindi wife (or more truthfully, a Hindi woman and her Muslim husband) as they immigrate to the U.S. so she can take a job as a professor at a university in New York. They find housing in an Indian neighborhood and begin to get to know the neighbors. At least, that is the front story. As the film unfolds, we find lies, deceit and conspiracy. We discover a back story that is much more complex. And of course, we get it all with musical interludes and an intermission at the half-way point. So while the idea is interesting, I didn't find the execution likable. Too slow to get into the story and dialogue delivery by the actors often reminded me of high school theater. And I could never get over the question of why an Indian filmmaker would make an Indian film about this subject. Not that it is not allowed, but it seemed to me to be purely opportunistic, looking for an American audience by chasing what is perceived to be interesting here. I am not smart enough to know why this perception stuck with me or what exactly bugged me, but bug me it did.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Deja Vu

I like a good sci-fi time travel film and I like Denzel Washington. With those two requirements, how did I miss this in 2006? Washington plays an ATF agent whose entire life is given to the job. He is a great investigator with the intuition needed to solve tricky cases. When a ferry carrying Navy seamen blows up in New Orleans, he is on the scene as the explosives expert. The FBI invites him into a special investigative group that has surveillance software that can process and give full 3D imagery of any scene delayed by about 4 days... kind of. Of course there is a girl who is involved in the case and there are the requisite clues that are dropped along the way to help Washington (and the viewer) unravel the reality of what is going on. And the nice thing is that not all of these clues are obvious. As a viewer, you see a few options where these could take the film, but can't commit right away to a direction. Not quite as clever as my all-time favorite 12 Monkeys, but more along the lines of Source Code. Glad I saw it.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Battle: Los Angeles

First, don't confuse this with Battle of Los Angeles which I saw last summer, while thinking I was seeing this. They both have the same plot (Aliens invade LA and the marines save the day) but it becomes very clear what a few million dollars of production value will do. In this film, the writers try to produce a back story on protagonist Aaron Eckhart, nearly retiring staff sergeant in the marines. Unfortunately, the film is basically a "kill the aliens" movie, so back story just seems false. There are also lots of sci-fi elements thrown about, but not developed. So the aliens like our salt water oceans. Aside from that statement, we never get to take advantage of it or learn more about it. What an opening for a great story. I guess I don't have the patience that I used to for flat out summer fare. Or perhaps this is truly bad summer fare.
2 stars (out of 5)


Having just seen a great film set in Tehran (see the Persian Cats) I was looking forward to this. We are introduced to two girl friends in school and immediately told that one is rich and one is poor. We follow these two friends through their lives as they struggle to reconcile what it means to be women in Iran, what it means to be teenagers, what it means to be lesbian, what it means to be religious, what it means to be rich or poor, and what it means to have family history. We see the girls and their families make lots of choices, often without an obvious right choice being available. I found it interesting that in these choices, personality is revealed. Are you the type of person who is a risk taker, bold, willing to sacrifice for the potential future dream? Or the type who is fearful or realist, willing to sacrifice the dream for the sake of convention or safety? These girls are under duress for most of their lives and trying to cope, trying to acknowledge that dreams do exist (or could exist). Probably the most disturbing part of the film was when the car is pulled over for having a dog in the car and the officer confiscates the dog. The power imbalance, the perceived cruelty of the powerful and the implied moral judgement were thick on the screen. This one scene shows the power of film to communicate. Although I was underwhelmed by the images of Tehran that I was hoping to see, and underwhelmed by the overall pacing of the storytelling, I am glad I saw this.
3 stars (out of 5)

Take This Waltz

This was a good, but not altogether novel, film. A couple (Seth Rogan & Michelle Williams) is entering the phase of marriage after the honeymoon. They find that they don't have much to talk about. This later fact is probably exacerbated by the fact that they are together nearly 24 hours a day. She is a stay-at-home writer (who seems to write pamphlet text for brochures) and he is a stay-at-home chef working on a cookbook. They try to keep things fresh with language, but essentially they are bored. Williams meets another guy and we find the entire point of this film is summed up in a conversation in the shower at the gym. "New things are shiny" and "New things get old". For the remainder of the film, we see these themes played out, which is reality, but also a bit depressing. One thing that I love about a film like this is that in spite of the blase story, the coloring was fabulous. Rich and vibrant, color became something fun to watch and observe on its own. And finally, after sitting through the credits, the obligatory "No animals were harmed during filming" scrolled across the screen. While I applaud this commitment, I did find it quite odd that they could actually make the statement when Rogan's entire purpose in the film is to write an entire cookbook on chicken. Throughout the film, every kitchen scene contained chicken in a pan, broth, stock pot, on a kabob or under the knife. I would guess that if chickens had a union, they would protest the inclusion of "No animals harmed..." for this particular film.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 6, 2012


As I am walking out the door to see this film, my friend Kathleen says "Make sure to let me know if it is edifying". Well... it's not. It is Oliver Stone. The filming here took me straight back to Platoon. It was strange how distinct Stone's style really is. The film itself centers on a couple of independent pot growers in So. Cal. and their shared girlfriend. One is the botanist/grower, one is the businessman/muscle, and the other is the girlfriend. With political turmoil in the drug trade in Mexico, one of the Mexican bosses decides to come in and "partner" with our protagonists. They decide they will just sell out and get out of the business but that is not an option. So girlfriend gets kidnapped and the two boys begin to do whatever it takes to get her back. I was not particularly entertained by the brutal violence and even the twists in the storyline were a bit bland. It was however, interesting to watch how easily people change their core beliefs when under stress. I am not sure that this is true in real life, but we see it in films all the time (and very explicitly here). I like to think that, while I don't have much figured out in life, I am in process of figuring some things out. And every day I get to practice little things that reinforce who I am and what I believe. My thinking is that by practicing the little things, if a big thing ever comes up, the core ethic that I profess to live by will be more natural and not seem out of character. I won't just resort to the easy answer, or the violent solution. If films are a reflection of reality, and this film in particular, then my line of thinking is ridiculous. Fortunately, I have practiced ignoring (or at least putting in its proper place) popular media for many years, so I don't have to believe that I too am ridiculous.
2 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

I like the idea of using fairy tale story lines and re-envisioning them around non-Disney/darker themes. This is an example of such a film and it almost pulls it off. The basic story pieces that everyone recognizes are there (the mirror, the evil and spellbound queen, the poison apple, the dark forest, and the dwarves). Care is taken to provide a cohesive story that doesn't just throw these elements around and overall, I was quite entertained. The film was a bit long and to be honest, I wanted to see Sneezy. Ok, so the dwarves were present, and there were seven of them, but at least give me a little comic relief by having one of them sneeze at least once. Hopefully we see more of these that push the genre out of the kids world and into the adult world (skipping right past horror, which nobody needs to see). So bring on Hansel and Gretl, and I will have to see if Red Riding Hood crosses into the horror category.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, July 2, 2012

No One Knows About Persian Cats

This has been on my 'To See' list for quite some time. Now I recommend that everyone else see it. It is a story of a couple of young musicians who want to put together a band and tour Europe. Ashkan and Negar are a singer/songwriter duo who need some backup instrumentals before they can book any gigs. The film takes us through a series of meetings with underground bands in Tehran as they audition members for their band. Each meeting ends up being a music video with that bands style and we see quite a variety. We see heavy metal, rhythm & blues, alt rock, rap, soul. And it is this piece of the film that makes it great. The music of these local bands along with the imagery of Tehran is striking. While this is fictional, "based on" real people, it is the kind of film that you simultaneously home that it is real and hope that it is not. The music, the desire to be artists, the struggle to be relevant and the hope for a different future abound. The reality of living in terror, the total lack of control of ones life and seemingly random brutality are equally present. This duality likely represents a pretty accurate picture of life in Tehran. A must see film.
5 stars (out of 5)

Friday, June 29, 2012

War of the Arrows

The two key elements of this film are held in the title: War and Arrows. Set in the 17th century, the film uses the animosity on the border between Korea and Manchuria as a building block for plot. Chinese invaders into Korea conquer villages and take slaves for return to China. In this story, a girl is taken for the slave march out of Korea while her brother (who has sworn to protect her) evades capture. He follows the invading army and eventually defeats them all. The arrows refers to his weapon (and the weapon of his father). He is a master archer (perhaps the best that ever lived). The war refers to the ugly, bitter reality of slavery, subjugation and murder. I appreciate, at least, that war here is not soft pedaled. In war, while there may be a victor, there are no winners. This is portrayed well as both conqueror and conquered are defeated and in the end, we are not sure which people fall into which category. The film is well made and much better than most 'war glamour' films that we see. Because it made me think...
4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Midnight Eagle

The jacket cover on this reads like a typical war/action film. A stealth bomber crashes in the Japanese Alps carrying a nuclear payload. The Japanese government sends in special forces to recover the bomb before terrorist agents can beat them to it. Sounds exactly like some that could be named The Expendables. But this is much better than that. While the description is true, it really isn't an action film. This is a Japanese film that gives pretty good insight into the culture and psyche of the Japanese people around the idea of war, fighting and nuclear weapons. I find it fascinating that an entire country can have pacifist leanings, having ingrained aversion to combat and fighting. This film illuminates this thinking using journalists who are working to get the scoop on this story as well as former war reporters who have first hand seen the atrocities of war and had their ideals blown up in the process. It is a good treatment of some of the difficulties of a nation without an army and tries to show how the subtle differences between and army and self defense force are not subtle, but essential difference for many people. Very thought provoking.
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Arn: The Knight Templar

Fictional account of Arn Magnusson, a 12th century Swedish fighter who transitions from living in a monestary to become a knight fighting to preserve Jerusalem in the crusades and back to his homeland to maintain peace among the clans of Sweden. Loosely based on history (the crusades happened and Sweden was a collection of clans that did not unite into a unified kingdom until the 12-13th centuries) this was more a story about faith, love, morality and loyalty than about historical veracity. The characters were (in my mind) too stunning to be true 12th replicas, but would we watch a film that was more truthful in its look? In the end, just an average drama.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Anthony Zimmer

French crime thriller where the bad guy never shows up. He knows he is hunted and his girlfriend is followed by both the police and the Russian mafia. So she finds some random guy to throw everyone off the trail. Unfortunately, the random guy sort of falls in love. A pretty film that has a bit of action, a bit of suspense, a bit of romance. A solid, entertaining, entry. Thanks Netflix for recommending it...
4 stars (out of 5)

Safety not guaranteed

Three journalists (or one journalist and two interns) from a small, locally distributed Seattle magazine travel to a small coastal town to investigate a classified ad. The ad requests candidates for a time travel experiment/partnership and the journalists think it might make for a good human interest story. One of the interns (Darius) is herself quite the depressed 20-something back in Seattle and has been so since the death of her mother several years back. Even the possibility of time travel pricks a hole in the shroud that has draped her life and off we go. All four main characters are opened to new understandings of life through the pursuit of this time-travel story and all four are changed in some way. Perhaps the biggest form of time travel here is them being yanked from the past and allowing them to live in the present. Well done.
4 stars (out of 5)

Largo Winch: The Heir Apparent

A billionaire dies and leaves his entire fortune and control of his empire to his adopted son. The son, while well trained in the art of being rich, is not necessarily ready for the job. In addition, he has his own interests in life and is not quite ready to be put in charge. Somehow, his training includes the ability to be Bourne-like in his approach to trouble, and this talent is integrated seamlessly into the film - treated as if of course this man has the ability to evade South American police on foot while crawling over buildings. And as a viewer, if you buy into this basic conceit, you will enjoy the film. Because then you can also enjoy the unfolding conspiricies and intricacies that shape both the future of Largo and are revealed in his history.  Light hearted action hero fun with a few twists in the road that are not so sharp as to not be able to enjoy the anticipation of their approach.
3-stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Real Steel

This has been on my list of films to see since my friend worked on it. I like to think he created and programed the entire robot cast, but in reality he worked for the company that invented the robot motion capture software... or something like that. Anyway, his name is on the credits, which is pretty darn cool in my book. The film itself is a generic absent father reunites with son and begins relationship story. What makes this film cool is the robots, and how seamlessly they are integrated into the cast. I also was quite entertained by how many times the losing robot owner/controller let out a primal scream when they lost. I like a good patch up the relationship film, especially when it has robots. Did I mention I like robots? Great summer flick. Great climax scene. Have fun with it.
4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

I Am Number Four

Don't know how I missed this last year, but I rather enjoyed it. It is strange that it is the third film I have seen in the last two weeks about alien races that are intent of destroying the earth and then moving on (see Men in Black III and Cowboys & Aliens). Here, the novelty is that living on earth are 9 good aliens who were put here to protect the earth after their own planet had been destroyed. They have some sort of rule that requires that the bad guys kill them in order. So we open with the murder of number three and follow the life of number four. Of course, four falls in love with a human, gets some help from a UFO believing kid and loses his guardian that came with him. But in the end, this is a nicely written, adequately acted action film that wrapped up sufficiently so that I wasn't mad at being sold a series. Even though this clearly could be a good series and is based on a book series. I really liked the subtle humor and look of the bad aliens. I really like that I was curious for most of the film about whether the gecko was good or bad. Nice job not revealing everything at once. Since it didn't make much money last year, the chance at the sequel is probably slim. Guess I will have to read it...
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

It is not often that you get a coming of age story and an end of life tale in the same film. It is probably even more rare to have the same characters fulfill both portions of the film. Here we have a host of actors who could (and have) each carry a film on their own joining together to make something very good. Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, etc. This group of elderly English have for various reasons signed on in retirement to travel to India to become guests of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - for the Elderly and the Beautiful. What they encounter challenges their expectations, their purpose in life, and their relationships. As they encounter and think about the ends of their careers and lives, they also begin to grow and make new realizations that would be fitting in any film of high school angst. And each discovery is authentic and groundbreaking. Very well done.
4 stars (out of 5)

The Outsiders

Every once in awhile I am reminded at how many seminal films I have not seen. Last year it was Footloose an this week it is The Outsiders. I don't know how many times I have said "Stay golden Pony Boy" without ever having seen the film or read the book. So now I guess I can say it with integrity. The story is a typical two-sides-of-the-tracks tale, with the greasers and the socs battling it out. Pony Boy is a greaser and his friend Johnny gets into some trouble with a Soc and they have to skip town for awhile. A heroic turn later, the two return and Pony Boy somehow begins to bridge the gap between the two rivals, more in his own thinking than in reality. But he makes the effort. Not particularly amazing as a film, but groundbreaking for its time, and probably more so for the number of careers that it launched. While watching, I kept getting a sense of East of Eden, perhaps from the coloring and dialogue cadence, but I am not sure.
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cowboys & Aliens

I was looking forward to this movie, then I waited too long and lost interest and heard how dumb it was, and now am quite pleased having actually seen it. Of course aliens visit earth in other eras besides the present and the future. In this case, I would have liked to see these aliens up against the dinosaurs and some sort of "ran out of gas" situation in their space ship. But I digress. This is a clever story and it unfolds nicely. I would have edited 15-20 minutes out and I could even name scenes that were unnecessary (which is unusual for me). But in the end, that doesn't break the film. I like that the cowboys, the outlaws and the Indians team up to fight the aliens. I like that the aliens like gold and that is their sole purpose for being here. I think it is too bad that the cowboys needed their own good alien to help defeat the bad alien. Actually, they only needed the good alien to explain everything. I think they could have won on their own. But that is a creative choice I suppose. This was a good summer film and if you didn't see it last summer, make sure to see it this one.
4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Killer Elite

I really do think Jason Statham is the baddest action guy around right now. He can carry a film with his bad-ness. Here he is a retired assassin who gets pulled back into the business to rescue his mentor. Over time, we realize that we don't know who is good and who is bad and who is setting up whom... all of which makes a great action film. Statham plays the assassin with ethics who is trying to get out of the game all while trying to protect his girl. This is not extravagant, or even particularly clever, but it is well made and holds attention throughout. A pretty good action film with good supporting roles in Clive Owen and Robert deNiro.
3 stars (out of 5)


Ryan Gosling spends his entire movie in one of two states: with a goofy grin on his face or violently and graphically killing people. He plays a get-away car driver for hire because he likes to drive. When he gets in on a bad job, he has to clean it up, by killing everyone. Los Angeles streets are supposed to be a major character in the film, but they just don't act very well. This is not like Collatoral or 10 Items or Less which both used LA well. Gosling is just a silent, morose, messed up dude. Maybe it was just to "arty" for me. I didn't get it.
2 stars (out of 5)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Men in Black III

The reunion of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones and crazy alien hi-jinks. I suppose for the uninitiated, this is novel and fun. It does not compare to the novelty of the first release that seemed so original back in the day. But for what it was, still clever and enjoyable. A decent time travel story line that hit all the right points. A very clever multidimensional being that lived in all possible futures. And what made this movie was Josh Brolin as the young Tommy Lee Jones character. Brolin hit this spot on over the entire course of his half of the film. As great of a long format impression as I have seen. If you have no other interest in this film, go see it for Brolin. Well done.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, an East Texas funeral director who is the nicest guy ever to live on this earth. The entire town loves Bernie and he is the only one who can crack the rocky exterior of the wealthy local widow Marjorie Nugent. Black befriends Nugent, becomes her confidant, gets written into her will, becomes basically enslaved by her and then she disappears. This story is based on a real life tale and is filmed in a semi-documentary style with lots of "interviews" with the local townsfolk. Walking out of the theater, I heard "That is a definite Oscar film". I don't necessarily agree that it was that good. I found Black's character to be a bit flat and his sweetness was more saccharine that genuine. I did enjoy the fact that Black put his vocal chops on display, singing several old standards as he performed at funerals. In fact, the singing and the local interviews made this worth while.
3 stars (out of 5)

The Town

Ben Affleck is quite the leading man. He is serious and good looking. A bit too much Ed Norton-depend on my husky voice-dramatic, but great none-the-less. I would like to see him in a true action film (a la Daniel Craig or Matt Damon). Jeremy Renner is a close second here, and plays the nearly psycho friend quite well. These two are Boston "Townies" from the Charlestown neighborhood where every third guy is a bank robber. Their crew robs a bank, takes the manager as a hostage and then releases her. Affleck befriends and then falls in love with this same manager while trying to surveil her to insure she doesn't know their identities. Of course, there are life choice to be made when "the next job" comes up, and they get made. Not quite unique enough to be a great film, but solidly good.
3 stars (out of 5)

Another Earth

What a promising premise. Somehow a planet identical to earth has been discovered in our own solar system. This planet also happens to have duplicate people that have evolved in exactly the same way. So I could go meet myself. Of course the science of this is irrelevant, even though they try to throw in some explanation about how it orbits exactly opposite the sun from us so we couldn't see it. But the science is important. What changed so that its orbit is not directly opposite the sun now? Why does it get bigger and bigger throughout the film? Why were we not able to detect the gravitational effects of this planet? If you are going to do Sci-Fi, either completely abandon science or do it right. Don't try, but fail to make sense of something. As for the remainder of the film, it was more of a psychological drama that I expected. The girl who kills a family while DUI meets up with the surviving father, befriends him and then crushes him. Of course, the crushing was not part of the plan, but it is inevitable. It is a tragic story that raises the "What would you do" questions. So while it was not very entertaining or particularly exciting, it made me think. If that is what you want in a film, you might like this.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Avengers

Finally, all the Avengers come together for a common cause. Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, the Black Widow and Hawkeye are all needed to save the world. In this case, since there are 6 of them, it takes about an hour to get them all into the film and running full steam with the plot. But it seemed like an appropriate amount of time. Not just all dumped in, assuming you know everything, and not spread out into a 2 hour intro. So well done. For the plot, Thor's brother Loki comes back to Earth to prepare a portal and bring in a conquering army. He is a egomaniac who's only goal is to be king of something. And he has some big power behind him. It takes all of the Avengers strengths together to put the universe back on track. I appreciated the level of humor (comic book cheesy, but not groaners) and found myself alternating between laughing out loud and saying "Oh, cool...". Well done writer/director Josh Whedon.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, April 28, 2012


The purported premise of this film is that three high school kids encounter some strange thing in a cave and gain super powers. Really, this is sci-fi Breakfast Club. That is, the three high school kids are (pre-super) only somewhat friends. The each are fulfilling a "type", one being the popular-athlete-student body president, one being the guy who is cool because he is beyond and above caring about popularity, and finally the socially awkward-outsider-artistic guy. After gaining super-ness, they stick together because they only really can be understood by people who are like them. This is really a film about type, investigating what each of these types would do with super power, what they would change, and how they would react. It is fun to see the development of these super powers as the kids learn to use them and have fun with them. But in the end, even those who are like you don't really understand you, which is what high school ends up feel like for even those who are not super.
3 stars (out of 5)

Think Like a Man

A movie built around a relationship book written by comedian Steve Harvey certainly has potential. The film follows 6 guys who are in various stages of relationships and various stages of denial about what relationships are. The are all having problems of one sort or another, even though they sometimes do not even know they are having problems. Steve Harvey (playing himself, with his real life book) introduces a relationship book for women that "gives away the secrets" of what men really think. Four women pick up this book and begin to use it to get what they want in a relationship. The men find out the women have the book and begin a counter-insurgency program with their women. In the end, the lesson is that if you fake it long enough, eventually it becomes true. There are no surprises here and there are not even any great comedic lines that I can remember to be repeating in conversation this week. However, I laughed pretty consistently throughout. The characters are caricatures for sure, but they are enjoyable caricatures. This is a fun film and probably one of the better romantic comedies I have seen in quite awhile.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Separation

This Iranian film was on the list year as an Academy Award nominee, so I had high expectations going in. Which is strange since I didn't really know anything about the film. I thought that it was about a husband and wife who get a divorce so the wife can travel to the U.S. In fact, the wife wants to travel to the U.S., wants a divorce so that she can travel with her daughter. But like many teens, the daughter will have none of it. She decided that by refusing to go, her mother won't leave either and perhaps the parents will reconcile. This "kid in the middle" situation is particularly evident throughout the film and highlights the parents inability to take responsibility for their own decisions. They can no longer put a decision on the other and absolve themselves of responsibility so the closest next body is that of the daughter. Mix in a grandfather with dementia in the house and an unfortunate accident with the house keeper and you get a courtroom drama film. The interesting part of this film is the interplay of religious v. secular in the courtroom, and in the ensuing out of court drama. None of the dramatic tension here is particularly unique to Iran, but the religious/secular piece is an easy setup because it is well known. The filmmaker does not need to provide significant background for the viewer to understand and participate in the angst. It would be interesting to see this same film made with issues where conservative religion v. secularism informs the drama, but in other contexts. Could we see a replay made in the U.S. Bible belt, or in Tel Aviv, or Mumbai, or Tokyo. That would be a great little trilogy.
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rain Fall

I have seen a few films, and a few of them in the action genre. Rain Fall is different enough to enjoy. John Rain is a version of Jason Bourne, former Special Ops soldier taking orders from someone, but not sure who (a la Haywire in some ways). Set in Tokyo, there is a complex plot involving the Japanese mob, corrupt politicians, and the CIA. Rain is in the middle of it, everyone is looking for him and he is looking for some information while at the same time protecting the girl. So while the character and plot setup is very Bourne, it couldn't be further from Bourne in terms of feel. This is a nicely paced film that slowly unwinds the complexity and the inevitable relationships that form. Slowly, but appropriately slowly. This is not your classic action film, but more of a dramatic thriller. Well played.
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

A classic romantic comedy, and yet somehow better. As a way to get a good news story amidst a string of bad press on Afganistan, the British government encourages one of its fishery experts (Ewan McGregor) to take on a consulting job with a Yemenise prince. The catch is that the job is to introduce salmon into Yemen. Of course it can't be done, but somehow there is an honesty about the prince that causes everyone to fall in line and give it the ol' college try. With Emily Blunt as the prince's financial consultant, everything seems to come together with all the requisite bonding and getting over past love, etc. Aside from the novelty of getting salmon to run in Yemen, there is noting new about this film. But somehow it is just cheesy enough, and just slow enough to work. I think the characters are quite well developed in subtle ways (much is said about McGregor as he collects a stray thread to tie a fly, but it never explicitly shows up as as scene later on). This sort of subtlety happens throughout and makes for an enjoyable film.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Hunger Games

Perhaps the most anticipated film of the past year, The Hunger Games does not disappoint (which is no small feat). If you don't know the plot, you have probably been living under a stairwell recently. The world is post-uprising where a central government controls 12 colony districts. Each district contributes resources to the central government in return for "security and food". As a constant reminder of their place in the power hierarchy, each district donates (by lottery) two teens each year for the Hunger Games. These games are a gladiatorial fight to the death watched by all on TV. Our hero, Katniss, volunteers to save her younger sister from having to represent district 12. The beauty of this story is that it is not about the glory of battle. Instead it is about the political and human implications of a massive power difference which is supported by brutal force. This is a story of awakening and revolution. The film does an excellent job of developing and portraying this story and not falling into the action-mayhem abyss of many action films. Don't get me wrong, there is enough "action", but I would not characterize this as an action film, but as a drama. Well done, and bring on Catching Fire.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Assassin Next Door

There is something about being surprised by a film that makes it more memorable. I watched this based on the title, thinking it would be an action film with a little bit of Mr. and Mrs. Smith feel. It was not. This is an Israeli film which is largely the telling of a story of two women and how they struggled through abusive situations. It is not a pleasant film in that the emotional state of these women is well played. This is not a film that you just watch women being treated badly and throw it off. Galia is a Russian immigrant to Israel who immigrated via the black market/sex trade. She fails miserably for her "employers" largely because her attitude is not endearing to any clients. So she is put to work as an assassin as she tries to earn back her passport. Clearly her bosses have no intention of ever cutting her loose, but she does not / can not believe this. Elinor is the woman who lives across the hall from her and is regularly abused by her husband. Galia and Elinor become friends and telling more would make the film not worth seeing. There is no glamor here. And writer/director Danny Lerner does well at keeping the focus on the relationships and people and not on the guns. Not a fun film, but definitely a quality film.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The American

George Clooney plays a hitman looking to get out of the business. As always in these types of films, the bosses have the idea that the way to retire an employee is to permanently retire them. After all, don't hitmen employees always "know too much"? However, this is not really an action film where Clooney resists attempts on his life and crushes the opposition. It is really more of a cross between Lost in Translation (depressed man looking for life change) and Memory of a Killer (assassin getting Alzheimer's and developing a moral limit). Clooney works "one last job" and uses it as a way to develop his exit strategy. He finds a girl and works quietly on his own on the job. The dialogue is sparse and yet the film never drags. It is not an extravagant film, and is as full of cliche's as any other action thriller, but nonetheless enjoyable on a slow afternoon.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I like the idea of Mission Impossible. I like that it is political thriller, action thriller and solving problems with cool gadgets and technology. James Bond without the cheese. Unfortunately, this iteration leaves me flat. Tom Cruise plays Agent Ethan Hunt and here he gets implicated in blowing up the Kremlin. He and his team are disavowed by the U.S. government and yet still secretly charged with preventing a sociopath from launching nuclear weapons to start the beginning of the end of humanity. Ho hum, let's go to Dubai and then to Mumbai and save the world. Nothing really new or creative here. More of the same action stuff... I am actually sorry I didn't like it more.
2 stars (out of 5)


This was supposed to be the female version of the Bourne series. MMA fighter Gina Carano makes her debut as an action star. It turns out that realistic fight scenes by themselves don't make a great film. Carano plays an ex-military black ops sort of character who works for (presumably) the government. It is never really clear who she works for, and it turns out that she is not very clear on that issue either. When a couple of unrelated jobs are suddenly related (the someone she rescued becomes the someone killed), Carano finds herself the target. So she runs, plans, and then goes on the offensive. The storyline is not bad and has potential for this genre of film, but it is not implemented well. With a title like Haywire I expect all kinds of craziness to happen. Instead, we only get regular craziness that is altogether expected in a black-ops, rogue-spy sort of adventure. Carano has potential, but I guess like with all actors, you have to have the right material. Even so, still better than Mission Impossible.
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Disctrict 13: Ultimatum

A sequel to the excellent 2004 film District B13, we are treated to another excellent action film. A few years in the French future, ghetto's are walled off from the main population and basically left to fend for themselves. When a powerful developer makes a deal to acquire some land and a building contract in the District 13 ghetto, the political deal making exposes corruption galore. It is a not even thinly veiled commentary that the "powerful developer" is a corporation name Harriburton. Do we wonder what the French screenwriter thinks of war and political events of the last decade? In this iteration, a thief from the ghetto (Leito) and his good friend and special forces cop extraordinaire (Tomaso) team up with all the ghetto gangsters to prevent the destruction of the ghetto (and its million plus inhabitants). Great action sequences and a fun flavor.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, February 10, 2012


I had mixed feelings going in to this film, and came out with the same mixed feelings. Don't get me wrong, this is a funny film. But it is not hilarious. Kristen Wiig plays an on-again, off-again maid of honor for her newly engaged best friend. As she traverses the wedding drama landscape with her other bridesmaids, all the typical problems and solutions arise. So in many ways it is a conventional romantic comedy. What makes it better than average is Molly McCarthy, who plays a character that slowly evolves from caricature to a bit of a fuller & deeper caricature and the Kristen Wiig scene where she is attempting to get the attention of her one-time boyfriend police officer. The film made me laugh, occasionally.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

13 Assassins

In mid-19th century Japan, the Shogun/Samurai era was coming to a close. Most samurai were not well trained soldiers, but men who spent their time gambling and drinking as they "protected" their lords. When one particular noble begins to assert his dominance and authority by killing and massacring the common people indiscriminately, some response is needed. A group of samurai gather in secret response to the Shogun's command to carryout an assassination of the insolent noble. This is a violent and bloody combat story that is centered around the samurai culture of service 'til death. While there is an overarching message that even the servants should think for themselves, this ends up being a minor part of the film. Or more realistically, the film is an elaborate and gory saga which shows how ridiculous war and death can be. It is unfortunate that it takes 300 deaths to make a point about life. And I suppose that this lesson is as hard to learn in 19th century Japan as it is today.
3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Captain America: The First Avenger

Like all the others in the Avenger series, this is a well made and entertaining film. We don't sacrifice story for spectacle. Steve Rogers is a scrawny Brooklyn kid who keeps getting denied the opportunity to serve during WWII. When he is chosen to be a guinea pig for a "super soldier" program, the successful treatment does turn him into a super soldier. But since he has been an underdog his whole life, he maintains the attitude and humility of an underdog and his "moral compass points the right way". Add in a Darth Maul like villain to push the story fully back into the comic book realm and we have a summer blockbuster. Or at least a piece of the continuing saga of the Avengers. I know that you can't really critique the reality of films like this, but why do we have to see an infantry assault on a fortified bunker only to see love interest Agent Carter taking part in the assault in her leather flight jacket and army issue wool skirt. How is that necessary in the comic world or the action world? Maybe it becomes part of the mythology of Agent Carter, I don't know...
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Book of Eli

First, Denzel Washington never looked better than he does here in a 5-day beard as a rugged traveler. This film provides a vision for the future that is about as happy as I am Legend. Post-apocalyptic and dystopian without apology. Denzel is a traveler in a world 30 years after a supposed nuclear war that destroyed all civilization on earth. He travels with a book that is apparently important. Gary Oldman plays a local warlord looking for such book. Surprisingly, that is the entire plot, and yet it is enough to carry the entire film. The film is slow and purposeful and feels appropriately paced. There are not really surprises, but appropriate twists and subtleties that provide interest and depth. I know that film enjoyment often is related to expectation and my expectation of this was very low. Perhaps that colors my perception, but I still give it
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, January 6, 2012


I don't know how I got into the foreign fantasy realm... Here we have a socialite that runs out of money and needs a job. When she finds a job in a local comic store, she begins to make friends with the "geeks" and play their role playing games. The look and feel of this movie is of a 1970's B-list, exploitation film. But it is basically geared toward 13 year old, Icelandic fantasy geeks. Not sure what it says about me that I watched the whole thing, but for the right audience, probably not a bad film.
2 stars (out of 5)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Black Lightning

This is really a fun sci-fi, coming of age, regular guy super hero film... in Russian. A kid is given a car by his father and it turns out that the car can fly. It is not magical, but technological and the plot gives us resonable (reasonable in the world where flying cars are reasonable) explanations for how this might work. With the same sort of fun feel as The Last Airbender and The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the kid with the car causes a massive dip in crime and delivers flowers in his free time, working toward a climax of saving Moscow from certain destruction. Glad I happened upon this.
3 stars (out of 5)