Monday, December 30, 2013

The Book Thief

It is probably never a good idea to read a book and watch the film version in the same day. One of the versions will suffer horribly. Usually it is the second one you take in, and if the first is not great to start with, you will find yourself holding your head, rubbing your eyes and checking your watch. This is exactly how I found myself after watching this film (having finished the book earlier today). The fact that the girl Liesel, the Book Thief of the title, does not necessarily need to be a book thief for this film to hold together suggests that some important part of her characterization is missing. It is a nice story, and shows well both the stress of living in Germany during the war as well as the normalcy (or maybe how normal the stress became). While this is not a bad film, there is nothing here to say this is a film worth watching. It simply misses its mark, or has no mark in mind.
2 stars (out of 5)

Olympus Has Fallen

Apparently in the last couple years, the North Koreans have become the new bad guys du jour. The Red Dawn remake recently released and now this. Here the North Koreans launch a flash attack on the Whitehouse in an effort to completely destroy the US. In 13 minutes, the Whitehouse is completely controlled by about 20 commandos. In that time, about 200 something armed secret service, police, etc file out of the building into a hail of bullets and die. Except Gerard Butler, of course. He is able to hide behind a couple of pillars until it is safe to sneak in undetected. Then he saves the boy, saves the girl, tells his superiors what he really thinks, is able to say "I told you so", and then redeems himself in the eyes of his bosses. Straight forward, shoot and run action. Nothing really to recommend.
2 stars (out of 5)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

It is hard to get excited about this film. The middle film of a trilogy, based on a book that I didn't read because it seemed so superfluous after the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Would you get excited about reading chapters 14-27 of a 40 chapter book, and not be allowed to read the end for another year? Well, it really is one of my pet peeves with trilogies these days (books and film). That being said, the film does engage. In spite of my own issues, the imagery and the storytelling are well done. We get the portion of the story where the dwarves travel through Mirkwood, avoid the Orc gang and sneak into the Lonely Mountain, initiating a confrontation with the dragon Smaug. A bit of humor with the Dwarves in casks kayaking down the river (and apparently a bit of magic too as they never seem to flip or fill with water). I stick by my original thinking, this will be an excellent way to spend 8 hours in 2014 when I can see the entire Hobbit in one go.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Bounty Killers

After the corporate wars, all white collar people are classified as criminals and bounty hunters (killers) are employed to hunt them down and kill them. The killings are frequent, gruesome and explicit. Lots of blood and gore in a setting somewhere in the southwest desert. That is about all the plot we can give, not because we don't want to give anything away, but because that is all there is to the film. Definitely a B-level grindhouse film. Definitely can not recommend this film. But I still kinda liked it.
3 stars (out of 5)


This is not the Ca$h I watched a couple years ago, even though it has the same name. Instead, this is a French heist film that is really well done. I would put this in the same family as The Sting with a true ensemble cast and a true reveal at the end that surpasses expectations. In the film, Cash is a small time con-man who is working his next pigeon (the mark). Get the police involved, the master con artist, some African warlord/mercenaries and some mafia guys and you have quite an involved organization to thing through. Throughout the entire film, I was engaged, thinking, predicting and always  modifying my thinking as the story progressed. Fun to watch.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Judi Dench plays Philomena, an Irish woman who gave up her son for adoption 50 years ago, and is now looking to find out where/who he is. She enlists the help of disgraced, former BBC journalist (Steve Coogan) to help out, which he does only because the alternative is to write a Russian history book. These two develop a quirky relationship as the investigation progresses, each with their own demons and drivers pushing them forward and holding them back. The story is a meandering journey through scandal and controversy, looking into the practices of the local Irish convent that took Philomena in 50 years ago all the way to the socio-political quagmire of U.S. politics in the 80's. Dench and Coogan play well together, never quite comfortable and never quite antagonistic. Fascinating story and well played. 
4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are two astronauts stranded in space after a catastrophic (and repeating) encounter with space junk. Their task is to survive and find a way back to earth. I suppose I had mixed expectations walking into this film. The premise is fascinating, but with any explicitly science based film that is "known" for its scientific authenticity, my tendency is to look for holes. So I tried to just sit back and enjoy.  In the end, my mixed expectations were met. The premise was fascinating and the science was pretty good (but not perfect by any means). In the end, what I was struck by most was the flat feeling I had leaving the theater. Yeah, it was good, I liked it, etc. but I was not blown away and this is not something I will remember as a striking film. That being said, the one scene that did capture (for me) the vastness of space was Bullock floating away against a black background. Camera pull back. Suddenly the sheer volume of space became just a tiny bit clearer. Reminded me of my first experience with Scuba and the realization that I actually do live in a 3D world. If you could capture the vastness of space, juxtapose that with the feelings of claustrophobia of space walking, and sustain that for 80 minutes, now you have a film.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, December 15, 2013


What makes a good heist movie? Seeing the intricate planning, watching the execution, witnessing the getaway, and watching the authorities get fooled. All of this must happen under the umbrella of clever, tricky or downright sneaky. Steal gets a couple of these right. Just enough to enjoy. The primary "clever factor" here is that the criminals are experts in extreme sports (roller blading, base jumping, etc.) and use that in their getaway. But we don't get to participate in the planning or much of the execution. So really, a second tier heist...
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

London Boulevard

Recommended by Netflix because I liked In Bruges, I can see why. Colin Farrell plays a released ex-con who is working to get back to "regular life". Unfortunately, all his connections lead to criminal activities while he is interested in leaving that world. The entire film is a series of these connections and their outcome. Dark, and not nearly as funny as In Bruges, but similar in tone. I continually held out hope that Farrell would find a way out even when it seemed like he was pulled back to crime for good. One minor complaint... I did find myself missing several key scenes because I couldn't understand the "English" language. But maybe that is part of the charm.
3 stars (out of 5)


Deeper, more soulful Statham. Less action, more character. At least, that was the intent. Statham plays Joey Jones, an intentionally homeless Afghanistan war vet in London. He falls into an opportunity to get cleaned up, during which time he takes on a mission to earn some money and avenge the death of his homeless friend. This is not a half-bad look at the angst that vets probably experience on return to their home. A sense of hopelessness, lack of control and lack of options. Of course, Statham presents the necessary tough guy routine when it is needed, but that is not the purpose of this film. I am sure that because of this the film doesn't fit any typical demographic. But I liked it...
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Hot Flashes

In a small town where not much happens but the local high school sports, a funding decline promises to put the mobile breast cancer screening van out of business. This is just sort of cause that moms can get behind. So the state champion girls basketball team from 20 years ago challenges the current state champion high school girls to a 3 game series as a fundraiser for the clinic. Hijinks ensue. The quality of this film is very Saturday afternoon TV in every way. If you want to see a sports film, see anything else. If you have nothing else going on... well, see anything else.
2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Red Dawn

A cookie-cutter film from a cookie-cutter script. Perhaps it was supposed to be meaningful now because of the North Korean presence in the news, but this is not novel, or even exciting. I would rate this as an excellent B-movie.
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Karate Girl

A nice little Japanese karate film staring a couple of young Japanese girls who are masters of their craft. When their father is killed, and they are separated as kids, they each develop their expertise with Karate as a way of holding on to what is important. And neither knows the other is still alive. Of course, one is "good" and one is "bad", but when they meet, family is more important. Excellent choreography in the fight scenes and the power and nature of karate is demonstrated beautifully. This is a great late-night movie.
3 stars (out of 5)

Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Film 2 in The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire picks up with life after victory. President Snow is mad about everything, mostly concerned that any spark of hope picked up by the little people will cause him lots of trouble. So the districts become even more restrictive and are locked down under martial law. Snow figures out that to get rid of his antagonists (our protagonists) from District 12, he will send them back into the games. Once again, a well visualized world, contrasting the haves and have-nots. I do think the game arena was not quite as well portrayed, with all the clever subtleties that made it a fantastic arena left out or brushed over. But otherwise, the plot stays true to book, and the created world is both believable and fantastic at the same time.
4 stars (out of 5)