Sunday, March 30, 2014


It has been a long time since I have been in a full theater. Usually this is fun for epic openings as the entire crowd gets into the film. Suffice it to say, there was more applause for a couple of the previews than there was engagement during the feature. Another clue as to the mediocrity was the fact that I found myself thinking about work, or other films, or books to read in the middle. Not overwhelming, and I came in with pretty low expectations. The film itself traces the life of Noah from seeing his father killed by the descendants of Cain in the opening scene, to getting the word from God to build the ark, to actually floating around on the boat. I did like that there was an attempt to get inside Noah's head as he tries to interpret God's commands. It turns out that God doesn't actually speak to Noah, but he has visions that are cryptic and need interpreting. So what was God's purpose for man in this destruction via flood? And how is Noah's vision & interpretation any more or less valid than other prophets and/or cult leaders in the past of present? Is scriptural/spiritual interpretation that leads to self preservation always suspect? Interesting questions at least. Too bad the film doesn't hold up its end with entertainment value.
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 29, 2014


I found this on someone's list of all-time great heist films. De Niro is the heist crew leader and Pacino the cop who is chasing him. Add in Jon Voight, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Dennis Haysbert and Natalie Portman. This is fun. And nearly the polar opposite to The Yellow Handkerchief. Heat is 100% action with, at best, 1 dimensional characters. Every character is pretty stereotypical. Pacino is the gritty, driven detective who "Says what he means and does what he says", De Niro the criminal mastermind who has no attachments that "he can't leave in 30 seconds". The puppy dog assistant criminal, devoted criminal girlfriend, struggling parolee, enamored new girlfriend, etc. Everyone has their role and plays it and only it. Of course, in this case, there is not really a need to have multidimensional characters since the tense game of cat and mouse holds all of our attention. And you know this is done well because you are simultaneously rooting for both De Niro and Pacino to win the battle. You really want there to be some sort of outcome where they are both fulfilled and satisfied. You will have to watch to see whether this is the case.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Yellow Handkerchief

William Hurt is just released from a 6 year stint in prison and no-one is around to pick him up. He meets a couple of kids and travels with them to New Orleans in search of his wife. Through flashback and story-telling, we get a sense of Hurt's life. The two kids seem to just be around to listen to stories, and provide some variety. Not much plot, lots of character. After recently reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, and complaining that it wasn't that good because it didn't "do anything", I am surprised that I really like this movie, and it didn't "do anything" either. This is very nearly a zero plot, 100% character film. We meet Hurt's character and learn who he is by his small interactions with the kids, with strangers around him, and through his own professed confidence and self doubt. A road trip movie with no action. But still excellent. I suppose I will need to continue thinking about what makes a good film or book. It is clearly not just plot or character.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

About Time

There is something about Bill Nighy that makes me happy. Seeing him standing, one hand on a chair back, the other held out palm up, bumbling about with clever language... he does not disappoint here. With a minor role as the father of Tim in a family where the men are able to travel back in time, he does just enough to provide credibility to this crazy scenario. Tim is our protagonist, who learns the joy and struggle of time travel. Every travel back allows some benefit, but also some cost. While the story is quite clever in how it deals with the unintended consequences of travel, it does not adequately explain how some of the travel decisions are "undone". How do you get back to the present? Do you just live back through the time, or can you jump? It seems both, but without reason... I would categorize this as a moderately good romantic comedy and a low-moderate quality sci-fi time travel film. Made me laugh, and didn't make me mad.
3 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Set in a middle class English suburb, 'Skunk' is the local 11-year old girl. She is about to go to high school, lives with her older brother and single father after mom left several years earlier. Played by Eloise Laurence to perfection, Skunk is the heart of this film and her acting is what makes it an excellent film. She witnesses a violent altercation between her neighbors, is growing into her adolescent self (physically and emotionally), has abandonment issues because of her mother and a crush on her teacher. And amidst all of this, she is endearing and the epitome of a good person. I love the relationships she develops, the anger she shows, the fright, the curiosity and mischievousness. Well worth it.
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Four Lions

Intended as a farce, a la Borat, but not funny. Four Islamic British men fancy themselves Jihad warriors, when in fact they are bumbling idiots. It plays as a series of sketches pieces together with over the top "punchlines". Perhaps had I been able to finish watching, I would be able to provide for you some grand meaning or purpose, some satirical commentary on religious fundamentalism in western society. But I was unable to finish...
1 star (out of 5)

Silver Tongues

A couple travel around the country for a week or so, role playing all their interactions with people. They meet a young couple on their honeymoon and role play as swingers. In a church, role play a detective. In a nursing home, role play as kids. the characters are abusive and mean, and seem to take joy in destroying the joy of the people they interact with. The man is definitely the lead here and as a viewer, you are pulled into the drama of figuring out the relationship and the purpose. Who is role playing, who is letting their real self show through? What self-discovery is happening? Or are the characters so apathetic about their lives that they feel nothing, discover nothing? Are they psychologically cutting just to generate emotion? Not fun, but fascinating. It left me with a grimacing, no-redeeming-value, curiosity.
3 stars (out of 5)

Blood: The Last Vampire

This is definitely what I would consider a B-level movie. Saya is a Japanese 16 year old samurai who happens to be half-vampire. Her life purpose is to kill Onigen, the biggest-baddest demon around, who also happened to kill her father. She is killing low level demons in an attempt to draw out Onigen and in the process, meets a nice human teenage friend to help her out. I suppose the B-level movie means that there are many significant holes you must overlook. The "vampire" part of this story is so minor and so "not vampirish" that I am surprised that it makes the title. You could have called this Blood: The Last Demon Hunter. For some reason this is set in the 1970's. Often, an era choice allows you to utilize some of the cultural phenomena from that era to fun or dramatic effect. Here, it remains unused, so it is a strange choice. So in spite of the fact that I found the Saya character growing on me over time, one must have rating standards, and for an average, B-movie, it must be
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Charlie is going to High School as a social misfit. He has never had any friends and hopes that high school will be different. Early in his freshman year, he gets integrated into a circle of senior friends that are all quirky for their own reasons which allow them to relate to him. Charlie has a messed up past, is a bit fragile, and is somehow the center of this circle... or at least it seems that way since the story is told from his point of view. Over the course of the year, everyone gets to know themselves and stretch beyond to envision that life will actually be better after high school. I suppose that this is exactly the message that teenagers want to hear, that it will get better later. So these kids deal as best they can and help each other get through. Breakfast Club for this generation? Good music throughout and quite a few laughs in a light hearted comedy that deals with some serious social issues. Not sure that I like the message, but I am also not sure that I have a better one.
3 stars (out of 5)


Full disclosure, I loved this book series. I love the idea of social class based on the focus a society should take. And I love science fiction that puts you in a world so crazy that you can look at the ideas presented and consider them on their own merits, without consideration for current reality. Tris and her brother Caleb are at the age where they take "the test" to determine their faction placement. Tris finds that she is divergent. That is, she does not have an aptitude for one particular class. As a result, she is an explicit danger to the social structure of factions. With this foundation, Tris chooses the Dauntless faction (the courageous warrior class) and is initiated into their ranks. Follow up with initiation, isolation, friend making, self discovery, boyfriend finding, authority angering, and heroic actions to fill out the story. The film does a great job of visualizing future "post-war" Chicago, and holds together well on its own without needing the book as reference (unlike some of the Harry Potter films). Some of my favorite things: wind turbines stuck to buildings, the emptied Lake Michigan, low-tolerance zip lines, and fluorescent capture-the-flag flags. What would I have done differently? The tattoo application process was lame. If that is all you have to do, even the Amity would have inked up bodies...
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Pirate Radio

Bill Nighy is the operations manager and Philip Seymour Hoffman the anchoring DJ for Radio Rock, on offshore radio broadcaster anchored in the North Sea in the 1960's. While this all sounds very formal, in fact this offering tilts more to the zany side. With characters like The Count (Hoffman), Slow Bob, Young Carl, Thick Kevin, etc., the cast has a passion for radio and freedom of expression that is simultaneously goofy and an important part of the development of commercial radio. The Radio Rock crew is broadcasting in the absence of any legal recognition (not prohibited, not allowed) while parliament works to find a way to squash them as cultural boundary pushers. This is a fun (I laughed out loud) historical fiction version of the Pirate Radio phenomena. And you can't go wrong with Nighy or Hoffman.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

New World

There is no doubt about the tone of this film from the first seconds as we open with a torture scene. We are introduced to Jeong, a top level boss in the Korean mafia boss who is "questioning" a suspected mole in his operation. Brutal. We are also introduced to Jung, the top level Chinese boss, and member of the same international criminal conglomerate. When the big boss is killed, a succession battle is in order. The interest comes from our protagonist, Ja-sung, who is an undercover cop directed to push the succession in a specific direction. Ja-sung needs to process his own loyalty (what is his duty, what is owed to him) and his own identity (undercover for 10 years). The characters are quite well played, with a little bit of comic relief amidst the brutal violence of a mafia clan war. Again, similar to themes explored in A Prophet, a player is put into an impossible position and must make decisions that contradict their self-identity. And we as viewers are forced to think about that small word - must. Were the decisions made the only decisions possible? Can we imagine a world where different decisions are made? Well done, you made me think.
4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Red Machine

Set in the early 30's, a naval intelligence officer with expertise (and history) with the Japanese teams with a small time safe-cracker to get information about a new Japanese code system. Not a bad premise. The problem with this was the characterization and genre. The officer with history let that entire history demonstrate itself by showing no emotion at all... in the entire film. Too one-dimensional. And the feel of the movie was some sort of cross between The Sting and Newsies. But I think the feel was supposed to be straight up dramatic, political thriller. Fail.

2 stars (out of 5)

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Four

In this Chinese action-crime film, we get a fine mashup of 12th century Song dynasty martial arts, fantasy action with modern, territorial police chasing a counterfeit ring procedural. The entire look and feel of the film is ancient, but many of the the small touches are straight out of any TV procedural. The first clue that this is a unique perspective is that the two competing law enforcement agencies are named Department Six and The Divine Constabulary. Maybe these mean something and the mashup was unintentional, but I found it hilarious and thought these kinds of touches added to the overall affect. The story follows a few martial arts masters with "special skills" as they track down a counterfeit ring. Each agency has its own agenda, and there are spies and moles throughout. Add in the magical technology and the magical powers and viola... entertainment. This setup begs to be a franchise starter as each of these characters could tell a story of their own, and the group could tackle many threats to the king. Love this.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Prophet

Malik is a 19 year old French-Arab sent to prison for some unknown crime that lands him 6 years of time. He is almost immediately initiated into the prison underground structure of favors and protection, finding himself the lapdog of the Corsican mafia. With this beginning, the film is really an investigation of how a young man develops character and identity. Malik navigates impossible choices, race tension, loyalty tests, self preservation and relationship development all with an underlying pragmatic point of view. Maybe existentialism is really the only way to survive in prison. Hope, looking for the future, any sense of control will ultimately leave you disappointed and more broken than before. Tahar Rahim does an excellent job portraying Malik, embracing these tensions largely with body language and facial expressions. He is able to communicate a state of mind in the midst of ugly and graphic violence, the developing of hardness over time, and the core character that must not be shown in prison. And I love that we don't have a tidy resolution foisted upon us after so much struggle. Identity and character creation doesn't happen only in prison, or with young men. It is a lifetime process for everyone. 
5 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Company Man

Continuing on my recent Korean film fascination, A Company Man takes on the apparently universal question of meaning in employment. Must employment provide meaning and value to you as a person beyond the wages you earn? Are you what you do? How does your job define, or not define, who you are? Our protagonist Ji battles these questions throughout. The twist here is that the answers for Ji should be obvious, since his employment is as an assassin working for a private "black-ops" company. When he begins to develop relationship outside the job, and is confronted with some grey-area assignments, Ji begins for perhaps the first time in his life, to think. The resulting juxtaposition of universal questions of meaning and value being asked by someone who is so outrageously outside a universal value code means that we viewers with "regular jobs" must all the more seriously consider the questions for ourselves. This kind of thought provoking story-telling packaging extreme situations with common cultural issues is exactly what I appreciate about quality sci-fi writing and it is fun to see the same methodology in film.
4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Girlfriend is an Agent

I suppose a lighthearted, romantic comedy. Soo-ji is a secret agent for Korean NIS and is always having to keep her life secret from her boyfriend. He dumps her, goes and becomes his own secret agent, and then returns. The idea of everybody has a secret leading to hi-jinks could be good, but I just didn't buy in. Maybe it is the rom-com genre that doesn't translate like action, drama or thriller would. It was a bit too cheesy, too goofy for me. Didn't finish it, and don't really have an interest in knowing how it ended (which is quite strange for me).
1 star (out of 5)

Saturday, March 1, 2014


If you like a good psychological thriller, this Korean film will be perfect for you. Dae-su is kidnapped and captured by an unknown person, for an unknown reason, spending 15 years isolated and in a semi-drugged state. When he is "released", the remainder of the film is spent finding out why this happened to him. As the watcher, we are just as confused as Dae-su, and just as surprised and shocked as discoveries are made. And in the end, his captor both wins and loses... actually, everybody both wins and loses. The film is both disturbing and revealing about the human condition, both in our ability to inflict damage as well as our ability to endure and heal from damage. While I don't really love the psychological thriller genre, this was pretty good.
3 stars (out of 5)