Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Berlin File

Jason Bourne as a North Korean spy... so to speak. I guess Bourne as super-spy, not Bourne as genetically modified, drugged up super warrior. Jong-seong is working in Berlin, brokering an arms deal with some Russians and Arabs. When the deal goes bad (Mossad shows up) he is on the run and trying to find out who blew the lid open. Now he and his wife are chased by both Mossad, the Arabs, and South Korean agents looking to close the illegal arms traffic to their peninsula. Part of the fun is the non-stop action, and part is the psychological "who is the mole?" investigation that happens simultaneously. Having seen a few of these Korean spy-action films recently, I can definitely see the influence they have had on US action films in the genre (see nearly any Statham film) where the protagonist is battered, beat up, and single minded in achieving the goal. Jong-seong is clearly single-minded here in spite of everything else. He manages to portray an honest weariness while running, searching and fighting.

3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, May 30, 2014


Jon Favreau (of Iron Man and Avengers directorship fame, and Cowboys and Aliens which I have taken heat for liking) wrote and directed this father-son, road trip, food film. Favreau play El Jefe, a hip restaurant chef in LA who find himself creatively stifled. When he blows up and loses his job, he takes his son back to his roots in Miami, picks up and rehabs an old food truck, and embarks on a journey back to LA. What makes this film good is the outstanding Cuban/Latin soundtrack and the few moments of genuine connection between father and son as they traverse this journey of self discovery. What prevents this film from being great is editing. Cut 20 minutes out (probably most of it in the LA chef setup) and the pacing keeps me from checking my watch and getting bored.

3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

XMen: Days of Future Past

Now this is a summer movie. Action, time travel, superpowers. Love it. Sometime in the future Prof X and Magneto have made peace to defeat a common enemy. The enemy are sentinels, robotic hunter-assassins, who only hunt mutants (or those who have recessive mutant genes). Very Skynet-ish. I love this series because of the massive possibilities for "mutant powers". Of course, you have Wolverine and Cyclops and Storm. But we also can get anything you can imagine, and the fun comes when you put a team of these "anythings" together in a fight. They can work together and the sum is greater than the whole and all that. The main storyline is that Wolverine is sent back to the 70's to prevent an assassination by a mutant which ultimately leads to the unified human move to destroy all mutants. In the 70's, Wolverine is helped out by Quicksilver, and chases down Magneto and Mystique/Raven (she is still having an identity crisis at this point). Lest I spoil all the fun, just see it and enjoy all the campy humor and mutant fun.
4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Million Dollar Arm

Based on a true story, John Hamm plays a sport agent looking for an angle to keep his fledgling business afloat. Fledgling as in he-has-no-clients. Channel surfing one night juxtaposes cricket and a TV talent show. Bam - a brilliant idea. Go to India, run a contest to find cricket players who can be converted to baseball pitchers. Then just sign these pitchers and create your own clients. The fun in this film is the Indian scenery and people. The rest of it is pretty standard. Two kids are found, brought back to the US and dumped on the pitching coach. They don't succeed, the agent gets distracted, the girl helps him refocus, everyone gets a second chance. If the kids weren't charming this would be an straight to TV film. But there is enough humor and charm to carry it along.
3 stars (out of 5)


This is my first Godzilla film. It was everything I expected and completely disheartening at the same time. In terms of expectations, it was a nice creature film. It was sufficiently cheesy (big creatures eating ICBMs), sufficiently wacky (prehistoric creatures with a primary weapon of EMP pulse) and generated cheers in the audience a few times throughout. What more could you want from a creature film? What disappointed me was how much of a U.S. nationalist flavor this had. My expectation/hope was that this would be an eastern film, building on the Japanese monster with a decidedly Japanese character. It could be that I don't know what I was expecting, but walking out of the movie I found myself wondering why Godzilla had to go to San Francisco, why the US Navy had to be the hero, why this had to be so western. Very disappointing in that respect...
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, May 15, 2014


I am not a huge fan of Woody Allen films, but am of Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman. This is a film with a silly little premise and it plays as an Allen standard. Johansson is a young journalist wanna-be who happens on a scoop of a murder. The silly part is that the scoop comes from the ghost of a recently murdered journalist. Johansson chases down the story (and the murderer Jackman) with the help of small time magician Allen. It is kind of "talky" and has all the requisite odd moments with Allen providing the key insight to move forward in the plot. But still, it was fun. Not great fun. Just fun.
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

IRIS: The Movie

I have to admit that I was largely confused throughout this film. Somehow, early on I missed associating names with faces and when the conversation was describing the intricate alliances and double crossing, I was never sure who was on what side. Add to this the fact that a North Korean/South Korean spy thriller takes place in Hungary and perhaps you can see my problem. The story follows a South Korean super spy who is cut loose by his country, decides to help the other side and then reforms again with the help of his super spy wife. It turns out this is similar (without the heroes) to the plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, with IRIS filling the role of HYDRA. There is an IRIS TV series, so I am sure that builds on these same characters and seems like a better medium (as a serial).

2 stars (out of 5)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Don Jon

After Her and Captain America, I was needing another Scarlett Johansson fix before Lucy comes out this summer. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt is always good. Gordon-Levitt as Jon is the ultimate Jersey gigolo. A new girl every night, cocky and good looking. But he likes his porn and eventually it becomes more important to him than real relationships. Johansson (as Barbara) is the first long term relationship he has tried in awhile, and the reality/porn conflict obviously rises between them. What I enjoyed about this film was the "Jersey-ness". Not having spent time in Jersey myself, the actors put together a consistent portrait that I would guess is right on the border between reality and caricature. The accent, the walk, the attitude, the lip snarl. Brilliant and hilarious. What I wonder about is the conflict between the story told and the message. How should I feel about a film that ultimately presents an anti-misogynist message after 90 minutes of misogyny. Is the "anti" message really the point? Or is this just the way to make the film palatable to a wider audience, with the good hollywood message/ending? And how might this be different than a film like Hero that uses massive violence, but ultimately preaches a non-violent ethic? Does the moral-of-the-story justify the-story?

3 stars (out of 5)