Monday, June 30, 2014

The Wolverine

X-men episode with Hugh Jackman as the wolverine. This episode picks one event in the long, storied life of Logan (rescuing a Japanese soldier from the Nagasaki explosion) and creates an entire action/drama based on the effects of this decision. There is (as there always is) some initial apathy from Logan, after which he finds a damsel in distress to rescue/protect. Formulaic and predictable. Which is exactly what you are paying for.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Fault in our Stars

Based on the novel by the same name, this is a story of romance and searching for the meaning of life among teenage kids with cancer. Hazel Grace meets Augustus in a support group, and the fall slowly in love, each trying to protect the other. They are able to joke about, cry about, and talk dispassionately and rationally about their disease. And they are able to not talk, when not talking is appropriate. So while this is in many ways a typical teen romance, it is also an atypical look into how to have a health outlook on life, regardless of the health of the actual life. Stays pretty true to the book, and about as entertaining. Not excellent, no surprises, but a strong adequate.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Edge of Tomorrow

Sarah Connor meets Groundhog Day? Aliens have invaded earth (some fluke crashing of an infected asteroid) and have devastated Europe. Tom Cruise is a media officer in the army and gets thrown into the Normandy-like invasion of France when he gets caught in a time loop. While it may be his own personal hell, it is exactly the gimmick needed to defeat the alien brain. But he need the help of former time-looper Emily Blunt to get him through. I really liked this movie, both in concept and execution. The time loop concept has the potential to get real cheesy or rely on goofy gags, and there is a bit (enough) of that for comic relief. But we don't get stuck there, and the editors use well paced "flash images" to show quick sequences of 10-15 resets in a row. Our brains can (and do) fill in all the repeated details and sameness without having to see it. It is a perfect combination of showing enough, but not too much. My only complaint with this film is with the ending. I expect with time travel movies to be at least a little bit unsettled at the end, not sure how things are or should be. This left me with a completely tidy package... too tidy. A bit of temporal mess would have been more satisfying.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fast & Furious 6

This is pure money-making, action, franchise gold. Vin Diesel and his gang get back together to help the cops get a bad guy (also fast car experts) and win themselves pardons and the return of a member of their family along the way. There will be street races, fast cars, explosions, gun battles, hand-to-hand combat scenes and very little in the way of unnecessary dialogue. Duane Johnson is really obvious, even in this group, as a caricature of himself, barely able to do more than quote his lines. And I love Gina Carano developing as an up and coming action star in her own right (see Haywire). It is nice to see summer franchise movies know their own limits, but still seem fresh enough to continue to entertain.
3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This is a fun little romp through the espionage paranoid days of the cold-war. Using MI6 as the setting, and specifically the upper echelon suits that run the organization, we find ourselves on a hunt for a double agent. This is a remarkably straight forward drama with the off-the-record meets with the enemy, the spy coming in out of the cold, the civilian with privledged information, the five suspects and the known double agent who may be a triple agent. The pacing is good, the intrigue is thick, the investigation does not reveal too much too soon and the plot does not try to become too tangled. And it feels all rather ordinary. Good, not great.
3 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

American Hustle

The look and feel of this film is great. Set in the 70's political scene and based on the ABSCAM investigations around public corruption, we get great costuming and characterization that is bigger than life. It is the perfect combination of the classic 70's look and the post-Vietnam, post-Nixon political swagger that shows up in caricature here. Christian Bale and Amy Adams play the con-artist couple used by the feds (Bradley Cooper) to entrap the politician (Jeremy Renner) on corruption. They are all excellent and play just below the over-the-top level required by this film. But beyond the sheer pleasure of watching (looking at) this film, the story line itself drags. Several times throughout the film, I found myself thinking "OK, I get it, let's move on". That is never a good sign for a form of entertainment that is designed to be immersive. So A+ combined with D averages to

2 stars (out of 5)

Monday, June 9, 2014

On the Job

This Filipino film is an interesting police v. corruption drama inspired by actual contract killings taking place in the Philippines in the mid 2000's. A couple of prisoners are occasionally released for a day to initiate an assassination, at which point they are paid and return to prison. The sheer volume of corruption that is required for this to happen is astounding (from the top person ordering the hit, through several layers of middlemen, down to the many prison guards who look the other way). This gives some indication of how ubiquitous corruption is when the police, even amongst this massive number of people involved, can't get enough of a lead to prosecute anyone. With this plot structure as a basis, I found the relational interactions in the film to make it worthwhile. The two assassins (mentor and protege) and their own familial relations are all complex. The characters display the angst of separation, dishonesty and secrets. Put these characters next to the police (a local detective and the national police investigator), and we see they have the same angst. The mirroring of police and criminal and the confusion about "who is right" probably makes this "too real" to be enjoyable by a large audience. If we are all depressed about corruption in the end, I can see why it didn't make any money. But if we enjoy this for the social commentary and the character portrayal, how is it any different from any other dark, police procedural that we consume. I liked it.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 7, 2014


A North Korean boy is released from prison and pressed into service for his country after his father is killed in similar service. It turns out that, like his father, Dae-ho is serving in order to keep his still imprisoned sister alive. And his service to his country? Infiltrate South Korean society and be on call as an assassin. The film is set around the time of the power transition from Kim Jong-Il to Kim Jong-Un, resulting in lots of political and "secret police" infighting along the way. The main story follows an internal battle between Unit 8 and Section 35, two North Korean spy organizations who have infiltrated the South and want control of the spy responsibilities. Dae-ho, as a young man, uses his cover as a high school student to allow him to move around under the radar. He befriends a classmate, does his job, is disillusioned by his country, all while working to keep his sister alive. The story moves along quite nicely and does not bog down with unnecessary (or unnecessarily long) fight scenes. I particularly like the humanization of the characters. That is, these spies are not just machines, but are thinking/living people who make well intentioned decisions. How would I act different given the same scenario, but my own conscience and ethical bent?
3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Ordinary Decent Criminal

Kevin Spacey plays an Irish anti-hero, pulling heists that are brazen and very public. He and his crew continue to plan and implement thefts even amidst a trial for that very said crime. He gets mixed up with the IRA and gets pushed into a bit of a corner, but has ego enough for everyone to ensure that everything will be OK. I can see why this did not make waves at the theater as it is a bit too lighthearted. It is not a serious heist film (the thefts are brazen, but the planning/implementation is not the focus of the film) nor is it a political thriller or romantic comedy. It is a bit of a dark comedy. But only a bit. It doesn't really have a target audience. Which makes it a great late night rental (can one really say "rental" anymore? or must we say "stream"?).
3 stars (out of 5)

Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks is Rich Phillips, container ship captain for Maersk. His current assignment is to pilot a full container ship from Oman, around the horn of Africa, to Kenya. Barkhad Abdi is Muse, Somali fisherman turned pirate. His current assignment is to capture a large ship and hold it for ransom. These two characters are engaged throughout the film in a standoff, each with a worldview supporting their position and actions. You occasionally get glimpses through the worldview fence, as the two "captains" interactions demonstrates an inability to decide the role that trust plays in their struggle. Granted, this is a war/hostage situation and the tension and stress is through the roof, so it is not surprising that the characters would not be able to rise above cultural barriers to "understand each other". But throughout the film, there are opportunities, and near-misses in connection and it is clear that the near-miss is not stress/tension induced, but truly a cultural divide. And it is clear that this effect is intentional by the film makers, to show that in spite of the extreme scenario, humans seek connection, and in spite of this seeking, it is extremely difficult to achieve.
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Expendables 2

If you expect a film to be bad, and it is bad, how do you rate it? Is it a 5-star bad movie (living up to expectations)? This offering by Stallone, et. al. is exactly what is expected. It is a spoof/send up of action films, but in the genre of an action film. I think the original Expendables was more of an homage, this is clearly a spoof. The old guys offer too many cheeky glances and lob each other too many softball lines (Willis to Schwarzenegger: No I'll be back) to be anything else. And the wacky, mysterious appearance/disappearance of Chuck Norris can only be categorized as cheese. The body count is accordingly high and my only real complaint is the unnecessary "graphic comic violence" in the form of decapitations and blood splatter. Don't need it. I am watching a film to leave reality, let the killing fade into the background. Every bit that reminds me of actual war violence brings me right back to reality, which defeats the entire purpose of the film.
2 stars (out of 5)