Friday, November 28, 2014


Sometime in the future, life has boiled down to survival. Farming and living in a dustbowl, entire crops succumbing to blight, and technology being the general scapegoat for all things ill in the world. Enter Cooper (McConaughey), former pilot, current tinkerer/engineer/dreamer. He gets the call to pilot a spacecraft through a wormhole in search of a new planet to colonize. Straight up sci-fi. No fantasy, super-heros, romance, or comedy to "broaden" the audience. This a film that makes you want to think about what the future might hold, about what our responsibilities to life on earth are now, about unintended consequences, about the relationship between science/fact/perception/belief, about the limitations to our thinking that we can't even think about and about the implications of a survival instinct. The film is paced patiently so that you can start this thinking while watching. I think this is a good thing, in contrast to a blitz of sensory input and big ideas that blow your mind and don't allow you to integrate the implications of what you are seeing, which is common is sci-fi/big action films these days. In many ways, this is a traditional story of the triumph of humanity over nature. In many ways, this is a cautionary tale in the saga of man v. nature. Loved it.
5 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

John Wick

John Wick is a former mob hitman who has retired from the business. When his wife dies, and his grieving process in interrupted by a robbery, Wick enters revenge mode and re-enters his old life. This is as close to a first person shooter video game film as you can get and offers the same entertainment value. A character that is basically indestructible, can kill without remorse, and basically ravages everyone who crosses his path. There is no thinking here (there is no time), and there is not really much story. The filming and action sequences are crisp and well choreographed. But that does not in itself make a good film. I would classify this as a revenge genre (a la Taken) but to an even higher extreme. If you like watching someone play Call of Duty or similar games, you will enjoy this. I just felt slammed afterwards (glazed eyes, flat emotion).
1 star (out of 5)

Monday, November 24, 2014


The story of a WWII tank crew who has worked their way over the past few years from northern Africa into Germany. They are currently moving through central Germany in the last days of the war. As far as war, action films go, this is fairly typical in that there is an intense camaraderie created within the crew that ultimately overcomes any conflict. There are fierce battles alternated with down time where the crew can "act normal". And each soldier reacts differently to stress and normality. Really this is a character film where we explore the effects of war on different personalities. I am again struck by the coping mechanisms that each of the crew exhibits, from rage to nausea to enjoyment. I am struck by the brutality of war, both in terms of life and death and in terms of psychological abuse on soldier and civilian. I am struck by the assumed "necessary evil" that comes with war and battles. I am not sure if it is more disturbing that some soldiers can switch back and forth easily between brutal and pleasant, or that some get stuck in one mode. I perhaps am most disturbed by the fact that I could see myself as Norman... utterly repulsed by death, but being pretty good at the craft and coming to enjoy it. I suppose that seeing films like this is another push to remind me that pacifism and working toward peace is just that... work.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Sometime this year, nations will decide to artificially seed the atmosphere with a cooling agent to combat global climate change. This global experiment will go awry and cause a massive ice age. A technocrat named Wilford has created a train that moves constantly around the globe and all of surviving humanity is on this train, surviving the freeze in a closed environment. Flash forward 17 years to 2031 and the members of the back end of the train are fed up with their squalor. They plan a revolution, fighting to take over the engine one car at a time. This is a brilliant story, based on a French graphic novel, where a closed ecosystem of humans must remain balanced. The prevailing theory is that in order for there to be balance, there must be disparity. Perhaps my favorite line of the film is in response to a "This is the natural order" comment. Curtis (from the back) says to Mason (from the front), "Thats what people from the front always say to people from the back". Yes, this little train is a microcosm of the world. So why can't someone envision sustainability with parity. Both are required for justice. The fact is, this film (in spite of its massive violence) makes me think again of justice and sustainability and the possibilities for our 2014 world. Love it.
4 stars (out of 5)

The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay: Part 1

Clearly a placeholder film. I mean, it has a place holder in the title (Part 1). So go in with your expectations set at that level, and this is a fine film. Katniss is now in District 13, having been rescued after the escape from the games in Catching Fire. Peeta is not in District 13, having been left behind by the rescuers and forthwith captured by the Capital. President Snow plays his part en pointe, as a friendly, grandpa sort of evil tyrant. Katniss resists and then develops a driving need to be part of the revolution. Great scenery, costumes, etc. Well written, etc. I suppose what makes it a placeholder is that we get no conflict arc. We know the conflict will not be resolved, so it is a slow amping up of the tension. We just have to wait... for a year... I think I will appreciate this series when I watch all four in a marathon next christmas.
3 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


The 2005 released Hong-Kong action thriller (not the Veronica Roth dystopian Chicago future film released this year). This is the story of a grieving cop chasing the murderer of his witness, the lawyer who protects the suspected mastermind, and the hitman who pulled the trigger. An engaging little tryptic that feels like three independently woven stories even though it is clearly one story. And is it possible for a film to be engaging and enjoyable, and entirely forgettable at the same time? Seems like it had nothing substantive to offer.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Equalizer

Denzel Washington is a guy with some serious special forces skills who has retired and is living the quiet life. Well, he doesn't sleep much, so he is always reading in the middle of the night in a diner. When another regular gets in trouble, he helps her out. Since the trouble has a lot to do with human trafficking, the help has a lot to do with hunting down bad guys and killing them. In this helping, Washington apparently finds his post military vocation. There will probably be a sequel and he will probably have business cards by then. And I will probably see it.
3 stars (out of 5)