Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bad Words

Jason Bateman is a 40 something guy who has found a loophole in the rules of the National Quill societies Spelling Bee competition. He enters, and he intends to win. A goofy premise, to be sure. Bateman personifies the Bad Words of the title in his portrayal of a crass, entitled, A-hole. He is foul mouthed and foul tempered and the comedy is in the sheer inappropriateness of his interactions. Pair this with his meeting of a 10 year old contestant who is a slight, cheery, endearing Indian kid. Bateman pulls no punches in his racial and junior high quality bullying of this kid, but the kid just smiles and loves the fact that he has a 'friend'. This is a film you are not sure you are supposed to laugh at. Couple an inappropriate, racist, ass with an endearing kid. Does one outweigh the other? While I laughed throughout, and the relationships wound up in the hollywood happy ending, I found myself somewhat unsettled afterward. Maybe that was the point?
3 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


The 2007 film by this name starring Semra Turan. Turan plays Aicha, a turkish girl living with her family in Copenhagen is a Kung Fu fanatic. She has been training with a local girls club when her instructor suggests she get serious. The problem is, with joining a serious club she will need to fight boys, which is strictly taboo for her muslim family. So taboo, in fact, that it affects her brother's arranged marriage, her father's job, and everything else you can imagine. So while using the Kung Fu as a narrative device, this is a really good exploration of what it means to be part of an isolated immigrant community, part of a family with explicit family expectations, and a woman in a patriarchal system. The pressures on every member of the family are evident, and the resulting interactions are both dramatic and honest in their intensity and difficulty. Very well done.
4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Robot Stories

A collection of 4 shorts which explore the relationship between machines and people. While this was released in 2003, it seems to be set sometime in the 1980's, based on both the sophistication of the machines and the sophistication of the filmmaking. The shorts can be summarized as follows: Robot Baby - a couple must successfully take care of a baby robot (shaped like a large egg) before being allowed to adopt a real baby; Robot Fixer - a mother becomes fixated on repairing her son's action figure collection while he is in the hospital; Machine Love - two humanoid robots in the workplace endure bullying by humans and fall in love; and Clay - apparently about the downloading of a human intelligence into a machine to gain immortality. In this last short, I say apparently because I fell asleep. The ideas here are all interesting, but for a 2003 film, I expect more. Even 1977 Star Wars had better machines and machine interaction. Think about what we are already experiencing in 2003: Matrix trilogy, T2, X2, and Lord of the Rings. And yes, this is low budget, independent, short film-making, but an egg shaped robot baby?
1 star (out of 5)

Saturday, July 26, 2014


The most anticipated movie of the summer for me. I suppose that is never good. Lucy is an innocent traveler in Taiwan who is pulled into an underworld scheme to be a drug mule. The drug package, that had been surgically inserted into her, ruptures and causes new neural pathways to develop in her brain. This allows her to learn languages quickly (1 hour to learn chinese), see EM radiation (cell phone feeds, etc.) and affect the material world around her. This has possibilities. Unfortunately, they are not realized. Instead of a drug induced, Bourne-like action film, this comes across as a combination of Wanted (also with Morgan Freeman in a god-like, wise sage role) and What the #$*! do we (K)now!? (with its excellent description of bio-chemistry devolving into new-age, self-actualization blather). This film completely missed...

2 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Richard Linklater puts together great character movies. He is not necessarily worried that something must happen, but is worried that we as viewers know who the characters are, and what they think and feel. Often, this manifests in long dialogues and metaphysical discussions between characters (as in the Before... trilogy). This film has its own device for how to portray character and remarkably it works (and doesn't feel like a gimmick is pushed on you). Linklater filmed his cast every summer over the course of 12 years, and put together a fantastic story of a boy growing up. Our first scene is Mason at the age of 6, and we end with Mason going off to college. The transitions between capture life for this one boy in this one time. It is not universal, but there are universal themes for adolescence and family that everyone can connect with. And even though there is good supporting work, this film is definitely made excellent by the performance of Ellar Coltrane in his role as Mason. 

5 stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Picking up a few years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cesar and his monkey friends have taken over the redwoods of Marin county (north of San Francisco). They have not seen people for years and believe them to be extinct. In fact, most people have died out, but there is a small colony surviving in San Francisco. The virus has burnt itself out and the remaining people are starting to work at rebuilding civilization. The first step to rebuilding civilization is electricity, so a team of explorers travels north to see if the hydroelectric plant there can be fixed to provide power to SF. People, meet Apes. Of course there is tension, and fear, and racism (Apeism?). But quality leadership leads us past all that, working toward a better life for everyone. Kind of fun to see ideas of racism and pacifism and nationalism portrayed in such an extreme environment that it really becomes obvious what the thinking about these ideologies is. Well done. Entertaining and a bit of thinking.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

White House Down

Channing Tatum is a capitol police looking for work in the White House. His daughter is a politico and huge fan of President Jamie Foxx. When they are there to tour, terrorists take over the building nearly completely. Of course, the 'nearly' is required so that Tatum and his daughter can save the day and save Foxx. This is similar to Olympus has Fallen, but with a homegrown terrorist operation instead of a foreign one. And this was better. Maybe the father/daughter thing? Maybe Tatum is a better 'down on your luck' kind of guy than Butler? Maybe the small amount of political dealing that went along with the invasion? Not exactly sure. But let's be clear, this was not tons better, just a bit. If you are going to choose only one White House terrorist film to watch late at night, this one gets it by a margin.
3 stars (out of 5)