Sunday, August 31, 2014

Special 26

A clear example of random Netflix luck. Set in India, a crew of 4 partners work together to impersonate various public agencies to make raids on wealthy (and corrupt) people to steal from them. They are decidedly low-tech in their methods and is quite fun to see how far hubris gets you. It is also fun to see the push/pull between the impersonators and their nemesis policeman who is on their tail. And top it all with typical Bollywood style, we don't pass the 30 minute mark without a full fledged song and dance number. A fun heist film...

4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The November Man

I have liked Pierce Brosnan since the Remington Steele days. And while he was not my Bond (he was not Connery), in the right film (e.g. The Matador, Thomas Crown Affair) he definitely fits. This is another example. Here he plays Devereaux, a retired CIA hitman. We get glimpses of his past as he trains a protege (Mason) and get a sense for his melancholy life. He is pulled back into the business by his former handler, and of course things do not go well. In the end, it is up to him to find what is really going on while mourning loss, running from his former pupil, and protecting the girl. He is pretty rugged, a bit tired, and a bit sassy throughout. His methods are standard (in the way that CIA spy cleverness is standard in films these days) and his confidence is off the charts. A solid entry in the "Bourne genre" of films.
3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Special ID

In many ways, this film is typical. An under cover cop is in deep and his handler wants to keep him there for personal gain. He is loaned to another agency and his new handler does not understand how he works. Hong Kong style martial arts and street chases and fights abound. A couple of different mafia (in this case triad) bosses are in conflict and our hero is caught in the middle. So standard fare in many ways. Until the last 20 minutes. That is, the final 20 minutes are a culmination car chase/fight scene that you have not seen before, and it makes the whole thing worth while. Quite a good summer flick...

3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Jacket

Oooh, more wacky time travel. Having just read The Time Travelers Wife, this was more than I expected. Adrien Brody is a recently returned from the gulf war (1991 version) veteran who gets mixed up in a bad situation and sent to an institution for the criminally insane. While there, his treatment leads to episodes of time travel, where he goes forward a few years to enlist the help of Kiera Knightly in finding out about what actually happened to him back in "the present". This is quite well done, making us think about time loops, cause and effect, and how to jump out of loops. I also appreciated the portrayed true confusion and altered mental state that returning from combat results in. Perhaps this is because I am in the middle of reading Naked in Baghdad by Anne Garrels and recently read Baghdad Diaries by Nuha al-Radi. Both of these books give insight into the gulf wars from the Iraqi point of view and raise non-combat mental trauma of citizens in war. So I have war trauma on the brain and this film gave a particularly interesting (to me) perspective.

4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

I liked the first Hellboy, perhaps because it surprised me a bit. It was light hearted, action hero based, and yet irreverent and a bit disgruntled. This sequel held to that same standard. Ron Perlman plays the title character and again nails it. He is good, bad, a bit of an immature kid, a bit angry and true superhero when it comes down to it. The story follows him and his buddies helping to prevent ancient royalty from re-animating a robot army and destroying humanity. In addition, we get Guillermo del Toro's brilliance in creature creation again as the crew spends some time in the Troll market. I wonder if that guy just sits around imagining crazy creatures. I hope he gets lots of free time to do more because you could just sit around and "people watch" what he makes and that would be an entire film.

4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pulp Fiction

I finally saw it. This film that has been talked about as a game changer for film, for violent characters, etc. Eh, it was alright. I can see why it broke ground 20 years ago. But now, it is a pretty good buddy-gangster film, with some idiosyncratic touches. Travolta and Jackson are hitmen for the mob in LA. While they are ruthless, they are also a bit bumbly and faux-metaphysical. At least today, it feels manufactured. I do like the nonlinear editing that Tarantino put together, telling the story out of sequence and putting it back together in a seamless and very pleasing final product.

3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Kick-Ass 2

The first film was good, maybe because it was surprisingly so. We pick up right away, with Kick-ass inspired "superheros" roaming the streets, keeping things safe. Hit Girl has hung up her stars having lost her father. Kick-ass convinces Hit Girl to train him for real, they become an item and a team, get in over their heads, lose faith, lose family, etc. Again, this is a case of kids (and adults) with a fantasy understanding of superheros crushed by the onset of reality. But this is a fantasy film, so the fantasy of course wins out. So was this film good? In spite of the the fact that chronologically it is a sequel, it seems to be, in fact, the same film. Same moral dilemmas, same gimmicks, same ending. So it was OK, but I have this crazy idea that you should actually expand and improve a film if you have a chance in a sequel. No cinematic risks were taken here, and no cinematic rewards will be granted.
3 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


In this film, Mickey Rourke plays an accomplished and well regarded professional hitman whose main clients are mob bosses. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a punk-ass, petty criminal who imagines himself more gangster than he could ever be. These two get mixed up in a job of eliminating some witnesses to a murder and their methodologies (professional vs amateur) clearly cause conflict along the way. This is not a good film. Rourke makes it bearable as he portrays the cold, yet matter-of-fact assassin. Ben Kingsley in You Kill Me was much better.
2 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke plays an aging professional wrestler ("The Ram") who is still traveling and performing on the small circuit. He is struggling to find purpose in his life beyond wrestling, or more realistically, to envision that there is any possible thing he could do besides wrestling. He clearly sees the sadness of his own existence, and clearly sees how poor his decisions have been in his personal life. And even so he does not see it within himself to choose differently. Rourke is outstanding, carrying all the weight of a lifetime of glory and angst simultaneously. Tomei offers the same great performance in basically the same life role, but with her profession being a night club dancer. Not a happy film, but a great look into lives.
5 stars (out of 5)

The Monuments Men

Historical fiction is usually interesting to me when it is something that I had no idea about previously. In this aspect, The Monuments Men was excellent. The idea of a group of arts minded men volunteering in WWII with the sole purpose of tracking down and saving from destruction the many works of art stolen and stashed by the Germans is fascinating. Unfortunately, this film takes that fascination and squashes it. It feel self important, and does not bring the drama or the tension I would expect in a war zone. There are scenes which I should have felt this. But I didn't. Instead, I was taken back to the docudrama films I saw in the 8th grade. So great idea, great story, (very) flat execution.
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, August 9, 2014


The setting for this film is both "realworld" and "dreamworld". So automatically, you know there are going to be some weird things going on. Ink is a character that lives in dreamworld. He has traveled to realworld and stolen the soul of a girl. The entire story is one of battle between the Incubus (purveyors of bad dreams) and storytellers (givers of good dreams), with Ink and his stolen soul in the middle. We jump back and forth between the two worlds, and in time (from present to flashback and back again). This is a fascinating creative exploration of what the dreamworld might look like and how the human mind and sub-conscious work to provide meaning and motivation to our lives. In that respect, very similar to the mind-bending books like The Lathe of Heaven and Going Bovine.

4 stars (out of 5)

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

I used to love reading the Tom Clancy novels, so any Jack Ryan film adaptations that are reasonably good are high on the nostalgia rating for me. In this iteration, Ryan is just recruited into the CIA and on his first operational assignment (to save the world, of course). Spoiler Alert -- he does. I appreciated how understated this film was. The actions scenes were not over the top, but filmed instead with a "realistic" bent. So no one guy v. twelve in a fist fight. My favorite scene was also really a character scene, when Ryan is doing his analysis mojo while his fiance (Kiera Knightly) looks on. I loved how, with a few facial expressions she was able to portray the realization that "Oh my god, this is what he does, and he is really good at it, I love that I get to watch this". Kinda lame, but that made the whole movie for me.

3 stars (out of 5)

The Hundred-Foot Journey

A fusion food movie integrating Indian and French culture and cuisine. Hasan and his family have moved from Mumbai to Europe to try to start over in the restaurant business. They land in Rotterdam in a run down building directly across the street from Helen Miren's fancy traditional French restaurant. Of course there are culture clashes, and a minor food war between the restaurants. Yet while this is a film about food and chefs, it is more about culture and relationship, with the food taking a supporting role. This is unfortunate since the storyline tends to meander without the focus on one thing (2 hours could have been 90 min) and the best part of the film is the slo-mo and close-up filming of food preparation. No actors, and often not even hands. Just the food being chopped, poured, sliced and spritzed. These film scenes also provide the most vivid color and action and yet we see none of it in the second half. Even with these limitations, the film consistently pulled a laugh out of me.

3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Family

Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer star in this dark comedy about a family in witness protection. De Niro testified against his mob friends in New York, so his witness protection needs are extreme. So much so that the family and their permanent federal protectors are in France. But the entire family is a bit wacky, with the mom burning down a grocery store when the owner is rude, the kids taking over the school black market, etc. When the mob finds them (was that really a spoiler?) everybody chips in to save themselves from certain death. It is quirky, and subtle and dark. And moderately fun.

3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne v. Zac Efron. Young married with children next door to ultimate frat guy. Let the hi-jinks begin. Rogan and Byrne try to make friends, try to fit in with the frat guys, try to out smart them, try to ignore them, try to outprank them. Unfortunately, I didn't find much of it funny. Byrne has a bit of a whiny, baby-talk voice that just annoys me and Rogan's chuckling doofus is a bit tired. And/Or I am getting old and am no longer the target audience for college party humor.

2 stars (out of 5)

In the Blood

This Gina Carano vehicle puts a husband and wife on their honeymoon in the Caribbean. There is some back story to provide some motivation (both are recovering addicts, he is wealthy, the in-laws don't like her, etc.) but in the end, this is a Gina Carano vehicle. The husband is kidnapped, she tracks down the kidnappers and "holds them accountable". Some pretty good fight sequences, but this is not novel or engaging in any way I hope films would be.

2 stars (out of 5)

The Wolf of Wall Street

This was not a good film. The story of a self made Wall Street stock broker who knows no bounds (including laws) to achieve wealth. The result is a story of excess that is not even fun to watch, but instead is disturbing. As a genre, I might put this in a "horror-realism" category. Maybe I was expecting too much to get entertainment. That said, Leonardo Di Caprio is good, in that he is fully into this role. He is legitimately a money and power crazed narcissist who cannot release himself from the high he gets from power. But you can still tell that it is Leonardo having fun being crazy. I think the voyueristic possibilities of wealthy debauchery were supposed to make up for the not-so-subtly depressing commentary on wealth. It didn't. Depressing won.

2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Guardians of the Galaxy

Appreciate it for what it is. The 13-year-old in me loved this film. A bunch of misfit criminals (human, green girl, tree guy, raccoon and muscle guy) are thrown together and end up becoming a group charged with fighting a bad guy intent on destroying the universe. Noting unusual here for a comic based film. What makes this work is a relatively straight forward plot and great characters. Each of the guardians has a distinct quirky personality that is both sympathetic and grating at the same time. Throw in some cheeky humor and everyone wins. The most fun I have had at the theater this summer.
4 stars (out of 5)