Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

With so much hype, there is almost no way this could be an excellent film. Even going in with no expectations, the expectations based on the franchise are inherent. The story picks up a couple decades after the fall of the empire. The rebellion became the republic, and it has now become the resistance, fighting against the surging First Order. This film has the in-enviable task of holding true to the gestalt of a beloved franchise while introducing new characters and conflicts. It did the first two well, but the third fell well short. So short, in fact, that I really felt like I was watching a modern remake of A New Hope. Desert planet, junkers finding a missing robot, crazy bar with a bunch of crazy creatures, giant planet shaped planet killer, dark side master who looks like Voldemort... same conflict, same tension. Overall, while I enjoyed the nostalgia and the visuals, it really did feel like the middle book of a good series. Was this the "rebound", the necessary middle quality bridge between the old franchise and truly new adventures? We can't know until the next iteration is released and we can say if it is really novel and exciting. Until then...
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, December 19, 2015


Set in Hawaii, a military intelligence operative and his new sidekick work (nominally) together to prevent the militarization of space while navigating their own love interests and coming to terms with their pasts. Maybe the best and worst part of the film was that all the talk about satellites allowed me to think about whether the talk about satellites was scientifically correct or not. Probably about 0% good on that count. The romance/drama portion was pretty weak.

2 stars (out of 5)


Max is a military dog. When his handler is KIA, max is sent home with PTSD. Turns out that he gets to be adopted by his former handlers younger brother, which helps with the interpersonal family dynamic going on in that family, and helps to solve an international drug/guns smuggling ring. Way to go Max. Largely a disney after school special quality film, but how could you not like Max.

2 stars (out of 5)

The Veteran

stars (out of 5)

American Ultra

Regular teen boy Jesse Eisenberg (and by regular I mean awkward) and his friend who is a girl (Kirsten Stewart) get along in their small town. Until they don't. Turns out Eisenberg is a secret weapon and sleeper super soldier and Stewart is his government minder. Of course things get out of control and there are some explosions and fighting amidst general teen confusion and angst. Largely disappointing.

2 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Master Plan

stars (out of 5)


An interesting crime thriller where we start with a woman in a diner with no memory. As she progresses in time, we are jumped back and forth from the present timeline to a flashback timeline, with the goal being to find out why she has not memory in a diner, and who killer her boyfriend. Turns out that she is pretty violent, and not everything is as it seems on first glance, or second. Interesting, not astounding.

3 stars (out of 5)

The Throwaways

An attempt at a convict helps the police for a chance to get out. But of course, the convict is expendable, and needs to help the police enough to get out of trouble, but also needs to avoid more trouble with the bad guys. Completely un-memorable. Not really action, not really comedy, not really crime thriller.
1 star (out of 5)

Ricki and the Flash

Meryl Streep not enough to carry this family discovery. A couple good scenes, but not worth the time.
2 stars (out of 5)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I liked this coming of age story about a couple of high school misfits (Greg and Earl) who are friends, and learning how to be friends. They are forced into the life of Rachel, a fellow students diagnosed with terminal cancer. They cope with life and death the best they can, while also coping with high school and fitting in and self discovery. I would say this is a much better exploration of the emotion of illness than The Fault in our Stars was, mostly because of the way hope and futility were woven together. And it was simply a quirky set of relationships and activities that drove the plot along. Enjoyable.
4 stars (out of 5)

The Age of Adeline

Adeline is struck by lightning, and doesn't age. She has no friends (doesn't allow herself to have any) but eventually realizes that a life, no matter how long, is not a good life without relationship. Mildly pleasant passing of the time.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, November 28, 2015


A great, awful film. That is, a very well made film about an awful portrayal of life, the futility of ethics and the arrogance of power. The story follows a joint effort between FBI and DEA agents trying to stem the drug flow from Mexico into the US. The DEA team is operating as a pseudo-private military organization and sees themselves as largely outside the law. The FBI agent attached to the team (so they can operate in the US) has not bought into the maverick methods. While this is a military/police action thriller, I think the strength of the film is actually in the portrayal of the deeper emotions associated with the struggle between law and "ends justify the means". This manifests in raw demonstrations of power: armed military over civilians, man over woman, revenge over justice. This power is brutal and overt, other times subtle. But it is ever present in the film. It is disturbing that any version of this could be happening in this country. It is not an optimistic look at life, but extremely effective at telling the story it wants to tell.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Martian

First of all, an excellent film. I loved the book, and the film does not disappoint. This is pure space sci-fi, with the primary fiction being that we are witnessing the third manned mission to Mars. After that, it is all science. Mark Watney is stranded on the planet after his crew does an emergency departure during a storm and leaves him for dead. Watney is the team botanist and mechanical engineer, so he is constantly calculating and improvising his resources to stretch sustaining his life one more day. With this life or death tension riding over the entire story, we manage to be entertained by Watney's approach to life, his interactions with NASA, and by the fact that as the omniscient viewer we see the silliness and/or audacity of many of the decisions that are made. I love that this came across as sci-fi realism and was simultaneously able to capture the excitement and joy and passion of science.

5 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Pierce Brosnan continuing to develop his action hero chops. Here he plays "The Watchmaker", the cold, calculating, professional assassin, bad guy. Milla Jovovich is the U.S. State Department rising star who is sent to London to oversee the security of granting visas to the U.S. Brosnan is hired to initiate a terror attack and Jovovich is the only one who can stop him. I will say this is pure action, but I suppose I mean that it is only action. If you want to see a prototypical film where the characters are truly one-dimensional, this should be your case study. We know absolutely nothing about the character background or motivation. In fact, I have given you above the entire backstory for the to prime characters. So if a mindless action film with no real stunt work or clever plot is what you are looking for, look no further.
2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Set in China in the mid 19th century when warlords were competing for control of their local regions. When one warlord kills a powerful rival on the site of a Shaolin temple, he has solidified his grip on power. Until, of course, his grip slips. Another rival betrays him, kills his family and our warlord is forced to retreat to that same temple for safety. He has a conversion and ultimately becomes the protector that the temple has been looking for. Nothing really new here, but a well done period drama with quality martial arts and consistently engaging story. Reminded me of the IP Man series.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Berlin Job

A British film that is so British that I needed subtitles. It follows a couple of brothers who are the underworld crime bosses in charge of London. One is trying to get out of the business by initiating a final big deal. Of course, the deal goes bad (losing $50 million of drugs). So the brothers need to call in favors and negotiate extensions in an effort to get themselves out from under this loss. Who do you trust and how do you get a ton of money quickly? Clearly another heist is in order. I didn't really find anything novel or exciting here. Only watch if you need a late night diversion.
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Four girlfriends in England find themselves in the middle of a jewel heist... sort of. They find themselves interacting with the aftereffects of a heist. The mechanism of this film, however is what makes the film. The film is really told four times, once from the perspective of each of these girls. So that each retelling fills in additional details. This works particularly well here since, even though the story is happening to the four girls, only in the first minute and last minute are all four ever together. So there are pieces of information that only one will know, and this information is essential to a full understanding. So for the mechanism, and the careful implementation of this mechanism I give full praise. For the actual story, not-so-much. I suppose I am evaluating the story based on whether the story would be good without the mechanism. In this case no. So...
3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, September 4, 2015


Sort of a TiMER, Brazil - ish coming of age story that probably is intended to get the viewer to think about social stereotypes and the idea that our intelligence is pre-determined. In this context, every person is tested at some point in their pre-adolescent years and their individual frequency is revealed to them. Our protagonists in this case are a high frequency (the highest) girl and a low frequency boy, who bump in to each other. In this world, such a massive difference in frequencies coming into physical proximity result in some sort natural disaster (explosion, lightning strike, birds falling out of the air, car crash, etc.). The bigger the difference in frequency, the quicker the disaster and in this case disaster happens after 60 seconds of proximity. So our potential lovers are unable to be together. But we follow them through the next 20 years, with occasional attempts to meet, until our low frequency finds a way to circumvent the problem. Follow this with strange conspiracy theory, novel aural science, and revisionist interpretation of historical art. Overall, this was strange enough to keep me watching just to find out how everything resolved. And might be fun to discuss the ideas of intelligence as a nature v. nurture after watching with your philosophical friends. But it just wasn't excellent.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Colosio: El asesinato

A nice historical fiction retelling of the story of Mexican politics in the 1990's. The setting is the presidential elections where Colosio is the candidate of choice for the long reigning PRI party. During the campaign, Colosio is assassinated, and this story follows the detectives who are charged with uncovering who was behind the assassination. Clearly this is a highly politicized investigation, with the full force of multiple political inquiries, corruption, divided loyalties, and cover-ups in play. I particularly enjoyed this as a bookend of the story of PRI, having just read the Mexican political story The Underdogs from the early 1900's.

3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

So this is what launching a franchise should look like. A 1960's style spy-thriller pitting Russian, American, British and remnant Nazi forces against each other in the efforts to thwart nuclear proliferation and gain military control over the world. Mostly played as a straight political thriller with the appropriately occasional hijinks. The film stands on its own and never once felt like a placeholder or "just a setup". Characters were introduced in the first 10 minutes and then their relationships were allowed to develop/evolve throughout. If only Fantastic Four had been like this... But understand that this is not the next coming of Bond or Bourne. While colorful and active in plot and filming, the acting comes across as too mechanized, or too ordinary. Maybe this is intentional and part of the gestalt, but I found myself 'bleh' while walking out.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Set sometime in the future where automation has made jobs scarce, medicine has made health endless, and the economy has devolved into a serious have/have not. Gwen is the face of a prominent company that controls much of peoples lives and her face is the delivery mechanism for most information. However, youth is prized above all and her company is developing new products to deliver youth to the masses, at a cost of course. This is a remarkably personal portrayal of Gwen's life and career, her familial interactions and her careful deliberation over important life decisions. We are given the time to struggle with difficulty, without getting bored or feeling slow. It is a film that comes across as a book, in a good way. And yet, with all of this subtle, quality filmmaking, it still comes across as a pretty standard treatment of the sci-fi aspects of eternal youth. Well done, but in the end left me feeling flat.
3 stars (out of 5) 


A French film from last year that follows Antoine through a sort of mid-life evaluation. He has a heart attack even though he is the model of eating right and exercising. So he decides to change his model. The context for the story is a group of college friends that have stuck together for the past 3 decades and know each other perhaps too well. So while Antoine is the apparent protagonist, the story is really a relational medley, with each individual and couple dealing with their own mid-life issues. The serious issues and the too quick interest in throwing up smokescreens around them all ring true. And the friendly (occasionally hilarious) banter and visible effort at just moving along the life path makes this a fun and simultaneously introspective film.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Fantastic Four

Full Disclosure: I have a special appreciation for The Fantastic Four. It is the only comic that I read regularly as a kid, and the only one that I would actually go to the comic store every week and buy new issues (even into college). Needless to say, I have been waiting for this franchise. Having seen the film, I can only say that I hope the franchise continues. Primarily because:

  1. I like the characters developed here and how they could develop into something fun, and 
  2. this was itself not a standalone film. It needs more films to justify its existence.

If you are not a huge Fantastic Four fan, then wait a few years, watch a couple of the next installments (which are sure to come) and then go back and watch this as an origin story prequel. This film is entirely back story. So much so that of the 100 minute running time, at most 2 minutes will be dedicated to the four working together as superheroes. So in that way, a huge letdown. We didn't even get to see the Fantastic Four being the Fantastic Four. That said, the characters developed are strong enough (on a superhero scale, not an Oscar scale) that I can see the possibilities for good films with this foursome in the future. So we got this out of our system, bring on the good stuff.
2 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Gambler

Mark Wahlberg is an english professor who finds himself largely dissatisfied with life. He published a first novel but has no self identity as a writer. Instead, he is in a constant internal existential battle over purpose, not just for his life, but all life. Put this overwrought philosophical intellectualism into the psyche of a gambler and you get what turns out to be a pretty depressing film. I suppose if this were an arthouse film designed to take you along into the exploration and depression... but even with that scenario it is not good enough to pull you in. Wahlberg is an entitled SOB who feigns a self destructive nihilism as a coping mechanism for having gambled his way into life threatening debt. I found myself caring for the film about as much as Wahlberg cared for himself.
2 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ant Man

A launching of yet another franchise in the Marvel world, and yet, totally different. The tone for The Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America) is decidedly serious. This is not a comic, but a world saving endeavor and organization. Ant Man on the other hand plays as almost slapstick comedy in comparison. This is all about Paul Rudd and his irreverence and ability to cheese up any scene just with his personality. And it is brilliant. Rudd is an ex-con recruited by Michael Douglas to be the Ant Man. Douglass invented the suit and his protege is about to invent his own and sell it to HYDRA. So Douglas needs someone to stop that development. I love Rudd and I love his crew. This is definitely one of the best of the Marvel films.
4 stars (out of 5)

Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation

Finally we hit our stride. This installment of the Mission Impossible franchise understands what it is about. Action, clever tricks, subterfuge, and ever so subtle comic-relief. While this follows the same basic plot as xXx: State of the Union (secret government agency gets shut down and has to operate rogue in order to justify its existence and save the world), and the previous Ghost Protocolit does so with humor and style. The nearly full theater (on a tuesday at noon, no less) was cracking up together throughout, or groaning together, as appropriate. This film knows when to take itself seriously and when to poke fun at itself. If you are only going to see one Mission Impossible, see this one.
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Expendables 3

For some reason, I liked this iteration better than one or two. Mel Gibson shows up as the bad guy (a former Expendable himself) and Stallone decides it is not worth risking the lives of his buddies to get him. So he goes out (with Kelsey Grammar's help of course) to recruit a new team of young studs. They get in trouble and the grizzled veterans come to the rescue, everybody ends up happy (except Mel of course). While the body count is just as high here, I liked the newbie-old guy interactions as they seemed to add something fresh. I also love Jason Statham and his chemistry with Stallone shows up. In fact, this was less about the old Expendables kicking ass, and more about their coming to terms with their frailty (and then ignoring it of course). Anyway, good 2nd tier summer comedy/action.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

In a world...

Characters in this film are all voiceover actors in hollywood. The greatest has passed, and there is a scramble to rearrange the talent ladder. Sam is the defacto "old guard" expert who is mentoring Gustav to take his place while at the same time belittling the achievements of his daughter Carol who is also breaking into the field. Everything comes to a head when a studio decides to bring back the iconic "In a world..." trailer voice over. Everyone wants that role. Partly this is a behind the scene look at the voiceover world, but more it is a about the politics and competition in any job, and the family dynamics that go along with it. Unfortunately, it is not a very good look at any of these. You can only say "In a world..." in a deep voice so often before it doesn't sound cool anymore.
2 stars (out of 5)


A bank customer is finishing his transaction at the end of the day when he finds himself caught in the middle of a robbery, by more than one thief. When one of the groups plans include locking down the bank for the night, and an FBI agent who happens to also be in the bank is killed, this becomes a cinematic version of Clue. The killer is in the bank, but who is it. Our customer (Patrick Dempsey as Tripp) is a bit of an eccentric/savant and spends the film solving the puzzle, with the help of an increasing line of deaths to narrow the suspect pool. The second thieves offer comic relief as a pair of hillbilly amateurs fishing in a pond that is too deep for them. By no means is this great film making, but it is a fun, lighthearted mystery theater style heist film. Reminds me a bit of a Pink Panther style crime thriller.
3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


What better time than the summer to finally catch up on my popular culture. Hence, Frozen, only 2 years after the fact. Everyone knows the story. Queen Elsa has magical snow powers that she is trying to repress. Her sister Anna is fun loving, but sad that her sister has shut her out. Elsa has an outburst, freezing the entire land, Anna chases her down to help her, Anna gets frozen and needs an act of true love to unfreeze her... we live happily ever after. I suppose that this was everything I thought it would be: catchy songs, moderately entertaining comic relief in Olaf, adequate story. But the story was less than adequate. It seemed that the story was really just an attempt at connective tissue between catchy songs. It is as if Disney opened up the algorithm and wrote the songs based on the treatment and then patched something together to make a full feature length film. As a whole, I felt like I was dragging and then skipping ahead. I expect more out of my animated entertainment.
2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Drop

Tom Hardy plays Bob. He is a bartender at Cousin Marv's bar and seems to just barely get by in life. Walking home one day he comes across an abandoned puppy (in a trash can) and meets a girl who helps him take care of the dog. It turns out that Cousin Marv's bar is a drop bar. That is, the collection point for mafia gambling money, and it has been chosen as the drop for Super Bowl sunday. Lots of money, mafia, crazy ex-boyfriend of his new girl, and desperate Cousin Marv. What could go wrong? Having seen Hardy in Mad Max and Locke, I can see that this role is another similar role (even those two films couldn't be more different in scope). This film is slow, brooding, intentional in developing the complexity of who Bob is, and brilliantly providing enough story that the viewer fills in lots of backstory with assumption or just outright questions. It is interesting that minus the action, his Mad Max character is largely the same character. I have a feeling this film will grow on me over time.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, July 11, 2015


Ivan Locke is a concrete construction foreman on a job a couple hours north of London. Tomorrow is the biggest day of his career as he is overseeing the biggest pour the country has ever seen (outside of military and nuclear power). Unfortunately, Locke is in his car driving to London. This 90 minutes of real-time film tracks Locke through a series of phone calls as he is managing his bosses, the pour, his family, and the personal crisis that is taking him to London. It is an astounding bit of acting as a one man show. All the emotional devastation he must deal with and yet, stay present enough to drive. As a viewer we are brought right in as a passenger in the car. We don't have any voice over or know anything extra. We only hear both sides of the phone conversations. Dramatic, and real.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Love and Mercy

This biopic of Brian Wilson (and the Beach Boys) has accomplished its purpose. I did not grow up on the Beach Boys, nor did I know much about Wilson. And walking out of the theater I was fascinated by his life and interested in buying a couple of the albums to listen to them in the newly learned context of his life. The film walks two paths simultaneously: young Brian Wilson as the genius songwriter driving the Beach Boys and experiencing the onset of his mental illness, and current Brian Wilson, under the care of a psychologist trying to exploit and control his fame. Both stories are really sad, but immensely interesting as we get insight into the creative process of both an individual and a band. And as we get insight into the struggle of mental illness (diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia). Ultimately, in this case, we get a happy ending and I am on my way to purchase Pet Sounds and Smile.
4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Zero Theorem

The world created here is a future where everyone multitasks, colors are super-saturated, computing is ubiquitous. It comes across as a strange mashup of decadence and poverty, a cross between Moulin Rouge and Brazil. The story follows a programmer who is probably OCD and working in a Vegas casino like atmosphere stresses him out. Supposedly he is given a task to find the meaning of life, but I didn't get that far. The story didn't move fast enough to hook me. Instead, we spent too much time creating the world, and not enough time living in it. Maybe this is the point? On paper, this seems like exactly the kind of film I would enjoy. Alas, I will never know.
1 star (out of 5)

Monday, July 6, 2015


JK Simmons is the serious, dominating personality, and often abusive director of the top jazz group at one of the top music schools in the country. Miles Teller is the drummer pursuing excellence, wanting to be THE next jazz great. Put these two together and Teller is willing to take any abuse to get to what he perceives as the next level. While Simmons is great in this role, demonstrating a fierce commitment to excellence and instilling fear in all of his players, that is not enough to make this a great film. In the end, it was too surface. Push the kid hard, push the kid too hard, blow up, reconnect, get revenge, a glimpse of a smile makes it all worth while. I mean, really? In no way is that satisfactory. It can't really all be better. And if it is not, then the film is leaving too much on the table. In many ways, the great performances in these roles is lost on a cliche story/script. Sorry.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Theory of Everything

As a biopic, this is fabulous. Redmayne does an outstanding job portraying Stephen Hawking and the battle he engages between a deteriorating body and hyperactive mind. In particular, he captures the cheeky humor of Hawking and is able to display this with a gleam in the eye or a slightly raised eyebrow. Definitely Oscar worthy. The film follows Hawking from PhD candidate days at Cambridge, through his work in cosmology and with black holes. But the science is really background, with the story being Hawking, his wife Jane, and the hired help. It is the story of the tremendous effort and energy required to sustain life, and a demonstration of how much most of us take this effort and energy for granted. It is a love story, and a story about the limits of love. Again, fabulous.
5 stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 3, 2015


Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon on a road trip. McCarthy is title character Tammy, who finds her life disintegrating from bad to unbearable (husband cheats, fired from job, lives with mom). On a whim, she sets out on a road trip with her grandmother (Sarandon) toward Niagra Falls. This trip is fraught with peril and hijinks. Unfortunately, all the peril and hijinks are only moderately funny, the McCarthy-Sarandon sentimental/grow-up-this-is-real-life story doesn't really work and McCarthy comes off largely as a whiney, self-loathing woman. So while I laughed a few times throughout, this was not a strong offering.
2 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Terminator Genisys

It seems that there are two kinds of time travel films: those that take care to think about time travel paradox and address them or integrate them into the plot, and those that just go whenever they want. Terminator Genisys is the later. And appropriately so, since it is not taking great care with the timeline (within the film or in connection with previous films), this film goes big, jumping all over the place and having fun with it. We see Arnold meeting up with Arnold and we see machines sending people to fight people who are fighting machines. And we are left with enough intentional foreshadowing to know that there is more backstory to be told (who actually sent Arnold in this timeline in the first place). I am not sure that describing the plot is entirely useful. Suffice it to say that the machines are still trying to kill Sarah Connor to prevent her from birthing John Connor who is trying to prevent the machines from existing. And along the way, we blow stuff up and wreck cars. What could be more fun. I appreciated this movie for what it was, nothing more and certainly nothing less.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tell No One

This French thriller based on a book follows the trials of Alex Beck, a widowed pediatrician. Eight years earlier, his wife was killed by a serial killer after being abducted while they were on a picnic at a lake on their family property. In present day, two bodies are found buried near that lake. The film does an excellent job of revealing history and developing a present story. The historical reveals do not heavily rely on flashback, so clever police interviews and family discussions enlighten the audience to the fact that Alex was at one time a prime suspect for his wife's murder. The new bodies bring that suspicion back to the forefront, and frame the present story. The slow reveal of details which tie together past and present make this highly enjoyable. There are not crazy, twisting plot u-turns... but as we meander through time there is a progressive sense of discovery. Love it.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Jurassic World

The park reopens 20 years later, the same corporate money making goals lead to crazy safety and environmental decisions in the pursuit of a dollar. In the original, the story didn't really matter. We were enthralled with the idea of humans interacting with dinosaurs and the visualization of this on the big screen was astounding. Today, the visualization is so seamless, that interacting with dinosaurs is the new normal. So the story better be good. And it ... well, let's just say it passes. Corporate interests looking for the next new attraction are genetically breeding bigger/badder dinosaurs. Military interests are pushing genetic modifications that might produce a bigger/badder weapon. People still visit as if this is a petting zoo. Escape, mayhem, human/human connection, human/dinosaur connection, evacuation.

I have seen a bit written about the characterization of Claire, female CEO of the park, and the dismay of the stereotypical/repressive representation of women in films. I went in watching to see if I could identify how the film could have been different in this realm. I don't really have any ideas. I can see that you might want to display a more empowered woman, but in a film like this I would guess that an empowered woman role would simply switch the genders of CEO Claire and rogue Chris Pratt. In fact, you probably wouldn't even need to rewrite the script, just switch the cast. But I am not sure that even this "empowerment" is what we are looking for. Another alternative is to imagine what a truly empowered female CEO of this Jurassic company would look like. My guess is that the result would be that the film is never made since this CEO would never open the park in the first place. I do think that the representation of women in film is a complex cultural issue. Is it enough (for now) to notice and see through the misogyny? What would it take to authentically portray women in film, both in action genres (where the empowered woman is written as a female acting male) and non-action (where empowered women are written as controlling and/or bitchy)?
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Transformers: Age of Extinction

I am not a huge Transformers fan. I have seen a couple of the films, but missed the last Dark Side of the Moon. Unfortunately, it seems that this is really a sequel, as in "You just missed a huge backstory that we assume you know". Maybe the studios know what they are doing since happening on this movie opened a gap in my brain that now wants the rest of the story filled in. Do I really need to go back to watch previous installments? Probably...  In this iteration, there is a human effort to destroy all transformers (autobots and decepticons and aliens) at the same time as they use the raw material from destroyed creatures to manufacture their own programmable robots (based in a poor decision on the brain structure of major bad guy Megatron). Some secret government and military dealings here, some naive corporate profit motives, and some ancient alien grudges all make for a series of transformer battles from Chicago to Hong Kong. I am going to put this in the "Excellent as a midnight to 2am viewing diversion" category.
2 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Green Hornet

I am mostly tired of Seth Rogen's schtick (e.g. Neighbors and The Interview). However, while he plays basically the same character here, he doesn't overplay. And somehow, it worked for me. Rogen is a spoiled, rich kid, heir to a newspaper magnate. When his father is killed, Rogen takes over the business. Somehow, he stumbles into superhero-dom with the assistance of Kato, his dads former auto mechanic and (we find) engineering genius. His interference with the crime world status quo unveils lots of bad guys and corruption and helps him to find his true purpose while saving the city. You know, typical superhero stuff. It is kinda goofy fun, but don't get me wrong... It is still Rogen.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Great Escape

1963, Steve McQueen & James Garner. The setting is a Nazi POW camp designed as a holding place for all the allied POW's who keep escaping from their POW camps. Of course, the prisoners immediately begin plans for escape. This is more Hogan's Heroes comedy than serious war film, although it is based on actual events. What I find most fascinating is the 1960's portrayal of WWII, compared to any WWII film in the 2000's. It really is very clean and friendly. All the POW's are in their new-looking dress uniforms and are treated with deference and respect as military officers. The housing is suburban bungalow, and the skies are clear and blue. All very proper. A modern telling of this story would be more desperate, more grunge. It would also be a short instead of a full length film since the modern sentiment is that any POW backtalk to a Nazi would result in immediate execution. The 1960's Nazis seemed to be much nicer than the 2000's Nazis. Maybe this difference is the result of the transition to graphic violent and high intensity films in the present, or maybe it is the result of the cultural willingness/ability to confront what that war actually was.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Lego Movie

I liked this. It is the kind of movie where the story doesn't really matter since the enjoyment is in the details of the production. All the right notes were hit in terms of how Lego is actually used as a toy for children, both in the present, and in the past. This means that all ages can find some nostalgic "Oh yeah" while watching. And these are not big, groundbreaking memories, but simple ideas like the fact that the people can bend 90 degrees forward/backward at the waist. So add a little morning stretch routine (simple) and it brings back that little memory. The movie is saturated with these types of small recollections and it probably shows, more than anything else, the creative possibilities of the Lego platform for play.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Black Swan

I suppose I am going to have to apologize in advance to a few friends for this one. I didn't get it. Or rather, I got it completely, but my cultural naiveté prevented me from appreciating it. The story follows a ballet company putting on Swan Lake. Natalie Portman gets the lead, and in this version, she will play both the white swan and the black swan, which requires her to dance two completely different personalities. The plot device is that her own personal life begins to mirror that of the ballet, often blurring the lines between reality and imagination. And even in my ignorance of dance, I could recognize what I guessed to be the Swan Lake soundtrack popping up in the real-life scenes to explicitly show the crossover. Part way through I began to think, this is Fight Club of the dance world (and the fact that I am thinking of Fight Club in the middle of a ballet gives a hint about my engagement).

What I suppose makes this a great film is how closely the displayed intensity and stress and competition of being a lead in a ballet matches that of reality. People who have some experience with the dance world, or probably with any instance of an emotionally intense investment in creating a role, have probably raved about this film (a la the Academy of Motion Pictures). So while I know of these experiences anecdotally, I haven't felt or experienced anything like them, meaning this film felt more like a bio-pic than a psychological thriller. Without the emotional connection, we are left with a rather predictable thriller.

2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Skeleton Twins

Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are 40 something siblings that haven't seen each other in a decade. When Hader attempts suicide and then moves back to his home town to live with his sister for recovery, old memories surface for the two. This is a serious look at relationship, depression, and the perils of growing up and realizing you are an adult. With these two actors, I hoped for levity. Probably better would have been a biting/cynical take on these real issues in order to get us to look at them in a different way. Instead, this played like Hader/Wiig doing a serious job of being serious actors. So much so that it was uninspired. Maybe these two are just the goofy kinds of comedians and couldn't get to the brutal honesty and commentary you get from a Jon Stewart or Louis CK.
2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Big Hero 6

Heard good things about this film, but knew nothing about it. Turns out, even what I thought I knew was wrong (the big puffy white guy is NOT named Big Hero 6). I fully expected him to be Big Hero and the film to follow the development of a robot through 6 progressively better iterations, with the early iterations leading to hilarious hijinks, and the 6th finally saving the world. That is not what happens. Except that there are hijinks, and there is some world saving.

Instead, the big fluffy guy is a medic robot designed to diagnose and care for your health needs in a non-threatening way (hence the big fluffy-ness). He pairs with Hero, kid hacker extraordinaire, to take down a villian who is really just a grieving husband, and saves the world from being sucked into an inter-dimensional hole. So while technically there are spoilers in this last paragraph, I don't really think they help or hinder your enjoyment of the film. For me, the sign of an excellent animated film is that it as a good story, good enough to forget about the fact that it is animated. This is why many of the Marvel universe films are good, and why some are bad. Story. I liked the comic elements here and development of relationship between a person and a newly "born" AI (same reason I liked Chappie and Ex Machina). And this is very much more kid friendly than either of those.

4 stars (out of 5)


I like Melissa McCarthy and her brand of humor. At least, I like the bursts of it, not a 90 minute monologue. So for me, this was perfect. McCarthy plays a CIA support agent, the voice in the ear of the agent in the field. Her particular agent (Jude Law) is quintessential dapper James Bond type. And she is not so secretly infatuated. The subtle clues she throws his way fall on deaf ears since he is so clearly into himself, he doesn't need anyone else to be. Of course, Law's character gets taken out of the picture to provide space for McCarthy to step in and save the day. She gains confidence in her new role and is an overly self deprecating natural as a field agent. What I appreciate about this film is that all the characters play as a straight up spy thriller, and only the audience is in on the joke. So it is not slapstick send up where even the characters know themselves to be caricatures. I also love (LOVE) Jason Statham in this. He is so over the top that I don't know how he keeps a straight face. Absolutely hilarious.

So the movie made me laugh, and I enjoyed it. But is it good? Does it move McCarthy forward, or is it just a better execution of the same material that got her here. She can definitely carry the film, but in many ways, it still relies on her own body image as a contrast to the hollywood model image. The fact that her character requires the audience to notice her body and explicitly plays it up is telling. While on the surface it is exposing hollywood films and their misogynistic template by offering an "alternative", it somehow doesn't really expose, but utilizes misogyny in a different way. Looking forward to the day when McCarthy carries a film, is hilarious, and body:image:feminism is not even part of the discussion.

4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, May 25, 2015

St Vincent

Formulaic in the best sense. Vincent (Bill Murray) is a grumpy, lonely old guy with alcohol, gambling and a host of other vices. When the new neighbor kid (Oliver) moves in, he is naive, scrawny and wise beyond his years. The two are forced together and each grows into a better person because of the relationship. If you were to present this treatment to any movie exec, they would laugh in your face. Butt his film got made, and it works primarily because of Murray. He is gruff, jaded and worn while at the same time showing an emotional depth necessary to relate to the world. He somehow mixes the personalities he plays in What about Bob and Lost in Translation, and it works. As a side note, Chris O'Dowd also throws in a nice comic sequence as Brother Geraghty, Oliver's school teacher with a bit of a cynical side.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ex Machina

Outstanding. Caleb is a young genius programmer who is invited to his reclusive boss's home in the arctic wilderness for a weeklong retreat. When he arrives, he finds he has been summoned as the questioner in a Turing test for an AI that the boss has created. Aside from ridiculous premise that a single reclusive programmer could create the hardware that we see, this is fantastic. Caleb is charged with determining if the AI is truly sentient, and the boss (Nathan) is pointing him in directions that make Caleb question motives (his own, Nathan's and Ava's). A few times throughout, this film is on the verge of flying off the handle, but writer/director Alex Garland masterfully walks that ledge, never letting us go "too far". The psychological tension between the AI Ava and Caleb fills the emotional space and bleeds into every other relationship. This very much had the same feel and sense as Moon in its sci-fi pedigree. And looking back at that review, I notice that I connected Moon to Solaris (aka Sunshine), which is also from Alex Garland. If you want to have an AI fest, watch this with Her and you will be happy.
5 stars (out of 5)

Pitch Perfect 2

It can't be as perfect as the first. That one came out of left field and surprised everyone with quality, catchy songs, quirky characters, etc. that nearly everyone loved. Now we know the quirk and will not be pleasantly surprised. The danger is that we need to crank up the intensity resulting in over-the-top wacky/slapstick or try too hard to force the next catchy song, or maybe even worse, just phone it in and do exactly the same thing. Fortunately, the writers did a pretty good job of walking this fine line. The Barden Bellas, on top of the Acapella world having won the national championships, need to be broken down so that we can recreate the come from behind, underdog story. This happens quickly with a presidential faux pas and then later with a strange underground acapella slam that they don't win, sending them off with tails between legs. {Aside: tell me I am wrong that Reginald Watts in the Tone Hangers is a mutant cross of Questlove and James Harden - so weird I couldn't take my eyes off him}.  Transition to rebuilding process for world championship competition. As in the original, I love hearing the singing and harmonizations so was willing to sit through the connective dialogue. I do think that the aca-commentary that happened at every competition this time around was more shock-comedy that funny. I didn't hear anyone laughing, and found it to be unnecessary racism, genderism, etc. and was a missed opportunity for some actual comedy. But overall, the music was good enough, and I enjoyed my two hours.
3 stars (out of 5)

Mad Max: Fury Road

Science fiction generally comes in one of two flavors, both of which require the suspension of disbelief. Either you accept a premise that is in its foundation false (but the story told holds to that premise and treating it as truth maintains integrity throughout), or you start with a premise that is plausible and accept an ongoing parade of hyperbole to push a story forward. Mad Max is the latter. The plausible premise is that sometime in the future, a post-nuclear world exists in which most all reproduction is marred by genetically mutated offspring (see the opening two headed lizard) and water is such a scarce resource that whoever controls it holds power. The parade of hyperbole includes (as a sampling) a petroleum based society where the only visible use of petroleum is transportation to get more petroleum, a harem of women who travel through the desert wearing only the barest shreds of gauze and are the only "non-mutant" creatures in the film, and a plan to drive a motorcycle for 160 days through a desert on an apparent single tank of fuel. But that is all OK. You are seeing this film to enjoy the spectacle of desert and machines and a world where just a bit crazy is the norm. There are some astounding vehicles that are so clearly impractical, and so awesomely impressive that you don't care. There are mechanical battles at high speed with Cirque du Soleil style boardings and kidnappings that blow your mind. So in effect, the hyperbole helps. I have seen some commentary about this being, at its core, about female empowerment. I am not going to say it isn't (being of the wrong gender to saw what is empowering and what is not), but I don't see it. Yes, Charlize Theron kicks ass as Furiosa, but I don't see this as being about gender. There is still too much objectification to go there. It is more about class struggle and fair distribution of resources in a tyranny if it is, at its core, anything more than visual spectacle. In the end, for me visual spectacle is enough.
4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

I read a review of this by a film critic. While that particular critic did not look favorably on this latest installment from Marvel, I do believe that it was because he was confusing film and movie. This is clearly a movie. Not intended to be successful in any Oscar category other than special effects. Speaking of which, I was enthralled by the technical detail. This is clearly a master integration of live action and CGI, and I was never even noticing CGI. I only mention this because of one scene where Captain America does a roll/jump/kick/twirl to avoid a bullet and I laughed out loud because the thought popped into my head "I bet that looked funny without the background". It would have been something you saw in a university experimental dance routine. I bet if you watch the entire movie with "no CGI eyes", it would be quite hilarious. But I was caught up in the visuals and the story, so did not partake of that particular joy.  The story follows along the Marvel storyline begun in earlier movies, with the power sceptre of Loki occupying the center of the plot. Add in a couple new Avengers, bring back a couple old timers, wrap up the current story in a quick 2.5 hours and set yourself up for the next installments. What's not to like.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, April 4, 2015


An Indian cop drama where the protagonist is a female detective pursuing a human trafficking ring. To start, we have to stipulate that she is a rock star detective, highly decorated and highly motivated... and can kick ass in a fight (both literally and metaphorically by out-smarting everyone). I love that his is not just action, but we see the angst and effort put into the chase. We see the doubt, the family life, and the determination. And we see beautiful storyline that never leaps too far and never leaves us bored. Excellent.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sleepless in Seattle

Not much I can say about this that hasn't already been said. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are introduced by circumstance and fall in love. Sappy romance that is now almost a caricature of early 90's sappy, romance films. It is interesting how different a RomCom of this era is so identifiable and different than anything produced 10 or 20 years later. In fact, watch Pillow Talk (1959), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and Admission (2013), all films with this same plot (characters introduced by circumstance and fall in love) and see if you would classify them as films in the same genre.

3 stars (out of 5)

Furious Seven

This is a franchise, and I am a franchisee (see four, five, and six). I have liked them all (even Tokyo Drift which no one else seems to enjoy). Of course this film has additional sentimental issues because of the death of Paul Walker mid-filming, and the writers/directors did an excellent job of finishing this film without making it feel pieced together, including the final scene which was a fabulous tribute. Otherwise, you get what you expect here. Car chase, car crash, car hide-and-seek, car chicken, car v. helicopter, car flying between adjacent high rises, etc. The entire cast has signed on to the absurdity of this scenario and plays it completely straight, allowing us to enjoy that absurdity to its fullest. The plot, if you care, is the brother of the bad guy from the the last film is seeking revenge on the team. The team circles the wagons to protect themselves. You can tell that this is a mature franchise because there doesn't need to be any storyline other than the team itself. And you get flat out, summer action.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mr and Mrs Smith

The first pairing of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie shows off the chemistry between these two mega-stars. At the time of filming, they were both playing the beautiful people roles and this script allowed them to be beautiful, and action star bad-asses. As a married couple, they both pretend that life is normal and boring. But unbeknownst to each other, they are each top contract assassins on the side. Some how they are each contracted to kill each other and most of the film is them trying to figure out who paid the contract while trying to fulfill it. Of course, in the end there is a riding off into the sunset, but the body count is high on the way. These two are so matter of fact about their jobs throughout that the normalization of violence is extreme. It is video game like and slightly disturbing. So while I would rate it high for chemistry and comedy and action, I have to recognize the reality of trivializing killing in a way that doesn't often strike me as so brazen.
3 stars (out of 5)


A fine cinematic interpretation of the 2nd book in the Divergent series. Visually dramatic, but the plot felt to me like it dragged. The story follows the political machinations of trying to run a city after a coup, while there is still a quite powerful rebellion. In addition, we as viewers are trying to understand the truth of what this city is and why it came about in the first place. But the pacing/story telling made me feel like it was the middle story where the good stuff is in the first and third installments. This is unfortunate because I did not feel this way with the book. What fascinates me is the dream serum (not used effectively here) and the social construct of factions, and what happens when one particular character trait faction is allowed to set the societal rules. Explore and push this issue to dramatic effect and see if the viewer can then draw connections to Republicans or Democrats in this country, or to any single ideological political party in any country. This is what is fascinating. Use science fiction to pull the masses into intelligent discourse.
3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Princess Bride

Every so often, it is fun to watch this classic. I am reminded how often phrases from the film rise up in conversation. It is one of those films that is not part of culture. At least, culture in the circles I walk through. All I can say is that this remains on my favorite films of all time list for good reason. If you have never seen it, go now. If you have, don't feel bad about watching it again.

If you want a plot rundown, a poor servant goes to great lengths to rescue his true love from danger and an unhappy life of marriage to the narcissistic prince of the realm. There are giants, sword fights, intellect, forbidden forests, storming of castles, spells and potions, and action throughout.

5 stars (out of 5)

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Italian Job

Heist films are fun, and this is a particularly well done one. Action, uncertainty, mis-direction, quirky team that has trust issues, and mini Coopers as the get-away vehicles when the mini was newly minted. Saw this again on late night cable while on vacation and it just makes me smile. Love the cast (Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham) and the fact that one heist begets another that necessitates another as a revenge heist. Just light hearted fun.

4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Suspect

Continuing to appreciate South Korean action, The Suspect is a former North Korean agent working in  South Korea. He was abandoned during a mission and so now he is a rogue agent, trying to find his way. Does he truly have allegiance to the North? Should he officially defect? Meanwhile, he comes across some secret information from another old agent in his same shoes that could have dramatic impact on North-South relations. As he works to save his own life and discover the truth and sort out his allegiance, we are treated to a wonderful chase-plot that never allows us to rest or quite guess what is next. Love it.
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Descendants

Watching this for the second time (see first time here) was still enjoyable. It holds up as a good tragic comedy. What I noticed in particular this time was the island accent. There is a particular lilt to a native Hawaiian speaking that is fun to listen to. If you didn't see this film the first time, see it now.
Still 4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

When Harry met Sally

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan play Harry and Sally, a pair of happenstance acquaintances that connect over the course of several years. Every time they meet, they fight in that bickering, odd-couple sort of way that as an audience, we see through relationship development. Crystal and Ryan have excellent on-screen chemistry, story is classic at this point and much of the dialog holds up after 25 years. Still a fine romantic comedy.
3 stars (out of 5)

The Interview

James Franco and Seth Rogan are entertainment news "stars" and somehow get invited to interview Kim Jung Un. As their chance to do "real news", they accept and are promptly charged by the CIA with assassinating their guest. Clearly intended to be slapstick comedy with a bit of political bite. It doesn't really get either of these right.
1 star (out of 5)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The End of the Affair

The setting: Ralph Fiennes is having an affair with Julianne Moore during WWII in London. When an act of God causes the affair to end, Fiennes hatred, anger and jealousy are exposed as he reintegrates himself into Moore's (and her husbands) life. This is a VERY DRAMATIC film. So much so that it is not any fun. It seems to me that one might have an affair because they are unhappy in their current circumstance. In this situation, the affair would serve to increase happiness. However, there is so much angst here that it seems the affair does not make anyone happier, even on the surface. And when the affair ends the emotional strings are pulled even more taught. I suppose I felt throughout that I was being manipulated to feel. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind feeling. But I prefer to come by it honestly, sans manipulation.
3 stars (out of 5)

Jupiter Ascending

Most recent entry by the Wachowskis (of The Matrix fame) and you can definitely see similar themes. The world created is one where earth is a planet owned by a wealthy family for the sole purpose of harvesting humans. The matriarch of this family has died and there is a bit of a power struggle among the heirs when they discover that Mila Kunis is the true heir (and owner of Earth). So they try to kill her and Channing Tatum is sent to protect her. This is big scale space opera with all the drama and special effects one would expect. I can't say that the acting or the story is high quality. But is was enjoyable. Like The Matrix, what really enjoyed was the meta-theme and social commentary that the film presented. In this case, the Wachowskis are really presenting a critique on capitalism. They do this by taking the principles of capitalism and pushing them to their extreme. How would capitalism work and what arguments would you make if you push it forward into a galactic scale? And in this scenario, capitalism becomes comical (in the tragic sort of way). Wage disparity and power differentials that have been news recently (think Occupy and the 99%) result in ownership of lives as capital in an explicit way. Anytime you can make me think, you get at least
3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Switch

After a pretty good experience with Blended, I took a shot at another romantic comedy. Or should I say half a shot. Jennifer Aniston is having a baby, gathers a sperm donor, and wears her angst and anxiety on her sleeve throughout. When her best friend turns out to be the donor... And then I couldn't watch anymore. Just plain bored. Sorry.
1 star (out of 5)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Small Time

Christopher Meloni is a lifetime used car salesman. The lot that he and his business partner started and built into a successful small business is in many ways, the love of his life. When his son decides to forego college to come learn the trade, he is honored and conflicted. Does he want better for his boy? By admitting yes, does he devalue his own life work? I found this to be an introspective look at family relationships, self-value, identity, and hopes and dreams. A bit of a downer midlife reflection coupled with the anticipation of the next generation pushes this toward a conflicted, emotional ride. I like the realism with which the relationships were portrayed and how the satisfaction and/or disappointment were registered with a glance or a sideways look. Ultimately this is a subtle, yet powerful exploration of identity.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Romantic comedy, Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore. A Brady Bunch scenario with with reluctant parents and cute kids thrown into extraordinary situations (African safari vacation) that somehow turns out to be a them vacation for "Blended Families". In many ways, this plays like an extended PSA sponsored by some agency that wants to provide support for kids whose parents remarry. In other ways, it is a typical (and often cute) romantic comedy that works primarily based on chemistry and authenticity of Sandler and Barrymore in their roles. This is not film, or cinema. But it was mostly entertaining and a decent weekend diversion.
3 stars (out of 5)

McFarland, USA

What a great story. Mr. White (Costner), a down-on-his-luck football coach, moves his family to McFarland in the central valley of California to take the only teaching/coaching job he can find. His younger daughter voices what the rest of the family thinks: "Are we in Mexico"? What transpires over the next 2 hours is a transformative experience for White, his family, seven kids, their families and the entire town of McFarland. The film does not skirt the racial and class tensions, nor does it focus on them as THE conflict. Instead, we learn how what is really a cross cultural experience enlivens and enhances both cultures. There is nothing here that is unpredictable or surprising. But everything falls together the way a good sports film should. Best sports film I have seen since Moneyball, but good for entirely different reasons.

5 stars (out of 5)

22 Jump Street

Picking up where 21 Jump Street left off, Tatum and Hill are now sent undercover in college to (again) bust up a drug ring. While I was not particularly enamored with the first, I found this more entertaining as a send-up of the genre. The established bro-mance between the two principles allows the story to have more fun with the ongoing relationship. They go through all the stages of a stereotypical film romance (clingy, therapy, breaking up, etc.) which is not particularly funny, but comical as satire and commentary on the genre. The culmination of this send-up comes after the credits with the "previews" for future installments of the franchise (all the way up to 34 Jump Street or so). Nice.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 7, 2015


Set in Johannesburg South Africa, the police force has installed a robotic peacekeeping unit that has helped to decrease the crime rate to almost nothing. Dev Patel is the inventor of the robot, but has bigger dreams of developing an actual autonomous AI for the peacekeepers. His competitor is Hugh Jackman, who has developed a larger, meaner robot that is controlled by a human via neural connector. Patel finds a way to install his AI prototype on a robot destined for the trash heap and it is born as Chappie (to a criminal mom and dad by the way). What I particularly liked about this film was the way it made me think about AI, and the development of consciousness. Of course, there are tons of holes in Chappie's development which were necessary to make an appropriately paced film. But how an AI would learn and grow and develop ethics are interesting. And how having a single AI takes the cat out of pandora's bag (so to speak).
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Colin Firth is a straight up James Bond character who saves the world on a regular basis. His organization (Kingsman) is a private club organized as Arthur's Round Table, and the film opens with a need to replace one of the knights. The first half of the film is the training/selection process for the young potential candidates and the kid Firth sponsors is non-traditional at best. Near the end of the training, an evil villain initiates his plan to decrease world population by 70% (to prevent global climate change of course) and the Kingsman crew must save the day. Clearly a spoof on the cheeky James Bond style presented in the 80's and acted straight (as can be) by Firth, Jackson, and company. In fact, this walks a line closer to Austin Powers than James Bond, and is quite graphically violent throughout.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Book of Life

An animated story telling of the Mexican festival of the day of the dead. Brilliant colors, clever story. Entertaining for all ages. Watched this right after watching photos of my parents recent trip to Mexico and the animated coloring was not exaggerated at all.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Living on One Dollar

Two econ grad students are studying global wage distribution and decide they need to experience global wage inequity first hand. They travel to rural Guatemala, move into a small village, and plan to live for 8 weeks on 1 dollar per day. They actually do it pretty well to mimic real world scenarios, with a variable daily income that will average $1. They set about renting a house, and getting a bit of instruction on how to plant radishes as a cash crop. All told, this isn't a perfect portrayal (they get to opt out of the system when one of them gets sick and pull out the "emergency drugs"), but it really does reflect what life is like in rural Guatemala. Well worth seeing, and only one hour long.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Top Five

Chris Rock is the lead character, playing a comedic, big-screen actor who is interested in becoming a serious big-screen actor. His fiance is a reality TV super-star whose entire life is public. The premise of the film is that Rock is being shadowed by a journalist doing an entertainment piece trying to find out what really makes the comedian tick. Throughout, comedians make appearances and the running discussion is "list your top five rappers". Turns out that this is a moderately interesting look at comedy, confidence, and self worth. But moderately interesting does not mean hilarious or thought provoking or worth your time.
2 stars (out of 5)

Friday, January 2, 2015


I didn't read the book, but having recently seen another single woman trek in the wilderness film (Tracks), which I really liked, I was up for another adventure. Here Reese Witherspoon plays the woman who is using the Pacific Coast Trail as her personal therapy. She is walking from Mojave to Washington state to change her life after losing her mother and (apparently) making some poor life decisions. Unfortunately, the film is more focused on the backstory of the daughter/mother relationship than about the adventure travel. We get 1-2 minutes of walking followed by 5-6 minutes of flashback. We didn't really ever sink into the true physical enormity of making this walk, or the emotional strength needed to maintain forward momentum. It could have been so much better.
2 stars (out of 5)