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)