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)