Monday, March 21, 2016

The Mermaid

I have this on my list for awhile as it has been getting good reviews. Although now that I have seen it, I am not sure why. Or, I am not the target audience. The story is of a mermaid clan in a particular bay that have been inadvertently trapped there by developers. The developers put sonar broadcasters in the bay to keep dolphins out so they could develop the property without violating dolphin protection laws. But the sonar is killing the mermaids. The mermaid clan sends one of their own as a honey pot to lure and then kill the developer. She falls in love and can't complete the mission. The developer sees the error of his ways and turns off the sonar. Ho hum. Very predictable, with odd sequences that may have been intended as comic relief, or transitional opportunities for characters, but just came off as odd. I guess the Chinese romantic comedy demographic does not include me.
2 stars (out of 5)


This animated feature tells the story of Zootopia, a metropolis of animals that all get along, encouraged by the mayors "mammal inclusion initiative". Predator and prey live together in harmony, until they don't, and new police officer (the first ever bunny cop) needs to figure out why. Walking out of this theater, I felt like I was walking out of church. In some sermons, you are told what to do and why to do it and how to do it. In others, you are given some ideas about how to to think differently, and then left on your own to think. This film was the former. Tolerance is the goal of a civilized society. There are those who are not ready for tolerance, or who are ready to sacrifice a few of "them" so the majority of "us" can live better. Those people (mammals) are wrong. Sometimes these kinds of films, in an animated form, can present the message with humor, or subtly. Not so here. There was one joke (a smiling sloth) and lots of speeches. I can't imagine kids loving this film like they would minions or a musical or, actually almost anything else. No slapstick humor, no memorable songs. So clearly this is a sermon... er, film for adults. And yes, tolerance is a worthwhile message. Is it wrong that I have no tolerance for that message in my animated movies when it is so heavy handed?
2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

American Sniper

A fictionalized story based on the life of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper deployed in the post 9/11 Iraqi war. I am never sure with historical fiction how much of the story is history and how much is fiction. Here it seems like the point of the film is to portray the emotion of what it means to be a soldier (in particular a sniper), which is strange since the story shows that a sniper is (must be) necessarily emotionless to succeed at their job. Kyle is exceptional at his job and almost from day one becomes known as "the legend" based on his efficiency and skill. Between the lines, between the hoo-rah, is a story of tragedy and destruction brought by war, both physical and psychological. This is a devastating undertaking. I suppose that in this first 2/3, the viewers point of view will reveal whether the film is a patriotic demonstration of American dominance, power, benevolence and responsibility... or whether the film is a critique, exposing the true cost of war. Then we get to the last 1/3. Kyle finally comes home, struggles, gets some help, recovers and begins to help others. Not perfect, but the military family and his own family rally around to allow Kyle to construct new meaning upon which he can base the remainder of his life. This portion of the story comes with point of view attached. The viewer either accepts this story as reality, or rejects the entire film. 

I suppose I appreciate a film that exposes to the American public the reality of war, the devastating human cost. Unfortunately, this one does so with not so subtle undertones of American exceptionalism - completely focusing on the American cost. Yes, this is probably a realistic picture of the dialogue and attitudes of the characters. But it is not the only perspective and while it has the opportunity to show the human cost, those kinds of films are relegated to small independent, ultimately low viewership films. 

3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Spare Parts

I am a sucker for these kinds of films. It is the underdog student/team with the reluctant/enthusiastic teacher/coach battling adversity for the win. It is Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, McFarland, etc. In this iteration, George Lopez plays an engineer down on his luck after a personal tragedy and settles for a long term sub job as a physics teacher/robotics team coach at a Phoenix area low income school. The club is non-existent, but gets started and joined by 4 undocumented students looking for focus. They build an underwater rover on a shoestring budget, travel to UCSB for the competition, excel and find resolution to many of their personal traumas. In reality, this is not a great film, and the telling of the story is predictable and the characters are pretty 1 dimensional. However, I am a sucker for these films. I like the underdog student/team with the reluctant/enthusiastic teacher/coach battling adversity for the win.
3 stars (out of 5)