Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Wedding Ringer

Kevin Hart has a business that provides "Best Man Services" for those who have no friends. He is excellent at his job. When he gets a new job that requires best man and 7 additional groomsmen, he takes on the challenge. Things go wrong, people laugh, quite predictable. I don't think one should be conscious of how long one has to wait until the next funny moment when watching a comedy.
2 stars (out of 5)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Last (Serial)

This is the first non-movie review here on Cinebux. With the explosion of serial television of late, and the fact that some of these series are really good, I will start recording here when I have watched a series. My guess is that I will record seasons, or series in totality, since the beauty of series is that the story arc can develop over time.

Last is a 16 episode (1 hour each) series from South Korea. The setup involved Jang Tae Ho, a stock trader who has found success with his stock manipulation schemes. He gets a contract to run a scheme that doesn't go so well and he ends up owing millions to loan sharks, who take his life as collateral. A narrow escape and getting lost in the homeless world of Seoul Station sets the scene. The remaining 15 episodes build a world where Tae Ho is striving to regain his status and enact revenge. Along the way, he learns about life. What I really like about this series is that every character has depth and motivation. Yes, sometimes it is cheesy soap-opery depth, but it is backstory that gets revealed in increments over the episodes. And this slow reveal allows alliances and allegiances to shift or strengthen, changing the playing field as we go. Overall, an excellent mafia/crime thriller with some love story and family angst thrown in for good drama.
4 stars (out of 5)

Now You See Me 2

Picking up where the original Now You See Me left off, the horsemen are in hiding and working on a project (upon request of The Eye) but without any real details to understand what they are doing. This film, instead of being about a heist, is really about the magicians and the art of magic. The horsemen, in the original, took down an insurance magnate as a personal vendetta. Now for payback, and payback of payback, and ... well you get the picture. The reason this is such a better film is that we are brought behind the camera to see how the magic is done. And this reveal is actually an important part of the plot, so it doesn't seem false. It's not big action, so it probably doesn't play as well as other summer films, but I like the clever plot, the tricks and reveal, and Ruffalo, Eisenberg, Harrelson, Radcliffe make a great cast.
4 stars (out of 5)

Central Intelligence

Kevin Hart and Dwane Johnson together in a buddy cop film. Has serious potential, right? The premise is that Hart was the perfect popular kid in high school, Johnson the caricature of loner/geek. Flash to 20 years forward, Hart is an accountant and Johnson shows up in his life as, well, The Rock. Turns out that Johnson is a CIA agent who needs Harts forensic accounting skills to crack a case. Not sure who is good, who is bad, etc. Hart is OK here. Doesn't have a lot to work with other than to continually not want to be part of this partnership, only to continually succeed. Johnson, on the other hand, does a creepily good job at playing the role of the high school loner/geek 20 years later. His mannerisms continually reveal that personality hasn't really changed, even though the body has. The fact is, this is put together as a slapstick comedy. I think it would have been a better movie as an action comedy (yes, there is action, but it is secondary). Maybe a rental.
2 stars (out of 5)

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Escapist

Set in a probably mid-20th century English prison, this is the story of an escape. It is an exceptionally well told story in that it tells the entire story from planning to execution, but does so by cutting back and forth between execution-planning-execution-planning-etc. Never does the view get lost, even though I did not notice any explicit time-shift clues. But when we are climbing through a hole in the wall and wonder why that guy got to come along, we eventually get that story in the planning phase. It makes for an outstanding slow reveal. The setting and tension for the escape are desperate, the means plausible, the personalities engaging. I like a heist/escape story, and I found this to be fabulous.
5 stars (out of 5)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Finding Dory (3D)

I like my 3D with depth, not height. So this seemed like a good possibility, a window into the ocean instead of stuff flying at my face. And for that, it was good. Three or four times throughout the film, the story/action was slow enough to allow me to get lost in the depth of the background, and it is astounding. But the 3D is a bit of an artifact, even here. It does not help/hinder the story and the film would be identical in 2D. 

The story starts 1-year after Nemo, with Dory part of the family and her remembery loss intact. The film serves as a Dory origin story as we get periodic flashbacks as Dory's memory resurfaces. These resurfacings prompt Dory to want to find her parents and Nemo/Marlin join along. There are token nods to the fun scenes in Nemo (e.g. turtle travel), but they are not novel or nearly as fun. There is no serious tension as the film feels like a series of small obstacles presented and then overcome. We need to get into quarantine, we need to get to open ocean, we need to get to the Cleveland truck, etc. Some hijinks ensue at each stage, but there is no real question about the achievability. Instead, it is a question of what wacky process will get me to the next level. The average kid will likely laugh and enjoy, but there are not catchy songs or indelible scenes to last until next year. 

**Spoiler alert below**
There has been some writing about how Dory helps to normalize ab-normal. Nemo's fin is never mentioned, the octopus is a septapus, the shark is blind, the beluga can't echo-locate, etc. For the most part, these are not even mentioned as "you can get over it" disabilities, or "your weakness makes you stronger". They just are. Which makes for great family discussion about individual differences. I was also watching particularly with an eye toward adoption. How would a child who is interested in knowing birth parents view this? Dory blames herself for losing her parents (suggests her parents probably blame her). As an adult, I can see that this is potentially a normal stage of questioning for a child in understanding families, but as a child, it might raise all kinds of responsibility/blame/shame issues. When Dory finds her parents, the story shows that they have been waiting and searching for her for all these years. Again, what message would an adopted child hear? My birth parents are actually waiting for me to find them? And at the end of the line, everyone is only really truly happy once the child and parents have been reunited. This story could lead to great conversations for many families, on many levels, but could also take some families by surprise. Just go in eyes open based on your family story. 
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Female Agents

In World War II, an allied geologist was captured by the germans in the vicinity of Normandie. The implication that something special was going on in Normandie was something that should not be known by the Germans. British Special Operations puts together a team of 4 women and a man to infiltrate France and retrieve said geologist. From the assembly of this team of disconnected women, each chosen for a particular reason (and each with particular break points), to the fusing of these women into a team while on the mission. This is not just a war film with action and a rescue. Instead, it has all of that, plus spends enough time with the characters for me to see their humanity and struggle with depravity in war. Not a single character was one dimensional. You will have to watch it to see if the mission is a success.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Point Blank

Samuel is a nurse trainee on night shift when one of his patients is nearly killed by an unknown assailant. The fact that Samuel saves the man draws him into a sequence of events that leads to the kidnapping of his pregnant wife, his assisting of a known hitman and fugitive, the murder of police (both good and corrupt) and a citywide crime spree in the attempt to extricate himself and save his wife. This is a constant action film with none of the action gratuitous. Every single scene has purpose and moves the plot forward, either illuminating a new angle or resolving a suspicion. And while Samuel is a regular guy put into a horrible situation, he does not become a super-action figure. All of his action is "regular guy" action born out of desperation. So instead of Jason Bourne or Liam Neeson in Taken, we instead have "action realism". A plausible guy I might know who can drive a story. And no chance for a sequel. This is a once in a lifetime event for Samuel.
4 stars (out of 5)

Metro Manila

Oscar and his family are living in rural Philippines, finding themselves slowly falling further and further behind in their subsistence farming. Finally prices fall out of the rice market and they see that they can no longer afford to live. They make the decision to move to Manila to find work. Oscar falls into a job as a armored truck driver, his wife at a bar as a dancer. They are minute by minute making choices about survival. This is the story of millions. Moving from the farm to the city is a dramatic culture change. Where to live, how to find work, how to survive, how to avoid being victimized, how to not get crushed by the mass of urban humanity, how to maintain hope. Every event in Oscar and his family's life in Manila is seemingly happenstance, and yet inevitable. Every choice they make is really no choice at all. This is an outstanding portrayal of transition to new life, realizing that it is probably more positive and too easy compared to what the majority of rural refugees encounter in the world. Well worth seeing.
5 stars (out of 5)


This Spanish thriller follows an investment banker who works on margins to stay one step ahead of the market. He has a big deal brewing that needs his attention and some timely trades, when he encounters a small problem. The car that he is driving to work, with his two children aboard and to be dropped off at school, contains a bomb. He is instructed by a caller on a cell that he needs to raise a few hundred thousand Euro, empty his own personal bank account, and transfer everything to an anonymous account. If not... boom. Oh, and there is a pressure switch on the seat, so don't try to get out and run. The entire film takes place within the setting of the car, with action happening over cell conversations, through window conversations with the bomb squad, lawyers and his wife. The tension is perfect, not overdone, but significant. A nice offering in the genre.
4 stars (out of 5)