Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Secret Life of Pets

Animated story of what pets do when left alone. The story line follows some house pets that get out, then get dragged into the underground world of the feral/mutts of the world. What is particularly enjoyable about this is the clever portrayal of the stereotypes of each animal/pet. In fact, this is so clever that it is clearly this idea (how about if we have animals that we can caricature in a hilarious way) that green-lit the film. The story or characters themselves are not enough to carry the film.
2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Orphan Black (Serial)

Season 2 (10 episodes)

Pick up right where we left off. Sarah Manning is a clone. She knows of Casima, Allison, Helena. She saw Beth get killed. We are introduced to a couple others. Sarah is the only one who has had a child, while all the others are barren. This season is really about furthering the research into who created the clones, who is hunting them, who is interested in their well being or wants to control them. There are lots of concurrent stories here, but Sarah is the central thread that ties everything together. Tatiana Maslany is brilliant as Sarah, Casima, Allison, Helena, etc., playing all roles, very often against herself. Wonderful sci-fi, wonderful underlayer of "genetics morality" that pops up from time to time in between all the political thriller subterfuge.
5 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

I really do like this series, even though it is not new or ground breaking. In fact, the series is formulaic to a fault. But it is a good formula. New aliens, new problems to solve, same old overacting by Bones, bad science. Kirk and friends are sent on a mission into an uncharted nebula to assist in the rescue of a destroyed ship. They find that they have been drawn there for a purpose and are attacked. They then need to overcome all odds to save the entire crew and return to the space station to prevent it from being attacked. Woo hoo! 
4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Boy Meets Girl

A story set is small town/rural Kentucky that follows a trans girl Ricky and her best friend since age 6 Robby. Ricky is beloved and supported by her father and younger brother, has a job at the local coffee stop and runs a youtube channel on fashion as she works at applying to attend the Fashion Institute in New York. She meets a new friend, encounters bias and confusion and hatred and love. And everything works out. This is an almost too sweet, too clean, too positive portrayal of how relationships  should work out. So much so that it is clearly not reality. Even the stereotypical conservative, white male, republican politician changes his mind in about 2 minutes. And still, I found myself liking the innocence and enjoying the world that "too positive" gives.
4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Weird setting for a pretty traditional feel good movie about growing up and love. Set in Iowa in the context of butter carving, the 15 year champion carver is stepping down and opting not to enter the Jackson County contest this year. His wife (Jennifer Garner) finds this  unacceptable and enters herself. Turns out that a young foster girl new to the county (and new to her parents) discovers a natural talent in butter carving and enters as well. A couple others for comedic relief join the fray and we have ourselves a contest. The movie explores themes of race, the foster system, small town politics, familial honor and marital honesty. And uses butter to do it? Like I said... weird. But not bad.
3 stars (out of 5)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 2

Finally the end of the series. Unfortunately, I had so lost interest by time they split the novel (which I had lost interest in on its own. So really I watched this as a way to close the series. So you can see, very low expectations. With that, I enjoyed this movie. In has been about 2 years since the last episode, so I only really remember vaguely the story points. But this film seems to hit all the right points, with out being overly dramatic or overly crass, etc. Just a solid action entry. The story follows Katniss as she and the rebellion move to take over the capital. And she does. There are decisions and losses along the way, and there are victories. In the end, war is awful (but worth the cost in this narrative). Very much follows a Just War theology, which we can take issue with if you want, but then you have to start the entire trilogy over with a different morality.
3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Love Lily Tomlin. She plays the Grandma of the title, a poet, and estranged from her daughter. Her life partner has died in the past year and she is still struggling with the grief. Her granddaughter shows up at the door and confesses a need for $600 for an abortion that is scheduled for that evening. Tomlin has $40 so the two of them spend the afternoon traveling around trying to collect debts and encountering old memories (good and painful) and building relationships. Tomlin is perfect as the cantankerous, world-wise, hippie, poet who guides the granddaughter while learning about herself as well. Very Grace and Frankie feeling... which is a good thing.
4 stars (out of 5)

Hot Pursuit

Reese Witherspoon plays an uptight cop who tries too hard. She gets her big break when she is assigned protective detail on an important witness in the drug war. She is to escort Sofia Vergara (wife of drug kingpin) to the courthouse to testify. The two quickly find themselves on their own as Vergara's husband and Witherspoon's partner are quickly killed off and they need to get to Dallas on their own. Kind of buddy cop feel with its silly humor and physical comedy. Witherspoon was given the role of uptight cop, but she plays it perhaps too over-the-top and gets annoying quickly. Otherwise, average film. Don't spend money on it.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Infiltrator

The story of Bob Mazur, an FBI undercover agent in the mid 1980's and his work in the war on drugs with the Columbian drug families. Bob goes under as a money manager and gets his marks to begin to invest in his legitimate companies as a launder mechanism. When he gets high enough up the chain, the trap is sprung. This felt like a cross between Argo and Sicario. That is, felt like Argo, in the world of Sicario. The real drama here is the interplay of relationships shown. Bob maintains his relationship with his family, while developing new relationships. All of them are damaged and strained. There is no good way to be a bad person, and even faking being a bad person will harm you in ways you cannot anticipate. Good historical fiction.
4 stars (out of 5)


Meh! Pretty much what I expected. I love all four actresses here, and each had their opportunity to be the star (although Kate McKinnon as Holtzmann was by far the best IMO). As a remake, the plot follows the original pretty closely. Evil guy is working to bring demons and ghosts to this plane of reality so he can control the world. Ghostbusters (a combination of scientific genius and crackpot persistence) are just getting started when the influx of ghosts lends them legitimacy. They predict and track the evil guy, eventually preventing the end of the world. This didn't expand the world of the original, nor did it diminish (truly a remake, not a sequel). Maybe this reboot gets us a sequel now? Where we can expand the world?
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Limitless (Serial)

Season 1 (22 episodes)

A followup sequel series to the film version of Limitless, which was awful. But in hindsight, if the entire purpose of the original film was to set the scene for the series, then it was worth it. But I don't think that is true. The setting is one where a drug NZT exists that allows users to see connections they normally wouldn't and to have perfect recall of anything they have ever experienced. However, NZT has horrible side effects and kills people. We pick up with Bradley Cooper (from the film) having spent his NZT time to develop a side effect antidote booster that keeps you save for a month or so. Our hero, Brian Finch, is recruited (conscripted) by now Senator Cooper to infiltrate the FBI, take NZT and work as a double agent. Every episode follows Brian as consulting detective for the FBI on a particular case, with the season story a progression of the intrigue and conspiracy around NZT and the antidote booster. Good balance between the two and fun along the way.

4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Shannara Chronicles (Serial)

Season 1 (10 episodes)

Based on the books by Terry Brooks... loosely. Well, this is not really Brooks Shannara, nor is it the Shannara of my imagination. The broad strokes of the premise (demons are held at bay by the magic of the Elcrys tree that is currently dying, Wil and Amber are charged with saving the world) are straight from Brooks. But the writers take lots of creative licenses with the details, the timeline, and the world to create effectively a new form. So compared to the book series, awful. Putting the books aside, and looking at this as a new sci-fi/fantasy entry, I liked it. A little bit cheesy with the visualization of the reaper and the trolls. A little bit "after school special" with the attempt of the characters to demonstrate romantic interest. But also a fun look at a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by humans, elves, gnomes and trolls, and integrating clear connections to the modern world. Not bad, and if a second season comes out, I will watch it.
3 stars (out of 5)

Spy Time

Spanish spy thriller. A son, who works as an hourly "security guard" at a local electronics shop discovers that his father is a feared and world renown spy. The father gets involved in an assassination plot that threatens to take down the very organization that he works for and protects the Spanish people from "the bad guys". When the son gets involved, he discovers a newfound respect for his dad, and also new found skills that his dad has secretly trained into him from a young age. In the end, things work out pretty much as expected. In fact, there is not really anything particularly novel or great about this film. But somehow, since it comes from the Spanish perspective, it feels fresh. If this exact film was made in the US, it would flop, and be considered a bit of a spoof. None-the-less, I appreciated it for what it was.
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, July 7, 2016


An Italian gangster movie with the gangsters trying to ... well, I never really understood what they were trying to do. There was some sort of confusing intrigue with the Pope, and some politician caught in a sex scandal while the gangsters were going to make some money somehow. Too confusing and slow, with not even enough interest to get me to watch the whole thing.
1 star (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Shallows

Girl v. Shark.

Ok, so in terms of thriller tension, and keeping a viewer on the edge of their seat pretty much the entire film without resorting to ghosts and demons, this does a pretty good job. Our heroine (Blake Lively) has traveled to a secret beach in Mexico where her mom once surfed. She is there as a tribute to her mom, who has recently lost her battle with cancer. While surfing, a great white comes into the picture and the battle begins. Now, having stated that this film fulfills its goal of providing thriller tension, let me reveal some of my pet peeves. When there is no reason for science to be bad, why do filmmakers allow it to be so. For example, I don't think that a great white will really circle a rock for hours and hours because a potential food source sits on that rock, especially when a readily available food source in the form of a dead whale is 40 feet away. This implies that the shark is angry, or holds harmful intent toward the girl on the rock, which is just not true. However, this I can overlook because it is necessary for the story. If the shark in fact just eats a bit of the whale and leaves, then it is not a very good movie. On the other hand, the filmmaker also manufactures that there is only one tide per day in this secret bay, and then proceeds to explicitly show through a series of cuts between rock and wristwatch, that the tide is basically unchanged for 23 hours, and then increased by 6 feet in 10 minutes. This is not necessary for the story. It demonstrates (and teaches) an incorrect understanding of tides, and the story would have been just as effective had the filmmakers included good science. Maybe my original assessment that I was on the edge of my seat "pretty much the entire film" was not quite correct if I was able to pick up on (and be bugged by) tide science throughout.
3 stars (out of 5)