Friday, April 29, 2016

The Huntsman: Winter's War

A sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, from four years ago. Let's start with my initial reaction in the theater. I knew it was a sequel, but for the first 30 minutes I felt like I should have known more than I did. The story required that I remember some plot details from four years ago. And while a Morgan Freeman narration did what it could to provide a setting, in fact the only result was him reminding me how much I should remember, but didn't. Lesson: If your sequel is four years later for a barely-moderately successful film, don't assume anyone remembers, and don't assume a voice-over will help anyone remember. Once we settled in, the film has given some backstory on the huntsmen and why they were created and who they were. As I write this, I am thinking there are some pretty significant timeline issues with this backstory and how it fits in with the original Snow White. But I digress... this is a fairy tale with a basic question: Will love conquer all? Since it is a fairy tale that must, by definition, end happily-ever-after, you know the answer. With a great tale, the journey is epic. The journey, in this case, is only adequate. I am not sure if I am aging out of the target audience age-group and I would have really liked this more 10 years ago? Or is this just a middling, quarter-good attempt at some action-fairytale fare? Not yet wanting to give up on my fantasy-action-loving youth, I am going to stick with the later at this point.
2 stars (out of 5)

A Hologram for the King

Tom Hanks is a salesman for an IT firm that has developed next generation teleconferencing technology. He is in Saudi Arabia to pitch his company to be the sole provider of IT for a brand new (actually in-process) planned community. The planned community is a pet project for the King, hence the film name. Once in country, Hanks encounters resistance and unexpected delays, along with unexpected friendships and self discovery. In fact, the way this plays out, the film is not exciting, or comic, or romantic. It is instead a pretty mundane slice of life for a middle-aged, middle-manager. Hanks is discovering some things about himself, but they are not epiphanies. He is gradually sliding into deeper understandings of his relationship with his daughter, his career, his failed marriage. In many ways, the plot contrivances are absurd. At the same time, they come together to create a rather plain film that in many ways presents a more realistic path to self discovery than most films. Not sure if "pleasant" is praise for a film, but that really is what this was -- pleasant.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sing Street

Fabulous. Set in Dublin, the story of a boy (Cosmo) who changes schools and begins to discover who he is. His older brother is a dropout, musician wanna-be who lives at home, smokes alot, and continues to give him advice about music, girls and life. Cosmo, in order to get the girl, decides to start a band. The film basically follows the development of this band as they traverse the 80's genres (Duran Duran, The Cure, Hall and Oats, The Jam, etc.), using these bands to fine tune their sound as well as their look. It is quite fun to see the entire band changing its look from one week to the next as they encounter another influence. Fun music and the outstanding flavor provided by all the surrounding characters in the school makes this pure fun.
5 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hello, My Name is Doris

Sally Field plays Doris. She is an aging spinster who is dealing with the recent death of her mother. She finds herself falling for the new 20-something director of marketing where she works. She gets some help from the 13-year old granddaughter of her best friend (facebook, concert tix, etc.) and makes her move. Equal parts cheesy and grimace (oh no, don't do that). As a comedy, it plays like a series of caricatures and one liners that induce laughs. But it does not hold together as a good film. The relationship that Doris is seeking comes from a place of true loneliness and here is used simply as a setup for laughs. You will get a much better treatment of this same material (aging, loneliness, relationship, coming of age regardless of generation) with the excellent Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Eye in the Sky

This was a difficult film to watch. But also important. It is an extremely well done presentation of the behind the scenes actions around drone strikes. I understand that everyone who sees this will see it through their own political and moral lens, somewhere between a moral tragedy and necessary heroic actions. The film itself dives into the political/moral morass explicitly through the presentation of a single military mission in two hours of real time viewing, which probably realistically reflects actual stress and drama. What starts out as a capture mission changes to a kill mission, with Helen Miren as the hawkish British Colonel leading the mission and Alan Rickman the general managing the politicians. The most telling statement of the film was the response by a political figure to the question "You would save this one collateral damage and suffer the risk of up to 80 deaths?" Her response ... "Yes". Unequivocally. Collateral damage is not acceptable. Imagine if we could create a world, by making daily difficult decisions, that values every individual life at every moment. Is it ever worth trading one life now for many, or potentially many, in the future? My answer is no. And so you see my bent. We think we can predict the future, so we think we can do the moral accounting and achieve the greater good. But what we, humanity, has never been able to achieve on a significant scale is to value the current life, and let that value system change the future. Even here, the filmmakers do an excellent job of letting us sit with the implications of the mission. We see many possible futures resulting from every decision made, and we are left to sit with the tragedy of these decisions, and second guess every one. And in the end, where do we come down? The power and ego that is wielded with the drone weapons are not acceptable in a civilization that I want to be part of. Everyone should see this film.
5 stars (out of 5)

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Intern

Robert DeNiro, retired and widowed, applies for and gets a job as an intern (part of a new senior intern program) at a local tech startup. He is assigned to CEO Anne Hathaway, who clearly is too busy to need an intern. But DeNiro makes himself useful, is liked by everyone, and finds his way into the inner circle of trust, both in business and in life. While not a standard rom-com plot, it does have all the traits of typical rom-coms, most clearly that everything is too neat and tidy to be real. But we all check our critical minds in at the ticket booth and enjoy the banter, the mentorship, the obvious roadblocks to success that get solved with obvious solutions, and the fact that everyone lives happily ever after. A mediocre, friday night date film that knows exactly what it is, and does it adequately.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, April 4, 2016

Straight Outta Compton

I liked this, maybe mostly because in my insular world of the late 80's/early 90's, I had no idea any of this world existed. The story of the development into mainstream success the music genre of gansta rap. N.W.A. formed in the late 80's with Easy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube as the core members, rapping about their local experience. They get picked up by a manager and blow up. This was a good portrayal of the difficulties of fame and staying connected to those you need to stay connected to. It was interesting to see the stark contrast between white and black in terms of talent vs management, and the very ingrained power roles that were played out.  It was fun to see the development of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre since I am more aware of their roles in entertainment today, 20 years later. Well worth it.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, April 1, 2016


I would classify this as a film-noir style crime thriller. The setting is London and the players are all hustlers and criminals of one sort or another. Lenny is (in his mind) the big boss of the area and he gets paid to grease the wheels of government when real estate deals need to get done. A Russian billionaire pays him a bunch to do said greasing, but the payment gets swiped by "The Wild Bunch", a group of low level friends. There are several layers of connection here between all the players which makes it fun to parse as a viewer. And it has a couple of my favorite actors right now in Tom Hardy and Idris Elba. Engaging.
3 stars (out of 5)