Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Hard Day

Korean film following the main character of Detective Go Geon-soo. Go is juggling his mothers funeral and an internal affairs investigation into his unit for taking bribes. And then he hits a pedestrian with his car. Freaked out and pressed for time, he covers up the accident and moves ahead to put out his other fires. But the coverup does not go unnoticed and Go is drawn deeper into a corruption scandal that threatens to destroy him and his family. Go, even as a corrupt cop, is the protagonist that we root for here. This is classic Korean style police drama, but feels more 'real' by leaving out the expert martial arts and crazy mafia revenge storylines. Standard, but enjoyable.
3 stars (out of 5)

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Tina Fey vehicle to demonstrate that her abilities extend outside the comedic actress lines and develop her portfolio as a dramatic actress. This film is based on real person Kim Barker. Fey plays Kim Baker, TV journalist copy writer who is sent to Afghanistan in 2003 (since most reporters were in Iraq at that time). She is in way over her head, but develops a network of support and a bit of an addition to the adrenaline of reporting in a war zone. While the film is ostensibly about Baker, it tells a seemingly pretty honest story about Afghanistan, war and the US role there. No progress, lots of corruption, lots of good individual expats, soldiers, locals, all put in a sucky situation and doing their best to continue to be people and live life. We get hints of the arrogance of the West and the polarity of Afghan society. Yes, this was entertaining and superficial. But it is not a war exposé. As a mainstream film, it opens our eyes just a bit to a new way of seeing the world. I liked it more than I thought I would.
4 stars (out of 5)

Southside with You

The story of Michelle Robinson and Barak Obama's first date in Chicago in the 80's. The two are working at the same law firm (her as 2nd year associate, him as a summer intern) and connect one afternoon on their way to a community gathering in the low income Gardens neighborhood. In many ways, this is a sentimental love story that portrays this famous couple in the best possible light, foreshadowing all of their good and righteous characteristics. The plotting was slow enough to allow me time to think throughout, which you can judge as a good or bad thing. During all this thinking, I tried to watch the film as a depiction of random characters instead of the famous ones. If this was a random, fictional story, would it be a good story? Or is it only interesting because of the famous pedigree? How would a Tea Party audience view this film? How would a black audience? A 20 something? I enjoyed the film partially because it was a 'nice story' about a 'nice couple'. I enjoyed it more because it gave me time to ask questions, and to ponder their answers. It led me to wonder about perspective, and about white privilege, and then about responsibility. It let me see passion for social justice and the wax/wane of personal commitment to life values? It showed people question whether actions define values, or whether values can direct action. One of the better discussion films I have seen recently.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Precious Cargo

Bruce Willis is a bad guy who plans heists. Mark-Paul Gosselaar is a master thief who is getting out of the business, but gets pulled back in when his only-trouble ex-girlfriend pulls him back in for "one last heist". Interesting heist, poor setup and motivation. Sorry, I need more...
2 stars (out of 5)

The Lava Field (Serial)

A short, 4-episode series set in Iceland that follows Reykjavik based Detective Helgi. He is investigating an apparent suicide in a small village that turns out to have many connections and much larger implications for some national corruption investigations. His investigation challenges him to face his own history, look at who he is as a father and still work effectively as an investigator. So while the plot and acting reminds me a lot of the Scandinavian police procedurals, the on location sets, the stark (almost haunting) backgrounds and wide Icelandic vistas give this series a remarkable feel that makes the entire experience immersive.
5 stars (out of 5)

Five Minutes of Heaven

Set in the modern day Ireland, this film tells the story of Alistair Little and Joe Griffen. Little killed Griffen's brother 25 years ago in an assassination authorized by the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), who sponsored the killings of hundreds of Catholics during 'the troubles'. Now, Little and Griffen have agreed, as part of a reality TV series, to meet on air and engage in a sort of Truth & Reconciliation. Throughout the process, we see the angst that each of these men has held onto over the past decades, and the trauma that war puts upon the lives of those involved. Whatever you think about Truth & Reconciliation as a process, confronting your victim or your aggressor is not trivial and this film is able to tease out portions of this difficulty. It may be a bit to easy in fact, but you can only ask so much of a 90 minute film. I love that the dramatic tension here is based on the trauma of reconciliation v. revenge, forcing viewers to also address that tension.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins

Meryl Streep is a wealth arts benefactor who has so much money that everyone humors her. When she takes singing lessons, she gets the best in the business and they all fake that she is good. And then she decides to give a concert. Hugh Grant is her manager/husband how pulls all the strings. Alternately painful and funny, but generally flat. The Emperor Has No Clothes...
3 stars (out of 5)


I grew up in the Schultz brother years of the 1984 and 1988 olympics. these two were legends in the wrestling world so I was looking forward to this film. And it was extremely informative. But wow was it slow. And depressing. I got some facts here, but the benefit of presenting historical fiction is that you get to dive in and really show some character. Here all the character was surface. I feel like I would have been better served by a documentary for as much deeper connection I gleaned with either of the brothers or DuPont. And I really wanted to like this.
2 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Jason Bourne

Bourne has really become the standard by which modern spy thriller movies are compared. Is the hero as tough, or as smart, or as quick as Bourne? Is the plot smart, subtle and twisted enough? This film has its own history to live up to, with Matt Damon returning to the title role. Bourne has put his CIA life behind him and is hiding out in the underworld. He is drawn back in to the suck when new information reveals (actually just hints at) his fathers role in the Treadstone project. Tommy Lee Jones as project leader is typically myopic (it is all about him) as he makes decisions that necessarily amplify the danger and drama. Put all of this over the backdrop of a NSA/Internet Privacy conspiracy and you got yourself a real spy thriller cookin'. And yet... when you walk out with a 'meh!', something got left out. Maybe this formula for spy thriller is just too worn to possibly feel fresh. Maybe the 'current event' of internet privacy was too obviously an overlay and not integrated into the DNA of the plot. So I would guess that this will have a polar audience: fans love it (or tolerated it but say they love it because that is what fans do) and others will pan it.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Welcome to Punch

Set in London, James McAvoy plays Max Lewinsky, a brash cop who ran into a career changing case a year earlier. He was chasing a notorious heist gang and ended up getting shot in the leg while they escaped. Flash forward, his knee still needs to be drained regularly and he limps around like the grizzled veteran he is. And then he finds out that his nemesis is heading back to town. What follows is a pretty interesting story of corruption and allegiance and policework amidst the self questioning that probably always follows a traumatic event. And this is gritty London, not MI-5 London. This is pure and simply and action, thriller. The characters are not deep, but are deep enough for the genre. The storyline is twisty, and maybe a bit too obviously so, but it gets the job done. And the look&feel is dark and gritty instead of slick like Bourne or Mission Impossible. I like it.
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Suicide Squad

I like characters, and boy do we have them here. The entire first third of this movie is character introduction (which may have been a bit much, but I understand the issue). Once all these characters have been introduced, with all of their over-the-top comics-bold style, we get them together to fight crime. It is a Dirty Dozen of the superhero world and I always did like the genre. Do you need to know the plot? The bad-guy heroes are assembled into a team to fight the non-hero bad guys. One of the bad guys on the team turns out to be an actual bad guy, so the rest of the team needs to take her down. Smatter around some jocular banter, some supernatural mojo, some hefty gun battles, some second thoughts and the motivational speeches that go with them. Bam! Live action comics. It's not literature, but it sure is fun.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 7, 2016


Nelson Mandela starts out a local lawyer, marries Winnie, becomes a leader in the anti-apartheid movement and is sent to prison for said leadership. This film mostly tells the story of this imprisonment and how Mandela continues to resist, and continues to evolve as a leader in an ever changing political world. The evolution is itself a point of contention among his ANC colleagues and with Winnie. My own recollection of Mandela paints him as a much stronger voice for non-violence in the ever contentious discussion about how to bring about regime change as a guerrilla organization. But that was not a strong emphasis here, so I am not sure if that is my own memory bias, or whether that was just not significant for this writer/director. This film needs to be watched and then discussed. This part of global history needs to be remembered.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, August 5, 2016

The American President

This is good ol' nostalgia here. Aaron Sorkin pre West Wing, telling a political story of a campaign. Michael Douglas plays the sitting president who was elected as a recent widower. Entering the 2nd term campaign season, he is introduced to Annette Bening, a lobbyist for an environmental organization working on passing a bill that is important to the White House. The two begin to date, it becomes THE political issue, Douglas refuses to address the dating since it is a private life issue, until he does address it. Like I said, harkens back to the feelings in the 90's. Polyanish by today's political standards of Scandal and House of Cards.
3 stars (out of 5)