Friday, December 30, 2016


The historical fiction telling of the story of Richard and Mildred Loving. These two lived in Virginia in the 60's and, since it was illegal to get married or co-habitate as a mixed race couple in Virginia, they traveled to Washington DC to get married. Unfortunately, the marriage license made no difference to the Virginia law and the two were arrested, sentenced to a year in prison or 25 years probation if they left the state. Then a couple of ACLU lawyers pick up their case and take it to the supreme court, to set the national law allowing interracial marriage. Those are the facts. Beyond the facts, this film tries to capture the drama and angst that these two experienced over the course of 10 years. From the opening line "I'm pregnant", I picked up on a sense of impending doom. How will this turn out bad? What tragedy will unfold? And this sense was never resolved, instead holding me in tension throughout, as I waited for the shoe to drop. But it never did. This was the nicest, most pleasant depiction of racism that I have seen. Even the ugliness was cordial. And all of this cordiality was sitting on top of the sense of impending doom. I am not sure what the filmmakers were aiming for in terms of tone, but the juxtaposition I experienced rang false. The personal tension came through, but the overt tension was non-existent. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic, the result of my history coming from dramatic films. Maybe this is really how it was.
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck is the lead character in this character driven drama. And he nails it. The short version of the plot follows Affleck as he returns from his Boston maintenance man job to his hometown of Manchester after the death of his older brother. While making arrangements as the last living relative, Affleck encounters his past in surprising and difficult ways while trying to navigate a future for both himself, and his now fatherless nephew. There is a lot of angst here and Affleck wears it well. He has mastered the vacant eyes looking off to the side that suggest "it's possible for me to go there, but I can't because of where it would take me". This is the pure emotional struggle of a man who can't deal with the past, but is truly kind-hearted and wants to do right by his nephew. There is enough humor here to keep viewers from fully diving into Affleck's world, and I would guess that it is this humor that keeps him afloat too. An excellent portrayal of reality... loved it.
5 stars (out of 5)

La La Land

A true movie musical. Emma Stone is an aspiring actress, going through the grind of auditions, and working faithfully as a barrista. She crosses paths with Ryan Gosling, a talented Jazz musician who is so interested in tradition and pure Jazz that he often can't get jobs. They meet, they break out in song, they dance, they inspire each other to be their better selves, they sing some more. I suppose I am not the traditional target audience for musicals (e.g. I don't like them), but this was a pretty good story and not a traditional hollywood 'feel-gooder'. I liked John Legend's role, I liked the musical numbers that were not singing, but instead were jazz background. This felt true to the film and the style and seemed to be more seamless than the break-out-in-song traditional numbers. I liked the LA scenery, and I liked the Sliding Doors retrospective at the end. Don't call me a musical convert, but consider me entertained.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, December 18, 2016


Amy Adams plays a linguist called into action when several alien pods appear on earth. One of them is hanging out in Montana, and the pods are just hanging around. Powers that be are working to communicate, to see if this is a hostile or friendly visit. Adams is the one for the job. She (and physicist Jeremy Renner {who has no real purpose other than eye candy in a nice gender role reversal}) spend a lot of time in the alien pod, and interacting with the aliens (who they refer to as Abbot and Costello). The beauty of this film is the slow unfolding of knowledge, both for the characters and the viewers. The painstaking work and long hours of scientific inquiry are effectively shown, including the frustration, the small breakthroughs, the teamwork, the inklings of ideas as they germinate, the risks and leaps of logic that are needed. But don't get me wrong, this is not a science process documentary. This is straight up sci-fi that will push your thinking about society, and science, and relationship and probably a bunch of other stuff. And one of the best I have seen in awhile.
5 stars (out of 5)

Rogue One

Backstory. I suppose this was the logical place to start. This is a good story that only really needs to meet the touchstone of having plans for the DeathStar stolen. And that it does. Somehow though, this all feels like going through the motions. Jyn has a little bit of history, and then is suddenly a key rebel fighter. Characters are introduced and it feels as if they are expendable, that, knowing the future, there is no future for these characters. So I don't really need to care. Maybe this franchise is no longer able to exist as one-off films, in a world where Firefly and Dark Matter have seasons to develop characters and stories. Or maybe it needs to go further afield, using the Star Wars universe, but not necessarily the storyline. So Boba Fett chronicles, or a Jawa tale, or ... Anyway, enjoyable, but not epic. I want epic.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Wire (Serial)

Season 3

Back to excellence. After a bit of a drop-off in season 2, we jump right back into excellent story-telling. I realized during this season that what I particularly about this series is the same think I like about epic fantasy books: multiple storylines that interweave. In this season, we have the newly formed Major Case unit, we have Herc & Carver as detectives in the Western District, we have councilman Carcetti and all the political side, we have Barksdale & Bell on the gangster side, Cutter as a rehabilitated gangster and of course Omar. Each of these storylines carries through on its own, with occasional connections to the others. We are reminded as a viewer from time to time that the characters don't know as much as we do. And we are also forced to think as a citizen about what solutions there are to drug problems in this country and we are faced with the reality of addition on a few different levels.  This is great writing and great acting. Love this.
5 stars (out of 5)

The Wire (Serial)

Season 5

In this final season, we bring in the Baltimore Sun as a major player. The mayor is having difficulty with politics and cleaning up the mess of the police department. Perhaps to compensate, McNulty and Freeman go even further afield to put Marlo behind bars. Here the perfect storm of lies converge, McNulty floats a big one and an aspiring Pulitzer seeker floats his own. These two lies grow and gain a life of their own. The interplay of police, politics and media is fascinating, as is the maturation of McNulty, Greggs and Carver in their life roles. Great final season. Well wrapped.
5 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, December 10, 2016


An interesting take on the JFK assassination story from the perspective of Jackie Kennedy. The story mechanism is an interview with Jackie a few weeks after the event, told in alternating bits of flashback and conversation with the reporter. I would guess that the historical fact portions are largely consistent with history (although I have no independent verification of that). I actually found the movie a bit slow and overly dramatic. That is, I felt like the pacing, even the score, was intentionally trying to build drama and angst, to force me as a viewer to feel the grief of Jackie. Overwrought? Yes. The grief was present and apparent without the manipulation. I will also say that something bugged me about Natalie Portman's accent and portrayal of Jackie. It seemed forced, and overly intentional. That said, I have never seen a single bit of footage of the actual Jackie Kennedy, so perhaps it was true to form. All in, interesting - but a bit grating.
2 stars (out of 5)

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Wire (Serial)

Season 4

I have now settled into excellence. Love this season, with the Barksdale crew basically wrapped up, time to introduce new stories. The focus this season is on the school system, but this does not take over the season like the dock's did in season 2. Instead, it is a unifying theme that continues to come back into the storyline, holding everything together. We also have a new player in the drug game (Marlo Stanfield) and his muscle, Chris and Snoop, are an astounding addition. We also have some unique policing strategies (e.g. the creation of Hampersdam) that raise the ire of the bosses. The series continues to push and inform and entertain.
5 stars (out of 5)