Saturday, June 17, 2017

Chaos

Jason Statham is a cop coming off suspension to pursue a bank robber. Ryan Phillippe is his new rookie partner. The two seem to always be a step behind, but the clues are there. In many ways, this is a typical heist film, with the typical twists and turns, and the typical misdirects. But it is also a Statham film that doesn't rely on him being a fighter. I liked the story and the development of the heist (both in forward time, and in flashback). 
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Last King

A historical fiction telling of the civil wars in Norway in the 1200's. A king is murdered, and his illegitimate son is protected by the Bierkebeinerne (basically special forces) as he is escorted back to the political seat of power to rule. Along the escort, the Baglers (Swedish soldiers loyal to the Pope) chase down the child king trying to kill him and end the Bierkebeinerne rule or Norway. Interesting story, and fabulous scenery. It did seem, however, like the film was an excuse to shoot this scenery, with many (many) scenes of soldiers chasing soldiers on skis. But it prompted me to look up some history, and it was really fabulous skiing, so
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Babylon A.D.

Vin Diesel is future version of badass Jason Statham in Transporter.  Not the same universe, but in style and substance. He is contracted to get a girl from a Nepalese monastery to New York. He does the job (against all odds and lots of people trying to kill him and the girl) against a steampunk modern backdrop (think Mad Max on ice/in the city). And like the transporter, he gets a conscience and makes a decision that is against his better judgement as an employee. Fun... ish...
2 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Mr. Right

Sam Rockwell is a master assassin. Anna Kendrick is a flighty millennial looking for love and purpose. They meet. Both have their quirks, but it turns out they are soul mates and this movie is about how they discover this connection amidst basically slapstick assassin humor. Reminded me of Mr. and Mrs. Smith (the early years), or if the skillset of Neo (Matrix) was applied to romance. In that context
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Legend

The story of 1960's London mafia bosses Ronald and Reginald Kray. Tom Hardy plays both twins, with Reggie being the front man, charismatic leader, on the verge of going straight and Ronnie being the sociopath that just enjoys power, control and violence. Hardy does an excellent job in this dual role and the the film itself is engaging, but not extraordinary. That is to say, it kept my attention throughout, but was predictable. Perhaps that is because the writers were staying true to the history, which is more predicable than extraordinary in most cases.
3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

I was mostly interested in this film because of the cameo Wonder Woman scenes, having just seen Wonder Woman. And it is interesting seeing the two films next to each other. This film is mostly fight scenes, tied together with a story. The story is a bit of jealousy/grudge between Batman and Superman that ends up with the two finally working together. The fights aren't really fights, but instead epic battles that the words "sensory overload" only begin to describe. This is in many ways a typical superhero movie, and I think that this typicalness is what makes it just average. Compared to WW, with story predominant, this is a barrage. As to the cameo, we should just say that having seen WW, the search for the picture and the decision to participate or not in the "battles of men" makes more sense that it probably did originally.
3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wonder Woman

I have been looking forward to this for quite some time, and to help out my enjoyment, tried to opt out of all the media hype and analysis prior to seeing it. The result... it was good. Not great, but solid good. It is effectively the origin story for Wonder Woman, and as such, contains quite a bit of actual story. Diana is an Amazon warrior, put on this earth to protect against injustice. She has been isolated from this world and when she chooses to engage (with the help of Chris Pine), she is thrust into the melee of WWII. The development of this story means that this is not just a superhero action film. This is both good and bad, as it adds substance and allows Diana to demonstrate her confusion and struggle with understanding man and her role in striving for justice. But, and I am not sure if I like this, but the pacing actually left me time to think about the film while watching the film. Generally I would put this in the "slow" category if my mind has time to disengage from the entertainment to think. Like I said, this is not a critique because I don't think I like the alternative if it is a barrage of action. I could have wished for a story so engaging that I didn't need to have time to think. But thinking aside, well done. The necessarily serial nature of comic inspired heroes does in fact leave me wanting more. So until the next installment...
4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Miss Sloane

Jessica Chastain plays the roll of Sloane, a brilliant lobbyist in D.C. She cuts all the corners she is legally allowed to cut to get the results she needs. She is ruthless, effective, and supremely lonely. When she is approached to lobby for the NRA, her narcissistic, ego driven self propels her to choose the other side, working to get a gun restrictions law passed. What follows is a political thriller that twists and turns and, while mostly predictable, left me with the same satisfied "whoa" as I remember from Primal Fear. Loved it.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Last Witch Hunter

Vin Diesel plays an immortal protector of humanity from witches. The witch council has come to an understanding that they will not be hunted as long as they don't ply their witch trade on humans. This makes for some interesting "witch bar" scenes reminiscent of the Mos Eisley cantina scenes set on Tatooine. Diesel gets a witch sidekick and then goes on to re-conquer the queen of all witches who is working to come out of her death hibernation (of which Diesel originally placed her hundreds of years ago). The story holds together well and Diesel plays Diesel to his full effect.
3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Allegiant

Third in the Divergent Series films, this went straight to video. It was not any worse than the others in the series, and in fact wrapped up the series quite well. Tris and Four finally take a trip beyond the wall, find that they have been part of a genetic cleansing experiment, and then fight back to make Chicago independent. My guess is that the decision to not release this to the theater was based more on general dystopian fatigue, than on any quality concerns. I rather liked it.
3 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Everly

Salma Hayak in a grindhouse movie. Worth a shot. I am not a grindhouse connoisseur or fan, necessarily. Maybe the most interesting part of this is that the entire thing is filmed in a single room. Otherwise, it plays out as Hayak working as a prostitute in a building owned by her pimp. When she tries to get out, she basically needs to defend herself from a long series of assassination attempts. These attempts all come to her (hence the all in one room). Pretty typical grindhouse explicit gore and borderline steampunk vibe. But not particularly engaging as a nominal fan. So I can't tell you how it ends since I never made it that far.
1 star (out of 5)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2

First, let me say "I am Groot". In fact, you don't really need to know anything else. Vol. 2 is remarkably similar to Vol. 1. Unfortunately, the fun of Vol. 1 was the unique and clever, outside the box, superhero eccentric ensemble cast. But to go with that, vol. 1 built the box, so repeating it in vol. 2 is no longer outside the box. Advantage lost. The plot of this film follows Starlord and his crew continuing their bounty hunter ways, getting in trouble by really being criminals, and then chasing down family history only to find that family is effectively god. Narcissistic god at that. Overall, I would put this in the category of cheap thrill.
3 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Bosch (Serial)

Season 3

This continues to be one of my favorite police procedural/crime drama shows. Titus Welliver as Detective Harry Bosch, Hollywood division LAPD is excellent. This season (10 episodes) finds Bosch and his partner Jerry Edgar tracking down the murder of a homeless veteran. Along the way, Bosch is implicated in another murder while he is simultaneously testifying for the DA on a serial killer. We get a little bit of Bosch's developing relationship with his daughter, who now lives with him, and flashbacks to his childhood as he embraces parenthood and encounters a homeless kid in the midst of the investigation. Overlay all of this drama with the city of L.A. and some noir vibes. Overall, it reminds me a bit of The Wire, although it is focused more on the singular character of Bosch than the community or politics or criminals as characters.

5 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Power Rangers

I didn't really watch the power rangers growing up, although I have enough familiarity to know of the morphing, the zords and megazord, and the campy-low-fi-martial-arts. In this reboot, we are essentially given the origin story with enough action to allow a franchise to continue on for a few more films. These new rangers begin their team as the millennial breakfast club. They discover the power coins, discover their new power, train, and then save the world. All of this happens with the necessary teen angst over belonging, meaning and friendship. A fun bit of nostalgia with appropriate updates. I can't imagine this ever being a great series. Although, I suppose that it exists at all might prove me wrong... in somebodies eyes...
3 stars (out of 5)

Ghost in the Shell

This movie has taken all kinds of heat for all kinds of reasons, not least of which is a whitewashing backlash for casting Scarlett Johansson in the lead. For my own perspective, I have no history with the story or the original material that it is based on. So staying true to original material is irrelevant. The story follows Major (Johansson) along a path of self discovery. She is a member of an elite police unit in future Hong Kong. She is the ultimate cyborg, with only her brain being human. Her journey reveals her past, the process by which she became who she is, and the neurosis of the organization that "saved" her. I found the story interesting, if not compelling. I loved the representation of future Hong Kong, thinking throughout that I was actually glimpsing a possible future, not a writers attempt to be crazy novel. I enjoyed the existential questions that inevitably arise when one puts a human brain into a robot. I really liked this.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Killjoys (Serial)

Season 1 & 2

This SyFy channel series follows a team of Killjoys, warrant officers who are formally neutral in any and all politics, who accept jobs to chase down bounties or do deliveries, no questions asked. Well, mostly no questions asked. For flavor, you can compare this to Firefly or its channel mate Dark Matter. It has the same irreverent humor amongst the team, and takes itself just seriously enough to be good science fiction. Set in The Quad, a system with a planet and 3 moons, the team goes about each episode fulfilling a warrant, and finding out more about themselves and their own history. Of course it is dark and sorted. And of course this history places our protagonists at the center of a system wide political conspiracy which could potentially destroy the entire system. Let the fun begin.

4 stars (out of 5)

The Boss

Melissa McCarthy plays a financial guru who is put in prison for insider trading. When she gets out, she connects with her former assistant and stumbles on an opportunity for a new business by competing with the girl scouts to sell cookies. The funny moments here are few and far between. The mean humor is pervasive. The attempts to be meaningful and poignant about relationship and life are forced and fall flat. But I watched the whole thing.
2 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Almost Human (Serial)

Season 1

If everything is derivative, I put this at a cross between Continuum and I, Robot. Set in the future by only 30 years, the opening voiceover says everything you need to know: "Evolving technologies can no longer be regulated". This is quite powerful, and likely quite prescient. I would guess we are not too far from this point, especially in AI and Biotech. In this one season series, we have a police officer John Kennex returning to work after PTSD based on an incident where he walked a lot of people into an ambush. He is mandated to work with an android partner, and get assigned Dorian, a decommissioned model with emotion. What could go wrong? Actually, the two work well together and show that they each have strengths the other needs. In many ways, standard fare buddy cop series. The two have fun insulting each other, but as a view, we always know they care...

3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Fugitive at 17

Apparently one of a series of TV movies "____ at 17" that all seem to be pretty B quality, high channel cable stuff. In this iteration, Holly discovers that her friend was murdered in a club and she is the prime suspect. She is fortunate to be a bystander in a prison break and takes advantage to run herself. Now she can use her formidable hacking skills to track down the real killer. Definitely higher quality the later you watch this, and for me it was a midnight-2am viewing. So... pretty OK...

2 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sniffer (Serial)

A Russian made (and set) cop drama where the protagonist is a consultant for the Russian equivalent of the FBI. This consultant has a peculiar condition where he is able to isolate smells and odors (think Monk with a great nose). Couple this talent with the arrogance and deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes and you begin to get the picture. Lot's of peculiar Russia specific flavorings that I am sure that I only see half of.

3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Fences

Based on a play. Oh so obviously based on a play. Troy (Denzel Washington) is a working class guy in the 60's, in his 60's. He goes to work, has a drink on weekends and tries to support his family out of a deep sense of responsibility. This family consists of an older son (trying to be a musician), a second wife and their teen son, and a brother who is a mentally impaired war veteran. The film/play follows Troy over about a year. I emphasize play because there are lots of speeches and long monologues. I felt very "preached at". So an interesting look into these characters, but I could have done with less words, I guess?

3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

Set at the end of the Vietnam war, a helicopter squadron (led by Samuel L. Jackson) is tasked with escorting a geological survey of a newly discovered island in the south pacific. Turns out this is an interface between the hollow earth (where large creatures live) and the surface. So this survey crew encounters (and is decimated by) King Kong after dropping seismic charges all over the island to verify this hollow earth theory. Consider the theory verified. We then follow the science and military cohorts as they work to escape the island. In many ways a classic Kong film, which could also be viewed as derivative. I will say that Samuel L Jackson does not once use his inside voice in this film. Take it for what it is worth.

3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Santa Clarita Diet (Serial)

Season 1
Silly, I know. Silly in the vein of Weeds but with zombies. Drew Barrymore, stereotypical suburban mom and realtor becomes a zombie. She has a hankering for human flesh. The show works out over several episodes how she is going to find her meals without tipping off the two neighbor cops, how she is going to track down a cure, and how she is going to maintain normality with the rest of the family and neighbors. Like I said, pure silly. But well done and just enough plot to pull me through to the next episode. This is an example, I think, of where having the entire series available at once allows me to watch. If this was a once per week viewing, I am sure I would have lost interest.

3 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Logan

This film has been getting rave reviews. Partially because this is R-rated, it is targeted toward adults and, like Deadpool, that has its pro's and con's. In effect, this is the dramatic counterpart to Deadpool's comedy. The story is set a decade ahead with Logan taking care of a physically failing Professor X. This physical failing is coupled with mental failing, so he has "psychic seizures" that are potentially deadly for anyone nearby. Enter into the picture a young girl seeking transport north. She is being hunted, and only Logan can help her. So... road trip.

The film earned its rating via gory body count and language. But the dramatic themes were lost on me. I saw the thinking about legacy, the struggle with responsibility aging parents, care for the next generation. But this, to me, came across as standard issue drama. The fact that it was in a superhero world might be different, but not different enough to say this was a high quality drama. It was an average drama. And a pretty good superhero flick.

4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Last Diamond

A French heist movie that hits all the right spots. Recently released from prison Simon is pulled into 'one last job' by his former crew. The planning, the intrigue, the police, the love, the improvising... how will it actually end. Love a good heist film.

4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Battle for Sevastapol

The story of a girl in WWII Ukraine who joins the military to fight Nazis. Over the course of her career, she becomes one the the deadliest snipers in the entire Soviet force. Written and produced in Russia/Ukraine, this biopic pulls no punches in showing the cruelty of war to all involved, enemy or friend.
3 stars (out of 5)

Monday, February 6, 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

The xXx program is an off-book, special program that the US government uses to solve problems that the laws won't allow it to solve. The xXx agents are all highly trained with special skill-sets usually acquired in the X-games. This installment finds the agents pursuing Pandora's Box, an electronic gadget that can break any encryption and that the bad guys are using to crash satellites into the earth. Of course there are good good-guys and there are bad good-guys and there are good bad-guys and the fun of this film comes partly from sorting all those out. The rest of the fun comes from the stunts and ridiculous action sequences. As a sucker for both of these types of fun, I call this movie a win.

3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Founder

The historical fiction story of Ray Kroc and his "founding" of McDonalds Corp. The short version of the plot is that Ray is a midwest salesman who encounters the McDonalds brothers and their restaurant in San Bernardino. He enters into an agreement with them to be their franchise liaison and, after a bit of success, takes over the company. The impact of the film, however, is not just a relaying of the history of the company. Instead, it is a commentary on capitalism. I am sure that every person who watches, probably dependent on their existing bias, will "see" a different message - critique or praise - about capitalism. In the end, do I feel bad for the McDonald brothers? Do I hold Kroc at fault for his enthusiasm and hustle? Or is the world a better place because of how this story played out? A great portrayal of this story, and well suited for discussion with friends over coffee afterward.

4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Covert Affairs (Serial)

Season 1 - 5

A spy-thriller-drama that is quite fun. It has the same feel as Alias (in its first couple of seasons) or Burn Notice. Annie Walker is a young agent who works for the Domestic Protectorate Division of the CIA. Turns out that she is pretty good at clandestine work, mostly because she goes out on her own to solve problems instead of being bound by protocol. And of course is always on the verge of trouble for it. She has a sexy but troubled handler whose blindness prevents him from being in the field (most of the time) and a sexy, rock star boss who takes her under her wing as mentor/role model. Perhaps amazingly, the show never jumped the shark, maintaining its quality writing throughout all five seasons.

4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lion

The based-on-a-true-story story of a young Indian boy from the sticks who gets stuck on a train and transported for a couple days to Calcutta. He doesn't know the name of his town, or where he is and joins the orphan community in Calcutta. Eventually, he is adopted by an Australian couple, where he "lives the good life" growing up. Jump forward to his adult life, and he begins a quest to find his original home based on a few vague memories and Google Earth imagery. It really is an astounding story and portrayal of both the survivor instinct in humans as well as the long term emotional impacts that surviving can have on a person. Well done.

4 stars (out of 5

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hidden Figures

This film is awesome. I hate to build up expectations for films because the viewing can never match the anticipation (see any Star Wars movie ever released after 1980). But in this case, expectations exceeded. This is the story of three African-American women in the 1960's who work in the West Computing Group at NASA's Langley Lab. The computing groups were groups of women who functioned as computers, calculating trajectories and friction coefficients and anything else that needed calculating in the process of running a space program. The west computers were the temporarily employed black women. The east computers were the permanently employed white women. This story follows three of the women (one mathematician, one engineer, one supervisor/programmer) who are friends and working to contribute to the US space program. The story telling here is fabulous, alternating between hilarious, subtle, heartbreaking, and ordinary. The supposedly covert racism that, from the perspective of today seems so overt, definitely draws seemingly 21st century responses in the form of eye-rolls and sassy rebuttals, subtly breaking the 3rd wall in a wink-wink with the audience. I loved the portrayal of these women as strong, and enduring, and the smartest in the room. Well done.
5 stars (out of 5)

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Magicians (Serial)

Season 1

This SyFy series is based on the book by the same name by Lev Grossman, which I loved. Grossman was involved in the making of this, so it is clearly in line with his vision, and very true to the storyline and feel of the books. The storyline follows Quentin, who attends Brakebills school of magic. He finds himself, along with his friends, needing to protect the world from The Beast. To do this, they need to travel to the fictional world of Fillory. Think of this as a cross between Narnia and Harry Potter. This is not high drama, or dark comedy. More teen-drama, which is also true to the book. I am not sure if I liked it because it was good, or because it was familiar. Probably a bit of both. The overall feel was a bit CW or MTV, which is lightweight for those who are looking for Orphan Black/Black Mirror dark sci-fi. So knowing what it is, I enjoyed it.

3 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Captain America: Civil War

The Avengers are now the global police, independent hunters of criminals. To start out, they are chasing a bad guy, and bad things happen, and a few innocent bystanders are killed. The governments of the world step in to put some bureaucratic controls and checks/balances on the Avengers. However, only some of the Avengers are willing to submit to this. So we get Iron Man going legitimate and Captain America going rogue. When the Winter Soldier (Bucky) is reactivated by a bad guy, the two sides disagree about how to handle the situation. And it breaks the Avengers unity forever. A fun introduction of Black Panther and Spiderman, and of course, epic battle scenes make this well worth the time I spent watching it.
3 stars (out of 5)