Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Big Sick

Kumail Nanjiani plays himself in this historical fiction version of how he met his future wife. As a struggling standup comic in Chicago, Nanjiani is constantly battling the pressures of his 1st generation immigrant Pakistani family and their expectations. Comedy is not doctor or lawyer, and single is not taking seriously the matchmaking arrangements that his mother is sending his way. When he meets a girl, but is unable to bring her to the reality of his family expectations, they break up. Until said girl gets sick, goes into a medically induced coma, and Kumail spends a tons of time at the hospital meeting and getting to know girls family (Ray Romano and Holly Hunt). These interactions are serious and irreverent and illuminating for everyone as the importance of relationship and care are at the forefront of every conversation. This is remarkably funny in that authentic, life-comedy sense. Although it does feel like Juno, where a full year of the funniest statements and situations are reduced to a single 90 minutes. A greatest hits of comedic, "authentic" interactions. On the other hand, I am not sure that that is a critique, but instead probably a recognition of good writing in a historical fiction/storytelling.
5 stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron is a badass MI-6 agent at the height of the cold war. Her current assignment is to go into Berlin, days before the fall of the wall, to recover a list of spies that has been stolen. This is pure 80's, Bondian kitsch. The outfits, the style, the characters, the storyline. We get the convoluted involvement of MI-6, CIA, KGB and Stassi, we get independent and rogue agents, we get icy stares in smoky interrogation rooms, watchmaker fixers, clever evasion, and face-to-face brutal combat. Of course, it is at the same time predictable, thinly held together by a plot with lots of holes and clearly designed to be a vehicle piece for Theron. In my mind, even these detractions are a good thing for a summer action film. Loved it.
5 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Silicon Valley (serial)

Season 1

A satirical, send-up of Silicon Valley startup culture that is so over the top that it can't be true, but with enough truth to be believable. Richard has developed the next unicorn compression algorithm and received a bit of seed funding to get his company started. He gets his 3 friends to work at his company and ... well, life happens. They are sidetracked, need to develop a logo, need to provide proof of concept for scalability, need a next round of funding, ... All of this regular business stuff happens amidst wacky circumstance and eccentric not-reality reality that defines Silicon Valley. Like Portlandia is only funny if you have some connection to Portland, probably best if you have some connection to the start up world, and even then only in small doses.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Girls Trip

First of all, I don't think I am the target audience for this film in any way. But I guess it is no different that me not being the target audience for Pitch Perfect and still liking that. This is the story of 4 friends who were the definition of close in college. Now, 10 years on, their connections have thinned and each has her own life which consumes most of their bandwidth. An opportunity to reunite (based on a paid for convention soirĂ©e of "The Successful One" brings the four back together in New Orleans. Of course there are tensions and old slights that rise to the surface. But the friendships are true and survive in the end (and if that is a spoiler, then you have not got a predictive bone in your body). I loved the soundtrack here, and strangely, I liked that it seemed OK for me to be a bit of a cultural voyeur. That is, as an outsider (white, male) I was able to watch the film and appreciate a point of view, relational process that I don't see... ever. Somehow this film felt at least a bit more authentic in how relationships are portrayed than the average buddy reunion film. There was still hyperbole, and still outrageous situations. But not as much, or at least not as the focus of the characters.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Supposedly the "film of the year", this tells the story of the evacuation of British soldiers from the beach of Dunkirk. All I can say is that it was adequate. It felt very much like an 'arthouse film' that was definitely letting me know as a viewer that 'you are watching an arthouse film, and you better appreciate it'. We did get to see the story from a few perspectives (on the beach, on a civilian rescue boat, in the air), and we did get a sense of the hopelessness, the terror of war, the sense of duty, etc. But again, beat me over the head with how good this movie is supposed to be. Maybe 10 minutes of dialogue in the film -- total. The storytelling is not chronological, which on its own can be interesting. But I don't feel that it was used effectively to tell this story. And I really didn't care about any of the characters. There are way better WWII movies out there.
3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 21, 2017


Clive Owen is a convict in the English penal system. He gets assigned to a new "open prison" where inmates are expected to work and learn a trade. He begins gardening and gets his crew the opportunity to enter a national gardening show. Based on that prediction, you probably know exactly where this is going, and how it will end. And in spite of that, I still liked it. A feel good comedy/drama that doesn't pretend to be more than it is, and offers a look at regular people learning how to be regular people. Very much in the same flavor as Saving Grace.
3 stars (out of 5)

Girl Most Likely

Kristin Wiig is an aspiring playwright in New York who falls on hard times. She moves back home with her mom to New Jersey (against her will) and begins to rediscover her passion and talent. Average, Average, Average.
2 stars (out of 5)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

I have been looking forward to this film (which is often a recipe for disaster) based on one preview. It looked good. And I do like Luc Besson and his aesthetic. But wow. The story is pretty average: a couple of galactic cops get involved in a conspiracy/coverup that could cause a species to go extinct. Spoiler alert: they save the day. But with this average story, a visual feast is served up that is at once extravagant and stunning while at the same time being appropriate. That is, sometimes extravagant can pull you straight out of the story and cause you to look at the film. Here, the colors and aliens and scenes and technology all fits directly into the story and becomes an essential part drawing you into the story and what you are watching. So much so that you probably need to watch it a few times to truly grasp the scope of what is being presented. I loved this. Best sci-fi I have seen in quite a long time. By far the best film so far this summer.

In the "I have to mention it" category: Why do storytellers make silly and completely unnecessary scientific mistakes? Here, the Alpha space station is too big to continue orbiting earth and is sent on its way to become an independent entity. This story picks up several hundred years later, when the Alpha station is in the middle of nowhere, having travelled --and I quote "700 million miles". Ugh! 700 million miles puts the thing about 10AU, or around Saturn's orbit. Not out in some interstellar space. Completely unnecessary... and lazy...

5 stars (out of 5)

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Assignment

Sigourney Weaver is a crazy doctor. Seems like she wanted to be Hannibal. But she doesn't even come close. Instead, she comes across as if she is reading a monologue from a teleprompter. Michelle Rodriquez is an assassin. She has been changed by said crazy doctor and now wants to find out what is going on, and get revenge of course. In spite of some clever ideas, this was an awful implementation. I can see how someone read the script and said "Cool". Skip it.
2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

They call me Jeeg

Italian superhero movie very much in the vein of the Danish Antboy from a few years ago. A regular guy -- in this case Enzo, a small time criminal -- gets chased by the cops and to escape, ducks under a barge. In the process, he submerges himself in some radioactive material and discovers over the next few days that he has super strength. Meanwhile, he meets a slightly crazy, cartoon obsessed woman who is sure he is a superhero, even though she knows nothing about his power. We get to watch the development of Enzo's morality, and the evolution of his character's character. And throughout, I felt like I was really watching the discovery of something new. No special effects, low budget, and a true superhero film. Loved it.
4 stars (out of 5)

Glow (Serial)

Set in the 80's, a misfit group of women show up for a casting call for a women's wrestling show. Well, they show up for a casting call... they don't really know what it is for. So obviously it is a group of 2nd tier, desperate for work types. The director is "famous" for his high concept, political satire, horror films, and is just doing this to get his next film funded. Each of the women has her own story and much of the fun of this series is the reveal of that story through interactions both in and out of the ring. When the women realize that wrestling is the same (really) as soap operas, they get into the character development and story line of the show they are developing. The feel (early 80's) is spot on, without going over the top on the hair spray or blaxploitation. But everything is there. Nice little series.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Smoke and Mirrors

Spanish language film based on true events of espionage and theft in the 90's. A police chief in Madrid has been embezzling money (a lot of money) and needs help laundering and hiding his cash as well as with avoiding capture. A former intelligence agent who has been disgraced works (for a fee) to help the chief solve his problems. The story is told by The Pilot, who is an assistant to the intelligence officer. A fascinating story, and plenty of plot twists and turns as money moves and people hide. A rather slow developing story, which gives it a definite European storytelling feel, but engaging and fun, nonetheless.

3 stars (out of 5)

Friday, July 14, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

Caesar is back, and trying to show his humanity. He wants to end the war with the humans and just be left alone. He emphasizes this in the opening scene by letting a few soldiers go, asking for truce. Obviously this doesn't work. The apes are hunted down while they are trying to escape to the desert and held prisoner by Woody Harrelson. So Caesar and his crew need to figure out a way to escape and protect the apes. What I found most disturbing: the slaughter of apes during warfare. Strange that I had a visceral reaction to this, but felt nothing about the same depiction of human soldiers dying in battle. What I found most annoying: obviously bad military tactics by supposed military tacticians. An entire convoy being followed by "the enemy" by only 100 yards, but not being spotted, or standing tall in a backlit area to "spy" on enemy encampments. Seems not too difficult to fix in script. What I found most enjoyable: Bad Ape. My first reaction was Jar-Jar Binks, but his was a good implementation of silly/clever humor. Excellent finish to the trilogy.

4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bad Guys (Serial)

A one season Korean version of The Breakout Kings. Tough cop Gu Tak Oh is brought out of suspension to lead a special investigative team consisting of three criminals, a gangster, an assassin and a serial killer. Each has his specialty, and each has his own demons to exorcise. This is a well made series and does a better job at using the individual talents of the criminals that the US version did. Also has a season long story arc that includes hidden history and tension between the team members. Love the action, the look, the grittiness. I also love that this series is not afraid to have its characters explore deep ideas about justice. These are police and criminals, and they are openly questioning and thinking about the nature of justice, the role of violence in their "careers" and the possible fallacy of violence as justice. Well done.

4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spiderman: Homecoming

Fortunately we got the actual origin story as a cameo in Captain America: Civil War so this film jumped in with that out of the way and becomes a "development story". Peter Parker is an over eager hero who just wants to help. He keeps getting brushed off by the big guys (Tony Stark) so he keeps pushing and pushing, until he gets in too deep. The fun part here is all the 2/3 well done stunts (swinging on a web that is just a bit too long so his feet drag on the ground) that show Parker is still learning. He is also not very good at making excuses for his absences, or coming up with the one liners that all superheroes have. He is just an teenager trying to be cool and figure himself out. Because of this ordinary guy portrayal, we really connect with Parker in a way that we never will with Thor or Captain America or Superman or...

4 stars (out of 5)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Golden Cane Warrior

Indonesian martial arts has a different feel than Chinese or Korean. Here the guru of the Golden Cane house is dying and passes her "birthright" on to one of her students. However, the other students are not so happy. They take over the house and begin the hunt. The true Golden Cane warrior seeks help and trains so that she can restore her house to its original purpose.

3 stars (out of 5)

Baby Driver

Baby is a 20-something kid who has been the getaway driver for Kevin Spacey and his heist crews. Baby has tinnitus from a childhood traumatic event, so always has music playing. In fact, his driving requires a soundtrack to be good. Baby meets a girl, tries to get out of the game, gets pulled back in and has to save the girl. Definitely an action, race film, but also felt a bit like a 90's rom-com with a pinch of noir thrown it. I liked this. Different that everything else out this summer.

4 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Swiss Army Man

Weird. Paul Dano is stranded on an island about to die. Dead Danielle Radcliffe washes ashore. The love that Dano shows for a companion brings Radcliffe "back to life". Or rather, the body utilizes some functions to be useful, hence the title. This is well acted, and really a clever storyline. But weird. It is one of those films that has a point to make, but I am not sure what is was. It didn't really make me thinking about my identity, or my values, or life choices, etc., but was strangely entranced as I watched. I suppose I am not sure what to think about this.

4 stars ?? (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt are a mother/daughter con team working on one last score. They are also in competition to show each other that they can manage things solo. Can't tell you how it ends because even I couldn't finish this...

1 star (out of 5)

Monday, July 3, 2017

Midnight Special

Remember The Happening? Sorry. Here a kid has special talent and can hear radio frequency. This entire movie is a road trip taking the kid from his cult upbringing to a field in the Florida panhandle. Surely something must happen along this road trip? No... oh, the kids eyes glow...

1 star (out of 5)