Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sniffer (Serial)

Season 2

Same cast as Season 1, but better in that there is a season long story arc that was missing in the first. Maybe even to a fault, resulting in some episodes being nearly completely connective. But again, our protagonist is arrogant, independent and brilliant. This gets him into trouble and saves the day. I like this character and the Russian Sherlock persona he plays.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard

Gotta say, I like Ryan Reynolds. Or at least, I like the characters he has been portraying and the tone of the films he has been starring in. But I tend to think that probably reflects a bit on him as a person as well. In this movie, he is a super compulsive former CIA operative who runs a protection agency. After a setback, he gets a call from his ex-girlfriend (interpol agent) to help with transporting an incarcerated hitman (Samuel L Jackson) across Europe to the Hague to be a witness at an international war crimes tribunal. In many ways, this is a classic buddy-cop film, with the two characters maintaining opposite personalities and continually grating on each other, but ultimately respecting their partner. Only the specific details that they are not partners or cops is dropped. The action sequences are fun, exciting and add new elements (a chase on boat, motorcycle and SUV through Amsterdam). It seemed strange at first, but it was right in line with irreverent Reynolds, that every so often, the action pauses for a heartfelt moment with an appropriately chosen 80's glam rock background song being played. In the end, this pacing made the difference between a frenetic action flick and an enjoyable action-comedy.
4 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Logan Lucky

Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play the Logan brothers, a couple of boys from West Virginia struggling along. They are not dumb, but not really bright either... and they are battling the Logan Family Curse of bad luck (Tatum has a bum leg and can't keep a job, Driver lost a hand in Iraq, various parents, uncles, cousins suffered similar fates of bad luck). Tatum has the idea (when he is fired from his job for said bum leg) to break into the cash safe at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and solve all their problems with a quick score. What follows is partially brilliant heist movie, partially hillbilly caricature dumb luck, sprinkled with enough missing details to allow the heist to actually happen. This is not the most precise presentation of a good heist, but it is fun, relying on a cast of odd characters that are completely over the top as individuals but somehow fit into the ensemble as normal. Quite fun.
4 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Legends (Serial)

Season 2

With Sean Bean playing Martin Odom, and MI-6 operative who can succsessfully pull off any legend (undercover assignment) so that he really has trouble knowing who the true Martin is. In this season, Martin is recovering from the trauma of the assassination of the director of the FBI (of which he is accused) and has amnesia from the trauma. So the entire season is about Martin working to discover who he is. Of course, this has to happen within the context of a major international crisis. And to tell the story, we get flashbacks to operations in Prague in 2001 which set the stage and directly affect the current operation in Prague. This is a good spy-thriller, with plenty of drama and intrigue and double agents and inter-agency "cooperation". And Bean does a good job of playing the super-spy as a regular, troubled guy.
4 stars (out of 5)

New in Town

Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. are the hate each other - love each other pair in this cheesy romcom. Zellweger is the Miami based corporate bigwig sent to Connick's Minnesota town to downsize/close his food processing plant. It's cold in Minnesota. They talk funny (caricature funny in this case) and have weird traditions. But it all grows on the Miami corporate bigwig and she becomes one of the crew. Oh gosh.
2 stars (out of 5)

Saturday, August 12, 2017


The story of an army infantry unit stationed in Iraq during the occupation. The protagonist Private Ocre, only signed up for the reserves in June 2001 as a way to pay for college. Then he found himself in Iraq, and not a fighter. But with his unit, he is sent into a remote village to help distribute water and fix a pumping station after US forces accidentally destroyed it. This portrays well the struggle that Ocre goes through as a soldier, and as a human. It displays the brutality and the ugly reality of war on both the aggressor and the occupied people. I suppose the moral of the story is, there are no winners in war.
4 stars (out of 5)

The Glass Castle

Based on a book of the same name, which is based on the true story of this family. The prime characters in the family are daughter Jeanette (Brie Larson) and father Rex (Woody Harrelson), who are kindred souls in this family. Rex is philosophically opposed to the stifling order and rules of society and raises his family to avoid such. This means that they move often, go without food more than should be, are "homeschooled", etc. Rex often copes with these stresses by getting drunk and spending any money the family does have on alcohol. But Jeanette always believes in him and in what he aspires to. But as each of the 4 kids gets older, they each leave to go to school and "abandon" Rex. The story is told in alternating current/flashback mode, with current being in New York where Jeanette lives, is a gossip column writer for the newspaper, and is about to get married. Her parents are squatting in a vacant building on the lower east side and she continues to have interactions with them, as she is recalling her upbringing. It really is a fascinating story, and thought provoking critique of how to educate children to be creative, free thinkers. This is clearly a case bordering on neglect (often on the other side of the border), but are there elements of this lifestyle that could be integrated into every childhood: the dreaming, education by reading, exploration of wilderness, etc. Well made, and great to watch.
4 stars (out of 5)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Wolf Warrior

Since Wolf Warrior II is in theaters now, and is crushing at the Chinese box office, I thought I would first check out the original (which also crushed). Chinese special forces sniper Leng Feng is disciplined after an operation where he disobeys orders, but ultimately gets the bad guy. In military prison, he is unrepentant for his decision, and as a result is offered a place on the Wolf squadron. This is the special forces group that is used in military training games to act as the enemy. In some ways, this squad gets no respect (they never actually fight), but in other ways they take pride in not losing to the "real army". In the middle of one training exercise, Leng Feng finds himself and a small group of comrades attacked by foreign mercenaries (B-movie acting level American soldiers) with live fire. Leng Feng's history is coming back to haunt him and the honor of the entire Chinese army is at stake. This is a pretty good movie, and I would say that it fits pretty well into my preconceived notion of what state approved propaganda should look like from the Chinese perspective. Maybe this is just me reading in, but there is a definite nationalist point of view here. I wonder if it is any different when a Chinese audience watches Jason Bourne, or Independence Day.
3 stars (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Newsroom (Serial)

Season 1

Aaron Sorkin clearly wrote this, and if you are a fan of West Wing, you will be a fan of this show. Jeff Daniels plays the conservative, republican news anchor of a cable news show during 2010-2012. This is during the development of the Tea Party and cable news increasingly affecting politics. Daniels is on a "mission to civilize" where his news show will actually inform people about facts and educate them, not just tell them what to believe based on rhetoric and preconceived bias/fear based reporting. The entire show is (watching in 2017) a big soapbox that seems to have been quite prescient. Of course there are lots of office politics and romance and tension to go along with the political posturing and elitism, but that is what Sorkin is good at.
4 stars (out of 5)


The story of a New York Jewish fixer. Norman Oppenheimer (played by Richard Gere) is a scheming businessman whose only role is make connections and help people out. He is the male version of the stereotypical Jewish mother who shows up at your door with a to-go lunch because you don't eat enough and then stays around to complain that you don't visit enough. Norman makes a chance encounter with the guy who turns out to become the Israeli Prime Minister a few years later. This connection is finally Norman's big break. But can he handle it? I found this to be charming, in that annoying, he gets on my nerves just watching, sort of way. And Norman himself never (until the very end) seems to "get it", and even then, doesn't get all of it. Can something be enjoyable and grating at the same time?
3 stars (out of 5)