Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Frozen II


The snow queen Elsa hears a voice calling her from the northern enchanted forest.  Elsa, along with her sister Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven travel north to uncover this mystery and a dark secret from their past.

I was pleasantly surprised that Frozen II is a musical, but I should have known this because the original Frozen surprised me in the same way.  At first, I was very impressed, but a couple of the later songs fall flat.  Overall the music is competent and does a good job of conveying the emotions of the characters, but none of the songs are particularly memorable, and none rise to the level of "Let It Go" or "Summer" from the first film.  I get the impression that the movie is trying very hard to reach the musical level of its predecessor, but falls short.

Visually this an amazing movie to look at.  The story is reasonably good, but it has the problem that it keeps promising a big payoff in the end because the characters are supposed to be journeying toward something wonderful, but the payoff is only just okay, which is what I suspected would happen.  The movie also throws in an environmental political message that seems a little out of place in a Disney film.  The story is also a bit convoluted because there are many storylines and characters to keep track of, so it wasn't clear to me if it all made sense.

Olaf, the snowman, is used for comic relief, and this works, but I found him more charming in the first movie.  Kristoff and Sven are also used as comic relief, but they feel underutilized because they had more important roles in the first film

Overall, Frozen 2 feels like a pretty good movie that is also visually very impressive, but it also feels like it didn't reach its full potential.

I think the problem with sequels is that it is hard to recapture the same magic.  Movies have release dates and production schedules that they have to meet, so the movies are only as good as they can make them in the time frame that they have.

Rating:  B+.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Why Animators HATE The Lion King

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4Pl-y4-bjA

I like the movie.  The original is better, but it is entertaining and beautiful to look at.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Disney+

It has taken me a while to parse through all that is available on the Disney streaming service, but after parsing out the 80 to 90% that is junk, what is left is a big disappointment. It is true that the service offers everything related to Star Wars, Marvel and Disney, but almost everything worth seeing is something that I have seen already. I am left with a literal handful of good movies that I have not yet seen, plus a handful of good movies that I have seen but might want to see again, and a handful of borderline films that I might give a chance just because there is nothing else.

Having signed up for the promotion where I paid in advance for three years at just $4 per month, it is questionable as to if I am going to get my money's worth. Maybe new content will come along, for example, I know that there are going to be some new Star Wars series, but I expected this to be more like the Netflix streaming service, and not just a massive collection of every bad movie and bad TV show Disney has ever made.

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Best wishes,
John Coffey

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Disney+ streaming service



So let's talk for a minute about the Disney+ streaming service. They claimed that they would have a ton of content, like 500 movies available at launch, for $7 per month. This seems like a price deliberately designed to bury Netflix, which is the world's most popular streaming service.

I took the promotion they offered a couple of months ago, where if you pay for three years, it is only $4 per month. I'm glad I did, because I counted 580 movies, and 90% of them are junk. Disney has everything they have ever done on here, like "The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes" from the 1960s, and "20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" from the 1950s. (I'm told that this movie might actually be good, but I remember seeing it when I was 10 years old.)

However, through the sheer mass of titles, there is still plenty of stuff worth watching. The remaining 10% contains some of the best stuff from Disney, Marvel, and Fox, although I have already seen many of these titles. It is diamonds in the rough. Just like on Netflix, I'll be spending much time figuring out what to watch.



The Mandalorian on the Disney streaming service is good. I found myself thinking that it is just a routine western, but it is really a great mix of western and sci-fi. It is not a perfect sci-fi show, but it feels like a perfect western with plenty of sci-fi thrown in. 

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate


On the surface, Terminator: Dark Fate seems like an example of everything wrong with movie-making in the last five years:  Take a 35-year-old franchise and reboot it with new heroes, most of which are female who seem far more capable than they should be, throw in a few subtle political messages and then make the movie with essentially the same plot that we have already seen.  One critic called the movie "garbage" because the female lead takes down two men twice her size simultaneously in hand to hand combat, as if the laws of physics have no meaning.  

Dark Fate is essentially a remake of Terminator II Judgement Day, but not as good.  The movie has heart, but not as much.  It has suspense, but it doesn't achieve the fantastic level of dread that Terminator II did.

However, Terminator: Dark Fate still has much to offer.  It has some of the best action scenes of the entire franchise.  These scenes are not perfect, because they are a bit too frenetic, too dark, and a little over the top, but they kept me riveted to my seat.  The movie also offers a few new twists on the old formula.

It is easier to appreciate this movie if we look at the history of the Terminator movies.

"The Terminator" in 1984 was a great low budget science fiction horror film.  Terminator II took this story to a much higher level and higher budget in 1991.  However, that was the last time the franchise was really great.  

Every movie since then has attempted to continue the story while also serving as a reboot that would allow the franchise to move forward.  In this regard, all the previous films failed.  I like the mostly forgettable Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and the somewhat better Terminator 4 Salvation (2009), but the movies had mixed reviews and the franchise failed to recapture its former glory.  Then came Terminator Genisys in 2015 that completely flopped.  The story was a dud.

Therefore, since these films are based on time travel, Terminator: Dark Fate continues the story after Terminator II in a way that completely throws away the last three movies.  This is actually a good thing because it is entertaining enough to allow the franchise to move forward again.  

The way the movie achieves this reboot might rub some people the wrong way.  There are a number of people who dislike this film.  Therefore, it seems likely to fail as a reboot.  What matters to me is that the movie is plenty entertaining despite a few minor flaws.  This is like Terminator Salvation, which I thought was pretty good, but not everyone liked it as much as I did.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Rouge One: A Star Wars Story

Every Star Wars film that I have ever seen has been so good that it compelled me to see it a second time within a week or less.  I probably would have done the same with Rogue One, except that I had a nasty virus for a couple of weeks.  I also felt like the movie didn't have the same rewatchabiltiy as previous Star Wars movies, so there was no need to hurry back to the theater and see it a second time.  I waited five weeks, and even then, going into it I felt like the movie might not be that compelling the second time around.

I was wrong.  What drives Rogue One is very strong plot and intense action.  In my original review, I wrote that the movie was not strong on characters except for the main character of Jyn Erso.  This isn't quite correct either.  Rogue One has a ton of interesting characters, but because there are so many of them, most of them don't get that much screen time.

Rogue One is a Star Wars movie with a strong slant toward traditional war movies.  This makes it different from the previous films, but every Star Wars film has had its own unique flavor.  This means that every new film has taken the fans by surprise, with a few of them inevitably being disappointed because the movie was not what they expected.  However, this speaks to the strength of the Star Wars movies that they have provided us with so many unique films.

I always feel better about these movies the second time around, because any flaws are easier to ignore on the second watching.  The previous film, The Force Awakens, had the most flaws of any Star Wars movie, but there is also a great deal of good stuff in the film, so it seemed to get better every time I watched it.

Rogue One is surprisingly beautiful.  We see shots of planets that are stunning in their detail and beauty, plus everything else in the movie looks gorgeous.  Movies like this are an incredible technical achievement.  A generation ago, a movie that looked this amazing would have blown audiences away, even if the story was terrible, which fortunately, it isn't.

I am revising my rating of the film from "B+" to "A-". 

The Lion King


The 1994 hand-drawn animated version of The Lion King is nearly perfect.  The animation is beautiful, with most of it having a 3D look.  The characters are great and the voice acting by Matthew Broadrick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Nathan LaneErnie Sabella, Whoopi Goldberg, and Cheech Marin all give those characters a very distinctive sound.  The music, which effectively pulls at our emotions, is so wonderful that it is like another character in the movie.

The only part of the original film that I did not like as much is the musical number "I just can't wait to become King."  This sequence is drawn in a 2D style like a classic Saturday morning cartoon.  Although it isn't a particularly bad sequence, its target audience seems to be just for kids.

The 2019 remake has many of the qualities that made the original good, but it also is lacking in many areas.  The insistence that everything be photorealistic means that the movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at, but it also means that the characters are far less expressive than their hand-drawn counterparts.  For example, the character of Scar had charisma in the original, but in the remake he just comes across as mean.  I don't think that the voices are as stylish either, although Seth Rogan does a good job as Pumbaa.  Why they didn't use the original cast?  Only Jame Earl Jones reprises his role.

The music had a powerful impact on the original.  It is strangely more subdued in the remake.  The star of the new movie, and by far the best reason to see it, is the computer animation.  It is a sight to behold.

Hand-drawn animation is expensive, so the original at 88 minutes feels slightly too short.  It is a very compact movie with scenes and dialog taking no more time than they need to in order to convey the story.  The remake is 30 minutes longer, with extra and more mature dialog everywhere.  Many of the scenes are longer.  Some of this is nice, but parts of it also feel unnecessary.  The final confrontation with Scar is too long and gives the impression of being more violent.

There are little things done in the original that weren't done in the remake, like Pumba picking up Simba with his horns, or Pumba getting stuck under a tree root while being chased by Nala.  I found myself wondering if this was just a technological limitation of the computer animation?

Should you see the 2019 remake of the Lion King?  Absolutely.  It is a wonderful movie to look at.  At times I felt like I was watching a beautiful nature show that just happens to be The Lion King.  However, the original is a better overall experience.

Rating:

The Lion King (1994):  A.
The Lion King (2019):  B+.

The Lion King (2019) has just a 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  My favorite movie critic, Richard Roeper, gives the movie 3.5 out of 4 stars.

Sully

If you are looking for a movie to watch this weekend, then look no further.  Although Hell or High Water would be an excellent choice, my first choice would be Sully.  It is hard to image that Clint Eastwood could have made a better film about "The Miracle On the Hudson" or its pilot, Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.

On January 15th, 2009. US Airways Flight 1549 Airbus A320-214 took of from New York's LaGuardia airport.  Three minutes into the flight, the plane struck a flock of Canada geese and lost power in both engines.  Four minutes later Captain Sullenberger managed to safely land the plane in the Hudson River.  Fast response by nearby ships and local rescue forces helped save the passengers and crew.

The film focuses heavily on the investigations conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board, which initially tried to blame Captain Sullenberger for not returning the plane to the airport.  Meanwhile, the press and the general public were treating Sullenberger as a hero.  Tom Hanks does a marvelous job playing "Sully" as a man conflicted after the crash.

News stories that gain national attention like this one become part of our national identity.  As a result, we feel connected to these events.  Therefore it is easy to feel connected to the film, just like watching movies about 9-11.  These kinds of films are moving, and I am glad that Clint Eastwood did such a good job on this one.

Compared to Hell or High Water, which is so negative in its view of America, it is nice to get an uplifting film about an American hero who saved the lives of 155 people just by doing his job to the best of his ability.

Rating:  A-

Ad Astra


Ad Astra is a science fiction movie that works as entertainment.  It is about a man on a personal journey to find himself, and to find his long-missing father who might be endangering planet Earth.  The story is part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Interstellar, part Gravity, part First Man, and part Apocalypse Now, all of which are better movies.  There is even one scene that reminded me of The Martain.  As such, the movie feels very much recycled, but it is also just original enough to be different, and the drama is good enough to make us care.

There are a few plot elements that don't make logical sense and these are a big problem.  The movie goes off the rails midway through, where the main character does something not believable, and as a result he gets people killed.  These deaths are more of plot contrivance to show the main character alone, and they are ignored for the rest of the movie.

There is much world-building that could have taken place, but instead the world these people live in is entirely left to our imagination.

Ad Astra has been described as the most realistic space movie ever.  I disagree.  That distinction really belongs to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  When it comes to the laws of physics, there are times when Ad Astra just doesn't care.  For a science fiction movie, it is pretty shaky on the science.  It seems to ignore what we know about orbital mechanics.  The film also portrays communication across billion miles as nearly instantaneous, when it takes hours for the round trip communication.  There is a scene late in the movie where Newton's Third Law of Motion is mostly ignored.  (I should also point out that nuclear explosions in space don't have shock waves.)

Brad Pitt's performance is really good, and if it wasn't for this the movie might have bombed.  Most of the other actors are pretty forgettable, except for Tommy Lee Jones whose brief appearance is also really good.

So the film seems to care more about the personal story and less about whether it is logical or makes sense.  This can work, but I find myself asking, "Is this the best they can do?"  The film's original budget was 80 million dollars, but test audiences didn't like it, so they did $20 million in reshoots.  Given that they spent that much money, couldn't the story and the science make more sense?

The difference between not getting all the elements right and getting them right is the difference between a movie that we won't remember five years from now and a classic that people will be watching in 40 years time.

I think that there are many people in Hollywood who are right-brain thinkers, which is great for creativity and artistry, but not particularly great for logic.  As a result, we get a science fiction movie that is more about emotion than it is about science.

Rating: B+.

Ad Astra has an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Brad Pitt is charming in any role.  If you want to see much better Brad Pitt movies, watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Fury


Rocketman


Rocketman is probably the best movie that I will see this year.  It starts with Elton John checking himself into rehab around 1990, whereupon the film shortly breaks into song.  This is surprising, but it seems appropriate, if not downright brilliant, that a biopic about a musician should be a musical.  The movie has a habit of breaking into elaborate musical numbers when you least expect it, like when Elton John tries to kill himself.  However, for a musician as flashy as Elton John, this is the perfect way to tell the story.  I just kept thinking about how brilliant this all was.

In rehab, Elton John tells everyone just how very screwed up he is, and then he recounts the story of his life telling how he got that way.  This is where the movie shines, showing his boyhood living in public housing and his troubled relationship with an uncaring father and somewhat distant mother.  The young Reginald Dwight (his real name) quickly learns that he has a talent for the piano and is showing great musical prowess by his teens.  In the 1960's he struggled to make a living as a musician, but things begin to improve when he meets and teams up with Bernie Taupin, who was his lifelong collaborator and wrote most of the lyrics to Elton John's songs.   However, in 1970 he makes an appearance at the famous West Hollywood nightclub, the Troubadour, which he was almost too nervous to do.  There Elton becomes a huge hit and his career immediately takes off.  

All this success doesn't make Elton John any less screwed up.  His drug and alcohol problems get worse until finally, his close friends are urging him to get help.

The movie doesn't shy away from Elton John's homosexuality, depicting his relationship with his lover and manager John Reid.

My one complaint is that the end of the movie shows Elton John doing a music video post-rehab.  The movie plays loose with the facts, because the music video, "I'm still standing", is actually from 1983.  The only problem here is that the music video looks fuzzy like we are watching it on a television set.  This takes us out of the moment.

The film fails to tell us very much about Elton John post-rehab.  It is like the rest of his life is encapsulated into a minute of text and pictures at the end of the movie.  This misses out on possible dramatic moments showing how much better his life was after recovery.

Prior to the fuzzy music video, I was going to give the movie an "A+", because it is that brilliant.  In addition, the film could have given us more, if not a great deal more, about Elton John's life.  It is not like his life ended when he got out of rehab.

Rating:  A

Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4 is more than sufficiently entertaining, but it doesn't cover much ground that we haven't seen before.  What is different is the introduction of the character "Forky", which is a toy made from recycled trash.  Forky suddenly comes alive and is not very comfortable with his new existence as a toy.  He thinks that he is trash, which technically he is.  This raises uncomfortable questions about how life works in the Toy Story universe, such as why are the toys alive at all?  Strangely enough, the movie even asks that question, without giving us an answer.  Is the film trying to get us to think about something?  We could raise this line of thinking to a much higher existential level and wonder why we exist at all?

In the first film, we accepted that the toys are alive as part of the magic.  The Toy Story movie was a new technology that felt magical.  Toy Story 4 is darker, similar to the third film, so somehow the magic isn't quite the same anymore.

Part of the problem is that the story is just not as strong.  The first film gave us great character development that came out of a conflict that really seemed to matter and was resolved in a very satisfying way.  Here, not so much. The movie is mostly an action film with a touch of character development on the side.  Fortunately, the movie also knows how to touch our hearts, but again, this not that different from what we have seen before. 

It feels like the movies have run their course because they have already done everything that they can do.  Despite this, the ending leaves open some questions about what is going to happen to these characters that may require yet another movie to resolve.

Rating:  B.

Son of Saul


Sonderkommando were Jews who were forced to work in the Nazi extermination camps.  Their primary duty was to dispose of the bodies.  In 1944, a group of Sonderkommando staged a violent revolt at Auschwitz that was put down by the Nazis.  The Hungarian film Son of Saul takes place during these events.

The movie opens with trainload of Jews arriving at Auschwitz and then being immediately sent to the extermination chambers. Against his will, Saul helps in every part of this process. The movie makes it clear that any Sonderkommando who does not do what he is told is immediately executed. Saul seems to have shut down all his emotions as a way of surviving the horror that surrounds him. Then he recognizes a boy who is killed as his illegitimate son. From this point he makes it his personal mission to get a proper Jewish burial for his son. He hides the body, and then searches desperately for a Rabbi to perform the ceremony.

This is a unique film that doesn't feel like anything I have seen before.  The movie tells a very personal story.  The camera almost never leaves Saul.  Much of the film seems to take place in real time.  We spend half of the film looking at the back of Saul's head as he moves from place to place.  As Saul moves around the camp, we witness one horror after another, most of which are in the periphery, or barely offscreen.  Things happen that are never explained.  There is a mild sense of chaos everywhere in this story.  

I find the subject matter depressing, but not the movie.  The story creates a kind of suspense as Saul tries to find a way to bury his son, and as the revolt builds to fruition.  The film gives us a different perspective on the Holocaust, and it is intensely personal.  Many people would not be able to watch Son of Saul because the Holocaust is too horrible to contemplate, but this feels like a story worth watching.

Rating:  A

Steve Jobs

The news article Basically, nobody went to see the new Steve Jobs movie seems prophetic because I was the only person in the theater watching the movie.  

This is an amazing biopic, but at first I couldn't figure out why I like the movie so much.   The film is about 98% conversation, almost all of which is people arguing with each other.   What makes the film interesting is that everything proceeds at a rapid pace, which means the audience is forced to pay attention to keep up.  When the film was done, I felt like I had just seen something wonderful, but I wasn't sure why.

I doubt that any of the conversations in this film took place exactly as depicted in the movie, but the conversations serve a purpose to convey a great deal of information about people and historical events.

The movie throws technical terms around that would go over the heads of most people, but for a computer hacker like me, this was gravy.  There is a certain joy in being able to understand all of this.

Really the movie is about relationships, specifically how Steve Jobs related to everyone else.   The way Steve Jobs related to everyone is to be a jerk, mostly by lashing out at people, but at the same time, he seemed to draw everyone toward him with the power of his personality and his vision.   Steve Jobs seemed like a man who thought that he was so far above everybody else that he didn't need to take time to be nice to people, so the key is to realize that the only thing he only cared about was is make his vision a reality.  Had Steve Jobs been any different, would the world be a lesser place today?

Steve Jobs vision was always ahead of the technology of the day.   All the early computers his companies created were underpowered, lacking in memory, not very useful for anything productive, and way overpriced.  This is why the Macintosh and the NeXT computers were commercial failures.   It wasn't until Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 that the cost of technology had come down enough to make Jobs' vision a runaway commercial success.

This is one of the best movies of the year and nobody is watching it.   However, this is an amazing movie.  I want to see it again.

Rating: A

Steve Jobs has an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Legion


Charlie: "When I was a little girl, my mother would remind me each night before bed, to open up my heart to God, for He was kind, merciful, and just. Things changed when my father left a few years later, leaving her to raise me and my brothers in a place on the edge of the Mojave Desert. She never talked of a kind and merciful God again. Instead, she spoke of a prophecy. Of a time when all the world would be covered in darkness and the fate of mankind would be decided. One night, I finally got the courage to ask my mother why God had changed, why He was so mad at His children. 'I don't know,' she said, tucking the covers around me, 'I guess He just got tired of all the bullshit.'"

Legion is not your typical horror movie.  God sends an army of angels to wipe out mankind.  One archangel, Michael, rebels and tries to save mankind.  The story goes that if one special child, a savior figure, can be saved, then so can humanity.  The showdown to save or destroy mankind takes place at a run down "gas and eat" on the edge of the Mojave desert.

Michael (The Archangel): "The last time God lost faith in Man, He sent a flood. This time, He sent what you see outside."
Percy Walker: "Are you saying this is the apocalypse?"
Michael (The Archangel): "I'm saying this is an extermination."

I love the performances by Paul Bettany as Michael, Kevin Durand as Gabriel, Dennis Quaid, Charles Dutton, Tyrese Gibson, and Lucas Black.  The movie is also full of great quotes:  

Percy Walker: "When I was a kid, my father would sit by my bed every night before I went to sleep.  And he says to me, 'Percy, if you don't wake up tomorrow, if it turns out that today is your last day on earth.  Will you be proud of what you've done in this life?  Because if you ain't, you better start getting square.'"

Bob Hanson: "You know this is crazy, right? I mean... I don't even believe in God."
Michael (The Archangel): "Well, that's just fine, Bob. He doesn't believe in you either."

Michael (The Archangel):  "When God chose your kind as the object of His love, I was the first in all of heaven to bow down before you. My love, my hope for mankind was no less than His. But I have watched you trample that gift. I have watched you kill each other over race and greed... waging war over dust and rubble and the words in old books. And yet, in the midst of all this darkness, I see some people who will not be bowed. I see some people who will not give up, even when they know all hope is lost. Some people, who realize being lost is so close to being found. I see you, Jeep. Fifteen years old, your mother leaves. Your father withdraws from the world and you spend the next five years of your young life helping him find his way home. You love a woman who bears the child of another and you love her with no thought of yourself, even though you know she may never love you the way you love her. You, Jeep... you are the reason I still have faith."

Gabriel (The Archangel): "This is not your test, Michael. How dare you presume to know His heart?"
Michael (The Archangel): [putting a hand to his chest] "Because He made this one. And it tells me He shouldn't lose faith now."

Gabriel (The Archangel):  "I would not have shown you such mercy."
Michael (The Archangel): "I know. That's why you failed Him."

When I compare Legion to another apocalyptic horror film, The Mist, I think that Legion is a hundred times better.  Both movies belong to a genre of movies called Siege Films, where a group of people is inside a house or a building trying to defend themselves from something evil outside.  This may have started with westerns, but one of the most famous examples is Night of the Living Dead.  Another famous example is Assault on Precinct 13.

Legion's showdown in an old gas station/restaurant also reminded me of an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer called "Spiral".

I think that the film has shades of Terminator, with the end of the world theme and the way the archangel Michael arrived on earth reminded me of how Kyle Reese arrived in 1984.

Rating B+.  Why it is only 19% or Rotten Tomatoes, I can't understand.

The movie has spawned a new TV series which I like.

Fury


Tank veteran Bill Batts thinks that the movie Fury is very authentic, but can't show the full horror of war.  Really?  Fury is about the most horrific war movie I have ever seen.  The war violence is intense.  The last quarter of the film is one very long battle.  Watching the film is a deeply visceral experience.  Maybe this is why many critics didn't praise the film; some have criticized it for glorifying war and violence.

Fury follows a five-man tank crew as the Allies made the final push into Germany.  The tank is commanded by a battled hardened staff sergeant, Don "Wardaddy" Collier, played brilliantly by Brad Pitt.  Much of the movie centers around the relationship between Wardaddy and a very green new recruit, Norman, who isn't quite ready yet to face the horrors of war.

It seems to me that the movie has a political agenda where it portrays American soldiers in an unfavorable light.  Few in this film have any regard for morality, even as they quote scripture and talk about salvation.  In two scenes, soldiers execute an unarmed prisoner.  Maybe one of the prisoners had it coming.  The other soldiers regard these murders as amusing.  They also take sadistic delight in seeing the enemy burn alive.  In another scene, Wardaddy and Norman break into an apartment where two young German ladies are living.  Wardaddy gives the girls some food and they share a meal together, but there is an obvious tension in the room:  There is the implied expectation that one of the girls will have to have sex, willing or not.  The younger of the two ladies falls for Norman and they walk off to the bedroom together.  Everything is casual and amicable until the rest of the tank crew barge in.  The remaining crew are boorish, frighten the ladies and ruin the most peaceful moment of the movie.  Some critics called this the best part of the movie, perhaps because they also have a negative impression of American soldiers, but this particular moment in the film I found grating.

This negative portrayal of American soldiers I don't think is realistic.  There may be a few bad apples, but American soldiers are well disciplined and professional.  Most have a strong sense of morality, if not compassion.

On my second viewing of Fury, everything made sense.  The bad behavior seems insignificant against the backdrop of mass human slaughter that the movie presents to us.  I felt like I was watching history, accurate or not.  At the very least the movie is an interesting history lesson about tank warfare.

Brad Pitt's performance as Wardaddy, as I said, is brilliant, but also very macho.  I think that this is why some people weren't happy with the film.

In the 1940's war movie Sahara, a tank crew decides to make a stand against impossible odds.  The same thing happens in Fury.  I don't think that the crew would have made this decision knowing that they certainly would be killed.  As Tank veteran Bill Batts points out, it is unrealistic to think that they could hold out against a Battalion of  Waffen SS troops.  However, it made for a great final act.

In the final shot of Cool Hand Luke, an aerial view of a cross-shaped intersection is shown as a way of letting the audience know that someone died.  The final shot of Fury copies this technique.

Did I mention that watching the movie is a deeply visceral experience?  The young green recruit, Norman, is so affected by the horrors of war that he becomes a very different person in just a couple of days.  The audience feels this change and identifies with it.

Rating: A

If you can get past the unpleasant subject matter, this is a very brilliant movie.  Fury has a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Right Stuff

When The Right Stuff was released in 1983 it was not a commercial success despite high praise from critics.  There was maybe a sense by audiences that it was too overtly political or patriotic, which overtly it isn't.  However, the movie found some success in VHS and DVD sales.

This is essentially three stories:  The story of Chuck Yeager, the story of the Mercury "7" astronauts, and the story of the media and political circus over the early space program.  

The film doesn't pull any punches.  It likes to make fun of just about everything.  The movie spends much more time satirizing Lyndon Johnson or showing the indignities the astronauts had to go through than it does any form for space exploration.  This is not a film that is particularly interested in science;  it is much more interested in the human drama of its characters.  This combination of humor with patriotic heroism ends up being the perfect mixture.  In fact, the three-hour film feels like a perfect movie and 32 years later it is just as watchable. 

This movie loves trivial details which give the film an authentic feel.  It could have been 30 minutes shorter, but then it would have lost some of the atmosphere it gained from focussing on minutia. 

The musical score is wonderful.

I regret waiting at least 20 years to watch it again.  This is the kind of movie that would be fun to watch again roughly every 10 years.

Had I made the movie I would have put more emphasis on science, but that might have been boring to most people.  Maybe future generations will wonder why there isn't more science in the film?

Rating:  A

Home

Home is a 2015 Dreamworks Animation film about highly technologically advanced aliens, called Boov, who invade and take over the Earth.  They aren't particularly bad aliens, and in fact they are kind of benign, but they need a place to hide from the Gorg who destroyed their homeworld.  Since the Boov are technologically advanced, and not particularly menacing, they relocate the entire human race to a very large reservation in Australia.  A girl named Tip manages to evade the forced relocation and meets a Boov named Oh, who through a series of unfortunate accidents has become a fugitive to his species.

Jim Parsons is magical as the voice of Oh.

From start to finish there is a running joke about how the Boov change color based on their mood.

The movie is intentionally silly, but it has something I like, which is charm.  I found it charming.  And witty.  At times the film is cheesy, but it is also intelligent and thought-provoking.  These qualities make for an uneven movie that is not perfect, but I found myself liking the characters and charmed by the whole concept.  

It makes for a pretty good kid's film about understanding outsiders and other people.  I think that most adults will like it if they give it a chance.  Even though it is a kid's film, there are many interesting science fiction concepts in the movie that are surprisingly good.

Unfortunately, Dreamworks can't hold a candle to Pixar.  Most of the movies produced by Dreamworks pale in comparison to Pixar, but this has to be one of my favorite Dreamworks films.  After seeing it a second time, I have gained a new appreciation for it. 

Rating:  A-

Home has a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  I think that the movie is vastly underappreciated.

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is many things, some of which work better than others.  As an action, superhero, and science fiction movie, it works really well.  As a personal drama showing the evolution of a character, it is not the best because the character doesn't really change that much, but it is good enough.  As a period piece about the 1990s, it is nothing special.  As a political statement pushing female empowerment, the movie tries too hard, making a handful of scenes feel contrived and slightly awkward.  

There are a number of times I wondered about the logic of the film.  A few things don't make sense, but the pace of the movie is so fast that I didn't have much time to think about them.  My biggest concern is that there is a huge plot twist about three-quarters of the way into the movie where I had a hard time accepting this twist given all the things we had just seen.  However, the characters accept this twist without question.  In addition, much of the resolution of the film happens way too easily.

The Captain Marvel character starts snarky, serious and powerful.  The character ends snarky, serious, and way more powerful.  As played by Brie Larson, this character doesn't have much emotional depth, nor does the character evolve on an emotional level.  However, her emotional range is just enough to sustain the movie.

There is a scene late in the film that is a compilation of quick flashbacks, which reminded me very strongly of a very similar scene in the final episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  Both scenes are about female empowerment, and it appears to me like the movie copied the TV show.

There is a ton of eye candy in this film.  There is so much going on that it is hard not to be entertained.  Despite a few flaws, the movie is really enjoyable.

Rating:  B+

Alita, Battle Angel

Alita is a battle cyborg left over from a long-ago war. In this world, cyborgs have a human head with a mechanical support structure that can be fitted onto a mechanical body. Alita is found unconscious in a junkyard by a human scientist, a doctor, who revives her. He provides her a custom body that was intended for his dead daughter. She has no memory of her previous life, so the doctor becomes her father figure. The pair bond, but Alita has a rebellious teenage spirit that wants to know more about the world. That world is ugly, with a corrupt power structure that takes advantage of the weak. She becomes friends with a teenage boy who has his own dark secrets. When she tries to stand up for what is right, she quickly makes many enemies who want to kill her.

Like the movie Elysium, the rich and powerful live in a city in the sky. Nobody gets to see them, but many people on the ground are trying to earn enough money to book passage to the sky city. However, it is not clear that anyone actually gets to go there.

Alita's role is similar to a few other teen-friendly movies, such as The Giver or The Fifth Wave, where teenage characters are trying to figure out their place in the world.  It doesn't help that Alita is very powerful, which causes her to be overconfident and go off half-cocked on some adventures that almost get her killed.

Watching this movie is an assault on the senses. It is like a videogame with plot and drama. The over the top action sequences would feel right at home in a Transformer's movie.

Alita, Battle Angel seems to have been written for the millennial generation. It is a mixture of many things that come together to make a complex, imperfect and sometimes confusing movie. Although it seems to know what it wants to be, the result is too teenager friendly, and less than a complete experience for adults.  I don't feel that the story reached a satisfying conclusion, but instead prepares us for a sequel.

There is much buzz on the internet comparing this movie to Captain Marvel.  Both movies feature a powerful female protagonist.  Neither character feels like they have earned the right to be so powerful.  The character of Alita displays more growth, which is why so many people on the internet have favored this movie over Captain Marvel.  However, Captain Marvel is a slightly more satisfying experience.

Rating:  B

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

This will be my final review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, having seen it for a second time.  It is the middle film of the third Star Wars trilogy.  This trilogy along with some anthology films are being made because Disney bought LucasFilm in 2012.

There is something special about seeing these movies a second time, because generally what happens is that any flaws that might exist become less noticeable or at least easier to ignore.  In addition, you notice new things with each viewing.  This was definitely true for watching Star Wars:  The Force Awakens, which had a few problems, not the least of which was that the story was somewhat a remake of the original Star Wars film, and the movie is so stingy in providing the audience with information that it made it feel like it was full of plot holes.  The other major complaint was that the main character, Rey, was so talented in everything that it made her feel like a "Mary Sue", which is a character that is so perfect in everything that the character becomes annoying or unbelievable.  However, especially on my third viewing of the film, I began to understand Star Wars:  The Force Awakens better and really appreciate what they were trying to do, even if it did have a few flaws.

Whereas Star Wars:  The Force Awakens in many ways copies the original film, A New Hope, the new movie contains some elements similar to both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  Having already copied many things from the entire first trilogy, the next movie might have to do something completely different.

After seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi two weeks ago, I watched videos on youtube every day where people complain about different aspects of this film.  A large number of people actually hate this movie, but these are usually the die-hard fans who feel the movie strayed too far from its roots by slightly changing the Star Wars mythology.  Plus the new film, like its predecessor, still has some plot holes.  Furthermore, even though people were counting on it to fill in information missing from the previous movie, it only provides enough information so that the audience can follow along.  There are questions that we may never get an answer to, such as the origin of Snoke, although it has been hinted that some of these questions may be answered in upcoming Star Wars books, which is an annoyingly clever form of marketing by Disney and Lucasfilm to get you to buy books.

There were three other major complaints about this film.  The first is in the way the character Luke Skywalker is handled because he is no longer a hero.  After experiencing a major setback, Luke abandons his friends, the rebellion, the Jedi Order, and The Force.  Even the actor Mark Hamill repeatedly complained about this.  The second complaint is that many people feel like the movie is hitting us over the head with Social Justice Warrior messages, which seems pretty obvious when watching it.  The third complaint is that the movie has too many moments of levity.  It is not a comedy, but it really pushes the humor, most of which works, but some of it falls flat.

There has been a kind of backlash.  The Rotten Tomatoes Critics Score is 91%, down from an initial 93%, but the audience score is only 52%.  That's a huge difference between critics and audience, although there has been some debate on how accurate the audience score is on Rotten Tomatoes.  More importantly, ticket sales are way down.

Given all the negativity, I about convinced myself Star Wars: The Last Jedi might not be worth a second viewing, despite feeling thoroughly entertained and emotionally moved the first time around.  I was worried that the flaws would stick out too much.

I have never been so happy to be wrong.  Sure the film has a few flaws, as many movies do, but the second time around is still very entertaining and emotionally moving.  This drowns out any plot holes, political agendas being pushed, or confusion the movie has caused the audience about the characters.

The one thing that the film does well is to defy all audience expectations, and that makes it more entertaining.  At one point Luke says to Rey, "This is not going to go the way you think."  Well, that describes the entire movie, which is maybe why some people have a problem with it.  To some extent, it breaks the mold of what a Star Wars movie could or should be, but the result is kind of special.  It is also rich in texture; I noticed way more things on the second viewing.  There is so much that happens that goes by very quickly.

The movie is a fitting send-off for the late Carrie Fisher.  Although she does not have a ton of screen time, it is enough, and her performance is more interesting than in the previous movie.  Her daughter, Billie Lourd, also has a more active role in this film.  The end credits have this dedication:

In loving memory of our princess,
Carrie Fisher.

The movie could have ended one minute sooner than it did, but the final scene is like a bonus, involving a young boy we saw earlier in the movie.  This scene is magical, but you can see the Disney influence in it.

Although Star Wars: The Last Jedi may stray a little from its Star Wars roots, every time it quickly returns to its roots making it feel like a pretty good Star Wars film.  As a die-hard Star Wars fan, the movie very much appeals to me, but it seems also to have been designed to appeal to a much wider audience, and not just the Star Wars fanatics.  As such, it is a very entertaining movie, but there are some noticeable flaws.  For this reason, I can't give it four stars.

Rating:  A-

P.S.  Both times the audience applauded at the end of the film.  That tells you something.