Monday, November 6, 2017
Sunday, November 5, 2017
Saturday, November 4, 2017
Friday, November 3, 2017
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Posted by John Coffey at 7:56 PM
Saturday, October 7, 2017
I had high expectations for Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the 35 year old Blade Runner. The early reviews were great and it achieved an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I went out of my way to see the movie, but I am going to tell you now to save your money and either rent it, or wait for it to get to a discount theater. About half way through the film I was still waiting to find out what the point was, and about two thirds of the way through I concluded that it had no point. I thought that maybe we would get something stunning in the last act, but the plot is very thin. The movie instead chooses to impresses us with its visuals, none of which are that much different than the first film. In fact, many of the scenes are murky, with dusty desolate landscapes. There are also a couple of confusing plot points that didn't quite make sense to me.
The first movie had a definite point to it. If you could engineer biological beings close to human but not quite human, where do you draw the line between what is human and what is not? What has rights and what doesn't? What is real and what is not, which is the point of the original novel? In both films the 'replicants' are used as slaves and have no rights, but in the sequel there is hardly any difference between the replicants and the humans.
It makes little sense to me to have a future world that uses biological beings as slaves, because in the real world we are probably only 10 to 20 years away from having intelligent robots that could do any sort of labor.
The only point of Blade Runner 2049 is that replicants are planning to revolt, which presumably will take place in the next sequel. As such, it feels like half a movie because there is not that much story here, so there is plenty of room in the picture to include a revolt. I should also point out that a revolt by artificial beings is not that original; the TV show Dark Matter has a subplot about this, and we have seen it in Star Trek at least a couple of times, and it is the central point of both Battlestar Galactica TV series.
Blade Runner 2049 fails to capture the spirit that made the original Blade Runner magical. The main character, played by Ryan Gosling, displays mostly only one emotion, which is brooding.
There is enough eye candy and barely enough story to make the movie worth seeing, but I wouldn't want to spend $10 to see it. If you are willing to wait, you can spend a couple of bucks to rent it or catch it at a discount theater.
The film uses nudity to the point of overdoing it. Seeing 40 foot tall naked holograms on the street might make sense from a science fiction perspective, but it is just filler to distract us from the lack of a great story.
Rating: * * 3/4.
P.S. I conjecture that the movie is not called "Blade Runner 2048" because there is a popular smartphone game called "2048." Personally, I don't like any title that includes a date because it will quickly become obsolete, like "Space 1999", "Death Race 2000", and "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Posted by John Coffey at 5:10 PM
Thursday, October 5, 2017
American Made is a semi-fictionalized version of the life of Barry Seal. I say fictionalized, because in the movie Seal is an airline pilot who is using his job to smuggle cuban cigars to the United States from a supplier. He is then approached by the CIA to take aerial photographs of communist insurgents in Central America. Later he is told to smuggle weapons to the anti-communists. However, drug lords pressure him, possibly at the threat of death, to smuggle cocaine to the United States. So Mr. Seal ends up with quite a profitable business, transporting 'goods' in both directions.
In real life, Seal was a drug smuggler from the outset, who also got fired from his airline job for smuggling explosives, to which he escaped conviction on a technicality. The producers of the film admit that they took liberties with the truth, and this might make for a more likable main character, but I am bothered by any movie that claims to show historical events, but then distorts those events for entertainment purposes.
Seal's life did not end well, because he turned informant against the drug cartels and was murdered. Here the movie shows us the truth, but the ending made me feel disappointed. It might have been better to have a completely fictional character with a more entertaining ending.
Another place where the movie plays loose with the facts is that it shows a speech by Ronald Reagan, where the president shows the American people a picture of drug lords that also has Seal in the photograph. In the movie, this is how the drug lords knew that Seal betrayed them, so they sent hitmen after him. In reality, Reagan showed the picture after Seal was already dead.
Despite all my objections, the movie is fun to watch. It portrays Seal as someone who starts out fairly innocent, but gets pulled deeper and deeper into more and more dangerous territory. As such, he really is a fictional character.
Tom Cruise as Seal doesn't have his usual movie star persona, but seems more like an ordinary guy who is also a little redneck. I don't know if this is intentional, or if Cruise has lost some of his charm.
Rating: * * *
Posted by John Coffey at 8:40 PM
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Solaris, a 1972 film by the acclaimed Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, is in effect the Soviet Union's answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although not nearly as grand in its vision, Solaris received high praise from critics, with a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, the first hour or so is a real snooze fest. The first 45 minutes, which you wouldn't miss much if you skipped altogether, involve the main character, Kris, spending a day at his parents house before blasting off into space to venture out to the planet Solaris. He doesn't have the best relationship with his parents, which creates some tension. The movie even wastes 5 minutes showing Kris driving his car through a Soviet style city, during which absolutely nothing happens. The pacing is way too slow. I set the DVD playback to 50% faster than normal to get through the early parts of the film, which made it feel okay.
After 45 minutes the movie begins in earnest. Kris arrives at the space station orbiting the the planet Solaris. Where the planet is, and how long it takes to get there, and by what means, we are never told. We see a brief shot of a 70's style space capsule and that is all. Kris finds the space station in disarray and the 2 surviving cosmonauts who are behaving eccentrically. One cosmonaut refuses to see him, hiding what appears to be a child in his cabin. The other tells Kris that he should rest and warns him that not everything he will see is real. Kris, a psychologist, begins to investigate the recent suicide of a 3rd cosmonaut, who apparently killed himself because he was seeing things.
We are told that the planet Solaris is mostly covered by an ocean, which the scientists have concluded is a giant brain. They have made some attempts to communicate with the brain by beaming radiation at it.
Given all the things that happened up to this point, we are not too surprised when Kris's long dead wife, Hari, shows up in his cabin. Neither is Kris. He is maybe a little frightened by this, but he is accepting of his new 'visitor'. However, he panics at one point and tries to get rid of her by stuffing her into a rocket and blasting her off into space. (The special effect of the rocket is cheesy, and I guess the space station must have plenty of rockets to spare, since he wasted one in this way. ) However, Hari mysteriously returns.
Hari is not a hallucination. She is flesh and blood. At first she may seem a little alien, but over time becomes more human. She acknowledges her humanity, like it is a new experience. However, she comes to realize that she is not the original Hari, who committed suicide because her husband Kris was always cold toward her. Kris seems determined to not make the same mistake twice, and showers Hari with love and affection. However, Hari realizes that she cannot return to Earth with her husband, because she is tied to the planet Solaris somehow, and kills herself again, but in a manner that is not clear. Kris finds her body frozen, but then he sees her thaw and return to life.
All these experiences cause Kris to soften from the cold hard scientist that he was. The movie asks a few philosophical questions about what makes us human, and whether life is worth living and has purpose? The movie concludes that love is what gives life purpose and defines our humanity.
When all the 'visitors', and there are more than one, disappear from the station, the crew are puzzled as to what it was that really happened to them? The final scene shows a more emotional Kris returning to his parent's house and embracing his estranged father, but the scene pans back to show that it is taking place on a small island on Solaris, and therefore is not real.
One cosmonaut philosophizes that humans aren't really looking for aliens, but reflections of themselves.
This is a difficult movie to rate, because much of it is slow and moody. It looks cheaply made. However, there is some artistry to it. The last 90 minutes I found pretty intriguing, but the film overall is dated and not completely likeable. Part of what makes the movie interesting is to get a historical perspective on Russian filmmaking by listening to the commentary on the DVD.
There are things on the space station that seem way out of place for a science fiction movie, like the fact that the characters smoke and drink, and a library with books, wood paneling, burning candles, and expensive works of art. That's exactly what you would want on a space station.
Rating: * * 1/2
Posted by John Coffey at 8:59 PM
Thursday, September 28, 2017
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Edge of Darkness has a couple of flaws, the first of which is that the story feels drawn out unnecessarily. The second is in the way that the movie portrays a stereotypical evil corporate defense contractor, which is completely unrealistic, and even has a slight James Bond villain feel to it. But despite the film's flaws, the last 20 minutes deliver in a big way. Mel Gibson shines as a cop out for revenge for the murder of his daughter. It is hard to imagine anyone else playing the role with the same kind of intensity.
As the story goes, Detective Thomas Craven (Gibson) witnesses his daughter's murder, and becomes obsessed with finding the killer. The trail leads him to her place of work, which is a corporate military contractor that is up to some shenanigans. It seems that his daughter was going to blow the whistle on the company.
There are a few scenes where Craven imagines talking to his dead daughter, as if he might be losing his mind. This turns into a key plot point, and is important to the final scene of the movie, which at first I found emotionally moving. However, afterwards, I felt like the final scene was a little corny.
When I saw the actor Danny Huston, I recognized him from the cable series Magic City. In that series he plays a gangster, who is as close to the human equivalent of the devil that a human can get. In Edge of Darkness he is just the evil head of a corporation, and unlike his television counterpart, he at times shows that he has human weaknesses. His presence in the movie, along with the intense performance by Mel Gibson, uplifts the film and saves it from a negative review.
There was a time when Mel Gibson would play in top grossing films and command top salary, but he made some personal mistakes, and Hollywood is not that forgiving. Here he is playing in what is essentially a B movie. It is a second tier film that just barely manages to be good enough to make it worth watching.
Rating: * * *
Edge of Darkness has a 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. My favorite movie critic, Richard Roeper, gives it three stars. The late Roger Ebert gave it two and a half stars.
Posted by John Coffey at 8:26 AM
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
There is likely a connection with the lightsaber to all the scenes in the forceback, but we can't really discern Rey's parentage from that. I think that it is highly likely that Rey is a Skywalker for 3 reasons: 1. Star Wars is the story of Skywalkers. 2. Who is Luke talking to in the first The Force Awakens teaser trailer when he says "The Force is strong in my family, my father has it, I have it, my sister has it, you have that power too"? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCc2v7izk8w) 3. Near the the release date of The Force Awakens there was an officially commissioned painting of Rey that had the caption "Rey Skywalker", which maybe later was changed. BTW, on the day of the release of The Force Awakens, the wikipedia page referred to her as "Rey Skywalker", but "Skywalker" was removed the next day. Did they know something we didn't, or were they just guessing?
P.S. Marina Sirtus on Star Trek The Next Generation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjW-Gvi0NXk
Posted by John Coffey at 5:45 PM
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
The characters of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are a pair of assassins, apparently inept at their job, who are clearly a gay couple. This seems kind of daring for 1971. They are always making humorous quips, and their presence makes the movie more interesting.
Diamonds are Forever was received somewhat favorably in 1971. It has a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Roger Ebert gave it a favorable review. The movie has several interesting things that happen, and compared to other films in 1971, it might have been above average. However, today it feels so dated and so absurd that it would make a decent Austin Powers parody. With the right attitude one can enjoy the movie because there is some value to seeing old James Bond films to get a historical perspective, and despite the silliness of the film, Sean Connery has a screen presence that makes you want to keep watching.
Rating: * * 1/2
Posted by John Coffey at 8:55 PM
Friday, August 25, 2017
Two redneck brothers from West Virginia, both with disabilities, one with a limp from a football injury, and the other missing an arm after serving in Iraq, decide to stick it to the system by pulling off the heist of the century at a Nascar race.
Logan Lucky is one of the most clever comedies to come along in recent years. It also makes a good drama. Although the characters are a little over the top with their country redneck accents, they feel as real as your neighbors. Even the ending manages to touch your heart in a very sweet way. This is a very smart comedy about dumb characters, who might not be so dumb after all.
Daniel Craig, former James Bond, is very convincing as a redneck bomb expert, and so are Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as the two brothers.
Rating: * * * *
Logan Lucky is destined to become a classic. It is rated PG-13 for crude language.
Posted by John Coffey at 3:15 PM
Friday, August 11, 2017
When the nothing special 2001 remake of The Planet of the Apes came out, Salt Lake City radio talk show host Tom Barberry had this to say: "This last weekend I went to see a movie. There were apes in it. That's good enough for me." That must have been the attitude of the people who made War for the Planet of the Apes. It is good enough to watch, but it lacks the greatness of the two previous films, so it falls way below my expectations. What the two previous films have are great characters combined with great story. The third film in the trilogy feels more like a standard war film or a standard post apocalyptic thriller. If you substituted humans for apes in this film, the story wouldn't be that different. None of characters really drew me in, and the movie touches on several themes without really excelling at any of them.
However, there is enough in the movie to make it worth watching. We are introduced to a couple of new characters, one human and one chimp, both who have special characteristics. The virus that made apes smart, mutates and starts making some humans mute. And the villain is an army colonel, played by Woody Harrelson, who is intent on wiping out all the apes. His character is the most interesting in the movie, because from his perspective he is being completely logical; he is fighting for the survival of his species.
The ending gives us a Deus ex machina followed by an anticlimactic finish.
Given the this is the third movie in a trilogy, one might think that this is the finale film, but it really feels like they are setting us up for a sequel. All the events that have happened so far could lead up to the events that took place in the original Planet of the Apes film, and it seems like they are trying to stay loyal to the original story.
One detail in all three movies that is not very believable is that the forests of northern California are not the same as tropical jungles that apes would need to live in to survive. Apes depend upon a diet heavy in fruit and the films never address how the apes sustain themselves.
Rating: * * *
Posted by John Coffey at 7:17 PM
Sunday, August 6, 2017
Saturday, August 5, 2017
Friday, July 21, 2017
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a visionary science fiction film based upon a visionary 1970's comic book of the same name. Beneath all the eye candy and rich atmosphere is an action plot that is about average, but there is so much going on that the movie might deserve a second viewing.
The two main stars, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, seem too young for their parts. They look like teenagers. They are not particularly charismatic and their acting ability is nothing exceptional. Had the movie been made 25 years ago, it would have been perfect for Harrison Ford and Angelina Jolie.
So why only the 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes? My favorite movie critic, Richard Roeper, calls it a bizarre and bloated and clunky pop sci-fi epic. Actually, sometimes that is enough. This is a visually stunning film that has much in it that is worth seeing. Overall, it feels like an interesting movie that didn't quite live up to its full potential. For this reason, I think that some critics are too hard on it. It deserves more credit than that. If it had just a little better story and slightly better actors, it could have been another Star Wars.
Some John Williams music would have been nice too.
I fell in love with these three little alien con artists:
Some John Williams music would have been nice too.
I fell in love with these three little alien con artists:
Rating: * * * 1/4.
Posted by John Coffey at 1:45 PM
Thursday, July 20, 2017
The first Cars film had sentimental magic to it, and the second film had a certain comic charm by focusing on Tow Mater, but Cars 3 has really nothing new to add. That's my problem with it; it feels recycled. It tries to recapture some of the spirit of the first film, but it is predictable and just passable as entertainment.
I like the plot element of an aging Lightning McQueen trying regain his Mojo after being shown up by a younger, faster and more cocky rookie. He tries to get some professional training to get back into shape. The film takes a left turn half way through when we find out that his female trainer is a racing wannabe who never got the chance to compete. This reminded me just a little of Jessie in Toy Story II lamenting over what she had lost. The difference is that Jessie's song had everybody in tears, but here the story is barely interesting. This leads to a plot twist at the end, where guess what? She does get her chance to race.
Rocky this isn't. The story is interesting enough, but in no way special, and seems too familiar. I expected more from Pixar.
Rating: * * 1/2.
Posted by John Coffey at 1:46 PM
Monday, July 3, 2017
To me the story seems very thin and kind of depressing. The movie is about personalities. The ending is anticlimactic and leaves us hanging, but it is about people coming to terms with each other. As such the entertainment value isn't extraordinary, but our hearts ache for the people having to struggle in a bad environment. That makes the movie an "issue" film, and the Academy Awards loves issue films. It is also a movie that we are not likely to forget any time soon.
The portrayals of blacks in this film are mostly unfavorable with the exception of a couple of good characters.
Another "issue" film that won best picture was Midnight Cowboy in 1969. What the two films have in common are slow moving stories and controversial topics. Now, Midnight Cowboy seems dated and barely qualifies as entertainment. I am wondering how Moonlight will seem to us a couple of decades from now?
Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for what is probably his best role yet as a drug dealer who takes Chiron under his wing. In his previous roles he was always a little too understated.
Rating: * * * 1/2.
Posted by John Coffey at 7:04 AM
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Production for a Wonder Woman movie started in 1995, and it went through several rewrites, and several potential directors, including The Avengers Josh Whedon, who left the project because of creative differences. After 22 years, the final product is very good, and probably about as good as they could make it, although it seems to me that the source material detracts from the overall effect.
Diana is one of many Amazon women living on the island of Themyscira, who were created by the gods to protect the world from Ares, the god of war. When Steve Trevor crashes his plane near the island, Diana rescues him from drowning. He tells her that the entire world is engaged in a war. She thinks that Ares must be responsible for this conflagration, so she leaves the island with Trevor to look for Ares with the intention of killing him.
Once off the island, Diana is at first a fish out of water, until she gets a chance to fight alongside the Allies during World War I, where in a key scene she suddenly takes charge. Much of this doesn't seem very believable, but it is a superhero movie, so we make allowances.
Although this is part of the Wonder Woman story, the original comic book takes place during World War II. Why change the story? I think because Trevor is looking to destroy a German weapon of mass destruction, which is a new type of poison gas. Therefore, it would be hard to have any kind of moral clarity when talking about weapons of mass destruction during World War II, because the country that actually developed a weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb, was the United States.
Diana kills many enemy soldiers, mostly in the defense of herself or others. However, I have a problem with all this killing, because I figure that superheroes are normally above this kind of thing. This makes the movie feel like just a war film at first, until the end where we get a battle between gods.
Prior to the release of the movie, there were some special screenings just for women, as if the film makes some sort of feminist statement because Diana is a very strong feminine character. However, I don't think that the outfits worn by the Amazon women, which I am sure are designed to attract a male audience, are particularly empowering to women.
At one point Diana makes an observation that Trevor treats his secretary like a slave. My initial thought that this was a criticism of employment in general, and then I realized that this is a feminist statement about women being subservient to men. This comment is treated in a light hearted fashion, showing Dianna's naiveté, because Trevor's secretary seems to be very happy with her employment. So the film sends a confusing message.
Gal Godat and Chris Pine are both fantastic as the two leads. I think that Chris Pine, who plays a young James T. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot films, looks here more like a young Captain Kirk than he ever has
Rating: * * * 1/2.
Posted by John Coffey at 12:40 PM
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Monday, April 10, 2017
About 5,000 years ago, indigenous people from Taiwan sailed to, and settled islands off of southeast Asia. They must have been good sailors and good navigators, because they spent a couple thousand years spreading their population to a thousand islands in the vast south and central Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii. These are the Polynesian people. It is their history that the movie Moana understands and pays tribute to.
According to Joseph Campbell, hero mythology everywhere has certain traits in common, such as: The protagonist is young and goes on a journey, is taught by an elderly wise man or wizard, has a vision, faces great danger, fails, sometimes dies and is resurrected, returns to battle, is finally victorious and returns home a hero or a king. Sometimes the protagonist is a demigod, such as Hercules. For example, George Lucas was inspired by the writings of Joseph Campbell when he created the hero character of Luke Skywalker.
Visually, the movie looks fantastic. However, the story seems a little familiar. There are several songs that are instantly forgettable. The movie does not excel as entertainment, but it is enjoyable enough. Some of the action sequences are quite exciting.
The movie is still playing at discount theaters and was released on DVD March 7th.
Rating: * * *
Posted by John Coffey at 7:14 AM
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Why do we like superhero movies? It is because we want to believe in something better. Superheroes are supposed to live forever and make the world a better place. Not so in Logan. We learn that by the year 2029 most of the superheroes have died off, and Professor X with the world's most powerful brain is becoming senile. Wolverine is reduced to driving a limo. In addition, some evil military organization is trying to breed a new race of child mutant slaves to use for warfare. Overall, it is a depressing film. That's my problem with it.
Still, the premise is original. At least they gave us something different this time. However, the execution of the story didn't seem so original to me. An early chase scene reminded me of The Road Warrior, and the rest of the film reminded me a little of Terminator 2. The plot goes like this: The good guys think they are safe. The bad guys show up. Lots of graphic killing happens. The good guys run away. Repeat over and over.
I never fully understood the motivation nor the backstory about the bad guys. They are more like token bad guys.
Logan has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Although I am not thrilled with the premise, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a compelling story. Somehow it sucked me right in. The combination of good characters and action might be comparable to a movie like Speed, with a few slow moments to allow us to catch our breath.
Rating: * * * 1/2
P.S. If this takes place in the year 2029, I expect to see robots everywhere. Everywhere!
Friday, February 10, 2017
Friday, January 27, 2017
Hidden Figures is about a group of mathematical geniuses who did calculations and computer programming for NASA in the 1960's, all of which happen to be black women. As such, they were treated as second class citizens, despite their brilliance and what they contributed to the manned space program.
The movie focusses mostly on Katherine Goble when she was reassigned to work in the Guidance and Control Division, which was staffed by all white male engineers.
We feel for the characters as they face obstacles at every turn. They are forced to use separate bathrooms, separate coffee pots, denied advancement, not allowed security clearances, and excluded from meetings necessary for them to do their jobs. Eventually, three of the ladies prove themselves worthy enough to take on more important roles at NASA.
I find myself wondering if the mistreatment of these women is exaggerated to make a political point, but from what I can find on the Internet, the movie is accurate. It is mostly a history lesson about civil rights, so I feel a little bit like I am being lectured to. As a history lesson, the film doesn't always stir our emotions as well as it should. At times the movie feels kind of flat. The deepest emotional moment is when one of the characters gets proposed to by her boyfriend. For this reason, I don't think that the entertainment value of the film is exceptional, but it is tells a story that people should know about.
The man doing the proposing is played by Mahershala Ali, who I have enjoyed on a couple of TV series. However, he always plays quiet characters, and here he is too subdued. He would be more interesting with a little fire in his belly.
I am sure that Octavia Spencer is a good actress, but her performance didn't convince me that she is a mathematical genius. What she does well is portray a struggling black woman in a hostile world.
Kevin Costner plays the head of NASA like an angry football coach who is frustrated by every setback.
We see a different side of Jim Parsons, in a non-comical role as the chief engineer. His character seems completely unsympathetic, if not hostile, to the plight of Katherine Goble.
Rating: * * * 1/2
Posted by John Coffey at 10:29 AM
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Sunday, January 22, 2017
In response to this video ...
I made the following comments ...
I was 17 when the original Star Wars came out. I have seen it maybe 18 times, but my favorite movie of all time is The Empire Strikes Back. But I also think that The Phantom Menace is the second or third best Star Wars movie. It is very good. Every Star Wars movie has been different. Each one has had a unique flavor to it. It is a testament to how strong the Star Wars movies are. However, some people are disappointed when a particular movie doesn't turn out like they expected. I can't imagine why anyone would dislike The Phantom Menace, but I suspect that it is because they dislike the character of Jar Jar. Every serious move needs some comic relief to relieve the tension, so I enjoyed the character of Jar Jar quite a bit. From a science fiction point of view, if you had two sapient races sharing a planet, it might make sense for one to be less intelligent and/or less sophisticated. It would be unlikely that both species would have the same level of intelligence and sophistication.
Posted by John Coffey at 10:24 AM