Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Edge of Darkness

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Lightsaber Theory

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"?  (​​)   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:

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Diamonds are Forever

I decided that I would catch some James Bond films I had not seen before, although it turns out I had previously seen a small portion of Diamonds are Forever on cable TV.  Rolling Stone ranked the movie as #18 out of 24 Bond films, and I can see why.  This is an immensely absurd story, even for James Bond, about an overly convoluted diamond smuggling ring, where the diamonds are destined for a killer satellite in space.  About half the movie takes place in Las Vegas, which seems to serve no other purpose than to drag the movie out while promoting Las Vegas.

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

Friday, August 25, 2017

Logan Lucky

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.

Friday, August 11, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

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:  * * *

Friday, July 21, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

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:

Rating:  * * * 1/4.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cars 3

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.

Monday, July 3, 2017


Moonlight is the story of a gay black child, Chiron, growing up under the most difficult of circumstances, and his transition to adulthood.  It won "Best Picture" at the Academy Awards.

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.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Wonder Woman

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.

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.

The movie Moana is based on Polynesian Mythology, and follows the above narrative very closely.  Moana is the daughter of the chief on the island Montunui.  She feels herself drawn to the sea, but her father has forbidden her to venture out to the sea because it is dangerous.  She has been told legends about how the demigod Maui stole, and lost, a small pounamu stone that is the mystical heart of the island goddess, Te Fiti.  Because of this theft, a blight is spreading to all the islands.  The sea gives the pounamu stone to Moana, and her elderly grandmother tells Moana that she is "the chosen one" to find Maui, and force him to return the stone to Te Fiti.  Then Moana disobeys her father and goes on a quest to find Maui.

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:  * * *

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, January 27, 2017

Hidden Figures

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What is good about the Star Wars Prequels.

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.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

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 three and a half stars to four stars.  On an A to F scale, I am bumping it from "B+" to "A-". 

Friday, January 13, 2017

For the Love of Spock

For the Love of Spock is a biographical documentary about Leonard Nimoy, created by his son Adam Nimoy, with some help from his father.  Adam Nimoy was estranged from his father for much of his life.  One gets the impression that Leonard Nimoy was much more focussed on his career than he was on his family, which might explain why the two had difficulties.  However, the pair patched up their differences about ten years before Leonard Nimoy died, and they became very close.  The son suggested to the father that they do a documentary, and Leonard Nimoy was enthusiastic about the idea.

The film makes for a very interesting biography of Leonard Nimoy, while also documenting the entire Star Trek phenomenon.  I like how informative the movie is on both topics.  It is fun to watch, especially for Star Trek fans.

My only problem with the documentary is that it feels truncated.  It concludes with Nimoy's death, a few kind words, and then it just ends.  I expected more.  It is possibly a missed opportunity to explore how Star Trek continues to impact the world today.

Rating:  B+.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rouge One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a mixture of Star Wars and a traditional war film, set in the Star Wars universe.  As such, it feels like a different kind of Star Wars movie, with more gritty realism and less style.  It is a prequel to the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope, and events in Rogue One lead right up to the beginning of A New Hope.

When Jyn Erso is a young child, her father is taken prisoner by the Galactic Empire and forced to do research on a new weapon, the Death Star.  She is raised by a rebel extremist Saw Gerrera, but eventually finds herself imprisoned by the Empire and headed to a forced labor camp.  She is rescued by the rebellion, who want to use her to get to her father.  Her father has smuggled a message to the rebellion, saying that there is a weakness in the Death Star, and if they could find a way steal the plans, then they could destroy it.

Whereas the previous Star Wars films were ensemble pictures with many great characters, I feel like the only great character in this film is the protagonist Jyn Erso.  There are a handful of other characters that are interesting at different levels, such as Rebel Alliance Intelligence officer Cassian Andor, who becomes a love interest for Jyn, weapons researcher Orson Krennic, blind rebel warrior Chirrut Îmwe, and rebel-owned Imperial enforcer droid K-2SO, who also provides some comic relief.  Because there is much going on in this movie, most of the secondary characters don't get a lot of screen time, so we don't get to know them as well as we would like.

Various characters from the original movies make appearances here, most notably Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader, Mon Montha, R2D2 and 3CPO, and briefly Princes Leia.  Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia are played by Guy Henry and Ingvild Deila respectively, who look nothing like Peter Cushing and a young Carrie Fisher, so some special effects magic is used to make them appear like the original actors.  In the case of Grand Moff Tarkin, I kept thinking that he didn't look exactly like Peter Cushing, but it was close enough to be convincing.  However, the brief appearance of Princes Leia is slightly unsettling thus spoiling the effect.  Although the character does look like a young Carrie Fisher, the face is a little too round and lacking the sharp lines we would expect.  Nevertheless, the appearance of Princes Leia does give the film some extra emotional impact.

Darth Vader's appearance in the middle of the film isn't particularly meaningful, and the voice by the 85 year old Jame Earl Jones doesn't have quite the same impact it once did.  There is a subplot here about Orson Krennic having a power struggle with Grand Moff Tarkin, but this seems more like a distraction.  However, this is made up by Vader's later appearance where he is for a moment completely badass.

Rogue One compared to The Force Awakens is slightly stronger on plot, but a little weaker on characters.  Rogue One has more characters, but consequently each character gets less attention. Neither movie feels like a perfect Star Wars film, but both are good enough.

Did we really need this movie to fill in the story between Episode III and Episode IV?  No, but it does make for an entertaining diversion providing something that we have not seen before.

Rating:  * * * 1/2.

A friend asked me to rate the movie on a A through F scale.  On this scale I would give it a B+.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Doctor Strange

There is no such thing as magic.    It is impossible to conjure weapons out of thin air.  As far as anyone can prove, there is no Astral Plane for our soul to reside in when it temporarily leaves our body.  There is no mirror universe.  As far as anyone knows, it is impossible to turn back time.  So a movie based upon these things requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief, which at first was difficult for me.  I can more easily accept the magic in the Harry Potter movies because they are kid friendly, but not as easily in a film for adults.  

However, Doctor Strange so effortlessly drew me into its world that I found myself forgetting any kind of logic and just enjoying it for the really good action picture that it is.  It helps that Dr. Strange starts out as a flawed character who reaches the lowest point of his life before he is able to slowly lift himself back up.  It makes him relatable.  His suffering means that his eventual journey has high stakes, and the path he takes is a very wild ride which leads him to a place that he never thought he could go.

The action sequences in this film, like the action sequences in most movies today, tend to be a little over busy making them harder to follow.  Despite this, the action sequences are very good, which makes for an entertaining picture.

Rating:  * * * 1/2

Dr. Strange has a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Out of the Furnace

Out of the Furnace proceeds at a leisurely pace.  It opens with a scene that I could have done without, where a hillbilly gangster scumbag named Harlan Degroat beats up his date and someone else at a drive in theater.  The movie establishes that Harlan, played wonderfully by Woody Harrelson, is about as evil as one can get.  Switch to Russell Baze, played pensively by Christian Bale, who is trying to keep his life together working at a steel mill and dealing with his aimless battle scarred military brother, played admirably by Casey Affleck.  His brother keeps getting into debt with bookies and Russel keeps bailing him out.  Things do not go well for Russell when he is sent to prison for a fatal auto accident that was not his fault, but he had had a couple of drinks which did not look good.  After getting out of prison, he goes back to work at the steel mill, but his problems with his brother escalate, which slowly builds up to a confrontation with Harlan Degroat.

All the performances in this film are wonderful, including Zoe Saldana as Russel's ex girlfriend, and Forrest Whitaker, who is always great, as Sheriff Barnes, and William Dafoe as a low life bookie.  This movie is driven by great performances, because the plot takes it time building up to any kind of action.  However, the film doesn't meander.  Every scene moves the story to the next plot point and the next great performance by the actors.  The tone of the movie reminded me of What's Eating Gilbert Grape, although it is considerably more interesting.

The film steals one scene from The Dear Hunter, where Russell, who is so damaged by life, decides to not shoot a deer on a hunting trip.  

I have to take issue with Roger Ebert's review of the movie, who said that for long stretches it doesn't know what it wants to be.  I think that the film knows exactly what it wants to be.  The point is exactly the same as the point of Hell or High Water, where poverty is the overwhelming force that drives people who could have potentially been good to do bad things.  Like that movie, people are trapped in the world they grew up in.  Believable performances lead to an inevitable "Taxi Driver" type of conclusion.  The journey to get there is one that I found very compelling.  

Rating:  * * * 1/2

Out of the Furnace has just a 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  I think that it is an underappreciated gem.  The great performances make it well worth watching.

I have come to believe that many movies have a barely hidden political agenda.  Out of the Furnace and Hell or High Water don't advocate any kind of policy to deal with poverty, but instead show us the us the terrible consequences that poverty has on people's lives.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


The trouble with aliens from another world is that they are alien.  We might have less in common with them than we do with horseshoe crabs, and we might have an easier time communicating with the crabs.  This is the problem faced by the main character of Arrival, Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, who is a linguist who must figure out how to communicate with these aliens that have mysteriously turned up on our doorstep.  If this were the entire plot, then the film probably wouldn't be that interesting, but the story has a few twists.  There is also a significant side story about Dr. Banks losing a daughter to illness.

All the focus is on Amy Adams.  The movie also stars Jeremy Renner as a scientist, and Forrest Whitaker as a general, both of which are good actors, but neither seem particularly memorable here.  Renner plays a stereotypical scientist who becomes the love interest for Dr. Banks, and Whitaker's character seems like a token general.

There is only so much you can do with aliens in a movie.  For this reason, most alien movies tend to be more about us than they are about the aliens.  It is more about how we react to the discovery of alien life than it is about the aliens themselves.  The film follows a predictable pattern where the human race wants to respond to the aliens with military force.

At times the story moves too slowly as the movie tries to keep us in suspense, but this builds up to a very clever ending that surprised me.  So it is not a perfect film, but I do think that it is very good.  This is probably one of the better movies in the theaters right now.

Rating:  * * * 1/2

P.S. I was thinking that the movie has a certain low budget quality about it. It is probably not that difficult to generate computer special effects of aliens, ships, and military vehicles. I just looked up the budget of the film, which is 47 million, which is not particularly high for a science fiction film. I thought that the characters played by Whitaker and Renner could have been flushed out more. Still, the overall effect is a good one.  

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings

I assumed that Kubo and the Two Strings is a Japanese made film, but it is not.  It is an American film about Japanese characters.  Going into it, I also assumed that it is computer animated, but I was wrong again.  It is beautifully animated with stop motion and the effect is almost as good as computer animation, although not quite as smooth; there is a hardly noticeable jerkiness to the the movement of the characters.  However, this is the best looking stop motion film I have ever seen.  The quality of the animation is just amazing. 

The Japanese centric story is a mind bender for American audiences.  It is almost a kind of culture shock.

Kudo is a child with magical powers living with his mother.  Both are hiding from the evil Moon King who stole one of Kudo's eyes and wants to kidnap Kudo and steal his other eye.  The Moon King is Kudo's grandfather, and Kudo's mother was one of three sisters, actually witches, who were sent to kill Kudo's father, who is the most powerful Samurai warrior.  Instead Kudo's mother fell in love with Kudo's father and had a child with him.  Later the father goes missing and is presumed killed.  Kudo and his mother are safe in hiding until Kudo is accidentally discovered.  The only way Kudo can survive is to go on a quest to find three pieces of magic armor that would allow him to fight the Moon King.  He is joined on this quest by a couple of very unusual creatures.  One is a talking baboon, and the other is a giant beetle.

This is a beautifully made film.  The story, which is laden with Japanese mysticism, didn't fully resonate with me, but I did find it entertaining.  The thing I like the most of about the movie is how it humanizes Japanese characters.  Americans think of Japanese characters as Samurai or warriors, and I suspect this is how some Japanese see themselves, but here the characters seem genuinely human with heartfelt emotions.

I think that the story is too weird for American children, but I could be wrong about that.  For an adult audience it is a cultural experience.  I managed to catch the movie on the last day it was showing in a small town theater.  I am not surprised that I was the only one in the theater watching it; that's what I expected.  It is a good movie, but it is not the kind of film that would have broad appeal.

Rating: * * *

Kubo and the Two Strings has a  whopping 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

In my original review, I said that Star Wars:  The Force Awakens feels like an imperfect imitation of a Star Wars movie.

Watching Star Wars:  The Force Awakens for the third time has changed my perspective on the movie considerably.  On my third viewing I noticed things I didn't notice before and I feel that I have much better understanding of the film overall.  Its one major flaw is that they tried to put too much stuff in it.  Having so much story means that most of the movie proceeds at frenetic pace.  Transition scenes that would normally occur in a film are simply not there; at times characters seem to jump from one place to another.  But a much bigger problem is that there is far too little explanation.  There is way too much in the movie that should be explained but isn't, making parts of the story feel like plot holes.  It also teases us with many unanswered questions that frustrate the viewer, so I am desperately hoping that the sequels will clear these up.

Unlike the original Star Wars that gave us great characters, Star Wars:  The Force Awakens is very much a plot driven film where the characters are okay but not exceptional.  The first 20 minutes don't work as well for me because the main characters feel flat.   Occasionally both Rey and Finn can be a little grating.  Rey frequently clenches her teeth and has an undercurrent of anger which hints at The Dark Side.  Finn is in the habit of saying stupid things.  Han Solo and Leia Organa feel like echoes of their former selves.  Therefore, the most interesting, deepest and brilliant character of the movie is Kylo Ren.  He is certainly the most conflicted character, and that conflict is what makes him interesting.

It is no wonder that the film has been widely criticized by Star Wars fans.  However, the critics loved it.

Despite the flaws, on my third viewing the movie made more sense and it began to feel like a masterpiece.  It is not only a major technical and artistic achievement, but it is also fantastic storytelling.  Once the action gets going, the film becomes an amazing thrill ride.  

I think that the movie is a masterpiece, but I also think that it is flawed masterpiece that will depend upon Episode VIII to clear things up.  Also the new film will need to improve upon on the characters.  Otherwise, if we get more of the same then it is going to become repetitious and tiring.

Friday, September 9, 2016


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 focusses 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 moviess 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:  * * * *