Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What If


What If, which is also released in some countries as "The F Word", where "F" might mean "friend", is a romantic comedy that is smart and witty.  This is Daniel Radcliffe's first romantic comedy.

Wallace is a medical school drop out who is burned out on relationships.  He meets Chantry at a party and the two fall into conversation. At the same time, his friend Allan meets Nicole and this develops into a serious relationship.  Unfortunately, Chantry is already in a relationship, so she becomes "just friends" with Wallace.  Over time Chantry's relationship with her boyfriend becomes more strained while she grows closer to Wallace.

I like the movie for its witty dialog and humor.  The film is rated PG-13 for language and sexual situations.

Rating:  * * *

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movies reimagined for another time and place

Belle


William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield was a British barrister, noted for his reform of English law, and became Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in 1756.  He made a couple of rulings that did not abolish slavery, but paved the way for slavery to be abolished in England.  His nephew, Captain Sir John Lindsay, had an illegitimate child with a slave and left her in the care of his uncle.  The child was baptized Dido Elizabeth Belle in 1766 and was raised along with her cousin Elizabeth Finch.  What little we know about Belle's life was that she enjoyed the privilege and responsibility of being raised in an aristocratic family and was well educated.  She married John Davinier, a Frenchman who worked as a gentleman's steward, and had three children.  She died at the age of 42.

With so little known about Belle's life, the movie Belle is a historical fiction inspired by a painting of her and her cousin.  As a historical fiction, it is a good story about how slavery, prejudice, social status, and the status of women affected people in this time period.  The movie concludes with Murray making a ruling on the Zong Masacre, an incident where a slave ship threw 132 slaves overboard.

This is a very richly written story with some very intelligent period dialog.  I admire this movie not just for being a good period piece, but a smart one.

Rating:  * * * 1/2



Saturday, December 27, 2014

Snowpiercer

 

In the near future, a chemical is sprayed into the atmosphere to reverse global warming.  The problem is that it works too well and causes planet Earth to freeze.  The last remaining humans are on a specially built train with an engine that can last forever.  The train is designed to be a lifeboat forever moving.  Years after the big freeze, the people in the back of the train are tired of their crappy existence, which is pretty terrible compared to their oppressors who live at the front, so they decide to revolt.  They fight their way to the front while encountering strange new sights with each new car they pass.
 
The end of this movie has a lot to say about humanity, and most of it is not very good.  There is the obvious environmental message, along with messages about class warfare and how humans will always fight each other no matter what the situation is.
 
This is a Korean made film, although 80% of the movie is in English.  It is based upon a graphic novel.
 
Most of the movie is pretty interesting, although the violence is sometimes intense.
 
Rating: * * * 1/2
 




Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind


A thousand years ago, the environment of the Earth was destroyed in the "Seven Days of Fire" which was a battle between several Giant Warriors, artificially created beings with great destructive power.  Only one of these beings survived but is dormant.  The war created the Toxic Forests all over the world, which are filled with deadly poison and giant mutated insects.  A few human settlements are able to survive outside the forests.

Nausicaä is the young princess of the Valley of the Wind.  This kingdom is able to survive because a constant sea breeze keeps the poison away from their small kingdom.  Two other small kingdoms, the Tolmekia and the Pejite, are at war with each other and their forces collide at the peaceful Valley of the Wind.  The Tolmekia want to burn down all the Toxic Forests, but the people of the Valley of the Wind know that this will bring the wrath of the giant insects, which apparently are easily enraged.  The Tolmekia are also interested in resurrecting the dormant Giant Warrior so that they can use it to destroy the insects and their enemies.

Nausicaä has learned how to live in peace with the Toxic Forests and she later learns that the forests are an important part of their ecology.   With war threatening to destroy her people and their environment, she must find a way to avert disaster.

For Japanese Anime made in 1984, this  probably seemed beautiful and pretty fantastic at the time.  Like most anime, its vision tends to be overly grand and stylized, while the animation is pretty simple and sometime repetitive.  Something is lost in the translation, because the movie has a lot of dialogue like, "Look over there!", which comes off as simplistic.  The story is pretty good, but the movie gets bogged down in battle scenes. 

The film is barely O.K. and kind of interesting as a cultural experience, but I can't imagine wanting to see it a second time.

Rating:  * * 3/4.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind has an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  The DVD is distributed by Disney.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars


Hazel Lancaster, a 16-year-old teenager with thyroid cancer that has spread to her lungs, meets a 17-year-old teenage boy, Augustus Waters, who has osteosarcoma that caused him to lose his leg.  They bond immediately and agree to read each other's favorite novel.  After reading the novel An Imperial Affliction, a book about cancer written by Peter Van Houten, they arrange to travel to Amsterdam to meet the author.   Although their meeting with Van Houten does not go well, the trip is memorable and allows them to bond further.  Shortly after that, health issues start to catch up with them.

The emotion in this movie hit me like a freight train.  This is a film that knows how to grab your heart and never let go.  It is the kind of film that is willing to be honest and intelligent about cancer, but wrap all that in a sweet romance.  In the beginning the movie claims that it is not going to be artificial or upbeat, but the film tries to be as upbeat that its sad little story will allow it to be.

It is one of the best movies of the year.

Rating:  * * * *

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Interview

 
A producer of a tabloid TV show and his reporter, Dave Skylark, get an interview with the President of North Korea.  Meanwhile, the CIA involves both of them in a plot to kill the North Korean dictator, but Skylark has second thoughts once he gets to know the guy.  Skylark, who all by himself could be described as Dumb and Dumber, is played by James Franco, and this is a role that will surely boost his career. 
 
The Interview is the rare type of movie that should be seen just because it caused an international incident.  People are going to want to know what the fuss is about.  What the fuss is about is that this movie is raunchy, politically incorrect, but more importantly, stupid.  However, this is a film that knows that it is stupid and expertly plays that for laughs.  The movie is hilarious if you are in the right kind of mood.  Think Dumb and Dumber meets The Great Dictator.
 
All this is made even more funny by the fact the North Koreans were so upset over the film.  Prior to this, people might have just dismissed the movie as a dumb and crude comedy.
 
Rating: * * *


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy



Tell me if you have heard this one before: An orphan gets abducted by a UFO. He grows up to be some sort of space pirate, but because he double crossed one of the gad buys, he has both the good guys and multiple bad guys chasing him. Along the way he gets runs into a couple different people who would like to either kidnap him or kill him, but after a big fight they all get thrown into jail. In jail they team up with each other and some other questionable characters to break out, but they still have bad people who want to kill them over some mysterious all powerful orb in their possession. They can't let the orb fall into the hands of the bad guys, because that would be really, really bad, and these bad guys are really, really evil. So this leads to almost non stop fights and shootouts for the entire movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy is bigger on action and special effects than it is on drama, character development, or a story that seems remotely plausible. Overall, the story feels a little messy, with too many bad guys and characters to keep track of. Since it is based on a comic book, I suppose that I can forgive its excesses and enjoy it for what it is. The movie does present us with some interesting side characters, such as an intelligent genetically engineered Raccoon named Rocket, and a tree person, Groot, with a very limited vocabulary.

If I am being honest, I think that the movie is suppose to be a comedy, and it does have a few comic touches and at least one running joke. I don't think that I fully understood if I was suppose to enjoy this as an action film, sci-fi movie, comedy or drama. It has all these elements, but the entire movie feels like an excuse for non-stop shootouts and battle scenes. However, most of these are at least somewhat interesting, and there is just enough character development to make me care about the characters.

Part of my problem is that I saw this movie on the small screen. Literally. If I had seen it in the movie theater, then it might have come across as a grand spectacle.

Rating: * * * 1/2

Guardians of the Galaxy has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Another Top 10 Improvised Movie Moments

The Theory of Everything

I have wanted to see The Theory of Everything for months after I first saw the trailer, and it has only been in theaters in the Salt Lake City area for a few days.  However, one critic described the movie as "An unremarkable bio-pic about a remarkable man."  So I deliberately approached the film with modest expectations, but my interest in Stephen Hawking made me hope deep down that the film would be a resounding success.  It is.  It is hard to imagine how a film like this could be made any better.

In case you don't know who Stephen Hawking is, he is a theoretical physicist whom some sources describe as the smartest person on the planet.  His theories have increased our understanding of black holes and the origins of the universe.  He is the author of the best selling book A Brief History of Time.  Unfortunately, at the age of 22 he developed motor neuron disease which has left him mostly paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.  

Hawking was a graduate student at Cambridge where he got his doctoral degree.  While there, he met and married Jane Wilde, who initially acted as his caregiver.  As Hawking's conditioned worsened, he needed more help and got it from a volunteer named Jonathan Jones and a nurse named Elaine Mason.  This is where things get messy, because Jane became attracted to Jones and Hawking became attracted to Mason.  Eventually Jane and Stephen Hawking divorced and they both married the people they were attracted to.  The movie depicts the breakup as cordial, but in reality it was quite bitter.

Hawking's second marriage didn't work out very well, and after his second divorce he developed a working relationship with his first wife to help write the biography that this movie is based on.

The triumph of this film comes from the acting performances, all of which are outstanding.  It is also an emotionally moving story about love and adversity.  The film is so full of subtle nuances as we see Hawking's condition change and the problems with his marriage gradually develop.  The movie does not try to hit us over the head with emotion, but instead candidly presents us with the facts realistically, which for me still had great emotional impact.

If Eddie Redmaye, who plays Hawking, does not at least get nominated for the Best Actor Oscar then I will be quite disappointed.  To play Hawking in the later stages of his disease, he had to convey emotion using the subtlest of gestures.  I will also be disappointed if the movie is not nominated for Best Picture.

Rating:  * * * *

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fan-made trailers bite back against Star Wars 7 trailer

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/fanmade-trailers-bite-back-against-star-wars-7-trailer-20141201-11xev4.html

Maleficent


I didn't like the 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty.  In retrospect, my two star rating seems generous.  The 2014 remake, Maleficent, had some pretty cool trailers, but only garnered a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which means that it got mixed reviews.  Richard Roeper, who I greatly respect, gave Maleficent only a "D".  So naturally my expectations for the movie were not very high.  However, one of my friends told me that he loved the movie, and imagine my surprise when I could not really find anything wrong with the film.  It doesn't feel like a great film, but not a bad one either.

This remake turns the original story on its head, which is a good thing because the 1959 animated film was a complete bore.  In the new version, Maleficent is just as much the heroine as she is the villain.  Actually, this seems to follow the Hollywood trend toward female empowerment.  It also follows the Hollywood trend of giving villains a backstory.  This leads to some great twists at the end, which compared to the previous version is quite refreshing.

Angelina Jolie has been praised for her performance as Maleficent.  This feels like a part that she was born to play. 

The movie was written by Linda Woolverton, who also wrote The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Alice in Wonderland.

I am going out on a limb here and giving the film an extra half star for originality and beauty.  Rating:  * * * 1/2.

Top 10 Wrong Movie Predictions About the Future

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Star Wars Episode 7 The Force Awakens Trailer Review!

Star Wars Episode 7 The Force Awakens Trailer Review!

Godzilla (2014)

If we can get over the fact that skyscraper tall monsters are physically impossible, and the fact that no creature could possibly live off of nuclear radiation, and the fact if such creatures did exist we would have long since known about them, and maybe a few other details that don't quite make logical sense, then certainly we can enjoy Godzilla for the pretty good disaster/adventure movie that it is.  Movies like this are designed to be a grand spectacle, but unlike all its predecessors, it tells a good story with at least a couple of characters that we care about.

There is moment in Godzilla that had me saying, "Oh, come on!  This is ripping off 2001: A Space Odyssey!"  That moment is during the Parachute Scene.  Compare the music in this scene to the music in scenes 1 and 2 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It is the same music.  It turns out the music is Requiem  by Gyorgy Ligeti.  The music made me think of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it is also eerily effective in this particular scene.  One gets a sense of diving into the unknown.  I wonder how many people who saw or will see Godzilla never saw the 46 year old 2001: A Space Odyssey, and therefor will never notice the connection between the two?

Rating:  * * *

Friday, November 28, 2014

Fake Star Wars Trailer is very convincing

Roeper Rundown: 2014 Holiday Movie Preview

Roeper Rundown: 2014 Holiday Movie Preview

Interstellar

If you were to combine the movies 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity, and Frequency, you would end up with something a lot like Interstellar.  I think that the film tries to be an epic that is a worthy successor to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but they are very different movies.  "2001" is not strong on plot, pacing, characters or drama, but the film is still a major artistic achievement because of its beautiful and grand optimistic vision of the future.  The film is more of a spectacle in the same way a fireworks show is a spectacle;  It is meant to be enjoyed for artistic pleasure, and everything else is secondary. 

On the other hand, Interstellar is strong on plot, pacing, characters and drama.  It makes for a great story about human struggle against adversity, bravery, and love.  It doesn't have the same level of artistic vision that "2001" has, but the story is well worth watching.

Interstellar is not an optimistic movie about the future because it portrays a future Earth in the process of environmental collapse.  It takes a force external to the human race to save us.  What the movie does well is put human faces on this tragedy.  Even the supporting characters are people we care about.

Matt Damon makes a short but very meaningful appearance in the middle of the movie.

There is a YouTube video about everything Interstellar got wrong which I don't want to watch.   I knew as I watched this film that some things aren't scientifically accurate, just like the movie Gravity isn't scientifically accurate either.   It doesn't matter since the movie is enjoyable as it is.

Rating:  * * * 1/2

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hostage


Hostage is a Bruce Willis suspense thriller with an overly convoluted plot and lots of violence and a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  The story is one where a hostage negotiator must resolve a hostage crisis while his own family is also being held hostage because some clandestine organization has a vested interest in the situation.  It seems their bookkeeper is one of the hostages, and they desperately want the data he possesses.

Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars.  I have to agree.  The film kept me in suspense.  It is a thrilling and highly stylized movie.

The movie might invite comparison to Die Hard, but it also reminded me of Firewall.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mr. Peabody and Sherman

Fans of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show from the early 1960's will probably enjoy Mr. Peabody and Sherman, which is the somewhat silly movie adaption of the silly 1960's television cartoon.  The movie is more geared to children, like the original, but also like the original it has a certain wittiness about it that will appeal to adults.  The 3D animation is far more gorgeous than a cartoon like this deserves, and there is plenty of action and barely enough plot to make me glad that I saw it.

I have only two complaints:  The original Sherman was portrayed as a smart nerd, but in this movie he is immature and always getting into trouble.  There is also just enough scatological humor to raise a few eyebrows, but I am sure that the kids will find it funny.

Some of the scenes are a little too silly for my tastes, but the story and the pacing are pretty good.

Rating:  * * * 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Top 10 Stanley Kubrick Movies

Star Trek - Insurrecton

I can remember every movie I ever saw in some detail.  Almost.  While thinking about the Star Trek films, it bothered me that I couldn't remember much about the 9nth film in the series.  This bothered me so much that I decided to watch it again.  Now I understand why I didn't remember much about this movie; The film is instantly forgettable, and is at best about the same quality as an average episode of the Star Trek The Next Generation series that the film is based on.  Overall, it feels like a half hearted effort, and I expect more from a major motion picture.

It is not that the film doesn't have its moments, but the movie alternates between interesting and dull.  It is not a bad movie, but it is not a particularly good one either.

The special effects aren't that special, but might have been O.K. for 1998.  

The story is one where Picard decides to go against orders to protect a small colony on a planet that is being forced to relocate because of their natural resources that could potentially lengthen the lives of billions of people.  Picard sides with the colonists, but I wonder about the moral question; Inconveniencing 600 people to help billions of other people doesn't seem like a very hard choice to make.

If you are curious, the trailer has most of the best parts of the film.  In fact, it pretty much gives away the whole story.

Jonathan Frakes, who plays William Riker in the TV series and the movie, directed the film and continues to work as a director.

Rating:  * *

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon I & II


How to Train Your Dragon starts with the character Hiccup saying that the island Viking village Berk is great place to live except for the "pests".  The pests that he is referring to are the dragons that his Viking clan are at war with.  Hiccup is the meek teenage son of the leader Stoick the Vast.  Stoick wants his son to become a mighty Viking warrior to fight the dragons, but Hiccup is more of an intellectual.  Stoick doesn't understand his son and is quite frustrated with him, and Hiccup is also very frustrated because his father doesn't appreciate who he is.  At the insistence of his father, Hiccup manages to shoot a dangerous type of dragon called a Night Fury, but not kill it.  Hiccup ventures out into the wilderness to find the dragon and finish it off, but when he comes across the injured animal he instead feels sympathy for it and nurses it back to health.  Hiccup and the dragon that he now calls "Toothless" form a bond, but together they must stop the escalating war between the Vikings and the dragons.  By the end Hiccup is able to broker a peace between the Viking village and the dragons and the two groups form a symbiotic relationship.  He concludes the movie by saying that best thing about the village Berk are their "pets", i.e. the dragons.

How to Train Your Dragon II takes place 5 years later.  Stoick wants his now adult son Hiccup to become the new village chief, but Hiccup doesn't feel that he is ready and also feels that he hasn't quite figured out who he is yet.  Hiccup has occupied his time by exploring lands beyond the village where he comes across a powerful and dangerous group of people who want to capture all the dragons and subjugate them for war.  He discovers a mysterious person who is trying to protect the dragons, who also turns out to be his long lost and presumed dead mother.  Hiccup, being the peacemaker, tries to negotiate a peace with the belicose clan.  When that fails, the situation becomes a battle of good versus evil and Hiccup has to rise to the challenge to protect both his people and the dragons.

Both movies are very good.  I was afraid that the second film would be a complete retread of the first, but instead it follows a different and darker direction.  Together the two films deal with moral ambiguities in an intelligent way that might normally be too subtle for animated movies.

How to Train Your Dragon has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  How to Train Your Dragon II has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  The good versus evil ending of the second film felt rushed to me and seemed kind of ordinary.  The rest of the movie is excellent and the film is still well worth watching.

I am not sure that the dollar theater that I saw the second film at quite does it justice.  The projected film image didn't seem as a sharp as it could be and I don't think that it is a problem with the movie but a problem with the theater.  I have noticed this kind of problem before at this same theater.

Ratings:

How to Train Your Dragon    * * * 1/2
How to Train Your Dragon II * * * 1/2

I think that the second film is slightly weaker than the first, but not by much.  It comes out on DVD today.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

You can read my original review here.

When the first Star Wars trilogy was released from 1977 to 1983, there was much that we learned about the back story from the movies and other sources.  We know that Obi-Wan Kenobi was a Jedi Master who had an apprentice named Darth Vader.  We know that Darth Vader betrayed the Jedi, which contributed to the fall of the Old Republic and helped give rise to the Galactic Empire, which maybe has some allusion to the history of the Roman Republic becoming the Roman Empire.  We know that Vader is a Sith Lord and was influenced by the Emperor.  We know that Obi-Wan injured Vader in such as way that Vader has to live in a life-support suit or else he will die.  We also know that Vader was once named Anakin Skywalker, is the father of Luke Skywalker and Princess Lea, and may have at one time been a good person before he turned to evil.  

So 22 years after Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, the sixth movie in the series, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, tells us a story that we have heard before.  The difference is that the prequel trilogy, consisting of episodes 1 through 3, fills in the details about how all these events came into being.  Unlike the original trilogy, we know how all the story is going to end.  It is like watching the movie Titanic; The ending is not a surprise because we already know that the ship is going to sink.  

So despite our familiarity with the story, is the prequel trilogy worth watching?  Most definitely.  This is story telling on a grand scale and a critical part of the most epic movie series made to date.

Unlike the other Star Wars movies, this film seems to be completely devoid of sentimentality, except maybe at the end when we see the fate of Luke and Lea.  This is probably the intent because the movie is a tragedy.  It is about a man's descent into hell.  Nevertheless, the movie's emphasis seems to be on action, which is quite spectacular, but left me feeling less emotionally connected to the movie.  What emotion I did feel came from the events of  the last third of the film, which are all very sad.  Near the end there is an incredible scene of Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker fighting, but what comes across most is that these two men, once allies and friends, are trying very hard to kill each other. 

The movie plays like a warning about how war, violence and evil can change a civilization and its people, and lead to their downfall.

I think that the plot has a few minor logical problems, like how easily and completely Anakin turns to the dark side of the force, why Obi-Wan didn't go with Yoda to fight Palpatine, and why Obi-Wan and Anakin didn't burn up while fighting each other on the volcanic world of Mustafar.

Rating:  * * * 1/2

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace


In May 1983, The Return of Jedi came out in theaters, just 3 years after my favorite movie, The Empire Strikes Back.  It was the weakest of all 6 Star Wars movies, but still a satisfying finish to the original trilogy.  After years of not knowing if a reluctant George Lucas was going to make any more Star Wars movies, it was announced that a prequel trilogy would be made.  Sixteen years after the previous film, the movie going public went crazy in anticipation, forming lines going around the block twice just to buy tickets.

Watching the film for the first time, I expected the audience to go nuts when the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far way ..." appeared on the screen, and they did, but then they quickly settled down to take in what was happening on the screen.  What I initially saw didn't reassure me that this was going to be a great movie.  The film starts out talking about taxes on trade, trade blockades, and negotiations.  This wasn't exactly what I expected from a Star Wars movie, but every Star Wars film has been a little different from the others.  The first space ship on screen looked a little goofy to me, as did the first aliens, which made me uneasy because I  wasn't sure what direction the movie was going.  The next thing to bother me was that the two Jedi Knights get into an intense battle right away, whereas previous films would have much build up before we got into the action.  If this is suppose to be "Episode I" of a six film series, shouldn't we have some explanation before we see the Jedi Knights display their awesome and magical powers?

This movie received mixed reviews by audiences and critics alike.  There are many reasons, including that the movie didn't quite match people's expectations, but the main one seems to be an almost universal dislike for the comic foil of the movie, a Gungan named Jar Jar Binx.  Personally I like this character and I like the fact that there is a comical character in the movie.  But the reason why people are uncomfortable with this character has as much to do with language as anything else.  There are 4 different languages spoken in this movie, English, Huttese, Gungan, and Droidspeak.  When the Gungans try to speak English, especially when Jar Jar tries to speak English, it sounds a bit like gibberish and it takes some effort to understand what is being said.  Now I understood almost everything Jar Jar said, but many people didn't and this frustrated them.  It helps to watch the movie on disk with captioning turned on, but even that can be confusing with the subtitles displaying text like the following ...

"Ex-squeeze me, but de mostest safest place would be Gunga City."
"...terrible tings to me if me goen back dare."
"Wesa goen underwater, okeyday?"
"Gungans no liken outsiders, so don't spect a warm welcome." 
"Yousa cannot bees hair."
"Dis army of Mackineeds up dare is new weesong."
"Bad bombin."

I am still trying to figure out what "bombin" means.  In one context it seems to mean something bad, and in another it seems to mean "bomb."

If I understand most of what the Gungans say, that is good enough for me.  I am not too concerned if an occasional word goes by me because I understand the context and general meaning of what is being said.  Science fiction in general is full of odd speech, as some books show future societies speaking a slightly different English than what we use today.  Having slightly different speech gives the movie more texture, challenges the brain and makes it more interesting.

I am more than willing to forgive any minor problems that the film has, especially after multiple viewings because I know what to expect.  Do I like the movie?  Obviously.  The film rivals the best of the Star Wars movies.  It has a deep rich story with plenty of action and lots of strong emotional moments.  As much as I like Attack of the Clones, The Phantom Menace has a slightly better story, more intelligent dialog and more emotional moments.  

George Lucas knew how to make the best of special effects and computer technology of the time.  The film was made when most desktop computers were using just a 486 processor.  15 years later the special effects are still as good as the best special effects today.

Rating:  * * * *

With Disney having bought Lucas Film, a new trilogy is in the works, with more movies possible later.  Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens comes out on December 18, 2015.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Mississippi Burning

A Mississippi Burning is an award winning 1988 film about the 1964 murder of Mississippi civil rights workers.  It is a fictionalized version of actual events that maybe plays loose with the facts, but the film creates great drama and action.  The triumph of the film is in creating atmosphere.  The movie feels like it is transporting you to a different time and place  The attitudes and the fears of all involved come across and real and genuine.  The fact that such terrible things happened has great emotional impact.

When it comes to fictionalized dramas based on real events, I feel cheated in a way because I think that I would rather know the real story rather than one that was made up.

Rating:  * * * 1/2  

Friday, October 31, 2014

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones


You can read my original review here.  On my fourth (or fifth?) viewing I have a few additional observations.

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is a transition story between episodes I and III about how the Galactic Republic became the Evil Empire and how the sweet little boy Anakin Skywalker grew up to become the evil Darth Vader.  In this film we see all the forces set into motion that will make this happen.

12 years after the movie opened, it is still visually stunning.  This is a work of art.  I agree with the late Roger Ebert that the dialog is often painfully simplistic, but even so, by the end of the film the emotion has a powerful effect on the audience.  This is a great drama about people swept up by an intense political struggle that they don't understand.

Rating:  * * * *

Star Wars Episode 3 Deleted Jedi Execution and more

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Nut Job

With so many incredible animated films having been produced, it makes sense that there would be a few that aren't great films but still entertaining to watch.  The Nut Job is one of these films.  It is not a very deep movie, nor does it have the best animation, but it has a story that I enjoyed and one that would certainly appeal to kids.  I think that the 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is unfortunate because it is a better film than that.  I think that audiences and critics are so accustomed to great animated movies that they weren't willing to give it a fair chance.
   
A selfish squirrel named Surly, and his rat partner Buddy, plan on robbing a Nut Shop.  It turns out that the shop is a front for gangsters who plan on robbing the bank next door.  Mayhem is inevitable, but along the way Surly learns to be less selfish.

Rating:  * * *

Bolt

I have wanted to see this movie ever since it got favorable reviews back in 2008.  However, it is not quite as good of  movie as I hoped it would be, as it pales by comparison with every film Pixar ever made, but it is entertaining and sentimental enough to make me glad I saw it.

The movie starts with a ridiculous premise that the producers of doggy action TV show don't want their star to know that his adventures are fake.  Bolt, the dog, thinks that he is a super hero with super powers.  Bolt believes that he must protect his human, a young girl name Penny, from the forces of evil.  When he accidentally gets shipped to New York, he embarks on a cross country trip to save Penny.  

You would think that this would lead to some great comic moments, but really only mild ones.  Once I got over the silly premise, the movie worked for me as part sentimental drama, part adventure, part comedy, and part road trip.  The movie is a mixture of elements that by themselves would not be enough to carry the picture, but when combined make the movie work.  

The animation impressed me as we can see every hair on Bolt's body and the cross country trip includes enough eye candy to allow us to enjoy the ride.  The animation helped draw me into the story.

Rating:  * * *

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cloud Atlas


Top 10 Trailers Better Than the Movie points out that some movies fall way short of their advertising trailers.  The interesting thing about a really great trailer is that it will generate so much excitement that the movie itself is likely to be a letdown.  Even so, a great trailer can influence the viewer into thinking that the movie is a great film even as the viewer is watching the movie.

One of the greatest trailers ever is for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  Star Wars fans had to wait 16 years for a fourth movie, so any glimpse into a new Star Wars movie was bound to generate wonderful excitement.  Although I think that movie is very good, it doesn't appeal to everyone, and some people hate it.  For me, after getting so excited for the trailer, the opening sequence was a bit of a let down, but the film made up for this later.  Some people hate the movie for the character Jar Jar Binks, but I like the character and I think that he is a necessary comic relief in an otherwise serious movie.  With a 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I think that the movie is vastly underappreciated.

I think that the greatest trailer I have ever seen is the Cloud Atlas Extended Trailer.  My previous anticipation and enthusiasm for this film made me wonder if I had lavished too much praise on the movie in my review of the film.  I had this nagging feeling that I needed to see the movie again because maybe the film didn't quite live up to the trailer.  Although slightly true, a second viewing of the movie has reassured me that this is indeed a pretty amazing movie.

Cloud Atlas is a long movie.  It is almost 3 hours.  The first 38 minutes proceeds at a leisurely pace.  Emotionally the movie doesn't really connect with the audience until about 38 minutes into it.  From there the rest of the movie is a wild ride.

I have to give great praise to the editing that seamlessly switches between 6 different stories.  Had the movie been told in chronological order, it wouldn't have been as interesting and it wouldn't have conveyed the sense that all these different time periods are connected.  Individually the 6 stories aren't enough to carry the movie, but switching between the stories makes the film more interesting.

Cloud Atlas has its own philosophy that is some sort of new age mysticism.  Some people are likely to think that this is pretty hokey, but with any movie you have to have a certain amount of suspension of disbelief just long enough to appreciate the movie for what it is.  It doesn't mean that you have to buy into its ideals.  Also, the length and complexity of the movie might turn off some viewers.  With a 66% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this is another film that I think is greatly underappreciated.

After a second and third viewing, I am astonished at the film.  This is perhaps the best movie I have seen in the last decade, but I am thinking that not everyone will like it as much as I did.  It is a long, complex and somewhat hard to follow movie with a weird philosophy, but it is probably the most unique and ambitious film in years.

When you watch the movie, be sure to watch for a minute into the end credits where there is a little bonus that shows all the different characters each actor played.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes



Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the worthy sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Both are surprisingly great dramas, but the second film is also a really good action film.

After the fall of humanity due to a man-made virus designed to cure Alzheimer's Disease, the apes made intelligent by the virus have settled into the forest area north of San Francisco.  The apes believe that the humans have died out, but a few surviving humans have a small community in San Francisco.  When a couple of humans accidentally encounter the apes, they become frightened and shoot one of the apes, which leads to escalating tensions.  Hotheads on both sides push the two groups toward war.  A few individuals on both sides want to broker a peace, but the hotheads prevail.

The computer generated apes are amazing to look at.  My only complaint is that the apes facial expressions seem a little too human.

It seems obvious that the movie is an analogy for any human conflict.  The conflict started because the humans wanted to restart a hydroelectric dam, i.e. the war starts over energy, or more generally, over resources.  The movie shows how conflict develops from fear of  "the other" or "outsiders".  The fact that the two groups are so different is what helps drive them to war.  This gives the movie a certain noble message that stays with you for a long time.  It feels like an anti-war film that delivers its message better and more subtly than any human versus human conflict could.

This is filmmaking, science fiction and special effects at its best.  Rating:  * * * *

The Salt Lake City, the movie is playing at the dollar theater in Sugar House.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Richard Roeper gives the movie an "A".


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Emperor

During World War II, the Japanese committed many atrocities, for which many of its leaders were tried for war crimes and executed by the United States occupation after the war.  It is most likely that Emperor Hirohito bore some of the responsibility for these atrocities, although his exact role remains controversial.  The American occupying forces portrayed him as a powerless figurehead who had no real control over the military.  This is because General MacArthur felt that executing the Emperor would cause widespread rebellion in Japan, and that he needed the Emperor to help restore order.  General Bonner Fellers conducted the investigation into whether the Emperor should be prosecuted for war crimes, although it seems that part of his role was to coordinate testimony by witnesses to exonerate the Emperor.  If there was a cover-up, this film doesn't go there.

The movie posters are misleading because they focus on Tommy Lee Jones playing MacArthur and mostly ignore Matthew Fox of LOST fame playing General Fellers.  This is really a movie about General Fellers and his investigation of the Emperor.  The movie gets bogged down a little with a subplot about Feller's former relationship with his Japanese girlfriend, but this seems like a necessary part of the story.

The movie makes for a very interesting drama about an important moment in American-Japanese history and it provides insights into Japanese culture.  Oddly enough, it was filmed in New Zealand, although the landscape easily passes for Japan.

Rating: * * *

Emperor has a 31% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I feel that it is underappreciated.  Richard Roper gives the movie a "B".  If I were using that rating system, I would give it a "B+".

Friday, October 3, 2014

Under The Skin

With so many movies seeming like copies of each other, when something really different comes along it is hard to know what to make of it.

Under The Skin deserves a new category, which is Erotic Science Fiction Horror.  I am sure that erotic science fiction has been done before, but it is rare to see it in a mainstream movie.  Scarlett Johansson plays an alien seductress who lures Scottish men to their doom.  She invites them to an abandoned building, and in a scene that is repeated a few times, she walks across a strange room with a black reflective floor.  As the disrobing men walk across the floor they sink into it, but somehow fail to notice.  The men get trapped in a watery world underneath the floor.  Half way through the movie we see the horrible fate that awaits these men. 

About an hour into the movie the alien seductress starts to show signs of becoming more human and begins to explore her humanity.  There is a payoff at the end where we get to see what the alien really looks like.

Although I enjoyed the film for what it is, I think that most people would find the movie too slow.  In scene after scene we see the alien driving, walking, climbing and exploring.  These scenes drag on way too long.  It is comparable to Locke, but with much less plot.  What keeps the movie somewhat entertaining is the tension of not knowing who the alien is or what its motives are.  The suspense is just barely enough to keep the movie going, but I can't imagine wanting to see the movie a second time.

There are surreal scenes in the film that are reminiscent of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  However, these also drag on way too long.

Whether you like this movie depends upon if you like movies of this type.  I do, but for most people I wouldn't recommend it.

Rating:  * * 1/2



Friday, September 26, 2014

Mr. Nobody

Mr. Nobody is an intellectual exercise.  It is a puzzle presented to the audience who is expected to follow along as the main character lives parallel lives simultaneously based upon different choices he could have made as a child.  If you understand even the slightest amount about Quantum Physics, which is about my level of understanding, then the movie makes perfect sense.  On the level of the sub microscopic, individual particles can live parallel lives where they can be in multiple places at once and the outcome of events depend upon both probability and how those events are observed.  How you observe an event after it happened can actually change what happened.  At the macroscopic level we don't normally see this weirdness, and therefor this weirdness defies all notions of common sense, but the evidence shows that this is actually how the universe works.  A few people smarter than me think that the universe is a self replicating fractal creating parallel universes, so that every possible event that could happen actually does happen in a different universe.

The movie uses people to illustrate some pretty advanced concepts in physics without explaining that this is what it is doing.  I knew that is what is was doing when the movie briefly asks why does time only flow in one direction?  The movie answers the question by using every day examples to illustrate the concept of entropy, which is how disorder always increases in a closed system, although the movie never mentions the term.  You see, according to some people who ought to know, the reason why time only flows in one direction is because of entropy.  

The movie seems to hit every concept that I informally learned about physics over the last few years.  Even the tagline "If you never make a choice, anything is possible" refers to Schrödinger's cat.  This is deep stuff. 

Never mind.  To the casual observer the movie is designed to be a fable about how different choices in our lives could lead to different outcomes.  Well, duh.  

In the year 2095 at the age of 120, a man known only as Mr. Nobody is the last mortal person on earth and he is dying.  Everybody else on the planet has had their telomeres adjusted to become immortal.  Why Mr. Nobody hasn't had his telomeres adjusted is not explained.  At the end of his life he reflects on the choices he has made, although it is not clear which choices he made.  It appears as if he made many different choices and lived many different lives.  Or is it just his failing memory playing tricks on him?

Is the movie engaging?  It is.  It is also brilliant, but movies like this that are a little too deep and surreal run the risk of losing the audience.  Whether you like this movie depends upon how much you like to be challenged by what you are watching.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Richard Roper on Cloud Atlas.

Star Trek Nemesis



takes over the Romulin Star Empire and prepares to declare war on the United Federation of Planets.

The first ten Star Trek movies are a mixed bag with some being very good while others are barely O.K. and maybe a couple aren't so good.  Which film is which is a topic of much controversy among fans.

One could think of this movie, along with its predecessor, as the films that killed Star Trek movies until they could be rebooted in 2009 by J. J. Abrams.  Although the film knows how to hit all the right notes that Star Trek The Next Generation fans love, it doesn't quite know how to play the song.  The pace of the film is barely adequate with much of the time spent on conversation.  In short, it is a little too cerebral and intelligent:  The film philosophizes about life and what makes us who we are.  There are some very good action sequences and special effects, but the film lacks the energy, originality and downright joy that the reboot films have.  The movie is too constrained by the TV series that it was based on, so it took a reboot to give the film franchise new life.

That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy watching it a second time.  Anyone who is a fan of Star Trek The Next Generation will find the film enjoyable and consider it a necessary conclusion to The Next Generation saga.  People who aren't familiar with the TV series or aren't fans might not understand what is going on. 

Rating:   
For Star Trek fans:  * * *
For everybody else:  * * 1/2


Friday, September 19, 2014

The Machine

Researches try to create an artificially intelligent killing machine but things go horribly wrong when the robot soldier rebels against its masters.  

Have we seen stories like this before?  Too many times.  There have been a variety of stories about some new technological breakthrough that backfires and other stories about robots or computers turning against their creators.  The movie seems way too familiar, but there are other elements that are kind of cool, like creepy brain damaged soldiers who have been "fixed" with computer chips and a budding romance between the robot, who just happens to look like a sexy super model, and its creator.

My problem is that I didn't believe any of it.  The story makes very little sense to me.  If you were going to create a killer robot soldier, you would also create a ton of safeguards to make sure you can control the technology.  Furthermore, you wouldn't be claiming that you don't understand what it is that you just created and you wouldn't be treating it like a person, which everyone in this film does.  Ten or twenty years from now when we have real robots,  people will look at this film and think that it is absurd.  Or maybe they won't.

Despite my major qualms with the film, it feels like it is worth watching.  Once.  There is enough going on in this movie to make it creepy, interesting and intelligent.  It is a dark film to be sure, but most of it kept me in suspense.  I think that the ending doesn't rise to the level of the rest of the film, but up to that point it is a compelling ride.

Rating:  A weak * * *


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Niki Lauda - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The 1976 F1 battle between Niki Lauda and James Hunt was dramatized in the 2013 film Rush, where Lauda was portrayed by Daniel Brühl. Lauda himself made a cameo appearance at the end of the film. At this point Lauda said of Hunt's death, "When I heard he'd died age 45 of a heart attack I wasn't surprised, I was just sad." He also said that Hunt was one of his small number of friends, a smaller number of people he respected and the only man he had ever envied.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thor: The Dark World


In my mind I imagine a group of writers sitting around asking themselves what they could write that hasn't already done before?  Tough challenge.  But apparently they came up with using Norse Mythology and armies wearing 14nth century armor along with dimension shifting portals and rocks that tear people to pieces and an evil god named Loki who can get his way by creating illusions.  This makes the movie feel like a bit of a mess, but it is a mess that has its own internal logic and it works as a comic book adaptation.  This makes a good popcorn movie that you can sit back and enjoy, just so long as you don't try to overanalyze it.

Rating:  * * *

Locke


Presented for your consideration:  A man driving in a car with a hands free cell phone so that he can talk to various people.  Amazingly, this is the entire movie.  This reminds me of Lebanon where the entire movie was shot inside a tank.  However, this is a much better movie.  What makes this movie great is that the man is driving urgently toward a purpose that is a dark secret.  He has left behind a lot of details that he needs to clean up and he tries to do that by phone.  Although he is able to deal with some of these details, the phone conversations reveal that his life is falling apart because of one mistake he made.  His ultimate goal is to do the right thing even if that costs him everything, which it does.
 
This is a brave movie to spend 90 minutes with just one actor inside a car, but it works.  It works really well.
 
Rating:  * * * .5