Saturday, April 27, 2019

Let's talk about the AVENGERS ENDGAME plot holes

I tried to just not think about it and enjoy the movie for what it was, but this brings up a few good points.

Do not watch if you haven't seen the movie.

Mark Hamill shouldn't need to apologize for nostalgic tweet

11 years of Marvel movies.

Suppose you wanted to catch up on the Marvel movies but didn't necessarily want to watch all 22 of them so as to see the great Avengers Infinity War and its pretty good sequel Avengers Endgame? Not all the movies were of equal quality so you could skip a few.

The bare minimum that I think you could watch are:

1. Iron Man.
2. Thor.
3. Captain America.
4. Avengers. (The 2nd one was better, but it is optional.)
5. Guardians of the Galaxy. (The 2nd one was also better, but optional.)
6. Dr. Strange.
7. Black Panther.

And then finally...
8. Avengers Infinity War
9. Captain Marvel.
10. Avengers Endgame.

I didn't like either Ant-Man movie, nor did I think much of the Spiderman movie.

Thursday night

Thursday night I left chess club early to go see Avengers Endgame. This was a strange experience because there was no parking available in the huge theater parking lot. Every spot was taken and multiple cars were driving up and down the lanes looking for a place to park.

This was a problem because I had allowed myself barely enough time to catch the beginning of the movie after the previews had rolled.

I parked a block away in the middle of the Walmart parking lot, and I could see a bunch of other people doing the same. I then had to hurry in the rain to get to the theater. As I entered the theater I pulled out my ticket that I had already purchased, but nobody inside was checking tickets. It was fairly crowded and the movie was playing on five screens. I found my theater just as they were playing the spot that says, "And now enjoy the show!"

The only comparable experience was on December 17nth, 2015, when the first Star Wars movie in 10.5 years, The Force Awakens, premiered on a Thursday night. I had also left the chess club early, and I literally got the last parking spot after much searching.

I was worried that I might get a ticket or something, but there were no consequences for parking at Walmart. I was also worried about walking back in the dark at 11:10 at night, but I wasn't the only one.

--

Friday, April 26, 2019

Avengers Endgame

Avengers Endgame is 3 hours well spent. It is the worthy sequel Avengers Infinity War. Both movies are the conclusion to 11 years of Marvel movies leading up to this one event. Infinity War was one of the best movies I have ever seen. Endgame is not quite as good, but it is close enough.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

DISNEY PLUS WILL LOSE OVER 8 BILLION DOLLARS IN STREAMING SERVICE WAR WITH NETFLIX



Disney is getting a monopoly on entertainment, having bought ABC, Marvel, FOX, DC comics, the Muppets, and Lucasfilm. Given that they are spending 10 million per episode for a new Star Wars series called The Mandalorian, with another TV series presumably in the works, and that they have a huge library of movies, they might very well get a monopoly on streaming services. They could outcompete Netflix, and if I were Netflix I would be in merger talks.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Shazam


Many youtube reactions to Shazam are that the movie is darn near perfect, and exceptionally well executed.  It is fairly executed, but I would not call it perfect.  I really wanted to love this film, but it is very kid friendly, especially in the humor, some of which I thought was cringeworthy.  Therefore, I don't love the movie, but I don't hate it either.  I got about the same amount of enjoyment that I got from Captain Underpants, which is not a bad movie, but the difference is that Captain Underpants has no pretense of being anything other than a silly kids movie.  I am reminded of watching The Goonies in 1985.  Both movies have solid stories, semi-interesting characters, and at least one really good villain.  Both movies also have silly moments that make you wonder why an adult like you is bothering to watch a kids film?

There are many places in the movie where I thought that the characters would logically react in a more mature way than they did.

However, there are three things that distinguish Shazam.  First, the main character Billy Batson has a good story arc where he is forced to evolve and mature.  Second, there is an interesting parallel between Billy Baston and the villain.  Both characters have family issues that motivate them, but each takes a different path leading to a very different result.  Third, at times the movie is really dark.  Too dark.  The tone throughout the film is inconsistent and that bothered me a little.

A perfect movie is one that enriches the viewer.  Some movies made me feel better about myself or the world.  Other movies are motivational or educational.  Instead, Shazam is a morality tale about greed and envy corrupting the soul.  As such it is interesting, but I didn't otherwise get much out of it.

Superheroes have it too easy.  They are given tremendous power without really having to earn it.  It is a far better experience to watch movies about real heroes. The fact of the matter is that all humans have a superpower, but few realize that they have it. That power is the ability to change ourselves for the better.  Humans can accomplish great things provided that they have the will to do it.

Rating:  B.

Alita, Battle Angel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:  B

Captain Marvel

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:  B+

First Man

First Man underperformed at the box office, and I think that this is largely because the lousy title tells us nothing about the movie.  Maybe the publicity was also bad because nobody I know has heard of the film. The title comes from the book that the movie is based upon, First Man:  The Life of Neil Armstrong, but when I hear "First Man" I think of a different movie ...

So it would have been better to call this movie "Neil Armstrong" or just "Neil" for clarity.  It is about Neil Armstrong's role in the space program, and how this affected his life and his relationship with his family.

The film has been called a worthy successor to the movie The Right Stuff, which is only partially true.  I don't think that the two movies are in the same league.  The Right Stuff is a great movie and an ensemble piece about many people.  What First Man does well is tell us the events that led up to Neil Armstrong being the first man to step onto the moon.  It has more of a gritty realism to it.  Never has spaceflight seemed so claustrophobic nor so dangerous.

Family is at the emotional center of the film.  One of my favorite scenes is where Armstrong explains to his two boys that there is a slight chance that he might not be coming back from his mission to the moon.  I thought that maybe this scene was fictional, but it turns out that it actually happened.  His younger son is maybe too young to understand, but the older boy accepts that it is necessary for heroes to take risk.

Neil Armstrong rightfully earned a reputation for having nerves of steel.  He escaped a couple of life-threatening situations by doing the right thing just in the nick of time.  He was the strong silent type.  He was always professional and smart.  But you can see from interviews that Armstrong could also be friendly and pleasant.  The trouble with Ryan Gosling is that in all his movies he appears to have one mood, which is brooding.  Gosling is the silent and brooding type.  I don't feel like he completely captures Neil Armstrong, nor do I think that he was the best actor for the part.  I think that Josh Brolin could have done a better job.

The movie lacks detail but instead chooses to make big jumps between key emotional and historic moments.  It tries to show us, and not tell us what happened, but a little more explanation would have clarified what was going on.

Still, the pacing of the film is very good.  It keeps us interested from start to finish.  

Rating:  B+.   It makes a great rental.

A Star is Born


Jackson Maine, a famous country music singer, develops a relationship with Ally, a waitress and a singer-songwriter. She is full of talent, but somewhat stage shy. He encourages her to sing onstage with him, and this leads to her getting a contract and her own successful singing career in pop music, although this creates some tension between her and Jack.

Jack has a dark side, which is that he is both an alcoholic and a drug addict.  This creates more conflict in his relationship with Ally, and with his brother/manager Bobby.   He pretty much destroys his life, but then goes into rehab.

On a technical level, the movie is fantastic.  The chemistry between the two main characters, played to perfection by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, is just wonderful.  The singing is top notch.  Both characters are portrayed as the nicest people in the world, except for the few times when Jack is taking a nosedive into self-destruction.  The supporting cast is also very memorable.

However, this is where I had a problem with the movie.  None of this feels realistic.  Ally is supposed to be this uber-talented singer-songwriter who lacks confidence and is too meek to appear onstage, despite giving a knockout performance at a nightclub at the beginning of the movie that doesn't seem shy at all.  These personal attributes don't go together, because people who are super talented know it and live for the moments when they can best use their talents.  On the other hand, Jack is way too nice of a guy to be an alcoholic drug addict.  In the real world, this would be pretty ugly.  

The movie gives us a tragic ending, but the emotion feels all wrong like the film glosses over the devastating emotional impact that this would have.  I am also bothered by the frequent foul language.  Normally that would not be much of a problem, but here it is gratuitous as if it is in the wrong movie.  

There is so much to like about this film, but taken as a whole its many elements don't mesh together as well as they should.  It could have been perfect, but instead it feels flawed.

Rating:  B+.

Annihilation

Science fiction done well is expensive, and therefore relatively rare.  However, there are a ton of lower budget science fiction movies that attempt to entertain us, but few of them are great.  There are certain methods these films use to make up for the lack of budget, because they have to fill up two hours, so certain plot elements and story are stretched out leaving the audience hanging on waiting for something interesting to happen.  Whereas great movies might have a large number of interesting plot elements, the lower budget films might have just one or two.

You can see the similarity of many movies like this.  They create a mystery to be solved, or a journey to be taken, or a horror to be fought.  Somewhere along the way, there will be some eye candy to please the audience, possibly some gross-out special effects, and the ending might feel premature, leaving you hanging wanting to know more.  All these things describe the movie Annihilation, and I'm not sure that you need to know more than that.  This combination of elements, along with the all-female main cast, almost works, but it leaves me expecting something better.  The film tries to be original, but I spot a dozen ideas that I have seen elsewhere.

Around 25 years ago I read a short story about an alien blight that lands on Earth and slowly begins to take over more land. Within the infected area, earthly creatures mutate and become new versions of plants and animals.  This is essentially the story of Annihilation.  The infected area is covered by a "shimmer" and everyone who has ventured into the shimmer has failed to return.  As a result, a group of women volunteers, mostly military, agree to enter to see what they can find out.  It turns out that most of these women are broken in one way or another, so they all have their own motivation for taking the trip.  One has cancer and sees this as a suicide mission.  One lost her husband in the shimmer and wants to find out what happened.

There is nothing wrong with Natalie Portman's performance, but she once had a unique look that is not very apparent in this movie.  She looks more ordinary, and age might be a factor.  Oscar Isaac is a good actor, but his part here is relatively small and his dialogue intentionally bland, so it doesn't give him much to work with.

The movie is entertaining, but barely so.  Movies like this keep you in suspense wanting to know how they turn out, but once you watch them there is no reason to repeat the experience.

Rating:  B-.  My favorite movie critic, Richard Roeper, gives Annihilation four stars, describing the movie as innovative, but I think that the film reeks of a low budget.

Avengers Infinity War

There have been eighteen Marvel Universe movies since 2008.  These have introduced a large number of characters, i.e. heroes, most of which come together in this movie to fight a single enemy named Thanos.  Previous movies hinted at infinity stones being powerful and dangerous, and the need to keep them from evil.  It turns out Thanos is getting his hands on these stones and has an agenda that involves wiping out half the life in the galaxy.  Why?  His world collapsed due to overpopulation, so he takes it upon himself to solve this problem for everybody else.  If he gets all six stones he could kill every other person in the galaxy with just a snap of his fingers.

There have been a number of good Marvel movies in the last decade and many of the stories from the films pick up in Avengers Infinity War from where they left off.   The action gets started early and almost never lets up.  One might think that this would be bad, but the action is done so well and the characters are so good that the movie feels like something truly special on a grand scale.  Never have we seen so many different stories and characters woven together so seamlessly.  This isn't just a movie, but an event a decade in the making.  

We see more of Thanos than we do any individual hero, making him in effect the main character.  This is as much his story as it is anybody else's, and he is played wonderfully by Josh Brolin.

With so many actors and effects, it is not surprising that the movie cost $360 million to make.  They got their money's worth.  Some have compared the film to Star Wars in terms of entertainment value, which is not a bad comparison.

Rating:  A+

Journey's End

For those who have not seen it, Journey's End (2017) is a very effective war movie. I would compare it to Dunkirk, although the pace is a little less exciting. It is more of a personal drama about war.
The movie is based on a 1928 play about World War 1. Almost the entire movie takes places in the trenches, just prior to the German "Spring Offensive" in 1918.
There have also been three other movies based upon this play, first in 1930, and a German version in 1931, and the 1978 "Aces High" where the story was changed to be about fighter pilots.

Rating:  A-

Fury


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: A

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

Steve Jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: A

Steve Jobs has an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Legion


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and Mercy


The Beach Boys were founded in 1961 by the brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and their friend Al Jardine.  They had their greatest success from their inception up to 1966 with their Pet Sounds album, which was an artistic achievement but commercial failure, but also with the song Good Vibrations in 1966 which was their greatest selling single.  From this point on the band was plagued with nothing but problems.  Brian Wilson, who was the songwriting genius of the group, mentally broke down due to schizophrenia and drug abuse, and for the remaining decades would only occasionally have anything to do with the band.  The Beach Boys failed to keep up with changing music styles, failed to have any new successful songs until the 1988 Kokomo, and only found commercial and touring success with their old material.  The last 40 years have seen the original and new members come in and out of the group, and multiple lawsuits between various members over song rights, royalties, and the legal use of the name "The Beach Boys."  Dennis Wilson died as an indirect result of drug abuse and Carl Wilson died from lung cancer due to his heavy smoking.  Today, of the surviving original band members, all of which are in their 70's, only Mike Love is keeping the band going along with some of the children of the original band members.  Since about 2000, Brian Wilson has had a semi-successful solo career and very little interest in rejoining the group.

Love and Mercy focusses on two parts of Brian Wilson's life:  His creative genius and eventual breakdown in the 1960s, and a difficult period of his life in the 1980s when he was under the care of psychotherapist Eugene Landy.  The movie portrays Landy as being abusive and totally controlling of Wilson.  Landy eventually lost his psychotherapy license in the state of California due to ethical violations in his treatment of Wilson.  Despite these problems, Brian Wilson thinks that Eugene Landy helped him.

The movie portrays Brian Wilson's early romantic relationship with Melinda Ledbetter, who helped him break away from Landy, and later became his wife and manager.  The couple adopted five children.

Paul Dano and John Cusack both give great performances as Wilson.

This is a very good biopic, and mostly accurate according to Wilson.  The movie provides insight into The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, and the creative process.  The film makes you want to download The Beach Boys songs.

I wanted to see Love and Mercy when it came out in the theater, but I got busy and it didn't stay in my local theater very long.  Afterward, I didn't want to drive 50 miles to see the movie, so instead, I watched it the first day it came out on DVD.

 Rating:  A-.

Interstellar


I have an idea;  let's write a science fiction movie.  First, we will make a list of as many cool things as possible to put in the movie.  We want several scenes reminiscent of 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  Check.  Let's make the main character a farmer, but he is really an astronaut.  Check.  Let's put the world in an environmental crisis.  Check.  Give the farmer a cute ten-year-old daughter who doesn't understand why her father has to abandon her in order to go save the world.  Check.  Add in a kind grandfather.  Check.  Let's have a black hole and a wormhole.  Double check.  Describe love as a natural physical force.  Check.   We can surprise the audience by having an uncredited major Hollywood star show up in the middle of the movie playing a highly respected scientist who really turns out to be evil.  Check.  Throw in a really cool robot, unlike anything anyone has seen before but is also reminiscent of 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  Check.  While we are at it, create some scenes that couldn't possibly happen, some time travel paradoxes and a couple of plot twists that don't quite make sense just to confuse the audience.  Check and mate.

Interstellar feels like it was created from a long list of things designed to impress the audience.  Consequently, the story feels a little bit forced like they are trying too hard, but only a little bit forced.

I no longer care.  Whatever the movie is attempting to do, it does it superbly.  This is one well executable movie.  Despite any problems the film has, it is an amazing ride for the audience.

In my original review, I said that the movie feels like it recycled parts of 2001: A Space OdysseyGravity, and Frequency.  I think that the producers wanted to recycle some old elements to play it safe, but the movie is still loaded with original ideas.

There is so much good stuff in this movie that people will want to see it over and over.  After my second viewing, I am changing my rating to A-.

BlacKkKlansman


Racism is an ugly topic, so it should not surprise me that BlacKkKlansman is in some ways a movie about ugly people.  Based upon the advance publicity, I expected it to be a little more whimsical, similar to the wonderful Logan Lucky, but the film's tone is somewhere between American Made and Edge of Darkness, but with less humor.  Although the movie is described as a "comedy-drama", I fail to see how it is in any way funny.  Perhaps the film is being misrepresented to promote ticket sales.

The movie is based upon the true story about how black police officer Ron Stallworth 40 years ago pretended to be a white racist on the phone while talking to KKK members so as to gain information about their activities.  When he was required to make a personal appearance at KKK meetings, he sent a white undercover narcotics officer to represent him.  

In the real story, no arrests were made and the investigation was shut down after nine months.  The movie adds a bunch of fictional elements to make it more interesting, including a love interest, a terrorist bombing plot, and the notion that the white undercover officer was Jewish.

All the actors are good, but I especially like Topher Grace as David Duke.  He has come a long way from That 70's Show.

As a fictionalized version of real events, the movie is plenty entertaining.  However, it gets into murky territory when it implies that Donald Trump is the equivalent of  David Duke, and the ending uses the protests and riots at Charlottesville to attack Trump and imply that racism is alive and well.  At one point Klansmen are shouting "America First", adding another connection with Trump.  To those who are the anti-Trump faithful, this may seem all well and good, but it disrupts the narrative of the movie to make a blatantly obvious political statement and one that at least some of us disagree with.

In fact, the movie tries to draw parallels wherever it can to the events of 40 or 50 years ago and the present day.  It frequently talks about police officers shooting and abusing black men.  However, racism is not near as extensive as it was 40 to 50 years ago.  The membership of white supremacist groups is down to a few thousand.  The actual facts about modern police shootings do not show a pattern of racial discrimination.  We live in one of the most racially harmonious periods of our history, where we elected a black president, but the movie feels like it wants to agitate people about racial politics.

Regardless, the film tells a good, although a mostly fictional story, and is thought-provoking.

Rating:  B+.

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 wraps 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:  A

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Ralph Breaks the Internet, the worthy sequel to the 2012 Wreck-It Ralph, is like one of those giant Cinnabons that they used to sell in malls.  It is big, sweet, slick as all get out, and it feels like it is only made from three ingredients.  In the case of the movie, the three ingredients are friendship, technology, and the dangers of technology.  The film intelligently hits themes that are current as ever regarding the internet and the dangers that lie within, while deliberately not being too deep nor scary because of the movie's target audience.   Although at times I felt like it could have been a little smarter, Ralph Breaks the Internet achieves a balance that both children and adults can enjoy.

Whereas the first movie relies heavily on nostalgia for the golden age of 1980's arcade video games, the sequel gets all modern for the age of the internet and 3D gaming.  If another sequel gets made six years from now, maybe it will be about virtual reality, which is where gaming is now headed.

Both Wreck-It Ralph and Ralph Breaks the Internet live in a universe where arcade video game characters have lives of their own, and the characters from different games can interact with each other through the power circuitry that connects all the games.  This notion of electrical power as a computer network is a bit odd, but it works because this is just a movie.  If you have seen the trailer, then you know that a crisis develops when Vanellope von Schweetz's game, Sugar Rush, gets its steering wheel broken and the owner of the video game arcade plans to sell the machine off for parts.  Ralph develops a plan for the two video game characters to journey to the Internet to find a replacement part and save the arcade game.  What could possibly go wrong?  Just about everything, including a venture into the "dark web" that has some serious consequences.  There are lessons to be learned here, which will likely go over the heads of the younger audience members.

The computer animation is top notch.  The story is better than I expected, and the jokes are just good enough to make you laugh a few times.

Rating:  B+

P.S.  Compare this scene:



To this one:


I had a sense of déjà vu, and this could be a deliberate homage to the previous film.

Home

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

Jim Parsons is magical as the voice of Oh.

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

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

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

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

Rating:  A-

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

The Good Dinosaur


The Good Dinosaur has a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  A few critics pan the film for having too simplistic of a story, and Richard Roeper thinks the movie is too violent.  I think that the film is brilliant, but parts of it might be too intense for younger children.  In fact, most of it is.

The story starts out 65 million years ago and what transpires is that the big asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs somehow barely misses the Earth.  Go forward about 64 million years, and the dinosaurs are still around and they have evolved up the evolutionary scale a bit; enough to talk to each other and have farms and even herd animals.  (This is a great science fiction concept, but it has been done before in other science fiction stories.)

Arlo, an Apatosaurus, is the runt of his family, and his is always afraid of everything.  His father gives him the task of guarding their silo of food from a pest.  It turns out the pest is a human child, who happens to behave more like a dog than a modern human.  Arlo is suppose to kill the human, but fails at his task.  Through a series of unfortunate events, Arlo gets separated from his family and ends up forming a bond with the human child, whom he calls "Spot".  Together they go on a long journey to return home, but it is a journey full of great danger from predators and violent storms.

Visually this is probably the most stunning film Pixar has ever done.  Everything in the film is beautifully photorealistic, except for the dinosaurs and humans which look a little more cartoonish.  I found it hard to believe how great this movie looks.  The computer animation is on a new technical level that we have not seen before.

Some might regard the story as too simple, but I found that it touched my heart.  There are themes of love, compassion and devotion that are apparently universal regardless of your species.  The movie is violent, but this is how I would expect the world would be if it were ruled by dinosaurs.

Rating:  A-

Jarhead

Imagine enlisting in the Marines, going through one hell after another, to finally get deployed in Operation Desert Shield.  Once deployed, you fight boredom for months, until finally Operation Desert Storm begins.  Imagine you get shot at with no opportunity to shoot back.  Imagine going through hell again, until finally, after a long period of difficulty, you are finally looking at the enemy through the sight of a gun.  All the misery you have gone through comes down to what you do at that one critical moment.  That's what Jarhead is about.  What happens at that moment I can't reveal, but it is not what I expected.

The movie captures the difficulty, boredom and insanity of being at war.  It wouldn't make a good recruitment film, because none of this looks pleasant.

Rating: B+

Logan

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:  A-

P.S. If this takes place in the year 2029, I expect to see robots everywhere.  Everywhere!

Blade Runner 2049

I had high expectations for Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the 35 year old Blade Runner.  The early reviews were great and it achieved an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  I went out of my way to see the movie, but I am going to tell you now to save your money and either rent it, or wait for it to get to a discount theater.  About half way through the film I was still waiting to find out what the point was, and about two thirds of the way through I concluded that it had no point.  I thought that maybe we would get something stunning in the last act, but the plot is very thin.  The movie instead chooses to impresses us with its visuals, none of which are that much different than the first film.  In fact, many of the scenes are murky, with dusty desolate landscapes.  There are also a couple of confusing plot points that didn't quite make sense to me.

The first movie had a definite point to it.  If you could engineer biological beings close to human but not quite human, where do you draw the line between what is human and what is not?  What has rights and what doesn't?  What is real and what is not, which is the point of the original novel?  In both films the 'replicants' are used as slaves and have no rights, but in the sequel there is hardly any difference between the replicants and the humans.

It makes little sense to me to have a future world that uses biological beings as slaves, because in the real world we are probably only 10 to 20 years away from having intelligent robots that could do any sort of labor.

The only point of Blade Runner 2049 is that replicants are planning to revolt, which presumably will take place in the next sequel.  As such, it feels like half a movie because there is not that much story here, so there is plenty of room in the picture to include a revolt.  I should also point out that a revolt by artificial beings is not that original; the TV show Dark Matter has a subplot about this, and we have seen it in Star Trek at least a couple of times, and it is the central point of both Battlestar Galactica TV series.

Blade Runner 2049 fails to capture the spirit that made the original Blade Runner magical.  The main character, played by Ryan Gosling, displays mostly only one emotion, which is brooding. 

 There is enough eye candy and barely enough story to make the movie worth seeing, but I wouldn't want to spend $10 to see it.  If you are willing to wait, you can spend a couple of bucks to rent it or catch it at a discount theater.

The film uses nudity to the point of overdoing it.  Seeing 40 foot tall naked holograms on the street might make sense from a science fiction perspective, but it is just filler to distract us from the lack of a great story.

Rating:  B-

P.S.  I conjecture that the movie is not called "Blade Runner 2048" because there is a popular smartphone game called "2048."  Personally, I don't like any title that includes a date because it will quickly become obsolete, like "Space 1999", "Death Race 2000", and "2001: A Space Odyssey."

JJ Abrams KNEW Episode 8 sucked!!! - YouTube

This is significant.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a busy movie, so much so that I didn't feel like I could absorb it all on the first viewing.  I was unhappy with the ending, which is confusing, has too many twists, and ties up everything a little too neatly.  This detracted from what was an otherwise a fun movie.  I needed to see Solo a second time so that I could better understand the film.  In fact, I caught the last showing before it disappeared from my local theaters. 

Solo: A Star Wars Story starts out fun as we learn that gangsters on Corellia force kids into a life of crime. Solo looks like he is barely an adult as he schemes with his girlfriend, Kira, to escape from under the thumb of a gangster.  Parts of this story aren't as logical as they could be, but we get a thrilling chase scene as Solo and Kira try to flee.  Kira doesn't escape, and Solo's only way out is to join the military of the Empire.

Jump to three years later and Solo tries to desert from the Empire, meets Chewbacca, barely escapes death, and joins a gang of thieves lead by Tobias Beckett, played by Woody Harrelson.  They hope to make a big score that will allow them all to retire from a life of crime, but things don't go well, which leads to a confrontation with a gangster, Dryden Voss, played by Paul Bettany who we know from the Avengers movies.  They try to make a second score, which leads to further complications, including joining up with Lando Calrissian and making the famous Kessel Run.

All this is fun until the ending.  On the second viewing, the movie made complete sense to me, unlike the first time, and I was better able to appreciate the film and ending.  I understand what they were trying to do, but the ending is still a bit too convoluted, forced, and not particularly logical given what we know about the Han Solo character and the universe he lives in.

Does Alden Ehrenreich make a good young Han Solo?  I like this actor, but initially, he seems unconvincing.   On the second viewing, it was easier for me to accept him in this role because I understood better how this character is young, naive and too optimistic.  However, we have no reason to think that he would be this way given that he grew up under the worst possible conditions.  He is very green, but this is not how we imagine Han Solo would be compared to the older cynical version we saw in the original Star Wars movie.  I expect him to be cynical from the start.

Other than Solo and Beckett, this movie lacks interesting characters.  Voss is somewhat intriguing, but his screen time is short and he seems like a stereotypical gangster.  Kira is a generic girlfriend character until a plot twist at the end.

Much has been written about Donald Glover's portrayal of Lando Calrissian.  He does a good job, but the character isn't particularly likable, and it is hard to see why Solo develops a friendship with him.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is often exciting, starts out fun, but doesn't really finish that way.  This is a decent movie that could and should have been better given the $260 million dollars they spent on it.  There were production problems, the original two directors were fired, and most of the movie had to be reshot.  The movie doesn't always seem logical, nor is it always consistent with the Star Wars universe that we already know. One scene bothered me when Solo walks up to a bar and orders a "brandy."  It blows my mind that an Earth drink would exist a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I am changing my rating from a "B-" to a "B".

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 a great emotional impact.

If Eddie Redmayne, 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:  A-

Solo: A Star Wars Story


Solo:  A Star Wars Story feels a bit like a history lesson, filling in the backstory of Han Solo, for example letting us know how Han Solo met Chewbacca, met Lando Calrissian, acquired the Millennium Falcon and completed the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs.  

That sounds like fun, and mostly it is.  I was really enjoying the movie until the ending.  What's wrong with the ending?  Nothing major.  However, despite the movie feeling slightly too long, the ending wraps up the plot threads a little too quickly and too easily.  For me, it felt kind of forced.  That's when I realized that Solo: A Star Wars Story seems kind of average and not particularly special.  It is mostly a heist film in space with space gangsters.  You could have had the same story in another setting that didn't have anything to do with Star Wars, like a western.  The film as given doesn't really add anything to the Star Wars saga.  It slips in a couple of easter eggs that have implications for the Star Wars story in general, but they weren't significant enough for me to care.  

There is a big reveal at the end of the movie that sets up a sequel, but the reveal isn't too surprising to anyone who has watched the Star Wars The Clone Wars animated TV series.

As far as characters are concerned, again I don't feel like we got anything special.  Chewbacca is probably the most interesting character in the movie.  Alden Ehrenreich is passable as a young Han Solo, but he is too bright eyed and bushy tailed.  He is green and lacks any kind of hard edge that we would expect from Han Solo.  Lando Calrissian as played by Donald Glover is good, but none of the other characters really stand out; they feel ordinary, just like the story feels ordinary.

Even when I watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which if we are to believe Rotten Tomatoes was hated by half the fans, I felt like I was watching something truly special and significant to Star Wars.  With Solo, we get a story we didn't need that is kind of forgettable, with a great many characters that we only partially care about.  Perhaps one problem with the movie is that it has too many characters.

The movie had production problems and its budget exceeded 250 million dollars.  For that kind of money, my expectations for the film were a little higher than what we got.   The movie is entertaining enough, but that is all it is.  Star Wars deserves better. People go to see Star Wars movies because they are exceptional, not because they are average.  Part of the problem is that Disney is making too many Star Wars movies, so the quality of the storytelling is being diluted.

Rating:   B-.

Solo has a 69% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  My favorite movie critic, Richard Roeper, gives the film three and a half stars.