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

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

JJ Abrams KNEW Episode 8 sucked!!! - YouTube

This is significant.

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.

American Sniper

The world as we know it today is an unstable place.  There are people whose interests are completely contrarian to our own:  Their beliefs are irreconcilable with ours.  The events of 9-11 showed beyond any doubt that there are people who want to hurt us.  As long as this situation continues, there will be war of one sort or another.  International politics and the war on terror are complex with no easy solutions.  Our role in combating terror has been controversial, as some people have wondered if we really needed to go to Iraq?  Regardless, we went there and put our soldiers in harm's way to fight a fight that we thought was worth fighting. 

Our soldiers are from an all-volunteer military.  These people chose to be soldiers.  Some of these people didn't come back.  Some came back damaged, physically or mentally.  There is another word for people like this:  Heroes.  So it seems extremely appropriate that a movie should be made about one of these heroes, Chris Kyle, who was the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history.  The movie is based upon his book, American Sniper, and is directed by the 84-year-old Clint Eastwood.

This movie is much more than just an intense well acted dramatic biography of Chris Kyle.  It is the story of all who fought.  It is also, in part, our story.  We as a nation have suffered from the terrible attacks of 9-11.  We as a nation chose to fight and endure the consequences of the wars that followed.  Chris Kyle was a perfect reflection of the values of the America that he came from.  He was also a man of deep conviction.  Heroes always are.

Rating:  A

The Last Jedi

I was just thinking about the scene where a very youthful looking Kylo Ren says "Let the past die. Kill it if you have to." It is written for millennials. This whole movie is a calculated attempt to appeal to millennials, who Disney thinks are going to spend the most money. I think that it disregards the old Star Wars fans, or at least has less regard for them. I already knew that there was some attempt to appeal to millennials, but in thinking about it I realized just how one-sided the movie is.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

If you want to see my spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, look here.  Otherwise, expect plenty of spoilers.

If you look at some of the youtube reaction, it is clear that a great many people hate this movie.  These are the die-hard Star Wars fans who are more than likely older and feel an attachment to the existing Star Wars mythology.  The reason why all these people hate the movie is pretty much the same:  The movie throws away the old mythology and replaces it with a slightly different version.  In fact, that is the theme of the film, because in a least of a couple of places the movie says, "Let the past die.  Kill it if you have to."  We can see this in the first Luke Skywalker scene where he symbolically and humorously discards the past like it has no meaning.  

Whereas the movie should be the continuation of the hero's journey, Luke's journey, what we see instead is a disenchanted Luke who has abandoned his friends, their cause, the Force, and the Jedi Order.  No wonder some people hate this movie!

I have seen multiple people claim that Star Wars: The Last Jedi kills Star Wars.  I disagree for the reasons I give below.

These same people who have problems with the movie have also noticed that the new trilogy is an outlet for Social Justice Warriors.  All the bad guys are inept white males.  The leaders of the rebellion are all women, and the lead male characters make mistakes, get into trouble and have to be corrected by the females.  In fact, when the producers cast The Force Awakens they stated they were making an effort to not cast white males, as if Star Wars needs some form of Affirmative Action.  For example, Oscar Isaac who plays Poe Dameron is Hispanic.  We can see the social justice theme in several places in the movie since the resistance is described as "the voice of the downtrodden" and the planet of Canto Bight is described as a playground for the rich who just happen to be mostly white and war profiteers.  Meanwhile on Canto Bight, the stables for the Fathier, which are like space horses, are maintained by child laborers, apparently slaves, who are clearly oppressed but secretly yearn to side with the rebellion. 

Whereas the old movies had a clear moral distinction between an evil empire and freedom-loving rebels, the new movies blur those distinctions a bit.  It has become more of a struggle for the oppressed against the rich and powerful.  Snoke, who is supposed to be the ultimate bad guy, was described in the prerelease publicity as rich and powerful and flashy in the way that he liked to dress adorning himself with jewelry.  He was also supposed to have a connection to the playground of the rich world of Canto Bight.  In Star Wars: Rogue One, Saw Gerrera is a terrorist with parallels to Che Guevara.  So who exactly are the Rebels?  Political leftists?  What cause are they really fighting for?

There is a lack of continuity with the old films in that being powerful with the Force required some sort of heritage, such the Skywalker lineage.  Many people thought that Rey would be Luke's daughter or the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi or somehow related to Leia or Palpatine.  Instead, we are told that she is literally nobody; her parents were junk dealers who sold her into slavery for a pittance.  But here emerges a new theme, which is that anyone can become powerful with the Force, regardless of heritage or lack of training.   In fact, the new trilogy seems to think that training is not important.  Luke doesn't train Rey, except to tell her why he thinks the Jedi cause must end.  So despite her lack of training, Rey is able to leave Luke and go off and do powerful things.

Whereas the Star Wars movies were supposed to be all about the Skywalkers, as Kathleen Kennedy head of Lucasfilm has acknowledged, this film pretty much kills that idea.  The producers have painted themselves into a corner, especially with the death of Carrie Fischer, but the goal seems to be to continue only with the new characters.

There are things in the movie that don't seem logically consistent to me.  The previous films established rules on how the Force works, or how the space ships worked and how their propulsion worked.  This film establishes new rules.  For example, if you can destroy a battlecruiser with a kamikaze run then why haven't we seen that before?  And why does a human have to do it when we know that droids can fly ships?  Fuel has never been an issue before, but here it becomes a major plot point.  And why can't the First Order ships catch up to the rebellion ships at sub-light speeds, when their starships are capable of going faster than light?

People expected this movie to provide them with more information, like filling in the back story on many of the characters, but the movie is stingy with its information and only gives us enough to allow us to follow along.

Character development suffers a little because the movie has too many characters, but it is good enough.  

The good news is that despite the film having a different vision, it is still a vision worth following.  Every time the movie would deviate from its Star Wars legacy in any way, it would quickly go back to its Star Wars roots, which is enough to keep a fan like me happy.  The movie is exceptionally entertaining, mainly because Lucasfilm and Disney tried to cram too much stuff into it.  They throw in a great deal of humor, almost too much, but it works by making the movie that much more fun.  Although Star Wars The Last Jedi is not a perfect Star Wars movie, it is nearly perfect as a movie because it thoroughly entertains the audience.

I'm not going to give it a final rating until I can see it again.  My gut feeling is A-, but it feels like an improvement over The Force Awakens.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Here is my preliminary spoiler free review of  Star Wars: The Last Jedi, having just seen it.

This is the Star Wars movie you're looking for.  It is thoroughly entertaining.  However, Star Wars is more than just entertainment; it is also modern mythology.  People take Star Wars very seriously, especially hard core fans like myself. My review of The Force Awakens said that it feels like an imperfect imitation of a Star Wars movie, like they mostly got it right, but not quite.  I could say the same thing about The Last Jedi.  It deviates from previous Star Wars movies in so many ways, but every time it quickly returns to its Star Wars roots so that you feel like you are watching a real Star Wars movie.

Almost every scene in this movie has some form of levity, so much so that the film overdoes it, but not to the point that it turns the movie into a farce.  You can see an influence of The Guardians of the Galaxy, but not to the point that it becomes a comedy.  The prequels, by comparison, seem uptight.

There are things that happen in this movie that seem impossible, or over the top and possibly illogical, but not so much that it ruins the movie.

If you compare this to The Empire Strikes Back, the character development is not as good, but it is good enough.  One reason for this is that there are too many characters.  The action sequences, like many modern movies, are a little overdone, but again this doesn't ruin the movie.  On both these points I think that Rogue One is better with its more human story.

If you watched all the trailers and listened to the rumors, then you are probably already aware of most of the major plot points.  But the movie relies on a few plot twists in an apparent attempt to surprise the audience as much as possible.

The ending is very good and made me a believer.

The final scene has a definite Disney influence to it.  I found the scene touching, but I felt like I was watching a Disney movie as much as I was watching a Star Wars film.  It also breaks with the Star Wars tradition of having no dialog in the final scene.

Disney has too much money riding on this movie for it to turn out a failure.  With merchandising and everything else, billions of dollars are at stake.  I think that Disney and Lucasfilm tried to hedge their bet by putting so much stuff in the movie that even though it may feel busy and not 100% faithful to the Star Wars franchise, the audience is bound to find it entertaining.  And it is.  As such, the die hard fans might have a few problems with it, but almost everybody is going to walk away from this movie feeling entertained and emotionally moved.  It is Star Wars for a new generation.

I'm not going to give it a rating until I can see it again.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating:  A-

Edge of Darkness


Edge of Darkness has a couple of flaws, the first of which is that the story feels drawn out unnecessarily.  The second is in the way that the movie portrays a stereotypical evil corporate defense contractor, which is completely unrealistic, and even has a slight James Bond villain feel to it.  But despite the film's flaws, the last 20 minutes deliver in a big way.  Mel Gibson shines as a cop out for revenge for the murder of his daughter.  It is hard to imagine anyone else playing the role with the same kind of intensity.

As the story goes, Detective Thomas Craven (Gibson) witnesses his daughter's murder, and becomes obsessed with finding the killer.  The trail leads him to her place of work, which is a corporate military contractor that is up to some shenanigans.  It seems that his daughter was going to blow the whistle on the company.

There are a few scenes where Craven imagines talking to his dead daughter, as if he might be losing his mind.  This turns into a key plot point, and is important to the final scene of the movie, which at first I found emotionally moving.  However, afterwards, I felt like the final scene was a little corny.

When I saw the actor Danny Huston, I recognized him from the cable series Magic City.  In that series he plays a gangster, who is as close to the human equivalent of the devil that a human can get.  In Edge of Darkness he is just the evil head of a corporation, and unlike his television counterpart, he at times shows that he has human weaknesses.  His presence in the movie, along with the intense performance by Mel Gibson, uplifts the film and saves it from a negative review.

There was a time when Mel Gibson would play in top grossing films and command top salary, but he made some personal mistakes, and Hollywood is not that forgiving.  Here he is playing in what is essentially a B movie.  It is a second tier film that just barely manages to be good enough to make it worth watching.  

Rating:  B

Edge of Darkness has a 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  My favorite movie critic, Richard Roeper, gives it three stars.  The late Roger Ebert gave it two and a half stars

Moonlight


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

To me the story seems very thin and kind of depressing.  The movie is about personalities.  The ending is anticlimactic and leaves us hanging, but it is about people coming to terms with each other.  As such the entertainment value isn't extraordinary, but our hearts ache for the people having to struggle in a bad environment.  That makes the movie an "issue" film, and the Academy Awards loves issue films.  It is also a movie that we are not likely to forget any time soon.

The portrayals of blacks in this film are mostly unfavorable with the exception of a couple of good characters.

Another "issue" film that won best picture was Midnight Cowboy in 1969.  What the two films have in common are slow moving stories and controversial topics.  Now, Midnight Cowboy seems dated and barely qualifies as entertainment.  I am wondering how Moonlight will seem to us a couple of decades from now?

Mahershala Ali won Best Supporting Actor for what is probably his best role yet as a drug dealer who takes Chiron under his wing.  In his previous roles he was always a little too understated.

Rating:  B

Wonder Woman

Production for a Wonder Woman movie started in 1995, and it went through several rewrites, and several potential directors, including The Avengers Josh Whedon, who left the project because of creative differences.  After 22 years, the final product is very good, and probably about as good as they could make it, although it seems to me that the source material detracts from the overall effect.

Diana is one of many Amazon women living on the island of Themyscira, who were created by the gods to protect the world from Ares, the god of war.  When Steve Trevor crashes his plane near the island, Diana rescues him from drowning.  He tells her that the entire world is engaged in a war.  She thinks that Ares must be responsible for this conflagration, so she leaves the island with Trevor to look for Ares with the intention of killing him.

Once off the island, Diana is at first a fish out of water, until she gets a chance to fight alongside the Allies during World War I, where in a key scene she suddenly takes charge.  Much of this doesn't seem very believable, but it is a superhero movie, so we make allowances.

Although this is part of the Wonder Woman story, the original comic book takes place during World War II.  Why change the story?  I think because Trevor is looking to destroy a German weapon of mass destruction, which is a new type of poison gas.  Therefore, it would be hard to have any kind of moral clarity when talking about weapons of mass destruction during World War II, because the country that actually developed a weapon of mass destruction, the atomic bomb, was the United States.

Diana kills many enemy soldiers, mostly in the defense of herself or others.  However, I have a problem with all this killing, because I figure that superheroes are normally above this kind of thing.  This makes the movie feel like just a war film at first, until the end where we get a battle between gods.

Prior to the release of the movie, there were some special screenings just for women, as if the film makes some sort of feminist statement because Diana is a very strong feminine character.  However, I don't think that the outfits worn by the Amazon women, which I am sure are designed to attract a male audience, are particularly empowering to women.

At one point Diana makes an observation that Trevor treats his secretary like a slave.  My initial thought that this was a criticism of employment in general, and then I realized that this is a feminist statement about women being subservient to men.  This comment is treated in a light hearted fashion, showing Dianna's naivetĂ©, because Trevor's secretary seems to be very happy with her employment.  So the film sends a confusing message.

Gal Godat and Chris Pine are both fantastic as the two leads.  I think that Chris Pine, who plays a young James T. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot films, looks here more like a young Captain Kirk than he ever has

Rating:  A-

Kubo and the Two Strings

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: B+

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

Star Trek Beyond


Oh, Indiana. I forgot how hot, humid and miserable your summers could be. What a great time to go see an air conditioned blockbuster summer movie.

The Starship Enterprise is half way through its five year mission, and some of the crew is feeling the strain of a long term deep space mission.  Kirk is considering taking another post, and Spock feels that maybe his time would be better spent helping to restart the new Vulcan home world.  The Enterprise docks at the Starbase Yorktown for resupply, when an escape pod emerges from a nearby nebula.  The occupant claims that her shipmates are stranded on an uncharted planet in the nebula.  The Enterprise goes into the nebula on a rescue mission, but encounters an overwhelming hostile enemy.  Most of the crew end up imprisoned on the uncharted planet, with the exception of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty and Chekov who attempt to free their fellow crew.

My one complaint about the Star Trek reboot films is that they feel too busy.  This movie may not be as bad as its predecessors, but it still feels rushed.  There is some character development, but only briefly between action sequences.  It feels like a lost opportunity to explore the characters more.  The movie needed to catch its breath so that the audience could do so as well.  I get the sense that the producers think that we already know who these characters are, so there is little need to explore them.

For example, it is implied that the character of Jaylah is an engineer, but I don't think that it is explicitly stated, nor is very clear to me who she is or how she ended up on the uncharted planet.  Therefor her character feels like a plot device.  It is also not clear why the Enterprise crew was being imprisoned on the planet.

The Yorktown starbase is like an Escher Painting with its complex surfaces going in every conceivable direction.  It is not only confusing to the mind, but I can't imagine watching this is 3D.  It might give a person motion sickness.

The movie pays tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy in two ways.  First we are told of the passing of the older Spock from the alternate timeline future.  Then the credits have the statement, "In loving memory of Leonard Nimoy."  I was hoping to also see a tribute to Anton Yelchin, but maybe Yelchin's death came too late to be mentioned in the movie.  Unfortunately, his character, Pavel Chekov, doesn't get much screen time.  It has been announced that the character will not be recast for future films.  In a way that is unfortunate, because Pavel Chekov is an important character in the Star Trek universe.

Just when I have come to accept these actors as the Star Trek characters that we love, the movie ruins the illusion by showing us a picture of all the original actors from Star Trek V.  This ruins the illusion because we know that the new actors look nothing like the old actors, and never will.

I like the movie, and it is a marvelous technical achievement.  However, it is not clear to me that there is enough in the film to make me want to see it a second time, but since I am a big Star Trek fan, I will probably see it a second time anyway.

Rating:  B+

Star Trek Beyond has a 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Big Short

The Big Short is a sharply acted, informative and entertaining movie about the events that lead up to the 2008 financial crisis.  Frequently the movie breaks the 4th wall while using humorous sequences to teach the audience about complex financial matters.  There is nothing better to catch our attention than a pretty lady in a bubble bath explaining how financial instruments work.

So what is there not to like?  What seems like an informative docudrama, and a clear cut indictment of corporate and personal greed, fails to tell the most important part of the story.  People who watch this move will think that they understand what happened, but they will be sadly misinformed.  Instead this movie has a political agenda that only presents one side.

Like the article "‘The Big Short’ is a lot of Hollywood bull about the 2008 financial crisis" points out, government policies were driving the housing bubble that lead to the decline of the world economy.

Let me put this another way:  If you are a bank, and you are lending your own money, then you are going be very careful about who you lend the money to, because if the loans you make go bad, then your bank loses money.  The same can be said about lending your depositor's money, because if you lose money on loans then you aren't going to be in the banking business very long.  But if Government Sponsored Entities are buying all your loans at a profit to you, then there is no risk to you and the only incentive you have is to make as many loans as possible.  Likewise, when the government actually requires you to make loans to people who aren't otherwise creditworthy, then there is going to be a higher rate of loans going bad.  When the Government Sponsored Entities take the bad loans and sell them to investors everywhere as presumably safe investments, then we have a recipe for disaster, which is why the whole financial system collapsed.

Yet this movie never mentions the government being involved.  So the movie is a one sided political message that happens to be somewhat informative, but also very entertaining.  The film is getting a great deal of praise and has been nominated for Best Picture.

Rating:  B+

Django Unchained


I have been a little soured on Quentin Tarantino movies, not because they are bad, but because Quentin Tarantino always takes things to the extreme.  You could see that in Inglourious Basterds, where the movie would have some interesting dialogue followed by extreme violence, and then repeat the same pattern of interesting dialogue followed by extreme violence over and over.  But the movie that really soured me on Quentin Tarantino films was Kill Bill: Volume 1, with its over the top martial arts scenes, the movie makes no pretense of being remotely believable.  Apparently Quentin Tarantino doesn't care about believably, just so long as the movie is entertaining.  How does he make entertaining movies?   By taking things to ridiculous levels.  As long as you don't care about believability, his movies are a blast.  It is with this knowledge of how Quentin Tarantino movies work that I watched Django Unchained. 

 Django is a freed slave who joins Dr. King Schultz in the bounty hunter business.  Schultz has no qualms about killing anyone without mercy, and he tries to impart that attitude onto Django.  Together they scheme a plot to free Django's wife from a cruel plantation owner, Calvin J. Candie.  They go to the plantation owner on false pretenses, but naturally things get complicated.

Since it is a Quentin Tarantino film, it is a given that the movie is extremely violent and has an excessive amount of profanity for what would have likely been used in 1857.  One thing that bothered me is the excessive use of the N-word.  Someone estimated that the word is used 110 times in the movie.  It is the one thing that sticks out more than anything else.

Despite all the film's many excesses, it does manage to entertain.  Quentin Tarantino movies always do.

Rating:  B+

The Peanuts Movie

The first teaser trailer for The Peanuts Movie came out in March 2014 and the movie was originally scheduled to be released in January 2015, but somehow the release date got pushed back.  Here it is almost the end of 2015 and the movie is finally being released.  It was worth the wait.  I can't imagine a better way to bring Peanuts to the big screen.

The Little Red Headed Girl moves to town, and for Charlie Brown it is love at first sight.  He wants to impress her by figuring out how not to be such a loser.

The comic strip Peanuts is a bit dated, but The Peanuts Movie does three things really well:  It makes the transition to 3D while brilliantly maintaining some of the classic comic strip 2D look.  It appeals to older people like me who are nostalgic for Peanuts while also being fun (and funny) for the kids.  The kids in the audience were laughing at the slapstick, but so were the adults.  Finally, the movie pays homage to all the classic Peanuts material while being fresh enough for the 21st century. 

There is slightly too much emphasis on Snoopy's fantasy adventures, but only slightly.  The theme of the movie is Dream Big.

I enjoyed this movie more on the big screen than I did on DVD.  It felt more impressive on the big screen.

Rating:  B


The full trailer is here.

Bridge of Spies


James Donovan was a lawyer who acted as the defense attorney for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and later negotiated with the Soviet Union a prisoner exchange of Abel for downed U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers.

This movie is appealing as a history lesson in cold war politics.

Hell or High Water

The movie Citizen Kane barely qualifies as entertainment, but it is frequently heralded as the greatest film of all time.  Why?  Because the movie has a message, perhaps a political message, about the danger of having too much power.  People love the film for its message, or perhaps for the performance of its actor and director, Orson Wells.

Hell or High Water has an amazing 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  This is no doubt due in part for the good performances by the actors, most notably Jeff Bridges as a crusty old Texas Ranger.  However, I think that main thing driving the good ratings is the movie's overt political message about poverty and the evilness of the banks.  Poverty is referred to as a disease passed on from one generation to the next.  The decaying small town Texan landscape is like another character in this film, which the great cinematography frequently shows us.  We are repeatedly told that the banks are stealing from and trying to cheat the poor.  The movie holds this up as justification for the two brothers robbing a series of banks so that they can save the family farm.  No agenda there.

By the way, I didn't recognize Chris Pine as one of the bank robbers.  This is perhaps an Oscar worthy performance.

In a way this film could be a metaphor for America.   Whether or not future generations regard this as a great film might depend upon how well the message resonates, which I think it will.

My problem with all the lavish praise the movie has received is that the entertainment value of the film is good, but not exceptional.  This is a movie about bad people doing very bad things, which is kind of depressing.  However, the message of the film is thought provoking, which means that there is something special about the movie after all.  It will linger on your thoughts for a very long time.

Rating:   B+

Captain America: Civil War


Captain America:  Civil War is the type of of movie that entertained me as I watched it, but as soon as the credits rolled I struggled to understand what it was I just saw.  If a bunch of superheroes had fought and almost died together, is it likely that the first disagreement they had would cause them to start punching each other in a herculean battle?  This makes no sense, because sensible adults in the real world would try to hash out their differences and come to a compromise.  But it does make for entertaining movie because we get to see the different super powers go head to head.

To say that this is a "busy" film is an understatement.  There are so many factions wanting to hurt or control each other that it made my head spin.  The story is so complex I couldn't quite wrap my brain around it.  It jumps between so many countries and and so many people that you need a map to keep up.

Does the film make sense?  Not entirely.  But it is a little more intelligent and definitely more entertaining than the average superhero movie.  Just don't think too hard as you watch it; it will spoil the fun.

Rating:  B+

The movie should have been called "Avengers 3", because the movie is really about all the Avengers.  I assume that the title has something to do with marketing.

Finding Dory

It is hard to believe that it has been 13 years since Finding Nemo came out.  The long awaited sequel, Finding Dory, is a good way to spend 98 minutes of your life, about 6 of which will be spent watching the animated credits at the end of the movie.

The movie is preceded by the Pixar short Piper, which is about a baby bird who overcomes her fear.  As far as Pixar animation is concerned, this short film feels understated, but in a cute and charming way.  This is also how the ending of Finding Dory feels.  I expected a big emotional ending, but instead the movie finishes on a quiet moment.  It didn't feel right, but that is okay since the rest of the movie is a wild ride.  Finding Dory is essentially an action film with touches of sentimentality and humor.

I thought that the movie stretched believably more than the first film did.  Finding Dory exists in a universe where fish can read signs at Sea World, where predators are friends with their potential prey, where fish take more than a year to grow up and apparently can live for years, where an octopus can drive a truck, and where echolocation works better than X-rays.  In addition, we already know from Finding Nemo that the fish can talk to each other.

Some have stated that Finding Dory is a sequel better than the original, but I am unsure about that.  I will have to watch Finding Nemo again to compare them.  I thought that the sequel could have been a little more sentimental, because most of the emphasis is on action.

Rating:  B+

Parkland

I feel a certain emotional attachment to the 1960's.  Although I was a young child in the 60's, and my perspective did not extend much beyond small town Indiana, I was aware that there was a bigger world out there.  I knew that there was the Vietnam War, hippies, Rock & Roll, and The Beatles.

This is why I recently enjoyed on Netflix streaming the CNN series The Sixties, and the follow up series The Seventies.  Both are very well done.

I have always felt emotionally moved by the events of the 60's, most of all the JFK assassination.  This is a major event in American history, and it is a dividing line between the innocence that preceded it and the turmoil that followed.  Maybe this is why I feel so moved by watching Parkland.  This docudrama focuses on the people who would have been in Dallas at the time of the assassination, especially the people who were at Parkland Memorial Hospital.  The movie also portrays secret service agents, Abraham Zapruder, and Robert Oswald, the brother of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The natural tendency is to want to watch a movie about famous people.  Although there are famous people portrayed in the movie, most of the screen time goes to the ordinary people who were there at the time and found themselves swept up by a historical event.  As such I think that it makes for very powerful drama.

Don't even talk to me about the acting.  There are so many good actors in this movie, many of which only have a few minutes of screen time, but we get one great performance after another.

If you feel as emotional about this event as I do, then I think that you will find that this movie is a very powerful drama.  Parkland only has a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  The biggest criticism is that the different stories in the film feel a little disjointed, but I could not disagree more.  This is what it would have felt like if you were there at the time.  If the purpose of a movie is to transport you to a different time and place, then this film does it superbly.

Rating:  B+.

Consider this an undiscovered gem.

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is about a group of mathematical geniuses who did calculations and computer programming for NASA in the 1960's, all of which happen to be black women.  As such, they were treated as second class citizens, despite their brilliance and what they contributed to the manned space program.

The movie focusses mostly on Katherine Goble when she was reassigned to work in the Guidance and Control Division, which was staffed by all white male engineers.

We feel for the characters as they face obstacles at every turn.  They are forced to use separate bathrooms, separate coffee pots, denied advancement, not allowed security clearances, and excluded from meetings necessary for them to do their jobs.  Eventually, three of the ladies prove themselves worthy enough to take on more important roles at NASA.

I find myself wondering if the mistreatment of these women is exaggerated to make a political point, but from what I can find on the Internet, the movie is accurate.  It is mostly a history lesson about civil rights, so I feel a little bit like I am being lectured to.  As a history lesson, the film doesn't always stir our emotions as well as it should.  At times the movie feels kind of flat.  The deepest emotional moment is when one of the characters gets proposed to by her boyfriend.  For this reason, I don't think that the entertainment value of the film is exceptional, but it is tells a story that people should know about. 

The man doing the proposing is played by Mahershala Ali, who I have enjoyed on a couple of TV series.  However, he always plays quiet characters, and here he is too subdued.  He would be more interesting with a little fire in his belly.

I am sure that Octavia Spencer is a good actress, but her performance didn't convince me that she is a mathematical genius.  What she does well is portray a struggling black woman in a hostile world.

Kevin Costner plays the head of NASA like an angry football coach who is frustrated by every setback. 

We see a different side of Jim Parsons, in a non-comical role as the chief engineer.  His character seems completely unsympathetic, if not hostile, to the plight of Katherine Goble.

Rating: B+

The Vanishing



The Vanishing is a 1988 French-Dutch psychological thriller about a man, Rex Hofman, obsessed over the disappearance of his girlfriend at a rest stop while they were on a trip together to go cycling in France.  The director, George Sluizer, also did a 1993 English language remake starring Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, and Sandra Bullock, but despite the big names, that version got terrible reviews.  The original has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is why I chose to watch this version.

Much of the movie creates tension in not knowing what happened.  Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu looks sufficiently creepy to be the villain, Raymond Lemorne, although the movie spends too much time showing us his private life where he seems perfectly normal.  In the third act, Raymond confronts Rex and tells him that he will reveal what happened to his girlfriend provided that they go on a trip together.
This is where I have a problem with the story, because nobody in their right mind would get in a car with a sociopath.  However, Rex is desperate to know what happened and reluctantly agrees to go.  From this point on I think that the movie fails to follow any kind of real world logic, but the suspense and the performance of the actors makes it worth watching.  

About two thirds of the film is told from the perspective of Rex and remainder is shown from the perspective of Raymond.  This gives the film an interesting structure where their meeting seems inevitable.

Jobs


Ashton Kutcher does such an amazing job portraying Steve Jobs that this makes the movie worth watching by itself.  Kutcher looks a bit like Jobs, making him an ideal actor to play him, but not completely like Jobs, so the film plays some games with us.  At first we see less of his face, but by the time we see Kutcher clean shaven, we have come to accept Kutcher as Jobs.

It is hard to know how much of the movie is historically accurate.  It feels somewhat incomplete, because the movie only covers Jobs life up to the point where he returned to Apple.  This make the film feel like it didn't quite live up to its full potential, like maybe the film didn't have enough budget to do a full biography.

Maybe this is why Jobs has only a 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I find very little wrong with the movie.  It does a good job of telling the early story of Apple, which is exciting and interesting, but then the film kind of flatlines as it covers Jobs slow fall from grace at Apple.  This is followed by a  jarring jump to his return to Apple, and then shortly thereafter the film ends making it feel truncated.

Still, the movie does entertain, and I love the performance by Ashton Kutcher.  This movie demonstrates that he is much more than just a television actor.

Rating:  B 

Although the 2015 movie Steve Jobs is highly fictionalized, it is a much more powerfully acted portrayal of the man and the people around him.  I think that both movies are worth seeing.

Pawn Sacrifice

Pawn Sacrifice is the "based upon a true story" biography of Bobby Fischer from a young age up to his 1972 World Chess Championship match with Boris Spassky.  For me the movie was a different take on Fischer.  We know that sometime after his 1972 match that Bobby went off the deep end with his paranoia, but the movie portrays the process starting well before then.  It is hard to know for sure how accurate the movie is, but according to things I have read it is mostly accurate.

Which is interesting, because something the movie barely touches on is how brilliant Fischer was.  Prior to his 1972 match with Spassky, he was competing with some of the best people who ever lived and beating them easily.  After a bad start in the 1972 match, Fischer had little difficulty beating Spassky, even though Spassky was the world champion and one of the greatest players ever.  Prior to this match, Fischer had never beaten Spassky.  This is because Fischer hit his peak in the 1971 to 1972 time period.

My favorite Fischer quote is, "I don't believe in psychology.  I believe in good moves."

I like how the movie touches on Fischer's childhood and the Cold War drama that was being played out in the 1972 match between the American Fischer, and the Soviet Spassky.

I didn't think that Tobey MaGuire could play Fischer.  For one thing, he is much shorter.  But he seems to nail it.  It is a great performance.  He doesn't quite have the voice right, nor the Brooklyn accent, but his portrayal of Fischer is very good.

I see some similarity between Fischer and Steve Jobs.  Both were brilliant self centered men who often lashed out at others.  Jobs was probably way more outgoing and the saner of the two men.

Like the Steve Jobs movie, Pawn Sacrifice focuses heavily on conversations between the characters.

Ratings:
For chess players:  A-
For everybody else:  B

If you want to see the best documentary about Fischer, rent Bobby Fischer Against The World.