Friday, December 27, 2019

kenobi Fan Film

For a fan film, this is surprisingly good.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Mandalorian - Critical Response

Cats (2019) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Rise of Skywalker



I'm expecting good things from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. However, I also see a bunch of ways this could go wrong. It could be too campy, or it could be too serious, or it could just be ridiculous in the way it is implemented. Or it could just be a bad movie.

Part of the problem with Star Wars is that it is limited by its original source material. The sequel trilogy tried to take the franchise in new directions by introducing new ideas and killing off old characters, but this made people unhappy.

Kathleen Kennedy, head of LucasFilm, recently said that Star Wars is not like Marvel where it can get stories from decades of comic books. Huh? There is a huge Star Wars Expanded Universe with books and comics going back decades that has many rich stories. After the Disney takeover, they chose to disregard the Expanded Universe, but they are missing out on great source material.



Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Last Jedi

I'm not someone who was bent out of shape over The Last Jedi because Luke Skywalker and the film didn't match my preconceived notion of what they should be. I think that there is a pretty entertaining story there, and I am very much invested in the new characters. I think that much of the negativity is NOT deserved. However, I do blame Rian Johnson for what appears to be sloppiness in the writing and the direction. It makes the film feel like it has plotholes.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Midway

Seriously, why is 'Midway' only 43% on Rotten Tomatoes. I just saw it and thought it was fantastic. The style is kind of a mix of old fashioned war movie and modern war film.

I'm not the only one. The audience score is 92%.

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/midway_2019


Best wishes,

John Coffey

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Why Animators HATE The Lion King

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4Pl-y4-bjA

I like the movie.  The original is better, but it is entertaining and beautiful to look at.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Disney+

It has taken me a while to parse through all that is available on the Disney streaming service, but after parsing out the 80 to 90% that is junk, what is left is a big disappointment. It is true that the service offers everything related to Star Wars, Marvel and Disney, but almost everything worth seeing is something that I have seen already. I am left with a literal handful of good movies that I have not yet seen, plus a handful of good movies that I have seen but might want to see again, and a handful of borderline films that I might give a chance just because there is nothing else.

Having signed up for the promotion where I paid in advance for three years at just $4 per month, it is questionable as to if I am going to get my money's worth. Maybe new content will come along, for example, I know that there are going to be some new Star Wars series, but I expected this to be more like the Netflix streaming service, and not just a massive collection of every bad movie and bad TV show Disney has ever made.

--
Best wishes,
John Coffey

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Disney+ streaming service



So let's talk for a minute about the Disney+ streaming service. They claimed that they would have a ton of content, like 500 movies available at launch, for $7 per month. This seems like a price deliberately designed to bury Netflix, which is the world's most popular streaming service.

I took the promotion they offered a couple of months ago, where if you pay for three years, it is only $4 per month. I'm glad I did, because I counted 580 movies, and 90% of them are junk. Disney has everything they have ever done on here, like "The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes" from the 1960s, and "20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" from the 1950s. (I'm told that this movie might actually be good, but I remember seeing it when I was 10 years old.)

However, through the sheer mass of titles, there is still plenty of stuff worth watching. The remaining 10% contains some of the best stuff from Disney, Marvel, and Fox, although I have already seen many of these titles. It is diamonds in the rough. Just like on Netflix, I'll be spending much time figuring out what to watch.



The Mandalorian on the Disney streaming service is good. I found myself thinking that it is just a routine western, but it is really a great mix of western and sci-fi. It is not a perfect sci-fi show, but it feels like a perfect western with plenty of sci-fi thrown in. 

--

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Ad Astra


Ad Astra is a science fiction movie that works as entertainment.  It is about a man on a personal journey to find himself, and to find his long-missing father who might be endangering planet Earth.  The story is part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Interstellar, part Gravity, part First Man, and part Apocalypse Now, all of which are better movies.  There is even one scene that reminded me of The Martain.  As such, the movie feels very much recycled, but it is also just original enough to be different, and the drama is good enough to make us care.

There are a few plot elements that don't make logical sense and these are a big problem.  The movie goes off the rails midway through, where the main character does something not believable, and as a result he gets people killed.  These deaths are more of plot contrivance to show the main character alone, and they are ignored for the rest of the movie.

There is much world-building that could have taken place, but instead the world these people live in is entirely left to our imagination.

Ad Astra has been described as the most realistic space movie ever.  I disagree.  That distinction really belongs to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  When it comes to the laws of physics, there are times when Ad Astra just doesn't care.  For a science fiction movie, it is pretty shaky on the science.  It seems to ignore what we know about orbital mechanics.  The film also portrays communication across billion miles as nearly instantaneous, when it takes hours for the round trip communication.  There is a scene late in the movie where Newton's Third Law of Motion is mostly ignored.  (I should also point out that nuclear explosions in space don't have shock waves.)

Brad Pitt's performance is really good, and if it wasn't for this the movie might have bombed.  Most of the other actors are pretty forgettable, except for Tommy Lee Jones whose brief appearance is also really good.

So the film seems to care more about the personal story and less about whether it is logical or makes sense.  This can work, but I find myself asking, "Is this the best they can do?"  The film's original budget was 80 million dollars, but test audiences didn't like it, so they did $20 million in reshoots.  Given that they spent that much money, couldn't the story and the science make more sense?

The difference between not getting all the elements right and getting them right is the difference between a movie that we won't remember five years from now and a classic that people will be watching in 40 years time.

I think that there are many people in Hollywood who are right-brain thinkers, which is great for creativity and artistry, but not particularly great for logic.  As a result, we get a science fiction movie that is more about emotion than it is about science.

Rating: B+.

Ad Astra has an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Brad Pitt is charming in any role.  If you want to see much better Brad Pitt movies, watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Fury


Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4 is more than sufficiently entertaining, but it doesn't cover much ground that we haven't seen before.  What is different is the introduction of the character "Forky", which is a toy made from recycled trash.  Forky suddenly comes alive and is not very comfortable with his new existence as a toy.  He thinks that he is trash, which technically he is.  This raises uncomfortable questions about how life works in the Toy Story universe, such as why are the toys alive at all?  Strangely enough, the movie even asks that question, without giving us an answer.  Is the film trying to get us to think about something?  We could raise this line of thinking to a much higher existential level and wonder why we exist at all?

In the first film, we accepted that the toys are alive as part of the magic.  The Toy Story movie was a new technology that felt magical.  Toy Story 4 is darker, similar to the third film, so somehow the magic isn't quite the same anymore.

Part of the problem is that the story is just not as strong.  The first film gave us great character development that came out of a conflict that really seemed to matter and was resolved in a very satisfying way.  Here, not so much. The movie is mostly an action film with a touch of character development on the side.  Fortunately, the movie also knows how to touch our hearts, but again, this not that different from what we have seen before. 

It feels like the movies have run their course because they have already done everything that they can do.  Despite this, the ending leaves open some questions about what is going to happen to these characters that may require yet another movie to resolve.

Rating:  B.

Son of Saul


Sonderkommando were Jews who were forced to work in the Nazi extermination camps.  Their primary duty was to dispose of the bodies.  In 1944, a group of Sonderkommando staged a violent revolt at Auschwitz that was put down by the Nazis.  The Hungarian film Son of Saul takes place during these events.

The movie opens with trainload of Jews arriving at Auschwitz and then being immediately sent to the extermination chambers. Against his will, Saul helps in every part of this process. The movie makes it clear that any Sonderkommando who does not do what he is told is immediately executed. Saul seems to have shut down all his emotions as a way of surviving the horror that surrounds him. Then he recognizes a boy who is killed as his illegitimate son. From this point he makes it his personal mission to get a proper Jewish burial for his son. He hides the body, and then searches desperately for a Rabbi to perform the ceremony.

This is a unique film that doesn't feel like anything I have seen before.  The movie tells a very personal story.  The camera almost never leaves Saul.  Much of the film seems to take place in real time.  We spend half of the film looking at the back of Saul's head as he moves from place to place.  As Saul moves around the camp, we witness one horror after another, most of which are in the periphery, or barely offscreen.  Things happen that are never explained.  There is a mild sense of chaos everywhere in this story.  

I find the subject matter depressing, but not the movie.  The story creates a kind of suspense as Saul tries to find a way to bury his son, and as the revolt builds to fruition.  The film gives us a different perspective on the Holocaust, and it is intensely personal.  Many people would not be able to watch Son of Saul because the Holocaust is too horrible to contemplate, but this feels like a story worth watching.

Rating:  A

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.

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.

The Right Stuff

When The Right Stuff was released in 1983 it was not a commercial success despite high praise from critics.  There was maybe a sense by audiences that it was too overtly political or patriotic, which overtly it isn't.  However, the movie found some success in VHS and DVD sales.

This is essentially three stories:  The story of Chuck Yeager, the story of the Mercury "7" astronauts, and the story of the media and political circus over the early space program.  

The film doesn't pull any punches.  It likes to make fun of just about everything.  The movie spends much more time satirizing Lyndon Johnson or showing the indignities the astronauts had to go through than it does any form for space exploration.  This is not a film that is particularly interested in science;  it is much more interested in the human drama of its characters.  This combination of humor with patriotic heroism ends up being the perfect mixture.  In fact, the three-hour film feels like a perfect movie and 32 years later it is just as watchable. 

This movie loves trivial details which give the film an authentic feel.  It could have been 30 minutes shorter, but then it would have lost some of the atmosphere it gained from focussing on minutia. 

The musical score is wonderful.

I regret waiting at least 20 years to watch it again.  This is the kind of movie that would be fun to watch again roughly every 10 years.

Had I made the movie I would have put more emphasis on science, but that might have been boring to most people.  Maybe future generations will wonder why there isn't more science in the film?

Rating:  A

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.

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+

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

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

This will be my final review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, having seen it for a second time.  It is the middle film of the third Star Wars trilogy.  This trilogy along with some anthology films are being made because Disney bought LucasFilm in 2012.

There is something special about seeing these movies a second time, because generally what happens is that any flaws that might exist become less noticeable or at least easier to ignore.  In addition, you notice new things with each viewing.  This was definitely true for watching Star Wars:  The Force Awakens, which had a few problems, not the least of which was that the story was somewhat a remake of the original Star Wars film, and the movie is so stingy in providing the audience with information that it made it feel like it was full of plot holes.  The other major complaint was that the main character, Rey, was so talented in everything that it made her feel like a "Mary Sue", which is a character that is so perfect in everything that the character becomes annoying or unbelievable.  However, especially on my third viewing of the film, I began to understand Star Wars:  The Force Awakens better and really appreciate what they were trying to do, even if it did have a few flaws.

Whereas Star Wars:  The Force Awakens in many ways copies the original film, A New Hope, the new movie contains some elements similar to both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  Having already copied many things from the entire first trilogy, the next movie might have to do something completely different.

After seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi two weeks ago, I watched videos on youtube every day where people complain about different aspects of this film.  A large number of people actually hate this movie, but these are usually the die-hard fans who feel the movie strayed too far from its roots by slightly changing the Star Wars mythology.  Plus the new film, like its predecessor, still has some plot holes.  Furthermore, even though people were counting on it to fill in information missing from the previous movie, it only provides enough information so that the audience can follow along.  There are questions that we may never get an answer to, such as the origin of Snoke, although it has been hinted that some of these questions may be answered in upcoming Star Wars books, which is an annoyingly clever form of marketing by Disney and Lucasfilm to get you to buy books.

There were three other major complaints about this film.  The first is in the way the character Luke Skywalker is handled because he is no longer a hero.  After experiencing a major setback, Luke abandons his friends, the rebellion, the Jedi Order, and The Force.  Even the actor Mark Hamill repeatedly complained about this.  The second complaint is that many people feel like the movie is hitting us over the head with Social Justice Warrior messages, which seems pretty obvious when watching it.  The third complaint is that the movie has too many moments of levity.  It is not a comedy, but it really pushes the humor, most of which works, but some of it falls flat.

There has been a kind of backlash.  The Rotten Tomatoes Critics Score is 91%, down from an initial 93%, but the audience score is only 52%.  That's a huge difference between critics and audience, although there has been some debate on how accurate the audience score is on Rotten Tomatoes.  More importantly, ticket sales are way down.

Given all the negativity, I about convinced myself Star Wars: The Last Jedi might not be worth a second viewing, despite feeling thoroughly entertained and emotionally moved the first time around.  I was worried that the flaws would stick out too much.

I have never been so happy to be wrong.  Sure the film has a few flaws, as many movies do, but the second time around is still very entertaining and emotionally moving.  This drowns out any plot holes, political agendas being pushed, or confusion the movie has caused the audience about the characters.

The one thing that the film does well is to defy all audience expectations, and that makes it more entertaining.  At one point Luke says to Rey, "This is not going to go the way you think."  Well, that describes the entire movie, which is maybe why some people have a problem with it.  To some extent, it breaks the mold of what a Star Wars movie could or should be, but the result is kind of special.  It is also rich in texture; I noticed way more things on the second viewing.  There is so much that happens that goes by very quickly.

The movie is a fitting send-off for the late Carrie Fisher.  Although she does not have a ton of screen time, it is enough, and her performance is more interesting than in the previous movie.  Her daughter, Billie Lourd, also has a more active role in this film.  The end credits have this dedication:

In loving memory of our princess,
Carrie Fisher.

The movie could have ended one minute sooner than it did, but the final scene is like a bonus, involving a young boy we saw earlier in the movie.  This scene is magical, but you can see the Disney influence in it.

Although Star Wars: The Last Jedi may stray a little from its Star Wars roots, every time it quickly returns to its roots making it feel like a pretty good Star Wars film.  As a die-hard Star Wars fan, the movie very much appeals to me, but it seems also to have been designed to appeal to a much wider audience, and not just the Star Wars fanatics.  As such, it is a very entertaining movie, but there are some noticeable flaws.  For this reason, I can't give it four stars.

Rating:  A-

P.S.  Both times the audience applauded at the end of the film.  That tells you something.

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.

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-

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-

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+.

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-

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+

Pokemon Detective Pikachu


The trailer for Pokemon Detective Pikachu makes the movie look like a funny videogame adaptation fantasy.  However, the film doesn't come close to living up to the trailer.  If you have seen the trailer then you have seen the best parts.  The actual film is a mess.  A big mess.  

Nothing is developed properly.  There are many cliches recycled from other movies that we are just supposed to accept because the language of film tells us what they are.  The barely coherent story feels like it was written for 12-year-olds by a 12-year-old.  The slightly less coherent action sequences feel designed for 10-year-old Japanese boys.  The simplicity of the dialog bugged the hell out of me.

At times I felt like I was being subjected to something instead of being entertained.  For a brief moment, it reminded me of watching Howard The Duck in 1986, which is really saying something.

This is extremely lazy filmmaking.  Even though the movie is an hour and 40 minutes long, it is too short because the film doesn't come close to realizing its full potential.  There is so much more that should have been explained and explored.

Despite all these problems, the story and character development are almost good enough to make the movie worth watching.  The premise is interesting.  Some of the special effects are fantastic, even though the story behind them is barely passable.  

Rating:  C+.

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.

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.

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."