Saturday, June 17, 2017

Megan Weavey

Plot with spoilers: New York girl Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) signs up with the Marines, and ends up cleaning the kennels. She likes working with the dogs, and becomes a dog trainer for bomb sniffing dog. Soon she is Iraq working checkpoints and going on missions. She and her dog Rex are injured in a IED explosion, and she gets sent home. There she has trouble adjusting to civilian life, and tries to adopt Rex. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: It's surprisingly multidimensional, it's got Megan's struggle with her life overlaid on a war story in Iraq, overlaid with a lovable dog, plus boyfriend drama and her bitchy mom.

Fundamentally it works because of fine acting from Kate Mara, who I know from House of Cards. She can be evocative without overacting.

The story moves smoothly with a visual style.

I liked it, especially the early part; it dragged a little as the ending was set up. 

Cast: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez

Directed by:
Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who is documentary maker that has turned her attention to a biopic.

Based on a true story:
link

The Music:
Nothing special

The Visuals:
The war scenes are realistic enough, but not showy. The best scene was when she was cuddling with the dog in the crate on the flight to Iraq. 

Rating: 
3.0 stars: 



More: Director Cowperthwaite says the emotional core of the movie is the dog and his emotive face.

Even More: Here is the real Megan Leavey. In civilian life, after Rex died, she got another dog, and did security searches in the NYC area.


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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wonder Woman

Plot: The movie is told in flashback from 2017 using the device of an old photo. Diana (Gal Godot) grows up on an island of Amazon warrior women, and learns to fight.  During World War 1, Spy Steve Taylor (Chris Pine) crashes his plane nearby, and Diana swims out to rescue him. Soon the German navy tracks him to the island, and the Amazons battle the German marines on the beach with guns against bows & arrows. Diana kills a lot of Germans hinting of her supernatural origin and abilities. She sails to London with Spy Steve trying to find the god Ares, who is responsible for WWI.  She wants to kill Ares so the war will end. Diana has never seen a man or a bridge or a car and in the middle of the movie creating some humor, but also giving creating feminist satire. Steve hooks up with his friends and heads to Germany so that Diana can kill a German general. Diana, Steve and the sidekicks battle there way across the trenches at the front lines, and into the German camp. Diana meets the General at big party, and then follows him to the camp where they are preparing a poison gas attack. The final battles are one-on-one with Diana and the bad guy, while the side kicks are separated.  [imdb]    [photos] 

Review: The best part is the acting from Gal Godot and Chris Pine; both are excellent. The movie creates a world that these people populate and motivate them.

The film is more cartoony and more juvenile than recent superhero movies. I liked the sincerity of it, and I like the clear good vs evil. Bloodless violence is also OK with me. I was fine with the James Bond style 5 against 1 fist fights -- those were great.  I don't know what a magic lariat should look like, but it was pretty cartoony. The gun battle scenes -- same way.

I am glad I saw it. I'd like to see more of the character. I should have bought a beer before I saw it. It is just summer popcorn entertainment. Not anything more. 

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine

Directed by:
Patty Jenkins

The Music:
.OK. Closing credits were too drum heavy. 

The Visuals:
.There were a few good shots of Diana as powerful and ascendant. The other visuals were only OK. 

Rating: 
4.0 stars: .



More: They never called her Wonder Woman in the whole film.

Even More: There will be no deleted scenes on the DVD because literally all the scenes director Jenkins shot made it into the film. link

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Plot: Peter (Chris Pratt) reunites with his lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell) who has god-like powers. Ego wants to use Peter to take over the Galaxy. Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket, and Groot strive to save the Galaxy again. There are two side plots one a golden race that wants revenge because Rocket stole some batteries, and another side plot about the Ravagers mutiny against Yondu (Michael Rooker).   [imdb]    [photos]

Review: This was creative and tons of fun. I really enjoyed all of it. It is a comedy and an adventure. The tone is always light and fun.

Baby Groot is alway cute and funny. The opening sequence is a dance sequence with baby Groot with the other Guardians battling a giant monster behind him.

I liked Chris Pratt's comic acting, and Dave Bautista delivers some good lines as well. Zoe Saldana is a good facial actor.

The star of this movie is the jokey plot and the irreverant tone. In that sense the real star is writer-director James Gunn. 

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista

Written and directed by:
James Gunn

The Music:
.Even though I have a low tolerance for oldies, these songs fit in well with the mood of the movie. I even appreciated Brandy, which I liked back in the day, but would never listen to now. 

The Visuals:
Some great costumes on all those actors. I really like Nebula's make up. Some of the other effects are deliberately hokey for comic effect. 

Rating: 
3.5  stars: Why not 4 stars because I loved it. 



More: .

Even More: There are four end-credit bonus sequences. Two hints about future movies and two just for fun.

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Gifted

Plot: First grade orphan Mary (Mckenna Grace) is supergood with math. She is being raised by her uncle Frank (Chris Adler) in a low rent cottage in Florida. Her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) says she is gifted, but Frank wants to keep her with kids her age. Grandma Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) flies in from Boston and sues Frank to get custody. She wants to send Mary to tutors and elite schools. After a court hearing, the final scenes lead to a milquetoast ending.   [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Gifted is a well acted movie without much of a story. This is ironic because Gifted originated as a winning script in scriptwriting contest, so something was lost in translation.

The movie's core is the education of a likable first grader. I have hard time getting worked up about education choices made for six year olds and how this affects their lifetime. I am a big proponent of education, but it is not a juicy driver of emotion. I never knew any math geniuses, and I have a hard time believing that any "genius" really is a gift and not just motivation combined with a pushy parent -- like Malcom Gladwell's 10000 hours of practice is what produces genius.

I liked Mckenna Grace; child actors can be dull, but she was fun to watch. Chris Evans was OK, but he was so stereotypically perfect that he seemed dull. Not sure what teacher Bonnie saw in him beyond the biceps, but actress Jenny Slate did a good job with her. Octavia Spencer's character didn't have much to do in the story, but she is likeable.

An interesting aspect is that Grandma Evelyn, departed daughter Diane, and Mary are/were all math jocks. It is like Evelyn is trying to Mary into a copy of the dead daughter Diane. This twisted aspect of Evelyn personality is only hinted at, and I would like to have seen more.

Gifted is OK. It dragged in the middle.  Although Mckenna is a good child actress, the central drama was not dramatic enough.

Cast: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Jenny Slate, 

Directed by:
Marc Webb

Written by:
Tom Flynn. The script for gifted won an award in 2014/5. It is not based on a book. 

The Visuals:
Almost all talking heads. Many chalkboard scene film obliquely so you can't read the writing.

Rating: 
2.0 stars: 



Even More: Director Webb grew up in Madison Wisconsin. He loved math as a kid, and had the quadratic equation written on the side of his bead. link

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fate of the Furious

Plot: Dom (Vin Diesel) gets blackmailed by evil hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron) to do three crimes, in Cuba, NYC and in Russia. Spy Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) recruits the F&F team including Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Ludacris Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) as well as former enemy Deckard (Jason Statham) to stop Dom. What follows are many over-the-top car chases leading to a yet more over-the-top finale.   [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Fast cars, showy chases, party music -- it is fun movie. The shadowy spies are not serious enough to make us worry; and the movie becomes comic and self-satire as it progresses.

Jason Statham beating up bad guys one handed while holding a baby is just funny. 

Cast: Vin Diesel. Charlize Theron, Kurt Fussell, Dwayne Jonson, Michelle Rodrigeuz, Tyrese B Gibson, Ludacris Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jason Statham

Directed by:
F. Gary Gray

Written by:
Chris Morgan based on characters by Gary Scott Thompson

The Music:
Hip-Hop, salsa and rock n roll; I bought Hey Ma by  Pitbull, Camila Cabello and J Balvin

The Visuals:
Good special effects, some unrealistic, but all pretty cool looking 

Rating: 
2.0 stars: Fun to watch, and what is wrong with that?



More: .

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Lion


Plot: Five year old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) gets lost at a train station, and ends up on the other side of India. He is eventually adopted by Sue (Nichole Kidman) & her husband, an Australian couple. Saroo  (Dev Patel) grows up, meets girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara), and attempts to find his mother with clues that he remembers from childhood.   [imdb]    [photos]

Review: A competent movie told visually; very slow at times. It has a satisfying ending that makes the dreary middle worthwhile.

Lion is not about street children in India, but it does elevate that issue. It is about adult Saroo trying to learn his personal story and to relieve his mother of worry.

The acting is competent including by Dev and Nichole. I wasn't swept away. The dialog is so-so, but as mentioned the story is not dialog driven.

The strength of this movie is the story, and sympathetic images of young Saroo wondering the streets. The story of adult Saroo is less moving. The sub-plot with brother Mantosh must have been more interesting in the book, because it was distracting and unpleasant here. It felt like filler material.

I went to the theater with high expectations because of the glowing reviews and Oscar buzz. I was pretty disappointed. I did not find a gripping social message elevate this otherwise mediocre film.  

Cast: Dev Patel, Nichol Kidman, Sunny Pawar, Abhishek Bharate, Rooney Mara

Directed by:
Garth Davis

Based on the book by:
Saroo Brierley;  A Long Way Home (A notably better title than "Lion")

The Music:
OK

The Visuals:
Not so great. Lots of shots of landforms and alleyways. There was a tender moment  with Dev Patel playing with Rooney Mara's hand. 

Rating: 
2.0 stars: A two star film. Pretty overhyped in the media. 



More: Lion should get an award for the LEAST descriptive film title.

Even More: Dev Patel should trim his beard or maybe shave.

Yet More: This was a great deal at the dollar cinema in Allen Park.

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Ghost in the Shell (2017 movie)

Plot: A girl's brain gets transplanted into a robot body, and then renamed as "Major" (Scarlett Johansson), she works for the Japanese anti-terrorist police. Mysterious villain Kuze (Michael Pitt) is killing engineers from the robotics company Hanka. When Major learns that who Kuze is, it causes her to rethink her identity and her loyalty. This leads to the final battle.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Some cool ideas, some cool visuals, but dry and not engaging.

In the first scene, Major strips down to chase a bad guy. We see her asexualized human-shaped robot body, and this is a metaphor for the whole film. She is first a robot, and not so much the girl inside. Much later when she finds people from her past, she is still robotic -- too distant. It is the lack of emotional engagement that wrecks the film. Major never seems like the poor orphan impressed into military service, robbing the movie of emotional power.


No doubt, the hidden emotions are to show that the character is a robot, but it is easy to think of emotion-filled Sci-Fi robots. Not here. Scarlett's talents are wasted on a character who seems unemotional, or maybe she wasn't up to the job. Only her boss' character Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano) has gravity.

The plot is primarily told visually, and I found it easy to follow. This style meant we don't get discourses on philosophy or complicated plot twists, but it works on the action movie level. 


Ghost in the Shell is the most international film that I have seen since Pacific Rim. Set in Japan, we see actors from races around the world. Scarlett Johansson and Michael Pitt are white, why? Probably because she is more bankable more than Rinko Kikushi.

Major
Major is a kind of "cool girl." In books written by men, they are modeled after the author's image of himself, not modeled after any real woman; she is a character who likes guns and competition more than fashion and children. Cool Girls are always sexy: a male character in a girl body. See the image of Major in the manga.

The Cool Girl trope is why Major needed to strip down in the opening. If the movie, was going to work, she needed to be sexy, but the sexiness got lost in the uncanny valley.

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbaek

Directed by:
Rupert Sanders

Based on the manga by:
Masamune Shirow

The Music:
Electronic by Magnus Deus; I bought the main theme. During the film, it was hardly noticeable.

The Visuals:
The futuristic street scenes are great is all the art direction.  I liked the way they took the faces of the robot bodies apart.

I think the uncanny valley was the issue with Major's body -- odd/creepy not so sexy. 

Rating: 
1.5  stars: I can't decide between 1.5 stars and 2.0.  It wasn't really fun to watch, and it didn't play with philosophical ideas as it might have.

 

More: I know Ghost in the Shell primarily from the soundtrack album. I never read the manga or saw the TV show.

Even More: At 1.5 stars, it might end up on my worst of the year list. That would be too bad, because it was worthy effort.

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