Sunday, August 27, 2017

Wind River

Plot: Wind River is a who-dun-it on an Arapahoe reservation, where a barefoot young woman Natalie (Kelsy Asbille) is found frozen to death by Fish and Wildlife Service Officer Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner). Murders on the reservations are federal crimes, and FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) shows up to investigate. Jane is a city girl who grew up in Fort Lauderdale. Cory shows Jane around because his daughter was also found frozen to death. The trail leads to a drilling camp populated by 2017's most depraved cinema characters.[imdb]    [photos]

Review: Wind River is a detective story overlaid with commentary on Native American life. It is a deluxe version of a Longmire episode, which also solves crimes on a Wyoming reservation. Jeremy Renner is a great actor, and he makes the movie worthwhile. Elizabeth Olsen's character, Jane, starts out comic -- ditzy, hopelessly unprepared arriving on the wintery scene without gloves, and later she enacts familiar girl-in-man's-world themes, but happily in the third act she delivers some good lines and good acting. By the end of the movie, we see and feel the depth crime through these performances, and that is the best part.

The movie has a slow pace presumably to suit wintery geography and dignify the Native American themes. Detective movie fans might not like that. 

Cast: .Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Graham Green

Written and directed by: Taylor Sheridan (Taylor is a male; which is relevant because of the feminist themes of the movie.) Taylor also wrote Sicario which I loved, and Hell or High Water which was decent. 

The Music:
No music until the very end, and then just a few orchestral instruments

The Visuals:
Some great pictures of the mountains

Rating: 
3.0 stars: Great performances. A story that stays with you. Now that I have spent time with it, I like it better. It contends for 3.5 stars. 



[SPOILER] More: Movies need bad guys, sure, but these guys in the drilling camp are some of the most evil people. This tiny camp had a small army of security guys who were rapists, and had no issue with shooting a half dozen cops.

It is strange how movie script writers set these terrible crimes in peaceful places like the Wyoming mountains.

Even More: Wind River closes with a statistic about missing native American women. I didn't know this was an issue. More here.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Logan Lucky

Plot: Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) decide to rob the Charlotte NASCAR racetrack on race day. They spring explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) from jail, and he invites his two idiot brothers into the gang. In a complex scheme, as in Ocean's Eleven, they steal the cash. (Soderbergh also directed Ocean's Eleven.) They return back home, and try to avoid attention as FBI agent Grayson (Hillary Swank) digs into the case.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: This is an crazy caper movie with strange characters leading to situation comedy humor -- not so many jokes or laugh-out-loud gags. The plot's silliness builds the humor early, and the scheme's cleverness keeps up the interest toward the end. x

All the characters are likeable, especially Daniel Craig's character Joe Bang and Riley Keough's Mellie Logan. At the end Hilary Swank shows up as an FBI agent, and I liked her take-charge persona. 

Our heroes are not Robin Hoods. The dim-witted Bang Brothers joke needing altruistic motive because they are born-again. The altruism is just a fig-leaf for their underlying criminality. Unlike most action movies, no one is killed. 

There are jokes about the dim-wittedness and lack of sophistication of country people, which is contrasted with the clever heist plot at the end. The silly country people win. 

Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Katie Holmes, 

Directed by:
Steven Soderbergh

Written by:
Rebecca Blunt, which is pseudonym for  Soderbergh's wife Jules Asner or possibly Soderbergh himself or maybe both. 

The Music:
I liked the main score by David Holmes a lot. I even got the download. It is a jazzy mix of drums, and guitar like a 70's Bond film. The rest of music is assorted rock and country-rock that were new to me. David Holmes also scored the Ocean's Eleven movies.  

The Visuals:
I kept wondering how they hid Adam Driver's arm. There were some cool shots of the race cars and of the tunnels under the stadium. 

Rating: 
3.0 stars: Fun to watch



More: Soderbergh had said he was going to retire from film making and paint, however he made this movie instead.


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Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Glass Castle

Plot: Jeannette (Brie Larson/Chandler Head/Ella Anderson) had a dynamic, larger-than-life and alcoholic Dad, Rex (Woody Harrelson). He and her Mom (Naomi Watts) lived an alternate lifestyle, moving to stay ahead of bill collectors, and trying to live in the moment. Rex was by turns caring and neglectful with imaginative play and often not enough food to eat. As the kids grew, they hated their Dad, and they all ran away.  Jeannette became a writer in NYC, but reconsidered everything when her Dad became ill.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: The best part is thinking about how Rex is like people in my own life -- chiefly my departed father-in-law Bob. I can relate to how son-in-law David (Max Greenfield) going though hell at family gatherings.  I also liked the heartwarming child-rearing parts of the movie, and the humorous car trips.

There were parts I didn't like. It was needlessly slow paced, and the story-telling was oral, not visual: sometimes I closed my eyes to listen only. Rex was not a likable person, and it was grating to spend so much time with him.

I liked the performances especially Woody Harrelson, but also the school-girl aged Jeanette, Chandler Head, as well as the adult Jeanette Brie Larson. Woody is plausible supporting actor nomination. 

Cast: Woody Anderson, Brie Larson, Chandler Head, Ella Anderson, Naomi Watts

Directed by:
Destin Daniel Cretton

Based on the book by:
Jeannette Walls

The Visuals:
Not very imaginative. As mention, you can follow the action just fine with your eyes closed. 

Rating: 
2.5 stars: Glass Castle was not that much fun. Great performance by Woody Harrelson. A good story. 

 

More: Stay for the credits they showed the real family.

Even More: I liked the arm wrestling scene. I could easily see that happening.

Yet More: I really wanted to see Rex build the Glass Castle. I'm disappointed I didn't get to see it. It would have been cool.
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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Dunkirk

Plot: Dunkirk is about the evacuation of the British army by boat as the Nazis take-over France. The British army is under attack from German planes, and many small boats are sent to ferry them to England. Many ships sink. One subplot shows an elderly man and his sons crossing the channel and picking up English pilots who crash in the water. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Dunkirk is one note. I've seen better war movies. The characters are not that engaging, and the endless death is a downer. 

Cast: Mark Rylance

Written and directed by:
Christopher Nolan; Nolan worked on Interstellar, Man of Steel, Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Memento, and The Prestige

The Music:
Rhythmic music evoking machine sounds and repetitive music to increase tension

The Visuals:
Mostly scenes of wet soldiers. Several good shots of water disasters which can be hard to film. 

Rating: 
1.5 stars: I don't think I am being too tough. Yes it is history, but this was nothing special. 

 

More: Those Spitfire fighters were real vintage planes, not CGI.

Even More: Here is a map:

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Plot: It starts with Valerian (Dane Dehaan) dreaming about the scantly-clad Pearl people, and how their paradise-like world was destroyed. Next Valerian and partner/love-interest Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are on a ship headed to a mega-spacestation. When we get there they are assigned to guard Commander Filitt (Clive Owen). Soon Filitt is kidnapped by the Pearl people. Valerian and Laureline go to rescue him, but along the way there learn things that lead to the final scenes. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Overall I liked it. It was imaginative with many creative alien races and different plot twists. The visuals were cool, and the banter between Dehaan and Delevingne was entertaining. It would have been better with a stronger performance from Dehaan who was never selling it -- too ironic. Delevingne was more in character.

There are many great moments pinned together with the bickering romance between Valerian & Laureline. I loved the introduction to the space station with dozens of countries and then alien people coming to join. Another highlight was the Rihanna's shoe-shifting dance sequence where she switches costumes and bodies over and over during a single song. There are also three duck people who are informants -- pretty funny. The opening scene with the Pearl people is imaginative with their sparkling skin and peaceful, happy life. Very much like the Na'vi in Avatar.

Valerian has no blood and only chaste kisses. There is a good deal of comic relief. It is lighter than most Marvel movies and all of the DC ones. The only place the lightness shows is the final battle which is only OK, but happily it doesn't go on forever.

Cast: Dane Dehaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen

Directed by:
Luc Besson

Written by:
Pierre Christin  based on the comic books by Jean-Claude Mezieres. 

The Music:
Actress Delevingne has a song on the soundtrack, I Feel Everything, that is not bad. The orchestral tracks are by Alexandre Desplat. The closing credit is a pop song that is good. Maybe "A Million on my Soul by Alexiane. 

The Visuals:
 I liked the Pearl people scenes especially the opening sequence. The Big Market was also cool. I liked the dance sequence with Rihanna too. 

Rating: 
3.0 stars:  I liked it even with the weak performance by Dehaan. 



More: Director Besson fell in love with the comic book Laureline when he was ten. Here is a quote from an interview in ColliderThe first woman I fell in love with was probably Laureline. She was totally free and badass and it was a very modern heroine at the time and I was totally in love with her. The guy was also very cool.   I love the relationship since the beginning and that’s what drives me more than spaceship monsters and all this. It was the relationship of the two. It’s really Mr. and Mrs. Smith in space, you know they’re joking, fighting. So that’s what drive me since I’m young is that I love this team. Because they’re cops, super cops, they travel in the space and time but they’re fighting all the time, they’re so human."

Even More: Cara Delevingne is a top fashion model in Britain

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes



Plot: After the epidemic, the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) is hunting down Caesar (Andy Serkis via motion capture) and the smart apes. The Colonel is trying to contain the virus by killing the humans that get it, and that means another army unit is coming to stop him. Caesar is the leader of many apes living in the woods. The Colonel raid their home and kills Caesar's wife & son. There are three parts to the movie, the woodlands home that gets attacked, Caesar's journey to the army camp, and the prison escape. If you have read the title to the movie, then you know how it ends.
Here are links to my reviews of the first two movies in the series, Dawn and Rise  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: A stylish film with great visuals and a story told primarily visually.

The best part is the operatic sweep. Civilizations at stake which will either rise or fall. The visuals are operatic too with apes with machineguns on horseback, and the martial assemblies at the army base. While the film is titled War for the Planet of the Apes, actually there is a lot of talking, and not so much war.

Turnoffs were too much time staring at monkey faces and hairy monkey bodies. The monkey CGI is great and I praised it in my reviews of the other movies, but now it is a little boring. Do I really need to see a monkey face blown up three stories tall? Most of the apes spoke in monkey language or in sign language so we are always reading subtitles -- this is ok, but it is a lost opportunity for better acting. I liked the character of Bad Ape for that reason: he wore clothes and used modern language.

I liked the Nova subplot, but when reflecting back on it, I see it  as a plot device to make the apes more sympathetic. I liked introducing Nova from the original movie as a girl.

A weaknesses is that the film has to fit into the legend from the other movies, meaning this is the last gasp of humans and the rest need to be living like cavepeople without language. In the second movie, I thought it was clever that the same virus that killed most of the humans also made the apes smart, but having that same virus also making the human survivors lose their minds years later seemed silly. (I suppose it is good not to spend too much time on Sci-Fi details, but I would have liked something more clever.)

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson

Directed by:
Matt Reeves

Written by:
Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback

The Music:
Effective and spare soundtrack by Michael Giacchino. I liked Apes Together Strong

The Visuals:
There are some grand visuals like the Colonel shaving his head while he addressed the troops, and all the acting in the rain. The apes are well realized. I still like the apes on horseback

Rating: 
2.5 stars: I liked it while I was watching it; It seemed a little hollow upon later reflection. 



More: Here is Andy Serkis in his motion capture gear with director Reeves in front.


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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spiderman Homecoming

Plot: As introduced in the last Avengers movie, Spiderman (Tom Holland) is in high school, and poking around Queens preventing local crime. He stumbles upon a gang who salvages "tech" from alien crash scenes, and rebuilds it into superweapons. The gang's leader, Adrian (Michael Keaton), builds mechanical wings, and becomes the chief villain. Meanwhile Peter Parker*, goes to an interschool academic competition and to the Homecoming dance with his crush Michelle (Zendaya). Spiderman fumbles with his crime fighting, but gets bailed out by Ironman (Robert Downey Jr). In the end, Spiderman rises to the occasion, and foils the bad guys. [imdb]    [photos]

*Peter Parker is Spiderman's secret identity.

Review: It is great the Spiderman is a kid again. I didn't like Spiderman being a grown-up, and too serious and too competent. It's easier to sympathize with Superheroes when they are normal, and easier to identify with villains that are stealing boxes of stuff instead of trying to destroy the world. The movie is called Homecoming, and indeed there is a Homecoming dance, but that doesn't figure into the plot. I'd have liked to see more high school soap opera. Maybe in the sequel

Tom Holland does a great job, whether it is being worried or plucky, I liked it. Robert Downey is always good including his familiar Ironman role. 


Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon

Directed by:
Jon Watts

Written by:
A Committee: 12 people have writing credits

The Music:
Zesty orchestral music by Michael Giacchino; not too drum heavy. I liked the pop songs in the opening scenes; sadly those arn't on the soundtrack. 

The Visuals:
Generally good special effects. The photography is straight-forward not artsy or stylish. 

Rating: 
3.5 stars: Enjoyable; 



More: Director Watts wanted the school to look like modern day New York, not retro or suburban.

Even More: .

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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Baby Driver

Plot: "Baby" (Ansel Elgort) is a young getaway driver for mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacy). In spectacular fashion, he speeds away from the bank robberies. Baby is always listening to music, and he makes the windshield wipers flap to the rhythm of the music. His foster father Joseph (CJ Jones) is deaf and wheel-chair bound. During the movie he falls in love with diner waitress Debora (Lily James), and she figures into the final scenes with bandits Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and Bats (Jamie Foxx). [imdb]    [photos]

Review: So stylish. It like a Quentin Tarantino movie with style and visuals that punctuate a gritty violent story. The music is fun. Everything in the movie has the beat from the windshield wipers to the gun shots.

The key conflict is whether Baby wants to lead a life of crime with Doc, or reform himself as Joseph and Debora would want. Baby wants the latter, but the bad guys are pretty persuasive.

Director Wright says this is a heist film for the Grand Theft Auto Generation. The first robbery has a grand chase with a wild get away. The second and third have innocent people getting hurt and moral complexity. In the last chase, Baby needs to decide what kind of person he is.

I liked it. It was engaging, and fun to watch. Though the end is bloody, Baby Driver makes the moral choice.

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Lily James, Eiza Gonzalez, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacy, Jamie Foxx 

Written and directed by:
Edgar Wright

The Music: It's great. Mostly oldies that only sound great because they are perfectly matched with the mood and the rhythm of the action. I listened to the soundtrack and the individual tracks are less than the sum of the whole.

One new track, Easy by Sky Ferreira, who plays Baby's dead Mom, is beautiful. At the end there is a good hiphop track by Danger Mouse & Big Boi, Chase Me.

Of all the oldies, the only one with  replay value is Radar Love by Golden Earring. That one is timeless.

Honorable mention to Tequila made famous by The Champs and played in the movie by Button Down Brass; and Bongolia by the Incredible Bongo Band. 

The Visuals:
Great chases both in the car and on foot. 

Rating: 
3.5 stars: Fun. Engaging



Even More: Director Wright says Baby is like the unpaid intern in a gang of bank-robbers.

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Megan Leavey

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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