Saturday, November 18, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

Plot: Detective Hercule Perot (Kenneth Branagh) is on a train across Europe in the 1940's when there is a murder. Someone on the train must have done it, and Hercule interviews everyone. It turns out people are not quite who they seemed. Of course Perot solves it in the end.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: The characters are colorful, and the visual are cool. The plot was a little too twisted for me. I think it would have helped to read the book.

Kenneth Branagh's Perot is not that likable, but he his acting is excellent. It is fun to see so many other big actors playing small parts. 

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer

Directed by:
Kenneth Branagh

Written by:
Michael Green based on the novel by Agatha Christie

The Visuals:
Nothing special, except for Hercule Perot's mustache which is occasionally cool and always distracting

Rating: 
2.0 stars: I was satisfied by my experience because of the weird characters, but overall it was just OK. 






Justice League


Plot: Evil demon Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) comes to earth and steal a magic mother box from the Amazons. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Batman (Ben Affleck) realize this might be the end of world, and try to assemble superheroes to fight back. This includes Aquaman (Jason Momoa) who also had their magic mother box stolen from Atlantis, and Flash (Ezra Miller) who is an unemployed twenty something, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) who was turned into a cyborg by his Dad (Joe Morton) using yet another magic mother box. Once they get the band back together, they fight Steppenwolf, but they are not strong enough, so decide to raise Superman (Henry Cavill) from the dead. Since Superman is in the movie poster, it is not a spoiler that shows up. The whole group undertakes the final battle.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Justice League is spotty. It has cool parts and cheesy parts. Somethings make sense, but there is a lot of mumbo-jumbo magic. Too much magic can be boring. The villain, Steppenwolf, is monotonous and has a generic backstory. He is also too cartoony.

With the exception of Batman, the villain and superheroes have inexplicable, over-the-top powers. Powers so great that they are not interesting. However, director Snyder kept the fights interesting with some variety.

The movie is worst when Superman is on the screen. Can't stand Henry Cavill. It's best when the Flash is there. We need more Ezra Miller.

Gal Gadot is OK, but her part is smaller and less interesting than in Wonder Woman. Ben Affleck is the cornerstone of the movie. He is not the coolest Batman. (I liked Val Kilmer best.) Aquaman/Momoa provided some one liners, but was barely in the plot. 

Cast: Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Joe Morton

Directed by:
Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon for the reshoots

Written by:
Eleven people!

The Music:
Mostly orchestral music by Danny Elfman -- good music. I loved and then bought the opening song, "Everybody Knows" song by Sigrid; originally by Leonard Cohen. Director Snyder had a Leonard Cohen song in Watchman too.  

The Visuals:
I like the scenes of Batman and Gotham City. These had some style. I liked the Amazons riding on horses too. I did not care for the final battle, which seemed too animated. 

Rating: 
2.0 stars: Spotty, but worth watching



More: Josh Whedon was writing for the movie, and then was tapped to finish the movie in post production. Josh supposedly is responsible for lighter tone.

Even More: Below is a drawing of Steppenwolf from the comic. A steppenwolf is German for  "plateau wolf," that is, a coyote.

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

Plot: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) wakes up trapped by evil giant Surtur, after he escapes he goes to Asgard and finds Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki is impersonating Odin (Anthony Hopkins) who is now on Earth. Thor goes to earth and (after a scene with Dr Strange) finds Oden, who tells him his older sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) is returning to Asgard to take over, and then Oden turns to smoke & floats away. Thor tries to return to Asgard but is captured by Scraper 142  (Tessa Thompson) and fights in gladiator games where he meets Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). They steal a ship and go to Asgard where they face a final battle with Hela.  [imdb]   [photos]

Review: Very entertaining. Familiar and likable characters are in new situations that are dramatic and still humorous. The light tone makes this easy-to-watch and fun. The light tone did not subtracted from seriousness, because the tone is so light. Seriously, there was no message or satire here, only escapist entertainment.

I liked how they kept some of the apocalyptic elements of the Ragnarok story. I once read a book of Norse mythology, and I liked the Ragnarok story about how the gods knew their world was going to end, but had to let it play out. 

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo. 

Directed by:
Taika Waititi

Written by:
Eric Pearson, Craig Kule and Chrisopher Yost

The Music:
Orchestrial music by Mark Mothersbaugh; generally pretty good, but I'm not going to down load any. 

The Visuals:
I liked Cate Blanchett's headpiece, especially when it fanned out. I thought the Hulk was well animated too, especially Mark Ruffalo's expressions. I did not like the flaming giant Surtur. 

Rating: 
3.5 stars: Fun to watch. The tone of the movie is the winning aspect. Not too serious, but still keeps moving. 



More: Director Waititi, who made indie movies and directed several Flight of the Concord's episodes said the movie:

It's about a guy trying to get home because there's someone in his house, and he's got to sort that out. And along the way he's got his annoying brother, a drunk chick, and some bipolar kid with him.

Even More: There are two Easter Eggs in the end credits, so stay 'til the end.

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Only the Brave

Plot: Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) is the supervisor of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots who fight fires near Prescott Arizona and the rest of the west. Opening scene show him recruiting new firefighters and getting certified as Hot Shots. We follow the Hot Shots home and meet their wives including Amada Marsh (Jennifer Connelly). As the season progresses, we get fire fighter action scenes, and this leads to the ending twist.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Fire fighting movies have natural tension, and the fire scenes are the best in the film. Most of the movie is sleepy slow, and the dialog sucks.

I liked Miles Teller as the new guy, and Jennifer Connelly as Eric's wife. Jeff Bridges was laughable as the old guy fire chief.

The twist ending elevates the movie, and after it happens, I could see several of the other scenes were there to set it up. 

Cast: Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges

Directed by:
Joseph Kosinski

Written by:
Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer

The Music:
There was a lot of silence and the music was low key strings and synthesizers. Kind of like the music at a wake.

The Visuals:
The fire scenes were realistic. I hated the flaming bear. The bears was way cooler when Josh Brolin described it then when they actually showed it. I still don't understand what happened when the burning trees fell into the Grand Canyon. 

Rating: 
1.5 stars: While parts deserved 2 stars, I am disgruntled as I write this. 



More: The real Granite Mountain Hot Shots



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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Marshall

Plot: Rich Bridgeport (CT) native Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson) accuses her black chauffeur Joseph Spell (Sterling K Brown) of raping her and throwing her off a bridge afterward. NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) partners with local attorney Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) to defend Joseph. Thurgood and Sam investigate the case, and take it to court. The plot twists as evidence comes out and witnesses change their stories. The movie ends with a dramatic jury announcement.   [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Forget this is a biopic of a supreme court justice; Marshall is way than that.

It is an underdog story overlaid with 1950's era racism plus an upstairs/downstairs relationship with a lonely woman and her manly driver.  It's got the young scrappy lawyer and his bumbling partner as underdogs against the evil district attorney and the stone-age judge.

With a winning story, and its historic setting in the early days of the civil rights movement, plus the excellent acting from everyone especially Sterling Brown, Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad, this was interesting, entertaining and enjoyable.

Legal dramas have many conversations about evidence that could have been dull, but it wasn't. The script and the performances were always strong enough to keep the action flowing.  

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Sterling K Brown, Kate Hudson

Directed by:
Reginald Hudlin

Written by:
Michael and Jacob Koskoff

The Music:
Slow jazz by Marcus Miller, with two old-fashioned soul songs by Andra Day. There were some great saxophone riffs, including in Marshall V. Friedman which is on the soundtrack.

The Visuals:
I loved the jazz club scene; it was rich and stylish. There were a number of artsy tableaus. They did not skimp on the production value.

Rating: 
4.0 stars: Good story, good acting, great looking art direction, good social message



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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Blade Runner 2049



Plot: . [imdb]    [photos] K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, which is an LA Cop who specializes in killing rogue "Replicants, who is a genetically engineered race of sterile slaves. In a more bleak and depopulated Los Angeles than in the original movie, the people are subsisting on worms. Most of the Replicants come from Niander Wallace (Jerad Leto)  and they are much more docile, or so the humans think. 

K, who is also a replicant, comes to believe that he once was a child rather than being born in a factory. He goes to find his mother and father, and after a long time he meets Deckard (Harrison Ford) from the first movie. They join forces to fight the evil Niander Wallace and his cute body guard Luv (Sylvia Hoeks.)

Review: Blade Runner 2049 picks up two themes from the first movie, the replicant rebellion and the lone lawman against crazed evil doers. They dropped the questions about whether replicants have a soul, and the geeky fascination with synthetic biology, which is too bad. 

Like the first movie the visual looks are striking. Here they are clean & cool, where as in the old movie they were complex and cosmopolitan. 

I liked K's relationship with his holographic girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas). It brings up the same issues from Her. Joi loves K, and there is a very cool love scene. Later when Joe and Joi are parted, we see giant video ads for Joi, and we see that she is a mass market product. The whole notion of personal romance and individual experience in a consumer society is in question.

I just rewatched the 1982 original, and it was pretty unconventional, and so it this movie. It is not your typical action movie. It is will be too slow for most people and while it has a happy ending, most of the likable people die. 


Cast: Ryan Gosling, Jerad Leto, Harrison Ford, Sylvia Hoeks, Ana de Armas

Directed by:
Denis Villeneuve

Written by:
Hampton Francher, Michael Green,  and Hampton Fancher, based on the novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" by Philip K Dick

The Music:
Some great spare & quiet electronica like Sapper's tree and Joi, and some awful noisy drum heavy Han Zimmer music. I am sick of Han Zimmer's pounding drums. 

The Visuals:
Strong Visuals. Often spare and simple. There are several striking giant human figures which are striking. Some nude women which were gratuitous. 

Rating:
2.5 stars: Disappointing because I expected more, but still pretty good. Not so fun to watch, but with some fun ideas. I was glad I saw it. 

 

More: Director Villeneuve felt the slow pace was needed to keep the feeling of immersion that the original had.

Even More: SPOILER Joe's fate at the end of the movie is ambiguous. Always the optimist, I believe he lives on for the next sequel.

Yet More: Not sure why it was snowing in LA. I think it is because Villeneuve liked the silver-blue colors and the soft light.

It Keeps Coming: The architecture in the film was designed by concept artist Syd Mead, who did the original movie.
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Saturday, September 30, 2017

American Made

Plot: Pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) gets a job flying for the CIA in Central America and Columbia; he takes aerial pictures, smuggles guns, and also smuggles drugs back into the US on the side. Meanwhile he is raising his kids at home in Arkansas, and trying to find a place to stash all the cash. He gets involved with Reagan's war against Nicaragua's General Noriega, and a complicated deal to help the Contra's while smuggle cocaine into the US for the Medellin drug cartel. Soon the DEA track him down, but the CIA gets him off. This goes on for a while until it all comes crashing down.  [imdb]    [photos]

Review: American Made is a fun. It has a light-hearted and Tom Cruise is cheerful and likable as the anti-hero Barry Seal. The story is unlikely, but the most unbelievable parts are completely true.

Good performance by Tom Cruise. The script is well written and the direction has a keeps it light. 

Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sara Wright

Directed by:
Doug Liman

Written by:
Gary Spinelli

The Music:
.A spectrum of 80's music from pop classical to country, backstopped by zippy orchestral music from Christophe Beck

The Visuals:
Good flying shots. 

Rating:
3.0 stars: Fun to watch, and a true story. Kinda glorifies crime



More: They really shot those jungle scenes in the jungle. Sadly,someone died during the shooting in a plane crash.

Even More: .Director Liman's father was an investigator in the Iran-Contra Affair.

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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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