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.

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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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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?



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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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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)


Plot: Belle (Emma Watson) and her Dad Maurice (Kevin Kline) live an 18th Century French village. Maurice (Kevin Kline) is attacked by wolves in the winter and, wondering through the snow, comes upon a haunted castle. At the castle a Beast (Dan Stevens) attacks and imprisons him. Alerted by an intelligent horse to her father's situation, Belle rides back to the castle, and takes her father's place as prisoner. The beast treats her beastly, but gradually they begin to be nice to each other, and the story ends like a fairy tale. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: 

First, I am a sucker for a musical, and this one is lots of fun. I especially like the big production numbers. I also liked the

Second, I don't mind remakes. The animation from the 1991 version shows its age. Most of the songs in the old version have stronger vocalists, and sound great.  The new version did not need to be so literal; they kept many of the not funny jokes in the lyrics.

Third, the plot is still a hostage falling in love with her captor. No matter how they try to hide it, it is creepy to celebrate the love story between a young girl and her physically-stronger, captor. I can help thinking of Jaycee Dugard, who was raped by her captor regularly for 18 years. Having said that, Disney tries to clean it up for children.

The lesson author de Villeneuve was trying to express was something like you can't judge a person by  its appearance. (See what I did there? I used "its" to refer to a gender neutral person.) This is valuable, and it is played up by the mixed race cast. It is undercut by the beast turning into a handsome prince, rather than a plain one. The movie has homophobic tropes in it as well as pro-homosexual ones, especially at the end. 

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Hattie Morahan,

Directed by:
Bill Condon

The Music:
Great. All the songs from the 1991 classic and a few new ones. 

The Visuals:
 Luminere and Cogsworth are great. I like the wolf fights too. 

Rating: 
2.5 stars: It is a 3 star movie less ½ star for being about kidnapping girls. 

 

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Before I Fall


Plot: Sam (Zoey Deutch) gets up, goes to school, gets flowers from admirers on Valentine's Day, goes to a party, and then gets killed in a roll-over car crash with her girlfriends. And on the next day, it all happens again, like Groundhog Day. Each day she tries to live a little differently, and get more clarity on what is most important.    [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Before I Fall is very introspective, and it is still pretty watchable. Sam tries, gets things wrong a dozen different ways, and slowly improves herself. The endlessly repeating day idea works well for such a touch-feely movie. The movie takes up themes of teen suicide and bullying.

Before I Fall works because of Zoey Deutch and her facial acting. The wordless communication is better than all the catty dialog between the girls.

Because it is a high school drama, it is familiar territory, but it works. It works because the interpersonal ties between the girls and the with Sam's childhood friend Logan (Kent McFuller) are so strong. As Sam gets more self-aware though endless practice, she sees her relationships more clearly. Further she risks more because she knows that day's embarrassments will be wiped away the next day. 

Cast: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Elena Kampouris, Cynthy Wu

Directed by:
Ry Russo-Young

Written by:
Maria Maggenti based on the novel by Lauren Oliver

The Music:
Pop/Dance music with female vocalists

The Visuals:
Mostly talking, but a few artistic images

Rating:
2.5 stars: I liked it. 

 

More: Director Russo-Young says that the first day's high school drama is intended as a satire of high school movies, before it gets stranger and deeper in later repetitions.

Even More: I saw this in a theater full of young people. Movies about young people are some of the best stories. If older people should not only watch movies about old people. Movies about young people are better than movies with over-the-hill actors making one last gasp, for example, last week's Logan.

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