trevor noah

Trevor Noah is just starting to be recognized as a major comedic star.  He is the host of the Daily Show, taking over for Jon Stewart and author of a book about his mother called Born A Crime.

I saw Trevor Noah live in concert recently and it was an interesting show.  Being the host of The Daily Show, I expected a lot of political humor and jokes about the current president of the United States.  I was both relieved and disappointed that Noah didn’t do a lot of political humor and even less about the current president. The lack of political humor showed his versatility, but he’s so good with political humor that I wished there was more.  The show concentrated on cultural differences between America and Europe and his own culture.  Noah’s ability to mimic accents comes into play, and the ease in which he switched accents enhanced his material. Noah’s funniest routine had to do with gender differences.  The only drawback of Noah’s set was it was a little short, I wish he had stayed on stage a little longer.

His opening act was Latino comedian Angelo Lozada, he also does the audience warm up for The Daily Show.  Most of his jokes came from interaction with the audience, which means he had to be quick on his feet, but it was also limiting, because he didn’t have another style to fall back on.  He had one funny punchline that I can remember.  He needs more material, if he wants his comedic career to reach the next level.

Trevor Noah:  His career arc is going upward.


isle of dogs

In the Japanese archipelago, 20 years from now, a vicious strain of the Dog Flu has broken out, in order to protect the humans from the flu, the Mayor  of the Prefecture, Mayor Kobayashi , (Kunichi Nomura) has deported all the dogs to Trash Island.  Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) a 12 year old distant relative of the mayor, flies a plane to Trash Island, in search of his dog, Spots. (Liev Schreiber)  The plane crash lands on the island.  The leader of the dogs on Trash Island, Chief (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t trust humans, but decides to rescue Atari.  Atari then sets out to find Spots.

At the prefecture, Professor Watanabe  (Akira Ito) thinks he has come up with a cure to the Dog Flu, but something happens to Watanabe after he eats some sushi.  At the same time, the Mayor finds out that Atari is alive on Trash Island, and he sends his men to find him.  Mayor Takashi easily wins re-election, but exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) suspects a rigged election.  Does Atari find Spots?  Do the Mayor’s men find Atari?  What’s happened to Professor Watanabe?  Is the election on the up and up?

It’s impossible to watch this movie and not draw parallels to the political situation in America over the past two years.  A power hungry politician deports dogs to a distant place in the name of national security.  The election of the politician is called into question, as the politician faces dissension from the populace.  At the heart of it, Isle of Dogs is a story about a boy and his dog,   it’s also story of possible redemption for a jaded dog, who doesn’t like humans very much, and has become something of a recluse.  It’s interesting to see how all the different elements of the story come together in the end of the film.

The acting is very good and it has to be because all the emotions have to be conveyed through the voice.  Kunichi Namora is very good as the corrupt politician, he wants to stay in power at all costs.  Bryan Cranston is excellent as the lead dog, tough on the outside, vulnerable on the inside, yearning for someone to love him.  Koyu Rankin is also good as Atari, vulnerable but determined.  Greta Gerwig was funny as the angry exchange student.

Wes Anderson did a great job directing and co-writing this movie.  The stop motion animation was terrific, the ha;; where Mayor Kobayashi gave the speech reminded me of the scene from Citizen Kane,  where Kane gave a speech, Trash Island was suitably grungy, and the use of symbolism, Atari wearing white, his dog being a white dog, Chief becoming a white dog after Atari gives him a bath, it was all very well done.  The pacing was fast, the performances were good, I don’t know how much of a role Anderson played in that, these are all skilled veteran actors, except for the boy who played Atari. This film and Moonrise Kingdom are his best work to date.

Isle of Dogs:  Biting satire.


Movie Review: Hostiles (2017)

Posted: September 16, 2018 in Drama
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In 1892, Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is ordered by Colonel Abraham Briggs (Stephen Lang) to transport Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) to his native home in Montana.  Yellow Hawk is a member of the Cheyanne tribe, dying of cancer and wants to be buried in his native land.  The directive to transport Yellow Hawk came from President Benjamin Harrison himself, but Blocker initially refuses to obey it because he thinks of Yellow Hawk as a murderer.  Briggs threatens Blocker’s pension, so Blocker reluctantly agrees.  Blocker put together a team and starts toward Montana.  On the way he finds a widow named Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) whose husband and three children have been killed by Comanche, who burned her house to the ground.  She is traumatized and in a state of shock.  Blocker sympathizes with the widow, helps her bury her children, and takes her along with them. One night, Rosalie and the Native women are kidnapped by fur traders.  Chief Yellow Hawk offers to help Blocker rescue the women.  Does Blocker take him up on his offer?

Hostiles should have been the story of two psychologically traumatized people living in the old West.  The second half of the movie becomes something else entirely, and the movie stops working on any level.  The writers should have left the main characters alone, and the movie would have been much better. There’s already a movie like this, it’s John Ford’s classic The Searchers, John Wayne plays a bigot, who hates Native Americans, but has to go into Indian territory to save a little girl.  The villains in this movie are also Comanche, don’t know what the Comanche ever did to traumatize Hollywood writers, but they’re the heavies again.  The point is, John Wayne’s character never changed in The Searchers and didn’t have to, Hostiles should have followed similar character development. The climax of Hostiles violent and unnecessary, the whole movie is a wasted opportunity.

Christian Bale is one of the best actors in the world, he’s been acting well since he starred in Empire of The Sun as a 13 year old.  In Hostiles, however, Bale underplays the character so much that he’s barely noticeable.   The script doesn’t help him either, he’s asked to play the character one way for the first half of the movie, and another way during the second half of the movie.  Rosamund Pike has the opposite problem, she overplays the traumatized Rosalie to the point of hysteria, she was not good in Gone Girl either.  Wes Studi plays Yellow Hawk as a sympathetic character, but it’s a small role.

This movie was written and directed by Scott Cooper, who directed the awful Black Mass, and the good Out of The Furnace.  I am hesitant to watch movies written and directed by one person,  because the writer thinks his dialogue is great, so he rambles on, and the director thinks the writer is great, so he doesn’t edit any of the scenes to pick up the pacing.

Hostiles:  Christian should have Bale-d out on this movie.


In the Pleistocene Era, Stone Age Man learned to play soccer when a comet falls from the sky.  By the Bronze Age, Stone Age men have forgotten their soccer skills and spend their time hunting rabbits.  A small band of Stone Age people are invaded by the Bronze Age men, and their valley is taken away from them and the Stone Age people are imprisoned.  One member of the Stone Age village is captured by the Bronze Age people, and so he sees what the Bronze Age Society looks like.  Dug, (Eddie Redmayne) the Stone Age captive, learns that the Bronze Age people are very good at soccer.  The Bronze Age Ruler, Lord Nooth  (Tom Hiddleston) is a greedy despot, only interested in collecting bronze coins from the overflow crowds at the soccer game.  Dug challenges Nooth’s team to a soccer game, but the Stone Agers have forgotten everything that they ever knew about  soccer, can Dug, and a female Bronze Age  named Goona  (Masie Williams) help the Stone Age team, beat the Bronze Age team?

Early Man is a tongue in cheek look at the history of soccer, going back to prehistoric man.  The story seems a little padded, there is not only one montage where the Stone Age team learns to play soccer but two .  The use of French accents for the Bronze age players is smart and funny, underscoring the Anglo French rivalry in Europe.  The reason why Dug goes back to the Bronze Age stadium is dumb, but the introduction of Goona is a welcome change from the mostly male cast.  There are lots of jokes, soccer jokes and non-soccer jokes, enough to sustain the film.  The climax is exciting and expected.  Early Man is slightly less enjoyable than Wallace and Grommit and Chicken Run, but I enjoy Claymation animation so I enjoyed this movie.

Tom Hiddleston is a very funny guy, and anyone who’s seen his film probably wouldn’t know that, but in this movie he exploits his comedic timing and voice.  He is a large reason why I like this movie.  Hiddleston should make more comedies.  Eddie Redmayne is ok, as Dug, he’s really a straight man, allowing Hiddleston to go over the top with his character.  Masie Williams is good as the soccer enthusiast who wants to be part of a team, but can’t make the Bronze Age team.  She pairs well with Redmayne.

The direction is ok.  It is difficult to animate clay, so bonus points for that, the pacing is slow and disjointed to begin with, but it gathers steam and builds to a nice climax.  The climactic soccer game is filmed well.

Early Man:  Make it a gooooooal to see it.



roman j israel

Roman J. Israel (Denzel Washington) is a partner in a small law firm in Los Angeles, his partner William Jackson, handled the courtroom appearances while Roman handled the behind the scenes legal briefs. After William dies, Roman is recruited by one of William’s former students, George Pierce. (Colin Farrell)  Roman has an idea for a class action lawsuit which will revolutionize plea bargaining, George wants nothing to do with that idea.  Roman also enquires about a job with another job with another acquaintance of Williams’s, Maya (Carmen Ejogo) who rejects his offer, saying that she and others who work there are only volunteers.  Roman has nothing left to do but work with George.

George assigns Roman a client named Derrell Ellerbee (DeRon Horton) who is accused of killing a store clerk.  Derrell accuses his partner in the robbery Carter Johnson, (Amari  Cheatom) but Derrell only shares this information with Roman.  After going to meet with Maya at her organization to give a pep talk, and having his ideas scoffed at by the younger generation,  Roman is mugged by a man who wants money.  Roman has a choice, do something unethical and reap immediate rewards, or stay true to his ideals, and struggle to pay the bills?

This is a dull movie that muddles along with a meandering plot, uninteresting characters, and has such trouble generating  a spark, that it can’t even bring itself to create a genuine love story. Maybe it’s because Denzel Washington is 19 years older than Carmen Ejogo, whatever the case, their relationship is clumsy.  The ending is syrup y sweet, to cover a much more dramatic ending, which should have been the way the movie ended.

After such a powerful, magnetic performance in Fences, it’s quite an adjustment to see Denzel Washington play such a meek, mild-mannered character.  Roman is described as a savant Coli Farrell’s character, maybe Denzel was trying to play someone with Asperger Syndrome, like Christian Bale did in the Big Short.  There was something disconcerting about Washington’s performance, lie he was trying to have a restrained performance.  Colin Farrell wasn’t bad, but he ended up playing a bland character in the end, and the character should have been more ruthless.  Carmen Ejogo is another victim of bad writing, is she a friend of the Washington character, is she a love interest?  Is he a mentor to her?  The vagueness of the script led to her weak performance, and she also had trouble maintaining her American accent, she is British.

The direction is also weak, Dan Gilrpy wrote this movie and directed it, which is apparently one too many jobs for hi.  The pacing is very slow and by the time the story gets interesting it’s 3/4th of the way over, if the viewer is still awake by then, it’s ok for about 20 minutes with a lackluster ending.  He doesn’t get any good performances, and there is nothing eye-catching about any scenes.

Roman J. Israel:  Feed This Roman to the lions.

patrick melrose

Episode 1:  Bad News

Patrick Melrose (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a British addict who learns of his father David’s (Hugo Weaving) death.  Patrick tries to give up heroin, in honor of his dad’s passing, does he succeed?  He also tries to date his girlfriend’s friend Maryanne. (Allison Williams)  How does that go?

What to say of this character and show?  I didn’t sympathize with Patrick, I didn’t pity him, I didn’t laugh at his many travails, because they were of his own making. Patrick is a trust fund baby, who spends his money like water to feed his vices, and he thinks he’s fine.  Then there’s the excuse lurking around. The action that will excuse Patrick’s neediness and behavior,  I know exactly how this is going to end, and I don’t think it’s worth going through five hours just to find out  what happens to a thoroughly despicable character.  Benedict Cumberbatch is fine, it is fun to see him play a creep, but it’s as if he’s doing a one man show and not getting much help from the rest of the cast. The episode is a slog, to see such self-destructive behavior over and over again, is difficult to say the least.

The visual direction is good, as in there are interesting shots from many different angles, but the pacing is very slow, an hour takes forever in this show

Episode 2:  Never Mind

Patrick recalls a trip to Lacoste France in 1967, where something horrific happened to him.

So, now the audience sees what drove Patrick Melrose to his self-destructive excesses.  Many people go through horribly painful  events in their lives, not all of them turn into addicts and fewer still want to kill themselves with an overdose.  These books and this show is glorying drug use by making  it all seem like one big party, other than the withdrawal symptoms, and they become redundant too. Other than good performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Hugo Weaving, this wouldn’t even be worth watching the story of addiction has been told many times, so what can be added, I don’t know.

Episode 3:  Some Hope

In 1990 Patrick attends a party thrown by Bridget (Holliday Granger)  a woman he first met at the family home in France Bridget is now a countess, and has invited everyone to the party, from Patrick’s friend and fellow addict Johnny Hall (Prasanna Puwanarajah) to Princess Margaret. (Harriet Walter) Patrick makes an important admission to Johnny at the party.

There is a major tonal shift in this episode, there are still flashbacks to remind the viewer of Patrick’s trauma, but it’s also a blistering satire of the idle rich, until the viewer realizes that Patrick is one of the idle rich, that makes the satire a little less effective.  Still the tonal shift is a welcome change. The only issue I have with this episode is that Bridget looks the same 23 years after Patrick first met her.  The makeup people should have aged her a little.  The camera continues to shoot this film from interesting angles.


Episode 4:  Mother’s Milk:

Patrick goes to the South of France to visit his mother in 2003.  He is married now with two young boys, but he still has vices, but does he indulge them?

Patrick is married and has two kids, he could concentrate on them, he could make then the center of his world, he could forget about his past, and concentrate on his future.  In other words, he could be an adult, but does he do that, or does he continue to live a Peter Pan life where he doesn’t want to grow up and face his responsibilities if being a husband and father?  Parts of this episode is funny, but it’s also frustrating to watch.

Episode 5: At Last

In 2005, Patrick must come to terms with his mother’s death, while continuing to self-medicate with alcohol.

At last, this show is over.  The viewer finally sees some consequences of Patrick’s behavior, but even the consequences are clichés , and he never quite seems to understand how his behavior affects other people.  The visual direction continues to be stellar.  But the story is never quite realistic enough to be gripping.  Finally, the flashbacks on this episode are confusing, it is never clear when it’s 2005, and when it’s before 2005.

Impressions of Patrick Melrose

The acting by Benedict Cumberbatch and Hugo Weaving is excellent, and that’s why I kept watching.  But in the end, the story glorifies drug and alcohol abuse.  In the age of rampant opioid addiction, that is a dangerous viewpoint to present.  Patrick has a built in excuse for his excesses, and the consequences of his actions are only briefly mentioned and off he goes again, living his carefree, consequence free lifestyle. When Patrick actually hits rock bottom, it’s so short in duration, that it doesn’t have an impact.

Cumberbatch is good, despite playing a not very likable character, either as needy addict or devil-may care alcoholic, he is kind of a cad.  His character seems to think life owes him something instead of making the most of a very advantageous position. The problem with playing an amoral person is that the audience will never root for Patrick to succeed, because his goals are out of whack.  So it may be a fine performance by Cumberbatch, but the character is pretty despicable.

Hugo Weaving is used to being a bad guy, he played Agent Smith in three Matrix movies.  Here he is relentlessly, one dimensionally evil , playing Patrick’s father David.  He does the best he can, despite being boxed in by the writers.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is not given much to do after the first couple of episodes.

The direction is very visually stimulating throughout, the camera is used in many different angles to give the viewer a lot of different perspectives of what is happening in each episode.  The downside of the direction is the pacing is very slaw, and when the subject matter is difficult, which is often,this show becomes difficult to watch.

Patrick Melrose:  No one comes out smelling like a rose in this show.



Dana Franklin is a young African American woman married to a white man, named Kevin in 1976.  Both are writers, doing research on their latest book.  The two met and started dating while looking for work.  Both families objected, but they got married anyway.  One day without warning, Dana feels dizzy, and before she knows what’s happening, she wakes up in a strange place far from her home.  Dana sees a child drowning, and instinctively saves the child, but no one seems to be grateful.  The boy’s name is Rufus, and his mother accuses Dana of trying to drown Rufus, someone points a gun at Dana and, she gets dizzy, and without knowing what happened, she wakes up back home.

Dana is back in the strange place before long, saving the boy Rufus from a barn fire, by this time Dana deduces that she has been brought back to the year 1809, she is living on a plantation in Maryland, owned by Rufus’ father, Tom and it is the boy Rufus that brings her here, this time a man tries to rape Dana and she gets dizzy and goes back home.

On subsequent trips back to the 1800’s, she takes Kevin along, who pretends to be her owner  and finds out that Rufus, now in his twenties, is in love with Dana’s ancestor, a slave named Alice, but Alice is married to a slave named Isaac, who has beaten Rufus to a pulp for trying to rape Alice.  Isaac tries to run away with Alice, knowing that if they stay they will face severe consequences. Dana has problems of her own, during her time travels back and forth, she and Kevin were separated, and while they are still in the same time period, Kevin has left Maryland, and Dana doesn’t know where he is.  Do Isaac and Alice escape?   What’s the strange power that Rufus have that can summon Dana to him at any time?  There seems to be a bond between Dana and Rufus, what is it?  Does Dana ever find Kevin?  Do they ever get to stay in 1976 Maryland for good?

Octavia Butler is a African American science fiction novelist , I found out about her from a Google doodle, and looked further into her writings.  Kindred combines two of my favorite things, history and science fiction.  There are all kinds of interesting sociological messages in this book.  Dana and Kevin are an interracial couple, a rarity in the 70’s and there’s a great deal of discomfort with the idea in the 70’s, but it’s interesting how Butler explains the relationship in the 1800’s as a slave/slave owner relationship.  Butler should have delved a little deeper into their relationship in the 70’s, there seems to be a strain in the relationship that goes beyond time travel, but a lot of the stress is unspoken, so the reader never gets a clear idea of what the strain is.

The science fiction is never clearly explained either,  only that Rufus has this power and he uses it often.  But Dana knows to tread lightly in the 1800’s or change history in the present.  Science fiction readers know all about the time space continuum from the days of HG Wells’ Time Machine, and Butler seems to stick to the rules that were first established by Wells.

What is revolutionary in this book is the superimposing of science fiction and historical fiction.  Imagine what would happen if a contemporary black woman traveled back to the 1800’s to live in a time where slavery existed?  Readers need not wonder about that hypothetical any longer because Butler gives readers a view of what that might have looked like.  There are all kinds of themes explored here, Dana is a strong black woman, that poses enough issues in current day society, it poses more issues in the 1800’s.  She is resented by men and women of either color for being so outspoken. The slave/slave owner relationship is explored, the power dynamics of both slave and owner, and men and women in a largely male dominated society is examined.   The power relationship is an interesting discussion to have, especially in light of the me-too movement.

The role of education in slavery is explored, slaves wanted an education, but resent Dana for “sounding white”  and having an education, and the slave owners resented anyone with an education.  So Rufus also resents Dana for being more educated than he is. Butler doesn’t soft-peddle slavery in any way, Dana suffers a lot for being black in the 1800’s, she is beaten, whipped, constantly threatened with rape if she steps out of line.  It’s a horror show.  But the reality of it is gripping, and doesn’t let go, until the roller coaster ride finally ends.  Some writers set up dangerous situations for their characters and find ways for them to wiggle out of them, not Butler.  Every decision Dana makes is fraught with peril.

There are flaws in the book, Rufus seems overly accepting of what brought Dana to him, and her explanation of her time period, a plantation owner, especially an uneducated owner, would be highly dubious of Dana’s story, and he is too nice to Dana at first, it wasn’t believable that Rufus would treat Dana so well in the beginning.  It’s interesting to see the character arcs of both Dana and Rufus as the book goes on.  The ending seemed rushed and overly dramatic, but overall, the book is enthralling and a real page turner, and worth reading for the serious issues it covers in a serious way.

Kindred:  Don’t dread reading this book, it’s entertaining and informative.