guardians of the galaxy 2

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the Guardians, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) Drax (Dave Bautista) Rocket  (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are tasked by the Sovereign to protect space age batteries from alien monsters who want to steal them.  The Guardians fend off the monsters, and Gamora is set to collect a bounty on her sister, Nebula, (Karen Gillan) but Rocket steals some of the batteries for himself, and Ayesha (Elizabeth Debecki) leader of the Sovereign orders an attack on the Guardians.  The Guardians barely escape to the nearest inhabitable planet.  A ship follows Peter and lands on the planet, the pilot of the ship is Ego, (Kurt Russell) and he claims to be Peter’s dad. Ego takes Peter to Ego’s planet, Gamora and Drax tag along with Peter, while Groot and Rocket stay behind.

Ayesha,  still angry that her batteries were stolen, hires Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) to find Peter and the rest of the Guardians.  Yondu captures Rocket and Baby Groot and then ends up in jail himself after a mutiny by Taserface. (Chris Sullivan)  Yondu Rocket and Baby Groot manage to escape with Nebula’s help, but Taserface tips off the Sovereign, who chase after the two Guardians, while they try to find Peter on Ego’s planet.  Nebula just wants revenge on Gamora.  Is Peter convinced of his lineage by Ego?  Do Gamora and Nebula bury the hatchet?  Does Ayesha get her revenge?

Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2 works very well as a comedy, but then the script calls for everyone to get in touch with their feelings, and this is where the movie descends into an Oprah stained hell.  Peter has daddy issues, Gamora has sibling rivalry issues with Nebula, and Rocket the snarkiest character if all is made to confront deep seated feelings of inadequacy.  When a summer popcorn film wades into the nature vs nurture debate, it’s gone a bridge too far. The ending is predictable, even the post ending credits are predictable.   The comedy was better than the first movie, the family drama was wholly unnecessary.

The acting varies wildly in this film.  Chris Pratt will never be a leading man, no matter how hard Hollywood tries to foist him on an unsuspecting public.  He is ill-equipped to handle the more emotional scenes in the movie.  Zoe Saldana is a good actress, but she wan’t given enough to do, she is pushed into a romance with Pratt, and she battles her sister literally and figuratively in the movie.  Bradley Cooper is a great actor, but they made him emote as a CGI raccoon, that doesn’t work for me.  I wish he was playing Peter Quill and Pratt was playing the raccoon, I think that would have worked out better.  Dave Bautista is surprisingly funny as Drax, and is just sullen when not laughing insanely. Karen Gillan was also very good as Nebula, her intensity never relents, in a difficult role.  She plays a villain, with sympathetic touches. Kurt Russell hams it up relentlessly as Ego, an aptly named character if ever there was one. The only performance worse than Russell’s  was Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Stakar Ogord.  He is barely intelligible.  He had more trouble with the English language than Korean actress Pom Klementieff.  Her acting was better than Stallone’s but not by much.

Director James Gunn does a pretty good job as a director, the pacing is good, the special effects are good, without being overwhelming, he gets some good performances, but he also gets overwhelmed by subplots and lengeth, and that drags the pacing down to a crawl by the second half of the movie, by the end of the film I was looking at my watch, never a good sign.  Gunn also gets points off as writer for overindulging in melodrama.  I walked into a sci-fi movie, and a Tyler Perry movie broke out.That’s Gunn’s fault, for not keeping the drama to a minimum.

The Star Lord burns out.

 

la la land

An out of work actress named Mia (Emma Stone) keeps bumping into a soon to be out of work jazz pianist named Sebastian. (Ryan Gosling)  The first time they meet they give each other “the bird” in a traffic jam.  The next time they meet is shortly after Sebastian gets fired during Christmas.  The two meet again at a party when Mia requests a cheesy 80’s song and asks Sebastian to play the keyboard portion of it.  They meet again looking for their cars during a lovely sunset.  Later, Sebastian finds out that Mia has never seen Rebel Without A Cause and asks her to come see it, but she’s got a boyfriend, and she hates jazz, and he doesn’t want a girlfriend, especially one who doesn’t like jazz.  And they’ve both got big dreams.  She wants to be an actress, he wants to open a jazz club.  Does she go to the movie?  Or are their meetings just coincidental?

There are many good things about La La Land, but the writing is for most of the film is trite.  It follows all the conventions of every romantic comedy ever made including the man and woman hating each other at first sight.  Why does this always happen in the movies?  Nobody hates someone in real life and then, poof magic.  Nothing works that way.    There is a twist near the end, and the ending itself evolves into somewhat of a mystery, which belies the happy mood of the first hour, but is still better than a conventional Hollywood ending.

Ryan Gosling has made a living playing brooding, taciturn, characters, like in Driver, or Blue Valentine, so it was anyone’s guess how he would handle the lead in a musical romantic comedy.  He handles  the comedic part of the role well, but when the script turns more dramatic, his delivery is surprisingly flat. The same can be said for Emma Stone, she couldn’t really handle the more dramatic scenes, and even the comedic scenes, she would sometimes make a  silly face.  The two didn’t seem to have any chemistry, maybe it was the age difference.  Gosling is 8 years older than Stone, maybe that’s why they didn’t seem to have any sparks.   J.K. Simmons had a small role, I wish it was bigger, he is a heck of an actor.

There is a lot of good in this film, and most of it comes from  the director’s chair.  Damien Chazelle is a very talented director, and he realizes that film is a visual medium. This film pops with color, even the scenes filmed at night are brightly lit and look as if they were painted with a brush.  This is also a love letter to classic film, movie posters are strewn all over Mia’s apartment and the cameras catch all of it.  Even when the colors don’t pop, the camera is shooting from some interesting angle or other.  This is not Top Hat or Singin in The Rain, but that it aspires to be and tries to bring back the movie musical is a laudable aspiration.   The choreography is great, the songs are great, those two elements by  themselves make the movie worth watching. There are  portions of this this movie that are told without a word being spoken, that is an incredible achievement.

La La Land:  Mostly music to my  ears.

 

hidden figures

Katherine Coleman(Lidya Jewett) had a gift for calculating numbers from a very early age.  By 1961, Katherine Goble was a widowed mother of three working as a human computer at NASA.  Goble works with two other African-American ladies at NASA in the segregated calculations department. Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) wanted to be a supervisor in the segregated calculations department, but is being held back by Vivian Mitchell. (Kirsten Dunst)  Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae ) strived to be an engineer, but that was next to impossible for an African American woman at the time. The U.S. is falling behind in the space race, the Soviets have already sent a satellite, Sputnik into orbit and a manned flight with Yuri Gregarin followed shortly thereafter.

Katherine’s knowledge of analytical geometry fit NASA’s needs and her skill with numbers gets her transferred to the Guidance and Control Division of NASA in Langley Virginia, where she started calculating trajectories for Alan Sheppard’s manned attempt into space.  Mary Jackson is also transferred to a wind tunnel project under Karl Zelliinski (Olek Krupa) who encourages Mary to go to night school, which she does, after convincing a judge that she should be the first African American woman in Virginia to attend a white only school.  Dorothy Vaughn realizes that human calculators will soon be obsolete because NASA invests in an IBM computer.  She studies Fortran, and tries to make herself invaluable to NASA, but the supervisor’s job still eludes her.  Does Katherine Johnson finish the calculations for Alan Sheppard?  Does Mary Jackson become an engineer? Does Dorothy Vaughn get her supervisory position?

Hidden Figures richly deserves all the plaudits it has received.  I did not know about Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson or Dorothy Vaughn before this movie, and so this movie is worth watching for the educational value alone, add in the historical significance of the space race with the Soviets, the Civil Rights significance of three African American women smashing the racial and gender barriers of the time, and this is a movie that Hollywood should try to emulate again and again, rather than the tiresome superhero reboots, and sequels and prequels .  This is not just a movie for African Americans, or women, this is a story that every man woman and child worldwide should watch and enjoy. These women succeeded because of hard work and knowledge in math and science.  Imagine how much farther the US would be if everyone in America took an interest in math and science, like these women did. Imagine how many more people would have taken an interest in math and science if this movie was made earlier.  Hidden Figures manages to be funny and touching and work in a romance between Katherine and an Army colonel. Sure it makes up some characters and changes some names, but it gets the big points right in telling this important story.

The acting is superb, especially by the three lead actresses.  Taraji P. Henson is wonderful as Katherine Johnson, she underplays her role well, she has one dramatic confrontation and plays that scene extremely well.  Octavia Spencer was also outstanding as Dorothy Vaughn, she was much better in this than in The Help.  Then again, this is a much more substantial and serious role than the Help.  She conveyed an authority figure well, and didn’t apologize for feeling passed over. Janelle Monae, who made her name as a singer, suddenly finds herself in two of the most acclaimed movies of the year.  And she is very good in both.  Her role was bigger here, she was funny, outspoken, and delivered her lines with conviction, unlike most singers who try to act.  Even Kevin Costner was tolerable in this flick, he is so incredibly bad in most of the roles he plays, he did a good job of blending in in this movie.  Jim Parsons is danger of being typecast as the irritating nerdy know-it-al.  He essentially played a version of his Sheldon character.

The direction is very good, the director doesn’t spend a lot of time on Katherine’s childhood and gets right into the heart of the story in a few scenes.  The pacing is excellent, two hours just fly by.  His other film St Vincent wasn’t nearly as good as this, but he made the rocket scenes look realistic, and made good use of archival footage.

Hidden Figures:  Hollywood figures out how to make a great film.

20170114_LCK _MG_2740.CR2

Louis CK talks about suicide, abortion, religion and his kids.

Talking about abortion and suicide is not the way most comedians would open a comedy show, but Louis CK opens his comedy special talking about precisely those topics.  And guess what, he’s funny talking about suicide and abortion, at least I thought he was funny.  Some people might be incredibly offended,  and that’s your choice, turn it off ten minutes in.  There is material he did that did not work for me, but he is always taking risks with his material, and I respect that.  Most of the material did make me laugh, so the fact that it unique and funny, that makes Louis CK a very talented comedian. It’s also important to note that this routine was filmed in Washington DC, I don’t know that these jokes would go over so well in Texas or Kansas. It’s important to know your audience, and Louis knows his audience.

Now that doesn’t mean this special is for everyone, there is bad language,  and topics discussed that aren’t for everyone.  In fact, he does voices, that might offend some people, but if the viewer has watched to the point where he starts to do the voices, the viewer thinks CK is funny anyway.  And if the viewer doesn’t like the voices, he or she might find something funny later.

There is nothing going on from a director’s point of view, just Louis CK talking to the audience.  I do not know if any of the material was edited, but it didn’t look like it. He just seems to be talking to the audience.

Louis CK:  See it,’K?

lion

Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is a five year old boy growing up in rural India.  Saroo and his brother, Guddu (Abishek Bharate) are so poor, they collect rocks to sell for money.  One day, while tagging along with Guddu, Saroo and Guddu get separated and Saroo ends up asleep alone on a train.  By the time Saroo wakes up, he is lost in the Bengali city of Calcutta.  He tries to tell people where he lives, but is too young to remember the proper name of his village.  He wanders the streets of Calcutta for a few days, until a woman named Noor (Tannishtha  Chatterjee) takes him in and introduces Saroo to a man named Rama (Nawazuddin Saddiqui)  who promises to take him to a nice place.  It doesn’t take Saroo long to realize Noor and Rama are up to no good.  Saroo runs away, and eventually ends up in an orphanage.  He is adopted by an Australian couple, John Brierly (David Wenham) and Sue. (Nicole Kidman)

Saroo Brierly (Dev Patel) grows up comfortably in Australia, goes to a hotel management class, finds a girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara) and his future seems bright.  But Saroo is haunted by the memory of his birth mother, brother, and sister.  At the same time, Saroo does not want to cause his adoptive mother any undue pain.  He is torn.  What does Saroo do?  Does he look for his birth family or does he remain in his comfortable life in Australia?

Lion has a compelling story to tell.  It is especially compelling in the first hour, where it conveys the confusion and despair of a boy who is lost in a big city very well.  The second half of the movie is not as successful because it gets bogged down in Saroo’s conflicts with his adoptive brother, and his relationship with his girlfriend, or is Lucy his wife?  The writing concerning both Lucy and Saroo’s adoptive brother was maddeningly vague.  Did the brother have emotional problems or a mental disability?  These are details most people wouldn’t care about but they bothered me.  However, the ending did have an emotional punch, and was satisfying.

The acting was good, but one person stood out, and it’s not the one who got the Oscar nomination.  Little Sunny Pawar gave a powerful performance as young Saroo, he carried the movie on his little shoulders, for as long as he was in the movie, and gave an emotionally varied performance.  He was a happy go-lucky kid one minute, and desperately searching for his brother the next.  It was a surprising range of emotions for such a little boy.   Another great performance was given by Tannistha Chatterjee, who is kind but sly, and plays the duplicitous role well.  Dev Patel is ok, not great, because he doesn’t convey the angst of his pain with as much intensity as Sunny Pawar.  Nicole Kidman has a role with surprisingly little impact, which is the writers’ fault, not Kidman’s fault.  Similarly, Rooney Mara is given little to do.

The pacing seems to match the storyline, the first hour us fast paced and exciting, the second hour slows down considerably.  The director does get good performances from most of the cast, and does make the ending worth watching, but maybe more of the Australian scenes could have been edited to get to the ending faster.

Lion Roars out of the gates, is tame later.

SUICIDE SQUAD

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) wants to put together a group of criminals for a secret mission.  Deadshot (Will Smith) is a hitman, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) was a psychiatrist, who went crazy treating the Joker. (Jared Leto) Killer Croc,(Adewale Akinnuoye  Agbage) some kind of hybrid between a human and a crocodile.  Diablo, (Jay Hernandez) a man who can conjure fire instantly.  June Moone, (Cara Delveigne) an anthropologist, whose soul is occupied by a witch named Enchantress. Rick Flag, (Joel Kinnaman) June’s military boyfriend. George Harkness, an Australian criminal, serving a triple life sentence, and Katana, a female ninja avenging the death of her husband.  All these shady characters agree to this mission for time off their sentences, and Rick assumes he can control June, but Enchantress has her own ideas. What is the mission that the Suicide Squad agrees to?  Do they succeed?

The difference between a great superhero film, and a run of the mill superhero film are numerous.  In a great superhero film, the protagonist well-drawn, and sympathetic, the viewer wants this character to succeed.  In a great superhero film, the storyline becomes about much more than who wins or who loses, it becomes about larger themes like the nature of man.  In a great superhero film, the climax fit the rest of the story, and the viewer feels thrilled, and awaits the ending.  Suicide Squad is not a great superhero film, the characters are paper thin, the plot inches along looking for excitement, and finds none, the climax is as exciting as a shrug of the shoulders, and the ending is routine.  The movie needed a lot more backstory for character development, and a deeper more exciting plot, but the viewer doesn’t get that. Combine a dull plot with bad acting and you’ve got this film.

Viola Davis is the best actor in this film.  She at least held my attention.  Will Smith is still trying desperately to regain the mojo that made him bankable box office in the mid 1990’s, but this film won’t do it.  His character at least has two dimensions most of the characters aren’t that well-developed. But Smith has lost that swagger from his early movies, and he hasn’t really replaced it with anything.  I liked Margot Robbie in the Wolf of Wall Street,  but she plays Harley Quinn like a total airhead. And her Aussie accent sneaks in once in a while. Jared Leto plays the Joker like a low rent Heath Ledger, it’s a pale imitation of Heath Ledger’s masterful performance, but Leto never makes it his own. Leto is a better actor than he shows in this role and that is a disappointment.  The other actors are not worth mentioning because the characters are so poorly drawn that these actors could not bring anything to them.

David Ayer is the director and writer of this film.  He wrote Training Day, so he is capable of writing a good film, but his writing is bad in this film,  and his direction is also poor.  The pacing of this film is very slow, it’s a long film that takes forever to get where its going and when it gets there, the viewer can’t help but wonder if that is all there was to the movie. He gets terrible performances and the special effects are underwhelming.

Suicide Squad: Killing the careers of its actors.

moana

One thousand years ago, the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) steals the heart from island goddess Te Fiti.  One thousand years later, Moana (Louise Bush, Auli’I Cravalho) is born.  She is drawn to the ocean, but her father, Tui, (Temuera Morrison) the Chief of the village, repeatedly tells Moana not to go beyond the reef.  But Moana’s grandmother, Tala (Rachel House) urges Moana to find out more about her ancestors, and she finds out she comes from a family of explorers.  Moana tries to sail out beyond the reef, but gets tossed around and goes back to her home island.  But then tragedy strikes, the fish near the reef begin to die and Tala becomes bedridden. As she is dying, Tala implores Moana to sail again, and gives her the heart of Te Fiti, in the form of an emerald like stone and tells her to find Maui, and return the stone to Te Fiti.  Moana finds Maui on a deserted island,  Maui is a boastful demigod, but he is also frightened of Te Ka the volcanic God who stands in the way of bringing the heart stone back to Te Fiti.  So he traps Moana on the deserted island and has no intention of giving the stone heart back to Te Fiti.  Does Moana get off the island?  Do she and Maui return the heart stone to Te Fiti.?

Moana dies a good job of synthesizing a Polynesian myth with a modern story of a girl seeking her independence from her overprotective parents.  However, he writers undercut the message of independence for women by having Maui tag along and talk down to Moana through a large part of the film.  In addition the animal characters are wasted, they should have anthropromorphized the animals and given them the power to speak only to Moana, but instead they end up with a brainless google-eyed chicken.  The ending has a nice twist, which reinforces why Moana was chosen for the journey.

The voice acting is excellent.  Auli’I Cravalho is a natural as the young, impetuous, Moana.  Her bubbly personality imbues the film with positivity, and the audience cannot help but root for her.  Dwayne Johnson was surprisingly funny in this movie, I was surprised how good his comic timing was.  Rachel House is very endearing as Moana’s granny.  The scenes between House and Cravalho are very touching,

An hour and 47 minutes is a little long for an animated feature, but the four directors keep the pace going briskly.  The animation is eye-popping.  If there are beaches that pristine in the world, I would like to visit them.  The performances from the main actors are very good, although the music was slightly underwhelming.  I expected more from Lyn Manuel Miranda.

There is an entertaining short before Moana, called Inner Workings, be sure and watch it, it is funny and lighthearted.

Moana: Maui Wowie!