Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

thor ragnarok

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is locked up in a cage by Sartur (Clancy Brow) a demon who claims to have initiated Ragnarok, a prophesy where Sartur will destroy Asgard.  Thor thinks he’s already stopped the prophesy, but flies to Asgard to talk to his father, Odin.  (Anthony Hopkins)  Instead of Odin, Thor finds Loki (Tom Hiddleston) who seems to have replaced Odin on Asgard.  With a little help from Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) Thor finds Odin, only to find that he’s dying, and Hela (Cate Banchett) who is Goddess of Death and also Odin’s first born, and also Thor and Loki’s sister, plans to take over the family legacy.When Odin passes away, Hela will have infinite power.  Odin passes away shortly thereafter, and the race is on to get to Asgard.  But Thor and Loki get sidetracked to planet Sakaar, which is ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who wants to pit Thor against his champion in a gladiatorial battle.  It turns out Thor already knows the champion of Sakaar, it’s the Hulk, but will beating the Hulk be as easy as Thor thinks and can Thor get back to Asgard before Hela takes it over?

Thor Ragnarok did something that I didn’t think was possible, it made me like a Thor movie.  The previous two Thor movies took themselves so damn seriously, this was a refreshing tongue in cheek take on the Thor story that this trilogy needed in the worst way.  The story is simple, which is crucial to a superhero movie, don’t overcomplicate things.  The backstory with Hela is equally as good, and those two elements alone make this movie worth watching.  There are drawbacks however, the whole Hulk fight scene is unnecessary, in fact Hulk is unnecessary, as is Dr. Strange.  Writers have yet to find a way to integrate Hulk into any avengers movie much less make a decent Hulk movie, in this one the Hulk is little more than comedy relief.  The ending is predictable, and when Hollywood runs out of plot, it pours on the fight scenes and special effects.  Thor Ragnarok is no exception, but Ragnarok is a welcome relief from a character and trilogy that was rapidly losing relevance, in the Marvel universe.

The performances are very good.  Chris Hemsworth is a funny guy, anyone who’s seen him in the Ghostbusters remake, admittedly not that many saw this, but those who did knows he has great comic timing.  Tom Hiddleston is also great as Loki, as he plays up the sibling rivalry again, this time for laughs.  But the best performance in this film undoubtedly belongs to Cate Blanchett, yes she is evil, but she underplays the evil so well that it’s subtle, and she has a reason for being angry, and that makes her performance all the more intriguing.  There are also good performances by Idris Elba Karl Urban, Tessa Thompson and of course Anthony Hopkins. These performances make a well-written movie even better.

The direction is good, the scenes burst with color, yes there’s a lot of CGI, but the film I is not overwhelmed by it.  The pacing is good, the movie moves along at a brisk pace for a movie that’s over 2 hours long, and the director gets a lot of good performances from a very talented cast.

Thor Ragnarok  Rock on!

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thelma and louise

Louise (Susan Sarandon) is bored with her life, and with her boyfriend Jimmy, (Michael Madsen)  so she decides to call up her friend, Thelma (Geena Davis) who is sick of her domineering husband, Darryl (Christopher McDonald) and so they decide to drive to Mexico.  Thelma ominously brings her husband’s gun along, in case there’s any trouble.  They go to a bar, and right away, Thelma gets too drunk and too flirtatious with a guy named Harlan. (Timothy Carhart) Harlan takes Thelma to the parking lot of the bar and tries to rape her.  Luckily, Louise gets to the parking lot just in time and shoots Harlan.  They are now fugitives from the law, on the run.

Louise calls Jimmy and asks him to wire her own savings to her; Louise also picks up an attractive, young hitchhiker named J.D., (Brad Pitt) at Thelma’s urging.  When Louise goes to pick up the money, Jimmy is waiting for her.  He asks Louise to marry her.  Does she accept?  Is J.D. is innocent and carefree as he appears?    What of Hal, (Harvey Keitel) the cop who doing the leg work to find Thelma and Louise, does he track them down, or do they escape to Mexico?

The first time I saw this movie, I thought it was an acceptable escapist feminist revenge fantasy.  I see it now and I can’t stand this movie.  The only character who’s got any redeeming characteristics is Louise.  Thelma does one stupid thing after another that gets them deeper and deeper into a hole. So much for being a feminist’s dream movie. J.D. is not what he appears to be, Darryl is the king of the jerks, Jimmy who appears decent has a dark side, and Hal the cop chasing them seems to be the only man who has any empathy at all.  Even the waitresses and superficial and empty headed.  Bar patrons are rapists, and truckers are harassing stalkers.  Khali Khouri who was lauded in the book I just read, wrote a screenplay full of one dimensional, superficial characters in my opinion.  Thelma is supposed to show some growth but her dramatic arc from stupid to wise happens too quickly to be believable.

The acting is adequate.  Susan Sarandon really stands out in this movie, as she does in most movies, and gives a hellacoius performance.  She’s gotta stay one step ahead of the law, and one eye on her friend, and her performance illustrates the frustration she must endure, and also the joy of being free from the things that are shackling her.  I don’t think Geena Davis should have been Oscar nominated, she’s playing the ditzy airhead she always played and wasn’t convincing when her transformation takes place.  Brad Pitt was just asked to be a pretty boy, take his shirt off, and flex his muscles and that’s what he did.  Michael Madsen was very good as Jimmy, he gives the character depth, and a quiet strength. Harvey Keitel with a Southern accent is unintentionally funny, and the accent makes it difficult to take the performance seriously.

The direction is only so-so, while there are some stunning visuals of the American Southwest, but the pacing is inexcusable, it is so painfully slow that it’s painful to watch.  I kept watching hoping the story would move and it didn’t move fast enough, not even remotely fast enough for me. There was so much about what a great director Ridley Scott is in the Over The Cliff book, and he is a good director for science fiction, this story is not his milieu, so he was right in not wanting to direct it.  He shouldn’t have.  He got some good performances, and some not so good ones.

Thelma and Louise.  Don’t Louise sleep over this one.

a ghost story

A musician named C, (Casey Affleck) and his wife M, (Rooney Mara) are having trouble in their married life.  C suddenly dies in a car accident, leaving M by herself.  C returns as a ghost and continues to wander around the house trying to sooth M in her time of grief.  He seem to be scratching at a wall inside the house, but what is the spirit of C doing?  Is he trying to send a message to M?  Or is there something else hidden under the paint in that wall?

This movie tries very hard to be a traditional ghost story where a spirit wanders around looking for eternal rest, but even that simple storyline is muddled by flashbacks and flash forwards, and needless subplots.  Making matters worse this movie is devoid of dialogue for large swaths of the story.  Anything is better than the awkward silences that engulf this movie, including bad narration.  But nothing can save this movie, because after nearly 90 minutes of viewing.  I simply have no idea what the writer is trying to say.  I have watched a lot of arthouse films from many countries in many different languages, but it’s very difficult to comprehend why this movie was ever made, it is simply that bad.  The critics seem to love it for reasons that escape me, but the film puzzles me, so why shouldn’t the reaction to this film

Casey Affleck seems to like roles where he doesn’t have to say much.  After making Manchester By The Sea, he plays another character off very few words.  I’ve forgotten if Casey Affleck can act at all.  This is not a good test of his acting abilities.  Rooney Mara is similarly wordless, I don’t know how to measure her performance either because the script is so bereft of emotion.  And this is essentially a two person movie, so there’s no one else to take the burden of this barren script off their shoulders.

Director David Lowery is also the writer, and matches the lack of dialogue with a glacially slow place, an hour and a half feels like three hours, and that makes this movie a difficult watch, at best,  I can’t tell if the actors give good performances, because they have precious little to say.

A Ghost Story.  Didn’t raise my spirits.

 

Movie Review: The Big Sick (2017)

Posted: November 10, 2017 in Comedy, Drama, Romance
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Kumail Nanjani (Himself) is a Pakistani stand-up comedian, he tells his parents, Azmat (Anupam Kher) and Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) that he wants to be a lawyer.  Kumail is dating an American girl, named Emily (Zoe Kazan) despite meeting many Pakistani girls to please his parents.  Soon enough, Emily finds out that Kumail is dating all these girls behind her back and she breaks up with him.  After he has moved on, Kumail gets a phone call, and is shocked to hear that Emily has a really serious viral infection.  The doctors may need to do an operation to remove the virus and keep it from spreading and the y may need to put Emily in a medically induced coma to operate.  The doctors can’t find Emily’s parents, Beth  (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) so Kumail has to decide whether to sign the papers or not. What does he do?

First and foremost, this movie was marketed as a light romantic comedy, but the actual movie is light-years away from a light romantic comedy.  This movie is 2 hours of drama, and melodrama with a few jokes sprinkled in.  The main character is an unlikable SOB, who lies to his parents, and girlfriend, and his girlfriend, the other main character,  is in a coma, gee, are we having fun yet? There are jokes in this movie, but the viewer has to slog for hours of really depressing movie to get to those jokes.  Is it worth it?  Not for me it wasn’t.  The ending is not that great either, there are at least two false ending before getting to the real ending, which makes the real ending all the more annoying.  The standup comedy scenes funny, are and the comedians are good.  There are some good performances here, but don’t  watch this film  waiting for a laugh out loud comedy, because it’s not.

Kumail Manjani is really not a likable guy and since he’s playing himself in a true story from his life, he must not be a likable person in real life.  His humor is also an acquired taste, something like a deadpan understated humor.  Zoe Kazan has a whiny voice that makes her character hard to stomach, when she’s not comatose. The people who make this movie watching are Emily’s parents. Ray Romano, who also has a whiny voice is not annoying in this movie, he’s actually very sweet and understanding, and funny in a way that this movie needed.  Holly Hunter plays Beth as a feisty Southern wife and mother who’ll fight anyone to save her daughter, but she does it while making the character endearing, which is not an easy thing to do.  The Pakistani characters were one-dimensional, and somewhat stereotypical, and that made Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff’s jobs very difficult.  I’ve seen Anupam Kher in Silver Linings Playbook Bend It Like Beckham and a few Hindi language film, and he usually plays the father in these movies, so this is not s stretch for him.  But the father is such a tradition-bound character that there’s not much for Kher to do as an actor. The mother is similarly boxed in.

The direction is not great, the pacing is slow, the story is two hours long, which is death for a comedy, and the great performances come not from the leads, but from the parents of the daughter, who are also Hollywood veterans.  The director is a television show director for the most part.  This looks like his first feature film. Judd Apatow  produced this, it didn’t seem like he had a big budget or needed one for that matter.

The Big Sick Not infectiously Funny.

TV Review: Black Mirror Season 1

Posted: November 10, 2017 in Drama, TV
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black mirror

Episode 1:  The National Anthem

British Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) is faced with the kidnapping of Princess Susannah, (Lydia Wilson) the video cannot be traced, neither can the man or group responsible for the kidnapping.  The kidnapper has an audacious demand?  Does the Prime Minister comply?

The kidnapper’s demand seems like a joke, so it’s hard to take the premise seriously, so right away this episode gets off on the wrong foot, and it never regains its footing.  Doesn’t the royal family have the guards at Buckingham Palace?  What were they doing, sleeping?  This episode does say something about the British, it tells anyone who watches it how much the British love the Royal Family.  It also makes some trite, overbaked comments about the power of “social media” that no one needs to hear again. The ending was almost an afterthought, so this episode doesn’t rate very highly with me.  Not a good way to start a Twilight Zone type series.

Episode 2: 15 Million Merits

Bing (Daniel Kaluuya) lives in a society where everyone has to pedal an exercycle to power the electrical needs of society at large.  Every time Bing peddles, he earns credits, called merits, which he can use to buy things, like tchotchkes for his avatar, or pornographic videos.  The big prize is a ticket to Hot Shot, a talent show, broadcast nationwide.  That ticket costs a cool 15 million merits.  One day, while in the bathroom he hears a girl named Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay) singing a song.  Bing thinks Abi has a beautiful voice, and buys her a ticket to Hot Shots.

What happens to Abi at Hot Shots?  How does Bing react?

Bicycles and reality show television.  The future is bleak indeed.  I’m the first to slam show like American Idol, it has pretty much decimated rock music, but once again this show takes the things that annoy people about today’s culture, endless talents shows, avatars, and anonymous rating pf people, and makes it extreme, to the point that nothing rings true, and the situation becomes an absurdist one.  The romance between Bing and Abi seems rushed and insincere.  Daniel Kaluuya, who was great in Get Out, seems uninteresting and uninterested in this role.  Kaluuya is great in Get Out, not so much here.

Episode 3:  The Entire History of You

Liam (Toby Kebbell) lives in a society where all memories can be recalled through a microchip implanted near the ear.  Liam flies in to join a party thrown by his wife Fi. (Jodie Whittaker)  Fi is paying particular attention to an ex-flame named Jonas, (Tom Cullen) and it bothers Liam, so he asks her how long she was involved with him, and she says that it was only a week.  But Liam persists and finds out that they were involved for more than 6 months.

Incensed, he goes to see Jonas and asks him to erase all his memories of Fi, or he will remove Jonas’ microchip forcefully.  Faced with the threat of physical harm, Jonas complies.  Then Liam confronts Fi about the paternity of their son.  How does Fi respond?  What is the truth?

This is probably the best of the three episodes in season one, because it deals with a real issue in a futuristic context.  The issue of infidelity has been a problem, and will be a problem in the future.  But would people really want to prove infidelity by digging into your spouse’s memories?  That’s the more interesting question.  The story is one sided, however, because the viewer never sees Liam’s past relationships, so there is a bit of a double standard there.  Also the story reminds me a bit of Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. In that movie Jim Carrey wanted to forget a bad relationship, in this episode, Toby Kebbell wants to use memories to find the truth about his marriage.  The story drags a bit, but good acting from Kebbell and Cullen keep things interesting.

Overall, season one was not very good, the storylines were weak, the first story was especially difficult to take seriously.  The second was equally hard to believe, for different reasons.  Both stories tried to talk about the evils of social networking, to little avail.  Only the third episode resonates, because it deals with  a serious issue that any married couple fears.

Blade Runner 2049

In 2049, in Los Angeles, there’s an uneasy peace between the humans and the replicants, who the humans built to serve them and pleasure them.  There’s a rumor going around that a replicant gave birth to a half human child and that rumor is enough to set off fireworks in the tinderbox that Los Angeles has become.  Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) orders officer K, (Ryan Gosling) a current Blade Runner, to find out if there is a child ‘retire’ the child, and to report back to her.  The key to finding the child seems to be finding former Blade Runner Rick Deckert (Harrison Ford) and verifying if the child really exists.  K finds the remains of a replicant, and takes them to the Wallace Corporation where the replicant is identified as Rachel. (Sean Young)

Nander Wallace (Jared Leto) is himself a replicant and has a stake in finding the replicant baby.  If replicants can reproduce, Nander can raise a replicant army to overthrow human rulers forever .  He sends a homicidal replicant named Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to follow K, and find the child.   K is plagued by a persistent memory of a toy wooden horse that he had a child.  Is this a real memory, or has it been implanted?  Is this memory related to the replicant child?  Is there a replicant baby?  What does Deckart have to do with the baby?  Can K find Deckart?  Can he find the child, who’s now an adult?

I like the story of Blade Runner 2049, it’s simple and straightforward, which is more than I can say for the original Blade Runner film. But beneath its glossy surface, however, there are many flaws in the film, in character development, and plot development.  For example, Las Vegas seems to be utterly devastated and have only one resident, while nearby Los Angeles is relatively teeming with people.  The female characters appear to be decorative, except the one who is a homicidal android.  Why is she like that?  Why are strong women portrayed as murderous lunatics with no remorse?  Why are submissive women portrayed as desirable?  The black characters fare worse, one runs a sweatshop, and another is a clerk.  At a time when our demographic future will be much different than our current reality, Hollywood again chooses to largely whitewash.  The ending is left open for yet another sequel, perhaps featuring a reanimated version of cryogenically preserved Harrison Ford.  If producers wait another 35 years, that may be the only option left.

The acting is good in this film, probably better than this script deserves.  Ryan Gosling made a name for himself playing laconic humorless characters, so he should feel very comfortable playing K, and he is.  He’s more comfortable playing these emotionless characters like the driver in Driver, than he is playing a jobless jazzman in Lala Land.  Harrison Ford is also good at playing an irascible old crank, he does it in every role of late, and will continue to do it for as long as he can.  Robin Wright makes a brief but forceful appearance as K’s boss.  She is the strong feminine presence that this movie needed more of. Jared Leto overacts voraciously, as is his habit lately.

The direction is good, the pacing is quick and the action moves quickly, for a nearly 3 hour film.  The movie is visually striking, thanks to cinematography by Roger Deakins, who has done movies like The Shawshank Redemption, and Skyfall.  The direction is done by Denis Villeneuve, who has done excellent movies like Arrival or not so good movies like Prisoners.  He does well here, I don’t think this group needs any help with their acting skills, but he took a long and multifaceted story and laid it out very clearly.

Blade Runner 2049:  Cutting edge visuals with 1950’s plot.

Movie Review: The BFG (2016)

Posted: October 21, 2017 in Comedy

the bfg

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a ten year old orphan living in London.  One night, she looks out of her window, and sees a giant.  He calls himself the Big Friendly Giant, (Mark Rylance) because he doesn’t eat children.  For this reason he has been ostracized by the other giants in the Land of the Giants.  BFG takes Sophie to the Land of the Giants and tells her what he does for a living.  BFG captures people’s dreams, and creates dreams for children.  Sophie sees the nice dreams and nightmares of people and is enchanted.  But the other giants get Sophie’s scent and want to eat her.  After protecting Sophie, he takes he back to the orphanage, but she wants to go back to the Land of the Giants with the BFG.  After heading off another attack by the giants, Sophie comes up with an audacious plan to get rid of the giants once and for all, does the plan work, or do the giants feast on the children of London?

There are movies made for kids, and there are kid themed movies made for adults.  The BFG is strictly for kids, there is a good giant willing to protect the little girl from the other giants.  While it is a laudable theme to have a noble giant protecting the youth of London, the story ends up being simplistic and predictable.  There is also an overreliance on special effects, instead of developing the characters or plot, there are some nice moments between the BFG and Sophie, but not enough to sustain a two hour film.  There is also some bathroom humor that only kids would find funny.

The BFG is a movie where the acting makes the script better than it is.  Ruby Barnett plays Sophie as a precocious girl who’s not afraid to talk back to an adult, even when the adult is a 24 foot tall giant.  But she adds just enough emotion to make Sophie sympathetic to the viewer.  Mark Rylance plays the BFG with wit, charm, and a twinkle in his eye, making the giant a very approachable person.

A good movie uses CGI to supplement a good story, but the BFG, seems to be overwhelmed by special effects, and while some of the effects are vibrant and colorful, the over-reliance on special effects is distracting.  Steven Speilberg directed this movie, and unlike Jaws where he kept the shark under wraps for much of the movie, special effects get in the way of the storytelling here.  The pacing is slow, which doesn’t help anything.  There’s a good story in here somewhere, but Speilberg didn’t find it.  In E.T., he found the magic between a group of kids and an alien.  In Close Encounters, there was the excitement of alien visitors.  There is no sense of excitement or wonder here, too bad.

The BFG:  Big Floundering Grandiosity.