Movie Review: Marshall

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Thurgood Marshall was an unbelievable human being. This movie doesn’t do him justice. It’s still good, though.

Thurgood Marshall is one of those characters from history that defies reality. There is no way that someone like him could actually exist, is there? Well, yes, he certainly did and he left an indelible mark on the United States of America. To have him replaced on the Supreme Court by the likes of Clarence Thomas is almost as big a slap in the face of history as replacing Barack Obama with Donald Trump. The history of racism knows no lows and has a deep and long memory and will always exact its revenge for perceived slights. I kind of feel the same way about this movie. It is a slight against Thurgood Marshall’s legacy while wrapped in the veneer of an homage to the larger than life man.

I should back up a little and say that this is actually a good movie. It follows one of Thurgood Marshall’s (Chadwick Boseman) early cases when he was the only lawyer working for the NAACP. He enlists the help of an insurance claims lawyer named Sam Friedman (Josh Gad who is apparently required to be in every movie this year) since Marshall is not licensed to practice law in the state. The case is a defense of a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Unsurprisingly, this case is both racially and politically charged. The movie is a very effective and slick courtroom drama and the topic is handled with both seriousness and some wink-nudge humor. Boseman does an excellent job of portraying Thurgood Marshall. You get the feeling that Marshall is one of those incredibly likeable and charismatic individuals whose job has taught him exactly how much of an asshole to be in any given situation. Gad as Friedman is also quite effective as a successful Jewish lawyer who doesn’t really want any part in the whole affair but is drawn in by Marshall as I’m sure hundreds of other people were.

What’s the problem then? Why does this movie do Thurgood Marshall a disservice? Because the movie is as much about Sam Friedman as it is about Thurgood Marshall and only barely touches on the large life of an African American icon. Already having one movie made about Marshall, what are the chances of another being produced, let alone one that sufficiently extols the greatness of this man? If not zero, the chances are very close to that number. What Marshall deserves is a Netflix series. Season after season of his trials, tribulations, successes, and failures, all wrapped around the thousands of people his legacy has touched.

You should all go see this movie. It really is good despite my social justice warrior outrage. But do yourself a favor. After seeing the movie, pick up a biography of the man. I certainly plan to.

Book Review: Dreams Of Gods And Monsters by Laini Taylor

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

“Dreams of Gods and Monsters” is book three of Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” series. It brings the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. This novel recaptures much of the magic that made book one a delight to read and that was missing in “Days of Blood and Starlight“. Though, it does take a while for the story to get going. Whereas book one was all hope and love and magic ending in tragedy, and book two was almost all tragedy, book three starts with tragedy and grows back into hope and love and magic. It also ties myths and legends brought up in book one rather satisfactorily.

For the longest time, something was picking at my brain while I was reading this book, but I couldn’t figure it out. There was a complete not-rightness to it that was thwarting my enjoyment. Finally, around half way through, I figured it out. It was time. Or more specifically, the complete lack of passage of it. The entire novel takes place over a span of just about 72 hours if you don’t count the epilogue. In that time, an impossible amount of events take place. Worlds are traversed, large distances are flown, patience is lost because of decisions taking too much time. Once I figured that out, I started to enjoy the book a lot more. I am not sure if it was because of that or because it happened to coincide with the return of a bit of mirth and levity to the story. It might also be because the wishes finally made a comeback. Wishes in the trilogy were a beautiful source of ridiculousness packed into an almost currency-like system. They were completely lacking in book two and it was all the worse for it.

Any softness of plot and sloppiness of storytelling, for instance book three has a bit of a deus ex machina going on, is overcome by Laini Taylor’s writing style. She has an almost melodic, poetic voice in her writing. It isn’t often where I find myself paying much attention to the chapter titles, but hers are delightful and intriguing in how they fit into the chapter’s story. It isn’t just that, though. Taylor is also quite adept at capturing little moments with clarity and beauty. I feel as if she’s almost missed her literary calling and instead of writing novels, she should try her hand at the short story, the most difficult of narratives.

Having finished the trilogy, I am not sure I can whole-heartedly recommend reading it even though I quite enjoyed the journey. I think the hopeless romantics in the audience will get a lot of enjoyment out of these books. Also, Taylor has also created quite an imaginative world and has left enough rough edges to allow the more creative among us to smooth out those edges with their own stories. I also must remind myself that these are young adult books and, while pretty dark at times for young adults, it is a series that would very likely appeal to them as well.

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A beautiful movie from start to finish with a good story to boot. Did not at all seem like a 164 minute movie.

Our dark, dismal future never looked so beautiful. There can be a captivating quality to bleakness, an allure to destitution. This movie captures those qualities perfectly. There is so much attention to detail in the movie the mind boggles. Add to that a perfectly jarring soundtrack and you have a handful of Academy Awards just waiting for you to pick up.

I have not seen the first “Blade Runner” movie (I know, heaven forbid!) and I can safely say that you don’t need any of the knowledge from the first to enjoy the second even though Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) from the first movie is integral to the second. Blade Runners are kind of like bounty hunters. They search for replicants, which are basically engineered humans created to do horrible tasks for “real” humans, and either capture or kill them, replicants being outlawed after a couple replicant mutinies. In “Blade Runner 2049”, a new version of replicants are legal because they are more loyal, but the remaining old versions are still hunted down. Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a newer version replicant working for the LAPD to hunt down the old versions. While hunting down an older replicant, Officer K discovers a secret and attempts to track down the source, all the while being followed by his creator, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), and Wallace’s replicant agent, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), who also want to know the answer to this secret.

As this is a movie mainly about “fake” humans, it delves greatly into the concept of what it is to be human. Can a replicant have a soul? Can a replicant love? What even is love? Does someone have to be real to be loved? Does someone have to be real to love? So, yeah, lots of thoughts on what love really is. Those scenes are some of the most touching moments of the film.

When you can make a 164 minute movie and make it seem like no time has passed, you know you’ve made a good movie. “Blade Runner 2049” definitely fits that bill. Sure, there’s lots of establishing shots and scenes made more for their beauty than for their utility, but you won’t regret any of those scenes. This is film making at its finest and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Movie Review: Battle Of The Sexes

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Man, Billy Jean King is awesome. And Bobby Riggs was a lovable prick. This is their story. Dun DUN!

The Battle of the Sexes, a tennis match between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs, happened the week before I was born so I don’t have a memory of it at all nor do I recall hearing anything about it until previews of this movie started showing. For most of the world, it was merely a spectacle, but for Billy Jean King, it was dead serious. It was about pride and position and being taken seriously in the world of tennis and general misogyny. That was 1973. Very little has changed. Women still have to fight for equal pay in the sports arena even when they draw larger crowds, bring in more revenue, and outperform the men’s teams.

The Battle of the Sexes tennis match is more of an epilogue to the movie than the main attraction. The meat of this movie focuses on Billy Jean King’s (Emma Stone) fight for equality in tennis and being a complete bad-ass while doing so. Whereas most people would simply cave to demands if it meant the very real and likely loss of your career, King and the rest of the women players walked away from the professional tennis league they were a part of to start their own women’s league after a protest over equal pay. What strength these women had! The two other tangential stories that are important to this movie are King’s discovery of her own sexuality, which appeared to be handled beautifully in real life by all parties involved, and the showmanship and gross misogyny of Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). Bobby Riggs was what you’d call a character. A compulsive schemer and gambler, a theatrical sideshow and provocateur, you never quite get the feel for who the real Bobby Riggs was. Perhaps he didn’t even know himself. Despite being all that and an all around prick a lot of the time, he comes off as very lovable.

This movie is filled with great acting, not just by the two stars, Stone and Carell, but also Sarah Silverman as Gladys Heldman who was a character all unto herself and Natalie Morales as Rosie Casals who was also quite instrumental in paving the way for women’s tennis, though the movie doesn’t quite get into that story. The writing is also excellent and the dialogue is crisp and witty.

This is one of those movies that I would recommend everyone see. Even if you know and lived through the tennis match, there was so much happening behind the scenes that you probably don’t know about but should. It helps that it is a legitimately good movie. Though the Battle of the Sexes is a bit of a misnomer. It wasn’t then, nor does it continue to be today a battle between men and women, but a battle between dominance and equality. I like to think that equality will someday win through, but man has it been a long, though slough.

Movie Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Takes a while to get into. Still has some of the ridiculous magic as the first movie, but not as much. A lot of self-referential jokes.

I was in a bad mood going into this movie. Not a good way to write an impartial review. So be warned.

Movie #2 follows much in the mold of movie #1. Since movie #1 was an origin movie of sorts, there was a lot of beginning material to work with. Movie #2 didn’t have that advantage so I was interested to see how they would transition into this already built world. The answer is with a bang. Whereas your traditional James Bond movie would go for a semi-plausible chase scene, Kingsman decides to go all out bonkers. It was probably a lot more fun that I thought it was because, like I said, bad mood. I found myself doing a lot of eye rolling.

I did finally start to get into the swing of the movie after they the villain Poppy’s (Julianne Moore) ridiculous plot for world domination. Like in movie #1, Poppy’s plans are absolutely insane, but come from a place where there’s a whole lot more truth than people might be comfortable with. From that point on, the movie is a good time. There are ridiculous fight scenes and double crosses and evil politicians and Elton John!

While it is not absolutely necessary to see movie #1, it will certainly help you appreciate movie #2 a lot more. There is a lot of self-referential humor in movie #2 that requires having seen movie #1 to appreciate. It is sprinkled throughout and I’m sure I missed a lot of it. This is one of those things where it would be cool to look up all the self-referential bits to see what you caught and what you missed.

My bad mood aside, I did enjoy this movie. Others, whose opinions I respect, said that it was very worthy of the title Kingsman. I will take their word and recommend this movie to you if you thought the original was a crazy good time like I did.

Movie Review: It

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line; All the hairs on my body stood up on end multiple times! Lots of nostalgia for us older folks. This was only Part 1, though they don’t say such until the very end.

“It” is two horror stories rolled up into one. The first features an incredibly creepy clown determined to suck children down into the sewers. The second features said children navigating the horrors of growing up. I’m not entirely sure which is more scary.

The thing I like about Stephen King novels in general and this movie in particular is that he often takes the horrors of everyday life and then makes it worse. No more is it more apparent than in his coming of age horror stories like “It”. Navigating childhood is rough even with good parents. With bad parents, it can be a nightmare. I think King focuses on those children of nightmares because those who live through nightmares are more realistically equipped to handle the clownish nightmare that is Pennywise. With so many horrific adults and bullies in their life, what’s an extra horrific clown thrown into the mix? And, oh my goodness, is Pennywise a nightmare! I don’t think I’ve had all the hairs on my body stand up on end this much in a movie since “The Exorcist”.

For those of you who saw the Netflix series “Stranger Things” and related to the children, you’ll recognize a lot of the feelings of coming-of-age nostalgia in the movie. Especially if you are, shall I say, of the dorky persuasion. In fact, I wonder if “Stranger Things” was paying homage to “It”. The makeup of the group of children was pretty spot on between the two. “It” definitely has more of a sexual bent to it because much of the nightmares of growing up a female are being perved on by adult males, but there’s also the healthy boys discovering girls part well represented.

I had warning of it going in and I’d like to pass that warning along to you, my five viewers. This is part one of the movie. That’s not a bad thing, but it could be annoying to not know it in the end. Fear not, though, this is a fully contained movie and by the end, the nightmare is over. Or is it? Of course it’s not, there’s a part two!

Stephen King movies are a crap shoot. For every “Misery” there’s five “Pet Sematary”s. This one is a definite winner, though. Tense, eerie, creepy. Major props to both Bill Skarsgård who plays Pennywise and the editors who, for some scenes, I don’t know how they had the patience to splice that crap together. Simply amazing. Go see this movie if you’re not a chicken.

Movie Review: Wind River

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

Bottom Line: A riveting and compelling character driven drama. From the same guy who brought you “Hell or High Water”, which was also awesome.

Despair, grief, loss, and the absence of hope. Welcome to “Wind River”. This is not a happy film, but my god is it beautiful. It is set in the Wind River Reservation of Wyoming, a rough and rugged land where, as they say in the movie, you sometimes have to travel 50 miles to get 5 miles away. The movie is written and directed by Taylor Sheridan who also wrote the excellent “Hell or High Water”. Like “Hell or High Water”, it is a crime drama, but only as a vehicle for portraying desperate characters in desperate situations.

The crime in which this tale is wound around is the death of a young Native American woman under suspicious circumstances. A Native American dying under unusual circumstances on Reservation land triggers a call to the FBI who have jurisdiction under such circumstances. The FBI, unfortunately, doesn’t give two shits about a woman dying on Reservation land. Luckily, the FBI sends Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen) who is both competent and has a heart even if she has no idea what she’s getting into. She asks Fish and Wildlife employee Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), who found the young girl’s body, to help her find out what happened.

Through this young girl’s death you get a glimpse into life on the Reservation. All the Native Americans know that the rest of the world has forgotten them and it shows in their disdain for Jane. Cory is divorced with a son who stays with his ex and lost his own daughter under similar circumstances and never found out exactly what happened to her so he has personal reasons to help Jane in her investigation. Martin (Gil Birmingham) is the father of the dead girl, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), who was his last thread on sanity having to live with a son who has lost himself in drugs and a wife who is mentally ill. You can see that this is not a happy movie.

The Wind River Reservation may be rugged and unforgiving, but it is picturesque. That, along with the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack make “Wind River” even more compelling. It is also very sad. If you don’t like sadness, stay away. Other than that, this is a movie you should definitely go see.  Then see “Hell or High Water” after it.

Book Review: This Side Of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Jean-Paul’s rating: 5/5 stars

Man, can F. Scott Fitzgerald write. Often, when I read books, I have delusions of grandeur that I could have written that book. With Fitzgerald, I fee like a complete hack and illiterate.  There are so many moments of absolute prosaic brilliance in this novel. There are definitely parts where my mind wandered, only to be shaken into stark clarity by what I was reading. Kind of like you feel when you jar awake while dosing behind the wheel.

“This Side of Paradise” is a novel for wanderers and travelers, both of the soul and of the body. It’s not quite a coming of age story as much as it’s a discovery of self story. The novel revolves around Amory Blaine, which is appropriate because Amory Blaine thinks the world revolves around himself. He is every spoiled rich kid you have ever met. He spends much of his youth disdaining everything and coming up with simplistic ideas about society, always with him smack dab in the middle of the spiderweb. Basically, take any teenage with time on his hands to think profound thoughts with little guidance and you have Amory Blaine. Here’s the trick, though, he’s actually likeable. Fitzgerald has a way of making deeply flawed, obnoxiously rich people very likeable. As Amory grows older, his methods of questioning the world mellow, but even to the end he is a selfish person, but by then he knows that of himself.

Fitzgerald’s prose is very scattershot in this novel. It’s much of the reason I enjoyed it so much. He switches often from long paragraph prose inside Amory’s mind to back and forth banter between friends to poetry to a play format to a weird question and answer session with himself. At times, especially the long periods inside Amory’s brain, it can be difficult to focus, but the journey is well worth it. I especially loved the play format where Amory’s love Rosalind enters the picture. It had such a delightful, almost Jane Austiny feel to it. It was an “I can’t put the book down” moment that is difficult to recapture these days. Second favorite was the back and forth banter between Amory and some random rich dude about socialism. These moments all just kind of come out of nowhere and are almost short stories thrown into the middle of a novel, but they are wonderful.

Many people will probably be upset with the ending, but I think it is perfect. I will not say what it is, but it’s almost like Amory has come full circle. A little wiser, perhaps, but just as directionless and just as despairing. At the beginning of the novel, I really disliked Amory Blaine. By the end I had to ask the question: oh my god, am I Amory Blaine? Was I like Amory Blaine when I was in school? We are all Amory Blaine. Well, without the money.

I have a theory about Amory Blaine. I didn’t really know what the book was about when I started reading it and reading it doesn’t really help you to know that answer so I was kind of searching for meaning or direction in a directionless and meaningless novel. There was a part when Amory was in Princeton where he sees a ghost of a friend who had died. Many pages are used describing this period of time where Amory sees this ghost. At the time, I thought that this may be a story about a young man who develops schizophrenia and here was his first episode. There were some holes in this theory. A friend saw the ghost as well. But maybe that friend was part of the schizophrenia as well. Amory did seem to only see this “friend” in his house. Then other friends saw the ghost as well and the premise started to get ridiculous. Nothing was mentioned of the ghost after that, which is pretty par for the novel. But then, there was this really weird question and answer period between Amory and himself. It was almost as if two distinct personalities were talking to each other. The rebuttal to that, of course, is who doesn’t have conversations with themselves? But it didn’t feel quit like that was what was happening. Then you take into consideration the fact that his wife, Zelda, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and I have to wonder if there were any other hints that this might be what was happening to Amory. I guess we’ll never know.

You’re Defending A Monument To Slavery

       C           F           Am
You're defending a monument to slavery
  C        F                 G
I know you disagree but it's true
       C           F           Am
You're defending a monument to slavery
C             F              G
Please read a book and get a clue

     C        F              Am
Sure you can claim that it's history
    C              F            G
And that we should remember our past
        C              F            Am
But the source of that past ain't a mystery
     C      F              G
That statue commemorates a caste
     C            F         Am
That liked to own humans as property
    C         F            G
And started a war for that right
      C         F          Am
Until they were pushed out to the sea
      C           F         C    F    G
Never forget that the south LOST THAT FIIIIIGHT

       C           F           Am
You're defending a monument to slavery
       C           F           Am
You're defending a monument to slavery
       C           F           Am
You're defending a monument to slavery

 

Movie Review: Detroit

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A disturbing look at a disturbing period of history. Could have done without the last half hour of the movie.

“Detroit” follows the events of the 1967 Detroit Riots with a focus on the Algiers Hotel incident. And by “incident” I mean the abuse and murder of Black people by police officers. You know how this ends. I came out of the movie angry. Not because of the injustice of the events in the movie, though they are infuriating, but because I can see no progress from 1967 to 2017. What happened at the Algiers Hotel can happen today and does happen today with worrying frequency. And when a movement springs up to try to combat those injustices, they’re equated with Nazis. Welcome to America 2017.

The events surrounding the Algiers Hotel incident are confusing and the movie does a really good job of portraying that while also keeping a very close hold on the truth of what happened that night. You will leave the movie with questions and that’s a good thing. My biggest question of all was who is this Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) character? He was a security guard hired to guard a nearby store and somehow got tangled up with everything that happened at the Algiers. The police just seem to accept his presence there, which is weird. My best guess is he was a police wannabe, the security guard industry being filled with them. Boyega portrays him as a decent fellow, but there’s just a wrongness of him being there and abetting some really bad police/national guardsmen. I wonder if there is more to know or if that’s all we really do know about him.

The last half hour of the movie is a puzzle to me. First, it’s pretty boring. The main story has been resolved and it just follows Larry Reed (Algee Smith) who quit The Dramatics because of the events of that night. Second, it takes away a lot of the impact of the movie. It’s as if they didn’t want to leave the audience feeling like crap so they tagged on this feel-goodish ending as if to give a bit of a feeling of hope. It would have been much more powerful if they ended the movie with the not guilty verdicts being read and the murderers walking free as the entire police force cheers them on.

“Detroit” is a compelling movie and should be watched by all. It is often not easy to watch, but it should be known and said out loud frequently that this stuff happens even to this day and we should not stand for it and silence is complicity.