Movie Review: Terminator Genisys

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Convoluted plot.  Little explanation for time travel decisions.  Dull action scenes.  Absolutely zero wow factor.

Do you know what would have made this movie better?  Terminator dragons sent from the future to kill Daenerys Targaryen.  Or anything else.  Sorry, Emilia Clarke.

Terminator has jumped the shark.  Or maybe they’ve time travelled the shark back in time to kill what was left of the first two movies.  It’s hard to tell because the time travel aspects of this movie made about as much sense as my previous sentence.  The biggest problem is that everyone and their mother seems to have a time machine.  The “future” has a time machine.  Ok, fair enough, someone has to have a time machine to make any of this make sense.  The “past” has a time machine cobbled together from parts you can find in a junk yard.  The “present” has a time machine which does just about everything except time travel.  It’s a complete mess.

Time travel is time travel.  It rarely makes sense.  It always bothers me, but if there’s something to wrap around it, I’m willing to forgive the inconsistencies.  “Terminator Genisys” has the thinnest veneer of a plot and a bunch of clunky action scenes all tied with a ribbon of nostalgia.  It isn’t even worth regifting.  I tried to enjoy it for longer than I should have, but when terminator #1 jumps from one helicopter and dive bombs another helicopter containing terminator #2 and somehow missed the rotors but still caused the helicopter to crash-land and roll to its destruction stopping right on the helipad that everyone was heading towards, I gave up.  This is what passes for storytelling these days.

You completists are going to go see this movie regardless of what I say, but I’ll say it anyway.  Skip this movie.  Or at least wait until it’s on your movie streaming service of choice.  “Terminator Genisys” is not worth the time or the money to see in the theater.  Luckily, it looks like it’s pretty much bombing.

Book Review: A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

“A Mercy” tells a strange tale in a strange way.  It is a short book and it is broken into titleless chapters.  Each change in chapters is also a change in voice with one of the characters taking over the storytelling.  It is a very jarring way to introduce new characters.  You end up a little bit lost as you try to figure out who’s talking and how they fit into the larger narrative.  As you get to know the characters and recognize their unique voices you end up feeling like you know them, like they are a part of you.  I am not sure if this is because of how the story is told or because of Morrison’s gift of writing.

The story takes place in colonial America around 1690 and revolves around the lives and happenings of individuals residing in a single household.  What you end up getting is six, maybe seven, different stories all coalescing into one narrative.  Most of the voices are female and most of the voices are also slaves of one variety or another.  The main character is Florens, a slave of the farm owner, Jacob Vaark.  Every odd chapter is told from Florens’ point of view with every other individual on the farm taking one of the even chapters.

The story begins with Florrens expressing her feelings to an absent and nameless blacksmith as she travels alone to his house to seek his help in curing a case of smallpox that has visited the Vaark farm.  The smallpox breakout is the plot device used to wrap up the stories of all of the characters.  We jump back and forth in time as we discover how each character came to find themselves on the Vaark farm and how all of the interpersonal relations were established.  Throughout, Morrison incorporates a variety of themes in the story including slavery, abandonment, religion, society, and being a woman in colonial America (hint: It ain’t pretty).

This is not an easy read but it is a quick read and very engaging.  You should really pick up this book.  I can’t recall ever reading a story set in America before the United States were formed so that makes this story unique as well.  Slavery existed.  Indentured servitude existed.  But there were also free black men.  You have this strange amalgam of systems that eventually coalesced into the slavery we all know and hate.  It was interesting times.  And by interesting I mean horrible.  Horrible, horrible times.

Book Review: Edge Of Eternity by Ken Follett

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

And we’re done with Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy.  “Edge of Eternity” picks up where “Winter of the World” left off.  We follow the same families as the previous books, but this time the events are bookended by the rise of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I feel like a broken record at this point because book three has all of the same strong points and weak points as the previous two books.  The historical portions of the book are quite interesting at times but the interpersonal relationships leave room for much improvement.

More obviously than the other two books, “Edge of Eternity” is innately political.  This should come as little surprise considering Follett actually lived through all of the events and so has more to say about them.  For instance, while he does an ok job of portraying the conservative viewpoints of Nixon, Regan, et al., his disagreement with that viewpoint shines through more than in previous books.  It’s hard to live through the Civil Rights era and not have an unbiased view of the wrongs committed.  It’s also a bit welcome, though, as his previous books in the trilogy always seemed a little too “Yay, America!” while not really covering the serious shortcomings of the country at the times.

Ken Follett’s times are also partially my times as well and I have to say, seeing non-historical characters in historical situations that I’m more familiar with is disconcerting in a way that’s hard to describe.  It’s almost as if he’s stealing a bit of history.  Sure, he’s doing the same thing in the other books, but somehow having a fake Senator seems less serious a sin than having a fake person sleeping with John F. Kennedy.  Or maybe it’s just because it’s much more sensationalist and lazy than the other sins.  I’m not sure what it is, but it bugs me.

I’m glad the trilogy was over.  They were all decent enough reads,  but it’s hard to recommend them to anyone.  Really, if you’re at all interested in any of the times covered by the books, you’re probably better off getting recommendations on an actual history book instead of Follett’s historical fiction books.

Movie Review: Jurassic World

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Enjoyable, mindless, light-hearted, bone crunching, blood splattering fun.  Sure, a lot of it doesn’t make much sense, but so what?

Dinosaurs still rule the box office.  And rightfully so.  Having learned none of the lessons from the Jurassic Park theme park, now we have Jurassic World.  Bigger.  Better.  More dinosaur-y.  What could possibly go wrong?  A lot.

There is lots of stupid in this movie, but it washes over you like a warm Caribbean wave.  You’re too busy looking at all the pretty to notice the jellyfish.  Sure, the super-intelligent genetically modified super-dinosaur just happens to exhibit all of its super-intelligence at precisely the right moment.  Sure, the genetic makeup of said dinosaur is top-secret for vague and pointless reasons.  Sure, an island with a massive tourist attraction would have more than one helicopter and one pilot.  Sure, you probably wouldn’t allow kayakers down a lazy river full of dinosaurs no matter how docile they are.  Sure, the setup for the inevitable sequel is mind numbingly silly yet awesome sounding.  Ignore it.  Feel the waves.  They’re more plentiful than the jellyfish.

Chris Pratt?  Awesome.  I was a little worried after seeing the coming attractions.  They made him seem wooden and outside of his environment.  That did not translate to the movie at all.  Chris Pratt plays Starlord, I mean Andy Dwyer, I mean Owen, an affable dinosaur trainer who is teaching a pack of velociraptors to hunt on his command.  Ok, so Chris Pratt doesn’t really have a lot of range beyond affable.  He plays it so well, though, and you can do a lot with affable.  He is joined by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the stick in the mud who both runs the park and is watching her two nephews who inevitably get sucked into the middle of all the dinosaur mayhem.  Pratt and Howard have some decent chemistry with each other as an opposites-attract couple.

I don’t think “Jurassic World” lives up to its groundbreaking forefather “Jurassic Park”, but it is a fun ride for what it is.  It’s a lot of rehash with a few new ideas thrown it and that all makes it just entertaining enough to make it a movie worth seeing.  With its record-breaking success, expect to see a whole lot more dinosaurs in the future.  The dino-wars are not far in the future.

Movie Review: San Andreas

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Return of the disaster movie!  Some great disaster sequences that are totally scientifically accurate!*  Yes, it’s a little corny, but it’s a good kind of corny.

*Scientific accuracy may vary.

“San Andreas” begins with a teenager driving alone down what I can only assume is Highway 1.  She’s searching for things in the back seat, texting on her phone, and all your usual distracted driving faux pas while ominously large vehicles pass her in the other direction.  Then a rock slide comes out of nowhere and hurtles her and her car down the side of a cliff.  Enter Ray (Dwane Johnson) via helicopter to save the day!  Does she get rescued?  You’ll have to see the movie to find out!

With that opening scene, “San Andreas” quickly establishes that this is meant to be more of a tongue-in-cheek type of movie than one to be taken seriously.  It is fun and a little irreverent and pays painstakingly close detail to the minutest scientific detail.*

*Of Bizaaroworld.

So yeah, not terribly scientifically accurate.  But who cares if Hoover Dam is completely destroyed by a slightly higher than moderate earthquake?  You get to see Hoover Dam destroyed!  And who cares if two of the cities with the best earthquake preventative building codes get basically flattened?  You get to see Los Angeles and San Francisco flattened!  And who cares if a tsunami appears out of thin air where no tsunami would ever form?  You get to see a tsunami roll over San Francisco!  All of that and Dwane Johnson forsaking his job and dooming hundreds to die by stealing a rescue helicopter to rescue his ex-wife and then his daughter.  Classic.

Yes, there are better movies out there, but “San Andreas” is fun.  As a bonus, the daughter, Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is a tough cookie and not some damsel in distress.  After an initial rescue by a love interest, it’s mostly her who keeps him alive and not vice versa.

Movie Review: Tomorrowland

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line:  Another “only you can save us” teen drama.  Pretty well done, but in a crowded field.  An enjoyable movie with not much else to comment on.

“Tomorrowland” starts of in the realm of a kid’s movie.  Fluffy, light, and enjoyable for all ages.  I was worried.  It got better.  It follows the predictable teen movie pattern that is all the rage these days since Harry Potter first appeared on the scene.  Special teen kid.  Destined for greatness.  Doubts self.  Finds confidence.  Saves day.  Sure, we’ve seen it all before, but it’s a damn successful formula.  All it takes is a bit of nuance and some originality thrown in and you have yourself an acceptable movie.  And acceptable “Tomorrowland” is.

Unsurprisingly, the movie got good when George Clooney showed up.  He plays Frank Walker, a man exiled from Tomorrowland who must help Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) get to Tomorrowland so she can save the world.  Clooney is just a hell of an actor and he and Robertson have some decent chemistry together.  I’m not sure how they got Clooney to star in this movie.  Or Hugh Laurie for that matter.  It really doesn’t seem like their thing.  The movie must have looked much better on paper than in execution.

The story is interesting enough.  The bad guy, Nix (Hugh Laurie), is actually a sympathetic villain.  Almost all his motivations, I’m thinking to myself, “Well, that’s totally reasonable.”  This is a formulaic movie so they also must make him do formulaic bad guy stuff, but Nix is really just a guy with good intentions which had unfortunate side effects.

There is a surprising amount of violence in this movie and quite a bit of death, especially for a Disney tagged movie.  Much of it is gratuitous.  It’s all people being evaporated so there’s no blood, but the callousness of it is still surprising.

Is “Tomorrowland” worth seeing?  Meh, maybe?  It was certainly enjoyable and much of the futuristic effects were pretty cool.  If you enjoy all the other “teen saves the world” stuff like “Hunger Games” and “Divergent”, you’ll likely get something out of “Tomorrowland” as well.  If not, you should probably find your entertainment elsewhere.

Movie Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A taut non-stop action packed extravaganza.  Sharp visuals.  Perfect soundtrack.  Deeply interesting mythos.

You want to see this film.  I want to see this film again.  Not since the original “The Matrix” movie has there been such beautifully choreographed action scenes.  I’ll have to watch the two together when “Fury Road” gets released on DVD to see which reigns supreme.

The world of Mad Max is perfect for the big screen.  It is both shallow and easy to understand while hiding a lot of depth and complexity just ripe for exploring.  “Fury Road” tackles both aspects of the mythos for maximum effect.  It is amazing to me how much is packed into the two hour run-time of this movie.  Normally, two hours would be a really long time to sit through what can only be described as a single chase scene, but so much interesting story matter is thrown in that you don’t feel like you’ve sat in your seat for two hours.  The pacing is near perfect.

What’s also very interesting is how little dialogue there is in the movie.  Tom Hardy, who plays Max, grunts his way through the entire movie more than he speaks and yet he speaks volumes.  It is a shame that he won’t be nominated for Best Supporting Actor because he does such a good job of emoting.  It really is brilliant.  And notice that I say Best SUPPORTING Actor because that’s what he is in this movie.  Max is more a bystander thrown into events beyond his control than the instigator of the story.  The star is without a doubt the war machine driving, ass-kicking Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron).  Furiosa does quite a bit more talking than Max does, but it is again the emoting that shows through the most.

What makes the movie even better is all the women kick all the ass.  The damsels in distress are rescued by a woman and don’t waste any time jumping into the fight as they race their way to freedom.  They are eventually joined by motorcycle riding grannies who also kick so much ass.  It’s sad that it is so rare for Hollywood to produce a movie, let alone an action movie, with a plethora of three-dimensional women that it becomes necessary to note it when it happens.  More of this please, Hollywood.

This was such a fun movie.  It is certainly one that can be enjoyed again and again.  There are also almost certainly aspects of the movie that will be missed on first viewing since there is so much going on.  It is without a doubt a visual extravaganza.  Go experience it.

Movie Review: Ex Machina

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A very effective minimalist movie with high production value. A character driven look into what it means to be human.  The ending is a bit flawed.

What does it mean to be human?  Where is that line and when does one cross it?  “Ex Machina” provides a compelling narrative that focuses on those questions.  A young programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), works at a fictional Google-like company and he wins a lottery which allows him to visit the reclusive brilliant owner of the company, Nathan (Oscar Issac), at his isolated retreat for a week.  It is soon revealed that the real reason Caleb is there is so he can perform a Turing Test on Nathan’s super-secret artificial intelligence, Ava (Alicia Vikander).  A Turing Test is a thought exercise in which a human interacts with an artificial intelligence (AI) to see if the AI exhibits any traits of being non-human.

The movie is broken down into a series of meetings between Caleb and Ava and then a follow-up on the events between Caleb and Nathan.  When you have a movie that consists almost entirely of one-on-one interactions, the dialogue better be good and “Ex Machina” provides a wonderful script.  To back up the wonderful writing, there is a perfectly themed musical score that helps establish the mood and leads to a deeper sense of tension and foreboding.  Movement, language, and music combine into a single on-screen entity.  It is near masterful.

Then comes the ending.  The ending isn’t bad, it’s just kind of unfulfilling.  There are a bunch of loose ends that don’t make much sense.  There is a moment when the end should have occurred, but it kept on going.  I always blame endings like this on test audiences and studio executives.  A good movie got made, but the ending was the price the director paid to get it made in the first place.

Despite the less than fulfilling ending, “Ex Machina” is worth seeing.  You don’t get many compelling, dialogue driven movies these days what with the superheroes and the explosions so it’s good to see the United States is still capable of creating compelling movies that deviate from the norm.

Movie Review: Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Too many heroes spoils the plot.  Sufficiently comic-y action sequences.  Some good self-effacing humor.

This is the Avengers I was afraid of.  “Age of Ultron” is a “cram everything in so it’s stuffed full of what everyone wants” type of movie that leaves you feeling a bit empty.  It’s not that it wasn’t fun, because it certainly was at times, it’s more that it’s forgettable.  The movie is also not helped by the flimsy narrative which doesn’t give much to build on for the Marvel uninitiated.  I am somewhere in between and I was often left with a questioning look at various parts of the movie.  This often happens with the closing credit easter eggs that foretell the next movies, but to have these moments in the middle of a movie is inexcusable.  For instance, there is a new superhero introduced over half way through the film.  If like me you do not know the mythology, you will be completely lost as to how they fail to give him a name throughout even though he ends up joining the Avengers at the end.

The action in the movie is equal parts fun and sensory overload.  There’s lots of comic-y stuff going on for the overly geeky.  Lots of combo moves that you know damn well have names to them that “in the know” comic book geeks everywhere are cackling gleefully about as they occur on the screen.  The problem is that when you have a group of superpowered superheroes doing battle with a mostly pedestrian villain, the only way to make fights even remotely interesting is to throw the kitchen sink at them.  This leads to a garbled mess of a fight that can only be enjoyed by showing a once in the while slow motion vingette of action.

The one part where “Age of Ultron” shines is in its humor.  This is all Joss Whedon.  He is equal parts superfan and able to recognize the absurdity of the genre and he uses that gift with great results.  There is some great Thor’s hammer humor as well as Hawkeye’s self-effacing recognitions of how underpowered he is.

The biggest problem is Ultron.  His creation is poorly explained, his motivations are childish, the Avengers’ reactions to him make little sense, and he’s just not that interesting of a villain as a result.  I blame this on having too many A-list superheroes in the same movie all of whom need their individual moments of glory.  That’s how you end up with a two and a half hour movie with a shoestring plot.

Yes, the movie was fun.  Yes, you should see it if you’re a fan of superhero movies.  No, you will likely not look back at it with the fondness of the first Avengers movie.  Ultron ain’t no Loki.

We All Deserve Hell And Anything Better Warrants Profuse Gratitude

This is about the recent Baltimore riots and, more specifically, the reactions to it partly by people I know.  If you’re sick of hearing about this topic, be forewarned.  It is also likely to be long and meandering just like the conversation that sparked it.  I stayed out of the conversation because I did not want to interact with the kind of people which it attracted and I could not think of any constructive way to pithily say what needed to be said.  Plus, this is Facebook we’re talking about here.  Nuff said.

It all started with a friend posting a link to the Baltimore riots with the personal comment, “Looks like a great application for rubber bullets. There’s nothing that protects these people, as they are not “peacefully” protesting.”  Normally, I would let a tone-deaf and completely lacking of a shred of empathy comment go because, again, Facebook.  You have to pick your battles and the rest of the conversation got worse very quickly.  But since I’m here writing about it, rubber bullets kill people.  By making that comment, you’re basically condemning a certain amount of the rioters and likely some innocent bystanders to serious injury or death.  Not to mention, “these people”, seriously?  How you use words matter.  Using “these people”, “those people”, “you people” is using language couched in a very long history of racism.  You may not mean it as racist, but it sure makes you sound the part.  That a person would use language like that shows a profound lack of historical context at the very best.  How difficult would it to have come up with “these rioters”?

I continued to read the comments because I’m stupid.  What followed was, again, many comments that can, at the very best interpretation, be considered as showing a profound lack of historical context.  The one comment that really set my teeth on edge was from a person who apparently gets all her history lessons by reading Bill O’Reilly books because she said the following when commenting about how horrible these rioters are: “What did the black community in America do when Dr. King was shot? Murdered, some say, by the whites in power who didn’t want the blacks to be equal. What did they do? Burn down buildings? Throw bricks at cops? Etc? No. They MADE A DIFFERENT CHOICE.”  Holy fuck me with a sharp stick, Batman.  This comment shows just how completely Martin Luther King Jr.’s message has been usurped by the Right to attack any sort of violent actions by Blacks in America.  I felt sure that someone would have corrected that ahistorical drivel so I continued reading.  Not a single word.  For those of you that may be unaware, some of the worse rioting in American history happened after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  Hundreds of people were killed.  Not to mention, marches by the good Doctor also sometimes turned violent after severe provocation by police.  Police often are the instigators of riots either on purpose, Birmingham for example, or accidentally as some evidence out of Baltimore is now showing where it appears they prevented school children from getting home in a timely manner by cancelling bus and train routes that they use, thus forcing large groups to congregate in small spaces and then came at them with full riot gear.

The same woman also had the nerve to suggest that people would just ignore her opinion because she was white: “I’m not wrong. I’m just white, so my opinion doesn’t count, right?”  Um, no.  You are wrong because your opinions are so obviously based on a severe lack of understanding of the issues at hand that you should be embarrassed to even state an opinion.  This is a fundamental problem with humanity that causes many wrongs.  People feel like they need to have an opinion.  You don’t.  It’s ok to say, “Race relations in America have a complex and vast history and my life is too busy for me to even try to get into it so I’m going to just sit back and soak up the conversation about this topic I know nothing about.”  I don’t exclude myself from that criticism as, I’m sure, I am at times guilty of it.  That’s again why I try to pick my battles on Facebook to topics I know a fair amount about.

The conversation then turned Religulous.  The true source of these riots is lack of morals and loss of faith.  That sort of nonsense.  Things are bad now because of lack of faith in God, but things are better than they were then because of God.  My view is that things are as they always have been and very little has changed.  (*sarcasm* But Obama!)  Again, I tend to ignore stuff like this unless I have something useful to say and I would have this time too except that the original poster then said what you see in the subject line.  Here’s the entire context: “Most Americans believe that the world owes them something. Regardless of race, college students indicate that they deserve a job, those without means believe that they’re entitled to welfare, those without health insurance believe they’re entitled to health care, etc. Wealthy people and those in power feel they deserve the lifestyle they want, even at the expense of others. Most young people believe they deserve 15 minutes of fame. The fact is, people aught to care for one another and one another’s needs, but in the grand scheme of things, we all deserve hell and anything better warrants profuse gratitude.”  I am not sure I have ever heard a sentence more filled with poison than that last sentence.  That it is also couched in the context of a religion of supposed peace makes it all the more vile.  Anything better than hell warrants profuse gratitude.  Profusely grateful to whom?  I am poor and have cancer and my governor refused Medicaid expansion which means there’s no money to pay for my treatment and I’m going to die, but thank you government!  Profusely!  I lost my job because of the at best immoral and at worse illegal actions of a few people and the government rewards those people by bailing them out and not prosecuting them, but at least I get food stamps so I don’t die of starvation for a limited time dictated by a group of people who can not even begin to imagine the situation I am in, but thank you government!  Profusely!

There is an idiotic attack against Atheists that asks, If Atheists don’t believe in God how can they believe in right and wrong?  It’s idiotic because there are plenty of examples of Atheists being just as moral and upstanding as any Theists.  Not high praise, I know, but the point is Atheists are subject to the same mutually agreed upon morality as the rest of the world but just disagree with the source of said morality.  If religion in America is going to continue on the “we all deserve hell and anything better warrants profuse gratitude” track that it seems to be on, Atheists are going to win this morality battle just as surely as same-sex marriage proponents will win theirs.

I should also mention that I don’t mean to sound like the entire conversation was horrible.  There are some very intelligent and well thought out responses to a lot of what was talked about.  There are people, both black and white, that seem to get it.  We’re still a long way from the end of this particular conversation, though.