Movie Review: Criminal

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: The only thing criminal about this movie is the script.  Takes a good, if preposterous, premise and turns the preposterousness up to 11.

This movie is a lot like Ted Cruz.  I want to punch both in the face.  But while my reasons for wanting to punch Ted Cruz in the face don’t go much beyond “Look at that face!”, my reasons for wanting to punch “Criminal” in the face are well reasoned.

The movie starts out pretty well.  Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA agent who was tortured and killed by an unknown assailant and has information vital to an operation the CIA is trying to pull off.  They contact Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) who has been working with ways of transferring memories from one rat to another.  Dr. Franks chooses as the recipient of these memories Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a sociopath whose brain damage at an early age makes him uniquely qualified for said memory transfer because…because.  The reason doesn’t matter.  It’s a pretty cool sci-fi-ish setup.

So now you have a sociopath of the variety with absolutely no filters and no ability to feel emotions with the memories of a CIA agent slowly leaking into his consciousness.  What do you think is going to happen?  Chaos of course.  Wild escapes.  Chases.  Plots.  Schemes.  Jericho falling in love with Bill Pope’s wife Jill (Gal Gadot).  The works.

It is with the latter, Jericho falling for Jill where all semblance of agency are lost.  Not for Jericho, but for Jill.  It totally makes sense for Jericho to become flooded with Bill’s memories of his wife and experience some of the love Bill felt for Jill.  The problem is Jill freakin’ reciprocates.  After Jericho breaks into her house, ties her up, menaces her daughter, and breaks into her house a second time.  All because Jericho can touch his nose just like Bill did to indicate that he loves Jill.  You can stretch credulity some with this setup and, say, have her help Jericho escape his pursuers, but reciprocating his love?  WTF, script writers?  This utter nonsense continues all the way to the closing credits.  Thus my desire to punch this movie in the face.

Besides the part that makes Jean-Paul want to smash, it’s a decent story.  It’s a shame that I couldn’t get Jean-Paul smash out of my head for almost the entire second half of the movie.  Cut all that BS out and you might have a pretty decent movie.  With it, ugh, go see something else.

Movie Review: Midnight Special

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Great premise.  Great build up.  Complete let-down of an ending.

What we have here is a failure to resolve anything.  Or, to be fair, things are resolved but not in a terribly satisfying way.  It is hard to explain why without saying things that I would consider ruining the enjoyment of the movie.  This is definitely one of those movies that is best to enter into with a tabula rasa.  I will point to one inconsequential tidbit as an example.  At the very beginning, Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) is kidnapped by his father Roy (Michael Shannon) and Roy’s friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton).  An Amber Alert goes out telling everyone to be on the lookout for them.  Not once is it explained who called in the kid as missing.  It is explained why various parties wouldn’t have done so, but never who did.  It’s a minor point, but there are major points galore that are never explained by the time the closing credits roll.

Where he’s going he doesn’t need roads.  “Midnight Special” is a journey.  Along the journey, the questions pile up as you try to figure out the role each person plays and wonder what’s up with the kid.  It is effectively done.  Much of this is due to the wonderful ensemble cast including Kirsten Dunst (who is one of maybe three women who have a speaking role in the movie) and Adam Driver (who I still don’t understand why women find attractive).  It is also a really good story.  All of the elements are there for a terrific movie.  It probably says more about the type of movie I want to see than it does about the quality of the movie that the ending was like a giant balloon being deflated and had me leaving the movie with a sense of emptiness which ruined my enjoyment up to that point.  Also, if you can explain to me why the movie is named “Midnight Special”, you win the grand prize.  It didn’t even have the Creedence Clearwater Revival song in its soundtrack.  Or even better, the LedBelly version.

If you want answers or the truth, you can’t handle this movie.  But if you want a slickly built, tension building chase movie, “Midnight Special” is worth your time even if you are disappointed with the ending.

Movie Review: Eye In The Sky

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

Bottom line: Another excellent rules of engagement movie.  Lots of excellent British actors and a few American ones as well.  Plus the Somali pirate dude from “Captain Phillips”.  OMG!  Sell your bread already!  Ahhhhh!

“Eye in the Sky” both begins and ends with a young Muslim girl from an unnamed (I think) socially repressive Muslim country fluidly and effortlessly playing with a hula hoop in the privacy of her parents’ yard away from the view of the morals police that patrol just outside their house.  I am so jealous of that girl.  Not for her social predicament, obviously, but for her ability to, with a tiny flick of movement, command a plastic hoop with a few ball bearings to sway and undulate in hypnotic fashion.  The purpose of this opening shot is to let the audience feel empathy for this unknown girl who, while not a key player in the drama, is instrumental in establishing the emotional intensity of the movie.  It is quite effective and an indicator of the quality of film making you are going to be treated to.

Like “A War” which I reviewed just a few weeks ago, this is a rules of engagement movie.  This one, however, has an international bent to it.  The action takes place in four different arenas; a command center in Great Britain where Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) leads a task force charged with capturing a British national who has become radicalized; the aforementioned Muslim country where said British national is thought to be and where poor hula hoop girl also happens to live; an Air Force base outside of Las Vegas where drone operator Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) is the eye in the sky for the operation; and a board room in some British governmental building where Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) is talking through a few high level officials through the operation.  As the operation continues, the rules of engagement quickly change and the rest of the movie is dedicated to that process of how/if the rules should change.

This may not sound like the basis for a 5-star movie, but trust me it is.  The resulting bureaucratic kerfuffle that erupts is equal parts maddening, comic, and endearing.  And throughout it all, there’s little hula hoop girl on the outskirts just living her life as best she can.

“Eye in the Sky” is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while and it would be a shame for you to pass it up.  it has a wonderful cast and a brilliantly told story.  Everything about it feels realistic.  Even when the story could have taken the easy way out, it continues to stay true to the world as we know it instead of the world we wish we had.

Movie Review: Batman v Superman

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: No, it’s not THAT bad of a movie.  Sloppy?  Yes.  Lazy at times?  Yes.  Worth your time to see?  Meh.

Maybe it’s just the soft bigotry of low expectations I had going into the movie because of all the atrocious reviews, but man calm down people.  This movie wasn’t THAT bad.  I mean, it is a Zack Snyder movie so it’s going to be lazy and style over substance and chock full of outdated machismo, but it still has its moments.

I think a lot of the hate comes from the irrational dislike of Ben Affleck.  Comic geeks had it in for him ever since he was cast as Batman.  Guess what?  He’s a very effective Batman and I would pay to see him in a stand-alone Batman movie.  Henry Cavill has always been a mediocre Superman through no fault of his own as he certainly looks the part, but Superman’s not a terribly interesting superhero to begin with unless you have a good story writer which hasn’t been true for Cavill.  Amy Adams as Lois Lane is criminally underused in any practicable way except for damsel-in-distress.  Jesse Eisenberg was an effective Lex Luthor even if I don’t quite like the insane genius where the emphasis is more on insane than on genius.

Yes, there are glaring problems with the movie as many reviews have pointed out, but much of these problems are usually forgiven in other superhero movies.  Much has been said about how Lex so easily manipulated Batman into wanting to destroy Superman.  Folks, it didn’t take a lot of convincing.  Lex didn’t set Batman down that path.  Batman had pretty much decided for himself from Superman’s own actions that Superman was a menace.  Lex just kind of goaded him a little.  Now, how Batman and Superman finally face off is incredibly silly and lazy film making, but how they got to that point wasn’t.  Wonder Woman’s story line?  Held together by spit and baling wire.  And the whole experimental bullets thing was beyond stupid.  And the dream sequences?  WTF?  Seriously, WTF?  Then there’s the gratuitous insertion of scenes that set up the next couple of DC superhero movies, but that’s forgivable.  There is also the fact that the movie is subtitled “Dawn of Justice” and there’s not much Justice going on in the movie.  It refers to the establishment of the Justice League, but besides a brief blurb about Batman wanting to set one up right at the end, it played absolutely no part in the movie.

A masterpiece this movie is not.  You will also likely miss nothing if you skip the film completely.  That said, don’t be scared away from seeing it just because of all the hate springing up around it.  Yes, it is a deeply flawed movie, but it also succeeds at being entertaining if you sit back, take a deep breath, and say to yourself, “It’s only a superhero movie, not ‘Gone With the Wind'”.

Movie Review: A War

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: An effective telling of war and its consequences.  What’s right in war and what’s a crime?

Set under the backdrop of the War on Terror in Afghanistan, “A War” follows a Danish patrol as they do sweeps of the countryside, focusing on the actions of the commander of the patrol, Claus Michael Pederson (Pilous Asbæk).  A secondary story follow Pederson’s wife, Maria (Tuva Novotny) as she struggles back home to juggle job and family while her husband is at war.

If you can’t tell by the actors’ names, here thar be subtitles, so be warned.  The movie is in Danish with English subtitles.  If that scares you, you’re missing some great movies.  The EU is producing some great films these days.  And by “these days”, I mean the last few decades.  They’re not high budget blockbusters, but there are more than a handful of low budget gems.

But back to the movie.  Say you’re in active combat with unknown enemies.  You’re pinned down and can’t see where the active fire originates.  There are not many options, though.  You know your terrain and you know your enemy does as well.  Do you call for an air strike on the most obvious enemy position in an attempt to save your people?  If you answered yes, congratulations, you have just committed a war crime.  But the firefight ended immediately after the air strike, you argue?  Doesn’t matter.  Did you or did you not establish that there were enemy combatants in the area you just had bombed?  No?  War crime.  This is the shit people at war have to deal with on a daily basis.  This is also why countries like the U.S. unilaterally declare any male who has gone through puberty as an enemy combatant.  To protect their people in the shit.  Because by the book war crimes happen on a daily basis when a country decides to go to war and we might as well offer our soldiers some sort of protection while they’re fighting for us since we sure as hell don’t offer it to them when they return.

“A War” is a movie that has lots of questions and very few answers.  This is on purpose.  It’s meant to make you think and it does an admirable job of accomplishing that goal.  If you prefer your movies a little less thought provoking, you might want to look elsewhere.  But if you want a smart, well thought out view of life at war, “A War” is well worth your time and treasure.

Book Review: The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

A word of warning: I highly recommend reading this book in paper form.  It does not work well on e-readers at all.  This is equal parts the author’s fault and equal parts the technology’s fault.  Greene is extremely inconsistent in his use of notes and footnotes.  Some he appends to the end of the chapter and some he appends to the back of the book.  If there is a rhyme or reason to it, I couldn’t figure it out.  And the way they’re tagged it’s impossible to tell the difference between them.  I gave up on them all together because half were asides that added nothing to the knowledge.  Another problem is Greene’s use of pictures.  Often, the picture is pages away from when it is first referenced and then the picture is referenced time and time again in subsequent chapters. This is more a technology problem as a hyperlink can only hyper to one place so you click on a link to a picture and can get back to the first link but every other link goes back to the first spot.  There is also the problem of some pictures taking up entire pages and anywhere you click sends you back to the original link.  This is more of a problem with my reading it on a touchscreen only Kindle.  I cannot count the number of times I found myself scrolling through pages to attempt to get back to where I left off as a result of these deficiencies.  It was a very frustrating read.

Fully titled “The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos”, this book explores the incomprehensible world of modern physics with an emphasis on the possibilities of more than one universe.  So yeah, you’re in for some dense reading.  If you have a basic understand of cosmology, though, don’t fret too much.  Yes, some things will be over your head, but Greene is one of the better authors who knows what he is talking about and can condense that knowledge into language that is understandable to the more common folk.

The book thoroughly goes through every possible multiverse/parallel universe scenario thought up by both the human imagination and math.  Since this is a science book, the emphasis is strongly on the latter with more of a hat tip to the former.  Greene structured the book so the easier to wrap your head around stuff comes first and the further you go the more mind-warping the multiverses become.  There is very little actual math in this book, which is a departure from Greene’s other books.  And with very good reason.  The maths necessary to describe what Greene is describing would take pages and pages and likely be books by themselves.  It turns out that figuring things out on a universal level ain’t easy.  Who’da thunk it?

I will share my favorite universal theory because it kind of blew my mind.  It blew my mind both because of its simplicity and because of its obviousness despite the fact I had never heard of it before.  Given: Our universe is infinite. Result: There are an infinite number of me’s writing a blog post about Brian Greene’s book right now.  *pshooo* If that’s too much to wrap your head around, think of it this way: If the universe is sufficiently large, there will be exact duplicate sections of space.  Keep on increasing what “sufficiently large” is and behold another you.  Still lost?  Ok, take a microscopically tiny section of space. Break up the rest of the universe into the microscopically tiny sections of space.  Think there won’t be duplicates?  Now just keep expanding that section of space.  Infinite yous!  And that’s not even counting the number of not-you-yous who are really, really similar to you.

People who are new to Greene should read anything else by him first.  Of the material I have read of his, this is his weakest.  Much of this can be attributed to him taking the esoteric subject of modern physics and choosing to write exclusively about an esoteric topic of that esoteric subject.  Still, the idea of a multiverse is fascinating and this book is a one-stop shopping spot for every angle of attack on the theoretical world that is the multiverse.

Movie Review: Zootopia

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Well told. Well crafted. Legitimately funny. Recommended for all ages.

I knew I wanted to see “Zootopia” when I saw a preview for it featuring a scene where they go to the DMV and it was run by sloths.  It was hilarious.  The scene did not get old when seen again during the movie.  It may never get old.  The same can be said of all of “Zootopia”.

There’s just so much “there” there.  Every scene is meticulously and lovingly put together with so much attention to detail and so much happening in the background.  Given, there’s a very large pool to choose from when you can choose from every single animal and show how they interact in the bustling metropolis of Zootopia.

Since it would be a really boring movie if it were true, Zootopia is no where near the utopia claimed in the brochures.  The entire premise of the movie revolves around both soft and hard racism and the myriad places we find it in society.  That they are able to do it in such a way that elegantly gets the point across without beating you over the head with it is a credit to the writers.  They handle the topic with both aplomb and humor.  Well, for most of the movie they do.  There’s a little bit of shoe-horning from act two to act three, but that doesn’t detract too much from an otherwise solid movie.

Another thing I am glad for is that the main characters, a female rabbit and a male fox, do not form any sort of romantic entanglement because inter-species marriage is just plain wrong.  Wait, no, I mean because that’s what every other movie under the sun does even when it adds nothing to the story.  So kudos for that.  And if a rabbit and a fox decide to get married that’s nobody’s business but their own.  Their marriage does not in any way detract from your marriage and if it does, your marriage was pretty rocky to begin with and you should really consider getting a divorce because I guarantee you your children will be better off for it.  Or maybe the producers nixed the idea of a fox and a rabbit together because they are against inter-species marriage.  It all makes sense.  Every other movie would have done it, but this movie did not.  Shame on you, producers!  A fox and a rabbit are entitled to all the same happiness that you enjoy!

Ahem.  “Zootopia” is a really good movie and you should go see it.  It has that perfect mix of humor and storytelling and morals the doesn’t come along very often in animated movies.  It will likely become standard in the collection of DVDs that breeders amass for their broodlings.

 

Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Mr. Owl, how many genres does it take to get to the center of “10 Cloverfield Lane”?  One, twhoo, three. *crunch* Three.  Wait, no, four, five, six?  WTF?

It is very difficult to put fingers to keyboard and describe exactly what you’re in for when you go to see “10 Cloverfield Lane”.  Every good description I can come up with requires revealing things that are best left shrouded.  One thing I will say is that it miraculously succeeds in keeping you guessing from start to finish.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is about Truth.  As Agent Mulder would say, “The Truth is out there.”  But how do we know Truth from lies and how do you piece together that Truth when the information you’re fed is limited to your sheltered world view?  The answer is you don’t and you can’t, but you need some sort of Truth to spur yourself to action unless you want to supplant your will to those who claim to speak Truth.  So you follow your own Truth and you see where it leads and when your Truth shows cracks, you alter your Truth and fix those cracks and when your Truth explodes around you, you abandon that Truth all together and form another Truth to fit the new narrative.  In “10 Cloverfield Lane”, everyone has their own Truth and no one has the incorrect Truth.  It’s up to us, the viewers, to decide for ourselves what the true Truth is.  I am still unsure of the real Truth.  That’s effective storytelling.

All of that is accomplished with a minimalist cast and setting and, I assume budget.  The whole movie is basically three people; Howard (John Goodman!), Michelle (Mary Elisabeth Winsted?), and Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.?!).  ! = John Goodman is great in everything and this is no exception. ? = never heard of her but she’s in a lot of stuff and does an excellent job in this movie.  ?! = this dude looked so familiar and I couldn’t quite place it until I looked at his IMDB page and recognized him from “The Newsroom”.

It will be interesting to see if the movie holds up on a second viewing.  There are certainly enough mysteries left to piece through where you might be able to catch something you missed the first time.  Regardless, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is definitely worth a first viewing.

Movie Review: London Has Fallen

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: About the most ridiculous terrorist plot conceived by Hollywood, but it works.  Good action and plenty of good one-liners.

On a scale of conceivable terrorist plots, Hollywood ranges from believable and real like “United 93” to patently absurd like all of “24”.  “London Has Fallen” falls far to the right of that scale.  And I mean FAR to the right.  It’s a dangerous way to make a movie because trending to the absurd can lead to loss of the suspension of disbelief, but in this case, it works.  And really, it’s worth seeing the movie just to witness the absurdity of it all and how effectively they pull it off.

The set-up is believable enough except for the whole “a bunch of state got together and agreed on something” part.  Without ruining anything, a bunch of states got together and agreed to launch a drone strike against a very powerful arms dealer who deals primarily to terrorists.  Lo and behold, they perform the strike at a wedding and all of the innocent people are killed and all of the bad guys survive.  The rest of the movie is said arms dealer’s revenge plot.

Another weird thing about the film is it’s kind of genre breaking.  It’s kind of a mix between a damsel-in-distress movie and a buddy-cop movie.  But in this case, the damsel/buddy is the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart) and the hero/buddy is a Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler).  The two have a very good rapport together.  That might count a lot for my enjoyment of the film.

High brow movie making this is not.  But if you’re in for an over-the-top, non-stop action flick, “London Has Fallen” fits the bill quite nicely.  If I were to sum up the movie in one word it would be ridiculawesome.

Movie Review: Deadpool

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

Bottom Line: As close to perfect as you can get when you’re talking about superhero movies.  Devilishly clever and doesn’t take itself seriously.

You’re in for a different kind of superhero movie.  You know that right off the bat with the opening credits.  Starring: A moody teenager, etc.  Yep, “Deadpool” has gone meta.  Not only does the movie break the fourth wall with impunity, it also pokes massive fun of the genre itself and of Ryan Reynolds’ checkered superhero career.  It’s a dangerous stylistic move and could have failed miserably, but this movie has the right cast and the right director to pull it off.

Much of the success can be attributed to Ryan Reynolds.  He plays Wade/Deadpool as a kind of badass version of the slapsticky character he played in “Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place”, if you’re old enough to remember it.  Which I am.  Reynolds has proven himself to be a capable all around actor, but his forte remains comedy.  He just has this smarmy charm about him that lets him get away with lines that no one else would be able to pull off to the same effect.

Behind all the Ryan Reynolds awesomeness sits a very fun movie.  Sure, it devolves into the very cliche damsel in distress genre of movie and I think comedy gold was forsaken not pointing out all that obviousness, but the ride there is massively entertaining for both comic geeks and the uninitiated.  I consider myself more of the latter or maybe wading into the kiddie pool of comic geekdom, but let me tell you there are Easter eggs galore for both groups.

This movie was a blast.  You so need to see it.  You actually feel a part of the movie because of the artistic use of fourth wall breaking.  In fact, stay through all of the credits.  You won’t be disappointed if you are of a certain age.  Which is to say old.  They pay homage to a certain other super successful fourth wall breaking movie in perfect Deadpool style.