Movie Review: The Nice Guys

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line:  WTF did I just watch?  In a good way.

“The Nice Guys” is one of the strangest movies I have watched in a long time.  Delightfully so.  Its opening is classic film noir with Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) providing the voice over setting up the story behind the newly dead porn star and her out of control car.  Jackson Healy is the guy you call when you want other guys to stop doing things you disapprove of.  This is normally done with a set of brass knuckles to the face.  It’s effective.  Healy is contracted by a young woman, Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley) who wants him to stop a man from looking for her.  That man is Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a private detective hired by the dead porn star’s aunt who swears she saw the porn star alive days after her death.  That Holland March would take the money of an old, half blind woman who obviously saw no such thing tells you all you need to know about Mr. March.

The movie starts at a zaniness level of about 3 and slowly pumps its way to 11 by the end.  At the beginning, I was all “Oh, this is going to be a film noir set in the 70s with some comedic elements starring Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling?  Win!” and it kind of is that, but a whole lot more as well.  The movie has some great dialogue and blends standard humor with some terrific slapstick that you wouldn’t think Ryan Gosling capable of pulling off.  But it is Ryan Gosling so you should really know better.

Holland and Jackson are joined in much of their adventure by Holland’s teenage daughter Holly (Angourie Rice, which is an awesome name), who plays both the adult in the Holland/Holly relationship and the conscience of the team.  The movie treats Holly as a fully functional human being which is great to see in a movie.  She gets kidnapped.  She saves herself.  She gets put in a life threatening situation, she grabs the hidden gun and attempts to fend off the killer.  Hurray for teenage girls not just being used as a plot point!

As the credits ran, I found myself figuratively scratching my head trying to figure out what the heck I just watched.  Was this just weird or brilliant?  Turns out it was weirdly brilliant.  The more I looked back on it and the more I discussed it, the more I liked it.  This is a completely different movie and very much worth seeing.  The ending kind of sets up the possibility of a “Nice Guys 2” and I hope it happens.  There is a lot of chemistry with this sleuthing trio and I wouldn’t mind seeing them back together for another round of zaniness.

Movie Review: Money Monster

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A fluffy and enjoyable movie featuring two of the best actors in the business.  Manages to delightfully surprise the audience a few times.

Jim Cramer = Lee Gates.  Mad Money = Money Monster.  Lee Gates is an asshole and his show “Money Monster” is entertainment at best and a scam at worst.  You do the distributive math.  It’s weird watching a movie whose main character is so obviously drawn from real life.  I guess when you have such an over the top personality to draw from in real life, why try bending that mold at all.  That said, I can’t imagine this movie ever being made if not for the star power behind its making.  It’s obviously not meant to be a blockbuster and it’s really unclear that the movie has much of an audience beyond the star power drawing people to the movie.

Lee Gates (George Clooney) is the host of a TV show that predicts stock market winners in the most outrageously theatrical ways.  Needless to say, this isn’t a very good way for the people watching at home to make money.  When one man, Kyle (Jack O’Connell), invests all he has in one of Gates’ “sure thing” stocks and it bombs, he decides to take Lee hostage to get answers.

It’s a good premise for a movie and the whole hostage situation proceeds in a pleasingly organic way.  There are some funny and some surprising elements to the hostage situation that are also pretty realistic.  Then the movie goes for the easy path and attempts to make Gates the hero.  The denouement is kind of a mess.  It’s predicated on a bunch of happy coincidences and is not very satisfying.  I had the hope that the producer, Patty Finn (Julia Roberts), was actually in on the hostage situation the whole time and was manipulating things to get Gates to admit he was a fraud that hurt people.  But nooooo.  Instead it’s a fake software glitch and hackers and trips to South Africa and an insider who is conveniently able to manipulate the greedy, corrupt CEO into a position where he will have to confess to the world of his crimes.  It was still enjoyable, but I like my version better.

It’s always a pleasure to see Julia Roberts or George Clooney in a film.  This has both and their great chemistry alone makes this worth seeing.  The movie was also directed by Jodie Foster, whom I had no idea even directed movies.  That’s a lot of star power for one film.  I wouldn’t quite say that “Money Monster” is worth seeing, but it is enjoyable enough to watch if you’re looking to watch a movie and nothing much else is showing.

Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

Bottom Line: Possibly the best Marvel movie to date.  Well crafted, well choreographed.  A lot going on but it is all done in an amazingly controlled way.

There is a lot going on in “Captain America: Civil War”.  I mean a whole lot.  Tons of old favorite superheroes.  A few new superheroes.  Complicated plots.  Wonderfully choreographed fight scenes.  Pitch perfect humor.  In less capable hands (*cough* Zach Snyder *cough*), it could easily lead to an amalgam of scenes thrown together without much cohesion to tie the movie together.  Anthony and Joe Russo somehow avoided this trap and spliced together a wonderful movie.

The primary driver of the action is the simple premise that the Avengers are a group of beings who, for better or worse, have caused some serious collateral damage in their quest to “save” humanity and yet are unanswerable to anyone but themselves.  The nations of the world think that needs to change.  Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) agrees with them.  Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) disagrees.  This causes a rift in the Avengers and they take sides.  It’s a pretty heavy premise to hang a whole movie around.  That it succeeds in making both sides so believable that you can empathize with both is a minor movie miracle.  It’s a heady topic, but this is a serious movie that knows not to take itself too seriously.  It is interspersed with spiffy one-liners and visual gags which do not detract from the story or the action at all.

Added to all of this are some beautiful fight scenes.  I mean, superheros vs. superheroes, yes please!  I’m sure someone dorkier than I can point to a plethora of tag team moves taken straight from the comics, but the way they all worked together was so much fun.  Sure, some of it is silly, but, uh, did I mention they are superheroes?

I have only a few minor quibbles.  The biggest of which is the fact that this is a movie about the unintended consequences of the superheroes’ actions and yet they decided to take the easy way out and make sure this didn’t apply to the superheroes themselves.  I get it, they want to protect their intellectual property, but superheroes come back from the dead or are replaced all the time in the comics.  It would have been nice to see that happen here.  Also, the only scene that didn’t really work too well for me was the part when Tony Stark recruits Peter Parker (Tom Holland).  It felt a little too gimmicky.  Tom Holland, by the way, appears to be a great choice for Spiderman.

If you’re a dork, you have already seen this movie and likely mostly agree with me as to how good it was.  If you’re not a dork, you should go see this movie as well because it is that good.  If you’ve not seen the other Captain America/Avenger movies, I’d recommend seeing it with a dork so they can fill you in on some of the finer dorkness that might not make sense to a neophyte.  Of all the movies that have been made in the Marvel universe so far, this is probably the best introduction even if you are picking it up in the middle of the action.

Movie Review: The Jungle Book

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A perfectly enjoyable kid’s movie, though not much for adults.  Beautiful effects.  Mostly wonderful acting.

I was wary going into seeing Disney’s retelling of their classic “The Jungle Book”.  The whole “everything is computer generated except Mowgli” thing was a tough sell.  The CGI was fairly seemless and gorgeous.  Neel Sethi, who plays Mowgli, does a pretty good job interacting with thin air.  This is a pretty challenging role for someone so young and he mostly pulls it off.  The rest of the generated animals were pretty well done as well.  The dark, deep voice of Idris Elba makes for a convincing Shere Khan.  Stately and aloof Bagheera is voiced by Ben Kingsley.  Bill Murray plays himself as Baloo.  Lupita Nyong’o, who has the best name ever, is motherly and protective as Raksha.

There were a few disappointing performances.  Kaa as voiced by Scarlett Johansson, I felt, was not menacing enough.  Although, she did do the slipperiness of his voice quite well.  Then there was King Louie.  Ugh, King Louie.  Didn’t like that part of the movie at all.  First, they make him monstrously large to the point he towers over everyone including Baloo.  Then they give him the voice of Christopher Walken who does not in any way evoke the presence of a larger than life figure.  Then they make King Louie sing in pretty much the same timbre as the cartoon version.  All sorts of bad decisions.

There is very little singing in this version.  Mowgli and Baloo do a fairly organic rendition of “Bear Necessities” in that it really fits with their personalities and neither of them can sing very well at all.  And King Louie’s “I Want to Be Like You” just feels completely out of place.  So, of course, they decide to do the whole song during the closing credits.  It would have been nice if they had made “I Want to Be Like You” more menacing to fit King Louie’s personality during the movie and then do the light, fluffy version of the original cartoon during the credits.

If you have kids, I’d say it’s worth taking them to see “The Jungle Book”.  It’s pleasant and light and has enough eye candy to keep them entertained.  If you don’t, meh.  If you like kid’s movies, it’s worth your time.  If you don’t, you should probably find your entertainment elsewhere.

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.