Monthly Archives: June 2016

Movie Review: Independence Day: Resurgence

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Just like the original movie but with none of the charisma.

“Independence Day: Resurgence” answers the question; can Will Smith take a completely mediocre movie and make it a blockbuster success by sheer charm alone?  No one was really asking that question, but the answer is indubitably yes.  The two movies are almost interchangeable plot wise, but this sequel has all of the charm of a toaster with a fork stuck in it.

It is unclear how they got so many of the original stars to return to make this film.  My only guess is boatloads of money.  In some cases, even that appeared to be not enough.  Case in point: Bill Pullman.  I imagine the negotiations going somewhat like this:

Producers: Here’s the script, come on and do the sequel.

Pullman: *reads script and momentarily channels Will Smith*  Aw, hell no!

Producers: Here is a boatload of money.

Pullman: Tempting, but not enough.

Producers: That’s all the money we have.  We blew the rest on alcohol and drank ourselves stupid when we realized how crappy the script is.  Is there anything else we can offer you? *holds out a can of PBR*

Pullman:  *shotguns the PBR* Ok, I’ll do it, but I’m going to be drunk for the entire production!

Producers: Deal!

You watch the movie and tell me I’m wrong.

Though I am loathe to admit it, I did still somewhat enjoy the movie.  It required two things: 1) letting go of all of my critical thinking skills, 2) some really bad dialogue.  First some set up.  Generically Handsome Dude #1 (Liam “the lesser” Hemsworth) and Generically Beautiful Chick 1 (Maika Monroe) are in a generic relationship and GBC#1 wants GBD#1 to look at houses she has sent him but he hasn’t quite gotten around to it.  Aliens then attack (spoiler!) and cause devastation the likes of which the Earth has never seen.   While rushing off to fight the aliens, GBD#1 mentions that he looked at the houses and has picked the one they will buy together.  How he has had the time to do this while not having a second of time to spare is beyond me.  GBC#1 is all happy that her man has made this incredibly important decision for her.  GBD#1 then says, “If it’s still there…”  And they both have a good laugh.  At this point, I whisper to my brother, “It’s funny because billions of people have just died.”  And that’s how I learned to stop worrying and love ID:R.

I miss you Will Smith.  Generic Black Dude #1 (Jessie T. Usher) could not replace you.  Even the movie missed you as it showed your portrait on the wall and copious lines of dialogue were spilled about you to try to get your magic back.  Alas, it was not to be.  Thus, “Independence Day: Resurgence” will go down in history as the film that answered the question, yes, a single soul can save a relentlessly mediocre movie.

Book Review: Crandolin by Anna Tambour

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Imagine you are using drugs.  These drugs make you hallucinate a little bit.  They also take the ordered sections of your brain and shuffle them together just once, but you’re not really very good at shuffling either so the last parts just kind of get tucked down at the bottom of the deck.  Then, suddenly, there is a pen in your hand and a stack of paper in front of you.  You start writing.  That is the best description I can give behind the genesis of Anna Tambour’s “Crandolin”.

The book starts out in what can only be described as micro-chapters.  It flits and darts from place to place and time to time and person to person with so few words separating the chapters that you don’t know whether you’re coming or going and you don’t have a clue what the characters mean to each other or where or when they are.  It’s dizzying to the point that you stop caring.  Eventually, the book coalesces into something more tangible and you get a solid feeling for who is where and when, but there is still a disjointedness because it’s never quite clear who or what is being pursued or even if there is any point to the story at all.

This may be one of those books that you appreciate more when you read it a second time.  You know, if you’re an English major.  But since I’m here for you, the common bookworm, and not those ivory tower prigs, maybe if I explain the story a bit you’ll enjoy it a little more than I did.

There’s this guy named Nick Kippax.  You might call him an epicurean.  Always searching for new and exciting flavors and recipes.  One day, he finds this cookbook with a recipe on how to cook a crandolin.  Crandolins totally don’t exist.  On the page of that recipe is a mysterious stain.  Maybe it’s a stain from the last time someone cooked the recipe.  Why not taste it?  Thus Nick Kippax finds himself blown into tiny pieces and spread across time and space.  One piece finds him/itself as a Gorbachevian spot on the face of a young woman who works on a train in Russia with a bunch of people who are in love with her.  Another piece finds him/itself in some jars of honey belonging to the best honey maker in the world which a man who makes sweets envies and kidnaps.  Another is in a birds nest somewhere?  Maybe another is in a virgin’s pubic hair that some weirdo wants to make a mustache out of, I think?  There’s also this old dude who isn’t real, but is, and goes around planting factual stories in writers’ minds and is going senile.  There’s also this woman who isn’t real, but is, and goes around planting fanciful stories in writers’ minds and is looking for something.  There’s this bunch of dudes questing for a girl locked in a tower by her father who has just died.  A bunch of stuff happens to them.  The end.

Did I make you want to read the book?  No?  What if I told you there was lots of sex in it?  There isn’t, but would that change your mind?  I have failed as a book salesman.

Book Review: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

You know that scene in “Spaceballs” where Dark Helmet asks “How many assholes we got on this ship?” and the entire crew raises their hand and says “Yo!”?  The more I read about our Founding Fathers, the more I picture George Washington as Dark Helmet and the rest of the Founding Fathers as the crew of the ship.  They were all such assholes.  They were petty, vindictive, and cocksure.  This is also somewhat comforting of a revelation because it shows modern politics to be not nearly the black hole of pettiness and despair as it would seem without the historical context.  We revere our Founding Fathers like we revere our guns; with a tunnel-vision that is so narrow as to be awe-inspiring.

Without a doubt, the king of the Founding Assholes was Alexander Hamilton.  He also happened to be truly brilliant, a polymath of the highest order, and perhaps the most prolific writer the world has ever known.  His story is equal parts inspirational and a testament to the dangers of letting the demons of your past destroy you.  Ron Chernow’s biography does a good job of highlighting both the good Hamilton and the bad Hamilton.

The Good Hamilton:  Dude was a genius.  Anything he put his mind to he excelled at.  He overcame astronomical odds to rise farther above his station than would seem possible.  Before all you “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” people take him on as your personal hero, remember he had lots of help; free passage on a ship, free schooling, a decent support system.  People love to overlook those things.  Hamilton could also write.  And boy, did he write. Ask his opinion on the color blue and you’ll have a 10,000 word essay about its transcendent beauty by nightfall.  Personally, I also think that he’s by far the main reason why the United States has lasted as long as it has and grown as powerful as it has.   He wrote the book on American economics.  Probably about 100 books if you joined all of his essays and laws together.

The Bad Hamilton: Dude had skin as thin as your 100-years old grandmother.  Insult him, cross him, look at him funny, and you’ll soon see a 10,000 word essay published in the paper on how horrible of a person you were.  Partly, this was understandable.  People did hate him.  Irrationally so.  Many thought he didn’t deserve to be where he was just because of where he came from.  He suffered decades of bilious rumors and innuendo both during his life and decades after his death and was determined to fight tooth and nail against it while he could.  This also led him to see attacks where there weren’t any and to fight against ghosts of his own making.  Want some insight as to why Hillary Clinton is the way she is? Get to know Alexander Hamilton.  The worst thing about Hamilton is a shared dishonor.  He and Thomas Jefferson double-handedly brought into existence our dreaded two-party system through their often petty squabbles with each other.

I have a few minor critiques of the book.  First, it seems to diminish in readability during the post-Treasury period of Hamilton’s life, becoming somewhat of a slog to get through.  I am not sure if it’s because Chernow got tired of writing his 800+ page project or I got tired of the 800+ page book or Hamilton’s later life was that much less exciting.  Second, Chernow spills a lot of ink talking about Hamilton’s personal rise and fall, but having read the book, I see plenty of evidence of a rise and little evidence of a “fall”.  Hamilton was Hamilton from start to finish.  Even when he was out of favor politically, he was still always in the thick of things, if behind the scenes.  The only fall was his untimely death at the hands of Aaron Burr.

If you can stand to get through such a large book, Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton” biography offers great insights into the life of the most interesting of America’s Founding Fathers.  There’s lots to love and lots to hate about the man.  Both are on display in this book.

A brief note to fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit “Hamilton: The Musical”: Mr. Miranda is a genius.  I am as overly obsessed with the musical as you are.  But please recognize the fact that he takes great liberties with historical facts to present a compelling story.  This should go without saying, but people are people.

Movie Review: Now You See Me 2

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: A mess of a movie.  All the complications of the original movie but with none of the magic.

The original “Now You See Me” was not a good movie but it was a fun movie.  It had magic in both the stage magic sense and the movie magic sense.  “Now You See Me 2” is even less of a not good movie than the first and while it retains some of its stage magic sense, it has none of the movie magic of the first.

The movie starts out strong enough reintroducing much of the old cast and a new female Horseman.  It has the feel and fun tone that was present in the first movie.  That goes away pretty quickly after the introductions are complete.  We are then subjected to the Horsemen coming out of hiding to perform an expose of some tech giant who is “stealing everybody’s information” with his new gizmo.  Scary.  Everything is not what it seems, though.  You see, this whole expose is actually part of a long con revenge game by Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who they sent to jail in the first movie.  Thaddeus exposes the Horsemen and with the help of Harry Potter, who faked his own death because of ???, blackmails the Horsemen into stealing a microchip that ??? in order to ??? thus enabling the bad guys to ???.  Meanwhile, the Horsemen plot ways to keep the microchip out of the bad guy’s hands and ??? in grand style while simultaneously keeping the FBI chasing their own tail.  There is also the mysterious Eye organization which feeds information to the Horsemen in order to ???.  In the end, it turns out that just about everyone you see was actually in on the plot the entire time and people you thought were friends were enemies and people you thought were enemies were friends and there are big reveals and it all leaves you feeling so ???.

Play Mad Libs with the above paragraph as much as you like.  No matter what you come up with, it will probably make as much sense as this movie did.  That isn’t to say there was nothing good about the movie.  The magic tricks themselves were generally pretty cool and had enough reveal/secrecy to keep you guessing.  It’s just, man, what a mess of a movie.  Take your hard earned money elsewhere, I says.