Monthly Archives: April 2017

Movie Review: The Lost City Of Z

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A little too all over the place, but with some terrific scenes.  Plus, it’s a true-ish story.

“The Lost City  of Z” is one of those movies that I’m not sure translated well from the book to the screen.  Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is an interesting character and his life is certainly worth reading about, but it was also very chaotic and jumps from continent to continent so much that scales of time and distance seem lost when on the screen.  The movie does a fairly decent job of managing this sprawling story, but I can’t help think it would have made a better mini-series than movie, especially when episodes like World War I seem kind of superfluous to the main story.

Percy Fawcett is a man of contradictions.  He is driven and dedicated, ambitious and more than a little arrogant.  He dedicated his life to finding a lost city in the Amazon and trying to convince the mighty British Empire that the native Amazonians are not the savages his peers claim them to be.  But his wife, oh, she belongs in the home barefoot and pregnant and tending to however many broodlings he manages to pump into her during his sparse visits home.  It is safe to say that Mr. Fawcett is slightly more enlightened than his contemporaries.  Baby steps.

There are some wonderful scenes in this movie, the best of which is when Fawcett is trying to convince the Royal Geographic Society to fund his trip to find his lost city.  It reminds you of just how weird the British Parliamentary system is.  Another is when his wife is trying to convince him to let her go back to South America with him next time.  But they are interspersed within a lot of views of traveling down a river or mini-National Geographic specials as they interact with native villages.  All of this adds to the uneven feel of the movie.

So is this movie worth watching?  Maybe?  I’d say as a movie for sheer entertainment, no.  But as a historical drama delving into the goings on and mores of early 20th century Great Britain, the movie has a lot to offer and it certainly piqued my interest in reading more about Percy Fawcett.

Movie Review: The Fate Of The Furious

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Good action.  Crappy plot.  Vin Diesel should not be allowed to speak.

You know going in to any “The Fast and the Furious” movies that you’re in for a certain level of ridiculousness.  That level is high.  Very high.  If you accept that, you can usually have a lot of fun watching these movies.  Not even that acceptance could save this movie.

Before I get into the plot, let me start by saying, man, is Vin Diesel a bad actor.  He is only capable of saying three words with any sort of range or emotion and those words are “I am Groot!”  The man is the luckiest SOB in the world that this whole mythology was built around these movies with him in the lead role.  Fortuitously, the writers realized both what they had and how bad Vin Diesel was and developed a strong supporting cast of hardbodies to pick up his slack, including Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham.  And, in what must have been a ‘you’re going to pay me how much?” moment, Charlize Theron is also in this movie as the main villain,

I know, I know, making fun of the plot of a “Fast and Furious” movie is kind of like mocking the athletic ability of the kid that always gets picked last in gym class, but man, what a ripe target!  You may know that a lot of the premise for the series is based off of the “do anything for family” creed.  Well, throw that right out the window!  In this one, Dom (Vin Diesel) is blackmailed by Cypher (Charlize Theron) to turn against his family and steal an EMP device from his team, the execution of which causes Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to be sent to jail.  Bye bye, family!  Dom, of course, keeps the reasons behind the blackmail secret from his family and plays the perfect villain because reasons!  Of course, he’s not really a villain and he hatches a hair-brained plot to make everything right and save the day at the last minute and everything is executed perfectly.

But you don’t want to hear about the plot!  You want to hear about the car chase scenes!  I’m happy to report that they are quite entertaining.  You have the necessary drag racing for ownership of a car that has a lot of “been there, done that” to it, but that’s more to satisfy a certain demographic of the audience than to add to the movie.  The best part by far is the final chase which has Dekard (Jason Statham) hand-to-hand fighting his way out of an airplane while carrying a baby.  Statham has some fine comedic chops.  Really, though, the entire final chase is terrific and an honorable mention should be paid to the scene where hundreds of cars are hacked and go careening through the streets of New York en masse.

Money making idea!  Take all of the “Fast and the Furious” movies string them together and remove everything except the car chase/action scenes.  I think I would pay for that.

Movie Review: Ghost In The Shell

Jean-Paul’s rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: An effective recreation of the original anime, which I hated.  Some cool action and a good enough story line.

With extremely rare exceptions, anime sucks.  My vague recollections of “Ghost in the Shell” from back in the day put it firmly in the suck category.  Why would I go see a real-life remake of an anime I hated?  Curiosity of how they’d bring it to the big screen, mostly, but also partly because the hybridization of humanity with bio-enhancements is an interesting concept and I wanted to see how they’d explore it.

For the “Ghost in the Shell” uninitiated, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is a first of her kind totally synthetic body merged with a human brain.  For reasons that don’t make much sense, she goes to work with a special police force to combat terrorism.  The movie starts with her creation and jumps to her being on the force where she has to investigate the systematic murders of scientists that work for the company that created her, all the while dealing with the existential crisis of being not-quite-human.

I believe that fans of the anime will be happy with the rendering of the characters to the big screen.  The entire feel of the movie is very reminiscent of anime.  The movie does the bigger than life Batou (Pilou Asbæk) and his enhanced eyes especially well and does a good job of reproducing Aramaki’s (Takeshi Kitano) hair.  The action sequences are also sufficiently anime-ish with their ridiculous plans and flawless execution.

The major downfall of the movie is the complete lack of depth to the plot.  Major is a very compelling character with a lot of background to explore, but she, and Scarlett Johansson’s superb acting ability, goes mostly unexplored except for simplistic plot points.  I know it’s asking a lot to be able to dive deep into an existential crisis in an hour and forty-five minutes, but Major ends up with as little flesh on her character as she does on her body.  And that’s a shame.

“Ghost in the Shell” is a fun movie.  There’s a lot that is left unexplored, but it can be forgotten if you just buckle up for the ride.  A word of warning, however.  There is a spider tank at the end.  And as my brother said, “I’ve never seen a good movie that features a spider tank.”  True words have never been spoken.  Also, I hate this movie because it kind of made me want to watch the anime again.

Bombing Syria Was NOT A Good Thing

My god, nothing gives Americans of all stripes more of a raging hardon than launching penis shaped objects at brown people.  The United States threw $82 million dollars at an airbase in Syria yesterday and there is lots of rejoicing from pretty much everywhere.  “Something” needed to be done, you see.  Assad killed kids with gas, you see.  Well, “something” was accomplished, I guess.  There are definitely holes in easily repairable runways now.  A bunch of hangars appear to have a layer of soot on them.  Possibly, some planes were destroyed.  Possibly, up to 16 civilians have been killed, including children.  Not that we should trust Syrian news agencies (or Trump’s word for that matter), but let that sink in.  The only reported casualties so far are civilian.  So, our grand retribution for Assad killing children might have entailed killing children.

Oh, and by the way, remember that last time Assad used gas to kill children?  Turns out that the evidence that he did so was shaky at best and the “evidence” that he did so were retracted.  This isn’t to say that he didn’t, mind you, because he’s certainly capable of it in both cases, it’s more to say that there is an almost zero percent chance that we can be assured that Assad was the culprit two days after the attack or that the air base we attacked was the genesis of the gassing.

“How can 59 Tomahawk missiles rain down on an active air base and kill no military personnel?”, you may ask.  Actually, you’re not asking that.  Why the fuck are you not asking that question?  Well, here’s the answer: We told Russia that we were going to bomb the air base and Russia, of course, told Syria, just like we expected them to.  “Why would we tell Russia?”, you may follow up.  You see, Russia is an ally of Syria and they have many troops embedded in all areas of the Syrian army.  If we bomb any Syrian facility, we need to be damned sure that there are no Russian citizens there because we are already on very shaky grounds both legally and morally, but if we happened to kill a Russian citizen, we will likely start a war.  So the best we can do is tell Assad what we are going to bomb, let him clear it out, and then bomb it.  This is the best case scenario.  Let’s go through some worse ones.

Tomahawk missiles are not precision instruments.  They’re more precision-ish.  We bombed an air base that we say contained sarin gas.  What if we had hit that storage and released the gas?  This, to me, means that we were damned sure there was no gas present at the base.  But, since we have to inform Russia, who then will inform Syria, what’s to prevent Assad from planting gas there for us to blow up?  What’s to prevent him from then saying that WE were using sarin gas in our attacks?  We are, after all, one of the few countries in the world to use weapons of mass destruction to further our goals.

As I said, we need to make damned sure we don’t kill any Russians in our attacks.  This requires informing Russia of whatever we’re going to bomb.  What’s to prevent Putin from strategically placing a few soldiers and guaranteeing Russian casualties?  The results would be catastrophic.

All this should lead anyone to the conclusion that our attack on Syria was the definition of pointless.  There is no way forward from this.  This was not a show of strength.  It was a show of helplessness to anyone that was actually paying attention.  But, boy, did we eat it up!

Book Review: The Best Of Spanish Steampunk edited by James & Marian Womack

Jean-Paul’s rating: 2/5 stars

I do not know who to blame for the piss poor editing in this collection of short stories.  It’s either the Womacks or whatever hack digitizer that was used to make the ebook version of the collection.  There are typos on just about every page.  Some are inconvenient like changing ‘he’ to ‘the’ and requiring a rereading of the sentence to make sense of the story, while others take multiple rereads to try to suss the original meaning.  In an original English manuscript, this would all be difficult enough, but the stories contained herein were translated from Spanish, also by the Womacks, and while they did a pretty good job, there are more than a few translational weirdnesses that make digestion even more difficult.

Another big minus to this collection is that it’s only nominally steampunk.  It’s steampunk in the same way that dude at the Renaissance Faire on Steampunk Day that is wearing a top hat with goggles attached to it is steampunk.  Most have just an amuse bouche of steampunk, a flying ship here, a gear there, a ridiculously complicated contraption tertiarily related to the plot.  That sort of thing.  None of this really bothers me, mind you, as I don’t really fall into the steampunk fiction wheelhouse, but it would certainly piss aficionados of the genre off to find out it’s more “waterpunk” than “steampunk”.

The biggest strike against the collection is the misuse of the superlative “best”.  If this is the best that Spanish steampunk has to offer and the definition of “steampunk” was stretched this thin to make up the collection, then Spanish steampunk doesn’t have much to offer.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t good stories contained therein.  There are.  But there are also no excellent stories and plenty of dullish stories.

All of the above make it very difficult to recommend this book.  The biggest frustration was definitely the crappy editing, though.  Maybe the print version is cleaner and would lead to slightly better enjoyment.  If you do decide to get this collection, definitely stay away from the ebook version.

Movie Review: Life

Jean-Paul’s rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Let’s watch super-intelligent scientists make super-stupid choices.  I wish this movie would die.

“Life” starts with incredibly bad science and works its way down from there.  A probe coming back from Mars with soil samples has malfunctioned and is spinning out of control towards the International Space Station where it was supposed to dock.  The only correct solution to this problem is to move the station out of the way and feel bad about the destruction of some, possibly, really good science.  That’s not the direction they decide to go because there’s a movie going on here and that would make it a very short movie.  Instead, they decide to send an astronaut outside the station and have him use the station’s claw arm to play catch with Mars’ 10,000+ miles per hour fastball.  And they catch it.  Of course.  This scene does not further the  plot in the least.  It’s only value is to warn science nerds that this movie is going to more resemble Trump Administration science than reality.

Despite astronomic odds, this minuscule soil sample happens to contain exactly one single celled organism.  There is life on other planets!  The world celebrates!  The organism appears to be alive but in suspended animation.  Send in our biologist, who also happens to be paraplegic.  Now, there is no way any space agency in the world is going to send a paraplegic biologist up in space to do a job that any biologist could do despite the scene where they establish that this biologist is one of a kind and is literally the only person that can do this job.  I can forgive that just because it’s kind of cool how they get into a little bit about what it would be like to be paraplegic in space.  What I can’t forgive is using his lack of use of his legs as one of the most inane plot points in movie making history.  But I digress.  This one-of-a-kind biologist then goes on to treat the ever-growing organism, which shows pretty high intelligence, like a pet with nary a bat of the eyelash from the rest of the crew.  This, despite the fact that the sole purpose of one of the scientists is to maintain “firewalls” which basically means protocols to make sure whatever life they find doesn’t escape from the quarantine zones established.  And all the time, me thinking, “Oh, they’d either freeze or kill that thing right now”, throughout.

Needless to say, the now monster escapes and runs amuck.  We are then treated to a cycle of “there it is”, “let’s stop it”, “oh, it’s got me”, “I’ll save you”, “you’re dead”, “run away”, all the while the biologist lamenting on how this super-intelligent, highly adaptive predator is only killing because it has to, despite all evidence the thing leaves behind to the contrary.  We are then treated to a “final firewall”, that for some reason was kept completely secret from all but the one “firewall” crew member, part of whose fulfillment entails a manned Soyuz capsule when an unmanned one would have easily performed the same function.  Then there’s a bit of a twist and, mercifully, the credits.

If you can throw away science and common sense, this might actually be a good horror film.  I, sadly, cannot.  I prefer my nonsensical horror films to contain horny teenagers at summer camp.  All teenagers make stupid mistakes.

Movie Review: Get Out

Jean-Paul’s rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: An effective horror/suspense film that keeps you guessing and doubles as a biting social commentary on being Black in America.

“Get Out” has a wonderfully simple premise: Black man going to visit white girlfriend’s parents for the first time.  So it basically starts as “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and then morphs into a horror film.  The Black man in this case is not Sidney Poitier, but Daniel Kaluuya who is every bit as good an actor as Sidney Poitier.  Seriously, I think an entire acting class could be taught about Kaluuya’s facial expressions in this movie.  I think I could just watch him reacting to racist micro-aggressions all day except for the fact that is a horrible thing to wish upon anyone.  And if Daniel Kaluuya looks familiar to you, you might be a “Black Mirror” fan.  He’s the lead in the episode where everyone is biking for credits.  If you’ve never seen “Black Mirror”, you should.

The movie was written and directed by Jordan Peele of “Key & Peele” fame.  While Peele has written tons of stuff, “Get Out” is his directorial debut and he really couldn’t have asked for a better result.  He transitions the movie from socially horrifying to horror movie horrifying wonderfully and I’m not sure I can really point to where the movie became a horror film.  Probably the silent auction.  In doubly awesome news for Peele, he is also the first Black director to ever have his first film reach the $100 million mark.  Maybe Hollywood will start taking Black actors and directors more seriously now.  One can hope.

Also starring in the film is Bradley Whitford whom I just love.  I didn’t know going into the film that he was in it and it was a nice surprise.  You may remember Whitford from “The West Wing” where he played Josh Lyman.  You also may currently be pining over having a competent President like Jed Bartlett in the White House.

“Get Out” is an incredibly effective horror film and if you’re a fan of the genre, you really owe it to yourself to go see it.  The movie has it all, biting social commentary, wonderful acting, legitimately scary moments, and an actual good ending.