Category Archives: Movies

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 2

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A kind of weak story.  More than makes up for it with brilliantly choreographed violence.  I mean seriously, it’s almost art.

As the ticket taker ripped our tickets in half when we entered the theater, he emphatically proclaimed, “Best. Sequel. Ever.”  He was wrong.  But if you go to see the movie, you can understand where he was coming from.  Keanu Reeves is the action hero you have been waiting for.  Dude just mixes it up for 2 hours straight.

The second movie appears to start shortly after the first movie left off.  John Wick (Keanu Reeves) still needs to get his car back.  He does so in glorious fashion.  The action scenes in this movie were made with love and meticulous attention to detail.  It is a dance and an orgy of violence and destruction.  The comments interspersed by the Russian crime boss are just icing on the cake.  You know right away that you are in for one heck of a ride.

But then comes the story.  It’s…meh.  It gets really quickly into the mythos of the John Wick universe, which was a large part of the pleasure of the first movie and is still pretty cool in the second, but then it wraps a ridiculous story around it.  In simplest terms possible so as not to give anything away, a crime boss forces Wick to perform another assassination, because he’s an assassin and there wouldn’t be a movie without it, and then immediately double crosses Wick when the task is complete.  We can ignore the fact that the assassination was ridiculously easy despite Wick’s protestations that it was impossible, because movie.  But if you have this large underground of assassins I would think that very high on the list of rules is that you can’t then go and kill your hired help.  Apparently not.

Ignore all that though!  John Wick kicks some real ass in this film and it is glorious to watch.  This movie has probably the best action sequences since “The Matrix”, also starring Keanu Reeves.  And it finally answers my question from my original review as to why it ended so weird.  Because the second was going to start where the first left off.  And the third looks like it will do likewise.

Movie Review: A Dog’s Purpose

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: You’ll need to survive past the first half hour.  Bring tissues.

“A Dog’s Purpose” is about a dog who lives multiple lives but still retains memories of the previous life.  As it goes through those lives, it tries to make sense of why it is here and what’s the meaning of it all.  Since there are multiple lives, there are also multiple deaths.  Animal lovers, you will cry.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to get through the first half hour of the movie before you get to a fun movie.  And the first half hour is really bad.  Like, really bad.  Like, take every animal movie cliche and throw in every teenage romance cliche and condense it into a half hour of poorly written dialogue bad.  I briefly considered leaving the theater.  Thankfully (?!?!?), then the dog dies for the first time and the movie turns itself around.

The rest of the movie is cute without being saccharine.  The death scenes are only slightly sanitized for the consumption of the little ones and will ring true to anyone who has ever lost a pet.  The dog goes through a couple more reincarnations putting it in different circumstances before the movie brings the story full circle.  The ending isn’t bad, but it’s definitely disappointing.  It turns out that a dog’s purpose is to “just be there”.  I can not think of a worse message to tell people.  Given owners, all to often, a dog’s purpose should be “be anywhere else”.

The deciding factor on whether to see this movie will probably be whether you are an animal lover or not.  If they took a poll, I bet they’d find that animal lovers like the movie and others do not.  I think I can safely say that this movie is probably not nearly as good as I think it was since it used easy triggers for heartstrings pulling.  Emotional manipulation for the win!

Movie Review: Hidden Figures

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

Bottom Line: Katherine Johnson nee Goble, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan.  Remember their names.  Know their story.

If there was one thing Americans in the 1960s feared more than Blacks, it was Russians.  Thus it came to be that NASA, whose motto at the time was “not quite as racist as the rest of America”, decided to hire a bunch of really smart Black women and segregate them in their own building and grossly underutilize their talents.  So begins “Hidden Figures”, a wonderful retelling of the courageous and inspiring story of three super talented Black ladies who overcome adversity and help change the culture of NASA by simply doing what they’ve always been good at.  With a little help of Russia and their kicking our asses in the race to space.

A good portion of the movie is dedicated to Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) and her work as a “computer”, what people who ran calculations were actually called before the advent of what we now call computers.  Katherine gets her big break when a NASA-wide search of employees with analytic geometry skills comes up empty, until it is mentioned to Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spenser) who quickly points to Katherine as the person they need.  Katherine goes on to wow the white male, white shirt, black tie crowd at NASA with her ability to solve unsolved equations.  All while running back and forth, in heels, across campus to the colored bathrooms.

Dorothy Vaughan’s story is no less amazing.  She was a supervisor of the colored women’s mathematical section in all but title.  Not only that, but she took it upon herself to not only learn the programming language FORTRAN after learning of the receipt of the new IBM mainframe at NASA, but she also taught her entire group of women FORTRAN as well and later went on to become the actual supervisor of the computing group.

Finally, the one who gets short shrift, in my opinion, Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae).  Mary was an engineer in all but title and while NASA had a clear-cut way for employees to earn the title of engineer, they were so restrictive that classes were only taught at all-white schools.  Keep in mind, this was Virginia in the 60s.  While desegregation was the law of the land, Virginia was fighting it as best they could.  Mary had to petition the courts of Virginia to allow her to take the required engineering classes at these all-white schools.  And she won.

“Hidden Figures” tells their stories and has a kick-ass soundtrack to boot.  In fact, it should be used as an example in how to use a soundtrack effectively.  For example, it uses a certain song when highlighting Katherine’s race to the colored bathroom all the way across campus.  Then, it uses the same song to highlight a white male engineer racing across campus to the colored section to retrieve Katherine at a crucial moment when they need her expertise to great comedic effect.  Little things like that, along with a great story, make “Hidden Figures” a pleasure to watch and I highly recommend it.

Coming out of the theater, I found myself wondering which tidbits of the stories contained in the movie are true and which are simply made up and which are apocryphal.  For instance, when NASA first receives their mainframe from IBM, the door they built was too small to bring the mainframe through.  I know this to be a true story.  Or at least I think I do.  I have at least heard that story before.  Is it true?  Who knows?  Any time I see a “based on true events” movie, I wonder that.  Another in this movie, there’s a scene where Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) tears the “colored restroom” sign out of the wall with a crowbar after learning that Katherine is running across campus to the bathroom and wasting his time.  Beats it down, more accurately.  Did that really happen?

Movie Review: 2016 Revue

Movies.  I see a lot of them.  39 in total. Here’s what I saw in 2016.  I continue to be too lazy to index all my movies.  This was probably the best year of movies since I’ve been reviewing.  Marvel movies killed it and animated movies did quite well too.  Also, lots of movies beginning with “The”.

The Hateful Eight – 4/5 stars

The Revenant – 4/5 stars

The Boy – 3/5 stars

The Finest Hours – 3/5 stars

Deadpool – 5/5 stars

London Has Fallen – 3/5 stars

10 Cloverfield Lane – 4/5 stars

Zootopia – 4/5 stars

A War – 4/5 stars

Batman v Superman – 3/5 stars

Eye in the Sky – 5/5 stars

Midnight Special – 3/5 stars

Criminal – 2/5 stars

The Jungle Book (2016) – 3/5 stars

Captain America: Civil War – 5/5 stars

Money Monster – 3/5 stars

The Nice Guys – 4/5 stars

X-Men: Apocalypse – 3/5 stars

Now You See Me 2 – 2/5 stars

Independence Day: Resurgence – 2/5 stars

Finding Dory – 4/5 stars

The Secret Life of Pets – 3/5 stars

Star Trek: Beyond – 3/5 stars

Jason Bourne – 2/5 stars

Ghostbusters (2016) – 3/5 stars

Pete’s Dragon (2016) – 3/5 stars

War Dogs – 4/5 stars

Hell or High Water – 4/5 stars

Sully – 3/5 stars

The Magnificent Seven (2016) – 3/5 stars

Birth of a Nation – 3/5 stars

Doctor Strange – 4/5 stars

Arrival – 4/5 stars

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – 2/5 stars

Allied – 2/5 stars

Moana – 4/5 stars

Rogue One – 4/5 stars

Passengers – 3/5 stars

Live by Night – 3/5 stars

Movie Review: Live By Night

Jean-Paul’s Review: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A sprawling epic with gangsters and shootouts.  A little too much going on, but doesn’t get out of control.

“Live by Night” is about a Prohibition era Irish Boston gangster, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck), whose libido gets the best of him and lands him in trouble with the local Irish mob boss.  What an original concept.  From there, it goes crazy.  Joe escapes the mob boss only to land in jail for a bank robbery gone wrong where police got killed only to be saved from certain death by his father who is a cop, spends years in jail, joins the Italian mob in order to get revenge on the Irish mob boss, moves down to Florida to get said revenge, doesn’t really get revenge as much as build the biggest rum running racket known to man, fights the KKK, tries to get gambling legalized only to be thwarted by a prostitute drug addict turned preacher whom he rescued from addiction, gets double crossed by the Italian mob boss and finally gets revenge on the Irish mob boss, leaves the life only to have the love of his life killed by the father of the prostitute he once saved because he kind of blackmailed the father with pictures of the daughter, and lives out his life with his son.  And I skipped a bunch of stuff too.  This is a sprawling story but it works.

The movie was written by, directed by, and stars Ben Affleck and he has a solid list of backup actors helping him including Elle Fanning as Jim’s original love interest, Brendan Gleeson as Jim’s father, Zoe Saldana as Jim’s second love interest, and Chris Cooper as the father of the prostitute, just to name a few.  Add to that, some wonderful Prohibition Era backdrops and costuming and you have a solid movie.  The only real problem with it is the superfluous stories that don’t really add much to the movie.  It’s perfectly fine to create a sprawling epic, but you must make damn sure you have a good editor if you’re going to do so.

I’d say “Live by Night” is definitely worth seeing.  My initial reaction was to give it four stars but only held back as I thought about it some more.  It is a very enjoyable movie from an entertainment point of view as long as you don’t think to much about its failings after the fact.

Movie Review: Passengers

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Three movies in one.  All work ok.  Good chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence.

“Passengers” is a fun movie but one that can’t commit to what it wants to be.  It starts with an interesting if incredibly far fetched premise.  What happens if an interstellar colony ship malfunctions and one of the stasis capsules lets a passenger out 90 years before the ship is to arrive?  You have to completely ignore the fact that any series of failures like the ship experienced would definitely wake up crew members to deal with the problems.  After all, that’s their job.  Regardless, that’s exactly what happens to Jim Preston (Chris Pratt).  What follows is your typical stranded on a desert island scenario only on a ship surrounded by 5,000 sleeping humans and all of your other needs taken care of as well.  With only the android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), as company, Jim slowly starts going insane as he tries to think of ways to wake the crew or put himself back to sleep.

After a year of living alone and creeping ever closer to insanity, Jim gets company in the form of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence).  I don’t really have much to say about this portion of the movie except that Pratt and Lawrence have good chemistry together and it’s fun to watch Jim and Aurora getting to know each other and falling in love.  Then there is this great horrible reveal that tears Jim and Aurora apart and the movie finds itself in a bit of a tangle.  There’s nowhere to go.  You have a ship falling apart and the two people alive can’t be in the same room together and they have no way of fixing the ship.  So enter crewmember Gus Mancuso (Lawrence Fishburne) whose stasis chamber also malfunctioned.  What a stroke of luck.  Gus’ sole purpose is to give them access to parts of the ship they couldn’t get to before.  That function done, he gives a nice pep talk and dies.  Jim and Aurora then start scouring the ship for what is broken before the ship goes kablooey.  Do they fix it in time?  I guess you’ll have to tune in to find out.

I have a lot of problems with the end of the movie because of the questions that went unanswered, but the movie ended so abruptly that you don’t really get to process it.  Other than that, this movie is just fine.  It’s a decent enough date movie and there’s some nice effects and technological wonders.  It’s two hours spent well even if it is not terribly groundbreaking.

Movie Review: Rogue One

Jean-Paul’s rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A good Star Wars movie?  Yes!  Good story.  Good acting.  Good diversity.  George R.R. Martin would be proud.

The Star Wars series has has a bumpy run.  Even the most recent “The Force Awakens” was more of a fun movie than a good movie.  “Rogue One”, I am happy to say, is legitimately good.  What makes it good is that it wraps a coherent story around a series of characters with actual depth.  Even more so, what makes it good are the stories that it doesn’t tell.  How did Jyn land in prison?  Why did Saw break with the Alliance?  Is Chirrut a Jedi?  How did Baze come to be Chirrut’s guardian?  In each case, you’re given just enough context of the characters to make them whole while still wanting to know more about them.  These are all signs of a great script writer.  When you’re watching the movie, think about it.  These are all brand new characters to a vast majority of Star Wars fans and yet, by the end, you feel like they’re always been part of the story.  Admittedly, this is partly because we know where the story goes from here, but it’s still quite the accomplishment.

Another big winner in this movie is diversity.  The only white males with speaking roles belong to the Empire.  I exaggerate some, but the Alliance is robustly comprised of women and people of color and aliens and very few have American English accents.  You know, like any galaxy spanning epic would be comprised.  Comparisons to the Trump presidency abound.

There is also a lot of death in this movie.  Like George R. R. Martin levels of death.  None of the death scenes are as cool as Martin’s, but this is, nominally, a kids movie after all.  And given the story, those of you who follow the Star Wars universe should not be surprised that your favorite character is unlikely to make it out unscathed from this story.

I’ll likely see this movie multiple times.  If only to remind myself how bad the other films are in comparison.  I recently watched the end of “Revenge of the Sith” and my god is it bad.  Dialogue, acting, everything.  Can we please get a remake of episodes one through three by the script writers for “Rogue One”, Disney?  Pretty please?

Another note on 3D.  3D continues to be a waste of money and “Rogue One” is no exception.  I went to see this one in 3D mostly because I wanted to take advantage of a better sound system.  Because Star Wars.

Movie Review: Moana

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line:  Beautifully rendered, well thought out story line with some wonderful songs and an annoying pet sidekick.  Preceded by a lackluster short.

Let’s start with the short animated film that Pixar has made ubiquitous for animated movies.  This one is called “Inner Workings” and it has a clever pitch.  What if your organs were active members in the choices you make during your day?  Unfortunately, the pitch is the only thing that is clever.  There are some inspired moments in the short like when he has to empty his bladder, but mostly it’s just a battle between the brain and the heart.  Hint: The brain wins.  As my brother mentioned, it would have been better if the movie ended with the guy ignoring his brain and following his heart and going surfing only to get eaten by a shark.  I’m guessing there’s a reason why we don’t make children’s shows.

The feature film, “Moana”, is delightful despite following the trite Disney Princesses model of animation.  Disney has once again decided to forego their traditional pencil and ink animation method for the computer generated animation that has practically taken over animated films in general.  The did, after all, pay all that money to buy Pixar.  Might as well take advantage of all that technology.  And take advantage of that technology, they did.  When you’re making a movie about island life, water is going to invariably play an important part and the computer generated water is especially effective.  Really, though, everything about the movie is gorgeous from the islands themselves, to the islanders, to the water, to the ghostly ancestors, to the animated tattoos of the demigod Maui, to the sea life.

What Disney film would be complete without songs?  The soundtrack to “Moana” is probably one of the best Disney has produced.  Of special note are the main song, “How Far I’ll Go”, which is soaring in its breadth and scope, as well as the playful “You’re Welcome” which shows off Dwayne Johnson’s singing chops in his role as Maui.

My only real complaint about the movie is the animal sidekicks.  In this one, there’s a piglet and a mentally challenged rooster.  The piglet is harmless and cute and mostly useless.  The rooster I just don’t get.  This makes two Disney films in a row that incorporate mentally challenged animals, the first being “Finding Dory” which featured both a bird and a seal.  I just don’t get the humor in making fun of animals whose entire purpose is to act even stupider than they normally would.  There is nothing redeeming about the rooster’s stupidity at all.  It would be one thing if the rooster kept doing this one stupid thing and it turns out that stupid thing ends up saving the day, but nope, just a stupid rooster doing stupid things and having jokes about it being eaten thrown at it by Maui.

Regardless of my petty complaints, this is a very solid movie.  Its story is engaging for both adults and children and there are elements that will be enjoyed by both throughout.  It also helps that Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame both wrote some of the songs and sang a few in the movie.  Or at least for me.  I’m a little obsessed with “Hamilton”.

Movie Review: Allied

Jean-Paul’s rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Either a poorly done love story that wants to be a spy story or a poorly done spy story that wants to be a love story.

“Allied” opens with Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting from a plane somewhere over the deserts of northern Africa.  The camera pans and rolls and moves through the fabric of the parachute as Max floats to the ground.  This is the first in a series of really weird camera views interspersed throughout the movie.  As if the director can bring some sort of liveliness to the movie to a pedestrian movie through camera stunts.  And pedestrian is the right word because we’re then treated to Max walking through the desert for 5 minutes.  Yep, pacing is going to be a problem in this movie.

Max is a Canadian spy and he’s in Africa to meet up with his “wife”, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), a French resistance spy, so they can assassinate a Nazi ambassador.  Because that’s how you win wars, by assassinating random ambassadors.  Their master plan is to snag a rare invitation to a heavily armed and secure party for the ambassador, hid guns under the drinks table, and flip over the table and shoot up the place when the ambassador arrives.  This plan somehow works.  Oh, and they also fall in love in the short period of time they are together even though most of the time is spent talking about how falling in love is stupid for spies.

Fast forward a few years and they’re married and have a one year old child.  But what’s this?  Marianne may be a Nazi spy?  The real Marianne Beausejour was reported killed?  What’s a doting husband to do with this information?  This could make for a good movie!  But instead, we’re treated to Max doing a bunch of stupid things to try to prove her innocence.  There is some intrigue that makes for some decent suspense, but that doesn’t last too long because of the absurdity of the whole Max side of the story.  Then there’s the ending which is ridiculously drawn out even though you know exactly how it must end.

Was Marianne a spy?  I guess you’ll have to not watch the movie and not find out.  Because really, you shouldn’t see this movie.  It is mostly lifeless except for the acting ability of the two stars.  Such a shame because a double agent wife has such great possibilities and they are mostly spoiled in this movie.

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Lots of style.  Lacking in substance.  Filled with interesting characters with nothing interesting to do.

The wizarding world of Harry Potter skips almost a century into the past and across the pond to the good old United States.  It’s a completely different world over here as evidenced by the muggles being called no-majs and the constant massive damage to no-maj buildings and streets without the consummate massive loss of lives.  Yeah, this story is kind of lazy.

Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, an Aspergers spectrum type wizard with little regard for how his actions affect muggles (I refuse to call them no-maj because it sounds stupid) unless it’s necessary for the plot.  He’s a Brit traveling to the U.S. to release a Fantastic Beast back into its natural habitat of Arizona even though U.S. law strictly forbids such actions.  Since this movie is Fantastic Beasts, not Fantastic Beast, there are all sorts of beasts that he brings with in his Suitcase of Holding.  And since we need a story, some of them escape when he gets his suitcase mixed up with a wannabe baker named Mr. Kowalski (Dan Folger).  Oh, Newt, what tomfoolery will your indiscriminate use of magic and your criminal disregard for the animals under your protection get you into this time?  Enter Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), an agent of whatever the U.S. version of the Ministry of Magic is.  The name escapes me, but it is just a lame as no-maj.  She takes the bumbling Newt in for illegal use of magic and creature even though it’s no longer her job because she screwed something up in the not too distant past and boy would that have probably made a better story than this.  Meanwhile, Graves (Colin Farrell) (hint: bad guy, if the name is not a giveaway) thinks Newt might be responsible for the creature causing destruction around New York (hint: it’s not him).  The rest of the movie is Newt trying to get his creatures back that Kowalski accidentally releases and a quick wrapping up of the thin plot that ends with Johnny Depp for no reason at all except I assume Colin Ferrell decided pretty quickly he didn’t want to be involved in any sequel.

The good news is that, despite the plot, the characters are very likable.  Mr. Kowalski especially.  And they’re likable because they’re kid-like.  The problem is they’re adults acting like kids acting like adults.  It works, but mostly just for kids.  I didn’t not like this movie, but nor did I like it.  I give it a Deathly Hallows Part 2.