Category Archives: Movies

Movie Review: Marshall

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Thurgood Marshall was an unbelievable human being. This movie doesn’t do him justice. It’s still good, though.

Thurgood Marshall is one of those characters from history that defies reality. There is no way that someone like him could actually exist, is there? Well, yes, he certainly did and he left an indelible mark on the United States of America. To have him replaced on the Supreme Court by the likes of Clarence Thomas is almost as big a slap in the face of history as replacing Barack Obama with Donald Trump. The history of racism knows no lows and has a deep and long memory and will always exact its revenge for perceived slights. I kind of feel the same way about this movie. It is a slight against Thurgood Marshall’s legacy while wrapped in the veneer of an homage to the larger than life man.

I should back up a little and say that this is actually a good movie. It follows one of Thurgood Marshall’s (Chadwick Boseman) early cases when he was the only lawyer working for the NAACP. He enlists the help of an insurance claims lawyer named Sam Friedman (Josh Gad who is apparently required to be in every movie this year) since Marshall is not licensed to practice law in the state. The case is a defense of a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Unsurprisingly, this case is both racially and politically charged. The movie is a very effective and slick courtroom drama and the topic is handled with both seriousness and some wink-nudge humor. Boseman does an excellent job of portraying Thurgood Marshall. You get the feeling that Marshall is one of those incredibly likeable and charismatic individuals whose job has taught him exactly how much of an asshole to be in any given situation. Gad as Friedman is also quite effective as a successful Jewish lawyer who doesn’t really want any part in the whole affair but is drawn in by Marshall as I’m sure hundreds of other people were.

What’s the problem then? Why does this movie do Thurgood Marshall a disservice? Because the movie is as much about Sam Friedman as it is about Thurgood Marshall and only barely touches on the large life of an African American icon. Already having one movie made about Marshall, what are the chances of another being produced, let alone one that sufficiently extols the greatness of this man? If not zero, the chances are very close to that number. What Marshall deserves is a Netflix series. Season after season of his trials, tribulations, successes, and failures, all wrapped around the thousands of people his legacy has touched.

You should all go see this movie. It really is good despite my social justice warrior outrage. But do yourself a favor. After seeing the movie, pick up a biography of the man. I certainly plan to.

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A beautiful movie from start to finish with a good story to boot. Did not at all seem like a 164 minute movie.

Our dark, dismal future never looked so beautiful. There can be a captivating quality to bleakness, an allure to destitution. This movie captures those qualities perfectly. There is so much attention to detail in the movie the mind boggles. Add to that a perfectly jarring soundtrack and you have a handful of Academy Awards just waiting for you to pick up.

I have not seen the first “Blade Runner” movie (I know, heaven forbid!) and I can safely say that you don’t need any of the knowledge from the first to enjoy the second even though Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) from the first movie is integral to the second. Blade Runners are kind of like bounty hunters. They search for replicants, which are basically engineered humans created to do horrible tasks for “real” humans, and either capture or kill them, replicants being outlawed after a couple replicant mutinies. In “Blade Runner 2049”, a new version of replicants are legal because they are more loyal, but the remaining old versions are still hunted down. Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a newer version replicant working for the LAPD to hunt down the old versions. While hunting down an older replicant, Officer K discovers a secret and attempts to track down the source, all the while being followed by his creator, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), and Wallace’s replicant agent, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), who also want to know the answer to this secret.

As this is a movie mainly about “fake” humans, it delves greatly into the concept of what it is to be human. Can a replicant have a soul? Can a replicant love? What even is love? Does someone have to be real to be loved? Does someone have to be real to love? So, yeah, lots of thoughts on what love really is. Those scenes are some of the most touching moments of the film.

When you can make a 164 minute movie and make it seem like no time has passed, you know you’ve made a good movie. “Blade Runner 2049” definitely fits that bill. Sure, there’s lots of establishing shots and scenes made more for their beauty than for their utility, but you won’t regret any of those scenes. This is film making at its finest and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Movie Review: Battle Of The Sexes

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Man, Billy Jean King is awesome. And Bobby Riggs was a lovable prick. This is their story. Dun DUN!

The Battle of the Sexes, a tennis match between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs, happened the week before I was born so I don’t have a memory of it at all nor do I recall hearing anything about it until previews of this movie started showing. For most of the world, it was merely a spectacle, but for Billy Jean King, it was dead serious. It was about pride and position and being taken seriously in the world of tennis and general misogyny. That was 1973. Very little has changed. Women still have to fight for equal pay in the sports arena even when they draw larger crowds, bring in more revenue, and outperform the men’s teams.

The Battle of the Sexes tennis match is more of an epilogue to the movie than the main attraction. The meat of this movie focuses on Billy Jean King’s (Emma Stone) fight for equality in tennis and being a complete bad-ass while doing so. Whereas most people would simply cave to demands if it meant the very real and likely loss of your career, King and the rest of the women players walked away from the professional tennis league they were a part of to start their own women’s league after a protest over equal pay. What strength these women had! The two other tangential stories that are important to this movie are King’s discovery of her own sexuality, which appeared to be handled beautifully in real life by all parties involved, and the showmanship and gross misogyny of Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). Bobby Riggs was what you’d call a character. A compulsive schemer and gambler, a theatrical sideshow and provocateur, you never quite get the feel for who the real Bobby Riggs was. Perhaps he didn’t even know himself. Despite being all that and an all around prick a lot of the time, he comes off as very lovable.

This movie is filled with great acting, not just by the two stars, Stone and Carell, but also Sarah Silverman as Gladys Heldman who was a character all unto herself and Natalie Morales as Rosie Casals who was also quite instrumental in paving the way for women’s tennis, though the movie doesn’t quite get into that story. The writing is also excellent and the dialogue is crisp and witty.

This is one of those movies that I would recommend everyone see. Even if you know and lived through the tennis match, there was so much happening behind the scenes that you probably don’t know about but should. It helps that it is a legitimately good movie. Though the Battle of the Sexes is a bit of a misnomer. It wasn’t then, nor does it continue to be today a battle between men and women, but a battle between dominance and equality. I like to think that equality will someday win through, but man has it been a long, though slough.

Movie Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Takes a while to get into. Still has some of the ridiculous magic as the first movie, but not as much. A lot of self-referential jokes.

I was in a bad mood going into this movie. Not a good way to write an impartial review. So be warned.

Movie #2 follows much in the mold of movie #1. Since movie #1 was an origin movie of sorts, there was a lot of beginning material to work with. Movie #2 didn’t have that advantage so I was interested to see how they would transition into this already built world. The answer is with a bang. Whereas your traditional James Bond movie would go for a semi-plausible chase scene, Kingsman decides to go all out bonkers. It was probably a lot more fun that I thought it was because, like I said, bad mood. I found myself doing a lot of eye rolling.

I did finally start to get into the swing of the movie after they the villain Poppy’s (Julianne Moore) ridiculous plot for world domination. Like in movie #1, Poppy’s plans are absolutely insane, but come from a place where there’s a whole lot more truth than people might be comfortable with. From that point on, the movie is a good time. There are ridiculous fight scenes and double crosses and evil politicians and Elton John!

While it is not absolutely necessary to see movie #1, it will certainly help you appreciate movie #2 a lot more. There is a lot of self-referential humor in movie #2 that requires having seen movie #1 to appreciate. It is sprinkled throughout and I’m sure I missed a lot of it. This is one of those things where it would be cool to look up all the self-referential bits to see what you caught and what you missed.

My bad mood aside, I did enjoy this movie. Others, whose opinions I respect, said that it was very worthy of the title Kingsman. I will take their word and recommend this movie to you if you thought the original was a crazy good time like I did.

Movie Review: It

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line; All the hairs on my body stood up on end multiple times! Lots of nostalgia for us older folks. This was only Part 1, though they don’t say such until the very end.

“It” is two horror stories rolled up into one. The first features an incredibly creepy clown determined to suck children down into the sewers. The second features said children navigating the horrors of growing up. I’m not entirely sure which is more scary.

The thing I like about Stephen King novels in general and this movie in particular is that he often takes the horrors of everyday life and then makes it worse. No more is it more apparent than in his coming of age horror stories like “It”. Navigating childhood is rough even with good parents. With bad parents, it can be a nightmare. I think King focuses on those children of nightmares because those who live through nightmares are more realistically equipped to handle the clownish nightmare that is Pennywise. With so many horrific adults and bullies in their life, what’s an extra horrific clown thrown into the mix? And, oh my goodness, is Pennywise a nightmare! I don’t think I’ve had all the hairs on my body stand up on end this much in a movie since “The Exorcist”.

For those of you who saw the Netflix series “Stranger Things” and related to the children, you’ll recognize a lot of the feelings of coming-of-age nostalgia in the movie. Especially if you are, shall I say, of the dorky persuasion. In fact, I wonder if “Stranger Things” was paying homage to “It”. The makeup of the group of children was pretty spot on between the two. “It” definitely has more of a sexual bent to it because much of the nightmares of growing up a female are being perved on by adult males, but there’s also the healthy boys discovering girls part well represented.

I had warning of it going in and I’d like to pass that warning along to you, my five viewers. This is part one of the movie. That’s not a bad thing, but it could be annoying to not know it in the end. Fear not, though, this is a fully contained movie and by the end, the nightmare is over. Or is it? Of course it’s not, there’s a part two!

Stephen King movies are a crap shoot. For every “Misery” there’s five “Pet Sematary”s. This one is a definite winner, though. Tense, eerie, creepy. Major props to both Bill Skarsgård who plays Pennywise and the editors who, for some scenes, I don’t know how they had the patience to splice that crap together. Simply amazing. Go see this movie if you’re not a chicken.

Movie Review: Wind River

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

Bottom Line: A riveting and compelling character driven drama. From the same guy who brought you “Hell or High Water”, which was also awesome.

Despair, grief, loss, and the absence of hope. Welcome to “Wind River”. This is not a happy film, but my god is it beautiful. It is set in the Wind River Reservation of Wyoming, a rough and rugged land where, as they say in the movie, you sometimes have to travel 50 miles to get 5 miles away. The movie is written and directed by Taylor Sheridan who also wrote the excellent “Hell or High Water”. Like “Hell or High Water”, it is a crime drama, but only as a vehicle for portraying desperate characters in desperate situations.

The crime in which this tale is wound around is the death of a young Native American woman under suspicious circumstances. A Native American dying under unusual circumstances on Reservation land triggers a call to the FBI who have jurisdiction under such circumstances. The FBI, unfortunately, doesn’t give two shits about a woman dying on Reservation land. Luckily, the FBI sends Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen) who is both competent and has a heart even if she has no idea what she’s getting into. She asks Fish and Wildlife employee Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), who found the young girl’s body, to help her find out what happened.

Through this young girl’s death you get a glimpse into life on the Reservation. All the Native Americans know that the rest of the world has forgotten them and it shows in their disdain for Jane. Cory is divorced with a son who stays with his ex and lost his own daughter under similar circumstances and never found out exactly what happened to her so he has personal reasons to help Jane in her investigation. Martin (Gil Birmingham) is the father of the dead girl, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), who was his last thread on sanity having to live with a son who has lost himself in drugs and a wife who is mentally ill. You can see that this is not a happy movie.

The Wind River Reservation may be rugged and unforgiving, but it is picturesque. That, along with the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack make “Wind River” even more compelling. It is also very sad. If you don’t like sadness, stay away. Other than that, this is a movie you should definitely go see.  Then see “Hell or High Water” after it.

Movie Review: Detroit

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A disturbing look at a disturbing period of history. Could have done without the last half hour of the movie.

“Detroit” follows the events of the 1967 Detroit Riots with a focus on the Algiers Hotel incident. And by “incident” I mean the abuse and murder of Black people by police officers. You know how this ends. I came out of the movie angry. Not because of the injustice of the events in the movie, though they are infuriating, but because I can see no progress from 1967 to 2017. What happened at the Algiers Hotel can happen today and does happen today with worrying frequency. And when a movement springs up to try to combat those injustices, they’re equated with Nazis. Welcome to America 2017.

The events surrounding the Algiers Hotel incident are confusing and the movie does a really good job of portraying that while also keeping a very close hold on the truth of what happened that night. You will leave the movie with questions and that’s a good thing. My biggest question of all was who is this Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) character? He was a security guard hired to guard a nearby store and somehow got tangled up with everything that happened at the Algiers. The police just seem to accept his presence there, which is weird. My best guess is he was a police wannabe, the security guard industry being filled with them. Boyega portrays him as a decent fellow, but there’s just a wrongness of him being there and abetting some really bad police/national guardsmen. I wonder if there is more to know or if that’s all we really do know about him.

The last half hour of the movie is a puzzle to me. First, it’s pretty boring. The main story has been resolved and it just follows Larry Reed (Algee Smith) who quit The Dramatics because of the events of that night. Second, it takes away a lot of the impact of the movie. It’s as if they didn’t want to leave the audience feeling like crap so they tagged on this feel-goodish ending as if to give a bit of a feeling of hope. It would have been much more powerful if they ended the movie with the not guilty verdicts being read and the murderers walking free as the entire police force cheers them on.

“Detroit” is a compelling movie and should be watched by all. It is often not easy to watch, but it should be known and said out loud frequently that this stuff happens even to this day and we should not stand for it and silence is complicity.

Movie Review: Dunkirk

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: An enjoyable war story but not worthy of the hype.  Beautifully shot.  Strangely edited.

The evacuation of Dunkirk was an undertaking of immense proportions the likes of which may never be seen again.  Over 300,000 people were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk over the course of about a week.  Over 800 ships, mostly civilian, helped in the evacuation.  Over 200 of those ships were sunk.  300 airplanes went down, equal amounts German and British.  This movie only captures rare glimpses of the depth and breadth of this undertaking.

I will admit that “Dunkirk” is absolutely beautiful from start to finish.  The cinematography is out of this world.  Every scene, every camera angle is chosen with exquisite care.  And I didn’t even see it in the glorious 70mm format, which is probably absolutely breathtaking.  But that’s Christoper Nolan for you.

And speaking of Christopher Nolan, boy has he Christopher Nolaned the crap out of this film.  It is broken up into three parts: land, sea, and air.  The land part takes place over a week.  The sea part takes place the last day of that week.  The air part takes place the last hour of that day.  He takes them and puts them into a blender so that the timeline is all mixed up.  There are air parts before land parts and sea parts before air parts and land parts before sea parts.  You get introduced to characters from the future before you see them for the first time in the past.  It is quite the jumble.  I assume this was in order to project a sense of chaos into the war environment that wouldn’t necessarily translate well to a film with no epic battle scenes and death coming from a surprise torpedo to the side instead of human to human contact.  Otherwise, you’d be stuck with a bunch of people sitting on a beach for a week occasionally getting strafed by planes or a ship going down as it races home with a full compliment of soldiers.  I get that, but I think the real reason is it covers for the fact that the enormity of this event is kind of given short shrift.  There is some semblance of enormity seeing all the soldiers lined up on the beach waiting to be rescued, but the air portion follows only 3 planes and the sea portion doesn’t come close to the epic level of ships used to rescue 300,000 soldiers.

“Dunkirk” is a story that needed to be told and Christopher Nolan does a good job of telling it.  He should be commended for making a beautiful movie.  But a beautiful movie does not a great movie make.  It’s good.  it’s worth seeing.  Maybe even a few times for those that appreciate the movie making art.  It’s just not the “ooh, you HAVE to see this” level that it seems to be getting portrayed as.

Movie Review: Atomic Blonde

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Uneven action.  Convoluted story line.  Dull at times.  Exciting at times.

“Atomic Blonde:” is a spy movie filled with the usual spy intrigues set mostly in Berlin just at the end of the Cold War and the falling of the Berlin Wall.  There are some awesome Berlin sites to be seen in this movie.  If you have Berlin nostalgia, especially the Cold War variety, there’s a lot of visuals for you that most others may not appreciate.  Of course, you also have to get through the movie and that may be a challenge.

The challenging part: There are crosses and double crosses and triple crosses and it’s really confusing keeping them all straight and it might possibly all make sense in the end, but I’m not quite sure and I’m pretty sure a simple phone call at any given time would have cleared the entire mix up.  There is also a bit of a “trying too hard to be cool” vibe to it that kind of takes away from the flow some.  For instance, David Percival (James McAvoy) is supposed to exude cool and careless, but every scene he’s in, all I could think of was I’m watching someone doing a Tyler Durden cosplay.

The non-challenging part: The action is uneven in this movie, but when it’s good, it’s almost laughably good.  Seriously, I was actually laughing through some scenes I was enjoying it so much.  It’s as if they hired one choreographer for some scenes and a completely different choreographer for other scenes.  Charlize Theron, as Lorraine Broughton kicks all sorts of ass in these scenes.  And she takes quite the beating as well.  Which, come to think of it, is kind of fucked up.  How many male spy heroes go through hellish fights with only a black eye or a cut lip for show?  I, for one, love seeing the lead spy taking slightly less damage than is dealt for reality’s sake, but the disparity is there.  In fact, the very first scene in the movie is to show a naked and bruised from head to toe Lorraine climbing into a tub of ice water.  As if to say don’t worry your fragile little egos, boys, she’s tough, but not as tough as your manly spy men.  I think too much.

In the end, I think “Atomic Blonde” tries to promise too much.  It wants to be a legitimate spy thriller and a legitimate action move and, in doing so, fails at both.  It’s still decent fun, especially when it’s hitting on all cylinders.  Nothing about it screams “see me in the theaters”, but we’re getting to the summer lull and if “Atomic Blonde” stays in theaters for a few weeks, it’ll probably be the best thing worth watching.

Movie Review: War For The Planet Of The Apes

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Wait, this is a revenge movie?  Amazing what you can do with little dialogue.  Good story line and effects.  The setup is complete for the original story?

“War for the Planet of the Apes” is, in all likelihood, the first ape revenge movie.  I was not expecting that.  It follows Caesar (Andy Serkis) as he changes role from leader of his apes to revenge machine determined to kill The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), who killed Caesar’s wife and eldest son, thinking that the latter was Caesar.

With a revenge movie, it is important to have an effective bad guy and Woody Harrelson as the Colonel is as effective as they come.  Driven.  Relentless.  A little crazy.  But his world view is coherent and consistent and given the context of the world in which they live, it makes complete sense that people would follow him.  And his end is also perfect justice.  What a great combination!

The show stealers are still the apes, though.  Throughout the trilogy, I have been constantly amazed by their emotive ability and the director’s/whomever’s ability to express so much with only a handful of lines of dialogue.  I think they got a little sloppy with their American Sign Language as the movies have progressed, but if you’ve ever watched an ASL interpreter, that gives you a feel at how expressive the apes are.

I wonder how many homages to the original move are in “War for the Planet of the Apes”.  I was able to catch two.  Caesar’s son is named Cornelius who was the ape played by Roddy McDowall in the original and the young girl is named Nova who was Charlton Heston’s mute mate in the original.  I only have a cursory remembrance of the original and I was able to point those two out.  Can anyone mention more?

The “Origin of the Planet of the Apes” trilogy is complete?  All the pieces are now there and the ending of this movie was ambiguous enough as to whether there will be another.  It was a wonderful trilogy and the evolution of the apes was wonderful to behold.  It is rare to see a trilogy evolve with such brilliance.  This would be a great trilogy to re-watch back to back to back on some lazy Sunday.