Category Archives: Reviews

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.

Book Review: Days Of Blood And Starlight by Laini Taylor

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

While the first book in this trilogy, “Daughter of Smoke and Bone“, was light-hearted fare with hints of darkness, “Days of Blood and Starlight” is dark fare with hints of blackness.  Karou, after re-experiencing the trauma of her own death as Madrigal and the revelation that the Seraph she loved both as Madrigal and then again as Karou is responsible for the near annihilation of her fellow Chimaera, is almost unrecognizable from the first book.  She has gone from messenger to the Chimaera resurrectionist, Brimstone, now dead at her lover’s hand, to the heavy burden of resurrectionist for the rag-tag leftovers of the Chimera army and taking unquestioning orders from the new Chimaera commander, Thiago.  This is a little jarring given there’s no real build-up to this and she’s gone from unknown participant in an unknown war to the key element necessary to keeping the war going.  This change of personality is understandable, but it’s a weakness of the book that it’s glossed over.

Much of the rest of the book follows Akiva on the Seraph side and Karou on the Chimera side.  They follow twin paths leading to the same conclusion and their paths cross and separate multiple times throughout.  On Akiva’s side, he’s already dedicated to figuring out a way to stop the madness of this war and must tread a delicate line to see his dreams to fruition.  Karou, on the other hand, starts out as pretty much dedicated to the war effort and only slowly realizes that she’s become kind of a monster and must slowly back away from staring into that particular abyss.  The Akiva story-line is well thought out and the evolution of his two partners is explored in a depth that makes that evolution make sense.  The Karou story-line, on the other hand, is kind of a mess.  If you read it as the tale of someone suffering through post-traumatic stress disorder, Karou’s actions and reactions make a little more sense and this is why a bit of a fill-in narrative about Karou for the time between book one and book two would have been appreciated.  Taylor also kind of shoe-horns Zuzana and Mik from book one into book two and while their interactions between themselves and with Karou are delightful, they really don’t add to the story and it’s obvious that Taylor just needed to include them for the sake of letting people see their favorite characters again.

The biggest problem by far with the book is the facile use of a violent attempted rape to further the plot.  Sadly, I can’t even say that it does that, since the rape scene is immediately followed by a strange coincidence that remains unexplained and made the rape completely unnecessary.  The only possible explanations are to either make the reader hate the attacker, even though there was plenty of reason for the reader to already to do, or to make the victim fear the attacker, even though there was already plenty of reason for her to do so.  If you read the story without the rape, you would miss literally nothing from the book.  It was so distasteful, I pushed my review down a star.

Despite that major bit of distastefulness, I did rather enjoy this book.  Probably better than the first one.  It is certainly not a happy book, but there are good surprises throughout and the Akiva arc is definitely Taylor’s best thought out portion of the series to date.  War makes fascists of us all and this book made that clear while wrapping a compelling story around it.  I’m still kind of on the fence as to whether I would recommend the series to anyone except to the young adults they’re supposed to be written for, but we’ll see if book three can kick me off that fence one way or another.  “Harry Potter” this series is not, but that’s an impossibly high standard.

Movie Review: Spiderman: Homecoming

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Marvel does it again.  Good mix of humor, action, and story.  Tom Holland is a star.  Michael Keaton is good, but wasted in his role.

Ok, this is going to seem weird, but my favorite thing about “Spiderman: Homecoming” is how it challenges the preconceived notions of family and race.  Spiderman has, of course, always done that to some extent.  Peter, after all, is being raised by his aunt and uncle prior to becoming a superhero.  In this movie, he is now being raised solely by his Aunt May, played by a very 70s hippy looking Marisa Tomei.  The only thing nuclear about this family is Peter from his radioactive spider bite.  Peter’s main crush is a black girl who is also taller than him.  Bye bye Mary Jane.  The debate team that Peter is on is also very diverse, which was nice to see.  There is also a reveal that I will not get into because it’s tangentially plot related which had me almost laughing with delight.  Marvel knows who its audience is and it knows who his audience will be and it’s doing all it can to include everyone.  it’s good to see.

The story starts with a preface just after the first Avengers movie (I think) and then fast forwards to recap the Spiderman events from “Captain America: Civil War”.  It then follows Peter/Spiderman (Tom Holland) as he tries to be something more than just your friendly neighborhood Spiderman.  He has Avenger envy, you might say.  He discovers a group of people led by Adrian Toomes/Vulture (Michael Keaton) who have been stealing the alien technology left over from the first Avengers movie and re-purposing it and selling it on the black market and tries to take them down himself.  Oh, and he also suffers through high school.  Not sure which is more dangerous.  One physically, one mentally.

I was a little disappointed in Marvel’s use of Michael Keaton as the main villain.  This, to me, continues to be Marvel’s weak spot.  Keaton’s a great actor and the Toomes/Vulture character has much to explore, but they give him some weak-ass “anything for my family” background and run with simply that.  I know that Spiderman is the main attraction, but bad guys are cool and I wish Marvel would focus on them a little more, especially when getting top talent to play them.  That said, it really is Tom Holland who steals the show.  He has that perfect mix of awkward teenager/superhero that Spiderman deserves.  And at just 21, it seems obvious that Marvel plans to build their future around him.  The Marvel franchise is strong with this one.

Marvel continues to rule the movies.  It really is astounding how well they have done.  I don’t know if this is Disney’s doing or if Disney has let them have free reign with their creative license, but I don’t really care.  Whatever they’re doing, more of “Spiderman: Homecoming” please!

Book Review: Daughter Of Smoke And Bone by Laini Taylor

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

“Daughter of Smoke and Bone” belongs firmly in the glutted young adult “teen doesn’t know who she is but discovers she is so much more” genre, but does a good job of distinguishing itself from the pack.  Taylor does this by giving the main character a pretty weird life right from the get go.  Taylor does a good job of giving her characters, both human and other, an exotic flavor while keeping them relatable at the same time.

The main character is Karou, a 17 year old with blue hair and tattoos living in Prague and going to art school by day and owning one of the coolest names of bookdom.  By night, Karou is a messenger/gofer for an individual named Brimstone who lives in some sort of trans-dimensional space and collects teeth in exchange for wishes.  Karou was raised from birth by Brimstone and his assistants who are all chimaera, animal/human hybrids of varying sorts.  Karou keeps this portion of her life secret from her human friends, including her best friend Zuzana, a spunky, wisecracky, ball of energy who goes to school with her.  Obviously, since this is a book they want you to read, Karou doesn’t keep her secret for long after it is revealed to Karou that seraphim have invaded Earth and that the seraphim and chimaera have been at war for thousands of years.

Taylor has built a very interesting world here and there is a lot of material that I wish she had covered, but was sadly left unexplored.  This is especially true of the chimaera, of whom very little is explored.  I would have loved to see some anthropological (chimaerapological?) diggings into their society.  Perhaps this will be done in the next book.  Yes, this is the first of a series.  The whole chimaera vs seraphim war is intriguing and the bleeding of it into the human world and its impact therein is well thought out.  The whole system of wishes is well thought out, having varying denominations like currency (scuppy, shing, lucknow, gavriel, and bruxis, from weakest to strongest).  Imagine what you would have done as a teenager with almost unlimited scuppies, which can’t do much more than cause jock itch, and you have an idea of what happens to them in Karou’s hands.

My biggest problem with the book is that there are chapters and chapters dedicated to describing a relationship between the teenager Karou and a hundreds of years old angel named Akiva.  First off, eww.  Second, it’s not that the relationship was there which bothered me, but the superficiality of it.  Everyone is just so beautiful.  Karou, her ex Kazimir, Akiva, all the seraphim.  And if that weren’t bad enough, much of the evil/betrayal portrayed in the novel is done by ugly people or people jealous of beauty.  And before you simply accuse me of not liking romance, there is another romance story in this book that worked well and that I enjoyed.  There is also a lot of heavy-handed foreshadowing which I rolled my eyes at, but in Taylor’s defense, delivers quite effectively even if it is the very end of the book.  That the book just ended there was annoying as there was much left hanging and there was really no sense of accomplishment felt plot-wise.

Quibbles aside, this was a very enjoyable book to read and I’ve already started reading the next in the series.  Given that Taylor most likely started right in on the second book, I don’t have hope that she received much feedback about the first and thus will continue to populate the second book with my quibbles, but that’s ok.  I just have to remind myself that this is young adult fiction and not meant for masterpiece theater, though they are working on a film adaptation of the first book as we speak.

Movie Review: The Mummy (2017)

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5

Bottom Line: Tom Cruise is not funny.  Neither is anyone else in this movie.  Some of the action is pretty cool, though.

Once upon a time, there was a movie called “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser and it was good.  Not great, but good.  It had that perfect mix of oddball corniness and action that requires a sense of comic timing and versatility that goes unappreciated until a movie like “The Mummy” starring Tom Cruise comes along.  Tom Cruise is a fairly accomplished dramatic actor and he has also made a name for himself in the action movie category as well, but by moving from a serious action star to a comedic action star, he has finally found his weak spot.  Now, you might think that a poor comedic action star might still not ruin a movie if you surround him by actual comedic actors and beef up the writing a bit.  And you would be correct as can be seen by the success of the “Mission Impossible” franchise with the addition of Simon Pegg, among other.  They tried that in this movie by adding Jake Johnson of “New Girl” fame.  Johnson has a decent comedic repertoire, but man does he fall completely flat as Cruise’s sidekick.  Every single attempt to be funny in this movie goes over as well as a lead balloon to the point that you almost have to laugh at how poor the comedic attempts are, when you can recognize them as such.

Luckily, the movie isn’t a complete waste of time.  The back story of the Big Bad, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) is pretty cool, if not nearly fleshed out (ha ha, get it, because she’s a mummy?) enough. There is also some decent action to be had, filled with rats and zombie-mummies and plummeting airplaines, but that can’t quite save the movie from the likes of questionable plot points and questionabler appearances by the likes of Russell Crowe in an attempt to make a franchise of the whole affair.

Despite all this, I actually recommend that you do see “The Mummy”, only the 1999 version with Brendan Fraser.  You should mostly pretend that the 2017 version never existed.  And hopefully, the studio execs will as well.

Book Review: Garlic And Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Jean-Paul’s rating: 3/5 stars

I have been living my life all wrong.  Instead of cultivating friendships with restaurant critics who would then take me for free meals while they review restaurants, I have this motley group of friends every single one of which is decidedly not a restaurant critic.  Friends, you have all failed me.  Completely and irrevocably.

How cool would it be to be friends with the New York Times restaurant critic?  Especially if hat person is Ruth Reichl.  That is the main conclusion I come to after reading “Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise”.  The book follows her time as a restaurant critic between leaving the LA Times in 1993 for The New York Times till her departure from there for Gourmet magazine in 1999.  Now, you might be thinking that a book about a person’s time as a restaurant critic sounds like an incredibly boring story, but you’d be wrong.  Reichl, you see, has a hook.  After discovering that her likeness was pasted across all the popular restaurants with instructions for the staff to be on the lookout for her, Reichl decided to develop disguises complete with alternate personas.

The book is equal parts Reichl developing her disguises and trying them out at restaurants and just random weirdness that happens to you when you happen to be The New York Times food critic.  It is then padded with some filler copy of reviews straight from the newspaper and fleshed out with select recipes of some of Reichl’s favorite dishes.  The personal experience stuff is fun to read, if a little too polished.  In the afterword, Reichl does explain this polishing for time, flow, and various other literary reasons to create a book worth reading, which I appreciated.  The newspaper articles, with an exception or two, mostly break up the flow of the narrative and feel out of place.  And as for the recipes interspersed throughout, I WANT TO MAKE ALL THE THINGS!

If you enjoy food, you will likely enjoy this book.  It’s light reading and perfect for a beach vacation or airplane fodder.  People who do not like food will probably not get much enjoyment out of it, but you people are barely human so you don’t even count.

Now, to begin stalking Phil Vettel

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Jean-Paul’s rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Finally, a solid DC Comics movie.  Solid story.  Good acting.  Wonderful supporting cast.  Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman.

Never let it be said that DC can’t make a good Superhero movie.  All it takes is a female Superhero and a female directory.  The director of this delightful movie is Patti Jenkins.  You may know her from her disturbing directorial debut film, “Monster”, about female serial killer Aileen Wuornos.  And that’s it.  She’s directed a few TV movies and shows, but nothing big screen until “Wonder Woman”.  All I have to say about that is get this woman a blank check and a script to her liking.  She should be doing more stuff.  I hope her lack of directorial credits is of her own choosing and not something more nefarious.

“Wonder Woman” begins on the island of Themyscira, where the Amazon women have lived, training and preparing for the day Ares returns to Earth to wreak havoc upon the world.  This entire back story is wonderfully retold in a sort of moving Renaissance painting style that is both effective and beautiful.  There are, in fact, many scenes like this where you can tell that a lot of love went into the labor of bringing this movie to the screen.  Themyscira itself is breathtakingly gorgeous and scene after scene on the island is so full of detail that you can get lost in it all.  The island is, unfortunately, made mostly out of whole cloth so you will be booking your airfare tickets in vain if you choose to try to visit the real world Themyscira.  Not that I scoured the credits and the interwebs looking for clues as to where to find this island paradise…  It definitely has influences of Italian islands with some Southeast Asian flavor thrown in for spectacle, so those destinations will have to do.

Diana becomes Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) when she helps Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a World War I pilot/spy who crash lands on the island while being pursued by Germans leading to one of the most badassed movie fight scenes ever devised in which the Amazons square off against the Germans, escape the Amazons as she is convinced it is their duty to fight in the war and stop what surely must be Ares returned at last.  Chris Pine is a wonderful supporting actor opposite Gal Gadot, but Gal Gadot just steals it.  The looks.  The personality.  The accent.  Everything about her was just perfect for Wonder Woman.  As a friend said, “Gal Gadot’s personality such that you forget her looks (that’s a compliment!) but every now and then you’d catch her legs in that costume and…hot d-mn!!!”  The three exclamation marks are hers and well warranted.  I’d also like to give a little shout out to Lucy Davis who plays Etta, Steve Trevor’s secretary.  She’s there for comic relief and doesn’t have a large role, but she plays wonderfully off both Gadot and Pine.  She was absolutely delightful.

Wonder Woman, the Superhero, and thus “Wonder Woman”, the movie, does suffer from many of the problems that plague DC Comics Superheroes in general in that her powers are largely undefined.  See Superman and Green Lantern for other examples.  This leads to an epic final battle in which two massively powered individuals with undefined abilities square off against each other and inevitably leads to them throwing each other around and flinging impossibly large objects at each other until someone finally succumbs to one of the other’s ill-defined powers for ill-defined reasons.  But, while “Wonder Woman” the movie has that, it is kept on even footing with the all too mortal humans quietly saving the day in the background.  It’s a nice touch that other Superhero films often forget.  It also ends in one of the most beautiful cinematographic visuals I have ever seen.  In it, Wonder Woman is standing all badass in front of a massive crater where Ares was blasted into oblivion and the sun is rising in the distance and the battle’s wounded are struggling to their feet on both sides of her.  Like the Amazon backstory at the beginning of the movie, it is very Renaissance painting-ish and makes a good bookend for the movie.

I am so happy this film is doing well.  Not only because it is awesome and should rank up there as one of the best Superhero films of all time, but because it’s also pissing off all the right people (or I guess wrong people) for all the right reasons by its success.  And while I, for one, will celebrate this momentous movie making miracle of women headlining a male dominated genre and being badass on the silver screen and making obscene amounts of money all at once, I can’t help but recall comedy maven Michelle Wolf’s words, “You know when it will feel like women are equal at the box office? When we get to make a BAD superhero movie and then immediately make another bad one.  Men get chance after chance to make superhero movies.  No one left crappy “Batman vs. Superman” movie saying ‘well, I guess we’re done making man movies’.”  Watch the whole thing.