Category Archives: Reviews

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?

Book Review: 2016 Revue

I read a lot.  Sadly, books are probably only about 25% of what I read.  Here’s what I read in 2016.  11 measly books.  Sheesh.  I pretty much stuck to sci-fi this year, with a little non-fiction thrown in.  There were a bunch of short story compendiums that were mostly so-so except for the wonderful “The Other Half of the Sky”.  David Foster Wallace was definitely the highlight of the year and, sadly, the first book I read this year.  I’m going to try to branch out from sci-fi in 2017, but 2017 is certainly going to need some good escapism.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace – 5/5 stars

The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene – 3/5 stars

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow – 4/5 stars

Crandolin by Anna Tambour – 2/5 stars

The Narrator by Michael Cisco – 1/5 stars

Not Dark Yet by Berit Ellingsen – 3/5 stars

The Bestiary edited by Ann VanderMeer – 3/5 stars

The Eisenberg Constant by Eugen Egner – 3/5 stars

The Other Half of the Sky edited by Athena Andreadis – 5/5 stars

Clarkesworld: Year Six edited by Neil Clarke – 2/5 stars

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick – 2/5 stars

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.

Book Review: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

I have come to think of “A Scanner Darkly” as an artifact of its time.  It is semi-autobiographical and written about a time in Philip K. Dick’s life where he was recently divorced (again) and spent a few years in the early 70s inviting various teen-ish druggies to live in his house so he wouldn’t be alone.  Obviously, he did a lot of drugs in that period.  He also lost a lot of friends to drugs during that period.  Thus was born “A Scanner Darkly”.  I say the book is an artifact of its time because the drug culture back then was vastly different from what it is today, or at least vastly different from how popular culture portrays the 70s drug culture vs. the 90s and beyond drug culture, because let’s face it, a drug culture expert I am not.  “A Scanner Darkly” is not violence-free, but it’s a far cry from the hyper-violent drug culture we see today.  That makes it very difficult to relate to the individuals who are just going through their daily motions and decidedly not in a buddy drug comedy a la Cheech and Chong or Harold and Kumar.

The story deals with Bob Arctor who is really “Fred”, an undercover agent whose identity is even hidden by his bosses by a scramble suit which jumbles a person’s appearance.  In the line of duty as an undercover druggie, Bob gets addicted to Substance D, a made up drug that plays into the story.  Much of the story is about Bob’s descent into addiction and the symptoms he starts to exhibit.  It’s a bit trippy and somewhat interesting from a psychological perspective, but it’s mostly dry and plodding as a story.  Bob’s addiction is a very necessary plot point in the story, but the entire book is basically Bob’s addiction with a loose plot to give the book some semblance of a narrative.

“A Scanner Darkly” is basically an attempt to keep kids off drugs.  It’s every bad anti-drug commercial from the 80s.  This is drugs. *holds up egg*  This is your brain on drugs. *cracks egg into hot frying pan* Any questions?  Only 200+ pages of it.  Personally, I’d rather have watched the commercial again and saved myself hours of reading.

Clarkesworld: Year Six edited by Neil Clarke

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Clarkesworld” is an online, totally free collection of sci-fi and fantasy short stories that also publishes a magazine of said stories.  Neil Clarke is the purveyor of said totally-free-if-you’d-like endeavor and all sorts of kudos to him for keeping this alive.

“Clarkesworld: Year Six” is a collection of all the fiction stories the magazine produced in its sixth year.  As you might expect from a totally-free-if-you’d-like collection of stories, it’s very hit and miss, mostly miss.  There are a total of 34 stories that comprise year six and only a handful are good.  My favorite story is probably “Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes” by Tom Crosshill.  It can be a little hard to follow as it blurs the line between humanity and AI, but the exploration of that line is well crafted and intriguing.  Another story that left an impression was “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight” by Xia Jia.  It is about a young girl growing up in a ghost town filled with robots that time has forgotten, but all is not what it seems.

This is not a terribly good collection of stories, but you should buy it and support things like “Clarkesworld” anyway.  Why?  First off, did I mention it was free for people who can’t afford it?  Beyond that, though, writing short stories is incredibly hard and getting your short story published is even harder.  Magazines like “Clarkesworld” provide a needed outlet for would-be writers to show their stuff to a wider audience beyond their tiny little blog that about 10 people read.  *looks around furtively* Outlets like this are vital for incubating new talent and should be encouraged and supported.  I mean, seriously, the dude asks for a donation of $1 per month to keep the magazine going.  Switch your order from a daily venti latte to a grande and support 20 magazines like this.

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.