Category Archives: Reviews

Movie Review: Alien: Covenant

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 1/5 stars

Bottom Line: Sloppy. Lazy. Dull.  Improbable.

“Alien: Covenant” is a story about man’s hubris and how it inevitably will lead to our downfall.  In it, Ridley Scott attempts to make a movie so bad under the assumption that his subjects are so dense that they will go see an movie with the name “Alien” in it just because there were once two good movies in the series.  Ridley Scott was correct.  Humanity is doomed.  I think the movie itself was also about man’s hubris, but I was too busy rolling my eyes and wanting to punch something to much pay attention.

If you have seen ‘Prometheus”, I’m sorry.  But also, you’ve already seen “Alien: Covenant”.  Only this time, instead of finding a mysterious ship and acting stupid, a whole new set of supposedly smart people find a mysterious planet and act stupid.  Let’s back up a bit, though.  The movie begins with a bit of a preamble in which the creator of androids first brings Michael Fassbender online and treats him like a dick.  The purpose of this scene is to make the movie over two hours long.  Michael Fassbender takes the name David which, if you will recall, was the android in Prometheus.  Fast forward some indeterminate amount of time and now we’re on board the Covenant, a colony ship en route to planet QRQ51521 or some-such.  And Michael Fassbender is on board!  Only, he’s totally not David, but Walter this time and thus totally trustworthy.  Or is he?  Dun dun DUNNNNNN!  While in the middle of this journey, the ship is subjected to a one in a billion star event while at its most vulnerable, recharging its batteries, which kills a bunch of people and wakes up the crew from hibernation.

Let’s meet the crew, shall we?  The crew consists of: one char-boiled captain cooked in his own juices for five minutes just because it would look cool, a first officer who you should know is some sort of religious and is certain that is the reason why he isn’t captain but now he is since the ship decided to have a barbecue, at least two married couples which seems like a really bad idea for people who are expected to make life and death decisions for others, another couple who are bumpin’ uglies and thus must be punished for it in true horror cliche fashion, Michael Fassbender, and various other people who will sacrifice their lives in the name of stupidity.

While doing repairs to their ship, one crew member hears a transmission of a John Denver song on his piddly little space suit while the massive ship doesn’t hear it at all.  Because reasons.  The transmission is coming from a planet that all of their scans somehow completely missed and is almost perfect in every single way and is much better than the crappy planet they were planning on inhabiting and screw their orders and let’s go check it out!  Up to this precise moment of the movie, we’re still kind of ok.  Sure, they’re not making good decisions, but they’re at least in the realm of probable bad decisions that a crew in their position might make.  Then they land on the planet.

Here is just a sampling of the bad decisions these people make.

  • They go down to the planet, which is a tempest of storms and hurricanes and electricity.  It’s going to be a scary, bumpy ride and communications will be almost impossible at times.  Let’s do this.
  • They land on the planet.  You might think, “Well, sure, why wouldn’t they?”  Ah, but you’re forgetting, my friend, that they’re there to track down a transmission and it turns out that the transmission is coming from a crashed ship not far from a massive dead city that if they even bothered doing a fly-by first, they would have discovered had plenty of space to land.
  • They separate from the group.  This place looks like a great spot to take water samples on this completely unexplored planet.  You guys go on ahead.
  • They romp through the planet like a dog rolling in its own shit.  Let me just go take a piss and dig my foot really deep in this mass of weird spore-like looking filth.  I, too, am going to put my face up really close to this mass of weird spore-like looking filth and poke at it.
  • They interchangeably freak the fuck out and behave calmly whenever the mood fits.
  • They calmly follow a complete stranger who appears from nowhere without questioning where he came from or how he got there.  Spoiler alert: It’s Michael Fassbender, er, David.
  • They separate from the group.  “You know what, I know I just watched my friends die and we’re in this massive dead city, but what I could really go for is a nice bath.”  I’ll be right back.  No you won’t.
  • They continue to listen to David even though he repeated lies to him.  “Oh, here, follow me down into this dank hole so I can show you something after you just saw me communicating with the alien that has been making a smorgasbord of your crew.”  “OK!”

There’s plenty more, but I’m  making myself plenty angry reliving the movie so I will stop there.  There is no good reason to see this movie.  Oh, wait, no, there is one.  With every stupid, preventable death, you will secretly whisper to yourself, “Thank god they died!  They were intolerably stupid.”

Movie Review: Snatched

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Reasonably fun and funny.  Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer have good chemistry and deserve better material.

I love how easily Amy Schumer can slip into the oblivious white woman role.  She is very obviously not that type of woman given her writing abilities, but she puts the role on like she were slipping into her favorite sweatpants and sweater.  In “Snatched”, she plays Emily Middleton, who is, you will be shocked to find out, an oblivious white woman.  Emily is recently broken up with her boyfriend with whom she planned to go to Ecuador on vacation.  In desperate need of a traveling companion, she decides to bring her mom, Linda (Goldie Hawn).  While there, they are kidnapped, held for ransom, and hilariously escape.  As a side note, it was really great to see Goldie Hawn in a movie again.

The movie was written by Katie Dippold, who has a few decent female buddy comedy movies under her belt now, including “The Heat” and “Ghostbusters”, but she was also a writer on “Parks and Recreation” and “MadTV” before that, so she’s a comedy writing pro at this point.  Dippold’s humor is more awkward funny than laugh out loud funny.  Having a mom and daughter combo certainly sets up the possibility for the awkwardness to be ramped up to 11.  To some extent, Dippold delivers.  There are scenes like the breakup and family dinner that are awkwardly funny in all the right ways.  But then there are scenes like the suntan lotion slathering scene and the tapeworm scene that are just forced and not terribly funny.

The movie did raise an important question that I had never thought about.  Say you were kidnapped and managed to escape and phone the United States State Department to let them know you were kidnapped.  What would they actually do?  What can they do?  In the movie, Linda and Emile are told to get to the nearest U.S. Consulate as soon as possible.  I have no idea if that is actually what would happen, but it feels about right.

If you’re jonesing for an Amy Schumer comedy, I’d recommend renting “Trainwreck” which is far superior to this movie.  “Snatched” does, however, have a certain amount of charm which makes it worth watching, even if it’s not the type of comedy that sticks with you afterwards.

Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

In the history of literature, you would be hard pressed to come up with a character who is more full of himself than Humbert Humbert.  This is a man who believes all his actions justified and all his reasoning flawless.  A man who finds everyone around him faulty except for one; his Dolores, his Dee, his Lolita.  The words he uses to describe Lolita and his actions with her and his thoughts about her are absolutely beautiful and flowery and flowing.  Coming from the right man, they are words that would make women melt and Humbert Humbert will readily tell you he is the right man.  And he’s right.  They are gorgeous words and they flow effortlessly and effusively from his tongue to his object, Lolita.  Then you remember that Lolita is a 12 year old girl and you get the heebie-jeebies.  Nabokov must be greatly commended for pulling off that feat.  This is not a puerile or erotic book despite its subject manner.  You won’t find lurid descriptions of two people rutting, but you will find incredibly imaginative ways of Humbert Humbert telling you that he has an erection or that he came in his pants.  Seriously, there were parts where I had to reread because I was like, “Did he just describe what I think he described?” and the answer was always yes.  it takes a while, but you get used to it.

This is not an easy book to read, not just for its subject matter, which is disturbing, but also for the depth of its prose and the breadth of knowledge of its author.  The allusions and references are so obscure and the use of the French language so frequent that I was left wondering if maybe the joke was on the reader and the whole purpose of those passages was to make them think that Humbert Humbert was a man of the world when in reality he was mostly talking out his ass and just making this stuff up.  This belief was solidified by the fact that not only did I have to look a record number of words up, but many of the words were not found in the dictionary provided by my Kindle.  The artists and poets and philosophers he references are, indeed, real though, and there’s nothing I can find that says much of Humbert Humbert’s words were BS so I have to assume that it’s my poor dictionary and my lack of vocabulary that are to blame.  Do not worry too much about this if you decide to pick up the book.  I would have liked to be able to fluently read the French in the book, but the rest of the dense passages have enough context around them to maintain comprehension despite the feeling of ignorance you may feel.

I have a theory.  Everything that happens in “Lolita” is all in Humbert Humbert’s mind.  From the introduction by a psychiatrist, to his “affair” with Lolita, to his eventual unwinding and jailing.  The only truth may be his remembrance of his childhood and possibly his predilection for nymphets.  His story is a little too perfect, a little too full of coincidences to be real.  “Lolita’ is his imaginings of what he would have liked his life to be.  The psychologist’s foreword represents his need to feel important.  Lolita represents his repressed childhood romances.  His manic search for justice, the longings of an impotent man to make his mark on the world.  No, Humbert Humbert is sitting in a psych ward somewhere getting the help he needs but will not accept.

Movie Review: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

Bottom Line: Funnier, actionier, and Grootier than the first movie.

The Guardians of the Galaxy are back and they’re saving the universe once again with their acerbic wit, droll humor, and viciously funny put-downs.  That’s just how they roll and because of it, you would be hard pressed to find a better movie from a sheer entertainment value point of view.

The movie sets the tone quickly with Baby Groot dancing through the opening credits as the rest of the Guardians battle an inter-dimensional, power crystal hungry, fully tentacled blob of a monster.  The barbed comments and witty rejoinders don’t stop from that point forward.  Even in the midst of violent action, the movie often pauses to exact humor upon the  audience.  Anybody have some tape?

There is also a plot!  Well, there’s kind of a plot.  It’s more of an excuse to get the Guardians from one adventure to another, but it involves Star-lord finding his father.  Don’t get me wrong, is a fine plot, at least as far as movie action hero plots go, but you’ll be having too much fun watching the movie to much care about it.  You’ll be enjoying watching the Guardians make friends of enemies and enemies of friends and frenemies of just about everyone else.

i still have my usual complaints about the action sequences being a little too busy and hard to follow, but I think they did a better job at this one than the first movie.  I think a lot of this has to do with many of the scenes being taken literally as a video game.  It’ll make sense when you watch the movie.  Also, though, the action felt a bit slowed down, which I’m hoping is a trend instead of me just getting used to the fast paced, can’t follow anything type of action.

What an absolute delight of a movie!  Go out and see this film, you won’t be disappointed.  Volume 2 has every bit as much re-watchability as the first and I foresee a “Guardians of the Galaxy” marathon in my future.

Movie Review: The Circle

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 1/5 stars

Bottom Line: What. The. Hell. Was. That.

“The Circle” has one thing and only one thing going for it.  There are some beautiful scenes of Emma Watson kayaking near the Golden Gate Bridge and various other natural landscapes.  Yet somehow, it even manages to ruin that.  This is a complete mess of a movie.

Let’s focus on the characters.  Or should I say programmable robots?  Because I’m not sure human beings were used in the filming of this movie.  Characters need motives and reasons for their actions while this movie has them completely changing personality from scene to scene with little to no explanation.  Mae (Emma Watson) goes from questioning the culture of the company to completely drinking the kool-aid for the company culture and does so after literally having a conversation with another questioner of the company, Ty (John Boyega), in which they mock the whole kool-aid drinking culture.  Mae got the job because of her best friend Annie (Karen Gillan) who starts as a workaholic high level exec and immediately changes to being Mae’s enemy and suffers a nervous breakdown and questions everything about the company.  Ty, who is supposed to be super brilliant, stands powerless as he watches all this stuff he rails against happen even though it’s within his power to change everything pretty much at any time, but he waits for Mae to have a change of conscious in order to do so.

There’s supposed to be a moral to this story, I’m sure, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.  As best I can tell, the moral is “Technology is good…sometimes?” or perhaps “Privacy is good…sometimes?”.  To which I can only reply, “Thank you, Captain Obvious!”  And those question marks definitely belong because the movie leaves no clear answer.  About anything.  There is no depth to the story as it tries to beat you over the head with these morals through painful scene after painful scene.  You end up not giving a damn about any of the characters at all because of it, even Mae’s dad who has MS.

I can think of many things you would enjoy more than going to see “The Circle”.  Get that root canal that you’ve been putting off.  Spend some time with your racist uncle.  Take a tour of a wastewater treatment facility.  Read the entirety of Trumps Twitter account.  Whatever it is, you’ve made a better decision than my seeing “The Circle”.

Movie Review: The Lost City Of Z

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Review: The Fate Of The Furious

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movie Review: Ghost In The Shell

Jean-Paul’s rating: 3/5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean-Paul’s rating: 2/5 stars

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

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

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

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

Movie Review: Life

Jean-Paul’s rating: 2/5 stars

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

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

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

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

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