Saturday, October 29, 2016

Movie Review: Inferno

The premise of this movie is about the important subject of overpopulation and the alarming population growth of the world which has almost doubled since 1970 from 4 billion to now almost 8 billion people. It is obvious that organizations like "The World Heath Organization (WHO)" are working on the world overpopulation problem and WHO is an integral part of the many chase scenes in this movie. Involving the World Health Organization in this movie makes sense because the movie is about solving a series of puzzles that are all about trying to stop some insane scientist from creating a worldwide pandemic that will wipe out half the planet and very quickly fix the population explosion problem which according to this scientist will result in the extinction of all humanity. Fundamentally, is a good idea for a movie. What is a stupid idea for a movie is turning a good idea into a bad idea by complicating it with a ridiculous plot which makes almost no sense, and embedding complex and inane "mystery clues" into paintings and statues that are mostly inside museums all around the world.

There are a whole series of reasons why this movie is stupid and badly made. First of all, why would a mad scientist who is plotting to kill half the planet by creating some disease, hide very complex and ridiculous clues within paintings and other works of art, all around the world? The connections between each of these clues that lead Robert Langdon played by Tom Hanks make almost no sense at all, and how each conclusion and connection is reached by Langdon and his partner in this mystery, Sienna Brooks played by Felicity Jones during the fast-talking conversations they have are completely absurd. Why did this mad scientist commit suicide by jumping off a building at the beginning of this bad movie? This is never explained. Why would some insane evil scientist like this have thousands of followers when they know that by trying to kill billions of people they would also probably have to die as well. Why is this pandemic disease only going to kill half of the world's population? Will some kind of cure be introduced at some point to prevent everyone in the world from dying, because what is the point of trying to save the world from itself if at the end of this process everybody is dead anyway? This obvious and very important point is also never addressed in this film.

I am very surprised that Ron Howard, who is one of the best directors in the world, would decide to make this 3rd and hopefully very last film in this trilogy of books written by Dan Brown. I also hated the previous 2 movies in this series, "Angels and Demons" that came out in 2009 and "The Davinci Code", that came out in 2006. Name recognition and the popularity of these books are the reasons why these movies were made, but these books clearly do not translate very well into good or even average movies. Every one of these films is mostly the same story. Solving mysteries, traveling around the world and people chasing people in different parts of the world while they try to solve these mysteries. There is nothing wrong with complex riddles that have to be solved within a story; but have these riddles make some sort of common sense and not be so completely off the wall. Make the connections between the complex dots of the plot make sense and have some kind of an understandable flow to them. Have conclusions drawn that make some sort of common sense that can be understood by the audience. Don't leave the audience hanging and wondering about something before you jump to another scene that seems to have no connection to a previous scene or plot line. Even the big surprise twist at the end of this movie was also ridiculous and really made no sense given all that had happened previously.

I surprised myself at how much I disliked this very bad movie, which should be missed by everyone, especially fans of the 3 Dan Brown books. If you like the books, then stick with them, as they have to be better than all 3 of these very bad movies.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Past Movie Reviews: Rocky

There is one real life story that is actually greater and more unlikely than the fictional story of the movie Rocky, which came out 40 years ago this year. That story is how the movie Rocky was even written in the first place by Sylvester Stallone. At the time Stallone was living in Hells Kitchen as a failed actor for many years. He had no money, and at one point even slept in a subway station for 3 weeks. He had to sell his own dog because he could not afford to buy food to feed it. Then one night he saw a journeyman fighter by the name of Chuck Wepner fight Muhammad Ali and Stallone's life was changed forever. Wepner was what is known as a bleeder, or a fighter who bleeds very easily after being hit in the face. He was at best an average fighter but on the night Wepner fought Ali, he knocked him down after a punch to the midsection. That one punch gave Stallone the idea for the screenplay for Rocky and Stallone was so inspired that he wrote the entire script within 20 straight hours over a weekend. What followed were attempts by Stallone to not only get this great screenplay sold but to star in the movie himself, even though no producer wanted him because he was an unknown. At the time Stallone had 107 dollars to his name, but despite this, he refused to sell the script unless he was made the star of the movie even after bids for the script went as high as 360 thousand dollars. Eventually, Stallone got what he wanted despite odds even longer than the story of Rocky, but he had to agree to only 35 thousand dollars in order to star in the movie himself. Rocky won the best picture Oscar in 1976 and like I have seen so many times, Stallone never reached those heights of great screenwriting again in his career, proving once again how extremely difficult it is to write a great screenplay. Rocky 2 and Rocky 3 were very good movies, but Rocky will stand out as one of the best movies and screenplays ever written. Stallone also deservedly was nominated for an Oscar for best original screenplay for Rocky in 1977. Clearly, he should have won and would have won, were it not for the movie Network also being nominated that year for the same award.

The movie Rocky is about "going to the distance", doing something that nobody thinks you can do, it is about defying the odds and finally making it despite the long or impossible odds. Why Rocky is one of the most significant movies in the history of cinema is because everyone can relate to this kind of story. We all want to grab the brass ring, to achieve great heights of success. Rocky is also about the loser breaking out of a life of losing and becoming a winner, even though everybody around you tells you that you are a loser.

I remember being very impressed when Rocky 2 came out 3 years later in 1979 because the movie was very good and the perfect compliment to the first movie. Very often sequels are so bad they sometimes even ruin your memory of the first movie. Rocky 2 was not as good as Rocky but it was outstanding enough to be worthy of another Academy Award nomination. The scene where Adrian, played by Talia Shire comes out of her coma after problems in childbirth, where she almost dies and tells Rocky to "win, WIN!", is one of the most singular and emotional moments in movie history. At that moment, I remember wanting to personally knock down a wall for her. The cast for Rocky was equally outstanding with every one of the characters. Talia Shire as Adrian, Burt Young as her brother Paulie, Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed and Burgess Meredith in without a doubt his greatest performance as an actor as Micky, Rocky's trainer. Meredith was nominated as best supporting actor Academy Award for his role as Micky.

Everyone will also agree that the music for Rocky, written by composer Bill Conti is equally as spectacular as the story itself and without this music, the emotional impact of this great movie would have been far less than what it was.

Rocky is one of the greatest movies ever produced and should be seen by everyone.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Movie Review: Keeping Up with the Joneses

Zach Galifianakis is one of the most unusual comedic actors to come out in many years. He was funny in the 3 movie Hangover series because he was so strange and unusual, almost Autistic. He played virtually the same part in the movie Due Date in 2010 with Robert Downy Jr. However, when he is in any movie where he is even remotely playing a normal person he is just not that funny. Unfortunately, "Keep Up with the Joneses" is another one of those movies where Galifianakis is not that funny and the movie he is in is not that funny. This is also true of the recent movie "MasterMinds", also reviewed on this blog and was at best below average.

Keeping Up with the Joneses is another caper movie and there have been so many caper movies over the years where an ordinary person gets involved with mob-like gangs or criminal situations and because of this, any new caper movie has to put a new kind of a spin on this very overworked story and this one did nothing like that. When I was watching this movie, I was reminded so many times that I have seen the same ideas so many times before, with different actors. The actress Isla Fischer plays Galifianakis wife and she was overall good in her role, but the movie was not that good so it didn't matter that much. John Hamm and Gal Gadot play spies who get involved with Galifianakis and his wife because he works for a defense contractor and another employee is using his computer to sell computer chips illegally. What follows is a typical chase scene, explosions and gun play and an exploding house. Nothing we have not seen before and an ending that mostly played out like I expected it would.

Keeping Up with the Joneses is not a bad movie, but it's not a good movie either and way too run of the mill. Unless you are a huge fan of Zach Galifianakis, this movie should be missed.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Movie Review: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Of all the actors in the history of Hollywood, Tom Cruise could very well be the only one who has been the star of two ongoing movie franchises. His first franchise is the Mission Impossible movies that started 20 years ago and now consists of 5 movies, the 6th will be coming out sometime next year or in 2018. His next series is Jack Reacher and is about several books written by Lee Child about a retired and highly decorated military officer who is now a drifter. What is rather far fetched is how a drifter can get involved with so many highly dangerous criminals and situations, but then again these books are a work of fiction.

This new movie "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" is mostly a chase movie. There is nothing wrong with a chase movie, as long as it is done right and makes sense. The people being chased around are mostly Jack Reacher and his military friend played by Cobie Smulders and then they are united with a 15-year-old girl, played by Danika Yarosh. Of course, there are fight scenes, several of them, but nothing too different than what we have already seen in the first Jack Reacher movie that came out in 2012.

This movie is on a par with the last Jack Reacher movie and I would think that the continuing franchise of Reacher movies was not hurt by this latest film. This movie has far more chase scenes than the first one, and overall probably less fight scenes. The good parts of this film are the acting and special effects, the bad parts have to do with some of the convoluted logic in the story line and in some of the scenes; including once scene where Reacher and his friend leave a 15-year-old girl alone in a hotel room, downright stupid logic in favor of a dramatic payoff later in the story. From the reviews of this movie, before I saw it today, I was expecting a better film and I found the story telling of adding pieces to different scenes using too many flashbacks as the plot progressed, rather annoying over the course of a two-hour movie. For that main reason, I only give a mild recommendation to Jack Reacher, Never Go Back.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Past Movie Review: Die Hard

Prior to the year 1988 when the film Die Hard came out, it was almost unheard of that any TV star was ever able to break out of being famous for a TV show - Bruce Willis in Moonlighting, and then transition to being a movie star. Bruce Willis was probably the first actor to ever break out of being a TV star and he definitely did this faster than any actor in history. Around this same time, Tom Hanks did the same thing but in a different way and his transition took much longer than Bruce Willis having started in the TV series Bosom Buddies in 1982.

What was so great about the movie Die Hard is that it was the first "believable action" movie where the main character is a regular person engaging in an impossible situation but the situations that he was in and then survived were not so over the top that they were not believable. The Terrorist attack in the Nakatomi Tower building where John McClane, played by Willis meets his wife was very believable. The action and the acting that followed was also very believable. The fights were awkward and what you would expect a fight to be in real life. McClane gave as well as he got and was hurt himself in many cases, unlike over the top of action films where the lead actor has such an easy time beating up everyone in sight. I cannot remember any movie before or since that had this level of believability within a story that had this many fight scenes and gunplay. For me, the best part of this entire film was the friendship that happened over the phone between McClane and Sgt. Al Powell, played by Reginald VelJohnson and their meeting at the end of the film, which was one the best and emotional of any action movie I have ever seen. The late actor Alan Rickman was also outstanding in his role as the lead terrorist and he played this particular level of evil in this movie better than any actor I have ever seen. Alan Rickman is one actor who will be very sorely missed by everyone.

When Die Hard 2 came out in 2 years later, I thought at the time that in some ways this movie was even better than the first one. What it lacked was believability because the action scenes were not on the level of the first movie where McClane was barely surviving but believable. In this movie, John McClane seemed more like a super-hero than the everyman he was in the first film. Some of the action scenes in this movie were both over the top but very entertaining, including where McClane ejects from a plane to escape being blown up and the scene where he fights several terrorists all who have machine guns and kills them with just a pistol. This scene is another example where the believability factor in the first movie was removed from this scene in favor of extremely entertaining action. Regardless, Die Hard 2 was a very good movie and one of the rare times when a sequel was as good if not better than the first movie.

Unfortunately as always happens with a movie franchise that makes a lot of money, producers only care about making more money and do not care if they have a great script. The 3rd Die Hard came out in 1995 and it was called Die Hard with a Vengence, and it starred Samuel L. Jackson's as an ordinary citizen named Zeus Carter, who gets involved with McClane in what turned out to be a ridiculous plot of riddles and McClane and Zeus running around New York City. Very surprisingly the 4th movie in the series, Live Free or Die Hard was relatively good, starring Justin Long who gets paired up with Willis in another terrorist plot. This movie was far-fetched but some of the action scenes were the best of the entire series.

Unfortunately, the fifth and hopefully final Die Hard movie "A Good Day to Die Hard" was a very bad movie which probably ruined the franchise for good. This movie came out in 2013 and since that time it seems that Bruce Willis has been making mostly very bad B movies, which shows how harsh the movie industry really is and once you have a huge bomb, you may just never get another chance to revive your career. Why or how a movie this bad, which had such a bad screenplay was ever made is part of the problem of embedded profits because of name recognition over quality. This is a mistake I have seen made many times over the years.

If you have not seen Die Hard or Die Hard 2 you owe it to yourself to see 2 of the best action movies ever made.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Movie Review: Max Steel

There should be a massive study of the film industry in Hollywood. As a screenwriter who has written several screenplays, I knew from day one the extremely low odds of ever breaking into the movie industry as a screenwriter. I also know how difficult it is to write a 100-page quality screenplay that follows the paradigm that film producers want and also follows the exact syntax that screenwriting agents in the movie industry expect. All screenwriters hear about the thousands of screenplays that are written every year and how so many are so quickly rejected and never even read by anyone. There are screenwriting contests where people have a remote chance at winning a screenwriting contest that one would hope to somehow break them into this impossible field. Other than that, its just pure luck or contacts that might give you that 1 in a million miracle opportunity.

Then a movie like "Max Steel" makes it to movie theaters and a major sense of disbelief sets in almost immediately as you sit through this mess of two wasted hours. When you consider the extremely long odds for any script, how could a screenplay this bad ever be greenlighted into a movie? On top of this, how can two well-respected actors like Maria Bello and Andy Garcia be in this terrible film? Was it because of favors they owed? Were they having financial problems? Were they worried that if they don't work often enough, producers might forget about them? How much were they paid for this embarrassingly bad movie? Perhaps this movie was made because Max Steel is owned by Mattel as some kind of a toy and they thought that it had a ready-made audience, so they just slapped any horrible script together, thinking that it really didn't make any difference if the story was any good.

Within any movie, there is a story and most especially for a science fiction film technology has to be explained as well as the story or at least make some sort of sense. This movie made no sense. Nothing was explained. There is a young man about 17 who had a genius father who died, who started a technology company that created some sort of liquid energy and then for reasons completely unknown, there are aliens who become involved, or his father is an alien, and then there is this robot bat-like creature who follows the young man around to help him absorb his energy bursts so he doesn't explode. Believe it or not, this is the plot of this terrible movie. The young man is played by newcomer, Ben Winchell and overall there is nothing wrong with his acting in this horrible movie, but the screenplay is so bad none of this matters. His girlfriend is played by the only bright spot in this film, Ana VillafaƱe who looks like she might have a very promising career in the movie industry and is currently on Broadway in "On your Feet", the musical about Gloria Estefan and her husband. Unfortunately, she is on screen only a few times, not nearly enough to rescue this nightmare of 2 hours. One last thing that makes this movie especially bad is that the main character at certain points along with Andy Garcia are able to transform themselves into a metal suit that is a total rip off of the Iron Man franchise. The suit even had a light in the middle of its chest like Iron Man. How they were able to get away with this, who knows.

In my opinion, Max Steel is one of the worst movies of 2016, along with the "The Lobster", which is also reviewed in this blog. How this movie was even released to anything but a DVD as a B movie is amazing. Someone must have made a mistake somewhere because this movie is at best a low-level B or C movie and should be missed.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Movie Review: Denial

One of the great things about historical movies is that you learn about things that have happened that you thought you knew about or in this case, something that you never knew even existed.

Over the years I heard rumors about some diseased people in the world who have denied that the Holocaust has ever happened but I never knew that one of them would be the subject of a major trial in England that cost many millions of dollars to prosecute and many years to prepare for and try. David Irving is an author of several books about Hitler, Germany and World War 2. Irving is also the most famous Holocaust denier. Deborah Lipstadt is an American historian and writer of several books, including one book discrediting Irving for attempting to deny the Holocaust, which is the reason for the lawsuit he filed against her and her publishing company. My thoughts while watching this movie were that how can anyone even consider denying something that so obviously happened? There are thousands of hours of videos, dead bodies, evidence including clothing, teeth, human hair. There are many crematoriums and concentration camps all throughout Europe, the most famous being Auschwitz. Even in the case of David Irving who is an Anti-Semite and clearly mentally ill, you would think that he would not want to bring a libel case against case Deborah Lipstadt, who wrote the book Denial Holocaust History on Trial where she called Irving a Holocaust denier, falsifier, and bigot, and said that he manipulated and distorted real documents, because of course, he would lose, how could there be any doubt of this?

What this movie points out is that when you look at this case like a lawyer and without emotion then the entire legal argument changes. First of all, in England when you are charged with libel the burden of proof is on the defendant and not on the plaintiff, which is the reverse of how something like this is trialed in the United States and is also the reason why this case was tried in England. The law firm in England that handled this case, spent about 6 years reading the many books that David Irving wrote plus his many hundreds of diaries, looking for errors and discrepancies in his arguments that tried to prove the Holocaust never happened. The firm found many discrepancies and at one point of the movie the lawyer trying the case Richard Rampton, played extremely well by Tom Wilkinson told the court a great analogy about a waiter making mistakes with money and statistically speaking if the mistakes were honest ones, then they would be over time be errors both in his favor and in the favor of the customer. In the case of the historical mistakes in David Irving's books, all of his errors were in favor of Hitler and denying the Holocaust and this was used against him in court. David Irving played extremely well by Timothy Spall was cross-examined several times by Rampton in the courtroom scenes and these are the best moments in the entire movie. "No holes no Holocaust" was another big point in the movie where Irving made the case that of the so called crematoriums were not crematoriums at all, because their roof's had no holes in them. This was also disproven by the defense that was able to provide pictures from high flying airplanes during that time, clearly showing that there were in fact holes in the roofs of these buildings.

Most surprisingly this entire case was far from ever an easy win for the defense because they had to prove that not only were many of the historical facts in Irving's writings were incorrect, but they also had to prove that he deliberately created and altered these facts to serve his own end of trying to prove that the Holocaust never happened. On top of this, the defense called no witnesses or victims of the Holocaust because their strategy was to make the entire case about Irving and never give him the opportunity to cross-examine any of the victims of the Holocaust. This strategy understandably created conflicts between Deborah Lipstadt and one Holocaust victim and resulted in several huge arguments between Lipstadt, played very well by Rachel Weisz and the lead attorney of the firm Anthony Julius played by Andrew Scott. Considering the time and money the law firm Lipstadt hired to defend this case and the fact that if they lost their entire firm would be ruined, you can just imagine the pressure this law firm was under for a long period time as they prepared for and eventually tried this case. I thought this movie was very well done and I do recommend it.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Movie Review: The Accountant

"Do you like puzzles?" This is the central question throughout this movie based on the complex story and while watching this 2-hour film you realize within the first 30 minutes that you are going to have to wait until the end of the movie before all the pieces of this story are fully resolved.

The movie "The Accountant" has a rather complex screenplay written by Bill Dubuque who also wrote the screenplay for the recent movie "The Judge". The story of this film is told in unusual ways, mostly through flashbacks that span over a 30-year timeline that explain the life story of Christian Wolf (The Accountant), played by Ben Affleck who has Autism with a very high IQ. Because of the physical training his father put him and his brother through, due to his fears that his Autistic son would be abused in life, the Accountant develops outstanding karate skills as well as great ability with all kinds of firearms. He is also extremely gifted with numbers which leads to not only his profession as an accountant, but also to his eventual business of laundering money for criminal organizations. How he gets into this part of his professional life is not fully explained as are some other aspects of this story and most of the loose ends are tied up at the end of the movie - but not all of them, which creates a sense that you are missing something when the movie ends. I found this part of the storytelling a little bit frustrating because I still had some questions at the end.

In order to fully appreciate this movie, you have to buy into the fact that an extremely Autistic man is able to not only overcome this handicap; but also has incredible martial arts and skills with firearms as he kills about 15 people in this movie. Some of this is difficult to buy into but at least this movie is unique in that no action star in movie history has ever been Autistic. This is really the first physical action movie that Ben Affleck has ever starred in during this 20-year career in movies, unlike his best friend Matt Damon who has made several action movies, including the Bourne franchise and I thought he did a very convincing job with this role. In some ways, this film reminded me of Good Will Hunting which was the breakthrough film for both Affleck and Damon in 1997. The main similarity I noticed were when some of the scenes of extreme intelligence of Christian Wolf are demonstrated. In this movie, there are a series of scenes where Christian Wolf performs a massive forensic accounting investigation over a 15 year period for a Robotics company, whose CEO is played by John Lithgow. The fact that he does this in one day and is able to find several small complex random errors is extremely impressive and is just one demonstration of his very high IQ. This is the part of the film where Wolf befriends an employee of the Robotics company named Dana Cummings, played very well by Anna Kendrick and this collaboration leads to some violent conflict which is resolved at the end of the movie. The very end of this movie includes a scene which ties up the biggest question of the entire film, which is who is the computer voice that directs The Accountant through his accounting and violent confrontations? The answer to this was rather hard to believe although I did not consider it to be a deal-breaker type of flaw in the story. The Accountant is a very solid dramatic movie and I do recommend it.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Movie Review: Kevin Hart: What Now?

Kevin Hart has always understood that great stand-up comedy is about rhythm and timing more than anything else. During his stand-up performance in the new movie "Kevin Hart: What Now" Hart demonstrates his deep understanding of comedy rhythm and also has a great rapport with his audience. Hart also understands that jokes have never really been that funny, what is funny are stories and situations that people can strongly relate to and Kevin Hart is the master of this kind of comedy.

Hart's stand-up act which is the subject of this movie was filmed at a football stadium in Philadelphia in front of the largest audience in the history of stand-up comedy. Before the performance part of the movie started, there was a James Bond-like mini-movie with actress Hallie Berry that I thought was a good idea that mostly worked. The actor Don Cheadle also made an appearance in this part of the film as well and was pretty funny with his argument with Hart. There were several new ideas during the stand-up act that I thought also worked for the most part, including showing scenery on a giant screen behind Kevin Hart and displaying visual aids that even included phone texting messages that complimented what Hart was talking about during his act.

It is clear to me that Hart is more successful with this type of a movie more than some of the other movies he has made in the past, which for the most part have been pretty average. Overall this movie was good, but not great and not too much different than Hart's four previous concert movies. For fans of Kevin Hart and fans of quality stand-up comedy, this movie is a must see event. There were several moments of solid laughs during Hart's stand-up act but not too many that are laugh out loud funny. This concert film was a solid addition to Hart's other comedy movies and I do recommend it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Past Movie Review: Castaway

For me, movies always remind me of what was happening in the world or my personal life at the time I first saw the movie. For the movie Castaway, it came out in late December 2000 and as for anyone who ever invested in the stock market, the year 2000 was a total disaster, except those who were only invested in bonds. For me, I will always be reminded of the horrible bear market that started in March 2000 and ended in October 2002 whenever I see the movie Castaway.

Over the years there have been actors who have sacrificed their health by either gaining or losing a great deal of weight for a movie. The most recent example of this was "Dallas Buyers Club", where both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto lost a tremendous amount of weight to play their characters who were both dying of AIDS. On the one hand, I have always greatly admired the ability of anyone to starve themselves for so long just for a movie. As far as both of these actors, they deservedly won Academy Awards for their extreme sacrifice for the film, but I always wondered how anyone could justify perhaps permanently ruining their health or losing their life for a movie role? What if you get sick because you are so dangerously thin, especially in the case of McConaughey. Probably the first actor to do this was Robert Deniro in 1980 to make Raging Bull and he also won best actor for this role. Deniro gained a total of 60 pounds after being in perfect shape to play the boxer Jake Lamotta and I have heard during interviews that he was feeling very bad during the months of overeating. One has to wonder what is more damaging to your health; starving yourself or gaining a great deal of weight in a short period of time?

Tom Hanks is another example of an actor who first gained weight and then starved himself for the movie role for the movie Castaway, that came out in 2000. For a role like this, obviously, there is no workaround to look like a person who has been living alone on an island for years so Hanks had to starve himself for a long period of time to get ready for this part. Hanks was nominated for an Academy Award for this role and I felt he should have won, mainly because he carried the entire movie himself and then because of the extreme physical sacrifice he made for this movie. If you have not seen the movie Castaway, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Past Movie Review: Aliens

The movie Aliens came out in 1986, a full 7 years after the original Alien that changed the movie world of science fiction forever. When you see an idea for a movie that is so groundbreaking like the movie Alien, released in 1979, you wonder why an idea this profound was never thought of before. Alien creatures are able to inject their offspring into the stomach of a human host and in a few short hours they break through the chest of the victim and in a few days are able to fully develop into very large and dangerous lizard-like alien creatures that have acid for blood. The movie Alien was so good I remember being surprised that Aliens took a full 7 years to come out after the first movie. Perhaps the reason was that a script good enough had to be written and new ideas good enough had to be created before they were able to get enough funding to make the sequel in 1986. James Cameron wrote the script for Aliens and it was so well written that in my opinion it should be considered to be the greatest action movie script ever created. Practically throughout the entire movie, the level of tension remained extremely high and the ending was one of the best I have ever seen. This is one of the few movies I can remember seeing twice within a few weeks of its release; it was that good and arguably even better than the first movie. Sigourney Weaver's line at the end of Aliens is also one of the best ever, "Get away from her you bitch" (see video below). The movie Aliens was released 30 years ago this past summer and that is a reality very hard to believe.

Sigourney Weaver is the main character in all four Alien movies and unfortunately the last 2 in the series were not very good movies. The first movie Alien was groundbreaking due to the scene where the alien broke out of the chest of one of the astronauts while eating dinner, played by John Hurt. It was this one scene that was the huge catalyst for not only the rest of the movie but also for the 3 Alien sequels that followed, ending with Alien Resurrection in 1997. Right now in production, a 5th Alien movie directed by Ridley Scott, who directed Alien, a new movie Alien Covenant will be released in August 2017 and it's obvious to me that because Ridley Scott is involved with this movie that it will be on a par with the first two movies (see trailer below). The story of Alien and Aliens is one of the greatest science fiction concepts ever created.

I highly recommend both films that both have extremely high IMDB ratings of 8.5 and 8.4 respectively.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Movie Review: The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation is the kind of movie that I can honestly say I wish I would never have to see again. This film reminds us all of the worst time in American History, the time of slavery, before the Civil War when a great deal of this country still did not know how horrible and disgusting the slavery of other human beings is. This country had to learn that lesson the hard way, by going through a 4 year Civil War that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Slavery goes hand in hand with "Mans Inhumanity to Man", and slavery has always been about the concept of one human being dominating and controlling the life of another human being so that in some way they can feel superior to that person. This one basic trait that is present in too many human beings represents some of the worst parts of all humanity. You don't have to be black or Jewish or any one of the millions of still abused people in the world to appreciate the enormity of this problem and the damage it has done over so many centuries to so many innocent people.

In all the hundreds of years before the invention of machines that could plow fields, pick cotton and other plants, the only way farming crops could be accomplished was by using low-cost or in some cases no-cost labor. Once this idea became accepted and commonplace, the next step was slavery, which was present in this country as far back as 1619 and finally ended some 245 years later with the end of the Civil War. I assume that the title "The Birth of a Nation" has to do with the fact that the writer and director of this movie Nate Parker thought that this country did not really begin to exist until slavery in this country was finally recognized to be an atrocity and this is an idea that I am in full agreement with. Why a realization this obvious took 245 years is without a doubt the number one embarrassment in the history of the Unites States. Clearly, farmers in the deep south where slavery was the most prevalent thought that they could not survive financially without the cheap and free labor of slaves. But what made slavery in this country even more of the abomination that it already was, is the cruelty of how badly the slaves were treated including in many cases even being treated like they were animals and to the level that there were not even laws to protect them from being tortured and even murdered.

This movie is about the biggest slavery uprising in American History, which was started by a slave named Nat Turner. Nat was one of the very few slaves who learned how to read and because of this ability and his reading of the bible he became a preacher and even preached to other slaves on other local farms to help control them. At one point in this film, Nat's preaching was even used to provide income to the owner of the farm where Nat was enslaved. This eventually leads to problems and then to violence and the slave revolt which resulted in the deaths of some 60 slave owners and their families and then over 200 slaves in retaliation. Some of the visual scenes of abuse and inhumanity during this 2-hour film were very hard to watch but one scene that disturbed me the most was one where a young white girl was walking a black girl around the house with a leash like she was a dog. This scene was witnessed by Nat Turner and from the look on his face and all the atrocities he had previously witnessed at that point in the film it is very understandable that this would lead to uncontrollable rage that could only be resolved through a slave revolt and violence. This is how human beings work. We are able to tolerate abuse and outrage and injustice up to a point, but there is always an unknown upper limit and once that is reached all hell will break lose. In the end, we are all human beings and we all deserve to be treated with respect and humanity.

The cast of this movie is very impressive including Armie Hammer as the slaveowner, Penelope Ann Miller as his mother, Jackie Earl Haley as one of the horrible lowlife who is responsible for so many incidents of the abuse of slaves. The actress Gabrielle Union also has a rather small part in this movie as well.

There is a good deal of controversy over this film, one reason for this is the subject matter of this story, but the other reason is that the creator of this movie Nate Parker and his college roommate were accused of raping a woman in 1999 while he was a college student at Penn State. This was part of last weeks 60 Minutes report about the movie and this accusation and Parker was eventually found not guilty of this crime. One can only imagine what it must have been like for a young man in college on trial for a rape he did not commit and at one point during the interview Parker lost his composure remembering when he was found not guilty. Some years later his accuser committed suicide, which is another shocking part of this story. Nate Parker has been an actor for well over a decade and one can only wonder why this rape accusation would come up now with the release of this film, some 17 years after the incident occurred. I have a great deal of respect for Parker's determination to get this controversial film made after some 8 years of what had to be an extremely difficult period of trial and error and especially considering the fact that Parker is not a big name in Hollywood with a great deal of clout.

Despite the extremely difficult scenes and depiction of cruelty and extreme violence in this film, I do recommend it for its quality and for its reminding all of us of an important but widely unknown incident in American History.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Past Movie Review: Pulp Fiction

The movie "Pulp Fiction" is considered a classic and is without a doubt the film in 1994 that turned Quentin Tarantino from an up and coming director into someone who is considered a movie making genius. The reason for this is because of the groundbreaking way the story was told - which was -"it all started at the end". When I saw this movie start at the end and then circle back to the beginning and then end at the beginning scene I remember thinking at the time, why hasn't anybody else done this before? I then remember thinking that this is sheer screenwriting genius. This movie is insane, violent and unlike anything that has ever been done before or since.

After Pulp Fiction, many other movies over the years have tried to duplicate the storytelling genius of this movie and have mostly failed. Nothing that I can remember in any movie I have seen in the last 30 years has been as unusual as Pulp Fiction was in 1994. This movie also resurrected the dead career of John Travolta, who after years of bad movies and the Let's Who's Talking franchise had a movie career that was in a downward spiral. In the very tough and fickle business of movie making the Travolta resurrection in this movie is a great example of how much anyone in this field who is successful owes someone else. I am sure that Travolta would be the first to agree that he owes his success to the genius of Tarantino and this great screenwriting achievement. Without one brilliant script that probably took Tarantino well over a year to write and re-write, a brilliant movie like Pulp Fiction would never exist and Travolta's movie career would have ended in 1994. Samuel L. Jackson has never been better in any movie he has ever been in and some of the speeches he gave in this movie are now considered classics. Once again, without Tarantino's brilliant dialogue great acting parts like those in Pulp Fiction would never exist in the first place.

This film has some gruesome action scenes, several murders, a great deal of foul language and a rape scene that was very disturbing. But it also has a scene where Uma Thurman dances with John Travolta which is also considered another movie classic. Pulp Fiction has an 8.9 rating on IMDB, which ranks it near the top of all-time movie list. If you have not already seen Pulp Fiction it is a must see classic movie.

Movie Review: The Girl on the Train

The worst case scenario. This is mostly what this story is about. The worst case example of alcoholism and having blackouts, marrying the wrong person and the aftermath of a divorce. With this complex story, the aftermath of the central character Jennifer played well by Emily Blunt's divorce is watching her x-husband get married again and have a baby with another woman as she falls deeper into alcoholism to the point of having blackouts where she cannot even remember important incidents that have happened for days.

This film is a story that is told in unusual ways with at first, broad overviews of what is happening or what has happened and then very frequent flashbacks to scenes that have happened in the near of distant past. The overall story and plot behind this complex film are not that unique but what is unique and watchable is how the story is told which is mostly not like any other movies I have seen before. I have not read the book The Girl on the Train yet but I assume that the book is about the same as the movie, where the story is told in little pieces where plot lines are slowly added in using frequent flashbacks. What is good about this movie is that this complex way of telling a story was done well enough in that it did not become too difficult to follow and in the end, this movie was an effective thriller that did work overall.

Justin Theroux plays Jennifer's x-husband in one of the few leading roles I can remember seeing him in as he as mostly been a writer. Newcomer Haley Bennet is very effective as the other woman in this film and she also appeared in the recent remake of the Magnificent Seven, also reviewed in this blog. It is rare to see an actress like this in two major releases in a row within a few weeks. Rebecca Ferguson plays Theroux's wife in the film and is also very good in her role.

There are some people who will probably not follow or not like the unusual way this story was told, but I think that in movie making, trying to do something that has never been done before or being unique and groundbreaking is a good thing. One downside with this film would be the constant depression Blunt's character is always in, despite the understandable circumstances. I thought this was a good movie and I do recommend it.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Movie Review: Masterminds

This movie answers a very important comedy question. Even under the conditions of having by far the most Saturday Night Live Cast members ever in a movie plus Zack Galifianakis and Owen Wilson can a comedy movie still be not funny? The answer is yes and the answer is yes because the story is not funny, most of the scenes are not funny, the dialogue is not funny and the entire concept of turning a real-life robbery into a comedy movie does not work. Kristen Wiig seemed like she knew that this movie was not funny because it was almost as if she was bored with her own part. Kate McKinnon, who is one of the most talented Saturday Night Life actresses ever on that show has a weird part where she seems autistic and she was not funny. Jason Sudeikis has a strange part in this movie where he plays a hit man and his part was never funny. Leslie Jones plays a police officer and is mostly serious during her entire role. Finally, Zack Galifianakis also plays a man who appears to be mentally disabled and he was never funny in this entire movie. Nobody laughed in the theater I was in, which is always the acid test for any comedy. The fact that this is a true story about an armored car robbery where 17 million dollars was stolen definitely did not save this mostly bad movie, which should be missed. So what makes a very good comedy movie? Very simple, a funny script and this movie did not have a funny script.

This movie is supposed to be a comedy but it was not funny so I cannot recommend it.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Movie Review: Queen of Katwe

In life, there are only three ways a person can be declared a child prodigy. These are music, mathematics and chess. The odds of anyone having any one of these 3 gifts as a child is extremely rare and when it does happen, it is a unique anomaly of the capabilities of the human brain.

There have not been that many top chess prodigies in the last 300 years that stand out among all the rest. The top two were Bobby Fischer and Paul Morphy, both from the United States and both went on to achieve the title of world champion but both of them also went insane during their adult life as have several other chess Grandmasters over the years. Chess is the most taxing thing you can do to the human brain and the main reason is that there are so many combinations of moves, even within the first 10 moves of any game. In chess, it's so easy to make a subtle mistake and lose a game very quickly, which is why so many great chess players become very paranoid. Chess requires extraordinary memory and pattern recognition ability and especially stamina because a 40 move chess game during a tournament can take as long as 5 hours to play which is a very long time to remain very focused and in great stress.

Over the years it has been rare to see many movies that are specifically about chess or a chess player. Searching for Bobby Fischer is probably the most famous example when it was released in 1993, followed perhaps by last years Pawn Sacrifice about the insane life of Bobby Fischer. This latest movie "The Queen of Katwe" is a very good chess movie about Phiona Mutesi who is a female chess prodigy who came out of a dirt-poor village in Uganda and very quickly at a very young age she became a chess champion even though she could not even read. The story is a good one, and the reminders of how poor a country Uganda is come up throughout this 2-hour movie. Considering where this young girl grew up it's a miracle a chess set was even available for her to learn the game in the first place.

As far as the movie, Phiona is played very well by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo plays her chess coach in a very good performance and recent Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong'o plays Phiona's mother in another very strong performance that might earn her another Academy Award nomination. As a chess player myself, the movie does a very good job showing the moves of some of the games and some mating combinations, the most famous one shown in the film was a "smothered mate". The film also does an impressive job showing all the highs and lows of trying to be a competitive chess player and at one point in the story, Phiona almost gives up on her quest to become a chess master after a bad loss to a Russian woman player during a tournament in the Soviet Union. Losing a chess game is as humiliating as is the euphoria of winning a game.

This is a very good movie about chess and a rare chess prodigy from one of the poorest countries on earth. Whether or not you are a chess player this is a must see movie and I do recommend it.

The Queen of Katwe: One Girl's Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion

Past Movie Review: Road House

Released in 1989 and probably Patrick Swayze's biggest hit in terms of box office and long term popularity, this movie is now considered to be a cult classic and has been shown on Cable TV stations probably more than any other movie in the last 30 years. There is nothing really special about the story because it's a formula we have all seen many times before. A mentally sick egomaniac rich businessman, played by Ben Gazzara thinks he can own people in an entire town with all of his money and forces them to pay him for protection from the criminals he hires to threaten them. The character of Dalton, who is a bouncer in nightclubs is played by Patrick Swayze, comes into town to rescue yet another nightclub that is being slowly destroyed by nightly violence and vandalism. Some of the famous lines from this movie are, "Be Nice" as Dalton explains the best way to handle some thug in the nightclub. The logic of this makes sense. If a nightclub has to constantly replace damaged and destroyed equipment due to bar fights, then the owner of the nightclub is going to go out of business pretty quickly. The concept of taking the fight outside sure makes a lot of sense but unfortunately, way too many fights still take place inside the nightclub despite the famous "be nice" and "take it outside" mantras Dalton gives during his lecture of how to be a good bouncer. The other way overused line in this film is, "I thought you would be bigger", which over the many years since this movie was released is now a highly recognized movie line.

One formula that always works in movies like this is the presence of someone who embodies pure evil, from his looks and the things he does in the movie. The part of Jimmy, who is Brad Wesley's top goon is played by Marshall Teague and does a great job at being a criminal major lowlife throughout this story. The other part of the formula involves a love story between Dalton and a doctor he meets in an emergency room after one his bar fights, played by Kelly Lynch. This relationship would make no sense in real life because why would a doctor be attracted to a bouncer who wanders the country breaking up bar fights? The fight scene between Dalton and Jimmy towards the end of this movie is one of the best I ever seen. You just had to admire the weeks it probably took to choreograph this complex fight that ends with Dalton pulling Jimmy's throat out with his fingers, which of course is ridiculous and probably not even possible to do.

Another huge flaw in this story is how quickly Dalton's doctor girlfriend so quickly forgives Dalton from witnessing this murder and doesn't even call the police after Jimmy is killed. A good deal of this story is ridiculous and is nothing more than a series of scenes that are excuses for another bar fight or action scene but the point here is the movie formula and nothing that would actually happen in the real world or make sense. Sam Elliot  plays Wade Garret, Dalton's best friend and is a bouncer from another club who visits Dalton at the midpoint of this movie and his presence is the final part of the movie formula. Their friendship leads to more bar fights and more insight into Dalton's past, that includes a story of another fight he had where he pulled a man's throat out of his neck. The ending of this movie is completely absurd and leads to more fights and murder which once again is never reported to the police. Like all Hollywood movies, the ending scene shows that Dalton and his girlfriend are in love and back together again, despite the fact that he just committed multiple murders.

The major part of this film that stands out for me more than any other is the fact that Patrick Swayze chain smoked throughout the entire film and wound up at only age 57 dying of Pancreatic Cancer. The contrast between his chain smoking and the fact that he was in such fantastic shape during this film, shows once again why smoking should never be allowed in movies. Ben Gazzara also died of Pancreatic cancer in 2012 at age 81. The blind singer in this movie who had some of the corniest lines in this movie including, "Gentleman, Wade Garrett", died of lung cancer at only age 41, which is yet another example of the dangers of smoking.

Road House is a stupid but entertaining movie and if you can forget you have a brain for about 2 hours it can be very entertaining. Overall, despite some reservations and a stupid ending, I do recommend it.