2017-03-23

20170323: Drama Review--Sicario





Name: Sicario (2015)
IMDb: link to Sicario page

Genres: Drama.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Benicio del Toro as Alejandro.  In a sense, there are no other actors in the film.  The movie is about Alejandro.

Emily Blunt as Kate Macer, Josh Brolin as Matt Graver, Victor Garber as Dave Jennings, Jeffrey Donovan as Steve Forsing, Daniel Kaluuya as Reggie Wayne, Jon Bernthal as Ted.

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve.  Written by: Taylor Sheridan.
Emily Blunt

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
FBI agent Kate Macer and her team break kidnapping rings in the American Southwest.  After a fruitful discovery of dead kidnap victims, a booby trap kills two of her team.  The strength of the find and the horror of the bombing bring Kate to the attention of the CIA.  Her FBI boss Jennings and CIA straw boss Graver enable the transfer.

Delineation of conflicts:
Kate would like to operate within the laws of the United States.  Her ally Reggie wants her to stay alive and out of trouble.

Graver, the CIA, and various freelance special forces want to disrupt Mexican drug cartel operations regardless of the legality of their methods.

Alejandro and the CIA have a strong bond.  He supplies actionable intelligence; they let him operate on targets of his choice.  Kate considers this bovine nonsense, but is shouted down by several methods.

Resolution: Illegal operations by Mexico and by the US continue without meaningful opposition.

One line summary: Idealistic FBI agent joins covert operations.
del Toro

Statistics:


Cinematography: 7/10 Some of the camera work inspired awe (as opposed to being awesome, which means nothing) because it was both beautiful and well thought out.  Other parts were well beneath ordinary, which is common in any film that includes a large percentage of night scenes and night-vision scenes.  Shaky cam was kept to a minimum.

Sound: 5/10 IMDb lists six tunes played in the background for this film  Meh; nothing added.

Acting: 7/10 Del Toro: excellent.  Brolin: so good.  Garber, Donovan, Kaluuya, Bernthal: just fine.  Blunt: who the hell is this?  How could she be worse?

Screenplay: 6/10 The story moves right along, except when it concentrates too much on Blunt's witless pawn character.  This ruins everything else.  Still, I liked the story, despite Blunt's taint on it.  The real story was about del Toro's character.  If this had been the steady focus, I would have rated the film's screenplay at least 9/10.

Final rating: 6/10

2017-03-22

20170322: Drama Review--Catch Me If You Can





Name: Catch Me If You Can (2002)
IMDb: link to Catch Me If You Can page

Genres: Drama.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, Jr, Christopher Walken as Frank Abagnale Sr, Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty.

Directed by: Steven Spielberg.  Written by: Jeff Nathanson (screenplay), Frank Abagnale (book).
DiCaprio in Pan Am uniform

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Conman Frank Abagnale Sr has legal troubles, plus the IRS is after him.  His life is spiraling down as the justice system crushes him.  He loses his reputation.  He loses his business.  He loses his wife.  He goes to work for the Post Office.

Frank Abagnale Jr idolizes his father.  He thinks that obtaining money and access, by whatever means, might help his father and bring his parents back together.  He enjoys success for a time.

Frank shows up on FBI agent Carl Hanratty's radar as a skilled paperhanger (check forger).  Carl makes his case to his superiors that Frank needs to be stopped, and gets two agents to help him.

Delineation of conflicts:
Frank Jr wants to help his father, but everything he tries fails at that goal.  However, his efforts at getting money attract Carl's attention.  Frank is often on the run, sometimes just one step ahead of Carl.  The pursuit is long since Frank is good at narrow escapes.

Resolution: Despite Frank's talents, the law does catch up with him.  However,  the long conflict between Carl and Frank changes them, and creates a better future for both.

One line summary:
Semi-biographical rendering of Frank Abagnale's exploits.
DiCaprio as Frank, Hanks as Carl

Statistics:


Cinematography: 10/10 Well done.

Sound: 10/10 The actors were miked sufficiently. The music soundtrack was marvelous, IMDb music credits.

Acting: 10/10 The three principal actors were wonderful.

Screenplay: 10/10 Well executed: some dry humor, narrow escapes, slow burns (Mr Hanks), and a fine build to the conclusion.

Final rating: 10/10

2017-03-01

20170301: Drama Review--Manchester by the Sea





Name: Manchester by the Sea (2016)
IMDb: link to Manchester by the Sea page

Genres: Drama.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, Michelle Williams as Randi Chandler, Kyle Chandler as Joe Chandler, Gretchen Mol as Elise Chandler, Lucas Hedges as Patrick Chandler.

Written and directed by: Kenneth Lonergan.
Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Lee Chandler is the jack of all trades supervisor of a so-so apartment building.  He is frank and unapologetic is his assessments of the tenants problems.  They complain; his boss transmits the thunder to him; he does not care.

His brother Joe dies.  He has to pick up the pieces, including deciding whether to take care of his nephew Patrick, Joe's son.

Delineation of conflicts:
Lee has to deal with his memories of living with his ex-wife Randi and their three children, plus the fire that ended the marriage.  After Joe dies, he deals with Patrick and Randi.  His brother's will expresses Joe's desire that Lee be Patrick's guardian.

If he decides to be Patrick's guardian, he has to move back to Manchester, where his life was destroyed of his own hand.

Resolution: There is nothing that can be resolved.  Life sucks for Lee, mostly by his own doing.  Can he find a better place?  It does not matter.  His life will still suck.

One line summary:
Reckless drunk loses family in fire.
Michelle Williams as Randi Chandler; Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler

Statistics:


Cinematography: 3/10 This was quite variable.  Much of it looks like bad TV photography.  Other parts look rich and detailed and beautiful.  The mix is distracting.  I expect to remember none of the visuals.

Sound: 5/10 Noisy.  Most of the sound seems pointless or irrelevant, like much of the background music.

Acting: 4/10 Acting?  High-end high school plays have comparable performances.

Screenplay: 2/10 The main character is worthless.  I do not care whether he redeems his life after his brother dies or not.  In terms of plot flow, I disliked the many flashbacks.  In the first third of the film, I lost track of where the film's shattered narrative was in time.  About that time, I quit caring.

Final rating: 3/10 Please Amazon, I hope future productions feature better writing.

2017-02-18

20170219: Drama Review--Sully





Name: Sully (2016)
IMDb: link to the Sully page

Genres: Drama.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Tom Hanks as Chesley Sullenberger, Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles, Valerie Mahaffey as Diane Higgins, Laura Linney as Lorraine Sullenberger, Anna Gunn as Elizabeth Davis, Autumn Reeser as Tess Soza, Holt McCallany as Mike Cleary.

Directed by: Clint Eastwood.  Written by: Todd Komarnicki (screenplay), Chesley Sullenberger (book).
Just after the crash

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
On January 15, 2009, Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger piloted flight US Airways 1549 out of Laguardia Airport in NYC.  Under 4 minutes later, the airplane encounters a flock of birds.  The collision disables both engines.  Sully makes a command decision to ditch in the Hudson River, rather than attempting a return to La Guardia.

Delineation of conflicts:
After the landing in the Hudson, Sully faces multiple investigations.  He'd like to get his normal life back.  Agencies and people want his time and his attention.

The airline would like to attribute the damage to the airplane to pilot error.  The NTSB is cooperative with the airline's case, knowing that the airline can recoup insurance money if the pilot is tagged with responsibility.

The squeeze on Sully is pretty intense and long lasting.  Meanwhile, Sully and Jeff Skiles are feted in the media.  It's the carrot and the stick at the same time.

Resolution: Sully convinces the NTSB that their simulation protocols are flawed.  The standard cover-up was turned into a cause for corrections.  The stupid blind trust in possibly false data received a kick in the pants.

One line summary:
Tough aftermath of a safe emergency landing.
Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart

Statistics:


Cinematography: 10/10 Professionally done, realistic, and smooth.

Sound: 10/10 Same description as for the cinematography.

Acting: 10/10 Director Clint Eastwood can get good performances out of just about any actor.  This film was no exception, and he had some good people to start with.

Screenplay: 7/10 I suppose it's hard to avoid all flashbacks, but I would have much preferred a narrative that was much more linear in time.  Showing the same (in time) activity from different human and geographical perspectives was great.  It was the intermix of present events with Sully flashing back in time (to his childhood, to his prime, and so on) that made me want to puke.

Final rating: 9/10

2017-02-17

20170217: Drama Review--The Ghost Writer





Name: The Ghost Writer (2010)
IMDb: link to The Ghost Writer

Genres: Action.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Olivia Williams as Ruth Lang, Pierce Brosnan as Adam Lang, Ewan McGregor as The Ghost, Tom Wilkinson as Paul Emmitt, Eli Wallach as Old Man, Cattrall as Amelia Bly, Jon Bernthal as Rik Ricardelli, Jim Belushi as John Maddox, Robert Pugh as Richard Rycart.

Directed by: Roman Polanski.  Written by: Robert Harris, Roman Polanski.
Olivia Williams as Ruth Lang

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
1. Adam Lang, the former Prime Minister of the UK, had a biography commissioned.  The writer was quite far into the project when he died suddenly.

2. The Ghost is a ghostwriter but not a star writer.  He is interviewed to take up completing the manuscript.  His interview shows his moxie, his cleverness, and his unwillingness to give up looking for truth.  It's a fine Roman Polanski beginning.

3. Adam Lang is at one of his retreats, an island off the east coast of the United States, during his time with The Ghost.  Security is rather tight, and restrictions abound.

Delineation of conflicts:
The Ghost wants to finish the book and show the truth about Lang's career.  To do this, he investigates how his predecessor died.  However, Lang's camp is secretive which slows things down.  To make things even more interesting, legal proceedings start in the UK against Lang for consequences of wartime decisions.  The press descend on the island, as does the father of a soldier killed as a result of Lang's policies.  As the chaos rises, The Ghost finds more and more material about Lang's history.  Not everybody is happy about his efforts.

Resolution: Harsh, definitive.  The Ghost's pursuit of truth is his undoing.
Pierce Brosnan as Adam Lang; Ewan McGregor as The Ghost

One line summary:
1. A reluctant writer contracts to ghost the autobiography of a slimy politician.
or
2. Ghostwriter finds more truth than is good for him.
Decisions, decisions.

Statistics:


Cinematography: 10/10 Amazing, gorgeous.

Sound: 10/10 Excellent, whether catching the mood of the sea, or the sense of danger that situations bring.

Acting: 10/10 The direction and performances made this film.  I don't always like Ewan McGregor, but when he is good, he's really good.  This was one of Pierce Brosnan's better performances.  Olivia Williams was wonderful, as were Tom Wilkinson and Robert Pugh in limited roles.

Screenplay: 10/10 Good writing well executed under Polanski's direction.

Final rating: 10/10 This is a new entry in my list of favourite movies.

2017-02-16

20170216: comedy review--florence foster jenkins





Name: Florence Foster Jeknkins (2016)
IMDb: link to Florence Foster Jenkins page

Genres: Comedy, drama.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Hugh Grant as St. Martin Bayfield, Simon Helberg as Cosme McMoon.

Directed by: Stephen Frears.  Written by: Nicholas Martin.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
1. It's World War II in NYC, USA.

2. Florence Foster Jenkins is an heiress who thinks she is a fine coloratura singer.  Her second husband, St. Martin Bayfield, does his best to keep her fragile ego from imploding.  He hires Cosme Bayfield to accompany her on piano for singing lessons.  Together they keep up the charade.

Delineation of conflicts:
Jenkins think she can sing quite well.  Cosme knows she cannot.  Bayfield knows this as well.  Cosme thinks the truth should be evident, and the fiction dispelled. Bayfield convinces, at least temporarily, Cosme and others to go along with the outrageous lie, often by bribery and other types of coercion.

Resolution: Bayfield keeps the fiction going far too long, but Jenkins makes a huge and disastrous public appearance.

One line summary: Lying leads to disaster.

Statistics:


Cinematography: 9/10 The film is pretty enough.  The shooting was evidently done by professionals.  I am no expert about how World War II upper crust New York City looked, but I did not see too many obvious foul-ups.

Sound: 5/10 Very unfortunately, the recording quality was rather good.  Streep's voice (as Jenkins, not as Streep) is sooooooooo horrible that I wished to be anywhere but watching this damned film.  So, this was a decision from the director (to the actress) to torture the audience.

Acting: 5/10 Hugh Grant was wonderful, but then he's one of my favourites.  I was glad to see Simon Helberg doing well in something other than The Big Bang Theory.   I liked the players in the lesser roles. A good lead actress would have meant a positive reversal of my view of the film.

Screenplay: 4/10 The script was meant to spotlight the Jenkins character, but the casting doomed the film.  The writing for Grant and Helberg was witty enough.

Final rating: 5/10 Film ruined by directorial contempt.

2017-02-07

20170207: Thriller Review--The Accountant





Name: The Accountant (2016)
IMDb: link to The Accountant page

Genres: Thriller.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff, Anna Kendrick as Dana Cummings, J. K. Simmons as Ray King, Jon Bernthal as Braxton Wolff, Jeffrey Tambor as Francis Silverberg, Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Marybeth Medina, Jean Smart as Rita Blackburn, John Lithgow as Lamar Blackburn.

Directed by: Gavin O'Connor.   Written by: Bill Dubuque.
Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
1. Christian is strongly autistic, needs to concentrate on single tasks, and finish them or else.  For instance, missing one puzzle piece spurs him to violent rage, not to finding the God-damned piece.  His childhood is troubled, to say the least.  On the other hand, his raw intelligence is immense, and his ability to concentrate (when not distracted) is staggering.  Clearly, he is bound for prison.

2. Christian has a huge stroke of luck.  His cellmate Francis is a genius who is well-versed in money flows among criminal organisations.  Christian learns sophisticated and highly detailed transactional rules.

3. Christian sets himself up as an accountant as his outward facing work.  He assassinates criminals for other criminals as his darkside employment.

4. Ray King wants to retire in seven months with the capture of Christian as his crowning achievement.  He blackmails the talented but flawed Marybeth Medina to ferret out Christian. (She does the capture, or she loses her career for a well-covered over childhood felony.)

5. Brax, Chris' brother, has similar talents and training, but not the autism.  He takes up the same line of work.

Delineation of conflicts:
Ray wants to go out a winner.  Christian wants to handle his stress and keep both jobs.  Marybeth wants to keep her good name and fine job.  All three of these cannot go on forever.  Just to add to the mix, Christian's younger brotherhood Braxton, who has similar skills, is an enforcer in the same game.  Will Brax and Chris cross paths again?

Resolution: Marybeth does her job; Ray looks for a successor.  Christian needs to finish, and Braxton is the consummate professional.

One line summary: Talented autistic assassin faces brother.
Anna Kendrick, Ben Affleck


Statistics:


Cinematography: 8/10 Good camera work throughout, save for a few intervals of pure shaky cam horseshit.

Sound: 8/10 I could hear the dialog, and the musical accompaniment was fine.

Acting: 6/10 Ben Affleck, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, and veterans Jeffrey Tambor, Jean Smart, and John Lithgow were just fine.  I do not recall seeing Jon Bernthal (Braxton) before, but I thought his performance was excellent.

On the downside, Anna Kendrick is in the film.  Probably no director can get a good performance out of her.  All scenes that included her performances were compromised, rather like rotting fish in a green salad.  JK Simmons played his usual ho-hum asocial monster, to which I say, who cares?  Why is this man accorded sacred cow status?

Screenplay: 9/10 Surprisingly good.  Moves right along, and is engaging throughout.  Well, except when Anna Kendrick was permitted to speak.

Final rating: 8/10

2017-01-19

20170119: Comedy Review--Jersey Girl





Name: Jersey Girl (2016)
IMDb: link to Jersey Girl page

Genres: Comedy.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Ben Affleck as Oliver Trinke, Raquel Castro as Gertie Trinke, Liv Tyler as Maya, George Carlin as Bart Trinke, Mike Starr as Block, Stephen Root as Greenie, Matt Damon as PR Exec #2, Jason Biggs as Arthur Brickman, Jennifer Lopez as Gertie Steiney.

Directed and written by: Kevin Smith.
Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
1. Oliver is a publicist working in NYC with a good success rate and a demanding schedule.  He meets Gertie Steiney and his life is changed.  The second huge change in his life comes when Gertie gets pregnant and dies giving birth to their daughter.

2. Oliver's father Bart helps him out with daughter Gertie up to a point.  Then Bart demands that Oliver start acting like Gertie's father.  The third huge change in Oliver's life comes when he makes the mistake of taking his daughter to work, resulting in his catastrophic firing.

3. Most of the film is about the period seven years after the firing, when Oliver meets Maya, and Gertie's big personality starts to show itself.

Delineation of conflicts:
Oliver wants his old life back (NYC, lots of money, fast life) and to leave New Jersey and his life as a municipal worker with Bart.  Gertie wants a father.  Bart wants his son to do the honorable thing and take care of Bart's granddaughter.  Maya wants to be closer to Oliver, who still cannot let go of his dead wife.

Resolution: Oliver, after years of horrible failed interviews, finally gets a shot at a likely hire as a publicist.  However, the interview comes the same day as young Gertie's big event at school.  What will Oliver do?

One line summary: Sad and sweet.
Raquel Castro, Ben Affleck

Statistics:


Cinematography: 9/10 Nothing majestic, but good camera work throughout.

Sound: 8/10 I could hear the dialog, and the musical accompaniment was fine.

Acting: 8/10 Raquel Castro gave a marvelous performance.  George Carlin was delightful.  In general I do not care for Ben Affleck, but I liked his acting throughout the film, especially with Castro and Carlin.  Liv Tyler, Mike Starr, and Stephen Root were good as the rest of Oliver's extended family in Jersey.

On the downside, Jason Biggs and Jennifer Lopez reminded me of why they are deal breakers for me. If I had known Will Smith was in the film (my mistake in not doing research), I would not have watched it at all.  Fortunately Smith's role was short and did serve a purpose in plot exposition.

Screenplay: 7/10 I got quite a few laughs from the film, which lets me excuse all sorts of problem areas.  The plot knot at the end was such a cliche that I nearly skipped reviewing the piece, but most of the film was fine.

Final rating: 8/10

2017-01-14

20170115: Action Review--Jason Bourne





Name: Jason Bourne (2016)
IMDb: link to Jason Bourne (2016) page

Genres: Action.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, Tommy Lee Jones as CIA Director Robert Dewey, Alicia Vikander as Heather Lee, Vincent Cassel as Asset, Julia Stiles as Nicky Parsons, Riz Ahmed as Kalloor.

Directed by: Paul Greengrass.  Written by: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
1. Ho-hum.  Another Bourne film, unfortunately with Matt Damon, again.  I liked Jeremy Renner's film, which was alive, and thoughtful, and had something to say.  Jason Bourne, though, was just another damned rehash.

2. Jason is clearly lost.  He makes money by bare knuckles fist-fighting.  The CIA is not aware of him.  Of course, the film defeats that 'happy' steady state.  It's just as well: Jason is subject to frequent hallucinations and fits of depression.  He's clearly getting older, slower, and more subject to his own death wishes.

3. The CIA's dumb shit moves early on in the film galvanize Jason, and end up damaging the CIA more than could be expected.  All of this is unnecessary.  Jason should have been left alone, in which case he would have left the CIA alone.

Delineation of conflicts:
The CIA wants Jason dead.  Jason wishes they would leave him alone.  There is nothing new in this third horrible retread of the rather fine first film.  Nicky hopes to get Jason to oppose horrible processes undertaken by the CIA, but Jason is not all that interested, at first.

Resolution: There is none.  In terms of business logic, Damon and co seem to think that more blood can be drawn from this long-dead corpse in yet another sequel to come.  Bringing back Aaron Cross as played by Jeremy Renner would be a breath of fresh air.  More of Damon would just be more swamp gas.

One line summary: Worthless sequel wanted by nobody.

Statistics:


Cinematography: 0/10 Horrible.  Take your fracking shaky vomit cam and shove it back up where it came from.  Bad focusing, bad framing, bad lighting, indifferent ability to focus on subjects.

Sound: 6/10 I can hear the dialog, which is good.  The incidental music is moderately effective in heightening suspense and the sense of threat.

Acting: 0/10 Matt Damon seems to have dropped into 'phone in the performance' mode, like Bruce Willis and Robert De Niro.  After The Martian I expected something better or at least competent.  I don't like Alicia Vikander, I have never liked Alicia Vikander, and never will like Alicia Vikander in any role.

In general I like the performances of Julia Stiles and Tommy Lee Jones, but this boring repeat would defeat the good efforts of any actor.

Screenplay: 0/10 I hate motorcycle chases.  I hate the endless rebirth of Treadstone under different names.  I hate seeing Nicky in jeopardy for no good reason.  I hate this avalanche of cliches and retread ideas.

Final rating: 0/10

2016-11-24

20161124: Comedy Review--Intolerable Cruelty





Name: Intolerable Cruelty (2003)
IMDb: link to Intolerable Cruelty page

Genres: Comedy.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Geoffrey Rush as Donovan Donaly, Stacey Travis as Bonnie Donaly, Jack Kyle as Ollie Olerud, Cedric the Entertainer as Gus Petch.

George Clooney as Miles Massey, Edward Herrmann as Rex Rexroth, Jonathan Hadary as Heinz the Baron Krauss von Espy, Paul Adelstein as Wrigley, Tom Aldredge as Herb Myerson.

Catherine Zeta-Jones as Marylin, Richard Jenkins as Freddy Bender, Billy Bob Thornton as Howard D. Doyle, Julia Duffy as Sarah Sorkin.

Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen.  Written by: Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone.
the trap

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
1. Donovan interrupts Bonnie cheating on him with Ollie.  Donovan is enraged, and takes gunshots at the cheaters.  Bonnie engages Miles to defend her.  Miles shellacs Donovan, even though Bonnie is more deeply in the wrong.

2. Marylin employs Gus Petch to get damning evidence on her real estate developer husband Rex.  It looks bad for Rex, but Miles digs up the creature who targeted Rex for Marylin.

3. Marylin marries Howard using the Massey prenup, which is supposed to be a strong wall against divorce for the sake of monetary gain.  Marylin finds a way around it.

Delineation of conflicts:
After Marylin successfully fleeces Howard, Miles is drawn to her availability since he finds a void in his life.  Marylin seems sad over Sarah's life, which seems empty despite her great wealth obtained by fleecing three husbands.

So...what will happen after they get married?  Who will prevail in this battle of the fakes?

Resolution: There are several twists and turns in this clever and deeply bitter depiction of love and marriage in Los Angeles and the USA in general.

One line summary: Feelings and money are the stakes.
Vegas

Statistics:


Cinematography: 9/10 Nicely shot.

Sound: 8/10 The dialog was easy to understand.  The parallel music was usually appropriate to the scenes.

Acting: 8/10 Clooney and Zeta-Jones were fine.  Billy Bob Thornton was fun as usual, had delivered some surprises.  I liked all the minor players.

Screenplay: 10/10 Witty, funny, irreverent.

Final rating: 9/10 Another sweet comedic effort from the Coen Brothers.

2016-11-21

20161121: Horror Review--I Survived a Zombie Holocaust





Name: I Survived a Zombie Holocaust (2014)
IMDb: link to I Survived a Zombie Holocaust page

Genres: Horror   Country of origin: NZ.

Cast:
Harley Neville as Wesley Pennington, Jocelyn Christian as Susan Ford, Ben Baker as Tane Henare, Reanin Johannink as Jessica Valentine, Mike Edward as Adam Harrison, Andrew Laing as SMP,

Directed by: Guy Pigden.  Written by: Guy Pigden,

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
The film is set on a zombie movie shoot in remote area of New Zealand.  The male lead actor is a jerk and the female lead is a diva.  New runner Wesley, just out of film school, starts his job on a day when personnel are mysteriously disappearing.

The director, SMP, is a dictatorial prima donna.  The cook, due to the quality of her product, is not beloved.

Delineation of conflicts:
As with every zombie film, the zombies want to eat the humans, and the humans do not want to be eaten.  The humans eventually figure out how to kill zombies and gather the clarity to do the deed early and often.  Ample evidence of this resolve does not deter the zombies.

When the two leads become indisposed, SMP tries out the runner and the cook as replacements.  SMP would like to finish his film, but the zombies keep giving him personnel problems.  Also, they seldom obey him.

Resolution: The film does get finished, but without SMP, his second in command, the lead actors, or the original zombie extras.

One line summary: Zombie film shoot.

Statistics:

Cinematography: 6/10 Sometimes fine, other times poor.

Sound: 6/10 No particular problems.  The background music was too florid for me.

Acting: 0/10 There was acting?

Screenplay: 2/10 One bad cliche deserves three more.

Final rating: 2/10

2016-11-20

20161120: Crime Review--The Sin Seer





Name: The Sin Seer (2015)
IMDb: link to The Sin Seer page

Genres: Crime.   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: (voice)
Lisa Arrindell as Rose Ricard, Isaiah Washington as Grant Summit, Michael Ironside as Alexander Rachet, Sally Richardson-Whitfield as Nia, C Thomas Howell as Detective Rigers, Carrie Anne Hunt as Melissa, Richard Brooks as Jake Ballard.

Directed by: Paul D. Hannah.  Written by: Paul D. Hannah.
Grant Summit
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
PI Rose and her receptionist Melissa pick up Grant Summit from prison.  Grant interviews Abagail Landers, whose boxer husband Daniel Landers has been missing for three months. She was referred to Rose by Detective Rigers, who thinks Rose has a gift.  Abagail is convinced that Daniel is still alive.

Delineation of conflicts:
The police are done with the case.  Rose decides to take the matter on.  She and Grant pursue the truth, and dig up a nest of problems.

Rose has a gift for knowing the true intentions of those whom she interviews.  This leads to a lot of disagreements about procedure.

Grant is a former boxer who trained at the same gym as Daniel Landers.  Boxing gyms always have their secrets, and Grant's probing of old problems is not appreciated by all.

Grant has a past that landed him in prison.  Have the motives driving him in the past been cleansed, or is he part of the current problem?

Resolution: There are a number of deaths before the source of the problem is neutralised.  The problem is, what exactly is the central problem?  The mob, the cops, or Grant?

One line summary: Female PI with psychic gifts.

Statistics:

Cinematography: 4/10 A narrow depth of focus follows through many scenes.  Other parts of the film are gorgeous in HD.  The mixing is strange.  The use of Dutch angles made good sense in some scenes, and not so much in others.  There were intervals of shaky cam footage, which added to the overall impression that the film was a hodgepodge, not a coherent professional effort.

Sound: 5/10 Not the best.  The dialog sounded hollow all too often.  The incidental music was atmospheric now and then, but did not add all that much.

Acting: 4/10 Michael Ironside's performance was pretty good, as was Isaiah Washington's.  I like Sally Richardson-Whitfield in some properties, but not so much in this one.  The rest of the cast seemed iffy at best.  C. Thomas Howell's role was rather short; one gets the feeling that he was present just to have another recognisable name.

Screenplay: 3/10 Some of the lines sounded outright stupid, which I usually don't care for.  The many biblical quotes seemed more like smoke and mirrors than statements addressing particular points.  The exposition of motivations was often murky.  There were quite a number of flashbacks. There were so many that I found some passages to be chaotic, rather than illustrative.

One also wonders how it is that Grant suffers no legal consequences for all the murders he commits during the film.  Some of these were not concealed in the least, and yet he was not arrested.

Final Rating: 4/10

2016-11-19

20161119: Comedy Review--No Reservations





Name: No Reservations (2007)
IMDb: link to No Reservations page

Genres: Comedy   Country of origin: USA.

Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones as Kate Armstrong, Aaron Eckhart as Nicholas Palmer, Abigail Breslin as Zoe, Bob Balaban as therapist, Patricia Clarkson as Paula, Jenna Wade as Leah, Bryan F. O'Byrne as Sean.

Directed by: Scott Hicks.  Written by: Carol Fuchs (screenplay), Sandra Nettelbeck (screenplay).

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Kate is the chef at a posh Manhattan restaurant.  She's a bit intense, and her boss Paula has demanded that she goes into therapy.  Kate fends off her therapist by cooking him dishes that he seldom can resist.

Kate's sister comes to visit.  On the way, she and niece Zoe are involved in an accident.  Zoe is OK, but the sister is not.  Kate has to take over care of Zoe.

Delineation of conflicts:
While Kate took time off, Paula hired Nick.  Nick and Kate have a number of differences about cooking.

Zoe and Kate do not know each other.  That takes time.  Zoe starts to like Nick, his Italian food, and his confident exuberance.

Kate's boss Paula gets on Kate's nerves one too many times.

Resolution: People get to know each other; this often solves romantic and familial problems.  The problems between Paula and Kate are harder to address.

One line summary: Two alpha cooks get to know each other.

Statistics:

Cinematography: 6/10 Fuzzy.  I did not like it.

Sound: 8/10 Mostly OK.  Most of the music was good accompaniment.

Acting: 6/10 I usually like Aaron Eckhart, but I disliked his acting a lot in this one.  Ms Zeta-Jones was fine, as was Bob Balaban.  Abigail Breslin, as usual, was better than expected.

Screenplay: 8/10 As romantic comedies go, this was rather nice.

Final rating: 7/10

2016-11-18

20161118: Action Review--Painkillers





Name: Painkillers (2015)
IMDb: link to Painkillers page

Genres: Action   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Tahmoh Penikett as Major John Cafferty, Erica Durance as Trudy, Leslie-Anne Brandt as Guts, Colm Feore as Dr Troutman, Julia Voth as Masters, Riza Santos as Madeline, Roger Leblanc as Talbott, Travis Friesen as Carlyle.

Directed by: Peter Winther.  Written by: Peter Winther, Kirk Roth, Jason Grace.

The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
A small group of mercenaries goes on a tough mission.  They wake up in a medical facility, or so it seems.  They remember bits and snatches.  The staff members are supposed to help them recall.

Delineation of conflicts:
Majestic Global Dynamics (the ones impersonating a medical staff) wants an alien power source. The  mercenaries were sent to obtain it. They failed, supposedly, and the search object messed with their memories.  Majestic tries to get them to remember their mission.  Sure.

Resolution: The motives of all involved were questionable.  The betrayals seem endless, but the motivations were largely absent.

One line summary: Shabby amnesia story.

Statistics:

Cinematography: 5/10 There is so much poor CGI to go with the cheap sets.

Sound: 5/10 The dialog recorded fine, but the music seemed mostly discordant with the plot direction.

Acting: 3/10 Pretty poor, except perhaps for Colm Feore.

Screenplay: 1/10 This is a 15 minute story expanded out to 103 minutes.  The 15 minutes was not that good.

Final Rating: 2/10 What was the point of this film?

20161118: Drama Review--Burning Bodhi





Name: Burning Bodhi (2016)
IMDb: link to Burning Bodhi page

Genres: Drama   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Cody Horn as Ember, Landon Liboiron as Dylan.

Kaley Cuoco as Katy, Eli Vargas as Miguel, Sasha Pieterse as Aria, Virginia Madsen as Naomi, Andy Buckley as Buck, Meghann Fahey as Lauren.

Directed by: Matthew McDuffie.  Written by: Matthew McDuffie.
Dylan and Katy
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
Ember in New Mexico calls Dylan in Chicago to ask him to come back for Bodhi's funeral services.  Dylan has many issues surrounding Bodhi, and would rather not go.  Miguel is also in Chicago, and offers Dylan a ride to Albuquerque.

Miguel waits for Dylan...and waits, and waits.  During the waiting, he meets the very pregnant Aria, who wants to continue her trip from West Virginia to California.  Dylan decides late, and flies to New Mexico without saying a proper good-bye to his girlfriend Lauren.

Delineation of conflicts:
When arriving in Albuquerque, Dylan stays first with Ember, who takes him to meet Katy (fireworks), then his father (more fireworks).

There are many issues to resolve.  Katy and Dylan dated in high school, but Dylan left for college, then stayed away.  Katy stayed because her father messed up her financial aid.  Afterword, she has an affair and child with Bodhi.  Dylan and Katy are very far apart about this.

Dylan's mother left his father for a time for 'the pool guy' and Dylan is still very angry with his mother about this.  Dylan's father (sort of) adopted a younger son before Dylan left for college; there is still friction on that front.

Most of the characters (Ember, Katy, Dylan, Miguel) try to get clear about their feelings before the 'viewing' at a church and the fun-eral (not funeral) sponsored by Ember.

Resolution: Some issues get ironed out, others get a reset.

One line summary: Millennials discover mortality.
Ember

Statistics:

Cinematography: 10/10 Well done.

Sound: 10/10 No complaints.  Some lovely music was chosen.

Acting: 8/10 I had no particular complaints.

Screenplay: 8/10 This 93 minute film moved right along.  I found the film both funny and touching.  However, if one does not like millennials or their issues, this property might drag.  As a man with four millennials in his immediate family, I had no problem connecting with the humor and pathos.

Final Rating: 9/10

2016-11-17

20161117: Comedy Review--Night of the Living Deb





Name: Night of the Living Deb (2015)
IMDb: link to Night of the Living Deb page

Genres: Comedy   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Maria Thayer as Deb Clarington, Michael Cassidy as Ryan Waverly, Chris Marquette as Chazz Waverly, Ray Wise as Frank Waverly, Syd Wilder as Stacy, Julie Brister as Ruby.

Directed by: Kyle Rankin.  Written by: Kyle Rankin, Andy Selzer.
Deb and Ryan
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
In Portland, Maine, Deb and Ruby are at a bar the night before the American Fourth of July celebration.  Ruby encourages Deb to hook up with the tall fellow at the bar.  Deb does that.  But after hitting on Ryan, Ryan's fiancee Stacy shows up.  Stacy is not pleased with Deb's presence.

Deb wakes up in Ryan's bed.  Ryan is on the phone trying to figure out how to separate himself from Deb.  Deb and Ryan have a rocky conversation, then decide to split up, to see the people they expect to see, and do the usual July 4 activities.

Unfortunately, there are a huge number of zombies about town.  All the parties seem to have been cancelled.

Delineation of conflicts:
The zombies like to eat regular humans.  Humans don't really care for this.

Deb and Ryan look for news and help.  Both are hard to find since the Internet is down, the local television station is down, and the local radio is down.

Their attempts to connect with people fail until they make it to Ryan's father's house.  They soon discover the source of the zombie infection, but have little idea of how to survive the outbreak, despite Ryan's father's wealth.

Resolution: This is a comedy, and there are a lot of unexpected outcomes.

One line summary: Comedic take on the zombie apocalypse.

Statistics:

Cinematography: 10/10 Well shot.

Sound: 8/10 The dialog was easy to hear.  Music was not much of a factor.

Acting: 5/10 Good grief.  Ray Wise did what I expected in terms of acting, and I appreciated that.  The other actors seemed insistent on delivering the lines like they were meant to be taken seriously, which was off-putting to say the least.

Screenplay: 6/10 I laughed fairly regularly at the one liners and the bizarre situations.  The light approach was taken throughout, so I tossed this one in the silly hipster apocalypse bin.

Final Rating: 6/10 I watched this once on Netflix; that was probably enough.

2016-11-16

20161116: Documentary Review--Zero Days





Name: Zero Days (2016)
IMDb: link to Zero Days page

Genres: Documentary   Country of origin: USA.

Principal Speakers:
David Sanger wrote a full-fledged article on Stuxnet for the NYT, and the book, Confront and Conceal (2012).
Eric Chien and Liam O'Murchu at Symantec discuss finding the Stuxnet infection, deciding to investigate it thoroughly, then unpeeling many layers.
General Michael Hayden was the director of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) from May 2006 to February 2009, and director of NSA (National Security Agency) from March 1999 to April 2005.  The general could only say so much, but what he did say was insightful.
Colonel Gary Brown is the staff judge advocate for US Cyber Command, Fort Meade.
Emad Kiyaei is the Executive Director or the American Iranian Counsel.
Gary Samore is the Executive Director for Research of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Eugene Kaspersky is a Russian cybersecurity expert and the CEO of Kaspersky Lab.
Ralph Langner is the director of Langner Communications, an independent cybersecurity consulting firm that he founded in 1988.

Directed by: Alex Gibney.  Written by: Alex Gibney.
One of way too many code graphics
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
The Middle East, Europe, Israel, and the USA have a long history together: disagreements, wars, negotiations.

Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear program out of existence.  In more current times, Israel's bombing Iran's nuclear program out of existence seems infeasible.

Delineation of conflicts:
The USA, UK, and Israel hatch a secret program for ending Iran's nuclear program, or at least slowing it considerably.  The film details how this secret program was brought to light through journalistic inquiry, geopolitical competition, and investigation.

Israel and the USA have a serious disagreement about how to use Stuxnet, or Olympic Games, its internal name.  Because of this, the effort does not stay secret, and the mission fails.

What to do in light of this is open to a lot of discussion, especially after it becomes partially public.

Resolution: All the issues are ongoing.  Iran survived Stuxnet, and its nuclear program is doing better than ever.  Our Cyber Command arm of NSA is little known but well funded.  Iran's cyber warfare program is also well-funded and quite energized.  Other nations have joined the race to cyber warfare leadership; for instance, North Korea and mainland China.

One line summary: Stuxnet: origins, consequences

Statistics:

Cinematography: 7/10 The filming of the interviews with experts were professionally done.

The computer graphics were overly repetitive.  For instance, the 3-D code representations were interesting to look at but were only of use three times: showing the expiration date for Stuxnet in the code, showing the PLC model number in the code, and illustrating the Israeli overwrite that fouled up so many things.  However, the code animations were shown a couple of dozen times; most of these showed no purpose other than to move away from talking heads.

The spread of virus maps were shown again and again and again.  The only times they meant much was when the isolation of the target to Iran was shown, and when the Iranian revenge instances hit America.

Sound: 7/10 I could hear the dialog.  The music used tended to be ominous to the point of seeming manipulative.

Acting: z/10 Not applicable here.

Screenplay: 10/10 Nicely assembled.  The solving of the original mystery was nicely done, and the analysis of the consequences of Israeli overwrites was well-presented.  The exposition of the future of cyber warfare was the scariest of them all.  The block of interview time devoted to Homeland Security's wasted efforts was so discouraging.  So many person-hours were lost due to secrecy (right hand does not know what the left hand is doing), along with the taxpayer dollars wasted.

Final Rating: 8/10

2016-11-15

20161115: Fantasy Review--Guardians of the Galaxy





Name: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
IMDb: link to Guardians of the Galaxy page

Genres: Fantasy   Country of origin: USA.

Cast:
Chris Pratt as Quill, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Djimon Hounsou as Korath, Lee Pace as Ronan, Dave Bautista as Drax, Vin Diesel as Groot (voice), Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta, Karen Gillan as Nebula, John C. Reilly as Corpsman Dey, Glenn Close as Nova Prime, Benicio del Toro as The Collector, Brendan Fehr as Corpsman Dey's partner.

Directed by: James Gunn.  Written by: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman (screenplay); Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning.
the main five
The Three Acts:

The initial tableaux:
1. Young Peter Quill listens to music on his Walkman in 1988 at a hospital where his mother is dying of cancer.  His mother gives him a gift and asks for his touch.  He refuses, and she dies.  He runs away, only to be captured by parties unknown in a starship.

2. Twenty-six years pass.  Peter Quill still has his Walkman and his 80s music.  Currently he's landed on a planet to obtain an artifact of some sort.  Other parties want the object as well.

Delineation of conflicts:
Thanos wants as many of the Infinity Stones as possible.  The wielders of the Stones can express huge powers, but also can be overcome by the Stones.  Unfortunately, Thanos seems strong enough to wield the Stone, and possibly all six of them.

The Ravagers, who kidnapped Peter some years ago, want the Stone to sell it.  Ronan, a leader of the Kree Empire, wants the Infinity Stone to give to Thanos, who promises to destroy the central planet  Xandar.

Quill's friends in all this mess are Gamora, a 'daughter' of Thanos, who is upset with Dad.  Drax, a large powerful warrior whose wife and daughter were killed by Ronan.  Rocket, an illegal raccoon-cyborg construction, wants Quill for the bounty on him offered by the Ravagers.  Quill manages to gain his loyalty through a variety of misadventures.  Groot is Rocket's ally.

Quill manages to enlist the help of the Ravagers (as long as Yondu gets the Infinity Stone afterward) and the Nova Corps who defend Xandar, to breach Ronan's ship and stop the destruction of Xandar.  Nebula, Thanos' other daughter, wishes to stop them.  Korath, one of Ronan's officers, has the same goal.

To make things more fun, when Ronan gets the Stone, he decides to keep it, rather than let Thanos wield it.

Will Ronan be stopped?  Will Thanos get the Stone anyway, or will Yondu make off with it?  Will Gamora and Nebula ever be friends again?  Will Xandar remain in one piece?  Will Thanos fry Ronan?

Resolution: There is a lot of fighting at the end.  Many, but by no means all, of the issues are settled, and not without significant losses.

One line summary: Comic space opera from Marvel.

Statistics:

Cinematography: 9/10 Much as I do not like CGI, this was rather good.

Sound: 9/10 The dialog was clear.  Some of the old Earth music was good to hear again, even though it was usually wildly inappropriate and disruptive.  Of course, that was its purpose.

Acting: 1/10 Utter and complete scat.  Chris Pratt is a thousand tons of bad.  I've liked Michael Rooker in the past, but not this time.  I would say the same of Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, John C. Reilly, and Glenn Close.

Screenplay: 1/10 Oh, goodness.  This came from a third-rate, bottom of the barrel Marvel comic.  The first class production values did not make up for the flimsiness of the script, the bad casting for Peter Quill, or the direction that did not make proper use of the good actors who were cast.

Final Rating: 5/10