Category Archives: Movie Reviews

I write movie reviews here. They show up on this page like a blog: latest first. To see the full list of movies I’ve reviewed click here. A list of some of my favorite movies is here.

Ex Machina

3/5 stars
ex-machina-movieI don’t know if it is my advancing age or the inclusion of several laborious scenes set to synthesized music but I nodded off twice during the film. I did like it though, it certainly took an original spin on an age old robot theme. This film dispenses with the question of whether we can create AI. Instead it looks at what AI may think of us after having been created. Then yet another question arises: will AI agree to the station we assign it? Ex Machina is a very slow movie but it is clever and interesting if you are rested, at least I am sure it would be. It raises ethical questions about the manufacture of model-figured women who are not human but created to serve. I couldn’t help but recall the Stepford Wives.

There isn’t an original theme but the directorial choices are peppered with new stuff. The special effects are captivating. There are some jabs at Google and the collection of information. The maker says he was able to secure millions of cell phone data banks because the providers steal it and he threatened to expose them unless they shared. This was far fetched in my opinion but an interesting wake up call that Google and cell phone companies probably have far too much on us. Google execs and programmers are the new Howard Hugheses (plural sp?). In this film they are very scary, almost to smart for their own good. What’s more, they’re making female robots, often fully naked on screen, that are devoid of morals. This could be interesting for some. For laborious scenes and general lack of original theme, it lost 2 stars from me.

The Babadook

4/5 stars
23BABADOOK2-articleLargePossession horror is a category that’s been around for a long time, at least since the 70’s when “Damien the Omen” became a household word. I’ve noticed a comeback recently in these films and I’m really not impressed by it. I have to respect the majority though and these films do very well at the box office. Not much has been done with horror/psychology. The Babadook delves into that and I found it very interesting. It presents as a typical possession film “Don’t let him in,” but in the end we are left with questions about the psychology of grief, fear, love, and indeed courage. It’s one of those where you may think you know what s happening but after another scene you redefine things. That makes for a puzzle that is never fully put together but you can make a lot of conclusions about what it could be.

The BabadookThe story is about a single mother who has lost her husband in a terrible car crash. Their child was also in the car but only the father died. The mother is reading a book she found in the recesses of an old house she lives in with her son. She reads it to her son at bedtime, it’s called “Mister Babadook.” It has a sort of Tim Burton style to it and it’s a popup book. The Babadook, as he is called, wreaks all sorts of havoc on the mother and child. This is the premise. In the end we are left wondering where he came from and is it indeed true, as the book says, that you cannot get rid of him. It has some conventional haunted house scares but most the suspense is built through the storytelling. I’ve always found that sort of film much more scary than a slasher or pop-up type. It could have explained more however so for that reason I give this horror film a 4/5.

Wild

3.5/5 stars
FOX_3558.psdIf you lose a parent, get divorced, Start a heroin habit, and cheat on your spouse the same year, you might consider going on a nature hike: a long one. That’s the premise of Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. That’s not a new concept for a movie. What makes it interesting is the backstory woven throughout in flashbacks. Handwritten journal entries show the forward journey while flashback scenes show the past one. It’s incredibly well acted and shows a path of redemption and clarity. Placed throughout are classic oldies such as Simon and Garfunkel. This adds a thoughtful, self-aware tone to the film. There are a few drug and sex scenes that definitely are not for children. I was prompted to watch it because of the high scores it has received from the critics. I agree with them, it’s a great “armchair” trip through breathtaking scenery and a riveting past.

Robert frost wrote “I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.” We see that in her journal and here and there spoken by characters in the movie. It’s a good reference because she seems to never stop walking the miles. Perhaps she is looking for enlightenment. Maybe she just has nowhere left to go. As we empathize with the protagonist, we experience a path that few ever get to see. This is the Pacific Trail with elements of social havens in the rural towns it passes. The Appalachian trail is a similar challenge seeking souls take on. For these images alone, the movie is worth watching. Cheryl’s story and transformation is a secondary allure. I was inspired by her journey. I like the word “clarity” to describe what she finds for her fractured life. It’s a great movie and I think most people will enjoy it. Because it spends a little too much time on scenes of nothing, I feel it lost potential. I would have liked to see more development of her story and less of the trail.

The Theory of Everything

5/5 stars
Theory_of_EverythingI went in to see this movie while on vacation in Las Vegas with my lovely wife. I expected a romance. Having known of Stephen Hawking and his ultimate divorce, I imagined the film would delete that and sugar coat his romance prior to him becoming confined to a wheelchair. I had it only partly right. The director focused on their romantic relationship in the early years, the late sixties and seventies. You see how they meet and get a feel for what he was trying to with his theory of everything. It is quite touching and certainly the stuff of chick flick type of movies. At the same time, I enjoyed watching that part so it may be suited fpr guys as well, or guys that want to cuddle with girls. It’s after all that is established and they are in a relationship that the disease hits and it hits powerfully. You might call it exquisite pain for the protagonist and the invested audience.

After doctors give Hawking 2 years to live, you see he and his wife have learned to get along. The movie is still a love story but takes on a new dimension of a family. Yes, they are able to have children. Hawking becomes a famous author we follow him through more and more sophisticated wheelchairs. My wife at one point said to me, “This is where you say thank God for technology.” Through the use of a special machine, he learns to speak again through typing. There is also a running theme throughout about religion. She has it, he doesn’t. It makes for some interesting interplay at chosen points in the movie. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if he ever renounces atheism or not. Either way, he delivers a powerful speech on the topic. This is a tear jerker, a romance, and an inspiring film to boot. I give in 5/5 stars.

The One I Love

5/5 stars
the-one-i-loveThis movie was on every banner before my eyes every time I’d log on to IMDB, Netflix, Rotten Tomatoes, or movie phone. Clearly the gods of matching meta data were in its favor. Every time I clicked on it I just saw a boring, wanna be romance that said in the synopsis it was about a couple at the end of their marriage trying to rekindle things. It just didn’t excite me but I kept it on my list just in case nothing else was on. I highly recommend not giving up on movies because this one ended up being the opposite of boring. It is indeed about a failing relationship but the steps they take to make it better are partly science fiction. That’s right, I said that genre. It’s sort of a Twilight Zone meets a couple in therapy. I know my wife and I related with some of the humor and the sci fi. More than anything, it got me thinking about the many sides to our partner and how we can fall in love with one and not the other. In the end, which will we choose to live with? More importantly, which will we not. Continue reading

Flight

flightDenzel Washington is a great actor, not many people will argue against that. When you see his name on a movie you can know it was at least well thought out and that you’ll get a great performance from him. I knew that going into Flight and was not disappointed. The screenplay wove in and out like a plane in mayday and some of the characters didn’t seem correctly placed but the entire ride is energetic full of powerful acting. The story centers on alcoholism with pilots. Like surgeons, they have the public trust as they play the role of god. Those who abuse the public trust must answer to a court of law. Continue reading

The Grand Seduction

5/5 stars
the-grand-seductionNetflix, like so many movie search engines out there, makes suggestions based on your watching history. Usually they are very standard and not particularly enlightening but sometimes they bring out a gem. That’s what happened to me with The Grand Seduction. Check this one out, if you have Netflix you can get it streaming currently. It’s a sleepy, measured movie at the beginning but if you can wait it out, it become comedic, charming, and pleasant like a bowl of hot clam chowder on a rainy day. The movie was produced by Brendan Gleasson who most will remember as “mad eye” from the Harry Potter movies. He’s been in many other notable movies but he’s usually not the star. In this he’s the guy turning the wheels both in front of and behind the camera. Continue reading

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete

5/5 stars
IMG_3328.JPGThis is a sometimes graphic, emotionally gripping and surprisingly inspirational film. I’m so glad I saw it because I feel more educated and empathetic toward those in poverty as a result. It shines a light on a world that most middle and upper class movie goers won’t go in knowing. We are at a camera’s length from life in the projects, in Brooklyn. The 14 year old black protagonist’s name is Mister and he is questioned about it a few times. He is forced out on his home and onto the streets with a younger friend Pete. They have adventures no child should have to endure. They are fighters and will not accept defeat. Don’t forget the title however, it holds some meaning.

While the film does include a lot of profanity and drug use, it portrays the survival of these two boys in the city. Once out of food, they learn to get by. As Mister says to Pete, “People do what they have to survive out here.” It’s a black struggle picture for sure but it highlights the struggle of all people who are in poverty. As I was watching it I found myself finding more compassion for some of my black students who live at a comparable poverty level. It felt like school was a higher place to be when the streets were illustrated with raw and jagged detail. At least you get free lunch in school. Of course, the struggle isn’t just black. Pete is Asian and there are Hispanic characters down and out. I recall there were at least 2 white people who were in the middle class or at least a class above poverty. Both are sympathetic to Mister’s plight. I had that same sort of sympathy as a teacher and white male in society. With all the money in the world, why s there any inevitable defeat? Movies like this shed a light on the modern African struggle and they help defeat stereotypes. I’ve long believed that the black struggle should be illuminated in film more, it is a credit to mankind what blacks have overcome and continue to. Executive producer was Alicia Keyes. It was the delight of my day to see this film. I actually watched it a second time with my wife and she agreed it was amazing. This film is now streaming on Netflix. I give it my highest recommendation.

 

Birdman

4/5 stars
birdman-01I’ve made an attempt to avoid any sort of spoilers in my review. I simply explain its strengths at a distance and, in my opinion, its one major weakness. Having said that, I recommend you see this movie with no presuppositions. Even the few small things I mention here should be seen as simply one critic’s opinion. See it with an open mind. To begin: this is not a superhero movie. I purposely did not use a mock Birdman as an image for my post. Instead I used Michael Keaton in his underwear because metaphorically, this is what you get. I feel bad for the kids that may pay to go see this expecting a gritty sort of superhero that mimics the likes of Batman. This is not a lower Batman, this is a lower person and the anatomy of his breakdown. It just so happens that in this man’s life, he played a “Birdman” in a set of sequels. It doesn’t matter to the point. Birdman is a firing of brain cells in the mind of an actor who has wasted his life living for appearances and not for reality. In his words, he “has not been present” for his life. We can all get some good lessons from this movie. It portrays men as egotistical and highly capable of getting what they want at any cost. It portrays women as victims who men fail to support time and time again. The male brain is sinister at times and women find this sad. In fact, the audience is meant to find it sad. At the bottom right of Riggan’s (character played by Michael Keaton) mirror he has a quote taped on that reads: “The thing is the thing, not what is said about the thing.” Could there be an application to social media? To “getting off the grid?” Maybe. You as a viewer decide to what degree.

There is also a dream element that has already been touched on all over the internet so I won’t get too into it. There is a lot about the brain but not in the way you might think. Some see the film as a death bed reflection, others see it as part dream and part brain firing. I do not feel that this movie was meant to be understood. It was meant to be enjoyed and talked about but never fully understood. One thing I noticed that didn’t seem real was when Riggan pulled a cocktail napkin out of his wallet, showing his daughter Sam (Emma Stome) it’s significance to the play. Raymond Carver had signed it for his while he was in a bar with his dad. I din’t know about you, but receipts in my wallet start to disintegrate after a few months. I thought it was bad writing at the time but now I see it could be part of a dream or trick of the brain at time of death. Perhaps the whole movie is that.

You keep waiting throughout the film for it to make sense but it really isn’t until you’ve seen the entirety of it that you can start to form opinions on what just happened. Hallucinations permeate the film so it’s hard to see what’s really going on. I think in the end, the psychiatrists will have the best read of this film. Go see Birdman if you want to see a creative and beautifully filmed movie. It might also appeal to you that Michael Keaton, Zach Galafinakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, and Emma Stone are in it. The acting drew me in like a moth to a light. It was a highly enjoyable movie experience but you have to be willing to fill in the mortar between the bricks. Once again, don’t assume it’s about a superhero. The title is extremely misleading. There is a man in a suit but he is the voice in Keaton’s head that tells him things. He isn’t real. He is, in fact, in the movie only about 10 minutes total. Ok, I’ve said enough about that. This is not a superhero film. I feel it leaves too much up to the imagination. It reminded me of the acclaimed Enemy movie that way. Perhaps the director got too close to the material and forgot the audience couldn’t get the ending. It needed to be explained more. For that reason I think a lot of people will be frustrated with this movie. I know I was. It could have said so much more about “being present” in ones life and social media and art and theater. Instead, it tries too hard to be spooky and vague and achieves it, which is also fun when you’re out at the movies. This is at the cost of a star. I give it 4/5.

the-first-full-trailer-for-interstellar-shows-matthew-mcconaughey-on-an-epic-mission-to-space

Interstellar

3/5 stars
the-first-full-trailer-for-interstellar-shows-matthew-mcconaughey-on-an-epic-mission-to-spaceI wasn’t pleased with this one but it didn’t suck either. It might be argued the director’s goals were too interstellar. Let me say that my review here is short and does not include much that would spoil the movie plot. I tried to not give anything big away, but I digress. Like many people I was duped by the advertising into thinking it was the next “Gravity.” I guess that’s because they show space and space-suits in the commercials. It’s more akin to Contact, another space movie that also starred Matthew McConaughey. Contact, however, was based more in spirituality and emotion than space and realism. I liked Gravity for its realism so I was a bit disappointed. Continue reading