Predestination

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I kind of got a big fat spoiler for this movie by noticing that it's based on the short story "'—All You Zombies—'" by Robert A. Heinlein. I read that back in the early 60's; I still remember the Shocking Plot Device. So I expected the same thing here, and was not disappointed.

The protagonist, played by Ethan Hawke, is a time-travelling secret agent, trying to prevent a terrorist known as the "Fizzle Bomber" from blowing up a bunch of people in 1975. An initial attempt failed badly, leaving him seriously defaced (literally). He tries again, though. Along the way, he poses as a bartender, where he becomes acquainted with a younger person who entertains him with biographical stories, both lurid and heartbreaking.

Ethan Hawke always seems to look like he was just badly beaten up, and is about to get re-beaten soon. This role is no exception.

It's a very arty take on a story I remember as being as straightforward as a time-travel yarn can be. (I also remember it as being pretty filthy for an Omaha pre-teen, but what are you going to do?) But (ahem) unlike Starship Troopers, it's essentially faithful to its source material, and I think Heinlein would have approved. The movie's IMDB trivia page describes a number of fortune cookies in the movie for Heinlein fans. I'm ashamed to say I missed most of them.

Consumer note: as I type, the Blu-ray is cheaper than the DVD at Amazon. What's up with that?


Last Modified 2015-07-02 4:31 AM EDT
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Maleficent

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A PG-retelling of the Sleeping Beauty legend, where Maleficent isn't bad, she's just misunderstood. And a little hot-tempered, but who could blame her?

The premise is that a human kingdom and a magical fairy kingdom live right next door to each other, and they don't get along well. This is primarily the humans' fault, being all greedy and ambitious and … well, human. Maleficent is the fairy kingdom's most powerful defender against human aggression, which royally pisses off the royals. What follows is betrayal, anger, revenge, and how that all plays out against young Aurora, the human princess caught up in the battle between her father and Maleficent.

Angelina Jolie plays Maleficent, Elle Fanning is Aurora. It's full of special effects. (Angelina Jolie sometimes looks to be a real-life Special Effect, so it's appropriate she's here.)

I liked it a little better than I thought I would, because Disney can still tell a pretty good story when they want to. I was a little surprised by the PG rating; there's a lot of violence, so I thought it would be PG-13. But I guess it's "fantasy" violence. It's OK when fairies do it!


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The Double

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Giving this a whole two stars is kind of a stretch. It's arty and pretentious. I nodded off for long periods. When I do that during other movies, I sometimes feel obligated to re-watch the DVD to at least fill in the gaps; I didn't feel that obligation here.

Anyway: it's based on the Dostoyevsky story of the same title. (Considered by most critics to not be one of his better efforts.) Jesse Eisenberg plays nebbish Simon, working at a soul-draining job in some unspecified bureaucracy, disrespected and ignored by everyone.

Things change when James shows up. He's everything Simon is not: charismatic, interesting, popular. But here's the thing: James and Simon look exactly alike. (My keen eye discerned that this was primarily due to both roles being played by Jesse Eisenberg.) The two develop a relationship, but it's an unhealthy one.

The setting is dark and surrealistic, with absurdist and stilted dialogue, and unbelievable characters. Basically, a 93-minute nightmare for Simon, but I don't think he wakes up. Or, if he did, I missed it.


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John Wick

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Comic-book movie? I wondered. It turns out not. I'm kind of ashamed to admit I liked it as much as I did.

The titular character is played by Keanu Reeves. (Looking at his IMDB page, I'm pretty sure this is the first movie I've seen with him in it since the ultra-forgettable Street Kings and A Scanner Darkly (both 2008). He's recently lost his wife (Bridget Moynahan), and then some bad-guy Russian mobsters do something really nasty. Revenge is called for.

Dickensian coincidence: it turns out that Wick used to be a hired killer for the father of one of the bad guys. (What are the chances? In the real world, zero.) So, in effect, it's Wick against the entire Russian mafia, at least the part that's based around New York.

There are a lot of good actors in supporting roles: Michael Nyqvist as the Russian Godfather; Dean Winters (I miss Battle Creek very much) as the mob consigliere; Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki as fellow hit-people; there's even a small role for the great John Leguizamo as a chop-shop proprietor who (nevertheless) has certain principles.

MPAA: "strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use". They ain't kiddin'.


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Jurassic World

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I thought I was going to wait for the DVD. But Pun Son wanted to see it and we've been going to Jurassic movies since he was seven. I can't decline the pull of tradition.

And I forgot how much sheer fun these movies are. (I suppose they could make one that wasn't. But they haven't yet.)

The movie is set on the same island as the original Jurassic Park; it's a couple decades later, and John Hammond's vision has been restored: it's the site of an actual theme park where people flock to see live dinosaurs. And it's all pretty amazing, nothing goes wrong, and everyone has a good time.

Just kidding! The park is doing OK, but the supervisor, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), realizes that its continued health depends on coming up with new, even more thrilling creatures. Or, as everyone puts it, "more teeth." So the top-secret on-island lab creates an Indominus Rex.

This coincides with a visit to the park by Claire's nephews, Zach and Gray. (Kids in peril is a recurring theme in these movies.) There's also Owen (Chris Pratt), a genius researcher working to (sort of) tame three velociraptors by becoming their "alpha".

Corporate greed and hubris, as always, are the root causes of the ensuing havoc. And (also as always) there's plenty of stuff to chuckle at, even as people are getting eaten.


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Man on a Ledge

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It seems that most of the recent movies I've watched are either wonderful or dreadful. So it's kind of a relief to report that this is a totally mediocre movie. Not a dreadful way to spend 102 minutes, but nothing with which you'll be overly impressed. It appeared on most "Box Office Bomb" lists for 2012. Rated PG-13 for "violence and brief strong language".

The hero is Nick, played by the sometimes-blue guy from Avatar, Sam Worthington. He has been railroaded into the slammer for swiping a fabulous diamond from millionaire David Englander (Ed Harris). But he makes a daring escape, aided by his brother Joey (Jamie Bell). And the next thing we know, he's checked into a high Manhattan hotel, climbed out on the—guess what?—ledge, and quickly draws a crowd. The cops include Lydia, the designated don't-jump negotiator (Elizabeth Banks), Dante (Titus Welliver), Jack (Ed Burns), and Nick's old partner Mike (the Falcon himself, Anthony Mackie).

All these people deserved to be in a better movie.

If you've guessed that Nick's suicide attempt is a scam, designed to be part of an elaborate scheme to prove his innocence… well, you're correct of course. The main problem is that the scheme is several times more improbable than your average Mission: Impossible episode. But it's sort of fun to watch the actors try to sell the ludicrous plot.


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Devil's Knot

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I think that Mrs. Salad requested this for the Netflix queue due to the presence of Mr. Darcy himself, Colin Firth. And it's pretty funny to see Mr. Firth manage a foreign (in his case, Southern) accent. But… Well, it seems to have not to have obtained a theatrical release in the US, and did negligible business in other countries.

Based on actual events. It's set in sleepy West Memphis, Arkansas in the early 90's. It starts out with a horrific crime, the murders of three children. Suspicion quickly falls on the local weird kid and his cohorts, suspected of being Satanists.

Reese Witherspoon plays a grieving mom. Colin Firth plays a private investigator hired by the defense team. Captain Pike himself, Bruce Greenwood, plays the trial judge. That guy you've seen in dozens of things plays a cop. Mostly everyone seems kind of bored.

Here's the thing: there's not a lot of drama. No big courtroom revelations. The real-life events this movie was based on did not have a satisfactory conclusion; hence, neither did the movie.


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The Boxtrolls

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A little stop-motion animation gem.

Set in the fantasy town of Cheesebridge, which has an interesting social structure: the cheese-obsessed humans live aboveground, and everything is run by the "white hats". At night, the Boxtrolls emerge from their underground lair while the humans cower in their homes.

But one fateful night, seemingly, the Boxtrolls do something unusual: the infant Trubshaw is abducted, daddy Trubshaw disappears. The town exterminator, red-hatted Archibald Snatcher, bullies the mayor, Lord Portley-Rind, into authorizing an extermination campaign against the underground monsters; in exchange, Snatcher will be granted a white hat and allowed entry into the exclusive cheese-tasting room in the Portley-Rind mansion.

As it turns out, the Boxtrolls are ugly, but they're so ugly they're cute (as typical with movies like these). And they have a certain amount of engineering wizardry, stealing junk from Cheesebridge at night, transforming their underground digs into a Rube Goldbergian paradise.

And their abduction of the Trubshaw babe is also a bad rap. They adopt him as one of their own, and eventually he grows up to (slight spoiler here) save the day against the evil Snatcher, with the help of Lord Portley-Rind's slightly-spoiled daughter Winnie.

It's wonderfully creative, very funny in spots. Clearly a labor of love for the filmmakers.

Interestingly, I just read an article in Wired where Steven Spielberg pronounced stop-motion as "extinct" after viewing the CGI dinosaur effects for the first Jurassic Park. He said that over twenty years ago. Nevertheless, the technique keeps ticking along, and it's difficult to imagine that this movie would be quite as wonderful without it.


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Birdman

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Subtitle is: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). No, I'm not sure what that means without doing some research. It won four Oscars, including Best Picture, and was nominated for five more, including two "Best Actor" (Michael Keaton and Edward Norton) and one "Best Supporting Actress" (Emma Stone). I'm not surprised at that last bit: everyone acts the crap out of their roles. I would have thrown Naomi Watts in there too.

It is bizarre, in a love-it-or-hate-it way. I found it agreeable, Mrs. Salad did not. It is far from clear how much is actually-happening fantasy and how much is all-in-someone's-mind delusion. I chose fantasy, which might be the reason I liked it.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson as he struggles to open an "arty" play based on a Raymond Carver story on Broadway. Riggan is perhaps best known for his superhero role (guess the name) many years back, and has struggled to get taken seriously as an actor ever since.

He is surrounded by a host of colorful characters: his friend/lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis); daughter Sam (Emma Stone); moody actor Mike (Edward Norton); Mike's ex-girlfriend/actress Lesley (Naomi Watts). Everybody's pretentious, self-destructive, and various degrees of insane. The production is teetering on the edge of financial ruin. And Riggan keeps hearing a powerful voice advising him to… well, do stuff that might not be in his best interests.

Trivia: Eventually I caught on that the movie was filmed with a minimum of visible cuts. (IMDB counts only 16 in the entire movie.)


Last Modified 2015-06-12 10:16 AM EDT
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The Love Punch

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

The only people who should watch this movie are aspiring filmmakers who can use it as a prime example of how to waste acting talent. Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson are simply lost with a tired script and sub-par direction. I would blame (naturally enough) writer/director Joel Hopkins, but his previous effort (Last Chance Harvey, also with Ms. Thompson) was better.

Anyway, the story: Kate (Ms. Thompson) and Richard (Mr. Brosnan) are divorced, due to Richard's infidelity. But they're still semi-civil, and at least Richard still has feelings for Kate, because who wouldn't, it's Emma Thompson, fer goodness sake.

On the edge of retirement, Richard has sold his company to what he thought was a dynamic up-and-comer. He is disappointed when the company is hollowed out and put into receivership. Not only is his life's handiwork destroyed, his pension (and those of his ex-coworkers) has vanished into thin financial air.

He and Kate track down the misbehaving financier; it becomes apparent that there's no possibility of getting him to personally shoulder the old company's liabilities. So instead they set their sights on "nicking" (I should have mentioned that this is a British comedy) a huge diamond the financier is about to give his airhead fiancée as a wedding present. The resulting hijinks are eminently predictable. (Do Kate and Richard rekindle their romantic feelings for each other? Duh.)

I missed about twenty minutes or so due to extreme boredom. No subtitles on the DVD.


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