drwex: (Troll)
Note not a "hot mess" though there's an argument that label applies, too. Charlize Theron's lead in the screen adaptation of The Coldest City is somewhat scrambled and appears to suffer in a couple places from poor editing choices, but that's not what I mean. I mean, first, that Theron's Lorraine Broughton is hot on screen. Theron mastered more of the action and fight moves than the directors initially expected, so several of the fight sequences were improved and put together more tightly to show what she could do. She's now my #3 choice for next Bond. (*) Also, her interactions with Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) are hot. 4/5 stars if you like spy thrillers and good action flicks (of which there are far too few headed by women).

The film is also messy in a way you don't often see in action films. Broughton fights guys who are bigger than she is, and they hurt her. You get to see blood, not in the the gouts-of-fake-fluid sense, but in the sense that being in a real fight messes you up. You bleed, get cut up and bruised, and it stays with you. Broughton takes hits and gives better than she gets and you see all of it. It's like someone wiped all the "clean" off a Bond flick. Gritty realism has been a thing in Hollywood films lately, but mostly that comes across as oppressive darkness and gloom. Atomic Blonde is not a happy film and few people in it end up happy at the end, but it's not oppressively gloomy and I definitely want to see more. Making this into a Theron-led franchise would be a happy thing in my world.

I mentioned Boutella earlier and she turns in a good performance here as a possible naif, someone who may be in over her head. Broughton's foil in this caper, though, is David Percival (James McAvoy), an agent who has most definitely "gone native" in communist East Berlin in the months before the wall comes down. Nominally, Broughton and Percival are on the same side, supposed to work together to extract "Spyglass" a duplicitous Stasi agent who has managed to assemble a list of operatives. Spyglass will exchange this list for safe passage for himself and his family to the West. Of course, things go wrong. MI-6 sends Broughton in to sort the mess out and get that list, setting up the film's primary conflict.

The intertwined secondary conflict revolves around a long-known double agent, identified only as Satchel. This person has been selling Western secrets to the Soviets for years and Broughton is also given the job of discovering and eliminating this threat. In fact, Satchel's identity may even be on this List that Spyglass has assembled. The movie presents us with multiple plausible characters who could be Satchel and then... well, you should see it if you like this kind of thing.

McAvoy's performance is deliberately scene-chewing. He's loud, brash, doesn't care, drinks too much, screws around, and generally doesn't seem competent. Except he is, leaving us to think the whole brash thing is a front. In counterpoint, Theron's performance is restrained fury - she's cold and calculating and tough as nails. You know what she's capable of, and it's just waiting to see how and when she's going to cut loose. Both actors are excellent solo and opposite each other.

The other really good part about this film is the soundtrack. It's set in the weeks of May and June 1990, right before the demolition of the Berlin Wall. The film's sound includes a number of classic tunes from that era, including "Cat People" (often called "Putting out Fire") by Bowie, "Major Tom", "Fight the Power", and "99 Luftballons". Baby Driver was widely talked up as a movie that integrated music with its visuals and I think Atomic Blonde does an even better job of that. The music sets scenes, appears almost as a character in the film, and the way it's integrated with the action, the dialog, and the effects ought to win the sound designer an Oscar.

Spoilers and detailed discussion you might want to wait to read )

(*) behind Kate Beckinsale and Idris Elba
drwex: (Troll)
Baby Driver is Edgar Wright's fast-paced heist-crew movie featuring Kevin Spacey (Doc) and Ansel Elgort as the eponymous Baby (b-a-b-y) who is the driver for all of Doc's gangs. I tend to like heist-crew movies - of which Heat is pretty close to the platonic ideal. This one promised to be something extra-special because Baby listens to music throughout. He has a soundtrack to his life and that becomes a large part of the soundtrack to this movie. You may have noticed I'm a little obsessive about music. Also, I tend to like almost everything Kevin Spacey does so I figured this one was a no-lose for me.

For about 80% of the movie that's true. Spacey is a tough-boss tough-guy with a surprising good streak in him, Elgort is a great pastiche of the "kid who could have been nice, but who fell in with the wrong crew" and the other players also do well. I particularly liked Deborah, as played by Lily James. She's sweet but not naive, beautiful but not glamorous, and it's easy to see why Baby falls for her.

The plot is pretty simple: some time ago, Baby boosted a car belonging to Doc that had valuable merchandise in it. Something went wrong and Doc is now extracting his due from Baby one job at a time, because Baby is an amazing getaway driver. Once the debt is paid off, Baby will, in theory, be free to do as he pleases. Of course, nothing is that simple. 3/5 stars; would've had 4/5 but for the ending.
Not exactly a spoiler but I'll cut-tag it anyway )
Still, see this if heist movies are your thing. Just brace yourself.
(*) or words to that effect.
drwex: (Troll)
Finally, Marvel has given us its version of Spider-Man, fit into the Marvel movie universe. Having shown us chunks of it in Avengers and with a fairly revealing trailer the outline of the story was pretty well-known and the plot has only one or two surprises. 3/5 stars for a passable movie that doesn't inspire, particularly, but doesn't turn off.

Like almost all the Marvel movies so far this one rises on the strength of its main portrayal. Specifically, Tom Holland is Peter Parker/Spider-Man for the early 21st century. He's got the embarrassed nerd act down pat, and the wonder-struck teenager done pretty well. He bumbles and improvises and does frankly stupid things.

The script is a bit of a mess- I ended up disliking the ending because it rang false and felt like unnecessary fan service[1]. There are also some really bad inconsistencies, not least of which is the utter lack of concern everyone has about a minor disappearing all the time in all kinds of places. But it's not so terrible as to throw me out of my enjoyment.[2]

That said, the film does nod to several bits of Spider-Man canon and history without hitting anyone over the head about it. Perhaps the best thing about the script itself is that it is not an origin story. Where I felt that Wonder Woman absolutely needed to give us a definitive origin tale, Spider-Man's origin is something we've seen done and done to death. Here what's needed is to situate Spider-Man in the (new) Marvel universe and its ongoing events, not retell how Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider. This movie does that.

I do want to give a special shout-out to the movie for representation. Laura Harrier plays Liz, a mixed-race [3] senior that Peter Parker is into. Her movie parents... well, yes, right on. Zendaya is Michelle, the very hip not-a-girlfriend who hides just how smart she is, also mixed background. Jacob Batalon as Ned-the-best-nerd-friend-ever, also clearly not a white guy. Major roles are still white dudes but it's very 21st-century appropriate in my view to have people of all sorts on the screen and nobody makes a big deal of any of it. It just is. The film doesn't pass the Bechdel test, though.

Go see it; it's a fun summer movie and nobody but me expects these things to be great art.

[1] for a change I'm going to try doing this one spoiler-free so you'll just have to watch the movie and see if you agree with me.
[2] Does it bother anyone else that Peter calls her "May" rather than "Aunt May?" I get that they're trying to update a stodgy white-haired old widow into the younger, obviously hotter Marisa Tomei version and I can roll with that, but him calling her "May" throws me every time.
[3] I hate that term; if you have a better one for a person who has one white and one black parent then I'd love to update my vocabulary.
drwex: (pogo)
I find a lot of commentary falling into the duality of "if it's not awesome, it sucks; if it didn't suck it must be awesome." I went into this movie with low expectations and sky-high hopes. It beat expectations but didn't meet my hopes. 3/5 stars

As usual, I can't talk about a number of the problems without spoilers so let me get the non-spoiler stuff up front. This review is divided into
the good )
---------- Below here be spoilers, at least one major; go see the movie then come read this and tell me what you think
the bad )
---------- below here be more spoilers; have you seen the movie yet? No, seriously, go see it. I'm about to spoil the ending.
the problematic )
drwex: (Troll)
I have a general rule that films with the same person serving as both writer and director will be better than splitting those visions. There are lots of good movies with different writers than directors but also lots of bad. There are fewer bad in my experience with one writer/director. That said, this was too long, poorly written, and disappointing. 3/5, saved from 2/5 because Gamora.

One of the things that should've been a clue for this movie's problems is the lack of a subtitle. Every other Marvel-universe sequel I can think of has had a subtitle that tells you what the movie is going to be about. Think "Age of Ultron" or "The Winter Soldier". Now pause for a moment and try to come up with the three- or four-word subtitle that would describe this movie. I can't think of one because the movie doesn't have a focus. It would be something like "we try really hard to do more of the same stuff and be funny at it." Or "Isn't Baby Groot Really Cute?"

Yes, Groot is cute. No, the movie isn't really funny. The movie lacks anything like a coherent plot but let's put all the complete spoilers under the cut tag...
Read more... )
No one expects a sequel to be as good as the original. The first GotG was so off-the-wall, so out of character for all the other Marvel Universe movies, that they had to sell you on the idea that it was Marvel universe. And that movie was great. Likewise, I expect the next Deadpool movie will have a hard time living up to the original. But GotG 2 suffers from a lot more than sequel-itis. It suffers from a bad script that drags everything else down.

I don't fault Chris Pratt for being wooden, nor Kurt Russel for being ridiculous. But that's what the script makes their characters be.
drwex: (WWFD)
Go see this movie if you have any interest in history, in untold stories of black women who nearly got lost by systemic erasure, in the space program, in early computing, or just in some fine acting where there's a white guy finely portrayed by Kevin Costner and he is not the most important thing on screen. 5/5 stars

Seriously, about the only thing I can complain with regard to this movie is that given the time-period in which it is set, everyone should've been smoking like chimneys. Costner's Al Harrison chain-chews gum like you'd expect from a man trying to quit the habit - so he gets a pass - but beyond that nobody lights up, nobody is even seen with a cigarette. I've looked at several dozen historical images of the mission control room and nobody seems to have cigarettes in there so OK I can roll with that but outside of NASA, on the streets, in the churches and back-yard BBQs you'd expect that people smoked.

It might help you contextualize my reaction to this movie to know that when I was growing up one of my prized possessions was a then-biggest 64-color box of Crayola crayons and on that box I had affixed a Freedom 7 sticker. To say that I was a typical American kid obsessed with rockets and space and moon landings growing up is to understate it. So a movie that tells a true-er story of the fiction I absorbed is going to be right up my alley. I expected to love this movie, and I did.

And then there's the cast. I generally like Costner, and he turns in a very good show as a man balancing his personal obsession with the fact that he's leading a mission of obsessed men on an obsessive journey for an obsessed nation. I liked that he was so much a typical engineer - like the fish in water he's unaware of the racist system that supports him until the moment that racism becomes an obstacle to him getting things done at which point FUCK racism. If getting his work done means taking a black woman into a classified Pentagon briefing full of white men then so be it. Costner's Harrison isn't some newly enlightened white ally - he's a man on a mission and he's smart enough to realize that this black woman is essential to getting that mission done.

I'm not familiar with Taraji Henson's previous work, which appears to be mostly TV, but it's clear she should get more leading roles. She manages by turns to be a super-smart girl-woman, a wise and caring mother, a feminist romantic, a hard-working super-smart black woman who gets the short end of everything because she's that, and in the end she turns out to be the right smart person in the right place at the right time. Yes, there's credit due here to the writer and the director for setting this up, but it's Henson's style and talent that carry the role across all these varied situations.

Then there's Octavia Spencer, who does not exactly have the gut-punch level of emotional impact that, say, Alfre Woodard can deliver but she is not far off. She's mostly relegated to a supervisor/momma role in her interactions with the other characters which makes you forget just how smart she is until she turns the tables about 2/3 of the way through. Her interactions with Kirsten Dunst's character, the almost thoughtlessly racist Vivian Mitchell, are some of the best two-shot scenes in the movie. I remember Spencer from Snowpiercer, a movie I disliked enough to discount her work and I'm glad to see her getting a bigger role in a better movie here.

Then last you have Janelle Monae, whose singing and dancing (and awesome sense of style) I've enjoyed for some years showing up as a fine actor in her own right. Her character, Mary Jackson, is portrayed as the sexiest and also the boldest of the three main women. Her role is interesting to me because she has some of the strongest interactions with men. She is fine in the scenes with Spencer and Henson, but where she really shines and defines herself is first in her interactions with the Jewish WWII survivor who wants her to do more. Then in her careful yet strong and loving interactions with her husband, played by Aldis Hodge, as a black-rights near-militant activist, and finally in one utterly brilliant scene with Frank Hoyt Taylor (credited simply as "Judge"). If you can watch those scenes and not fall in love with Mary Jackson then you are not me.

In the end, I think what makes this movie great is that it makes a sweeping story - America's race to come back from our failure to put the first satellite and then the first man into orbit - into a series of tightly paired interactions that each tell facets of the story. Henson-Costner tell us the NASA parts of the story. Spencer-Dunst tell us the black woman-white woman inbred racism parts of the story. Monae and her foils tell us the black-women-fighting-uphill-all-the-way parts of the story. Things in movies are always made simpler and history is too complex to be told truly in a two-hour film. But within those constraints this movie does a brilliant job of revealing things we all deserve to know and helping us feel it through those who lived it.
drwex: (Default)
Normally I write up the movies I see within a few days. Sometimes I wait to read others' commentaries (which I usually avoid beforehand because spoilers) afterward in order to help coalesce my thinking. This time it was more of a "hey, I could do this other thing."

I think part of it was that I went in with relatively high expectations - The Force Awakens introduced us to the idea that there were more Star Wars stories to tell and gave us an intriguing and moderately well-fleshed female lead. Yes, it was a ton of fan service and I wasn't all that impressed but OK, it had potential.

This movie... does not. It's a mess. It's full of characters that are supposed to have interesting backstories and interesting interactions and who get us set up for the events of the (real) first Star Wars movie and
drwex: (WWFD)
There are lots of movies that come out labeled as SF and most of them are action-adventure and a lot of them are horror with blinky lights. But the central tenet of science fiction is that you are telling a story that could not be told without at least one scientific element.

Mind you, the other way isn't all bad. Star Trek was an episodic Western set in space and Firefly was even more explicitly a space Western. But it's hard to name one scientific idea without which you couldn't have told those stories.

Gattaca, by contrast, was explicitly built around the idea that anyone's DNA could be read, quickly, and manipulated extensively. Arrival is built around the idea of "What happens if First Contact is with really alien aliens, who may not even think like we do?" 4/5 stars or maybe even 5/5 not because I so loved this film but because it does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it well.

Amy Adams' portrayal of Louise Banks, a brilliant linguist tasked with discovering and understanding the aliens' language so we humans can communicate with them is spot-on. The movie is based on Ted Chiang's novella(*) The Story of Your Life which I didn't remember until about 1/3 of the way through, when one of the characters references the Sapir-Worf Hypothesis. (**)

As in the story, Banks finds herself being affected by her immersion in learning the aliens' communication. She may even begin to think and see the world as they do, and it's an interesting contrast between the moment-to-moment action and the overarching what's-going-on. To say more would be spoilery, so I won't. The movie rises on the strength of Adams' performance, as a mother and as a scientist and as a person struggling to figure out how to relate to these other beings whom she might be closer to than she is to other humans.

The movie manages to have tension and conflict without resorting to Bad Guys vs Good Guys and that's also a mark of a good SF movie, to me. The supporting cast are mostly there as props for Adams but they're good props. Jeremy Renner manages to be supportive and likable despite being set up to be authoritarian and male-dominant. Forest Whitaker is believable and earnest as a military man put to an impossible task. It's really interesting to see the mirrors between Whitaker's American military man and Tzi Ma as the Chinese General Shang whose off-stage and then at the last moment on-stage actions make all the difference. It's a rare movie that manages to show its military characters as patriots and also as non-villainous people.

Don't miss this one - it's worth seeing in a theater but I suspect it'll translate just fine to smaller screen.

(*) both IMDB and Wikipedia refer to it as a "short story" but it won the Nebula for Best Novella and in the hardcopy I own it's referred to as a novella, so there!

(**) I remembered because one of the things that irked me is the novella seems to be based on the strong version of the hypothesis, which I disagree with on pure instinct. The movie doesn't play it as strongly.
drwex: (Troll)
It's something of a measure of how well Marvel has done with the superhero movie genre that this ranks as one of the bottom offerings. It's so much better than we were used to, say, a couple decades back, but when you're up against some of the recent entries in the genre you have to do better than this one does. I tried explaining the problems to [livejournal.com profile] mizarchivist and realized i couldn't do it without spoilers, so...
You have been warned )
Overall I didn't hate the movie and didn't feel like I wanted my money back, but they need to figure out what they're doing with this character and do that thing well in the next movie.
drwex: (VNV)
A bit of preamble first... I've only seen Tricky one other time, with Massive Attack at the Orpheum way the hell long ago (I want to say 1994). Haven't seen him since he went solo. I liked his first couple solo albums, was meh on the rest but this one (with Skilled Mechanics) sounded good and he finally got his visa issues sorted out so there was a US tour and sure, let's go.

The opening act was an entirely too-loud lesbian punk-thrash trio. Yay earplugs. We hung out at the bar in the back and drank a very nice cider. Conversation was impossible - we "talked" by typing on our phones and showing each other what we'd written. Kind of surreal but OK. As far as I can tell the last good opening act I've seen was Nephrok before George Clinton and the first new-to-me really good opening act was And One before a VNV show some years ago. I keep hoping.

Then there was Tricky. I've struggled to characterize what exactly was wrong, so let me give you a few details: he moved in a jerky, knees-locked fashion; he stared at the ceiling most of the time; he grabbed at two mics on stands and tried using both as (variously) microphones to sing into, batons to wave, and percussion instruments to bang against his chest. He flailed about in a way that gave the impression of someone strung out badly on something. He constantly grabbed and pulled at his clothing with one hand as though he was going to rip off his shirt or just hold it bunched in his fist (with the mic) as if he didn't want it touching his skin.

If you closed your eyes and just listened it wasn't all that bad. The guitarist for Skilled Mechanics is pretty good and despite Tricky's physical antics he had the lyrics and timing of a lucid and not-strung-out performer. But watching him method-act a heroin withdrawal on stage was intensely awkward. The complete lack of interaction with the audience, including not looking at the people, just made it weirder.

The act consisted of Tricky, the guitarist, and one drummer. All the electronics and the extra vocal tracks were played from somewhere off-stage. Tricky's songs are usually complex and multi-layered. I expected at least a synth player and a couple back-up singers. Maybe they weren't in the budget this time? However it came to pass, having some of the most interesting parts of the music appearing out of nowhere just added to the surreal.

After 45 mostly painful minutes of this, Tricky announced "Good night" and the band left the stage. We were all checking our watches... yes, it really was only 45 minutes since they'd come on. After a short break they reappeared and the bizarre just continued as if they hadn't said good night a few minutes ago. We decided that we could still get ice cream and salvage some of the evening before catching the shuttle bus back to Alewife and getting our car.

JP Licks is open until late and their ice cream is tasty.
drwex: (Troll)
Over Labor Day weekend I went to visit the girlfriend and see her new place. One morning's plans got torpedo'ed because she wasn't feeling well so we stayed in and watched a movie. We sort of picked "Woman in Gold" because it was something I'd wanted to see and missed in theaters and she's lived in Germany and knows a lot about history so we figured why not. (4/5 almost entirely because Mirren is awesome)

As advertised, Helen Mirren does an excellent job as Maria Altmann, the woman whose aunt is portrayed in the eponymous painting. The story revolves around Ms Altmann's efforts to recover the painting, which was stolen from her family by the Nazis. She's opposed by the Austrian government for whom the Klimt painting and its companions have become national symbols and for whom the concept of "reparations" was mostly an abstract concept hearkening back to a past that late-20th-century Austrians would like to put behind them.

Against Mirren's performance Ryan Reynolds comes off as scene-chewing and kind of spastic. He's trying hard and I can see how he can mature into a better actor with experience and work but dear gods he really highlights what a master of the craft Mirren is. She conveys a wide range of emotions with her expressions, intonations, and simple gestures But to Reynolds' credit he sticks with it and pulls it off.

Spoilers and triggers...
this caught me by surprise; you are warned )
It's a good movie to watch, if you're prepared for it. Me, I had to walk for nearly an hour afterward to shake it off.
drwex: (Troll)
I'm talking here about Snow White and the Huntsman and The Huntsman: Winter's War. (3/5 stars because I really didn't expect much)

These are generally fun, mostly mindless, movies of the genre that used to be called "sword and sorcery". It's pseudo-medieval, features people swinging and firing weapons typical of the Middle Ages, wearing armor, riding horses, and then you get a sprinkling of fantastic creatures and some fancy SFX magical effects. It's now clear to me that Chris Hemsworth's character in Ghostbusters is largely parodying the Huntsman.

In order to critique these movies you'd have to take them seriously, which I think would be a mistake. There isn't the level of whimsy in, say, Princess Bride but the films are clearly fairy tales being told in a fairly lighthearted manner (though there is a fair amount of darkness and PG-13 content). They're good for what they are, which is a few hours of entertainment.

Kristen Stewart's Snow White is a very modernized Joan of Arc-infused heroine. Hemsworth's Huntsman is your classic tortured reluctant hero. Charlize Theron is a scarily menacing villain (pay some freakin' attention Disney). Emily Blunt is a suitably psychotic second villain in the Winter's War. And Jessica Chastain's Sara is the kind of woman warrior I wish we'd see more of. You know they'll come into conflicts and there's absolutely no suspense about the outcome of the conflicts and that's OK. The costuming is not bad, the effects aren't overly intrusive and the settings are interesting enough to pique my curiosity about where the films were shot (IMDB lists locations throughout the UK).

The films are probably best seen in order so long as you don't mind that the second film completely erases Finn (Sam Spruell) who played a fairly menacing villain with a bad haircut in the first one. In the first film, he's Ravenna's brother and a fair bit is made of their mystical bond and longevity of relationship. In the second film, which supposedly comes before the first in the story chronology, Finn's nowhere to be seen and not even mentioned.
drwex: (Troll)
This movie was the hardest to review of the set I've seen recently. I really wanted to like it, and there were a couple of really good performances. But the script is an utter mess - incoherent, spineless, and nearly pointless in places. If Warner/DC can't get it together soon they should just pick up their marbles and go home. 2/5 stars because Will Smith and Margot Robbie are good at their craft and someone has to pick up the Joker mantle so why not Jared Leto.

Can't do this without end-to-end spoilers, sorry...
This is NOT how it's done )

Footnote: This movie is likely forever to be my counter-example to my rule of thumb that having a single writer/director leads to better outcomes.
drwex: (Troll)
(I've seen a remarkable number of movies for me lately; I'll try to keep the reviews short so I can get through all of them.)

Indie Game: The Movie is a documentary about four main developers working on three indie games as they struggle to get their works completed, either for release or for demonstration. I went into it expecting it to be something about game design or development, but really it's a piece bearing witness to the idea that "you should quit your job and follow your dream" is a perilous path. (3/5 stars)

All four of these people are (obsessively) pursuing their dreams. They're making no money, losing friends and marriages, and enduring at a minimum disbelief and scorn from the public as their game releases drag out and take longer than expected. The documentary keeps us in suspense until the end about whether any of the games will make it. That worked for me because I don't know indie games and didn't recognize the titles; if you know the games' history it might be a foretold conclusion.

Either way the movie really is about the people and their personal struggles, not about game development. They could have been craft micro-brewers or unknown writers or really any other lonely hard-working penurious individuals. In that sense, I felt the movie was something of a let-down. Though I did end up caring (mostly) about the people and wanting them to be successful, I also wanted to learn something about indie game development other than "geezus working years on a labor of love you really care about that nobody else can understand is hard and lonely and destructive."

I also could not help but notice that the chosen game developers were all young white males. While I have no doubt that's the majority of the population involved in this, my experiences at Arisia (which had an indie game expo last year and will again this year) as well as at other cons shows that there are indie-game makers of different genders, skin colors, and so on. Given that the film could only focus on a few individuals it would have been nice to see something of how these differences, which play very large in the commercial publication game world, play in the indie-game struggle.
drwex: (VNV)
I've searched my LJ and cannot find any review of the first time we saw Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at House of Blues. I remember it well because it was an excellent show and it cemented HoB as my favorite place to see music. The sound at HoB is usually quite good, always better than the abominable Paradise, I can get seats with a good view (unlike the Paradise) and it's clean and spacious, unlike... well, you get the idea.

Clinton and P-Funk returned last night for another edition of their show. It's definitely a performance, and it's definitely musical, but it's unlike most other shows you're likely ever to have seen. It's as much cabaret as it is rock show, with 14+ people on stage at any given moment. There's a solid backing trio of keyboards, drums, and bass and then there's... well, everything else.

And by "everything else" I mean rappers and singers and "back-up" singers about whom more in a moment, and Clinton himself and horn players and other vocalists and percussionists and one gentleman who has, let me tell you, not one ounce of fat ANYWHERE on his lithe and very gymnastic body. With that many people on stage it sometimes leads to amusing miscues but the group have toured and practiced together so much that they manage the transitions and hand-offs with aplomb. The only major stumble I saw was due to the sound system not working properly.

Clinton leads the ensemble, doing a bit of singing, some dancing and jumping around (pretty spry for a big man of 75 years) but mostly he's the impresario: bringing people on, encouraging attention to one place or another, getting the audience riled up. He's like the best combination of a rock star, cheerleader, and grandfather who never lost the love of what he's doing.

The performance went for an hour non-stop before the first break and then another hour+ of almost continuous play after that with shifting performers and styles. Around midnight-fifteen the venue shut off the sound system and turned on the house lights and we finally went home.

Notable highlights in this show:

  • the aforementioned back-up singers, two of whom did a really nice soul-infused duet. Lovely voices, but the sound mix wasn't helping them a lot.
  • the OTHER back-up singer, a skinny woman who spent the entire 2.5+ hours in some very high platform boots and whose solo performance would not have been out of place in a strip club (just sayin') except for the part where she was singing while gyrating. Balance, grace, and a sweet vocal range - also really nice.
  • a saxophone player whose name I sadly did not catch because dude was AMAZING. His range, speed, precision, and sustains were all out of this world. And then he put down the sax and sang lead, quite ably. There was also a trumpet player who on another stage would have been good but placed next to this sax genius, well, I'm not sure anyone could have measured up.
  • TWO extended solos from Blackbyrd McKnight. He's one of the few remaining traces of the old Parliament Funkadelic and he's just insanely good at what he does. His solos were incendiary, a throwback to old-school Clapton and Hendrix and Page. And yes, he did actually play the guitar with his teeth at one point, as if to prove he could do that, too. Last show I remember him kind of sitting out much of the first part while he fussed with his guitar only to blow away the stage and audience once he got rolling. Seeing him hit that mile-high groove again was awesome.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the opener: The Nephrok Allstars, whom I'd heard of before through [livejournal.com profile] kit_holliday and had watched videos but never seen live. Like most funk acts, Nephrok is much better live than recorded. They did a strong set with Nephrok himself giving some of the verbal vibe that I remember from the earliest P-Funk days.

---------- Music history aside ----------
Back in the dark ages, funk music and particularly P-Funk with its weird sci-fi-esque mothership and space alien vibe (see also Sun Ra) positioned itself as a force for intergalactic harmony and peace. At a moment in time when many Black voices were speaking anger (Nation of Islam, Black Panthers) funk artists stood up to deliver a "we are all one" message. It's something that has always stuck with me.

So last night Nephrok talked to the audience about being "love soldiers" - active, not passive - and paying attention to what was going on in the world. He did a song for Syria and pointed out that even though he doesn't personally know many Syrians it's still something that should touch us all deeply. He reminded people that we are all children of Abraham. Funk music and (Black) politics have always been entwined in my brain and I'm glad to see modern funk artists carrying on that tradition too.
drwex: (Troll)
A week or so ago we tried to see ST:B and got diverted. This time the projector was working.

Two new things about how this movie was made: a new director, Justin Lin (advertised as notable for Fast & Furious movies), and it has Simon Pegg (who also plays Scotty) as one of its writers. Both leave significant marks on the result, though neither one shows any real brilliance. 2.5/5 stars for being formulaic and forgettable.

Lin's style would not seem inherently Star Trek-ian. A Trek movie is about the web of characters within the context of the ship and the Federation. They're not generally fast-paced action-adventure glitz flicks like F&F. It's also no spoiler to say that this movie blows up the Enterprise, yet again. Why anyone keeps giving Kirk new ships with this kind of accident record is beyond me, but OK. At least the method used this time is kind of cool and novel, even if it is a ridiculous violation of approximately all the known laws of basic mechanical physics. On a more serious note, is Kirk just completely inured to feelings of any kind? The number of dead has to be in the hundreds or even thousands but it's less than water off a duck's back to him.

So they blow up the ship, the crew get stranded, meet the mandatory cute alien chick, and have wild action-adventures with shooting and high-speed chases. Mostly I'm yawning, though the scenery is rather pretty. The plot (and I use that word VERY lightly) hurries you along from bit to bit so you won't notice the insane ridiculousness of it. More on that below the cut, but first some notes.

Pegg's contribution seems to be to bring Scotty more to life as a character by having Scotty appear in a more central plot role. He gets to interact with the cute alien chick (where usually it'd be Kirk) and gets a funny sidekick and gets to play a starring role in the rescue effort instead of being rescued himself. Aaaand, we care about this why? I mean, Pegg's a fine actor and I like how he's developing the Scotty role while paying tribute to its history. But I didn't feel any spark, and what Pegg's good at - 1:1 scenes with dialog and reaction - gets drowned out by the roaring special effects.

Unfortunately Scotty+alienchick time crowds out what I suspect would have been Spock+Uhura time if another writer had handled it. That's sad because Spock is dealing with, and reacting to, major losses (which I won't spoiler here). I just didn't feel like Zachary Quinto is given adequate time to develop that part of the character, also due to being pushed from one action sequence to the next.

Both the guest stars this time around do good jobs. Idris Elba is Krall, the main villain with dark secrets, and Sofia Boutella is way better in this one than she was allowed to be in Kingsman. Jaylah (Boutella) picks up the movie considerably once she appears and the character gets to be emotional and thoughtful, competent and self-sufficient, but with strengths and doubts and fears all at once. Props to Pegg and team for writing her that well and Boutella for filling out the role admirably despite the full-face make-up. Elba I just plain adore - he's #2 on my list for who should be the next Bond (*). He's also working through full-face make-up and doing a decent job of conveying his character.

Lin's other notable contribution to the movie is his non-rectilinear camera angles. Everything is tilted, or folded over, or looking up. It's really rare that you get a standard-aspect wide shot. That's nice, but the fact that I spent so much time noticing it means the movie itself wasn't getting my attention.

But, seriously, this movie is overflowing with ridiculous... (spoiler alert)
WTF guys )

In summary I think I would've liked this movie better with fewer crazy camera angles, more Spock time, and a lot less ridiculousness.

(*) Number one is Kate Beckinsale because she has action-movie chops (Underworld), has the accent, we've gotten a cross-cast M so it's well past time for a female Bond, and finally I am visualizing Kate Beckinsale in a fine Armani suit - your argument is invalid.
drwex: (Troll)
We had Thing 1 home for a couple days and though he doesn't like most movies he was eager to see Star Trek with us. So we got tickets for the three of us. But when we got to the theater they regretfully informed us that their projector was on the fritz. They refunded our card for the Trek tickets and offered us comps as well. We looked at the board and decided to exchange the comps for tix to the Ghostbusters showing in half an hour. It took some cajoling to get Thing 1 to go and, like all the kids in the theater, he'd not seen the original so missed the nods and homages. But he still enjoyed himself, as did we. I give this a 3.5/5 - fun entertainment but not nearly as memorable or quotable as the original. Definitely stay all the way through the credits, though.

***Important Safety Tip*** the couple in line behind us for not-getting-into-Trek bought their tickets through Fandango and there was some issue where the manager was expressing regrets about not being able to refund them. I didn't eavesdrop long enough to hear the details but if you're someone who uses these third-party ticket services you might want to check if there are limitations on your ability to get a refund.

Review, with minor spoilers )
drwex: (Troll)
The most telling change yet and the greatest hope for this series came after the movie when my kid asked who I thought was the best in the movie and I was torn between Jean Gray (whom I've ***SUPER ADORED*** ever since I was reading paper comics as a kid, talk about your classic tragic heroine) and Mystique. Notice anything? Not Prof-X, not Magneto. Also, two female characters. Universe, there is serious hope for X-Men and it is the X-Women. 4/5 stars and here's hoping this continues on an upward trajectory.

Some light spoilers here, not like there's much to spoil...
Read more... )
drwex: (Troll)
Spoilers will be below the cut and may appear in comments. You have been warned.

Captian America: Civil War is really an Avengers movie that happens to center on Cap. It's also an excellent meditation on the nature of friendship and responsibility. 4/5 stars

It's impossible to ignore how closely this movie followed on the disastrous Batman vs Superman not least because they overlap significantly in themes. This movie could have been titled "Captain America vs Iron Man" because yes these two iconic superheros do duke it out. But it's so much more and the ways CA:CW succeeds highlight a lot of BvS's failures. Captain America movies have not, from the first, been feel-good pictures. This movie is not going to cheer you up, either. But it's not about "darkness" - whatever that might be - it's about how people can have very different ideas on how to achieve goals they all see as right. How each of us has different tradeoffs we're willing to make. And what it means to be friends when your friends are trying to kill each other.

Another thing this movie has going for it is its exploration of consequences and growth. The heroes have to wrestle with the fact that they (despite saving the world several times over) have devastated cities and that innocents have died. Those acts have consequences - nobody in this movie walks away scot free. Also, everyone grows. That's a credit both to the actors and to the writers here who manage to show growth almost entirely without hitting us over the head with it. Comparing how everyone acts in this movie against how they behaved in their earlier appearances you can see they've gotten older, wiser, more cautious, more aware.

Below be spoilers...
Read more... )
drwex: (Troll)
I went into this one with high expectations. It looked like fun, and funny, with a great cast. In the end, I found it to be a tedious mash-up of stereotypes that wandered pointlessly and failed to amuse. It wasn't so bad as to make me want my hours back, but it was very "meh" and "that was too long for its content."

Afterward [livejournal.com profile] sweetmmeblue commented that I tend not to like Coen Brothers films. I think my expectations were set very high way back in the Raising Arizona days and everything since then has failed to live up to that. There are certainly a lot of Coen works I haven't seen, but I've been pretty consistently disappointed by what I have.

This is a film about films, as produced in the strongarm-studio era of Hollywood 1951. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, a hard-working, good-hearted head of a studio that's both churning out product and managing its stable of celebrities while fending off nosy press and dealing with its stars' foibles, including drunkenness, infidelity, and out-of-wedlock pregnancy. That the movie succeeds at all is due to the cast's stellar performances in their stereotyped roles.

George Clooney's Baird Whitlock is the central acting character, and he's a stereotype. He drinks too much, sleeps around, and tells hoary tales of other actors. He does one unexpected thing the entire movie (which I won't spoil) and in the end it amounts to nothing.

Alden Ehrenreich is Hobie Doyle, the stereotype of a looks-good, sings-well, can't-act cowboy-acrobat performer. He's just genuinely nice, and the funny accent thing is part of the stereotype. He gets paired up by the studio with a Carmen Miranda-alike stereotype, and we get to watch him doing stereotypical rope tricks.

Ralph Fiennes is Laurence Laurentz, and he's the stereotype of the closeted pooftah director, intent on translating Broadway hits into faithful on-screen presentations. He's stereotypically fussy about his clothing and speech - isn't that what closeted homosexuals are all like? Ugh.

Scarlett Johansson is DeeAnna Moran, the stereotype bad-girl starlet. On screen for her looks and wholesome (blonde, buxom) image acting in stereotypical Busby Berkley-esque films. Of course, off screen she's promiscuous and has gone through two stereotypically useless husbands already.

Well, you get the idea. The film seems determined to pile one stereotype on top of another. Even minor characters are presented this way. In the one scene of Mannix at home, his adoring and dutiful wife has kept dinner warm for him and when he starts to discuss his job quandries with her, she tells him, "Well of course you know best, dear." Ugh.

Maybe this is supposed to be funny? Maybe the Coens are trying to get us to see how dumb all these 65-year-old stereotypes are and laugh at it? I didn't think it was particularly funny - in fact I found myself cringing at several points - nor did the audience seem to emit more than a polite chuckle now and then.

The plot, such as it is, kind of winds and meanders, giving us plenty of time to see everyone in their stereotypical performances. And they all smoke. There's a movie, it needs its star (Whitlock) to finish the climactic scene. But he goes missing, because... well, more stereotypes.

I did enjoy Tilda Swinton doubling as the twin sisters Thora and Thessaly Thacker. Swinton plays them both as versions of ridiculous gossip columnists and the wardrobe director clearly had a blast costuming Swinton's tall, thin frame in a variety of awesome Modernist 50s-era fashions. She tries very hard to be comic relief and I can't fault Swinton for the fact that the script just doesn't give her any good material.


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