Category Archives: Movie Review

Black Panther (2018)

Capsule Review (minimal spoilers):

Black Panther is the latest film from Marvel Comics about yet another superhero. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the King of the imaginary African nation of Wakanda, who has recently inherited the position after his father’s death in Captain America: Civil War.  The nation struggles with the transition, which forms the basis of the story.

The story is full, and there’s a lot to take in, but the pacing keeps thing moving to a very satisfying resolution. Fortunately, it stands by itself – You do not need to know anything about Black Panther or any of the other Marvel superheroes to connect with the film.

The film has a runtime of 2 hours 14 minutes, so be advised.  As with other Marvel movies, there’s a mid-credits scene, and a post-credits scene, so don’t leave too early! Black Panther is available in 3-D, but it’s not necessary for this enjoyable entertainment. Obviously, I do recommend the film.

Main Review:

Wakanda is a poor nation, or so they would have you believe. However, that’s just an illusion they put out to the rest of the world. Millennia ago, a meteorite crashed into their land, and it was  composed of a material  that is the strongest known substance, and it also has enabled the Wakandans to advance their technology far above what the rest of the world can do. Internally, the nation has profited from this, but they keep it a secret. Some outsiders know, but that’s about as far as it goes.

That is the challenge of the movie – how can they contain the secret any longer? Should they? With the transition to a new king, it gives them the opportunity to reinvent the nation, and what it stands for. This drives the story, and it is a good story to tell. You don’t feel shorted or slighted on any front.

They properly portray the grandeur of the nation. Everything is lush, and the cast is reasonably fleshed out. None of the characters appear as window dressing. You get a sense that they all know who and what they are. It’s an impressive feat when you have more than a handful of major players. It’s a rare treat when it’s done right.

It’s a good movie, and it does take a welcome jab or two at the sort of film this is.  It is only a borderline superhero movie, in that it’s not the primary part of the film unlike most of the previous ones. I won’t go any further. Definitely see it in a theater, you won’t be disappointed.




The 15:17 to Paris (2018)

Capsule Summary (minimal spoilers):

The 15:17 to Paris is the latest film from Clint Eastwood. It is a dramatization of a terrorist attack that occurred on a train that was travelling from Amsterdam to Paris. It was thwarted by the actions of three Americans, two of which were serving in the military.

This film has the rare honor of using the three people involved in the incident as actors, playing themselves. It has a reasonable plot where you get to know about them and their past. It’s a good story that’s worth seeing, but it leaves a couple questions about the event that are not addressed, but could have been. It’s entertaining, but you could probably wait for it to arrive on cable or streaming services, and not feel slighted.

Main Review:

This film has three sections. Each portion tells part of the story, and you get a good sense for who these guys are. It starts with Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone, and how they met as children. We get a good backstory, and it tells us of these kids getting their start as troublemakers. When they become adults, Alek and Spencer join different branches of the military, and later decide to meet up while on furlough in Europe. Spencer convinces Anthony to join them. The last portion of the film is the train ride itself.

The first section of the film has a lot of supporting characters. Judy Greer and Jenna Fisher are the mothers of Spencer and Alek. You get a sense of why these kids are the way they are, as they grow to adulthood. There are several blink-and-you’ll-miss-them actors here, but it’s always good to understand who these kids are.

The second section is really more of a travelogue for going to Europe on a short timeframe. The timing slows down a bit, and you can see that these guys aren’t actors, but they do a passable job in the movie. Clint Eastwood keeps things moving, and you get a good sense of the touristy nature of their trip, but you’re really waiting for the main event.

As to the resolution, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the end of the film. While the situation is pretty close to the truth, there’s mention that some scenes were altered for dramatic effect. As for the end, there are some questions that I had that were unanswered by the film, or were glossed over.  It felt a little incomplete, but this Wikipedia link provides the answers I was looking for.

I do recommend the film, but don’t believe you must see it in theaters.


The Post (2017)

Capsule Review (Minor Spoilers):

The Post is a movie about The Washington Post, a newspaper trying to make a name for itself in the early 1970s. the come across a story that is very controversial, and agonize over publishing it, as the consequences can be catastrophic.

Based on the actual events, it’s a great story of the era, and serves as allegory for the current political climate regarding “fake” news.  Recommended.

Main Review

Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) has assumed the role of publisher for The Washington Post. She took on the role after her husband, the former publisher, died. He was given the job by her father, the previous publisher, but hasn’t really taken control yet. She relies on her advisers, and is about to list the paper on the American Stock Exchange to raise funds and keep the paper afloat.

The story opens  in the later 1960s with an observer Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys).  He is working for the Secretary of State, Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). They are in Vietnam, attempting to determine the state of things, which aren’t going well. McNamara returns to the U.S. and declares the war is going well, which is exactly the opposite of what he says privately. McNamara eventually commissioned a report on the state of affairs regarding Vietnam, and it confirms what he’s been saying behind closed doors.

That doesn’t site well with Ellsberg, gets his hands on a copy of the report, and reaches out to the press. Unfortunately, it’s the New York Times. Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the editor of the Post, tried to determine this, but didn’t succeed before it went to print. However, the Times only printed the beginning of their analysis, and the government makes them stop. It’s not looking too good for any publication of the story, until part  of the report shows up on a reporter’s desk at the Post.

It becomes a morality play on the role of the media, and how far they could or should go.  Everyone in the cast gives a strong performance, and none of it is overdone. I kept struggling to recognize all the actors involved, and some I just couldn’t figure out until the credits rolled.  It’s quite a compelling film, especially if you like films about what it takes to get news out. It wasn’t too ‘inside baseball’ to appreciate what they did, and how it was accomplished.

This is an important movie, and is definitely worth seeing. Highly recommended.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Capsule Review (Minimal spoilers):

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a sequel to the 1995 film Jumanji, if in basic premise, only. Several children are tricked into playing a game, with dangerous consequences. This sequel puts them right in the middle of the situation, and have to find their way through.

It’s an action comedy that’s a lot of fun. The jokes are good, and relatably entertaining. There is some violence of the PG-13 variety. It is also available as a 3D movie, but I did not see it that way. I could definitely see how and where  they made use of it, so it might be worth seeing that way.

Highly recommended, as it’s refreshing and fun.

Main Review:

For various reasons, 4 high schoolers receive detention. As punishment, they have to clean out an old storage room. While poking around, one of them finds an old video game, so they decide to ditch the work and play the game. After starting and choosing their players, they get pulled into the game, much like in the movie Tron.  They become the characters they chose, who were pretty much unlike who they were as teens.

After a few moments of confusion, they realize they’re controlling/playing the characters they picked in the game, and are nothing like what they act like in school. It’s an awkward way to start, but you end up with the nerdy kid being Dwayne Johnson, the jock being the diminutive Kevin Hart, the wallflower being the kick-ass fighter Karen Gillan, and the social media queen being in the body of Jack Black. The trailers have given us that much, and it’s where the fun begins. You don’t really need to know the character names here, because the actors, for the most part, are playing “themselves”, as far as their public personas appear to be – Kevin Hart as the wise-cracking side kick, for example.

There are more than a few references to video games, and some are very funny, when you figure out what’s going on. You get the sense that the movie was written by someone who’s spent a bunch of time playing them, so it works well. That, by itself, is not bad, but like a video game, the villains have to play a role in how the story develops. Bobby Cannavale plays a good villain here, if not a bit creepy. Here, he’s the challenge they must overcome.

As I mentioned, it’s an action comedy. The action is good, as is the CGI. Clearly, that’s improved a lot since the original film. It’s gotten good enough that it really gives you a sense you’re there, in reality. Some of the animals may look a little off, but it’s not as obvious as it was in 1995!

Even with a PG-13 rating, this is a movie that everyone can enjoy. There isn’t anything that’s a major flaw or inconsistency, and the balance of action and comedy is good.

Definitely recommended!


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Capsule Review (Minimal spoilers):

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not your typical Hollywood fare, and is better for it. A woman, Mildred (Francis McDormand), pays to rent three billboards on a road to her town, and uses them to shame the local police for not solving her daughter’s brutal murder. Her hope is that something will be done. Of course, nothing is that simple.

This film is reasonably close to a Coen Brothers film. It’s a slice of small town life with some unpleasant sensibilities. It’s violent at times, and therefore not recommended for the faint of heart.

It is interesting, and worth a look if you don’t want the same old story, told exactly how you’d want or expect it. I recommend it for people who want something different.

Standard Review (with minor plot spoilers):

Mildred lives with her son, and is trying to get some justice. Most understand her anguish, but the police certainly do not appreciate her approach. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is frustrated, too, but he’s got his own issues to deal with. Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is a wildcard, has his own issues with rage and racism, and is specifically annoyed with what Mildred’s done.

The story is refreshingly unpredictable, which makes it even more satisfying, to me. There are a handful of supporting characters, and they all seem properly fleshed out – they don’t exist just to contribute to the main characters’ stories. There’s a reasonable balance of pain, sincerity, and uncomfortable levity, all of which humanize these people more.

The movie is best left discovered by watching, so I won’t speak more of the plot. I like this movie a lot, and if you’re in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, I think you will, too.

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

Capsule Review (Minimal spoilers):

A Bad Moms Christmas is a sequel to last year’s surprise success, Bad Moms. The gist of that film focused on Amy (Mila Kunis) and her frustration about trying to be the perfect mom. Along the way down, she meets up with Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn), who resolve to accept their lack of perfection and just go with the flow.

It’s a year later, and Christmastime is upon us. Amy commits to having a low-key Christmas, when her mother and father, Ruth and Hank (Christine Baranski and Peter Gallagher) show up for Christmas, as do Kiki and Carla’s moms, Sandy and Isis (Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon). Each mother drives their daughter crazy, in different ways. This is the year it all comes to a head.

It’s a passable film, if formulaic. There are a couple laughs here and there, but it’s not enough. You don’t need to see this in theaters, and can definitely wait until it’s on cable.


Standard Review (with minor plot spoilers):

This film hits most of the same notes as the first.  The three women resolve not to let their mothers get to them, but, as you are all aware, family has its own special way of getting under your skin.

Amy and Ruth are the center of this film. Ruth is striving to be a variation of Martha Stewart, and trying to impose her will on Amy. Christine Baranski plays a slightly softer motherly role than she plays as Leonard’s mom on The Big Bang Theory, and it kind of works. The problem is the story. It’s too close to the original, overlaid on a Christmas theme. It goes for Schmaltz and gets there in a standard way. The resolution is as you’d expect.

There is a good and funny/awkward scene Carla has with one of her spa clients, and it helps to set up some of the later bits in the film.

This film also gets dinged for mentioning the pseudo-Christmas movie, Love Actually, which I personally hate. (Just consider the women with substantial roles, and how their stories turn out, and you’ll understand why I’m not a fan. But, I digress).

Don’t bother rushing to see this film. While it definitely passes the Bechdel Test, it’s not unique enough of a filmgoing experience to make it a must-see. If it’s any indication, I was the only person in the theater.



Justice League (2017)

Capsule Review (Minimal spoilers):

Justice League is DC Comic’s latest attempt to bring their comics to the big screen. It’s a followup to 2016’s Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, which set the stage for the formation of the Justice League from the comics. It makes a good-faith effort to repair the flaws of the previous movie. It succeeds, and sets the stage for future DC movies quite well. Recommended.

There is creature-fighting violence, and an appropriate level of humor.

There is a mid-credits scene that’s a nice cap on the events, and then a post-credits scene that adds some wrinkles.

Standard Review (with minor plot spoilers):

Justice League

The film starts with a good montage of what happened next, as it were. After Superman’s death in the previous movie, people are trying to get their lives back together. Lois Lane (Amy Adams) has stopped covering front page news. Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Godot) is still saving the world, in small ways. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is on the trail of some creatures that are kidnapping some people and killing others.  It’s becoming a pattern that’s adding up to something, something that he can’t prevent on his own. After a time, he talks to Wonder Woman, and they agree, they need help. That’s when they reach out for more.

At it’s basic level, the movie becomes a ‘follow the MacGuffin/create the team/face the bad guys’ sort of thing. As per the previous film, Batman and Wonder Woman had Lex Luthor’s files on The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Each have their own reasons for joining or not, but given the title of the film, you know they eventually do. Each encounter was reasonably thought out, and they all do realize they must play a part in what’s to come.

Unlike BvS, the tone of this film is a lot less bleak. My initial assessment of the film had me loving it, though on successive watchings, I can see how desperate I was to like it amidst the sea of Marvel movies. The movie, while  mostly dark and moody, has some better moments, thanks to decent dialogue, and a story line where all the heroes don’t act like idiots when it’s convenient for the plot.

Speaking of story, it relies on elements from BvS, as well as this year’s Wonder Woman. A new foe appears to menace everyone, but at the real heart of the movie, it’s team building. Not everyone gets along, and all for different reasons. I won’t spoil any of those, because some of that’s the best part of the film. Everyone has to feel each other out to get a better sense of how they’ll properly mesh together.

As mentioned, there are jokes. Most of them are related to some joshing amongst the team, for who they are, as heroes, and what they do, or won’t, as the case may be. My favourite of these are related to The Flash, and it just helps form him personality as different from The Flash on the WB TV show.

The soundtrack is rather good, too. The opening montage uses a song from Leonard Cohen quite effectively, and the majority of the soundtrack is by Danny Elfman, who makes use of his old Batman score, and adds some themes from previous DC movies. It’s a worthwhile compilation that complements the film.

I do recommend the film. It’s not a great film, but it’s comforting to see that DC is starting to get things right.


Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Capsule Review (Minimal spoilers):

Thor: Ragnarok is the latest superhero movie from the Marvel Universe of characters, and is, in my opinion, one of the best movies they’ve produced. Every component of the movie works – the story, the visuals, the music, and the characters combine to make it a very entertaining movie. Oh, and the humor, lots and lots of humor in this film.

As has become the tradition with Marvel films, there are both mid-credits and post credits sequences, which both advance the overall  Marvel story. It covers a lot of ground in its two hours and ten minutes run time, and is well worth the price of admission.

Highly recommended.

Standard Review (with minor plot spoilers):

A forgotten Asgardian, Hela (Cate Blanchett) has returned to claim her title, but not if Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) have anything to say about it. While fighting her, Thor and Loki are diverted elsewhere, while Hela makes her claim. Naturally, the Asgardians  won’t just relinquish control.

Thor ends up in an unlikely place, and is captured, but allowed a way out. The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) holds gladiatorial games, and decrees that Thor will be released if he defeats The Grandmaster’s Champion. The trailers give it away, but I won’t, in the highly unlikely case there is someone out there who still hasn’t seen the answer. Of course, nothing is ever that simple.

This movie is firing on all cylinders. The story is good, and complex, to a point. All of the characters with speaking parts make sense in their own ways, instead of just being their to accommodate the main characters. Meanwhile, everything looks incredible – the costumes alone really stand out for the secondary and background characters, with wild designs and color schemes that have to be seen to be believed. They put a lot of effort into making truly unique supporting characters.

The music, at first didn’t really seem to fit. It’s full of ’80s synth flourishes mixed in with its dance beats. It didn’t make a lot of sense, until you couple it with the wild pastels of the supporting characters, and something clicks.  These two components work together to make it an homage to ’80s films in general. Flashy and fabulous. Oh, and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo was the composer.

I was really pleased that the trailers don’t really give a lot away. There’s much more to this film than the trailers tease. As mentioned, this movie starts to set up the next few Marvel movies, without being heavy-handed about it, at all.

Definitely recommend Thor: Ragnarok as the sort of movie you should see in the theaters. The grandeur is so very appealing. There’s a strong likelihood I’ll see it a second time before it leaves the theaters.


The Foreigner (2017)

Capsule Review (Minimal spoilers):

The Foreigner is a new film starring Jackie Chan. It’s based on a novel by author Stephen Leather, who co-wrote the screenplay. The basic plot is one of revenge, but the trailers are a bit misleading, because it’s a lot more than that. There is a little bit of political intrigue mixed to the story, and makes this movie a bunch more than just another Taken ripoff. Recommended.

The Foreigner is rated R for violence.

Standard Review (with minor plot spoilers):

After his daughter is killed in a terrorist explosion, Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan) wants answers. A unknown splinter faction of the IRA has claimed credit, and no one is exactly certain who they are. Frustrated by a lack of traction in the case, Quan turns to Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a minister in the government, who is a former member of the IRA. Perhaps he can find out, however, he is less than cooperative. Quan is convinced he knows more, but he is less than forthcoming. He then tries to convince Hennessy to provide the information by other-than-legal means.

Hennessy has his own pressures. He’s been attempting to work both sides of the fence, to smooth out relations and integrate them together. He walks a dangerous tightrope.

The trailers for the film focus on Jackie Chan’s character Quan, thrown in an explosion or two, and one would think it’s pretty straightforward, however, it really isn’t. He does more than a few stunts, and at 63, he’s still got it. There are a few turns and tweaks to the story, taking us into unpredictable territory, and it’s a welcome change.  More than a handful of the characters are decently fleshed out, so you have to spread your focus on what’s going on. There is palpable tension, and real heart to this story, which helps make it interesting in ways I hadn’t expected.

The stunts are good, the story isn’t a slow plod to the inevitable conclusion, and the soundtrack is moody and helps make it more appealing.  I recommend this film, especially because it’s a lot more than I’d expected.


Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Capsule Review (Minimal spoilers):

Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel to the 1982 movie Blade Runner, and takes place thirty years after the original. It’s a continuation of the story, and ties back to the original in an interesting way. It’s a long film (2 hours 44 minutes) that moves at a glacial pace, but the premise is deep, and worth the time. Good writing and stunning visuals make this a must-see for fans of the original movie, but it provides enough detail that it stands on its own, for everyone else. Highly recommended. The film is rated R for violence.


Standard Review (with minor plot spoilers)

As we knew from the first film, Replicants are artificial humans created as slave labor for humans, mainly for use in colonizing other planets. They had a limited life span (4 years) because they became uncontrollable after a time. Since that time, there was an uprising, and a great loss of historical data was lost. The old Tyrrell corporation went bankrupt, but after the uprising, another company came along to refine replicants. Around that time, some were created without a lifespan, and after the uprising was put down, most were terminated, but some escaped.

Enter K (Ryan Gosling). He’s a newer replicant that is controlled by the Wallace Corporation, and he has become a Blade Runner for the police. He’s tracking down and terminating the last of the runaways, and in the process, has found a strange anomaly that he can’t understand. It turns out he’s discovered something that has the potential to cause another upheaval, and he’s been assigned to find a resolution to the situation. Naturally, it’s not that simple.

This is an amazing film. It captures the essence of the original and fleshes it out even more. Newer concepts are introduced, and the societal implications are big, but not completely explained. In the original, director Ridley Scott made the public scenes realistic, flooding them with a sense of reality that is rare to see on film. The sequel does the same, and in a much better fashion than the most recent Ghost In The Shell movie. Everything that happens flows in a logical manner, and not just visually, but emotionally, as well.

Ryan Gosling’s performance is cold and calculating, but his job in the film is to be that way. He’s one of those actors who maintains a similar tone in his performance throughout a movie, almost dispassionately. He doesn’t emote well, but for this role, it suits the character. He does have moments where he lashes out, but he has a way of maintaining his demeanor throughout.  Here, it works.

There are many characters in the film, and each one of them is on screen long enough for you to really get a sense of who and what they are. It’s a trivial thing to have, but makes the movie more fulfilling.

I won’t elaborate about the story, but I will say that there were a couple of surprises in it. Some bits, like the character development I mentioned, are rather secondary to the plot, but really enhance the movie. Some of them are things that most movies would just gloss over, but here, they spend enough time letting them play out that you accept rather than question. There were no Deus Ex Machina moments in the film, and that was a huge relief. In my opinion, the slow plodding speed of the movie really helps you absorb it. Rapid pacing would ruin the effect.

I’ll also note that the soundtrack ( by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch) was an homage to the original film, borrowing from it rather heavily. It hit the right tone, mostly very powerful, but somehow was a little lacking, and felt more incidental than specifically memorable.