Review of Hidden Figures

hidden-figures

I love a good story, great characters, and something based on true events.  Hidden Figures had all of that and much more.

This the story of three women of color, working at NASA in Langley Virginia at the start of the US/Russian Space Race.  The story is not just about getting a man in orbit, but of the struggles and obstacles that these brave women had to face and overcome.

In honesty I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy the film – that it would be too preachy and be about race more than character.  I was wrong – dead wrong.  This film is about the indomitable character of these three incredible women.   Race is an issue, from the opening scene on, but these women are trailblazers in a very different and endearing manner.

Interestingly enough this was a good history film, blending science, technology and historical context.  As an IT person, I remember programming with punch cards when I worked for the DoD.  It is stunning to think we put a man in space with less technology than most of us carry in our pockets on a daily basis.

These are exactly the kind of stories that need to be told.  I felt a bit ashamed at seeing Virginia during segregation but the film didn’t force that issue.  It did with style and grace.  This is not as much a film about race as it about the emerging role of women as well.

I found the acting superb.  The story of Mary Jackson, the fledgling engineer, was fantastic and a credit to Janelle Monáe.  Her court scene was inspiring.  Kevin Costner was solid as well, but this was not about the men – it’s all about the women.  Even the soundtrack was well chosen.

This is a film chocked full of visual metaphors.  My favorite was near the end of the movie when the young white male was sent to run the 1/2 mile across Langley to track down one of the women.  We see that trek throughout the movie but it never seemed longer than it did in that scene.  It was a perfect piece of writing and directing.

The audience we had applauded at the end of the film – if that is any indication of how good of a film this is.  I have to give this five out of five stars.

Spoiler Free Review of Star Wars Rogue One

chirrut-imwe
Jedi?  We don’t need no stinking Jedi! 

Summary:  This is the story of an ingenious administrator who dedicates his life to the creation of a tool that will bring peace to the galaxy.  He is opposed by a group of terrorists and quasi-religious zealots bent on plunging the known universe into civil war.  The terrorists kill hundreds of patriots in a mission of sabotage, chaos, and carnage.  Ultimately the administrator loses his life but lives long enough to see his dream brought to life as his tool is proven effective.

Alright…onto the real review.  This is not your “typical” Star Wars film – as evident from the very beginning. This is a carefully crafted prequel to A New Hope.  For the record – Disney did it right.  Boy did they do it right.  The fact that this doesn’t fit the normal Star Wars mold is fantastic.

What drives this is the characters.  Each one grows and evolves in the intricate plot.  The droid in this film, K-2SO, is sarcastic and snarky…actually giving it a unique personality from what we’ve seen with other droids.  The blind monk-like warrior, Chirrut Imwe, is awesome.  His chant of “I am with the Force and the Force is with me,” is going to appear on T-shirts in a matter of days.  These heroes are not your standard Star Wars fare and that works with me.

This story is huge in scope, taking us to a number of new worlds in the Star Wars universe.  The details are incredible.  You see a massive statue of Jedi laying in the sands on one world – each planet coming off distinct and different.  The Screen Artists Guild deserves drinks on Mickey Mouse for these scenes.

The best is the linkage to Episode IV:  A New Hope.  I told my wife years ago that in my lifetime I would see a new John Wayne western because of CGI.  I am now convinced of this even more.  One of the coolest secondary characters was played by Peter Cushing, and he has been dead since 1994!  In only one scene was I able to see that it was, indeed, CGI.  Otherwise I was convinced he was there.  Disney, you magnificent bastards, I salute you.

We all know Darth Vadar is evil.  We never really can get enough of this.  Rogue One provides us a bad-ass, ass-kicking Vadar that is vicious, cunning, and dark.

The incorporation of Red Leader was so cool, so subtle, and so perfect…I was pleased.  I only wish Porkins had been there!

So, the short version – this is a great movie – five out of five stars.  Go see it – twice!

Movie Review – Sully

hanks
“Houston we have a…oh, wait, wrong film…”

Tom Hanks finally shakes his string of travel films gone awry – having nearly died in Apollo 13 and being stranded on an island in Castaway.  Hanks, playing Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, does what we all expected in the film – making a water landing on the Hudson and saving the lives of all his passengers and crew.

We all think we know the story.  We don’t.  This film does an absolutely fantastic job of opening the curtain and taking us behind the hell of a man suddenly thrust into the media spotlight while being drawn into the bureaucratic scrutiny of his peers.  What we see, when the curtain is pulled back, is an outstanding acting performance by a seasoned veteran, well worthy of Oscar consideration.

What makes this movie work is that we all know the story.  Rather than lead off with the 208 seconds that made Sullenberger and his co-pilot heroes, this film tells that story throughout.  The viewer is given many different perspectives of this crisis, each one rewarding and satisfying on a whole new level.

When the movie was over – there was applause in the theater.  Seriously.  Not since Joy have I heard that in a theater.

In a summer where Hollywood has struggled to get our attention and keep it – with retreads of old films, Sully is a solid feel-good film.  There are moments of humor that shatter the thick underlying tension of the movie.  We are sucked into one man’s personal hell, and he emerges on the other side an even greater hero.

Sully is a five out of five stars.  Go to it.  Take your kids.  You’ll be gripping your hand-rests and your eyes will water at all of the right times.  #Sully

Non-Spoiler Review of Star Trek Beyond

Just a wee scratch
Yeah – that’s not going to buff out…

Disclaimer – I’m a Treker…always have been, always will be.  This new film is the third in the rebooted Star Trek universe and I was looking forward to it. I was not disappointed.

The movie finds the crew of the USS Enterprise in the middle of their five year mission and feeling the loneliness in the vastness of deep space.  Some relationships are strained.  Others are more solid than ever. You get a sense that these characters have been through a lot together – beyond the films.

The plot is solid.  This is not about starship combat – it is about loyalty, commitment, and honor.  The writing is almost perfect.  Bones and Spock have some wonderful one-liners between the two of them.  There was a lot of different pairing that takes place in this film that we haven’t seen before in a Star Trek film.  That made it neat and fun to watch.

I was not a big fan of the action/fighting scenes.  The way some were filmed I lost track of who was hitting whom because of camera angles and jostling.  It is a very minor nit to what is a top-notch film.

What I really like is this film stands on its own. It is not a sequel as much as a continuation of the story.  They incorporated the death of Leonard Nimoy perfectly, making it a key plot point in the film.  There’s even a homage to the original series of movies here with a single photo that says more than any dialogue in the movie.

I particularly liked the fact we saw an NX class starship here – albeit a precursor to TV’s Enterprise series.   I know a lot of people hated Enterprise, but I have come to like it quite a bit and this nod to that era was well done.

We got a new character, Jaylah, who was awesome as well.  I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see Dr. Marcus still with the crew – nor did we learn her fate.  Again, such a minor nit that it hardly is worth mentioning.

All of the internet hype about Sulu being “Openly gay” in the film was, for the most part, inconsequential.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for the hype I probably would have missed it entirely.  The internet breeds cynicism.  It turned out to be a big non-moment in the film.  Stupid internet trolls…

Overall, I give Star Trek Beyond a solid five stars.  A great film for a hot summer weekend.

Non-Spoiler Review of Ghostbusters

Jillian
Reminds me of my help desk days…

With all due respect (none) for the internet trolls that panned this movie based on its first trailer, I actually enjoyed the new Ghostbusters.  It is not a sequel but a reboot of this franchise, and yes, they have laid the foundation in the post-trailer credits for a sequel.

The film is good – not great.  The strengths – Kate McKinnon as the mad-scientist engineer of the group, Jillian Holtzmann.  Yes, it’s the Egon role, but she brings us a new quirky character that made me laugh several times in the film.  When she licks her guns before shooting – priceless – a move I intend to lift at GenCon when I’m role playing next month.

The special effects are awesome.  My wife and I saw it in 3D and this is one of those rare films where 3D works well.  The special effects aside, the film has a solid plot.  It’s not a rehash of Ghostbuster’s films, but breathes fresh life into it.

The cameo’s make the film.  Even the fleeting homage to Harold Ramis is well-done, tasteful, and not overpowering in the film.  Everything was done respectfully, as it should be.   Even the Ghostbuster’s iconic firehouse manages to stir emotions with the viewers.  It’s like when you see the USS Enterprise in Star Trek – it is a character all on its own.

My only complaint was that Chris Hemsworth as comedy relief was okay (lukewarm at best), but not great.  Put on the wig and pick up Mjolnir Chris – you are a perfect Thor.  Trying to fill the Annie Potts/Rick Moranis roles is not your thing.  Please, go get your hammer.

Comparisons to the original 1984 film are almost impossible to avoid, but I will.  This film stands on its own.  The writing was solid – as was the acting and character development.  Now that we have cleared the hurdle of the film being its own entity, we can move forward with sequels.

I rate this a solid 4.5 out of five stars.  Funny, good pacing, a rollicking fun romp through your memoires of the original film.   A total protonic reversal on the cynical internet trolls!

#Ghostbusters

Spoiler Free Review of Captain America: Civil War

CWar
Oozing with awesomeness

Arguably the best of the Marvel universe movies is Captain America Winter Soldier. Guardians of the Galaxy or AntMan and I might concede.  So this is the scale that Civil War has to be compared against.  Well, it more than exceeds Winter Soldier.

This plot is not what you might think from the trailers – Marvel is masterful at manipulating us with the trailers.  Clearly there’s a Team Cap vs. a Team Iron Man – it’s call Civil War duh.  The reason that they are fighting is not as straightforward as you might think.  I went in thinking I would side with Captain America but I came away thinking that both sides were right.  That’s what makes a good Civil War scenario.

The plot is not overly complicated.  The writing of this movie, the core of a Marvel film, is solid and crisp.  There were some one-liners where the audience laughed out loud – especially Stan Lee’s cameo.

New characters are introduced – Black Panther and Spiderman.  You know, the new Spiderman comes together without having to get into the whole “radioactive spider bit me,” stuff.  His role is good and oddly seems true to the comic.

Black Panther is awesome.  We don’t need his origin story…I didn’t care.  He was just incredible.  Marvel is genius at knowing that we don’t need to be buried in a lot of backstory.  Just give us solid characters that develop in the film and some well-grounded writing and the fact that these are superheroes is almost unnecessary.

I have to admit, having AntMan in this film made it for me.  His role in the battle at the Leipzig Airport was, well, incredible.  In fact, the airport battle sequence set a new standard for superhero battles.  There is a lot going on yet somehow it all seems to flow together fairly smoothly.

This movie is a visual treat.  There’s a lot of special effects, but no where the level of horrific CGI we were forced to endure in Batman vs. Superman.  In fact, this movie made me hate Batman vs. Superman even more.  Marvel knows how to handle their intellectual properties (with the exception of the Hulk and Fantastic Four movies).  Even the lighting levels and colors of this film are in stark contrast to DC’s latest offerings.

There is no part of this movie I disliked.  The pacing was brisk which is good; the movie is very long.

There are two post-credit scenes – both of which are solid.

On a scale of five stars, this is six-and-a-half.  Not a movie for kids, far too much violence. Though the language was cleaner than Age of Ultron (joke intended).  Go see this movie…go twice!

#TeamCap

Review – Batman V. Superman the Dawn of Justice – Marvel has nothing to worry about

bvs
“I’m more brooding than you Clark!”

Spoilers exist in this – though I have tried to keep them limited to my rantings about this multitude of faults baked into this steaming loaf of a film.  Like many self-anointed geeks, I have been waiting for this movie most of my life. As a generation that saw comic books as a story-telling artistic medium, nothing could be more iconic than Batman and Superman together on the screen.

GeekFlow1
I ran it through my flow diagram before writing the review

The anticipation of this movie left me disappointed with the final product.

This is a movie that could have and should have been so much more than what was delivered.  Oh, it had some moments that were good, but most of it felt forced, overly contrived.  Watching this movie was like looking up the ass of a dead dog with fleas.  Like a car wreck alongside the road, you are drawn in to look at it, even if the scenes are horrific.

For this movie to work, you had to accomplish some cinematic feats.  Included with this:

  • You had to give us the two characters on the screen so we could see their contrast (The ever-brooding world’s greatest detective vs. the boy scout in blue.)  We want the characters to be true to their established backgrounds.
  • You had to demonstrate that their friendship made both men better.
  • You need to give us a villain worthy of these two heroes.
  • Based on the title, we needed a battle worthy of the two heroes.

Warner/DC…how could you have possibly missed that mark with some of these?

First off, we have Superman who’s more brooding than the Dark Knight.  Yes, he’s plucking cats from trees, but he wears a furrowed brow through most of the film.  What makes comic book Superman identifiable is that his parents instilled in him that he has a higher obligation to the people of Earth.  In this film, Martha Kent tells him, “You don’t owe this planet anything…” (I’m paraphrasing, but close enough.)  Um, Ma Kent, that’s actually a big part of who that character is.

I get it – Zack Snyder wants a darker, grittier DC universe. It makes it much more difficult to swallow for the viewers. The reason that the Marvel films do well is they are true to their comic book roots. Snyder wallows in darkness like a pig in mud.

I know it’s going to be popular to take shots at Ben Afflick as Batman but I won’t go there.  I actually thought the actor was good as Batman.  It was no Daredevil role, for which we are all thankful.  He certainly brought more to the role than George Clooney did.  I think his Bruce Wayne is actually pretty solid, especially his coy smile.  The harm to this character was the script, not the acting.  Batman, who has always stayed away from guns as part of his character, uses them a lot in this film.  We don’t get The World’s Greatest Detective.  We get a marginal data thief.  Zack Snyder felt it necessary to show us Batman’s origins, which was a waste of time.  We all know Batman’s origin story better than any of the Presidential candidates.  Cutting that stuff would have saved the film and those of us watching a few precious minutes.

Alfred (Jeremy Irons) isn’t a butler – there’s no Wayne Manor to attend to.  He’s a mechanic for Batman, a remote co-pilot, with some good one-liners aimed at his employer during the film.  It’s a new take on Alfred, which seems to work for me.

The movie taps two of DC’s best storylines for its “plot” – The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman.  Based on the material, you would have thought that the producers would have had a huge hit on their hands. Instead there’s a deliberate fumble that plays out on the screen for us.  It’s as if the writer’s skimmed the books without actually reading them, and plucked a handful of scenes to recreate as opposed to relying on good story telling.  As a result, you get a jumble of storylines stitched together with a plot that seems implausible.

We’re denied seeing the characters become true friends.  Forced allies, yes, but not really close.  Lex Luthor is both insane and a genius, well played by Jesse Eisenberg.  It’s not our traditional Lex, but a solid (if not creepy) character.  Like Alfred, it was okay to see a new twist on the character.  I just never really felt that Lex was worthy of the two character he squared off with.

The film is all build-up and little delivery.  That climatic battle between Batman and Superman is sort of boring when it’s just the two of them.  Once more Metropolis insurance rates are going to spike because Superman lives in town.  The special effects are over the top and border-line Green Lantern-ish when it comes to Doomsday.  (I know it’s wrong to pick at that GL scab, but I had to go there.)

The dream sequences should have ended up on the cutting room floor – they didn’t add squat to the film and in fact made it seem too long.  Likewise too much time is spent laying foundation work for The Justice League movie – which, based on this film, is likely to suck.  All of this bogs down a long movie.  There are scenes like one with Pa Kent that are wastes of time and downright confusing.  Even if these scenes were chopped (as they should have been) it wouldn’t be enough to get this dog to hunt.

Gal Gadot almost saves the movie as Wonder Woman.  She fought better than both of her male counterparts in the quasi-climatic battle.  Her accent made her sound exotic.  We weren’t bogged down with her origins which was also a plus.  Frankly, she battles Zod v2.0 better than her male counterparts.  Thanks to scenes we didn’t need in this movie, we know that DC/Warner will ruin WWI in its upcoming Wonder Woman film.  (Yes, DC can ruin an entire war.)

The Dawn of Justice has more plot potholes than a stretch of Michigan road, and many are so deep and obvious that you’re better off hitting them than mentally trying to swerve around them.  Example:  Wonder Woman gets off a plane with two light carryon items to rush off to the battle.  She shows up with a big honking shield and sword.  Where did those come from?  Certainly not from her luggage.   The whole manipulation of the characters into a battle has so many over-complicated failings that it is a pathetic joke at times.  Also, Gotham is apparently ten blocks away from Metropolis.  It’s like Hoboken NJ in relation to Manhattan.  What in the hell Zack Snyder…you can see the bat signal from Metropolis?  Lois Lane helicoptered over to Gotham in five minutes.  The entire US Capitol scene was just bizarre in terms of how it was painfully set up and what it actually accomplished in terms of plot.

There were scenes that made the audience cheer but even some of these were awkward.  Lex Luthor losing his hair for example.  It wasn’t even entertaining, but it stressed how the audience wanted some of that good old fashioned comic book story elements.  When you have people cheering baldness, you know the movie is limping to a conclusion.

Despite all of this there were things that I enjoyed in the movie.  The new Batmobile rocks as does the Bat Cave.  Some of the redone scenes of Zod fighting Superman from Man of Steel are quite good.  Batman going to save Martha Kent was one of the coolest fight scenes I’ve seen in a while.  I actually liked the fact that there were consequences to Superman’s trashing of Metropolis.  Batman had the best line in the movie:  “Oh shit.” (Yeah – this isn’t going to win any Academy Awards for best screenplay.)

The folks at Marvel/Disney have to be chuckling with the release of this movie.  The figured out that what makes a good comic hero movies is great characters and solid storytelling.  This is something that the Warner/DC team has tried to drive over as if it were a speed-bump to their evil marketing intentions.

The movie didn’t deliver on my laundry list of things I needed for it to.  We never see Bruce and Clark become friends.  The plot suffered to lay a foundation for a Justice League film.

I give this a low three out of five stars and I’m being generous.  If you’re a fan, you’re going to go no matter what.  Oh, there’s no after credits scene – so don’t hang around ‘cause DC doesn’t want you to compare this to a Marvel film in any way; and with good reason.  Also, do NOT take your kids to this.  I saw parents there with little kids and that was just wrong.