Movie review: The Cloverfield Paradox

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I liked Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane. I was interested in seeing what came next. I did.

The Cloverfield Paradox is deadly dull. Like waiting in the doctor’s office for the entire length, but there aren’t even old magazines to distract you and your phone is dead.

This is one of those cases where the blog post is just a movie-watching diary entry. I saw it. It was awful. I have no interest in spending time writing even a perfunctory analysis of it. I have spent too much time with it already.

one-star

 

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Movie review: Ex Machina (2014)

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Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young programmer, wins a contest to spend a week at the estate of Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a tech genius who has developed an artificially intelligent robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb’s job is to interact with Ava to determine if she passes the Turing test and is truly conscious.

Ex Machina stretches an hour’s worth of plot into a feature-length film. The running time is only 1:48, which is short by today’s unfortunate standards, but it felt much longer. It’s essentially a big-budget “Twilight Zone” episode, but I doubt many people will watch it multiple times like they might with the best episodes of that classic show. Still, it is worth watching once both for the ideas presented on the subject of artificial intelligence and for some impressive visuals.

three-stars

Movie review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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I have to admit that I was dragged to this one. The preview gave me the impression that it was in the One Righteous Woman on a Crusade genre with an extra scoop of hatred of religion, and I just had no interest in that.

Fortunately, I wrong. There is a woman, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), and she is on a crusade, although your perception of how righteous it is will likely change as the film progresses.

“Raped While Dying”

“And Still No Arrests?”

“How Come, Chief Willoughby?”

Those are the messages Mildred places on the three billboards, seven months after her daughter’s murder. They set tongues in the small town of Ebbing a-waggin’. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is a popular fellow, and it’s an open secret that he’s dying of cancer.

The film wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be. The act of placing the billboards triggers a series of events that is often less about an unsolved murder than it is about life’s strange twists and turns. What looks on paper (and in the trailers) like a joyless affair is actually infused with a lot of dark comedy and even some joyful moments.

I wouldn’t have gone in with such trepidation had I realized that the film was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who previously did In Bruges. I haven’t seen In Bruges, but I know what it’s about and it has been highly recommended to me by people who are similarly unlikely to be interested in what I thought this movie was.

And let me in turn highly recommend Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to you. Great performances all around, and a good script that trips over itself a few times but manages to sell you on most of it anyway.

Four stars

 

Movie review: Hostiles

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Hostiles is a Western in the “The Old West is dying” sub-genre. The frontier is represented by the main character, Captain Joe Blocker (Christian Bale), and Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi). Chief Yellow Hawk has been imprisoned for seven years and is now riddled with cancer. For political reasons related to the rising tide of public discomfort with the treatment of the Indians, Joe is ordered to escort the chief and his family to the chief’s ancestral lands in the Valley of the Bears in Montana. Joe at first refuses, because the chief had viciously killed some of Joe’s friends in warfare, but Joe’s colonel holds something over the captain’s head–that Joe, who is about to retire, will be court-martialed and likely lose his pension if he disobeys the order.

Good soldier Joe dutifully sets off, and quickly runs into Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), whose husband and children have just been slaughtered by a savage band of Comanches. Later joining them on this dangerous journey, and adding some menace to it, is Sgt. Charles Wills (Ben Foster), an axe-murderer who is being sent back to his fort to be hanged.

Hostiles is an art-house film that would have benefited from an attempt to make it a little more commercial. It is meditative in the extreme, which is appropriate for the material, but this leads to it at times being glacially paced, which sometimes caused this audience member to quit meditating on its themes and drift away into my own thoughts. Extending the (realistically) very quick and brutal action scenes and cutting back on the shots of scenery would have kept me more engaged with no harm done to the filmmakers’ intent.

Despite this, Hostiles ends up being a powerful film that will linger with the viewer after the final reel has ended. Writer and director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) resolutely refuses to make his characters one-dimensional and the moral quandaries reflected upon simple. The performances are terrific all around, but Christian Bale is especially superb–his ability to convey a world of emotion with a single look or expression is astonishing.

And, yes, although there is too much of it, that scenery is gorgeous. If Hostiles is of interest to you and playing in your area, try to see it on the big screen where it belongs.

three-half-stars

 

Movie review: The Big Sick

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Pakistani immigrant and stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley,” playing himself) falls for Emily (Zoe Kazan), a white American girl, but the relationship falls apart because he is afraid of being disowned by his family if things go any further.

When Emily falls gravely ill and needs to be placed in a medically induced coma, Kumail gets to know Emily’s sometimes-eccentric parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) and needs to decide how much of the American lifestyle he is going to embrace and how much he is going to honor his traditional culture to please his parents.

While the humor in The Big Sick is, if possible, maybe a little too self-deprecating as one begins to wonder how Emily could have fallen for this schlub to begin with, and, like most films these days, it could have used some trimming, The Big Sick is an enjoyable and touching exploration of love and the immigrant experience. The characters are well-developed and the performances are without exception excellent. Come for the romance, stay for the (yes, quite interesting) cultural exploration.

 

Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Just a hair shy of halfway through The Last Jedi, I thought it had lost me for good. Rey (Daisy Ridley) was dicking around with Luke Skywalker on some godforsaken island that is just one big cliff. Meanwhile, in another star system, there was some stupid humor. Knowing there was still a long way to go, I resigned myself to being bored. I might have glanced at my watch had I not forgotten it at home.

But somehow, the starship was righted. I ended up liking it a lot. If the characters are never going to end up as iconic as the ones in the original trilogy, they are better than the characters in the prequels, including the characters in the prequels playing characters in the original trilogy. And it did manage to capture a good bit of that spirit of high adventure that made those first ones so much fun.

The Last Jedi did have its share of problems. It was too long, and the humor was not Phantom Menace low, but more Return of the Jedi level, which is better but still not great.

The chief problem, though, has its origins in a mistake baked into the cake in The Force Awakens. In the original trilogy, Luke had to train for ages to get close to his potential, and he was descended from the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy–just loaded with midi-chlorians (sorry). In The Force Awakens, Rey’s got all kinds of powers that she can use just because someone told her that the force was strong in her–she’s ordering stormtroopers around and flying ships like a barnstormer without any practice or training to speak of. (Non-Jedi (or is he?) Finn is the same way. Even though stormtroopers use blasters instead of swords, he wields a pretty mean lightsaber against Kylo Ren. Finn has never used one before, Kylo Ren has been training on Jedi stuff his entire life.

So Rey gets even more powerful after three whole lessons from Luke, whereas dumb old Luke had to train on Dagobah for months and months. She even managed to learn Wookie in seemingly a matter of weeks. Don’t these current Star Wars people know that audiences love training montages where the character slowly improves, despite sometimes wanting to give up in despair, until, through grit and determination, that edge is achieved? Not here. Rey’s just got it, baby.

But, despite all that, one of the better Star Wars movies. Slightly after the half, I realized I was no longer bored, and a little later, I realized I was really enjoying myself. And I dug the ending a lot. That made up for a lot of weaknesses, both its own and the ones drug in from the previous film. I was fearing the worst, and it turned out better than I expected. I’m actually looking forward to the next one. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say that after watching a Star Wars film.

three-half-stars