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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
Followup to the 2012 Jack Reacher movie.
DVD from my local library. I don't have any affection for Tom Cruise, the man and his politics, but I find that he makes mostly interesting action movies, like this one. It is a pure "popcorn" flick, just intrigue and action for entertainment.
Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher, retired military officer with special skills. He gets drawn into a case where two soldiers were murdered overseas. The strong suspicion is a military contractor was selling weapons of war to the enemy and shipping empty crates back to the States, and the two dead soldiers found out.
Reacher gets a sidekick in Cobie Smulders as Officer Turner who has been wrongly imprisoned as part of the inside cover-up. Reacher has to break both of them out of military prison.
The story is complicated by a plot point invented for an added layer of excitement. A former prostitute has petitioned the military for child support for her 15-yr-old daughter, claiming Reacher is the father. That is played by teenage actress Danika Yarosh as Samantha and she is very effective in the role.
The other key character is Patrick Heusinger, only known as "The Hunter". His special assignment becomes to eliminate Reacher, Turner, and the girl, but we all know how that will work out for him.
It is one of those movies where a man with superior skills hunts down and gets all the bad guys.
SPOILERS: As it turns out the military contractor was indeed returning crates of weapons, but not just weapons. Reacher figured out they were using them to smuggle in opium and he showed that by opening one of the crates fresh off the transport plane and spilling out bags of drugs. Busted!!
The Accountant (2016)
Affleck shines as the autistic Accountant with a dark talent.
My wife and I watched this at home on DVD from our public library.
I have always liked Ben Affleck and consider most of his harsh criticism unfair. He is a fine actor and it is in full display here as Christian Wolff, one of his aliases. We see from flashbacks to his childhood that his autism hindered his development but with a combination of a military father who taught him to fight his own battles and a clinic that treats those with a variety of disorders, he grew up to become a "high functioning" adult. And with his unusual talents with numbers became a highly effective Accountant.
His dark secret is that he often works for world-wide crime organizations and gets compensated very well. Although he has a house, very sparsely furnished, his real possession is a trailer he keeps inside a storage unit, it has most of his wealth, rare artworks, and his guns.
Christian takes no guff from anyone and when he goes after a person or a group is a very effective killer. Anna Kendrick as company Accountant Dana Cummings and J.K. Simmons as Tax agent Ray King, both get pulled into his world.
The topic is distasteful, a criminal Accountant who goes after bad people, judge, jury and executioner. But it is a very well made movie and the acting is top-notch.
Dirty Dancing (2017)
Unnecessary remake, still is pretty good, for what it is.
My wife and I watched this on ABC network TV upon its first telecast.
Why did this classic need to be "remade?" In fact it is always chancy to remake a movie that has been warmly received over the years. This one is not necessary except to provide the newer generation of actors a chance to perform. The story is pretty much unchanged.
When I heard last year that Abigail Breslin had been picked to reprise the role of Baby Houseman I had serious doubts. While she is a good actress she doesn't have a particularly good build for dancing. Still she is adequate but nothing special. Certainly not up to the standard Jennifer Grey set 30 years earlier.
A pleasant surprise is the singing voice of Debra Messing who plays Baby's mother, Marjorie Houseman. As well as Bruce Greenwood who plays the dad, Dr. Jake Houseman. Both of them are better than average actors and singers. Plus Nicole Scherzinger, both excellent in singing and acting, who plays Penny Rivera.
This movie takes a twist of sorts, Baby has grown up and married, with a young daughter, and is in a theater watching a production choreographed by Johnny Castle, and remembering the summer of 1963, telling the story as a long flashback. Afterward she and Johnny meet and talk about that fateful summer.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Telling the hidden story of the technical women who helped USA get to the moon.
My wife and I watched this at home on BluRay from our local library. The picture and sound are first-rate and the several "making of" extras are interesting.
Most of us in modern times think of small machines when we hear the word "Computer." But in the 1960s as the USA geared up for space exploration electronic computers were not in wide use yet. "Computers" were the people who were very good with math and who would use mechanical calculators to make the long, difficult calculations. This story is about several black women who took jobs as Computers at Langley in Virginia as the technical team, a bunch of white men in white shirts and dark ties, tried to figure out how to get a man into orbit and retrieve him. The mathematics for all that was yet undiscovered.
Enter the main character, Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, who as a young girl demonstrated a genius for mathematics. She began working as a Computer, the men viewed it as a clerical job beneath them. But Katherine was not satisfied with just doing as she was assigned, she was inquisitive, she eventually provided the ideas and the math approach to calculating how to do it all. She is still alive at age 98, a few years ago received an award, a special recognition for her contributions. Perhaps, we don't really know, if she had not been part of that team we might not have won the race to the moon.
The movie also deals with racial discrimination in general in the 1960s. My wife and I were both teenagers during the 1960s, we remember well such things as "colored" bathrooms and "colored" entrances to businesses, as my wife says today "It is embarrassing to see how it was."
Two other key black characters are Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan who became the chief programmer for the new IMB that eventually put most of the human computers out of work. And Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson who successfully petitioned a judge to allow her to take night college classes at an all-white school so that she could get her Engineer certification and work as an Aeronautical Engineer for NASA.
Also good is Kevin Costner as Al Harrison who is the overall director of the effort at Langley, Kirsten Dunst as the office supervisor Vivian Mitchell who answered certain questions with "That's just the way it is." Plus Jim Parsons as Paul Stafford, the lead mission scientist who seemed to resent Katherine's role of checking everyone's math work, even his, but he eventually gave her the respect she was due.
Good movie of an important time and important activity in the long, gradual process to overcome the racial prejudice that seems indelibly ingrained in our society.
Very excellent and entertaining animated musical.
My wife and I watched this at home on DVD from our public library. This IMDb main page has a sufficient synopsis of the story so I won't repeat it in what I am writing.
I just want to comment on the production values. The looks and motions, walking, running, swimming, etc of the animated characters is probably the best I have seen. The faces of the human characters have exaggerated features, like slightly too large eyes, big legs, etc to definitely place them as intended animated figures. But otherwise they move, talk, and sing very realistically. The water, trees, sky, etc are very realistic.
High schooler Auli'i Cravalho is the voice of Moana, only child of the King and destined to be the leader one day. When very young she is "chosen" by the ocean to make a journey and restore order and beauty to their islands. Ms Cravalho already was a singer in high school activities and sings her songs very nicely here.
She is required to enlist the help of Dwayne Johnson as demi-god and shape-shifter Maui. He is reluctant but Moana is very persistent.
Overall a very entertaining hour and a half.
Better Call Saul (2015)
The prequel to "Breaking Bad" we see how Jimmy McGill developed into Saul Goodman.
I "cut my cable" a few years ago and only get broadcast TV channels, so I have been unable to watch this series as presented on the AMC channel. However I do get Netflix via my WiFi and ROKU device so have been able to watch seasons 1 and 2.
This series starts about 6 years before Saul Goodman shows up as the shady lawyer for Walter White and others. It all centers on Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill who started in the mailroom of his brother Chuck's law firm and eventually became a lawyer himself. We know from "Breaking Bad" that he eventually practices as Saul Goodman so this show deals with everything that contributes to that transition.
The show is really good for two reasons, the writing and the acting. Odenkirk, mostly unknown before "BB", turns out to be a gifted actor especially for this type of role. We see that he is devious but we can also sympathize with him because deep down he has a good heart. When he goes around channels to make a commercial and direct appeal to residents of a retirement home it is because he wants to help the victimized elderly residents. He isn't really motivated by money.
Equally effective is Michael McKean as Jimmy's brother, Chuck McGill, a by-the-books lawyer who has always resented Jimmy's success. One episode hints why, when their elderly mother was on her deathbed Chuck and Jimmy were sitting with her in the hospital. Jimmy goes out briefly for a snack, mom reaches out and grabs Chuck's arm and says "Jimmy, is that you?" Then she dies and when Jimmy comes back and asks Chuck if she said anything he answered "no."
Equally effective is Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, attorney and Jimmy's girlfriend. She is pretty, smart, and competent, she does not like Jimmy's shady approach so he tends to try to hide it from her. And Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut, ex-cop, parking lot clerk, and sometimes hit man, is also a favorite.
All in all a very entertaining TV series.
Doctor Strange (2016)
"I've realized the problem with the world - too many Sorcerers."
I watched this alone at home on BluRay from my public library. Superb video and sound, the powered subwoofer was given a good workout.
"Dr Strange" is a character created by Marvel, first appearing in comics in 1963. Doctor Strange serves as the Sorcerer Supreme, the primary protector of Earth against magical and mystical threats.
This 2016 movie serves as the origin story, a brilliant but egotistical surgeon has a car accident which severely damages his hands and hinders his ability to perform surgery. He searches the globe for a way to repair them and in Kathmandu encounters the Ancient One. After becoming one of the old Sorcerer Supreme's students, he becomes a practitioner of both the mystical arts as well as martial arts. Along with knowing many powerful spells, he has a costume with two mystical objectsthe Cloak of Levitation and Eye of Agamottowhich give him added powers. Strange is aided along the way by his friend and valet, Wong, and a large assortment of mystical objects.
Benedict Cumberbatch is Dr. Stephen Strange and Rachel McAdams is his girlfriend, Dr Christine Palmer. Benedict Wong is Wong and Tilda Swinton is The Ancient One, borrowing from the dark side to live for so long. In this movie Strange's chief adversary is Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, out to defeat time for the universe.
This is good "popcorn" entertainment with well-respected actors. The story itself is rather simple and not very different from many fictional sorcery and magic stories. The movie borrows heavily from such movies as 'Back to the Future' (space-time continuum) and 'The Matrix' (bullet time cinematography and mystical double-speak), 'Inception' (bending roads and buildings), and all those shows which have featured multiverses and alternate universes.
What is great here are all the digital effects and the sound track. Yes, just 'popcorn' entertainment, and Stan Lee makes his usual cameo appearance, sitting in a bus laughing at a comic book. Curiously there are a couple of brief scenes after the credits have been rolling, and one, with Thor, after the credits are finished. I suspect most viewers missed those two.
Finding GOLD in Indonesia.
My wife and I watched this at home on DVD, a Redbox rental.
Although this story was strongly inspired by real events it is in fact fictional with fictional characters, sort of composites of several real characters. In the 1990s a small Canadian company really did get with a prospector to find GOLD in the wilds of Indonesia.
In this story Matthew McConaughey is Kenny Wells, more than a bit haphazard in his approach to life and to business. But he is enamoured with GOLD, as he says at one point the money didn't really matter to him, he wanted to mine GOLD, lots of it.
He looks up a prospector, Edgar Ramírez as Michael Acosta. Kenny is a persuasive salesman and with the help of his friends manages to raise several hundred thousand dollars. They start the prospecting, which involved taking a number of core samples in a region where GOLD is sometimes found by panning in the river.
I like McConaughey and he is great here as a man who sometimes made seemingly very irrational decisions. Like turning down a $300Million buy-out because his name would no longer be attached to the mining operation. Interesting movie, well worth a watch, and pretty Bryce Dallas Howard is good as Kay, Kenny's girlfriend and wife.
SPOILERS: The core of the story mirrors what happened in the real world. Assays of core samples continued to show small amounts of GOLD, but enough to estimate 10Million ounces of recoverable gold. That would be $Billions of GOLD. Problem was, Acosta was "seeding" the crushed core samples, using gold shavings from his ring, then some gold he bought from villagers. In fact there was no gold in the ground, it was all a scam. Found out, the Indonesian government had him taken up in a helicopter and dropped out at 1000 feet, his body later found partially eaten by wildlife. When Kenny looked up Kay again, she had some mail for him, one from Acosta included a check for $82Million, drawn on a foreign bank. He had sold much of his stock before the fraud was exposed and as a 50/50 partner sent Kenny his share. Did Kenny get the money? We will never know!
Mostly entertaining, compared to the Harry Potter stories I'd have to call this a "miss".
My wife and I watched this at home on DVD from our public library.
It is set in the 1920s, when Eddie Redmayne as Newt is on his way to Arizona to free a giant flying beast back to its original home. We don't learn why he was with Newt. But he stops in New York and mixing up his suitcase with that of a baker trying to get a bank loan to start his own business creates all kinds of chaos.
Newt's suitcase is the kind only a magician would have. He sets it on the floor, opens it, and climbs inside to reveal he is in another world, one filled with all kinds of "fantastic beasts."
The visuals are excellent as well as the acting. But the story often is very confusing. Something is causing a large amount of devastation of various buildings, but what it is and why is it going off?
I really enjoyed the various Harry Potter movies, their stories were more clearly presented, but this movie, while mostly entertaining, is not that special.
"Life's a journey, not a destination."
We watched this at home on DVD from our public library.
This movie is a distinct departure from most Sci-Fi movies. There is very little action, it moves rather slowly most of the time, and is mostly a study of relationships in the broadest term.
With no fanfare and no warning 12 mysterious, elongated vessels appear around the world, one of them in remote Montana. They are said to be about 1500 feet tall and hover a few feet above the ground, with no detectable energy or waste. Certainly alien craft, what are they here for?
Each country approaches each of the 12 independently, trying to figure out how to communicate with them, yet eventually they cease to cooperate, to share their progress. For the one in Montana Amy Adams as linguistics professor Louise Banks is recruited to help. As well as Jeremy Renner as Mathematician Ian Donnelly. The military official in charge of the approach and investigate operation is old reliable Forest Whitaker as taskmaster Colonel Weber.
The mysterious vessel apparently opens a door at a certain time each day, allowing a team dressed in full biosafe gear to enter into an anti-gravity chamber. They bring along a Canary, as long as it tweets then they are assured they are safe. They try to communicate with the Heptapods, separated from their hazy enclosure by some sort of transparent, glass-like barrier.
So what the story is about concerns how we communicate with each other and try to communicate with others, in this extreme case aliens who draw circles with features. Eventually it is interpreted that they are here to share a gift, and that involves overcoming the barriers of time.
In a sense the overriding theme of the story is "Life's a journey, not a destination." Throughout we witness Louise's flashbacks, of a husband, a young daughter, but in the end we realize that it was a preview of what was to happen. Her thoughts transcending time.
So, did we enjoy the movie? Yes, we did, as always Amy Adams is great and the story is interesting. We don't view it with the high reverence that many do, while it uses rather creative ideas in the end it is all fiction and has no lasting implication, except maybe to be more diligent in respecting others and communicating well. But most of us already perceive that without seeing it in a movie.