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I was born in the late '50s. I am a delightedly married man with a son, house, and memories of my mom and dad. That's plenty, though I do still dream of retiring someday to Hawaii.
Better than The Karate Kid
I loved The Karate Kid, but the absence of the lead character's mother from most of his affairs didn't let me believe in the story as much as I'd have liked to. In this film, father/daughter interaction, portrayed pretty convincingly, is an important part of the story. This is still a coming-of-age piece, but it has more depth than Kid did, while retaining an excellent sense of humor, as well as showing a mature respect for the subject matter.
The filmography is beautiful. The score is uplifting. The acting is compelling. This is truly an amazing debut by many of those involved.
There are a few flaws, and they make it hard to follow the sequence of events here and there, but it all makes sense before the end.
We watched it with our fourteen-year-old son, who liked it. A good family film for middle schoolers.
Legends of Tomorrow (2016)
Derivative and Dull
If you watch this kind of show, then you know which one this series is attempting to copy. As my thirteen-year-old son told me, after we saw the first episode, "master" is a synonym for "lord."
In a forced attempt to make this one somehow different from Greg Berlanti's other three shows ("Arrow," "Flash," and "Supergirl"), this one apparently includes attempted comedy. It doesn't work very well because, first, all four of these clones have their characters tossing snarky lines around, so the contrast isn't very stark, and, second, the silly things they say do contrast internally: with the serious things they say. It's as though the characters alternate between short speeches about the grandeur of their individual destinies, and the silliness inherent in asking a nerd if he's ever played football.
On top of all that, there is a serious plot flaw that appears at the end of the first episode, which (no spoilers here) forces the viewer to accept the idea that all of these people will agree to something that at least a few of them would realize might be a very bad idea. It is simply not believable. (I know, that's a word with little application to a show about comic book superheroes, but there are lines, and there are lines, right?)
For context, I would score the foursome this way:
Arrow, 8.0 (trending down)
Supergirl, 7.5 (trending up)
Flash, 7.0 (trending flat)
Legends of Tomorrow 4.0 (but I'll watch two more, at least)
Note: I went to a science fiction convention a week ago. One of the discussion panels was about how so many of us are suffering from "superhero overload" from TV shows like this one. It was a popular panel, with the consensus being very, very one-sided. I sense the end is near for a lot of this stuff, at least on TV.
The Heat (2013)
Oh, this could have been great. But it wasn't.
Uptight, insecure, nerdy, intelligent FBI agent is forced to work with a foul-mouthed, street-wise, arrogant, rude Boston cop. Both are women, but that's (rather refreshingly) irrelevant. This is a classic odd-couple pairing that should have been fine grist for that particular mill.
But, the joy in odd-couple stories is that the viewer can see both the weaknesses and the strengths of each member of the team, even though the members don't (at the start) see them. As the story unfolds, the nerdy character and the oafish one are each supposed to find out that the other actually has some virtues and, along the way, that each also has some faults of their own. By the end, neither agrees to give up their own identity, but each accepts the other as an equal. It's a fine formula and can be the basis of an infinite number of tales.
Alas, in this story, although you will _want_ both members to find that common middle, they don't. One member wins all the fights, scores all the points, and becomes the archetype that the other finally aspires to. If you think the "winner" was in the right all along, you'll think this is a great film. But, if you prefer balance and a sense of personal growth in your human-interest stories, you're going to see this as another one that got away.
Not About Bullying
This film devotes itself to a series of increasingly unbelievable escalations that are more about out-of-school criminal behavior than about school-bully problems. The theme is endearing, but the delivery is way, way off-topic. Worse, a fair amount of this movie seems almost comedic, which makes it hard to be sure sometimes just whom to feel sorry for.
The script was hard to follow and the direction literally seemed to leave out moments that one had to infer or guess at. Our twelve-year-old son kept asking questions that started with, "Wait! Why did he just say...?" An amazing number of characters are played by actors who look rather a lot like each other, too, so it wasn't always even clear who was whom.
Overall, this wasn't really a story about bullying. It seemed more like an episode of one of those cookie-cutter Disney Channel shows that all seem to star the same adolescent kids, with an unconvincing set of problems dealt with by absurd solutions, all coming together in a silly ending.
If you're looking for a way to connect with your child about this topic, I really would stay away from this one. It unintentionally makes light of a serious issue, and confuses the phenomenon of bullying with complex (and over-the-top) criminal conspiracies. If you even suggest to your child that bullying is similar in school to what it is in this movie, expect to hear the words, "You just don't get it."
The Campaign (2012)
More Accurate Than Most Documentaries About Politics
I've been involved in politics for over ten years, having run twice, been elected once, and worked on a half-dozen campaigns. Except for the large part of the story where the two main characters have direct contact with each other, this is, by far, the most accurate movie made about the process of political campaigning. Not, mind you, because it shows candidates to be shallow, or dumb; the percentage of candidates who are shallow or dumb is about the same as the percentage of people generally who are shallow or dumb. Rather, it is accurate because it mines for its humor many of the silly and absurd aspects that all campaigns tend to have. From candidates who think awful ads make them look good, to public gaffes having reverse effects on popularity, to the ceaselessly vulgar language that is the base vocabulary of every campaign staffer, this movie made me laugh at things I am not at all sure most people would even recognize as intentionally funny.
A lot of the film involves the candidates interacting with each other, and their family members, in ways that don't ever really happen. Those parts weren't as good. (Although a scathingly funny exception is the moment when the two of them shake hands just before a debate, and have a moment to exchange a few pleasantries that only they will hear and, yes, we actually do that.) Overall, however, this movie must have been made by someone who has been on the inside for a few real campaigns. If you want good fiction about politics, see "The Candidate." If you want light humor and you don't care about honesty, maybe try "Welcome to Moosewood." But if you know campaigns from the inside and you need a moment to laugh at yourself and the process, this is your movie.
Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten (2013)
A Thousand Years Old, and Showing His Age
It hurts to say this, but Doctor Who appears to be getting old. The series, I mean, not the character. We all know the character is ancient, which helps add credibility to the poignancy of his situation. But, the 2013 season is showing us that even a Time Lord, with all of existence as his canvas, ends up painting the same pictures, eventually.
The high point of this episode was, for me, a throw-away reference to the pre-21'st-century version of The Doctor (going all the way back to the original, actually, and good for you if you caught it). But, what disappoints about that tiny moment is that it seems like it might be the start of another arc that builds on the grand structure of the Doctor's backstory, yet that's not what happens.
What happens is, yet again, the Doctor coincidentally finds himself in yet another apparently mundane situation that, yet once more, turns out to implicate extraordinary forces, dangers, and events. When these things are ultimately explained to have some connection to the Doctor and his mysterious past, they make a kind of sense and also make a kind of promise (that this is all _going somewhere_, and we'll find it satisfying when we arrive). But, when the Doctor seems to encounter them by dumb luck, one tends to feel that, when the story is over, one pretty much ends up where one started. (If one is inclined to cosmic thinking, one also ends up wondering just how many other similar situations turned out differently in other parts of the universe, for lack of the Doctor's random-chance involvement.) Successful TV series often suffer from the problem that is eroding Doctor Who: they bring you back every week because you want to know the answers to the questions that make the whole thing so fascinating, yet once you get your answers, you may not ever come back. Doctor Who is avoiding the questions in, apparently, an effort to hold off giving us the answers. Watching retreaded stories like the first two 2013 episodes, when we would prefer to be getting closer to just what it is the Doctor means when he talks about his senses of guilt and loneliness at being the last Time Lord, is starting to feel like a waste of time.
First Let-Down of Season Openers
Yes, the Doctor is back. The musical score is as thrilling as ever, the Doctor is as manic as ever, his companion is as cute and wise-cracking as ever... Sadly, this all means we've pretty much seen what the Doctor has to show us. The new companion's back-story is different from the others, but it's also incomprehensible, so "different" isn't so much "new" as it is "frustratingly confusing." Yes, this is a show about a time-traveling Jack-of-All-Trades, so it's _bound_ to be confusing. But the great joy to be found in the 21'st century's version of the Doctor has been that, if you paid really, really close attention, it always made sense. This time... well, it might still make sense before they're done, but I'm already lost. I'm not even sure I know what to be making sense _of_ at this point.
Meanwhile, the story in this particular episode is actually rather hum-drum by comparison to many we've seen for the past few years. Another peril, another show-down, another moment of truth for the Doctor. Stuff like this has to be _headed_ somewhere, eventually, or it all just starts to feel like copies of itself. The "Amy Pond" arc had that sense of direction. Alas, that's in the past now, which is kind of an ironic indicator that a show about a creature called a "Time Lord" may, after fully half a century, have reached the limits of its time and space.
Sucker Punch (2011)
That looks so cool...
Fabulous! By relying on tropes so familiar he doesn't need to contribute a story, Snyder justifies over-the-top visuals and gives us a gang of kick-ass warrior-women without one close-up shot of a bosom or one ripped skirt at the thigh. Think "Aeon Flux" and that style of "cool," instead of "Black Scorpion" (and that style of trash), and you get what Snyder has to offer.
Drill down on the IMDb ratings and take note of the fact that, except for the IMDb staff, the highest rating comes from females under 18. A number of critics mistakenly dismissed this movie as being aimed at men, because the heroes (the right word for these women) wear a lot of black leather and fishnets. But look closer at what you _don't_ see: there's not a lot of bare skin, nor even much hinting at anything racy. In the "club," they wear the same practice leotards every professional dancer has. In the fighting scenes, their outfits cover almost their entire bodies, and in ways that are no more demeaning than how most male action heroes are dressed. Closest thing I could see to adolescent fantasy stuff was one character's black leather nurse's cap, which frankly looks pretty jaunty, kind of like the winged cap of the Italian carabinieri. Amazing that the teen-aged young women seemed to get this, while the middle-aged female professional reviewers mostly missed it.
Extra fun for those of us who remember Scott Glenn for the similarly plot-less, equally atmospheric, ultimately inferior (though almost as satisfying) 1983's "The Keep." He is equally enigmatic here, though a bit more sly as he leaves the combat to the main characters.
Don't look for a story. Look for something you kind of partly wish were real, if only it weren't so likely to hurt you, and then say, "Gee, that looks so _cool_!" You'll be glad you did.
The Centrifuge Brain Project (2012)
The Future of Film
I believe this film is a preview of what the best to come from the future of film will be. It's short, but every moment of it shows what can be done with talent and modern technology. A longer film would require a bigger budget, but even this outstanding seven-minute production would have been impossible to create a few years ago without major resources.
As editing, sfx, and other capabilities continue to find their way onto the modern auteur's desktop, expect to see more of this kind of creative, ground-breaking, and (not to leave out) entertaining stuff.
If you're as tired as I am of retreads like yet-another-Batman movie or the seemingly endless stream of interchangeable Tom Cruise films, be patient: this is the kind of movie you've been waiting for, and there's a lot more about to be created where this came from.
Another Sugar-Coated Kids' Story
There must be a stock process now that all film-makers know of that makes your exterior shots all resemble blue-steel gingerbread houses trimmed with frosting. I don't know what it's supposed to do, from a dramatic point of view, but it's just everywhere lately and Scorsese uses it so much in "Hugo" you could end up believing that Paris just needs a rub-down with a giant chamois skin to become the world's biggest Hall of Mirrors. Maybe it's a side-effect of replacing genuine photography with CGI. I don't know and I don't care. It looks silly and I'm tired of it.
Likewise, I am tired of tales like this one that involve a young child on his own, overcoming false obstacles that mostly take the form of curmudgeons you hope will all love him before the story is over. This film is just one tired cliché after another of such stuff. The full cast of modern "Dondi" films is present, with the innocent boy, precocious girl, multiple dubious authority figures, whimsical elders, and so on. You've seen every last one of them over and over.
Sure, there's plenty of steam-punk pseudo-wonder intended to keep the lips of your inner seven-year-old pursed into a little "o" for over an hour. Brass keys, spinning gears, and wind-up contraptions of every kind are in almost every frame of this film, all to make you think that something oh-so-magical is going on in front of you.
Now add to that: hum.
While I can't say this one lacked for anything original, it lacked for anything surprising. Each and every set-up is, soon after, resolved in precisely the way you most expect that it will be. Original, perhaps, but familiar all the way.
Your inner seven-year-old will love it. Your actual seven-year-old will probably love it too.
Grown-ups, on the other hand, may wonder before it's over just what it is that $170,000,000 can buy anymore.