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phd_travel

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935 reviews in total 
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"Narcos" (2015)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A must watch - fact is stranger than fiction, 20 September 2015

This terrific series combines the high production values (beautifully shot in Colombia) and acting of a feature film with the clarity and thoroughness of a documentary. I enjoyed this more than some of those fictional drug war movies because the story of Pablo Escobar is stranger than fiction. I'm glad I knew who he was but I wasn't aware of the details his many crimes so watching them unfold in this series was completely mesmerizing. The story is narrated by a DEA agent. The DEA agent's activities aren't the main story. The struggles of the Colombian anti drug personnel from cops to politicians against the drug cartel is told in a clear and non confusing manner. This is a real accomplishment given the multitude of characters and complex events. So much happens each episode. Most of the dialog is in Spanish and subtitles are pretty clear.

The acting is better than it needs to be with so much going on. Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar has the benign look that the real Escobar had. He doesn't over act so things are more believable and not an exaggerated caricature of evil. Boyd Holbrook as the DEA agent looks right for the 80s part. The many excellent Spanish speaking actors who play the Colombians both drug traffickers and law enforcement and politicians are excellent and really carry the show with their believable earnestness.

Given that the war on drugs is still going on right now this series goes beyond historical interest. Hurry up Netflix can't wait for Season 2.

Black Mass (2015/I)
2 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Fascinating but screenplay is a bit unbalanced, 18 September 2015
8/10

This fascinating true story about Irish gangster Whitey Bulger who is the brother of MA State Senator. Whitey becomes informant to the FBI to help take down the Mafia. In return they turn a blind eye to his shady dealings. The story requires some concentration as there are a lot of characters. The good point is that it's not too jumbled up. It's clear about the 'deal' and the character's motives and the gradual corruption of FBI agent John Connolly Whitey's childhood friend. The screenplay is a bit repetitive about these points and could have spent a little time on his early years and later fugitive years. Not enough of his personal life is shown as well. The focus is too much on the rub outs and the agents.

There are several brutal killings but it's not too graphic by today's standards.

The cast is stellar. Johnny Depp though not very Irish looking is quite convincingly made up and sinister with less hair and bad teeth. He is effective without overacting. Benedict Cumberbatch is a strange choice to play the senator brother, not looking like Depp at all and coming across quite British and reserved. Breaking Bad's Jesse Plemons convincingly plays Whitey's sidekick Kevin Weeks. Joel Edgerton is well cast as the FBI childhood friend of Whitey. Corey Stoll has a small but effective role as a good guy who comes in to clean up things. Peter Sarsgaard is suitably druggie as the drug snorting associate. Dakota Johnson as the baby mama is surprisingly effective. More of Whitey's personal relationships could have been shown.

Worth a watch for the fascinating true story.

Sicario (2015)
4 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Well made and tense, overcomes some plot weaknesses, 17 September 2015
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This drug war thriller is exciting and partly frustrating although some of the frustration is part of the plot.

In the first half FBI agent is recruited to assist the agent Josh Brolin and the mysterious Benicio Del Toro to fight the drug war. They go across the border to Juarez to grab someone they need. What is she doing there on this mission. Things are answered eventually but that seems more of a plot device and doesn't ring true. The scenes there and at the border bridge crossing are quite suspenseful. Later on the hook up with the bad cop gone wrong seems a bit unrealistic. How could they know that would happen for sure. When they going through the tunnels it's again quite scary. Later on don't really get why she is so terribly upset about taking down a drug lord even though it's against the proper procedure and international jurisdictions and protocol. Is that something worth being so eaten up about? Emily Blunt is getting some action roles and she is watchable - both feisty and vulnerable. Josh Brolin is quite good as the questionable agent. Benicio del Toro is of course terrific and it's a good change to see him on the good side after playing 'Escobar Paradise Lost'. I actually think that 'Paradise Lost' was a better movie on the whole.

Overall this film is worth a watch. It's a well made and tense and holds your attention. The heartbeat like soundtrack is adds to the excitement. Unfortunately like any fictional thriller some things are ridiculous but entertaining like Benicio's one man killing machine in the climax.

Outcast (2014/I)
Historical action movie set in China with Hollywood actors, 12 September 2015
5/10

This is an English language historical Chinese action movie. The scenery in Yunnan China is quite atmospheric. Things start off with a now politically correct evil crusaders pillaging a Middle Eastern town. Meanwhile an evil prince kills his father and goes after his younger brother (the proper heir) and his sister. The crusaders later find themselves in China and help out.

As with these English speaking Chinese joint ventures they make all the actors speak in a strange manner. Some of the dialog could have been better. There is lots of action and fighting as expected.

Hayden Christensen hasn't always been the most expressive actor but kudos to him for getting the fight scenes down well. He isn't a kung fu sword fighting expert after all. His opium induced drugged out squint is a bit tiresome after a while and his haircut a bit too modern. His love scenes with Liu YiFei are slightly tedious.

Nicolas Cage has a strange pseudo British accent that is out of place. His squinty look in the 2nd half is laughable. Not one of his greater performances.

The Chinese actors are quite good. Liu Yifei was quite good. While she isn't the most beautiful of the young Chinese actresses out there but she acts and speaks quite well and in the end it makes things more palatable than if they had one of those picture perfect actresses who can't act. Andy On as the evil prince is quite believable although his dialog is a bit too modern for that time period.

Compared to the recent Jackie Chan movie with Hollywood stars John Cusack and Adrien Brody, this is less painful because it takes itself less seriously and has less cringe worthy dialog.

Overall not great but okay if you are in the mood for an English language historical Chinese action movie.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Great comedic acting plus a touching story, 8 September 2015
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The good performances by the actors and a touching story make this comedy drama work. It's quite an achievement that the story can be funny considering the sad things that happen.

A grumpy old man babysits his single neighbor's young boy and teaches him a thing or two about life.

Bill Murray has a different persona with the grumpy old man and tri state accent down. His is so likable that it doesn't matter what bad things he is doing. Plus his post stroke slur is quite convincing. Naomi Watts shows her comedic talents with a funny performance as a pregnant Russian hooker with the whole package of body language accent and makeup to boot. Melissa McCarthy is quite touching and convincing as the mother going through a divorce. The young boy Jaeden avoids the Culkin type cuteness and acts well. Not easy to avoid being annoying in this role but he does it.

Worth a watch.

5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Not that bad a funny premise and a good cast., 7 September 2015
6/10

Don't listen to all the negative news about this comedy. It's not that bad. This comedy is funny in parts and the cast is well chosen. The small start up vs established corporation is quite relevant and amusing today. The team is funny with the retirement age guy (Tom Wilkinson), the newbie dimwit (Dave Franco who is great at this kind of role) and Vince as the guy struggling to get his new business going. Sienna Miller is pretty and does the ---hole boss well. James Marsden is good as the corporate schmuck. The filming in Berlin is fun to watch with it's mix of old and new and cutting edge. The side plot of Vince's kid being bullied for being fat is a bit overdone. Of course there are some crude moments like any comedy these days with it's nudity.

Overall worth one watch.

Mortdecai (2015)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Not many laughs but not totally unwatchable, 6 September 2015
3/10

Despite bad reviews, I wanted to see this because with such a stellar cast doing a comedy how bad could it be? Surely with Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow etc it's got to have some laughs. The trailer seemed unfunny and painful. It turned out the trailer showed the most painful parts. The movie actually does have some laughs though in rather minor dialog and incidental situations.

The plot is about a comical British aristocrat art expert slash con man helping MI5 over some forged Goya painting that has lots of people after it for some Nazi secret.

The comic talents of the cast are not used to their full potential because the lines aren't witty enough and the situations aren't spontaneously laugh out loud. The characters have the potential to be funny but then the story and dialog don't deliver. The problem is there were too many unfunny lines and forced situations that cancelled out the funny moments. Both Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow do their amusing English accents. Couldn't catch a lot of what Johnny was saying. It was mumbled. Olivia Munn as a nymphomaniac is given precious little to nymph about. Ewan didn't have many good lines. Paul Bettany is okay as the sidekick.

Overall its a bearable one watch. The locations in England are pretty. Just be prepared it's not that funny.

Starts off promising but fizzles out, 6 September 2015
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It starts off promising with a Fargo like small town atmosphere in Canada and some shocking deaths. The gruesome deaths gradually link up with a biblical theme and hunt for a killer. Meanwhile there is a mysterious healer going around.

It's watchable because of the good actors like Susan Sarandon as the detective, Ellen Burstyn as her mother, Topher Grace as a younger detective, Donald Sutherland as a religious expert, etc. At first it's a wonder why all these big names are together in a TV movie. Then as the story pans out it becomes clear. The story just isn't that good and fairly ridiculous. In the end the outlandish explanation just makes the whole thing a let down.

A first rate cast and a third rate story. Not a must watch.

I Killed My BFF (2015) (TV)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Worth watching, 5 September 2015
8/10

Don't confuse this with the TV series on Lifetime, it isn't an episode of the series. This is a TV movie loosely based on one of those true life cases and the plot is quite good in the way true stories are often better than fiction.

A young woman Heather who has bipolar disorder (played quite convincingly by Olivia Crocicchia) and an ambitious woman Shane (30 Rock's Katrina Bowden) become friends after meeting at a hospital when giving birth. They become neighbors and baby sit for each other. Chris Zylka plays Shane's struggling husband whose weakness of character is quite well portrayed. Things are quite normal at first and they have some problems but then some bad decisions are made when Shane wants to invest in a business and things spiral out of control. Nobody is obviously good or bad at least at first it makes things tense because you don't know how things are going to play out.

Worth a watch.

5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Overpowering music and fragmented direction, 3 September 2015
4/10

This movie could have been better. An American agent and a Russian agent tie up in the 60s to save the world from a former Nazi's scientist's new bomb. They use the scientist's daughter from East Germany to get it.

The bad points: The direction and music are bad. Guy Ritchie's style isn't suited to this kind of movie. His fragmented way of showing something breaks up the excitement and makes the action sequences fizzle. The music is too loud and distracts from the scenes. More often than not the music did not suit what was going on. It's a shame with all the great music of the era. Alicia Vikander isn't special enough for this role, a bit ordinary and forgettable and a bit laid back looking.

The good points: The 60s mood is captured looks wise with the cars and fashion. The European scenery, Berlin and Rome mainly, is attractive. The 2 photogenic leads Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill perform well enough. Armie Hammer does a good for Hollywood Russian accent distinct yet understandable. Watching Henry Cavill the next James Bond comes to mind.

Worth one watch but it could have been better. If there is a sequel it would be better if Guy Ritchie isn't involved.


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