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La La Land (2016/I)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"And the Loser is....long pause.....Gimme the Envelope, Warren.....'La La Land!'", 29 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"La La Land" has obviously resonated with film-goers. With a $30 million budget, the film has taken in over $440 million in international box office receipts. But the question that must be asked how does "La La Land" compare with other film musicals? Arguably, the answer is: not very well.

One of the joys of the older musicals is the ability to enjoy watching Judy Garlands films over and over. It would be difficult to avoid using the fast forward clicker in a reviewing of "La La Land." In the tradition of the multiple film versions of "A Star is Born," the musicals would also offer a social commentary on the insider world of Hollywood. Indeed, that is the goal of "La La Land," which seems to suggest that one can live out one's dreams in Hollywood, but it might take a toll on one's personal life. What a difference this is from the serious and indeed tragic tone in "A Star is Born," especially in the Judy Garland-James Mason version.

Another major shortcoming of "La La Land" was in the music. While there were several nice songs, it was painfully apparent that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone did not have much range in their voices. Much of the pacing of the film was labored, and the narrative never made clear why Sebastian and Mia drifted apart at the precise moment when they were on the threshold of success in their careers.

The heart and soul of "La La Land" was in the romance. Yet the chemistry between Gosling and Stone was not terrific. And it was never made clear precisely when the characters fell in love. Sebastian was extremely callous to Mia when she was about to give him a compliment after a song he played in the restaurant. The filmmakers had the obligation to make the relationship believable and organic. One of the taglines of the characters came in describing "the mess we make." But parts of this film were also a bit messy.

"La La Land" was clearly intended as a romantic fable. One underrated musical fantasy that might be just as good is Francis Ford Coppola's "One From the Heart" (1981) that had more depth and imagination than "La La Land."

Why Him? (2016)
Generation Gap Comedy Lacks Invention, 28 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It seems when Hollywood comic writers are reaching for humorous dialogue, they tend to rely on toilet jokes to sustain a motion picture. But in the case of "Why Him?", the entire premise of the film appears to be based on the toilet! The best performance in the film is that of the extremely versatile Bryan Cranston, an actor with a distinctive voice and a granite face that has served him in so many character roles.

Here, Cranston is the cranky father who hates to see his daughter give up on her studies at Stanford to marry a mercurial video game entrepreneur played by James Franco. The father and the family travel from Michigan to California where they are in for the shock of their lives when they meet the boyfriend.

The principal conflict of the film is between Cranston and Franco with the young man attempting to win the permission of the father to marry the daughter. The generation gap is depicted through the father's printing business that is on the skids, due to the digital age. One of the more interesting characters is the little brother of the young woman, who bonds with Franco's entrepreneur, who eventually rescues the family business.

While the generation gap theme had good potential, the lackluster dialogue and silly gags (especially the pickled moose) kept the film in the gutter. In a film filled with tasteless toilet humor, it was a fitting ending to learn about the new enterprise of the Michigan family.

"You Are the Apple of My Eye", 27 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Assassin's Creed" is based on a video game, and the final film product is closer to a mindless game, as opposed to a work of cinema.

One of the many problems with the film is its blatant disregard of historical truth. There is a time-travel element where the main character named Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is sent from the present to fifteenth-century Spain to retrieve the "Apple of Eden," which is supposed to represent a combination of man's disobedience and his nature of free will. The scientist Sophia (Marion Cotilard) wants to use the apple to eliminate violence from human nature. Her dastardly father Dr. Rikkon (Jeremy Irons) has other, vague plans for his modern Templar organization.

The true historical saga is that Spain was expelling the Muslims in the wake of the Reconquista of 1492. That reality was completely lost on the filmmakers, who devise an anachronistic conflict of the Knights Templars and the Assassins, which occurred in the Middle East during the Crusading era, not in the Spain of Isabella and Ferdinand of Aragon.

Fasbender's acting talents are wasted in a cardboard cutout of a hero. It is ironic that in a film with the message of a quest for the cure of violence, the viewer is treated to non-stop violence for two hours, plus the opportunity to look forward to more violence action in "Assassin's Creed, Part II."

The Deep, Dark Secrets of Sugar Mountain, 27 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It would be interesting to take a poll and learn if there is a consensus in choosing the most morally reprehensible resident of Sugar Mountain.

First, there is the brother named Miles who hikes into the wilderness on the false pretense that he is lost in an Alaska winter; he thereby endangers the lives of the honest people who form a posse to save him.

Second, there is the other brother named Liam who is part of the plot, yet betrays his dear brother by sleeping with his girlfriend as the hoax is unfolding.

Third, there is the woman named Lauren who sleeps with both brothers and also seems to be the one coming up with new ideas for a scam to sell lies to the media about her two boyfriends. When she decides to hook up with Liam for a one-nighter, she is doing so with the full knowledge that she is sleeping with her step-brother, which should be factored into the voting.

Fourth, there is the local alcoholic sheriff and father of Lauren. He is on to the brothers' scam from the beginning, but is so incompetent that he is unable to arrest them.

Fifth, there is the ironically named character Joe Bright. With more brawn than brains, Big Joe is eventually undone by his stupidity, as he seeks to extort money from the two brothers.

The list goes on. The only truly likable character is sweet little Angie, who gives up an opportunity to travel to Paris in order pursue a romance with Liam. Unfortunately, Angie drops out of the film before it is half over.

While the scenic grandeur of Alaska was apparent in the film, the overall narrative design seemed amateurish. In casting, it was difficult to believe the character relationships: the three young people seemed far too old for their youthful characcters, and the sheriff seemed far too young to be Lauren's father.

In the DVD version of "Sugar Mountain," there was included a fascinating short documentary entitled "Cold War." It told the story of female snipers originally recruited by Stalin during World War II. Apparently, the women continued to engage in terrorism in Alaska during the Cold War. That story might have served as a more engaging feature film for the producers of "Sugar Mountain."

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Introducing the Genius, 26 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In this first part of the National Geographic Channel's "Genius" series, the life of Albert Einstein is depicted up until the time he flees from Germany during the rise of Hitler.

The program opens with the brutal slaying of the German Foreign Minister and close friend of Einstein, Walter Rathenau on June 24, 1922. This terrorist act was committed by the Freikorps, the right-wing militant group comprised primarily of World War I veterans. In the fledgling Weimar Republic, political assassinations took an enormous toll on the revolutionary government. Eventually, the leadership vacuum would be filled by the Nazis.

This is the backdrop for the biography of Einstein in this well-performed and handsomely filmed television series. Oddly, however, the filmmakers choose to make use of flashbacks to tell Einstein's story. It is almost as if they were afraid of boring the viewer if the story were told in a linear chronological fashion. While it is fairly easily to follow the adult Einstein's story and the younger Einstein played by a different actor, the transitions between timeframes were often abrupt, and they broke up the flow of the narrative.

As appropriate to the film's title, there is the attempt to analyze the true nature of a genius. In this case, Einstein was primarily an autodidact, who was not comfortable as a student in a formal classroom setting. We watch young Einstein's mind wander during a lecture, as he visualizes light and begins to speculate on how fast light travels.

The women in Einstein's life (mother, sister, lovers, and wives) are set up effectively in this opening program. But there could have been greater attention paid to the turbulent world of Europe in the 1920s, which occupied most of this opening program. The staggering effects of The Great War and the toll that it took economically and morally on the nations of Europe were virtually non-existent in the film. The greatest strength of the film is Geoffrey Rush's convincing interpretation of the middle-aged Einstein.

The Escort (2016/IV)
Winsome Performances in Clever Film, 22 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The two performances of Michael Doneger and Lyndsy Fonseca were outstanding in this unusual romantic comedy.

At the beginning of the film, it was unclear how the style would evolve. Was this to be a satirical film? a farce? an exposé on prostitution and sex addiction? As it turns out, it was an effective romantic comedy as the relationship of two characters of Mitch and Natalie evolved into a pair of soul mates. There was good chemistry between the actors, as well as some creative dialogue. The characters of Mitch's family, including a hip songwriter of a father and a precocious sister, added to to the comedy.

While "The Escort" may not be a great film, it was nonetheless a well-paced rom com, due primarily to two excellent performances.

"Goliath" (2016)
Good Character Study and Suspense in Marathon Series, 22 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This eight-part series was an engaging drama, and it was filmed with some excellent shots of Los Angeles. Billy Bob Thornton is outstanding in the role of Billy McBride, a has-been attorney who fell from grace and now seeks redemption through a high profile case involving conspiracy and crimes committed by both attorneys and industrialists.

This scenario is similar to Paul Newman's unforgettable portrayal of a washed up attorney in "The Verdict." In the miniseries format of "Goliath," there is a good set of characters and some lively courtroom intrigue.

The central villain of the series is the head of the law firm of Cooperman and McBride, who is Donald Cooperman (William Hurt). A weakness of the series was in the Cooperman character, who was a one-dimensional psychopath, who was bent on taking revenge on Billy. But the series never specifies what exactly Billy had done to Cooperman to merit this vendetta.

Some of secondary characters were also poorly developed. The character of Brittany Gold was not quite believable in her exact relationship to Billy and why she would sell him out. The filmmakers had an obligation to make this clear. Another interesting character never fully developed was a priest who was clearly a pawn of either Cooperman or the Borns Tech group. But the filmmakers never disclosed the background on Father Anan. At one point, he was prepared to take the witness stand in the trial, but was never called. In an eight-hour series, there was surely the opportunity to provide the audience with basic expository details.

Still, the eight segments of "Goliath" were compelling drama. The standout characters were the oily lawyers: Callie, Michelle, and Lucy, who would stop at nothing to advance their careers. "Justice" was not a word in their limited collective vocabulary. But, somehow, that was the prime motivation of Billy McBride.

Cleaning House at Cooperman & McBride, 22 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This final episode in the "Goliath" series is primarily the final trial. Cooperman and Callie Senate have co-opted Brittany to testify against Billy. But Brittany is the only witness called by Born Tech defense team.

In his closing argument, Billy points out the glaring absence of weaknesses. But he primarily appeals to the audience with the "David and Goliath" argument, namely, the powers of ordinary citizens like those of the jury to stand up to jaded attorneys and nefarious manufacturers of arms.

With the verdict in, Billy has yet another trick up his sleeve in recording his private conversation with Wendell, the head of Born Tech, who admits that his company was producing illegal fuel that killed Ryan. This will be the coup de grace on both the Cooperman law firm and Born Tech.

The Plot Thickens, 22 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The trial finally begins as Billy fears for his life if there is further delay. Billy's Ford Mustang is filled with the brim with his motley team.

The judge rules against Billy's request to admit evidence that was given him by the FBI in the form of a photo that depicts the bomb owned by Ryan as a weapon being used in the Middle East. But Billy makes the surprise decision to first call as a witness Wendell Corey, the head of Born Tech. When Wendell testifies that Donald Cooperman was the closest liaison to Born Tech and their legal dealings, Billy calls Cooperman to the stand.

At the behest of Cooperman, Callie fires Lucy because Cooperman believes she is weak. In a surprise at the end of the episode, Callie has placed Billy's associate Brittany Gold on the defense's witness list. Has Brittany gone over to the other side?

"It's Chinatown, Jake", 22 April 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In this episode, Billy is invited to meet with Cooperman at one of their old haunts: Chinatown! In the meeting, Cooperman warns Billy that if he does not drop the case against Born Tech, more innocent people will be hurt.

In turn, Billy slaps Cooperman with a subpoena. But after he leaves Chinatown, he is forced off the road and discovers the body of the nice young drug dealer on the boat, who was an eyewitness to Ryan's murder.

Clearly, Cooperman is feeling desperate, but Billy in unwilling to back down.

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