Sunday, December 25, 2016


Director:     Gareth Edwards
Writers:       Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy (screenplay)
John Knoll, Gary Whitta (story by)
Actors:  Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed

COMMENTS:   It’s a Star Wars movie, so of course I had to see it.  I’d been a fan since the first one and worked at Fox when it was released.  I liked things about it and felt saddened by other things.

What I liked about it:  The grandeur, the scope, the overall vision and the action/adventure aspects are absolutely breathtaking.  George Lucas, who conceived and initiated this franchise must have a telephone line directly to extraterrestrial species who are telling him the true nature of our reality.  With the billions of galaxies out there, and the billions of stars in each galaxy, somewhere out there this kind of thing must really be happening.

What saddened me about this movie is the sheer complexity of the storyline.  It was so hard to follow.  I lost track of who were the good guys vs. the bad guys. The first movie had so much to say about human frailty and emotional territories.  This one focuses more on techno aspects and galactic territories.

Maybe that’s the reality… that compared to the uncountable ET species out there who have evolved through thousands and millions of years, our intellect is like an ant’s mind compared to human IQ.  Maybe we need to pay attention to movies like this to prepare for what some day may arrive to confront us.  If we don’t evolve fast enough to use more than our current 10% brain-usage standard, then we ain’t got a chance against future reality.

That’s just what I think.  Back to the movie:  It’s a Star Wars journey where an individual dares to revolt against an entire galactic power (an ant deciding to bite all humans on Earth?).  It’s a heroic journey for Jyn, well rendered by Felicity Jones. Forrest Whitaker has a forbidding character to play, and he does so with exquisite artistry.  I wished Diego Luna, who portrays sensitive characters well, had put more dash and derring-do in his portrayal.  But then, there’s only one Harrison Ford, right?    I LOVED Donnie Yen's character, the superb, but blind martial artist.  His story is worth watching in a separate movie, along with his wonderful sidekick, played by Wen Jiang. Gareth Edwards directed with vision, but I yearned for George Lucas's understanding that ultimately, it comes down to heart and soul.

Nevertheless, I believe this movie is worth watching on so many levels, especially the CGI effects, which are complex, sophisticated beyond human ken, and unquestionably brilliant.  Just be prepared to get lost a few times.  I wasn't prepared for the surprise ending, which made it fun!

SUMMARY:  GEN: 8;  JUST: 6 (Darth Vader is still alive, but then there would be no future movies if he died, right?); HUVA:  5 (of course in wars, human values are nearly zero).
TAGS:  Star Wars, Rogue One, Gareth Edwards, Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forrest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Director:     Edward Zwick
Writers:       Richard Wenk; Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
Actors:        Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh

Now in his 50’s, Tom Cruise can still outwit and outfight the bad guys of the world.  As Jack Reacher, he walks the path of the lonely, misunderstood  idealist who acts with practical necessity to be true to himself.  He brings honest conflict to a role which requires an inner angst only a man can convey if he’s truly lived it. There is raw pain and regret in the history of this man beset with many emotional challenges.  Unlike most men who are forced to kill, he acts not only because he wants to survive, but because he is driven to defend those he feels are unjustly wronged.  Finally, even if he senses ultimate betrayal in his loyalties, he still must act in a way to affirm his inner truths.

I truly like Jack Reacher, the man and the movie.  Tom Cruise is such a strong presence he generally overwhelms any character he plays, but in this role, he sublimates that enough so we see the soul of Jack Reacher, and occasionally forget that he's the actor, Tom Cruise.  I love the honesty of the ending.  As producer of this movie, Tom influenced it in a way I truly respect.  In one scene, when Tom and Cobie Smulders (the person he chooses to save) are being targeted by the bad guys, they make a point to chase out the restaurant kitchen staff so they don’t get killed in the gunfight which ensues.  For this alone, I give this movie an “8” (out of 10) for human values.  By comparison, I give “Jason Bourne” a “3” because that movie USED humans as protective shields against gunfire.  The only reason it isn’t a “1” is because Jason did try to protect the people who were on his side and he was fighting for truth.

In this movie, I also loved the exploration of father-daughter mechanics… the theme of accepting responsibility for one’s actions, whether past, present or future.  In all other production values (directing, choreography, writing, acting, etc.), I would also give it an “7”.   The directing is experienced and competent, though I was hoping for some scenes with a more profound subtextual revelation.  Cobie is fabulous as a tough woman who can take rough treatment as well as give it.  The screenplay/storyline was only TV-average. Action afficionados might be disappointed that the “kill” scenes aren’t more elaborate and thrilling, but that’s actually why I liked this movie.  It’s more about being human in a violent world rather than being violent in a human world.

Did the protagonist and antagonist get their just endings?  I give Justice  a "9".  The bad guys got caught, and our hero is still lonely and misunderstood... but quite free to continue his hero's journey.
TAGS:  Tom Cruise, Jack Reacher, Cobie Smulders, Edward Zwick, Richard Wenk, Marshall Herskovitz

Saturday, October 8, 2016

SULLY (2016) Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney

Director:     Clint Eastwood
Writers:       Todd Komarnicki
Actors:        Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney

Based on Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s book, (“Highest Duty”), this movie is presented in documentary style, so it lacks the exaggerated theatricality of spectacular dramas.   It’s based on true events, so this seems appropriate to me.  Clint Eastwood has always been superb at capturing the internal turmoil beneath the outward calm, and Tom Hanks is a master at portraying unassuming heroes with profound courage and integrity beneath the surface silence.  This is an excellent movie which depicts how an honorable man triumphs over slanderous accusations of ineptitude and misjudgment.

I love Clint Eastwood’s decision to make this about moral and ethical issues rather than sensationalizing the dramatic event of a plane crashing into the Hudson River. In our narcissistic society which tends to celebrate egoistic heroism, this movie stands out as a magnificent homage to the human spirit of a man whose only goal is to save the lives of his crew and passengers.  Tom Hanks, as always, embodies this type of man with the ease of an eyeblink. Aaron Eckhart, who plays his co-pilot (and, in my opinion, a heroic type himself), admirably sets aside his own charisma to give Tom Hanks the full spotlight.

As patiently and quietly as the story unfolds, once I understand what’s going on, I’m outraged that a pilot with 40 years of experience is questioned for his last-minute decision to land his damaged plane on the Hudson River, an action which ultimately SAVES the lives of all the crew and passengers on the plane.  How can anyone question his decision given the outcome?  Well, insurance carriers can because blaming the pilot will absolve them of having to pay off insurance claims.

This isn’t a blockbuster movie.  Rather, it’s a thoughtful, heartwarming movie which will survive the test of time and be loved by moviegoers far into the future.
TAGS:  Sully, Plane Crash, Hudson River, Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Todd Komarnicki

Monday, September 19, 2016

SNOWDEN (2016) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto

Director:     Oliver Stone
Writers:       Kieran Fitzgerald; Oliver Stone  
Actors:        Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto. Shailene Woodley, Tom Wilkinson

Someday, history might name this phase of human endeavor as the Disclosure Period.  If so, the Snowden information leak will be at the top of the disclosure list.  In this movie version, there are no gunfights, car chases nor snipers hidden in tall buildings.  The suspense is generated in a more subtle way.  We, the audience, engage in Snowden’s dilemma:  Will he be hunted and killed as a traitor by a government which is willing to destroy lives to protect its secrets.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the title role and he’s excellent.  The techno elements of the leak is probably beyond the average moviegoer’s purview (it sure was for me), so the focus is on the HUMAN element.  Snowden wants to be of service to the world, and his superior techno skills get him a job at NSA in no time at all.  Then he discovers secrets which erode at his conscience:  Is the constitution being sabotaged for the sake of so-called  “national security,” bypassing ethical and moral considerations?  He remains silent as he witnesses arguable “atrocities.”  Ultimately, he reaches a point where he cannot endure what he personally feels is a wanton disregard of human “rights.”  Knowing he will probably be branded a “traitor,” he decides to listen to his inner truth and disclose information to the public.  He distances himself from close friends and family and launches into a journey that will brand him for the rest of his life.  It will inevitably compromise his health and he knows the ramifications of his act will burden his conscience for as long as he lives.

Gordon-Levitt shows us the angst and turmoil of Snowden’s choice as we witness the sacrifices he must make to complete his self-appointed task.  Shailene Woodley is affecting and passionate as his girlfriend, and Tom Wilkinson (who excelled in a previous disclosure movie, “Michael Clayton”) connects in his journalist role.

In terms of blockbuster numbers, this ain’t a movie that fits in that category. Nevertheless, in terms of significance and importance, it should be at the top of the list.  It’s a “must see” for self-aware, courageous people who refuse to blindly follow authority “just because” they’re authority.  It’s for people who question complex situations which generate the dilemma of what the ethical and moral principles are of “greater good.”  Who defines the parameters of “the greater good”?  At what point is one individual's life more valuable than "the greater good?"  Difficult questions, but someone has to ask them.
TAGS:   Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Wood, Oliver Stone, Kieran Fitzgerald, Disclosure, SNOWDEN, Surveillance, Tom Wilkinson, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto

Monday, August 1, 2016

JASON BOURNE (2016) Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander

Director:  Paul Greengrass
Writers:   Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse
Actors:    Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander

For me, this movie had good things and bad things.  Let’s start with the good.  There’s Matt Damon, of course, physically credible as the bad ass, Jason  Bourne.  What I really like about him is that his acting is all internal.  While his face remains impassive and calm, we can intuit and identify what he’s thinking and feeling, the sense of outrage and betrayal, the conflicted passions of his heart as he tries to understand his father.  The script is good in that we intuit Bourne’s inner angst because of his actions, his indomitable spirit to survive, and his superhuman ability to risk and accomplish incredible physical feats.  Tommy Lee Jones is good in a similar way… his villainous deeds are reflected in the striations of his aging face and flat determination in his eyes.  The choreography of chase scenes on foot, on motorcycle, and in cars reflects all the chaos and destruction inherent in this type of action/suspense thriller.

Which brings us to the bad.  I saw very little humanity in this film… no act of tenderness or love between the characters which would balance the death and mayhem.  What satisfies me in many of Bruce Willis and Jason Statham films is that there’s usually a powerful moment of humanity so my heart becomes engaged. There’s usually someone innocent and vulnerable in danger, which justifies the violence which Willis and Statham must resort to. Protecting someone defenseless somewhat justifies killing the enemy.  In this movie, neither Bourne nor the government is defenseless.

No doubt about it, this is a political film, exploring the boundaries of moral right and wrong.  By now, we all know we’re each one of us under government surveillance. Television’s Person of Interest and Snowden’s disclosures have ensured that.  What disturbs me most about this film is that, ultimately, it demonstrates how we, the ordinary citizens of the world, are all just pawns in a worldwide game of power.  In the way Bourne and his enemy use crowds to fulfill their personal agendas, we realize it doesn’t matter how many innocent people are killed in their quest for triumph over each other.  All that matters is that they win and survive.
TAGS:  Jason Bourne, Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Julia Stiles, Robert Ludlum, Paul Greengrass

Sunday, July 24, 2016

STAR TREK BEYOND (2016) Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg

Director:     Justin Lin
Writers:       Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Actors:        Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana

The first five minutes are nostalgic and quiet, funny and filled with charm.  Captain Kirk is considering leaving the Starfleet, so it’s time for serious reflection.  After this last assignment, then perhaps he’ll quit.  And then… ATTACK!  All hell breaks loose.  The enemy is comprised of a hive mentality, and the ships are like bees swarming to engulf the lone Enterprise.  There is no way the Enterprise can withstand such a blitzkrieg attack.  And they don’t.  The ship breaks apart and dozens of life-pods eject the desperate crew members onto a hostile planet occupied by the enemy.  Kirk and his team are split into different factions, and they each adventure forth to find and rescue the survivors of the debacle.  When the individual teams find each other, they unite to create an impossible plan to escape the planet and then conquer the enemy somehow.

Filled with humor and charm, this is a very satisfying episode in the Star Trek franchise.  What made it outstanding for me was the focus on the humanity of the group.  They care about and for each other and are willing to include so-called “alien” species into their embrace.  The topography of the enemy planet is beautiful and terrible all at once and seduces the very stretches of our imagination.

Chris Pine has matured into a believable Captain.  His passionate rush into danger has been tempered somewhat, and our respect for him grows proportionately.  The same goes for the inimitable Spock, always so true to himself.  The other characters live up to our expectations and it’s easy to  draw more colors into the spectrum of their personalities.  Director Justin Lin has an intimate understanding on how to maximize the filming technologies of today.  CGI effects are incredible… don’t walk out before end credits because they are breathtaking… scrolling against a panoramic view of our wonderful solar system.  In short, this is a frabjous film!
TAGS:  Star Trek Beyond, Justin Lin, Simon Pegg, Doug Jung, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Alba

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016) Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel Jackson, Margot Robbie

Director:  David Yates

Writers:  Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer



 Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel Jackson,  Rory J. Saper, Christian Stevens, Margot Robbie

COMMENTS:   The 6’4 Alexander Skarsgard is not my ideal vision of the legendary Tarzan.  I come from the Johnny Weismuller generation and Skarsgard is just too blond and Nordic.  This version tells the story of Tarzan after he  has been educated and “civilized” in England as Lord Greystoke.  His background as Africa’s Tarzan is told in flashbacks, which are well conceived and successfully believable. I found myself emotionally engaged in him as a child being raised by the apes.

So far, okay but not heart-pounding.  Lord Greystoke agrees to accompany American Samuel Jackson to explore slave-labor shenanigans in Africa to mine diamonds which the bankrupt King Leopold II of Belgium desperately needs.  Christoph Waltz plays Leon Rom, who will do whatever it takes to make King Leopold’s goal happen.  Leon, sleazy and ruthless, is a worthy villain to match Tarzan’s prowess. Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) agrees to help Rom get the diamonds if Tarzan is delivered to him. The Chief needs vengeance against our hero.

Once we’re in Africa and Tarzan reunites with the jungle animals, the screen explodes. Not only does the shirt come off – exposing Skarsgard’s magnificent body – but so does the genteel layer which has entrapped the passionate ferocity of a man who survives according to the laws of the untamed jungle.  Now, he must rescue his beloved Jane from the wily Rom.  If that were all to Tarzan, audiences would be happy enough.  Surprisingly, Skarsgard brings emotional fragility to his role as well.  There’s one beautiful scene where director David Yates frames a closeup profile of Skarsgard’s forehead and eye in the foreground, with the apes and villainous natives he’s looking at in the background.  The brilliant light shining through Skarsgard’s blue eye depicts the vulnerable essence of humanity which must confront the feral savagery of the jungle and its natives,  An unforgettable, beautiful scene.

Director Yates has also captured the beauty inherent in nature undisturbed, featuring Africa’s many breathtaking landmarks. The CGI scenes are transcendent.  We watch Tarzan gliding through the jungle treetops, one vine to the next, and we feel the same exhilarating celebration of freedom in the journey.

The script is well written, establishing relationships which make the storyline work on all levels.  I wish the opening scenes were shorter, because it doesn’t quite hook us in right away.  Still, once Lord Greystoke becomes Tarzan again, okay, we’re in for the ride.  I was happy to see the versatile Samuel Jackson play a hero for a change.  He makes a great sidekick, his wise-cracking, irreverent character injecting welcome humor to Tarzan’s intense heroics.  Djimon Hounsou's role was too small for me.  He fills the theatre with his charismatic onscreen presence, and the scene where he comes to terms with Tarzan is a powerful and satisfying one.

In summary, this is a fun adventure film, and a magnificent Skarsgard Tarzan.
TAGS:  Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel Jackson,  Rory J. Saper, Christian Stevens, Margot Robbie, David Yates, Tarzan, Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer, jungle, Africa

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

"THE REVENANT" (2015) - Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson

Director:     Alejandro G. Iňárritu
Writers:       Mark L. Smith; Alejandro G. Iňárritu; Michael Punke (book)
Actors:        Leonardo DiCaprio; Tom Hardy; Domhnall Gleeson

COMMENTS:   Based on the trailers, I had no interest in watching this movie about the early years of struggle among native Indians and the early colonization of the Americas. While I understand filmmakers of integrity want to capture authentic battle scenes on screen, I personally have no inclination to watching such types of movies.  Then, DiCaprio won the Oscar for Best Actor, and the film won Best Picture, so I decided It was worth my full attention.  AND… I was rewarded.  This is not a battle picture between two opposing factions, so much as it is one man’s personal battle to overcome physical pain and debility in order to live up to his personal honor of avenging his son’s death.  Then, finally, his last battle is within himself… will he surrender his  personal moral codes to a passionate hatred of the man who murdered his son.  DiCaprio immerses himself fully into his character and earns his Oscar win with every inch of progress towards his enemy.  Tom Hardy is profoundly believable as the antagonist in this drama.  Director Iňárritu is unquestionably a master of his craft.  My only wish is that the trailers had chosen other scenes which were less focused on the external battles and more on the internal ones.

IMDB Site:
TAGS:  Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, American Indians, Fur Trappers, Alejandro G. Iňárritu, Revenant

Friday, February 19, 2016

"STAR WARS - The Force Awakens (2015) - Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Daisy RIdley, John Boyega

Director:  J.J. Abrams
Writers:  J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt

The CGI and techno aspects are brilliant, as usual, but what has always drawn me to the STAR WARS epic movies are the characters… their fragility as human beings pitted against the necessity of living up to their personal ideals. The nostalgic sentiment is there, embodied in the return of the original characters – Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker.  Daisy Ridley lives up to expectations as the “new” female protagonist (acting out the young spirit of Princess Leia), but I couldn’t develop an attachment to any of the other “new” characters… not in the same way I fell in love with Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher in the first original series.  There are tragic overtones which resonate profoundly and which leave a deep echo of loss.  Yet, deep within me, I’m wondering if the series has sacrificed development of heroic “new” characters for the sake of generating more impressive technology.  In fact, I personally found the battle scenes less cogent and less impressive than battle scenes from a few of the previous STAR WARS movies.

IMDB Website:
TAGS:  Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, Star Wars,