Greetings! Have you ever wondered if a movie's worth blowing the money on to see at the theater or what to add next to your NetFlix queue? Then you've come to the right place! Enjoy!

"ARQ" Review

For the first 15-20 minutes of the new Netflix Original movie ARQ, it felt like a riff on the excellent (and crippled by its release title of Edge of Tomorrow) Live Die Repeat, but like it should've been a short film, not a 90-minute feature. But then it started adding layers and twists which made it a tense and unpredictable treat.The trailer below does well to not spoil the fun, but has a few too many shots which out-of-context may not spoilers, but rather than risk it, I'll synopsize as little as possible. You'll have to trust me on this one.

Robbie Amell (the original Firestorm on The Flash TV show; Steve of Arrow's cousin, though they look like brothers) wakes up with a startle. It's 6:16 AM according to the clock. He looks over on the bed and caresses the face of a woman (Rachael Taylor, Trish from Jessica Jones). Suddenly, men in gas masks burst in and drag him away. He breaks free, but tumbles down the stairs, hitting his head with a THUD and...

He wakes up. Men break in. He's reliving the day again. They drag him down to the basement where a massive metal cylinder is rotating like a lathe - this being the titular ARQ. Eventually he gets killed again. And again. Annnnnnnnnd AGAIN!

While this rapidly seems like a direct, much smaller-scale remake of Live Die Repeat, it makes the savvy decision to get Taylor in on the "I can remember the last time loop" fun as her backstory comes into play. One person being able to play Groundhog Day and redo things over and over and over until you get it right has been done before, but not when there is a second player with their own agenda who know that you know and is able to compensate. And that's not where it ends.

Once the reveal occurs, ARQ becomes more than just a rehash of the aforementioned movies because of the unknown factors that not being the only one remembering what happened causes. While the ultimate end of the movie is sort of necessarily by the movie's premise a foregone conclusion, I had no idea how it was going to resolve because eventually there are too many variables and that's what makes the movie ARQ hum like its machine.

Written and directed by Tony Elliot, who has been a story editor and writer on the wonderful Orphan Black, it makes the most of its low-budget bottle episode trappings and doesn't resort to cheats to keep the tensions taut. The doling out of info about the world outside that house avoids Basil Exposition Syndrome though the milieu isn't particularly innovative. (Dystopian wasteland with rebels and all-powerful corporation has been done to death.) The performances are very good and the pulsing electronic score reinforces the mood.

Movies like ARQ are too small for theaters and the usual home for such fare, SyFy, would be inappropriate due to commercial breaks wrecking the flow of escalating stakes.Thanks to Netflix for tossing a far better movie than Talullah onto the pile of content we're paying for.

Score: 8/10. Watch it.

"Sky Line" Review

Not to be confused with the 2010 alien invasion flick Skyline, Sky Line is a documentary about the quest to build a space elevator to open the final frontier in a way that's simply impossible with using rockets to lift materials from the ground to orbit.

Popularized by Arthur C. Clarke's 1979 novel The Fountains of Paradise, the space elevator would be a ribbon of carbon nanotubes, most likely, stretching from Earth tens of thousands of kilometers into the sky where a station would be built facilitating all sorts of wonderful things. Freed from the costs and risks of using rockets, projects like placing massive solar energy farms in the sky - above the clouds, collecting sunlight 24/7 and beaming it down to the ground - could be achieved.

But inventing, developing and building the means of constructing such a fantastic thing are major stumbling blocks and Sky Line introduces us to several men who are tackling the challenges with variable levels of success.

While it's a good primer for the subject, it feels padded and vague at a relatively short 74 minutes. Trimmed back to under an hour, it'd be a good Nova episode, but with too much emphasis on generally inconsequential drama - one guy went bankrupt in a day and voices concern that the landlord of the building his company operated in would call the sheriff, but it's never explained why - it feels formless at times.

Score: 5/10. Watch it on Netflix if you're a science nerd; otherwise skip it.

"Knock Knock" Review

While talking to my girlfriend, she exclaimed, "You have to watch Knock Knock!" I was surprised by the enthusiastic recommendation and said that all I knew was that a couple of hot chicks knock on Keanu Reeves door and hijinks ensue. "Yes! Don't read anything about it. Go in cold." So I did and if you're interested in, you should too because the trailer gives away pretty much the whole movie.

The plot is that simple: Keanu is an architect with a beautiful artist wife and two lovely kids. The family is going to the beach for a few days, but he's staying behind working on a project. That night, during a cats-and-dogs downpour, there is a knock at his door and when he answers it, he's greeted by this sight:

Yeah. What do you think happens next? Yes, hijinks definitely ensue.

Despite the missus' enthusiasm, there's not really much surprising or shocking about Knock Knock. Director/co-writer Eli Roth - remaking a 1977 flick called Death Game (which starred Knock Knock producer Colleen Camp and executive producer Sondra Locke as the girls at the door) - keeps cranking up the tension and putting the screws to Keanu, but other than specific details, there's not much that will blow your mind.

Special mention must be given to Keanu's performance. He has always been a stiff, monotone blank with an emotional range from A to B, but here he actually seems alive and kicking; it may startle some viewers. The girls are hot, but to say more would spoil what happens. (Seriously, the trailer gives everything away.)

After watching it, I asked the missus why she was so enthusiastic about it and she explained with something that I can't relate here without spoiling the "surprises." Don't take my reluctance to discuss the plot as a sign that something magical is lurking within. There isn't. In fact, the fact that there is so little to Knock Knock beyond the premise that I've spent half of this review saying "spoilers prevent me..." is the ultimate bottom line: If you come across it as it's starting on cable while channel surfing, give it a look for some trashy, tawdry minor-league entertainment.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

Beware! The trailer gives away pretty much the whole movie.

"The Lazarus Effect" Review

Ah, may favorite kinds of trailers - the ones that save me the effort of synopsisizing the movie. Watch this:

That's the movie: Doctors playing God bring pooch back to life, but something's off about it; try to recreate experiment, but an accident kills Olivia Wilde; they resurrect her because YOU DON'T LET HOTTIES LIKE THAT DIE WITHOUT A FIGHT!!!; she's extremely not right; hijinks ensue.

Despite being pretty predictable and overly reliant on BOOM! NOISE! jump scares, it's well-acted beyond what's necessary and has a stylish look. The premise could've gone deeper if they'd had some ambition and a longer run time and it really goes off the rails as it rushes to its conclusion, but the biggest shock is that it was directed by David Gelb, who did the sublime documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

As far as The Lazarus Effect goes, it's more or less a dead film walking. Har.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" IMAX Review

Note: This review is SPOILER-FREE and nothing will be discussed in-depth that isn't in the trailers or well-known from press reports. After it opens, I may add additional spoiler thoughts at the bottom, clearly marked.

While DC Comics has done well for themselves in their direct-to-video animated features and TV shows like Arrow and The Flash (I gave up on Supergirl after four episodes), they have been gazing with envy at the Marvel Cinematic Universe's seemingly unstoppable success. (A common dig was that while Batman and Superman were constantly rebooting and treading water, Marvel was making movies with a machine gun-toting talking racoon.)

With The Avengers series raking in record-breaking bank, DC's desire to catch up and get their own all-star team-up Justice League series up and running has been a priority and the plan is for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) - more of a sequel to 2013's Man of Steel (MoS) than Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy - to get them into the game and also launch a series of stand-alone movie series introducing Aquaman, The Flash, Wonder Woman (whose movie is coming in 2017) and eventually taking another crack at Green Lantern.

While that may've been the plan, they've run into a little problem: BvS is a grim, dark, miserable, noisy, unfun, depressing and simultaneously overstuffed and underdeveloped slog that makes MoS feel like Ant-Man in comparison for entertainment.

The movie opens with the 79,000th retelling of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, disproving the haters) becoming an orphan in case no one knew it (oddly, we don't see Krypton blowing up, so you'd better know Supe's backstory) and then Bruce's experience of the finale of MoS as Metropolis is leveled by the Planetary Engine and Superman's battle with General Zod, killing and maiming many.

It then jumps ahead 18 months and we find Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Africa getting herself into a scrape which Superman (Henry Cavill); Batman brutally dealing with crime in Gotham City, actually branding criminals, marking them for death; and Lex Luthor Jr. (Jesse Eisenberg) up to something shenanigansy. A Senator played by Holly Hunter is questioning whether Superman can be trusted and Supes is trying to balance playing house with Lois with his guilt for all the carnage that occurred.

It's difficult to explain what goes so wrong with the thin plot without spoilers which is odd because there is actually little not alluded to in the trailers. Before the screening a video message from director Zach Snyder was played welcoming the audience and begging for social media not to be awash in spoilers, but other than a couple of cameos and perhaps the ending, there wasn't much surprising, which was deeply surprising. I was expecting a shocker like, oh, discovering S.H.I.E.L.D. was infiltrated by Hydra in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but nothing really happens that anyone with a passing familiarity with the comics and broad happenings. The movie is pretty much a 60 times longer version of the trailer.

The problems, as so often they do, begin with the script which is surprising since it was co-written by Oscar-winner Chris Terrio (Affleck's Argo) and David S. Goyer, who co-wrote the Nolan movies and MoS. Disjointed, sketchy, shockingly devoid of substance despite the meaty potential of the subject of what responsibilities do heroes have in their conduct. (It doesn't help that the second season of Netflix's Daredevil series dropped a few days ago and features a riveting debate about vigilantism between the Punisher and Daredevil in the first few hours that's better then the entirety of BvS.) The first hour lurches around as subplots and McGuffins seem to have no connection to one another and then the back half is noisy punching and CGI mayhem, this time obscured by rain and smoke and darkness without even a touch of Pacific Rim's neon lights.

There is a heavy reliance on dreams, visions and nightmares which make for crazy moments, but mean little. There is also some of the most painfully telegraphed dialogue like Lex's trailer moment with Bruce and Clark saying you wouldn't want to fight him. Har-har. (Ahem.) And the teases of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg are just lame - the appearance of Spider-Man at the end of the final Captain America: Civil War trailer is so much better.

Affleck's casting was roundly sneered at three years ago, but he does well as an older, jaded, over it Batman. We're shown a defaced (presumably by the Joker) Robin costume, but know nothing of what happened there, but Affleck carries all that off-camera history well. He's mad and fed-up and you get why he wants to whup Superman's butt. Jeremy Irons makes Alfred possess more gravitas than the script provides and he's sort of a mashup of Alfred and Lucius Fox this time. Gal Gadot is intriguing as Wonder Woman, but the script does a terrible job explaining why she's even there, but it's no worse than all the other poorly-drawn details. The big fight itself could've been prevented if one guy simply stopped and listened to the other for 5 seconds.

Everyone else in the cast is pretty much wasted starting with Cavill and Adams. Laurence Fishburne returns as Perry White but seems to be channeling J.K. Simmons' sublime J. Jonah Jameson from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man series as he grouches yellow headline copy. Eisenberg's Luthor is really up a creek as we never really get what his deal is or what his goals are. He does stuff, but there is no rationale or motivation. At least previous movie Luthor had some far-fetched real estate scheme in mind.

After 2-1/2 hours of loud, thudding grimdark and bummer - there's no post-credits scene - I drove home feeling beaten up and not entertained. A fine fellow whom I struck up a conversation with in line and sat a couple seats over from responded to my negative take with, "I don't know how to feel about this." There was literally ONE laugh, ONE applause moment, ONE collective "Ooooh!" at something that had happened. That is a terrible entertainment ratio.

Not to sound like a Marvel fanboy, but it sounds like Captain America: Civil War is going to do battling heroes with philosophical differences a hundred times better than Batdude vs Superdude: Grit Gritty Dark Darker Night of Just Us did. Snyder and the gang are tackling Justice League next and frankly, I'm not interested. I don't need Joel Schumacher schlocky colored foolishness, just some well-written storytelling that rise to a higher plane than what a kid with action figures and the desire to bash them together could provide. A huge disappointment. 

Score: 4/10. Rent the Blu-ray.

Oscars 2016 Livesnark

These are the tweets I fired off from my @DirkBelig Twitter account while enduring the 2016 Oscars.
  • Opening montage of everything that didn't get nominated. Bring on the black rage!  
  • Cops shooting black people joke gets applause from self-hating white liberal Hollyweird audience.
  • Rock's monologue was funny, but Hollyweird will take their lumps and go on with their usual racist liberal biz as usual tomorrow.
  • Actual African-American Charlize Theron presents Original Screenplay to Spotlight. Hint of upset already? No token for Compton.
  • Interesting change-up in the sequence of Oscars tracing the production process starting with writing. Ironic terrible banter.
  • Adam MacKay commands everyone to at . I guess he missed the part where he got wealthy serving big corporations.
  • Hilarious montage of black actors trying to get into movies, esp. Leslie Jones, followed by terribly unfunny Sarah Silverman.
  • Sam Smith. Snack/bathroom break! He's the Oscars version of John Kasich.  
  • Wasn't this gawdawful Bond "tune" originally "Puberty Love" in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes?
  • Robot girl Alicia Vikander wins Supporting Actress for playing a woman who allowed her husband to cut his junk off because men suck.
  • Costume design winner shares her expertise on ManBearPig because Mad Max was created back when we thought another Ice Age was coming.
  • Mad Max has won three craft awards so far which is what genre movies get at the . Period.
  • Cheevo turns the hat trick for Cinematography. Poor Roger Deakins falls to 0-13. Mad Max wins Editing, rightfully so.
  • Whoa. Angela Bassett is 57-years-HAWT! Hubba to the hubba.
  • Ex Machina (aka Hottie Non-Terminator) upsets the Mad Max caravan for Best VFX - a surprise for a little arthouse sci-fi film.
  • Now Girl Scout cookies are weapons in exploiting Hollywood's white liberal guilt at the . So fun. /s
  • Inside Out wins Best Animated to the surprise of no one because Pixar doesn't have to be good to automatically win. Lame.
  • Another terrible song that not even goth bondage chicks can make interesting. Where's Gaga with that rape tune?
  • These Kohls commercials with civilians lipsynching acceptance speeches are a very special kind of stupid. And Ward's went under?
  • That woman in the Compton bit with the hair over one eye is saving money on 3D tickets.
  • Whoa! Major shocker as Mark Rylance wins Sup Actor over Stallone (sentimental fave) and Ruffalo (many noms). Patsy new Palance?
  • The have the orchestra in the theater orchestra pit after a few years down at Capitol Records studio. Louis CK was funny.
  • So who got left off "The People Who Died" montage (which once again failed to use Jim Carrol's perfect-for-it song)?
  • If Kurt Cobain had known that Dave Grohl would end up ubiquitous, including the , he may have made a different life choice: Shot him!
  • FACT CHECK: TRUE! Slow Joe Biden says he's the "least qualified man here" to cheering libtards before preaching about the campus rape hoax.
  • Funny, I don't recall Tori Amos' "Me and A Gun" being nominated for back in 1991. Isn't having all the rape victims as props wrong?
  • Ennio Morricone wins the Lifetime Achievement Catch-Up for Hateful 8. How high is Jennifer Jason Leigh? She's Ambien spokesmodel.
  • Old: Sappy Bergman ballads won New: Social Justice Warrior anthems win Oscars Out: Good songs need not apply.
  • Aaaaaaaand you can just ignore that last tweet as the craptacular Bond theme wins Best Song . So gay trumps rape. Keep track.
  • Inarritu wins Best Director for the 2nd year in a row for making the lowest-reviewed movie nominated. Bleah.  
  • Brie Larson wins Best Actress for Room bringing the total of stars in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World with to one.
  • Leo wins Oscar.  
  • Leo gets to run waaaaaaaaaaaaay over time at to preach the lies of ManBearPig. Give up your private jet first, hypocrite!
  • Spotlight Best Picture at , derailing Revenant train. Ironic praise 4 reporters when journalists are just DNC operatives these days.
  • That the were marginally more entertaining than the horrible Grammys is nothing to be proud of. Public Enemy over the credits.

"All Things Must Pass" Review

Colin Hanks' wildly entertaining All Things Must Pass isn't about George Harrison's seminal solo album, but as it is subtitled, The Rise and Fall of Tower Records. Founded in Sacramento, CA in 1960 by Russ Solomon, Tower Records gradually, then rapidly, expanded into a globe-spanning retail empire which clocked a billion dollars in sales in 1999 only to go bankrupt and disappear by 2006.

Packed with interviews from almost everyone involved from the earliest days - the celebrity interview from Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl (who worked at the Washington D.C. store), and Elton John prominently featured in the trailer are a tiny part of the overall movie - it traces how Solomon was able to capture the music zeitgeist and sell it to rabidly loyal fans with a decidedly non-traditional approach to staffing and management. Somehow it succeeded and thrived, though unbeknownst to them, the seeds of doom were planted as the absence of only a couple of crucial people set the dominoes tumbling toward ruin.

While the MP3/Napster revolution was a contributing factor to Tower's (as well as the record industry's demise), All Things Must Pass and the participants don't make it the scapegoat. Everyone is remarkably clear-eyed as to what happened beyond the digital "free music" tsunami as the culture about collecting music changed. While some subjects become quite emotional in their recollections, they don't lash out in angry nostalgia for the bygone glory days.

Brisk, fun and informative, you shouldn't pass on All Things Must Pass.

Score: 9/10. Catch it on cable.

"Sisters" Review

Nothing makes my job easier than trailers which spell out almost the entire movie, so watch this:

That's right, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, last seen in the unsung 2008 comedy classic Baby Mama (note: sarcasm), are back except this time Amy is the straight-laced good girl and Tina is the wild child trainwreck (this actually works well enough) with a disgusted estranged teenage daughter (Madison Davenport) who won't tell her mother where she's living. When their parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) announce they're selling their childhood home, they decide to have one last rager and invite their old high school friends. Hijinks naturally ensue.

Written by SNL veteran Paula Pell (her feature debut), Sisters is the latest entry in the "raunchy women's comedy" genre following the likes of Bridesmaids and The Heat where middle-aged women swear and act obnoxious. If you like those flicks, you'll like Sisters because the laugh ratio is on the positive side even if the tropes are familiar and some gags run on too much like Bobby Moynihan's over-featured party guest.

Of course it gets sappy at the end and Everyone Learns Something, but despite the laxness of the ending which makes The Lord of the Rings seem taut in comparison, you'll have a decent time partying with these Sisters.

Score: 6.5/10. Catch it on cable.

"The Man From U.N.C.L.E." Review

After the dreadful tag team of Revolver and RocknRolla I demanded that Guy Ritchie's career be ended. Yeah, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch were pretty good, but these two were whack and his former producer, Matthew Vaughn, had become a much more interesting filmmaker directing Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class (and the lesser Kingsmen: The Secret Service).

Unfortunately for my wishes, Ritchie had a pair of hits with the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies and thus got to make this stylish and dull rehash of the Sixties TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Superman Henry Cavill as former thief-turned-spy Napoleon Solo and The Lone Ranger/Winklevoss Twin Armie Hammer as KGB agent Illya Kuryakin who first encounter each other when Solo is helping an East German auto mechanic (Hollywood's hot It Girl Alicia Vikander, star of Ex Machina and The Danish Girl) defect from 1963 East Berlin.

Facing some sort of threat from nuclear weapons or something - the actual plot is so slapdash and thin - the foes are forced to bro-team up with Vikander posing as Hammer's fiancee and something involving a beautiful shipping heiress or something; it's all quite forgettable as Ritchie pours on the period style.

There are a handful of laughs from throwaway gags like when the pair are told they'll be working together and when their bosses get up to leave the cafe, everyone else gets up as well because they were all agents, too, but they're not enough to compensate for an unengaging plot and cheesy one-upping dick-measuring by the leads. It's also clearly intended to set up a series of films because we can't possibly not want more of these wacky brotagonists, right? Fortunately, the lackluster box office take will probably prevent that from occurring.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

The exceedingly long and give-the-whole-movie-away Comic-Con trailer:

"Time Lapse" Review

While perusing my Netflix app I spotted Time Lapse co-starring Danielle Panabaker (Caitlin Snow from The Flash) as a young woman living with her artist boyfriend and their slackerish roommate. The boyfriend is also the super for their seemingly unpopulated apartment complex and as such as keys to the units including that of their neighbor across the way.

When his mail piles up, Panabaker goes into his place and discovers a huge camera which is pointed out the window into their place's window and thanks to no one ever closing curtains is spitting out Polaroids which they determine as being from the next day. The man's mysteriously burned body - he clothes are untouched - is found in a store room and combined with a diary entry about attempting to change the future they are afraid to deviate from what is portrayed in the photos.

As anyone who would have knowledge of the future and has seen Back to the Future II would do, they start making bets on dog races to make all sorts of easy money. Of course, things start taking a turn for the worse as the suspicious bookie comes around wondering why the slacker is always winning and tensions rise as more disturbing images start issuing from the Magic Camera like Panabaker getting physically involved with the slacker while her boyfriend appears to be sleeping. (Again, open curtains?)

Time Lapse is a frustrating movie because the premise is intriguing, but the execution is weak. The performances by the men are flat and unnatural, hampered by unrealistic dialog and increasingly ludicrous behavior. A character appears about 2/3rds of the way through who seems to know what the man was doing, but just as those possibilities are presented, that plot thread is ended. There is a security guard character occasionally patrolling the grounds of this tiny complex where we never see another tenant only to have him become a plot detail later. (I live in a bigger complex than seen in this movie and there's no roving security man and I see my neighbors even if I don't interact with them.)

Then there's the usual bugbear of time travel movies, causality, as the characters are slavishly living to end up where the pictures portray them being even if they mean she's got to kiss someone she's not dating "because that's what's in the picture." The artist has been creatively blocked, so he solves that by painting what's in the photo even if he doesn't know what the images mean. They have to post the winners of that day's dog races in order to appear in yesterday's photo; it's all a confusing mess, but may've worked if the execution was better.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"The Transporter Refueled" Review

Let's make this quick: the first Transporter film was a fun lark with Jason Statham kicking ass and a hot Asian babe; the second one was sillier, but had Jason Statham kicking ass and a crazy machine gun hooker chick who looked like Pink and barely worked again in it and was also fun. The third time wasn't a charm as they forgot to bother getting Statham's shirt off when he fought (as my girlfriend complained) and the leading lady was such an annoying twit that we were both rooting for her to be run over by Statham.

Well, Luc Besson and company apparently thought that all we needed was a new guy in a suit and some silly plot about hookers ripping off their Russian mob pimps and car chases - it's a glorified Audi commercial half the time - to restart the franchise. They were wrong and The Transporter Refueled is out of gas and up on blocks pretty much the whole time. Go watch the first two again instead.

Score: 2/10. Skip it.

"American Ultra" Review

Watch this:

It's The Long Kiss Goodnight (suburban mom Geena Davis discovers she's an elite assassin) as written by Seth Rogen, right? Correct! And you've pretty much seen the whole movie, minus the cussing and torrents of mostly-digital blood.

Jesse Eisenberg is a stoner with anxiety issues (which are easy to guess what their causes are) who loves his girlfriend, but doesn't know he's an asset from a CIA program whose members are being liquidated because that's what Evil Government does. The head of his program (Connie Britton) activates his programming (not that he's aware of it) so that when Topher Grace's crew of literal psychos comes to town, he's prepared to defend himself, not that he knows how he's doing it.

While there's potential in the well-worn trope of the killer-who-doesn't-know-he-is-a-killer, the script (by Max Landis, son of legendary director John Landis) is a bit of mess and director Nima Nourizadeh (whose sole previous work was the amusing "found footage" wild party flick Project X) can't balance the tone between the stylish and somewhat unsettling ultraviolence and the broad stoner comedy. There is literally little more than what's in that trailer.

A mid-movie reveal (see below for spoiler) doesn't make sense and the idea that they'd need to make a major operation to kill Eisenberg when a sniper capping him and a van swiftly swooping in to pick up his body would've actually been effective. Seriously, the trailer is pretty much the movie.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

>>>>>>> SPOILER TALK BELOW!! <<<<<<<<

Mid-movie it is revealed that Stewart was Eisenberg's handler. While this allows her to do some kickass fighting, it totally moots her reactions to what happens in the first half of the movie when she genuinely seems shocked at what's happening. If anything, they should've rolled the Britton character into hers and had her trying to hide her CIA origins from him. Of course, if Grace had just done what I suggested, there'd be no movie. Eisenberg would've been whacked and done.

"Penguins of Madagascar" Review

I've never bothered with any of the Madagascar movies, but my girlfriend has seen them and no, she's not a 12-year-old, thank you very much. When recounting them to me, she'd always rave about the subplots involving "psychotic penguins" which made the main characters pale in comparison. Eventually the penguins from the Madagascar movies got their own TV series, Penguins of Madagascar (which is generally a hoot) and money being money, the inevitable Penguins of Madagascar movie had to be made which has led to this film, A Time For Killing, A Time For Dying, whoops, I mean Penguins of Madagascar. (What, no "The Motion Picture"?)

Penguins of Madagascar opens with with three penguins - Skipper, Rico and Kowalski - chasing down an egg which hatches to become Private. We leap ahead a decade to them in the middle of a convoluted scheme to break into Fort Knox, where they bypass the mountains of gold bars to get to their true target: A vending machine in the break room stocked solely with the discontinued movie version of Cheetos, Cheese Dibbles.

Alas, the snack machine was a honey pot for they are immediately captured and flown by helicopter to Venice (Italy, not California; because that could totally happen) where they encounter the evil scientist Dr. Octavius Brine who reveals himself to be actually an octopus named Dave who resents the penguins inherent cute and cuddliness and intends to use an evil machine to decutify all the penguins in the world. (If you're wondering where an octopus gets a submarine and scientific knowledge, you're in the wrong place.)

Eventually the penguins escape and chases ensue with them reluctantly joining forces with an outfit called North Wind which includes a wolf, a polar bear, a seal and a snow owl who have a secret base and jet plane and WHO IS PAYING FOR ALL THIS STUFF?!?!? Ahem...hijinks ensue, blah-blah-woof-woof.

There are some huge LOL moments in Penguins of Madagascar as well as plenty of throwaway site gags and jokes for the parents watching with their spawnlings. (e.g. When Skipper learns that the passenger plane they've literally crashed into is heading for Paris, he blurts, "France? Not with their tax laws!" and opens the emergency door to bail out of the jet.) But there's simply not enough laughs for a 90-minute movie to make it a mandatory watch.

I've always marveled at how TV sitcoms can cram in gags at an average of 3 or 4 laughs per minute while movies seem to settle for a joke every 3 to 4 minutes. Four episodes of the Penguins of Madagascar series will have more laughs than the comparable feature film's running time.

While the score is middling, there are enough laughs to make it worth watching; just not enough of them. BTW, I've deliberately left off the voice cast members because it's a hoot to see who voiced the characters. My girlfriend identified a couple that I hadn't.

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable. (It's on Netflix.)

"The Wolverine (Unleashed Extended Edition)" Blu-ray Review

It's been two years since The Wolverine hit theaters (original review here), but despite having this Blu-ray set since late 2013, I finally got around to watching the "Unleashed Extended Edition" cut now. To be blunt, it doesn't really add much to the proceedings and the addition 12 minutes or so of additional footage slow down the already deliberate pace. How many more times do we need to be reminded that Logan (HUGE JACKEDMAN!) is feeling pain and limping due to his hampered healing factor?

Rila Fukushima, who plays the ninja cutie Yukio, went on to play Katana in the third season of Arrow, but she looks better here because bangs frame her odd face more flatteringly. She's not ugly, mind you; just...odd-looking. Still cute, just weird. (She's been called "Japanese Christina Ricci" which isn't right, but not totally wrong.) I probably had more of a problem with her character being mostly a simpy housewife which clashed with her otherwise-shown baddassery.

The transfer quality is good, but the flesh tones skew a bit too much to the orangish-ruddy side. (I haven't checked out the commentary/extras yet. I'll update this section if I do.)

One note about this cut - it's only available as part of the 3D package or digital purchase, not standalone. I really hate how studios have all the extras reserved for the 3D editions which sucks for people like me who want the goodies, but don't have/want 3D home theaters. Come to think of it, it's mostly Fox perpetrating this balderdashery as Prometheus and Life of Pi did this; some extras on the regular versions with the total only in the 3D set. This REALLY sucked with Prometheus as pretty much all the good stuff was on that extra disc. Life of Pi only had a couple extra things IIRC. Luckily, I have a friend to whom I can sell off the 3D disc to so he gets his "THREE DEEEEEEE!" on for cheap and it lowers my cost.

All that said, there's not really much additional in this extended cut making it a compelling purchase. Logan drops a few more F-bombs that the silly PG-13 strictures would prevent and there's more blood (up from the near zero that PG-13 allows) spraying as he slashes baddies with his shiny claws. But storywise there isn't much, though towards the end there's a major action beat involving a snow plow that must've been time-consuming to shoot only to scrap for the theatrical release.

Overall, the extended cut of The Wolverine doesn't do much to improve and it slightly harms the pacing. For completionists only.

Score: 7/10. The regular edition will suffice unless you want 3D.

The extended "The Rogue Cut" of X-Men: Days of Future Past is coming next week; we'll see how that turns out.

"Man On Wire" Review

With the upcoming fictionalized IMAX 3D telling of the tale of French daredevil Phillipe Petit's stunning 1974 trot between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, The Walk, directed by Robert Zemekis and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, I finally decided to catch up with the 2008 Best Documentary Oscar-winner (and a whole bunch more awards), Man On Wire. (The title comes from the police report detailing his crime.)

Combining interviews with Petit and his accomplices with a ton of recreation footage with Paul McGill, a dead ringer for a young Petit, acting out the preparation, Man On Wire traces his quest from seeing a news story announcing the building of the WTC through stunts walking on Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sydney Harbor Bridge up to the security-dodging evening of the Towers walk itself.

While the subject is inherently thrilling, there is too much padding in the middle of preparations and a couple of major details aren't even explained like how was Petit & Co. paying for all their travel back and forth from France to America and the equipment itself. While they spend significant time discussing how they accidentally fed out too much cable and had to labor to pull it up, they never bother explaining how the stabilizing guy lines were rigged.

The trailer for The Walk hints at mechanical trouble, but nothing is mentioned in Man On Wire about it; the walk went uneventfully with Petit lying down on the wire and making multiple transits between the Towers. While The Walk is sure to be a visual treat - it's one of the few movies that pretty much demands seeing in 3D - it's still worth seeing the flawed, but fascinating original documentary. 

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (It's on Netflix.)

"John Wick" Review

One genre of movies I enjoy is the Unstoppable Killing Machine on Revenge Quest. Movies like Man On Fire and Taken featuring men (always men; someone fix this and get Angelina Jolie to star in it) who have been wronged by Bad Guys who didn't know who they were messing with and die horribly as a result.

Keanu Reeves is the titular John Wick (terrible title BTW), a guy with a nice house and pretty wife who suddenly dies from some unspecified medical calamity. After the obligatory rain-drenched funeral, a delivery arrives: a pet carrier with a puppy inside and a note from his wife. I'm not clear as to how this was pre-arranged, but it's just a McGuffin.

One day while gassing up his vintage Mustang, a Russian guy (played by Theon Greyjoy aka Alfie Allen) approaches him asking how much for the car and not taking kindly to Wick's rebuff of his offer. How unkindly is immediately made clear as Theon and his pals break into Wick's place, beat him up, kill the poor puppy and take his ride. When Theon shows up at John Leguizamo's auto shop asking for new VIN number and papers for his stolen Mustang, he gets punched in the face. The reason why is spelled out in this phone conversation between Leguizamo and Theon's Russian Mob Daddy:
MOB DADDY: Did you lay hands on my son?

LEGUIZAMO: Yes, I did.

MOB DADDY: Why would you do such a thing?

LEGUIZAMO: Because he stole John Wick's car and killed his dog.

MOB DADDY: Oh. [hangs up]

That's right, folks, John Wick is a Jules' wallet in Pulp Fiction and SPOILER ALERT by the end of the movie there will be a LOT of job openings for minions in the Russian Mob.

There's a bunch of tangential aspects I'm not recapping because they're just trimmings, not the central murder steak which makes John Wick a good entry in the UKMoRQ pantheon. The reputation Wick has is frequently referenced on the sly, not by constant proclamations of his badassdom. The missus wasn't crazy about Reeves' performance, finding him too young (he's 50 now, but looks 40) and bland, but I found his usual limited range suited for the slow burn required here. The supporting players are also good in their cutout characters. Movies like this aren't about deep characterizations, mmmkay?

The lions share of credit for the brutal efficiency of John Wick are directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (only the former is credited due to DGA's usual shenanigans about directing teams), veteran stunt coordinators whom Reeves met making The Matrix and stage the mayhem with a clarity of geography and lack of shaky cam and edit fu that makes too many modern action flicks spastic, incomprehensible messes. I suspect they were sick of how their craft has been masked by sloppy shooting and cutting and wanted to demonstrate how you should be showcasing a proper fight. It may not be quite as kinetic as classic Robert Rodriguez (e.g. the bar gunfight in Desperado), but even R.Rod isn't R.Rod these days.

Slick and stylish, John Wick delivers the body count goods for those looking for an action fix.

Score: 7/10. Rent it.

"Ted 2" Review

Did you like Ted? Then you'll like Ted 2. Review over.

While not quite as hilarious as the original foul-mouthed teddy bear movie, it's still solidly packed with raunchy goodness as Ted tries to gain legal recognition as a person so he and his trashy wife can adopt a baby. Many high-jinks (get it?) ensue.

While some critics have slagged it wrongly as a rehash (mostly because they'd rather be watching Lars Von Trier brutalize women), there's still a lot of wild original moments like the Busby Berkeley-style opening credit sequence to the bizarre menagerie that appears during a campfire song to some too-good-to-spoil cameos which are clearly throwaway gags, but who cares?

The Good Sport medal goes to Amanda Seyfried (replacing Mila Kunis as the love interest) who endures a mean running gag involving her eyes. Also pay attention to who Patrick Warburton's character is dating - I didn't recognize them and thus a meta gag didn't connect for me until the credits. My bad.

Score: 7/10. Rent it.

There was another red-band trailer out before this one that was even funnier, but I can't locate it now. (No, I wasn't high. Then or now.)

"Furious 7" Review

I love movies that are easy to review like this: You go to see Fast & Furious movies to see Fast & Furious movies and with that in mind, suffice to say that Furious 7 is a Fast & Furious movie. It's not as good as the sublime (and ridiculous) Furious 6, but it's on par with the series-redefining Fast Five. It's full of talk about family and crazy, utterly unrealistic action, and mighty meathead mano-a-manoing - the brawl between Jason Statham (the villain!) and The Rock is cray cray - but that's what you see Fast & Furious movies for, amirite?

I'd like to know what the original plot was intended to be before Paul Walker's tragic demise during shooting caused a months-long shutdown and reworking to compensate, but it doesn't feel like the cut-and-paste job it had to be. The last scene giving him a sendoff is appropriately melancholy, but tasteful.

Score: 7/10. Catch a matinee.

"The Machine" Review

With Neill Blomkamp's Chappie bombing critically and at the box office, it seems like the old trope of sentient robots is in a slump. (Not really. Just bad movies.) While poking around Netflix I noticed The Machine (super awesome creative title, no?) starring Caity Lotz, who is Sara/Black Canary on Arrow. Listed as being about how the British Ministry of Defence (note Brit spelling) steals the first self-aware cyborg and trains it to be a killer, it sure sounds like Chappie, but with a cute girl. Because reasons.

In a dark and rainy future (because of course), we open with a scene where a horribly wounded soldier whose brain injuries (a third of his head is missing) have been treated with cybernetic implants. What appears to be a medical miracle quickly goes very wrong and much blood is spilled.

The scientist behind the science (Toby Stephens) recovers and is next seen running Turing tests on AI candidates including a supposedly promising one created by Ava (Lotz). He hires her and they work on the program and he scans her face and brain which comes in handy when she's murdered by Chinese agents. (I guess England didn't get the memo that it's not allowed to portray China in a bad light because money.) They create a robot duplicate of Ava (right down to the boobs, which someone remarks on) and plop in the doctor's quantum computer brain with Ava's AI.

Despite the scans, the Machine (as they address it) isn't Ava, but the usual sci-fi trope of a childlike naif of an innocent soul in an uber-strong murder machine body. Of course the military wants to make a weapon out of her. Of course the Machine develops feelings for the doctor. Of course something is going on with the other wounded soldiers with implants who despite supposedly having mysteriously lost their ability for speech are clandestinely communicating with each other in a garbled electronic tone. Of course.

It's all quite familiar and thus dull. I have to believe that the review quotes praising this movie are from tubby nerdgins who are just happy to see glimpses of shadowy female pseudo-nudity because for all the pretensions of depth pondering on the premise of a thinking, feeling machine, it's been done a zillion times before in films like Ghost in the Machine and, of course, Blade Runner. The subplot about the doctor's sick daughter doesn't make sense either; how does AI cure her and is he hoping to transfer her broken consciousness into a robot chasis?

Clearly a low budget movie, the makers definitely get the money on the screen where it counts with some impressive visual effects, especially when Machine glows from within (glimpsed in the trailer which makes it look more an action movie than it really is). Lotz, who was a mixed bag on Arrow, is good here, adequately portraying the narrowly constructed role of child-intellect-in-dancer-body. If you're a fan of her Arrow, you may find The Machine mildly diverting, but overall there's not much ghost (soul) in this machine.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Mockingjay - Part 1" Review

Before we started watching (full title) The Hunger Games Colon Mockingjay Dash Part 1, my girlfriend asked, "What is this now?" to which I replied, "It's the first half of the third part." "When does the second half come out?" she asked. "This Christmas. They should really do these two-parters six months apart." Even better would be to stop milking the cash cow with needless splits when one three-hour movie could do the work more efficiently than two two-hour films.

I thought The Hunger Games books read like a single epic 1155-page novel in nine acts, escalating from a tale of one girl's survival to war story detailing the overthrow of a tyrannical government. There was a broad arc to the proceedings though the final two chapters are absolute crap that read like amateur fanfic tacked on at the last second because the author was writer's blocked and they had to make a predetermined release data. (They'd better be fixing this for the movie.) But in splitting the last third into to two the flow is broken.

So what do we have? It opens shortly after the ending of Catching Fire with a nightmare-stricken Katniss Everdeen (J.Law) recovering in District 13, the previously thought destroyed area whose rebellion prompted the Hunger Games to remind the serfs that the Capitol was running the show. (Unfortunately, most of the back story about how and why D13 was spared has been cut as if they were pressed for time.) We're introduced to President Coin (Julianne Moore), the leader of D13, who is reluctant to accept Plutarch Heavensbee's (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his last performance as he ODed while shooting) advice that Katniss be used as a propaganda symbol in videos. (It's a bit of a pip to see three Best Actor/Actress winners in the frame when they first meet.)

Hopelessly stiff and unconvincing before the camera inside a studio, it's decided to send Katniss into the field to appear before the people in order of capturing honest emotional moments. They get their wish when a visit to a makeshift hospital after a bombing run prompts a 2nd Capitol attack killing the wounded and Katniss' impassioned message to President Snow (Donald Sutherland, evil as always) that "If we burn, you burn with us." As the video spreads, the rebellion starts in earnest.

Throughout, though, interviews with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) with Caesar Flickerman (a subdued Stanley Tucci) are beaming out indicated he's either gone native in the Capitol or being forced to chide Katniss. This leads to a rescue mission to get him and the other survivors of the Quarter Quell and the cliffhanger conclusion.

Unlike the other movies so far, there's not much action in Mockingjay - Part 1 with the trailer moment shooting down of the planes happening in the first half of the movie and a geographically improbable rebel attack (seriously, why are walkways there?) later. Most of the movie is Katniss crying and having nightmares and there are redundant scenes of returning to the smoldering ruins of District 12 which was annihilated for real after the end of the Quarter Quell. They really could've trimmed it down to 90 minutes of a three-hour movie, but again, money.

The performances are uniformly good, especially Elizabeth Banks' miserable Effie Trinket, trapped underground in D13 with no makeup and pretty things, and Natalie Dormer as the video director capturing Katniss in the field sporting a mock-copied hairstyle with one side shaved. The half-assed handling of the books' clumsy love triangle pads things out as Gale (Liam "brother of Thor" Hemsworth) darkly glowers around, but whatever. There are little moments between Katniss and the others which show the benefit of casting AAA-grade actors in what could've been tossed off as trifling pulp.

If it bothered you that Catching Fire, the middle chapter of The Hunger Games trilogy, was like The Empire Strikes Back in that it sorta didn't have an ending, then you're really going to dislike how Mockingjay - Part 1 ends on a beat more suited for a serialized television series like Arrow where a shocking revelation in the last moment teases the viewer to tune in next week. Separated by a year, this just doesn't make for satisfying movie watching though, but because it allows studios to double their money, we're not going to see this trend end anytime soon.

Score: 6/10. Rent the Blu-ray a week before The Hunger Games Colon Mockingjay Dash Part 2 comes out.

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Oscars 2015 Livesnark

It's that time again for the collected tweets I fired off @DirkBelig during the Academy Awards.
  • Lupita N'yongo's dress makes her look like the Mr. T of pearls. No necklace? Missed opportunity. /s
  • Patricia Arquette sounds as stoned as Ethan Hawke did. She's gonna be great getting her Oscar. Get her a comb.
  • So-so opening on . Weak jokes. OK song. J.K. Simmons wins the first foregone conclusion award.
  • Boy, NPH is really foundering. The jokes and bits are really labored, requiring explanations and tap dancing.  
  • I liked this Maroon 5 song better when it was called "Puberty Love" in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. 22 mins in only 1 award.  
  • OK, the "armored ride when the revolution starts" joke was the first LOL of . More of this, please.
  •  is officially a boring trainwreck. Terrible pacing. Even "Everything Is Awesome" can't save this, that was this year's "Happy."
  • Can you imagine if they didn't waste so much time on painful schtick so the winners could finish their speeches?  
  • Did Goop steam-clean her vajoo before putting on her  throwback Nolan Miller dress? Couldn't they get a bigger mic for McGraw?
  • Jesus? #Oscars2015
  • And the 1% of the 1% attending go crazy for Patricia Arquette's braying for wage equality, something that's a liberal LIE!
  • Remember, the  LOSERS are getting $167K in swag, which is 4X the ave family income. H'wood underpays actresses, so heal thyself.
  • OK, just jumped the effing shark! Interstellar wins Best VFX over any of the competitors, esp. Dawn of Planet of Apes. BULLSH*T!
  • Seriously, Interstellar was a TERRIBLE movie, but the VFX were barely competent. Transfomers wasn't nommed for this crap?  
  • I liked Big Hero 6, but The Lego Movie should've been in the mix.  
  • The Prez of the Academy is telling the Hollyweird stars to stop being nasty to non-liberals, right? Free speech without fear, right?  
  • 2nd time using "Lift Us Up Where We Belong" as a walk-on cue. What's that about? Couldn't license more tunes?  
  • Cheevo shouldn't have won last year for Gravity because it was 90% VFX. They need to split Cinematography in two.  
  • Another year comes & goes w/o  using Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" for the In Memorium reel. Instead J.Hud reminds us we diet fail
  • Samsung ad reminds me I need to get back to watching Key & Peele. I'd totally watch Found!  
  • Naomi Watts wanted to wear a tube top or gray apron - decided to wear both. Bernadette Cumberbund is serving drinks at Guv Ball.
  • The two best things about Whiplash have won, so it can go away now.  
  • The way they're announcing  presenters as "Oscar nominee" because of PAST nominations is confusing. Terrance Howard WTF?
  • And now the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" LIE of Ferguson is given the full production number treatment. This spits on King's dream.
  • Wouldn't it be great if after that tear-inducing performance that "Everything Is Awesome" won? There's be a riot in the  theater.
  • Tonight we learned that John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn have been working under fake names.  Now they tell racialist lies. Fun.
  • Hey, John Legend, ever think that the reason so many black men are in prisons is that they've committed crimes? How about you board them?
  • There's no way this show is going to wrap up at 11:30 with all the lame schtick and social justice BS punctuating the boredom of  
  • Wowsers! Lady Gaga just salvaged  with that KILLER Sound of Music medley. Julie Andrews is the cherry on the moment.  
  • I'd like to believe Birdman's Best Original Screenplay win bodes well for it's overall  chances. Boyhood MUST NOT win. Period.
  • Imitation Game writer shows how to make an   speech about something personal not self-indulgent rage-mongering. Good job, sir. 
  • WTF is up with the massive turquoise necklaces like that mess yoking Cate Blanchett's tasteful black  dress?
  • Eddie Redmayne wins for the imitation game; all he did was imitate a living person. Michael Keaton should've won  for creating a role.
  • As we pass the 3-1/2 hours mark for  we return to the locked case for a weak payoff of the gag.
  • Whew! Birdman wins Best Picture. Too bad Keaton got robbed, but so glad Boyhood (aka 12 Years A Movie) didn't win a damn thing.
  • Overall  a terrible show. NPH was a disappointment. Too much libtard BS. Gaga ruled. Time to watch Walking Dead. Buh-bye

"Sin City: A Dame To Kill For" Blu-ray Review

My original theatrical review is here and on second viewing, it still stands. It's just not as much fun and labors when it should flow.

As a Blu-ray, the transfer is good, considering the stylized look. On the audio front, the surround mix is hella booming and active; it will scare the pets if you turn it up to your usual volume setting.

The extras continue Robert Rodriguez's really disappointing sparsity of recent releases. No 10-Minute Film School, no Cooking School, not even a commentary track. Compared to the jam-packed Blu-ray for the original Sin City, it's a massive letdown with only one nifty feature present again: The "All-Green Version" in which the movie is run at high speed with none of the virtual sets in place, revealing it was pretty much shot with actors in an empty green warehouse. Otherwise, it's just a handful of brief EPK interviews with a few of the actors and a trailer for the original film. Weak.

Score: 7/10. Rent it.

"Boyhood" Review

Let's get something out of the way immediately: Richard Linklater's Boyhood (or 12 Year A Movie as I'm gonna call it) is an amazing achievement in filmmaking. Shot in drips and drabs over 12 years from May 2002 through August 2013 with the core cast of Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater (his daughter) and Ellar Coltrane as Mason, the titular boy, returning every year or two to shoot for a few days, it's release prompted jaw-dropped astonishment over how it was made. Linklater made eight other films during this stretch including School of Rock, Before Sunset, Before Midnight and Bernie and Hawke and Arquette had kept busy with their careers, so the fact no one seemed to know this project was ongoing takes the concept of flying under the radar to new lows.

That said, though, Boyhood is simply not a very good movie and I find the universal acclaim and potential it could win a Best Picture Oscar in a couple of day baffling, but then I realize that everyone is grading on a curve that resembles a small sphere because of the way the movie was made. Simply put, it's the trick that's impressing everyone. However, if you take away the making-of story - imagining it was shot in 45 consecutive days with three separate actors playing the kids and hair and makeup aging the parents - and just look at the story told and it's clear that Boyhood has very little under its shallow surface and people are mistaking the trick for substance.

It reminds me of the drooling acclaim for The Kids Are All Right - the 2010 film involving an older lesbian couple - which was praised for it's "bold and progressive portrayal of a modern family" but if you stripped out the gimmick and imagined the leads as a straight man-woman couple, it became clear that they were boring people with a boring story to tell. If your movie's story can't stand without a gimmick, it's not a good movie. Period.

Problem number one with Boyhood is that the way it was made required an ad hoc approach to the script - it didn't really have one as Linklater would make up the next sequence based on where Coltrane was at - and the limitation of his lead. For most of the movie, it could've been called Mommy Has Terrible Man-Picking Skills because the "plot" frequently involves her meeting some guy who seems nice, but in the next sequence after they've married is revealed to be a drunk a-hole, physically and mentally abusing, leading to the family moving and being alone until she rinses and repeats the cycle. Hawke's absent father figure drops in sporadically to show what arrested development looks like until he's tamed and driving a minivan with a new wife and baby.

Throughout a long 2-3/4 hours (which goes down easier if you break it over two nights viewing and frequent pauses to do something constructive with one's time) Mason simply is a prop being dragged from one lousy situation to another with no agency until he's a teenager and able to hang with classmates, smoking weed, getting drunk, and generally being a blank slate of unmotivated slackerdom until he's magically an artistic photographer, he goes to college and takes drugs with the cute friend of his new roommate's girlfriend. Deep. Not.

Here's where I think the people suckered by Boyhood are fooling themselves about beyond what the production backstory provides: Because we see Coltrane age from 7 to 19-years-old, they've convinced themselves that they're watching a documentary as if the cheesy and trite Lifetime abused divorcee stories aren't happening. But it's not a documentary, it's a fictional movie where the actions of its characters are dictated by Linklater. It's not "a meditation on aging and childhood" as I've seen some contend because despite its length there's remarkably little story or character development other than Arquette's mother who actually evolves as a person despite making terrible choices for reasons we can't fathom.

There's a scene near the end where someone she encouraged to go to school encounters her and thanks her for the advice because his life improved, but there is no equivalent from her own children. There's a line from Hawke about she did a good job raising Mason, but we've never seen any evidence for anything she (or he) contributed to their development because we dip in on these people with years of assumed events happening off-screen. It's like we get to watch them do the most boring things because the cameras weren't around for the interesting stuff. One scene has Hawke giving Mason Jr. a mix CD set of solo Beatles tunes; a scripted movie would either have the son react with appreciation because he loves the Beatles or resentment that the old man is shoving his old people music on him. But Mason just sort of takes it with the same disconnected manner he has for almost all situations whether it's a stepfather smashing a glass next to him or a boss yelling at him slacking or a teacher yelling at him for slacking or his parents chiding him for slacking. (I'm sensing a theme here.)

While Hawke and Arquette have snagged Supporting Oscar nods (she's favored to win; he doesn't have a prayer against J.K. Simmons and really doesn't belong here) there's been little acclaim for Coltrane's performance because he's inconsistent at times and frankly adrift without anything to play. There are so many scenes which could've given him something to do - push back at Mom's latest abuser; express some actual angst about his life; anything - but Linklater just has him stand there. I have no idea if the kid can act because most of the movie is him standing there while the grownups emote their drama around him.

A fundamental rule of screenwriting is that no scene should be retained that doesn't advance the story or characters, but Linklater spends so much time on scenes that do neither. If you trimmed the inconsequential material down I suspect the movie would've run 80-90 minutes and that's much too short for a Really Important Cinematic Statement. Bullsh*t! He was hamstrung by the production gimmick in that he was always stuck with whatever he did in prior years. Movies frequently go back and reshoot bits for clarity and amplification of details, but you can't do it when your lead doesn't look anything like he did five years ago. (The change in voice and physique is so dramatic in a couple of spots that it's as if the role had been recast.)

So we get multiple musical performances by Hawke. We get repeated digressions to rub Hawke and Linklater's unbridled hatred for George W. Bush as Hawke's first scenes include telling the kids (who are a decade away from voting) to vote for "anyone but Bush," a later scene having the kids putting out Obama signs (and stealing a McCain sign), and a veteran talking about serving in Iraq, summing up that the locals thought we were there for the oil. What does any of this have to do with the story of Mason? A: Nothing, but that's what Linklater felt was the Most Important Thing to shoot that year and now it plays like a diary of a Democrats political obsession jammed into a supposed tale of a boy's maturation. (It's like how Judd Apatow has made a habit of larding on unneeded reels of movie showcasing his wife and kids. Leslie Mann is wonderful, but it's not relevant to the plot, Judd.)

While it's appropriate to admire the tenacity needed to make Boyhood - kudos to IFC for basically handed Linklater $200K per year in the hopes of getting something a decade later (the cast couldn't even been signed to contracts because it would've been illegal) - the inconvenient truth is that the sum is barely the sum of a few of its parts. It's too long and too meaningless and ultimately unworthy of the praise it's garnered. People need to get a grip.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

ICYMI, my girlfriend Hermione's review is here.

"The Theory of Everything" Review

I hated The Theory of Everything. Period. It perfectly encapsulates the raging mediocrity which garners awards love because of everything it is other than actually being good. Ooooh, it's historical, it has a crippled lead character, and it's English, oh gawd, it's English and we all know British movies are inherently superior to the crap redneck Muricans like. That's why we tell everyone we watch Downton Abbey when we're really watching The Walking Dead.

There is so little of substance to The Theory of Everything that I really fear for the mental well-being of those who say they enjoyed it. How little? Here is the entire plot: Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is a Ph.D. candidate at Cambridge who meets Judy (Felicity Jones), who falls so deeply in love for some reason that even his diagnosis with ALS with a two-year life expectancy (Hawking is still alive, 52 years later) doesn't scare her off. They marry and have children even has he degenerates into a gnarled mess. She meets a nice church choir director (Charlie Cox, the new Daredevil in the upcoming Netflix series) who volunteers to be an aide to the family. Hawking pretty much gives Judy permission to shag this bloke, but she doesn't until later when Hawking dumps her to roll off with his nurse. What a guy.

There's a little talk of science and whether his theories eliminate the possibility of a Creator, but rather than discuss the lack of science in a movie about a scientist, they should've discussed the lack of substance on the script's pages. We never know what Jane sees in Hawking and when you're dealing with such a seriously crippled person - a megawatt mind trapped in a dead bulb body - this lack of initial connection makes all that follows it unengaging. When she turns up pregnant with her 3rd child, it briefly hints that the choir guy is the baby daddy, but that's slapped down; apparently she was true to her husband until he dumped her, which makes her sticking around even more sad.

Redmayne is heavily favored to win Best Actor and frankly I'm not cool with that. I've long been annoyed by Oscar's habit lately of awarding portrayals of real people because it frequently comes down to hair, makeup and mimicry more than creating a character from the ether. All but one of this year's nominees are for real people and that's just pathetic. While Redmayne does a fine job contorting himself into a twisted slurring knot with the aid of makeup, doing most of the acting with his eyes, his pre-illness character was little more than a goofy grin and lopsided eyeglasses. Sorry, Eddie, but Daniel Day-Lewis did it better in My Left Foot. Jones is up for Best Actress and I have no idea why because all she does is be stoic.

The Theory of Everything also continues the maddening practice of not telling the audience what effing year it is as if we're supposed to know how time has progressed by how large the children are or something. (American Sniper did this as well, telling what tour it was, but not what year.) It starts in 1963 and that's the last we're told. A Brief History of Time came out in 1988 and he dumped Jane in 1995 after 30 years of putting up with his illness, but you'll never know from the movie or the happyish ending they give his life story.

At the end of two pointless hours, The Theory of Everything is really The Movie About Nothing.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

"Selma" Review

Race relations are a mess in America these days because despite totally ignoring Martin Luther King's dream, the nation foolishly elected - TWICE - someone solely due to the color of their thin skin and not the content of his character or any accomplishments who then hid his myriad failures behind a shield of accusing his critics of racism. He installed an Attorney General with a shady past who immediately snarled that Americans were "cowards on the subject of race" while applying a racialist and hyper-political regime at the DOJ, openly refusing to investigate black-on-white civil rights cases.

Add on the disgraceful exploitation by race hustlers and Leftist politicians of the events in Ferguson, MO and NYC which led to riots in the streets and chants for the deaths of cops which ultimately led to two NYPD officers assassinated while sitting in their car and it wouldn't be hard to wonder what happened to Dr. King's dream.

Into this poisoned atmosphere comes Selma, the dramatization of King's protest which led to the 1965 Civil Rights Act, which received only two Oscar nominations (Best Picture and Best Song, which perpetuates the damnable lie about Ferguson which is "Hands up, don't shoot.") prompting yet another round of race-warrior exploitation as Al Sharpton demanded an audience with the Academy under threat of his leading a riot at the ceremony. In this environment where everyone seems to have an axe to grind what's been sadly overlooked is that Selma is actually a quite good movie that most people won't see because they resent being bullied by the Leftist race-warriors who will never in a million years get within sight of King's ideals. (I'm sure Dr. King is looking down at this nation and thinking, "I died for this? That President? That wicked preacher? All that violence and division?")

Rather than do the full-life biopic thing, Selma just concentrates on the few months in 1965 leading to the march on Selma, Alabama which led to the Voting Rights Act. King (a should've-been-nominated David Oyelowo) and his sidekicks are looking for specific town where the conditions would be right for the local racist idiots to take the bait and Selma's sheriff is just the guy for the job. Beatings and deaths ensue, but justice is attained.

What I found most interesting about Selma's portrayal of the events is something I haven't seen mentioned in all the hoohaw over the Oscars: That King was using the media to provoke outrage to the conditions blacks were enduring in the South. In one scene he asks the local organizers if the sheriff was like one in Albany (Georgia, I presume) who gently carried away protesters on stretchers for months or like Bull Connor, the Birmingham lawman who turned dogs and fire hoses on the protesters and made the media, the point being that King sought to get his followers abused on camera. When they make their first march on the courthouse, he and the leaders stand behind those getting their heads cracked, flinching, but never interceding.

It's also refreshing to see the others involved in the movement and their opinions about strategy given time. Rather than make King out to be Infallible Black Jesus to whom all looked for guidance, there are frequent doubts as to whether his strategy and tactics are appropriate, even from King himself as people start dying. His philandering is addressed in a scene where it's made to look as if LBJ ordered J. Edgar Hoover to send Coretta wiretaps of King's antics, which has been challenged for authenticity in the specifics, while the general fact of King's womanizing has been downplayed to protect the myth.

While there have been the usual criticisms of historical accuracy - most critically the idea that LBJ was dragging his feet when transcripts of phone calls showed he was very supportive of King's goals - the overall tone of Selma rings fairly true. (UPDATE: Here's a good breakdown separating fact from fiction.) The uproar over the "snubs" is more a matter of racial entitlement (X amount of nominees MUST be of color) and grievance-mongering than acceptance that not everyone gets nominated (HALF of the Best Pictures didn't have their directors nommed starting with Clint Eastwood) and the director, Ava DuVernay, simply didn't finish the film in time for screenings. No one is outraged over Angelina Jolie's genetically-engineered-for-Oscars Unbroken being passed over for all but a few technical categories.

Finally, what's with all the English actors? The top roles - Oyelowo, Carmen Ojogo (Coretta), Tim Roth (Gov. George Wallace), and Tom Wilkinson (LBJ) - are all Brits making this the most non-Southerners-playing-Southerners thing since True Blood.

If you've been avoiding Selma because you're tired of the race warrior agitation that we've been pounded with for over a year, you're denying yourself an above-average biopic which manages to avoid the cheap shots and leftist tilt (other than the terrible song) that has encrusted its awards prospects. Check it out.

Score: 8/10. Rent it.

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