6.23.2018

Movies: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Written by: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow—very loosely based on work by Michael Crichton
Universal, 2018
PG-13; 128 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


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I didn't read any reviews before going to see this movie, but I did know in an abstract way that the critics didn't like it and that it had a low score on Rotten Tomatoes. Which may be why I actually enjoyed this movie as much as I did. I had low-to-moderate expectations and yet JW:FK entertained me plenty. It might not hold up to scrutiny, but I don't much care about that.

If you've seen the trailers, you get the gist: a volcano on Isla Nublar is on the brink of erupting, and either the dinos go with it or they need to be captured and transported elsewhere. That turns out to be only a fairly brief part of the story, however. [Don't read the rest of this paragraph if you don't want spoilers. The remainder of the post is safe.] There is, of course, a greedy person involved who plans to auction said dinosaurs to the highest bidders and start a new genetic lab, etc. And there's a precocious girl named Maisie, etc. etc. So the story becomes: save the dinos from the island, then save them from the greedy men, and also save yourselves from the engineered indoraptor (indomitus rex + raptor) . . .

The movie wants to case all this in philosophy about whether it's better to let some things die. The good of the few vs. the good of the many. And also: how do you put the genie back in the bottle. But there's so much action going on that the film can't sustain that line of inquiry. This isn't a philosophy class. It's a summer blockbuster. We've come to see dinosaurs eat bad guys, so get on with it.

Still, there are moments of pathos. Two, to be exact. I have yet to decide how I feel about them. Are they overwrought? Perhaps. Would I take them out? I don't know.

JW:FK borrows liberally from earlier movies in the franchise, from plot to visual elements. It feels cobbled together in a way, but that didn't bother me. It might other people though as on the whole the film feels a little like it lacks originality. My oldest son said this one feels like a horror movie, and there are definitely some horror elements. I suppose that's Bayona's doing.

And whoever wrote this movie really hates ladders.

The final result is something that skews a little Planet of the Apes? Which isn't a franchise I enjoy, so I'm not sure I'm down for that. But since my bar is apparently lower than most people's . . . I mean, I laughed and clapped every time a dinosaur ate someone, so, you know . . . I'm definitely buying into the bread and circus thing, I guess. It's all I really want from these movies, and this one delivered.

6.17.2018

Movies: Incredibles 2

Voices By: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner
Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Brad Bird
Disney/Pixar, 2018
PG; 118 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


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A lot of people are loving this movie, and I agree it's pretty cute. But I wasn't as wowed as I expected to be.

I2 picks up right where the first movie left off 14 years ago. The Underminer is attacking, the Parr family must work together (along with Frozone) to neutralize the threat. It doesn't go quite to plan, and superheroes are again slapped with the blame for massive destruction despite their best efforts and intentions.

Then in steps siblings Winston and Evelyn Deavor. (It wasn't lost on me that both first names end in a sound to almost make it "endeavor"? Which feels kind of pointless, but whatever. Ha! "Whatever, Deavor.") Anyway, these two run a huge telecomm company, and they want to find a way to make superheroes legal again. Cue nostalgic back story about how their dad had loved supers and not long after superheroes were made illegal, their dad was killed in a break-in. (I also noticed the dad in the flashbacks looked a wee bit like Ed Catmull? Might've been my imagination though.)

The Deavors choose Helen/Elastigirl as the new face of superhero-dom. Which leaves Robert/Mr. Incredible home with the kids. Hilarity ensues, except not really. At least, not for me. Plenty of people around me laughed, but I was only kind of amused.

My chief problem was the way the film leaned so heavily on Jack-Jack. Sure, he's a cute gag (and in some cases a deus ex machina), but I find it funnier in smaller doses like in the first movie. Meanwhile, Violet and Dash had nearly nothing to do.

Also, the "twist" wasn't one. It was heavily telegraphed, so maybe it wasn't meant to be a surprise. I don't know.

All that said, let's talk about the subtext. One of the arguments in the movie is that people do less when superheroes are around because they expect those heroes to save them. It's a message that feels relevant right now. We all mutter about the problems in society, but we don't act because we expect others will do that for us. Which is a bit backward for a film in which we're supposed to be rooting for the supers, but maybe the flip side is that THOSE WITH POWER SHOULD USE IT TO THE BENEFIT OF SOCIETY. Rather than, say, selling it to the highest bidder? Just a thought.

On the whole, I enjoyed it. Just not as much as I thought I would. But that probably would have been asking too much. The first Incredibles movie was such an unexpected delight, so different from pretty much anything else out there. Now superhero movies are a dime a dozen, and the 14-year hiatus gives us time to build [potentially unrealistic] expectations.

I2 is a good movie. It's making a ton of money, too. Not that box office has ever been a very good indicator of quality. But I can recommend this one as a fun and entertaining diversion, even if it doesn't reach the higher heights.

6.15.2018

Movies: Set It Up

The one word that kept coming to mind while watching this Netflix original movie was: "perfunctory." But that mostly applies to the writing. The casting is actually brilliant, which is what saves this from being drivel.

The story is fairly basic: two overworked executive assistants conspire to set up their bosses in the hopes that, if distracted by a relationship, said bosses will not work them quite so hard. I guess? Maybe the logic is that, if only the bosses had someone or something to go home to, they wouldn't work all hours and demand that their assistants keep the same insane hours.

Everything that happens is fairly rote, every beat pretty standardly measured. But the leads—played by Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell—are cute and charming enough to be engaging, and while I don't 100% love seeing Taye Diggs as a jerkwad, he does the jerkiness with a light enough touch and just enough humor to make it perfect for a rom-com tempo. Lucy Liu does her thing, too, and as well as ever.

Still, it's not perfect. There were chances for cleverness that were missed. The gay best friend/roommate is given the absolute worst "joke" lines. He and other secondary characters were underdeveloped by a lot. Which isn't unusual for romantic comedy, but that doesn't make it okay either.

Overall, not terrible. It reminded me a bit of that movie Morning Glory (2010) in tone and style if not substance. So if you like that kind of thing, check this one out as a not terribly taxing bit of fluff entertainment.

6.11.2018

I'm going to get a little bit real here for a second because things are scary here in the U.S. right now. And we're sort of asleep at the wheel and/or distracted by various things, which is what "they" want.

"They" are the current president + his henchmen (for lack of a better word). Not his supporters outside the inner circle, though; I honestly think those poor people are just duped.

I grew up in a very "red" state surrounded by Republicans. I moved away from that, but most of my family are still Republicans. Most of my friends, however, are Democrats. Take that however you like.

Here's what I see happening, though:

Casting aspersions on journalists and news outlets. They do this because they don't want people to know the truth. So they trot out their own version of the truth—"alternative facts," which is PR rebranding for "lies." The goal is to keep us uninformed, under-informed, or wrongly informed. They want to control what we know because that's how we come to conclusions, how we make decisions, how we decide when and where and how to act.

Attacking on several fronts. The environment. Women's rights. Immigration. Education. The goal is to keep us busy so that we can't focus our opposing strength. Hey, this is an old military strategy, right? You can't fight a war on multiple fronts. Meanwhile, while we're distracted by the outrage of the day, they're doing any number of things behind our backs.

Throttling our information. Net neutrality anyone? Why does it matter? Because now the government will apply pressure to Internet and cable providers to push through the channels and websites they agree with and want us to see while making it more difficult to see and hear from opposing views. They'll swear it's legal, it's just capitalism, but it's actually a limit to free speech.

Cutting ties with our democratic allies. The trade war, pulling out from the Paris Accord and G7—the president and his cohorts have made it very clear they have zero regard for our fellow democratic countries. Meanwhile, he gets cozy with dictators. Why? Because that's what he wants: to be a dictator. And he wants to isolate us so that we have nowhere to turn while he takes over.

Nepotism. He wants a dynasty, plain and simple. So he's put his children in places of power.

Invalidating elections and hobbling our ability to vote. We're already fairly certain the 2016 election was fraudulent. Now the Supreme Court has ruled that states can strike voters from the registers. His plan is to continue getting the results he wants, any way he has to. And he's taking lessons from other dubious leaders who do the same. Why do so many GOP politicians continue to support him? Because he's promised them they won't lose their jobs come election time. And they believe him.

We've got a relatively narrow window here to make sure our country remains a democracy. We must act. Definitely we've got to ensure our voting systems are secure and the results valid. And then we need to send a message with those votes—that we refuse to become some third-world shithole dictatorship just because this man and his friends want to pillage and get rich.

World, the majority of Americans do not want him, but he's curtailing our attempts to end his would-be regime. We welcome [diplomatic] efforts on our behalf. After all, HE can't fight a war on multiple fronts either.

6.10.2018

Television: Elementary, "Give Me the Finger"

This was kind of a fun, twisty episode. Though, seriously, what's with all the arson on the show lately? Every f'ing building ends up on fire.

A former Yakuza agent is found dead in his burning [OMG, WTF you guys?] apartment. And his finger is missing because that's a Yakuza thing. But he had a prosthetic finger that was actually a (har!) thumb drive, and that seems to be the reason he was killed.

The mystery weaves through the Yakuza syndicate and on to the military because the dead guy had been testing some IT systems for them or something. I won't give away the ending, which wasn't surprising but still kind of clever.

Meanwhile, Gregson's daughter Hannah comes to visit her dad and admit she's an alcoholic. He's shaken up by the confession and turns to Joan because she used to be a sober companion. Feeling left out, Sherlock nags Joan until she tells him what's up.

Then Michael stalks Hannah and murders her roommate. Which is where we'll pick up next time, I guess.

Best moment: random cat wandering through the background while filming a street scene. Get that cat an agent! Or at least some tuna from craft services. (I used to always get Goldfish from craft services, but that's not quite the same thing.)

6.09.2018

Movies: Game Night

This was a really fun movie.

The story centers around Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams respectively) and their group of friends that get together weekly for game night. When Max's brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town, he plans a special game night that goes terribly, hilariously awry.

I really enjoyed the mixture of comedy and tension, and the whole thing is so well cast. I wish they made more movies like this one, which is somewhere between Clue and Scream.

There is a subplot involving Max and Annie discussing their plans to have children that, in my view, didn't contribute much to the story, but it wasn't too obnoxious. It just felt a wee bit forced that they kept tying Max's reluctance to his feelings of inferiority when compared to his brother.

But overall, this was just a fun movie with many twists and turns to keep it entertaining. I definitely recommend it.

6.06.2018

IWSG Reminder

I know some of you stumble over here after clicking on a comment I may have left on an IWSG post. But I don't post my IWSG here. It's over on PepperWords. So please do hop over there for a look, and thanks for stopping by!

Q: What's the difference between the two sites?

A: This one is for reviews and the other is my author site.

Q: Why not have it all on one site?

A: I'd love to, but I don't have the time and energy to merge them. One day I may bring two blogs into one, but today is not that day.

6.04.2018

Books: Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald

I picked this up for a couple reasons. 1. I like Jane Austen. 2. As someone who recently finished a YA contemporary version of Hamlet, I thought this might be an interesting comp.

Of course, an agent recently told me that my manuscript is "too on the nose." Somehow this isn't? Oh, but this author is a screenwriter and has connections, plus she made her characters bi-racial (though apart from a passing reference in the story and the book cover, you wouldn't know the difference), so . . .

I'm promise I'm not bitter. (Except maybe I am, a little. At least I'm self-aware and can admit it.)

Look, this is a cute book. It took me a while to get into it, and I actually set it down for a few months, but I'm glad I came back to finish it.

Still, it is very on the nose. Sure, a few things have been changed to update the story, but it hews pretty darn close to the original. Which, if you like Sense and Sensibility, and you don't mind reading [Hollywood-centric] YA, give this a shot.

The ending felt a bit rushed, but overall it's a decent beach read.

6.02.2018

Television: Elementary, "Bits and Pieces"

This episode was interesting because it started in the middle of things. Joan and Marcus are questioning a potential suspect in a murder, and then Joan comes home to discover Sherlock has brought home a severed head. In a bag. And he can't remember where he got it.

Alrighty then.

Working on the theory that the head probably has something to do with the case, they begin trying to figure out where it came from and why Sherlock has it. And by "they" I mean Joan and Marcus because Sherlock goes to tell Gregson about his PCS and is sidelined until he gets clearance from the precinct doctor. Gregson is understandably all kinds of unhappy about being left in the dark regarding Sherlock's diagnosis, and it isn't until the end of the episode that—extremely reluctantly—Gregson allows Sherlock to work provisionally based on the doctor's recommendation. Sherlock must check in with both his personal doctor and the precinct doctor weekly else he's benched for good.

Michael makes a return this week, popping up to try and talk Sherlock into going to meetings and asking about that woman who is missing. I have to say, I think they made a huge misstep in showing Michael burying the body. This story line would be way more compelling if we didn't know what we know. I mean, we'd get the sense that Michael is not quite right, but . . . That would be the fun part. Trying to figure it out. As it stands, we're just waiting for Sherlock to catch up to us.

As for adoption, no sign of Joan meeting with attorneys.

The main case comes down to two suspicious murders/arsons and how and why those might be related. We get into bird flu and go from there. It's a pretty good little story, and I think this is probably one of my favorite episodes so far this season, maybe even the one I'd rank at the top of the current standings.

And with that, I'm all caught up! Can't promise I'll stay on top of all these, but I'll try.

Television: Elementary, "Our Time Is Up"

So a therapist is found brutally murdered in her office, and it turns out that she used to be Joan's therapist. ::shrug::

Sherlock steals an external hard drive from the crime scene. I think this is meant to indicate his PCS is effecting his decision making? I mean, we've always known he was reckless, but this time it seems above and beyond the usual. If it had been something that would only have potentially hurt him, I'd let it slide; we know how little regard Sherlock has for his person. But something that could damage the case—indeed, make the evidence inadmissible—seems outside his typical orb of neglect.

This time, instead of trying to convince Joan to read a letter from her dad, Sherlock urges Joan to read her dead therapist's files on her. Eventually Joan succumbs and learns that the therapist thought Joan would make a good mother. For whatever reason, this rattles Joan. "She never told me that," Joan says when telling Lin about this revelation. And really, it's one woman's opinion, and not one that she ever meant Joan to know. Joan is good at a lot of things, so it's not a stretch to think she might be a good mother, too. The question is: Does she want to be?

We get a semi-answer in the form of a computer screen on which Joan has been searching for adoption attorneys. Oh, and she sets up some appointments with them, too.

Meanwhile, the murder case meanders through the fact that the landlord had bugged the therapist's office, and the therapist she shared the office with has been heard to fight with her. There is one somewhat funny moment (used in the promo) in which one of the therapist's clients jumps off a balcony. Don't worry, he lives. And turns out to be a key to the mystery, which I won't bother to give away. But I do wish they'd have a few more of the lighthearted moments in this show.

A solid episode but not mind blowing.