Arrival is an intelligent, engrossing science fiction film. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, The Enemy, Nightcrawler) Arrival presents a plausible look at humanity’s first meeting with alien life forms.

When 12 alien space ships appear over 12 locations throughout the world, expert linguist  Dr. Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) is tasked with figuring out how to communicate with the aliens aboard the ship hovering over Montana in the United States. Assisting her is a theoretical physicist (played by Jeremy Renner). Rounding out the cast is Forrest Whitaker as US Army Colonel Weber who is leading the American effort to find out what the aliens’ intentions are.

Arrival is a slow-moving film. Tension in the plot revolves around whether or not Dr. Banks can interpret what the aliens want. But more importantly, even if humanity is successful in communicating with the aliens, humanity still fails at communicating with each other. At first the 12 different groups cooperate with each other, sharing information about the aliens. But as time goes on, relations break down and it appears as if a human attack on one of the alien ships is imminent. Arrival captures the paranoia and distrust very well: humanity turns on itself as the inferred threat of the aliens looms ever present.

As always, humans are quick to assume ill intent on the part of the aliens despite the fact that the aliens have traveled light years to get to earth in spaceships that defy human understanding. If the aliens truly meant harm to humanity, it is unlikely the anything could be done to stop such a sufficiently advanced life-form.

Worth a look if you like intelligent, thoughtful science fiction films.

Skip it if spacecraft dogfights and laser-gun battles are more your thing.

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Jason Bourne

jason-bourneAs a movie, Jason Bourne both succeeds and fails at the same time. It succeeds because it is a mostly-competent action flick but it fails because it has some pretty big shoes to fill after The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. While sharing the same name and character as the three aforementioned movies, Jason Bourne does not compare favorably to them.

Once again Matt Damon reprises his role as the titular superspy/assassin Jason Bourne (after having sat out of the Bourne Legacy). Again the CIA is after Bourne. Again Bourne must use his CIA training to stay ahead of the CIA and expose them. Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) is now working for an underground activist/hacker group, having left the CIA. She is the only character (besides Bourne, himself) to appear from the original trilogy. She contacts Bourne after hacking into the CIA and discovering some unsettling information about several black ops that the CIA is behind. A CIA analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander)  discovers Nicky’s breach and brings it to the attention of the CIA’s director (Tommy Lee Jones). The Director enlists Lee’s help to find Nicky and hopefully Jason Bourne as well. Bourne uses his well-honed skills in a cat-and-mouse game to try to expose black ops programs without being caught. In the process, Bourne learns more disturbing background information about the black ops program he was initiated into.

While Jason Bourne taken by itself is more or less a decent action flick, it does not compare favorably to the first three installments. We learned that Bourne was not the good guy, he was in many ways the villain. Losing his memory caused a break with the CIA and gave him a chance to redeem himself by exposing the truth about the black ops program he (willingly) participated in. Jason Bourne is just more of the same, really the filmmakers have already covered this ground thoroughly. In fact, Jason Bourne was a wasted opportunity to show the decline of a superspy as Matt Damon is now pushing 50. He looks tired and disinterested in the role.

The well-done, iconic fight scenes from the first three have been replaced by lazy, poorly choreographed imposters in the new film. One haunting moment from The Bourne Ultimatum has Bourne reluctantly using his lethal skills to kill Desh, a CIA-sent assassin set to kill Nicky. After Bourne dispatches him after a prolonged, knock-down, drag-out fight, the camera focuses on Bourne allowing the audience to see the conflict in Bourne. At this point Bourne realizes he’s not one of the good guys. His training and blind obedience has made him a ruthless killer.

While Jason Bourne is competently made and directed, it seems to be little more than a cash grab trading on the Jason Bourne name.

Worth a look if you really like the series and want to know what’s next for Bourne.

Skip it if you don’t want this movie to ruin the original trilogy.

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Jason Bourne






morganMorgan is yet another movie which explores AI (artificial intelligence) and the its ramifications on society. It isn’t a particularly original film and seems to draw from other films such as Bladerunner, Hanna, Lucy, Splice and Ex Machina.

Kate Mara plays Lee Weathers, a corporate risk-management consultant sent to evaluate (and terminate if necessary) an artificial, humanoid being named Morgan (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). Although only five years old, Morgan appears to be a young woman in her early 20s.

Weathers is dispatched by Corporate to evaluate Morgan after she attacks and brutally maims one of the scientists studying her. It is up to Weathers to evaluate the efficacy of Morgan and the L-9 program, which spawned her.

Morgan appears to be demure and shy but as the story develops she becomes increasingly aggressive.  Another vicious assault during an evaluation by a psychiatrist (played by Paul Giamatti) leads to a violent confrontation and a surprising revelation.

Morgan is entertaining despite being mostly derivative. The movie is well cast and the actors turn in good performances. Anyone paying attention to the clues the movie gives will see the twist coming a mile away.

Morgan does pose some interesting questions: what is it to be human? What rights (if any) do artificially-created humans have? If a corporation creates a humanoid being does the corporation own the being? If so, what is the extent of the corporation’s ownership? Should artificial humans even be created? The movie doesn’t really answer any of these, so those looking for answers will be disappointed.

Worth a look if you like sci fi movies which deal with artificial intelligence and the ramifications on society.

Skip it if you don’t like derivative movies.

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Blair Witch

blair-witchBlair Witch is somewhat of a letdown: it is largely the same as its predecessor (The Blair Witch Project) but does get points for attempting to build on the mythology. The problem though is that Blair Witch doesn’t really answer any of the questions posed by the first movie. It seems as if it is a cash-grab trading on the Blair Witch name or an attempt to reboot the franchise. Unfortunately, neither one was successful.

For those not familiar with the basic story, Blair Witch is a found footage horror film in which several young people set out to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch, a local urban legend. This time around the group goes into the Maryland woods armed with video cameras, sound recording equipment, GPS devices, walkie talkies and even a drone. The group is lead by James (played by James Allen McCune) who is trying to find out what happened to his sister, Heather (who disappeared in The Blair Witch Project).

James and his group meet up with two locals, who promise to lead James through the woods to where the footage from the original movie was found. As in the first movie, it isn’t long before strange things start happening and everyone is at each others’ throats. The group gets lost and their technology fails. They hear strange noises and stick figures and piled-up rocks appear seemingly out of nowhere. Tension among the group members causes the two locals to split off and horrible, anomalous things happen to everyone involved.

One thing that Blair Witch does right is  capture the dire effects of being lost, isolated and helpless. This imparts a palpable sense of dread and when things go south for the group, it’s already too late for them. When things take a turn for the worse, there is no build up and no warning. One minute things are okay, the next there is no hope. The only way for the group to avoid their horrific situation was to have never put themselves in it in the first place.

There is a lot of shaky-cam footage in Blair Witch, which can be annoying and distracting. But in a movie like this it is very effective; the nausea induced strengthens the film. Adding to the tension are the many effective jump scares.

Overall, Blair Witch is not as good as The Blair Witch Project. The Blair Witch was never shown in The Blair Witch Project; it was left up to the viewer to interpret the events.  Blair Witch, on the other hand,  implies that the cause of the events may be indeed supernatural, maybe even caused by the Blair Witch, herself. It is interesting to compare and contrast the two films. But ultimately, the introduction of the new mythology only creates more questions than it answers.

Worth a look if you want to learn more of the mythology surrounding the Blair Witch.

Skip it if you think the original is perfect and/or dislike jump scares.

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Blair Witch

The Blair Witch Project

  • Steve





Sing Street

mv5bmjezoda3mdcxml5bml5banbnxkftztgwodgxndk3nze-_v1_sy1000_sx675_al_On the surface Sing Street might seem like a mundane boy-meets-girl story, which everyone has seen a million times. But the setting, cast and music make it much, much more.

Set in Dublin circa 1985, shy and sensitive teenager Conor’s life is in turmoil: his parents are constantly fighting mostly due to poor economy in Ireland and subsequent underemployment/unemployment. To cut costs out of their budget, Conor’s parents take him out of his expensive Jesuit school and put him in a more moderately priced school run by “The Christian Brothers”  located on Syng Street.

Conor  (played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) copes with the turmoil by writing songs and playing his guitar in his room with the door shut.

On the first day of school, Conor gets bullied, makes a new friend, and meets the girl of his dreams, Raphina (played by Lucy Boynton.) Unfortunately, the girl of his dreams is a year older, very pretty (she says she’s a model) and seems aloof to Conor’s charms. Conor comes up with a plan to win her heart. He tells her he is in a band and would like to have her appear in his video. Except that Conor doesn’t have a band or a song. But that doesn’t deter him. Through his newly made friend (and now band manager), Conor meets another student, Eamon (played by Mark McKenna) who not only has access to a complete setup for a pop band, but also can play most of the instruments. The three easily recruit three other students with musical leanings to fill out their new band, named Sing Street, a play on words using the street where their school is located. Using Raphina as his inspiration, Conor concocts a not-half-bad song with Eamon, called “The Riddle of the Model.” The band plans a video shoot and invites Raphina.

Surprisingly, Raphina does show up for the video shoot but the results are predictably lame. However, Raphina start to see that Conor has potential.

Conor continues to write songs using Raphina as his muse. At the direction of his musically-wiser older brother, Conor begins to use other pop bands of the 1980s for stylistic and musical cues. Conor and his band change their look according to which pop band Conor is taking inspiration from. As Conor’s songs get better, Raphina finds herself falling for him.

Will Conor win Raphina’s heart? Suffice it to say that there are no surprises here. The movie ends as it should.

The cast is excellent. Well cast, Walsh-Peelo and Boynton have palpable chemistry. The high school kids look age-appropriate, not like they should be getting out of grad school.

The real star of Sing Street is the music. Several songs were written for the movie by director Jack Carney and musician/actor Glen Hansard (who collaborated on Once) evoke the musical styles of pop tunes written in the 80s, without being slavish copies.

Finally, music was the only escape for some in mid-80s Dublin, Ireland. With the failing economy, unemployment and the ever-oppressive Catholic Church, sometimes pop music was just the thing to make a grim life just a little brighter.

Worth a look if you get nostalgic about 1980s pop music.

Skip it if you were born in the 1980s; you probably won’t like it.

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Sing Street






Quirky Movies: The Trust

mv5bmta4nje3otk1mzdeqtjeqwpwz15bbwu4mdmwmtk1mjgx-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_The Trust is a quirky caper movie in which Nicholas Cage gives one his patented over-the-top performances. Sometimes this can be very annoying but Cage’s performance works well for this movie.

Cage plays Stone, a Las Vegas cop who works in the evidence room.  He collects evidence from crime scenes to be taken back, cataloged and stored. Elijah Wood plays Waters, Stone’s partner. Stone is confident, methodical and calculating. Waters is a twitchy stoner who avails the services of prostitutes.

Stone discovers a bail receipt which was paid in cash to the amount of $200K. This gets him thinking that nobody pays $200k in cash to bail out a low-life criminal. He follows the money and makes a startling discovery: a hidden vault where one should not be. Stone decides to break in to rob the vault of its contents. He hatches a plan and gets his partner, Waters, involved.

It becomes apparent in the beginning, that these two are in way over their heads. They constantly forget small details which come back to haunt them later. When they do discover what is in the vault, they realize that they are stealing from people they most definitely shouldn’t be.

The movie starts out slow and it is confusing as to what is going on. Some of the scenes are played for laughs and it almost seems as though this movie is going to be a cop-buddy comedy. Once Stone discovers the vault, the movie takes a dark, serious turn.

Worth a look if you like quirky crime capers.

Skip it if Cage’s over-the-top antics annoy you.

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The Trust






Camp X-Ray

mv5bmtu5nji1mjewmv5bml5banbnxkftztgwnjc2mzc3mje-_v1_sy1000_sx675_al_Camp X-Ray is the story of the “detainees” at Guantanamo Bay. As the film opens Ali (played by Peyman Moaadi), a Muslim, is praying. Almost immediately a black bag is forced onto his head and he is dragged away. So begins a very dark and unsettling movie.

The main story concerns Cole (played by Kristen Stewart), a young United States Army soldier fresh out of MP school. Hoping to go to Iraq to escape her tiny and miserable home town, she is instead sent to “Gitmo” (Guantanamo Bay) to guard the detainees. Since they are not prisoners of war (POWs), they are not subject to the treaties set forth by the Geneva Convention.

At first Cole is harassed and abused by the detainees. But as she settles into the boring, routine drudgery of her post, she slowly she develops an odd bond with Ali, although this is strictly against the rules. As it turns out, Ali is guilty of nothing, but must be kept at Gitmo as no other country will have him due to his detainee status.

It seems that no one at Gitmo is excluded from abuse. The guards abuse the detainees, the detainees abuse the guards. Those in command abuse their subordinates. This self-perpetuating cycle continues day in and day out without respite.

A thought provoking movie, Camp X-Ray explores one facet of the aftermath of terrorism on the modern, post 9/11 world. The movie doesn’t seem to take a stand one way or the other, leaving it up to the viewer what to think about a thoroughly untenable, indefensible situation.

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Camp X-Ray