The Hate U Give Review

Starr lives in a run down black neighborhood that has a grocery store, a barber shop, and a barbecue place… Oh and a Wal-Mart 30 minutes away. Her parents don’t want her and her brothers to fall into the trap that they see their peers falling into. They send her to a prep school that has mostly white students. One weekend she is at a party where a fight breaks out. Shots are fired and she runs with a childhood friend. They get pulled over by the police for seemingly no reason. Her friend is belligerent and gets pulled out of the vehicle. Then the police officer shoots him a few moments later.

The pure emotion of this film can be felt as you go. The importance of the message in this film cannot be overstated. There is so much that this film gets right that it is hard to say anything bad about it. The problems come from how many issues are tackled by the film. There isn’t enough time to properly address them all. It nails the broad strokes though which are the main highlights. Another issue is how some of the fights seem to bubble up without sufficient buildup, but I think that has more to do with there not being enough time to do it. The movie could have easily been another hour longer and still had more material it could go through.

The Hate U Give is a realistic film based on real issues that we are facing today. It captures the raw emotion and frustration that is felt in many communities. Ultimately this is a sad film that tries to present a bit of hope at the end. I would recommend this to anyone that cares about social issues and the plight of poor communities in the United States.

Bad Times at the El Royale Review

Four strangers check into an old hotel on the border of California and Nevada. One is a traveling vacuum salesman who is on the lookout for potential new clients. An old priest who enjoys music and drink is another. The third is a singer who has a show in Reno the next day, but can’t afford a hotel there. The last is a mystery who signs in using some colorful language that can’t be her real name. Each one has a unique secret that thrusts them together in a struggle to survive. What they don’t know is that the hotel and the proprietor have their own secrets to tell.

Labelled as a thriller it doesn’t really have the feel of a thriller. All of the twists and turns in the story are due to the strangers interfering with each other’s story. Each visitor’s story is pretty straightforward. The cast does a great job within the box they are placed. The 2nd act of the film takes a page from several other movies where each scene is seen through the eyes of a different character with each revealing more information to the audience. The third act abandons this method to wrap up the remaining loose threads. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite catch them all. The more laborious parts of the film are broken up with music. The majority of the music is older Motown hits which I enjoyed very much.

In the end Bad Times feels a lot like Tarantino’s classic films with vibrant characters that have interesting stories, but without a lot of the clever verbiage or long winded self-indulgence. I know that it wasn’t directed by Tarantino, but it uses many of his best techniques in storytelling. I enjoyed this film for what it was, but I was hoping for more. That is what I get for watching the previews that do a good job of hyping the film. It is a very good, but not great, film.

The Importance of Reading

Hello everyone! Today I want to profess my love for dead tattooed trees again. The written word has been one of the most important inventions in history, and some of the greatest inventions in history have been in relation to words. Pencils, pens, the printing press, paper, PEZ dispensers, computers, the internet, social media, and on and on. Each of these important inventions all help spread ideas and thoughts using written words, but each takes a different form and has many uses. You can read for knowledge, to connect with others, for pleasure, or for many other reasons. I want to address how important reading for pleasure is.

No matter what you like to read for pleasure, it is a good time to reset things. You don’t have to worry about what is going on in your life. You can relax and not think too much. Just lose yourself in what you are reading. On the other hand you can also use that time to collect your thoughts without the pressure of having to do anything else with them at the moment. Are the Titans in Attack on Titan representative of the top 1%? Do dogs have existential crises? Does Godzilla ever regret… anything? I do a lot of reading during my lunch break at work which is the perfect time to take a second to relax before having to deal with all of the day job things.

The book is almost always better than the movie. I know it is more convenient to go see the movie and doesn’t require the time investment that a book does. A movie cannot cram all of the content from the book into the 90-120 minutes of a feature film. They are two drastically different forms of media with the written word relying more on the reader’s imagination. This being an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. An advantage because it personalizes the story for the reader as they can consume the characters and construct them as they want in their mind. It is a disadvantage because it requires the reader to think about a scene where a movie allows them to focus on other aspects of the story. I can count on one hand how many movies I have seen that were better than the book. Forrest Gump being first and foremost on the list. However, the number of books that are better than the movie would be a more difficult number to calculate.

Books push ideas. No matter what you read there are always ideas within a book to captivate your mind. Sometimes it is speculation on where we are going with Science Fiction. Many times science fact is figured out later, but they are pushed by the ideas in science fiction. That sense of “what if” that pushes our curiosity and makes us question what might be possible. Sometimes the idea is social in nature questioning why things area certain way and suggesting a better direction. For non-fiction or historical stories it helps to see the successes and mistakes, so we can repeat the success and avoid the mistakes of the past. These are the kinds of ideas that can push us forward into a more positive future. They can inspire us to create new and exciting things, like Pikachu hats that shoot lasers. Seriously, I need one of those.

Stories also provide social opportunities. Every time I am walking with a book in my hands someone asks me what I am reading and if it is any good. Even people who don’t read are curious about what secret knowledge you may have received from the mystic dead tree scribblings. Talk about it with your friends and family! Join a book club! Join my book club! Seriously…. join my book club. We’re reading Only Ever Yours by Louise O’neill. We will be talking about it all month on Goodreads:

A Star Is Born Review

Jackson Maine is a superstar a bit past his prime who is on tour. After a show he goes on the road to the next stop on the tour, but there is a problem. He is out of alcohol. He stops at the nearest bar to find it has a drag show, but that doesn’t put him off as the bar still serves alcohol. One of the performers captivates him with her voice and he asks her for a drink afterwards. He gives her some advice and their unlikely romance begins there.

Bradley Cooper is utterly charming in this remake which isn’t surprising. Lady Gaga, however, shows that she is quite capable in her role as well. She captures all of the uncertainty we all can feel when thrust into the spotlight unexpectedly. Their romance is quite believable. The premise that Gaga is too ugly for studio execs seems crazy though. Their relationship and trials as the movie progresses can be engrossing at times. Her career is just beginning to take off and that can put a strain on things and it doesn’t help that Cooper’s character has demons of his own that he has to battle.

A Star Is Born is an interesting romance flick with lots of drama. The characters are interesting and mostly realistic. The movie relies on the performances of Cooper and Gaga which are very good more often than not. Their chemistry on screen is undeniable. In the end this is one of the better romance/dramas I have seen lately. The movie is a bit sad though, so if you don’t want to cry then you might want to avoid this one. It just underlines the power of the story.

Venom Review

Eddie Brock is a reporter that can’t stop himself from sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. He is tasked with doing a puff piece with a pharmaceutical company CEO that he believes may be a criminal. He is forced to agree as the company is a large sponsor of the network his program is on. Brock’s girlfriend works for the firm that represents the CEO. The day before the interview is set up, Eddie breaks into his girlfriend’s computer and gets some dirt. Of course he can’t resist investigating further, but what he finds is worse than anything he could have imagined.

Venom is loosely based on the character from the comics. While the character’s origin in the film doesn’t match that of the comics, the film does manage to capture the essence of the character. The character’s origin and much of the Venom lore, especially early on in the character’s run in comics, requires Spiderman. This characterization is much more faithful than the debacle with Spiderman 3. Fans of the comic should enjoy this film, but those who aren’t familiar with the character may find the duality of the character to be off putting. The CGI battles in spots are a jumbled mess, but thankfully there are not too many of them.

Overall Venom is a satisfying first film for yet another character in the Marvel universe. Fans of the character should enjoy it for what it is, but people who haven’t followed the character may not enjoy it as much. Unfortunately, unlike the irreverent Deadpool, this one may not obtain mainstream approval. The humor is spotty and the movie suffers from being bottled up into a PG-13 package. It is hard to see where they are going with the character unless they plan to put him in opposition to Spiderman or launch him into space.

Origin by Dan Brown Review

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Origin follows Robert Langdon on his 5th adventure into art history and religious zealotry. This time one of his former students has made a discovery that will have profound implications on the lives of everyone. Most of all it could threaten the current paradigm in place for all religions. There are many religious zealots who are trying to stop him from announcing what he has found.

A lot of the plot devices Brown uses are beginning to become stale for me as well as the Robert Langdon character. He links the character to the story through a former student. How many of his former students are going to be involved in something potentially earth shattering? Every time Langdon seems to get paired with a woman that fits the model mold, but also is intelligent. Langdon has to teach her something as he figures out the majority of the puzzles. In the end there is always some sort of awkward parting between the two as if Langdon, who is double the age of the woman he is paired with, could have a relationship with the girl who is presented as a trophy that he never claims. It is written as something innocent, but is revolting to me as it continues to be a theme throughout his novels, and Origin is no exception.

The story itself has quite a few issues as well. The pacing of the story is uneven with large portions of the novel dragging to nearly a complete halt. Parts show religious leaders freaking out because of the presentation of this new discovery being imminent, but you have no idea what it is. Then it also shows Langdon touring an art museum for a few chapters. The action picks up a bit when the action begins, but soon after the story stalls out again. The pages within are thick with anti-religious rhetoric as well.

What saves this novel is the ending and the actual discovery that Langdon’s former student made. It relies on potential scientific discoveries, but the logic behind it is interesting. For me it was initially mind blowing with the potential of how things work in the universe. The discovery itself and the end made it worth it for me to push through the large portions of the novel that dragged along and the nagging annoyances I have with Brown’s novels. I am not sure if Brown will ever recapture the magic he hit with Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code.

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The House With A Clock In Its Walls Review

A young child named Lewis is sent to live with his eccentric Uncle after his parents die in an accident. When he arrives he finds that his uncle is just as strange as he had been told and the old house the uncle lives in is quite strange with a unique parenting style. There are no rules in the house except to not open one locked cabinet. Uncle Jonathan is hiding something from the child and his neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, tells him that they need to tell Lewis. It turns out that she is a witch and Uncle Jonathan is a warlock. The house used to belong to a fellow warlock who had hidden a mysterious clock in the walls. They don’t know what it means when it strikes midnight or how to find it.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls is a tale of magic and possible impending doo. A lot of the film reminds me of the Harry Potter film franchise, but without the deep world building. It seems like this was made to be a stand alone film that could become a franchise if it somehow made enough money to justify a continued series. Jack Black does what he does best, which is playing a bumbling fool with a good heart. He is a perfect match for anything silly or whimsical. He is matched with Cate Blanchett who can play any role, but I love her more as a villain. Her hate glare is one of the best in the business. The script for this film isn’t perfect, but it is fun. The special effects are a bit cartoony, but they work for a film like this.

This is a decent family movie that is filled with magic and whimsy. You can tell it is made for a younger audience though and that holds it back from going darker and raising the stakes too high. The movie is still a lot of fun and most will enjoy it for what it is. 

Assassination Nation Review

Lily and her 3 best friends navigate the perils of high school in Assassination Nation. At the beginning they announce that their crew might not survive the film, and somehow the entire town will be out to kill them. The girls talk about who is sexting who and go to parties. Then a hacker reveals the mayor’s deepest darkest secret which gets everyone talking. The hacker doesn’t stop there though and no one is safe. The girls get involved as some of their secrets are revealed and the entire town rallies against them.

Assassination Nation is a slight exaggeration of how women are treated in America, but if you have been paying attention, it is not too far off from the truth. It is an interesting social commentary filled with teen angst. It also attacks the rage that many people express on the internet based on accusations that have no basis in fact. It shows how people can be driven to do crazy things when they are scared. It also shows how people who are victims can be treated just as harshly as those who are guilty or those who are proven to be hypocrites. Even though the film feels like a low budget action/survival/mystery film, it leaves you with a lot to think about. The 4 main characters can be quite stylish with some clever 1 liners thrown in, but they all have the awkward teen aura that suggests bad decisions are coming. That teen awkwardness also makes the movie feel more realistic even with the over the top/in your face messaging sprinkled throughout.

While Assassination Nation is not the best film from a production standpoint, it manages to still be entertaining. The script covers a wide range of social subjects that aren’t commonly seen on the big screen which is kind of refreshing even with the teenaged ranting thrown in. If you are anti-feminist or are anti-LGBTQ+ then you should watch this film, but you probably won’t like it even though it has a lot of guns and shooting once the town turns into a mob. Assassination Nation is as entertaining as a B-movie can be with the large amount of social commentary that is packed into it.

A Simple Favor Review

Stephanie is a single mother who has poured all her energy into being the perfect mom to her son. She volunteers for nearly everything at school. Her son makes a friend whose mother never volunteers for anything, until both of the children beg for a play date together. The other mother, Emily, relents and invites Stephanie for a drink while the kids play. They become unlikely friends and Stephanie begins to do favors for Emily as she has an important job. One day Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her son from school as she has a work emergency that she can’t get out of. Emily disappears after that. As Stephanie digs into the mystery she finds that she never really knew her friend at all.

All of the performances in this film are fantastic, but I have to give a special mention to one of my favorite actresses, Anna Kendrick. If only she could rap along to Mobb Deep while driving in every movie. This movie is a slow burn thriller that is similar to Gone Girl or The Usual Suspects. You get bits and pieces as part of the cat and mouse game that the two main characters play. The movie does have some pacing issues as the editor let it run on a bit long in the early parts of the film. It does help to set up the story, but could have been shaved down just a bit. Still, what makes this film spark is the chemistry between Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick. I would love to see them work together again.

A Simple Favor is a fantastic slow burn thriller in the same vein as some of the classics that have come before it. The thing that sets it apart from movies like Gone Girl is the chemistry between the two leads with much of the film relying on it. The cat and mouse exchanges between the two can be quite engaging. This definitely ranks among one of my favorite movies of the year thus far.

White Boy Rick Review

White Boy Rick follows the true story of Rick Wershe who grew up in the mean streets of New York in the 1980’s. He began as a gun hustler with his father who was a licensed dealer. They sold guns and silencers that they built to drug dealers to get by. After selling some AK-47s to some local drug dealers he becomes friends with some of them. Eventually he becomes a drug dealer himself and an informant for the FBI.

This could have been a heartbreaking story of how a boy got corrupted by his circumstances, but it doesn’t try to sympathize too much with the main characters. The characters are still criminals. Richie Merritt does a great job of portraying an awkward teen trying to do the best he can even though he’s a bit of a knucklehead that makes bad decisions. His performance alone makes the movie feel real even though it hasn’t been polished as much as Matthew McConaughey. It’s the rough edges that make it special.

The movie is an entertaining piece of drug and crime history during the crack epidemic in the 80’s. It isn’t any better or worse than the drug movies we have seen previously. The performance by Merritt is stellar, which is good because mich of the movie depends on it.