Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Movie Reviews #44…

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Lion. Garth Davis, dir. Great movie, like many movies based on books and not cobbled together screenplays. The book in question, a true story, is A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley with Larry Buttrose. The movie stars Dev Patel as the older Saroo and the awesomely cute Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo. Rooney Mara plays grown-up Saroo’s girlfriend, Nicole Kidman and David Wenham, Sue and John Brierley, the couple who adopted Saroo, Priyanka Bose his birth-mother, and Abhishek Bharate the older brother who lost him.

Maybe the book covers the big gap in the middle where the young boy becomes a man in Tasmania. The movie doesn’t, but you will not miss it.  The story unfolds at a leisurely but intense pace. Some great scenery from the island and the depiction of impoverished existence in remote Indian villages and Calcutta provide an anguishing contrast between Third World and First World existence. I was moved by the children’s desperation in Saroo’s orphanage. This movie is definitely worth seeing. It received a Best Pic Golden Globe award and Kidman and Patel received supporting actor globes. I’m happy I didn’t miss it.


Gaia and the Goliaths. An environmental activist is murdered on a street in Manhattan after a protest. NYPD homicide Detectives Chen and Castilblanco get the case. While pursuing the clues to find those responsible, they discover the activist’s boyfriend is in danger because he has key information that will expose an international conspiracy involving Europe, Russia, and the U.S. As the tangled web unravels, an old nemesis of the detectives makes his appearance. #7 in the detectives’ series. Available on Amazon in .mobi (Kindle) format and on Smashwords in all ebook formats, and all the latter’s affiliated retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc) and lenders (Overdrive, etc). #1, The Midas Bomb, is on sale on Smashwords until March 1: use coupon code PV57D. The whole series is now available on Amazon and Smashwords.

In libris libertas!


Movie Reviews #43…

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Hidden Figures. Theodore Melfi, dir. Racial and gender biases in science and technology are always ugly. As a working scientist, I always thought everyone should be given an equal opportunity to show what they can do, especially in critical R&D where time constraints must be met head on by the best and brightest. I still do. This movie follows three black women—Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, played ably and respectively by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae—who contributed significantly to the Mercury program that put John Glenn in orbit. That was just the beginning of their illustrious careers in space science; the movie doesn’t consider the rest except in the credits at the end. This is a history rarely told by white historians documenting the U.S. space program.

The era covered in the movie was at the beginning of the civil rights movement. Blacks still set in the back of the bus and had to use separate water fountains and bathrooms. Those were minor but flagrant and demeaning inconveniences compared to the discrimination in education and opportunities. These three women and many others had to overcome that, not an easy task in the old white boys’ world of space science at the time. The three main characters had two strikes against them before even stepping to the plate: being black and being women. They still hit home runs.

Excellent acting and screenplay based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly make this movie one of the most entertaining and meaningful I’ve seen lately. Melfi’s excellent screenplay was surely made easier to achieve with such a book to inspire him.  In spite of the blatant discrimination portrayed (I imagine it being much worse), this is the kind of feel-good movie we need now as we still face these problems and an uncertain future with the new president-elect and his cronies, not to mention the current attitude by many budget-cutting politicos that the space program is a waste of money.

Recommended for all audiences, but especially for today’s STEM students who are minorities and/or female—don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t be successful in an R&D career in science and technology. Show what you can do!


Silicon Slummin’…and Just Gettin’ By. The Silicon Valley hasn’t seen anyone like Mary Jo Melendez, ex-USN Master-at-Arms, and she’s not sure she wants to stay there either. Readers met the MECHs (Mechanically Enhanced Cybernetic Humans) in Muddlin’ Through. Russia and the U.S. still want them and think Mary Jo knows where they are. But they have to compete with Mary Jo’s stalker. Unlike the first book in the series, this one doesn’t travel around the world, but the dangers for her might be worse. This mystery/suspense/thriller novel is available in all ebook formats.

In libris libertas!

Movie Reviews #42…

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Manchester by the Sea. Ken Lonergan, dir (he also wrote the sappy screenplay). As much as I like this area near Boston, this movie didn’t live up to its pre-Oscar hype. It’s sappy, boring, and depressing—a real downer. Matt Damon says it’s “real life” in his pimping of the movie. Maybe Damon and the Affleck brothers should get a reality check! While most people have some negatives to contend with, and that’s part of the human condition that can affect anyone, what happens to Lee Chandler in this movie is six-sigma from the norm and is enough to make anyone suicidal. Casey Affleck overacts in his role as Chandler, mumbling his lines along with other “superstars.” Lucas Hedges as Patrick Chandler is the best actor in the movie. And FYI to Mr. Lonergan: there are blacks in Boston. Like the Academy Awards last year, not a black face in sight in this movie. No other minorities either, except maybe the internist. Just old white boys…ho hum for two hours of boredom.


Muddlin’ Through. Mary Jo Melendez is an ex-USN Master-at-Arms who is ready to start her new civilian life as a security guard. She is framed for her sister and brother-in-law’s murders. This mystery/suspense/thriller novel describes how she works to clear her name and pay back the group that framed her. In the process, she discovers the MECHs, Mechanically Enhanced Cybernetic Humans, and an intense romance as she runs around the U.S., South America, and Europe. Available in all ebook formats through Amazon and Smashwords and its retailers.

In libris libertas!

Movie Reviews #41…

Friday, December 9th, 2016

Mars. OK, half movie, half pop science program. This series on the National Geographic channel jumps back and forth between sci-fi (the movie) and mostly current science and technology (pop science). If you can get past that boring, pedantic, and new Cosmos guy, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who seems to be the expert on everything and everywhere on TV these days (will he soon be in a Lincoln car commercial?), and the smiling Martian, Andy Weir, it’s an OK hour each week compared to the rest of the shlock on TV. I find the jumps disconcerting, though, and the sci-fi plot badly written and contrived.

There are many good sci-fi tales about Mars, from Heinlein’s Podkayne to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, that are neither badly written nor contrived. If you skip through the boring potato-farming lessons, Weir’s The Martian is OK too. But this TV series creates numerous accidents for dramatic effect, not unusual for the genre, but they all seem like clichés here and far too numerous. (And I’ve just seen the first two “episodes,” so it will probably only get worse.)

Portraying the real psychological stress for human Mars explorers would be enough if done well, especially what will occur even during the long journey to Mars, which is mostly neglected by the TV writers. Even The Martian downplayed that—probably a good thing because, added to the potato farming, readers and viewers would end up in a mental institution pounding the walls and wringing their hands, or just slashing their wrists. But this will be an important factor in any colonialization of Mars (see the shipboard scene in my More than Human: The Mensa Contagion and references at the end of that book).

Still, let’s wish the series well. It’s new, it’s different, and it beats Happy Days reruns (hey, isn’t that the guy selling reverse mortgages now?). For TV these days, those are all pluses.


Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder. #3 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” this mystery/suspense/thriller novel has more twists and turns than a carnival pretzel. Chen is accused of murder, so naturally Castilblanco tries to help her. But there is a lot more to the murder than meets the eye. Readers will have a great time unraveling it all with these NYPD homicide detectives and will be kept guessing right up to the climax. Soon available in all ebook formats.

In libris libertas! 

Movie Reviews #40…

Friday, November 25th, 2016

Loving. Jeff Nichols, writer/dir. While this true story is a better romance than anything schlockmeister Sparks writes, it’s much more. It’s a slow, intense suspense story that’s better than almost any fiction you can find! Although I knew the ending, that “spoiler alert” didn’t spoil any of my interest and enjoyment.

Let’s face it: this story of a white man married to a black woman and their long fight to make that legitimate in a state still having an egregious anti-miscegenation law on its books, a relic of segregation in this country, laid the foundation for the fight in favor of same-sex marriage and other battles about personal rights in this country. That moves this film far above anything Hollywood usually releases. Of course, in the Age of Trumpism, it probably won’t do well, but one can hope. (The assignment of the film to theaters known for artsy flicks won’t help—not many of those around anymore!)

The Lovings, brilliantly played by little-known actors Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, possessed a simple genius, especially the black woman, and a polite stubbornness that allowed them to do battle in a legal system stacked against them. They had some help, of course, from an ACLU legal team (not a frivolous choice by them in this case) and the media. Others less strong than the Lovings would have thrown in the towel and lived elsewhere, but they had a special nexus with the land and their (mostly) colorblind setting of family and friends (interestingly, not only bigoted whites were telling them they were doing wrong!). For the actors who portrayed the couple, I hope to see some Oscar nominations at least. Their portrayal of the tense years leading up to the SCOTUS decision in their favor cannot be improved.

The Commonwealth of Virginia, a bastion of the slaving South in 1860, thought it could still deny people the right to marry whom they choose 100 years after the Civil War. They were wrong. We see yet another cornerstone of segregated America crumble here and another step taken toward realizing a colorblind America and world, MLK’s dream (the current election is a setback, of course).  Younger generations might not understand these struggles, but they were progressive advances important for America.

So the story is much more than the simple story of Mr. and Mrs. Loving. You should see this movie for many reasons—how romance and love can steel a couple for important battles, for a different take on race relations, and for important history brought to life by two talented actors. Probably the Lovings’ story basically wrote the screenplay, but Nichols’s direction turned it into a powerful statement—sometimes an understated drama can speak more powerfully than any strident historical biopic.


Action on the southern border! No, it’s not Trump beginning the construction of The Wall. It’s Chen and Castilblanco fighting terrorists, a cartel, and neo-Nazi militias. In Angels Need Not Apply, the deadly duo from the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” go undercover to fight crime as part of a national task force. This novel is available in all ebook formats.

In libris libertas!

Movie Reviews # 39…

Friday, November 18th, 2016

Arrival. Denis Villeneuve, dir. The ETs are called Heptapods, but they look like elongated octopi standing on their tippytoes. I’ve always been fascinated by the challenge of ET/human communication (see Sing a Samba Galacticaalso available in other ebook formatsor the PDF free for the asking, “Portal in the Pines”), so you’d think this movie would be like a full glass of Jameson for me. 90% of it was. I’ll have to go read Ted Chiang’s novella “Story of Your Life” now to answer some questions. Yeah, OK, the ETs form of communication was via circles with fuzz, squirted out from those feet like octopis’ ink emissions. But why circles? And the fuzz looked very fractal, so can there really be information content there (there are data compression schemes that are fractal-based).

Amy Adams, who plays Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist, is a wee bit too fragile but does a pretty good job as main character, but not Oscar caliber as some critics claim. Jeremy Brenner plays Dr. Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist. It seems like Hollywood needs a romantic complement to a protagonist even when the sexes are reversed. I guess Ian’s needed to give the hugs the fragile Louise desperately needs? The rest of the cast is just so-so. At least they didn’t make the black guy (Forrest Whittaker) the villain—that job was handled by paranoid government leaders all around the world.

I’m still thinking about this one. The best two sci-fi movies of all time, Alien and Blade Runner, were also notable for their quiet, mysterious, and scary intensity. That’s all Arrival has going for it basically, but it’s well done (the score helps). The violence, unlike those two famous movies, is minimal. In that sense, it’s more like The Martian, although not nearly so scientific (and thankfully the Heptapods don’t grow potatoes).  I’ll have to say that the intensity makes the time fly, and you’ll want to eat some popcorn instead of your nails. The movie certainly offers an important lesson: people will get creeped out when confronting something radically different. Some viewers said it “blew their mind.” (That is done with very few glitzy special effects, by the way, making me wonder why all the visual effects crews listed in the credits were necessary. Maybe I didn’t register their subtlety.)

Chiang’s novella was originally offered as a PDF like The Martian. I’ve started doing that too, mainly because I can’t afford to publish everything I write. It’s comforting that someone in Hollywood still reads original sci-fi literature. (Watched an old Star Trek episode I’d missed last Saturday—so much better than ones from the other series because it was written by a REAL sci-fi writer, not a wannabe screenwriter). I just wish some titles were changed: Arrival is even lamer than “Story of Your Life.” Titles are important, but writers seem to be hooked on lame ones recently.

In libris libertas!

Movie Reviews #38…

Friday, October 28th, 2016

The Accountant. Gavin O’Connor, dir. I generally find the pretty-boy half of the Affleck/Damon duo (Good Will Hunting) overrated as an actor and a bad role model for all his philandering, so I was surprised when Ben Affleck as creative accountant Christian Wolff did a pretty good job in this movie. His highly functional autistic character, a money-manager for several criminal concerns, comes across as almost believable in this movie, but I’d like to hear what experts say. Like Rainman, Wolff is intensely focused and very good with numbers; unlike Rainman, Wolff had an Army father with a broomstick up his butt who thought the only way his son could protect himself from those who considered him different and bullied him was to beat the crap out of them. His brother Brax, played well as an adult by Jon Bernthal, is also a victim of his father who cares too much about his father’s treatment of Christian. In this sense, this movie can be seen as a general indictment against parents who end up destroying their children’s lives, and not just children with special needs.

There are several characters who are superfluous here. First, consider Treasury agents Ray King (played by J. K. Simmons) and Marybeth Medina (played by Cynthia Addai-Robinson)—I’d write one of these two out of the script. Medina is a token black good character (Hollywood’s answer to the Oscars fiasco?) where Hollywood couldn’t leave well enough alone, making the character have a shady past when she grew up in Baltimore (turns out it was only shady because “the system” made it so, maybe making that subplot into a wee bit of a pithy social statement). Too much attention is paid to these two, and then they become irrelevant (they don’t even show up for the climax). Simmons is an old agent who’s guilty of always looking for the “big case,” messes up with another accountant turned informer, and generally uses Medina’s past as leverage to control her. Maybe the two characters should be combined.


Movie Reviews #37…

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Birth of a Nation. Nate Parker, dir. Whew! A powerful movie, although my reaction was on a par with Nat Turner’s after his first victim. The buildup to the gore is the powerful stuff as the Turner boy grows up in slavery and becomes a preacher for his fellow slaves. The whites cover a wide spectrum here, from faux sympathies for their victims to indifference to out-and-out evil SOBs. My only real complaint about the story beyond the normal Hollywood distortion of history—Turner had several masters, I believe—is that the situation for slaves in the South during that era was much worse than depicted.

Parker, who also wrote the script, does a good job portraying the doomed Nat Turner.  Hammer does well as the alcoholic master Samuel Turner too. Mark Boone Junior as the Rev. Zalthall convinces Samuel Turner to take his black preacher on tour to preach to blacks on other plantations. In this way, Nat Turner is exposed to the general plight of Southern slaves and meets the evil despots who own them, some making his own master almost look like a saint. Turner builds up a network this way that forms the core of the rebels.

In spite of flaws—stretches seemed painfully slow, for example—this is one of those movies where you have to say, “How could this have been allowed to happen?”  Slavery, not the rebellion!  The U.S. can never cleanse slavery from the national conscience. It is our holocaust and white America the Nazis. It took us nearly a century to eradicate institutionalized slavery when all we needed to do was apply the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. It boggles the mind. But many things are like this, and we must look forward: the past is done, no matter how evil it was. We must take the progressive outlook, which includes never letting this ever happen again.

In libris libertas…   

Movie Reviews #36…

Friday, September 16th, 2016

Sully. Clint Eastwood, dir. I went into this flick with foreboding, the kind you get when an editor tells you your short story must be between 4000 and 5000 words long, and you have 2500, or your old high school civics teachers tells you that you have to write a paper on the entire industrial revolution in five pages or less. How can anyone possibly make a two-hour film about an event that took only 200+ seconds to unfold? I was expecting long flashbacks about the main character’s past.

There was some of that. I learned that Sully’s stupid flight instructor left him, an immature kid, alone to fly a plane anytime he wanted while the instructor went back to his crop-dusting business (flight instructors aren’t the brightest people on the planet, of course, when you consider they trained the 9/11 terrorists—people running the flight schools aren’t either). I learned that Sully was some kind of military aviator too, landing a fighter that was clearly in trouble—an attempt by Eastwood to show Sully was well-prepared to ditch an Airbus on the Hudson? No doubt the man was qualified—no one flies for forty years, much of it with commercial airliners, including the Airbus—without being qualified, but the flashbacks were just unimportant fillers.


Movie Reviews #35…

Friday, September 9th, 2016

Don’t Think Twice. Mike Birbiglia, Dir. I liked the characters, the plot not so much. An improv acting group dies a slow death when one actor (Keegan-Michael Key) hits the big time. The ending is as unsatisfying as the plot. That said, there are positives. This movie gives you a bittersweet and realistic glimpse into the hard life actors face in the competitive NYC theater world. Tami Sagher is great as the rich Westside pothead and Kate Micucci’s deer-in-the-headlights ingenuous eyes never cease to amaze me. This is almost a Woody Allen flick: lots of New York angst masquerading as comedy.

The Light between Oceans. Derek Cianfrance, Dir. My kneejerk reaction: ho-hum, another sappy Nicholas Sparks-type romance novel goes to Hollywood. I was half-wrong; the second part of the movie is that bad, or maybe worse than Sparks’s schmaltzy stories. The first half is slow and boring but saved by scenery and lush photography, an Ansel Adams goes to Australia, but in pastels. The author of the novel (not Sparks) the movie’s based on just about plagiarized familiar stories form the Bible: the foundling Moses in a boat is there, and Solomon is sorely needed to arbitrate between the birth-mother and the wannabe mother (it’s Hollywood, so why not twins in the boat?).

The most interesting thing for me was figuring out the title: after putting on my imaginary Sherlock Holmes cap and sucking on that imaginary pipe a bit, I concluded that the game afoot was that “the light” is what’s in the lighthouse. The second most interesting thing: lighting the light in the lighthouse, which I had to wait a long time for. OK, this flick might actually be better than Sparks’s efforts, but are those Aussie accents real? (Fassbender has my same genetic background, German-Irish, but there’s probably a reason his character doesn’t speak much in the film.) Swedish ex-dancer Vikander was better in Jason Bourne, although miscast there too, while I just don’t understand Fassbender’s popularity.  Guess they liked their roles as lovers, though—they’re continuing them in real life (without the pathetic pathos, I hope). Go see this flick if you need a two-hour nap in the AC (back to summer heat this weekend). My problem was staying awake so I could write this review!

In libris libertas!