Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Movie Reviews #50…

Friday, September 15th, 2017

[First a bow to great science…]

Ode to Cassini

Copyright 2017, Steven M. Moore

Disappearing under Saturn’s robe,

There goes the Cassini probe.

With mechanical courage it took flight

And began its journey into the night.

It nobly pursued the scientists’ quest;

Now it will receive a deserved rest,

Out there among the rings,

Dreaming as only machines can dream.

[And now an ode to QWERTY…]

California Typewriter. Doug Nichol, director. My home state California is a big state with a lot going on, some good, some bad, but who knew it was the typewriter capital of the world? Sort of. This documentary takes its name from ye olde fix-it shoppe in Berkeley where two old guys and one guy’s daughters give typewriters new life. But it’s really about a bunch of old men obsessed with typewriters (OK, there are a few young ones and some old and young women too). Notable among them you’ll find Tom Hanks and John Mayer. John and the sculptor, Jeremy Mayer (no relation, I presume), who makes sculptures out of old typewriter parts (he destroys them instead of fixing them), offer the most profound statements, though. The film is really about writing and the technology’s advance. It kept me riveted as much as a Hollywood blockbuster. It could do the same for you, especially if you’re nostalgic about these machines. It’s not just for nerdy writers and people with their OCD disorders directed at typewriters, though. And it’s a welcome respite from a rather dreary Hollywood summer of throw-away movies.

***

Book sale: Some authors bundle a series or part of a series.  Here’s an alternative: from now through September 30, all three books in the “Clones and Mutants Trilogy” are on sale only AT SMASHWORDS, $1.99 for each ebook, reduced from $2.99—that’s one-third off.  The clones make their appearance in Full Medical as part of a complex government conspiracy, they combine forces with the mutant in Evil Agenda to thwart another plot, and they all save the world in No Amber Waves of Grain.  These aren’t comic book characters like X-Men—they’re real people who work to halt an apocalyptic future.  Use the link and go directly to Smashwords, enter the coupon codes during checkout, and get hours of fall reading for only $3.  (Amazon addicts, did you know Smashwords also sells .mobi files for your Kindle? They handle all popular ebook formats and distribute to many retailers and lenders—Apple, B&N, and Kobo included.) Pass the word about this sale to your relatives and friends. And, for librarians purchasing ebooks for their libraries, I’ve reduced the price of most of my ebooks on Smashwords for library purchases. Use the link to see my entire catalog.

In libris libertas…

Movie Reviews #49…

Friday, August 18th, 2017

[Before reading this review, please read my “Monday Words of Wisdom: Special Edition.” This movie takes on new meaning in the dark and somber aftermath of what happened in Charottesville.]

Detroit. Kathryn Bigelow, dir. I wasn’t enthusiastic about going to this movie. I’d seen Zero Dark Thirty; Bigelow’s emphasis in that movie changed the story too much. And, when the director becomes the story, I feel the movie already has one strike against it.

Another reason for my lack of enthusiasm is that Zero Dark Thirty was one-sided. While I’m 100% against terrorism, I recognize that many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s homeland, magnify the universal and historical gap between the poor and rich elites, whether these be initiated by old colonial powers or current despotic and medieval regimes and theocracies.

A third reason finds its basis in this question: can a white person in this country ever manage to communicate the story about the sixties unrest occurring in America’ large cities from Boston to LA? As a white author, I don’t think I could do it, although I’m not a fan of the anti-cultural appropriation crowd. I haven’t experienced racial discrimination en carne propia (a Spanish expression from another minority currently under attack that means “in my own flesh”). I could analyze this history like a doctor analyzes her or his patient, but this analysis would probably fail because I didn’t experience the pain.

Ms. Bigelow manages to portray the pain. Some viewers might think the white cops, the villains, are given too much screen time. I think this is positive—the director doesn’t try to hide the bigotry and hatred of their racism—but the focus is more on the personal stories of black frustration in the inner city, and it’s powerful history and a warning for our present.

Of course, Ms. Bigelow also directed The Hurt Locker. You take some facts and fill in the parts you don’t know, and you have a film inspired by true events. Add some good acting and get a good director, shake and do not stir, and you just might have an Academy Award winning film. Detroit is high on my list for the latter.

Unfortunately the movie is depressing. First, the cops got away with murder. Second, and more importantly, the racial tensions, hate, and bigotry exhibited in the film still continue. Dr. King’s dream of a colorblind society with equal opportunity for all still doesn’t exist in America. Instead of preparing people for the new jobs of the 21st century, we leave them living desperate lives or put them in jail. Desperate people do desperate things, and the people creating the desperation are to blame.

(more…)

Movie Reviews #48: Dunkirk…

Friday, August 4th, 2017

Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan, dir. It’s hard to tell how much Hollywood destroys history in this one. The story told here focuses on three persons—a no-name Frenchman posing as a Brit (Damien Bonnard), a British fighter pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy), and the crusty skipper, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), on his way to Dunkirk with his son and the son’s friend. This focus makes the huge evacuation a personal story for these men who are probably only representative of the many personal and untold stories related to the operation.

The movie doesn’t portray the big picture, in fact. It’s available in IMAX, but there aren’t small boats, the Brits lined up on the beach don’t look desperate enough, and I’m sure the air battle waged to protect the ships was much more intense. That said, this is worth seeing. Ubiquitous Hollywood war movies generally focus on the U.S. role, but this is all mostly British with a wee bit of French, a fitting tribute to the fact that the Brits, defying all odds, stood their ground against the Nazis. Dunkirk was a huge loss—continental Europe became part of the Third Reich—but at the same time it was the beginning of the end for Hitler, who was never able to overrun Britain. Later the Brits would bring Nazi Germany to its knees with the continuous bombing raids on the fatherland carried out by the RAF.

There were slow points in the movie and at times the dialogue was either lost or garbled, but this movie is more visual, and there is plenty of action. Obviously there are scenes of violence. And thanks go to Hollywood for not sticking syrupy romance into the plot. I only remember one woman, a nurse who was directing soldiers who had carried the wounded into the hold of a ship early on in the movie.

The film isn’t without controversy, though. Mr. Bolton, the pier master, played by Kenneth Branagh (a small role for a famous star, to be sure), was based on a historical character, Mr. Clouston, and he was instrumental in saving 200,000 troops at Dunkirk. Commander Clouston died on the last boat out of Dunkirk. Why the name change? His son is justifiably furious. Emma Thomas, Branagh’s wife, tried to weasel out of it. I’ll take this opportunity to recognize the father here. Hollywood should learn to NOT change history, even if the tinkering is small. The name change was unconscionable. I apologize to all the heroes of Dunkirk and their families on behalf of Hollywood; Thomas said all names were changed to protect the heroes. Huh? How ‘bout honoring them? I hope Hollywood recognizes that many Yank moviegoers wouldn’t condone these historical changes…ever.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format at Amazon and at Smashwords and its affiliate retailers. It’s available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it). Happy reading!

In libris libertas…

Movie Reviews # 47…

Friday, July 21st, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes. Matt Reeves, dir. Andy Serkis (of Lord of the Rings fame, as Gollum) does another incredible job as Caesar, the leader of the apes. I liked the ape actors better than the human ones, and for good reason (see below).

Starting with Boule’s book, these stories have never been good or believable sci-fi. Sure, a virus can cause major changes (see my More than Human: The Mensa Contagion, for example), but producing intelligent apes who spend most of a movie on horseback doesn’t qualify as a reasonable futuristic extrapolation. For this movie’s plot, some reviewers have mentioned a parallel with The Ten Commandments (curiously Charlton Heston was in that one as well as the first Planet). I’d go further: This is the biblical Exodus story!

I was sitting in the theater thinking, “The screenwriter has plagiarized this story from somewhere. It’s too familiar.” Walking to the parking lot, it hit me. Can you plagiarize the Bible? Guess so. That aside, you can’t help cheering for the apes; human beings are definitely the bad guys here. The apes are the Jewish slaves from the Exodus story; the nasty humans are the enslaving Egyptians.

I’m not sure who the little girl represents. She’s the only good human around, that’s for sure, but both she and the evil human colonel can recognize the humanity in the apes, especially Caesar. Maybe Reeves wrote her in so not all humans are bad, or he was trying to avoid critics who might scream that he’s sexist. Unlike the original with Heston, there aren’t really any women in Reeves’s trilogy.

This movie is better than the average summer drivel that’s been served up by Hollywood. Wonder Woman beats it as an action flick, though. We’ll see how Spidey does—I wasn’t impressed by the previews.

Aren’t you getting tired of these franchise remakes? Maybe the remake of Murder on the Orient Express will finally kill you with indigestion—I hope not. Can’t they do anything original anymore in Glitter City?

***

Rembrandt’s Angel (a mystery/thriller from Penmore Press). To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. This book is available in ebook format at Amazon and at Smashwords and its affiliate retailers. It’s available as a print version at Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore (if not there, ask for it). Happy reading!

In libris libertas!

Movie Reviews #46…

Friday, June 9th, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Ronning and Sandberg, dirs. One thing I strive for in my series of books is consistency. In the five movies in this movie series, there is none. I guess Disney doesn’t care as long as the movie makes money. If you take it as a stand-alone, it’s a mixed bag, with other flaws I will describe.

Depp is his usual mumbling, bumbling self as Jack Sparrow, of course. Bardem is OK as Salazar, although he tends to overact. Rush is much better as Barbossa (obviously the better actor in the trio). And I didn’t care at all for the romantic duo, so I won’t even tell you who they are.

If you think this looks awfully like the previous movies (emphasis on the “awfully”), you’re right. Magic and fantasy take precedence, of course, and the movie plays the usual havoc with history, a characteristic of Hollywood in general and Disney in particular. I’m just tired of the whole series—more tired of it than the Star Wars one. Maybe people go for the driving music (it gave me a headache) and the visuals (often blurred and lost in obscurity).

I guess that production crew of thousands listed in the credits must stay employed. Speaking of the credits, there’s an end piece after the credits that tries to set up another “sequel” (without the consistency, though, it’s hard to call any one movie the sequel to the previous one). If you haven’t reached the two-Excedrin level with the music, which accompanies that long list of credits, wait for the end piece and tell me via email what sequel they’re trying to set up—another ho-hum movie adrift in blockbuster seas?

Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins, dir. I’m not sure this is the celebration of feminism that reviewers want it to be, but it’s a lot of fun, and it features a kick-ass female who reminds me of some of my own characters. Gal Gadot does a great job as Diana and Chris Pines excels as Steve, the British spy who lands a stolen German plane in the Amazons’ lagoon. Viewers can debate which actor, Gadot or Lynda Carter, is more ravishing, but they’re both ex-beauty queens. I suspect Gadot does a lot of her own stunts; she taught combat during her tour in the Israeli army. Look for more Gadot in future films.

This is an origins story that’s a bit long and convoluted with some obvious questions like: What became of the German battleship? Why did the villain send the heroes to the WWI frontlines instead of killing them outright in London? Why doesn’t Wonder Woman grow old if she grew from a child to a woman? And why did her mother worry about her safety in training as an Amazon warrior knowing her secret past?

Again, the driving, pounding music gave me a headache, but that’s par for the course in these Hollywood action thrillers. Visual effects are fantastic, though.

If you like these movies derived from comic characters (the first for Wonder Woman if you discount her brief appearance in Batman v. Superman—which just about stole the show, I might add), this is a great movie to see.

***

Rembrandt’s Angel. To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. Published by Penmore Press, this novel is available in ebook format at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, and Apple, and in print through Amazon or your local bookstore (if they don’t have it, ask them to order it). Great summer reading!

In libris libertas! 

Movie Reviews #45…

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Alien: Covenant. Ridley Scott, Dir. What! Another prequel to that great sci-fi movie Alien? This one “fits” in between Prometheus and that first movie. Whereas the first move featured a bunch of gruff, seasoned interstellar miners who didn’t pay much attention to Ripley—they all worked for an evil corporation—this tale is about a colony ship carrying hundreds of colonists in cryosleep and thousands of frozen human embryos. I liked that old mining ship better. And here there’s no evil corporation. (Funny how sci-fi movies have the theme of an evil corporation. I guess the screenwriters didn’t want to duplicate the first movie or bring to mind Avatar.)

The crew here also seems to be badly unprepared for the voyage too—screamers not knowing what to do in an emergency, a religious fruitcake (nothing is made of this in the movie, though, so why was it included?) who inherits the job of captain, and a protagonist who’s a bit teary all the way (with her lack of fortitude, she can’t begin to compare with Ripley, except for one scene towards the end that plagiarizes the second movie). Covenant is the starship’s name and is basically run by Mother. AI, supercomputer? No one knows. Mother is a bit stupid, though, because she isn’t able to distinguish between the two androids. Sure they look alike—both played by Fassbender in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide roles—but Mother shouldn’t be bothered by physical look-alikes because she only “sees” their inner electronics. Fassbender’s probably the best actor here, by the way, but that’s not saying much.

Bottom line: this is a mixed bag, and I’m getting a bit tired of this whole franchise. The good: The fantastic visuals and eerie music. The bad: All the acting. The ugly: Ridley’s obsession with the idea that humans were created by aliens. While the latter is a common theme (I liked the short sci-fi story where we’re all descended from space vermin, “rats” fleeing a doomed starship—does anyone remember the title?), and was carried to the extreme in Arthur C. Clarke’s last Rama book, it always begs the question of who created those creative aliens. Zeno’s Paradox doesn’t apply here, and I can’t even place it in the Darwin evolution v. creationist debate’s spectrum (aliens aren’t gods), but if you care, you can ask Scott.

***

The Collector. In #5 of the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” the detectives set out to solve the murder of a Manhattan art dealer. After twists and turns, they discover that the crime leads to something perverse financed by stolen artworks from the Gardner Museum in Boston as collateral. This intriguing and profoundly disturbing mystery/thriller/suspense novel is the crime-fighting duo’s toughest case so far. It also introduces Scotland Yard Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone, the protagonist of my new book Rembrandt’s Angel (Penmore Press). The ebook The Collector is on sale now at Smashwords in all ebook formats; use coupon code SV28G. My new novel Rembrandt’s Angel is available in ebook format on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, and Apple and will be available in print format on Amazon or at your local bookstore via Ingram (if they don’t have it, ask them to order it).

In libris libertas!

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!