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Archive for the ‘Two and a Half Stars’ Category

Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is a disgraced Swedish financial reporter. He was set up, basically innocent, but took on powerful people who didn’t like him. When he finds himself out of work with nowhere to go with his career, he takes on a dubious job from one of the wealthiest individuals in Sweden, industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christoper Plummer). The cover story is that he wants him to write his biography, but the actual objective is to find out what happened to Vanger’s niece, who disappeared without a trace 40 years earlier. He suspects one of the many eccentric family members killed her. When Mikael needs research help, he finds Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a 24-year-old hacker, who lives the life of a punker, but is an exceptional researcher and background checker. Lisbeth has her own demons to fight, but is ready to help Mikael.

This movie was produced in 2011. Oddly, I found another movie of the same title and based on the same book produced in 2009.

This film follows closely the plot of the novel by Stieg Larsson, which I reviewed here in 2010. Having now read the book and watched the movie, as usual, the book is way more detailed and descriptive than the movie, but both are reasonably good entertainment. If you checked my book review you will have noticed that I had decided not to read the other Larsson books, and ten years later I can say that I stuck with that decision.

The movie is rated R and not for the faint of heart. There are some really graphic torture and brutally violent rape scenes in this film that leave nothing to the imagination.

The story follows the plot of the novel closely, but even if you have read the book, the movie will be entertaining and fairly unique. We’re not used to watching action thrillers playing in “the old country” with its different mores and cultural norms.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Film Editing, and Rooney Mara was nominated for the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

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England’s King Henry IV was a tyrannical monarch who was involved in many wars. His oldest son Hal (Timothée Chalamet), the Prince of Wales, wanted nothing to do with his father and had no interest in the crown. The king had made plans for this second son to succeed him. While the king was on his deathbed, the younger son died in battle, and Hal had no choice but to ascend to the crown, becoming King Henry V. Palace politics and intrigues kept trying to entrap him, but he stood his ground. However, due to the machinations of courtiers, he was deceived into invading and attacking France, particularly as he considered himself to be the legitimate heir to the French throne too. The war in France was not easy, but he was victorious, largely due to the advice and experience of his friend and confidant, Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton). Key to the invasion was the famous Battle of Agincourt.

There have been many history books written about the famed Battle of Agincourt. I always like to read historical fiction, as it provides colorful and tangible detail and makes history come alive. One such book was Agincourt – by Bernard Cornwell, which I reviewed here about a year ago. It goes without saying that you’ll learn a lot more about the battle and the historical details by reading the novel, but movies are good at fleshing out some of the imagery, the costumes, the living conditions and the times in general. The movie The King does that superbly. It is loosely based on the Shakespearean “Henriad” plays, but not specifically any one of them.

The Battle of Agincourt is described in Cornwell’s book from the perspective of the common soldiers and the knights, who were basically at the mercy of the young and inexperienced boy-king. In this movie, the entire story is told from the point of view of the king. A very different story indeed.

King Henry V lived from September 16, 1386 until August 31, 1422. He took the throne of England on March 21, 1413 at the age of 26 and ruled for only 9 years until his death at the age of 35. He died in war, but it is not clear exactly how. Some suspect dysentery, others heatstroke, as he had ridden all day in full armor in terrible heat that day. He is celebrated as one of the greatest warrior kings of medieval England. When he died, his infant son, only a few months old, became King Henry VI of England.

Just watching the movie, The King, would be entertaining, but learning all the historical background around that time in history makes it all worthwhile. So I definitely recommend The King.

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Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a farmer in Mississippi during the Civil War. Rather than being a soldier in the Confederate Army, he chooses to be a medic, because he thinks that actually helps people. When his nephew is drafted and he asks for his help, he tries to save him to no avail. When his nephew dies in battle, a chain of events forces him to desert. He find refuge in the swamp with a group of runaway slaves. Safely hidden away, they gradually attract other deserters and farmers who have no interest in upholding a system that keeps the rights of rich people to own slaves. They secede from the Confederacy and form the Free State of Jones in the swamps of Jones County, Mississippi.

Their actions change local politics during and after the war, and have an impact far into the 20th century.

Free State of Jones is a hard movie to watch, as the cruelty against black slaves in the history of America is brought to the forefront. Racism still persists today in 2020 and watching this movie today illustrates the massive injustice that was and is being perpetrated in the name of race in the United States.

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It’s 2015 in Los Angeles. Poppy (Annie K. McVey) and her film crew are working on a documentary of homelessness in Los Angeles. As they walk the streets and parks where homeless people abound, they get approached by a man in an antique woolen brown uniform who speaks with an English accent. His name is Alistair (Guy Birtwhistle). He asks for their help. He is quick, in a nonchalant way, to tell his story: The last thing he remembers was being in the trenches in World War I in 1918, when a grenade hit. He flew through the air, and ended up landing on top of a shipping container in an industrial section of Los Angeles. He’s been here for a month and literally learned to live off the land, mostly by trapping squirrels in the park, which he roasts and eats.

He has a wife and a life in 1918, and he wants to get back. The film crew has a hard time believing him, and for the most part think he is a mentally ill person with a fantastic imagination. Only Poppy wants to believe him. She starts taking him in and tries to help him on his journey back.

Alistair1918 is a simple time travel story with an unlikely and far-fetched plot. But it works. Alistair acts like a man catapulted 100 years into the future, although he picks up modern skills astonishingly quickly. He seems to teach himself typing and learning how to use a computer and the Internet in record time. Cameras seem to come naturally to him. He is an excellent map reader and he seems to be able to figure calculations on the movement of worm holes (which are needed for time travel) very quickly. While the time travel technology is somewhat hokey, it works in this movie. The ending is surprisingly satisfying.

This is definitely a low-budget film, and as such quite successful. It was completed in 2015. Guy Birtwhistle wrote and produced the movie, and also starred as the male lead, Alistair. Annie K. McVey directed the movie, and also starred as the female lead, Poppy. With only a handful other actors, and very simple scenery, I would say Alistair 1918 is a successful, quirky, but enjoyable time travel movie.

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The History of Time Travel, filmed in 2014, is a fictional documentary about a man who invents the world’s first time machine. What is a “fictional documentary” you may ask?

The entire movie is being narrated by various “authorities” like the general shown above, as well as scientists, journalists, and others. The are being interviewed and they tell the story of Richard Page, a physicist who invents time travel. The story involves his wife and two sons, who eventually carry on his work. While the narrations take place, there are grainy scenes of the Richard and his contemporaries during various periods in history.

As you might surmise, a time machine will quickly attract the attention of the government and military organizations, as well as foreign adversaries, and they will do what they can to obtain the technology. With the technology being the ability to travel in time, things tend to get interesting.

There is no good synopsis to write for this movie without giving away its inherent cleverness. But clever it is. It does require careful attention, and I suspect it’s the kind of movie that would be best watched at least twice. It is now streaming on Netflix, so you can do just that.

Hint: It helps if you have busied yourself marveling about time travel, like I have, and I suspect I am rating it higher than I would otherwise.

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Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) is a middle-aged woman in 1985 who attends her 25th high school reunion. She has just separated from her husband Charlie (Nicolas Cage) who is also a member of her class. She runs into him at the reunion. The reunion does not turn out well for her, and she faints – and wakes up in high school in 1960, just before her own graduation. While she is her mature self, nobody else notices anything unusual and everyone treats her just like the teenager she is. She has all the knowledge she has gained throughout her life. After the initial shock and some adjustment, she realizes she might just have a chance to change things this time around. Of course, she treats cheating Charlie accordingly. But things get complicated quickly as one might expect.

Peggy Sue Got Married is a Francis Coppola film of 1986 that I had never before watched. Recently, during a Zoom meeting with a number of friends from high school in a virtual reunion, one of them brought up this movie as a nostalgic time travel story centered around reunions. That was the trigger for me to find and watch it.

I found it interesting that it came out right around the same time as the famous Back to the Future trilogy started, namely in 1985. There, Marty goes back 30 years into the past, to 1955, where Peggy Sue makes it to 1960. The experiences are quite similar in high school during that era.

I enjoyed the nostalgia of Peggy Sue Got Married. The movie has a lot of great scenes, it’s a little sappy at times, but the happy ending make it all worthwhile. If you haven’t seen it, I do recommend you find and watch it.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do it all over again? Would you, if you could?

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Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage) is a single man who lives the life of the rich and famous on Wall Street. It’s just before Christmas, and he rushes to put together a billion-dollar merger the night of Christmas Eve, when he hears that his former girlfriend, Kate (Téa Leoni), has tried to call him after many years. On the way home he has a strange encounter in a convenience store, and eventually he goes to sleep in his penthouse apartment.

The next morning is Christmas Morning. He wakes up in the New Jersey suburbs with his wife Kate, two little children, and a life apparently very different from the one he knows. He rushes back to the city to go to work and finish the deal, but nobody recognizes him. He gradually figures out he is in an alternate universe, where he has a lesson to learn: How to be a family man.

But he can’t help himself, and he muscles his way back to the business world, while playing husband and father at home. Will it change him?

The Family Man first came out in 2000, but it is just as valid and amusing now in 2020. I enjoyed watching it. Nicolas Cage is a very versatile actor and along with Téa Leoni, he tells an entertaining story with a happy ending.

 

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General McMahon (Brad Pitt) is a four-star general in the U.S. Army. He is a badass, he has the reputation of a tough soldier, his men admire him, and his country sends him to Afghanistan with a mission to …. do exactly what?

He is supposed to clean up the mess left after eight years of war and no strategic plan to win. But he can do it! There is no political will or support at any level to help him get the job done. His soldiers are tired and disillusioned. None of them believe in the mission they were sent to accomplish.

But yes, if they want him to liberate the country, he is going to liberate the shit out of the country, no matter what. So he forges ahead.

War Machine is a comedy, albeit a tragic one. It tells the story we have seen since 2001 on TV, night after night, starting with Bush, continuing with Obama, and on with Trump. We’re building a nation in Afghanistan, right!

I chuckled, I laughed, and I was sad and disheartened, because what I watched was satire.

Satire as real as life itself.

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It’s 1975 in Rhode Island. Small-time thugs Deuce (Theo Rossi) and Chucky (Clive Standen) are holding up pawn shops and jewelry stores, when they get the idea to rob two banks in the same day. But for that, they need help. They join forces with Gerry Ouimette (Don Johnson), also called “The Frenchman” in mob circles. Deuce and Chucky quickly get sucked into the New England mob underworld, where bosses run their empires out of prison cells.

Rather than robbing banks, Gerry has bigger plans, like stealing thirty million dollars directly from the mob by taking down a private vault hidden in a Providence fur storage business. This eventually turns out to be one of the largest heists in U.S. history.

Based on a true story, Vault is a view into the world of the mob in the 1970ies, and the life and times of the people getting sucked up by that world, including the women that somehow find it desirable to get involved with these guys. Vault is entertaining, at times comical and definitely thought-provoking.

After watching this movie, I was glad to go to bed in my middle-class house in my middle-class world.

Whew.

 

 

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I didn’t know what The Old Guard was about when I started watching it. For the first half hour I was completely confused and I was not able to follow the plot. I was close to turning it off when it finally came around.

Andy (Charlize Theron) leads a group of highly trained fighters and mercenaries who have obviously worked together for a long time. They only take on jobs that are for the good of mankind, or so it seems. What is odd about them is that they are immortal. They get shot or stabbed, and literally, within minutes they start healing rapidly, get up and fight right on. They are the ultimate weapon. Nobody knows how and why they have this gift and why it works. They also have a telepathic connection, where they sometimes can feel and see each other’s dreams.

When a pharma tycoon finds out about them, he sets a trap to capture them in order to study them and hopefully extract the secret of immortality. Suddenly their mission is not to save someone else, but it’s to get themselves out of the clutches of the murderous scientist who will stop at nothing to get his will.

The Old Guard has a slow start and is characterized by extreme violence and brutality. At times it feels like a video game rather than a movie. The plot is complex and confusing. When I was done watching, I felt like watching it again to appreciate it more and fill in the many blanks. The end sets it up nicely for a sequel.

 

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Just three days ago I finished reading and reviewed The ’86 Fix. It’s a time travel story, and I gave it a pretty dismal review and only one and a half stars. The story was “okay” but the ending was so bad, it really disappointed me. That’s when I realized I was simply set up for a sequel. When I wrote that review, I stated that I wasn’t going to read any more books by this author, let alone the sequel.

But since I was interested in what might happen to Craig Pelling next, just for kicks, I downloaded the preview anyway. After reading about five percent of the book, I changed my mind. Beyond Broadhall is the sequel to The ’86 Fix.

I just finished it, and it’s a better book. It’s getting 2.5 stars.

The story picks up right where the first book stops. It’s now 2017. Craig is in a mental hospital, basically imprisoned, for eleven months, while counselors and psychiatrists try to figure out what’s wrong with him and set him on a course to release him into society.

As soon as Craig is free, he starts researching, trying to find his parents, his wife Megan, his coworkers, and his nemesis Marcus. He realizes that rather than “fixing” things during his visit to 1986, he did far more damage to many innocent people’s lives than he could ever have dreamed. As revelation after revelation comes to him, he gets more and more disturbed – and wiser. When he finds his father, who is now a very decent man, and very helpful to his cause, he figures out that he didn’t really need to go to the past to “fix” things. He has the power right here and now.

Here is the problem with The ’86 Fix and Beyond Broadhall. They are not really two books. They are one book. The author should have put them together back to back, making them twice as long. Then he should have edited out about 25% of the fluff and boring stuff that wasn’t necessary, and it would have been a surprisingly entertaining and complete story. The total letdown of the first book, the terrible ending, would have just been one setback to the protagonist in the middle of the story, and it would not have been that bothersome. It would have also saved the author some awkward “backfilling” he had to do to give the reader of the second book enough knowledge for it to stand on its own. But then, I do not believe that anyone would read the second book without having read the first one.

I don’t have a problem with series of books. Some are done quite well. For instance, the Harry Potter books are a good example, or the “Pillars” series by Ken Follett. Each book can stand on its own. You don’t have to read the first one to enjoy the second one, even though in most cases, people will read them in sequence.

The ’86 Fix and Beyond Broadhall are not two separate books. They are one longer book with some boring passages, but a pretty entertaining story.

My advice to the author would have been to repackage the two into one.

So, if you want to read a low-tech time travel story that provides some lessons about what life is all about and how the decisions we make affect us and all those around us, buy both of those books, and read them back to back, without skipping a beat between the two. And you’ll have yourself a comfortable read.

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DuPont is one of the world’s largest corporations, and apparently one of the world’s most brazen polluters.

Dark Waters starts when a farmer with a box of videos walks into a law firm asking for help. He has farmed his land all of his life, but when DuPont bought the land next to his farm and started a landfill, the water in his creek quickly became poisonous.  All the livestock on his farm is dying. He finds grotesque deformities and strange behavior.

This movie is inspired by this true story and sequence of events that takes us from the 1960s to the current time. Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) is an attorney who works at a law firm in Columbus, Ohio defending DuPont. He eventually switches sides and takes on DuPont on behalf of the people in his home town in West Virginia. He is quickly ostracized by his peers, and even shunned by the townspeople. After all, DuPont is the main employer there, the company that puts bread on everyone’s table. They don’t want to know that the company also makes them all sick.

Reminiscent of Erin Brockovich or even Karen Silkwood’s true stories, Robert Bilott’s quest to get justice for his clients goes way beyond just a lawsuit.

We were shocked watching this movie, and we promptly, the next day, threw out our existing Teflon frying pans that we had been using for years and got new ones.

You just have to watch Dark Waters to find out why.

 

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Nicholas Hook was a common 19-year-old man in England in 1413. He had one gift: He was a superb archer and as a result he ended up in the army of King Henry V invading France. Henry V thought he was the rightful heir to the French throne, in addition to the English, and he thought God was on this side in his quest to claim what was rightfully his.

This story is about the legendary battle of Agincourt, about which many scholars of history have written numerous books. It tells the story of that invasion in vivid detail from the point of view of the common man. We get drawn into the lives of the people, the thinking of the nobility and the clergy at the end of  medieval Europe during the Hundred Years’ War.

Life was rough. Lords had the power of gods and could do anything they wanted. Clergy was revered and utterly corrupt. All evil deeds were somehow done on behest of God and great suffering was inflicted on the people, through taxation, backbreaking labor, and relentless abuse. During war, the boys and men of the losers were killed, and the women raped and enslaved. This was just how life was.

Agincourt is full of terrible, endless violence. Here is an example of a battle scene:

“Stay tight, stay tight!” Sir John bellowed, making sure there was a man to his left and Sir William to his right. You fought shoulder to shoulder to give the enemy no room to pierce the line, and Sir John’s men-at-arms were fighting as he had trained them to fight. They had stepped over the first fallen Frenchmen and the second line of English were lifting enemy visors and sliding knives into the eyes or mouths of the wounded to stop them from striking up from the ground. Frenchmen screamed when they saw the blade coming, they twisted in the mud to escape the quick stabs, they died in spasms, and still more came to be hammered or chopped or crushed. Some Frenchmen, reckoning themselves safe from arrows, had lifted their visors and Sir John slammed the poleax’s spike into a man’s face, twisting it as it pierced the eye socket, dragging it back jellied and bloodied, watching as the man, in frantic dying pain, flailed and impeded more Frenchmen. Sir William Porter was stabbing his lance at men’s faces. One blow was usually enough to unbalance an enemy and Sir William’s other neighbor would finish the job with a hammer blow. Sir William, usually a quiet and studious man, was growling and snarling as he picked his victims. “God’s blood, William,” Sir John shouted, “but this is joy!”

— Cornwell, Bernard. Agincourt (p. 402). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.

A good third of the book describes such atrocities. Skulls crushed by hammers and axes, a thousand eyes poked out by knives, swords rammed into bowels and twisted up to the lungs and hearts.

It is graphic and realistic, but it was too much for me. At times I’d start skimming over the battle scenes, as I simply didn’t need to know about every stabbed eye socket anymore, and I wanted to move on.

This was my first Cornwell book. It was recommended to me by colleagues as great historical fiction, and I found that it is. There are countless other Cornwell books, probably just as vivid and graphic. It was well written and very educational, but unlike other fans of Cornwell that end up binge-reading all his books, I think I am done and ready for other subjects.

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Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with Down syndrome who lives in a residential nursing home because he has no relatives and is under the supervision of the Department of Social Services with the state. He feels imprisoned, and realizes that he does not belong there. Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) is tasked to keep watch over him and take care of him. She does it with kindness and dedication.

But Zak needs to get out. His dream is to become a professional wrestler, and he wants to start by enrolling in the wrestling school run by his idol, Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), in Florida. With a little help from his elderly roommate and friend (Bruce Dern) he breaks out one night and does not come back. He runs into an outlaw on the run named Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) and the unlikely pair team up against all odds and start heading south. First stop: Salt Water Redneck’s wrestling school.

Reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine, a group of unlikely underdogs make their journey and come out better on the other side.

This is a feel-good movie for all of us and it makes us think about our place in society, and those who are not as fortunate as we are.

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In 1968, when I was a young boy of 12, I enjoyed learning about cars. I was impressed with the Ford Mustang, but my all-time favorite car was the Ford GT40. Of course, I never, ever saw one in real life. I had to be satisfied with pictures.

Ford built the GT40 as a race car, specifically designed to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race that was dominated by Ferrari in the early 1960s. One of the requirements to compete in the Le Mans was that the company had to build at least 25 road-going versions of the car they were racing. Ford built 31 GT40 Mk I street cars. Nowadays they sell at auctions for over three million dollars each.

The first time I ever saw a GT40 in real life was at the Escondido Hot Summer Nights a few years ago. Escondido is my home town. On Friday nights in the summer, they close down Grand Ave for an all-town party. Car lovers bring in their babies by the dozens, maybe hundreds.  All the restaurants are open, and it makes for a great outing – and an occasional sighing of a classic, like the Ford GT40.

The movie Ford v Ferrari tells the story of the legendary American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who worked with Ford on the GT40, and the daring driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), as they built a car from scratch, in record time, against all odds, to beat Ferrari at the Le Mans.

The movie is over two-and-a-half hours long, but worth every minute of it.

Christian Bale did an amazing job in this movie. He had to lose a large amount of weight to fit the role. Remember, this is the same actor that played Dick Cheney in the movie Vice in 2018. See this article for a picture of the same man for these two extreme roles. I find he is unrecognizable.

I didn’t know much about racing in the 1960s, and this movie taught me a lot. And I got to see the Ford GT40 in action. What more could this 12-year-old boy in the body of a 63-year-old man want on a movie night?

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