Justice League — Nice Moves No Soul

6 out of 10; maybe a 5 out of 10 due to a waste of potential, and my dashed hopes and expectations. As I watched the movie, I wondered what was wrong, because a lot of it was right and yet there was no pulse. The thrill of caring was missing from a lot of the movie. Sometimes the actors and characters rose above the unremittingly gloomy fabric of the movie, but these were heroic acting anomalies and not the norm. In general, the movie was too dark, and the characters too psychologically flat or inconsistent. Even the music took itself too seriously. Josh Whedon, who directed the last twenty-percent of the movie, let me down.

It seems obvious where Josh Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Avengers, Age of Ultron) added in material to try to save the move. Likely any witty repartee, which is the basis of all of his successes, but here, it failed and he should have been able to see that it would. It was like taking a formal Victorian funeral dress, black and draped, and sprinkling a dozen small pink flowers onto it. They don’t help that dress; they just seem odd. Mired in darkness, the comic wit came and went too fast to be humorous, often handled badly by an actor who can’t do comedy or can’t wrap their head around doing it in their super serious superhero role. Ben Affleck actually did the best job trying to bridge the gap. I imagine Batman gripping each side of a bottomless chasm and grunting with the effort.

Alfred the Great

And now we get to why Alfred is the picture I chose for this movie because he exemplifies the fundamental flaw with this latest Batman version. (As this has been showcased in two previous movies, this is not a spoiler.) In Batman’s past, for me, Alfred was the highlight of every show: Batman’s foil. Humor against grim seriousness, love against cold, relentless duty. And Alfred humanized Batman by forcing him, from time to time, into his more kindly reality. This new Alfred is just as grim as Batman. He would not shed a tear at Batman’s grave. He’d probably be disgusted and make a slightly clever sneering comment. Without Alfred humanizing Batman, all other efforts in the Batman scenes were beyond even Joss Whedon’s magical touch or Ben Affleck’s competence.  Alfred is but one example of why this movie couldn’t be fixed in the last twenty percent of its creation, and why Josh Whedon shouldn’t have tried. It turns out, while Josh does great work, he’s not a film-making superhero. Sigh.

The fight scenes are well done. Wonderwoman and the Amazons were enjoyable, as always. The CGI villain, again, flat, which seems to be the norm in most superhero movies these days–might as well put angry faces on meteors coming to flatten earth.

SPOILERS BELOW

  • The Superman scenes with Lois and his mother were great. Amy Adams brings the human touch to every scene she’s in. Henry Cavill did a good job, too. For me, their scenes were the best in the movie.
  • Cyclops couldn’t control his body in one convenient part to add a fight scene but otherwise had no problems. Whatever’s going on with his merger of body and machine should have been handled more consistently and with enough detail for this conflict to be understandable. It also could have been used to bring drama to other scenes.
  • The Cyclops arc from being angry at being alive to wanting to live was handled well, and with very little screen time. It doesn’t take a lot of time to get it in there.
  • The Flash was supposed to be the comic relief, and he was, but it was too much to put on his little whippet shoulders with Batman as his straight man.  It didn’t help that I’d just seen Civil War the night before, where Spidey blew a similar role out of the park.
  • As Aquaman, Jason Momoa has brooding violence and sexuality down pat and can handle dark humor. Sensitivity did not work for him in the one scene he had to try it. Very awkward. The scene in Atlantis contained too little of his backstory and was too rushed, so we didn’t care anyway. A Nicole Kidman cameo as Atlanna, Aquaman’s mother, showing the conflict between them, would have done wonders for the Aquaman character and storyline.
  • The scenes with the normal family in the midst of tribulation were too rushed to care about them. I think it should have been cut to make room to provide more depth to Cyclops and Aquaman.
  • There were hints of (maybe) lust and affection between Batman and Wonderwoman, but they were too subtle and unfortunately all verbal. Wonderwoman was her least interesting in this movie and will continue that trend if she remains in icy widowhood. Next movie had better show some fire!

Going in Style Movie Review 2017

Going in Style gets a solid 4 out of 5 stars

Going in Style Trailer

Recall, 5 scored movies have the potential to become icons, legends:  The first three Star Wars movies, Blade Runner, Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz, Philadelphia Story, The African Queen, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.  (I also include quirky personal favorites like Tremors, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Secret of Roan Inish and most of the Marvel movies.)

A 4 is simply a movie I enjoyed!  Money well paid!

Our trio of clever, crotchety heroes are acted by Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin.  That’s really all I needed to know to go to the movie, but in addition there’s the eternally cute and sexy Ann-Margret (who thankfully still looks like Ann-Margret, though a bit more plump).  She’s like an amused, determined purring cat. Then we have the righteous mission against evil companies and banks, and a helpful rogue who has morals, and rescues cute dogs from ditches.  There’s slapstick, old people getting high, good oblivious people loving our cantankerous heroes.  Christopher Lloyd is a wonderful, perhaps senile, comrade who pops in to be silly from time to time.  Matt Dillion is a self-righteous FBI agent who wants to bring our righteous heroes’ down.

Not a complex plot, but the movie made me laugh several times and feel good at the end.  A perfect movie to have a low-key good time. Guaranteed. If you need complex, intellectual movies, or a lot of MMA and explosions, this is not the movie for you.  Also, it would be almost as much fun to wait and watch it on T.V.

Kong: Skull Island — Movie Review with some spoilers

I won’t tell you how it will end.  Maybe Kong dies, maybe he doesn’t.  But I couldn’t explain how wonderful this movie is without some spoilers.

This review is late because I wasn’t keen on watching this movie.  I hate how all of the other King Kong movies end.  I like Kong better than all of the people in all of those movies, and wish he had bullet-proof skin and could smash all those nasty little planes.  Maybe break a female gorilla free of her New York zoo prison, and escape to make little Kongs.  The worst was seeing Kong hit with all of those bullets, starting to fall, catch himself, and etc., etc. and etc.

If you felt the same way, early in this movie you will have your catharsis, finally.  Hmmmm.  There is smashing.

And then there’s a villain, because of the smashing.  A humorous sidekick.  A hero.  The acting is good enough.  The Kong CGI work is excellent.

Perhaps the finest actor of all is the 1970’s, brought forth in colorful and accurate detail.  I laughed out loud with fond memory when someone talking on the phone (handset) walked too far away so the phone (base) smashed to the floor.  I suppose younger people wouldn’t think it funny at all.  Vietnam war era music was front and center, and that’s always a good thing.

Human actors:  Tim Hiddleston (hero; Loki in the Marvel movies), Samuel L. Jackson (villain), John C. Reilly (humorous side kick), John Goodman (crazy professor) and Brie Larson (new-age Fay Wray).  I think John C. Reilly did the best with his role, but they all did well.  At first I didn’t even recognize Tim Hiddleston since he was so different from Loki.

I realize this isn’t really a 5 out 5 worthy movie, but I enjoyed it as much as any 5 out of 5 movie.  Never claimed to have high-brow tastes 🙂

If somehow you missed the trailer, here it is:  Kong Trailer

Santa Clarita Diet — Netflix Original

Enjoying a meat smoothy

I give this show a 4 out of 5 stars.

Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant (Justified) star in the Santa Clarita Diet, a Netflix Original television series.  It’s quirky, funny, gross, and somewhat addictive.  The acting is excellent and plots edgy and unpredictable, but the twists are fast and then the show moves on.  Perfect for brainless binging.  There are ten half-hour shows.  Season 2 has not been approved, but internet chatter is that it will be.

In the first episode, Sheila (Drew Barrymore) dies and comes back to life, much like herself but with no heartbeat,  fewer inhibitions and she can only eat raw meat.  Her husband, Joel (Timothy Oliphant), still loves her and is determined to support her no matter what.  And so it begins.  Nathan Fillian (Firefly, Castle) is in the first show, so that’s fun.  There is way too much graphic and bloody eating for children.

Olyphant and Barrymore play off each other very well, dealing with mom’s “new condition.”  They have a teenage daughter and a nerdy neighbor boy, both of which are well cast and entertaining.  The family dynamics as they turn from mundane dramas to this unending crisis is hysterical.

One important thing that didn’t fit and wasn’t explained in the first season:  not only do we have no idea how Sheila got this “condition” and died, but Joel looks delighted that she’s dead.  I looked at that scene again, and it’s not subtle and not a mistake.  Throughout the rest of the season, he appears devoted.  Hmmmm….

Goliath Review

Goliath, Amazon Series:  5 out of 5 stars

Goliath stars Billy Bob Thornton as a gifted attorney who is divorced, living in a motel, and drinking his life away.  Of course, there is a teenager who is down on dad but loves him too.  (The actress is obviously too old for the part, but let that go; she’s just filler and fades.)  As the name implies, Billy Bob (Billy McBride) takes on the evil giant and wins.  It’s okay to know how it will end because the ride is so thrilling, Billy Bob is so entertaining and the surprises just keep on coming:  lesbian love gone wrong, FBI friend and foe, mental megalomaniacs strife with weaknesses, good people crushed and crushing, small people improving, powerful people crashing, a hooker with a heart of gold-but-really-tin (poor thing), a wonderful brassy broad, odd ocean-death tempting and a lovely stray dog.  The only thing I hold against this show is that the dog is not given more food.  What a great package of eclectic bits.  I binged it over a few days.

The first episode is a little slow, but don’t let that concern you.  This episode sets the stage, like a diver fidgeting on the diving board before the plunge.  The diving board time is critical, but not the main event.

The series is eight 1-hour episodes long and free with Amazon Prime.  It might be worth paying for Amazon Prime just to watch this series.

Billy Bob is Back!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Movie Review

I give Rogue One 3.5 stars out of 5.

I enjoyed the feel of this movie.  It was very much like the first the Star Wars movies made.  The scenery, music, aliens, clothing, etc. were all flawless in this regard.  The story line fits seamlessly with Star Wars:  Episode IV A New Hope.  The CGI, voice mimicry, and actor choices used to make this so were outstanding.  The new droid was intelligent and witty — perhaps the very best droid to date!

As I watched this movie, I found myself well satisfied with all of these things.

But when it was over, as I  was walking out of the theater, I felt empty.  No one I watched the movie with said anything.  Not how great it was, or how bad.  I finally said, “Really liked that new droid,” to which everyone agreed.  Then we started talking about the superhero movie trailers with great animation.  (I intend to watch them all.)

What was wrong?

There was only humor with the droid, and my biggest emotional attachment at the end was with this droid.  Think about the amount of humor in the first three Star Wars movies made.  Think about them stripped of that humor.  This is what happened here.  Also, there were no good times.  There were numerous little scenes in the first three of people being people — yes, they were more interesting than most people, but they had heart and soul.  Rogue One is unremittingly grim.  Guardians of the Galaxy was a hit because of humor.  Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man is a hit in any movie because of humor.  The only thing good about the last Star Trek movie was its humor and everyone loved it.

The first three Star Wars movies made became legend because of humor.  Yes, these first movies had other great features, but without some good times and humor, they would have been like a meal made by a master chef with no salt and no beverage.  There would have been no prequels or sequels; we would have forgotten them long ago.

They need to get Josh Whedon (Buffy, Firefly, Avengers) involved with these Star Wars movies, and fast.

Jack Reacher: Night School by Lee Child

161115-night-school3 out of 5 stars.  I love Jack Reacher, but sadly not this book.  To review, a 5 out of 5 stars means that once invested in the book I don’t want to be bothered with sleep, people, feeding cats, etc.  I will read a 5 out of 5 book over all other available reading materials.  3 out of 5 means I finished it, and a 4 out of 5 is somewhere in between.  I fully expected this Jack Reacher book to be a 5 out of 5 as all have been before.  The first concern hit when I found out this Jack Reacher story  pre-dates, by many years, the main Jack Reacher story line.  But that has happened before and was done well.  Not this time.  This time I kept catching myself reading the news, cute little things on Facebook, etc., rather than reading this eagerly awaited book.

Jack Reacher is a carefully and masterfully balanced character, able to carry out our darkest desires with savage efficiency, and yet still seem noble and trustworthy.  As the book series progresses we learn bits and pieces about Jack’s past, and what made him as he is, and it all ties together beautifully.  These parts of the books are very satisfying.  Contrariwise, this book was all background and added nothing of interest.

Worse, while a carefully and masterfully balanced character, Jack doesn’t have much complexity.  To make the character seem younger, perhaps, some of the complexity that Jack had seems to have been stripped off.  He’s more chatty.  Even though life hasn’t beaten him up as much, he’s just as dark.  He’s not just self-assured, but cocky to the point of silliness, repeatedly.  The masterful balance is gone, and while it’s hard to describe why, there’s no doubt that this is true.  The supporting characters all lacked depth and seemed flat.  Yes most of the series’ supporting characters aren’t extremely detailed, but the character facets displayed always implied credible people.  That was missing as well.  I went so far as to check the cover carefully to see if there was a ghost-writer with a Lee Child outline, but found no evidence of it.

Have I gotten crankier about character definition?  Am I bored with Jack Reacher?  Stephanie Plum is about as simple and predicable as a character can get, and I’m already enjoying Janet Evanovich’s latest.  The last Harry Bosch book was great.  I don’t think it’s me.  I wrote this before checking any other reviews of the book and:  It’s Not Me

If you haven’t tried Jack Reacher, I don’t want to discourage you.  Every other book has been a 5 out of 5 stars, and there are a lot of them.  The link below has a list of all of the books in published order, and describes discrepancies with Reacher’s chronology in case you want to read them in chronological order.  I recommend reading them in the order they were published — that way the teasing bits of information on who Jack Reacher is build up nicely.  And then I’d stop before Night School.

Jack Reacher Books In Order

Before buying another Jack Reacher book, I’ll read the reviews.

Sadly, the Jack Reacher movies are not a fan refuge.  Tom Cruise is simply to small to play Jack Reacher — the whole world will react to him differently.  In spite of that, the first movie was okay; barely worth going to.  A close enough call so I did read the reviews on the new movie (Jack Reacher:  Never Go Back) and so will not spend money on that, either.

 

Hieronymus Bosch Detective Reviews (mostly the books)

boschPainter 1 out of 5 stars.  1400s Netherlands painter.  The picture to the left is an example.  One messed up person.  The only reason I mention it is that Harry Bosch was named after the painter.  His mother had a rough life.

Harry Bosch detective books, all of them, 5 out of 5 stars.  Great character, great books.

T.V. show based on Books.  Season 1:  3 out of 5 stars.  Bosch in my head from the books carried Season 1.  Season 2, 1st two episodes:  1 star.  Harry is weird in the shows.  By the second season, episode 2, he was a no longer worth watching so that’s as far as I got.

Michael Connelly has written 22 Harry Bosch novels, with another due out in November 2016.  I’ve read them all, and they are all excellent, driven primarily by the character of the protagonist.  He’s dark, he’s good, he’s troubled, he’s effective, he seems complicated but is actually very simple, he loves jazz (from before that was cool, heck, Harry may have made it cool), he loves LA, he’s dangerous.  The one thing the T.V. show got right was that the setting — Los Angeles — is a living, breathing, presence, like an aged and damaged beauty who can still seduce in dark and smokey bars.  Harry can be abrupt, difficult and rude in the books, but since the reader has access to the inside of his head, it usually is justified and always forgivable.

Each book has a murder mystery to solve, and these are well crafted.  The books are often described as being police procedurals, and the authenticity of how police departments function, from the bureaucracy, to methods, to the blue brotherhood, rings true.

This page will show you the order of the books, the first one being written in 1992.

Bosch series order

The only flaw in the series is that Michael Connelly didn’t seem to know how popular Harry would be, and started him too old, so the later books have little bits that lack credibility because by this time Harry is simply too old.  Just let that go.  Every time a Harry Bosch book hits the shelves I buy it, and drop everything else to read it.  I’ll be perfectly happy if Harry is still kicking butt and catching killers when he’s 90.

Below are the covers for the first three books.

bosch-1     bosch-2     bosch-3

If you want to watch the T.V. show, I’m begging you, please read a book or two first so you’re not put off by the show.  Even then, why not just read another book?  But if you must, it’s an Amazon original and free if you have an Amazon Prime membership.  The basic problem is, if there’s a gritty, difficult, very tough character it’s a razor edge to keep the audience on his side.  Succeed, and you’ve hit a home-run.  In the books, being able to see in his head and get context, it works very well.  Video, lacking that, plus some bad writing calls, made Harry increasingly unlikable who degraded over time so by the second episode of Season 2 he was sometimes both mean and ridiculous.  Not a good combination, especially when in competition with great shows (like Ray Donovan).

Excellent Phone Notification Management App

Like Darth Vader confronting Obi-wan, with this app, You will be the Master.  Tired of texts waking you up?  Tired of sales calls interrupting what you’re doing?  There’s no need to be limited to unique ring tones or blocking.  This app opens up a whole world of phone-control, and totally eliminates the feeling of being a slave to your phone:

Sound Profile +volume schedule

This app is for Android phones with Lollipop or Marshmallow operating systems.  I did have to pay $3.25 for the pro-key to get all of the features I wanted, but the convenience provided is well worth every penny.  The app does more than I use it for (as do most things electronic).  The reason I’m writing this review is because it does wonderful things for me that no other app I could find would do — I started off with what I wanted and searched and searched until I found this One App.

I wanted an app that would permit only phone calls to go through when I’m sleeping.  That’s all I wanted, but I got more:  the ability to block all calls from hidden numbers or phone numbers that not in my phone book (or both).  Don’t want to completely block them?  You can make the notifications really quiet so they can be ignored and checked later when more convenient.

160927-app

Each Sound Profile in the main menu, shown above, can be scheduled for times that suit you.  Then notifications (calls, notifications, multimedia, system and alarms) under each Sound Profile can be specified, including the option for unique notification types/sounds/volumes for hidden numbers or for numbers not in your phone book.  Exceptions can be added for any of these.

Personally, in Normal mode:

  • All hidden numbers are completely blocked.
  • For numbers not in my phone book, texts will come through with no notification, and calls come through very quietly.  This way I’m not bothered, but when I pick up my phone for some other reason I will see what came in.  (If the calls are blocked you will never know the calls were made).
  • Calls from my phone book are as loud as possible, since I often leave my phone in my purse.

For Night mode these are the same except phone calls are soft, and I get no notifications except alarms, and phone calls .

Bliss!

Here is a more complete description of what this app can do:

AppCrawlr Review

Aurora Teagarden Book Series Review

4+ out of 5 stars

real murdersAurora Teagarden is the star of a series of eight murder-mystery books, beginning in 1990 and ending in 2003, written by Charlaine Harris.  A ninth book is scheduled to be released in October of this year.  Other books written by Charlaine Harris include telepaths, vampires, werewolves and elves, and since Aurora is very small, the first book was ruined for me waiting to find out she had supernatural powers and was half elf, or something.  There is nothing supernatural at all in these books.  Most of this series was written early in Charlaine Harris’ career, and (for me) are not as good as the Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) or Midnight, Texas Trilogy books (both fantasies), which means I didn’t drop everything to read them and give people dark looks for interrupting me.  That being said, they were good enough that I binged the series and didn’t read any other book until I finished it, was up late several nights with one book or the other, and have pre-ordered the book scheduled to be released in October.

Aurora Teagarden is a diminutive (4’11”) southern bell librarian around whom murders happen with exceptional frequency.  She has a keen sense of appropriate polite behavior, is extremely insightful, and shows exceptional courage and physical bravery when absolutely required.  Her life and perspectives change throughout the books — Ms. Harris is not afraid to torture her character with shocks and losses.  The books are just as much about Aurora’s life-adventures and challenges as they are about the murder mysteries.  For me, these books were like peering into an alien land: the land of small-town Southern hospitality and sensibilities.  Social offenses that absolutely incensed Aurora would for the most part only have irritated me, or amused me, or I wouldn’t have noticed them at all.  And the people around her didn’t act like she was a loony, but like her anger was justified.

As an example (that gives away no murder plot details) Aurora was once asked out to dinner by an actress and other movie people.  At the restaurant, Aurora caught her hostess mimicking her mannerisms — not in a mocking way but to use them in the shaping of a character she was playing.  Honestly, this would have amused me.  I would have eaten the meal.  Aurora left in a huff, her friend chewed out the actress and the actress was embarrassed.

I feel there are clues here as to why I sometimes offend people and don’t know why, but it’s all so murky.

Lest you think you won’t like Aurora, you will.  We wouldn’t get along in real life as she’d keep flying mad for inexplicable reasons and that would tick me off, but being privy to the inside of her head changed all that.  It’s the psychology of Aurora, written in the first person and nailed beautifully by Charlaine Harris, as she’s faced with a variety of horrifying deaths, mysteries and personal upheavals that make this series so juicy and satisfying. The murder mystery part is handled very well, with enough subtle and well paced clues so that sometimes I was a little ahead of Aurora, sometimes behind but never too far off one way or the other, and only rarely figured out who done it in advance of Aurora — a critical but difficult thing for mystery writers to pull off.

The books in the series are:

  1.     Real Murders (1990)
  2.     A Bone to Pick (1992)
  3.     Three Bedrooms, One Corpse (1994)
  4.     The Julius House (1995)
  5.     Dead Over Heels (1996)
  6.     A Fool And His Honey (1999)
  7.     Last Scene Alive (2002)
  8.     Poppy Done to Death (2003)
  9.     All the Little Liars (2016) — scheduled to be released in October

Trivia:

  • Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire books were the basis for the HBO series True Blood.  The books will still be great fun even if you’ve seen the shows as the books are more complex, and the book plots diverge more and more from the shows’ as the stories progress.  The Southern Vampire book series is a solid 5 out of 5.
  • Hallmark has adapted several of the Aurora Teagarden books into two hour movies:  A Bone To Pick premiered on April 7, 2015; Real Murders premiered on July 26, 2015; and Three Bedrooms, One Corpse premiered on June 12, 2016.  Julius House is scheduled to show October 16th.  I just watched A Bone to Pick and it was absolutely horrible:  1 out of 5 stars.  I wish I could un-see it.  I hope the memories of these wretched cookie cutter, 2-demensional Hallmarked characters fade from my mind before the next book comes out.

— Jenny Tennant