Your Name–Anime Movie Review

5 Stars

Your Name (Kimi no Na wa) is a new film written and directed by Makoto Shinkai. It’s now showing in American movie theaters. Even better, it’s being shown in both dubbed and subtitled versions. I strongly recommend the subtitled version. But act fast–it’s not going to be in the theaters very long.

The animation quality is quite good and the writing is top-notch, probably the best thing that Shinkai has ever done. The plot is intricate but it hangs together very well. Unlike many of Shinkai’s stories it has a fully satisfactory ending.

I’m not going to say too much about the story to avoid spoilers. It involves two high school students. One is an awkward boy living in Tokyo who hasn’t given much thought to what he wants out of life. The other is a frustrated girl in a rural town in the mountains. She’s embarrassed by her duties as a miko at the local shrine, and wishes she lived in an exciting big city.

For some reason they start waking up in each other’s bodies on a regular basis. Afterwards the experience seems like a dimly remembered dream, but their friends tell them that they were acting strangely. Once they start leaving notes to each other they quickly figure out what is happening, but don’t know what to do about it.
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The Big Short–Movie Review

5 Stars
The Big Short poster
The Big Short by Michael Lewis is probably the best book (or at least the most entertaining book) about the origins of the financial crisis of 2008. But how would you go about making a movie of it, given that most of the audience will not be interested in a lesson on fixed-income derivatives? Maybe you could have Selena Gomez pop up and explain how CDOs work?

Actually this works surprisingly well. I found the movie version (IMDB) to be quite funny and entertaining as well as sobering.

The movie focuses on a few small-time fund managers who noticed a few years back that the economy had become increasingly dependent on a pyramid of complex financial instruments based ultimately on subprime mortgages (which had come to mean “loans to people who can’t afford to pay them back.”)
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens–Movie Review

4 Stars
The Force Awakens PosterThe latest installment in the Star Wars series has a new director (J. J. Abrams). Fans will be relieved to know that it is not like the prequels. It is much more like the original trilogy and fans of those movies will almost certainly like this one.

The only way you are likely to be disappointed is if you go in hoping for something new and revolutionary, something as game-changing as the first movie was when it first appeared. The Force Awakens is so derivative of the first movie that it feels a bit like a reboot. So don’t expect anything more than a first-rate popcorn movie. It fulfills that role quite well.
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The Martian–Movie Review

5 Stars
The Martian poster
OK, I know I’ve been lax about keeping this blog updated, but this movie inspired me to try to get back into it. The Martian (IMDB) is a very impressive movie. If possible try to see it while it is still in the theaters. Mars will not look nearly as impressive on a small screen.

This story of an astronaut (Matt Damon) stranded on Mars combines amazing technical verisimilitude with a surprising amount of humor. Of course it’s mostly laid-back astronaut humor, laughing in the face of danger and all that. But the overall effect is charming. The characters are quite likable. (That’s important since a story like this could easily turn into an exercise in checking off plot points.)

There are some obvious similarities to 1995’s Apollo 13 (IMDB) but that was based on actual events while The Martian is fiction, which allows it to go a bit more over-the-top. One may debate whether real people would act the way the characters do, and in some cases whether they should do so.
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Cinderella (2015)–Movie Review

3 Stars
Cinderella poster
I was interested to see what Kenneth Branagh, a director best known for his acclaimed Shakespeare adaptations, would do with Cinderella (IMDB). There have been innumerable adaptations of this story…and I wouldn’t say that this one is the best. (I particularly like 1998’s Ever After (IMDB)).

But Branagh was hired to do a live-action, non-musical remake of Disney’s 1950 animated Cinderella (IMDB) and he probably did as good a job as anyone could have done within those constraints. The movie looks great and adds some nice touches to the original Disney story.

I particularly like the way that the new version fleshes out the character of the Prince (Richard Madden) including his relationship with his father (Derek Jacobi.) The other roles are, as might be expected, pretty one-dimensional, but Cate Blanchett at least manages to make the Evil Stepmother seem believable.

The scenery and special effects look great, as one would expect. Whatever Disney’s faults, they can at least be counted on to deliver first-rate CGI. (As opposed to the cut-rate washed-out crap that we sometimes get from other studios.) It’s easy to shrug this off, but it really takes a lot of talent, money and effort to make these effects look seamless. I have to give credit where it is due.

I wouldn’t say that this is a great classic but it is a entertaining diversion.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel–Movie Review

3 Stars
Second Best posterThe Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (IMDB) is, of course, a sequel to the 2012 hit The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. And the title seems appropriate: compared to the original this is definitely “second best.”

Still it’s not too bad. It has an extremely talented cast and if you enjoyed the original there’s a pretty good chance that you will enjoy the sequel, though maybe not quite as much. It just doesn’t have the same level of energy and originality as the first movie.

The story picks up a few months after the first movie. Sonny (Dev Patel) and Sunaina (Tina Desai) are planning their wedding, but Sonny seems to only have time for his business plans. The hotel has become such a success as a makeshift retirement community that it is full up, and Sonny has decided to expand by buying a vacant hotel and fixing it up. But he needs a financial backer, so he and Muriel (Maggie Smith) fly off to America, hoping to affiliate with an American chain.
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Kingsman: The Secret Service–Movie Review

4 Stars
Kingsman poster
Kingsman: The Secret Service (IMDB) is a light-hearted action thriller based loosely on a British comic book. So it’s understandable that it is loaded with cartoon violence. (In an early scene a character is cut in half, lengthwise, with no blood visible.) But the movie is what it is, makes no apologies, and does what it does extremely well. I get the impression that the people involved had a lot of fun making it, and I had fun watching it.

Kingsman is packed with references to the classic James Bond movies. Once again we have a world in which debonaire gentleman spies armed only with wit, agility and some clever gadgets seek to defeat colorful supervillains bent on world domination (or worse.)

In a movie like this it’s important to have a good villain, and Samuel L. Jackson makes a great one. He plays Richmond Valentine, a tech billionaire who plans to end the threat of global warming by killing off 99.999% of humanity, preserving only a small group of elite survivors. His trusted assistant “Gazelle” (Sophie Cookson) is probably the most memorable evil henchman since Oddjob.
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The Imitation Game–Movie Review

4 Stars
The Imitation Game poster
Reviewing a biopic like The Imitation Game (IMDB) raises issues that don’t apply to average movie. Normally I prefer to review a movie in isolation for its entertainment value, without worrying too much about how accurately it represents its source material. But when the movie is about real historical figures and events can’t avoid asking whether it is telling the truth or misleading its viewers.

The issue can be particularly acute with a biopic of a scientist. Generally the most important thing about a scientist is his work, but too often the filmmakers have little real interest in this, or assume that the audience doesn’t. As an example of what can go wrong, consider A Beautiful Mind (2002) (IMDB). This is an entertaining movie if you approach it as a work of fiction, but considered as a biography of mathematician John Nash it is a tissue of lies. It misrepresents the nature of his work, the nature of his illness and practically every detail of his life.

So how does The Imitation Game stack up? To begin with, this biopic of Alan Turing, a pioneering mathematician, codebreaker and computer scientist, is quite entertaining and thought-provoking. On the other hand the filmmakers don’t deny that they have hyped-up elements of the story to make it more exciting and cinematic. Have they gone beyond the bounds of what is acceptable?
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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies–Movie Review

3.5 Stars
The Hobbit 3 poster
After watching the first two films of the series I felt I had to watch The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (IMDB) even though it might well turn out to be a train wreck. And I’m going to surprise you by giving it a marginal recommendation.

I’m not saying that this really is a good adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel. But my rule is that a movie should be judged on its own merits without reference to the source material. If this were an original work I think that most people who like such things would say that this is a pretty decent though somewhat uneven action-adventure fantasy.
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Big Eyes–Movie Review

4 Stars
Big Eyes poster
Big Eyes (IMDB) is a quirky biopic of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), the painter responsible for those slightly creepy pictures of children with big eyes that you have almost certainly seen. Millions of them were sold as posters in the 1960s and 1970s.

The movie was directed by Tim Burton who is a big fan of Keane’s work, and unlike most biopics it sticks pretty close to the truth.

The movie gets most of its energy from Christoph Waltz who gives a brilliant and disturbing performance as Margaret’s husband Walter Keane. Arguably Walter was responsible for Margaret’s success. A talented promoter, he turned her paintings into a multimillion dollar poster empire–all the while claiming that he had painted them himself.
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