Empire of the Sun

Wealth set against a background of poverty is an excellent canvas for a coming of age movie. Our protagonist, Jim, loses his parents, their money and his “way.” What follows from there is a magical journey of fighting, surviving, and ultimately surrendering. The transformation teaches us something about our own lives.


Empire of the Sun (1987)

Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson

Directed by

Steven Spielberg

Written by

J.G. Ballard (novel), Tom Stoppard (screenplay)

Other Info

Drama, History, War
Rated PG
2h 33min

Spielberg made this film true to the time and to the international conflict of that time. Still, it’s a universal coming-of-age journey. Jim is the young English boy who is living in Shanghai, China in the lap of luxury. His parents pay a servant to look after him and feed him since they are often gone. We hear a little from the father about the situation and the mother is close-lipped. When WWII begins, tables are turned on Jim. The whites are being forced out of Shanghai after Pearl Harbor set the war in motion.

From there the movie starts speeding up. It becomes the journey of young Jim and there are many hurdles along the way. John Malkovich is a street savvy white man who sort of takes Jim in. This adds a compelling acting set to an already alluring introduction.

Jim is verifiably bratty. In the early scenes he bosses his nanny around and reminds here that she “must do what [he] says.” When the reversal of fortune occurs, he tries ordering her around again and she surprises him with an act of disrespect. He is blown away.

The separation from his parents and the complete lack of money brings Jim to his knees. With a sullen, oil stained face, we staggers around looking for his parents. HE reveals what a spoiled kid he is through these scenes. He even tries to surrender at one point but the soldiers just laugh at him.

My word to the wise: This film is about Jim’s journey. It’s an everyman journey to be sure. I feel Spielberg used his common approach which is using metaphor to illustrate the human journey we are all on. It could be a war zone in China or a backyard with an alien in it. There are always personal human conclusions to draw from his film. Yes, Jim is a brat, we are meant to hate him in the beginning. But is he so different from us? As you watch this movie, ask yourself if you could have been the same way without the same advantages we have. This is not a movie you merely watch, you feel it. Jim undergoes a telling transformation. In fact, there is a lot being taught to us my Steven Spielberg Because it’s an artful film that speaks eloquently to the human condition, I highly recommend it to you.

X-Men: Apocalypse

A handful of elements are here that I could mention to promote this film. It works well on so many levels. The only question I really had while watching was: “Is it too long?” After the energetic applause at the end in the sleepy town theater I watch movies in, I’d say they got this length just right.


X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence

Directed by

Bryan Singer

Written by

Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg

Other Info

Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Rated PG-13
144 min

First, the Spolier Free Zone!
James McAvoy as Professor X (Charles Xavier) and Michael Fassenbender as Magneto are back in what is sure to be one of the most highly expensive and possibly the greatest earning film of the X-Men franchise yet. Of course, that’s an opinion which is fitting in an op/ed review by a largely unpaid blogger. It is however, my strong feeling.

These movies have so much going on. For the “X-Laymen” like myself, it can be difficult to follow all the little innuendos and stories going on simultaneously. I put that there as a disclaimer to assuage the more rabid fans of X-Men. I do my best here.

The story is about an early campus that looks more like a house where the X-Men mutants are in a school run by Charles Xavier. Now, speeding through time way back to the Egyptian pyramid times, we have the opening shot. Sabah Nur is a worshipped king (of sorts) who, through the help of a mutant, is able to become immortal.

He’s evil, never a question about it. Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year) plays this role in a quite hate-able manner which fits in well with other roles he’s played. To make a short summary stop here, he awakens in the time aforementioned and tries to take down the whole world with the help of the X-Men. Yep, that’s the bare bones of it. I could say so many good things about this movie. I loved the characters in this I haven’t seen before (or at least not much). Olivia Munn is one of Apocalypse’s “henchman.” She does a fantastic job and I really hope she turns good so we can see her in new movies. For effects and multiple characters doing exciting things onscreen, I highly recommend this film. It is a tad long at 2hr 24min so bring caffeine. Having said that, what a ride! I can’t wait to see it again.

Next, Spoilers may follow!
My word to the wise: Charles Xavier’s love affair with Moira McTaggert is hovered and hovered over until finally they delve into it fully. Because I am a romantic at heart, I loved this story. Some will find it overly sentimental. The evil folks make evil look really good in this film. They do a lot of destruction. There is a scene when a bomb hits the X-Men school that is a work to make Lucasfilm jealous.

The history of Magneto AKA Erik Lehnsheerr (Michael Fassenbender) is quite elaborately explained. I did wonder, because it was rather long) why they didn’t have an “Origins” film on him the way they did on Wolverine. Perhaps they don’t want us to get too close to him. Nightcrawler (Kodi Scott McPhee) is absolutely hilarious. He strikes me as a secondary character in a movie but I almost could see him having his own movie. He’s a lot funnier than Captain America ever was. So there you go!

Things to Ponder:
Does a franchise as successful as this merit ticket-buyers or does it have to earn people’s money again, every installment?

Why are we shown that “good” is better in this film. The evil mutants seem to be having a LOT of fun? How could they have shown that good is a better choice in this film?

Who is more fun to watch in film: Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) or Professor X (Patrick Stewart)

Feel free to leave a reaction to one or more of these questions, or about the film.


Sing Street

Imagine this: You’re 15 years old and your parents have announced they are separating (because divorce isn’t permitted in Ireland). You love a girl who has an older boyfriend. A bully gives you a black eye every day AND the other one is blackened by your school master. What do you do to thrive in this? How about write some songs with a loner friend and start a band! There you have this film’s basis, and what fun it is from there!


Sing Street (2016)

Fredia Walsh-Peelo as Conor “Cosmo”
Lucy Boynton as Raphona
Jack Reynor as Brendan

Directed by

John Carney

Written by

John Carney

Other Info

musical, comedy, drama
Rated PG
1h 45min

“Sing Street” is a movie made and produced in Ireland. It is the fictional story of a 15 year old in Dublin in the year 1984 who goes to a bad school where he is bullied and who can’t seem to get a break in his young life. He meets a girl who describes her occupation as “a model” and becomes infatuated with her. In hopes of wooing her, he starts a pop band of misfits as it were but the invention has legs and the band becomes a small town sensation. The main gist of the film is the singer, Cosmo, who does an excellent job of relating his life experiences into songwriting. All the elements one can imagine of adolescence and the recession on the early eighties are upon he and his family. Through music and songwriting, there is triumph. Apart from the virtual success, this film might as well have been the story of my life at 15. I was learning to write songs and perform in my band at that time. As a result, I completely identified with this amazing film.

I suppose in my case, the main difference is I never truly “got in the boat” leaving home to seek fame. My girl would come after I was a teacher for 3 years at age 33, not a rock star at 15. This film is delightful. I love the characters, they are all so well developed. My favorite one is Cosmo’s brother, Brendan, played by Jack Reynor. He is the “sage” hash smoking college dropout that helps Cosmo find the differences between musical styles the likes of “Hall and Oates” and “The Cure.” Other bands’ music is featured in the movie and the original music is stellar. I am already in search of the soundtrack. The song at the end which is something to the effect of, “If you don’t go now, you’ll never know” gave be goosebumps. I hope to recreate that experience once I find the song! Sing Street is one of my most favorite films I have seen in years. It portrays the angst of a teen with his world falling apart, He makes a way through it all and we love to watch it! I highly recommend this film to you. Unfortunately it is in limited release so you may have to wait for it to come out on DVD. It is playing at select theaters still here in Redlands California, USA.

7 Minutes

What happens in the span of 7 minutes is the result of a lifetime of choices. This is a bank robber movie that should win tons of editing awards for the amount of times it flashes back. Though imperfect and without accomplishment in some ways, the film uses a clever framework to tell the story of a bank robbery in staggering detail.


7 Minutes (2014)

Luke Mitchell, Zane Holtz, Jason Ritter

Directed by

Jay Martin

Written by

Jay Martin

Other Info

Crime, Drama, Thriller
Rated PG-13
1h 32min

This is a cinematic film produced by the “Starz” network. The immediate claim to fame is Jason Ritter, the late John Ritter’s son. He is part of a group of young men who feel so hopeless in their hometown the only way out they see is armed robbery.

The cool aspect of this movie that really sets it apart from other guns and crime movies is that it flashed back often to explain the origin of the particular event we are watching. We don’t just see 20-somethings robbing a bank, we see their life circumstances that brought them to their criminal mindset. We see behind the drama that caused the robbery. This is masterfully written, acted, and edited.

“7 minutes” has a lot of flaws but I still really enjoyed watching it. It’s as if they tried to accomplish too much of a “wow” with the story. I think a story that focused on just one of the main characters would have been more engaging. It’s been said if you aim at something, you may miss it but you will get closer than if you aim at nothing. The film lacks a clear focus and I was hoping for a standard shoot ’em up that wasn’t so complicated. After all, how much do we as the audience need to be shown to see that robbery is a really bad idea that will likely end us up dead? “7 Minutes” is a great crime movie that entertains despite trying to too much. I recommend it.

Son of a Gun

If you want to see Ewan Macgregor whoop some ass, you’ve come to the right place. If you want to see him steal some gold, you’ll get a twofer here. This movie was entertaining credits to credits.


Son of a Gun (2014)

Ewan McGregor as Brendan Lynch
Brenton Thwaites as Jesse Ryan “JR” White
Alicia Vikander as Tasha
Jacek Koman as Sam
Matt Nable as Sterlo
Tom Budge as Josh
Nash Edgerton as Chris
Damon Herriman as Wilson

Directed by

Julius Avery

Written by

Julius Avery

Other Info

Crime, Thriller
Rated R
1h 50min

There is so much going on in this film other than robbing gold. Still, I kept getting excited about the scenes where gold was involved. There’s something primal about that I think. What child hasn’t wondered what a gold bar is worth? What movie watcher hasn’t wanted to hold one. That may be why the director chose it.

My one issue with this move is that entirely too much is going on. In the prison scenes, the guards are all victims. Much of the cast’s background is only scantily explained. For this reason, it lost a star with me which doesn’t mean I disliked it, just that it could have been better.

We get to see Ewan MacGregor kick ass. He may become the next Liam Neeson after this one. He never struck me as a tough or even large man but when he steps on screen he commands the rooms, the fights, and all things in his way. This level is the best one to defend this movie on. MacGregor has never been better in a thrill I have seen him in. You could be perfectly justified going to see it on that aspect alone.

This film tells a story that involves jail, but it’s not a jail film. There’s a girl but not much romance per se. There’s a grand elaborate scheme but you don’t get too many details, and as I said earlier there is the gold. Just a little more backstory on the some of the characters would have helped.

I’m beginning to think gore in crime thriller is becoming required by the studios. There is a lot of blood and gross scenes. I’m waiting for the crime thriller that doesn’t lean on blod and guts unmercifully to tell a thrilling story about crime. Having said that, this is a really fun film and it contains many of the modern conventional approaches to ts genre. Ewan Macgregor is excellent and really commands the screen. I recommend this movie highly.

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America appears once again in a movie with his name as the banner. Strangely however, a legion of other stories and superheroes weave through this film and it watches more like the next Avengers film. Cap has a backseat purpose.


Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America
Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark/Iron Man
Scarlett Johanssen as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

Directed by

Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Written by

Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeeley (Screenplay writers)

Other Info

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13
2h 27min

Comic books are fun, but they’re hard to get and I mean that on two levels. A good comic book tells a story in 2 dimensions. A good movie made from a comic book, transfers that “good stuff,” for example the story and superheroes, and translates that into a movie experience. 

Because I read a lot of reviews, I can see there is an either/or in comic book movies: some say they stayed true to the comic and the movie excelled as a result. The other one is when a comic book connosieur slashes and trashes the director for taking too much license in the making o the movie. I  don’t know comic books well, which might explain why I didn’t like this film as much as the critics as large. Maybe I should read more comics?

My first question was: “Why so many superheroes when this is a movie called “Captain America?””

I binge watched the two prequels to Civil War before seeing it at the cinema, as did my wife. I can tell you the first two really held my attention and Cap (as he is called in all of them) is the focal hero of the movies. That made it a lot easier to follow and get on board with. Civil War has too many superheroes exhibiting their individual strengths and weaknesses.

All the while there is a ploy by politicians to gain control of the Avengers due to their reckless modus operandi. Cap’s reins from the other two movies is named “Bucky” and I don’t want to give any spoilers but there is so much back story and attention given to him you might as well have named it “Bucky: Civil War.” Still, he has some interesting abilities and his interplay with Cap is somewhat interesting. I’d call that part of the story “just above a snore.”

We do get to see some action. There is an almost unforgivable about of people having dialog and no action. This to me was a crime. All I can imagine is that it would make more sense if I only read the comics. Because I felt the movie did not live up to its name “Captain America” and should have been named “Avengers,” and because of some laboriously long dialog with no action, it lost two stars with me. I have to say, enough comic book aficionados will go see this no matter what I say but to all the others I cannot recommend this film. I have high hopes for the next one though.

The Baytown Outlaws

“All right you got a job. You clean toilets or cut grass or whatever the hell it is you do. This is what I do. I shoot people in the face.” Brick Oodie

Info from: IMDB
The Baytown Outlaws (2012)
R | 1h 38min | Action, Comedy, Crime

When three redneck brothers agree to help a woman save her godson from an abusive stepfather, they become targets on the run from an odd cast of characters.

Director: Barry Battles
Writers: Barry Battles, Griffin Hood
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Eva Longoria, Thomas Brodie-Sangster

This film is for uncomfortable silences with dates for your daughter as you’re waiting for her to get ready. It’s a Jim Dandy way to get the message across that you see the wisdom in violence and you will do no more than chuckle after he’s been killed. I’ll have to keep it around for when my two girls start dating.

“The Baytown Outlaws’ is no Tarantino film. Still, it clearly aspires to be with the subject matter, twangy bass string guittar solos, and the like. For such poor acting and script, I was impressed so many famous actors are in it: Billy Bob Thornton, Eva Langoria, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster all grace the screen. As I said earlier, there may be appeal with very young boys, say 10-15. You know the ones who only recently put down their cap guns and bows and arrows.

Beyond that I see very little that would hold the long term attention of Tarantino fans. Thornton is frightfully bad as the boss, that needs to be said. It didn’t get me interested in “Bad Santa 2” he’s filming now. For bad acting, almost no believability (for example where are the cop cars?) and little originality, the film lost some points with me. I don’t recommend it.

It might have done better as an HBO series where the characters had time to develop and the audience could care over time. As a full length movie, it’s a B movie, I don’t care who they cast in it. I aim to promote and sell people on original ideas. For example, “10 Cloverfield Lane.” I’m getting weary as a critic go to see the same movies played with different title again and again. There are a few moments that are memorable, (see below.

This short scene is my favorite gag, a near success at a Tarantino moment: