68 posts

Review: Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!Hail Caesar is an interesting problem. The Coen Brothers are certainly no strangers to the disconnect between what THEY find interesting, and what the audience might be able to tolerate. In fact, I’ve always felt that their mainstream successes have seemed almost like the unseen machinations of some curiously sarcastic time traveler, engineering this material to be out in the world when, if unmolested, mainstream viewers shouldn’t, and wouldn’t, have the palate for it. The fact is, while I concede that Big Lebowski, Oh Brother and No Country each had good pacing and slightly less obtuse narrative flow than their normal fare, I’ve never looked at any of these films and thought ‘mainstream’… which is not to suggest I’m a coffeeshop film snob. I have just generally found myself the only one in the theater with whatever shooting out of my nose. I recall, during The Man Who Wasn’t There, losing my breath and gasping and wheezing from laughter, and coming to my senses and the theater was dark, still, and silent.

Caesar is a typical Coen Brothers project in that it is many things at once, and not afraid to play with dichotomy. It IS, as the critics declare, a love letter to Hollywood’s golden age. But it is also a biting satire of that same system. They slavishly recreated the look and feel of some incredible numbers from the song and dance era, and in typical fashion for them, built a world that is stylistically notional to true history: much like the Capitol Pictures of Barton Fink (again, featured in this film) the Hollywood of the Coen Brothers is sunny, perfect, and artificial. The characters breeze in and out of the affected narrative of the Coen Brothers script, equally parts of the madcap, almost frenetic interaction and at the same time, troubled observers of cracks in the dyke, the way many of the Coen’s creations are both critical of, and necessary to, the context of the story. This love letter paints some wonderful scenes, but the edge is there. Witness the initially perfunctory but quickly mind-numbing pre-meeting with various religious representatives, or the earnestness in which the Communists spout ideology while at the same time lust for revenge and a payout. Everything is a target here: the blacklist, celebrities who profess to be philosophical, the Studio System, actors as commodities, journalists, corporate types, the French… and as usual, the Coens make each character compelling, even when they’re fodder for the joke.

This was one of their best comedies, I think. It didn’t strike the same chord as Hudsucker or Lebowski, but it was a worthy addition to their ‘Period’ series of films, and felt like a Yin-Yang parallel to Barton Fink, which spoke to some of the same absurdities of the Hollywood system of the day, but from a depressed, lonely, screenwriter’s perspective with a nod to noir intrigue. However, this was their worst opening to date. Part of me wonders if its a product of the timing of its release: the box office is dominated by an earnest, fantastic piece of cinematic nostalgia, and the Oscars are being lampooned for their insular focus on white, safe industry darlings. Perhaps the viewing public was neither in the mood for this sort of film, or its subject matter. Perhaps its loose plot and slow pace was too droll for most people to enjoy. Not sure. But the film earned critical acclaim (surprising, in a way, given that the press, and film buffs, are notoriously sensitive about work critical of their world) and mediocre at best fan ratings. It will be interesting to see how it is viewed in the years to come. Recall many of the Coen Brothers’ most interesting works barely made a blip on the big screen.

A few additional notes:
– Clancy Brown and Christopher Lambert together again? Highlander flashbacks!
– Busby Berkeley is well represented here, with the flawless aquatic sequence, cut short by the actor (Scarlett Johansson) breaking character at the last minute
– Gene Kelly’s work was present here as well, in the imagery from Anchors Aweigh and the general cocksure confidence (and tight pants) of the actor’s work in general (as seen in Channing Tatum’s character)
– Donald O Conner is here too, as Channing Tatum’s bar table tap sequence owes much to Applied Mathematics:
-While Manix is based on a real fixer from the Studio days (See Hollywoodland) I thought it was particularly interesting that the character was unnecessary. He fixed nothing. Clooney’s character, Baird Whitlock, was discovered by Hobie Doyle; Scarlett’s character, DeeAnna Moran, is ultimately married to the director, Laurence Laurentz (excellent wordplay in the script on this name) who knocked her up (Ralph Fiennes again killing it) as Manix had suggested, but without his involvement; The Thacker twins pursued their stories regardless of his excuses; the ransom paid for Clooney’s character’s return was lost; Hobie’s dialog problems were resolved through a screenwriting change… Manix, supposedly so pivotal to the studio’s security and branding that he hand-wrung over his headhunter recruitment temptations, in the end spun around in circles.

I’m looking forward to seeing this movie 333 times, as per the usual process with Coen Brothers films…

EDIT: I forgot to mention one critical point: Manix WAS important, and did accomplish something major: he saved the life of the film editor, who seemed to me to be a nod to Anne V. Coates… when he pulled the safety switch and turned off the rollers that were pulling her scarf and strangling her. What I found interesting here was that his value was towards a back of house, invisible employee, not the executives and celebs he was tasked with handling.

Image above from:

here’s another…

Chief of Ninja Group


Review: The Monster Squad

RETRO ROUS REVIEW: Originally posted HERE
For the month of October, we’re going to be revisiting some classic and not so classic genre films as well as trying to catch up on all of the new stuff – lots of monsters, gore, suspense and horror coming our way! Instead of writing a full review of each, We’ll post five things we learned while watching the movies. 

Number seven – a childhood classic from the eighties…that would never have been made today without parental outrage.

5 Things I learned while watching….


1- Wolfman does indeed have nards, and a silver bullet is the way to go.

2- When finding oneself under attack by monsters, wait until they are within a few feet shoot three times, then attack with the billy club!
3-  Dracula may not be the most refined demolitions expert, but he does love blowing shit up.
4- The late eighties were a pervy time – creepy pedophiles, voyeurism, little girl virgins, all sorts of inappropriate innuendo, blackmail, mummies lurking in small children’s closets…
5- No one cares if the black cop partner gets blown to smithereens by dracula.

Kristopher McClanahan

—-Something Rises—-


Review: The Misenchanted Sword by Lawrence Watt-Evans

Legends Of Ethshar, Book One

By Lawrence Watt-Evans
1985, 228pgs, fantasy, Paperback


Re: Valder, a scout trapped behind enemy lines, stumbles across an old hermit living in the marshlands. The hermit, annoyed by his unexpected arrival, enchants his sword to get him safely back home. But the sword, though magical and valuable now, has a bit of a catch attached as well…

Outstanding: This book is a delight. There are a lot of original ideas, all taking place in a beautifully realized fantasy world with dragons, magicians, battle, castles, etc. The main character is very likeable and realistic and the misenchanted sword itself is totally clever. A great read.

Unacceptable: Nothing really.

Summary: Confession – this was one of the first “Adult” books I read in my youth, picking it up on a librarian’s recommendation when I was in second or third grade, so I may have an unusually high amount of love for this book, but I’ve given copies to many people over the years and they too fall in love. Watt-Evans has created a great world starting with this novel and it may be one of the best light fantasy novels around. Period.

by Salty Kris
For more archived reviews from ROUS visit:

Review: Mad Max – Fury Road

I am finally writing again and with this, my first review since 2012 on my blog – MAD MAX – Goddamn Awesome.


Directed by George Miller
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron
2015 – [R] – Post-Apocalyptic Adventure

Re: Max, still wandering the post apocalyptic wasteland, gets mixed up in a plan to assist a cyborg in the escape of five winsome lasses from their mutant husband. There are two car chases.

Outstanding: Pretty much anything and everything. I wanted to enjoy this flick and ended up loving it. The world is fully realized, with unique little details I would never have expected. The chase scenes, which encompass the bulk of the movie are unrelenting, nearly all practical effects and stunning. I seriously can’t say enough good about this movie. There is enough eye candy amongst the various cars, tribes of mutants and set pieces that I could watch it a dozen times and still spot cool little details.

Unacceptable: If you are expecting the slow burn sax lounge scene from the first Mad Max, or the Feral Boomerang child that spoke in animal sound clips from Road Warrior, Or Tina Turner in a glam wig, or if you are just generally a curmudgeonly hipster that refuses to believe a sequel to a classic can ever be good, you may be disappointed.

Summary: Seriously one of the most enjoyably batshit insane and beautiful movies I have ever seen.


Notes: My brother and I saw this in 3D and I can honestly say it was one of the better 3D movies I’ve seen. In a lot of movies, the 3D effect comes off as a little fake – like there’s a 2D person here, a 2D person three feet beyond and a flat background, with some cool stuff floating between. The 3D in Fury Road was subtle and added a real sense of depth to the landscape and chases and during the more intense sequences, of which there were many, I actually found myself jumping as things came towards me.

The original review – … -road.html

By Salty Kris

“Oh, we’re all about to get wet!”

Something Rises.

Review: Ex Machina


I watched this film the other night, late, and it was the perfect environment I was waiting for: my lovely wife asleep, the kids in bed, earphones on, whiskey sours in hand. It was everything I hoped for from this project, and actually, much more. I was focused on all the visual stuff during production: Jock’s design work for Eva, the visual style that seemed equal parts Kubrick* and Nolan, and so much of the minimal tech merged with beautiful ‘tension architecture’**… but the themes, and the way it unfolded with such clean, unsettling certainty in the script and performances, reminded me of good SF from the 60s… you know, REAL SF, not pulp adventure SF we all enjoy. What a counterpoint to Asimov. I really enjoyed the levels of it: the surface level, in which I definitely related to Caleb and was titellated in this weirdly surreal way (I loved the mannerisms and eyes and tone of Eva, so I was the target market right there with him, not necessarily getting sexually aroused but not finding her robotic body ASEXUAL either,) was super into Kyoko*** on a physical level, but also super-tense from the danger, the duplicity, the blind box nature of the experiment and surveillance, sort of a ‘doing it in public’ crossed with ‘if her father hears us i’m dead’ vibe that makes such things so electric. I kind of laughed, thinking that this could have been marketed as an ‘erotic thriller’ and I would have agreed more than I would normally, since films labeled that way rarely work for me. Anyway, I’m weird. But then, on another level, I was really turned on, so to speak, by the thematic material, the faults and strange deviance turned deadly missteps of Nathan’s character, the interesting reactions and choices of Nathan, and then on another level, the perspective from Eva’s viewpoint, both what she, and the narrative, led us to believe she was wrestling with, vs. ultimately what she appeared to be processing, as witnessed in her final choices. My boss said it well: “Eva was created in Nathan’s image” and that resonated with me. The flaws of man, etc. But it hung with me for days. I’ve found myself, even this morning on the way to work, internally debating the free will vs. coded protections (Asimov again, but how it relates to slavery and the question of true sentience…); how could an AI be truly sentient if limited in coding to have specific emotional responses to humans, to have blocks against violence or dissent… and in a similar way, how the coding in of gender and heterosexuality and the pleasure centers, etc linked to a very immature (in terms of physical time, not necessarily emotional maturity) developing sense of self. It was super dark. I loved it. I also started thinking about nature-nurture, which as a parent is always on my mind. The big classic questions, at least in the atheist worldview: inherent moral structures vs. learned rules… would an AI coded and trained by a human, say a western human, adopt a western human ethical and moral compass? Even those concepts are shaky at best when you see what people do to each other in the world.

Final note: I’m often fond of films were the setting is a character, and this was no exception. The Juvet hotel just had me glued to it, from beginning to end. I was pre-hooked, ever since I read about the production and looked it up, and yes, I’m an architect so I’m going to lean a certain way in my focus, but it really spoke to me. I love mid-century modern/international style glass and raw material residential architecture, and I love the juxtaposition with the natural landscape beyond it (I may be wrong, but isn’t it true there were no organic living materials in that house other than Nathan? The tree courtyard slash divider was separated by glass from the rest of the interior, and all the foresty landscape was on the exterior. The house itself was beautiful and cold… like the AI projects.) but also the tension architecture I mentioned.

*I’ve read that Oscar Isaac used Kubrick as one of his inspirations for Nathan. I was picking up more of a literal Jobs slash Page/Brinn slash Musk vibe (I used slashes and the word slash in the same reference, interrobang)

**tension architecture really interests me, and you see a lot of it in Scandinavian retreats. Such as the smooth face of the raw stone wall that comprised a good chunk of the main residential living space, where a portion of it was left naturally shaped and textured.

***I was trying to figure out, as it went, why I was so charged by Kyoko, and then I sort of figured it out before I even googled her. Beyond my well-documented interest in mixed-ethnicity brunettes, it was her physical mannerisms, not really the walking around rigidly and quietly, but some of how she was moving in one of my favorite scenes (the dance) and how she acted in the hallway: I dated an ex-ballet dancer and it was the same sort of movement: this thing where the body is in a constant fluid motion, yet controlled. I think it gets hardwired into them. So to speak, so to speak. I know she was moving deliberately, but I’m saying just spending a year with an ex-ballet dancer, you see how they stand and walk and pivot on regular mundane things. They don’t know how NOT to. At least that was my experience. I didn’t realize she was literally a ballet dancer while watching it, though she seemed like she had a solid dance foundation based on that scene… but to read the combination of background that actress has, it became clearer why it was so gut-level familiar to me. So that was a thing.

SO DOPE. One of my favorite films now, easily.

Chief of Ninja Group


Review: Alamo Drafthouse Theater, San Francisco

Ubiquitous non-spoilery SW7 image above, specifically for the TRDL/R3 brand-awareness of it.

The Alamo Drafthouse SF opened this past weekend, with SW7 being the official hard launch debut film. They actually opened for a soft launch the weekend prior, but I wasn’t able to attend. The Drafthouse series of theaters is like Sundance on crack. You have a bar, you have full food and drink service with a pretty awesome menu, tables at the seats, and less publicized but equally entertaining: curated pre-show content and integrated viewing experience. The short review is: loved it.

I had heard from friends that went on opening night that its best to arrive early, in order to make the dining orders and possibly have them arrive prior to show start. Our tickets were for the fifth day of the theater’s grand opening. So, they had had some time to start smoothing out some of the kinks. When you think about it, training staff in one week (they started hiring the week before last) to basically spend their entire shift bent over (not metaphorically, even) is a tough nut. The whole operation depends on them being subtle and unobtrusive, lest they be distracting during the film. Anyway, we arrived at 2:30pm for a 3:30pm show, and had time to kill.

We grabbed seats at the in-house bar, Vs., which were BTW super comfy leather… we were waiting for my lovely wife to arrive separately via Lyft and the crew were cleaning the auditorium from the previous showing. The access controls are basically like the train… you waltz right in, go to the theater, find your seats, and then your server comes to you to introduce themselves and go over the process of ordering and such, and then casually checks your tickets ‘to make sure you are in the right seats’… so, I really like the smoothness of this operation. Though, admittedly, it depends on people arriving early enough to get all that sorted prior to film start.

At the Vs. I ordered a Boulevardian, which was not surprisingly bourbon, campari, orange and lemon bitters, and zest. DELICIOUS.

At 3pm, we decided to head over to the main auditorium (across the hall) and get seated. Each pair of seats share a little table between/in front of them. Menus are in slots below, and the order slips are in a stack with pens. You write your order out, and then put the sheet upright in the thing. My lovely wife arrived at about 3:30pm so we weren’t able to get our order in and on the table prior to start, but my sister-in-law and her husband had ordered right at 3pm and their stuff began arriving right around 3:30pm. If you extrapolate this to a restaurant environment, you’re looking at a few hundred unique orders all needing to arrive around the same time, as well as follow up orders throughout the film. Frankly, I thought there would be more delay than there was. Having ordered shortly before start, I think everything came by about 20 min into the film. Note, they bring things one or two at a time, so they can logistically stay bent over and not spill stuff. Our sever said she isn’t ‘seeing the effects’ of the position in the mirror yet, but sure as hell is feeling it, abs and glutes. Our server was also extremely ebullient and charming, which added to the experience.

We ordered a shaved brussells sprouts salad (big bowl), a fungi personal pizza, an order of the famous chips and ‘queso’ which is essentially a green chili white cheese dip (and amazing indeed); she had two whites, and I had a second Boulevardian and a 750ml red rye ale.

The food is half the battle here. It’s not your typical ‘special cinema’ menu (Sundance’s offerings are already great, but here, the eccentricity of the menu is a point of pride. I basically wanted one of everything. Being middle of the afternoon, we kept it reasonably light.

Note: you can customize off the secret menu…

Another fun thing is the pre-show content, curated to match the film you are going to see. This time, it was a melange of awkward musical numbers from 70s and 80s SW TV specials and Disneyland shows, youtube videos of the dancing Stromtroopers etc, Cat Star Wars and so on. Very cool. Even old Kenner TV commercials.

I hadn’t had a lot of sleep, much water, or really much to eat, so about 25% in to my beer, I was starting to feel the burn, so I laid off the beer and just rode out the last act of the film, which I admit I resorted to one-eye viewing (hahahahha) but not too badly, fully present, just a little more of a heat on than intended or expected off of 2.5 drinks in 3 hours. Just a metabolic misfire.

Anyway, I gave my server my card at the start to streamline closing out the bill, which was great, since I didn’t have to fish around for it during the intense last 20 minutes of a film, right. It’s by no means cheap, but I thought very well worth it and very entertaining as a filmgoing experience.

Definitely doing so again! I think I will stick with the AMC 1000 Van Ness IMAX awesomeness for the big MMM days, but for date nights or more eccentric films like Coen Brothers or Wes Anderson or the like.

Chief of Ninja Group


Review: Master of None

Master of None

Master of None is a series released to Netflix this year and already greenlit for a second season, starring Aziz Ansari, who created, co-wrote (with his deceased best friend, not deceased at the time of writing, though had he been this would be a more interesting fact) and his brother. It’s loosely based on a lot of the material in his stand-up shows. It’s remarkable.

It’s remarkable in it’s general lack of remarkableness. It’s mundane at times, ultra-realistic at others (painfully so) and pretty much a slow burn. But that’s what i really appreciated about it. It had the potential of being broad comedy, and managed to be many other things instead: it was a show about a single guy in his late twenties to early thirties faced with life type issues, such as dating, career, self-image, familial baggage, and so on. It was one of those roles written the way non-white or non-male actors describe their Platonic ideal: it’s all character, and not beholden to the main character’s ethnicity or gender. And yet it’s very much about both ethnicity and gender, skewering the racism against indian actors in Hollywood, mixed relationships, guy vs. girl behavior and expectations, sexism, and much more. Yet, while it is a brilliant spotlight on double-standards in Hollywood, and while Dev does indeed stand in for Aziz, from his Nickelodeon internship to ethnic stereotyping to relationship issues to his character’s burgeoning love of cooking (Aziz is the bartender to his girlfriend’s culinary expertise as a known gourmet chef) it is still written about a human, not a stereotyped ethnic or gender-specific person. Meaning that it could have been cast as a Japanese woman, and all they would need to do* is change the contextual stereotyping and gender-specific anecdotes. It would still work. I asterix that because it is both an everyguy relatable character, and so very specifically Aziz Ansari. Kind of a riddle, I guess.

The supporting cast is excellent. I’ve always really liked Noelle Wells, from her one season foray (and unfair firing) from SNL, and her web presence, and it was great casting having her as the recurring love interest. Specifically, she’s a very down to earth, normal looking yet very cute and interesting presence. She’s no ‘manic pixie’ whatever but she’s no supermodel. She feels real in the role. The writing is very good at easing us into knowing these people through characterization. A highlight was an episode focusing on a surprise whirlwind date weekend trip to another state, which felt like a documentary. The strong standout for me was Aziz’ father (and mother) playing Dev’s parents. He is so naturally infectious and quirky, I wanted him to be in every episode.

The finale was bittersweet and realistic, and involves a clever misdirection that both disappointed in some way as far as the emotional narrative and grew his character arc in another way that was actually the kind of smoldering awesome that sticks with you for days after seeing it. I’m STILL thinking about the last scene.

Highly recommended.


Chief of Ninja Group


Review: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Kraken Reviews aren’t always thorough, and they’re rarely objective. No rating scale, nothing like that. Rotten Tomatoes already has that covered. We just like to talk about movies and the like.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The Summary:
In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.

Starring: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Jared Harris with Hugh Grant thrown in for fun

I was initially jazzed about this film during production. It had all the good signs going in: period setting (60s), great casting, cool director, off mix of humor and action (just like Guy Ritchie did with Sherlock Holmes) and finally, it was an espionage story.. so despite never watching the TV series, I was on board. Then it was released shortly before SPECTRE and during the early blitz for Force Awakens and seemed to just fade into nothing in the media eye. I remember it hitting the theater but then rapidly disappearing. That was disconcerting. Like John Carter OF FUCKING MARS and similar projects, I was concerned modern audiences would dismiss this film as being a knock off of other films in the public consciousness. Where John Carter OF FUCKING MARS was an excellent adaptation of the story that predated and directly birthed all of modern fantasy, UNCLE was not necessarily an originator (it was a side project from Ian Fleming pulled from ideas from one of his Bond books) but WAS and is an interesting story device, pulling agents from both sides of the Cold War together. Anyway, I fired it up the other night and crossed all me fingers and all me toes, except those holding my martini glass (containing the homebrew gin, courtesy of One Lung) and dug in.

I was initially turned off. The smarmy, affected debonair Henry Cavill was doing as CIA Agent Napoleon Solo was grating, and the rivalry and cocksure one-upmanship between him and his soviet rival, Illya Kuryakin (played by Armie Hammer) felt tired and cliched. I was frustrated. Only the wiles of Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander kept me watching. And then somewhere in the second act, I realized I was enjoying it, and in the third act, having a good time and wanting more. What I think did it was dispensing with that initial alpha posturing and almost farcical rivalry, and getting into the meat of the plot, and most specifically, doing it in 60’s Italy, which really kicked up the period fashion and imagery a notch. I personally tire of super so-and-so’s who act unmoved and unsurprised, unflinching, as bullets fly and cars careen and whatever, like it’s all part of a Matrix sim they mastered a long time ago (something that I LOVED in the later parts of All You Need is Tole, when Cruise was plowing through his day like replaying a level with perfect precision in some FPS)… and initially, Solo was very much like this. I get it I get it, it was drawn purposefully broad. But it bugged me. But when things toned down on that front and the guys started working together, I got into it. It only made about $130M internationally on a $75M budget so it’s unlikely to get a sequel, which is disappointing. I’d love to see another one in this series. I’m perpetually starved for period adventure films.

Also, let me repeat, Alicia Vikander.

One last thing: a cool scene at the beginning featured the two spies sitting down at the same table and realizing the handlers hat put them together, and as they start to freak out, the handlers get up and leave them to discuss the joint mission, and as they do, the entire cafe cleans out (ie. the whole place was undercover agents) was fun, and a cool nod to Ritchie’s previous film, Game of Shadows, in which Jared Harris was the same role: the guy that signals for the room to clear. I recognized it but didn’t register where from until I looked it up.

By Salty Thom
Chief of Ninja Group