Thu, Aug 27, 2015

: The Giver

I skipped this in the theatres because it seemed so derivative and lame. It shows up on my movie channel and I read that it’s based on a “classic” 1993 book that’s taught in schools. Why, I’m not sure. The book must be a lot better than the movie!

The movie has a lot of potential: a decent cast, high production values, and some good direction, but it misses on several key levels.

The first is the poor explanation/presentation of the dystopian world we’re in; this is not shown very well, and since the whole point of the story is the contrast between the empty, meaningless, controlled world and a world with emotions and pain, the story fails. Sure, there is an excellent attempt to show this contrast by filming the earlier parts of the film in black and white and then showing color once our hero starts to see the real world for the first time, but that’s a metaphor, not a way to show us how this odd society actually functions.

The second and even bigger problem is the way our main character is shown to change. As he learns the truth about humanity’s past and his society, he’s changing, but that isn’t clear. For instance, he starts to get angry and act out, but since we never saw much of him before, or any of the regulated society, we don’t realize this is a huge shift. The film does this quite often: as a viewer we don’t understand the significance of what we’re watching until much later and by then it’s lost all emotional impact. I suppose if you’ve read the book it’s clear what is going on, but not just from watching the movie.

Another awkward problem is the way memories are shown. Supposedly our hero receives memories from the “Giver,” an old man who stores all of mankind’s memories. This happens throughout the film, but the presentation is lame: we just cut to whatever memory he’s experiencing. It’s jarring, awkward, confusing, and much too plain. At least give us some sort of transition in and out of the memory sequence.

There are lots of other problems, such as the story being dull without any action until the very end (and then it ends much too quickly and easily), and how our hero somehow instantly understanding concepts — like death, bullets, and cruelty — that should have been utterly foreign and incomprehensible to him, but we’ll just leave it at that.

None of this is to say the film isn’t watchable or interesting. It is confusing at first, and the pace is slow, but there is a little magic in the combination of cast and filming that makes this appealing. It’s not great, but it has its moments, and though the idea feels derivative, it has some clever aspects. I can see how if you liked the book you might enjoy the movie. Those of us who haven’t will need further encouragement.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Aug 21, 2015

: Eye

I woke up this morning to see a flash — as though someone took my picture with a camera flash — while I was putting in my contact. It was weird, but not enough to call my eye doctor.

Then I saw a piece of black thread in my right eye. I ran to take out my contact, but then realized the thread was still there: it was a “floater.” I’ve had those since I was five, but never this bad. These were large and there were a lot of them, swimming around in my eye and distracting me terribly.

I finally called my eye doctor and he said I needed an immediate checkup; it was very possible I had either had a retinal detachment or I might get one, and that’s a serious eye problem that requires surgery to fix.

To make a long story shorter (it was an all-day story), I ended up going to a retina specialist and getting laser surgery on my eye! My retina had torn — just a tiny hole at the back — and that was sealed with a laser. It wasn’t fun. The eye examination was painful, with lots of poking and prodding and terribly bright lights shown right into my dilated pupils, and the green laser pretty much blinded my right eye for a while.

But I got through it and now I’m in the recovery phase. I still have the floaters; it sounds like there isn’t much that can be done about those, though hopefully they’ll dissipate in time. Meanwhile my vision is a little worse in my right eye, but it’s hard to tell if it’s just the floaters interfering or if my eye has gotten worse. At least we caught the problem before it got too bad, though. A detachment sounds really serious, while a tear is much easier to fix.

Anyway, it’s a good reminder to be alert for eye problems as you get older; even a seemingly minor change like a flash and floaters can signal something traumatic.

Topic: [/medical]

Link

Wed, Aug 19, 2015

: The Man From Uncle

I’m not sure why this is getting high marks; it felt very ordinary to me. It’s well-done, and there are a lot of good moments, but the story is awkward, a weird buddy movie about an American CIA agent and a Russian KGB agent joining together against their will to track down a bad guy.

Part of the problem is the casting, since every actor is cast as from different country then their native one (i.e. the British actor plays an American, the American plays a Russian, etc.). It’s weird and confusing (and I don’t see the point other than the actors showing off).

The story is convoluted, as these things usually are, but not especially interesting. There are the expected betrayals and twists you see miles away, and the ending is anticlimactic.

None of this is to say the movie isn’t enjoyable. Despite the flaws and unevenness, I had a good time. But I’d only give it a six out of ten.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Aug 17, 2015

: Ant-Man

Fun movie. Great special effects, cool action, and good story about a brilliant guy who took a wrong path and is trying to redeem himself. There’s not much depth here — it’s just a popcorn superhero flick — but it’s well-done. There’s a great balance of all the elements: humor, action, plot.

I like that the bad guy is kept relatively modest, unlike so many superhero movies where the bad guy is building a death star or something ridiculously over-the-top. There’s still plenty at stake for a satisfying film.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Aug 16, 2015

: Snowpiercer

Strange film. Remarkable in some ways, and idiotic in others, this seems like a film that should have been more famous. But I’d never even heard of it. Seems like it was a terrible flop despite having known stars like Chris Evans, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, and Octavia Spencer.

The premise is weird: in a future ice age, everyone on earth is dead, except for a handful of survivors who managed to board a luxury supertrain. The train is on an elaborate track that takes it around the entire planet, through almost every continent, in one year. It’s supposedly completely self-sustaining and will never run out of power (no explanation of how that works), so it makes sense (I guess) that people onboard can survive the frigid cold.

On this train a strange class system has developed, with the tail passengers at the low-end, eating refuse, and struggling to survive, while the rich live in the front and live in luxury and eat steak (no idea where the steak comes from).

Thus the story of the film is about a rebellion, where the low-class try to fight their way to front of the train. There’s a lot of good here, in terms of heroic characters, dramatic scenes, terrible violence, and over-the-top villains. The film has echoes of Brazil and 1984 and other classics. Visually the film is amazing, with fantastic ice and snow exterior shots, and a wide variety of interesting indoor scenes (different parts of the train).

Unfortunately, the plot is so convoluted and there are so many obvious flaws of logic and important details unexplained, that the whole thing feels awkward and incomplete.

As one example, there’s a small dramatic moment (slight spoiler here) where our hero discovers the “protein bars” they live on are made from ground-up cockroaches. There’s a giant vat with millions of them being ground up into a gelatin-like paste. The first and obvious thought (besides being disgusted) is where the heck do the cockroaches come from? In a frozen world with almost no living thing, I can believe that cockroaches survived, but how are they harvested? Especially in enough numbers to sustain the lives of hundreds of people on a train?

That’s just one flaw; there are probably 50 such plot holes in the film. It’s as though the filmmakers just wanted certain things to happen so they did them that way, regardless of logic or the rules of reality.

That makes this film incredibly disappointing. While on the whole I liked it; the great visuals and interesting storyline are quite compelling. However, the film is so stupid in other ways, it’s absolutely baffling. Worth seeing, but with caution: turn off your brain and just enjoy the show.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Aug 14, 2015

: One Shot

This is the book the Jack Reacher movie was based upon, and after reading this, I understand more why the movie flopped. Tons of tiny things were changed for the movie for no real reason whatsoever, changing a beautifully constructed plot into an amorphousness mess.

For example, the heart of the movie revolves around a sniper shooting, seemingly random, by a madman. In the book there’s a ton of psychology around how four men and one woman were shot (a sixth shot missed), while in the movie they showed several women getting shot, I can only think to evoke more viewer sympathy for the victims. Even dumber, the crime in the book is all about how this is an expert sniper as evidenced by him pulling off six shots in something like seven seconds, while the film has the scope darting around potential victims (even following a woman with a baby in a stroller as though she might be murdered) and the whole shooting takes 30 seconds.

The reason these changes are significant is that in the book that’s how Jack Reacher figures out what is going on — by understanding the psychology behind the crime and how it doesn’t match up to the patsy they’ve set up for it. All of that is lost in the film, which is turned into more of an action movie instead of a detective story. Lame!

The book is so much better because it allows us to see what’s really going on. Take the scene where the pretty girl tries to hit on Reacher as a way to set him up for a beating. In the book the scene is set by showing us how sexily she’s dressed, her blatant flirting, and the dialog between her and Reacher. In the film the girl just shows up across from Reacher’s table in the bar and starts talking — no preamble. The dialog falls flat, the wit completely lost. The resulting setup feels forced and pointless, not a key part of the plot like in the book.

I could go on, but you get the idea. It’s an excellent book, with typical Jack Reacher superiority; the movie turns him into an ordinary guy. Read the book and skip the movie.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Thu, Aug 13, 2015

: Irrational Man

This is a terrific new film from Woody Allen; his best in ages, if not ever. It’s billed as a comedy but it isn’t very funny unless you like dry or wry humor. I’d call it playful.

The story’s about a depressed philosophy professor who is sick of a life of abstract talk and no action and finally “commits an existential act” — that’s a fancy way of saying murder. He discovers this changes everything and he’s suddenly a new man, full of life and passion. Of course, then some obstacles come up as nothing’s perfect.

The ending is too good to spoil so I’ll just say it’s terrific, full of witty poetic justice. The whole film is wonderfully acted, photographed, and presented, with just the right light-hearted pacing and tone. It is a bit heavy on the dialog and philosophy, so I can see how this wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but if you like films that make you think without being too intellectual, this is right up your alley.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Aug 07, 2015

: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Fun action flick that’s great from start to finish. The plot’s ridiculous and makes about as much sense as mud, but the actors are all having so much fun and the action’s so cool that none of that matters. The story’s is little more than something to string together fantastic action set pieces, but that’s okay, as it somehow works.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, Aug 01, 2015

: Off to Be the Wizard

What a fun book! This is a hilarious adventure about a modern computer programmer who’s a bit of a dolt, who manages to find a file that seems to control reality. He realizes that all of reality is a computer simulation and by manipulating items in the file he can change whatever he wants. For instance, simply find the entry that holds the amount of money in his bank account and a few zeros and suddenly he’s rich, tweak the setting for his height and he’s taller, or change his GPS coordinates and he teleports. Pretty cool!

Of course, he hasn’t thought any of this through and soon gets in trouble, and to escape he goes back in time (after all, time is just a setting of the computer program) to the days of Merlin and tries to be a wizard. There he discovers his not alone and gets himself in a real pickle, but eventually becomes the hero who saves everyone.

Sure, this is pure silliness, but it’s done in a witty, clever way, with realistic computer programming tech. (There are a few liberties, such as how there can only be one “reality settings file” in the world and how ancient computers like a Commodore 64 or a lowly smartphone can open and work with a multi-gigabyte text file that takes even a fast desktop computer several minutes just to open, but you can overlook those flaws for the sake of the fun story.)

Definitely a must-read for those who like humor with their tech or tech with their humor.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Fri, Jul 31, 2015

: Gateway

Author: Frederick Pohl

Interesting book. Supposedly a classic, but left me a little flat.

I love the basic idea — our main character’s story is told via flashbacks during his ongoing sessions with an artificial intelligence psychoanalyst — and it’s a good story about exploring space via mysterious spaceships abandoned by unknown aliens eons earlier.

The ships are so advanced we don’t even know how they work or how to control where they go, but they’re able to jump through a wormhole across vast amounts of space; the problem is that they’ll often end up in a bad place, or the trip takes longer than estimated and the crew starves to death before they can get back. Either way, it’s risky, so the rewards for successful exploratory missions are huge.

That’s a wonderful idea and quite plausible. What I didn’t like was that the psychology explored in the analyst sessions is trivial. It acts like it’s deep, but it’s not. Yes, there are some deep emotions at stake as our hero is recovering from a terrible tragedy, but the way that’s explored comes across as ordinary. (My reaction could be tainted by the audiobook performance, as it was occasionally strident, especially when the hero got angry at the computer psychoanalyst, which felt over-the-top and phony.)

Still, it’s an interesting book with some great science fiction ideas, and an unusual presentation. Definitely worth reading.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Mon, Jul 27, 2015

: Pixels

This seemed silly-but-cool, and that’s exactly what I got. The plot is ridiculous — aliens mistake footage of 1980s video games as our reality and attack us via technology that works just like games (except it’s deadly) — and it’s up to a ragtag team of video game nerds from the 80s who have to save the day.

It’s fun. The special effects of the attacking video games are totally awesome and impressive: Pac-Man eating the streets of New York, Centipede descending from the heavens in London, Galaga’s patterned spaceships, a life-sized Donkey Kong, and so on, are all terrific. The nostalgia of seeing the classic games of my youth is wonderful and brought back tons of memories. Seeing nerds become the heros over muscled jocks is immensely satisfying.

Yes, the whole idea is a joke stretched very thin, and this isn’t a classic film by any means, but it’s shameless in accepting that it’s silly (Kevin James as the president of the United States???) and it’s just mindless fun. I saw negative reviews where people were clearly trying to take this seriously. Get over yourselves. This is just supposed to be funny!

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Jul 10, 2015

: Selfless

The idea’s pretty standard — a billionaire is dying, and learns of a process where your consciousness can be moved into a younger body. He’s told it’s a genetically engineered body, but after he makes the transfer, he learns that’s not the case, of course. He ends up meeting the wife of man whose body he’s using, and complications ensue.

The whole film is competently done. There are few surprises, but it’s a pretty good paint-by-numbers canvas. It’s got intrigue, some action, and some good performances. But just nothing… remarkable. The creatives involved seem to think the basic idea of consciousness transfer is radical and interesting enough to hold the film. The real problem is the predictability of the bad guys, though the vagueness of the transfer process — exactly how the rich guy settles up his life and prepares for a new one — isn’t shown enough to be interesting. None of the characters are that interesting either: the rich guy would be utterly boring except that he’s portrayed by the awesome Ben Kingsley (who is excellent but underused), the husband is a generic soldier, the wife just a pretty woman, and their sick little girl is cute. Even the supposed dramatic moments are generic: the rich guy pines for the daughter he ignored while she was growing up, and now she spurns his help in running a tiny non-profit, the antithesis of his capitalistic ways.

Despite these flaws it’s still a fun movie: you get exactly what it says on the label (presuming you read the label). Don’t expect more and you’ll be fine with it.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Wed, Jul 08, 2015

: Snowpiercer

Strange film. Remarkable in some ways, and idiotic in others, this seems like a film that should have been more famous. But I’d never even heard of it. Seems like it was a terrible flop despite having known stars like Chris Evans, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, and Octavia Spencer.

The premise is weird: in a future ice age, everyone on earth is dead, except for a handful of survivors who managed to board a luxury supertrain. The train is on an elaborate track that takes it around the entire planet, through almost every continent, in one year. It’s supposedly completely self-sustaining and will never run out of power (no explanation of how that works), so it makes sense (I guess) that people onboard can survive the frigid cold.

On this train a strange class system has developed, with the tail passengers at the low-end, eating refuse, and struggling to survive, while the rich live in the front and live in luxury and eat steak (no idea where the steak comes from).

Thus the story of the film is about a rebellion, where the low-class try to fight their way to front of the train. There’s a lot of good here, in terms of heroic characters, dramatic scenes, terrible violence, and over-the-top villains. The film has echoes of Brazil and 1984 and other classics. Visually the film is amazing, with fantastic ice and snow exterior shots, and a wide variety of interesting indoor scenes (different parts of the train).

Unfortunately, the plot is so convoluted and there are so many obvious flaws of logic and important details unexplained, that the whole thing feels awkward and incomplete.

As one example, there’s a small dramatic moment (slight spoiler here) where our hero discovers the “protein bars” they live on are made from ground-up cockroaches. There’s a giant vat with millions of them being ground up into a gelatin-like paste. The first and obvious thought (besides being disgusted) is where the heck do the cockroaches come from? In a frozen world with almost no living thing, I can believe that cockroaches survived, but how are they harvested? Especially in enough numbers to sustain the lives of hundreds of people on a train?

That’s just one flaw; there are probably 50 such plot holes in the film. It’s as though the filmmakers just wanted certain things to happen so they did them that way, regardless of logic or the rules of reality.

That makes this film incredibly disappointing. While on the whole I liked it; the great visuals and interesting storyline are quite compelling. However, the film is so stupid in other ways, it’s absolutely baffling. Worth seeing, but with caution: turn off your brain and just enjoy the show.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Mon, Jul 06, 2015

: John Wick

This movie is so bad it’s hard to know where to begin. But I might as well start the with wimpy title. Supposedly “John Wick” is a hard-core hired killer for the Russian mob. They say the name in awe as though it’s supposed to induce shivers. Huh? Why wouldn’t he go by some cool killer name like the Barracuda or something?

John’s retired, and living a peaceful life with his wife, until she dies of a long illness. We only see her via idyllic flashbacks, making her seem perfect, yet why did she marry a soulless killer like Wick? We get to endure Keanu Reaves pretending (badly) to grieve. She’s made arrangements to have a dog sent to him after her death, a surprise to help keep him from being lonely, so we get to see tough Keanu fake-cry.

Then the film really starts to go downhill. While Wick is at a gas station, a dude comments on his classic car and wants to buy it, but Wick isn’t interested in selling. It turns out the kid is the Russian mobster’s idiot son. He apparently doesn’t know who Wick is (odd, since Wick’s supposed to be such a badass), and he and his buddies break into Wick’s house in the middle of the night, beat him up, kill his dog just for fun, and steal his car. Yeah, he’s sure a tough guy allowing that to happen.

This starts a bizarre revenge plot. Wick goes after the mobsters, just walking into their den and shooting people. He’s shot up himself in the process, I guess to show vulnerability. The mobster’s dad puts out a $2 million hit on Wick, so next we have contract killers out trying to kill him, too (and nearly succeeding, as once again, Wick doesn’t seem very skilled).

The whole movie is bizarre, with everyone speaking reverently of Wick and his nearly superhuman killing abilities, and yet Wick nearly dies like 10 times. He’s actually caught and captured by the bad guys, doesn’t even count his shots so he ends up running out of bullets multiple times and pulling the trigger on empty chambers, and several times requires the aid of friends to save his hide. Then the climax is him and the mobster dad duking it out in a gunless punch fight!

In the end, this is a Game of Thrones-like death feast, with pretty much everyone dying, and no point to anything. The film has a few interesting moments and concepts, like the strange “hit man” hotel, where hit men are promised security while they stay (and yet the windows aren’t even bullet-proof), but mostly is tedious with laughably implausible scenes and weak action. Shocking they got the quality cast (Keanu aside) to participate.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

: The Dragon in the Sea

Author: Frank Herbert

This an interesting older Herbert book, set during some future war, about a submarine “tugs” that tow undersea barges of oil. The unnamed enemy has been intercepting and sabotaging every oil run, so the authorities think there’s a “sleeper” agent. Our hero’s a psych guy who can supposedly use his skills to ferret out the mole.

The story’s about one run, during which everyone is paranoid and suspicious of everyone else. There are multiple sabotage events, a murder, enemy subs tracking them, and all sorts of life-threatening mechanical problems they have to solve.

Unfortunately, it’s more technical than interesting, and the mole aspect is just confusing. It’s hard to keep the various characters straight. The conclusion is unusual, though the sleeper agent aspect is a letdown. All-in-all, it’s easy to see why this is a forgettable Herbert novel.

Topic: [/book]

Link

Sat, Jul 04, 2015

: The Maze Runner

Not what I expected. It’s a strongly gimmicky film, with a bunch of kids in trapped in a glade with no memories of who they are, and seemingly the only way out a giant maze with walls that move each night and strange monsters that roam the paths. Clearly the kids have been placed here by some unknown people, and their situation is enforced, but we have no idea who or why.

That becomes the central mystery that doesn’t get explained until the very end, and even then it brings more questions than answers. I won’t spoil that twist, but just say it wasn’t very satisfactory. It does set up for the sequel (which I belief comes out this summer), and it promises a different sort of challenge, which is promising.

Despite the movie’s annoying flaws, it’s not terrible. There’s action, conflict among the boys, and some puzzles are solved. Still, the weak ending ruined a lot of the good of the rest of the film, and the middle part was tediously long. The whole thing is like a long joke with an unfunny punchline.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Thu, Jul 02, 2015

: Terminator Genisys

Not quite the reboot I was hoping for, but fun and not bad. Nothing like the classic original one and two, though. The new cast does a decent job, but it always feels a little awkward and weird, like watching a re-enactment of a scene from your favorite childhood sitcom with different actors.

The plot is convoluted and doesn’t make much sense, nor does the new “tech” that’s supposed to be hip, but I do like the way the old timelines have been obliterated and now we have an all new future for the Terminator series. The action is over-the-top and pretty good, as always. Don’t expect too much, but fans should have fun.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sun, Jun 28, 2015

: The Enemy

Author: Lee Child

This is another Jack Reacher book, more recent, but it’s a prequel, set back in the first day of 1990 while Reacher was still in the army and his brother and mother were alive. That’s rather cool.

Unfortunately, the plot is… unsatisfying. The story involves an army conspiracy, but Reacher’s not in a position of great power, so he’s forced to wade through a ton of government bureaucracy. We see hints of classic Reacher personality as he cuts through some of the red tape, but not nearly enough of it (as his “just do it” attitude in the other books is what makes him such an awesome character). A huge part of the book is us learning about how the army works, which, while interesting, isn’t drama.

A side effect of this plot — which involves several murders happening and Reacher investigating — is that be don’t learn what’s going on until the very end. Worse, nothing at all connects until about the 80% mark, which means for the majority of the book we don’t have a clue what’s going on, who the bad guys are, or where the story is going. That makes it a bit of a slog. It’s still interesting with side storylines and personal stuff, but the main plot feels almost like an afterthought.

Things do tie together in the end, though the whole thing is a stretch and a rather strange conspiracy, but I wouldn’t put this up there as my favorite Jack Reacher novel by any means. I do like the series and plan to read more, though.

Topic: [/book]

Link

: Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

This was my favorite book as a kid; I actually had it memorized and would recite the whole thing. I was curious to see how they were able to turn such a short story into a movie.

The previews didn’t look that good — mostly showing slapstick comedy and silliness — but it’s only got some of that (though it’s still more than needed). I initially liked how they added in the twist of the boy wishing a bad day on the rest of his optimistic family so they’d know how he feels, but then that means the whole movie is really about the rest of the family’s bad day, not Alexander’s, which is… not what the book’s about.

The film still has some good moments and is quite pleasant with good lessons for young kids, but it leaves out some of the best parts of the book. For instance, in the book the key line — repeated throughout — is the boy wishing he lived in Australia. In his mind, that’s as far away as he can get, so he’d rather be there than having a bad day at home. In the movie they that turn that concept into him being obsessed with Australia (with kangaroo posters on his walls, etc.), with zero mention of why (which is the only thing about his obsession that actually matters). Rather bizarre.

Another criticism which touches on a pet peeve of mine since it’s an industry I know something about: the whole plot point about the mom’s book company somehow printing a book with a bad typo after she’d given the okay on the final proof is just absurd. It might have worked if they’d offered some explanation for how it happened, but they never did, and just blamed it on the printing company. Ridiculous.

Overall, I’d give this a C+: a decent effort, well-done for the most part, harmless, nice morals, but somehow falls flat and doesn’t do justice to such a classic book. The key flaw is having the bad day be about everyone else, not Alexander, which is just weird.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Sat, Jun 20, 2015

: Gone Girl

I missed this last year and wanted to see it, though I was puzzled at all the great buzz about it. It seemed to tell a very familiar story and I couldn’t figure out what was supposed to be innovative or surprising about it.

Well, there are a few surprises, mostly at the direction the film takes for the resolution, but it’s an unsatisfying conclusion. It left a bad taste in my mouth and basically ruined the movie for me. What makes the rest of the movie good is the acting, pacing, and script, which, while a predictable story, is done extremely well.

But all that is moot if the ending doesn’t work, and it doesn’t for me. Others may feel differently. I applaud that the film is trying to do something different and unusual, but it fell flat for me. It’s “poetic justice” didn’t feel like justice at all (more like a scam, with me the victim).

I also thought the psychological problems of the main characters were too severe to not be noticed earlier. (You could argue that the problems were developed later, but that doesn’t fly since part of the plot is proof that the behavior was part of a trend and similar characteristics had happened several times in the past.)

Oh well. Decent film, but not as good as the publicity made it seem.

Topic: [/movie]

Link

Fri, Jun 19, 2015

: Inside Out

I was not expecting much with this as the premise (personalized emotions inside a little girl’s head) seemed old and used to me (it’s just like the old Herman’s Head TV show), but once again Pixar surprises.

The key for me is that there’s a lot more innovative stuff than just talking emotions. The world inside the girl’s head is vast and well-done, with clear rules of its own. For instance, each emotion (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust) having their own color (yellow, blue, red, purple, green). There are “memory balls” — colored spheres that contain a video of key memories — that roll into as they are created, with the most special ones becoming “core” memories that define the girl’s personality. The spheres take on the color associated with that memory (happy ones are yellow, sad ones are blue, etc.). There are different places in the brain where the balls are stored (long-term, short-term, core, etc.), while less important memories are thrown away for good.

There are wonderful places inside this internal world, such as Imagination Land, and fun things like the “train of thought” which runs around rather randomly.

But all of this would be pointless without a good story, and here the writers have done a great job of keeping the outer story simple. Riley, the little girl, has moved with her family from Minnesota (where she played ice hockey all the time) to San Francisco. She’s lost all her friends, her house, her hockey, and is stuck in a new school. Her dad’s over-busy with work and stress, and their moving truck is stuck in Texas, so she doesn’t even have her things.

As these things make her sad, we see panic inside her head, where Joy, who’s usually in charge and always keeps Riley happy, is struggling to contain Sadness, who seemed to bumble everything and is turning everything blue. Then when Joy and Sadness get separated from Headquarters, that leaves Anger, Fear, and Disgust running the ship (er, Riley), with hilarious and predictably bad results. As Joy and Sadness wander around in the brain trying to get back to control things, Joy has to learn that there’s a place for Sadness, who she thought was a useless emotion. It’s a pretty cool concept as both Riley (outside world) and Joy (inside world) have to learn new lessons.

There are aspects of the film that weren’t perfect. The resolution is too easy-peasy (and we don’t get to see how Riley actually adapts and makes new friends in San Francisco, we only see that she does).

The film also violates one of my biggest pet peeves, which is showing memories from the camera point-of-view. (When you remember something, say a favorite birthday party from your childhood, do you see yourself in the video playback in your head? Of course not: you remember what you saw, not what other people saw.) But this film repeatedly shows memories of Riley ice skating and such — views she wouldn’t know. I do realize there’s a practical element to deciding to do it this way: if all we see is Riley’s viewpoint as she spinning around on ice, it’s hard for us to tell what’s going on, that’s she skating or whatever, but still. The film does open with her viewpoint, seeing her parents for the first time, etc., so it does mix both viewpoints.

Still, this is a minor gripe. Overall, the film’s more original than it sounds, has an interesting world, and a solid story, and is worth your time.

I will add that though it’s not related directly to this film, I was seriously disappointed with the opening short, Lava. Usually Pixar’s shorts are one of my favorite things about their films (and sometimes I like them better than the main feature). But this one was shockingly lame.

The premise is neat — a humanized volcano island in the ocean seeking love — but the execution is abysmal. The main volcano looks great, like a rock but with eyes and a mouth. But his love interest looks like a woman and only vaguely volcanoish. Top all that with an over-long talky “song” that narrates exactly what we’re seeing onscreen, and you have a tedious short that feels like it’s five-minutes too long. The music is weak, and the art is worse. I’m shocked this made it off the rough draft table, let alone got approved to precede a major film. Very strange.

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Thu, Jun 18, 2015

: San Andreas

You go to this kind of movie for the special effects and these are pretty good. It actually gives me a headache to think of all the work required to make a movie like this. Just a crazy amount of destruction.

But the actual story, while stereotypical (a man in the middle of divorce tries to rescue his family), is decent enough that we actually care about what’s going on.

Ultimately this is about non-stop action, about peril after peril (such as when the characters reach a breathing point and think they’re safe, and suddenly there’s a new threat of a giant tsunami hitting San Francisco). The film’s good at that, though certain aspects are too predictable. Still, it’s a fun ride: over-the-top, a bit silly, but surprisingly watchable.

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Sun, Jun 14, 2015

: I Origins

Strange and fascinating film. It involves a scientist who is into eyes, searching for “eye origin” gene, which he could use to grow a worm without eyes into a seeing creature and therefore prove Creationists wrong (since their argument against evolution is that the eye is too complex to evolve and must have been designed).

We don’t get much into the man’s motivations or why he hates religion so vehemently, but we do get some interesting debates on spirituality versus science. This leads up to the key premise of the film where his scientific research leads him into a direction that seems to prove reincarnation.

Unfortunately, we aren’t really taken to a place where the man has to confront such a thing — the findings are ambiguous — but it’s still an interesting ride. I wouldn’t call this a great film, as it is slow in places and not enough happens, but it is thought-provoking and worth watching if you like your thinking to be challenged.

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: A Walk Among the Tombstones

This looked like an intriguing Liam Neeson action movie, but it is not. It’s so boring I fell asleep and didn’t care that I missed part of the film. Even with a nap in the middle, it felt like a 6-hour movie.

The premise sounds good: a somewhat shady retired cop who does private investigation work gets hired to find the men who kidnapped and killed a drug dealer’s wife. The bad guys are really sick and bizarre, but not particularly interesting. No one is. The homeless kid who helps Liam’s character is about as enticing as it gets, while Liam himself is such a stone wall that we don’t even care much about him.

While there are a few good scenes and the atmosphere of the film is good, the story is sluggish, and there are many unexplained plot holes. Worst of all, little happens and there’s no action. It’s just tedious and boring. The thing felt like watching a lit firecracker for two hours only to have it fizzle out into a dud with no bang.

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Fri, Jun 12, 2015

: Jurassic World

I loved the original and while this can’t possibly match that, it’s definitely the best of the sequels. It’s set 20 years after the previous movies and the “Jurassic World” theme park has been opened for many years. I loved that idea, and it’s great seeing a real park in operation. We see tiny kids riding dinosaurs in a petting zoo, an aquatic center with a giant dinosaur sea monster splashing the audience, and much more. The place feels real, down to the Jurassic World drinking cups and Starbucks and other franchises in the tourist trap’s main street.

Into that setting we let loose some wild dinosaurs, with chaotic results. Pretty cool.

Granted, there’s much that’s silly and generic: the idea that the scientists have to play God and create their own hybrid dinosaur is dumb, as is the stereotypical military colonel who wants to turn the dinosaurs into weapons, not to mention the strange billionaire park owner who one moment is criticizing the scientists and the next encouraging them. Even the woman who runs the park and changes character because her visiting nephews are in peril is a bit too on the nose, though it actually was my favorite part, simply because Bryce Dallas Howard is such a good actress and pulls it off. (Chris Pratt, as the heroic animal trainer, is also surprisingly excellent.)

But this series was never about deep characterization. It’s about dinosaurs, and here the film entertains. There’s lots of fun, good action, and amazing special effects. Just enjoy it and don’t think too hard.

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