Fri, Sep 28, 2012

: Looper

I love time travel films and was nervously looking forward to this one. I hoped it would be good, but was expecting I might be disappointed — time travel stories can be a letdown if not handled correctly. I saw one negative review that indicated the second half was worse than the first so I went in anticipating that, but I found the opposite to be the case.

The first half sets up the time travel gimmick: mobsters in the future send people they want killed back in time where “loopers” are waiting to shoot them (apparently completely vanishing bodies in the future is “impossible”). While interesting, there are just too many unanswered questions (Why not kill the people and just send back the dead bodies?) and it had too much exposition.

The second half is where things get better. The tone does change radically from action to more cerebral activity, and I can see that some may not like that, but I felt that was the better story. In particular the plot about killing the children presented a fascinating dilemma: if you could go back in time and kill Hitler as a kid would that be morally okay? I really liked the way the film set that up and solved it.

Overall, it’s a two-thumbs up film for me, but it’s not perfect. It’s uneven and there are some confusing moments. I still have a few questions about some aspects of time travel that were never answered (or deliberately ignored). The entire premise is a bit weak (Something as powerful as time travel is used exclusively for murder?), but it’s probably one of those times when you need to suspend your disbelief and just go with the flow. The performances are terrific, especially Emily Blunt and the kid. Definitely a “go see it.”

Topic: [/movie]


Wed, Sep 26, 2012

: Thoughts on iPhone 5

What can I say about iPhone 5 that hasn’t already been said? It’s a gorgeous upgrade, doing typically “impossible” things that Apple is famous for doing. In this case, they’ve simultaneously made the phone bigger and smaller!

That is pure genius. While other companies make their phones wider and thicker, Apple keeps theirs the same handheld size and yet makes the screen noticeably larger. It’s not a huge difference, but it is significant. And that pretty much describes the entire phone: everything is just better. The phone is faster, the screen more vibrant and detailed, the camera higher quality, the software more polished.

The differences are subtle and that makes some think they aren’t that important, but I’m here to tell you that they add up to real significance. You might think thinner and lighter isn’t a big deal, but use the new phone for a weak and when you pick up the older model it feels like it’s made of lead. (That’s not to say that the new phone feels plasticky or cheaply made — just the opposite, as it feels very durable — it’s simply thinner and lighter.)

The new camera — especially for me coming for the iPhone 4 — is a big jump in quality (it’s only slightly better than the 4S camera). I’m actually amazed at how good it is. It’s still not a match for a DSLR, but considering the size of the lens and digitizer, it’s astonishing. It also takes pictures faster, and the new panorama feature is so easy to use and does such a good job for the hassle that I’d actually use it. (I’ve had apps that did panoramas but the process was so tedious I never did it out in the real world.)

Of course there’s a minor furor over the new Maps app, where Apple is using their own data instead of Google’s. In my own use it seems just fine (I haven’t noticed any glaring inaccuracies) and is actually much clearer and easier to read. While I’m sure that some areas have poor coverage, map errors are prevalent in all mapping products — they’re all a bit stupid in understanding what you want and you do have to use your brain and not take the directions too literally. And of course there’s nothing preventing you from using any of the dozens of third-party mapping apps available on the iPhone.

(Personally, if getting rid of Google was the cost to bring me voice guidance via Siri, it’s a price well-paid. I vastly prefer saying, “Siri, take me to Costco” instead of having to find the destination by hand. And I get tracked less by Big Brother, which is also good.)

Topic: [/technology]


Fri, Sep 21, 2012

: Tremors

This is a minor cult classic and I’d somehow never managed to see it. It’s is a lot of fun, though more B-movie than I expected (especially in terms of the primitive special effects though that could be because this is over 20 years old). The basic plot is a remote valley where a bunch of locals are attacked by four giant worms that live underground, but the characters are fun and interesting and the way they try to escape from the worms is well-done. It’s a bit light in the plot department (not a lot happens) and there are definitely a lot of holes in the story, but with the great cast it’s a blast.

Topic: [/movie]


Thu, Sep 13, 2012

: In Bruges

I thought I’d heard this was supposed to be good and having lived in Belgium I’d been interested in seeing it, but it disappeared from the theaters too quickly and I missed it. I see why, now. It’s nothing at all like I thought from the previews: it’s not a comedy, but a serious film about hitmen hiding out in Bruges. That sounds good, but it’s slow, ponderous, and very little happens. It’s also quite foul-mouthed and odd, with dislikable characters. In short, it’s nasty and depressing and I really hated it.

Topic: [/movie]


Wed, Sep 05, 2012

: Coma

This is the new A&E mini-series that was produced by Ridley Scott and his late brother, Tony. Unfortunately, I came away wondering why they bothered. It’s basically a remake of the first movie, except it’s four hours long and everything’s changed around for no clear reason.

For instance, instead of the main character being a doctor, she’s a medical student. I guess that gives her less power, but the obstacles, such as patient rights preventing her from looking into related cases, are exactly the same for both characters. The romantic relationship is still there, but this time the guy she’s involved with is her teacher — isn’t that unethical?

Overall it’s not bad: good cast and performances, interesting problems and a conspiracy to solve, but other than a few scenes of modern technology, I don’t see anything in this new version that improves upon the past. Everything’s the same but just a little different. If anything, this version is more convoluted and chaotic and not as streamlined as the first film, and that’s a big negative. I give it a firm “ho-hum” and recommend you just watch the original.

(If they’d done this as a TV series, which is what I initially thought it was, it would have been very interesting. Following the conspiracy over the years would have been fascinating and then it would have made a lot more sense to have the main character a student so we could watch her grow into a doctor.)

Topic: [/television]


Tue, Sep 04, 2012

: The Problem Child

Author: Michael Buckley

This is the third book in the Sisters Grimm series, and it’s the best so far. It’s got a more complete plot, doesn’t end in the middle of a sentence like the second book, and our children heroes actually do something to help save the day.

I also really liked the moral dilemma our main character (Sabrina) faces: she discovers the addicting power of magic and is lured down a dark road and has to make a key decision at the end as to which path she will take. That is excellent.

I’m still not crazy with some aspects of the story — the Little Red Riding Hood character is unpleasant and bizarre and didn’t make much sense, too much is happening (such as the Mayoral race, which felt superfluous), and too many things work out too conveniently (i.e. bad monster shows up when appropriate and not before) — but overall this is still the best of the three. I’m not sure I like the series enough to bother with subsequent books, however. They are getting better which gives me hope, but I feel like I’ve already wasted enough of my time on them. They’re a great idea, but the implementation is lacking.

Topic: [/book]


Sun, Sep 02, 2012

: Coma

This is one of those movies that I never got around to watching, though I wanted to see it. I’d caught parts of it and knew most of the plot, and I was worried that would make it disappointing, but it held up surprisingly well. The cast is terrific — lots of famous people (like Tom Selleck) in small roles before they were famous. The plot (about a doctor tracking down a conspiracy to put people into comas deliberately) still resonates well today in terms of the conflict between medical need and money, and there’s definite tension and excitement. There’s a little bit of out-of-date stuff and a few questionable moments, and the plot is very linear (which isn’t modern but I prefer), and mostly it’s excellent. I was impressed. Definitely a film worth watching, though probably not just before you go in for routine surgery!

Topic: [/movie]