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]


: Fido

Fun dark comedy zombie parody set in the idyllic 1950s. Uneven, as these things usually are, but quite brilliant in some ways. In this world zombies are part of normal society and used as slaves. A boy befriends a zombie who becomes like a dog to him, until “Fido” starts killing people.

Topic: [/movie]


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]


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]


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]


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]


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]


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]


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]


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]