Sunday, January 21, 2018

Last Days in the Desert

If you want to see a low budget gem of a movie, watch "Last Days in the Desert" where Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus and Satan. There is something compelling about watching a man on a journey, especially on a journey to find himself. Actually this is not a very religious movie. There are no miracles. The question of Jesus' divinity is left up to the viewer to decide. He could just be a crazy man wandering the desert. The final scene feels out of place, because the movie goes straight from the Crucifixion to modern day tourists taking snapshots of the same desert Jesus supposedly wandered in. Had they given us a hint of resurrection, even a slight stirring under the burial cloth, it would have given the movie a religious meaning. Such an ending, regardless of if you believe or not, would be a satisfying conclusion to the story, because it would have shown that everything that went before it served a purpose. Instead, the story is ambiguous.

Rating: * * * .5

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Darkest Hour


If you knew nothing about Winston Churchill, hadn't listened to his speeches, and hadn't watched other shows and documentaries about him, then you might conclude that Darkest Hour is a great inspirational movie about the man.  The problem is that it is not historically accurate, but instead revisionist, portraying Churchill as an indecisive, slightly befuddled old man, who only made up his mind to continue to fight against the Nazis, and not surrender, after an inspirational, but completely fictional ride in the subway.  This distortion of history I think is inexcusable.

The one thing that defined Churchill was his decisiveness and his resolve. 

Gary Oldman in his layers of makeup is not totally convincing to me as Churchill.

However, Oldman's performance is strong enough to make you feel like you are watching the real thing.

The movie gets some mileage out of Churchill's speeches, but only three of them, and the ones in the movie are greatly abbreviated.  Had they given the full speeches, it might have bored some people, but it would have given the audience more of a historical context, and felt more like you were there witnessing these things for the first time.  The movie finishes with his "Never Surrender" speech, which in the film is delivered like an inspirational call to battle, like a Saint Crispin's day speech.  However, if you listen to Churchill's actual delivery, it is much more somber.  Another problem with the way the movie portrayed this speech is that it shows it being broadcast on the radio at the same time that it was being delivered to Parliament.  Actually, Churchill gave the speech on the radio to the British people the day after he delivered it to Parliament.

Since the movie only covers a 30 day period, from May 1940, to June 1940, which was probably one of the most critical months in England's history, I feel that there was so much more that they could have given us about Churchill and the remainder of the war.  There are other shows and documentaries that have been far move informative, such as Into The Storm.  Even Netflix's The Crown has some interesting things to say about Churchill.

It is not a complete trainwreck of a movie.  The story of Churchill is inspiring in any context, and Oldman's performance is noteworthy and might even win an Oscar.  Much of the movie centers on how Churchill's own cabinet and even the king opposed him, thus giving us a story worth watching.

The film ties in well with the movie Dunkirk, which is far better, since the events of both films take place during the same period.

Rating:  * * * 



Friday, January 5, 2018

More The Last Jedi comments.



In response to this second video, I made the following comment ...

"Let me make an analogy with Spider Man 3.  The last 25 to 30 minutes of that movie were pretty terrible, but the first 90 minutes I found very entertaining.  Overall, to me the movie felt like it was worth watching, despite an obvious flaw.  

With both Star Wars movies in this trilogy, I notice some major plot holes, more so in The Last Jedi, and what feels like missing information.  There is still way too much that hasn't been explained.  

However, The Last Jedi seems to be designed to defy all our expectations as a form of entertainment.  They seem to be deliberately withholding information, like the backstory of all the major characters, so as to more easily surprise us.  Part of this is because the structure of the film crams too much stuff in it, so there isn't room for a lot of exposition.  This makes it feel compressed, but that is part of why it is entertaining.   The structure of the film feels like it is experimental, because they are not following any normal path.  You could attribute this to bad story telling, or corporate boardroom shenanigans where they tried to put too much in the movie, or maybe it is secretly brilliant.

Regardless, even if parts of the movie are bad, there is way too much stuff in the film that I like.  I think that there is a lot going on under the surface that I hope gets explained later, and I noticed way more detail on my second viewing."

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Some very interesting analysis of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Spoilers.)

This analysis might be really interesting even for those who haven't seen the movie, because it is a love story:


In regard to this, I think that there is much going on in the film that is deeper than what appears on the surface.

Some of the die hard fans hate the movie, but that is because it did not conform to their expectations.  It seems like everything in the movie was deliberately designed to be different than what people were expecting.   The Last Jedi 2nd Viewing Big Realization

Also:

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

This will be my final review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, having seen it for a second time.  It is the middle film of the third Star Wars trilogy.  This trilogy, along with some anthology films, are being made because Disney bought LucasFilm in 2012.

There is something special about seeing these movies a second time, because generally what happens is that any flaws that might exist become less noticeable or at least easier to ignore.  In addition, you notice new things with each viewing.  This was definitely true for watching Star Wars:  The Force Awakens, which had a few problems, not the least of which was that the story was somewhat a remake of the original Star Wars film, and the movie is so stingy in providing the audience with information that it made it feel like it was full of plot holes.  The other major complaint was that the main character, Rey, was so talented in everything that it made her feel like a "Mary Sue", which is a character that is so perfect in everything that the character becomes annoying or unbelievable.  However, especially on my third viewing of the film, I began to understand Star Wars:  The Force Awakens better and really appreciate what they were trying to do, even if it did have a few flaws.

Whereas Star Wars:  The Force Awakens in many ways copies the original film, A New Hope, the new movie contains some elements similar to both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  Having already copied many things from the entire first trilogy, the next movie might have to do something completely different.

After seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi two weeks ago, I watched videos on youtube everyday where people complain about different aspects of this film.  A large number of people actually hate this movie, but these are usually the die hard fans who feel the movie strayed too far from its roots by slightly changing the Star Wars mythology.  Plus the new film, like its predecessor, still has some plot holes.  Furthermore, even though people were counting on it to fill in information missing from the previous movie, it only provides enough information so that audience can follow along.  There are questions that we may never get an answer to, such as the origin of Snoke, although it has been hinted that some of these questions may be answered in upcoming Star Wars books, which is an annoyingly clever form of marketing by Disney and Lucasfilm to get you to buy books.

There were three other major complaints about this film.  The first is in the way the character Luke Skywalker is handled, because he is no longer a hero.  After experiencing a major setback, Luke abandons his friends, the rebellion, the Jedi Order, and The Force.  Even the actor Mark Hamill repeatedly complained about this.  The second complaint is that many people feel like the movie is hitting us over the head with Social Justice Warrior messages, which seems pretty obvious when watching it.  The third complaint is that movie has too many moments of levity.  It is not a comedy, but it really pushes the humor, most of which works, but some of it falls flat.

There has been a kind of backlash.  The Rotten Tomatoes Critics Score is 91%, down from an initial 93%, but the audience score is only 52%.  That's a huge difference between critics and audience, although there has been some debate on how accurate the audience score is on Rotten Tomatoes.  More importantly, ticket sales are way down.

Given all the negativity, I about convinced myself Star Wars: The Last Jedi might not be worth a second viewing, despite feeling thoroughly entertained and emotionally moved the first time around.  I was worried that the flaws would stick out too much.

I have never been so happy to be wrong.  Sure the film has a few flaws, as many movies do, but the second time around is still very entertaining and emotionally moving.  This drowns out any plot holes, political agendas being pushed, or confusion the movie has caused the audience about the characters.

The one thing that the film does well is defy all audience expectations, and that makes it more entertaining.  At one point Luke says to Rey, "This is not going to go the way you think."  Well, that describes the entire movie, which is maybe why some people have a problem with it.  To some extent it breaks the mold of what a Star Wars movie could or should be, but the result is kind of special.  It is also rich in texture; I noticed way more things on the second viewing.  There is so much that happens that goes by very quickly.

The movie is a fitting send off for the late Carrie Fisher.  Although she does not have a ton of screen time, it is enough, and her performance is more interesting than in the previous movie.  Her daughter, Billie Lourd, also has a more active role in this film.  The end credits have this dedication:

In loving memory of our princess,
Carrie Fisher.

The movie could have ended one minute sooner than it did, but the final scene is like a bonus, involving a young boy we saw earlier in the movie.  This scene is magical, but you can see the Disney influence in it.

Although Star Wars: The Last Jedi may stray a little from its Star Wars roots, every time it quickly returns to it roots making it feel like a pretty good Star Wars film.  As a die hard Star Wars fan, the movie very much appeals to me, but it seems also to have been designed to appeal to a much wider audience, and not just the Star Wars fanatics.  As such, it is a very entertaining movie, but there are some noticeable flaws.  For this reason I can't give it four stars, but three and a half just isn't enough to describe how much I like this movie.

Rating:  3.75 out of 4.

P.S.  Both times the audience applauded at the end of the film.  That tells you something.

The Politics of (the Politics of) "the Last Jedi"

Monday, December 25, 2017

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Re: Last Jedi political messaging



On Wed, Dec 20, 2017 at 11:12 AM, utahtrout wrote:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi' leans into political fray


But the latest movie, "The Last Jedi," appears to lean into the political fray, from its egalitarian message to a more specific critique of callous plutocrats.

More pointedly, the mission undertaken by Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) leads them to a planet where the ultra-rich congregate at what amounts to an intergalactic casino. Moreover, it's noted that most of those one-percenters earned their money from war profiteering -- selling weapons to the First Order and Rebels alike -- while subjugating and exploiting those around them.

The pair's escape also weaves in an animal-rights theme, as the two rebels liberate a creature used for a kind of horseracing entertainment. The beast eventually wanders off free, regaining its natural state.

There's obvious irony in a money-making enterprise like "Star Wars" -- fattening the coffers of the Disney empire -- decrying capitalism run amok. Yet even if that's a minor, peripheral element in a fantasy set in a long-ago, far-away galaxy, rather than being reluctantly drawn into such debates, "The Last Jedi" signals its willingness to at least be part of the conversation by addressing issues in the here and now.

http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/18/entertainment/star-wars-politics/index.html





Sunday, December 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

If you want to see my spoiler free review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, look here.  Otherwise, expect plenty of spoilers.

If you look at some of the youtube reaction, it is clear that a great many people hate this movie.  These are the die hard Star Wars fans who are more than likely older and feel an attachment to the existing Star Wars mythology.  The reason why all these people hate the movie is pretty much the same:  The movie throws away the old mythology and replaces it with a slightly different version.  In fact, that is the theme of the film, because in a least of couple of places the movie says, "Let the past die.  Kill it if you have to."  We can see this in the first Luke Skywalker scene where he symbolically and humorously discards the past like it has no meaning.  

Whereas the movie should be the continuation of the hero's journey, Luke's journey, what we see instead is a disenchanted Luke who has abandoned his friends, their cause, the Force, and the Jedi Order.  No wonder some people hate this movie!

I have seen multiple people claim that Star Wars: The Last Jedi kills Star Wars.  I disagree for reasons I give below.

These same people who have problems with the movie have also noticed that the new trilogy is an outlet for Social Justice Warriors.  All the bad guys are inept white males.  The leaders of the rebellion are all women, and the lead male characters make mistakes, get into trouble and have to be corrected by the females.  In fact, when the producers cast The Force Awakens they stated they were making an effort to not cast white males, as if Star Wars needs some form of Affirmative Action.  For example, Oscar Isaac who plays Poe Dameron is Hispanic.  We can see the social justice theme in several places in the movie, since the resistance is described as "the voice of the downtrodden" and the planet of Canto Bight is described as a playground for the rich who just happen to be mostly white and war profiteers.  Meanwhile on Canto Bight, the stables for the Fathier, which are like space horses, are maintained by child laborers, apparently slaves, who are clearly oppressed but secretly yearn to side with the rebellion. 

Whereas the old movies had a clear moral distinction between an evil empire and freedom loving rebels, the new movies blur those distinctions a bit.  It has become more of a struggle for the oppressed against the rich and powerful.  Snoke, who is suppose to be the ultimate bad guy, was described in the prerelease publicity as rich and powerful and flashy in the way that he liked to dress adorning himself with jewelry.  He was also supposed to have a connection to the playground of the rich world of Canto Bight.  In Star Wars: Rogue One, Saw Gerrera is a terrorist with parallels to Che Guevara.  So who exactly are the Rebels?  Political leftists?  What cause are they really fighting for?

There is a lack of continuity with the old films in that being powerful with the Force required some sort of heritage, such the Skywalker lineage.  Many people thought that Rey would be Luke's daughter, or the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi or somehow related to Leia or Palpatine.  Instead we are told that she is literally nobody; her parents were junk dealers who sold her into slavery for a pittance.  But here emerges a new theme, which is that anyone can become powerful with the Force, regardless of heritage or lack of training.   In fact, the new trilogy seems to think that training is not important.  Luke doesn't train Rey, except to tell her why he thinks the Jedi cause must end.  So despite her lack of training, Rey is able to leave Luke and go off and do powerful things.

Whereas the Star Wars movies were supposed to be all about the Skywalkers, as Kathleen Kennedy head of Lucasfilm has acknowledged, this film pretty much kills that idea.  The producers have painted themselves into a corner, especially with the death of Carrie Fischer, but the goal seems to be to continue only with the new characters.

There are things in the movie that don't seem logically consistent to me.  The previous films established rules on how the Force works, or how the space ships worked and how their propulsion worked.  This film establishes new rules.  For example, if you can destroy a battle cruiser with a kamikaze run then why haven't we seen that before?  And why does a human have to do it when we know that droids can fly ships?  Fuel has never been an issue before, but here it becomes a major plot point.  And why can't the First Order ships catch up to the rebellion ships at sub light speeds, when their star ships are capable of going faster than light?

People expected this movie to provide them with more information, like filling in the back story on many of the characters, but the movie is stingy with its information and only gives us enough to allow us to follow along.

Character development suffers a little because the movie has too many characters, but it is good enough.  

The good news is that despite the film having a different vision, it is still a vision worth following.  Every time the movie would deviate from its Star Wars legacy in any way, it would quickly go back to its Star Wars roots, which is enough to keep a fan like me happy.  The movie is exceptionally entertaining, mainly because Lucasfilm and Disney tried to cram too much stuff into it.  They throw in a great deal of humor, almost too much, but it works by making the movie that much more fun.  Although Star Wars The Last Jedi is not a perfect Star Wars movie, it is nearly perfect as a movie because it thoroughly entertains the audience.

I'm not going to give it a final rating until I can see it again.  My gut feeling is * * * 1/2, but it feels like an improvement over The Force Awakens.

Friday, December 15, 2017

​Things that DIDN'T HAPPEN or weren't expounded upon in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

There were a ton of theories and supposed leaks about what was going to be in the movie. Here are a few.

1. Snoke was really Darth Plagueis, Jar Jar Binks, Leia Organa, or Donald Trump. Actually, the movie doesn't explain who Snoke is, although I have heard that the comics give some of his back story.

2. Luke tells Rey that she is his father. This would have been an ironic twist, but the supposed leak was that she is the reincarnation of Anakin Skywalker. The story went that "The Chosen One" reincarnates and Rey was the reincarnation.

I was hoping desperately that this would not be the case, because it would have been one of the corniest lines in all of Star Wars.

There were so many incorrect leaks from supposedly reliable sources, that I suspect that Lucasfilm might have been disseminating false information to throw off all the leakers. This one sounds like an April Fool's joke.

Some of the later trailers seemed to have been cut in a way to deliberately mislead about certain plot elements. However, many observant fans quickly figured this out.

3. Luke tells Rey that there is so much more to the Force than the Jedi way. This actually was in the first trailer, but I don't recall hearing it into the movie, just as The Force Awakens and Rogue One have scenes in their trailers that didn't make it into the movies. Often trailers are released before the final editing of the movies are completed.

This lead to the popular theory that Luke was a "Gray Jedi", which is to say both light and dark. The concept of a "Gray" has been explored in other Star Wars media.

4. Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren visit Acho-To and do battle with Luke. He quickly dispatches the Knights of Ren with a new "push" force power, and then does battle with Kylo Ren.

There are people who claimed that they saw this scene being filmed. It is possible that the scene was filmed, but not used.

In the original films, there were several scenes that were filmed that were also not used.

The first cut of the movie was a whopping three hours long and had to be trimmed down to 2.5 hours, which still makes it the longest Star Wars movie.

5. Either Anakin Skywalker, or Darth Vader, or both, appear as a force ghost.

There were sources claiming that the actor Hayden Christensen was seen on the set of The Last Jedi. Likewise, Hayden Christensen came out of hiding to make public appearances where he claimed that Star Wars was still part of his life.

This could still happen in the next film.

6. As part of a test, Rey has to go underwater to fight a sea monster.

Again, people claimed that they saw this scene being filmed.

7. I'm not convinced that we know the truth yet about Rey's parents. Kylo Ren could have been lying, but on the other hand I thought Darth Vader was lying too.

In an interview, Adam Driver actually referred to Rey as a princess in hiding pretending to be a nobody. This confused a great many people, but some thought that this might be deliberate misinformation, and others thought that Adam Driver was speaking figuratively.

There was nothing in this film to indicate that this might be true. Still could happen, but it doesn't seem likely based upon what we have seen so far.

Daisy Ridley claimed that Rey's parents were obvious to her after filming The Force Awakens and thought that everybody would figure it out, but that doesn't appear to be so obvious from what we have seen in the movies.

The shuttle that leaves a young Rey behind on Jakku looks so much like Luke's shuttle in some of the comics. There were many things that made people think that Luke was Rey's father, but in the movie he doesn't seem to know who she is.

--

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Here is my preliminary spoiler free review of  Star Wars: The Last Jedi, having just seen it.

This is the Star Wars movie you're looking for.  It is thoroughly entertaining.  However, Star Wars is more than just entertainment; it is also modern mythology.  People take Star Wars very seriously, especially hard core fans like myself. My review of The Force Awakens said that it feels like an imperfect imitation of a Star Wars movie, like they mostly got it right, but not quite.  I could say the same thing about The Last Jedi.  It deviates from previous Star Wars movies in so many ways, but every time it quickly returns to its Star Wars roots so that you feel like you are watching a real Star Wars movie.

Almost every scene in this movie has some form of levity, so much so that the film overdoes it, but not to the point that it turns the movie into a farce.  You can see an influence of The Guardians of the Galaxy, but not to the point that it becomes a comedy.  The prequels, by comparison, seem uptight.

There are things that happen in this movie that seem impossible, or over the top and possibly illogical, but not so much that it ruins the movie.

If you compare this to The Empire Strikes Back, the character development is not as good, but it is good enough.  One reason for this is that there are too many characters.  The action sequences, like many modern movies, are a little overdone, but again this doesn't ruin the movie.  On both these points I think that Rogue One is better with its more human story.

If you watched all the trailers and listened to the rumors, then you are probably already aware of most of the major plot points.  But the movie relies on a few plot twists in an apparent attempt to surprise the audience as much as possible.

The ending is very good and made me a believer.

The final scene has a definite Disney influence to it.  I found the scene touching, but I felt like I was watching a Disney movie as much as I was watching a Star Wars film.  It also breaks with the Star Wars tradition of having no dialog in the final scene.

Disney has too much money riding on this movie for it to turn out a failure.  With merchandising and everything else, billions of dollars are at stake.  I think that Disney and Lucasfilm tried to hedge their bet by putting so much stuff in the movie that even though it may feel busy and not 100% faithful to the Star Wars franchise, the audience is bound to find it entertaining.  And it is.  As such, the die hard fans might have a few problems with it, but almost everybody is going to walk away from this movie feeling entertained and emotionally moved.  It is Star Wars for a new generation.

I'm not going to give it a rating until I can see it again.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Vanishing



The Vanishing is a 1988 French-Dutch psychological thriller about a man, Rex Hofman, obsessed over the disappearance of his girlfriend at a rest stop while they were on a trip together to go cycling in France.  The director, George Sluizer, also did a 1993 English language remake starring Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, and Sandra Bullock, but despite the big names, that version got terrible reviews.  The original has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is why I chose to watch this version.

Much of the movie creates tension in not knowing what happened.  Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu looks sufficiently creepy to be the villain, Raymond Lemorne, although the movie spends too much time showing us his private life where he seems perfectly normal.  In the third act, Raymond confronts Rex and tells him that he will reveal what happened to his girlfriend provided that they go on a trip together.
This is where I have a problem with the story, because nobody in their right mind would get in a car with a sociopath.  However, Rex is desperate to know what happened and reluctantly agrees to go.  From this point on I think that the movie fails to follow any kind of real world logic, but the suspense and the performance of the actors makes it worth watching.  

About two thirds of the film is told from the perspective of Rex and remainder is shown from the perspective of Raymond.  This gives the film an interesting structure where their meeting seems inevitable.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

I had high expectations for Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the 35 year old Blade Runner.  The early reviews were great and it achieved an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  I went out of my way to see the movie, but I am going to tell you now to save your money and either rent it, or wait for it to get to a discount theater.  About half way through the film I was still waiting to find out what the point was, and about two thirds of the way through I concluded that it had no point.  I thought that maybe we would get something stunning in the last act, but the plot is very thin.  The movie instead chooses to impresses us with its visuals, none of which are that much different than the first film.  In fact, many of the scenes are murky, with dusty desolate landscapes.  There are also a couple of confusing plot points that didn't quite make sense to me.

The first movie had a definite point to it.  If you could engineer biological beings close to human but not quite human, where do you draw the line between what is human and what is not?  What has rights and what doesn't?  What is real and what is not, which is the point of the original novel?  In both films the 'replicants' are used as slaves and have no rights, but in the sequel there is hardly any difference between the replicants and the humans.

It makes little sense to me to have a future world that uses biological beings as slaves, because in the real world we are probably only 10 to 20 years away from having intelligent robots that could do any sort of labor.

The only point of Blade Runner 2049 is that replicants are planning to revolt, which presumably will take place in the next sequel.  As such, it feels like half a movie because there is not that much story here, so there is plenty of room in the picture to include a revolt.  I should also point out that a revolt by artificial beings is not that original; the TV show Dark Matter has a subplot about this, and we have seen it in Star Trek at least a couple of times, and it is the central point of both Battlestar Galactica TV series.

Blade Runner 2049 fails to capture the spirit that made the original Blade Runner magical.  The main character, played by Ryan Gosling, displays mostly only one emotion, which is brooding. 

 There is enough eye candy and barely enough story to make the movie worth seeing, but I wouldn't want to spend $10 to see it.  If you are willing to wait, you can spend a couple of bucks to rent it or catch it at a discount theater.

The film uses nudity to the point of overdoing it.  Seeing 40 foot tall naked holograms on the street might make sense from a science fiction perspective, but it is just filler to distract us from the lack of a great story.

Rating:  * * 3/4.

P.S.  I conjecture that the movie is not called "Blade Runner 2048" because there is a popular smartphone game called "2048."  Personally, I don't like any title that includes a date because it will quickly become obsolete, like "Space 1999", "Death Race 2000", and "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Thursday, October 5, 2017

American Made


American Made is a semi-fictionalized version of the life of Barry Seal.  I say fictionalized, because in the movie Seal is an airline pilot who is using his job to smuggle cuban cigars to the United States from a supplier.  He is then approached by the CIA to take aerial photographs of communist insurgents in Central America.  Later he is told to smuggle weapons to the anti-communists.  However, drug lords pressure him, possibly at the threat of death, to smuggle cocaine to the United States.  So Mr. Seal ends up with quite a profitable business, transporting 'goods' in both directions.

In real life, Seal was a drug smuggler from the outset, who also got fired from his airline job for smuggling explosives, to which he escaped conviction on a technicality.  The producers of the film admit that they took liberties with the truth, and this might make for a more likable main character, but I am bothered by any movie that claims to show historical events, but then distorts those events for entertainment purposes.  

Seal's life did not end well, because he turned informant against the drug cartels and was murdered.  Here the movie shows us the truth, but the ending made me feel disappointed.  It might have been better to have a completely fictional character with a more entertaining ending.

Another place where the movie plays loose with the facts is that it shows a speech by Ronald Reagan, where the president shows the American people a picture of drug lords that also has Seal in the photograph.  In the movie, this is how the drug lords knew that Seal betrayed them, so they sent hitmen after him.  In reality, Reagan showed the picture after Seal was already dead.

Despite all my objections, the movie is fun to watch.   It portrays Seal as someone who starts out fairly innocent, but gets pulled deeper and deeper into more and more dangerous territory.  As such, he really is a fictional character.

Tom Cruise as Seal doesn't have his usual movie star persona, but seems more like an ordinary guy who is also a little redneck.  I don't know if this is intentional, or if Cruise has lost some of his charm.

Rating:  * * * 


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Solaris


Solaris, a 1972 film by the acclaimed Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, is in effect the Soviet Union's answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Although not nearly as grand in its vision, Solaris received high praise from critics, with a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  However, the first hour or so is a real snooze fest.  The first 45 minutes, which you wouldn't miss much if you skipped altogether, involve the main character, Kris, spending a day at his parents house before blasting off into space to venture out to the planet Solaris.  He doesn't have the best relationship with his parents, which creates some tension.  The movie even wastes 5 minutes showing Kris driving his car through a Soviet style city, during which absolutely nothing happens.  The pacing is way too slow.  I set the DVD playback to 50% faster than normal to get through the early parts of the film, which made it feel okay.

After 45 minutes the movie begins in earnest.  Kris arrives at the space station orbiting the the planet Solaris.  Where the planet is, and how long it takes to get there, and by what means, we are never told.  We see a brief shot of a 70's style space capsule and that is all.  Kris finds the space station in disarray and the 2 surviving cosmonauts who are behaving eccentrically.  One cosmonaut refuses to see him, hiding what appears to be a child in his cabin.  The other tells Kris that he should rest and warns him that not everything he will see is real.  Kris, a psychologist, begins to investigate the recent suicide of a 3rd cosmonaut, who apparently killed himself because he was seeing things.
We are told that the planet Solaris is mostly covered by an ocean, which the scientists have concluded is a giant brain.  They have made some attempts to communicate with the brain by beaming radiation at it.

Given all the things that happened up to this point, we are not too surprised when Kris's long dead wife, Hari, shows up in his cabin.  Neither is Kris.  He is maybe a little frightened by this, but he is accepting of his new 'visitor'.  However, he panics at one point and tries to get rid of her by stuffing her into a rocket and blasting her off into space.  (The special effect of the rocket is cheesy,  and I guess the space station must have plenty of rockets to spare, since he wasted one in this way. )  However, Hari mysteriously returns.

Hari is not a hallucination.  She is flesh and blood.  At first she may seem a little alien, but over time becomes more human.  She acknowledges her humanity, like it is a new experience.  However, she comes to realize that she is not the original Hari, who committed suicide because her husband Kris was always cold toward her.  Kris seems determined to not make the same mistake twice, and showers Hari with love and affection.  However, Hari realizes that she cannot return to Earth with her husband, because she is tied to the planet Solaris somehow, and kills herself again, but in a manner that is not clear.  Kris finds her body frozen, but then he sees her thaw and return to life.

All these experiences cause Kris to soften from the cold hard scientist that he was.  The movie asks a few philosophical questions about what makes us human, and whether life is worth living and has purpose?  The movie concludes that love is what gives life purpose and defines our humanity.

When all the 'visitors', and there are more than one, disappear from the station, the crew are puzzled as to what it was that really happened to them?  The final scene shows a more emotional Kris returning to his parent's house and embracing his estranged father, but the scene pans back to show that it is taking place on a small island on Solaris, and therefore is not real.

One cosmonaut philosophizes that humans aren't really looking for aliens, but reflections of themselves.

This is a difficult movie to rate, because much of it is slow and moody.  It looks cheaply made. However, there is some artistry to it.  The last 90 minutes I found pretty intriguing, but the film overall is dated and not completely likeable.  Part of what makes the movie interesting is to get a historical perspective on Russian filmmaking by listening to the commentary on the DVD.

There are things on the space station that seem way out of place for a science fiction movie, like the fact that the characters smoke and drink, and a library with books, wood paneling, burning candles, and expensive works of art.  That's exactly what you would want on a space station.

Rating:  * * 1/2

There is a 2002 American remake, starring George Clooney, that got mixed to positive reviews.