Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars

'I loved the film. Seriously, I did. And yet it also has more plot holes than any film I've ever seen, which makes the reviews it's getting pretty irksome. Why can't we just admit that BB-8 is adorable, Finn is hilarious, Rey is badass, seeing Han and Chewie again was awesome, the special effects were tremendous, Poe is Soloesque, Kylo Ren is intriguing, and this movie makes absolutely no sense whatsoever?

Below are 40 plot holes in The Force Awakens. A few are trifling, but most are pretty damning. All of them were entirely unnecessary -- given the amount of time put into this film, the number of people who worked on it, and the amount of money everyone involved in it knew it stood to make -- and in this respect can be deemed unforgivable'

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-abramson/40-unforgivable-plot-holes-in-star-wars-the-force-awakens_b_8850324.html

 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Star Wars:  The Force Awakens feels like an imperfect imitation of a Star Wars movie, like they mostly got it right, but not quite.  Let's call it Star Wars-lite.  One of the many things that struck me was the lack of powerful Jedi.  You have Kylo Ren, who is a Darth Vader wannabe, still learning the ways of the Dark Side, but he is no Darth Vader.  Let's call him Vader-lite.  Then you have Rey, who is just discovering that she has force powers.  Let's call her Skywalker-lite.   What is left of the Rebellion is now called the Resistance, and likewise what is left of the Empire is now called The First Order.  In this movie neither group seemed particularly impressive, like they are both rag-tag leftovers from a previous war.  So we have Empire-lite and Rebellion-lite duking it out.

Visually the previous Star Wars movies had a very clean and sterile look to them, which is visually how many science fiction movies look.  The new film looks a little different in that the style that they are going for is more of a gritty realism.

The music from the previous films is not used very much, and the new music is simply sleep inducing.  This is the biggest problem with the movie.  In this teaser trailer, we hear the classic Star Wars music as Rey drives her speedster across the desert, but the same scene in movie has some very uninspiring music.  For the film, this is a huge opportunity lost.

The original Star Wars movie stood on its own extremely well.   Had there been no sequels, the ending of the original film would have been quite satisfactory.  In fact, even though all the previous Star Wars movies were part of a greater story, each movie concluded in a way that had enough finality to it to keep the movie goers satisfied until the next movie came out.  Not so with Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  The ending leaves us hanging, in the same way the first The Lord of the Rings movie left us hanging.  When these movies ended, I felt like the story had just barely begun.  This makes the movie mostly feel like a setup for the next film.

I see now the difference between J.J. Abrams and George Lucas.  Abrams knows how to make an entertaining movie, and does so here, but the movie barely treads any new ground.  Lucas on the other hand is a visionary.  No matter what you thought of each the original six films, each one was visionary in a very different way.  There is some innovation from the new movie, but it doesn't remotely compare to how visionary the previous films were.

In fact, the movie feels too "safe" like it is mostly recycled from the previous films.  In a way, it feels a little too Disney.  Plot point after plot point seems to come from the earlier films:

  1. Secret plans are hidden in a droid which the Empire is looking for.
  2. A Jedi student turns to the dark side, kills the other Jedi students, and joins the Emperor.
  3. The Jedi master goes into exile.
  4. A Death Star like weapon is blowing up planets, and the Rebellion is the next target.  They must destroy the weapon using X wing ships before the Rebellion is also destroyed.
  5. A young force sensitive person who lost her parents is stuck on a planet and yearns for a better life among the stars.
  6. They go into the enemy's stronghold to free a prisoner.

Although I did not hear this mentioned in the movie, yesterday the wikipedia article referred to Rey's full name as "Rey Skywalker".  The article doesn't say that today, like somebody realized that this was a mistake and changed it.  I also just found much speculation on the Internet that Rey is Luke Skywalker's daughter.  If this is true then it would give the ending of the film considerably more significance.  I was waiting for Luke to acknowledge his relationship to Rey, but he doesn't.  In the movie Rey's parentage is left as an unresolved mystery.

Watching the movie in the theater held a few surprises for me.  First of all, the audience was quite young.  Most of these people were teenagers and young adults.  I didn't see many people like myself who were actually alive when the first Star Wars movie came out.  Many people were dressed in costume, and a few were carrying toy light sabers.  I was also surprised to see half the audience stay to watch the full credits.  This is because many movies are now including bonus scenes at the end of the credits.  Most of those who stayed were standing around talking about the movie.

The audience applauded at the finish, so they must have really enjoyed it.  I thought it was good, and maybe pretty good, but lacking the greatness of some of its predecessors.  The original Star Wars movie is a film that I have seen 17 times over the last 38 years, and likewise all the other Star Wars films I have seen many times.   They are so great that I can watch them over and over and still be entertained.  I just don't see myself doing that with Star Wars:  The Force Awakens.  I might watch it one or two more times in case I missed something the first time around, but after that I will be done with it.

Rating:  * * * .5

POSTSCRIPT:  I needed to know if I was being too harsh on the movie, so I couldn't resist seeing the movie a second time.  On the second viewing it is easier to forgive some of the imperfections because the movie is a thrill ride from beginning to finish.   In my review above I said the film is not visionary, but it indeed does have a vision, even if it didn't quite meet my expectations.  As such the movie is very entertaining and deserves its place as part of the Star Wars saga.

Rating:  Still * * * .5

Honestly, the movie feels like an opportunity lost.  We could have had Yoda as a Force Ghost, or Luke Skywalker as the wise old mentor.  Maybe the next movie will have these things.

There are a few scenes that don't quite make sense to me in terms of story or why characters were in certain places at certain times:

  1. I couldn't understand how it is that R2-D2 was suddenly able to find the rest of the map to the location of Luke Skywalker, or why they even needed a map and not just a set of coordinates?  
  2. Why was Rey the one chosen to go meet Luke since she was a newcomer to the Resistance?  And why in the Millennium Falcon?
  3. General Leia seemed tight lipped as she talked, like she couldn't open her mouth all the way.  Did this woman have a stroke, or just too much plastic surgery?
  4. What was the fate of Captain Phasma?
  5. The scene where the planet of the Republic is destroyed seems underplayed.  Did billions of people just die?  If so, why wasn't it played for more emotion?
  6. How is it that their interstellar weapon can cross the vast distances of space without using hyperspace?  
  7. How is it that they know exactly when the weapon is going to fire?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Spectre


Spectre has something that the three previous Daniel Craig James Bond films didn't have, which is style.   It is reminiscent of the early Bond films.  Still, I felt like something was missing.  Daniel Craig has lost that taut look that make him believable as trained killer.  In certain shots his face looks a little flabby, like he has put on a few pounds.   Add this to his humorless, joyless, apparently unenthusiastic performance, then he didn't seem completely believable to me as James Bond.

I have other problems with believability with the movie.  There are a couple of chase scenes that are exciting, but a little over the top.  In addition, mid way through the movie, James Bond decides to travel to the Blofeld's lair knowing full well that is going to be tortured and killed.  How believable is that?

However, Christoph Waltz shines as Blofeld.  Mr Waltz has a face that looks oddly different in a disconcerting way.

Despite my complaints, this is my favorite Daniel Craig James Bond film.  I liked it better than Skyfall which was completely devoid of style.  Spectre ventures a little back into early James Bond territory with gadgets, cool cars and entertaining villains.  The movie does not fully recapture the glory of James Bond, but it makes a good effort.

Rating:  * * *

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Ant Man

Ant-Man is a movie so hokey in so many places that at times I could barely stand to watch it.  The premise is not very believable, the acting in places is questionable, and much of the story seems silly.  Evangeline Lilly of LOST fame seems poorly utilized in this movie, and so does Michael Douglas.  

The people who stand out are Paul Rudd as the protagonist, and Michael Peña as Luis who adds some great comic relief in a movie that desperately needs it.  Michael Peña plays the same comic character he always plays, but here he does it with such style that it elevates the movie.  Anthony Mackie also adds some style to the film with his brief appearance as Falcon.  Unfortunately, these are the only characters I really liked in the movie.

The execution of the film is mostly good, although in a couple of places it kind of falls flat.  What it lacks, besides more good characters, is a believable story.

Fortunately, there are a couple of good payoffs at the end.  (There is also an easter egg at the end of the credits.)  The action helps carry the film despite so many obvious flaws.  This raises movie from mostly-stupid to borderline watchable.  I have to admit that when I wasn't annoyed at how silly the movie is, I enjoyed what I was seeing.

For these reason I am giving the movie a very weak recommendation.  If your expectation is that the movie is not going to be very believable, then you can enjoy it for what it is.

Rating:  *  * 1/2

How the film got 80% on Rotten Tomatoes is a mystery to me.

Ant-Man cost a $130 million dollars to make.  With that kind of money, could they not have made a better movie?  With Star Wars The Force Awakens a week away, it makes me wonder if Disney knows how to make a decent movie?

Primer

When you make a science fiction movie for only $7,000, you would expect it to have some shortcomings.

Two engineers, Aaron and Abe, accidentally invent a time machine.  If they sit in the box for 6 hours, they can go back in time 6 hours, and maybe longer depending upon what time they activated the machine.  At first this works out well for them as they day trade stocks with the knowledge of which ones are going to go up.  However, they start to have physical side effects.  Then suspicion develops between them when someone they know appears to have also traveled back in time.

The shortcoming of this movie is that it is not long and important key plot elements get compressed at the end.  This makes it hard for the viewer to understand what is going on.  I didn't try.  I just understood that things had gotten out of control.  There is a sense of chaos in the last part of film.

This is the kind of movie that after you see it, then you read about it on Wikipedia to try to understand what it is that you just saw.  (For another example, see the movie "Enemy".)  There is much the movie doesn't explain; it doesn't have the budget for it.  According to the Wikipedia article, mutual distrust causes both Aaron and Abe build their own time machines so that they can each go back in time without each other's knowledge.  The cautious Abe feels that things have gotten out of control and tries to stop time travel from being invented.  However, the adventurous Aaron travels back in time to stop Abe from what he is doing, and has at least two versions of himself scheming together for personal benefit.  Both characters start looping the same events over and over.

However, I didn't really understand all of that as I was watching it.  I just enjoyed the movie for its atmosphere.  Apparently the time travel shenanigans are so complex that you need this graph to understand it.

This is the kind of ultra low budget film that is entertaining enough to get remade with a real budget.  I just hope that the remake is a little easier to understand.

Rating: * * 1/2

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Peanuts Movie

The first teaser trailer for The Peanuts Movie came out in March 2014 and the movie was originally scheduled to be released in January 2015, but somehow the release date got pushed back.  Here it is almost the end of 2015 and the movie is finally being released.  It was worth the wait.  I can't imagine a better way to bring Peanuts to the big screen.

The Little Red Headed Girl moves to town, and for Charlie Brown it is love at first sight.  He wants to impress her by figuring out how not to be such a loser.

The comic strip Peanuts is a bit dated, but The Peanuts Movie does three things really well:  It makes the transition to 3D while brilliantly maintaining some of the classic comic strip 2D look.  It appeals to older people like me who are nostalgic for Peanuts while also being fun (and funny) for the kids.  The kids in the audience were laughing at the slapstick, but so were the adults.  Finally, the movie pays homage to all the classic Peanuts material while being fresh enough for the 21st century. 

There is slightly too much emphasis on Snoopy's fantasy adventures, but only slightly.  The theme of the movie is Dream Big.

Rating:  * * * 1/2


The full trailer is here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Wages of Fear


In this highly acclaimed 1953 French film, an American oil company in Mexico hires four down on their luck drifters to drive a cargo of nitroglycerin over a dangerous mountain.  The men are so desperate that they are willing to risk getting killed for a $2,000 paycheck.  The movie portrays how fear can drive men to madness.

The movie stars the popular French actor Yves Montand.

If you skip the first 45 minutes of the movie then you will miss next to nothing.  The problem with the film is that it has a long boring setup.  If you start watching 45 minutes into it then you will see a pretty good movie.

Pawn Sacrifice

Pawn Sacrifice is the "based upon a true story" biography of Bobby Fischer from a young age up to his 1972 World Chess Championship match with Boris Spassky.  For me the movie was a different take on Fischer.  We know that sometime after his 1972 match that Bobby went off the deep end with his paranoia, but the movie portrays the process starting well before then.  It is hard to know for sure how accurate the movie is, but according to things I have read it is mostly accurate.

Which is interesting, because something the movie barely touches on is how brilliant Fischer was.  Prior to his 1972 match with Spassky, he was competing with some of the best people who ever lived and beating them easily.  After a bad start in the 1972 match, Fischer had little difficulty beating Spassky, even though Spassky was the world champion and one of the greatest players ever.  Prior to this match, Fischer had never beaten Spassky.  This is because Fischer hit his peak in the 1971 to 1972 time period.

My favorite Fischer quote is, "I don't believe in psychology.  I believe in good moves."

I like how the movie touches on Fischer's childhood and the Cold War drama that was being played out in the 1972 match between the American Fischer, and the Soviet Spassky.

I didn't think that Tobey MaGuire could play Fischer.  For one thing, he is much shorter.  But he seems to nail it.  It is a great performance.  He doesn't quite have the voice right, nor the Brooklyn accent, but his portrayal of Fischer is very good.

I see some similarity between Fischer and Steve Jobs.  Both were brilliant self centered men who often lashed out at others.  Jobs was probably way more outgoing and the saner of the two men.

Like the Steve Jobs movie, Pawn Sacrifice focusses heavily on conversations between the characters.

Ratings:
For chess players:  * * * .5
For everybody else:  * * *

If you want to see the best documentary about Fischer, rent Bobby Fischer Against The World.

Les Misérables

Les Misérables is the most popular stage musical ever, having been seen by over 70 million people.

The events of the musical and film take place just prior to the second French Revolution and are based on the book by the same name.

The movie Les Misérables tries hard to be a beautiful epic musical and only succeeds at being beautiful.  The problem is that the music is not particularly memorable and star studded cast seems to have only average singing ability.  Even the most famous song, I Dreamed a Dream, is not as good as the Susan Boyle version.  The two and half hour movie feels too long for the story that is there.  Without the music it would be half as long.  There is enough good stuff in the movie to keep me interested, but not impressed.

Maybe the stage version is better.  I hope to see it someday.

Rating: * * *

Bridge of Spies


James Donovan was a lawyer who acted as the defense attorney for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and later negotiated with the Soviet Union a prisoner exchange of Abel for downed U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers.

This movie is appealing as a history lesson in cold war politics.

The Martian

A manned mission to Mars has to be prematurely aborted when the crew is caught in a storm.  Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead and abandoned on the surface of Mars when the crew makes an emergency lift off.  However, Watney is not dead and must figure out how to survive on Mars until a rescue mission can be mounted.

The premise made me think of Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

There is a great deal in this movie that should be emotionally inspiring, like in The Right Stuff or Star Wars, but the movie keeps its emotions very low key.  When Watney stares in awe at the Martian landscape, we don't feel quite the same emotion that the character does, like for example how we felt when Luke Skywalker looked at the double sunset in Star Wars.  Maybe the movie just needs some John Williams music to inspire us.  Instead the film feels like a "procedural" movie where we follow the character step by step as he comes up with ingenious ways to survive.  In this respect, the movie does not seem that different from All is Lost.  Even the ending, which should have been an emotional triumph, is understated to the point of being anticlimactic.

I think that the film attempts to be a "hard" science fiction because it makes a big effort to be scientifically accurate.  It mostly succeeds, although there are areas where I question the scientific accuracy.  Would we really be able to hear sounds in the extremely thin Martian atmosphere?  It made no sense to me that they had to use a bomb on a spaceship to vent some air; couldn't they open a hatch?  Likewise, trying to poke a hole in space suit to give the astronaut some momentum would probably just make him spin.  It doesn't seem so believable to me that they would be able to rescue the astronaut because there are a great many things that could go wrong where any one of them would result in complete failure.

Some of the space walk scenes will seem familiar to those who have seen Gravity.

Strange how Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain were both in Interstellar.  This was nagging my brain a little as I watched the movie.

There is much in this movie to enjoy, but it also seems like a lost opportunity to make a better movie with more emotional impact.

Rating: * * * .5


The movie seems fond of using swear words in situations that don't really warrant it.  It is rated PG-13 for swear words and brief nudity.

P.S.  The first time I saw this film, I didn't think it was very emotionally moving, and that the film was a lost opportunity to stir our emotions.  On the second viewing the movie holds up pretty well.  The film is emotionally moving, but in a subtle way.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Steve Jobs

The news article Basically, nobody went to see the new Steve Jobs movie seems prophetic because I was the only person in the theater watching the movie.  Anything about Apple, Steve Jobs and computer technology is interesting to me, which is why I was there.

This is an amazing biopic, but at first I couldn't figure out why I like the movie so much.   The film is about 98% conversation, almost all of which is people arguing with each other.   What makes the film interesting is that everything proceeds at a rapid pace, which means the audience is forced to pay attention to keep up.  When the film was done, I felt like I had just seen something wonderful, but I wasn't sure why.

I doubt that any of the conversations in this film took place exactly as depicted in the movie, but the conversations serve a purpose to convey a great deal of information about people and historical events.

The movie throws technical terms around that would go over the heads of most people, but for a computer hacker like me, this was gravy.  There is a certain joy in being able to understand all of this.

Really the movie is about relationships, specifically how Steve Jobs related to everyone else.   The way Steve Jobs related to everyone is to be a jerk, mostly by lashing out at people, but at the same time he seemed to draw everyone toward him with the power of his personality and his vision.   Steve Jobs seemed like a man who thought that he was so far above everybody else that he didn't need to take time to be nice to people, so the key is to realize that the only thing he only cared about was is make his vision a reality.  Had Steve Jobs been any different, would the world be a lesser place today?

Steve Jobs vision was always ahead of the technology of the day.   All the early computers his companies created were underpowered, lacking in memory, not very useful for anything productive, and way overpriced.  This is why the Macintosh and the NeXT computers were commercial failures.   It wasn't until Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 that the cost of technology had come down enough to make Jobs' vision a runaway commercial success.

This is one of the best movies of the year and nobody is watching it.   My advice is to see it before it disappears from the theaters.  I want to see it again.

Rating: * * * *

Steve Jobs has an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Searchers


In 1868, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns home to Texas after fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War.  Initially he is biased against his brother's adopted son, Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), because Martin is part Native American.  Ethan is unapologetically racists against the Comanches.  When members of his brother's family are killed or abducted by Comanches, he vows to track down his surviving relatives and bring them home.  When Edwards gets word that his young niece Debbie (Natalie Wood) is alive, he and Martin spend over a decade trying to find her.  Ethan eventually warms up to Martin, making him his heir, but when he does find a fully grown Debbie, she is integrated into the Native American way of life and does not want to return with Ethan and Martin.  As a result, Ethan feels that she has been corrupted by the Comanches and wants to kill her.  Fortunately, by the end of the movie, his hard heart softens.

It is hard to judge this 1956 movie from a 2015 perspective.  One Native American tribe is portrayed as murderous, although other Native American individuals are portrayed as friendly.  When the U.S. Army decides to attack the murderous tribe, they make it clear that their plan is to massacre everyone without any effort to spare the innocent, although the movie does show women and children escaping.  So it is hard to determine the intent of the movie.  Is it merely portraying racism that would have existed in 1868, or is it also reflecting racist attitudes that would have been common in 1956?  If the movie is an accurate portrayal of 1868, then it should be praised for showing us history and taking a stand against racism.  I think that this is mostly what the movie is trying to do, except one cannot help feel that that the portrayal of Native Americans is too stereotyped.  I think that even though the movie is clearly taking a stand against racism, it was limited by the time period in which is was made, because the film does not stray very far from traditional western movie ideas about Native Americans.  Maybe it had to be this way to be a commercial success.

I am not sure what to make of the fact that at least one key Native American character is portrayed by a white actor.

The Searchers is considered one of the greatest films ever made, and possibly John Wayne's best performance.  It is certainly considered one of the best westerns ever made.  However, its attitude toward Native Americans makes it feel a little dated.

Many critics praised the beautiful scenery in the film, which was filmed in Monument Valley in Arizona and Utah.  Having lived in Utah, I wasn't quite as impressed.  Most of these areas looked far too inhospitable for people to actually be living there, so the scenery wasn't an accurate reflection of the high plains of Texas where the story takes place.


Rating:  * * * .5

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Shutter Island

U.S. Marshal Edward Daniels investigates a missing person case at a mental hospital.  However, as he digs deeper, he becomes convinced that something unsavory is happening at the hospital;  he begins to think that patients are being experimented on, and later that experiments are being done on him as well.

This is a good psychological horror thriller, but like some films of this genre, it is full of disturbing images.  This is where I have a problem with the movie, because I find this aspect of the film bothersome.  Many people would find this entertaining in a nightmarish horror picture kind of way, but I simply wasn't in the mood for it.  The movie made me gloomy.

The closest film to this one that I can think of is Jacob's Ladder, which is an even more disturbing film that I actually liked.  It also reminds me of the 2005 psychological thriller Stay, which I found so depressing that upon getting out of the theater I immediately bought a ticket to Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit just so that I could watch something more uplifting.

The disturbing aspects of this film are necessary, otherwise the surprise ending wouldn't make as much sense or have as much impact.  However, the ending seemed a little contrived to me, and it is not very different from the endings of Stay and Jacob's Ladder.  I could tell you how these endings are similar, but that would give away the surprise.

Shutter Island is an extremely well made film that is entertaining, so despite my reservations, I am giving it three stars.

Rating:  * * *

Friday, September 18, 2015

Love and Mercy


The Beach Boys were founded in 1961 by the brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and their friend Al Jardine.  They had their greatest success from their inception up to 1966 with their Pet Sounds album, which was an artistic achievement but commercial failure, but also with the song Good Vibrations in 1966 which was their greatest selling single.  From this point on the band was plagued with nothing but problems.  Brian Wilson, who was the songwriting genius of the group, mentally broke down due to schizophrenia and drug abuse, and for the remaining decades would only occasionally have anything to do with the band.  The Beach Boys failed to keep up with changing music styles, failed to have any new successful songs until the 1988 Kokomo, and only found commercial and touring success with their old material.  The last 40 years have seen the original and new members come in and out of the group, and multiple lawsuits between various members over song rights, royalties, and the legal use of the name "The Beach Boys."  Dennis Wilson died as an indirect result of drug abuse and Carl Wilson died from lung cancer due to his heavy smoking.  Today, of the surviving original band members, all of which are in their 70's, only Mike Love is keeping the band going along with some of the children of the original band members.  Since about 2000, Brian Wilson has had a semi-successful solo career and very little interest in rejoining the group.

Love and Mercy focusses on two parts of Brian Wilson's life:  His creative genius and eventual breakdown in the 1960's, and a difficult period of his life in the 1980's when he was under the care of psychotherapist Eugene Landy.  The movie portrays Landy as being abusive and totally controlling of Wilson.  Landy eventually lost his psychotherapy license in the state of California due to ethical violations in his treatment of Wilson.  Despite these problems, Brian Wilson thinks that Eugene Landy helped him.

The movie portrays Brian Wilson's early romantic relationship with Melinda Ledbetter, who helped him break away from Landy, and later became his wife and manager.  The couple adopted five children.

Paul Dano and John Cusack both give great performances as Wilson.

This is a very good biopic, and mostly accurate according to Wilson.  The movie provides insight into The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, and the creative process.  The film makes you want to download The Beach Boys songs.

I wanted to see Love and Mercy when it came out in the theater, but I got busy and it didn't stay in my local theater very long.  Afterwards, I didn't want to drive 50 miles to see the movie, so instead I watched it the first day it came out on DVD.

 Rating:  * * * .5

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Age of Adaline


I have not yet done a review of Spider-Man 3 from 2007, but that movie was pretty good for the first 90 minutes, and then terrible for the last 25 minutes.  The Age of Adaline almost follows the same pattern, but not quite.  The last 25 minutes teeters along a cliff edge where it threatens to fall into a pit of terribleness without actually doing so.  The problem with the last act is that it feels awkward.

The story is that a freak accident stops Adaline from aging.  After a 107 years, Adaline is afraid to get close to anyone, but she falls for a handsome young man named Ellis Jones.  However, things get complicated when her past catches up with her.

There are some interesting performances from Harrison FordEllen Burstyn (who is looking quite old.  She was youthful and terrific in the 1980 film Resurrection), and Anthony Ingruber.  Ingruber convincingly plays a younger version of the Harrison Ford character, and this is has lead to an internet campaign to have him play Han Solo in an upcoming Han Solo movie.  He has also done some impressions of Han Solo on Youtube.

Overall the movie seems pretty entertaining.  Rating:  * * *

The Age of Adaline has a 54% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Signal


If science fiction movies had hearts, then the heart of every science fiction movie would yearn to be Star Wars.  What makes Star Wars great is that takes us to another world full of wonderful things.  The trouble with low budget science fiction movies is that there may be something wonderful in the movie, but it might occur briefly at the end of the film after the audience has endured a really long build up.  This is the problem with "The Signal".

For example, the first 15 minutes of the movie is about three MIT students crossing the country.  There is a story here about relationships, but more importantly, someone is hacking into their laptops.  The students trace "the signal" to someplace in Nevada, so they are determined to go there and investigate.  When they get there, they find a creepy shack in the middle of the desert.  Then, jarringly, at least one of them appears to be abducted by aliens from another world.  Then our heroes wake up in an underground hospital/bunker where people are asking them questions and doing experiments on them.

Where the movie succeeds is that it creates a level of suspense of not knowing what is going to happen next.  The characters don't know what is happening to them, and we don't know anything more than the characters do.  What we sense is that this is leading to something; we only hope that it is something good.  So I like the movie for the suspense that it creates.  (In this respect, the movie is a clever exercise in low budget filmmaking.)

There is also much misdirection, since the whole film seems designed to conceal the ending from us so as to keep it a surprise.  However, for me this made the ending a little less logical.  When we do get the pay off at the end, the final scene goes by so quickly that I had to watch it again to understand it, and even then I had to do an internet search to confirm that I understood what I saw.  Had I seen this in the movie theater, as opposed to video, I might have been confused and disappointed.

Movies like this end with something wonderful, which is where movies like Star Wars start.  It would be nice to see where the ending takes us, but no, the movie just ends.

So that is the problem with low budget science fiction movies.  I think that this one is well worth watching because it really does create an interesting and suspenseful story.

Rating:  * * *

The Signal has only a 59% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Constantine vs. End of Days vs. Legion

Imagine a science fiction movie where alien beings were invading our universe from another dimension.  The aliens look human and only a few rare talented human beings can see the aliens for what they are, like in They Live.  A few of the more powerful aliens enter our universe inside the body of a human being and try to tear their way out of the body, like in Aliens.  The protagonist specializes in either killing the aliens with much violence, or using special high tech equipment to send the aliens back to their original dimension.

Constantine is not a science fiction movie, but the details are essentially the same.  In my description above, change every occurrence of the word "aliens" to the word "demons" and this is what the movie is about.  It is really a religious fantasy/horror film, but to me it is more like a science fiction movie enveloped in a bunch of religious mumbo jumbo.  Constantine has a rich and complex mythology, but this probably doesn't match anything you learned in Sunday School.

And this is the problem why I think that the movie only has a 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  This an interesting and exciting film, but there are going to be many people who simply don't get it, or aren't interested in this genre.   Roger Ebert called it one of his most hated films.

The acting by Keanu Reeves at times is little wooden, but I like many of the supporting actors.

End of Days has the same problem.  The movie could be summed up as "Arnold Schwarzenegger versus the Devil before Y2K."  The plot is a little sillier, where the Devil needs to mate with the "chosen" female one hour before the end of the millennium to create the anti-christ.  Had I seen the movie in the theater I would have considered it just a borderline good movie, but it makes a good $1 movie rental.  It has only an 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

These films require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief.  To enjoy these movies you have to accept the rules of the universe that these characters live in.  They are best enjoyed with a bowl of popcorn and an open mind.


Charlie: "When I was a little girl, my mother would remind me each night before bed, to open up my heart to God, for He was kind, merciful, and just. Things changed when my father left a few years later, leaving her to raise me and my brothers in a place on the edge of the Mojave Desert. She never talked of a kind and merciful God again. Instead she spoke of a prophecy. Of a time when all the world would be covered in darkness and the fate of mankind would be decided. One night, I finally got the courage to ask my mother why God had changed, why He was so mad at His children. 'I don't know,' she said, tucking the covers around me, 'I guess He just got tired of all the bullshit.'"

Legion is not your typical horror movie.  God sends an army of angels to wipe out mankind.  One archangel, Michael, rebels and tries to save mankind.  The story goes that if one special child, a savior figure, can be saved, then so can humanity.  The showdown to save or destroy mankind takes place at a run down "gas and eat" on the edge of the Mojave desert.

Michael (The Archangel): "The last time God lost faith in Man, He sent a flood. This time, He sent what you see outside."
Percy Walker: "Are you saying this is the apocalypse?"
Michael (The Archangel): "I'm saying this is an extermination."

I love the performances by Paul Bettany as Michael, Kevin Durand as Gabriel, Dennis Quaid, Charles Dutton, Tyrese Gibson, and Lucas Black.  The movie is also full of great quotes:  

Percy Walker: "When I was a kid, my father would sit by my bed every night before I went to sleep.  And he's say to me, 'Percy, if you don't wake up tomorrow, if it turns out that today is your last day on earth.  Will you be proud of what you've done in this life?  Because if you ain't, you better start getting square.'"

Bob Hanson: "You know this is crazy, right? I mean... I don't even believe in God."
Michael (The Archangel): "Well, that's just fine, Bob. He doesn't believe in you either."

Michael (The Archangel):  "When God chose your kind as the object of His love, I was the first in all of heaven to bow down before you. My love, my hope for mankind was no less than His. But I have watched you trample that gift. I have watched you kill each other over race and greed... waging war over dust and rubble and the words in old books. And yet, in the midst of all this darkness, I see some people who will not be bowed. I see some people who will not give up, even when they know all hope is lost. Some people, who realize being lost is so close to being found. I see you, Jeep. Fifteen years old, your mother leaves. Your father withdraws from the world and you spend the next five years of your young life helping him find his way home. You love a woman who bears the child of another and you love her with no thought of yourself, even though you know she may never love you the way you love her. You, Jeep... you are the reason I still have faith."

Gabriel (The Archangel): "This is not your test, Michael. How dare you presume to know His heart?"
Michael (The Archangel): [putting a hand to his chest] "Because He made this one. And it tells me He shouldn't lose faith now."

Gabriel (The Archangel):  "I would not have shown you such mercy."
Michael (The Archangel): "I know. That's why you failed Him."

When I compare Legion to another apocalyptic horror film, The Mist, I think that Legion is a hundred times better.  Both movies belong to a genre of movies called Siege Films, where a group of people are inside a house or a building trying to defend themselves from something evil outside.  This may have started with westerns, but one of the most famous examples is Night of the Living Dead.  Another famous example is Assault on Precinct 13.

Legion's showdown in an old gas station/restaurant also reminded me of an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer called "Spiral".

I think that the film has shades of Terminator, with the end of the world theme and the way the archangel Michael arrived on earth reminded me of how Kyle Reese arrived in 1984.

Why it is only 19% or Rotten Tomatoes I can't understand.

The movie has inspired a new TV series which I like.

Ratings:
End of Days * * *
Constantine:  * * * 1/4
Legion:         * * * 1/2

          

Friday, August 28, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: What I know so far.

This is a combination of analysis of the trailers, leaks, rumors, and speculation found on the internet.

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Since The Battle of Endor, what remains of the Empire and the Rebels have fought a war for 30 years.  The First Order controls at least a portion of the former Empire and is headed by Supreme Leader Snoke, played by Andy Serkis.  He is the one who says in the trailer,  "There has been an awakening.  Have you felt it?"   There may be other factions of the original empire besides The First Order.

The movie title refers to the Force becoming more powerful.   It has been said that Luke Skywalker has become too powerful and too dangerous with the force, and has gone into seclusion.  He might be protecting some Sith artifact or temple because he does not want the Sith to get to it.  We know that R2-D2 is with him.

An unknown queen, most likely Leia Organa, gives Poe Dameron a special mission.  The speculation is that it is to find her missing brother, Luke Skywalker.

Early in The Force Awakens, hot shot rebel pilot Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac, is a prisoner on an Empire ship.  He escapes, possibly in a Tie Fighter.  He shoots up a docking bay.  Storm trooper Finn, played by John Boyega, is seen on a ship fearful for his life or at least very stressed.  At one point Finn may participate in an attack on a forest world, possibly Endor, because we know that Warrick Davis is going to be in the movie, which lead to speculation that he would be reprising his role as the Ewok Wickett Warrick.

Finn deserts the Empire and crash lands a tie fighter on the desert planet of Jakku.  Perhaps it was Finn who shot up the docking bay on the Empire ship.  On Jakku there is a scavenger hunter, Rey, played by Daisy Ridly.  She salvages from space ships that have crashed on Jakku from The Battle of Jakku.  Finn and Rey team up, along with her droid BB-8 and get chased by the Empire.

Finn and Poe Dameron might be force sensitive. 

Somehow Luke's original lightsaber is found.  This is the one that he lost when his hand was cut off in The Empire Strikes Back.  Maybe Rey finds it because she is seen holding it, but Finn is seen using it.  Together they might go on a quest to return it to its owner.  It has been said that the movie ends with them finding Luke Skywalker and handing the lightsaber to him.

We have seen C3PO with a red replacement arm.

Finn and Rey board the Millennium Falcon and pilot it.  Han Solo and Chewbacca also end up on the ship with them, possibly because Finn and Rey stole the ship.   

The main bad guys are Snoke, Captain Phasma, and Kelo Ren.   

Kelo Ren is a member of the Knights of Ren, and sees himself as a hero figure.  It has been said that he finds the mask of Darth Vader, becomes obsessed with Vader, and constructs a mask for himself.  Kelo Ren is seen with a special light saber with a cross guard.  We know that Kelo Ren is not his original name.

There has been much rumor and speculation that one or two of the following are the offspring of Han and Leia:  Rey, Poe Dameron, and Kelo Ren.  We know that Han Solo confronts Kelo Ren and is possibly killed.  Afterwards Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian are seen piloting the Millennium Falcon.

The last names of Finn and Rey have been kept a secret, because it has been strongly implied that they are related to other Star Wars characters. 

Captain Phasma appears to be a chrome plated storm trooper, and is played by Gwendoline Christie.  She may be a bounty hunter.

Numerous characters, creatures and droids from the original trilogy appear in this movie, including Admiral Ackbar, and Nien Nunb.

Max Von Sydow has some unknown role in the movie.

Domhnall Gleeson plays General Hux who commands a "Star Killer Base."  Rumor has it that this is a weapon that can destroy an entire solar system.

It has been rumored that we would see an Inquisitor, and this seems likely because of the emphasis on Inquisitors in Star Wars Rebels.  Some have wondered if this would be Kelo Ren.

There has been speculation that Luke Skywalker has restarted the Jedi Order and we might see Jedi in training.  There also has been much speculation about the movie having "force ghosts" of previous Star Wars characters, including Anakin Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Legion


Charlie: "When I was a little girl, my mother would remind me each night before bed, to open up my heart to God, for He was kind, merciful, and just. Things changed when my father left a few years later, leaving her to raise me and my brothers in a place on the edge of the Mojave Desert. She never talked of a kind and merciful God again. Instead she spoke of a prophecy. Of a time when all the world would be covered in darkness and the fate of mankind would be decided. One night, I finally got the courage to ask my mother why God had changed, why He was so mad at His children. 'I don't know,' she said, tucking the covers around me, 'I guess He just got tired of all the bullshit.'"

Legion is not your typical horror movie.  God sends an army of angels to wipe out mankind.  One archangel, Michael, rebels and tries to save mankind.  The story goes that if one special child, a savior figure, can be saved, then so can humanity.  The showdown to save or destroy mankind takes place at a run down "gas and eat" on the edge of the Mojave desert.

Michael (The Archangel): "The last time God lost faith in Man, He sent a flood. This time, He sent what you see outside."
Percy Walker: "Are you saying this is the apocalypse?"
Michael (The Archangel): "I'm saying this is an extermination."

I love the performances by Paul Bettany as Michael, Kevin Durand as Gabriel, Dennis Quaid, Charles Dutton, Tyrese Gibson, and Lucas Black.  The movie is also full of great quotes:  

Percy Walker: "When I was a kid, my father would sit by my bed every night before I went to sleep.  And he's say to me, 'Percy, if you don't wake up tomorrow, if it turns out that today is your last day on earth.  Will you be proud of what you've done in this life?  Because if you ain't, you better start getting square.'"

Bob Hanson: "You know this is crazy, right? I mean... I don't even believe in God."
Michael (The Archangel): "Well, that's just fine, Bob. He doesn't believe in you either."

Michael (The Archangel):  "When God chose your kind as the object of His love, I was the first in all of heaven to bow down before you. My love, my hope for mankind was no less than His. But I have watched you trample that gift. I have watched you kill each other over race and greed... waging war over dust and rubble and the words in old books. And yet, in the midst of all this darkness, I see some people who will not be bowed. I see some people who will not give up, even when they know all hope is lost. Some people, who realize being lost is so close to being found. I see you, Jeep. Fifteen years old, your mother leaves. Your father withdraws from the world and you spend the next five years of your young life helping him find his way home. You love a woman who bears the child of another and you love her with no thought of yourself, even though you know she may never love you the way you love her. You, Jeep... you are the reason I still have faith."

Gabriel (The Archangel): "This is not your test, Michael. How dare you presume to know His heart?"
Michael (The Archangel): [putting a hand to his chest] "Because He made this one. And it tells me He shouldn't lose faith now."

Gabriel (The Archangel):  "I would not have shown you such mercy."
Michael (The Archangel): "I know. That's why you failed Him."

When I compare Legion to another apocalyptic horror film, The Mist, I think that Legion is a hundred times better.  Both movies belong to a genre of movies called Siege Films, where a group of people are inside a house or a building trying to defend themselves from something evil outside.  This may have started with westerns, but one of the most famous examples is Night of the Living Dead.  Another famous example is Assault on Precinct 13.

Legion's showdown in an old gas station/restaurant also reminded me of an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer called "Spiral".

I think that the film has shades of Terminator, with the end of the world theme and the way the archangel Michael arrived on earth reminded me of how Kyle Reese arrived in 1984.

Rating * * * 1/2   Why it is only 19% or Rotten Tomatoes I can't understand.

The movie has spawned a new TV series which I like.

Silent Running

I loved this movie when I saw it in the 1970's.  Now the Silent Running Trailer looks a bit corny to me.   Kind of like watching the TV show Space 1999.  The trailer also gives away most of the story.

If you look at the original Star Wars Trailer, it seems pretty horrible.  I don't think that they knew how to make trailer's in the 1970's.

Silent Running has a 67% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  So does Space Station 76, which is a recent parody of 1970's science fiction movies.  This one looks so weird I am not sure I could sit through it.  I might give it a try though.

One hundred and eight days till Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Meanwhile I will have to be content with watching Star Wars Rebels in October.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Right Stuff

When The Right Stuff was released in 1983 it was not a commercial success despite high praise from critics.  There was maybe a sense by audiences that it was too overtly political or patriotic, which overtly it isn't.  However, the movie found some success in VHS and DVD sales.

This is essentially three stories:  The story of Chuck Yeager, the story of the Mercury "7" astronauts, and the story of the media and political circus over the early space program.  

The film doesn't pull any punches.  It likes to make fun of just about everything.  The movie spends much more time satirizing Lyndon Johnson or showing the indignities the astronauts had to go to go through than it does any form for space exploration.  This is not a film that is particularly interested in science;  it is much more interested in the human drama of its characters.  This combination of humor with patriotic heroism ends up being the perfect mixture.  In fact, the three hour film feels like a perfect movie and 32 years later it is just as watchable. 

This movie loves trivial details which gives the film an authentic feel .  It could have been 30 minutes shorter, but then it would have lost some of the atmosphere it gained from focussing on minutia. 

The musical score is wonderful.

I regret waiting at least 20 years to watch it again.  This is the kind of movie that would be fun to watch again roughly every 10 years.

Had I made the movie I would have put more emphasis on science, but that might have been boring to most people.  Maybe future generations will wonder why there isn't more science in the film?

Rating:  * * * *

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Maggie

Once the Necroambulist virus infects someone, their body slowly deteriorates.  After maybe a dozen weeks they lose any sense of self and want to bite other people.  Thus the virus spreads and by spreading has nearly destroyed civilization.  The government tries to contain the spread by forcing infected people into quarantine.  Quarantine is essentially a death camp for infected people who are going to die anyway.  There is no cure and no hope.

This is the impossible choice faced by Wade Vogel when his daughter Maggie becomes infected.  He is told that after 8 weeks he will have to turn his daughter over to quarantine.  He promised his deceased wife that he would protect Maggie, so he doesn't want to let the government take her.  He also knows that he is running out of time.  He tries to enjoy what little time he has remaining with his daughter, but hanging over his head is the rapidly approaching moment when he will not be able to do that anymore.  He will have to make a choice, but he doesn't know what choice to make.

Thus the film creates a subdued suspense that makes the movie a gem.  Arnold Schwarzenegger is wonderful here, and Abigail Breslin has been fantastic in everything she has ever played in.  The film is also full of good performances by the supporting actors.  Every character is desperately trying to cope in nearly impossible circumstances.

The situation faced by the characters is not much different than having to deal with alzheimer's or terminal cancer.

It is easy to believe in a worldwide epidemic when you  consider that the Spanish Flu killed 50 million people.

Some people might find the movie too slow, but I thought it was perfect.  The 54% rating on Rotten Tomatoes tells me that the film is underappreciated. 

Rating:  * * * .5

Friday, August 14, 2015

Insurgent

Insurgent is the sequel to Divergent, both of which I enjoyed.  I think that both films are better than what you might expect considering that they both have weak reviews.  The second film starts slow and is a little predictable, but I feel that the last act redeems it. 

Both movies take place in a post apocalyptic future where what is left of humanity lives in a walled off Chicago.  Their society operates on a kind of caste system, where each person must choose at a young age which caste to live in. The five castes are Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intellectual).  Beatrice Prior, or "Tris", is born into Abnegation, but chooses to live in Dauntless.  In Dauntless she is severely tested but slowly rises to the challenge.

Tris carries a secret, which is that she is "divergent", which means that she can fit into more than one caste.  The government doesn't like this and apparently considers divergents to be uncontrollable and dangerous. Ultimately, Tris must fight against corrupt forces in the government.

Ratings:  

Divergent:  * * *.5
Insurgent:   * * *