Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Butterfly Effect (2004)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

At some point, everyone looks back at some event in their life and wonders how things would have been different if they have fixed a few mistakes. What if you could not buy a car that turned out to be a lemon? What if you hadn’t fumbled when asking someone out on a date? What would it have been like if you hadn’t botched a job interview? The Butterfly Effect is one of those movies that deals with that question.

The name of the movie comes from Chaos Theory, which states that the flapping of the wings of a butterfly in one part of the world could create a monsoon on the other side of the planet. Evan gets the chance to see how true that is. He’s the main character, played in part by Ashton Kutcher. It starts out with him trying to outrun several men, but doesn’t give any hint as to what’s going on. The movie then shifts back thirteen years to when Evan was a child.

Evan suffers from unexplainable blackouts. Tests reveal nothing wrong with his brain; the doctor suggests that they’re brought on by stress. He also suggests keeping a journal, which Evan does. Part of the stress may have something to do with the fact that Evan has never seen his father, so Evan’s mother arranges a meeting. (Evan’s father has been in a mental institution all of Evan’s life.)

Six years later, Evan still suffers from the blackouts. One occurs when a prank goes horribly awry, forcing Evan and his mother to move away, leaving several friends. This is the last time that Evan has a blackout until college. Evan reads one of his journals about the prank and has a flashback instead of a blackout. He goes back to the time of the prank, but drops a cigarette that he’s smoking. He burns his stomach when it drops on his shirt; the scar remains when the flashback is over. This is how Evan realizes that he can travel back in time and change things.

Evan contacts Kayleigh, one of his childhood friends. She had a rough time and is working in a diner having to put up with obnoxious customers. Bringing back old memories prompts her to commit suicide. Her brother, Tommy, calls and threatens to kill Evan. (Tommy was one of the other childhood friends. Lenny was the third.) Evan manages to go back and fix things so that things work out better for Kayleigh.

The thing is that when he fixes one thing, things get worse for others. For instance, when Evan stops Kayleigh’s pedophile father from molesting her, Tommy gets the brunt of his frustration, causing him to be more messed up than before. Evan eventually realizes that it’s hard to make things great for everyone.

I don’t want to ruin the entire movie for you. Besides, it would probably take me several more paragraphs to reveal everything in detail. I have to warn you that this is a very disturbing movie. I’m about to reveal a few more details just to let you know how disturbing the movie is. If you can’t handle these details, you probably shouldn’t see the movie. If you can’t handle anything disturbing, you should probably just skip this paragraph. One flashback involves a dog being burned alive. Another involves Evan’s father strangling Evan. The only reason that I’m mentioning these scenes is that these might be make-or-break aspects for some people.

I found that the setup was longer than usual, but this was a good thing. I think if the writers had rushed to the point where Evan started going back in time, it would have taken away from the movie. During the setup, we got to see the four friends at different stages. I felt like the three people that played Evan were the most consistent. However, the other three transitions weren’t that bad.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that Callum Keith Rennie seems to be getting a lot of ‘freak’ roles. (Callum Keith Rennie played Jason, Evan’s father.) If you’ve ever seen The Sci-Fi Channel’s rendition of Battlestar Gallactica, you’ll know what I mean.

I’d give this movie four stars. I saw the director’s cut. Judging by the running time, I believe that this is the proper version of the movie to post this review under. However, I’ve heard that the difference is in the ending, which I haven’t covered here. As you might have guessed, this is not a movie for children. This is a movie that a lot of adults might not like. While I was watching the movie, it reminded me a lot of the director’s cut of Donnie Darko. There’s that same dark aspect to the movie that a lot of people might not like. 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Resident Evil Plant

On a recent trip to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, I got this photo.  (I believe it's in their Rare Plant House.)  My brother and I noticed how the photo looked like something out of Resident Evil, at least the video games.  It's funny how something can seem normal at the time, but come out reminding of you of something because of the lighting.  (In this case, I had some indication that it looked like something out of the video game.)

I do wonder how many people go through that area and are reminded of it.  The Rare Plant House and adjoining buildings do have a certain feel to them.  Has anyone else had this feeling?  Are we the only ones to notice it?  Maybe it's just me.  Well, we'll always have Raccoon City.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Invention of Lying (2009)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Could you imagine a world with no lying?  This would be a world  where no one would know how to say something that wasn’t true.  Words like ‘true’ and ‘lie’ wouldn’t even exist.  Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson imagined such a world.  They wrote The Invention of Lying, in which Gervais plays Mark Bellison.

In Mark’s world, things are basically the same.  They still have movies, corrupt police officers and attractive women.  It’s just that since there is no lying, there’s no fiction.  Since there’s no fiction, all movies are documentaries.  When I say documentary, I mean some guy sitting in front of a camera telling the audience what happened.  Police officers will still take an occasional bribe, but are totally honest about their motives.

Things aren’t going so well for Mark.  He’s attracted to a woman, Anna, who doesn’t reciprocate.  He has a job writing movies about a century no one cares about, leading to his termination.  His termination leads to his being evicted.  His being evicted leads to an epiphany.  When he goes to close out his bank account, the system is down.  He has to give the teller a dollar amount, which Mark realizes can be any dollar amount. It doesn’t have to be the actual dollar amount, so he chooses the amount he owes his landlord.  When the system comes back up and the teller sees the correct amount, the teller thinks it’s a computer mistake.

Mark then realizes that he can do this as much as he wants.  The best part is that no one will suspect anything.  Since he’s the only one that knows what a lie is, people should act like the teller.  Mark goes into a casino and lies about winning.  He can claim to win the jackpot on every machine and the casino will never think to ask Mark any questions.  He can also go up to random women and tell them that the fate of the world depends on them having sex right now.  (This does lead to some sense of guilt, especially where Anna is concerned.)

Things get complicated when his mother is dying.  She’s scared, which is natural.  Mark doesn’t want this, so he invents a story about going to a great place in the sky where she’ll be loved.  He doesn’t think much of it, but an employee of the nursing home overhears him.  She passes the story along and before long, Mark has a following.  Mark doesn’t really want the attention.  The story was only for his mother’s benefit.  The rest of the movie deals with the snowball effect that results.  People want to know more about this Great Man in the Sky, so Mark has to make stuff up on the fly.

There’s something interesting about a world without lying.  As I said, there’s not so much as fiction or even lying in advertising.  Mark’s mother isn’t at a nursing home.  She’s in A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People.  Could you imagine what it would be like to be able to lie?  Even when Mark explains lying, people still can’t wrap their heads around it.  (That was the one thing I wondered about.  There should at least be terms for accurate and inaccurate, so a lie could be described as knowingly saying something inaccurate.)

The movie is safe for teenagers and up.  There are a few sexual jokes, some involving masturbation.  Mar’s Man in the Sky parallels religion.  The humor really isn’t meant to poke fun at religion.  Instead, it says more about how things get out of hand quickly.  Something that starts with the best of intentions becomes a major organization similar to what we would call a church.  Some of the things seem absurd, like Mark’s story where everything came from.  Then again, who is anyone to question Mark?  It would never enter their minds to think that he’s lying or might be crazy, as far out as it seems.

That was the one thing that I found odd.  I would think that in thousands of years of recorded history, someone would make a mistake or would be mentally unbalanced and say something that wasn’t true.  Is everyone totally accurate in this world?  One inaccuracy would present the opportunity to realize that you can deliberately make a mistake.  It wasn’t a big deal, overall.  It was a funny movie.  I’d recommend renting it. 

Friday, February 03, 2017

Suchîmubôi/Steamboy (2004)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

It’s hard when your first feature-length movie as a director becomes famous.  Director Katsuhiro Ôtomo was known for having directed Akira, said by some to have ushered in modern anime.  In 2004, Steamboy was released, which took Ôtomo over a decade to make.

The movie takes place in England back in 1866.  The story focuses on Ray Steam, a boy who likes to invent things.  Both his father (Dr. Eddie Steam) and grandfather (Dr. Lloyd Steam) are also inventors.  Both work for a mysterious foundation.  (Ray lives with his mother.)  One day, Ray gets a package from his grandfather.  The package contains a strange metal ball and the blueprints.  Before he can wrap his head around it, two men knock on the door asking about it.

Lloyd Steam shows up right behind them, telling Ray to take the ball and blueprints and get as far away as possible.  He doesn’t want the ball going back to the foundation.  So Ray runs, eventually coming across the two men he’s supposed to give it to.  Someone from the foundation is right behind him.  Unfortunately, they get both Ray and the ball.

It was Lloyd Steam’s intention that the steam ball not be used for weapons, but Eddie Steam had a different idea.  Eddie felt that the technology could be used to defend England.  Ray is put in the middle, having to decide who is right.

I will say right off the bat that this movie is nothing like Akira.  If you’ve seen Akira, you should come in to this movie not having any expectations.  This isn’t to say that Steamboy is any better or worse.  It’s just that when you look at a movie through the lens of a director’s previous work, it greatly affects what you see.  If you’re expecting another Akira, you’ll be disappointed.

The movie does well on moral grounds, at least for the first half of the movie.  Ray is presented with two philosophies.  Lloyd is more idealistic in that he wants the technology used for the benefit of all mankind.  Eddie is a little more war-minded, realizing that England has enemies.  Something this powerful would aid the country greatly.  The truth lies somewhere in the middle.  It’s up to Ray to decide exactly where.

The problem with the morality aspect is that it’s only presented during the first half of the movie.  During the second half, it becomes more of an action movie.  Usually, when you have some moral issue presented to one character by several others, at least one of those characters undergoes some experience that affects how they think about the subject.  Instead, Ray is simply charged with the task of getting out of harm’s way.

The only character that I really saw change at all was a character named Scarlett O’Hara.  (So far as I know, there’s no relationship to the character in Gone With the Wind.)  She starts out as a spoiled brat and eventually comes to realize that there’s a world around her and that other people weren’t necessarily put there to serve her.   I started out not liking her very much.  By the end, she had changed to the point where she wasn’t as bad.

The problem with the story is that the story tends to fall flat towards the end.  Once I got out of the first half hour, it started to drag.  By the second half, I was wondering if it was really going to last 126 minutes.  This isn’t a good thing for a movie.

The one thing I liked was the animation.  It looked like there was some parts that were drawn by hand, but most of it seemed to be animated by computer.  I think for that alone, most people would be impressed.  Still, you need a solid story to last the whole way through and I don’t think that the movie properly blended the issues with the action very well.  If you can rent it through NetFlix or catch it on demand, go for it.  Otherwise, don’t worry about it. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

WarGames (1983)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

WARNING:   I'm going to give away details about the movie, including the ending.

I’m a big fan of Beloit’s mindset list.  In it, the college has things that professors should keep in mind as to incoming students.  It seems like back in the 1980s, things were pretty basic.  Computers were text only.  Being able to draw a line was pretty neat.  I’m at an age now where incoming freshmen were born after I graduated from high school.  This means that incoming freshmen have never know a world with the USSR or a without a unified Germany.  A movie like WarGames would probably warrant visiting Wikipedia to find out what all of these things were.  (Back in my day, you had to go to the library.)

The movie is about a kid named David.  He has a computer and a phone line.  (I’m assuming it’s a dedicated line.  Those of us old enough to remember dial-up remember people yelling, “I’m on the phone!”)  He wants to find out about the latest video games that a company is releasing, so he finds out which telephone prefixes are near the company’s headquarters and sets his computer to dialing.  He eventually gets a few good candidates.  One computer, which goes by Joshua, has a list of games…including Thermonuclear War.  Sounds interesting.  The problem is that he needs a password, which he eventually deduces.

He sets out playing Thermonuclear War as the Soviet Union, targeting cities like Las Vegas.  Joshua plays as the United States.  NORAD -- the actual North American Aerospace Defense Command at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado, goes on alert when their new computerized system starts saying that the Soviets have launched their missiles.  You know it’s a simulation.  I know it’s a simulation.  David and the computer know it’s a simulation.  When David shows up at NORAD, he realizes that it might not be a simulation, after all.  The computer is putting up what appears to be actual real-time battle information.  Sure, the Soviet Union denies everything and there’s no actual visual confirmation of anything, but better safe than sorry.  DEFCON goes from 5 to 4, indicating that they’re a little worried.

Eventually, NORAD figures it out and brings David in for questioning.  Being the young genius he is, he escapes and finds the program’s creator, Stephen Falken.  Publicly, Falken is dead, but Joshua seems to think otherwise, even giving David an address where Falken receives checks.  It looks like Falken is the only one Joshua will respond to.  They get Falken to Joshua in time to have Falken stop everything, but a new problem arises: Joshua wants the actual launch code to the US missiles so that Joshua can launch the actual missiles.  Unfortunately, Joshua won’t listen to reason.  It takes a whole lot of tic tac toe to convince Joshua that war is futile.  When Joshua realizes that there can be no winner in war, he relents.

There is a very dated feel to the movie, and we’re not talking about just the computers.  As I mentioned, the map is a little different now than when I was in high school.  Those in high school now will probably need a history lesson to understand the dynamics.  The term “mutually assured destruction” comes up.  This was the understanding that both sides had the power to wipe the other side out, which is what leads to the inevitability of both sides losing.  Yes, America still has enemies, but this doesn’t really come up so much.  We’re not necessarily staring down an actual missile any more.

We also take computers for granted now.  Joshua was supposed to eliminate human error and delay when launching the missiles.  Joshua would follow the order to launch.  This was a much bigger deal back in the 80s when it was still possible to find a house without a desktop, three laptops, a tablet and a dozen or so cell phones in it.  On that note, I doubt it would have been that easy to hack into a military computer that easily.  For that matter, why bring David all the way to NORAD?  Wouldn’t it have been easier to question him where he was?

There is still a suspenseful feel to the movie.  No one knows whether or not to take the threat seriously.  If it were anything else, you could dismiss it, but no one wants to be the one to pass off an actual missile as fake.  Plus, just when you thought it was all over, Joshua makes other plans.  I’m curious to know how younger viewers will look at this movie, though.  I’m sure parents and grandparents will have a different take on it. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Wasabi (2001)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I’m not sure what turned me on to this movie.  Maybe it was that I was looking through movies starring Jean Reno.  Maybe someone recommended it to me.  Maybe I wanted to know why it was called Wasabi.  (Despite seeing the scene with wasabi, I still want to know why it’s called Wasabi.)

The movie is about Hubert Fiorentini, a French detective played by Jean Reno.  He has a very aggressive method to his work.  His boss doesn’t approve.  Those higher up take notice when Hubert punches the police chief’s son in a night club.  This earns Hubert a two-month ‘vacation’.  When Hubert receives a call from Japan that a former love of his has died, he is persuaded to leave immediately.

He hasn’t seen the woman, Miko, in 19 years when she mysteriously left him.  Now, she’s left him all of her possessions, but no explanation as to what happened nearly two decades ago.  Shortly after the lawyer executes the will, Hubert finds out that he has a daughter named Yumi.

Hubert doesn’t tell Yumi about their relationship at first.  She believes that her mother was raped all those years ago.  She also doesn’t like the police.  One of Miko’s wishes was that Hubert take care of Yumi until she reaches adulthood at 20 years of age.  (This ends up being two days.)  You’d think that this would be uneventful, but it turns out that Miko took a lot of money from the Yakuza and they want it back.

The movie is basically an action comedy.  I say comedy because it takes certain liberties.  The movie opens in a night club where Hubert is punching people.  Each punch sends the person flying.  He takes into custody a transvestite bank robber who tells Hubert where her “sisters” will strike next.  He then goes in and takes them down.  The whole thing serves no purpose other than to show how aggressive Hubert is.  (You’ll notice that bullets send people flying back pretty far, even by movie standards.)

There are also other oddities, such as bank account balances having nice, round numbers.  I don’t know of many statements that round like that.  Hubert also gives his former partner a book that never shows up again.  Usually, when this happens, I’m sure that it means that it’s important.  Maybe it means that the partner is in on whatever’s going on or that we will at least learn something important about it.

Some of the stuff probably would have been explained better if it was more of a drama.  Many of the Japanese people speak French.  Yumi is understandable; it was said that Miko and Hubert worked at the French embassy.  The lawyer is understandable as well.  It would make sense that if Miko was to leave everything to Hubert, she’d find a lawyer that speaks French.  I guess I can understand a lot of the other people that speak French.  I suppose it’s not impossible that someone working at a hotel would pick up a second language.

The big problem I had was that some of the numbers didn’t add up.  Yumi is two days away from her 20th birthday, but Hubert and Miko haven’t seen each other in 19 years.  Hubert is pretty strict about this.  He keeps correcting people that say 15 years or 20 years.  If it’s been 19 years, Yumi would have been born before Miko left Hubert.  Hubert should have had some indication that Miko was pregnant.

Also, I could be totally off on this, but I think Yumi said that she was in high school.  (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong on this.)  I asked my brother who’s working in Japan at various schools and he said that the normal graduation age is 18.  Also, if she’s in school, why isn’t she in class?  Maybe I misread the subtitles or misunderstood something.  Yumi was apparently brought up bilingual, which usually makes for a child that’s more intelligent.

The movie was filmed in French, as you might have picked up.  There were also some lines in Japanese.  All of the French lines were subtitled; I don’t think any of the Japanese was.  I would never consider dub on a live-action movie.  I’ve been watching too many poorly made foreign films to choose dub over sub on a live-action movie.

I’d recommend watching the movie if you’re just looking for a distraction.  This is one of those movies that’s not to be taken seriously.  If you pay too much attention, you’ll find yourself asking too many questions to really enjoy it.  For instance, the scene with the wasabi is funny.  I really wasn’t even paying much attention myself and I found several errors.  (You can find a few more if you go to IMDb.)

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Ladykillers (2004)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

WARNING:  I will be giving away major plot points, including the ending.

Sometimes, I have to wonder if it could really be that easy. Tom Hanks plays Goldthwait Higginson Dorr, Ph.D. He's a man with a plan to rob a riverboat casino. He has a way with words, which one does not often encounter. He assembles a crew to help him with his robbery, but he first has to actually get to the money. That's where Marva Munson comes in. She's a 60-something widow with a room to let. She hates "hippity-hop" music and is always complaining to the sheriff about the neighbor playing it or some other nuisance.

She also has a basement that seems to be missing a wall, which presents Dorr with the access that he needs to get to the money. He rents the room and sets up the ruse. He calls in his team, telling Munson that they are a band of musicians. They 'practice' in the basement, so as not to 'disturb' Mrs. Munson.

Garth Pancake, played by J. K. Simmons, is a munitions expert and is responsible for digging the tunnel. (Fans of Law & Order will recognize Simmons as Dr. Emil Skoda.) Pancake seems to know his stuff. Sure, he blows off a finger, but he gets to the money. I should also mention that he has Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which causes him to have to use the men's room at an inopportune time. (This is a real condition, which is hyped up a little for the movie.)

There's also Gawain MacSam, played by Marlon Wayans. He's the inside guy. He's necessary not only for the layout and workings of the casino and office, but to help cover their tracks later on. MacSam seems to have a tendency to get smacked around.

Lump is a football player who's used for brute force. They have to get rid of the debris from the tunnel by carrying it out and throwing it onto a garbage scow. Lump is very helpful in that respect.

The General, a chain smoker, rounds out the group. I believe his area of contributions are planning and discipline. He's very stern when anyone wants to change the plan or back out of something. His smoking also gets him in trouble with Mrs. Munson, who has a strict no-smoking policy.

The plan to steal the money is to dig a tunnel to the office, which is underground, and steal the money from the safe. They'll then take the money back to the basement and collapse the tunnel. MacSam will seal up the wall in the office's safe room, so that the money looks like it simply vanished. The five members of the crew will split up the money and go their separate ways.

There are just a few small problems along the way. The only major problem is that Mrs. Munson figures out that something's up when she sees the money. Dorr says that it's Pancake's money from a mortgage, but Munson doesn't buy it. Dorr eventually tells her what's going on and tries to convince her not to say anything, but she decides against. She gives Dorr and his crew two options: Either return the money and then to go to church with her or go to jail. Dorr and crew agree that neither option is acceptable and decide to kill her. They try, but in the end, all five of them end up dead and, ironically, Mrs. Munson gets to keep the money, which she donates to her favorite university.

The acting was good. There were a few problems that I had with the plot. First off, I hate it when a plan like this goes off well enough that the criminals carry out the crime, but they don't get the money for reasons other than being caught. They almost got away; all they had to do was leave town. Killing Mrs. Munson was just a way to rid themselves of witnesses and shouldn't have been that difficult for five grown men to do. It was a great plot carried out by five people that will never get to enjoy their ill-gotten games.

Also, they blow up the tunnel they used to steal the money, but there's no indication of any after effects. From what I could tell, there were only three stories to the house: Upstairs, downstairs, and the basement. The downstairs level was at street level, which meant that the roof of the tunnel couldn't have been more than a few feet from the actual street. The crew should have had to worry about the tunnel caving in while they were working. They should have also had to worry about the finishing explosion collapsing the ground and houses above it.

One final point: The crew is talking in a restaurant; it's amazing that no one overhears them and decides to tip off the authorities. Dorr was worried about the sheriff finding him at several points in the movie. This isn't a major point; I'm sure it happens all the time. As I've said before, comedies can get away with a bit more. The movie is usually just a method of delivering jokes, of which there were plenty. (The Waffle Hut scene is great.)

The only problem with the acting was Tom Hanks, who I though put too much into the role. If you've seen the commercials, you've seen what I'm talking about. He comes across as very goofy and bizarre. It really stands out. I don't feel that it detracted from the movie that much, though.

I give the movie four stars.