Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells

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

I used to rent a lot of movies, TV series and other stuff through Netflix.  One of the miniseries that I got was one called The Infinite Worlds of H. G. Wells.  It didn’t look great, but I figured it was worth a shot.  It wasn’t so much that I ran out of things to rent.  I think it was more that I needed something different.

The miniseries starts with a woman claiming to be a reporter approaching an elderly H. G. Wells for information on a story she’s writing.  Soon, he realizes that she’s part of a government program that knows bits and pieces of his past.   Each of the three stories is based on two short stories that Wells wrote.  They’re presented as if the events of the story happened to Wells when he was much younger, who then later incorporated the events into a story.

In the first episode, Wells recalls how someone made a potion that would accelerate his biological functions, but the acceleration became permanent after a few uses.  This became the basis for The New Accelerator.    He also recalls the events of meeting a man who travels back in time one week, taking with him a newspaper.  When things go horribly wrong, he has to do what he can to fix things.  This became the basis for The Queer Story of Brownlow's Newspaper.

The second episode tells of a mysterious rock that falls from the sky, allowing a person to be transported to Mars in the first half and a man who can see a shipwrecked naval officer in the second half.  These become The Crystal Egg and The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes.

The third episode shows two men who get exactly what they ask for in the first half.  One wants more hair and the other wants to lose weight.  They make the mistake of not stating exactly what they mean, leaving room for interpretation.   The second half is about a serum that goes missing.  At first, it’s assumed to be something dangerous in the sense of deadly, as most of the collection it came from is deadly diseases.  It turns out to be a truth serum, which can be just as dangerous.

When I first started watching the miniseries, I had thought it was just a movie.  It wasn’t until I looked it up until I realized what I had.  The running time says that it’s 4:00, but that’s not exactly true.  Each episode is 1:28, bringing the total running time closer to 4:30.  I was worried more about having to rent a second disc, but that wasn’t a problem; all three episodes are on one disc.  The picture quality was about on par with what you get for other TV programs.

I don’t get the impression that it’s meant to be historically accurate.  I was looking up some of the short stories and came across information on the miniseries as a result.  Aside from the fact that Wells didn’t necessarily live through most of the events, I don’t think he was in college when they portrayed him as being in college nor was he single at the time.

This is a Hallmark production.  As such, their priorities are going to be a little different.  It does have that kind of sappy ending that you might expect.  It’s also not too reliant on the sci-fi aspect of the stories.  You do have certain elements, but it’s more like Wells was inspired by certain events that were maybe more mundane.  In the case of the truth serum being delivered to an unsuspecting populace, it’s more about what people would do if they were compelled to tell no lies.

The only thing that may be a downside is that there are no bonus features, at least on the version that I got from Netflix.  I didn’t really expect any, though.  It looks like miniseries was made in 2001.  This would have been a few years after DVDs became available, so I don’t think a lot of production companies were thinking along those lines yet.

I can’t say that I loved it.  I am familiar with the work of H. G. Wells and was curious to see what this was about, but I can’t say that I would have rented it had it not been for Netflix.  I also don’t know that I would have finished it had it not been for Epinions.  I’ll admit that I was curious to see how it ended, but the last two stories sounded like the least interesting.

It’s generic enough that children could watch it.  Barring time considerations, it’s the kind of thing that a teacher could show a class when they don’t want to teach, such as the last day of school before Winter break.  While I might recommend it to a few people, I don’t know that I would give it as a gift.  It’s good, but it’s not great.  Basically, it’s a good way to waste a few 90-minute stretches of time here or there.

IMDb page

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sphere (1998)

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

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major plot points including the ending.  If you don’t like spoilers, you might want to watch the movie before reading this review.

Let’s say that you cleared away 300 years of coral growth and found a spaceship.  What would you do?  Well, you’d probably send down a team of experts to investigate.  Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson and Sharon Stone play Doctors Norman Johnson, Harry Adams and Elizabeth Halperin, respectively.  They, along with a few other scientists, go down to said ship.  It’s so far beneath the water that it takes special equipment to get there.  Since it’s so deep, a quick rescue won’t be that easy.

What they find is a big, golden, metallic sphere.  (It’s said to be a perfect sphere despite having obvious ripples on the surface.)  Dr. Adams is the first to go in to the sphere and come back out.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t recall anything about it.  Also quite unfortunate is that strange things start happening and those strange things put the people at risk.

What’s even stranger is that the ship has signs in both English and Spanish.  Also, there are several log entries with dates like 06/21/43.  The team realizes that they’re on an American ship from the future.  Because the date is so vague, there’s no way to know if it’s from 2043 or 9943.  However, from what they can tell, someone in the future launches a ship from Earth to collect strange and unusual objects from across the galaxy.

On or around 6/21/43, it comes across a black hole and is sent back in time, where it crash lands on Earth around the year 1698, give or take a few decades.  The logs refer to it an unknown event, which leads Dr. Adams to conclude that no one makes it off the ship alive.  He reasons that if they did make it off the ship alive, they’d report it to someone.  That someone would then record that they found the ship and those in the future would know what happened to their ship.

When a storm hits the surface, the team has to spend a week on the ship or an adjacent habitat.  This gives the team a week to worry about something going drastically wrong.  Someone has to put a special code into their vehicle so that it knows someone is still down there.  If not, it goes back up to the surface with whatever data they’ve collected, presumably leaving them stranded.  At the very least, this means that someone has to leave the safety and comfort of the ship and expose themselves to whatever dangers lurk several thousand feet below.

There are also those strange things I mentioned, like a giant octopus attacking the habitat.  One of the scientists is also attacked by jellyfish.  Then there’s the alien consciousness that’s communicating through the habitat’s computers.  This whole death and destruction thing is starting to look more and more likely.  It’s definitely not a good day for any of them to be claustrophobic.

Now, you’re probably wondering if the team makes it back out alive.  Some of the people do die, leaving Adams, Halperin and Johnson to figure out what’s going on.  The thing I don’t like about Adams’s prediction is that it will likely go one of two ways.  Either he’s right or he’s wrong.  There’s no definitive proof what happens to them, which is ironically his only proof that they don’t make it out alive.  Even if they do make it out alive, there’s no reason to think that the reports won’t get buried under tons of paperwork or be forgotten about.  (The ship could have been launched 500 years from now.  How accurate are our records from 500 years ago?)

Here’s where I spoil the ending.  They do make it out alive.  They have to be put in a decompression chamber, leaving them plenty of time to ponder how lucky they were to make it out alive, which leads Adams to wonder how that happened.  He figures that they must have forgotten all about it.  Since this must have happened, they realize that they must have the powers to make themselves forget, so they make themselves forget before they can be debriefed.

I have several problems with this.  First, I can’t accept that they would be the only team to go down there.  No one in the movie explicitly states that it’s too dangerous to go back down.  Even still, you have a strange ship sitting at the bottom of the ocean with at least 40 years until the unknown event.  You can’t tell me that in all those years, not even an unmanned probe was sent down to investigate.

You’d think that they’d make up some story about how no one should go back down.  Maybe the writers figured that this was to cliché and wanted something different.  When they realized how much work this was, they went with the first thing that came to mind.

At the end of the movie, the golden sphere is seen leaving the ship and eventually the planet.  Yes, it’s possible that the sphere deleted the records, but this is something else that’s not explicitly stated.  I’d imagine that this is something that’s dealt with in Michael Crichton’s book, which served as the source material.  I would have liked some closure in that respect.  Either have someone say that no one else will be sent down or the ship was mysteriously destroyed or something.

The big oddity was that the golden sphere was the only odd thing down there.  Yes, it’s a big universe and most of it is a big void.  The future ship was a manned mission, meaning that there were people onboard.  This wasn’t some drone collecting rock samples.  We had people that could say, “Hey!  That looks interesting.  Let’s take that back with us.”

The movie was ultimately disappointing.  Yes, there was a lot of tension and suspense.  The ending was a big disappointment.  It seemed like an easy out, like they couldn’t figure out a better way to end it.  I don’t know how the movie differs from the book.  I’d imagine that there is a different ending or at least more explanation.  At least I got a review out of it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Void (2001)

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

I was looking around NetFlix one day and I came across The Void. I think I was looking for things with Amanda Tapping in it. (I happen to be a fan of the show, Stargate: SG-1, where she plays Lt. Col. Samantha Carter.) I noticed the movie also had Adrian Paul, of the Highlander TV series. I figured that it couldn’t hurt to rent something that they were both in. I may have to reconsider that assessment.

The movie is about Dr. Thomas Abernathy, played by Malcolm McDowell. He’s sort of the mad-scientist type. He wants to actually create a small black hole for the purposes of generating large amounts of clean energy. The trouble is that his math is bad. He’s tried once and failed, killing many people including Dr. Soderstrom. (Abernathy was watching from a remote site, and was thus spared a horrible death.)

Eight years later, Dr. Abernathy wants to try again. He thinks he has all of the problems worked out. Eva Soderstrom, played by Amanda Tapping, is trying to shut him down; she thinks that the math is still bad. (Eva is also the daughter of the Dr. Soderstrom that was killed in the accident eight years prior.)

She and Steven Price (played by Adrian Paul) are both professors at the same school. Price also has another job working for Abernathy. She uses him to access files and get proof of what’s going on. When confronted about it, Price doesn’t believe her and feels betrayed, but eventually comes around. The two of them realize that they have to save the world by stopping Abernathy.

The movie was hit and miss. It looks like the bulk of the money was spent on some good actors with the rest of the money going to special effects. I like Amanda Tapping, Adrian Paul and Malcolm McDowell. All three were great in this movie.

The special effects were only a little better than marginal. Most of it is pretty good, but there were some visual things that I picked up on that I felt took away from the movie. For instance, there’s a picture of Eva and her father that’s just of the two of them against a gray background. It looks like someone just edited two separate pictures together and put it in a frame.

The story was interesting, but could have used a little work. There were a few things that I saw coming. (Don’t worry; I won’t spoil it for you.) Also, why was Eva so certain of the Earth’s destruction? I find it odd that she saw only two possible outcomes, both of which were catastrophic. My biggest complaint was with the fact that several of the scenes looked like they were added in as an afterthought. This is most evident when Eva spends the night at Price’s place.

The movie was only 90 minutes. I felt that the movie could have done a little more, especially when it came to explaining the science that went into Abernathy’s project. Also, why is it that the heroes only have a few days to save the world? Couldn’t they at least be given a chance to work through official channels?

It’s a three-star movie. It’s entertaining, but only if you don’t ask too many questions. I’d recommend this movie on a night when there’s little else to watch. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Premonition/Yogen (2004)

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

I have this thing for picking out strange movies. I came across Premonition and I almost thought it was the one that's out in theaters now, but I took a closer look. This was another movie made and set in Japan. It's about a father that gets a warning via a newspaper that his daughter will die. Little does he know that he has only a minute or two to do anything about it.

The plot sounds a little like the American TV show Early Edition, but Hideki Satomi doesn't have all day to do anything about what he sees and the paper (or more appropriately, the article) doesn't come with a cute, furry cat every morning. Also, affecting the future has consequences. There's a reason that it's called the Newspaper of Terror.

Jump ahead three years and Hideki and his wife, Ayaka, are divorced. He's racked with guilt over not having done enough and she, a disbeliever at the time of the accident, is actually studying the phenomenon. It turns out that he's not the only one to have seen the Newspaper of Terror. Ayaka is studying a woman who can use a Polaroid camera to take pictures of the articles.

There are also three other people mentioned, but only to give contrast as to what fate awaits Hideki . One man had premonitions and did nothing. He aged rapidly. Another man successfully averted disaster on several occasions and eventually died a bizarre death. Soon after this, Hideki starts writing premonitions, like 18 people dying in a landslide. Some are vague, but some he can do something about. Thus, he has a choice. Does he do nothing and age rapidly or do something and die bizarrely?

You really have to feel for the parents. Ayaka has to come to terms with what her ex-husband saw while Hiroshi goes into denial, refusing to even look at a newspaper. He even goes after someone who's delivering a free subscription. He's living in his own little hell while Ayaka is able to come to terms with what happened to some extent.

Apparently, the Newspaper of Terror is an actual urban legend in Japan. The movie was a good length at just over an hour and a half. The writer made it into an interesting story. It's not really horror and not really mystery. It's more of a supernatural suspense movie. I don't think I'm giving anything away, but at the end of the movie, you're left to wonder what really happened.

I would definitely recommend this movie to people who are looking for a different movie. This wasn't like anything I had seen before. Even though I never experienced the loss of a child, I really found myself identifying with the parents. Definitely a five-star movie. After all, you don't screw with fate. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Idiocracy (2006)

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

An IQ of 100 just doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to. I don’t know what it is, but I seem to live in a society dominated by idiots in a figurative sense. Private Joe Bauers finds himself surrounded by idiots in a literal sense. That’s the concept of Idiocracy. The Army wants to do an experiment where they freeze two average people for a year to see what happens.

They take Pvt. Bauers and a prostitute named Rita, both people who have no living family and not to many friends, and cryogenically freeze them. The intent is to wake them up in a year and see how it’s affected them. However, the person in charge of the project is arrested and the base is shut down. (For some reason, no one notices two cryogenics units while the base is being dismantled.)

Fast forward 500 years and we have a world covered in trash and populated by idiots. You see, humans have no competition and, as Darwin once said, evolution doesn’t mean progress. Without any real challenges, humanity has degraded into the dumbest of the dumb. Joe and Rita wake up finding a planet totally different from the one that they left.

It takes Joe a little while to figure out what happened. No one around knows about him or the project or where Rita is. When he sees a newspaper, he thinks it’s a mistake, but it eventually dawns on him that he’s been asleep longer than intended. To make matters worse, he’s arrested and subsequently identified as the smartest person on the planet. His one chance for a pardon is to help save the planet from its problems.

The humor in the movie seems to be targeted towards the high-school and college demographic. (The movie is made by Mike Judge of Beavis and Butt-head fame.) To give you an example, the big show of the far future is called, "Oww! My balls!" It involves a man taking a beating to the aforementioned part of his anatomy. There are also a lot of gags, such as police finding Joe and asking if he’s the unfit mother that a computer had just identified.

The people of Idocracy’s future are extremely dumb. A Gatorade-style sports drink has replaced water in every way except for use in toilets. This results in a famine. The company that makes the drink has taken over several aspects of the government, allowing them to claim whatever they want. They say that plants crave electrolytes, which a normal person of today would see as a lie. Joe has a hard time convincing people otherwise.

The setup is pretty funny. The movie starts to get a little repetitive once Joe and Rita find themselves in the future. Many parts of the movie are funny, but others aren’t. As I said, there are a lot of gags related to how society has gotten worse and that plays out rather quickly. Also, as with many comedies, certain things aren’t explained. For instance, how did the cryogenic units stay powered for 500 years? There are a lot of machines in use, but someone has to build and maintain them. How is this done in a society of idiots?

The movie gets three stars. It‘s worth watching once, but I don’t see a lot of replay value with this movie. The thing I’m left to wonder is how much of it has already come true.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fuck (2005)

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

How do I write a review of a movie when I can’t even mention the title? I recall having a similar situation on a few occasions, such as with Princess Mononoke, where I couldn’t mention a character’s name due to a similarity to a banned word. Here, the word in question is the title and we’re talking about the king of all bad words.

Growing up, I simply didn’t use it. There was some great taboo, as if by saying it, I was committing some great crime. Now that I’m a little more accustomed to saying it, I’d love to be able to say it in this review. Not only is it the title, but it’s such a great word. (The irony is that the full word is listed in the database, but I can’t use it in the actual review.)

I rented F**k from NetFlix after seeing This Film is Not Yet Rated. (I have yet to review it, but I plan to soon.) Both focus on society’s standards. This Film is Not Yet Rated deals with motion pictures and language/imagery in general. Fuck deals with one particular word and a single-finger gesture that’s generally associated with it, albeit only briefly.

The movie goes into a lot of different areas, such as the origin of the word and the various usages. For instance, George Carlin and his Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television came up. That led to Lenny Bruce, Howard Stern and the FCC’s censorship of the word. Does the word fall under freedom of speech?

No one’s really sure where the word came from, but many people in the movie point out that pretty much all of the acronym theories are wrong. It probably comes from some word from before English even existed and probably always had to do with sexual intercourse.

The movie also touches on how fuck is seen as low class and vulgar. It’s definitely not appropriate for TV and radio. As Billy Connolly said, everyone knows what fuck off means, and it means more than just ‘get lost’. There is a strong emotional impact to the word. I suppose if we remove the meaning from the word, somehow, then some other word will take it’s place. We do need that outlet.

There are interviews with Ron Jeremy, Pat Boone, Ice-T and Drew Carey among others. Each person had something to say about the word. As you can imagine, the word was used a lot in the movie. (Some people used it more than others, but I’d imagine that the total count is through the roof.)

The only problem I had with the wide range of areas covered was that the movie didn’t cover any one area that well. The movie was only 93 minutes and could have gone in to a little more depth. Then again, I really don’t know what to expect. It was still a well-made movie.

I wouldn’t recommend buying it. The movie has very little replay value except maybe to watch with friends. I’d recommend renting it, instead. I might even recommend the movie to my mother if I can just bring myself to say the title in front of her. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sharp Sidekick II Smartphone

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

Every so often, I think to myself that I need a cell phone. When my grandmother won a sidekick in a contest, she gave it to me figuring I’d have more patience that she would for it, mostly because so much comes with it. Aside from a cell phone, you get a Web browser, an e-mail account, AOL Instant Messenger, games, and several other features that I don’t use like a calendar and a section for notes. There’s also a camera attachment, but I wasn’t too impressed. (I’ll get to that later.) They also sent a USB port, but it seems that it’s only for fixing the device. It would be nice if I could synchronize my address books.

You get a keyboard for typing and a wheel to move up and down as well as an arrow pad for moving around within a text box. All of those are big plusses. The screen rotates to hide and reveal the keyboard, so you can get rid of it if you don’t need it. Speaking of the screen, it comes in grayscale. Don’t expect anything fancy when surfing the Web. The only real problem I’ve had is that the screen goes fuzzy every once in a while. If it persists, I’ll have to send it in.

Setup is easy, but takes a while. First, you have to charge the device, which will take about 4 hours. Next comes the SIM card, which carries the cell phone’s internal memory. A phone number is assigned to you, but you get to choose a screen name and a password for your e-mail. (I haven’t figured out how to turn the password on yet.) Some of it may take a while depending on service availability. (No cell phone has good coverage in my house, so I had to be sure to stay by a window.)

Once you get a phone number, which was the last thing that happened for me, it’s all very easy from there. I was lucky that the Sidekick had AOL IM. Already having an account with them, I didn’t have to worry about importing any contacts or setting up a new one. I also have ICQ and Yahoo accounts, so odds were good I’d be in luck, but AOL IM tends to be the easiest going from one device to another. Most of the features seemed to carry over, but I can’t save conversations. I was very annoyed by this since I like to keep them. I can’t even e-mail them to myself.

Speaking of the e-mail service, it’s easy to use. Since the device has a keyboard instead of a pen, I am able to create messages quickly. It doesn’t really matter, though, since the Sidekick account isn’t my primary account. If you, like me, already have e-mail, you can set your reply-to address as that account’s address so that you can use the Sidekick while your out and get the reply when you get home. You can have up to three external POP3 accounts delivered to your sidekick inbox, but I was never able to get it set up. Then again, it’s probably because the one account I tried to set up was my Yahoo! Mail account and they don’t allow for that kind of stuff unless you pay.

Web access is also easy, but far from perfect. The small screen isn’t a problem for text, but it can problematic for letters within images. Also, columns and series of images will probably get realigned and won’t show as intended. It can’t use Java and has to split up framed sites. I can’t access RewardTV, which uses JavaScript for logging in, or ShareBuilder, which uses frames. I can access Epinions, but I can’t rate. Also, I’ve tried looking up bus schedules using the sidekick. The schedules are in PDF format, which isn’t a problem for the sidekick, but something about selecting the schedules is a problem. Forget about long pages, too. Scrolling is fine if you do it in small amounts, but if you have to go to the bottom of an extremely long page, it will seem like a real pain. You could theoretically use the spacebar assuming you don’t hit any text fields, but it’s still a pain.

Now, I promised some commentary on the camera, so I might as well get to that. It’s not much. I’d be tempted to leave it at that, but I owe you more. My main complaint is that the resolution is low. You can make out objects if you were the one that took it or you know the subject. However, it might be a problem for others that are unfamiliar with it. I have no clue as to how I can resize them if I even can. The advantage is that you can email them to yourself easily. The camera can store 36 of these pictures at once, not that I’ve ever needed it. I guess that maybe you could do some of the things you see in the commercial, but I feel it’s better to do most of those things in person.

I guess you’re wondering how I can get this far into a review of a cell phone without actually reviewing the actual phone service and related features. I guess I should get to that. The best thing about it is that I have the second phone line I always wanted. (My computer’s near enough to a window that I get steady service.) It also has Caller ID, which would be a help if I knew more people. I guess I can now avoid telemarketers, not that any have the number yet. (Cross your fingers.) I’ve been able to store all of the names, numbers, addresses, Web sites and e-mail addresses I could ever hope for and I can use the list to dial a number. If you don’t have the number stored, you can either put it in, use the wheel pad, or use the keyboard.

Service outdoors is great, but it tends to be patchy indoors. I may go into a restaurant or 7-Eleven and see that it’s not getting reception. This has proven to be a problem on a few occasions. It has an answering service and you can forward calls when the line is busy or the device is off or out of range. The only major problem I’ve had is with the volume. I don’t receive many calls, but when I do, I can’t hear the phone ring. I have the volume on the maximum, but the case muffles the sound and if you have it in your pocket or backpack, it will be muffled even more. If you’re in a noisy area, forget about it. I’ve tried vibrate, but it was hard to tell if I was out of range or if the function didn’t actually work.

The sidekick also has a problem with overlays. For those of you in the less-populated parts of the country, area code overlays occur when an area gets so crowded with phone numbers that splitting it geographically won’t work. (I think the public service commission stops at the county level.) Thus, Miami-Dade County has two area codes: 305 and 786. To dial from one area code to the other, you don’t dial a one first. (In case you’re wondering, it’s not considered long distance.) My phone number has a 786 area code, but the majority of the county is 305. When the Sidekick receives a call from with an area code other than 786, it puts the one in front of it, which renders the redial option useless. I have to manually enter the phone number, which usually involves writing it down and putting it back in. I don’t need to often because I usually miss calls from people I know or from payphones. It would still be nice if someone did something about this, though.

This is one of those devices that I like mostly because I don’t have to rely on it. It’s especially good for those that don’t have a primary e-mail account or are constantly on the move. I’m going to keep it for the year that was included, but I’m not sure at this point if I’ll want to renew when it expires.