Friday, March 28, 2014

Extracted (Movie Review)

Extracted is about a man with a dream.  Tom's dream is to be able to see other peoples’ memories.  He has an idea for a machine that would literally let him get inside someone’s head.  He could walk around inside someone’s memory and even interact with them, which would be great for things like therapy.  The one thing holding him back is funding.  He doesn’t like the idea of an anonymous donor, but no one else seems interested in his technology.  Tom takes the money and does his best.

When the donor wants a demonstration before Tom can create a full prototype, Tom objects.  He’s not ready.  The alternative is losing his funding, so Tom agrees and meets the mystery donor, who happens to be an official with the Department of Corrections.  The idea is simple:  They can use the machine to tell if someone is actually guilty or innocent by seeing how they remember events.

Tom’s not thrilled, but he’s already made his deal with the devil.  He agrees to go into the memories of a prisoner named Anthony.  When the time comes to leave, Tom finds that he can’t.  His body is comatose but his mind is living out Anthony’s memories.  Anthony goes back to jail and Tom is left no way to communicate with the outside world..

After a while, it gets pretty boring for Tom, but he does find a way to communicate with Anthony.  It’s not entirely reliable and Tom realizes that he’s at the mercy of his host, but at least it’s something.  They’re able to better work out what happened the night of Anthony’s alleged murder.  The question is whether or not it will matter.

I had held this one in my Netflix queue for a long time before watching it.  It was one of those movies that looked interesting, but I wasn’t sure how they’d get 98 minutes out of the premise.  It seems like the whole idea of going into someone’s head is unnecessary.  It could have been done just as easily with a monitor and a microphone.  Actually putting someone at risk like that was undoubtedly only done to have some sort of suspense.

This may be why the movie seemed to drag.  Someone probably got the basic idea, but much of the movie comes across filler.  We get to see Tom spending a lot of time in Anthony’s head, moping around.  In this case, I can at least see it being done for effect.  Tom had to spend a long time without any meaningful contact with anyone.  It didn’t take long to get to the point where I was like, “Ok!  I get it already!”

At least with other movies, you can marvel at the technology.  In The Thirteenth Floor, the technology was cool.  Here, much of it seemed unnecessary.  Tom is just a bystander in Anthony’s memory.  There’s also no big twist.  It’s not like Tom is really Anthony or something.  There’s no real metaphor or special message.  It’s more like a commentary on the nature of memory.  The movie just peters out.

I’m not sure I can recommend buying the film.  If you have Netflix and it’s still available streaming, you can try it.  I have to admit, though, that even streaming, I was only watching it to see how it ended and possibly get a review out of it.  I watched it with my brother; I felt bad dragging him through it, but he didn’t seem to mind that much.  I could see this having been an episode of a sci-fi TV series like The Outer Limits.  It’s a good story that just got dragged out too far.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fall from Grace (2007) movie review

I was going through my reviews on and came across this one on the film, Fall From Grace, about the Westboro Baptist Church.  Given that Fred Phelps just passed away, I thought now would be a good time to repost it here.  In this case, I've made no edits except for the addition of this introduction.

The Westboro Baptist Church is known for one thing:  Hating gay people.  I’ve seen them with their signs, including God Hates America and Thank God for IEDs.  When I came across Fall From Grace, I decided to watch it, mostly because it wasn’t that long and I didn’t really know that much about the Westboro Baptist Church.  (I didn’t understand the thing with soldiers and IEDs until watching this.)

The movie is simply interviews with the Phelps family and footage of protests.  The church was founded and run by Fred Phelps, who had 13 children.  Nine of those children and their children attend the church.  For some reason, Fred Phelps as chosen homosexuality to rail against, citing Leviticus.  As another interviewee points out, Leviticus mentions other things you shouldn’t do, like mix fibers in your clothes and plant different crops in the same field.  (Sites like were set up to mock this.)

At this point, it seems like the Phelps family isn’t going to win any converts.  The documentary shows people interacting with the family as they protest.  One woman comments that it’s crazy that she’s going to Hell because of her haircut.  (Women who have short hair are called a less-than-polite term for lesbian by the Phelps family.)  In fact, four of the Phelps children left the family as soon as they were able.  Two were interviewed by phone and described Fred Phelps as being a horrible person.

The movie is almost all footage with some text thrown in to explain things.  It’s not heavy on the commentary.  It would be interesting to have some sort of professional analysis, psychological or otherwise, on what makes Fred Phelps the way he is.  He seems passionate to the point of maybe having some disorder.  Some of his children that believe as he does aren’t as extreme, making me wonder.  (One thing I noticed was that the grandchildren also spout the God-hates-America rhetoric.  I have to wonder, as I have with other similar documentaries, as to whether or not the children will grow up to regret what they’ve said.)

This is one of those situations where I honestly think that the Phelps family is simply making themselves look like fools.  At several points, people point out how crazy they are.  Someone mentions that if you bring up Topeka, KS in certain places, people there will say something along the lines of, “Oh, yeah.  Where those crazy people live.”  They come across as so vehement and so in everyone’s face that most people can’t get past their hatred.  Instead of making people turn to their version of God, most people are thinking of how they can get out of the line of fire.  (If you’re not with us, you’re going to be called names and told you’re going to rot in hell for all of eternity.)

I got this streaming through Netflix.  I mention this because there may be bonus material on the DVD.  The movie doesn’t go into great detail about the Phelps family or other people interviewed.  It is interesting to note that Fred Phelps was disbarred for being too unethical.  It would be interesting to see how many of his children attended college.  It would be interesting to see if any of his grandchildren socialize with peers outside of the family.  I’d at least be interested in knowing where the name came from. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Space, Time, and Gravity The Theory of the Big Bang and Black Holes (Book review)

I'd like to post at least one review per week.  I'm posting two reviews today since I didn't post one last week.  This is a review that I originally posted on of Space, Time, and Gravity The Theory of the Big Bang and Black Holes by Robert M. Wald.  The review has been modified for the blog.  (The oriiginal review had a thank you to a category lead, dramastef, who added the product to the Epinions database.)

Every so often, I feel the need to read a science book.  Usually, it’s something current.  When I get something older, the book is either by an author I like or I don’t realize how old the book is until I get it home.  In this case, it’s the latter.  The book was published in 1977 and is based on lectures that the author, Robert M. Wald gave the year before.  The book is, as you might expect, about physics.  Each chapter corresponds to a single lecture that the author gave.

The first three help set up the rest of the book.  Chapter One is called The Geometry of Space and Time and explains about spheres and what it means to be simultaneous.  Chapters Two and Three are called Special Relativity and General Relativity, respectively, and deal with how Einstein helped to further define our universe.

The remaining five chapters deal with Black Holes.  Chapter Six, Stellar Evolution, deals with a few ways that a star might end up as a black hole.  Chapter Seven, Gravitational Collapse to Black Holes, deals with the actual collapse and what that might look like.  From there, you have Energy Extraction from Black Holes, The Astrophysics of Black Holes and Quantum Particle Creation near Black Holes.  These are yet more technical chapters on black holes.

In the introduction, Wald says that the book was intended that anyone could pick it up and read it regardless of what they know previously.  As you might have guessed from the last paragraph, it did tend to be on the technical side.   He admits that it wasn’t oversimplified, but I do think that you would have to know something about physics before beginning.  (If I were to use the word ‘isotropic’, would you need to run to the dictionary?)  Other times, it seems to be a little silly.  I noticed an overuse of exclamation points.  By Chapter Five, he was using them in parentheses.  ( ! )

I think if I didn’t know much about science, I’d be lost.  There were a few places where I think someone wouldn’t have made certain connections.  For instance, Wald talks about Lorentz Contractions during the chapter on Special Relativity.  I don’t think most people would realize what this means for an observer’s frame of  reference affecting said observer’s measurements of the speed of light.

The other problem is that these lectures were given the year I was born.  I think it’s safe to say that our understanding of the universe, particularly black holes, has come a long way in my lifetime.  I figured I’d read the book because it was short and I could get a review out of it.  I definitely don’t think it would be worth buying unless you needed it for a class.  (Historical astrophysics?)  If you’re looking for a short book to read, I’d recommend seeing if your library has it or if there’s a historical astrophysicist that will let you borrow it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Time Guardian, your time is up…way too soon

Note:  This review was published on Epinions.  I'm reposting it here with some modification.

I'm always looking for a really bad movie to review.  (Yes, I've seen Plan 9 From Outer Space.)  I think part of it is that I like to punish myself.  It's as if I don't deserve to watch good movies all the time.  Maybe I was inspired by the first-review contests that Epinions used to have.  (Many of these really bad movies had never been reviewed before.)  I had also always wanted to see Epinions put up a best and worst list for each category.  No way to prepare for that like reviewing every one-star movie out there.

What do you do if you are a fellow sadist like me and want to review really bad movies?  If you have access to any sort of on-demand service and they have a free section, this is the best place to look for one-star movies.  This is how I found The Time Guardian.  I truly wish I could just tell you to run in the other direction if you ever see this movie, but you deserve more.  If you are a fellow movie-watching sadist, you deserve to know what you're getting into.

At the very least, it looked interesting.  A city from far in the future is traveling through time to escape some evil cyborgs.  The movie doesn't give a lot of detail about the cyborgs.  We know only that they want some sort of power source from the human city.  We're also led to believe that this is the last human city left.  Apparently, all the others have been destroyed.

Two people, one being a woman played by Carrie Fisher, are sent ahead to prepare the area for the city's arrival, but the two people don't seem to do much other than get into fights and get hurt.  Carrie Fisher's character spends most of her time in the present resting from having a large sphere land on her.  The guy that she's sent back gets some heavy machinery to move rock.  It's not clear exactly what he's doing, but I guess it's what he needs to do.

This leads to one of the more confusing scenes.  We see the machine moving rock with some random people helping.  It's not clear where the people came from or why they're helping.  The movie uses music and camera angle to make it seem more suspenseful than moving rock usually seems to be.  I expected something interesting to happen.  Maybe have a cyborg pop out or something.  Nothing.  Just cut to the next scene.

The use of time travel is the movie is also a little confusing.  There's little talk of the repercussions of time travel, for starters.  Plus, it's not clear how long this technology has been in use by humans.  The movie opens somewhere in the 43rd century or something, but have the humans come from beyond that?  Have they been bouncing around in time or have they been working their way back in time?  Different parts of the movie seem to indicate different things.

The movie looks like it was written and directed by a 3-year-old child.  Half way through the movie, it still felt like they were setting it up.  It took me another quarter of the way through to realize that that was the movie.  It's one long narrative with a battle scene on either end.

I think the only place you'll find this is in the free section of On Demand.   The reason that Comcast won't charge for this crap is that people would be asking for their money back and rightfully so.  It looks like you can buy a used VHS copy, as the link above would indicate.  Netflix doesn't have it listed and IMDb doesn't have any listings for any releases.  I think the only reason it's listed on IMDb is that it is a movie that was released, thus requiring an entry.

Don't bother watching this movie.  It's overpriced at free.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Will this review ever see the light of day? (Dark City Review)

Note:  This is another review that was originally posted on   I've reposted it here with a few modifications.

I had heard about Dark City from someone somewhere and for some reason, I thought I’d rent it. The premise looked pretty good. A guy named Murdoch wakes up to find that he has apparently committed a murder, but has no memory of it. I figured that at worst, I’d have something to watch on a night when nothing was on TV. I’m still debating if reruns would have been better.

The premise is pretty simple. This dying race of aliens, known as The Strangers, has taken a group of humans to experiment on. The race is dying and somehow thinks that humanity may be able to save them. They’re trying to see if they can figure out what the human soul is. They’re conducting a grand experiment that seems to hinge on Murdoch.

It turns out that Murdoch has some sort of special ability. I’m not going to say what that is, but it allows him to throw a monkey wrench in to The Strangers’ plan. This is in part because he likes to ask a lot of questions, such as why no one can tell him how to leave town or how it is than an entire day goes by without anyone having seen the sun. (I think this special ability was supposed to provide the answer to the Stranger's problem.)

I have to admit that it’s a very confusing story. It’s never explained why the human soul was supposed to provide a solution. The Strangers are part of some sort of collective species, kind of like the Borg from Star Trek. They may think that individuality is the way to go. It’s possible that their collective nature is what doomed them. I think that it was The Strangers intent to program humans with their memories so as to allow something of their race to continue on.

It’s also never explained where the rest of humanity is. You’re left to assume that the Earth is still out there somewhere and that The Strangers just took a small group of test subjects. The thing is that no one can remember anything other than what The Strangers fed them and The Strangers aren’t in the mood to explain anything. The one human character that’s not part of the experiment, Dr. Schreber, erased a good portion of his memories so as not to be fed new ones every night.

The movie reminded me of a book called The Identity Matrix by Jack L. Chalker. I have to say that I liked the book more than this one. I don’t really know what it was. It’s like I want to like it, but something just didn’t click with me. I’ll probably end up watching the movie again in a few years and wondering why I didn’t like it sooner.