Friday, August 29, 2014

iTunes Festival - 30 Nights of Music

I just got a message from the iTunes affiliate program that you can listen to the iTunes Festival live or with a limited delay for free.  I just thought I'd put the links up. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Lone Survivor (2013)

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details about the movie that may spoil it.  You’ve been warned.

I generally don’t like movies that start in the middle or end of the story.  With Lone Survivor, we not only know that one person will survive, but we spend most of the movie knowing that Mark Wahlberg’s Marcus Luttrell, is going to be that survivor.  We start with Luttrell being evacuated and treated, so we have to figure he makes it out alive.

The story is of a SEAL team sent in to kill a Taliban leader, identifiable by the fact that he‘s missing an ear lobe.  Luttrell is one of four men sent in to kill him.  We get to see some SEAL training in the beginning, just to see how tough team members are.  It doesn’t take long for the mission to go south, leaving the team to retreat.

The main problem is that three goat herders happen to find their location, setting up a predicament.  They can’t very well let them go, as the herders could reveal their location before they could get away.  Even keeping them alive could provide them opportunity to somehow get word back.  No one wants to kill three people who did nothing to the SEAL team, so the decision is made to leave them tied up and seek higher ground so that they might call for extraction.

It’s never that easy.  You never have a movie where everything goes right.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a movie.  As I said, Luttrell is the only one that survives.  The other three are killed when the locals figure out where they are.   Parents should be warned that there is a lot of fighting and, by extension, bloodshed.  It’s not the kind of thing that children should watch.

This wouldn’t have been my first choice for a movie.  My parents rented it through Netflix and asked if I wanted to watch.  I decided to give it a try and ended up watching the whole thing.  The movie is based on a book, which was an account of Operation Red Wings.

It’s difficult to really go into any sort of detail about the movie because so much of it is the action.  The first part of the movie is getting to know those involved in the mission.  The second part is the team trying to get out of a bad situation.  I probably never would have rented the movie on my own.  It’s not the kind of movie I usually go for.

Most of this is that the story is tenuous.  The entire thing is predicated on one thing going wrong.  If the team hadn’t been discovered, the mission may very well gone off without a hitch.  Yes, this is based on a true story, but how many teams accomplish their missions flawlessly?  How many times does a mission have one or two mistakes, but still work?  As I said, I started the movie knowing something bad was going to happen and that we’ be building up to that.  It’s one of those situations where the title gives away the movie.

Lone Survivor Official Trailer #1 (2013) - Mark Wahlberg Movie HD

Redneck Zombies (1989)

WARNING:  I am going to pick apart this movie and give away major details. If you truly have the urge to see this horrible movie and don't want spoilers, now would be a good time to stop reading.

There are some movies that are so bad that you have to wonder why anyone bothered to waste everyone's time. You have to get the actors, the cameramen, editors, people to hold the props and lots of other people. This is (presumably) after you've put forth the effort to actually write the script. You'd think that someone would wonder if this is really worth the effort. (I'd imagine that a percentage of projects never make it to viewers, but there's no way of really knowing how lucky I am.) When I saw Redneck Zombies on, I knew I had to see it just to see how bad it could get.

The movie starts with some text telling us about some nuclear waste that was disposed of unless it wasn't because all of the waste was disposed of except that there's a barrel that wasn't or something or other. A lone military officer named Robinson is transporting a barrel of the toxic waste in the back of a jeep. There's no backup, no safety gear, no biohazard suits or anything that would protect Robinson or the general public from this toxic material. So, of course, Robinson goes over a bump and loses the barrel on Ferd Mertz's property. (Yes, his name is actually listed as Ferd.)

Ferd isn't the brightest bulb, even by redneck standards, but he doesn't like people trespassing on his property, even if it is to get rid of toxic waste. He chases Robinson off his property and claims the barrel as his own. Being a below-average redneck, he looks at the "Dangerous: Radioactive" warning and reads it as "Do Not Open Until Christmas." (Seriously.)

Before Ferd can do anything with his early Christmas present, The Clemson Clan (Pa, Jethro, Junior and Billy-Bob) come along. Ferd offers them the barrel to settle a dispute over some moonshine, which they accept. Not being much brighter than Ferd, they mix the toxic waste in with what moonshine they have left and distribute it to the townsfolk without even having a sip for themselves.

Meanwhile, a group of random friends is camping nearby. One of them (Wilbur, I think) knows the perfect area for camping. There's even a pond to piss in. (Be prepared; one camper actually does piss in the pond.) This is a pretty diverse group of people. There's pre-med vet student, a heavy drinker and a guy with a USS John F. Kennedy cap to name a few. Most serve as some sort of joke, such as always wanting to wear a new shirt.

Back at base, Robinson reports that he's lost the barrel. His commanding officer tells him to take as many people back as he needs to find the barrel. So what does he do? He takes two of his fellow officers, one of which is a very stereotypical, very effeminate guy who apparently wouldn't mind hearing banjos during a canoe trip. It doesn't really matter because at this point, most of the townsfolk are already zombies. All three officers become lunch.

Most of the campers have survived to this point, but those that have survived know that something is up. Wilbur seems to think it's a local bear or something on the loose. No one really thinks it's serious enough to call a ranger or the police. You'd think that at the very least, they'd head back. If there was something in the area that could disembowel two of my friends, I don't think I'd want to stick around to become number three.

Instead, when the party does finally come across a zombie, they manage to take it down and have the pre-vet guy do an autopsy, despite the fact that he's not studying people in school and his acid finally kicked in. This makes for a very trippy and very funny autopsy. I think it was actually much funnier than was originally intended.

Given the combined IQ of the characters, it's no surprise that only one makes it out alive and unchanged, although she does actually get raped by a zombie. Yes, she falls down and is raped by a zombie. By some very cheesy special effects, I think it's implied that she's carrying the zombie's child, although it's hard to tell. The ending makes almost no sense.

This isn't to say that the rest of the movie is the pinnacle of clarity. The beginning makes absolutely no sense and everything else seems to be designed to segue from one zombie attack to the next. We even have some minor nudity, but it's in a scene that's so bizarre that it has absolutely no erotic effect at all. (We're talking, "Ok... Moving right along" bizarre.)

This literally looks like someone's project for a film class. I think if I had turned this in, I would have run the risk of being kicked out of the school. There are so many things wrong with this movie that I can't even say it was for the sake of moving the story along. I mean, what self-respecting branch of the military would entrust a barrel of toxic waste to one guy in a jeep? You'd think that if it was so important, they'd spring for appropriate transport.

It also looks like it was shot on VHS tape. I don't know if this was done for effect or if was due to budgetary concerns. This may have contributed to how bad the effects were. (Actually, the only effects were when people were tripping on something.)

It looks like very few of the actors went on to do anything else. If you look on IMDb, you'll see a lot of the actors have only Redneck Zombies listed under credits. (This is why I haven't mentioned any actors' names; it's doubtful that you would recognize anyone.)

I was able to stream this movie through my iPod from Netflix, which saved me the trouble of having to wait for it in the mail and send it back. This movie is just weird. We're talking WTF weird. I'm not even going to get into how bad the original music is. Even Robinson didn't like one of the songs. I think this might explain why one of the campers drank so much. It's not that it was written into the script; I think the actor realized what a POS movie it was and just had at it.

This movie gets one star. Only watch this if you're like me and consider a bad review to be a dare.

Official Site (distributor)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Glen or Glenda (1953)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Yahoo! Articles account.

In looking for bad movies, I came across Glen or Glenda. Glen or Glenda was the first feature-length movie directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. The movie starts with The Scientist, played by Bela Lugosi, setting up the story. The story starts with the suicide of a transvestite who had been arrested several times for dressing in women's clothing. According to his suicide note, he couldn't bare the thought of going to jail again. One of the officers investigating the suicide seeks the advice of Dr. Alton to better understand what a transvestite is.
Dr. Alton starts by explaining that transvestites, transsexuals, hermaphrodites and homosexuals are all different things. It's possible for a man to want to wear women's clothes without actually being attracted to men. While it's possible that a transvestite may be a hermaphrodite, there are also other causes. Dr. Alton gives the case of Glen as an example. 

Glen is to be married to Barbara. He likes wearing women's clothing and even goes out as Glenda, but is very much in love with Barbara. This causes him a great deal of conflict. He wants to tell her and knows that she deserves full disclosure, but fears that she'll reject him. If he keeps the information from her until after the marriage, he risks making it worse. Worse yet, she's starting to notice signs like his long fingernails. It's only a matter of time before she figures it out.

Dr. Alton also briefly uses the example of Alan, who is actually a pseudohermaphrodite. (A true hermaphrodite has both sets of organs fully developed; a pseudohermaphrodite has one fully developed while the other is partially developed.) Alan grew up as a man, but would dress up as a woman and do housework. He was even sent off to war. When he came back, his true nature was discovered. Alan had surgery to become Anne.

Glen or Glenda is said to be one of the worst movies of all time. While I wouldn't say that it's the worst, it's definitely far from the best. While watching the movie, I wondered if any psychologists or transvestites watched the movie and said, "What a load of crap. Transvestites aren't like that at all." Yes, I know that our understanding of sex and sexual identity change, but it's hard to take the movie seriously. (If anyone would like to comment, I'd live to know the opinion of an actual transvestite about this movie. Also, is that the preferred term?)

Wood, who was himself actually a thing for angora sweaters, seemed to want to paint transvestites in a positive light. Those that don't fit into society's gender roles often face prejudice and persecution. Here, Dr. Alton simply tries to tell it like it is in harsh clinical terms. I can't help but think that the movie could have had more of an impact if it was actually done well. 

The movie was short at 65 minutes and even then had a lot of stock footage. Scenes of traffic were used a lot and lightening bolts were used randomly. There was also a very bizarre dream sequence involving what I assume is the devil. The Scientist also makes a lot of random statements. ("Beware. Beware. Beware of the big, green dragon that sits on your doorstep.") Had a lot of this been taken out, the movie would have been very short, but I think it would have been a lot less confusing.

I do have to give Wood credit for making films that he wanted to make despite not getting much respect in his own time. He made several feature-length films, at least two of which (This one and Plan 9 From Outer Space) were considered to be among the worst of all time. Laugh as you may, here we are more than 50 years later still watching them. I'd say that there's some merit to the films, even as an example of what not to do. At the very least, he had given work to several actors including Bela Lugosi, who apparently wasn't getting much work at the time that this movie was made. 

I'd recommend the movie to someone only to know what they think. I'd love to know what the movie would have been like if it had been properly made. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

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

It’s funny how the 80s are full of movies that are basically content to stay there and we, as an audience, are content to leave them there.  Killer Klowns From Outer Space is a movie that I think most people would be happy to leave in the 80s.  Why did I rent it?  I’ll get to that later.  First, I’ll explain what the movie is about.

Mike and Debbie are making out in the back of a truck when they see a streak of light in the night sky.  At Debbie’s insistence, they follow it.  A farmer and his dog find the spaceship first, only to be captured by a giant clown.  As you might expect from a giant clown in an 80s film, the spaceship outwardly appears to be a giant circus tent.  Yes, this might appear odd in a forest if not for the fact that the ship is so deep in the forest that you can’t see it from outside of the forest.

When Mike and Debbie arrive, there’s no trace of the guy that was there earlier, meaning that there‘s no one to warn them not to go in.  What do they do?  They find an entrance and go in.  They find all sorts of things you might expect from a circus-tent-shaped space ship with giant clowns in an 80s film.  They have popcorn and cotton candy.  The thing is that everything has a sinister purpose.

Mike and Debbie soon discover that the alien clowns are kidnapping people and using them for food.  They have to warn someone, so they go to the sheriff.  The sheriff doesn’t take them seriously, of course, but Debbie used to date the deputy.  The three of them go back in an effort to protect the town and, possibly, the whole world.

I don’t think I need to go into detail about the rest of the movie.  Being an 80s B-movie about clowns, there’s a lot of cheesy stuff, a lot of slapstick and a lot of stuff I’ve forgotten about already.  And, of course, the town ends up safe and the clowns won‘t be going on to bother anyone else.  The entire thing comes across as over-the-top cornball by today’s standards.  Even by 80s standards, it would have had to have been very corny.

I don’t think modern writing and effects could have saved this movie.  It’s hard to take the movie seriously as either a horror film or as a comedy.  If you were wondering why I rented this movie, you’re probably still asking yourself the same question.  Why would I sit through the entire thing?  I had actually been looking for another movie.  I’m pretty sure it involved clowns that were used as hit men, but stopped shooting at the main characters because it was time to take a lunch break.  This wasn’t the movie, so if this sounds at all familiar, please leave a comment.

I got Killer Klowns From Outer Space free on demand, so I didn’t really lose any money.  It was entertaining enough that I wanted to see how it ended.  If I had paid money for this, I think I would have felt cheated.  If the movie comes on TV or you can otherwise get it at no cost, go for it.  Otherwise, I’d think twice. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hangar 18 (1980)

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

There are some movies that were destined to be filler.  It used to be that on a Sunday afternoon, you’d turn on the TV and catch some old, generic movie halfway through.  These were the movies that the station didn’t have to pay much for in terms of royalties, so they could easily use a few of them when they didn’t have any original programming to use.

When you have access to movies, either on demand or through streaming, you get a lot of these movies.  I have access to Netflix’s vast selection of movies.  Many are ones that that they didn’t want to (or couldn’t) buy on DVD, but can probably rent the rights to for little or no money.  Customers get access to another title and you don’t have a disc collecting dust on a shelf somewhere.

This is how I found out about Hangar 18.  It’s a movie about three astronauts launching a satellite.  It’s just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill satellite-launching missions until a blip shows up on their screen.  You wouldn’t think a blip would be that big of a deal, except that the satellite crashes into it.  (Oops!)  The blip turns out to be a flying saucer that crashes on Earth.  Two astronauts, Price and Bancroff, manage to make it back safely, but a third astronaut is killed by debris from the actual collision.

At first, Price and Bancroff consider themselves lucky.  That is, until they wake up the next morning to find out that they’ve been blamed for killing the third astronaut.  There are people that can help them, but the conspicuous lack of evidence is a problem.  The wreck has been collected and taken to the titular Hangar 18.  Any data that was recorded has been erased or doctored.  So, the two set off to find some proof.

Meanwhile, the team studying the ship manages to get it open without hurting anyone or doing any serious damage.  By sheer luck, they manage to access the information in the ship’s computer.  They come to realize that the aliens have been gathering information on things like power plants and other important structures.  They even bear an uncanny resemblance to us.  (Yes, there’s a reason for that.)

There’s a lot of evidence that not only are they doing recon on us, but this probably is just a small piece of a large fleet.  Should we be afraid?  Undoubtedly.  Is there a total lack of people wondering where the rest of the aliens are?  Most definitely.  Instead of trying to figure out how to deal with the threat, those in charge go the Marvin the Martian route:  blow it up.

This was not a very good UFO story.  I could see this being the pilot for a TV show, sort of like V or something.  You have an alien race that’s going to potentially destroy us.  Instead, it’s like someone had that idea, but couldn’t get the project going, so they just made the pilot into a movie and ended it there.  We never get to see the mother ship.  We never get to see other aliens trying to find their lost comrades.  The potential for aliens coming later on to finish the job is never really dealt with.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 used this film for one of their episodes, which should tell you something.  I’d be interested to see if I can get that just to see what they did with the movie.  It runs for 97 minutes, which is just short enough that it would work.  It’s not a total waste of two hours, especially if you’re making fun of it.

It was released in July of 1980, right around the time that you had other similar movies, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.  It also has that dated look that makes you think that the only reason someone approved of this project was to take advantage of the alien craze of the time.  (This movie probably wouldn’t have been released in theaters today. Instead, it probably would have been done by the Syfy channel.)

The movie is safe for teenagers and above.  There is no nudity or cursing, but there are a few gunfights and an accident.  It’s not a particularly exciting movie, regardless.  I’d say if you can get it for free streaming, give it a try.  Don’t waste a queue slot on this if you’re using Netflix.  If you have the one-at-a-time plan, you’ll regret wasting the spot. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cheonsamong/Dream of a Warrior (2001)

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

WARNING:  I'm going to give away major details, including the ending.  If you don't like spoilers, now would be a good time to stop reading.

There are some movies that are so bad that they’re worth watching as an example to others.  There are other movies that are so bad that their very existence is inexcusable.  Dream of a Warrior is an example of a movie that defies explanation.

The movie starts off with a woman running from the authorities.  She has a distinctive mark on her forehead.  We don’t yet know who she is or why she’s running, but she’s good.  She even manages to produce a rocket launcher and take out a helicopter.  Ultimately, she meets her demise and we move on to the next scene.

The police chief is watching a news report of a cult that tried to take out some scientist.  The cult members believed that they received a special message from their cult leader, who had died two years earlier while destroying the work of the same scientist.  The scientist’s daughter was apparently lost in the experiment that said scientist was conducting.  (In the aforementioned news report, he’s shown talking about past and future lives and how we can now visit them using his machine.)

One police officer, named Dean, is selected by the scientist to go in to his daughter’s past life/spatial anomaly/pocket universe to retrieve her.  She’s still alive, but the destruction of the original machine left her trapped.  The scientist looked through every law-enforcement and military officer throughout the country and only Dean has the right brainwave frequency to go in and save her.

We are now in some sort of village named DilMoon. A princess is to be married off to a warrior.  There’s another guy that’s interested in her, but is too lowly to be allowed to have anything to do with her.  It’s actually the guy sent back to save the daughter and it looks like the daughter is actually the princess.  Funny thing is that neither of them seems to behave as if it’s the past or some sort of altered reality.  They just play along as if this is normal.

Well, a group of senators want to invade a neighboring village as a preemptive strike.  There’s also a push to move up the wedding date of the princess, although it’s never really explained why.  (Someone mentions the impending threat of invasion as a reason, but I don’t see what that had to do with anything.)  Dean is going off to war with the Grand General.  The movie goes back and forth between showing us how great a warrior Dean is and how much people think that the princess is way out of his league.

Well, lots of people die, no one really makes any plans to move the wedding forward despite people constantly mentioning it and Dean manages to save the princess, although he dies.  When the princess realizes that she can never be with her true love, she commits suicide with a piece of glass, leaving the bad guy to scream.  Dean ends up back in the present/main reality, where the scientist tells Dean that he only has six hours to save his daughter.  Otherwise…

So, he goes back and finds the daughter in suspended animation behind a force field.  Dean distracts the bad guy long enough to cut through the force field, deactivate the stasis unit and take the daughter back to reality.  This is all in the span of maybe five or ten minutes.  I don’t know how six hours became five minutes.  (Then again, this is an altered reality/time warp we’re talking about.)

I can’t even begin to explain the level of WTF this movie deserves.  It’s one of those movies that would cause your head to explode if you tried to wrap your head around.  I can understand the bad subtitles.  (One character says something like, “They will revenge to me.”  There are also cases of the subtitles going too quickly or appearing when no one is talking.)  Maybe they couldn’t afford someone who spoke English.  This did appear to be a low-budget movie.

What got me was that the movie made absolutely no sense.  It actually looks like it started out as two or three different projects that were merged in an attempt to make a whole story.  Well, you can’t just put 83 minutes of crap together and call it a movie.

Was it a time warp she was in?  It was never stated that this was the actual, literal past.  If it was, why did everyone look the same?  We even have the woman from the opening chase scene show up.  She gets some major screen time.  How did that happen?  There are a lot of things that just happen and are never explained.

I also hate it when only one person is suitable for the mission.  It’s not like there were a few people that could have done it and this was the best candidate.  I could understand if there were still possibilities that they hadn’t looked at, but time was an issue.  Dean was the only one with the right brain pattern to go in.  And it just so happens that he’s been having dreams of the woman that he’s supposed to save.  What are the odds of that happening?

I can’t even begin to describe how crappy this movie is.  I don’t know if the people involved were doing copious amounts of drugs or if they were simply inept.  I’m leaning towards drugs mostly because some studio exec should have known to pull the plug after seeing this.  What I want to know is how this piece of crap ever made it to DVD.  I think that with some major rewriting, the movie could have had potential.  This is one case where a remake would be suitable, as there is a great deal of work that could be done on it.

IMDb page

Dark Planet = Dealt Prank

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

WARNING:  I am going to give away details, such as the ending.  If you’re not into spoilers, you might not want to read the review before watching the movie, assuming you can stand watching the movie.

I blame Epinions for a lot of the bad movies I’ve watched.  Go back and look for the reviews of really crappy movies I’ve done.  If there are a lot of them, chances are there was some sort of promotion going on that month.  This month, we have a promotion for first reviews.  How do you get an easy entry into this contest?  Easy.  If you have access to movies, such as On Demand or Netflix, you should have access to lots of movies.  (Your on-demand selection should have a category for free movies.  Netflix has hundreds of movies streaming for members to watch.)

Many of these movies are probably unreviewed.  (The bad news is that you’ll have to check each title manually.)  Just this month, I’ve submitted first reviews on five movies and two Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine episodes.  (It looks like all of the episodes from The Next Generation are already reviewed.)  To be honest, I’m surprised we’re not drowning in movie reviews.

This is how I came across Dark Planet.  I was looking through the selection of movies Netflix has available in sci-fi.  Since it seemed like a b-grade movie, I bookmarked it for later reference and got around to watching it the other day.  I knew it was going to be a stinker since the blurb says that Earth has just gone through its sixth world war.

The premise is that after wiping out a good chunk of the population, two groups are left:  The Alphas and The Rebels.  The Alphas are genetically enhanced and tend to rule things.  As you might expect, The Rebels are mostly humans that either are unmodified or are mutants.  A truce is quickly called so that a joint mission can be dispatched to this mysterious Dark Planet.  The ship is under the command of an Alpha captain, one Capt. Winters.  His second in command is a Rebel, Col. Liz Brendan.  There’s the genetically enhanced Alpha Helmsperson Salera, but only one person has gotten through the wormhole/black hole necessary to reach the dark planet:  Anson Hawke, war profiteer.  (That alone sounds like the name of a bad TV show.)

Mr. Hawke has made it through, but he’s not really sure how.  His wife was killed in the attempt and he somehow mysteriously got back, so he’s not in any rush to try again.  The Captain promises him a nice life in some vegetable farm if he agrees, which sounds, a lot better than Alpha prison, so Hawke comes along.  Anyway, neither side trusts the other and Hawke seems to be distrusted by both sides, except by the women, who seem to come to like him, but that’s a whole other story.

As you might expect, a few random barriers are put up for the crew.  They first have to go through a minefield to get to the wormhole.  (I’ve always wondered why they can’t go over or around.)  After spending a good chunk of the movie floating through the minefield, they meet the pirate ship that probably put it there.  The ship makes it through, but it’s discovered that Capt. Winter has been hiding something.  He has some sort of probe that will restrict access to the planet.

As you might expect, the crew pretty much divides between Alpha and Rebel with Capt. Bad Guy not getting his way.  Hawke, Brendan and Salera all make it to the planet and send a message back that only those willing to come in peace will be welcome.  (How they can tell or what they’ll do about it is unclear.)

My biggest problem with the movie is physics.  We see the crew thrown around.  It’s understandable if someone ends up leaning against a wall.  However, it looks like the artificial gravity shifts and stays askew for a few good seconds.  Also, Hawke has to leave the ship to draw the attention of the mines.  His ship explodes, but he’s able to get back to the ship.  To do this, he’d either have to jettison himself at just the right angle or spend the rest of his life drifting in space.  Add to this that he has to climb the side of the ship to get in.  He’s climbing the ship as if there were gravity pulling him down.  Why would you put artificial gravity on the outside of a ship like that?

The effects look crappy, even by 90’s standards.  The acting is at least someone decent and the script is just good enough that we can follow the story.  However, I wonder if Michael York looks back on this and wonders why he took that bet in the first place.  I am so glad I didn’t spend money to buy or rent this.  I was also wondering what ‘dark’ meant in the title.  I couldn’t find any military parlance that made sense.  I’m assuming it’s dark in the sense of being unexplored, that no one has actually seen it yet.  That’s how this movie should stay. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ian Spector - The Truth About Chuck Norris: 400 Facts About the World Greatest Human

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

Every so often, I have the urge to look up Chuck Norris facts.  (He’s a pretty amazing guy.  Did you know that he makes onions cry?)  I’ve always wondered why Chuck Norris and where all of these ‘facts’ came from.  I’m not sure about the first part, but Ian Spector started the meme.  (Actually, the particular celebrity was put to a vote.  Chuck Norris was the winner.)  Spector created a site with a random fact generator and eventually saw fit to make a book.  I’ve known about the meme for a while.  I came across the book in a bag of books from my aunt.  I decided to look through it to see if I wanted to keep it.

At the risk of incurring a roundhouse kick from Mr. Norris, I may have to pass.  It’s not that the facts aren’t funny.  Many are.  There’s not going to be a lot of replay value, though.  I don’t think I’ll be reading the book a second time, especially considering that many of the facts are available online.  (Go to Google and look them up.  There’s even a Twitter account.)  I find that when I buy books like this, I often put them in a bookcase and forget about them.  Even when I come back to them, I may look at one or two and put it back.

Normally, I’d spend a few paragraphs about the plot, but there really is none.  It’s a series of mostly one-liners about how awesome Chuck Norris is.  One common theme is roundhouse kicks.  (One of the facts, in fact, is that he lives in a round house.)  Many are similar to The Most Interesting Man in the World ads.  (Chuck Norris can speak Braille.)

As you can tell, the ‘facts’ aren’t real.  They’re meant to be humorous.  I suppose that most of it comes from the fact that Chuck Norris has the name recognition, but not everyone loves him.  In fact, I’ve never met anyone that was a huge fan of his work.  I’ve heard him talk about the jokes and he doesn’t seem to mind the attention.  In this sense, he’s the perfect subject for the jokes.

If you’re wondering what kind of gift it would make, I’d advise caution.  Many of them are safe for general audiences.  There are a lot of goofy jokes, like Chuck Norris beating several tough animals by tying them together with an Anaconda.  There are some vulgar jokes.  Yes, there are penis jokes.  There are also four-letter words.  I might buy this book for one of my brothers or a friend, but definitely not my grandmother.  This is another case where the binary ‘recommend to a friend’ is difficult.  It’s the kind of gift that you’ll probably know whether or not they’ll like it.  I just don’t know that I’d ever buy it for myself. 

The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God by Carl Sagan

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

I remember seeing these stickers all around town many years ago.  It read, “What is God?/God is love.”  Carl Sagan has a slightly different interpretation of God.  It’s not that he doesn’t believe in God.  It’s simply that he defines God as the sum of all the rules of physics, chemistry and other sciences that the universe has set forth for us.

The Varieties of Scientific Experience is the printed transcripts of his Gifford Lectures, in which he goes over various scientific topics like extraterrestrial intelligence, Darwin and our changing image of where we fit into the universe.  The book is divided into nine chapters, although I’m not sure if it was one long lecture, nine shorter lectures or somewhere in between.

The first chapter is called Nature and Wonder: A Reconnaissance of Heaven, which deals mostly with the universe and the various things to be found in it, such as stars, galaxies, supernovae and so forth.  The second is called The Retreat from Copernicus:  A Modern Loss of Nerve and is about the various theories of Earth, the universe and how old everything is.  The third chapter is called The Organic Universe and deals with evolution and the possibility of life in and beyond our solar system.

Chapters four and five, Extraterrestrial Intelligence and Extraterrestrial Folklore: Implications for the Evolution of religion deal with, as you might expect, alien life.  This is where he gets into things like the Drake Equation and abduction theories.  Sagan treats extraterrestrial life with the same skepticism as he does religion.  As much as one might want to believe that there are aliens out there, we have no definitive proof that they exist.  He does deal with the various ways that we might encounter and/or detect their presence, like radio waves.

In chapters six and seven, he gets into religion and how religion was often at odds with science.  Some have even tried to use science to prove the existence of God.  Sagan doesn’t buy into any of the supposed proofs.  At one point, he asks why God would put so much proof into the Bible, but leave such a small amount of proof in everyday life.  It would be hard to deny the existence of a God if he had a very large crucifix in orbit or was able to put some undeniable scientific truth in the Bible.

Chapter eight deals with how life on our planet might be destroyed.  It looks at nuclear war and objects hitting the Earth.  The threat of nuclear war is real and life could easily come to an end by our own hand.  The last chapter ties everything up.  Sagan tries to give us a sense of how small we are compared to the cosmic background.  After chapter nine are selected questions presented to Sagan by the audience and answers he gave.  This is definitely worth reading.  (Some of the questions were lost due to poor recording instruments.)

The overriding theme of the book seems to be to not take things at face value.  Those that argue against science say that it’s supposed to be perfect, but it’s not.  It may try to put us closer to perfection.  It may give us a set of rules that work very well, but to say that we will definitely attain perfection is a mistake.  We cannot even take what we know of science at face value.  One of the core tenants is to keep checking what we know verses what we see.

On that note, I’ve never been clear as to why radio transmissions have been our best bet for alien contact.  Sure, it’s the only means by which we can look right now, but I’m not sure why an alien civilization would necessarily be using it or why we’d be able to know that some alien transmission is what we’re looking for.  I suppose that it’s possible that an alien civilization might pick up ours and figure it out, but that’s assuming that they’re even looking.

The book isn’t long-winded or boring.  The copy I got from the library is 260 pages including the Q&A section.  It’s very easy to read a chapter at a time.  This is partly due to the pictures in the book.  Many of the pictures were used in the lecture, although a few were replaced with better versions.  The lectures took place in 1985 while the book wasn’t published until 2006.

I can’t say for certain that there is no God, but if there is a God, I doubt very much that God is anything like in the Bible or any other religious book.  I don’t think that we could possibly understand that kind of God.  Instead, I would tend to think as Sagan does that we have an entire universe set before us and it’s up to us to figure it out.  I’ve never understood why someone would accept creationism based on the word of one book, yet discount evolution despite the evidence.

I’d recommend reading the book.  I realize that there are probably people on both sides of the science/religion debate that are firm in their beliefs and either won’t read it or will come into it with some sort of preconceived notion.  Don’t do this, as it will take away from the book.  One thing I like about the book is Sagan’s ability to set up reasoning as to why he believes as he does.  Sure, people will challenge his beliefs.  This is what science is about.  I’m not saying that I’m always right.  I’d simply ask you to make a lucid counterargument.

Admittedly, a few things here ore there were left out for the sake of making the book more readable.  If anyone reading this was present at the lectures, I’d like to know how true the book is to what was actually said.

Feel free to leave comments.

Who Wants to Kill Jessie?/Kdo chce zabít Jessii? (1966)

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

We’ve all had dreams that have seemed real.  When we awake, it may either be a relief or a disappointment depending on the dream.  Dr. Ruzenka Beránková has found a way to not only monitor dreams but to replace a bad dream with a good one.  She demonstrates on a cow who’s dreaming of being chased by flies.  After injecting her serum, the cow begins to dream of laying in a hammock while some people play music for her.  It seems to have worked.  Some of the people in the room are bothered by some flies, but the connection isn’t made immediately.   It isn’t until she tries it on her husband that it becomes painfully obvious.

Dr. Jindrich Beránek is trying to create some antigravity gloves that he saw in a comic book.  He becomes so obsessed with it that he dreams of it one night.  When his wife finds out, she wakes him up and gives him an injection of her serum.  He goes back to bed only to awake to one of the comic-book characters.  What’s really embarrassing about it is that of the three characters,  it’s the attractive female that he wakes up next to.  (Also in the apartment are the Evil Superman character and his cowboy henchman, each in a separate room.)  Poor Jindrich has no idea how he’s going to explain this to his wife.

The antigravity gloves don’t appear, which is very unfortunate.  Evil Superman still wants them and expects Jessie (the beautiful woman of Jindrich's dream) to produce.  Well, Jendrich and Ruzenka go off to work simply leaving the comic-book people locked in the apartment.  They escape, drawing attention and causing havoc wherever they go.  The husband and wife have to figure out what to do.  The husband wants to hide Jessie while the wife wants to send the two men somewhere where they won’t cause as much trouble.

When it’s discovered what happened, the husband is held responsible for creating the three new ‘people’.  His sentence is three days in jail, but he’s so obsessed with the gloves that he breaks out of jail.  (He apparently goes unnoticed by his jailors.)  Meanwhile, the wife is working on what to do with the three dream characters.  They try incinerating the superman character, but he survives and goes on to do more harm.  Eventually, everything does work out; she does come up with a solution that works.

Overall, it was a very goofy movie.  The comic-book characters talk in bubbles, not unlike an actual comic-book character would.  (In court, the bubble has to be turned so that the judge can look at it.)  Jessie does eventually learn how to actually talk, but it’s not until late in the movie.  Also, the video of the cow being chased by the flies in her dream was kind of funny.  It was sped up and reversed, which made it look like there was little control over speed and direction.

One thing that annoyed me was the opening title sequence, which was done comic-book style.  Being a foreign film, the text needed subtitles.  This became distracting.  I was thankful that this was the only scene done this way.  The subtitles weren’t as distracting throughout the rest of the film, but they were out of synch at several points.  (This was mostly due to people doing a lot of talking at once.)

At the very least, it’s an interesting premise.  Where do we draw the line between dreams and reality?  Also, if those dreams should come to life, how do we treat those dreams and who do we hold responsible?  Jessie, the Superman and the Henchman don’t really have any legal standing.  As a lawyer put it, if the husband had been dreaming of his wife, we wouldn’t have a problem.  However, this was done without his knowledge.  The wife should have at least known the side effects or known better than to use it on a human.  (And her husband of all people.)  I would have at least held the wife partially responsible.  She was the one that made his dreams come true.

The movie ran for only 80 minutes.  I could have seen it being made a little shorter, but I don’t think it ran too long at all.  I don’t know that I would have bought it, but it was worth renting from Netflix.  If you can get it, I’d recommend giving it a shot. 

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008)

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

I’ve never seen a reason why Intelligent Design should be taken seriously.  For those that don’t know, Intelligent Design is the belief that some creator, be it God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, created all of creation by some divine will.  The main proof is that things are so complex that they couldn’t be the result of chance.  It’s Hoyle’s tornado assembling a 747, except that the tornado has had several billion years and produced a lot of things that weren’t planes.  (A more accurate analogy of evolution is the thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years.)

Ben Stein sets out to figure out exactly why Intelligent Design is dismissed by many academics.  He presents several people that were dismissed or otherwise harassed for the mere mention of ID in any sort of credible sense.  He also casts an unfavorable light on Darwin and atheism, associating them with communism and Nazis.  (After all, if you believe in natural selection, eugenics can’t be far behind.)

Yes, it does bother me that Darwin is the only person to put forth a theory of the mechanics of evolution, at least that got any attention.  Yes, I’m all for gathering evidence.  And yes, I do realize that this puts us between a rock and a hard place.  Do we dismiss something because there’s no hard proof or do we give it equal time because it's the only other thing that's trying to get attention?  Part of science is looking at a new theory, but there has to be some method of disproving it.  You have to accept that you might be wrong.

Part of my problem with ID is that it basically passes the buck.  We can’t have something so complex as life, so there has to be a creator.  Where did that creator come from?  If it was aliens, did they evolve on another planet or were they seeded by yet another creator?  If God created us, where did God come from?  This whole thing about God being eternal and not needing a cause is a bit too convenient for me.  Either way, all you’re doing is pushing back the moment of creation at least one step.

I tend to be very skeptical of anyone that presents truth as absolute.  I came into the documentary expecting Stein to present ID as correct, but I found that it was more a way of bringing attention to it.  I don’t mind this so much.  I did find the Communist/Nazi card to be heavy handed.  Images of the Berlin Wall and Nazi symbols were shown repeatedly.

The movie comes off as less of an attack than Religulous, but was just as strange in some parts.  The movie seems to equate belief in Darwinian evolution with atheism.  This was regard where I feel the documentary overreached.  Darwin is held responsible for Nazis’ eugenics programs, for instance.

There seem to be three main aspects to the film.  One is that an attack on ID is an attack on freedom of speech.  Another is that ID should be allowed to be considered.  The third is that Darwin was flat-out wrong.  I’ll admit that just as Einstein followed up on Newton’s work, there should be someone to follow up on Darwin’s work.  However, I think to call Darwin wrong or to say that ID is the answer is going to raise a few eyebrows.  I have a hard time taking the documentary totally seriously.

IMDb page

Saturday, August 09, 2014

What the Bleep Do We Know!? (2004)

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

There’s this one joke that I really like. I think most guys will identify with it.

This guy walks into a bar and sits down next to an empty seat. He orders two beers, places one in front of the empty seat next to him and proceeds to drink the other one. When he’s finished, he orders another drink and consumes that one, leaving the first alone. This continues for a while until he’s almost ready to leave. He then consumes that first beer and leaves. This goes on for a few weeks until one day when the bartender asks him what’s going on. Is he waiting for someone that never comes?

“No,” the guy says. “As you know by now, I’m a professor of quantum physics and according to quantum physics, it’s possible that matter continually appears and disappears. This means that it’s possible, even if remotely so, that a beautiful woman might randomly appear in this chair next to me. I want to have this other beer waiting for her.”

“Now, wait a minute,” the bartender says. “You’re obviously intelligent; you have a good, well-paying job and you also look like you keep in shape. There are plenty of real women that would love to talk to you. In fact, that woman sitting over at that booth would be a perfect match for you.”

The professor looks over at the woman that the bartender indicated, looks back at the bartender and says, “Yeah, right. What are the odds of that happening?”

That joke basically describes this movie. I discovered it while looking on Netflix. If I recall, I was looking for movies that Armin Shimerman had been in. (He plays Quark of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame.) I also saw Marlee Matlin, who viewers of The West Wing might recognize. I saw that it was about quantum physics, which I have an interest in, and figured that it couldn’t hurt. After all, Netflix charges by the month. Boy, what a waste of a position in my rental queue.

The movie takes a little physics, a little basic biology and a big help of mysticism and puts it all together in a PBS-like special that calls itself a movie. There’s a story of Amanda, a photographer played by Matlin. The story is basically used to illustrate the various things that the interviewees are saying. The thing that gets me is that none of those that are interviewed are identified during the movies. Usually, when you have someone interviewed, you get a little caption saying something like, “Bob Smith/Professor of Physics, Cornell”. The people here could all have Ph.D.s from Harvard or they could be a few random people that the producers pulled off the street. You just don’t know.

Judging by the way they presented themselves, it looks like you get the full spectrum out of the four or five people being interviewed. The thing is that eventually, you realize that many of them are probably full of [bleep]. The basic premise of the movie is that reality and perception don’t work like we think they do. Instead of reality determining perception, perception determines reality. Thus, everything you see is a result of you perceiving it.

There’s even a story about a Caribbean tribe that isn’t able to see Columbus’s ships because they can’t perceive anything like it until the shaman notices ripples caused by the ships and figures out what’s going on. One of the men being interviewed even says that the camera recording him is there only because he wills it to be so. Someone else says that crime in D.C. went down by 25% because 4,000 people willed it to be so. Fine, then. When everything is tallied on Epinions for the month of March, I’ll earn $1,000. I will it to be. Maybe if I get enough people to help me out, it will happen.

There is some truth to the movie. Some of the science is accurate, even if it is misused. They also mention the idea of an ‘ultimate observer’ out there observing the universe. If you accept that the universe is dependent on a user, then who observed the universe before anyone came along? However, there’s too much in the movie that goes against what I believe to be true. I look at what a lot of the ‘experts’ are saying and think to myself that it’s just a big pile of [bleep]. The shame of it is that this was actually shown in theaters as an actual movie. If I had seen this in a theater, I think that I would have walked out and asked for my money back.

Looper (2012)

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

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details about the movie.  If you’re not into that sort of stuff, now’s the time to stop reading.

Time travel is one of those things that, when used in a movie, will either attract or repel people.  It’s almost like anime in that you either love it or hate it.  You either love to pick apart the physics and paradoxes or you don’t want to be bothered.  In the world of Looper, time travel has been invented sometime between 2044 and 2074.  It’s immediately outlawed, which means that it’s used only by outlaws.  Organized crime has taken over the technology, primarily because it’s nearly impossible to kill someone in 2074.  Their solution?  Send bodies back to 2044 to be killed and disposed of by loopers.  The targets are sent back with four bars of silver as payment.

The name comes from the fact that loopers will one day find a body with a crapload of gold instead of the usual silver.  This will be their future selves.  The looper has thus closed their own loop and has 30 years of retirement to enjoy before the mob comes knocking on their door.  Joe is a looper.  He waits at the same location for his targets until one day, his load of gold arrives.

There are several things keeping loopers from not closing their loop.  First off, the targets come with a hood that usually conceals their identities.   Second, loopers tend to shoot immediately, thus preventing someone from warning themselves or using any information to escape.  If someone does escape, the present version of the looper is captured and tortured in hopes of compelling the future version to come in.  (If you’re thinking of letting your small children watch this movie, they will get to see this in graphic detail.)

Another important aspect of life in 2044 are people with telekinetic abilities.  Most are at the parlor-trick level, able to make quarters float.  It’s not as impressive as they think it is.  There are a few with better abilities.  Of notable concern is someone called The Rainmaker.  It turns out that he’s taken over in 2074 and is closing all the loops, including Joe’s.

This leads to two timelines.  In one, Joe does his job and properly closes his loop.  In another, Joe is able to go back without his hood, thus causing his younger self to hesitate.  This give Old Joe time to escape.  He has information on who The Rainmaker is.  He’s able to narrow it down to three children who were all born on the same day in the same hospital.  Like The Terminator, Old Joe goes about hunting down all three children.

Young Joe is a bit more optimistic.  He hopes that killing The Rainmaker isn’t necessary.  In fact, it turns out that The Rainmaker may have gone bad after seeing his mother killed.  Erasing the traumatic event coupled with having a loving parent may be enough.  This is where the luck is a bit cliché.  Old Joe first targets the two children that aren’t The Rainmaker whereas Young Joe manages to rip off the piece of paper that happens to have the correct child.  Thus, he’s able to protect the child and his mother.

There are a few things that I got to thinking about and it’s not the good kind of thinking where the movie inspires all sorts of moral and/or physics questions.  Instead, it’s more about the story.  First, the mob gains control of a contraband technology and they use it solely for killing people?  Ok.  They say that going back isn’t so easy.  Isn’t that what cryogenics is for?  You could have a black-market tourism service.  You could also send back people to take advantage of the stock market.

There was also someone sent back to recruit loopers.  Couldn’t someone find this boss’s younger self and use that as leverage?  I don’t recall if it was mentioned.  It may have been one of those things that was mentioned in passing and I just missed it.  Still, I’d be worried that someone would figure it out.  Someone has to be thinking it.

I’d also get into the whole aspect of preventing Hitler from coming to power, but that’s sort of what this is about.  The Rainmaker supposedly takes on the whole mob without being seen and without any help at all.  The entire mob just ups and dies in a short span of time.  Joe comes to realize that this is not good.  At the very least, they killed his wife.  That has to be stopped.  The issue is how.  Do you just kill the person outright or do you attempt to work with them?

I also won’t go into the issue of time travel.  The physics aren’t really discussed.  If you try to think of all the paradoxes and science and stuff, you’ll go crazy.  I find that it’s better to focus on the story.  It was an interesting story, but not an amazing movie.  I had gotten this using a free code on Redbox.  (I was going to use the code on Total Recall, but I paid for it by accident.)  It’s one of those movies that I don’t mind having rented for free. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Jesus Camp (2006)

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

I’m having trouble remembering where it was that I first heard about this movie. It may have been through NetFlix, which occasionally recommends a movie that I might like. One of these movies may have been Jesus Camp, which is about a camp called “Kids on Fire” in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota.

It’s run by the Reverend Becky Fischer, who wants to have a place to teach kids how to live Christian lives. Early in the movie, Rev. Fischer speaks to the camera and tells how Muslim Jihadists are trained young. She feels that she could do the same for Christian kids.

The movie seems to focus on her and three kids: Levi, Tori and Rachael. Levi, who is home schooled, believes that Darwinian evolution is unproven. His mother asks him about how it’s ridiculous. Another likes to dance, but only to Christian music and not “for the flesh” as she put it. Most of the movie takes place at the camp with some time setting up the three aforementioned children. There are also segments with Mike Papantonio, who seems to have his own radio show. However, it seems to really be only to give some sort of narration, for lack of a better word.

While watching the movie, I remember thinking that this is another Fahrenheit 9/11. Those, like myself, that don’t believe will probably look at the movie and think how horrible it is that children are put through this, effectively being brainwashed. Those that agree with the methods may look at this and think that Becky Fischer is a hero, having done the right thing.

This movie seems to be neutral in its presentation of its subject. You don’t have someone trying to put too much of a spin on it. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who made this movie, didn’t appear in it as Michael Moore did in his movie. The movie presented Evangelism from the inside. I don’t think the camp was to be presented as good or evil.

If anything, I thought it came off as a little ridiculous. What makes someone think that approaching someone will convert them? Has anyone actually ‘seen the light’ after being approached? Rachael approaches someone at a bowling alley and tries to convert them. She seemed optimistic about it. There was also another case where one of the girls approached some men in a park. As she was walking away, she made a comment about how she thought they were Muslim or something simply because they didn’t seem that interested.

I have to wonder if the kids in the movie will watch it in 25 years and see what they were like. I could see some of them following the pat that Rev. Fischer set out for them. However, I could also see some of them finding a future outside of Christianity and looking back at this, thinking how naive they were. This isn’t to say that they’ll be screwed up or anything. It’s just that they might think to themselves, “What was I doing? Did I actually say that to someone?”

At 85 minutes, it’s not a long movie. I’d definitely recommend watching it. At the very least, it’s a look at what goes on at that particular camp. 

Exam (2009)

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

These are tough times.  There are a lot of people looking for work.  Eight people have a chance to get a really good job.  They show up and are greeted by an invigilator.  (I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up; an invigilator is a fancy word for someone who supervises a test.)  The invigilator tells them that they will be judged based on their response to one question.

If any of the candidates talk to either him or the guard, that candidate will be disqualified and ejected from the room.  If any candidate ruins their paper in any way, they are disqualified and ejected.  If any candidate walks out, they will be disqualified and will not be let back in.  When they open their test papers, the eight people discover that the only writing on their papers is a number, one through eight.  There is no question.

The quickly agree that there should be no use of real names, so they all use descriptive names.  (The blonde becomes Blonde.  The guy that doesn’t seem to be able to hear is called Deaf, although this turns out to be a misnomer.)  At first, they agree to cooperate, at least to figure out what’s going on.  They think that the question may be hidden on the paper.  (When they notice that there are different kinds of light sources, they realize that knocking out the normal light may bring up UV or IR light.)

Eventually, it breaks down to everyone at odds with each other.  One is even able to trick several others into breaking the rules.  Various facts come out about the remaining people, like potential motivations for applying for the job.  It turns out that the company they’re applying to makes a drug for a disease that’s otherwise untreatable.  Whoever gets the job will get a nice employee discount.

I don’t want to go much further into plot because to do so would ruin the movie.  It’s a very simple movie that uses a simple premise very well.  Ten people in one room, eight of which are competing for a job.  There’s no gore and not much violence.  I’ve always felt that it doesn’t take a very elaborate plot or a huge budget to make a good movie and this movie is proof.  The eight main characters play well off of each other.

You might think that the movie relies too heavily on the test.  I found myself wondering if they’d figure out what the question was, which is a great way to hook people in.  Yes, I know that you need interesting characters; the movie does have them.  You feel more empathy for some than others, I’ll admit.  Even though there was a timer in the room with the test takers, I didn’t really find myself counting down to the end of the movie.  For me, it was more a question of whether or not someone would get the job or if everyone would get disqualified.  (There was no guarantee that anyone would get the job.)

I don’t recall how I found out about the movie.  I think it was through the coming attractions.  When I first heard about it, I knew I had to watch it just to see if they could pull it off.  They did.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Deliver Us from Evil (2006)

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

Over the past few decades, it’s come out that the Catholic Church has been involved in sex abuse cases involving children.  This isn’t to say that all priests are child molesters or that I agree or disagree with how the Church has handled it.  Most of what I know about the subject is from the newspaper and television, which is why I stopped watching TV news and tend to stick to the comics in the paper.

Deliver Us From Evil is a documentary that takes a look at one particular priest, Father Oliver O’Grady.  The documentary shows the allegations against him and how his actions have affected the people and their families.  If I recall, some actually to left the Church because they couldn’t bring themselves to look at O’Grady any more.  In once case, the family no longer goes to church at all.

One thing that the documentary shows is that denial is not the answer.  Understandably, the Church did not wish to be interviewed for the documentary.  However, records show that O’Grady has been moved around from one church to another.  When he was moved to a new town, the residents would not be told of what he had done.   This would leave Father O’Grady in a position to potentially abuse more children.  Allegations would arise again and O’Grady would be moved to another town.

I feel that the Church has totally taken the wrong stance in this case.  The priests in question should be held accountable for what they have done.  When an abusive priest is identified, it’s rarely one or two cases of abuse or some false report.  They leave a trail of reported abuse.

When victims and their families try to go to the Pope, nothing happens.  The bishops that find out about this tend to cover up what happened and simply shuffle the priests around, which only makes the problem more evident.  This is what bothers me; those in a position to do something know about this, but chose to ignore the problem.  I can understand not wanting to make the issue public.  It’s normal to not want people to know your business, but the people in question should have at least been tried in court.

It’s hard to tell how widespread the problem really is as children don’t always report abuse.  Those that do aren’t always believed.  Even when the children are, it may not always make it to the news.  You wouldn’t think that someone in a position of trust would do something like this, but priests are human like everyone else.

I’d recommend this documentary to adults; it’s not a topic that small children should be introduced to just yet, at least not in such detail.

Crossworlds (1996)

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

Some movies are good to the point of being memorable.  Some are bad to the point of being forgettable.  Then, there are the mediocre ones.  The ones that aren’t memorable and they aren’t completely forgettable.  They have the potential, but lack the script and production values to be worth recommending to someone.  Crossworlds is just such a movie.

Joseph “Joseph” Talbot is your ordinary guy.  His friends call him Joe, but he prefers Joseph.  He has two drunken party-animal neighbors.  (One is played by Jack Black, if that tells you anything.)  They invite him over for a hump-day party, which Joseph would really rather not do.  So, he goes anyway and gets prodded into talking to a woman that flat out rejects him.  There is another attractive woman named Laura that seems interested enough to actually talk to Joseph.  She just disappears on him, much to his disappointment.

That’s ok, though.  She appears in his bedroom that night…with a knife.  It’s not what you’re thinking, though.  She’s after a pendant with a mystical gem.  He wakes up and is so distracted by the fact that she’s in his room that he doesn’t seem to care about the knife.  It’s just as well; his house gets shot up, so they have to get away in his car.  They go to meet A.T., who is reluctant to help them until he finds out that it’s Joseph that Laura brought with her.

Laura and A.T. are part of a resistance.  Laura claims she was sent to retrieve the pendant and a staff.  The pendant is the one Joseph has, which was his father’s.  The staff is in a museum.  Amazingly, they know which museum, so they’re off to get it.  The problem is that Ferris is there waiting for them.  (I may accidentally call this guy Rusty.  If I do, bear with me.)  Ferris is a really evil guy.  He’s taken over many dimensions and now it’s our turn.  He needs the staff and the pendant to lead an army through.  (Apparently, all of the other dimensions were conquered without the aid of these artifacts.)

As you might imagine, Joseph is able to save the day with some quick thinking from A.T. and Laura.  Yes, Ferris has several evil minions working for him, but can’t seem to find someone capable of beating some kid who barely even knows what’s going on.  Why can’t an evil overlord find good help?  For that matter, why couldn’t he do it himself? He’s a very powerful guy and has most of the answers, except when it doesn’t serve the plot.

A.T. does know what’s going on, but is very blunt about not explaining anything.  (He won’t even say how many dimensions there are.)  Joseph has a right to know something about why he’s being shot at and chased.  It’s never explained how interdimensional travel works or why people pop in and out of the exact place they need to be.  I’ve always found it odd that when traveling between planes of existence, they always manage to land on solid ground.  They’re never left hanging in a tree or floating above the ground.  For that matter, how is it that we have two planets that are the same size?  The other planet is always around the same size as Earth (or at least similar gravity) and has a similar atmosphere.

This is definitely on the low end of the made-for-TV-movie spectrum.  I could forgive the production values if there was a little more story to the story.  You don’t have to explain everything, but at least take a few minutes to explain something.  You don’t get anything more deep than, “believe in the floor.”

It’s not so bad that I’d recommend it for the laugh value, but it’s bad enough that I’d feel bad if you had to spend money on it or waste a trip to the store. Yes, this is another one of Netflix’s streaming gems.  It’s just good enough that it’s not a waste, but just bad enough that you should get a few laughs out of it.  If you’re tired of watching the big-budget movies, this one might be worth a try.  

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Cherry Bomb (2011)

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

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details about the movie.  This may or may not ruin the movie for you depending on how much you like to know coming in to a movie.  You’ve been warned.

Usually, budget is a good indicator of how good a movie will be.  There are exceptions, though.  IMDb lists the estimated budget for Cherry Bomb at $100,000.  Having watched it on Netflix, it wasn’t that bad.  This isn‘t to say I don‘t have issues with the movie, but I’ve seen much worse.

The story is about a stripper that goes by the stage name Cherry Bomb.  She’s attractive and the guys seem to like her.  One day, she fills in for fellow stripper Sapphire in the champagne room.  The five guys in the room asked for Sapphire by name, but seem to be happy with Cherry.  Four of the men rape Cherry and leave her lying there.  She’s taken to the hospital and recovers, but the five men get their stories straight.  This means that the detectives assigned to the case don’t think that there’s really a case.

Cherry’s estranged brother, Brandon, shows up and confronts one of the attackers, demanding that he pay Cherry’s hospital bills.  Push comes to shove and Brandon kills the attacker.  When the detectives hear about this, the nurse tells them that Cherry was in her room all day, but Cherry overhears and gets the idea to kill the remaining attackers.  Brother and sister meet up and end up going after the remaining four men.

Things go well for them at first.  With the money Brandon took from his victim, they’re able to buy way more guns and ammo than they could possibly need.  Before they can carry out all of the executions, a hit man named Bull is hired to kill them.  They barely manage to escape him, but Bull never accepts a hit that he can’t finish.  It‘s only then that Cherry has any real sense of consequence, but she’s determined to finish what she started.

Yes, it’s a revenge movie.  No, Cherry doesn’t seem to like using the same gun twice.  As you might expect with this kind of attitude and so many weapons, it’s not a movie for children.  Also, not many of the main characters make it all the way to the end.  Because the movie starts with Cherry driving a car and immediately flashes back two weeks, there’s only one person that you have any indication will make it.  (I’ve always hated flashbacks.  The use of it here doesn‘t do much to affect my opinion.)

This is one of those movies I found on Netflix.  I have to say that it was better than I expected.  There is an amateurish look to the movie, which isn’t surprising considering the budget.  (Judging by the frequent fades to black, I was wondering if this was a made-for-TV movie.)

Most of the acting was good.  Cherry was a little annoying at times, but she was cute.  She wasn’t annoying enough that I minded seeing her do her job.  Her boss, Ian Benedict, is another story.  Benedict is played by Nick Manning, who was way over the top.  Imagine Jean-Claude Van Damme on massive amounts of caffeine.  Again, not so annoying that I wanted to turn off the movie, but he could get over the top.  Fortunately, this was only the case later in the movie.  He’s just you’re average male pig who runs a strip club.

There were also a few continuity issues that I noticed.  First, Brandon picked up as many bills as he could from the floor when he killed his first victim.  It didn’t look like he grabbed that much, but he managed to get $12,000.  This is 120 $100 bills, which mysteriously managed to get two of those little paper wrappers that banks put on money.  Where did he even get one of these?  Why would he put them on the money?  How did he get so much in such a short time?

Also, he hits Bull with his car in their first encounter.  His windshield is damaged, but looks fine shortly thereafter.  It eventually goes back to being cracked later in the movie.

This is one of those movies that you can’t take too seriously.  It’s not so bad that you have to see it, but it’s not so good that I feel compelled to tell everyone.  It’s a good example of what you can do with a modest budget.  Judging by the Netflix reviews, there were a lot of people that hated it and a lot of people that seemed to not mind having seen it.  I think I enjoyed it mostly because I didn’t think about it too hard.  This is probably where most of the movie’s fans will come in.

Since it only ran for 1:22, I figured it wouldn’t be a total waste of time.  It’s definitely worth a watch if you have streaming.  (Even though the movie has been released on DVD, streaming was the only option Netflix had when I watched it.)  For those worried about how graphic it is, we don’t get to see much nudity.  The dancers don‘t get naked, which is our loss.  Also, the rape isn’t actually shown on screen.  We do, however, get to see lots of gore and gun-related violence.  I don’t know that I’d recommend buying it.  If you have Netflix, I’d recommend streaming it, though.

Barrow Hill for PC

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

I got Barrow Hill a long time ago.  I was in the market to get something different.  It looked interesting enough.  You have to uncover the secrets of a small town.  Little did I know that it was a puzzle game that was pretty much impossible to solve without serious help.

The game begins with you driving a car through an area called Barrow Hill.  Your car suddenly stalls and you can’t walk back to where you came from.  This means that you have to walk into town where you find a gas station/restaurant/hotel.  When you approach it, you find a running car, but no people around.  When you go into the lobby of the restaurant/gas station, you find someone hiding in the office.  He’ll only open the window for a minute or two and tell you something, sometimes vital to continue, sometimes not.

There are other areas to the game, such as a broken-down jeep and another building, but you have to find a lantern and a book of matches first.  The guy in the office says that he has the lantern, but doesn’t open up to give it to you; you have to figure out that the lantern is in another room next to an empty matchbox.  (You have to go elsewhere to actually find matches.)

There are plenty of things to look at from pamphlets and brochures to cupcakes.  The pamphlets, brochures, notebooks and other written material often have useful information, but there’s no way to tell what’s what.  It’s like those word problems you got in high school where they’d give you five sentences, but only four were necessary to solve the problem.  Here, you’re given maybe 20 pages of stuff, but only two or three sentences may be necessary.

For instance, there are phone numbers on some brochures.  When you finally get a cell phone to use, you can call the numbers only to get answering machines.  What’s frustrating is that you can’t take any of the written material with you.  You have to either write down large quantities of information and hope that some of it is useful or hope that you remember where you left the necessary information.

I ended up quitting only because I kept having to use a walkthrough to get to the next stage.  It was so frustrating to have to quit the game, go online and jot down the next few steps only to realize that I was stuck again.  There are no in-game clues and the guy in the office was rarely helpful.  There was one instance where he gave me a code for one of the hotel rooms.  Beyond that, he would go into paranoid rants about how something was out to get him.  (If you didn’t do anything new, it was often the same rant as before, making it very repetitive.)

There were also several radios that had to be tuned to a certain station for you to get important information, but you couldn’t take any radios with you and the information also tended to be repetitive until you were able to progress in the game.  (I found that not being able to take important items with me made the game very difficult.)

Progressing through the game was hindered by the fact that you’re playing the game at night, so everything is dark.  You need to get the lamp working to be able to progress to several new areas.  Every time you go to one of these areas, the game doesn’t automatically take out the lamp for you.  You have to open up your inventory again.  Also, since it’s dark, you can’t always make everything out.  There were several times that I knew something was in a certain area, but I had to move the mouse over the entire screen to find the item or I realized that I was looking in the wrong area or facing the wrong direction.

The game is what’s called point and click, which means that you have a series of images that you move through.  You can usually rotate 90 degrees at a time by clicking the cursor on the left or right.  To move up or down, you sometimes have to zoom in on something to be able to get to the appropriate screen, which made movement awkward.  One thing that I found especially awkward was that you can’t step backwards.  This means that you have to turn around 180 degrees to go back where you came from.

The rendering definitely could have been better, especially where the guy in the room was concerned.  When you dealt with him, he was represented by a few still images that changed to give the impression of him moving around.  It was very choppy and exaggerated.  (So far as I know, you never get to see yourself, so there was just the one character you had to look at.)

The buildings and other objects weren’t that bad.  Many of the items looked realistic, but the scenery was often dark and it was hard to tell if there was a pathway outside or if it was just too dark to see anything.  When I was inside, I was could often see everything.  At least, I thought so.  I don’t know if I was missing anything important.

The reason I quit was that the game was difficult on pretty much every level.  The lack of characters to interact with means that you’re on your own.  There’s no one to give you important information.  There’s no one to care about.  I sort of figured out that you have to hunt for an archaeological team which seems to have disappeared, but may have just fun off with everyone else unless they disappeared, too.

The game is a little creepy, but not very much.  There was one moment when a bird flew out of nowhere and startled me.  Other than that, leaves were rustling and wind was blowing.  That was about as scary as it got.  Overall, there was no emotional investment.

This was the second game I’ve played recently where everyone disappeared, but I didn’t really care what happened to the people of Barrow Hill.  I bought the game for $20 and I have to say that it was pretty much a waste.  I can’t seem to find any stores that will let me sell it to them.  I’m hoping that I can at least get some of the money back by writing a review here. 

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe

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

WARNING:   I’m giving away the entire plot, but with this movie, that doesn’t say much.

I saw this title on Netflix when looking for new movies to watch. (After watching The Running Man, I was looking for other movies that Jesse Ventura had been in.) Before renting the movie, I took a look on Epinions. There were two other reviews on it. Both reviewers gave the film one star, mentioning that the film had very few redeeming qualities. The movie was suddenly elevated to bad-accident status. I know I shouldn’t have gotten it, but I just couldn’t look away. Both of the previous reviews were accurate.

Ventura plays this alien police officer named Abraxas. He’s a ‘finder’ who’s after a renegade finder named Secundus, who’s on Earth to find someone to impregnate. If successful in impregnating a woman, the woman will bear a child that bears the formula for anti-life or something like that. This will give Secundus immortality and unlimited power, which he almost has as a finder. (Apparently, almost isn’t good enough.)

Secundus finds Sonia, who’s played by Marjorie Bransfield. He puts his hand on her, his hand glows, and she’s giving birth five minutes later. Not only can she do this with her clothes on, I don’t recall seeing any blood or other liquids or anything. (I think something like that would be obvious since it’s snowing.) Also, she’s able to get up and walk to her parents’ house. Secundus is transported away and imprisoned. Abraxas is supposed to kill Sonia, but can’t bring himself to do it. He goes on to his next assignment and Sonia and child attempt to go about their business.

No one believes Sonia’s story. Her parents disown her and it’s difficult for Sonia to get a birth certificate for her son, who she names Tommy. Things get more difficult since Tommy is deliberately mute. In every other respect, he seems like a normal human. (With all of the tests, it’s surprising that no genetic anomalies were found, especially considering that on a genetic level, Secundus’s blood shows up as non-human.) It’s getting close to Tommy’s sixth birthday and as far as anyone can tell, he’s a normal child that just won’t talk.

To make matters worse, Tommy’s being bullied at school. The principal, played by Jim Belushi, would rather kick Tommy out of school than deal with the bullies. He says that his school is a normal school for normal children. When Sonia suggests punishing the bullies, the principal has an “oh, yeah; I’ll try that” kind of attitude. His acting is so bad in this, I can’t tell if it was meant to be sarcastic or if the principal really hadn’t thought of that. It almost seems like Belushi had been brought in five minutes before the scene and barely had the time to learn his lines.

About that time, Secundus breaks out of prison and returns to Earth to find his son and extract the secret to anti-life. Abraxas is sent after him to prevent him from finding Tommy. Both land on Earth with no weapons. They just have their clothes and these computerized assistants called answer boxes that seem to know everything. (The also serve as a communication link to Finder Central Command.) Somehow, Secundus knows just what he needs to know. He steals a car and magically knows how to drive it. He also knows where to go to look up Tommy and Sonia and actually knows how to use the computer and what their names are. When he gets the information, he doesn’t need to get directions. However, he doesn’t know how to order from a menu and he doesn’t know what a stripper is.

Abraxas is apparently much more successful in finding Tommy and Sonia and is able to protect them. Abraxas is constantly prodded by central command to kill the child, but Abraxas decides not to, citing that the child isn’t the problem. It’s Secundus that has to be dealt with. Eventually, after a cat-and-mouse game, Secundus catches up with Tommy and starts going through this elaborate routine to get Tommy to cough up the anti-life formula. Fortunately, Abraxas is able to stop Secundus in time. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Like I said, I’m not giving away much. The writing is the worst and the acting is almost as bad. Bransfield and Ventura were the only two notable major actors. The special effects are mostly cheap. The pyrotechnics are similar to the Highlander series. The rest of the movie is part Superman, part Terminator and part Top  Secret! in a b-movie kind of way. It’s incredibly corny. For instance, Abraxas will be 11,861 years old “next Tuesday.” (It always amazes me that aliens can convert to Earth years so quickly.)

The DVD has the movie and some notes, but the notes aren’t really that notable. It’s just some stuff about Jesse Ventura. Had it not been for Netflix, I wouldn’t have gotten this movie. If you catch it late one night on TV, it might be enough to compel you to go back to bed. Otherwise, don’t bother.