Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

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

After watching a lot of one- and two-star movies, I figured I’d try something different.  The Girl Who Leapt Through Time looked interesting, so I ordered it from Netflix.  The movie is about Makoto Konno.  Her day starts off normally.  She wakes up late, rushes out the door to school, doesn’t do well on a pop quiz, and nearly starts a fire while cooking.  To make matters worse, she nearly gets hit by a train.  The only thing that keeps the train from actually hitting her is that she’s developed the ability to jump back in time.

She finds herself having gone back a few minutes.  When she realizes what happened and that she has control over it, she begins to use it for several trivial jumps.  She now knows the answers to the pop quiz, which means that she can ace it.  She knows not to take a certain station in the cooking class.  Instead of being limited to an hour of fun, she can repeat the session over and over again.  Upset that her little sister ate Makoto’s pudding, she goes back to eat it herself.

She has no sense of the consequences or the possibilities.  (Other people don’t always like the outcome of her changes.)   She could date someone that she likes and if it doesn’t work out, she could literally go back to the way it was, as if nothing had happened.   She comes to realize that she has a limited number of jumps and she doesn’t have many left.  At this point, she does try to make things better, but there’s always that loose end.  It seems like there’s always one more thing she has to fix.

I hate to say it, but for many people, like my mother, anime tends to be a strike against a movie.  Any sort of sci-fi or fantasy tends to be another strike.  I happen to like both, so I don’t mind watching a movie like this, but it’s not really fair to a movie to not like it based on the style of presentation.  Also, the science-fiction aspect isn’t really that heavy.  You don’t get a lot of technical talk about how time travel is possible nor does the movie spend to much time on altered time lines and the butterfly effect.

Instead, it’s about Makoto and her learning to deal with the consequences of her actions.  She starts out with no real direction in life.  Many of her friends have some idea of what they want to do.  She has no sense at all of what she wants to do when she grows up.  I don’t know that she does when the movie ends, but she does have a slightly clearer sense of purpose.

This was one of those movies that I really enjoyed.  (Judging by the other reviews, I’m not alone.)  I really felt for Makoto.  Unfortunately, she was the only character that had any real development and she did seem to get the most screen time, but that did make for an engaging movie.  As you might expect with a time-travel movie, there were some repeated scenes.  (The time-jump animation got a lot of use, but not to the point where it was distracting.)

The movie has a PG-13 rating in the U.S., which I would think is for some mild language.  (Masturbation is mentioned once in the movie.  Beyond that, it’s nothing worse than damn and hell.)  It’s the kind of movie that anyone could enjoy assuming that they don’t mind that.

I’d definitely recommend the movie to anyone.  Runtime was 98 minutes, which was a good length.  I didn’t feel like it dragged at all, nor did I feel that the movie was missing anything.  I don’t know that there will be a sequel.  It’s one of those movies that’s probably better left open. 

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

Note:  This was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Warning:  I’m not only going to give away details about the movie; I’m going to give away and pick apart the ending.  If you don’t want to know that much about the movie before reading it, now would be a good time to stop reading.

There are some movies that are so incredibly bad that I’m surprised people didn’t torch theaters in response to seeing them.  The Giant Gila Monster is one such movie.  As you might expect, The Giant Gila Monster is about a Giant Gila Monster (played brilliantly here by a Mexican bearded lizard) that has surprisingly gone unnoticed until two local teenagers go missing.

Naturally, since they were a couple and no one has yet seen the Gila Monster, it’s assumed that they ran of somewhere to get married or something.   Rather than assume what people are saying, Sheriff Jeff gets some of their friends to help look for them.  The group is led by Chase Winstead, who’s basically a good kid.  He works hard to help take care of his mother and sister.  What money they don’t need he puts into his hot rod.  Most of the other kids like and respect him.  When the father of the missing boy tries to impeach his character, the sheriff sticks up for him.

Since Chase tows cars for money, he comes across several things that would suggest something odd is going on.  In one case, a car skidded off the road at a right angle to the direction of traffic.  There’s no evidence of anything that would have caused a car to do this.  Next is a DJ traveling through town.  He describes a big black-and-pink-striped reptile that cut him off.  Since he was apparently drinking, the story is easily dismissed.

After some research and some theorizing, the sheriff soon comes to believe that there is, in fact, a large reptile on the loose.  It’s big enough that it can destroy a bridge by walking underneath it.  Eventually, the Giant Gila Monster shows up at a party that Chase is throwing.  The sheriff fires a few shots with no effect.  Chase gets the crazy idea to get some Nitroglycerine (that he just happens to have) and blow up the giant lizard.  The day is saved and Chase is a hero.

There are so many things that I could easily tear apart.  The most obvious choice for me is the title character.  The Giant Gila Monster is rarely shown and when he is, it’s fairly evident that forced perspective is being used.  This is because the Gila Monster is walking on sand.  If the Gila Monster is as big as it’s supposed to be, you shouldn’t be able to make out individual grains of sand.

This leads to pretty much no actual attack scenes.  The closest we get is seeing the Gila Monster’s giant foot coming towards the camera.  The scenes with the Gila Monster next to a car or building looked fake enough.  I think that any scene with the Gila Monster and a person would have been below even the standards of the crew of this movie.

Another thing I found odd, and this may be a generational thing, is that Chase liked to sing a lot.  He sang a rather odd song while working on a fender.  I can’t fault him there, considering that pretty much anything would sound better than a banging hammer.

He also sang a ridiculous song about the Lord wanting children to be happy.  The first time he did this, I didn’t mind so much because he was doing it to cheer up his little sister.  The second time was in front of his friends at the party.  I think if I sang that kind of song in front of most of the people I know, they either would have walked out on me or had me committed.  Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have blamed them.  I mean, honestly.  Is this the kind of crap people sang in 1959?  Hadn’t anyone invented decent music yet?  I think that this was the impetus that caused Rock & Roll to come into existence.  Someone had to come up with something that rocked.

Speaking of Chase, the lizard busts through a barn wall during the second rendition of the Happy Children song.  Shortly thereafter, the Gila Monster destroys the front of the house that the sister is staying in.  When you consider that the Gila Monster also presumably ate two of his friends, it looks like this Gila Monster has it in for Chase.

The big question, which is barely addressed in the movie, was “Where the heck was this thing all this time?”  The theory is that the Gila Monster ate some special plants (or ate animals that ate special plants) that allowed for super growth.  Wouldn’t it stand to reason that other Gila Monsters had eaten the same stuff?  Why is this the first that we’ve seen of a gigantic lizard?  At the very least, there should have been a point where the sheriff said, “Gee… that explains all those missing people!”  Part of it may be that the lizard doesn’t look all that menacing.  I guess if anyone did see it, they probably didn’t think much of it.  (While thinking about this, I also asked myself something completely different:  Why have we never seen an abnormally large giraffe?  Now, that would be scary.)

The movie runs for 74 minutes and it’s almost all goofiness.  Aside from what I’ve mentioned above, we have a scene where the sheriff checks Harris’s sobriety by smelling his breath.  In another, Harris wants what he calls a soberty test.  He also compares buying a new car to getting married or going to New York.  It’s something you should do once, but never twice.

At the end of the movie, Chase kills the title reptile by loading his car with four canisters of nitroglycerine and aiming his car into the lizard before jumping out.  I always find it hard to believe that the car would stay on track and hit the lizard dead on.  It was also very convenient that Chase happened to come across a large quantity of nitroglycerine in the first place.  He had so much that I’m surprised that he didn’t load up enough of the stuff that it wouldn’t have mattered where he hit.  You’d think he’d want to be sure to be rid of the darned thing.

It’s one of those movies that it was worth the price of the DVD set just to be able to laugh at it.  I would actually check your listings or free on-demand section to see if this movie is available.  I’d hesitate to spend money on it unless you’re getting it with something else or you’re getting it from NetFlix.  This gives low-budget movies a bad name. 

Birth (2004)

I have this thing for strange movies. Some I honestly like while others I watch simply because they’re strange. There are some like Birth that I watch simply to see how they turn out. They get you interested and don’t let go until a very unusual ending.

The movie opens with a man saying that he doesn’t believe in reincarnation. Next is a man (presumably the same man) jogging. It’s a very simple, powerful scene. It looks like he’s jogging his usual route when all of a sudden, he collapses underneath a bridge. The next scene is a child being born.

Ten years pass since the man dies. The man’s wife, Anna, is getting married again, this time to a man named Joseph. One day, at a party, a ten-year-old boy walks in claiming to be Sean. It turns out his name is actually Sean, but he means Anna’s dead husband Sean. This freaks Anna out a little, but she begins to accept and believe the boy. He seems to know things about Sean, Sr., like where he died.

Most of the people surrounding Anna don’t believe. Anna’s mother is particularly resistant, threatening to call the police at one point. Even if Sean were to prove that he was who he claimed to be, it’s just not right for a woman of Anna’s age to have that kind of a relationship with a child of ten. (I should warn you that there’s a bathtub scene along those lines that may freak people out. It was staged, but it’s still a little freaky.)

Joseph is outright resistant to the idea that Sean is the reincarnation of the deceased. He’s had to wait a long time for Anna and be persistent. It’s understandable that he doesn’t want the boy in his house. After all, here’s this ten-year-old kid that practically walks right in to their lives and almost instantly wins Anna over, whereas he’s had to wait several years just to get her to say yes to a marriage proposal.

But is it even really Sean? The movie goes back and forth several times. Yes, he knows stuff, but he doesn’t know other things. There are also critical facts that the young Sean doesn’t know. He spends the entire movie seemingly convinced that he’s reincarnated, but what does he have to gain? What’s his game? Of all the people that could have been reincarnated and aware of it, why him? Why now?

That was what kept me watching the movie, even though it was slow and a little confusing. I kept waiting for some sort of major revelation, but I never got it. There was no heavy “Oh crap” moment where the entire movie came into focus. It would have been nice.

Don’t get me wrong. The acting was good. Nichole Kidman effectively played a woman that needed to believe. Lauren Bacall was great as a mother who knew that her daughter was digging a hole she might never get out of. But it was too strange a story. Reincarnation is one of those things that some people dismiss as mystic nonsense. I think that many of these people will turn the movie off within a half an hour. I can’t even say that that’s a bad thing.

I kind of wish I hadn’t watched the movie. Having watched it all the way to the end, I didn’t get it. Someone could come up to me and explain it and I probably still wouldn’t get it. I’m not sure what Anna was planning on doing at the end of the movie. Did she finally feel that she was being taken? I can’t recommend this movie.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Non-Stop (2014)

There’s not a whole lot you can do on an airplane.  With movies, any confined space is going to present problems.  It worked in Exam.  Several people are competing for one job.  When the turn on each other, not being able to leave the room adds to the suspense.  With Non-Stop, you have a similar problem.  Liam Neeson plays an air marshal named Bill Marks.  He’s not the best person.  He drinks.  He argues with people.  He even sneaks a smoke on the lavatory.  The good news is that he gets to travel a lot.  The bad news is that it’s the kind of work that can take a strain on you and your family.

It’s shaping up to be another routine flight when Marks gets a message over the secure network.  The person on the other end threatens to kill passengers at regular intervals unless money is transferred to a specific account.  He initially assumes it to be a joke by the flight’s other air marshal, Jack Hammond.  Hammond denies everything, even showing Marks his own pager.

It doesn’t seem like it would be that easy to pull off something like this.  There are several suspects, though.  Could it be the friendly woman that put forth some effort to sit next to Marks?  It would be too obvious if she took out a pager.  Could it be the angry guy that talks back?  Maybe it’s the token Arab/Muslim guy that everyone’s ready to point a finger at.

It doesn’t help that Marks has no proof.  At best, he looks paranoid.  Things get worse from there, especially when people actually start dying.  You’d think someone would notice a fellow passenger sending texts and turn them in.  The movie manages to go on for 1:46 with the bulk of it in the airplane.  You’d think Marks would be able to see the person given the right vantage point.  It’s never that simple.

That’s the big problem I had with the movie.  The movie is entertaining, but requires a certain suspension of disbelief.  You’d think two trained air marshals could figure out who one person is when the person they’re looking for is typing something on a wireless device.  It shouldn’t take that long to figure everything out.

It’s as if someone got the idea and tried to get it as close to two hours as they could.  It’s interesting to see how the next person will be killed, but that’s not really exciting enough to carry the film.  There is also part of the movie that would be a good candidate for Mythbusters, assuming there’s a way to test it at all.  Knowing that there’s a bomb on board, Marks proposes that they bury the bomb in luggage at a weak point in the plane to direct the blast.  I’m not sure that it would go down as expected.

This is one of those cases where I’m glad it was a free rental from Redbox.  The premise wasn’t enough to get me into the theater, but I did want to watch it.  The movie came off as a little too cliché to me.  If you can get it through Netflix, I’d say go for it.  Just don’t ask too much of the movie.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Iron Sky (2012)

They say ignorance is bliss.  I find this to be most true while watching movies.  When I notice scientific errors or when someone uses the wrong word to describe something, it sticks with me.  Iron Sky starts by explaining that the Nazis have a lunar base on the far side of the moon, which is described throughout the movie as the dark side of the moon, but more on that later.

The year is 2018 and an unnamed American president is thinking about reelection.  (Throughout the movie, she’s referred to simply as the President of the United States.)  As a publicity stunt, she sends two people to the moon.  It’s something that hasn’t been done in 50 years and is bound to get her name in the press.  Shortly after landing, one of the two astronauts discovers the aforementioned Nazi lunar base.  They’re planning to return to Earth, biding their time by mining Helium-3.  (Yes, that’s a real thing.)

That astronaut is shot, leaving the other astronaut to be captured and brought into the base.  As luck would have it, the captured astronaut is an African-American model named James Washington.  Washington is experimented upon while the Nazis prepare to invade Earth.  (They think that Washington and his fellow astronaut are an advance team as a prelude to invade the moon.)

Their new war ship isn’t quite ready, but it’s discovered that Washington’s phone has more processing power than all of the Nazis’ computers combined.  Klaus Adler kindly insists on going to Earth to get more such devices.  He brings along Washington, who claims to know the President personally.  (His fiancée, Renate Richter, secretly tags along.)  When they meet up with the President’s advisor, Vivian Wagner, both Adler and Wagner realize the opportunity that they’ve just been given.  Adler ditches Washington and hooks up with Wagner.

The movie is listed as a comedy, but it’s probably more appropriate to call it a satire.  In this regard, I can forgive a few mistakes.  2018 isn’t an election year, but the President strongly resembles Sarah Palin.  She’s not presented as being very bright.  Also, manned lunar missions are usually about a three-day trip one way.  I can forgive this as technology may progress in the next four years and it was never explicitly stated that it didn’t take 3-4 days.

There were a few things that the movie got right.  As I said, Helium-3 is a real thing that is actually found on the moon and could be used for nuclear power.  One possible reason to go back to the moon might be to mine Helium-3.  Also, the swastika has been used by many cultures, including Hindus.  It’s conceivable that an Indian representative to the UN would be wearing a ring with that symbol.  It’s unfortunate that the Nazis used it as a symbol of hate.

I don’t think everyone will be interested in this movie.  That‘s not to say that most people won‘t like it.  A lot of this has to do with the use of Nazis.  The swastika and other propaganda is featured prominently in many scenes.  It’s a sensitive subject and with good reason.   There are a few people I know that might like it, but I wouldn‘t necessarily feel comfortable recommending it to them.

This is one of the advantages of having Netflix streaming.  If you’re not comfortable watching it with your roommates or kids around, you don’t have to worry about holding on to the disc for a few weeks until you get your chance.  There’s also a Netflix-exclusive director’s cut, so there’s a good chance that some version of the movie will be available streaming for a while.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial (13 Nov. 2007)

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

“Who are you going to believe… me or your own eyes?”
- Groucho Marx

I always found it odd that people were willing to take creationism at face value.  They believe that the Earth was created in six days and that God rested on the seventh.  They also believe that the Earth is about 6,000 years old and that humans were created in God’s image.  It just seemed odd that people were willing to take one book’s word for it.

Well, many of the people of Dover, PA, were no different.  A few years ago, a group of people decided that something called Intelligent Design (cough cough…creationism…cough cough) should be taught alongside evolution as science, or at least a viable alternate explanation.  This had been going on in other cities, as well, but Nova decided to document Dover’s case.

Those that believed in Evolution brought the issue to trial, claiming that ID had no scientific credibility.  After all, evolution had observation and explanations and stuff.  ID had… well, the advantage of being ‘obvious’.  I mean, look at us.  How could something as complex as a human be left to chance?  We had to have had an intelligent creator that created us as we are.

It’s kind of hard to give an in-depth analysis of the plot because of the fact that it’s so basic.  The episode simply follows the battle between science and ID.  To make the case, the prosecution had to prove that ID was either religious in nature or was designed to promote religion.  It was fairly easy to show that ID didn’t follow the same rigor as science, but the prosecution needed a smoking gun, which they found.  (I’ll let you be surprised if you’re interested in watching this.)

Now, here’s the thing.  As with other highly debated subjects, those that agree with the outcome (ID being thrown out of the school system) will see the episode of Nova as fair and balanced.  Thos that disagree will think that only a heathen whack job would believe it.  Being one of the heathen whack jobs, I’m glad that I’m not in school any more.  I’m glad that I was never tested on any form of ID because I would have hated life.

There are many Christians that  absolutely adamant that God created the Earth simply because the Bible says so.  They will never accept that bacteria do actually mutate and evolve.  They will refute fossils as a trick by God to test their faith.  They see something labeled as a theory and think that it’s not fact.  (Granted, it’s not actually complete…yet.  ‘Theory’ means that science has yet to work out the details.)

Yes, I’m an atheist.  The reason that I chose science over faith is that science has proof where faith has a book.  Faith doesn’t take well do doubt whereas science relies upon it.  I have a hard time accepting something simply because someone tells me it’s so.  This is why I’ll see a movie even if someone tells me it’s horrible.  There are some things that I have to know for myself.