Thursday, January 29, 2015

F/X (1986)

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

If you’re over 30, like I am, there are probably things you can remember that don’t exist any more.  I was born early enough to remember the tail end of rotary-dial telephones.  I went to middle school pre-Internet.  We didn’t have cell phones or laptops.  I can remember when VHS and BetaMax were fighting it out and you had to buy rolls of film for your camera.

Another thing of the past is analog special effects.  Back in 1986, movies accomplished special effects with actual items.   Rolland ‘Rollie’ Tyler is someone who specializes in this.  He’s so good that he’s called upon by the Department of Justice to help fake the death of a Mafia witness that’s going into protective custody.  No one will try to kill him if he’s dead.  Rollie is even asked to pull the trigger of the fake gun.

After the staged ‘hit’, Rollie realizes that he’s next.  The two people he was dealing with both try to kill him.  He’s really paranoid, now.  He can’t even be sure that it was blanks he used.  One of the guys kept playing with the gun.  This means that not only does he have to worry about the DOJ killing him, but he’s wanted for a murder that he may or may not have committed.

The rest of the movie is Rollie trying to get revenge on those that set him up.  Because of this, I’m going to end up with a very lopsided review.  The ‘death’ of the witness occurs early on in the film.  I’m not saying that this is good or bad or that the movie dragged on at all.  It’s just hard to give a lot of detail about a movie where most of it is one person out to get revenge.

It was just under 2 hours, which was about right.  I don’t really think much could have been cut out and it didn’t seem like anything needed to be expanded upon.  If you like this kind of movie, I think it would be enjoyable.  The only real complaint is that it’s dated.  Kids may watch this movie and wonder what half the stuff is.  I’d be interested in seeing a remake done in today’s world just to see how they’d do it.

It’s an interesting premise.  Apparently, they got a sequel and a TV series out of it, but I can’t attest to either one.  I may check out one or both if I get the chance.  As for this one, it may be worth getting just for the nostalgia.  Just be prepared to explain a lot of stuff if you’re watching it with kids. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ed Wood (1994)

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

If you’ve been reading my recent reviews, you know that I’ve been looking for really bad movies to watch.  One name that keeps popping up is Ed Wood, the director of Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 From Outer Space.  While people do recognize the names of his movies, the name of the director isn’t as well known.  Still, Edward D. Wood, Jr. gained such notoriety for being so bad that a movie was produced about him and his work.

Johnny Depp stars as the title character.  The movie starts with Wood working at a movie studio when a producer comes across a script.  Wood wants to direct it, but can’t as the rights were acquired by another studio.  So, Wood writes his own, semi-autobiographical version which goes on to become Glen or Glenda.  Despite having Bela Lugosi in it, the movie tanks and it tanks hard.  The producer calls to let Wood know that if he ever decides to set foot on studio property, Wood should first make out his last will and testament.

Wood goes on undeterred.  He has to struggle for funding and apparently would often do shots in one take regardless of how they came out.  He makes several other movies with Lugosi, including Bride of the Monster.  They all meet with very bad reviews.

The movie closes shortly after Wood finished making Plan 9 From Outer Space.  He has a Baptist Church backing him on this film, which does cause some tension.  They want to make major changes to the script and don’t really like that Wood wants to direct wearing women’s clothes.  A chance meeting with his idol gives Wood the inspiration to finish the movie.

The movie is a pretty straightforward account of Wood’s life.  It covered his best-known movies, although IMDb lists a lot more movies during that time frame.  Wood was apparently a very prolific director.  He was a man that wouldn’t take no for an answer, even if the answer was well justified.  Wood kept doing what he loved.  (As the saying goes, it doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down; it matters how many times you get back up.)

The directing was great.  I’ve come to like a lot of Tim Burton’s movies, but this one was a little different.  As I said, it was very straightforward.  It’s not at all like Mars Attacks! or Edward Scissorhands.  Having the film shot in black and white was definitely a plus for the movie.

I also liked the acting.  Martin Landau was great as Lugosi.  Bill Murray was also great in his role.  I even enjoyed Sarah Jessica Parker.  This was one of her few roles where I didn’t find her to be over the top.  (She’s usually just a little too outgoing in most of her roles.)

Ed Wood is one of those movies that just comes together to work perfectly.  It’s a great movie about a director that was known for his horrible movies.  I find it strange, though, that his name isn’t better known.  At least his movies will live on.  I plan on watching Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda.  I have to wonder if I’ll want to see more of his movies after that or if I’ll be done with watching bad movies. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

District 9 (2009)

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

I saw District 9 in the theaters.  I had been hearing a lot about how new and different this movie was.  I’ve found that rarely do movies live up to such a claim.  However, I love a good science-fiction movie, so I decided that this would be one of those movies I shell out $10 for.  I’m not saying that it was the wrong choice, but I’m not saying that you missed anything if you waited, either.

The movie opens with footage of an alien spaceship hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa.  At first, humans didn’t know what to make of it.  The ship was just hovering in place.  There was no communication or attempts by the aliens to leave the ship.  So, humans break in to the ship to find a bunch of aliens.  (No surprise there.)  The actual name of the alien race is never used, as their language is as different as their appearance.  (They look and talk like giant insects.)  Humans use the derogatory term Prawn.

The Prawn just want to go home.  For unknown reasons, their ship can’t take them back.  This doesn’t mean that humans aren’t interested in the ship or its technology.  A company called MNU wants to use said technology, but can’t; it’s been engineered only to work with Prawn DNA.

Humans don’t want anything to do with the actual Prawn, so the Prawn are condemned to live in a series of ghettos called districts.  This is where Wikus van de Merwe comes in.  He’s your everyday cubicle dweller that’s just been promoted.

He’s been put in charge of telling the prawn that they’ve been evicted and are being relocated to District 10.  Wikus has absolutely no empathy for the Prawn.  He has no problem going in and destroying the eggs of unborn Prawn only because their parents didn’t get the appropriate permit to have children.  He’s also searching the living quarters for any contraband.  In so doing, Wikus accidentally sprays himself with some sort of alien chemical, changing things for everyone.

In case you haven’t seen the movie yet, I won’t ruin the rest of it for you.  There’s no point in doing that.  I will say that the movie did seem to have elements in common with other movies.  True, aliens are nothing new.  Even the idea of aliens stranded on Earth is nothing new.  We have Alien Nation for that.  Maybe I’m just trying to detract from the movie, but while watching it, I kept thinking of other movies that used a lot of minor details.  As a whole, the movie is new, or at least a new combination of said details.

The movie is, ultimately, about how we treat those less fortunate.  Wikus represents the attitude of not caring, even when looking right at the Prawn and seeing what we make them go through.  That doesn’t change until he becomes an object of attention, and even then, he’s still looking out for his own interests.

This is where it’s hard to condemn the movie.  It does have a great script and is a story worth watching.  I don’t know that I would have seen it in the theaters again, but I definitely think it was worth watching.  Yes, there is a possibility of a sequel, but I don’t know if that was the intent.  I really don’t know how a sequel would work, but I’d definitely be interested in seeing it. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Appleseed/Appurushîdo (2004)

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

It seems that when movies show the future of man, many show a future where the Earth, or at least the vast majority of it, is in ruins.  With Appleseed, we see Deunan Knute fighting in buildings that lie in shambles.  There’s a small statue that still stands, but is destroyed in a fight.  She’s eventually rescued and brought to the city of Olympus.  Olympus is a utopia where most people seem happy.  Life is good there, but there’s still conflict.

Half of the people there are bioroids, or artificial people.  They have suppressed emotions, which allows them to help humanity out.  Humans don’t really trust them, as humans tend to not trust those that are different.  To keep them in check, bioroids’ reproductive capabilities are also suppressed.   This also means that they have to go in for age extensions every so often or face rapid aging and death.

Among those that brought Deunan in are Briareos and Hitomi.  Briareos is a cyborg who has a history with Deunan.  Hitomi s a bioroid who shows Deunan around the city.  A terrorist attack on the bioroid facility means that Hitomi’s life is in danger.  (She’s three days over for her life extension.)  Deunan, Briareos and several others set out to find the work of Deunan’s parents.  That research holds the key to saving bioroids and (hopefully) humanity, as well.

I don’t remember how I first heard about this movie.  It was probably a recommendation by Netflix.  The most impressive thing about the movie was the graphics.  The CGI was like nothing I had ever seen.  Some of the backgrounds, like oceans or metal steps, seemed almost realistic.  Although still impressive, I felt that the rendition of the people left something to be desired.  The characters seemed a lot like anime, in some cases looking a little unreal.

The characters themselves varied.  Deunan and Briareos seemed the best developed.  Other characters, not so much.  From what I can tell, the movie was based on a series of graphic novels.  The problem with basing movies or televison on a series of graphic novels, books or comics is that things tend to get edited left out.  (I have a few of the graphic novels, but I have yet to read many of them, so I have no idea how much was changed.)  This means that back stories and histories are sometimes missing when something like that would help.

In a way, the movie seemed both compressed and stretched out at the same time.  The movie sets up the story pretty quickly, but there are a lot of action sequences, too.  Once the movie gets going, it seems to have a more even pace.  Even still, when I finished watching the movie, it seemed like there could have been more detail.

I did like it, though.  It was definitely worth watching.  At the very least, I liked the style of animation.  Also, I have to give credit for the soundtrack.  There were a few good artists that had songs in the movie.  (I had heard of Paul Oakenfold, but there were others that I hadn’t heard of.)

The movie is available through Netflix.  If you have it, I’d recommend renting Appleseed.  There’s a sequel that’s been out for a few years now and I’ve been meaning to watch it.  I’ll have to see about streaming it from Netflix now that I can do that.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

CheckPoints app

Many years ago, when I bought an iPod Touch, I decided to see if there were ways of making money with it.  I came across CheckPoints, a program that would allow me to check in at various stores.  You could also scan products for extra points.  Alas, my iPod Touch was the last generation of iPod Touches not to have a camera.  (Not that it mattered.  You have to have a phone to scan stuff.)  After several app updates, I found that I could no longer use CheckPoints, as it needed a more-current version of iOS.  When I recently got an iPhone, I installed CheckPoints.  I couldn’t wait to get into a store and test it out.

The idea is simple.  When you open the app, you’re given a list of nearby stores, usually grocery and drug stores.  You’ll see CVS, Walgreen’s, Kmart, and so on.  Each has a number next to it indicating the maximum number of points you can earn in each store.  Each store has a different assortment of products.  The Home Depot, for instance, is 50 right now.  There are two CLR products you can scan for 25 points each.  Kmart, for some reason, has Hasbro board games for 19 points and Doritos for 15 points.  Even though you might be able to find Doritos in other stores, it’s not necessarily listed there.

I’m not sure what determines where you can scan each product or how many points you can get.  I’d imagine it’s up to the individual stores and/or manufacturers.  (It’s also possible that they don’t want you scanning everything all at once.)  Interestingly, there are five Vick’s products, all Nyquil and Dayquil items worth five points each, that are available in all stores that would carry them.  The only problem is that I haven’t been able to scan them.  (The app says that I’ve gotten the points, but it doesn’t show as being credited.  I reported it.  Customer service was quick to respond, but it hasn’t been fixed yet.)

I’ve also seen products listed that aren’t available in the store it’s listed under.  I went into a Best Buy and found the printer paper, but they didn’t have the correct brand.  I tried scanning other brands to no avail.  It’s probably that not all stores carry all brands all the time.  It’s possible that that particular Best Buy doesn’t carry that particular brand or was simply out of it that day.  I’ve also noticed this in Publix and Winn-Dixie.  It’s possible that the brands in question are regional.

For the most part, it’s fairly easy to get points.  I find that I can get sever hundred in a day.  In addition to scanning products, which accounts for most of my points, you can watch videos and refer people.  (My code is seacow99, which has to be entered when you first sign up.)  There are also other places, like restaurants, that only give points for checking in.  I find that many don’t have any points, but a few will give you two if you can find them.  (The only way to know is by clicking on each location.)

You may be wondering at this point what you can do with the points.  You can’t get cash, but you can get gift codes and products.  You can enter sweepstakes for a gift card for as low as 40 points or you can just get the gift card for a set number of points.  The conversion seems to be at around 325 points per dollar.  You can get a $1 Amazon gift code for 335 points.  A Redbox gift code goes for 420 points. (It says it’s good for $1.20 off you first day’s fee, but I haven’t used it since their recent rate increase.)

If you want to save up, a $25 Subway gift card goes for 8,675 points.  All you need for a $500 gift card Neiman Marcus or Louis Vuitton gift card is 154,500 points.  (That’s 309 points per dollar.)  The most expensive reward, point wise, is a Hermes Birkin handbag for 418,500 points.  (I did a search on Google; the cheapest I saw was $10,000.)

Back when I had the iPod Touch, I had been redeeming for Redbox codes.  It seemed like it took forever to get one code.  I’ve had an iPhone for about two weeks now and I already have enough for three.  At this rate, I should have that handbag in no time.

Android (1982)

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

It seems like up until 20 years ago, anyone with a camera, enough studio space and a few warm bodies could make a movie.  Sometimes, you got a good movie out of it.  Usually, you got something that, at best, is incredibly campy.  Not that that’s a bad thing…

When going through the list of on-demand movies I had available for free, I came across Android.  Released in 1982 and running 80 minutes, I figured that this couldn’t be that good, but I was bored and it was free.  I figured I might as well get another review in before year’s end.

The entire movie takes place on a space station.  For some reason, a scientist (Dr. Daniel) has been given run of the entire thing, left alone with only Max, his assistant.  Dr. Daniel is running some sort of experiment which we gather is probably something that’s not exactly mainstream.

One day, a few fugitives drop in.  Max, not being that bright or socially apt, lets them in without too many questions.  We come to learn that Max is an android and that androids were wiped out because they eventually exhibited sociopathic behavior.  Max is just reaching this stage in his development, evidenced by his increasing resistance to taking orders and aggressive tendencies.

Add to that the fact that one of the fugitives is a woman.  The good doctor acts like he hasn’t been near a woman in ten years and Max, never having seen a woman, acts… well, like he’s never actually seen a woman.  He’s also pretty desperate to get to Earth.  He finds out that he’s slated to be decommissioned.  He pleads with the woman to take him back to Earth, as he knows that he’ll never have another opportunity.

I don’t mind cheesiness so much if the movie is otherwise good.  Unfortunately, Android didn’t quite come together.  For starters, who leaves two people alone on a space station?  If I were there, I’d ask for some sort of medical personnel and an engineer or two.  At least a few people coming on and/or off the station.  Other than convicts, that is.

And as for the convicts, who breaks out of prison without some sort of plan?  It seemed like the three of them simply seized the moment and broke out of prison.  If you’re going to break out, wouldn’t you think it through?  Maybe have someone waiting for you?  I’m surprised that any of them made it out alive.

I also hated how androids and robots of the 80s seemed to be a bit clumsy.  Max had few, if any, social skills.  Granted, that may come from spending his entire existence on a space station, but you’d think the good doctor would spend a little time with Max.  Max has only video games and really bad porn to entertain himself.

I think this movie was overpriced at free.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Airplane! (1980)

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

I’ve often said that comedy could get away with a little more because we accept the fact that we’re watching the movie for the jokes and not the plot. I have to admit that Airplane! does pretty well with its plot. The movie starts with Ted Striker following Elaine into an airport. The two of them used to be together, but Elaine left Ted; now Ted wants her back. Ted was a pilot during The War. He led many brave men into a situation where few returned and he holds himself responsible. That, ultimately, let to their breakup. It also explains why he’s never been able to get on a plane since. Somehow, he manages to get himself onto Elaine’s plane. (She’s a flight attendant.) Nothing’s ever that simple, though. The pilot, copilot, navigator and many of the passengers come down with food poisoning. It’s up to Ted and Elaine to land the plane.

The movie is mostly jokes. For instance, before boarding the plane, the pilot gets a message from the Mayo Clinic. The doctor on the other end of the line has many jars of mayonnaise behind him. He then gets a call from someone named Mr. Hamm. The pilot says, “Ok. Give me Hamm on 5. Hold the Mayo.”

There’s also Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who plays the copilot, Roger. Whenever anyone ends by saying roger, he thinks they’re talking to him. When a child passenger gets to see the cockpit, he instantly recognizes the copilot, insisting that he’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The child finally gets him to admit it by saying how his father thinks that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar isn’t that good of a player.

Some of the jokes are dated. One of the running gags in the movie is all of the people handing out religious flyers. You really don’t see that as much anymore. The opening credits mock Jaws, which probably won’t have the same significance to a lot of younger audiences. It was also never stated which war Ted fought in, although there are some flashback scenes involving him and Elaine. One involves battling girl scouts and dancing to the Bee Gees.

It’s a funny movie. The only weak part in the acting was Abdul-Jabbar; However, I think his part was great. It pokes fun at characters that don’t recognize famous people that happen to be playing other characters. The movie has some vulgarity in it and we do get to see breasts a few times. I think it would be a good idea to wait before showing this movie to the kids. Even after almost 25 years, it’s still a funny movie. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)

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

I remember seeing this movie around the time that it first came out.  I was still in high school at the time and Jim Carrey was still known primarily for starring in In Living Color.  The movie ended up being perfect for Carrey to star in.

Ace Ventura is, as you might expect, a pet detective.  If a beloved animal companion has gone missing, Ace is the perfect person to call.  The movie opens with him kicking a package down a street accompanied by the sound of glass breaking.  He’s posing as a delivery driver to get into the apartment of a man with a small dog.  (We’re left to assume that the dog doesn’t belong with this man, but we’re not given the details.)  Ace gets the dog, but doesn’t get to his car before the man notices the switch, so Ace has to make a hasty escape.

He makes a living off of that kind of small case, but is still struggling to make ends meet.  That’s when he gets a big case.  Snowflake, a trained dolphin who happens to be the mascot of the Miami Dolphins, goes missing a few days before the Super Bowl.  Ace is called in to help find said dolphin so that there will be a halftime show.

As you might expect with a comedy, there’s one clue that the main character can work with.  In this case, a small gem is found in Snowflake’s tank.  With the help of Melissa Robison, played by Courteney Cox, he learns that it came from a specific Super Bowl ring.  After going through all of that year’s players, he learns that there is one more person:  Ray Finkel.  Ace know that this is their man, but he’s a hard man to find.  Find Ray and he finds Snowflake.

I haven’t really had much of an urge to watch this over the past few years.  If it comes on TV, I’ll watch a few minutes of it, but I haven’t even seen it on TV recently.  The reason is that most of the humor seems geared towards teenagers.  For instance, there’s a sequence where Ace is going around checking the players’ rings.  He provokes one player into flipping him the finger so that he gets a good view of the ring.  He checks out another at a urinal with unintended consequences.  He also manages to get one to punch him in the forehead so that he can look at the impression on his forehead.

I remember liking the movie when it first came out, but I don’t think I’d be able to say the same thing now.  Carrey’s acting in this movie is very similar to the way he acted in In Living Color.  It was a very high-energy performance with him often speaking at higher-than-average volumes and often taking on wacky personas to look around.  It gets old kind of quick.

If you haven’t seen it yet, it may be worth watching depending on your sense of humor, but I’d recommend renting it rather than buying it.  It’s one of those movies that I think has little replay value.  It was interesting seeing Dan Marino and Don Shula appear as themselves.  (Don Shula made a cameo, but Dan Marino had a few lines.)  It’s interesting mostly to see how far Carrey has come when you compare it to some of his current movies, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or The Number 23.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Bug's Life (1998)

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

When A Bug’s Life was first released, I wanted to see it, but simply never got around to it.  When I received it from NetFlix, I had all but forgotten about it.  I was debating sending it back, but decided to watch it since I already had it in the house.

The movie is about an ant colony.  They’re collecting food as protection money against a group of grasshoppers led by Hopper.  Flik is one of the ants helping to collect food using one of his new inventions.  He’s not particularly well liked among his fellow ants, mostly because he’s a bit clumsy.  In his clumsiness, he knocks over the offering causing all of the collected food to be lost.

When the grasshoppers arrive, they notice the conspicuous absence of food and demand that the ants work overtime to gather twice the normal offering.  Flik comes up with the idea of fighting back instead and offers to go out in search of some bigger, badder bugs to fight off the grasshoppers. When he presents his idea to the colony’s princess, she realizes that this is the perfect opportunity to not have him around while they collect more food.

Flik finds an odd assortment of bugs that have recently been fired from a circus.  Flik invites them back and the group is eager to follow.  What results is mostly a comedy of misunderstandings.  Everyone involved figures stuff out with varying speed.  (The performers are the first to realize that they’re not there for a performance.)  They do come up with a plan to chase off the grasshoppers, but there are a few setbacks.  It’s up to Flik and the performers to save the day.

Yes, the movie is computer-generated animation.  Yes, the movie is rated G.  Some would think that the movie is meant for children.  Yes, it’s safe for children, but not at the exclusion of adults.  This was Pixar’s second feature film, so it wasn’t as complex as some of their other movies.  I don’t think that there’s too much that would go over the heads of children.  It’s not childish, though.

I was able to watch it and not feel like my intelligence was being insulted.  There’s a ladybug that’s actually male and has issues with this at first.  There’s a stick-bug that often gets typecast with anything that requires a straight-line object like a stick.  Yes, some of it is predictable and a little cliché, but it is fun to watch.  You have a main character that you can identify with and root for.  Not many of the other characters get much development, but all play their parts well.

The movie was released in 1998.  CGI has come a long way since there.  (Compare A Bug’s Life to the more-recently released WALL-E.)  It does seem a little dated.  All of the ants are bluish.  There are also some issues with the number of arms/legs that the other insects have.  Basically, there was never a point where I forgot that it’s CGI.

I’d recommend renting it if you’re looking for something a little different.  I’ve been watching a lot of horror and science-fiction movies, so I needed something a little lighter and this definitely fit the bill. 

42 (2013)

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

In high school, I had a P.E. coach who had lived in Miami when segregation was still in effect.  He told the class that blacks weren’t allowed to be in Miami Beach at night without a work permit.  (If you look at old photos of Miami Beach, it’s also not uncommon to see signs prohibiting Jews.)  I’ve never known segregation in my lifetime.  However, there are still people alive that remember a time when blacks were denied service.

42 is about Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to play in Major League Baseball.  The movie starts with Robinson playing for the Kansas City Monarchs.  He’s about to be recruited by Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  At first, he’s to play for the Montreal Royals, which is the minor-league affiliate of the Dodgers.  After proving himself, he’s promoted to the major leagues.

Rickey admits that the decision is motivated primarily by money.  Having a black player will attract black fans.  Black fans will pay green dollar bills, meaning more money for the team.  Since money’s on the line, he has to know that Robinson won’t react.  If Robinson responds to a racial slur, people won’t remember what the other guy said.  If he hits someone, no one will care what the other guy did to provoke it.  Papers will report that Robinson lost his cool.

Being that the movie is based on historical events, I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by revealing that everything works out for Robinson.  This isn’t to say it was easy.  Boseman does a great job of showing the frustration of a man that can’t fight back, despite wanting to.  Phillies manager Ben Chapman is shown as having no shortage of racial epithets and unkind remarks to spew at Robinson.  Robinson just has to take it.

It does have that feel-good ending where we get the sense that Robinson has made it, but I’m sure that it was still an uphill battle for him and for other black baseball players that followed.  The recent victory of an American of Indian descent in the Miss America pageant proves that we still have a lot to overcome when it comes to racism.  (We may have gotten rid of the separate bathrooms, but there are still people out there that only see skin deep.)

I normally don’t watch biographical movies.  The only reason I watched this was that my parents had rented it from Netflix and kept it so that I could watch.  I remember seeing the coming attractions and being somewhat interested, so I decided to at least give it a try.  I have to wonder how many of the facts were glossed over.  According to IMDb, some liberties were taken with history, attributing quotes to the wrong people.  I’m not sure how readily he was accepted by his teammates.  Then again, it’s based on a true story, not presented as totally accurate. 


Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Host/Gwoemul (2006)

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

The movie starts with one doctor telling another to dump formaldehyde down the drain.  The main plot of the movie is about a monster, presumably created by said chemical.  Park Gang-du works as a clerk selling food in the park with his father.  His sister, Nam-joo, is an Olympic archer.  He and his daughter, Hyun-seo, take a break watch her on TV.  Shortly thereafter, the monster starts attacking people in the park.  It even takes Hyun-seo in such a way that she’s ostensibly been killed.

Nam-joo even comes back.  As the family is grieving for the dead, the government moves in to quarantine everyone from the park, saying that there’s a risk of a virus.  Suddenly, Gang-du gets a call from Hyun-seo.  No one else is able to confirm this, so his immediate family thinks that he’s hallucinating.  Without a body to bury, it’s understandable that Gang-du would say something like this.  (He’s not the brightest to begin with.)  All Gang-du knows is that he has to get out of quarantine and save his daughter.

This movie had been recommended to me.  It took me a while to rent it, as is usually the case with movies that I rent on NetFlix.  Being that it’s a South Korean movie, there are aspects that I don’t understand, especially considering that it was intended partly as a political commentary.  Yes, pollution and its aftereffects are not unique to any one country, but I felt like I was missing out on a few things.  I’m not even sure how much I was missing out on.

There are a lot of issues that are relatable, though, such as presumably losing a child only to think they may still be alive.  Gang-du is guilt stricken at not having been able to help his daughter.  It doesn’t help that people are condescending.  The grandfather is the only one that can relate to this and defends Gang-du’s actions.  Gang-du tends to sleep a lot, but it’s because of a medical condition.  He’s very dedicated to his daughter, which is something his siblings could learn from.

The subtitles were a little distracting, but not nearly as distracting  as the dub.  I started watching it with the dub and had to switch after a few minutes.  Overall, the movie comes across a little too silly to be a real horror movie but is also violent or moving enough at times to let you know it’s a serious movie.  The entire family comes together to rescue the girl.  I don’t want to say anything else for fear of ruining the movie.  I do recommend watching it. 


Friday, January 16, 2015

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)

Note:  This is a review of a sequel.  I’m going to give away some details of the first movie.  If you don’t like spoilers, be warned.

Some movies are harder to get people to watch than others.  Movies based on other media, especially books, can be hit and miss.  Sequels are also hit and miss, depending on how it was planned.  Also, not everyone goes for animated movies.  When Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs came out, I noted that the style wasn’t quite what I was used to with CGI.  The sequel is in the same exaggerated style, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing depending on the audience.

In the first movie, Flint Lockwood had invented a machine that makes food from water.  This sounds great.  You have limitless food.  The downside is that it became harder to control.  The entire island of Swallow Falls is covered in food.  It requires the deactivation of Flint’s machine, the FLDSMDFR.

The sequel picks up not long after the events of the first movie.  Chester V, CEO of Live Corp, gets the job of cleaning up Swallow Falls.  He does this because he knows that Flint’s machine survived and is still working.  If Chester can get his hands on it, it could make him rich.  The only problem is that the FLDSMDFR has a mind of its own and is capable of fending off Chester’s people.

Chester’s last and only home?  Send in Flint on a super-secret mission to retrieve the machine.  This, of course, leads to the characters from the first movie finding out and going along to help.  Flint’s hesitant to risk the lives of his friends.  The way Chester tells it, there are all manner of dangerous creatures living on the island.

On the island, the group finds many of these animals, like a strawberry with arms, legs and a face.  Flint is initially terrified, as he’s the only one aware of the potential danger.  However, it becomes clear that the strawberry poses no threat.  Most of the other hybrids seem to be innocuous, as well.  Shrimpanzees, from shrimp and chimpanzees, seem to be ok.

When Chester discovers that Flint brought friends, Chester goes to the island with his orangutan assistant, Barb.  Chester saves them from a cheeseburger spider.  It eventually becomes evident to everyone in Flint’s party, with the exception of Flint, that Chester is manipulating Flint.

Despite the exaggerated animation, this isn’t a movie exclusively for children.  Yes, it’s one of those animated movies that has a few references for adults.  It kind of puts me in an odd position for recommending the movie.  The overall style of the movie seems to be geared towards small children.  It’s goofy and you get lots of puns, like repeatedly finding a leek.  (There’s a leek in the boat!)  It’s also predictable, like you might expect from a children’s movie.

There are also some more adult themes, like Chester, the evil CEO of an Apple-like company.  I don’t recall anything that would overtly offend younger viewers, but I wasn’t really watching it with that in mind.  (I don’t have kids, so I do really think it terms of what a kid should watch.)  Yes, there are a few dangerous situations.  The cheeseburger spiders can be scary.  However, I think the worst thing that a parent would have to sit through is all of the puns and food-related portmanteaus.

If you’ve seen the first movie and liked it, there shouldn’t be any surprises here.  The movie comes off as a continuation of the first movie without recycling too much of the original movie.  I’m a fan of animated movies, but I think most of the replay value will be for kids, though.

ParaNorman (2012)

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

It’s not easy being different.  Having some sort of special talent can isolate you from other people.  Norman Babcock knows this all too well.  He can see and communicate with the dead, including his grandmother.  People don’t believe him.  His father realizes that Norman must miss her, but he feels it’s time to move on.  His mother is a little more understanding, but most of his schoolmates bully him.  The only kid that seems to accept Norman is Neil Downe, who is also bullied.

Norman and Neil live in Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts.  The town has a history of persecuting and even executing witches.  In fact, Norman is going to be in a play about a witch that was executed several centuries ago.  During a rehearsal, he starts having visions of being chased by the citizens.  Soon after, Norman is visited by his crazy uncle, Mr. Prenderghast.  Mr. Prenderghast tells Norman that Norman must start practicing an annual ritual to help save the town, but dies before he can tell Norman any of the important details.

Fortunately, Norman can see Mr. Prenderghast’s ghost.  It does make things somewhat difficult.  Norman learns that he has to retrieve a book and recite a passage, but finds out that it’s a book of fairy tales.  If Norman doesn’t read from the book, the dead will rise and wreak havoc on the town.  Well, Norman doesn’t get the whole reading thing right, so he has to fight off those that accused and hung the witch all those years ago.  He has help from his self-absorbed sister, Neil and the school bully.

One thing I’ve noticed about animated movies is that very few seem geared towards adults.  This is one of the few that come close.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy in that most adults will never consider animation or stop motion as something meant for adults, so it may well never be made.  (Note:  I’m talking mainstream, R-rated movies rather than NC-17 stuff.  Yes, I am aware that those movies exist.)  ParaNorman is a horror movie done in stop motion.  We have zombies and ghosts as well as a fight scene at the end.  The movie should be safe for teenagers and above.

The stop motion was done very well.  The movie was made using models that were made using a 3-D printer.  Instead of traditional film, a Canon 5D Mark II was used for photography.  This gives the movie a different look.  It does seem much sharper.  There were a few scenes that seemed to blur a little, but there weren’t many.  I’d even say that it was the best stop-motion film I’ve ever seen.  The last scene was done very well.

I’d recommend watching it, even if you’re an adult.  I know that it is, or at least was, available through Redbox.  (I was able to get it using a free code.)  There is an actual story with ParaNorman.  It seems more like the script was written and the stop motion was brought in later.  The only thing I found to be over the top was that just a few zombies cause the whole town to panic.  I can see people locking themselves in their houses, but a mob was formed very quickly, true to cliché. 


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Upside Down = I Spew on Dud [Upside Down (2012)]

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

Some movies are fun because you can analyze the complexity of the movie.  The more you think about it, the more you realize that the writer and director knew what they were doing.  Some movies are fun because they’re simple.  You can follow the story without thinking too much about it.  Then, there are some movies that you really shouldn’t think about.  The more you think about them, the more you realize how absurd the premise is.  You start finding plot holes and the questions you start asking are along the lines of, “What were they thinking?”

Upside Down is about a pair of planets, called Up and Down.  Up has all the affluence and nice stuff that comes with it.  Down is analogous to the slums.  There are three rules.   First, matter is affected by the gravity of its own world and not that of the other.  Second, the weight of an object can be offset by matter from the other world, referred to as inverse matter.  Third, if matter comes in contact with inverse matter for more than a few hours, it will start to burn.

Adam lives on Down.  His parents were killed in a refinery explosion, leaving him to live in an orphanage.  He has one remaining relative, his great-aunt Becky.  She has this recipe for floating pancakes that rely on honey from bees that travel to both planets.  One day, while collecting the honey, he meets Eden, a girl from Up.

They talk and seem to hit it off until the border police come for him.  She seems to be killed in an accident.  Becky’s house is burned to the ground.  You see, people from Down aren’t supposed to interact that much with people from Up.  Fortunately, Adam survives and manages to keep Becky’s book, which has the recipe for the magic honey.  Adam hopes to make this into an anti-aging cream.

One day, while working on it, he sees Eden on TV.  She works for TransWorld Corporation.  He uses his product to get a job there so that he might meet her.  TransWorld is in a building that stretches from one planet to the other.  (The two worlds are impossibly close to each other, maybe a few thousand feet apart.)  Security is strict there.  Matter from Up can’t make it’s way to Down, so Adam is weighed and scanned each time he enters and leaves.

He goes through a lot of trouble to meet her, but he finds out that she has amnesia.  She remembers nothing from before the accident.  He has to see if he can get her to remember without getting caught.  All the while, TransWorld wants the cream product.  Will he be able to get the love of his life to remember him?  Will his cream be a success?

Netflix recommended this movie to me.  I have to wonder why.  As I said, this is a movie where you’re required not to think about it.  The rules, both physical and legal, seem to exist until they’re not needed any more.  If matter and inverse matter cause burning, then how are connecting buildings possible?  Yes, it’s stated that inverse matter can be cooled.  I guess we’re left to assume that buildings spanning both worlds have some sort of cooling system.

However, if you ate something from the opposing world, wouldn’t there be risk of internal injury?  How are the cable cars possible?  Both planets may share an atmosphere, but how are the bees able to collect pollen from both planets?  For that matter, how did humans develop on both planets?  You’d think we’d have different species.  They also seem to have things that we do, like pomegranates and bicycles.  I guess if you can accept that two planets can be so close without crashing into each other, you can suspend disbelief throughout.

The CGI is pretty good, although it is distracting to see people talking while looking up at each other.  The movie seems to be a vehicle for the effects.  Apparently, there’s a 3D version.  There were a lot of scenes that seemed to be filmed for this.  In fact, the only reason I might watch this again is to see it in 3D.

It’s a somewhat slow movie.  There are no explosions and few chase scenes.  This is disappointing in that everything else seems to be a backdrop to this forbidden-love story.  We have two people that aren’t supposed to be together and the movie just ends with them being together, revolutionizing their society.  Um, Ok.

I’d recommend skipping this movie if you have trouble not thinking about a movie.  If you like to, in any way, pay attention to what’s going on, you’ll probably notice various plot holes.  Some could be explained away, as I mentioned, but I found that to be distracting.  The entire time, I was wondering if various things were supposed to be possible.  Unless you can get it streaming, like I did, or can watch it in 3D, I’d say not to watch it. 

Friday, January 09, 2015

The Shining (1980)

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

My brother and I had been meaning to see The Shining for a while. We knew very little about the movie except that Jack Nicholson was in it and that he uttered the sentence, "Here's Johnny!" We finally got it from Netflix.

The movie starts with a man trying to get a job at a hotel as its winter caretaker. The hotel wasn't built for winter residence, so everyone packs up and leaves. They still need someone to take care of the place, so they're looking to hire Jack Nolan (played by Nicholson) to stay the entire stretch with his wife and son. Before Nolan agrees, the manager feels compelled to tell Nolan that one of the previous caretakers went nuts and killed his family. Nolan, like many of Nicholson's characters, looks like he's about ready to crack and go nuts as it is. Still, he feels that he's up to the job. He's trying to make it as a writer and would welcome five months of quiet. As for his wife and child, they won't mind.

The next scene is the wife (played by Shelly Duval) speaking to a doctor. It seems that the son has this imaginary friend that lives inside of him. He also had an episode where he just froze and blacked out. We also learn that Jack Nolan used to drink, but stopped when he hurt his son.

Jack Nolan accepts the job and takes the family up to the hotel. It's the last day of the season and everyone's preparing to leave. We get to meet the head chef, who seems to have these special powers that the son also has. (It's better if you watch the movie. I can't possibly do the scene justice.) The Nolans will be by themselves, left with what appears to be enough supplies to last the whole five months. At least, it had better be. The winters are pretty harsh. The only way up or down is on a snowmobile. They'll have a phone and a CB radio in case they need emergency help.

Everything goes well for a while, but things start to deteriorate a few months in. Jack Nolan is the kind of guy that's dominant and possessive and comes across as arrogant when challenged. (Jack Nicholson seems to play this kind of character perfectly.) His wife is worried about their son, who thinks he heard something coming from one of the rooms. Jack Nolan won't leave for anything because he signed the contract and he's sticking with it to the end.

I am going to discuss more of the plot now, and I will have to give away some important details. If you don't want to know too much, then now's the time to stop reading. Are you sure you want to know?

There's almost no way to contact the outside world. This is a big problem because things keep going downhill. Jack Nolan keeps getting more and more psychotic. At one point, he gets locked in a pantry. A man, who we learn to be the ghost of the previous caretaker, frees him. Jack eventually goes after the wife and child. It would be nice if they could get some outside help, but the phone lines go down and Jack has figured out how to disable the radio.

Now, here's where the major details come in, and I mean major. The head chef has used his gift to figure out that something's wrong at the hotel. He goes all the way back to the hotel to help them, but doesn't bring anyone along and goes unarmed. He asks a friend for a snowmobile, saying that he found out that Jack Nolan isn't all that he was cracked up to be, but doesn't ask for the friend or the police to go with him. Jack ends up killing him. (When I say major details, I mean major details.)

I'm about to say something that may or may not totally ruin the movie for you. Yes, I'm basically giving away the end, so skip the next paragraph if that bothers you. Jack chases his son into a hedge maze on the hotel grounds. It's not that difficult because of the snow. The son is able to elude the father by backtracking and running out of the maze to safety. Jack isn't able to get out so quickly and dies in the hedge maze. The mother and son escape. At the end of the movie, you see a picture dated in the 1920's with Jack Nolan standing front and center. You're left wondering how much is real and how much is imagination.

I have to wonder who'd take their entire family to the middle of nowhere in the first place. I could see it being a good job for some loner who doesn't mind the solitude. I can also understand that there might be issues with hiring two people. However, dragging a family along like that just isn't right. At the very least, they'd have to pull their young son out of school for two months.

Overall, the movie has a very low-budget feel to it. (There were a few overhead scenes where you could see the shadow of a helicopter.) Perhaps it's simply that the movie is so old and that I'm used to a better quality of film. It's not that the film is grainy or that the sound is bad. It just doesn't have the same luster that modern films have.

As I said, Nicholson was perfect in this role. Jack Nolan was supposed to be scary, aggressive and mean and Nicholson came across as all of those things. Shelly Duval played a scared wife perfectly. In the beginning, you get the impression that she knows better than to stay with her husband, but can't quite bring herself to acknowledge it.

The movie is based on a Stephen King novel, although other reviews on Epinions seem to indicate that it didn't stay that true. As usual, I haven't read the book first. One of these days, I'm going to read a book before I see the movie that's based on it. 


Religulous (2008)

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

I don’t usually watch documentaries.  Every so often, though, I come across one that strikes my interest.  I’ve liked Bill Maher on occasion and I have been known to watch documentaries that deal with religion.  Based on what I saw of this one, I could tell that Maher wasn’t a huge fan of religion.  I figured I’d give Religulous a try.

That being said, I’m hard pressed to call this a documentary.  You can tell that Maher is on a mission of sorts to debunk, mock or ridicule religion.  In once scene, he interviews someone who has created devices to get around Judaism’s ban on not using machinery on the Sabbath.  (How the devices don’t count as machinery is beyond me.)

When he talks to various religious people, you can tell that he’s holding back his contempt, but just barely.  Other scenes, like a decked-out priest, are shown to hold up the person as an example of what religion shouldn’t be.  (If Jesus gave to people, why is a priest wearing expensive clothes?)

Maher also visits a Christian-themed amusement park in Florida.  While talking to a person who portrays Jesus, Maher asks the employee how God can be three things, referring to the Trinity.  The employee responds that water can be three things:  liquid water, water vapor or ice.  It’s the one time that I recall where Maher was caught off guard and remotely recognizes that someone has a point.

Maher also looks at other religions and groups, such as Scientologists and Muslims.  I don’t want to give the impression that Maher is picking on one or two religions.  The main focus here is on religion in general and how it’s gotten to the point of being ridiculous.

The problem here is that when you look to debunk something, or even to support it, you can usually find what you need.  That’s not to say that religion isn’t full of crackpots and losers.  However, the movie doesn’t really do much to analyze anything.  There weren’t any moments where I felt Maher looked deeply into anything.

Take the contraptions to get around using machines on the Sabbath.  Maher didn’t really go in to detail on why the machines were necessary or why you weren’t allowed to use machines on the Sabbath.  The entire thing took a few minutes.  Then you were on to the next thing.  I think a movie like this could really do more justice by looking a little more deeply rather than holding it up as something that’s beyond rational belief.

There are a lot of better movies out there that deal with the issue of religion better.  Many focus on one aspect of religion, such as child abuse or a particular group of people, that do a better job of showing the hypocrisy or ridiculousness of religion and its adherents.  Even if you’re looking to slam religion, I’m sure there are better examples.

If the movie comes on TV, you might watch a few minutes of it.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother with it.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Trollhunter/Trolljegeren (2010)

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

I recently found out that I could use my own Netflix account, which is actually a profile of my parents’ account, to stream movies.  This meant that I could go through my massive queue and see what was available to watch on my computer.  One of those movies was Trollhunter.  All I knew was that it was about some guy that hunts trolls, hence the name.  What I didn’t realize was that it was presented as found footage.  I decided to stick with it, despite not being a big fan of the whole concept.  (I recently watched and liked LunopolisThe Blair Witch Project and Apollo 18, not so much.)

The story begins by telling us that footage was anonymously sent in to Filmkameratene AS, the company that produced the film.  They shortened it to 1:43 and presented it as this movie.  Thomas, Johanna and Kalle are three students making a documentary about a bear poacher.  In Norway, the hunting of bears is strictly regulated.  One registered bear hunter says that he knows all of the other bear hunters in Norway.  This guy, Hans, isn’t one of them.  He’s the kind of guy that goes off in the night and returns in the morning.  No one’s seen him kill a bear, but one usually shows up just before he moves on.

The students try to approach Hans for an interview, but he bluntly refuses and tells them to get lost.  They follow him only to see bright flashes of light.  Hans comes back and screams, “Troll!”  They make it back to Hans‘s truck, but Thomas is bitten by something.  Hans relents and tells them that if they want to film what attacked Thomas, they have to do what Hans says unconditionally.  They agree.  What follows is Hans hunting and killing several trolls along with interviews with Hans and several other people.

Hans tells them that he’s the only troll hunter in all of Norway.  The Norwegian government wants to keep knowledge of trolls to a minimum.  He has a contact in the government called Finn, who works at the Troll Security Service.  There’s also a vet that he brings stuff to when necessary.  Other than that, there are people brought in on a need-to-know basis, like a team of people that bring in bears used to take the blame when someone gets hurt.

It’s not really clear why the secrecy is necessary.  Trolls only come out at night and seem to avoid people.  Hans is only called in if a troll poses some sort of threat.  It’s also not clear how secrecy is kept, as trolls can grow to over 200 feet tall.  (Ones that tall register on seismographs.)  One of the reasons that Hans agrees to let the film crew in on it is that he’s no longer sure why he’s keeping the secret.  There are plenty of dangerous animals out there that everyone knows about.  Maybe people should know.

This is sort of what I expected The Blair Witch Project to be.  It has that same angle of people trying to document something, except that here, they’re trying to document something as ordinary as bear poaching.  In both cases, they have no idea what they’re getting into.  The difference is that I’ve heard of trolls, even if they’re bigger than I would have expected.  One of the advantages it has over The Blair Witch Project is that, like Lunopolis, it has a story.  (Lunopolis pulled it off better.)

If you can suspend disbelief long enough, it’s an interesting movie. It’s slow at first, but it does eventually have its moments.  Hans goes into all sorts of stuff like the different kinds of trolls and troll biology.  He even has to make sure that none of the students are Christians, as trolls can smell Christian blood.  (I’m not sure how.)  I’m not going to give away too much, as this may ruin the film and isn’t really necessary for the review.  If you can get it streaming, go for it.  If I had rented it, I probably would have considered it a waste of a rental position.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Prometheus (2012)

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

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details of the movie.  I’m not saying that it will completely ruin the experience, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you may want to consider holding off on this review.  I recognize that not everyone likes spoilers.

It’s hard to expand on a movie if you weren’t originally planning on it.  Some movie series, like Lord of the Rings, were planned in advance.  In other cases, subsequent movies come across as a blatant attempt to cash in on the fame of the first movie.  When I saw the coming attractions for Prometheus, it seemed interesting.  A little research revealed that it was supposed to be a prequel to the Alien movies.  I had never been a big fan of the Alien movies.  I knew the basic concept, but I don’t usually watch action movies.  Still, Prometheus looked interesting.

The movie begins with an alien standing on Earth about to drink a black liquid.  Once he does, his body disintegrates and his remains fall into a stream.  The water carries his cells around the area, creating the seeds of life for our planet.  (At least, this is what I assume is going on.)

Countless years later, some archaeologists (Elisabeth Shaw and Charlie Halloway) find the same pattern of circles drawn by civilizations all over the world.  They’re not only separated by distance, but by time as well.  There’s no way that they could have all had contact with each other.  So what does it mean?  It’s believed that it’s an invitation to meet what one of the archaeologists calls the Engineers, who may be responsible for designing us.

So, the Weyland Corporation builds a trillion-dollar ship to visit a planet that is most likely one of the circles in the formation.  Janek is the captain of the ship, but Weyland sends along Meredith Vickers to keep their investment safe.  There’s also David, the android.  He’s there to make sure everything’s running smoothly while the crew is in hibernation as well as potentially translate in case they meet the Engineers.

After a two-year journey, the ship makes it to the planet.  (Well, technically a moon, if I recall.)  The atmosphere is toxic to humans, but they find a series of caves that has a suitable atmosphere.  They can take off their masks and really look around.  What they find is a huge decapitated alien.  Aside from the alien being something like nine feet tall, it looks fairly human.  Upon further examination, it’s discovered that their DNA is an exact match for humans.

The crew realizes that this is most likely an outpost.  The Engineers were probably doing some sort of weapons research and didn’t want to risk contaminating their home world.  It’s likely that an experiment went horribly wrong, killing everyone.  (Well, almost everyone.)  It’s probably best to get the heck out, especially considering that David has deliberately poisoned Charlie and that there are little worm-like creatures that can do some serious damage.

But, no.  Turns out that their mission is to meet the Engineers in hopes of finding a cure for old age.  David wants to push on.  He eventually finds a ship with an Engineer in suspended animation.  If you’re thinking that waking him is a bad idea, you’re right.  There’s a hologram that shows the vastness of space.  It’s implied that the Engineers seeded tons of planets, including ours.  For some reason, our planet was slated for annihilation.  Why they held off, I don’t know, but I think this guy was supposed to be part of the crew that was to carry out the mission.

Long story short, there’s an epic battle and a lot of people bite the dust.  (In at least one case, literally.)  Not everyone, though, so there is a strong possibility of a sequel.  I’m not sure that this would be a good idea.  If there is a sequel released, I’ll probably go just to see what happens.  However, I think that with some movies, you may be better off not knowing what happens next.

If you’ve looked around the Internet, you may know that there are a few unanswered questions.  The first thing that I wondered about was the opening sequence.  We’re left to assume that the Engineer’s DNA seeded the planet.  If this is the case, how is it that humans have an exact DNA match?  Did the Engineer’s DNA really disintegrate and reform something that resulted in an exact match, even though they look a lot different from us?  What are the odds that millions of years of evolution would produce something in any way similar to them?

Another thing that got me wondering is why they would send us to an outpost.  My first thought was that they may not have wanted to reveal the location of their home planet.  It’s possible that they could have sent us to a system that they could monitor.  If we ever did make it to the planet, they could then judge us.  Then again, how did we even know about the system in the first place?  I realized that it was possible that we were visited and we somehow figured out that it was an outpost with weapons of mass destruction.  If the aliens really did want us dead, we could use these weapons against them.

Why want us dead?  Why not?  We always seem to assume that aliens will be nice to us.  I remember a Twilight Zone episode where aliens land and say that they’re disappointed in is.  The various nations make peace with each other.  When the alien emissary comes back to see how we’ve done, he reveals that his civilization made our race to breed warriors.  We went in the wrong direction and were punished.  It’s possible that this is the case here.  Maybe we weren’t making progress quickly enough.  Maybe it wasn’t their kind of progress.  If they did intervene in our development, maybe we were allowed a reprieve.

That brings me to another question.  Why hold off the plan to wipe out humans?  Most likely, the Engineers realized that their plan was overkill and had no way to tone it down.  We see what the Aliens did in other movies.   I’m thinking that the one Engineer put himself in suspended animation because his fellow Engineers didn’t feel safe letting him off the planet just yet.  They’d leave him there either to warn others or until it was safe to let him leave.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out how David was able to figure out the Engineers’ language.  This has always been a pet peeve of mine.  David spent the two-year journey awake and “deconstructing” Earth’s languages.  I can understand maybe figuring out the text, or at least being able to make a good guess.  However, how was he so confident that he’d be understood when speaking?  Granted, the Engineer didn’t have a good reaction, but I’ve seen this in other movies and TV series.  I’ve never understood how it’s possible to speak a language you’ve never heard spoken.

Another thing that I often wonder about is why the aliens look the same as they did all those millions of years ago.  In however long a span of time, we went from DNA fragments to our current form.  How is it that their biological form stayed the same?  How did their language stay the same?

I’m not saying that this is a bad movie.  I’m just saying that I have a few issues with it.  Not having seen the other Alien movies, I’m not sure how many references I missed.  It looks to me like Prometheus could have been developed independently only to have the Alien references put in either to complete it or increase its odds of being produced.  You could easily have removed the Alien references and had a complete movie.

I don’t regret having rented this movie.  As I said, I may look into the sequel if they ever get around to making one.  However, I’ll be going in with no expectations. 

Friday, January 02, 2015

The God Who Wasn't There (2005)

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

I’ve often said that documentaries will rarely change anyone’s mind.  Those that agree with the filmmaker may try to show the film to their friends, but any friend who doesn’t agree with the premise will either ignore it or show fault with it.  Very rarely does anyone look at a film and decide that there may be a valid point hidden in there somewhere.  The God Who Wasn’t There isn’t going to be that exception.

The movie was made by Brian Fleming.  (He has other credits, but nothing I had heard of.)  Fleming wants to take a look at the historical figure we call Jesus.  Did he even really exist?  I had heard that there was some debate as to the exact timeline of his life, but Fleming does call into question quite a bit.  For instance, people seem to have forgotten about Jesus until Paul came along and suddenly ‘remembered’ the last parts of the life of Jesus.  Another thing is how the mythology of Jesus (resurrection after three days, healing people, being the offspring of a god, etc.) is similar to the mythologies of other gods and deities.  Is it possible that someone took the same story and put a new name and face on it?

Part of the movie is Fleming explaining things about Christianity.  He has a six-minute recreation of the life of Jesus.  He even explains some holidays and traditions.  There are also a lot of interviews.  One interview is with Ronald G. Sipus, the head of a faith-based school which Fleming attended.  Fleming outright asks him if it’s right to teach children something that has no empirical evidence.   Sipus admits (to a point) that the school’s teachings are based on faith, but claims that no one has seen a new species arise from old one.  He also feels that it would be irresponsible to ignore the 'reality' of God.

As I said, this documentary isn’t going to be the exception that makes everyone see a different perspective.  Honestly, I agree with some of what Fleming presented and I have to fault him on several points.  First, as other reviews have said, he made some cheap shots.  It was maybe one or two things that I caught, but they were there.  He even starts out showing how the Church was wrong about the sun revolving around the Earth.

The movie looks like one man’s attempt to get his story across, which is fine.  You have that right.  It’s just that it comes across as amateurish at times.  It looks like one guy with a camcorder.  Even the interviews have that not-quite-Hollywood look to them.  I can see a lot of people not really taking Fleming seriously.  It would have been different if someone like Nova or NPR were doing something like this.

This is one of those movies that are hard to give a binary yes-or-no recommendation for.  I agree with a lot of the points made.  For instance, why is it that everything else that’s similar is considered myth, but the Bible is true just because it’s the Bible?  No one here is 2,000-3,500 years old, so we have no one to attest to the events in the Bible.  Most people that believe in the Bible do so on faith.

Then again, there were several points in the movie where I considered shutting it off, so I am leaning towards not recommending the movie.  I think that there are probably a lot of better documentaries out there.  If you’re going to watch a documentary on religion, I don’t think this is the one I’d recommend starting with.  There does seem to be a noticeable bias here, and I’m saying this as an atheist.  It’s the story of one man and why he’s no longer a Christian. 

IMDb page

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Bothersome Man (2006)

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

One of the advantages of having access to Netflix’s streaming service is that I get to watch movies that I wouldn’t otherwise know about.  Sometimes, I find a movie I love.   Other times, I find a movie that I can only warn people to avoid.  I’m sort of on the fence about The Bothersome Man.  I had wanted to watch it before Netflix stopped streaming it, but I’m not sure why I wanted to watch it in the first place.  I think it was just one of those movies that popped up in my recommendations.

It starts out with a man named Andreas committing suicide by jumping in front of a train.  The very next scene is the same man, now with a beard, getting off of a bus.  He’s greeted by another man, who serves as a welcoming committee.  There’s no explanation as to how Andreas got there.  The man takes Andreas to his new apartment and informs him that Andreas will start a new job as an accountant tomorrow morning.  Inside the apartment is all Andreas will need, including several suits.

Andreas is now a resident of a city where everything is the same.  Everyone wears similar clothes.  All the buildings look perfectly bland.  All of the people are adults.  There are no children.  There are no elderly.  Everything is kept clean and everyone seems happy.  Andreas goes about his new life as best he can.

He soon meets a woman who seems to serve as his wife, although there’s no formal ceremony or announcement.  He just moves in with her and they start hosting dinners.  He also takes up with another woman, who seems to serve as his mistress.  At first, he’s happy with the situation, but begins to realize just how meaningless it all is.  His wife doesn’t seem like she enjoys being in a relationship and his mistress is seeing several other people.

The one bright spot seems to be a crack in the wall that a guy named Hugo has found.  From this hole comes music.  The two enjoy the music until Andreas gets the idea to make the crack bigger.  This is where everything comes undone.  No one seems to notice Andreas using a jackhammer, but people in Hugo’s building gather when they can smell stuff from the other side.  (We do get to see the other side briefly and it looks much more colorful than what Andreas and Hugo have to go through.)  It turns out that Andreas should have left well enough alone.  He finds his situation much worse off than when he started.

I’m not sure what to make of this movie.  Being that it’s Norwegian, I think I’m missing out on the cultural references.  From what I can tell from other reviews and from Wikipedia, the movie is supposed to be a commentary on socialism, which makes sense.  However, I get the impression that this is supposed to be the afterlife.  There is a supernatural element to the movie.  Andreas tries to follow the bus back, but only finds that the tracks mysteriously end.  He tries to commit suicide, only to eventually heal and be taken home to his wife.

There’s no talk of his life before being brought to the city.  No one asks Andreas where he grew up or about his parents.  For that matter, Andreas doesn’t really try to learn about the other people in the city.  This is not a movie that spells things out for you.  I’m not sure if this is good or bad.  I know that I’m probably missing the finer details  of the movie, but it does leave me thinking.  I get that having everything handed to you does make for a boring life.  We all want something better and we have a basic need to strive for that.

I’ll admit that the main draw for me was that I could get it streaming.  I like to use Netflix to get movies that I might not otherwise watch.  It kind of reminds me of The Prisoner in that you have a person (or several people) that end up in a strange place with no indication of what the place is or where they came from. This is also true of The Cube.  (Notice that The Cube also has a strange ending.)  This is one of those movies where a commentary track would have been helpful.  Then again, who wants to have everything handed to them? 


Please Remove Your Shoes (2010)

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

I remember when the TSA started taking over airport ’security’ from the FAA.  I knew it was going to be trouble.  I vaguely remember being able to greet people at the gate.  All of a sudden, we had to wait outside the terminal or go to baggage claim.  Then, one day, someone tried to use their shoe as a bomb.  Now, we all have to take our shoes off.  Someone figured out how to make explosives look like a water bottle.  Now, we can’t bring in anything over three ounces.  I’m not even sure where removing your laptop to be scanned separately came from.  It became obvious that the TSA was reactionary.

Well, someone decided to make a documentary about the obvious.  Several people are interviewed, each having varying exposure to the TSA.  Some are or were air marshals who were very good at their jobs.  They assessed and identified actual threats, but nothing was ever done.  In fact, we had a pretty good sense that 9/11 was going to happen.  Nothing came of the actionable intelligence that we had.

Part of the problem is that we have career bureaucrats running the TSA.  Before the TSA, the FAA was responsible for airport security.  A red team was assembled to test airport security.  Many airports had a failure rate in excess of 90%, meaning that their success rate was single digits.  (In some cases, it was as low as 3%.)  When a test was failed, the airport would argue technical aspects and have the test thrown out.  Rather than learn from mistakes, the FAA disbanded the red team, as they were proving too embarrassing.

So, the TSA is eventually formed in the hope of getting a fresh start and correcting many of the past mistakes.  What does the government feel is the best way to do this?  They hire law-enforcement personnel who are good at their jobs.  This makes sense.  Many of the air marshals that they hire are actually capable and do spot potential threats.    The problem is that they also hire back all of the bureaucrats from the FAA.  Many potential threats aren’t acted upon.

This is one of those cases where you shouldn’t be surprised by what the movie has to say.  Anyone who has flown in the past 20 years should have a vague sense of what the filmmakers have to say.  I’m not going to give away everything, but they do give examples of how the system has not only continued to fail, but has gotten worse.  It’s like the Benjamin Franklin quote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  The problem is that we’re having our liberty taken away, but not getting the safety in return.

Yes, the movie is a little out of date.  It was released in 2010, which means that the TSA has had three years to presumably improve.  The Web site, at, does have a news section, but it appears to be mostly general stuff, not necessarily relating to the TSA.  There’s also a section to stay updated, but I think it’s about the film itself rather than the content.  I’m not really sure if they give updates about the TSA.

I’d recommend watching the movie.  The only problem is that, as I said, we all know that the TSA is a joke.  George Carlin had it right when he said that airport security is all about the illusion of safety rather than actual safety.  We invest in technology that is either not used or is a failure.  We hire people that either don’t know what they’re doing or do know what they’re doing and aren’t listened to.  We basically took a broken system and replaced it with a dysfunctional system.