Friday, June 10, 2016

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

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

There’s something that I like about an epic tale.  I had known of The Chronicles of Narnia as books since I was a child, but I never read any of them.  When the first movie came out, I eventually rented it on DVD.  I decided that I liked it enough to want to see subsequent movies as they came out.  When this movie came out, I wasn’t able to see it in theaters, but was able to rent it from NetFlix.

The movie starts out in Narnia with a Telmarine (human) Prince Caspian being told that his aunt has given birth to a male child and that Caspian’s uncle (King Miraz) will now kill him so that Caspian’s cousin might become king.  Caspian is able to escape, but hits a branch shortly thereafter and falls off his horse.  He’s rescued by two dwarves and a badger.  As they’re distracting the search party sent to get Caspian, Caspian blows a horn to summon help.

A year has passed on Earth since the first movie.  The four Pevensie children (Edmund, Peter, Lucy and Susan) are on a subway platform going to their boarding school.  They’ve had to adjust to being children again.  (In the first movie, they had grown to adults in Narnia, but became their younger selves upon returning home.)  Shortly after getting on a train, everything breaks apart and is blown away.  They find themselves in Narnia again, where 1,300 years have passed.

They come upon some ruins and realize that it was the castle that they had used in the previous movie.  Much of the rest of Narnia has met a similar fate.  In the intervening 1,300 years, humans have taken over Narnia and have pretty much ruined everything.  Most of the nonhumans have been wiped out.  Those that remain fear for their lives.  Some of the animals have even forgotten how to talk.  The children find that they have to fight for Narnia once again.

It’s a fairly complex plot.  When they rescue a dwarf, he explains to the siblings what has happened since the first movie and leads in to the rest of the movie.  Once again, the four siblings are fighting for Narnia, but they have another human on their side and the help of a lot more animals and mythical creatures.

Some of the movie won’t make sense if you haven’t seen the first movie, The Chronicles of Narnia:  The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  You’ll be able to follow most of it, but you may not understand some of the references and history behind some of the comments.  If you haven’t seen either yet, I’d recommend watching them in order of release.

The movies are based on a series of books.  Not having read them, I’m not sure how closely this movie follows the source material.  From what I understand, C. S. Lewis put Christian themes into the movies among others.  (Lucy has a strong belief that the lion, Aslan, will return despite not having evidence on her side.)

Overall, the movie was entertaining.  There were a few battle scenes, which shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve seen the first movie.  (For those that have seen the first movie, I don’t think that much of what I’ve said or what you’d see should be a surprise.)  I could deal with the religious aspects since they weren’t really overbearing.

The third movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has already been released with the rest of the books set for future dates.  I’d be interested in seeing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader if I can get it on DVD. 


Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Primer (2004)

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

I like science-fiction stories because of the possibilities that they open. This is especially true of time-travel movies. The problem with time travel is that it can be very easy to lose the audience. Pile on too much jargon and techno babble and you almost need a degree to follow along. Make it too simple and people lose interest. I’m not saying it’s impossible to write a good time travel story. It’s just that you have to do it right.

Shane Carruth wrote, directed and starred in Primer, which is a story about two guys that accidentally create a time machine. They’re part of a group of four guys working out of a garage on various projects. The project that they’re currently working on is an alternate source of energy. They spend their days working at ‘regular’ jobs and evenings tinkering with stuff, hoping to make something that’s marketable.

When an item placed in the chamber of the device grows some sort of fungus, they realize something’s amiss. It isn’t until one of them takes it to a lab that they realize that something’s really amiss. There’s way more fungus on it than should have accumulated in a short period of time. We’re talking several months’ worth in a few minutes. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that they have a time machine. If only they could make it bigger…

So, they make bigger boxes and rent some storage space. The primary limitation on the time machine is that it has to be on the entire time you’re in there. This means that you can’t go back to a time before you last turned it on. Not a big deal, since the two guys want to use the device to make money in the stock market using the ultimate in insider information.

They both agree to avoid themselves for fear of really screwing things up. It’s bad enough just going back in time. They have no idea what would happen if they met themselves. However, it is an interesting concept for them to ponder. What would it be like to do something you’ve always wanted to do, but were afraid to do? Could you, say, hit your boss, then go back and tell yourself not to do it?  They don’t do it literally, but they do go back and try to change major events, such as a party where someone gets shot.

Things get really strange when it’s revealed that they have a fail-safe machine. One of the guys built a machine that he just left running in another storage unit the whole time. This way, they could go back and undo everything in case things got botched beyond belief. This means that he thought of changing major events the whole time. It’s basically an escape clause of sorts. That’s where the movie got a little strange. They do go back in time to the beginning. One wants to stop them from inventing the machine while the other’s not so sure.

I don’t want to give away the ending, partly because I don’t fully understand it. By the time the movie was over, so much had happened that I couldn’t follow it all. The movie packed in a lot of story for just 80 minutes. I think that’s where the movie fails. It tries to tell a fairly complicated story in a short time frame. I was paying attention to the movie and I am technically inclined, relatively speaking. I still had a hard time making sense of the movie.

It’s not that the movie tries to hit you over the head with the science or math. It’s just that the two main characters go from trying to get alternate energy to time travel. Then, they go from the stock market to saving people. In the middle of the movie, they realize that someone else has used the machine to go back in time, but they’re not sure what the person has done nor do they really seem to do much about it. The entire subplot takes up maybe a few minutes in the movie. I totally didn’t get the ending at all.

Overall, I’d give the movie two stars. It started out strong, but went way to weird, even for me. It has a low-budget look. (This is probably do in part to the low budget.) It also had a very strange feel to it. It wasn’t quite movie and it wasn’t quite documentary or even mockumentary. It was definitely a different look. Since I watched it on the IFC, I can’t really complain. It wasn’t bad for something I didn’t pay for.