Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Butterfly Effect (2004)

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

At some point, everyone looks back at some event in their life and wonders how things would have been different if they have fixed a few mistakes. What if you could not buy a car that turned out to be a lemon? What if you hadn’t fumbled when asking someone out on a date? What would it have been like if you hadn’t botched a job interview? The Butterfly Effect is one of those movies that deals with that question.

The name of the movie comes from Chaos Theory, which states that the flapping of the wings of a butterfly in one part of the world could create a monsoon on the other side of the planet. Evan gets the chance to see how true that is. He’s the main character, played in part by Ashton Kutcher. It starts out with him trying to outrun several men, but doesn’t give any hint as to what’s going on. The movie then shifts back thirteen years to when Evan was a child.

Evan suffers from unexplainable blackouts. Tests reveal nothing wrong with his brain; the doctor suggests that they’re brought on by stress. He also suggests keeping a journal, which Evan does. Part of the stress may have something to do with the fact that Evan has never seen his father, so Evan’s mother arranges a meeting. (Evan’s father has been in a mental institution all of Evan’s life.)

Six years later, Evan still suffers from the blackouts. One occurs when a prank goes horribly awry, forcing Evan and his mother to move away, leaving several friends. This is the last time that Evan has a blackout until college. Evan reads one of his journals about the prank and has a flashback instead of a blackout. He goes back to the time of the prank, but drops a cigarette that he’s smoking. He burns his stomach when it drops on his shirt; the scar remains when the flashback is over. This is how Evan realizes that he can travel back in time and change things.

Evan contacts Kayleigh, one of his childhood friends. She had a rough time and is working in a diner having to put up with obnoxious customers. Bringing back old memories prompts her to commit suicide. Her brother, Tommy, calls and threatens to kill Evan. (Tommy was one of the other childhood friends. Lenny was the third.) Evan manages to go back and fix things so that things work out better for Kayleigh.

The thing is that when he fixes one thing, things get worse for others. For instance, when Evan stops Kayleigh’s pedophile father from molesting her, Tommy gets the brunt of his frustration, causing him to be more messed up than before. Evan eventually realizes that it’s hard to make things great for everyone.

I don’t want to ruin the entire movie for you. Besides, it would probably take me several more paragraphs to reveal everything in detail. I have to warn you that this is a very disturbing movie. I’m about to reveal a few more details just to let you know how disturbing the movie is. If you can’t handle these details, you probably shouldn’t see the movie. If you can’t handle anything disturbing, you should probably just skip this paragraph. One flashback involves a dog being burned alive. Another involves Evan’s father strangling Evan. The only reason that I’m mentioning these scenes is that these might be make-or-break aspects for some people.

I found that the setup was longer than usual, but this was a good thing. I think if the writers had rushed to the point where Evan started going back in time, it would have taken away from the movie. During the setup, we got to see the four friends at different stages. I felt like the three people that played Evan were the most consistent. However, the other three transitions weren’t that bad.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that Callum Keith Rennie seems to be getting a lot of ‘freak’ roles. (Callum Keith Rennie played Jason, Evan’s father.) If you’ve ever seen The Sci-Fi Channel’s rendition of Battlestar Gallactica, you’ll know what I mean.

I’d give this movie four stars. I saw the director’s cut. Judging by the running time, I believe that this is the proper version of the movie to post this review under. However, I’ve heard that the difference is in the ending, which I haven’t covered here. As you might have guessed, this is not a movie for children. This is a movie that a lot of adults might not like. While I was watching the movie, it reminded me a lot of the director’s cut of Donnie Darko. There’s that same dark aspect to the movie that a lot of people might not like. 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Resident Evil Plant

On a recent trip to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, I got this photo.  (I believe it's in their Rare Plant House.)  My brother and I noticed how the photo looked like something out of Resident Evil, at least the video games.  It's funny how something can seem normal at the time, but come out reminding of you of something because of the lighting.  (In this case, I had some indication that it looked like something out of the video game.)

I do wonder how many people go through that area and are reminded of it.  The Rare Plant House and adjoining buildings do have a certain feel to them.  Has anyone else had this feeling?  Are we the only ones to notice it?  Maybe it's just me.  Well, we'll always have Raccoon City.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Invention of Lying (2009)

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

Could you imagine a world with no lying?  This would be a world  where no one would know how to say something that wasn’t true.  Words like ‘true’ and ‘lie’ wouldn’t even exist.  Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson imagined such a world.  They wrote The Invention of Lying, in which Gervais plays Mark Bellison.

In Mark’s world, things are basically the same.  They still have movies, corrupt police officers and attractive women.  It’s just that since there is no lying, there’s no fiction.  Since there’s no fiction, all movies are documentaries.  When I say documentary, I mean some guy sitting in front of a camera telling the audience what happened.  Police officers will still take an occasional bribe, but are totally honest about their motives.

Things aren’t going so well for Mark.  He’s attracted to a woman, Anna, who doesn’t reciprocate.  He has a job writing movies about a century no one cares about, leading to his termination.  His termination leads to his being evicted.  His being evicted leads to an epiphany.  When he goes to close out his bank account, the system is down.  He has to give the teller a dollar amount, which Mark realizes can be any dollar amount. It doesn’t have to be the actual dollar amount, so he chooses the amount he owes his landlord.  When the system comes back up and the teller sees the correct amount, the teller thinks it’s a computer mistake.

Mark then realizes that he can do this as much as he wants.  The best part is that no one will suspect anything.  Since he’s the only one that knows what a lie is, people should act like the teller.  Mark goes into a casino and lies about winning.  He can claim to win the jackpot on every machine and the casino will never think to ask Mark any questions.  He can also go up to random women and tell them that the fate of the world depends on them having sex right now.  (This does lead to some sense of guilt, especially where Anna is concerned.)

Things get complicated when his mother is dying.  She’s scared, which is natural.  Mark doesn’t want this, so he invents a story about going to a great place in the sky where she’ll be loved.  He doesn’t think much of it, but an employee of the nursing home overhears him.  She passes the story along and before long, Mark has a following.  Mark doesn’t really want the attention.  The story was only for his mother’s benefit.  The rest of the movie deals with the snowball effect that results.  People want to know more about this Great Man in the Sky, so Mark has to make stuff up on the fly.

There’s something interesting about a world without lying.  As I said, there’s not so much as fiction or even lying in advertising.  Mark’s mother isn’t at a nursing home.  She’s in A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People.  Could you imagine what it would be like to be able to lie?  Even when Mark explains lying, people still can’t wrap their heads around it.  (That was the one thing I wondered about.  There should at least be terms for accurate and inaccurate, so a lie could be described as knowingly saying something inaccurate.)

The movie is safe for teenagers and up.  There are a few sexual jokes, some involving masturbation.  Mar’s Man in the Sky parallels religion.  The humor really isn’t meant to poke fun at religion.  Instead, it says more about how things get out of hand quickly.  Something that starts with the best of intentions becomes a major organization similar to what we would call a church.  Some of the things seem absurd, like Mark’s story where everything came from.  Then again, who is anyone to question Mark?  It would never enter their minds to think that he’s lying or might be crazy, as far out as it seems.

That was the one thing that I found odd.  I would think that in thousands of years of recorded history, someone would make a mistake or would be mentally unbalanced and say something that wasn’t true.  Is everyone totally accurate in this world?  One inaccuracy would present the opportunity to realize that you can deliberately make a mistake.  It wasn’t a big deal, overall.  It was a funny movie.  I’d recommend renting it. 

Friday, February 03, 2017

Suchîmubôi/Steamboy (2004)

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

It’s hard when your first feature-length movie as a director becomes famous.  Director Katsuhiro Ôtomo was known for having directed Akira, said by some to have ushered in modern anime.  In 2004, Steamboy was released, which took Ôtomo over a decade to make.

The movie takes place in England back in 1866.  The story focuses on Ray Steam, a boy who likes to invent things.  Both his father (Dr. Eddie Steam) and grandfather (Dr. Lloyd Steam) are also inventors.  Both work for a mysterious foundation.  (Ray lives with his mother.)  One day, Ray gets a package from his grandfather.  The package contains a strange metal ball and the blueprints.  Before he can wrap his head around it, two men knock on the door asking about it.

Lloyd Steam shows up right behind them, telling Ray to take the ball and blueprints and get as far away as possible.  He doesn’t want the ball going back to the foundation.  So Ray runs, eventually coming across the two men he’s supposed to give it to.  Someone from the foundation is right behind him.  Unfortunately, they get both Ray and the ball.

It was Lloyd Steam’s intention that the steam ball not be used for weapons, but Eddie Steam had a different idea.  Eddie felt that the technology could be used to defend England.  Ray is put in the middle, having to decide who is right.

I will say right off the bat that this movie is nothing like Akira.  If you’ve seen Akira, you should come in to this movie not having any expectations.  This isn’t to say that Steamboy is any better or worse.  It’s just that when you look at a movie through the lens of a director’s previous work, it greatly affects what you see.  If you’re expecting another Akira, you’ll be disappointed.

The movie does well on moral grounds, at least for the first half of the movie.  Ray is presented with two philosophies.  Lloyd is more idealistic in that he wants the technology used for the benefit of all mankind.  Eddie is a little more war-minded, realizing that England has enemies.  Something this powerful would aid the country greatly.  The truth lies somewhere in the middle.  It’s up to Ray to decide exactly where.

The problem with the morality aspect is that it’s only presented during the first half of the movie.  During the second half, it becomes more of an action movie.  Usually, when you have some moral issue presented to one character by several others, at least one of those characters undergoes some experience that affects how they think about the subject.  Instead, Ray is simply charged with the task of getting out of harm’s way.

The only character that I really saw change at all was a character named Scarlett O’Hara.  (So far as I know, there’s no relationship to the character in Gone With the Wind.)  She starts out as a spoiled brat and eventually comes to realize that there’s a world around her and that other people weren’t necessarily put there to serve her.   I started out not liking her very much.  By the end, she had changed to the point where she wasn’t as bad.

The problem with the story is that the story tends to fall flat towards the end.  Once I got out of the first half hour, it started to drag.  By the second half, I was wondering if it was really going to last 126 minutes.  This isn’t a good thing for a movie.

The one thing I liked was the animation.  It looked like there was some parts that were drawn by hand, but most of it seemed to be animated by computer.  I think for that alone, most people would be impressed.  Still, you need a solid story to last the whole way through and I don’t think that the movie properly blended the issues with the action very well.  If you can rent it through NetFlix or catch it on demand, go for it.  Otherwise, don’t worry about it.