Ghost in the Shell

If you like CGI, this is a movie for you. Every frame is chock full of special effects. It looks good. It looks really good. But, well, it isn’t very good.

The Anime Ghost in the Shell from 1995 cost around $10 million. The shinny new Hollywood version cost around $110 million. It was not money well spent.

American movie goers, for the most part, like the Aristotelian model of story telling. That is to say, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Anime doesn’t always follow that model. The anime Ghost in the Shell seemed like a bunch of random scenes stitched together. The anime Ghost in the Shell was a 90 minutes long, verses the 120 minutes of the American version. The Japanese movie was filled with odd little scenes that did nothing. A shot of a street. A shot of some water. Lingering shots where nothing seems to happen. And yet, the original is so much better than this remake.

For one thing, the graphics were toned down to a childish level to get a PG13 rating. The anime version is a bit of a gore fest. But that’s a minor gripe at best. The real crime is what they did to the story. They pretty much tossed it out the window and made up something that would allow them to steal the more iconic images from the original without bringing over any of the awe and wonder.

Ghost in the Shell tells the story of a woman who dies and has her brain put in an android body. She works for Sector 9, along with a few other android like humans. They discover that some strange force is hacking scientists from a robotics company. Turns out our hero isn’t the first person to have a human brain put in an android body.

Cue chases, gun fights, and things blowing up.

Like all the other recent remakes, the best course of action would have been to never remake Ghost in the Shell in the first place.

Posted in movie review

T2 Trainspotting

Twenty years ago, our heroes went on a crime spree in the great city of Edinburgh. Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle return as the older, and slightly wiser, childhood friends and all around losers. I had forgotten that Jonny Lee Miller was Sick Boy, but I remembered the rest of the guys well enough. It’s directed by Danny Boyle and written by John Hodge.

Trainspotting was an awesome movie. I loved it from the first time I watched it, though it does have a few heartbreaking, disturbing, and disgusting scenes. I love the closing scene where Ewan is making his get away and tells us things are going to change for him.

Needless to say, the odds of him getting that new life are pretty slim, but it was brilliant.

So…flash forward twenty years.

Ewan comes back to Edinburgh, after spending the last twenty years in Amsterdam. Naturally he looks up his old loser mates and falls back into his old ways. Meanwhile, the criminal madman leader of the pack has been in jail lo these many years. He manages to break out of prison right about the same time Ewan returns. His goals in life are to kill Ewan, and bring his son into the world of breaking and entering.

T2 Trainspotting is another damned good film. Lots of great acting, lots of shots of current Edinburgh to contrast with the Edinburgh of twenty years ago, and a bit of disgusting business near the top to give it that whole Trainspotting feel. The ending is, if possible, even better than the end of the first film. What is it I’m always whining about when it comes to hundred million dollar Hollywood flops? The writing! Most blockbuster movies have complete shit writing. The writing in T2 Trainspotting is fucking brilliant.

T2 Trainspotting was a lot of fun. Great to see the old gang back together. Though it is hard to imagine that a group of forty something former/current drug addicts would look as good as these do. I don’t love a lot of movies like I once did, but I do like this one.

Posted in movie review

A few thoughts about HBO’s Confederate

The first great alternate history book I remember reading was Guns of the South. It was by Harry Turtledove and told the tale of a group of South African racists that wanted to change history by giving the Confederate Army machine guns. It was an interesting read and spawned countless sequels set in the alternate universe. I read The Man in the High Castle at about the same time. I also grew up watching The Twilight Zone, which featured a lot of alternate history stories, time travel stories, and parables of one sort or another.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an interesting article for the Atlantic about the HBO project called Confederate. Like several other people, he thinks the very idea of a show about a world where the South won the US Civil War is not just a bad idea, but a downright wrong idea. In his opinion, the South did win the Civil War. I read his book, Between the World and Me, and I was with him right up til the end. His solution to the problem of his son being exposed to American racism was one that any racist would approve and applaud, he took his son and moved to France. Nice out if you can swing it.

I’m a fan of Science Fiction and I’ve watched my share of really bad TV, read my share of really bad books, and seen countless really bad movies. But I’ve always had high hopes that the next TV show, book, or movie will be my next favorite. More often what happens is the proposed project never happens. A show that had a great pilot is never picked up. A script with a great premise is never shot. A book bounces around a hundred publishers and never sees the light of day. Of course, it’s easier now to get work out. Anyone with a cellphone can make a TV show, a movie, or a novel and put it online. But that’s not really the same.

If it were up to me, Breaking Bad would still be on the air, Game of Thrones would never end, and Supernatural would have been canceled in its second season. There’s way too much TV now to keep up with. Some of it I like, most of it I ignore, none of it offends me to the point that I would wish it had never existed. Well, except maybe Star Trek Enterprise. That was pretty awful.

I do agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates on at least one point, a TV show where Native Americans kept the Europeans out of the Americas would be a fun show to watch.

You might notice I didn’t talk much about Confederate, because there is nothing, as of yet, to talk about. Those of us who have been waiting for years for the next Star Trek know that these things can take time. and often, never happen. Maybe Confederate will never happen, or maybe it will be changed for the better by the many complaints about it.

Posted in random thoughts, sci fi

Passangers

In 1998 the brilliant Douglas Adams wrote a computer game called Starship Titanic. The game play involved a sole passenger wandering around a cruise ship trying to keep it from blowing up. The only other people on board are a collection of robots, well, more correctly, androids. Passengers reminded me of Starship Titanic once or twice. This is one of the problems with being a Science Fiction fan, everything reminds me of something else.

Ok, so Passengers got all kinds of bad press for no good reason. This is a perfectly fine science fiction film. The acting is good, the sets are amazing, the music, with the notable exception of the crap they play over the closing credits, is great. The special effects are nearly perfect and the story is a standard set of science fiction tropes.

We open up with one of the passengers waking up and the ship’s autobots telling him is four months out from his new homeworld. He soon realizes that he is alone and that he has a wait of 90 years. The writers have made it easy on our hero. He has all the food, water, and air he will need for the rest of his life. But since he is a lowly mechanic, he doesn’t get anything but black coffee and oatmeal for breakfast and he is assigned to a minimalist cabin. The first bit of the film sees him hacking the various systems so he can move into the finest suite on the ship and eat at the many fine restaurants reserved for First Class.

Our Robinson Crusoe soon grows tired of being alone. Well, mostly alone. He does have the company of a bar tending robot. We then get to the great moral problem of the film. There are somewhere around five thousand other people asleep on the ship. To stop being lonely, all he has to do is wake someone up. He finds one of the many hotties heading for the new world and wakes her up.

So, would you wake up another person, and condemn them to spending the rest of their life on board this ultra luxury cruise ship? Well, yeah. Might even wake up more than one other person.

I liked Passengers.

Posted in movie review

Colossal

At first I thought this was just a low budget movie that had done a good job of finding an Anne Hathaway look alike, but turns out it really is Anne Hathaway. This is an odd movie. One of the rules of sci-fi is to not explain too much, but I think they might had kept a few too many secrets to themselves in Colossal.

At first Colossal looks like your average Rom-Com about a 30 something failure who moves back home. Well, that is if you overlook the opening scene of a little girl in South Korea confronting a Godzilla sized monster. That was 25 years ago.

Anne drinks too much and makes poor decisions as a result. So natch she gets a job at a bar owned by someone she went to grade school with. He also drinks too much and makes poor decisions. After an all nighter she wanderers through a playground near a school. Later that day she wakes up and sees on the news that a monster has attacked South Korea.

One of the few funny bits happens when she calls her ex to talk about the monster attacks. “That was hours ago.” he says as if a fifty foot tall monster rates the same amount of importance as the latest photo of Kim Kardashian’s butt.

Mixed in with the loser love story are a few flashbacks of Anne and the barkeep as kids. They have a couple of dioramas that are being blow around in the wind. Anne’s model flies over a tall fence and the boy climbs the fence, we assume to retrieve the model. The young Anne follows him, only to find him stomping the model of, wait for it, South Korea.

Then the two kids appear to die in some kind of freak lightning storm. This little scene kind of throws the rest of the film out of kilter. Did they really die and all the rest is a dream? Did they cross into some other dimension? Since it’s clear that little Anne hates the boy now, why does she spent all her time with him once she goes back home?

In the end, we are left hanging with a lame joke. No explanations, no reasons, no answers. I kind of like my movies to make a little more sense.

Posted in movie review

Valerian

Over the course of three or four hundred years, the International Space Station changes as hundreds or thousands of aliens dock and never leave. We have a cute montage of humans greeting new visitors to the station, with each race being a little more alien than the last. We watch as a race of uber peaceful aliens living on the planet Tahiti Screen Saver go about their day doing a number of bizarre and incomprehensible things. Then they watch helplessly as wreckage from a battle raging in close proximity to the planet rain down on their perfect and defenseless paradise.

We then shift over to a couple of humans chilling on a beach of their own. These are sort of the heroes of the story, if you can call any of these people heroes. They are soldiers in some future  military and we watch as they proceed to commit murder and mayhem for the rest of the film.

This is definitely a turn your brain off at the door movie.

Valerian is a visually stunning film. There are a lot of way cool effects and funny scenes. But none of it looks even remotely real. This is like one of those old school Disney films  where they mixed live action and cartoons.

Did I mention none of it makes any sense?

The peaceful primitive aliens know to hide in a downed spaceship as their world is destroyed around them. The ship seems to have had no original crew and the sun loving tall blue aliens quickly learn all they need to know to pilot the ship and speak a gazillion languages.

At one point our hero destroys several walls and I’d have to guess, killed a lot of the aliens who need special environments to live. At another point he is worried about creating a diplomatic incident. He then murders the leader of those people. To be fair, the leader did want to eat his girlfriend’s brain, but this is never explained either.

In the end it’s all about a war crime, but a war crime that is never explained. Why was this battle taking place over this tropical paradise of a planet? Who where they fighting? What was so special about the weapons they used?

And so on and so forth.

Valerian was pretty, but dumb.

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The Circle

If The Circle had been released about ten years ago, it might have been a terrifying glimpse of the future. If it had been released five years ago, it might have still been a bit of a warning of things to come. But since it was released in 2017 and everything seen on screen is already possible, if not actively happening, its a tale of closing the gate after the cow has left the pasture.

The Circle is a bad movie. It’s an odd mixture of a Steve Jobs bio-pic and The Truman Show. We start with our hero, a young and dumb Emma Watson who inexplicably has American parents, longing for a better life than the one being Temp offers her. A friend who is in The Gang of 40 at The Circle offers her a job. She soon becomes a superstar at The Circle, a kind of Apple/Facebook/Google/Big Brother Silicone Valley company with more money than god.

Emma becomes uber famous when she live streams her life to everyone in The Circle, and I suppose, everyone with an internet connection. She takes her new found power and uses it to put forth a couple of ideas. One is that any wanted criminal can be found with the help of the gazillion uses of The Circle. Another is that everyone using The Circle should be required to Vote.

The search and destroy aspect of The Circle works better than expected. They catch a fugitive in ten minutes. They then decide to try it on someone who isn’t a criminal. In a chase reminiscent of the death of Princess Di, the good people of The Circle murder someone for no reason. There is never any mention that there were any consequences to this crime for The Circle or Emma herself.

As for the everyone has to vote bit of business, well, no government on Earth wants to require all of  its citizens to vote. While it might be an ideal, the Party in power only wants their constituents to vote. No government, even a ‘democracy’, wants full scale mob rule. The people in power want the power for themselves.

In the end, Emma destroys The Circle by outing her bosses. But it’s too late, she already lives in a post privacy world. And, for the most part, so do we.

The Circle was an odd movie. It looked good, had great actors and sets, and yet the story didn’t make any sense.

Posted in movie review

Coffee shop

I love the story that JK Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book in a coffee shop. To me it tells how she was able to fall into flow and block out the rest of the world. I do love that feeling myself. It also makes me think that she needed to get away from home. Homes are very demanding places if you care about things like clean dishes, floors, and porcelain. So nice to be away for a bit.

I remember drinking coffee while sitting on my father’s lap. One of a handful of fond memories having to do with dear old Dad. His coffee was a mixture of 1/3 coffee, 1/3 milk, and 1/3 sugar…in other words, the magic formula that has made Srarbuck a gazillion dollars. But Dad, like everyone else, knew there was no money in selling coffee.

When Starbucks first came to Fort Worth, there was an ad in the Star Telegram for a free cup of coffee…up to $5. Whoa! I thought, who hell would spend five dollars for cup of coffee? When I went to use the coupon, the guy ahead of me spent $7.

So many people spent $5 or more that a fellow wrote an investment book suggesting you could retire on what you spend on your daily macchiato.  I tend to get Starbucks for free by using things like Swagbucks and Shopkicks.

Starbucks is also a place I tend to think of as being part the better times in my life. If I can afford to go Starbucks things usually going well.

Then there are the people. Often times I have gone to Starbucks with coworkers and friends. I’ve had interviews in Starbucks. And now…well, I spent a bit of time in Starbucks waiting for Instacart to tell me they work for me. A couple of the stores where I shop have Starbucks inside them. Most have a Starbucks nearby.

I’m usually a Frappicino man…that caffeinated milkshake dear old Dad would have loved. But I’m trying a few other things. So far I like them all.

I’m blogging, not working on my latest novel, but I do feel a bit like a real writer sitting here.


Posted in random thoughts, writing

Smartphone

About six months ago I joined the rest of the world and got a Smartphone.

In December a hit and run driver slammed into my 2006 Grand Caravan. It was a minor wreck. I called the police and when I was done, I drove home. But that was it for the van. A car that had taken me all over the country. Totalled…as the insurance company that wrote me a check for six hundred dollars called it.

Now my world is altered. I have things to think about. Choices to make. I decide that I need a newer car and that I need to make money with it. I do a lot of searching. I decide to get a 2015 or 2016 Dodge Grand Caravan. And to do Uber on the days I’m not taking portraits…which is my ‘real’ job.

In order to do Uber or Lyft or Instacart or Favor or Postmates, I had to have a Smartphone.

My phone is an LG Stylo2. It’s a nice sized phone and I can use all those side Gig apps. I gave Uber and Lyft a shot, but didn’t love either that much. I stumbled upon Instacart, a gig where you shop for and deliver groceries. Its my go to side Gig. It’s something I like doing.

I’ve always been a fan of jobs where I have a lot of free time. Security guard, assembly line portrait photographer, and now App based jobs. Instacart sees me sitting around much of the work day. I’d rather be working…but I don’t mind waiting around until there’s something to do.

Smartphones are delivery systems for Apps.

I use my Gig apps on a regular basis,  but the two apps that get the most screen time are Waze and Podcast Republic.

Waze is a way cool navigation app. Not always perfect…it has taken to the wrong address a couple of times…but it has a lot of cool options. I make mine sound like a British woman. I also get notices about police ahead and a little ding when I go over the speed limit.

Podcasts are a whole new world for me. Sort of. I’ve always been a fan of NPR and audio books, but this is a little different. Many of the pocasts clearly have no Editors, Directors, or Sound Engineers. These shows can be a shock to the system. Others are completely professional and are a joy to listen to. I like No Such Thing As A Fish and Revisionist History. Among many others.

I also have a few games. Governor of Poker 3 and Bit Dungeon II are current favorites.

I have now become one of those people who constantly has my phone in my hand. I wrote this blog post on my phone.

I still use my laptop or desktop to bang out my novels…this tiny keyboard is not really to my liking.

I like my phone and my new van-a 2015 Dodge Grand Caravan. So far so good on the making money front.

 

Posted in random thoughts, Uncategorized

Before I Fall

Image Groundhog Day, only you hate everyone.

spoilers

Before I Fall is the story of five total and complete losers, four psycho bitch mean girls and one pathetic emo girl. This is a time loop story, that like Groundhog Day, resets as each day begins again. Our ‘hero’ is one of the mean girls, a total bitch to everyone she knows. Her big plan for the day is to have sex with her boyfriend and end her time as a virgin. We follow her as she is mean to her sister, her mother, her father, and everyone else who happens to cross her path. The four mean girls are especially mean to the emo girl. They all end up at a party and everyone gives the emo girl the Carrie treatment by throwing their drinks on her.

The first day of the loop ends with all five of the girls dead. This is by far the best and most satisfying resolution to the story of these horrid people.

We never see any reason why we should care what happens to any of the girls. Our hero relives untold days, slowly changing from a cruel and heartless teenage to a loving and compassionate person. Her three evil friends, of course, never change from being cruel and evil. The emo girl never stops being emo. Our hero wants to save her, but we see no reason why she want to save her. She’s as much a loser as the other four girls, just in a different way.

We are told that things happened at some time in the past that set all of these events into action. But the time loop doesn’t stretch to that distant past, it just covers one day.

So here’s the worst thing about this very bad movie. Our hero, the only person who knows the day is repeating and the only person who changes and benefits from the knowledge of things changing, ends up being the only one of the losers who dies. Once she has changed and is no longer a loser. What. The. Hell.

In Groundhog Day, Phil the sexist weatherman, changes and goes forward into a new and better life. In Before I Fall, the hero dies and we can assume the mean girls will go on being mean and the emo girl will go on to kill herself later. Maybe the loop needed to run one more time and the new and improved mean girl could have done something other than wait til the last possible second to help.

Before I Fall was a downer of a film filled with people you don’t want to spend time with.

Posted in movie review