equals In the future, everyone has been turned into Vulcans. This seems like a perfect role for Kristen Stewart, but she isn’t playing an emotionless drone, she’s playing someone who has a disease that makes her experience emotions. She meets Nicholas Hoult, who is a ‘normal’ person who contracts the disease and falls madly in love with Kristen.

This is a mixture of two standard story types, 1) the star-crossed lovers and 2) someone different hiding from all the normals. Equals is basically an art film episode of the Twilight Zone. There are hints of other great love stories, it has a feel of Romeo and Juliet and The Gift of the Magi.

Equals looked very good. The locations and clothing were very futuristic. The acting was confusing, but I think that is what they were going for. It was a very good looking film. And yet, I didn’t much care for it.

The world that we see is sterile and clean. Everyone appears to have their own apartment and they have all the food and all the puzzle time they want. Since they are all emotionless robots, there are no TVs or books or other people. So they spend their alone time playing a form of Tetris. This is odd since our heroes both work at some kind of publisher. One is a writer and one an illustrator. I was reminded of the man from HER who made a living by writing letters.

The film isn’t so bad until you run up against a few cliches and you can then see where the story is going. After that, it’s kind of pointless to watch as everything falls into place like one of our heroes puzzles. If the film had started with the closing scene, it might have been an interesting story.

Posted in movie review, sci fi

Irrational Man

irrational_man Woody Allen used to make funny movies. Once in a while he makes magical movies, like Midnight in Paris. Then he makes movies like Irrational Man. Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone get the bulk of the screen time and share narrator duties as we switch from one point of view to another. Irrational Man is a very workmanlike film. Woody knows how to make movies now and he goes through the motions here.

The story features a depressed philosophy professor at a small college. He is a little soft around the middle and projects an air of sorrow everywhere he goes. So naturally, two women throw themselves at him the moment his bags are unpacked. One is a woman close to his own age, a fellow teacher at the college. The other is a student who finds his deep brooding irresistible. Both women are already in relationships and both leave their partners in favor of the moody philosopher.

About half way through the standard college story, our hero is out on a date with the student and they overhear a woman talking about how unfair life is and how she is being cheated by the justice system and one judge in particular. The Professor decides to do something about it.

This decision brings our hero back to life. He finds that he can write again, make love again, do deep research again, teach with passion again. He stalks the Judge and there are several tense moments as he puts his plan into action.

The rest of the film is about his young lover’s reaction to what he has done. This leads him to decided that he has to do something about her as well. The ending is a bit shocking and a nice twist in the tale. There was room for even one more twist, but I guess Woody decided not to push his luck.

Irrational Man looked good, the acting was good, and the music was interesting. It was not one of Woody’s better films, but then, I didn’t like Blue Jasmine and Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for her role in that film.

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Star Trek Beyond

star trek beyond Star Trek Beyond was better than Star Trek Into Darkness, and that’s a good thing. This was a fast paced movie and something was always happening. For the most part, that’s good as well. You don’t have any time to think about what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense.

I’m not a fan of CGI and Star Trek Beyond had more than it’s share of bad computer generate images. A swarm of bad guys that looked a lot like every other CGI swarm you’ve ever seen and a lot of things that were supposed to look dangerous, but just didn’t.

For the most part, Star Trek Beyond was a fun movie. I could watch it and forget that it was supposed to be somehow related to my Star Trek. But then they did something very odd, they put a photo of the Orginal Crew in the story. This would be like a Beatles Cover Band holding up a poster of the Beatles and reminding us, oh yeah, these guys are fakes and they kind of suck. So yeah, near the end of Star Trek Beyond, I was reminded that these new movies kind of suck.

In the dark ages of the 1960s, Gene Roddenberry didn’t have a lot of money. So his Starship Enterprise didn’t land on planets, it’s saucer didn’t separate from the rest of the ship, and they didn’t get to crash the ship every episode. (We had to wait for Voyager to have an infinite supply of shuttlecraft.) Gene had to make do with costume changes and a bit of overacting and some of the best writing of the era.

Star Trek Beyond has a few good moments and the writing is fun here and there, but it’s still not exactly Star Trek. But it’s as close as we’re likely to get, so it wasn’t all that bad.

Posted in movie review, sci fi

High Rise

High_Rise_2014_Film_Poster Set in a 1970s Arcology, a self-contained building where the residents can have all their needs met within, we find a new tenant who doesn’t quite fit in. He’s a doctor who seems to be concerned about finding the perfect color for his walls and the perfect partner for his bed. Since this the 1970s, everyone is part of the swinging set.

At first, all seems well enough. The people on the lower floors aren’t quite as posh as the people on the higher floors, but they all still get along. It’s kind of like being on the Titanic, with the rich folks in First Class and the common folks down in Steerage. Why this would be the case in an apartment block is never explained. In fact, very little is explained and the whole story very quickly falls into madness and nonsense.

In a matter of days or weeks or hours, who can tell? the whole place devolves into Roman Orgies and mountains of trash and burning cars. Amid the chaos, people still talk about having parties and who was invited by whom. The building soon makes the Lord of the Flies look like a nice weekend out in the country. There is rape and murder and people eating dogs and dog food. Again, none of it makes any sense. The world outside the building, a block or two away, seems to remain perfectly normal. And yet everyone stays in the building, forming tribes and burning open fires when the power goes out.

Amazingly, Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons have starring roles in this bizarre bit of business. The film is based on J.G. Ballard’s book of the same name. I never read it, but watching High Rise I did get the feel of reading an old sci fi novel of the period. When I first heard about this film I thought it was based on The World Inside by Robert Silverberg, another 1970s novel set in an Arcology and filled with tales of the class system in an apartment building.

I’d never heard of the novel and I’ve never read any of Ballard’s books. High Rise was a weird and occasionally funny movie. It was kind of like watching Monty Python, sometimes amusing, but often times just baffling.

Posted in movie review, sci fi

Stranger Things

Strange Things For those of you who lost your VHS tapes of ET, House, Poltergeist, Videodrome, and pretty much every horror movie made in the 1980s, this TV Show is for you. The Duffer Brothers-a name that makes me think of Homer Simpson’s favorite beer-have ripped off, I mean, paid homage to, all those great old movies from thirty years ago.

I seem to be alone in thinking this collection of clichés and CGIs is not that great. If I want to see an old 80s horror movie, why not watch an old 80s horror movie? Because someone is going to bang out a remake/rehash/new version of everything sooner or later. And newer is always better, right?

Everything is lifted whole from The Twilight Zone or Stephen King or  any number of speculative fiction movies and TV shows. So it was hard for me to see what was actually happening. If Stranger Things were a Song, it would be My Sweet Lord or Blurred Lines.

Ok, everything has been done before and will be done again. The whole gag here is that they are riffing on the 80s, but I tend to dislike people riffing on the 80s. That 70s Show was fun, That 80s Show sucked.

Anyway. Stranger Things is about a bunch of kids helping a weird kid they find hiding in the woods. These are pure 80s kids. They ride BMX bikes, they play Dungeons and Dragons, they hope for an Atari for Christmas, their walls are covered with movie posters, and they are uber nerdy geeks.

Seems the problem has to do with a bunch of Mad Scientists that open a doorway to another dimension and something bad slips through into our world.

Unlike most movies that have a bunch of kids as the heroes, there are a handful of adults who are not the embodiment of evil or stupidity. True a lot of the grown-ups are pure Nazi scum, but a handful of adults are smart enough to realize something is going on. They are, of course, called crazy by everyone else.

The acting is good. The sets and props all seem to be 1980s appropriate. They could have used more Practical Effects and less Computer Generated Images, but hey, most of it looked ok. The Big Bad was nothing special, sort of looked like the Plant God from Hell Boy II.  Stranger Things had a few good moments.

Stranger Things had a few good moments, but I didn’t fall in love with it the way others have.

Posted in sci fi, tv review

The Night Manager

the night manager John le Carré’s most famous book has to be The Spy Who Came in  from the Cold. In this adaptation of The Night Manager, the Spy spends a bit of time where it’s nice and hot. The Middle East.

Our hero, played by Tom Hiddleston, is a lowly night manager at a hotel when he finds himself involved with a female guest and her crime boss boyfriend. She gives him a file filled with the details of an arms deal. He falls madly in love with her and they have a brief but life-altering relationship.

The next thing he knows, he’s working for some secret government agency and going deep undercover with a gun smuggler played to the hilt by Hugh Laurie. Hugh is suave and cool and also a cold-blooded bastard.

The good guys are bound by laws and conventions and treaties and all manner of government red tape and corruption that keeps the bad guys free to be bad. That’s a big part of what makes the story so good. If they could just walk up to the Super Villian and slap the cuffs on him, well, where’s the fun in that?

Our hero loves nothing better than a woman owned by a ruthless arms dealer. He finds two over the course of the six-part series, and even squeezes in one random woman just for the fun of it. We are told many times that everyone who meets him wants him, including the Boss’s right-hand man. I’m not sure Tom is that good looking, but he does clean up nice in several James Bond style scenes. He plays Baccarat in a casino, orders a vodka martini, and has a fondness for things that go BOOM.

The Night Manager was a great looking show. Brilliant effects, costumes, acting, and location work. The BBC spent £18 million on The Night Manager and it shows. It’s top notch on all fronts. It stars Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, and Olivia Colman. There was a bit of nudity here and there. A bit of gore and blood. A little talk of torture and a bit of actual torture. Hey, these are bad people and they do bad things. A lot of bad things.

The Night Manager got 12 Emmy nominations and it deserved every one. This show is well worth watching for six hours.


Posted in tv review

Batman V Superman Ultimate Edition

batman v superman ultimateClocking in at a bit over three hours, the Ultimate Edition of Batman V Superman adds about thirty more minutes of CGI mayhem and snappy dialogue.

We open up with Batman’s origin story, and thankfully don’t have to sit through a retelling of how Superman came into the picture or Wonder Woman or even Lex Luthor. The story is mainly from Batman’s point of view. He’s an older and sadder Batman who tends to be a bit mopey and sighs a lot. That is when he isn’t killing people left and right. Yes, the once noble Batman who would never stoop to using a gun now has no problem with firearms, rocket launchers, and I’m surprised they didn’t show him pressing the button to launch a nuke late in the story. This is odd since there is one silly fight scene where they could have easily dropped in all those BAMMs and POWs from the 60s TV Show.

On the other hand, we have a less than super Superman as well. He shows he’s all too human as he constantly falls victim to Lex using his loved ones against him. Kind of the whole point of the secret identity thing. This is all a setup for Lex to get Superman to fight Batman. I honestly have no clue as to why Lex wants this. Or why Lex, the super genius of the comic books, is portrayed as a babbling idiot.

And once again, inevitably, the Big Boss of Batman V Superman is a CGI cartoon. The Doomsday in the comics, according to Wikipedia, was an ancient Kryptonian, which makes a lot more sense than having him rise from the ashes of General Zod and a few drops of Lex’s blood. They then follow in the footsteps of the X-Men movies and show Lex talking to some Super Bad most of us don’t recognize.

Batman V Superman was not a great film, but it wasn’t as bad as, say, Godzilla or Peter Jackson’s King Kong. It was a film that could have been better, should have been better.

The bottom line is that Batman V Superman made $830 Million and the best movie I’ve seen recently, Hello My Name Is Doris, made a whopping $14 million. Batman V Superman cost $410 million to make, so it may not be the black yet. Hello My Name is Doris cost only $1 million to make. So maybe there is some hope for small, quality films after all.

Posted in movie review

Hail, Caesar!

hail caesar The Coen Brothers decided they missed out by not being a part of the Hollywood Studio System, so they banged out their own Studio System style movie. They did a great job of recreating the sets, songs, and looks of a movie from those glory days of yore.

The problem with Hail, Caesar is that it’s a movie about making movies that drops scenes from three or four movies into a story where they don’t belong. The ode to On The Town was fun, but pointless. And so was the Esther Williams style water ballet bit. The singing cowboy portion of the show was mercifully short, but also seemed to be shoehorned in. Unlike a movie like Victor/Victoria that used it’s story as a framework to hang it’s song and dance numbers from, Hail, Caesar feels like it can’t make up its mind if it wants to be a musical or just make fun of musicals.

The main character here is a man who runs the studio and the subplots all have to do with the many problems his stars get themselves into. One gets himself kidnapped by communists, one is pregnant without being married, one just flat can’t act, and so on and so forth.

There are a lot of Voice of God voiceovers made to sound a bit like Cecil B. DeMille. These are often spoken over vast panning shots of the mythic movie studio, which seems to be about ten times bigger than any real movie studio ever was. These shots were great and were very reminiscent of That’s Entertainment, a movie where has-beens walked around the empty lots and talked about the Glory Days.

Basically, Hail, Caesar! was a movie made to make you think of other movies. Better movies? Some, sure. Worse movies? Yeah, some of those, too. So how was Hail, Caesar itself? Eh, ok.

Hail, Caesar was fun in spots, but overall, it was much ado about nothing. I loved the cast, the sets, the music, and the look of this movie. The only thing lacking was the story. The main story about the Studio Boss deciding to go or stay was pretty damned weak. The kidnapping story was kind of silly. All the many problems that came up had bafflingly simple solutions. Think Dorothy getting to the storm shelter before the tornado strikes simple.

My advice? Watch Singing In The Rain, or That’s Entertainment instead.

Posted in movie review

The Lobster

lobster The first thing we see is a woman take a gun into a field and kill a donkey.

Then we watch a group of people being processed at The Hotel. They are given a list of rules. They have their clothes taken away. Then they spend some time talking about what kind of animal they would like to become if they fail to find a suitable partner before the end of their stay. Our hero, such as he is, says he would like to be a lobster. Good choice, he is told, too many people choose things like dogs and cats.

We are never told why the world is the way it is. The people we see are from The City and they visit The City now and then. They are a uniformly cold and heartless bunch. Many of the characters are pure psychopaths. They have no empathy and show no signs of having any emotions at all. Maybe the punchline of The Lobster is that everyone we see started off as an animal and was turned into a human.

The Lobster is a good looking film and I liked most of the actors. But I like a story to make sense. Nothing here makes any sense. For example. One of the rules of The Hotel is that you aren’t allowed to masturbate. One of the daily rituals is a maid dry humping our hero until he has an erection and then leaving as he begs her for a few more minutes.

A suitable partner is one who shares some trivial and meaningless trait, such as having occasional nosebleeds or a limp. But even finding something tiny in common is nearly impossible.

In a world where you either find a partner or you are transformed into an animal, these people are amazingly picking about who they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Our hero is approached by one woman who says she always swallows and doesn’t mind anal. He is unimpressed and ignores her. She later kills herself rather than become an animal.

If this movie was funny, it was lost on me. If it was tragic, that was lost on me as well. There was no one here I cared about. Turn all of these horrid people into lobsters and then cook them.

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Westworld 1973

Westworld-poster-1973 It’s been a while since I watched Westworld. I had forgotten that it was written and directed by Michael Crichton. I was suprised by the many similarities to Jurrasic Park. It starts with oohing and aahing and ends with running and screaming.

Westworld was made in 1973 and the big name stars were Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, and James Brolin. It’s a baffling film to watch now. The effects are bad to really bad. The writing is clunky and awkward. The acting is wooden and embarrassed. And it’s a pretty short film, only an hour and a half long.

The premise is fun, for a thousand dollars a day you can move into the Matrix and live out a fantasy life. You have a choice of three worlds, one based on the American old west, one based on Medieval times, and one based on Roman times. You can kill people, be the king or the sheriff, and have all the sex you want without all that pesky guilt and risk of disease.

I remember being far less critical of this clunker when I watched it as a kid. I loved all the gotcha moments and maybe even liked the idea of going to a theme park like that. I was scared when the killer robot went after the hero. I was horrified when he killed one of the heroes. I had none of those moments watching it now.

Yul Brynner was playing the Terminator ten years before Arnold launched his career playing an emotionless machine that couldn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger had the same mindless pursuit of his prey-a Tech tells our hero that the robot will never, ever stop until he is dead. The Gunslinger even has that Terminator knack for not being quite as dead as you think he is. It shouldn’t have been Harlan Ellison that sued Cameron for stealing his ideas, it should have been Michael Crichton.

Of course, the tourists in West World weren’t in The Matrix, they were in the real world made to look like the Matrix. We watched our heroes in Westworld and learn that the guns are rigged not to fire on warm bodies. Ok, fine, so how do they stop one of the robots in Medieval World or Roman World from killing you with a sword? The ad that opens the movie tells how safe it is and how much fun it is. Not so safe after all. The problem appears to be a computer virus, just one more time when Michael Crichton showed himself to be a genius.

There are countless odd little things that don’t make any sense. Some robots can eat and drink as well as have sex. Some burn out if you give them a drink of water. The park is run by tape drive computers and text only computer displays- and yet, there are robot snakes and horses and people who are so perfect you can’t tell them from the real thing.

In the end, we have one person left alive in the three theme parks, and he is still in the park as the credits roll, so he could have been killed by another rogue robot a minute or two later.

Ok, it’s the 70s and it is what it is. It’s like The Six Million Dollar Man and Logan’s Run, shows I loved at the time and can’t stand to watch now. Westworld is a fun idea and I hope HBO does a good job with the new series.

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