Sunday, April 29, 2007

movie: "Eragon" (2/5 stars) 2006

Eragon is a kid's fantasy movie based on the popular book by Christopher Paolini.

I thought that the movie was ok, but affected strongly by a large number of continuity errors. The person responsible for continuity was either fired, or incompetent. Is it day time or dark outside? Is it raining or sunny? Does that dragon armor have eye holes or not? Was it REALLY 4 days ride in the opposite direction?

All of your questions will be disappointingly answered in this weak fantasy movie that does nothing for the genre and will end up in the cheap bin shortly beside "Ladyhawke" and "Dungeons and Dragons", which is too bad, since it could have been really good.

Notable guest appearances include Jeremy Irons as the mentor, Robert Carlyle as the very scary evil wizard (best character), the overacting John Malkovich as the unfortunately named Galbatorix (they said the name far too often - his dragon looks cool though) and the voice of Rachel Weisz as Saphira, the good dragon. None of these actors help the movie past a 2 star rating though.

I feel bad about it, since it is a rich genre with lots of potential, as Peter Jackson showed with Lord of the Rings.

Movie: "Pathfinder" (1.5/5) 2007

Saw this at the theater today.

Below average film that could have been so much better.

Premise: Viking ship crashes in North America 500 years before Columbus. A Viking boy is the only survivour and is taken in by the natives.

Jump ahead 15 years, and the boy has grown into Karl Urban, kiwi mega-hunk. Now, the Vikings have returned and they aren't there for tea and crumpets. Urban has no problem carrying the role. He's got loads of presence, and I see lots of leading roles for him in the future.

The main problem is that the direction is muddled and hard to follow. Not enough time was spent on the action sequences and choreography, so there are only quick flashes of sequences that are blurry and indistinct.

Of course, the direction is just one of the strange decisions from the film makers.

- The colour scheme is bordering on black and white, but with bright colour every once in a while; the scenes with colour weren't important or significant, and the choices seemed somewhat random (maybe trying to ride on the success of films like "Sin City"?).
- There were all kinds of strange anachronisms, like stairs in a native village (believe me - never happened - it's like finding a samurai sword there)
- Rituals were thrown in from lots of different Indian tribes that had nothing to do with the one they were dealing with in the movie, and even some Indian rituals and practices given to the Vikings - very odd.

While a film like Apocalypto put significant effort into being historically accurate, it felt very much like they didn't want to bother in Pathfinder. It comes through strongly in look and feel.

Movie: "Casino Royale" (4/5 Stars) 2006

Best Bond film ever. Nothing silly, no missles being launched from cars, ejection seats, evil genius hideouts and so on. High on action, well executed, fun to watch (often painful looking) - what other Bond films should be.

If you like Bond movies, I don't know if you'll like this, it's significantly different from the last 4 or 5, which were, in my opinion, Hollywood fluff and written by committee.

If you don't like Bond, but like other action movies, then give this a go - it's high octane spy action.

I'm still not crazy for Daniel Craig - he's a good Bond, but has this silly little pout he does - as far as Bond girls - Eva Green is exotic ou la la! I've been a fan since I saw "Kingdom of Heaven".

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Book: "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out" by Richard Feynman (5/5 stars)

This is a brilliant book, full of cool science and cool stories, some exceptionally funny.

Feynman looks at not only science and what science is, but at religion and the supernatural. He also looks at "cargo cult science" and how it goes through the motions of science but isn't science at all.

I was thoroughly entertained by each and every story, and recommend it to anyone who is curious at all about the natural world.

I recently read "Six Easy Pieces", another of Feynman's books, but it didn't capture Feynman's voice the way this one ones. I reviewed that book here.

If you are interested in this book, I highly recommend Feynman's 1979 lectures at Auckland University. They are well worth watching if you are even remotely interested. They are apparently one of the few freely available videos of his lectures.

Hi statement that "science is irrelevant" in the modern world held me for an entire chapter while he waited to explain it. It is too sad, but is true anyway. Today's modern world isn't a scientific one at all. It would be better if it was.

Feynman's attitude towards the world, one of accepting the unknown and having doubt about everything is one that deeply affects me and I strongly agree with. The NEED to know everything is just silly and we should be accepting of the unknown. Too many people feel the need to fill in the unknown with silly things that aren't necessary - that's where astrology comes from and who need that?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Review of recent movies - April, 2007

I've gotten a little behind on my movie reviews - I've seen a few in the last 2 months and have not kept up:

Recent good movies (4+ stars):
300 (****1/2) - reviewed here.

Recent Ok movies (3-4 stars)
Monster House (***) - funny animated movie about the neighbour's animated house.
Ice Age II (***1/2) - better than the first - lots of funny bits
The Departed (***) - could have been better without 1 scene
The Illusionist (***) - good in many ways, but the ending was too easy, and was baby fed to the audience
Children of Men (***) - great concept, good actors and sets - pacing and story let it down
Rozencrantz & Gildenstern are Dead (***) - had some hilarious pieces (the question game), but is dependent on how well you know Hamlet - great if you do
Wedding Crashers (***1/2) - much funnier than expected. Liked it all the way through - a character in a suicidal mood was reading a book called "Don't Jump"
Naked State (***1/2) - ended up being an excellent documentary about an artist taking photos of large groups of naked people - the photos are amazing.
The Dark (***) - Had all the stereotypical creepy stuff - pretty well done
The Most Fertile Man in Ireland (***) - Some amusement - only ok though

Recent Bad movies (less than 3 stars):
Babel (**) - Acting, directing, production value, writing, all awesome, but the scenes don't belong all in the same movie. It was distracting. AND, there was a strobe scene that went on FOREVER!
Half Light (**) - dull Demi Moore comeback movie. Not worth it.
The Wicker Man (**) - Nicolas Cage in a somewhat unpredictable, but ultimately unsatisfying thriller
Beowulf & Grendle (*) - complete pants! Despite liking Gerard Butler, nothing saves this completely lame adaptation of the classic epic.
I Love Your Work (*1/2) - Weirdness. Giovanni Ribisi plays a superstar actor caught in a decadent life, however, you're never sure what is actually happening, as the flashbacks and side scenes blend together with a confused main character imagining his life differently and his past... I don't recommend it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Book: "Stone" by Adam Roberts (2/5 stars)

I found a link to this novel on in someone's listmania as one of the great sci-fi books.

The concept is this - we start in a prison where the one murderer among the future's trillions of humans is kept. Someone breaks him out to carry out some terrible deed.

Sounds interesting doesn't it? It is - a little anyway. There are bits and pieces here and there that are pretty good, but mainly, the author takes us on tours of various planets, where you get to see wonderfully alien, but beautiful landscapes.

Somewhere along the way, in the middle of a description of one of these strange planets, it hit me that it was all made up. Somehow the author failed to trap me in the story and I could picture him making up all of these planets, maybe even thinking how clever he'd made this or that, and I never got back to it.

At that point, it became like reading a Lonely Planet Guide to some made up place and I didn't really see the value of it. The reviews of the novel on Amazon go on and on about how it's original and a great read, but I just saw it as a travelogue. It did almost nothing for me.

Movie: "300" (4.5/5 stars) 2006

A !MANLY! romp of a movie with a wall of indestructible Spartans meeting an army of a million Persians bent on capturing all of Greece.

I thought that the initial trailer looked bloody awful and camp, but the campy scenes from the trailer actually fit nicely into the context of the movie. I ended up loving the movie - thought that it was a brilliant display of style and action with an excellent cast and some very exotic Persian excesses even as they march an army of a million people forward into Greece.

Things I loved:
cinematography, directing, cast, action sequences, comic book feel, the Persian army, tough lines from various Spartans

Things I didn't like:
The voice over at the beginning, the lame special effect of the oracle floating in mid-air (a total of 5 minutes of the movie)

I have to say, 20 or 30 Spartans turning around in sync with their shields and spears all ready was very cool.

I know there is probably a mile of critics who will pick on the inaccuracies of the historical content and the actual Battle of Thermopylae but I know it's based on a comic, and the comic took great liberties so I can ignore that problem and just sit back and enjoy.

It isn't for everyone, and I think that there will be many polarized critics either loving it or hating it. I am firmly in the "love it" camp and will certainly be seeing it again, probably in the theatre.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Book: "Six Easy Pieces" by Richard Feynman (2 of 5 stars)

I made the mistake of viewing a set of lectures from Auckland University when Feynman was there in 1979 at the same time I was reading this book.

The books is good, but the lectures are SO MUCH BETTER.

This book is based on The Feynman Lectures, classic books in the field of educating young physicists. Being much, much shorter, lots is left out, like equations and any mathematics. This is fine for a pop culture science book and I didn't mind, but found Feynman's voice doesn't shine through here. Also, the editor of this book decided to keep several pieces of text that say "I cover this in more detail in the next chapter" or "we continue with this in more detail", when there is obviously nothing more coming. This happened on the 2nd to last page and then the book just ended. It felt somewhat poorly put together.

Still, I consider it a gentle introduction to everything about science and how a few simple ideas can be used to derive all the rest. If you need to cover all of science in a book that is only 150 pages long, this is about as good as you can get, certainly content-wise.

If you read and like this book, I highly recommend listening to Feynman's 1979 lectures in Auckland as well as reading James Gleick excellent biography of him, "Genius".

Book: "The World Gates" by Holly Lisle (2 our of 5 stars)

I just read Holly Lisle's "The World Gates", 3 books called "Memory of Fire", "The Wreck of Heaven" and "Gods, Old and Dark" about two woman named Loren and Molly (sounds like Holly, is probably meant to be the author in some shape or form).

Molly and Loren are sisters and each independently discover that there are magical gates leading from earth going to other worlds, upworld, downworld and side worlds etc... In the downworld, humans have magical abilities and are considered gods there. Consequently, beings from our upworld have magical abilities on earth and are considered gods here (Zeus, Thor, Ra etc... were all originally from upworld somewhere).

The premise is good, lots of potential for interesting story lines, cool fantasy and so on. Lisle seems to write about interesting things and most of the books content is interesting to read. Having read many of the author's writing tips, and listened to her podcast "On Writing", I assumed that she'd be a cut above the rest, since she obviously cares about her writing, world building and characters a great deal.

Despite this, what I read was a completely average, pulp, fantasy novel with underdeveloped villains (to the point of ineffectiveness) and annoying, unsympathetic main characters whose troubles are bashed over the reader's head again and again. Writing was passable, but often awkward in places and in need of more editing.

Whenever it comes down to a battle between good and evil, somehow, the bad guys never know how to use magic as well as the good guys do... no reason, just the way that it works. Some of these bad guys are ancient gods, with ten thousand years of experience crushing pissants like the main characters, yet in the end, while it looks hard, it ends up being so damn easy that it's not worth reading. There was one scene in the middle novel where "A group of dark gods..." were "pinned down" by fire from good guys. The dumbness of the phrase completely pulled me from the story and left me shaking my head. There are many scenes like this.

I will only read more work by this author on recommendations from friends. I think I'll stop reading her writing tips and listening to the podcasts too.