Sunday, May 27, 2007

Movie: "A History of Violence" (1/5 stars) 2005

This is another David Cronenberg movie. I don't like Cronenberg and never have. I'm usually pretty patriotic, but his being Canadian just embarrasses me. He's done some of the worst movies ever and people bow to him as some kind of master director.

I had no idea that this was a Cronenberg movie while watching, so my negative reactions were unbiased, and I don't think this movie is overly Cronenbergish.

The biggest negative to me was how overly simple the scenes and dialog were. They go out of their way at the beginning to show how happy and well adjusted the family is. Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello play Tom and Edie Stall, the perfect normal American couple in the mid-west, living the normal life with two well adjusted kids.

I've seen all of the actors elsewhere and they've always been pretty good, but the quality of the writing (especially the dialog) and directing was so low that there was no way they could come off looking competent. It was painful to watch it, especially at the very beginning.

Small spoiler: There was a sex scene between Maria Bello and Viggo Mortensen where they get violent and then just have sex on the stairs. It made me laugh out loud and shake my head it was so bizarre. They are always so tender at the beginning that this comes out of left field. It was like the lesbian scene in Crash.

Oh! Another thing - there were a few scenes where two men are facing each other... the moment is tense and the actors just look like they are going to kiss - all the body language is there. Both myself and Una noticed it independently.

All in all, a poor quality, let down of a movie. One of the worst I've seen in a while.

This is made worse considering that it's so highly rated, both on imdb and elsewhere.

movie: "Blood Diamond" (3.5/5 stars) 2006

Finally rented this DVD after missing it at the theater.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Danny Archer, a diamond smuggler and mercenary in Sierra Leone during the civil war in the late 90's. The movie goes a long way towards educating the audience about conflict diamonds and how they are being used to fund both sides of the civil war.

The 2nd disk has some excellent documentaries as well and is worth watching.

Leo took a lot of criticism for his accent, which I thought was pretty good. I'm hardly an expert on accents, but certainly hear my fair share here in New Zealand. One thing I thought was exceptional was his action sequences. He handled a gun and was decisive in his scenes that made him believable as a talented ex-military man surviving in a harsh environment.

Something else I loved about the movie was how noble his actions were despite his selfish motivations. It was like he was forced into doing something good, and ended up transforming his character because of it.

He was also backed by solid performances by Djimon Hounsou playing a local fisherman fighting for his family and Jennifer Connelly playing an American reporter looking for a story that would actually make a difference.

Excellent movie that is well worth watching.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Review: "25 best sci-fi movies and TV" (3/5 stars)

This is the first review that I'm reviewing.

Sci-fi central lists what they consider the 25 best sci-fi movies and tv in the last 25 years.

It's an ok list. To make it easy to read, I've condensed it down to this text:

25. V (1983)
24. Galaxy Quest (1999)
23. "Doctor Who original"/"new Doctor Who" (1963-Present)
22. "Quantum Leap" (1989-1993)
21. "Futurama" (1999-2003)
20. "Star Wars: Clone Wars" (2003-2005)
19. Starship Troopers (1997)
18. "Heroes" (2006-Present)
17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
16. Total Recall (1990)
15. "Firefly"/
Serenity (2002/2005)
Children of Men (2006)
The Terminator / Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1984 /1991)
Back to the Future (1985)
11. "Lost" (2004-Present)
The Thing (1982)
Aliens (1986)
8. "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (1987-1994)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Brazil (1985)
5. Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
4. "The X Files" (1993-2002)
Blade Runner (1982)
2. "Battlestar Galactica" (2003-Present)
The Matrix (1999)

I think they got it right with The Matrix at the top, and the new "Battlestar Galactica" at #2. Both very much the best. That's why I ended up with a 3 star rating on this review.

I find that I have strong reactions to this list. While it is OK, there are some significant lame inclusions. Items on the list I disagree with:


"Doctor Who" is only popular because there are millions of people in the UK who grew up with it and accept its many flaws, primarily in the lack of budget and production value. In the end, even the newest stuff is pretty silly. The reviewer at sci-fi central said, "special effects and budget don't matter" - sorry, I don't agree.

"Quantum Leap" was the opposite of subtle and is like killing insects with a sledge hammer. Remember when killing insects with a sledge hammer - it usually doesn't work very well and misses the mark almost all the time.

"Futurama" just has such stupid characters that I could never get into it. While I appreciate that stupidity still exists in the future, I can't believe that anyone is as stupid as Frye. This is the opposite of intelligent humour.

"Starship Troopers" is a poor representation of a fantastic book. It just wasn't good enough.

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" - was more about the druggie technicians partying at the victim/customer's house all night as they erase memories. I couldn't imagine such an important technology falling into the hands of such witless people. Completely unbelievable and silly.

"Total Recall" while mostly good, can't get away from the Hollywood cliche of the couple kissing at the end, even after they just got SHOT OUT INTO HARD VACUUM AND HAD THEIR EYES BOIL AWAY! Too damn stupid to make this list.

"Children of Men" The story lets down what was an awesome premise and set of actors. I also loved the directing and sets, backdrop etc... but the movie was boring. I don't get its inclusion here.

Why exclude "Star Trek The Next Generation"? Star Trek represents the worst of what is wrong with sci-fi on TV. Its anti-imagination theme is what you get when you have a committee deciding on all the major directions and taking no chances. There was no continuity from episode to episode and what worked in one was deliberately ignored in the next. I don't know why - probably because it's easier to write. I want it hard to write and still done well.

"Brazil" was just weird. There is a scene where the renegade plummer is caught up in flying paper (bureaucratic red-tape?) and eventually just disappears when the paper blows away. I don't get how that's sci-fi. I guess it's set in the future, but so was Immortel (ad vitam) but the doesn't make it science fiction.

Of course, I've removed 9 items from the list and have to put something in their place. How about:

1 "Samurai Jack"
2 "Babylon 5" (you have to forgive the first season, which is hard to watch)
The Incredibles
Twelve Monkeys
5 "Stargate SG-1"
6. "Earth 2" (lasted less than 1 season - don't know why)
7. Jurassic Park
8 Contact
9 Treasure Planet (based on Treasure Island - animated film)

All of these are better than the ones I would like to remove and all fit within the last 25 years. NOTE: since I used imdb as a source, like them, all TV shows are in quotes and all movies aren't.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Movie: Spiderman 3 (1.5/5 stars) 2007

The worst of the Spiderman movies for me.

They emphasized the nerdy nature of Peter Parker, when they didn't really before. They showed how little the relationship between Mary Jane and Peter had grown or changed. They emphasized the lame soppy speeches from Aunt May. The CG was SO overused, it was turned into a cartoon. The attempt at making the Sandman a sympathetic character was so weak as to be laughable... every time he had the opportunity to kill Spiderman, he took it without hesitating, yet he was so sorry he'd killed Uncle Ben. Please!

For a huge Spiderman fan, this is a disappointment. I would say that unless you are a big fan yourself, you can certainly wait until the DVD release.

Funny, this was THE most expensive movie of all time to make, on the order of $300 Million. While watching the movie, I kept seeing things that could have been removed, made the movie cheaper and not affected the story at all.

By far the best scenes in the movie were centered around J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) who was at his humorous best!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Book: "Solaris" by Stanislaw Lem (2/5 stars)

This 1961 novel is listed in "100 Must Read Science Fiction Novels".

Stansilaw Lem is the most read science-fiction writer outside of the English language. Previously, I've read "The Cyberiad", a brilliant collection of short stories translated from Polish by Michael Kandel.

"Solaris" doesn't really live up to the expectations I had on it after reading about it in "100 Must Read Science Fiction Novels", or from my experience with "The Cyberiad".

Maybe it's because it was translated by a different translator (from French no less, which means 2 translations), or maybe it's the nature of the novel itself, which is heavy and dark.

And yes, there is a movie based on this book with George Clooney in it!

The book follows Kelvin to the base on the planet Solaris. Kelvin is a scientist who dedicated his life to studying the planet and the possibly sentient living ocean that covers most of the surface. However, the novel is very much Lem's exploration of the alienness of alien life, and there are many questions that just remain unanswered. He goes on for pages and pages about previous expeditions and the complex shapes and structures created by the living ocean.

Much of the book is spent following Kelvin as he explores the base's vast library of books by other scientists and researchers who study Solaris as well. Lem puts on display the various fads and trends of his fictional universe. I think he's somehow intending to mirror the real world's tendency to do the same with science, but the parallel is lost on me.

I'm willing to accept that book is a classic and has some redeeming qualities, but it's mostly a curiosity for me, and not a particularly good one.