Saturday, August 30, 2014

Force 10 From Navarone

Year 6, Day 242 - 8/30/14 - Movie #1,833

BEFORE:  Morgan Freeman was my lead-in to the sci-fi chain, and Harrison Ford is my lead-out, carrying over from "Ender's Game".  (I guess I could have gone with Ben Kingsley to "Gandhi" or "The Dictator", but my chain is set, and I like it.)  There were supposed to be a few more Harrison Ford films here, but I needed to free up some 2014 slots for new films coming in, and I realized that those Ford films are mostly romance-based ("Sabrina", "Six Days, Seven Nights") so they've been moved to next February's line-up.

THE PLOT:  During World War II, several oddly assorted military experts are teamed in a mission to raid and destroy a bridge vital to enemy strategy.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Guns of Navarone" (Movie #708)

AFTER: Oh, I've been waiting a good long while to watch this - when I started the prep work for this project in late 2008, this one was on the wish list.  Not the watch list, the wish list.  It seemed that it was always running on AMC, which is a movie channel that airs films with commercials, so it's been banned from my line-up, except for emergencies.  Same thing with Sundance Channel and IFC, which USED to run movies without interruption.  I'd call the cable company and cancel those channels if they allowed me to do that, just on principle.

I don't know how long a channel licenses a film for, but I was willing to wait - I went ahead and watched "The Guns of Navarone", and other films where ragtag groups of soldiers take on seemingly impossible missions, like "The Dirty Dozen" and "Kelly's Heroes", and then finally a few months ago, one of the REAL movie channels started running this.  (Unfortunately, that channel is Encore, which believes that end credits should be blocked by a half-screen pop-up that tells me what movie is coming up next, but what can I do?)

Of course, I was interested in the type of war movie that Harrison Ford made right after appearing in "Star Wars".  For good measure it was directed by a man who directed four James Bond films, and there are at least three actors from the Bond films in this, plus two actors who had minor roles in the "Star Wars" films.  Oh, and the guy who played Apollo Creed - so it really is a ragtag bunch.  If you want to regard this as the film where Han Solo and the ship captain from "Jaws" team up with Apollo Creed to take on the Germans as well as the big guy from "Moonraker", well I'm not going to stop you.

The original film "The Guns of Navarone" featured two men leading a bunch of soldiers on a stealth mission on the Greek island of Navarone to take down some very large guns - and those two men (played by different actors, because Gregory Peck and David Niven got too old waiting to be in the sequel) now lead (OK, tag along on) a different mission into Yugoslavia, to find the spy who ratted them out on the last mission.

They join a team led by an American, Col. Barnsby - there was a Col. Barnsby in the first film, but he was an Australian Air Force commander, played by Richard Harris.  So I don't know if this is supposed to be the same character played by a different actor, or perhaps they just share a last name, which is a pretty strange coincidence.

There are a lot of different factions here, it's not just about Allies and Axis.  There are Chetniks and Partisans, both are local rebel groups, but which one's aligned with the Nazis?  Then we have double-agents and sleeper agents, and their alliances are always shifting, so navigating through the players to pull off the mission is a challenge in itself.

But the real thing to appreciate here is the team's level of ingenuity, which you'd like to think is the sort of thing that tipped the scales in World War II.  If they need to eliminate a particular person, or a military target, what's the best way to do that?  And if that doesn't work, what else can we try?  If we can't lower the bridge, can we raise the river?  And if we can't blow up the bridge, what's another way to take it out?  And if we don't have the materials we need, how can we get them?

This sort of illustrates the point made in "Ender's Game" - it's creative thinking that wins wars.

Also starring Robert Shaw (last seen in "From Russia With Love"), Edward Fox (last seen in a bit role in "Lost in Space"), Franco Nero, Carl Weathers (last seen in "Semi-Tough"), Barbara Bach (last seen in "The Spy Who Loved Me"), Richard Kiel (last seen in "Moonraker"), Michael Byrne, Angus MacInnes, Michael Sheard (last seen in "Frenzy")

RATING: 6 out of 10 panzer tanks

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ender's Game

Year 6, Day 241 - 8/29/14 - Movie #1,832

BEFORE: Back to another sci-fi film released in 2013, for the end of the theme.  I've got 68 open slots for films to watch this year, and I've got 45 films from 2013 and 2012 left on the list.  However, if I stick to my planned order, I'm only going to get to 27 of them - I've got some coming up soon, then some really classic films for a stretch, and tehn I'll get back to more recent films from Halloween time through the end of Year 6.

Linking from "Solaris", Viola Davis carries over - now do you see why I organized it this way?

THE PLOT:  Ender Wiggin is recruited by the International Military to lead the fight against the Formics, a genocidal alien race which nearly annihilated the human race in a previous invasion.

AFTER: I remember there was some controversy over making a film based on the work of Orson Scott Card, but I can't remember why.  He's a Mormon, and he was against same-sex marriage or something?  But there are a lot of people who are against that, how am I supposed to keep track of this sort of thing?  Plus, whatever happened to "turn the other cheek"?  If someone offends you, I thought you're supposed to forgive them, not just once but seventy times seven times or something.  I think we give too much leeway to people who feel oppressed, they shouldn't be allowed to hate in return, because that just compounds the problem, right?  If you hate the haters, how are you not a hater yourself?

Anyway, I'm free to judge the movie as I see fit, and I can keep that separate from any personal views that the original author may or may not have had, if I so choose.

What we're dealing with here tonight is the theory that somehow children make the best soldiers, at least in the future where experience with video games and lazer tag, due to their resembling real space combat, comes in quite handy.   The film mentions that kids are good at "board games", I don't know why that line wasn't changed to "video games".  This is a somewhat logical projection, because doesn't the army now use games like "Call of Duty" to identify potential soldier candidates?

But even if kids in the future are ideal strategists, and even if I assume that Ender is some kind of budding military genius, on par with Napoleon, he's still just a kid.  So I have to question the premise.  Sure, kids are impressionable - some might even do well in a military environment.  But where are all the adults?  I get that millions of people were killed in the previous alien invasion, but still, that was fifty years prior - there should be plenty of adults willing to go to war.  No matter how I try to justify it, this is still about sending kids into space to kill aliens, or practice to kill aliens.

So the film is on shaky moral ground right from the start - and then things get worse, but in ways I'm not free to talk about.  Let's just say there's a lot of debate over what makes a soldier into a soldier, and then what turns a soldier into a military leader.  The adults want to see if Ender is really "the chosen one" - so they test his resolve in various underhanded ways.  OK, so in order to nurture him into the perfect military genius, they have to lie to him, trick him, and put him through social torture just to make the exact sort of outcast they need.  Still not justifiable - the ends do not justify the means.

I'm reminded of the way Anakin Skywalker was regarded as the "chosen one" in the Star Wars saga, and just look at how great THAT turned out.  Actually he was perceived as the one to bring "Balance to the Force", and I figured out from Episode I that it might not actually turn out to bring a positive result - after all, there were thousands of Jedi and just 2 Sith - if you try to bring that equation into "balance", it's not going to be pretty.

I'm also reminded of my school years by watching "Ender's Game" - so I'm expecting that the high-school flashback dreams will recur very soon.  The physical challenges that Ender goes through in this film remind me of the hell that was gym class - forced to wear unflattering gym shorts in front of my classmates.  Like I wasn't already batting zero with girls before that, thanks a lot.  Then I have to do what?  Climb a rope?  Do a pull-up?  Look at my body shape, it's not going to happen, you Cro-Magnon gym teachers.  Admittedly we sometimes played fun games like Dodgeball and "Pin Bombardment", but if I was forced to run a quarter-mile or a 100-yard dash, I couldn't do it.  The class would be over by the time I made it around the course. 

Then came the fun of showering in front of other people.  Some of whom already had designs on making my life miserable, and now I have to be naked and vulnerable, nearly sightless without my glasses, in front of them?  Thanks again for that.  Being the largest kid in class meant I was bullied in grade school - there were two cliques in my grade school, and I didn't fit in with either of them, so I mostly hung out with the other unpopular kids, at least we could be miserable and unpopular together.

Things got a little better when I made it to junior high, which combined the kids from the three grade schools in town into one big class.  I was able to meet smarter, more pleasant people from other areas of town, instead of the meatheads from the neighborhood I lived in.  Turns out there were other smart people from those schools, and as long as I could keep my grades up, I could travel in a better social circle. 

Two things happened in high school that really helped me out, even though my grades took a little bit of a dive when tougher subjects like calculus and physics were thrown into the mix.  One was that I got really good at standardized test-taking for some reason.  Maybe it was all of the crosswords and other puzzles I'd been doing since I was a kid, but I scored really high on the PSATs, even got a small National Merit scholarship for that.  And I think that reflected well for the school as well as on my own permanent record, so I had a bit of a reputation as a great test-taker, even if my grades weren't straight A's any more.

The other was that when my voice changed, it went really low, and there was an astounding shortage of singers in the bass range.  I sang in the barbershop quartet in the school's production of "The Music Man", and this led to a part in an 8-person mixed Double Quartet group.  I even made the District chorus finals a few times, having had no luck getting anywhere playing the clarinet for the orchestra tryouts.   The great thing about being in the Quartet was performing in concerts around the state, which meant occasionally getting out of class to do so.  Suddenly I had something of an all-access pass, and making it to gym class was a lot less important.  Never had to do another failed pull-up.

So anyway, I'm not really buying into this "kids make the best soldiers" deal - but I think most kids should find something that they're good at, and run with it.  That can be art, or music, or the chess club, but whatever it is, it helps combat the awkwardness of being a teen.

I'm guessing that the "Game" in the title refers to the video-game that Ender plays in his spare time, which turns out to be somewhat important.  Or perhaps it's the "game" that he's forced to play to advance in ranks of a the militaristic society.  Or is it the "game" that his instructors/superiors play on him, by not being truthful?  I guess it's all of the above.

Also starring Harrison Ford (last seen in "Anchorman 2"), Asa Butterfield (last seen in "Hugo"), Hailee Steinfeld (last seen in "True Grit"), Abigail Breslin (last seen in "The Call"), Ben Kingsley (last seen in "Shutter Island"), Moises Arias, Aramis Knight, Suraj Partha.

RATING: 6 out of 10 fighter jets

Thursday, August 28, 2014


Year 6, Day 240 - 8/28/14 - Movie #1,831

BEFORE: This choice was simple, since George Clooney has been in just two space films, so watching them back-to-back is a must.

THE PLOT:  A troubled psychologist is sent to investigate the crew of an isolated research station orbiting a bizarre planet.

AFTER: The initial goal was to collect all the remaining sci-fi films on the list together, but I accidentally caused a secondary theme to develop, which often happens.  Nearly all of the last week's films have also been about connecting or re-connecting with family.  Which is strange because that's not really a common theme in everyday films, so to see that pop up again and again in space, I have to wonder.  Perhaps many sci-fi directors think that the genre is somewhat impersonal and cold (in space, no one can here you bicker...) so the trend lately has been to inject a lot of relationship stuff into sci-fi movies.

We had Tom Cruise's character re-connecting with his past in "Oblivion", young brothers learning how to not fight with each other in "Zathura", a son and his absent father working together in "After Earth", the Robinson family taking on challenges together in "Lost and Space", brothers mind-linking to control giant robots in "Pacific Rim", and even Sandra Bullock's character thinking about her dead daughter while in space in "Gravity".  That trend continues tonight in "Solaris", as Clooney's character travels to a distant space station that somehow makes him re-connect with his late wife.

This film is enigmatic for most of its story - it's a long time before we really learn what's going on, and why.  In the meantime, our hero seems content to spend time with his wife again, even if he knows deep down that she can't be real.  A lot of old memories are dredged up, so the film gets overly flashback-y in the middle, to the point where I almost couldn't tell what was a flashback, what was a dream, and what was happening at the moment.  

Once our hero finally resigns himself to the fact that his resurrected wife is not who she seems to be, that's when things get weird.  Or I suppose "weirder" is more appropriate.  If your favorite part of the film "2001: A Space Odyssey" is that bit at the end that nobody really understands, and you wished it could be turned into a feature-length story of its own, then this is right up your alley.  However, as you might expect, that makes it very enigmatic and low on explanations.  

There used to be these street tiles in New York, and apparently in other cities, that nobody understood for a while - they'd say things like "Toynbee Idea in Movie 2001 - Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter".  I don't know about Toynbee, which could be a reference to a historian with that name or could come from a Ray Bradbury story, but I know a LOT about Arthur C. Clarke and the "2001" saga, and I think the person who made the tiles just really misinterpreted them.  The monoliths in "2001" were there to shepherd human progress, not resurrecting dead people.  Just sayin'.

Also starring Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis (last seen in "The Help"), Jeremy Davies (last seen in "It's Kind of a Funny Story"), Ulrich Tukur

RATING:  5 out of 10 pill bottles

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Year 6, Day 239 - 8/27/14 - Movie #1,830

BEFORE: OK, I admit it - I screwed up my own actor linking.  Sure, anyone could have gone from "Elysium" to "Gravity" via the Matt Damon/George Clooney connection - the "Ocean's Eleven" series, of course.  But I had NINE sci-fi films to work together.  So I had to look at the big picture - and when I did, the only way to make all of the necessary connections was to go from Clifton Collins Jr. in "Pacific Rim" to Clooney via the "Perfect Storm"...

Only it wasn't Clifton Collins in that film, it was John Hawkes.  Sure, they look a bit alike - call up some pics on Google if you don't believe me - but it's still a mistake that I should not have made.  Character actors be damned, I should be able to tell them apart by now.  So my linking's down the drain...   Wait a minute, not so fast, Idris Elba links to Ed Harris (last seen in "Pollock") via a film called "Buffalo Soldiers" - and Ron Perlman also links to Ed Harris via a film called "Enemy at the Gates".  So the chain survives, I live to fight another day.  (Ed Harris is not seen in "Gravity", merely heard as the voice of Mission Control, but c'mon, work with me here.)

THE PLOT: A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after a catastrophe destroys their shuttle and leaves them adrift in orbit.

AFTER:  This was one of the biggest films of 2013, nominated for a ton of awards (did it win any? I'll have to check my notes) and from everything I've read, it represented a giant leap forward in special effects, and storytelling in general.  Plus, it's got astronauts, and space shuttles and satellites!  As a geek, I should be all over this one, right?

Not so fast.  Turns out there are all different kinds of geeks - there are the type that go to Comic-Con, and then there are the type who hang out at Cape Canaveral to see a shuttle launch, or can't wait to hear the news about the new experimental space-plane or whatever the hell that thing was.  Turns out, I think I'm firmly in the first camp, not so much in the second camp.  I liked "Apollo 13", but because it's gripping story made for great tension - I wasn't watching it to see if they nailed the way weightlessness worked on screen, or to get a look at what the dials looked like on the Apollo module.  Yes, there are space nerds, as opposed to sci-fi nerds, and I don't think I'm one of them.  They really need their own name, to distinguish themselves from the fans of "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" - how about Astro-nuts?  OK, that's a bit derogative, but we'll workshop something.

Yes, it seems like this film was striving for REALITY, or as close as one can come to reality by using CGI and filming in a studio with people on wires and gimbals in front of green-screen can get.  Science FACT-ion instead of science fiction?  Of course, it can't be really real because we can't send our actors up into orbit or endanger them in any way, so a lot of people went to a lot of trouble here to duplicate reality (or a fictional reality that looks and feels like a real reality) and while this is science-based and fictional, I can't bring myself to consider it as science fiction - where are the aliens?  The robots?  Phasers and/or lightsabers?  

I put this on a DVD with the film "The Impossible", and I think my instincts there were spot on - it's about survival, doing whatever it takes to survive, get back to civilization and tell your story, and the stories of those who maybe didn't make it back.  Beating the odds, no matter what the cost.  Sacrifice as well as survival -

Now that we've established that, I can judge the film based on its own merits, right?  Not so fast.  Here's the part where the film and I parted company - the sequence that just HAD to be a dream, because it defied the rules of both physics and proper storytelling.  Yes, it was most likely a dream, but it LOOKED like part of the reality, and it was placed before the audience as if it WERE part of the reality, right up until the part where it was revealed not to be.  From a storytelling angle, this is dirty pool.  Bait and switch.  I'm only angry because a vital bit of information is revealed in this dream/hallucination, one that otherwise might not have come to light, and that's just not how dreams work.  You can't know something in a dream that you didn't know in your waking life.  Perhaps she knew this and forgot it and the dream reminded her of it, but it's still a dirty storytelling trick.

Beyond that, there were several times that I didn't really know what was going on.  Clearly there was some kind of specific problem taking place, but since at this point there was only one character on screen, and you wouldn't expect someone to talk to themselves the same way they would talk to another person, this sort of left me, as an audience member, out in the cold.  If I have to read the plot summary on Wikipedia the next day to find out what happened in the film I watched the night before, then someone involved in the storytelling process dropped the ball.  Or pitched it too far over my head. 

I can see how some people appreciated the sentimentality involved in the storyline - the drama and the emotions involved was there to elevate this over a simple story about astronauts and how they do what they do.  But I think it was a bit too much - I think "Gravity" represents not only the force that causes items to fall toward Earth, it also represents the heavy-handedness applied here by the director to try and elicit an emotional response from the audience. 

Of course, this all could be a result of a glitch in my progress - I simply read and heard too much about this film before watching it.  You reviewers and comedians who can't resist spoiling endings, I'm holding you to blame. Plus I had to dub it to DVD, and I had to check that DVD - so I probably saw too much about the ending before watching it in sequence.  They really should have had a disclaimer on this film - something like "You're going to want to see this in the theater, because if you watch it at home or read too much about the ending beforehand, it's going to seem like a pointless exercise."  That's much too long for the poster, but again, we'll workshop something.

Also starring Sandra Bullock (last seen in "The Heat"), George Clooney (last seen in "The Thin Red Line").

RATING: 6 out of 10 airlocks

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pacific Rim

Year 6, Day 238 - 8/26/14 - Movie #1,829

BEFORE: I've blocked out the remainder of the year's films on the calendar, and I'm pleased with the result.  I sort of forgot that I should skip NY Comic-Con in October, and I'm also regretting I didn't save these sci-fi films for that time of year.  I think I'll be watching Bette Davis films around Comic-Con, and that just doesn't make any sense.  But the linking has led me here, and I'm making progress on the films of 2013, so I'm just going to keep going.  Speaking of linking, Gary Oldman from "Lost in Space" was also in "The Unborn" with Idris Elba (last seen in "Thor: The Dark World").

THE PLOT:   As a war between humankind and monstrous sea creatures wages on, a former pilot and a trainee are paired up to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon in a desperate effort to save the world from the apocalypse.
AFTER: God, where do I start with this one?  I have a feeling I could spend 6 hours tearing this plot into pieces, and then nitpicking it into even smaller pieces, and never completely do it justice.

Let's start with the premise: giant monsters are rising up from the ocean's surface, through some kind of dimensional portal, and they eat humans and destroy cities.  Conventional weapons are (apparently) useless against them, so humanity's best choice is to build giant robots - but not real robots, robot-LIKE machines that are controlled from within by two humans apiece.  Humans that are expert fighters, and also mind-linked together in pairs to be even better fighters.  

Part 1: giant monsters are attacking.  And they can't be killed, and they're destroying everything.  If you hear this on the news, the natural response is to jump out the window, because at least then you won't get eaten.  But since we can't kill them and we can't destroy the portal, perhaps a better response would be to start working on that ark to get everyone to another planet. Nope, instead people sit around and watch as the monsters increase in size from category 2 to category 3, and so on.  How do people even know what a category 4 kaiju looks like, if it's the first time they're seeing one?

Part 2: conventional weapons are useless.  So we try something else, that's what we humans do.  If the redcoats are cutting us down when we line up, we hide behind trees and stone walls.  If it's too costly to take the Japanese islands back one by one, we drop an atom bomb.  We're told at the beginning of the film that nothing so far has worked, INCLUDING the giant robots - so why the heck are they still being used?  TRY. SOMETHING. ELSE.  Nope, let's keep using the thing that doesn't work, in the hope that it will.  Cause that's smart.

Part 3: the giant robots.  or Jaeger, or whatever you want to call them.  The shape of a bipedal human is unique, the product of millions of years of evolution, to do the tasks that helped keep us alive - which did not include battling giant demon beasts.  In fact, if a human was as big as a building, his shape would probably be a detriment, he might not even be able to stand up.  There's a reason that buildings and mountains have the shapes that they do, because that's what works at that scale.  A building-sized robot?  Not possible.  And its center of gravity is way too high, for starters.

Part 4: controlled by humans.  Why?  They never really explain why someone needs to be inside.  If we can build a giant fighting machine, why can't it be completely robotic?  If it needs to react to the moves of the kaiju, why can't it be controlled remotely, like in "Real Steel"?  This set-up just puts people at risk, and the whole reason to fight the demons is to protect people, right?  Why can't it be a drone of some kind?

Part 5: two humans apiece.  Why does it take two humans to run each Jaeger?  Because they say so, I guess.  You would think that having one person in control would mean faster reaction times and smoother moves, and you'd be right.  But the plot says they tried making robots controlled by one person, and one person couldn't do it.  So make the robot interface better - am I to understand human technology only goes exactly this far, that it can make a giant robot, defying all rational machine logic, but it can't fix whatever design flaw is preventing it from being piloted by one user? 

Part 6: the mind-link.  Another seemingly unnecessary complication.  The Jaeger needs two pilots, but they need to be mind-linked so they learn each other's complete history, secret fears and internet passwords.  This is so they'll function perfectly as a unit, hmm, almost like one person would - damn, I really wish we could make these things piloted by one person, but nope, it has to be two people acting as one, because we say so.  And also, you'd think that all this excess drama of dealing with not only one's own fears but also someone else's would really get in the way, but nope, this is the complication that somehow makes the whole thing possible.  Right.  

I think I'm starting to see the problem here - the government is using outmoded technology that has been proven to not work, refusing to invest any money to fix design flaws, or take any steps to properly protect the soldiers in harm's way, defiantly unable to develop strategies that work against an enemy it doesn't understand.  So, business as usual, am I right, people?

Then we reach the point that tells me that fighting the Kaiju with the Jaeger causes much, much more damage to our cities and the people living in them than if we had just let the Kaiju run wild to begin with.  I think giant robots falling down killed a bunch of people, and robots punching and missing destroyed more buildings than the demons did, so we would have been better off as a species by just giving in and not fighting back at all. 

Beyond all this ridiculousness, there's a lot of overacting.  Or maybe it's just yelling.  A lot of the dialogue in this film is delivered at top volume, because the actors need to compete against loud robots and louder monsters.  But that made nearly everything difficult to understand, in more ways than one.  It's a big, loud, overly complicated movie that makes no sense, so I bet it made like a billion dollars last year.

Also starring Charlie Hunnam (last seen in "Cold Mountain"), Charlie Day (last seen in "Horrible Bosses"), Ron Perlman (last seen in "Season of the Witch"), Clifton Collins Jr. (last seen in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"), Rinko Kikuchi, Diego Klattenhoff, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky, Burn Gorman.

RATING: 4 out of 10 neural handshakes

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lost In Space

Year 6, Day 237 - 8/25/14 - Movie #1,828

BEFORE: I'm about halfway through this sci-fi chain, then some deft linking will set me up for September's "back to school" movies.  Linking from "After Earth", Will Smith was also in the recent film "Winter's Tale" with William Hurt (last seen in "Alice")

THE PLOT:  The Robinson family was going into space to fight for a chance for humanity. Now they are fighting to live long enough to find a way home.

AFTER:  This is based on the old 1960's TV show of the same name, which itself was based on the book "The Swiss Family Robinson" - only in the book the title family got marooned on an island, not in outer space.  And they were from Switzerland.

This film started out in a pretty promising way - once again the Earth had reached that "tipping point", where humans finally realized that they were going to use up all of the Earth's resources like clean water, so the search began for a new planet, called Alpha Prime (as opposed to Nova Prime, but what's in a name?).  And here we got a look at the plan to bring all the humans to the new planet via a stargate, aka hyperspace.  But to set up the stargate on the other end, first someone has to travel the new old-fashioned way, by traversing all of the distance between here and there.  And for some reason, that person needs to bring his whole family along with him, even though they know nothing about building stargates.  The teenage daughter protests being made to go, and I don't blame her - couldn't they find a guy who knew how to build a stargate and was also single?  Seems like that would have cut down on the unnecessary baggage.

Anyway, the crew's planning to spend the 10-year journey frozen in their cryo-beds, because that process NEVER goes wrong (see also "Alien", "2001: A Space Odyssey", "Planet of the Apes").  Hey, wouldn't you know it, but something goes wrong - you'd think with a title like "Lost In Space", we'd all see that one coming...  They set this up so blatantly with the stargate, by saying that taking a random jump with the hyperdrive would be extremely risky - you don't know where you'll end up.  Gee, guess what they end up doing?

To be fair, it's not really their fault.  There's some kind of terrorist organization in the future, some seditionists who want to colonize Alpha Prime themselves.  Yep, a whole new planet to colonize, not one human has set foot on it yet, and already they're arguing over the best way to do it.  Seems about right.  

But then this one sort of took a left turn after the ship goes through some kind of worm-hole or time portal (yeah, if you see a weird hole floating in space, you should TOTALLY take your ship into it...) and from then on, the plot devolves into your standard time-paradox story.  They find a ship that's been looking for them for decades, even though they just left.  Still, they don't figure it out until they crash-land on a planet and go through ANOTHER time-thingie, and are force to confront....well, I don't want to give it away.  But it's a weird coincidence that the thing I don't want to give away tonight is the same sort of thing that I didn't want to give away twice before in the past week.  God, you know it's killing me, not talking about it.

Anyway, once they start messing with the timestream (or their time-stream gets messed with, whichever you prefer) there's much debate about how to fix it.  Should they go back to convince themselves to never leave Earth in the first place?  (No, that's a paradox, because if they never leave, they'll also never get stranded, so then they'll never go back and tell themselves not to leave, so they'll leave, and so on)  Should they make a smaller change to the timestream and try to escape the planet? (No, that presents a similar problem, because if they succeed, then no one will be marooned on the planet for 20 years to build the time machine, and then by fixing the problem, they've taken away the device that helped fix the problem.)  

See, there's no good solution - not even the one that ends up "working".  If you can't realize the paradoxes that time travel produces, maybe you just shouldn't have any time travel in your movie at all.  I applaud the fact that time and space seem to be connected here - after all, if you travel a great distance it takes time, and if you travel at a very high speed, then time is relative and bends and your friends will age faster than you.  That's a difficult concept for most people to grasp, but at least it makes more sense than time travel.  They could have easily used either the cryogenics angle OR the fast-speed traveling angle to make time pass faster outside the spaceship - there was no real need to bring wormholes or time machines into the mix at all. 

The sub-plot with the weird alien monkey character seemed very unnecessary, because it ended up going nowhere.  It seemed like just a cheap attempt to have some cutesy creature for kids to enjoy, or perhaps to create a toy that kids would want to play with.  If you think Jar-Jar Binks was unnecessary, the Blarp (?) character here has him beat.

Also starring Gary Oldman (last seen in "Lawless"), Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham (last seen in "Six Degrees of Separation"), Lacey Chabert (last seen in "Mean Girls"), Matt LeBlanc (last seen in "All the Queen's Men"), Jack Johnson, Jared Harris (last seen in "The Notorious Bettie Page"), with cameos from June Lockhart, Mark Goddard and Angela Cartwright from the old TV series.

RATING:  4 out of 10 metal spiders

Sunday, August 24, 2014

After Earth

Year 6, Day 236 - 8/24/14 - Movie #1,827

BEFORE: Once again, my progress in decreasing the size of the Watchlist is stymied - and once again, the cause is Turner Classic Movies.  They're doing this "Summer Under the Stars" promotion, where every day in August they feature only films starring a particular actor or actress, and that's bad news for my collection. I think that's how I got those extra Jane Fonda films a couple weeks ago.  I'm more likely to DVR a film like "Roman Holiday" if there are other Audrey Hepburn films running that day, and I can quickly put that film on a DVD with another Hepburn film, like "Love in the Afternoon".  The other day the featured star was Paul Newman, and I picked up "Harper" and "Somebody Up There Likes Me" - and this weekend they devoted a day to Ernest Borgnine, and I realized I don't have a copy of "Marty", which I've already seen, but since they're running it I might as well put it in the collection, and that puts a follow-up film like "The Catered Affair" on the list.  So the list is stuck at 153 films, and it's been there for over a week - every night I cross one film off, and add another to the end.

Linking from "Elysium", Matt Damon was also in "The Legend of Bagger Vance" with Will Smith (last seen in "Hitch").

THE PLOT: A crash landing leaves Kitai Raige and his father Cypher stranded on Earth, a millennium after events forced humanity's escape. With Cypher injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help.

AFTER:  For the third time this week, we pick up years after humanity has left the planet for another destination - either a moon of Jupiter, a satellite named Elysium, or tonight's desination, Nova Prime.  If I remember correctly, we saw trailers for all three of these films last year when we went to the theater to see "Star Trek Into Darkness".  So this was a hot trend last year, assuming that humans would eventually screw up the whole planet, and using this prediction as a jumping-off point.  

But they didn't get everyone off the planet in "Elysium", just a select few.  And it turned out they didn't get everyone off the planet in "Oblivion", either.  So this is the only one of the three stories that assumed that such a thing is even possible, getting every world citizen off the planet in some Noah's Ark-type spaceship - and this story picks up about 1,000 years later, when the humans on Nova Prime are attacked by aliens who use blind vicious creatures called Ursas to hunt and kill humans, tracking them through their pheromones.  Through a convoluted series of events, one member of the United Ranger Corps leads his final mission and it goes all kinds of wrong.  His ship crash-lands on Earth, and he's injured and needs to rely on his son, who's close to washing out as a Ranger cadet, to find the other half of the wrecked ship and signal for help.  

Supposedly, in the last millennium without humans on the planet, Earth has become more dangerous due to changes in the wildlife.  I suppose this makes sense, because humans had always been the driving force in causing various species to become endangered in the first place - so without humans to kill and eat animals, it's become a whole new ball game.  However, we've always been told that evolution takes place over incredibly long periods of time - so I wouldn't expect the biosphere to be all THAT different.  

I'm going to get really nitpicky now - we're told that an "environmental cataclysm" is what forced the humans off the planet in the first place.  But what exactly was that?  And how come it didn't affect the animals, that seem to be doing just fine?  And if humans could develop the technology to get everyone off the planet, why couldn't they develop other technology to fix the environment, or to just endure it better?  Something's not adding up.  Another problem that the humans encounter on Earth 2.0 is a low amount of oxygen, so they have to use breathing capsules - why doesn't this problem affect the animals either?  

For that matter, what's the deal with this Nova Prime?  Even if humans had lived there for 1,000 years, they still realize that they used to live on Earth, right?  So these aliens they encounter - are they native to Nova Prime or do they come from someone else?  Because if they've been on Nova Prime longer, they have more right to that world and the humans are the invaders, which makes me want to root for the aliens.

NITPICK POINT: Then we come to these Ursas, which are blind and track humans based on their fear pheromones - so if a human can remove all of the fear from his mind, then he'll be invisible to the Ursas.  Why would the aliens breed these creatures with this weakness?  Logically they would create the most efficient killing machines to track humans, and making them only able to do this when humans are afraid seems like a very specific built-in design flaw - especially when humans have other pheromones, and other non-fear related ways of being smelly.  

Obviously from a story standpoint, if the Ursa had no weakness, then the best, strongest humans couldn't rise to the occasion, switch off their fear responses and defeat these things.  But if the aliens truly wanted to build an efficient hunter animal, the Ursa would not only be able to see, but also track humans through their body odor as well - leaving this ability out when designing a killing machine makes little sense.  At one point the Ursa hangs up some dead humans in trees, just as a visual display to trigger the fear response - but why would a blind creature even be concerned with how something looks?  How would it even know where the tree is, or the best place to hang the body in the tree?  

I have a feeling that the more I pick at the plot, the more everything's going to fall apart.  The other main negatives of the film are excessive time-jumping (they flash-forward to the crashs, then go back and explain how it happened, so it's no surprise when it happens again) and similar to what was seen in "Elysium", some strange accent on the lead character, or perhaps just a weird command of line delivery.  The actor's an American kid, why does he sound like a foreigner sometimes?  When you're breaking in to films, the first priority should be concentrating on delivering the lines so they can be understood - although I guess if your dad is famous, this becomes much less necessary.  Still, the director should have said something at some point.  

Also starring Jaden Smith (last seen in "The Pursuit of Happyness"), David Denman, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz (last seen in "The Brave One"), Glenn Morshower.

RATING: 4 out of 10 drone cameras