Symphony of Raiders

The movies of George Lucas have been said to have a lot with silent movies. This is both a slap at his dialog and a complement to his visual style. If you think of his movies there are numerous visuals that are iconic.

Friday night sometime after five, I got a call from my friend Jeff. He started to tell me something about symphony and having an extra ticket. I didn’t need more explanation. “I’m in.”, I said. If I’d let him finished his prepared sales pitch I would have heard that he had an extra ticket for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra to play John Williams score of Raiders of the Lost Ark live on stage synchronized to the movie playing on a screen behind the orchestra. Now I was excited. I had 90 minutes to get to Dallas and find a parking spot.

The tickets where excellent: row A on the Orchestra side. This was my first time at Meyerson. It is a very modern looking theatre. The musicians slowly arrived and started turning their instruments. Every once in a while your hear a familiar refrain. When the first violinist came in, there was applause. Finally arrived the conductor looking like Russell Crowe with an extra mop of hair to help in his direction.

Without any preamble the lights dimmed and the Paramount logo appeared above the Orchestra. There was a bit of a glow on the musicians lest you forget why you were there. It appeared that they had a special cut of the movie without the score but with dialogue and foley effects intact. This is a good thing as there are a few moments in the movie that the Orchestra was able to rest.

The conductor had a custom version of the movie that was marked up with visual cues. A virtual scan bar acted as metronome. Color dots seemed to denote changes. The result was perfect synchronization with the film. It was fascinating to see some off-label uses of the instruments such as plucking the strings of a violin. The array of percussion instrument kept that section running to and fro. And since this was a Williams score it was the brass section that was there to play the triumphant themes.

There was an intermission just before the digging at the Well of the Souls. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times as a perineal favorite. Sometimes I watch the other movies in the series but they all pale. I thought it funny to hear full belly laughs from the audience at the appropriate parts.

When the movie first came out in 1981 I did not see it in the theater. I do remember my grandmother telling about it in great detail especially the romantic scene on the ship where Indy gets clobbered with the mirror. It would be months later before I finally saw it at the dollar theater. Yes, it was really a dollar.

The movie has really stood up to the test of time. The symphony experience was incredible and I would eagerly repeat whenever the opportunity presents itself.

iTunes Movies Now in 4K

under $8

Back in the day I used to have a shelf full of VHS tapes. This shelf contained two copies of the original Star Wars Trilogy because… Star Wars. When widescreen VHS became a thing, I switched to it. When DVD came around, I had to buy Star Wars again. I ended up with a small room lined with VHS tapes on one side and DVDs on the other. Digital video came about at about the same time as Blu-ray. I skipped Blu-ray. I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally bought a Blu-ray disc even though I had a Blu-ray player. At the time it was a pretty easy decision because I did not have a TV that could tell the difference.

For me, digital video held the promise that I would not have to buy Star Wars again. Well, maybe just one more time. In the movie “Men in Black” we see Tommy Lee Jones holding up a tiny silver disc that will “replace CDs” in a couple years. His character resigns “I guess I’ll have to but The White Album again”. That’s the way I feel about Star Wars. But I was drawing a line in the sand, this far.. no further. Fortunately for me, I delayed that purchase just a little bit.

There are competing marketplaces for digital movies. You have Ultraviolet, Amazon, and iTunes. I avoided Ultraviolet instinctually. Some DVDs bought early on came with a code for the same movie on Ultraviolet that I gave away sometimes to strangers on Twitter just to avoid making my digital library more complex. It was a bit harder to avoid Amazon as they have some content that is not available elsewhere. I put my stock in iTunes. This means that I am using an Apple TV instead of a ChromeCast or Roku. And I’m betting that the company, Apple, is not going out of business any time soon. So far that bet has paid off.

Disney puts an interesting wrinkle in this. They have a notion that if I buy one of their movies on one platform, I can play it on their streaming platform. They also let me collect worthless Disney points but that is another story. This is an interesting twist because it switches the platform loyalty to a studio loyalty with no change in behavior from the customer. Now that Disney owns The Force, it should mean that my movies would even out live Apple.

When the first digital movies came out they were available in glorious 480 lines of resolution, also known as SD. This meant that a 2 hour movie would take up about 500MB of hard disk space. At the time I had AT&T DSL so the prospect of downloading a movie was not a realtime process. Typically I would buy or rent the movie the day before I wanted to watch it to let it download overnight.

When HD came available, the video improved to DVD quality which means 720 lines of resolution — not quite double. Some other definitions redefined that to 1080 lines of resolution. This is when you would buy a TV that would be labeled 1080p or 1080i to tell you if the the TV was fast enough to redraw every line everytime it redrew the screen or if it skipped to redraw every other line. Later we would see the refresh rate be advertised. When you watch a movie you are typically seeing 24 frames per second. TV is typically 30 frames per second. When you increase that rate like Peter Jackson did with his Hobbit movies you fall into a hyper real uncanny valley. All this is to say that the studios are throwing more and more data on the screen with every frame and they expect to be able to cash in on these differences. Apple started selling SD and HD versions of movies. For a buck or two difference you could get the HD version. If you are interested in future proofing your collection, it’s worth the difference for any movie that is visually compelling. So you can go cheap on that documentary or if the source was not created with enough resolution like King Kong (1933).

So now Apple is going to be selling 4K versions of movies. They have managed to strong arm the studios except, surprisingly, Disney into not charging more for 4K version (win!). Even better, they are going to automatically upgrade any historical HD purchases to 4K if the version exists (win!). So I don’t have to buy Star Wars again — wait, scratch that. What about Disney? We’ll need to keep an eye on that. So far movies like Wonder Woman have already been advertised as being available in 4K.

Let’s get to the advice part for Apple. I know they are not reading this but what the hay. Having all these versions is way too complicated. When you add in bundles into the mix it get’s really screwed up. Let’s say for example you bought Mission Impossible in SD. Then Apple comes out with an incredibly priced bundle that includes all 5 MI movies in HD. Now you own MI-1 in both SD and HD formats. They have the same cover artwork and hopefully appear next to each other on your list of movies. Embarrassing. Even though both purchase decisions made sense at the time. Apple needs to implement what they have already done on the music side with “complete my album” that allows you to get a discounted price based on the current value of what you already own. So if the bundle for 5 movies is $40 we can say that each movie in the bundle is worth $8 even though you paid $20 back when it was new. So the complete my bundle price should be $32. Even better deal.

Secondly, Apple needs to offer an upgrade price to let me go from SD to HD. For some movies, I would have preferred the HD movie if it were available at the time. Now I’m willing to pay the delta to upgrade to the better video experience.

Thirdly, there needs to be some unification of titles in the store. Currently a movie that I have already bought shows up as something that can be bought again. For example, Thor. I think at some point the move was re-published. The version that I bought is no longer available. This means that I can no longer re-download the movie via iTunes thought it is still available in the TV app and Apple TV. Nicht gut. If IMDB can do it, so can Apple. This will probably mean that they have to go to bat again for the consumer. This gets a bit more complicated when you get to various cuts of a movie. If I buy Lord of the Ring and then the extended version comes out, oops. Back to the incremental pricing idea. How about offering an upgrade price that let’s you upgrade to the Peter Jackson extended cut? And come on, the latest Godzilla movie is in the store twice: dubbed and subtitled. Those should not be two different titles, come on.

Fourthly, there should be a bidding system to let customers price a move. Today when a movie first comes out we see it at the $19.99 level. Over time we see that price float down. Just like I can pre-order a movie, how about letting me pre-order at a specific price? So If I know the movie is going to be $7.99 in December, I will bid for that now. Of course it is in Apple best interest to get me to buy now.

Or buy into a bundle when the third movie is not out yet. Yes, I’m talking about John Wick 3, OK? This is kind of a back door complete-my-bundle option. I’m sure the licensing for that would be near impossible. It’s not like a TV show where there’s a guarantee that the episodes will be made.

For now, I’m looking forward to seeing some 4K content. I’m taking a wait and see approach to Disney. Thanks to Apple for not gouging on the 4K upgrade.

John Wick
John Wick

Life

On the 99¢ rack in iTunes this week we have the March 2017 movie called Life. When I saw the trailers this spring I just knew it would be bad. Rotten Tomatoes™ amazingly gave it a 67% fresh rating. That gave me a little hope that they might be some redeeming quality to this Alien rip off. When I saw it in the rental bargain bin, I decided to give it a try. Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds lead a cast of 6 astronauts on board the International Space Station. The plot revolves around the first return sample from the surface of Mars. With a little bit of gloucose and a jolt of electricity, they wake the facehugger up. They then name it Calvin. Calvin then spends the rest of the movie killing off the cast, I mean crew.

The director, Daniel Espinosa, had worked with Reynolds before on Safe House. I have not see that one nor Child 44. This film seems like quite a departure from those films. It suffers from the Hollywood tripe of having things go terribly wrong on the space station right from the beginning of the film that have nothing to do with the alien. Despite this and the laws of physics, the crew manages to catch the returning capsule and bring the sample on board. Somehow in the melee, the only antenna pointing at earth is broken. Apparently no one thinks to fire up the short wave or even check a radio in one of the lifeboats. After moving past that necessary plot device, we have a pivot moment in the story where a character breaks quarantine. One of the crew has self identified as the quarantine officer. That is her only job apparently. Spoiler alert — she fails.

There are a couple interesting ideas in the movie. One of the astronauts played by Ariyon Bakare is a paraplegic biologist. We are introduced to this fact with a causal reference to his atrophied legs. In the weightlessness of space, his lack of leg function should be less of a handicap. The story still has him performing physical therapy presumably for the circulation. Another interesting thing happens when one of the crew has a coolant leak inside her EVA suit and ends up drowning. Yeah. That’s pretty horrifying. It’s like this whole suffocation thing is just not scary enough — let’s fill the helmet with fluid to really mess with her.

The xenomorph moves and behaves like a squid. Early on we see the creature able to change its shape with hair-thin tendrils. We learn that every cell in its body is both muscle and brain. But once it gets to the size of a 2 kilo octopus it looses that ability and generalized design. We are supposed to believe that this create destroyed Mars and survived millenia as a single cell but we get no hint at its reproductive life cycle. We see it consume a rat entirely but when it comes to eating Ryan Reynolds, it seems to settle of his intestines before seeking other prey. If it’s motivation is food then it should stop and consume all that is consumable before seeking out new prey.

So in summary this is a pretty bad film. The trailers give away what little plot there is. We get some time with each character before they are killed trying to make you connect with them. If you find this movie for less than a buck, enjoy.

King Arthur

My understanding of King Arthur lore comes from watching Excalibur on cable in the 80’s, First Knight on video in the 90’s, and reading Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. No, I haven’t seen Disney’s canonic work. When I saw the trailer for this new movie I could not get a feel for what kind of movie it would be. When I saw the director was Guy Ritchie, my interest waned even further. I still have not forgiven him for what he’s done to Sherlock Holmes. But when Warner Brothers sends you free tickets, it’s probably worth standing in line for an hour.

The movie starts with Eric Bana as Uther Pendragon. The story telling and filming style were fast-paced and really never let you catch up until the second act. Only then do we go back through flashbacks and explain what happened in the first act. By the third act we are caught up and complete our hero’s sword’s origin story.

The movie features a very diverse, mostly male cast including Tom Wu and Djimon Hounsou. Mostly it’s a who’s who of English cinema, so of course Jude Law is there. Like all Guy Ritchie movies we need our hero’s genesis to include instruction from an kung fu master. The visuals are impressive starting with the massive Oliphaunt in the first act. I kept looking for Legolas. The color palette of the movie was much darker that I would have liked. At one point our hero is fighting rats and bats but it was hard to see them like someone used an Instagram vignette filter on the whole movie. The movie was not all dark and dingy. There are some interesting aerial shots of Londinium and some gorgeous location shots in Wales and Scotland. None of that look did not match the clean look of their advertising posters. Based on those posters I was more expecting a Kenneth Branagh movie penned by Shakespeare.

Here are a few similar movie posters. I could have included Elizabeth I and I’m sure there are more.

I kept waiting for Merlin to appear. He’s in the credits and the characters talk about him, but I never saw him. I was expecting that “the mage” character that stays with us would reveal herself to be Merlin in disguise. Astrid Bergès-Frisbey is actually credited as Guinevere which really diverts from the little legend that I know. Even then we did not see much spark of romance between her and future husband.

Based on the advertising I would have skipped this film. I’m glad I got to see it. I’m not the target audience. I have yet to stay awake through all 99 hours of Lord of the Rings films. I would recommend it to anyone who likes dungeons, dragons, swordplay and large fighting armies. I may catch it again on Netflix as it may improve on a second watching.

The Great Wall

Sometime last fall I saw the first trailer for a new movie from Legendary and Universal Studios coming out called “The Great Wall”. The premise was simple: the Chinese build the Great Wall to defend against some kind of attacking Kaijū (怪獣) attacking from the north. What we know from history is wrong and has been kept secret all these years. Somehow Matt Damon is there. I’m interested. I love it when story tellers mix history with fantastical and plausible explanations. That’s Hollywood plausible, mind you.This is the same studio pair that is bringing us Godzilla, Kong, and Pacific Rim. I was imagining they could mix this into a prequel to one of those universes. But then the trailer tipped its hand and showed the monster. I was not a single strange beast, but a horde of swarming creatures. My interest waned.
Despite that lukewarm anticipation I went to go see it having done no additional research no read any reviews. What I got was a beautiful view of northwestern China with a good story and good characters. Matt Damon’s character makes some references to events in Europe so we know we are in the end of the 11th century. With him is a Spaniard played by Pedro Pascal. Both are seeking mysterious black powder. The two are captured. Instead of being killed, they agree to save the princess — I mean general — and defeat the monsters.

The fight of the monsters is inventive. It’s a mix of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Attack on Titan”. Language plays a big part of the story. The main female lead speaks English while all the other characters speak Chinese. When our two westerners find out that their English is understood, they switch to Spanish for a private conversation. At other times we see the subtitles do not match the translation given to our characters. They also play with 11th century cultural differences when it comes to bathing.

As I mentioned, the main monster is not a single beast but a swarm of beasts. The creature design was interesting with a large beak and the eyes moved to their shoulders. Shooting one in the eye is fatal so it’s a good thing that our hero has the skills of Robin Hood with a bow. The exponential growth of the swarm was a problem for me. When I saw Max Brooks with writing credit it reaffirmed my revulsion to the “World War Z” style swarming behavior. Even though the CGI was done better than the zombies in 2013, it still created an impossible situation that required a single miraculous solution. And then the movie ended. This is something that Max Brooks does well in his stories to give us a mash-up of things we have seen before in a different way.

I would have liked to see more interpersonal story with the characters. They teased a back story of adventures of our heroes. There’s another scene reminiscent of “The Last Emperor” that made fun of the dynastic leader. The sound track is by Ramin Djawadi who also did “Pacific Rim” score. Here he’s replaces the guitar with drums and a choir of vocals to make a really good soundtrack.

The movie does feature beautiful desert and mountain scenery shot with 3-D in mind. The wall itself is a character. The soldier character costumes are colorful. You can quickly identify archers and other groups by their uniform colors. The weapons are interesting and they use a style of fighting that you can imagine being developed over hundreds of years of fighting these monsters. I did wonder why in all the years no one thought to attack the monsters in their lair. Maybe that is another story and not really a plot hole.

In the end what you have is a pretty good mash-up of things you have seen before told from what is primarily a Chinese movie with a western protagonist point of view. I expect it to be a flop at the box office. Our huge IMAX theater was packed with just a dozen people. Good thing they had reserved seating. I saw it in 3-D. The movie takes advantage of the 3-D to give you a sense of place at all times. I give the movie credit for its visuals, story and pacing. They took a risk but I don’t think U.S. audiences will respond. If you are a fan of Kaiju films (or swarming fast zombies), check it out in 3-D. Otherwise, look for it on Netflix.

Dawn of Justice

Having just returned form seeing the new movie “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice“, I’m trying to gather my thoughts. I think it’s safe to say that the movie is good but a little boring. Ben Afflect’s Dark Night is probably the high point of the movie. We’ve see his genesis story before. It has been updated. Now his parents die in 1981 after a Patrick Stewart movie, Excalibur. We are treated to a couple of flashbacks that don’t otherwise add to his story anything that we have not seen before. There is a shot of what is apparently a Robin suit so there is more history in this character that we do not get to see. There is also a scene that seems very out of place that may end up being an omen of future stories. Jeremy Irons plays a believable but many too young Alfred.

Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, and Laurence Fishburne reprise their roles from the Man of Steel. This new movie starts at the climax of that movie giving you a street level view of those events. Once you get all of those characters on the screen along with the lifeless Michael Shannon and Kevin Costner, things are starting to get a bit crowded. We do see Superman go really dark at at least one point of the story. Holly Hunter plays the role of a senator who actually seems to be doing the right thing. Contrast this with Iron Man’s use of the late Gary Shandling as Senator Stern.

Dark is a good way to describe much of the movie. The tone is dark. Most of the action takes place at night unlike the previous movie. The cinematography is also dark and 3-D did not help. Skip the 3-D. In addition to being dark the movie is tedious. It has an story to tell, it spends nearly two hours of the movie before the two heroes finally face off. A more typical story telling would have them face off twice with the first time early in the movie.

When Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman shows up on the screen she’s not given much to say. Hopefully she’ll do better in her own movie next year. We are teased with a picture of her from 1918. We are also teased with the Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. Hopefully Aquaman doesn’t suck.

Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is introduced like a sequel to the Social Network but quickly turns to menace. His motivations are unclear for much of the movie so you just have to go with the explanation that he’s the bad guy. I would like to have seen more. For example, Doomsday. Why? Even if Lex’s motivations are unclear what is good is how he manipulates both our heroes to go toe to toe. Fortunately for both of them, the ladies are there to set them straight. I expect we will see more of Lex.

This movie suffers to a lesser extent from the “titan vs titan” problem from the previous movie. If you have a character who can survive a direct missile impact, why are you punching him?

In summary you have a long, dense movie that plods along, hits all the requisite beats. It takes the character that we met in the first film and sets you up for a scheduled of at least four more films in this universe. I grew up with the TV Superman and Batman. I’ve seen all their movies that have come out since 1966. This film is certainly better from a character point of view than half of those films. I only wish there had been a bit more levity and joy on the 151 minute run time so that by the end I didn’t feel like I was walking out of a lecture. If you are a fan of the genre then its worth seeing because they were faithful to the characters. I’m sure there is lots of detail that I missed that will be revealed when I watch it again on iTunes. Fortunately for me someone pulled the fire alarm causing the movie to be delayed so the theater comp’d us all with tickets to come back. As a free movie it was really good.

Mad Max: Fury Road

It’s been over a week since I went to see Mad Mad: Fury Road. The movie has stayed with me all week. The movie is a visual masterpiece although it is not going to win any awards for its non-existent dialog or plot. There is barely any plot to speak of. The whole movie is basically one long chase. I’d be surprised if Tom Hardy had a dozen lines of dialog in the whole movie. What you have is a frenetic and artistic spectacle. The cinematography of ever frame shows a complex understanding of color and tone. We are returning to a world that has had three movies already but this movie makes it feel new and ready for another three movies.

This is Charlize Theron’s movie. She stars as the one-armed Imperator Furiosa who just wants to go home. She finds out that you can never go home and returns to where we started. Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky bare has any effect on the story but we follow is perspective for most of the movie. Nicholas Hoult also co-stars as Nux who has the biggest story arc and redemption. Nux’s backstory is featured in a comic released this week.

Director George Miller has been working on this movie since 1998. Usually that is a bad sign in Hollywood. Stories on the Internet abound about all the production problems they had. Filming finally took place in South Africa which had the right desert look. The production also relied heavily on practical effects instead of green screens. When I saw the trailers showing the long poles, I thought it looked goofy. By the time you see them in the movie, they are completely believable.

It is not necessary that you have seen the previous three movies. Each of those movies can stand on their own. Max is the only character that passes between them. They are all available on the usually video sources. If you have seen them then there are some Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the move. Actor Hugh Keays-Byrne returns from Mad Max (1979) film but as a different character. Fans will recognize him as Toecutter then and Immortan Joe now.

I saw this movie in 3-D. I later found out that it was a post-process conversion 3-D film. Had I know this going into the movie I might have opted to see in in 2-D, especially after my recent bad Ultron experience. The 3-D in this film is incredible. There were a couple of cheesy obvious 3-D pandering shots but for the most part it was effectively used to immerse you in the experience. This is a movie that should be seen on the big screen, preferably in 3-D.

Mad Max opening scene

Side by Side

I was very slow to move from film photography to digital photography. I wasn’t willing to buy into DSLR photography until I felt the quality caught up. Arguably digital photography still lacks something when compared to film but the cost, immediacy and flexibility made it easy for me to switch and not look back. When it comes to video, I’ve never used a film camera. My first video camera was a Sony Hi-8 camcorder. Later I upgraded to Digi-8 format. For me video was about capturing the action and not the art.

The documentary Side by Side (2012) features Keanu Reeves interviewing Hollywood directors and cinematographers about their transition from film to digital. Some of the interviewed were bemoaning the death of film while others were leading the way to digital. The move to digital is nearly complete. Save for a few anomalous releases like Interstellar, movies are only being distributed in digital formats and being projected digitally.

The movie explores the history of film and digital cinema. It describes the technology of film making. The descriptions of color timing were very interesting. I found it very interesting that the filmmakers who lament the death of film are at odd with the realities of distributing a roll of cellulose to a theater and having it run through a projector several times a day. James Cameron talked about how the reels of Titanic were falling apart from so many showings.

On the digital side you have George Lucas and Robert Rodriguez who have pushed to medium to accomplish things that could never be done on film. Star Wars Episode I was distributed digitally. I remember driving to Plano to see it on the first DLP theater. When Episode II came out it was entirely shot digitally. James Cameron pushed the envelope even further a few years later with Avatar. I found it interesting to know that O Brother Where Art Thou had a digital effect on every frame to give it that aged yellowed look without washing out the blues.

So Hollywood has gone digital. Your local theater now has digital projectors. The projection quality no longer degrades the longer the movie is out. The best part of the digital film experience is the trickle down to the home theater. You can now get 4K systems and there is starting to be content available.

On the down side, archiving digital media is not as easy as it should be. In the history of film there has basically been just one standard. Color and sound were added over time. When it comes to digital there have been 80 formats. Anyone who has tried to open a WordPerfect file or an early digital photo has experienced that frustration. I have hundreds of old home movies that I need to convert to a modern format. Hollywood needs to work on archival for both historical films and modern movies. Perhaps they could work something out with the likes of Netflix and YouTube.

As a documentary I found it very interesting. It is available both on Netflix and Amazon. I recommend it for any lover of cinema.

Side by Side Movie Poster

Rosewater

John Stewart makes his first movie and it’s really good. It’s the true story of a Newsweek journalist that was arrested in Iran after the 2009 election. Stewart takes a very compelling story written by Maziar Bahari after spending over 100 days in solitary confinement and presents it in a beautiful and compelling film. The movie is full of humor and even manages to humanize Bahari’s torturer. Stewart also includes a few jabs at New Jersey because “everybody knows about New Jersey.” The movie stars Mexican actor Gael García Bernal in a very strong performance.

John Stewart seems like an odd choice for this film. Known for his Daily Show, Stewart is respectful of the people, culture, and story and shows that he can make a film worth watching.

I got to see the film at a special advance screening followed by a live telecast of John Stewart and Maziar Bahari being interviewed by Stephen Colbert (not in character). You can tell they are all passionate about the subject. Their wish is that this film might be seen by the right people in Iran and other countries where free speech is forbidden.

I highly recommend this film. I hope it is considered at Oscar time including Stewart for direction.

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John Wick

Keneau Reeves is back with a movie that could be a worthy sequel to The Matrix. It is the perfect antedote to Interstellar. The plot is simple: They kicked his dog, now he must kill them. That’s it. Nothing too deep about it. John (Keneau) walks through the rest of the movie with singular focus. The movie takes this focus and turns it into a continuous string of action sequences as the bad guys come in waves trying to kill John. The movie it’s full of characters that would be at home in a Tarantino film. These characters live by a code and speak in euphemisms that play to the absurdity of the situation. John is able to call for a clean up crew as easily as calling Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction. The movie is predictable with all the usual revenge flick cliches but that does not diminish the experience. There are a lot of subtitles for the Russian. The filmmakers used some creativity in presenting the text on the screen. What sets John apart from his peers in the movie is his perfect aim and impossible reaction time. By the time the other guy has had a chance to take aim John has already taken the head shot. The movie it’s full of cool cars. They are the only ones spared. All modern cars end up being destroyed. It’s a pure action thrill ride. Don’t look for deeper meaning than that.

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Interstellar

The new movie Interstellar starring Matthew McConaughey and directed by Christopher Nolan is destined to become a science fiction classic like 2001 but I don’t think it will be appreciated in our time. At three hours long I think some audiences will have a hard time staying engaged. The cast and story may make it a contender for the Oscars even without commercial success.

The story starts in the near future. The only hope for humanity is to go off into space and look for a new home. The buzz about the movie talked a great deal about how they used the latest quantum science theories in the visuals. I tried to follow what I could. I’m assuming that they got the quantum mechanics right but I think the Newtonian physics and relativity science was flawed. At one point our characters fly to a planet, park in orbit and descend to the surface. Somehow on the descent to the planet time would pass more quickly. What? I guess I need to see it again to understand it. I really wanted to like this movie but the basic physics flaws really ruined it for me. It tries to be as good as Contact but what we get is an art film.

The movie was beautiful. The story and characters were interesting. The music was a bit distracting but in the end will prove as timeless as Holst. Towards the end of the move Nolan was definitely aping Kubrick. The robots in the movie a just weird but they do grow on you a bit. There’s a scene about half way through the movie where we see a robot reconfigure itself so that it can carry a person and move quickly. That was interesting.

I did enjoy seeing this movie in 70mm. As part of the release of this film Nolan gave priority to theaters that agreed to show the movie on film over digital projection. This comes on the same week that Taylor Swift is shunning Spotify so maybe its just retro fashionable like the mix tape from Guardians of the Galaxy.

I recommend this movie for sci-fi fans especially if they are a fan of 2001. If your theater is showing it in IMAX or 70mm then so much the better. For most everyone else, I’m sure there’s some other way you can spend three hours and twenty bucks. I recommend The Right Stuff.

interstellar_poster

Full Metal Groundhog Day

Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt star in a new summer popcorn movie called Edge of Tomorrow which is alike a mashup of Matrix, Groundhog Day, and Starship Troopers and is based on the novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (桜坂 洋) called All You Need is Kill (オール・ユー・ニード・イズ・キル). The movie title is better than the Japanese English but it still reminds me of an episode of Star Trek. The basic premise is that Tom Cruise gets to relive the same day over and over until he gets it right. The alien “Mimics” look like the robots that attack the hovercraft in The Matrix. We don’t know what the aliens want and the characters even say, it doesn’t matter. Tom Cruise delivers a good performance and you can believe that his character is going through a development arc. The rest of the character do not grow but then again they are only passing through a single day. We do get to see different aspects of the J squad. Bill Paxton is believable as a British drill sergeant. Emily Blunt appears as the strong and mysterious Full Metal “B”.

Compared to the novel the screen play is much more compact. The story has been moved to London. The threat is the same but the ending is different. We get the same reluctant soldier who must rise to have a good day. I wanted to see more of the battle axe. There are many cringeworthy moments in the film similar to Bill Murray’s resets. Visually the power suits that are featured for much of the film somehow look clumsy. They looked really awkward in the Normandy invasion scene. Otherwise that beach scene was very powerful and reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan.

This film has been released in most countries on May 29-30 and is scheduled to come out in the US on June 6th. The studio must have decided not to go up directly against X-Men, Maleficent, and A Million Ways to Die in the West. I expect it to do well as it delivers on its promise of action.

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Godzilla 2014

I went to see the new American ゴジラ film with some trepidation. This is a character that I have watched all my life on the little and big screen. It reminded me of going to the theater in 1985 when I dragged my cousin Paul to see the Ramond Burr cut of Return of Godzilla. I’ve seen other Godzilla films on the big screen at various film festivals. In those cases I’d seen the movie on TV several times already. I grew up watching Dr. Paul Bearer introduce a weekly Saturday double feature. Every Sunday I would raid the paper for the next Saturday’s channel 44 TV listings to see what movie was going to be on. Sometimes it was just another vampire or werewolf move. But sometimes it would be good.

I don’t count the Mathew Broderick film as Godzilla canon. There’s a line in the Godzilla 2000 movie where the actors in an obvious reference to the TriStar film say that the Americans thought they had seen Godzilla in New York but they were mistaken. I like that film but it’s no Godzilla film. It’s in the same category as other kaiju films like Cloverfield, Pacific Rim, Jurassic Park, and Gamera.

So going into this film I just had to be better than the 1998 film. Better in this case means that it would be truer to the 60-year-old character. There have been 30-some films and countless TV appearances by Godzilla over the years. The movies have followed short stints of continuity. They have often rebooted the series dismissing all the movies except for the original. This new movie follows that pattern. The 1954 movie could be considered one telling of the same events at the beginning of this new film.

Right off the bat you are treated to a glimpse of the big guy. We don’t get a good look until much later in the film. I think the filmmaker wanted to reassure the audience that this would be recognizable monster. Unlike last year’s Pacific Rim, this kaiju is not afraid to come out in the sunlight and be seen. The special effects artist must have been proud of their creations and did not hide them in the rain. Gareth Edwards got the look of Godzilla and the whole movie right. I saw it in IMAX 3-D. There was good sense of depth. At a couple of points I actually thought there was debris floating around inside the theater. The sound was good throughout the film. There were several points in the movie where you were about to see something and then a door closed and blocked your view. Edwards used the same trick in his movie Monsters to hide is small budget. Here it is intended to build the suspense. It left me wanting to see more. I wanted to see Godzilla and his foes duke it out on screen. If I were to actually count up all the screen time that the kaiju have and compare it to the Japanese predecessors, I would expect that those films easily feature double the kaiju screen time.

The story was mostly good. They told a multigenerational story. I was surprised how easily Edwards dispensed with major characters. Ultimate that decision steered the story and showed that this is a disaster movie in the Hollywood sense just as much as a kaiju genre film. I felt that the main character’s story arch was a little contrived to put him in the right place in the end.

The movie score is mostly forgettable. I was expecting at least hear the recurring melody of Akira Ifukube’s theme. I did not find anything redeemable in Alexandre Desplat’s score.

I was disappointed that Akira Takarada’s small scene was cut. This would have be an nice nod to the actor who co-starred in the 1954 film. Takarada was one of Toho’s new faces actors and has had cameos in several films since.

Akira Takarada

There are nods in this film to other genre films. Watch for references to Aliens and King Kong (1933). In classic kaiju film style we get to see other monsters. There are two others on the screen to fight with our green guy. Godzilla is neither a good guy or a bad guy. He is a force of nature. This movie does a good job of portraying that. We even get to see Ken Watanabe come right out and say it at one point.

If you have any inner 12-year-old left inside you then you will enjoy this film. The big screen does do it justice. And the 3-D is does sufficiently well to even recommend the up-sell.

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