Movie Review: WALL•E

The trailers never really grabbed me, so I skipped Cars and Ratatouille. Still haven’t seen them on DVD. This movie, though? This movie had promise.

And boy, did it deliver.

The trailers never really grabbed me, so I skipped Cars and Ratatouille. Still haven’t seen them on DVD. This movie, though? This movie had promise.

And boy, did it deliver. First, it’s visually breathtaking, even more so than Finding Nemo. From the dingy, polluted Earth to the ultra-shiny Axiom full of bright primary colours and neon holograms, with marvelous starscapes in between, those incredible Pixar animators have surpassed themselves yet again. It bears repeating: this movie looks absolutely fracking awesome.

The story leans towards the kids’ end of the spectrum, I found: no bad guys with guns like The Incredibles has, or the nasty predators of Finding Nemo. Just some cute robots (and a couple of humans). There is a plot besides the (so cute) love story between WALL•E and EVE, and it’s an interesting one, but it doesn’t distract from the cuteness. There’s a Big Message, too, just like in other Pixar movies, which goes beyond “We have to take care of our planet.” I like it, and the delivery is a lot more subtle than Finding Nemo‘s borderline-sledgehammer approach.

In short: two thumbs way up. WALL•E has it all: it’s sweet, funny, engaging, exciting, occasionally tear-jerking. I’ve seen it once, I’ll see it again at least a couple more times, and you can bet I’ll buy the DVD so I can watch it over and over.

Giving Thanks For Whistler

Boo on me. Working so hard on my blog & gallery redesign that I totally forgot to write about Thanksgiving. And it was pretty special, since I spent it in Whistler with a few close friends. Just one day (Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon), but it was a hell of a day.

Boo on me. Working so hard on my blog & gallery redesign that I totally forgot to write about Thanksgiving. And it was pretty special, since I spent it in Whistler with a few close friends. Just one day (Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon), but it was a hell of a day.

Rainbow over Highway 99

The good omens started on the drive up. It had been raining for a few days, but the weather was just then clearing up. Which meant dozens of gorgeous rainbows lining Highway 99. The first almost took my breath away, and it took all my concentration to keep my eyes on the road. Over the next couple of hours, I did get a little more used to them—and the gorgeous scenery I hadn’t seen in a while.

Then dinner, walking around a bit, and hanging out, then off to bed.

Dawn over Blackcomb Mountain

Monday promised to be clear, so I set my alarm for 6:00 to get some sunrise pics… forgetting the crucial detail that Whistler is surrounded by mountains. At 6AM it was still mostly dark, nowhere near actual sunrise. Oh well. So I wandered around, took some nice photos of Whistler in the early morning fog, went back to my room, tried to get back to sleep, couldn’t, went out again and finally saw a good sunrise over Blackcomb Mountain around 9AM. Then a few minutes later the fog came back in and hid it. Boo.

Breakfast

We had breakfast, walked around Whistler for a bit, then spontaneously decided to go up Whistler Mountain. What a difference 2 months makes! The last (and first) time I was there in 2003, it was August. Now snow covered the whole mountain (enough for at least one small avalanche), the hiking trails were closed, and I was kind of freezing. Sure, I was dressed warm, but obviously not enough for the mountain. Still: we kept moving, admired the scenery—and it was breathtakingly gorgeous with the fog-slash-clouds playing around the many mountains whose names I never bother to learn. Oh, and on the way down, we caught a glimpse of a mother bear out with two cubs.

Mountains

We had an early turkey dinner, because most of us had to go back to Vancouver. That evening I went to see Between Heaven and Earth, part of the VIFF lineup. Excellent movie, much better than what I expected. I thought it would be about the trials and tribulations of two families of wandering circus folks in Uzbekistan. And it is about their trials, but so much more than that. The circus people are not passive recipients, they’re involved in their community, and even in national politics. There’s issues of tradition vs. modernity, faith and religion, and the greater social/economic picture of Uzbekistan. Great stuff, stark and troubling at times, but not sensationalistic.

The Star Wars Holiday Special

I’d only heard about it, in hushed and disbelieving whispers over the Net. I knew it had aired exactly once around Thanksgiving of 1978 and was apparently made with minimal input from George Lucas—who some say hated it so much he tried to destroy every existing copy, although that seems to be an urban legend. It sounded so horrifyingly bad that I figured I was safer not looking for it.

I’d only heard about it, in hushed and disbelieving whispers over the Net. I knew it had aired exactly once around Thanksgiving of 1978 and was apparently made with minimal input from George Lucas—who some say hated it so much he tried to destroy every existing copy, although that seems to be an urban legend. It sounded so horrifyingly bad that I figured I was safer not looking for it. But then, I discovered it was immortalized on YouTube and my curiosity finally got the better of me. Here it is, split in ten parts of about 10 minutes each:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

My mind is still blown. I think the question to ask here is, “What the fuck?” No, seriously. What the fucking fuck? Why am I watching a dumbass variety show? Why are the Star Wars characters reduced to cameos in their own universe? Did the producers not get what Star Wars was all about, or did they just not care? (I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the people involved really didn’t know what to do with the genre. Legends of the Superheroes—also done in the late 70’s, maybe coincidentally—is another fine example of a geeky concept fucked up all to hell.) We’re stuck with is this cheesy “Life Day” story where the Empire is reduced to a lame plot device, stupid and unscary Stormtroopers, Wookiees howling at each other for an entire scene that went on forever, nauseating schmaltz, and Princess Leia singing. Bleagh.

So, okay, it fails as a Star Wars adventure. What about as a variety show? Well, the extent of my experience in that area is from watching The Muppet Show, so maybe I’m not the best person to judge. But it seems to me the acts should be… oh, what’s the word?… entertaining. Those little holographic acrobats? Meh. Harvey Korman as a 4-armed TV cook, then as a robot who keeps powering down? Not even funny for a second. Diahann Carroll in a virtual reality softcore porno? Well, she’s pretty and all, and a good singer, but the song was kind of boring and the whole scene was frankly creepy as hell. Nobody needs to see Chewie’s father Itchy getting off to Carroll being all sexy and seductive before she starts singing. Jefferson Starship in another holographic show? An unexceptional song with silly special effects. Pass. Bea Arthur? Actually, her bit was the best. She’s got a nice voice; the song was quiet and low-key, with no distracting special effects, horny Wookiees or attempts at cheap laughs.

The most horrifying moment came near the end when Chewie was reunited with his family, and he and his wife… almost kissed. I froze like a deer in headlights, only one thought screaming through my brain: EW EW EW EW WOOKIEE SEX EW! But then they just hugged. Thank God.

In conclusion: Wow, this was really very bad. And not even entertainingly bad (like, e.g., those old Gerry Anderson marionation shows, the Super-Friends, or all the movies on MST3K), but just confusingly, irritatingly, boringly bad. I can’t even laugh at it; part of me thinks I should, but I’m enough of a geek to be offended at the watering down of a sci-fi epic by people who just used the sci-fi elements (alien names, guys in funny rubber masks, advanced tech) as props for dumb jokes. Still, I don’t regret watching it, even if it’s just to understand what all the hype was about, and to appreciate just how wrong things can go. I could say that this abysmal TV special should never have seen the light of day, but then my life (and that of many Star Wars fans) would have been much poorer as a result.

Happy Life Day, everyone!

Juggernaut is not a mutant!

Now that I’ve got that off my chest… Spoiler warning.

I finally went to see X-Men: The Last Stand last weekend. It was pretty good as an action flick, and a standalone X-Men movie. But as a sequel? Ehhh.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest… Spoiler warning.

I finally went to see X-Men: The Last Stand last weekend. It was pretty good as an action flick, and a standalone X-Men movie. But as a sequel? Ehhh. The biggest disappointment was Evil Jean. Sorry, I mean “Phoenix.” Wait, I totally don’t, because this was not Phoenix. The closing scenes in X2 suggested a beautiful creature of light and fire, still in touch with her humanity, her love for Cyclops and her duty to the X-Men. What we got instead was a moderately scary Jean who boffed Wolverine, disintegrated people on a whim, and turned grey and veiny whenever her evil personality surfaced. What is this, season 6 Buffy? Sheesh.

Storm had a much bigger role, which I’m kind of ambivalent about. On the one hand, she kicked a lot of ass, and Halle Berry didn’t suck as much as the previous movies (but really, nothing could top the “Do you know what happens to a Toad that get struck by lightning?” line). On the other, she still can’t deliver the grandeur and majesty I’ve come to associate with Storm, thanks to the 90’s animated series. And apparently Berry herself pushed for a bigger role. Girl, Storm is all kinds of awesome but you’re not that good, so please get over yourself.

Oh, speaking of bigger roles, what was up with Cyclops? All he did was act like the world’s biggest whining pussy, blast Alkali Lake with his eyebeams, then get horribly killed by Jean. Yeah, I know, James Marsden was filming Superman Returns at the same time, but did he have to be killed like that? And then forgotten for the rest of the movie? Granted I was never a fan of his, but this was completely disrespectful.

Story-wise, I think they tried to cram too much into this movie. A mutant cure, Dark Phoenix, the Sentinels (not really, but almost), yet more mutants and supporting characters—Beast, who was terrific; Kitty Pryde, who kicked a surprising amount of ass; Angel, who… had no plot; and Moira McTaggert—as well as a lot of random info about the X-universe, like that business of levels of mutant powers, and listing the given names (or should I say “slave names?”) of as many mutants as they could. Seems kind of pointlessly nerdy.

Some random thoughts:

  • Squee! Sentinels! Yeah, it was just the Danger Room, but my inner geek was bouncing.
  • How thoughtful of Jean to leave Wolverine’s pants on in that last scene where she was telekinetically flaying him alive. Oh, wait, I mean, bad! BOO FOR PANTS ON HUGH JACKMAN! While I’m at it, boo for non-shirtless Colossus! But yay for pretty shirtless Angel!
  • Magneto, enough with the hand gestures when you use your powers! God, was I the only one who found it incredibly annoying? He was never that bad in the first two movies, was he?
  • So, this cure serum is only partial or temporary. If there is a fourth movie, I really hope Magneto and Mystique aren’t in it. Don’t get me wrong, those two are made of pure distilled awesomeness and could conquer the world in a weekend if they put their minds to it, but three movies is enough.

Movie Review: Mission: Impossible III

Say, that wasn’t bad. Lots of action, chase scenes and things getting blowed up real good, which was pretty much what I signed up for. Pity about the plot, though: it felt hugely derivative, patched together from half a dozen other movies.

Say, that wasn’t bad. Lots of action, chase scenes and things getting blowed up real good, which was pretty much what I signed up for. Pity about the plot, though: it felt hugely derivative, patched together from half a dozen other movies (the bit with the wife getting caught up in her husband’s spy world, for example, could have come from True Lies; Ethan’s guilty flashbacks about Lindsey’s death and his eventual redemption as a teacher when his wife kicks ass; Musgrave’s ultimate plan of American domination; the mysterious “Rabbit’s Foot” as doomsday biological weapon; other plot points that just feel so damn familiar). I’m not sure I buy the reveal that Musgrave and not Brassel is the bad guy, but maybe the clues did add up so I’ll suspend judgment for now. And I did appreciate that, unlike the previous movies, the IMF field team worked as a team, instead of being All Tom Cruise, All The Time. Other good points? A surprising amount of eye candy for all preferences. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is very pretty, and looked good with his shirt off. Maggie Q is very pretty and looked good in that slinky red dress.

Cruise, sad to say, was not eye candy. Oh, he doesn’t look bad, and he’s toned up some since that shirtless scene in Minority Report, but… he’s just not as young as he used to be. (Which is not a bad thing in itself; Scott Bakula and Richard Dean Anderson, to name just two, are both over fifty and still scorching.) I used to think Cruise was hot, back in his Top Gun days, but that ship has sailed, baby. The funny thing is that I’m guessing Cruise knows this but, instead of aging gracefully, he overcompensates with the manly motorcycle and leather jacket. And the endless running scenes. And the four or five separate shirtless scenes. And the girls at his party swooning over him. All to show through Ethan Hunt that Tom Cruise has Still Got It. Or am I reading too much into this? Should I not be creeped out that his movie fiancée looks so much like his real-life beard womb-for-hire fiancée, that they (the movie characters) have this perfect storybook romance, and that his (fictional) in-law family totally adores him?

Okay, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this is just part of the derivative plot and not Cruise acting out the life he wishes he had (or wishes people believed he had). The fact remains that Tom Cruise, himself, is creepy and scary as hell. Maybe I’m more aware of it since he started behaving like the insane little cultist freak he is, but Cruise was always… on. No matter what his lines were, no matter what emotion he was supposed to convey, he always had that feral glint in his eye, that intensity, that frozen grin, indicating (1) this was Tom Cruise acting, and (2) he was just a heartbeat away from going for your jugular or ranting off about Scientology.

But let’s end on a positive note: do you know what the Shanghai scenes reminded me of? The Hong Kong scenes in Deus Ex, with the homey little apartment set against the brightly lit, ultramodern skyscrapers, Hunt following obscure clues just like you would in an RPG computer game. Didn’t see that one coming, but it made me smile. I half-expected Hunt to wear shades at night and look for Tracer Tong or the Dragon’s Tooth instead of the Rabbit’s Foot (which I thought sorta looked like a nanotech augmentation canister. Or maybe an Ambrosia container). And when he called the techie guy for help, wasn’t that kind of like the scene where Alex Jacobson gives JC Denton pass keys and other vital info so he can escape and destroy UNATCO’s evil bosses? Man, what a great game. Style for days, and more plot in each level than M:I:III has in its entire production. And I know this is a horribly cheap shot, but JC Denton could kick Ethan Hunt’s ass any day of the week.

Some thoughts on a couple of movies I haven’t seen

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Haven’t seen it. Not planning to, either, at least not until I can rent it on DVD. The reviews I’ve read are mixed: some have completely blasted it, some admitted that, though different from the original material, it’s pretty good. The thing is, though, I’m too much of a purist. I’m afraid to go see this movie and find out they’ve hacked it all to pieces, at which point I’d have to go on a murderous rampage to avenge Douglas Adams’ honour.

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Haven’t seen it. Not planning to, either, at least not until I can rent it on DVD. The reviews I’ve read are mixed: some have completely blasted it, some admitted that, though different from the original material, it’s pretty good. The thing is, though, I’m too much of a purist. I’m afraid to go see this movie and find out they’ve hacked it all to pieces, at which point I’d have to go on a murderous rampage to avenge Douglas Adams’ honour. No, I think I’ll stick with the books. All the books, that is.

Revenge Of The Sith. Now that one, I’m planning to see. Not on opening night, though. You may be thinking, why? If I’ll pass on HHGTTG, why would I spend my precious time and money on a franchise that’s been less than stellar lately? Well, that’s the point: I’ve already lost all respect for George Lucas and the Star Wars franchise, so I can just relax and enjoy the special effects and lightsaber fights. Besides—no, I’m not getting my hopes up—I heard it’s actually a lot better than Episodes I and II. Which, really, isn’t that hard to do. But Lucas better come up with something amazing to wash away the bitter taste of the latest trilogy. Let’s tally up his sins, shall we?

  • Jar-Jar. Why? No, seriously. Why? Was it to show off some snazzy CGI? For comic relief? It sure as hell wasn’t to add anything to the story, because Jar-Jar doesn’t do squat. The tiny plot points where he becomes mildly relevant could easily have been rewritten to exclude him—and, except maybe for the last big battle at the end of Phantom Menace, the entire Gungan people. So all Jar-Jar did was join the evil Triumvirate of Most Incredibly Annoying Animated Characters, right up there with Scrappy-Doo and Gleek the space monkey.
  • The continuity porn. Did we really need C-3PO? R2-D2? A backstory for Boba Fett? No, we did not. C-3P0’s appearance was especially unbelievable. First, why the hell would Anakin make a protocol droid? The kid seemed more interested in tinkering and racing than translation and diplomacy. Besides, unless he was doing it on his own time and with his own resources, I bet his owner (whose name escapes me) would rather have a droid that can help around the shop. And I can just about buy that Anakin built 3P0’s body, but what about the mind? Did he program his knowledge and skills himself, or did he buy some off-the-shelf protocol droid AI?
  • Midichlorians. Fuck me blind, why the hell are we getting a pseudo-scientific explanation for the Force? In the first trilogy it all was very mystical and New-Agey, “energy field” this and “trust your feelings” that. Fine. I was perfectly happy with that, why wasn’t Lucas? Why did he have to rip off an actual scientific term in scenes that—again—could have been easily ignored or rewritten?
  • The romance. What the hell? Why would this smart, independent young woman fall for this whiny, self-centered little putz? Sure, he’s cute and all, and he’s got these nifty Jedi powers, but he’s arrogant, reckless, talks back to his teacher, has boneheaded politics, and has nursed the same creepily obsessive infatuation for the last ten years. And he’s a multiple murderer. Why isn’t Padme running far, far away? And why should we the viewers care? What are we supposed to feel about Anakin, aside from a violent urge to reach for the Mace™ or bitchslap the dweeb? Which brings me to…
  • This is Darth Vader? Hell no. Darth Vader was a badass. A controlled, commanding, scary badass who seemed evil to the core but found redemption in the end. This kid is just an ass, not worthy of our respect, and I see nothing of the tragic villain he’s supposed to one day become.

On the bright side, there’s this blog. Hilarious and insightful, and I’m sad to say it gets us inside Darth Vader’s head better than Lucas ever could. It’s almost making me excited about Star Wars and Revenge Of The Sith. Almost.

Movie Review: What The Bleep Do We Know

Tag line: “It’s time to get wise!”

Uh-huh.

I heard about this movie from a friend of mine, who’d seen it, loved it, and urged me to go see it for myself. From the online trailer, and a couple of reviews I’d read, it looked like your typical pretentious yet shallow New Age fluff, and thus a complete waste of my time. Hell, I’d already suffered through half an hour of Waking Life, people! Nobody should have to endure that twice.

Tag line: “It’s time to get wise!”

Uh-huh.

I heard about this movie from a friend of mine, who’d seen it, loved it, and urged me to go see it for myself. From the online trailer, and a couple of reviews I’d read, it looked like your typical pretentious yet shallow New Age fluff, and thus a complete waste of my time. Hell, I’d already suffered through half an hour of Waking Life, people! Nobody should have to endure that twice.

But: This friend is an even bigger skeptic than I am, and every time we saw each other he asked if I’d seen it. When I answered no, he kept insisting I had to see it. Okay, obviously somebody somewhere was missing something, and I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t me. I trusted my friend’s judgement so, even though my expectations weren’t high, I decided I had to go see it for myself. Keep an open mind, right?

My verdict: Bleah. Where do I even start? How about with the lazy, lazy writing? There’s no story here. Most of the movie is taken up by talking heads babbling a lot of platitudes about the wonders and mysteries of Quantum Mechanics and the human mind. Most of what isn’t talking heads is pretty special effects, of atomic nuclei and galaxies and… a sort of wormhole thingy, which maybe was supposed to represent quantum tunneling? I don’t know. Oh, and a shimmering grid occasionally overlaid on the “normal” world, vanishing and reappearing at random, that was supposed to symbolize how illusory the real world is. It looks just like the Enterprise-D’s holodeck grid, except that grid was yellow and this one is blue. A blatant ripoff, in my opinion.

The rest of the movie was taken up by a paper-thin parable, further driving home the messages of the talking heads. The characters are completely two-dimensional, and even that’s probably generous: there’s the Hard-Nosed Skeptic, who eventually starts believing in spite of her better judgement… and for some reason was written as speech-impaired (possibly hearing-impaired as well, though that wasn’t consistently portrayed. More sloppy writing); there’s her roommate (or lover? again, that part wasn’t clear), the Somewhat Ditzy But Nice And Well-Meaning Believer; and you’ve got the Inexplicably Wise Basketball-Playing Kid, who appears out of nowhere to spout yet more wisdom at the Skeptic and coax her “down the rabbit hole.” Viewers may identify with one or more of them to some extent, because they’re so archetypal (to be charitable), but they have no way to really connect with them, or understand what makes them tick. But then, we’re not supposed to connect with these characters. They—along with the talking heads—exist only to serve as mouthpieces for the movie’s Big Message.

And what is that message? The usual New Agey clichés: The denial of objective reality (‘cos we create our own reality, inside our minds and by interacting with the universe, because of quantum); the need for a “new paradigm;” the glorification of mystery over knowledge, and childlike wonder over skepticism; cool-sounding myths that are highly suspect (though not provably false), like the one about Native Caribbean people at first not being able to see Colombus’ ships on the ocean because they’d never seen ships like that before; cool-sounding myths that are provably false, like Transcendental Meditation reducing crime rates. And through it all, very complex topics like QM and cognitive science being either misrepresented or mangled into sweet-tasting sound bites to support these mystical beliefs.

I walked out of the theatre after about 45 minutes; I’d been checking my watch and rolling my eyes for… well, pretty much all of the movie up to that point, really, but the mention of Transcendental Meditation was the last straw.

So what was I supposed to get out of this movie? That the world is a strange and exciting place? Yes, it certainly is. But I already knew that, from reading legitimate science books. That we can be slaves to our own perceptions and assumptions? That it wouldn’t hurt to look at the world with wonder and fresh eyes from time to time? You won’t find me disagreeing. But I believe that movies like What The Bleep Do We Know? are more a distraction than anything else. One may watch it and feel suitably enlightened or at least pleasantly confused, but ultimately the movie offers no genuine substance. Instead it shows some seriously exciting science, hopelessly distorted into a colourful kaleidoscopic jumble that gives lay people only the illusion of understanding. Do you want to see the world and appreciate its beauty? Do you want to change your life, become more than who you are now? Then go out there and do it. You don’t need to waste your time with this vapid mystical fluff. The world is exciting enough without filling your head with other people’s fantasies. As the late, great, Douglas Adams wrote, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”