Aug 13 2010

Inception

Nope, no new book reviews yet! I haven’t found / made much time to read lately so I’m still mired somewhere in the last half (third?) of the same book I was reading in June. I realize that this means there will forever be a missing July 2010 archive on this site (i.e., no posts) and for that I am very, very sorry. I apologize to my all my completist readers. *moment of silence* But August is a new month and as the Summer trips and stumbles into Fall, there are movies to see. Movies are much easier than books. You pay your $20, let the story flow over (and deafen) you for two hours, and you’re done. Most of the movies I’ve seen this Summer have been conveniently forgettable, so I don’t even have to be bothered with thinking about them ten steps outside the cineplex (other than that nagging sound in the background of someone complaining that we just wasted $20 on a movie). This weekend was different however. This weekend we went to see Christopher Nolan’s dream-scape tragic thriller “Inception” (2010). Leonardo diCaprio (I’m still warmed by the thought of Jack Dawson disappearing into the depths of the North Atlantic) stars as Cobb, a veteran dream-runner tasked with planting an idea into the head of Cillian Murphy (the Scarecrow from Batman Begins). Seems pretty straight-forward, right? Well, not so much…

Dream stories always risk being cliché. Blurring the boundaries of reality and dream is one of the oldest tropes: “The Wizard of Oz” (1939),  “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), “Brazil” (1985), “Newhart” (1990), and many antecedents, e.g. “A Christmas Carol” (1843). What sets “Inception” apart from the crowd is that from the outset, it defines the mechanics of dreaming and then goes nuts within the parameters of that sandbox. Not satisfied with the trope of a character that wakes from dreaming uncertain whether he’s still asleep, “Inception” involves dreams within dreams within dreams within dreams (within dreams?).  While this might sound silly (and to a large extent, it is) the rules set forth at the beginning of the movie are followed throughout. Complicating things further, each subsequent layer / depth of dreaming allows for an exponential dilation of the passage of time.  In other words, in the time it takes for a van to fall off a bridge, a dreamer could live a lifetime embedded within a handful of nested dreams. Despite a dizzying amount of action, the events remained internally consistent. Even the soundtrack to the movie (based on “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien“) can be used as a metronome to determine what level of dreaming the action is taking place. Kudos for that! As usual, I got wrapped-up in the story and after a while stopped looking for problems. Which isn’t to say there weren’t problems, just that I didn’t see them (admit to them) until they were pointed out to me… *sigh*

In summary, “Inception” was an enjoyable movie that left me thinking, not about anything particularly deep but about the effort and execution of a well-planned, complex story. I think if other fantasy movie-makers took the effort to plan-out and clean-up their stories from the beginning, we wouldn’t leave theaters disappointed quite so often. A movie worth seeing.

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung

4 out of 5


Jun 7 2010

Splice

This weekend we went to see Vincenzo Natali’s sci-fi horror hybrid, “Splice” (2010).  The movie was produced by Guillermo del Toro and stars Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley as geneticists and Delphine Chanéac as Dren, the monster. The movie is yet another remake of Frankenstein (maybe with a little Left Hand of Darkness thrown in)… and not a very good one at that. There are two scientists instead of one. The scientists use genetics instead of alchemy. The monster is female instead of male. But beneath it all, the story is about researchers who decide to make a human-like hybrid using multiple genomic sequences, the amazing result of their haphazard efforts, and their inability to cope with the resulting sentient creature. As Frankenstein’s monster was rejected by Victor, Dren is treated like an abomination and shielded from the world.

Not everything about the movie sucked. It actually started pretty good. The acting was good (given what they had to work with). The resulting “monster” looked like it had stepped out of the video-game Half-Life or possibly the Skyrealms of Jorune. The animation was good (not fantastic, but good… no real CGI innovations here). Dren’s early reactions were interesting (observing things monocularly always looks odd). It looked like all the elements were there for an enjoyable, if not good movie. Then, things, changed.

Maybe things changed before I realized it. Maybe I “accepted” too many leaps (logic, story, believability) before realizing that the whole story was silly. It could have been the ability to knit together the DNA of several animals into a viable chimera without first amassing a bloody pile of horrific miscarriages… It could have the strange morphological changes (eyes migrated from the side of her head) in Dren as she grew to accommodate the actress that played the final creature… It could have been the anatomical “surprises” evident in Dren (and her slug precursors Fred & Ginger) despite being subject to x-rays, MRIs, &c… There were a number of problems and most were evident DURING the movie… not as “way-homers“. Perhaps my biggest complaint was the ending. How does a movie with a good amount of promise turn into a B horror movie? The movie should have ended with the vat… As the scientists shut the barn door, believing the monster to be vanquished, the camera should have panned down through the murky liquid and found eggs. I know that sounds a little “Species” (1995), but it would have been better than the Bat Boy ending that we got. In summary, the slugs were best part of the movie.

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” – Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

2.5 out of 5


Jan 27 2010

All My Sins Remembered

Whenever I was sick enough to stay home from school, my mom would make me stay in bed all day. I used to take that opportunity to read through a pile of torn-up old 60s era comic books my uncle had left for us. Since that time, sick days (when I haven’t been delirious with fever) have been perfect for reading. Today was no different. After three days of fever, cold sweats, sleeplessness, coughing, sneezing, congestion, and chest aches, I started and finished Joe Haldeman‘s 1977 book “All My Sins Remembered“. This happens to be the second Haldeman book I’ve read within the last year, the first being “The Forever War”. Both books struck the same chord in that having finished them, I had no clear idea how I feel about them. I liked them both, and yet…

“All My Sins Remembered” is about a self-avowed “Anglo-Buddhist” named Otto McGavin who is programmed to be a secret agent and undergoes a lifetime of multiple personality overlays and physical alterations for a secret organization known only as TBII (the initials are never explained). The book covers three of his life’s 35 missions and the terrible things his programming has enabled him to do. We’ve read (or more likely “seen”) plenty of stories about implanted memories and talents: 1969’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (Dick), 1987’s “When Gravity Fails” (Effinger), 1999’s “The Matrix” (Wachowski(s)), etc. All told, this one doesn’t stand out too far from the crowd. The story explores how the main character deals with the suppression of his own personality at the expense of his repeated missions, but you seldom get a sense of the underlying struggle (until the end). This is probably because parts of the book first appeared separately in Sci-Fi magazines in 1971, 1974, and 1977. While the alien worlds, cultures, and antagonists are interesting throughout, I wanted to care more about the main character. Upon finishing, I was left with an interesting story filled with interesting ideas tied together with a good ending and wondering why it wasn’t enough.

“Cold-blooded murderer of children, for hire. Well, maybe he had a good side. Kind to snakes or something.”

3.5 out of 5


Jan 1 2010

Avatar

AvatarWhen I was a kid, my father took us to see a movie called “Star Wars” (1977).  This was before it was renamed “…A New Hope” and re-imagined (Han shot first!) as part of a larger work. I remember being awestruck by the movie’s effects, everything from the light-sabers to the first time the rebel fighters opened their wings. Great movie. Years later, I had a similar experience with “Toy Story” (1995) and was amazed at what could be done with computer animation. Another great movie. Last Saturday, we went to see James Cameron’s new 3D movie “Avatar” (it’s funny how I can’t find time to write this stuff while on vacation). Here again is another benchmark movie. While Avatar does not deliver on the 3D holographic immersion long dreamed-of by movie-goers (it has always been just 10 years away), it is a definite step in the right direction.

Equipped with clunky polarized glasses, the audience is treated to the Roger Dean-esque 3D bioluminescent world of Pandora and its New Age eco-sensitive Blue Man Group aboriginals, the Na’vi. The parallels between the Na’vi and American Indians cannot be a mistake. Here we have a 10-foot extraterrestrial race that embodies everything that modern-day Indians tell us about themselves: one with the land, peaceful co-existence between tribes, etc. None of which is true, but it makes for good storytelling. The movie opens with a human corporation preparing to open Pandora’s Box by mining Na’vi sacred sites for a material dubbed Unobtanium (lame, lame, lame). The stone-age natives know something is up, but don’t realize the full breadth of their troubles until the Na’vi avatar of Sam Worthington (i.e., Jake Sully) shows them the light, wins the heart of Pocahontas (i.e., Neytiri), and leads the rebellion against the evil Earthers (all of which can be gleaned from the trailers). Comparisons of Avatar to “Dances With Wolves” (1990) are not off-the-mark. Despite its damning thematic proximity to the spirit of Kevin Costner, the movie is actually worth seeing (if only for the effects).

“Just relax and let your mind go blank. That shouldn’t be too hard for you.” – Dr. Grace Augustine to Jake Sully

4 out of 5


Sep 19 2009

9

9Spoilers!

As this is the first Lounge Monkey movie review, let’s get this straight from the beginning. There are spoilers. There will always be spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers! If you don’t want to know anything about the movie itself, go to Rotten Tomatoes, look at the Tomatometer and decide whether you want to see the movie based on that. If you’ve already seen the movie and want to talk about its content, read and post here.

Last night we went to the theater and watched an interesting little computer animated movie titled “9“. The movie revolves around a collection of little sack-people as they attempt to carve out a safe haven in an alternative post-apocalyptic world, circa 1939. The creators of 9 did something that I always feel is risky, combining science with magic. Sometimes it works but most of the time, it doesn’t. I enjoyed watching the small army of para-mechanical homunculi running around fighting against the Soulless Monster-Machines of Science. I was willing to believe a scientist could have resorted to the teachings of Paracelsus once science was turned against him! Why not? I liked the contrast with  Frankenstein, who studied alchemy before entering medical school (not the other way around). In fact, I liked most of what I saw, until the end… The end left me feeling a little empty.

Leaving the theater, I thought of numerous ways the creators could have ended it–but I don’t get a say in these things, except for here… *sigh* I also think they should have developed the scientist more… and made each of the homunculi an aspect of his personality rather than just a collection of standard archetypes (e.g., entrenched patriarch, big dumb fighter, crazy clairvoyant guy, girl-power adventuress, rebellious thinker).  A small complaint, but I think it would have added some depth to the film. Do animations need depth? *shrug*

My last point has to do with what comes afterward. At the ending the remaining heroes stand victorious above a desolate world. There is hope! There is promise! But they are sexless (unless they’re hiding some other things inside those zippers)… Ah well. Hope they know how to build more…

“I’m not sure. But this world is ours now. It’s what we make of it.”

3.5 out of 5