TV Reviews: Black Mirror – San Junipero

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I had heard about Black Mirror, a show that is part twilight zone and part technological cautionary tale, from a couple friends who recommended some episodes for me to watch now that I’ve binged Stranger Things. It’s streaming on Netflix, so I figured there was nothing for me to lose.

I watched the first episode, and to be honest, I was a little turned off by the show. It felt more like satire with little technological caution, outside of the power of viral social media. Much of it could have been summarized in a 5 minute spoof with the same impact I think. What I did observe was the production quality of the show was actually surprisingly good.

So I gave it a chance.

I watched the next episode and it was a little bit technological, but more of a social satire to me. It was darker than the first episode in a couple ways, but overall, I was beginning to dig the “final reveal” groove that gave the show a comparison to the twilight zone.

I made up some nachos and pressed play on one of the episodes recommended to me, San Junipero. I was bored at first, then intrigued. Then all of a sudden, I was like holy damn shit did they really just do that? Not to spoil a damn thing here, but it was one of the most sci-fi stories told in the most un-sci-fi way. The acting was superb. The story was deep and had me thinking long afterward about the mind, body, and soul. Going in spoiler free was part of it, so I’ll leave you one of my rare spoiler free reviews.

Unlike many trash movies, this TV shows deserves to be watched spoiler free.

Movie Reviews: A Bigger Splash

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As many who know me can attest, I am a fan of foreign films. Usually, I would even admit that English films that take place in Europe usually get a pass from me for effort. In some regards, it is even more relatable to watch the cultural fish out of water story than something more authentic and locally made. You can read my review of Lost in Translation as an example of this. It had an impact on me that a Japanese made film with Japanese actors could not.

To a certain degree, most Science Fiction works this way. We want to see humanoids battle space dictators and enter light speed. Seldom are the protagonists in film a six foot one-eyed blob called Qloip.

Simply, we want to relate.

A Bigger Splash basically throws those principals out the window. Most of the characters are so unlikeable  an uninteresting that they might as well be Qloip. I was incredibly bored most of the movie, despite the effort Ralph Fiennes put in to try to make it entertaining. There is a limit an eccentric character can save a film if it isn’t a comedy.

Then, there were the flashbacks as if it would reveal some secrets that audience couldn’t infer from the acting and dialogue.

Tilda Swinton, despite being a decent actor, is pretty unbelievable as a rock star. Matthias Schoenaerts is pretty unforgettable in playing the boytoy boyfriend that represents a physical outlet.  Dakota Johnson is just as convincing as she was in Fifty Shades of Gray.

Ralph Fiennes is decent, and maybe it would have been a better story if it just followed him  in his POV the entire time, even to the splashy ending.

This movie simply will be flushed from my mind, which is a rather difficult feat with an interesting environment.

Movie Rating: 2/10 splashes

Movie Reviews: Star Trek Beyond

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Star Trek Beyond directed by Justin Lin

I’m going to warn you here, this is a spoilerific rant of Star Trek Beyond. If you have not seen it after 7 weeks in the theater, well … it is your fault for reading this.

What would you get if you crossed Guardians of the Galaxy with Galaxy Quest? I argue that it churns out about 75% of what this film is. It is a gargantuan attempt at attempting to ratchet up the drama a little bit more all while missing the essence of Star Trek. Much like how Star Trek Into Darkness looks silly for the third act of Wrath of Khan switcheroo with Kirk going in the engine room instead of Spock (but leaving people in suspense for 3 seconds by bringing Kirk back immediately unlike the original cliffhanger), Star Trek Beyond takes this up a notch by copying Star Trek III’s pinnacle moment of blowing up and crashing the Enterprise, except, yes, they have to resurrect it at the very end.

So VFC.

Very.

Fucking.

Convient.

You know, don’t worry about this version of Star Trek. If someone dies, they will be brought back immediately. If the ship blows up, a new one will be built in the same movie. The original series is classic, especially II-IV because of the three movie story arc. Kirk commanded a damn bird of prey in Star Trek IV. There was no marketing department saying it would be better to land the Enterprise in San Francisco so lets give Kirk a new ship at the beginning.

Then, I don’t know about you, but in all my science fiction readings, never have I read some prophecy that the Beastie Boys would be the ones to save the galaxy. Are you kidding me? Did they really pull the plot of Ghostbusters 2 out of their ass?

Talk about batshit unbelievable, and not in a good way.

This is not the direction I thought the franchise would go after a successful reboot of the series that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was fresh and new despite being a bit tropey. We all figured a reboot using space time would work because that meant there would be a  real sense of danger since the future would be unknown.

Instead, the franchise is trying to compete with the demographics of Marvel’s audience and foreign box office receipts (and easy dubbing) instead of the traditional fan.

What is the result? Each movie is doing worse in the box office and we all know what happens when returns keep diminishing for a franchise.

Another reboot.

Paramount, if you need a writer, I’m your man.

 

Movie Reviews: Midnight Special

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Midnight Special directed by Jeff Nichols

I wanted to believe.

Don’t be fooled by all the damn 4 star reviews on the movie poster. Let’s be honest, if they intentionally make the fine print of where it came from so small you can’t make out if it is from Richard Roeper or the ice cream truck man, doesn’t it really mean anything?

From the director of Mud and Take Shelter, came Midnight Special. From the images of the trailer and the ominous tone of the score, I had some hopes going in. The cast looked especially good, with Zod Michael Shannon starring, along with Kylo Adam Driver and Sam Shepard.

I spent a few days dwelling on what to write about this movie. It kind of harkened back to cheesy 80s sci-fi flicks in a way, but with serious acting and a darker tone. The movie seemed to have a number of gaps of logic in the intergovernmental cooperation to attempt to hunt down the boy, along with the religious cronies who seemed to fill a plot point, but being incompetent enough to do actual long term damage.

In the end, it felt a little like the end of Cocoon or Close Encounters of the Third Kind or ET the last fifteen minutes. Kind of like my review of Interstellar, I would have preferred the movie start with the last fifteen minutes because only then it gets interesting.

The acting was actually pretty good, which makes me disappointed in the film this could have been with a better story. Looking at Michael Shannon’s filmography, it showed he was in 10 films in 2016 showing his is taking the opposite approach to his career that Daniel Day Lewis is which is a shame.

Overall Rating: 5/10 Handcuffs

 

Movie Reviews: 10 Cloverfield Lane


There are a certain number of films that you can only watch once. There Will Be Blood, Crash, The Ring … Ok, yeah, maybe there are a ton of movies that fit this bill. 

Last weekend, I watched 10 Cloverfield Lane which is a movie that was ok in the suspenseful category, but not spectacular enough for a second viewing. 

This was essentially a very low budget film with 3 actors. The only seasoned actor was John Goodman who is tasked to do all the acting. Part of me is unsure if the other two were told to play it dumb, but their acting was nonsensical. To be honest, they reminded me of when Seth Green was locked in a bathroom in Can’t Hardly Wait with the girl. They could be in th apocalypse but they couldn’t care less. To them, what is outside isn’t scary at all … only a creepy John Goodman. 

There are some gimmicks, and some poor special effects in the last act, which make the movie unwatchable on a second viewing. The ending is laughable horrendous and reminded me of some outer limits episode.

See it once.

Don’t see twice.

Movie Rating: 4/10 Bunkers

Movie Reviews: Primer

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Primer directed by Shane Carruth

This is one of the smartest science fiction movies I have ever seen, and it was made for almost nothing. In creative terms, this is  storytelling that relies on the genius of the plot and writing, not the acting or directing. I first saw this movie on the shelf of my local blockbuster video (remember those?). I used to rent movies on a Friday night if I had nothing to do, which was often after a long week.

I rented the movie because of the blurb you see above. Any comparison to Kubrick is some serious balls in my book. For a $3 rental (no wonder why it went out of business) I figured I would gamble and take a flyer on it.

So I watched it and wasn’t really impressed around halfway in. It seemed like a pretty normal time travel plot surrounding two main characters. It could have been a stage play. Many of the scenes were in a garage or storage locker.

Unimpressed, I went to the fridge and grabbed a beer and kept watching. In my head, I thought I knew what was going to happen, but couldn’t be further from the truth. I was tricked when I didn’t expect to be. The last half of the film, Carruth pulls a flash forward and doesn’t explain or narrate how far the story has moved. We were expected to piece it together, and I failed.

The move ended and I was left speechless.

I am a movie buff, and I didn’t understand what the fuck just happened.

So I watched the last 20 minutes over again.

I still didn’t get it.

I watched it again and again, and I think I picked up on the plot points, but then went I finally went to look online at a forum or blog for someone smarter than me to explain it, I was shocked to see that I had not grasped the real story.

So hats off to Shane Carruth. He tricked me. Good on him. Was it better than 2001? Fuck no. Was it the kind of low budget movie I can write and make? Probably, if I could find an actor or two who want to work on a shoe string budget, give me a call.

I rate it 7/10 time machines for the acting/directing and 10/10 time machines for not dumbing down the narrative. It is what has garnered the movie a cult following in the 12 years since release. Could this have been done with a $100M budget? Hell no. Focus groups would have told studio execs to add a funny buddy (perhaps someone young to pull in that demographic) who asks questions all throughout the movie, so that Carruth could explain the plot to each step of the way. Then, they would have added an antagonist (Perhaps someone from TV who wants to jump to film) that we could have seen, who likely would have been competing with them, maybe after stealing the design. Then a woman would have been added for mass appeal with a romantic subplot (she is both smart and hot, but sassy enough to play hard to get 2/3 of the film, when she gets kidnapped). Then, someone would have needed to blow up in the end. Evil characters always blow up or fall from a high place. Maybe the antagonist would have had his time machine sabotaged, and he time travels back to 10,000 BC and gets dropped in the middle of the ocean.

I digress, as usual.

GUEST REVIEWER: MM LEONARD

Hello Matt.
I just remembered I wrote this 30 years ago and boy, you have not seen anything yet. It just gets worse and worse. By the year 2044, all movies must pass a checklist to get greenlit. So don’t complain. There are still pretty good films that come out. Yes, I know, the budget is usually nominal, with budgets either being $200M tentpole films based on a pre-existing franchise as a sequel/prequel/reboot/relaunch/gender-relaunch/racial-relaunch/old-story-modernized/based-on-a-book or $2M movies forced through the indie system. Believe me, you live in the good times. Eventually all movies will be $450 budget blockbusters that are considered “safe.” Just last weekend, I watched Vader vs Alien vs Godzilla vs Wolverine. People were bitching about an Eskimo woman playing Vader, the Alien having a cape and tophat and speaking German, Godzilla being a “baby-Godz” and standing only 10 feet tall (pissing off hardcore fans demanding it to be as tall as a building, but I say whatever), and Wolverine being played by the esteemed Scarlett Johansson (Some say she is getting to the roots of Wolverine, being a really really old character). Yes, I rolled my eyes at the creative liberties they took, but who says Vader can’t be Wolverine’s AND Godzilla’s father?

 

NOW CHECK OUT MY OTHER MOVIE REVIEWS, NOW ALL ON ONE PAGE

 

Book Reviews: Timeline

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Timeline by Michael Crichton

I almost missed graduation. That’s how much immersed I was in the book. My parents were so confused. I had just finished 4 years of college, and all I wanted to do was read a book.It was probably the tenth book by Michael Crichton I’d ever read, and to me, it was his last great novel. I read two more Crichton novels that summer, and nothing could capture the plot, pacing, and character development in Timeline.

The story was simple. A team of researchers travel back in time to the 14th century to rescue a professor. There, all hell breaks lose they find themselves in the middle of a seige between Lord Oliver of Castlegard and Arnaut de Cervole.

The strength of the writing was the research Crichton interwove into the book. Part of me wonders if he read about the success of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and decided put his own Sci-Fi twist on the genre, since romance is central to the story. What I found particularly strong was Crichton’s explanation of how multiverses worked. It set up the rules for what was to come later in the novel.

Less than a year later, I dragged two friends to the movies to see the movie adaptation. It wasn’t quite the same. Maybe it was some rude couple behind us commenting every ten seconds. Maybe it was trying to jam a story that big into a couple hours. All the history was shrunk to a few lines of dialogue.

But it did have Gerard Butler, before he was Leonidas Butler. Marek was the best character in the book and movie, so at least something carried over.

I did make it to graduation with about 15 minutes to spare.

Book Rating: 9/10

A REVIEW OF A DIFFERENT KIND OF TIME TRAVEL BOOK, WHICH I THINK WILL SOON BE CONSIDERED A CLASSIC