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?

 

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Book Reviews: Replay by Ken Grimwood

 

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Replay by Ken Grimwood

If you ask me what the greatest time travel story of all time is I would say Army of Darkness, because in my opinion, that is how you tell a time travel story. But that was a movie. If you ask me the second greatest time travel movie, I would say Groundhog Day.

Boomsticks and Bill Murray aside, if you specifically asked me what the greatest time travel book I’ve ever read is, I would say Replay by Ken Grimwood. The story is about a 43 year old named Jeff Winston who goes back in time 25 years to replay his life over and over. Pretty awesome concept, right? Well, not if you do it over and over and keep watching everything you love and want to disappear. This becomes torture of the Quantum Leap spectrum.

About 90% of the book was a great read. The ending was a bit contrived and ambiguous but how else was he expected to stick the landing? Does he kill them all? Does he let them all live? Or does he do something in middle. What is a writer to do?

My favorite part of the book was the first iteration where  Jeff lets go and has fun in old Las Vegas.  It was almost like answering the big what if of his life. He got answers, but it didn’t fill his soul. This is what I like about the book. It wasn’t a clear answer of the best life is the life you live now. It is as random as life is.

Book rating: 9/10

CHECK OUT WHAT I CONSIDER THE GREATEST GRAPHIC NOVEL OF ALL TIME

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

 

Movie Reviews: Interstellar

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Talk about a great director with a big idea that falls flat, so much so, you kind of want to go back in time to only imagine the movie playing out in your head after getting excited watching the preview. You know the feeling. Everyone does. The preview gets you in the movie with a big tub of popcorn and leaves you confused and in a butter-coma.

The movie breaks Christopher Nolan’s streak of making good movies starting with the letter “I” and to me, I give me him a pass on it for trying something out of this world. The story about a doomed planet and a hero out to save it isn’t exactly new. Practically half of the Sci-Fi written in the last sixty years have some sort of “dying earth” story (I stayed at a Holiday Inn express last night, so my statistics might be slightly off).

The movie starts off as a doomsday story, then it goes all Armageddon via wormhole on us, followed by meeting Matt Damon aka “The Martian” who then goes all crazy on everyone (aka going “Full Lucas” on this blog), then out of nowhere it tries to top the ending of 2001 Space Odyssey by doing some sort of M.Night Shamalamadingdong on us with some paranormal time eighty-fifth dimension on us.  In the end, Matt “Mcconaissance” McConaughey meets his daughter who has aged, who tells him to go see Mrs.Princess Bride on the far off distant planet. To me, I think the movie should have started there after a 10 minute flashback/prologue, then we could have seen how the civilization grew. It was almost like one decent nugget in our minds to imagine as if it was a … preview … oh, I see what happened, Christopher Nolan you sly dog. You just made the greatest and longest preview for $165 million.

Will McConaughey teach the new civilization how to snorkel? Will he hook up with the Princess Bride of new planet? Will there be a failure to launch? Would Woody Harrelson consider joining the cast of a sequel so they can have detective stories on the new planet?

Movie Rating: 6/10 stars

Movie as an over budget Preview Rating: 10/10 stars

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