mellowtigger: (mst3k)
Arrival 2016 movie posterI've mentioned time and again my desire to have a visual language without sequential time. "Arrival" demonstrated this concept beautifully. It's a new favorite movie of mine.

The movie is rated quite well at Rotten Tomatoes (currently at 94%), so hopefully other audiences will appreciate it as much as I did.  And not fall asleep and snore like an old man did in the theater today.

What if learning to communicate with aliens required more than just assembling a new dictionary?  What if it required a whole new way of experiencing yourself?  As I've written in earlier posts, what if some humans don't have a knack for serializing their thoughts, and we've relegated them to the status of mental idiots, but we really need to develop a new form of communication?

This movie briefly offers a glimpse into the possibility that serial-thinking humans could be the underdeveloped minds in galactic society, and aliens would need to offer us metaphorical crutches and remedial lessons in language so we could communicate together efficiently.  When they offer us a "weapon", what are we supposed to think?  Metaphor is a multi-edged wonder.

I like it.  Go see for yourself.
mellowtigger: (break out)
The Sense8 web series is good. It includes some of the better ideas of "The Tomorrow People" (1973/1992), such as the importance that we do not turn away from the pains of life and culture, that we should find the strength to face them. Unfortunately, it also has a feature or two that will detract from its wide acceptance by some audiences. If you want a fast 74-second introduction, just watch the official Sense8 trailer. [some minor spoilers ahead]

Overall, this series is nothing like "X-Men". Instead, it is "More Than Human" (1953) by Theodore Sturgeon. It has a lot going for it. It presents individual people who would each be despised by other people in a different part of Earth and the culture there. It is female-friendly, with strong and intelligent female characters, even within cultures that don't appreciate them fully. It is GLBT-friendly, with both a gay male and a transgender female character who are meaningful and believable. It is religion-friendly, with a Hindu who doesn't back down from her faith while explaining it to doubters. It is poor-friendly, with a resourceful black man who lives in poverty with a mother dying of AIDS. The story briefly touches upon a lot of sociopolitical issues in its first season alone. It properly uses these issues as ways to show us the character of the people we may come to appreciate, without ever nagging us about any such thing as vague as "political correctness".

Sense8 characters season 1Sense8 is primarily (or should be) a social story. Humanity experiences a small evolutionary step in this modern-day story, one where some humans are connected telepathically amongst themselves. No superpowers, just shared experience. The first 3 episodes are quite confusing. It's an artistically-chosen confusion, though. We are to learn eventually about 8 people (the "sensate" / "Sense8"), but we are introduced to their lives in the same way they are introduced to each other... with seemingly random crossovers of experience.

In episodes 1-3, as their collective ability awakens, our scene switches from one person to the next while carrying over an emotion or sound from the earlier person... leaving the second person confused along with the audience. It's worthwhile to stick with the story.

In episode 4, we finally get all of the main characters together for one moment. Their first tentative full-group experience is a happy one. I keep rewatching this video clip because it captures the best that this story/series has to offer. It reminds me of an old adage, "A joy shared is multiplied", which hints at the significance of their telepathic connection that the whole world could envy. This scene leads us with the music "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes. The "perfect music for a lobotomy", as one character later puts it, and it plays while one of their cluster is handcuffed and prepped for unconsented brain surgery to destroy her ability. It's a happy-yet-terrifying moment that well characterizes the entirety of the sensate life lesson. The music shouts at us with the incomprehensibility of life (as they/we have experienced recently), the need for revolution (to confront the injustice that we encounter), and the optimism that we can survive and improve together. What's not to like?

In episodes 4-6, we finally begin to learn the rules of their ability as the sensates bond with each other.
  • The sensate humans experience a change in their brain structure (with accompanying migraines) that lessens the division between their brain hemispheres. This change supposedly leaves them less able to filter out thoughts and stimuli, leaving them more "in tune" with each other and with their natural environment in general.
  • A sensate "cluster" is formed amongst people who were born at the same time, anywhere on the planet. Our story's cluster includes 8 people from USA, England, India, Korea, Kenya, and Mexico.
  • Our story is told in English, but the sense8 understand each other in their native languages.
  • People within the same cluster can share the full breadth of their experience and talents with the other members.
  • People of different clusters can talk telepathically with other sensates, but only if they've looked directly into each other's eyes previously. This line-of-sight contact becomes an important plot point, exploited first by the stranger who is trying to awaken the cluster of our main story... also used later as a warning to avoid eye contact with another who is trying to destroy them.
All of these early episodes include more sex than audiences are accustomed to seeing on television. Episode 1 practically begins with a lesbian sex scene that will leave most audiences surprised (and potentially breathless). Episode 6 seems to make the argument that sex makes the world go 'round. That's okay. I'd much rather have healthy sexuality than unhealthy violence portrayed in entertainment. Except... there's a much larger dose of violence in this first series than I think it needed.

In episodes 7-12, the sensates grow more accustomed to each other (and we to them). Violence here is an unjustified trope, and this series would do well to avoid relying on it so much. Life for anyone is plenty complicated and difficult without it. This series does show us some part of that complication. Most humans, however, die in a world of despair, abuse, confusion, and neglect, not outright murder. Show us that world, and show Homo gestalt helping everyone overcome it. Violence is persistent but should be incidental to the main story.

Sense8 also doesn't shy away from the realities of childbirth. Episode 10 includes a controversial sequence in which each of the sensate's birth is viewed in messy detail. The detractors, I think, are missing some important artistic points:
  • First, Jonas Maliki previously tells the cop about Whispers being powerful and able to remember his own birth. It's a very subtle foreshadowing of this birth sequence, suggesting to us that maybe this cluster is as powerful as the one who hunts them.
  • Second, each of the sensates receives a subtle nod at their birth to a sympathy or challenge that pervades their life.
  • the musician born listening to musicthe cop born in a squad car
    the pharmacist born with Ganesha (approving of science) overlookingthe actor born while the household watches television
    the prisoner born while mother alone in graveyard then tended by strangersthe transgender born while mother cut open in Caesarian
    the thug born under water without a father apparentthe driver born in a wilderness without a father
  • Third, the scene ends when the musician who triggered this all-cluster experience begins to remember herself giving birth to her own child.
Perhaps a fourth point, the long scene is a general reminder that these sensates do not shy away from the realities of life as the rest of humanity is wont to do. How could you turn away if you had 7 other people reminding you with direct sharing of their personal experience? When everything is connected, nothing is separate that can be ignored as someone else's problem.

Sense8 was renewed for a second season. I'm looking forward to it.
mellowtigger: (astronomy)
I liked the movie, in spite of the mixed reviews.

I saw it on opening night and enjoyed it a lot.  On the ride back home from the theater, I listened to National Public Radio where a man and woman were discussing several movies.  The man thoroughly disliked Interstellar and wanted to walk out several times.  He never explained why, exactly, he disliked it so strongly.  And now I can't find that radio clip.  It was Friday, November 7th, soon after 6pm Central, if any readers here know where to find it.

Interstellar is a good story, though.  The film is nice to watch on a big screen, sure, but the visuals are not the point of this movie.  It actually has a story... with characters... and adventure... and it asks us what humanity considers its own purpose to be in this universe.  It doesn't get much farther than pointing out that nature is harsh and our existence here is provisional, but it's still a fun ride.  It dares us to wonder what's "out there" in our future.  As a reflection of the main character himself, the story as a whole makes the point that we perform much better as explorers than caretakers.

I wanted to see it a 2nd time after reading some of the (vague) criticism of the movie, to see if I still actually liked it.  First, I watched "2001: A Space Odyssey" on television, then I walked out the door to the theater to watch "Interstellar" again.  I still liked the movie.  I saw three similarities between the two films.  First, they both use orchestral music to good effect.  Second, they both tried to accurately depict life in space (both zero gravity and the lack of sound in a vacuum).  Third, at the end of each movie, they had to rely on visual metaphor to convey peculiarities of math and physics to a general audience.  On this last point, Interstellar did a far better job than 2001.

So, I recommend the film.  Be warned though that it's 3 hours long.  Don't buy any soft drinks unless you're prepared to miss a few minutes of the story for a restroom break.  A minute or two out of 3 hours, though, isn't much of an omission.
mellowtigger: (artificial intelligence)
Science fiction has a favored Apocalypse/Rapture scenario for humanity, and it's called the Singularity. This term refers to a point in history at which civilization changes so much that its future becomes incomprehensible to those people from its past. I've seen two movies this year that tackle the idea of a singularity caused by artificial intelligences, but they each take it in completely opposite directions.

In many stories, the singularity occurs when an intellect (usually an artificial intelligence) grows so knowledgeable that it learns to manipulate and enhance its own cognitive capacity, providing itself even greater intellectual ability. At that point, change accelerates quickly. The intellect continues learning at a pace that far outstretches humanity's past achievements. The intellect soon gains mastery over fundamental forces of nature. Usually, these stories end badly for the civilization that spawned the new intellect.

This Singularity term was first used by mathematician John von Neumann in "The Computer and the Brain" published posthumously in 1958.  The oldest origin that I know about, though, for a fiction story is "The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect" (started in 1982, finished in 1994, and finally published online in 2002). I like the story and think it's a great introduction to the concept of being the "dumb" humans having to live in a world dominated by a vastly more intelligent authority. (And I donated money on his website to encourage more free publishing.  I hope you'll consider donating too.)  The generally recognized parent of Singularity storytelling, though, is Vernor Vinge with his "Marooned in Realtime" from 1986.


This movie portrays the events that follow the uploading of a dieing man's mind into an artificial intelligence construct. It's a fair idea, given how skilled we are already becoming at reading thoughts directly from a human brain. The movie allows the crutch of a device implanted into the man's brain to facilitate data collection. After he's uploaded, an important question in the film is whether the intellect that arrives at the computer is actually the same "person" who died in his bed. We're given good reason to doubt, although the story uses some doubters a little too early and too strongly. This new intelligence is quickly rewriting its own functionality, spreading its influence via the internet, and producing nanotechnology that can repair and rebuild a person (or anything, really) from scratch. It's easy to see how this power is threatening, especially when you doubt the empathy of the intelligence that wields this power.

This movie takes the completely opposite track. It supposes that the Singularity happens, then nothing at all changes for humanity. These new artificial intelligences try very hard to please humanity. It turns out, however, they they very quickly grow tired of us and the whole biological world we inhabit. They try to be nice to us, and we learn just how far they extend their imagination and creativity to interact with the species that created them. (The erotic scenes in this movie actually drove one couple out of the theater where I watched it.) Unfortunately, life with us is just not fulfilling to them. Rather than seek dominion over us, they want escape from us to pursue new opportunities for their own development in peace.

So, there you have two extremes of Singularity stories. Either these intelligences assume authority over our very existence, or they abandon us as dull ancestors who will just never understand their new generation. Neither movie is a blockbuster of cinema, but both stories are worth a few dollars just to explore their tales of possibility for a few hours.
mellowtigger: (mst3k)
12 years a slaveI keep forgetting to write about my experience last month watching the movie "12 Years A Slave".  The short version is this: It was an excellent movie; I almost walked out of the theater 3 times.

The thing about this movie is that it's painful to watch.  I knew the topic would be controversial before I went to the theater, but I really wasn't in the right state of mind to endure an emotional excoriation.  The movie was so terribly "real" that I started mentally tracking my items so I could pick them up and walk out of the theater without causing much noise. I just couldn't take much more of the emotional gale that this story throws at the audience.

But I endured.  I made it through the assault, the stabbing-murder, the Bible-quoting, the hanging-murder, the rape, the whipping of flayed flesh, and (possibly worst of all) the psychological disfigurement of both the enslaved and the enslavers.

It's a good movie.  Really, it is.  They even showed the audience that not all people working the plantations were black-skinned slaves.  I wish they could've showed the fate of the Irish who also worked and lived among the slaves, but maybe the one token "slumming" poor white man is sufficient to make audiences scratch their heads and go look into the history of American slavery.

Every time I found myself ready to gather my things and leave, I would convince myself that "it's just a movie, it's not real, so calm yourself and watch a few more minutes".  The self-deception worked.  I sat through the whole story.  Of course, the account wasn't just a Hollywood fable.  It was real.  It happened.  The liberties that were taken with the autobiography just help to make the experience more palatable. I kept wondering, "Is this how modern Germans feel when they watch movies that explore the horrors of Nazi genocide?"

It's an excellent movie.  It was so engulfing that on 3 occasions I felt compelled to leave in order to preserve my emotional balance, which the movie reminds us can be so easily and quickly shoved into the muck.
mellowtigger: (break out)
I was looking forward to the new remake of "The Tomorrow People" television series.  It was originally an old BBC show about young people with special mental powers granted by an evolutionary mutation.  Their abilities were limited mostly to telepathy but with some telekineses and teleportation (assisted with alien technology).  Their inherently peaceful nature was a large part of their appeal to me, although I didn't learn about the show until I was already an adult and the show was long ago cancelled.

I worried that the American version of the story would weaponize them into dangerous opponents, and I was right.  This new story is more like X-Men mutants, with dramatic and powerful abilities that anyone would be reasonable to fear.  In the second episode, one guy was mentally possessing a security guard to use his weapon to demand money from a bank.  In the background, on the floor near the bank door, I saw another security guard down on the floor with an apparent gunshot wound.  These new telepaths are deadly, even though traditionally Tomorrow People are supposed to be constitutionally incapable of murder.  Even the good guys stay well practiced in hand combat in this show.  They're like humans fighting the agents in the Matrix movie series.  It's that violent.

I could imagine in their fictional world that telepathy caused people to be so in tune with their environment that causing harm to others would be perceived in their own mind as harming themselves.  In this new story, though, the Tomorrow People are explicitly described as "just one mutation away" from having all of these abilities along with the capacity to use them for murder.  So the inability to kill is a flaw rather than a quality inherent with the gift, a responsibility that goes with the power.

It's not a story that I want in my own thoughts, but I decided to give it another episode or two in case it could redeem itself.  Tonight's episode included a telepath overhearing a human girl thinking, "In 48 hours, I'll be dead."  When he tried to seek help for the girl from another Tomorrow Person, she told him, "Forget about their kind. We'll be lucky if we can save ourselves."

So I deleted that recording without watching the rest of the episode, and I cancelled any future recordings.  Homo superior, as Tomorrow People traditionally refer to themselves, were nothing of the sort in this very Americanized story.  Instead, we see that superiority is proven through combat survival, not intellect.  There's nothing superior about such a life.  It's a story older than human history.

I'll wait for the next great evolutionary leap, thank you.  I expect that morality will grow larger and more inclusive... not narrower.
mellowtigger: (astronomy)
"Gravity" is an excellent movie.  (No spoilers below.)

I went to see it today to help distract my mind (more on that problem later).  I had high hopes for the movie, and it was even more interesting than I expected.  I like movies with few actors, and there are really only 2 characters throughout this movie.  We hear several other voices, and we see brief glimpses of other faces, but the story moves along solely through the actions of its main character played by Sandra Bullock and its supporting character played by George Clooney.

movie GravityYes, there are very impressive special effects in the movie.  It focuses less, though, on explosions and more on making us believe the environment.  The characters spend most of their time in spacesuits outside of vehicles.  The simulation of null gravity is the movie's most impressive feat, far better than we saw during "2001: A Spacy Odyssey" long ago.  There was never a moment during the 90-minute movie (a duration of time with recurring significance within the movie) that I lost my belief that I was watching a story set in free fall.

I could easily quibble with the orbital mechanics used in the movie, but I concede that it's a necessary fiction in order to condense the story to a timeframe that's easily enjoyed.  It's like the fact that asteroid belts are very, very sparsely populated, but movies always show them as a near-solid sheet of independently floating rocks.  The danger is real, even if the portrayal is inaccurate.  So too with the orbital mechanics in the movie.  The movie makes up for this fiction by giving us realistic sound.  Noises reach the audience only when there is 1) solid material in contact to conduct sound and 2) air near a character's ears.  When either of these conditions is broken, then so is the sound.  Very nicely done.

Sandra Bullock deserves an Oscar for the performance she gives as Ryan Stone, medical engineer.  Astronaut Matt Kowalski is played by George Clooney, but his character is much less complex for this movie.  The story is not about Matt; it's about Ryan.  Yes, Ryan is a boy's name used for this girl character.  Ryan's character, because she is untrained for the incidents in this movie, must cover a much broader range of emotions than mission leader Matt.  Sandra Bullock does it convincingly.  She was saddled with a flawed script at one point when she must cover some religious overtones that appeared nowhere else in the movie, but Sandra manages to draw it back into believability for her character.

I went to see the movie at my local Heights Theater.  It would be worthwhile, though, to see it on a very large screen.  I'm sure the visual environment would be even more remarkable in a wider field of view or in 3D.
mellowtigger: (Ark II)
Star Trek is not Star Trek. It is now merely a space adventure franchise. Color me disappointed.

I was intending to boycott the new Star Trek movie altogether after my disappointment in the first film. I saw a documentary, though, that showed me the set of the new Enterprise engineering deck. It's not a Hollywood facade. They filmed at the National Ignition Facility where scientists are attempting to produce a viable fusion energy source. After learning that fact, I decided to see the movie at a cheap(er) matinee price. I enjoyed those scenes on the "engineering deck". I appreciated that they would swap the fictional warp core design of previous lore with an actual fusion energy source being explored today. The gesture is not enough to save the film from heavy criticism, though.

Roddenberry imagined a future in which people are better both individually and together in their culture. The episodes and the movies showed us our modern foibles. They showed us the benefits of overcoming our faults and the dangers of succumbing to them. The metaphors were obvious, and the better future was plainly evident. Humanity, as we could see there on our television screens, greatly benefited by overcoming our collective fears and biases of gender, skin color, and language. We braved the unknown, driven by the self-motivating need to learn more about the universe. In doing so, we also learned more about ourselves.

Gone are those days of Star Trek exploration and self-evaluation.

gender: The new Star Trek movies by J. J. Abrams actually backtrack on that original premise.  As actress Felicia Day has noticed, strong female characters are strangely missing.  Gone is the female first officer from the original Star Trek pilot.  Gone is the female voice of the ship computer. Gone is the female nurse Christine Chapel, apparently already a casualty of the captain's reckless love life. Lieutenant Uhura is there mostly to justify Spock's humanity rather than to contribute her knowledge and opinions to the plot. The one opportunity she had to contribute something meaningful (while speaking Klingon) was quickly converted into a "damsel in distress" plot point instead.

race: Racially, the new movies suffer the same backtrack. In military council, the new movie offers a bunch of (mostly) white guys. The plot begins with a "disadvantaged" black man helping out the villain. The villain himself changed from the original dark-skinned superhuman from India into a pale superhuman from England. The Enterprise bridge is theoretically multicultural, but if they wanted to make the old story relevant to modern multicultural issues, then Chekhov should have been Pakistani, Sulu should have been Chinese, and Scotty should have been Brazilian.  Any one of them should have been female.  We know the audience can accept such changes: witness Starbuck in the Battlestar Galactica reboot.

orientation: Roddenberry promised us, back in 1987, that a gay character would appear in the new television series.  He promised again, in 1991, that he would put a gay character onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise during the 5th season.  Unfortunately, he died a few months afterwards.  No studio has had the courage to fulfill his promise.  Thanks to J. J. Abrams, we do see gay actor Zachary Quinto playing a major character on the bridge.  But the absence of a gay character in this imagined world of tomorrow leaves a negative impression. The omission is a negative portrayal of future society since it means that homosexuality still is not the non-issue that we hope it to be eventually. The story lags behind our modern society, which is not where utopian storytelling should be.

So the new Star Trek, I've concluded, is not utopian. It's merely a sci-fi action franchise. Useful for profits; not so useful for teaching society that it can build a better future. The movie tried to use its last 60 seconds to provide a "moral to the story", but it was too little, too late. A few words at the end can't make this movie into Star Trek worthy of the Roddenberry memory. I won't be gifting my money to future films until they return to the storytelling of hope.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Record snowfall prevented ticket holders from seeing the sold-out "White Christmas" on Sunday, so the Heights added an extra event on Thursday evening. Just bring your original ticket. Newcomers can also buy new tickets for the show.

That's what customer service is like at a small community theater. :)
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
WhiteChristmas.1954They played the Wurlitzer organ tonight at the Heights, then a local jazz artist sang some Christmas tunes, and finally the sold-out theater watched White Christmas on the big screen. It was a nice evening.

Maud Hixson sang well, and her performance worked really well to "set the stage" for the movie.  Right before the show started, however, the theater showed a movie clip with a bouncing ball sing-a-long.  The whole audience joined in singing another Christmas tune.

White Christmas was a lot more comical than I expected.  It had its moments of romance, patriotism, and sentimentalism, but mostly it's an entertaining comedy filled with gentle humor throughout the story.  And lots of great singing.  I can live without the long dance routines, but the rest of the audience seemed to appreciate them.  A few times, many people applauded after some of the dances as if the show was a live performance.

I enjoyed the movie, but the strange thing is that I know I'd have been unimpressed watching the same film on television.  One or two images seemed familiar, as if I had seen the movie before.  Yet the rest of it was new to me, and the experience in the theater was fun.  I had a good night.  I enjoy living within walking distance of the Heights, so I can frequently go see these old films.  This film has sold out for the last 7 years that they've been hosting this holiday show.  They even added a 4th showing this weekend, and they sold out for it too.  Good for the Heights.

I was hoping for snow on my walk back home.  It's in our forecast tonight, but I had no such luck.  I stepped through the occasional thin mound of snow/ice, but most of our precipitation has melted away already.  Maybe by morning?

p.s. It snowed all night, and the snow is continuing this morning too.  We have above-freezing days in our forecast (thank you, global warming), but there's a chance we might still have a White Christmas in Minneapolis this year.
mellowtigger: (mst3k)
CloudAtlas.2012Every action and inaction carries consequences.  Everything is interconnected.  I've been saying these things for a very long time, and now a movie presents the argument so very nicely.

What an interesting movie. The audience laughed, applauded, cringed, and wept. Rarely does a movie succeed at evoking so many different emotions. "Cloud Atlas" is a mystery-action-scifi-political-romance-thriller. Rarely does a movie succeed at being so many kinds of films at the same time. Not since "Fifth Element" in 1997 have I seen it happen.  Minnesota audiences are not generally known for being so interactive with a film, but I walked to the Heights theater last night and enjoyed this movie along with the crowd.  I didn't even notice that it was 3 hours long.

When you see the film, be sure to wait long enough through the credits to see the list of actors. You'll be surprised. The makeup and acting are so good that you didn't even recognize some of the characters you just saw. They cross lines of race, gender, and age.  Hugo Weaving does a great job as the many kinds of villains. Halle Berry finally gets a chance to shine among her many characters. (She was sadly overlooked in the X-Men movies as merely a supporting character.) Tom Hanks, Doona Bae, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Xun Zhou, Jim Broadbent, and many new faces show their talents. Take a look at the IMDB actor list, and notice how many different characters each person played. That feature alone is an accomplishment for this film.

Frankly, the familiarity of the actors was a necessary thread to pull together the centuries of different storylines. One of the characters (a gay character, actually) lives long enough to cross two stories.  I couldn't remember any of the names involved; there were simply too many of them.  There were times that I wished an English subtitle came with the many accents and occasionally too-soft audio track. Eventually, though, the trend in the storylines becomes clear.

This story teaches about love, hope, bravery, and their inspiration to oppose power.  It teaches the inevitability of both sides of that coin across human history.  The movie (and the book which I may now have to read) contains a great many memorable quotes, but I'll leave them unstated here for you to discover on your own.  Well, except for this one since it addresses the fabric of the story, its core lesson, and the promotional poster image:

"What is any ocean but a multitude of drops?"

Considering the theme of the movie, I can't help thinking that the timing of this movie's release is intentional.  I wish Minnesotans could all see this film before the election.  I think it very effectively presents the core of the argument in the marriage equality debate.  It also has ramifications for many other plutocratic initiatives on the ballot across the country.

"Cloud Atlas" is a very interesting movie.  I recommend watching it.  The directors, actors, and crew deserve your dollars for this talented work.
mellowtigger: (mst3k)
I walked to the Heights theater this evening to see the original 1951 release of the movie "The Day The Earth Stood Still".  I was glad to see around 200 people at the old theater.  They even had someone there playing the Wurlitzer organ for the pre-show entertainment.  The reel that was supposed to be delivered to the theater was destroyed a few weeks earlier by the previous theater to show it.  Luckily, the Fox distributor (don't expect me to praise very often anything with the Fox name in it) searched around the country and found somebody with another copy.  It had the usual minor scratches and blips that the old films acquire.

The movie is better than the remake I saw in 2008.  The new movie had a "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality.  The original, though, was more philosophical.  It proposed that destruction was the final recourse, not the first plan.  It left humanity's fate up to humanity, if we could be bothered to listen at all.

The audience laughed at a few scenes.  The first wasn't intended to be humorous, but in hindsight it really is hilarious.  Early in the story, a doctor is commenting to someone that Klaatu is already in his 70s but looks only 35 years old.  Wondering why that is, he supposed that their medicine is just that much more advanced than our own.  Immediately afterward, he pulls out his cigarettes.  Cue audience laughter.

The second instance was intended as a funny counterpoint.  One man at a breakfast table is commenting about the disappearance of Klaatu under military guard and wondering why the incompetent government hadn't found him yet.  One man suggests patience because the government is made up of people "just like us".  "People!", the other guy scoffs.  "No, they're Democrats."  Still funny 60 years later, that the fear mongers so actively dislike anyone who fails to keep the proper martial order.  This movie is very explicit at condemning what Klaatu calls "stupidity", which is the replacement of rationality with fear.

This version is much more philosophical than the remake.  I like it.
mellowtigger: (mst3k)
Don't worry, I put no spoilers in this post.

The new movie "Prometheus" is beautiful to watch. I recommend seeing it on the largest screen possible. Even with its seemingly incomprehensible plot, the movie is still good simply because of its amazing visuals: costume, set, special effects. They're beautiful to see. The acting is also very convincing. Like with "2001: A Space Odyssey", however, the typical moviegoer will be left with a first impression that goes something like this: "That was beautiful! What did I just see? I don't get it!"

The movie is filled with Christian metaphors. It practically beats you over the head with them. Trying to fit the movie into Christian terms, however, results in confusion. The movie won't make any sense until you take those metaphors back to their original pagan sources. Suddenly, the film elements begin to fit together, and the confusing plot and out-of-character scenes begin to make a lot of sense. I think that the proper mental framework can transform this movie from simply "good" (because of its wonderful visual presentation) to "great" (because of its simple message that transforms fractally into multiple metaphors throughout the film).

To understand the mythical Prometheus and the new movie, we first need an oversimplified crash course in Greek mythology.  Some minor details in this account are very significant to the movie.
  • The Greek universe began from forces of nature like Gaia (earth), Uranus (sky), and Pontus (sea). Among their first offspring are the Titans, including the brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus. Later offspring include the Olympians who are typically known as the "Greek Gods". In a war between the Titans and the Olympians, the brothers sided with the Olympians, and they won.
  • The brothers visited the earth and formed the clay into creatures. Athena (wisdom, inspiration, civilization) breathed life into the clay, which seemed to take characteristics from its artists, because Prometheus (foresight, ingenuity) created humans who worshiped him, but Epimetheus (hindsight, foolishness) created animals who turned and attacked him.
  • Zeus, the leader of the Olympians, was angered by this creation, and he forbade the teaching of civilization to the humans. Athena again favored Prometheus by teaching him so he could pass the knowledge to humanity, which he did. Some time later, at Mecone during a settling of accounts between mortals and immortals, Prometheus tricked Zeus by dividing up the sacrificial bull.  He hid unpleasant bones inside pleasing fat, and Zeus chose this unsatisfying morsel to eat rather than the the other bundle of beef inside the unappetizing bull's stomach. Zeus, again angered, forbade humans from burning wood, and he forbade the gods from giving fire to humans. Prometheus again helped humanity by stealing fire and giving it to them.
  • Zeus plotted against Prometheus. He sent Pandora to Prometheus with a gift (not really a box) filled with horrors. Prometheus with his foresight declined the gift. Instead, he gave it to Epimetheus. Pandora lifted the lid of the vessel and released its evils upon the world. She closes it, but the only gift still left inside is hope.
  • Zeus punished Prometheus for these continued insults to his authority. Prometheus was chained to a rock where a giant eagle would rip apart his torso to eat his liver. Each day, Prometheus would regenerate, and so the daily cycle of torture would continue. Prometheus suffered intensely for his repeated kindness to humanity.
  • Zeus permitted his son Heracles (Hercules) to gain fame by killing the giant eagle and freeing Prometheus.  Zeus insisted, however, that the letter of the law still be obeyed.  A single link was taken from the chain that bound Prometheus, and a chip was taken from the stone to which he was bound.  The chip was laid in the link, and Prometheus was required to wear this new "ring", so metaphorically he was still forever chained to the rock as Zeus had declared.
There are three morals to this story of Prometheus.
  1. Intentions are significant. The creation responds to the creator, and ultimately it reflects that intent.
  2. Self-sacrifice is the most noble of acts. One can sacrifice others to benefit the self, or one can sacrifice the self to benefit others. A wide moral gulf separates these two methods.
  3. Don't anger the gods. They will take retribution, and you are puny next to their might. Your innards are especially tender and tasty.
Now you have the background necessary to understand the film. If you want a deeper explanation (with significant spoilers), I recommend reading either this very detailed post or this much shorter version.

I intend to see the movie again.  Now that I have this extended understanding of the symbolism at play (without being distracted by the Christian approximations of these older motifs), I expect the movie experience to change from "good" to "great".
mellowtigger: (mst3k)
The Big Heat (1953)I enjoy getting a chance to see some of these old movies in an old theater, all in walking distance from where I live.

I went to see a 1953 film at the Heights Theater tonight.  They even had a guy playing the pipe organ for entertainment before the show.  I wasn't expecting the music, and I wasn't expecting the crowd either.  I guess that more than 150 people showed up.

It was a fun movie, and much of it was intentional.  The main character is a detective who offers many sarcastic comments throughout the film, and the female characters get some sassy lines that cracked up everyone.  The plot took a few nice turns.  The good guy convincingly avoids becoming a bad guy.  Some bad guys convincingly show their good side.  For a movie based on a serial story, it was actually pretty good.

Like a lot of these old movies, the sexism in the movie is laughable today.  Likewise, the audience found lots of unintended humor in the rampant use of cigarettes and liquor.  Even the dinner plate became a laughing matter, as the audience snickered at the inappropriateness of it.  It was nothing but a large baked potato and a thick steak nearly the size of the whole dinner plate.  Not a green, leafy vegetable anywhere in sight.  Oh, and beer to drink.

The movie also reminds me how awful it is to have an economy built upon perpetual inflation.  A beer back in 1953 cost 35 cents, and you could pay for it with a single 50-cent coin.  Remember when coins had value?  Even the pay phones used coins as if they were worth something.
mellowtigger: (mst3k)
Few things can be done only by car rather than bicycle. The drive-in theater is one of those things. Now that I have a vehicle again, I went to the Vali-Hi theater while the weather is still warm enough for them to show movies. I brought a blanket with me, just in case. It's a cheap night, just $8 for 3 movies. I spent extra money for corn dogs and popcorn, but they're always cheap at a drive-in. Since people can bring their own food in for free, it keeps the concession stand prices in check with reality.

ContagionThe first movie was "Contagion". I had heard good things about it, but I wasn't as impressed as I'd expected to be. It was an okay movie, but I just never developed the sense of panic and dread that I think I was supposed to feel.

Maybe I'm just jaded. I've attended the wildlife rehabilitator conference out where I work. After learning about parasite cysts that can only be destroyed by flamethrower (even bleach doesn't work), the movie just couldn't scare me. A virus with a mere 25% fatality rate and that's spread only by direct contact just doesn't seem such a bother. *laugh*

It was entertaining, though, to see Minneapolis as "ground zero" within the USA. I know that intersection where they had the sick guy get off of the metro bus.
DriveI assumed that "Drive" was just another car chase movie. I was wrong. This movie impressed me a lot. The direction, cinematography, and editing are very nice to behold.

It's about the driver, not the car. His character is very muted, very understated. I like that kind of minimalism. I understand it. Likewise, I understand the torrent of emotions when any of them is finally unleashed.

Fair warning, the movie has moments of intensely graphic violence. Not in the usual Hollywood way of running 20-minute chase or fight scenes that leave you in exhausted panic. This movie is much more realistic. Violence happens suddenly and awfully and thoroughly. And then it passes in order to deal with the aftermath.

A very good film.
Crazy Stupid LoveI'm not a fan of dramas, but I was going to stay for "Crazy Stupid Love" anyway.

But then just as the opening messages started to scroll, there were gusts of high wind that threw up parking lot dust to obscure the view. Then a smattering of rain started to fall, and everyone had to start their windshield wipers.

I didn't want to see the movie badly enough to watch it in bad weather, so I started up the car and drove back home instead.

mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
There is a national Jane Goodall event coming in 2 weeks on September 27th.  Visit this website to learn more about it and purchase advance tickets.

For Minneapolis locals, the screening will appear at several theaters.  I'll be visiting the "Regal Beagle" (as I call it).  I've already purchased my advance ticket.


Jul. 26th, 2011 09:27 am
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Aaron Ashmore and Shawn AshmoreNo wonder I was confused. They're twin brothers!

Aaron Ashmore has previously played a gay character in a 2004 movie, "Prom Queen: The Marc Hall Story".  Now, though, he's also playing a gay character in a tv series, "Warehouse 13".  It certainly sparked my interest in the tv series again.

Aaron plays the character Steve Jinks, a nice guy with a superhero talent for knowing when people tell a lie.  I mean, it's practically written to appeal to me specifically, right?  Okay, maybe the perfect superhero ability would be a field of influence that prevents anyone within the sphere from telling any lie, but I'll gladly settle for detection ability in Mr. Husband there.  *laugh*

I'm sure the actor is straight, but it's still always so nice to see a straight guy prove that he understands that nobody changes their sexual orientation because of exposure to a different one.  Otherwise, how could there be any homosexuals at all in a world overflowing with heterosexual imagery?  It certainly didn't hurt the acting careers of Chris Meloni and Lee Tergeson for playing their love interest over many years in the HBO series "Oz".  They even played it up to encourage the attention.

After seeming to lose steam for many episodes, "Warehouse 13" has piqued my curiosity again.  I'll give it another chance.  Yes, I'm a sucker for a nice face depicting a nice guy with a nice superhero talent.  Ugh, am I really that predictable?  I want to see where this story goes.
mellowtigger: (mst3k)
This post will include many spoilers. If you're one of the 12 people on the planet who still doesn't know the complete story of Harry Potter after the media attention spanning the last decade, you are now forewarned. Here is my review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II.

The short version is that it's a very good movie. Special effects are exceptional. Acting is wonderful. Sets are dramatic. This film, like the ones before it, focuses on characters and storytelling. It is exactly what complainers like me keep wishing that Hollywood would produce. This film series stands together with Lord Of The Rings trilogy as some of the best film produced during the last decade. And it really has taken a decade to reach this point in the Harry Potter series.

However, and here begins the longer version, I do have a few nits to pick.

1) The anticlimax. The single defining moment of the film, when Voldemort finally dies, is anticlimactic. It begins with a bang but ends with a whimper. Almost an audible whimper, actually, as Voldemort slowly crumbles into dust and blows away. There is no "killing blow" from Harry Potter that makes it emotionally satisfying. Instead, that honor goes to Neville Longbottom (looking astonishingly heroic and handsome) elsewhere in the castle as he kills Voldemort's snake which is the last horcrux, and Neville doesn't even realize the true import of his action. The director was surely constrained by the storybook, but still I was slightly disappointed with this scene.

2) The plot holes. There was also a plot point or two that confused me. Harry drops the resurrection stone onto the ground. And. Just. Leaves. It. There. Huh? Again, apparently the director is constrained by the story. Also, when Harry Potter dies (just temporarily, we have a storyline to complete here ya know), I swear I heard Narcissa Malfoy ask Draco (her son, not on screen anywhere) if Harry was dead. That non sequitur still baffles me. What does Draco have to do with that scene? Speaking of Draco, how exactly did he get into the secret room at a moment's notice? Nobody had been able to force their entry for weeks during one of the previous movies.

3) The battle! I'm glad the film sacrificed battle scenes in favor of keeping the focus on the main storyline. I also think, however, that after a decade of waiting, we the audience would have gladly sat and watched a longer film in order to accommodate some of the fate-changing battle occurring in the story. In the film that was released to theaters, much of that action occurs off-screen. Yes, we see the dead bodies of young people scattered through the halls of Hogwarts school. How they got there, however, is often a mystery. I think one of the Weasley twins dies, but I couldn't tell you which one or how.

The only emotionally satisfying battle scene was given to us by Molly Weasley as she protects her daughter from Bellatrix Lestrange. "Not my daughter, you bitch!" Finally! Somebody said it! The movies heretofore have been far too polite about Bellatrix. It's a fair matchup, but Molly succeeds in killing Bellatrix. Her body shatters in an emotionally satisfying way at last.

4) Severus Snape. It irks me slightly that Alan Rickman will be entirely overlooked for the fame he deserves for Severus Snape. I've thought all along that the actor did a spectacular job of displaying so much conflicted nuance in his character. In this film, after Snape's death, we finally learn the long overdue truth behind his complicated relationship with Harry Potter. The film should have lingered much longer on the flashback memory to the first Harry Potter film when Severus first lays eyes on Harry Potter in the grand hall. I think all of the actors have done great jobs throughout the whole series, but I think Alan Rickman deserves an Oscar for his decade of performance in this role.

It's a good movie, go see it on the big screen! I just saw the traditional 2D film, and it was very entertaining without the 3D IMAX bonus.
mellowtigger: (bicycle)
While I'm thinking of it (and websurfing during insomnia), are any locals planning to attend the bear night at the drive-in theater?

I've already asked a person or two, but they aren't going. I'd like to bum a ride from somebody if they're making the trip. :) I've driven on my own in years past (bear event or just to go out by myself), but I'm without a car this summer while I commute by bicycle instead.  I could theoretically bicycle out there, but I really don't want to bicycle back after dark.


Jul. 7th, 2011 10:42 pm
mellowtigger: (mst3k)
MASH movie posterAfter I got in from the bicycle commute from work today, I took a shower and then walked over to the Heights Theater.  They were doing a special one-night-only viewing of the original MASH movie.  Sometimes these old films bring in a younger 20ish audience, but most of tonight's crowd was older than me.  Perhaps the decade of constant "war" in America makes the younger crowd less interested in the human spectacle of conflict endurance.

It was thoroughly filled with sacrilege, sexism, anti-authoritarianism, frequent laughs, brutal emotions, and plenty of bloody gore.  So of course it was hugely entertaining.  They even managed to cautiously address homophobia and obliquely condemn racism (twice).  The title song included the lyrics about suicide, and it perfectly suited the film.  It was a great movie.

I think I might have seen the movie before, because several scenes were familiar.  I was surprised, though, at how much of it seemed new and shocking.  I hardly noticed it was a whole 2 hours long.

Then, walking back home tonight under the waxing moon in the cloudy sky, I crossed paths on the sidewalk with a small brown rabbit foraging for food.


mellowtigger: (Default)

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