Tag Archives: 2014

Second Star to the Right: Interstellar Movie Review (Spoilers)

From Interstellar: A black hole eating a star
From Interstellar: A black hole eating a star

I’ll preface this by saying that Interstellar is the best movie of 2014 that I nearly didn’t see.  Why did I nearly decide to discount it?  Well, the trailers did a terrible job of telling me what the movie was about.  The trailers made it out (with me reading between the lines) that the movie was about how terrible mankind was that we had destroyed our only home and had to go to space to survive.  Heavy on a message of doom and gloom and without any real ounce of hope, with the thought being we were destined to repeat the process as celestial locusts.  This was not the type of movie I wanted to watch.  Luckily, it wasn’t the movie I got to see.

You see, Interstellar is nothing less than a movie about discovery, adventure, and exploration.  The crew that goes to the stars in this movie are people chosen to do that most dangerous exercise: go someplace new and come back to tell everyone all about it.  They are also the last, best hope for humanity’s survival, so no pressure.  The movie has a slow, building pace where weight is added to every decision and the protagonists are struggling against that most certain enemy: time.

The science of the movie is excellent as well.  Yes, there are liberties taken, but there are also elements and plot twists taken from science and enough ‘what if’ that any science nerds will probably be on the edge of their seats.  Visit a planet in close orbit around a black hole and have time dilation wipe out twenty three years in an hour.  Also, get to see the tidal effects upon that lovely ocean planet, and that the woman sent ahead ten years ago died only minutes before your arrival, and just right after her own arrival.  Playing with time is something this movie does incredibly well, along with hints and peeks not only at the movie’s plot, but also at the great potential to be found in humanity.

Some of the best lines in the movie are about human nature and nature itself.  At one point, the characters in space argue about what they might find being more or less dangerous than what they bring with them.  Later on, they are both proven correct when one man is killed by the waves on the first planet they find and another is killed by a human scout sent ahead, who was willing to do anything necessary to ensure his own survival, even if it meant dooming billions of people back on Earth.  The movie manages to capture the stark beauty of space, with apparently scientifically accurate depictions of both black holes and wormholes (see this interesting article).

And too, this movie does very well in capturing the spirit of exploration.  The characters pause in wonder at the sights, caught up in the wonder and excitement of doing and seeing new things, and while they’ll take the time to mention the why or the how, that doesn’t rob the moment of it’s beauty.  The characters are very much explorers, having little idea of what they’re going to discover, building upon what they learn and finding ways to use that knowledge to survive.  They are forced to make decisions based off of their supplies and equipment as well as their limited amount of time.  The weight of those decisions is upon them all and each choice they make is one that comes with a cost.

The movie does have its faults, I’ll admit, and several of them are in the plot-driven variety.  The voyage to the wormhole takes a meager two months, which is incredibly impressive given chemical-powered rockets.  My assumption was that they used a nuclear powered drive and just didn’t want to discuss it in the movie.  The ‘blight’ that seems to be affecting the crops is more of a mysterious force than anything else, though depictions of it as breathing nitrogen suggests either a very odd metabolism or just hand-wavium.  Why this terrible stuff doesn’t follow the evacuees from Earth is another question I asked myself.  Contamination is sort of a given for colonization and transportation.  I mean, we can’t even stop rats from getting to remote islands, how can we stop an apparent super-microorganism that has adapted to attack all manner of food crops?  Also, what did people eat if it killed everything else while they were waiting for their star ships over fifty-plus years?

What the movie does very well is to get it’s point and message across with painful brutality.  The ‘teacher’ at the beginning criticizing the pilot about believing in the moon landings.  The quotes: “Man was born on Earth.  It was never meant to die here.” and “We used to look up and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”  These are statements that paint a bleak (and unfortunately accurate) picture.  We don’t look up at the stars with hope.  Too many people are far more concerned with ‘fixing’ problems here rather than expanding out there.  There will come a day that we are forced to choose between staying here and dying and going out to the stars and surviving.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and I highly recommend it.  It’s a great movie, with gorgeous effects, a powerful theme, and a spirit of wonder that still gets me excited thinking about it.

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Myths and Legends Con 2014 Experience

From the Game of Thrones Murder Mystery Dinner (The real mystery is who survives)
From the Game of Thrones Murder Mystery Dinner (The real mystery is who survives)

Myths and Legends Con, also known as Malcon, is a Denver, Colorado convention.  This was my first year both attending and being a guest.  All in all, it was a fun experience.  I met a lot of folks, both writers, fans, and that interesting group of people who just sort of show up, not really knowing what a convention is all about.

Malcon was not a large convention, but it had the feeling of a group of friends hanging out and talking that you don’t get at some of the other conventions I’ve seen.  Everyone was friendly and was there to have a good time.  There weren’t any arguments (well, okay, some rabid discussion about plot twists, character arcs, stories, etc. of some big name authors, but that was all in good fun and no one drew blood… mostly), and there was a very relaxed attitude for the whole weekend, with little of the stress of racing to the next event or panel.

Part of that was due to the excellent organization by the staff.  They managed the entire event very professionally and with few of the issues I’ve seen at other conventions as far as double scheduling panels or guests and that sort of thing.  They managed this despite having to shift venues at the last minute due to a conflict with the former location.  They also had to deal with a major highway (I-25) being shut down in the middle of town, which obviously threw a lot of people’s schedules into a bit of turmoil.

Victorian Steampunk
Victorian Steampunk

All in all, Malcon was a lot of fun and I’d love to attend next year, as well.

All your galaxies are belong to us… Guardians of the Galaxy Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy

 

I have to admit, the movie I was most excited about this summer was Guardians of the Galaxy.  Why?  Well, I had never heard of the comics, I don’t even read comic books.  I didn’t know much about the characters or setting, just what I saw in the trailers… and what did I see there?  Humor, action, space opera, heroes, villains, and people stuck in between.

Guardians of the Galaxy delivered all of that, in spades.  It managed to turn a sarcastic, vicious character into an object of pity with a couple seconds out of a scene, without the use of words.  Characterization of the group was excellent, with each figure being a mix of both comedy, tragedy, scum, and reluctant hero, all rolled up into individual pieces that stood strong and alone.  Rocket is phenomenal, with some of the best lines in the movie, yet far from being just a comedic element.  Drax the Destroyer is at once both a juggernaut but also Shakespearean.  Vin Diesel may only ever say three words as Groot, but he manages to put subtle emphasis into it… and Groot comes across as both very alien and a character we can empathize with at the same time.  Peter Quill is brilliant: a humorous rogue with dreams of success at odds with his own larcenous heart and his past he can’t quite escape.  What’s not to like?

It’s serious space opera, with epic landscapes, space ships, travel between worlds, alien races galore, and conflict with nothing less than the fate of billions at stake.  The movie makes excellent use of dramatic tension and comedic elements, blending both to the point that you almost feel whip-lashed… yet they work so seamlessly together that you can laugh even at the tightest moments of drama and still be on the edge of your seat.  I’d love to go into more detail, but in consideration of those who haven’t seen it yet, I’ll leave off.

All that said, the movie does have a few faults, minor though they are.  Gamorra is probably the weakest characterized of the heroes, not due to any fault of Zoe Saldana, but more because her character gets sidelined a bit.  The villains, while dark, don’t get enough screen time to really establish themselves, in particular, Ronin the Accuser is a nasty, scary sort, but we just get told he’s a fanatic and have to just roll with that.  Nebula is awesome, with some of the best lines in the movie, particularly between her and Gamorra.  I would argue that Nebula has more of a developed character than Gamorra.

Still, these are minor things.  This is the first movie I’ve seen in years that I want to go back in theaters not just for a second screening, but also a third.  Guardians managed to take first place for my movies this year… and I would be very surprised if anything can knock it off that pedestal.

Robocop Movie Review

I am not, as a general rule, a huge fan of movie remakes.  Now and again, however, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.  When I went to see it, I expected it to be a simple action flick.  Lots of shooting, some explosions, and robots and bad guys getting mowed down left and right.  What I didn’t expect was a surprisingly deep (for Hollywood) action movie with political and ethical questions.

Without giving too much away, let me say this: the movie has a rather murky and mixed message.  In some aspects, actors come across as almost caricatures and in others, you might feel almost like you’re being preached to… but you aren’t really sure what the message is supposed to be.  At the same time, there are moments in the movie where I was nodding my head at a reveal… or chuckling at a bit of satire.  The politics of security versus freedom was touched upon.  There was a good bit of character growth for a doctor, which I found interesting, while he fought between his ambition and his medical ethics.  There was also some decent discussion of the ethics of using automated weapons on American citizens…  Messages were there, but they were sometimes open ended, almost as if the director or actors didn’t want to agree with the conclusion.

As far as the action itself… by and large it was impressive.  There were some excellent firefights… if you could get past the ‘shaky cam.’  I don’t know about most viewers, but I don’t like leaving the theater feeling dizzy.  There were a couple of scenes where it was literally too much, where my brain just kind of went into shut-down because there was strobing lights, dark backgrounds, and a shaking, spinning camera.  To top it off, even the the moments where the main character was literally getting pounded, it was hard to have any dramatic tension… I mean, the moment of drama was solved before we really had any anticipation of danger.  There wasn’t enough build-up, I suppose.

The movie looked good, though.  And despite the nausea inducing shaky-cam, it was mostly fun.  In my opinion, it was a better movie than the original, which is a good thing.