dr_phil_physics: (union-jack)
After days with highs on one K-zoo electronic sign of 77, 79 and 77 this week, a cold front has moved through. The temp dropped below freezing after we got home from the movies. We had decided to hit another evening movie, instead of our usual Saturday afternoon. Not only did it mean we could have the day to do things, but the 6:50pm showing of Spectre was the first of only two shows in the comfy recliners of Theatre #5 at the Holland 7. We are definitely spoiled. Of course, besides popcorn and a bonus package of the new Butterfinger peanut butter cups -- though how is it a Butterfinger if it doesn't wedge material in between your teeth -- and cheese & salami sandwiches smuggled in.

Still having fun playing on the new M-231 highway, even if it only has three entry points. Tonight we drove out from Warner to Lincoln -- realized that the Stop signs at Lincoln and 120th Avenue are now on 120th, rather than Lincoln -- and hopped on to M-231. That means only one traffic light at M-45, rather than two.

It's been three years since Skyfall (DW) came out. Judi Dench's swansong. The new Bond film does not ignore what happened in the last one.

Spectre [PG-13]
Holland 7 Theatre 5, 6:50pm, 2×$9.25

Bond. James Bond. How can we skip a Daniel Craig .007 movie? It's a huge franchise and even the bad ones feature big budget action sequences. Like Star Wars, nothing else quite fits like Bond. I'd heard a certain amount of buzz on NPR and print and Internet -- more than the usual run-ups -- and a lot of them complained about a lackluster story.

Look, here's the thing. Movie scripts are closer to short stories and novellas, than novels. And the thing about a short story, we are constantly being told, is that the main protagonist isn't just have a bad day, they are having The Worst Day Of Their Life™. And boy, does James Bond's life suck by that metric.

We expect the cars, the tuxedos (black and white), the drinks, the exotic locales -- and the women and the far out there opening credits. And this time we get homages to many earlier films. Of particular note, was the early Connery From Russian With Love, which featured good old-fashioned spycraft and a wonderful game of cat-and-mouse on a train. More than one commenter had noticed this feature and more than one has mused that maybe Sam Mendes spent too much time on nostalgia and not enough on a script.

To some extent, who cares? The opening in Mexico City features massive street parades for the Day of the Dead and much of it is filmed in one continuous tracking shot. Carnivale has been featured in more than one Bond outing.

The 800-lb. gorilla in the room is obviously keyed on the title. SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) is well-known from early Bond films in the 60s and 70s. But, despite having seen someone say what the acronym stands for in one of the early trailers, in this film I don't recall hearing anyone bring it up. Indeed, SPECTRE is largely unknown to the British secret service, and is hardly mentioned by name at all. That said, the dastardly criminal super-enterprise has many bits of iconic details for us. Including the one where they just simply fail to shoot Bond the moment they capture him, instead of explaining the whole plot to them. (grin)

The funny thing about the Double-Oh agents, is kind of like Treadstone and Jason Bourne, they seem to work alone. We rarely see any other Double-Oh agents -- and usually when they're dead or jumped to the dark side. The thing is, the other agents always seem off... .007 is cool, calm, collected and -- despite having a luxe wardrobe -- is capable of being the taciturn Everyman and blend in. The other guys always seem to have Personalities™, like humor. Though we don't see .009, what we learn about him/her doesn't seem inspiring. (grin)

There's a great cast. Ben Whishaw is the new young Q from Skyfall. And the new Moneypenny -- though you can be forgiven if, given some of the hype I've seen, that she doesn't have as substantial role as I expected. Also the suspicious characters -- given their previous films, you can never trust a Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz or Andrew Scott.

Then there's Bond's backstory. Have you ever noticed that as an ensemble cast in a TV series continues, we learn "new" things which should've been obvious earlier -- if they'd been written, that is. You know, how Character B is revealed in Season 3 to be an orphan, and in Season 5 to have been abused as a child, but in Season 6 is revealed his parents were pedophiles and so B killed them at age eight. All of which makes no sense because B is the happy-go-lucky one of the ensemble. Well, I keep getting the nagging feeling they're doing that to James. I suppose it makes sense -- the man is a cipher after all and we really know very little about him. In fact, I had a theory for decades that Commander James Bond, RN, was actually a job description and not a person, which is why we had a succession of Bonds -- Connery, Moore, Lazenby, Dalton, Brosnan and now Craig. Alas, they seemed to doom that theory in Skyfall, which kind of pissed me off.

Well, at 24 films, the Bond series is practically a TV series in length. And so they're still mucking up and inventing new things about Bond's history. Sigh. Save us, O Lord, from people who want to muck up and make their mark on iconic characters.

Transportation always figures heavily in Bond films. Cars, of course, but also boats, planes, helicopters, etc. There's a North African train which struck me for two reasons. Beautifully kitted out in First Class, the train geek in me also noticed a very modern, long and very powerful new diesel locomotive. Certainly not the broken down African trains used in a lot of other movies. Even if the roadbed ends up buried in sand in some places. (grin) But then there's the sumptious interior. Every train I've been in has had sturdy interiors. Trains are high stress and high vibration systems. No way would walls be tissue paper thin, even in a fight. And where the hell did the crew go, let alone the passengers?

I will say two other things about transportation: (1) the threat and deed of collateral damage, which almost puts Bond in the superhero category and (2) a plane sequence which starts out good, but ultimately descends in what I can only hope was a campy homage to some of the excess of the Roger Moore era.

The movie runs a full two-and-a-half hours. It still leaves some questions unanswered, leading me to wonder what was left on the cutting room floor -- or whether writers simply never thought it out.

Is this the best Bond film ever? Well, at around $300 million, it sounds like it's the most expensive. But no. On the other hand, it's not the stupidest -- Moonraker I'm looking at you.

And although the octopus symbolism from Octopussy is used for this incarnation of Spectre, I think that a hydra might be a better example. The ending invites a whole lotta possibilities for the next flick, to say nothing after over fifty years of having a huge iconic 25th movie. Craig has one more to go in his contract, but isn't sure if he has it in him. I hope he does, because given where the plot needs to go after Skyfall and Spectre, I think the trilogy would not be the same with a new Bond. It just wouldn't.

[Edited to add:] Oh, and though I don't drink, even I know if you order a dirty martini, it shouldn't be clear. My father was a formulations chemist, and I learned about cloud points as a kid.

RECOMMENDED For The Bond Fans -- You Know Who You Are

Trailers: In The Heart Of The Sea -- this trailer actually shows a wrapper story with Mr. Melville interviewing an old salt while researching Moby Dick. Ron Howard movie opens 12/11. 13 Hours -- January, a notorious month for either general release of Oscar fodder from December, art house films or movies that suck, brings us "the True Story you were never told..." about Benghazi -- as told by that noted history and realism movie artiste, Michael Bay. Concussion -- previous trailer of Will Smith movie about football injuries. Ride Along 2 -- Huh, a sequel that opens the same weekend as Benghazi. Atlanta drug cops, with a side character played by a Rizzoli & Isles Boston cop, which takes place in Miami. A buddy cop movie with an impending wedding. What could possibly go wrong? Didn't see the first one -- we don't do most comedies. Secret In Their Eyes -- Great cast with Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Revenge for a daughter's murder? Will wait for the reviews, probably catch it on Netflix if it's good. Opens in two weeks. We'll be at The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II that weekend...

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (cinderella-fabletown)
Originally I was going to write and post this before DST2007 dropped out of effect for 2015, but I missed the time. Indeed, I am writing this during the "free" hour between 1:59am EDT and 1:00am EST. Since not everyone reads newspapers with their above-the-fold reminder graphics or listen to local radio or TV, I always post a notice on my class webpages which my students are supposed to check every day:

Daylight Saving Time -- note there is no "s" -- is regularly mocked and hated in the United States of the 21st century:

For me, seeing as I am not a farmer, nor do I do many outdoor things in the summer evening (or anytime any more for that matter), the changeovers between DST modes generally results in having to battle the Sun in my eyes during my morning commute twice in the spring and twice in the fall. Alas, my commute starts off heading due east on roads. Fortunately, my current schedule doesn't put me in the same position westbound coming home.

Now there's a possible move to rid Michigan of DST altogether:
MICHIGAN -- As much of the nation prepares to turn the clocks back an hour Sunday, a Michigan legislator wants the state to dump daylight saving time.

The idea of Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, is not new. Others have tried to get Michigan off the twice-annual time change regimen without success.

In March, Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, sponsored a bill but it gained no traction.

Now, Lucido has sponsored a similar measure.

Introduced Oct. 14, his bill seeks to dump daylight saving time but also bring four Upper Peninsula counties into the Eastern Standard Time zone with the rest of the state. Gogebic, Iron, Dickinson, and Menominee counties now are in the Central time zone.

"There is no rational basis for (daylight saving time) whatsoever," Lucido argues.

He claims it leads to workplace accidents, health and driving risks, sleep disruptions and simple hassles for people that need to manually change clocks twice a year.

Lucido also believes that one intent of the program -- to save energy -- was never a proven outcome.

"It doesn't save anything. It causes problems," he said.

Lucido's bill has been referred to the House Government Operations Committee for a possible hearing.
Interestingly, Michigan has not always adopted Daylight Saving Time:
In 1967 the Michigan Legislature adopted a statute, Act 6 of the Public Acts of 1967, exempting the state from the observance of DST. The exemption statute was suspended on June 14, 1967, however, when the referendum was invoked. From June 14, 1967 until the last Sunday in October, 1967, Michigan observed DST, and did so in 1968 as well. The exemption statute was submitted to the voters at the General Election held in November 1968, and, in a close vote, the exemption statute was sustained. As a result, Michigan did not observe DST in 1969, 1970, 1971, or 1972. In November 1972, an initiative measure, repealing the exemption statute, was approved by the voters. Michigan again observed DST in 1973, and has continued to do so since then.

The vast majority of Michigan is in the Eastern Time Zone. Only the Upper Peninsula counties that border Wisconsin (Gogebic, Iron, Dickinson, and Menominee) are in Central Time.
Of course, the ridiculous DST2007 we currently operate under, was actually proposed by... duh-duh-DUH... a MICHIGAN congressman -- and a Republican at that. Thanks, Fred Upton:
Starting March 11, 2007, DST was extended another four to five weeks, from the second Sunday of March to the first Sunday of November. The change was introduced by Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI) and Edward Markey (D-MA) and added to the Energy Policy Act of 2005; the House had originally approved a motion that would have extended DST even farther from the first Sunday in March to the last Sunday in November, but Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Pete Domenici (R-NM) agreed to scale back the proposal in conference committee due to complaints from farmers and the airline industry. Proponents claimed that the extension would save "the equivalent of" 10,000 barrels (1,600 m3) of oil per day, but this figure was based on U.S. Department of Energy information from the 1970s, the accuracy and relevance of which the DoE no longer stands by. More recent studies by the Department of Energy and California Energy Commission have predicted much smaller energy benefits.[8] There is very little recent research on what the actual positive effects, if any, might be.
And, of course, I was in high school and had to deal with the Nixon-era nearly all-year DST:
In response to the 1973 energy crisis, DST in the United States began earlier in both 1974 and 1975, commencing on the first Sunday in January (January 6) in the former year and the last Sunday in February (February 23) in the latter. The extension of daylight saving time was not continued due to public opposition to late sunrise times during the winter months. In 1976, the United States reverted to the schedule set in the Uniform Time Act.
Part of the reason people hate DST in that they could never figure out when it was supposed to happen -- they kept changing it. Originally the last Sunday in April to the last Sunday in October:
On July 8, 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1986 into law that contained a daylight saving rider authored by Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA).[3] The starting date of DST was amended to the first Sunday in April effective in 1987. DST continued to end on the last Sunday in October.
The system I started out with as a kid was simple enough -- Indiana and Arizona were oddities which stayed on Standard Time, as they straddled two time zones. Alaska and Hawaii were disconnected from the Lower 48, so weren't on my radar as a kid. Me, personally, I could live with the old rules for DST. Alas, I don't think going back is likely to be a choice. All or nothing now. And trust that software updates will handle many of our devices twice a year.

So, what else did I take advantage of on this extra-long Saturday night? Well, I stumbled onto a movie on TV I hadn't seen, amused as much as the 12-1 schedule, since it was running into the time change.

R.I.P.D. (Rest In Peace Department) [PG-13] (2013)
FXHD 12:00am EDT to 1:00am EST

A Boston cop is killed and discovers he's "not quite dead yet", as the R.I.P.D. still has a use for him. He's teamed up with a Wild West lawman, who's been around the block a few times. Sort of like the TV series Dead Again -- and like that show, you no longer appear in the same body to the living, so don't try to go back to your old life.

Of course Ryan Reynolds doesn't listen. Old codger Jeff Bridges has to show him the ropes. It's a lot like Men In Black, only this time they're dealing with deados, rather than aliens. Kevin Bacon figures in the beginning and the end, and he's smiling, which is never good.

A silly fun romp, R.I.P.D. tanked at the box office -- go figure -- but it was a pleasant enough diversion for two hours. The worst part were the interminable triple-damned commercials. (evil-grin)

Dr. Phil
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Yes, Chef!

Saturday, 31 October 2015 01:19
dr_phil_physics: (Default)
We don't usually do Friday night movies, but this is at least the second one this year -- we saw Tomorrowland (DW) (LJ) back in May (and amusingly meatloaf sandwiches were in play then, too). Saturday the weather is not supposed to cooperate and we have company coming Sunday, so we really can't have a Saturday play day.

It's amazing how quickly you can be spoiled. The last two movies at the Holland 7 were in Theatre 5, which is the first to have the really nice recliners (DW) (LJ).

This morning, I heard a snippet on the radio that M-231, the new crossing of the Grand River halfway between Allendale and Grand Haven, was scheduled to open at 4pm Friday. Sure enough, as we drove west on M-45 towards Holland at 6:20pm, the new traffic lights were on, and there were a lot of cars heading north and south on the new road. So even though it was about 9:40pm and dark on the way home, we decided to take a side trip and run the seven mile length of M-231 from M-45 to M-104/I-96. For one thing, I wanted to see what exits they actually built. Originally there were supposed to be three. But after farbling around for over twenty years trying to decide to build this bypass, and after spending tons of money on the Detroit freeways, the state kept on getting cheap with M-231, just as they had with the promised South Beltline M-6. In the end there is one grade crossing intersection at Lincoln, which is convenient for us, and NO exits. I'll have to make the run in daylight and post some pictures. But it's a nice road. Just not the full US-31 bypass freeway originally envisioned.

Burnt [R]
Holland 7 Theatre 3, 7:00pm, 2×$9.50

Bradley Cooper is in all sorts of films, but it turns out I've never seen him in one. Sure, he voiced Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy and Mrs. Dr. Phil streamed Silver Linings Playlist Playbook once when I wasn't here -- so those don't count. No matter, he's got the look of a Rocco DiSpirito, who is a real life New York rock star chef.

We've kind of seen this movie before. Great chef has meltdown, suffers business failure and/or gets into drugs and alcohol and/or can't handle success, tries to put life together. Working on earning the elusive Michelin third star. Two movies which come to mind are Chef (DW) and The Hundred-Foot Journey (DW), the latter which also involved pursuit of Michelin stars. Or even Ratatouille (DW). (grin)

Never mind, we love chef/food movies. Goes along with all the cooking competition shows we watch. Burnt does a particularly decent job of showing the brigade in the kitchen -- what, you thought Chef actually made all the dishes he served? And also "the pass", where dishes are put together before being sent out for service. And this is a NICE kitchen.

As far as food goes, the Holland 7 has the best popcorn in town, but doesn't offer hot dogs or sandwiches or anything more substantial. It's after 7pm -- dinner time for us. So after popcorn, we had our smuggled in meatloaf sandwiches. Oh, yum. Yes, I like fine dining, but we eat pretty damn well at home, too, under the strict kitchen supervision of Chef Mrs. Dr. Phil. It amused me that just as a diner in the film was slicing through an egg laid across some entree, allowing the runny yolk to spread over everything, that bite of sandwich hit the hardboiled egg which had been embedded in the meatloaf. Mmm. Taste-o-vision...

The thing about Adam's Paris meltdown is that he hurt a lot of people he counted on. So there's plenty of agendas, plus one wicked application of that Klingon proverb, "bortaS bIr jablu'DI', reH QaQqu' nay'". (Revenge is a dish best served cold.) And Chef Adam's relationship with money is very casual -- broke one day with his credit cards canceled, the next day he's driving a really nice fancy motorcycle which he gives away. Huh? And there are a whole lot of the subplots of The Magnificent Seven Of The Kitchen which are barely explored or simply disappear. Even Adam's backstory is administered in fleeting little dibs and drabs. Oh wait, the running time is only 101 minutes. Yet another movie which could've done a lot more if they'd just added 20-30 minutes -- good minutes, not just padding.

You know, for example, that the really good young woman chef, played by Sienna Miller, who has a precocious daughter and loathes the self-important American chef... is going to fall for him. Though the best kiss in the movie isn't between them. Only the second best. (evil-grin)

Still, they managed a lot of restraint in the movie. It would've been easy to: (a) toss the chef and the girl into bed and/or (b) have a big lovers spat, (c) have chef fall completely off the wagon and fight like Rocky to get back up, etc. Instead there are a lot of plot areas left dangling -- Emma Thompson's role was kept low key, for example, as was the ex-girlfriend -- and I'll leave it up to you to decide whether this is a better exhibition of life or the director left too many Chechov's guns littering the film. Me? I kind of liked it. The more I wanted was depth, not chaos for chaos' sake.

Wikipedia mentions the film went through several name changes -- originally it was going to be called Chef, but that ended up being used by another movie. Opening day reviews don't sound spectacular -- 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Much of the criticism is center on Adam, calling him an unlikable character. Gordon Ramsay, on the other hand, loved it -- but I should note we saw his name, as well as Mario Batalli, in the credits.

In the end, Burnt is a very pretty movie. And though it is billed as a comedy-drama, I was glad they didn't take the comedy too seriously and make the whole thing a caricature. I do worry that Adam's solutions to getting the multiple monkeys from Paris off his back are not particularly useful for addicts, though they might think so, and probably shouldn't be taken too seriously.

We had a lovely evening, but this is not high cinema.


Trailers: Joy -- Jennifer Lawrence, who is in everything these days, Robert DeNiro and, oh look, it's Bradley Cooper. Young woman goes out into the world and it sounds like maybe her family doesn't believe she can make it, I guess. Love The Coopers -- John Goodman and Diane Keaton head a dysfunctional family heading into the holidays. Hilarity ensues, I guess. The always lovely Olivia Wilde is in this one. The Hateful Eight -- billed as Quentin Tarantino's 8th movie. It's a western. He's got me with Samuel L. Jackson, but then Kurt Russell is playing a badass bounty hunter. By The Sea -- huh, Brangelina. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are having a tough time. I can't quite tell if she's trying to commit suicide or he's trying to kill her. Don't care yet, either.

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (hal-9000)
The Three Week Cold is still annoying me, but I am getting better. Last Saturday we didn't go out to the movies, saving our energy for Game Night. This Saturday? Despite the heavy rain earlier in the day, we had a chance to go to our favorite Holland 7 and catch a movie I wanted to see with the comfy new recliners that debuted the other week. And then go out to a wonderful dinner in honor of our second 31st anniversary.

Pretty fair deal, I'd say.

Steve Jobs [R]
Holland 7 Theatre 5, 4:30pm, 2×$6.00 ***

The movie opens with a real treat, an old bit of film with Arthur C. Clarke talking about the possibilities of a personal computer on life, while surrounded by the usual white room of Big Iron mainframes. Many of us growing up in the techie fields of the 70s and working with mainframes, PDP-8s and -11s and VAXes, etc., wanted to have a computer to call our own, even if we couldn't yet articulate exactly what we would use a computer for. And between IBM, Microsoft and Apple, it took a while for some of that to shake out. We've come a long way to get to 2015.

I must confess that I would never have been able to work for either Steve Jobs or Bill Gates in the heyday of the early PC/Mac era. I don't need that pressure. And while most of you know that I use Windows and DOS PCs, it's not that I actively hate Apple products. Indeed, I actually do own a Mac -- but it's a Macintosh SE running System/Finder 6.0.8 that I bought used for $125. And while I haven't actively participated in the Cult of Apple, I have always found Steve Jobs a polished charismatic salesman, versus the We Own The World bludgeon of Bill Gates.

Second confession. When I first saw trailers with Jeff Daniels in it, my first thoughts were "Oh, he'll be perfect as the hyper excited Steve Balmer." Oops, Balmer was Microsoft, my bad. But truthfully, I had forgotten all about Pepsico's John Sculley, who'd been brought in to be Apple's CEO.

So what's the crack about this being "half a movie" in the blog post title? Well, the movie centers around three history making product announcements by Steve Jobs -- the original 128K Macintosh, the NeXT computer and the iMac. We see lots of the chaos backstage, and getting everything to work right, or even just work. And in the middle of all this, there's outside shit to deal with. BUT, a lesser filmmaker would have gone on to show Steve Jobs on the stage performing the Steve Jobs Magic Show. Each of these sections of the movie end with him going out onto the stage. That punch is pulled, primarily because it is totally unnecessary. In addition, we end with the iMac. We don't get to see the warm-ups to the iPod, the iPhone, the Mac Air, the iPad, etc. Those punches are pulled, because we already have satisfied the writing gods with the Rule of Three. We don't have to deal with his illness and death. A lesser filmmaker would've tried to cram in too much, or concentrated on the pathos of the endgame. Again, there's half a film left not on the cutting room floor, but simply not needed. 1984, 1988 and 1998 are sufficient.

It is the middle act where I had some interesting reactions. The NeXT machine came out when I was in grad school, and some in the Michigan Tech Math department were all agog at the machine and thought we in Physics should switch to it. Really? An MC68020 processor, I think running at 25MHz? Insufficient memory, disk, a prohibitive cost -- and no FORTRAN compiler? What, am I supposed to be doing mainframe Hartree-Fock calculations using Mathematica? And yet the NeXT OS was brilliant and clean. I used NeXT on a 66 MHz 486 PC at Hope College in 1996, and it ran complicated multi-user applications far more stably than my single-user 166MHz Pentium PC. I can see why it morphed into the MacOS used today. But the original black cube? Bah!

I can see some eyes have glazed over -- TMI on the tech stuff. Does that mean the movie is only for geeks? I don't think so. There's a good smattering of insider techie talk, but it's not oppressive -- and there's plenty of dramatic and social dialog to keep the tech stuff at bay. AMC's series Halt and Catch Fire is much more geeky.

Danny Boyle directs, but for a film which is chock full of talking, it is a joy to have a script written Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, A Few Good Men, etc.). I found the whole cast to be terrific, including the guy playing Steve "Woz" Wozniak, Seth Rogen. And of course, I'm sure people who know me can't believe we've gotten this far down in the review and I haven't mentioned the incomparable Kate Winslet. Of course Kate is brilliant as Johanna Hoffman, Steve's marketing shepherd -- and frankly his shepherd, too. We know La Kate can do convincing accents and mannerisms, as in the 2008 film The Reader (DW). Here she serves as the missing half of Steve's personality. Also kudos to the casting of the three girls used for his daughter Lisa -- nice match there.

But ultimately this is Michael Fassbender's movie. As Steve Jobs, you can't take your eyes off him in any scene. I am sure that if Jobs were still alive today, he'd probably hate the performance, but that's as it should be.

So, is this a love story treatment of Steve Jobs? No. We see the best and worst of Jobs, especially a lot of the latter. Yet, there is that seed of genius -- or at least the demand for perfection -- along with a few cracks in his iron demeanor. And though he calls a few people "friend", we also are privy to his loneliness, even when surrounded by hundred of Apple people who've drunk the Kool-Aid and are his biggest fans.

In the Wikipedia article, there's a section about journalist Walt Mossberg's feeling that Steve Jobs is too much fiction and probably should have been treated like Orson Wells did William Randolph Hearst in Citizen Kane. I can vaguely see his point, but look -- we know that biopics are artificial. That they are going to emphasize some things more than others. Is this a complete tale of Jobs? No. Hardly. But by focusing on only a few things, we not only see the man of history, we also see him grow.

Frankly, I don't think it's possible to a film about Steve Jobs without stepping on toes or bringing up stuff. So what? We're getting a look at the man behind the curtain, right before a couple of the biggest shows of his life.

For me, this is sufficient. For Mrs. Dr. Phil, I don't think she actively disliked the movie, but did comment that she was in no hurry to watch it again on television any time soon. Perhaps that's as much an indictment of living in the Steve Jobs pressure cooker, as the film itself. As I pointed out above, you'd not find me working for Apple or Microsoft in most any alternative universe you care to hypothesize. (grin)


Trailers: One from the First Looks video ads running before the movie trailers -- The Man In The High Castle is coming out on Amazon video on 20 November. The way to movie speculative fiction gold has, for a long time, been to turn a Philip K. Dick short story into a movie. Now we get to see what the 1963 Hugo winning novel from Philip K. Dick will turn into when Ridley Scott makes a two-episode mini-series for Amazon. Frankly, it's gorgeous. There are reasons why we "love" Nazi movies -- the Nazis were all into set dressing and giant set pieces. So when the Allies lose WW II, what we get is... Will definitely have to check this out. The Big Short, brings back some of the people and cast responsible for Moneyball, to look at a True Story of some people who saw the housing market crash coming in 2005 and decided to short the big banks on Wall Street and make a killing. Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, etc. Very intriguing. The Finest Hours is the Disney United States Coast Guard rescue film in the middle of the True Story of terrible conditions. Looks better than the Kevin Costner movie The Guardian, though that one I have to admit is a late night guilty pleasure... Concussion, seen previously, has Will Smith as a foreign born doctor concerned with Repetitive Head Injuries in football. As noted before, it comes out in December AFTER most of the high school, college and even NFL seasons are done. Hail, Caesar is a Coen brothers romp in the golden 30s age of Hollywood, with George Clooney as the studly matinee idol in a movie Hail, Caesar. Except he's kidnapped by "The Future". I don't know where this is going, but it's a great cast and it sure looks like fun.

Dr. Phil

*** Actually, we only paid for one ticket. The group ahead of us had bought their tickets online, but one in their group hadn't made it. Unfortunately, I suspect because they had gone through Fandango or someone outside the theatre, they had no way to refund one ticket. So the lead guy in the group decided to pass the extra ticket onto the next person in line. Which was Mrs. Dr. Phil. Didn't matter that the ticket said "Woodlawn" 4:25 -- it was the same price.

We will have to pay it forward another time we are in the theatre...
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dr_phil_physics: (aki-ross)
Haikasoru is an imprint from VIZ Media specializing in bringing Japanese novels in English translation to the American market. Internet friend Nick Mamatas shepherds these. Indeed, he asked me to do a science consult on the English translation on Toh EnJoe's Self-Reference ENGINE, which was a really fun experience.

Then there was the Tom Cruise blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow, which came from Haikasoru's All You Need Is Kill / Hiroshima Sakurazaka and obliquely All You Need Is Kill [Graphic Novel] / Based On The Novel by Hiroshima Sakurazaka, Adapted by Nick Mamatas, Art by Lee Ferguson(DW)

I mention all this because I was digging through my pile of Really Should Read Now / Really Should FINISH Reading Now books, when I ran across another Haikasoru title. Plus it was one of the rare instances when I won a contest. In anticipation of this summer's release of Gene Mapper, Nick was looking for "What emerging technology are you most interested in? Frightened of?" As a Physicist and SF writer, I couldn't ignore this! And he liked it. (grin)
Then there is Dr. Phil, who managed to terrify us with a future without backwards compatibility. How would you like to be a 3G phone, forever?
What I wrote:
Dr. Phil says:
06/01/2015 at 11:54 am

Human machine interfaces are coming. WiFi, USB cables — it might be like living in the world of Ghost in the Shell. But... what terrifies me is the unanticipated costs to early adopters. What if it’s addictive? What if long-term it shorts out or calcifies the neural networks? What if there’s long term scarring, irritation, infection intrusions, corrosion through the interface graft? You could die, be damaged or, after seeing the new world, be disconnected from it forever. What (about) version 1.0 adoptees? Having done one operation, you might never be able to get 2.0. What if in a world of 2.31 users, they drop support and access for 1.01 users? What kind of person would volunteer for version 0.91? 0.77?

Would you get the plug with a 10% risk of failure? 1%? 0.1%? Would you do it in a mall kiosk (w)here it’s affordable, but has a higher failure rate? What if you get hacked?

This is way beyond PDAs, smartphones/watches/glasses. Or cochlear implants.

It’s coming. It could be wonderful. How would you know when to adopt?

Dr. Phil
I started right in when I got the book on 15 June 2015... and put it down about one-third of the way through because I loaded it in my day bag as we ventured south to North Carolina and back. Managed not to pull it out once, which isn't surprising. And then it's lurked on the pile glaring at me, a red warning LED slowly pulsing on its spine, mocking me. Finally I picked it up and polished it off Friday night.

Gene Mapper / Taiyo Fujii. San Francisco : Haikasoru, 2015.
Trade paperback, $14.99.

What could possibly go wrong?

This is always a great way to start a SF novel, especially one about emerging technologies. And Taiyo Fujii has painted a very nice extrapolated future. Remember those annoying animated cereal boxes and other hyper advertising in the movie Minority Report? Or giant fields in Europe cut to form a SwissAir logo visible from... other airlines? All those annoying people talking about how wonderful Second Life was going to be for virtual reality? Supergrains to feed the world? GMO plants? Imagine all of that not only working, but way over-the-top working in the way we always manage to overdo everything.

What could possibly go wrong?

Gene mapper Hayashida's greatest contract job combining a megacorp's super rice with advertising visible from space is suddenly unraveling. Is this super resistant rice suddenly susceptible to pests? Are its genes spreading out beyond the fields? What the hell is going on in the giant corporate rice field in Vietnam?

Virtual reality meets augmented reality. Hayashida not only has to find out what's going on, but he has to actually travel to the site. Always worrying me in the back of the head is that he is an external private contractor -- if shit goes south, I don't think he's thinking completely about the shitstorm that the world can dump on his head.

This free-and-easy use of VR/AR in its many forms has complications -- and nicely done is that the different levels have different cost structures to them, as do the rates for connections in differing countries. Not just relying on the computers to provide on-the-fly language translations in both directions, emotions and emotional feedback can also be generated or substituted so the avatar you present to someone and the inputs you receive back are not trustworthy.

Steve Buchheit's Linkee Poo the other day included this:
The PBS special on the Brain, with David Eagleman. Some of you have heard me go on about how your vision (and perception of reality) isn't some movie playing on the back of your eyes. Instead it's a construct of your brain, a 3D holographic projection filled with emotional meaning with several extra dimensions that exist only in your head. Oh, and most of it is preprocessed information your brain pulls from memory routines, instead of reprocessing what your eyes (and other perceptions) are seeing. Just in case you ever thought I was full of shit. Well, at least about this.
I mention this because this question of visual processing becomes very important in this book. How the hell do you trust when you're not sure of the reality you're being presented with? How do you figure out the truth?

And once again I find the mix of globe hopping -- real and virtual -- and trying to keep track of who is and is not the good/bad guys reminiscent of one of my favorite movies, Wim Wender's Until The End of the World. Futurists like company, I suppose. (grin)

Then there's the whole dumpster diving of the "old" Internet, which had eventually collapsed under its own weight and hacking. Somehow the collapse of computers was turned into a new beginning. But, like those poor quality baseball highlights from 1974 -- early video era tapes with shoddy images compared to modern recordings and older film -- we've lost a lot of information. Some of which might hold the answers to what's happening in Vietnam.

THEN there's the third act, where Chechov's grasshoppers from the first act, suddenly embark on a completely new direction. The reality distortion field created by both people and technology keeps us from seeing where this is going, but given the logic and completeness of Fujii's world, the ending satisfies. You can be forgiven if not understanding why the obvious retaliation to the big reveal doesn't happen, because it is effectively neutralized in one sentence. And by gosh, it works.

I suppose it's reasonable to ask if I want to live in this world? Hard to say -- there's a lot going for it. But at the same time, I'm not in control and inevitability is going to take us to the future whether we want it or not. In 1980, we had no idea we wanted an iPhone or Facebook... or Windows 10.

Bottom line -- Gene Mapper is the most original hard SF book I've read this year.


Dr. Phil

UPDATE: Nick Mamatas featured my review on his LJ blog. I appreciate when others review my stories -- I definitely appreciate when someone likes my reviews. Thanks, Nick!
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dr_phil_physics: (apollo-11-aldrin)
Somewhere I think I once did a blog review of Robert Altman's Countdown. I know I've mentioned it several times, including during my review of The Martian. It's a 1968 movie with Robert Duvall and James Caan about a juryrigged mission to put an American on the Moon, using a mixture of Apollo and Gemini parts -- because the Russians were going and the full Apollo wasn't ready.

I hadn't heard of it until just a few years ago when it was on Turner Classic Movies. Pristine print in letterbox widescreen. It is by no means a great space movie -- to me it is memorable because it was a big studio production with Altman at the helm which had the misfortune to come out the same year as Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Oops.

In looking it up when I did The Martian review, I was reminded that it was based on a novel. So... off to Amazon, where I found a used copy for a couple of dollars. And it came the other day and I read it Monday and Tuesday night.

The Pilgrim Project / Hank Searls. 1964.
used via Amazon.com, paperback, $3.00 + $3.99 S+H.

Opening the package took me right back to my early SF reading. Books tended to be shorter -- this paperback was some 200 pages, with a small heavy font with very small margins and gutters. The three cut edges of the paper had been dyed a deep purple or burgundy -- the dye spreading onto the pages just a little bit. The cover art, as you can see, very stylistic and simple.

One of my favorite books in junior high school was Martin Caidin's Marooned, later made into a lackluster film much like Countdown. But Marooned comes in two versions -- the one I read was Apollo/Skylab. I finally tracked down a copy of the 1964 Mercury/Gemini version and am partway through it. (My used copy is slightly mildewed and so I can't read it in very long stretches -- one area that e-books have solved.) Marooned is much the better story, and the 1964 version is contemporary with The Pilgrim Project

This is cheap and dirty spacecraft design, a Just-in-Case Apollo isn't ready when the Russians try for the Moon. A Saturn I launch vehicle, with a Centaur third stage. A one-man Mercury capsule with extra supplies, using a Polaris solid rocket engine to get close to the surface and then a liquid fuel engine for maneuvering and landing. No launch vehicle. You're stranded on the Moon... and have to find the shelter sent up the week before and use that until Apollo is ready and you can hitch a ride on a LEM to go home. Huh. Doesn't this sound a lot like the plot of The Martian, except doing it deliberately?

This book doesn't make sense at first -- this isn't the NASA we grew up with -- until you understand the Cold War subplots between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Space Race wasn't just about firsts -- it was also about controlling the high ground. There really were fears that the Moon could be militarized and by the Russians if we didn't get there first!
“I do not believe that this generation of Americans is willing to resign itself to going to bed each night by the light of a Communist moon” -- Lyndon B. Johnson
And as NASA secrets go, Pilgrim makes a lot more sense as a positive thing than the conspiracy of Capricorn One when they realized their environmental equipment couldn't make it to Mars and back -- and they had to fake the Mars landing so as not to kill O.J. Simpson.

Like Capricorn One, there is a lot of lying going on. Including an abort of a manned Apollo mission for really poor reasons.

What is more unbelievable is the sort of standard issue 1950s/1960s matter of alcoholics, spies and interagency and interservice rivalries. The flight surgeon is against the whole project and behaves unprofessionally and -- in the Cold War spirit of the story -- treasonously. My take away is that Searls is a competent technical writer and researcher -- the basic parts and engineering are there. I read up on all this stuff in every book I could find in our school and public libraries when I was a kid. Today, you could research all this stuff on Wikipedia and make it sound convincing.

But technical accuracy does not necessarily a great plot make.

In the movie they used a Gemini capsule as a one-seater, so there'd be more room. But in the book, it's a Mercury capsule. Mainly for weight. But one of the things I forgot about Mercury was the periscope. If you're trying to land on the Moon and you're lying on your back facing up, it sure would be nice to see the surface. In the LEM, you're standing and looking through forward and downward canted windows.

They used the "little Saturn" rocket for launching, just as they did to get the Apollo capsules up for Earth orbit work in Apollo 7 and the three Skylab Apollo missions. They used Launch Complex 37, not the more famous Saturn V Launch Complex 39. As they start talking about the firing of the engines, I suddenly had to remember that the Saturn IB first stage did NOT have five engines like its big brother the Saturn V Moon rocket, but eight. Off to Wikipedia where I realized they were talking about the original Saturn I, not the IB: S-I first stage with 8 H-1 engines, burning RP1 kerosene and LOX, S-IV second stage with 6 RL10 engines, burning LH2 and LOX. And the never-flown S-V (Centaur-C) third stage, with 2 RL10 engines. The Saturn I flew some of the early unmanned boilerplate Apollo capsules, such as the one in Grand Rapids MI. (grin) The Saturn IB didn't fly until 1966, with an upgraded S-IB first stage, still with 8 H-1 engines, but the second stage was the S-IVB third stage workhorse of the Saturn V rocket, with its single J-2 engine, also used in the Saturn V's second stage.

Pretty clever to manhandle the mass around to make the Saturn I a manned Moon rocket.

Technical details are easy. People are hard, especially when we all know who the Mercury Seven are. Glenn is mentioned by name, as having left the program to run for the Senate. One of the main characters is the colonel -- he talks a lot about the commander. I'm assuming the latter is Shepherd, but is the colonel Grissom? That's who I assumed in my mind the whole time. It's an almost clever way to deal with NOT inventing extra original Mercury astronauts, which is the usual conceit. It's like 555- phone numbers and the endless number of made up large airlines in stories. It's one of the reasons it's easy to write in the 29th century -- or secret kingdoms. (grin)

And then on the top of page 170 I was suddenly thrown out of the story because one of their markers was Shiaperelli crater. What, wait? Sure enough, I was right and there is a Schiaparelli crater on the Moon AND one on Mars. Now I REALLY am wondering if Andy Weir ever read The Pilgrim Project when he wrote The Martian.

If I was a few years older, I probably would've found The Pilgrim Project on my own in the mid-60s and I would've liked it okay. Today, I am really glad to have found a copy and see where the movie came from. Has some good technical stuff, but the story... seems desperately far fetched today. For my money, Marooned is far superior and the 1981 Shuttle Down by Lee Correy is a decent more modern technical and engineering romp -- but the latter also suffers from some poor writing in some places.

RECOMMENDED for its historical value

As a footnote, I should add that McDonnell-Douglas, the manufacturer of the Gemini space capsule, really was investigating post-Gemini missions and adaptations, including a 12-man Big Gemini orbital resupply ship and:
A range of applications were considered for Advanced Gemini missions, including military flights, space station crew and logistics delivery, and lunar flights. The Lunar proposals ranged from reusing the docking systems developed for the Agena Target Vehicle on more powerful upper stages such as the Centaur, which could propel the spacecraft to the Moon, to complete modifications of the Gemini to enable it to land on the lunar surface. Its applications would have ranged from manned lunar flybys before Apollo was ready, to providing emergency shelters or rescue for stranded Apollo crews, or even replacing the Apollo program.
It's like the paper I discovered last year or so about the concept of using an Apollo capsule for Mars and Venus manned flyby missions!

In other words, there were a lot of hairbrained schemes for dangerous manned flight missions talked about, so that part of the story isn't completely bonkers.

Dr. Phil
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dr_phil_physics: (tiger-eye-videogame)
So back in March -- was it just March of 2015? -- my online and con friend Ferrett Steinmetz came out with his debut novel Flex (DW) (LJ).
I pre-ordered this from Amazon way back on 14 April 2014 and it arrived yesterday, 4 March 2015. Yeah, publishing can take a while. I devoured 92 pages Wednesday night and then polished off the rest in sessions on Thursday on either side of a doctor's appointment.
This time, The Flux was pre-ordered from Amazon on 21 May 2015 and arrived on its release day, Tuesday 6 October 2015 -- just 216 days after Flex. Yeah, those publishers can be brutal after that first book. Not even a year between books? Now you know why I want at least the first two books in my YA series completed as I go to shop the first. I'm not crazy. (grin) Well, I am, but not stupid crazy.

Anyway, I cracked this open Friday evening and finished it before midnight Saturday. Devoured. Yum.

The Flux / Ferrett Steinmetz. Nottingham UK : Angry Robot, New York : Random House, 2015.
Amazon.com, paperback, $7.99. ***

Flex itself is a drug -- magic distilled into a drug. Which gives you magic, even if you aren't magical. Now I don't write much fantasy, but as a Physicist, one of the things I can really appreciate in fantasy is applications of conservation laws regarding the use of magic. Magic should have a cost. And that cost is the Flux.

The first book has our hero Paul learning the ropes of magic and making Flex. The second book is about consequences. Going all out AND pulling punches. But most especially, this book is the things we do for love -- good or bad.

So. Sequel. Second book. That's a lot of pressure on both the writer and the reader. But as noted above, the first wasn't all that long ago, so it was pretty fresh in my mind even without a re-read. That Flex was so lovingly unique and memorable sure as hell didn't hurt.

Ferrett talks about the Four Things I Learned About Sequels From The Empire Strikes Back. Ah, young Jedi, learned well your lessons you have. Here's my reactions to the first evening's reading:

Didn't see that coming.

Didn't see that coming.

Didn't see that coming.

Whoa, Did Not See That Coming.

It is too easy for the sequel to be a me-too effort rehash. Give the public what they want. But, and especially after such an original romp as the first, what we want is originality and some convolution. The very last thing I wanted out of The Flux was predictability. And our hero is a paperwork specialist, not some Big Damn Action Hero. So we don't want him to be one. On the contrary, what we want is for him to suffer. And it sure doesn't hurt to start off with a bang.

Oh I don't mean suffering to be mean. But you need conflicts and things to go bad, some of which can be fixed by the end. And if, along the way, you manage to uncover the reasons Why Things Are, especially even about the events in Book 1, well... you're on the way to something special.

Paul and his daughter are back, of course. And thankfully Valentine is, too. Valentine is... well, she's sort of the Big Damn Videogame Action Anti-Hero. She doesn't play by the same set of rules Paul does and doesn't always/mostly play nice with others -- she is her own spirit. And a great character.

It helps to know some references to videogames and videogame systems. Also movies -- one in particular which isn't even mentioned by name for quite a while after the reader hopefully knows what is being talked about. Now I rather famously don't play videogames, but I do keep up with titles and graphics. The Dr. Phil level of gaming is more than enough for me to get most of the references, even before they're named. So if you aren't a huge videogamer, then you will probably do all right. Frankly, I'm loving how all the techie/geekie stuff from the 80s onward is becoming the stuff of literature -- Ready Player One, for example. Mrs. Dr. Phil was reading a mystery series just now which has been moving from the 70s into the 90s, and she mentioned someone using a Zeos 386 PC. Man, I haven't thought about the Zeos in YEARS, so right now us Old Fogies™ have some advantages in reading over The Young Whippersnappers.

As an added bonus, we have a shifting array of good guys and bad guys. Some books you need a scorecard to keep up with what's going on. With The Flux that scorecard isn't going to help, much like one of my most favorite movies, Wim Wenders Until The End Of The World. (grin)

The third act almost bogs down with how far our hero has fallen, but then we wanted him to suffer and now I had to keep pressing on to find out how the hell he was going to get out of all this crap he's under. Well played.

Ah, Mister Steinmetz. I am going to have to deduct 1000 points, the standard deduction, for getting the Physics SI units wrong on the top of page 382. You almost made it to the end before you hit a derail and momentarily threw me out of the story so hard, I even remembered the damned page number when I wrote this review. Maybe it was a publisher's typo. I've had trouble with getting Physics terms/equations to come out right after typesetting -- E=mc² just isn't the same without that square.

Finally, I think you could read The Flux without having read Flex, but don't cheat yourself. This is a fine pair of books, and if you're like me, you'll HATE reading them out of order.


Back in March, I wrote about Flex, "To call this the Best Book I read in 2015 would be fairly disingenuous, seeing that the only other book I've read so far this year is half an anthology, which I should really finish." So, how do I compare two Ferrett Steinmetz novels? In part we're dealing with Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels -- for which The Flux holds up quite admirably. But, as usual, I suspect I might have to give the nod to Flex based on the whole innocence of the first book trick. Still, it's a tight race and, much like the original Star Wars trilogy, a lot rests on the third book, The Fix. Full disclosure -- I've been one of the physicists consulted on How To Destroy Europe With 'Mancy for this third book. (big-huge-evil-grin)

Dr. Phil

PS -- the LJ icon above is from the release artwork from the videogame of Marjorie Liu's Tiger Eye, which I think is the only videogame icon I have in my collection.

PPS -- Dammit, just noticed I twice had The Flex instead of The Flux. This is hard enough to keep straight without typos!

*** -- In typical Amazon pricing fashion, my pre-order copy ended up discounted to $4.37. With free shipping. Go figure.
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dr_phil_physics: (red-planet-spacesuits)
Alright, let's first get a little humor out of the way. Because the meme posted below is rather funny. Tom Hanks and company ran all over France trying to save Matt Damon. Interstellar's Matt Damon turned out to be a rat not worth saving. And Robinson Crusoe on Mars Matt Damon is stranded after being presumed dead. On the other hand, the CIA spent considerable time through three movies -- and after a hiatus in the fourth -- and now a fifth trying to kill Matt Damon. And Matt Damon goes on a murdering spree as a Talented Mr. Ripley. So it's all confusing. (And funny.)

A cold and gray and windy fall day -- raining late in the afternoon. Apparently a lot of people thought to go to Holland to see a movie. The main handicapped parking spaces at the Holland 7 were full, so I had to roll a little further than usual with the walker.

But... we are so glad to have gone to the Holland 7 to see this. They have just renovated Theatre 5 with all recliners. And I don't mean those awful rocking back chairs which put your neck at the wrong angle and are really hard to get out of, especially when you are handicapped. No, these are big solid recliners, with wide arm rests, metal cup holders and power reclining buttons. For once, I had a solid and comfortable chair that was easy to get in and out of in a movie theatre.

The best part? These recliners have a strong resemblance to the recliners used by NASA at the Cape for suiting up the astronauts -- see Apollo 13 -- which really put me in a good mood to see...

The Martian 3D [PG-13]
Holland 7 Theatre 5, 3:30pm, 2×$9.75 ($8.95 net ***)
And now we have Ridley Scott's The Martian.

In 1968, the greatest science fiction space movie of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey, came out. Stanley Kubrick's impeccable filmmaking technique promised to usher in an era of hyperrealistic SF space films for years to come... not. Ron Howard's superb Apollo 13 actually is more realistic, but alas, it's historical and not fiction. (grin) James Cameron's Avatar is an extraordinary 3D CGI movie, but it's not really a space movie. Christopher Nolan's Interstellar was billed as the modern successor to 2001, but came off a little flat as the plot fell apart into non-science nonsense. Sigh. We've been down the road of pretenders to unseat 2001 from the throne -- Peter Hyam's sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact comes close. And lord knows I was embarrassed to follow TIME Magazine's pushing of the Disney movie The Black Hole, which most emphatically was NOT the most realistic space movie ever made. 2008's Moon comes close, amazingly as does the horror space movie Apollo 18, in terms of making you believe that this is a real mission. But they're not 2001.

Andrew Weir's The Martian is a great book -- a tour de force for the space/science/engineering/technical geek reader -- and anticipation amongst my SF friends couldn't have been greater. Even xkcd couldn't believe that the impossible might be about to happen:

The whole cast is great -- Mackenzie Davis, who plays Cameron on Halt and Catch Fire, Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor and on and on. But... The burden is completely on Matt Damon to sell this, as he is primarily playing by himself. He narrates some bits with his video logs, has some long range communications and gets verbal warnings from emergency systems. But there's no HAL or GERTY or Lucile or TARS or R2D2 computer or robot sidekicks.

The Martian scenery, whether local or long range, is terribly convincing. And let's face it, according to Wikipedia they really were on Mars: "Wadi Rum had been used as a backdrop for other films set on Mars, including Mission to Mars (2000), Red Planet (2000), and The Last Days on Mars (2013)." They do like their CGI dust devils/tornadic activity + lightning, though. No one mentions the Martian surface gravity, which has an acceleration of g(Mars) of 3.71 m/s² -- just over twice the lunar gravity 1.62 m/s² and about two-fifths of the Earth's 9.81 m/s². In fact, there is no overt mention of the zero-gee and artificial gravity (centripetal acceleration) sections of the Hermes ship. The zero-gee motion, by the way, is fluid but is surely done by wirework -- either on set or green-screened. I was thrown out of the story momentarily by a change of direction to go down one of the axial tubes to an artificial gravity section. Either I missed a push off which would explain the vector change, or they managed to fly in a curved trajectory. (grin)

Special attention has to go to the sets, both on Earth, in space and on Mars. The movie version of Marooned suffered from the same flat paint set dressing that characterized the Original Star Trek series. And Robert Altman's Countdown, contemporary with 2001, is also artificial looking. Here everything looks great. But...

The Hab itself is huge and spacious. Really? NASA would be able to spring for all that space? Note that the Hab sent up in the Canadian mini-series Race to Mars mentioned yesterday is far more cramped. It's not like the Ares III mission was going to be up there long enough to justify all that real estate. As a result of this roominess, it carries over into the airlocks and hatches. I'm expecting a much tighter fit everywhere. Maybe not quite Das Boot U-boats, but certainly not Ohio class SSBN. (double-sized-grin)

But these are nits. Overall, the parts of the book which are portrayed -- and they are never going to get the whole book stuffed into even a 2:20 movie -- are rendered well with little damage. I have worried for sometime about whether a crucial underling at JPL was going to get whitewashed -- he wasn't. The side story with the Chinese space program? It might have been cut, too, but it wasn't.

The tech looks great, from large pieces to sealed Mylar bags to lots of screws to the inevitable and necessary duck tape. There is no doubt this is a movie FOR space geeks and FOR SF/F fans. There are infodumps and technical details which were left in the book -- oh, they're there in the movie, but not mentioned even once. (But we know!) We have left intact the "steely-eyed missile man" reference, which dates back to the Mercury program. And there is a wonderful exchange about the Lord of the Rings, which includes Sean Bean in the room. (!!) This is how my people really talk. (geek-grin)

Is this the most realistic space movie ever? I dunno, 2001 really set the bar with a high escape velocity. But it is by far the most realistic space in a long time, and definitely the most realistic Mars exploration movie made.

Bottom line: There will be plenty of people who will find faults, because they just can't stand civilians claiming that a movie is the most scientifically accurate, when we've been down this road so often and have been as often so disappointed. But at the beginning, I said we had great anticipation regarding The Martian and I just don't think I could've been more pleased -- unless it was a 3:20 movie and not 2:20. Mrs. Dr. Phil figures with Ridley Scott there will be a longer Director's cut. Oh, I'll buy that Blu-Ray, I assure you.

And in case you happen to ask -- Yes, the 3D is very nicely done. Neither in your face or distracting. Just looks good. As you would want it to be.


Trailers: Okay, big budget highly anticipated 3D film? I called the trailers for Star Wars, Mockingjay Part II and James Bond. Three whiffs with the bat -- completely struck out. Bridge of Spies -- Tom Hanks and U2 Incident negotiations in East Berlin. In the Heart of the Sea -- this is the Ron Howard Moby Dick tale, expected at Christmas. Concussion -- Will Smith as a foreign born doctor who ends up trying to take on the NFL regarding repetitive brain injury. Comes out in December, after nearly all the NFL and NCAA and high school football seasons. Of course. Joy -- Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro. Young woman coming of age... in the 60s? 70s? I think she was an Eastern Airlines gate agent at one point... Krampus -- Because what would be Christmas without a horror movie about "the other Santa Claus"? Yuck. Also a promo for a Fathom "event" about digging for Noah's Ark -- Finding Noah: An Adventure of Faith -- with the serious guy seriously saying "We will either prove it is here or prove it is not." Well, damn. That surely sounds convincing, doesn't it?

Dr. Phil

*** We usually only buy movie tickets online to get the right seats in the IMAX theatre at Celebration North. However, we were given a Fandango gift card last year, which doesn't work at Celebration, but does work at Goodrich Theatres. We'd used up $20.70 out of $25 to see Avengers: Age of Ultron 3D at the Grand Haven 9(DW) (LJ) back on 4 May -- so we had $4.30 left on the card. Tickets were $19.50, plus the "convenience fee" of $2.70 and minus the $4.30 balance, gave us a net cost of $17.90. We actually saved a buck apiece on the tickets. Thanks, Rebecca!
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Mars Pre-Lab

Saturday, 3 October 2015 02:44
dr_phil_physics: (red-planet-spacesuits)
We plan to see The Martian on Saturday. And I'm about as ready as I can be.

This was not the original weekend that The Martian was supposed to open. And it still has gotten stiffed at the local IMAX, boxed in by Everest and The Walk. So we'll go see it in 3D in Holland.

I am way behind on some of my reviews. Andy Wier's book The Martian I never got around to reviewing, because I ended up sick and in the hospital. As for the other pre-lab items...

I'll insert my perennial complaint about the year when Mission to Mars and Red Planet came out -- the last time we had big budget Mars manned mission movies. Both were flawed and both felt that going to Mars wasn't interesting or exciting enough, so they had to invoke aliens.


And there were technical flaws, too. Still, they were pretty films. Just wasted good casts on dumb scripts.

A few weeks ago we bought a DVD of Race to Mars -- a Canadian/French production that we hadn't heard of. But Martin Shoemaker mentioned on Facebook that it was on sale at Amazon and wasn't half bad. They did a nice job for not having a huge budget, though I do have some comments and crits to make when I get around to do a review Real Soon Now. But if you're a space bug, you should check it out.

And then there's the webcomic Mare Internum by Der-shing Helmer. It's updating slowly and I'm not sure where the hell it's going -- but it is beautiful to look at and mesmerizing. Check it out and stick with it. It's very much worth it so far. Even better after NASA's announcement about water on Mars this week... As with a lot of slowly evolving webcomics I read, you might want to stay for the comments to get insights on what's going on.

I even just finished tonight revising my Mars story "Billionaire" which earned an Honorable Mention in the WOTF Q3 2015 contest. Plan on sending it out to F&SF and Analog Real Soon Now. We were out of town when the 30 June deadline came along and I didn't have a printer, so Mrs. Dr. Phil hasn't read that story yet.

I've not dwelt much on reviews, either print/online/friend, but plenty of comments that it is as good as the trailers were looking. So we are very excited.

I have a bad feeling I'm going to read a lot of science literacy book reports on The Martian this semester... (evil-grin)

Dr. Phil

UPDATE: Oh, I was going to mention that I ended buying an eBook of The Martian for the Kindles. Had intended to finish it before the movie, but didn't. Forgot about Amazon's Matchbook program, where they discount Kindle books you've bought from them in print -- and they don't make it easy to find. I bought The Martian on sale, but would've saved like two bucks if I'd remembered Matchbook. I think this is the second time I've used Matchbook.
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Hot Mess?

Sunday, 27 September 2015 15:46
dr_phil_physics: (divergent)
After seeing the first Maze Runner (DW) (LJ) movie last October, we both ended up reading the boxed four book trilogy. We both felt it got steadily weaker after the first book. Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels. But the maze in the first movie looked so good. I was especially interested to see what they could do with Scorch Trials.

Last weekend we were busy being entertained in the Butterworth ER (DW) (LJ), so we didn't go out last Saturday. Down to this Saturday. There was a line out the door of the small Holland 7 lobby when we got there, but most of the people were short -- we figured it was for Transylvania Hotel 2. (grin) There were ten people tops in our theatre. Good popcorn.

Maze Runner 2: The Scorch Trials [PG-13]
Holland 7 Theatre 4, 1:45pm, 2×$7.25
As is the current style with movie series, there was no backstory/intro to The Scorch Trials. Pretty much started where Maze Runner left off. I suppose this will improve binge watching the completed trilogy or for those who did their pre-lab before The Scorch Trials. Not a good standalone movie. Besides, who goes to see the second in a series without seeing the first?

Alas, the disconnect provides some confusion, as one tries to remember who the main characters are. And for books which aren't all that long and have short chapters, The Scorch Trials still suffers from Too Much Book Syndrome, meaning they couldn't fit it all in -- and as discussed below -- so they gutted big chunks of the story and rendered a couple of the new characters irrelevant.

The Cranks, infected with the Flare virus, were always going to be part zombies -- but much more so as visuals. You can turn down the volume in your head when you're reading a book. And does anyone ever use safety glass in building construction anymore? (evil-grin)

Alas, the appellation "Based upon the book by James Dasher" is pretty much appropriate in The Scorch Trials.

The Rat-Man, as I recall, is described as a sad, gray man. Jansen is called the Rat Man because Thomas sees him that way. He's called the Rat Man maybe once in the movie, but there's no context. Dumb. Worse, this guy is a psychopath who enjoys his work way too much.

On the other hand, Jorge and Brenda are nicely done, even if they cut their introduction, which would've served to explain Cranks and the Flare to the moviegoer -- instead of giving us nothing.


Mildly Spoilery For Those Who Read The Book

The Maze Runner reasonably followed the books. But for whatever reasons, the makers of The Scorch Trials managed to remove the Trials out of the Scorch. The duplicitous behavior of WCKD -- they even felt they had to shorten WICKED -- is mostly absent. Which is dumb. I can only imagine they didn't know how to shoot the terrors of the long dark tunnel, the desert Grievers and didn't feel like putting in the "competition" between the two maze tribes. Probably so they could do more zombies.


Obviously it would've killed them to make a better 2 hour 39 minute movie, than a lesser 2 hour 9 minute one. Sigh.

Bottom line -- there's some good action, but there's no attempt to really do the book or bridge properly to the first movie. By cutting down our party running through the Scorch, they get myopic. It's like how 1st season original Star Trek had busy crowded corridors, but by the 3rd season they'd cut it all down to the main core cast.

It's fun enough and the cast, when they get a chance, does some good work. But they could've done so much more. Interestingly, The Scorch Trials did well on its opening week. Not quite as good as the first movie, but then the IMAX version had to be shelved because pre-release opening of Everest in IMAX took all their screen times.

I'd say to recommend rereading Book 2 to get you back up to speed, except they cut so much story I feel such advise would only make you hate it more.

Maze Runner 3: The Death Cure opens in February 2017. They are not splitting the third book into two as has become common with the YA trilogies.

Recommended For Those Invested In The Series

Trailers: The Jungle Book -- Just heard about this the other day, probably based on the release of this trailer. Disney is going for a more realist version of Kipling's novel versus their old cartoon musical. One commenter online suggested they thought Disney might do better justice to the book this time. We will see. The voice talents are OUTSTANDING. Scarlett Johansson as Ka. Also Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba, Bill Murray. The 5th Wave -- Huh... Independence Day 2? No, from another best-seller novel. Series? I am not familiar with this. Trailer has to explain what Waves 1-4 are. My All-American -- The first 2015 release in this bunch. Billed as sort of an underdog Rudy story. Small energetic guy is standout high school football player, passed by every college -- until the University of Texas comes along. Fulfills his promise, but wrecks up knee before the Cotton Bowl. Will he follow the doctors or play and be crippled for life? Who can say? Based On A Real Story. Deadpool -- Next Marvel backlist superhero origin story. The suit looks like Spiderman with swords on the back. Wisecracker like Spidey, too. But We Can Build You Better After Cancer -- what could possibly go wrong? Hideously scarred underneath the mask? We'll see it -- Marvel has been batting near 1.000 with these movies. Allegiant -- Divergent 3 (originally Divergent 3 Part I -- Part II is now called Ascendant). We've read the 3½ books in the trilogy. Mrs. Dr. Phil likes these better than Hunger Games -- I put them on a close par. Of course, Hunger Games was the first of this round of YA series movies -- and the second one I read after the Uglies series, so to me Hunger Games has a particularly novel setting. Now I know there are a lot more Let's Mess Up Teens' Lives stories. Divergent looked really good. Insurgent was weaker. We know they have some high tech, but felt that the Erudite's tech as a little too much. Plus there was the ridiculous badly engineered double-wide train. Divergent is set in Chicago, including the Hancock Center and Navy Pier. Insurgent was set in the Merchandise Mart. And Allegiant was set at O'Hare in the book -- we'll see. For now, the land beyond the fence looks too apocalyptic compared to what we've seen earlier. Teased with Kate Winslet in the trailer, but all flashback scenes as they killed her off in Divergent 2.


Dr. Phil
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So we were watching the rerun of the pilot of the new Minority Report series on FOX.

Apparently TV cops in the future are as bad about following proper police procedures as contemporary TV cops. Go figure. But, there were some very cool visuals, much like last year's short-lived series Almost Human, but better.

I've always liked the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report. I really can't remember if I've read the Philip K. Dick originating story. But the slick production had quite a vision of the future. Some of the big pieces, like the vertical highways, were a bit much. The intrusive advertising, though, was frightfully wonderful. And the end was sweet.

The series also has some impressive visuals. The disconnecting and reconnecting trains -- cool -- but there's some logistic problems with it. Probably not too surprising, since Steven Spielberg has his hands in both movie and series.

I like the concept, don't know if they can keep it up.

But... what was really intriguing was the commercials. We figure that advertisers liked the expected geek demographics of which might be expected to watch Minority Report. There was a long semi-animated Honda ad, vaguely reminiscent of Ah-Ha's Take On Me video.

And... we saw the first ever for us TV commercial for the Amazon Echo. When we bought into Echo earlier this year (DW) (LJ), it was still in Beta and by invitation request only. They've since opened it up a little. I guess that if they're advertising on TV, Echo is going bigtime.

There's an interesting rebranding going on with Echo as well. The Amazon Echo software on the Kindle Fires recently updated and it is now called Amazon Alexa. Personally, I think this is a mistake, because Alexa is one of the two available default command words. You talk about Alexa and Echo perks up and tries to parse the request. They are now advertising Alexa technology in the new Amazon Fire TV systems.

What was intriguing, because I turned my head to look at Echo, is that the blue light failed to come on every time the commercial used the word Alexa or gave Echo demonstration commands. I tried one of the questions they used in the ad and got an answer -- worded slightly different and longer than the one on TV.

I'd be curious to know whether there is anything active in the Echo ad. Whether in the coding of the word Alexa in the audio or if Amazon's servers knew exactly when the ad would be aired. If we had a working VCR or owned a DVR, I suppose we could test this.

Echo isn't quite living in the Minority Report future, but we'll take it for now. (grin)

Speaking of TV cops... there are times I wonder why we bother watching the new Hawaii Five-O. It has jumped the shark so many times that they practically have to keep a precision synchronized shark jumping team on the payroll. Well, I do know why we watch. Because like a few of the other shows we watch, NCIS I'm looking at you, we like the ensemble cast.

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Another Saturday in September. Another weekend where there was nothing opening in the local cinemas we wanted to see. So we hooked up the Sony WiFi Blu-Ray player to the power -- still need to rewire the setup -- and fired up Netflix.

The Iron Lady [PG-13] (2012)
Netflix streaming
I remember when this came out, and I can't remember why we didn't see it, other than it was released in the U.S. in January and we don't go out to a lot of January movies. Of course, it's the incomparable Meryl Streep, who won the Academy Award for her role as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I also remember that it was pretty controversial when it came out -- and we could easily see why.

This isn't your straight biopic flick. It starts with an aged, retired Maggie Thatcher not having a tight grip on reality, but managing to escape her security detail and have long conversations with her dead husband. Her career, both as a young woman (ably handled by Alexandra Roach) and her 11-year reign at 10 Downing Street, is shown in flashbacks and TV news coverage. Those who are huge fans of Thatcher no doubt felt this failed to honour the woman, by focusing on her frailties as older. Those who hate Thatcher probably figure that her downfall and comeuppance wasn't hard enough and that her old age would prevent her from being punished sufficiently.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere between these two camps. Alas, it is not entirely clear what relationship the truth has with the people who made this film. Maggie died in 2013, and as far as I know, neither she nor her children ever saw the film. I suppose one could argue that it pairs well with Helen Mirren's The Queen, as movies somewhat obliquely about their main subjects.

Still, as a somewhat biopic, it is an interesting look at one of the major political leaders of the 20th century. But politics and history take a bit of a back seat. Reading through the Wikipedia entry for the film put in a lot more context about events that is obvious, at least to this American. Read the 2nd-4th paragraphs at the head of the Wikipedia article on Margaret Thatcher (1925–2013) and you don't get just more -- you get a whole different image. Research chemist and barrister after Oxford? Never mentioned. And there were easily a dozen more stories they could have looked at as Prime Minister. They chose not to go there.

One can argue that too much of the 104 minutes deals with issues outside of her career. But at the same time, some of the charm of the film -- and I think it has some -- is that this outside time is used to humanize the woman. It would be too easy to make a total focus on Thatcherism, her economic plans, which would feed the fuel of a hatchet job to some extent. Roger Ebert argued that this was a life which required an opinion of its subject, that "Few people were neutral in their feelings about her, except the makers of this picture". Perhaps they erred by going too far the other way. Still, a look at the histories of many U.S. Presidents after their time in office shows a general pattern of retirement. It's as if one or two terms in the White House ruins you for doing anything else afterwards. For P.M.s, they are the head of their parties and often return to the opposition or even repeat stays at 10 Downing Street. Thatcher served her three terms and then... gone.

This film has a lot in common with the Kate Winslet/Judi Dench movie Iris, with dual casts showing the main character at two age ranges. In Iris, we're specifically dealing with Alzheimer's. Here in The Iron Lady it is listed merely as old age dementia. Interestingly enough, Jim Broadbent plays the older husband in both movies.

As with everything else, the 1982 Falklands War was glossed over. Yes, this was a film about Thatcher and not the Falklands, but it was so unprecedented at the time for Britain to pull together a hundred ship armada and steam halfway around the globe. I'd forgotten that the task force left just days after the Argentine took the Falklands -- much of my memories were more about the air war, including the long Vulcan bombing missions from England to the war zone. And despite some tough losses and very high risks, they won.

I should warn people who are having to deal with an aged loved one with dementia, will find many of the conversations between mother and daughter to have a familiar feel to them. That may or may not be a good or bad thing, so I'll provide this trigger warning.

Streep, though, is worth watching -- as is Broadbent -- whatever your feelings about the politics or the approach of the filmmakers. And how often do you get to do a review which mentions three of the great ladies of the silver screen at the tops of their game -- Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren?


Netflix can be annoying. My List items tend to disappear -- and sometimes the whole My List of saved items has disappeared, wasting all that search time. So we've already cued up the next movie we want to see, the 2010 Christopher Plummer/Ewan McGregor film Beginners by starting it, then hitting PAUSE. This should cause Netflix to offer to resume when we next sign in. We'll see next weekend...

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Labor Day weekend tends to be a pretty family oriented holiday. Not so much with the blockbusters -- certainly nothing we were interested in seeing at the usual theatres. So we took a look at Celebration Woodland, which became their second run/art house place when they bought it.

Long before Scholastic became a YA powerhouse with the Harry Potter books, there was the Scholastic Book Service in the Medina and White Plains public schools. I ordered a lot of books, even on a budget from my folks. But sometimes the orders messed up.

One time my bundle included something called A Taste for Honey. Since (a) I hadn't ordered it and the order sheet proved it and (b) they didn't take returns -- I got a free book. It wasn't anything I would have ordered, but even in the 4th or 5th grade I could tell that they were obliquely talking about Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Mycroft, indeed.

I have this memory that I hated the ending, that the person murdering people with killer Africanized bees, was Holmes himself. Sort of like making Jim Phelps the villain in the Mission: Impossible reboot. Unthinkable. But maybe the narrator just suspected him -- it's been nearly fifty years ago that I read it.

So I did an Amazon and Google search, figuring it was a long shot. Actually, no. This is the first of three Holmes-ish novels written by H.F. Heard about Mr. Mycroft and his friend, Mr. Silchester: A Taste for Honey, Reply Paid and The Notched Hairpin. A Taste for Honey was first published in 1941. My curiosity piqued, I found some used copies of the edition I had -- the one fulfilled by Amazon themselves was more expensive, but with free shipping it was actually less. Always watch those shipping costs.

No, this is not the basis for the movie below. But I mention this because it was the first Sherlock Holmes story I ever read, even if it wasn't canon. The real stuff came later. We have a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, which I read during lunch while in grad school one summer. Along with all the James Bond novels.

Mr. Holmes [PG]
Celebration Woodland Theatre 7, 3:10pm, 2×$5.00

Ian McKellen certainly has kept busy. He was Gandalf in the LOTR/Hobbit movies -- and he's been palling around with Patrick Stewart on both stage and Facebook/Twitter. Here, though, he takes on the iconic role of Sherlock Holmes. But not the Holmes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not directly anyway, but a re-imagining of the great detective in his retirement. During the opening credits we both caught sight of a "Based on the..." tag that wasn't Doyle -- turns out this is based on a 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, which we haven't read either.

Though not canon, it is not at conflict with canon, either. Holmes was said to have assisted His Majesty's government during the Great War, and as this movie takes place in 1947, with flashbacks of some thirty years to about 1917, and at some point retiring to raise bees. That puts us here. Wikipedia cites "An estimate of Holmes's age in "His Last Bow" places his year of birth at 1854; the story, set in August 1914, describes him as 60 years of age." And color me surprised that 1947 - 93 = 1854. I'd just assumed they'd been sloppy with the timing in order to get to post-WWII. Instead, even the 1947 age agrees with canon. Well played.
In "His Last Bow", Holmes has retired to a small farm on the Sussex Downs. The move is not dated precisely, but can be presumed to predate 1904 (since it is referred to retrospectively in "The Second Stain", first published that year). He has taken up beekeeping as his primary occupation, producing a Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen. The story features Holmes and Watson coming out of retirement to aid the war effort. Only one other adventure, "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" (narrated by Holmes), takes place during the detective's retirement. The details of his death are unknown.
We hardly have to even mention the genius of Ian McKellen. Laura Linney is always terrific -- here she has to play a somewhat downtrodden housekeeper, war widow, trying to raise her son and put up with Holmes' idiosyncrasies. The boy is terrific, reminding us both of the boy in Love, Actually, who himself has grown up into one of the Maze Runner boys. (grin)

There are multiple mysteries going on, which are not made any easier because Holmes has gotten old and his precious mind is betraying him. In the beginning I thought, my God, Ian McKellen looks awful. But then we are shown scenes from 30 years earlier, when he is a sparkling and dapper silver haired gentleman.

The mysteries themselves are adequate and there are plenty of clues sprinkled around. But it is the very human Mr. Holmes whom we are following here. I know there were some mixed review, but I found the movie charming -- especially refreshing after a fairly stiff (by design) opening. None of us live forever, not even favorite fictional detectives, but we feared for a dark depressing ending. But they did well, we thought.


Trailers: The Prophet -- Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet as an animated movie? This is a kid's story? Or...? Intriguing, I think. I did have a visceral reaction to Liam Neeson's voice as the title character. I'm afraid that hearing in my head, "I am a poet. I have a special set of skills. And I will find you and kill you", just didn't fit the mood of this introspective work. Never read it. Was amazed to discover that when it was popular a few years ago that it was as a resurging reprint. The book is from 1923. Pan -- Another Peter Pan re-imagining. But Tim Curry as the proto-Hook is always going to be suitable. I didn't hate the Dustin Hoffman/Robin Williams Hook years ago, but it was light stuff. I hope they can do better here. We'll see. Goosebumps -- have seen this trailer before. Jack Black and the books, whose monsters get out. (scream!) Kung Fu Panda 3 -- I give Jack Black props for making this franchise, but I'm still not sure of the logic of putting kid movie trailers for Mr. Holmes. Unless they're figure they're playing to grandma.

We followed our movie with an outstanding dinner out, which will deserve its own blog entry Real Soon Now.

Dr. Phil
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Saturday is a great wasteland for television. And as August and the Summer of 2015 winds down, there's not a lot of new movies coming out that we HAVE to see. I think the next big movies on our To Do list is Scorch Trials and... drum roll... The Martian. So... maybe stream something on Netflix?

I don't remember if I mentioned this, but a couple of weeks ago we went to watch something on Netflix and discovered that the Blu-Ray player with WiFi would not come on. It was not the case that the BD player was dead -- rather its small surge protector apparently died a valiant death in one of two violent thunderstorms we've had in the last month. We have a temporary kluge, stringing an extension cord that I use with various devices next to the computer desk. But we shall rebuild the system, making it better, stronger, faster... and costing less that $6 million. (evil-grin)

Netflix has redone its screens and its Android/Kindle apps a number of times. To look more dramatic, no doubt, the ubiquitous red letters spelling out Netflix on a white background is now red letters on black. But one of the changes was the TV lost its listing of My List -- the things I'd checkboxed and hoped to someday get around to seeing them. Of course, Netflix pulls things out of rotation from time to time, either through licensing agreements or just changing up what is available on streaming as opposed to DVD rental. When we got the Sony Blu-Ray player for the new HDTV, we reactivated my old Netflix account, but streaming only. So what's available for DVD isn't too important.

But surely there is something to watch. And one of the offerings was this quirky film:

In A World... [R] (2013)
Netflix streaming

I remember when this little film came out and had gotten some decent reviews. Who doesn't remember all those "In a world where..." movie trailers? Don LaFontaine owned the movie trailer business for many years. As opposed to Hal Douglas, the east coast movie trailer voice, who also did "In a world..." trailers -- and was sometimes mistaken for LaFontaine. (Douglas did the overblown fake trailers designed by Cameron Diaz in The Holiday.) Both men are gone, in 2008 and 2014, respectively.

But honestly, I was thinking that this was a documentary -- about the daughter of The Voice of God.

Turns out... no. Although the movie does open with a tribute to Don LaFontaine, including his most excellent GEICO insurance commercial, it's a fictional look into the whole very small voice over industry, especially the vacuum left after La Fontaine's death.

It's delightfully quirky, with a lot of inside baseball humor about voice over work -- and many classic voice over moments. Unlike The Red Shoes, which I reviewed recently (DW) (LJ), hopefully In A World... will not encourage hordes of young people to rush into Hollywood to become movie trailer artists. (grin)

Watching movies at home is not the same as watching in the theatre -- it's less total concentration. As is typical, I was Kindling while watching. But I had to put the machine down because I was missing some of the complications of the dysfunctional friends and family going on. It's a comedy... but it's much more human. And having grown up in schools surrounded by creative people -- artists, actors, musicians -- I have much more attachment to these people than in most comedies. Even if I want to knock some sense into the heads of a couple of people.

Lake Hill, who also wrote/directed/co-produced, stars as the daughter of one of the great voices, trying to make it in her own voice business. She's really good. (Lake is well known for several series we didn't see, including The Practice and Boston Legal, so some of you are much more likely to know who she is.) Michaela Watkins plays Hill's sister and seemed awfully familiar. We both thought for a bit she was Lisa Edelstein who was on House for so many years, but the voice was wrong -- it turns out she was on Saturday Night Live from 2008-9. Likewise, the sister's husband Moe, played by Rob Corddry, I kept thinking was the husband in the movie Fargo -- but that was John Carroll Lynch. Confused so far? Good.

I liked this movie. It was definitely a case of a "sufficient" budget. Too much money and it would've looked fake. This is a small voice over industry, and it needed to look small. After all, the smaller the pond, the bigger the fights over nothing but scraps.


The Search for General Tso [Documentary] (2014)
Netflix streaming

Now this really is a documentary. I remember hearing about this documentary -- a search for both the historical General Tso and the origins of this damned chicken dish named after him. Several people had recommended it, but I couldn't think of the name -- all I could remember was Jiro Dreams of Sushi (DW), which we saw back in December. But after In A World..., I was flipping through the list of movies on the Netflix home screen when lo and behold here it was. Also about 90 minutes, we figured there was still enough Saturday evening to watch this.

General Tso's Chicken. It appears on nearly every Chinese restaurant menu in America -- and apparently many other countries as well. Though not, in particular, China. (grin) As one might expect, it's an Americanized Chinese dish for the blander American palette. But what was the source? Who invented the dish? And was there a General Tso?

It's not my place to spoil any of the adventure for you. It's a good solid, and funny, documentary. Very much worth the hour and a half to see it. And especially if you have interests in food, American and Chinese culture, and the whole creation of industries. The history down this rabbit hole -- or chicken coop if you like -- is well worth it.


Dr. Phil
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Another day in G.R. which flirted with, but I don't think it achieved, 90°F. I need to take the 1996 Blazer Teal Machine in and get the A.C. recharged. So we stuffed the walker and handicapped hangtag in the 1999 Bravada to head out on Saturday.

I'm not sure I've posted reviews for everything we've seen this summer, but you have to go back to the end of April and Ex Machina (DW) (LJ) to find a live action film we've seen and I've blogged about that is not: A Reboot, A Sequel, A Comic Book or A Disneyland Theme. I'm not totally complaining, as we've been entertained and it IS Summer Blockbuster Season. But, here we go again...

Second weekend in a row with a 1960s TV spy show rebooted to the big screen. As a kid I didn't watch The Man From U.N.C.L.E. much, but I certainly knew who Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin were -- I had friends who had the steel lunchboxes! Mrs. Dr. Phil had to come home and start watching episodes of HU$TLE with Robert Vaughan on her Kindle Fire HDX. (grin) And of course David McCallum has a whole new career as Ducky on NCIS -- in fact one of the best straight lines by Gibbs ever in the series was in answer to the question, "What did Ducky look like when he was young?" "Illya Kuryakin."

Mission:Impossible ran for some 9 seasons -- U.N.C.L.E. only for 4. I'd always heard that U.N.C.L.E. was supposed to be a sendup of James Bond. But Wikipedia points out Ian Fleming was involved in the creation of U.N.C.L.E. Who knew?

The audience for the movie U.N.C.L.E. was definitely older. I'm not sure we were the youngest people in the small afternoon crowd in the theatre, but then again -- we have A.A.R.P. cards these days. (Membership is cheap enough and I got a nice messenger bag as a promo.) (grin)

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. [PG-13]
Holland 7 Theatre 3, 4:40pm, 2×$6.00

This movie isn't so much about the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, as it is an origin story. What intrigued us so much in the previews was the whole 1960s Euro mod classy style. Oh, the dresses, the hats, the sunglasses -- the CARS. All those 1960s movies sent in Europe, especially the Bond movies, and not an American or Japanese car in sight.

Still, this Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are NOT Robert Vaughan and David McCallum. Kuryakin was always second fiddle in the TV show. Here we have the American and Soviet spies fairly evenly matched and they have every reason to hate each other as detailed in the long opening sequence. This is a marriage of convenience to prevent nuclear disaster -- it's a 60s espionage movie after all -- and these two men don't trust each other. There are some amusing exchanges in their impossible to win game of oneupsmanship.

The two main women are great fun and very stylish. OMG the eyelashes. I guess this movie passes the Bechtel Test as they do have a conversation together -- about building nuclear bombs. Our head villainess, the blonde, is deliciously ruthless -- though she does suffer from usual evil leader long taunting conversations. And I was suspicious of how quickly they turned the civilian woman into an adjunct to their operation.

We're great fans of Hugh Grant, and in a big nod to .007, it is British intelligence and the Royal Navy and NOT the CIA and US Navy who are here to save the deal. International cooperation in Europe, you know. Indeed, as the Royal Navy commandos go in on their high speed inflatable boats, it's hard not to hear Hugh Grant in Love, Actually:
Natalie: [talking about her ex-boyfriend] He says no one's gonna fancy a girl with thighs the size of big tree trunks. Not a nice guy, actually, in the end.
Prime Minister: Ah! You know, um, being Prime Minister, I could just have him murdered.
Natalie: Thank you, sir. I'll think about it.
Prime Minister: Do. The SAS are absolutely charming. Ruthless trained killers are just a phone call away.
Bond movies also had many boat chases -- and the one here is typical of the whole old U.N.C.L.E. humorous flavoring of Bond. In particular, there is something I've always wanted to see go wrong in a desperate boat chase. And of course we have the Classical Nazi Torturer™, but with a few novel twists. And there's an amusing bit where one of those long conversations characters have in the middle of the big set piece action series actually goes awry in the background. There is a bit of an Inglourious Bastards vibe and I had to check to see if Guy Ritchie had done that -- no, of course not.

Guy Ritchie employs a number of split screens and rewinds to see the rest of action, which makes the action not quite so serial. Well, he made his Sherlock Holmes movies stylish and with critical rewinds, too.

As fun as Mission:Impossible 5 was, I would have to say that U.N.C.L.E. was the better movie with its 60s styling. But M:I 5 is probably the more faithful TV reboot. All that said, we would probably see another U.N.C.L.E. installment. Especially if it features the dastardly Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.

Stay for the beginning of the end credits, which is almost a Shakespearean dumb play about the "second Istanbul" mission.


Trailers: As the trailers were running, they were a different lot than we've seen this summer -- and it occurred to us that the audience demographics were probably a factor. Skewing older. Bridge of Spies is a Spielberg flick with Tom Hanks, of course, as insurance lawyer brought in to negotiate the trade to get Francis Gary Powers back in the early 60s -- Powers of the famous U-2 incident. Early 60s Cold War drama, with lots of paranoia, sabre rattling and dark doings in East Berlin. Looks like fun. Burnt is a new chef movie. Ooh, food porn! Kitchen conflicts! Michelin stars! YES, CHEF! Everest -- existing trailer. The Intern -- well this is odd. Vaguely looks like a sequel to The Devil Wears Prada (2006) with Robert De Niro as Anne Hathaway, and Anne Hathaway as Meryl Streep. Not really. Wikipedia shows there's been a lot of cast changes. But there is some humor having Bobbie playing a 70 year old intern at a fashion magazine. If the jokes don't get too juvenile, this could be poignant -- Prada managed to be better than the comic punchline.

Dr. Phil
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Saturday, 15 August 2015 11:47
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We both grew up with Mission:Impossible on TV. Mrs. Dr. Phil started earlier than I did, so she saw the early Barbara Bain/Martin Landau episodes as a kid, where I don't really remember seeing them until we were watching reruns in Laurium. Barney was always my favorite... (cough-geek) after of course the mandatory opening scene with the self-destructing tape, theme and burning fuse opening credits. And later Leonard Nimoy showed up, post-Spock. Whoa -- mind bending.

I have a love-hate relationship with the movie series. Jon Voight as Jim Phelps? Come on, Peter Graves was still active in 1996. How could they? Jim Phelps as the BAD GUY? HOW COULD THEY? Unforgivable. But as a Tom Cruise action franchise -- they have been fun. We saw the first two in the theatres. I've seen the third one on late night TV. We skipped the fourth one. I think the problem was blowing up the Kremlin. It's a divergent point. You can imagine the IMF teams running amuck around the world in our world... mostly. But not after they destroy an iconic landmark. We'd kind of notice. Threw me right out of the story.

Having missed the fourth movie, did we really want to see the fifth? Well, the trailers were quite exciting. The movies have always had good looks and over-the-top set pieces. But Tom Cruise hanging from the side of an Airbus A400M Atlas -- in the trailer I was thinking it was a C-130 and then in the movie I was thinking it was a Russian turboprop, but Wikipedia sets the record straight -- probably sold the deal. That Tom still does his own stunts, including the famous free climb of a cliff face in an earlier movie, is impressive.

Then the reviews came in, saying it was fun. So last Saturday we decided to go see the new one.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation [PG-13]
Holland 7 Theatre 4, 3:30pm, 2×$7.25

Tom Cruise is getting older. They compensate for that by beating him up, before setting him loose on the world. Sure, these movies are his vehicle, but it isn't just Cruise. Ving Rhames has been the reluctant operative all along, but I love his quiet confidence and tech geekery. And Simon Pegg? It'd be easy to dismiss him as just the comic relief, but his geek fu is strong, too.

I have to say, this is the first M:I movie where I felt they were getting closer to the Bourne movies. No, I won't say Ethan Hunt out does Jason Bourne, as one blurb proclaims. But I think they did a good job. And I have to say that the motorcycle chase scene was one of the best chase scenes I've seen in a while. Though there was the little continuity point where I suddenly wondered where did we get off the divided highway and onto the two-lane mountain road.

After the whole Jim Phelps betrayal in the first movie, I spent the whole movie wondering who the evils really were. Alec Baldwin as the head of the CIA and trying to shut down the IMF was a logical choice. But Jeremy Renner? I guess he was in the fourth movie -- but we just thought he was just a new outsider. And therefore a candidate for duplicity. And of course Rebecca Ferguson as the femme fatale whose loyalty we worry about the whole movie. Think Bond Girl but more professional.

The main villain is terribly confident and competent. His denouement is lovely.

There's a cute moment where a cute IMF operative does a Ethan Hunt fangirl moment, before he gets his secret message. So much for security with the whole long pass phrase exchange. (grin)

You're not supposed to examine the physics and engineering too closely in these superspy technothrillers. But come on. Does anyone think that storing important computer data in unfiltered water -- possibly even seawater -- is a good idea? And don't you think that someone would notice a unit being disengaged by something other than the robot arms? And doesn't Ethan have the biggest streak of luck in the world? Sheesh. Pretty. Impressive. Fun. But not very realistic. Sorry.

The one trouble I have with the film series is the repetition of the plot where someone is destroying the whole IMF team -- or the IMF itself. In the first film, there's a nice setpiece where much of Hunt's team is massacred, setting up the revenge aspect of the rest of the film. The one we didn't see involves the IMF being framed for blowing up the Kremlin.

We were perfectly happy to see this at our favorite Holland 7 and not spend the big bucks for IMAX. But I'm glad we saw it on a big screen and not TV -- it deserves the larger canvas. It's fun, it's fresh. And I guess we're not done with the franchise after five movies and 19 years -- another is planned.

Should you choose to accept the mission...

Good times.

Recommended -- better than some of the previous.

Trailers: Hmm... I had taken notes on the trailers, but I've misplaced the half index card with the information. That's what I get for waiting a week before posting this.


As long as we're talking about Tom Cruise -- and Tom Cruise movies we haven't seen -- I was flipping late night channels the other night after the news and stumbled onto this movie, fairly close to the beginning.

Oblivion [PG-13]

We missed this because it opened on 19 April 2013 -- which would have been Grading Week for me and just when my foot was getting infected after our basement flooded. Over the next couple of weekends things deteriorated and by 6 May I was stuck in the hospital for 5½ months. Game over. And it's not on Netflix.

Visually Oblivion is beautiful. I remember an article in Wired talking about the 360° dome they used to project aerial imagery for Cruise's bubble ship.

Where I came in, the movie is pretty sparsely cast. We have dashing pilot Jack Harper, his elegant live-in flight controller Vika and the remote image of Sally from the space station supervising them. Aliens had attacked Earth decades earlier, damaging it and making it uninhabitable. Mankind is moving to Saturn's moon Titan. There are giant fusion power plants powered by seawater which must be protected from any remaining aliens. Jack's job is to the fix the armed spherical drones defending them. When their mission is up, Vika and Jack will migrate to Titan and Earth will be abandoned. Meanwhile, they live a beautiful life atop Tower 49.

There's a hitch. Jack and Vika have had their memories wiped it seems. My guess, having not seeing the very beginning, is this is supposed to aid in their cleanup and abandonment of Earth. Excuse me, giant red flag waving over here.

Of course, like the fireman in Fahrenheit 451, Jack doesn't quite toe the company line. He's found an unspoiled mountain lake retreat and spends time there. He collects things, including an old book. And he keeps having flashbacks of the observation deck on the Empire State Building -- and a girl.

We soon realize that part of Tower 49's territory includes New York City -- or rather the mostly buried and destroyed remnants of NYC. And if you think all is not as it seems, this gets cemented when he discovers a stasis chamber with the girl of his dreams. And then he runs into Morgan Freeman. The Earth is not empty of humans, it seems.

From there it gets complicated. And overall, I have to say it's nicely done. The end is a bit reminiscent of Independence Day or V'ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The very end reminds me of the end of Battlestar Galactica -- and if BSG had ended like Oblivion, I would've been much happier with it. (evil-grin)

Make fun of Tom Cruise if you want, but his name is still a big budget draw and he's been willing to get into some top drawer science fiction movies. Technical accuracy might be traded in for thrilling action, but at the end of the day, Mr. Cruise gets the job done and in style.

We will have to rent this sometime and see it all the way through with Mrs. Dr. Phil. Sorry we missed it in the theatres, because I did want to see it, but that damned heel got in the way.


Dr. Phil
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal


Sunday, 2 August 2015 01:44
dr_phil_physics: (plot-bunny-lost)
A very pleasant Saturday. The original forecast was for rain all day, but it was mostly blue sky with some clouds lingering on the horizon. And at nearly 10pm, not fully dark, a lovely just-past-full orange moon rising up and poking through the trees.

After breakfast, we casually brought up the question of movies -- this is summer -- and which one. This is the opening weekend for the new Mission Impossible flick, but we haven't seen Ant-Man yet. It's Yet Another Movie that Morning Edition on NPR and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan -- who hates nearly anything SF/F we want to see -- gave Yet Another lovely review of all this nonsense, calling it fun. When did the aliens invade and what have they done with the real Turan? Anyway, this is its third weekend? We figured it would be easier to get in. But then there's 3D... and frankly, from the trailers and subject, we decided to go for that. That reduced us to Holland 8, not Holland 7, and either very early or evening.

No problem! We hit up the Mexican place on M-45 a few miles west of 120th Avenue for dinner. We don't get there enough. Yet another place where I tend to order the same thing -- Bistec ranchero, with beans, rice, lettuce and some flour tortillas. Mmmm.

After that, we did a quick errand over to Hope College and then back up to Holland 8.

Ant-Man 3D [PG-13]
Holland 8 Theatre 6, 7:00pm, 2×$8.99
It would be easy to dismiss, what even comic book fans are saying is a movie about a lower tier hero. Except for three glaring signal flares. The trailer was enchanting. It's a Marvel movie. And it's tied into the whole Marvel/Avengers movie universe.

It's easy to consider Ant-Man is Iron Man Lite, just like Guardians of the Galaxy is Avengers Lite. But unlike light beer, there's still some good movie making magic going on here.

It starts with the cast. Haven't seen Michael Douglas playing a good guy character in a while and this is an outstanding film for him. Paul Rudd is in the role of the low rent Tony Stark, but he brings a lot of heart to the character. And Evangeline Lilly... In my review of Jurassic World (DW) (LJ), I complained about Bryce Dallas Howard. Lilly takes almost the same haircut and tailored executive look -- and runs with it. Don't know about her shoes (evil-grin), but she is so much more competent and personable. Plus, there's... oh, don't want to talk about that... Anyway, bald Corey Stoll has one of the nicest faces in the business. So, he's a good guy, right? Business partner of Michael Douglas, much like Tony Stark's business buddy? Hello? Is this thing on? Why am I disconnected? Of course, he's one of those I'm always confusing with equally bald Evan Handler, who was on The West Wing, Studio 60 and this summer's The Astronaut Wives Club.

The connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe are mostly subtle. The Avengers get mentioned, Tony Stark's dad -- but not Tony Stark -- appears. Oh, and finally we get an Avenger -- the under-appreciated Falcon. Like Iron Man, Ant-Man starts with a suit. And also like Iron Man, there are earlier versions and a new competitor. And training. Lots and lots of training. Also old guys with giant research labs under their homes -- who'd win between Michael Douglas and George Clooney in Tomorrowland? (grin)

Okay, there's a lot of hokey science, but it rolls easily off the back as we are too interested in watching the wizardry of micro/macro versions of everything. I remember in Fantastic Voyage there's mention of blowing up an ant to the size of a locomotive to facilitate study. POV is very important to making this movie work. Also Thomas the Tank Engine.

Like any superhero movie, there's collateral damage galore. And here we are rooting for more movies, damn the cost to tear apart another city around the world. Lovely summer escapism. And a surprising different turn to the whole divorced/missing dad and doting daughter story. Paul Rudd as the anti-Tony Stark. It'd be easy to complain that everything in Ant-Man is stuff we've seen before, but it's presented as fresh. They spent the money and put enough in the script for the cast to chew on. Then the let the special effects people go apeshit.

Ant-Man is sort of this year's Guardians of the Galaxy. And even if it's lower tier heroes, Marvel still puts in the effort, which is why their integrated complexity of movies is the top game in the comic book movie offerings from Hollywood.

If you DO see this in a theatre, DO stay to the very end of the credits. Despite the fade to black, the music hasn't ended, and we get the SECOND of two Dr. Phil Specials. And, if you're waiting for the obligatory Stan Lee siting -- it's quite late in the film.


Trailers: One TV promo worth noting: Minority Report is a spin-off from the adaptation of the Phillip K. Dick story, starring Tom Cruise. Premise is that this is some years later and one of the pre-cogs is still haunted by visions and gets into an ad hoc Pre-Crime operation. It could be fun. I mean it's not like regular TV cop shows give a damn about following procedures -- and then there's Castle for civilians tailing along... Movies trailers: No Escape is about some American family trying to get out of what looks like a falling apart Middle Eastern city. Is that Owen Wilson doing a serious movie? Looks pretty improbable. Fantastic 4 (8/14) The last two movie incarnation of F4 had some good casting, including Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba, plus some good visuals. But I didn't see either one in the theatres and the broad sections I've seen on TV haven't made it into one of my top ten comic book movies. The new one? I was disappointed that we were getting Yet Another Reboot when it was announced, but frankly it's very pretty. And Dr. Doom looks really good. Will consider it. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (8/7) is stylish 1960s big screen spy luxe. Hated the idea of a Reboot, but damn... Existing trailer for Everest (9/18 IMAX, 9/25). A new Disney man-versus-nature movie, The First Hours (1/29/2016) seems to be about an old (?) Coast Guard rescue attempt of a broken tanker in awful weather conditions. Ah, I love this sea stuff -- A Perfect Storm, even the awful Kevin Costner The Guardian. And of course, the existing Han-We're-Home trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (12/18).

Bonus Movie
Advise & Consent (1962)
Later on after midnight, I stumbled across this black & white Otto Preminger film with Henry Fonda that I hadn't seen before. At its simplest, it's about a Presidential nomination for Secretary of State. Thank goodness most nominations don't go like this! But given the post-McCarthy era and also that this is contemporary with The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May, man the political films of the early 60s are pretty bleak!

I have to agree with the positions stated in the Wikipedia article of the Variety and New York Times reviews -- great acting, rather contrived plot.

Fonda plays his stock everyman character well here, but surprisingly he disappears before the third act and there are many others in the cast -- Walter Pigeon as the Majority Leader and senior Senator from Michigan is outstanding. Charles Laughton's last role is well done here, playing the bad guy Senator from South Carolina with multiple layers. Burgess Meredith has a short, but pivotal role -- based on Whittaker Chambers. Also of note is Betty White's first screen role as a Senator from Kansas and one of Gene Tierney's last.

Some of the best of the movie is WHERE it was filmed, more than the story. (grin) I remember hearing as a kid that there was a subway train for the Senators. Always interested in trains, the first time I saw a B&W photo, I said, "THAT's a subway train?" What's shown in the movie is the open Dirksen monorail. The current systems are better described as People Movers and not subway trains. (grin)

Recommended for Performances and Historical Settings

Dr. Phil
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal
dr_phil_physics: (minions)
Back in the days of Studio 28, we went to a number of double feature outings -- especially on Thanksgiving. Less likely since they closed. And so today's movie going is a triple threat of unusual: Double feature. Double feature since my foot has acted up. And quality animation. This was made easier by virtue of the fact that both movies were only about ninety minutes long.

Also in the old days, we might have hit the concessions twice -- popcorn one time and nachos and/or hot dogs the other as a meal. Today was one of the few times we have ever taken advantage of Holland 7's free pop refills and 50¢ corn refill. Holland 7 doesn't do hot dogs or other sandwiches and the starting times fell between lunch and dinner. But they have the best popcorn in West Michigan.

Given the animation angle, I will say this is by far the youngest average age pair of audiences we've been to in a long time. And this had an extraordinary impact on the video ads before the trailers and the trailers themselves. Not huge crowds this time of day for either show -- maybe 30-40 each. Mrs. Dr. Phil also reported that they had a new credit card and pay system at the ticket window. Slow going, either because it was balking at reading some of the cards or unfamiliarity with the system when looking up online purchased tickets. It will smooth out.

First up:
Minions 2D [PG]
Holland 7 Theatre 5, 2:10pm, 2×$7.25
This movie is totally about Minions, right from the hilarious opening theme for Universal Studios. If you aren't familiar with the yellow pill shaped eye goggled critters from the Despicable Me franchise, then this movie is probably not for you.

We love Minions.

Totally improbable and great gobs of fun, despite this being touted as a prequel origin story for the Minions, it still begs the questions: Where do Minions come from? How many are there, beyond Kevin, Stuart and Bob? And are they actually indestructible/immortal? Also do not dwell too much on where Minion stuff comes from -- such as their various forms of goggles...

And then there's Minion-speak, which is mostly unintelligible babble, punctuated by a few understandable words like "okay" or place/people names. I seem to recall that some of the language is based on Portuguese, which not a lot of people tend to know, and then it's reduced to rapid fire muttering. (grin) Whatever, it's rather funny that you can go through whole movie and the Minions never get any subtitles. Yet we understand them perfectly.

The story is just plain fun. Kudos to Sandra Bullock for voicing the chief villain of a movie full of villains. An amusing note is watching her animated character do the same bust shimmy of a strapless gown that Sandra Bullock did so awkwardly as an FBI agent in Miss Congeniality. Love the family which picks up the hitchhiking Minions.

Much of the movie is set in 1968 -- there's a nice joke about DisneyWorld -- and therefore has a GREAT soundtrack. Stay for the credits, since there's a big production musical number at the end.

I was getting really concerned with the saturation bombing of TV with ads for the movie and all sorts of product tie-in ads -- hell, there's a Minions NASCAR racing car right now -- that maybe we'd seen all the funny bits and the actual movie would be a disappointment. But... on Friday's Morning Edition on NPR, Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan -- who hates nearly anything SF/F we want to see -- gave a lovely review of all this nonsense, calling it fun. There may be hope for him yet. (evil-grin)

We very much enjoyed ourselves.


Trailers: Goosebumps, I guess is Yet Another YA series someone is trying to turn into a blockbuster. So far the only ones which have worked have been Harry Potter and various dystopian YA series. Of course if this bombs, then it might be hard to get a movie deal for Jim C. Hines' Libriomancer series. (sad-reality-grin) Shaun the Sheep: The Movie is Aardman Studio's latest creation. We've seen a trailer before, this one was longer. Lots of fun. Aardman (Chicken Run, Wallace & Grommit, etc.) is simply brilliant. No one done claymation like they do. Could be enormously funny. Pan is a prequel origin story for Peter Pan and Hook. The teaser trailer I saw a while ago looked awful. This full trailer is better... but I'm not sold yet. I think it might be on the par with the so-called sequel Hook, which couldn't completely survive even with Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman. The Secret Life of Pets is already forgettable, and I only have the title written down in the notes I took before the movie. Also before the trailers, saw a commercial for The Descendants on Disney Channel -- think Kristen Chenowith as Malificent, the headmistress of a boarding school for the children of fairy tale villains? Have no idea of the quality, but the idea is cool. Sort of like the premise to Wicked, but without the good guys. Despite the lack of superpowers, Wednesday Addams would be so at home here... (evil-grin)

The Second Feature:
Inside Out 2D [PG]
Holland 7 Theatre 7, 4:10pm, 2×$6.00
We'd talked about doing a movie on the Sunday we were in Greensboro NC, but we managed to do enough scheduling in a short time, we didn't need to push it. And last weekend we did Ah-nold, review coming Real Soon Now, so we really wanted to see Inside Out in the theatre. Easy decision to do the double -- not brokenhearted that we didn't get to see either in 3D.

As a Pixar film, we get treated to a new Pixar short: Lava. A sort of Hawaiian themed story of a lonely volcano in the middle of the ocean, almost turns tragic in multiple ways, but ends up with a sweet ending. Not knowing whether it is based on some actual Hawaiian or Polynesian tale, very early on I thought of Pixar's short about the critters that were all teeth, and was just sure the two birds shown flying in the opening were going to be toast from the volcano erupting. But it wasn't that kind of Pixar short. Of course there were a few problems with plate tectonics. (grin)

As to the movie, Pixar's Inside Out is sheer genius. Yes, we've had Brain Command Centers before, most notably in Woody Allen's EUAWTKAS*BWATA. But the fivesome of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear are cute and clever -- stay for the credits and see inside some of the other characters' brains -- the bus driver is hilarious. All the voices are outstanding, but I'll give Amy Poehler some credit for playing Joy with such enthusiasm, yet not managing to be cloying where we want to smack Joy. Let's just say that Joy experiences a lot of growth in this movie.

The world building is exceptional -- both in the Real World and inside the mind. I was struck from the first trailer that there was an extraordinary use of strong colors. There is a gentle naivete with how the fivesome approach problem solving, and the obstacles thrown up against them are well thought out. And everything has consequences. Well played.

There's been a lot of talk about useful this movie will be in term of getting kids to talk about feelings. I particularly liked how baby, toddler, 11-year-old and 12-year-old Riley all have different needs. The child's control panel is one-emotion-at-a-time -- the older adult control consoles have places for all five. And memories and personalities become much more multi-faceted. The new control console also has a big red warning light marked PUBERTY, which the fivesome doesn't know what it's for and so figures it's not important. I was SO hoping it would go off at the very end of the credits... but no. The one boy's response to GIRL! is priceless, however.


Trailers: Underdogs where Foosball game players have to take on an evil real soccer megastar in a soccer game to save a small town from a takeover. Right. Could totally happen. Might be amusing. Hotel Transylvania 2 is the sequel to an animated movie that I figure we saw all the good jokes in the trailer. There might actually be more of a plot in this one, trying to get the vampire's grandson to grow in his fangs so he won't be moved to the excitement of the big city. Still, this sort of comedy is not our cup of tea. Dream Big is a Peanuts movie. The artwork looks good and the voices are better than most of the later TV specials. Seems to be the story of the Red Haired Little Girl moving into town. Charlie Brown practicing his pitching against a snowman version of himself -- and still gets disrobed-by-explosion on the pitching mound. I would probably watch this on HDTV, but not the theatre. Oh, and what's with all the late 60s/early 70s music in films lately? Besides Minions today, the trailer for the Peanuts movie features "Teenage Wasteland"? The Good Dinosaur from Pixar. Imagine that the Extinction Level Event meteor missed the Earth. Gives hope to those who thinks Man and dinosaurs coexisted, but for COMPLETELY different reasons. Also, the asteroid belt and the Oort Cloud are NOT that dense with rocks. (science-fail-grin) Minions -- which we just saw. (grin)

All in all, a tremendously fun afternoon. But I'm glad we saw the silliness of Minions first and the more thoughtful Inside Out second. We had a lot of nice discussions on the drive home, especially about the latter.

Both are rated PG, both are suitable for kids -- and eminently acceptable for adults.

Dr. Phil
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal

The Woman in Red

Wednesday, 8 July 2015 12:53
dr_phil_physics: (kate-red-glamour)
It's funny how there are classic movies people talk about a lot, that you are sure you've seen sometimes. And then you stumble upon it late at night and watch the whole thing -- and you realize that either you've never seen it or it was so long ago as a kid that you just don't remember it.

Part of it is this movie is one of the great Technicolor spectaculars -- Turner Classic Movies says it's rated the best Technicolor movie by U.K. fans. And when I would've seen it, or more likely part of it, would have still be in our black & white era. But because "I had seen it", when it showed up in the TV schedule grid, I would pass and go look for something else. Huh.

It's July and normally on a Tuesday night I'd be watching Le Tour de France. But I'd seen the Stage 4 coverage in the afternoon, so after the Channel 3 News was over, I did a quick flip of channels before writing. And caught the beginning. I'd done almost 3000 words of writing in the afternoon, so I sat in Mrs. Dr. Phil's comfy chair and watched the whole thing -- then wrote for another hour before heading off to bed. (grin)

I'll warn now that I am not particularly worried about spoiling a movie which, at 67 years old, could collect Social Security.

The Red Shoes (1948)
TCM, 11:30pm
For probably two generations this was the definitive dance/ballet movie. Every girl I knew who was taking dance lessons in school had seen it, and as I remarked, it showed up a lot on the Saturday matinees on TV. Which is how I thought I'd seen it.

This movie really wasn't what I thought it was. At first, it seems like an inside look in how a ballet company works. And the intrigues are not what I'd expect. Sure, we have the prima ballerina. But despite her arrogant swagger and showing up 43 minutes late, she seems genuinely happy and liked by her company. We have the rush of students in the opening to gather the bench seats in the balcony at Covent Garden. But they're not to see the ballet, for which they seem to know nothing, but the debut of the score by their professor. Except... the themes seem to have been stolen from one of the students,Julian, and they all know it. At an after-party organized by a titled socialite, the impresario Lermontov refuses to be a party to an ambush audition for the woman's niece, Vicky. However, he does take the girl aside and talks to her of her ambition. He also sees Julian in the morning, after the young composer writes a nasty note about his professor's plagiarism.

Surprisingly, Lermontov offers them both jobs. And so we expect the classic rags to riches, hard knocks and disappointment rise -- the pathos of A Chorus Line. But we don't really get that. Yes, full of themselves, the two both arrive in the company and find themselves at the bottom. But their rise into important positions isn't all that long. And the company seems very supportive. No jealousy here.

Then we get the fairy tale. For The Red Shoes itself is a new ballet from a Hans Christian Andersen story.

What I find fascinating is that the term villain in this movie is very tenuous. We are, I suppose, meant to hate Lermontov and his rigid control over the company. But he is a successful, experienced professional, and is actually loved by the company who believe in his genius. Everyone comes up to his office one by one to wish him Good night. And without looking up from the papers or from the phone call, he bids them Good night by name. The angry young composer, who while needing a job also dismisses ballet as a third-rate art form, knocks heads with the young dancer -- and they fall in love. A dangerous move, since Lermontov dismissed his previous prima ballerina when she wanted to get married, yet no one seems to be warning the young lovers. Yet the company is so happy and full of life and support for each other, that they don't seem concerned or try to warn them off. Odd.

The real schizophrenic part of the movie comes with showing the ballet The Red Shoes inside the movie The Red Shoes. What's shocking is that all the ballet shown up to this point has been filmed on stage. But this is shot as metaphor, with old school in-camera special effects and expansive sets impossible to use on a stage -- they are too big and go back too far and action takes place in what would be essentially out of sight of an audience -- plus wire work to make impossible floating lifts.

What's funny to me is that I have seen a lot of dance movies in more modern times. The dancing shown in this movie seems very old school and stiff. For the first time I really understood the rebellion against the rigid very old school of the Russian/Soviet ballet, given the modern perspective.

If I had one criticism of the film, it would be that The Red Shoes glamorizes the life of the company. Everyone is so dedicated and so happy, and no one is injured or sabotaged or cut before their time or aged out. How many young dancers over the years threw themselves into pursuing the dream without knowing about the cat food grinder of the business? (grin) Gritty realism? This is not that film.

Is Lermontov a bastard? Is Julian? It's probably heretical, but as long we are dealing with a fantasy world of the ballet world, I'm sort of on Lermontov's side. Does Lermontov love Vicky? But as a father or a suitor? Given the context of the movie, I'd say the former -- that the beauty of the ballet is the only thing in his life. For which he has been tremendously successful. Never a dud show that we see. When the lovers quit, rather than split up, he selectively enforces their contracts, rather than being mean. When a plot is hatched to bring her back to his stage, we know there will be a showdown. But the metaphor of The Red Shoes is strong in this one, and they betray her and the movie turns tragic. Yet always it turns back to the ballet -- and her triumphant return performances becomes a memorial, where the company lovingly does the whole ballet, with only a spotlight where Vicky would be dancing.

Metaphor? Yes. Beautiful? Certainly. Realistic? Not exactly to a stronger no.

Like so many classics, it would be filmed so much differently in 2015, where it would have a much meaner edge. Still, it deserves its reputation simply for showing the guts of a company at all, much like Topsy Turvy does for Gilbert & Sullivan.

Old School Recommendation

Dr. Phil
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal
dr_phil_physics: (fence-winslet)
Back in early June 1993, we were returning from a trip south up through Indiana and US-131 in Southwest Michigan. It was early enough in the afternoon that we figured we'd stop at Studio 28 in Grand Rapids, grab something to eat and see a movie before going home. It ended up, though, there wasn't really anything to see. BUT... Studio 28 was finishing up their big renovation of the huge Theatre 1 with new seats and a massive multispeaker Dolby sound system, new projection system/screen, etc. And they were doing a big old-fashioned film opening with Jurassic Park the next week. Reserved seats and everything.

So we said fine, we'll buy tickets for that, eat a couple of hot dogs and go home. Really excellent decision, instead of seeing something lame just to see a movie -- we don't do that, thank you very much.

It was swell.

Just the scenes around the T-Rex paddock, with the bellowing, the singing of the snapping electrified wires and... most especially, ramped up in volume, a completely gut turning, cringe inducing scraping sound of the roof of the inverted Ford Explorer sliding on top of the concrete barrier. Eeeeeee!

Dinosaurs. Real ones.

The franchise stumbled through two sequels, easily following Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels, but fun enough. Fast forward 22 years and they are trying to capture the magic again. We had a social engagement Saturday night and I bought us afternoon tickets for IMAX 3D online. So we decided to do our pre-lab.

Jurassic Park [PG-13]
Amazon Prime Download Rental $3.99

Yes, I own at least two copies of JP, if not three. But one is VHS and we don't have a working VHS player. And I'm sure I got the boxed set of DVDs a while ago, but they're buried somewhere. Likewise, I brought up all of Wendy's DVDs when she died and I'm sure she had JP, as well. Found The Lost World DVD from the set, Jurassic Park II, but we wanted the original. So it's pretty easy to rent it from Amazon and play it on our WiFi Sony BluRay player -- Netflix is not streaming it currently.

The diciest thing about rental streaming is that we were doing this on a Friday night, where we've decided that everyone on our DSL subnet must be downloading the universe, because we sometimes get into buffering troubles. In our case, most of the movie looked and sounded great in HD, but there were some scenes where both video and sound were downgraded to keep playing with limited bandwidth. Not too much, though. Besides, we'd seen it before. (grin)

Anyway, there's a reason why it's a classic. Even if it showcases the WORST USER INTERFACE EVER -- a slow motion flying over a 3D cityscape of files and then dares to call it UNIX. GACK! Don't say it! No-OOO!

But the whole cast is great. Jeff Goldblum playing Big Player Jeff Goldblum is spot on, Laura Dern is terrific, Sam Neill, SAMUEL L. JACKSON as a computer geek -- Motherfucking YES, etc.

Okay. We're ready. Bring on the dinosaurs.

Jurassic World IMAX 3D [PG-13]
Celebration North IMAX Theatre 18, 3:45pm, 2×$16.50 + $2.50 fee. Seats A-13/14

So... 22 years and 2 days later, does Spielberg and Company deliver again? Well, yes and no. It's clear that they're trying to follow the structure and the beats of Jurassic Park -- I mean why tamper with a successful formula? This is a summer blockbuster movie, after all. But I can't say it's just another me-too meh sequel, because it certainly has some charm of its own.

For one thing, it's got Chris Pratt. I swear it's the same costume as in Guardians of the Galaxy. (evil-grin) It's kind of like Indiana Jones. When he puts on the jacket, the hat and straps on the bullwhip, you're locked and loaded and ready for fun. Whereas Mad Max was almost irrelevant to Fury Road, Pratt is the heart and soul of Jurassic World. And you thought you knew velociraptors. Clever girls...

Second, it's a functioning looking full blown theme park going on. Jurassic Park never opened. Jurassic World is full of the kind of summer vacationers you often don't really care if they live or die. Man, karma is a dish best served cold. With dinosaurs.

B.D. Wong is back as the incredible scientist who doesn't ever think of consequences. Yeah, during our prelab I realized he definitely got off the island on the ship during the storm, to live another twenty years and cook up some new dinos. Seriously, someone needs to get him a copy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, plus a few hundred hours of HR workshops on ethics. On the other hand, I had real trouble relating to Bryce Dallas Howard's winner-takes-all character. She's the wrong person in that job, especially as the new rich investor guy to replace Hammond actually has some amusing qualities, amongst his blind spots. I am reminded of another Michael Crichton character, Ross in his book Congo (they never made a movie of this). (grin) I guess Ingen couldn't hire Pepper Potts away from Stark Enterprises to run Jurassic World properly, assuming her boyfriend didn't interfere. Or if he did, at least the security troops would have the upper hand with equipment...

Speaking of security, Vincent D'Onofrio is channeling Brian Dennehy here. I spent half the movie waiting for him to get chomped. Almost, but not quite as satisfying as Lawyer On The Half Shell chomp in Jurassic Park. (yes-i-went-there-grin)

Also, who ever designed their security systems sucks. You got mega dangerous killer dinos? I want that GPS tracking system to update every 1/100th of a second. Seriously. I think Jurassic World the themepark bought theirs from the same cutrate vendor who services most supervillain lairs in most movies. Let's put cameras everywhere, except for these secret entrances and at these vulnerable choke points and, what the heck, let's skimp on the sensors in the room with all the valuables.

All that said, it's wildly entertaining.

An interesting question came up when talking about the movie at the cookout Saturday night. Does Jurassic World pass the Bechtel test? Barely. The operation is run by the woman-in-suit, or at least she's in charge. And one of the top console hotdoggers is a woman, and they do talk to each other about, oh, dinosaurs eating people and not about boys. So that's good. But Mrs. Dr. Phil pointed out that since genetically all the dinosaurs are female -- and it is established that the velociraptors are talking to each other, usually about eating things -- why then YES. The surprising answer is that Jurassic World DOES pass the Bechtel test, just not in the usual way we think about it.

I will mention two nits that momentarily threw me out of the film. And they're not particularly spoilery. The first is watching two teens manage to get one of Jurassic Park's old gas powered Jeeps running. Now... I may have misheard the dialog, but I was pretty sure the one kid said it was a 1972 Jeep... not a twenty year old 1992 Jeep we'd expect. However, that isn't a flaw. Because a '72 would presumably NOT have a computer or fuel injection. Which means they'd have a hope in hell of getting it started. But geez, man, they're in the jungle off of Costa Rica. That vehicle ain't gonna run. And even if that battery charger DID have power from a phantom circuit that's still online from the new park, that battery is NOT going to charge. And I'd hate to think what is in the gas -- if it hasn't all evaporated after twenty years.

But it's the second nit that really is the howler. Bryce Daughter of Ron Howard and those shoes. Really? She's running for her life in the jungle in designer high heels? Remember, you just have to be faster than the slowest person to survive. (grin) And the heel's never break? And she's STILL in them at the end? Chris Pratt apparently commented on a talk show that she really did running in those shoes, which amazed everyone. At least in the jungle they showed people actually sweating.

Still, at the end of two hours we were mightily entertained. It's a natural progression from Jurassic Park, if you assume that governments around the world wouldn't have bombed and quarantined the hell out of Isla Numblar and Site B two decades ago...


Trailers: Ant Man almost derailed us. Usually when they start a trailer with the talent sitting in a studio chair telling you how great the film is, that's a sure sign of a desperation attempt to flog a dead dog. But the first trailer is SO good looking, I think it's more the problem that Ant Man was, pardon the pun, small potatoes in the Marvel universe, so they have to try and tell people, "NO, man, we're serious here -- this is gonna be fun!" When I met three people at a cookout on Saturday night who did not know there was a Jurassic Park sequel out, sometimes you have to let people know. Also, given the Disney connection, I was amused that this was the SECOND movie this summer to include It's A Small World singing along. Which as I said in the Tomorrowland review, might be THANK GOD the closest we get to trying to turn THAT Disney park attraction into a movie. (truly-evil-grin) The Next Mission: Impossible IV Or Whatever brings Tom Cruise and the band back together, and it certainly looks like suitable action movie fodder. Everest in IMAX is even more insane than the Everest documentary we saw in IMAX 3D years ago. I mean, crossing those aluminum ladders lashed together, wearing climbing boots with crampons -- who DOES this? I might have to see this one alone. Mrs. Dr. Phil is not that interested in dizzying heights disasters, real or imagined. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II will close out this series in November. I'd just seen the trailer online a few days ago and it still looks good. Is anyone creepier in the world smiling and being polite to you than nice, innocent Donald Sutherland? (creepy-grin)

Of course, the best trailer I've seen lately is for September's The Martian, based on the tremendous book by Andrew Wier, and starring Matt Damon from I-Can't-Stop-Watching-Reruns-Of-The-Bourne-Movies. We are going to science the shit out of this. Seriously, even xkcd thinks so:

And that's it for this movie edition...

Dr. Phil
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