Noah

Sometimes you wait for the dollar theatre because you suspect that a movie won’t be worth the full price of admittance for a first run movie. Noah was one of those for us. We’d heard conflicting reviews from friends and family, though the Rotten Tomatoes score was decent. It definitely wasn’t one on our ‘must-see’ list. But the wife and I wanted a cheap outing the other night and Noah it was.

I went in wanting to like the film. NoahMovie2014 Darren Aronofsky is a talented guy and the backstory of the flood has always held a deep fascination for me. So, as a few initial misses piled up, I was still hoping for a decent experience as the movie went along. Instead the pile up became a wreck of immense proportions. Let us count a few of the mangled corpses along the way:

Joy- its compete absence. I suppose that the death of the vast majority of the human race isn’t exactly ripe for joy, but a monotone of base despair doesn’t exactly make for a scintillating movie experience. Russell Crowe’s Noah starts his story of the movie watching the casual murder of his father from hiding and just goes downhill emotionally from there. Storytelling is creating studies in contrasts and this movie had little hope attempting to resist the downward gravity of its base premise.

Character Arc- similarly Noah experiences little to no character progression in the film.  Other than experiencing  despair and barely struggling out from under it, Noah is a one-note character study in grief.

Villans- Ray Winstone as Tubal Cain has a certain flair for evil, but again is monotone and monotonous. While impressively persistent, he exhibits no progression or change over the course of the story. He delights in his mastery over others and power of the world but his two-dimensionality rivals a paper doll.

Anthony Hopkins- while his Methuselah seems to be the only one in the movie having any fun, he in the end is still wasted on this role.

The Watchers- the ridiculous animation of these mysterious figures of scripture renders any possibility of taking them seriously impossible. In an otherwise well rendered film visually, these creatures are saturday morning cartoon fare pasted into a Hollywood blockbuster.

Ham/Logan Lerman- Ug. The ridiculous narrative around this character made it a tough acting job, but Logan made it appear as painful as possible.

A few things stand out from the surrounding dreck to be somewhat enjoyable. Emma Watson makes the most of her role, though the called for emotional range is narrow. A few of the special effects, especially with the water, were very interesting and visually arresting. Some of the outside shots were dramatic and the natural beauty of Methuselah’s home was spectacular. But thats about it. Not much to like here.

And the thing is, my wife liked it substantially less than I did. Easily worst movie of the year for her.

Considering the talent and money that went into this production, it stands out for it it’s inability to translate those assets into any kind of compelling narrative. Big two thumbs down from us.

 

 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review


Amazing Spider Man 2

The combination of a long day in the sun working on the yard (including the resultant sunburn) and a late showing, after a dinner date with my wife, made me a bit groggy for this movie. The result was a bit of head nodding during some of the climatic showdowns. Which is actually apropos for this particular installment of the Spider-Man franchise.

There are many things to like about the Amazing Spider-Man 2. The production values are there, the chemistry between the leads (not too surprising given their off-screen romance), the exposition of Peter’s parent’s backstory. But ultimately a few issues take the fizz out of the production leaving a flat note to the otherwise sweet taste of the movie.

The movie opens with a flashback to the events leading to Richard and Mary Parker’s (Peter’s parents) demise. This sets up the plot of the movie as Peter deals with the emotions sparked by their deaths, his promise to George Stacy to leave Gwen Stacy “out of it,” and the terminal illness of his childhood friend Harry Osborn.

The notional villain of the piece is Max Dillon aka Electro. His character’s introduction left me with flashbacks to Superman III, though the similarities faded over time. But what did not fade was the 2 dimensional aspect of the character in either of his two guises. Either as the mild under-appreciated nebbish or the homicidal supervillain, the writers/director did little to give more than a cursory explanation of his emotional transformation between extremes.

The Goblin’s introduction and actions are given a fuller treatment as well as providing an arc and reasoning for his actions.

Gwen’s storyline is treated adequately, but also underlines some of the issue with Peter’s emotional reactions. The first problem is that we are just as frustrated as Gwen when the first part of the movie re-plays the previous movie’s Peter/Gwen together/not together issue due to Peter’s promise. This was adequately covered in the previous movie and could have been covered purely in flashback form. They obviously wanted to create emotional resonance later in the movie, but was instead completely unnecessary and irritating filler.

The second issue is Peter’s mood swings are more extreme than his swinging between Manhattan’s skyscrapers. His bi-polar reactions don’t come across as believable-  childish rather than cathartic.

That said, while the flaws are evident, they aren’t fatal. It is still a good popcorn superhero movie- but the bar raised by Marvel’s own production arm seems to be getting harder for Sony to reach. Hopefully the inevitable Amazing Spider-Man 3 will find a way to climb the same heights.

 

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Trapped

dark_skyRecovering an old hard drive, I came across something I wrote in 2005- don’t think I ever ‘polished’ it, but here it is raw and unedited:

Trapped

in a sea of possibility

lo here

lo there

my minds eye spins warps and weaves

the threads of future happenings

the paths diverge

and surge

with uncounted cascades of divergent rivulets

unheeding

events rush by

ever-accelerating accumulating suffocating

gasping grasping seeking

filtering

choosing

nefarious choice

nasty brutual irreducably gleaming

freezing the whirlwind

murderer of aborning greatness

incoherent entropy

it sings a slyphic song

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iPad mini first impressions…

For my soon-to-be birthday, I pre-empted the wife and kids and picked up an iPad mini. I’ve been debating myself as to whether the next purchase would be a Nexus 7 or an iPad- the mini is mid-cycle whereas the Nexus is likely dropping a new version this week at Google IO. In the end the eco-system lock-in got me, and I picked up a black 64GB wifi iPad mini at the Austin Domain Apple Store (thanks to my friend Curtis, with a 15% friends and family discount).

The first thing I noted was the solid feel. It’s heft is palpable without being actually heavy. About as thin as you could want and it’s bezel is minimal.

Installing apps slowed the interface response- but our fast cable connection meant the ~30GB of apps appeared fairly speedily. Set up as a new iPad, one of the current weaknesses of the “Springboard” home screen became apparent. Moving apps around into folders (when you have lots of them like I do) becomes a huge chore- it wouldn’t be an overstatement that I spent more than an hour just dragging apps around into my preferred order. Here is my first page on the Springboard:

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Note that with almost everything in folders, there are still four pages of apps! You can see why starting over with an Android is painful to contemplate.

The increased pixel density of the mini vs the iPad 2 is nice. Not ‘Retina’ nice, but appreciably better. Browsing is speedy, sound is good, and the whole package is slick.

After putting it though its paces some more I’ll come back with a more detailed post.

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Hardcore History

To formally kick of the first real content of my blog, I’ve decided to write about something that has been an immensely satisfying way to while away my commute. While the vast majority of content available to us on the internet is pap, the magic is when we are able to find something special that is enabled by it.

So I was grateful beyond measure that when looking for something worth listening to on Downcast during my commute (non-Mondays of course, since Mondays are reserved for Writing Excuses), I stumbled upon Hardcore History by Dan Carlin.

Hardcore History is definitely hardcore- with his Episode Six of “Death Throes of the Republic” clocking in at a massive 5 and 1/2 hours, not to mention the preceding five episodes. The amazing thing is that the time flies by- I’ve never heard such engrossing recounting of history as when told by Dan Carlin. The telling sounds almost off the cuff, though I assume it is highly scripted and it is completely seamless (I can never tell when he went off for breaks- kudos to the editor).

Mixing citations from other historians along with original documentation and first person sources he creates an atmosphere that conveys an immediacy that is generally missing from history education. I almost hesitate in calling it education since it is so simultaneously entertaining, though educational it most certainly is.

I started off with his “Wrath of the Khans” episodes, which were incredibly involved and involving. They are epic in scope while also letting us get to know the players in intimate detail. Carlin also exudes compassion for the background players- and certainly in the case of the Khans, the victims. He reminds us that it history is not just about the “names” or “progress,” it is also about those who have perished horribly and prematurely in the process.

I can wholly and without reservation recommend both of these series along with “Globalization unto Death” about Magellan. I can also say that I’m pretty certain, sight unseen, that the rest of his material is likely at the same standard, and I’m certainly going to be digging into it to see what I have left to enjoy.