A Rasher of Films

I’ve been busy watching late-night movies. It’s been a veritable orgy in celluloid. Well, magnetized mylar. Okay, fine, wired bits. Anyway, here we go:

(Spoiler warning. Read at your own risk.)

Arrow: Season 1

Much, much better than I thought it would be. After all, who is this Green Arrow guy? I was reading comic books in the 1960’s, when all of the superheroes were just like Ward Cleaver, but with a cape and a mask. Half the episodes ended with the costumed vigilante, still in costume, shaking the President’s hand after saving the world. Green Arrow seemed like one of the silliest of the whole lot.

This Green Arrow is a billionaire, PTSD-crippled psychopath. Like the later Batman, but this guy kills people. He tries to avoid it, usually, but when he’s taking down thirty hired goons, he doesn’t have time to play nice. And even when he’s in control, he’s got a short fuse. He’s interesting.

Good enough to try out Season 2 when it comes to Netflix.

Once Upon A Time: Season 2

Maybe I’ve gotten tired of it, but Season 2 just wasn’t Season 1. Interesting idea: all of the Magic Kingdom — every fairy tale ever conceived — is transported via curse to Storybrooke, Maine, a tiny town that no outsider can enter and no resident can leave, and where everyone has been transformed into an ordinary person with ordinary memories, reliving (pretty much) the same boring day, over and over. Until things change….

Supernatural: Season 8

This thing just keeps going.

After they thwarted both Lucifer and Archangel Michael to prevent the Apocalypse at the end of season  5, I was sure this was over. They’re now in season 9, and there are plans for a tenth season. And it just keeps on escalating….

I tend to really dislike modern fiction based on popular Catholic mythology, mostly because it takes itself so seriously. Not only does this series bring in a hodgepodge of every mythical beast from vampires to ifrits, along with the full comic-book formula for taking them out (e.g. a silver blade dipped in lamb’s blood) but when the two brothers are done outsmarting the Prince of Hell and banishing a batch of renegade angels to the higher planes, what do they do? The obvious: they crack a couple of Budweisers and watch the sun set. Dang.

These are the truest and bluest of blue-collar warrior mystics. It’s a great series.

Resident Evil & Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Okay, let’s put it up front: I do not mind a bad movie if I know it’s going to be bad when I hit the Play button.

Neither of these disappointed, because my expectations were so low. Zombies and more zombies. Mila Jovovich  lookin’ fine in practically nothing (and in nothing in the apocalypse). Camp comedy, ridiculous bad guys, pretentious dialogue, choreographed pole-dancer fights, and moments of poetic justice reduced to heaps of cheap doggerel. What’s not to like?

This is a large popcorn and three beer double-feature.

Dredd

I had to see this, because I had drunk the Stallone vintage of 1995, and I wanted to get that taste out of my mouth. Yes, eighteen years later. I honestly didn’t care if this one was better or worse, though it was hard to imagine it being any worse.

It surprised me. It wasn’t good, but it really wasn’t that bad, and it definitely displaced the 1995 version. So it served its purpose.

Beowulf

I’ve been a CG nut since forever, but for some reason I missed this when it came out in 2007. Lots going on that year, and I never found the time.

This is a gorgeous film. It’s a very strong story — based on one of the oldest existing bit of literature in the (barely) English language, meaning it clearly has some staying-power, then worked over by Neil Gaiman. Computer Graphics are always dated, almost before the film releases, but this still works well. It’s a long story, in that it takes Beowulf from a strapping young man to his grey age, burdened by kingship and a lie told early in his life.

It’s extremely violent, but it’s the kind of violence that makes complete sense in the context of the end of the first millennium of the common era.

The World’s End

This was hilarious. It’s a spoof, in much the same vein as Shaun of the Dead, which also stars Simon Pegg. As my son pointed, out, this a movie that starts one way, and ends up as a completely different movie. It starts as your classic “over-the-hill-guys-reunite-for-a-final-coming-of-age-bender-in-the-old-college-town” which is so common right now. Halfway through, it turns into “alien-robots-are-taking-over-the-world,” and then morphs into a post-apocalyptic Solomon Kane. Or maybe Mad Max in Mos Eisley. With a bit of Hitchhiker’s Guide thrown in.

The Cabin In The Woods

This one takes the cake for the last two months, though it’s covered with blood. If you can’t take red corn-syrup on your chainsaw-sliced pancakes, this is not the movie for you.

My son and I watched this back-to-back with World’s End, and this was another movie that started out one way and turned into something else. The two absolutely best lines in the movie are The Creepy Guy On Speakerphone, and the elevator — “ding!” This isn’t quite a spoof, but it includes pretty much every cliche you’ve ever seen in a horror movie and turns it on its head. It’s intelligent and utterly creepy and completely hilarious.

Joss Whedon wrote and directed this, so no wonder.

The Host

The writing is insipid, the acting is confused, the motivations of the characters are inscrutable, and the plot has enough holes to lose a dump truck in.

I kinda got past all that.

The basic idea is sort of interesting: aliens take over the earth by invading people’s minds, but they do it to make the earth a better place to live. Genocide in a good cause, so to speak. Somehow, some of them befriend some of us, and … well, it’s very confused.

What got me through it was realizing that this was written by Stephanie Meyer, the lady who put the sparkle in vampires (the Twilight series). This is a sci-fi chick flick for teenage girls, and I realized that the aliens in this movie are not from outer space, but instead live among us, obsessing about lipstick, and boys, and friendships, and loyalties, and betrayals, and virginity (or not), all while trying to pretend that they’re grown up enough to make their own decisions, thank you very much.  The motivations in this film were all muddled because that’s just the way life is for teenagers.

The Bletchley Circle

Now this is good stuff. The time is World War II, England. Four women working in Bletchley Park, the top-secret code-breaking division of British Intelligence, become friends. Years later, married (or not) and bound to absolute secrecy about the war years by the Official Secrets Act, the brightest of the lot, the pattern-finder, spots a pattern in the way a serial killer in the news is working through his victims. She’s “just a woman,” and her proper duty is to her husband and her children, not bothering the police with her silly little thoughts. So she rounds up her old friends, and they set out to stop the killer.

Tense, intelligent, and well-done historical fiction. British, of course.

Timeline

I wanted to see this again, just because. It wasn’t bad. It gave me a poor impression in 2003, right after I read the book. The book was much better. Seeing it ten years later, the details of the book long-forgotten, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered.

I mostly mention it because it stars Paul Walker, who was reported dead in a fiery car crash the day after I watched this. That was kind of creepy.

Wolverine

The problem with all of these superhero movies is that they’ve fallen into exactly the same ruts as the comic books they’re derived from. They’re utterly stagnant.

Beowulf is at the opposite end of this spectrum. His story begins when he defeats Grendel, but it ends decades later when he is old and tired of living. His kingdom is a burden and a curse, and a lie hangs about his neck that destroyed his marriage and his happiness. His final heroism is his redemption, and also his deepest sorrow. The story ends with his death.

There is no Beowulf II. No Beowulf Unchained. No Return to the Planet of Beowulf.

The problem with Wolverine is that it’s just the same damn story, over and over, and it isn’t a very good one. PTSD-ridden warrior hides in the woods sucking on his bottle; pretty girl draws him into adventure he didn’t want; nascent heroism overcomes cynical shell, and hero takes on legions of bad guys (and big robots) to Save The Day; in the end, hero learns Life Lesson that he cannot ignore Who He Really Is, and returns to the hero-business of bashing bad guys. Until, of course, the next episode, which finds him back in the woods, sucking on his bottle. Again.

The stunts are getting completely silly. A fistfight on top of a Japanese bullet train moving at 300 MPH?

And by the way, guys: when a human body hits a metal plate at 300 MPH, it doesn’t go “Bwaaaanng!” and bounce off into the sky. It goes “Splat!” and sticks. Mostly.

City of Bones

I loved these books. Cassandra Clare is a wonderful writer, and while the basic plot is your standard Young Adult coming-of-age-as-someone-really-special story, she put a whole lot more into the politics of her world than usual. It’s actually dangerous to go into their realm: not because of something that leaps at you out of a dark corner, that you can flatten with a good blade or a couple of spells, but because there are ironclad customs in a very tightly-wound society, and breaking the wrong rule can get you lawfully executed. Even the bad guys have to walk a fine line.

I didn’t hate the movie the way the critics did, but then, I’d gotten through The Host recently. I’d certainly want to see City of Ashes — part two of three — in the hopes that they’d do a better job of capturing some of the magic of the writing.

Earthbound

This was a complete surprise and delight. It’s a low-budget Irish film, about a guy who works in a comic book store, who believes he is a space alien. That’s what his father told him on his deathbed, and left him with a small collection of space junk, like an old 8mm movie projector with a crystal in it that causes his father’s image to emerge from the screen holographically and converse with him about life’s little problems.

Our hero, Joe Norman, becomes infatuated with a young woman who comes into the store to sell her old toys for rent money, and she — and her psychiatrist — convince Joe he’s delusional.

Which he believes until he’s attacked by alien bounty-hunters, who kidnap his now-pregnant girlfriend, and set out for his home planet to deliver up the child for ritual sacrifice. Of course, Joe rescues the girl and they return safely to Earth, to raise their family.

Safety Not Guaranteed

This was another delight, and very similar to Earthbound. In this case, our heroine, Darius, an unmotivated, nerdy almost-goth takes a summer internship with a magazine which, for want of any better ideas, decides to run a story on a classified ad that appears in a local paper, advertising for a companion in time-travel. They track down the man who posted the ad, who works as a stock boy at a supermarket.

Darius applies for the position of time-travel companion, befriends the man, then falls in love with him, despite the fact — or perhaps because of the fact — that he’s obviously a bit cracked. In the end, it turns out he really has built a time machine, and they go back in time to right wrongs.

Gravity

Okay, this is a top-notch film, and plenty has been said about its themes, its appeal, and its technical flaws. It’s very much worth seeing.

But I cannot let go of the single biggest technical flaw in the whole film, which I have yet to see anyone address. And it’s huge.

Here’s the basic premise. The Russians blow up one of their satellites — probably a spy satellite that they don’t want falling into the wrong hands. The explosion isn’t clean, and space is now so crowded with space junk that the fragments of the Russian satellite collide with other satellites, destroying them and creating more carnage. The whole mass of shrapnel approaches the space shuttle at high speed and rips it to shreds, stranding the two surviving astronauts (Clooney and Bullock) who were outside the shuttle doing satellite repairs at the time. The rest of the film is their race against diminishing fuel and oxygen, and recurring shrapnel, in their attempt to return to Earth in one piece.

There’s a basic bit about orbital mechanics that’s just way off, here, and that’s this: objects that move faster around the earth move into more distant orbits; objects that move more slowly around the earth move into tighter orbits. Anything moving in the same orbit as the space shuttle is moving at the same speed as the space shuttle.

That is essential physics.

Now what I said isn’t exactly accurate. If you have a satellite in orbit, and you blast it with a nuclear bomb and send parts of it winging off significantly faster than it was already going, it isn’t going to just move nicely into a larger circular orbit. It’s going to go into a highly-elliptical orbit, winging way out into space, then swinging in real close.

Odds are very good that most of the shrapnel will make it no more than once around the Earth: on the very next close approach, it will dip into the atmosphere and burn up. Some of it may exceed escape velocity, and start a no-return flight into the solar system. Some of it will be blown backwards, reducing its orbital velocity, and it will fall into a tighter orbit, hit the atmosphere, and burn up. Only a fraction of it is going to go into any kind of long term (elliptical) orbit.

This ellipse cuts through the shuttle’s circular orbit in at most four places. Those points of intersection are dangerous, but only if the shuttle and the shrapnel are there at the same time.

They won’t be. The period of the larger elliptical orbit is longer than the period of the circular orbit. So if they do happen to be in the same place at the same time, once, it won’t happen again for a very long time.

Think of two race cars on a circular track. One car sticks right to the middle of the track all the way around. The other car, which is moving quite a bit faster than the first car, weaves from the inside lane to the outside lane and back as it goes around. The fast car moves through the middle lane four times on each loop, but it will only hit the other car if the other car is right there at the moment the fast car passes through the middle lane. If the slow car is somewhere else on the track, there will be no collision.

So yes, the first moment of carnage is possible; very unlikely, but possible. But a recurrence ninety minutes later? Nope. That simply isn’t going to happen.

Okay, my geek capacitor just burned out.

This entry was posted in General.

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