I'm afraid I haven't finished any of the books I've started in the past couple months, but here are my thoughts on some of the movies I've seen recently.
The Manhattan Project
In the news this past week, as I'm sure most of you are aware, there has been the widely-reported story of the science-loving Muslim teen who took his homemade clock to school, which resulted in his arrest for building a "hoax bomb" when his teacher and the cops overreacted. Well, here’s a movie about a science-loving teenager who actually deserves to get arrested for building a bomb because that's exactly what he does. In fact, even before that, he demonstrates a fondness for causing little explosions in his classroom in order to terrorize a fellow student- something that would likely earn him a trip to a detention facility today, particularly if his skin were a different color. But he's white, so I guess we’re apparently just supposed to regard him as some sort of precocious misfit with a predilection for pranks.
John Lithgow plays a scientist who takes his girlfriend's whiz-kid son, Paul (played by an actor I don't know), on a tour of his lab where he is secretly refining plutonium for the government. Unfortunately, the kid figures out what's really going on there and he and his wannabe journalist girlfriend (a very young, pre-Sex and the City Cynthia Nixon) decide to break into the lab (which is ridiculously easy to do, as it's guarded by a one elderly rent-a-cop) and steal some of the plutonium, ostensibly to prove to the public what the government is up to, but I personally think it has more than a little to do with jealous Paul wanting to teach Lithgow a lesson for daring to date his mom.
Instead of exposing the operation like they'd discussed, this genius gets the bright idea of using their pilfered plutonium to build his own nuclear bomb and entering it in the big science fair. Somehow, he's smart enough to construct a nuke on his own (during a montage scored with inappropriately whimsical music), but too stupid to comprehend what a horribly dangerous idea that is or how much trouble he's created for himself (he thinks if he gets caught, the government can't prosecute him because he's underage).
I'm very liberal, but never before have I wanted to see someone tossed into Guantanamo Bay more than the psycho brat in this movie after the millions of lives he put in jeopardy. If the movie had ended differently, he could have easily gone down in history as one of the greatest mass murderers of all time.
I liked John Lithgow in the movie at least. I always like John Lithgow, but he was by far the most sensible and tolerable person in the film. When I saw the commercial, I half-expected his character to turn out to be some kind of creep, if not an outright villain.
My sister got Snatch. for me as a present years ago. I'm not sure how long ago that was, but since it was on VHS, I would feel safe in saying it was probably well over a decade. I feel bad that I never watched it- I kept intending to- but wasn't strongly motivated, plus it was not in widescreen, like the majority of movies released to VHS, and I'm kind of a stickler about that kind of thing. Well, I finally watched it, and I can't say it left a huge impression. I watched it a week ago (from the time I'm typing this) and I'm already having difficulty remembering the story. I had a tough time following the plot and understanding the accents... and I don't generally have much more difficulty with British accents than I do with American ones. Of course, Brad Pitt's accent is deliberately impenetrable.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
After I watched Snatch., I looked up reviews of it, and one opinion I saw several times was that it felt like a rehash of Guy Richie's previous movie, which was this one. I will say that I had an easier time following along now that I had a better idea of what to expect. Neither of these movies are bad, but I didn't really care much about any of the characters. In this one, I found it hard to keep track of who was who. I think I was halfway through the movie before I figured out that the drug dealers were not the same people as the guys who were ostensibly the protagonists.
What if you went to go see Pirates of the Caribbean, only to find that pirates make up a relatively small percentage of the runtime? Well, that's kind of what Tomorrowland is like. I can't argue with the message of this movie, which can essentially be boiled down to emphasizing the role of optimism in creating a better future, but having a laudable message doesn't excuse a disappointing movie. Based on the trailer, I was hoping for a look at a retro-futuristic world and something that would fill me with a sense of wonder, but there's very little actual wonder in the movie. We barely even get a glimpse of the titular Tomorrowland in its full glory apart from one sequence that is the best part of the film, but that scene turns out to be kind of a fake-out. Also, the movie wasn't good enough for me to suspend my disbelief over the preposterous idea that scientists five decades or more in the past had secretly developed super advanced technology that would make Star Trek look quaint by comparison.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Here's the sort of grim vision of the future that Tomorrowland was decrying, and yet, it's about thirty times more entertaining than Tomorrowland. I'm not sure that that really says anything about people preferring their futures to be dark and gritty as opposed to bright and optimistic; it's just a much, much better made movie. And it's not like it's totally without optimism; at the end of the day, the message is a hopeful one. It's just not clobbering you over the head with its message the way Tomorrowland does. I wish I could think of more to say about "Fury Road," because it honestly is one of the best movies I've seen in a while. It doesn't seem right that it's easier for me to go on and on about something when I'm dissatisfied with it, but find myself at a loss for words when I see something extremely worthy of praise. This is the sort of movie for which cliched phrases like "non-stop, high octane thrill ride" were invented. I was very impressed. I'm glad I saw it on the big screen when I had the chance. I don't often choose to see movies that are primarily action driven, but haven't been this gripped by an action movie since I saw the original The Matrix.
Speaking of The Matrix, this is the first movie the Wachowski siblings ever directed and it's yet another movie I've been meaning to see for forever. I thought I'd taped it on IFC at one point, but when I finally sat down to watch it much later, I realized I'd taped something different. Well, it's taken me almost two decades, but I've finally gotten around to it. I'd say it was worth the wait. This is possibly my second favorite movie the Wachowski's have made, after Cloud Atlas.
Gina Gershon plays Corky, a woman recently released from prison who becomes involved with a money launderer's girlfriend, Violet played by Jennifer Tilly. Together, the two conspire to steal two million dollars belonging to the mob. Man, was it suspenseful. I watched it two nights in a row. The first time, I wasn't totally sure if Violet could be trusted. The movie smartly has Corky voice those same concerns early on, because the Wachowskis knew that a reasonably savvy audience member would probably be anticipating at least the possibility of a double cross in this sort of movie, and even if it doesn't happen, it's letting you know that Gershon's character isn't stupid. The second time watching this, it was a little more pleasurable, knowing for sure who I was supposed to be rooting for.
Given their obvious talent, it's kinda sad that the Wachowskis haven't exactly been lighting the box office on fire since The Matrix. It might feel like a step backwards, but maybe they should try going back to making smaller movies like this one.
The 6th Day
They actually sneaked some neat sci-fi ideas into this Schwarzenegger vehicle, but I also found it a bit predictable and hokey. While an okay way to kill a couple hours, it's not the best movie Arnold has done. Interesting to note that the movie is set in the year 2015, according to imdb.
Star Trek: Renegades
This isn't really a movie- it's a fan film- but it's feature length, and I feel like saying something about it, so I'm including it on this list.
This seems to have been pretty thoroughly bashed by a lot of Trekkies. I can't disagree with a lot of the criticisms I've seen (eg, script needed work, Starfleet's sudden strange fondness for the color yellow that makes it look like they filmed in an abandoned Blockbuster Video, etc.), but I don't want to be too hard on it because it's a fan film and it doesn't seem fair to critique it using the same standards one would for a professional production. The goal was ostensibly to make something that was high enough in quality to actually show it to CBS in the hopes of it being officially picked up, either as a new Star Trek show or at least a web series, but it wasn’t nearly good enough to be either. At the end of the day, even with the seasoned genre actors involved, it still feels very much like a fan film, and as such, I'd say it's somewhat above average.
I'm not big on Star Trek fan films; I haven't seen a lot. Aside from a couple exceptions (Star Trek: Aurora and Star Trek Continues, both of which I think are great and can readily recommend), most that I've come across I've considered to be fairly cringeworthy and unwatchable. I totally respect the dedication that goes into making these things, but then I often end up feeling embarrassed for the non-actors on the screen.
I guess part of the reason people have been especially hard on Renegades is because it was touted as being on the level of a professional pilot, and so they're judging it with that in mind. Personally, I never had super high expectations for it to begin with, particularly given the fact that it's from the same team that made Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, which I found to be rather painful- it took me several tries to get through all of that one. Maybe the lowered expectations helped, because I was able to watch Renegades in one sitting and was mostly entertained. Also, I think it was just an overall improvement over their previous effort.
Don't get me wrong- I didn't hate it, but I'm not saying it's good; it would be difficult to recommend to someone except as a curiosity and/or if they're very forgiving of amateur filmmaking. It has plenty of problems- the sub-par script and Tim Russ' directing didn't bring out the best performances from the cast, including the pros. But the basic premise is interesting (sort of The Dirty Dozen in space) and there were a number of moments I found amusing. I'm sorry to say that these people were deluding themselves if they seriously believed there was a chance of CBS green lighting this as a series. However, as a fan film, it was okay. I wouldn't mind seeing it continued past this first installment and hope they find a way to do so (but I doubt I'll be donating any money to the cause).