Monthly Archives: December 2014

Movie Review: 2014 Revue

Year two of movie reviews!  You can also check out my 2013 Revue.  When I’m not so lazy, I should really make an index of all my reviews.

I reviewed 37 movies this year.  The movies of 2014 seemed weaker that those of 2013.  That is likely more a reflection of the movies I saw versus the movies that were available.  Here’s a recap with links to the reviews.

Lone Survivor – 4/5 stars

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – 3/5 stars

Robocop – 3/5 stars

Non-Stop – 2/5 stars

300: Rise of an Empire – 1/5 stars

The LEGO Movie – 5/5 stars

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – 4/5 stars

The Grand Budapest Hotel – 4/5 stars

Transcendence – 2/5 stars

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – 3/5 stars

Neighbors – 4/5 stars

Godzilla – 2/5 stars

X-Men: Days of Future Past – 4/5 stars

Maleficent – 2/5 stars

Edge of Tomorrow – 4/5 stars

Transformers: Age of Extinction – -10/5 stars

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – 4/5 stars

Hercules – 3/5 stars

Guardians of the Galaxy – 4/5 stars

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 2/5 stars

Lucy – 4/5 stars

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – 1/5 stars

The November Man – 2/5 stars

No Good Deed – 2/5 stars

A Walk Among the Tombstones – 3/5 stars

Gone Girl – 4/5 stars

Dracula: The Untold Story – 2/5 stars

Fury – 4/5 stars

St. Vincent – 5/5 stars

John Wick – 3/5 stars

Interstellar – 3/5 stars

Big Hero 6 – 3/5 stars

Mockingjay Part 1 – 4/5 stars

The Theory of Everything – 3/5 stars

Exodus: Gods and Kings – 3/5 stars

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies – 2/5 stars

The Imitation Game – 3/5 stars

Movie Review: The Imitation Game

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Very well acted.  A very fascinating story if you don’t know anything about Alan Turing’s life.  Somewhat clichéd.

I’m fairly positive that almost anyone who sees “The Imitation Game” will like it better than I did.  Alan Turing was an amazing person and almost single-handedly brought an end to the Second World War.  All this and he was treated like a pariah after the war just for being a homosexual.  My problem is partially that none of this was new to me.  It’s a great story for those who know nothing of the goings on at Bletchley Park.  For me, it fell a little flat.

I think the main problem with the movie is how it treats Alan Turing.  The flashbacks to his childhood at the academy are the most touching and humanizing scenes in the film and I have nothing but praise for how they depict the already wildly different young Turing being picked on and very delicately exploring his homosexuality.  The adult Turing, though portrayed brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch, just comes off as another clichéd mad genius who is incredibly difficult to work with.  This does lead to some very humorous moments like when he tries to appear more humane and gets his fellow cryptanalyst some apples and attempts to tell a joke.  But even then, I was laughing before he even started to tell the joke because I knew what was coming.

The movie also fails the Bechdel Test miserably by only having one female of any note, Joan Clarke played wonderfully by Keira Knightley.  This can be forgiven because, well, it was a man’s world back then and they were pretty true to the story.  What can’t be forgiven is the one main interaction she has with another woman, they talk about boys.  The scene was complete fluff and it’s only purpose seemed to be so they could stick their thumb in the eye of the Bechdel Test.

These are all nits that can be picked only by someone who is familiar with the story.  Those that aren’t will likely be lost in the story too much to notice.  Personally, I would have been happier if they went more into the Ultra project and made a better show of exactly how they broke Enigma.  But that would probably be pretty boring for most.  They did have a few easter eggs for dorks like me.  For instance, in the background, you often saw them using Zygalski sheets which were actually used in attempts to decipher Enigma messages.  I’m sure there were others as well.

Despite my three star review, I would actually recommend this movie to most people.  It was a fascinating time of history that the world didn’t really discover until decades after it occurred due to the top secret nature of the project.

Happy Privilege Day!

Ah, there’s nothing like the post-Christmas food coma day to talk about the dichotomy of our society here in the United States.  Everybody’s off of work, nursing their hangovers or returning the crappy presents that their Aunt Matilda got them.  Well, except the people in retail who have to put up with all your over-privileged complaints.  Or the people who clean your houses and offices.  Or the people who pick your food.  Or the people who deliver your packages.  You know, all the people who get paid crap and keep the economic engine that we all depend on functioning normally.  Be nice to them.  Their job sucks way worse than yours does.

It is amazing how different downtown Chicago is on the day after Christmas (and I’d assume the day after Thanksgiving).  It’s like a ghost town.  Well, most of it is.  Chicago is a fairly heavily segregated city.  Even in downtown, where there are no hard and fast racial borders, it is noticeable.  Today, especially so.  Millennium Station, which on a normal day I would guess serves 60-70% Black people is almost 100% Black today, except for the line at Starbucks.  And speaking of Starbucks, there are Starbucks stores that are closed today!  I didn’t think that was possible, but if you work in a skyscraper with its own economic ecosystem and that ecosystem includes a Starbucks, chances are it and most of the other stores and shops and restaurants are closed.

The finer restaurants will be open today and the early staff of mostly Hispanics are patiently waiting for their almost assuredly White manager, who is late, to arrive for the day to open up for them.  I’d imagine that if they were late, the consequences would be dire.  They will cook our food and serve it to us privileged as we all enjoy a welcome and deserved respite from the toils of everyday life, completely oblivious to those surrounding us that every bit deserves the respite we enjoy, but do not have the social standing to demand one.  So tip them well.

Privilege isn’t anything to feel guilty about.  In fact, you should enjoy it!  But you should also recognize it.  A little introspection can go a long way and if you believe you got to where you are by sheer force of will, you are either deceiving yourself or you’re a complete dick.  The latter can  likely not be corrected, when you’re a dick you’re a dick all the way from your first cigarette to your last dying day, but self-deception can be fought against and it is worth fighting to become a more socially conscious individual.

Movie Review: The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Yay, I never have to watch another Hobbit movie again!

This marks my first review of an entire trilogy.  First, there was “An Unexpected Journey” which was middling but left me with hope.  Then came “The Desolation of Smaug” which was almost completely filler with some added confusing “Lord of the Rings” back story thrown in.  Now, at long last, we are at the end of our grueling journey with “Battle of the Five Armies”.  Thank the Valar!

I’m just going to say it: I hate Legolas.  How much do I hate Legolas?  Let’s just say that I find Jar Jar Binks to be a better useless addition to a movie.  Every scene he’s in he’s all like “Look at me!  I am Legolas!  I am here solely as a familiar face for the rubes to recognize because our lazy director didn’t bother to create any memorable characters that are unique to this trilogy.”  What?  Don’t believe me?  Name me more that two of the dwarves.  See?  I only can because I read the book.  Legolas is lazy storytelling at its worst.  But that’s what you get when you try squeezing every penny out of a franchise that has already made billions.  I can’t wait for the fan released “Hobbit” remix with all of Legolas’ parts removed.  Never again do I want to see his false gravitas or his idiotic action sequences.

Besides the lazy storytelling, the movie is middling.  As with the first of the trilogy, there’s nothing really awe-inspiring or memorable, but it does an ok job of finishing off the story.  There is a lot of stuff that can be confusing if you don’t remember some of the events of the completely forgettable “The Desolation of Smaug”.  I couldn’t for the life of me remember why Gandalf was sitting captured in a cage or why he went there in the first place.  I’m sure it was some sort of foreshadowing to events in “The Lord of the Rings”, but it fell so flat, it was like a penny left on the railroad tracks.

As for the eponymous battle itself?  All style, no substance.  I know next to zero about battle tactics and I was able to point out a myriad of flaws in strategy.  Yes, artistic license should be allowed, but a battle should be somewhat grounded in reality as well.  The battle had no sense of scope and felt like it was planned by kindergardeners playing with toy soldiers.  For instance, why didn’t the orcs just burrow into the the mountain and allow them direct access to a completely unguarded dwarven kingdom rather than pouring out onto an open battlefield?  You’d never see the Fremen use such poor tactics when riding Shai-Hulud into battle.  Plus, how were the orcs able to control the burrowing worms to begin with?  Plus, why would the orcs attack a completely useless and undefended town instead of pouring their forces against the actual armies that they greatly outnumber and have the advantage of higher ground against.

What pissed me off the most is when Tharanduil gives his ever-watchful archers the order to shoot anything that stirs in the dwarven fortress only to have the very next scene show Bilbo very clumsily escaping the fortress by climbing down the front barricade and trotting up to the town.  I mean how lazy can you get as a dirctor?  All you had to do is swap the scenes and things would make some sense.  But nooooooo!

Ok, I’m done complaining.  If you ever find yourself in a mood to sit down and watch a trilogy and think to yourself, “Oh, I should watch ‘The Hobbit'”, please have someone slap you in the face and scream, “What are you thinking, man!?”.  Maybe that will make you come to your senses and allow you to watch a good trilogy like “The Lord of the Rings”.  Now let us never speak of “The Hobbit” trilogy again.

Book Review: Against A Dark Background by Ian M. Banks

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

This is one of those books that could really do with two different reviews.  One for its plot and one for its content.

The plot is kind of ridiculous and reads more like a bad role-playing game than a novel.  It finds itself jumping from location to location and having the characters get into various adventures at those locations.  If that was all “Against a Dark Background” had going for it, I would forever throw it into the literary trash heap and be done with it.  Luckily, the world that “Against a Dark Background” inhabits is rich and varied and complicated and imaginative and consistently surprising.

It is very hard to describe the world Banks has created in this book.  We have what appears to be a rogue sun, Thrial, with an orbiting planetary system, the main of which is Golter.  Golter can best be described as containing a pseudo-anarchic city-state system of government with a semi-autonomous world government that attempts to keep all-out anarchy at bay.  The plot revolves around the main character, Sharrow, and her attempts to flee an amorphous cult called the Huhsz which thinks that Sharrow needs to die in order for their prophesies to be fulfilled.  The world government, which is called the World Court, is totally ok with this and there is, in fact, a formal process that entities can submit themselves to in order to get these assassination passports.

Sharrow and her friends spend the entire book trying to stay a step ahead of the Huhsz, all the while searching for a weapon of immense power called a Lazy Gun which has been lost for generations and is best described as a weapon of mass destruction with a sense of humor.  Fire it at a man standing in the middle of a desert and it will create a deluge of water which will drown him.  Fire it at a city and a giant meteor will appear to wipe it out.  You get the idea.  The Huhsz have promised Sharrow that she can trade her life for the Lazy Gun if she can find it before they find her.

What makes the book worth while is everything Sharrow and her friends come across in their adventures.  There is a jewel heist in a city called the Log Jam which consists of a series of boats tied together and stretching kilometers across.  There is a book theft in a city ruled by a king that forswears all technology and learning of any kind.  There is a cult that lives in a place called the Sea House and whose members must walk around forever chained to the wall which contains an interlocking system of grooves that allow them to slide their chains from room to room.  There is a city full of androids that is too radioactive for humans to live in full-time.  There are Solipsists who spend their time explaining away everything they see around themselves as projections of their own godhood.  And more.

And that’s the saving grace of this book.  There is so much imagination just packed into the pages.  Much of it doesn’t seem to go together and a lot even seems contradictory but it is all quite enjoyable if you ignore these faults.  I see “Against a Dark Background” as more of an adult children’s book.  It doesn’t make much sense, but it allows your imagination to run wild.

The Dreaded White Screen Of Death

Into every WordPress user’s life a little rain must fall.  That rain is usually the White Screen of Death.  Two years of blogging and I have finally had my rain.  One usually receives the dreaded White Screen when one updates one’s plugins.  It tends to block you from accessing any of your admin pages via the web and gives you the ever informative blank white screen.  Fun.

Getting past the dreaded white screen is a fairly easy fix if you know how to FTP into your website.  Each host is different on how you do that so I’ll leave that process as an exercise for the students to figure out.  Once you’re in, though, simply navigate to the /wp-content directory and change the /plugins directory to another name like /plugins.old or something similar.  Doesn’t really matter what.  This should allow you to get to your admin page via your browser.  If you’re still getting the White Screen, try changing the name of the /themes directory like you did the /plugins directory.  If you’re still getting the White Screen, good luck to you and may Google have mercy on your soul, your problem surpasses my knowledge.

Now that you’re at your admin page, go to your Installed Plugins page.  It should give you a message for all of your plugins saying that they have all been disabled because it couldn’t find the directory.  Now rename the /plugins.old folder back to /plugins and refresh your Installed Plugins page.  All of them should show up and all of them are disabled.  Now, if any of them need to be updated, update them.  Chances are that the plugin creator quickly realized the chaos they created and has since fixed it.  Then enable the plugins one by one until you either find the plugin that causes the White Screen or you have enabled all of your plugins once again.  If one of them still causes the White Screen, start over from the beginning and don’t try to enable that plugin again until an update comes out.  The same procedure can be followed if it is your Theme that is causing the problem.

You should now be back in blogging business.

Movie Review: Exodus: Gods And Kings

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A visually gorgeous movie with great acting and a middling story.  Ploddingly long at points.  How can you make plagues boring?

Given that a vast majority of the population of the United States is either Christian or Jewish, the story of Exodus will be familiar.  Moses grows up like an Egyptian prince, later finds out he’s a Hebrew, gets told by god to free his people from Egyptian slavery, leads his people to the promised land.  Throw in some plagues and you got yourself the basics of the movie.

Visually, the movie was stunning.  Given, life at that time was much harder, more brutal, and shorter than any of us would be comfortable with, but man, would I want to see Memphis in its prime.  I don’t know how much historical accuracy Ridley Scott went for in portraying it, but it was beautiful.  It is too bad, the visuals were the best part of the movie.

The acting was great, as you would expect from a movie starring Christian Bale, Ben Kingsley, and Sigourney Weaver.  The kid who played Yahweh was also quite good, though I can’t seem to find his name.  There was this one part where he goes all Old Testament that was just exceptional.

None of that can make up for the plodding length of the movie, however.  Weighing in at 150 minutes, much of the movie just goes from scene to scene without much background and often leaves you wondering why things happened the way they did.  The missing background, like Moses’ youth, would have made a much better story.  Also surprising was how boring the plagues were.  They seem to have been an afterthought of the movie.  It went kind of like this: story, story, story, story, plaaaaaaaaagues, overly long death of the firstborn, story, anticlimactic Red Sea showdown, story, story.  Yes, there was a completely pointless rationalization of the plagues thrown in the middle somewhere, but that didn’t seem to fit at all.

This one’s difficult to recommend.  There’s some good stuff, but I’m not sure it’s really worth the time investment.  Oh, and you can ignore all the biblical criticisms of the movie that you read.  Yes, liberties were taken, but choosing Moses to speak to a child-god just makes dramatic sense.

Go Read Someone Who Knows How To Write

My friend Austin Gilkeson has talent, something that is sorely lacking on this blog.  His is, alas, still an undiscovered talent and as his quest for the One Book Deal continues, he occasionally pens brilliantly subversive children’s short stories and indescribably awesome true life stories (in a James Frey sort of way).  His latest is up on The Toast and it’s called “How I Defeated the Tolkien Estate“.  You should read it.  I’m sure my blog will rocket him to the fame and inevitable drug and alcohol induced glorious flame-out he so richly deserves.

You should also go read his Mab Ipswich stories over at Underneath The Juniper Tree.  I’m too lazy to check which issues have his stories in it, but it’s a pretty decent magazine so you should thumb through (or whatever the digital equivalent is) it.  How Nickelodeon or Netflix or someone hasn’t yet made Mab into a cartoon is beyond me and a testament to how unfair the world is.  As a new father, I’m sure his soon to come additions to the series will be even more wickedly brilliant given the hallucinations that go with newborn-induced sleep deprivation.