The scandal with the ball tampering by the Australian Cricket team, that has grown in volume overnight, has highlighted the surprising gap between expected values in sport and the reality. The Australian Captain’s deliberate plan, lies and subsequent refusal to stand down marks him as a man not fit to lead a national team in Australia.
This would not have been revealed to an admiring fan base were it not for some ineptitude and some skill. Ineptitude on the part of Cameron Bancroft in trying to be a magician in concealment on a world stage. Skill from the media in South Africa. South Africa’s superior sports camera work has uncovered the finer details of the game of cricket. It was the live-feed from cameras that opportunistically followed the path of a yellow piece of paper as it was removed and replaced into the trouser pocket of an international cricket player. I believe that only the optimism of arrogant players could misapprehend the difficulty of concealing these activities in the context of such a high level of surveillance.
The potential infringement came to the attention of the umpires during the game. The Australian Captain was there when Bancroft was asked about it. For me, however, it’s what Steve Smith did not say to the umpires, when questioned about his deliberate plan, that speaks volumes for his lack of suitability for the role of Australian cricket Captain. The Australians had their opportunity to be truthful on the field. The plan they hatched at lunchtime was carried through into deceptive behaviour on the field. It was none other than the Australian Captain Steve Smith that stood silently by, within a metre or so, whilst Cameron Bancroft produced the black material intended to mask his offence of ball tampering. This was his first opportunity for admitting what was done, but he was prepared to go through with the plan. And so we learn the true character of Steve Smith: a character willing to stay silent whilst his team-mate lies for him and the team in front of international umpires.
If it weren’t for South African cameramen being so alive to the true situation, it would have been treated as just another day on the field. Steve Smith would have brushed it off. We should be very slow to accept Smith’s statement that this is the first and last incident of its kind, or an ‘isolated incident’. It is the kind of excuse that is used too readily in recent times. The infrequency of the misdemeanour does not change the quality of the men who agreed to it.
Unfortunately, some of those within the Cricket fraternity, including those who have leadership positions in Western Australia, having heard Smith’s statement at the post-match press conference, agreed with Smith’s defiant attitude to stand in his position. This, unfortunately, included Adam Voges (recently retired). Voges’ reasons (see video 1:30 to 2 minutes) included his view that there was a lot of ‘upside’ to Smith remaining as Captain. That decision shouldn’t be left to Smith or Voges, but such a conclusion gives insufficient attention to the lack of judgment and the choices that Smith and other players have made: choices that shouldn’t be made in any match, at any level in the game. Cricket is a game of values, its senior players being role models for millions of Australians, and the motivation to do this surely should have serious implications for the tenure of cricket leaders. A “win at all costs” attitude, including breaking the rules, needs to be stamped out immediately.
Thankfully, Adam Gilchrist and Simon Katich have much clearer view of the inappropriateness of the admitted behaviour, at this early stage, and doubt whether Steve Smith can, or should, remain as Captain.
I’m leaning toward science fiction here. Those like Interstellar are strangely fantastical where the fiction clearly outweights the science.
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens (2015)
What can we add to what has already been said about one of the biggest movies of all time, in terms of both its anticipation and its box office figures?
First of all, we liked it a lot. Having seen it in December, and again recently, it helps to watch it without the burden of questions about whether it will be good or not, and just enjoy it. So many questions that others asked about what the film might be can be left alone, once you know what is actually in it. And that includes those questions arise from the teaser trailers that used cut scenes!
There are plenty of quality scenes involving space ships and lasers, the requisite amount of blasters and lightsabres (just 2!). The plot involves 3 main characters, the central one being Rey, who get caught up in a battle, which is part of a larger conflict against the First Order. The First Order is a group with uniforms, an agenda of supression of individuality and great military tools of enforcement. There is a common question asked by both sides of the conflict: where is Luke Skywalker?
The Star Wars protagonists, particularly Rey and Finn, are characters who go about their lives without grand agendas, choosing to act according to their conscience. Rey has no grand agenda except to reunite with her family, and Finn rejects the grand agenda of the First Order to act on his own conscience. That’s the central message of Star Wars – as old Obi Wan Kenobi might have said “You must do what you feel is right, of course”. What’s valued is the freedom to choose, and as Maz Kanata explains in this film, people must fight for freedom and not look away. That one of the characters vocalises this is a reminder that it’s often a call that needs to be made explicitly before people acknowledge it.
The antagonist is Kylo Ren, who we learn has changed his name to avoid being characterised as a Skywalker/Solo. He’s bad in part simply because he doesn’t admit to liking his father Han Solo, who is held in high regard within the Star Wars universe and with audiences alike (as objective evidence of this, I offer the fact that Harrison Ford was paid a cool $34 million). Unlike the protagonists, Ren is quite happy to look for a larger agenda, with power and domination, and it involves his hero-worship of his grandfather Darth Vader. Exactly why remains unclear. Maybe he’s just missing something inside. Ren may have a conscience deep down, but somewhere and somehow he’s become all confused. He doesn’t know if he’s dark or light, but he wants to be dark and shuns the light side of Vader, and everyone else for that matter. It may have something to do with his father and Luke Skywalker and some old fossil called Supreme Leader Snoke.
We aren’t told much about Luke’s training of Kylo Ren, but it may be that Luke himself was talking a lot about Vader’s power and whipped up a bit of of enthusiasm that got out of hand. That would have given Luke something to think about, and encouragement to retreat to some mysterious place in the universe to meditate.
Confused characters in the Star Wars universe are apparently capable of redemption. Those lacking confusion or conscience but embracing the dark side (like the Emperor, and perhaps Snoke) have no conscience (or soul) to save. Some justification has been given for the redemption of the confused soul: as Obi-Wan said on another occasion “…many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view”. Obi-Wan himself had a bit of trouble presenting Vader/Anakin Skywalker as a single person, rather than just a confused soul in the same body. What we do know is that confused force-wielding guys can still inflict a lot of pain and go about routine murder without consequences.
The appeal of Rey is that apart from being likeable and independent, she is definitely not the same as your average audience member. She is what we on earth might call supremely gifted. She knows things, she learns quickly, but initially she doesn’t know she is in a “Star Wars universe” with a real Luke Skywalker, and apparently that is the intrigue that convinced JJ Abrams to make the movie (ET interview 1 min mark). Later we discover she steps into the “larger world” because she disovers those magical abilities that only exist in the movies, like telepathy and mind-control, and quick reflexes. We haven’t seen her use any ability to move things with her mind but that will surely be added to her skills in the next movie or two.
Many questions remain. The film is pitched as another dip into a world where not everything is answered, and there is more to learn. Of course that invites some comparisons with a New Hope, but it’s also a deliberate way to encourage audiences to ask questions they will want answered in the films to come. After all, we are in the age of the multi-movie franchise.
The Martian (2015)
This was Matt Damon’s chance to redeem himself after his involvement with the sadly underperforming film Intersteller, and he didn’t disappoint. It’s a one man tour-de-force, with Damon in scenes by himself with only a few potatoes to talk to (I should say, there are also probably millions of bacteria but the potatoes are the only ones that get the credits). Matt Damon’s turn in ‘The Martian’ is not like his role in Interstellar because it is very different.
In a nutshell, this is a movie about an astronaut getting stranded on Mars, left by his crew not knowing he was still alive, and demonstrating what they will do to help return him to earth. Between the initial disaster that leaves astronaut Mark Watney stranded, and his return to earth, we’re taken on a journey of real-life problem solving (as real as Hollywood allows, anyway), through an entertaining performance by Matt Damon as Watney. Damon does a great job and holds the film together for its entire length. He has to deal with surviving a dust storm after being punctured by an antenna, ensuring food and oxygen supply, establishing communications with earth, repairing a helmet, finding ways to repair his habitat, and also going on some reconnaisance missions on Mars. The last part of the film involves additional risks in trying to achieve orbit and docking with a fly-by space station which do tend to push the bounds of credibility a little.
If you didn’t know it, this film was always going to be grounded in engineering problems with appeal to the geeks. It was based on a book written by computer geek himself, Andy Weir. I recommend you watch this interview with Weir on YouTube. He sure shows he’s into computers and user interfaces when he says, at about 21:50, “I needed something in the narration itself that would keep the user interested” (he is talking about his book’s readers!). The solution to that particular problem is that the main character, Mark Watney, doesn’t get depressed, he just goes into problem solving mode.
The movie was smart enough to get NASA support and still delve superficially into NASA politics, which it never takes too seriously. This film invites comparisons with NASA’s real-world space shuttle program issues, specifically when cutting corners on cost. China’s space program is given sufficient positive support in the plot to ensure co-operation with China in the real world for a few more years.
The geeks in the audience will be left with a memory of Sean Bean’s Lord of the Ring jokes. They will also be trying not to smile with embarrassment when it seems NASA needs to employ a young genius to teach them about the basics of orbital mechanics.
Without going into too much detail about the science (I’ll leave you with some links to other’s sites below), I think most of it is credible enough to satisfy the geeks in the audience, except perhaps for the iron-man style flying and orbital adjustments at the end.
I enjoyed this way more than Interstellar, both for the film’s aesthetic and down-to-earth (or down-to-Mars) approach, as well as the acting of Damon and the sheer time devoted to geeky plot elements without fantasy.
4/5 for me.
Here are a few links to other people discussing the science:
The opening scenes are beautiful to watch, but unclear as to what they mean. The aliens (Engineers as they were called) scattered their DNA into earth’s water and somehow, after millions of years, we suddenly had their DNA – if you know anything about convergent evolutionary biology, be perplexed.
So the basic plot is that some scientists find an alien message inscribed in a cave in Scotland, and many other places. A billionaire funds a mission to find out who sent it and puts together a crew who are not told much about the mission. There is a fairly frigid woman played by Charlize Theron who claims to be in charge. Later we find that the powerful but ailing billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce’s character) is actually onboard and wanting to meet the aliens. Before he does, the crew encounter some very dangerous biological agents (mutating chemicals). Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) ends up pregnant with a mutation too. She is the only survivor (with an Android named David – hardly the first time an android has been called Dave). As the characters die off, we begin to realise who is going to make the next film, where we hope there are more answers.
My biggest disappointment was that there were too few characters to relate to in this film. Whilst it was visually stunning in parts, it lacked sufficient plot and characterisation to be a memorable experience. In particular, the Engineers were non-communicative and did not inspire awe except in terms of their size.
Shaun the Sheep
In a radical departure from the usual movie reviews, we’re reviewing the animated Shaun the Sheep from Aardman Productions, the team that is most famous for Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run (Nick Parks).
Junior Scorkles gave mixed reviews. The 4yo thought it was a bit long. Being locked in a movie cinema is not to everyone’s taste. But that’s not really a reflection on the movie, which kept everyone else entertained.
Shaun the Sheep is already a popular television show and this seems like a longer movie length story in the same vein. Remarkably, there is no dialogue for the entire movie (any conversation between people is mumbled jargon), and with the exception of a few helpful words on pieces of paper, it is an animated mime for the duration.
The basic plot involves the attempts by the sheep, led by Shaun, to get a day off. This idea is inspired by advertisements on the side of the bus that travels to the town of Mossy Bottom, where the farm is located. The plot requires the sheep to get the farmer off to sleep and locked up in a trailer caravan, which works out quite well until the caravan slips off its wheel stops and goes racing down into the “Big City”. The faithful dog heads off to find the Farmer, but the Sheep do not dare venture past the farm gate. After a brief celebration, Shaun has second thoughts and goes off to find the farmer, who is by now lost in the Big City with amnesia from various adventures and head injuries along the way. Soon the rest of the mob follow along, and the sheep then face the challenges of the city whilst trying to find the Farmer. Along the way, they meet up with city strays and try to stay out of the clutches of the local animal catcher, who is obsessive about containment and has a stash of weapons to rival Bond. The sheep find out the Farmer has temporary amnesia, but everything works out at the end. You can get a fair idea from the trailer on the official site: Web link
Shaun is highly skilled at coming up with ideas and leading the rest of the sheep, who generally can’t decide what to do. That is, until Shaun is in trouble, and then they are just as innovative as he is. The ongoing gag of the sheep dressing up as people in the Big City is ridiculous, but it doesn’t seem to matter. You have to accept the sheep can do almost anything they put their mind to, from singing, to creating elaborate means of transport for themselves, and passing themselves off as people in fine dining restaurants.
There’s some humour for adults in the scenes (which must have been crafted and scripted in minute detail), including an homage to Silence of the Lambs. The lack of dialogue is made up for with some catchy songs, the lyrics filling in the plot or the mood quite well. There is even a “Baa Baa Shop” quartet.
Despite it running a bit long for some of the younger children, it should be enjoyable for any existing fans of Shaun or fans of animated movies for younger children. It is amazing what the film-makers achieve in communicating ideas, and laughs, without words.
For anyone interested in the technical side of the movie and the team behind it, there are some excellent production notes at this link.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Funny, enjoyable and the CGI is well integrated. Marvel-lous. For a B-grade premise, it is catchy, and it has the funky music hook “Hooked on a Feeling”. This song was actually written in 1968 or thereabouts, and its jungle chant was added later, then covered by Blue Swede (Swedish group, obviously, but mainly a cover band), and that is the version that has hung around for 40 plus years and made its way into the soundtrack of this movie. Singer Bjorn Skifs went on to solo – Blue Swede didn’t last much longer.
This movie (and the ‘Ultimate Mix Tape’) features a song called “Ooh Child” (by Stan Vincent), the song that Starlord sings to distract Ronan the Accuser near the end. The song is also on a recent album by Australian chanteuse Katie Noonan, namely her “Songs That Made Me” album.
The cast? Bradley Cooper’s overexposure in the last few years is bearable because here he voices a racoon. Zoe Saldana is attractively green in this movie, marking a change from being so blue in Avatar. Groot is quietly majestic, a bit zen and regenerative. Karen Gillan, ex Doctor Who’s Amy Pond was positively unrecognisable and dynamic in her role as a cybernetically enhanced Nebula. And Chris Pratt as Starlord? Well, the journeyman finally comes into his own here – comic timing is not everyone’s gift, but he has it. He’s also a weight loss expert, finding the antidote to his wife’s love of cooking to slim down from his beefy role as Andy in Parks & Recreation. (He has had a few knockbacks before becoming a lead actor but had the good sense to marry Anna Faris).
If you are confused by all the Chris-named actors around at the moment, here is a quick guide:
Chris Pine – star trek dude
Chris Pratt – starlord dude
Chris Hemsworth – norse dude
Chris Evans – captain america dude
Chris Rock – comedian dude
I am Groot.
post-script: now xkcd has ‘the bracket’ which plays off a few similar names
Summer 2014 update
There will be some summer movies for us to review, but recently we caught up on some sci-fi past its use by date.
The quick verdicts:
Zero Theorem. As a big fan of 12 Monkeys, another film by Terry Gilliam, I had high expectations. Unfortunately, this is too avant garde for my taste, or I just could not see anything beyond a simple thesis: “A man discovers that other people can make life meaningful, but ultimately elects to spend time inside his own fantasy world by himself”. I couldn’t get into it. A movie with about three sets and striving for profundity, but it was lacking in dramatic tension and all too dull for me. 1/5.
Elysium Fairly predictable, but the gritty realism of Division 9 (by the same director) is still evident in the Earth scenes. Matt Damon does his job, and Jodie Foster carried her role but it did not require a great range (her character could have been played by anyone I suppose). Overall, an enjoyable movie but the plot let it down 3.5/5.
Cloud Atlas. Having not read the book, I found the plot intriguing for a while. Who was reincarnated? What was the star-shaped birthmark thingy? It just kept rolling on forward. The journey was better than the destination. 3/5.
Interstellar uses space travel (and the theme of gravity) as a drawcard for what is mostly a story about a father-daughter relationship, parental neglect and hurt that lasts for decades. In between all that, the Earth is apparently going to waste and we get to see some nice renderings of a black hole and a wormhole, both of which involve distortions of space-time by gravity.
I know that this is a film set “in” space not necessarily “about space”, but the marketing of the film suggested that setting “in” space was still based on “real science”, with realistic portrayals of black holes and so on. Well, what they meant was “the depiction [of black holes] began with…” some scientific concerns. So they used some science in the pre-production visualisation, and this video encapsulates what was being said about Kip Thorne’s involvement in the science. [Postscript: Kip Thorne won a nobel prize for physics in 2017!]
The film was, however, deliberately unrealistic. I know this because Jonathan Nolan who had a large part in its conception admitted that a realistic space movie would be boring and full of people dying from radiation due to travelling in space. He said that the film that Steven Spielberg wanted to make was “a science exploration film that was grounded in good physics.”. Yet Nolan was the one, he says, who convinced Steven Spielberg and others not to make such a film. He also apparently decided that in the present we are not into space exploration (which given that people still think about Mars missions sells us a bit short).
I found that this was even less science-driven in its plot than other similar films like Contact (with Jodie Foster, based on Carl Sagan’s book). There was more time given in Contact to detecting the extra-terrestrial message, building a machine and then travelling through some kind of wormhole.
In this story, a wormhole simply appeared miraculously near Saturn. This should have been a MASSIVE phenomenon. It should have knocked a few planets and possibly the sun out of their usual motion. It should have sent people into a wild state of excitement or extinction. But it was dealt with so lightly in the story, that it sets the scene for the physical universe being just a convenient backdrop to matters of human concern. In other words, when your main characer should die, he’ll be whisked off to another dimension and saved by pan-dimensional beings.
Yes, the characters were a little thin. The plot is written from the outside in, and not from what the characters would really do. The plot has to get the characters to Saturn, so we see them take off, then promptly go into cryo-sleep without much discussion. Later, they’ll talk to each other about wormholes with rolled up paper so that the audience can understand the visuals, but it’s not necessary for the character development or the plot.
I didn’t really begin to care for Anne Hathaway’s character, and the mumbling of Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper was sleep-inducing. His father-in-law had to remind him to talk scientifically to his daughter about the messages, but we don’t really see them poring over the evidence later, trying out possibilities or theories. We don’t engage with them as the scientists they supposedly are.
The central point of drama is not really Cooper (who will survive all odds), but poor Murph who has to watch her father leave without any explanation of why he has to go so soon (I have no idea what the launch window was, after watching the film). She wants to learn about science, learns her mentor has been hiding the truth, but we don’t stay with her as the central character. We don’t see the successful parts of her life unfold, as she successfully helps the people escape earth. If she’d been played by Bruce Willis, I am sure we’d have watched every last agonising minute of it. Unfortunately, her role is little more than window dressing for Cooper’s story. She is ultimately handed the answer to her physics problem via Cooper’s message, and after that, the movie mostly loses interest in her story, and returns to Cooper being reunited with her at some stage in the future.
I think the movie might have been more interesting told from Murph’s point of view, with Cooper’s story always being a mystery. The discovery of his body floating near Saturn would then have been a real revelation, and there would have been some point to the scenes between Murph and Cooper at the end. As it turned out, Murph was not particularly interested in knowing what had happened, which seemed unsatisfying. The demands of the movie made her indifferent, when I think her character would have been more interested.
All in all, the movie spends a fair amount of time with only one significant but fairly simple question for the audience: will Cooper reunite with Murph? The many reasons why he shouldn’t meet up with her are not resolved by a triumph of the will or intelligence, but by supernatural beings taking a hand in his communication with and return to Murph. Against the stage of the interstellar activities, it’s a pretty simple story that didn’t challenge my interest or attention for too long. I never even found out why NASA thought Mars (relatively close to Earth and it’s yellow sun) was not a better prospect than distant and unknown other worlds (which turned out to be orbiting a back hole and not a young sun anyway).
A bit disappointing: 3/5.
Edge of Tomorrow
The story is set against the background of an alien invasion, which has the earth on the brink of defeat. In France, the humans have gained a small victory, enough for hope of another. The alien opponents are technologically advanced, but aggressive hunters with little interest in conversation. From the human perspective, they lack individuality, except for the characterisation of some as “Alphas” or “Omegas”. There is simply no insight into their thoughts or motivations – it is “us” and “them”, an unknowable foe.
The primary character is Tom Cruise’s Cage character, who we join when he is asked to visit a general for an update on the campaign. He supposes a new public relations campaign is required. He is surprised to learn that he will have to visit the frontline and he tries to talk his way out of it, but his refusal earns the General’s ire. Cage’s fate is set when he is quickly demoted by the General to private rank, labelled a deserter and sent to join the battle as a low-level fighting soldier. This brief, dialogue-driven introduction involves no sense of the action that will follow.
The real start of Cage’s journey starts when he wakes up the next day at a military base. He soon learns that he has been attached to the J-Squad, a riff-raff of low-rank fighters that are about to be sent to the front line by air transport. Some look hardly fit for battle at all. They are sent out to battle equipped with a mechatronic exo-suit that allows them to run faster and operate heavy equipment and weapons. The team is loaded onto a deployment ship that delivers them to the battle area using drop-parachutes. They never reach their preferred destination because the ship is damaged by an explosion and they are dropped into an area already heavily under attack. It is difficult for anyone to survive for more than a few minutes, and initially Cage does not even know how to de-activate the safety mechanism on his weaponry. This is the start of his journey: learning how to survive the first day.
We do not know it at the beginning, but the form of this film mirrors quite closely with a computer game, in which the main character is given many “lives” to learn how to play the game better, and to reach the game’s ultimate objective. It is a fighting quest. The plot device that allows Cage these endless lives (i.e. waking up at the start of the same day to commence it again) is him being sprayed with the blood of an alien that is called an “Alpha”. Cage couldn’t be expected to understand this, but conveniently he soon meets up with war legend Rita Vrataski, who apparently has experienced the same phenomenon. She used her ability with the single-minded purpose of defeating the Aliens, but at the same time she became emotionally detached by watching those she cared for die over and over. When she finds out that Cage has acquired the power she soon sets about putting him on the same quest as her own, and making sure that if one of them is to die, it will be him not her. It is not really expected that Cage or the audience will question this to any great extent. In fact, the trivialisation of his repeated death is played for a bit of comedy rather than tragedy.
After some additional narrative explanation from Rita, the audience now knows the main elements of the quest story: Tom’s character (Cage), who is compelled by his own ineptitude and weaknesses to become a reluctant soldier, must find the Omega (the alien “mothership” or queen of the hive-mind aliens) and destroy it. He is granted many lives to do this. Along the way, he can improve his skills and impress the lady (Rita) with his deeds.
What changes is Cage’s role. He initially has to learn basic skills just so he can escort Rita to the destination. But then it appears that it is going to be difficult to do this, and he might have to go alone. He is forced to make difficult decisions about whether he is going to be the leader of the attack, but when he does that, he takes on the dragon-slaying hero mantle. Ultimately, he tries to achieve the quest without losing Rita, but for a moment it seems that the quest will end in great sacrifice.
Although Cage wants to impress Rita, initially she is the one that has the higher skill level and adopts the role of the wise soldier-teacher, rather than the love interest. Emily Blunt is very plausible in that role, but her character has mythic status and she has to convey a sense of strength and determination, rather than intellect. The personal journeys of the characters are always constrained by the fact they only share the memory of the latest day, which is a significant hurdle to developing the emotional connection. The plot device to overcome this is to have Rita share more personal details with Cage, so that later she can recognise she must have trusted him on other occasions. This is more of an intellectual solution so it never really seems satisfying.
The result of Rita’s training and Cage’s acceptance of his powers and responsibility is that Cage grows in confidence and fighting ability, and he acquires skills and fighting abilities similar to those Rita has in battle. He eventually earns the respect of the other soldiers and takes a leadership role. In the end, he is able to fulfil the quest that he was barely able to imagine at the start of the film. We are left with the distinct impression that his main prize was not the destruction of the Omega, but the opportunity to find Rita and relate to her as an equal. The end of the film involves a contrived plot device to allow them an opportunity to live together (possibly “happily ever after”), a signal that this is as much a romantic film as it is one characterised as science fiction. However, this final connection and closure is never resolved on-screen.
All in all you should enjoy the movie despite Tom Cruise being in it.
4/5 from me.
I was pretty disappointed with this film from Luc Besson. It tantalised with the expectation of a leading heroine, and with potential for more gritty realism than had been realised in The Fifth Element (which was kooky but enjoyable). Scarlett Johansson has to suppress her emotions fr too much in this film.
Although it might have been sold to movie-goers as a science fiction film, it is much more in the realm of science-fantasy, with an emphasis on the fantastical. The title character is a nice and apparently innocent girl, who becomes progressively more intelligent after she ingests a brain-altering drug and somehow survives its intoxicating effects. But rather than a gradual development of awareness, maturity and abilities, the transformation is depicted as mechanical, rational and rapid. Empathy and compassion do not seem to be a function of increased intelligence for her, as if the movie writer equated more intelligence with only increased computational power, a certain psychopathology and motivation for revenge rather than forgiveness.
Morgan Freeman portrays a Professor who has a theory about what will happen to people with increased intelligence. This theory is far-fetched (unbelievable really) but it provides a huge spoiler for the audience. His theory as to what increased intelligence will provide for human beings is an almost perfect prediction of what will happen to Lucy (and a confirmation that her capacity will in itself be her purpose, rather than help her find a purpose). Knowing this in advance removes any surprise or suspense for the audience. And his character is deprived of any real role as a confident or mentor. His intellectual interests offer no guidance to Lucy in moral, social or spiritual matters.
Lucy’s character arc is not particularly interesting either. With her increased intelligence, Lucy coolly concludes that she will die soon, in literally a matter of hours. By this stage, I was beyond caring, and the movie simply rolled on to its conclusion. Lucy’s main goal became some sort of personal enlightenment: to create a database of information on a custom USB before her body wasted.
I didn’t feel the audience was encouraged to relate to her, or emotionally invest in her journey. As she gained intelligence, she coolly ordered doctors around, and killed when she needed to. But the real reason I couldn’t relate to her was that Lucy never really doubted her own abilities. She even had some awareness that she would transcend death, as she told the French policeman Del Rio that death isn’t really an end. “I am everywhere” she said in a phone message to the policeman, and then she told the audience “now you know what to do”. (It may have been a nod to Neo’s closing voiceover in the Matrix I). I think I lost her meaning. In fact, she struggled to find her own goal after her accidental transformation. We don’t know what she considered important, other than data, and so there is really no take-home message or aspirational goal that lingers.
Two out of five for me.
Man of Steel (2013)
“A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing” – George Lucas, 1977.
I went to see a movie about the Life and Times of Clark Kent, or as it is optimistically named, Man of Steel. Superman is simple and ill prepared for conflict. His years of listening to the calming tones of his earth dad Kevin Costner have made him passive and ill-prepared for ruthless aliens. He fights, at the end of the movie, out of desperate anger and a reaction to his repression. It’s a pity he levelled Metropolis and Smallville in the process, but he won so it seems that everyone is able to forgive him.
Along the way, we see the past of Krypton (inspired by Rome in design, and reflected in the new Superman costume). The moral of the story is never leave your planet’s future to a committee.
Those involved in this movie seemed to have debated whether Superman should kill anyone(link to the discussion here), but I think they confused themselves. Superman could have been innately opposed to killing – this did not need a motivating incident to explain it. The dillema he faced was how to immobilise Zod quickly and save the family, but it seemed like he was merely making a moral decision about whether to kill or not. This overt moralising seemed out of step with the preceding action.
This film seems more like a glossy magazine than something with science-fiction chops. Tom Cruise plays Jack, the decorated space commander living a controlled life, who happens to have the dual responsibility for saving the world and saving/reuniting with his true (fellow astronaut) wife.
Jack is living in a dream – his world is manipulated by a malevolent alien technology, who has enslaved and killed most of the human race by cloning the first astronauts to encounter it (Jack and some of his crew). Jack’s wife was not cloned, but remained preserved in orbit, and his clones still have memories, even though they do not understand what they are.
The austere, highly engineered and clinical world in which the clones live above the earth is constrasted with the gritty, subterranean and harsh reality that humanity’s survivors (the resistance) live in. The goal that motivates the resistance, and eventually one of the Jack clones too, is the need to destroy the single AI entity that holds power over earth. This is not a particularly sophisticated endeavour with a series of sub-goals. If it had been, the movie would have been more interesting. Rather, it involves the idea of flying in and destroying the AI mothership from inside the alien vessel. It could so easily have been taken from the plot of Independence Day.
In a Hollywood-style ending, the sacrificial and self-aware Jack does not survive but he is effectively resurrected because other clones retain his former memories and one of them comes back to look after his wife.
Jack has to save the day, of course. For some reason, the future is in his hands and no one else can pull it off. Why not the people who had to fight against his clones, maintain hope and resources and survive for years before he finally woke up to himself? I think that those people who had to survive for 60 years, and the original battle with the Jack clones might have had more interesting stories.
The Wolverine (2013)
In this story, the Wolverine (Logan) gets drawn into a mess with a two-faced Japanese soldier he saved back in World War II. Years later, the same soldier tries to steal the Wolverine’s powers to renew his aging body.
The Wolverine returns to the story of the big guy with big claws sometime after the death of Dr Jean Grey in the last X men film. It starts in flashback, to showcase the attractive Famke Janssen as Dr Jean Grey. Wolverine makes his way to Japan at the invitation of the soldier many years after the second world war, where he becomes close to the man’s granddaughter, Maruko. She is a quiet but strong and capable woman and the annointed heiress to the company that has been built by her grandfather. She and Wolverine are supported by Yuki, the red-haired sword-wielding child-assassin who has big anime eyes and the ability to see the deaths of others. Yuki provides a shadowy, protective figure for the duration of the film. These two Japanese maidens both look out for our big guy, and everyone else dies.
The Japanese adversary eventually succeeds in removing some of the Adamantine claws, but you can’t keep a good wolf down. He lives to fight another day
X Men Days of Future Past
Four central characters dominate the plot direction in this film – Wolverine, Mystique, Magneto and Professor X (Charles Xavier).
In the comic-book story on which this is based, Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat (played by Ellen Page in the movie) is the time-traveller who must save the world and the X men from anihilation by the Sentinels. In the movie adaptation, Wolverine was the main time-travelling character and had to carry a bit of the action. That is, until the point in the story where young Xavier decided to give up the drugs and get with the program. But mostly it is Xavier and Magneto, and to some extent, Mystique that carry the story. Mystique’s decisions regarding her future with Magneto and tolerance or intolerance for killing shift the plot in new directions, but it doesn’t get too intellectual. Xavier engages in telepathy for much of the time and Magneto sulks around, not particularly grateful for being released from his prison in order to join the resistance against the Sentinel army.
The main dangers to the X-Men still remain amongst themselves, in whatever version of history the movie deals with. Magneto is still a central player with potential for evil. His ability to rewire the Sentinels is extraordinary, especially doing it on a moving train and in microscopic (and microcomputing) details. His ability and willingness to torture Wolverine in this film is something darker than we’ve seen in the other movies, and it’s not really clear if there’s personal animosity there or he just doesn’t want to be held back by anyone. He doesn’t seem remorseful about it.
By the end of the film Charles Xavier seems to have moved on without beating himself up about Magneto’s hissy fit in front of the White House and is quite perky at the end. Wolverine is back on deck, with the memories from his original time stream intact. I don’t know if that means he lost his memories and has to start again at the point he wakes up, but it seems to be a convenient ending point (though it is unlikely Hugh Jackman will be appearing in too many more as Wolverine).