Tag Archives: science

The Right Stuff – Review

8 Mar

To me, the idea of going into space is like the worst thing ever. I’m quite comfortable staying down here on good old planet Earth for the rest of my life. For some people however, that just isn’t enough. Take for example the Mercury Seven, the American astronauts that were some of the first people to go to space, and the very first people to orbit the Earth. This is the story of The Right Stuff, a movie by Philip Kaufman based off of the book by Tom Wolfe. It’s a very interesting and adventurous movie that tells the stories of these astronauts very well, and for that I applaud it. On the other hand, this movie is goes on for what seems like forever and could have been either trimmed down or made into two separate movies.

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The story begins back in 1947 when there was a belief that it was impossible that it was impossible to reach the speed needed to surpass Mach 1 and break the sound barrier. That is until UNSAF pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) stood up to the challenge and pushed the Bell X-1 jet faster than any before it and broke the sound barrier. This opens up many doors for scientific aeronautic progression for the United States, and pressure begins building as the United States enters the space race with the Soviet Union. The rest of the film follows the Mercury 7 astronauts (Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Lance Henriksen, Scott Paulin, Fred Ward, and Charles Frank) and their different experiences training, finally going into space, and the effect it has on their social status and families.

No one can really deny that the story of The Right Stuff may be one of the greatest stories ever told. In all aspects, it’s a story of bravery, camaraderie, and love all woven together by historical truths and the knowledge that most of what we see really happened. The events shown in this movie are crucial scientific breakthroughs, and that being said, I wish this was a longer movie. Well, sort of. Watching this film in one sitting was pretty daunting, and by the end I was ready for it to be over. What I mean is that this is another one of those movies that would’ve have been a lot better if it was turned into a mini series. There’s so much history in The Right Stuff that sometimes feels glazed right over. Despite it’s run time of three hours and fifteen minutes, I still felt that there was more of a story to tell.

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The Right Stuff got its limited release in October of 1983, while Return of the Jedi got released in May of that same year. I’m saying this because I want everyone to have an idea of what sort of special effects could be accomplished at that time. For 1983, The Right Stuff had some pretty incredible special effects that still hold up today. Using practical effects like models, stock footage, and other unique effects, the effects in this movie gave it a very authentic feel. I also have to mention Caleb Deschanel’s beautiful cinematography that helps bridge the gap between authentic and cinematic.

It’s impossible to talk about The Right Stuff without mentioning its truly all star cast. Not only is it a very large cast, but its a cast that does their jobs very well. My personal favorite performances come from Ed Harris as John Glenn and Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper, although Scott Glenn’s portrayal of Alan Shepard is also memorable. They’re all just so into their characters, and Ed Harris especially could be John Glenn’s doppelgänger. The only person I feel is underused is Lance Henriksen. I’m a big fan of Henriksen, so the more I see of him the better.

The Right Stuff may feel like it goes on forever and it may get kind of cheesy with its over the top patriotism, but it is still one hell of a movie. The special effects, performances, music, and cinematography are all top notch and it tells a really great story, even if some of it isn’t all too accurate. While it wasn’t met with much attention when it was released, The Right Stuff is now regarded as a landmark film of the 1980s, and I can certainly understand why and wholeheartedly agree.

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The Theory of Everything – Review

17 Jan

Stephen Hawking is a man with more accomplishments than I can even list. His theories on the time, the beginning of the universe, and what we will become may be enough to make you head spin, but at the same time, it has always been easily accessible to people who want to learn. Surprisingly, there aren’t more biopics chronicling moments in Hawking’s life, with the only other I can think of being from the BBC. This one is The Theory of Everything, a movie that features some really stand out performances and a figure that is well worth the attention, but it falls a little flat in the storytelling department and just doesn’t feel as full as it could have been.

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In 1963, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is studying at Cambridge, working on getting his PhD in astrophysics. At a party one night, he meets a girl named Jane (Felicity Jones), and the two strike up an automatic friendship which turns into so much more. As Hawking is struggling with getting his thesis in order, he also begins struggling with smaller motions to get through the day. Soon after getting an idea, he discovers he has a type of ALS which will slowly render him unable to move, speak, or even swallow. Stephen and Jane soon get married, and despite the news of his disorder Stephen creates revolutionary theories that scientists have been working on for years. Soon, the name Stephen Hawking is known around the world, but to him, the battle for his health and relationships rage on.

When trailers for this movie were first released I was like, “Oh, shit. That guy playing Stephen Hawking looks insane.” I had no idea who Eddie Redmayne was at the time, but I just knew that this performance was going to be one to be remembered. That combined with the fact that the movie’s about Stephen Hawking was more than enough to make me want to see the movie. Here’s the thing, I’m gonna compare this to The Imitation Game since it’s another movie about a genius that I just saw and is being nominated all the same. The Theory of Everything has a performance in it that makes the movie worth seeing, it’s just so damn good. The Imitation Game has great performances, but the overall story is stronger and more hard hitting. Way more. That’s where The Theory of Everything loses its footing.

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To be fair, this movie covers many years, more than I initially thought that it would. It’s also only a two hour movie, so it isn’t some grand, epic biopic that has all of this time to kill with character development and padding for the plot. I will say that Hawking’s disease is shown well over time, with it getting progressively worse and worse, up until Stephen has to use a speech program to talk. One really annoying part in this movie is a part in the middle section where another, albeit important, character is introduced. All of a sudden, it seems like this new character becomes the plot, and not the life of Stephen Hawking. When Hawking does come back on screen for an extended amount of time, I almost forgot the movie was actually about him.

What makes the movie more impressive than it would have been is the performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. These two have great chemistry together onscreen and it is a fascinating relationship to watch. Just think, this movie was filmed out of order, so Redmayne had to keep track of how to use his body for certain scenes, depending on how far along the disease has gotten. He definitely deserves the Best Actor award for his performance in this movie. Jones is an even match for him, with her strengths showing at times of hardships when she literally seems to be staring problems right in the eye and not backing off. It’s a strong, but quiet performance.

Simply put, The Theory of Everything is a vessel for the best performance of the year. Redmayne simply kills it as Stephen Hawking and it is literally impossible to keep yourself from admiring his talent. Other than him and Felicity Jones, this is a pretty average biopic that follows a pretty rote formula. It’s certainly isn’t a bad movie, in fact it’s a pretty darn good movie, but it really wouldn’t be anything special if it wasn’t for it’s two main actors. That’s a pretty rough thing to say about a movie that’s getting so much buzz, but that’s simply how it is. See it solely for the performances because everything else is simply just ok.

Lucy – Review

14 Aug

Luc Besson is one of those film makers that you either love or hate, or don’t even realize who he is and how many movies you’ve actually seen that he’s been involved with. Personally, I think he’s great. Many of his action films that he either wrote, produced, directed or any combination of the three are normally very enjoyable in that switch your brain off kind of way. It is true, however, that he hasn’t really made an “excellent” film since the days of The Professional and La Femme Nikita, and Lucy certainly isn’t breaking that pattern. I will say that, like The Family and The Transporter and Taken, this is a fun movie that you definitely need to turn off for and just buckle in for the ride.

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Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is not having a good day what with being pressured by her boyfriend to be the middle man during a transaction with the sadistic Korean drug lord, Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik). The deal goes down well, but now Lucy is left in the custody of Mr. Jang to serve as a mule in order to get Jang’s new drug into the hands of people all over the world. What Jang wasn’t counting one was the surgically implanted drug packet breaking inside Lucy’s stomach and barraging her with the effects. Soon, Lucy begins evolving into something more than the human capacity could possibly handle and teams up with the world renowned psychologist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) and French police captain Pierre (Amr Waked) to figure out how to stop her brain from overloading her body’s nervous system, but also to get her revenge on Mr. Jang for causing all of this in the first place.

Before anyone even needs to say anything, of course this movie’s premise is total bullshit. It’s been proven that humans use more than 10% of our brain capacity leaving that idea to be nothing more than an outdated theory. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not a really cool idea for a movie. In fact, Lucy is pretty similar in idea to the 2011 film Limitless starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro. Think of Lucy as Limitless on steroids. There’s plenty of really cool action in this movie and some pretty neat special effects. Plus, Scarlett Johansson, who has already shown this in the multiple Marvel films she’s been in, can be a complete badass if the occasion calls for it. It’s everything you’d expect from a Luc Besson movie, with a bit of a philosophical twist.

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One thing I do have to complain briefly about is the time spent in between all of the cool things. The gripe I have with Besson’s films, save for one or two, is that he knows how to craft really cool ideas and scenes that make for a memorable movie, but the down time in these movies really leave something to be desired. This is true also with Lucy even though there isn’t a whole lot of down time to be had. When there is, however, it is anything but interesting and I found my mind drifting when I should have been paying attention. Also, it’s kind of odd to have philosophical discussions in movies like this, especially when the premise is already complete ludicrous. I found the attempts at philosophy a little heavy handed and unnecessary. All you need to do for this movie is check your brain at the door and don’t listen to anything deep Besson wants you to hear. This is an action movie to the core and that’s it.

After saying all that, I really do have to say that this is a totally kick ass movie. I’ve liked it a little more since I’ve seen it, even though I don’t think I’m ever going to really love the movie. There’s one scene in particular where Lucy, without aiming at all, shoots through a door a few times, almost with precision. I knew what was going to happen, but it was so cool to see the accurate effects of her shooting even through the hard wood door. The movie is filled with awesome scenes like that, and it’s so much fun to watch Lucy evolve more and more, making her enemies nothing compared to her. Besson really outdid himself on the cool factor for this film.

Lucy isn’t particularly a great film, but in terms of summer popcorn fun, you can’t really go wrong here. I’ve heard a lot of talk about how the movie doesn’t really have a point and the science doesn’t even make sense. It makes me wonder when people forgot that going to the movies was supposed to offer a couple hours of FUN. Notice the emphasis on fun. To those of you who know how to have a good time at the movies and check your brain at the door, Lucy will provide you with some quick and memorable entertainment, despite its major scientific and narrative flaws. For those of you who can’t get the sticks out of your asses, may I offer you some Godard and tea?

 

Primer – Review

13 Mar

When I think of time travel stories that push the realms of science fiction farther than what may seem possible, I think of movies like The Time Machine and the Back to the Future movies. Mainly, I think of Doctor Who, because that may be the most innovative and groundbreaking piece of work to ever deal with the concept. Never would I have thought of Primer, a super low budget time travel movie that shows how much you can do with some money and a great idea. With its technical jargon, mind bending story, and characters out for their best interests, Primer plays out like some sort of strange Shakespearean science journal.

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Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) are engineers hoping for any sort of major discovery to come their way. Operating out of Aaron’s garage, the two are working on a machine that can reduce the weight of an object, but to their surprise they accidentally invent time travel. This invention opens up a world of possibilities for the two engineers, and they decide to use this new found discovery to travel back through time and use their knowledge of the future to make big money on the stock market. With a set of rules in place to make sure they don’t severely mess up the space/time continuum, everything seems to be working until the two friends begin working behind each other’s back and changing events to their own desires.

This is one of the most difficult movies that I’ve ever sat through, and despite it just being a little over a hour, it felt like a much longer movie. The beginning of the movie really takes no prisoners in terms of scientific and mathematical dialogue. Carruth, the writer/director/star of the movie, stated that he didn’t want to dumb any of the dialogue down for audiences. I can really respect that, especially in a time where filmmakers really want to cater to their audiences. The fact that Carruth can write in such a way may be due to his degrees in mathematics and engineering. The dialogue may be hard to understand, but it sure is cool to listen to.

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What actually makes Primer so cool is how low budget it is (it was only made for $7,000, and most of that money went to buying film stock). Everything about it feels low budget, and I’m not just talking about the aesthetics of the movie. Even the whole time travel machine feels like it could’ve been made in someone’s garage, and it was. There’s no cool sound effects or flashiness that helps a lot of time travel films and shows. This one is completely an idea. We know how the machine works (sort of) and we believe science will happen without special effects telling us. Don’t get me wrong, flashy science fiction is awesome, but for  Primer it is completely unnecessary.

This movie is a sci-fi film that’s heavy on the science, but seems pretty light on the fiction. Yes, of course, time travel is not possible, and scientists say it will never be possible. It’s set up in a way in this movie that it seems like this would be the most possible it would ever be. This is what crude time travel would look like. The whole science behind it is mind boggling, and once the two engineers begin going behind each other’s backs with the machine, the plot becomes almost impossible to follow. This was intentional, however, and trying to piece together everything that’s happening and make sense of it is part of what makes this movie so much fun.

Primer is not a movie for everyone. I feel like the way the plot twists and turns completely out of the space/time continuum without explanation is so unapologetically mind boggling, that people would lose interest. You have to know what kind of movie you’re going into see, and it’s one that doesn’t dumb down it’s theory or dialogue for the audience, nor does it take the time to completely explain everything. If you want a movie that’s going to make you think pretty hard for a couple of days in order to even remotely understand what actually happened, Primer is the low budget masterpiece you’re looking for.

Prometheus – Review

31 Dec

The question of our existence can only be outmatched by the infinite amount of unknown questions that the universe still has in store for us, most of which we will probably never have time to ask. Prometheus is a movie that dares to ask, “what if?” To me, this is more than a science fiction movie that happens to take place in the same universe as the Alien franchise. This is a movie about philosophy, religion, and science with arguments for and against all of these points.

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After finding ancient cave drawings that point to the existence of much more powerful alien life forms that have a special connection to humanity, scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and  Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) lead a voyage funded by the Weyland Corporation to the moon LV-223. The moon definitely shows signs of life, especially a biosphere that contains hundreds, if not thousands, mysterious canisters. David (Michael Fassbender), an android, takes an especial curiosity to these canisters. Unfortunately for the crew of the Prometheus ship, both natural disaster and exposure to unknown biology starts to spread panic and death leaving little hope of anyone getting off the moon alive.

The plot to Prometheus is a little weird. Not the story itself, but how it’s presented. I hear a lot of complaints about how it’s slow or disjointed, and even that not enough is revealed. To me this just shows how desensitized audiences have become to straightforward storytelling. Yes, the movie is slow at points, but then erupts into satisfying sci-fi mayhem. Does this mean it’s disjointed? Not at all. Finally, of course not a lot is revealed. This is all a set up to a bigger picture. There’s going to be a Prometheus 2 and maybe even a third entry. Revealing too much would ruin the suspense and the surprises we have in store.

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Ridley Scott has never shied away from epic film making and this isn’t his first science fiction either (Alien, Blade Runner), but this is what I call epic science fiction. This movie looks absolutely huge. LV-223 looks so desolate, but also strangely majestic. I can’t take my eyes off the beautifully bleak scenery. Not only is the landscape and the ships huge, but also the feeling that one should feel while watching this movie. Nothing can get bigger than the universe, and Prometheus takes me to places I haven’t yet been in a movie. I feel like LV-223 is the farthest I’ve ever been from home. The movie also got me thinking about the absolute insignificance of our existence compared to everything else, and also made me curious as to what actually happened in the beginning and what will happen in the end. Questions that I will never know the answers to.

Let’s get out of the existential territory and talk about something more real: the performances. Noomi Rapace is a great leading lady and definitely does not have an easy part. Charlize Theron is pretty typical as the corporate ball buster, but Idris Elba does a great job as the pilot who realizes he is into something way stranger than he ever thought he’d be in the middle of. The person you’re really going to remember is Michael Fassbender as David the android. Talk about a difficult role. Fassbender is mesmerizing. His ability to make an android character who is mechanic, yet bizarrely human, believable can not be a simple task. Massive kudos.

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Prometheus is one of my favorite science fiction movies that I think surpasses Alien. It seems that you either love it or you hate it without any middle ground, and I can imagine that some people will think that the last sentence I wrote is some sort of film blasphemy. It’s existential themes and questions that still need to be answered are interesting and super intriguing. The special effects are only matched by the performances and the tie ins with the Alien universe will make any film buff squeal with excitement. I loved this movie very, very much and I can not wait to see what Ridley Scott does next with this story.

Also, to set the record straight, Prometheus is not a prequel to Alien. It is a spin off, or a tie in if you will. Things happen in it that relate to the events of Alien, but nothing that is directly connected.