Dunkirk (2017)

Christopher Nolan’s latest work is based on the evacuation of British forces from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, a week after Winston Churchill assumed the office of Prime Minister.  Nolan, as a student of his might expect, has a theme: survival, the difficulty and random chance of it, and the importance of it.  He also manipulates time to have three different points of view play out over the length of the movie.  (Unlike his more recent works, we’re under two hours with this one, at one hour, forty-six minutes.)

The movie has that quality of art wherein your personal reaction to it is an important part of the artwork.  Nolan has said that he wanted to tell “an intensely subjective version of this story,” and does so from the points of view of several characters — even to the point of replaying some events to show them from different characters’ points of view.

My knowledge of WWII is probably above average, but it’s randomly acquired, and I know nothing of Dunkirk, nor much about the British Army.  It’s been said that the Germans are unseen and unnamed in the movie.  Not really: the officers refer to “the enemy,” but the troops are depicted using “German,” “Jerry,” and “f—ing German.”

There is an accidental killing from a moment of panic in the film, and the “killer” is treated to a charity which is hard to swallow.  A soldier who had seem some death might have been that charitable, but as it played in the movie, I didn’t quite buy it.

There’s also a shot of a British destroyer, taking fire away from shore, and the anchor appears to be dropped.  Did they forget to digitally remove the line?  Or would dropping anchor have been done to prevent, or slow, a ship capsizing?

I’m frustrated.  I really don’t know how to review this movie.  It just worked, and worked so well, I didn’t really have anything to pick at.  Nolan can get you strapped in the seat and drive you wherever he likes.  This little slice of war, of survival, has it all: cowardice, foolishness, selfishness, panic, humility, bravery, sacrifice.  “Edge of your seat” all the way, as the movie reviewers say.

And, survival.  Escape to fight another day.  Sometimes, that’s the best you can do.  Victory has to be put off for another day, month, year.

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Star Trek Continues: What Ships Are For

After coming back from their first disappointment, Episode 7, “Embracing the Winds,” with the fine “Still Treads the Shadow,” Star Trek Continues has released another sub-par episode.  Their run of “Season 4 of the Original Series” has been voluntarily cut short, due to the unethical actions of unapologetic Axanar Productions.  The stated goal of the series is to explain how the characters got to where they were at the opening of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  How this episode contributes to that, I do not perceive.

Spoilers follow.  If you don’t want those, briefly, I love the series, but not this episode.

The Enterprise responds to a distress call from an inhabited asteroid.  KirkSpockMcCoy beam down, and find that they, and the inhabitants, are unable to see color.  How could a star produce light that bathes her planets in grayscale?  Why would alien humanoids evolve to perceive color that is not there?  It’s not great science, but Star Trek, and science fiction generally, has come up with sillier nonsense to make a point.

The people on the asteroid are dying of, what was it?  I think the sun is doing something which, after all these years, is killing them.  Kirk gets introduced to a sexy alien chick who’s sick, and they grab her and her alone to take back to the Enterprise to cure.  Kirk, being a gentleman, waits until she is cured, and then starts his stereotypical mashing of his face into the alien girl’s.  I am sorry to report that the trademark Shatner Grab of Her Shoulders is not executed.

So, there you have it.  Girl, cured, left behind on her home planet because reasons.  McCoy whips up a big pot of elixir for the whole asteroid.  All’s well that ends well, right?

Not so fast.  Star Trek, like science fiction generally, is here to make a political point.  Unfortunately, to make this one, the characters of the aliens have to change from sweet and accepting to bigoted and hateful; additionally, the nature of what’s happening on the asteroid keeps changing, very unconvincingly, to serve the message.

At the end, Kirk puts a gun to the head of the presiding alien, forcing him to behave as Kirk wants.  The story of the asteroid implausibly provides the ammunition for the gun, but Kirk has no problem in using it, nor in scolding the aliens for not being as morally correct as he.  The Enterprise leaves the elixir and runs off, and we are left to hope that the aliens can sort it all out.  But after all, if they can’t, they deserve what they get.  If they can, I doubt that they have been left with a good opinion of the Federation.

Apart from two bad apples in the bunch, Star Trek Continues is a wonderful and deservedly-acclaimed fan production.  Hop over to their site and catch the “vignettes” and other episodes.  You can also search for podcasts and interviews with the man behind the series, Vic Mignogna.

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Brief movie notes

Léon: The Professional (1994)

Léon: The Professional stars Jean Reno, Gary “Commissioner Gordon” Oldman, and Natalie Portman.  Jean plays a hit man who a bit accidentally takes in a girl whose family is shot dead by DEA agents (one of them played by Oldman).  It’s a nice little love story.  A bit like Wim Wenders’ Alice in the Cities (1974), but with lots of gunfire and the results thereof.  (Okay, not really, but it sounded clever.)  No spoilers here, but the climax is a bit rough because of the time it takes to get to it from the start of the foreplay.  Not for the kids, and maybe not for you, but I liked it.

Wonder Woman (2017)

I still believe that I am write that a superhero movie should be something that your 8yo could see.  But I am considering whether my judgment of it was a bit harsh.  

First, there’s this excellent discussion of it from “Just Write” on YouTube.  Second, I caught the online-praised-and-highly-rated Wonder Woman (2009), an animated film voiced by Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion.  Bad look, bad story, bad dialog — boring.

Batman Begins (2005)

An excellent Batman origin film, as explained in another YouTube from “Just Write.”  And speaking of 8yo girls, mine enjoyed the movie.  I showed it to her in parts, due to circumstances, and pausing at places to be sure she understood various aspects of the movie.  She asked to continue viewing, and liked it afterward.  I must add that, this morning, we saw it with my dad uninterrupted, and she now doesn’t like it.  So I’ll try the Joker on her in installments!

Her (2009)

Just noting a very nice YouTube discussing the movie and love.

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Some Android Apps That I Like

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.touchtype.swiftkey

SwiftKey Keyboard, 4.5 stars, 2.3m votes.  Nice predictive keyboard, can use swipe or voice, change the layout and colors.  My only complaint is that if I say “comma,” it will too often add “comma “ to what I’m saying.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.appxy.tinyscanner

Tiny Scanner – PDF Scanner App, 4.7 stars, 0.2m votes.  Nicely converts a photographed image to a PDF, allowing you to draw the trapezoid to be made into the page.  No curves allowed, to you’ll need a flat page.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.magix.camera_mx

Camera MX – Better Photos Everyday, 4.3 stars, 0.2m votes.  Very customizable camera, though a bit slow for common picture taking.  Very nice editor, though, and not complicated.  Allows you to save your work as a new image, or overwrite the file.  Good for editing most pictures you take.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rikaiGames.BitByBitGame

Bit by Bit – Programming Game, 4.3 stars, 0.000301m votes.  I started with Coddy, but once that teaches your little girl the concepts, but I like the simple nature of the puzzles in Bit by Bit.  My daughter liked Coddy when I made her play it, and I hope she may like Bit by Bit more.

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For the Love of Spock (2016)

This documentary, by Leonard Nimoy’s son Adam, is good.  It covers the character’s personality and influence, and the actor’s professional and personal life.  There isn’t much that was new to the long-time fan writing this review.  It’s not too deep, but it is a good survey of the subject.

There are new interviews with William Shatner, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and some footage is used from Shatner and Nimoy’s Mind Meld, which may be of interest to curious fans of the first series of Star Trek.

Nimoy’s work outside of Trek, in television and stage, is shown.  I’m sorry that there are no recordings of most of his stage work, except for Vincent, on Amazon Prime and DVD.  (The Prime version is free, which might be preferable to the $95 disc.)

Also available is the complete In Search Of…, Brave New World, Never Forget, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Kid Monk Baroni, etc.

The film is wide-screen, but not too wide, and TV clips are shown shrunk-to-fit, instead of chopping off the top and bottom.  I dislike the 3D-ing of still photos, which this film uses.

Watch it, and invite over friends to lead them into watching Star Trek.  Get it from the library or Netflix; no need to purchase it.

(I regret that the excellent video essay by Matt Zoller Seitz, later author of Mad Men Carousel, is only half-available online.)

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Quick takes on five movies

1. I am not familiar with the books that Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017) is based on. I took my little girl to see it, and we enjoyed it. Fun premise, fun characters. Unlike much of today’s kiddie fare, not made on an assembly line, and not trying to preach morality. Just a fun, satisfying ride.

2. Robocop (1987) is great eighties fare. A satirical take on a ruthless corporation, running future Detroit’s police force. The villains are deliciously eating the scenery, and the ease with which they operate is as unbelievable as it is hilarious. Robocop himself has a nice character arc. His “girl partner” is a tough cop, neither ridiculously pretty nor a love/sex interest, but “merely” a great character in the movie.

3. Supergirl (1984), I didn’t finish. I tried it once on my own, and once again with my daughter, who is a big fan of the character. I enjoyed the spirit of the actress herself, but the other elements of the movie were awful. I was willing to finish it out of curiosity, but my daughter forbade it. We both enjoyed the pilot of the current TV series, but she didn’t like the fights. I’m not sure that there’s a way to make superhero fights interesting anymore. But, we have many years ahead of more of them, so I may be wrong.

4. Her (2013) is about a man who falls in love with his computer. Okay, it’s really much smarter than that. It’s really about a man coming to terms with being divorced, and moving on, which he does. The setting is a movie utopia: no one has children; everyone has secure, brains-not-braun employment; there are no problems of the body or the purse. “He” gets his self-confidence back by – well, the same way Don Draper did in Mad Men: by falling in love with his secretary.

“She” is a computer program, but is presented as a consciousness. I enjoyed this sci-fi element when watching the movie, but I’m not sure if it doesn’t distract rather than add to “his” story. There are different and valid ways this story might be told, but this film from Spike Jonze is definitely worth seeing.

5. How about a smart horror movie? The Witch (2015) opens with a man being banished from a New England colony in 1630. He takes his family and sets up a farm near a forest. The beliefs of these Puritans are swallowed whole by the movie, and the slow-burn destruction of the family is thrilling and beautiful. The camera, sets, acting, accents, language, directing, religion, and ending, are perfect.

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Sorry, but the Wonder Woman movie is just okay

Hollywood expects to make most of its profit on its big movies from foreigners. Not just intelligent and curious foreigners, interested in the subtleties of American culture, but as much of their citizenry as possible.

Hollywood movies used to be judged on their domestic take and appeal. Many were “middle-brow” entertainment, for those who weren’t high-brow but aspired to be better than they were – better educated, behaved, cultured. Movies understood the subtleties of culture, manners, and morality, and that part of the audience who didn’t, were a little embarrassed about it. But now, movies must be easily comprehended by those with a superficial knowledge of us.

Comic-book movies eliminate confusing eccentricities. This is because each character, their powers and origins, the enemies, and the elements of the society they’re set in, need to be explained. The First Avenger needs “The Avengers” explained to him, and we learn as he does. The Joker explains to his potential customers, and to us, how the Batman has “changed things.” Steve Rogers has to explain to Princess Diana how the war works, and we listen in.

In her “origin story” movie, Wonder Woman is nicely established. Gal Gadot plays a sympathetic and moral character who the can be admired and cheered.

Princess Diana leaves her Amazonian home to join in WWI on the side of the Allies. Well, not quite. On the side of all of Man, against the god Ares. Ares (in this origin story) killed all the other gods of Olympus except Zeus, who had created Diana to slay Ares.

Diana rescues Steve Trevor, who is working to stop the evil scientist making poison gas for the Germans. Chris Pine handles the role well, and his chemistry with Gadot makes the movie a fun ride.

Wonder Woman is a big hit among grownup comic book enthusiasts. Rotten Tomatoes: 92%. And compared to crap like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, it’s a triumph. But if you’re tired – tired of comic book movies you can’t possibly take your children to, tired of villains as disdainful of humanity as the film they’re in, tired of long boss fights, tired of movies with America-free America – the numerous good ingredients of Wonder Woman will not stop it from being One More of These Damned Bleak Things. See it anyway.

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