Upside Down

We’ve been doing nothing but binge-watching all 20 something seasons of Top Gear for the past month or two, and I didn’t feel compelled to write any blog entries about it (it’s good, FYI), but we finally wandered over and clicked on a movie on Netflix.  That movie happened to be “Upside Down”.  And what an odd movie it was.

The movie opens with a long winded intro that explains the situation, and it proceeds to drop scientific inaccuracies all over you before they’ve even gotten a few sentences in, but it’s probably good to get the suspension of disbelief over with early for this one.  He explains how they are the only planetary system with “double gravity”, with two planets so close together that they’re within reach of one another, but the people and objects from each world are only affected by the gravity from their origin planet, which makes traversing to the opposite planet quite difficult, you could imagine.   It also makes life difficult for the writers, because the number of times they screw up what should be affected by which gravity is pretty noticeable… poor writers.

The intro ended with the line “What if love is stronger than gravity?”, which caused both of us to burst into scornful laughter.  I’m still laughing at it, actually.

The world they built for this is pretty cool.  It feels fairly unique, and they do an awesome job creating visuals for it (except everything seems to be cast in blue and I don’t know what’s up with that).  I found myself enjoying the sets a lot while watching the movie.  Which is good because it didn’t have much else going for it…

The story is incredibly generic.  A guy falls in love with a girl from the other planet and spends the entire movie trying to figure out how to be with her.  No one expected that!  Also they are named Adam and Eve.  Errr… sorry, Eden.  Well my mistake, that’s completely original after all.  Also one planet is incredibly poor and one is incredibly rich (for no apparent reason.  It’s not like the rich planet can exploit riches from the poor one… oh wait they can because gravity barriers suddenly don’t matter when it’s important for the plot) and the rich planet hates the poor planet which sets up a cultural/social economic status barrier for the two lovebirds as well, because every time they try to talk to each other the police descend upon them like it’s some sort of fascist police state where you are not free to have a friendly conversation with people from the other side despite the already prohibiting circumstances surrounding it (and despite having actual office buildings designed for both sides to work together…).  And then, because there aren’t enough tropes shoehorned into this, she hits her head and gets Generic-MovieStyle-Improbable-Amnesia and he has to remind her who he is before they can get on with the sexing.  So he devises a way to go to the other planet, involving shoving material from the other world into his clothing so that it weighs him down enough to walk around down there.  Which is problematic because if the material stays in contact with material from the other planet for too long it will burst into flames, giving him a time limit per visit, and opening up a WHOLE NEW BARREL of plot problems (if material from the two worlds are incompatible, how is he wearing clothes from it without being set on fire?  How do they drink/eat things from the other world without their insides exploding?  And most importantly, how are they going to have sex??!??!?)

And then everyone wins.  The end.  Yay.  It was probably the most dissatisfying ending I’ve seen in the past couple of years.  I think the writers literally just ran out of ideas and went “Welp.  I’m done.  Let’s get a beer.”  It left a couple of threads barely tied at the end, in a big rush of “now lets conclude everything annnnnndddd done.” and I feel like a lot of time that was spent on unoriginal bullshit like amnesia subplots could have been spent developing more information about magical anti-gravity bee pollen and the aftermath of events.

I enjoyed it I suppose but I’m glad I found it on Netflix and didn’t waste any sort of effort hunting it down or paying money for it.  Movies like this are why Netflix needs to exist.

The 100

This is cheating because it’s a TV show, not a movie, but it’s technically a “moving picture” right?  And I feel like rambling about it.

I was bored and looking for something to sleep through, so I glanced at my recommendations on Netflix and ultimately clicked on “The 100”, which was recommended to me because I am one of the few dozen people on Earth who enjoyed Terra Nova and all of its campy low-rent glory (come on guys, it’s basically a worse Stargate SG-1, but with dinosaurs.  How can you not like that?!?  Damn you, Fox).  I ended up mocking the terrible writing in the pilot the whole way through, then taking it off my Netflix list as soon as it was done.  And then maybe 15 minutes later I went back and started episode 2.  Now we’ve finished binging the first season and the few episodes currently available for the second, and I am conflicted.  The show was captivating, yet the writing is terrible.  The writing certainly improved as it went along, but it was still pretty awful.  So why was it so interesting?

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Transcendence

The IMDB blurb for Transcendence was this:

“A scientist’s drive for artificial intelligence, takes on dangerous implications when his consciousness is uploaded into one such program.”

Misplaced comma aside (grr), it sounded like a perfect set-up for an awful movie.  But… Morgan Freeman?!?  He never makes bad movies!  Okay fine we will risk it.  I mean, it’s a sci-fi-ish movie so of course we will risk it.

After we were done, my husband’s review was “I liked that movie, but I can’t think about it or I’ll get angry.”  I should probably just leave that here as my review, too.

It was really much better than I thought it would be, probably because I had pretty low expectations.  There are a lot of stories that are sorta-kinda similar that if you liked those, you’ll probably at least sort of enjoy this too.  Parts of it reminded me of Terminator, maybe RoboCop (with significantly less exploding shit, mind you, and the exploding shit was kind of the point of those movies)… other parts reminded me of Blood Music (novel by Greg Bear)… the Replicators from SG-1 (and every other “grey goo” themed sci-fi story in existence)… there was at least one other popular entertainment media item I thought of while we were watching and now I can’t remember it so… that one too.  It was an interesting story that provided some interesting questions and made you wonder which direction they would take it in the end.

Of course, every direction they could have taken it was pretty predictable, because it’s all been done before.  I’m not sure it’s actually possible to do something innovative with this sort of storyline anymore.  It was more of a “Is the twist going to be THIS, or is it going to be THIS…” sort of thing, which is enjoyable in its own way but… meh.  It’s the sort of thing where if you tried to do something really innovative and shocking it would just be so ridiculously cheesy that it would ruin the whole story.  So the best bet is to try to approach the philosophical questions in a novel manner, and it sort of dropped the ball there.  A lot of the really interesting questions that could have been asked were drowned out by a focus on the Good/Evil aspects.  No real subtleties were explored, which left it feeling hollow and predictable.  Unfortunate.

And there were some big-ass plot holes that you really shouldn’t think about.  Seriously, don’t think about it or you’ll hate this movie.

I don’t think there’s an easy way for me to do spoiler tags if I’m not hosting the blog myself, so warning: potential spoilers ahead that will make you hate this movie:

There was so much focus on the “Is it really him?  Is it just an AI trying to take over and not really him at all?  It’s building a superhuman army!!” aspects that they completely missed exploring the “Would you take clean water, extended/potentially eternal life, no sickness, superhuman strength at the expense of your free will and privacy?” aspect.  What’s odd is they introduce those aspects, and then completely ignore them to follow the “omg an army, get the bombs” route.  I suppose bombs could be one way of saying “no I would not give up my free will”, but it’s not presented that way at all.

[bigger spoiler – seriously] How the hell does it get airborne.  I’m not disputing that it would create the technology, but it’s not explained at all, and it presents so many problems.  How the fuck are you going to do anything about an airborne nanobot invasion.  It’s like the world’s worst virus at that point (a la: Blood Music).  Shit doesn’t need to be networked anymore for it to spread because it is airborne.  Okay so maybe it’s short range airborne but y’know, throw a bone and mention that.

And somewhat related – one of my husband’s biggest complaints (before he stopped thinking about it so that he wouldn’t hate the movie): “My computer doesn’t fucking explode when I unplug it from the network.”  Why do they stop functioning when disconnected from the core?  The nanobots seriously can’t carry out repairs unless they’re on the internet?  That seems like a design flaw he probably should have considered, huh.

And if nothing works if it’s not online, how the fuck do they get into the garden if it’s covered in shields.  Even if you want to claim he pre-planted some nanobots or whatever in there, how would he have gotten her through the shield.  Explain shit, damn you.  I think it’s shoehorned in for an attempt at ambiguity in the name of ~thought provoking~ and it’s not good.

Bullets poisoned with radiation.  hahahaha.

Okay I’m going to stop thinking about it now, while I still like it.

Zombex

There are no reviews of this movie – as of the time of writing, metacritic and rotten tomatoes don’t even know it exists (oh how I envy them).  I feel the internet requires this review deficit to be remedied.  Because it might save someone from watching this horrible god awful piece of shit.

My husband picked this one out because he likes zombies and he said “4.7 is actually a pretty good IMDB score for a horror movie”.  Halfway through watching it (I use the term “watching” loosely because I was trying not to watch, honestly) I went looking for reviews and found it actually had a 2.6 on IMDB, but most things hadn’t hadn’t quite updated to reflect that yet.  I expect that number to continue to fall.

It’s so remarkably bad.  It is a study in bad movie making.  People take pills from some pharmaceutical company and oops it actually makes them into zombies.  Also it makes their eyes glow nuclear green (because that makes sense), and after they fall behind some scenery and stand back up again in a fresh zombie-like state, random body parts have instantly decayed off of them FOR NO GOD DAMN REASON WHATSOEVER.  Then people act like skimpily dressed bad-ass heroes (in extreme slow motion, because that makes it more bad-ass) and randomly break into lesbian sex scenes.  Ignore the fact that they are very obviously shooting their weapons into nothing, and the scenes of the “zombies” collapsing and popping their fake blood packets to create blood spray patterns that in no way match physics were filmed separately, possibly without any other actors present at all.  Also the entire thing was filmed with some sort of 1980’s Kodachrome Instagram filter over the whole thing.  God what the hell is this shit.  Is this what you sit through in film school student film exhibitions?  No, students must produce better films than this or no one would teach film school courses.  We didn’t finish it, but we did skip to the end just in time to see the amateur swipe to credits (I’m pretty sure that’s a Windows Movie Maker feature) that put a cap on the whole thing.  WHY IS MALCOLM MCDOWELL IN THIS. WHAT.

My previous bar for worst film was “The Tomb” which boasts a 1.5 on IMDB.  It still wins, but damn if Zombex didn’t give it a run.

After Earth

We saw the previews for this way back when and said “Hey, that looks like it will be good!”.  Then it came out and it was universally mocked, almost immediately.  And we said “Sweet, we can wait for DvD then!”  The only question left in my mind was “Is it ACTUALLY bad, or is it bad because everyone hates Jaden Smith?”

Now I have watched it.  The answer is: This movie is completely irredeemable.

“After Earth” is the story of Gary Stu, and his son, Gary Stu.  It is one of the most remarkable displays of bad writing that I have seen in a while.  Will Smith’s character (fuck if I remember his name [edit] I looked it up.  It’s “Cypher Raige”.  AHAHAHAHAHAHAHahahahahahaha…[/edit]) is a badass soldier (the best soldier of all soldiers, of course) who is so fucking badass that he feels absolutely no fear, which allows him to “ghost” past the fearsome “Ursa” creatures which track humankind solely by the pheremones we release when scared.  He is so badass that he doesn’t even bother to kill them with fancy ray guns or even pedestrian physical bullet weapons, despite this being the future.  No, he kills them with dual bladed swords.  You can pause to vomit now, if you want.

His son has been working super hard to be the most badass of rangers just like dear old dad, but naturally he hasn’t been able to make the cut (this is a smoke-screen, so you don’t suspect that he is also the most Gary Stu of all Gary Stus.  He is, though.  It’s pretty fucking obvious.  He even has the tragic childhood to go with it)  Some touchy feely shit happens where Dad is all cold and unfeeling to his disappointing son (oh but you can see how much he loves him but cannot display it.  You can pause to vomit again now), and then we finally get on with the fucking movie and they get on a spaceship.

Gary Stu (the older one.  The one we aren’t supposed to expect to be worthless) uses his spidey sense to detect space phenomena that almost certainly doesn’t exist, and goes and warns the pilots who disregard his warnings because they didn’t get the memo that this guy is perfect and knows everything.  Oops, he was right, and the ship explodes and summarily crashes (this is what I mean by Gary Stu, man.  It couldn’t just be that shit happens and the ship fucking crashes, oh no, it has to be mr super fucking soldier who notices the danger while all the oblivious plebeians fumble around uselessly.  He doesn’t even do anything useful after noticing it which makes it ENTIRELY EXTRANEOUS that he is the one who notices.  Fuck).
The two Gary Stus are the only survivors.  Because that’s how good they are.

Conveniently, older Gary Stu is injured and cannot go and just do everything himself, so he sends younger Gary Stu off to save their lives.  He’s guiding every step of the way on the intercom though (which also lets him see everything occurring from multiple camera angles that are in no way attached to his son’s suit, because it’s the future I guess.  A future where they use fucking melee weapons.) and also pauses to emotionlessly belittle his son’s every actions because that will make his son better at stuff (then zoom in on his face to show that he’s actually having emotions he just won’t show them because that would be a weakness you see).

Oh my god it was intolerable… made worse by the fact that absolutely nothing unpredictable happens in this movie.  You’ve read this far – take a wild fucking guess at what happens.  Guess what, you’re right!  It’s actually directed by M. Night Shymalan who is known for his (usually terrible) twist endings.  The twist in this movie is that there is no twist!  He got me pretty good with that one.

The movie is also a grand display of telling instead of showing.  There’s a big (and completely fucking pointless ARRRGHH) scene where little Gary Stu realizes he has broken a couple of his inhalers, which are essential for breathing in EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE (no explanation of why Earth has changed that much, or why it’s primordial now despite that being absolutely not the path a planet ages on…) so he lies about it because he is afraid daddy will call off his mission due to his inevitable death.  Big Gary Stu, however, is perfect, so he looks at the biomedical readouts and can tell little Gary Stu is lying.  Then he calls off the mission because of little Gary Stu’s inevitable death.  Which makes no fucking sense because they’re both going to die anyway if the mission fails.  But amazingly enough that’s not even the reason I started typing this.  Big Gary Stu runs a computer simulation of how to reach the tail section of the ship (the goal of the mission) and it pops up and lists off how many inhalers are needed.  Little Gary Stu has 2 left.  The computer pops up and shows a route that will use 4 inhalers, and one that will use just under 2 inhalers.  There is a short pause and then it pops up and points out the shorter route, and blinks “ONLY SURVIVABLE ROUTE” over and over.  I’m so glad it pointed that out because I almost didn’t understand what the scene was trying to convey.

The entire movie is just scene after scene of Gary Stu-ness, telling instead of showing, bad science, and whiny scenes that are probably supposed to be dramatic and emotional but are just fucking annoying, oh my god shut the fuck up.  The 4 it has on IMDB is too generous, and that’s when considering ONLY the movie, not even delving into the rabbit hole of Scientology tie-ins I spotted on Wikipedia (which may or may not be reaching.  It seemed like pretty generic bad movie writing to me)…
God, it’s even generous before considering the awful acting.  I think Jaden out-acted Will in this movie, but we’re talking about a subterranean bar, here.

Ugh.  Ugh.  At least Red Dawn is entertaining to make fun of.  This has too much whining to even make a good drunken movie night movie.

Elysium

Since it’s so new, I will endeavour to keep this spoiler free… honestly there isn’t much to spoil, but I’ll try anyway.
Sci-Fi movie!!!!  Usually we’re pretty cheap and wait for DVDs, but we loved District 9, and the previews for Elysium looked so good that we went and saw it at the theatre.  It’s not even 3D and we saw it at the theatre!

Elysium was simultaneously really good, and also disappointing. As is typical, my bitching revolves around the writing – the movie was disappointing because it could have been really good, but the writing was just sloppy enough to be distracting in how easily it could have been fixed, god damn it.  I suspect they read the screenplay and were like “Well, we have Matt Damon and Exoskeleton suits, no one will notice.”  I noticed >:(

The premise is that Earth is fucked and super populated and polluted and all those wonderful things we can see in our future right now, so all the rich people built a space station called Elysium and moved there to live in idyllic mansions surrounded by palm trees and swimming pools.

And this is where it starts to fall flat, because the worldbuilding ends there.  All it would have taken is a few more lines of dialogue to tie everything together with a throw-away explanation or two, but instead they leave ambiguous plot ends flapping around and the audience wondering “so… why is that?”.

Elysium residents have access to Med Bays which scan your body and instantly heal each and every thing wrong with it, from split ends in your hair to cancer in your blood cells (how did they design this technology and not solve any of the other problems lying around?  *shrug*).  There was a line somewhere that suggested people are living 200+ years so they also presumably extend your life and keep you young and beautiful forever.  Every single house on Elysium has one of these med bays, and it takes a whole, like, two minutes to cure every single ailment known to man.  For some reason, even though every single house has a med bay and they also have dozens of EMS ships filled with dozens of med bays which are all run by robots so there isn’t even any manpower cost in running them, Elysium refuses to let anyone on Earth use a med bay unless they are promoted to the rank of Elysium Citizen, even pushing it to the degree of needing special identification coded into your DNA before the med bay will activate.

The character development of every single person on Earth is something like this:  “I am sick and will die if I don’t go to Elysium and use a med bay – Therefore I must go to Elysium no matter what the cost.”
The character development of every single person on Elysium is split between “Ew people from Earth are gross” and “I will take over the world.”
That’s as deep as character development gets in this movie.

Unsurprisingly, desperate people are attacking Elysium all the time trying to get to a med bay, which results in things like Elysium launching missiles at them and blowing them all to shit.  Just put a fucking med bay on Earth, and the attacks stop.  WHY IS THIS SO HARD FOR YOU TO FIGURE OUT??  Jesus.  There is absolutely no worldbuilding development that explains why they’re so stingy with their plentiful med bays, other than “Ew Earth people are gross” (not that you need to touch them or see them if you leave a fucking automated med bay on Earth, mind you… and in fact you would see less of them because they wouldn’t keep trying to come to your station to use your med bays), and “We need a reason for Matt Damon to go to Elysium” (undoubtedly the true reason).  It’s so sloppy that it was distracting for the entire movie.
Are they withholding med bays because………. Of limited resources? (Unlikely when there’s a million med bays lying around and people use them for face lifts… but plausible that they want to withhold those resources for their greedy facelifts?  But they don’t explain what they run on or how they work, so…)
Maybe the life extension benefits are too costly when the world is already packed? (plausible, but again, you think they could have mentioned that.  They’re already sequestered on their little space station, why do they care if the Earth stays crowded and fucked)
Because they’re huge elitist dicks? (This seems to be the only explanation, but there are so many other reasons to just throw a token med bay ship down there, like, NOT BEING ATTACKED ALL THE FUCKING TIME).
It feels like it would have worked a lot better if it were a truly alien race living up there on a spaceship with their super crazy technology we can’t understand, enslaving humans to build their robots, but hey they can cure diseases so let’s try to get to those med bays!  … but no, they’re humans, and they’re dicks with no really well explained reason for being so.  Yes, humans are dicks to lower classes of humans, that is well established.  But THE MED BAYS ARE FULLY AUTOMATED.  If only the med bays took fully trained personnel to run, oh look!  A reason to not have them on Earth!  But nooo.  No explanation provided.
I would have been happy with a bad explanation, like any exposition where they were all “Oh no don’t let them use our med bays because we are comically evil and if they use this the med bays will no longer be special and I want to feel special for having one”, but it doesn’t even give us that.

Slightly less distracting is the plot device that requires Matt Damon to use his brain as a flash drive, which makes absolutely no sense, but conveniently makes it so they can’t just solve the problem by shooting him because they need his brain data and it’s not retrievable if he dies.  (Incidentally – this is probably a good reason why a brain is not a good flash drive.  Among other things, which also happen.)

The rest of the movie is people in exosuits brutally punching each other, which was pretty cool… but it’s got some pretty terrible timing because I think everyone will find it pretty lacklustre coming on the heels of Pacific Rim.  Every fight scene I was distracted by the amount of shaky cam they used to cover up the CGI, and I kept thinking again how impressive it was that Pacific Rim didn’t do that.  If I’m thinking about other movies during your action scenes, there might be improvements to be made.

Oh and don’t forget the obligatory contribution of “We are the bad guys so we are going to threaten to rape the pretty girl” scenes.  Don’t forget those!

I’ve done a lot of bitching, so it’s important to point out that I did enjoy the movie, but almost all of the problems I’ve pointed out could be so easily solved with just a little bit of attention to detail.  It’s really kind of a shame.

Oh and then, of course, there’s the fact that everyone on Earth speaks English and Spanish, while everyone on Elysium speaks English and French.  I am deliberately not going to touch the potential allegories going on this movie (because you see, the English/French have good health care and a beautiful clean place to live above the dirty polluted English/Spanish people, so clearly it is a representation of how everyone wishes they lived in Canada.) (arguing about the allorgies is kind of the point of a movie like this I suppose, but you should probably have decent writing before moving to that stage >:( ), but I do want to mention that Jodie Foster has the most irritating accent going on in this movie… I think it was supposed to be French?  I don’t even know, it kind of faded in and out and was really weird and distracting.  Everyone’s accents were distracting. I think it was intentional to show some sort of melting pot society going on, but I can’t say for sure… and if I can’t say for sure, then something has probably gone wrong in the writing/directing department.  It was either an intentional attempt to show something that was a teeny bit too subtle for me because I was so distracted by all the rest of the sloppy writing, or it was just sloppily handled.

At this point it is probably distracting to think about how many times I have used the word distracting, so that’s probably the focal point of this review – there were too many sloppy distracting things going on, and just a little bit of polish could have really cleaned it up.

God, I hope Gravity doesn’t suck.

Splice

We watched this awhile ago, so my memory of details is probably fuzzy, but I remembered it recently and movies like this are exactly why I decided to start writing blog entries about shit.

Splice is a movie about scientists doing scientisty things and messing with DNA and trying to cure diseases.  Their research has led to the creation of an apparent new species of lifeform created by throwing buckets of animal DNA into a blender, so they’re starting to pick up some speed on the research front.  Then they “accidentally-on-purpose” mix a little human DNA into the recipe (something that is ethically forbidden and they know it) to try to create something that can be better used as a human analogue for testing.  What emerges is……. not human… but more animal like and difficult to control.  The first little bit of the film is spent exploring this thing, trying to gain its trust (apparently it’s a grouchy little thing), and marvelling at how it has an incredibly accelerated growth rate and is quickly growing and changing forms (thank goodness, since the movie is only 104 minutes long!).  Even though they planned to terminate it because they totally just wanted to see what happened and didn’t really plan to let this experiment run, well, whoops we’re kind of attached to it now so let’s let it keep maturing and see what happens!  What could go wrong!  The creature eventually develops into what is essentially a little human girl, except gone horribly wrong and with a tail and stuff.  The scientists then attempt to raise it like they would their child.  The lab/company is appropriately named NERD (I laughed), so they decide to name the creature “DREN” (I facepalmed).

The whole first part of the movie was actually really interesting and enjoyable.  Splice is really a shame because it was almost really good and even had some potential for exploring deep philosophical themes, if you should so desire to write it that way.  But then it was bad.  And it wasn’t just bad, it was really bad.

The movie goes through its paces and addresses a number of interesting scenarios that might arise if you happen to be dealing with a humanoid-thing-made-from-DNA-soup, including the inevitable look into a mirror where the creature realizes “hey, I don’t actually look anything like mom and dad.  What am I??” (well acted out with expressions, I might add, since the thing doesn’t have proper speech).  Sadly, it is at that point the writers either ran out of things to write about, or realized they were actually planning to make a horror movie, and everything just goes to shit.  The biggest shit the movie takes is the point where “Clive”, the male scientist, realizes the human DNA that was chucked into the soup is actually the DNA of his wife, and apparently sees some sort of resemblance to her in Dren.  His natural reaction at this point is, well, what else!  The only thing any rational person would do.  He has sex with it.

I’m pretty sure I yelled “Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME” at the TV.  But anyway, it turns out, when you have sex with a developing creature that’s trying to learn how to behave, it learns that it should rape everything!  So that was great.  Good job, Clive.

It just gets worse from there.  …No, I take that back, that’s definitely the worst part, but it doesn’t get any better from there.  The rest of the movie is your typical cheesy horror slasher movie with dumb “twists”.  Since the creatures have been created with a blend of animal DNA, it gave the writers free license to give them whatever animal abilities they wanted to swipe, at whatever time it was appropriate for the plot (and surprising to the scientists, of course, because you certainly wouldn’t have any way to control or monitor which genes your DNA soup is expressing when you’re at the point of being able to create a new species).  The initial “not made from human DNA” creatures provide the foreshadowing and then “Dren” goes through all the same paces, except much more tragically and deadly, since it is human sized and much stronger and deadlier (and also not in a safe little cage in a lab).  I don’t even remember what else happens.  It was all stupid and I was still reeling from the “It’s my wife’s DNA! I’m totally going to fuck it now” decision.

It was almost such a good movie.  I mean, not like, amazing or anything, but fully enjoyable.  And then…
My brain hurts.