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My Worst and Best Movies of 2023

It seems that I’ve spent at least 130 hours watching movies this year. Here’s what I thought about them.

The Three Worst Movies of 2023 (that I saw)

Cobweb (2023 US version)

If you look at the trailer to this it seems interesting. And it does a good job establishing a spooky atmosphere. Basically if you just jumped in on any scene without knowing what was going on in the rest of the movie it would be okay, even great. But it’s the plot as a whole that bogs this whole thing down. 

Basically there’s this kid, Peter. His name is Peter, and he eats pumpkins, because he’s got a pumpkin patch outside his house. It’s a very spooky pumpkin patch.  He doesn’t have a wife, because he’s twelve, but there’s someone else that’s living in a pumpkin shell of sorts (a wall wallpapered with pumpkins) and the movie is all about Peter’s relationship with this person, his parents, and the kids at his school. 

I don’t think I’m spoiling things too much by saying that pretty much all these people betray Peter at some point. If you watch the trailer you get that much. But at no point is there any hope for Peter or the other characters. This isn’t the Korean film Parasite, where the people living in the wall are mostly good people driven to desperation. No, the being in the wall is pretty much a jackass all the way through. This isn’t Carrie where the parents are awful but the kid rebels against them in terrible, but cathartic ways either. The parents are a bit stupid maybe. I’d say at eight years old or so it’s time to start telling your children about the dangerous and violent family members that might show up to threaten them at some point. But the parents aren’t the bad guys really, they’re just a bit crazy and…dumb. And this isn’t The Shining either. Peter doesn’t really have any clever tricks for getting away from anyone or any moments of real agency. He just runs scared from one problem to the next. 

So it all just ends up being a frustrating mess. It’s not all bad by any means. There are great visuals and the wall person is super creepy. But it’s like three monkeys playing in a three piece suit rather than one well-dressed gorilla.

three monkeys in one suit. Image 3 of 4

A Haunting in Venice

This is an Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot film, which is…fine. I mostly liked the earlier installment of Murder on the Orient Express. Kenneth Branagh does a good job with the character. He’s much more believable than Steve Martin in the Pink Panther. But, while the Orient express moved at a pretty good pace and went to some unexpected places (for me at least, since I hadn’t read the book or seen the earlier film version), A Haunting in Venice just kind of sits in the same damp waters and seems stuck with the tired locked room mystery format that every Agatha Christie inspired book, show, or movie has used for the last several decades.

Great actors of course. It’s worth watching for that reason I suppose. And I didn’t know whodunnit until they revealed whodunnit. So I guess the ending was unexpected? But was it really? Because I knew going in that nothing was going to be as it seemed. Everyone was going to turn out to be shady for one reason or another, and the whole thing was going to be a lugubrious dance of misery. 

And that’s what I got. 

So I’m not a fan. Also the film wanted to have it both ways with the supernatural aspects. If you want a film with actual ghosts in it, sorry, there aren’t any in this film. If, like me, you like to see a scientific explanation of initially inexplicable things, though, sorry, you’re not going to get that either. You see the trick is EvErYbOdY’s DrUgGeD! That’s it. That’s what’s causing the spooky stuff. Well, that, and someone is living in the walls. 

Didn’t think of it before, but there’s a lot of commonalities between A Haunting in Venice and Cobweb. People are living in the walls and everyone is awful. Even Poirot comes across as overly arrogant and judgmental in this movie. 

My favorite part was Michelle Yeoh. Her character Joyce Reynolds was the most interesting thing in the movie. But…she dies in like, five minutes. So no love there. And I suppose it’s possible for an Asian woman to be living in Venice in 1947 and working as a medium, but that does seem a bit odd, and I would have liked a bit more backstory there. Instead, it’s not even remarked upon. Also she has a daughter and there’s some sort of secret servant who helps her, and the servant guy has his own drama, and I kind of wanted to know what was going on there, but oh someone else died. I guess we have to move on. Okay.

 

The Nun II

Buy The Nun II + Bonus Content - Microsoft Store

You know how sometimes you’re walking around a dark place and you see something out of the corner of your eye that looks like a creepy face?

That’s this movie. 

Just that, over and over again. And somebody is possessed but not all the time, just when it’s convenient for the plot, and someone else is able to defeat the evil thing that makes creepy faces by believing _really_ hard. 

Aside from that it’s mostly like the first fifteen minutes of the Sound of Music, but the nuns never quite get around to singing “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”

 

The Three Best Movies of 2023 (that I saw)

Godzilla Minus One 

Bunch of Godzilla this year.  I’ve been watching the Monarch TV show, which is about Godzilla too, but that has a very different feel to this. 

This was a homerun of movie. It’s got a lot DNA from the first Jaws movie. But it’s also got a bit of Logan (or Shane). And a bit of its own magic too. 

Unlike a lot of earlier Godzilla movies, which are mainly about running away from Godzilla while someone tries to explain how Godzillas are people too, this one isn’t trying to say anything about nature conservation or even the horrors of atomic warfare. Instead, this is about what it means to have honor, what it means to have a family, and how to deal with loss and change. 

Godzilla isn’t this delightful creature that happens to be destroying things in this movie. Godzilla has all the personality of a hurricane and just as much mercy. It is something awful and gargantuan that can’t be destroyed or even understood completely. Godzilla stands for something a bit different in every movie. In this movie, I think it stands for guilt.

The movie centers around a would-be kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima. He lands on a island to refuel his plane after what was supposed to be a suicide mission. Then Godzilla shows up. And it’s Godzilla. No amount of artillery is going to do anything but make Godzilla angry. But the engineers want Shikishima to use his plane’s guns to shoot the giant lizard. He gets in the airplane…and he can’t.  He ends up escaping out of the airplane just before Godzilla destroys it.

We know that shooting Godzilla wouldn’t have helped, but Shikishima doesn’t. And beyond that there’s the fact that he didn’t suicide himself at the enemy like he was supposed to. The guilt he feels is truly something awful and gargantuan that can’t be destroyed or even understood completely, just like Godzilla itself. 

That’s just the beginning of the movie, and Shikishima spends years dealing with his guilt and the destruction caused by Godzilla. To be clear, the movie isn’t bogged down with these personal scenes, there is plenty of action and even some comedic moments. But there is enough of an emotional core that it feels like the stakes are real. And the ending works on multiple levels.

 

Oppenheimer

Great acting, great directing, complex characters and a masterful depiction of an important time in history.  Enough has probably been said about this movie already, but I thought it was great.

I think overall it’s a great example of how to depict an imperfect character sympathetically. A different director might have portrayed Oppenheimer much more negatively, but Christopher Nolan, while not shying away from Oppenheimer’s multiple immoralities, also doesn’t spend much time judging them. Somehow, despite almost murdering someone, cheating on his wife, and having a hand in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, he still seems like the protagonist. Sure, there are people who complain about him in the movie, but aside from them having a point, there isn’t much weight put on their statements. 

One of my favorite parts of the movie is a sequence where Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and his wife Kitty(Emily Blunt) are dealing with their child. The kid cries a great deal and they simply can’t deal with it. They try for a while, but eventually they give the child to a friend to care for, saying that they’re awful people. As much as that might be true on some level, I am totally with the Oppenheimers at that point in the movie and it’s more a moment of humor rather than anything melodramatic. Also it shows how the characters of Robert and Kitty are on the same team, which might not quite be how the real life Robert and Kitty were, as the actual story is a bit more complicated (https://www.vulture.com/2023/07/oppenheimer-historical-accuracy-what-really-happened.html). 

The relationship between Robert and Kitty in the movie is an odd, but endearing complication. Despite Robert cheating on Kitty, she stays with him, but she also doesn’t take any guff from him. She’s extremely independent and has a massive amount of spine, which is shown not only in the scenes with Robert, but also in the scenes where she is interviewed about her and Robert’s ties to the communist party. Emily Blunt and Christopher Nolan did a great job of putting some flesh on what could have been a two dimensional character.

Florence Pugh does a great job with her character of the mistress too. And of course so does Robert Downey Jr. I could spend all day recalling all the wonderful little moments and performances. 

Great stuff.

 

Asteroid City

I saw this movie at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, Tennessee, which is a small theater that mostly shows independent films and sometimes has plays or comedy acts. It’s a wonderful theater that was recently refurbished. I had a cup of wine while I watched the movie and I had a great seat. 

So it could be that that’s why I loved it so much. I bought the DVD version of it, and I have to say that the film really needs HD quality to hit right. I think it also helps to watch it by yourself and not with anybody with a low attention span. 

It’s a Wes Anderson movie, and Wes Anderson movies are perhaps an acquired taste. I didn’t care for Rushmore, and the Royal Tennenbaums was a bit dreary. But It could also be that Wes Anderson has gotten better. The Life Aquatic was great. Tale of Dogs was delightful. The French Dispatch was amazing. These are, of course, my opinions, and as much as I harbor them, I also feel like if I was a slightly different person, I would hate Wes Anderson’s movies instead of loving them. 

I think the sticking point is how characters are portrayed. They’re kind of…not. Performances are extremely flat and almost monotone. For most of them you could put a costume on a robot and get the same effect. On the other hand, as much as that’s largly true, great actors can take the flat monologues and do some marvelous things with them. One of things that comes to mind is when Gweneth Paltrow’s character in The Royal Tennenbaum’s corrects her father on what her middle name is. The emotion she puts in the words “It’s Helen,” is masterful. 

In a way I think it’s a bit like anime. In the Japanese style of animation, most things are kept still. The only things that move are the parts that absolutely must move to convey the action. Dialogue costs nothing so, at least in earlier anime, there are often long monologues interspersed with quick scenes of action. It’s the same with Wes Anderson movies, except it’s more that so much care is put into the sets and costuming that putting any energy into camera work or high drama seems counterproductive. 

I love the oddness, the celebration of absurdity, and more specifically how things can seem so absurd and yet make sense as natural progressions from the plot and characters. Asteroid City has buckets of all that.

The movie is about…hmm…

Okay so there’s about four different layers to this movie. Maybe more. The main character, sort of, is Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) a photojournalist who is taking his son Woodrow (Jake Ryan) and three daughters to the titular town to attend an astronomy convention where Woodrow and other children will present their inventions. Augie’s wife has died, but his kids don’t know this yet. As he enters the town, his car breaks down in a bizarre way, and he has to call his father-in-law for help who has some things to say about him not telling his children about their mother. Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), a renowned actress and mother to one of the children presenting at the convention, is staying in the room next to him and there are some sparks of attraction there . Later, at the convention, a spaceship comes and steals the asteroid. Augie takes a picture of the alien, and things progress from there.

BUT Augie is really a character in a play called “Asteroid City” being written by a fictional playwright called Conrad Earp (Ed Norton). The actor who is playing Augie is struggling to figure out his character’s motivation as the play starts production.

AND the production of the play “Asteroid City” is the subject of a fictional television documentary series hosted by a narrator (Bryan Cranston).

ALSO a lot of time is spent with Woodrow getting to know the other kids at the convention, the inventions they’ve come up with, and the games they play to pass the time. 

FURTHERMORE, the audience of the movie (ie you) is sometimes addressed directly, breaking multiple fourth walls at once.

But Augie is the center of the movie, and if you have to know what the whole thing is about, I think he’s the key. He doesn’t know what his motivation is, as his actor reveals. He has just lost his wife, has to figure out how to tell his children, and has to figure out whether he can start a new relationship or not. 

During a key moment of the movie, when tensions reach a boiling point, Augie’s actor leaves the set of “Asteroid City” and leaves the studio, going out onto a fire escape in a busy city street in the snow to think. The scene, like all scenes with the actors, is in mostly black and white while the Asteroid City scenes are in startling color. Also Asteroid City is very much a desert town with a double digit population and not a city at all; so the contrast is even more pronounced. While Augie’s actor is on the fire escape he sees the actress who was going to play his wife in a scene that got cut (played by Margot Robbie in the best cameo ever) She has the whole cut scene memorized and she runs the lines with Augie’s actor, which finally gives him the motivation he was looking for. 

Asteroid City has a happy ending. And I don’t mean just that things turn out well, I mean that I was filled with joy and my face was smiling for a long time after watching it. There are so many side characters and extra bits (like the road runner that keeps showing up at odd moments). It’s a bag of movie candy for my eyes and brain. Just lovely. 

Other Movies I saw in 2023

Movie IMDB rating My rating
Asteroid City 6.6 9.1 see above
Oppenheimer 8.4 9 see above
Godzilla Minus One 8.4 8.5 see above
John Wick: Chapter 4 7.7 8.1 Great, brutal action. Ending a bit of a letdown
Gran Turismo 7.2 8 Surprisingly good. Like Rocky with cars.
Nando Fodor and the Talking Mongoose (and the other Roald Dahl shorts on Netflix) 5.3 8 Delightful. Wes Anderson used to greatest effect.
The Old Way 5.5 8 Nick Cage doing what he does best
They Cloned Tyrone 6.6 7.9 A bit racist, but in a fun way. Some good sci fi too.
Rebel Moon Part 1: Child of Fire 5.8 7.8 Some awesome moments. A little over long but worth watching
The Killer 6.8 7.5 David Fincher contract killer movie. Masterful direction, plot a little too subtle for a higher rating
No One Will Save You 6.3 7.5 Lovely, thought provoking creepy alien movie. But why don’t the aliens wear pants?
Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves 7.3 7.3 Fun movie, doesn’t take itself too seriously. I liked the gelatinous cube.
65 5.4 7.1  Mostly well done, but the protect the girl plot is getting a bit old.
Renfield 6.4 7.1 Fun movie, but there’s a turn at the end that kind of wrecks the emotional stakes…so it didn’t pierce my heart
Five Nights at Freddy’s 5.5 7 Liked it more than I thought I would. Some parts were a bit weak, but I enjoyed it.
Barbie 7 7 The rules of the Barbie universe bother me too much, but yay Margot Robbie. Yay bright cheerful sets! Yay funny and witty dialogue!
Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse 8.7 7 Too many Spider-men. Would like a Miles Morales only, or a Spider Gwen only story. But fun with a neat twist.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 7.9 7 Nice to let the old brain take a vacation now and then.
Meg 2: The Trench 5.1 7 Low budget and the seams show, but a very good giant shark movie
The Covenant 7.5 7 Kind of tired of war movies, but this is a great one about honor and keeping a promise especially when it’s hard.
Heart of Stone 5.7 7 Gal Gadot vehicle, but she’s a decent driver. A bit like Mission Impossible with a lady lead.
Albert Brooks: Defending My Life 7.5 7 Documentary about Albert Brooks’ career and a bit about his life. Responsible for a lot of great comedy movies.
Extraction II 7 7 Very much a sequel. It was good action. I don’t remember anything about the plot.
The Family Plan 6.3 7.3 Super charming movie. The family sticks up for each other, which is nice.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie 7.1 6.9 A lot of people liked Bowser, but I didn’t. I liked the humor and brightness, but I still want a real villain.
The Retirement Plan 5 6.9 Nic Cage movie, so it’s fun, but there was a side character that didn’t get the arc he deserved.
The Flash 6.7 6.8 Turn your brain off and it’s fine. It takes some effort though. If you watch Bollywood, that’s the level of silliness we’re talking here.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods 6 6.8 I miss Chuck.
Cocaine Bear 5.9 6.8 It has some trouble finding a lane sometimes, but for the most part, it’s fun comedy-horror type entertainment.
The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial 6.8 6.8 You have to be in the right mood for this, but it’s an excellent courtroom drama movie.
The Creator 6.8 6.7 Why don’t they just stick a thick wooden pole into those giant holes in their heads?
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts 6.1 6.6 A movie based on a game of capture the flag with robots that look like animals.
No Hard Feelings 6.4 6.5 It’s a bit cringe at times, but ultimately funny and endearing.
Evil Dead Rise 6.5 6.5 No humor. And innocent people die, which I don’t like . Truly creepy, brutal horror though.
Blue Beetle 6 6.4 I would rate this higher than the Flash, except…it doesn’t have the Flash in it.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania 6.1 6.3  I absolutely love the worldbuilding they did for the quantum realm. But the movie’s focused on other things, which, largely, sucked.
The Nun II 5.6 5.5 see above
A Haunting in Venice 6.5 4.5 see above
Cobweb 6 4.4 see above

So that’s the year in movies for me. I hope you’ve had a good 2023 and a better 2024.

 

Movies and Shows of 2022

Thought I’d do a blog on the movies and shows I saw in 2022 and what I thought of them. Too many to cover thoroughly, but I’ll make a few general remarks. Ratings are out of 10, but it is fairly impossible to get a 10. It’s basically what I think the IMDB rating should be.

Movies

movies I’ve seen My rating
Top Gun: Maverick 8.5
Everything Everywhere All at Once 8.4
See How they Run 8.3
The Banshees of Inisherin 8.1
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent 7.9
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery 7.9
RRR 7.8
Prey 7.8
The Lost City 7.7
The Batman 7.7
Slumberland 7.7
Spiderhead 7.6
Uncharted 7.5
Nope 7.5
Werewolf by Night 7.5
Crimes of the Future 7.4
Thor: Love and Thunder 7.4
Wyrmwood Apocalypse 7.4
The Bad Guys 7.1
Thirteen Lives 6.9
Samaritan 6.9
Black Adam 6.9
Death on the Nile 6.8
Elvis 6.8
Ambulance 6.7
Beavis and Butt-head do the Universe 6.6
Doctor Strange 2: In the Multiverse of Madness 6.5
Morbius 6
Gone in the Night 5.5
RIPD2:Rise of the Damned 4.9
Enola Holmes 2 4.5

Top Gun: Maverick (2022) - IMDb

On the movie side of things I think the best movie of the year was Top Gun:Maverick.  In order to get to 8 a movie has to wring some kind of emotion from me. Maverick managed that in two ways, with the intensity and thrill of the action and with the pathos of the scene with Val Kilmer. Was it great? Yes. Was it a favorite of all time for me? No. Not quite. As good as it was, and it was very good, it didn’t exactly break any new ground and it was mostly just a fun experience with some touching bits of nostalgia that hit the right notes without bumping into the furniture. 

Everything Everywhere All at Once was a fun movie, and touching too. It actually had a point to make and it made it well. Michelle Yeoh is great. Best movie about taxes I’ve ever seen.

See How They Run has Sam Rockwell in it, and any movie with Sam Rockwell in it is going to be at least interesting. What starts out as a silly mystery starts becoming more complex though and the movie does a good job of rewarding you for being clever. A lot like Knives Out but with less cynicism. 

The Banshees of Inisherin - WikipediaThe Banshees of Inisherin isn’t for everybody. It’s one of those movies that I didn’t exactly like as I was watching it, but couldn’t get out of my head afterward. It’s a bit metaphorical. Like a parable or fable. It’s completely ridiculous, terrible, and yet at the same time reflective of a harsh truth of humanity. Colin Ferrell is great in it. You say “Hey it’s Colin Ferrell!” at first, but then pretty quickly, even though his accent isn’t that different or anything, he stops being Colin and just becomes Padraec, this somewhat dim Irish everyman who you’re kind of rooting for, at least at first. At the same time you can sort of see why someone might want to throw their fingers at him. Along with the main plot, which is strange and tragic enough, there’s also a chilling sub plot concerning a side character that I didn’t fully get until after a few nights laying in bed thinking about the movie. I missed it mainly because the focus is on Padraec and his perspective, and the guy misses things. That said the people who are ostensibly the intelligent ones in the movie miss things too. I’ve been a fan of Brendan Gleeson since seeing him in the show Mr. Mercedes, and he does an excellent job as Colm, a violinist and composer struggling to break free of his dull life. Kerry Condon plays Siobhan, Padraec’s sister who feels many of the same pressures to leave the small island town of the movie that Colm feels. And you want her to go do things and be successful. But…wow…that subplot bites into you when you catch its implications. Anyway, probably enough people have said things about the movie already. Colm throwing his fingers at Padraec’s door should be a meme though if it isn’t already.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent - Rotten TomatoesThe Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a Nicolas Cage movie. If you like Nicolas Cage, you’ll like the movie. There is a lot of Nicolas Cage in it. There’s also a good bit of Pedro Pascal of Mandalorian fame as well. But mostly Nick Cage. Even the parts he’s not in have his essence vibrating through the frames. I happen to like Nicholas Cage quite a lot so I liked the movie, but it was almost too much for me, so if you dislike Cage, you might want to steer clear. Just be aware…Nicolas Cage is in it. You know that scene in Being John Malkovich where John Malkovich goes inside John Malkovich’s head and ends up in a bizarre world where everyone is John Malkovich and all they say is Malkovich all the time? Nicolas Cage isn’t in that movie, but he is in this one.

 

TV Shows

Evil 9.2
Andor 9.2
Wednesday 9.1
Rick and Morty 9.05
Bob’s Burgers 9
Yellowjackets 8.95
House of the Dragon 8.9
The Patient 8.9
Severance 8.8
Star Trek:Lower Decks 8.8
The Resort 8.7
The Sandman 8.7
Ghosts 8.7
The Peripheral 8.7
Ozark 8.6
Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities 8.6
Raised by Wolves 8.5
Stranger Things 8.5
The Bear 8.4
Reacher 8.2
Britannia 7.9
Russian Doll 7.9
Peacemaker 7.8
Halo 7.7
Love, Death, and Robots 7.6
Solar Opposites 7.6
Archer 7.6
Resident Alien 7.5
The Flight Attendant 7.5
Shoresy 7.5
Harley Quinn 7.5
Los Espookys 7.5
Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted Showdown 7.4
Better Call Saul 7
Locke & Key 7
Barry 6.9
Kevin Can Fuck Himself 6.9
The White Lotus 6.9
Titans 6.9
Mythic Quest 6.9
Dr. Pimple Popper 6.8
Vikings: Valhalla 6.8
The Umbrella Academy 6.8
Willow 6.8
Floor is Lava 6.7
Inventing Anna 6.7
Night Sky 6.5
Hacks 6.4
Westworld 5.5
DC’s Stargirl 5.2
Killing Eve 5.1
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law 5
The Woman in the House Accross the Street From the Girl in the Window 4.9
Our Flag Means Death 4.9
Archive 81 4.8
Irma Vep 4.5

Pretty much anything above 6.5 is watchable. Dr. Pimple Popper sounds like it would be a horrible show, but it is legitimately interesting.  And the score here refers only to the season that aired in 2022. Westworld had a great first season but this one was a slog. Same story with Killing Eve. And I wanted to like Better Call Saul more than I did, but for me the magic left the show when the story arc with the brother ended. If it’s marked less than 5, it means I couldn’t finish the season, which for me is a pretty good indication of it sucking, but there is a chance I just got distracted or missed the terrific thing that happened one episode after the one I watched. I barely got through She-Hulk, but I did.  Hoping they do better next season. There was a good part or two in the show, but it isn’t what you thiiink.

Evil (TV Series 2019– ) - IMDbEvil is a great show, currently in its 3rd season. A bit like early X-files but with demons instead of aliens. Also a touch of Scooby-Do. Mostly serious, but the characters are all likable, even the bad guys. And there are lovely touches of humor at times that range from Twilight Zone like irony to down right absurdity. Even so, the show stays grounded. By the current season, the show has given up on trying to keep it ambiguous whether or not supernatural stuff is going on. There absolutely is something strange in the neighborhood. Still, it’s all very subtle. And the crazy thing that seems to be going on often gets disproven only for it to end up being a deeper, more insidious and…evil thing that has erupted to the surface. It also deals with some serious philosophical questions that are rarely covered in most shows. The main characters of the show are comprised of an atheist raised as a Muslim, an agnostic psychologist, and a Catholic priest, and everyone’s beliefs and identities get challenged on a regular basis. At one point the atheist gets into a relationship with a woman who turns out to be a cult leader. And there’s a succubus who tries to eat the Catholic priest’s soul. Arguably the main character is the agnostic psychologist, Kristen Bouchard. She’s perhaps the most well adjusted…except she ends up murdering somebody. Katja Herbers who plays Kristen is superb at picking up all the conflicting nuances of the character. Mike Colter (who played Luke Cage if you’ve seen that) is great as the seemingly unflappable priest, and Aasif Mandvi as the atheist is a delightful voice of reason amid all the woo. Michael Emerson, who was excellent as Finch in Person of Interest, plays the main villain, although part of the joy of his character is that he is far from the most powerful person in the show. It’s a bit difficult to recommend to some people, because it is inherently blasphemous, but as Eddie Murphy once pointed out in A Vampire in Brooklyn: “Evil is good!”

 

Wednesday - Rotten TomatoesI watched all of Wednesday in about a week. A delightful, bingeworthy show. Jenna Ortega is great as Wednesday. Emma Myers is great as Enid the werewolf with lycanthropal dysfunction. The plot they stole from the musical Wicked is great. There were some problems, though. There was a point or two where Wednesday antisocial tendencies got a bit hard to take, but the show rescued itself by assuring us that yes, these are actual problems that Wednesday is dealing with, because as gifted as she is, she is still a child who has things to learn. I don’t like Luis Guzman as Gomez. Gomez should be fit. Antonio Banderas would have been perfect. I might just be thinking of him because Catherine Zeta-Jones is Morticia, but I don’t think I’m wrong. John Leguizamo. He would have worked too. Maybe those people weren’t available and they still wanted some sort of name…Manuel Lin-Miranda!. Sorry.  Guzman does well enough as the dad from Encanto…I mean Gomez. Aside from the flashback episode, where we’re supposed to believe he can use a sword effectively, it doesn’t matter much in the overall show. The set design, side characters, the plots, that dance scene, and Thing, who wins the MVP award…all of it was great. I want more of it please. 

Rick and Morty - Rotten TomatoesRick and Morty went off the rails, such as they were, a season or two back and it’s still off the rails, but I’m still enjoying where it’s going in season 6. Mostly. The claymation episode was really really bad. I don’t understand how someone can spend so much time incrementally adjusting pieces of plasticine one frame at a time to tell a story so horribly pointless. But I don’t consider the claymation episode to be in any way canon so I’m not counting that in my analysis. My favorite episode so far is probably “Night Family,” where Rick uses a device to get his body to do exercises and chores for him while he’s sleeping The rest of the family starts using the device too, only of course things go wrong and the night versions of themselves end up trying to take over their lives. Good stuff.

 

‘Member Star Wars?

Writing this in December 2016 a couple days before Rogue One comes out in theaters. I’m excited about the movie because it’s Star Wars, it looks like it’s going in a new, mostly good direction, and Alan Tudyk is involved and many of the things he’s involved in are awesome (Firefly, Wreck-it Ralph, Baseketball). On the other hand, Tudyk has been involved in some stinkers (In my opinion: I, Robot; Death at a Funeral; and his webseries Conman). The robot he is giving his voice to also looks a bit like a hillbilly with his overalls hiked up too far. (Edit from 7/2/17 I’ve seen the movie now and, interestingly enough I liked that it was going in a new, mostly good direction, but was not as pleased with it as I hoped)

Also disturbing is that Forrest Whitaker is in the movie. I have yet to see Forrest Whitaker be in a movie that’s actually good. The closest is the Crying Game, which was memorable mostly because it was disturbing, not because it was particularly good. Somehow he has a reputation of being a good actor, and while I can’t say he’s a bad actor, I can’t really think of a time where I was struck by any of his performances. I think he’s one of these arthouse actors that get thrown into a movie to give it gravitas, only it often seems to backfire. (Edit: Did NOT like Forrest Whitaker in this movie either.)

It’s kind of a shame, because I get the impression that Whitaker has a good sense of humor and likes a lot of the same things I like. It’s just he always gets these overly serious roles. In most of his scenes he seems to be expressing dismay at having learned some unfortunate truth. At any rate, his being in the movie makes me think that we’re going to have a scene at some point where there is a field of dead soldiers and several lines bemoaning the horrors of war. I suppose that could be a good thing for the movie, I just hope it’s not what the movie is about.(Edit: I was a bit off. Instead of a field of dead soldiers there was a tremendous apocalyptic wave of earth and death)

On a somewhat related note, I just finished playing a Star Wars game from about 8 years ago called Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. This was a game released from LucasArts, before the rights to Star Wars were sold to Disney, but after the last of the three prequels came out. There is a funny moment in  the game where you’re fighting in a room of collectibles and on the wall is a gungan frozen in carbonite that looks an awful lot like Jar Jar Binks.

It’s a frustrating game to play, mainly because the targeting system is so buggy. You can move things with the force, shoot them with electricity, or throw a lightsaber at them, but only if they have a blue square around them, AND you have a clear line of sight, AND they aren’t something that’s immune to the attack you’re trying. Not to mention that if you move a little bit the blue square winks off, and sometimes you can attack somebody even though they don’t have a blue square.

This frustration aside though, it’s fun fighting with and against wookies, jawas, and Rancors; throwing spaceships around with the force; and seeing all the iconic robots and ships from the movies. Also you get to be Darth Vader for a bit, which is neat. The story line of the game isn’t too bad either. It at least has one or two interesting characters. Not the main character, Starkiller, who, while voiced excellently by Sam Witwer, has a strange arc that makes it hard to figure out his motivations. Rather it’s two side characters that I wanted to know more about.

Proxy is a droid that can use holographic projectors on its body to appear as any one he’s studied sufficiently. He repeatedly says that it is his mission to kill the main character, but he obviously cares about him too. Also he has strange insights into the people he pretends to be. There’s a line about midway through the game after Proxy becomes Darth Vader to deliver a message. Proxy says “I hate having to be him” and Starkiller says, “I think he does too.”  I would love to play a game where I could play as Proxy, or see a movie where he was around more. But I’m not even sure if he made it to the sequel of the game, and since the story is no longer canon, we might never see his like again.

The other character I wanted to know more about is Maris Brood, the apprentice of one of the Jedi Knights Shaak Ti. Shaak Ti herself is a canon character now, I think, but at least in the game Maris Brood was way more interesting. She was trained by someone who followed the light side, and yet she herself was dark side. She had an affinity for animals, notably a Megarancor that you have to fight when you battle her. She also could teleport and used lightsabers like tonfas. Shaak Ti’s fight by comparison was something of a letdown and I didn’t get anything of where she was coming from. Maris Brood seem to have a genuine beef that I would have liked to know more about.

Doing research for this post led me to a novelization of the game, which I might check out later, because overall the game was like a glimpse into a much larger story. I play games for three reasons, to pretend to be someone else, to challenge my brain with interesting puzzles, and to be entertained by an engaging, if often not particularly sophisticated, plot. The game had definite good points in all three categories, although it stopped frustratingly short of complete success in any one of them. The ending was a bit contrived and the one choice you could make to influence the plot was way too little, way too late. By the time it comes, you’re almost not even aware that it is a choice, since the rest of the game is so linear.

Now is a good time to pick it up if you’re looking for something to play that’s not too expensive, since it’s got a lot of good Star Wars references, but if you want a game from around the same time period that’s easier and more fun to play, Infamous is probably a better bet. You have many of the same powers, but without the clunky UI. Also Infamous has choices all the way through it that affect gameplay as well as the character’s appearance. Granted the affect on gameplay isn’t very drastic, there are mostly a few lines of dialogue that are different and a few missions that turn out differently. Still, it’s much more satisfying from a roleplaying perspective and it meshes with the storyline better too. I think a good takeaway might be that Force Unleashed tells a better story, but Infamous tells its story better.

Along the lines of remembering things from the past, I’ve run into a lot of stuff on Alzheimer’s research lately. First there was an episode of 60 minutes that aired recently about a group of people living in Colombia that have a rare genetic mutation, making it almost inevitable that they will develop Alzheimer’s. It’s a recessive mutation, so not all of the people get it, but by testing for it, researchers can know ahead of time who’s going to get the disease, and therefore they can know how well whatever therapy they come up with will work. Most of the therapies they currently have show little or no effect on the disease, but that might be because the patients who receive the therapies aren’t getting them early enough.

Far more exciting in my opinion, though, is the research coming from Li-Huei Tsai about using the light from flickering LEDs to lessen the beta-amyloid plaque in the neurons of rats with Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid plaque build up is though to be one of the major contributing factors in the development of the disease. It was theorized that causing neurons to fire at a certain rate, known as the gamma frequency, would encourage janitor cells in the brain (microglia) to clear up the plaque. Initially Tsai, used a rather invasive procedure (optogenetics) to cause the neurons to fire at the right frequency. She found that there was, in fact, up to a 50 percent reduction in plaque using this procedure. However, when she simply tried using LEDs with no further surgery she found it had almost the same effect!

Now here’s the clincher, and the thing that ties this whole blog post up. A human gamma wave is a neural oscillation of between 25 to 100 Hz, 40 Hz being the most typical. The unit Hz stands for “Hertz” and means “per second.” Most monitors and TV sets show images at around 60 frames per second. This equates to a light oscillation of around 60 Hz which is well within the gamma range. Furthermore, Gamma oscillations occur when the mind is in a state of extreme concentration, which can occur during meditation, during a difficult calculation, or…playing a particularly engaging video game.

Playing video games could possibly keep you from getting Alzheimer’s.

Review of A Dangerous Method

image from IMDB

This movie is about Sigmund Freud ( played by Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (played by Michael Fassbender) and their interaction with a patient/ doctor named Sabina Spielrein (played by Keira Knightley). I’m a fan of both Viggo and Keira, so I was looking forward to seeing this not just for the intriguing subject matter, but for the acting as well.

Unfortunately the movie was something of a mixed bag. The worst thing about it was Knightly doing her crazy freak out routine. The story begins as Sabina is taken by force to the institute Carl Jung works at while she writhes and screams. She pulls out her jaw, arches her back, whips her arms around. She looks like she’s possessed. She does a pretty good job, but the problem I have is that it goes on for too long. About a minute into the freak out session I remember that Keira Knightly is not crazy, and that this is a performance. Then it begins to just seem ridiculous and I question whether anybody actually reacts like that.

I don’t blame Knightly for this. I blame the director, David Cronenburg. He started  out making horror and scifi movies like The Fly. There was a movie he made in the seventies that involved an a woman with a stinger in her stomach that she used to suck blood out of people. One of the things that becomes evident when watching these movies, is that Cronenburg  enjoys shocking people. More specifically, he likes scenes where the humanity of a character is questioned. So I think this is why he let the freak out scene happens so long. It’s a director’s responsibility to let an actor know when they’ve done enough, and Cronenburg was probably egging her on.

The movie went over a number of themes. There was the question of whether we should quench our passions or let them rule us. Carl Jung decides to have an affair with Sabina, but later regrets it, even though he ends up getting another mistress that’s more or less just like her.

There was an issue of race. Sabina and Freud are Jewish, while Carl Jung is Aryan, and this is brought up at odd moments as the characters talk to each other. This puts an interesting light on things as the second world war happens a few years after the movie, but sometimes it seems a little forced.

There is also the question of Freud’s insistence that sex is central to all human motivations. Carl tries to prove that Freud is wrong about this, but he offers in place of sex bizarre ideas about telepathy and mysticism. There’s even a scene where he predicts that something will occur in Freud’s office based on a burning sensation in his gut. It does occur.

Finally, there’s the issue with Freud’s resentment of Jung’s relative wealth, and the dissolution of their friendship as a result of this, the Jewish-Aryan thing, and the affair that Jung has with Sabina. Freud at one point acts as a mediator between the two of them and he cites the event as the main reason he lost respect for Jung, thought the movie leads one to suspect that it might have been for other reasons.

Viggo Mortensen, well known for his role in Lord of the Rings and his tough guy characters in crime movies and westerns, does an amazing job as Freud. I can’t say how true it is to the real Freud, since I never saw a video of the actual guy, but his accent and mannerism made me forget it was him most of the time. Kiera Knightly, aside from the freak outs that happened early in the movie, also did a good job becoming a different character. Her performance was completely different from her character in Pirates of the Caribbean and  her character in Domino. Michael Fassbender did a good job too, but before I checked the actors on IMDB I thought it was the best acting job Ewen McGregor had ever done.

Overall, the movie didn’t do much for me. The ending just sort of sits there like the last roll in the basket waiting for someone to pick it up. There’s an epilogue which seems to tell a more interesting story than the movie itself.  So I have to say that despite the great acting and the subject matter, the movie isn’t something I would recommend to most people. I give it a 6.5/10

The Meaning of Good

What is the meaning of “good”?

That’s a question I’ve been struggling a little with lately. I’m not concerned with “good” in a moral sense, that question has its own difficulties. I’m just talking here about “good” as in “that was a good book I read.” Or “that was a good movie.” So, okay, this is a subjective thing. You either like something or you don’t. If you like it, it’s good, if you don’t like it, it’s bad.

Hold on. That’s overly simplistic! There are some things I like more than others. That doesn’t mean some of them are all good and some are all bad. There’s a spectrum. Some things can’t even be called good or bad; they’re just “okay.” So there’s a region on the spectrum where things are bad, and a region where they are good and an area where maybe they’re just okay. I can even assign a number from 1 to 10 or 1 to 5 indicating how good I think something is.  I can assign a rating, and so can anybody else. Putting a large number of ratings together into an average, then can give an indication of  how good something is to most people.

Okay, but, let’s face it. Most people are idiots. All of us have probably felt the frustration of not liking something that was extremely popular. In my experience almost every book or movie that made it big had some major flaws in it. Lord of the Rings was full of unneeded exposition and involved a long trek that could have been avoided with much less bloodshed if Gandalf had pulled out the rocs earlier. The system of magic in the Harry Potter universe has no logic to it. Curses and other bad magic things happen, and then other people poof it away.  There doesn’t seem to be any explanation as to why some things work and some don’t, which is fine in a fun YA romp, but becomes a bit frustrating when situations become more dire. How fast, for example, does an avra kadavra shot fly from a wand? Is it instantaneous or can the victim dodge? Is there another spell that can block it? When Voldemort and Harry are dueling with their wands, what governs who beats whom? Is it sheer will? Is there some skill or strategy involved?  In the Twilight books you have sparkly vampires. The Hunger Games is has a scene or two where someone is about to commit suicide. You might disagree with me on some of these problems or that they’re problems at all, but the point is that, assuming for the moment that these issues exist, why are these books popular when there are other books that don’t have these problems that no one seems to know about?

Okay, so maybe it’s a matter of luck. Maybe some of the authors had good publicists or the right people read the work and liked it. Maybe I’m a weirdo and these problems don’t really exist. Then again, it could be that the factors that govern whether something is popular are different from those that govern whether something is good.

Hold on a second. That seems obvious, but if you can’t figure out what is good based on popularity how can you tell if it’s good or not at all? We’re back to saying it’s subjective. We tried that line of thought already, but maybe we can come at it from a different angle. Everyone has different criteria for judging things. Some people like Rap. Some people like Rock and Roll. It’s a matter of taste. Okay but there are bad Rap songs and bad Rock and Roll songs and people disagree there too.

So even the people who agree, disagree? Does the word “good” even have a meaning? We’re beginning to veer into postmodernism. The only reason any word has meaning is because a sizable group of people have agreed that a given collection of symbols or sounds should mean a set thing.  If no one can agree what is good and what isn’t, how can anyone be sure what the word means?

Complicating the issue further,  generally people like things that are original. In order for the public to think something is good, that thing must change public opinion in some way.  So you can’t say that just because something falls in line with what the rest of the public usually thinks is good, that the public is going to like it.

Lifted from http://www.songsandsonics.com/category/trick/

So if you’re a creator of some work, how can you judge whether it is good or not? Your own enjoyment may have been in the act of creating the work itself, and furthermore you might run counter to the popular ideals of your time. If you are sure that no one else will appreciate it, then you can keep it to yourself and move on to some more pedestrian project when and if you want to make money. How can you tell if what you’ve done is good in a more universal sense though? I don’t really know, of course, but I feel obligated to come up with some answer, and I think it might be that you have to be true to your own idea of good, but provide a bridge to the popular idea of good.

Maybe you’re in a world where everyone loves dogs and hates cats, and you love cats. Maybe you write a story about a dog that befriends a cat. Or maybe you make art with dogs and cats getting along. I don’t know. The idea probably falls apart if you try to think of making something truly abhorrent, like killing children, popular.

Oh wait…what’s The Hunger Games about again?

Hmm…

(I actually liked the Hunger Games BTW. I’m just making a point)


Super8review and excuse

I recently saw Super 8 at the theater. It was great, like a mix between E.T. and Godzilla, I give it a 8.5 out 10.Watching it gave me the same feeling as riding a ride at Disneyland or Universal Studios. I always felt like there was something else going on. There’s practically a war going on through out most of the movie, but the camera focuses on the children who are the main characters. You see a lot of the effects of the war without ever seeing what caused them. In one scene the wall of a room explodes away from the kids unexpectedly. Surprising, and it keeps things interesting. At first the alien didn’t seem very intelligent. It acts like some kind of monster through most of the movie, which I find a little annoying, but the movie makes up for it by the end.

I originally wrote a more extensive review of Super8 as well as some other movies, but it got lost when I hit ctrl-c instead of ctrl-v. My family and I got back late today from garage sale-ing. We ended up going all the way (about an hour) to Brentwood to go to an estate sale, which, it turns out, wasn’t going to happen until tomorrow (my brother’s fault:-)). We went to some other places though, so it wasn’t too bad. I got a bunch of old books, a portable tape player and a CD holder.

Size is Everything

Innerspace is a Steven Spielberg movie that came out in 1987 starring Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, and Meg Ryan. It’s a sort of remake/homage/rip off of a movie that came out in the sixties called Fantastic Voyage, which Isaac Asimov wrote a novelization for. Both movies center on the idea of shrinking people to microscopic sizes and then injecting them into other people to go through the body and fix diseases. This is a really neat idea, and there are some scientists who are finding ways to use microscopic robots to take the place of the humans in the movies and accomplish some of the same things. However, there are two reasons why the scientists are using robots and not Dennis Quaid. First, shrinking people is probably impossible, and second, even if it were possible people wouldn’t be able to do anything once shrunken.

I can show the how true the first point is with common sense for the most part. If humans are made up of cells, how could it be possible to shrink a human to a size smaller than a cell?

Now you could come back with “well, the cells just get smaller!” But cells have to be the size they are. Otherwise they wouldn’t be large enough to hold all the organelles that keep the cell alive and functioning the way it needs to. The organelles themselves are made up of proteins that are in specialized arrangements. A cell has to constantly maintain the numbers of ions it has inside it for example. The cell can use an organelle called an ion channel to do this, but the channel has to be a specific shape. If it is too large it will let all sorts of ions in or out and the cell won’t be able to maintain the right mix of ions. Too small and the channel won’t let anything in, and it might as well not be there. If these channels were shrunk by even five percent, they would no longer function the way they need to. If ion channels don’t work for cells, they die. If all of a person’s cells die, they die too. If a shrink ray shrinks everything equally, a person shrunk even a foot smaller would most likely die within a few moments.

And of course there’s the problem of how it could happen in the first place. In the movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids, the Rick Moranis character says that we are made up of mostly empty space and his shrink ray gets rid of that empty space. First off this idea is based off of the Bohr model of the atom, which has an electron whizzing around a nucleus like a planet orbits around a sun. This isn’t how things are. There isn’t any empty space as such. The more current electron cloud model fits better. The exact location/momentum of an electron cannot be precisely determined and so we can think of it as a sort of cloud around the nucleus. Okay but at any moment we can still say that the atom is mostly empty right? And if we could take out this empty part you could maybe shrink something?  To be fair, there is a real world situation in which this does happen. It’s called the Sun. It’s a lot more bright and ‘splody than what we see in the movie.

To be more precise, and less smart alecky, the reason why the electron is so far away from the nucleus of an atom, is due to its energy. In order to get closer to the nucleus, an electron has to lose energy. When an electron loses energy, it releases a photon. The more energy an electron loses the more energetic the photon is. Photons with a lot of energy, such as X-rays or Gamma rays, are a form of harmful radiation. Never mind that this hypothetical magic device would most likely rip someone apart rather than truly shrink them, the energy released from “removing the space” in all the atoms would be huge, and would likely kill quite a few people.

The second reason why we’ll never have a manned mission to someone’s colon is something called the Rydberg constant. The Rydberg constant is a number you get when you divide inertial forces (momentum, or how long you keep going after you stop trying to move in a direction) by drag forces (friction and viscosity, or how hard you have work to move forward in the first place). The higher the Rydberg constant, the more you are concerned about momentum and the lower, the more drag forces dominate. Generally speaking, the larger you are, higher your Rydberg constant.

We live in a world with a pretty high Rydberg constant.  We can roller skate and ride a bike, coasting almost half the time. When we swim, we pull the water back with our hands and we’re carried forward enough that we can get our hands back into position for another stroke without moving back to our previous position.  These are all situations where the Rydberg constant is high.

We can create low Rydberg constant situations for ourselves if we want though. Imagine a swimming pull full of Jello. If you try to swim in that, you are going to have some problems. For small animals though, they live in this low Rydberg constant situation all the time. An ant that wants to get a drink of water has to be very careful not to get stuck in it.

Even something as large as a cat, experiences a lower Rydberg constant. A cat can fall from many stories up and still suffer only a few broken legs due to the drag forces that act on it as it falls. The cat, being small, has a larger surface area in relation to its mass, and so drag forces come into play more quickly.

For a bacterium, or a hypothetical impossibly shrunken human, the Rydberg constant would be so low, it would be like that swimming pool full of Jello, only worse. You might imagine a vat of gravel that’s shaken up continuously while you’re inside it. Bacteria typically have some sort of flagellum that corkscrews through the stuff they’re in so they can move forward. Why don’t they just use turbines like a submarine would? Well one reason might be that they never developed such a structure in their evolutionary history. The more applicable reason is that in order to combat the drag from the surroundings, a turbine on a bacteria-sized machine would have to be so large, that the drag of the turbine itself would affect the machine’s movement. Imagine trying to use a submarine in a vat of gravel. Or even more ridiculous, an airplane. It’s just not going to work. So you’d have to have a differently shaped vehicle than in the movies. And you can just forget about leaving the vehicle.  You wouldn’t be able to swim around any more than a feather can dictate economic policy.

It often seems like size is just an arbitrary attribute. There are so many stories about shrinking and growing larger because on some level it seems possible. There are a lot of complications hidden under the surface however. An elephant is a very large animal, but it’s bones are thicker in proportion to its size to make up for that. If you shrunk an elephant down to the size of a cat, it wouldn’t be able to move it’s limbs around. If you blew up a cat to the size of an elephant, it would suffocate under its own weight.  Every time you decrease or increase size by a factor of ten, you enter a different world.

Size is everything.