Video Rental Reviews: 400 Days

Welcome back to the feature where I review movies and tv series that are at my local in my local video rental place.  Previously, I have reviewed 10 Cloverfield Lane and the SyFy Series 12 Monkeys.  Today I will be reviewing the indie scifi thriller called 400 Days.

First, I’m going to say this.  After your first watch of this movie you may be a little pissed off to start.  It’s sudden and difficult to understand.  But after thinking about it for a little while, I think this is intentional.  I will get to this after a brief synopsis.

400 Days is set mostly in a mocked-up spacecraft.  We are led to believe that the four astronauts we have just met are being put into the ground as a test of the effects of long-term space travel on the human mind.  There is some drama as the main psychological officer has just dumped Brandon Routh, our main spaceman.

There is some interesting character work in this movie, with Dane Cook, Brandon Routh, and Tom Cavanagh making for some interesting character work.  There is a twist at the end of the first act where something seems to have gone wrong with the experiment.  This generates much of the drama for the rest of the story.  We see various things happen that stretch these individuals to the breaking point through the course of this experiment.  But there is a third act twist that I won’t ruin for you.

I think this is trying to be one of those trippy psychological thrillers which plays with your perception and then leaves you with a question.  Were the events of the movie real or were they all in the character’s minds.  It doesn’t pull it off perfectly, but oddly the last twist of the movie, although it may piss you off, will leave you wanting to watch the movie again very carefully.  Ultimately the last series of twists makes some sense, but there is still some missing in the film.

If you are a fan of the psychological thrillers this movie is worth watching.  I found it quite enjoyable despite the rage-inducing ending.  The rage will wear off and curiosity will set in.  Ultimately the story has some holes, and you’ll be left scratching your head even after the second viewing, but I still think genre (and love story) fans will get enough enjoyment out of this to drop the dollar or two it takes to watch 400 days.

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Video Rental Reviews: 12 Monkeys (the syfy series), Season 1

This is a new series of articles where I review movies and tv shows that are in my local Family Video rental store.  In my first post I talked about 10 Cloverfield Lane and the re-emergence of John Goodman on the acting scene.  This week we will be discussing the first season of the recent SyFy series named after the popular Terry Gilliam movie 12 Monkeys.

So I decided to rent the first season of 12 Monkeys the other day.  I am a huge fan of the movie, but didn’t know what to expect with someone other than the brilliant Terry Gilliam running the show.  It also took me until the final episode of season one to be able to figure out the relationship between the movie and the series I was watching.

I’ve concluded that 12 Monkeys is a reboot of the Terry Gilliam movie.  Maybe if I’d remember the character name James Cole from the movie I would have figured this out sooner, but now I know.  12 Monkeys the tv show is simply telling a very similar story to that of Terry Gilliam’s show.

12 Monkeys will touch on a number of beats that seem familiar to those familiar with the movie, and that is a good thing.  The story still centers around the mystery of how the world-ending disease gets spread to the world, and there remains throughout the story a sneaking suspicion that everything the time-travelers are doing is just contributing to the deterministic story of how the disease arose and killed everyone in the first place.  As with any good serial mystery, we are strung along with little clues along the first series.  The series does different things with some of the other characters, but the acting and the characters are really solid.

One highlight of the show is Emily Hampshire playing the series’ version of the Brad Pitt character in the original movie.   She plays the crazy daughter of the billionaire who is suspected of developing the disease, who is our heroes’ on-again off again frenemy throughout the series.  She is compelling and eminently watchable and moves some way toward capturing the intangible magic that Pitt had in the original series, which is an quite a feat.

Despite some small criticisms, such as a couple characters whose arcs are a little sudden and unrealistic, I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of the original movie (and to anyone who isn’t, but likes mysteries or race-against-time thrillers).  This is really a compelling series.

Peace be with you.
-JS

Rey’s Journey Doesn’t Echo Episode 4

Star Wars Episode VII is often accused of paralleling Episode IV too closely.  But it seems to me that Rey’s journey in Episode VII actually more closely parallels the journey of a character in another (less well respected) episode of the Star Wars saga.  Further, the parallel will make sense of the fact that everything seems to go so easily for Rey in the movie.

Rey’s journey parallels Anakin’s journey in Episode I  more closely than it parallels Luke’s journey in Episode IV.  Okay, so Rey’s journey starts out on a desert planet, where Rey is less than content with her life situation.  Rey even has her own twin sun moment (check out this podcast from loading ready run for a discussion of this moment and other interesting aspects of the movie) in the moment where she stares at the incredibly old woman cleaning parts and realizes she has to get out of there.

But she doesn’t lose her family.  She has a murky, confusing relationship with  her family which is keeping her on the desert planet.  This situation doesn’t change, and she must consciously give up her last connection to her family in order to leave on her adventure.  But the thing really keeping her from leaving the planet isn’t just a family situation.  She’s a slave.  This is exactly the situation with Anakin Skywalker.  It is, at the very least, much closer to Anakin Skywalker’s  situation in Episode I than to Luke Skywalker’s in Episode IV.

Let’s look at a few other parts of the Reys’ journey.  Luke is partially trained by Obi Wan Kenobi, but Anakin and Rey get no force training and are thrust into crucial situations in the struggle against the big weapon of destruction held by the enemy with no force training at all.

Nevertheless Anakin/Rey just succeed and succeed with little struggle (presumably due to their being incredibly strong in the force).  In many ways their journeys for the episode end when they find a trainer, whereas Luke’s journey for the episode is all struggle and ends when his trainer dies.

Now, all this is to ignore the fact that the journeys of all three protagonists closely parallel each other in many ways.  But I think that a close look makes it clear that Rey’s story in Episode VII is a self-conscious parallel of Anakin’s journey in Episode I.  What do you think? Let me know in the comment section below.

Check back every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for new content.

Peace be with you.
-JS

 

2 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Batman v Superman

Spoilers!

Perhaps I’m late to the Batman V. Superman lovefest that occurred in the reviews for the movie.  Wait, there wasn’t a love fest?!  Wait, the movie only got a 27% on Rotten Tomatoes?!  Wait, the movie made $900,000,000 and no one seems to like it?  Everyone hates it?  What’s wrong with it?  Well, there are two sequences that are fairly universally panned which everyone seems to get wrong, and these are the scenes I most often see appealed to by BvS haters.  In this post I will show that everyone gets these two sequences wrong.

The Martha Scene

“Save…Martha…”  Batman finds out that he and Superman’s mom’s have the same name, and Batman and Superman  instantly become friends.  That’s how this scene works.  So stupid, right?! Wrong! This scene comes after Batman has come to think that Superman is an alien that cares very little for human life.  For Batman, Superman seems to be an amoral creature who caused the equivalent of 12 9/11’s, blew up congress, perhaps indiscriminately killed a bunch of people in Africa, and could do much worse at any moment.  Superman is an alien with no connection or care for humanity.  Batman says as much in the fight over and over.

But Superman starts telling Batman he should save Martha.  This leads Batman to get even angrier.  Batman has seen 20 years of Jokers and Two-faces playing cruel tricks on him and emotionally manipulating him by appeal to his loved ones and their life or death.  This is when Lois Lane comes in and informs Batman that Martha is Superman’s mother.  This piece of information, along with it’s being shouted by Lois Lane, gives Batman all the information he needs to put together that he was wrong.  Lois Lane, the sole survivor of the attack Superman supposedly perpetrated in Africa, is deeply in love with Superman.  He thus puts together that his conception of the Africa case was wrong, and that Superman has at least one person that he cares for or loves.  Second, he finds out that Superman was willing to lay down his life so long as Batman saved Superman’s human mother.  Superman has a human mother who he loves just as much as any other human loves his/her mother!  Batman has put together that he has deeply misinterpreted the situation with Superman (and probably that Lex Luthor is to some extent behind it) all from the facts he becomes privy to in the end of the fight scene.  He then realizes that he’s been blind with rage and ignoring the clues all along that Superman is not such a bad guy.  This is when he drops his spear.  Their having the same mother only caused Batman to pause to figure out Superman’s evil plan, but then Lois Lane’s barging in saves the day and gets Batman to wise up.

For a beautiful youtube video that actually takes the “mother’s have the same name” thing to be a very touching and beautiful moment but which also holds the popular misinterpretation while getting the emotional force of the scene down beautifully, follow this link.

That Floating Dirt Doesn’t Mean Superman’s Alive!

This really annoyed me.  Everyone was all up in arms that they took away Superman’s death with the floating dirt.  But, and I’ll keep this one brief, when have you ever seen dirt float over a coffin when the person inside in fact turns out to be alive.  Dirt floating says nothing about the individual inside the coffin.  It says everything about an individual outside the coffin exerting some force pulling on the coffin.  All the floating dirt in the end of the movie indicated was that someone is stealing Superman’s body.  And yes, everyone knows that Superman is going to come back, but this scene did not in any way indicate that Superman is currently alive in the casket which we are zooming in on.  Superman is still dead at the end of the Batman V Superman movie.

The movie has its flaws, but it is beautiful and I was moved by the Martha scene.  Now, you can hate BvS, but don’t  hate it for the wrong reasons.  If you’d like to talk about it, leave a comment.

Come back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for  new post!

Peace be with you.
-JS