I’m going to have to science the shit out of this!

I just watched the excellent movie “Black Mass” starring Johnny Depp as the criminal James “Whitey” Bulger. But the reason for this post isn’t to talk about that movie. It’s to talk about the second trailer, subtly different from the first, I saw for the movie “The Martian” in which Matt Damon’s character, Mark Watney, says “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this!” The book on which the movie is based is one of the few I gave a 5 out of 5 rating last year and will definitely read again. The two trailers I’ve seen give me hope the movie will be as good as the book.

Even if the movie is only almost as good as the book I hope it is seen by a large number of people who consider themselves religious. I want those people to think about the role religion and prayer played in the rescue of the eponymous character (i.e., none) and compare that to the role science and engineering played. I want them to think about the role religion has played in giving us the wonders we take for granted like the ability to talk with a family member in real-time thousands of miles away. Or be cured of an infection that just a hundred years ago would have meant a death sentence. Or give someone born deaf the ability to hear via a cochlear implant.

You’re welcome to your religious beliefs but I’ll take science any day of the week when it comes to making my life better.

Update 2015-10-02: I saw the movie this afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed it and encourage everyone to see it. Having said that the book is better. But that is because I’m a geek who appreciated all of the science and engineering in the book which had to be left out of the movie to keep it to a reasonable length. Note that the science and engineering in the book can be appreciated by anyone who can add 2 + 2 and get 4.

Just saw the trailer for the movie “The Martian” and it looks awesome

I just watched “Straight Outta Compton”. Which I highly recommend. But that isn’t the reason for this post.

The reason for this post is the trailer for “The Martian” which played before the movie. It looks awesome and has a fantastic cast. Best of all the trailer makes it clear the movie will hew closely to the book with a strong emphasis on reason, rationality, and respect for science. I can’t recommend the book highly enough and the movie looks like something I’ll probably watch twice in the theater.

Movie Review: Jurassic World

I just wasted an afternoon watching a summer blockbuster movie even worse than San Andreas. Even though I only payed $5.50 to watch the movie I still feel like I was ripped off. At least San Andreas had Paul Giamitti portraying a scientist who wasn’t an idiot or amoral asshole. Too, very little of the dialog in San Andreas was laughable. The same cannot be said about Jurassic World.

The only redeeming feature of Jurassic World is the CGI. The dialog is awful. The acting is awful. It’s clear that Chris Pratt understands he is in a movie that deserves an over the top performance.

A few people sitting behind me clapped at the end of the movie. They were clearly not being ironic given other emotive outbursts I heard from them throughout the film. The only reason I would clap is because the fucking train wreck was over.

Movie review: “San Andreas”

San Andreas” is what I call a summer popcorn movie. Something very different from the art house fare I usually watch (e.g., “Far From the Madding Crowd“). That was reflected in the audience which included a man who fiddled with his phone, making no attempt to shield the screen, at least eight times throughout the film. He was close enough to be annoying but far enough away that I couldn’t discreetly tell him to stop being a self-centered asshole. Too, a lot of the audience applauded at the end. Which made me think these are people who think the TV show “Duck Dynasty” is awesome.

Let me start with the two things about the movie that were good: Paul Giammati’s performance as the scientist and the special effects. Not only was Paul’s performance excellent his character avoided the usual movie scientist cliches. And the CGI special effects were for the most part amazingly realistic and blended extremely well into the live action.

The rest of the movie was a disaster (pun intended). Formulaic. Stocked with the usual disaster movie stereotypes and cardboard cutout characters. No thinking required because you could predict the next scene and each scene required no knowledge of what preceded it.

The opening scene wasn’t just implausible it was downright ludicrous. It portrayed a helicopter (piloted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s character) descending into canyon narrower in places than the diameter of the helicopter’s rotors. The pilot deals with that by angling the helicopter along its long axis to “side slip” into the canyon. And he did it with a civilian reporter and cameraman onboard. Such ludicrous scenes appeared every few minutes from start to finish. Which is acceptable in a movie like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or “Mad Max: Fury Road” where you know you’re in a comic book universe (and I thoroughly enjoyed both). In “San Andreas” it just made me chuckle every time it occurred.

I’m damn happy I only paid $5.50 for a Sunday matinee showing. Had I paid $11+ I would be royally pissed.

Movie review: “The Last Brickmaker in America”

I put “The Last Brickmaker in America” in my Netflix queue solely because it starred Sidney Poitier. If you haven’t seen “To Sir, with Love”, “In the Heat of the Night”, and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” you really should do so. Those were filmed when Mr. Poitier was at his peak and are amazing films. Especially the last one which is set in the 1960’s and involves an interracial romance that has both sets of parents initially dead set against the pending marriage.

In “The Last Brickmaker in America” the only redeeming feature is Mr. Poitier’s performance. Let me start by pointing out that the DVD begins with trailers for four other “family friendly” (a phrase mentioned several times) films. One of the trailers included the breathlessly intoned “This is the film Christians have been waiting for.” The distributor of this film and at least two of the trailers is Phase 4 Films. Their logo makes you immediately think of a Christian cross. Given the company is based in North America and focuses on family-oriented films that is probably intentional:

Phase 4 Films logo

This is apparently a made for TV movie similar to those produced by the Hallmark Channel that anyone watching TV in the 1970’s and 1980’s will remember. Unfortunately this is movie is far worse than anything I remember from the Hallmark Channel.

Every single character is cherubic with not a hair out of place and clothing so clean and starched, even when digging a ditch, you marvel at their ability to go through life as if every moment was wearing their Sunday best as they enter church. The child protagonist is given dialog that is completely unbelievable for a 13 year old.

There were a couple of memorable scenes before I gave up around the halfway point and ejected the DVD. The first was a set piece between the estranged husband and wife. The husband is expressing his frustration that the wife not only went to college after they were married but went on to have a career that didn’t involve spending all day cooking and cleaning their home. The second was a storm of biblical proportions that destroyed several hundred bricks the Poitier character and the child protagonist had made earlier that day. Note that this wasn’t just an unexpected rain storm. It was a hurricane level event. Something you might think the national weather service might have predicted and a brick maker might have prepared for.

I remember when “God’s Not Dead” was released last year. I did not waste my money to see it in the theater. Not even a $5.50 matinee showing. Yet based on the reviews of “God’s Not Dead” I can only conclude it is a better movie than “The Last Brickmaker In America”.

I just learned there is a Christian movie even worse than the one I just wrote about. This review of “C Me Dance” by The Bible Reloaded team makes “The Last Brickmaker in America” seem almost Oscar worthy in comparison. Also, see the reviews of “C Me Dance” on IMDB. Awful dialog, storylines, acting, directing and cliches seem to epitomize “Christian” movies. This is itself a strong argument for reducing the influence of Christianity in America.

#Cinequest Film Festival day twelve

This is the last day of the Cinequest film festival and is the day they have encore screenings of films deemed particularly good. I managed to exceed my goal of 30 films. The express line pass (which costs an extra $100) was really useful for only two screenings this year, and three last year, so I’m not sure I’ll make that investment next year.

Film #29: “Factory Boss” tells the story of a factory owner and his workers in China. I worked in the Asia-Pacific region for 19 months almost 20 years ago. That included three trips totaling five weeks to mainland China. I did not visit any factories in China but did visit many factories elsewhere in the region (Malaysia, Singapore, India). So I was not surprised by the images of life in a major city in China or factory conditions. As a “far-left liberal” (the epithet people like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh apply as a pejorative to people like me) I expected, and did, identify with the factory workers. What surprised me was the empathy I felt for the owner of the toy factory as he struggled to keep his business in operation despite the pressures put on him by the American multi-national corporation. I rate this 4 of 5 stars.

Film #30: “For Here Or To Go?” focuses on the challenges faced by high-tech workers who come to work in America. In this case software engineers from India who come to work in Silicon Valley. I’m an American software-engineer who has been working in Silicon Valley the past seven years and in the field for thirty-five years. Thus I’ve worked with many people in the situation explored by this film (including other countries like Britain and Russia) and could readily relate to the core issue of the film. I also spent nineteen months working in Asia-Pacific and saw many Bollywood films during that time. Yet I found myself unable to really like this film for two reasons. First, the chemistry between the primary male and female characters just isn’t there. Second, and a more serious flaw, is the film has too many sub-plots. Including one having to do with the homosexuality of one character that seemed to be included simply because it is topical. I rate this 3 of 5 stars.

Film #31: “No Evidence Of Disease” is the phrase everyone wants to hear on follow up to treatment for cancer. This is a documentary about a group of doctors who specialize in trying to make that phrase a reality for women afflicted by cancers unique to women. As someone who underwent surgery for stage two skin cancer a few years ago (including having two lymph nodes removed in addition to excision of the primary site) I know how powerful that phrase is. I think the main failing of the film was its inability to explain why female gynecological cancers deserve extra attention above and beyond what any other cancer receives. The closest it comes is literally at the end of the movie when it states that male prostrate cancer research receives 50% more funding than female GYN cancer research. That was it. No details or supporting evidence for the assertion. Nor were the implications of that disparity explored. Sorry but I can’t rate this more than 3 of 5 stars.

#Cinequest Film Festival day eleven

If you’re an atheist read my review of film #28 at the bottom of this article.

This is the last day of regularly scheduled screenings. Tomorrow is encore day where the films deemed especially good get an additional screening. This year has been fantastic. I’ve heard a few people give negative reviews of some films but as I mentioned in my previous article I’ve been fortunate this year to have seen only two films I would not recommend seeing.

Film #26: “The Life After” portrays two brothers who grow up with a mother who suffers mental disabilities (probably manic-depression). The younger brother retains an optimistic outlook on life and is the easier to like. The older brother shows early signs of his own mental problems when he kills his brother’s small turtle after finding his turtle dead upon returning from the funeral for their grandfather. As an 18 year old he is sullen and angry far out of proportion to the usual teenage angst. There are several scenes which focus on a birthmark on his lower back that is seemingly identical to that on the mother. Thus reinforcing the idea that he may share the same genetic problem that causes the mother’s mental problems. This is a thoughtful exploration of familial bonds in the face of self-destructive behavior. I rate it 4 of 5 stars.

Film #27: “Zemene” follows a shy ten year old Ethiopian girl as she has a chance encounter with an American doctor who is able to arrange for her severe curvature of the spine to be treated. Thus giving her an opportunity at a normal life. It’s a heartwarming tale. Everyone in the movie is clearly a good person. And clearly modern medicine and secular morals are the reason sole reason Zemene has a chance at a normal life. So I was annoyed by all the attestations that “God” was the reason for Zemene’s good fortune. Especially by the American doctor working in Ethiopia who is a devout, borderline orthodox, Jew and attributes what he manages to achieve to his imaginary sky faerie. Most people will leave the film thinking, yes, God worked yet another miracle. To which I say: If you’re giving God the credit rather than the medical professionals and scientists then why did Zemene have to be operated on in a US hospital? For that matter didn’t God cause her suffering in the first place? This film would have been much better had it left God out of the story. I rate it only 3 of 5 stars.

Film #28: “The Mask You Live In” is a marvelous documentary about male gender stereotypes. Specifically, how we’re failing boys and young men by not allowing them to express a more realistic attitude, both emotional and intellectual, about what it means to be a man. This is a film that should be seen by every male teenager and adult (it has a lot of material not suitable for young boys). One of the prominent doctors and the screenwriter were available for Q&A after the screening. Not surprisingly a theocrat sitting within one meter of me asked why the film didn’t stress the need for more Christianity as the solution. Only he didn’t just ask the question he went on at length about how the removal of God and “good Christian values” from our schools is the reason for all the problems portrayed in the film. I told him, loud enough for most of the audience to hear, that his Christian family values are a big reason for those problems. This was clearly someone who holds people like Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family in high regard. Mr. Dobson is the same “doctor” who recommended in a book he wrote that a father should shower with his son so the son can seen an example of what a real man looks like (obvious reference to the father’s genitalia). Unsurprisingly for the San Jose area several people thanked me for telling the smug theocrat to fuck off. Not a single person (other than the aforementioned theocrat) told me to find Jebus. I believe that one way to make the attitude of my neighbors the norm for the entire USA is to do what I did and vocally tell the theocrats that their viewpoint is not shared by everyone else and is not welcome. I rate this 5 of 5 stars.

#Cinequest Film Festival day ten

What a fantastic film festival. Perhaps I’ve simply been lucky because by this time last year I had seen two movies I should have walked out on (1 of 5 stars) and several more that were merely bad (2 of 5 stars). Yet this year I’ve only seen two disappointing movies and none that I would walk out on. In fact I’m surprised at the number I’ve rated 5 of 5 stars that deserve broad release.

Film #24: “In the Company of Women” contrasts the approach to relationships of two distinctly different men. One is an elderly professor who is hoping to learn how to date after several decades of marriage by engaging the services of a male escort for $20,000. The other is a young suave escort (i.e., gigolo). But are they really as different as initial impressions suggest? The interaction between the two male protagonists is very believable and both actors provide very good performances. However, I found the younger males performance to be just a trifle too slick and obviously manipulative. Also, the premise is frankly absurd. Nonetheless I enjoyed the movie and rate it 3 of 5 stars.

Film #25: “Halfway” was an immense surprise. I only watched this film because there wasn’t anything else scheduled in that time block that I found more enticing. I didn’t expect to like the film. I am overjoyed that I made the choice to see it. This is a delightful comedy that explores loss, sorrow, and moving on. A recently divorced man moves into a house whose previous owner died in the house (suicide or accident?) and is now haunting the home. Neither the new (living) or prior (dead) owner is willing to give up the home to the other. This provides for many comedic scenes as each owner tries to convince the other that they won’t retreat. Closure is ultimately reached when they decide to help each other. I rate this 5 of 5 stars.

#Cinequest Film Festival day nine

It had to eventually happen: Today a self-centered asshole sat in front of me and decided he absolutely had to listen to something with his phone screen lit after the lights dimmed right up to the moment the film started. After I threatened to have him ejected from the theatre he called me a couple of names but turned off his phone. Sigh. Some people really need a proctology exam conducted using their phone.

Film #21: “WAX: We Are The X” explores the frustrations and dreams of three members of “Generation X” — the generation born roughly between 1970 and 2000. It does so in a unique fashion using images captured by one of the protagonists, an aspiring film maker, as the trio goes about their lives. Set in Italy and France the imagery is lush and the chemistry between the protagonists is marvelous. I rate it 4 of 5 stars.

Film #22: “Killswitch” is a documentary about privacy in the Internet era. This film should be mandatory viewing for every citizen who uses a computer (which includes the “smart” phone almost everyone owns). It focuses primarily on Aaron Swartz and Edward Snowden. It also features noted law professors Tim Wu and Lawrence Lessig who have been writing and speaking about issues such as net neutrality and Internet privacy for many years. I rate it 5 of 5 stars.

Film #23: “Operation Arctic” tells the story of three children who stowaway on a helicopter to travel to their father but end up stranded on an island near the North Pole. The oldest child is only 13 and her brother and sister are 8 years old. They make many mistakes and nearly die on multiple occasions. What makes this a far better film than the preceding description would suggest are the child actors and the Arctic environment. I was sorely tempted to rate it 5 of 5 stars solely on the basis of the marvelous performances by the children. Yet the relatively predictable story only deserves a rating of 4 of 5 stars.

#Cinequest Film Festival day eight

Wow! More than halfway through this film festival. Of twenty films only one disappointed me and even that one didn’t make we think about walking out before the end of the movie. This is a very different experience from last year.

Film #18: “Crescendo! The Power Of Music” tells how a music education program started in Venezuela in 1976 has affected the lives of USA students in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New York, New York. This is similar to the move “One Day In April” that I wrote about on day six. Unlike that movie which failed to make you care about the characters this one succeeds in a glorious fashion. Specifically by focusing on three students and a handful of teachers and mentors. I was especially moved by the youngest student, Raven, who undergoes a massive transformation after finding that she has a gift for playing the violin. She is a young woman who clearly has the ability to change the world if she can manage to keep some perspective regarding her abilities. Sadly this was its last showing in the festival unless it gains a spot on the Sunday encore screening schedule. I rate this 5 of 5 stars.

Film #19: “Aspie Seeks Love” tells the story of a middle-age male (only a few years younger than myself) who has Aspergers syndrome (a relatively mild form of Autism) as he attempts to seek a soul-mate. It’s a touching and honest look at the challenges faced by all of us in finding someone to love and grow old with. That the protagonist has Aspergers simply allows a level of honesty not usually available when discussing this topic. I rate this 4 of 5 stars.

Film #20: “Shorts Program 7 – Something Funny” is a collection of comedic short films. Only one film was a disappointment that resulted in no applause: “The Lord of Catan”. Which isn’t fair since it was a pretty good short; just not a comedy. It really belongs in one of the other shorts collections. All of the other films were either good or excellent examples of comedic shorts. In particular the two shortest, “firstworldproblems” and “How Guys’ Thoughts Ruin Perfect Relationships”, at two minutes each garnered the greatest laughter and applause. I rate this 5 of 5 stars.