Man From Earth

So there I was, earlier today, looking for something to watch. I came across Jerome Bixby’s Man From Earth on Amazon Prime. I don’t know what it was about the film that had me start it, but start it I did.

I’m not going to offer any spoilers at all because I want you to see this film. It has the best part of good science fiction … namely, it makes you think, “Whoa, imagine that!” So much science fiction does not do that, and is less for it. This is the IMDb synopsis:

An impromptu goodbye party for Professor John Oldman becomes a mysterious interrogation after the retiring scholar reveals to his colleagues he has a longer and stranger past than they can imagine.

Jerome Bixby wrote for Star Trek and The Twilight Zone so you know he knows what’s what. Unfortunately though, this screenplay was his last work before he died.

It’s not a high budget production, but it’s riveting and a fine piece of writing.

Consider this a ‘must see’ recommendation.


Marquee poster ©2006 Man From Earth, LLC

Thoughts about 1989

Early last month, I decided to try something new. You see, I have a whole bunch of music I’ve never listen to, so I thought I’d better start exploring.

If you know me, you’ll find my initial selection a bit of a surprise. I started with Taylor Swift’s 1989. I was very curious about her because not only can one not avoid her in the popular press, but I’ve read that she really is very good.

So I listened. My first run though the record was a positive experience. She’s got a lovely voice and the music is inventive. The thing is, I really don’t expect much from pop music, because most of it is lacklustre. Swift’s offering is better than most, but only on subsequent plays did I really ‘get it.’

She is indeed a gifted writer, and her songs are incredibly catchy. This is especially true if you really listen. The record is pop, but even with that limitation, I can’t help but recommend it.

I really appreciate the diversity in the stories related in the songs. They’re not all happy endings, or sad endings. Granted most are about relationships, but even those can be presented in novel ways. She has said that she doesn’t always write about personal experiences, but it’s easy to see that sometimes she does.

The devil is in the details right? Although these are not enough to get me to listen to her on their own, they really jump out at me as unusual strengths:

  • Her vocal overdubs are incredibly good. Whether improvised or carefully planned, her harmony and counterpoint further highlight her composing skills.
  • I love that not a single track on the record ends in a fade-out.
  • To compliment her composition, her lyrics are just as strong. Put them together and there’s often a synergy of mood and atmosphere. I don’t really know how to describe it, but it works very well.

All that said, there are a few issues:

  • This record is yet another unfortunate victim of the loudness wars. The album rates a DR6 which is pretty poor.
  • I’ve heard the music’s sub genre labeled electro pop, which explains why there are very few non-electronic instruments. It works, but it can be a little much at times.
  • Related to the last point, there’s a lot of sampling, but some of it is not nearly as polished as I would expect on such a slick production.

tl,dr: Good music, great lyrics, and terrific vocals combine to make a record that you really should hear. Definitely recommended.

Sucker punch

I went to see Sucker Punch with Rustin and Grant this weekend. A few people have asked me how it was and my answer was, “It was exactly what I thought it would be.” You could take this as a sort of “damning by faint praise” but that’s not how I mean it.

20110404_sucker_punchLet me tell you about the film.

We meet a young woman and her sister, and they’re crushed because their mother has died. Their step-father is not very nice. He clearly can’t wait to get his hands on them. Making matters worse is that his deceased wife left him nothing. She left all of her possessions to her daughters.

In trying to protect herself and her little sister, the young woman mistakenly kills her sister and finds herself in a Dickensian asylum for the mentally insane. Her step-father doesn’t want the truth of his indiscretions to come out so he pays off the asylum administrator to shut her up permanently. She learns she’s been scheduled for a lobotomy in just five days.

She’s determined to escape before she’s subjected to the procedure. Then things get weird.

The young woman, whom we now know as Baby Doll, undergoes some sort of psychotic break and through her eyes, we see the asylum has changed. The administrator is now also running the place as a brothel, and she has the ability to put men into a trance by simply dancing for them. While dancing, she’s taken another step away from reality through a series of fantasy ‘missions’ she must undergo to make her escape.

Back in the brothel, she shares her plans with four other inmates and they agree to a plan by which they can all escape. The plan involves collecting four items, each in a separate mission.

Frankly, I’m conflicted about the film. In general, as a film, it’s not very good. Let me break it down into three parts.

The story

The story is merely a means to link the fantasy missions. Further, the more you think about the story, the less sense it makes.

The women

The ads for the film make it pretty clear that you’re going to see plenty of short skirts and stockings. If you enjoy those things, the film certainly delivers…particularly Baby Doll’s combination of a short skirt and stockings.

The action

The fantasy missions are an inventive mixture of genres. One involves the women crossing a WWI no-man’s land, entering the enemy’s trenches to find the command post, and stealing a map. In this world war gone mad, it seems that the war has gone on for decades and there’s nearly nothing left on the landscape. Even soldiers are in short supply so the bulk of the enemy forces are dead soldiers reanimated with clockwork mechanisms powered by steam. How’s that for a twist?

Baby Doll looks out into no-man's land.
Baby Doll looks out into no-man’s land.

Another mission involves an air-drop from a B-25 into a castle where they must kill a baby dragon. Things go awry when the women wake the mother dragon and they have to deal with her and the force of armoured mediaeval warriors are attempting to breach the castle gate. Part of the battle involves the dragon attacking the B-25.

I found the missions a great deal of fun both with the action and the inventive mixing of genres. This alone made the film worth watching.

The downside is the story, as I mentioned, which is nothing but a thinly veiled excuse for the fun. But still, part of me wonders if there might be more hidden in the multiple layers of reality. Probably not, but it holds together just well enough to make you wonder of there’s more to it. That’s perhaps the most amazing accomplishment of the film.

I can’t recommend it without conditions, but if the women, the action, and the mind-bending settings appeal to you, it’s a fun two hours.


Stills and marquee poster © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Eragon

I watched Eragon yesterday. I’d recommend you not make the same mistake.

What surprises me the most is the talent in the film. Headlining are John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons, and Rachel Weisz. Why would they ever agree to be in this disaster? Something very significant must have changed between the time they signed on and the film was released.

What I can say in the film’s favour is that the production values are head and shoulders above the sword and sorcery films I watched back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, a bigger budget and slick CGI doesn’t make a film good.

Do yourself a favour and pass on this film.

Sherlock Holmes

Finally, I sat myself down to watch last year’s Sherlock Holmes. It did not go over well. As a movie on its own, it was fine. As a Sherlock Holmes film however, it was not fine.

I don’t know who it was that everyone kept calling Sherlock Holmes, because it wasn’t Sherlock Holmes! Goodness, Holmes is not a buffoon. For much of the film, he was such an idiot that it seemed the writers were confusing him with Lestrade. No, that’s unkind to Lestrade. Holmes is a gentleman. Yes, he’s eccentric, but he’s still a gentleman. The only time I’d expect him to look the least bit shabby is when he’s in disguise. The ‘real’ Holmes did sometimes say things that weren’t exactly proper, but he was still a gentleman. What this movie version did when he met Watson’s fiance would have been unthinkably rude and boorish. That wasn’t Holmes.

Watson is even more a gentleman than Holmes. He would not punch Holmes in the face. The idea is ridiculous. Although they were dear friends, Holmes was at a social level Watson would never reach. He knew it and acted accordingly. But in this film, they act like compatriots in a setting were there are no differing social strata. The writers took period window dressing and wrote largely modern characters. Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams all fail to show any dignity of which their characters should have an abundance.

I was going to suggest that all three of the main ‘good guy’ characters were too young, but I realized that their age isn’t my gripe. It comes back to my point about their dignity. The characters don’t act like ladies and gentlemen. They largely act like we do today, and not like ladies and gentlemen of the Victorian era. This makes them seem younger, and disappointingly common.

In the Arthur Conan Doyle Story, A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes says, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Despite this, Downey’s Holmes draws conclusions with hardly any data several times, even though he paraphrases this very quote. As an aside, A Scandal in Bohemia was the first Sherlock Holmes short story, and the first published in The Strand magazine. It was published in 1891, the year in which the film is set. It is also the only story to feature Irene Adler.

As Hollywood is wont, they made a royal mess of the established Holmes timeline. Although this isn’t entirely a surprise, it’s still disappointing.

The only solace I can find is no utterance of the phrase, “elementary, my dear Watson,” and no appearance of any deerstalker caps.

Taken in isolation, as a period fantasy with new characters, it was okay. But these were characters I know, and it utterly failed as a Sherlock Holmes story.