Archive for movie review

the sky that would not rise [film review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2019 by xi'an

My 2019 end-of-the-year-movie-with-my-grownup-kids was the final Star Wars episode, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, watched in a quasi-empty theatre with mostly young kids… Surprisingly no one left before the end, which frankly did not come soon enough! The three of us agreed on the appalling conclusion to the trilogy, which recycles about every possible trope from the first series, from the generation antagonism to the endless battle calls and boring space battle scenes (although including an extra that reminded me of the ludicrous first appearance of Radagast the Brown in The Hobbit!), to the compulsory bar scene where some character is faced with some unsavoury past, to a complete disdain for the most basic laws of physics (and swordplay), to humongous snakes that live out of nothing, and cannot produce anything even moderately new in its scenario, recycling an amazing portion of scenes with Carrie Fisher (who died in 2016) as well as involving about every possible former actor. (I am surprised they did not dig Yoda, must have forgotten where the box with his costume was!) The dialogues are incredibly poor and dull, even R2D2’s, there is no meaningful dimension in the relations between the actors, who even more than usual end up focusing on single-minded objectives rather than keeping the larger picture in sight (well-done, General!), and the final scene that relates to the early ones of the 1977 movie with a binary sunset over the Tatooine desert is unbelievably heavy handed. (The picture of R2D2 and C3PO above is taken from a exhibit by Laurent Pons  in Paris, where he included some Star Wars characters in iconic Parisian locations.) May the Force be gone once and for good!

Nature snapshots

Posted in Books, pictures, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2018 by xi'an

In this 15 March issue of Nature, a rather puzzling article on altruism that seemed to rely on the Hamilton rule:

linking fitness and number of offspring and benefits through kth-order moments. In a stochastic environment represented by distribution π. Hard to fathom what comes from data and what follows from this (hypothetical) model. Plus a proposal for geoengineering meltdown delays on some Greenland and Antarctica glaciers. Scary. And a film review of Iceman (Der Mann aus dem Eis), retracing Ötzi’s life in an archaeologically acceptable rendering. Including a reconstituted local language, Rhaetic.

dimmed Star Wars

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on December 25, 2017 by xi'an

As a familial tradition of the end of the year movie, I went with my daughter to watch the second (or eighth) movie in the series. As I had heard and read several highly positive reviews on the originality of the scenario and the sharpness of the photography, I was expecting a lot from the movie. And hence was quite disappointed by the quasi-absence of scenario (never a major strength in the series anyway!) and by the pre-teens dialogues, some situations reminding me of the worst Star Trek episodes, like the very final ludicrous scene in the space shuttle… Some parts are total failures, like the expedition to the casino planet. Or the final battle scene that lasts for evvvvver… Or the initial battle scene that lasts about as long. Or the fight with the lobsters, endless! And do not even think of mentioning the Disneyian pongs. And as usual the utter disdain for any law of physics. Like a moon going from full to crescent on the same night (minor spoiler!).  Terrible, all in all, except for the scenery of the Irish island, Skellig Michael, with its very primitive monastery, which reminded me of St Kilda… And a few actors surviving the disaster.

blade runner 2049

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2017 by xi'an

As Blade Runner 2049 was shown at a local cinema in a Nuit du Cinéma special, my daughter and I took the opportunity to see the sequel to Blade Runner, despite the late hour. And both came back quite enthusiastic about it! Maybe the plot stands a bit thin at times, with too many coincidences and the evil ones being too obviously evil, but the rendering of this future of the former future LA of the original Blade Runner is amazingly complex and opening many threads of potential explanations. And many more questions, which is great. With fascinating openings into almost philosophical questions like the impossible frontier between humans and AIs or the similarly impossible definition of self… Besides, the filming, with a multiplicity of (drone) views, the use of light, from blurred white to glaring yellow and back to snow white, the photography, the musical track, almost overwhelming and more complex than Vangelis’ original, are all massively impressive. As for the quintessential question of how the sequel compares with the original film, I do not think it makes much sense: for one thing the sequel would not have been without the original, the filming has evolved with the era, from the claustrophobic and almost steam-punk film by Scott to this post-apocalyptic rendering by Villeneuve, both movies relating to Philip K Dick’s book in rather different ways (if fortunately avoiding sheep and goats!).

blade runner [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on November 12, 2017 by xi'an

As the new Blade Runner 2049 film is now out, I realised I have never read the original Philip K Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?… So, when I came by it in the wonderful Libreria Marcopolo in Venezia last month, with some time to kill waiting for a free dinner table nearby (and a delicious plate of spaghetti al nero di seppia!), I bought at last the book and read it within a couple evenings. (Plus a trip back from the airport.) While the book is fascinating, both in its construction and in its connection with the first Blade Runner movie, I am somehow disappointed now I have finished it, as I was expecting a somewhat deeper story. [Warning: spoilers to follow!] On the one hand, the post-nuclear California and the hopeless life of those who cannot emigrate to Mars are bleaker and more hopeless than Ridley Scott’s film, with the yearning of Deckard for real animals (rather than his electric sheep) a major focus of the book. And only of the book. For a reason that remains unclear to me, especially because Deckard grows more and more empathic towards androids, and not only towards the ambiguous and fascinating Rachael, while being less and less convinced of his ability to “retire” rogue androids… And of distinguishing between humans and androids. And also because he ends up nurturing a toad he spotted in a deserted location, believing it to be a real animal. The background of the society, its reliance on brainless reality shows and on a religion involving augmented reality, all are great components of the novel, although they feel a bit out-dated fifty years later. (And later than the date the story is supposed to take place.) The human sheltering and helping the fugitive androids is a “chickenhead”, term used in the book for the challenged humans unable to pass the tests for emigrating to Mars. Rather than a robot designer and geek as in the film.

On the other hand, the quasi- or near-humanity of the androids hunted by Deckard is much more better rendered in the film. (Maybe simply because it is a film and hence effortlessly conveys this humanity of actors playing androids. Just like C3PO in Star Wars!) Which connections with expressionisms à la Fritz Lang and noir movies of the 50’s are almost enough to make it a masterpiece. In the book, the androids are much more inconsistent, with repeated hints that they miss some parts of the human experience. There is no lengthy fight between Deckard and the superior (android) Roy. No final existentialist message from the later. And no rescuing of Deckard that makes the android stand ethically (and literally) above Deckard. The only android with some depth is Rachael, albeit with confusing scenes. (If not as confusing as the sequence at the alternative police station that just does not make sense. Unless Deckard himself is an android, a possibility hardly envisioned in the book,.) While Scott’s Blade Runner may seem to hammer its message a wee bit too heavily, it does much better at preserving ambiguity on who is human and who is not, and at the murky moral ground of humans versus androids. In fine, I remain more impacted by the multiple dimensions, perceptions, and uncertainties in Blade Runner.  Than in Philip K Dick’s novel. Still worth reading or re-reading against watching or re-watching these movies…

[Some book covers on this page are taken from a webpage with 23 alternative covers for Do androids dream of electronic sheep?”.]

a ghastly ghost

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2016 by xi'an

My daughter sort of dragged me to watch The Revenant as it just came out in French cinemas and I reluctantly agreed as I had read about magnificent winter and mountain sceneries, shot in an unusually wide format with real light. And indeed the landscape and background of the entire movie are magnificent, mostly shot in the Canadian Rockies, around Kananaskis and Canmore, which is on the way to Banff. (Plus a bit in Squamish rain forest.) The story is however quite a disappointment as it piles up one suspension of disbelief after another. This is a tale of survival (as I presume everyone knows!) but so implausible as to cancel any appreciation of the film. It may be the director Iñárritu is more interested in a sort of new age symbolism than realism, since there are many oniric passages with floating characters and falling meteors, desecrated churches and pyramids of bones, while the soundtrack often brings in surreal sounds, but the impossible survival of Hugh Glass made me focus more and more on the scenery… While the true Hugh Glass did manage to survive on his own, fixing his broken leg, scrawling to a river, and making a raft that brought him to a fort downstream, [warning, potential spoilers ahead!] the central character in the movie takes it to a fantasy level as he escapes hypothermia while swimming in freezing rapids, drowning while wearing a brand new bearskin, toxocariasis while eating raw liver,  bullets when fleeing from both Araka Indians and French (from France, Louisiana, or Québec???) trappers, a 30 meter fall from a cliff with not enough snow at the bottom to make a dent on, subzero temperatures while sleeping inside a horse carcass [and getting out of it next morning when it should be frozen solid], massive festering bone-deep wounds, and the deadly Midwestern winter… Not to mention the ability of make fire out of nothing in the worst possible weather conditions or to fire arrows killing men on the spot or to keep a never ending reserve of bullets. And while I am at it, the ability to understand others: I had trouble even with the French speaking characters, despite their rather modern French accent!

Rams [Hrútar]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2016 by xi'an

After two failed attempts [first time, the movie USB stick had been lost by the Alpine post-office; second time, the Montparnasse cinema was packed by busloads of senior citizens on a New Year afternoon], we managed to get two seats at an afternoon show of Rams, an Icelandic movie about sheep, brothers, and Northern Iceland. Both funny and moving. Mostly moving actually, as the film director does not push the absurdity of the not-talking brothers, Gummi and Kiddi, into a comedy, only allowing a few bursts of hilarious moments. Indeed, the core story is pretty dire as the brothers are ordered (by a Danish veterinarian!) to kill both their flocks of scrapie infected sheep, which constitute the last representatives of a local race.  Obviously, the setting in rural (i.e., deserted) Iceland helps with the story and with getting immersed with the fate of the characters (esp. the sheep!), but this is not a scenery film and the actors convey more by their silence and stares than through the few dialogues. The final scenes are even more dramatic and the film ends up on a question mark… Not to forget, the fairly long credits include the names of a few sheep, as well as an horse and possibly the shepherd dog [but I missed it!]