Archive for movie review

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!]

Everest [film review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, pictures with tags , , , , , , , on December 29, 2015 by xi'an

A few weeks ago, I saw Everest with my daughter and was less than impressed. In fact, I had read the Karkauer book, Into Thin Air, quite a while ago (actually it had been recommended to me by George Casella, who thought this notion of climbing Everest on a commercial expedition was sheer madness!) and enjoyed it to the point I bought the French translation for my father. The book exposed the contradictions in the commercial approach to climbing Everest (and other mountains). From installing fixed ropes all the way to the top to guiding inexperienced or unfit clients to the top with a fair chance of not bringing them back. (It is not that I opposed guided mountaineering, hiring guides in most cases I am out of my comfort zone, i.e., above scrambling. But hiring a guide means that he or she is making decisions about where and when we can go and that I cannot argue when we have to turn back, as it happens about half the time. Obviously, I often feel we could try at least the next level of difficulty, however I consider I gave up that choice when hiring the guide. Which is most likely wise!) The book also covered how the accompanying guides dealt [or not] with the clients stranded above the highest camps. And the murky issue of the empty oxygen bottles that helped into the final disaster.

The movie did not enter into such details. Nothing revolutionary there, as feelings and hypotheses do not turn up well into a scenario, even though the script writer seemed too careful in depicting everyone in a rather positive light! In my opinion, the film did not do enough to connect the deadly outcome of this Everest climb with the commercial pressure of the success rate advertised by this company. Hence with the competition between companies and guides. It all sounded too much like the old superficial drivel that mountains are dangerous places, the possibility of death is part of the climbing ethos and glory, and so on. Missing the fact that the clients were not taking part in many aspects of climbing, from carrying gear, to reconnoitring, to setting camps, etc. That they were not equal to the task of climbing Everest. Thus ending up as an unconvincing melodrama, with everyone crying, a miraculous resuscitation, and an heroic helicopter rescue. And with surprisingly very little on the climbing itself, which sounded boring in the movie. And, last but not least, with no major role for the Sherpas. Who did partake to the rescue attempts in the real story. And of course laid all the ropes, set the tents and brought oxygen bottles almost to the top. Now that helicopters can theoretically reach all the way to the top and that there are talks of installing a permanent ladder on Hillary’s step, there is little doubt the pressure will grow and similar disasters happen again. Unsurprisingly, Krakauer did not like the movie very much, as he called it ‘a total bull’.