Gravity is awesome

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Gravity_PosterNo, I’m not referring to that gravity which is ‘just a theory’, but which is nonetheless quite a handy thing.

I’m referring to the movie, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, which I saw about a week ago, but have waited a while for it to sink in. I chose the adjective ‘awesome’ deliberately – I was genuinely awe-struck, and that doesn’t happen very often.

I thought I would pass on some thoughts on the movie, but will try not to give away any spoilers.

The first thing to be said is that the subject matter of this movie once again underlines my contention that reality is way more interesting (and awesome) than the mystical/religious/paranormal/fantasy worlds which many claim to  exist.

But now to the movie itself.

The production values are superb, as is the attention to detail. For once, the creators have actually listened to the boffins, and got the physics right. While it’s a feast for the eyes, it’s certainly not a romanticised or air-brushed telling of a routine mission gone wrong. Rather, it reinforces what a dangerous place space is for humans, and in particular, how many different ways space can kill you. And that’s what makes this movie edge-of-the-seat stuff from beginning to end (ok, they do give you a few minutes at the beginning to get the ‘wow-that-looks-fun’ feeling happening, but that’s it for relaxation I’m afraid).

I do have a few minor gripes however, but they are minor:

1. At one point Bullock has seven minutes to free the entangled chinese capsule, and suddenly appears on the outside, all suited up to begin the work of untangling stuff. I think it would have taken all of that seven minutes to find the suit (which belonged to a departed chinese astronaut), get into it, and make her way to the outside of the craft.

2. When Clooney (in his jet-pack) picks up Bullock, he tows her back using a long tether – which looked about 20m long, ostensibly to get her out of his jets. That’s fair enough, but the resulting dynamics of two bodies whipping around wreckage is unnecessary, and completely foreseeable. This also would have accelerated the depletion of the fuel in the jet-pack, as it fought against the inertia of the other body. And the fuel in the jet-pack turns out to be critical. Why not have Bullock hold onto Clooney front-on? (Like many other women would love to do, including Mrs. rb, given half a chance). This at least would have made them a single body, much easier to control.

3. The close proximity of the ISS and Chinese habitats to the shuttle orbit and location was handy, and necessary to support the dramatic storyline, but  I think that the outcome (without giving away too much), would have been a lot worse in reality.

As I said, these are minor, and don’t really detract from an otherwise excellent film.

For those of you who watch The Movie Show with David and Margaret, I was surprised with David’s comments on the movie. He felt that that a certain scene 3/4 of the way through the movie was somehow silly and inappropriate (when you see it, you’ll know which one I mean). I’m not sure what he was on, but the scene was fine with me – not out of place at all, and completely believable, given the oxygen-starved environment at the time. Was he even paying attention?

The other fail for the Movie show was the failure to acknowledge Aussie astronaut Andy Thomas, who is credited as ‘astronaut adviser’. Given the excellent performances and realism, he has to take a lot of credit.

Overall, a great adventure, well presented.

Your homework: Read Ray Bradbury’s ‘Kaleidescope’, which tells the story of astronauts ejected from an exploding spaceship, and their various conversations as they drift toward their respective fates. Compare and contrast.


Star Trek continues… no, really!

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If you’re not a nerd, look away now – I’m going to talk about Star Trek, and in particular a new offering for Trekkers (and Trekkies).

For the uninitiated, the ST media universe is now very extensive.

We started with the original and best, Star Trek in the late 60s. This was followed up by ST Next Generation, which was also outstanding.

We then had a bunch of movies, featuring the original cast – which were mostly forgettable (the movies, not the cast), except for #2 of 5, which re-visited the Khan story.

Then we saw ST Deep Space Nine (passable) and ST Voyager (ok), set in the post-Next Generation era.

In an interesting twist, this was all followed by Enterprise – which was a sort of prequel to the original series, starring Scott Bakula. In this one we saw the technology and uniforms wound backwards, and saw the actual development of things like the transporter. Interesting.

And now? Why am I telling you this?

Now, we have Star Trek.. Continues.

Someone has decided to re-make the original series. When I say someone, I mean a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs, who have recreated the whole look and feel of the show. It seems to the brain-child of a guy call Vic Mignogna, who stars as Kirk, and does a great job of it. He also wrote the story, directed, edited, wrote some additional original music, and even has a carpentry credit! Very keen.

But the result is fantastic. And they’ve made episode 1 available freely on the internet. The story is quite good – a continuation of one of the really good episodes ‘Who Mourns for Adonis’. They even got the same actor who played Apollo on the original episode to reprise his role.

You can watch the whole episode below, but here are some of my highlights:

  • There are the usual cheesy matte effects as the Enterprise moves around planets
  • They unveil a proto-type holodeck, which really didn’t feature until Next Generation
  • All the original sounds effect, music and sets are there.
  • Vic Mignogna does a great Kirk – see mannerisms at 10:18
  • Grant Imahara from Mythbusters plays Sulu, but unfortunately he’s a crap actor – see his scene at 9:00
  • The voice of the computer was provided by Marina Sirtis, who starred as Deanna Troi in Next Generation. Incidentally, the voice in the original (and Next Generation) was provided by Majel Barret, wife of creator Gene Roddenberry.
  • At 11:20 we have an eye-popping introduction to the character Dr Elise McKennah, reminiscent of similar scenes in the original.
  • We have fake ad-breaks, providing the opportunity for those dramatic stings of music to build suspense.
  • A red-shirt dies (wouldn’t be ST TOS without this, would it?) and, last but not least,
  • Kirk gets his shirt off – see 27:45, ladies.

Anyway, enjoy!

Film Review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, ZZZzzzzzz….

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I haven’t got into film reviews here at rationalbrain, but after seeing this gem earlier this week, I need to get it off my chest.

I’m certainly not a fan of spy thriller novels, and admittedly have rather narrow tastes in literature. But I don’t mind a good spy movie, which is why this movie seemed appealing enough at the outset.

I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, in case you still want to see the movie after reading this. God knows you need some reward for sitting through it. But the plot is that one of the operatives in the team at the British secret service is a double agent, and the movie is about one of the team (Smiley) methodically working to uncover the rat.

And, oh boy is he methodical.

The movie grinds through the various conversations between Smiley and the operatives, dissecting recent events for clues.

I say ‘grinds’ because that’s what it was. A grind.

I’ve really never seen a movie that is so slooowwwwww. I’m told that the intention was that the silences, and atmosphere, and pauses, and looks between the protagonists would tell as much of a story as the dialogue. Really? I was there, and those parts of the film told me nothing, other than the director tried to hard to make this an ‘arty’ film. He may be Scandinavian, but Ibsen he aint. And here was I thinking that the ‘talkie’ was here to stay.

Anyway, a fortnight later, we arrive at the limp exposition, which wasn’t really worth the wait. I guess that is a spoiler, of sorts, sorry.

Two hours I’ll never get back.

Perusing a range of critics’ reviews was also interesting. Predictably, there are the rave reviews, especially about Gary Oldman’s performance. A sample from the gushing supporters includes:

Le Carré is a master of the genre and under Alfredson’s dense direction, the revitalisation of this classic is elevated to new heights as well as a new audience

The story, skillfully mined from Mr. le Carré’s labyrinthine book and set in 1973, is a pleasurably sly and involving puzzler – a mystery about mysteries within mysteries.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” looks, sounds and feels exactly right.

If you enjoy an intelligent, realistic spy thriller, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not to be missed.

Actually, when you re-read these reviews, they don’t actually say whether they enjoyed the movie or not. Hmmm.

On the other hand, the following quotes exactly reflect my observations:

A nearly affectless espionage tale, a Cold War spy thriller that’s chilly and boasts few thrills.

Some great performances, style to spare, a sense of moody menace … Sad to say, then, that it’s virtually impenetrable, and possibly downright boring.

This is the kind of movie you’d want to watch with a rewind button handy. Actually, at 127 painfully paced minutes, a fast-forward button might help too.

Hitchcock once said ‘What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out? Tinker Tailor is hellbent on creating drama out of only the dull bits – and as interesting as the movie is to look at, it’s not very suspenseful at all.

If the best thing about a spy movie is the wallpaper, perhaps you’ve miscalculated.

Does the identity of the mole even matter?

You get the idea.

I found it not very suspenseful at all, and can’t agree with the description of ‘impenetrable’. If I were to provide a quote  in the idiom of a movie reviewer it would be:

This moody piece is engaging for the eyeballs, but the brain runs away screaming. A triumph of style over substance, without even a decent punchline to salvage the lost time or persuade the viewer into thinking it was two hours well spent – rationalbrain.

Fortunately, it was a balmy summer evening, we’d had a lovely meal and glass of wine in Lygon St. with good friends prior to the movie, and gelati afterwards, so the evening wasn’t a complete loss. But I could have done without the $9 anaesthetic in between.

I give it maybe a half out of five, for the music and atmospherics, and ’cause I’m a nice guy.

God and earthquakes

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What’s the connection between earthquakes and god? I bet your answer is nowhere near what I have in mind.

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