Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Response to the movie Maleficent has been strikingly mixed. I’ve seen top reviews for it and ones that pan it. Even on Rotten Tomatoes, the Tomatometer rating is 49% and the Audience rating is 75%. Quite the variance.

Maleficent, if you don’t know already, is a very wide interpretation of the Sleeping Beauty story, -and I do mean very wide. The character, Maleficent, played brilliantly by Angelina Jolie, starts off as a very positive, good character. After experiencing a cruel betrayal, she casts a spell on the newborn daughter of the king, condemning her to eternal sleep on her 16th birthday. (I don’t think I’m writing any spoilers here, as the basic plot outline for Sleeping Beauty is common knowledge.) But at this point the plot diverges sharply. Suffice it to say that the rest of the movie has Maleficent regretting her curse.

At face value, the plot seems to be a simple fairy tale. The movie, acting and special effects are well done, with a good dose of surrealism to perpetuate the fairy tale atmosphere. But if you take a moment to reflect on the story, it takes on a depth which goes far beyond a simple fairy tale.

I was encouraged to see the movie after listening to a podcast by Jeff Salzman (Daily Evolver #93) where he talks about the post-modern and integral slant of the movie. Generally he says that, unlike classic fairy tales, there is no absolute good and evil in this story. There’s a transcendent quality in the reworking of this story that shows deeper perspectives behind good and evil, and how they need to be resolved in order to have a positive outcome. That’s a post-modern view of things.

He also briefly mentions Shadow Work, which is the interpretation that I found most striking in this film. If anything, this is a classic tale of Shadow Work in both the Jungian and Integral sense. It can be traced almost plot point by point, through the happiness at the beginning, the betrayal and the separation that occurs, even to the point of the building of a wall, to the acts of pure love and acceptance that diffuse the Shadow and lead to the ultimate outcome of resolution and happiness. I’ve simplified it here so as not to ruin the discovery process for someone watching the film, but even the final kiss to waken the sleeping beauty was delivered by the only person who could do so to fulfill the analogy of Shadow Work. I was so overjoyed that the writers got it right.

This may be why the film has such mixed reviews. If you are unaware of the deeper elements, or are just not really concerned with them, the story is your standard, run of the mill, fairy tale, -perhaps even a little cliché. However, if you are sensitive to the deeper currents in the film, whether you fully understand them or not, I think the film becomes a truly mythic tale with a deep moral. The fact that it can be interpreted on multiple levels makes it a successful Integral level film.

I would give this film an A-.

Courtroom dramas aren’t as popular as they used to be, but from Boston Legal to Law and Order to Alli McBeal, they still seem to get respectable ratings, and they always make a comeback.  Also, the broadcasting of real trials always seems to draw an audience, the most notable being the O.J. Simpson trial, but there being several others just in the past year.  Even Judge Judy has a core of devoted watchers.  If done right, people like to watch trials.  That’s because it can be very good drama, with suspense and emerging characters, all done with continuous explanation.  The narrative is clearly presented.  The audience is encouraged to make judgements themselves, and I think that a majority of people would secretly love to be part of a jury.

So why hasn’t there been a courtroom based reality TV show?  One where politicians and corporations are put on mock trial.  For example, you could put Brandon Smith on trial for fraud or conflict of interest.  It would be wishful thinking, but you could put Monsanto on trial for … whatever.  I’m not idealistic enough to think that that might every happen as I’m sure they would squash it somehow.  But you get the idea.

The trials could be real, even if not legal.  You could use a real retired judge, and I’m certain that real lawyers would love to take part as it could offer them some great exposure.  You could even use a real jury.  Mock trials, but of course with no commitment to consequences.  If somebody or some corporation doesn’t want to participate, the court appoints a credible lawyer to represent them and they are tried in absentia.  This would provide a stage for the dissemination and argument of important facts and issues in our society.  Information, on both sides, could be dealt out in an entertaining way.  It could be similar to a debate, but presented in an entertaining, dramatic manner.  Some effort could be made to keep it entertaining, but it would still require a serious approach.  Rather than just one trial droning on, it could incorporate two or three, just to be sure that the subject matter was appealing to a variety of people.

The idea is pretty rough around the edges, but I really think that it would not only be successful, but would be potentially informative and socially positive.

Is it possible to have a film with just too many explosions?  Transformers 4 answers that question with a resounding “YES!”.  Usually these kinds of films can make up for weak scripting and acting with some decent special effects, making them just fun, even if they are fluff.  However, after almost two and a half hours of non stop explosions, it just became tedious.  Towards the end I was actually looking at my watch and wishing it would just be over.  And I like these kinds of films.

No depth (which is no surprise).  Lots of credibility gaps.  The morphing scenes are neat, but fade in novelty quite quickly, as we’ve seen most of it before.  Cliche lines that made me cringe.

I would give this film a D.  It might have gotten a C if it had been half an hour shorter.

Years ago one of the few video games that successfully captured my interest was the original Max Payne.  I loved the fact that if you failed a mission or got killed you could reset it to a preset time and try over and over again until you got it right.  There was one point in the game where you were captured and held locked in a room, completely without any weapons.  I must have tried that escape fifty times, each time refining the method a little until it was finally successful.

That’s the premise behind Edge of Tomorrow.  The main character resets the day every time he gets killed, kind of like Ground Hog Day, but a lot bloodier.  The acting and setting are both very well done.  The beach landing rivals any other war scene that I can think of, including Saving Private Ryan.  The special and military tech are realistically grungy and quite interesting.

But the main attraction of the movie is that it is very engaging.  The idea of reliving the day and fine tuning your actions to try to achieve something specific makes you constantly think about what you would do in the same situation.  This could take all kinds of unrealistic twists, but in fact it doesn’t.  It is to the film’s credit that it can take such a far fetched premise and still remain fairly down to Earth.

I would give this film an A-.

 

The new X-Men movie fires on all cylinders.  The cast, acting, story line, special effects, action, depth …everything comes together to make a first class film.

Several days ago I was involved in a FB conversation about education and how it is failing boys.  I mentioned that I learned to read mostly from comic books.  Not just basic reading, but mostly reading for depth, character development and theme.  The Marvel comics of the late 60s and 70s were so far ahead of their time that they were often considered worthy of banning by those elements of society that always want to ban things.  They were considered too violent and too controversial.  And that was exactly their appeal.  At the same time, DC comics tried to remain more sedate in their approach.  Comparing the early X-Men comics to the Superman or Batman comics of the time is like comparing The Walking Dead to Little House on the Prairie.  And DC eventually got the message, ramping up their style in the 80s to try to remain competitive.  (Unfortunately, greed got the better of them all.  While there are still some good stories being told, the comic book industry took to producing so many cross-over stories in the 90s that I just stopped buying them.  It was clear that they were just trying to manipulate their customers, who were, all too often, kids.)

The point is that those early Marvel Comics had themes and story lines that were mature and relevant.  They were about conformity, fear of the different and alienation, when it came to X-MenSpiderman was about struggles with personal responsibility.  The Punisher was about the nature of vigilanteism.  Daredevil was about social conscience.  The Avengers was often about patriotism and loyalty.  While often mocked by my teachers, this reading material was full of well crafted characters and serious social themes, but presented in an accessible way.  I’m sure that it contributed not only to my reading comprehension, but also my eventual interest in psychology and philosophy.

I’ve often said to teachers that, for adolescent boys, reading needs to be regarded as a subversive activity.  That will engage them.

That was what I loved most about this new X-Men movie. It captures that depth that I recall in my old favorite comics.  It is a film of substance, not just super heroes smashing things up.  Well done.

I would give this movie an A.

 

I see from my blog stats for the past week or so that a lot of people were attracted to my book reviews and discussion of Hugo and Nebula Awards.

For those people, HERE is the list of the 2014 Hugo Nominees, courtesy of John Scalzi’s Whatever Blog, the earliest listing I came across.

I was really happy to see Parasite by Mira Grant on the list.  It is one of the best novels I’ve read this year.  But I really have liked everything Mira Grant has written.

I’m hoping that Wheel of Time doesn’t take it as it is there mostly as a technicality.  If the newest book by Sanderson was nominated alone it would make more sense.  But nominating the whole series is like going to a county pie contest and finding a whole bakery competing.

It’s that time of year again when Hugo and Nebula Award nominees are published in preparation for the conventions that will decide the winners, to be held shortly.  The Hugo nominees are listed and the Nebula nominees should come out shortly, but there is lots of speculation on the list.  Traditionally that means that I start some informed reading, although I’m not really eligible or, for that matter, inclined to vote on them.  It’s just a good “recommended reading” list.

The Hugos and Nebulas have come to encompass Fantasy as much as Science Fiction novels in recent years, with the whole Game of Thrones / Lord of the Rings spotlights shifting attention to the Fantasy genre.  Personally, I’m not nearly as fond of Fantasy as I am of Science Fiction, so I’m a little disappointed to see this shift.  It can be seen in the bookstores as well (those that are left) in the amount of shelf space delegated to Sci Fi and to Fantasy.  Where once the latter held a distinct secondary ranking, it is now crowding out the Sci Fi. 

Two Sci Fi books that appear on several lists for this year’s best are Fire With Fire, by Charles Gannon and Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, both of which happen to be initial offerings in a series. 

Fire With Fire almost lost me in the first third of the book.  It starts off strongly, introducing a mystery on  a newly settled planet, but then shifts over to a whole different plot line with a series of disjointed action scenes.  It actually never returns to the original mystery.  Fortunately I stuck with it as about 40% of the way through it the novel takes another sharp turns and gets down to the main business of the story.  It becomes quite fascinating , looking at interspecies diplomacy peppered with action and intrigue.  Long sections are kind of cerebral, but it’s interesting speculation and, for me at least, unique and worthwhile.  I particularly liked the main character whose ability to analyze and evaluate situations was kind of like a cross between a Mentat from Dune and Holmes from TV’s Elementary (without the heroin addiction). 

I did enjoy it and am looking forward to the next installment.  Largely because of it’s slow parts I would rate it a B+ rather than an A.

Ancillary Justice is a far future, Star Wars like, space opera, combining some interesting ideas about AI with interstellar political intrigue.  There are lots of fast paced action sequences, although I found the flashback format a little tedious at times, and the characters are not highly compelling.  There’s a kind of impartial and unemotional quality to the characters, which is probably quite appropriate to the story and scenario, but still makes things seem a little flat.  In spite of that, it has lots of excellent points and I would also give it a B+, …although I think I’d rate it a rung or two higher than Fire With Fire

Looking forward to Neptune’s Brood by Charlie Stross next on the list, …but not till I’m done with the newest release in the Dune series.