Wonder Woman Movie: Reports of Feminism Are Greatly Exaggerated

First, let me say that I enjoyed Wonder Woman.  It was definitely the most enjoyable DC universe movie since The Dark Knight.  However, it’s not as good as reviews would tell you and more importantly it has none of the philosophical or feminist depth that people ascribe to it.  I will tackle the movie roughly as events unfold.

The first part of the movie is set on Themyscira, homeland of Diana and the Amazons and tries to establish our hero’s childhood and training.  It is easily the low point of the entire movie.  The origin of the island that Hippolyta relays is complete nonsense.  Something about being sent to bring peace to Man (or men) then they get enslaved by Man at Ares’ provocation.  The gods try to save them and all die, but Zeus grievously wounds Ares, established Themyscira and shrouds the Amazons from view and, we later find out, gives his child Diana to the Amazons.  Zeus then dies.  The only credit I can give it is that it explains why all the meddlesome gods are not meddling; they are dead.

The ambiguous, maybe Greek, accent of all the Amazons distracted me and I think contributed to the dialogue feeling stiff and stilted in this section.  It’s not clear why a group devoted to peace spends all of its time training for war.  Nor why Diana is a child if the island has been around for roughly two thousand years.  Magic I guess.

This portion of the movie follows a typical path where Diana is a troublesome child with dreams of glory that defies her mother’s direction at every turn.  Of course the mother is just trying to protect her daughter.  For instance she proscribes her learning to fight; nevermind, that she knows Diana’s true destiny is to fight Ares.

Then WW1 intrudes upon the island in a really stupid combat scene.  The Amazons show no knowledge of good tactics and the over-used slow motion highlights ridiculous, flamboyant and ineffectual moves that seem out of place for an efficient, war-like population.  The movie ignores that in a place with no death for thousands of years it has finally returned again.  The Amazon’s response is to capture Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), learn of WW1 and then put their heads in the sand.  This seems odd given that all they do is train for Ares’ return.

Diana now runs off with Steve, despite not knowing anything about Steve or the situation outside.  This is just the first of many impetuous acts by Diana, who has the teenage viewpoint that the world is simple and fixed with simple solutions (in this case kill Ares).

However, this leads into the best part of the movie.  The most lighthearted scenes are in this section where Diana is the classic naive fish-out-of-water in dirty London and Steve is her exasperated guide.  In general, Diana and Steve’s relationship is one of the highlights of the film.  It is refreshing to see a romantic interest that is at least as well written as the protagonist.  Strange that it took a man in the role for that to happen. Unfortunately, this sets up a poor dynamic where Steve is the protagonist and Diana just follows him around and, later, punches people.

From here the movie deteriorates.  She trudges around the Western Front with an immaculate coat and her flawless complexion and later a tiara, despite this being a covert mission.  Diana is hopelessly naive and very poor at moral mathematics, consistently favoring the pain she can see over the greater good.  This doesn’t square at all with her view that she can save everyone if she merely kills Ares.  She also seems far too easily to equate the Allies with GOOD and the Germans with EVIL on a very biased source of information.  Overall, she is also very martial minded for a daughter of a people bred for peace and the movie never grapples with this inconsistency.

Which brings me to the worst scene in the movie, which ironically is also praised highly.  Diana hears something about a town being enslaved (I don’t remember this happening in Europe in WW1) and so she must do something about even if it jeopardizes their mission to kill Ares and save many people from being gassed.  Thus she decides to walk (like literally) across the gap between trench lines.  This is not heroic since she is not really in danger (not even a machine gun can nick her and she casually redirects a mortar shell) and showcases her ridiculous bullet deflection abilities.  Heroism requires sacrifice and hazard, which Diana rarely encounters in this film.  Heroism is not a demigod strutting through a battlefield and striking down mere mortals.

Then some stuff happens, with Chris Pines stealing the show and some contrived drama and petulance from Diana, yada yada.  She finally manages to kill the German commander she believes is Ares.  Except he is not Ares.  And for a brief moment you think that maybe Diana will engage in a little self doubt.  In fact I had read online that people thought that she grappled with moral quandaries and the best way to help mankind throughout the movie.  This is decidedly not the case as she approaches things with the confidence born of ignorance endemic to teenagers everywhere.  But alas, the real Ares decides, in an obvious plot twist, to show up and predictably proselytize to Diana and relieves her of the tedious burden of introspection.

The final battle is relatively dull for a clash between literal gods.  Ares is pulling punches because he clearly outmatches Wonder Woman and still holds hope of recruiting her.  It’s not until Steve engages in an emotional and heroic, this time for realz, self-sacrifice that Diana “powers up” on love.  YES.  “Love conquers all” is literally the theme the movie decides to explicitly state in the final battle and epilogue.  The after effects of a German gassing program and an Allied spy operation on a precarious armistice deal are not even touched upon.  In the end Diana was right, killing Ares was apparently all that needed to happen to end WW1.  Oh and love.

Thus, we have a female protagonist that is naive, ignorant and bereft of the limitations of her knowledge being held up as a feminist ideal.  This quote from a female journalist on the No Man’s Land scene particularly irked me: “I felt like I was discovering something I didn’t even know I had always wanted. A need that I had boxed up and buried deep.”  The ability to engage in mindless violence like a typical male action hero is I guess the incredibly low bar we set for feminism now.  Meanwhile we ignore that Diana is upstaged for much of the movie in wisdom and courage and heroism by her male romantic interest.  And the final bit of truth that she earns at the end is that “love conquers all” or as she puts it in some of the movie’s worst lines, “It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.”  That is a decidedly flowery feminine philosophy.

Oh and why does it look like a stray wind could blow the super model thin Wonder Woman away?  Every male superhero gets magazines devoted to their workout routine for their role (admittedly omitting the role of drugs), but we can’t ask Gal Gadot to bulk up a bit for the role of a WARRIOR PRINCESS?  Yeah a triumph over antiquated feminine stereotypes this movie is not.





Star Wars the Force Awakens: History’s Greatest Monster

My wife and a friend saw this movie yesterday, seemingly among the last people on Earth that had not already seen it according to the box office.  I was mostly pressured by our friend; it was not something I found myself urgently needing to see at normal ticket prices.  Also, in general I don’t understand using theaters as a social event.  I would much rather eat and socialize.  It was particularly awkward because afterward my wife and I expressed our disgust with the movie, while our friend seemed to enjoy it.  Just another potential pitfall of seeing a movie with friends.

Anyways, our friend is not alone in his praise of the film.  It currently sits at above 90% on both critical and audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes for instance and Star Wars fans seem generally pleased.  I am of course floored at the response.  Where has all the vitriol the prequels generated gone?  This movie is at least as bad as Phantom Menace and a far sight worse than the other two prequels (which I enjoyed a good amount).  Apparently “fans” just wanted a slavish rehash of the original trilogy (OT).  George Lucas was apparently trying too hard by giving us a new story.  Unoriginality is only a minor sin, however, the real problem is that J.J. Abrams has made a potemkin village out of the OT.  Here are all the surface attributes of the films presented again but in a vastly inferior form.  It ends up like a horrible parody rather than a comforting homage.

Now before I entered the film I had already read a few articles documenting the very strong parallels between the film and A New Hope. However, I was still surprised at just how closely it aped ANH with a few things thrown in from the rest of the OT.  I am not sure how much it pays to rewrite what is written elsewhere in depth.  I will just talk about some particularly bad ones here.

One that stuck out at me was that the three major planets in the film are a desert world (like Tatooine), a snow planet (like Hoth) and a jungle world (like Endor), so the imagery is not even new or exciting.

For the main Sith villains we have an unsightly and pale old guy (like Emperor Palpatine) and a young man that wears a a voice altering mask (like Darth Vader) but for no functional reason.

Many criticized the heavy-handed political exposition in The Phantom Menace, but it was an integral part of the storyline.  The Force Awakens is so light on exposition that it never comes up with a plausible reason for why the universe is back to the status quo that presided at the beginning of A New Hope.  We have something called the First Order (essentially the old Empire) that appears to be the foremost power in the galaxy and a scrappy under-powered Resistance (the Rebels).  There is also an inchoate new Republic, but they are quickly eliminated in the film.

What happened after Return of the Jedi?  Everything that was accomplished in the OT has been rendered moot.  The Republic is so ineffectual that they allow the remnants of the Empire to build a new Death Star in secret.  Yes, they built a new superweapon inside a planet and nobody noticed.  It’s also never clearly explained how the Resistance and the Republic are connected or why there is need of a Resistance in a galaxy where the Empire was defeated and a new Republic exists.

Speaking of the Death Star, did we really just recycle this superweapon for a third time in the same series?  They destroyed it in Force Awakens in an unholy mashup of ANH and RotJ.  Here there is a vent (ANH) that is the weakpoint that someone eventually flies into with a ship to destroy the weapon from the inside (RotJ).  Let us not forget the ridiculous “planning” meeting where the Resistance, who are again caught entirely unaware of a planet-sized weapon, conjure up a scheme for its destruction in less than five minutes.  Recall that in ANH, the heroes at least had to secure vital intelligence about the Death Star for the Rebels in order to enact its destruction.  Not so here, the First Order leaves the same vulnerability and the Resistance knows exactly how to exploit it.  There is no feeling of dread around this weapon like the original Death Star.  It’s just another checkbox on the list of things they need to copy from the OT.

The new weapon makes even less sense.  It is built in a planet (why?) and it needs to eat suns to power itself.  The original Death Star was quite capable of destroying planets without eating suns, so what is the point of this new one?  Also eating suns seems like a pretty horrific superweapon by itself.  They should just have left it at that.

Apart from the Death Star, there are other examples of inept handling of familiar plot events.  For instance, once again Han Solo leads a team to disable shield generators on the Death Planet’s surface (ANH and RotJ).  In the OT these are tense sequences in the heart of the enemy stronghold.  Here, the heroes literally just waltz in with little fuss.  In fact the entire place is very empty, until just after Han’s death where Stormtroopers suddenly appear out of thin air.

Speaking of Han’s death, this was a pale imitation of the power of the Kenobi and Vader meeting in ANH.  There the meeting is pregnant with all the shared history of master who feels he failed his apprentice.  Here we have a father meeting his fallen son, which is not a terrible premise.  However, Kylo Ren is a terrible whiny character and we know of no fathomable reason why he is on the Dark Side (since, again, this movie eschews all exposition).  Second, what is Han hoping to accomplish here?  At best, Kylo relents and is then executed for his previous crimes?  Why does this take place on a catway over a bottomless pit except as a nod to Empire Strike Back?  The encounter of father and son is a potentially good one but the movie has given it no emotional heft.  The reaction from the audience is not at a son killing his father, but of Han Solo, beloved character, dying.  This means you did it wrong.

Before I move on to the new characters, I want to point out the piss poor plot.  Essentially everyone wants a map that Luke Skywalker left as to his whereabouts (reminds me of the search for Yoda).  Why did Luke leave anyway?  Why did he leave a map to his location?  Has he been waiting on the same planet for years looking forlornly out to sea in solitude on a rocky island?  Why do they need him anyway?  I feel like he is going to be an imitation of old Kenobi, because we needed another carbon copy of a character from ANH.  Of  course all of that is sidetracked for the last 1/3 of the film when a Death Star appears out of nowhere that the heroes need to blow up.  Again everything just feels shoehorned in because the movie must retread every previous plot point.

I have also seen a lot of love for the new characters introduced.  I don’t get it.  Poe is barely in the film, so why the adoration?  Finn has potential as a man fighting back against years of indoctrination by a horrible regime, but none of that is on display in the film.  Mostly he sounds stupid a lot of the time, yelling obvious comments or inane questions and generally being fairly inept.  If he is in Sanitation for the Death Planet then why was he with the soldiers massacring innocents at the beginning of the movie? Also he brings up a lot of inconsistencies about Stormtroopers.  If they are clones of an elite bounty hunter and trained and indoctrinated from birth then why are they so ineffective?

The worst new characters are the two force users.  Kylo Ren is so poorly drawn that nothing he does makes any sense.  His temper tantrums are ridiculous shows of adolescent whining and are actually used for a slapstick moment.  Filmmakers take note, don’t make your villains into the butt of jokes.  Joss Whedon did it in Avengers to Loki and it undermined his effectiveness.  Finally he shows himself to be woefully incompetent at every turn, even losing to Finn (a non-Jedi) and Rey (untrained force user) in the final battle with a terrible sloppy fighting style.  All of this despite apparently besting Luke Skywalker and his Jedi already.

Finally, we come to the main character who will draw obvious comparison to Luke Skywalker.  Rey has no personality. Luke Skywalker who is a cliche of the naive, ignorant boy pining for adventure and awed by much of what he sees at first.  It is cliche, but it is an inherently enjoyable one.  Rey in contrast, is already competent, is rarely surprised (some throwaway comment about a forest planet is about all we get) and has an inexplicable reclusive nature such that she wants to get back to Jakku. Rey is accused of being a Mary Sue because she is so damn good at everything.  The problem is there is no explanation of where she acquired these skills.  She appears to have been living alone eeking out a subsistence life from scavenging parts on a frontier world.  Yet she knows advanced engineering and is highly proficient in spaceship piloting and melee combat.  She knows the Millennium Falcon better than Han Solo after a few minutes.  Somehow, she speaks a bunch of languages, including Wookie and droid.  It takes her literally no training to use advanced force powers like Jedi mind tricks and she bests Kylo Ren in sword combat despite never wielding a lightsaber before.

Many concede she is a Mary Sue, but then point out that Star Wars is always full of Mary Sues.  Strangely they use Luke to show this despite being a complete contrast. Luke is pretty incompetent for most of the first movie, even Stormtroopers are dangerous.  When he gets some skills he gets a bit puffed up before Vader brings him low in the second movie.  Even in the third movie he is the weakest of the known force users, triumphing not because of his skills alone.  Yes he does defeat the Death Star in the first movie despite little piloting experience, but he did use the Force.  Hitting a target accurately is a far more believable “use of the Force” than Rey using it to defeat Kylo Ren, who is also a Force user.  The better example would be Anakin in The Phantom Menace who as a little boy is also an engineering and piloting genius like Rey.  Except that I and almost everyone else hated him in the first movie for these very Mary Sue like qualities.  I am sure Rey will develop more as Anakin did, but here she is boring.

A few other minor things bothered me about the film.  The comedy almost always failed.  The action scenes were pretty poor in general and further degraded by how similar they were to scenes in past Star Wars films.  The final and only lightsaber battle in the film was a travesty with Kylo Ren lazily swinging around against untrained combatants.  The makers of the film boasted about how they were using real props rather than CGI for many things, but the film looks pretty shoddy in places and the visuals have none of the imagination of the previous films and the prequels, despite their age, seem to be of better technical quality.

Finally, for whatever reason the Star Wars setting annoyed me far more in this movie than in prior movies or games.  Everything from droids that don’t speak to the incongruity of desert hovel worlds with easy space travel bothered me.  Nobody writes anything down apparently because Jedis are myths despite being a prominent organization for millenia up until very recently.  I was always aware of the shoddiness of the Star Wars settings , but I could always excuse it in the face of a good movie.  However, the Force Awakens is not a good movie.  Apart from the above criticisms, it is hard to convey just how bad the movie is from moment.  Almost nothing works here, from the utterly predictable plot to the vapid character interactions to the inert action sequences.

J.J. Abrams is a good director and a dedicated fan of Star Wars and yet in my opinion has tarnished the film franchise in way George Lucas could never have dreamed of.

Kubo and the Two Strings Review

We saw this movie over the weekend because of glowing reviews and as some kind of counter-programming from a dull summer blockbuster season.  This is coming from someone who enjoys comic books and superhero films.  Unfortunately, I can’t really understand all the adulation of Kubo.  The movie never meets the expectations it sets and seems to be gathering most of its praise due to some kind of hipster iconoclasm that praises the stop motion animation.

First, let me tackle the much lauded visuals.  I don’t really care that it is stop motion.  On an intellectual level what they did was amazing.  However, at this point it would be easier to use 3D computer animation to simulate stop motion than it is to actually do stop motion.  Also I am not sure the distinctive stop motion style really adds much here.  In general there were very few scenes of visual splendor and awe and most of them were because of some gorgeous backgrounds.  As such it’s very hard to concur with reviewers praising the movie’s visuals and it certainly does not substitute for the movie’s other flaws.

Second, the dialogue in this movie is mediocre and verging on bad.  Most of the jokes fall flat and seem like an obligatory sop to the convention of animated films and to the younger viewers in the audience.  The rest of it often falls flat, like the monkey trying to be intimidating or the witch sister’s pretty much every utterance.  There is also a lot of pseudo-philosophical rambling that tries to add depth to the film but such explicit musings are usually a sign that the story is handling the topic poorly and that is the case here as well.

On a macro level, it was really the plot that let the movie down.  The movie opens with a scene of a woman literally parting a squall with a burst of energy from her sitar.  Then the first part of the movie reveals that she is hiding him from gods and that Kubo himself is half-divine.  This could lead to some epic American Gods or Illium level god smackdown.  Instead Kubo partakes on a rather bland adventure to acquire some unimpressive artifacts that appear to be lying around for no articulated reason.  There are some decent action scenes along the way, though you wonder why all the gods seem to abandon their magic to fight with melee weapon or turn into glowing centipedes rather than just smudge Kubo off the map.

However, the ending almost ruins the movie.  It kills off some major characters quite abruptly, but due to poor quality of their interactions earlier, it doesn’t have the emotional punch the filmmakers wanted.  Then the movie just kind of fastforwards to the final confrontation between Kubo and his grandfather.  It turns out all those artifacts were Mcguffins.  Instead we get some trite nonsense about memories.  The movie ends with the grandfather being turned human with a bad case of amnesia.  At that point the village engages in a conspiracy of lying where they embed him with made-up memories to sway him towards good.  It seemed antithetical to the entire movie and the immediately prior scene about memories.

The movie really needed to expand on its mythology and present some kind of internal conflict for Kubo.  There was an eye monster that revealed unsettling truths, but they didn’t take advantage of that.  Maybe juxtapose the perfection of godhood and the inadequacies of mortality.  Maybe it’s just the fantasy lover in me, but there was also a scope for some epic battles with gods and a young boy coming into his powers that are largely untapped.

Then there are just inconsistencies.  Why are the divine sisters caricatures of evil, but the third sister looks like a typical woman?  Why did they easily overpower the third sister but succumb to a monkey and an untrained boy later?  What was the point of the artifacts and why was one just sitting in a town unknown?

I don’t know, this movie teased a much better movie.  While the team has their technical craft down, after five years their plot and characterization could have been much better.  This, in my mind, was just another mediocre 2015/2016 movie release.


2015 was Officially the WORST Year for Movies

Somehow I though I had already written this post.  I must have just said it OVER AND OVER again to my wife throughout 2015 and in the period in 2016 when you catch up on 2015 movies.

The terribadditude of 2015 movies extended across the entire spectrum of movies, from summer blockbusters to Oscar bait to comedies.  The number of movies I could stomach for the entire running time was vanishingly small.  A big part of this is that movies are getting longer on average with no commensurate increase in quality to earn that extra running time.  I mean why was any Transformers movie longer than 2 hours, let alone 2 and a half hours like the last one?  I thought summer movies were supposed to be short and pithy and yet they seem to be the worst offenders of increased length.

This lack of what I will call goodness density is particularly hard to swallow with the renaissance of television.  I have, literally literally, a billion TV shows I want to try and for the most part the payoff of a good TV show far exceeds most movies and it does so in more manageable and well-paced chunks (the episode).  It seems like movies are the only arena that sees all the trends towards everything being faster and more convenient and decided to make movies slower and more drawn-out.

What is particularly galling is that 2015 was also the first year where I felt completely at odds with both popular and critical opinion.  There were many well-reviewed movies that turned off 30 minutes to an hour in.  Here are some examples:

  1. Force Awakens – see my review.  This movie was bad and I am severely disappointed so few people called it out.
  2. Hateful Eight – I love Tarantino for the most part and he has had a resurgence in quality with his last two films so I was looking forward to this one.  Bloated doesn’t even begin to accurately describe this flaccid film.  It seems like Tarantino thought he could just rely on his classic fast-paced and witty dialogue to carry a three hour plotless movie.  Unfortunately, you actually have to write that good dialogue and Tarantino fell into the common trap of thinking that whatever he put down on paper was gold.  Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year.
  3. Jurassic World – Oh god, I can’t believe how much money this made.  This was so stupid you could point out the idiocy in real-time.  You should at least strive for coherency during the running time even if it falls apart in retrospect, but Jurassic World couldn’t even manage that.  Every attempt at pathos was laughably bad.  I can’t believe this did so well and was immediately greenlighted for a sequel.
  4. Sicario – I am surprised I don’t have a review for this.  This movie was pile of steaming elephant crap dressed in a beautiful package.  I think this was the biggest gap between my views and critical praise.  Sicario is empty, with nothing interesting to say and the worst main character of the year, if not decade.  I saw numerous articles praising Emily Blunt’s character and her portrayal of a strong female.  DID THEY EVEN WATCH THE MOVIE?  The entire thing was Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro saying stupid inscrutable shit and walking all over Emily Blunt and the Constitution.  The one time she could have made a difference was at the end by shooting Del Toro in the back of the head but she chickens out like the weak person she is.  Too bad because the film was executed marvelously even if it was in pursuit of vacuity.
  5. Ant Man/Age of Ultron – Really mediocre year for superhero movies in general, but these were both exceedingly mediocre.
  6. The Big Short – Combines the worst features of both a documentary and a typical feature film to produce something unwatchable.  Go read one book that is better paced and more informative and skip this.
  7. The Revenant – Surprisingly OK, but I had low expectations after 2015 kept disappointing me.  The main problem here is that it was too long and that it never really seemed to get me to buy into the REVENGE angle as strongly as it should have.  Beautiful scenery though.
  8. Hunger Games – The first two films were fine.  The third films (intentional) were utter dreck and revealed the shortcomings of the source material.  Also how these films catapulted Jennifer Lawrence into the highest paid actress position I will never know.  I find her abilities notably lacking and these movies did nothing to change that opinion.
  9. Spectre – This was horrible and boring and completely lacking cogency or momentum.  What happened to this series from the amazing Casino Royale?  I was also not a fan of Skyfall.
  10. Ex Machina – Hey people. GO READ A FREAKING BOOK FOR A CHANGE.  This would be poor science fiction 50 years ago and yet you put it onto a movie screen and people praise it to no end.
  11. American Sniper – Are you kidding me?  So boring even letting aside the obvious overblown jingoism.

There are 10 high profile movies in no particular order.  There was a lot of smaller or mediocre stuff I watched that didn’t seem particularly galling or disappointing (Furious Seven, MI5, The Man from Uncle, Inside- Out, etc.).  But while they may not have gotten a rise out of me, they didn’t really help lift the malaise.

So what was good last year?

  1. Kingsmen – Yeah, I am putting this above Mad Max as my favorite film of the year.  Despite some failed, over-the-top humor from Samuel Jackson and a somewhat weak ending sequence this was my favorite film of the year.  Funny and good fight sequences.  This film put me into a Firthor (get it I combined Firth and furor).
  2. Mad Max – I am not a huge fan of the original trilogy beyond the setting so I was extremely surprised at how good this was.  I can’t recall a movie more intense and it set a new bar for action sequences and chase scenes.

And that was really I would single out.  Yeah, worst movie year ever.

Interstellar’s Time Travel Explained?

The thing about time travel stories is that you can usually reconcile them given enough thought and energy, but in doing so you will have put more effort into logical consistency than the actual writers of the screenplay did.  So in noble time travel tradition, here is my attempt at explaining the time loops in the movie.

The first thing to realize is that there are two time loops.  There is the time loop where Coop, the main character played by Matthew McConaughey, sends a message back to himself and his daughter, Murph.  Another “outer” time loop may exist because future humanity sends a wormhole back in time and allows Coop to send a message back in time via the singularity at the center of the black hole.

Secondly, you have to enter a time loop from a reality where the time loop does not exist.  That is where this analysis will begin, in the Alpha timeline.  We know nothing about this timeline except that it eventually results in Coop and Murph receiving a message from the future and that it has a wormhole and a time radio in the center of a black hole.  If we take the movie’s word, these things never occur naturally and either a future humanity or aliens placed them there. If it is a future humanity, this causes an issue as it requires humanity to survive WITHOUT the interventions in time played out by Coop in the movie.  It will eventually gain mastery over time and, despite surviving the destruction of Earth, they must decide for some reason to tamper with their species’ past and send some sort of message or wormhole or something.  This starts the time loop.  Alternatively, there are in fact aliens and they come across the artifacts of humanity and try to save us by reaching into the past.  Or maybe aliens created it in the present and there is no time travel to set up the movie.  As viewers we will never know what the Alpha timeline is, but let us assume the movie is correct that future humanity created the wormhole and the time radio.

What we do know is that eventually someone sends a message to Coop and his daughter in her room.  Maybe future humanity does it directly or, more likely, in the timeline previous to that in the movie, present humanity discovers the wormhole and the time radio in the center of the black hole and send a message to Coop and Murph.  Maybe that was Coop, again we will never know.

What about this STAY message they receive?  Ostensibly, the only person that would send such a thing is Coop himself, but he can’t send that message unless he has already gone to the black hole.  This is where it gets really tricky, because every message that changes the past creates its own time loop and the rules of time loops are like programming loops, each loop must be completely nested in the outer loops.  So in fact, there are more than two time loops, one for every message that Coop sends into the past.  Lets see if the movie accomplishes keeping them straight.

To backtrack a little bit, someone, maybe Coop himself but it could be anyone, sends the coordinates of NASA to Coop backward in time.  Then Coop goes on the mission and reaches the center of the black hole.  When he gets there, according to the movie he first sends the message STAY to a point in time AFTER he received the NASA coordinates.  This is a problem.  Because you immediately spun off a new timeline without anyone sending Coop the coordinates to NASA so he will never leave Earth after seeing the coordinates to send the message STAY.  In order for this to work he should first send the coordinates in order to ensure continuity with the current timeline and his arrival at the black hole.  At that point he can alter the timeline.

You can of course posit that the singularity is special when it comes to time travel, but the necessity of Coop’s presence to send a message to his daughter was already tenuous; it’s even worse if we assume that future humanity has such enormous time traveling powers that they do not create a typical time loop.  Is there some other way to reconcile this?  Perhaps.  If in another timeline someone sent the coordinates first and then said STAY all would be fine when Coop shows up and says STAY first.  The problem here is that Coop is not thinking about the rules of time travel and to think he said STAY at the same exact time as needed to ensure congruity with his past is a bit far-fetched.  To reiterate, someone, not necessarily Coop, familiar with time travel had the good sense to first send the coordinates and then attempt to get Coop to stay with a message, maybe Coop went crazy and this person wanted to stop him from coming or maybe this Coop was just better at time travel.  Coop then gets to the center of the black hole and ensures congruity by accidentally saying STAY at the right time.

However, a more plausible scenario is the following: despite what we perceive, the first message was in fact STAY.  That is, Coop or someone else, in a timeline where no messages from the future have been received in Murph’s bedroom, makes it to the black hole and their first message is STAY.  It is convenient if it is Coop because we can expect his emotional response when encountering the time radio to always be to try to get himself to remain at home with the STAY message and thereby unintentionally ensure congruity with his past even when he is not thinking straight.  However, this causes another problem.  Why would Coop need the coordinates of NASA if he manages to get to the center of the black hole without them?  We must then posit that Coop saw some exigency that he thought could be avoided if he has the NASA coordinates.  Maybe his arrival at NASA earlier elides a catastrophe.  Anyway, he sends the coordinates and all future Coops realize, after their initial attempt to stop themselves from leaving Murph, that they too must send the coordinates or risk a paradox.

With those two loops out of the way, Coop could then implausibly transmit data via an old watch to his daughter to create one more timeline.  The watch avoids all these time loop problems because the message is sent last and it arrives after Coop has already left the planet and thus cannot affect him sending it.

From here we back out to the possible future humanity time loop.  This future humanity appear happy with the trajectory of humanity, but knowing the rules of time travel, they must make sure to send a wormhole back and create a time radio for Coop to send his message or risk creating a paradox where they never come into being.  Or maybe they are not happy and the timeline we see is just one timeline on the way towards a stable timeline.  For that matter, future humanity might be stuck in someone else’s time loop, including an even more future humanity.

To conclude, I summarize the most plausible sequence of events with the assumptions of the movie that this is an attempt by future humanity to save present humanity.  Humanity survives the apocalypse without help from the future and gains the ability to tamper with the past and does so.  An indefinite number of timelines proceed without any paradoxes erupting that leads to the first timeline we can speculate about where present Earth discovers a wormhole to a time radio and then someone, very likely Coop, sends the STAY message to Coop and Murph in her bedroom.  This branches another timeline off where Coop again goes to the time radio and sends STAY but then realize he can avert some disaster by telling himself the coordinates to NASA.  This branches another timeline where Coop uses the time radio to send three messages; STAY, the coordinates and the observational data.  This creates another timeline, the one we see in the movie.  This averts the destruction of the human race.  The new future humanity remembers Coop and Murph and realizes that in order to avoid a paradox they must send a wormhole and a time radio back in time for them to use.  At this point they could leave the past well enough alone or try to alter it again to be different than the events we saw in the movie.

This also provides a much better interpretation of the movie than that Coop and Murph are special and that future humanity needs Coop’s love of Murph to save humanity.  Instead, what we know is that future humanity creates a wormhole and a time radio.  They do this because they don’t know enough about the past to change it and instead give present humanity the tools to save itself.  Once present humanity starts creating time loops, future humanity is essentially locked out until they stop doing so.  Coop’s interpretation of events relayed in the black hole is then wrong, it was just chance that brought him there and the fact that all he sees is Murph’s bedroom is an extension of his own mind.  The rules of time radios inside of black holes are of course unknown, especially to Coop.  In this way we can ignore the terrible love motif.


Interstellar Review

It pains me a little to trash this movie as it actually has a lot of very good parts and it’s very mainstream for a science fiction movie trying not to be fantasy.  What is becoming abundantly clear is that Christopher Nolan has lost his way since The Dark Knight.  His movies are bloated, uneven and often a little boring.

Before I complain about plotholes and science, let’s talk about some of the more technical flaws of the movie.  Nolan once again seems to have no aesthetic sensibility.  This was clear in Inception where he did nothing visually interesting with the fact that the entire movie was set in someone’s head.  Space is ripe for some awe inspiring visuals and the characters here aren’t even stuck in our solar system so you could literally do anything.  However, none of the imagery of the movie is going to stay with you because Nolan seems content to just leave his camera on the characters.  This might have been less noticeable if we didn’t have Gravity a year earlier taking just an orbit around Earth and making space seem vast and engulfing.

The sound effects and music were too loud compared to dialogue and apparently that isn’t just my opinion, but a fairly common comment on the internet.  The music itself is very organ heavy and inspired by 2001, i.e. it’s not doing much of anything new or innovative.  But by its omnipresence and volume it actually intrudes into the viewing experience.  Any time I actually notice the music you are doing it wrong, and that music was constantly getting on my nerves, oftentimes just because dramatic organs don’t fit every type of scene, but that is all we get here.

At an emotional level, this film works very well for the most part.  In particular, the drastic effects of relativity on a family were very well done and touching.  When the main character goes through 23 years of backlogged messages and sees his family growing up and giving up on him, it’s heartbreaking.  Even the breakdown of Matt Damon’s character is fairly convincing, though underdeveloped in an already long movie.  The lone exception is the whole love motif, though I hesitate to call it that when Nolan bludgeons us with it.  First we get an absolutely cringe-inducing speech from Anne Hathaway’s character about love, universal connections and something that can’t be quantified by science.  Of course it’s the useless female character, a scientist no less, that has to make this emotional appeal.  Then this idea comes back at the completely nonsensical end.  Apparently this was not in the script 6 years ago when this project was started.  It sounds like something recent Nolan would cook up, because it fits his recent movies that also favor forthright attempts at meaning and philosophy rather than using subtext and subtlety to convey them.  Whoever was responsible we will never know, but it was a really stupid idea.

With that out of the way, lets talk about the plot and the science fiction, so the following assumes you have seen the film.  Now, I have no problems with fantasy scifi like Star Wars and even Star Trek.  Right now I am watching Eureka which cares little for the facts of science most of the time.  Which is great, until they get close enough to science that it tweaks the scientist in me.  Usually the problem is merely that there was no need to butcher the science to get the desired outcome, but they did anyway.  You just know they have a science consultant too, so why take the liberties when you don’ have to?  I guess there aren’t many of us who will ever catch the problems.

So here is a list of crap that bugged me.  When they leave Earth to go through the wormhole they take a multistage rocket.  However, later they leave planets with higher gravity than Earth using just their futuristic Ranger craft.  This is like if the NASA space shuttle could take off like an airplane and reach orbit.  It was a jarring inconsistency to me, but required to make the film work.  However, if you have that technology, you could probably save most of humanity pretty easily, there would be no need for this “gravity” equation that Michael Caine’s character claims he needs.  Speaking of which, why did Matthew McConaughey’s daughter in the film, Murph, need to unite quantum mechanics and gravity in order to save humanity?  At the end of the film humanity has done nothing more than build a space station around Saturn and near the wormhole, not even colonizing the other side.  But if you can build a space station that large then you can save humanity without quantum gravity.  Don’t even get me started on how you fund NASA “secretly” on a devastated Earth that can’t feed itself.  Also why did they just leave Hathaway in the wormhole for decades by herself?  The ending of the movie suggests a lone person in a spacecraft could have contacted her at any time, but humanity seems to enjoy sitting on its butt in their new space station too much.

The treatment of relativity is also extremely shifty.  One planet they want to check out would require time dilation such that one hour for them would be seven years on Earth.  This suggests the planet is very near the event horizon of the black hole and I mean strikingly close.  This causes a lot of technical issues, such as how to descend to the planet and then leave.  Worse, how did they receive any communication from the planet considering the massive red shift of light this implies.  The characters posit that you could somehow stay unaffected by time dilation by staying above a certain radius, but time dilation is a continuous phenomena, it doesn’t just stop.  How did nobody realize the implications of the time dilation on the veracity of the information coming from the planet’s surface?  At the end they are going to throw a probe into the black hole and just hope it can send data out against all known laws of physics.  All of this is particularly appalling because Kip Thorne, who literally the wrote the book on gravitation, was an executive producer for the film.  I do give it credit for the accurate depiction of falling into a black hole.  It would be no different than any other falling until the tidal forces ripped you apart.  However, I don’t believe you would find your daughter’s library shelf at the center.

Finally, why did future humanity need Matthew McConaughey’s character to send a message to his daughter?  Oh right “love.”  This was perhaps the most ridiculous thing in the entire movie until the next moment when he sends observational data of a black hole via Morse code on a broken watch.  The bit rate of Morse code has to be approximately a Hz, but we are talking at least a megabyte of data if I were being extremely generous by which I mean really funny because no it’s probably orders of magnitude more.  But lets say it is.  It would take 80 days, with no breaks, of tapping out code and reading it.  This was not depicted in the movie for sure.

Still I have to give the title of worst moment in the movie to Hathaway’s love speech, followed by the quick explanation that love is needed to reach Murph with the observational data and that is why humanity tampers with time to bring her father into a black hole.  Yeah, that makes a ton of sense.  Anyways, my next post will be about the time travel paradoxes.  I should point out that for the most part the movie is engaging for its entire running time, but the bottom line is that never ascends to greatness.  It’s a workman-like project with a big budget it doesn’t use well.

Godzilla 2014 Review

After a few pretty good monster movies in a row I was really hoping Godzilla would continue the trend.  Unfortunately, it has neither the novel horror viewpoint of Cloverfield or the satisfying adrenaline rush of Pacific Rim.  This movie is a bloated mess with nary a good moment.  I can accept some amount of stupidity, hey, I like the latest Fast and the Furious movies!  However, the entirety of Godzilla is an assault on my credulity and it does so for no discernible gain.

We open with what appears to be some minor tremors completely collapsing what must be the most fragile nuclear power plant ever created.  Bryan Cranston’s wife is for whatever reason approaching the nuclear reactor when this happens.  It is never really explained what her profession is or why they are going towards the reactor.  Furthermore, as the plant collapses they have to outrun some white cloud and reach the exit before Cranston has to close the door.  What is so dangerous about this white cloud that is seemingly stopped by a door?  I assume it is radiation or something, but who knows.  I think the script kept it nebulous to cover up how stupid this entire sequence is.  If this depiction of nuclear power plants were real, we should all be very afraid.

Fast forward 15 years.  Cranston is obsessed with the tremors that took down the power plant and he brings his son back to the site of the accident.  Here they find a government group observing some kind of larvae.  For what purpose is never clear even though we later find out that their working theory is that the creatures are evil parasites.  At least the normal plot of the military using such things to create superweapons gives a purpose to leaving the monster alive.  Here we have no reason to spend millions observing a larvae we think could be dangerous.

Anyways, it comes to life, Cranston dies and leaves us wondering what the point of his character was.  I guess it gets his son involved?  Anyways this monster eats radiation and thus attacks nuclear power plants and subs, etc.  Unfortunately, the radiation from these things is really not that high, thus our ability to stand somewhat near them.  How the monster even detects these sources from any great distance is never explained.  Furthermore, how does this sustain a 300 foot tall monster?  At least in Pacific Rim the monsters are actually alien weapons and we don’t have to worry about such questions, but the monsters in Godzilla are apparently ancient species that once roamed the land and you have to wonder how they survived.

Which brings up the monster’s EMP ability.  Why would ancient monsters have such an ability?  It would be entirely useless if no technology is around.  It doesn’t even function consistently in the movie.  Once the monster dies it seems that everything turns back on.

Anyways, we find out that a second monster still lives in Nevada and implausibly awakens.  It is implied that it was stored in Yucca Mountain with our radioactive waste (which they know it feeds on, come on guys).  Despite a huge desert and the fact that Yucca Mountain is north of Vegas, and thus not in the creature’s path toward San Francisco, it takes a detour to wreck The Strip.

Meanwhile the military comes up with a stupid plan to leave a nuke off the coast of San Francisco to lure they monsters and blow them up.  Not a terrible plan, except that they are only leaving it 20 miles off the coast.  It is pretty much guaranteed that the westerly wind off the coast will blow radioactive particles into SF shortening the lives of millions.

Now they ship this thing by train for some reason and Cranston’s son, Ford, manages to somehow be in the right place to hop aboard.  Of course it intersects with the monster.  Rather than staying internally consistent, the monster decides not to eat said radioactive device.  The military then decides that now is a good time to bring a chopper in to ship the bomb, *facepalm*.  Of course, they set the bomb to have a 90 minute timer at about the same time the monsters appear in SF in what must be the most botched timing ever.  The monsters then take the bomb onto the mainland, I am assuming to feed their young.

Way more than an hour and a half transpire before Ford and a team go in to recover the nuke and disarm or push it out to sea.  They tell him there will be no extraction.  Also we learn that not only is Ford a bomb disposal expert, but that he can parachute with expert ease into urban environments.

Now you might be wondering, where is the titular character?  Well he finally shows up and we get maybe a couple minutes of him dully battling the evil MUTAs.  Ken Watanbe’s character for reasons unknown thinks Godzilla is our savior and creepily seems to view him as a sacred religious figure.  It turns out he is our savior, but it is never even conjectured why, especially after we attack him.  He does get the coolest moment in the movie when he holds the jaws of a MUTA open and breathes down its neck.  This is the only reason to watch the movie IMO.

Simultaneously, Ford is pushing the nuke out to sea and what do you know, he gets extracted.  The nuke doesn’t look far enough out to sea to avoid the radiation problem I talked about earlier and all the dust from the monster battle is probably going to give everyone in the city some sort of lung disease.  Lest I forget, there was also a scene on the Golden Gate Bridge, which seems like the worst place possible to be in a crisis, especially if it is known a monster is coming by sea.

That was the entire movie.  Tons of plot elements that served no logical purpose except to extend the movie and only a few short minutes of Godzilla and monsters battling.  Like all monster movies it drastically underestimates the power of modern armaments, but if you are going to do so it is much more fun to build giant robots to combat the giant monsters.  Depending on the mercies of the inscrutable Godzilla turns out a steaming pile of drek.  I really cannot understand the good critical and monetary success of this film.  It gave us neither epic popcorn fare or a compelling narrative or emotional arc which leaves us with something utterly vacuous.