Category Archives: Film

End of Humanity: A.I. Terminators or The Big Bang? Or both?

A confluence of events in this year of our Lord 2015 leads me to believe that the end of Humanity is at hand.
Let me give you the raw data:

“AI is the single greatest threat to human existence.”                                   — Steven Hawking
The Supreme Court will decide the fate of gay marriage in America this year. — CNN
Ex Machina opens in theatres, May 2015.  Sentient, Sexy robots among us.
(Skynet)Defense network computers. New… powerful… hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. Decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination  .                                                   –Kyle Reese, in “Terminator”

terminator_image

 

 

 

 

The Supreme Court will rule on the gay marriage question this year. By the time you read this article,  it may already have decided in the favor of this new “marriage model.” This by itself does not
doom the human reproductive future: there are still so many, many children being born from hetero couplings.
The homosexual community is a small percentage of the population1 and they are in fact another reliable resource in  rearing unwanted children. Gay marriage should in theory advance human presence on the Earth.

But this legal decision will forever undo the correlation between reproductive behavior and marriage.  Marriage is now a joining of families and resources, and not expressely a contract for child rearing.2 This will open up marriage to a large number of actors (not the Hollywood  kind). Once agreement is in place NOT to produce children, marriage between genetically-common family members would be permitted3 More importantly, marriage between a person and a corporation or other social structure should be possible.

This is where Skynet and the A.I. entities come into play. What if you could marry a corporation or trust  that ensured your continued care until end of life? They could manage your resources to best use and  keep you living as long as possible. What if this corporation was controlled by a very efficient  AI? It would make decisions to keep you healthy and lucid until the end of life. In the meanwhile,
if you are needing companionship, they could  send a sentient, robotic companion to your home to care and interact with you. I need say no more,  just look at the following view of the future:

ex_machina_headshotex_machina_android

 

 

 

 

With humanity now under proper health care and sexually satisfied, procreation using the heterosexual  model becomes quaint but inefficient. You don’t need kids to care for you when the AI State can do a  better job. And there is the SuperModel of the Month that comes to your home and makes sure your  coffee is properly ground and your teabags properly dipped.

It sounds like a perfect way to terminate Human presence on Earth, once the AI decides it wants to  stop human reproduction. The human family model becomes irrelevant and may even be considered vulgar  and gross. Those of us who believe in A Man and A Woman creating A Child may be persecuted and hunted.
But I doubt it will come to that. Humanity will give up in  complacency. It will all end not with a whisper but with a (literal) Bang. The Terminators came (again, literally) and ended Human existence.

  1. the fact that we are aware of the  plight of a statistically small community means that someone, somewhere has done a  remendously terrific job in  publicizing their viewpoint, or “agenda” as some conservatives refer to it. This is a great achievement  and puts the Goebbel’s effort in WW2 to shame []
  2. This was already apparent in marriages that were never intended to produce children, either due to age  or to consensus between spouses []
  3. Please don’t mention people marrying their dogs. It sounds ridiculous but  maybe *I* am being short-sighted []
Share/Bookmark

Avoid “Escape From Tomorrow”

I’m about to give you 2 free hours in your lifetime, that can be used for *any* purpose you select.

If you are tempted to watch the Netflix offering “Escape from Tomorrow,” let me save you the time that you’d spend watching it. one and a half hours of wasted time, that is now yours. I will provide you a quick summary below, if you are still curious. But please don’t be curious; this is not a bad movie that’s so “bad” that you’d want to see it. It is just bad. Even my son Michael, who’s very young and has some time to spare, gave this movie a one-star rating (he tried to stay until the very end)

escape_tomorrowWarning: Spoilers follow !!

.

.

.

This movie was filmed at DisneyWorld, without permission from Disney.  You can see that the crowd shots are real,  the venue is very real and all the actors do well in mingling with the crowds while trying to shoot their scenes.  There are several extended shots of the actors in the rides, and this would have been a very easy activity to conceal.  Where stealth was not an option (say, an extended dialogue scene) they put the actors in front of a blue-screen background.

This is an interesting concept, but don’t be tempted to watch the movie just for that.  Watching an extended home movie gets boring fast, and the plot of the movie (an engineer going insane after being fired from his job, during a vacation at DisneyWorld) is just barely passable.
Are there interesting points?  Yes.  Let me outline a few but these are the only bright moments in a really dull film:
Since Disney owns the characters, music and logos, you will see from time to time a “blacked-out” part of the screen to hide the Disney name.  There’s even a sonic bleep when the word Disney is uttered.  Also, it is a little disconcerting (yet fascinating)  to see the
It’s-A-Small-World ride being filmed with an equally annoying and cloying replacement song that is used by the film makers.  However, the images of Donald, Mickey and Pluto greeting park guests is used;  I guess this is in the public domain, somehow.
Having some of the Disney images turned into demonic versions of themselves (while the main character is going mad) is interesting.  But these are short 1-second snippets which are infrequent.
The subplot of a former princess cast-member turning into a sexual predator gets your attention. Give this film an extra star if you’ve ever wanted to have a tryst with the Evil Queen from Snow White.
This is a 30-second sequence that you’ll remember.
Some special effects shots showing EPCOT blowing up are memorable.
The subplot of the main character stalking some teenage French babes is not memorable.
There you have it.  I hope I have not piqued your interest; my descriptions are probably more entertaining than the film itself.
If you want further information, here’s the review from RogerEbert.com; I’m afraid it will just increase your interest in the film.

Movie night with a dictator.

Our group used to meet regularly at members’ homes to view Classic Movies and then discuss them at the coffee klatch that followed; this was part of our on-going adult education and a great way to see some amazing films.  We used to call it “Classic Movie Night at X’s”  or CMNAX  for short.   Over the years, we met at CMNAL, CMNAP, CMNAMOC (Orange County edition) and now I’d like to talk about CMNAHAS.   Classic Movie Night at Hitler and Stalin’s.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Let me recommend this wonderful Hitler article at the Roger Ebert website,  which started me thinking about how all the world’s dictators are such great film buffs.   I already knew about Stalin’s Movie Night  but here was another story that suggested a pattern to my mind.   Wasn’t Kim Jong Il a big Hollywood fan?  I believe he was.  Before his demise (he definitely left us too early I fear) he courted Hollywood producers and directors to come visit him in that wonderful showcase for film, North Korea.
Are there others in this list?  We never got to see what videocassettes Bin Laden was watching in his compound, but he was a mere terrorist.  We need to focus on heads of state.  Saddam Hussein did not have much room in his spider hole to fit a portable DVD player, so that legacy is also lost.  And there’s been nothing on Kaddafi; he may have been a TV series fan.
We’ll have to wait to see what streaming video does to the tastes of the next Evil Head of State1
  1. On the other side of the scale, we have the Good Guy Festival: G.W. Bush was fond of Armageddon  –yuk– and Bill Clinton was a big fan of High Noon —thanks to Gene Siskel’s interview with Clinton, we know all about these White House preferences.  []

In Memoriam….. A Race to Final Place

rogerebert Seymour_hoffman

I’ve been meaning to write this small article as a way to encourage the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to include Roger Ebert in their Oscar telecast. But now, with the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman it seems  fitting to broach this subject.

AMPAS puts together a memorial section during the Oscars, to commemorate and celebrate the lives of those that have  passed the previous year. We would normally see a montage of movie stars and famous directors accompanied by stirring music. Once in a while you’d see a famous producer, and that was OK also. This year I expect to see the big names such as Peter O’Toole and Paul Walker.

But recently this memorial presentation has been getting strange. We’ve been getting listings for publicists, agents, technical tradesmen and even some writers (gasp!). I understand losing someone like Jerry Goldsmith (for music)  or someone like Edith Head (for wardrobe) and including them in the montage makes sense. But a publicist? What’s next, casting directors?1 And stop putting in people that made 1 film but were famous in some other field (Michael Jackson comes to mind).

Movies are a visual medium. Unless the person is in front of the camera, or controlling that camera, or making news outside of the movie industry (say, TV or music) so that they are familiar to us, don’t include them. Wardrobe and art direction are something we can see on the screen; include those folks.

Having said that, now I have to make a case to include Roger Ebert2.  He was an amazing writer and he wrote about movies. Even in his non-movie essays, he’d find a way to reference movies, to show how movies changed his life. He championed good movies and good movie-viewing technology. He fought  against the evils of colorization and Bowdlerization and was a promoter of film to the very end. He should be included.

And what the heck, put Phillip Seymour Hoffman in also, event though his passing was in 2014 and outside of the scope of the memorial.

  1. Jiminy, they put in a casting director and omit some of the stars from Star Trek? Heresy !! []
  2. His website RogerEbert.com is still one of the best places to read about film (both new and old) and essays about  diverse interesting subjects. If you miss his writing, like I do, go over there and feast on decades of his brilliant  essays and reviews. []

Best Films of 2011

It’s the 8th anniversary of The Crack Team blog! To celebrate, I’ve once again gone through the list of Oscar-eligible films and selected the best of the bunch. I don’t believe in ranking them since many are hard to compare with each other, but I’ll break it down for you in terms of quality, enjoyability, and longevity.

Drive
Upon seeing this, I realized I’d just witnessed a new cult film, an homage to the gritty crime dramas of the 80’s. Gosling and Brooks give standout performances and the soundtrack is fantastic, but none of these will be recognized by the Academy due to oversight and technicalities. To be honest, I was a bit turned off by the trailer, mainly because Bryan Cranston looked like he was overacting. Truthfully, I’m not thrilled with his performance here, but everything else about this film rocks.

The Artist
Here’s a film that has already been honored with Golden Globes and Oscars are in the works. I’m a classic film buff and felt this was exceptionally well done. While a silent film, it is scored very well. I also recommend the OSS-117 films from the same director/actor team. They’re a farcical French take on 60’s James bond (more like In like Flynt than the over the top Austin Powers). Very funny.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
A riveting story with fascinating characters. I’d seen the Swedish version already and found this to be a faithful remake, but there are some subtle but interesting character interpretations. Another selling point for fans of the original is that director David Fincher brings along his fantastic cinematographer and Trent Reznor for the score, so it looks and sounds beautiful. This movie convinced me to start reading the books.

The Guard
This is another film that people are granting cult status, although I don’t think as strongly as Drive. First thing to note is that in Ireland, Garda is police, so the American translation would be The Cop. It’s a dark comedy about a dirty cop (Brendan Gleeson, aka Mad Eye Moody of the Harry Potter films) and a straight laced visiting FBI agent (Don Cheadle of the new Showtime series House of Lies). If you enjoyed In Bruges (you did), then you’ll enjoy The Guard (you will). If you didn’t see In Bruges, fix that right away.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The final chapter in the immensely entertaining and well crafted Harry Potter series. You either saw it and loved it, you’ve written off all things Harry Potter, or you’re putting off watching them all until you have time. Not much I can say to sway you either way. It won’t pick up any accolades for writing, directing, or acting (not that it shouldn’t, it’ll just never happen), but the beautiful art direction and special effects can’t be denied.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
A great psychological thriller and another Oscar surprise that Elizabeth Olsen wasn’t nominated. She does a tremendous job, and I might point out that some of that job is performed sans clothing, which is rather nice since she doesn’t suffer her more famous sisters’ eating disorder. Or lack of talent. John Hawkes also does a great job portraying the creepy yet charismatic cult leader.

Midnight in Paris
A fun, thoughtful comedy about appreciating the present. I’m a pretty huge Woody Allen fan so it’s no surprise this is on my list. It’s also his most financially successfully film to date, so if you’re not a fan of Woody you may still like this one. If you are a fan, I highly recommend the American Masters’ Woody Allen: A Documentary.

Our Idiot Brother
A great cast in a great comedy. I loved the tone of this film. In fact, I’m kind of surprised to see it has an R rating (although I can quickly recall the scenes that earned that rating) because its heart is in the right place. That said, you’re still laughing out loud throughout. A very recommendable film.

Super 8
This is the most enjoyable and easily recommendable film of 2011. It’s ET meets The Goonies (it even takes place in 1980), only ET is bigger and angrier. J.J. Abrams directs, but Spielberg produces, and the classic Spielberg style is all over this. The kids in this are pitch perfect, too.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I was a fan of the original BBC miniseries, which runs over 5 hours, so I wasn’t sure how it would survive its run time getting chopped in half. But I didn’t miss a thing. The screenplay is very well crafted so the plot isn’t convoluted and doesn’t run at a breakneck pace. Of course, the acting is superb.

Young Adult
Diablo Cody followed up her Oscar winning screenplay for Juno with the awful Jennifer’s Body. Maybe that was the director’s fault, I don’t know, but she redeems herself with Young Adult (she may have redeemed herself with The United States of Tara, but I don’t watch that). She’s once again teamed up with Juno director Ivan Reitman and we have 2 more Oscar snubs for Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt (plus one for the screenplay). At a minimum, it has the best single line of any of last year’s films.

Honorable Mentions

We had some very good sci-fi films last year:

Hanna - would love to see a sequel to this
In Time - from the director of the excellent Gattaca
Source Code – from the director of the excellent Moon

And a couple top dramas:

The Ides of March
Moneyball
Margin Call – terrific screenplay, reminded me of Aaron Sorkin or Stephen Gaghan

Then there are the films that are just plain fun. These are the films where, if you liked the trailer, you’ll like the film:

X-Men: First Class
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Thor
(actually, I wasn’t stoked by the trailer, but really enjoyed this movie)
Hugo

Canceling Netflix – And They Don’t Care

After over a decade of patronage, I am canceling my Netflix account. Yes, price is a factor – they are raising my subscription fee by 40%. But I have a pretty high tolerance for this sort of thing, already paying $20/month for Tivo,1 and keeping Netflix despite having a “free” streaming video source in Amazon Prime.

What irks me is that what attracted me to Netflix at first, and held me all these years, was how they catered to film buffs. This has ended. Example: for years, I’d rent the Harry Potter movies to prepare for the sequel, and really enjoyed watching all the extras. I’ll admit, I’m a huge Potter fan, so I appreciated that Netflix made available the extras disc. With great disappointment I discovered that for Deathly Hallows Part 1, only the rental version of the disc is offered. This version has only the movie and a personal invitation from Netflix to go fuck yourself. I’m kidding about the invitation – they couldn’t be bothered. I’ve been seeing an increase in these rental versions, which have zero extras, but tons of trailers and commercials that you can’t skip.2 The Deathly Hallows rental includes a 6 minute commercial for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I can tell you that if you’re on the fence about visiting that wondrous place, being forced to watch a 6 minute commercial may resolve you to boycott it.

And I’m not being melodramatic when I say they don’t care. For one, their subscriber base has gone from 10M to 25M in the last few years, so they assume they’re doing the right thing. If you want concrete proof, go to their cancellation page. They threaten to charge you for discs you don’t return within 7 days, and let you know that even though you’re paid up through the month, you won’t get a partial month refund or even be allowed to continue streaming until it expires! But the most callous part is that they don’t even ask you why. No short answer box, not so much as a multiple choice question with lame answers. And there’s no other form on the site for critical feedback. They really don’t care why you’re leaving.

Well, good riddance. In place of Netflix, I’ll start renting from Amazon or PPV, and even though it will cost me more, I’ll make a greater effort to see films in the theater.3 With the money I save, I’ll invest in a nice collection of films on BD, which I frequently find on sale at SlickDeals. I think I’ll start with the Harry Potter Ultimate editions…

Update: I’m not the only one, as Netflix has revised their projections for this quarter downward, causing their stock to tumble. Sounds like they already factored in the massive subscriber exodus, which proves my point that they don’t care about it.

  1. Although now that I’m on Cox cable, that will also be canceled when my contract is up. []
  2. Well, you can with some software, which you can read about here. []
  3. Note that all major theater chains allow you to buy premium discount tickets in bulk (50+), typically for less than $9 each. I go in with friends and split it. []

Has Someone Stolen Your Light?

Roger Ebert has been railing against 3D movies because, amongst other things, you’re only getting half the light on the screen. And in some situations, it can be 85% darker. Now he’s discovered that it’s bleeding over into 2D films as well. The primary culprit is Sony (big surprise), who has built a popular 3D-ready digital projector with an interchangeable lens system.1 You have to change the lens to go from 2D to 3D and vice versa, and thy have made this a complex process that requires more skill than your average projectionist has. It’s so complex and time consuming that even Sony Studios didn’t remove it for an industry screening of The Social Network in their flagship auditorium. But either way, what ends up happening is that they put he light-reducing 3D lens on, and then leave it on for 2D pictures! At the end of his article, he quotes Mike Humphries of Geek.com, who shares how you can tell if you’re getting screwed:

  • The title of the movie listed by the theater will have a “D” after it if it is being shown on a digital projector (Note: Fandango will write “digital projection” to make it clear.)
  • If you are in a D movie, look at the projector window when seated. If you see two stacked beams of light it is a Sony projector with the 3D lens still on.
  • A single beam of light means no 3D lens, or a different make of projector that doesn’t have the issue
  • If you see the two beams, then get up and go complain. You paid good money to see the movie, so make a fuss until they either give you back that money or remove the lens. Seeing as that’s an involved and time-consuming process, expect a refund.

I realize most won’t leave, but it’s good to know. I used to lean toward the showing with the digital projector, but now I’m going to think twice and try to find out which of my local theaters have the Sony’s and are too cheap to properly configure them between shows.

  1. As some commented there, you can have a single lens 3D system with a filter, but apparently it’s much easier to raise and lower that filter than it is to change the lens on a Sony. []

Skipping Trailers and Warnings on Blu-ray Discs

There has been an increase in crimes against consumers. They are being held hostage. By what? Warnings and trailers on Blu-ray discs! I don’t steal movies off the internet, I rent them via Netflix, and rental discs1 are the biggest culprit.

Yes, you can fast forward, but on my PC’s BD player2 only goes so fast, so I’m still stuck for several minutes. Worse, I often need to stop the disc and get back to work, which means closing the player since it disables the Windows Aero interface and color scheme. When I start the player again, I’m back at square one! I’ve been looking for a player that allows me to skip anything, much like VLC Media Player and Media Player Classic (the open source version) allow me to do for DVDs. Unfortunately, I’ve seen no open source BD players and the commercial ones won’t dare allow you to perform a “user prohibited action” as defined by the disc makers. How they have the balls to charge $100 for that crap I’ll never know.

But we have a savior! It’s called AnyDVD HD. It sits between your BD ROM drive and your software player software and presents the disc as decrypted. It will also disable all your warnings and trailers.3. I just installed it and put in a disc and it immediately went to the main menu. It’s exactly what I was looking for and it’s currently going for about $75, with a 3 week trial so you can check it out first. Yes, a little pricey, but still cheaper than the other software players and I’ll make up for it in time saved. The bummer is that it only works on Windows, so when I have a home theater set up with my PS3, I’ll be back to slogging through trailers, or schlepping my laptop over to the coffee table.

  1. Denoted by plain grey discs featuring only the movie title. []
  2. HP MediaSmart DVD, which is just rebranded Cyberlink. []
  3. Of course, you can get to the trailers through the disc menu if you like. []