My Review of Star Trek Into Darkness

I watched Star Trek Into Darkness  a few weeks ago but haven't had the time or brain to  write a proper review.

When people have asked me for my opinion of the film - knowing I'm a trekkie - I've responded with this sentence that nicely sums up what I've been wanting to write in that review: 

It's a decent Hollywood action movie, but not a particularly good Star Trek movie. 

But that's about all I've been able to say.

Then today it occurred to me: Why write a text-based review when you could put the whole thing in a mind map, instead? 

So here is my mind map review of Star Trek Into Darkness. Enjoy :) 

 

Three Awesome Trailers

The first teaser trailer of the upcoming US version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was released a few weeks ago. It was, by far, the best trailer I’d seen all year.

That got me thinking about which other trailers were, in my opinion, equally awesome? I could only think of two recent examples: Inception and Watchmen.

Here are all three for your viewing (and listening) pleasure:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Inception (2010)

Watchmen (2009)

I Can Has HDTV?

Yes, you can has!

After years of wanting a large screen HDTV, on Friday I finally went out and bought one. And boy was it worth it!

Sitting on the sofa in our living room, this is what our old 32” CRT TV looked like:

Old TV - Front

And this is what our new 50” Plasma TV looks like:

New TV - Front

The larger screen makes a big difference, doesn’t it? :)

What Did You Get?

For those who are interested, I ended up getting the Samsung PS50C7000, which is a 50” (127cm) Series 7 (i.e. 2010) Plasma TV:

Samsung PS50C7000

I did quite a lot of research before selecting this model and reviews like this from CNET were very encouraging:

The Samsung PS50C7000 is one of the best plasmas on the market and boasts one of the most complete feature sets available. Not quite deserving of full marks, though. [CNET Australia]

As well as this one from PC World:

The Samsung Series 7 (PS50C7000) plasma is very nearly the best television we've tested. It's got an excellent design and generally great picture quality, only falling short in overall black levels. 3D is handled well but there are still a few aberrations; it is fine for occasional casual viewing. The Series 7 (PS50C7000) does a great job on Internet connectivity as well, making it an excellent all-round performer we'd happily recommend. [PC World]

My main research source was CHOICE, though, and they recommended this as one of the best 127-132cm TVs to buy (Note: Report viewable by members only):

Choice - Samsung Ps50C7000YP

CHOICE also named Samsung the ‘Best Television Brand’ in its 2011 Choice Awards. Panasonic and Sony were the other two TV brands that received the highest overall performance and CHOICE member customer satisfaction scores.

This TV also met all of my basic requirements:

  • 40-50”, Full HD (i.e. 1080p), LCD or Plasma
  • HDMI, Component, Composite, USB, and Audio In/Out connectivity
  • HD tuner built-in
  • RGA port included (i.e. it can be used as a computer monitor)
  • LAN/wireless connector
  • DLNA certified (i.e. works with streaming media players/servers on your network)

Basically, this was last year’s top end Plasma model from Samsung so it had everything I wanted and even a few things that I didn’t want (like 3D capabilities).

Timing is Everything

The best part is that, in the annual consumer electronics cycle, April is when most new TV models hit the market. So, if you’re happy to buy the previous year’s model, March and April are when you get the best discounts(assuming the TV you want is still in stock). As it happens, I got this TV for about half its market launch price :)

LCD vs Plasma

In the choice between LCD and Plasma, I’m an audiophile and videophile so the superior picture quality of Plasmas has always appealed to me.

Also, in our price range of “just over A$1,000”, I had a choice of getting:

  • a cheaper brand LCD,
  • a better brand LCD from 2-3 years ago,
  • a more recent model of a better brand LCD that had a smaller screen (e.g. 32-40”), or
  • a better brand plasma from last year.

When you look at it that way, the choice of getting the plasma was obvious (assuming your aim was to get the largest screen size appropriate to your TV/living room).

Which Store?

Retravision Colour 1I ended up getting our TV from RetraVision, which has one of the best range of Samsung TVs.

I got there at about 8pm on Friday night and, fifteen minutes later, I was done. The TV got delivered the next morning and I spent much of yesterday (Saturday) setting it up.

Yes, this has been a fun weekend :)

What Next?

Now that we have an HDTV, we need high definition content to watch.

We already get some HD stuff from our free-to-air digital channels but my next step is to upgrade our Foxtel set top box to the iQHD and our subscription package to include HD channels (21 of them).

After that, we’ll think about getting a Blu-Ray player and some Blu-Ray discs. And, once we do that, we’ll think about getting a home theatre audio system. None of this will be any time soon, though. Certainly not till next year.

Fortunately, this is only the start of our life in HD so there’s a long way to go, yet. Let the fun begin! :)

Doyle on Gender & Science Fiction

Sady Doyle has written three awesome pieces of text (stories?) as part of the online artistic collaboration series called ‘The Smartest Thing She’s Ever Said’ (more about that here).

I highly recommend you read them; particularly the third one because Ellen Ripley is my favourite action hero.

The Fantasy of Girl World: Lady Nerds and Utopias

When we see the word “nerd,” we don't think of women. We almost can't. All of that geeky energy, that willingness to dive totally into your own anti-social obsessions, is diametrically opposed to our idea of what girls are for. There's science involved, for one thing. And for another, girls aren't sorted into cool or uncool; they're sorted into likable and unlikable.

Read the whole thing here: ‘The Fantasy of Girl World: Lady Nerds and Utopias

Lady Robots: The Shape of Things to Come On

She's perfect. She's perfect because we made her perfect; because everything about her is entirely within our control. She's your long-lost love, your new and improved wife; she's the girl you never got over, or the girl you could never have. And now, she loves you. She has no choice; loving you is what she's for. Until, one day, she gets too smart. She starts thinking in ways she's not allowed to think. She gets political. And that's the point at which she decides to kill you with her giant metal fists.

Read the whole thing here: ‘Lady Robots: The Shape of Things to Come On

Ellen Ripley Saved My Life

At a certain point, you have to ask yourself why certain stories are so important to you. Why they become, not just entertainment, but myth: Something you use to explain yourself to yourself, or to explain the world.

But for me, it's always been about the girls. Specifically, the Strong Woman Action Heroines: Scully and Buffy, Starbuck in the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot, Ripley and Vasquez and, hell, even Tasha Yar. I love this; I need this; I eat it up. And yet, my relationship with the Strong Woman Action Heroine is… complicated? Let's say complicated. And let me take a minute, or several, to explain how.

Read the whole thing here: ‘Ellen Ripley Saved My Life

#MooreandMe

Going off-topic for a minute: The awesome Doyle who, last year, wrote a great article in The Guardian called ‘Unforgivable Roman Polanski’ is currently calling out people who are happier to blindly support Julian Assange than the two women he is accused of raping.

Specifically, she is calling out filmmaker Michael Moore:

A man has been accused of rape by two separate women. He fled the country in which he was accused. He is fighting extradition, so that he won’t have to go back to that country and face charges — even though there are spectacularly low rates of conviction for accused rapists, he just doesn’t think that he should have to go through the system, for whatever reason. And you know who’s posting bail for him?

Fucking progressives. That’s who. Including one man who has, for some years now, served as one of the most prominent and recognizable faces of the American left, filmmaker/rabble-rouser/all-around champion of the Truth and the Little Guy, Michael Moore. He’s put $20,000 hard, cashy dollars on the line, so that Julian Assange, white male left-wing darling, will be able to get out on bail despite posing a substantial and acknowledged flight risk, and despite the fact that he evidently is working to avoid facing the charges of his accusers.

You can read more about this here: ‘#MooreandMe: On Progressives, Rape Apologism, and the Little Guy’; follow the rest on Tiger Beatdown; and lend your support on Twitter.

My Thoughts on ‘Avatar’

I saw James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ last week and I liked it.

The Cinematic Experience

I liked it because it was entertaining, immersive, and beautifully shot. I loved the 3-D effects and did, eventually, get used to wearing the 3-D glasses for that long a time (once I figured out how best to place them on my nose in relation to the glasses that I already wear).

I also liked the way in which future technology and space travel were depicted. Though, funnily enough, future bulldozers make the same beeping noises that present-day ones do :)

Of course, Pandora was gorgeous and I really appreciated the depth of detail that Weta Digital and ILM went into when creating that world.

The Story

The story was pretty good, too. Though, as you would expect, it had issues.

Speaking of those issues, there are a number of lenses you can use to analyze both the basic plot and actual storyline of the film. And lots of people have, indeed, reviewed and analyzed the film extensively (see links to my favourite reviews/discussions at the end). The lenses they have used include race, colonialism, gender, the role of the military/militia in broader society, military strategy, the role of scientists/sociologists in broader society, capitalism/anti-corporatism, and disability.

What’s particularly interesting about these reviews is that everyone comes at the story from a different point of view. For example, I’ve found that many American reviewers and bloggers see parallels between the film’s story and what happened to the indigenous peoples of North America during European colonization. Non-Americans, meanwhile, talk about that as well as other colonialist movements from around the world.

I think that’s a testament to the screenwriters (and Dr Paul Frommer, who created the Na’vi language) because the situation presented in the film can reference any number of real situations from human history from around the world.

That said, the basic plot itself isn’t very original. And if you read ‘The Evolution of ‘Avatar’’ on the Reappropriate blog you’ll see how this film’s plot is somewhat similar to the plots of ‘Dances with Wolves’ and ‘The Last Samurai’.

Still, it’s an important story to tell and I think it was told quite well. For more, read the reviews I’ve linked-to below.

Overall, I’d give the movie a 9 out of 10 – both for its awesome cinematography & visual effects and for its timing & relevance-of-story to our present-day socio-political world. Oh, and also for Sigourney Weaver and the kick-ass character she plays in the film :)

Reviews Worth Reading

More Reviews from The Spoony Experiment: District 9, Transformers II

I discovered The Spoony Experiment thanks to Noah Antwiler’s review on ‘New Moon’ and, since then, have watched a few more of his reviews.

Here are some of my favourites (out of the ones I’ve watched so far):

District 9

For someone who hasn’t experienced racism and can’t quite relate to everything that’s going on in ‘District 9’, I thought Antwiler made a really good attempt to understand the politics, thoughts, and emotions behind the film. Oh, and his review was really good, too.

Transformer: Revenge of the Fallen

I really didn’t like ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’. And, though I haven’t watched the whole of this review yet, I don’t Noah liked it much either.

Movie Reviews from Around the Web: Twilight, 2012

I have a few movie reviews to share.

2012

I recently watched Roland Emmerich’s latest disaster movie, ‘2012’ and quite enjoyed it. My favourite reviews thus far have been:

Twilight: New Moon

Now I am considering watching the film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s second book from the Twilight series, ‘New Moon’.

However, these reviews are making me think twice (FYI: the second review is a lot shorter):

So I’ll probably will till it comes on pay-per-view cable next year.

Speaking more generally about the Twilight books, you really should watch/read the following:

District 9 is Awesome

Over the weekend Nadia and I watched Neill Blomkamp's debut full-length feature film, District 9.

It's a powerful and (sometimes) difficult movie to watch but it's certainly worth the effort. And while there is lots that I can say about it, a number of others have already said it better, so I'm just going to recommend you read the following (all of which, unfortunately, have some spoilers):

What I will say, however, is that I seriously recommend you go watch it. It's the best movie I've seen all year.

Oh, and for more general information about the film, check out its:

10 Most Influential Films of the Last 10 Years

/Film’s Brendon Connelly has come up with a list of the ten most influential (English language) films of the last ten years. Read the blog post for the reasons why these particular films have been included but the list itself is as follows:

  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • Traffic
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  • Polar Express
  • Rushmore
  • The Matrix
  • Children of Men
  • The 40 Year Old Virgin
  • Coraline

Connelly does admit, however, that the list is skewed towards the technical side of film-making and storytelling.

I would agree with some of the commenters, however, that the Lord of the Rings trilogy should have been included. I’d say that’s partly for the number and scale of special effects used but mainly for, for the first time, producing three films concurrently!

The discussion in the comments is quite lively, by the way, so make sure you check that out as well.

Sound of Music Sing-a-long-a in Melbourne

The Sound of Music sing-a-long-a is back in Melbourne this year. It’s on 15 and 16 May at the Hamer Hall (tickets from Ticketmaster, details on the Sing-A-Long-A website) and I would love to attend but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to (it’s expensive!). Besides, it won’t be as much fun without, say, either of my sisters going with me. Still, I’ll see if I can make it.

Meanwhile, have you seen this bit of Sound of Music awesomeness? It’s an Improv Everywhere type of flash mob performance of ‘Do-Re-Me’ at the central train station in Antwerp, Belgium:

Brilliant, isn’t it?  Or should I say “Charming. Quite charming.” :)

Science in Film & Television

USA Today’s Dan Vergano has written a good article, called ‘TV, Films Boldly Go Down Scientific Path’, on how film makers and television producers are making an effort to get the science that they put into their films and TV shows to be as accurate – or at least as internally logically consistent – as possible.

Naturally, what you’ll see in films and television shows isn’t practical science because real, practical science is long and arduous and sometimes boring. Films and TV shows, meanwhile, are entertainment so at the most you’ll get a montage of a scientist (or a team of scientists) hard at work. And these montages will range from the suit-construction-in-the-cave montage from Iron Man to the working-by-the-window-as-the-seasons-change montage from A Beautiful Mind to the evidence-collecting-and-processing montages that you see on CSI all the time.

On most films and TV shows, though, the actual scientific process gets skipped and you only get to hear the results (e.g. “the lab tests are in”, “forensics has shown”, and so on). Unless, of course, the scientific investigative process itself is part of the storyline like it is on shows like CSI, Numb3rs, Lie to Me, and House – all of which feature real science with only a few liberties taken to make the plot more interesting. All four of those are awesome shows, by the way.

Anyway, Vergano has written a good article and I highly recommend you read it. It even quotes Phil Plait! :)

Music from the Watchmen Film

I’ve seen the ‘Watchmen’ movie twice now, and though I really like the movie itself, what stands out, for me at least, is they way they used music throughout the film; particularly in transition scenes and montages.

[WARNING: Possible spoilers, especially if you haven’t already read the graphic novel]

The musical good-ness starts with the opening credits that feature Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’. This was a really neat way to start the film as this montage is our introduction to the parallel reality that the movie is set in (I particularly liked the bit where Silhouette replaces the sailor in Eisenstaedt’s famous ‘V-J Day in Times Square’ photo).

The two most memorable uses of music, however, are the cold war era protest song ‘99 Luftballons’ by Nena that gets played at the start of the Daniel Dreiberg and Laurie Jupiter dinner scene and use of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’ for The Comedian’s funeral. Awesome stuff, particularly the entire funeral scene. Also memorable, but more because of it’s unusual placement, is the use of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ during the Nite Owl and Silk Spectre sex scene.

Then there are the more energetic songs that are used at appropriate points. These include ‘All Along the Watchtower’ performed Jimi Hendrix (but, of course, written by Bob Dylan), ‘Desolation Row’ as performed by My Chemical Romance (also originally by Bob Dylan), and ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ as performed the Budapest Symphony Orchestra (which is a nod to the helicopter attack scene from ‘Apocalypse Now’). Oh, and if you stay for the credits you’ll also get to hear Leonard Cohen’s ‘First We’ll Take Manhattan’.

Finally there’s the brilliant use of a muzak version of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ by Tears for Fears that is played in the reception area outside Adrian Veidt’s office.

[End spoilers]

Actually, come to think of it, the good use of awesome music started months ago with the Smashing Pumpkin’s ‘The Beginning is the End is the Beginning’ being used for one of the film’s trailers.

Anyway, if you haven’t yet seen the film I suggest you do because it really is quite good. One thing, though: do keep in mind that this is not your typical, happy-ending superhero film. It’s a dark, dismal, serious movie – darker than what Batman films are supposed to be – and if you don’t go into the cinema expecting that, you probably won’t enjoy it as much.

[For more on the music used throughout the film, check out the Reel Soundtrack Blog’s feature on the Watchmen Soundtrack or the film’s Wikipedia page.]

Why is Science Important?

Why is science important?

Physics teacher and film-maker Alom Shaha decided to ask a whole bunch of scientists and educators that question, the answers to which he compiled on the ‘Why is Science Important?’ website that he had created for this purpose.

He then put all those answers – including, of course, his own – into an awesome video that is now available online:


Why is Science Important? from Alom Shaha on Vimeo.

Enjoy :)

[Via the Bad Astronomer]

Roland Emmerich to Direct Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ Series

Variety reports that Columbia Pictures has won the screen rights to the ‘Foundation’ series of books written by Isaac Asimov. Asimov is one of my all-time favourite authors and ‘Foundation’ is one my all-time favourite series of book so the fact that they’re in the process of developing these books for film – presumably a series of films – is awesome.

Unfortunately the director they have chosen to do so is Roland Emmerich. Now Emmerich isn’t a bad director – ‘Stargate’ (1994), ‘Independence Day’ (1996), ‘Godzilla’ (1998), ‘The Patriot’ (2000), and ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ (2004) are all good films – but the ‘Foundation’ series is much too awesome to be made into simply a good series of films. And thus I am…concerned.

That said, what is cool about Emmerich’s films is that they manage to depict very well the epic scale of the stories being told. Further, the epic nature of these stories is brilliantly supported by superb special effects that don’t get in the way of the storytelling (think: ‘Star Wars’ prequels as a case in which the CG got the better of the story being told).

What all of those movies lack, then, are deep, complex, meaningful characters that you find yourself caring about…well, with the exception of Benjamin Martin’s character (played by Mel Gibson) in ‘The Patriot’. Okay so the characters aren’t all that bad (you could even say that some of them are good) and, yes, you do end up sympathizing with them (and the predicaments they find themselves in) but they are pretty one-dimensional. Indeed, most of the conflict that makes Emmerich’s films interesting occurs, not because of the way the characters are written, but because of the stories themselves.

*Realization dawns on Ameel*

Ah.

Which is why, I suppose, that Emmerich is the perfect director to tell Asimov’s stories. Why? Because Emmerich makes the kinds of stories that Asimov writes.

Let me explain: Asimov was never good at writing characters that were deep, complex, and meaningful – indeed very few science fiction authors are – but he did tell awesome stories on a very grand scale.

For example, the Foundation series – which spans a period of about 500 years – contains only one deeply-written (though not very complex) character in Hari Seldon and only one complex (though not very deeply-written) character in Golan Trevize. What you get instead is an excellent, nay mind-blowing, story that is worthy of the the special “Best All-Time Series” Hugo award. And since this matches so well the types of stories that Emmerich likes to make into films…this could actually work really well!

And thus I am now…excited :)

R.I.P. Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton, one my all-time favourite authors, passed away a few days ago.

I loved his books and the way he wrote them: they were exciting, inspiring, and a whole lot of fun. Indeed, I've read all his fictional works though I've only read one of his non-fiction ones (must remedy that). I've also watched almost all of his films and remember being blown away by 'West World', 'Jurassic Park', and 'Twister'. Heck, I even remember the ending scene from 'The Andromeda Strain' which I watched on TV back in the mid-80s! I must now watch the three films that I've missed.

You can read more about Crichton here:

Rest in Peace, Michael.

Ramchand Pakistani

Speaking of stuff that's related to Pakistan (see my previous post), I'm really looking forward to watching Mehreen Jabbar's film 'Ramchand Pakistani' which I've heard good things about.

Ramchand Pakistani is derived from a true story concerning the accidental crossing of the Pakistan-Indian border during a period (June 2002) of extreme, war-like tension between the two countries by two members of a Pakistani Hindu family belonging to the 'untouchable' (Dalit) caste, and the extraordinary consequences of this unintended action upon the lives of a woman, a man, and their son.

I don't know when we'll get to see it in Melbourne but I hope it's sometime soon.

[Also see 'Ramchand Pakistani' on IMDb]