Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

VidAngel: Here We Go Again—Friday, June 9th, 2017
VidAngel DVD copies

A thousand copies (or so) of Revenant in VidAngel’s DVD vault.

VidAngel just went to court on Thursday to appeal the injunction against their streaming movie filtering service. VidAngel is an interesting streaming service that allows you to buy a movie and then filter the movie according to your tastes at that moment; for example, you could change your filters depending on who is watching.

Or you could, if the courts would let them perform the service. Currently there’s an injunction against them.

VidAngel is a very neat idea. Their ads are very funny. Is VidAngel as useful as their ads say? Probably. Now, most movies are not as funny or as well-directed as VidAngel’s ads. But their ads are also a little misleading. Specifically, there are three things that are clearly explained on their web site but that are implied to be otherwise in their very funny and well-made ads:

  1. You can’t rent movies for $1. You aren’t renting movies at all, if they’re telling the truth: you’re buying movies for $20 and then getting $19 back. Except that if you have a widescreen television set, you probably want to buy the HD version, which also costs you $20, but you only get $18 when you sell it back. So for most people nowadays it’s going to be $2 per movie.
  2. You can’t wait any longer than RedBox to return the movie. Just like RedBox, you get charged what is basically a late fee for every day you don’t sell it back. The movie costs you $20; you buy it and you own it. You can (and probably will) sell it back to VidAngel to get some of your money back. If you sell it back within 24 hours, they’ll give you $18 or $19 for it. For every 24 hours after that, they’ll pay you less.
  3. Most importantly, you can’t actually watch it how you want to watch it, unless you always want to watch it filtered.

Now, all of these are clearly explained on the web site. I went in expecting to try out a movie-watching site where I could watch filtered or unfiltered for a buck as I wished, but by the time I got to the actual “give them money” step, I knew that wasn’t the case.

Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike—Tuesday, February 14th, 2017
Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike

Well, I finally got around to seeing the second part of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy last weekend. It has, in fact, overcome the few problems I noted from the first part. It was exciting, believable, and if it had any flaw it was that it was very much like a Hollywood movie. It vastly improved on the first movie, which I enjoyed, but mainly for memorable scenes (such as the train moving across the bridge) and the heart that the creators put into it.

Again, I still haven’t gotten around to reading the book (although I have read We the Living since then), so I can’t say how well it hews to the novel. But as a movie I highly recommend it.

If it has a flaw, it would be that it makes it look like the government’s actions are drastic and unprecedented; there’s no sense that some of them had already been put into place in the seventies by Nixon in collusion with a Democratic congress, and were maintained by Ford and Carter. We’ve already had wage freezes and price freezes in the United States; we know what a disaster it is—and how much the media will lie to maintain the resulting recession. While thrillers shouldn’t be history lessons, leaving that history out makes this movie more political than it really is.

Some demagogues on the left decry this movie as right-wing. But if, for example, the emphasis had been placed more on the cronyists like Dagny Taggart’s brother and less on the politicians that enable them, they’d be praising it. It’s all a matter of perspective: businessmen who use politicians are evil, and the movies that portray such evils are good; portraying politicians as complicit with the businessmen, even though the result is exactly the same and exactly as evil makes it right-wing from their perspective.

What it really is, is all too likely to happen again.

Atlas Shrugged III is already in my Amazon cart. If it’s half as good as part two, this will be a great trilogy, and I’m not going to wait to find out like I did with part two.

Retro Review: Small Soldiers—Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

I recently watched Small Soldiers again after not seeing it since it came out. I remembered it as being a fun movie about what if toys could do what companies say they can do. But it’s even more brilliant than I remembered it.

The movie starts out as if it’s going to be the same old cliché of global soulless corporation against small, heartland company. The toy company is literally named Heartland Toys and the corporation is literally named Globotech. Of the two toy developers we see, one just wants to make educational games. The movie plays into this cliché in the first scene as the CEO of Globotech sneers at learning and peace. He’s coming across as the worst parts of Bill Gates and those guys in charge of the Crossbow Project at the beginning of Real Genius.

Then the other toy developer shows off a mockup advertisement video for a line of toy soldiers. In the advertisement, the toy soldier punches his way out of the box and starts talking, and the CEO turns to the developer and asks, “can they really do that?”

The developer doesn’t even understand the question at first, but no, he finally answers, the toys cannot punch their way out of their own box. And that’s when Mr. Globotech turns into Steve Jobs1, even to the point of correcting his new employees on some advertising sloganry2. The Globotech CEO goes on a Jobsian rant about all the things advertisers say their products can do but can’t. And wouldn’t it be awesome if toys could do what they do in advertisements.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if toy soldiers could play back?

Hell yes.

That’s what Small Soldiers is about: how completely awesome it would be to have toy soldiers that fight back. Despite all the destruction the toys cause, it’s fun to fight them. Kirsten Dunst has a grim smile on her face as she destroys her Barbie dolls, but it’s the same kind of smile kids have whenever they’re really interacting with their toys. Whenever, in fact, they’re learning from their toys. The main character’s mom has a blast, literally, using her tennis racket to lob bombs back at the toy soldiers as the soldiers converge on their house.

Yes, those toys would be fun.

Apple TV review—Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Planets app on Apple TV

The Planets app is universal for the iPad, iPhone, and Apple TV, and displays constellations, planets, the moon, and the sun’s location in the sky or below the horizon.

In April, I purchased the fourth-generation Apple TV. It was less about wanting an Apple TV than about getting fed up with my Samsung Smart TV’s utterly insane user interaction choices. I don’t get cable television, just Internet, and I don’t watch a whole lot of broadcast television either. I used my television mainly for Netflix and Youtube and a little for Video & TV Cast when I wanted to watch something live.

But the Samsung was always updating when I wanted to watch something. There’s a setting on the TV that sounded like “update in the background when I’m not using the television” but in actual practice can’t have meant that because it doesn’t seem to have done it.

When I first bought the television, I hadn’t paid much attention to the Smart TV aspects, because I expected Apple to come out with a smarter Apple TV box soon. That was in June of 2014. By the time Apple finally did bring out the smarter box in November of 2015, I was semi-resigned to using the crappy Samsung interface and thought I’d try to get by without spending a hundred dollars on a set-top box.

But the Samsung just seemed to keep trying to convince me to get something better. I forget what finally put me over the line; it may have been turning on the TV to watch one of the debates and being told to wait a few minutes while the “smart” aspect of the Smart TV updated.

Since getting the Apple box, I have not used the Samsung apps even once. I haven’t missed the apps at all. The only features I do miss are on the YouTube app, but since the YouTube app on the Apple TV is more reliable than the app on the Samsung, it’s still overall a better experience on the Apple TV.

YouTube on the Samsung used to temporarily lock up occasionally, freezing for up to a minute before continuing on. That doesn’t happen on the Apple TV, but the Apple TV version of the app does not allow liking/unliking videos, which the Samsung version did, nor any sharing or adding to folders. On the whole, since I turn on the television to watch something—and the inability to do so is what drove me to the Apple TV—not freezing makes this app better on the Apple TV than on the Samsung. But it’s still disappointing that I can’t mark something for later retrieval.

Florence Foster Jenkins is Hillary Clinton—Tuesday, August 30th, 2016
Florence Foster Jenkins

Hillary Clinton addresses small circle of supporters at campaign rally in matching hair and wallpaper.

It’s a movie about a woman with a robotic and grating voice, wearing bizarre clothing, who is completely out of touch with the real world. Her sycophants encourage her delusions and do their best to hide her severe defects from the public. If I were to write a satire about the Clintons and the media, the result would look a lot like Florence Foster Jenkins.

In the movie, Jenkins is an absolutely painful singer who believes she is amazing—countering self-doubts, her entourage encourages her in this belief. Her lover, to keep anyone, especially her, from finding out just how bad she is, bribes all the reviewers he can to write that she was amazing, and hides all reviews that report how bad she really was.

The mainstream media today is acting like St. Clair Bayfield running around the neighborhood scooping up all critical reviews—such as that Hillary Clinton’s mentor was a KKK member—and burying them in the trash.

They’re even trying to hide ancillary scandals from her husband, such as, in the Washington Post Magazine, William Tucker writing that Bill Clinton “allegedly cheated on his wife…”.

Allegedly. Even though he admitted to doing it and the DNA evidence was incontrovertible. Eventually, if they think they can get away with it, they will start saying that these were just accusations from partisans, and then will say those accusations were debunked.

Imagine if Robert Byrd had been a Republican and Trump had called him a mentor. There would be no such weasel words as “alleged” or “claimed” in CNN’s reports on the matter. Of course, that’s a very unlikely scenario, since all or almost all Ku Klux Klan members were Democrats. The KKK killed Republicans.

So instead imagine if a Republican were accepting donations in the millions and even tens of millions of dollars from corporations, the wealthy, and foreign sources while running for office. Imagine that it’s been linked to all sorts of corruption in a previous office—paying for access, and paying for foreign policy. Now, imagine if they promised to shut down this foundation—but only after they were elected, thus telling all potential donors that they need to donate now if they want access.

The universality of life in stories—Wednesday, February 17th, 2016
Baby Bender

Doritos just got in trouble for a commercial in which a fetus has the presence of mind to want a nacho. NARAL called it an anti-abortion advertisement. Bill Whittle thinks NARAL is angry because the baby has a personality, but every mother at that stage in her pregnancy will tell you, their baby has a personality.

The Doritos ad is, of course, just a joke, but it’s hard to make stories involving pregnancy were we do not recognize both the humanity already there, and the potential humanity that will grow from it. Stories by their nature recognize humanity and they recognize narratives, which means they recognize future value. They are naturally biased toward individualism. It’s a joke among conservatives that some of the best conservative heroes come from the minds of very left-wing writers: Stephen King’s Gunslinger, Joss Whedon’s misbehavin’ Captain Reynolds, Gene Roddenberry’s Captain Kirk.

I’ve been slowing working my way through Futurama on Netflix, and while watching an episode from the Comedy Central era, it struck me that the natural individuality of narrative applies just as well to life. We naturally cherish it.

In the episode Lethal Inspection, Bender is going on about how robots are immortal and humans inferior, and the only human he cares about is “inspector #5” because inspector 5 recognized that Bender was perfect.

Bender discovers that inspector 5 erred, and sent him out with a defective backup unit. This means he is not immortal after all. He tries to track down inspector 5 to punish him for approving him without a backup unit.

But it turns out that inspector 5 knew Baby Bender was defective—and refused to discard him for destruction. It doesn’t say, but it looks like discarded robots from the assembly line get used for their parts, like Planned Parenthood abortions, though the episode came well before the recent revelations.

Inspector five knew Bender wasn’t perfect, but allowed him to live anyway. He loved him regardless of his imperfections. Afterward, inspector five quit his job because he couldn’t handle taking part in (robot) abortions.

I doubt that the writers deliberately set out to write an anti-abortion episode. It may be that they didn’t even notice they’d done it. It’s just that we are as humans naturally cognizant of the value of life, and stories amplify that knowledge. Our natural reaction to a pregnant woman dying is instinctively that more than one human life is lost. As Scott Ott points out, women who lose a child to miscarriage know that they have lost a child not an undeveloped mass of cells.

Iron Sky—Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Warning. Spoilers abound.

I finally got around to watching Iron Sky. I can see why it got mixed reviews when it came out. There were bits of a good movie hidden in here. The idea that we might go back to the moon, even if it were just a publicity stunt—specially if it were merely a publicity stunt—was gratifying. It’s about time we started going into space for trivial reasons!

The discovery that, in our hour of need, the United States had secretly built a maneuverable military spaceship capable of going to the moon on a whim, disguising it as a satellite? That was thrilling. And when it turned out no nation had given up on the dream of space flight, that was inspiring.1 When I saw that ragtag satellite fleet take on Nazi warships in outer space, I about jumped out of my seat. I didn’t even care that it was a deus ex machina. It was just too cool.

Unfortunately, that’s not what Iron Sky was about. Iron Sky was an anti-war film; even that wasn’t its problem, however. The fatal flaw of Iron Sky is that, ultimately, it was specifically an anti-World War II film. There was no reason to go to war against Germany. Hitler was just a joke.

Literally, when the kind Nazi schoolteacher who believes that Naziism is about helping the less fortunate changes her mind, it isn’t because she accidentally runs across a Holocaust museum on Earth. It’s because she runs across a Charlie Chaplin film on Earth, and learns that Nazis are lower-class.

An alien watching this film would have to seriously question who the villains were. No mention of the holocaust or genocide, and if we hadn’t invaded the moon, the Nazis wouldn’t have invaded us. And when they did attack us, and attempted to rain down meteors on the Earth to destroy whole cities?

The movie had it as a given that it was wrong to bomb the Nazi moon city to stop them from destroying Earth cities—which ultimately means it was wrong to bomb Nazi Germany’s cities and Japan’s cities in World War II to stop them.

The fatal flaw in Iron Sky is that it was, ultimately, an Axis apologetic. Sure, there were evil Nazis on the moon. But we were just as bad, and had no right to defend ourselves after landing on the moon and building evil warships.

There were other good parts, too, such as the Downfall parody parody. Unfortunately, the good parts of Iron Sky were outnumbered by the huh? and wtf? parts.

Call Northside 777—Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

The courage of a newspaper, and one reporter’s refusal to accept defeat.

I ran across a reference to this old black & white film a few weeks ago; I no longer remember where. I couldn’t find it on Netflix, but it did turn out to be on YouTube. Serendipitously, the YouTube app recently appeared on our Smart TV.

Call Northside 777 is very reminiscent of Deadlines & Monkeyshines. That’s not surprising, as the author of that book apparently wrote some of the articles the film is based on. The movie is billed in some quarters as a documentary but it’s more film noir, and definitely uses Hollywood reality-altering techniques to streamline the story, increase empathy, and increase tension. It’s more of a translation, akin to All the President’s Men—and like that movie is based on the written word. In this case, the written words were articles in The Chicago Times. The credited author of the articles, James P. McGuire (translated to P.J. McNeal in the movie) figures prominently in Deadlines & Monkeyshines.

The movie makes old-school journalists look just as bad as modern ones. Jimmy Stewart’s character takes only the facts he needs to construct the narrative his editor wants. Of course, this being a movie where Stewart is the hero, he comes to care for his journalistic pawns.

His editor makes up stories to motivate him. As a cynical hard-nosed journalist he doesn’t fall for the trick, but he has no problem manipulating his readers in the same way.

This is a very interesting look at what people perceived journalists to be—or what journalists wanted to be perceived as—in 1948 when the film came out. And if Deadlines & Monkeyshines is to be believed, it is what journalism really was: a cutthroat business where readers figured last, and only because someone had to buy the papers to pay their salaries.

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