Movie Review – Moon

I recently formed a sci-fi movie club along with some other friends, where we watch a movie each month and chat about it with each other. The catch is that none of the others are based in the city that I am in, so it’s all done electronically: we stream movies from iTunes or wherever, and discuss it over email. It’s a bit different from the book club that I’m in, but still enjoyable. Kate is convinced that the real purpose of the club is to justify watching movies that none of the partners of those involved would ever want to watch. She is entitled to her theory.

But I wanted to mention one of the movies that we’ve watched that I found surprisingly enjoyable. It seems to be a film that got very little attention at the time, although it is a bit of a gem.


A well-made sci-fi mystery set on the moon

There was clearly a big budget set aside for this film. The production values are apparent from the very beginning, and yet the special effects are not gratuitous, despite being set in space. The movie is all about the story.

However, it doesn’t rush the story, and perhaps this feels a little slow at times, but also builds a sense of suspense around what is going to happen next. There is a real mystery here. The acting is also first-class, supporting the feeling of unease around the events. Even the robot character, Gerty, is well “acted”, which is a rare thing indeed.

I found it interesting how Gerty is given just three or four emoticon-type expressions based on how advanced the AI is otherwise. It is probably a fair approach to avoiding any uncanny-valley problems.

In hind-sight, this feels a lot like old-school sci-fi, of the ilk of Robert Heinlein. He was keen on Moon stories, too.

Rating by andrew: 4.0 stars

Movie Review – Date Night

As a married couple with kids, we are familiar with the concept of date nights. Setting aside time where we do something nice together is a good idea. And since we’re Tina Fey fans, it seemed only natural for our date night the other week to involve watching Date Night. Yeah, I know it’s hardly original, but it seemed apt.

Date Night

If you know the subject, you’ll know the truth of the material

It’s got Tina Fey and Steve Carrell, both skilled in the art of ad-libbing and quirky comedy. They’re playing a married couple with precious little time left in their lives for each other, shocked at the deteriorating relationships of some close friends, and looking to add some spark again. And then they get a lot more spark than they bargained for, with mad-cap capers ensuring.

I found the whole thing to be enormous fun. The plot and action sequences are not particularly strong elements of the film, but the two lead protagonists are wonderful characters and the dialogue (both written and ad-libbed) is funny. It’s funny because it’s true.

Rating by andrew: 4.0 stars

Concluding a decade of Harry

We recently took advantage of a generous friend’s babysitting of the kids for the evening, and went to see a movie. Certainly not something we have done since Philippa was born, so it was a rare treat. Although, we chose to see a movie that was our habit to see for the last ten years – the latest Harry Potter flick. Watching the fantasy adventures of Harry and his friends has been a regular feature during much of my adult life. It is strange to think back on when we saw the first movie at the Rivoli Cinema One, when we saw a later one with Spanish subtitles in Europe, and how during all that time we got married, had two children, and had many adventures of our own.

After watching the final film, I had a strong urge to begin reading all the books again. I’ve now completed the first four books, and am eagerly looking forward to the final three.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

A satisfying conclusion to the eight film series

Over the course of eight films, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that they got better at adapting J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books. The first film tried too hard to contain the whole book rather than being a movie experience in its own right, perhaps to please the rabid fans, but disappointing the rest a little. The film-makers got better at leaving things out, to identifying the key plot points, and with the final two films, giving themselves twice as much movie time to fit the story into.

The movie of the first part of the Deathly Hallows was desolate and depressing, but thankfully its follow-up is perkier. That said, the actors playing the darker characters get more screen time than usual, and they really shine.

It was probably also an advantage for me to have read the Deathly Hallows book ages ago, allowing me to forget much of it. I understand that there were some inexplicable changes made for the film adaptation, but unless you are a rabid fan, it’s just minor stuff. All in all, I found it to be a very satisfying way to complete the series.

Rating by andrew: 4.0 stars

It was very interesting to re-read the first book again. When I read it originally, I found it a nice bit of fluff. It is a fun tale, but not particularly sophisticated, nor were the characters very deep. However, now that I’ve had the benefit of a whole saga’s worth of character development, the characters in the book read with a richness that J K Rowling didn’t actually write into it. As a result, it’s been a much more rewarding experience than I was expecting.

Facebook Movie Review

In the lead-up to having our second child, we are getting in some things that will be harder to do once there’s a newborn around. So, about a week ago, thanks to our baby-sitting neighbour, we got out to see a movie together.

We are fans of Aaron Sorkin‘s oeuvre, with the box sets of both The West Wing and Sports Night in our TV cabinet. Since he’d been out here in Australia spruiking his new film recently, and that was its opening night, the choice of what to see was pretty simple.

The Social Network

A tale of friendship and betrayal with a lot of geeky detail mixed in

This is a film that follows the Sorkin model. Sports Night had rapid-fire technical sport talk, West Wing had a thousand-words-a-minute political speak, and The Social Network has a firehose of geek speak and technical computer detail. But in none of those cases did it really limit your understanding of the plot, and on the contrary, it does at least make you feel smart.

It also doesn’t hurt that the movie is well cast and acted, and dialogue is clever and humorous. Because it’s based on a true story, you already know how it will end – Facebook will be a success – but the tale isn’t about Facebook, so much as the interesting bunch of people who were around in the early days of the social networking website, and the roles they played in bringing it about.

Perhaps these characters are as much the social network of the title as the website. They are excellent fodder for Sorkin’s script and part of the enjoyment for me was in the fleshing-out of the characters as the film progressed.

While Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t get a particularly favourable presentation in the movie, his friend Eduardo Saverin is treated very sympathetically. Still, Zuckerberg is presented in a way that allows us to feel that we can almost understand him and what has driven him to become the billionaire and social media titan that he is today.

Another aspect that comes across well is the excitement and craziness that comes from being in a high-growth start-up. This is another thing Sorkin is good at capturing, whether it is the crazy cultures of the armed forces, top-tier politics or TV journalism. In this case, it helps explain the lure of why people would want to join a start-up (despite the high risk and long hours).

So, while this isn’t a truly great movie, it was a very interesting one. Especially so as the influence of the Facebook social network continues to grow in our lives. By getting a perspective on the early days of this service, it helps in understanding the changes Facebook is undergoing.

Rating by andrew: 3.5 stars

The Kung Fu Kid Review

I’m a bit of a fan of the original The Karate Kid. It’s not really particularly well acted, and the characters are rather flat, but it’s a lot of fun, and is a real 1980s classic. So, I was really interested to see what the latest movie would be like…

The Karate Kid

A surprisingly adult martial arts film involving surprisingly young kids.

This 2010 film is a homage, rather than a strict remake, of the 1984 classic. While it has the same plot points, it has different characters, a different setting, and a different martial art. In the intervening 26 years, it feels like this film has matured and deepened somewhat, and we’ve ended up with richer characters, better acting, and a real feeling of authenticity about it.

The cinematography is excellent, with amazing shots of China showing both polished and gritty parts. Jackie Chan, as a kung fu master, lends real credibility to the role of teacher. Given that the original 1984 film was a bit of a homage to Asian martial arts films, it’s rather apt that this take on the original has real Asian martial arts film chops.

However, the pace of the film is rather slow. It has a lot of dramatic arts, and relatively small amounts of martial arts. Many kids would find this pretty dull, I’d expect. Also, the kids themselves, i.e. the actors, in the film made me somewhat uncomfortable.

The main character is portrayed by a clearly 11 year-old actor. The result for me was that the violence and the romantic attraction were both problematic. The romance seemed implausible and the violence was troubling. The original, with the male and female leads both being well over 18, did not have this issue.

So, while the title’s reference to Karate is less accurate than the original, the reference to Kid is more accurate, and I think the film has suffered for it.

Rating by andrew: 2.0 stars

The new Star Wars?

There’s plenty that’s already been written on this movie, since it cost a bomb to make, the director waited a decade to make it until technology caught up to his vision, and it’s on a rapid trajectory to become the highest grossing film ever. But I’ve been hanging out to see it ever since I heard it would be in 3D, making it the first of the current crop of 3D films to be (at least, partially) live-action. And anyway, at least this review will be adhering to my strong policy of no spoilers.


An enjoyable film set in a jaw-droppingly impressive sci-fi universe.

This is not a new tale, and is similar to Dune (or to Pocahontas, I am told), but is delivered with such commitment to the vision of James Cameron that it cannot fail to impress. This film is awash with a wealth of detail that even Tolkien would be proud of. With scientific consultants including a linguist from USC and a botanist from UCR, the world has a lot of detail behind it that you can actually see on the screen. New technologies needed to be developed to produce the computer animation and to shoot the actors in 3D.

The 3D is something that is hyped up in the marketing for this film. I saw this film in 3D, but although I suspect I would’ve enjoyed it as much, or more, in 2D. It is a little distracting – from time to time I found myself impressed by the technology rather than immersed in the tale. Although, perhaps this is something that over time people will get used to. If you see enough 3D video content, you will probably be able to look past the 3D aspect itself.

The themes in the movie are consistent with the effort that Cameron has invested in his new world – perhaps he subconsciously doesn’t want anyone to mess with it. The themes cover the effects of colonialism, the theory of gaia, and the problems of the military-industrial complex. If this doesn’t float your boat, you can still get lost in the film’s 3D beauty or its action sequences.

Although, ironically, the characters themselves don’t have a great deal of depth. I found it hard to really empathise with them, or find their motivations completely believable. However, at least the heroes are likeable.

Even if the characters don’t re-appear, I came away convinced that the world will appear again in further movies, games and books. Like Star Trek, Star Wars or Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the story universe has been so richly populated that sequels can’t help but be spun out form it. Sounds like Cameron has at least a couple more films up his sleeve for it, also.

My rating: 3.5 stars

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3D but not even 3 star

On a recent trip, I watched one of the new crop of 3D computer animated films on the plane. Since Chicken Little came out in 2005, there has been almost exponential growth in the number of 3D films in our cinemas. Today it seems that you can’t release a computer animation without making it 3D – even Pixar’s latest effort is a 3D extravaganza. That said, the film I watched was in 2D since planes aren’t yet fitted out with 3D screens.

Monsters vs Aliens

The title is more exciting than the film turned out to be

Now, if this was actually the aliens out of the movie Aliens fighting the monsters out of Monsters Inc, then we might have had something. However, this movie was about two things: 3D and Reese Witherspoon.

You can tell that we’re not yet mature about the use of 3D in films, because this one starts off with a guy playing with a paddle ball towards the camera. I would’ve thought that the point was to have a movie experience so immersive that you forget you’re in a cinema. Going out of your way to remind everyone that they’re watching a 3D movie defeats that.

Aside from the 3D, Witherspoon is the star of this show. It’s really a vehicle for her (is it her first animated feature?) and the rest is not particularly memorable. I got the impression that if Men in Black had been made by the people who made Sweet Home Alabama, then this is the movie we’ve had ended up with.

My rating: 2.5 stars

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A child-free night out

Thanks to Uncle Ben’s kind offer to babysit, we were free to go see a movie (!). The most simple night out becomes something requiring planning and logistics, now that we are parents. However, we almost left it too late to see the latest Harry Potter film before it vanished from cinemas here.

As I’ve said before, we’re not the maddest of mad keen Potter fans, but we have seen every Harry Potter film at the cinema. In order to see the second one, we had to see it in Madrid. Luckily, it was a subtitled rather than a dubbed version!

If I was a mad keen fan, I probably wouldn’t have called it “the second one”, but all the titles blur together. Harry Potter and the Random Jumble of Words. So, this movie was the sixth one, and apparently there are two more to go.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Best realisation of the Harry Potter universe yet.

The sixth Harry Potter book is not the best one of the series, so the sixth movie is starting with a bit of a handicap. If I’m to be honest, it’s a handicap that it doesn’t completely overcome. But, plot aside, there are many other excellent aspects of this film, and I found myself really enjoying it.

The first thing is that the acting has come a long way from the beginning of the series. All the cast put on a good showing, and it is a delight to watch them realise the characters.

I also came away with the impression that the visual effects director was a genius. The special effects in the film (aside from the first couple of minutes in London) were appropriately done, effective, and rather artistic. The quidditch game in this film actually felt like a game that you could imagine people liking.

On the other hand, this is a dark episode in the the Harry Potter series, and is not one you would take small children to. A number of the scenes felt like they could have been lifted from a decent horror flick.

Don’t expect all of the book’s scenes to be present in the film. And don’t expect the book to be faithfully interpreted. If you are a mad keen fan, you probably won’t appreciate it. However, I think they’ve set things up well for the sequel (both of them).

My rating: 4.0 stars

Huge night out

Last night Kate and I went out and saw a film together. It was the first film we’ve seen together since Harriet was born, and Kate’s parents did the duty of minding our little girl for a couple of hours. We saw the film, had a coffee, and were back by 10:30 to pick her up again. A Saturday night out is a bit different to how it used to be. :)

For this momentous night out we chose to see a film that is up for a bag of oscars. We’ll know within 24 hours whether it has landed any of them, but I think it’s got good odds.

Slumdog Millionaire

A huge, Indian film with gangsters, family, and romance.

This is probably not the sort of film to go to if you are dog tired. It requires a lot from the audience, with a large number of subtitles (done in an interesting way), two levels of flash-backs, and multiple actors playing the main characters at different points in their lives. But it is worth the effort, as the film is epic, well-acted and has an interesting tale.

Based loosely on a book, the idea in this film is explaining how a boy from the slums can know the answers in the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” game-show in India. In explaining this, we are treated to an amazing life the includes the horrors of slums, beggars, thieves and death, although situated in some incredible locations that are well captured by the cinematography. It intelligently covers themes of loyalty, religious intolerance, and the class system, but wraps it up in a romantic plot. I was impressed.

Given that it doesn’t show India in a particularly kind light, it didn’t really make me want to go back and visit. I can’t imagine the Indian government being particularly happy about the number of people going to see this film, from a tourist perspective. For example, I couldn’t imagine such a film being set and filmed in China, with the PRC’s tight control of media.

I have also read that this film is bringing about a renewed interest in Bollywood dancing. This surprises me, as I would’ve picked this as the least likely Indian film to spur a Bollywood dancing resurgence. The stars are not Bollywood stars, and there is no dancing in the main part of the film. But if it encourages people to see other Bollywood films, where there are real song and dance numbers, then all the better.

Or maybe it’s just the sheer number of people who are going to see this movie. And I can understand that.

My rating: 4.0 stars

As a postscript to this review, when I was living in London, I had a job that involved developing mobile handset versions of the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” game. Every time the theme music played in the movie, I practically had a flash-back, which made it a bit hard to focus on the movie at times. I don’t expect many other people would have that problem…

How we watch movies these days

Last weekend, we “watched” a movie. However, as I suspect will become quite typical, we watched it on DVD, at home, in snatches of 15-30 minutes, punctuated by a whisper of “your turn” then one of us attending to Harriet. (She was a little unwell, and wasn’t sleeping as well as she would normally at that time.) Despite this, and a little surprisingly, I really enjoyed the movie!

The Bank Job

Facinating retelling of the 1971 Baker St robbery

Maybe it’s just my recent enjoyment of the conmen in the UK TV series Hustle, but I really enjoyed this fictionalised take on how some real-life British criminals conducted a major bank heist in 1971. Normally you need to suspend your disbelief in watching a movie, but given that a large number of the circumstances in this movie are actually true (and more of them than you might expect), skepticism is replaced with astonishment.

So it was with a sense of astonishment at the gall, luck and intelligence of these criminals that I found myself sucked into the plot. It is quite complex, with much of the film providing a set-up for the last 30-40 minutes. Although, it wasn’t until this last part that I found myself really enjoying the film. In this way, it reminded me a little of The Thomas Crown Affair, another film I really enjoyed.

Watching the DVD in one respect was better than the film would have been, as the DVD contained a mini documentary on the facts behind the Baker St robbery. This reinforced the incredible nature of the case, showing that sometimes fact is much stranger than fiction.

My rating: 4.5 stars