Transcendence: Better Than Expected, Poetic Ending

transcendence-movie-posterWhen I first saw a trailer for the movie Transcendence (IMDB/Wikipedia), I thought to myself that the premise was somewhat interesting but the actual plot looked mundane. In other words, I suspected it would be like The Purge (IMDB/Wikipedia). The premise of whether or not a man’s consciousness should be digitized onto a computers and then expanded onto the internet is the sort of sci-fi philosophical conundrum that would pique my curiosity. Unfortunately, the trailer looked like a creepy Johnny Depp just menacing his former wife and then the rest of humanity. Instead of being a movie that would make think, it’d just be a disappointing techno-thriller.

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The Butler: Proving that Movies About Racism Still Need to be Made

the-butler-movie-posterLee Daniel’s The Butler (Wikipedia/IMDB) was another pirated DVD (白宫管家) I recently purchased to watch, though I found that it added to PPStream just a day or two later.

The movie features an ensemble cast with Forest Whitaker (whom I’m still annoyed with from The Experiment [Wikipedia/IMDB]) in the lead role of Cecil Gaines, a black man who learns how to work as a servant for white employers, eventually getting a job in the White House. As the history of political race-relations plays out in the White House over the terms of multiple American presidents (from Eishenhower to Obama), we see how race-relations also estranges Cecil from his son Louis. The father believes in keeping his head down, just thankful for the opportunities he’s had to improve life for himself and his family, while the son chafes at the persistent racial inequality, becoming an activist pushing for change in society, first as a pacifist following Martin Luther King and later momentarily as a militant Black Panther.

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Captain Phillips: Killing Skinny Somali Pirates On Principle

Captain Phillips movie poster.I watched Captain Phillips (Wikipedia/IMDB) on a pirated DVD (菲利普斯船长) purchased for 12 RMB. I haven’t seen it on a Chinese streaming service or video site so far.

The film is based on the 2009 hijacking of an American cargo container ship, the Maersk Alabama, by Somali pirates who subsequently took Captain Richard Phillips hostage, played by Tom Hanks here. Eventually, US military forces save the day in impressive fashion, but the movie is as much about Captain Phillips’ own efforts to keep his crew safe, his experience being held captive, and essentially why it sucks to be a Somali.

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Unknown: Why Method Acting Is Dangerous for Assassins Riding Taxis

Unknown movie poster.I watched another movie last night after the torture that was Trespass because I didn’t want to go to sleep angry. What I watched was Unknown (Wikipedia/IMDB), also on PPStream (未知/不明身份/神秘白种男子/无名杀机/狙击陌生人).

The movie introduces Liam Neeson, as a Dr. Martin Harrison, arriving with his wife Liz (oh hey, it’s Don Draper’s wife) in a snowy Berlin, Germany, for a biotech conference where he’s supposed to give a presentation. While rushing back to the airport where he lost his briefcase containing his passport, a refrigerator falls off a truck and sends his taxi crashing off a bridge and into a river whereupon his head hits the rear passenger window and is knocked unconscious. The pretty taxi driver, played by Diane Kruger, selflessly breaks the rear window and manages to pull him ashore but his heart has stopped. When he wakes up from his coma, his world is turned upside-down when his wife apparently no longer recognizes him, another man has assumed his identity (oh hey, it’s Captain Gregson), and he has no way of proving he is who he thinks he is.

Aidan Quinn as the second Martin Harrison in Unknown, next to January Jones as Liz, Martin's wife.

People have pointed out how Unknown is similar to quite a few other past movies like The Bourne Identity (Wikipedia/IMDB) and Total Recall (Wikipedia/IMDB). Such comparisons are legit but don’t change the fact that Unknown is a very enjoyable movie to watch.

Of course, there are a few plot points that require a bit more suspension of disbelief than some may prefer, such as why Martin isn’t a lot more suspicious about what’s going on when he wife is seemingly so useless that he can disappear for four days and she isn’t capable of finding him, language-barrier and Thanksgiving holiday be damned. Specifically, if I saw what I believed to be my wife, in an evening dress at a party mingling with other guests (@0:17:40), after four days of being in a coma, waking up alone in a hospital to discover that she hasn’t found me, my first words to her would not be some expression of relief at having found her, but an expression of utter disbelief that she is in an evening dress mingling at a party at all instead of frantically trying to find me.


My hands may or may not be around her neck at this point. There’s pretty much no excuse for a loving wife to not be riding the local police, searching hospitals, morgues, and gutters for a husband that suddenly disappeared four days ago. There just isn’t. This is total “what the fuck did I marry and why am I still married to this heartless wretch” territory.

What was slightly irksome was Martin’s repeated (@0:21:10 and @0:33:30) foot-stomping that the police arrest his “imposter” even after he is forced to recognize that he has no objective evidence at all to prove who he is and the other guy actually apparently has an overwhelming amount of evidence. I understand it is disorientating, that reality has seemingly suddenly and inexplicably been turned upside-down, but shouldn’t you be screaming “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!?” in that situation instead of embarrassing yourself by obstinately insisting on having someone arrested on your mere say-so? Doesn’t that evidence a complete inability to put yourself in other people’s shoes when approaching a problem?

Martin Harrison demanding that his imposter be arrested.

Martin Harrison demanding that his imposter be arrested, again.

Yeah, I get that not everyone has the same thought processes as I do, especially when one’s mind is being fucked with, but still…

There’s also a reasonably spectacular car chase in the movie. Thing is, the longer a car chase goes on for and the faster the cars drive side-by-side with one trying to get away and the other one trying to sideswipe them off the road, the more frustrated I get, wondering why the former doesn’t have the obvious realization that slamming on the brakes and suddenly changing direction (at a convenient intersection or something) would probably be a great way to lose latter.

If you have the wits to continuously drive at high-speed, in an often traffic-heavy urban environment, without crashing and horrifically mowing down random pedestrians, in your effort to escape your pursuer, then you surely have the wits to fake out your pursuer if they’re stupid enough to catch up and drive right next to you.

Yeah, I get that not everyone has the same thought processes as I do, especially when one is fleeing for their lives, but still…

That all said, Liam Neeson’s acting is great, the supporting characters were largely pleasant, and the villains/antagonists sufficiently menacing. Okay, maybe the entire role of Jurgen as the ex-Stasi was a bit extraneous to the plot. I mean, what did he really do that Martin couldn’t have done himself or made do without? Still, he was kind of adorable, right? Oh, and the slightly rotating camera effect (for example @0:38:58) whenever Martin encounters something that makes him question his understanding of reality is a nice touch, even if a bit cliche.

Granted, Unknown probably isn’t a movie that will leave a lasting impression throughout your life because of some profound idea or emotion, but it is a movie you will finish with a feeling of solid satisfaction.

4/5 stars.

Trespass: 90 Minutes of Never-Ending Stupidity and Hysterics

Trespass movie poster.Just watched Trespass (Wikipedia/IMDB) on PPStream (非法入侵/侵害/不忠之劫) and it took about 10 years off my life.

I cannot think of another movie that has featured such big name stars that has been this maddening. Neither the filmmaking nor the acting is bad (though Nicholas Cage acts–or flips out–pretty much the same exact way in every one of his movies). What’s bad is the script and characters that are so chronically obnoxious in their inexcusable stupidity and senseless hysterics that you simply wish they would all just die. There is not a single sympathetic character in the entire movie with more than perhaps 5 seconds of screen time. Every character seems to go out of his or her way to do the one thing that would perpetuate your teeth-gnashing and wrist-slitting at that very point in the plot.

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The Colony: Paul Walker, Bill Paxton, and Morpheus in Ice Age

The Colony movie poster.Overall The Colony (Wikipedia/IMDB) isn’t bad, but it has a sort of “TV movie” or “B movie” sort of feel. The computer generated special effects are decent but just short of convincing, especially in scenes where the camera pans, zooming in or out and over the snowy landscapes.

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The Last Days on Mars: Martians + Earthlings = Space Zombies

The Last Days on Mars movie poster.I love science-fiction. Always have. It’s the genre I gravitate to, and usually the one where I run out of new films to watch.

This evening, I watched The Last Days on Mars (Wikipedia/IMDB), again on PPStream (火星上的最后时日).

The central plot to the movie involves a Mars outpost crew already psychologically fraying after six long and seemingly fruitless months on the Red Planet suddenly discovering alien bacterial life on the day before their replacement crew and ride home to Earth arrives. A mishap occurs and a member of the crew dies but, being exposed to the alien bacteria, is soon reanimated into a zombie-like creature who that goes about attacking the rest of them.

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2 Guns: Why Does Mark Wahlberg Always Have Such Funny Lines?

2 Guns movie poster.My Sunday afternoon movie: 2 Guns (Wikipedia/IMDB) on PPStream (双龙出手/双枪).

Denzel Washington has always been a good actor to watch, with decent to sometimes good movies. However, I’ve always been fascinated by Mark Wahlberg, ever since I saw The Big Hit (Wikipedia/IMDB) in my college days. How does this guy consistently have roles that involve deadpan humor and funny blank stares?

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R.I.P.D.: Derivative Slapstick Comedy Without Any Pretense

R.I.P.D. Rest in Peace Department movie poster.I remember seeing a preview for R.I.P.D. (Wikipedia/IMDB) while at the theaters on a visit to the States and immediately concluding it was M.I.B. (Wikipedia/IMDB) with dead people (“deados”) instead of aliens. Granted, everyone in the theater probably thought the same thing, to the point where me mentioning this at all makes me feel embarrassingly like Captain Obvious.

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Gran Torino: Clint Eastwood Has Smaller Eyes Than Asians

Just watched Gran Torino (Wikipedia/IMDB) on PPStream (老爷车).

Gran Torino (2008) movie poster.The movie features Clint Eastwood as an ornery old white war veteran stubbornly living in an increasingly run-down Detroit neighborhood that has been taken over by Hmong Asians. There’s culture clash, a lot of racial slurs thrown around, and most major American ethnicities get a cameo, including Hispanics and blacks.

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