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Archive for the ‘Half a Star’ Category

I download the Amazon “free samples” of books before I buy. If I can’t make it through 5%, then I put the book aside, no damage done. I don’t even track it. Most of those are quickly forgotten. But when I make the buying decision, I commit myself to reading the book. I still have a way out though: I can abandon it and put it under the category “Books (not finished reading).” I still review those books, but I don’t give them a rating as I don’t think it would be fair. However, I still have thoughts about the book that I want to share with readers, and possibly reasons why I abandoned the book. So I write reviews.

The City in the Middle of the Night almost became a Book (not finished reading). It was truly hard work for me to stay with it. It’s a fairly large book (5907 locations), so it was a slog.

In the far future (approximately the year 2500 plus on Earth) a number of earth city states build a space ship to leave for another planet. They call it the Mothership, and it’s a generation ship. The journey takes long enough so only the great-grandchildren of the people leaving will actually be alive when they arrive. The City in the Middle of the Night plays on the target planet many centuries after they arrived. The Mothership, while still in orbit, has lost contact with the colonists, all the space shuttles are defunct, most technology is lost, and the people have devolved to a feudalist society similar to what we had in Europe during the dark ages around the years 500 to 1000. There are just two main cities where most of the population live. Xiosphanti hosts a highly regulated society where everything people do is structured by the government. Argelo is a bustling trader city where everything goes but resources are scarce and crime is out of control.

But that’s not the major point of the book. The planet is a tidally locked planet, similar to how earth’s moon is tidally locked, and the same side always faces the earth. Their sun is a bright, hot sun, so bright, that any exposure to direct sunlight is instantly deadly to humans. The day side of the planet is constantly baked by the sun, and any water on that side is always boiling. The night side is completely dark and always frozen. Humanity has to live entirely on a narrow ring along the terminator, just below the horizon of the day, so there never is any direct sunlight. Within just a few kilometers they can go from bright daylight and  warmth near the day side to arctic condition on the border of the night side. Notwithstanding what weather conditions on such a planet on the border between day and night would consist of, and whether it could allow for sufficient stability for humans to live, such a narrow band where life can exist is pretty challenging, and it would shape everything about the lives of the people there. As is turns out, there are “monsters” that live in the night, and any human that ventures too far in that direction has perished – which has been going on for centuries.

I now have told you everything that I found interesting about the book. As it turns out, with so much potential, the story is pretty much about four young women, Bianca, Mouth, Alyssa and Sophie, the protagonist, and their relationships with each other, and their adventures. Take away the deadly sun on a tidally locked planet, take away that they live in a devolved society many centuries after landing from an interstellar generational journey, the story is about four girls making their way in a tribal, brutal society where everyone has to fend for herself. The characters are not well developed, the psychobabble made my eyes roll, and nothing about their feelings and responses is credible. And it goes on for an entire book. Here is just one page:

Seeing Bianca depressed makes me feel soft inside, like my bones are chalk. I sit down next to her, careful not to mess up her dress. Her curved neck looks so slender.

Neither of us talks. I’m not good at breaking silences.

“I don’t even know why you would want to be friends with me,” she says.

I get up and fetch the teapot from down the hall, and a few moments later I’m pouring hot tea into a mug, which I press into Bianca’s hands. “Warm yourself up,” I say in a soft voice. Bianca nods and takes a big swallow of the acrid brew, then lets out a long sigh, as though she realizes she’s back where she belongs. We keep stealing the teapot for our own dorm room, because hardly anyone else uses it, but some busybody always sneaks into our room when we’re out and reclaims the flowery globe for the common room, where it technically belongs.

“Warm yourself up,” I say a second time. By the time the tea is gone, Bianca’s bouncing up and down and cracking jokes again, and I’ve almost forgotten that I never answered her question about why I want to be her friend.

— Anders, Charlie Jane. The City in the Middle of the Night . Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.

Just. Very. Boring.

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I am looking out the window and the trucks won’t stop coming.

This is the first sentence battered women use to identify the purpose of the call when they call Sadie for help.

Sadie (Olivia Wilde) was abused by her husband (Morgan Spector). He was a loner who took his wife and young son into the wilderness in the Adirondacks to practice living off the grid. They would park the car, cover it with a tarp and camouflage it with branches and leaves. They would hike into the mountains and live off the land. To prove toughness, he would break her arm and then reset it himself.

One day she has enough and musters the courage to leave him. When Sadie breaks away, their son gets killed.

On her own, she teaches herself martial arts, fighting and self-defense and makes it her life’s mission to help other women leave their abusive men by coming after the men with the same brutal aggression they have been using on their women. It is not an easy life. Eventually there is the final face off between herself and her former husband.

A Vigilante is full of graphic scenes of despair, terror and anguish. We see women in a shelter telling their stories to each other to try to get closure. We see how Sadie slowly transforms herself from battered wife to ruthless fighter for justice by her own terms. But none of it is credible and works.

The movie is disjointed and choppy. I found it difficult to make out where in the story I was at times, whether she was on a mission to free somebody, or on her own obsessive quest to come after her husband.

Light spoiler ahead:

In the final showdown, she finds her husband, and true to his self, he ties her up and breaks her arm just for good measure. She eventually gets away, and when he finds her, somehow, she kills him. The movie does not show how this goes down. This small woman, albeit trained as a fighter, with one arm broken and temporarily mended by herself with electrical tape, stands in front of the man, tells him she is going to kill him. In the next scene we see her choking him with her one working hand, he is on the ground, rolling his bulging eyes as he dies.

Then she dumps his naked body in the woods and moves on to save another woman.

The critics love this movie, which boasts 91 on Rotten Tomatoes. I differ greatly.

A Vigilante is not credible from the very beginning. It is trying to show the hurt and anguish of battered women, and it does so graphically. Otherwise it’s an unconvincing movie, depressing to watch, with huge plot holes.

Unsatisfying all around.

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It’s been a long few days on the road, and I am on a flight in seat 15E from Chicago home to San Diego. 15E is a middle seat, with not enough space on either side to take out the laptop and do some meaningful work of any type. I have the Bose headphones on, but no music, just noise cancellation. Then the movie Bumblebee starts on the little screen a few seats ahead of me overhead. I see the start and I plug in the headphone cables so I can hear the sound. That’s how I came to watch Bumblebee, a movie rated 93% on the Tomatometer.

It’s 1987. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is about to turn 18 and she finds a battered yellow WV bug in a junkyard. She brings home the car and quickly discovers this is not an ordinary WV beetle. It’s a Transformer. And that’s really all I have to tell you about the story.

Transformers are cars that turn into robots. I have never before watched a single Transformer movie, and now I am grateful that I didn’t. Robot battles are boring. I know too much about technology to buy into this myth of indestructible robots that, when it comes right down to it, do their battles with fist fights like two humans would. It quickly turns into endless action scenes of robots throwing each other around, kicking each other, and I can’t get it out of my head that it’s all two guys in robot suits doing the fighting.

The story is predictable and boring. The concept is ridiculous. I don’t know where the ratings come from, but it did nothing at all for me.

It killed 114 minutes of flying time. Now I know I never have to watch another Transformer movie.

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Oh, how the Tomatometer can be right on for me, and then completely off. Yesterday I reviewed Leave No Trace with a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. I have it 4 stars.

In contrast, Blockers has a score of 83% and it gets half a star from me.

It starts out well enough, when three girls walk up the sidewalk to their elementary school on the first day of school. Three parents stand there, slightly teary eyed, seeing them off. The girls hold hands and gingerly walk up the steps of the school into their new lives. The parents realize that they may see more of each other in the years to come.

Roll forward to the “end” of school – prom night. The girls have become fast friends, and so have the parents. Spying on a chat log one of the girls leaves on in her room, the parents realize their daughters have made a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. They freak out and make their own dubious pact to block this from happening.

The entire movie is a string of contrived situations, trite prom scenes that have been used in every movie about proms since movies have been made, with accents like unrealistic vomiting in the limo. I have a disdain for all movies with graphic and explicit projectile vomiting. Inexplicably, they had to add a couple of flashes of close-ups of hairy dad testicles being squeezed for no reason in the plot other than to be, well, gross. It’s hard to un-see those images once you were subjected to them. Yuck.

I watched the movie because it was late, I was too tired to read, and I kept thinking it would get better. I chuckled and laughed at times, not because it was funny, but mostly because the movie was so bad, it was a laugh of embarrassment.

83% on the Tomatometer, go figure!

Do not waste your time or money.

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Tonight, flipping through the movies on Apple, and not finding anything good, we decided to watch Prometheus. It got a 72% on the tomatometer, so I thought it would not be too bad. Very quickly I found myself bored with the inane dialog, senseless plot and cardboard characters. I also recognized some scenes, so I thought I must have seen some of them flipping through channels in the past. However, true to my commitment to myself about reviewing every movie I watch, I persisted all the way through.

Then I came to my computer, chose the half-star icon below and went to find a good picture to use for the review, when I noticed that there was already one titled Prometheus in my directory. Hmmm.

Five seconds and a quick search later revealed that I had watched and reviewed this movie on June 4, 2014. Here is the result, one star that time.

This movie is so bad that I had completely forgotten that I had watched it before, all the way through, and then wrote a full review about it.

Or is it my memory that’s going.

Either way – bad.

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VesselAn unidentified object appears next to the International Space Station. The astronauts and cosmonauts on board are first fascinated, soon confused, and soon after stark raving mad.

Mission control is trying to make sense of it.

The beginning of the book is gripping and the free sample got me to buy the rest. But unfortunately, as the story progresses, it feels like the author loses more and more interest in the story and the plot fizzles into gibberish.

While this sounds like a science fiction story, it actually plays in today’s world and environment, all the way to the fact that the only access for humans to the space station is via the Russian Soyuz ship. The problem is that the story just makes no sense after a while.

Warning: Spoilers after this marker.

A government conspiracy is centered around an American major general who takes control of the Russian space program (somehow) and nobody seems to object. This American general also seems to be acting on his own, he goes rogue, kills people, reassigns space missions at will, without any assistance from anyone.

There is so much goofy stuff happening in this story that it’s completely implausible and therefore unreal. The alien artifact is neither explained nor does it seem to have any function other than causing psychological trauma in all humans that get near it. In the end, it conveniently disappears. I read the whole book to find out what it was and why it was there. I could have stopped reading half way through and not missed anything.

It was an unsatisfying story all the way around.

The half-star is for a good idea.

Rating - Half a Star

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Inherent Vice

This is one of the strangest movies I have watched – sort of – in a very long time. It should have been called Incoherent Vice, because from the first minute on, and then slogging through 2 hours and 28 minutes, I never knew what was going on, and I really didn’t care. When I figured out it was going nowhere, I got up and cleaned the kitchen and did the dinner dishes, while the movie kept droning in the background. Then I went to the pool and swam five laps. I got back, took a shower, and sat down and watched the remaining hour. I hadn’t missed a thing.

Larry Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private investigator who is trying to solve some problem I can’t figure out what it was. Groovy.

My recommendation – just watch the trailer – and you’re good. You save yourself two and a half hours of your life and the cost of the movie – and you’re not missing a thing.

The half a star is because a song from Neil Young’s album Harvest was in the soundtrack.

Rating - Half a Star

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3 days to killReminiscent of the Taken series with Liam Neeson, Kevin Costner is a badass CIA type spy who can beat up and kill bad guys and terrorists like no other. He is in Paris. His estranged wife and daughter live there. His daughter is a typical teenager who does not want anything to do with her father. This relationship between the daughter and the father makes this a slightly humorous family drama.

But the badass CIA type gets sucked into bad guy stuff and he has to keep killing people, which keeps him from meeting his dates with his daughter. Eventually she gets sucked into the vortex. Now the badass CIA type not only has to save the world from the terrorist, he has to save his daughter’s life.

Now he is really pissed.

Kevin Costner’s acting saves this movie from the abyss. There are exciting car chases, gun fights and kickass sessions that keep the action moving, but it’s all stuff we have seen before, with Bruce Willis and Liam Neeson. We really don’t need it with Kevin Costner.

Save your money.

Rating - Half a Star

 

 

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