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Monday
Jun062016

What Keith's Watching: Terminator: Genisys (2015)

My co-host of But You’re Wrong, Greg, and I have had more than a few conversations about the Terminator franchise. Specifically around the message of if one can change their future or not. The franchise seems to bounce around going from the future is chargable to there is no prevention of Judgement Day. Terminator: Genisys, is the continuation of that ping pong message.

I went in expecting it to be awful and it wasn’t. It wasn’t that good either. It might be a good thing that I didn’t watch the other movies before watching this one. Maybe if I had, I would’ve been more annoyed. I don’t know though. It did probably help that my expectations were low.

Genisys is pretty much the best parts of the franchise in one film, which made it fun. But what ends up being a major pilot point – John Connor becomes a Terminator – was already ruined for me by the trailers. I kept hoping there would be some thing more, but there wasn’t. I had unanswered questions at the end that would’ve been a nice twist or at least a surprise, but that never happens. So those unanswered questions just become plot holes. Whether they were meant to be answered in the ill-fated sequel or not, they still feel like plot holes in this film.

I did appreciate how they incorporated the much-aged Arnold Schwarzenegger. It made sense. It worked in the story and was kind of a cool element. But there’s no real payoff for it. Arnold is sent back to protect Sarah Connor, but we have no idea who sent him back. That’s a huge plot hole to me. Because no matter what happens at the end of the movie, terminators still have to be developed in the future for them to send Arnold back to fight the T-1000 that’s sent back in the future, too. At a certain point in the movie, I realized that no matter whether they succeed or not, some version of SkyNet and Judgment Day are still going to happen. At no point does anyone question this. Even Arnold himself, who is a master of time travel and “bleed-through memories,” doesn’t see a problem.

The assumed sequel to Genisys seems unlikely at this point. At least it won’t be in its original form. It’s on indefinite hold while they ‘readjust.’ Hopefully that readjustment doesn’t involve more time travel that would convolute this mess anymore. Maybe a terminator should just go to the Civil War, kill Sarah Connor’s grandfather and we find someone else’s bloodline to be the savior of humanity. Start the whole thing fresh. Or maybe they should just do what they should’ve done in the first place and leave the franchise alone.

The Terminator franchise will always be a losing battle. No sequel will ever live up to the originals and will never see the fall of Skynet and the prevention of Judgment Day. If there’s a chance to make a few days, we’ll always need a Judgment Day.

Friday
Jun032016

What Keith's Watching: Red Army (2014)

I’m not a hockey guy. I understand the game to a point. I’ve been to a couple games and I’ve played NHL on Sega and made a guy’s head bleed. But I wasn’t too sure about Red Army which from a basic understanding was about Russian hockey players. But it’s more than that. It ties in something I know a bit more about – politics.

I don’t think anyone is going to be surprised that the US and Russia didn’t always get along. Especially in the 80s when Russia was dominating the hockey world as an extension of the Cold War. Hockey became very important to Russia. They had the best team in the world and they wanted to keep it that way. What Red Army explores is what that did to the players, particularly the captain, Vyacheslav Fetisov. He is the main storyteller of Red Army.

This is something that Red Army does very well about showing the character of Fetisov. Early on we see him ignoring the interviewer in favor of his phone and he holds up the middle finger when pressed by the interviewer. Initially, you think what a hardass Russian this guy is and he’s a real jerk. But then as you see him tell the story of what happened to him and his journey to the US, one can’t help but feel bad for the guy and feel bad for calling him a jerk.

It’s amazing the way their coach, Viktor Tikhonov, treated his players like soldiers and kept them away from family for months. He controlled them even though they were the biggest celebrities in the Soviet Union. Then to see how much the government tried to continue to control the teammates as they migrated to the NHL. It proves everything I heard about the USSR. Thankfully though, The Russian Five, gets the chance to relive their glory days on the Detroit Red Wings.

Red Army is a documentary worth the time no matter how little you know about the Soviet Union, Cold War politics or hockey. One just needs to know about humanity, friendship, and what it means to be driven.

Friday
Jun032016

What Keith's Watching: Tim's Vermeer (2013)


Tim's Vermeer is one of the best documentaries I've seen in a long time, if not one of the best ever. And it's a pretty straight forward concept. Tim Jenison, inventor and entrepreneur, wants to test the theory that Johannes Vermeer used optical devices to paint. Tim's goal is to hopefully paint an exact copy of a Vermeer. I should mention that you don't need to know anything about Vermeer or art to watch the film. You just need a set of eyes.

Vermeer is known for painting photo realistic paintings in the 17th century when it simply wasn't done. There's no records of his methods, there are no pencil lines underneath the painting, so it appears that Vermeer painted completely freehand. But how is that possible? That's Tim Jenison's question as he goes through the film. He has an idea using a mirror and that seems to work when he tests it on a small scale. Then it comes time for the big test. Tim wants to recreate a copy of Vermeer's painting, The Music Lesson.

To create the painting and test the method, Tim has to build an exact replica of the room Vermeer painted. This leads down the rabbit hold of Tim teaching himself Dutch (Vermeer was Dutch), learning how to make paint, glass and lenses using 17th century methods. He teaches himself woodworking to build furniture. He learns to sew clothes to make the costumes.

It's truly amazing the levels he goes to to build the room alone, and that doesn't factor in the actual painting. All told, the whole project takes him over three years. Seven months of which is just paining. The final outcome is mind-blowing.

Why is this documentary about a crazy project so worth watching? I find it fascinating and inspiring because it's a story of discovery and dedication. I'm a firm believer that anyone can pretty much do anything if they work hard enough. If you don't know how to do something, just work hard and teach yourself. That's how I build a website, self-published a book, and started podcasting. Putting me to shame though is Tim Jenison. He is strong proof that hard work and dedication can make anything possible. He put in so much work and taught himself so much just to solve this mystery. If he can dedicate three years of his life to this, you can dedicate 80 minutes to watch Tim's Vermeer.

Sunday
Feb282016

What Keith's Watching: The Martian (2015)

A while back my social media was full of a lot of people that seemed upset and confused that The Martian was nominated in the Golden Globes under Comedy. It’s unclear how many of those people actually saw the movie, because that’s how social media works. I would suspect that a majority of them didn’t because The Martian is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while.

If there was a science fiction category, then sure The Martian doesn’t make sense. But there isn’t a sci-fi category and as a Drama, there are movies with a lot more dramatic scenes and tension. Yes, The Martian isn’t funny in the way a Paul Rudd movie is funny, but I burst out laughing enough times, I’d call it a sci-fi comedy.

What I appreciate most about The Martian’s inclusion of comedy is how well it captures the ton of the novel. The novel is full of science. Calculations on air and water supplies and the science behind making water. They obviously had to cut it for the movie. But they kept the comedy, because that’s what kept Mark alive. It was how he dealt with the insane obstacles he was facing. That’s important to the story.

You could argue that comedy was almost more important to Mark Whatney’s survival than any of the science. Sure the science kept him alive, but the comedy kept him sane. Comedy is the great unifier of society. Despite the variations on what people find funny, the search for comedy and laughter connects us all. We all need to laugh. All our obituaries could contain the line “He/She loved to laugh.” It’s as necessary to life as breathing.

I like many use comedy to coup with bad situations. Making jokes is a defense mechanism and despite what therapists say, it’s important. If Mark wasn’t making jokes to an unseen audience, he very easily could have given up. If he couldn’t find the humor in situations, if he couldn’t be ridiculous, he very easily could have given up home and let himself die on the surface of Mars.

I’m a sucker for a good survival story and that’s what interested me in the novel originally. It’s like the middle of Castaway but with more science, technology and on Mars. The comedy was a much welcomed and added benefit. There’s also the nice element with seeing the effects of this event on Earth and with the ship’s crew that left Mark behind assuming he had died.

I really loved this movie. The survival aspect, the faithfulness to the novel, the comedy, the acting. It’s all great. I can’t it’s on of my favorite movies of all time, yet. But I’m pretty sure it will be. It’s a movie that I genuinely enjoyed from start to finish and almost immediately wanted to watch again. That doesn’t happen too often. When it does, I strongly recommend that people watch it and I’m usually not wrong.

Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, you need to watch it. And if you don’t like it, let me know.

Thursday
Feb182016

What Keith's Watching: Birman (2014)

Birdman is the type of film that when viewed at the right time will turn a person to a career in film. The plot of the movie has elements of magical realism, but the process by which the film was made is magical. Birdman is about a former superhero actor, brightly portrayed and cast as Michael Keaton of Batman fame, who is trying to recapture something by putting on a Broadway play. The movie is shot much like a play, essentially seeming like one long two hour shot.

I have always been a fan of tracking shots, the type that Quentin Tarantino has used to great expertise in building suspense. But Alejandro G. Iñárritu takes it to a new level in Birdman. As the character Riggan starts to become unraveled in what is one long scene, we feel that spiral more because we have no breaks in his stream of conciousness. This brillantly let's the audience in on the tension building to a possible mental collapse.

The film will not appeal to everyone. There are those that will call this dull. They will say that nothing happens and they will be disappointed in the end. These are the same people that do not understand the purpose of film. Film is not meant to give us closure or answers. Film is not meant to give us neat little packages under the tree. The best films, the best that the medium of film can give us is a question.

That is after all the purpose of art, to capture a moment, to capture an idea, and make the audience think about it. Sure, entertainment is a big part of the medium these days. And that makes it an industry. But there's a larger point to art - to make us think and understand the world in new ways.

And that, is the point of Birdman. That is what the main character is going through when we drop in on him in his dressing room. He spent three films entertaining people and now he wants to do something meaningful. There are those that say he wants to be relevant again, but really, I think he just wants to do something that will make a difference. He wants to be meaningful in this art form of acting because that's why he got into it in the first place.

In the end, Birdman has won several awards and appears as front runner for Best Picture. Maybe it'll win, maybe it won't. Whether it does or not, I think the general audience will have the same reaction. They will either love it, or they will hate it. And if they hate it, then they miss the message and the art in this case did not speak to them, but that doesn't make it bad art.

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Check out more movie talk on the latest episode of my podcast, Living Room Theatre, featuring permanent guest host, my wife!