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Beautiully told first person account of survival and courage
I cried three or four times, maybe five times while watching Tower.
Told with a combination of still photos, grainy 8mm film footage from the incident itself, and rotoscopic animation, it begins in the middle, with the radio announcement some tens of minutes into the incident, lingering only briefly to set the mood.
Then it switches to Claire talking about just before things started happening. The actress playing Claire is rotoscoped, which is an animation technique that looks both real and animated at the same time, because it's like tracing over the actual images. It's a good technique for this type of documentary, because at once it distances you from the actor, yet brings you closer to the person the actor is portraying, and of the age they were when the events took place.
In this way the actors explain things using the words of the real person who was being interviewed, and they also appear as characters in the re-enactment of the events. Because it's rotoscopy, the emotions of the actors carry over and you're able to relate to their feelings. The rotoscopy also enables the director to place people in the Mall without them actually being there, so there was no need to clear the Mall or to ask for permission to film. And it allows for a special touch when Claire tells of her fiancé.
Claire Wilson is the anchor of the story, having been the first one known shot, and also having been 8 months pregnant at the time. She lay out on the concrete of the Mall in front of the tower for over an hour in the August heat, her dead fiancé beside her, helped only by Rita Starpattern, who ran out to help despite the continued sniping.
Other main stories are of the two policemen who killed the sniper, a citizen who helped them, another policeman who went to help at the top of the tower, a freshman with his own story of heroism, a paperboy who was shot, the radio announcer who narrated and warned of the events, and a young woman who only watched.
Rita Starpattern appears only through Claire's narrative, because she died of cancer before anyone interviewed her. Some of the others had been interviewed before they died, and a few more, including Claire, were interviewed for the documentary.
The last part of the film is inter cut with the interviews of the real people whose avatars have been narrating the action. By saying Claire is the anchor, I don't mean to discount the contributions of the others, most of whom performed heroically in a desperate situation.
The sound of the movie is evocative, with music from the time, announcements on the radio, the cicadas of Summer, and of course the incessant gunfire.
I saw the film at the Dallas International Film Festival, so the director was there to answer questions at the end. Answers I recall were that the sniper, who does not appear in the film, made a midnight call on his music teacher, saying that he was very upset and needed to talk. He sat down at the piano and played Claire de Lune, and then said that was what he needed, and left.
Another was that Rita Starpattern never spoke of her actions that day. He said many people in Austin, where she had lived, gasped when they saw her name.
One man in the audience said he knew the sniper's CO in the Marines, who said that the sniper was very much into his role as a killer, and looked forward to being able to kill people legally.
It's odd to think of something that happened in one's own lifetime as a period piece, but younger viewers will understand more of what life was like before ubiquitous global communication. After the shooting, everyone involved lost contact with each other, something unimaginable today. A local radio announcer was the sole contact for news, and also served to warn people about what was going on. At least there were home phones, radio, TV, and 8mm cameras, so I guess it wasn't that primitive.
The Babysitter (1995)
Most people seem to miss the point of this movie, it's about men vs hormones
The Babysitter reminds me of one time when my daughter was 15, we were walking out to the car in a parking lot, and a young man probably 20 y/o or so drove by, swiveling his head as he passed. I pointed out that he had been looking, and my daughter said "Ewww! He's old!" Teenage girls think their attractiveness is like a bullet, only affecting their intended target, when in fact it's more like a hand grenade, and goes off in all directions.
The movie is different from Robert Coover's short story (Google "Robert Coover the babysitter", there's a PDF titled 184 ° Robert Coover), which was mainly a vehicle for an idea about how a story could take different plot lines as characters choose different pathways. It's not really better or worse, because it's apples and oranges.
The Babysitter is about The Male Gaze. It's about how males of all ages react to a pretty, nubile young woman who's just trying to babysit some kids, and not completely aware of her affect on males, therefore mostly indifferent to it.
Fantasies for each male, from age 10 to age 60, play out during the film, making it difficult to keep track of what's going on in reality. The screen play seems voyeuristic, as if to try to pull you into fantasizing about Silverstone yourself (if you're a male), but time and again her character shuts it down, and reveals just a regular, no-nonsense, non-sexualized person going about her business.
In the end the fantasies of three of the characters become reality, and play out as they would in real life instead of a male fantasy land, so things get messy quickly as the three disrupt their own lives within moments. Two males, the youngest and the oldest, escape perplexed but unscathed.
The end of the movie is a disaster scene, apparently with a single cause, but in reality the confluence of bad decisions by three men. The last line is like a punch line that sums up the entire proceedings of the evening.
Code Black (2015)
Well done, accurate medical drama if you can keep up
This is the medical drama that finally puts to rest the myth of shocking a heart to make it start beating again. The medicine here is mostly very accurate, and the characters and situations are very realistic.
The Emergency Department at fictional Angels Memorial is dingy, yellow, crowded, and chaotic. Somehow all the personnel manage to deal with this and figure out what they're supposed to be doing, but I have to turn on closed captions to keep up with the dialog.
And the dialog in this show is what makes me like it so much. There's rarely a word in the script that doesn't belong there, and doesn't deserve and need to be listened to. Normally I can do other things while watching most shows and not feel like I've missed something, but with Code Black, I feel like I need to watch it again if I get distracted.
You'll learn a lot about medicine and ED operations watching this show, but one thing you won't learn is how large the staff of a hospital really is and how many interdependent relationships there are. There are only four interns at this ED, and we only ever see three attendings and no residents or other interns, plus the head nurse. Of course there are other people in the background, and supporting nurses, but none of their thoughts are shown, and none of the main characters interacts with them. It might not be feasible to represent all that in a show like this, so it's just a minor complaint, in my opinion.
Black Box (2014)
So bad, I could not watch the whole first episode
A doctor like no other - yes, because fortunately there really are no doctors like that. This show seems designed to appeal to the kind of person who thinks they are special and above average, but misunderstood. But it's just one horrible cliché about being special and above average, but misunderstood, after another, with precious little doctoring in between dramatic scenes. Kelly Reilly's Catherine Black is melodramatic and affected, flighty and overly emotive. Watching this show made me embarrassed for humanity, even now my stomach is tied in knots thinking about it, trying to push it out of my mind.
I'm really dying for a good new medical show or two, and my daughter will graduate med school in a month, specializing in neurology. This show is so disappointing on so many levels. Can't somebody make a halfway realistic medical show that's not super heavy on melodrama?
By the way, the reason I gave it a 2 instead of a 1 is because at least it has high production values, that should count for something. It's well produced, with good cinematography.
I hate vampire movies, but I loved this one
One way I measure a film's success is by the feeling I have when I leave the theater. If my head is still in the framework of the movie after I leave, then I deem it to have been successful, at least on some level. After Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter it was still in my head during the drive to my friend's house, where we all met afterward and discussed it at some length, another sign of success.
I usually hate vampires in movies because most of the time they're just a cheap plot prop appealing to narcissistic types. But in this movie they're a cheap plot prop to weave a tale purporting to explain everything about Abe Lincoln and the US Civil War. In some ways it reminded me of Dick, the movie about the Watergate Scandal where "Deep Throat" turns out to be two teenage girls, and many of the veiled happenings of that scandal happen to have been caused by Betsy and Arlene, one way or another.
To really appreciate Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in that respect, it helps to know something about US history leading up to and during the Civil War. At the very least, you should look up Harriet Tubman, Jefferson Davis, and Gettysburg in Wikipedia before seeing the movie.
Bekmembatov manages to pack a good deal of history, dialog, action, and story telling into this movie. The acting it mostly good, though Mary Elizabeth Winstead's performance as Mary Todd Lincoln seemed uneven. Sometimes she was adequate, other times she was spitting her lines out too quickly, as do many pretty young women when playing this kind of historical role.
The script veers between using fairly accurate language, to complete anachronism, like "How'd that work out for ya?!" But you know, the story is about how Abe Lincoln was killing vampires, so yeah.
On the other hand, the sets, costumes, and other artwork seemed historically accurate and some of the CGI provides a new look at that era. There's a scene of the Mississippi River at New Orleans full of paddle wheel riverboats that lingers with me.
So in the end I turned out liking the vampire prop, and the bad-ass Lincoln as portrayed by Benjamin Walker.
Body of Proof (2011)
Not as bad as I thought it was going to be after the first 5 minutes
It was often silly, with enough clichés to fill all the cheesecakes in Philadelphia, enough exposition to require a PowerPoint presentation, and enough irascible doctor/detective work to make you wonder if the main character was the love child of Monk, House, Patrick Jayne, Tim Roth, Alexx Woods, Jessica Fletcher, and maybe even Harriet Korn but by golly someone was found to have died of Lupus in the first episode, and you can't beat that with a stick!
The thing is, I love medical shows and I love detective shows, so it's hard to go wrong with a combination of the two, and how are you going to do that except by keying on the Medical Examiner? Like House, the medical part of it seems pretty accurate, and it's fun trying to beat Dr. Hunt to the diagnosis. Oh yeah, and I also enjoy shows where people notice a lot of seemingly unimportant things - it gives me an incentive to heighten my own sense of awareness.
So you've got the keep-it-simple cop, and the hunky blond guy, the hard nosed but incredibly good looking female boss, and the somewhat incompetent assistant all playing off of the irascible main character who's so good at her job you can't fire her. But at least it's a woman this time!
Solar Strike (2006)
Insanely bad science is the main entertainment here - possible spoilers
I'm actually bumping up my vote from a 3 to a 4 because I want to watch again so I can catalog all the bad science in this movie.
I didn't come in from the beginning, but apparently the world of Solar Attack doesn't have a national space agency or a military that has dozens of satellites in orbit capable of monitoring Earth's atmosphere, so a concerned billionaire launches his own manned orbital vehicle to fulfill this mission, at a cost of $98 million.
So while his astronaut guy is up there, a huge CME of a size and mass never before seen comes in and destroys his spacecraft without warning, even though some scientists were aware that the CME was coming. Apparently in this world they have no means of warning people to stay out of space when huge fireballs from the Sun are about to hit Earth.
Oh, and for some reason this massive interplanetary fireball which appears to explode over an area the size of China remains unseen by the rest of the world, so only the poor dead astronaut knows what happened to his ship.
This may be because in this world, the ozone layer acts as a shield against these CMEs, so they never affect the the surface of the Earth, they only rain fire and destruction on above the ozone layer.
Now these CMEs keep heading toward the Earth, and one of them is headed straight for THE Russian military satellite. Yes, they only have one, and it's stationary somewhere in space! For those who don't know, Russia and the US have satellites up there by the hundreds. Most of them orbit the Earth every 90 to 120 minutes, but there are some that orbit in 24 hours. But there are a LOT of them in that 24 hour orbit, so if one satellite up there gets hit, a LOT of them will get hit.
Phew! And that's just from watching for for about 30 minutes! And I still haven't mentioned the ridiculous idea that methane has increased to 3% of the atmosphere and can be ignited by CMEs.
Not dreamy enough
Inception was okay, it was well produced and directed and kept my attention throughout, so that's why I give it a 7 instead of a 6.
Having seen the trailer, I went into it expecting a mind bending movie with a dreamlike script, but instead it's basically a puzzle movie with lots of run-of-the-mill shoot-em-up action. You do leave the movie with a heightened sense of awareness, but not with a different viewpoint on the world.
I never cared that much for any of the characters, which is unusual for me - I often end up crying or otherwise being involved, so in that respect Inception seemed rather shallow. I kept trying to generate care, waiting for the arc of the script to take me over into the next level, but that point in the script never came.
Technically, the special effects are pretty good, though they're kind of a one trick pony, or maybe a two trick pony. I was expecting much more in this regard. Sure, when I'm in a dream it seems real to my mind, but there are usually some really strange aspects too, like people whose faces are unclear, or like trying to speak but not being able, or like changing geography, or really weird, crazy stuff. None of this kind of thing happens in Inception, except for the occasional alteration in gravity.
The basic idea, of never being sure what's real or what's constructed in your mind, has been done before. There's nothing wrong with that, since it's impossible to come up with new ideas about the human condition. But Rod Serling wrote some more compelling 30 minute TV scripts on the subject many years ago.
My review makes it sound like a bad movie, which it is not, it's good enough. I guess I'm just reacting to incredible hype of people who think it's the greatest movie ever made. It certainly does not deserve a 9.4 rating, which is what IMDb is giving it as of this writing.
Children of Invention (2009)
Tense, Well Written, Unexpectedly Timely
Tense from the start, not in the _Saw_ sense, but in the sense of anyone with kids who's been thrown out of work and home in a rough economy. Tense with the unsettledness of a single mom with two kids moving into an unfinished apartment building, making arrangements with acquaintances to get her children to and from school. Tense like a hunted animal who's not sure where the next meal is coming from. Maybe my sense of the film is colored by my own life experiences.
There are light, sweet moments provided by the kids, and periods of relief provided by friends and family. Elaine is a good mom who makes some questionable choices and tries to hide her desperation from her children. She generally succeeds with her little one Tina, but her boy Raymond senses things are not going well. When you're down on your luck, everything, everything costs money, money that you don't have, and Elaine is driven by a belief that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Hard to say more without giving too much away, the story keeps you in the dark and unfolds scene by scene.
The writing, acting, directing, cinematography, and editing are all first rate and fitting for this type of film. The framing is often tight, adding a claustrophobic effect to the tenseness of the story. Editing is economical. Sound is mostly natural, and the camera is often hand-held giving a semi-documentary feel.
Cindy Cheung plays the good saleswoman who holds back her emotions and manages to keep up an optimistic front, but as an actress she brings it on when it's time to. Crystal Chiu so cute with her fat cheeks, but she's actually a few years older than her character Tina, so she's able to really get into part, into Tina's skin. Michael Chen's performance is mostly low key, but the emotions of the scene flash across his face even when it doesn't seem like he's doing anything.
The supporting cast is also very good. My only criticism of the directing is that sometimes a gesture is played before its time. It's not a big deal, but it would be that much better without that.
On a personal note, there just aren't that many films portraying the lives of Chinese families in America, and there aren't that many Chinese-Americans in my area, so it's nice to see a humanizing film like this. With so much near superhuman stereotyping of Asians these days, it's good to see a story about someone whose life is kind of messed up.
Finally, the movie was completed in the early Summer of 2008, before the economy crashed, before people were losing their jobs and having their houses foreclosed upon, before the collapse of the Ponzi schemes.
Houston, We Have a Problem (2009)
Often challenging, often humorous, never boring
I just saw this film at the AFI Film Festival in Dallas, so I don't know where it will available for viewing to future readers of this comment.
After the showing, the director Nicole Torre said that as she began meeting some of the Texas oil men in the film, she changed her attitude and recognized some of her own hypocrisy towards the subject. I say the film is challenging because it doesn't simply rubber stamp your liberal bias, Torre takes us on her own voyage of discovery. Rather than trying to fit the interviews into preconceived notions, she uses the interviews to show our history with the brutal honesty of the oilmen she's interviewing.
And they are what make the film humorous, along with some judicious editing by Sean McAllen. Oilman Clayton Williams says "You've got to have a sense of humor about this business," and it's the Texas straight talking and sense of humor that helps make the film interesting to watch.
In fact after a while you begin to wonder whether you might be watching an infomercial instead of a documentary directed by a liberal, but sticking with it helps you confront your own ignorance and hypocrisy, and begin to see the oilmen as allies rather than enemies.
As a Texan I noted a curious turn take place about 2/3 of the way through - the accents changed from old-style Texas accents to modern, generic American accents. Watch the film to find out why.