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A captivating mix of science and science fiction
Stephen Hawking, the wheelchair-bound theoretical physicist who joined Einstein and Newton at Data's holodeck poker table in Star Trek:The Next Generation brings us this stunning look into the realms of sci-fi speculation and science. You may think a documentary hosted by someone who can't move and speaks in a computer-generated monotone would be boring but this three episode mini-series is anything but. Hawking appears only to punctuate the segments and a smoother-voiced narrator speaks for him most of the time. It's his inner vision of the universe and it's incredible possibilities that take us along on this fantastic ride.
The first two episodes seem more like sci-fi than science; the third is mostly a cosmology primer- the basics of the history, structure and dynamics of the universe:
- "Aliens" gives us an intriguing look at what life might look like in bizarre extraterrestrial landscapes and the possibilities and implications of first contact.
- "Time Travel" explores the scientific basis and intriguing "what ifs?" of travel through time.
- "The Story Of Everything" brings us back to pure science for the most part covering the basic tenets of cosmology with the same compelling examples, engaging style and eye-candy photography and graphics as the first two episodes. It dabbles in sci-fi towards the end as it speculates about human migration to the stars.
For me personally, the third episode was an anti-climax twice as long and half as interesting as the first two. This is because I've watched many cosmology documentaries and despite the presentation the subject matter covered was just too basic and repetitive to interest me. If you're new to cosmology however, you'll probably find it as riveting as the first two episodes. If you're a strong believer in a Creator or Intelligent Design, you may be a bit put off by the unambiguous lack of support for them here.
This series is very accessible for a layperson or student who doesn't follow science, anyone from grade school on up should enjoy this series. Hard-core science fans like me should appreciate it for it's wonderful imagination and spectacular presentation. Check it out.
In Bruges (2008)
Too slow for a hit man movie, not enough laughs for a good black comedy.
Two hit men are stuck in Bruges, Belgium- one loves the place and the other hates it. They tour the beautiful medieval scenery, meet a girl and a midget, do drugs, have some fights, some funny/stupid conversations and eventually there is a shootout. If that sounds kind of boring than you have an accurate idea of what the movie's like- kind of boring with some redeeming qualities: some interesting situations, good acting, some funny dialogue and nice cinematography. The high point by far was the Ralph Fiennes character but he doesn't show up till the movie's half over. At some of the more preposterous action situations, I had to keep reminding myself this was a comedy, or was it? I wasn't really sure, which is probably why this film didn't work for me. If I think about the setup and the Ralph Fiennes character, this could have been a really good movie, but there is just too much screen time in the first half where nothing particularly interesting or funny is going on.
A fantastic, original twist on a heist movie
Cobb (DiCaprio), like Maximus in Gladiator (Russell Crowe), just longs to go home to his family. To do this, he and his team must pull that one last big job: a complex long con/reverse-heist in the victim's subconscious, and the designer dreamscapes they traverse trying to accomplish this provide a ride as spectacular and original as any since The Matrix.
Inception is much easier to follow than it's oft-compared schizophrenic cousin Memento, Christopher Nolan's earlier brainchild- you can obsess about what's dream vs. reality if you like but it makes perfect sense if you take it at face value. What the two films share is that they're both one man's journey through altered states. This is primarily DiCaprio's fantastic, tortured world and we follow him through it on multiple levels which don't confuse so much as peel back layers to surprise. Nolan uses the dream setting like a canvas upon which to paint an original masterpiece impossible in any other medium. It is at it's core a very simple picture made up of elaborate brush strokes, for example the use of recurring lines of dialogue in a way that induces our own dream-like feeling of Deja Vu. There are enough chases, explosions and gunfire for any two action movies but the action sequences are well done and the remarkable special effects are baked into the story rather than sprinkled on top.
The only nits I can pick are that I thought the rules of the dream world were a little too overdone to be believable (looking for believability in a dream-based movie makes no sense I guess) and the other characters were all too shallow to care about what happened to them.
K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
This Tale Of Two Captains makes an exaggerated but entertaining sub movie.
I love good submarine movies so I may be biased, but I also can't usually watch movies with preposterous script elements which require you to check your brain at the door. K-19 The Widowmaker happens to be both, and I never missed my brain the entire film.
You should have a good indicator of whether you will enjoy this film in the first 10 minutes- whether you can overcome the lame attempts by lead actors with pronounced American and Irish accents to sound Russian. If you can get past this, you should be able to disregard further implausibility and enjoy the engaging action and moving portrayals of heroism. Hopefully you're not looking for historical or factual accuracy either, as you won't find much here.
It isn't necessary to go into the specific plot details- it's a sub movie. The captain takes the sub down a little too deep; things groan and creak as the crew sweats. A fire breaks out. Things malfunction which imperil the ship, requiring the captain to make difficult decisions to send crew members into danger. Rinse, lather, repeat. This is a film which fulfills your expectations of a sub movie, not one which aspires to transcend them.
The one fresh ingredient K-19 adds to spice things up is the brilliant novelty of a ship with two captains. One commands the vessel, the other commands the loyalty and respect of its crew. One is loyal to the state and the mission at all costs, the other to the crew and their safety. Who are these two men? There is little back story or character development- we come to know them solely through their actions as the tension builds between men with motivations destined to come into conflict.
While believability dives below crush depth at numerous points, my enjoyment remained intact and I remained submerged in this adequately crafted and entertaining submarine thriller.