Movie Review: Interstellar (4 *’s) (2014)

Interstellar is the latest film directed by Christopher Nolan, the man who brought us the most recent Batman trilogy. It is a long film (nearly three hours) that tackles the realities of interstellar travel, actually intergalactic travel to be more precise. It stars a number of big names: Matthew McConaughey (as Cooper), Anne Hathaway (as Brand), and Michael Cain (as the elder Brand). Cooper’s daughter, Murph, is played by three actresses: Mackenzie Foy (10 years old), Jessica Chastain (adult), and Ellen Burstyn (old woman).

The story begins on Earth in the not-too-distant future. A terrible blight has struck wiping out entire crops at a time. The only thing that grows is corn, and its future is uncertain as well. The situation is desperate. The elder Professor Brand works at a secret NASA station on a secret project. As a result of an apparent paranormal event (which is explained later in the film and which is probably the film’s biggest weakness), Cooper is given the coordinates where the NASA station is located. He sets off with his daughter, Murph, in tow and finds the station; whereupon he is captured by a robot. After a brief interrogation, Professor Brand actually offers Cooper a spot on the upcoming mission that NASA is preparing for. The goal is to find a suitable planet where humanity can start over. Cooper and four other astronauts (including Professor Brand’s daughter) are to be sent to the outer reaches of the solar system to where a wormhole has opened leading to another galaxy. The explanation for the wormhole is somewhat mysterious: “they” are responsible—a mysterious alien race that has taken an interest in the Earth’s plight. So, Cooper and the others pass through the wormhole in search of a habitable planet. Will they find one? I’m not tellin’!

Strengths: the acting was superb, the plot was … stellar (just kidding)—the plot was really good, the special effects were great and always appropriate, and the music score was exceptional as well, kind of a mix of haunting melancholy at times and adventurous derring-do. The fact that they tackled relativistic time distortions effectively was a big plus. Weaknesses: I think the film’s biggest weak point was the explanation of the paranormal event I referred to earlier. It did succeed in tying everything back together again, but it struck me as a little cheesy. Other than that, I don’t think there were many big weaknesses. Although it was long; this film is definitely a major time commitment.

Overall, I enjoyed Interstellar quite a bit. I’ll give it four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Hunger Games 3: Mockingjay Part I (4 *’s)(2014)

Hunger Games 3: Mockingjay Part I is the latest instalment in the Hunger Games series, the best-selling books by Suzanne Collins that have been made into movies. It brings back the usual cast of characters: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, Donald Sutherland as President Snow, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, and Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin. A lot of big names for a big movie.
The story continues where the preceding Hunger Games movie left off. Katniss has destroyed the Hunger Games and has escaped the wrath of President Snow by taking refuge with the resistance housed in District 13. Her home, District 12, has been destroyed. She finds herself in the midst of a love triangle, torn between Peeta Mellark, her companion for the Hunger Games, and Gale Hawthorne, a young man she has known since childhood. At this moment in the story, she seems to be favoring Peeta. But there is more to her than budding romance. She finds herself the center of attention for a burgeoning rebellion against the Capitol and President Snow. With some reluctance, she agrees to be the symbol of this growing rebellion. Death and destruction are both becoming more prevalent throughout the Districts as sparks of unrest flare. President Alma Coin—the freely chosen democratic leader of District 12—knows that the rebellion needs a unifying figure. Katniss may be just what she is looking for, yet she has doubts. Katniss must first prove herself to this woman. Can they learn to work together and bring down President Snow? Or is Katniss destined to lose all she holds dear including both Peeta and Gale? Find out and see the movie.
Strengths: the acting was good, the plot was good, and the special effects were well done and realistic. The characters were well-developed; you really learned about the evil and ruthlessness of President Snow while admiring the tenacity of Katniss. It was a good flick. Weaknesses: there were a couple of points where I thought Katniss was kind of childish, but those were rare, and they may have been deliberate. She was a complex character (maybe). I thought a couple scenes and some of the dialogue was too predictable. For example, there was a scene with Katniss, Coin, and Plutarch where Katniss shows her spine that I thought was somewhat cheesy. But perhaps that is just me.
Anyway, I’ll give Hunger Games 3: Mockingjay Part I four stars out of five.

Goodreads Giveaway for Drasmyr, 3 Copies Available

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Drasmyr by Matthew D. Ryan

Drasmyr

by Matthew D. Ryan

Giveaway ends December 12, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Old Movie Review: Carrie (2013) (4 *’s)

Carrie is the remake of the movie of the same name based on the Stephen King novel, again, of the same name (I think). It tells the story of Carrie White, a shy, introverted young girl who is a pariah amongst her peers at school. She is the daughter of a religious fanatic, actually an all-but-psychotic religious fanatic played by Julianne Moore. In full disclosure, I have never read Stephen King’s novel, nor did I ever see the original movie.

 

The story begins with Carrie having her first period in the girls’ shower at school. Unfortunately for her, because she has been so obsessively sheltered by her mother, she doesn’t know what it is. To her she is simply bleeding and there is pain. The result is that she starts flipping out. She doesn’t know what’s going on and she starts calling for help. The other girls in the locker room quickly figure out what’s going on and pretty much do what most teenage kids do to the unpopular kid in school. They start to torment her by throwing tampons and what-have-you at her. One of the kids actually comes to her senses and stops of her own accord, but the rest continue until a teacher shows up. From there, it is a kind of typical kid-being-bullied story in high school with an added twist. Unbeknownst to anybody, Carrie is telekinetic and her powers grow in strength throughout the movie. A final reckoning comes (spoiler alert) when the mean girls dump a bucket of pig’s blood on Carrie at the senior prom. This sets Carrie off, and she begins to slaughter people. The chaos culminates at Carrie’s home where her psychotic fanatical mother tries to kill her. The movie ends with the one sympathetic school mate Carrie had testifying in court to the events that transpired saying basically that Carrie was the same as the rest of us; we just pushed her too far.

 

Strengths: the acting was good, the story held together well, there were no glaring flaws that I noticed, and the special effects were good and did not come to dominate the film. Weaknesses: my one complaint, and this probably goes back to the original novel, was the character of Carrie’s mother. She was portrayed as a psychotic religious nut and I get kind of tired of seeing that type of character pop up in movies. It seems that any mention of religion in these movies is always through the lens of psychosis or what-have-you. She wasn’t really a character, she was more a caricature. And that gets tiresome. Of course, a ‘normal’ religious person probably wouldn’t be as interesting as a crazy one, but oh, well.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Carrie four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Fury (4 *’s) (2014)

I don’t usually watch military movies—they normally don’t interest me, but Fury seemed like an unusual and intriguing story; so I went to see it with a friend. It’s a war movie set in Germany during the final Allied Invasion in World War II. The main characters are the five man crew of an American tank called Fury. It stars Brad Pitt (as Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier), Shia LaBeouf (as Boyd “Bible” Swan), and several other lesser-known actors. Logan Lerman plays the latest recruit to the crew: Norman Ellison, a green private who is ill-prepared for the job ahead.

The story begins, roughly speaking, with Fury’s return to an Allied base after a brutal combat in which they lost their gunner. The master sergeant assigns private Norman Ellison to replace him, much to Don Collier’s dismay. In any event, they are given a new mission: to assist in the capture of a nearby town. Six tanks short, they proceed on their mission. It is a quick success; they capture the town, execute an SS Nazi, and disarm the children who were being armed against them. (Yes, according to the film, the Nazi’s used children as soldiers, and if they resisted, they were hung up to die and serve as examples to other children).Then, they are assigned another mission: to take and hold a crossroads. It’s a critical juncture between the Allied Forces and the Germans. It is there that their courage, resolve, and stamina are truly tested. A lone tank with limited ammo against several hundred troops. Can they hold their position? Or is their destruction inevitable? I’m not telling.

Strengths: the special effects were good, the acting was good—Shia LaBeouf, in particular, did an excellent job. For once a religious person was represented by Hollywood in a non-demeaning way. The plot held my attention throughout the film. And there were no logical loopholes (but, of course, I think it was supposed to be based on a true story—I think) that I detected. Weaknesses: there were none that I noticed. For a moment, I was going to say that the use of plastic was a problem because I wasn’t sure how long that material has been around, but according to Wikepedia, it’s been around for quite long.

Anyway, I’ll give Fury a full four stars out of five.

Old Movie Review: Transformers 4: Age of Extinction (4 *’s) (2014)

Transformers 4: Age of Extinction is the latest installment in the Transformers series. It stars a number of big names: Mark Wahlberg (as the gifted mechanic Cade Yeager), Stanley Tucci (as the corrupt, in-over-his-head business tycoon, Joshua Joyce), and Kelsey Grammer (as CIA agent Harold Attinger). I was never a big Transformers fan as a kid—I think they came out about a year too late for me: I thought they were kind of pedorky. Nowadays, I kind of rate them as neutral. They generally don’t get me excited, but neither do I run fleeing from them in disdain. I went to see this movie to hang out with a friend who is a much bigger fan of the Transformers. And I have to say, I really liked this movie.

There are several story threads going at the same time throughout the movie; each thread is related to the others and they weave in and out to tell a complete tale. On the one hand, there is Cade Yeager, a brilliant mechanic who enjoys turning junk into technology. One day he brings an old beat-up truck home to work on. Surprise! It turns out to be Optimus Prime. Unbeknowst to Yeager, there is a corrupt CIA agent named Harold Attinger who, in conjunction with an alien Transformer bounty hunter, is seeking out Autobots in general, and Optimus Prime in particular. Attinger has formed a special unit called Cemetery Wind to do the dirty work. Finally, there is business tycoon Joshua Joyce who has made a deal with Attinger to acquire transformium (the material Transformers are made from), study it, and develop new technologies from it. Little does he know that he’s being manipulated by Megatron. It is up to Cade Yeager, Optimus Prime, and the remaining handful of Autobots to once again save the world. Pitted against them is Megatron, who has been upgraded to a more advanced robot, and he has an army of new decepticons, also upgraded, to aid him.

Strengths: the special effects were great. The acting was good, although with Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer, and Stanley Tucci it’s hard to go wrong. The dialogue was good and the plot was engaging. I was engrossed in the movie the whole time. And, of course, the Dinobots were really cool. Weaknesses: I can’t really think of any weaknesses. There was action, excitement, and everything flowed from one moment to the next. Everything held together and made a cohesive whole. If you like Transformers, I’m sure you’ll like this movie.

I’ll give Transformers 4: Age of Extinction a total of four stars out of five.

Reminder: Book Signing and Talk for Drasmyr and The Children of Lubrochius

Matthew D. Ryan will be giving a talk on the writing process at Plattsburgh Public Library for its celebration of Teen Read Week. Afterward, he will be holding a book signing for his dark fantasy novel, Drasmyr, and its sequel, The Children of Lubrochius.

 

Talk and Book Signing Schedule
Thursday, October 16th, 6:30 p.m.— 7:30 p.m. Plattsburgh Public Library, Plattsburgh, NY

Movie Review: Dracula Untold (4 *’s) (2014)

Dracula Untold is the latest vampire story to hit the theatres. It purports to be the origin story of the most famous vampire of all time: Count Dracula (but not a real life account of Vlad Tepes, obviously). As such, it returns the traditional notion of a vampire: a potent force of darkness and slayer of men. The title role is played by Luke Evans, the guy who plays Bard in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. There are a number of other actors, of course, but I didn’t recognize any of them.

 

The story begins with a brief recap of the young Vlad Tepes’ early life. He was given, along with nine-hundred ninety-nine fellow children, as tribute to the Turkish caliphate. Here he was raised and trained as a ruthless warrior, a profession at which he excelled. Fast forward to the later years of Vlad’s life. The central conflict of the story is between the fully human Count Dracula, that is, Vlad Tepes and the ruler of the Turkish caliphate, Mehmed. Vlad and Mehmed were once the best of friends. Now, as caliph, Mehmed demands tribute. Vlad is happy to comply when such is just money. But, Mehmed is not satisfied with simple wealth. He wants a thousand young boys to train to replenish his army, one of them being Vlad’s own son, Ingeras. That goes too far and Vlad rebels. In desperation he seeks out the aid of an unholy vampire, but such aid may come at the cost of his soul.

 

Strengths: the plot held together well, the acting was fine, and the special effects were well-placed and perfectly respectable. The count’s desperation was well-exemplified and well portrayed. And although there was romance in the film, it was not of the cheesy Twilight variety. Vlad’s vampire nature did not make him more romantic; the romance was beset with tragedy. Vlad’s vampire nature was not regarded as a blessing or in any way positive. Weaknesses: I would almost call the fight between Vlad and Mehmed at the end a weakness. Vlad, as a vampire, should have ripped right through Mehmed. But the movie made clear that the silver present weakened Vlad, so the climactic fight could be, in fact, a struggle. I can’t think of any other true or pseudo weaknesses at all. I liked this film.

 

I’ll give Dracula Untolda grand total of four stars out of five.

Movie Review: Left Behind (4*’s) (2014)

Left Behind is the latest Hollywood release that focuses on a fundamentally Christian event, although one that supposedly occurs in our future and not one from the distant past. The event: The Rapture: where Jesus of Nazareth gathers the worthy up into the sky so they don’t have to face the final tribulations before the end of the world. It’s based on the novel of the same name which is the beginning of a series of novels about the end of the world and the experiences of those people left behind from the Rapture. If you can accept the premise, it’s actually a good movie. Non-Christians, obviously, will probably find the movie to be too “Biblely” in concept, but I enjoyed it. There are a number of main characters in the movie: Rayford Steele (Nicholas Cage), Chloe Steele (Cassi Thomson), Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray), and several others of less importance.

 

The movie begins with Chloe Steele flying home into an airport to visit her family for her father’s birthday party. Unfortunately, her father Rayford, a pilot, has been called in to work so he will be flying out soon. They meet each other at the airport and have a brief, tense, conversation. Chloe is angry that Rayford is working while she’s visiting. At the airport, Chloe also meets Buck Williams a famous, investigative journalist for the news and there is a little bit of romantic tension. There is also a ‘bible-thumper’ who is on-screen only for a couple minutes to relay the usual spiel that all the wars and disasters are signs of the Second Coming. Chloe tells her off, and she does not reappear in the film. Of course, a short while later, while Chloe is at the mall with her brother, and Rayford is flying a plane, the Rapture occurs. There is an initial bout of pure chaos as the people of the world try to cope with millions of people simultaneously disappearing in the blink of an eye. The story follows Chloe and Rayford in their search for answers and the desperate attempt to land Rayford’s plane.

 

Strengths: like I said, you have to accept the premise. Once you do so, this is a pretty good film. It held my attention the whole way through. It was religiously motivated, but it didn’t seem too over the top—at least to me. The characters were just average people dealing with a very unusual situation. Weaknesses: I don’t think there were many weaknesses. The only thing I’ll say is that it probably won’t appeal to non-religious, or non-Christian people, at least in concept. Those with an open mind, however, might like it.

 

Over all, I’ll give Left Behind a solid four stars out of five.