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Three Gratuitous Movie Reviews - Habemus plus vis computatoris quam Deus
Ramblings of a Unix ronin
Three Gratuitous Movie Reviews

Not to say that the movies are themselves gratuitous ... well, OK, I take that back.  They mostly are, in different ways.  None of them are Brand Shiny New; indeed, Shaun of the Dead came out in 2004.

Let's start with Shaun.  Yes, shocking though it may be, I'd never seen it before this weekend.  Based on what I'd heard from people who've seen it, I was expecting zany zombie-attack spoof along the lines of Evil Dead/Army of Darkness.  Instead, it leaped directly and effortlessly into first place in the list-of-dishonor of The Stupidest Movies I Have Ever Seen.  There is basically one likeable major character in the entire movie, Shaun's girlfriend Liz; essentially all of the remaining leading characters are so utterly, brain-damaged THICK you spend most of the movie wishing they'd just hurry up and DIE ALREADY and get it over with.

Liz is, in fact, one of only two likeable characters in the movie who don't end up turned into zombies.  As it happens, both of them have at some point or another dumped Shaun, in Liz's case (at least) because he's a complete loser.  There's a lesson here, although the other ex-girlfriend, Yvonne, doesn't seem to have learned it, as her current boyfriend seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to Shaun ... or maybe, even worse, to Shaun's totally brain-dead best buddy Ed.

There's nothing funny about Shaun of the Dead; it's just embarrassingly stupid.  I spent almost the entire movie thinking that surely, with everything I've heard from friends about how funny Shaun is, any moment now it had to kick over and make a transcendent leap from stupid and tedious into brilliantly-inspired over-the-top satire.  But not only did it never achieve the leap, it never even showed any visible sign of attempting it.

Overall rating for Shaun of the Dead:  99 minutes of my life that I will never get back.

Next up, chronologically, is Igor.  Yeah, as IMDB says, it's pretty clichéd.  And for my personal tastes, it loses major points for including musical numbers (or parts thereof); but I'm willing to forgive that, painful as they are, because for once they actually are part of the plot, rather than being the pro forma gratuitous all-singing-all-dancing revue numbers that have featured in pretty much every Disney¹ animated feature since, oh, the invention of cuneiform.

Still, it's a fun romp, even with the clichés, not least because — unlike Shaun — it quite unabashedly lampshades its clichés and enthusiastically paints them all over the fourth wall.  There's no particularly original storytelling here, but still, it has its moments.

Overall rating for Igor:  Fun entertainment in the style of The Nightmare before Christmas, even though it fails to reach Nightmare's level.

Last up for this weekend, and newest of the list, is James Cameron's Avatar (as distinct from Shyamalan's "Oh dear god please let there never be another Airbender").  First and foremost, technically speaking, ZOMG, the pixels are shiny.  I'd say Avatar is worth watching even if for no other reason than to appreciate how good full-motion CGI has become.  The production of Avatar was actually delayed by several years because the CGI technology wasn't good enough yet; Cameron wanted the CGI to be photorealistic, and it is, although some of the movements of the Na'vi — particularly their tails — are sometimes subtly not quite right.  We're not quite at the point yet of being able to replace human actors altogether, but it's clearly coming.

OK, the story's not what one could call totally unexpected.  In fact, it verges on formulaic, though it's not quite the Pocahontas-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off that I've heard said of it.  (Not least in that it doesn't feature any godawful gratuitous musical numbers.)  But that said, it's well told for the most part; the most obvious failure is "security chief" Colonel Miles Quaritch, a totally one-dimensional GI-Joe stereotype so blatant he might as well be made of plastic.  Sigourney Weaver is delightfully acerbic as the lead scientist.  Contrary to some opinions, I didn't find it excessively preachy.  Yes, the slimy corporate executive is utterly unconcerned about anything but maximum profit, but ... hello?  Looked around you much lately, or have you been living under a rock for the last, oh, twenty or thirty years?  He'd pretty much fit right in almost any present-day corporate boardroom.

Aside from the cheerful lampshading of unobtainium, the science is all within willing SF-setting suspension of disbelief as long as you're willing to accept the never-explained flying mountains as "A Wizard Did It".  The technology is distinctive, and mostly plausible for an SF setting aside from a couple of glaring exceptions.  For one, while the design of the VTOL ground-to-orbit spaceplane is clever, it's clearly a cargo and passenger hauler never intended to be used in combat, and it's all but impossible to come up with a rational explanation for it having an open, manned dorsal gun position except to provide cannon fodder for Jake to kill before he destroys it.  (The best that can be done is to speculate that the gun position was improvised on-site to give some minimal pretense of defense against aerial attack to an otherwise completely unarmed vehicle.  In that case, though, bringing it to the attack more or less in the van without even ensuring air superiority first can be attributed only to blind, arrogant overconfidence ... which, to be fair, GI Joe — er, I mean, Colonel Quaritch — has in spades; and given that they flew it in amid a cloud of attack choppers, one has to wonder why they even bothered rigging the gun position.)

Also, while the attack choppers with their dual ducted contra-rotors are plausible and interesting, if one uses them as a baseline for the lift-to-size ratios achievable with the then-existing technology, then there's no possible way the massive walker-suit drop carrier/bombardment platform with its few relatively tiny ducted fans can be generating enough lift to leave the ground at all, much less stay in the air.  (We'll handwave as artistic license the physics problems inherent in the idea of a several-thousand-foot fall in a clearly-multiple-ton powered walker suit with no visible or apparent ability to fly, terminating in an upright landing on a surface sufficiently firm for said walker suit not to embed itself fifteen feet into the ground on impact, being surviveable² either for said walker suit or for its pilot.)

Overall rating for Avatar:  Typical action-movie-level entertainment as long as you're not expecting Robert Ludlum depths of plot.  Shiny, shiny pixels really showcase what's possible with current CGI technology.

[1]  Note that I do not include Pixar in this category.  Pixar does good work; Disney largely just bought the right to put their own name on top of the credits for Pixar productions, and I'll give them credit for having the sense to mostly keep their hands out of Pixar's production process.

[2]  Bonus points for back-of-the-envelope estimation of probable terminal velocity of the walker suit and probable Gs of deceleration on impact.  Keep in mind that since the walker didn't visibly either embed its legs into the ground at all on impact, or bounce, said ground can reasonably be considered both rigid and inelastic.

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xander_opal From: xander_opal Date: August 12th, 2010 12:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Couple comments on Avatar:
for the 'mech, the guy rolled a 12 on his piloting roll.
And, if you'll note, Sigourney Weaver finally had her brain 'eaten' by an alien...
fatcook From: fatcook Date: August 12th, 2010 03:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, come on. Shaun is no where as God-awful as Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter. That's the movie that convinced My Husband that blasphemy was a sin.
unixronin From: unixronin Date: August 12th, 2010 04:14 am (UTC) (Link)
I've never seen Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter, but I have to say that it sounds as though at least a little creativity and imagination went into it, something which absolutely cannot be said of Shaun of the Dead.
fatcook From: fatcook Date: August 12th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe, but a movie that has JC teaming with the Mexican god of Wrestlers and Sister Mary Magnum to fight lesbian vampires who have been given the power to walk in sunlight by a mad scientist....

Which when you write it out sounds totally made of win, which it does not. No, it really doesn't.

Although My Husband would be willing to put Tuck Everlasting up as being worse than both.
mr_spock From: mr_spock Date: August 16th, 2010 12:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have to disagree with your husband there! I am a guy, and I OWN a copy of Tuck Everlasting. I think it's a very interesting concept.
cymrullewes From: cymrullewes Date: August 12th, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Pirate and Valkyrie both said Shaun of the dead was stupid. So if that's what a tween and a teen say... ;-D
zeekar From: zeekar Date: August 14th, 2010 04:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Zombie movies

Hey, aren't you British types required by law to enjoy Simon Pegg vehicles? :) Did you see/like Hot Fuzz? The "Spaced" TV series?

Sounds like you went in with the wrong idea about Shaun of the Dead. It was never meant to be Evil Dead IV; it's a character study about ordinary people - more realistic ones than typical movie heroes - and how they react when forced to rely on each other in extraordinary circumstances. It's darkly comedic, but with a serious streak; there's a lot going on there. I wonder if you'll like Scott Pilgrim, which is by the same director? It's reportedly amazing, though I haven't seen it yet.

If you're in the mood for an over-the-top, funny, yet still heart-retaining zombie flick, I highly recommend "Zombieland". I liked it much better than Shaun - but I did enjoy Shaun, so take that grain of salt.
unixronin From: unixronin Date: August 14th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Zombie movies

Maybe I just hung out with the wrong kinds of ordinary people, then. I do remember running into people as thick as the cast of Shaun, but they were the people everyone else pointed and laughed at as being complete imbeciles.
mr_spock From: mr_spock Date: August 16th, 2010 01:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for the fair warning on Shaun of the Dead. I kind of thought (from the previews I saw) that it was that bad, but it's nice to have the confirmation.

In defense of Avatar I have to say that sometimes I watch a movie just for the sake of being entertained, and Avatar is very entertaining. If I have to start doing "back of the envelope" calculations on the probability of a vehicle achieving enough lift to fly, or a space suit surviving a fall out of the back of an aircraft, it's getting too technical for entertainment. IMHO. I have to think that hard to figure out whether certain emails are legit or phishing (and I thank all the gods & goddesses that most of those emails are blatantly obvious!).
unixronin From: unixronin Date: August 16th, 2010 04:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, trust me, you don't need even back-of-the-envelope calculations for the walker-mech fall or the mech carrier having insufficient lift. It's obvious at a glance. That thing is huge, and doesn't have more than about twice the visible lift of one of the fanchoppers, though it's got to be easily twenty or thirty times the mass, at minimum.

Edited at 2010-08-16 04:53 pm (UTC)
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