Bates Motel S1E4: Trust Me (2013)

Summary: After Norman discovers a girl being held captive in the deputy’s house, he tells Norma.  But Norma knows Norman has hallucinations, and does not believe him.  Dylan does, and agrees to help Norman.  The deputy tries to get to know Norman better, apparently hoping for a long term relationship with his mother.  Norman and Dylan see him as evil, of course.  At the end of the episode, Dylan confronts Norma about how she treats Norman, who he must now realize is mentally disturbed, but Norma refuses to change her ways, fearing Norman will be taken away from her if she seeks professional help or tells anyone.  A severed hand is found in the lake where Norma and Norman dumped the body of the man they murdered in the first episode, and Norma is arrested for his murder.  Bum bum bum!!!

Thoughts: I don’t quite understand Dylan’s character.  He seems to change his mind too often and doesn’t seem to want anything concrete.  It makes it hard to understand his actions because I’m not sure what he’s trying to achieve.  It’s also getting annoying to see so many morally depraved characters in this show.  Norman at least now has the excuse of being mentally disturbed.  The only other character who actually seems to understand right and wrong is the sick girl, who hasn’t had much screen time and wasn’t even in this episode.  It will be interesting to see what role she will end up playing in the rest of this season.  Perhaps she will become a stakes character.  Anyway, it was interesting to see Norma arrested and to see the deputy as a more evil and manipulative character.

Bates Motel S1E3: What’s Wrong With Norman (2013)

Summary: Norman has visions and passes out in school, putting him in the hospital.  Meanwhile, the police get a search warrant and search Norma’s house for clues in regards to the man they murdered in the first episode.  After the search, Norman discovers the belt he had kept from the murdered man has been taken.  Norma whines to the deputy, who admits that he took the belt and is keeping it safe in order to protect Norma.  And, of course, Norma plays along, hoping to keep herself out of jail.

Thoughts: Overall, this was a fun episode.  Norman passing out in school seemed a rather forced and unrealistic way to get him stuck in the hospital for a while.  Why would they want to monitor him overnight if all he did was pass out but now he’s fine?  It would’ve been more interesting if they were given some clue that would foreshadow the twist at the end of the episode.  The twist at the end of the episode was the best part, as it puts an interesting twist on Norman and Norma’s strange relationship.  Now it seems that Norman’s father may have been murdered by Norman, and not Norma, while Norma’s otherwise creepy smothering affection for Norman comes from her trying to keep her son out of a mental institution.  Finally, the twist that the deputy may be even more manipulative and evil than anyone creates a strong and interesting villain.

Jurassic Park 3D (2013)

Link: Jurassic Park 3D

Summary: 3D rerelease of the 1993 blockbuster.  A theme park featuring resurrected dinosaurs as the main attraction breaks down, and the dinosaurs eat the tourists.

Thoughts: Jurassic Park has been one of my favorite films since I first saw it when I was a young kid and couldn’t understand most of the subplot.  I just loved the dinosaurs.  I watched the VHS quite a few times over the summer at my grandmother’s house, so before we journeyed home, we went to a used bookstore and bought a used copy, which I continued to watch many times.  As far as disaster action thriller movies go, Jurassic Park gets the tone and pacing absolutely perfect, enough to forgive the many continuity errors and moments of cheesy dialog.  (“Woman inherits the earth!”  Lame.)

Anyway, the 3D was fantastic.  I thought it was amazing how well the photography lent itself to the addition of a third dimension, and I’m surprised they had the technology to convert the film so well.  There were a few little things here and there that looked a bit wonky, mostly the flat eyes of actor close-ups, but overall I was extremely impressed.  Most of the 3D is beautiful.

This will definitely be a 3D film I’ll see in theaters more than once.

John Dies at the End (2012)

Link: John Dies At The End

Summary: After getting injected with a creepy mysterious drug that seems to be sentient, a man struggles to deal with strange and disturbing paranormal powers.

Thoughts: This was a weird film.  While I found some parts to be hilarious, the story was overall just too random for me.  The magic system, if one can call it that in this sort of context, had no clear rules, allowing the storyteller to introduce whatever sort of crazy monsters and random-hallucination-like nonsense he could come up with.  I prefer a stronger story with clearer character goals and conflicts, rather than such an emphasis on the pure craziness of random weirdness.  Still, this did seem like a very unique brand of crazy that I won’t soon forget.  Especially interesting when you philosophize on the nature of thought.  Do thoughts move through us, or do we move through thoughts?  “When you hear a song on the radio, where’s the song?”

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

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Link: The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive)

Summary: An enslaved soldier fights for freedom for himself and his friends.  An assassinated king’s brother works to unite his kingdom while trying to understand mysterious visions.  An artist sets out to steal a powerful magical object from a secretive but powerful scholar.  All the while, a dark evil is looming and growing in this popular 1200-page high fantasy, just the first installment of a series called The Stormlight Archives.

Thoughts: Whew.  Long book.  And I am slow reader, so that took me a good amount of time.  But I very much enjoyed it.  Sanderson’s writing is very clear and concise, so it’s an easy read, even if a long one.  It was always clear what was going on.  The pacing was rather slow for me; characters spent a great deal of time in their heads, and there were quite a few conversations that, while they helped to establish characters and their world, didn’t really seem to move the story along, at least not as quickly as they could have.  There were also some storylines and side-POVs that didn’t seem to contribute much at all.

A few critiques: In the story, our hero, Kaladin, is enslaved and decides to try to give hope to his enslaved comrades.  Most of them have resigned themselves to not caring about life, awaiting their inevitable meaningless deaths.  But by the end of the book, Kaladin has inspired them all!  Yay!  Not only that, but they all look to him as their faithful leader!  Yay!  Something always kind of feels false and manufactured to me when a large group of people are not only converted, but so willingly treat someone else like a commander to be obeyed, respected, and still treated as an equal.  It just seems too easy, too convenient.

Most of the humor didn’t work for me.  One of my particular pet peeves is when a character says something witty and “all the other characters laughed.”  Groan.  I prefer the sort of straight man comedy, where one character jokes and the other character fails to see the humor.  It’s not really what the character says that’s funny, it’s the contrast in attitude between the characters.  For example, look at the humor in Star Wars.  Look at the contrasting attitudes of the droids; one is a  worry-wort, while the other is confident.  Look at the contrasting attitudes of Han Solo and Luke; one is cynical, the other is not.  Look at just about every comedy duo.

In The Way of Kings, there’s a character named Shallan who prides herself on being witty.  From page 65 (Mass market paperback edition):

That had established in her what  her nurses had referred to as an “insolent streak.”  And the sailors were even more appreciative of a witty comment than her brothers had been.

“Well,” Shallan said … “I was just thinking this: You say that my beauty coaxed the winds to deliver us to Kharbranth with haste.  But wouldn’t that imply that on other trips, my lack of beauty was to blame for us arriving late?”

“Well . . . er . . .”

“So in reality,” Shallan said, “you’re telling me I’m beautiful precisely one-sixth of the time.”

“Nonsense!  Young miss, you’re like a morning sunrise you are!”

“Like a sunrise?  By that you mean entirely too crimson”—she pulled at her long red hair—“and prone to making men grouchy when they see me?”

He laughed, and several of the sailors nearby joined in.

I’m not sure exactly what Sanderson was going for, but, to me, this certainly isn’t witty.  Still, the scene could be funny if, instead of laughing, the sailors don’t get it or don’t think she’s funny.  That way, even if I don’t think her words are all that clever, I’d still be laughing at the situation.  And I wouldn’t say anything about Shallan thinking of herself as witty; I would let her dialog speak for itself.

One final critique: In the world of The Way of the Kings, women read and write, while men don’t.  While this may be an interesting worldbuilding twist, it makes no sense to me.  Reading and writing are very powerful communication tools; I have trouble relating to any male character who cannot recognize that and wouldn’t want that power for himself.  If anything, it would be the other way around, with men reading and writing and women being forbidden from the task.  Or with higher nobles and royalty learning how to read and write while forbidding the lower classes from doing so.  Not that that would be good, but it would certainly be more realistic.  Men want power, knowledge is power, therefore men will want access to knowledge.

Some praise: What I enjoyed most about the novel was the spiritual theme.  As a character says on page 1037:

“Life before death,” Teft said, wagging a finger at Kaladin.  “The Radiant seeks to defend life, always.  He never kills unnecessarily, and never risks his own life for frivolous reasons.  Living is harder than dying.  The Radiant’s duty is to live.

“Strength before weakness.  All men are weak at some time in their lives.  The Radiant protects those who are weak, and uses his strength for others.  Strength does not make one capable of rule; it makes one capable of service.”

Teft picked up spheres, putting them in his pouch.  He held the last one for a second, then tucked it away too.  “Journey before destination.  There are always several ways to achieve a goal.  Failure is preferable to winning through unjust means.  Protecting ten innocents is not worth killing one.  In the end, all men die.  How you lived will be far more important to the Almighty than what you accomplished.”

Very religious, and certainly Christian.  The book never gets preachy and never tries to knock you over the head with these themes.  I think the above quote is as direct as it gets in terms of dialog.  The danger in being too direct with such themes is that they can easily come across as fake, like a beautifully-wrapped Christmas present with nothing inside.  They are better communicated through story itself.  And Sanderson masterfully fits these themes into the characters’ decisions and the overall plot of the book.  So when characters make big decisions at the end of the novel, they feel dramatically powerful.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book, and I’m definitely looking forward to the sequel.

Mon Oncle (1958)

mononcle

Link: Mon Oncle (The Criterion Collection)

Summary: A man does not quite fit in with his sister or nephew’s modern way of living.

Thoughts: Like Tati’s Playtime (which I enjoyed more), this film has no real plot.  Rather, it’s a set of comedy sketches, a bit like Mr. Bean, though with a much different character to it.  In Mon Oncle, the humor does not come from the main character’s inability to do things right; rather, it comes from the eccentric characters that surround him who try too hard to be modern and stylish.  Overall, I enjoyed the film.  But Tati has a way of developing gags on top of one another so that they’re easy to lose track of, and sometimes they’re so subtle or drawn out that they’re just boring.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

sp

Link: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Summary: In order to date the girl of his dreams, a young man must defeat her evil ex-boyfriends in this light-hearted ridiculous over-the-top comedy.

Thoughts: While I enjoyed the special effects, the video game references, and some of the humor, the film ultimately tried too hard to be funny at all times, and half-way through I felt like it had already jumped the shark on itself.  It’s the sort of fast-paced gag humor that’s better in small doses.  When you try to fill every scene with gag after gag, they just lose their effectiveness.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

oz

Link: Oz: The Great and Powerful

Summary: A twister carries a magician to Oz, where he becomes involved in a struggle for power between witches.  The story serves as an origin story for the Wizard of Oz and the witches of Oz.

Thoughts: This film’s major flaw was that the main character’s goals were far too ambiguous, so I found little reason to care about him or his plight.  In the beginning, his goal is the vague cliché “I feel like a nobody!  I wanna be somebody!”  This is too abstract.  I have no way to relate to it, in a story sense.  That is, I have no way to relate the character’s actions to a desire that abstract.  The goal needs to be more concrete.  What physical thing does a character want that will fulfill his desire to be somebody?  And what are the stakes?  What awful terrible thing will happen if he doesn’t fulfill his desire?  The film had no answers for these.  When the main character is transported to Oz, he wanders around with no goal at all, until he’s tempted by the lure of wealth, which is consistent with his abstract goal of act one, and doesn’t even make sense considering he’s stuck in another world.  And, again, there are absolutely no stakes.  If he can’t become wealthy, who cares?  Nothing is at stake until more than half way through the film when the main character finally earns the wrath of a wicked witch who vows to destroy him.  Remember writers: concrete goals.

The visual effects were beautiful.  I loved the imagery of Oz, the epic fantastical landscapes, the cozy palaces.  The world had a wonderful whimsical magical warm and welcoming feel to it, and it looked great in 3D.  It was a shame to see such beauty wasted on such a weak story.