Monday, May 25, 2009

Terminator Salvation Review

I saw the new Terminator movie last night in Manhattan. The theater was sold out, several showings were sold out that night. Memorial Day, Fleet Week, and you are surprised?

Much of the movie is shot in this overexposed, greyed out palette that is supposed to suggest the whitening bones of the human future. or whatever. I took it as evidence of just how much of the movie was done in front of a green screen. It had a very PS3/Final Fantasy quality to it.

Christian Bale plays John Connor, resistance leader. Somehow, between the end of the previous movie and the start of this one, the remaining professional soldiers have taken over organizing and leading the resistance to the machines, and Connor is just a small unit commander.

Sam Worthington is Marcus, a Death Row murderer who donates his body to science in exchange for a kiss from scientist Helena Bonham Carter. Marcus wakes up in the future, takes clothes off of a corpse, and wanders into LA. (By the magic of cinema, the VLA radio telescope is now walking distance from the LA basin.)

Wandering into LA, Marcus almost gets cut down by a Terminator, but is saved by Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and a mute girl, who are the LA branch of the resistance. As it happens, Skynet is looking for Kyle. Somehow, Skynet knows that Kyle is the one that will draw out John Connor.

Much shooting of things later, we finally learn that Marcus is a new kind of Terminator. Kyle has been taken by Skynet to its headquarters in San Francisco. Why does a self aware computer network build a 200 story headquarters skyscraper and major industrial complex on the San Andreas Fault? Dunno.

Connor goes in to rescue Kyle singlehandedly, 'cuz thats heroic, after letting Marcus go in and find him. In the process he gets beaten up by a voiceless CGI Arnold Schwarzenegger. Doing a convincing, moving Ahnuld was obviously too difficult/expensive, so the film burns his skin off, allowing them to go back to animatronic/shiny metal that is much easier to render.

The film ends with Kyle rescued, Connor mortally wounded, and Marcus feeling bad about being a murderer saved and turned into killing machine. Marcus donates his heart to save Connor, which transplant is done in a field hospital by Connor's pregnant wife (who you recall from the previous movie is a veterinarian).

Of the three male leads, Marcus is the most interesting, followed by Reese, followed by Connor. Marcus is Frankenstein's Monster, updated. He is wonderfully conflicted in his history and motivations, far more interesting than the G.I. Jesus that John Connor is supposed to be. It is really too bad his character is dead at film's end, he would have been a valuable franchise character.

I enjoyed the film, especially so because my son Daniel paid for my ticket! But seriously. when the film is exploring the Frankenstein angle, its very good. When the focus is on Connor, its flat. Lots of robots, lots of things exploding, lots of inexplicable puddles of fire. A summer movie for men.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

State of Play (BBC production) DVD review

I don't buy a lot of TV series on DVD (read, any). Dang, that's not true. On the back of a pleasant evening in the theater with State of Play, I bought the BBC mini-series on which it is based.

All I can say is, wow. A much better all around production. Six hours gives a lot of time to develop characters. The series is much more journalistic-procedural than the film, which is good. Excellent music. I love Kelly Macdonald's accent. Bill Nighy is amazing as usual.

Solid drama, worth your money over the film version. The film has some elements in its favor, such as the old media/new media tension, and Helen Mirren. That's not enough in the end. The original is better.

Angels and Demons - movie review

Last night I wandered into a showing of Angels and Demons, not expecting much. I was not disappointed.

Good points:
  • Large Hadron Collider - you sexy beast!
  • some cool CGI
  • Ayelet Zurer as strong woman scientist
  • Rome

Bad points

  • Science and Religion as non-overlapping magisteria
  • Ayelet Zurer demoted to female sidekick of Tom Hanks
  • Idiotic plot

I do like the combination of Illuminati and antimatter. The problem is that the whole film is built on the bait-and-switch. Don't filmakers as practiced as Ron Howard know that audiences hate this? This is an entirely separate point from a final plot twist. This is the kind of audience trickery of "and it was all a dream" variety. No excuse that Dan Brown makes the same mistake in his novel. The same mistake is not made in Da Vinci Code.

Oh, yes, and the physicist turns out to be a toxicology expert also, how convenient. And that car bomb? Completely obvious. And who set it BTW? It seems you've just traded one conspirator for another.

The film almost acheives the quality of a Woody Allen film about New York, where the city becomes a character. If only they had gone that direction!

If you follow the evo-creo wars, the editorializing on the proper relations of science and religion will all be sadly familiar. Yawn.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Whither Stress Testing?

OK, the stress of stress testing has come and gone, now what? If that is the first and last time we do this, it was a meaningless PR exercise.

Stress testing needs to be put on a solid, repeatable, and repeated basis.

First - Publish the stressors. What was the formula used to compute capital adequacy? Can I have that in XBRL, please?

Second - This is fun, let's do it every quarter! How long have people been complaining about financial statements being retrospective instruments? We need to embrace forecasting fully. We need to build up a body of time series of these things. Published in XBRL with no tweaking by the Fed. Transparency rocks!

Third - What's the error bar? Let's say I got my wish, and every quarter every bank in the US reported a matrix of capital adequacy forecasts across some increments of inflation and unemployment. Is that enough? No. We also want the probability assigned by the bank to each cell, and the uncertainty band around their reported figure.

Fourth - Why stop at banks? In this era of large companies sucking at the government teat to survive, we should be able to demand similar forecasts of other recipients. The capital market needs to eventually take up the responsibility of holding public companies up to a requirement of disclosure, not the regulators. In the meantime, regulators should prime the pump, and establish the set of data items to be provided. Standard setters, make some standards for prospective disclosures, please.

Capsule Reviews

Seen recently:

Inkheart - Good solid fantasy fare. What Brendan Fraser gets paid to do nowadays. Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent should have gotten more screen time, and their characters should have wound up together at the end, a missed opportunity IMHO. Some potential sequel material.

Twilight - Why did I bother? SFX pretty cheesy, but the target audience won't notice. A very good teen angst romantic vegetarian vampire movie. A little unclear if Edward, who vamped out in 1918, has actually killed people, not really motivated to find out.

Transporter 3 - my first view of the series. Anti-hero with a heart of gold Frank Martin is forced to break his rules, transport skanky Ukrainian teenager across Europe, a trip with curiously few difficulties at border crossings. Car/train sequences at the end are fun.

Body of Lies - Crowe and DiCaprio. Not as noir as a spy thriller should be, too much an actioner. Crowe is Mr Ugly American, action at a distance puppeteer. DiCaprio is the humint, constantly frustrated by his handler's ham handedness. Every bit of local color that DiCaprio befriends dies for their trouble, except the beautiful, saintly Iranian nurse (Golshifteh Farahani). If this was a real spy film, she would have bought it. Upbeat ending = torture is worth it? Maybe in the Bush Era. Actually, the torture in the film never works, but somehow that doesn't stop the people using it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek movie review

Yes, I was going to go eventually, but my son Daniel deserves the credit for pestering me to go this weekend to an IMAX showing of Star Trek. It was an 11 PM show, so it was almost the full geek experience possible.

I agree with a lot of other people, this is definitely worth your popcorn money, and IMAX is the way to go.

  • mix of old and new
  • plenty of homage to TOS (the original series, for the non-Trekker), to the level of some audio cues
  • humor
  • Zoe Saldana's way retro outfit
  • Zoe in general
  • Zoe in specific
  • Zoe Zoe in a bar
  • Zoe Zoe in a car
  • Zoe and Green Eggs and Ham (or whatever that girl's name was)


  • way too much lens flare
  • naval tactics of the WWI era
  • Romulan mining vessels that look like goose roadkill
  • destroy two planets (Vulcan and Romulus) and stick us in an alternate universe
  • Scotty's mascot - should get an award for Establishing Annoying Alien Sidekick Persona In the Fewest Scenes
  • all the Star Wars homage, i.e. Ice Planet, there's always a bigger fish, Kirk as Han Solo punching bag, planet destroying ship, older Spock as Obi Wan

I don't think the big open sets made sense as the machinery spaces of the Enterprise. No one would build a military spaceship that way.

By far, the best line in the film is "Your father was captain of a starship for twelve minutes, and saved 800 lives."

I like the set up of the Kirk/Spock/Uhura triangle. As a reboot, I would have been happier if the creative team had just established that much in this film. The film crowds in all of the basic characters, and is a bit too hyperactive in doing so. In comparison, the Bond reboot is two films old and we still haven't met Moneypenny and Q.

Bottom line: Go!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

State of Play movie review

An enjoyable journalist-politician potboiler in which Ben Affleck does not suck. Helen Mirren and Russel Crowe are not overshadowed by the lack of suckage from Affleck. A good updating of the old newspaper flick tropes which I remember best from All the President's Men. Now mentioning that movie will bring up inevitable comparisons. To my mind one of the failures of State of Play is the willingness to kill people. We can't motivate viewers with anything less???

I suppose I'm going to have to watch the BBC TV mini-series now.

Wolverine movie review

I saw the new X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie last night, an early Friday night show. My showing was half full, later shows looked much more full.

I enjoyed the movie, and felt I got my money's worth of entertainment. The opening credits reminded me of the opening of Watchmen.

I am not a Marvel fanboy by any means. The anti-military tropes of the Cold War and the Viet Nam war are really really dated. Last year's Iron Man was a good attempt to move on from these.

Deadpool as a wiseass was better than the finale's Deadpool-I-Have-No-Mouth-And-I-Must-Scream.

Why oh why does Wolverine have to stop and monologue in New Orleans before offing Creed? Oh, I forgot, its a superhero movie.

Professor X showing up at the end was a bit creepy. 'Nuff said.

What do I want next from Marvel? A Magneto/Iron Man team up. The two best acted roles in the Marvel film universe. Its such a natural! But it has to include Mystique, because, well, do I have to explain?