Movie review: The Matrix

Webmaster’s note 1/17/2016: This is an old review from the previous version of the site, which we’re bringing in as a post so that it’ll be searchable in the reviews categories with newer content.

The Matrix

“The Matrix”
Virtual Reality & You

review by Laura Begley

I knew from the first preview that I wanted to see this movie. It had Keanu Reeves, cool special effects, lots of sleek black leather, and an intriguing premise, any one of which was enough of a reason to go see this movie. Needless to say, I was thrilled with the results.

“The Matrix” is a wonderful, action-packed, Sci-Fi/Fantasy movie written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski (“Bound”) which stars Keanu Reeves as Thomas Anderson, aka “Neo,” as a late 20th-century computer programmer by day, hacker by night. As “Neo,” Reeves begins to suspect that there is something he doesn’t quite understand about his world, something that he is destined to take part in. As the movie progresses, Neo finally meets the elusive Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) and the almost androgynous yet oddly gorgeous Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, who is probably better known for her part in F/X: The Series), whose job it is to clue Neo in to The Matrix and his role as “The One.”

According to the dictionary, one definition for a matrix is “a material in which something is enclosed or embedded (as for protection or study),” while another meaning is “an array of circuit elements (as diodes and transistors) for performing a specific function as interconnected.” Both of these definitions are right on the money for this movie, which is as deeply philosophical as it is widely appealing.

I was most impressed after seeing the movie to learn that the four main actors (Reeves, Fishburne, Moss, and Hugo Weaving) trained together for four months before filming to learn martial arts, which has a rather large part in the movie’s fight scenes. Yes, the actors really *are* doing their own fighting, although some movie “magic” (aka harnesses) are required to help them drive each other up the walls and leap from rooftop to rooftop in a single bound. (‘It’s a bird, it’s a plane…it’s….Keanu Reeves?”)

This is, in my opinion, a wonderfully entertaining, visually stunning motion picture, marred only by a few minor slow spots and “well, duh!” moments. My rating (on a scale of 0 to 4 stars): 3.75

Album review: The Masterharper of Pern, by Tania Opland and Mike Freeman

Webmaster’s note 1/17/2016: This is an old review from the previous version of the site, which we’re bringing in as a post so that it’ll be searchable in the reviews categories with newer content.

The Masterharper of Pern

The Masterharper of Pern CD

reviewed by Scott Lammers

I heard a story once that I thought of as little more than a wishful-thinking type of urban legend. It stated that Anne McCaffrey’s latest Pern novel, The Masterharper of Pern, was supposed to be released with a few recorded songs in the bargain. As is well known, this did not happen, so it became the standard stuff of urban legend.

WRONG

Anne McCaffrey had made a dedicated effort in this direction, but was apparently thwarted by a printer too eager to sell. The plus side – this freed her and the other artists to put together a *full* lp. I am listening now to an incredibly delightful (and in most cases, exquisitely beautiful) CD bearing the name, The Masterharper of Pern. The lyrics are almost exclusively Anne McCaffrey’s (from her books, of course). The rest was done primarily by two folk artists; Tania Opland and Mike Freeman. Four others added their voices and one her harp.

It includes eighteen tracks, from the teaching ballads (Duty Song, Golden Egg of Faranth I, II, and III, and Fighting Thread, to name a few) to Petiron’s most beautiful work, to both versions of Robinton’s first composition (Whistle Tune – the first was written as a young child, and the second was a version he simplified so other harpers could keep up with it during gathers). Every song has a story, and the insert addresses them all.

I highly recommend it. You won’t find it through standard publishers though – the artists published under the name, Dragonhold (Tinmore Lane, Newcastle, Co. Wicklow, Ireland). To find out more about this wonderful CD and how to aquire it, you can have a look-see at either of the following addresses:

http://www.annemccaffrey.org for info about Anne McCaffrey
http://www.opland-freeman.com for info about Tania Opland and Mike Freeman

If memory serves me correctly, it was at the second site I located the
order form.

Book review: Longitude, by Dava Sobel

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Longitude

book by Dava Sobel

Reviewed by Rodford Edmiston

The image of the lone genius, prevailing against the odds to make a better world, is an attractive one. It has also been criticized as a romantic fantasy. The story of John (Longitude) Harrison disproves this. It also disproves the conventional wisdom that creativity is an activity solely of the young. For John Harrison’s greatest invention – something quite unlike anything he had built to that point – was made when he was in his seventies, and required him to take two long steps to one side… and move a century forward. In the process he had to abandon much of what he had already accomplished in order to succeed. But he did so, and he did succeed, where all others had failed.

Being a student of the history of technological development I was already vaguely familiar with the problems of developing accurate timepieces, as well as the difficulty of producing a clock which was accurate and rugged enough to be used at sea to find longitude. This book – and the A & E miniseries it inspired bearing the same name – made me realize just how important the problem of finding longitude was, and the difficulty of its solution.

You can find latitude pretty simply; it’s based on the height of the sun (or another celestial reference) above the horizon, which changes in regular fashion with the time of year and the distance from the equator. A fairly accurate estimate can even be made based on the length of the day (that is, the daylight period) versus the time of year. Finding longitude, however, requires comparing local time to the time at a standard meridian. Accuracy and precision are both important. Being a minute off produces an error of one-fourth of a degree in longitude, which at the equator equals 17 miles.

Yet early in the Eighteenth Century no clock existed which was accurate enough for this purpose, let alone capable of being rolled, tossed and exposed to extreme changes in temperature and humidity while remaining accurate. Even the master clock at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich had to be adjusted almost every day, using solar and stellar observations.

Actually, the first sentence in the previous paragraph isn’t quite accurate. Such clocks did exist, but were unknown to the world outside the small Yorkshire village where John Harrison lived.

Harrison is one of those geniuses who inexplicably appear from time to time among mere humans. Though from humble circumstances, he was a voluminous reader, and taught himself about navigation, celestial observation and clockmaking by reading books on the subjects. Even if he hadn’t made his clocks he would rate a footnote in history for his work on music and its mathematical relationships. Aside from that, he was a master carpenter, whose craftsmanship with wood had earned him prime business from important local people. But he did build his clocks, and in comparison to those his other accomplishments pale.

Harrison found simple, elegant, workable solutions to problems others declared impossible. His largest clock is in a manner tower in his home town. Since that is near the seacoast, and since salt air corrodes metal, Harrison made this clock almost entirely of wood. He used an inherently frictionless design, so it doesn’t wear out and never needs lubricating. Except for a brief period in 1884, when it was stopped for refurbishing, this clock has run continuously since completion in 1722. On gears and pintles and pivots and cogs of wood. And when it was finished – and for several years after – it kept better time than any observatory or laboratory clock in the world. By the time anyone else had caught up to it, Harrison was already well into building his seafaring longitude clocks. (Note: Large mechanical clocks are easier to make accurate than small ones. Which is one reason Harrison’s seagoing chronometers are so remarkable. Even the largest was far smaller than (though about as heavy as) the typical observatory floor clock of the time, while being more accurate in conditions where the floor clock wouldn’t function at all. And his fourth timepiece was a revolution in miniaturized accuracy.)

Small wonder learned men of the day disbelieved his claims, stating flatly that such accuracy was impossible in *any* timepiece. Small wonder that when he proved them wrong, passing tests they devised, they defended their positions in any way they could. Even if that meant changing the rules. As often happens, the cheaters accused their victim of cheating. Vindication took several decades of hard, soul-withering effort, most of it not associated with building clocks, but fighting the ill will of people with a vested interest in seeing him fail. In the end, Harrison triumphed as much through sheer stubbornness as genius.

Longitude, the book, is less a biography or a history than it is an examination of one of the greatest technological innovations in human history, and its effect on people and events. Longitude, the miniseries, goes into far more biographical and historical detail, of both Harrison and the man who repaired his clocks some two centuries later, Rupert T. Gould. (Who has much less mention in the book.) The volume is a slim one, and still in print. It is well worth reading, even if you have to buy it. The miniseries runs 4 hours, and if you missed it buying the tapes or DVDs are expensive. However, that, too, is worth the price for someone interested in navigation, invention, history, or simply seeing the little guy triumph over the big guys.

Some associated URLs:

END

This document is Copyright 2000 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to reprint or repost this material must have permission from the author, who can be reached at stickmaker@usa.net.

Movie review: The Legend of Bagger Vance

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The Legend of Bagger Vance

review by Duryea Edwards

Will Smith’s Bagger Vance has that special gift. He doesn’t just look at you, he looks into you. As he flashes that “Aw shucks, I’m just a good ole negro boy” polite smile he looks directly through you, and he knows where the pain is and what it is hiding behind.

Then comes the hard part. Bagger has to be patient. He has to hover on the periphery of your life while he waits for you to come to him for advice. As much as he knows what needs to be done, he can’t force you to do it. He can’t make you do what is best for you. You have to realize on your own that you need his help.

Matt Damon’s Rannulph Junuh is a decidedly difficult task for Bagger. He is a man adrift after the emotional trauma he encountered during the First World War. He drinks too much. He gambles too much. He exists and he takes up space, but he does not really live.

Having been given the chance to pick up his old career as a golfer, Junuh is somewhat grateful for the opportunity but is also uncomfortable because of the pressure to do well. There are those who expect him to just pick up a set of clubs and walk out to the course and act as though the war never happened.

The Legend of Bagger Vance is a solid example of the fact that fantasy does not have to involve swords, dragons, monsters or other such things … That it can unwind quite well in a world of regular people with regular lives. It is also a solid example of the fact that motion pictures do not necessarily need large budget special effects to present fantasy … That a strong script and good acting can help the audience to suspend disbelief and follow the flow of things.

Damon does a masterful job of being the man who finally comes to the conclusion that he needs to find himself, but then has no idea of where to look. It pains him greatly to admit that Bagger Vance might have answers that could help his life.

Smith’s acting is wonderfully understated as he breaks away from the types of characters he had played in movies such as Men in Black and Wild Wild West. The intensity that had previously been played out in a strutting walk and a sharp voice is now held inside. As it barely peeks out in the flash of a smile or the emphasis of a word, it takes on a truly impressive quality.

I strongly recommend this movie.

Movie review: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

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Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back

reviewed by Terri Barger

I went to the sneak preview this weekend. It’s hilarious if you’ve seen (and liked) Clerks, Mall Rats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma because it’s one big inside joke. If you haven’t seen the others, this is not the place to start. There are plenty of send-ups of movies (especially Star Wars and Planet of the Apes) and lots of Hollywood insider jokes that are really good. (Several stars play themselves.)

Some of it is raunchy. There are some subtle jokes, but most of the gags are the in-your-face type. Jay, as anyone who’s seen the other flicks knows, is an intolerant little bastard, so he says some pretty offensive things. I really can’t say much more without giving away some of the better one-liners, and there are a lot of them.

I’d recommend going with a group of Kevin Smith fans—it’s not a date movie.

Movie review: Highlander: Endgame

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Highlander: Endgame

review by Duryea Edwards

In The End, There Can Be Only One …

Timeline, that is.

Producers Peter S. Davis and William Panzer have wisely jettisoned the cumbersome and conflicting mythologies that had been caused by contradictions between the original motion picture and its two sequels. Highlander II: The Quickening completely rewrote almost every maxim that had been set up in the original movie. Highlander: The Final Dimension (which totally ignored the existence of H II) tried to remain faithful to the end of the first movie, but still find a way to explain the existence of at least one more immortal on this planet after Connor MacLeod had supposedly defeated his last challenger ten years earlier to claim the prize of mortality and infinite knowledge of the universe.

Highlander: Endgame exists totally within the parallel time stream that had been created for the syndicated television series. We are handed a somewhat different Connor MacLeod, a man who experienced his first violent death at a point where he was about ten to fifteen years older than the character in the first movie. This has caused him to begin his journey through the centuries as a wiser but more jaded character.

Duncan MacLeod is about seventy-five years younger than Connor. His official date and place of birth are 1592 in the Highlands of Scotland. After being accidentally killed in a battle against the English, and totally recovering from his injuries, Duncan was banished from the MacLeod Clan and went off to join whatever battle he could find against the forces of England. As he was recovering from his most recent death, Duncan was found by Connor, who began to teach him what it was to be an immortal and how the game between them is played.

The legend has been handed down among the immortals that they are meant to battle each other to the death. In the end only one will be left, and he or she will inherit a prize that consists of incredible knowledge and the power to rule the world. There have been those who have tried to avoid the battle, but from time to time some mystical force has caused what is called a “Gathering”. At these points in time, bunches of them are drawn together and even the dearest of friends find themselves compelled to take arms against each other.

Director Douglas Aarniokoski has done a very good job of delicately balancing action and character development so that neither overshadows the other. The story begins with a flurry of confusing and seemingly contradictory story lines which finally begin to fall into place after about forty-five minutes. Once this has happened and the motives of Duncan, Connor, and the evil Kell are brought clearly into view, the action and intensity steadily builds into a reasonably satisfying climax.

I want to seriously praise Aarniokoski for not falling into the trap of having the “Ending That Would Not Die”. During the last thirty minutes of The Man In The Iron Mask, I found that I had begun to mentally scream at the director, “Will you just end the damn thing?” I had been afraid that Highlander: Endgame might be headed in the same direction because it is the type of motion picture that is ripe for that sort of mistake. Thankfully, my fears were did not pan out.

At the same time, I must seriously fault the director and the producers for not properly developing a background relationship between Kell and Faith. It is quickly made clear that the two have joined forces to bring down Connor and Duncan — and Faith even tells Duncan why she is working with the man — but the viewer is never given even the slightest glimpse of how he wooed her and brought her into his fold. The fact that all of Kell’s associates are simply there, having no real background to show why they are under his control, eventually causes this entire “Unholy Alliance” to come off as nothing more than a necessary plot contrivance. The master villain never really reaches his full potential, and this eventually causes the story to become something slightly less than what it could have been.

My major gripe is the serious underuse of the characters of Dawson and Methos. The company should have edited out five minutes of redundant action, and then added in about fifteen additional minutes which featured these two filling out their proper roles of supporting / advising / chastising Duncan MacLeod. Dawson and Methos tend to be the Doctor McCoy and Mister Spock of Duncan MacLeod’s life. Dawson helps to bring to light Duncan’s emotional reasons for what is going on, and Methos gives a solid focus to the cold and calculating manner that Immortals must often employ in order to survive. Bringing in the two as little more than window dressing somewhat crippled the serious character development that would have made this a truly excellent motion picture.

Taken as a whole, the story is exciting and mostly satisfying. There are a few too many little loose ends for my taste. Some are obviously there by necessity, to give the production company a good set up for the next installment of the series, but others appear to be a serious lack of good storytelling.

I’ll give Highlander: Endgame three stars for being good action and adventure and only two for character and plot development. This balances out to a respectable 2.5 and puts it way ahead of the two sequels to the original Highlander.

One final note … Music. The producers really should have bitten the bullet and put out the time, effort and money to secure the rights to use “Princes Of The Universe” and “Who Wants To Live Forever”. There are certain places in the film that are literally screaming for the inclusion of one or the other. The Celtic background score is basically good, but something just comes up missing without the gut-wrenching, soul-searching qualities of the original music.

Movie review: Galaxy Quest, by DreamWorks

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Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest

review by R’ykandar Korra’ti

I cannot believe I just spent the last two hours laughing at a Tim Allen film. I hate Tim Allen. But Galaxy Quest is hysterical.

YOU HAVE TO SEE IT.

Everybody in it is just funny, and boy howdy, do the writers know their Star Trek. It’s clever, it’s quick, it’s leaving theatres pretty quickly unless the overwhemingly good word-of-mouth saves it.

I’m not going to say anything in detail about it. Just funny, funny, funny. Go see it.

Movie review: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, by Hironobu Sakaguchi

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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

reviewed by Erin Barger

OK. Just got back from seeing Final Fantasy.

Animation: Very well done, very realistic. However, it is so close to be real that it’s almost distracting that it’s not real.

Plot: As far as your typical sci-fi goes, it’s, like I said, typical. Though the introduction of Gaia into the scene added a nice touch.

Characterization: Most of the characters were well developed. Though the bad guy, the General, could have used something a bit more.

Over all a very good movie with a nice ending (which I won’t reveal here). The paper gave it 3 1/2 stars. I’m going to say that’s about what it deserves, IMHO.

Movie review: Fantasia 2000, by Disney

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Fantasia 2000

review by Janis Neville

Okay, I have seen Fantasia 2000, and I am very, very, very disappointed. I thought for something like it, Disney could get away from their formulaic crap, but it seems that they cannot. It is nowhere near as good as the original Fantasia, and I think Disney lost some of the vision that went into making something like it. They just went through the motions and made it all franchised.

Each story that Disney put to music (instead of the other way around, making an evocative animation from the music) displayed some trite aspect of Disney’s recent style of animation. Each was a very character concerned story that ended up happily. Many of the animations didn’t seem at all suited to the music, or were very confused in what they were doing. I think that they maybe chose some of the music poorly, and also seemed to cheapen it by setting it to the animations.

I was amused some by some of the animations, confused a lot by others. I was amused by some of the host segments too, but that was mostly because of James Earl Jones dubbed over in Japanese and I couldn’t understand whatever jokes they were trying to make.

I wish I could get my money back.

Movie review: Eyes Wide Shut, by Stanley Kubrick

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Eyes Wide Shut

review by Duryea Edwards

A Morality Fable …

An Erotic Tale Of Lust And Its Consequences …

Played Out By Joe And Jane Average …

Bill Hartford (Tom Cruise) has just been placed in a bind by his wife asking the proverbial “Does this dress make me look too fat?” sort of question. While high, she has confessed to the fact that she has lusted for other men. Six months ago it was a handsome young navel officer at a vacation resort. Last night, it was a refined older gentleman who danced with her at a Christmas Party.

Since her inhibitions are already down, Alice (Nicole Kidman) is now demanding to know how Bill feels about all of this. What does he think about her confession of lust? How does he feel in his heart about other women? Does he lust for any of the attractive young women that his position as a doctor places him into contact with?

Bill has no idea of what to say, and even if he did it wouldn’t matter. All of this is new to him, but Alice has been letting the whole thing fester for the past few months. She’s mad as hell at herself, but she’s taking it all out on him. It doesn’t really matter what he says or tries to say. Nothing will be right. She’s looking for him be wrong, so he has to be wrong.

Their exchange of information is interrupted by Bill receiving a telephone call telling him that a patient of his has died. He needs to go provide some emotional support to the man’s daughter. He also needs to have some time to think about everything Alice has told him.

As the story continues to evolve, we see the universal struggle between the forces of temptation and propriety being played out. The idea of possibly cheating on his wife, which was firmly hidden in the back of Bill’s mind, has now been pulled up to the surface by her recent confession. Fate obliges the situation by placing in front of Bill a series of circumstances which an average man would not even dream of encountering within the course of an evening.

Director Stanley Kubrick has attempted to construct what is called a plausible improbability. One event must lead to another in a manner which is highly unlikely but ultimately entertaining. In a screwball comedy such as Arsenic and Old Lace or A Fish Called Wanda, the viewer watches the story expecting to give it a few grains of salt. But Eyes Wide Shut is intended to be an erotic character study laced with suspense. A set of events which should be taking at least seven hours to unfold cannot be shown happening in only four. As the storytellers attempt to cram what should be at least 60 hours of action and character growth into a time span of less than 36 hours, the basic nature of the story becomes less believable than it would have been if everything had been allowed to stretch into one more day. Bill simply can’t be in that many places doing that many things in such a short span of time.

I’ll give the film a solid three stars. Cruise and Kidman are excellent as Bill and Alice, and the wonderfully erotic nature of the story helps to overcome the inconsistencies in the plot timing. I have read that the untimely death of Kubrick made it necessary for someone else to complete the final cut of the film. I can only wonder if having his hand there at the very end would have made a significant difference in the pacing of the story.