Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category


Sharp and Pointed has been around for just over three years, and we’ve put up just over 1,000 posts —  this  is number 1,001 — in 37 categories. Coincidentally, we reached 30,000 hits yesterday.

Science fiction is probably our most popular category, and we’ve put up nearly 100 sci-fi posts. Here, in no particular order, are those we consider the best.

This is the first of our first-1,000 “best of” posts. We’ll shortly be putting up other “best ofs” in several other categories, including Addictions, Anarchism, Atheism, Economics, Humor, Interviews, Music, Politics, Religion, Science, and Skepticism.


Master(The Master, 2012. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)

A few years ago, my GF (a former high ranking Scientologist) and I went to see, with high hopes, “The Master,” the Philip Seymour Hoffman film supposedly about L. Ron Hubbard and the birth of Scientology. (My GF is a “squirrel,” who thinks some of the lower-level Scientology material — basically abreaction “therapy,” a dangerous therapy (similar to “co-counseling”) with no scientific evidence of efficacy — is valid, and that LRH was genuinely insightful and wasn’t a megalomaniacal, pathologically dishonest charlatan.)

Well, to put it mildly, we were disappointed. The primary problems are that this film has essentially no plot, and that both lead characters are simply loathsome. There’s no one to root for, and not even enough structure to allow you to root for a sympathetic character if one existed — and there are none.

The sequence of events (not plot) follows the chance encounters of Phoenix’s intellectually challenged, alcoholic (to be PC about it — “dumbshit” drunk in plain language) character as he intersects with Hoffman’s LRH character in chance encounters in the early 1950s. There is simply nothing to hold this film together, other than than Hoffman’s and Phoenix’s portrayals of these two disgusting characters in familiar (to those who have studied Scientology) locations. Anyone not already familiar with the history of Scientology would be totally lost.

The only positive things to say about the movie are the Hoffman’s performance is great, and that Anderson really got some of the bizarre “training routines” right. Beyond that, it’s a total waste of time. On the way out of the theater, we stopped to chat in the lobby with an older couple. We looked at each other, and the guy asked, “What the hell was that!?”

Very much not recommended.

The two fairly current Scientology documentaries, “Going Clear” and “My Scientology Movie,”  haven’t shown yet in Tucson. If the likely venue (The Loft)  hasn’t been intimidated into not showing them, I’ll review them when they appear.

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What brings this relatively ancient history up is that I have a new musical project — “Enturbulation Blues” — which will consist almost entirely of COS jargon.  If anyone can suggest any especially bizarre terms to incorporate, please leave a comment.

To give you an idea of the tone of “Enturbulation Blues,” here’s a recent song on a somewhat similar topic, Abductee Blues.


We started this blog in July 2013. Since then, we’ve been posting almost daily.

When considering the popularity of the posts, one thing stands out:  in all but a few cases, popularity declines over time.

As well, the readership of this blog has expanded gradually over time, so most readers have never seen what we consider many of our best posts.

So, over the next week or two we’ll put up lists of our best posts from 2013, 2014, and 2015 in the categories of atheism, religion, anarchism, humor, politics, music, science fiction, science, skepticism, book and movie reviews, writing, language use, and economics.

Here are the best posts from 2013. We hope you’ll enjoy them.

Humor

Writing

Skepticism

Science Fiction

Music

Politics

Religion


Hail Caesar! posterThis latest from the Coen Brothers will appeal to Coen Brothers fans. It should also appeal to film buffs. As for everyday movie goers, it’s anyone’s guess. (I saw the film opening night, and it’s a good bet that most of the audience consisted of Coen fans.)

Set in 1951, Hail Caesar is a mostly appreciative, often funny, in part contemptuous look at the Hollywood system of the times and the genres of the films it produced. Those genres include the biblical epic, the aquatic spectacle (think Ethel Merman–played here by Scarlet Johannson), the naval musical (yes, they existed), film noir, the drawing room farce, the singing-cowboy western, and one nonHollywood genre: the socialist-realist propaganda film, complete with a male chorus singing a mock-heroic minor key dirge in the background.

The story revolves around two central characters, Josh Brolin as hard-driving studio head and fixer, Eddie Mannix, and George Clooney as the leading man in the biblical epic, “Hail Caesar! A Tale of the Christ.” Both are very good, and Clo0ney, as clueless actor Baird Whitlock, is quite funny in many scenes. There’s also a group of Communists, including one screenwriter who looks very much like Bryan Cranston playing Dalton Trumbo. But among the minor characters, Tilda Swinton, playing on-the-outs, one-upping twin gossip columnists stands out; she’s simply spot on, and I’d liked to have seen more of her.

The plot, which concerns the disappearance of the hard-drinking, womanizing Whitlock near the end of the filming of the biblical epic, and the attempts to find him, is minimal. It largely serves as the glue holding together the very well staged and well shot “homages” (“mockages” might be closer) to the various genres and the many jokes, both obvious and “in,” throughout the film.

The secondary nature of the plot, and the film’s many disparate elements, make it difficult to classify Hail Caesar! Is it a farce, a satire, a detective film, an homage, a historical “dramedy”? Who knows. Who cares. It works.

Recommended.


MooreMichael Moore’s new film, “Where to Invade Next,” is a near-perfect antidote to the “No we can’t!” message of the Republicans and Hillary Clinton, who maintain that it’s simply not feasible to have universal healthcare, free higher education, six-week vacations, paid maternity leave, a higher minimum wage, free daycare, rational sex education, etc., etc., because “the money’s not there.” Clinton and the Republicans make this “lack” of money sound as if it’s like earthquakes, the result of unalterable natural causes, and not the result of perverted political and social choices. But those choices are exactly the reason there’s “no money,” as Moore well demonstrates.

The premise of the film is that Moore “invades” other countries to seize things from them that we can use, and bring them back to the United States. He travels from country to country in western and central Europe, Scandanavia, north Africa, and the north Atlantic, showing that other countries have all of the things mentioned in the previous paragraph–plus others, notably better cuisine (Britain–just kidding, France actually) and legalization of all drugs (Portugal), a policy that would save tens of billions of dollars annually in the U.S., cut our grotesque incarceration rate, and that has already drastically cut the rate of addiction in Portugal.

Other policies Moore “seizes” would also save vast amounts of money and improve people’s lives, as Moore pointedly shows–notably universal, publicly funded healthcare and rational sex education. (Non-universal U.S. healthcare is by far the most expensive in the world and has worse outcomes than the cheaper, universal European systems; and rational sex education in European countries has resulted in drastically lower teen birth rates, and hence drastically reduced the economic–and social and psychological–costs of masses of unwanted babies and children. )

Throughout, Moore interviews citizens of the countries he visits, from everyday working people, to cops, to heads of corporations, to heads of state, and virtually all are amazed, amusingly incredulous that the social and economic benefits they take for granted do not exist in the United States–“the richest country on earth.”

The one real problem with the film is in Moore’s visit to Germany, where he reveals a nasty aspect of his Catholicism: the belief in retroactive collective guilt–guilt for things that happened before you were born (“original sin,” anyone?). It’s one thing to acknowledge the past, learn from it, and do what you can to avoid repeating past atrocities. It’s entirely another to take on guilt,  heap it on others, and pretend that you’re responsible for things for which you simply cannot be responsible. Yes, do what you can to make the world a freer, more just place, but leave the irrational guilt and its attendant guilt-tripping behind. They serve no one.

One would hope that Moore and other PC types would learn this very obvious lesson, but that’s probably a forlorn hope.

This is far from my favorite Moore film, but it’s worth seeing nonetheless. It’s oftentimes funny and it makes you think, as it’s intended to.

Recommended.


by Zeke Teflon

Late at night, when I’m done working, I usually watch a video on Netflix or Youtube. Lately, I’ve been watching Star Trek fanfic series. Wikipedia has a page listing most such fanfic productions, and over the last couple of months I’ve gone through all of the ones they list, plus a few others I’ve found. I’m not a hardcore Trek fan, but I do like the various Trek movies and TV series to one extent or another, and it’s been fun checking out all of the fanfic shows. They’re all labors of love, and they’ve all involved a lot of labor, so I’ll (mostly) keep negative comments to myself, and will list here only the three fanfic series I think are the best.Tar Trek Phase II poster

Star Trek Phase II (formerly Star Trek New Voyages) has been around since 2003, and is a continuation of the original Trek series. To date, they’ve produced eight episodes, including some from unproduced scripts from the original series and the aborted 1970s “Phase II” project. Unfortunately, CBS refused to give them permission to use Norman Spinrad’s unproduced script, “He Walked Among Us,” from the original series, which decades later he turned into (or at least reused the title for) the wonderful novel He Walked Among Us; I’d have loved to have seen that episode. This is the most “fannish” of the more professionally produced fanfic series, and the acting isn’t great, though Walter Koenig (Chekov) and George Takei (Sulu) have both appeared in episodes.

Star Trek Continues poster

Star Trek Continues appeared in 2013, and has five episodes so far. It’s also a continuation of the original series, but is more professional in quality than “Phase II.” All scripts are original, and like the scripts for the movies and all of the Trek series, vary considerably in quality. At best (“Fairest of Them All”), they’re quite good; at worst (“Divided We Stand”), they’re painful. The acting is professional, and guests have included Marina Sirtis and Michael Dorn (both from TNG); regular cast members include Grant Imahara (“Mythbusters”) and Chris Doohan (James Doohan’s son, reprising his father’s role).

Star Trek Renegades poster

Star Trek Renegades is the newest (2015) and very probably best funded of the not-for-profit,  fan-financed spinoffs. It’s also, by far, the most professional looking of them. It’s more of a miniseries than an ongoing series, and so far they’ve produced one 90-minute episode. Renegades largely involves the same crew who produced Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, whose cast included Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Gary Graham, and Tim Russ, and which is a 90-minute movie rather than a series.  (A bonus — SETI Institute director Seth Shostak makes a cameo in Of Gods and Men.)

Renegades  takes off approximately 10 years in the future in the Voyager universe, and the actors are largely the same as in Of Gods and Men, but include other notables such as Edward Furlong and Robert Picardo. They released the first 90-minute episode earlier this year, and it’s entertaining though not especially plausible. (Just don’t think  too hard about plot holes and you’ll enjoy the episode.) They’ve raised another$378,000 via Kickstarter, and presumably are just starting work on the second of the projected three episodes.

Finally, if you’ve read this far, you’ll almost certainly enjoy William Shatner’s new documentary, “Chaos on the Bridge,”  which concerns the development  of Star Trek: The Next Generation and its first two seasons. “Chaos” refers to the mind-boggling amount of hassling among the writers, producers, and the show’s creators. “Chaos” is both funny and fascinating, and is currently available on Netflix.

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–Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia

Free Radicals front cover


Hard

(Hard to be a God, directed by Aleksey German, 2013)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

Plan 9 from Outer Space, Troll 2, and Battlefield Earth have met their match, in fact have been left in the dust — rather, the muck. In contrast with Hard to be a God, all of those films are masterpieces of understated acting, special effects wizardry, and tightly plotted, concise storytelling. Hard to be a God is hands down the worst–or at least the most insufferable–science fiction film ever made.

But why is it so bad? It’s based on what might be the best Soviet science fiction novel, Hard to be a God, by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky (rivaled only by Roadside Picnic by the same authors). It would be quite possible to make a very good low budget sci-fi film based on Hard to be a God, but German didn’t. (The story takes place in a medieval setting, thus no need for expensive special effects.)  So, points off for turning a very good book into a very bad movie.

Many points off also for the horrendously translated (from Russian) subtitles. They’re so badly translated that they read, for the most part, like passages from a poorly written absurdist play. Think Ionesco on PCP run through an automated translation widget. In one scene near the beginning we find the following consecutive lines:

“Piga, did you get the egg?”

“The bees are killing their queen.”

“He bites like a ferret.”

“Found this under the pig.”

My favorite line, though, comes about 48 minutes in: “The dog is sprouting.” Amusing in isolation, yes, but in toto the subtitles are nearly incomprehensible.

Still more points off for the cinematography: minute after minute after minute of low contrast grey (not black) and white footage. I only made it about 50 minutes in, and there was no relief from this dreary visual pallet, though German had hammered home the idea that the Hard to be a God world is a dismal, depressing place in the first 30 seconds of the film. To hammer the point, and the viewer, even further into the ground, German has rain coming down incessantly — it was still pouring when I couldn’t take it any longer and switched off.

Even more points off for having the characters pointlessly degrade themselves, and for gratuitously dwelling on degrading images. Characters are crawling around in the muck and smearing it on themselves and others in almost every scene; one character near the beginning of the film is wallowing about in the muck directly beneath a privy jutting out from a wall; and very shortly after the “dog is sprouting” dialogue gem there’s a gratuitous close up  of a donkey schlong. (No, I’m not kidding — I couldn’t make this up.)

At that point, I said “Enough!” and quit watching, still having no idea where the film was going  (except from having read the book the film is based on) .

The topper is that Hard to be a God is almost three hours long!

I’ve been trying to think of ways to enjoy its sheer awfulness, and the only thing that comes to mind is drinking oneself into a near coma and watching random five-minute snatches of the film for the dialogue. But I doubt that even that’s a good idea.

Recommended only for those into boredom, degradation, and donkey schlongs.

For those who are, Hard to be a God is currently available on Netflix. For those who aren’t into such things, the strangely watchable, unintentionally funny-in-almost-every-scene Troll 2 is also available there.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (which features moons named after the Strugatskys). He’s currently working on the sequel.

Free Radicals