J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Archive for April, 2010

Battlestar Galactica (for those who haven’t seen the show)

Posted by J on April 13, 2010

Here are a few tidbits from reviews of Battlestar Galactica seasons.  I don’t want to give anything away.  If you watch the show, you must start at the beginning.  This is a serial TV show.


Galactica is decent sci-fi, sometimes, which isn’t much of a complement.    In some distant time, humans live on twelve planets, none of which are Earth.  These humans are attacked by machines known as Cylons.  Humans  invented Cylons, long ago, and somehow the Cylons gained enough intelligence and gumption to attack humans.  A war broke out, both sides made peace, and then the Cylons disappeared.

Then the Cylons return, nuke all twelve human planets, and destroy 99.9% of humanity.  Only about 40,000 humans remain, scattered amongst several spaceships, hoping to find the lost colony of Earth.

The show’s best element is the mystery it’s premised on.  A few Cylon models are not just robots,but human-like robots.  These human Cylons are also monotheistic, talking about God’s love, God’s justice, God’s forgiveness.  We don’t know exactly what they mean, but they are contrasted with the colonial humans, who are polytheistic, believing in and praying to the “Lords of Kobol.”  Since the Cylons look like humans, they can infiltrate the human remnant.  This premise gives the show an instant and lasting mystery, as no one knows exactly who is human and who is Cylon.  Presumably any human character could be a Cylon.  Since the Cylons are hostile, practicing spycraft and subterfuge, engaging in suicide missions and terrorist attacks, the Battlestar Galacticans have a big problem.

We would rather watch all four seasons of Galactica than 98% of the movies we’ve ever seen.  The serial TV series is a great idea, allowing plotlines and character arcs to expand seemingly indefinitely.  If one individual episode is poorly done, the next might be great.  In Galactica‘s case, most of seasons 1 and 4 are great.  Season 2 is so-so. Season 3 is mostly terrible, but the payoffs in Season 4 are well worth wading through Season 3.  The only problem we had with Season 4 was near the end, when, during several episodes, the focus was on a pointless love triangle, rather than on developing the many recent, story-changing revelations.

The series’ end is intriguing . . .

The show overall is a fun show to watch.  A handful of episodes are legitimately great.  Three characters are great — Adama, Baltar and Roslin.  Baltar’s character arc may be the best that TV has ever had.   The moral lessons are mixed, but personally I enjoyed Baltar so much and enjoyed watching Adama assert his powerful yet humble and cool alpha-male dominance over everyone else that I can forgive Galactica its artistic and moral failings.  Thanks for the good show.


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The Box

Posted by J on April 12, 2010

The Box is like what would happen if The Twilight Zone took LSD and went to Laser Floyd. It has the ultimate summary blurb to suck in anybody, but once you get about 30 minutes into the movie, you begin to realize that only Salvador Dali could appreciate a movie like this.

Perhaps we’re being a little extreme.  LSD and Laser Floyd are supposed to be thrilling, not paranoia-inspiring.  But we’re not druggies, so it’s all the same to us.  Consider the poor drug analogy a stern warning.  You will want to rent this movie because of the premise you see on the back of the DVD box.  It goes like this.  In the 1970s in Richmond, Virginia, a NASA employee and Cameron Diaz are given a box.  They are told that if they push the button on top of the box, they will receive $1,000,000, cash and tax-free.  They will also, when they push the button, kill someone they don’t know.  They receive this box from a mysterious Mr. Steward, who is missing half of his face.

So there’s our premise, a hokey Philosophy 101 dilemma that can be entertaining enough to watch as an unfolding drama.  In truth, if the movie just featured this simple dilemma, contained in the first 20 minutes and last 5 minutes, everything would be fine.  But it’s during the long middle when you’ll wonder whether the director wanted to visually simulate dropping acid.

Don’t read ahead if you don’t wish to be spoiled.  The movie boils down to one of those mysterious extraterrestial being movies where all of humanity is tested.  If humanity passes the test, we aren’t killed by the mysterious super-alien.  The test is the button-push test.  Will we greedily push the button, or will we refuse to push it and thereby preserve our species?  The man with half a face is the super-alien, only we know this just through various clues.  There are no spaceships in this movie.  That would be too simple.

There are, however, mind-controlled human beings — known as “employees” — whose noses occasionally bleed.  They corral the main characters in a public library, then they urge one of them to choose a water gateway, one of which is the road to “salvation” and the other two the roads to “eternal damnation.”  This plot point is never resolved, nor approached again, though we do see the main character travel through a Kubrick-like psychadelic space voyage and end up five feet above his bed, surrounded by a rectangle of water.

What is with the water gateways, the weird people who are seemingly possessed, the half-face man’s experiment?  We are never to find out.  This nonsense is all backdrop to the simple moral dilemma posed at the beginning of the movie.  There are hints that any of these could be symbols, but for what, no one knows.  The main character is a wannabe astronaut involved in NASA’s Viking project, the hope of which was to find life on Mars.  All of the weirdness is wrapped up in NASA and the NSA — but then The X-Files franchise has long staked its claim to that territory.

The movie attempts to use Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit in some meaningful way.  Cameron Diaz’s character is a teacher who uses the play in her classroom, greatly appreciating it.  Perhaps this is the one good point of the movie.  Her character makes a poor moral choice that leads to her absurd downfall.  She is some existential hero, if that’s what she would like to be, dying for her own greed and foolhardiness.  Here’s where that weird super-alien gets to trump Sartre.  But then, with this movie, maybe we’re missing something.  Maybe the point is really to praise and reaffirm Sartre.  Interpret the water gateways and the freaky looking people as you wish.

Posted in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, They Spent Millions on This? | Leave a Comment »