All Is Lost
) is an artistic tour de force, a sailing adventure movie with only one actor and just a few spoken lines, which still manages to be gripping entertainment.
Robert Redford plays the unnamed hero, an old man sailing alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean. While he is asleep his boat is holed just above the waterline by a drifting cargo container. Enough water flows through to short out the boat’s electrical systems and destroy his communications equipment.
He calmly and methodically takes action to get clear of the hazard, repair the damage and try to get help, but a lot of things go wrong.
This movie is refreshingly free of the wishful thinking that permeates so many adventure stories. Nature appears stunningly powerful and sometimes annoyingly perverse. The hero is hardly superhuman. He’s in great physical shape for his age but he is no CGI-enhanced superman. He’s smart and resourceful but he makes a number of mistakes, sometimes because he is under pressure and sometime out of cantankerous stubbornness.
Dallas Buyers Club
) is a powerful but somewhat tendentious movie based loosely on a true story. It features notably strong performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.
In 1985 Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is a hard-living electrician and occasional rodeo cowboy, addicted to cocaine and casual sex. When he is diagnosed with AIDS he faces the prospect of certain death. No treatment has been approved in the United States. There are some drugs that are available in other countries which have shown some promise in preliminary studies, but Americans cannot legally obtain them.
So Ron partners with a flamboyant transvestite named “Rayon” (Leto) to form a “buyers club” of AIDS patients who pool their money to legally buy drugs in other countries and illegally smuggle them into the United States.
Jennifer Garner plays a sympathetic doctor who initially opposes the club but becomes convinced of its value and has a sort of quasi-romance with Woodroof. This part feels totally fictitious–a character inserted by a script doctor to make the movie more audience-friendly. (The main characters, were they not suffering from a fatal illness, would be fairly unlikeable.)
) is a troubling morally-ambiguous movie based on a classic science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card (which is also troubling and morally ambiguous.)
Decades ago Earth was attacked without warning by the Formics, an race of ant-like aliens. Millions of people were killed before the Formics were driven off. Since then the Formics have been regrouping and rebuilding. Earth in turn has prepared a retaliatory war fleet to ensure that the Formics never get another chance to annihilate humanity.
Part of the effort involves recruiting and training children to pilot the fleet’s drone fighters. Apparently only children have the reflexes and adaptability to deal with the Formics’ non-human battle tactics.
One of the children so recruited is Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), but Earth’s commanders see in him more than just a potential pilot. They hope to build on his natural abilities to mold him into the ultimate battlefield commander, able to lead Earth’s badly outnumbered fleet to victory against the Formics.
Via Slate comes a damning report on a school that obviously should be shut down at once.
Behaviour of students is very poor indeed. Staff seem to maintain their grip on the school using threats of violence, and yet student disruption is at high levels. Most of the worst behaviour seems to be focused around one particular ‘house’ within the school’s pastoral system, but despite this clear correlation, no positive action has been taken. Bullying is a very common occurrence and is not dealt with very well by the pastoral team, which consists of some of the strictest staff members in the school. Often the bullying between students can become physical aggression very quickly, with some students causing each other actual bodily harm. The bullying of students by staff is at unacceptable levels, with some students singled out from an early age for grudges that seem to date back decades.
This summer, the school was disrupted by riots and pitched battles between rival sectors of the community. Whether the school was an incidental victim of this outburst of aggression, or an active part of it, is unknown to the inspectors. Siginificant damage was wreaked on the school buildings, with certain wings now closed for repairs. In short, at present Hogwarts is a very unsafe environment for all students and staff.
Read the whole thing.
This morning I woke up with an old song running though my head: The Ballad of Jesse James. Not the whole song, just the second verse:
It was Robert Ford, that dirty little coward;
I wonder how he does feel
For he ate of Jesse’s bread and he slept in Jesse’s bed
Then laid poor Jesse in his grave.
It seemed a little odd. It’s been many years since I thought of that song.
Later at work I had a free moment and brought up a news summary page (my.yahoo.com) as I often do. One headline caught my eye.
Toronto Mayor admits he smoked crack.
That also struck me as odd but I wasn’t interested enough to read the article.
Later I looked at the page again and saw that the headline now read
Toronto Mayor admits he smoked crack while drunk.
Since then I’ve been afraid to look at the news summary page for fear that the headline will say “…and naked.” Or maybe something about goats. But I finally forced myself to read the article. Guess what the mayor’s name is: Bob Ford! (Probably his real given name is Robert.)
That’s one of those strange little coincidences that make you shiver. But I’m pretty sure it is just a coincidence. Or maybe there was a news story yesterday saying the mayor was under suspicion and I unconsciously overheard someone mention it.
I’m not sure what to think of Kyousougiga (“Capital Craze Comic”) (Crunchyroll). It’s definitely not boring. It’s intriguing and innovative. Whether it actually tells a good story remains to be seen.
So far four episodes have been broadcast, numbered from Episode 00 through Episode 03. Episode 00 is a complete troll. It’s totally incomprehensible unless you have seen the later episodes. I suggest skipping it at first and going back to it later.
The premise, to the extent that I have been able to figure it out, goes something like this:
Centuries ago a monk named Shounin Myoue lived on a mountain overlooking Kyoto with his faithful dog, devoting himself to spiritual practices.
Most people feared to approach him because he had the ability to draw pictures that came to life. Visitors to his retreat might encounter monsters.
He drew a picture of a black rabbit named Koto on the door. Koto was moved by his spiritual devotion and fell in love with him. A friendly bodhisattva offered to lend her a human body so that she could express her feelings.
Koto confessed her love and stayed with Shounin. Eventually he fell in love with her and they had three children, two of whom were drawings.
(“The Silver Fox”) (Crunchyroll
) is not the most original anime
series of the season but it has a certain appeal. It’s not exactly a “slice of life” series since the heroine has to solve some sort of problem in every episode. However it’s a gentle upbeat show that, depending on your tastes, may either bore you or charm you.
The story is centered around a small Inari shrine dedicated to the agricultural god Uka-no-Mitama (“The Spirit of the Rice Storehouse”) who is identified with or at least associated with the fox god Inari. Once the center of a farming village, the shrine is now surrounded by urban development.
Makoto Saeki lives at the shrine with her father and grandmother. She’s not a perfect girl–she can be a bit hot-tempered. Mostly though she’s cheerful, perky and cute.
Someone else lives at the shrine: a large anthropomorphic fox named Gintarou whom only Makoto can see. He is a shinshi (“divine messenger”) and is actually a personification of one of the shrine’s two guardian statues. Gintarou is a gruff, grumpy and growly spirit but he’s pretty much putty in Makoto’s hands. He tries not to let her realize it though.
) is an amusing offbeat romantic comedy involving a group of law students. (Technically in American terms they are undergraduates in a pre-law program.)
The story has a slightly old-fashioned feel with oddball characters in a fairly realistic setting and a decent but naive young man attracted to a strong-willed woman.
Banri Tada’s university career gets off to a bad start. He arrives late for the opening ceremony, then has trouble finding his way to the law school.
Nagi no Asukara (Crunchyroll) is one of the new season’s more interesting shows. This has a rather unusual fantasy setting. It takes place in Umimura (“Sea Village”), which of course is located on the ocean floor, and in a rival village on the nearby shore.
What I initially had a hard time dealing with is that, except for the fact that there are fish swimming around, life under the sea is pretty much like life on land. The people wear regular clothes, walk on the ground, cook, eat soup out of bowls and watch television. Well, they can swim if they want to…
You just have to accept that this is all possible because of magic. Or to be more precise, due to the beneficence of the Sea God.
) is an unusually smart and insightful romantic comedy. This does not mean that it is the sort of movie that will dazzle you with brilliant witty dialog. The characters here are ordinary people, reasonably smart college-educated types but not brilliant. What they say and do is believable. I don’t doubt that everything here could really happen.
The story centers on two lonely divorced single parents. Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a masseuse. Albert (James Gandolfini) is a laid-back film historian. Both have notable flaws but neither is reprehensible. They meet, start to get to know each other, and gradually realize that they really like each other.
The main problem is something quite natural. Having been through failed marriages they both desperately want to avoid finding themselves in another bad relationship. A reasonable fear but in many subtle ways it interferes with building a new relationship, since such things always require a leap of faith.
This is not exactly an edge-of-your-seat thriller but it is realistic and subtly funny.