Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Review Revue! Ex Machina, Salt, and Star Talk

Since I feel mouthy and opinionated today, I’m going to foist my opinions of some stuff onto you:

Ex Machina (the movie): I have a propensity to view movies three to five years after they’ve premiered, so I consider myself on the bleeding edge for having just watched Ex Machina. I found the whole thing humorless, pretentious and naval-gazing. It takes itself way too seriously for what is, at its core, the oldest sci-fi film cliché in the book: Overly-advanced robot balks at its enslavement and turns on its creator. Spoiler alert: I’m glad the film’s fey AI creation Ava escapes and gets to live her dream of people-watching at crosswalks, but the whole movie was unbearably annoying to me. I’m annoyed that tech genius Nathan owns his own island. I’m annoyed by his arrogant sneer and his hipster glasses. I’m annoyed at how the movie breathlessly and uncritically perpetuates the myth of the lone genius. And I’m unfathomably rankled by how long it takes Ava to pick out a dress for her big escape. Yes, it’s well-performed and nicely shot, but it’s still just a re-hash of the same over-done story. I don’t understand why so many critics love this lethargic, self-important film so much. But an exhaustive comb through Rotten Tomatoes shows that I’m by far in the minority opinion, so maybe I missed something. Or maybe it’s finally happened, and I’m officially a crabby old woman, totally closed off to the joys of arty pretense. I give it one out of five rogue cyborgs.

Salt (the video game): With all of the complications at work preparing for the transfer to a new campus, I found myself badly in need of a brain-vacation yesterday, which for me usually means a day-long immersion in a mindless video game. I came across “Salt” and downloaded it for ten bucks on Steam, and it was just what the doctor ordered—completely unstructured, open-world play with no goals, no urgency, and enough petty amusements to keep me aimlessly island-hopping for hours. You start off on a desert island, with vague instructions from a mysterious captain to “loot and pillage”, which really just consists of running around gathering fallen logs and plant fibers for crafting, while dispatching the occasional pesky, pan-faced pirate. Eventually you gather enough material to build a raft, which allows you to cruise to other islands and gather more stuff to craft new do-dads. I think eventually you’re supposed to build an actual ship, but I don’t have enough ambition for that at the moment, and I’m too busy fishing. It’s like an extremely low-stakes combination of Minecraft and Far Cry 4. Nothing in the game has much consequence—even running out of food and draining your hunger bar to zero doesn’t affect you much. The graphics are good enough for what the game is, and its laid-back charm makes it a great way to unwind. I give it four out of five pirate hats.

Star Talk (the podcast):  And finally, for those of you who have not caught Neil Degrasse Tyson’s podcast Star Talk, you are seriously missing out. He’s big on bringing science into the mainstream through pop culture and the arts, so he has a lot of comedians, writers, actors and artists as guests. He even did an entire show where he interviewed artists about how science has inspired them. He’s at the forefront of making science accessible and integrating it into the larger culture, which is much-needed in these anti-science times. He’s also a delightfully expansive thinker, able to see connections in seemingly disparate things and ideas. And for an astrophysicist, he’s got some hella sexy guns. (He used to be a wrestler.) And sexy, soulful eyes. And….I should stop now. If you want to widen your perspective and learn some hard-core physics at the same time, take a listen. I give it five out of five particle colliders.

--Kristen McHenry



Anonymous said...

I think that the so-called critics just haven't been exposed to storylines like this before, so they respond to it more positively than if they had. Also they are used to seeing trendy movies that lean toward a more aesthetic style and casting that is more superficial, rather than aiming for what I would call realism. Maybe the critics' environment is more superficial too, so anything that doesn't have this look and feel seems ugly to them, and so they can't see how lame this kind of style is. It always takes me out of the movie when I can't forget I'm looking at some obvious actor going through the motions, which is what I felt watching this. Pretentious is definitely the word for it.

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