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Review: Dragon Dawn (2013)

November 6, 2014

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In the near future, Duke Evans (Ethan Flower) is laid off from the NSA just as his house gets foreclosed on. He goes to his grandfather’s old and photogenic cabin in the mountains of drought-stricken California with his wife Leslie (Asa Wallander), incompetent sister Rachel (Jenn Gotzon) and daughter Emma (Hope Laubach). As they arrive, China, realizing that we will never pay back our monster pile of debt to them, launch a cyber attack against the US knocking out most of the infrastructure in the nation. Once the power goes out, the family must struggle with food, energy, water shortages, the people that instantly turn evil as soon as something like this happens,and a government that seems to have surrendered to the Chinese. Albert Grimes (William Knight) supplies the “crusty old curmudgeon” as a better prepared neighbor. Eloy Mendez plays a Mexican national the family is involved with when the cyber war begins.

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It’s made at about the same level as I suspect the independent films servicing the Christian community are at: low-budget but high-concept. The central idea is interesting – that the conspiracy rumor that China is adding Trojans to the chips that we produce as an economic Doomsday weapon rings a little truer than, say, the Invasion USA scenario. Not sure I buy the idea that the Chinese could turn off any chip that didn’t have a connection to the internet (Duke actually says that it’s due to a “nano core duplex microwave transmitter”). VFX in the movie was effective and subtle for the most part – budget probably has something to do with that. I’ll also give it credit – it had the balls to use China as the enemy, rather than North Korea like the Red Dawn remake.

As the film goes on, we’re introduced to turncoat Sheriff  Watson (Dennis Delsing). We need someone to hiss at, and Watson is what Director Jeffery Travis (sharing writing credit with Matt Patterson) gives us. Watson offers Duke some “Citizen Freedom Bands” (hereafter called CFBs, because I’m not typing the whole phrase again…)

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The CFBs seem to be made of Unobtanium and Star Trek technology – thin and light, unbreakable, but capable of SPOILERS carrying a lethal electrical charge along with a speaker, and some kind of smart chip that can recognize the wearer as they put it on, and also recognize that the wearer has crossed a perimeter around their house. How do they do that if the internet and power doesn’t work?

Problems with plot holes abound. Needing water, Watson pushes Duke around to fix a broken well pump on the property. Seriously, the assembly sits on top of the ground – how hard could it be to simply buy and install a new one? And Evil Sheriff can commandeer Albert’s old truck in an emergency no problem, but can’t seem to commandeer a new pump from the local Farm & Feed? Also, Watson seems to have the CFBs before everything happens -  doesn’t that seem to imply that the whole cyber attack was preplanned and that nobody in the US command structure told anybody that this was happening? Shades of 9/11 conspiracy buffs…

And the chips seem to selectively turn off as well. The Army seems to have working vehicles, but the Chinese attack supposedly turned them all off, but maybe they can  turn them on in certain situations? That hole could have been solved with a couple of lines of dialog.

I’m going with a “not recommended’ on this one – go watch the original Red Dawn instead.

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Review: Silver Circle

November 12, 2013

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…who would have thought that an independent filmmaker would be able to produce an animated feature for less that $2 M? I’m going to try to give this film a fair shake, due to its groundbreaking nature – that the film got produced at all deserves kudos to the filmmakers.

Short plot summary: It’s 2019 and the USA is in the grip of some pretty strong inflation. Jay Nelson (De’Lon Grant), an arson investigator for the Strategic Housing Reserve (which is a subset of the Federal Reserve) needs to investigate why a “terrorist” would blow up one of the first developments SHR was responsible for, in order to protect Victor Brandt (Peter Berkrot) the Head of the Fed, and his upcoming lifetime appointment to same. Why is Zoe Taylor( Philana Mia) so interested in the investigation? And will they be able to steer clear of Brandt’s creepy fixer, Mr. Quill (Victor Shopov)?

I liked the way the inflation posited was depicted matter-of-factly: LED signs instantly updating the prices ($152.25 per gallon gas!) As an ice-breaker to a discussion of inflation, the movie should work well. Plotwise though, I’m not sure I’m buying that the Fed, which seems to be close to all-powerful in the film, would be quite so weak. We live, after all, in a regime that will almost routinely do extralegal things to the citizenry – they need to pussyfoot around in such a world? In the real world, they’d probably just shoot Nelson in the back of the head and dump him in the nearby river.

As far as production values, the production company, which is supposed to be based outside Boston, used a lot of Indian animators in making the film.  Knowing that, it’s a fun game trying to figure out where the money went. For an estimated $1.6M (at least partially raised through Kickstarter). the film looks OK, if not up to Pixar standards (my guess is Poser was used exclusively for the animation) – some movements that should be fast (say, a punch) seem to move very slowly. Also – shadows seem to be problematic. Shadows falling on faces seem to be realistic, shadows of a car outdoors seem almost non-existent.  Strange flickering on the shadows at times. The character design seemed a little elongated to my eyes, except for the heroes of the film – though that may have been an aesthetic decision by the filmmakers. Walls of people’s homes are mostly bare. I used to think that Lighting TDs in Pixar films were a bit redundant – not anymore. The lighting in most of the film is really flat, except for the end, where it did get a little more atmospheric. Where were the armies of Poser experts (like the artists at Renderosity.com) when this film was being made? Maybe the way the film Renaissance (2006) would have been the way to go? Or maybe some sort of “soft focus” filter?

I seem to remember reading about The Simpsons back in the day, that the show didn’t really take off until the writers understood that, being an animated show, they really weren’t constrained by budget. Anything they could think of could be presented in the show. I think this is the major flaw of this film – for the money that they spent, they could’ve gotten a lot more Dystopia for the dollar, as it were. I’d say rent it, if you’re interested.

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Just Because

November 12, 2013

Just Because

Me likee…

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Review: Atlas Shrugged II

October 30, 2013

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What if somebody walked up to you and asked you a rhetorical question: I’m tasking you to make an “ultimate” version of a film property – you can take the best bits, defined by you, from two versions of the same movie and mash them together, making one that’s better than either solo version. You could do that with a lot of properties – Dune, Star Trek, and so on. But would you do that with what was, ostensibly, a single story broken up into sections?

I’m not sure it was working for AS2. The script was good, again, making the plot-heavy story digestible for the casual viewer. But I think the casting (which I believe was changed up completely from the first movie – meaning nobody who was in AS1 was in AS2) was hit and miss. It’s fascinating to think about who they’re going to cast in AS3.

Not sure why Taylor Schilling needed to be replaced with Samantha Mathis. I could live with either actress in the role – Schilling as she had the Confident Dagny vibe going on, Mathis, with her looking like she was about to cry throughout the movie maybe showing the side that was genuinely strung out about Galt’s strike. Slight edge to Schilling though.

Another coin toss as to who’s the better Hank Rearden. Jason Beghe has the better voice, but Grant Bowler had the presence of cool confidence I liked. Esai Morales as d’Anconia hands-down wins in that department. Paul McCrane was a way better Wesley Mouch though.

Maybe the raiding of the Jericho cast was a wise move? I’d like to think that a strategy like that wasn’t pandering, and these were the best actors they could afford for the roles, but D…B… Swee…ney as Galt? Really?

Apparently, they were so embarrassed by casting Sweeney as Galt that, in the Blu-Ray release, they darkened up his face so you really couldn’t tell who it was.  Sorry – I was there in the theater when I saw…DB Sweeney…as Galt. Really? DB Sweeney?

The plot point I realize they had to have (but didn’t ring true today) was Lillian’s insistence on not divorcing Rearden to keep her social standing. Like that’s going to happen these days – she’d divorce him and take him for at least half of what he had, and still get to be a socialite

The only part that really made my teeth grate (besides…DB Sweeney) was a bit where Mathis, in a jet chasing Galt through the Rockies, about to pancake into a mountain, says in an exasperated voice, “Who is John Galt?” instead of “AAAAAAAAHHHHH SHHHIIIITTTT!”

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Why Ron Swanson Matters

October 29, 2013

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(All images shamelessly swiped from the Ron Swanson Appreciation Society tumblr.)

Parks and Recreation hadn’t even been on my radar until I saw a post on it at Lew Rockwell’s site. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the original article – probably was a link) It referred glowingly to Ron’s libertarianism, so I decided to take a look.

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Once you see see the episodes that actually reference his political views, you’ll have to agree: this is probably the very first time that libertarianism is not portrayed as we-like-bananas-because-they-have-no-bones crazy. While I’m not really surprised that the fans in general have focused on his diet more than his political views, that his political views are referenced at all is something to be cheered.

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Episodes to watch (easy if you have something like Netflix). There’s probably more, but this is a good intro, and it really helps to get the full context of the character if you watch the whole episode…

Season 3 Ep. 14 “Road Trip”

Season 5 EP. 16 “Bailout”

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Objectivists comment on Firefly…

August 29, 2013

http://www.galtsgulchonline.com/posts/a8a7d0/firefly

 

Firefly review

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This is a test…

August 12, 2012

Don’t panic…

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