Paycheck (2003)

I think this sci-fi action movie directed by John Woo (who also made Red Cliff) deserves a better reputation than it has. I like it better than all the other movies that were made from Philip K. Dick stories that I’ve seen so far (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Impostor), except for maybe The Adjustment Bureau. The premise is memorably fascinating (thanks, Phil) and the rest of the movie holds up reasonably well if you’re not expecting a cinematic masterpiece. (Yes, yes, you love Blade Runner. Fine. But I don’t, and at any rate Blade Runner isn’t fun, it’s grim.)

In Paycheck, Michael Jennings is a smart but lonely guy who gets paid to reverse-engineer (and improve) high-tech products. After each short-term contract job is completed, his memory is wiped of the work he did. What if, during the longest, highest-paid stint of his career, he learned that his boss had some kind of terrible plan? He’d still have to have his memory erased at the end of the job, but he’d need a way to tell himself how to escape the trap he was in while preventing his boss from carrying out the plan…

How does he escape, what is the plan, and how does he stop his boss? Watch the movie!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/paycheck/id550804986

Or see below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Paycheck (2003)

Predestination (2014)

It’s impossible to talk about Predestination without giving away important surprises. If you’ve read the Robert E. Heinlein story All You Zombies, although I gather the story is a bit different, you more or less know how the story goes and can proceed to the plot summary. If not, go watch the movie! It’s a very clever retro-futuristic sci-fi thriller, and has nothing to do with actual zombies.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/predestination/id912751334

See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Predestination (2014)

Montville, Queensland, Australia

I enjoyed my recent trip to Australia—or, as I like to call it, The Place Where Some of the Coins Are Huge, Most the Flowers Are Purple and All the Birds Are Really Weird. I went there to attend a writers’ retreat with two writer friends.

See below for about 50 photos selected from over 200 in total. (About a quarter were out-of-focus shots of flowers, and another 25% were of a very cooperative kookaburra that sat still while I took photos of him for 20 minutes.)

Continue reading Montville, Queensland, Australia

Bills and coins from Australia

While packing for my trip to Australia, I learned a bit about the different kinds of bills and coins to look out for. I found a fantastic online guide, and reformatted it into a printer-friendly A4-size PDF, which I printed and took with me.

My list didn’t do me a lot of good, though, because most of the time I was inside the resort, and the fee for the workshop and lodgings included almost all the meals. Nevertheless, I did manage to get different denominations of bills and at least one of the special-issue coins, along with samples of three different portraits of the queen from different eras of coinage.

I couldn’t believe—I still can’t believe—how HUGE the 50-cent coins are! I didn’t think any country in the world had coins this bulky.

Here’s an Australian 50-cent coin next to a current Singapore 50-cent coin, a current US 25-cent coin, and one of the old Singapore 50-cent coins, which until now I thought seemed big!

The twelve-sided shape is awesome, though, I have to admit.

The embroidered flag patch I bought in the airport was expensive, but looks to be of good quality. I resisted buying any plastic keychains shaped like kangaroos. The pens were free, courtesy of Greenleaf Press (the organizer of the retreat) and Montville Country Cabins (the workshop and retreat venue where we stayed).

Interstellar (2014)

I’m beginning to understand the fuss on the internet about saving Matt Damon. He’s an endangered private on a WWII battlefield. He’s a stranded astronaut on a mission to Mars… the list goes on. In Interstellar, though he’s not the main character, he’s a researcher on a distant planet shrouded with frozen clouds.

Interstellar was not a fast-paced movie. There is action, but there are also long stretches of calm. The futuristic mumbo-jumbo is balanced by familiar human relationships; there’s as much drama as sci-fi.

I thought Interstellar was way better than Tomorrowland—certainly it was more complex—but the two movies have the same message: smart people who have hope can always solve the world’s problems.

I enjoyed it, except for the terrifying watery scene, and found the resolution satisfying. See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Interstellar (2014)

The Foreigner (2017)

Jackie Chan is still kicking, punching, and jumping out windows. In this action thriller, he’s a sad dad with special forces training, trying to track down some anonymous bombers. The two main characters, Quan and Hennessey, are enemies, but I would say this is a buddy movie because they are trying to solve the same mystery. The movie is serious and satisfying but has a few funny moments in it.

See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading The Foreigner (2017)

Pacific Rim (2013)

Do NOT watch this movie… on a plane. The real value is in seeing the amazing CGI fights, which somehow never devolve into loud, meaningless smashing. They’re—well, they’re colorful, for Pete’s sake. It’s no fun to watch on a screen six inches wide, but it’s joyous when you can see what’s happening! I enjoyed my second viewing much more than I expected to, thanks to the top-notch execution by Industrial Light and Magic of the stunningly detailed artistic vision of Guillermo del Toro.

Okay, so you’re not a fan of monster movies? Me neither, but this one does some magnificent worldbuilding. The prologue of Pacific Rim has its own prologue, strangely enough, and it was way less dull than at least two others I can think of. Perhaps us Westerners wouldn’t be able to stomach a movie that just started smack in the middle of a war with aliens, where giant military mind-melding machines are the new norm. Huge robots are par for the course for the mecha sub-genre of science fiction (cf Rahxephon), but they aren’t exactly Hollywood staples. This movie did well enough (on the strength of ticket sales in China and Japan) to spawn a sequel, coming to theaters next year.

Although I enjoyed the movie, it wasn’t what I’m used to, so it was hard to evaluate. The first time I watched it, I was confused by the story, either because I was stuck in an airplane watching on a tiny screen and started falling asleep, or because the plot was so straightforward I thought I must have been missing something. I kept expecting twists and turns that never materialized.

I felt better about the movie after I watched a couple of the featurettes included in this Blu-Ray package. The director explained that he wanted to tell a simple story about heroism using character types drawn in simple outlines. He didn’t want a lot of plot or expositiony dialog, he wanted realistic action coded with thematically appropriate colors. I’d say he got what he wanted.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/pacific-rim/id694686367

Want to know more about the plot? Simple as it is, it was built pretty well. See below for a summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Pacific Rim (2013)