Movie Review: Space Battleship Yamato Live Action

Space Battleship Yamato DVD

Space Battleship Yamato DVD

Space Battleship Yamato DVD

Lead Actor: Takyua Kimura as Susumu Kodai
Lead Actress: Meisa Kuroki as Yuki Mori
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Writers: Leiji Matsumoto, Shimako Sato and Yoshinobu Nishizaki

While this movie is avalible in a Region 1 DVD/BluRay release it is not dubbed into English so the interested viewer will have to deal with subtitles. That being said: Totally worth it.

To be perfectly honest, when I got the BluRay of Space Battlship Yamato I expected some second rate special effects and a lot of cheese that would be carried by a very strong plot and heartfelt acting. So I braced myself slightly as I popped it into the BluRay player.

What followed was 2 hours and 19 minutes of pure awesome. There was little to no cheesiness and the special effects were first rate. The story was strong and well told. The writers did an excellent job. The plot line was engrossing, and the pacing crisp. The acting was excellent too.

**Major Spoilers Ahead**

In 2199 the Earth is under attack by an alien force that is turning our beautiful blue planet into a mars-like wasteland of deadly radiation where nothing green grows anymore. Humanity is on the brink of extinction. Just when it seems all is lost an alien capsule is found that provides the schematics for a wave motion drive and, more importantly the man who finds it first, Susumu Kodai, survives a lethal dose of radiation.

Gratuitous pic of the Seahorse Nebula in the  Large Magellanic Cloud courtesy of NASA

Gratuitous pic of the Seahorse Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud courtesy of NASA

From this the Defense Force decides to launch the Space Battleship Yamato to the distant planet of Iskandar in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It is their hope that a device exists there that can clean up the radiation contaminating the surface of Earth. So with little more than a hope, a prayer and a wave motion cannon, our intrepid crew sets off on a galaxy-spanning quest.

Every aspect of this movie is just brilliantly and beautifully done. The space scenes are spectacular. The space battles are exciting. There was a lot of eye candy in this movie. The special effects easily held their own against a well acted and dramatic story with strong plot elements throughout.

I remember a few episodes of Starblazers I saw when I was much younger and I confess that when they first fired the wave motion cannon I was thrilled. And, true to the way I remember it, they only used it three times in the movie. My only quibble, and this is a very small quibble, is that the scene that we saw in the earlier trailer of the Yamato rising majestically out of the ocean never appeared in the movie. The movie did not suffer for the lack but I was hoping to see it within the larger context of the movie. Perhaps if there is a sequel, which I hope there is.

I would compare the live action Space Battleship Yamato favorably with Pacific Rim as one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, even though I didn’t see it in a theater. Sadly the US is probably not considered a strong enough market for a gem like Space Battleship Yamato to have a theatrical release but if you like science fiction or space adventures then do yourself a favor and pick up the dvd. K.

Cloud Atlas: A Soulless Movie Searching For A Heart

Cloud Atlas Promotional Poster

Cloud Atlas Promotional Poster

Cloud Atlas Promotional Poster

Cloud Atlas
Starring: Tom Hanks
Starring: Halle Berry
Director: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lanna Wachowski

I’ve been meaning to watch Cloud Atlas since it hit the theaters last year. I like Tom Hanks and I also really like Halle Berry. As with many movies I’d like to see I missed it on the big screen and had to catch it on DVD. Now, I’m a science fiction fan. The first ever science fiction story I read was Nightfall by Isaac Asimov. The Foundation Trilogy is still one of my favorite series of books. What I’m trying to say, as if my previous articles on the matter aren’t enough, is that I have science fiction cred.

That being established; Cloud Atlas is a movie that gets caught up in itself and fails to find a way out. The science fiction is not strong enough to carry the ugly brutality and soullessness of the movie. It took me a few minutes to figure out what it was all about, due to the, at times, needless iterations within the movie, but at its core Cloud Atlas is a failed combination of a twist on The Matrix and Blade Runner. It is a graphically violent movie with graphic sex although only implied rape. It is an ugly movie with little to redeem itself.

Major Spoilers Ahead: You’ve Been Warned.

Cloud Atlas is a movie that attempts to tackle big ideas. The movie explores what it means to be human from the depths of depravity to the…well that’s the thing. It never makes it to the heights of what humankind can achieve on a purely human level. The movie shows, actually kind of wallows in, the brutality that humans commit against one another in every age and at every technological level but it never really shows the good we can achieve. It hints at the possibility, but there is always a selfish reason behind what happens.

The horror of atrocities committed against slaves, women, children, clones and anyone perceived as weak are well and graphically realized as we progress through iterations of people born and interacting time and again. While horror is proudly displayed, there is no real soul in the movie. There is an attempt at viewing all human beings as fully human, even clones. The parallel between clones and slaves is heavy handed but it is drowned in a movie that has a nonlinear timeline and by stories that jump back and forth between people who may or may not ever truly interact in any meaningful way.

The story, I assume they meant for it to become one story, is told through a choppy set of tales about different people who are supposed to be, or at least interact with, two or three main people who exist in some fashion at different times throughout the history of this world. The viewer ends up getting a snippet of one story followed by a snippet of another with different characters, followed by yet another snippet with still more characters. This can be an effective way to tell a story that involves different characters whose lives are woven together to a final conclusion. Cloud Atlas forgot to weave them all together. Just because someone meets the main character in a former life in some minor role does not mean we, the viewer, need to spend 20 disjointed minutes following them just to see that one moment where he hands them their mail. Although I will say that I did appreciate the “Soylent Green is people!” line and it was not lost on me how it pertained to other parts of the movie.

The ending is less than satisfying. There is no catharsis, no moment when everything really comes together to be what the movie hints at. The fabric that is supposed to be woven from the individual threads is never actually knitted together. The threads seem to just continue on their way, independent of each other except that these particular individuals keep being reborn. Sadly that is not enough to realize a fully crafted plot. Cloud Atlas provides things to think about but is far less than satisfying as a story.

The movie suffers from too many ideas and not enough cohesiveness. Nothing is actually tied together in the end. Were the actions in the past able to affect the future? How is that possible since we saw the future concurrently with the pasts and nothing changed? There were also moments in the movie that completely threw the viewer out of the world they were trying to create. I can see why this did poorly at the box office. If I were to make a suggestion, it would be to focus on the two main plots and cut out at least two of the sub-plots. Make the connections between the past, present and future stronger.

While I appreciate a movie that attempts to tackle big ideas and shine a light on the ills of society, Cloud Atlas failed to tell a good story. It told a lot of stories, not one of them was good and the overall violence and ugliness of the movie leaves the viewer dissatisfied. It wasn’t a waste of brain space like Saturday Night Fever and there were a few moments of shining brilliance but it was not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. K.

Saving Mr. Banks A Surprising and Touching Movie

Saving Mr. Banks Promotional Poster

Saving Mr. Banks Promotional Poster

Saving Mr. Banks Promotional Poster

Saving Mr. Banks
Lead Actor: Tom Hanks
Lead Actress: Emma Thompson
Director: John Lee Hancock

Despite my fondness for Kaiju movies: Godzilla, Rodan, King Ghidorah, Mothra and more recently Pacific Rim and the Jaegers and Kaiju from that fantastic movie; I also enjoy Disney movies. I’ve loved Mary Poppins since I was a young girl and it was one of the few movies my ultra religious parents would allow us to watch. I confess that although I am an avid reader, I have never read the books that the movie came from. In a sense I am glad that I have not.

By now anyone who has read and loved a book then gone with high hopes and expectations to a theater knows that no movie ever lives up to the book. Especially if you’ve read the book first. I was recently reminded of this when after falling in love with Hiccup and Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon, I ran right out and bought the books and read them, only to find they were wholly unlike the movie. Thankfully I’ve encountered this truism often enough to be more philosophical than disappointed any more but I had hoped to read more along the lines of the characters I fell in love with in the movie.

As a complete aside the trailer for How To Train Your Dragon 2 ran before Saving Mr. Banks and it was as breathtaking and amazing as those first flight scenes in the first How To Train Your Dragon. Once again I got goosebumps watching Toothless and Hiccup fly. I am sorry that they did not show the Godzilla trailer. Now you may think that Godzilla doesn’t really belong in front of Saving Mr. Banks but they showed two war movie trailers, including the new Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller Edge of Tomorrow (which smacks of Phillip K. Dick if you ask me). So why not Godzilla?

But I digress. I also like Tom Hanks so I was eager to see Saving Mr. Banks, even if I had to go see it by myself. Thankfully my doting husband went with me. Once again we went to the Swanky Cinetopia, where I had a beer and a delicious turkey club during the movie.

*Warning spoilers ahead*

I find that oftentimes when I really enjoy a book I elevate the author in my mind so that they are good and generous people, the kind of person I would like to get to know. That is probably a conceit on my part but it is something I find myself doing. So to say that I was shocked to discover that Mrs. Travis, the author of the books from whence Mary Poppins came was quite literally a female curmudgeon is a bit of an understatement. I was surprised that she was so disagreeable. Here was an author responsible for a character all but universally beloved by children and she was sour, almost bitter.

Also the format of the movie was surprising. It started with a retrospective, one of her memories and at key points in the film her memories took center stage, weaving a poignant story around a movie about the making of an already poignant story. And Disney studios showed remarkable restraint in that they made the movie about P. L. Travers, keeping Walt Disney’s screen time to a bare minimum–especially having cast such a high powered star in the role.

Emma Thompson was supurb in the role of P. L. Travers. She carried the movie as a tormented author and she brought warmth and humanity to a very distant personality. I never saw the Nanny McPhee movies, had no interest to be honest (strange I know) but I might go back and watch them now.

Everything about Saving Mr. Banks was done with sensitivity, subtlety and a level of storytelling that is rarely seen in movies where being over the top is so often rewarded at the box office. Saving Mr. Banks is truly a companion piece to Mary Poppins, with an epiphany and a touching change of heart that, while perhaps not true to life, makes for a very strong and moving story.

While I, personally, think Pacific Rim is the best movie I’ve seen in many years, Saving Mr. Banks deserves all of the accolades it’s been receiving from fickle and particular critics.

Ursid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend & Other Astronomy

Black Hole Chandra X-Ray Observatory NASA

Black Hole Chandra X-Ray Observatory NASA

Black Hole Chandra X-Ray Observatory NASA

That’s right my skywatching readers. The Ursid meteor shower peaks this weekend. The Ursid meteors come from the debris trail of comet P/8 Tuttle which has a period of 13.5 years. The Earth passes through the debris from the comet’s path around the sun every year around the winter solstice.

You know, I have been focusing on things that happen in our own solar system and the reason for that is that these are things we can see. The average, casual skywatcher can see these things. You don’t need a multi-million dollar telescope or access to the Hubble telescope to see them and that makes it exciting and accessible.

That being said, there have been some amazing discoveries outside of our humble solar system this year. NASA’s Kepler telescope has been searching for Earth-like planets that orbit in their star’s habitable zone and there are over 3000 contenders at last count. These are exciting times for skywatches and those who are interested in astronomy.

NASA’s Chandra X-Ray observatory has a facebook page where they post exquisite images and fascinating facts. There are still the free books from NASA chock full of gorgeous images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Wander on over to the website and feast your eyes while you feed your mind.

How Did I Miss Zooniverse?

Hubble Image of Magellanic Stream courtesy of NASA

Hubble Image of Magellanic Stream courtesy of NASA

Hubble Image of Magellanic Stream courtesy of NASA

Those of you who follow my blog must know that I love astronomy. I am endlessly fascinated by the grander, the beauty and the vastness of outer space. There is so much for us to learn, so many things to discover and each one is more fantastic, more breathtaking than the last it seems.

So how is it that I have only just discovered Zooniverse? I don’t know. This is a terrible oversight and I am very grateful to my friend for telling me about it. It’s a citizen science project that makes astronomy accessible to anyone with the interest. There is even an advent calendar on the site that I have been enjoying very much.

I must confess that I haven’t had a lot of time to cruise around the site, what with work and the holidays fast approaching. I’m looking forward to spending time looking and reading after the first of the year when, hopefully, things will slow down a bit. If you, gentle reader, have time to dig into it please feel free to leave a comment about your experience here on M31. K

Godzilla Trailer Finally Officially Released

Official Godzilla Poster

Official Godzilla Poster

Official Godzilla Poster

Yes it’s the middle of the week and I was only going to blog on weekends but for Godzilla I’ll gladly make an exception.

Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures finally released an official trailer for the upcoming Godzilla movie. Feast your eyes on this:

From the looks of it Godzilla has returned to his original, force of nature, roots and I, for one, am very pleased. No more of the “cute” Godzilla please. The 1970’s were not kind to Godzilla and neither was the Paramount version. It looks to me, if this trailer is anything to go by, that Gareth Edwards has brought the classic Godzilla back to life.

Here’s a link to the official Godzilla Movie site too.

Disney’s Frozen Could Have Been So Much More

Disney's Frozen
Disney's Frozen

Disney’s Frozen

*** Warning Mild Spoilers***

I saw Disney’s Frozen this weekend in the swanky and cushy Cinetopia in town and it was a good movie. I enjoyed it. I was very pleased that the prince wasn’t really as charming as the prince always seems to be in Disney movies. I am pleased with the trend of Disney princesses becoming more independent and self-sufficient, less helpless and less in need of rescue. I am exceedingly pleased with Princesses who rescue themselves, a trend we can thank Shrek for starting. These are very good things Disney is doing.

Frozen is a beautiful story about two beautiful princesses and it is beautifully rendered. The ice palace is breathtaking. Princess then Queen Elsa’s gown is one of the best designed by Disney in a long time and yes I do want my princesses to be wearing beautiful gowns. Then again if I could I’d dress like Stevie Nicks or a princess every day so it’s a little bit of vicarious princess living on my part. We all have our vices.

I have to confess that I left the theater feeling slightly let down by Frozen though. Queen Elsa has real power and I think the Marvel franchises have proven that you can tell a story about someone coming to terms with their power. Frozen side steps that issue and spends most of its time telling the story of Elsa’s little sister, Princess Anna, finding true love.

Granted Disney did show a sophistication and wider examination of what form true love can take, be it between a prince and princess or the love two sisters share; and that is a welcome expansion of what “true love” has always been limited to. But Elsa should have been the star. She had a lot to come to terms with and her upbringing, despite loving parents, was almost abusive. Disney would have had a stronger story and perhaps the start of their own super hero franchise if they’d gone for it rather than falling back on the eternal and by now over-done princess finds her true love story.

Frozen would have been a far better movie if the love story had been secondary rather than the main focus of the movie. And as much as I enjoyed it, and I did enjoy it, I still feel a little cheated by the story that should have been. K.

How Have Scientists Come Up With The Size of the Known Universe?

Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Sloan Digital Sky Survey Galaxy Map

Well they did it with something called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. It’s amazing. First they plotted the positions of over 900,000 galaxies in the night sky and then they measured the red-shift of each one of them to locate them in three dimensions. The way they did it is pretty ingenious and painstaking too. Even though the area mapped was a small percentage of the whole, it’s a fantastic start and very extrapolatable to the whole. The Universe has definite structure and they attribute the form of the structure to dark matter. Very fantastic matter that is no where near as weird as dark energy. They’ve discovered that the majority of the universe is comprised of dark matter.

That is astounding. It wasn’t that long ago that people thought the whole universe was comprised of the stars they could see with the unaided eye. Then the telescope was invented and our universe expanded to the limit of out best optical telescopes and still we thought we were seeing, if not all, at least the majority of what was out there. We launched Hubble and the Hubble Deep Field Survey expanded our universe once again, showing that a small, very small, part of space that appeared empty actually was crowded with galaxies, not just stars but what we had previously thought were stars were in fact whole galaxies! Now we have learned that the vast majority of what makes up our universe is there, in the area’s we’ve looked for so long and we’ve been absolutely unable to see it.

This excites me because it points to the concept that there is so much more for us to discover. And discover it we will because we are ever curious. We look up and we question. We look down and we question. We look outward and inward and we question. How amazing is that? That our universe has brought forth life capable of asking questions that have nothing to do with survival or comfort but have to do with pure knowledge. We are amazing inhabitants of an amazing universe. Never forget that. Not only are we comprised of stardust, but we are, every one of us from the most humble to the mighty, are remarkable, amazing creatures.

There have been so many cool things happening in the sky recently, or perhaps there have always been such amazing things going on and we’ve only just developed the technology to see some of them. We have always asked the questions though.