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Engineering Life

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Valerian's poster. Looks like tons of fun to me... (via EuropaCorp)



If you liked The Fifth Element you’ll love Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, right?


Well, hold on a minute. Not everybody agrees. The Fifth Element was profoundly influenced by the Valerian graphic novel. Director/Writer of The Fifth Element even invited the Valerian comic artist, Jean-Claude Mézières, to work on this film.


Now here we are 20 years later with a full-featured Valerian. The film begins with a montage of how the International Space Station kept expanding over the years and then over centuries. Throughout this time, extraterrestrial life visits the station, renamed “Alpha,” and some decide to stay and the station expands, so much so its size and mass dramatically affect the Earth. I found this thought intriguing. What if the mass brought to Earth from mining asteroids and other celestial objects slows its rotation? Could we even change Earth’s gravity?


For similar reasons, the now massive satellite, Alpha, had to be sent beyond Earth, through some sort of space current. The story picks up approximately 600 years into the future. Alpha is now a place where alien life gathers and exchanges ideas, technology and cultures. The station has grown exponentially, with new structures upon new structures. It contains different atmospheres, climates, oceans, and rampant lawlessness. It’s a mess really.



Valerian concept art (via Benmauro)


The montage ends, and we step out onto an oceanic planet, populated with what look like primitives connected to the planet, humanoid creatures, similar to those in Avatar.

But instead of a jungle, there are beaches and oceans. This idyllic life is shattered as ‘things’ blast through the atmosphere. These things pepper the scenes, turning electric blue to smoke and darkness, culminating into a city crushing giant ‘thing’ from the sky. I’ve left out most of the details of what else happens. It is critical to the whole story, so I don’t want to spoil it.


We are then introduced to our heroes: Valerian and Laureline, highly skilled special agents of the human government. Humans seem to be in charge of the future. They are a kooky couple with some strange relationship chemistry. They don’t seem to mix, or maybe they’re just too mixed already. It felt like they were already in a relationship before the story even began, which squelches all the tension.


I will say this, they both looked tired at all times. Which it a bit counter to the character images in the comic book. In the film, they seemed exhausted, which I was attributing to the fact they are essentially overworked police.


Of course, they are immediately pulled into a mission to get a “last of its kind” object from an alien world. This planet has a colossal market, except it’s in another dimension! At first, you only see people walking around a desert, but when you wear these special glasses, you can see the other-dimensional market. They can only interact with that dimension through a matter-displacement box. You stick the item in one side, it comes out in the other dimension.



Big Market concept art (via Benmauro)


The market is similar to The Fifth Element’s city, which, oddly enough, was actually borrowed from Valerian. After a fast blurry pan of the market—too fast to absorb it all—we are focused on few streets. Valerian locates the object in a black market trade in a back room kind of deal, a cliché seedy place but with aliens. The best part of his entire scene is Valerians’ disembodied hand sticking out of one half of the matter displacement boxes, just “floating” into the room. Because of his police powers, he gets the objects from the bad guys.


But when he leaves the room, an accident leads to a massive shootout, a harried chase, and all the requisite mayhem. The exchange is thrown into chaos. Since the earliest films ever made, it has been fun to see story protagonists smash through markets, and it still is. In Valerian, lots of that happens. Valerian's hand is caught in the other dimension, and it’s a race to get it out.



More Big Market concept art (via Benmauro)


What stood out for me in all these high-tech shenanigans was Valerian’s partner, Laureline, under immense pressures, fixes the dimensional box, even after pulling out a huge wad of wire. I want to believe this is a case of “on the shoulders of giants” whose knowledge has been accumulating over the past 600 years, like how kids today will know more about tech and history because they are so immersed in it. It’s inherited knowledge at this point, ingrained like birds knowing how to build a nest. At least, that’s what I want to believe here. Laureline fixes the box with ease, even without those other wires. (When was last time one of your projects worked perfectly after a wad of wires got ripped out of it?)



valerian alpha.jpg

Alpha concept art (via Benmauro)


Next, the story leads us back to the space station, to Alpha; but the story tumbles with a bit of a thud.


Valerian film promotions claim the film has the most alien life forms ever showcased. Okay. Some are in the background and walk-ons, but our characters will never interact with them. Just visual candy. At this point, the film returns to familiar science fiction territory. The ultimate bad guy is a bit of a joke, so I am not going to analyze the story too much. Honestly, I wanted the story to move faster at this point, usually not a good sign in a first viewing.


As impressive as the visuals were, like the dimensional market, the filming was rapid, quick cuts. They spent $200 million on this film, and they don’t stop the camera movement on the larger set pieces for even a moment. The filmmaker should have let us experience the grandeur of this awesome station a little longer, meander a little, immerse us in it.


From start to finish, the story isn’t very complex. There weren’t any real funny moments. The death of one character, featured prominently on the poster, was not necessary at all. You’ll see what I mean. And the camera movement was way too fast (like in parts of the Hobbit trilogy, if you’ve watched those). Given all this, I’m not surprised at the lackluster box office.


Will Valerian have the science fiction cult following of The Fifth Element? Time will tell, but my money says no. The setting and universe might be worth another crack at it, though. A reboot? An animated version? Now, you’re talking.

I had super high hopes for Valerian to be 2017’s blockbuster science fiction movie… I was partially wrong.


I rate this 3.01 out of 5.00.



ps. The Fifth Element now has a 4k Blu-ray edition. Valerian had me pretty hype for a rewatching of the classic, and it did not disappoint.


Two movie posters. I love the drawn one most. (via Marvel Entertainment)


Spoilers ahead!


The Peter Parker of this film is a nerd… but he’s OK with the label. I love this.


No longer is he a sad sack or tortured soul superhero. It’s implied the strife in Peter Parker’s life still happened, but they’re skipping over it. It’s refreshing too fast forward past all that and gets to what make’s Spider-man so appealing… He’s not only a superhero but also develops and makes his own tools. That fact that his webshooters, costume, goggles, etc are DIY, he’s like the STEM poster-figure of today’s tech-bathed youth. It only makes sense. Technology, science, programming are no longer synonymous with social rejects, but it’s a way of life. Were barraged with so many challenges every day, like the element14 IoT on Wheel Design Challenge.



Webshooter concept art. Don't you just want to make this real? I do. (via Marvel Entertainment)


Leaving 80’s Hollywood stigma behind, we venture into a new type of high school science fiction drama. With it, the same relationship dramas surface, house parties, going to dances, and bullies. But, the bully is far different. A note on the bully in the school, “Flash.” He’s not bigger or stronger than Peter Parker, the bullying is different. Instead, the social divide that gives him the power to bully is an economic divide. I found that to be very telling of the times, with the concept of the 1% and the young people in entertainment everyon wants to be.


This movie follows right on the tail of Captain America Civil War, where you even get to see another view of the major battles featuring Spider-man. Our hero, Parker, is quickly left behind after the events in Civil War. Which still leaves Parker with a sense of accomplishment and duty, finding nowhere to fulfill that destiny. The current Avengers leader, Tony Stark, is off doing whatever. Parker is vacillating.


Enter our villain, the Vulture! AKA, Adrian Toomes. Technically, he doesn’t become the Vulture until his livelihood is taken away from him by uncaring corporate bureaucrats. A fitting reason as any to turn to a life of crime, I suppose. However, it isn’t criminal right away… it is simply another instance of people engineering their own gear. The Vulture and his crew develop weapons out of alien technology left behind in the first Avengers movie. They take those weapons and sell them to criminals. That’s when they went bad. Surrounded by this ilk, the Vulture and his crew became worse. Desperation drives them. The 99% figuring out a way to get by perhaps? The writers are definitely playing on today’s zeitgeist.


vulture concept.png

Vulture concept art (via Marvel entertainment)


A note about the villain: I was worried since I never, ever, EVER thought that the Vulture could be a cool villain. I am so glad that the comic accurate characters that Marvel films produce were dropped here.


The Vulture had one main engineering genius building all the devices. He was more interested in making “the things” than he is being a bad guy. But, of course, he was a little bullied by the more macho characters. But isn’t that the case in every movie?


The film then turns into, more or less, a heist movie with our hero trying to stop said heist. Usually, it’s the main characters pulling off the heist, for the record – but now here. Think Oceans 11+, Fast and Furious, etc. Visuals and sound during the super-people fights are great. Shocking and fun too look at, as all the Marvel movies seem to do.


-- I am going to skip a lot of plot details, twists, notable jokes, and go right to the end. --


Despite how I assume the writers want you to feel… I felt bad for the villain at the end. His life, his family, his employees all rely on his pilfering of super-gear. Spider-Man, of course, stops him. But not before the Vulture is pushed to the brink ─ risks his life to just provide a stable lifestyle for his family. The film ends with that family in turmoil. Again, I was feeling bad for the bad guy.


Visually, the film is colorful, global and open feeling. However, I wouldn’t say I particularly wowed by any set pieces or scenes. The CGI was noticeable, Spidey didn’t always look real. No swinging high through the city like in Raimi’s films. A lot of missed opportunity to push it beyond ‘just good.’ But, it’s on the same level with most of the Marvel films. For all intents and purposes, it is a true cape-movie.


It’s fun from start to end. I never cringed once to anything. Worth seeing, especially if you’ve watched the rest of the MCU films. However, you could see this as a rental/at home. The only benefit at the theatre would be the sound in fight scenes. Oh… and it will be available to rent very soon. So, rent it!


My rating - 4.22 out of 5.00


Have a story tip? Message me at: cabe(at)element14(dot)com


(Images via and TM of Twentieth Century Fox)



It’s hard not to feel letdown by sci-fi these days.


Ghost in the Shell, Life, Passengers, Transformers The Last Knight, all glorious looking wastes of time. To add to that, these films are some of the longest in the genres history. This list alone is almost 10 hours of life down the drain.


(What else could I have done with that time. How about building some science fact? A project or two.)


My dismay aside, Alien Covenant should be added to the tomb of science fiction film pointlessness.


Visuals are not shocking or interesting. The film opens with a scene out of any those clean modern-retro sci-fi movies. I get the sense of Bruce Wayne’s lake house in the Dark Knight Rises, mixed with Beyond the Black Rainbow and Ex Machina. Nothing new here. A pointless scene to establish a reason for sequels.


I have to admit though, I have a growing grudge against this Ridley Scott Alien film series revival. Due to his insistence on putting out this drivel, we lose a chance to see Neill Blomkamp’s Alien film that would have been a sequel to the 1986 film Aliens. Blomkamp’s film would star series favorite core characters Ellen Ripley, Dwayne Hicks and Newt! Reconning all films that followed Aliens. I will admit, I was so disappointed as a kid seeing Alien 3 that it left me inconsolable for years. What a garbage sequel.


Later I found out that Alien 3 is a film taught in film school. Showing how scripts can change so dramatically between revisions. It was a troubled production that cost the series its heart. Fun fact, one of the original Alien 3 scripts was written award-winning science fiction writer William Gibson. That one did not make it to the final film.




Back to Alien Covenant; you are wondering is it worth watching? Yes and no. Yes, if you have laundry to do. No, if you do not. This is a definite “do something else while this plays” type of story. You will not miss anything in this ham-fisted tale of science fiction cliché.


The first point that could make you turn it off: The ragtag heroes discover a life-zone planet, like Earth. Of course, they go see it. When they reach the surface they, venture out 11 miles (18km) from their target. And they land in water, not considering space leeches at all. And they go out without hazmat suits or any type. You’re in a new place possibly rife with contaminants, how could they not use breathers of some sort? Guess what… they get contaminated!


Somehow they slowly creep through a forest and made it to the 11-mile spot within a few hours.



(Behind the scenes animatronics of the little white alien killer rabbits. Via and Image via and TM of Twentieth Century Fox)


Soon after we are introduced to the monster. It's a classic monster movie buildup. When the monsters show up, the bring with it visions of the Monty Python killer white rabbit.


With the coming of the classic Alien film monster, we get a handful of “hello my baby, hello my honey” Space Balls scenes. It’s a bit laughable, to be honest.


The climax tries to steal from the movie Aliens, but it falls flat. It’s a predictable bore.


And it ends with a classic Twilight Zone or Outer Limits twist that we saw, literally an hour earlier. Talk about obvious. They almost had a “nyahaha” ending mustache twist conclusion. This film could have ended with a black screen with white letters “… the end?”



Alien and Aliens are masterpieces. Everything else is just pandering fan-fiction. Alien Covenant failed to live up to expectations, and under-performed at the box office. It’s clear why. Because it leaves you asking why does this exist?



Neill Blomkamp has officially stated his sequel is never going to happen due to Ridley Scott Alien films. This news being the final nail in the coffin for an Alien film salvation. Ridley Scott thought he could return to the Alien franchise and make magic again. Sorry, but he didn’t bring it like George Miller with Mad Max Fury Road.

Seeing the concept art for Neill Blomkamp’s "Aliens" sequel is better than these Ridley Scott films.





Oh yeah, Alien Covenant... I rate it 2.00 out of 5.00.


(Spoilers ahead)



It’s nonstop angry people in this film.


The Autobots are angry. The military is angry. Science people are angry. Every main human character is angry. The Decepticons are, of course, angry. Even a new polite-butler robot character has a split personality – the other half is angry. It’s like being around a perpetually angry person, it’ll put you in a sour mood.


I am a huge Transformers fan. I’m not a purist either, I like a lot of the alternative shows and comic books. I still have all my childhood G1 toys. One of my favorite sites to visit daily for news about the franchise is I’m a fan.


I am no fan of Transformers The Last Knight. Which I’ll refer to as TTLK from here on out.




First off, the entire plot was a weak attempt at adapting the 1986 Transformers The Movie ( the animated one). So, I have to make parallels between the two.


Everyone is angry in TTLK, as I said. There was no break from that. In comparison, The 1986 film begins with a huge amount of violence, followed by a lengthy scene of an Autobot and a human boy calmly fishing and talking. This would have been the welcome break TTLK needed. The 1986 film’s pacing was just about perfect, in comparison. They tried to take most of the plot, why not the pacing too? (I will admit, the dancing scene in the 1986 film was lame. But, not as lame as most of the humor in TTLK!)


Characters are added just because they need characters, and the naming conventions seemed last second. One angry robot had a Mohawk, they call him Mohawk. Another, Volleybot was angry he couldn’t get to the beach to play volleyball.

The rest of the cast is filled with a bunch of made up’ characters, what they thought were cool looking bots, and of course the cannon fodder no-name robots and people. They have an already established collection of characters from the history of Transformers to work with, and they do this.


A key character from the 1986 film, Hot Rod, is used… but only as comic relief. I don’t suspect this Hot Rod will become the new leader of the Autobots.


In the film Optimus Prime is the evil version of himself, Nemesis Prime. That was a good use of the fringe character. However, Optimus Prime is crazy, not only in terms of the plot but just in general. He speaks in a grandiose way, making no impact. Doesn’t lead. Has almost zero importance versus the human characters. I know why this is… it’s cheaper to film the humans do anything. In retrospect, Optimus Prime is insane in the complete Michael Bay Transformers series for all those same reasons.


TTLK also served as an attempt at making an interconnected storyline between all the Michael Bay Transformers films. To so this they introduce new characters with huge backstories related to the Transformers, then destroy everything about them at the end of the film. I find that to be a pretty limp mechanism to push the story forward.


Comic relief:

All comic relief, besides the cliché confused rambling and flirting, bordered on inappropriate. Did they not learn from the earlier films?


Military usage:

The military depicted in the film are angry hot-heads who are completely useless. They fail at every turn. The so-called “seal team” in the film hold their guns wrong. They endlessly shoot regular M16s at space robots knowing it has no effect. They did a zero amount of anything, then wing-suit out of frame at the end of the film.


Let’s talk about science in the film:

The human hero characters Cade Yeager and Izabella do some repairs on some Autobots, that’s ok. Later talking tech, they refer to parts as the thingy and doohickey. I know it was a joke. It was also the end of anything technical from them.


The so-called science in the film was dumbed down to the point of not being able to explaining anything. One “science guy” was angrily explaining science using the technical description “Jiffy Pop bag goes boom.” As a person of science, I was offended.


At one point magic is referred to as "science that one cannot understand." At multiple points that “science guy,” mentioned above, keeps saying “I believe in science, not magic!” Later science guy’s science fails, suggesting we should believe in magic, not science. But they said magic is actually science. I was excited about believing in something, not sure what exactly.



The action packed ending was simply not thrilling. A predictable bore. If you are not sleeping by this point in the film… you’re missing out on some good sleep!



I have to stop. I don’t want to think about this TTLK anymore! These films need to end. It's like the Fox X-Men films; they were serviceable enough until Marvel came along and gave us original comic book storyaccurate superheros. There needs to be a Transformers reboot to the original story.



The film was a chore to watch. I was glad when it was over. And to be honest, writing this review was a chore too.


My Rating: 1.60 out of 5.00 TTLK is just plain lackluster.

They only received points for Peter Cullen and Frank Welker reprising their rolls as Optimus Prime and Megatron, respectively.



Life, the movie, is a let down. Been done, cliché, a non-science science fiction monster movie. Predictable to the end.

One thing I learned from watching… “life” is precious, don’t waste it watching Life (2017).


That said, allow me to explain with a bunch of spoilers. Be warned.


Aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in the not too distant future, a team of astronauts and science fellows intercept a capsule with a sample of life from the planet Mars. (I swear someone in the film said the year was around 2300 something, IDK and DK). Indeed, a single cell organism was found. A scientist coaxes it to animate with glucose. Aside from mentioning using glucose as a basis life itself, science pretty much ends there.


Like Shin Godzilla, we see the monster fairly quickly in story… but in its first stages.


Most of the early film is carried by Ryan Reynolds playing a toned down Deadpool-esque space repair guy. His character was the only one to swear, speak the common-person’s opinion on things. Like any good monster movie, the funny guy dies, and with that dead most of the enjoyment goes out the airlock. It turns into a thriller, chase, jump scare monster flick.


A thought on the monster: When I first saw its octopus/star fish form I knew immediately it will end up in someone’s mouth. And I was right. A few times too!


Like something out of Prometheus or Alien Covenant, the monster’s evolution is far too rapid and inconsistent. Or, maybe Life is just a poor knockoff? If it could do everything it could on the station, then it could have done all that on Mars itself. So, Mars should be thriving with these creatures!


People heroically sacrifice themselves to save others, over and over. Some, more important than others, it seemed. I found that a bit unfair. All twists and turns in the film were predictable. Like the end of Prometheus you’ll say “what?” I ask this, how much energy is needed to rapidly evolve?



Also, I immediately thought “Life” reminded me of a childhood favorite film “It! The Terror Beyond Space” (1958). In which an unstoppable alien from Mars boards a spacecraft of some sort. It systematically kills almost everyone. It goes through the ventilation and other areas like the creature in Life (2017). The people try similar tactics to stop the terror using  traps, the airlocks, flamethrowers etc. Eventually, they try to suffocate it by sending it into space. Similar to Life!


Coincidentally, It! The Terror Beyond Space directly inspired the movie Alien (1979). Alien’s sequel is Prometheus (2012) and featured an evolving unstoppable octopus monster. Each of these movies featured a way to track the monsters electronically. All of this seems to be directly copied in Life (2017). Much than I care to mention was copied! Evolution is definitely not a real-life trait here, what’s old is new.



Lastly, the CGI was terrible. You could tell people were in harnesses. Only the shots of the ISS and the Earth were cool.

I give Life a 1.80 out of 5.00


iss and earth.jpg

Why such a high score for something I clearly didn’t care for? Most of the acting didn’t make me cringe or sigh – a common reaction to bad sci-fi.



It’s another science-hero movie, and it’s a good one.


Spoilers, be warned....


Geologist Kristian Eikjord is about to leave picturesque Geirangerfjorden for the much flatter Stavanger… but on last days of anything, does that day ever go as planned? He still goes into work for a little farewell party but leaves a bit saddened with an inkling in the back of the mind. That inkling becomes a full-on realization of an impending disaster.


I think we’ve all had one of these. Something in the data, code, design doesn’t seem quite right. And often that hunch turns into discovering a huge problem.


In The Wave, that huge problem will amount to an 80 meter (262 foot) tall tsunami sure to destroy the lovely town at the end of the “Great Ford.” Our hero, Kristian Eikjord rushes back to the geology center, frantic. That, of course, is greeted by doubt, annoyance, and a certain amount of reassurance to get him to leave. 


Like any good person of science, he continues looking into it despite people’s objections. His boss sends some people into the crevasse of the mountainside to see if our hero Kristian is right. I am mentioning this due to the sensors that have attached to the mountain. Bolted to either side of the crevasse looks like a sensor that deflects as the plates move. That data is sent to the geology center in real time. These sensors are called “C-pumps” in the film, but to be honest… I can’t find if they are real devices or not. Nevertheless, all the C-pumps break off as the dreaded event begins.



The bars connecting the left and right side are the C-pumps.



From here on out, I wouldn’t say science saves or helps the day any - it  becomes more about the event and drama. But, it’s an action-packed, fun, thrilling rest of the film.



(LEFT) Before the 1934 Tsunami at Tafjord (RIGHT) Afterwards.


This film is based on a real concern that this could actually happen for the exact reasons in the story! And… partially based on real events. In 1934 (April 7) a huge rockslide (2M cubic meters) of rock fell from Langhamaren (mountain) triggering a Tsunami. At the epicenter, the wave was 62 meters (203ft) high, and 16 meters (52ft) at Tafjord. Forty people were killed by this event, being Norway’s worst natural disaster recorded in the 1900s. The event in the film, The Wave, is expected to be several times larger – if/when it happens.


All the main actors did an amazing, believable job. I think only one or two supporting cast members with a line or two seemed awkward. However, the film was in Norwegian with English subtitles, so I’m not too sure about how the language cadence should sound. But, it was Norway’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of 2015 (88th Academy Awards). So, it must have been good!


As far as disaster films are concerned, The Wave is definitely in the top ten. Are there ten good disaster films?


I give The Wave 4.18 out of 5.00


It’s currently streaming on Netflix, and wherever movies are rented/sold.





Deepwater Horizon: Why Corporate Greed, Ineptitude and Shortcuts are Hazardous to Your Health. Shoddy cement job, failed equipment and erupting methane gas, what could go wrong? (Image credit Summit Entertainment)


Deepwater Horizon is about as accurate a film as you can get when it’s based on real-life events, certainly so when the impact of those events are still being felt today. Obviously, there are spoilers ahead, but unless you were asleep in 2010, then you know how the film plays out.


At any rate, the movie stars Mark Wahlberg (as Chief Electronics Tech Mike Williams) and Kurt Russell (as Offshore Installation Manager Jimmy Harrell) and focuses on the events that lead to the Deepwater Horizon’s disaster that cost the lives of 11 workers and decimated a good chunk of the Gulf of Mexico.



A drilling engineer notices drilling mud backflow during the negative pressure test, signaling the beginning of a blowout. (Image credit Summit Entertainment)


Right from the get-go, Wahlberg and Russell (who work for Transocean, the company responsible for the rig) are surprised that BP is sending the workers responsible for cementing the oil well (to keep it stable) home early reportedly because their job was finished and everything ‘looks good,’ but in actuality it wasn’t- mistake number one. The workers were supposed to perform what’s known as a ‘negative pressure test,' a process to determine the stability and strength of the cement.


Russell eventually manages to convince BP manager Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) to run the test, which only serves to weaken the shoddy cement job- mistake number two. Without waiting for the test results, Vidrine orders the well to be ‘flowed, ’ and as a result, the cement fails and produces a blowout that kills several workers- mistake number three.


That blowout also releases methane that’s piped up to the rig and ignites from the diesel engines used to keep the semi-submersible rig in place. The resulting methane explosion kills several more workers and engulfs most of the rig in flames, not to mention Russell’s relaxing shower. Both Wahlberg and bloody Russell race to get to the operations center/bridge to get the well under control before evacuating to safety.



Diagram detailing a BOP, bear in mind the one equipped on the Deepwater Horizon’s well-head is 57-feet tall. (Image credit Christian Scholz)


It’s important to note that a device, known as a BOP (BlowOut Preventer) that sat on top of the cement casing of the well had failed to contain the initial blowout due to faulty valves that were supposed to close automatically in case of failure. The BOP also sports what are called ‘blind-shear rams’ that physically cut the pipe to the well and locks it down to prevent oil/gas leakage and allows the rig to maneuver away from the danger area. Those failed too, most likely due to an off-center drill pipe stuck in the well itself- mistake numbers four and five.



This is the result of what happens when corners are cut, equipment is faulty, and job requirements go out the window. (Image credit Summit Entertainment)


As you could imagine, Russell couldn’t get the well capped due to the faulty equipment, so he directs those left in the ops center to evacuate on the rig’s lifeboats, which are already jam-packed to the gills with ‘let’s get the hell outta here now.’ As the workers leave, Wahlberg and Dynamic Positioning Operator Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) make a mad dash to the remaining lifeboat, which falls into the ocean just as they get to it and are forced to jump from the rig. Luckily, for all involved, the vessel Damon B. Bankston was moored to the Horizon as a supply ship and helped rescue all the survivors.


The movie for the most part accurately portrayed the events of what actually happened, however the real Horizon accident displayed a level of ineptitude that stunned me- six operations, testing and equipment failures in a 32-hour period were responsible for the disaster. As a result, 4.9-million barrels of crude was released into the Gulf of Mexico, damaging the ecosystem and creating health issues for those living on the coastlines, which still continues to this day.


The movie representation was well done, the cinematography alone is worth the watch, but the acting was good as well, making for a great watch. I’m going to give Deepwater Horizon 4.01 out of 5.00 stars, watch it; you won’t be disappointed.


Maybe the One Movie Where a Live Action Adaptation isn’t Horrible.

This image of a robotic Geisha is one of the incredible props designed by the Weta Workshop that is featured in the Ghost in the Shell. (Image credit DreamWorks)


Why does it seem like most all of the live action remakes of great anime or video games are always abysmal? Seriously, Doom, a great game but bad movie; Attack on Titan- great anime series, comedic dirge of a film. Don’t even get me started on the Transformers franchise. The deep need for hardcore science fiction has me open to any film remotely technical these days.


But, now we have Ghost in the Shell with Scarlett Johannson starring as Major Mira Killian, a cyborg dealing with terrorism and personal spirituality. Obviously, there are spoilers ahead-




To be fair, the live action version incorporates a lot of the plot and scenes from the original anime movie that debuted in 1995, which is good and the cinematics and props are full on gorgeous, but if you’re going to jump in with scattered plot pieces, might as well go all the way with the original story. Regardless, the movie centers on the Major- a cybernetic construct (known as a shell) outfitted with a human brain and a soul, AKA Ghost. The Major is part of an elite security agency known as Section 9, who is looking for a cyber-terrorist responsible for hijacking a mechanical geisha and using it to kill the business executive of a high-ranking tech company called Hanka Precision Instruments.


A side thought about the geisha bot. When the Major was about to destroy the geisha bot, it stopped her, saying I don’t want to die. Then switches to the hacker who was controlling them, with a ciptic message. But, that bot’s fear of death was never touched on or addressed again throughout the whole film. A bit a lost potential, if you ask me.


In the original anime movie, the terrorist is a sentient AI known as the Puppet Master, who infects cyborgs and machines using a virus to assassinate the group (known as Section 6) who created it and to ultimately exist inside a living human brain- in order to be mortal. The live action film takes this premise and mashes it together with the Hideo Kuze character and story arc of the Ghost in the Shell anime series Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig.



Pieces of Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. anime series are also incorporated into the live action movie. (Image credit Bandai Entertainment)


In that series, Kuze is part of a group tagged as the Individual Eleven. The saga of the Eleven is long, complicated and deals with using a virus to gain the loyalty of a refugee city and get them to perform terrorist attacks due to their political views. Now, twist the plot of both anime movie and series just a bit, blend them together with a dash of alternate backstory and you get this live action movie.


Kuze, to show his broken condition, has a technological problem speaking. Sounding a bit like a buffering or skipping CD. A little cliche. He apparently is a world class hacker, but can’t fix his voice malfunctioning?


As far as the Major knows, she was the sole survivor of a terrorist attack that kills her family and leaves her body a mess. It’s then decided by AI robotic manufacturer Hanka that Killian is a prime candidate for a procedure that essentially stuffs her brain into a cyborg body. It works, and she rises to the rank of Major in Section 9 and begins the task of tracking down Kuze (played by Michael Pitt), but along the way, pieces of unknown memories begin to trickle into her conscious.



Hideo Kuze- a misguided cyborg bad-guy who just wants mortality. (Image credit DreamWorks)


As the memories progress, she learns that her parents weren’t killed in an attack, but rather she ran away from home, was arrested and then committed suicide, having a false memory implanted to cover up what really happened. She then sets off to find Kuze who fills her in on the big picture- that they and others like them, were anti-cyborg radicals that were rounded up by Hanka to be used as test subjects and became what they hated the most.


Hanka, getting wind that the Major and Section 9 are about to spill the beans on their nefarious actions deploy a spider tank to silence them, which only results in one of the movies greatest fight scenes and ends with Kuze getting killed and the Major severely damaged. She is ultimately restored, returns to her still-alive mother and ultimately continues to work as a counter-terrorist operator with Section 9.


Overall, Ghost in the Shell is a science fiction dream, better than most live action films. I just wish they had stuck to the original anime movie story line with the Puppet Master AI terrorist and then used the Kuze arc for a second movie, which will probably happen. The technology featured throughout the film is certainly plausible, especially if you compare what we have today- the beginnings of hologram technology, AI platforms, and AR/VR systems.


Could AI become sentient enough to ponder its existence, could it become hostile and take over otherwise unintelligent machines? Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk seem to think so, but that’s a story for another time.


I give this movie 3.78 out of 5.00 stars for the imagery alone but would have gone five if they centered on the original anime plot.

I avoided Shin Godzilla (Godzilla Resurgence) for looking silly. But a bored, trapped audience will watch anything. I had no choice. Either this or stare at a wall. I’ve watched the wall too much, so…


I’m glad I did watch this Godzilla movie. I was transported to my childhood almost immediately. The lighting and filming style was kept in line with past Japan-based Godzilla movies. Everything within, though, was very modern.


Big-time spoilers ahead!



It’s a tale of human collaboration, worth ethic, natural talent celebrated, and scientific endeavor VERSUS the king of monsters, Godzilla.


The film begins with a glimpse of the monster fairly early, rare in classic monster movies. The formula was always to make your audience wait near the entire story. Knowing there was a creature in a Tokyo Bay, the Japanese government immediately launches into action. But that action was that of bureaucracy, red tape, procedure, rank etiquette, and what comes with the phenomenon.


The monster, an infant or early version of Godzilla, even made it to shore destroying buildings and the like for hours before the Japanese military did anything. Despite the intentionally frustrating procedural action scenes of the human group, the monster scenes were very unique and startling. Godzilla, at this point, couldn’t stand. Watching it plow through streets with a sea of cars flying into the air was ghastly, to say the least.


Humans still planning to make a plan, Godzilla’s early form starts to change a bit, getting larger and toppling twenty story buildings, still unable to stand properly. By the time the human’s move military responses to the location, Godzilla stands and lets out it’s trademark roar. It stands face to face with attack helicopters.



(All images via TOHO Co. LTD)


(A note on that roar. How did they make that classic sound? It is simply a bow strung bass sound, slowed down.)


Two humans on the ground, two hapless individuals that didn’t evacuate the area, ends up canceling the military operation. Godzilla drops low again and slithers back to sea.


The film goes on the reveal clues to Godzilla’s origins. A beast born from scientific mishaps, radioactive waste that also feeds on it. Drawn to Tokyo by nuclear plants. One character mentioned that a creature that size would have to get enormous amounts of energy from somewhere, at it didn’t seem to be consuming organic life. Logical, I suppose.


Caught off-guard by the return of Godzilla, the Japanese government launches back into its bureaucracy but gives more authority to the “nerds” figuring out the problem and the military acting on their guidance. Despite that, Godzilla’s “re-landing” came with the classic theme song…


(Only problem with the theme is I always expect to hear the Pharoahe Monch remix of it right after the opening.)


This was the adult, classic, form of Godzilla. Scientists, the nerds, figure that the creature can rapidly evolve to handle any situation that confronts it. With is an interesting way of looking at life, while paying homage to how Godzilla could handle any opposing monster in the older films.


Military collaboration of Japan and the USA face the monster. But, the soft fleshy, and youthful, looking Godzilla is long gone. Very little military barrages hurt him (her?). Only some special shells dropped from US bombers seem to hurt it. Only the first volley. But then Godzilla evolves to handle an air assault.


All is lost in one of the most horrifying giant monster movie scenes I have ever witnessed. Unstoppable, brutal, shocking, cool… all words that hardly do the scene justice. You’ll have to see it to believe it.


But, it leaves the area in ruin and drains Godzilla’s energy for a couple weeks. The beast remains motionless to recharge, so to speak.


During this time, the human opposition started working together. Communal work, scientific planning, committee and proper planning helped the humans win the day.




But, it’s the end of that day that is most troubling. At the end of Godzilla’s tail was a glimpse of the next evolution. Not one of overwhelming power, but perhaps one of collaboration. It’s left to interpretation, of course.




My take – he was beaten by thousands of individuals working together. Perhaps creating a community of like-minded beasts was the next step. Or perhaps a divide and conquer strategy. One monster per person.


Unfortunately, it seems that there will not be a sequel to Shin Godzilla. At least, not anytime in the foreseeable future. Too bad.


I rate this 4.22 out of 5.00

Well worth the time. And time is valuable, don’t waste it.


Logan: Why Kids and Telepaths are Nothing but Problems. Image credit 20TH Century Fox.


Yes, I am a fan of Marvel comics and have an extensive collection of X-Men and Wolverine issues dating back to the mid 80’s and some going back a decade earlier, so I was somewhat elated to see the supposed last Wolverine movie Hugh Jackman is starring in. As always, there will be spoilers ahead-





Logan takes place a few years into the future in 2029, and things don’t look too good for mutants in general as most of them are gone, and there haven’t been any born in the last 25 years. It seems Logan has fallen on hard times with a faltering healing factor and as a result has started to age. The movie doesn’t FULLY explain what happened to all those mutants or why Logan has aged and has lost most of his healing factor, however, my guess is that his metal skeleton and claws have been slowly poisoning him as it was in the Old Man Logan comic series.


At any rate, he now works as a chauffeur in Texas and lives with the mutant Caliban (Tomas Lemarquis), who can psychically sense other mutants. Both also live and care for a dilapidated Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is afflicted with a neurodegenerative disease that makes him lose control of his telepathic powers from time to time.


As fate would have it, Logan runs into a nurse from the Alkali-Transigen Corporation who wants him to take her and 11-year old Laura (Daphne Keen) to a place they call Eden in North Dakota. He refuses but then relents after finding the nurse dead. A few things that should be noted before moving on are that the Alkali-Transigen Corporation is a biotechnology firm that specializes in breeding mutants using DNA taken from other mutants. The other thing to note is that little Laura is one of those mutants and in her case, was created using Logan’s DNA.



Pierce and his cybernetically enhanced Reavers. (Image credit 20th Century Fox)


As you could have guessed, the corporation wants to get their property back and send their security chief Donald Pierce and his band of Reavers to get the job done. Both the chief and his band are cybernetically enhanced with robotic limbs such as arms and legs. Seeing them reminded me of the thought-controlled robotic limbs created by engineers from the Johns Hopkins University, which uses remapped nerves to send brain signals to the prosthetic to move it.


Reavers were a group of non-mutant cyborgs, at least from the comic. It’s interesting to see them in this film. I used to like them as villains. They would upgrade and fix themselves in the comics, I found it kind of cool from a robotics aspect. Logan does a good job of representing the characters.


Anyway, the Reavers track down Laura at Logan’s residence, and a fight ensues with the little girl popping her claws and going into an animal-like rage. Like father, like daughter I guess. Logan, the Professor, and the girl manage to flee, leaving Caliban behind and captured by the Reavers who use him to hunt them down.



Laura laying the smack-down on the Reavers. (Image credit 20th Century Fox)


A cat and mouse chase ensue, ultimately leading up to an encounter between Charles and a mutant clone of Logan known as X-24. This was an emotional scene as Charles thinks that X-24 is the real Logan and tells him about a seizure he had suffered years before where it killed several humans and a few of the X-Men. X-24 then kills Charles while Caliban sacrifices himself by setting off grenades in the Reavers van where he was held hostage. It was at this point I knew why the movie had an R rating.



Logan and Laura on the way to Eden. (Image credit 20th Century Fox)


Logan and Laura manage to escape and make it to Eden where he finds a camp populated by mutant children who managed to escape the Corporation. Of course, the Reavers aren’t far behind and use several drones to spot their location. This leads to the final confrontation between Logan, Laura, and X-24. In the end, the movie gives you a unique look into different characters from the Marvel Universe and provides an emotional connection to them that seemed deficient in the other X-titles.


On the down side, I feel there could have been less use of the F-bomb, repeatedly said throughout the movie. It seemed so out of character for Charles to say it that I actually cringed, not so much for Logan, though. It’s also intensely graphic and probably not suited for younger kids, which is ironic considering the movie centers around a young child.


I give this movie 4.05 out of 5.00 stars as it does have a great storyline and portrays old characters in a new light. For a "FoX-Men" film, it's pretty decent. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and do so, you won’t be disappointed.


Image credit Lionsgate.


Spoilers Ahead ─


At the beginning of time the clock struck one-
Then dropped the dew and the clock struck two-
From the dew grew a tree and the clock struck three-
The tree made a door and the clock struck four-
Man came alive and the clock struck five-
Count not, waste not the years on the clock-
Behold I stand at the door and knock.


The above poem is how The Railway Man began and was thought up by the real Eric Lomax as a way to focus his mind and feelings during difficult times in his life. The movie centers on his time during WWII where he served as a second lieutenant in the British Royal Corps of Signals- a unit responsible for setting up battlefield communications and electronic warfare as well as his anguished life afterward.


Eric, played by both Colin Firth (old) and Jeremy Irvine (young), has a love of all things locomotive and meets the love of his life Patricia Wallace (played by Nicole Kidman) while traveling on one to Glasgow. They soon fall in love and get married, however during this time, he undergoes a montage PTSD episodes, which concern his wife, as she has no idea why he has those breakdowns.


She then learns that while serving in Singapore, his unit surrendered to Japanese forces and was taken as prisoners, with years of undergoing brutal torture and forced to work building the Burma Railway. It’s interesting to note that before being taken as a POW, he breaks down his radio equipment and manages to hide a vacuum tube on himself and uses it (along with a collection of other stolen parts) to build a receiver while in a prison camp.



Lomax’s makeshift radio made with smuggled vacuum tube found by the Japanese guards. (image credit Lionsgate)


Eric and some of the other POWs use the radio to get updates on the war, which gives them a boost of morale while enduring the hard labor of building the railroad. Of course, the Japanese eventually find the radio and think that Eric and his comrades are using it to transmit information to the allied forces and begin to torture the men for answers. It’s during this time that Eric meets Japanese secret police officer Takashi Nagase (played by both Hiroyuki Sanada and Tanroh Ishida), who acts as a translator during the brutal questioning and torture sessions.


As you could imagine, those scenes are brutal to watch and made all the more horrific knowing that it happened to the real Eric Lomax and the other POWs. Nagase takes a special interest in Lomax and feels he’s the one who responsible for getting the others to help him build the radio. A detailed map of the areas Lomax has also been found, which only compounds the torture to even more brutal heights and makes it easy to see why Lomax builds a hatred for Nagase.



Lomax questioning Nagase at the memorial decades after being freed. (Image credit Lionsgate)


The POWs are eventually rescued by the Chinese while the British round up the Japanese officers and send them to prison to await trial, however, Nagase escapes persecution by feigning to be a translator, which the British need for various reasons. Decades later and still burning with hatred for what the Japanese did to him, Lomax finds out Nagase is still alive and he sets off to confront his tormentor and get some sort of revenge for his crimes.


He finds Nagase presiding over a Buddhist monastery/WWII memorial in Thailand where the POW camp was once located and proceeds to subject him to mock torture of sorts along the lines of what he went through. Lomax ultimately finds that Nagase is truly remorseful for his actions during the war and is working at the memorial so that what happened there will always be remembered. In the end, the two become friends and meet several times over the years to solidify the forgiveness between the two.


I found The Railway Man to be a great movie that blended the horrors of being a POW with the aftermath of trying to live a normal life. The actors were able to capture and convey those emotions really well and gave life to a story that needed to be told on the big screen (although now it’s on Netflix). I give this movie four out of five stars and recommend seeing it if you already haven’t.


Solid 4.31 out of 5.00

josephasedward.jpgreal snowden.jpg

LEFT - Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden from Snowden (2016)  RIGHT - The real Edward Snowden from Citizenfour (2014)


In my opinion, Snowden is a dramatized prequel/sequel to Citizenfour (2014), the real life documentary of Edward Snowden’s life-defining event – revealing the extents of the Global surveillance disclosures.


After watching either, or both, you’ll notice sticky notes over your phone cameras, webcams, tape over microphones. Yes, you’ll do it yourself without thinking. Paranoia is a symptom of watching both films. But, as we know it, it’s perfectly natural and acceptable. The depths of what these government agencies can do is startling. Be warned, if you don’t know much about the Edward Snowden story, it will change your life forever. That said…


Watch the documentary first – Citizenfour. Then watch Snowden. It’s the perfect weekend movie combo.



Both films left me questioning what I would do in that situation. Would I have enough righteous indignation to just give up my life so a majority of indifferent people would know the truth? Would you?


I suppose I would. After seeing Edward Snowden’s net worth around $8.4 million, and current speaking appearances at $200k a pop… I think I could be a hero. But, did he know it would turn out this posh? I doubt it.


Back to the film.


Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt did an amazing job portraying Edward Snowden. There is a scene at the end of the film when they transition between Gordon-Levitt and Snowden, and at first, I wasn’t 100% sure they made the switch. In fact, it took a few minutes to be sure. It was uncanny.


Citizenfour didn’t show the depths of Snowden’s talents and expertise. When the news broke, people question how a contractor could know all of this information. Or why a contractor was allowed into the secret facilities. After the film, Snowden, you’ll see why. But, I wonder how much of that is true as well.


The main tense “action” sequence has me questioning it all. It showed how Edward Snowden was able to sneak out all that data. It was hidden in a Rubik’s Cube! Upon a search for validity to the method, I found that Snowden will not admit how he did it, but the Rubik’s Cube might not be far from the truth. So, everything else is in question. But, it’s still a thrilling scene.


The film closes with the real Edward Snowden talking about privacy, human right, et-al to what looked like a college audience. Thunderous cheering and applause followed. That group saw him as a hero, for sure. And it closed with the real Snowden walking off frame inside, what I take it as his Russian asylum home. A super-comfy looking cabin. Just remembering those digs now… so nice.


As engineers, I believe this is another set of required viewings (Hidden Figures, being another). Watch it, get paranoid and inspired. I have found, since 2013, the number of smartphone camera covering options has increased beyond 45 degrees. Businesses started just from the issue of regaining what little privacy we have.


I have an idea: Speaker system that outputs just the right amount of noise to keep all internet connected microphones (and speakers turned into microphones) from hearing a thing. This runs constantly. Eventually, the deafening sound will become everyday. Oh… and modulate that sound to defeat the Borg-like NSA adaptability.


Pros of Snowden and Citizenfour:

- Seeing important history, real and portrayed.

- Becoming more aware of the real-world situation.

- Awesome Rubik’s Cube techniques.


Cons of just Snowden (2016):

- Snowden (2016) might not be entirely accurate with what really happened. We want the truth!!! Right?


I rate Citizenfour (2014) a 4.44 out of 5.00, can’t go wrong with documentaries and real info.

Snowden (2016) is a 3.61 of 5.00


All image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.


A misunderstanding is how it begins, revenge is what’s sought, and the adventure continues- that’s Star Trek Beyond in a nutshell. Obviously, there will be some Spoilers ahead, so stop now if you haven’t yet seen the latest entry of the Star Trek ensemble.


“Beyond, directed by Justin Lin, brings the crew together once more to thwart a terrorist bent on killing millions of Federation citizens for revenge….from the loss of a job.” This is the caption that should have been stamped on the promos for this film- a glorified CGI masterpiece with a cookie-cutter plot. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a tried and true Trek fan, but the revenge motif has been played-out far too many times for it to be enjoyable. However, there are a few redeeming factors in Beyond that make the film worthwhile.



Concept art for Yorktown- a massive starport with millions of inhabitants. (Image courtesy of Memory-Alpha Wikia)


In this installment monotony sets in for the crew and rightfully so, considering they’ve been exploring space for 966 days. So much so, that Kirk applies to give up command of the Enterprise to take a desk job while Spock, affected by his other self's death contemplates resigning from Star Fleet to take on the role of establishing a new Vulcan homeworld. Low on supplies and desperate for shore leave, they decide to head to Yorktown- a massive starport with millions of Federation inhabitants.


I was impressed with the idea and visual conception of the Yorktown and hoped they would have disclosed more information on it than what was provided but no such luck. How long did it take to build? Where did all the materials for its construction come from? What powers the station? More importantly, why hasn’t anyone made a feature film about it?


According to Sean Hargreaves, the designer behind the Yorktown, the starport consists of city-sized interlocking rings with several radiating arms that measure out at 17 ½ miles each. The whole construct is encased in a spherical surface with openings to allow starships to enter. The station itself is divided into zones, which include sections for the arts, parks, recreation, restaurants/bars and a shipyard. With a station this large, transporters are needed for travel, although it does feature monorail trains for those who prefer not to have their molecules scrambled.


With its enormity, I wondered how many engineers inhabit the station, with a population in the millions, it would have to be a good percentage as even futuristic technology needs to be maintained, replaced or designed for that matter.



Scotty and Jaylah inside her home- the USS Franklin. In the future, flashlights have 3 beams. (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures)


Shortly after arriving at the Yorktown, the crew is dispatched on a rescue mission near a nebula and is attacked by Krall, a lizard-like being who needs an artifact the Enterprise has for a biological weapon he intends to use on the starport. The Enterprise is subsequently destroyed with most of the crew becoming Krall’s hostages and what’s left of the Enterprise and a few of the bridge officers crashing onto Altamid, Krall’s base of operations.


Kirk, Spock, Scotty and Checkov regroup with the help of Jaylah- a scavenger and onetime guest of Krall’s encampment. It turn’s out the house Jaylah’s been living in is actually the USS Franklin, a Star Fleet vessel that crashed on the planet a century ago when Earth was in the throes of war with a race known as the Xindi (see Star Trek Enterprise).


As you might have guessed, Krall is the former captain of the Franklin and descended into madness when he and his crew were not rescued and left to fend for themselves. Luckily for them, the planet housed the remains of advanced technology left behind by the previous residences and was able to prolong their lives and repurpose drones to act as the swarm.


In any event, Scotty gets the Franklin up and running while another party rescues the hostages from Krall’s encampment. Krall in the meantime finds the artifact needed for his bio-weapon and gets ready to head to the Yorktown to get his revenge. Why revenge? Besides being left behind, he was a soldier during the Xindi war and loved his job, but when the war was over, he was assigned as the captain of the USS Franklin, a position he detested.


As Krall heads to the station, Kirk and the rescued crew hijack the now-working Franklin and follow pursuit. Not wanting to repeat what happened to the Enterprise, Kirk needs to find a way to disrupt Krall’s swarming ships so that they can’t act in unison. They soon find that a specific signal ties the ships together and can be disrupted using the same frequency. Scotty manages to beam the signal via Beastie Boy’s Sabotage, and the ships become disoriented, allowing Kirk to catch up to Krall and ultimately stop him by jettisoning him out of an airlock into space.


Besides the Yorktown, I have to say that the other redeeming factor for the movie is Scotty with his quick thinking and plan of action. Without him, Krall probably would have succeeded. Could Spock have gotten the Franklin up and running? Most certainly - but probably not as quickly as Scotty.


Star Trek Beyond is an OK for a one-time watch, certainly for the CGI cinematics. However, it doesn’t bring anything new to the genre that hasn’t been done a thousand times over.


I give it 2.12 stars out of five.


Kids have it easy today. Their phones could compute the orbital trajectories John Glenn took in 1962. I think there is even a browser-based calculator too. Human beings were “the computers” back when Hidden Figures takes place (1950s to 1960s). In fact, that was their job title…computers!


Kids also have it a bit better than us today. We weren’t taught about this film’s main characters and their contributions in school. NASA admits that their story wasn’t much talked about until the 1990s. When the book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race was released (which this film is based on) their stories came as a shock, surprise, and an inspiration.


It took a quarter of a century to get to film, to get before us all, but I’m glad it did. Film is such a powerful medium. To paraphrase Viola Davis, it exalts ordinary people who sometimes find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. It’s an absolute must-see for everyone, but especially for anyone in the sciences or interested in them.


Not only did these women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, face segregation, but sexism in the work place. Despite it all, they rose above and made huge contributions at NASA and in the sciences. The story does a great job covering most of those character’s accomplishments. I will not go into much detail on each, since the film does such a good job of it.


- Although the film touched on Katherine Johnson being a gifted child, it didn’t mention that she graduated high school when she was fourteen years old or college at eighteen years old.  Johnson also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.  Coworker Dorothy Vaughn graduated college at nineteen years old, and Mary Jackson achieved the highest engineering level at NASA, with the film depicted her just beginning. All this and they had families and children, too. Amazing. (STEM advocates and institutions better start teaching their history!)


- In the film’s major conflict scene, John Glenn, USA’s first astronaut flying Friendship 7, said, “Get the girl to check the numbers... If she says the numbers are good... I'm ready to go." That girl was Katherine Johnson and she calculated the output of eleven different variables to eight significant digits, matching the computer results exactly. – NASA


- This is a Hollywood movie, and what’s a movie without emotion and conflict? Hidden Figures had plenty, but it wasn’t over the top, just enough to keep it exciting. One dramatic scene had a NASA director swinging a sledgehammer to destroy segregated bathroom sign, ostensibly for none other than Katherine Jackson. In real life, she ended up using the closest bathroom she could find. A couple of years later someone brought up “her mistake,” but she ignored the comment. Luckily, no one ever brought it up again (via the book).


- Some solace to take in Johnson’s struggle can be found in an interview with WHROTV. Katherine Johnson was commenting about segregation a NASA; "I didn't feel the segregation at NASA, because everybody there was doing research. You had a mission and you worked on it, and it was important to you to do your job...and play bridge at lunch. I didn't feel any segregation. I knew it was there, but I didn't feel it."


During the third act, the space flight urgency made me realize, the so-called NASA “Launch Fever” was there right from the beginning. Pressured to catch up to and beat a fill-in-the-blank competitor leads to cutting corners, people, budgets, and so on. The only reason there weren’t more disasters early on was so many bright, smart, talented people, like Katherine Johnson, working behind the scenes. I mean, they did have to bring John Glenn back down early due to a heat-shield failure. But, he was safe.


Is launch fever why NASA no longer sends people into space? I’m not sure, but it does seem part of it. We just need more people like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, and reaching even further (space) greatness will be possible.


Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine G. Johnson

Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan

Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson

Mahershala Ali plays Lieutenant Colonel Jim Johnson

Glen Powell plays John Glenn

Everyone else plays composite characters written to represent the spirit of the time or a collection of different people. Just so you know.



I rate this film a 4.28 of 5


- A great history lesson and launching off point for further learning.

- Accurate depiction of most of the character’s plot points, struggles, and major events.

- A toned down Hollywood treatment.



- Still too Hollywood.

- Not enough about engineer in the making Mary Jackson!


Like the movie Arrival… Hidden Figures is a strong candidate for “reading the book.”


Released in 2016, but Jan 27, 2017 inside the USA. (Poster and all images/video via Konami & Screenvision Media)


An anime film review? What’s this have to do with engineering? Well… It features one of the most egotistical genius-engineers in film - of all time!


- Spoilers below -


Yu-Gi-Oh! was created by Kazuki Takahashi in 1996 and has had a long run. It shot up in popularity with the animated series back in the early 2000s. The original cast’s story seemingly ended in 2004. But, this film comes around to continue their story.


Oh, but this is an anime, kids stuff, right? NO, it is not. Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions (YTDSD) has a story boiled down to a kind person, for a greater good, seeks to end the life of another person. Of course, that is the hero of the series, Yugi Mutou; the seminal character of the series. The plot contains deaths, guns, and a lot of complex twists. It has flashy colors and monsters, but that’s where it ends for kids.


If you are a fan of the series, you’ll love it, since it’s the heroes on another adventure. If you are not a fan, you’ll never see it. But, I want to talk about one of the main characters, Seto Kaiba – the series’ resident genius-engineer who brought the game to “life.” 


kaiba bottle.PNG

Towards the beginning YTDSD, Seto Kaiba reminds why he’s an awesome engineer. While pontificating over his latest technological creation, he drinks from a water bottle, crushes it, and throws it, says “fire whoever designed that bottle. Kaiba Corp’s products shouldn’t bend that easily.”

Yes, bad news for that designer, but great that Kaiba demands better. While we drown in all the poorly designed products, Galaxy Note 7 for instance, wouldn’t it be nice if a “Kaiba” demanded perfection?


You could almost look at Seto Kaiba as an egotistical, self-serving, Elon Musk. In YTDSD he designed and uses a space elevator that takes him to a low orbit research center. He creates a neurally linked computer interface, like an EEG. He uses real-time data, big-data, that accessible with a thought and slight command for analyzing any situation. Kaiba changes the fictional world for the better. But, of course, he uses all that to play a card game.


Through the original series, Kaiba started a company to build a glasses-free augmented reality (AR) platform to show the card “come to life” and battle each other. First a console based stadium to a mobile hologram projection, later in the seasons. While every other character was dealing with their “drama,” Kaiba never stopped innovating. It’s an unsung background plot development that didn’t escape the eye of this engineer.


kaiba tech.jpg


With games like Pokemon Go! showcasing how popular AR can get, AR like in this series could become a reality. In fact, there is a Yu-Gi-Oh! AR game and a Virtual Reality already in the works for Oculus Rift. This is my point with Yu-Gi-Oh!, it inspired many and continues to inspire more today.


I will admit, back in the early 2000s, during the original run of the TV series, I explored the idea of using real world tech to expand the card game.


Here was my big idea: I would use image recognition techniques, or text scanning, to translate any card on a play area. A computer would then handle resolving of all moves the players wish to make. Sort of like electronic chess from the 80’s. IE: This monster attacks this one… the system would determine if a monster is destroyed and everything else that follows.


However, the year 2000 didn’t offer the level of available tech like we have today. By the time Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and the sort showed up, overall popularity of the show was down. And, my interest was out the window. The spinoff shows just didn’t blow my hair back.


If anything, perhaps Seto Kaiba has, or will, inspire some young Yu-Gi-Oh! fan to get into engineering and innovate. Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Transformers, and many others have a strong track record of doing so. Hopefully, Seto Kaiba will not inspire real-word egotistical engineers!



I will leave you with the touchstone Seto Kaiba quote from YTDSD, I hope you apply it to your engineering life, just like I am:

"I’ve never settled for mediocrity as an acceptable standard, and neither should you." (Segment pulled from promotion video for the film, here)



Now, I will give some critique of the actual movie:


- A new story by the creator Kazuki Takahashi.

- The gang all back together.

- Seto Kaiba, his ranting, and being a dynamic genius-engineer.

- A long awaited update and conclusion.

- Overly complex plot for a card game action adventure. Yes, this is a pro. It keeps you interested throughout.

- No typical Hollywood cliché story details or dialog.

- The final battle takes place in a stadium. The sound and imagery makes me wish there was a real card game elevated to this level of spectacle.



- There were a few dialog sequences that seem over the top and long winded. Mostly that of the main antagonist. It just makes you want to fast-forward to scenes with our original heroes.

- Battle sequences lacked the fun of the final duels in the original series.

- Not enough showcasing the tech in the story. The drama and the card game are more important, I suppose.

- Playing in theatres, almost nowhere.


My score: 3.49 / 5.00


More fun facts:

final image.jpg

Seto Kaiba and Yugi Mutou playing Yugi's new game four years after the conclusion of this film. The drawing was made by the series creator Kazuki Takahashi. See more at his Instagram here.


Yu-Gi-Oh! as a name, has a literal translation of “Game King” or even King of Games. The way it is written in English isn’t quite right, but it works for proper pronunciation.


Think Yu-Gi-Oh! is a small blip in the world?


The franchise consists of the original run animation, 5 spinoffs, 4 movies, video games, mobile game with 30 million players as of 2017, novels, the manga, and of course the billions of cards sold worldwide. Think about this, some individual cards sell for thousands of dollars to collectors and fans! If you feel like binge watching this series, it is 224 episodes and a few movies of pure joy.