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Engineering Life

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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-

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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(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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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-

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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. 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

Pros:

- 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.

 

Cons:

- 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.”

 

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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.” 

 

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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.

 

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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:

Pros

- 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.

 

Cons

- 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

 

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More fun facts:

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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.

 

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Arrival Ship concept art. (via Conceptartworld)

 

Arrival is one of those films where people are going to say, “Well, you have to read the noooovella it’s based on. EYEEEE... read it. It’s far superior to the fiiiilm.”

 

It’s true, though, but only in a few instances in this adaptation. The story centers around language of and communication with mysterious alien visitors. For all intents and purposes, this plays out like a classic monster movie. In this loved genre, you can’t show the monster right away. Seeing it is what everyone wants. The story could be horrible, lame, perplexing, but if the monster is cool, everyone is satiated. With Arrival, fortunately, you get an awesome story. However, you’ll have to wait for the classic-cliché “glimpse of the monster” about 32 minutes into the show. Full view, as if following the monster movie rulebook, is held off until the end.

 

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The coolest shot of the Arrival ship.

 

That isn’t all the movie has to offer, the story will keep you captivated throughout. The main character Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, is right off the bat shown to have lost a child who seems to only have been around ten or twelve. My immediate reaction, “Not the babies! Come on! It’s unfair!” But, that’s the point, how do you cope? Getting lost in your work seems to be the answer. Which, as an engineer, I can identify with the strategy. I’ve made a lot of progress feeling down and out.

 

Dr. Banks loses herself, in linguistics it seems. The goal eventually become her communicating with the visitors, “Heptapods” as they are called for their limb asymmetry. The language they eventually discover, in written form, is quite clever. It’s a circular written language with no start or stop in any point in the form. The story takes on the idea of when you know a language; you begin to think in that language.  It changes your view of the world, it changes your pattern of though. This happens to be known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, or linguistic relativity.

 

The story elegantly explores this idea with a language unbound by beginnings and endings and how that would change the human mind. This is where I will leave the main plot synopsis.

 

But, of course, I have a few issues.

 

The screenplay was adapted by Eric Heisserer from the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. Heisserer had been trying to get the screenplay adapter for some time, under the one requirement that the film be just like the story, about linguistics and void of violent action that happens to be a staple of science fiction films to date. He, indeed, was able to get that… almost.

 

This is where I have the most issues. For some reason or other, they add scenes of rioting in the streets, military moving around doing army stuff, and a group of nervous and intolerant soldiers surrounding Dr. Bank’s research facility at one of the alien crafts. What happens? The solider try to appease their paranoia by blowing up the Heptapods, but fail, making for a pointless sequence that doesn’t technically push the plot in any direction. Edit those scenes out, you wouldn’t miss it.

 

Oh, I forgot to mention; the military personnel doesn’t trust the scientists in any of their actions. The biggest sci-fi cliché ever made. Take a look at the film “Spectral” for the exact same military vs scientists scenes. How about we start to embrace intelligence and nerds in film already. I swear there was even a scene that had a military guy practically say, “now say it in English, poindexter.”

 

Plenty of science in this movie to make us salivate. Linguistic relativity, nonzero sum gain, gravity shifts, optical image analysis. Though, the spaceships do give a District 9 feel and look, looming over the countryside.

 

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On image analysis, Wolfram Research was tapped to take the alien language and create new characters/sentences. SHOWN ABOVE. They wrote actual code, shown running in the film, to generate each character. Instead of flashy Hollywood tech magic, this is real code producing real images, of a “new language.” Very cool.

 

The movie isn’t the Matrix, nor is it the thinking-person’s Matrix, but it is great in its own right. Slow and intellectual can be thrilling. It will keep you hooked throughout, despite some of the clichés and sappy dialog. (Waiting for a purists edit to remove those issues.)

 

After you watch the film, if you liked it, the original short story awaits your read. The short story is different enough to keep you hooked again.

 

It’s a must watch for any engineer.

I give it 4.23 out of 5.00 (I increased my rating precision to two decimal places, by the way. Have to be accurate when it comes to films.)

 

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Actors portraying Stephen and Jane Hawking early in their relationship.

 

--- Big spoilers below! ---

 

 

I teared up at the movie, I’ll admit. Early on too. Right around when Stephen Hawking, played by Eddie Redmayne, was in an early relationship with his future wife Jane, played by Felicity Jones (Of Rebel One fame!). It was a tear of knowing what will ultimately happen to Stephen in the future. (The exact scene pictured above.)

 

The Theory of Everything is the story of Stephen Hawking from his college days to almost present time. Like my reaction above, we all know what happens.

 

The spiral into the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease is definitely the focus in this film. What that means for family, friends, children and the world is not as realistic and hard-hitting as I was expecting. Since the film only brushes on Stephen Hawking’s scientific contributions, I was expecting the rest of his life to be a bit more covered. However, for those who are not familiar with his career, the film will surly educate “enough.” Although this thought is subjective, I would fully expect a lot of inspiration fostered by the journey. Simply put, much is possible even in the face of such a hurdle.

 

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(LEFT) The real Stephen and Jane Hawking. (RIGHT) Redmayne and Jones playing the roll. (via achieve, REX)

 

Since this movie is based on Jane Wilde Hawking’s book “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,” a huge focus is on Stephen’s relationship(s) and family life. The unflinching love between Jane and Stephen is shaken by the disease’s progress, as one could imagine. They condensed 30 years down in this telling. Tested, tossed aside, and brought back together, and everything in-between is quite faithful to real life. Yes, Stephen leave’s Jane for another woman around the time he loses his voice. We are all truly human.

 

They do skip the segment that Stephen’s new wife ended up being abusive. However, I suppose Jane wouldn’t know that completely. (Stephen did leave his second wife some eleven years later with no children between them. Much of that relationship is quiet.)

Moving back to the story.

 

What I found to be a happy surprise was the treatment of Hawking’s contribution that made him famous to his peers – Hawking radiation. In the simplest sense, black holes emit radiation until they exhaust their energy and eventually evaporate.

 

(Let me give a shot at explaining that. As a particle and anti-particle come into existence at the event horizon of a black hole, one of the pair might get sucked into the gravity well. The other now exists, but only if it takes energy from the black hole itself to come into being. That tiny bit of energy, over time, over countless instances would eventually evaporate the black hole. But even this is a simple way of explaining it, but my best shot at it.)

 

I liked how they showed people being outraged by this concept, and how Hawking dealt with it. Though I am sure it didn’t go down like that, it’s vindicating to watch. For the record, this discovery by Hawking is accepted by most as a breakthrough.

 

What I found most moving was the last line of the movie, which I will not share here. It’s powerful from a human sense. Something a lot of us can relate to. It leaves me thinking, what is the most important mark we will leave in history?

 

It’s a 4.2 out of 5 for me! (I am thinking of increasing my precision in review up to two decimal places. Maybe next time.)

 

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My first reaction at the end of the film was, “What did Stephen Hawking think of it?”

 

Luckily, that answer was an easy find. He talks about it briefly on Facebook.

 

Stephen Hawking said about the film:

 

I thought Eddie Redmayne portrayed me very well in The Theory of Everything Movie. He spent time with ALS sufferers so he could be authentic. At times, I thought he was me.

 

Seeing the film has given me the opportunity to reflect on my life. Although I'm severely disabled, I have been successful in my scientific work. I travel widely and have been to Antarctica and Easter Island, down in a submarine and up on a zero gravity flight. One day I hope to go into space.

 

I've been privileged to gain some understanding of the way the universe operates through my work. But it would be an empty universe indeed without the people that I love. -SH

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Nice move, brother. (image via BBS)

 

 

Since it is rumored that season 4 was the last for Sherlock, I thought I would expand a bit more on the last episode. If you want, you can read my thoughts on the previous two episodes after this link… not let’s proceed.

 

 

---Spoilers ahead, so beware.--

 

 

The focus here is Euros. Remember her? The girl on the bus? The phony Faith? The therapist? Sherlock’s supposed sister? The east wind?

 

The next 80 excruciating minutes are spent showing us how evil she is, but never quite explain why she took a shot a Watson…with a dart. Like Raymond Chandler said, “When in doubt have a man [or woman] come through a door with a gun in his hand.”

 

But why a dart? Who cares? The writers don’t, so let’s move on.

 

A very young girl awakens on a jetliner where everyone except her is unconscious. A cell phone rings. She answers. “Hello, my name is Jim Moriarty. Welcome to the final problem.”

 

Cut to Sherlock and Watson clowning around at Mycroft’s house trying to scare him into revealing that Euros is their sister, which he admits. He also spills the beans that Euros Holmes is incarcerated at a Sherr inford, a maximum facility under his control. Since when? Since childhood, because she’s so dangerous. She can invade your mind in five minutes.

 

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(image via BBS)

 

After a great deal of boring folderol, everybody’s back at Baker Street when a little drone flies in with a powerful bomb attached. It’s motion sensitive, so one step and she blows. Yikes! Not to worry…Sherlock and Watson jump out the window and Mycroft lunges for a doorway.

 

We see Moriarty at Sherrinford where Euros puts full control on him …in only a few minutes. Mycroft has weaponized her “for England,” you see.  Flash forward and Sherlock accompanied by Watson are onboard a stolen vessel sailing toward Sherrinford with a reluctant captain, who is Mycroft in disguise. Why?  Who knows?

 

Once in the island facility, they magically get to Euros’ cell, a glass wall separates her from freedom. Sherlock confronts her, and she tries to give him “the treatment.” Their hands reach up to touch upon the glass, to make some psychic contact; but there is no glass! Foolish Sherlock, didn’t spot that did you?

 

Euros, the east wind, controls the entire facility and always has. Now she has all three of them in her clutches. They’re in her Skinner box now. Time for fun and games, which become increasingly bizarre and ludicrous with frequent calls from the girl on the plane begging Sherlock to help her, and all the while Euros is orchestrating everything from her control room.

In a test over who Sherlock should kill, John Watson or brother Mycroft, Sherlock decides to kill himself in a dramatic countdown.  Euros shoots them all with tranquilizer darts from the walls of the room. They just weren’t playing right.

 

Sherlock awakens in another room surrounded by images. He finally solves the dilemma of the little girl on the plane—it’s a ruse. He pushes the walls over… another ruse. He is back at their childhood home, Musgrave. He must solve the Musgrave Ritual for Watson’s life depends on it. You see, he is chained to the bottom of a well with a cell phone, and the water is rising.

 

In a flurry of mental gymnastics, having been told by Watson a child’s bones are in the well and through frenetic swiping and rearranging projections representing his brilliant thoughts, Sherlock solves the Musgrave Ritual. The bones, Sherlock discovers, belonged to Red Beard, not Sherlock’s dog, as he thought all his life, but his childhood friend Victor Trevor, who Euros pushed down the well. The girl on the plane was Euros begging for help from Sherlock.

 

The once supervillain goes back to Sherrinford. (Isn’t that the place she controlled in the first go-around?) Sherlock and Watson retire to Baker Street, where an anonymous CD arrives from Mary who tells John to keep solving cases with Sherlock. It's sad that the only persona better than Sherlock, a woman, has to be insane and locked up. Seems like she was a shoehorned villain.

 

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How do you like this move Mycroft? (image via BBS)

 

The SHERLOCK franchise has in Season 4 finally arrived in Samarra awaiting its appointment with Death…and so richly deserved.

 

The last episode... 2.5 out of 5

 

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

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(Sherlock and a friend's dog in Season 4 - via Hartswood Films/BBC)

 

 

SHERLOCK, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson, is an event. When a new season is released, it’s three episodes where each feels like a film. In fact, each episode is longer than some films.

 

This Sherlock Holmes is one for the modern generation. He uses modern tool, smartphones, technology and techniques to solve all those puzzling mysteries. It’s refreshing.

 

Seasons 1 and 2 were amazing. Season 3 and the special were ok. How does Season 4 hold up?

 

*** This review contains spoilers, but it doesn’t matter.***

 

 

Season 4 begins well enough. Sherlock survives a suicidal mission abroad, penance for shooting Charles Augustus Magnus, the wealthy newspaper owner and notorious blackmailer whose mind palaces contained the misdeeds of nearly everyone, including Mary Watson, which is why Sherlock chose to put a bullet in his head using John Watson’s gun, the only logical thing to do - I guess.

 

Not to fear, MI6 alters the video to exonerate Sherlock because Moriarty’s picture keeps popping up on screens all over London and he’s supposed to be dead. The game is afoot.

 

Next we hear Sherlock’s monologue regaling us with the ancient Mesopotamian tale of “Appointment in Samarra,” the poor version, not John O’Hara’s epigraph in his book by the same name.  So, it would appear the theme for Season 4 is the inevitability of death.

 

No—instead, as Sherlock proclaims: “Targets wait.” Wait for what? Why the posthumous Moriarty’s next move, of course. Meanwhile, Sherlock busies himself solving the dead Welsborough son in a car, which just happens to lead to the pursuit of “The Six Thatchers”, episode 1’s namesake and an allusion to Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Six Napoleans,” which was more fun in the 1944 film “The Pearl of Death” starring Basil Rathbone, where Giles Conover absconds with the Borgia pearl and hides it in a wet plaster bust of Napolean as he flees from the police.

 

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So, what’s inside the Thatcher busts? Well, a memory stick containing information on the last surviving member (or so it’s thought) of a four-member freelance government task force that undertook a black op in Georgia where all but one of the assassins is killed. That agent is—are you ready for this?—Mary Watson!

 

Each assassin had a memory stick with all the information about the other assassins, just to keep them from selling each other out. Turns out Mary wasn’t the only survivor, though. Before being captured, one team member (Ajay) hid his memory stick in a bust of Thatcher. Then, while needlessly tortured, he overhears that an English woman betrayed them. Mary? Ajay wants revenge.

 

A hodgepodge of globe hopping and lunacy culminates in all the players at the London Aquarium, where doddering Vivian Norbury, an underling at MI6 and “the English woman” selling secrets, pulls a gun and shoots at Sherlock. Mary leaps in front of him and takes the bullet, dying in John’s arms.  At the close of this convoluted whack storyline, Sherlock, blamed for Mary’s death by John, receives, a DVD containing a posthumous message from Mary beseeching him to “Save John Watson.” After the credits, Mary goes on to say: “Go to hell, Sherlock.”

 

Apparently this sends Sherlock back into drugs in episode 2, “The Lying Detective,” (an allusion to Conan Doyle’s “The Dying Detective”).  Watson is hallucinating about Mary, carrying on conversations with her, but he is seeing a psychiatrist who looks surprising like the girl on the bus John flirted with and texted to.

 

Enter Culverton Smith (played marvelously by Toby Jones), the villain, a self-proclaimed “cereal killer” and philanthropic entrepreneur, who confesses before close colleagues and his daughter, Faith, that he is about to kill someone, but he had them all hooked up to a medical serum that inhibits their memories, except for Faith.

 

She goes to drug-addled Sherlock with a sheet of paper with one name on it and recounts vague memories of parts of the confession. Faith looks familiar, like Watson’s psychiatrist, who looks like the girl on the bus. Sherlock and Faith go on a romp through London, tracing out swear words for Mycroft to read as he tracks Sherlock’s every move.

 

This is followed by, for lack of drama and character development, a lot of blurred shots, slow-motion madness, and unearthly opera music, culminating in a high-speed car sequence with an Aston Martin followed by choppers ending at John Watson’s home, where Mrs. Hudson pops out of the Aston-Martin begging John to save Sherlock, who is in the her car’s boot (trunk). The A-M belonged to Mrs. Hudson’s husband, a drug dealer. What?

 

Sherlock takes an ambulance ride to the very hospital owned by Culverton Smith, who takes Sherlock and Watson on a tour, ending at his favorite room…the mortuary. Sherlock keeps prodding Smith into a confession until Faith shows up, but it’s not the Faith that drug-head Holmes remembers.  Bedeviled by his addled thoughts, Holmes takes up a scalpel and moves on Smith. Watson jumps in and beats the crap out of Sherlock, taking out his anger for Mary’s death.

 

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Sherlock is admitted to Smith’s hospital. Through a secret passage, Culverton Smith sneaks into Sherlock’s room and sets about to kill him, not unlike the 1942 film “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon,” where Moriarty slowly drains Holmes’ blood.

 

Meanwhile, Watson views Mary’s video at Sherlock’s digs at 221b Baker St. and rushes back to the hospital in Mrs. Hudson’s Auston-Martin just in time to save Sherlock, who secretly taped Culverton’s confession in their pre-murder chitchat.

 

John forgives Sherlock and confesses to his hallucinated Mary that he cheated on her, but only in texts, just an emotional cheat. (Please make this ham-fisting stop).

 

At his final therapy session, John’s therapist reveals that she is Eurus, the supposed sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, and then aims a gun at him and pulls the trigger. Makes sense, right? And what happened to all that nonsense about Moriarty?

 

Episode 3, “the Final Problem,” will surely clear all this up, right? Not hardly. Instead, we are served up a mix of improbable, twisted, psycho-nonsense and drivel.

 

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The show did have some cool PR images though. (via Empire)

 

 

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Fausto De Martini created the concept art for the SARs in the film Kill Command. (via Fausto Design)

 

Kill Command is set at some unspecified point in the near future (Future UK?). It opens with a synthesizer generated “SciFi drone of doom”. You know, the kind found in science fiction films from the 70s and early 80s that signaled to audiences that they are about to be treated to some gut-churning moral ambiguity.

 

The plot revolves around a Marine fire squad sent out on a training mission to practice fighting against military robots. These robots, are called SARs which is an acronym for Study Analyze Reprogram.

 

The machines reprogram and rebuild themselves according to interactions with their enemies in order to do better the next time around. They come off as precursors to the “mimint” automated weapons found in Richard K Morgan’s awesome book, “Woken Furies”.

 

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SARs adaptable robots from Kill Command. Ready to mess you up. (via IMDB)

 

A technician called Mills from Harbinger Robotics, the company that manufactures the SARs, is sent to accompany the marines on their training. She is charged with investigating some anomalous behavior from the SARs and typically, the Marines don’t want her around. Shortly after their arrival at the island training facility, the situation starts to get weird... and deadly. No-one knows what’s going on, you won’t know what’s going on. Just watch and let the story play out. 

 

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British actor David Ajala plays the cybernetically enhanced sniper called Drifter in Kill Command. (via IMDB)

 

Despite the action, the core of the story is actually a slow burn mystery as we wait to see where loyalties lie. The movie does have some very cool elements in it, like snipers with their rifles electronically linked to implants in their eyes, man portable drones and brain augments similar to the “augs” seen in Neal Asher’s Polity series of books. We also get to see what appears to be a future revision of a V-22 Osprey troop transport.

 

Is this the best SF movie ever? Absolutely not. But it does seem to be extremely difficult to make truly bulletproof SciFi, to build a story and a world that an experienced SciFi audience can say to themselves, “yeah ok, I’ll buy into it”. I am definitely a snobby and experienced consumer of all things SciFi and I liked it. I’d say it was about a B- effort. They could have budged that grade a bit if the story had been developed a bit more. You will see what I mean after you watch it.

 

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Note the similarity in design cues with the Harbinger symbol. (via Synthetic Dreamer)

 

As a final thought, the Harbinger Robotics symbol looks a whole lot like the Weyland-Yutani logo from the Aliens series of movies. Well, at a glance it does anyway. This similarity may have been intentional to associate the fictional megacorp from this film with an evil megacorp that is already established in the psyches of SciFi audiences.

 

3.5 out of 5.

 

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This review of Passengers is loaded with spoilers.

 

If you haven’t seen the film yet, go watch it and come back.

 

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Jennifer Lawrence’s character Aurora Lane is a beautiful writer and the absolute last person you want help from if you find yourself on a broken spaceship. (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures)

 

Passengers (2016): Why it’s important not to wake up the wrong people.

 

It really is an entertaining movie. From an engineering standpoint, though, I have no idea why everybody didn’t die. It was the testament against the Too Big To Fail approach to engineering. A company thinks their designs are perfect and will never fail. “It just works.” Sound familiar?

 

That said… let’s carry on. The premise of the film begins with 5,000 colonists on their way to an uninhabited planet known as Homestead II. All of them, including the crew are in hibernation and the ship is on autopilot as the trip takes 120-years to get there, traveling at roughly half of the speed of light.

 

The ship soon runs into an asteroid field and takes multiple massive hits, but luckily the ship has a shield that prevents most of the Manhattan-sized asteroids from penetrating. Only to fail as a Volkswagen-sized rock pushes through, ultimately damaging the vessel. As a result, some of the ships systems malfunction and mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is awakened from his slumber- beginning a year-long’s worth of troubles.

 

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The Starship Avalon created by Guy Hendrix Dyas with its multiple rotating modules. (Image courtesy of Guy Hendrix Dyas)

 

The starship Avalon itself is great design- it has three long thin modules all interconnected to a spinning central hub and has everything anyone could want. There’s an entertainment section, learning center, medical bay, labs, mess hall and a bar, complete with an android bartender (Michael Sheen). What’s interesting is that the ship has systems that can be found today, albeit in rudimentary forms such as a self-healing (biomimetics) applications like those being undertaken by Arkema and an elaborate AI, which is currently being developed by a multitude of companies, but still in it’s infancy.

 

It’s the AIs job to take care of the ship, while the passengers and crew are in hibernation. It would then provide information to the populace when the awaken (where to go, what to do and their job roles) and this is where my first issue with the film begins.

 

Kudos on it waking mechanical engineer Preston, however it should have jump-started the crew first as they are the ones responsible for the ship and its passengers. Surely the programmers thought of this contingency, that accidents were bound to happen and would need a way to get the professionals, all 258 of them, up and moving when the ship is in danger.

 

This is a blatant oversight in failure analysis. Several times during the show, the computer system states there has never been a failure in “xyz,” so feel safe. Any system can and will fail at some point. (Even the HP LaserJet 4L. I’ve seen it first hand!)

 

Regardless, a mechanical engineer should be able to figure out where the damage is located and come up with an idea on how to fix it right? Wrong, after noticing he’s the only one awake it dawns on him something is amiss and goes in search of the flight crew on the bridge. Only the problem is, there’s no crew and the door to the bridge won’t open without a specialized wristband. Wristbands are worn by everyone and grant access based on job function and societal status i.e. wealth, etc. I found this part to be a startling realistic view of the future.

 

He then learns he has another problem- he was awoken 90-years ahead of schedule due to the ship’s damage and can no longer enter the stasis pod to go back to sleep.

 

Like any engineer, he heads to the bar and hits up the android bartender for a drink in an effort to gain a handle on the situation. After all, he’s has plenty of time to do so as the ship isn’t in any immediate danger just yet, except for… you know… minor damage from the asteroid collision. I try to imagine myself in his situation and find myself thinking about first: is the ship ok or is it about to explode, second: if there’s immediate danger, locate it and try to repair it and third, once the danger is dealt with or not possible to fix, try to wake the crew.

 

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How a mechanical engineer tackles the problem of a sealed door. To his credit, it does look like he tried to hack the control pad on the side of the door. Or how about cutting through the wall instead? (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures)

 

He doesn’t do any of those things, at least not at first. He does in fact find a bunch of technical manuals for a myriad of devices, systems, tools, machines, and a practical storehouse of every object imaginable. Sorry.... no.... can't fix anything.

 

The first thing he tries is to fix his stasis pod and returning to sleep but it turns out he needs special equipment not onboard to do so. It also turns out the crew is behind an impenetrable fire door and no matter what tools he uses to get in, he can’t.

 

It should be noted at this point each person in hibernation has their own job title listed on an info display on their respective pods.

 

Why’s that important?

 

Well one, you can unlock the pods and awaken the people manually by hacking into a certain electrical board and two, I would find all the engineer and software/hardware people I could and wake them up to brainstorm the issues I was undertaking at this point. However unless we found a solution to go back into hibernation they would more than likely be pissed as hell to live with me, alone in space, for the rest of their lives with dwindling resources.

 

Preston, on the other hand, decides to take it easy and seemingly abandons trying to solve the issues with ship and crew and relax a while by breaking in to the ships other areas including high-class living quarters and restaurants.

 

This is another problem I have- as the time goes by (a year), he learns some Japanese and Spanish interacting with robotic restaurant servers. If he can learn new languages, why can’t he figure out how to get into the ship’s crew quarters? Why can’t he learn to code (if he doesn’t already know) and find out a way to interface or reprogram the door security measures to let him in or use the android bartender to help him get in by acting as an intermediary to the ship’s system if he can interface directly? A kind of ‘code talker’ if you will, there is just so many things he could have tried up to this point and no effort was undertaken.

 

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Surely there are some engineers in here somewhere as they are headed to colonize a new world. (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures)

 

He slowly becomes suicidal after not having any human contact and decides to wake Aurora Lane (a writer/novelist) for companionship. Again, why not an engineer? I do have to hand it to Aurora though, as she does try to brainstorm ideas on how to fix the hibernation pods or find another way to go back into hibernation shortly after awakening. I mean, she even offers to try to help to come up with a way to build a completely new platform after learning about the tools and hardware in storage!

 

Preston shoots her ideas down claiming he has tried everything to fix all the issues, which made me angry, as there are no bad ideas, even those suggesting trying the same solution twice. “It’s impossible” is the cry of lasiness.

 

It’s at this point I was ready to throw Preston out of an airlock thinking he should have just cashed it in when he was suicidal. The amount of tools and materials, an extensive online knowledge base and time should have worked in the character’s favor; they should have been able to come up with a solution to fix at least some of the problems on the ship with all the equipment they had on hand. It made me think of the Apollo 13 crew and the solutions they and the NASA team had to come up with using nothing but a junk drawer of items and some duct tape.

 

Think of the film, the Martian, and the stoic calm way problems were dealt with in succession.

 

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Preston modded a cleaning robot, outfitting it with a camera and control system but couldn’t figure out a way to get through a door. (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures)

 

The final nail in the coffin for me that made me want to pilot the ship into the nearest sun, was the fact that Preston spent time fabricating trinkets for Aurora. First an Empire State building and later  modded a cleaning robot with a camera and control system to bring a note to her, asking for a date. He could do these things but not figure out a way into the crew compartment? I’m not going to go into detail with the rest of the movie, but suffice it to say, they only address and try and fix problems when it becomes 100% life threatening. The classic cliché of the last second left to go!

 

Yes, I know it’s just a movie, for entertainment, and it was entertaining to some extent. But, it centered on a main character who was a mechanical engineer. He had the tools, the materials, the knowhow and he blew it. All the while he had the skills to fix most anything on the ship, he wouldn’t or didn’t try hard enough in my book- just like he couldn’t fix this movie.  

 

Best parts:

- Ship design, function, and the premise of traveling to a new world for colonization.

- Overall acting was believable, despite a weak story.

- Mechanical engineer Preston before failing at life and after he redeems himself.

- The authenticity of the technology onboard, not too far off from what we could have in a near future.

- Arthur, the bartender.

- Aurora’s ‘can-do’ attitude of looking to solve or learn to solve the myriad of problems afflicting the ship.

- Beautiful sets and backgrounds

- The end credits.

 

Iffy parts:

- No realistic approach to utilizing tools and materials to solve problems.

- Preston’s inability to work those problems on a serious level, whiny/suicidal attitude.

- Poor use of the concept of “engineering.” Bested by other films in a similar category, like ‘The Martian.’

- Aurora’s reluctance to chuck Preston out of an airlock.

 

I am giving this 2.7 out of 5. It’s Ok, but the potential is there to be so much better... as frustrating as the film itself.

Oh... lookie here... Passengers flopped.

 

http://twitter.com/Cabe_Atwell

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Concept art of a key scene in Spectral (via conceptworld)

 

Spectral is a 93-minute feature length Netflix Original movie, and part of their aggressively expanding output of self-produced content. Starring actor James Badge Dale as DARPA engineer/scientist, Dr. Mark Clyne.

 

As an engineer myself, I can’t help but get a kick out of an engineer protagonist. The me of my childhood would have loved this for the action and the “science”. Or at least what was passed off as science.

 

Sometime in the near future, a group of US Special Forces on some unspecified assignment in Moldova is seeing ghostly, “spectral,” shapes with their new helmet mounted enhanced vision equipment. When it appears that that one of these anomalies may have killed one of the soldiers, help is demanded. The help comes in the form of Dr. Clyne who is called out on location for a bit of field service. After his arrival, the situation rapidly deteriorates and all eyes turn to Clyne for answers.

 

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The acting is perfectly serviceable. At no time did I find myself cringing from woodenly delivered lines or from an over the top, emotionally laden speech, so common whenever soldiers of any sort are portrayed in film. It is just a really fun SciFi film that has a level production value that I wish could be seen in a lot of other small budget SciFi films. We also get to see some aircraft and robots that take design cues from the dropship in Aliens and the Tachikoma multilegged robots from Ghost in the Shell.

 

Spectral isn’t perfect by any stretch though. It leans pretty heavily against quite a few worn-out film tropes. For starters, the soldiers are initially mistrustful and hostile toward the egghead. We are also treated to a MacGyver/A-Team style equipment building montage. During the montage, a glue gun being shoved into the workings of an anti-spectral rifle is accompanied by the sound of a cordless screwdriver.

 

Tired old tropes and lazy sound effects aside, the film is still very enjoyable. Any engineers or engineering types, you may not like it if you watch with the same critical eye reserved for completing DFMEA’s or design reviews. However, if you can reign in your professional critique of all things technological, then just lay back, and enjoy it. A brain-buster it is not. 

 

A big 3 out of 5.

 

http://twitter.com/Cabe_Atwell