Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

Science Nerds will Love ‘Interstellar’

posted by jtotey
Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) investigates a possible new home in 'Interstellar." (Paramount Pictures)

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) investigates a possible new home in ‘Interstellar.” (Paramount Pictures)

Christopher Nolan’s latest is one of those movies that makes me feel like I’m missing something. It’s Christopher Nolan! You know, the guy who wrote and directed the Dark Knight Trilogy and the mind-bending Inception! You have to love it! The trouble is; I didn’t. That might have something to do with the fact that I am not a science nerd, but I think that there is more to it.

Interstellar is based on the scientific theories and script treatment of theoretical physicist, Kip Thorne. Press materials suggest that the movie “will depict a heroic voyage to the farthest borders of our scientific understanding.” That is a very true statement. This is a very deep movie, but not necessarily an enjoyable one. At least not all the way through.

The movie is set in the future where space travel in debunked in high school textbooks and crops are dying. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former astronaut-turned-farmer living with his father (John Lithgow) and two kids. Tom, his oldest, is set to continue the family farming tradition while the hard-headed Murphy has her sights on bigger things.

Cooper becomes convinced that man was born on earth but not designed to die on earth. In an elaborate set up, Cooper finds himself involved in an underground space program that has grandiose ideas about moving the humans on earth to a new home in the stars. It is headed by Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and his daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway). They want to send him into space to see if earth’s humans can sustain living in a variety of planets. However, the catch is that space travel may prevent Cooper from returning home until many years later causing him to lose many years with his kids. Still, he doesn’t hesitate to volunteer, much to the anger of Murphy.

As expected, halfway through the film Murphy grows up to become Jessica Chastain. She is still angry that her dad left and yet is hopeful that she will one day see her dad again. Meanwhile, while in space, Cooper and company have deep scientific conversations. These are very “talky” scenes with some of McConaughey’s dialogue sounding like it came from his recent car commercials.

Filmed with IMAX, the photography is pretty impressive, but the movie has its flaws. Many of the characters have conversations where you only understand about half of what they are saying. Then there are the odd action and/or dramatic scenes. Tension builds during these scenes. You know this because the music builds and gets louder, but you don’t understand why.

As the movie goes on, it becomes incomprehensible with theories about gravity and love. Some audiences are completely at home with this time of storytelling, for others, like me, it just feels weird. I know that I am “supposed” to love it, but I don’t. You know that there is a deeper meaning, but you don’t know what it is. The storyline is very uneven and you leave the theatre feeling unsatisfied but glad that it’s over. I’m not sure that was the effect that Nolan was going for.

Wallenda’s Walk: A Walk of Faith or Testing God

posted by jtotey
Nik Wallenda will attempt to tightrope walk over Chicago blindfolded at it will all be recorded live on the Discovery Channel. (Photo: Discovery Channel)

Nik Wallenda will attempt to tightrope walk over Chicago blindfolded at it will all be recorded live on the Discovery Channel. (Photo: Discovery Channel)

Born a seventh –generation member of circus act, The Flying Walledas, Nik Wallenda made headline two years ago when he became the first person to walk a tightrope over Niagara Falls. The event was broadcast live on the Discovery channel. Today, he will attempt to tightrope walk over Chicago. Blindfolded.

Beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time (4:00 p.m. Pacific), “Skyscraper Live with Nik Wallenda” will air in more than 220 countries on the Discovery Channel. The event will be hosted by Willie Geist, Natalie Morales (both from NBC’s “TODAY” show) and Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel.

“I’m always pushing myself both physically and emotionally. I hope to inspire people around the world and show that the impossible is not so impossible if you set your mind to it,” said the 35-year-old Wallenda in a recent press release.  “This has been a dream of mine and something that I’ve been practicing for awhile.” One would hope so.

For the first part of the tightrope crossing, Wallenda will walk uphill rising to a 15-degree angle – from the Marina City’s west tower to the Leo Burnett Building at more than 50 stories high above the Chicago River.  Not only will this be the highest skyscraper walk in the history of the Flying Wallenda family, it will be the first time that he has ever attempted it at such a steep angle. As if that were not enough, he will then continue to walk blindfolded while dozens of cameras and microphones capturing every step and every phrase he utters.

So, is Wallenda crazy for doing this? Is his a journey a walk of faith or is he testing God? “I believe that God has given me a unique talent and it’s up to me on how I’m going to use that talent, how I’m going to train for that talent and how I am going to prepare for that talent,” Wallenda says in a promotional commercial for the event. “In no way do I believe that He’s magically holding me on or that there’s angels holding me up there. Not at all.” So then, why do it? “I’m incredibly excited to show the world what you can do if you put your mind to it, pursue your dreams and never give up.”

Wallenda’s journey is more like a partnership with God rather than testing his faith. He views his occupation as just another one of life’s challenges that God will help get you through if you let Him. “My faith plays an important role in my life whether it be a challenge with one of my kids being sick or whether it be a challenge of losing a family member of whether it be walking across a wire. They are all challenges. It was the way I was raised was to rely on my faith no matter what challenge I was going through. I believe that He helps keep me calm, cool and collected to be able to stay confident, to make it up this wire and to make it across to the other side.”

Wallenda is also very aware of what he is attempting to do and the ultimate risk involved. Some might call him over-confident or cocky, but he seems to have a more grounded view of his mortality. “This walk will be challenge. They all are. Every walk that I do is a challenge and every walk I am facing death. I believe that it is very important to know where you’re going when you die whether I get killed in a car accident on the way to the airport, on an airplane crash on the way home or walking the wire. It doesn’t matter. It’s important that you know that you can have that confidence…that trust…that faith about where you’re going to go.”

Today, whether he succeeds or fails, he has already made a statement in a way none of us ever could. May his walk be an inspiration to people around the world. Preach it brother.

ABC’s ‘Fright Fight’ is Actually Very Interesting

posted by jtotey
Michael Moloney and Sabrina Soto serve as judges on ABC's "Great Fright Fight" (ABC/Kelsey McNeal)

Michael Moloney and Sabrina Soto serve as judges on ABC’s “Great Fright Fight” (ABC/Kelsey McNeal)

Last winter’s limited series The Great Christmas Light Fight was such a hit, ABC has not only decided to bring the show back this year as well, but to also offer a Halloween special as well. The Great Halloween Fright Fight, a one hour special airing tonight at 8:00 p.m., will feature six different families that take the holiday way too seriously.

Like Linus in the pumpkin patch, each family waits to see if their display will be the most sincere. Michael Moloney and Sabrina Soto, from Extreme Makeover Home Edition fame are the Judges looking for the best display that encompasses three things: great overall design, creativity and “awesome Halloween spirit” whatever that is. The winning family wins a $50,000 prize – which can go to purchase a lot more props – and the coveted Greatest Halloween Haunter Award.

Whether you are a fan or not of Halloween, the special is actually very interesting as it explores each of the six displays and gives information on how they did each technique and special effect. Many are surprisingly low-tech. The special also gives a little insight on the people who pour the heart and ahem, soul, into their work. Just like the crazy Christmas decorators, these guys are dedicated. One family even forgoes their vacation in favor of creating these sets. What might surprise you is how plain their own houses are compared to their displays.

For the record, none of the families featured appear to be worshipping anything that they create. It’s all in fun. However, there is a young girl who seems to revel a little too much in the blood, guts and gore featured in her family’s display. It is the most gruesome of the six. The others are a lot “tamer” in comparison.

The six displays competing in tonight’s special are:

“Hollywood Haunter” – Glendale, CA
Husband and wife duo, Chris and Jeana, are professional set decorators who use their Hollywood know-how to construct an entirely new haunted facade in front of their house every Halloween.

“Haunted Overload” – Lee, NH
Eric and his wife Janice built a haunt on a sprawling wooded farm. Using mainly organic materials, giant props are crafted up to four stories high.

“Terror at Tee Lake” – Lewiston, MI
On a lakeside cabin resort, Dave and Andy create a handmade drive-thru haunt spanning their 4 acre property with a variety of unique displays from a Day of The Dead area to a carnival zone with clowns.

“The Pirate Ship” – Celebration, FL
Creators Neil and Julie construct a life size pirate ship inhabited by pillaging pirate skeletons that completely covers their house.

“Mitchell’s Spider Invasion” – Pensacola, FL
Shawn and Lynne got married on Halloween and love creating DIY home haunts from scratch every year. This Halloween, the couple is taking arachnophobia to a whole new level as giant mutant spiders invade their home.

“Haunt for the Hungry” – Wharton, NJ
Horror movie buffs Anthony and Toby, along with their 12 year old daughter Ava, make their gory backyard maze feel frighteningly real.

‘Stonehearst Asylum’ is an Example of Old Fashioned Storytelling

posted by jtotey
Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley) "treats" Dr. Newgate (Jim Sturgess) in "Stoneheart Asylum." (Millennium Entertainment)

Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley) “treats” Dr. Newgate (Jim Sturgess) in “Stoneheart Asylum.” (Millennium Entertainment)

With a title like Stonehearst Asylum and the spooky-looking poster promoting it, you might be inclined to think that this movie would be another horror film out just in time for Halloween, but you would be wrong. You won’t find any creepy dead girls climbing out of wells to steal your soul or people who can walk through metal bars. Mostly. Stonehearst is actually a thriller or adventure story with some uncomfortable undertones.

The movie is loosely based on the short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” by Edgar Allan Poe, which is considered a dark comedy. While this version is not a comedy, it isn’t a horror film either, but is fitting for the season.

The story opens on Christmas Eve in 1899. Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) has just arrived at Stonehearst Mental Asylum to begin an apprenticeship with Dr. Lamb (Ben Kingsley). Edward is lead around the facility and meets different staff members and some of the patients including Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a beautiful woman who has an aversion to intimacy. We’re not talking about someone who becomes uncomfortable when someone invades her personal space. No, she becomes almost violent whenever someone touches her.

Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale) plays the piano to calm the other patients and herself.

Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale) plays the piano to calm the other patients and herself.

Edward learns that Dr. Lamb’s methods are not the same as traditional therapy and the older “medieval” practices by Dr. Salt (Michael Caine) had only been abandoned a short time earlier. Patients now are allowed to roam about the facility unmediated. Doctors and nurses care for the patients by allowing them to act out their odd actions as long as they don’t harm themselves or others. Already, you know that the good doctor is in trouble and Edward senses that not everything is on the up and up. However, even with Eliza telling Edward that he doesn’t “belong” there, he stubbornly stays and seeks to find the truth.

Stonehearst differs from the Poe story in many ways, but the basic theme and setting is the same and actually improves the plot. While some will disagree, this film is a good example of good story-telling. It’s not complicated. What appears to be black and white at first is actually a lot grayer in color. The story will make you wonder who the “good” guys are and who the “bad” are and are the methods used to cure the insane worse than the diagnosis? Which is worse – to be sane and miserable or insane and happy? The movie even features a twist in the end for good measure.

All of the actors are especially good in their roles, but this is Ben Kingsley’s movie. Much like his role in the Ironman 3 movie, he chews up every scene that he is in. The film does have a few “cheesy” moments of dialogue between Edward and Eliza, but that can be easily overlooked as it doesn’t ruin the story.

Stonehearst is an old-fashioned tale where you will wonder how the hero will save the day. It is rated PG-13 for disturbing and violent images, sexual content and language, but those are fairly minor and don’t interrupt the story. Some viewers will no doubt be disappointed with the picture expecting it to be a lot scarier than it is. Just run with it. You’ll enjoy it a lot more if you do.

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