not a beautiful or unique snowflake (nothings) wrote,
not a beautiful or unique snowflake

movie log part 1

Some month-old netflix rentals I forgot to update about, so these reports may not be too well remembered.

  • A Fistful of Dollars: 2
  • For a Few Dollars More: 0
  • Minority Report: 0

ratings from -4 to 4

A Fistful of Dollars

Clint Eastwood plays two mexican crime "families" against each other. An (uncredited) adaptation of Kurosawa's Yojimbo, with a lot of the plot and setup taken note for note. There are some improvements: Eastwood getting the coffin count wrong, the added action of the barrel trap, the better payoff of the confrontation between pistol and rifle. (The idea in Yojimbo of the confrontation between sword and pistol is more compelling, but the outcome isn't that exciting, in part because Kurosawa appeared to be mocking heroism whereas Leone is celebrating it.) Memorable, well-woven, well-executed; well worth a 2 on my scale, even if most of that is from the Yojimbo-ripoffs.

For a Few Dollars More

Eastwood's character is now a bounty hunter, who joins forces with Lee Van Cleef to capture a big bad outlaw. Far and away a less compelling story, much more of a rote, we're only in it for the money feel, with a focus on action and uncompelling double-crosses. Rating: 0

Minority Report

Severe plot spoilers several paragraphs down...

Tom Cruise works for precrime, stopping potential murderers before they can even execute. So, sometimes I watch a movie and think it's ok, and on further reflection I realize there's a problem. How do you judge a movie like that? I mean, it was entertaining at the time. The thing is, it's so lazy--surely the writer could have written something without the big gaping hole, and delivered all the same action and excitement.

That's not as much of a problem for me here because I was getting itchy about some of it earlier. So much of the tech strives for coolness without being realistic: the "conducting" UI isn't something you'd ever use because it would be way too tiring (the reason people don't use touchscreens much either)--and WTF were they doing still using sneakernet to transfer data between two adjacent screens?!?!?!; the multi-mode cars just struck me as totally implausible that anyone would ever create them.

But as to the plot hole problem, the thing is, sometimes movies have plot holes you can drive a truck through; but once in a while a movie has a plot hole you could drive the startship enterprise through. This movie has a plot hole you could drive the Milky Way galaxy through.

I'm not talking about the "why did he still have access to his agency" thing most people complain about--yes, that's dumb, but on the other hand it doesn't wreck the whole story--you could replace it with some other way of breaking into the agency and the whole movie would still work. The overall plot doesn't hinge on this; it's just a detail.

It gets closer to it if you think about the titular "minority report". There was no minority report, we discover, for the murder Cruise is supposed to commit; presumably, it refers to the minority report which Cruise discovers about the drowned woman. Eventually, we discover that Cruise learned too much about something he shouldn't have, and gets set up. What too much did he learn? Namely that there are minority reports--that the system isn't as perfect as it seems. Is that enough to kill him? No, actually, it's because he just randomly happened to be looking into this nearly-drowned woman who turns out to be really important, and somebody got an itchy trigger finger and didn't want to risk further investigation, despite the fact that this actually has nothing to do with the minority report--eventually it's explained to us this whole setup of hiding the real murder in the "echoes" (the movie called them somethikng more, "pre-echoes"? "post-echoes"?) from the attempted murder, but that has, as far as we're told, nothing at all to do with minority reports, which are just disagreements about what's going to happen. (The implication is that perhaps the whole trick was seen through by the minority report, but we're given no real info about what causes minority reports--the movie hammers on the echoes bit instead.)

But like I said, that just gets closer to the giant sucking chest-wound of a plot hole, it doesn't actually get to it. No, what this movie suffers from is from cleverly constructing events to make neat things happen without ever once thinking about whether the villain's master plan makes any sense--or is even a plan. You can see a little of this sloppiness in the original murder--it only works if it turns out that the images they see of the crime are something the villain can reproduce--the mask, the location, the events--why would, the second time around, the murdered woman run to the same place she'd been predicted to run the first time? (Why would precrime just say 'oh, we got the triggerman, we don't care if he was working for someone else'?) But, ok, we can give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it sort of makes sense.

What doesn't make sense is the villain's plan during the time frame of this movie. Thomas AndersonJohn Anderton uncovers something he shouldn't have, so the villain, who can't just kill him, decides to set him up. He gives a guy money to pretend to be the man who abducted John's son, years ago, and puts him in a hotel room. Then, to make sure John will meet him and kill him, he... does nothing. Because the movie logic demands that John will meet him and at least almost kill him, the precogs sniff this out, and report the murder-to-be. This sets into course a chain of events, and because the precogs must be basically right, John will just randomly happen to show up outside the building where the guy is at roughly the right time.

Now, you could argue that this is just a cool paradox--the precogs reporting Anderton's murderousness sets the ball rolling (ha ha) and leads inevitably to the confrontation, just like they said it would--but there's no time travel involved here, and the world would have been just as perfectly consistent if the precogs had seen nothing, and Anderton had never encountered the guy pretending to be his son's abductor. There's no reason to pick the more complicated, more erratic, more coincidence-prone world over the simpler world. Of course, if events hadn't gone the way they had in the movie, presumably the villain would have set Anderton up to meet the guy somehow, some way, and perhaps the moment he had set it up, the precogs would have caught it. And perhaps the moment he formed the plan to make them meet somehow, the precogs caught it. So perhaps he just has to think it--but we have to see it or hear about it or something, otherwise it's just dumb and empty. It's not that you couldn't make it work--it's that the filmmakers didn't even try, and as far as I can see, didn't even think it through.

You can see this in a smaller form in the escape through the mall; the precog sees a future, but a future predicated on her own actions and on Anderton's decisions. She knows it's going to be raining, so she tells him to get an umbrella. Ok, that's fine. (But it's actually more significant than that, in a not-so-ok way.) Then she knows that they need to wait, and the balloon man will come into place, and if they do, they'll be hidden. Well, I can see her picturing where the baddies will be, and where the balloon guy will be, but they impression you get is that she sees all the events playing out as they did--but events playing out as they did were predicated on her choosing to do so.

The clearest example of this is giving money to the beggar--Anderton runs past, but she tells him to give the beggar money. He drops the money, the beggar crawls to it and gets in the way of the pursuit. Ok, so what did she see in her precog? Anderton dropping the money... but Anderton only did it because she told her to. Did she see alternate futures (free from her influence) and in one of those he dropped the money, and she saw the use of it? Or did she see a future in which she told him to drop the money and he dutifully obeyed? The idea of precog'ing one's own choices seems incredibly strange and paradox-prone.

Severe plot spoilers for Minority Report above

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