Movie Review: I AM LEGEND
Standing in the backyard of my new place looking over my back wall past the tops of other homes beyond, I can see in the distance the very top of the rear of the nearby mall where I now go two or three times a week to see almost first run movies at it’s third floor quadplex. Ten minutes from the time I back the car out of my gate I’m munching popcorn and looking up at one of the wide silver screens.
Movies, after all, are still the best place to go to forget what troubles you for a couple hours; and even with the miserable performance of the dollar against the peso it costs just $2.20 to see a flick here in Angeles City. Theater popcorn and drinks are even less compared to the US. A large popcorn costs just under a buck and the same for a large drink. So even though the list is smaller than it once was, there are still some things that remain cheaper compared to the good ‘ol US of A where a large buttered popcorn and a drink costs a small fortune in most theater complexes.
Okay, so that’s a warning. Movies are about to be my thing, and indeed, because I practically live on top of the theater, they already are. Ready or not, I’m going to talk about one now. But here’s another warning if you haven’t seen the flick yet, for I will give away the plot; so, at the beginning of each review I will provide a “safe” PP rating (PhilippinesPhil rating), before following it up with a more in-depth review:
I Am Legend
“I Am Legend” is a fun ride. Go see it. I’ve loved the science fiction end-of-the-world genre since I was a kid and that’s what this is. Will Smith must be a fan of science fantasy as well, considering all the movies of that type he’s been in such as “The Men In Black” series, “I Am Robot,” “Independence Day,” and now, “I Am Legend.”
From the moment it started I was into the story. Will Smith has grown into his looks over the years and in this movie he credibly portrays a Lt. Colonel U.S. Army medical doctor in his mid 40s and with him now pushing 40 for real, he easily pulls it off.
To be truly appreciated for the thriller it is, I Am Legend must be seen in a theatre with a good sound system, or at home with the surround sound turned up full blast. The monster mutant humans are THE most convincingly frightening I’ve ever seen and the terrifying noises they make won’t come off nearly as scary on regular TV speakers.
Stop here if you haven’t seen “I Am Legend” yet and plan to.
Lately, I’ve noticed that I tend to see the world in shades of conservative versus progressive. For instance, coming out of Hollywood I’m always surprised when a movie comes out with a premise that seems to back a traditionally conservative viewpoint, such as being careful about genetic tampering. In this film, geneticists in the not too distant future come up with a cure for cancer that involves meddling with human DNA. It all goes haywire and the cure turns into a viral curse. Something like 75% of the world’s population dies outright. A few are completely immune while the rest survive as these horrible daylight-intolerant barely-human mutants. These monsters are mindlessly enraged creatures that seek to feed on the few people not affected by the man-made virus.
Will Smith’s character, Colonel Robert Neville, is the only normal human survivor in all of New York City where he was stationed with the army as a viral research scientist before the whole world genetically imploded. When the movie starts we find him driving a sports car crazily through the overgrown deserted streets of Manhattan while trying to run down and shoot a buck in a herd of deer, all of which are desperately evading his best pursuit efforts. A German Shepherd rides shotgun and accompanies Will everywhere he goes. From the beginning I knew that dog was doomed and I was right.
Through flashbacks we learn how it all went wrong with the virus, as well as how he loses his wife and little girl at the onset of the crisis. The colonel just happens to be in medical research, specializing in virology no less, and also happens to be immune to THE virus. Because of who he is, he gets a heads up call from an army pal that all of NYC is about to be locked down in a desperate attempt to isolate the sickness. It gets crazy and everyone tries to leave at once. Will, Robert Neville, uses his rank and authority to get his wife and girl on a helicopter heading out of town. He tells her he must stay behind and intends to “fix it,” and tearfully kisses them goodbye. As they take off, fighter planes unexpectedly begin destroying the bridges. In the confusion of the explosions he watches horrified as the helo containing his family crashes into another helicopter.
I was struck by Neville’s devotion to duty. Even after losing his family he doesn’t stop trying to accomplish his mission. It’s no wonder to me that the screen writers made him a military man; otherwise, the average non-veteran civilian moviegoer would probably just consider him an obsessed crackpot. In reality, the colonel’s selflessness is exactly how I would expect a “true believer” in uniform to feel and act. Putting mission ahead of family and self is the norm for the U.S. military and this movie exactly depicts how it works for us. It’s what makes us different, superior even.
The genetically damaged human monsters are amazingly scary. To give you an idea on how they operate, Smith’s character refers to a group of them as a hive. Their ugly hairless heads are elongated to make the jaws open wider, and boy oh boy, when they open, all you see are these big sharp gnarly teeth. Unable to tolerate any sunlight they come out only at night. They are all muscled up and naked, their skin a mottled white and gray.
Doctor Neville has figured out an ingenious Rube Goldberg method to capture these monstrosities so he can experiment on them. Once caught, he uses his own immune blood on them and in countless experiments over the years has tried to infuse it into the mutated monsters to effect a cure, but they always die.
Everyday at high noon the good doctor waits at a pier for anyone not mutated to meet him there. He uses a shortwave radio to broadcast that he will be there at the pier daily. Few things in a movie are put in without reason, so I made a mental note.
There is a flaw in the story, and it concerns these mutated humans. These things appear to be madly intent on killing, yet one of these mad-crazy creatures figures out a way to set a trap to ensnare Smith exactly as he has done to them in the past. It just doesn’t seem likely. The viewer is led to believe that this one extra intelligent male mutant is the mate of a female captured earlier by Dr. Neville. This female lies strapped to a table in his lab as he seeks to treat and cure her. Keep this in mind.
Neville is barely able to free himself from the snare set by the mutants and is painfully wounded in the leg during the hours long escape. He gets away just as the last of the sun’s rays are about to wink out. As they do, mutant dogs attack him and that’s when his German Shephard sacrifices herself to save him. He kills all the monster canines, but his brave dog is mangled. Smith gets her back to his lab and hopefully injects her with his best immunity serum, but lying in his lap on the floor she begins to snarl and snap in the manner of the mutant. The camera pans up to Smith’s grim face as he chokes to death with his bare hands his beloved pet, the last vestige of his earlier life.
Neville is heartbroken at her loss. He’s finally giving up on continuing his bleak lonely existence. He goes on a nighttime suicidal rampage in an SUV screaming and yelling as he mows down attacking shrieking mutants by the dozen with his madly careening vehicle. Finally, the “smart mutant” crashes a light pole down into his truck which turns upside down. All appears hopeless as the bald nasty leader mutant makes that eerie shriek just inches from Robert’s face. The creature seems about to bite when a bright light flashes hot and the scene ends in darkness.
It’s the next day. He wakes up in his own bed to find that his leg, wounded two days earlier, is now professionally sutured and bandaged. He hops on it painfully and finds a woman and a boy in his kitchen. It freaks him out. He no longer knows how to act around normal people. She speaks with a French accent telling him that they and two or three others had arrived on a hospital ship, but only she and the boy survived the journey. She tells him she heard his broadcast and had waited at the pier for him. Somehow this one small woman was able to use high powered lights to scare off the mutants long enough to rescue him in the nick of time. Yeah right! No wonder they didn’t show the actual rescue. how could they?
She goes on to expalin that her plan is to take the boy to a safe village that’s rumored to exist someplace in Connecticut. Neville overreacts. He throws his food off the table and yells that there is no village. "Everyone is dead!" he screams at his stunned visitors.
It gets dark, always a forbidding time in this movie. In the distance a mutant shrieks, then another, and then a lot of them, and they appear to be getting closer. Unknowingly, she hadn’t rescued him at all, but had unwittingly led the creatures right to his laboratory and home fortress. Here we go again with the unlikelihood of it all. The mutants don’t seem to display even a trace of intelligence, yet they appear to have purposely let Neville and company escape the night before so as to lead the way back to the captured female mutant? Oh well, I suppose that’s why they call it fiction.
But that’s okay, because then comes a really cool part—Neville knows that once these uni-track minded creatures want inside, they will keep coming till they get in, even though he lives in a veritable fortress. Long prepared for the possibility of being discovered, he tells the woman and boy to take cover before setting off a massive ring of hidden explosives outside his building. Hundreds of the things are destroyed in the awesome Hollywood detonation, but again, not the smart one. How did it know to wait? After the explosion, hundreds more of the monsters arrive and batter their way unstoppably into the building.
Robert, the woman and the boy make a final retreat down into his fortified lab. Even behind huge plates of bullet proof acrylic glass he soon realizes that it won’t long hold up against the crazily attacking mutant leader. The lovesick fiend continually throws itself bodily against the thick supposedly impenetrable glass, especially once spotting his mutant woman lying strapped inside to a table.
Then, Neville notices that the mutant female is no longer looking so mutated. She’s still bald, but her skin and her breathing have normalized. It’s a miracle, she’s cured! Robert tries to yell some reason at the enraged male still crazily battering full-bodied against the thick glass panels, but it’s no use. The acrylic starts to crack. Time is short.
Robert grabs a vial of the serum that had cured the female and hands it to the French chick. He puts her and the kid into a large safe, telling her to take the precious serum to the mythical camp of normal humans that she is so convinced actually exists. Then, saying goodbye, he closes the heavy metal doors on them.
Turning away he grabs a hand grenade stashed in the back of a drawer and waits for the glass to finally give way. As it shatters he charges the furious mutant and the scene ends in another explosion.
The movie ends with the boy and the woman arriving at the gates of the safe compound out in the middle of Connecticut or New Hampshire somewhere. She hands the all important vial over and the movie fades to black with a pull away shot of the village folk coming out to see the new arrivals.
It’s a good story and a well shot film; although when I mentioned in an email to my son in Arkansas that I had seen it and liked it, he agreed that it wa watchable. His only complaint: the ending seems rushed. He’s right. It’s as if the editor realized the film was getting close to the 90 minute mark and said, “Uh oh, we got to wrap this thing up!”
As for me, I definitely got my $2 worth. In fact I would easily pay 10 bucks to see it...
Labels: movie review
Bicycle Memories, Part 10; Yanking and Banking
For a time, my bike trail just about became my entire life (a bug's life?
). If I had a spare couple of hours I was out on it, either extending the course or just riding on it. My obsession was to finish it and make it perfect, and by the end of April ‘92, as far as I was concerned, it very nearly was.
One of the most interesting terrain features that made my single-track trail near “perfect” lay behind the base lake shoppette area. That was where a stream wound its way toward its drainage point into the base lake. This was the same water course that originated several hundred meters back into the woods at the artesian well part of the farmstead ruins I describe in Part 8
Putting to good use that stream bed and its steep 4 to 5 foot high clay banks, I designed the track to follow the creek and crisscross it at six points. In some places the banks were almost sheer, forcing a rider to be absolutely committed in order to negotiate a successful traverse. A half-hearted attempt normally resulted in wet feet or a thorough soaking when bike and rider rolled back or crashed down into the water.
During the creek bed build I still wasn’t entirely sure what a mountain bike could do in terms of riding potential. I sort of learned about mechanical capability, and more importantly, my own abilities as a rider, as I went along. It was trial by fire. Still, I didn’t want to install a technical area that was virtually impossible to navigate, but at several of the crossings and jumps I went ahead and set up what I at first considered near unfeasible situations just the same. I don’t know what got into me, but I figured too easy was too lame.
The funny thing is, no matter how difficult each creek crossing seemed at first, within a few attempts I’d figure it out. All I needed was just one success, even if I managed it by accident, or should I say, over the course of several accidents; but once I did it once, I had it figured from there. Usually it was a question of more speed, or just a matter of pulling up on the handlebars and shifting my weight, or all of the above. Every specific challenge area required a different sequence of riding events; some happening so quickly that they were more simultaneous than sequential.
Two of the stream crossings are better described as jumps. As I approached the bank of each I stood up to speed up and mentally screamed, “Charge!” There were various sized rocks down in the water and they shifted to new positions every time I rolled across and over them. Charging off the 4-foot stream bank I pulled the front wheel up and shifted all my weight over the back wheel. In my mind I visualized the front wheel as weightless, for even a moment’s lack of concentration could cause it to catch a rock or refuse to properly bounce up and over a hidden obstacle. If the front wheel stopped that meant going over the handlebars—not a good thing since it almost always hurt to do that. From experience, it wasn’t the flight that hurt, it was the landing. And yes, I managed to do that more than a few times.
Surviving the excitement of launching off a muddy bank and a splash landing into the middle of a foot-deep stream was only half the battle. After the rolling splashdown into the water it was crucial that all speed be maintained, not only to keep the bicycle rolling over the rocks and through the muck, but momentum was absolutely necessary to pop back up the opposite bank. Getting up the far bank was actually the hardest part of a crossing; it wouldn’t normally cause injury to screw it up, but that’s usually where failure lurked. And for me, success vs. failure meant keeping both feet in the pedal stirrups and off the ground, as even a momentary ground touch was forbidden. The way I saw it, if one foot touched the ground—failure! Besides, a foot off a pedal meant there was no pedaling going on, and that meant there was no steam to crank the back wheel up and over the far bank.
Here’s a test for folks who have never tried to ride a single-track off-road trail on a mountain bike. Take a guess as to which part of the body is under the most strain while riding a mountain bike on a rough-and-wild single-track trail. So, what’s your guess—the legs right? Well they ARE probably the first thing that comes to mind to someone not familiar with the sport. Of course, the legs are certainly very involved, notably the fore thighs and calf muscles, but on my puny body, it was the hands and forearms that took the brunt of such rides.
Compared to riding MBs, street riding requires very little hand and forearm power; I mean, you can even let them dangle over the handlebars on long smooth stretches of asphalt. Not so with technical off-road riding where hands, wrists and forearms never stop squeezing and yanking metal. On a steep rocky downhill stretch the hands are kept in a virtual death grip or risk having the handlebars wrench free, the result being a messy pileup. Uphills are just as exacting on the hands, requiring their extreme use as the rider pulls roughly against the handlebars while seeking leverage for each pumping thigh. And finally, on a single-track like mine, where trees, limbs, and boulders passed just scant inches on either side of the handgrips, the hands and forearms never stopped violently yanking and banking, all while smacking gear levers and squeezing brake handles.
There were evenings after long rides where overused muscles in my forearms would for hours involuntarily spasm, flutter and jerk. And once my course was finished and I rode it almost everyday for hours at a time the muscle shudders and contractions became permanent. I suffered with them even years after I stopped the exertion of single-track riding. Strange to think that it is the hands and forearms that suffer the most while doing such a thing that would cause most to think of the legs first. Then again, maybe I should qualify that assertion, as perhaps applying only to wimpy old me. I say that because I am not the typical athletic type—never have been, since I wasn’t lucky enough to be born with a robust frame or good strength.
The weird thing about me is that I was an athlete with the bone structure of a slight teenage girl. With thin ankles and wrists, I learned that no amount of strength training can do much about that deficiency. I did as much as I could to strengthen tendons and muscles, but there’s only so much one can do. In fact, all my successes in athletics, and I’ve had quite a few over the years, were more due to heart and will than to physiology. Well, to God's credit I was also blessed with a fair amount of natural timing and good hand eye coordination. I also had good muscle memory capacity. All of which proves I suppose that the race is not always won by those with size and power.
Just the same, I always thought if I just worked harder than everyone else that I could overcome my body’s genetic shortcomings. I would do stupid things (in retrospect) like run 10 miles up and down hills with 50 pounds of weight on my back, pump out hundreds of chin-ups, and lift weights until my hands lost their grip. The idea was that by doing such things to physiological failure that I would build strength and endurance, and that’s exactly what happened for a few years anyway. Unfortunately, it only worked for the relative short-term. Alas, once I hit my 40’s, instead of making my tendons and ligaments strong I developed tendonitis in several key leg, arm and shoulder areas, along with bad systemic osteoarthritis in every weight bearing joint in my body. But that’s the misery of 2008; let’s get back to the joy of 1992.
By the time I finished the trail, its full circuitous measurement was just over three miles. I used a bicycle odometer to exactly gauge the distance. My fastest time to successful completion was just under 20 minutes, success defined as riding start to start without once having to touch a foot on the ground. Without worrying about that I could hammer through it in just over 16 minutes, which sounds slow until you figure that almost half of the trail ran straight up and down some very steep hills.
Ah heck, this is getting too long again…. Stand by for part 11 of my Bicycle Memories.
Labels: bicycle memories