Archive for December, 2017

Frogs nip Cardinal, 39-37, in entertaining Alamo Bowl clash

December 31, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 31, 2017

Stanford’s 2017 football season came to a disappointing conclusion Thursday night with a 39-37 loss to Texas Christian University in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

The Cardinal finished 9-5, only the second time in head coach David Shaw’s seven seasons that the team failed to reach double-digit wins. The Horned Frogs moved to 11-3, a record that includes two losses to playoff contender Oklahoma.

Scoring opened after TCU quarterback Kenny Hill made an ill-advised throw while on the move. Junior free safety Frank Buncom read his intentions and raced in from the right side to intercept the ball, which he returned 37 yards to the Frogs 23-yard line.

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Historical drama ‘Darkest Hour’ is marred by unmotivated character choices

December 29, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 29, 2017

Darkest Hour, Joe Wright’s new historical drama about Winston Churchill’s becoming leader of Britain during the outbreak of World War II, has almost all the ingredients of a great movie.

The cast, led by a prosthesis-covered Gary Oldman as a then-untested prime minister elevated as German forces threaten to engulf all of Europe, is uniformly excellent. Director Joe Wright (AtonementPride & Prejudice) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) have well-regarded previous works. The sets, props and costumes seem authentic. The problem, I fear, is that McCarten’s script strives for an effect that it fails to earn.

The story begins on May 9, 1940, as an opposition party member speaking before a raucous Parliament demands the resignation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) after his policy of appeasement has proven ineffective at containing Nazi aggression. In a meeting, Chamberlain and other Conservative party leaders agree to designate Churchill as his replacement.

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First contact gets a thoughtful, stimulating treatment in Denis Villeneuve’s fantastic 2016 film ‘Arrival’

December 23, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 23, 2017

Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 movie Arrival is a breathtakingly fresh tale of first contact with aliens. It’s also easily the most intelligent science fiction movie at least since Interstellar came out in 2014.

Arrival’s premise is simple enough. In the very near future, mysterious black objects position themselves over 12 apparently random locations scattered across the globe, inciting anxiety and panic. Every 18 hours, a panel on the bottom of the vessels — each resembles a skyscraper-sized contact lens — is opened, letting humans enter a chamber where they can have an audience with the aliens. Unfortunately, no one understands what they’re saying.

Linguistics professor Louise Banks is recruited to help the American military attempt to communicate with the extraterrestrials. She begins making sense of their language, which appears to be entirely visual, with some very minor assistance from a theoretical physicist named Ian Donnelly. However, her progress is increasingly hampered by visions from different parts of her life. Banks’s work becomes urgent when a Chinese general decides that the aliens are a threat and issues an ultimatum to them: Leave or face destruction.

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The minor gem ‘Harbinger Down’ is a terrific homage to John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’

December 20, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 20, 2017

Harbinger Down is a beautifully executed homage to John Carpenter’s classic movie The Thing that’s short on originality but long on scares.

This 2015 feature was written and directed by Alec Gillis, a special-effects and makeup veteran on productions going back to ’80s action classics like AliensTremors and Starship Troopers. The plot leans heavily on Carpenter’s 1982 tour de force but is executed well enough to entertain genre fans.

The story gets under way when a professor and two graduate students book passage on the Harbinger, a dilapidated Alaskan crabbing vessel, in order to track how the migratory patterns of beluga whales are being affected by climate change. When Sadie (Camille Balsamo of the 2014–16 crime drama Murder in the First) notices that the whales are attracted to a flashing beacon set in a chunk of ice, she persuades Captain Graff (Lance Henriksen) to haul this mechanical object onto the ship.

The ice turns out to contain a badly charred lunar lander marked with Soviet-era symbols. Within the crew compartment is a sealed spacesuit. Graff orders the entire find stowed in the ship’s hold and bars his crew and the scientists from any further investigation.

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Wooden leads weigh down the dynamic script and direction of ‘Terminator Genisys’

December 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 15, 2017

Terminator Genisys, the would-be 2015 blockbuster, does its best to invigorate an action-adventure franchise that James Cameron unwittingly launched back in 1984. Alas, the movie falls flat — an immense soufflé prepared by a chef who lacked just one or two vital ingredients.

The plot is complex but holds up as long as the viewer simply accepts it as the necessary mishegas that propels the movie from one set piece to another. The action opens in the year 2029, just as John Connor (Jason Clarke of Zero Dark Thirty, Everest and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is on the brink of leading humanity to a decisive victory over the evil computer Skynet and its legion of murderous Terminator robots.

As the last battle is seemingly won, humans seize a large machine-built device that the near-prescient Connor somehow knows is capable of sending people (and flesh-covered machines) back in time. Connor uses it to dispatch his right-hand man, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, Bruce Willis’s son in A Good Day to Die Hard and a key character in the Divergent movies), to the year 1984. Reese’s mission is to protect John’s mother from a Terminator that’s been dispatched to kill her and thus crush humanity’s rebellion even before it can reach the cradle.

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‘Stranded’ features four astronauts (and a very weak script) in need of rescue

December 11, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 11, 2017

Stranded is a subpar 2013 science fiction/horror movie that fails to bring anything new to the subgenre.

The plot is fairly straightforward: A few decades in the future, a lunar mining facility known as Moonbase Ark is struck by a rogue meteoroid storm that wipes out all external communications and damages the generator and life support system. Although the four-person crew is in mortal danger because of the power outage — and, as becomes increasingly important, the engineer’s psychological instability and substance abuse problem — they examine one of the rocks that struck the base and find that it contains a mysterious spore.

Shortly after deputy commander Ava Cameron (Amy Matysio) cuts her finger while running tests on the substance, she shows signs of what appears to be a nearly full-term pregnancy. Dr. Lance Cross (Brendan Fehr, one of the leads from the TV series Roswell) believes that the ailing lieutenant simply is suffering from some kind of aggravated cyst. However, base commander Gerard Brockman (Christian Slater — yes, of Heathers and Pump Up the Volume and whatnot) insists Cameron be put in isolation because of possible contamination.

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Charming ‘City of Ember’ finds wonder and terror in a crumbling underground city

December 10, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 9, 2017

City of Ember is a charming 2008 movie set in a crumbling postapocalyptic community.

The eponymous settlement was built underground centuries before the central action in order to shield its inhabitants from an unspecified disaster, presumably nuclear in nature. The city’s infrastructure, particularly its power generator, is on the verge of failure, but most of Ember’s residents are too complacent to recognize it.

One of the few exceptions is young Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway, an Englishman who’s worked in British TV and recently appeared in the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes). The brilliant, determined teenager realizes that the city’s blackouts are growing in both frequency and length. His conviction that something must be done to save the community strengthens when he becomes an apprentice in the patchwork pipeworks and learns just how little comprehension engineers have of the complex systems they’re charged with maintaining.

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 9-4 Stanford

December 6, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 6, 2017

I had a good time watching the Pac-12 football championship game. I just wish the outcome had been different…

• The Bad 

Stanford’s strongest defensive group is probably its secondary. Going into last week’s game, the Cardinal ranked fifth in the league in passing defense, allowing 220 yards per game and 15 touchdown receptions. As noted last week, Stanford has intercepted 16 passes, which ranked 10th in the nation.

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Cardinal falls short, 31-28, in its rematch with USC in the conference championship game

December 5, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 5, 2017

A mistake-prone Cardinal lost 31-28 to USC in the Pac-12 football championship game Friday night.

The result gave the South Division its first league title in the seven years since the Pac-10 added Colorado and Utah. The Trojans, who finished the regular season 11-2, won their first conference crown since 2008; they will play Big 10 champion Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas. Stanford, which fell to 3-1 in conference title bouts and 9-4 on the season, will face Texas Christian University in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

USC received the opening kickoff and reached the Stanford 43-yard line before a pair of incomplete Sam Darnold passes forced them to punt. The Cardinal, dressed in all-white uniforms with brand-new helmets featuring a chrome Stanford logo, gained five yards on a pair of Bryce Love runs and an incomplete K.J. Costello pass attempt before giving the ball back.

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