Movie Review: Primer

6955114.3Primer is one of those movies that went under the radar when it came out but has since developed a loyal following, and it shows up all the time on lists of good time travel movies. when it turned up on my Netflix feed, I figured I’d see what everyone was talking about – and it blew my mind. If you want a break from epic, blockbuster, high budget sic-fi, check out this tiny film that packs an amazing amount of suspense and concept into an otherwise small movie.

Primer is the story of four guys (Aaron, Abe, Robert, and Phillip) who are engineers. In their ‘spare time’, they try to build stuff in Aaron’s garage. These early scenes are spot on in terms of character interaction between four engineers who have known each other for a long time – the jargon, the interrupting each other and finishing each other’s sentences, the tensions and tangled history, the jury-rigging parts, the money problems, the complete lack of glamour both at work and in the garage – it feels like a documentary both because of how it’s shot and because the writing and acting is so accurate to the interactions I see between science/tech people in real life. These four guys feel like people who have worked and fought together for a long time. There’s very little exposition here – you have to just try to keep up, and I found it easy to get the gist of what was happening even though I don’t believe I understood a single word. They are out of money, they don’t know what to focus on next, and they are building cool stuff in hopes of a big money-making breakthrough.

In the course of trying to build a device that makes things lighter (or weightless), Abe and Aaron discover that they have accidentally built a time machine. From this point on, the movie is almost a two-person play, since Abe and Aaron don’t want the other guys to know about the machine. Abe and Aaron have to figure out what to do with the time machine and since they are engineers you can bet that “take it apart, burn the notes, melt the parts, and never speak of it again” is not an option that leaps to their minds.

Primer was made for $7000 and it lasts for 77 minutes, although it takes a lot longer to watch it because you have to pause a lot and take notes and say to your spouse, “What just happened?” and then argue about what just happened until you remember that the movie isn’t over yet. You will also have to set aside several days to google “Primer, movie, timeline.” Some movies are confusing in a frustrating way – they feel sloppy. You are pretty sure that what you are watching doesn’t make sense, and never will, and was never meant to. Primer is plenty confusing, but in a tantalizing way. It doesn’t feel sloppy – it feels tight and smart. It expects you to sit down, pay attention, and keep up.

A lot of people love this movie because SCIENCE. I’m an odd duck, because my interest in science is passionate but also superficial. I’m less interested in science than in the process of science, and how scientists think. I loved the lack of glamour in this movie. The grainy film gives it a found footage feeling without having to stick to the rules of found footage and without the curse of shaky cam. The settings are suburban garages, U-Haul storage rooms, and motel rooms. The cold room guy at the University of Texas is actually played by the cold room guy at the University of Texas. The sense of mingled tension and dread and confusion and fascination works for the audience because we are experiencing the tension, drew, and fascination that Abe and Aaron are experiencing. This is a fascinating, weird, unusual movie that does a lot with a little and will keep you googling and debating for days. A+.


Emergency Guide to Thanksgiving Movies: About Time and Thor 2

THURS_003B_G_ENG-GB_70x100.inddIf you are like me, you have a few days left until you are surrounded by family.  Family everywhere!  Which is…GREAT!  Or, if you are not with family, you are either weeping into a plate of mashed potatoes or dancing a happy dance – it’s really all a matter of perspective.  Regardless, here is your quick guide to two geek-friendly movies that you can drag your bus load of relatives to, or see by yourself (no sharing popcorn, yay).

About Time


What it says it is:  A romantic comedy about time travel.

What the script says it is:  A movie about father/son relationships, and about growing up.

Action level:  Zip.  Nada.  No explosions at all.

Romance level:  High, but not as high as the ads would have you think.  Most of the romance stuff happens in the first half of the movie.

See it with:  Your parents and your grandparents.

If they can handle:  Swearing, a little bit of partial nudity (cute and comedic, not super sexy), non-explicit sex.

Avoid it if:  You have daddy issues and/or have recently lost a parent.  I bawled the whole time.  Tim’s father is the one we all wish we had or that we all hope we’ll grow up to be (those of us who identify as fathers, that is).  Quite good for a cathartic cry but unless you want your cathartic cry to be public, see it by yourself if daddy issues are your thing.

Capsule review:  This movie is funny, touching, and sweet.  I giggled like a maniac and cried like a baby.  But it is also deeply flawed.  It doesn’t work as a time travel movie, because the rules are broken at the filmmaker’s whim.  The time travel is strictly a poetical device.  It doesn’t work as a romantic comedy, because the focus is only one character, Tim, and all other characters are strictly subordinate.  Despite its flaws, it’s quite a lovely movie about learning to appreciate an “extraordinary, ordinary life”.

You can find a a full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Thor:  The Dark World


What it says it is:  A movie in which Thor has to save the universe from dark elves.

What the script says it is: A character-based comedy/drama about how Thor has to redefine his role and his relationships after the events in The Avengers.

What we (the audience) thinks it is:  Loki 3.  Let’s be honest, folks.

Action level:  Huge.

Romance level:  Medium.

See it with:  Your siblings and your cousins.  Your friends.  Yourself, if you are stranded on Thankgiving and want to escape into fun and excitement for a while.  Your grandparents  will think it’s weird.

If they can handle:  Violence, some death, minimal gore.  It’s just a smidgen more graphic than The Avengers.  There’s minimal swearing, a shirtless scene (of Chris Hemsworth), no sex.  Might be too scary for little kids.

Avoid it if:  You would have to see it with people who think superhero movies are lame.  Who needs that attitude when you want to kick back and watch Loki run amok in peace?  This is another movie about family issues, and it involves estrangement and loss although it never gets so angst that it stops being fun.

Capsule review:  This is a fun movie with both humor and pathos and some romance.  The dynamic between Thor and Loki adds emotional stakes to the visual splendor and the clever climatic fight scene.  The over-arching plot, about evil elves, is ridiculous and serves purely as a device to keep the characters we care about running around and interacting.  Loki steals the show, as usual, but praise is due to Chris Hemsworth as well who grounds the whole enterprise and has some good snark of his own.

And here’s the full-length review!