Uhhh, what was that again?

Dear Cyber-Friends,

Today I’m gonna talk about a little movie with a big idea: Primer (2004).

This low-budget sci-fi deals with the old standard of time travel in an amazingly refreshing, realistic, and complex way. Staying true to the pattern of many historical scientific breakthroughs, within the movie the time travel is an accidental side-effect of what the engineers are actually trying to invent. Also grounded in reality is: how this machine is built, what it looks like, how it functions, and (as far as this non-engineer geek girl can tell) the tech-talk-filled conversations about it.

All well and good, and if you pay close attention you can even follow the plot this far. It takes about half an hour of this 1:17 length movie before the time travel even comes into play, and nearly as long again before the plot goes well and truly off the rails into the land of “What.” and “I’m so confused”. Seriously, I had to go read a plot summery online before I felt I could even attempt to follow the twists, much less understand what actually just happened in that last 20+/- minutes.

Despite that, I was still left with the impression that this was a brilliant movie overall. I love the concept of a reality-based time travel that doesn’t use paradoxes and worm holes and contrivance and exposition to try and explain away all the things the writers couldn’t be bothered to figure out. I love the use of un-watered-down tech talk, because I grew up around engineers and I know what their conversations are actually like. I love how they built the machine, how they stumbled onto the discover, and the rules they make for themselves using it. All of that comes off so refreshingly believable and realistic to me. This is a very grounded movie.

While I might have been confused and blindsided near the end, that had very little to do with the machines or in-movie theories of time travel, and all to do with trying to follow the actions and choices of the characters — and the storytelling choices of how and what to reveal when. Those are story problems, and really I don’t think the concept suffered at all because of them. Honestly, I’ll have to re-watch a few times to decide if the story problems are actual problems, or if it’s just so complex and tight that I couldn’t break into it on the first go. I suspect it’s the latter, and that more watching will reveal deeper layers upon layers upon clues.

Primer is kind of a reverse of the usual sci-fi time travel plot; typically, the concept and theory is sacrificed at the alter of the story the writer wants to tell. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it gets frustrating to see the science part of sci-fi ignored or underdeveloped over and over. I watched this movie on the warning and recommendation that it is the most well-thought-out time travel put to film, and that because of that it would take several views of paying strict attention to even kinda-sorta start to understand it all. At the time, that sounded appealing to me. It still does, and it definitely lived up to both sides of that hype.

I’m not going to re-watch it right away, but this movie is definitely going to be kept around. I can see myself re-watching every once in a while, and breaking it out to show to especially engineer-type geeky friends to get their impressions and discussions. I’m particularly thinking of my brother-in-law for this, actually. And my brother. And probably my dad. Did I mention I come from a geeky sometimes-engineering-centric family?

This was a good movie. I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending, but I’m sure after a few more times I’ll start to form an opinion. Overall, it was a really great concept and it kept me interested. Well done, Shane Carruth. I’m glad you finished your film.

Love,

GeGi.

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Television Done Right.

Dear Cyber-Friends,

I have a confession to make. I’ve never watched Mad Men. Not because of any particular reason — my sister watches and likes it — but just because I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

I have, however, watched The Hour.

The Hour is a short-lived BBC drama set in the mid-1950’s, centered around the people involved with a television current-affairs news program called, of course, The Hour. It ran from 2011-2012, lasting only two six-episode-long seasons (a total of twelve episodes), before it was canceled by the BBC due the viewing figures being under their threshold for renewal.

The soundtrack alone — especially the opening title, brilliantly composed by Daniel Giorgetti —  would be enough reason for me to recommend checking out this show. It sets the mood and the era seamlessly, and I could listen to it all day.

The cast is full of talented British actors, including Ben Whishaw (the newest Q in Skyfall, among other credits), Romola Garai (whom I most fondly know from I Capture The Castle), Dominic West (in practically everything), Anna Chancellor (also in practically everything), Oona Chaplin (in Game of Thrones, among other credits), and joining them in the second season, Peter Capaldi (of recent Doctor Who fame, among much else).

The real star of The Hour, however, is the storytelling. There are so many plots and threads and clues throughout each season that new layers will be discovered on each re-watch (something I love), yet still each episode has enough on the surface to draw you in and capture your attention on the first viewing. The pacing in each episode is slow, and it can take awhile to get drawn into the show, but it’s such an exciting and rich story within that it’s worth the effort.

The first episode of The Hour left me feeling like this show had potential, but I wasn’t quite sold on it. I watched the next, and immediately told my sister and parents they had to start watching it. I didn’t need to see any more to know I was on to something special. I started over with my parents (and got so much more out the pilot now that I had an idea where things were headed). They weren’t quite as convinced about it, but were willing to give it a chance. By the fourth episode, they were hooked and as eager as me to watch more.

I don’t want to go into too much details since I like to keep things spoiler-free, and also because I want you to go experience The Hour knowing as little as I did when I started, so you can enjoy seeing the plots unfold as they were meant to. What I will say is that the first season has the overarching storyline of trying to launch and run a cutting-edge format for news program, with a background of actual historical events, and a plot of investigating a conspiracy and murder with a dash of spy-verses-spy. If that doesn’t sound like a fantastic mix, then we obviously have very different tastes. The second season deals with various forms of fall-out, more historical events, different conspiracies of corruption, and so on. It’s just as excellent and exciting.

The producers of The Hour said they had plans for the third season after the cancellation was announced, and it’s clear in the final episode that there are a lot of interesting ways they could have gone with it. However, I think they managed to get the stories and characters to a point where the audience isn’t left completely hanging by never knowing what happened next — always a relief when watching a canceled show. It still feels like an open-ended chapter, but it does have a sense of that chapter having concluded rather than feeling like a cliff-hanger.

The Hour is interesting, intelligent, exciting, well-paced and well-plotted. It has an amazing cast and a perfect soundtrack. It deals with serious issues in a way that is thought-provoking and realistic. There’s very little black-and-white/right-and-wrong in the bigger picture; there’s a lot of conflicting points of view and morals clashing between educated and passionate characters. It’s a compelling program, and it’s good storytelling. If you haven’t yet, you really ought to watch it.

Love,

GeGi.