Review: Minimalism on Netflix

This weekend we got a few inches of snow and ice, and while the horses made it impossible for me to be a total sloth, I did manage to veg in front of the television for a few hours.

I ended up watching Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things on Netflix.


At the end of every year I make a concerted effort to get rid of a bunch of the junk I’ve accumulated over the previous years. About a week ago I spent at least a full day scanning in various bits of paper that I might need in the future but definitely don’t want to store, and I got rid of clothes and other items I just don’t need. But still my house is pretty full and I’d like to change that. It doesn’t help that I live on 22 acres with various outbuildings, etc., that are just a magnet for “stuff”.

Minimalism discusses the idea of increasing personal happiness in the minimization of objects one owns. This resonates with me for a couple of reasons. First, I have one friend who is a compulsive hoarder, and I see how that disorder affects her life. Plus, I have two friends who actually embraced minimalism a few years ago and seem happier for it (pretty much everything they own can fit into a Toyota Highlander).

Central to the documentary are Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, creators of The Minimalists website, and the film follows them around the country as they promote their book. Interspersed within this are other interviews and examples of how people are embracing the concept of “less is more”. A couple of things stood out for me.

One was a piece on small houses. I love small houses, not because I want to live in one, exactly, but because the are so efficient. They remind me of being on a boat or a plane or in an RV. No wasted space. In the film they spend a small amount of time on the small house trend, but I found one scene especially cool. It was a short piece about a guy who built out an apartment in New York City that was only about 450 square feet. It was beautiful. The main room had a trundle bed that folded out of the wall (to the right as your watched the film) which could be put away to make room for a couch. He had a table for ten that he could assemble for parties and then break down and store, and a stand up desk that opened out of the opposite wall (to the left as you watched the film).

The coolest bit was that the left wall could slide over toward the right, exposing a small area with two bunk beds for guests. Each area also had a privacy curtain for, you know, privacy.

Brilliant. I found a 20 minute YouTube video about it if you want to check it out.

Where I live in the Southern United States, we have a tendency to have a “formal” dining room and a living room in our houses. Basically, these are rooms with some of the most expensive furniture in the house that you never use. We turned our living room into a bar, but we still have a dining room that is rarely used. It is a lot of wasted space that seems to be only there due to tradition.

The second was an idea a woman presented called “Project 333” – wear only 33 items of clothing for 3 months. This would be pretty easy for me to do, as I am not a clothes horse and when I am not in front of customers I tend to wear the exact same outfit: Levi 505 jeans, a Camber pocket T-shirt in black, and white Reebok leather sneakers. It saves me a few minutes each day deciding what to wear, for example, as I can just grab the next shirt off the pile. I think it would be harder for someone like Andrea who has to dress for work, but being in tech makes it easy.

The documentary covers even more extremes, as in a couple of people who can carry everything they own. One guy had all of his belongings in a dufflel bag that would easily fit in the overhead bin on an airplane, and a laptop bag. That was it. I don’t believe I could do that for the simple reason that I don’t get to choose my climate. I travel a lot and even where I live in North Carolina it can get down to 5F (-15C) at times. Thus I have a winter coat for those temperatures that I bought in Sweden, another coat that I wear during the normally warmer rest of winter, and a light jacket for Spring and Fall. But I do see clothing as one way people can minimize what they own, despite the fashion industry wanting to drive that amount up (with examples of that given in the documentary).

As I’ve gotten older I’ve stopped collecting a lot of things, but I still like art. We tend to travel outside the country at least once a year, and we often bring back a small piece of art to remember our trip. One of the things that bothered me about the living conditions of most of the people profiled in this documentary was the lack of art (although a significant number of people had guitars – go figure). I don’t need to surround myself with things but I do like to surround myself with beauty. Plus, say, at Christmas time, I like bringing out older things that have been around, in some cases, longer than I have. It is possible to associate positive memories with objects, but I think it is hard to create memories with them.

Those of us in the “western” world do seem to live in cultures that encourage us to be afraid and buy stuff which has resulted in a throw-away culture that is slowly killing the planet. It seems we rarely buy things designed to last – if your printer dies you throw it away and buy a new one – and we tend to dispose of things like mobile devices and televisions every couple of years. Contrast that with my Kitchen Aid stand mixer which will outlive me and perhaps whoever gets it after me. I think owning fewer, but better, things is a good place to start.

Overall, I enjoyed the program and I can recommended it, especially if you are snowed in.

Review: Star Trek: Beyond

When J.J. Abrams took over the Star Trek franchise, the biggest complaint I heard is that he departed from canon by turning it into an action series. Well, fans should rejoice since he has helped return it to its roots where odd numbered movies suck. This was a steaming pile, and should remind people more of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier than the last two movies.

The main fault lies in the plot, which has more holes than a square parsec of Swiss cheese. When I dislike a movie I feel the need to explain why in detail, which will pretty much reveal the whole story, so if you hate spoilers or plan to see this dog then stop reading now.

Star Trek Poster

Okay, the movie starts out with a throwaway scene where Captain Kirk is trying to negotiate a peace treaty. He’s seen in an impressive chamber where threatening aliens sit above him in judgment, and when they decide he is there to trick them they attack. Turns out they are the size of terriers (ha ha) and James is beamed to safety.

As a peace offering, Kirk had brought part of an ancient weapon, which Spock returns to the ship’s archives. There is a weak attempt at character development as Kirk is thinking about taking a desk job and Spock returning to New Vulcan, but it really goes nowhere.

Speaking of nowhere, there is a new super space station called the Yorktown at the edge of known space near a scary nebula, and that is the next stop for the crew of the Enterprise. It’s a big, glittery ball in space housing millions of Federation citizens and you know from the moment you see it that it will be in peril by the third act. Oh, and Sulu is gay.

Soon after they dock a mysterious ship comes out of the nebula bearing an alien named Kalara. She tells a tale of how her ship was attacked near a planet in the center of the nebula, and of course the Enterprise is the only ship that is advanced enough to navigate through all the debris to reach it (well, outside of a ship under construction at Yorktown).

Within twenty minutes of screen time, the Enterprise goes to the planet where it is attacked and destroyed by Krall, the big bad in this movie. Can’t seem to have a Star Trek movie without blowing up the ship, can we?

One of the two cool things in this movie was his “fleet” which consists of a swarm of devices, some manned, which probably does reflect the future of warfare. There are also humanoid soldiers in motorcycle helmet armor that are never really explained. Turns out Krall is after the little trinket offered to the terrier people in the first scene, as it is part of a super weapon created by the extinct race that used to live on this planet, and Kalara was sent to lure the Enterprise to bring it to him.

Anyway, there is a big fight as the ship is crashing and Kirk gets the weapon away from Krall and hides it with an alien member of his crew. Then the rest of the crew gets scattered as most of them eject in life pods that are collected by Krall’s ships, with the exception of three: Kirk and Chekov, Spock and McCoy and Scotty.

Scotty is the first to run into Jaylah, a super model who has escaped Krall and now lives in an old starship called the USS Franklin that was lost hundreds of years ago but somehow ended up on this planet. She hides it with cloaking technology that makes it invisible. Pretty soon the gang’s all back together and they hatch a plan to rescue the remaining crew.

So, it turns out that Krall is Balthazar Edison, the captain of the Franklin. He was a soldier who got pissed off when the Federation was formed as a peaceful organization and not one bent on war. Got it? His ship crashed on the planet and he’s lived so long ’cause he found vampire technology that lets him suck out the life force of other living things, although it alters his appearance to sort of match the being on which he is feeding. Kalara and a man named Manas are the only three survivors of the ship, although Kalara is killed when she goes after Kirk and Chekov among the wreckage of the Enterprise, and Manas is presented as kind of the “heavy” (he killed Jaylah’s father) although he really isn’t developed as a character (surprise, surprise).

Anyway, Krall eventually gets the piece of the weapon he needs by threatening to feed on Sulu (turns out the crew member Kirk gave it to has an Alien face hugger on the back of her head in which she hid it) and when assembled it turns into a hand-held “swarm” producer that destroys living matter. The plan is to nip on over to the Yorktown, destroy all the people and use the technology of the base to wage war.

Got it?

So, where to begin. Krall says he’s been searching all over the galaxy for the weapon, but it isn’t apparent that he’s left the planet. Jaylah is hiding the Franklin from him, but wouldn’t he know it was there? Hard to forget the ship you used to captain. He also is a super hacker and has used his hundreds of years old credentials to tap into the Federation network (from inside a highly active nebula) where he can do things like read Kirk’s private captain’s log.


Oh, so once Krall decides to go off to destroy the Yorktown, our heroes manage to get the Franklin back into space and quickly (and safely) navigate back out through the nebula (that only the Enterprise could do in the beginning of the movie, remember?) in time to beat the swarm (by blasting the Beastie Boys “Sabotage” at the alien ships, of course) and save the day.

Oh, there are some fight scenes, Kirk gets to ride on a motorcycle, and once the whole thing is over that new ship under construction becomes the next Enterprise.

Sheesh, what a stinker.

I mentioned there were two cool things. The second was a brief appearance by Shohreh Aghdashloo as Commodore Paris, a high ranking member of the Federation command. There is no mistaking that voice, and her talents are better used in The Expanse series.

I’m sure the fan boys will find something to like about this movie, and some of the people I went with did just that, but while I don’t exactly lament the loss of two hours of my life, I won’t be watching it again.

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Yesterday I managed to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and even though I was ten days late to the party, I managed to get there spoiler free. If you haven’t seen it and you want to remain spoiler free, stop reading now. If you really liked it and went out and bought a Darth Vader humidifier and are sucking right now on a GoGurt lightsaber, you might want to stop reading now.

Although I’ve waited a long time to see this movie, it turns out that I saw it back in 1977 when it was just called Star Wars. This is pretty much the same movie. That said, it is still my third favorite in the franchise. Since this review is somewhat critical of the movie, I would expect to be blasted by the fanboys if anyone actually read this blog. So, set your blasters on stun (and yes, I plan to mash up all kinds of stuff in this review).

The action in the film takes place 30 or so years after Return of the Jedi. The emperor died but it doesn’t look like much has happened to the Empire. They still have Star Destroyers, stormtroopers and they seem to be pretty much in charge of things. They are called The First Order, mainly so that a lot of Nazi symbolism can be dragged into the Star Wars universe. The so called New Republic, which popped up after the Empire died, is apparently limited to one little planet and a couple of large space ships. The rebellion is now called The Resistance, so, with the exception of a few scenes containing dead Empire war gear, it is still pretty much business as usual.

In the opening scroll, we learn that Luke Skywalker is missing. Turns out that he tried to rebuild the Jedi order, but one of his students went bad and destroyed all of his work (and I assume, killed all the younglings). Rumour has it that he went off in search of the first Jedi temple, but no one seems to know where that is.

Princess Leia, now General Organa, sends one of her best pilots, Poe, to a planet called Jakku (a desert planet, e.g. Tatooine) to retrieve a clue to Luke’s whereabouts. The mission is interrupted by a squadron of The First Order and a Darth Vader wannabe called Kylo Ren. Ren has a dark helmet and cool light saber that looks like flames, since we all know the dark side baddies have to have their own signature weapon. He can also freeze a blaster bolt in mid-air, which seems to indicate he is pretty powerful. Anyway, the squad kills most of the people in the little village, but one of the stormtroopers, later called Finn, starts to have second thoughts and refuses to shoot people. They return to the Star Destroyer with Poe as a captive.

Anyway, the clue, which turns out to be part of a map, is hidden in a piece of merchandising called BB-8. The droid escapes and meets up with Rey, an orphan scavenger with flawless skin and perfect teeth living in a dead AT-AT. She senses that there is something special about the droid, and even when offered a lot for him, refuses to sell. Meanwhile, up in space, Ren tortures Poe to discover that the clue is in BB-8, but Poe escapes with the help of Finn. Together they crash on Jakku, but only Finn survives.

Soon Finn (also with flawless skin and teeth, but one can assume he was grown in a vat somewhere or at least had better rations) meets up with Rey and BB-8 at the same time The First Order starts attacking the planet based on Poe’s intel. They escape in a junked ship which, viola!, turns out to be the Millennium Falcon. This was, of course, the first time our heroes had ever escaped from a desert planet in that ship, right?

They get away only to be captured by another ship (again, sound familiar?) run by Han Solo and Chewbacca. Now, I wish they had explained this part a little better. See, space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. So the thought that they would just show up as soon as the Falcon leaves the atmosphere is just wrong. And they could have explained it away with something like a hidden transponder, but if they did I missed it (while I didn’t doze during the film, my attention did wander at times).

Anyway, soon there ensues some cool action sequences that exist to show that Solo is still a rogue, again they misuse the term “parsec” as a unit of time, and our heroes escape.

Meanwhile, the bad guys are quite put out at losing the droid, so they confer with the Lord Grand Poohbah Snape, played by Andy Serkis in his usual CGI glory. He tells them to use their nifty new Starkiller Base (which is a sun-powered Death Star on steroids) on the home planet of the New Republic’s Senate, and it is able to do so from quite a distance (’cause, see, it’s bigger).

Han leads Chewbacca, Rey and Finn to Ireland, I mean, Takodano, and a version of the original Mos Eisley Cantina (on steriods). By this time news of the missing droid has spread. There is a huge dude with a cute girl in the bar as a throwback to Jabba the Hutt who work for The First Order, and another dude with a mouth made up with one of those old timey microphones who works for the Resistance, so pretty soon everybody knows where the droid is to be found. We are introduced to the owner of the bar, Maz Kanata, who plays the role of Yoda, but her character was original enough that I’ll give them a pass on this one. Rey finds herself drawn to a vault in which she finds a light saber that once belonged to Anakin Skywalker and, later, Luke. When she touches it she has a vision, and we can assume that she has what it takes to be a Jedi.

Well, the bad guys show up and start blowing up the place, and Rey is captured. Before total victory, the Resistance shows up (yay! Poe is alive) and Finn takes up the light saber. While he doesn’t demonstrate Jedi powers, it remains to be seen if he will become a knight. Ren figures out that Rey has seen the map, so all he has to do it get it from her memories, so The First Order leaves.

Back on the Starkiller Base, Rey is strapped into an interrogation chair when Ren comes in to get the information from her. Here he takes off his helmet, which we learn is just for show, as underneath it is Hayden Christensen in a black wig, but with the same whine. She discovers that she has the ability to block her thoughts from him, and, frustrated, he gets called off to a meeting with General Hux and High Supreme Bad Guy Snape. Here is where Darth Vader would have mind-strangled the General like he did Admiral Motti, but Ren just whines about how strong Rey is. Snape, sensing another he can turn to the dark side, says to bring her to him right after they use the new fancy weapon to destroy the Rebel, I mean, Resistance, base.

Unfortunately for that plan, Rey discovers she has mad Jedi skillz and escapes. Since I’ve spoiled enough of this so far, let me wrap up the last bit of the movie with our heroes meet back up, a major character dies, and X-wing fighters fly into a trench and blow up the weapon before it can destroy the base.

Sound familiar?

Oh, Rey eventually finds Luke, who manages second billing despite 20 seconds of screen time and no dialog. Jedi master, psssh, his agent is the Jedi master.

Do I want my $15 back. No. Overall, I think it would be difficult to reboot this series and make everyone happy. If the goal was to make a movie to introduce a new generation into what Star Wars was to mine, I think they succeeded. Also, if the goal was to make a metric asston of money, they did that as well.

I give it a solid B, but I am eager to see where it goes from here. There is a lot of potential, although I hope they deviate a bit from the the original story line. If Luke and Rey end up training on a swamp planet, I might get a bit snarky.

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

First, let me state that I am an unabashed Joss Whedon fan. From Angel to Buffy, Cabin in the Woods to Dollhouse, and of course Firefly, I pretty much watch anything he creates.

I was on a business trip in Canada when the first Avengers movie came out, and we went to a midnight show the morning it opened. Since I was on another business trip, this time to Chicago, when Age of Ultron came out, I decided to do the same.

I didn’t really care for it.

Now before all the haters come out, I’m glad I saw the film and don’t feel that it wasted several hours of my life (unlike some movies) but I was disappointed.

What follows is why, and warning, spoilers a’plenty. It’s funny, when I review a movie I like it is easy to describe it with few spoilers, but in giving a slightly negative review to something with such a fan base I feel compelled to defend my view with examples.

Here, I’ll add some carriage returns so you can still look away. Last chance.


Okay, the movie starts out with our heroes raiding a Hydra base looking for Loki’s scepter. So far so good, although I can’t really remember when the scepter got lost but I went with it. Things seem to be going our team’s way until two mutants, erm, excuse me “enhanced humans”, named Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch join the fray. While the Avengers are ultimately successful in retrieving the scepter, the Scarlet Witch plants a vision into Tony Stark’s brain that he would be responsible for the death of his companions, and by extension, the world.

Liked that part, so I’m pretty jazzed.

Next, we’re back at Avenger HQ and Tony’s vision still haunts him. He has been working on project “Ultron” which would create a global defense system that will render the Avengers unnecessary, and all he lacks is the AI to animate it. In experimenting on Loki’s scepter, he and Bruce Banner discover that there is an AI in the gem. When they attempt to use it to complete the Ultron project, they unleash the intelligence who is now intent on destroying Stark and the rest of the world’s humans.

Here’s where I start to lose it. Let me state for the record that I am a huge fan of James Spader and I loved they way he brought Ultron to life. But I had a really hard time understanding why Ultron would immediately develop such a hatred for Tony Stark. There was almost no creator/creation interaction, and there was a lot of focus on Tony’s offhand comment “Peace in our time” (which I took as sarcastic WWII reference). Anyway, the monster is alive, angry, and after confronting the Avengers, he escapes (his consciousness can travel via the Internet).

And it went downhill from there.

The rest of the movie is pretty much the Avengers chasing Ultron around. Ultron builds himself a new, coolio body (which was much more expressive than I was expecting – I was thinking it would be more like V in V for Vendetta) as well as an army of robot soldiers he controls. He also goes to collect the remaining world’s supply of vibranium (the metal used in Captain America’s shield) and the Avengers attempt to stop him. This results in the Scarlet Witch putting the whammy on the Hulk and Stark has to don “Veronica” – a Hulk-busting suit – to subdue him. Ultron escapes with the metal and the Avengers are blame for the resulting destruction.

Okay, the suit was cool and I can still hear the line “go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep” but it really didn’t advance the plot much.

The Avengers retreat to Hawkeye’s house in the country, where we find out he has a family, and there is a period of “character building”. I almost fell asleep at this point, although that probably had as much to do with the reclining chairs at the AMC 600 as the movie (really nice theatre). Yes, I know that super hero movies can’t be all fight scenes and gadgets, but I found myself not caring by this point.

Now, the coolest thing, to me, about the movie was the introduction of another infinity stone. See, Ultron wants a more realistic (i.e. non-mechanical) body and he is using tech to build one. While it is growing in a capsule-like thing, he cracks open the gem in Loki’s scepter to reveal a smaller yellow gem, which he places on the new body’s forehead. Once the body is ready he plans to upload his consciousness into it. He must know the gem is powerful.

One of my all time favorite movies is Guardians of the Galaxy. As it was mentioned in that film, there are six powerful infinity stones in existence. The purple one is featured in that movie, and the Tesseract from the Thor films is the blue one. Now we see the yellow one, setting the stage for the upcoming Infinity War when Thanos attempts to collect all six.

Now, that is cool.

Anyway, Ultron is interrupted by the Avengers before he can complete the transference into the new body, and they make off with the capsule. Stark then puts J.A.R.V.I.S, an AI, into the body and there is a big fight scene between the Avengers as they attempt to decide if this is a good idea or not. Thor settles it by smashing the capsule holding the body with his hammer, and the resulting lightning (“It’s Alive!”) causes it to awake. The new entity is called “Vision” and features the infinity stone on its forehead.

Then the film heads toward the inevitable climax, which was pretty much the same as the end of the first Avengers movie. The team (now augmented by Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch who have switched sides) swat a bunch of flying things out of the air. Ultron and Vision fight (à la Loki and Hulk), and eventually Tony Stark flies into a glowing hole and sets off an explosion.


I know this movie wasn’t easy to make. You are dealing with a huge cast of characters, many of whom have their own entire franchises and many who could, and you have to cram a lot of plot development into less than three hours. I wish there was more reason for Ultron’s hatred and more interaction between him and his creator. I wish there was less sitting around the farm and more humor. And I wish the ending wasn’t so derivative of the first movie.

So I didn’t really care for it and I probably could have waited until it came out on Blu-ray.

Before all the flaming starts, please understand that it’s okay if you liked it. In fact, I hope you did – it doesn’t not make you a bad person. It just wasn’t to my taste.

I am, however, now very eager to see the Infinity War. I love Thanos as a villain and the whole infinity stones back story is cool. Thor mentions that four infinity stones have surfaced, but I don’t know where the green one appears. Perhaps an upcoming movie? Guess we’ll find out.

[UPDATE: Ken Kennedy pointed out that the fourth “red” stone was in Thor: The Dark World. Don’t know where I got that is was the green stone in my head, and while I saw that movie it must have slipped my mind.]

Review: Interstellar

Note: When I review things, I do my best not to spoil them. However, purists (and you know who you are) may want to skip this.

With the advent of Blu-ray and cheap large screen televisions, I tend not to go to the movies. When I do, it is almost always IMAX (not lieMAX) because a normal theater experience just isn’t worth the price.

I don’t own many movies. I like movies but rarely do I see a movie that I want to see twice. My small collection does include four Christopher Nolan films (Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception) so I was excited to hear that he was coming out with a tale set in space.

Apparently a large number of people were as well, as the Saturday night shows both sold out. Luckily, a friend of mine bought tickets in advance and we were able to get decent seats.

The story is set in the near future. Climate change has wrecked havoc with the Earth, and a blight has developed that is taking out the food monocultures. Wheat had disappeared a few years ago, and okra (!) has just been hit, which leaves corn as the main staple crop, but people are worried that it may be next. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a NASA pilot who is now a farmer. There is a reference made to some accident with a spacecraft that he was in that ended his career with NASA. We spend some time watching his life as a dust bowl farmer, although the dust storms depicted here are on a much larger scale than you might see today.

Flash forward a bit in the plot and Cooper meets up with a team that believes it has the ability to save Earth. It involves traveling through a wormhole on the quest of finding a habitable planet. Cooper leaves his family in the hope that he can save them.

I didn’t care for this movie. Although IMDB currently has it a 9.1 out 10, I’d probably give it a 6 or a 7. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a more believable 73%.

The cast was, if you will forgive the pun, stellar. In addition to McConaughey you have Anne Hathaway, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Matt Damon, Ellen Burstyn – the list goes on. I thought they all gave solid performances. The visuals were stunning, and while it runs nearly three hours I didn’t look at my watch once.

No, where the movie fails is in the story. I did like the fact that this is one of the only big budget Hollywood movies that treats relativity seriously, and thus this becomes a time travel movie, but other parts of the film are so incredibly derivative that you can’t believe they were able to green light the thing.

When I first started hearing about the movie, I read that it was based on a letter Christopher Nolan had written to his daughter, and at its heart this is a story about one father’s love for his little girl. I thought Mackenzie Foy did an amazing job in the role, although she resembled more of a young Anne Hathaway than a young Jessica Chastain (but it worked).

My favorite part of the movie was the blocky robot named “TARS” (for obvious reasons). There are three such “marine robots” in the film, another being known as CASE. At one point in the film, Cooper asks CASE why he didn’t talk much, to which he replies “TARS talks enough for the both of us”. The laughter came a little too loud from my companions.

Will Interstellar be joining my collection? No, I really don’t see myself sitting through it again. Is it worth seeing? Yes, but I hope the next effort from Nolan is a little stronger.