Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club (review)

Oscar season is upon us, and as such we have entered a time of the year when we swap out our regular Movie Quality Yardstick for one that's a bit longer. For better or worse we expect more from movies this time of year. Yet with these greater expectations come movies which still manage to exceed them, and if nothing else Dallas Buyers Club is here to do just that. While it may not be the greatest movie of the year, it's probably pretty close, and the acting in it will likely earn its two stars Oscar nods for their efforts.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Near Dark (review) Thriller Mondays

At the recommendation of my friend and fellow movie nerd Martin, I recently had the opportunity to watch Near Dark (1987), the second feature film from director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty). And yes, Near Dark is, in fact, a vampire movie, but before you run away in disgust at this undead monster's recent popularity, Near Dark is also a good movie (also these vampires don't sparkle in the sunlight). Admittedly I was a little disappointed at first because I was basically expecting a big dumb action movie, but what we get instead is more interesting and more satisfying. Bigelow uses the pretext of vampires to stage both a compelling family drama and an incisive morality tale.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Planet of the Apes (analysis)

The original Planet of the Apes (1968) has about as much of a legacy in the world of science fiction as 2001: A Space Odyssey (movies which coincidentally came out in the same year and both feature actors dressed as monkeys). With films like this, which you've probably been told were the most revolutionary thing put to celluloid back in its day, it can be hard to believe they'll still be relevant today, let alone possible to watch without snickering. I had similar reservations: this movie is twenty years older than I am, how could it possibly still be good? This is one movie at least which has earned its position as a classic by creating a story which is as compelling and enjoyable as it is timeless. If you're curious enough to consider watching, just go do it.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Men in Black (quickie)

Men in Black (1997) is a movie I grew up watching (it just barely missed the cut for my Childhood Favorites Week). Its story of secret agents tasked with monitoring extraterrestrial life on Earth is packed with both action and hilarity. The effects department combined practical effects with CGI to make aliens which look convincing enough without doing this. But like the black suit-clad men it features, there's more to this story than meets the eye. Alien invasion is an incredibly common science fiction theme, but Men in Black puts a unique spin on it which highlights the ideological underpinnings of the genre. It doesn't take much imagination to understand that alien invasion movies are about aliens (from another country) and not aliens (from another planet). This reorganization explains why so many alien invasion movies trumpet nationalist pride rather than global solidarity. Men in Black turns this trend on its head.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Goonies (quickie)

Thanks to a recommendation from my friend and fellow film nerd George I finally watched the classic 80's film The Goonies (1985), but I encountered a bit of a problem. I could understand everything that's great about it—from its sense of childhood innocence and wonder, to its genuine enjoyment in storytelling and adventure, to its heartfelt coming-of-age narrative—and it was still fun to watch, but my experience of the film wasn't as immediate as it would have been had I watched it as a kid. The movie didn't "happen" to me the way movies "happen" to younger minds. I still loved it, but from the removed, jaded perspective of someone who's seen too many movies. What I got out of it instead was a thoroughly Lacanian twist on the classic pre-teen self-discovery story. While The Goonies is on one level a traditional coming-of-age plot, on another it is also the story of a young man discovering his manhood, both literally and figuratively.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Perfect Blue (quickie)

 Perfect Blue (1997) is feature film debut from director Satoshi Kon, the brilliant man behind the more recent Paprika (2006), and as such the two movies share a lot of similarities. They both directly confront the thematic dichotomy of fantasy and reality as well as dealing more tangentially with issues like identity, obsession, and the influence of culture. The most noticeable difference between the two is in the quality of the animation: Perfect Blue undoubtedly has several stunning visuals, but when it comes to the busier moments some of the background detail is lost. The crucial point to make about a film like this is that the temptation to play detective and uncover whether Mima is a schizophrenic murderer or which scenes are reality and which fantasy is a misleading one. The point is rather to immerse yourself in the confusion of it all, to feel the same uncertainty that Mima does, and ultimately to lose your confidence in (the appearance of) reality.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Oldboy (review) Thriller Mondays

I recently had the great pleasure of going to a double feature at my local multiplex, so for the first time since my review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire I'll actually be talking about movies that are still in theaters (sort of). Oldboy is a psychological thriller from director Spike Lee, and it's the exact opposite of a feel-good movie. The film is dark, moody, and ominous, and serves as a cautionary tale against revenge. If you read my article on cinematography you know I think Spike Lee is an incredibly capable director, so while the story may leave you in tatters it does so very artfully and with a great deal of cinematic craft. While Oldboy is far from the best movie you'll see this year, it very well may be the year's best thriller.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Adaptation & Source Material (analysis)

In the wake of a recent surge in successful movie adaptations of literature—from classic novels like The Great Gatsby to popular young adult fiction like The Hunger Games—it is often assumed that an adapted film which isn't faithful to its source material can't be good. Remaining objective is incredibly difficult, especially for fans of the books who see the story and characters they love represented in a way different from what they imagined. I'm here to tell you that adapted movies need not adhere to their source material to be “good”—in fact, strict adherence is often just as inadvisable.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Total Recall (review)

I loved the original Total Recall (1990) for all its campy sci-fi weirdness, and according to critics the 2012 version was below average even for a Hollywood remake. So when I decided to give last year's Total Recall a try, my expectations were set about as low as they could be. Maybe that's why the movie's first act, with its impressive (albeit fake) visuals and competent discussion of the nature of reality, was a pleasant surprise for me. The problem is that it uses this enjoyable and potentially thought-provoking premise to stage a by-the-numbers action flick. This is of course exactly what I would have anticipated if it weren't for the unexpectedly passable and even auspicious beginning. The sad irony of this remake of Total Recall is that you have to watch the first half of it to be disappointed by the second.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Running Man (quickie)

It's so trendy among movie cynics to say that The Hunger Games is just a copy of the supposedly better movie Battle Royale that it's actually become a commonplace, and mainstream reviewers have been forced to make reference to the similarities. I guess all the film hipsters out there haven't seen or have just forgotten about The Running Man (1987), one of the ever-plentiful Schwarzenegger stupidity machines created in the 80's and 90's. This is part of a series of movies with enough recognition to warrant a feature film parodying them. So where are the trendy name drops? This movie might not be as good as Battle Royale—the cinematography is pretty bland, the writing is relatively poor, and the characters are defined by little more than their muscles—but it's certainly not without its own merits. And on top of that, The Running Man is more thematically similar to The Hunger Games than the Japanese slasher flick. So let's take a look at some of the similarities.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Predator (quickie)

I knew going into Predator that it was one of those So Bad That It's Good movies. It's an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, what can you expect, right? Well for one thing, I didn't expect the movie to be actually bad. Don't get me wrong, there were definitely moments I did enjoy, and some of them not even in an ironic, "laughing at the movie instead of with it" kind of way. There's a panning wide shot early on which gives a sense of the mystery and fear of the jungle as well as the group's camaraderie and cohesion. Then on the ironic side of things, there's the signature bad puns encompassing everything from shouting "knock knock" after knocking down a door to telling an enemy to "stick around" after being stuck to the wall with a dagger. There are also these terrible hypermasculine jokes about women, but this is where the movie starts to go from fun-bad to just regular bad-bad.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The East (review) Thriller Mondays

It's beginning to look more and more like I should actually do a Thriller of the Week segment where I compare one of the infinite new thrillers to Now You See Me (because apparently it's the best example of what bothers me about the genre). In any case, I have my very good friend Sof to thank for sharing The East (2013) with me, and while I don't think I'll be watching it again any time soon it does get some things right which bigger and "better" thrillers don't seem to understand. I may not care much for this movie's politics, but if nothing else it certainly knows how to develop a character.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Cinematography 101 (analysis)

With the success of my recent didactic historical article focusing on The Big Sleep, I figured I'd take another shot (sorry about the pun) at writing an educational article for anyone looking to get into film. I feel that with the explosion of amateur film critics (such as myself) and the growing unease with movies which prioritize "style over substance" (a criticism I often make), something of the artistry inherent to film has been lost. Take adaptations of popular literature for example: the most common criticisms are often limited to which elements from the book were included or left out. While this can be an interesting discussion to have, the nature of film as a storytelling medium carries with it a different kind of art, and its beauty comes from the technique with which its story is told. And while it is very easy to come away from a film with the sense that the director of photography knew what she was doing, sometimes explaining that artistic vision can be more difficult. So today I'd like to talk about the very basics of cinematic camerawork and how different methods of filmmaking can unconsciously affect the experience of a film.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Day the Earth Stood Still (quickie)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is one of the most influential science fiction films of all time, so in my effort to educate myself in the genre I decided to give it a look. The most obvious thing that will jump out at you if you watch this movie today is that it really didn't stand the test of time. The acting and cinematography are all great, but the special effects are just the opposite. I don't care how much you can appreciate old sci-fi special effects, Klaatu's spaceship and his robot Gort are both pretty unimpressive by today's standards. And then on top of that they're not even featured very heavily in the movie. The robot and spaceship are basically bookends to the central story of Klaatu studying the human race. This sci-fi oldie is best appreciated from a modern standpoint for its influence on the genre and its anti-war message.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Source Code (review)

Thrillers are so popular now that it seems we get a new one every week. I've already reviewed Now You See Me and Trance, both movies from this year which are vaguely entertaining in an I Have No Idea What's Actually Going On kind of way. The problem with these is that quite often they're not given enough detail, or their plots are too focused on the big twist, so that the excitement of the first time completely disappears on subsequent screenings. These are the movies that will get audiences into the theater but disappear after their home video release, satisfying big production companies but ultimately fading into history. So I think it's safe to say that my expectations were pretty low for Source Code, a two-year-old sci-fi thriller that flew completely under my radar until recently. While there's one giant flaw in the film which will keep it in relative obscurity, I was pleasantly surprised with everything else.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (quickie)

My friend Garth recommended I watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) multiple times before I finally got around to watching it the other day. For some reason I was expecting a combination of RocknRolla and Layer Cake; instead the movie is closer to In Bruges but much more lighthearted and fun. And in the end, maybe "fun" is really the best way to describe this movie. I don't mean "fun" in the way the Transformers movies or the latest Die Hard is fun by sacrificing story for big set piece action scenes. Quite the opposite. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has plenty of action, but the focus is clearly on the story, which works well because the story is the most entertaining I've encountered in a long time. Robert Downey Jr. is absolutely hilarious and Val Kilmer's role as the private investigator Gay Perry allows Kilmer to showcase his talent for comedic character portrayals. The film is also eminently quotable, another sign of the quality of the writing.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Attack the Block (review)

I saw trailers for Attack the Block when it was in theaters, but since I didn't really hear anything about it from critics or my friends or anything I never went to see it. Then last week my good friend Garth shared with me this review of it which puts forward a definition of the overused term "masterpiece" and shows how it fits the movie (the article's really quite good if its unique writing style doesn't bother you). On that recommendation I decided to watch the movie, and now I couldn't be more disappointed I never went to see it in theaters. As such I'd like to put forward my own definition of what it means to be a "masterpiece": a masterpiece is a really freaking good movie. And yes, Attack the Block is a really freaking good movie.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Face/Off (review)

Face/Off is another film from the large collection of quality science fiction released in 1997 (including titles such as Men in Black, The Fifth ElementStarship TroopersContact, and Gattaca). I don't know what it was about that year, but it was undeniably a great year to be a sci-fi fan. Face/Off is less of a pure sci-fi movie (no spaceships, aliens, or lazers) and more of an action movie with a sci-fi premise (face swapping). Directed by John Woo (Mission: Impossible II), it should come as no surprise that the movie's action is of the highest caliber. If you're looking for a serious film this is certainly not the place to look, but if you desire something silly and fun, Face/Off definitely delivers.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (analysis)

I was recently browsing the American Film Institute's various lists of the best films of all time and realized there were two movies on its Top 10 Science Fiction list which I hadn't seen (the other was The Day the Earth Stood Still and don't worry, I've seen it by now). I loved the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so I decided to give the original 1956 version a shot.

I prefer the remake since I feel like it had this amazing use of lighting and maintained a strong sense of horror throughout (and of course the ending is so unbelievably iconic), but for what it's worth it's definitely a tight competition and I know there are those out there who will disagree for much more intelligent reasons than simply "it came first." The 1956 film plays much more like a classic film noir than a horror or science fiction film (especially with its voice-over narration), and many viewers may end up preferring it for that reason alone. Unfortunately I'm not here to discuss the differences between the original film and its remake (they're very different). Today I'd like to answer a single question about the movie which I found interesting: what do the pods signify?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Knight and Day (quickie)

Knight and Day (2010) is one of the most polarizing movies I've ever seen. I don't mean that some people I talked to loved it and some people hated it, I mean I literally am on both polar opposite ends of the spectrum of enjoyment with this movie. On the one hand, this was one of the funniest action/comedies I've seen in a very long time. This movie is up there with True Lies for me in terms of the excellent combination of the two genres. Tom Cruise's character and dialogue are both hilarious and perfect in almost every way. There's that great scene on the airplane where Cameron Diaz is in the bathroom psyching herself up to flirt with Cruise while he's beating up secret agents without her knowledge. Comedy is different for everyone because of differences in taste and all that, but for me this was the highlight of 2010 in terms of comedy (I also don't watch many comedies, so that might be a factor).

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (review)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the sequel to last year's The Hunger Games, and for those of you looking for a quick, cut-and-dry answer, I think everything here is at least as good if not better than the original. Most of it, actually, is significantly better. Maybe this is because both the writer and director changed along with some of the production staff, or maybe they succeeded thanks to being given more artistic freedom after the success of the first film. I'm not here to tell you why it was better, I'm here to tell you how it was better. The movie runs just under two and a half hours long, and when it ends you'll still want more. Oh, and for anyone who cares, no, I have not read the books.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Value of Science Fiction (analysis)

Jeff Russell's Starship Dimensions

Maybe it's just me, but I feel like science fiction has a bad reputation. I have a distinct memory of going to see Oblivion with some friends, after which they said that it was fun but a little too unreal. While they enjoyed it for what it was, they didn't see the thematic value it contained. I don't think this was their fault as a viewer; on the contrary I get the feeling that the reputation of science fiction as little more than escapism conditions our brains to ignore the films' deeper aspects and just enjoy their spectacle. There are gonna be some spaceships, some aliens, and probably some battles between the spaceships and the aliens. Then when people do get critical of sci-fi they level their critique at the wrong things: you can't use a fire extinguisher as a jet pack, artificial gravity wouldn't work like that, those aliens don't look real. We need to change the way we think about science fiction because it can be much more than mere fantasy. (Massive spoilers ahead.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Blade Runner (analysis)

I've been watching the different versions of Blade Runner and wanted to explain the major differences between them and how they change the experience of watching the movie. For those of you who weren't aware, there were many different versions of this film made for various purposes, all of which are described briefly here and many of which can be found in various collector's editions (this is the one I have). The various cuts of the film fall pretty neatly into two categories based on three major alterations which were made for the two most recently released versions: the removal of the voice-over narration, the addition of Deckard's unicorn dream, and the removal of the studio-imposed happy ending. These three things drastically change both the experience of watching the film as well as the film's overall meaning.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dredd (quickie)

SO MUCH FROWNING. Karl Urban's Judge Dredd in the recent reboot simply titled Dredd (2012) is obviously a bit of a caritcature, but there's something about his iconic frown that epitomizes this movie. Not that the movie will make its audience frown (although it very well may do that), but that this movie just does its own thing from start to finish. There are a few things keeping this movie from being a total disaster: the action sequences are definitely exciting, the soundtrack and sound design in general are both phenomenal, and there's a tremendous amount of style throughout the film (the art department definitely studied the B-Movie Handbook on How to Portray Excessive Violence). But on the negative side of things, the writing is pretty terrible. I don't just mean the dialogue (which occasionally borders on mediocre), but the storyline. It feels more like the movie is trying simply to string together its various fight scenes than to actually tell a story. This is the embodiment of style over substance, so without further ado let's talk about its substance anyway.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ender's Game (analysis)

This article was originally written for and published by the wonderful folks over at Literary Traveler. For more of my material on Ender's Game, check out my predictions from before the film was released as well as my original review. No, I haven't spent way too much time thinking & writing about this movie. I don't know what you're talking about. Anyway, here are some more thoughts on the adaptation of Ender's Game.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Untangling Memento's Narrative Structure

Earlier this week I took on the task of explaining certain basic plot elements in the movie Donnie Darko, so today, for my magical 100th article since beginning this monstrosity of a website a little over a year ago, my wonderful girlfriend Alice gave me the brilliant idea of writing something similar for the only movie I've watched over 100 times: Christopher Nolan's Memento. If you haven't heard of the film I really can't recommend it highly enough. It has a bit of a cult following for being one of those movies that is "hard to figure out," but like many mind-bending movies before it, Memento is great for reasons unrelated to its confusing plot.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Christine (review)

Recently I've been absolutely in love with the movies of John Carpenter. A bit of an interesting entry in his early career is the horror/thriller Christine (1983), a movie I didn't realize is adapted from a Stephen King novel of the same name. Among other things I didn't realize the first time I watched this film was that it contains a critique of its subject matter. I thought it was your typical male fear-fantasy of feminine jouissance simply brought into the realm of automobile fetishization. After a quick chat with my good friend Garth and another trip through the movie I've been convinced of exactly the opposite. So today I'm here to tell you why fans of Stephen King or horror in general should probably go see John Carpenter's Christine.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Witness (quickie)

As someone who grew up with Han Solo and Indiana Jones, there's a soft spot in my heart for Harrison Ford. A few months ago, I ran around the internet looking for more movies starring him and stumbled across the 80's police-drama-slash-crime-thriller Witness (for those of you looking for the same, check out Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, it's the youngest I've seen Ford in a relatively big role and it's just a fantastic film). I finally got a chance to watch the movie, and while there's not really anything wrong with it, it's also not the most amazing movie you'll ever see.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Donnie Darko (analysis)

Donnie Darko is constantly featured on popular lists of the most confusing movies of all time. This phenomenon fascinates me since none of the movies on these lists are all that confusing. I mean, if you really want to have no idea what's going on in a film you need look no further than art house cinema. These movies tend to lack any sort of cohesive narrative structure whatsoever, whereas the movies populating these confusing movie lists all tell stories which are easy enough to follow but which simply contain confusing elements. For instance, two other common inclusions are 2001: A Space Odyssey and Memento, the first of which merely contains an ambiguous symbol (the monolith) and the second of which doesn't proceed chronologically. Similarly, anyone can tell you what happens in Donnie Darko, but what seems more interesting to audiences is what this sequence of events means.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ender's Game (review)

Well, this is awkward. A week ago I predicted that Ender's Game would be little less than a total disaster. I thought it would lose the novel's impact and reverse its message, and perhaps even worse than that I called the director names. Fortunately, I was mostly wrong, and now there is published evidence that I cannot predict movies based on trailers.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Starship Troopers (analysis)

In anticipation of the release of Ender's Game later tonight I want to talk about another famous science fiction film, Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers (1997). The similarities between these two movies aren't limited to the fact that they both feature bugs as enemies. Both Starship Troopers the movie and Ender's Game the book function as satires of militarism. The interesting thing is that, depending on who you ask, critics either didn't understand Starship Troopers's satire, or (what I find more likely) understood it but found it lacking or inadequate. Honestly this isn't the most incisive satire I've seen since it tries to keep the tone light (making for a more enjoyable experience), but the critique is there. Would you like to know more?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Abyss (quickie)

On my way through James Cameron's filmography a few months ago looking for new movies to watch I discovered The Abyss (1989) which Cameron did in between Aliens and T2. Bookended by some of the director's best early work and lead by the amazing Ed Harris I was intrigued, so when I found the movie for 4 bucks at Newbury Comics I couldn't resist. There's definitely a lot to like here: the acting from Harris is excellent as usual and his supporting cast comes off effectively as a tightly knit community. The cinematography is solid, conveying the claustrophobia of living in a confined space underwater (I absolutely love experiencing the interior of the rig the crew lives on). But the reason I say there's a lot to love here is there's just a lot of movie here, and sometimes that's not a good thing.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Speed Racer (review)

So... yeah. Speed Racer. I freaking love this movie, and today is my birthday, so I'm going to talk about how absolutely wonderful this heaping mess of perfect garbage is. I would say this is my all time favorite guilty pleasure movie, but that seems to imply that I think the movie is bad, and while I accept that Speed Racer has its flaws, it's not nearly the disaster its failure at the box office and negative critical reception would indicate. It's not for everyone, but if you can deal with the overwhelming nature of its aesthetic and the underwhelming nature of its story then you'll see how I can rank this amazing catastrophe among my all-time favorites.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ender's Game Predictions

Since writing these predictions I have reviewed the movie itself, so that link is here if you want it. Otherwise continue onward. (Spoiler alert: my predictions are mostly wrong.)

So they're adapting Ender's Game. I have to admit, when I read the book for the first time back in high school I didn't exactly fall in love with it, but in those days I hadn't figured out how to enjoy reading yet. At some point I saw a trailer for this year's screen adaptation Ender's Game and it was beautiful and exciting and sent a chill down my spine, so I decided it was time to return to the book. After going through the book twice and discovering everything I had missed as a teenager, I have some predictions for where the movie is going to go based on the trailers and other promotional videos available as well as the crew working on the film. In the interest of full disclosure, these predictions are mostly negative, but more than anything else that's because I'm incredibly excited for this new take on the material and am trying to temper my expectations. So take this with a grain of salt, but here is what I think will be wrong with Ender's Game.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mimic (review)

Today I've got another science fiction film from 1997, this time blended with some horror in Guillermo del Toro's Mimic. Now I'm no expert on the man, although I have seen both Hellboy movies and absolutely loved Pan's Labyrinth (and would love even more for this to become a reality), but I would say this definitely has some of the director's signature even if very little compared to his later works. This is his second feature film after the Criterion Collected Cronos, and as such "disappointment" feels a bit unfair. Sophomore releases tend not to be as exciting as debuts, where the style is new, or later works, where the style has had time to mature. But while Mimic is occasionally exhilarating, it ultimately outstays its welcome.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Contact (review)

It's absolutely astounding to me how much good science fiction came out of the year 1997. We have the enduring classics Men in Black and Starship Troopers, the lesser known but still amazing cult films The Fifth Element, Face/Off, and Gattaca*, the small but memorable sci-fi horror films Cube, Mimic, and Event Horizon*, and even the unnecessary sequels The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Alien: Resurrection. So when I learned that year also included the sci-fi drama Contact from Robert Zemeckis (of Back to the Future* fame) I decided it was worth a look. While I think this is slightly overshadowed by the rest of the year's magnificent films, I certainly wasn't disappointed.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

John Carpenter (analysis)

John Carpenter and Kurt Russell

To make a long story short, my favorite filmmaker recently has been John Carpenter and I wanted to make a tribute to his legacy. There's something about his cinema that is at the same time light-hearted, goofy, and excessive while also remaining serious, talented, and deliberate. In other words, John Carpenter infuses his movies with equal parts genius and stupidity, and if you're in the right mood there's little that can beat his best films. In light of this, I've taken the ten movies that he both wrote and directed and analyzed them in terms of their levels of stupidity (in the best sense of the word) and genius. This list is far from perfect as it leaves out some of the stupidest movies on his résumé (Big Trouble in Little China) as well as some of the most genius (The Thing, Christine). It also doesn't take into account other aspects of the films which might make them enjoyable or otherwise praiseworthy (you'll notice my personal rankings don't match up perfectly with the levels of stupidity & genius). But for my purposes today it is enough for a glimpse into the career of one of the greatest, as well as one of the weirdest filmmakers still alive today.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Don Jon (review)

I have to admit, I had some pretty unreasonable expectations for this movie. I don't mean they were unreasonable because of how high they were (which was pretty high), but because they were based on a single line of dialogue from the trailer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character compares sappy romantic comedies to pornography, and immediately I expect a thorough and detailed critique of the genre. But I'm glad Don Jon is what it is rather than what I had been hoping for, because its talents are much more varied than a simple genre satire would have allowed for. Oh, and it's more fun this way, but who cares about that sort of thing?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Riddick (review)

Let's talk about the Riddick series. Even going back to the original Pitck Black (2000) they were never really very good movies, but they had a certain appeal because of their style and somewhat unique universe. To me they always felt like they had been adaptations of some graphic novel I'd never heard of. As such they acquired something of cult following (which I counted myself a part of), and what was at best a mediocre but original science fiction film became a franchise. So lead by the series' director David Twohy and its lead actor Vin Diesel, this September saw the release of a third feature length film simply titled Riddick, and as a fan of the series I think maybe it's time Riddick was finally crossed off the list and left for dead.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gravity (review)

Every few years we get movies like this that send the film community into hysterics for one reason or another. People come out of the woodwork to tell you that watching it will change the way you watch movies and give you new perspective in life. Maybe it's the simple originality of the thing: in our cinema normally clogged with adaptations, sequels, prequels, remakes, and reboots (not to mention samey, generic plot structure) it can be both refreshing and exciting to see something created from an original screenplay. Maybe it's the movie's technical qualities: it is, after all, very well shot and scored, and the production value and acting are both top notch. In any case, Gravity (2013) is another one of those movies that gets everyone ready to pull their Kubrick cards when it's really just a regular, run-of-the-mill good movie. So what is Gravity and what isn't it?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Yojimbo (review)

In a similar vein as yesterday's The Big Sleep, Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961) is a classic which, in some circles, needs no recommendation. The thing is, these movies are classic for a reason and modern audiences who may be intimidated or feel that they won't be able to understand should not be afraid to watch them. Yojimbo was the first live action movie in another language that I left wanting to watch again. In the first place, the movie is simply hilarious, and not in an accidental funny-because-it's-so-old kind of way. On top of that, Kurosawa stacks some solid action and drama, thought-provoking musings on ethics and morality, and his personal cinematic style. For anyone looking to spread their tastes outside the English language in a serious but still fun way, this is probably the movie you should start with.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Big Sleep (analysis)

I want to start this off on the wrong foot by saying that reviewing Howard Hawks's 1946 masterpiece The Big Sleep feels slightly unnecessary. It's such a classic in my mind that it feels like reviewing Casablanca (1942) or Citizen Kane (1941). But I realize there are some people out there who for a variety of reasons are not well versed in the greatest hits of classical Hollywood, so I wanted to put this forward as not only one of my favorites of the era, but also a movie which I still enjoy watching. Some of the reasons I love this movie are bound to my love for classical Hollywood cinema in general, but there are also several reasons modern viewers with no knowledge of the history or background of this period of time should see this movie. So with that in mind, I've decided to put together a bit of a unique article today: here's my crash course in The Big Sleep and it's relation to both classical and modern cinema.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Heat (quickie)

Well, after watching and reviewing Bridesmaids (2011), I felt it was only proper to check out Paul Feig's following movie, The Heat (2013), which happened to also be recommended by my good friend Ben. While I don't think this film is quite as funny as his previous one, it does have its moment and more importantly features some pretty solid action. If you're used to the virtual fireworks display level of explosions in you average action flick, however, you may leave this unimpressed (there's a very unimpressive CGI explosion to name a quick example). The thing about The Heat is that if you take each of its parts alone, from action to comedy to stereotypical-Boston-based-crime, it's hard to see the appeal. But if you take everything together it all adds up to quite an enjoyable time.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bridesmaids (review)

As usual, I have a few prefaces before I get into my review of Bridesmaids (2011), which was recommended to me by my sister Michelle, my friend Erin, and just about everybody else in the entire universe. First of all, as I mentioned in my review of Back to the Future, I'm terrible at reviewing comedies because I'm sort of like, "Hey that was a funny movie, but let's have a nice boring talk about what it means." On top of that, this isn't really my favorite genre, with its preoccupation with heteronormative relationships and the way it creates misleading and potentially dangerous fantasies (see, there I go). With that said, you people who recommended this to me must really know what you're doing, because despite my misgivings I thoroughly enjoyed watching it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Trance (review)

I feel like I am becoming that "jaded about fun movies" film critic guy. One of my best friends in the entire world (and proprietor of Earnest Farms) Ben recommended director Danny Boyle's newest film Trance (2013) to me and I didn't even have the common courtesy to enjoy it. This movie reminded me a lot of Now You See Me* (2013) in that it's basically your average gimmicky thriller-of-the-month. The gimmick du jour is hypnotherapy and as such requires a small amount more suspension of disbelief than Louis Letterier's magician flick. While it was fun to watch for the most part, I don't think I'll be revisiting it anytime soon. Trance isn't a bad movie, it's just not a very good one.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Tale of Two Sisters (quickie)

A Tale of Two Sisters (original title Janghwa, Hongryeon; 2003) is a film adaptation of the traditional South Korean folktale Janghwa Hongryeon jeon and is one of my top 10 all time favorite foreign films. Unfortunately I'm sick and don't have the time or energy to do this movie justice, but suffice it to say there are some Sixth Sense-level twists that call for a proper Lacanian analysis. IMDb categorizes this as a drama/horror/mystery/thriller and I was introduced to it as a horror film, but to be honest it ends up playing out as more of a psychological drama. The horror and thriller aspects are definitely there, but the pace is slow and the scares are few and far between. That's not necessarily a bad thing, you just have to set your expectations properly. This is not Ringu (1998). Instead the experience of watching it feels more like David Cronenberg's wonderful Spider (2002) or the somewhat more recent Amour (2012) by Michael Haneke.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Side Effects (review)

I absolutely love Steven Soderbergh, so when my friend Jimmy recommended his most recent film Side Effects to me I was only too happy to oblige. This is the director's third collaboration with writer Scott Z. Burns after The Informant! in 2009 and Contagion in 2011, both of which I found to be rather enjoyable (in fact you'll find The Informant! on the list of my Top 5 Recent Comedies). In a stroke of good fortune, Side Effects manages to capture the best of both of those movies: the poignant satire of The Informant! combined with the atmospheric filmmaking of Contagion. In this film the satire is pointed at the pharmaceutical industry, but it wraps the critique in a tightly woven psychological thriller resulting in a movie that should be enjoyable for anyone.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gattaca (review)

A VHS copy of Gattaca (1997) has been sitting, unwatched, on my family's movie shelf for at least fifteen years, having been lent to us by a friend when it first came out. I decided it was finally time to watch it, and I'm seriously glad I did. It's definitely an oddity as far as science fiction goes. There are basically no special effects, and despite the fact that the movie centers around space travel we never once see a spaceship. There are also no fight scenes, whether involving super powers, guns, or even fists. The typical sci-fi visual coordinates are entirely missing, and the only thing "science fiction" about this movie is its premise: in the future, human genetic engineering has been developed and accepted to the point where naturally born humans are ostracized. From there it plays out more like a drama than anything else.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Event Horizon (quickie)

On videocassette.
So I have the vast internet to thank for recommending this movie. A few days ago I stumbled on a website indicating that Event Horizon contained stupidly entertaining and gory science fiction horror. It also features Morpheus and The Guy from Jurassic Park, and apparently held the number one spot in the UK box office for a time, so I thought, "How bad could it be?". After watching it, I can tell you it's definitely a stupid movie. The horror is unoriginal, uninspired, and, to be honest, unscary (check your newspeak dictionary, it's in there). The CGI ranges from mediocre to laughable. The movie commits the misogynist blunder typical of Hollywood Horror of objectifying its women. Perhaps worst of all, some of the movie just doesn't make a lot of sense. But if you're in the right mood for it, Event Horizon can be a lot of fun. It falls definitively into the realm of the B-movie, and most of its failings come off in a way that feels silly and enjoyable rather than cringeworthy.

Monday, September 30, 2013

THX 1138 (review)

Thanks to a recommendation from Dan Spicer, today I have a review of THX 1138 (1971). This is a dystopian science fiction film and was George Lucas's feature film directing debut, produced in collaboration with Francis Ford Coppola and his production company American Zoetrope. It takes pretty heavy influence from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (although I guess you could probably say that about most dystopian sci-fi) and plays out somewhat like Equilibrium (2002) but with better acting and camerawork. The film also shares an interesting and disappointing historical parallel with Lucas's more popular sci-fi adventure Star Wars: both were re-released with added scenes using ugly CGI. Considering this is probably the only version you'll be able to get your hands on, should science-fiction fans chase down a copy? Almost definitely.