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.