Thursday, November 27, 2014

Michôd's Bleak Western Dystopia in The Rover

"Not everything has to be about something."

Bleak is the perfect word to describe David Michôd's latest feature The Rover. Part Mad Max and part Unforgiven, it is a distinctly desolate combination of dystopian science fiction and revisionist western. Its execution is impressively ambitious and its atmosphere is so dense you'd need more than a knife to cut it, but its hopeless outlook left me too cold to count this raw examination of human nature among my favorites of the year.

Eric (Guy Pearce) is a man with nothing left to live for except his car, so when a band of thugs steal it he becomes engulfed with inconsolable fury which slowly bubbles up from beneath the surface of his thick, grizzly exterior. He pursues the thieves by all conceivable means, but when they start to slip through his fingers he must rely on the witless young Ray (Robert Pattinson), the brother of one of the outlaws.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Horrifying Proximity of Jake Gyllenhaal & Nightcrawler's Socio-Economic Ideology

"What if my problem wasn't that I don't understand people, but that I don't like them?"

Jake Gyllenhaal's Louis Bloom, the central subject of Nightcrawler, is the biggest character we've seen on screen so far this year. He might even be the biggest character we've seen since Daniel Plainview crept into theaters in 2007. It is impossible to see this movie and not leave it struck by both Gyllenhaal's transformative performance and writer Dan Gilroy's unique creation. He exists beyond the confines of the film's run time: he introduces himself in the trailer and sticks with us long after we leave the theater. He leers out at us with his coldly inviting gaze, intruding on our sense of safe distance.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Meaningful Nothing in The Zero Theorem

The Zero Theorem is Terry Gilliam's latest science fiction black comedy, and it provides an excellent test for identifying fans of the director. While by no means a bad movie, it's also far from Gilliam's best work; but it does exhibit his distinct sense of style, and anyone who loves Brazil or 12 Monkeys will find themselves right at home. It's satirical, it's surreal, and most of all it's just plain weird. It has Tilda Swinton rapping. So let's get under the hood and take a look at why this creation never quite comes to life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

3 Reasons to (Not) Watch 300: Rise of an Empire

"You've come a long way to stroke your cock while you watch real men train."

There are exactly three reasons to (not) watch 300: Rise of an Empire.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Personified Morality in the Third Act of Sunshine

***Warning: Spoilers Below***

In Defense of the Third Act: Ethics and Morality in Danny Boyle's Sunshine

"Capa, warning: you are dying. All crew are dying."

But it's not just Capa and his crew that are dying. We're all dying, the whole human race, and that's absolutely terrifying. Look far enough into the future and you begin to stare into the abyss.

Sunshine gets a lot of criticism for its third act. After two acts of fairly serious science fiction, the film takes an abrupt nose drive into the realm of trashy horror with a man-turned-monster chasing the crew around and killing them. However, while this shift undeniably marks a potentially jarring mismatch in terms of the film's tone, it nonetheless serves as a perfect conclusion for the film's thematic discussion of the uncertain importance of human activity in the face of its impermanence.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Birdman: Technical, Psychological, Political

Ryan Gajda (artist)

"A thing is a thing, not what is said about that thing."

Birdman is the brilliant new release from director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Biutiful), and because functions on three separate levels I'm likewise going to tackle it in three portions. The first level is as a pure technical exercise in stretching the rules of cinematography. The film is composed of a series of incredibly impressive long takes edited together to appear as one continuous shot, and that really gets me excited. So excited, in fact, that while watching it I completely lost my sense of critical distance.

Sharknado 2: The Second One Honors The Asylum Legacy

"You know what you just did?"
"Don't say it."
"You jumped the shark."

Let's just get one thing clear right from the start: The Asylum does not make good movies. I love them and I'm so glad to be back reviewing a new release of theirs after my short but sweet stint binge-watching their films from March to August this summer, but there's nothing that accurately describes the entirety of their filmography better than the word "bad". This happens for a lot of reasons, the primary of which is that they don't spend any time or money on their productions. Whatever the cause it's an essential fact of their existence, and one which is easy to forget with the recent widespread popularity of Sharknado and its new sequel. So before we move on, it's important to know that if you go into an Asylum movie expecting anything that actually resembles modern cinema and you will only be disappointed.

Alright, are we all on the same page now? Great. Then let's talk about how amazing Sharknado 2 is.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Interstellar: Ambition vs Exposition

"Now we're just here to be memories for our kids. Once you're a parent, you're the ghost of your children's future."

Interstellar is the latest film from Christopher Nolan, and as such it has a lot of people very excited and is very easy to accidentally spoil. I've refrained from any plot-specific spoilers in what follows, but this is the kind of film you really ought to see knowing as little as possible. The long and short of it is that it's very pretty, very dense, and very sentimental, so if that sounds like your cup of tea than I'd suggest you stop reading now and go buy a ticket, preferably to a showing in IMAX 70mm. If you're skeptical, the biggest turn-off for audiences has been its convoluted narrative—not that it's too hard to follow, but rather that it occasionally doesn't make sense in purely logical terms. If that sounds like it might bother you, then this probably won't make it into your favorite films of the year. Personally, I loved it.

Like all great science fiction, Interstellar is a beautiful contemplation of humanity, our place in the universe, and how we talk about our future. The film explicitly investigates a host of ideas by establishing opposing ideologies through its characters and examining their implications through the consequences of their confrontation. But here's the thing: it's also implicitly about all this other stuff too. Familial relationships, historical legacies, perceptions of technology; it even tries to reconceptualize popular notions of death in a post-religious society. In short, it's exactly the kind of ambitious, thematically dense science fiction that I love—and just as importantly, it looks absolutely incredible. It does have one significant drawback, however. It spends so much time and effort trying to explain itself to the audience that it becomes like a manic car salesman trying desperately to sell a car on just one of its many virtues to a customer that already wants it anyway.

A Most Wanted Man: Performance vs Politics

"It's just an ordinary pen. Looks like a pen, writes like a pen, and listens like a pen."

A Most Wanted Man is a dramatic thriller with the blood of espionage running through its veins. As the latest directorial effort from Anton Corbijn, who last brought us The American with George Clooney, there's a sense in which his new film could accurately be retitled The German. Like the director's previous entry, this one is more focused on character than action. The film is an adaptation of a John le Carré novel, whose work also provided the basis for the British masterpiece Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and it features the last lead performance of the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. But despite its admirable intentions and generally successful execution on the surface, I was ultimately disappointed by its inability to intelligently confront the subject matter it presents.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Metropolis, Star Wars, & Our Science Fiction Legacy

Boris Bilinsky

"But the hands that built the Tower of Babel knew nothing of the dream of the head that conceived it. The hymns of praise of one man became the curses of others."

Fun fact: Metropolis is actually just Star Wars in disguise. A rebellious young man joins a group of underdogs and learns the ways of a strange religion while on a quest to overthrow his tyrannical father's evil empire by destroying its greatest creation. That's right: Fritz Lang was secretly a no-talent hack using a time machine to steal ideas from the future.