dir: The Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer
There’s something so evocative for me about the sentence fragment ‘Cloud Atlas’. I’m serious, I’m not taking the piss. When I first heard it, and I can’t remember the context, whether it was in regards to the novel this movie is based on or not, I thought it was a poetic piece of brilliance. A juxtaposition of words so simple yet so meaningful/meaningless that I couldn’t help but love it.
Maybe it’s pretentious twaddle. I don’t know. All I know is that I love the name Cloud Atlas. Imagine such a thing; an atlas, whose purpose is to define and formalise exactly what is where in a landscape, yet of the clouds, of something ephemeral and ever-changing. Ironic juxtaposition of contradictory elements or what?
Everything I’ve said there is as much meaning as I ever derived, further on, once I actually read the book and then watched the film, at a much later stage.
The book? Eh. It had its moments.
The film? Well, that’s going to take me a bit longer to unravel.
I don’t think it’s a stretch, or at all unfair, to say that the film, as a film, is a total fucking disaster. I don’t think that’s overstating it at all. As a translation of a complex book to the screen, I swear they tried as hard or harder than anyone else could have, but the end result is a terrible waste of an audience’s time. If I had watched the film without reading the book, I wouldn’t have had a single fucking clue as to what was going on or what any of it meant. Even after having read the book and watched the screen version, I am clueless as to why they imagined audiences would thrill to this story, this interweaving of stories, this agglomerate vomiting of stores as is realised here.
Cloud Atlas, the book, has a nested narrative, comprising six stories that are tenuously linked. It starts with one story, which seems to end abruptly without resolution, then another story starts, then another then another, and so on. Each one is connected to the other, but then after the ‘last’ story, set way in the future, the recursive self-referencing reverses the order until the book finishes with the story it started with. It’s ultimately very well done stylistically, though I’m not entirely sure it succeeds thematically, and it has its own obstacles in the way of a reader really being able to see it as anything other than an experiment.
Cloud Atlas in filmic form explodes all the stories and pieces them together in a way that coldly stops any reasonable audience member from understanding why they bothered to make the film in the first place. I can think of dozens of reasons why they couldn’t follow the template of the book, but the way they’ve put it all together doesn’t help a thing.
It feels like, despite the linkages, despite the same actors playing multiple roles in all the stories, like you’re watching six separate films spliced together so that you rarely have time to appreciate what’s happening in one story before it’s interrupted by scenes from another one. Actually, it’s more accurate to describe it as the longest trailer for six films that you’ve watched only because you were flicking between six different cable channels at a time.
dir: Jake Schreier
Films about old guys battling dementia don’t sound like a lot of fun. If you saw that flick, at least I thought it was an actual movie, of Clint Eastwood getting into an argument with a chair last year and losing, then you know how sad it can be.
Really sad. But where there’s inspiration, there’s hope. Someone fairly clever came up with a sci-fi premise that does what the best kinds of science-fiction stories do: they use some kind of presently non-existent technology to tell us a story relatable to the people of today.
Frank (Frank Langella) is a grumpy old bastard, as if there’s any other kind of old guy in movies. The first thing we see him doing is burglarising a house. He’s pretty rough at it, but he knows what he’s doing. As he’s extracting everything of worth through lockpicking and brute force, he spies a picture in a frame, and wonders how a picture of himself as a younger man with his kids has found it into his target’s house.
It takes a while, but he figures out, too late, that he’s been knocking off his own house in the middle of the night.
So, yeah, we get to see two things: he’s a thief by nature, and he’s got some kind of neurological/cognitive issues, especially as they relate to memory.
He has a son who fusses over him (James Marsden), and who visits him weekly, but he has to drive five hours there and five back each time. Clearly there are limits to filial piety. He has a daughter as well (Liv Tyler), whose whiny voice and ethnic clothing makes her the classic cinematic cliché of a trust fund hippie. She fusses from a safe distance, as safe a distance away as Tajikistan, or Kyrgyzstan, or one of the many ‘stans to choose from.
The concerned son, the good son, decides that you can buy your way out of a difficult situation. Money can assuage guilt, it's possible, or at least that's what this film champions as an ideal in life. The son buys the father a robot. It's far enough in the future where robots are now adept at carrying out all the tasks a senile old man and a crafty thief could ever ask for. Frank's not enamoured with the purchase, because, as with most people who are either old or suffering from dementia or both, they deny they have a problem and they at least pretend to resent any attempts towards helping them (while whining simultaneously if you stop trying to help).
dir: Len Wiseman
Who dares say this remake is unnecessary? WHO DARES?
And they include the scene with a three-breasted prostitute, so what are you complaining about?
Total Recall, the flick from the early, early Nineties, is not really the classic some are pretending it is. Sure, it’s an Arnie film from before he got too ripe, and it was directed by Paul Verhoeven, someone for whom the words "tasteless misogynist excess" are a badge of honour instead of the grave insult they're intended to be, and it was pretty freaky and entertaining at the time. But it's no 2001. It's definitely on the goofy, trashy side of the sci-fi cinematic spectrum.
It also, like this flick, didn't really have that much to do with the original Philip K. Dick short story it pretended to be lifted from. That story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, was a very short story indeed. It also included no more than a depressed guy who goes to a memory implantation place where he wants some fantasy implanted that he's the most Important Person in the Universe. Turns out, the staff of the place realise, he actually is.
And that was it. Nothing about Mars, or three-breasted prostitutes, freeing the slaves or violent divorces. Nothing about mutants or superspy triple agents and defective holographic headgear.
So people hoping to get up on their high horses about this are wasting their time, and their horses. It's just an excuse for an action / sci-fi flick where people run, shoot and fight with people and robots, and then everything's okay in the end.
dir: Barry Sonnenfeld
And the world keeps on spinning, thanks to the Men in Black who keep us safe from the decent films in the multiplex. Sorry, I meant safe from the scum of the universe. It seems like I'm saying every few reviews that such-and-such movie is unnecessary, especially when it's a prequel - sequel - new installment in a fifteen part series, and MIB3 is unnecessary, but then let's not get too hoity-toity about this whole cinema business. None of them are really that necessary, let's face it. In this cruel, brutish world they're philosophically the equivalent of whipped cream out of a can or those tiny yapping dogs idiots are sometimes shown carrying around in their handbags.
And yet I love them. Movies that is. Films in all their glory.
Whilst I'd label MIB3 even more unnecessary than most movies, it was not an entirely wasted experience. Sure, it was a waste of money, in all senses of the word, and perhaps of the time spent watching it would have been better spent punching oneself in the urethra, but I did not hate this film completely. I could almost say that I enjoyed several bits of it.
Truly. Bits. Here or there. Overall it's a ludicrous absurdity whose sole purpose is to shovel more money to the Church of Scientology through Will Smith's paycheck, but I did not hate all of it.
Also, it was only after watching it that the sheer stupidity of the plot hit me. Before that fateful moment (a picosecond after the credits commenced rolling), I sat there mostly with a leotarded grin on my face without the benefit of alcohol in my system.
The main reason I enjoyed it, I think, is simply that Jemaine Clement was in it, of Flight of the Concords fame. No, that's not really enough to justify not hating it. Um, Will Smith is as arrogant and shouty as ever? Nah, still not enough. Josh Brolin does a really good Tommy Lee Jones?
Well, I don't rightly know. Truth is, had my mood been even slightly less 'up' than it was, I would have hated this flick and every motherfucker in it with a red hot passion that would frighten a young Henry Rollins, who used to be entirely powered by hate back in his earlier days. As it was, I was able to kick back and 'enjoy' it for what it was: a big budget piece of fluff.
dir: Ridley Scott
This film doesn’t need to exist. It didn’t need to be made. But I’m glad Ridley Scott made it, and I’m glad I watched it. I guess.
I even saw it in 3D, and not only did I pay for the experience by literally paying money, but also by incurring a headache from watching it that plagued me for hours afterwards. I don’t think, when our bodies were being Intelligently Designed by some kind of benevolent Creator, that our ocular physiology was ever designed to watch films in such a way. I think 3D is probably a form of blasphemy, and that it should be declared a mortal sin by the Vatican, or NASA, or the Stonecutters.
Even with the heavy toll I paid, I do have to admit that it looked utterly splendid, and that it used the 3D effectively to give both a sense of space and of the alienness of the two main locations in the film, being the ship called the Prometheus, and structures on the surface of an inhospitable planetoid.
The very first scenes of the film, before the title, show a somewhat luminous looking humanoid chap drinking something clearly not fit for human (or otherwise) consumption. The horripilating liquid, which looks like that foul Jagermeister stuff, comes in this totally manky cup, so we can safely assume it’s not very hygienic, whatever it is.
To fill in a little more detail, this chap strips almost naked next to a great rush of water, as some kind of space ship lifts up out of the planet’s atmosphere, and drinks. Immediately, like a dose of MoviPrep, it goes straight through him, making him feel somewhat poorly. His body starts breaking down, falling apart, and then we get a microscopic view of what’s happening to the cells in his body. Oh, he’s long dead, but even the DNA, if that’s what it is, breaks apart. As the rest of him dissolves to nothing in the raging waters he’s fallen into, we see images of that DNA reknitting itself into some new form.
Wow, they can do anything with science. The next exact scene has two adventurous scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and some other guy, knocking some rocks down and getting into a cave on the Isle of Skye, where they weep with joy over the discovery of a particular image carved into the wall.
Do you think the two scenes are related in any way? Does this prompt curious questions in your mind? Do you think the film will seek to answer them to your satisfaction, you poor deluded fool?
dir: Timo Vuorensola
What the hell was all that about?
At first I was disappointed because I thought it was going to be a biography about actress Ione Skye, the 80s / 90s It Girl, daughter of folk singer Donovan, former wife of Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, current wife of irritating Australian singer Ben Lee (!), star of such beloved classics as Say Anything and Gas Food Lodging, and mother to several hundred children. Surely that’s more important than Space Nazis?
But there is absolutely nothing about Ione Skye in Iron Sky. Iron Sky might have benefitted a little by including something about her, since it contained almost everything else in the known universe in its running time. Nothing about wavy-haired ingénues from another time, though, sad to say.
Instead it has a premise that’s pretty much the beginning and the end of the entire thinking behind the entire film that employed hundreds of people for several months: Nazis on the Moon. What else do you need when you’ve got such a ‘killer’ idea?
Apart from the premise, which isn’t as outlandish these days, since everything’s seemingly up for grabs, in fact it seems downright quaint in comparison to much of the filth that comes out these days, the movie (if such a descriptor is applicable) doesn’t have that much else going for it other than what I’m sure the people making it thought was satire. I can’t really imagine what else a flick would be trying to do if it has a lead character in it trying to portray a President Sarah Palin.
Sure, she’s not called Palin, she’s just called the President (as played by Australian actress Stephanie Paul), but it’s glowingly obvious. The glasses, the hairstyle, the Oval Office stuffed to the eaves with bear pelts and hunting trophies: it’s not grand subtlety we’re talking about here.
However, what you’re thinking, as an intelligent and highly sexually desirable reader of one of my reviews who hasn’t seen this and will never pay good money to see it (like I did, much to my regret, even with a membership discount at Cinema Nova), is this: what’s the point of Palin ailing and flailing here, and indeed the entire existence of this movie?
Nothing. There is no point, they just thought it would be funny.
dir: Andrew Niccol
Oh, World: Stop foisting Justin Timberlake onto us as a lead actor. I know he doesn’t want to record albums anymore, but really, when he’s talking and moving, he’s not really conveying whatever the hell it is that you think he’s conveying.
He’s certainly not an action hero in the making. Where do you think this is, Taiwan? Only in Taiwan, Seoul and possibly Hong Kong do people make a career as treacly pop singers before they make the jump to action superstardom.
And what a film to try to make him the next Jason Statham, eh? A science fiction flick where Timberlake’s character, who’s from the ghetto, don’t you know, tries to upend an unfair system which keeps most of humanity in virtual slavery to Father Time.
Yeah, I know, it’s just like every single other flick that comes out, with Timekeepers instead of cops, and people literally stealing the life left to people off of each other’s arms instead of having Matrix-y type fights, but these chaps have thrown in a completely new spin on the Bonnie and Clyde set-up, so it must be good.
Andrew Niccol, a long time ago, made a flick I liked. It was called Gattacca, and it posited a not-too-distant future where genetic engineering was causing certain changes in society, and few of them were any good. In Time kind-of could be seen as the next extension of that, in that the society depicted in this flick has arisen in its particular way due to genetic engineering leading to virtual immortality.
People are born the usual way, but once they turn 25, a clock starts ticking on their arm, showing the amount of time they have left, being a year. That time is the only currency which exists now, in that people literally work for extra time to be added onto their arms in order to keep living. If someone runs out of time, they die, instantly.
People pay for stuff using that time. A cheap meal could cost a couple of minutes, and a pricey meal could cost a month. They can give each other time by holding hands and transferring it, and some enterprising hoodlums simply jack people for it, killing the people. Theoretically, a person could live for hundreds, if not thousands of years, but how, of course, does someone accumulate that much time? And wouldn’t people get bored after a few hundred years?
dir: Gary Ross
For readers of the book the only question is whether Jennifer Lawrence is a credible Katniss Everdeen. For people who haven’t read the books, it would surprise me if they care at all, and surprises me even more that they went in such droves to watch this film, which they have. It’s the biggest film of the year, thus far, which is pretty surprising in itself, and also gratifying.
In my mind at least, the success of The Hunger Games trilogy has always been a statement of quality against that other titan of the teen – young adult genre, being the Twilight series of abominations. Katniss is the anti-Bella Swan, in that she’s a decent and enjoyable female character to follow, who has agency and makes tough decisions concerning her fate and the fates of others. In contrast, Bella is a blank who has two hot supernatural boys fight over her.
There’s no need to fight over her, boys, she’s definitely not worth it.
But Katniss, Katniss Everdeen… It was like Suzanne Collins was saying ‘this kinda thing can be done right’. And so even if the story comes across as a melange of Battle Royale, Running Man, Predator, Nineteen-Eighty-Four and every reality television cliche of the last ten years, it's still the product of a worthy endeavour.
Let me say up front that I loved the books, have read them all, so I'm fairly conversant with the source material. In the interests of being a semi-responsible reviewer, I will set aside that so I can try to talk about it purely as a film.
Nah, can't do it. It's impossible. I can’t pretend to not know what’s coming, or what’s left out.
Right off the bat I’ll say that it’s a reasonable adaptation of a book that’s not that complex. The problem in adapting it is that the book’s narrated in the first person, and a lot of that narration colours what Katniss does and why. Without that insight into why she’s doing things, it’s hard to differentiate (for those who don’t know) between what she seems to be doing, and what she’s actually doing. Some of this was communicated non-verbally, to good effect, but a lot of the time it looks like Katniss is behaving wildly out of character.
It took me a long while to warm to Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. She doesn’t match the Katniss I carry around in my head from the books, though that’s not to say she doesn’t do a good job. She does the best she can, and after the halfway point, it no longer matters.
The film is equally split, exactly on the hour, into the pre-Hunger Games section and the Games themselves, so there’s a fairly long set up. Some people I’ve spoken to prefer the first half, but I have to say that it didn’t really click with me until the second half.
The story is set in some distant Cowardly New World that Aldous Huxley himself would spit on in terror if he ever beheld it. The United States we love and cherish is no more. It is now called Panem, and is loosely modelled on both an Orwellian depiction of a totalitarian state and the worst elements of the Roman Empire. There’s the Capital, where everyone dresses like Nicki Minaj (if you don’t know who that is, she generally looks like a combination between a sugary dessert and a child’s toy), and there are twelve districts where the majority of the population live in misery and starvation.
dir: Andrew Stanton
‘Old-school science fiction’ is one of those phrases that seems like it’s too oxymoronic to be allowable to be used in common parlance and polite company. Even if it’s meaningless semantically, I’m still going to use it because I think it’s totally applicable. And what do I mean by such a phrase?
Tarzan in space.
Maybe Flash Gordon is a better example of where it’s coming from. At the very least, it’s not robots and star ships and ethical dilemmas about helping lichens on distant planetoids.
It’s just about a guy, called Herman Merman, no, sorry, he’s called John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), and he was on the losing side of the Civil War. The American one, not the one in England, or Liberia. In the pursuit of a cave full of gold, he mysteriously appears somewhere else. Somewhere very much else.
Without him knowing it, he’s turned up on Mars, which the locals call Barsoom. And on Barsoom, there are really tall green four-armed Martians, some other reddish looking ‘white’ human types, and some shapeshifting shitstirrers, who look like whoever they want. It’s too difficult to unpack the racial implications of much of this stuff, so it’s easier to just drop it on the ground, and back away quietly.
At the very least it’s not as obviously retrograde as that other paragon of science fiction, being Dances with Avatars.
John Carter notices something strange about the planet, being the fact that he seems to treat it like one great big trampoline. Someone else comes along and explains to him later that it possibly has something to do with his body being accustomed to the higher gravity of Earth, which means that he’s like some kind of goddamn superhero on Barsoom, jumping like a hypercaffeinated monkey all over the place.
The green many-armed Martians, or Barsoomians, I guess, at first marvel at him, then they want to kill him, then they want to kill him more, then they love him and want to have his babies. Which brings me to another point: their parenting skills leave much to be desired. Sure, I know they’ve got a completely different physiology and such, but their brutal approach to selecting which hatchlings live and which die makes our culture of helicopter parenting and co-sleeping seem positively precious in comparison.
John Carter, of Virginia, doesn’t give a tinker’s dam about the Barsoomian issues going on, being some villain (Dominic West) trying to take over the city of Helium by hook and by crook, because all he wants is to get back to his cave of gold. But once he spots a Princess, in fact a Princess of Mars called Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), he gets all patriotic and concerned as to what happens to this red planet. Yes, pussy clearly makes the universe go round, and so it should.
dir: Shawn Levy
It’s Robot Rocky. Anyone telling you anything different is a liar, and you can call them a liar to their face. Tell ‘em I said it was okay.
This might have shiny robots in it, or at least CGI approximations thereof, but in all honesty this entire flick is constructed as if by robots in a factory, except instead of using metal alloys and circuits, they’re using clichés so old Sylvester Stallone is tempted to run up and rub human growth hormone all over them because they’re so aged and creaky.
Into this technological whorehouse of gimcrackery they insert the compelling and obnoxious presence of Hugh Jackman playing a former boxer who ekes out a living having his robot beat up cows at county fairs.
I’m not making this up. In the first few minutes of this illustrious flick, Charlie is rudely awakened by children, finishes off a beer, then comes off worse during an argument with them. It doesn’t bode well for his skills as a smooth operator.
A former opponent in the ring (Kevin Durand), with a pretty poor Texan yeehaw! accent, despite or because of being a Canadian from Thunder Bay, goads Charlie into a bet: Charlie’s robot Ambush versus the shitkicker’s two thousand pound bull.
The taking of the bet isn’t seen really as the problem. From the outset, we can see that Charlie, despite being played by Australia’s Own Hugh Jackman, a handsome and intelligent man at the best and worst of times, is deeply, deeply stupid. Perhaps even borderline retarded. Maybe he took one too many punches to the brain meats way back in the day. It happens. I watched a documentary the other day about The Thriller in Manila, being the legendary title fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali back in the 70s, and after seeing the damage Frazier doled out, we are told at doco’s end by one of Frazier’s family that Smoking Joe’s voicemail message to this day included a remark about how he was the one that gave Ali Parkinson’s Disease during that very match. Yeah, I know Joe's dead, but that message of eternal meanness will last forever. Yes, it’s charming, but watching the match, it’s hard to disagree with his boast. People aren’t meant to have other people punch them hard in the brain continuously. It doesn’t improve anything in the human organism at all, and you don't have to be someone with a million dollar MRI scanner to figure that out.
dir: Mike Cahill
No, it's not a movie version of the soap opera that ran for a thousand years, the only rival for the daytime soap crown against Days of Our Lives. This is Another Earth.
The five people that will see this outside of the film festival circuit and at ‘special’ screenings might argue, if they found themselves at the same coffee shop or crack house, whether this is actually a science fiction flick at all. I’m not sure myself, and I’ve had a few days to think about it.
A teenage girl with the unfortunate name of Rhoda (Brit Marling) gets drunk at a party, and, whilst drink-driving her way home, hears a news story on the radio about the discovery/appearance of a celestial body in the sky that looks a hell of a lot like Earth. She tries to spy this phenomenon in the sky, losing track of the fact that she’s meant to be watching the road.
She plows into a car, killing most of the occupants. It’s a very bad thing she’s done, no-one’s saying any different, you know, so no need to get on your high horse. She is/was a bright girl, planning on becoming an astronomer, astrophysicist or astrologer to celebrities, but now that’s all gone. Once this moment of hideous negligence occurs, that bright future she envisaged disappears in that instant.
She’s released from jail several years later. Because she did not stop for Death, no, because we did not know her prior to the accident (which happened in the first few minutes of the film), we assume she’s changed by her experiences in jail, and with her deep, deep regrets over what happened. We don’t really know how much, though, because she’s something of a blank slate, and could certainly never, ever be accused of overacting.
dir: Jon Favreau
It’s not even Cowboys VERSUS Aliens. It’s Cowboys AND Aliens, as if pitting them against each other in the title would be too aggressive and off-putting to audiences who just want to see them together on the screen at the same time, peacefully co-existing, standing nonchalantly side by side.
Well, they’ll still be disappointed, because the Aliens attack the Cowboys, so all hope of gentle understanding and interspecies acceptance fly right out the fucking window.
However, in the flick’s greatest conceit, rugged outlaws, cattle men, Mexicans and Apaches fight together to conquer the alien menace, which transcends the genre bounds of science fiction and enters into the realms of purest fantasy.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not an example of my natural contrariness when I say that I actually enjoyed this flick. Nor have I suffered a stroke, or a fruity outburst of dementia, nor was I on film-enhancing drugs whilst watching, or receiving passionate head for the duration.
More’s the pity. Still, I somewhat enjoyed this strange flick despite the lack of the aforementioned, or any tangible reason as to why.
It’s strange in that considering the jokey premise, a premise that’s a definite head-scratcher, along the lines of Pirate versus Ninja, or Samurai versus Penguin, or Man versus Hygiene, it’s not a jokey flick. It’s played straight down the line, with zero camp, and with a high degree of perhaps unnecessary seriousness. Every actor in it treats the story like it’s a credible, believable, relatable, worthy story.
What’s not strange is how it all plays out. Even though I can’t think of another flick I’ve seen with this premise and setup, there’s nothing here that’s overly new or shocking. The only real deal is that we would think or imagine that, for people of that time, predating as they would a time where the prevalence of sci-fi concepts that would make the existence of extraterrestrial species more comprehensible, they’d be even more bamboozled by these beasts than any other set of theoretical people.
I would have thought the idea and the appearance of these aliens would make these hardy frontier folk’s heads explode, showering their Stetsons, their spurs and their wholesome gingham bonnets and dresses with their own brains. But apparently they’re a bit more comfortable with mind shattering contradictions that we’d thought.
dir: J. J. Abrams
Homage to the 70s, homage to old cameras, homage to Steven Spielberg? Do any of these things really need to be honoured and celebrated? The 70s isn’t exactly the forgotten decade, the Super 8 camera is missed by no-one with a half decent mobile, and Steven Spielberg has made more money at the box office than Jesus and is plenty celebrated by Hollywood and all its legions of sycophants.
So what worthy thing is J.J. Abrams really bringing to the table? He’s made a summer blockbuster aping elements of Spielberg’s early blockbusters, except he has access to a whole bunch of CGI and a cast of people pretending to be characters from ET and That 70s Show. And in which gentle world worth living in is any of that necessary or ever desirable?
None. When younger directors honour the most well rewarded and celebrated directors of all time, it’s kind of like having a fund raising pass-the-hat around in honour of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett: like they’ve not had enough payola and praise already over the decades?
And surely if someone wants to see something like the Close Goonie Encounters of the ET Jaws kind, they could just watch Close Encounters, ET, Jaws etc in their own sweet time. It’s not like they’re rare films unavailable for decades in any format or media. Who needs J.J Abrams, the ‘creative genius’ behind Lost and Alias, to remix the greatest hits of the 1970s for our amusement and patronage? No-one.
And yet… and yet…
Yeah, it already sounds like I’m being snarky, or that I didn’t like it, so let me just admit upfront that I enjoyed the flick a lot. Oodles and heaps. Abrams may be a ham and an arch manipulator extraordinaire, but he apparently learned from the best hams and arch manipulators, a lá Spielbergo. Right upfront he delivers his mission statement: to thank and honour three of the biggest directors of that generation that came of cinematic age in the 1970s (Spielbergo, Coppola and Lucas) who inspired him to pick up a camera, and to deliver a flick the way he thinks Spielbergo might have back in the day. Sure, it’s a monster flick, but the monster barely figures into it, because most of our time and focus is on the protagonist kids. Won’t someone please ignore the children for once? No, children are the future, so… it’s all about the kids.
dir: Greg Mottola
This flick is a perfect storm of nerd signposts and signifiers so nerdish in their nerdishness that it’s akin to watching a table full of Comic-Book Guys playing with their Magic the Gathering cards, drinking Pepsi Max straight from the bottle for an hour and a half.
However, before you suspect that I’m going to go for cheap and easy laughs mocking the indefensible, and an easy pop cultural target at that, let me just say that I am a fairly nerdy person myself (as are all people who obsessively watch movies and complain about them on the tubes of the internets, let’s be honest about it), so the question for me is whether Paul is a tolerable movie because of its nerdiness or in spite of it.
Well, the two are inseparable, really. Since its two lead characters are nerds playing nerds (quite deftly, I might add), and it’s a homage to the science fiction flicks of the 1980s (mostly, though Close Encounters was earlier), and one of its main characters is a CGI alien, you can’t really grade it on its Shakespearean qualities or its Byronic pathos.
Clive and Graeme (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg) are two British nerds who’ve achieved the dream of a lifetime by travelling to the States and going to the Comic-Con event in San Diego. Some people aim high in their dreams, others aim low, but the important thing is to have a dream, I guess, no matter how achievable.
The script keeps throwing up scenes and misunderstandings where people assume Clive and Graeme are gay, and who would be the butch and who would be the bitch, but they deny it, despite the fact that circumstances keep thrusting them together, and the fact that they carry on like a bit of an old married gay couple.
The point is, I guess, that, taking out the gay panic aspect, a lot of longtime nerd friends do sometimes seem like co-dependent little couples, since most women, at least on the big screen, seem to not be able to tolerate the smell of them, at least until the end of the movie. So these desperate, enabling and isolating relationships can kind of exclude other people, and experiences.
dir: Jonathan Liebesman
Finally, Shakycam has come of age. It’s been a long, agonising adolescence, but this most painful of weapons in the director’s / cinematographer’s arsenal is now constituting the entire running length of goddamn movies. Even the opening titles get to squiggle and spaz around like a meth addict with no meth, money or people to blow for money.
Eh, it’s not so bad. Depending on the venue, I find that if I sit far enough back from the screen, instead of being actively aggravating, it’s just a mild irritant at worst and a confusing blur at best. Far enough in this context is right up the back against the goddamn wall.
World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles is the full title of the flick, apparently, which seems to imply that if it’s successful enough, an entire series of World Invasion flicks will ensue. World Invasion: Battle Morwell, World Invasion: Battle Ulan Bator and World Invasion: Battle Yackandandah are doubtless on the cards if the right return on investment is achieved. Considering the fact that much of the flick looks like it was filmed on someone’s mobile phone, and that the aliens themselves look like they were created on a Commodore 64 computer, it shouldn’t be too hard for them to break even.
Evil bloody aliens. I was expecting, considering the studio behind it, that there’d be sly implications or allusions to the aliens being stand-ins for people jumping the border and stealing all the landscaping and service industry jobs Americans no longer want to do for less than minimum wage, but apparently not. They’re just your average bipedal species with a head shaped like a muffin top hell bent on destroying all of the peoples of the world for their precious, precious water.
dir: Joseph Kosinski
Great looking film, seriously. It looks amazing. I loved every visual second of this phantasmagorical virtual shiny neon action science fiction apotheosis of computer programming.
It’s true. I play a lot of video games, I’ve watched a lot of movies, and this is a pinnacle of visual entertainment.
Oh, wait a second, I have to qualify something a bit further. I loved every single centimetre of visual real estate that didn’t involve humans or people talking.
Really, visually and aurally, thanks to an amazing soundtrack / score by Daft Punk, who have a curious cameo in full costume, so it could have been two Banksies instead for all I know, it’s amazing. But when the humans intruded, what with their annoying heads and flapping gums. The problem is when they start talking. And continue talking.
Even worse, when people say deeply stupid shit like “now that’s what I’m talking about” in a flick that probably cost a billion dollars to put together, it makes me wonder whether the studio is taking a diarrhoeic dump, wrapping it up in nanotechnological silk scarves and then singing “Happy Birthday” to me as it hands it over, expecting me to not only pay for it, but to be grateful about it as well.
The main character in this is truly terrible. I’ve never seen Garret Hedlund in anything before, and I’ll probably avoid him in future, but I really don’t have enough experience of him as a person or as an actor to know whether he’s genuinely terrible, or as bad as the material forced him to be. Because, truth be told, no actor, including The Dude, comes out of this with anything other than what should be profound embarrassment.
The Dude, being Jeff Bridges, has two roles in this flick. Seriously, he plays two characters. It makes some sense that Jeff Bridges is here, since he was in the original Tron, and he reprises the role of Kevin Flynn, the earlier movie’s human hero. The other role he plays is as the evil Clu, who, despite looking like he has a face full of putty and botox (digitally created), is more believable, better acted and has more believable motivations than the human character Jeff Bridges plays.
dir: Gareth Edwards
Monsters. They’re everywhere. Not just under your bed, or bursting out of your closet when you’re not looking, or threatening you on public transport with their odours and with requests for money.
They’re also, apparently, in Mexico, trying to get across the border to the States in order to make some money and eat some quality junk food. These monsters are so terrible that a huge wall has to be built in order to keep them out, away from decent, law-abiding white people.
And then there’s this strange flick some guy made about some actual monsters, as in, giant alien octopi, that have infected Central America with their casual destruction and socialist economic programs.
Clearly, military strongman and certifiable egomaniac Hugo Chavez is the real target here. Whether he is or not, there’s monsters out there, and the going is getting tough.
This flick was apparently made for around $500,000, which isn’t a lot of money in the film world. In my world it’s what I would earn in ten years of wageslavery, so to me it STILL represents a fuckload of money; thank you Filmworld for skewing our perception of what a lot of money is or isn’t. I doubt it actually was that little, because every time these stories arise regarding flicks made on the smell of an oily rag, the press tends to leave out all the money spent on the flick in post-production, and on marketing and such. Whatever the reality, the fact is that this is a reasonably competent sci-fi/action flick in the vein of District 9 and Cloverfield, that nonetheless shares the same weaknesses but manages to overcome some of the common shortfalls of this new genre/production process.
Shooting entirely on that digital video that’s supposed to imply ‘you are there’, and really just implies ‘you are cheap’, it also means the special effects can be much more cost effective. The main effects were apparently done by one person on their home computer, being the director Gareth Edwards. Again, these stories tend to mask the reality of the situation, but they do make for an entertaining narrative.
This flick, though, isn’t really about the effects, or even the aliens themselves, if aliens they are. Since there’s no budget, the film spends the vast majority of its time focussing on the relationship of the two main characters. One is a photojournalist called Kaulder (played by the unlikely-named Scoot McNairy), and the other is Sam (Whitney Able), who is the daughter of Kaulder’s ultimate boss at the paper he works for. In the film’s world, a probe crashed on Earth in Mexico, and a while later, these giant monstrous creatures started appearing. Sam was in Mexico, Kaulder is tasked with getting her home through the Infected Zone, and that’s the entirety of the premise.
dir: Vincenzo Natali
Ah, Canadians. They make different films from the rest of the world, don’t they? Even though almost every single Hollywood flick that gets made seems to get made in Canada, there is a world of difference in style and sensibility between the two rival North American empires.
Vincenzo Natali came to prominence when he made a flick called Cube oh so long ago now. Whatever its merits, a lot of people talked about the flick for long enough that it established a career for what I’m sure is a sweet, sweet man (for all I know he stabs puppies in his spare time).
He has a reputation for make relatively low-budget high concept science fiction flicks that are ultimately, in my humble opinion, thoroughly ridiculous. The ridiculousness doesn’t completely detract from the interesting elements of his flicks, because he knows how to put them together in a competent fashion. Yet something always happens to make you doubt your commitment to his singular lunacy at some stage of his flicks. Like night following day, like hangover following binge, his flicks always, always go wrong at some point. It’s a lovely kind of wrongness, however.
Cube seemed to be going okay until a last minute decision was made to have a character go bugfuckingly insane for no reason and start killing people for no reason. Cypher seemed to be going okay until Lucy Liu’s character started talking. Nothing, well, his film called Nothing was nuts from the start, but at least it was enjoyable for what it was: a completely nuts story about two loser guys who accidentally destroy the entire universe. Don’t think that I didn’t notice one of the main characters here wearing a Nothing t-shirt for most of the film, Vincenzo, you self-promoting shill.
The moment where Splice goes wrong is arguable. What isn’t arguable is that it does go wrong, and irredeemably so, but there’s going wrong and then there’s going wrong in such a spectacular fashion that it becomes more memorable than if you’d done it right. It’s like the difference between crashing your car into a wall at 15 kilometres an hour, versus drunk driving an aircraft carrier carrying a thousand sports stars and celebrities on fire into a thousand orphanages.
There’s jumping the shark, there’s screwing the pooch, and, thanks to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Please Gods Make It Stop Crystal Skull, there’s nuking the fridge. I hesitate to try to attain a future consensus that the phrase “fucked the mutant” should be added to that illustrious line-up of immortal phrases for fucking up royally, but I do humbly submit it for your consideration.
dir: Miguel Sapochnik
And here I thought this was a sequel to the classic flick Repo Man. Repo Man: a classic for the ages, from a kinder, gentler, punkier time when Emilio Estevez was briefly cool, and when Harry Dean Stanton, well, he’s always been cool and always will be.
Now that I think about it, a sequel or remake of Repo Man would be terrible, terrible in ways that would make you hate puppies, babies and baby puppy Jesuses. So perhaps it’s not too bad a thing that Repo Men has nothing to do with Alex Cox’s 80s alleged masterpiece.
Repo Men conjectures a hopefully unlikely future where synthetic organs are the most valuable commodity on the planet. In a parallel with the health care debate in the States, and the concept of whether people should actually be able to live even if they can’t afford what the medical profession would like to charge for its services, this flick envisages a time when companies can kill people with impunity.
They’re not killing them for a laugh on a Friday night: they’re just reclaiming their property, so it’s all legal. People enter into contracts to repay the cost of surgery and the new organs, and, if they can’t keep up their payments, become dead men and women walking after 90 days of being in default.
dir: Christopher Nolan
I don’t know what to tell you, people. On the one hand, there are parts or elements of Inception that are brilliant. On the other hand, there are whole parts and sections that seem arbitrary and cliché. And on the third hand, pretending for the moment that you’re some kind of three-handed mutant, it has an ending that I’m not sure whether it justifies the two-and-a-half hours spent watching it.
From a spectacle perspective, it’s pretty extraordinary. The sight of a Parisian arrondisement being folded over; the impact of waking someone with water from their induced dreams; weightlessness; dream perspective cityscapes; all of that stuff looks mighty purty. It’s a big budget movie where every element, every frame has been fussed over extraordinarily. Christopher Nolan, who probably can do whatever he wants as far as the studio is concerned after the tremendous success of The Dark Knight, made exactly the flick that he wanted to make. And in terms of coherence and meaning, this is a stronger film than Dark Knight, mostly because it’s not as painfully over-edited.
But then why didn’t I like the film that much?
Were my expectations too high going in? Did my keyed-up anticipation basically fuck up my capacity for enjoying it for what it was, rather than some unrealistic idea of what it should have been?
I liked it well enough until the end. I walked out shaking my head, not because it was a bad ending, but because the ending made me feel that it was all for nothing. And two and a half hours spent in the cinema, when I rarely if ever have the spare time to justify such an extravagance, needs to be worthwhile.
dir: The Hughes Brothers
Another week, another post-apocalyptic flick gets released, meant to chastise humanity for their brutish, selfish ways and profit from our desire for self-destruction. There are so many of these post-apoc flicks coming out that you’d think humanity is obsessed with its own end or something.
Or, alternately, that screenwriters have very limited imaginations.
Hot on the heels of that other mega-blockbuster The Road, which no-one saw, and those that did promptly committed suicide (or at least thought about it a whole hell of a horrible lot), comes another flick where a barren earth plays host to the last scrambling remnants of humanity.
The great difference here, though, is that this is meant to be more fun.
Sure, life on the desiccated plains is desolate, short, brutish and Hobbsian, and cannibalism and general viciousness abounds, but, unlike the dead Earth of The Road, there is some hope here for the species' survival. And that hope travels in the form of a man called Eli (Denzel Washington), who walks West, carrying a book.
Not just any book, but The Book.
You know the one. It mentions the world being created in six days, and some guy called Jeebus being nailed to a cross, and something about an apocalypse where most of us heathen scumbags will die horribly painful deaths.
dir: Jonathan Mostow
Huh? Is Bruce Willis so desperate for beer money that he’ll take practically any role in any piece de resistance of shit? He can’t possibly still owe Demi Moore alimony, can he?
The thing that’s weirdest about this flick is that I’m not entirely sure why it’s so weird. It’s weird in that it’s so brief, harmless and plastic. The plasticity of it all is part of the point, but it really does feel like half the film is missing somewhere, perhaps on either the editing suite’s floor or Bruce Willis’s bathroom, whichever.
It’s disturbing as well to see this strangely hilarious fantasy version of Bruce Willis, though I guess there’s some real reason for it.
This flick is a pointless and thinly-veiled allegory for the abdication of reality by pale, sweaty people who’ve ceased living real lives and who now live almost exclusively through the tubes of the internets. It’s utterly simplistic and, dare I say it, stupid, but even worse than that, there’s no real validity to the premise. It’s nonsense.
Set at some arbitrary time in the future, a new application of technology has resulted in the good people of America receding to the darkness of their own bedrooms, in order to send their consciousnesses forth into the world through robotic surrogates. All these surrogates are, of course, mostly young and hot looking. Except for the fact that there are no children, old people or ugly people around except for Bruce Willis, life mostly goes along like it always did.
dir: James “It’s my world, but you can live on it” Cameron
For a flick that cost over 300 million Earth dollars to make, I’m not sure that the investment is always visible on the big screen, be it 3D, IMAX or otherwise. Sure, this flick is already the second most successful (in unadjusted dollars) flick of all time just behind some other obscure flick James Cameron made fifteen years ago. But I can’t really see whether it was worth all the fuss.
For three hundred million dollars, or closer to five, if you believe the sceptics who were hoping Cameron’s hubris would be repaid with failure (who now console themselves by screaming “it’s shit!” instead of “it’s going to bomb!”), you’d think there’d be scenes of Scarlett Johannson, Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz passionately getting it on in the altogether on the top of a diamond encrusted, plutonium powered aircraft carrier from which Cristal-sipping live killer whales covered in mink coats and platinum bling are catapulted into the sun.
You’d, or perhaps I’d, expect scenes where Johnny Depp dressed up like Imelda Marcos gets to punch Tony Blair in the face hard enough to knock teeth out, and shotgun-armed blows off the heads of the recently reanimated corpses of Charles De Gaulle, Ronald Reagan and Baroness Margaret Thatcher. I know that Maggie, as of this date (12/1/10), ain’t dead yet, but it’s hard to tell sometimes. At the very least, she hopefully doesn’t have long to go.
Sure, so none of that really could be expected to occur for real in a film costing nearly half a billion dollars to make and market. The thing is, though, for all that money, this flick provides scant justification for its decadent budgetary excesses.
All that money went to feed the Mexican prostitutes, maids and nannies of the CGI programmers who animate probably the least live action – live action flick to have that designation thus far. The humans are pretty much the only real stuff on display, with CGI being used in virtually every single one of this 2 and a half hours plus flick. And, sure, it’s in stereoscopic ultra dynamic Technicolor 3D at selected cinemas near you.
And yes, most of the time it looks impressive. Thing is, though, these kinds of flicks look impressive until the next all-CGI extravaganza comes out. Then they look clunky, no matter how many billions were spent. Within a few years they seem as forced and as stiff as a 90-year-old guy with a Viagra-induced erection.
dir: Duncan Jones
Moon is an absolute throwback, to a kinder, gentler, colder era of cinematic science fiction, and it wasn’t until this flick came along that we knew we needed it so much. I won’t go so far as to say this is an utterly brilliant flick, because there aren’t really any elements of tremendous originality or mind-blowing complexity at play. But it is, all the same, a tremendously good flick. Really, really good flick.
Of course, it will bore the hell out of you if you’re expecting explosions, gunfights or aliens bursting out of people’s chests.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole occupant and operator of a mining facility some time in the future. This facility, surprisingly enough, happens to be on the moon. Earth’s moon. The world’s energy needs are being taken care of by this facility, which uses harvesters to extract helium-3 from the surface of the moon, which Sam sends them back at regular intervals. He does general maintenance, fix-it jobs the robots and automated parts of the facility can’t take care of, and drives out with a buggy to the harvesters to fix things that have gone wrong.
dir: Steven Soderbergh
It takes a fair-sized pair of brass balls to remake a sci-fi film “classic” considered a classic by people with beards who smoke pipes. Either that, or just plain hubris wrapped up in a blanket of arrogance with a side helping of laziness.
Sometimes it works out well, usually it’s just disastrous. The list of remakes gone wrong in ratio with the ones that succeed is tremendously large. It’s something akin to 100,000 to 7. Those remakes that worked out well were War of the Worlds, The Fly, The Thing and maybe Scarface with Pacino. And maybe one of the Deep Throat remakes. Almost every other remake has, to use the official cinema studies term, sucked dog’s balls.
It’s true. The Pope agrees. Remakes work out bad even when they’re okay, because the viewer still tells themselves “eh, even if it’s passable, why should I watch this instead of the original ever again?”
Often the remake is so wretched that it causes audiences to bay for the director’s blood. Gus Van Sant was roundly ridiculed for remaking Psycho, allegedly shot-for-shot (it’s nothing of the sort), and that recent Wicker Man has made the director, Neil LaButte, and not its invincible star Nicolas Cage, something of a laughingstock.
Rarely does the remake surpass the original. This instance, with Soderbergh’s ambitious remake of the original 1972 Russian film by Andrei Tarkovsky, I humbly submit is one of them.
Sure, the original Solaris is complex and highly intellectual, and has reams and reams of purple prose exegesis written about it. But for my money it fails at what films are primarily supposed to succeed at, which is to be watchable. It might be brilliant and ever so transcendent, but that’s all stuff you’re told away from the actual screen, afterwards, by people trying to convince you that it’s great and you’re just not smart enough to get it. As a film, as something you actually sit there and watch for three hours, it’s a fucking chore.