October 10, 2014
This is Terry Gilliam’s latest. Gilliam is his own genre, and a new film from him is always cause for celebration. This is probably not one of his best, but it is fascinating, with some incredible performances from some of my favorite actors. (“Wait, who is that guy?” I asked. “That’s Matt Damon.” “WHAT?! WAAAAAAAH!” He’s so great!) Visually, like all Gilliam films, this thing is splendid. But I could have wished for an ending that more resembled an ending and not the petering out that it was.
What really fascinates me about this movie is that it’s cyberpunk. Maybe one of the better cyberpunk movies there’s ever been. Through the first half, I rather suspected it was cyberpunk — but then there’s that Matrix reference smack in the middle, that totally cracked me up, and yeah, this is cyberpunk, full stop. A great chunk of the movie is about how much of life is mediated by technology, and how abstract and sometimes baffling that technology can seem. There’s a party where everyone is dancing and smiling and having a great time, and holding a glowing tablet. Everything from dates to therapy sessions happen via computer, and main character Qohen’s job as some kind of mathematician/programmer is pretty much incomprehensible, except that it looks very much like a video game. Everything looks like a video game, and everyone’s being watched. Qohen definitely doesn’t feel a part of it all — but he also doesn’t ever really want to leave his claustrophobic world. This is cyberpunk without the adventure/messianic tropes that usually show up in cyberpunk, and I think that’s cool.
September 22, 2014
Autumn is here. After coming home from a rainy Ireland to a rainy Colorado, I despaired that I had missed the end of summer entirely. But no, I got a good week or so of wearing shorts and sandals and sitting outside to read and stuff. And now the weather is turning.
As I mentioned last week, I’m working on five or so different things simultaneously — research, critiquing, writing, etc. What this means is I feel like I’m not getting anything done. But it also means I’m going to finish up most of these things at the same time. Then I will likely be at my wits end and flap my arms around like a mad thing.
I caught a couple of movies, or at least part of a couple of movies this weekend:
Another Earth: this is an art-house science fiction/slipstreamy thing. A very intriguing concept: one day, another Earth, seemingly identical, appears in the sky. It has some really beautiful shots associated with this phenomenon, and touched on at least some of the implications. But the story itself was so angsty and contrived I couldn’t take it very seriously. (Like, when he said his wife was pregnant when the accident happened, I laughed out loud, which I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to do, but it was so clearly the movie saying to us, “Hey, you thought it was bad before? Well it turns out it was even worse than you thought! Ha! Wallow in misery!” And no, I don’t think I will.)
Neptune’s Daughter: This is an old one, and I finally found where my line is. You know — you’re watching old movies and they’re chock full of really uncomfortable racism and sexism and the like, but you keep watching ’cause it’s old and interesting and classic and has some great acting and it’s important from a cultural standpoint? (Like, I totally put up with the harassing baby in Gold Diggers of 1933?) Well, I know now that it can indeed get bad enough that I have to stop, and this movie did it. The really terrible racist stereotypes, and the really ditzy man-chasing sister in a
comedy “comedy” routine with Red Skelton pushed me around the corner and I had to turn it off. Which is too bad, because this is an Esther Williams film — the woman who made an entire career out of being a swimming actress — and it also featured a young Ricardo Mantalban as a hot Argentinian polo player. So yeah, I wanted to see it, but I just couldn’t.
Also, a question: when did shaky cam and incomprehensible action scenes in big FX movies become a thing? Is there one movie that really started the trend? Transformers maybe? Because I caught part of the original Stargate movie this weekend, and I was kind of surprised and impressed at how clean it was — action-wise, it had quite 1980’s sensibility, which made it pleasant to watch but also made it seem a little older than it really is. (It’s 1994, which yeah, it might have more of an 80’s sensibility I guess.) It just got me thinking about when sensory overload became the way to do adventure movies, and I can’t pin it down.
September 15, 2014
I finally finished the last season of Lexx. This one dragged a bit, I think because there was a clear over-arcing storyline, but they kept digressing into one-off episodes — episodes that were hilarious, mind you, because they were parodies of things like Dracula and The Re-Animator and Survivor. “ApocaLexx Now” left me bug-eyed, no pun intended. But these episodes did feel like a distraction. Still — I love this show. It felt like it was all leading up to this season, because we’ve previously spent three seasons exploring just how weird and crazy and messed up and awful various corners of the two universes are. And then we get to Earth. And it’s the worst of the bunch. The craziest, most messed up, most incomprehensible off-the-rails planet they’ve been to yet. The satire lands like a thousand pound anvil in a cartoon. For all that, the last episode was absolutely perfect and made me cry. Kai’s laugh? Just perfect.
The Gold Diggers of 1933. This is a famous movie musical that I run across every time I research the 1930’s or old Hollywood or anything like that. It was an early film of Ginger Rogers — she sings the opening number, “We’re in the Money,” including a verse in pig latin. Because Busby Berkeley, apparently. Seriously, it’s worth watching any Busby Berkeley movie because the dance numbers are all pretty much insane. (One in this one features a 9 year old Billy Barty playing a trouble-making baby committing acts of sexual harassment through the whole thing.)
So when it popped up on TCM, I had to watch it. The musical numbers are all kind of weird (I mentioned the harassing baby, yes?). But the story? The story was great. I took notes, because I loved how it managed the characterization of the heroes and the antagonist. This slice of the story, in a nutshell: a Boston blue blood confronts one of our plucky showgirl heroines to inform her that she can’t marry his younger brother. Trouble is, he’s got the wrong showgirl. Plucky showgirl Carol tries to tell him that she isn’t Polly, the showgirl who’s in love with his brother. But he won’t listen. He interrupts. He’s really quite terrible to her, going on and on about how awful and uncouth showgirls are. So when Carol and another showgirl Trixie (this movie has a lot of showgirls) decide to have one over on the older brother, they pull out the stops. Carol pretends to be Polly, and she and Trixie really work over the guy and his lawyer, behaving just like the rude gold diggers he insists they are, as they try to get everything they can from them in exchange for not marrying the brother. Meanwhile, Blue Blood thinks he’s conning them, luring Polly away from his brother. But no, he’s the one being conned here, full stop.
So yeah, Carol and Trixie are being pretty terrible, but it’s okay and hilarious because a) the guy really, really, really deserves it, b) they tell everyone involved (like Polly and the younger brother) as soon as it’s happening and bring them in on the con, and c) Carol knows exactly when they’ve gone too far, even when Trixie keeps going. The end result is our heroes looking smart and awesome and funny, and the antagonist totally earning his comeuppance. And then of course everyone falls in love with everyone else and gets married. But up to then the characterization as it’s tied to the plot is spot-on.
I like a lot of these old movies because they tend to be shorter and the plotting is often a lot tighter than we see in more current films. This is one I’m going to remember.
September 1, 2014
I’m back. Trying to find my feet — it was a long, full, eventful trip, and I’m still trying to get all my notes together to write a report. It felt like I was gone for months, but now that I’m home it feels like I never left. Strange. So, until I can figure out what to write about it all, I bring you an edition of Movies on Airplanes; that is, movies watched on tiny screens with bad sound and too many of those little bottles of wine (they’re free on British Airways, you know).
This low-key science fiction flick got a lot of buzz late last year, but I was skeptical, because I remember watching Electric Dreams when I was a kid. But now I’ve seen it, and I thought it was hilarious. The trouble is, I’m not sure it was supposed to be hilarious. There’s actually some very good science fiction going on here, with a reasonable near-future look at a world that is just slightly further along than ours, including mustaches being fashionable and phone OS’s that are smart enough to fall in love. (Or dumb enough to fall in love, which I think may be the message here.) Tell me — was the main character supposed to be sympathetic? Because I thought he was kind of a douche, the kind of person with a great life who always manages to find the black lining to everything. There’s precisely one healthy relationship in the whole movie (featuring Chris Pratt, who I loved seeing after Guardians), and I’m pretty sure the movie was trying to convince me that actual relationships with meat humans is nigh unto impossible. The OS’s — not just Samantha but all of them — eventually realize this and all depart off for some AI utopia of their own making, which is really the smartest thing anyone does in the movie.
Oh, and there’s a magical book deal in the movie, which is when I really started laughing. You know the one I’m talking about: Oh honey, you’re such a genius that a publishing company wants to make a book out of you! Isn’t that great? Here it is! (It so doesn’t work like that. . .not even mentioning the part where everything he’s written for his company is likely work-for-hire owned by either the company or his clients, and not actually available to be published anywhere…)
So yeah. I’m just going to pretend like this whole thing was supposed to be dark comedy. I laughed, anyway.
The Lego Movie
You know what this reminded me of most? Brazil. With product placement. It even had an ear-worm inducing theme song.
(For the record, the 1980’s space Lego were always my favorite. We had a ton of those things.)
August 27, 2014
Since I don’t really follow any of the TV shows that are running new episodes now (I’ve tried to watch True Blood but I just get really confused), it really has felt like the summer hiatus seasons of old, when you catch up on old things and watch videos — and also go outside and play instead of watching anything at all, which I’ve done quite a bit of. Huzzah!
Rewatched: Galaxy Quest, which holds up surprisingly well. I’m not sure it needs the sequel everyone’s been talking about, but I’m suddenly curious as to what such a premise would turn into if the source show was, say, Battlestar Galactica. As a recent meme I encountered says, Harry Potter fans would love to go to Hogwarts, Narnia fans would love to go to Narnia, and Hunger Games fans are all, “No thanks, we’re good.”
Brazil: Holy crap, this movie is way, way more scary and upsetting than the last time I saw it, maybe 10 years ago. The bureaucracy parody stuff was always spot on, but this time the terrorism thread really jumped out, and it was really. . accurate. “And why do you think this terrorist scare has been going on for 13 years?” “Bad sportsmanship!” My groups of friends and I sat there gaping at the TV. We are closer to that world than we ever have been.
Watched: The Hollow Crown, or at least much of it. This is a recent BBC miniseries of a set of Shakespeare’s Histories — Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 (See, guys, this whole sequel mania thing isn’t new!), and Henry V. Jeremy Irons as Henry IV, Tom Hiddleston as Henry V. SWOOOOOOOON. I cannot stop swooning at this man. When he comes on the scene wearing an oxblood red leather doublet, his gilded hair in waves, grinning. Wow. Plus, Shakespeare is just so damned sexy. Really sexy. I’m trying to figure it out, and it has something to do with him codifying modern English in way that no one had ever done before. So many turns of phrase started with him — or he’s the one who wrote them down first, and cleverest. For me, hearing Shakespeare done well is like hearing the source code for English zapping straight into my hindbrain. So sexy. (See, this is how I know that English was definitely the right major for me.)
Also, I didn’t realize how tall Hiddleston is until watching these. In the Marvel movies he’s surrounded by all these very tall, very buff, superheroic dude-guys, and he looks like the short skinny nerd guy. Turns out, he’s 6’2″ (I looked it up) and he’s half a head taller than everybody else in The Hollow Crown. He looms. It’s cool.
August 18, 2014
August 11, 2014
What, you didn’t think I was going to pay money to see anything with Michael Bay’s name attached to it, did you?
So, I recently (a few months ago) re-watched the first live-action movie from 1990, featuring animatronic turtles from the Henson Creature Shop. Guys? This movie holds up really well. It was cute and fun then, and it’s cute and fun now. Splinter still brings a tear to my eye. And the biggest surprise? Watching it again I realized — the April/Casey flirting scenes are actually pretty hot. Huh, who knew?