Wednesday, December 31, 2014


2014, Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) -- cinema

I too often rag on trailers for being out of context caches of the best bits of a movie, often misleading and misdirecting. But the trailer for Interstellar was perfect, spot on, completely covering what the movie is about. The dust bowl of the future, corn farming and the dialogue of Matthew McConaughey  explaining how we used to be explorers, in his best car commercial voice -- it sets the tone of the movie. The world is dying and he is going to leave his family so he can save the planet, but not really, for he is going to save his family. Skip comparing it to 2001, it is its own device, its own view of leaving the planet.

Surprisingly the movie is not really about exploring the stars, nor much about the wonder of space. Its about saviours. The movie is not focused on new journeys via new technologies to unseen stars. That is an element of the movie, but not its focus. Despite the monologue, and how I just said it was spot-on, the movie focuses on even bigger pictures -- the survival and progression of the human race.

So, we have earth in a not too distant future. Or maybe very distant, as they have succeeded in creating and have already abandoned working AIs, because technology is no longer where its at. Growing food is. The blight has come along and wiped out just about every planet material, except corn and okra. Okra's on its last days. The soil is tainted and in the deaths of plants, all plants, said soil turns to dust and blows into our atmosphere making world wide dust storms reminiscent of those during the Great Depression. The world is winding down, most of its population gone and very little to look forward to.

Yet people live on. McConaughey is Cooper, a pilot, engineer now farmer. He keeps his neighbours robot tractors working. He steals solar panels from automated Indian surveillance drones to power his farm. He rails against his son being denied university, so he can become another farmer. He loves his kids dearly. They work, farm, drink beer (synthesized?) and don't ponder the long way off, just the next day. But circumstance and a bit of mystical intervention leads Cooper back to his old job, to pilot a starship. They are to check out three likely planets that previous ships have been sent to. Maybe one will hold life, one will take on the remainder of Earth's people. Maybe. But he has to leave his family behind, he has to travel for unknown years (space still is made up of long distances) and he has to go through a worm hole. His family is devastated. So is he.

The first act of the movie focuses on Cooper and his family and what he is leaving behind. The second act is the journey, the worm hole and the new planets. But unlike a solidly exploratative movie, it still plants itself firmly with Cooper's objectives. Sure, there are really cool AI robots, imposing distant planets and weird space-time anomalies and edge-of-black-hole time bending, but the movie rests itself on Cooper's goal to get this done and get back to his family. And love. I fell into this vortex, wrapped up in these emotions. But the purely logical part of me wrestled with some of the decisions the people make, that are solely based on emotion and not the reams of scientific data they are presented with. That is the point, the theme as you may have it, of the movie. Science only carries you so far; the rest has to be left to faith.

The third act is where all the 2001 comparisons come from as it takes a precisely mind-bendy turn into advanced physics and extreme science as magic. It does away with our reality and lets Cooper's emotions take hold of everything. And lead the entire planet along a path focused on love.

Yes, I loved the movie. It looked good, sounded good and drew me in. I highly recommend.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

X Days of Xmas: Tokyo Godfathers

2003, Satoshi Kon (Millenium Actress, Paranoia Agent) -- DVD

This is easily one of my favourite Xmas stories and definitely in my top 10 for all Anime.

As I mentioned last year, its loosely based on 3 Godfathers, a western about 3 bank robbers who find a baby and take care of it, at their own expense. The anime movie (stand alone, no TV series) is about three homeless people who find a baby and via a handful of Christmas eve misadventures, return it to her mother, while being exposed to Xmas miracles. Or coincidences. You decide.

There is Gin, the classic bum, always drunk and smelly. He claims to have a tragic past involving dead children and thrown bicycle races but really, he's just a drunk with a gambling problem. Hana is a drag queen (and drama queen) and kind of obsessed with motherhood. She ended up in the streets after losing her partner and is generally a broken person. I say 'she' not to ascribe to the politics of trans folks, but because she spends the entire movie playing an overwrought mother desperate to take care of little Kiyoko. And then there is teen Miyuki. She's a brat living on the street because of some altercation with her father, a knife and a cat. She won't go home because she stabbed her father, over a cat. That cat came home shortly after, so there is probably an immense amount of shame there. All three work the streets together, squabbling and fighting over space in the box they share, setup in a central Tokyo park. All three end up basically playing godfather to this abandoned baby.

The eve and the following day is played out in so many layers There is the exposure of Tokyo and Christmas culture in Japan, as the three talk about trees and presents and good cheer for all mankind, but stop at a temple to pray surrounded by incense sticks. It takes place on an atypical, snowy night in Tokyo, the kind of night quickly collects on their hats and slows the walking down. And affects the subways and gets cars stuck, like that of the Yakuza oyabun who gets trapped under a car but is rescued by the trio. He takes them to the wedding of his daughter, where Gin recognizes the groom as someone who scammed him into a bad bet, and his current deep state of debt. And then a Spanish speaking gunman shoots up the wedding, taking the baby and Hana gives chase. Characters continue to cross into each other, all solidifying Hana's statement that Kiyoko is a gift from God, on this Christmas eve. Things go wrong but always end up well for the trio. She may be right. And each of them get to acknowledge and deal with their troubles, as only the connecting thread of the baby allows.

The movie is funny and sentimental and tragic and hopeful, as any Xmas movie should be. It is not what you would expect from anime but somehow, I don't see the movie as being as charming if it wasn't animated.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A festival of Rewatch

10 Things I Hate About You -- 1999, d. Gil Junger (DVD)
Scrooged -- 1988, d. Richard Donner (Netflix)
Back to the Future -- 1985, d. Robert Zemeckis (TV)
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace -- 1999, d. George Lucas (DVD)
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones -- 2002, d. George Lucas (DVD)
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith -- 2005, d. George Lucas (DVD)


I like many romantic comedies and certain teen comedies, but I wasn't always so open and welcoming of these genres of film making.  As a teen and 20-something, romantic comedies were "girl stuff"(obviously overlooking the fact that seeing them with girls was totally the point), while teen comedies seemed so crass and patronizing.  As I matured in my film viewing, embracing indie, foreign, horror, short, documentary and other marginalized genres, I came to accept that even rom coms and teen movies in the right hands can be quality viewing.  Of course, quality instances are few and far between... and to actually wade through all the bad ones to discover the good ones is a special circle of hell (or perhaps fodder for a Satellite of Love? Teen Rom Com Theatre 3000 anyone?)

10 Things I Hate About You I passed up in a big way back in 1999.  I was 23, so a teen romantic comedy just didn't seem made for me.  Looking at its promotion, poised around its handsome young star, Heath Ledger, you could tell he was being poised as the next teen heartthrob (and it worked).  No, this wasn't something for me at all.  Years later, an ex-girlfriend put it in the DVD player, and I, being a good boyfriend, didn't object (I was learning), and to my surprise found myself invested and amused, but the experience was largely forgotten.

Years later, my wife (not that same ex-girlfriend) requested a copy of it.  I puzzled as to why until she clarified that it was an adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, and she's a bit of a Shakespeare nut.  Having since seen at least one or two other performances of Taming of the Shrew, the film does indeed take on additional relevance, but I also appreciate it for a few other things, primarily the strong-willed sisters Kat  (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), although quite differently so.  Kat is very intelligent, headstrong, a proto-feminist, and confidently against-the-herd, leaving her a bit of an outcast in high school and apathetic about it.  Bianca on the other hand is the pretty, popular, boy-crazy cheerleader type who feels under her sisters shadow, largely because her overbearing single father holds Kat up as an example to live by.  Despite Bianca's rebellion and her animosity towards Kat, I see either of them as role models for my own daughter.

The film doesn't shy away from frank sex talk, although the relatively sterile upper-class high school environment the film is set in is probably its biggest weakness.  But then again, Shakespeare didn't really dabble in much class clashing in his original play, so it's mainly the source to blame.  The culmination of the film at the prom or spring formal or whatever it is is such a hoary teen movie staple, but at the same time, the film rather works by playing into conventions (the egregiously 1990's live band excepted).  There's some solid laughs as well as some incredibly forced ones (most delivered either David Krumholtz's dialogue or physical comedy), which should be awful but remain kind of charming, just like the entirety of the film as well as its cast.


Oh, the holiday season is upon us.  I don't have many holiday films that are a must watch each year... in fact I don't think I have any.  Most of my "must see" of the season stem from television.  My wife and I run through all the Community Christmas episodes on Christmas Eve, and I try to plug in Father Ted's "A Christmassy Ted" most years too.  I have to get the Muppets Family Christmas in as well (thanks youtube), but no film has endeared itself to me as a "must watch" every year.

Scrooged I've seen a handful of times over the years, like 10 Things I Hate About You, it's a "modern" adaptation of a classic story ... Dicken's A Christmas Carol if you hadn't guessed.  I put "modern" in quotes, because, well, 1988 hasn't aged very well.  Within Richard Donner's Scrooged is a skewering of 1980's entertainment and big commerce, but its skewering is so broad and cartoonish that it extends beyond reality.  The film opens with a fake-out, an absurd production where Santa's North Pole workshop is under attack by a black-suited swat team, only to be bailed out by a rugged Lee Majors.  The fourth wall is broken and the soundstage is revealed.  It's a pretty ridiculous and sharp opening which summarizes the excesses of '80's entertainment quite well, but it falters beyond that.

Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a programming executive at a fictional major network.  He's solely numbers focused -- viewership and money -- and he doesn't take well to contrary opinions.  As Christmas approaches his network is prepping a live rendition of A Christmas Carol (starring Buddy Hackett, Jamie Farr, and Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim) which takes a charming air of prescience with NBC's now annual foray into live musicals.  I don't know if it's 80's film stock, costuming, or just the overall atmosphere, but the film is grimy from head to toe.  For a holiday film it's dark, dark, dark, but it's not a dark comedy, it's just gross looking.

Frank is visited by his dead mentor (John Forsythe) who warns him of impending ghostly visitations.  Through manipulations of the plot he gets back in touch with his ex-girlfriend of 15-years past, played by the always radiant Karen Allen.  She still seeds the seed of humanity in Cross' dead heart, but he's unable to see it himself.  The ghosts visit, starting with a grimy cab driver Buster Poindexter (ahem David Johansen) taking him through his past sad Christmases.  Carol Kane turns up as the sadistic fairy of Christmas present, and steals the entire movie.  It's a short journey through the present day, but Kane's cartoonish, Bugs Bunny-esque performance is howlingly funny still (did this inspire Harley Quinn from Batman?).  Finally it ends with a grim reaper like ghost who takes Frank on a brief journey to his morbid future where he comes face to face with his own death which turns him around immediately, and unbelievably.

There's no real excuse for Frank to become the man he is (particularly when we see how well-adjusted his brother is) so our sympathies never lie with him, which makes his turnabout even more unbelievable. Add to it Frank's interruption of the live performance so that he can wing a feel good speech at the audience which gets even his irate boss dancing in his living room, and it becomes one of those unearned, saccharine endings that the 80's often would deliver.  The cartoonish levels of absurdity are hard to let go of.  The ghost are an expected suspension of disbelief, but Bobcat Goldthwait's one-day descent into misery and attempted murder is problematic, particularly in Frank's subsequent manipulation of this character into taking hostage the control booth.  There needs to be a film documenting the fallout of Frank's actions, starting with his career suicide, followed by his accessory to kidnapping.

I don't hate this film, not by a longshot, but wow, is it ever a product of its time.


Even though Scrooged time-traveled with the Ghost of Christmas Past bringing Bill Murray to his 1950's childhood and 1970's early adult life, but it never felt production-wise or stylistically that it left 1988.  Back to the Future, on the other hand, lives in two eras, 1985 and 1955 and at once feels at home in both and yet makes them both its own.  The 1985 Marty McFly starts the film in is identifiably 1985 in many respects, but there's also hints of another reality at play, making Back to the Future a universe of its own: Doc Brown's place with it's Rube Goldberg dog food dispenser and his cuckoo clock collection and his giant speaker system are utterly surreal, but from the onset they inject us into the fantasy of the film, that there's something other going on here.

Marty is your average 20-something-looking teenager who is best friends with the town's resident nutball, has a solid relationship that's going to the next level (sexually), and, despite his size, he's not afraid to stand up to bullies (probably after watching his nerd/wimp father be oppressed for so long).  Michael J. Fox seeps both charm and confidence as Marty, he's such a winning protagonist.  Nobody else could wear his "life preserver" vest.

Christopher Lloyd's Doc Brown, meanwhile, finds the perfect balance between genius and lunacy, ably providing comic relief without making the character the film's jester.  Likewise, Crispin Glover's George McFly provides the perfect blend of helpless, nerdy pathos and weirdness that he transcends being a punchline.  Even Tom Wilson's singularly one-note bully Biff embraces the cliche and embodies it fully.  Then you have Lea Thompson, so fetching as young Lorraine, with wide, batting eyes that betray her lack of innocence.  The uncomfortable ease with which she seduces Marty is perfect for the film, and Fox's awkward reactions in those moments is so note perfect, conveying surprise (because in the future his mom is such a prude), horror at his mother's romantic advances, and even a little confusion over it all (because she is indeed so alluring).

Sure, it's a film from 1985, and yet, its adventure remains timeless.  It subtly addresses sexuality, bullies, rape and racism without ever patronizing, and there's nary a note wrong throughout the entire picture.  Its effects are so deceptively simple that they have barely aged, and it's so easy buying into every conceit the film presents.

I hadn't seen the film since the early 1990's, and I'm a dozen years into swearing off Robert Zemeckis films.  What Lies Beneath, Castaway, Forrest Gump and so many other Zemeckis pictures are so cloying, obvious, manipulative, and patronizing that I just couldn't take it anymore.  I had written Back to the Future off.  But, having just rewatched it on a random TV airing, none of those Zemeckis-isms are present in Back to the Future; it's virtually flawless.  I was drawn in by nostalgia at first but very, very quickly the film's sense of spirit, humor, adventure, and sheer wonder absorbed me completely.  It's so entertaining.  If there's one flaw, and it is a minor one, it's the 1985 make-up job to make Biff, George and Lorraine look 30 years older.  Aging make-up today is rarely successful, so 1985 aging make-up is pretty crummy.  But, again, it's such a small, small thing to quibble about over an otherwise pristine production.


Oh boy, here we go.  The Star Wars prequels.  *deep breath*
I don`t hate these movies.  I never have.  They`re incredibly flawed, unbearably so at times, but at the same time, I genuinely love elements of the films.  I love how they expanded the Star Wars universe without necessarily doing so in telling a story that advances anything.  There were drawbacks to those universe expansions, so many limitations the films were bound by since they had a predetermined ending, in some respects they`re just filling in the blanks.  But those blanks, they did not exist before.  We had no real concept of what the republic looked like before A New Hope.  We only knew the Empire.

With The Phantom Menace we were introduced to a galaxy of politics, a counsel of Jedi Masters, and all manner of new space ships, alien creatures and weapons technology.  We were also introduced to George Lucas' inability to get a good performance out of his actors, but at the same time the incredible advances in CGI and blue screening make a galaxy teem with life, where it seemed pretty cold and desolate before.

Of the three, The Phantom Menace is the weakest.  Lucas' first directorial effort in decades finds a man unsure of how to negotiate characters with story, and it's evident his interest was far more in using the technology to tell the story than the people.  His story outline isn't the problem, but his execution of it is dire.  All of the actors in all three of the prequels I give a pass to, because it's quite clear that Lucas just didn't care about how they were delivering their lines, instead more focused on ensuring they find their marks and that they get the words right, not the tone.  Actors like Ewen McGregor and Liam Neeson are people that can carry films in spite of their directors, they know what they're doing.  Natalie Portman, though already a veteran by this point, needed guidance, and young Jake Lloyd absolutely needed some.

The thing about The Phantom Menace I realized in this latest watching is it's a kids movie.  My daughter was already a Jar Jar fan before even seeing the film, and upon seeing the podracing sequence, we watched it four times over before advancing to the rest of the film.  The larger political ramblings are a drastic misstep for a kids movie, but the bulk of the action (a bloodless CGI war of clumsy battle droids versus clumsy Gungans is totally meant to appeal to children).  I was 4 or 5 when I first saw Star Wars, and I watched it dozens of times on video before I was 10, so it's always had that appeal.  Childhood nostalgia carried my, and many others' interest in the original trilogy and its off-shoots for decades, so why would it not stand to reason that a new generation's Star Wars should do the same?

Watching The Phantom Menace with my daughter, watching it as a kids movie, it made it much easier to forgive it for its tepid adventure, and to see someone actually appreciate Jar Jar made me dislike him and the Gungans quite a bit less.  Still its fatal flaw still is supremely irksome, the introduction of "midichlorians" demystifies the Force in a manner that continues to slap any fan in the face every time it's mentioned.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones is leaps and bounds a better film than its predecessor, for two acts at least.  The film opens with an attempted assassination that eventually leads to a dynamic chase sequence through the city-planet of Coruscant.  Obi-Wan dons his noir-ish detective hat as he tries to track down the bounty hunter, which leads to the discovery of a missing planet in the Jedi archives, which leads to the discovery of the cloning facility secretly building an army for the republic.  It's an incredible journey with fantastic set pieces, and McGregor own the role and delights in the task before him.  The cloning facility, its exotic operators,  and its rainy, watery planet provide one of Star Wars' most unique environments, the perfect setting for a face off between one of the galaxy's preeminent Jedi and likewise preeminent bounty hunters.

At the same time, Anakin (now played with dead-eyed, monotone anti-charisma by Hayden Christiansen) is assigned to protect Senator Padme Amidala, the older woman he was crushing on 10 years earlier as a mere boy.  The age disparity seems far less than it did in Episode I but at the same time Portman had advanced in prominence as an actress and held some weight in her role, while Christiansen desperately needed direction and received precious little.  The flurry of confused emotions and all the manipulation Anakin faced needed far more nuance than Christiansen provided (and nothing I've seen him in since even indicated he was capable of it).  Christiansen does nail the odd scene, as when he's meant to provide arrogance or menace, he does it ably, but it's the softer touches that escape him.  His romance with Padme is stillborn, there's absolutely no life.  He creeps her out initially, and with good reason.  How he ever wins her over is never satisfactorily shown.  The film tells us she has feelings for him, but we never clearly understand why.  When they go to Tattooine in search of Schmee, Anakin's mother, Christiansen does an admittedly decent job of conveying not only his stress but outrage at her passing, but Padme's consolation after he murders an entire clan of Tusken Raiders seems off.  Where there should be more concern, there's only sympathy, and it doesn't ring true.

The two threads merge in the third act, as Anakin and Padme set out for an ill equipped rescue of Obi-Wan on the planet Genosis.  This leads to a painful video-game challenge sequence in the battle droid factory (with banal physical comedy from R2-D2 and C-3PO) and ultimately Anakin and Padme's capture. They're left strung up in a gladiatorial arena (again, the film noir, the gladiator sequence... Lucas overtly displays his homages and influences) where giant creatures are pushed out from behind gates to go and eat them.  But the Jedi prove to be more of a challenge, and then the cavalry come to the rescue, first a couple dozen Jedi knights and masters, and then the Clone Army.  The fighting is dull, poorly staged, and tedious.  The actors look like LARPers more than skilled warriors as they square off against green screen constructs.  The closing duel between Count Dooku, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and, most surprisingly, Yoda, is better, but still has its share of problems.

Most of Attack of the Clones' first two acts  is on par with the best Star Wars has to offer, Christiansen's awkward delivery, and bland romantic chemistry with Portman notwithstanding,  It leads into the Clone Wars cartoon which manages to redeem Anakin as a character (the voice performance giving the character much more nuance and even making him likeable, something Christiansen never achieved).  In fact, Clone Wars in many ways validates and redeems the trilogy by expanding the galaxy even further, giving the background Jedi more prominence and even introducing some new characters that never appear in the films (Ahsoka, Rex, Ventress) that make Star Wars a better place.  By bridging the second and third movies, the Clone Wars actually make Episode III even more engaging viewing.

Revenge of the Sith opens with a fantastic and dizzying space battle the likes we haven't ever seen in Star Wars (or, really, any other sci-fi to that point).  There's all manner of ships of all different sizes engaging with one another, and it's just inspired.  Lucas' characters may often fall flat, but he knows how to stage sequences like this extremely well.  Anakin and Obi-Wan, more partners than master and student now, five years later, are on a mission to rescue Chancellor Palpatine, who has been kidnapped by Count Dooku's droid army leader, an asthmatic cyborg called General Grievous. The repeat showdown between the Jedi and Dooku displays Anakin's growth in skill, but also his embracing of the Dark Side, with Palpatine goading him on.  Not the kiddie fare of the first film, nor the uneven tone of the second, Anakin has Dooku at his mercy and takes off his head, with Palpatine grinning as he looks on.  The conflict with Grievous that follows is tremendous fun...I have a lot of affection for the wheezy robot man.  The R2-D2 antics that occur concurrently fall too close to unnecessary slapstic, though not the painful comic relief of Jar Jar in the first film, or C-3PO in the second.

Episode III is a lot darker and a lot more nuanced than any Star Wars film before it.  With the Clone Wars cartoon backing it, one understand the dynamic between Dooku, Grievous, and Palpatine much more, and Palpatine's manipulations, his long con, bear the fruit he's sought all along.  There's actually an epic story in the fall of the republic at the hands of a maniacal scheming Sith lord, it's just unfortunate it takes back seat to the inevitable and largely mishandled fall of Anakin to the dark side.  Episode III negotiates this unevenly, but at times believably.  The additional attention to Palpatine's manipulation of Anakin was sorely missing in prior films (and even doesn't have enough prominence in The Clone Wars) but a valiant effort to make up for it here is made.  While the fall of the Jedi at the hands of the Clones ("Order 66") is such utter poppycock and a brutal shorthand to force the story to wind up where it has to by the end of movie, the climax of Obi-Wan and Anakin's showdown is heart-rendering, with McGregor's aching disappointment the most tangible feeling of any of these three films.  Obi-Wan, for his often cold exterior towards Anakin, had such love, hope and promise for him, that his betrayal, one which he had desperately been trying to avoid, hurts tremendously.  He can't bring himself to kill him outright, nor can he in good conscience save him.

The closing moments, again, shorthanded to get the film to a place where it needs to be for the original trilogy to start, are clunky and take away from a largely well made film (it seems any time a montage is used in Star Wars, it's always unnecessary and always poorly done).

For a lot of people, the Prequels were not just hugely disappointing, but soul crushing.  Years of investment were destroyed by some very poor choices on the part of its creator.  But I can't help but see the positive elements through the weaker ones.  I can't help but marvel at some of the lavish settings and costuming, admiring those actors able to shine in the face of an apathetic director (Ian McDiarmid is great as Palpatine throughout, and McGregor rarely has a false move), and enjoy all the universe expanding bits that get lost amid the cartoonier parts of the films.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Pair of B Movies

The Anomaly, 2014, Noel Clarke -- download
The Hybrid, 2014, Billy O'Brien -- Netflix

B ? C ? Not so bad as to be Z grade but definitely of the straight-to-video ilk.

Noel Clarke (Mickey on Doctor Who) stars and directs in this scifi flick about mind control and terrorists. It takes the premise of someone awakening, finding themselves in the middle of a caper, but not knowing why. Then, only minutes later, they black out and the movie skips ahead to the next time they awake. We learn more as Ryan (Clarke) learns.

When I saw the trailers and clips, I had somehow assumed it was a time travel movie and he was skipping around in time. Alas, no, it was just a middling depiction of evil scientists inventing body/mind control technology and using it to expand their own agenda. A decent if thin premise that they attempt to stretch into a scifi actioner.

Ian Somerhalder (Vampire Diaries, Lost) is one of the Evil Scientists, but also a kickass fighter and gun smith. Don't let the bow ties and tweed suits fool you, he's a mean machine. His father, rarely seen, is Brian Cox suffering from a debilitating disease. Thus his desire to control Ryan as his own new, fresh body. There are further agendas, including tailored viruses and such, but it comes down to Ryan trying to extend the time he is control of his own body so he can stop the bad guys and rescue to Prostitute with a Heart of Gold.

Clarke has ideas. Clarke has ambitions but he is still learning. He obviously had a fondness for well choreographed fight scenes, as this movie is packed with them, obviously padding out the lack of any real plot. The movie also takes place in a glossy, plastic & glass filled future, but at the beginning we are not properly introduced to that so for a while we are not sure if Ryan is aware he is supposed to be then either. I usually love science-fictiony future imagery, but this seemed tacked on for no good reason but to use up the CGI effects budget.

B-Movies can be good, well paced and decently enjoyable and I hope Clarke gets there soon.

Meanwhile, The Hybrid is one that the director does seem to know how to build a good scene but is completely lost without any sort of real plot.  We begin the movie with a man being tortured in an African prison but rescued by his handler, so he can perform a difficult job, for the owners of said prison. There is something a scientist wants in a war torn section of eastern former Soviet block, and his team will get her in and get it out. While his team don't seem to be all that capable, no impression of intense skill or experience but we accept them as seasoned. John Lynch, a North Ireland actor with good intensity plays their leader and carries off his role decently. The rest, including Antonia Thomas from The Misfits just seem to phone it in.

The pacing is decent, the muddy forest could be anywhere and I got the sense this was a 20 minutes into the future setting -- another former eastern European country that has fallen into chaos and desperation, full of guns and ruins. They sneak their way into the bad guy's lair and down into tunnels, to be stalked with creatures left over from a low budget version of Hellboy -- sepia tinted bubble dome helmets, alien clicking sounds and darting moves. The movie falls apart precisely here, as they lose one of their team to swelling pustules and enter the Evil Scientist's lair proper. Things just seem to get ... directionless.

Said Evil Scientist has been experimenting with DNA recovered from a meteor. They have merged it with human DNA and made something creepy, all blinky eyes but not very bright, at least from her limited point of view. Yes, you have a single scientist whose speciality is DNA, genes, etc. also making opinions on the progression and intelligence of a new species. Of course, she is being made a fool of, as alien hybrid boy is much more than he appears to be.

The hybrid is what the movie wanted to be about, but he ends up being just a monster, a terminator, a predator for the mercenary team and the bad guys to fight and be killed by. He is not presented like a horror movie monster, so I assume they wanted to do much more thoughtful exploration of the Frankenstein monster he represented, but they didn't. The plot fell apart very quickly with exploding heads and gun fights and the killing off of the mercenaries one by one to no effect.

The movie left me very disappointed and no whatsoever interested in seeing the next one, which takes place after he magically gets himself and his freaky eyes (and no money, clothes, etc.) to London. For some reason.

I also hesitate in liking a movie that so obviously was renamed for the dull witted.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

3 Short Paragraphs: Winter's Tale

2014, Akiva Goldsman (writer A Beautiful Mind, I Am Legend) -- download

This is Goldsman's first movie as director, based on a 1983 novel, and also called A New York Winter's Tale. It is a movie about magic, love and destiny. This is urban fantasy, something in my wheelhouse as they say, and I think is going to be my word of the season. But its not just that, it also takes place in a world that is only very subtly different than our own but still very very much not our world. Does that make sense? Its concerns a term called 'magical realism'. Magic is very real in the world of this movie, but it doesn't play out big. The average person still does not believe in it, see it or acknowledge its existence. And there are fine details to the movie that state very clearly, this is not our world.

Colin Farrell is Peter Lake, an Edwardian street thief on the run from the crime boss Pearly Soames. Soames is not exactly a man, but not fully a demon. Peter stumbles into the house of Beverly Penn, who suffers from a magical form of consumption. I say magical because a symptom is that she runs too hot -- she needs to be kept unnaturally cool and spends her winter nights sleep in an open penthouse pavilion in a sheer gown. Beverly is going to die, it is known and accepted, but despite this they fall in love. And she does die. Her death throws Peter out of his mind to wander NY, lacking any memories of who he was, for decades. He returns to defeat Pearly and find his place in the stars.

The first act of the movie, and I only truly see two clear demarcations in this movie, is what I fell for. Pearly Soames with his scars and imposing figure, only missing a curl of sulphurous smoke from one nostril, was quite the villain. Russell Crowe does a great job. Jessica Brown Findlay as Beverly is ethereal and utterly stunning, in this weird generic British young actress way that I am attracted to. Even with my ability to recognize people, I am constantly mixing her, Lucy Griffiths and Michelle Ryan up. Colin is passable as the hero, even with the annoying undercut haircut. But the latter half of the movie, set in current day, just fades out for me. It seemed tagged on, as if Goldsman really likes the first part of the novel and you could see his love embedded, but didn't put as much passion into this part. Its just not as magical, for me.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

3+1 Short Paragraphs: The Maze Runner

2014, Wes Ball -- download

Despite never getting a feature film for Ruin off the ground, Wes Ball was given the adaptation of the young adult novel The Maze Runner, another of the highly bankable post-apocalyptic young adult book series.  Because adaptation is always more value than new content these days. Disappointing as I would love to see that short film come to life on the big screen.

Skipping right past what the movie is about, can I just say it is the most ridiculous explanation behind a high concept plot that I have ever seen? You know the basic premise from the trailers, right? Kids wake up at the centre of a maze, one of high stone walls and moving paths. Why? For frickin' SPOILER sake, to challenge them against adverse conditions and monsters, in order to understand why they are immune to a disease that is ravaging the planet. Seriously, you build a massive structure, and I mean MASSIVE, solely to study kids being tortured, for medical purposes. How long would that take and how many people would die while you submit RFQs to the world's remaining construction companies? And let's not even consider the cost, especially in a post apocalyptic world that is already low on resources. It is a silly silly premise for a decent torture box plot.

But, saying that, the actual depiction of the maze is pretty damn tight. The kids wake up at the centre of the maze, and really the "main character" is so weakly fleshed out, that he is more McGuffin than person. They are without memories but slowly some things come back. They either don't remember they are in a post apocalyptic world or don't bother telling us. But as the movie starts, it is three years since this started happening so a Lost come Lord of the Flies society has built. They support each other, running the maze (yes, they have already mapped it out before the movie starts) but basically playing it safe, sticking to their self imposed rules. New Guy Thomas does not want to play it safe, so he breaks the rules and runs into the maze. Amazingly, or really just because he is Main Character, he survives. And by the end of movie one, they are out of the maze are realizing they are pawns in some weird medical experiment.

I enjoyed the pretense of the movie, the setup of the maze and its dangers. Its tense, exciting, well acted and mysterious. The plot should have just stayed mysterious, not that there are any really good ways to explain such a device, other than maybe aliens or god creatures. But I could not rise above that reveal. And it probably killed my interest in the books.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Strap On Those Sandals

300: Rise of An Empire -- 2014, Zoam Murro -- download
Hercules -- 2014, Brett Ratner  (Red Dragon, X-Men: Last Stand) -- download

No, this isn't the beginning of yet another new recurring segment on We Disagree. Just a way to blend the commentary on two somewhat related movies, i.e. they are both of ancient Greek persuasion. Unless Kent agrees to a series review of all the Sinbad movies, there won't be enough fodder for a new category.

Well, maybe if we do Spartacus, in honour of our visit to the Kubrick exhibit.

300: Rise of an Empire is the side-quel for the Zack Snyder, Frank Miller graphic novel become green screen movie. It happens roughly at the same time as the first movie, but following different characters. This time, not owing its style to recreation of comic panels, it opens up more. The movie connects the first's Battle of Thermopylae to the battle at Marathon, where our main character Themistocles slays the King of Persia but spares his son, Xerxes. It is that event that leads to the fantastical nature of the Persian army that invades Greece ten years later, i.e. Xerxes becoming a god king.

When I mentioned not really having an internal vision of how Persia should be portrayed in fantasy fiction, this movie didn't really help. This is typical of the brown skinned exotic Evil Empire approach. But there is history, so its forgivable, I guess. What isn't history is the backstory they give to Xerxes, the god king of the Persians. Tall, golden and basically hairless, the man walks into a magic bath bearded and normal sized, but emerges as a cross between a diva and a giant. This sort of flies in the face of what the first movie wanted to portray, that he was mortal, after all. Magical transmogrification for appearances only?

His right hand man, er, woman is Artemisia, a Greek who hates Greece and is played by Eva Green channeling her usual scary, sexy goth. Not that I am complaining. She is capable, manipulative and is portrayed as the intelligence behind the whole invasion, with Xerxes as just a pretty golden puppet, albeit 10 feet high.

This is a movie for those who enjoyed the first one and for anyone who has watched the Spartacus: Boobs & Blood TV series. Every battle scene is slow-mo, digital blood spraying every which way, good guys cutting down bad guys with dramatic swipes of their swords, ignoring the armor of the Persians while they fight in speedos. But rather than just men with spears and swords, they toss in a sea battle, ships crunching against each other with a dramatic battle where numerous boats are stuck together and the Greeks and Persians fight from deck to deck. Still not sure why a horse as considered a secret weapon when they could not have predicted the configuration of the tangled decks. These movies are all about cool factor in battle with little sense behind them.

The movie was fun, stylish, well shot (decent CGI) and dramatically acted (I will always enjoy watch Eva Green hamming it up, as long as its not Camelot) but generally forgettable.

I know very little of the graphic novel Hercules is based on. Despite my pirate access to all and every comic, the lack of visits to comic shops has diminished my awareness of the hot titles.  Maybe it wasn't so hot, as the lack of Googlish data says something.  Anyways, I was not aware of it being a comic before the trailers of the movie came out, and I was not aware of the type of movie it was, based on the trailers.

The trailers do a disservice to this movie. They depict a typical, expected adaptation of the Hercules myth, showing his greatest feats, i.e. his Labours. But the movie is not so. This is Hercules, the man behind the myths, picking up years later as he leads a group of mercenaries who bank on his reputation. Whether real or myth, the name sells. Enemies and the rulers of Greek city states believe he did all the feats of heroism by himself, not knowing that this D&D party of variously skilled adventurers helped him accomplish it all. That is what this movie is about.

Even without the myth, Hercules is a dominant warrior, hired for good reason. The movie brings him to Thrace, in eastern Greece, to help a king go up against ruthless rebels. The king needs his army trained and the rebels vanquished. Hercules is not so sure about sending more young men to their deaths, but he wants the coin, so his men and he can retire. Things never go as planned in these movies, as betrayals pile up and Herc must decide who he really is.

Every time someone, usually Iolaus the storyteller, reminds us of how great Hercules was, we get a flashback to his battle with a legendary creature. But we also get hints of the truth behind the hero. These CGI monster laden scenes are what the trailer was telling us to see, but the core of the movie is how Hercules himself can both rise above his mythos and those around can learn to depend on the man. His men (and woman!) trust him, but he must learn to trust himself.

Its a fun movie, where The Rock gets to try his hand at a tortured hero trope. I doubt it had the weight the graphic novel was supposed to have, but it did a decent job of portraying something other than a big screen adaptation of familiar, typical mythos movies.

Really, that is my usual fallback to describing these movies. I don't expect great, I don't even expect good, but if I have fun, then I am usually satisfied. This one fell short of being added to my Swords & ... collection, and I would never have the intention of adding the first one, but I could not not see them. I always see them. And yes, I am the guy who will see Seventh Son with Jeff Bridges, should they actually ever get around to releasing it.