Category Archives: Movies

io9’s Best/Worst Sci-Fi movies

I love io9, but I cannot say that I agree with much of their Best And Worst Science Fiction Movies Of 2008 list.

Here are my reactions:
Best

  1. Wall-E — I didn’t like this movie because I felt it was too heterocentric (Wall-E as man, Eve as woman), the ending was too happy (I wished that the Earth was totally dead or the humans got into a big war or something — i.e. something more realistic), and I forgot why else. You’d think I’d love a movie about robots, but Wall-E definitely didn’t do it for me…
  2. The Dark Knight — It should be #1 AND #2. I loved this movie too much.
  3. Synecdoche, NY — I didn’t see it yet so no comment…
  4. City of Ember — Despite my new interest in steampunk and my desire to see this movie, somehow I missed it in theaters… I’ll hopefully like it, though.
  5. Iron Man — This movie is lucky it came out before The Dark Knight. I re-watched both movies within the last week and The Dark Knight is so much better. I loved Iron Man when it first came out, though, so I suppose #5 is an OK place for it.
  6. Sleep Dealer — I saw this movie during the Seattle International Film Festival and really liked it. I’m very interested in the idea of virutal work in place of real work and this movie touched on it a bit.
  7. Cloverfield — I thought this was a fun movie and would probably put it a little higher?
  8. Speed Racer — Had I managed to catch this at IMAX I probably would’ve liked it more… but seeing it on my “smaller” big screen TV probably didn’t do the movie justice. That said, the story was pretty lame considering the Matrix guys did it.
  9. Teeth — I didn’t see.
  10. Let The Right One In — I do not get the appeal of this movie. I actually pretty much hated it. Not only was it slow (which is OK sometimes), but it just felt dusty (which might be OK sometimes?). Plus I didn’t think the story was anything great. If I were to rank the year’s #1 vampire-related events, I’d say #1 is True Blood, #2 is Chromeo’s remix of Vampire Weekend’s song “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance”, #3 is Twilight (at least it was sort of fun), and #4 is Let The Right One In. Sorry Sweden; I usually love you, but…

Worst:

  1. Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull — I actually liked the movie! I’ve been a long-time Indiana Jones fan. But my favorite is Temple of Doom which I know isn’t a “fan favorite” either. While this is probably the worst of the Indiana Jones movies, it’s certainly not horrible or the worst sci-fi movie of the year. Also: I liked the alien thing at the end!
  2. Hancock — Again, I know I’m in the minority here, but I loved Hancock! I saw it twice in the theatre, even. What most people complain about (the fact it was a superhero movie sometimes and a comedy other times, etc.) is what I loved the best. The genre-hopping made it interesting. Plus, the camera work, like all Peter Berg movies, was really frantic and realistic. This movie would definitely make it in my top 10 best list.
  3. Doomsday — No idea, I didn’t see this…
  4. X-Files: I Want To Believe — Yea, this movie was a bit too religious for me. I missed the aliens and whatnot. That said, it wasn’t as bad as I thought and wouldn’t be on my worst list.
  5. Jumper — Finally a movie I agree with! This movie was pretty bad. It could’ve been so much better/darker/more interesting, but it just didn’t go there. I was really looking foward to this movie then terribly disappinted when I finally saw it.
  6. The Day The Earth Stood Still — I haven’t seen it (yet)
  7. The Happening — I heard it was religious so forget about it. Plus, like most people, I’ve been disappointed with every M. Night Shyamalan movie since The Sixth Sense.
  8. Meet Dave — I haven’t even heard of thsi one…
  9. Space Chimps — Yea right…
  10. The Spirit — I haven’t seen it, but I can tell from the trailer that it’d be a bad movie.

Maybe during the next week I’ll try to come up with my own list, but seeing the io9 one, I just had to respond somehow.

Repost: Vanilla Sky Critique

Jobie and I rewatched Vanilla Sky tonight. I haven’t watched this movie for well over a year. There was a time back in 2003 when I was obsessed with the movie and watched it over and over again. During that time I posted a few things to my old blog “Out of Control.” Here are some postings from August 27, 2003: “My day of Vanilla Sky Madness!”

How I first watched the movie:

last night i re-watched the movie vanilla sky. i hadn’t watched it for quite a while, and it was nice to remember how much i love that movie. so for the remainder of the day, i will be obsessing about it. writing reviews of scenes, thoughts i’ve had after the fact, thinking about the music, trying to find academic papers on it, researching various theories about what happens. it will be fun times.

to kick off the day, i have two tidbits to offer:

first, how i got the movie… my mom had actually bought it because she loves almost famous (also directed by cameron crowe). i believe we were at sam’s club when she got it. anyway, that afternoon i was cooking something for dinner (this was last summer when i went home for a week) or making a cheesecake or something and i asked her if i could watch the movie even though she hadn’t opened it. she said sure. then i borrowed my sister’s new laptop (which had a dvd player) so i could watch it while i was cooking. i loved the movie so much that i convinced my mom that we should trade dvds, since i was going to sell her blue velvet anyway since i got the special edition. so she said yes and the movie was mine…. i’m not sure if she ever did buy a replacement or watch it. sad.

the other piece of information i wanted to share is that one of the songs toward the end (i cannot remember exactly what scene it’s from) which isn’t on the soundtrack is called “ladies and gentleman we are floating in space” by the band spiritualized. the most memorable lyrics (for me) are when they sing, “i could still fall in love with you/i will love you till i die, and i will love you all the time.” it’s just a really soft and relaxing song.

so there is a start for today’s vanilla sky madness.

Roger Ebert’s review and my thoughts on that:

checkout roger ebert’s review of vanilla sky. even though i’m not a huge ebert fan (mostly due to his trashing of david lynch pre-mulholland drive), this review is decent, and he even suggests that the entire movie is fabricated in david’s head. i think most audiences will be happy with “technical support’s” explanation that the splice happened after the night at the club before the movie turns overtly surreal. but ebert seems to think (and i agree) that even at the begining of the movie, david is dead and everything is part of his lucid dream. i think that’s a pretty gutsy suggestion for a mainstream movie reviewer to make, so i complement ebert on that. sometimes i think he’s just a stupid movie reviewer, but then i realize he’s actually pretty academic about stuff (for example, once a year he does this scene-by-scene disection of a movie with a bunch of film students. in the past they’ve done movies like pulp fiction and even mulholland drive).

also, ebert’s article reminded me that at least three somewhat successful movies (vanilla sky — obviously, mulholland drive, and memento) all came out around the same time and, as ebert describes it, “Requires the audience to do some heavy lifting. It has one of those plots that doubles back on itself like an Escher staircase. You get along splendidly one step at a time, but when you get to the top floor you find yourself on the bottom landing.”

interesting, no, that all of these movies do a complete 180degrees at the end and once you watch them the second time it’s an extremely different experience. more so than other movies, i think. i wonder what it was that was going on in american culture that spurred these three stories to simultaneously develop…

My “big deep analysis” of it:

so two ideas that have been rolling around in my head that were re-emphasized by watching vanilla sky is that the movie could be read as a critique of psychology and psychoanalysis in particular in addition to a a critique of film genre.

first, the psychology. most of the story is told in the context of a psychoanalytic discussion between david and his psychiatrist (dr. curtis mccabe). as foucault has taught us, confession is a privileged way of acquiring “truth” in western society, so because david is “confessing” to a “doctor” the audience is lead to believe that everything he says and understands is true — well, we know this is obviously very wrong, thus questioning the value of confession by “deranged” (which is mccabe’s diagnosis of david) people.

in addition, however, mccabe makes numerous comments (mostly early in the film) about how he’s not a “shrink” and “not all psychiatrists believe in studying dreams.” yet despite these claims, he does ask david about his dreams and toward the end of the movie suggests that david cannot tell the difference between dreams and reality. hmm, seems our “psychiatrist” is confused.

so i guess for those reasons it seems to be saying, “hmm, psychology is fucked because it buys into the confession of deranged people and it claims to be about more than dreams yet it’s still hung-up on them… and even when everything is a dream the psychiatrist is the one who argues otherwise, spouting conspiracy theories.” so a critique of psychology? i think so.

also, the movie seems to critique the genre-ization of film. until the end of the movie, vanilla sky comes off as a psychological thriller. the first time we watch the film, our theories as to what is happening are constructed within the context of the thriller genre: are the seven dwarves involved in a conspiracy? is julie somehow a body double/doppelganger of sophia? is david deranged enough to murder his girlfriend?

but then at the end of the movie it turns into this sci-fi movie about cryogenics (body freezing). this forces us to completely understand the movie in a different way. we ask: could this really happen? is he dead or alive? is this a dream or reality? (obviously some questions between the sci-fi elements and the thriller elements overlap).

then, and this is my favorite part, at the very end the movie is framed as “the ultimate love story.” first, david learns that sophia visited his wake and that she (something along the lines of) “also remembered what it was like to fall in love in an evening” and we find out that david’s “splice” occured at a moment so that in his lucid dream (assuming that the “technical support” explanation is true) he could live happily with sophia (until his dream turns into a nightmare). also, it is the impossiblity of their being able to live as lovers (“i’m frozen and you’ve been dead a hundred years”) that causes david to chose life rather than his lucid dream at the end — in hopes that he can hookup with sophia again “when we’re both cats.” love, it seems, is the ultimate drive of david’s lucid dream and thus the whole movie (or at least half of it).

so there ‘ya have it. vanilla sky as a critique of psychology and film genre.

Southland Tales

Justin Timberlake singing "All These Things That Ive Done" during Southland Tales
Southland Tales is one of those movies that I don’t even know where to start “reviewing.” So I’m not going to even try. I’ll just say this: The movie was awesome and quite possibly made just for me.

Other details worth noting in case you are curious about the movie:

  • It stars “The Rock,” “Buffy,” and JT.
  • Not a small number of supporting roles are played by former Saturday Night Live cast members: Cheri Oteri, Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz, and Amy Poehler.
  • Other actors worth noting: Bai Ling, John Larroquette, Mandy Moore, Holmes Osborne, Zelda Rubinstein, Will Sasso, and Seann William Scott.
  • There were for sure cameos by Janeane Garofalo (!!!) and Kevin Smith and I THINK Eli Roth.
  • The soundtrack included Moby, The Killers, Radiohead, Blur, and the Pixies.
  • There are two “musical” numbers: Sarah Michelle Gellar singing “Teen Horniness Is Not a Crime” and Justin Timberlake “singing” (lip-synching) the Killers’ song “All These Things That I’ve Done.”
  • Prior to Southland Tales, the writer/director Richard Kelly created Donnie Darko.
  • The movie seemed like a combination of the films: Magnolia + Mulholland Drive + Nowhere + End of Days.
  • The movie’s story seemed like it was co-written by Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut.
  • In fact, Rebekah Del Rio, who sings “Llorando” (“Crying” by Roy Orbison) in Mulholland Drive, sings “The Star Spangled Banner” in Southland Tales. (And if this isn’t an explicit direct homage to David Lynch than I’m not sure what would be…)
  • The film is over 2 1/2 hours long.
  • Southland Tales premiered at Cannes in 2006 and had a horrible reception… Despite this Sony Pictures bought it and Kelly re-edited it. (I’m already getting excited about a DVD/Blu-Ray release with a director’s cut and/or deleted scenes!!)

In leiu of a fleshed-out plot review, here is a run-on sentence explanation: After nuclear attacks in the southwest US WWIII starts (against Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, and Syria) and the PATRIOT Act becomes even more intense and I think all media is replaced by USIDENT (including USIDENTelevision) and there is a repubican senator from California running for president and his daughter is dating a movie star who is abducted and brainwashed and co-writes a movie screenplay with a porn star and becomes involved with a leftist neo-Marxist movement that is secretly funded by a German scientist who figures out a way to create an unlimited supply of energy that incidentally causes a rift in the forth dimension that ends up creating a present and future version of a soldier who fought in the Iraq war and was injured in Fallujah in a “friendly fire” incident involving Justin Timberlake who ends up becoming something of a drug lord. Oh and in the end the world ends with a bang, not a whimper because a messiah brings on the apocalypse.

I loved the film but I’m not sure I would recommend it until you enjoy dystopic schizophrenic film experiences (I, for the record, do).

UPDATE:
Here is Justin Timberlake “doing” the Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done”:

Across the Universe

Across the Universe
The film Across the Universe accomplished something that I’ve been playing around with in my head for a long time: Create dialogue that constantly references pop music lyrics. While Across the Universe took the idea a step further and turned that dialogue into a musical format, I still love the idea and was impressed with the execution.

That said, I’m not sure that the reason for doing it in Across the Universe stems from my inspiration. Across the Universe is a complete homage to the Beatles — from the psychedelic song numbers to the ’60s themes of peace, love, and war. Even the characters names (Max[well], Jude, Lucy, Sadie, JoJo, Prudence, etc.) and events (“she climbed in through the bathroom window”) come from Beatles songs.

I am more interested in the way that popular culture (such as pop music lyrics) permeates into language and somewhat dis/replace everyday language.

I remember reading something in one of my classes that asked whether saying the phrase, “I love you truly and dearly” (or something like that) has lost its value since the phrase had been so overused and cheapened by cheesy romance novels. And further, whether when someone says that, they are saying it because that is the most accurate language to describe or whether they are saying it because they have heard it said so many times in movies/read it in books that the phrase is just expected.

So basically what I am trying to get at has to do with whether the commercialization and constant repetition present in pop culture can void language of its original meaning and/or make it seem too cheesy and disingenuous that even something that is intended to sound sincere cannot anymore.

For some story I was writing at some point (I don’t recall what year I wrote it…) I used Pixies lyrics in place of actual dialogue:

“Hold my head,” he said to her. “We’ll trampoline.” Personally, I don’t think that hold his head would help much, nor did I understand the trampoline thing – that’s how they acted like all the time though, very random.
“No, my child. That is not my desire.” And then she said, “I’m digging for fire.”

and Coldplay:

I spilled my guts for hours. “I came here with a load,” I explained. “I could never go on without you,” I stuttered. “You’re the one that I wanted to find,” I claimed.

But back to the movie — which was awesome. Great songs, great singing, amazing special effects (and done tastefully), compelling/emotional story, etc. etc. etc.

The only thing I didn’t like about it was the feeling I get whenever I watch movies about the ’60s: I get this sense of nostalgia (for a time during which I wasn’t even alive) and disappointment at the same time: “we” were so close really revolutionizing thought and culture but it didn’t quite work. In the end of Across the Universe love wins, blah blah blah but that’s about it… society didn’t change. Just like at the end of Velvet Goldmine: “We set out to change the world, but in the end we only changed ourselves.”

Yossi & Jagger

Yossi and JaggerI tend to dislike films that fall into the “Gay and Lesbian” genre. They are usually either really unrealistic a la (straight) romantic comedies or overly dramatic or too simple and straightforward (thus not really investigating deeper themes that “straight” movies might delve into [and I think part of this is because the “Gay and Lesbian” film genre is only 20 years old]) or just “too gay” (which I hate to even say since I get annoyed with gay people who complain about “gay culture” being too flamboyant or sexual or whatever [and I therefore see “too gay” as a combination of self-hate and stereotyping]), but the Israeli film Yossi & Jagger is one of those rare gay films that transcend that “Gay and Lesbian” genre.

The film (which is apparently based on a true story) mostly follows two soldiers in the Israeli army. The fact I say “mostly follows” is perhaps the first indicator that this is more than just a “Gay and Lesbian” movie. While Yossi and Jagger’s love story (which has already been established so this isn’t one of those “finding the right one” movies, either) is the dominant narrative of the film, it also captures the isolation of a military posted somewhere on the outskirts of civilization (in this case the Lebanon/Israel border) as well as the other strange relationships (thus showing that Yossi and Jagger’s situation is just one of many slightly less-than-fully-functional/ideal interpersonal relationships) that develop in small, isolated communities.

Example 1: Some woman in the army is basically something of a pleasure woman for the colonel who comes to visit the outpost on occasion. Example 2: Yaeli, who has a crush on Jagger despite the fairly obvious fact he’s gay and/or with Yossi, who one of the other soldiers in turn has a crush on and mistakes an interaction between Yaeli and Jagger to be some budding relationship.

In addition to relationships, the film also touches on the nature of military life (close quarters, no access to movies, fighting for something you don’t fully understand/agree with, crappy food, etc.) including gayness in the military. At one point some soldiers are making jokes about “faggots in Tel Aviv” and then Jagger asks them how they’d react if he told them he was a faggot. They said something like, “Well you are pretty so we’d all be after you” and everyone laughed. (So basically, gay soldiers aren’t as much a problem for the actual people on the ground but more of a problem for civilians on the outside.)

If you don’t want the outcome of the movie spoiled, stop reading here… because my favorite scene was actually the final one.

After an ambush that goes horribly wrong (the area was laced with mines/explosives it seems) Jagger is killed. Yossi finally tells Jagger that he loves him and even shows his affection for Jagger in front of other soldiers/officers.

When the group of soldiers goes to visit Jagger’s family to pay their respects, Yaeli basically tells Jagger’s mother that she loved Jagger and she tried to tell him the day he died that she had feelings for him but didn’t get a chance and that she knew that Jagger felt the same way. The camera kept cutting over to Yossi who can really do nothing as Yaeli basically hijacks Jagger’s memory with her own unrequited love story. I found this especially fascinating because I’ve noticed that when people die, everyone seems to want to project some part of themselves onto the memory of the person and sort of replaces that person’s existence (which I guess is over since they are dead) with all of these co-opted memories.

Finally Jagger’s mom makes some comment about how she didn’t know her son at all: she didn’t know he had a girlfriend, she doesn’t know his favorite movie, and she doesn’t know his favorite song. Throughout the film Jagger is constantly making up funny lyrics to this song by some Israeli singer named Rita (who seems to be something of an Israeli gay icon a la Madonna for American gays). Yossi is able to tell Jagger’s mom what her son’s favorite song is, thus reclaiming his own part of Jagger’s memory.

Feline Fatale

Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns
The best part of the Catwoman DVD that I rented the other day was the special feature titled “The Many Faces of Catwoman.”

As for the movie itself… believe the reviews. It sucked way more than I expected. I honestly assumed all of the negativity came from obsessed comic fans who felt the movie wasn’t true to the original vision of Catwoman or too campy or too serious or who knows what. For the record, I actually didn’t hate Batman Forever or even Batman & Robin and figured that similar criticism was aimed at all three movies. That certainly wasn’t the case. Catwoman just plain sucked. Read any of the reviews for Catwoman for more information on that. (I guess I could be thankful that reading about the film on Wiki introduced me to the Films Considered the Worst Ever page.)

But Catwoman the film aside, “The Many Faces of Catwoman” was great. The documentary basically goes through every actress who played Catwoman (Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt, Adrienne Barbeau [voice of Catwoman from Batman: The Animated Series], Michelle Pfeiffer, and Halle Berry) and features original interviews with all but Pfeiffer. It also goes into the history of Catwoman from a comic book perspective and traces her evolution (apparently no comic book character has changed her look so many times).

While the documentary wasn’t groundbreaking or life-changing, it did make the stupid DVD worthwhile and if you happen to accidently rent it or are forced to or who knows what, at least check it out so you get some good out of the DVD.

Darwin’s Nightmare

darwins-nightmare.jpg
One of the ways in which Darwin’s work has been (mis?)interpreted is that the stonger/better species will evolve while the lesser/weaker species will go extinct (i.e. natural selection). This idea has been somewhat perverted and combined with economic theory to come up with the whole survival of the fittest justification that has been used to especially stigmatize and deny help for poor and oppressed people around the world throughout history. Basically, survival of the fittest says that one’s surroundings and external forces have little or no effect on one’s success in life and that one’s perservarane and hard work is what gets them ahead and out of trouble.

The documentary Darwin’s Nightmare takes an extreme case of Darwin’s theory of natrual selection and explores the way it affects not just the surviving species, but the entire world (in a way).

There are too many details for me to really go into the documentary in-depth, but what I really liked about it was that the documentary didn’t really place any “blame” for the current situation in Tanzania. Some might fault the documentary for this — what would the point be without telling us what we can do? But I usually feel that understanding the complexity of an issue is much more important than finding a quick, simple solution.

Bruce + Diddy

bruce-and-diddy.jpg
Ever since I first saw Bruce Willis and Diddy show up at some MTV award show a few years ago together, I can’t help but laugh every time I see or hear about one or the other.

With Bruce Willis’s Live Free Or Die Hard opening, he’s all over the place now and it just cracks me up to know that him and Diddy (of all people) are such great friends. I would love to be a fly on the wall when they hang out and hear about what they talk about, what they have in common, etc.

Also, I was thinking of Bruce Willis because I’m watching Ocean’s 12 right now and he’s in my favorite scene where the movie plays with Julia Roberts the actress playing Tess the character playing Julia Roberts the actress.