Tag Archives: drama


And then I finally saw a new movie, for the first time in I really don’t want to look up how many months. Gravity pits George Clooney (charm amped up to 12) and Sandra Bullock (charm amped down to 5 or so) against space in a nailbiter of an escape movie. See, there’s an exploded satellite that, post-explosion, has become a debris field, but not to worry, that won’t stop either Bullock’s specialist repairs on the Hubble nor Clooney’s “you didn’t have to be there because I’m so good at painting the picture” stories that everyone in Houston has heard dozens of times before. ….until it does. Debris fields can be a real bitch that way.

What follows is 60 minutes of sheer adrenaline broken up by 20 minutes of philosophical musings, gorgeous tracking shots of the earth and space and the tiny objects floating above the former from within the latter, and occasional bursts of tension-relieving humor. Do you want to see it? Probably, as long as you like solid acting and are not allergic to being tense for long periods of time. Do you want to see it on an IMAX screen in 3D? Yes, unless you have that motion-sickness problem some people get, and even then, still probably yes unless you can find it in IMAX 2D, because you’ll be a pretty sad panda if you see it on some middling five-story screen. I mean, it’s space. Space is supposed to be big! Y’know?

But seriously? It was good. And absurd once or twice in the best kind of way, where you are saying to yourself, “Come on! That’s not fair!”, but you are not thinking “Come on! That could never happen!” Also, in the interests of full disclosure, I grew up in the ’80s when the shuttle program was in full swing, and was raised by a man who built parts for it for basically his entire career. So I may be more than usually locked into the idea that space missions matter, among the non-scientist set. But that said, I’m pretty sure this was a really good movie on its own merits, and not just because space is cool. But that said, it was definitely as cool as it was[1] only because space is as cool as it is.

[1] “Cool” and “good” are not the same thing, obviously. But it’s always better when they intersect.

The World’s End

I made the mistake of watching a movie the day before I vanished from the internet for a week and a half, and I made the further mistake of not writing the damned review before said vanishment. So, um, sorry about that.

On the bright side, the movie I saw was The World’s End, a movie which you no doubt already knew you wanted to see because of its links to the brilliant Shaun of the Dead and the pretty okay Hot Fuzz. The formula is not precisely the same as before, I guess? Where the other two movies were parodies of the zombie and action genre, this is less parody and more mash-up. In the unlikely event that you aren’t spoiled for the mash-up by previews, I will leave out one of the genres, but the other is…. well, okay, hard to qualify. It’s not precisely coming of age, because although Simon Pegg plays an uncomfortably old-looking man-child, all of his friends have clearly grown up[1]. It’s not precisely whatever genre The Big Chill is, if only because the mood isn’t nearly as solemn as all that.

But anyway, whatever it is, it’s funny and well-acted and building towards something meaningful and fellowshippy, when suddenly…. but, y’know, that’s why you should go see it.

On an unrelated note, I am sad that I do not have a bar named The World’s End to go to. And not only because of books Neil Gaiman wrote once upon a time.

[1] If anything, that’s the point.

The Hunger Games

I’ve already told you what The Hunger Games is about, back when it was a book. See, in a dystopian future (or alternate sci-fi world if you prefer, the movie makes no indications either way), twelve production districts are held in thrall of a totalitarian Capitol, partly by the extensive number of shock troops monitoring each district and partly by the annual sacrifice of their children to a televised arena deathmatch. And then there’s our heroine Katniss Everdeen, and the beginnings of possible change, and maybe a hint of a love triangle, but mostly just a really cool arena deathmatch and generally interesting characters.

Which is to say, it is extremely similar to the book in almost every respect. Sure, some scenes were trimmed back like always happens, but pretty much, this was a dead-on translation of the story. With one important exception! The story is not told in first-person, which is on one hand obvious, since what movie could be?, but on the other hand, I’m saying there’s not even any occasional narration. I’m also saying this is great news, as it makes Katniss far more likable than when you can never escape from her head, with its anger and its self-doubts. That wasn’t actually so bad in the first book, but I think it will make the next pair of movies far better than the books were.


You ever see Akira? I haven’t, but I went to see Chronicle on the strength of it completely reminding me of the version of Akira that’s in my head. That worked out pretty well for me. See, there’s this disaffected teen with a camera, and he wanders around filming everything, like disaffected teens with cameras in movies do. (Well, okay, also like skeptical husbands and best friends and film students and, okay, pretty much anyone in the last 15 years who has ever had a camera in a movie.) And he even meets a blogger chick with her own camera at a party, but before you have time to realize how tragically underused she’s going to be, even before he gets a chance to consider being into her, she starts flirting with his cousin instead.

Which doesn’t really leave a lot of conflict, just 80 minutes of emo misery, right? Well, no, but only because he and his cousin and his cousin’s class president friend find a hole in the ground that leads to a glowing macguffin that gives them all, y’know, powers. And then they start figuring out how to use their powers, and how to use their powers to change their lives. And then, you know, other things happen. Good psychology, good superheroing, good primary cast, mediocre supporting cast (with one infuriating exception), really good use of multiple cameras (considering the context), plus also it’s set in Seattle, if that has any relevance.

It’s not a great movie, but it’s a pretty good one, and considering this is February? It’s close to great after all.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

MV5BMTgwNjEwODcxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjU3MDY5Ng@@._V1__SX1217_SY911_You know those Swedish books everyone has read and Swedish movies everyone has seen, and now there’s an American version of the same stuff? Yeah, I never did any of that, so I showed up for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo knowing nothing except what was in the previews, that an investigative journalist and a punk hacker join forces to solve a forty or fifty year old murder. I will add for the purposes of anyone who did come in like me with no idea of what was going on that said team-up, while natural and organic, took a good long while to accomplish, so it was kind of unsettling (from a story balance perspective) to watch Daniel Craig all embroiled in plot progression while this justifiably angry chick was just kind of living her life and developing her character and seemingly completely uninvolved with anything else in the other scenes.

The pay-off, of course, is that Lisbeth Salander is Incredibly Cool. So, totally worth it, just briefly unsettling. Speaking of unsettling things, I should mention every other part of the movie, because I assure you it does not pull any punches. You will see things nobody should really ought to see, and you will meet a spectacularly dysfunctional (yet entirely plausible, just like the eventual team-up was from earlier) family, and you will probably care about what happens to any and all of them. Which is part of why the “no punches pulled” part of the movie is even rougher than you think it is. And you will find that research can in fact have dramatic tension. You may find that Trent Reznor’s soundtrack, while every bit as meaningfully atmospheric as the act of filming a scene outside in Sweden is, sometimes drowns out the dialogue. So that’s unfortunate but it’s really the only thing I didn’t like. Rumor has it that the book is pretty hard to read, so I suppose I’ll just stick to the sequels.

One thing I wonder, though: are we meant to care that she has a dragon tattoo? Other than its existence, I could not find any underlying purpose for it, neither in subtext nor plain text alike. It’s cool if it was just an identifier, but I can’t help wondering. (Another thing I wonder is whether it is possible for a Swedish film to be non-bleak? Is it like a climate thing, or does the happy stuff just never get exported?)


Meanwhile[1], I saw another movie tonight! It’s because I’ve been kind of way behind on them, y’know? Horror is just about all that’s left to me at this point[2], though there are a couple of interesting things on the horizon. 50/50, on the other hand, was pretty much an interesting thing on the opposite horizon, only showing in a handful of local theaters by now. So it’s good that I caught up to it in time!

Especially good because of how it was, you know, good. I cannot help but draw a comparison to The Road. Just as that novel was a meditation on the end of the world, this movie was (when not being funny, which it also managed quite well, but really, can you expect less from Seth Rogen at this point?) a meditation on the end of the world writ small: really, can you see 50% odds of beating the cancer in your spine that you didn’t know you had until earlier today as anything less than the end of your world? The fundamental difference between that book and this movie is, of course, the presence of hope. There are dark moments, horrible people, and of course lame Hollywood misunderstandings about the way the world actually works, because, despite anything going on in the plot or theme, that’s how Hollywood rolls. But put all that aside, and there’s still an undercurrent of fundamental hope. I guess what I’m [still] saying is that it doesn’t matter how either story turns out; what matters is what the road was paved with.

[1] The game is still on, in extra innings now. It is really hard to think about other things, much less write them.
[2] He says, as though complaining. Ha!
[3] This review is complete, and the game is still going. I guess, if you are a historian with extremely limited access to first- and second-hand documentation, you will never know how the 2011 World Series turned out, Dammit.[4]
[4] Don’t start with me about how footnote 3 wasn’t referenced. Seriously. You can go fuck yourself.

Contagion (2011)

MV5BMTY3MDk5MDc3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzAyNTg0Ng@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_I do not have a whole heck of a lot to say about Contagion, but that is mainly because it is so well-packaged that it does most of its speaking for itself. First, you take a ridiculously powerful cast (well, it’s also extremely large, so I guess the dilution might make it a merely powerful cast, but then again, through the powers of homeopathy, it may instead be the strongest cast imaginable), then you put them into a terrifying script where an unknown disease is running rampant through pretty much the whole world. But it’s not like The Stand, because instead of proceeding to tell a religious story, they tell the story of how the world might really look in such a circumstance. Sure, it wasn’t a horror movie, but it was tense and dramatic all the time. But it was also really damn scary.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I caught a movie last night with an outsider / coming of age theme. The young, unusually intelligent student (played by Andy Serkis) is befriended and mentored by surrogate father figure James Franco, but despite all of their efforts, the student’s outsider status reigns supreme as he is gradually shuffled through a system that understands him no better than the inhabitants of the various locations into which he is placed by it. Can he find a way to make himself understood and grab onto happiness somewhere in the world? Can Franco make the student understand his own connection, his own love, and can that connection be enough?

Oh, also they tacked on a science fiction framework around that basic storyline, based as a prequel to a classic movie with Charlton Heston that you may have heard of[1], and also some really significant special effects and a pretty cool actiony climax. So that part was alright too.

[1] Hint: it’s not “people”.


What’s that, you say? You want to see a really, really weird movie? Let me recommend Audition, in which an aging Japanese widower mocks up a TV show in order to get girls in to audition for one of the parts, when in reality they are auditioning to be his new girlfriend. And… well, the thing is, anything beyond the premise is a spoiler, including honestly the ways in which I have categorized the type of movie. But on the other hand, I’m pretty sure we both know you aren’t gonna go see this, so I am obligated to make this a conversation by elaborating. If you are in fact planning to see it, therefore, please disregard anything below this paragraph. (Oh, and my short answer is that it is worth seeing, I’m not trying to trick you over here.)

So, there are a number of open debate topics around the way the movie played out. First, there’s the widower guy. His whole plan sounds really damn creepy in a one-line sentence, no denying. And he is clearly entrenched in what is apparently Japan’s paternalistic relationship culture. But I couldn’t bring myself to look too unfavorably upon him, because despite his wealthy-version-of-a-stalker means, his heart really did seem to be in the right place. So I wonder if I’m taking that all wrong[1], and one of the points of the movie is that he did in fact deserve… well, okay, that’s too much spoiler even for me.

And then there’s our star auditioner, about whom… well, she is in fact my biggest open question. The only solid hints of her history we get seem to be from the perspective of someone else’s hallucination, so she is by and large a complete cipher to me. Does she believe herself wronged by, well, various people? Has she been extensively wronged in the recent and/or distant past? Is she simply insane? Is it a hefty combination of all of the above? Perhaps it’s okay that I don’t know, and perhaps, as per my footnote below, she plays a role instead of a character. I hope not, as it’s the same trap that her role is being used to punish, if so; just a different angle on it.

Anyway… by and large, the thought exercise presented here was better than the movie itself. Probably this is because it bucked my expectations via its near glacial pacing, and for no other reason directly related to the plotting or acting. But even if I’m objectively right, I will never call a movie that put this much contemplation into my brain anything less than good.

[1] For one thing, I started to say that there’s no counter-example in the film of someone interacting with the opposite sex on more equal footing[2], but then I remembered that his son seems to do fine. And while I will be the first to take notice of how meeting people only gets harder as time passes, there are still reasons to believe his counter-example is central to the themes of the film.
[2] Heh.


Dread marks another powerful entry in the fourth Horrorfest. Note that I chose that word carefully, though. See, there are these college art students[1] who want to do a study on fear in peoples’ lives. What do they fear, what is their earliest memory of fear, how does it affect them? And all of this goes on camera in first-person interviews that, though wholly unrelated to reality TV, would not be at all out of place there.

And of course there are revelations among the main characters that push boundaries and change relationships in unexpected and frequently awkward and unsustainable ways, but that wouldn’t be enough to make a horror movie. It’s when someone decides to change the rules and force people to start facing and overcoming their fears that things take a turn for the ugly. And even then, it’s closer to tragedy than horror, I think? But either way: quite powerful, and quite disturbing.

[1] I’m pretty sure they were art students rather than psychology students, since one of them paints a lot of nudes (though he may technically not have been enrolled) and another was I think a film student, but maybe I imagined that? I suppose it bears pointing out that even the fact of them being involved in the college was only an excuse to have a few dorm shots and a ready supply of subjects, so the lack of clarity on this point isn’t really a big deal.