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Showing posts from 2015

Ant-Man

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) keeps churning along and now presents it's second most bizarre addition. The first was Guardians of the Galaxy, my favorite Marvel film by a long shot. Now, Ant-Man, which I love despite myself. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) just wants to leave behind his life of petty crime and make things right with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder), who lives with his former wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her new police officer husband, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). His life takes a turn for the strange when he's recruited by brilliant scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to stop his former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from doing something stupid. Hank's daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) objects. Superhero hijinks involving tiny superheroes and villains ensues. Originally this was going to be Edgar Wright's contribution to the MCU, but apparently producer Kevin Feige expected the writer/producer/director of, among other things, Scott Pilgrim Versus th…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The Force is Meh with this one...

In 1977, Star Wars was a revelation. I never thought of it as science fiction, because it isn't, but it was fantasy that I could love. Give me blasters and spaceships over broadswords and horses any day of the week. And then The Empire Strikes Back came along and it was even better. It's been downhill ever since. The Force Awakens does very little to reverse that.

Some 30 years after the fall of the Empire, a galaxy far, far away is in a state of upheaval. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last Jedi Knight, has vanished. In his absence, the First Order has risen up from the ashes of the Empire, and seeks to crush the nascent New Republic. A Resistance stands in opposition, led (at least in part) by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) who sends one of her finest pilots, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) on a mission to recover information that may lead to Skywalker's whereabouts because he is, apparently, her only hope. Everything hits the fan.

I&#…

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

This week, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the 7th film in the series, hits big screens all across the galaxy. It will make more money than is comfortably conceivable by the human mind. Therefore, it's time to remember the best of the series, which also just happens to be one of the best science fiction films ever.

In destroying the Death Star, the Rebels have dealt the Empire a serious blow. However, the Empire is relentlessly pursuing them across the galaxy. At the same time, young Luke Skywalker is attempting to come to terms with his growing ability to use the Force. Action, adventure, love, betrayal, education, and revelations ensue.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is one of those rare examples of a sequel being better than the original. Not that there's anything wrong with Star Wars (aka: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) , but Empire pretty much expands and improves on everything. It's impossible to overstate how great a film Empire is.

Irvin Kerschner, wo…

Conspiracy (2001)

The Holocaust remains an unfathomable atrocity, the unholy benchmark by which all such are measured. Stalin and Mao both make Hitler look like an amateur when it came to sheer body count, yet the Holocaust remains unique. It seems to boil down to two reasons. First, the Nazis were terrifying in their systematic approach to the slaughter of Jews, driven by their ideological belief that they were acting for the greater good of all mankind. And second, they hunted Jews in any land they conquered; the goal wasn't merely to "purify" Germany, but the world. Few films have captured these points as well as HBO's 2001 film, Conspiracy. On January 20, 1942, a group of senior officials of Nazi Germany met at a lovely house in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. The purpose of their meeting was to determine the "final solution" for the Jews. The Wannsee Conference developed what is referred to as the Wannsee Protocol. A single copy of the document remains. Conspiracy, drawi…

Spectre

Completely disappointing, a failure on many levels, and easily the worst of the Daniel Craig Bond films. Indeed, it is arguably one of the worst Bond films of all time. Am I too subtle? A message from the immediate past sends James Bond (Daniel Craig) on an assassin's errand. The fallout of that unsanctioned action sees him suspended by M (Ralph Fiennes) but with the assistance of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond inexorably pursues leads that will bring him face to face with the architect of all his pain (Christoph Waltz). In the interim, women (Monica Bellucci and Lea Seydoux) and henchmen (David Bautista and a parade of nameless thugs) cavort. I felt ridiculous writing that because it's a ridiculous plot. It wants to have twists and turns but really it just meanders from exotic locale to exotic locale. The film starts with a brilliant, long tracking shot during Dia de Muertos in Mexico City. It truly is a marvel. Right after, though, you can feel things f…

Jurassic World

With the video release of Jurassic World, I was finally able to catch up on the latest installment of a franchise that had seemed stalled and left for dead. Then this film came out and made more money than any film not made by James Cameron. Why this is so is one of life's great mysteries. It's been over 20 years since a gazillionaire industrialist funded the technology that brought dinosaurs back to life…with terrible results. But death and horror can't stop progress. Jurassic Park has been rebranded Jurassic World and hosts around 21,000 screaming visitors each day. Screams of delight turn to shrieks horror as things go awry, as they do, and tourists are on the menu. You have to admire a film that so doggedly sticks to a formula. Human + dinosaur = dinotreat, repeat. Actually, it's stupid human releases dinosaur, terror ensues, repeat. Which means it's a stupid guard who releases the new super dinosaur (more on it in a moment), which catapults things into chaos. …

The Thing (pick a year, any year)

The Thing (1951) is one of the great classic science fiction B monster films. The Thing (1982) is one of the great science fiction monster films, period. The Thing (2011) isn't really in the same league as either, yet still manages to entertain. It would appear that John Campbell’s novella, Who Goes There?, has some staying power.

Campbell's story is a remarkable piece of claustrophobic suspense. Set at an Antarctic research station, it followed the efforts of a group of scientists to understand the discovery of an alien spacecraft and the body of one of its occupants. That occupant, despite having been frozen in the ice for ages, comes back to life. Dread and paranoia ensue as it becomes clear that the alien can imitate any form of life, meaning that the man standing next to you may be your best friend or an alien needing to snack on your bod.

The 1951 rendition of the story saw the action shift to the Arctic because Reasons. The thing was also not buried in the ice for milli…

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road sets the bar for action films. It's a minor miracle of filmmaking, and its remarkable in so many ways that such a production even exists. Yes, it's probably already come and gone from a theatre near you, but it’s now available via multiple streaming video providers and is coming to disc September 1. If you haven't seen it you should prepare your home entertainment system for the experience, because you really don't want to miss this one.

Some time in the very near future, the world just goes straight to hell. Prior Mad Max films chronicled some apocalyptic decline, and Fury Road adds a water shortage to that list. In this bleak environment, the titular Max (Tom Hardy) finds himself captive of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also played Toe Cutter in the first Mad Max film), dictatorial ruler of an oasis. Unbeknownst to Joe, however, one of his more powerful henchpersons, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has plans, ones that may destroy Joe'…

Jupiter Ascending

I confess that I'm generally a fan of the Wachowskis. The only film of theirs I haven't seen (yet) is their first, Bound. And while I don't think The Matrix is as fantastic as many of its most ardent fans say, I'm also a little more upbeat on the two sequels. I actually liked Speed Racer, if for no other reason than the sheer gusto with which it sought to create a live action cartoon. And while Cloud Atlas is ultimately a rather empty experience, it is at least well-made and brilliantly edited. At the end of the day, the largest issue with any Wachowski production is how damn serious they take themselves. They interject trite, flyweight philosophical comments and believe that these form the soul of the production. To get an utter earful of what I'm talking about, just watch any of The Matrix films while listening to the philosophers’ commentary track. It's hilarious, though I don't think it's meant that way. All of this has led us to Jupiter Ascending

Avengers: Age of Ultron

2012's The Avengers was a remarkable achievement. For the first time, a film combined elements and characters from a series of preceding films. Thus, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America all set the stage for The Avengers and box office gold was the result. The film was ambitious, thrilling, and while the plot would tend to disintegrate if you stared at it for more than a few seconds, it was, above all else, grand fun. Now here we have its sequel and while Avengers: Age of Ultron is occasionally lots of fun, it just doesn't hang together as well and ultimately feels empty. Part of this is because this is, in essence, a middle film, and partly because there's just too much going on. While the film starts strong, builds reasonably well, it just collapses under its own weight by the end. I also can't shake the feeling that there's some validity to the complaints about how Black Widow, and women in general within the film, were handled.…

Gravity

Emmanuel Lubezki won the 2014 Oscar for Cinematography for Birdman, but I haven't seen that film yet,  so let's look back at the 2013 film he won the Oscar for, Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity. Given how long ago the film came out, the following is liable to have spoilers. If you haven't seen the film yet, for shame! Buy it, watch it, enjoy it!

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a mission specialist on a space shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. A debris cloud, caused by the destruction of another satellite, shreds the shuttle and leaves Stone and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) stranded in orbit, desperately trying to find a way back down to Earth.

Gravity is a tour de force from start to finish. It opens with a long "single take" scene which begins with the shuttle slowly coming into view, then takes us on a tour of the astronauts working on the telescope. This scene culminates with the debris strike, the destruction of the shuttl…

California Dryness

I live in California. I was born and raised here, specifically San Francisco, and I currently reside in the Sacramento Valley. This is now and always has been a weird state. Currently it is a state of denial, especially when it comes to water. Actually, on second thought, we've always been in denial when it comes to water.

Water usage and rights have a long and twisted history in California. The film Chinatown actually has a germ of historical truth to it when it discusses the machinations that brought water to the San Fernando Valley and the rest of Los Angeles. From an engineering standpoint, what Mulholland was able to do--build  a gravity fed pipe and aqueduct system that brought water into Los Angeles--is amazing (this from a man with little more than a high school education). From an ecological or even monetary point of view, what he did was disastrous. That what he did now primarily favors one set of farming interests over others is little understood.

I think it's safe …

Robocop (2014)

I was home, brought low by a head cold, and while perusing Netflix discovered that the 2014 remake of the brilliant 1987 Robocop was available. Since I didn't have to expend any additional funds, or even much effort, I watched it. Let's not beat around the bush: Jose Padilha's Robocop is awful. It is lifeless, soulless, and utterly lacking any reason for being. This is ironic in that Paul Verhoeven's original film, while being a dark and biting satire, also explored definitions of life and the human soul. Apparently all of the production forces at work in the remake thought those things were excess baggage. At an unspecified time in the future, America apparently rules the planet. Omnicorp, the leader in the production and worldwide distribution of autonomous combat robots, wants to bring its wares to the US, only that's illegal. Seeking a way to sway public opinion, the vile corporate dogs hatch a plan to put a man in a machine, thus creating Robocop. See, that me…

Kingsman: The Secret Service

For me, director Matthew Vaughn is racking up quite a track record. While not all of his films are great, they're always at least good and enjoyable. Kingsman: The Secret Service is one of his great films. Eggsy is a lad from the wrong side of London town who finds himself invited to apply for a job with Kingsman, a private spy organization that for decades has discretely and covertly helped maintain world peace. There's only one opening, so he'll be competing with others and may the best man (or woman) win. Meanwhile, Valentine, a multi-billionaire tech titan is scheming to destroy the world because man causes global warming and global warming is bad so man must die die die. An amazing amount of violence ensues. I was startled to find that the film had a plot straight out of a Tom Clancy novel (specifically, Rainbow Six). Environmentalists, at least the more militant of the anthropogenic catastrophic global climate change crowd, do not come off well in this film. That the…

Predestination

The Sprierig Brothers' last film, 2009's Daybreakers, was good but it had issues. It started strong, had kind of a muddle in the middle, and wobbled completely off the tracks by the end. Their latest film, Predestination, is almost exactly the opposite and I enjoyed it tremendously. Based on the short story "All You Zombies—" by Robert A. Heinlein (who, as an aside, is my all-time favorite author), Predestination starts with a bit of a wobble, muddles into coherency in the middle, and has a spectacular conclusion. The Spierigs almost slavishly adhere to Heinlein's story while at the same time adding a new subplot that allows the it to effortlessly expand to become a feature-length film. Ethan Hawke plays a temporal agent, a time traveler, working as a bartender in an alternate reality version of New York City. In comes the "Unmarried Mother," a man who writes for a woman's confessional magazine. Only he started life as a she and so the story goes. T…

John Wick (Amazon Instant Video)

I am seldom, if ever, kind to Keanu Reeves. I have often described him as a human two-by-four, an actor who defines "stiff," etc. If someone's performance is really bad, it's not unusual for me to say he makes Reeves look Oscar-worthy. I am not kind. Yet, it is equally true that Reeves has a certain range and ability that serves him well in many roles. For example, he's utterly perfect as Neo in The Matrix. And while it was a silly role, he was very good as the pointless white man in 47 Ronin. (I also applaud his documentary Side by Side, chronicling the development of digital cinematography; see it, it's great.) Now he's in John Wick and he's damn near sublime, as is the entire film. I love a story with a simple plot that is well told, and John Wick is all of that in spades. Reeves plays the title character. In the opening minutes of the film, we meet Wick, his wife, his wife becoming ill, dying, and leaving Wick a dog as an anchor for his humanity. …