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  1. Blackhat

Okay I know, but please, bear with me.  So it’s essentially a globetrotting cyber-thriller about a hacker determined to sabotage water pumps, but the plot (which I do actually find interesting) is incidental to the style, as is Michael Mann’s want these days.  The opening, featuring a CGI run through a computer terminal and down and down and down, sets the predominant theme of where the digital meets the physical.  As convincing as the scenes where various characters go through lines and lines of code to determine authorship, it’s really about someone leaving prison and walking onto a sunny tarmac, or the way a completely expected romance happens unexpectedly quickly, with the emphasis on physical touch while the ‘getting to know each other’ exposition is treated with ellipses.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Interstellar

November 21, 2014

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Any attempt to make a huge, awe-inspiring, intelligent science fiction epic is at its heart a great ambition, but the ambition doesn’t come from the difficult special-effects work and technical expertise to pull off the visual spectacle. Rather, it comes the difficulty of exploring Big Ideas on a budgetary scale that demands a standard narrative and emotional form – after all, who is going to pay that much money for something abstract and probably alienating? One of the peculiarities of cinematic history, at least for my uncomprehending, relatively young mind is the success and ongoing popularity of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film to which Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar owes a great debt. 2001 is, structurally, four separate films, the only real connective tissue through the whole thing being the black, alien monolith. It is quite accepted that the only character with any genuine emotion is the computer HAL 9000, and his “villainy” also gives the third section of the film the most recognizable cinematic “thrills” you’d expect from Hollywood, as well as its most moving tragedy. Read the rest of this entry »

Guardians of the Galaxy

August 2, 2014

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The announcement that Marvel was truly cashing in its credibility chips – even moreso than they did with Thor, for despite that character being well known, introducing a whole intergalactic mythos is a far cry from following the origin of an earth bound superhero – with Guardians of the Galaxy, a little known (and unknown completely to me) property into the Cinematic Universe that has become the Hollywood juggernaut of the last 8 or so years, was a huge surprise to many. Giving a huge budget to little known character that were based in worlds entirely unknown and populating it with B list stars was a ballsy move, especially considering there’s little earth-based grounding to ease the transition. This significant departure from the normal formula is probably why this has been the most anticipated of the Marvel films in a while, if only because there was a huge question mark around how it would be received. Handing over co-writing and directing duties to James Gunn, who cut his teeth at micro-budget schlock studio Troma and whose directorial efforts have thus far been intriguing, if not always successful, idiosyncratic genre exercises. The fact that we get a pretty traditional space opera drenched in the kind of Whedonesque post-modern humour that’s been one of the keys to the success of the Marvel enterprise is almost disappointing in its obviousness. Not to say it isn’t enjoyable – it is actually very much so – but for those of us looking to see what this multi-film franchise could really do, it gives us a clearer idea of just what the limits are, even as it expands beyond what’s come before. Read the rest of this entry »

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Having no insight into the financial reasons behind studios deciding what pictures to make and when, it is from a place of pure conjecture that I posit that X-Men: Days of Future Past was greenlit as a last ditch effort to save a once-beloved and now decently performing property.  Though I believe X-Men: First Class and, to a slightly lesser extent, The Wolverine were financial successes, they also didn’t quite make the splash desired.  If the re-boot/pre-boot/door-to-a-new trilogy didn’t work, then abandon those plans and just fold it into the “classic” line-up and everyone will be pleased.  The cinematic X-Men­ world isn’t as planned or cohesive as its Marvel Studios cousin, but given the number of characters involved it certainly could be something equivalent.  DOFP is an interesting creature because of this, and the fact that it’s not an overwhelming mess is praiseworthy.  Unfortunately it’s got the strange feeling of too-little-too-late, and it’s greatest virtues are it’s pleasurable but pointless fan service.  It sometimes comes across as a belated victory lap to the franchise that started the most profitable trend in Hollywood of the new century. Read the rest of this entry »

Godzilla

May 16, 2014

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“I don’t want to disappoint our Japanese public, especially Godzilla.  Haha! I’m just kidding, I know he doesn’t care what humans do.”

-Tracy Jordan, 30 Rock

 

The Godzilla property is a difficult one, to say the least.  It’s greatest effort is largely considered to be it’s first, back in 1954, because it so effectively harnessed what was great about romping science fiction in the nuclear era.  Less than a decade after the national trauma wrought by nuclear weapons in Japan, not to mention the vast destruction of Tokyo experienced by so many, it directly confronted national fears about the nuclear age while still firmly rooted in B-movie territory.  That kind of smuggling genre picture gave way fairly quickly to high camp, especially as Toho studios saw the merchandising potential and box office receipts that kids fare brought to their coffers, and Godzilla became a leathery fun guy hero.  Neither would be particularly easy to pull off in 2014, certainly not for American audiences not pre-geared to the campy aspects of the legendary character, oft considered an affectionate cult curio that’s most famous Stateside these days for a resurgence in the 90s that saw a terrible American version that not only couldn’t avoid the pitfalls inherent to the picture, but decided to create a whole slew of new ones, as well as a Nike ad campaign that saw the man in suit version going head to head with Charles Barkley in one-on-one basketball.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Every year has its share of great films, but 2013 was special for the sheer number of films that can and will be considered “great”.  It was unusually strong, then, with even the late year traditionally “Oscar bait” releases delivering more often than not.  Of course, I’m not a professional critic which means both time and access are factors in what I could and couldn’t watch, especially as this year I’ve spent a majority of my time in the Deep South (which has, if we want to be polite in that Southernly way, a rather limited number of diverse releases) as well as a healthy chunk overseas.  I’ve missed some big ones, then, although I have somehow managed to see about 125 eligible films.  As usual, that “eligibility” is roughly the Academy Award criteria of any film released theatrically for public consumption in the calendar year, so festival-only films and undistributed wonders don’t count.  The major misses that I’ll have to catch up on in the coming months include Touch of SinBlue JasmineShort Term 12At BerkeleyViola, and Night Across the Street.  Obviously this isn’t the final word on the year in film, especially as only one of the films mentioned in the coming posts have I seen more than once (I am not a believer in that rather silly Kael maxim of only watching a film once, as the truly great ones and even some of the mediocre ones leave room for discovery with repeated viewings).   Read the rest of this entry »

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That strange phenomena of two films arriving at once that deal with the same subject (think Dante’s Peak and VolcanoArmageddon and Deep ImpactCapote and Infamous) rears its head again in the mindless thriller genre, this time dealing with the oddly specific premise of the White House under siege.  There are dramatically different approaches to what amounts to the same story: terrorists in one form or another have taken over the iconic building, taken the President hostage (or are attempting to), and only One Man can save the day.  It’s Die Hard at 1600, and though I can’t think of a reason why they came along at the same time (other than the opposing views that the White House has been taken over by insurgents, a not unpopular opinion in this country), the Compare And Contrast element of me is tickled.   Read the rest of this entry »