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 »

Jodorowsky’s Dune

May 3, 2014

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It’s fitting that Frank Pavich’s documentary, Jodoworksy’s Dune, opens with a series of panning close-ups of drawings, models, books, and other esoterica from the titular director’s office, for that is what this film is almost entirely composed of outside of its talking heads.  The film recounts, through interviews and access to original artwork, the two plus years of work Alejandro Jodoworsky and his team of “warriors” put into a cinematic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune that would ultimately be halted before production began when the studios didn’t feel confident enough to pony up the $15 million budget.  What is left is a large, hardcover book of the entire film storyboarded as well as concept art and character design and notations, initially printed and presented to the studios to assure them they knew how to achieve the strange and extravagant vision Jodoworsky was intent on creating.  By the end of the documentary, it seems clear that the book should be reprinted for collectors – I, for once, would jump on the chance to own a copy to thumb through – but it also seems clear that the documentary itself should be included as a bonus for said book rather than a standalone feature.

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Under the Skin

April 16, 2014

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Despite a very, very limited feature film career (three, actually, with the last one being 10 years ago), Jonathan Glazer can comfortably consider himself the most self-consciously Kubrickian auteur working today.  It’s not an easy style to go after, obviously, and it speaks to his talents that on the basis of, really, two films (Under the Skin and Birth, though I haven’t seen it since it came out I feel Sexy Beast is memorable for a performance rather than visuals) that this quality can be considered a positive rather than an affront.  It’s all the more impressive when you consider the tonal consistency of Under the Skin considering it’s essentially three different films cut into halves.  Read the rest of this entry »

Ender’s Game

October 30, 2013

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The long-awaited adaptation of the much beloved sci-fi novel Ender’s Game by the much reviled author Orson Scott Card has finally arrived, and though it strikes me as odd that anyone would be particularly interested in seeing this book brought to the screen (maybe a mini-series on TV, perhaps, but as a film, it never made much sense) it has been.  Years of development hell for the various attempts to do so have led us to an era of Young Adult adaptation mania, spurred on by the monstrous successes of Harry Potter and Twilight and, as a result, The Hunger Games.  As a result, we have a bland franchise hopeful written and directed by Gavin Hood.  These sorts of things don’t really rely on a strong authorial identity behind the camera – arguably, they’re antithetical to the business purposes of the pursuit – and so the adaptation runs straight down the middle all the way through, and unsurprisingly leaves us with a quick-paced, nuance-less YA film that mostly serves to highlight why it shouldn’t have been adapted in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

Gravity

October 9, 2013

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The seven year wait for Alfonso Cuaron to follow up what is, for my money, one of the greatest movies of the 21st Century, Children of Men, has been fraught with rumour and false starts and delays, but it has finally come to an end with Gravity, a science-fiction thriller that is short, fleet, and about the most stunning purely cinematic experience of the year.  Cuaron’s career has bounced from children’s films, both small-scale (A Little Princess) and as big as they get (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I have never felt to be great but which certainly saved the franchise from shiny, cash-in ignominy), to adult character dramas (Y Tu Mama Tambien), and of course, dystopian sci-fi parables (Children of Men).  His visual chops have never really been in doubt, and though he’s become one of the most technically innovative directors working today, it’s not easy to tell quite what film you’re going to get from him.  In this case, we have a survival story that is extremely simple in story and concept, and incredibly complex in execution.  It is, in essence, the most basic form of Hollywood you can conceive, in the best way possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Prometheus

June 20, 2012

All the anticipation, all clever viral marketing, and that stunningly awesome trailer have all led to this:  2012’s “yeah, but” movie.  Prometheus is one of those movies designed to flood the internet with endless debates amongst nerds and/or film critics – it’s a not-quite-prequel to one of the greatest science fiction and horror films of all time, co-written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, and directed by the ever dubious Ridley Scott, the director of two beloved masterpieces early in his career and a whole slew of middling-to-fascinating-to-downright-awful films ever since.  Big budget, an R rating, gloopy sci-fi horror and spaceships and a great cast and you have to wonder, is it any good?  Well, yeah, but… Read the rest of this entry »

Inception

July 22, 2010

Not since Christopher Nolan’s own Dark Knight have I seen as much internet brew-ha-ha over a film.  It’s enough to make me want to pull what’s left of my hair out.  Ultra-fanboys and reactionary haters have drawn their lines, almost forcing the large quantity of folk in the middle to choose a side based on which one is less annoying.  I have to admit that I have had little time for this kind of debate, and while drinking up the plethora of reviews and post-mortems and meta-discussions, I have now forced myself to ignore comment sections completely.  Those reviews and articles have brought to the surface of a number of questions about fan-based opinion, the credibility of the remaining professional critics, what kind of standards are applied to what type of movie, and of course the degree to which backlash plays a role in influencing opinion.  There’s a lot to unpack, but I think the best way to deal with Inception right now is to attempt to recount my first impressions upon leaving the cinema.  This is, despite a lot of people’s desire to defend it and attack it as such, not an art film.  It is a $200 million summer thriller whose purpose is, first and foremost, to entertain.  As with virtually every other review posted around the web, it should be noted that spoilers will abound, so if you’ve not seen it, do not read on. Read the rest of this entry »