Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Darkest Hour (2011)

This apocalyptic science fiction/alien invasion film begins with three Americans, a tall woman with an Australian accent, and a Swede with a bad goatee who are nearly the only survivors of an invasion of Moscow. [sarcastic sidenote: Because clearly the Moscvich wouldn't have a clue where to hide.]

The tone is muted and reminds me of earlier Asylum productions, which it resembles in dialogue as well, though Asylum films are less predictable. This film had brighter colors and much higher production values than Asylum films, and some of the imagery was remarkably picturesque. The aliens were frightening in a rather sanitized way, and even unique.

The plot required little science, which all seemed to be a variation on an ancient theme: [spoilers immediately ahead]

Aliens invade, all the token people of color die (even the English-speaking ones), the surviving white people discover the alien weakness and band together - developing sexual or romantic tension -, and the film ends with them bravely making a stand - usually while striking a pose.

Watch for a soldier who managed to make perfectly fitted chain mail out of house keys in less than two weeks, and very Tesla-esque light bulbs.

If you're looking for a plot hole, here's one: the aliens are looking for heavy metals and minerals, yes? So why do they come straight to earth - which is clearly, to quote Doctor Who, PROTECTED - ? Wouldn't they have first stopped at any one of a number of visible planets in the solar system or galaxy, and leave some trace? It's not like we don't monitor our astronomy. Sheesh.

Anyway, it's kind of pretty, and kind of fun, but don't set your expectations too high. Or, you know, anywhere at all, really.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Seventh Son (2014)

This isn't a review. I'm forced to watch this little stinker, so I'm going to live-blog the experience so you can all enjoy it with me. THIS POST CONTAINS SERIOUS SPOILERS. Although, to be honest, you'll probably see it all coming anyway.

Cliche #1: old guy who can kick your ass
Cliche #2: dragon in a cave
Cliche #3: men=good, woman=bad (and mother and witch archetypes, but it's a genre *shrug*)
Cliche #4: seventh son of a seventh son. This one might actually be a trope, but the world building gives no reason for its existence.
Cliche #5: mother's amulet - clearly a Chekhov's Gun
Cliche #6: witch who possesses unnatural/immortal beauty
Cliche #7: old guy with practical priorities

Oh my gosh. A Tavern labelled "Tavern"!? *sigh* Terry Pratchett's Mended Drum is the pinnacle of tavern-naming genius.

Cliche #8: beautiful girl being burned as a witch (damsel in distress)
Cliche #9: teasing the sexual tension (when Tom meets whatshername)

Okay, Tusk. I have problems with this. He's a troll-creature, clearly non-human. Think of the line "as ugly as he is loyal." and think about the political history of The Tempest. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, magical or slave species are fantasy code for race. Ugh. The only way to avoid this heinous crime is to freaking DON'T ENSLAVE SENTIENT CREATURES. How hard is this?

Cliche #10: Surprise Test
Cliche #11: trash-talk mum to get a reaction
Cliche #12: "I was aiming for your head."

I'm getting really, really tired of old dude talking like he has rags in his mouth. Is this supposed to be an accent of some kind?

Djimon Hounsou! He as come to save this movie! He's so pretty. I hope his magic is enough to dispel the bad writing. In order for that to happen, I'm pretty sure they have to let him speak.

Dead mothers. This is totally going to be a Harry Potter thing, isn't it. Well shiznit. Becky reminds me that in the golden age of sword-and-sorcery films (the eighties) it wasn't this bad. That's a relief.

Cliche #13: witches and moonlight
Cliche #14: skinny-dipping
Cliche #15: peaking at the skinny-dipper
Cliche #16: MFEO (destined to be together) - non-subjective external sign of true love
Cliche #17: "ancient code of honor" that demands a fair fight?

Oh look! Another nonwhitemale antagonist! How surprised should I be on a scale of 1 to . . .
And they're beating him up. Surprise, surprise. *sarcasm*
Is tolerating imaginary witches supposed to be some acceptable alternative to fighting actual racism and sexism? Are there any non-witch females in this film? UGH [no, there are not, just FYI]

Cliche #18: stolen kiss. I try to have moderation, but what happened to consent?
Cliche #19: love affair gone wrong created a psychotic female (I'm really not going to get started)
Cliche #20: reasoned cruelty (masculine, of course)
Cliche #21: jumping off a cliff into water (not pernicious as cliches go, just a little coincidental that there happens to be water on the other side of the cliff). The cliche is largely in the filming and camera angles.
Cliche #22: . . . and of course they go over a waterfall. What else would you do in a river? This whole scenario was written by someone who learned geography from Saturday morning cartoons.
Cliche #23: . . . and look! They've just fired Chekhovs Gun. Yay!
Cliche #24: Oh my gosh! If you're going to speak English, SPEAK ENGLISH. STOP WITH THE INARTICULATE ARCHAISMS! And while I'm being all Englishy - why are witch-hunters called "spooks?"
Cliche #25: pointless mayhem - she says it's a kind of preview, but I think it's just because somebody thought it was time for more violence.

Oh my gosh. These "bad guys" are all caricatures of non-white cultures. I'm so embarrassed for my genre. I weep for us.

Cliche #26: called it: dead mum.
Cliche #27: ooh! Near miss on the Mata Hari trope (woman seduces man to steal from him)
Cliche #28: Stormtrooper aim - "best assassins" are just redshirts
Cliche #29: Dead mom's ghost.
Cliche #30: Born special. I HATE this cliche. I HATE HATE HATE it. Why can't we write stories about people who are special because of their decisions? Because of how their choices change their character? Because of the influence of people around them? I read somewhere today that the whole "I deserve privilege" trope is related to white-maleness. I hope my brother reads this.
Cliche #31: eyeliner is evil. I only tolerate this trope because I love eyeliner, and smoky eyes.

At this point, I'm kind of rooting for the villains. Gregory really has had a reign of terror.

Cliche #32: McGuffin - the talisman is actually only a symbol, at this point. It doesn't actually do anything for anybody that I can see.
Cliche #33: monster mouth shout in the face. I'm surprised they held off on the saliva.

I'm taking a break to enjoy a "Djimon Hounsou is beautiful" moment. *sighs whistfully*

Cliche #34: bitch fight, which leads to the second dead mum cliche.

OMG, I can't believe the stupid white guy is going to survive this. It's the only cliche this movie doesn't hit straight on the head.

That's an exaggeration. Many of these cliches were arrived at slightly sideways. But Why!? Why would you save the stupid white guy and let the awesome mums die!? WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL!?

Cliche #35: burn the witch/death's bier - this one actually combines them. It's very Darth Vader.
Cliche #36: congratulations, you're one of us.
Cliche #37: branded

Ooh! Nice braids! #hairprivilege

Cliche #38: disappearing female (this happens a lot during the movie). I will not explain how it's totally sexist. I will bite my tongue first.
Cliche #39: student becomes the master
Cliche #40: "do it your way" motivational speech
Cliche #41: inheriting the slave (clearly his loyalty isn't personal. So why does it exist at all?)
Cliche #42: ends with them being called off to a new adventure

It's really obvious how I feel about this film, so I won't bother to sum up. Go and do better, friends.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Top Christmas Movies List

Okay, clearly I'm the kind of person who likes a little quirk with her Christmas. There's a few facts about me you should know before you take any of my recommendations:

1) I hate Santa. Seriously. I'm convinced that the tradition, however kindly and warm-hearted it began, has become a tool for undermining the true faith and confidence of child-type persons everywhere. Santa=Satan. Just call me the grinch and get over it. I'm absolutely what the Grinch would be, if he had been raised Calvinist. The Grinch is also not on this list.

2) I have a severe distaste for Frank Capra. It's a Wonderful Life is NOT on this list.

3) I have never seen National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and I didn't see A Christmas Story until I was well too old to think it was funny, or develop any warm memories.

That's at least five Christmas Classics that aren't making this list. You're bound to think one of them is the shizzle. Are you still with me?

Let's get started. In No Particular Order, the Christmas films I rewatch as often as possible include:

Christmas in Connecticut (1945). I've seen the '92 version with Kris Kristofferson and Dyan Cannon. I only remember hating it. The '45 version, though, is a brilliant combination of sweet Dennis Morgan and wry Barbara Stanwyck. Also, "Cuddles" Sakall really makes it complete. Christmas doesn't exist for me without his practical wit. "Nobody needs a mink coat but the mink!" It's a flight of fancy. A romantic interlude. And the closest I'll ever get to admiring Americana.

A Christmas Carol (1951). Alastair Sim is the other man without whom my Christmas simply doesn't happen. Nobody else in any version of this classic Dickens story, as much as I admire them (Michael Caine especially, because he SINGS! With MUPPETS!) quite captures the giddy glee of real redemption. He's a genius actor, because I watch him, and I don't know if he's ever felt it before, but I know I have. That's what it feels like to get a second chance - to TAKE a second chance. Bless the man.

Mixed Nuts (1994). I discovered this little gem when I was a teenager, and it stuck. It's insane, with a side order of Madeline Kahn. I adore her, but she doesn't make this film. Only the director and a team of highly trained professionals could make this movie. Even Steve Martin doesn't carry the whole film, though he comes off quite deliciously throughout. I grew up in the American Southwest, so I especially liked seeing a Christmas that wasn't compulsorily white, though the cast was.

Snow (2004) Okay, Santa actually shows up in this one. It's actually Santa Fic. but I don't hate it, because although it has that evil "Santa is REAL!" theme, it's so ridiculously fantastic, that I don't care. Besides, although he does wear red (annoyed face), he isn't old, fat, or jolly. He's young, neurotic, and in love. I watch this one for the romance, and for that little fact that must seem like a plot hole just begging for a "HISHE" mock: the magic is there when you need it. If the film were touting a "Santa always wins!" thing, I would reject it entirely. But I identify with Nick. My life works that way. The magic always comes through. Rather than expecting the audience to believe in Santa, he becomes an allegory. I also enjoy Snow 2: Brainfreeze because Family.

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994). Just watched it. Again, the redemption/second-chance theme is heavy and real in a film that's pure invention. The lines are thick, and the acting heavy-handed, but the story is, again, a brilliant allegory with symbols wrapped in sight-gags. This might be my new holiday favorite. It's problematic from a feminist perspective, and not very romantic at all, but visually fascinating and thematically poignant.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). I hate that Disney owns this. But between Skeleton Jack and Batman Returns (1992), Tim Burton really knows how to capture the quirky, subculture, hipster side of Christmas. No redemption allegories, but a lot of subtextual kink and black leather, decorated with Christmas lights. Also, he knows who to invite to his party. In Nightmare that's Catherine O'Hara, in Batman it's Michelle Pfeifer and Christopher Walken (I like Danny Devito too, but his character is a bit extreme for my sensibilities), and in both, Danny Elfman accompanies. Brilliant stuff.

While You Were Sleeping (1995). You don't actually have to watch this one, you just have to be able to quote it. At my house, that involves ironic comments that "these mashed potatoes are so creamy!" every time we start an argument at dinner.

MST3K: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1991). While this is technically a television episode revolving around a 1960s film, it's legitimately funny. Though I mention it mostly for my little brother John, who introduced me to it and now lives in the arctic wastes of North Dakota.

 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Last Kind Words (2012)

I'll be honest: I watched this film because I adore Brad Dourif, and I'm happy to say this film shows him doing his best thing - shouting "No!" and curling into an agonized ball. Well done. I am satisfied.

As a horror film, this movie is creepy enough, I suppose. People act violently, unkindly, and unpredictably. Truly, though, Last Kind Words was much more deeply tragic than frightening. The pace was slow, and the scenery artistic. The whole thing just felt so sad. All the misery, the pathetic lives, all the perpetuated violence, made the film feel whistful, and heartwrenching. It was too gentle (in plot progress, if nothing else) and too human to frighten me. It reminded me of lynch photography (for obvious reasons), and struck me not for its supernatural/unnatural danger, but for its entirely understandable, if sometimes overwhelming, pain. As Sam Winchester says once, "they're just people!" And people do horrifying things to other people. And it breaks our hearts, but it doesn't have the same effect as slinging around gallons of fake blood.

I have to give this film extra points for the creation and maintenance of a simple, usable, and believable mythology.

It was surprising, and worth time and attention. It's a little clunky, but probably underrated nonetheless.

A Haunting at Silver Falls

This 2013 (remarkably recent) film possesses a fine example of my favorite pet peeve - the failed beefgeek. Seriously, putting an over-tanned beefcake in pathetically large and decades out-of-date glasses does not make him capable of performing geekery. If you want us to believe your character scored over 2400 on the SATs, hire an actor capable of pronouncing technobabble, and then GIVE HIM TECHNOBABBLE. (I mean, provided you can write it. If you can't write it - just stick to what you know. Write average characters). Really. Technobabble is SEXY. Why do you think we all go nuts for Benedict Cumberbatch? It isn't his cartoony lips, I swear. It's what comes out of them.

Although: points for making your character look incapable of slapping somebody hard enough to make a sound.

Sorry to start a review on a low-note. As a thriller and a mystery, this film passed! It was at least average, if not slightly above on the "smart protagonist" score (that chick was written strong!) especially for her repeatedly and sincerely turning down the drug-dealing, predatory douche-nozzle (although that unfortunately left her in the clutches of the film's mysterious perpetrator). Unfortunately, her preference for a really bad actor didn't win the audience's sympathy, and watching him as a finishing minion, I felt "meh."

Oh - and I think a couple of times the filter was a little too strong. I don't think woods are supposed to be black and white. Although colors are more difficult for the eye to distinguish in the dark, it's not impossible for most people.

They

This 2002 horror story was entirely adequate, although (and this is difficult to say, because I have always hated people who say this) not actually very frightening. The storyteller/director made an interesting decision to keep the nature of "them" and the fate of their victims from the audience until the last few moments of filming. That decision makes sense, because the explanation doesn't allow for the characters to discover it: they're not some legend that can be googled, which is a nicely realistic, if sort of frustrating touch, because it doesn't allow any intellectual movement - which impedes plot movement. 

We WANT to know what things are and what they want. Words like "eat us" are thrown around, but without any kind of substantiation, even at the end. People just disappear, after being very, very frightened. Although understanding the nature of a thing makes it less frightening (which clearly isn't the direction to go, here), even progress towards the main character's final *spoiler* captivity would give the plot some kind of suspense and structure. Instead, Julia (the main character) waffles between belief and disbelief, between stability and insanity, and between strength and fear. This type of film doesn't really use that type of realism very well. They would have been better off offering the audience some kind of cosmic worldview to encorporate Them. Even in the ending, the audience is still largely baffled. Well, I was largely baffled.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Internship

This priceless gem is about two old guys who teach some geeky YAs that the only way to be truly happy and find yourself is to have (at least) one wild night of sex, alcohol, and violence.

I'm interested in the parallel between the BBRCs and the drunk/vulnerable scene, but I'm not a fan of comedies generally. Don't ask me to gush, because you won't like the liquid I choose.