Category Archives: Films I’ve Watched

My Take on “the Five Sci-Fi Films You Must Share with Your Teen”

Yesterday, I read a list on the fantastic web site sciencefiction.com about the five sci-fi films to share with your teen. While the list is a great compilation of the best films of the last fifty years, I could not agree with a single entry on the list. Not one. It’s a list that unfortunately takes personal preference over what an actual teenage human would want to watch or even care to sit through. Here I offer my rebuttal: The five films I would share with any teen to actually get them to love science fiction movies.

 

Their list: 2001: A Space Odyssey – This movie will likely kill any teenager who tries to watch it with boredom. I myself, a film buff who loves sci-fi more than most, couldn’t get through 2001 when I was a teenager, no matter how hard I tried. The film is simply too complex, too slow, too abstract to show to a teenage mind. They will hate it.

My choice: Akira – If you’re going to confuse the teenage mind with crazy visuals and an abstract ending, I’d recommend Akira. There’s a lot to speculate about the what actually happens, but trust me, teenagers will respond to the young characters trying to find their way in a world that has nothing to offer them much more than they will to apes and astronauts in business suits. Teenagers will also like the anime style they are used to seeing from late nights on Adult Swim and the freaky musical score. Most importantly, the pacing is far more on their level, especially in the first half of the film-as compared to the silent floating spaceports and slow monotone computers of 2001.

Their list: Alien – A great film, yes. No doubt. But a teenage mind will only really grasp onto the gory chest burst and the “old school” creature design. Teens nowadays don’t appreciate the latex costumes and practical effects the way we do. They’ve seen too much computer effects, even of the same alien creatures from this film. They also won’t sniff a whiff of the feminist undertones; they will simply see another monster movie in space. They’re teens, what can you do?

My choice: John Carpenter’s The Thing – All the tension, all the paranoia, all the claustrophobia and dread of Alien, but the effects of the Thing surpass in terms of sheer gore and horror. This film even has its own chestburster scene if that’s what you really wanted your kid to see, but, if you remember, this one is a bit different; in that one dude’s chest opens like a gaping maw and literally eats another dude’s hands before a head falls off, grows spider legs and crawls away. The kids will love it.

Their list: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – WHY HAVE YOU NOT ALREADY SHOWN YOUR CHILD THIS MOVIE???  What are you waiting for? If your kid is a teenager by the time they see freaking Star Wars, its too late for them. Just abandon hope of making them a geek, because it’ll never happen. You blew it. Kids, both boys and girls, should know all the words to this movie by the time they are ten years old.

My choice: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – This movie rules, but the ear worm scene in the beginning is way too heavy for kids. Trust me. I still get the willies thinking of that scene and I’m 31 years old. But, by the time your kid is a teen, they’ll love Khan’s smooth yet menacing villainous tones and they’ll instantly get the humor behind Captain Kirks infamous “Khaaaaan!” More importantly, they’ll learn everything they need to know about friendship and altruism from Spock’s selfless actions at the climax, and it’s a lesson so dearly needed in our times. (And, yes, Star Trek Into Darkness does a lot of the same stuff but it fails to convey the same emotion or impact.)

Their List: Blade Runner – Again, this is a near perfect movie, one of the best ever to be sure. But, these kids today, they don’t respect the classics like they should. And this one is just a little too… how do I put it? It opens with a conversation about a turtle on its back. Throughout, we are presented with a bunch of creepy animatronic dolls, weird synth jazz music and Harrison Ford (their hero from Star Wars, which they’ve already seen a million times, right?) getting rough with a woman. Not sure that screams “sci-fi is cool” for todays generation.

My choice: Children of Men ­­– I really shouldn’t have to say anything. This is the best sci-fi dystopian film of the last twenty years, hands down. It’s gritty and gripping–from the opening blast, to the long takes of street warfare, to the haunting images of lost art delicately hanging in the background. This amazing film feels more real than anything else on this list,  and it’s one that any teenager can instantly obsess over.

Their list: The Matrix – The author of this list himself starts off this entry with “Let’s get this out of the way: Keanu Reeves is not a good actor and the Wachowskis are not good directors.” Okay, let me stop you there. The Matrix is a cool idea splattered on screen by a slop bucket of a production that never feels real or authentic, and is only further embarrassed by unwatchable sequels. The at-the-time revolutionary bullet dodging effects will be ho-hum to any teen today and the whole thing just feels dated, like the trench coats these “hackers” all wear.

My choice: Dark City – This film is both sublimely directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow), and amazingly acted all around by the likes of Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly and William Hurt, with leading man Rufus Sewell delivering the performance of his career. This one is probably most responsible for my love of sci-fi as a teenager. I saw it when I was 15 and it’s still one of my all time favorites. The film sets such a perfect noir mood in a sinister city that literally bends to the will of mysterious entities. There is not one single minute of Dark City that is not immensely satisfying and unbelievably intriguing. It’s the kind of film that allows your own mind to wander through the black horizons of imagination, searching out that one perfect day at Shell Beach.

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Rubber

“In Steven Spielberg’s film, E.T., why is the alien brown? No reason.” The opening question and answer from Lieutenant Chad is a seemingly innocent one, but it drives right to the heart of the film he introduces. An homage to the “No Reason” found in films, Rubber is an insanely absurd horror comedy, a bizarre and addictive  film that’s not as dark as it could have been, but not as silly either.

The brilliance in Rubber, a movie in which a tire truly does come to life and kill people, is the finely walked line of ridiculousness that writer/director Quentin Dupieux masters fom the opening moment. A moment that begins with Lt. Chad getting out of a car’s trunk and dumping a glass of water in front of a group of spectators. Apparently, this group is also going to watch the movie with us. They are given binoculors and left to themselves to try and figure out exactly what the Hell is happening throughout the film.  They work things out the same as we do, even echoing conversations I had internally as events unfolded. Soon, though, there remains only one of the group, as the movie tries to deceive and dispose of it’s own audience. Why? No Reason.

The events that they-and-we follow are simple enough, a tire comes to life, rolls around the desert and figures out how to kill things with it’s mind(?) I guess. At least, we’re lead to think that, though all we see is a shaking tire and an exploding noggin as evidence. As our tire follows the mysterious French woman he encounters on the road (Roxanne Mesquida), it is in turn pursued by the diligent Lt. Chad, (a perfectly deadpan Stephen Spinella). This performance alone is worth the film, as Lt. Chad, aware of the staging these events are under, tries to convince his deputies and everyone else that it’s fake, made up by unseen masters and presented before an audience for undisclosed purposes. And, until that audience dies, Lt. Chad and the rest of the cast have to grudgingly play along in their parts, reading lines and hitting cues until the story is over. Having actual audience members in the film itself is a remarkable sly way to break the fourth wall without ever having to actually do something dumb like address the camera (hint hint Funny Games!) and makes for a crazy existential undercurrent to the whole “Scanners with a tire thing” the movie already has going.

Besides, the “Scanners with a tire thing” that Rubber rolls out with is the best kind of horror comedy. In fact, in the Inanimate Objects That Come To Life And Kill People subgenre of horror, Rubber is maybe the best of the bunch, and that includes such classics as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Carrie. It makes for fun viewing, if you’re a little sick in the head like me, and a Hell of a drinking game, since this tire explodes it’s fair share of brain buckets. If you can find it, watch Rubber for yourself. It’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, in it’s weirdly out-of-body way of storytelling and darkly themed explorations on what it means to make a movie, and watch a movie. Why do we do it at all? Why watch a movie about a tire that kills people? No Reason!

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The Fighter

There’s two things you need to know to figure out The Fighter. One: it’s based on a true story. Second: it’s a boxing movie. Put together the plot yet? Can you guess how it ends? There’s not a single surprise in the entire course of this movie, except how good it all is.

Ever since the days of Rocky, America has loved the underdog, the regular Joe who comes out of nowhere to win one for the rest of us little people. So when a story as good as that of small time boxer Micky Ward, played here by Mark Wahlberg, actually exists, it makes instant fodder for the masses. But, that’s only half the story. In the film we are first introduced not to the titular fighter, but his older brother, the  big talking former hero of Lowell, Mass, Dicky (Christian Bale). Turns out Dicky is the subject of a documentary chronicling his comeback to the ring, or so he assumes. In reality, Dicky is a crack-head, training Micky but more often than not found jumping into dumpsters out the second story window where he gets high.

And it’s quickly revealed that Dicky is the real heart of the film, played by an almost unrecognizable Bale, in one of his finest performances since, well, ever. He dominates the screen when he’s around, pushing Micky into the sidelines and out of the focus. In fact, Micky’s whole family is casting a shadow over his life. His high strung manager mother (Melissa Leo) and legion of harpy sisters, seven of them, have stunted him almost to the point of having no real personality. Only when Micky meets and begins a relationship with Charlene (Amy Adams) does he really stat to find his own voice and take on an active role in his career as a fighter.

The film takes all of the usual steps in exploring the dynamics of Micky’s family. There are the predictable beats in the movie, like  fights lost and relationships on the ropes, but The Fighter is good enough to keep our attention even through these labored cliches. In fact, once Dicky is finally faced with his addiction, the documentary was on his crack use, not his comeback, he makes as big a turnaround as Micky does,  and everything ends in a predictable but surprisingly satisfying climax.

Director David O Russell has made some of my favorite movies and showcased some of Wahlberg’s best performances to date, the dynamic Three Kings and the hilariously philosophic I Heart Huckabees. And while The Fighter is nowhere near as imaginative as his previous films, Russell still excels at every aspect of film making here. Yet, again it’s Bale who should be receiving more recognition for his role, he disappears into the skin of Dicky. Seriously, my friend didn’t even know it was him until I said something. And it doesn’t get any better than Dicky trying to con a group of Cambodians or screaming “WHEEAD YA PAAHK THE CAAA-AAHH?!?” in a wicked New England accent. It really doesn’t.

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Black Swan


Director Darrern Aronofsky’s films all have a common theme; the quest for the unattainable. Whether it’s knowledge (Pi), escape (Requim for a Dream), immortality (The Fountain), or redemption (The Wrestler), his films showcase obsessive heroes and anti-heroes battling themselves and their environment to unlock secrets and discover new worlds. Often these quests end in tragic form, and the the secrets revealed destroy what the journey couldn’t. Black Swan, the latest from the award winning filmmaker, is no different. If anything, it may be the grand culmination of this theme before Aronofsky potentially departs from art house cinema for large blockbuster fare.

The film begins with a haunting prologue, a dream in which our protagonist, vetern ballet dancer Nina (Natalie Portman), lives out a nightmarish version of one of ballet’s most celebrated works, Swan Lake. We follow Nina in a simplistic, stark manner, very much like the way Aronofsky followed Randy “The Ram” in The Wrestler. Nina lives a solitary life, sharing an apartment with her equally obsessive mother and dedicating herself solely to ballet. When the announcement is made that the company will be producing Swan Lake, Nina takes this as a sign and tries out for the lead role of the Swan Princess. It’s actually a duel role, with both a good and evil version, and predictably this is where things start to turn.

Nina has unhealthy compulsive control issues, like an apparent eating disorder, that she maintains and functions with.  But things quickly become very dark as her precious control is threatened both by her sleazy director (Vincent Cassel), and her apparent rival Lily (Mila Kunis), a dancer who possess all of the carefree passion in life that Nina can never know. Though she lands the lead after a questionable interview, Nina is not living up to the role. As she struggles things close in around her with menacing results. Soon, she herself is undergoing a Kafkaesque metamorphosis and seemingly destroying everything around her. All in the name of her own unattainable goal: perfection.

This film actually works in many ways. On one level is a psychological suspense story, on another it’s a straight up horror flick. Aronofsky seems to channel a host of other influential masters throughout the film, and some scenes almost play out as homages to Hitchcock, Lynch, or Cronenberg. Heck, I’d even throw Miyazaki on that list. As events become more confused and chaotic in the film, Aronofsky handles it deftly, keeping us guessing but not confused. The stark handheld cinematography compliments Nina’s world of mirrored walls, whispered threats, and a growing disassociation from reality, and everything remains believable if increasingly improbable. All of the performances are spot on, especially Portman and Kunis, who’ve earned all of the praise they’re receiving. They and the film itself command your attention every second of the movie, never letting up or backing off.

Black Swan is one of the best films I’ve seen this year, but my viewing list is a little light. It’s not Aronofsky’s best yet or his masterwork or anything too grand, but it’s an achievement that, if nothing else, made ballet a lot more interesting. And that’s not easy.

-Charlie

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Scott Pilgrim vs the World

A blend of comic books, anime, action, humor, and hipster cred, Scott Pilgrim vs the World seemed like a no brainer for a summer blockbuster. So it has been a relative mystery as to why the film has failed to draw an audience, especially since it is so freaking good.

To begin, the source material is the highly acclaimed six part Scott Pilgrim comic series by Bryan Lee O’Malley. I have not read it myself but am told that it rocks. Big, fun and all together hilarious, the story of Scott Pilgrim plays out like the plot of an old Nintendo beat ’em up. To date Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams, Scott must battle her 7 evil ex’s and win her heart. In the meantime, he’s playing in slacker rock band Sex Bob-Omb,  dealing with his current girlfriend Knives Chao, and all together avoiding the adult responsibilities of work and bills.

The real reason this film is a success is in director Edgar Wright’s full embrace of Scott’s fictional world. When the first evil ex shows up, bursting through a brick wall and flying across the room like some sort of emo pirate ghost, Scott looks shocked, sure. But, he’s shocked to be the target of the assault, not in the assault itself. In fact, Scott flies up and duels without hesitation, and you realize that you’re in the comic book. And it’s awesome.

This is a fantasy played out for thrills and laughs equally. Never a parody, but always a reference point, Pilgrim is filled, literally bursting at the frames with throwbacks to The Legend of Zelda, Seinfeld, The Warriors, anything it can lay it’s hands on. Each and every one of the 7 battles is unique and each of the 7 evil ex’s is an intriguing and formidable foe for our hero. Now don’t worry about Michael Cera annoying you, he’s not so bad, and he is surrounded by one of the best ensemble casts I have seen in a long time. Every part is memorable and each character has something to contribute. And there are a lot of characters in this thing.

But, what’s best about this movie isn’t the individual pieces. It’s the whole picture, one massive feature-length celebration of every part of our (i.e. mine) childhood and imagination that we (i.e. me) still hold dear.  Scott Pilgrim actually brought back memories of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, but filtered for the too cool generation. The movie’s saying we can be fashionable and hip and still be a cartoon, if that makes any sense.

Basically, this is one of the best films of the summer, and it has something for everyone. If you can, go see this on the big screen. Hopefully, this film will see a dedicated cult following, and it should. Be a part of that cult, go see Scott Pilgrim.

Or Else!

-Charlie

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Classic Film Review: Octopussy

Yes, it’s time we take our classic film eye and turn it to an entry in the Bond films, and not just any, this one is the Octopussiest of them all!

A little context is in order. Octopussy is the 13th Bond film, from 1983. It’s also Roger Moore’s 6th film as Bond, and Moore had previously tried to exit out of his contract and retire himself from the character. He was convinced by the studio to come back, as that same year Sean Connery returned as James Bond in the non-official remake of Thunderball, Never Say Never Again. Got that? So, Moore is brought in as the long running current Bond, and get this- Octopussy actually made more money than Connery’s remake, so the studios saw it as a win. Sadly, the film is anything but “win.”

Let’s start at the beginning. After a lackluster opening sequence (usually the calling card of the franchise) we find ourselves immersed in the opening credits. These too are very much a signature of the series, all with dazzling visuals and some sort of intensely dramatic song. But, this one is all wrong.

Feel free to stop it early. I did, before it put me to sleep. I mean, this is a James Bond film. You need to step it up a little here, opening credits. It sounds more like a romantic ballad, even the chorus, of “We’re an all time high” smacks of snuggling and smooching. You’d have to be high to think this song belongs anywhere near a James Bond flick. But really, this song perfectly encapsulates the film as a whole. In two words: Pretty and Lame.

And without wanting to relive all the details suffered through the ordeal of watching this film let’s just stick to generalities. The biggest problem with this movie is that it tries to change things up a little. And not in the “should we make Bond less of a perve and more of a badass?” type of changing it up. He’s still a perve, and with Moore over fifty years old when he made this film, it’s hard to see the debonair Valentino-esque quality of 007.

Though, it's hard to argue with that.

No, the changes here all are periphery, yet crucial miscues in the storytelling. You see, the “James Bond film” is a dance with very strict steps. And in the attempts to change the routine, Octopussy trips all over her 8 left feet. Consider that instead of playing poker, Bond and his nemesis, the sniveling little Kamal Khan (Khaaaaan!) partake in a high stakes game of … Backgammon? Consider that Bond never orders a martini in this movie, or that at one point he is rescued by tourists. You see, all of these little petty and stupid moments lead to a completely petty and stupid movie!

Consider that instead of a fancy roadster car chase we get a souped up Tuk Tuk ride through the streets of India’s…actually I don’t think they ever tell us where in India. But that doesn’t matter right? This same action sequence also shows Bond’s contact in India literally beating a guy with a tennis racket.

Consider that the role of the silent killer henchman, usually in the form of the hat throwing Odd Job or metal mouthed Jaws, is in this film simply a googly eyed guy with a musket. A musket? Why? There’s a fine line between original and stupid sometimes.

At this point, the film has turned into a robust comedy full of caricatures and gags. The plot is irrelevant. If you must know, it starts as  a jewel caper centered around a Faberge egg. And While Octopussy could make for a fine villainess  and her all-woman army could be great fodder for pervo Bond, that’s not how it plays out.

She is simply a pawn in the end, double crossed by Khan (Khaaan!) and eventually sat on the sidelines while the boys play roughhouse. After a while this jewel heist gets mixed up with some crazy renegade Russian General’s  atomic bomb heist and trust me it makes no real sense, but at least Bond has something of value to worry about.

The movie’s  problem again is it’s desire to show you something you’ve never seen in a Bond film.  This bomb, that the Russians have planted at an American Army base in Germany, this bomb that when exploded will kill thousands and surely result in the Soviet Union eventually taking over the world, this bomb is smuggled into the base via a circus.

That’s right, you’ve never seen Bond at a circus have you? So now our climactic scene has to play out in a tent. You know what else you’ve technically never seen? Bond dressed as a clown. Take it away movie.

But that’s not the worst of it. There’s a gorilla costume, twin knife throwing brothers (trust me they’re dumb), jungle vine swinging complete with Tarzan yell, basically all the rules of Bond just being thrown out the window at every turn. We’re made to laugh at this hero, one whom children find amusing and adults find harmless. It’s a trite and ultimately unpleasant film, and while it’s memorable in a lot of ways, none of them are complimentory.

Final thought: Roger Moore would only play Bond once more, but his time on the series was not all farce.  And while his Bond is often considered inferior to Sean Connery’s cool and collected assassin, Moore simply portrays an older, more relaxed version of James Bond, as he himself was much older.  His Bond was just unfortunately put in declining scenarios and faced with lesser villains. Like a seasoned veteran, his Bond is more of a  playboy at ease in the world, for whom the work of the British Secret Service is routine and done almost without thought. And while that portrayal is flawlessly performed and certainly unique of all the actors to take the role, if you put an affluent playboy spy in a fucking clownsuit, he’s just a fucking clown now isn’t he?

-Charlie

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Inception: The spoiler free review

Everything they say about Inception, the new film from writer/director Christopher Nolan, is true. All of it. Even the negative stuff.

Joseph Gordon-levitt as Arthur.

It’s a film that goes as far as it wants, and it keeps you riveted for a sprawling 150 or so minutes. It’s the work of a man who has experience dealing in mysteries, be it his breakout hit Memento or the magic of The Prestige, and Inception trumps them all in scope and sheer imagination.

Most impressively is just the fact that this movie will have people talking, really talking, not only about dreams but about the film, the portrayal of what is for us, our most personal realm. You won’t see Iron Man 2 or Knight and Day springing up real discussion. And thank goodness Nolan gave us an adult film this summer, we almost had to abide on cartoon toys for maturity.

Just take a look at this trailer. I have nothing more to add to that. Go see this one in the theaters. And yes, you are safe. Inception is NOT in 3D!

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