Category Archives: science fiction

Movie Week in Review: Spies and Romance

audreyhepburn-carygrant-charadeBig news from last week, I made it to movie 100! The film I watched wasn’t exactly what I intended to for such a milestone in this challenge; but after yet another stressful day at the office I wanted to see something at the theater I also work at (a place that is oddly calming for me) and unwind a bit.

The First Monday in May, a documentary about the celebrity-filled Met Gala organized to raise money for exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is for the most part an entertaining glimpse at art, fashion and film while presenting a small argument that they are one in the same. The curator for the exhibit at the center of the documentary and Met Gala hubbub, Andrew Bolton, said fashion especially should be considered as art and wanted to reflect that in his display of outfits and costumes inspired by Chinese culture.

Documentaries can be hit or miss and I will say this one perhaps could have went deeper into its subject matter and the development of the exhibit vs. the seating arrangement of famous people at the Met Gala and Anna Wintour wearing her sunglasses indoors. Those topics were a bit superficial to cover, while the portions of the film that provided a peek into her work on the Met board while leading Vogue and Bolton’s lifelong dream to be a museum curator were worth the coverage and left me wanting more. My favorite part (yes other than Rihanna’s appearance and the awkward moment with Larry David on the red carpet), was also a brief mention of how fashion was part of film in Chinese history and cinema’s influence in Bolton’s exhibit. If you want to check out more work by director Andrew Rossi, I (although I’m little bit biased here because of my former career as a journalist) prefer Page One: Inside the New York Times. The First Monday in May is a visual accomplishment in documentary film making, but lacks a little bit on the storytelling side.

Moving on, Charade, mixed with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, started a theme of movies about spies and romance during the week also including An Affair to Remember and Badlands (minus the spies and plus a very dark and unsettling “love story.”)

MCDCOOF EC032Charade is one of the top films I’ve watched this year now and I really loved the build to the true dynamic between Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant’s characters as well as the secrets behind her husband’s death, his identity and the money at the center of everyone’s trust issues. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, from George Clooney and Charlie Kaufman, takes the memoir of game show host Chuck Barris to explore his rumored time as a CIA operative and how he balanced that with career and his love with Penny (Drew Barrymore.) In addition to being funny and mysterious, the film is visually on par using angles, close-ups on its characters and artistic technique to further tell the story. I’ve always liked Sam Rockwell, and this could be his best work that I’ve seen. He embodies Barris’ persona, yet makes it look effortless.

Badlands has the visual appeal carried by Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but the more I think about it, the harder it is to say I like the film. I think that’s because the characters, primarily Martin Sheen as a murderous wayward soul from the wrong side of the tracks, are so dark and nonchalant about their actions that I found it very hard to relate to them on any level. I often associate films with how they make me feel and memories of when or where I watched them in addition to their cinematic quality, so Badlands is hard to fit into that complete picture. That said, Sheen and Sissy Spacek are dynamic together on screen as forbidden lovers whose characters are loosely based on a real-life couple on a crime spree that ends in the badlands of South Dakota. I think the film must have also inspired True Romance (definitely one of my favorite films of all time), if nothing else through the use of this song as Clarence and Alabama embark on their own crime spree.

I switched from romance and crime in the beginning of the week to a healthy balance of comedy, space, science and a little horror to make it to movie 106 on Saturday. Christopher Nolan’s space epic Interstellar is worth the three hours of time and will keep you guessing as to what will happen; especially in the last hour. I think, while I haven’t seen every space-themed movie, it’s one of the most (pardon the overuse) visually-appealing while being scientific, emotional and plus Matt Damon is in it. MATT DAMON!

I feel as though I am rambling at this point, but I do want to cover my last two entries of the week spanning the comedy-horror-parody genres: Best in Show and The Final Girls.

Christopher Guest’s look at the world of dog shows, in a “mockumentary” style, is pretty flawless and I could watch Parker Posey’s meltdowns over her dog and issues with her husband all day. I know nothing about the dog show world, but Guest seems to be spot on in his depiction while adding just the right amount of drama and quirk to his characters while they fight to be Best in Show.

Finally (bad segue) The Final Girls … one of many horror movie parody/tributes (think The Cabin in the Woods or even Scream) out there takes it to another level with a movie-in-a-movie format where the characters are challenged to find their way out by following the classic plot points used in the genre. Thomas Middleditch’s performance was my favorite in the film and it overall delivers a unique addition to what can be an overly-formulaic genre of movies.

Up next this week I am going to explore more Cary Grant films and want to collect enough titles to go on a binge of sports movies. There are a lot in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (sadly Major League isn’t one of them) so it’s time I expand my horizons in that regard. I welcome any recommendations.

“When you are young, your potential is infinite. You might do anything, really. You might be Einstein. You might be DiMaggio. Then you get to an age where what you might be gives way to what you have been. You weren’t Einstein. You weren’t anything. That’s a bad moment.”

Chuck Barris – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

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74 of 366: Upstream Color

 

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Upstream Color is a beautifully experimental film exploring man’s relationship with nature and at the same time human relationships and love. From there, the film honestly was difficult to understand and, from the brief commentaries I’ve read, it’s supposed to be that way.

Shane Carruth’s (Primer) film festival darling starts with a woman infected with a parasite in her blood stream and evolves from there to a story of survival, independence and the themes I mentioned above, if you choose to interpret it that way.

Carruth, in addition to writing and directing the film, stars in it as Jeff, who later falls in love with the infected woman, Kris.

The film takes a turn from the plot about Kris to their relationship and fight against the world, but there are many other subplots going on that I know fit, but again, didn’t comprehend.

It’s actually a film that I feel okay about not understanding because I think it’s meant to be experienced as a visual film as much as it is a literary exploration of some deep ideas bordering on science fiction.

Carruth effectively balances science fiction with a story about love and presents a project you can appreciate at any level. I think it’s a film worth watching again, for people who have the time (not me), to experience what other themes and meanings stand out without reading any of the analysis available in many places on the Internet first.

Henry David Thoreau’s Walden has a strong presence in the film, both in readings by Kris’ character and physical copies in many scenes. That, combined with many scenes in and about nature, presented the theme that exploring how humans fit into nature was one of Carruth’s ideas.

If you want to dig deeper, Indiewire has a cheat sheet on Upstream Color (I only skimmed it before writing this post) that would be worth reading as well whether you watch the film one or 10 times.

Overall, I like the choose your own adventure style of Upstream Color. Its story is piecemeal and, as I said, can be interpreted at any level of depth and intensity you like or just taken at face value as visually mesmerizing artwork expressing the magic of film and storytelling.

 

 

13 of 366: Mad Max: Fury Road

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“As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken.” – Max Rockatansky

I watched Mad Max: Fury Road last night and now it’s nominated for several Academy Awards. Boom. It’s in the running for best picture in addition to Brooklyn, Room, Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, The Revenant, The Martian and The Big Short. George Miller is a best director nominee and, no surprise here, the film is a contender in the trifecta of visual effects, film editing and cinematography.

A good 30 minutes of the film seemed to come on a little strong with the effects that bring to life post-apocalyptic Australia and battles between road gangs led by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) after he finds out Furiosa is helping some of his prisoners escape.

The film doesn’t really slow down but there was enough character development and story built in between the races and battles for me to be hooked as Furiosa led her troops through the desert and eventually meets her match in Max (Tom Hardy.)

They appear to be enemies at first but soon realize they need each other to defeat Immortan Joe and his followers.

“Where must we go … we who wander this wasteland in search of our better selves?” (The First History Man.)

The unspoken bond between Furiosa and Max with the score and costumes chosen for the film at the backdrop left me enamored with the whole picture and the ending was effective and unpredictable.

Mad Max: Fury Road has gained critical praise over the last year and leading up to award season. It’s among the favorites for critics at Indiewire and Rotten Tomatoes and while there is strong competition for the Academy Awards this year (especially with the decline to eight best picture nominees) it would be a refreshing to see Mad Max: Fury Road receive cinematic honor on Feb. 28.

“Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time, just for one day
We can be heroes, forever and ever
What’d you say?”

-David Bowie, Heroes

 

 

 

11 of 366: Altered States

alteredstates
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I still don’t know exactly what to think about Altered States, but I will say I enjoyed pondering the film and William Hurt’s wardrobe  (when he has one) in between writing about money and debt and all that jazz today at work.

I don’t watch a lot of science fiction movies, but I did like the juxtaposition of Eddie Jessup’s (William Hurt) scientific quest to explore sensory deprivation and hallucinogenic drugs against his relationship and family life with Emily (Blair Brown) presented in Altered States.

The effects were impressive for 1980 and really brought out the film’s weirdness and Jessup’s dedication to finding out if different states of consciousness can cross over into reality.

Deep down I like to think that director Ken Russel and writer Paddy Chayefsky, who also penned the novel the film is based on, really wanted the viewer to question how far the characters would go for love or their career, or both.

What would it take for a William Hurt-type in the late 1960s to realize he can be in love?

In this case, it’s some weird stuff that I will never fully understand but he does fall in love. Maybe that’s all he ever wanted. I might watch this movie again someday or read the book, but not in 2016. I have to move on with my own quest. 355 to go!
Stars: 2 1/2 out of 4.
“Turn and face the strange / Ch-ch-changes / Oh look out now you rock and rollers / Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older.”