Monday, January 25, 2016

Useless Clatter...The Hal 9000: Technology That Talks

(Originally posted for CFLXmovieoftheweek.com)
Depictions of the future serve as one of the most alluring aspects of science fiction. Even better is when these cinematic futures become the past. Audiences may relish in the opportunity to nitpick the accuracy of these fictitious creations in the aided benefit of hindsight. (Sorry Back to the Future II, there were no hoover boards yet in 2015. We were still trying to figure out the Segway.)

Unfortunately, 2001: A Space Odyssey does not lend many imaginative depictions of 21st century Earth. Despite a few bone-wielding apes on our prehistoric planet, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as its title suggests, takes place mainly on board spaceships trekking through a limitless and (relatively) unchanging galaxy. But onboard any spaceship, technology is aplenty, often times in excess in sci-fi. Arguably the film’s most intriguing character is no man or ape, but a talking computer- the HAL 9000- stoic and physically lifeless. A novel idea in 1968, but almost 50 years later, HAL would simply join the likes of Siri, Watson and our unnamed Google Maps chauffeur on the ever increasing list of “talking computers.” Thankfully, our reliable trio have yet to cause the mayhem of HAL.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Why See This...The Trial [1962]


To read Franz Kafka one must imagine a world where logic and reason have no hold. To see such a place envisioned by one of cinema's greatest auteurs is a rare treat. Orson Welles’ 1962 adaptation of The Trial is by no means a conventional edge of your seat thriller. Looming beneath the shadows of his classics Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, Welles’ The Trial is an underappreciated masterpiece of avant-garde cinema and surrealist art. Some call it hyper-stylized, over-the-top, nonsensical and entirely unwatchable. From the latter perspective, it is all these things, yes, outside of being unwatchable. But with The Trial, Welles has created an audacious film that demands to be remembered; something truly unlike any film that has come before or after it.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Month in Movies...August 2015

Total Movies Watched: 12
1930s: 1
1950s: 1
1960s: 4
1970s: 2
2000s: 1
2010s: 4

Irrational Man [2015] dir. Woody Allen


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why See This...Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation [2015]

In an era obsessed with remakes, reboots and sequels, it comes as no surprise that 2015’s summer Blockbuster season has given us a fifth sequel. And once again, movie-goers ask themselves- is no. 5 worth seeing? In this case, yes. 

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission Impossible film opts for a simple, tried and true plot line of many past action films. This is no slight towards McQuarrie’s writing abilities, who earned an original screenplay Oscar for the sleek crime thriller The Usual Suspects. Thankfully, he knows such twists and turns do not fit the Mission Impossible mold. Audiences have flocked to the MI series for impressively staged action sequences and the whacky virtuosity of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).  Both are in full force here.

The finals moments of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, have Hunt and the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) barely saving San Francisco from nuclear annihilation. In Rogue Nation, the director of the CIA (Alec Baldwin), opposed to the Hunt’s unconventional tactics and admittedly lucky breaks, shuts down the IMF and a search for Hunt begins, who is to be charged with treason. Out in the cold, Hunt is in the midst of his own pursuit— tracking down a terror network known as the Syndicate. Hunt has linked them to a series of global terrorist attacks. After an early face to face encounter with its leader, the composed yet cunning Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), Hunt will stop at nothing to find him and bring down the Syndicate.

Rogue Nation marks the third collaboration between McQuarrie and Cruise in recent years. Their first pairing came in 2012 for the rather flat, more Bourne-esque thriller Jack Reacher.  Last year’s under-watched sci-fi film Edge ofTomorrow earned the two greater praise. What worked in Edge of Tomorrow that was absent in Jack Reacher, is Tom Cruises’ underutilized charm and comedic timing.  Ethan Hunt is not Jason Bourne and at no point does he ever try and mimic James Bond. He gets into trouble and occasionally relies on a little luck to get himself out of a jam. Hunt’s formidable charisma never strays too far and this is why we like him.

Cruise is certainly not the only actor who deserves praise in Rogue Nation. Already mentioning Sean Harris’s brilliantly restrained evil; Simon Pegg, always a crowd pleaser, is as good as ever as Hunt’s genial, sarcastic wingman. Rogue Nation also wins many fans for the return of Ving Rhames as the calm and cool Luther Stickell who was noticeably absent from Ghost Protocol. New to the film is Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust who appears right at home as the double/triple/quadruple crossing “frenemy” of Hunt. The ensemble works like a charm.  No character, big or small, steps out of their role to try and overtake the Ethan Hunt show. Early in the movie, as Faust helps Hunt out of an early predicament, he has to ask her, “this is the first time we’ve met, right?”

Like its predecessor, Rogue Nation opts for a livelier, funnier tone, something pushed aside in the darker, more intense MI 2 and 3. That isn't to say the movie does not have its share of edge of your seat, final-seconds-before-it-goes-kaboom-type drama we crave in Mission Impossible—motorcycle chases through the tiny streets of Casablanca, Hunt hanging onto a flying plane’s hatch in Belarus, scuba diving underneath a powerplant- without oxygen…A particularly memorable scene finds Hunt trying to desist three assassins high above an ongoing performance of Turandot at the Vienna Opera House. Its an unusually long scene for an action film, but the intricate staging, cross cutting and rich opera soundtrack make this scene and the movie as a whole, a pure delight to watch.

Ghost Protocol saw a resurgence in the critical praise of the MI series, and Rogue Nation rightfully surpasses it. If such a trend continues, I wouldn’t mind seeing the 53 year old Cruise throw himself off buildings and onto planes (or vice versa) again in a few years, and if he still can maybe even into his 60s, though at that point, hopefully he’ll keep his shirt on.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why See This...Blue Jasmine [2013]

Since 1966, Woody Allen has directed 43 features, amounting to almost one picture per year, an immense quantity for any one director. Best known for his wry romance comedies and quirky, rambling set of on-screen portrayals, Allen no doubt does comedy best.  But every once in a while, his writing take a dramatic turn.  The laughs come fewer and farther in exchange for a deeper study of human psyche and emotion, ala Match Point.  Not a typical Woody Allen movie some might say, but amidst a slew of signature comedies, these often stand as some of his most memorable work. Case and point with his latest feature, Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine, like Match Point is not a typical Woody Allen movie of recent memory.  The film lacks the outlandish faltery of last year’s To Rome with Love and the whimsical nostalgia of 2011’s gem, Midnight in Paris.  His newest movie is a swooning, cerebral drama detailing the likes of pain and loss, obsession and regret.  Blue Jasmine updates Tennessee Williams’ classic stage play “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  New Orleans swaps out for San Francisco and the 1950s becomes the present day. The nutty Blanche DuBois character, here called Jasmine, is marvelously depicted by veteran screen actress Cate Blanchett, who the Academy will no doubt recognize with at least a nomination.

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Month of Movies...December 2012

Total Movies Watched: 12

60s: 0     + 5 movies I certainly would not recommend to most people
70s: 2     + 2 Tarkovsky films
80s: 5     + 2 movies directed by a brother-brother duo
90s: 0     + 2 movies seen in theaters
00s: 0     + 2 re-watches
10s: 5     + 1 movies I was forced to sit through on a plane because I checked by books

Stalker [1979] dir. Andrei Tarkovsky


Offret (The Sacrafice) [1986] dir. Andrei Tarkovsky


Friday, November 30, 2012

My Month in Moves...November 2012

Total Movies Watched: 8 (Weak)

50s: 1     + 3 foreign films
60s: 0     + 2 movies seen in theaters
70s: 3     + 2 English movies watched entirely in Czech
80s: 0     + 1 re-watch
90s: 0
00s: 1
10s: 3

Hi Terezka [2001] dir. Robert Glinski


Ucho (The Ear) [1970] dir. Karel Kachnya