Movies are way too long. I have seen 43-minute episodes of Lost that are far better than the two or three times longer blockbusters of recent years. When I finally do go watch a long movie, I’ll sometimes be re-cutting it in my head, imagining scenes that could be trimmed or left out entirely. Imagine if you will, an alternate reality where The Matrix has only one sequel spanning the two that we have been served: a single sequel that entirely left out Zion, including that one Planet Of the Apes nightclub scene. Yep. Better movie for it.
It’s been a while since I chronicled my top movies and while I still pretty much stand by that list (Okay, so Rambo 1 and The Day The Earth Stood Still deserved more), I remember deciding to myself that movies should be rated on watchability as well as greatness. So step out of your french art-house-critic suit for a moment and smell the burnt celluloid; some movies, bad movies, are just awesome. That’s what we call A-list B-movies.
Directors, actors, effects-people, you who are about to be listed, I salute you.
1 means awesome, 2 is awesomer and 3 is awesomest.
- Time Cop, Zardoz, Braindead, Cobra, Death Race 2000, Judge Dredd, Soldier, Mortal Kombat, Masters Of The Universe, Total Recall, The Lawnmower Man, Commando
- Escape From L.A., Leviathan, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, The Last Dragon, American Ninja, Bloodsport, Highlander 2, Soylent Green
- Forbidden Planet, The Running Man, Escape From New York, Cherry 2000, Westworld, Logans Run, Outland, Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun
To make this list extra handy for your next hot-pockets powered get-together, here’s a really quick checklist to let you know when you’re watching an A-List B-Movie:
- It features an action hero that says “He had to split” after sawing a man in two or “He blew a fuse” after electrocuting him.
- Smoking is allowed aboard the space ship.
- Sidekicks proclaim: “I’m not your buddy, pal!”
- Features green milk.
- Has a montage to either of these fine songs: “Live to win”, “Fight for love”, “Push it to the limit”, “You’re the best”, “Eye of the tiger” or “Hearts on fire”.
By the way, despite being a highly exact science, somehow everyone inherently knows how to enjoy B-movies. With that in mind, please educate me on which B-movies I haven’t yet had the pleasure of watching. Pings and discussion are open. Oh, and please: no Uwe Boll movies; they set the standard against which all badness is measured. I leave you with Hearts on Fire by John Cafferty:
As James Bond seeks vengeance, he uncovers a secret organization known only as Quantum. As the mystery unravels, Bond finds himself teaming up with Camille who also seeks revenge.
Quantum of Solace is a delightful Bond film. It introduces/re-introduces the classic Bond Vodka-Martini drink, as well as the iconic gun-barrel sequence and even manages a nod to Goldfinger. It’s laden with cars and fair ladies and what more could you ask?
So what if it’s the shortest Bond movie. So what if they cut out a scene where Daniel Craig says “Bond, James Bond”. Plainly said, Quantum of Solace is a good Bond movie and frankly, better than the first one.
I spent the better part of Sunday watching all three Matrix movies projected in high definition on my cousins wall. Here’s what I think of them, and please note that this review does contain spoilers, if not for the fact that the movies have been out for a while now.
The Matrix (1999)
Freelance hacker “Neo” discovers that the world is not what it seems but, in fact, an illusion; a virtual reality that keeps people in the real world asleep while they’re generating energy for their robot overlords.
This is definitely the best of the bunch and not only for its original story and mindblowing effects, but also for the fact that it’s well acted and not overly long. Quite simply, everything works.
On a philosophical level, the dilemmas presented translate well across the gulf of screen, and are elegantly woven into the story; is ignorance bliss? Or would you take the red pill?
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
After having discovered that he is “The One”, Neo helps free thousands of minds from The Matrix. The machines have noticed and are preparing a counter-attack against Zion, the last human city. As Neo encounters Agent Smith—now a reborn “rogue program”—Neo must confront other rogue programs such as The Oracle and The Merovingian in order to find out how he can stop the machines from destroying Zion.
Where the first one was a “deep” action-romp, this one is just an action-romp. Fortunately it does deliver on the action. Story-wise, it feels like there’s a lot going on, yet we still have no clue why the protagonists are doing what they’re doing.
On a philosophical level, it seems like the Wachowskis have actually upped the ante even if it doesn’t communicate. “Reloaded” refers to the fact that The Matrix is not the only level of control the machines use to subdue the humans, but to the fact that Zion has already been destroyed five times before. Each time by Neos choice; he gets to choose whether Zion is reloaded or humanity is destroyed. Then, he gets to pick a number of people who gets to re-build Zion, thus repeating the cycle that is man vs. machine. This fact deepens the whole “are you really awake” metaphor from the first one, and adds to it the balances of power: we need the machines to survive and the machines need us. Unfortunately, the balance of action and talk is oddly skewed, only really delivering on the former.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
The machines are digging towards Zion and preparations for war are underway. Meanwhile, Neo is caught in a place in between The Matrix and the real world; a waking dream-state induced by discovering previously hidden powers that range beyond the virtual world. As the war between man and machine nears, Neo struggles to end the war, acknowledging that the rogue program, Agent Smith has grown out of even machine control.
Perhaps the deepest of the three, Revolutions is also the weakest in communicating any of that depth. It wasn’t until I saw it the third time, with philosopher commentary, that I got an idea of what the Wachowskis were trying to say. As it turns out, they’re trying to boldly state that man vs. machine is not always a victory to one or the other. We need the machines, just as they need us. Furthermore, I read into the over-arching Reloaded/Revolutions story arch, the most iconoclastic statement that religion is a product of human misery and that all religious symbolism and stories stem from very real human weaknesses; weaknesses that are bound to repeat themselves forever and ever. Start over, revolution, start over, revolution. And so on.
I’ve thought long and hard about why 2 and 3 are so much worse than the first one. Certainly good philosophy is there, then again perhaps that’s the problem. For a while I thought, if you removed all Zion scenes and cut both movies down to a single 90 minute feature, the result would be better for it. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps they should have taken a page from the book of Lucas and added a single, fatal weakness to the Machines; a weakness which if assaulted by a torpedo at just the right angle, would destroy all robots and end the movie. Sometimes the clichés work better than the bold alternatives. In this case, I think they might have.
It’s 700-something years in the future and for all that time, Wall-E—a cleanup robot—has been hard at work cleaning up the mess left by the humans. One day Wall-E gets an unexpected visit from the stars; the shiny robot EVE has also been given a task. As the curious robot he is, Wall-E follows EVE in her rummagings and eventually falls head-over-tracks in love with her.
Wall-E is a tearjerkingly delightful piece. It’s by leaps and bounds the best thing to ever emerge from Pixar yet. The post-apocalyptic setting is both heartbreaking and enlightening at once and the love story between the two starcrossed robots gives hope to any broken piece of crap robot out there. Myself included. Wall-E is a near-flawless feature.
The one thing that bugged me was the odd mixture of photo-realistic backgrounds and robots and some overly cartoony characters.
Prior to the film, we were shown the held-in-classic-Disney-style short called Presto about a magician and his rabbit. Together with Wall-E, the experience gets six pounding robot-hearts.
There’s an event happening. People stop dead in their steps and start killing themselves. It starts in the big cities and spreads like a pandemic. All the while, science teacher Elliot and his girlfriend tries to get away from what in the beginning seemed like a bioterrorist attack.
Shyamalan clearly knows his suspense. The music, the camera angles, the clever playing on common fears works very well. Indie movie makers should take note, in fact, because the way the story is told, we wouldn’t have cared if it was all recorded on the field behind your grandmas house one summers day. I’ll bet most of the budget was spent on the actors. Speaking of which, Zooey Deschanel does very little beside being a pretty face. Her acting is slightly reminiscent of stalks of corn blowing in the wind; but perhaps that was the directors intention.
Ultimately, making this type of movie is risky. Unless there’s an emotional payoff in the end, it doesn’t matter how good the preceding film was. Like a good detective story, you start with the end and work your way from there. How Shyamalan approached this one I have no idea, but something went wrong. Perhaps he just forgot a good mindfuck. In any case, it just wasn’t happening for me.
There’s a mystical place in South America, one which a crystal skull holds special powers over. Pushed by Russian soldiers, Indiana Jones and his friends travel there to unveil the mystery surrounding it.
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is fairly predictable, as evident by conjecture I wrote prior to seeing the movie (which turned out to be mostly true1 ). Indy is 19 years older which makes it 1957 since Crusade was 1938. That means we won’t see Nazis, which makes the charicatured-villain-compass point towards red Russia. Indy’s been to the middle east, India, Tibet and Japan. What’s left to see? Mayan pyramids and Moai statues. It was one or the other. In fact, there’s a lot of other things you might deduce by simply looking at the poster.
You’d think predictability would detract? Nope. This is Indiana Jones, not an M. Night Shyamalan movie. It simply has everything an Indy should have. It starts with the classic2 Paramount logo fading into—well, something. It has the hat, the whip, the snakes. It has a bunch of in-crowd references that only the die-hards will notice and love (hint: it’s not the first time Harrison has said “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”). It delivers on the acting, the effects, the setting—even the story is alright considering 19 years have passed.
There are only three things to criticize about this movie. First of all, one gets a slight feeling that everyone is trying too hard. Secondly, at one point Indy says “nucular”—which is not a word. Finally: why three Star Wars prequels—why not three Indy sequels? One of these points detracted the 6th star from a perfect review. You pick.
None of that matters much, as I absolutely loved this movie, and I can’t wait to own it several times over, and I’ll be first in line for Indy 5.
The one series I’d wished Lucas had made six of instead of Star Wars is finally premiering its new installment this sunday thursday. Because it’s a formula movie, here’s conjecture as to what we can expect. Hopefully that means spoilers. Sunday we’ll know. Well, I won’t until later on. But some will.
- The Paramount logo will fade in and become—most likely—a mountain.
- We’ll meet men … top men.
- Because this is Indiana Jones in South America, expect to see huge CG Maya/Inca/Aztech ruins and lots and lots of yellow metal. That’s all there is to see in South America.
- Indy will encounter snakes. And hate them.
- Indy will be slapped on his face by at least one woman.
- Because this might be the last Indy, expect a meaningful ending. Probably involving a reunion either between starcrossed sweethearts or—like Star Wars—between father and son.
- The ground when seen from aircrafts, will look like a composite of pictures, planes and red lines tracing a map.
- Because this might not be the last Indy, expect someone to be positioned as the next holder of the proverbial reins, in this case, hat and whip.
- Bad guys’ heads will explode. Or melt.
- The music score will be better than that of any other recent movies.
Because comments hold potential for spoilers, you won’t be allowed to. Normally you would. Not today. Because this is Indy.
Replicants, more human than human robots do humanitys dirty work. Given time, they will develop their own emotional responses. To prevent revolts, they are given only a four year lifespan. When they're a hazard, Blade Runners are sent to "retire" them.
Blade Runner has been through its share of troubles. The first one with the voice over was marred by producers wanting to control the young art director, Ridley Scott, whose experience hadn't yet been proven (not even by Alien). The second version, "The Directors Cut", felt rushed and the DVD release was grainy and VHS like. The Final Cut has finally been given the proper treatment. Tweaks and fixes have been made and a near-perfect, cleaned-up transfer make this the ultimate version of Blade Runner.
Blade Runner works on many levels. There's the gorgeous dystopian design. There's atmosphere oozing from every sound of Vangelis' soundtrack. There's the vision and the philosophical aspects: life, death, the time we're given. They don't make movies like this anymore and Blade Runner is the peak of a period. It's an absolute delight to marvel in the polished and crisp picture and to notice details like the eyes of replicants reflecting light differently. Who's replicant and who's not? And does it matter? And what's that about a unicorn? Find out.