starlady: Peggy in her hat with her back turned under the SSR logo (agent carter)
I rewatched All the President's Men (1976, dir. Alan J. Pakula) last night for probably the first time since I first saw it in 1998 or thereabouts, when I was in seventh grade. I immediately went out and read the book, which tells you a lot about the kind of kid I was. Come to think of it, it may well have been 1997, the year of the impeachment. In any case, I haven't watched the movie in this millennium, and doing it now is eerie.

Twenty years on, what's striking to me about the movie is just how little of the Watergate scandal it depicts--it spans the year and change in which Mark Felt, Bob Woodward's "garage freak," guided Woodward and Bernstein's investigation, which mostly consisted of wearing down shoe leather trying to find sources who would go on the record (they wouldn't) and, failing that, finding ways to corroborate what people would tell them anonymously about what they knew. It ends just after they print (correctly, but without all their supporting evidence properly verified) that H.R. Haldeman was the fifth man controlling the CREP slush fund which bankrolled all the dirty work that Nixon wanted done. We learn what happened to all the major players in the scandal via typewriter at the end; most of the higher-ups are only voices on the phone in the movie, and Nixon himself appears only in file footage playing on the television at strategic points. It works, though. 

We're living in Stupid Watergate now, of course; the broad lineaments of what went down have been known for more than a year at this point, and (crucially) it only remains for the facts to be established in courts of law and (hopefully) for the perpetrators to face justice, but whereas Woodward and Bernstein can barely grasp the ramifications of what they're reporting, even when their investigation has identified the White House Chief of Staff as being guilty of criminal conspiracy, there's only parlor game questions left about what our sitting president does and doesn't know. In a weird way I found myself envying them. 

Given the recent revelations about Dustin Hoffman's harassment of women on set, his turn as Bernstein is even more awkward to watch than it was before--there are more than a few scenes where he, with his more free-wheeling reporting style, is trying to pressure female witnesses into telling him what they know and/or go on the record about it, and it's impossible now to watch those scenes and not wonder how much the women were really acting acutely uncomfortable, as opposed to just being acutely uncomfortable. I found myself thinking of Spotlight, predictably, because it's the other great newspaper movie and because it shares many of the same concerns, and one which pays homage to this one but also plays off the expectations that this one generates. Towards the end, I also realized that a key scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is also a direct tip of the hat to one of the final scenes in this movie, which makes what Winter Soldier tries and fails to do even clearer. Spotlight is about complicity; All the President's Men is about conspiracy, and how much work it takes to pull at the few loose threads the conspirators left dangling. Both, ultimately, reinforce that there's no substitute in journalism for persistence.
starlady: Peggy in her hat with her back turned under the SSR logo (agent carter)
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017), dir. Angela Robinson
I loved this film so much and I'd bet that almost everyone reading this will love it too. Based on the real-life story of the creator of Wonder Woman and his wife and their partner, the movie has been winning deserved praise for its respectful portrayal of a poly love story, as well as its exploration of exploring kink and BDSM in a relationship. The story of Bill Marston, Elizabeth Marston and Olive Byrne is fascinating, and Robinson leaps off the agreed-upon documentary record to make it a full-on romantic trio, with Elizabeth and Olive's sexual relationship being just as important and real as either woman's relationship with Marston. Despite all that, however, the film is mostly inexplicit; Robinson is far more focused on the depiction of relationships through the way people look at each other than through body parts. It is, in other words, extremely female gaze, and very sexy. I would happily have watched another hour of the movie, particularly as the latter half gets into the challenges of queer parenting in a homophobic society in a way I wasn't expecting, but the movie's conventional structure means that there's only so much time. Still, it was wonderful, and all the actors were great. Go see it.

The Princess & the Frog (2009)
Disney's last traditionally animated feature film, its first featuring a black princess, and probably the only Disney princess movie I hadn't seen. I liked the story of Tiana and her feckless prince, and from my admittedly inexpert position it seemed like the non-white characters were largely depicted in a positive manner. The story is sweet, but it owes so much to Shrek, it's kind of painful, and the thing that really struck me is that even as Disney put a lot of effort into moving beyond racist stereotypes in its depiction of the non-white characters, they were unwilling or incapable of to get beyond lazy stereotypes and fatphobic tropes in their depictions of villains and fat people. (I was also interested to see that the dupe villain gets a British accent, since the movie being set in New Orleans means that Disney was unable to rely on its main vocal stereotyping strategy of having the villains speak in Southern accents.) All of which is to say, there's ultimately no comparison between this movie and some of Disney's more recent successes.
starlady: Mako's face in the jaeger, in profile (mako mori is awesome)
Atomic Blonde (2017), dir. David Leitch
I fully support Charlize Theron's decision to transform into an action star as her mid-career reinvention. Set in Berlin during the literal last days before the fall of the Wall, Theron plays a British spy tasked with flying in to recover "the list" (spy movies need to stop using this MacGuffin, and someday they will, but not today) of covert agents and figure out which agent in Berlin has betrayed their country. Smart money is on James McAvoy, playing the MI6 Berlin station chief in full-on dirty mode, but much more charmingly than in Filth. I was in Berlin last October, which leant a vertiginous quality to the whole affair; much of the movie is quite accurate about getting between the two cities, etc, and it feels like Berlin still does, a little, even now. Everyone is excellent and the fight scenes, eschewing the Bond films' PG-13 rating for a well-earned R, are realistic and tense. The soundtrack is great too, though if anything, it was edging slightly close to being too on the nose at times; this was saved mostly by the many German covers of 80s standards. There is also canon queerness, for an even better bonus, and I am definitely going to watch it again. Has anyone read the graphic novel it's based on?

The Dark Tower (2017), dir. Nikolaj Arcel
My brother and I went to see this because Idris Elba and…it's not good. I don't think it was quite as bad as it was made out to be, but it's certainly the case that less than 12 hours after I walked out of the theater the only thing that stuck with me was Matthew McConnaughey saying "magics" with absolutely zero conviction. The posters were more epic than the actual film, alas. I still maintain that they should have made Jake a girl (heresy, I know), but the film had bigger problems. Stephen King apparently signed off on it, though, which suggests an inherent problem in his standards for adaptations of his books.

starlady: Uryuu & Ichigo reenact Scott Pilgrim (that doesn't even rhyme)
I'm inaugurating a new movie rating system: did these movies engross me enough to make me forget about Trump for the length of their run time? 

Both these films were a resounding yes.

Colossal, dir. Nacho Vigalondo

The director is an avowed hater of romcoms for the way they degrade women's agency and posit that if the man is just enough of a stalker, he'll wear the woman down into saying yes. I figured it was worth seeing for that alone, and I was right: although 30-something Gloria by no means has her life together, moving back home to her parents' empty vacation rental when her boyfriend Tim kicks her out of their unbelievably nice New York City apartment, that doesn't mean it's okay for her childhood friend Oscar, a certified Nice Guy™, to try to pressure her into dating. The movie knows this. It makes it clear by a device whereby when Gloria and Oscar walk through a certain park in their town, they turn into a giant monster and a giant robot that lay waste to Seoul. I had questions about this premise, but notably, the film in fact turns on the question of the innocent urbanites: Gloria actively cares about them and tries not to cause further damage once she realizes what's going on. Oscar, by contrast, is perfectly willing to hold those innocent lives over her head to get her to do what he wants. Notably, ex-boyfriend Tim is not a catch either; he's not a Nice Guy, but he's also perfectly willing to try to neg Gloria into living the life he thinks she should have. The ending was extremely satisfying on all counts.

The Fate of the Furio
us, dir. F. Gary Gray

I think on the infographic this one is more furious than fast, alas; my one friend actually peaced out at the 1/3 mark because there was too much Vin Diesel having feelings and not enough explosions. She missed Helen Mirren, and Jason Statham holding a baby while killing a bunch of guys, definitely my favorite sequence, with the soccer haka close behind. For those that like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like. I hope they go to space next. Relateldy, I approve of Charlize Theron's mid-career turn to action hero stardom and eagerly await Atomic Blonde.
starlady: (crew)
Only Yesterday (1991), dir. Takahata Isao
I caught this in the second-run theater in Oakland that has beer, and I was so glad I did. It's one of only two Ghibli movies I hadn't seen (we don't talk about Gedo Senki), and it was so, so good and so Ghibli. 27-year-old Taeko takes a vacation from her office job to work on a farm in Yamagata, and maybe change her life. This release, for the 25th anniversary, was one of the ones that Disney decided to spend money on, so Taeko was voiced by Daisy Ridley, who was very, very good, and the film is still a delight, even as Japan in 1991 seems like a very bizarre and distant country from the perspective of 2016: all the sleeper trains are gone, all the train displays in Tokyo are digital, the plight of farming communities is in some ways better and in some ways worse. But Taeko's experiences and her thoughts on them, and the fact that they're presented as worthy of note and consideration, are timeless.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989), dir. Miyazaki Hayao
One of my favorite Ghiblis, and the only one I could get tickets to in the Saturday matinee film series downtown. I still love this movie, and what it says about art and craft and work and life and finding yourself by getting outside your comfort zone, and the possibility of flight. Ah, Kiki. ♥
starlady: Peggy in her hat with her back turned under the SSR logo (agent carter)
Batman (1989), dir. Tim Burton
The Alamo in the Mission is doing a Tim Burton series because of the forthcoming Miss Peregrine; I haven't seen this movie all the way through in this millennium or maybe ever, so I went with a friend. I tried to watch it after The Dark Knight (2008) but couldn't because the juxtaposition was just too much to handle. This time around I noticed just how much that movie, and Nolan's movies in general, are stealing from this one. Sam Hamm, the screenwriter, actually did a Q&A before our screening, and one gets the sense from his answers that had the writers' strike not kept him off the set, some of the many script weirdnesses would have been ironed out. It's an extremely heterogeneous movie--none of the elements are really all pulling together, from the Prince songs to Vicky Vale's outfits to the set design to everything else--but it's weirdly, utterly compelling nonetheless, and Keaton is definitely great as a guy who is definitely not on the same wavelength as the rest of society. I find Jack Nicholson extremely grating in general, and he's not so much playing the Joker as playing Jack Nicholson playing the Joker, so I wasn't much interested in his relentless heterosexuality or taste for bad jokes. That said, even more than being a Batman movie, I would argue that it is above all a Tim Burton movie; there's a lot of stuff that's in there because it plays to Burton's id, not because it has any prior place in the Batverse. Batman Returns (1992) is definitely much better.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), dir. Sergio Leone
My dad is an old Clint Eastwood fan, despite the increasingly obvious divergence between our politics and Eastwood's, so I've seen large chunks of the films of the Dollars trilogy, but not this one. Despite the fact that it runs 2:45, it is completely compelling, and I was particularly struck by the obvious influence of Kurosawa on the gunfights in particular: the interest is all in the buildup, not in the actual event. About the 2/3 mark I also realized that I was watching the source text for Steven King's Dark Tower sequence, in sound and color, on the big screen: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." It's the opening line of The Gunslinger, but it's also a summary of about half of this movie's plot. Pretty cool.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), dir. Stanley Kubrick
Well, I'm glad to have seen this, despite the fact that I didn't particularly enjoy it. It's a fascinating cultural document in that it's a flawless record of what white dudes of a certain level of privilege imagined the future would look like in 1965, and much like the stories of Ted Chiang, I'm very happy that this particular patriarchal fantasy never came true. Our screening incorporated the intermission, during which we agreed that we were all rooting for HAL because he has feelings, whereas we literally couldn't tell any of the white dudes apart. If nothing else, this movie makes many, many more later science fiction movies much more comprehensible, in particular the much-maligned Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
starlady: Korra looks out over Republic City (legend of korra)
I stopped writing up all the movies I'd seen for a while, with the result that I cannot remember all the movies I've seen this year. I have ticket stubs for Creed (2015), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Love and Friendship (2016), and Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) on my desk. Two of those movies are perfect and amazing; the other two are not. Oh, and I also saw X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).

Zootopiadir. Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush
Disney has been making better Pixar movies than Pixar for about the past five years, and while this one isn't quite as amazing as Wreck-It Ralph or Big Hero 6, it more than gets the job done. It's also a Disney movie that addresses race in a not incredibly lead-footed way, although the usual problem with animation and comic specieism is not something the movie gets around: namely, once you think deeply about any aspect of the allegory, it all falls apart in spectacular fashion. (For just one example, white people here are represented as prey species…who are also the victims of the predator species, i.e. black people. Neat trick! Nor is the answer to police prejudice and violence that black people, I mean, predators, join the police force.) But the story is solid, and the chemistry between the two leads is off the charts, and the fact that the protagonist has to confront prejudice not just in other characters but also in herself is a great touch. Great animation, and great integration of Shakira and her music into the movie as well, rather than just a gratuitous add-on.

Finding Dory, dir. Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane
It's been a while since Pixar has made a movie as solid as this one; it's at least as good as Brave (2012), and I suspect will come to be evaluated in similar terms. The studio continues to ignore the truth about fish biology, which is probably good; also note that the movie taking place only a year after Finding Nemo means they can ignore the issue of coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef. In many ways, Pixar here is playing to its strengths--the action arises organically from the characters themselves, and there is at least one zany breakout character (in this case, Hank the octopus; last time it was Dory herself) who steals the show, ably supported by a memorable secondary cast, notably Idris Elba and his pinniped companion. I could have done with more of the sea turtles, ngl, but the ongoing Sigourney Weaver joke was pretty great, as was the evocation of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Dory herself--only the second female protagonist of a Pixar movie after Merida--is great, as is the movie's gentle insistence that her being neuroatypical is not a problem, just the reason that she makes her way through the world by slightly different means. The animation isn't as good as it could be--the animation in the short "Piper," which is Pixar's best in years, is off the charts in terms of photorealism--and I hope that was to match Finding Nemo, which after all is 12 years old at this point. Still, I'm looking forward to what they do next.
starlady: The Welcome to Night Vale Logo, with clouds over the moon (welcome to night vale)
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), dir. Nicolas Roeg
When David Bowie died I went to the movies. He stole the entire film with his turn as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006)--I would have paid so much money to have an entire movie of him as Tesla--and of course I've seen Labyrinth (1986), but I'd never seen this one. What struck me immediately was how similar it was, in terms of effects and directorial philosophy, to The Prisoner. The passage of time has been much kinder to the latter; the film never quite coheres, and it's too long. I was also reminded of Under the Skin; this movie is better. I was very proud of myself for correctly identifying Jim Lovell before the on-screen newscaster introduced him. But as a series of striking sequences, and for Bowie's weird, reserved performance, it's worth seeing at least once.

Purple Rain (1983), dir. Albert Magnoli
When Prince died I wore all purple the next day in mourning for the purple Yoda from Minnesota. The next week I went to see Purple Rain, which is amazing. The story is fine, with perhaps more sexism than I was frankly expecting, but wow, Prince. Prince. Prince. I immediately understood that the people who said on Twitter that Prince in concert was pure sex were right, because the Prince numbers in Purple Rain are also pure sex. Even when people in the theater with me got out real actual lighters and held them up during "Purple Rain" and we all clapped and sang along, I couldn't tear my eyes away from him on that First Avenue stage. (I kept looking for friends of mine among the extras in the concert scenes, but no luck.) People on The Current were saying that the movie will endure for the fashion, and it's true that amazing, but the movie will be immortal because it has Prince in it. Like most of his catalog the soundtrack desperately needs a remaster, but even so, it was one of the more mind-blowing concert experiences I've had, never mind that I wasn't actually at a concert.
starlady: Uryuu & Ichigo reenact Scott Pilgrim (that doesn't even rhyme)
Thinking about it, there's a lot of ways in which these are actually the same movie, not least of which that I highly recommend both of them.

Spotlight (dir. Tom McCarthy) covers approximately six months from the summer of 2001 to 6 January 2002, when The Boston Globe's Spotlight investigative team published the first of its more than 600 stories on the Roman Catholic Church's systematic cover-up of the sexual abuse of children by priests. The Globe is Boston's paper, and Boston is full of Catholics, just as the Spotlight team is full of lapsed Catholics of various stripes (Sasha Pfeiffer, played by Rachel McAdams, seems to have gone the "silently de facto agnostic/atheist" route; Mark Ruffalo is the flamboyantly angry disillusioned one; Brian Darcy James' character goes to his wife's Presbyterian church; Michael Keaton, playing the Spotlight editor, rubs elbows with half the city's Catholic movers and shakers but is, I'd bet, a Christmas-and-Easter-only kind of guy); it takes the arrival of the paper's new editor, an unmarried Jew from Miami who doesn't like baseball and who is masterfully underplayed by Liev Schreiber, to point the paper and the team towards investigating an ongoing criminal conspiracy that turns out to have been taking place under everyone's noses. "Everyone knew something was going on but us," Keaton says to McAdams in the middle of the movie, but even that turns out not to be true; the eventual revelation of who was responsible for killing an investigation into the tip-offs the Globe was given about the story in 1993 at the end of the film completely undercuts the easy narrative about good guys and bad guys that we as viewers want to slot the film into (and which the film doesn't try to prevent us from faking ourselves into), and is what make the film totally different from All the President's Men (1976) even as this is clearly the best newspaper movie since All the President's Men. Spotlight shines its strongest light on how institutions operate, how complicity is ginned up and sustained between people and those institutions--but also how people can shed that complicity and choose not just to speak up, but to listen to people who already are speaking up. One of the subplots involves the prickly relationship between Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci, playing the Armenian lawyer (another outsider) representing 84 abuse victims and counting; Ruffalo wins no bullshit points with Tucci's character by stating flat-out what everybody knows but doesn't talk about, namely that the Globe is the only game in town when it comes to local media with any appreciable power; Tucci's character gets his own back later by tipping Ruffalo off to de facto public records fraud that demonstrates clearly the Church's power, and how it operates. An ongoing plot thread that provides a lot of the overt drama is the need to take every action possible to keep the paper's competitors from scooping the story; that's just the way it is, because it's also a business.The Spotlight team are also bound by their own confidentiality policies, and that makes the ongoing stress of the revelations they uncover even harder to deal with; they can't talk about what they're finding with anyone, not even about why D'Arcy James' character hangs up a sign on his fridge telling his kids not to go near a certain house in their neighborhood that he knows but can't say is a "treatment center" for pedophile priests, or when McAdams' character can't tell her grandmother why she can't bear to go with her to church anymore. By the end of the movie I was severely regretting my own family's decision to have the parish priest say a few words at my mother's memorial service at the funeral home in 2009; even that degree of complicity, when we knew what we knew, feels too much now. It really is an excellent film.

The Big Short (dir. Adam McKay) is an exhilarating, hilarious, depressing movie about the crew of outsiders, renegades, and paranoiacs who--through a combination of brilliance, luck, due diligence, and gumption--managed to figure out that the world economy was primed to collapse and who, by virtue of that knowledge, engineered the creation and purchase of a series of financial instruments that made them all fantastically rich when the music stopped and the bottom fell out of the U.S. housing market in 2008. On paper this movie shouldn't work, but it totally does--the script is fantastic, the performances are stellar, the story is too unbelievable to be anything but true, and McKay's willingness to break the fourth wall whenever necessary is somehow an essential element. Christian Bale, playing an M.D. turned hedge fund manager with a glass eye who listens to death metal and gets the big Wall Street banks first to invent credit default swaps and then to sell him bundles of them, once again is a master-class in physical acting; I want to see the film again just so I can work out how exactly he managed to make himself be so goddamn awkward all. the. time. Ryan Gosling is magnetic as the narrator, scumbag i-banker Jared Vannett, who plays a Virgil, or perhaps Mephistopheles, to the Morgan Stanley-owned hedge fund crew led by Mark Baum (Steve Carell), a certified cynic and crank who becomes the vessel for the audience's sympathy largely by default--"saints don't live on Park Avenue," his wife tells him at one point, and there sure as fuck aren't any saints in this movie, a point driven home by the reaction of the two callow outside small-time fund managers mentored by ex-banker and paranoiac Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), who works his connections to make his two young neighbors players and then very rich men for reasons of his own but draws the line at their celebratory dance after they short the AA-prime CDOs, because when those instruments fail real, ordinary people are going to lose their homes, jobs, retirement funds, pensions, savings. They did. We did. The movie doesn't forget them; and the tonal shift from the first half (high comedy) to the second (high tragedy) works not so much because of what's going on inside the movie as what's going on outside it; McKay's breaking the fourth wall to explain various points of finance, or to confirm or deny the veracity of parts of the movie's narrative, as well as the visual rehashing of a lot of pop culture from the years in question, helps broker the transition. The real fraud and outrage kicks in around the 2/3 mark, when our anti-heroes all converge on an investment forum in Las Vegas and realize just how fucked the system and the global economy really are, with the active complacency or outright collaboration of the S.E.C. and the ratings agencies paving the way straight to hell. Only Vannett believed in the full extent of the damage before they went to Vegas; the movie's most telling moment is his comment to the Baum team after the ratings agencies have refused to downgrade the CDOs despite the fact that subprime mortgage failures are steadily accelerating: "And you pass yourselves off as cynical people. Yet you still have some underlying faith in the system." The system should have meant that this crew of weirdos weren't alone on the other side of these bets--but the brakes had well and truly come off whatever internal or external regulatory mechanisms that previously existed in the banking world well before this (the movie in fact starts in the 1970s with the invention of mortgage-backed securities. har har. har). So yeah, Vannett is right; I do definitely judge him, but all the big players were behaving so egregiously that it's nonetheless very satisfying to see someone make them bleed and make money off this meltdown--even if again the small players of Wall Street, the Lehman and Bear Stearns employees, were the ones who ultimately suffered the most out of it. The worst part is, the end of the movie leaves no real doubt that by now the system is primed for the exact same thing to eventually happen again--and maybe sooner rather than later.
starlady: Kermit the Frog, at Yuletide (yuletide)
I saw this with my family at 19:00 on Christmas Eve, and the screening was almost totally full--not the experience we had with our last Christmas Eve movie several years ago, when we saw Harry Potter 7.1.

The belonging you seek is ahead of you, not behind. )

In the meantime, I'm going to start watching The Clone Wars and Rebels on Netflix, and I started reading Martha Wells' tie-in novel Razor's Edge on my second plane flight. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and may the Force be with you.
starlady: Peggy in her hat with her back turned under the SSR logo (agent carter)
I wanted to see James Bond be stylish and kill people, and this movie…well, okay. The best thing was the casting, the worst thing was the Sam Smith title sequence (sorry not sorry, Sam Smith), and in between was everything else.

James Bond will return )

Also, on a cross cultural moviegoing experience note, there was a 10-minute intermission an hour and twenty minutes into the movie. Apparently this is normal in Belgium? Okay then. And yes, no matinee pricing.
starlady: Mako's face in the jaeger, in profile (mako mori is awesome)
I went to see America's latest attempt to rescue Matt Damon last night and basically I loved it. It was a great movie, though I could have done with even more stuff about the engineering challenges from the NASA/JPL side of things. I also cackled a lot at all the movie in-jokes, and it was interesting to see that Ridley Scott can still make good movies. Today I tore through the viral promo videos and cackled at them too, particularly at Neil DeGrasse Tyson's special episode of Star Talk. Then I realized that 2035 is only 20 years away. Dang.

All that being said, they should have kept Mindy Park Korean, because the actresses playing her and the media relations director look so much alike (thanks Hollywood beauty standards) that at times it was a little hard to keep them straight. The Ares 3 crew seemed a little white for 2035, too, and I could have done with a few more women at JPL. Ah well. If Belgian movie theaters had matinee pricing, I'd totally go see it again.
starlady: Uryuu & Ichigo reenact Scott Pilgrim (that doesn't even rhyme)
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)
I fucking loved this movie. I've seen it twice in eight days, is how much I love this movie. (For those keeping score, the only movies I've seen twice in theaters this year are MI:RN and MM:FR.) I've always had a weakness for the Mission Impossible films, but they've gotten a lot better since they were revived with Ghost Protocol, and right from the very beginning, this movie is fun. It's telling a serious story, but there's plenty of banter and humor, much of it done in a dry way that is perceptible but not showy--the Japanese audiences I've seen it with have laughed at most of the right points, which is actually a really impressive achievement in my Japanese movie-going experience. The script moves along briskly, but there are plenty of character moments, mostly through the cast's excellent use of facial expressions. They are all great.

I read [personal profile] longwhitecoats' excellent review of the movie before I saw it, and I don't really have anything to add to the conclusion that FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC. I was struck both times I saw it, though, of how consciously the movie is playing against the recent Craig Bond movies, most obviously Skyfall but also more than a little against Quantum of Solace as well--the sequence at the performance of Tosca in QoS is matched and opposed by the sequence at Turandot in this movie, and the visual trope at the end of MIRN is an echo of and a rejoinder to the deployment of that trope, at a different place in the narrative, in Skyfall. I also couldn't help but read the running bit about Faust's shoes as a response to Jurassic World, just as longwhitecoats read the thing with the motorcycles (no spoilers) as a response to MMFR. Those last two are speculative due to movie timing, but I'm quite sure that the Bond parallels, and the callouts to the first MI movie, which Alec Baldwin references explicitly in his first scene, were deliberate and conscious. (Speaking of music, I'd have to rewatch MIGP to confirm this, but the score in this movie also seemed a bit brassier than normal, a la the Bond movies.) The action is also shot in a much more comprehensible way that the micro-cutting of Quantum of Solace and the later Bourne movies, which was nice, and there are some really nice car and motorcycle chase shots. And it's so fun. It's GREAT.

The Losers (2010)
I was sitting in my room in Kyoto and realized I didn't have my copy of Ghost Protocol with me, but I did have this movie, so I watched it and I was thoroughly charmed. This is also a fun action movie, and as somebody else on the internet said, it was actually a better A-Team remake than the A-Team remake, and it's a shame that it didn't reach a wider audience. The characters in here are also great, and the action is also done in a very believable way--hits have real consequences, as do things like being shot in both legs--and it's just really fun all around.The casting is also remarkably inclusive (far more so than MIRN, it must be said), and [personal profile] recessional's old post on the movie lays out what makes it work so well. In the end both movies are about trust and teamwork, and that is something that I really enjoy.
starlady: Mako's face in the jaeger, in profile (mako mori is awesome)
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), dir. George Miller - This movie is everything. I have nothing to add to the mountains of meta I've seen on tumblr and elsewhere (though I did just read another good post about it from [personal profile] metaphortunate). I've actually seen this twice--once in Seattle, and here again in Tokyo. The sound was messed up in Seattle, but the projection was perfect in Tokyo, and we were sitting in the center of the theater so the movie was just constantly coming right at our faces. The camerawork, the costuming, the music, the story, the everything. Perfection.

Spy (2015), dir. Paul Feig - This movie was also amazing in a totally different way. It's hilarious--I haven't laughed so hard since I saw The Heat, and at several points I was nearly crying with laughter. What I loved about it aside from the fact that Melissa McCarthy's character Susan is a total BAMF was how the movie never condescends to her, even if some of the other characters do. Also, Jason Statham is fucking hilarious playing every character he's ever played except even more intense, and Jude Law and Rose Byrne were also hilarious and awesome. I would totally watch an entire franchise of these movies, no lie.
starlady: Cindi Mayweather running through Metropolis (i believe in the archandroid)
This is another movie that I've been tracking obsessively on IMDB, and I was very happy to see that it was playing in San Francisco when I got here last week. I think it was Kate Elliott on Twitter who made a comment about it last year that tipped me off, and I have to say, it's one of the best and most stylish SF movies I've seen in a while. I would highly recommend it to just about everybody.

The plot is simple, and revealed within the first five minutes: a young software developer at a tech giant (Blue Book, sort of like Google crossed with the Weyland Corp.) wins a company-wide lottery to spend a week at the reclusive founder's estate…to serve as the human component in a(n unorthodox) Turing Test, since it turns out the the reclusive founder has been spending his time working on AI, and he's come damn close.

There's a lot to say about the Turing Test, gender, artificial intelligence and the various ages of cybernetics beginning in the 1950s and they way they have understood information versus consciousness with respect to embodiment. I'm a big fan of Kate Hayles' book How We Became Posthuman, which means that I'm a highly informed skeptic about all of those topics from a feminist perspective, and the thing I liked best about the movie was how shockingly intelligent it was about all of these things. Everything in the movie is consciously commenting on these exact same issues (just as Caleb, the programmer, quickly learns that his selection wasn't random at all), and it even throws a commentary on race into the mix. It's also pretty realistic about the culture of the tech world and Silicon Valley, even though the location of the estate is never mentioned (Norway has never looked more beautiful on film) and Caleb lives on Long Island. And the movie uses all of those aspects to tell a pretty darn good story that doesn't go anywhere I expected. The film is far more feminist than it lets on almost until the credits roll.
starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
I'm a big fan of Rinko Kikuchi, and I'd been obsessively reloading this movie's IMDB page every so often since I'd first heard about it, hoping it would come out in Japan soon. It turns out, it was playing in California when I got here, which was damn convenient.

The movie is based on the urban legend surrounding the suicide of Konishi Takako in Minnesota in 2001. The film plays the legend straight and follows Kumiko from a strange beach somewhere in Japan to Tokyo to the depths of Minnesota in pursuit of the treasure from the movie Fargo, which she mistakes for a true story. Kumiko is a deeply weird person, and unquestionably someone who simply doesn't fit in in Japanese society. The film, however, rather than going for a more stereotypical "the nail that sticks out gets pounded down" story, is unequivocally on Kumiko's side, and there's a weird humor to her continuing failure to do her job as an office lady or even to care very much about that failure. She has bigger plans, plans so big she leaves her beloved pet rabbit Bunzo on the Tokyo Metro and heads to Minnesota, trying to get to Fargo and the treasure.

The film has the most uplifting take possible on the tragic story of someone who's pretty deluded, and it keeps the audience on the knife edge of sympathy--we want Kumiko's impossible quest to come true at the same time as we want someone to help her snap out of it. Largely this is through Kikuchi, who has a remarkable gift for conveying Kumiko's inner life through the movements of her eyes and her facial expressions. The ending is inevitable, but weirdly inspirational. The Octopus Project's soundtrack is definitely part of the movie's success, and I'm going to check out the rest of their stuff for sure.

A central plot point of the movie is the statement about the "true events" that the Coen Bros. appended to the beginning of Fargo which was, of course, totally fictitious, and I have to say that as someone who lived in Minnesota for four years, the same applies to the Zellner Bros.' statement that the film was shot entirely on location in and around Minneapolis and Tokyo. It may well be various parts of Minnesota, but no one in the film has a Minnesota accent, or even tries very hard. (Also: the piano in the baggage claim in MSP is open for anyone to use, and you do occasionally see people sitting down to play it. I once missed Vienna Teng doing a two-hour practice set there by about 24 hours.) The nice old lady who tries to help Kumiko also says "tuna casserole" instead of "tuna hot dish," which just proves that no one from Minnesota had any input on the script. Even so, there were enough location shots to make me happy. Home sweet frozen home.
starlady: (moon dream)
Interstellar. Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2014.

This movie got such mixed reviews from Twitter I nearly didn't go see it, but I'm glad I did. It's my favorite Nolan movie in a while, but I think it's his most genuinely felt movie in years, or possibly ever. And as a science fiction movie, I think it's pretty great. I think opinions about science fiction movies tend to be pretty mixed among SF fans, and it's certainly true that I haven't seen every SF movie that's come out since Contact (hey wait, both those movies feature Matthew McConnaughey, in diametrically opposite roles), but for me it was definitely worth mentioning in the same breath as that movie. Indeed, if anything, I'd say it's our generation's 2001.

At the outset, let me say that what I liked about the movie was the performances, the score (holy shit, the score. I don't think Hans Zimmer has ever done better, and that's saying something), and also the fact that it was so intensely emotional. This is a movie that always relates the consequences of its grand concepts back to the emotions of its characters, and as a consequence, I cried at multiple points, for the first time ever at a Nolan movie. I don't cry easily by any means, and for that reason I tend to use it as an aesthetic judgment. By those measures, this movie was great.

Arguments about metaphysics and science )

All that being said, I do think part of the reason the film got me so hard is because I've more or less lost all hope for humanity. The film tells, at its heart, the comforting lie that our future is still something we can control, which I really doubt is true at this point. I think it's all over in a hundred years, more or less, and so like Kierkegaard's knight of faith, I've decided to act like there is hope while believing that there is none. And maybe the grounds for criticism that I would find legitimate is that Nolan chose to tell this story, rather than a more despairing one. But I also think it's true what Cooper says, that hope takes courage and despair is the coward's way out. So, courage. Do not go gentle into that good night.
starlady: Mako's face in the jaeger, in profile (mako mori is awesome)
Snowpiercer (2013)
I've been wanting to see this movie for more than a year, and it did not disappoint. It stars Chris Evans as the de facto leader of a ragtag band of revolutionaries on a postapocalyptic perpetual train struggling to make their way to the front of the train, and it's really, really good. It was made outside the Hollywood system by Korean director Bong Joon Ho, and it's consequently refreshingly unlike most Hollywood movies, and most Hollywood SF in particular. It features a fairly diverse cast and a fairly realistic postapocalypse, I think, and equally importantly, Chris Evans is amazing. I knew he could act before, of course, but he can really, really act, and the rest of the cast is equally good, particularly Song Kang Ho as the train's renegade locksmith, and of course Tilda Swinton, whose role was genderflipped for her. I also really appreciated the way that the film used the affordances of what movies can do to its advantage; there are indeed a lot of chinks in the worldbuilding, but you're so transported by the movie (har) that those only occur to you after you've left the theater. And while it is violent (most revolutions are), the movie focuses not on the violence itself, as do Hollywood movies, but on its psychological impact, and cost. I also really appreciated the film's willingness to delve into other moods along the way, including more than a touch of the surreal. Really, really good. 

I've seen a lot of criticism of the film's critique of capitalism and the class system; it's certainly true that Snowpiercer is not an accurate representation of how either is created or maintained. But on the other hand, it's 2014, and I don't need a movie about a postapocalyptic perpetual train to tell me that capitalism is bad. We've punched that ticket already, methinks. But I will say that I liked the movie's ending particularly for what it said about how to deal with oppressive systems. 

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
I've heard good things about this movie on Twitter, and all in all it did not disappoint. Equally importantly, it's actually based on a Japanese light novel, All You Need Is Kill, and I wanted to support the continuing adaptation of Japanese SF to Hollywood, too. It stars Tom Cruise as a hapless U.S. army media relations officer conscripted into the final invasion of Europe, humanity's last hope against an insidious alien invasion. Along the way he acquires the aliens' own powers, and Emily Blunt is the battle "Angel of Verdun" who has the plan to use it to end the war. You can see its Japanese origins in the fact that about 75% of the movie is a training sequence of one form or another, although I agreed with people who said that it needed more Emily Blunt and less Tom Cruise. (But then, when do you not need more Emily Blunt? Never, that's when.) It would make a good Club Vivid vid, although it totally trivializes violence in the Hollywood way that I scorned above, but all in all it was a clever and enjoyable movie, I thought.
starlady: (bibliophile)
First things first: I'm still selling a bunch of genre (and a few random academic) books.

Second: Who's going to Con.txt? I am!

Third: that movie meme!
Everyone should post their ten most CRUCIAL CRUCIAL CRUCIAL-ASS movies, like the movies that explain everything about yourselves in your current incarnations (not necessarily your ten favorite movies but the ten movies that you, as a person existing currently, feel would help people get to know you) (they can change later on obviously).
  1. The Hunt for Red October (1990)
  2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
  3. The Return of the Jedi (1983)
  4. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
  5. Ronin (1998) ("Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt.")
  6. Croupier (1998) ("Hang on tightly, let go lightly.")
  7. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
  8. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
  9. My Blue Heaven (1990)
  10. Moonstruck (1987)
Honorable mention: Troop Beverly Hills (1989)


starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)

March 2019



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