Woah! What is this? I’m writing about a movie released within the last week? It’s a Christmas miracle! Don’t get to used to it kiddos, because I hate movie theaters and probably won’t see another movie on opening weekend for a loooong time.
Remember way back when I said hit guerrilla film maker Gareth Edwards has been swallowed up by the corporate machine, I totally missed the fact that he’s the director for this year’s Star Wars film, Rogue One.
Disney’s Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: Episode 3.5: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the newest movie in the yearly Star Wars output that Disney has scheduled for the next 500 years. Rogue One is a companion piece to the core Star Wars saga, showing how the Rebel Alliance discovers and steals the plans for the Death Star between Episode III and Episode IV.
Full disclosure: this review is going to be chocked full of spoilers. Also full disclosure: get a tall glass of something to drink, because I’m going to be real salty.
Go watch Rogue One before reading this. Or don’t. I mean, honestly, if you’ve seen A New Hope, I think you can figure out how this one ends.
I’ve written about certain movies on this blog that I think I’m going to call Arthouse Lite (I’m waiting for the copyright to come through so I can name a shitty adjunct beer – marketed as craft – after it). Arthouse Lite movies are the movies you show your friends to get them to realize there are more movies out there than the big hundred million dollar superhero blockbusters. Movies that are original and fresh and that can provide some extra entertainment value in that you are rewarded for thinking about them a little more in depth than usual. They’re usually very stylistic and a little on the weird side but not so over the top that they would alienate somebody who would have no reference to it. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain is not Arthouse Lite. Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers (yes, that is a real movie) is not Arthouse Lite. Movies like Enemy, Donnie Darko, or Under the Skin are Arthouse Lite. They’re just offbeat enough to grab the attention and imagination of the average person, but won’t make them walk out of the theatre in disgust or boredom.
Snowpiercer is an Arthouse Lite Lite sci-fi action film and is the latest project directed by South Korea’s Bong Joon Ho, the same guy who gave us the critically acclaimed and still-on-my-To-Watch List movies Mother (2009) and Memories of Murder (2003). The movie is based on a dystopian sci-fi graffic novel from 1982 by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette called Le Transperceneige. Snowpiercer received a very small limited release before word of mouth gave it the momentum to warrant a much larger one. I’ve been excited about this movie since I heard about it a year or so ago. It has a rock solid cast, and I’ve got a soft spot for movies about rebellions and uprisings as well as movies that take place in one location. In case you didn’t know, the assembly of acting talent here includes Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt(!), and real life pretty boy Chris Evans. The basic plot of Snowpiercer is simple: In a post-apocalyptic frozen world, a train running on on a perpetual engine houses the last remaining dregs of humanity. The passengers on the train have been segregated Hunger Games style and the oppressed lower class folk in the rear of the train launch an assault lead by Curtis and Gilliam (Evans and Hurt respectively) to try and take over the front where the upper crust live. It’s your standard feel good story about the 99% toppling the 1%.
Except it isn’t. (more…)
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t only watch horror movies. Sure, dudes in masks wielding machetes who chop up promiscuous teenagers tickles my fancy some, but every now and again it’s nice to step out of the coffin and experience something a bit different. While I’d definitely call myself a fan of sci-fi, I feel similar about that genre as I do most comedies. I think a movie in the genre needs to be executed impeccably if it’s going to stand solely on the tropes and stylings of genre. A prime example in the comedy genre would be Airplane, a movie that spends literally every frame setting up or paying off on a joke, and every joke sticks its landing perfectly. It doesn’t need compelling characters, narrative, or conflict because the movie can stand alone on the strength of its jokes. My favorite sci-fi movies and shows definitely cannot stand on how “sci-fi” they are. They need something else to synergize with the sci-fi setting. Take Robocop for instance. Unarguably the greatest movie ever made, its political and social satire works with the sci-fi setting, not just along side it. Their power together makes it a great movie. Battlestar Galactica is a political thriller/ drama that just so happens to take place in space and involves evil robots trying to eradicate humanity. The sci-fi (spaceships, faster than light travel, Cylons) does not get people watching it episode in, episode out. The fleshed out characters, their relationships, their struggles and flaws, and how they overcome those struggles and flaws make the show worth watching. For me, sci-fi needs a human element to grasp on to in order to elevate it to something really worth thinking about. Good sci-fi asks questions and pokes holes in convention. A movie that fits this description to a tee, is Her.
Her is Spike Jonze’s fourth feature length film about Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a man going through a divorce who begins a relationship with Samantha, an artificial intelligence operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). It sounds like a quirky indie drama, and while it does fall into a couple of the traps of a schlubby-guy-meets-manic-pixie-dream-girl movie, it deftly soars above a majority of the clichés and keeps you on your toes and guessing what will happen next. Spike Jonze is known for making quirky and weird movies, but Her is definitely an accessible film (unlike the last movie I saw starring Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin). I know I’m late to the party for Her, but understandably I was a little overwhelmed by the ridiculous amount of praise this movie had going for it when it came out. It seemed almost too hyped. It was winning every award ever, and nothing but perfect or near perfect reviews came spilling out after its release. At the time it felt like manufactured hype or Oscarbait, but now that I’ve watched it, I can safely say…
Arthouse films aren’t for everyone. They’re often vague, confusing, and come across as being strange and different for the sake of being strange and different. Now, I’m by no means an authority on arthouse and experimental cinema, but I’ve been through the surrealist rodeo a couple times. Being someone who really likes the visual and technical elements of film, I can enjoy certain art films for their imagery and cinematography, even if their #2deep4me messages fly over my head.
Under the Skin is a sci-fi horror film directed by Jonathan Glazer. While definitely an art film, Under the Skin’s plot is easier to digest than something like, say, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. That being said, it doesn’t reduce how evocative and mesmerizing the imagery is in this movie, nor does it make some of the scenes any less uncomfortable to sit through. The movie follows a simple premise. An alien woman (Scarlett Johansson) is sent to Earth to process men for an unknown reason. In order to capture the men she needs, she decides to pose as a beautiful young woman and seduce them. As she ensnares prey after prey, her time among humans begins to rub off on her and she becomes curious about the different experiences and emotions humans go through. See? That wasn’t so hard. (more…)