Sunday, July 12, 2015

What I Watched in June

Last month saw me slow down a bit on theater visits. The best was the first when I took in TOMORROWLAND, the latest from director Brad Bird best known for his excellent animated features THE IRON GIANT and THE INCREDIBLES. So far Mr. Bird shows a marked talent in live action filmmaking as well with the best Tom Cruise Mission Impossible under his belt and now this wonderful effort. I always have my suspicions aroused whenever Disney decides to turn one of their amusement park attractions into a film as it smacks of boardroom synergy BS rather than the desire to tell a good story. So I went to see this one with a fair amount of trepidation and found myself shocked at how much I enjoyed it. This film feels like an old fashioned Disney movie from the 1950's and 60's - and I know that by telling you that I have just lost a fair percentage of you but please let me explain. There used to be an entire sub-genre of family friendly movies that Disney pioneered that were very well made, tightly scripted and fun in ways that made them perfect for kids but not insulting to adults. This kind of cinema is pretty much the norm for animated features these days where the idea is to get the whole family in the theater instead of crafting flicks for the Saturday matinees. But the appeal of this type of tale in live action has been forgotten or, more accurately, relegated to cheap TV productions done for - ah ha! - the Disney channel. 

TOMORROWLAND is a throwback to the days when real budgets and excellent ideas were used to craft movies that the entire family could enjoy without the winks and nods to the adults in the audience. This movie is for everyone and is all the better for attempting to bring back the real Disney family film of old. I've read shallow criticisms of the film that hinge on the things that the film doesn't have such as a romantic subplot (why would you need one in every damned story?) or that it doesn't have a conventional villain (good intentions gone catastrophically wrong are not interesting?)  and I find it all pathetic. TOMORROWLAND is an unabashed anti-cynical, optimistic blast of pulse-quickening futuristic fun with a glorious heartfelt message at its core - turn away from the darker parts of yourself and work toward a better tomorrow or there will be no better tomorrow. To have communicated that idea while firing laser guns, fighting robots and flying around on jetpacks is quite an accomplishment, in my book anyway.

On the darker end of the futuristic spectrum comes EX MACHINA which is being called one of the best of the year. I walked out of the theater thinking this film was a solid effort that just didn't connect with me. I was impressed with everything about it on a technical level but I felt detached and distant from everything that happened. I was able be interested in what was being said and done onscreen but there was no emotional connection for me. But over the next few days I found myself unable to stop thinking about EX MACHINA and the ideas it examines about human nature, sexuality, power and our inability to understand what it is that makes us real to others. The more time that has passed since I watched the film the more it has been on my mind so I know I'm going to have to see it again soon. I suspect that a second viewing may make me more aware of what is making the film stay in my head and might make me think better of it overall. And by the way - Oscar Issacs is an amazing actor!

JURASSIC WORLD is nothing more or less than remake of JURASSIC PARK which was a remake of WESTWORLD and may well have had a preceding film or book I am unaware of that Michael Crichton drew inspiration from way back when. In my opinion the further you get from the original the more clever you have to be to create something memorable and unfortunately the makers of this film are not very clever. Oh, they're clever in the special effects field creating all manner of new dinosaur experiences and monsters and creatures but it is the same damned story. Again! Yes, Chris Pratt is charming and Bryce Dallas Howard is gorgeous and Vincent D'Onofrio is wonderfully villainous but it is still the exact same story told back in 1993 and 1973. The same. Only with cooler special effects and, to be blunt, dumber shock moments. I mean, Hell - I thought the idiotic T-Rex inside the building ending of JP was stupid but the finale of this film throws believability into the fish tank for the same kind of 'cool' moment that finishes breaking the film for me. Not that the movie had been handling the spatial relations between humans and dinosaurs very well for a while at that point but it's as if they gave up trying. But its made over half a billion dollars worldwide so what do I know - other than there will be another Jurassic film in about two years probably telling the same story again. 

OMEN IV: THE AWAKENING (1991)- 3 (and it limps into the 90's)
THE RAID 2 (20) - 9 (rewatch)
WORLD GONE WILD (1988)- 4 (terrible post apocalyptic tale but it has its charms)
THE DEVIL SHIP PIRATES (1963)- 7 (rewatch) (Chris Lee as a pirate!) 
TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976)- 7 (rewatch)
ANNA (2014)- 8 (well done, slightly SF mystery)
ENDGAME (1983)- 6 (Italian post apocalyptic action)
EX MACHINA (2015) - 7 (interesting but overly detached and cold)
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)- 10 (rewatch)
WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966)- 8 (wow!)
THE WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED (1953)- 6 (Republic western)
SUNSET (1988) - 5 (missed opportunity)
SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961)- 7 (excellent murder story from Hammer)
TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1950)- 7 (Lex Barker is a very good tarzan)


Steven Millan said...

Strange how the guys at Video Junkie are no longer doing those "What We Watched ...(Every Month)" as a feature on their movie blog anymore,for maybe they're either burned out from doing them anymore or feel that it's been played out and see how everyone else with move blogs are practically doing similar articles.

Rod Barnett said...

If they burned out I can sympathize. I love blogging but having set my goal for the What I Watched posts to be commenting on what I see theatrically I feel compelled to stick with it. I seem to get interesting feedback on occasion so its not wasted time... I hope!

Nick Rentz said...

If it's any consolation, I wait for your What I Watched at the end of each month. Keep them coming.

Brian Lindsey said...

Rod... Did you notice in WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS how it often (unintentionally) sounds like the Brown Gargantua is screaming "Shit! SHIT!"?

That is one crazy-fun movie.

Stephen D. Sullivan said...

I liked Jurassic World a lot, more than the sequels and nearly as much as the original. But the very premise of it -- a man-made park of recreated dinosaurs -- tends to limit the types of (highly commercial) stories you can tell with it. And the fact that this one plays out similarly to the first... Well, it's a re-boot as well as a sequel. But, I'm not sure how much they can stray from the "things go wrong and dinosaurs chase people" guts of the story.

When Brian Thomas and I created the Dinosaur Island comic, my thought was that we could get 4 fairly different stories for the series by concentrating on the human dramas (and setting each story in a different time period). But, basically, it's "Humans show up. Dinos chase and/or kill them. Humans escape." 'Cause with "real" dinos, that's the way such an interaction would go. (Unless you want to go with my wife's preferred: Humans show up and blow the shit out of dinos with modern weapons.) It's a Burroughs story or DC comics War that Time Forgot every time. And, really, you gotta accept that idea going in, or what's the point?  

Which is not to say JW couldn't have been improved. More women characters would have been a nice start. But for what it is, I think it's excellent. (My main problem, aside from lack of women, is that the trailers -- as usual -- gave too many twists and surprises away.)

Of course, if you don't like their humans in a dinosaur park story, you can always write your own.   But with the more expansive "Jurassic World" title -- perhaps those dinos will soon be moving off the island(s) and we'll get some kind of Planet of the Apes thing going.

Rod Barnett said...

I'm aware of the War That Time Forgot comics - I have the Essentials collection of it here someplace and I agree that within the Park restrictions they have placed on themselves there really is only one story to tell - but that is the problem. They don't have any interest in telling s different tale. How about a rouge island set up by venture capitalists as a hunting preserve for rich folks? Jurassic Hunt! Imagine the possibilities! And then a group sneaks onto the island to kidnap a high government official on holiday, end up with a (possibly estranged) family member of the official and run afoul of the Dinos as they attempt to carry out their plot and still get some ransom money. Or a terrorist cell that attacks the park to capture Dinos for use against their enemies. Or maybe we see the first field tests of the attempt to weaponize Dinos. Or literally any other damned story Involving humans dealing with dinosaurs.

I don't want to have to write my own story! I don't have 300 million dollars for FX- they do! Now please put it in service of a NEW story.

Rod Barnett said...

OH! And Brian - Really? Is that in the English language track? I only listened to the Japanese with subtitles.

Brian Lindsey said...

It's definitely on the English soundtrack (I've only watched the film in Japanese one time). And I made an error: It's actually the Green Gargantua -- the evil one -- who sounds like he's screaming "Shit!"

Some folks pick up on it immediately; others not at all until it's mentioned. ("Is that monster saying 'shit'?") But once heard... it cannot be unheard!

Got to mention my favorite shot in the film... When Green Gargantua hauls ass down the tarmac at the Tokyo airport and does a cannonball into the ocean. Groovy!

Perhaps sometime on the Bloody Pit show you & Troy could discuss the plusses and minuses of anthropomorphic (bipedal, man-shaped) kaiju -- like the Gargantuas, "Frankenstein" and that dog-headed man-thing whose name I can never remember!) vs. more "animal" style suit designs (such as Godzilla, Barugon, etc.). Personally, I tend to like the man-shaped monsters just a wee bit more...