Tag: adventure

Double Feature: Science and Monsters in Godzilla (1954) and Jurassic Park (1993)

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Seen: Both at the Somerville Theatre, but on different nights.

Recently the Somerville Theatre showed a restored print of the original Godzilla, and though it was a digital presentation it was decidedly excellent to see it on a big screen. On this viewing, I found myself continually finding parallels to Jurassic Park, which had shown at the same theater a few weeks earlier, so I thought it might be fun to do a little comparison piece thingie. (I don’t know, I’ve never done anything quite like this before, what would you call it?) Of course, both are films about monsters, but more specifically, both are films about essentially man-made monsters, allowing their stories to act as commentary on the hubris inherent to human science. In Jurassic Park, Richard Attenborough’s kindly Scottish millionaire, John Hammond, is a boy playing with very dangerous toys: he’s loved dinosaurs since he was a tot and now that the technology exists to recreate them he just kind of dives in without truly considering the consequences. There is no direct correlation in Godzilla, but the themes are similar. The titular monster is a fusion of ancient animal might and twentieth-century nuclear experimentation, another example of man going “against nature” in their quest for social and intellectual superiority. It’s a common thread found in science-fiction, but one made more grave by the actual (and very recent) history of nuclear destruction in Japan.

In Godzilla, the threat of annihilation feels all too real, and the ramifications of radiation and bomb deployment have already been felt. The monster itself is a product of that technology, as well as a metaphor for it- brutally violent and hopelessly unstoppable. It is ultimately a ridiculous premise, with a legacy made sillier by lighter sequels, but that connection to reality gives it a believably dramatic tone. For Jurassic Park, a quintessential Hollywood summer blockbuster if there ever was one, the larger context is of course not so dire. There are no cities destroyed, no threat of radiation poisoning, no lost mothers and fathers (but a few villains). The story is more contained, and a bit more personal. But the monsters are still there. And it’s still humans’ fault.

The scientist protagonists, at first excited and bewildered by the resuscitation of extinct dinosaurs, gradually question the morality and the safety of Hammond’s actions. They realize that just because the technology exists, doesn’t necessarily mean we should use it, regardless of the knowledge it could potentially give us (Hammond’s tacky theme-park angle doesn’t really help legitimize it, either). Similar realizations are reached in Godzilla, with hunky scientist Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) conflicted over the use of his new invention: a device that removes oxygen from surrounding air or water and effectively sucks the life out of all creatures. What is his responsibility as the creator of such a weapon, is it up to him to hide it from the world so it can never be used? Even if it might be the only thing that can stop another form of destruction that’s currently terrorizing his community? Like John Hammond, he ultimately decides to employ the technology despite its potentially hazardous effects, but he also ensures that no one else can ever use it again, and no one else will be harmed after he uses it to stop Godzilla.

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The final major parallel between Godzilla and Jurassic Park that I considered during my viewing was the relationships between three central characters, whose dynamics reflect a bit of their own times and cultures. Drs. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Satler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) are all scientists, and all presumably equals in intellect and position. Neill is made the main hero, spending a night protecting two children from dinosaur attacks, but Dern is certainly not a passive character, valiantly fighting to save her partner and others on the island. Goldblum is both the comic relief as well as the victimized eye candy, spending most of his time after the dinosaurs break out holed up in a bunker with a broken leg and a shirt that can’t seem to stay buttoned. The sexual tension between the three is present but minimal due to Satler and Grant’s presumed engagement (?) or at least openly romantic status, though it’s clear Malcolm’s frequent passes at Satler aren’t helping Grant feel secure in their relationship. The romantic lead in Godzilla, Hideto Ogata (Akira Takarada), is a good-hearted, uncomplicated man of action, while the brilliant and tortured Serizawa is struggling with Big Issues. Their only thing in common seems to be Emiko (Momoko Kôchi), the current fiance of Ogata and previous fiance of Serizawa. She is a smart and kind woman but generally takes a backseat to the men surrounding her, these intelligent scientists and heroic ship captains. Her main power comes from her ability to persuade and counsel these men, as well as gain information. Serizawa’s sacrifice at the end makes him the true hero, an understandable development given the cultural significance of suicide in Japan.

Godzilla and Jurassic Park are both excellent films, exciting and well-made, with lizard monsters on the rampage. They speak to a fear and respect of twentieth-century science coupled with an awe of ancient nature and its unpredictability. The former is very specific to Japan and its history, while the latter is noticably American in its Hollywood spectacle and Spielbergian sentiment. I love them both, and now I realize I love them both together. The combined Hunk Power of Jeff Goldblum and Akihiko Hirata certainly helps.

The 2014 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part I

Every year the Somerville Theatre hosts the Boston Science-Fiction marathon: 24 hours of straight sci-fi, including films, shorts, trailers, contests, and tv episodes. It’s one of my favorite times of year (this was my sixth in a row!) and I was happy to not have schoolwork hanging over me this time around. The line-up was about half and half films I’d seen and films I hadn’t, but there were some festival films and shorts concurrently screening in the basement micro-theater, so I had a place to hang out during films I didn’t feel like re-watching. It was a pretty solid selection of movies, some good classics along with lesser-known gems, and I stayed awake through all but one!

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1 First Men in the Moon (1964)

I knew very little about this one, aside from the Ray Harryhausen effects, and expected a passable space adventure with a crappy script but cool effects. Turns out, it’s a pretty fun film all together! Based on a story by HG Wells, it follows the unlikely adventures of a wacky British scientist, Dr Cavor (Lionel Jeffries), his irresponsible business partner (Edward Judd), and the latter’s perky American fiance (Martha Hyer). Dr Cavor has invented an anti-gravity substance that allows him to build a spacecraft and travel to the moon in 1899, with the other two somewhat accidentally in tow. They discover strange creatures living there and in true human fashion wreak havoc on their civilization before returning to earth. It’s a rather silly movie, made sillier by Jeffries’s hilarious and adorable performance, where he is basically his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang character. All in all it was a really pleasant surprise: I loved the weird visuals, the period setting, and the awesome effects, though I felt the frame story set in the 1960s was completely unnecessary. Most significantly for the Thon itself, it launched the most long-running joke for the night, involving CLOSING THE FUCKING DOOR!… which only makes sense in context.

 

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2 Westworld (1973)

They played this at the Terrorthon in October and honestly I was sort of annoyed they would show it again just a few months later, when I assume some of the audience was the same. I like it but did not feel the need to watch it again so soon so I popped out to look at some short films, read some Ray Bradbury, and waltz back in just in time for the final big chase, which is the main reason to watch the movie anyway. The title links to my original review.

 

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3 Coherence (2014)

All I really knew about this movie is it was one of the festival films and it featured Nicholas Brendan (aka Xander on Buffy, who attended the Thon for a Q&A). It starts out as a bunch of thirtysomething white people having a really boring white people party, and I was like ugh whatever, but then it gets so good! It’s about parallel universes and these awful people keep finding alternate versions of themselves and suddenly they don’t know how to handle anything and they start turning on each other and the main lady (Emily Foxler) has to decide how far she’ll go to regain normalcy. Though it was very gradual it turned into a pretty solid psychological thriller and I was very into it by the end. Also Lorene Scafaria, writer/director of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, was in it! Which is kind of neat since I just watched that movie. And I loved that Nicholas Brendan kind of played a version of himself, an actor known primarily for a lead role on a 90s sci-fi show, though in this he claims to be from Roswell (possibly a dig at similarly-positioned Jason Behr?). Anyway, pretty good movie, with shades of Primer but more romantic melodrama.

 

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4 The Power (1968)

This one sounds better than it actually is, but I can’t say I didn’t find it fairly enjoyable. George Hamilton stars as a scientist who comes to the realization that someone on the board of his organization is a homicidal psychic out to kill him and his coworkers. He and his girlfriend, fellow scientist Margery (Suzanne Pleshette), attempt to outsmart their mystery assailant, narrowly avoiding some telekinetic attacks while their peers are mowed down left and right. And of course the police suspect Hamilton in the whole thing since he always seems to be around their deaths. It’s a sensationalistic thriller with a few hammy performances and a very 60s aesthetic, and I found it interesting enough. It drags at parts but picks up for some exciting and slightly weird sequences, plus George Hamilton is needlessly shirtless a lot. There was a moment towards the end when I thought there’d be an awesome reveal involving Margery, but then it didn’t happen, so I was actually totally disappointed with the actual ending. I need more twisted female villains, please. Also I guess this movie is pretty rare so I’m glad I got to see it at all.

 

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5 Europa Report (2013)

Admittedly we missed the first 10-15 minutes of this to go get dinner but I don’t think I missed anything terribly important. Basically the plot follows an international group of astronaut scientists sent to study Jupiter’s moon Europa, looking for possible signs of life. They discover a lot more than they expected, including weird underwater creatures, but their research comes with the price of several lives. The whole film is patched together from video diaries taken on the ship, so it’s got a found footage horror element to it. I liked that aspect of its storytelling but also saw holes in its construction, which was frustrating. It was also a bit slow for me, with its somewhat clinical approach and “tell, don’t show” kind of style. It had a good cast, though, including two badass lady astronauts played by Anamaria Marinca and Karolina Wydra, and strong tension.

 

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6 Senn (2014)

The main theater actually showed Silent Running during this block, but I decided to check out a screening of independent festival film Senn instead. I like Silent Running a lot, but I’d watched it recently and just felt like watching something new. Plus its co-writer, Britton Watkins, a linguist who consulted on alien dialect in Star Trek: Into Darkness, was there, which was neat. The film is set in a distant future where whole worlds are turned into factories, worked by people sold into indentured servitude, who spend years making knickknacks for the rich, day in, day out. Senn (Zach Eulberg) is just such a worker, but when he begins experiencing strange visions of a complex structure in space, he realizes he is meant for greater things. He and his girlfriend Kana (Lauren Taylor) take an intergalactic journey with a kind but closed-off alien (Wylie Herman) in an effort to unlock the structure’s mysterious phenomena. It’s a pretty good indie: nice production values but middling CG graphics, some good and some not-so-good acting, and an intriguing script. I liked the world-building and the characters, but am just bored of the idea that a generically handsome white dude is the chosen savior or whatever. Also I’m sick of futures with only white people ESPECIALLY since this movie actually takes the time to talk about class- like how the fuck can that discussion not also include race? There’s a cute gay character as Senn’s best friend, though, so at least there’s a little more representation than usual in sci-fi.

Alright, after this I popped out for more food and then moved back into the main theater for the next batch of Thon films. I think the second half was stronger than the first half, but I’ll talk about them in the next post!

Movie Review: The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985)

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Seen: On dvd on my tv, from my personal collection. Originally a gift from my friend Ben.

On New Year’s Eve my plans were unexpectedly canceled, and I ended up staying in by myself and it was actually really nice since honestly I’ve always found it to be kind of an annoying holiday. The only bad thing was all the technology in my house decided to stop working that night so my plan to watch some expiring Netflix instant movies didn’t pan out, and I couldn’t use our projector. In the end I decided to watch one of the many dvd’s I own but have never seen. The Adventures of Mark Twain promised to be a bit of claymation weirdness, which seemed a good way to end the year. The film is inspired by a remark from Twain that since he was born under Halley’s Comet, he’d go out with it too (and he did indeed pass away the day after the comet returned in 1910). In this fanciful tale, the aging writer travels to meet the comet in a magical airship, accompanied by three if his own creations: Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Becky Thatcher. During their journey the kids hear some of Twain’s stories and interact with some of his weirder characters.

I’ve gotta say I really didn’t know what I was getting into with this, and I think that worked out just fine. I’m not too familiar with Mark Twain or his work, and what I have read is the more folksy or mainstream stuff, so I did not expect all the full-on weirdness from his stories. The film starts out kind of dull, with Tom, Huck, and Becky chilling with Twain as he spouts adages and talks about a leaping frog contest. As I sat there unsure if this movie was actually interesting, it took a turn for the better during a funny segment about Adam and Eve, taken from his parody of Genesis, “Extracts from Adam’s Diary.” By the time we hit the section about Captain Stormfield’s arrival at a version of heaven for disco-dancing aliens, I knew this movie was for me. It’s funny and imaginative, strange and adventurous, and cleverly broken up into different visualizations of Twain’s short stories. The most memorable segment comes from his last manuscript, left unfinished when he died, and it’s got a terrifying demon/angel/alien creature who shows the children how fucked up humans are. This movie gets surprisingly nihilistic for a supposed “family” feature, but I guess with such a fatalistic premise it shouldn’t be a shock.

While I enjoyed the bizarre script and goofy storytelling, it was the animation that won me over. This was apparently the first full-length claymation feature, and the extreme talent on board is obvious. There is more expression and feeling in these clay faces than I’ve seen in any recent CG-animated film, and I just loved the animation style. There are some beautiful landscapes, and lots of really fun little moments. Twain’s airship has some great effects and painstaking attention to detail. The sequence with the Mysterious Stranger is dark as hell due to its unsettling visuals, while the whimsical shenanigans of the kids are made sillier by their exaggerated character design. Regardless of anyone’s opinions about Twain and his writing, this film is more than worth it for the animation alone. I’m still thinking about the end sequence where Twain merges with the comet and becomes this big, beautiful yellow cloud that encourages the children to fly the ship themselves. And there are some lovely things done with water. And seriously, the facial expressions: just excellent.

I may have been a bit bored at the start but I’m so glad I stuck around for this oddball bit of entertainment. The animation is wonderful and the writing is equal parts funny and darkly bizarre, which I appreciated. I kept expecting an awkward moment when the kids would discover that they were just characters in Twain’s books but somehow that never happened. I guess a juvenile existential crisis would have been a bit much even for this movie.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I wanted more stop-motion adventure, so maybe something like James and the Giant Peach.

Movie Review: Frozen (2013)

"FROZEN" (Pictured) ELSA. ©2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Seen: In 2D at the Kerasotes Showplace theater in Secaucus, NJ.

Growing up I was a bit of a fairy tale nerd, and Hans Christian Andersen was one of my favorite storytellers. Mostly because of how much I adored his story “The Snow Queen,” an exciting adventure wherein a brave girl journeys across the land to rescue her male best friend, who’s been captured and brainwashed by the titular evil queen. I’d followed the ups and downs of Disney’s adaptation of the story, which radically changes the central plot and only includes white people, and of course is titled Frozen, something ambiguous and un-girly. The marketing was terrible but Idina Menzel and positive reviews had me curious. The story centers around two princess sisters, one- Elsa- born with deadly ice powers that she is forced to hide from the world, and the other- Anna- born with regular boring human abilities. During her coronation Elsa freaks out and accidentally encases her kingdom in perpetual winter, and it’s up to Anna to save the day with the help of Kristoff, a goofy ice picker.

Focusing on two cool (ha!) ladies and the bonds of sisterhood, Frozen is an enjoyable adventure with some progressive themes. The characters are fun and interesting, the setting is lovely, and the magic is awesome. The landscapes are gorgeous and the effects are really beautiful, with Elsa’s versatile power showing itself in a range of visually-striking ways. I wish I could whip up a sexy ice dress for myself, just to hang out in (although it seems unlikely she would give herself stilettos for walking around in an ice castle, I mean really). I liked that romance was more of a subplot because Anna’s relationship with Elsa was paramount. Especially since the romance, while cute, seemed hypocritical after Kristoff berated Anna for getting engaged to a guy she just met (but I guess that was part of the point?). I also liked that the ideas of good vs evil were more of a gray area, making the story more about acceptance and understanding than black and white moral codes.

While overall I can say I did like Frozen a lot, there are various things nagging at me that keep me from loving it. For one thing, I generally find it off-putting when movies start out as musicals and then forget about it halfway through. It works in Mulan because it’s basically a commentary on the soldiers’ mentality before and after they’re confronted with actual battle, but that’s the main successful example I can think of. In Frozen, there are several songs in a row in the beginning, and they’re cute but kind of forgettable and a little too casual in their lyrics (“for the first time in forever” makes me think of something you’d hear in a pop song, as opposed to a fantasy musical, but that’s me being nitpicky, I don’t know). There is one stunning sequence, and for some reason it’s Idina’s only solo, but I think that’s the only song that truly stands out. I thought the snowman’s song was funny, but that’s primarily because it’s a silly concept, not because the song itself is especially memorable.

My actual biggest issue is the animation- specifically the character design. I am so sick of these pasty, plasticine figures with their huge eyes, pouty lips, and doughy cheeks, it’s just ugly. The female body types are all the same, the clothing moves like clay, and everyone only has like 3 facial expressions. I’ve never been a bit proponent of CG animation, it’s always looked kind of gross to me (especially human figures, which is why I think Pixar is most successful with characters like Wall-E or the Toy Story toys), but this one got to me more than usual for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because I found myself truly appreciating the landscapes and architecture, which were wonderfully rendered and made the uninspired character design even more apparent. Honestly the most visually appealing part of Frozen was probably the trailer for The Boxtrolls that preceded it, because I am so fucking psyched for more stop-motion animation from Laika.

Anyway. I did enjoy this movie, and I’d like to see it again. I’m so glad there’s a story that focuses on sisters, similar to how I loved that Brave was about a mother-daughter relationship. I’m also excited that one of the protagonists is basically a lady X-Man, with all the magic powers, isolationist angst, and gay metaphors that come along with being a mutant. Rad. Oh also the so-called “twist”? Is that really a twist? Both the thing with Hans and the thing with “an act of true love” were pretty easy to spot early on, but I’d had multiple people telling me there was a big twist at the end so I spent the whole time waiting for it all to be taking place in a kid’s snow globe or something.

ONE FINAL NOTE: I feel like no one’s talking about how this movie was co-directed and written by a lady, specifically Jennifer Lee who also co-wrote Wreck-It Ralph. I know we don’t need to ruminate on gender things all the time, but I just think it’s really neat since so few women write or direct Disney films. You’re awesome, Jennifer!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I’ve seen a few people comment that this kind of a version of Wicked, which is fair, and I totally wanted to listen to the Wicked soundtrack when I got home. There are also parallels to Enchanted in its commentary on “falling in love in one day”-type fairy tales (and Idina again!). It would also pair well with Tangled, not only because the characters look exactly the same, but because they both have plucky heroines who escape their confinement, and they probably take place in the same universe or whatever. Not gonna get into that.

Movie Review: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

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Seen: On dvd on my parents’ tv, from my personal collection.

Last month I saw a local production of Spamalot, which I saw when it premiered on Broadway but didn’t actually remember all that well, so it was fun to revisit. Like most red-blooded American teens, I watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail pretty regularly between 7th grade and 11th grade. Because it’s funny, dammit. But I realized I hadn’t watched it since at least 2006 and decided to revisit it when I was home for Thanksgiving. The first full-length feature from zany British comedy troupe Monty Python, the film is a wacky, irreverent take on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur (Graham Chapman) travels around Britain looking for men to join him in his quest for the holy grail, and along the way comes across various weirdos and militants. Ultimately the boring Bedevere (Terry Jones), the cowardly Robin (Eric Idle), the bloodthirsty Lancelot (John Cleese), and the dashing Galahad (Michael Palin) all the hunt. They all have various non sequitur adventures.

With heavy gobs of irreverence and an almost overwhelming amount of silliness, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is the kind of comedy that improves upon multiple viewings, but eventually hits a wall after too many watches. Even seeing it now for the first time in so long, I found myself remembering every line, anticipating every joke, and the film does lose something from over-familiarity. I still think it’s funny, mostly because it’s so ridiculous you have to smile, but it doesn’t elicit that gut-busting laugh it did when I was younger. I still giggle at the minstrel’s uncomplimentary song for Sir Robin, and the farcical witch trial, and Sir Lancelot’s homicidal raid on Swamp Castle. But honestly, I’m no longer particularly amused by the amputation of the Black Knight, or the ludicrous insults of the French, or The Knights Who Say Ni, because I’ve seen those jokes repeated ad nauseum (and have myself done it) for so long. I don’t need to hear the debate about how much weight a swallow could carry again.

It’s not that I don’t have a ton of affection for this movie, because I totally still do. I still chuckle quietly when I think of certain scenes, and if the occasion arises I will make reference to it. It is a funny, bizarre, and enormously silly movie. It wears its low budget on its sleeve and cares little for any clear narrative or sensible pacing. It’s mostly just a bunch of British dudes making goofy faces and putting on high-pitched voices and prancing about fields wearing bogus medieval outfits. It’s exactly the kind of weird, nonsensical humor that appeals to me but for whatever reason it hasn’t shown the longevity of other old favorites (classic Mel Brooks, for example). If I hadn’t watched it hundreds of times as a teenager I’d probably be more entertained by it now, but it just fell a bit flat.

WELL I GUESS THIS IS GROWING UP.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: It’s been quite a while since I watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus so a few episodes of that would be a nice follow-up. Or, I don’t know, another Arthurian movie?