Tag: adventure

Movie Review: The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)

riddick
Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’ hard drive.

I saw and dug Pitch Black for the first time a while ago, and just kept forgetting to catch up with The Chronicles of Riddick. The pending release of the third film in the series prompted me to finally watch it, to the extent that I actually missed a preview screening of Riddick so I could finish this movie. A notoriously very different type of film, Chronicles is set five years after the events of the first film, with bright-eyed killer Riddick (Vin Diesel) still a highly-sought-after criminal. After nearly being captured, he finds his way to the planet Helium Prime, which is on the verge of being conquered by an all-powerful race of aliens who destroy or brainwash and enslave all the people they battle. Or something. So Riddick has to save this whole planet, but first he has to go to a deadly prison planet to help out Jack aka Kyra (Alexa Davalos), one of his two surviving buddies from the first film. He also has to discover the secret to his own origins and whatnot. THEN he can save this planet. All the while, pimply Karl Urban is following him around trying to capture him.

OK ok okok so I KNOW that this movie is kind of hated, and that overall it is a MESS but what you need to know right off the bat is that I kind of… LOVE. IT. It’s ridiculous and overblown and nonsensical and bizarre but it’s also, like, so great. Seriously, just think about it. You’ve got Vin Diesel perfecting his gravel-voiced antihero thing, kicking ass every few scenes. You’ve got Alexa Davalos also kicking tons of ass and never getting sucked into a romantic subplot (yay!). You’ve got Thandie Newton slinking about seducing and manipulating an adorably mohawked Karl Urban. You’ve got really impressive sets and ambitious visual design. You’ve got a crazy-complex set-up that pulls out new histories for familiar characters while introducing a host of new people and places and concepts. And you’ve got Dame. Judi. Dench. !. So tell me again why people don’t like this movie? I’d really like to know!

Obviously The Chronicles of Riddick is not without problems. It really is all over the place, and most of the time I had no idea what was going on or how most characters related to each other. Plus there are way too many characters, it’s just bloated compared to the stripped-down thriller of the first film. But then, it looks to me like the filmmakers had no interest in repeating the formula of the first film, and instead are using their increased budget and cult interest to expand the characters and their universe. Works for me. I do understand why people wouldn’t like this movie, but for whatever reason I was totally into it. Diesel’s ultracool posturing and the line of badass ladies supporting him probably played a major role, along with my extremely high threshold for very silly science fiction.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well Pitch Black of course makes sense, and perhaps Riddick but I haven’t seen it yet and keep hearing about how it’s mad sexist. I got some Stargate vibes with the visuals and over-complicated-ness, which I had recommended as a pairing to Pitch Black as well, for different reasons.

Movie Review: The General (1926)

the-general-1926-
Seen: On 35mm at the Somerville Theatre, with live musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis.

The Somerville Theatre (one of my absolute favorite local theaters) has been doing a series of silent films on the big screen with original musical accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, and I think that is just a super swell idea. I’d heard Jeff’s fantastic keyboarding at the Sci-Fi Marathon a few years ago, and have since wanted to see more silents with live music. When The General popped up on their schedule, I knew that was my priority. Set in the early days of the Civil War, the film stars Buster Keaton as Southern train engineer Johnnie Gray. Though he is literally the first to enlist at his local recruitment center, the Confederate Army believes his skills are too valuable to make him a soldier, and he is summarily rejected. Disheartened and embarrassed, he returns to his love Annabelle (Marion Mack), who believes him a coward for not even trying to enlist, and he is left with nothing but his beloved train, the General. When his train is stolen as part of a Union plot to disrupt Confederate supply lines, Johnnie takes it upon himself to save the day.

Fusing the adventure, action, war, and comedy genres into one singular film, Keaton dared to present a brave Confederate fighter in a humorous (but never mocking) context. It’s a strange combination, and a controversial one at the time, but miraculously it really, really works. Keaton’s earnest charm, the exciting storyline, and the spectacular stunt work all come together for a thrilling and laugh-out-loud funny film. I realized something that I love about watching a silent film in a theater is the shared experience, the sense of communal response. I felt very aware of my own laughter and gasps of surprise, as well as those of everyone around me in the theater, and it was just a nice feeling. And while some people might be encouraged to talk more because of the lack of dialogue, I found myself more intent on the screen, not wanting to miss a visual cue or sight gag. Of course, this is not just an effect of silent film, but in large part due to the brilliance of Buster Keaton. His deft mingling of breathtaking action sequences and adorably ridiculous comedic exercises is always a pleasure, and I loved the death-defying high-speed (sort of) train action just as much as the humorous mix-ups and self-deprecating jokes.

One of the speakers before the film (I believe it was David, all-star projectionist) mentioned that something that made this movie special within Keaton’s body of work was the character’s competence. He isn’t a clumsy, useless oaf who eventually manages to be the hero through trial and error, he’s a mostly capable dude who just gets more capable as the situation becomes more dire. Which is why this is not a mockery of the Civil War South, and in face I found myself weirdly rooting for their side. Which has its own problems, OF COURSE, but I told myself since Keaton’s character isn’t actually a soldier for most of the movie it’s not like I was rooting for the Confederate Army to win the war, I was just hoping this one Southern train engineer would get his train back. Because he loves his train.

The General is overall a satisfying movie. When Keaton isn’t chasing down Northern spies and performing impressive feats of train action, he’s hanging out with his lady Annabelle, who turns out to be pretty cool. She learns how to drive a train within a span of a few minutes, and totally helps Johnnie fuck things up for the enemy. Their love grows out of a mutual wish for destruction of assholes, which I respected, and together they blow up a bridge! Awesome! And, as I had anticipated, the music was fantastic. Rapsis is an expert silent film composer, and his improvised score was performed on a synthesizer set to imitate a traditional movie orchestra sound, complete with musical sound effects. Rapsis added an exciting, personalized layer to the screening and I hope I can catch more of his performances for the Somerville’s series.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh no, I don’t know! What do you think? Another train adventure? More silent comedy? Or some wartime shenanigans?

Movie Review: The Wolverine (2013)

wolverine2013
Seen: At the Capitol Theatre in Arlington.

So I find myself constantly waffling in my resolve to stop caring about X-Men movies. It. Is So. Hard. So here I am, reeled back in by the promise of badass Japanese ladies and a script that won’t make me want to bash someone’s head in, watching the sequel to the horrific X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Which turns out to be a sequel to the also horrific X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Yet somehow, even with all the bad taste left in my mouth from its predecessors, I found myself basically enjoying The Wolverine. Set some time after the events of X3, with Logan (Hugh Jackman) wandering around the Canadian wilderness, clearly super depressed because he has a beard. He is found by a badass fighter in stripes called Yukio (Rila Fukushima), who whisks him away to Japan so he can meet with a dying comrade from his warring days. But then everything goes to shit and he’s got to beat up a lot of people while also falling in love with his dead friend’s granddaughter (Tao Okamoto).

Ok. So Wolverine has never been my favorite X-Man but I do enjoy the character’s mixture of wise-cracks and berserker rages, as well as Hugh Jackman’s constant shirtlessness. This movie adapts the well-known Japan arc to fit the films’ timeline, and a lot of it works well. It’s got a more serious, dramatic tone, with Logan having guilty visions of Jean Grey all the time and just generally brooding. I loved the Japanese setting, mostly because it makes this the only mainstream comic book I can think of that has more people of color than white people, so great job, movie. The action is exciting and a little ludicrous (that battle on top of the train? Whaaaat?), but weirdly kinda takes a backseat for a time so that the story and relationships can develop more. I could see what they were going for, and it’s kind of successful, but it also struggles between being a silly action movie and being a more introspective superhero drama.

One of the main cool things about this movie is that there are several awesome ladies who play major parts in the story. Viper is a sultry mutant scientist who’s pretty on top of things and I dug her as the villain because she seemed pretty misandrist and reminded me of Poison Ivy, but then of course at the end it turns out the real villain is a dude (in a totally foreseeable twist). Mariko is a little damsel in distressy at first, but she’s also an individual with her own life and her own problems, and she propels a lot of the plot forward. The best, THE BEST is obviously Yukio, who is very different from the comic version but still super rad. She’s adorable and deadly and I was in love with her hair style. I liked how they fit her into Wolverine’s lady-sidekick thing, and never made it romantic. But because she was so awesome, I wanted her onscreen all the time, and kind of wish this movie was “The Yukio”. That’s the problem with introducing awesome lady characters that I fall in love with, they’re always doing rad things on the sidelines and I want them to be front and center. Wolverine’s a cool hero and everything but I was just reminded of how starved I am for a great female-driven superhero movie.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I have a hankering to revisit the first two X-films, which I haven’t seen in years despite being a little obsessed with them in middle school and high school.

PS And no I DON’T want to talk about the after-credits sting, my GOD how can they fit all this into the same universe when nothing made any sense in First Class and also shouldn’t Xavier be in a new body or whatever and ugh I HATE THAT I CARE SO MUCH ABOUT X-MEN.

Movie Review: Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (The Hidden Fortress) (1958)

the-hidden-fortress-(1958)-large-picture
Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

So I’ve been working in a museum shop where we have a Japanese exhibit going, so we have some Miyazaki and Kurosawa DVDs for sale, and I’ve had The Hidden Fortress playing on silent on the tv behind me for a while which constantly reminds me I’ve never seen it. That, and the number of customers who sidle up to me to drop the “Did you know this movie is the basis for Star Wars?!” as if that bit of well-known trivia will impress me. Hah! Anyway, Kurosawa’s adventure tale follows the experience of two bumbling peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) returning from a war, who stumble upon a famous general (Toshiro Mifune) and his mysterious charge (Misa Uehara) while in the mountains. They team up to transport a large cache of gold found there, moving through enemy territory to make it back to their own province. But vicious enemies, mistrust, secrets, and most of all greed will make their destination that much more difficult to reach.

Kurosawa’s earnest attempt at a straight-up adventure film, The Hidden Fortress is a fun, fairly light slice of storytelling that aims for comedy but excels more with its exciting plot and likable characters. The central pair of Tahei and Matashichi (the proto-C-3PO and R2-D2) offers the narrative a point of view, but their comedic relief function becomes somewhat tired as the film progresses. They’re nothing more than caricatures, basically just idiots motivated by greed and self-interest, and their over the top physical humor wears thin eventually. Luckily the actual heroes are really interesting and this is mostly their story once things get going. I loved Mifune as the hardened General Rokurata Makabe, with those wild eyes and passionate exclamations. And of course I loved the fierce-as-fuck Misa Uehara as Princess Yuki. When she’s not standing authoritatively with legs spread and a whipping cane in her hands, she’s yelling every single one of her lines and it is excellent. I wish she didn’t have to pretend to be mute for part of the movie but then it does lead to some funny, intriguing scenes with Tahei and Matashichi.

The script is complex but entertaining, the action moves steadily, the settings are fantastic, and of course the visuals are thoughtful and compelling. For me the only failing is the unnecessary focus on comedy in the peasant characters, who spend a lot of time stumbling around a war zone and making doofy faces in the first half hour or so. They’re funny guys and I didn’t mind their presence in general, but there is far too much time devoted to their less-than-gripping exploits. It’s a strong enough story that we don’t need all the humorous asides to keep things upbeat. Plus they kind of sucked as people and all their small-mindedness and greed and lighthearted considerations of rape didn’t exactly endear them to me.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I mean, it’s obviously gonna be Star Wars, right?

Movie Review: Jaws (1975)

Jaws
Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.

This was part two of our July 4th movie-theaters-have-air-conditioning saga, after Man of Steel. I hadn’t seen Jaws since I was a kid and I used to hang out with an aspiring marine biologist who lived across the street, so really it was like seeing it for the first time, which was neat. I didn’t even remember that it was an Independence Day film! Spielberg’s classic monster horror follows the terror and excitement surrounding a small New England island’s holiday weekend. First a young woman is found mauled to death on the beach, presumably by a large shark, but the town’s mayor is desperate to cover up any unpleasantness at a peak tourist time. When a young boy is eaten by a shark in plain sight, the town sheriff, Brody (Roy Scheider), takes more deliberate action. Against the mayor’s protests and machinations to keep the beaches open, he and marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) work to take down a Great White with a taste for human blood, eventually teaming up with salty sea hunter Quint (Robert Shaw).

I know most of you are already aware of this, but it’s something I keep forgetting: Spielberg is definitely famous for a reason. Looking at some of his earlier movies now, after I’ve come to identify him more with his recent spate of bombastic prestige pictures and so-so sci-fi, I’m really touched by how fun a movie like Jaws is. It’s just a straightforward, well-made film, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. The script is sometimes silly, sometimes deadly serious, performing an impressive balancing act in order to make this ridiculous plot somewhat believable. My favorite thing was how everyone was always yelling over each other, which was somehow super endearing. The characters are really well-developed, and the central trio of Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw make for an excellent combo. They’re alternately funny and intense, mean-spirited and adorably communal. Their relationships and conversations make Jaws more a kind of horror character study, while the shenanigans involving the greater population of the island raise it to a small-town satire about greed and desperation.

Not that it’s all mai tais and Yahtzee out here (heh guess who just celebrated Con Air Day?), this is an effective horror-thriller too. The deft camerawork that keeps the monster hidden for much of the earlier sequences, along with the shark POV shots as he stalks his unsuspecting prey, makes for a compelling and downright scary experience. That, and the buckets of blood and dismembered body parts that pepper the first half of the film. The mechanical shark (“Bruce”) is convincing enough to make me think twice about going in the water, which is silly since I know nothing about this movie is realistic. BUT IT FEELS SO REAL and I love it.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well I just wanted to revisit Close Encounters what with the Dreyfuss and the Spielberg and the 70’s and all that. But thematically I think it’d be fun to follow this up with The Life Aquatic since that’s also about hunting a shark but is totally different in tone and storytelling approach.