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[movies] Elysium and Ender’s Game

Yesterday whilst Lisa Costello was out being busy, [info]the_child wanted to watch a movie. She was really interested in Ender’s Gameimdb ], but wanted to wait for Lisa to come home and watch it. (Knowing of her interest, I’d previously decided not to get into the deeply problematic political issues around OSC, though later, after we finished watching, there was a teachable moment, which I shall describe below.)

So instead we rented Elysiumimdb ] whilst waiting for Lisa. Most of the reviews I’d seen of this movie had panned it, but I actually rather liked the film. It was basically a mashup of In Timeimdb ] and District 9imdb ]. Which is of course unsurprising, since South African Neill Blomkamp directed both District 9 and Elysium. The movie didn’t ask a lot from the viewer, and key elements of worldbuilding fell quite flat on even the most cursory critical consideration, but if you just followed the thread of the action and invested in both the eye candy and the dystopian porn, it held together. Plus [info]the_child and I got to talk about the fact that there are places in the world today just like the horribly decaying shanty towns portrayed in the movie’s grim future. A fun enough SFnal adventure where the show was mostly stolen by Jodie Foster, although Sharlto Copley did a fine job of chewing the rug hard enough to dent the floor, while Matt Damon played his slightly superpowered everyman version of Matt Damon.

After Lisa came home, we tooled up and rented Ender’s Game. Setting aside both my memories of the book and my feelings about OSC, it was a pretty good movie. A lot of the plot was forced, but then, that was kind of the point. With occasional clicks of the pause button for discussion, [info]the_child understood how Ender’s entire existence was being managed by deception and manipulation. Since she’d never read the book, she didn’t know the stakes in the graduation battle sequence until Ender himself found out, and she very much shared his profound sense of anguish and betrayal. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this film so much if I had not been watching with a teen aged viewer, but I did. Afterwards, when we were talking about Ender and the adults in his life, and the Formics, I was able to explain that the man who wrote that book so full of human understanding and real pain had long since turned into a very sad, vile person who worked very hard to do evil to many other people. She opined that OSC’s personal story was sort of like Ender’s story, which I thought was a fascinating insight.

Maybe today I’ll watch cartoons.

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[movies] The Lego Movie

Yesterday, [info]the_child and I went to a matinee of The Lego Movieimdb ]. I was highly, highly entertained.

A lot of what I’d like to say about the movie would be spoileriffic, and it’s far too new a movie for me to be doing that. Suffice to say that this is one of those movies that falls into the category of “better than it had to be.” The visuals ranged from hilarious to occasionally breathtaking to sometimes goofy. The dialog had some fantastic lines, including one from Metalbeard that had me losing my shit in the theater. Trust me, you’ll know it when you hear it. And while the script didn’t have the depth and heart of some of Pixar’s stronger work, it was plenty warm and worthwhile.

One thing that I loved about this movie was the way they totally owned the cross-licensing. Lego has licenses with half the media universe, and characters show up in this film you’d never, ever see together in any other circumstance. Gandalf arguing with Dumbledore, for example. Plus best movie Batman EVAR. Just retire the Dark Knight franchise now, please. Not to mention which the Batman/Star Wars crossover bit was deeply hilarious.

So, yeah. Unless you just can’t stand animation, or don’t care for light-hearted films, go see this. (Though there are some less light-hearted moments.) The Lego Movie is funny as heck, and short enough not to overplay its gags.

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[movies] Monsters University and Thor: The Dark World

Two more movies we’ve seen for the first time recently are Monsters Universityimdb ] and Thor: The Dark Worldimdb ]. These have both been in release long enough that I’m not going to worry about spoilers, though I’m not deliberately planning any, either.

If you liked Monsters, Inc., you’ll probably like Monsters University. If you didn’t see or care for the first movie, there’s not much reason to see the second. It’s a competent followup, though a prequel rather than a sequel within continuity. The usual Pixar charm applies, though perhaps not so much as in some of their other franchises. Likewise the usual Pixar production values apply, which is always fun if you, like me, enjoy that sort of thing. Since I didn’t see it in the theater I bought the Blu-Ray to go with my Monsters, Inc. DVD. I’m not sorry I did, but I would describe this as satisfying and entertaining without the depth of some of the stronger movies in the Pixar oeuvre. On the plus side, it doesn’t suffer from whatever horrible rot afflicted Cars 2, either.

If you liked Thor in his other recent Marvel film incarnations, you’ll probably like Thor: The Dark World. Witty banter, bombastic music, existential threats to the nine worlds, Natalie Portman, lots of punching and exploding. What’s not to like, if that’s your sort of thing? It’s certainly mine, or can be. The best thing in the film was the twenty seconds or so where Loki turns into Captain America while haranguing his brother about his life choices. The fact that’s the best thing in the film probably tells you everything else you need to know. (Caveat: if male physiques draw your eye and libido, that might be the second best thing in the film after the brief scene of Chris Hemsworth wiping the sweat of valor from his chiseled form.)

In other words, both movies nicely met my expectations as sequelae to their respective franchises, without surprising me or delighting me in any unanticipated ways. Which from contemporary Hollywood is something of a win.

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[movies] Frozen and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

In the past week, I have managed to see both Frozenimdb ] and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaugimdb ].

My capsule reviews…

Frozen: Does for Nordic culture what Brave did for Celtic culture.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: The Starship Troopers of fantasy movies. A feature film made from 2.5 chapters of a completely different book. Fun, though.

Slightly more detailed thoughts…

Unlike almost every other recent animated film nominally targeted at the children’s demographic, Frozen really did not have an adult layer. A handful of specific jokes and lyrics, perhaps, but that’s about it. This film relentlessly targets the ‘Disney Princess’ demographic. Also, as [info]elusivem pointed out to me, it was clearly written to become a Broadway show. The first half of the movie is almost nothing but show tunes numbers, and the voice cast are largely Broadway stars. As a movie-goer, I resent this with the same low-grade irritation that I resent movie scenes clearly intended to fuel the forthcoming video game. I want to watch a movie that was intended to make sense as a movie, not go see part of a multimedia, multichannel marketing vehicle.

As for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, yay Peter Jackson for having the money and the sponsorship to make eight or nine hours of Lord of the Rings fanfic. When I think about the book, these movies are such an utter waste of potential. (This is very nearly the opposite of my feelings about Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, mind you.) When I take them on their own terms, these movies are more entertaining than my complaint implies, though the second one is much better than the first. And it’s mildly weird to see Legolas look decidedly middle-aged after his youthful appearance in a movie set decades later. You’d think Weta could have done something about that. Otherwise, I stand by my capsule review. This one is fun if you leave your memory of the book at home.

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[movies] Despicable Me 2

Yesterday, a few hours after dropping the delightful @SiltyReed off at the train station, [info]the_child, Lisa Costello and I went to see Despicable Me 2imdb ]. I rather liked the first one, and this sequel did that rare trick of holding up to the original.

It was entertaining, sweet and charming, and managed to appeal to both generations of my party in some fun and interesting ways.

Like a lot of movies, Despicable Me 2 doesn’t survive deconstruction well. Gru’s relationship with the minions is extremely troubling if you try to take it literally. El Macho was a disturbing villain in ways that Vector from the first movie was not. On the other hand, Lucy, the female lead, (mostly) does a good job of rescuing herself and managing her own stuff. And Gru’s girls are allowed to be smart, funny and empowered.

However, the movie charmed me sufficiently that those factors only occurred to me afterward, when thinking over what I saw. In the theater, I experienced a mishmash of old James Bond tropes, family humor and rom-com moments, wrapped in well executed animation and scripting that was sweet enough to take the sting out of what could have been the tougher bits.

A whole lot of fun, if you like animated feature films in the first place.

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[cancer|movies] Filming the Roadtrip to Mordor

From an announcement by Waterloo Productions:

Roadtrip to MordorAuthor Jay Lake has been given 3-6 months to live. Before he dies, he’s going to take his daughter to New Zealand. We want to make a documentary of their trip.

This is an effort parallel to the Lakeside documentary, also from Waterloo Productions. Producer Donnie Reynolds wants to follow me, [info]the_child and Lisa Costello to New Zealand. We’ll be touring both the South and North Islands in the company of the redoubtable team of [info]danjite and [info]khaybee. Donnie wants to fold this into the larger effort of documenting my life and death.

Note this fundraiser isn’t to pay for our trip. I did that out of the overage of funds from the Acts of Whimsy fundraiser last spring. That’s already down to all of you who supported and contributed with such incredible generosity. This effort is to get Donnie, his second cameraman and all his equipment from Texas to New Zealand and back. The whole project is off budget from Lakeside.

This is important to me because the trajectory of my illness means I’ll never make it to Antarctica like I’d hope. New Zealand will by my last great adventure shared with my daughter and with Lisa. I hope you’ll consider helping Donnie out, because we can tell more of my story, and [info]the_child‘s through this process.

I live every day in spectacle here in the decline of my life. Let us make of it a grand spectacle. If you so desire, you can help Donnie out here.

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[movies] Star Trek Into Darkness

Yesterday, Lisa Costello and I went to see Star Trek Into Darknessimdb ].

How you can make such a terribly bad movie with Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban and Benedict Cumberbatch is beyond me. It wasn’t just bad. It was gratuitously bad. Stupidly bad. Intellectually offensively bad. Sort of like that recent movie that someone who stole Ridley Scott’s name claimed to have made. $190,000,000 spent on this dog and they couldn’t get a scriptwriter with minimal competence at science, science fiction, plot, suspense or dialog? I could have written a better script. Drunk.

Lisa’s first flying snowman came six or seven minutes in. I think I lasted ten minutes before my first flying snowman. After a while, I lost count. I eventually wanted to retitle the movie Star Trek: Lens Flares vs Flying Snowmen. If nothing else, that would have been truth in advertising.

I’ll admit this much: it was kind of fun. Stupid, boring, annoying fun, but kind of fun. Seriously, though. Wait for the DVD release. Or Netflix. Or a junior college interpretive dance performance of the script. At a minimum, watch it at home with the sound turned off while listening to old Cheech and Chong routines.

And this movie was made by the man who will make the next Star Wars films? Based on what J.J. Abrams did to Star Trek Into Darkness, I predict an all-Jar Jar cast in a Busby Berkeley style musical about political infighting in the Imperial Senate.

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[movies] Iron Man 3 and Oblivion (spoiler free)

Yesterday was a tough day for Being Productive, what with the cancer stress and all, so Lisa Costello and I bailed out for the movies. First we saw Oblivionimdb ], then we went and picked up [info]the_child, to hit Iron Man 3imdb ].

I actually kind of liked Oblivion, but it definitely felt very derivative. (Lisa actively disliked it.) And though the worldbuilding eye candy was beyond gorgeous, much of it was also sufficiently illogical to distract me from the movie. In the end, I suppose this movie is rather like The Fifth Elementimdb ]: best enjoyed with the sound turned off.

Iron Man 3 was precisely what it said on the tin: the third Iron Man movie. Robert Downey, Jr. played his part, things went boom and ka-blam, and so forth. There were some reasonably interesting plot twists, and a fair nod to continuity within the Marvel Avengers film cycle. Certainly a lot of fun.

So, yeah, good summer movies. Of course, it’s not quite summer yet…

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[movies] Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Yesterday afternoon, [info]the_child and I went with a friend to see Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters imdb ]. This was mostly at the blog recommendation of the magnificent Howard Tayler. We were highly entertained by a movie so very bad that it transcended its own misbegotten tropes and acquired a weird magnificence. If Walt Disney and and Russ Meyer had been conjoined twins, and Quentin Tarantino their go-to director, this is the kind of fairy tale fare we would have seen from Big Mouse.

I’m not going to talk about Hansel & Gretel‘s contributions to the American cinematic oeuvre. The plot was linear but not quite running on rails, the cinematography was Matrix: Faux Medieval minus the Wachowski’s incredible sense of design, the acting was competent (which was probably better than the script deserved), and Jeremy Renner was Jeremy Renner. But it was fun, in a sort of bloody-handed way.

It’s perfectly possible to complain about the movie’s gender politics and apparent position on female empowerment. There’s more than a whiff of racial issues with respect to the troll character, though there’s also a surprising redemption. The politics of the movie’s rendition of Medieval Augsburg are sort of High Noon crossed with low cunning. And historicity got tossed in the same rubbish bin as continuity when they made this leather-clad, red-stained monster of a film.

On the plus side, the opening credits were worth the price of admission. The music was quite good. The running gags, including Renner’s riffs on John McClane in stylish ahistorical drag, were funny to the point of inspired. The witch costuming and makeup, especially in the final scenes, were straight out of Hieronymus Bosch.

Did I mention it was fun? Sort of the way Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter was fun, but without that movie’s nuanced treatment of historical issues and complex characters. Don’t go unless you’re prepared for blood on the walls and gingerbread house induced diabetes (really), but, man… We liked it.

Howard, I think you owe me one. Or maybe the other way around.

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[movies] Django Unchained (mild spoilers)

Yesterday, Jersey Girl in Portland and I went to see Django Unchainedimdb ]. Roger Ebert and Ta-Nehisi Coates have already covered the angles on this movie much better than I could, so I commend you to their comments if you’re considering the film, or even just wondering about it. Meanwhile, I’ll add my two cents.

This is classic Tarentino. Everything from the typography of the opening credits to the score reflects film history: spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation films, revenge flicks. As critic John Shales once said of True Liesimdb ], this movie is so far over the top it makes all previous attempts at wretched excess seem like timid understatement. The viewer is signaled from the very beginning to simultaneously not take it too seriously, and yet to go deep with the film as it ventures into difficult and dangerous territory.

It’s very hard to have an honest conversation about slavery in our culture. The defensive pride of Southern white culture (my birth culture, and that of my ancestors these past seven generations and more) colors our national consciousness deeply. Racism, both historical and present day, stains that national consciousness even more deeply. I don’t believe I’d call Django Unchained an honest conversation, either, but it at least leverages an approach that isn’t typical.

The movie relies heavily in stereotyping. This is explicitly acknowledged even within the film’s narrative structure, and given the nature of the storytelling, I’m okay with it. Likewise, the geography is confused, to put it mildly, but the location shots were obviously chosen to emphasize the nature of individual scenes, not to document the landscape of Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi. A touch I liked was that the towns and people of the era were portrayed in realistic, muddy misery the likes of which I have not personally seen on film since Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Manimdb ].

As for the characters, one rapidly falls in love, or at least in fascination, with both Christoph Walz’ socipathically murderous Dr. King Schultz and Jamie Foxx’ one-in-ten-thousand Django. Their “buddy” story arc is also stereotypical of film, but very well done. To that end, the deep cleverness of Schultz plays well against Django’s relentless determination and nearly superhuman competence. Though the movie glaringly telegraphs us to focus on Django, I’m not sure this isn’t really Schultz’ story. He is more changed by events than Django. Django, after all, plays out his destiny, admittedly against tremendous odds. Still, he is becoming who he was apparently born to be. It is Schultz who materially changes the course of his life, and ultimately pays a larger price for his choices than Django does.

The other characters are so steeped in the era’s unselfconscious immorality of slavery that they are chilling for that quality. We are supposed to be revulsed by and despise Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie, for example, and we are; but I ultimately found Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Stephen, the lead house n****r (pardon the censorship, but that is the term the film uses, and it will cause this blog problems with search engines and filters if I spell it out), the most frightening character. His evil is perhaps the most relentless and appalling of them all.

I recommend this film highly, assuming you can tolerate Tarantino’s signature penchant for exaggerated, bloody violence. The movie is at times funny, loving and moving, but it is overall impressive as heck.

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