By Sunday, the news was full of fear in the build-up to the media’s Frankenstorm. They’re nearly orgasmic as they describe the potential damage and the various expectations of where it might hit hardest. After several years of good weather when I first moved here, I will admit that the last couple of years have started to wear on me. I’m feeling a bit like I’m back home. Power outages, closed roads, cancellations, and hand ringing. Nobody’s willing to do anything about building up the infrastructure to deal with inclement weather, but everyone’s more than willing to try passing the buck when things fail.
And, to the movies…
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: Hands down, this is the best movie of this franchise. It’s still a pretty silly adventure movie. But it’s well made, action packed, and has a pretty good story. The script isn’t amazing, but it doesn’t suck. And while I miss Rachel Weisz (and don’t care for having actors change for characters, generally), Maria Bello is still pretty good. Plus, I genuinely do like the loving relationship between the O’Connells. The post WWII race across Asia is fun. Michelle Yeoh, Russell Wong, and Jet Li are all cool. And I gotta get me some Yeti friends.
The Witches Mountain: “The only thing I care about is my Jeep.” A groovy dude with a sweetass mustache takes a trip into the mountains with a spaced out chick…to get away from a clingy chick who was attacked by a doll killing little girl…or something. The editing and ‘plot’ progression make it more confusing than anything. But I guess there’s a town full of witches or something. Why does anything that happens in this movie happen? No idea. The locations are awesome, though. And I’d love to see a good movie filmed there. This is also another movie that keeps setting up for nudity, but never delivers, to the point where it becomes a bit conspicuous. Was this severely edited? It might explain, in part, why so much happens seemingly without reason.
Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride: I’ve also seen this under the name ‘Satanic Rights of Dracula’ and I think it’s sometimes released under other names. It’s certainly from the end times of Hammer Studios. It’s boring, pretty shoddy, and just doesn’t work. And one of my least favorite, somehow successful UK genre actresses Joanna Lumley is hardly a memorable Hammer Girl.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: At the height of my love of martial arts films and Hong Kong melodrama, Ang Lee’s historic/fantastic epic came out and blew me away. An old hero looks to retire. His great love may finally be ready to let go of the past. A young noblewoman yearns for a life of freedom. A sinister assassin is on the loose. A bandit king will give it all up for love. And a powerful sword, the Green Destiny will bring them all together in blood and tears. Sweeping vistas, intense fights, and beautiful music. The actors are all in top form and the multi-layered story is captivating. It took the insanity of wire-fu and meshed it with romantic grandeur. One of my all time favorite films.
The Stepmother: “My life’s empty without Dick.” Murder, rape, and partying. I guess that’s what men do. If you’re hungry for random freeze-frames (and I know you are), this is the movie for you. If you kill a guy in a blue suit jacket and white turtleneck, you just better be prepared for him to run at you romantically with one of those camera filters they used when shooting women on Star Trek. But once you kill one dude, you gotta kill more (and then freeze-frame!). The name is a bit confusing. Heck, it’s almost an hour in before you even find out one of the characters is a stepmother at all. Also, it’s just bad form to get your wife all revved up and then bail for a trip to Mexico. It’s just not done. It’s always weird when a movie totally changes tone and direction half way through.
The Madmen of Mandoras: Nestor Paiva!!! Kidnapping, murder, and poison gas brings two gringos (is that Stone Philips and Brian Williams’ lovechild?) to the mysterious Latin nation Mandoras, where everyone knows their name. That’s where they discover the final act of those clever Nazi bastards. Is this the first ‘Hitler’s head in a jar’ movie?
Nympha: First, this is not a good movie. It’s choppy, disjointed, and the reveal of what’s really been going on is totally lame. But it does build some pretty good mood. For quite some time, I was genuinely interested in what was behind that door, what was up in that attic. Tiffany Shepis is a solid lead who doesn’t seem to have much problem with taking her clothes off (her tacky, cliché tattoos are lame, though…seriously, if she’s got a butterfly on her ankle, I’m done). And I kept wanting to like the film more than I was able. What could have been a really interesting demon/Lovecraftian horror film turned into an X-Files/serial killer thing that didn’t live up to the set-up.
Doctor Who: The Mark of the Rani: Something’s up in merry old England. Hard working men go in to a bathhouse and come out as soccer hooligans. I immediately like The Rani, especially because you can really compare and contrast her with The Master in this story. She’s not an idiot. And her Tardis is way cool. One of the better episodes to feature The Master, I think in large part because it calls him out for being pretty silly.
Godzilla Raids Again: “Oh! My factory!!!” Some amazing science sets the stage for the return of Godzilla (here called Gigantus or something) and another giant monster. They battle, people shoot ineffective artillery, and cities burn. It seems a bit simplistic, even for a Godzilla film. But it’s perfectly enjoyable.
Lair of the White Worm: Ken Russell, thy name be subtlety. The acting is exceptionally uneven, made that much worse by awful ADR. And yeah, we get it Ken. PAGANS!!! The pen is his penis! And snakes, snakes, snakes; everything looks like snakes! But I love this crazyass movie and all its totally over the top melodrama, weird imagery, and vague history based horror. Amanda Donohoe is frickin’ fantastic as the ophidian lady of mystery. Balls out nuts. And Hugh Grant is awesomely smug as the young lord with a surprising stripe of courage. Plus, the bagpipes, the sword, and…that strap-on.
Cloud Atlas: I love the Matrix movies. Yeah. That’s right, there’s an ‘s’ at the end of ‘movie.’ Sure, the second film needs about 30 minutes mercilessly edited. But they’re fine films (even all that crazy King Arthur stuff at the end of part 3). Bound was great, too. And (eat it, America), I loved Speed Racer. Bam! But, I’ll admit, the trailer for this film left me a bit cold. Looked a bit too grandiose, a bit too…I don’t know. Something not good. However, I’ll give almost anything a try; and you know what? It was actually really good. Sure, sometimes the make-up is a bit creepy and I’m just not a fan of Halle Berry. But each story in each timeline is engrossing (except the slave-trade one), and I found myself swept along with the various doings and goings on, be it the adventures of the old editor at the evil rest home, the love letters of the opportunistic young composer, the awakening of the revolutionary replicant, or the post Fall struggle of savages. There’s a great cast, great music, some excellent visuals, and pretty grand ideas. Plus, Jim Broadbent’s performance(s) alone is worth the price of admission. As is Keith David in full Shaft mode. Though I don’t believe in any kind of reincarnation or any of that mystical BS (yeah, that includes heavens and hells), I do enjoy the idea of souls and humanity’s connectivity.
The Man with the Iron Fists: “Gemini Stance!” RZA and friends have thrown together a crazy wire-fu fantasy film with everything and the kitchen sink. Plenty of punches, kicks, slices, bashings, stabbings, and maulings, and one unlucky inn. It’s a love letter to the genre, and a great deal of fun. And man, fat, sweaty Russell Crowe is wonderfully disgusting. The climactic battles could have been a bit more climactic, but overall it was pretty good.
Doctor Who: The Deamons: “Well that doesn’t look very traditional.” Oh, The Master. The more episodes I see with him, the less I like the character. He’s just so danged silly. I love that Doctor Who was a kids show, because this episode is super scary and weird. It shows how different TV used to be, and especially how different British kids television was. Like a lot from Jon Pertwee’s era especially, it doesn’t feel like it’s aimed at kids at all. It’s a kind of clash between science and superstition as the nature of the Devil is revealed (bloody aliens!).
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors: “Religion?! I’m not interested in the beliefs of primitives; only in what they taste like.” These multi-Doctor episodes are odd. The actors from earlier time are so clearly older (much older) and forcing the different eras together is awkward. But, it’s also fun to see people come back for another ride. The second Doctor’s attitude on the essential nature of beings is rather disturbing and backward. One problem (?) I have watching these Colin Baker episodes is that I can’t seem to concentrate on what’s happening, because I can’t stop staring at Nicola Bryant’s epic, almost Biblical cleavage. It’s hypnotic, drawing in everything like a black hole. How did anyone remember their lines? The story is pretty good, and the location shooting in Spain is nice. And I’m really warming to Colin Baker.
Der Fliegende Hollander: Two gentlemen sailors meet, seemingly by chance, and find that each has what the other wants, one riches, the other a daughter for the marrying. And amicable agreement is struck and everyone is poised to be happy. But this is German opera, so you know s#!t’s about to go down. It’s weird that the female lead is on screen (stage) for nearly an hour before she utters a sound. It’s odd to say this about a two hour plus opera, but I think the problem with this one is that it’s too short. The story feels to rushed, without giving a lot of time to the characters and relationships that need it. Still, this 1985 staging was impressive.
Aeon Flux: This film adaptation didn’t go anywhere near weird enough to capture the show’s essence, but sadly, it went far too strange for the general viewer. It’s flawed. Charlize Theron is totally miscast in the lead. Not that she turns in a bad performance, she’s actually quite good. She’s just wrong for the part. There are some wonky bits to be sure. It absolutely should have been rated R, with the creepy sex and extreme violence of the original. But it’s still a pretty imaginative vision of a strange semi-utopian, almost post-human future. All the crazy tech is super cool (and gross). I wish more movies of this type were made so that this wasn’t one of the better ones. Sadly, more extreme, more chance taking science fiction is so rare that this is above average.
Renaissance: In a world starved for adult animation, this is a rare gem. Animated science fiction that doesn’t come from Japan’s crap factory. Visually striking, this neo-Noir certainly owes a lot to Blade Runner as well as Sin City. But it stands enough on its own to be an interesting watch. The voice acting is a mixed bag. The story is pretty standard ‘big, evil corporation covering up dirty deeds and plans.’ But as such, it’s good.
I read The Storyteller, an anthology based on the awesome TV show. It was OK. Not nearly as good as the Dark Crystal prequel from the same company. And I read a Spider novel. I love the old pulps, but my second Spider book was less impressive than the first, and I’m not sure if or when I’ll be reading my next few (I own six).
After seeing Cloud Atlas this week, and because of some books I’ve been poring over, I got to thinking about science fiction film, and how to this day, with all the technology at our disposal, there is still so little good stuff out there, especially when it comes to the big idea, grand scale, high concept stuff. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t good stuff. Not at all. And there’s been some excellent science fiction film in just the last few years. But where are the really wild, imaginative stories that take place in exotic locations. Where are the new Star Wars films. I don’t mean sequels, but equivalent space opera. Since Star Wars, we’ve had what, The Fifth Element, Dune, and…and…what? Nothing I can think of right now. They tried to do a Halo movie, but it didn’t happen. The Foundation trilogy has been bounced around for years, but nothing has happened. James Cameron had all the resources, but ended up making a vacuous remake of Fern Gully. He could have done anything, and he had cat people fighting marines in a jungle. Come on!!! Prometheus could have been fantastic, but they forgot the script. TV has been home to some, at least. Farscape and Battlestar Galactica, among others. And while not quite what I’m talking about, the new Star Trek film was a step in the right direction. Japan churns out science fiction…but it’s pretty much all crap (OK, that’s not true. ‘Pretty much’ implies that some of it isn’t.). So, let’s take up the slack and start doing good stuff. Maybe combine the will to make science fiction from Japan with the script writing and technical know-how of Hollywood (or pretty much anywhere other than Japan…or Italy. Let’s not tell Italy what we’re up to. Though John Saxon might need work.).
The guy who almost did Halo (doing the pretty good Alien Nation redo District 9 instead) has a new one, Elysium. There’s a new Star Trek. And Marvel is working on Guardians of the Galaxy (really?!). But the only good science fiction film people went to see this year was Looper. Everyone skipped Dredd, Robot & Frank, and Cloud Atlas. And of those, only Cloud Atlas is anything like what I’m talking about. Robot & Frank is the better film, but more of the kind of near future stuff that is pretty common in the genre. It’s also the kind of movie that has people say, “I don’t like science fiction, but I like this,” which actually means, “I don’t know what science fiction is or that I actually like many science fiction films and books, but I thought Star Wars was silly, so I’ll say I don’t like it.”
I’m not talking gloom and doom here. I’m not raging against the dying of the light. More, I’d like a call to action. Let’s stop being so passive. Demand more. Go see science fiction films. Seek out more unique movies. Read more books. And talk about it with friends. Don’t fall in to the unhelpful, typical, cynical mindset that simply poo-poos whatever is new, whatever is different, while complaining that nothing new or different ever comes out. And vote with your dollars. Go out to the movies. Pay for tickets. Pay for DVDs. Tell filmmakers that we want more of the good stuff. Skip the easy, repetitive horror films (ParanormalSinisterExorcismHauntingStrangers in a Small Town) and go see something else.