Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category


Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Legion has excited no little critical derision but it’s made money . . . on track at this point to pulling in twice its budget in the box office. Not a mega-hit but a good start to director Scott Stewart’s career in the majors. It’ll be interesting to see his forthcoming Priest, which also stars Paul Bettany, who’s also the single best thing about Legion. There’s no better way to look ridiculous as an actor than to try and play an angel, but Bettany pulls it off, some of which can be chalked up to the man’s charisma, but credit should also be given to his sculpted-by-Jehovah body.

As to the story itself, it opens with a bang and lags seriously in the middle.  Partially because of the ol’ calibration-of-force problem.  . . .once Bettany/Michael is inside the diner, only another angel can challenge him, so the movie becomes a big wait for Gabriel to show up and Start the Movie’s Ending.  Single best scene was the old lady/demon-bitch . . . particularly as the audience was clearly quite familiar with the scene thanks to the trailer, so everyone was laughing throughout.  That’s the right attitude to approach Legion with, which I’d happily watch again (especially on late night TV while tending to the last roach).  In the meantime, I’m off to take a trip down memory lane with 1995’s Prophecy . . . .

The Book of Eli

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Post-apocalyptic movies are all about how far after the apocalypse you set your story.  Thirty years after “the war tore a hole in the sky”, we’ve got Book of Eli; in Mad Max terms, that puts it into the Beyond Thunderdome epoch, where basically everybody’s on foot and only a few rich fucks have any gasoline left at all.  But whereas Mad Max was over the top and in-your-face, Book of Eli is stripped down to the bare essentials.  The opening sequence is wordless, chilling, gorgeous.  The cinematography is astounding, and the ambient soundtrack pays dividends soundtracks don’t usually pay, at least in this type of movie.  Screenwriter Gary Whitta refers to the movie as his “post-apocalyptic samurai western”; it was his decision to have virtually nothing happen in the first ten minutes, a dynamic which would have derailed a lesser film, while only serving to elevate this one.  Particularly interesting is Whitta’s take on not spelling everything out:

I didn’t want the movie to open up on a nuclear explosion and a text saying,”in the year 2020.” That’s just so lazy and I kind of felt like it would be more interesting rather than laying it all out at the beginning of the film to just spread it out. To have audiences be intrigued by what happened to the world and give them clues to figure it out. This is not a movie that spells everything out and gives all the answers, this gives them a lot of pointers and clues for them to figure it out.

As you might have heard, there is a major twist at the end, and that’s why you shouldn’t talk to anyone about this movie, but instead should get out there and see it.  I won’t say anything more about that, but as to what we learn earlier in the story:  it seems that every review online is talking about how the book that Eli is carrying is a Bible, so I don’t have a problem mentioning that here.  There’s an interesting interview over at io9 with the Hughes Brothers (who directed) where they seem to have trouble defending why it was a Bible, as opposed to (say) a manual on water irrigation—their answers veer toward the patronizing, though even if they weren’t just having a bad day, they wouldn’t be the first artists to not need to consciously engage with the deeper implications of their material in order to create successfully.  But as the evilicious Gary Oldman explains halfway through the movie:  “this isn’t a book . . .it’s a weapon, aimed at the hearts and minds of the weak and desperate. ” In Eli, there’s plenty of both.

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Easily the most problematic of the Mad Max movies, and as I noted in yesterday’s post, we’ll never know just how this movie would have turned out had producer Byron Kennedy lived. The conventional wisdom for BEYOND THUNDERDOME is that the first half rocks, and the second half wimps out on us. At least, that’s what I thought when I saw it the first time, but now I find it makes the movie all the more interesting: the Big Fight between Max and Blaster occurs scarcely half an hour in, after which Miller and Ogilvie take the film in a very different direction. In many ways, Thunderdome is a contrast between two radically different approaches to post-apocalyptic realities; both the inhabitants of Bartertown and the kids at Crack in the Earth are trying to eke order out of the chaos, each utilizing a different kind of myth (wild west vs. awaiting-of-god-from-the-sky). There’s a great series of essays on this dynamic here; I don’t agree with all of it, but I do think that this is a movie that works on many different levels—easily the most layered of the three films. The fight at the end, for example, comes in for a lot of grief because of its slapstick quality, but it seems pretty clear this was entirely deliberate: the chase is, in essence, a conscious parody of the Giant Chase at the end of the previous movie (though the device of the old railroad was sheer genius). And the final flight through a shattered Sydney is frankly one of the most powerful things I’ve seen in cinema—not to mention one of the most underrated.

One of the most brilliant things about the Mad Max movies is the way we chart the course of civilization’s collapse:  in the first movie, it’s a society in which the rot has set in deep, in the second movie, we’re post-apocalyptic, and mechanized gangs now fight for the gasoline that will keep them competitive, and in the third, there’s virtually no gas left and everything is going low-tech/steampunk.  BEYOND THUNDERDOME thus opens with Max-as-camel-jockey (and what an opening as we swoop in upon him), and—while we do see an awful lot of pig shit—we don’t see much in the way of cars or engines, except of course during that last chase . . . love the way Auntie Tina signals green-light:

The Road Warrior

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

The Mad Max franchise was the brainchild of George Miller and Byron Kennedy: Kennedy produced and Miller directed, and that combination got them out of film school and into the big time. In the wake of the success of MAD MAX, the pressure was on, and they rose to it with one of the best sequels ever made. Now that they had the budget to go deep into the outback to destroy a LOT of cars and blow up a LOT of shit, they let the world they’d created descend past the apocalypse, and delivered a pared-down tale of epic archetype and savage action.   This time the American market didn’t dub out the Australian voices and Miller/Kennedy took it all the way.   Suddenly Mel Gibson was famous worldwide, and no one in my elementary school had ever seen anything like it.

Tragically, that was the high point.  While scouting out locations for the next movie, Byron Kennedy was killed in a helicopter crash at the age of 33.  A distraught Miller abandoned work on BEYOND THUNDERDOME; though he eventually allowed himself to be talked into shooting the fight scenes, the visionary partnership that had fueled one of the great sci-fi franchises was over.  But what they accomplished lives on:

Mad Max As One More Reason Why the NYT is Going Bankrupt

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

So in the wake of mulling over Mad Max, I dug out the NYT’s initial review of the movie in 1979; reviewer Tom Buckley wrote that the movie “is ugly and incoherent, and aimed, probably accurately, at the most uncritical of moviegoers.” But then 25 years later, a NEW review of Buckley’s appeared on a DVD: “With this stunning, post apocalyptic action thriller…Mad Max is tremendously exciting…one of the most tense scenes of the decade.”


In Buckley’s defense, the first version was the one with the lame dubbed American voices, and a reasonable person could certainly claim that this ruined the movie completely. And maybe after a quarter century, Buckley had finally figured out what the word cool means. But I think there’s something more going on here. The Big News Rags—Time, NYT, the Wash. Post, etc.—used to pull this kind of shit all the time: crap on something, and then once they saw how completely they’d misjudged the popular mood, revamp their opinion and hail it as a classic. But now with the World Wide Web as 24-7 street theater/reaction, that’s impossible. So there was a time that Rolling Stone could get away with dissing Led Zeppelin’s first albums in the 1970s (to say nothing of Black Sabbath’s), only to subsequently decide that these were, in fact, Legendary Rock Albums. But now the gulf between Traditional Media’s dinner parties and the zeitgeist is there for all to see. And it ain’t a pretty sight.*

*Sure, I know:  I’m probably reading way too much into this one reviewer’s change of heart. But I think my overall assessment is accurate.  And how Buckley failed to dig that initial chase scene is beyond me.

Mad Max

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Ah, the Mad Max movies. Did you know that until Blair Witch Project, the first Mad Max flick had the highest profit-to-cost ratio in cinema history? They shot it for 400K, and it made them over 100 million. The crazy part is that (at least initially) most of this came from non-U.S. markets; this might have had more than a little to do with the fact that the U.S. got a version in which Mel (and everybody else’s) voices had been dubbed over by Yanks.  Something about how the U.S. public wouldn’t have known what to do with a movie in which Australians were yammering on the entire time.  In fact, it was only with the release of the Mad Max DVD a few years back that we watch the movie without it sounding like a bad Hong Kong martial arts flick.

At any rate, we open with has to be one of the greatest auto chases in cinema history—“I am a fuel injected suicide machine!”—in which we see Max go head to head with the Night Rider, in a move that presaged the ending of Road Warrior where he collides full-on with the Humungous’ vehicle.  I love the way throughout most of the chase sequence Max just SITS THERE, listening on the radio as the chaos draws closer and the good guys get run off the road. #$# genius.   Spruce up your Monday by reliving the magic:

Inglorious Basterds–with SPOILERS!

Monday, August 31st, 2009



I gather Tarantino regards this as his masterpiece, and that he rewrote it about 20 times; it shows.  The script borders on genius, and has to be one of the best things Tarantino’s written in years. . . I found a copy here; it’s so demented that when it was first leaked, people wondered if it was a hoax.  But as we all found out, it turns out that yes, Tarantino really does kill Hitler, and bring the war to an end in 1944.  You have to admire the balls of someone willing to get on the Alternative History Bus and ride it past the very last stop, subverting (and celebrating) every single WWII movie stereotype along the way:  the Elegant Evil Nazi, the Redneck American Soldier, the European Femme Fatale . . . all of it gets whirled up into a giant melting pot brought to a boil just in time for the final insane shootout.  It was a little surreal to watch all this from the balcony of the Uptown Theater (also known as the Rat-town, in celebration of all the actual rats that live there), and the audience was eating it up.

Of course, in real life, Hitler was a damn sight harder to kill than this, which is why he lived as long as he did.  There’s a great book, called (appropriately enough) KILLING HITLER which gets into just how well-guarded he was, and how many assasination plots fell short, not that you’d need to read it to know that Hitler wouldn’t have hung out in the balcony of a Parisian theater with the entire Nazi high command while not a single soldier patrolled the hallways outside.  But whatever.  QT can do what he wants, and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on the DVD so I can learn about all the coy little references that sailed over my head while I was trying to take it all in.

Next up:  District 9!

Babylon A.D. and Vin Diesel, revisited

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Last fall I wrote this was the movie in which Vin Diesel approached the Rutger Hauer Event Horizon: that point beyond which a star makes only straight-to-DVD crud. It’s just as well for Vin that he was able to get back in on the Fast and the Furious franchise, and there’s been more recent talk about more Riddick movies, but I remain skeptical, especially after the underwhelming performance of Riddick director Twohy’s latest flick. Then again, if the Riddick franchise goes in the space-noir rather than space-opera direction, they might be able to recapture Pitch Black’s edge with Pitch Black-level budgets.  Stranger things have happened. .  .

But I’m here to talk about Babylon A.D.  Which, yes, I bought when I was in Montreal two weeks back for WorldCon.  But as the string physicists say, I can explain everything. . . so. .  .  I was looking for a copy of Sunshine, but that was 23 bucks, and I found Babylon A.D. for $8!  And, to be honest, I . .  .(deep breath) LIKE Babylon A.D.  The plot is incoherent, but I’ve got (as you can tell) a soft spot for Vin Diesel, and enjoyed watching him thrash his way through two hours of terrible dialogue and pointless action scenes.  And it’s a real shame the movie’s so bad, because some of the sets are spectacular (like the one where the Russian train goes through radioactive wastelands). I’ll go out on a limb, in fact, and say that this was a cyberpunk classic waiting to happen, but something went terribly wrong on the way to the studio.

But at any rate, when I got back to D.C., I realized I’d left the damn thing on the plane.  This has not been a good summer for me on planes.   I left a BURNING SKIES poster on the flight back from ComicCon, and I left an ipod on a flight before that.  I blame all of this, of course, on Gerard Depardieu’s appearance in Babylon A.D.  I mean, what else could be responsbile?

Link mix for Monday/D.C. appearance scheduled at Artomatic!

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Okay, so we got some cool links/news:

Top SF Twitter feeds worth checking out.  UPDATE:  btw, my own Twitter feed is here.

—Fellow SFNovelist Kelly McCullough’s new book MythOS is out; as the title implies, you’re looking at a world where the line between programming and magick is getting (very) blurred.  Very cool stuff, and worth checking out.

—At the invitation of military science-fiction colleague and general bad-ass Andy Remic, I’m now a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Ethics, which has the “aim of celebrating all that is positive in genre fiction.”  How this translates into day-to-day implementation is by definition a work in progress, but Andy assures me it doesn’t mean I have to stop my tales of mayhem and mass-slaughter.  Hopefully he won’t either.  This is a really cool initiative, and I’ll be posting more on it shortly.

—In the wake of Terminator Salvation, it’s worth revisiting this James Cameron interview on why Sam Worthington is going to kick Avatar’s ass

—And if you’re living in D.C., then keep in mind that Artomatic is the only game in town for the next month.  Be there or miss out . .  .and I’ll be doing a reading there on July 2nd!

Meanwhile, BURNING SKIES can be found on Amazon and in bookstores everywhere!

Star Trek, with spoilers

Monday, May 11th, 2009

From a packed late Sunday showing on a gorgeous spring evening alongside the Potomac River . . . .

What I Liked:

(1) Abrams being ballsy enough to take the franchise in a radically different direction. Of course, if this parallel universe business takes off, then we’re going to get endless permutations of reboots, but that’s a lot better than the same ol’ stuff. This was a bold move, and it looks to be repaid fully in box office glory.

(2) The Evil Starship, complete with Evil Interior Decorations.  Not a cushion in sight  . . .

(3) That giant drill sequence.  That’s the part I’ll watch again and again on the DVD. And I won’t be the only one.

(4) Watching the dude in the red suit get sucked into the drill.  Probably the only coy inside joke I thought they got mileage out of.

(5) Planet becomes singularity, wrecks everybody’s day.  If you ever see this in real life, just run.

Not So Much:
(1) Kirk seemed like he was far more likely to win the Darwin Awards than end up in command of a ship.  The bit where he opened the pod’s hatch and traipsed off into a wilderness he knew nothing about was particularly classic.

(2) I’m not an expert on military law/justice .. but .  . once you’ve beaten up people on a ship’s bridge and been banished from that ship, I don’t think you’re still in the chain of command anymore.

(3) Eric Bana just wasn’t doing it for me as a super villain.  Though he scored some points with that brain-beetle. . .  .

(4) All the women on the Enterprise have skirts that go down to their belly-buttons.  I appreciated this aesthetically, but c’mon.  After a while, the future started to feel like a big frat-party.

(5) The awards ceremony at the end.  Brought back blacked-out flashbacks of the last scene of STAR WARS . . .

All in all:  delivered what it was supposed to, though I find myself unable to hail it as the second coming like everyone on Twitter seems to be doing.  Must be a zeitgeist thing . .

Tune in tomorrow for a chance to win copies of BURNING SKIES!