I love movies.
In 2012, inspired by the then-new site Letterboxd and Roger Ebert’s writing, I decided I’d write a review of every movie I watched. I’d been doing that for about a year.
Here are the reviews I’m most proud of: 20-odd movies I loved, or hated, in no particular order. Enjoy.
There’s something fantastical about the idea of treating cars as precision instruments. Sure, we have all seen videos of professionals parking in improbably tight spaces, but the stunts in this movie put all of those to shame. I think we’re just 1–2 installments away from Vin Diesel shaving using a VW Bug, or maybe doing open heart surgery with a scalpel mounted on a 1958 Ford Edsel. With manual transmission and the roof down, but that goes without saying.
Actually, the movie’s entire universe is fantastical. Beautiful and exotic people speaking exclusively in trailer-friendly one-liners, beautiful and exotic locations cleaned up for your viewing pleasure, and, as the mother of all improbabilities, Dodge Chargers as police cars in Brazil.
Kudos to the producers for learning the right lessons from the baroque fourth movie, and deciding to simplify. Fast five dispenses with the racing subplots, elaborate story lines, multiple locations, and even elementary physics. It also provokes no confused feelings, and throws in just one or two routine plot twists for our neocortexes not to atrophy completely. It works really well. It’s a dumb movie, but it is fast, and with a 10-ton safe swinging around the streets of Rio de Janeiro in the finale, pretty damn furious.
The safe contains $100 million dollars, and our Ocean 11-esque cast conceives of an elaborate heist to steal it. After watching, I think they probably chose the wrong business: the movie itself earned $625 million worldwide. Gas bill already included.
Today, WarGames is a nerd’s time capsule, possibly the biggest of them all, a celluloid equivalent of that box you have in your basement with obsolete technology kept out of misplaced sense of attachment, or maybe just because recycling electronics is hard and annoying.
Shall we even try to count it all? Eight-inch floppy disks, early VCRs, microfichés, paper library catalogs, dot matrix printers, galvanic modems, video game arcades with 8-bit shoot ’em ups, first hobbyist microcomputers, ASCII graphics (or was it ANSI?), analogue telephony, public phones, mainframe data centers with tape drives and blinkenlights.
Mr. Moore would be proud: it is astonishing to realize just 30 years later literally none of this exists any more. Without context – and note I didn’t even mention the Cold War – all this makes it harder and harder to understand the movie’s tone with each passing year. Why the extended tracking shot of the NORAD room? Because it was the most expensive movie set back then, a technical masterpiece. What’s up with Ally Sheedy character’s continual embarrassing amazement at simple technological feats of Mr. Bueller? Well, those things were actually pretty doggone amazing back then, this being the audience’s first exposure to computers, hacking, networks. Why the laughable security everywhere? Because no one really thought teenagers with simple hobbyist machines cobbled together from cheap parts would figure out how to hack into places. But they did. Some of them went on to do great things. The others ended up in jail.
If that reminds you of another film, bravo. I get worried about any rumours to reboot this movie (same with RoboCop), just because while it is technically possible to extricate the story from all its technopolitical context, would it still be WarGames? I doubt it. If anything, it was Sneakers that was this movie’s reincarnation. Whether Lightman grew up to be Bishop or Cosmo is for you to figure out.
I’m writing this on a little domesticated pocket computer, so far away from “Whopper” it’s hard to imagine they have anything in common. It is likewise difficult to internalize that our Spotify party playlists, our late night Angry birds sessions, our obsessive Foursquare check-ins all exist solely because we once learned how to wrangle zeroes and ones into submission in order to “win the game.”
The good thing is, you don’t have to. When I watched WarGames for the n-th time yesterday, I noticed quite a few off-hand lines about pot smoking. Perhaps it was some sort of an elaborate inside joke I’m not getting. I never smoked pot in my life, but if you imagine this movie is a pipe filled with geek nostalgia, dude, it is so much fun just to keep inhaling.
I feel the creative process of putting this together would have made for far superior entertainment than the movie itself. The utter dedication to reducing everything, everything to a cheap gag is almost endearing and I want to imagine the two writers polishing the script. “Wow, wow, wow, man – this looks too much like character development. Take this out of here!” Or 50 pre-printed sticky notes saying [farting noise] that just have to be inserted in the script. “We get a nice discount on those,” one writer says to the fictional documentary crew, while the other is vigorously nodding. “Remember when we had to do them by hand?” they reminisce, then break into hysterics.
There is a tiny kernel of something interesting here – not terribly original, possibly, but interesting. The problem is that this film is bad even at being bad. It’s in the Uncanny Valley of Badness. We watched it, ironically, with six people, but there was still less than one person’s worth of cumulative laughter – either with or at the movie. The funniest moments were in the end credits (the only time when the movie seemed actually aware of its sheer incompetence), and, in the meta world, in the feud between Rob Schneider and film critics.
I miss Police Academy.
There might be nothing more unfair than being robbed of one’s childhood; to be shackled with concern and responsibility far too early in your life; to witness things with your own eyes that parents wouldn’t want their kids to see even on TV.
Chanda is a 12-year-old girl living in a small village near Johannesburg. There’s a heartbreaking sadness and weariness in her eyes. The world opposes her seemingly at every step: poverty, illiteracy, diseases and death surround her constantly, made worse by beliefs, customs and gossip that amplify and demonize things that are already difficult to deal with. In the opening scene, she is forced to buy probably the saddest man-made object you can think of – an infant-sized coffin for her sister.
Despite all of this, in situations where everyone else would have given up, Chanda wants to right the wrongs she’s not responsible for, armed with humble persistence, strength, and empathy that we should all aspire to have. Those few moments when Chanda gets to smile, when she gets glimpses of the wonder and naïveté that she should be experiencing constantly as a kid, but is rarely allowed to embrace, we instinctively smile with her.
There’s a lot you can find in this beautiful movie. For me, it was this: You don’t need to be a superhero to have superpowers. You don’t need to see the world to change it.
This is the only movie I know of where a training montage is followed by another training montage. No, it’s not a two-piece montage; there’s a one-minute non-training scene in between. Either they desperately had to push the movie over the 90-minute mark in the cutting room… or decided people wouldn’t really get it from one training montage alone.
It seems to me Rocky IV is to Rocky what Simple English Wikipedia is to Wikipedia – you can’t say one is better than the other, since they serve very different purposes. I mean, they’re technically different genres, I think.
With that in mind, my main take-away from this installment is: I want to do at least one thing as well in my life as Mr. Balboa is jumping rope. I mean, seriously. That shit’s inspirational.
The first movie was a really great first date ending with a mind-blowing kiss and so much promise. The second – a crazy impromptu Hawaii vacation one month later, when the two of you ended up never leaving the hotel suite. But then, a year since, you try to do the same thing again and suddenly realize the best you can summon as a description is just “it’s okay, I guess.” Whenever you want to talk you realize you’re just not that good at talking; the sex is still good, but it was never ever as great as that crazy week in Maui; the dog who neither of you really like was just diagnosed with cancer, and even the two of you painting the ceiling you’re now looking at, unable to sleep in the middle of the night, wasn’t really as great an experience as you used to remember it. It was a really fun ride into what became a dead-end street, and now you both want to quit, but you don’t really know when and you don’t really know how.
(The dog in that metaphor is the soundtrack. I’ll let you figure out the rest.)
The Dark Knight rises exposes Christopher Nolan as a pedigree of the school of movie making that treats the film as the natural extension of the trailer – a collection of set pieces, explosive and attractive in their own right, but clumsily held together with too much duct tape and too little WD-40. We had an inkling of that in both The Dark Knight and Inception, but those movies were still somewhat coherent and anyway, the ingredients were so great that the quality of the entire dish barely mattered. Not here, though.
Naïvely, before seeing this movie, I anticipated it being just bigger, and better, and faster, and more grandiose than the second one. I realize now that this was simply not possible. Instead, the trilogy finale is essentially just scraps and discarded ideas from the first two movies mixed together (heretofore unknown facets of the original’s mythology, a third-rate and poorly explained MacGuffin, and a villain bland enough that he needed to be offset by what seems like fifty-eight new characters all played by actors from Inception), some transparent one-upmanship, condescending exposition, a really cheap plot twist, and tons of liberal copy/pasting from other movies.
Gone is a lot of the drama, much of the tension, and the tightness of the pacing. There are so many elements here that are desperately trying to be impressive and epic, miss by a large margin, and arrive at weird. Bane has yet another speech impediment and nonsensical mannerisms. After a great car and an awesome bike, Batman’s plane looks like Tron bumped literal uglies with a garbage truck, and is used in some of the most cockamamie scenes you can imagine. And then, the stone well, so overflowing with suspension of disbelief that it could serve the population of all the five boroughs of Gotham.
And speaking of which, after the joyful use of Chicago in the first two movies, we are now inexplicably left with Gotham City portrayed by… Pittsburgh. It’s not only confusing, but also filmed to look far from a beautiful metropolis you’re expecting – altogether a distant cry from the first movie in which the city was as much a protagonist as Batman himself.
The Dark Knight rises is not a completely lost cause. There are some fun moments in the movie and some vestigial hints of the refreshing originality of its predecessor. But overall, it seems like the second sequel simply wasn’t necessary. Desperately trying to climb to the top of the well is not always the correct answer. Sometimes, you dig a tunnel.
A 1981 Apple ad asked “Will someone please tell me exactly what a personal computer can do?” and among the 100 provided answers were such cutting edge concepts as electronic mail, personal finances, looking up ice cream recipes, and – at #96 – reading the Bible. No mentions, however, of the satanic capabilities of Apple II as presented in the same year’s Evilspeak.
Perhaps because the whole thing is a big sham anyway. The plot of the movie (at one point called Computer murders) has much more to do with occult and satanism than computing; the tech subplot doesn’t serve any meaningful purpose, and is there quite likely just to cash in on the PC craze that started engulfing America in the early 1980s.
The story? Poor Stanley, a military school cadet, doesn’t have an easy life. Never in a clean uniform, alone after the death of his parents, bullied by classmates, ridiculed by teachers, assigned to garbage detail and routinely subjected to corporal punishment, he one day discovers a cellar under one of the school buildings with a terrible secret harking back to the Spanish Inquisition. He starts spending more and more time in the basement, eventually domesticating it first with a computer, and later a puppy. The puppy will die a horrible death – hard not to see that coming – and the computer’s only purpose will be to showcase evil typography, and to have some hilarious Siri-like conversations. In English (BLOOD · CONSECRATED HOST · DATA INCOMPLETE) and, obviously, Latin.
I don’t know much about low-budget horror movies, but my guess is that every low-budget horror movie feels like Evilspeak. Character actors elevated to leading roles will keep you puzzled (“Where do I know that guy from?”); there’s some nudity, gore, and really obnoxious ominous music, and otherwise not really that much inventiveness.
Although the computer surrounded by candles and evil paraphernalia is kind of a cool visual, the whole movie is a predictable bore. Maybe such technology was exciting then, but in 2012 if you want to decapitate people, sacrifice virgins, or reincarnate evil maniacs from the Dark Ages… I bet there’s an app for that.
Lovely, wonderful, warm, heartfelt coming of age story that had me misty-eyed by the time it ended. If you read Italo Calvino; if Moon ever seemed to you more than just a rock tied to Earth with an invisible string; if you sometimes, oftentimes, always stare at Luna because it is there and you just can’t look away – go buy tickets to Brave just for this short that precedes it, sneak your way into the theatre, or Facebook-friend people at Pixar so they could maybe send you a copy in exchange for some unspecified future favours. Whatever it takes: I don’t care, and you shouldn’t either. Just watch it now.
I am astonished at how well this movie aged. It’s still fascinating, still relevant, and the ultra-violence as hard to witness as it was when I sneaked into the movie theatre during the first decade of my life (oh, yes, I couldn’t sleep that night). Even though clearly extrapolated from the afflictions of the 1980s, the dystopian world presented here is believable, in no small part because of the little details – the TV news bulletins, Delta City billboards, “8.2 mpg” small print for the 6000 SUX advertisement, an off-hand mention of Lee Iacocca Elementary School.
Like the protagonist himself (itself?), this movie has a lot of heart and soul if you care to look deeper. Within the entertaining, bleak world of crime, corruption, corporate greed, and consumerism writ large, what we have here is a serious exploration of a belief in technology as our saviour. This topic was later picked up by Deep Space Nine, Battlestar Galactica and a number of other works, but it was fitting to hear about it first from Detroit, a place whose relationship with technology turned from promising to painful seemingly overnight.
At the very end of the movie, when the hurt (damaged?) RoboCop utters “They’ll fix you. They fix everything,” I laughed with the rest of the audience. Today, just as I can look past the sci-fi exterior and appreciate the movie so much more, these two sentences too carry on much more importance. What if we never learn how to fix some things? What if some things are better left unfixed?
The Police Academy sequels are like the same story told over and over again by a raunchy, increasingly more drunk uncle at some uncomfortable family gathering: the locations get more and more exotic, the antics crazier and crazier, the more complex characters simply disappear as a result of the brain’s decreased capacity, and you realize that yes, you’re laughing, but neither with nor at your uncle – the laughter is just a defense mechanism until you come to your senses and finally leave, the uncle continuing to re-tell the story for the fifth or sixth or seventh time, now to no one in particular.
Quite possibly the most honest, believable, dare I say authentic…? superhero origin story I’ve watched.
It’s not even the “found footage” angle that makes it feel believable. It’s the great dialogue, good acting, and characters you can identify with – characters whose reactions to supernatural events seem the most… natural.
Chronicle is a brave movie. It’s not afraid of taking the road less travelled. There were a couple of moments when I genuinely admired the creators for trying something different that could have backfired. It never did.
Lastly, and surprisingly, this movie is not about good and evil. It’s about power and powerlessness. We all grapple with the latter, and most of growing up might be learning to accept things that are outside of our influence. You might think that having superpowers would fix that. It turns out, not really: now you just have two things you can neither understand nor control.
Pressing Save after I’m done writing this review will forever enshrine it as the first recorded viewing of Makkhi on Letterboxd. That hardly makes me Vasco da Gama, though, as the circumstances were as arbitrary as they can get: a six-hour bus ride to and from an Indian temple, and a flat screen TV in front projecting Tollywood hits. Of those, Makkhi proved to be by far the most memorable, and in the year of quite a few unique watching experiences, this one stood above them all.
“Makkhi is the story of Jani and Bindu who are in love but never communicated their feelings to each other and continue to enjoy their unexpressed love,” begins the synopsis in typically awkward English. It does little to prepare you for the constant barrage of Holy Shit moments that start as soon as the spirit of the protagonist, killed by the bad guy, gets transferred to an… ordinary housefly.
No, this part wasn’t lost in translation. You will spend most of the movie expected to root for a doggone stinky insect, who comes up with more and more cockamamie schemes to a) convince his love he’s still alive, and b) revenge his human death. For the movie subtitled “The ultimate revenge story” it won’t be much of a spoiler to disclose he succeeds with both – even though from the perspective of the bad guy, the realistic resolution would be, I don’t know, half a minute with a swatter.
The fly proves surprisingly resilient, though, despite many attempts to kill him, and you will have to suspend your disbelief much farther than just that. There will be scenes here involving our intrepid winged hero transferring gunpowder one tiny bucket after another; the antagonist cutting through his own safe with a plasma cutter (and things going horribly wrong as a result); a shaman injecting evil spirit into some birds that are then supposed to catch Makkhi; and some slowed down moments meant to make the fly look downright sexy. My personal favourite? The fly causing a head-on collision of a car and a truck, and then writing a message on the windshield with his little cute fly paws, telling his nemesis I WILL KILL YOU just as the movie pauses for what in India is apparently called an “interval.”
Yes. Makkhi is absurd, insane, over-the-top, melodramatic. Horror follows comedy follows romance follows pathos. The many special effects will be very close-up- and slow-motion-heavy and for Shiva’s sake, I was just kidding: there’s nothing cute about that fly. But did I really truly understand this movie? I very much doubt it. It not only was played back from a pirated Video CD, with no subtitles and many problems with sound; it was also made in and for a country I struggle with getting. “Wait until you hear the story of the god turned into 100 vaginas,” said my friend, and perhaps in a culture with such a rich practice of storytelling, this tale of quite an uncommon housefly fits in much easier.
There was also something else. It was my first time in India. Barely three days in, my body was already exhausted by oppressive heat and incessant mosquito attacks; my eyes, ears, nostrils overloaded with stimuli; my brain tired of labeling experiences as uncanny valleys and cargo cults, as my own closed-mindedness wanted to desperately pattern match the current unknowns with what I’ve seen before. But this unusual take on a blockbuster, even with its inane premise, mutated tropes, and surprises waiting around every corner, was a movie. A movie that we all watched, laughed at, commented during, and dissected later. And in this uncomfortable country eight thousand miles away, struggling with not as much understanding things but even just taking them in – I was amazed how just simply watching a movie, no matter how alien, could make me feel right at home.
Why would you go back in time? To get rich? For fun? Because you want a second chance? Because you dream of fixing a mistake? Because you’re unhappy with who you grew up to be?
Good time travel movies are not about time travel, just like good westerns are not about guns and horses, and good heist films don’t focus exclusively on the money or the mechanics of breaking in. Safety not guaranteed is ostensibly a time-travel comedy, but in its cleverness, warmth and sincerity, it resembles not as much Hot tub time machine, as it does K-PAX and Lars and the real girl.
I loved both of those movies, and I loved this one too. I’ve always been drawn to stories of scientists – fiction and non-fiction alike – toiling away at their crazy inventions in their lone laboratories, misunderstood if not entirely forgotten by the rest of the world. It barely mattered whether they were crazy or not, or whether their inventions made any sense; I envied them the utter conviction and faith they had in the little universes they created and held onto.
This feeling resurfaced as I was watching the movie, and I realized that perhaps time travel here is just a metaphor; perhaps each one of us has a dream, a belief, a little unique personal tautology that we’d love to tell to someone, anyone – but, out of fear of embarrassment or rejection, we probably never will. This brilliant movie is about what could happen if you did.
I hosted a little viewing party of Sneakers yesterday (off of a LaserDisc, with a player bought especially for this occasion). At some point after the movie, which I was happy to see everyone enjoy, the conversation turned to inspiration. For some of us in the crowd this was a first viewing, but others – including me – have seen it many times since it first came out 20 years ago.
For me personally, it would be relatively easy to count off some of the most obvious bits: interest in cryptography and history of phreaking, even more appreciation for the Bay Area, crazy adventures chasing toy companies… but more interesting things lurk underneath.
This is a rare movie about technology that gets it right, being accessible for everyone and accurate enough not to offend people familiar with the subject matter. It entertains, but also quietly sneaks interesting things into your head – you can pick up a lot about asymmetric cryptography, counterintelligence, and social engineering (although you won’t ever hear them called that). Its archetypes of nerdiness, among them Misplaced Idealist (Cosmo) and Über Nerd (Werner), are spot on.
More impressively, Sneakers does it all with an aura of lightheartedness, sometimes even goofiness. It’s gripping, and fun, but never pretentious. Some movies just scream “Oscar Candidate,” with reverb worthy of a THX logo. This is almost the exact opposite, never consciously attempting to be a masterpiece, but just to entertain, tell a good story really well, and allow people who care to find more depth inside it.
Just as I was telling it to my friends, I realized that my own projects that I loved most were exactly like that. I will be lucky if I get a chance to tell more stories – through whatever means and in whatever media – just as well and with as much heart as Sneakers tells its own.
“They’re not paying for their crimes. They’re paying for our fear.”
The war on drugs is ineffective, having consumed more than $1 trillion over the last forty years, while contributing very little to reducing substance abuse. The war on drugs is an enabler, fueling a vicious cycle of structural recidivism on one hand, and a thriving prison industry on the other. The war on drugs is racist – 90% of crack arrests are African Americans, even though blacks correspond to only 10% of crack consumption. “The war on drugs,” says David Simon, possibly the best of the movie’s interviewees, “is holocaust in slow motion.”
The war on drugs is, in short, a failure – and The house I live in is a powerful, scathing deconstruction of all its flaws. Its narrative moves from personal to societal, from social to political, from local to global, with vigor and sense of purpose. It tells many different stories and interviews many subjects, but manages to weave it all masterfully into a one gripping arc. I had no idea I would learn so much from this movie, and I did not suspect how much it would affect me.
The Rampart Division LAPD scandal gave us seven seasons of the hugely entertaining (if overdone) The Shield, and now Rampart covers a lot of the same ground. It does so, however, with more restraint and introspection.
I went to see this movie at 10pm on a whim, and it was a good time to do it. Not everything here happens at night, but it is a nocturnal creature – filled with broken, despicable people who all share some sort of a scoliosis of their moral backbone. The cinematography is likewise messy, unflattering, downright ugly.
There are many supporting roles and cameos from famous actors in Rampart, and they grate rather than add value. But Woody Harrelson is utterly fantastic here, his character weaving a tangled web of lies and deception that’s unraveling in front of our eyes – and you get a feeling it’s been doing so ever since he joined the police force. I never thought that carpe diem could be interpreted cynically and opportunistically, but here you go.
I biked home after midnight, the movie still fresh in my mind, and for a moment there I saw my own city just like officer Brown must have been seeing Los Angeles. It made me scared and uneasy.
What does being obsolete really mean? There were apparently more than 100,000 Linotype machines produced – many the price of a house – but only about a thousand survived, a lot of them rusting, broken, forgotten, or about to be sent as scrap to China. Linotype was once the hot technology that revolutionized printing (literally hot – the machines construct lead type by squirting molten alloys), but the best stories about technology are always stories about people, and this fantastic documentary knows that surprisingly well.
We meet here an 86-year-old deaf Linotype operator, apparently the fastest in the world. And someone who wrote a song about it. And a guy who recently started the… Linotype University. And a volunteer at a museum who got a 4,000-pound machine at an auction for just 10 dollars. Asked whether he’d like another one for free, he said yes without skipping a beat. I guess I’ll have to learn how to use them, he later says sheepishly into the camera.
There’s a lot of heart and humour in this movie, no fake drama, and no unnecessary padding. If you’re interested in typesetting, history of mass media, or technological progress, you owe it to yourself to watch this tightly edited, great story of the 80-year-long ascent and subsequent demise of Linotype, and its enduring legacy – both as a typeface foundry, and within the hearts of all those people who got to wi cgk; fwy etaoin shrdlu
There is something in computer science called a “second-system effect.” It describes how versions 2.0 of successful products are usually bloated, inelegant, filled with all the bad ideas and unnecessary features that never made it in time for 1.0.
That obviously describes RoboCop 2 the cyborg, with its sheer scale, weapon overload, three-dimensional animations of its host, the cute little remote, and even the upgrade to the Mac-like user-interface. If RoboCop 2 came in a box, those would be some good-looking bullet points.
Unfortunately, it also describes the movie. The original RoboCop was sharp and witty. This one is a big display of oneupmanship missing the entire point. More crazy TV ads? Check. 250 directives? Why not. One terribly botched product announcement in the prequel? Let’s do three this time around. Old mill? Hells no. We can do better: The sludge plant.
RoboCop too changed for the worse: witty one-liners, shinier armor, more swank in the movement – and all of that even before his “upgrade” in the middle of the movie. Once you process it all, actually, that upgrade serves as a sad meta-commentary on this botched sequel. About the only redeeming feature of RoboCop 2 is the new, redesigned OCP logo. It’s exactly the kind of mess you can imagine, but at least one that’s consistent with the ineptitude of that fictional conglomerate.
Some failures of man-made objects have rather frivolous names. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed in 1940 because of something called “aeroelastic flutter.” There is a term for when a train carriage bolts through the one in front of it during a collision – it’s “telescoping.” And then, there’s also something called “pancaking” – and that’s what happened to a 1½–mile segment of highway I-880 called Cypress Viaduct, back in the late 1989.
San Francisco was devoured by the 1906 earthquake and the resulting fires, with casualties numbering in the thousands. We were much more lucky eighty years later, when The Loma Prieta earthquake hit, just after 5pm, as crowds were rushing home to watch the third game of the World Series. Only 63 people died that day, and two thirds of the fatalities were the result of one tragic collapse – the top level of the first double decked freeway in California giving way and landing on the one underneath, crushing most of everything and everyone in between.
Miracle on I-880 is a 1993 television movie talking about that accident and the recovery that followed. It’s just about the quality you might expect from a made-for-TV disaster production – understandably cheap, slightly overcheesematic, overstaying its welcome after about an hour, but needing to be praised for staying relatively true to the actual events. (It even contains some real footage of the rescue efforts.)
I was researching the earthquake as I was watching the movie, and it’s probably the best way to consume it. Alas, Google Earth’s Historical Imagery mode doesn’t go as far back as 1989, but I could follow some of the rebuilding efforts between 1993 and 2000 (the new I-880 took about a decade to be put together, re-routed slightly to the west, with the new Mandela Parkway in Oakland following the old freeway’s path). And the internet, as always, provided a few great websites, photos, and videos telling more about the earthquake’s devastation.
The movie focuses on some survivors – among them a boy and a girl trapped in a car sandwiched in between concrete slabs of the freeway, and a father awaiting the rescue, desperately wanting to be reunited with his daughter. But one more motorist was lucky too. Despite a few broken ribs, injured back, and a collapsed lung, he held on in his dilapidated car for a couple days, surviving on peanuts, and was eventually rescued by firefighters. He felt so grateful and inspired that, after recovering from injuries, he quit his job, joined the fire department, and started working alongside the very men who rescued him. It’s a heart-warming story. How come that did not end up in the movie is beyond me.
It’s always great to see someone doing their job well. Here, Tony Scott reunites with Denzel Washington in the lead, Harry Gregson-Williams as a composer, and presumably tons of other people to put together a really fun action movie – with no one pretending it’s going to be anything else.
The pacing here is great, the plot doesn’t stand in the way, the movie looks like a music video on a hot date with a Burtynsky photo exhibition, and admit it, you’re a little bit jealous. At some point in the “making of” feature, the guys are showing a storyboard on which they plan how to… derail a train. This has to be one hell of a fun job.
On top of that, the movie is surprisingly close to the real-life event that inspired it. Who would’ve thought?
Watching the director’s commentary is a bit of a gamble. They’re oftentimes amateurish, alternating awkward pauses and random anecdotes, done without much preparation. Even if they’re good, there is absolutely no guarantee you’ll hear about the things you wanted to – since every movie is a complicated endeavour, you could imagine ten different, rich commentaries, each one focusing on a different aspect of the movie. And a rich commentary about the parts you care about could still turn out boring if it’s delivered dispassionately.
And then, there’s the question of timing. If quite a few weeks passed since the original viewing, the commentary will grate: stop talking over the movie I’m trying to watch! On the other hand, if you do it too soon, it’s simply overload – like stopping at Six Flags on the way back from Disneyworld.
Wait. What does it all have to do with Looper? Is the DVD out? Isn’t the movie still in theatres? It is, but the writer/director did something interesting – he released a commentary you can download for free and put on your phone to listen to while (re)watching the movie on the big screen.
That’s what my friend and I did this weekend. It was an interesting experiment, although not without awkward and cumbersome moments. First, there’s the question of syncing. You need to pause/unpause at the exact time when the movie starts, otherwise you will hear about things too soon or too late. You obviously can’t rewind to repeat things you might have missed or misheard. I was also constantly worried about accidentally pressing the pause button on my remote while fiddling with volume because yes, you need to micromanage the sound level continuously – the movie won’t become quieter during loud action scenes like a DVD would. We were both worried about disturbing other people near us who probably could hear the weird voice leaking through our earbuds. All in all, there was this underlying feeling we were doing something wrong, although some part of it is probably just the novelty factor.
The commentary itself is good. Rian Johnson takes up most of the time talking about the technical details of moviemaking – his newfound love for anamorphic lenses, all the editing choices and deleted scenes you can’t yet see, the soundtrack choices, the moral issues of dealing with a 5-year-old actor portraying a troubled character – and is really funny at times, even though I was hoping to hear more about the plot and character choices. (Perhaps Rian the director is more talkative than Rian the screenwriter?) I learned quite a few interesting tidbits, though, especially concerning the movie’s locations.
Would I recommend this idea in general, and Looper’s commentary in particular? Yes, although only if you’re a pretty big fan of a given movie. Charge your batteries, perhaps sit away from other patrons, figure out a safe way to change the volume in advance, and if the commentary sucks – cut your losses and just watch the rest of the movie like everyone else instead. (And if you’re with someone as crazy as you are, bring a headphone splitter as a backup plan.)
In the future, I’d hope this idea evolves into an app that syncs the timing automagically through some sort of a Shazam-like technology, and likewise, adjusts the volume based on the input from the microphone. (Not that I have very high hopes for this, though, given the relative size of the market.) You could also do what another of my friends did: circumvent the whole system by listening to the commentary at home, right after seeing the movie, trying to recreate it in your head as you’re doing it. It might be a good brain exercise, and you will save 15 bucks for the future DVD with many more extras. Although let’s face it, the movie’s so good you are going to buy it either way.
Carphones, George H.W. Bush posters, and dated Windows screens aside, Sneakers aged relatively well. WarGames, put together nine years before by the same pair of writers, is almost a polar opposite. Its allegiances to 1980s are obvious and immediate: disco music, John Hughes-esque teen romance, Cold War paranoia. On its surface, the movie seems like a relic.
Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Being engulfed by nostalgia is nothing if not wonderful. This is the movie with the young Matthew Broderick even before he became Ferris Bueller. The movie that introduced the general public to not just the idea that computers can be connected and talk to each other – but also, often, to computers themselves. The movie that caused AT&T a lot of trouble. That prompted US Air Force to rebuild their headquarters. That the then-president discussed with Congress.
Plot- and character-wise, WarGames has nothing to do with Sneakers. It finds its humour, charm, and suspense elsewhere. It is, however, undoubtedly, its spiritual prequel, covering some of the same territory with its spot-on portrayal of proto-nerds of various flavours, more lessons in social engineering, and the ever-so-relevant issue of our trust in technology. (I loved both movies independently years before realizing they were done by the same team.)
Most importantly, alongside Sneakers and very few other movies, it reminds us that stories of technology alone are ultimately as lifeless as they are useless. It is stories of people who happen to be affected by (or themselves affect) technology that stand the test of time. 29 years on, WarGames does because, at its core, it’s a great, funny, scary, riveting human story – and it just happens to be the first one ever about people for whom computers were a way to express themselves, people who painted with ones on the brand new canvases of zeroes, people who needed to talk to machines and understand them, even though those machines never cared much about being understood.
Most of us are such people today. It’s worth seeing how it all started.
Remember that episode of The office when the crew discovers Michael Scott’s secret action movie screenplay, featuring his thinly-veiled alter ego Michael Scorn – the perfect human being slash action hero? You’ll be pleased to hear it’s just been adapted for the silver screen.
You suspected it ever since the trailer announced “if he’s coming for you, you deserve it” without a hint of irony but boy, did you ever imagine the extent of it. Jack Reacher is essentially propaganda, an homage to Tom Cruise the actor by Tom Cruise the producer, the entire might of both their promotional machines unleashed to fix whatever damage was caused by Katie Holmes leaving.
It’s all so blatant it is actually fascinating to watch. Tom Cruise’s character is flawless – self-assured, righteous, patriotic, magnanimous; funny only when appropriate, well-mannered even if no one is watching – essentially a thesaurus entry for “awesome” with plot points serving as conjunctions. His one-liners are so timely and immaculate you have to wonder whether he kept one of the precogs from Minority report to have them researched in advance. His few flaws are like in a job interview – engineered to make him appear better. And not just them. At one point, even the camera is set up specifically so that Tom Cruise’s face would be visible when the other character was talking – and in the finale, he’s able to commandeer rain to start falling in order for his kicking the bad guy’s ass to appear even more awesome. (That he will throw his gun aside to go mano-a-mano goes without saying.)
Even before the ending, many times the only purpose of the plot is to put Cruise in a gallery of scenes making him look good: Cruise lecturing a young girl, Cruise appearing arbitrarily shirtless, Cruise proving himself as the best sharpshooter there is, etc. The final scene has to be seen to be believed – the sheer ludicrousness of it all is topped by a helpful voiceover praising the hero in case the previous 130 minutes were not transparent enough. Pass the torch, Jack Bauer; there’s a new good guy in town, and his horse is so much higher yours is starting to look like a LEGO minifig.
Wait. It goes further. The rest of the cast? Cruise’s insecurity stoops so low that no other guy in the movie is allowed to be even remotely handsome. Werner Herzog as the bad guy is so theatrically unthreatening he should be in the dictionary under “domesticated” alongside cats and dogs. Joining them all is Cruise’s wooden, hypnotized female trophy sidekick literally coming from a Bond movie, and what binds them together must be English literature. Or was it AP math? Shit, I forgot. I mean whatever’s technically the opposite of chemistry.
In case this is not interesting enough, the whole movie is curiously atonal. The trailer makes it look like an action movie, but it’s more of an aspiring dark thriller, with some truly creepy moments that come out of nowhere. If you take it all at face value, this will be a shitty movie and I rated it as such. However, as a case study in ego worship it is thoroughly enthralling. The only thing that’s troublesome is that there’s no way to go watch Jack Reacher in the theatre without actually supporting Tom Cruise financially. Then again, maybe he needs it. I imagine all the therapy he is so obviously in need of ain’t gonna be cheap.