Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

Thoughts on “Silent Night”

November 29, 2022

This isn’t a movie that I picked up to start watching to get into the holiday spirit.  No, I actually watched this movie many months ago when I watched “The Fifth Element” and had a rough plan to watch that stack of Sci-Fi movies that I have (and never got around to doing that).  As I’ve wound down watching TV shows, it’s a good time to clear the stacks of things that I want to talk about and so finish off the two Sci-Fi movies that I had watched and never written about in preparation to watch some more Sci-Fi movies and write about them.  Maybe.

As it turns out, I wasn’t really sure how to classify this movie anyway.  The basic premise is that it’s Christmas and a strange storm has been brewing around the world that causes people to be infected with some kind of disease that kills them rather quickly.  It’s just about it hit the U.K., and the citizens have been given suicide pills so that they can kill themselves before it hits and they die horribly.  So they are spending their one last Christmas trying to get in one last gasp of frivolity and togetherness before the end.

Now, this could easily be a horror plot, except that the actual plague isn’t shown much at all (there are a couple of scenes with it).  It could be a straight drama, but the premise seems to be at least slightly futuristic given that it tracks events that might follow from what we’ve been doing to the world but that no one expects to actually happen, at least not that way, right now.  So I think it works better as a science fiction movie.  One thing that is clear, though, is that it’s meant to be a black comedy, with the plague hovering over them and the somewhat goofy events that happen as they try to ignore it for their own last gasp of happiness.

Which makes it a shame, then, that it’s not all that funny.  They did try, however, by contriving all sorts of situations where the preparations for the holiday and for the suicide go wrong in somewhat slapstick ways.  The best part is at the end when one family is preparing to down their pills and the kids are complaining that they were promised a full can of soda apiece and that it’s warm and the father has to run around trying to put all of this together.  But scenes like this are few and far between, which means that for the most part the humour is them sniping at each other which isn’t followed up on or them acting like idiots and dancing around which in a movie like this is more drama than it is comedy.  There’s just not enough humour in the movie for this to work as a great black comedy.

The movie does take the time to add some political commentary, with one girl talking about how this was caused by Russia when it wasn’t and with a couple of other characters talking about how the government didn’t get the pills to illegal immigrants and things like that.  This isn’t actually a bad thing in a movie like this, but what it is supposed to do is get a bunch of people together with radically different political views to spend their time together trying desperately to ignore that in light of the fact that they’re all going to be dead by New Year’s.  But outside of the dinner scene with the comment on the Russians that doesn’t happen, and it seems like we’re supposed to accept that the things they say are correct (except for the Russian thing), which means that it can’t be used as simply a thing they disagree on that they are trying to suppress but instead comes across as more like the writer winking at the audience about the things we obviously all know and agree on, right?

So without the comedy, we have to evaluate the dramatic moments, and the movie flubs that by making the drama nonsensical and yet correct anyway.  The big drama is that the one boy thinks that they could survive the plague, and in the one couple the woman is pregnant and starts to think that maybe she should stay alive to have the baby.  The boy ends up invented and seems to die, which then settles it for everyone and they all decide to take the pill and die, but then the boy wakes up later proving that in theory some people can live through it.  This should be triumphant on his part and cause us to feel that the deaths of everyone else was a tragedy … except that the way the story is structured even with that we know that in-universe the boy got luck and out-of-universe the writers contrived the story to produce that outcome.  As the movie establishes, the storm hit other parts of the world first, such as Africa if I recall correctly, and they would therefore have had lots of time to study it and see if there was any kind of reasonable survival rate, and since they decided to go with the suicide pill option they had to conclude that there wasn’t.  Also, we know that in any kind of plague like this some people will have natural immunity or fight it off so that he manages to survive doesn’t mean that he was right that there’s any reasonable chance of surviving.  And if the pregnant woman had tried to live, perhaps the baby would have lived but she wouldn’t have and then it would die anyway since no one would take care of it.  Even their own political statements work against them here since while they say that the Queen and some others are hiding in a bunker until it passes by the fact that the kills are being given to citizens and not immigrants means that the sort of government that would deny that to immigrants clearly thinks that the better option is to die peacefully from the pills than from the storm, and that they don’t expect anyone to survive the storm since they’d want their citizens to survive and not the immigrants.  And, again, they had lots of time to study its effect in other areas so that they could put this plan into place and decided that the suicide option was the better one.

So the boy surviving isn’t triumphant and isn’t proof that he was right.  He was still wrong but in-universe got lucky and out-of-universe benefited from writer fiat and contrivance.  So the ending is stupid and meaningless, but is trying to seem meaningful and important.  Any work where that happens leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the audience, and yeah, for me one of my main takeaways is that it had a really, really stupid ending.

Given all of that, this isn’t a movie that I want to watch again.  It had its moments, but not enough of them to redeem its ridiculous ending that contradicts its own story.  So, yeah, it goes in the box to possibly sell if I get a chance.

Thoughts on “The Fifth Element”

November 22, 2022

It’s been a while since I said I’d talk about this movie.  About five months, to be exact.  I had lots of other things to talk about and so this fell out of the schedule, but with my catching up with all of my other movies and video games and TV shows it really seems like it’s time to finally talk about it.

The basic plot of this is that an alien race has set up a defense against another alien race in ancient times and then left, leaving behind an order to preserve it.  In the future, the enemy aliens finally arrive and one female alien from the defending race (played by Milla Jovovich) arrives on Earth to activate the device, with the one remaining member of the order seeking her out.  Meanwhile, a former special forces agent (played by Bruce Willis) who now drives a cab ends up getting caught up in all of this when she tries to escape from the government agents that revived her and ends up in his cab, which spawns a long adventure to save the day.

Now, from what I understand this movie wasn’t that well-received when it launched but has become a cult classic to some.  The reason for this, I think, is that this movie doesn’t at all do what you’d expect from this movie.  I don’t mean that it deliberately tries to subvert expectations, because it doesn’t seem like it’s actually trying to subvert expectations.  Or, at least, if it is it’s not setting these things up to be things that we expect and then subverting them.  Instead, it really seems like it just isn’t doing what you’d expect not only from such a movie but also from what the movie itself sets up.   For example, when the alien shows up in Willis’ cab, what we’d expect from such a situation is that he’d join her then and just go along with her on her mission.  However, he ends up making a pass at her which ticks her off, and so he ends up having to leave.  And so you’d think that he’d be convinced by her mission — and his attraction to her — and so push his way back into her mission.  Except he seems content to leave things as is until he is recruited by the government to check this all out, which is the first time that we really understand what his role was with the government, who then arrange for him to win a contest to get onto the exclusive resort that they need to get to to get what they need, at which point the alien and her keeper push their way into his win so that they can all do that together.

You would have expected that the first part where he meets her would have been skipped entirely and he would have met her on the resort and joined her then, or that as noted above that he would meet her in his cab and then use his government influence to get them both there.  Instead, both plots are used as the first one is started, dropped, and then the second plot picks up the slack.  It’s not a problem, per se, but it does come across as a bit convoluted, and again because it goes against what we’d expect given how the plot was structured it can be a bit disconcerting.

More minor and yet amazingly more of a problem is a comment that Willis’ character needs to be careful with the alien because she’s not as strong as she seems.  Given that he was attracted to her and wanted some kind of relationship with her, and that she had up until that point shown incredibly strong physical prowess, this would seem to imply that she is weaker mentally and that his pushing her for the relationship might cause problems or that she’ll need emotional support on this mission, but soon after she gets shot and ends up being physically weak.  That’s the only weakness she shows and what forces him to do the action heavy-lifting in the rest of the movie, and there is no hint of any mental or emotional weakness that belied her physical powers.  It’s more minor because it’s not a main element of the plot and we can easily ignore it, but it’s more of a problem because it sets something up that it either tries to pay off against expectations or else simply drops.

I also found Chris Rock’s character quite annoying.  Well, he’s supposed to be since he’s a bit of comedy relief in the typical Chris Rock style, but that’s not why I found him annoying.  No, I found him annoying because he’s pointlessly annoying.  He doesn’t do anything except let Chris Rock be a motormouth and act annoying in some of the big action scenes.  He’s not a real sidekick.  He’s not someone who was supporting the enemy unwittingly who converts.  He doesn’t do anything of any importance.  He, well, doesn’t do anything.  So he’s just there to hopefully make us laugh a bit, and since he’s doing that in the serious action scenes or in the tense lead up to the big mission he’s actually doing that at the worst possible time.  If he was more prominent in the movie or had less time when he does appear, he would have been better, but the movie focuses too much on him when he arrives on the scene for us to ignore him but then we also can’t ignore that for all the time spent on his character the character, ultimately, plays no important role in the plot at all.  Essentially, he’s a “Please laugh!” character and is only the more annoying because of that.

So, ultimately, what did I think of the movie?  I think that how it doesn’t do what either the genre or what its own plot would have us expect does hurt the plot since it leads to things being more convoluted and we can’t help but think that it would have been easier if it had just stuck to what it had outlined originally or to the standard plot, and Chris Rock’s character’s annoyances can’t be ignored.  Beyond that, it’s a fairly serviceable sci-fi movie with some good moments, but not enough to redeem the rest of it.  I don’t hate it and didn’t hate watching it, but I can’t imagine myself rewatching it on a regular basis, although I can indeed see myself rewatching it at some point, as it’s definitely entertaining enough for me to give it another shot at some point.  So it goes into the box of things to maybe rewatch at some point.  It’s not a bad movie, but has just enough flaws that I would generally rather watch lots of other things than it.

Thoughts on “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

June 28, 2022

This is the last movie in the 5-pack of science fiction movies that I picked up and watched a while back and am now trying to finish writing about so that I can move on to other things.   I’ll comment a bit on the pack itself at the end of this post.

The basic premise here is that after a nearby battle destroyed a planet an interstellar spy named Valerian and his companion/love interest Lauraline are sent to retrieve some stones that are key to a ritual that the natives of that planet have.  They, of course, meet a lot of interference in that mission, but eventually do manage to get it back to their superiors … only to have it stolen again by the aliens, setting off a mission to retrieve them.  Along the way, they discover that their superior was responsible for that disaster and should never have fired when he did, and so have to fight against his robotic soldiers to bring that alien race back to the galaxy.

The sad thing about this movie is that it could have made for an excellent light sci-fi spy romp.  The action is pretty good and it definitely puts a priority on making the action fun and using the plot as an excuse to get into the action.  The only downside to that is that the movie sometimes takes detours into exploring the world of the future when it really should be getting to the action parts.  This isn’t a problem at the beginning of the movie, but towards the end after Lauraline is captured by brutal thug-like aliens the movie detours into sending Valerian to some kind of entertainment broker which involves a lot of talking and discussion and a musical number, all so that he can get his hands on some kind of disguise device — and an alien to use it — for his plan.  For something so minor, it goes on for far too long when he had no idea what they were going to do with Lauraline and when the clock was ticking on the mission.  But while that sequence hurts the ending there, that’s a relatively minor — but noticeable — offense for a space spy romp.

So what, then, really hurts the movie?  The fact that neither of the main characters look like spies in the James Bond mold and yet the movie treats them as if they are supposed to be thought of that way.  Valerian is not at all any kind of suave, debonair, exceptionally sexy spy, and Lauraline — played by model Cara Delevigne — isn’t that sort of sexy spy either.  And that’s okay, because it’s been noted that what you want for a spy are people that are more nondescript and aren’t memorable and don’t stand out, and so if the movie was playing with that it would be interesting.  However, Valerian is noted for having a lot of women on his record, which is the reason that Lauraline doesn’t want to marry him, and the movie constantly has people talk about how beautiful Lauraline is, which she uses to get her way at times.  Except they aren’t attractive enough to pull that off, and so the movie treating them as if they are really takes me out of the movie.  If they had either picked leads that better fit the sexy spy model or else had run with plainer spies subverting the expected tropes the movie would have worked so much better.

As it is, the movie is kinda fun, and so fits into the category of movies that I might want to watch again at some point but won’t rewatch any time soon.  There’s just not enough in the movie to make it interesting to watch again, and it doesn’t quite work as a simple, light, space spy action movie.

So, out of the five movies, I think the best one is Dredd, for whatever that’s worth.  Then probably comes Looper, Valerian, Snowpiercer and Hotel Artemis.  For the most part, what I’d say is that unlike some of the other packs all of these movies have good production values, and yet all of them are sufficiently flawed to get me to not want to rewatch them any time soon.  Thus, the whole pack goes into my box of movies to maybe rewatch at some point in the future.

I step outside of packs for my next sci-fi movie, which is “The Fifth Element”.  Whenever I get around to writing about it, of course.

Thoughts on “Snowpiercer”

June 21, 2022

It’s time to get back to talking about science fiction, so let me try to finish off that five-pack of movies that I started a while ago and then kept getting too busy to write about (I’ve watched all of them at this point).

This time it’s “Snowpiercer”.  The main plot here is that an attempt to correct global warming accidentally causes a huge Ice Age — so bad that people can’t be outside, even bundled up, for more than minutes at a time — and all that’s left of humanity is seemingly in a train that keeps running around and around the world — or maybe just a continent — without ever stopping.  This was the brainchild of an eccentric billionaire who really, really loved trains and it conveniently because humanity’s last hope.  We start at the back of the train with the “poorest” people, who live in cramped quarters and are fed some kind of protein bars by armed guards, and every so often they come and take one of the kids away.  This section has decided to take the train and take an opportunity to free the guy who designed the security for the train, bribing him with some kind of drug to help them get to the front of train, fighting their way through the sections as they do so.

The movie stars Chris Evans, who is the leader of the group and likely their best fighter, who claims to be doing this on the basis of principles but has a guilty secret that drives him on.  So, basically, he’s a darker Captain America, and Evans does about as good a job with this character as he did with good ol’ Cap.  It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie can’t really provide a strong basis for that kind of character.

As they proceed through the sections, the movie stops to show us the lives of the people in the sections, most of which are odd and discordant with our expectations, a fact that is most highlighted with the billionaire’s aide who is downright goofy at times.  So we see a school where they talk about a rather biased view of history and some areas for the wealthy and so on and so forth, but they also have to stop every so often to have a battle with the billionaire’s army of guards to further the revolution plot.  I really think it would have been better if they had simply picked one plot and ran with it.  They could have made a good movie out of them only having automated systems for delivering food and deciding that they wanted to know what was going on, and so deciding to explore the train and coming across various different social groups and even seeming societies that are all separated from each other, getting to the front of the train only to discover that the billionaire is dead and everything is running on automatic, and they can’t even be certain that they need to stay on the train anymore.  Or else they could have gone with the revolution and made everything seriously despotic without the extra goofiness, as the luxury compartments and the billionaire’s compartment worked pretty well to set that sort of thing up.  Instead, the seriousness and fighting clashed with the goofiness of the aide and some of the compartments and meant that we had an inconsistent tone that, at least, dragged me out of the movie a bit.

It doesn’t help that the ending is pretty stupid.  The security specialist and his daughter believe that things are warming up enough to survive outside the train, and so have a plan to blow one of the hatches open and give it a try.  While Evans’ character is talking to the billionaire, they manage to do just that.  This completely derails the train and kills pretty much everyone in the front section, and since it tosses some of the cars off into ravines from what we see there’s a pretty good chance that it’s killed everyone else, too.  So we have the daughter and a young boy who was taken from the rear compartment at the beginning of the movie, and they go outside and survive, and then see a polar bear, and the movie ends there seemingly with an idea that there’s hope.  Putting aside that if things were that cold the polar bears probably would have died off as well, as would most of their prey, this doesn’t seem like a very hopeful ending.  After all, most if not all of the other humans are dead and so we might well only have a young teenage girl and a young boy left, facing a polar bear that is actually likely to see them as potential food and so might simply end up eating them and ending it all entirely.  Even if it’s warm enough for them to not immediately freeze, they’re pretty likely to die in short order, so how is this a hopeful ending?  If you’re going to go with that sort of ending at least have Evans’ character feel the need to stop the train and let everyone out and force them to fend for themselves in this brave old/new world so that there’s enough people left alive to restore civilization instead of leaving only two that we know of who won’t last long.

The discordant tone and dumb ending mean that this isn’t a movie that I’m likely to watch again, despite my liking Evans’ performance.  I really wish it had known what it was trying for and made a more logical plot and ending than we got.

Thoughts on “Looper”

May 4, 2022

When people were discussing “The Last Jedi” and “Knives Out” over at Shamus Young’s blog, they referenced “Looper” and hinted that it was one of the movies that established Rian Johnson’s reputation as someone who liked to subvert genres, as it was a subversion of the time travel genre.  So when I saw that it was included in my 5-pack of science fiction movies I was actually interested in seeing how it worked as a movie.  Now, I wasn’t all that fond of “Knives Out”, but that didn’t mean that this movie, seemingly subverting another genre, wouldn’t work for me.

The basic premise is that time travel has been perfected in the future, but is illegal, and so like most illegal things that means that only the criminals can use it.  So what they do is have an agent recruit people to kill for them, and then send back any troublemakers to the past to be killed and disposed of by these agents, and they pay pretty well for the privilege.  However, eventually those agents themselves become problems and risks, so what they do is give them one last task:  they send their own future selves back and get them to kill them, with an enormous pay-out at the end of it, enough to set them up for the rest of their now pretty-much determined lives.  However, the main character’s future self decides to not go quietly, seemingly because he fell in love at the end of his ordained time, and sets off a desperate plan to kill the person running that organization and so end the entire system.  He manages to escape from himself, and his present self tries to hunt him down but eventually finds out which child will grow into that person, and after falling in love with the mother and seeing echos of himself in the child tries to save the child from his future self.

One minor point to start with:  when the deal is described, the guy notes that doing that work to get set up for a life that will last something like twenty years doesn’t actually reflect forward thinking.  Except that at that scale it actually is reflecting some forward thinking, as it is essentially twenty years of freedom and wealth with the knowledge that that’s as long as they’d have.  That’s not necessarily a bad trade, and it’s essentially the plan Tarquin from “Order of the Stick” has:  use manipulation to live the good life and be in control for a while knowing that the end might not be great but, hey, as he notes, that means that he has a lifetime of comfort and that the last ten minutes might really suck but he’s willing to make that trade.  So from the planning perspective it’s not necessarily a bad idea.  It’s only the moral aspects, then, that should give anyone immediate pause.

The big aspect here, though, is the time travel aspect.  I have read a few comments saying that the time travel aspects don’t make any sense, but for whatever reason that didn’t bother me much.  The plan from the perspective of the criminals is precisely one that shouldn’t involve too much interference in the timeline, as the people they send back are being sent back after they’ve done their deeds and killed soon after, so there isn’t really any problem there other than the problem of people in the past knowing that time travel exists.  Perhaps the timeline changes shouldn’t have happened the way they were portrayed in the movie, but I will say that I don’t think that what he did, up until the end, would have had much impact on the timeline and worked to be dramatic.  The ending, of course, would have a greater impact and this might be the biggest complaint, as if the main character commits suicide to stop his future self then all that that future self did would be undone, which should reset things instead of having them still flee and would mean that the main character should have had no reason to commit suicide, so the ending doesn’t properly take that into account, but I can look past that because of the drama involved.  Yeah, it should have been considered, but in the moment, at least, I didn’t bother to think about it, which does suggest a work that manages to gain the trust of the audience enough that we aren’t thinking about these things.

Now, how is this a subversion of the time travel genre?  To me, it comes about at the ending, where the movie notes that the main character has a scar on his forehead and had his mother die, and due to the attack the child that will grow up to be the head of the criminal organization also has that exact scar.  It could be implied, then, that that child was the main character, which of course makes absolutely no sense since the times wouldn’t align at all.  But I don’t think that was what was being implied there, and I think this is what was meant to be the subversion.  In most time travel stories, the shocking ending is usually that someone does interfere in their own past and create the very conditions they were trying to avoid, or ended up creating themselves in a meaningful way.  So the idea would be that trying to stop the child from becoming the criminal caused it, or as noted that the child was indeed the main character and he was interfering in his own life.  And the direct comment about causing the things you were trying to avoid seems to hint at that.  But what I think it was after was not that this child was him or that they would turn him into the criminal, but instead that as opposed to all of the potential issues with time travel causing things we are ignoring the most common way the past causes the future, which is simply by living it.  I think the implication was that if the main character had let the mother die instead of committing suicide to stop it, then the same sort of past that he had would be the past that that child experienced, and that it is those sorts of events that would lead this child — who had a strange telekinetic power — to use that power for evil instead of good just as the main character did.  So while we would expect that the time traveling itself would ultimately have a major impact, ultimately it’s the actions of people in the here and now of that present that would create or stop the terrible future from happening, and so ultimately the most important connection is not one revealed by time traveling and its impact on causation, but instead perfectly normal causation that is only subtly influenced by the time travel issue.  Of course, someone might feel that the time travel is too important to be dismissed so lightly, but I do think the idea is that the crucial parts of the story weren’t all that tightly tied to the time traveling at all.

Anyway, for this movie I think the performances are good but the plot and science fiction/philosophical aspects are a bit thin.  I wasn’t bored while watching it and it annoyed more less than I expected, but I still didn’t find anything really stood out about it, and so it mostly killed its time mostly inoffensively and then was something that I could move on from.  Thus, it goes into my box of movies that I might watch again at some point but likely will not watch again any time soon.

Thoughts on “Hotel Artemis”

April 12, 2022

I’ve had other things to write about and so haven’t talked about the other movies in that five movie pack that started with “Dredd” for a while, but I had watched more of them (at the time of writing, I only have one left) and so since I don’t have games or other movies to talk about I can move on to the next one, “Hotel Artemis”.  Like, well, most of the movies in this pack it’s set in a dystopian future — I guess that’s the theme of it — where there are nightly riots.  The main character is a doctor who runs a medical clinic for criminals, basically, that they can essentially get a subscription to and so can enter whenever they need to.  Another character who is trying to get out of the business has his latest caper go wrong, and his brother — the only thing keeping him in the business — is shot and badly injured, so he has to go to the clinic to save his brother.  There’s also a paid assassin there for a job even though the clinic is supposed to be neutral ground, and later the guy who owns and pays for the clinic — and who recruited the doctor into this after the tragic death of her son due to drug abuse — has to come in for treatment, escorted by his psychotic son.

This movie, to me, encapsulates what’s wrong with modern movies (and to say why I have to spoil the ending in a bit, so be prepared).  All of these elements have potential, and almost certainly sounded really, really good on paper.  You have the doctor who lost her son and ends up working for a criminal in her despair, but at the end it is revealed that the person she works for sold her son the drugs that killed him, and after it all falls apart she goes into the riots to, presumably, just be a doctor again.  The crime lord is killed by the assassin, and his psychotic son is killed trying to avenge that and attack the clinic.  After the assassination attempt ends up killing his brother, the first criminal is freed from all his obligations and goes off to find and enjoy his freedom.  The assassin ends up having to use her skills to defend lives instead of taking them.  The orderly survives and reopens the clinic so as to maintain the purpose that stopped him from simply being a fighter and killer.  All of these ideas sound really good and have a lot of potential, but the movie stuffs too many of them into one relatively short film, as it clocks in at about an hour and a half.  Thus, there’s not enough time to develop these storylines properly so that we really get the emotional connection that we need to them.  Even in the doctor’s story, we aren’t sure why we are supposed to think that simply selling her son drugs is something that should make the doctor so angry with the crime lord when, well, he’s certainly done much worse to other people.  It almost seems like the idea was that he would have done that to acquire her services, but that isn’t made clear, and more time to develop these things and spell things out would have worked so much better.

Thus, at the end when she walks off into the riots to treat injuries and he drives off into freedom, we don’t have the emotional connection and so don’t feel the emotions that the scene clearly wants us to feel.  We can tell from the structure of the scene what it was trying for, and yet ultimately it seems flat and doesn’t pull off what it was trying for.  I’ve talked a few times in the past about horror movies and other movies aping the conventions and tropes of stories without understanding what they were used for and so seeming to simply having the trappings of proper stories, and that those movies seemed to think that all they had to do was add the trappings and they’d be able to pull off the same sorts of feelings and power that the other works that used them did, ignoring the fact that the reason these trappings work in those movies is because they took the time to develop those plots and then used those scenes as a culmination of what happened in the rest of the movie.  Here and in a lot of modern movies it really seems like they leave out the development and yet still expect things to have the same power.

So, yes, this is a prime example of a flawed modern movie.  It’s too short to properly develop the many plot and character arcs it wants to have, and so ends up referencing these things rather than developing them properly, which means the references fall flat.  And as a flawed modern movie, I don’t have much interest in watching it again.  It is definitely a deeper movie than “Dredd” was, but it doesn’t manage to pull off what it was trying to do, at which point being deeper is a detriment, not a benefit.  I continue to be puzzled at why so many modern writers seem caught up in using tropes but fail to understand how those tropes should be used to enhance a work, which has led me to believe that perhaps they are overeducated, and so know the tropes and have been taught that they are good things to use but haven’t really done simple writing to see what works and what doesn’t and then identified the tropes and their effectiveness from that.  At any rate, tropes are not bad, but tropes are not necessarily good either, and it seems to me that modern film making far too often things “Tropes are good!” at which point their use of tropes becomes bad.

Thoughts on “Dredd”

March 1, 2022

So here I start another pack of science fiction movies, this one a five pack and a pack that seems to contain more recent movies that the ten movie pack that I just talked about.  This movie is a case in point, because while I’m not really any kind of fan of the Judge Dredd universe, I knew that there was a Judge Dredd movie made that starred, if I’m not mistaken, Sylvester Stallone that wasn’t well-received, and so again I was curious to see if I wouldn’t like the movie after.  But then the actor playing Judge Dredd didn’t sound at all like Stallone — to his credit — and so I had to wonder if I was mistaken, and then in looking it up realized that this was indeed a more recent movie, starring Keith Urban instead (which explains the difference in voice) and presumably having a completely different plot.  I wasn’t even aware this movie existed.  Or, as it turns out, I was aware that it existed because I had caught part of the end of it on the Canadian game show channel (GameTV) since they run movies overnight that I can never watch but that I sometimes catch the tail end of because I get up early, but I didn’t realize what that movie was.  At any rate, I didn’t know anything about the movie or about its reception going into watching it.  Would it be any good?

Let me start with the plot.  The movie is set in the dystopian future of the Judge Dredd universe, and the intro notes that despite the efforts of the all-powerful Judges the corruption is getting worse.  We are introduced to Dredd as he takes down some criminals who are using a new drug that slows down the perception of time for the people who use it, and the people who created and are selling that drug use it to punish someone who has betrayed them by giving that person the drug and then tossing them off a really high building, so that the fall seems to last forever.  At the same time, Dredd is being assigned to evaluate a potential Judge, who just barely flunked out of Judge training but has psychic powers that his superior is anxious to see utilized in support of their cause, much to Dredd’s skepticism.  He lets her choose the case they pursue, and she chooses the strange murder.  Once they get inside, they bust one of the dens selling the drug and capture one of the main figures behind the drug ring, which spurs the sadistic woman leader of the ring to lock down the huge tower in an attempt to kill everyone involved before the Judges find out that this tower is the main and only source for that drug.  Thus, Dredd and the recruit must fight their way through the building to try to get help, survive, and dispense justice.

I will give this movie credit for doing something that most movies these days don’t manage to do:  it knows what kind of movie it wants to be and builds the plot accordingly.  The plot is little more than a framing device for often brutal action and a little bit of an examination of the brutality of the world and the Judges themselves, and as such it works and is even entertaining, if you like that sort of movie.  The setting does play an integral role in the plot and atmosphere, and it has sensible technological gadgets that serve the plot but don’t overwhelm it (different types of ammo in the guns and an … interesting mechanism to ensure that they aren’t used by opponents).  Urban’s Dredd is credibly taciturn and yet we can believe him at the end when he marks his recruit as a pass despite her having made a mistake that’s an automatic fail (losing her sidearm) and the recruit is sympathetic enough that we want to root for her.  The main villain is overly sadistic, but that works in a movie like this (although using massive machine guns to try to kill them is an over-the-top attack that should have killed them and it was only extreme luck that it didn’t, which hurts the image of Dredd and the Judges).

There are some problems.  The first one is that while the movie isn’t bad there are sections of it that are pretty boring, which are the scenes where Dredd and the recruit are walking through the building facing the hordes of enemies.  In theory, these should be the most tense scenes, so it’s a little puzzling how boring they are.  The reason, I think, is that the movie doesn’t do what most movies would do in this situation, which is give them a goal to be working towards in all of these cases.  Here, the movie gives them a purpose at the beginning — get to the med centre — but then when they can’t get in they seem to be stumbling around with no real goal other than to survive.  Movies that work better would move them from there to heading towards some kind of back-up communicator or armoury or something, culminating in them having to take the fight directly to the villain herself.  Here, they get through on their communicators to the other Judges after the villain shoots the wall open and so they can stand outside for a while, and then Dredd only goes after the main villain because after a betrayal they end up capturing the recruit, and only after she escapes and saves Dredd’s life.  The villain’s ending is appropriate — she inhales her own drugs and is tossed off the building in the same way as she killed the other person — but it seems like it’s just there to wrap up the movie rather than as something the whole movie was building up to.

The other big problem is the presence of corrupt Judges.  The movie sets up the Judges as, well, being the law, and so the idea that Judges would be corrupt should be — and I think is in-universe — something completely shocking.  But here we not only can see it coming, it also seems a bit anti-climactic.  The corrupt Judges are nothing more than really tough enemies and not an indication of the ultimate betrayal of the Judges that they should be.  I think it would have been better to save that for a sequel when Judges turning corrupt could be a more major part of the plot.

But as far as I know there wasn’t a sequel.  Still, I didn’t mind this movie.  I don’t think I’m going to get a hankering to rewatch it any time soon, but it’s definitely a movie that I could watch again at some point, and it’s better than a number of science fiction movies that I’ve watched, despite being no where near as ambitious.  There is clearly something to be said for knowing what your universe is built around and what you want to do with it and just executing it the best you can.

Thoughts on “Waterworld”

February 22, 2022

So this is it, the last movie in that 10 movie pack of science fiction movies.  And as I’ve been hinting at for the last couple of posts, this is a movie that I was actually looking forward to watching because I really, really wanted to see if it was as bad as people said it was.  Maybe it wasn’t that bad, and it was just some sort of disappointment that made people dislike it so strongly.  Maybe it was bad as a major blockbuster movie but could be entertaining as something with lesser ambitions.

It actually really is that bad.

And a big part of the problem is indeed that it’s trying to be a blockbuster movie.  It seems obvious that it’s trying to be Mad Max except all on water instead of on land.  That means that they need to have boat equivalents of the vehicles that we saw in Mad Max, which means that they are using Jet Skis and hopped up boats.  But the vehicles in Mad Max looked cobbled together — they’re kinda dune buggies — and while they can make credible boats that look that way — especially the main character’s boat — the Jet Skis look far too advanced to make that work.  And so we start to wonder what the state of the world is and the state of resources are and all of that, and that isn’t what we are supposed to be thinking about.  So it ruins the action scenes when we look at the Jet Skis and wonder what they are doing there.

We could look past this if this was more of a B-movie, as we could put it aside as part of the overall goofiness of that sort of movie.  But Costner, in particular, really seems to take all of this very, very seriously.  The movie starts with a scene that looks goofy — Costner peeing into a jug to recycle his water use — but is actually really, really serious as it is trying to establish the lack of water in this world.  Although if you can recycle urine you can probably use the same technique to separate the salt from the salt water, and the only reason you can’t drink sea water is because of the salt.  Moreover, I do think that you’d still get a lot of rain — evaporation surely keeps on happening — and I do believe that evaporated sea water isn’t salt water (the salt gets left behind) and so they should still get pretty frequent rains and so should be able to hoard water in that way.  At any rate, this is the same problem as we had above with the Jet Skis, only even worse, as the movie is here trying to make us think about things and yet when we do things don’t make sense.

The sad thing is that while Costner and his character take things very seriously — he takes on a woman and a young child mostly unwillingly but then threatens to kill the child as part of a hard choice, and also for ticking him off — the main villain is, well, an incredibly large ham.  And while that entire gang makes no sense, and the reveal that they were living in a supertanker — which is why they had oil for machines, I guess — is eyerolling, he’s also a lot of fun when he isn’t running up against the serious presentation of the movie (getting badly injured in the first confrontation, for example).  If the entire movie had taken on that tone, it would have been fun and we could have turned our brains off and simply enjoyed it, but that isn’t what they did.

And they don’t even pay off many of their themes.  For example, Costner’s character is some kind of mutant, with webbed feet and gills, and the people he encounters know what sort of people that is and are scared of them and scared of them taking over.  We never meet any other member of his people and have no idea if any of them exist, which means that we have no explanation for how he ended up the way he did, and so no idea what it really means.  There is a dramatic reveal that all of the cities are on the bottom of the ocean, but I think from the beginning of the movie I was pretty sure that’s what was happening, so it’s not that surprising to the audience and this isn’t paid off in the movie.  The big goal is to find some kind of land and the child has a tattoo that’s a map to it, somehow, and she has memories from being there, with some kind of tune, but when they eventually find it it seems like everyone there had been dead for a long time, but there’s a music box that plays the tune, and it seems like the only people there were her parents, and so we have no explanation for how she ended up so far away from that place or why the tattoo was given her or, well, anything about her story.  There’s also a build up with him softening towards the two of them, but at the end he heads out again and leaves them there for … some reason, as it isn’t even really implied that he’s going to bring at least the group of survivors that they were a part of there, or bring the non-gang survivors there, or anything else.  He leaves because he’s supposed to leave because that’s the character archetype he’s playing and he’ll be damned if he’s not going to leave at the end.

Yeah, the movie really is that bad.  It doesn’t really know what it wants to be and can’t pull off the serious tone that it’s trying for.  If it had accepted the goofiness and leaned into that, it could have worked, but it’s far too serious to work as a goofy B-movie and not goofy enough to be fun enough to turn our brains off and just enjoy it.  I can’t imagine that I’ll watch this movie again.  However, it will get to go into my closet of movies to rewatch on a regular basis because there are other movies here that fit that bill, so I might as well just chuck it in there and maybe find something to watch at some point.

Thoughts on “Seventh Son”

February 15, 2022

I’ve talked about a 10 film pack of science fiction movies that I’ve been watching and going through for a while now, but as it turns out I only watched and am only going to talk about nine of them, because the one in the pack after “Repo Men” is actually “Serenity”, which I have already watched and talked about.  So, obviously, I’m going to skip over that one and talk about “Seventh Son”.

As a movie, this one is mostly inoffensive but also unmemorable.  The basic premise is that a powerful evil witch who was imprisoned for a long time gains power due to a special event with the moon and escapes.  The man who imprisoned her — now an old man — has to try to stop her and after his latest apprentice is killed by her recruits the seventh son of a seventh son to try to stop her.  Another witch is there to spy on them but falls in love with the seventh son and has divided loyalties.  There are a number of adventures that they get up to during the movie, including attempting to find some sort of talisman that would be required to deal with the with permanently.  A big battle ensures that the talisman is present at, and in the end the heroes win and the witch is killed, and her cult is destroyed and broken.

The big flaw in this movie is that it hints at things that are important but never really establishes why they are important or what they actually.  Why is the seventh son of a seventh son so powerful or important?  We never find out.  The talisman is there at the final battle but as far as I could tell didn’t do anything all that important in the final battle.  So with this and with the adventures it really seems like things happen just for the sake of happening without the proper build-up.  For example, at one point the mother of the seventh son is revealed to be a witch herself and faces off with the evil witch … by appearing in a city that the evil witch attacked despite the fact that as far as I could tell the family lived out in the country, and there is no reason or explanation for why she was there other than to reveal that she was a witch and be killed.  So things happen for artificial drama that, unfortunately, come across as artificial drama.

The man who imprisoned her is also a very unpleasant man, so much so that I didn’t care about him at all and didn’t want to see him survive.  Well, okay, for the most part I wanted the movie to really explain what made him that way and redeem him, but he’s still as much of a jerk at the end as during the movie, which makes him ultimately uninteresting.  The ending is also a bit puzzling because the seventh son takes over the other man’s task of fighting evil, but his witch love leaves him before that because his task will mean that they can’t be together, but that was before he knew that he was taking over the role of fighting evil and she had been instrumental in fighting evil a number of times in the movie (and not just in the final battle with the witches), so there didn’t seem to be a reason for them to be separated, which hurts the ending since the two of them were actually sympathetic characters and wanting them to be happy and together is something that the audience is naturally going to want to see.  Splitting them up just seems so completely unnecessary that it’s quite disappointing.

Overall, this is a pretty standard, boilerplate fantasy movie that doesn’t really explain what is going on but also doesn’t seem to be worried about that too much.  It’s only the seventh son and talisman thing that really bothered me, other than the mother showing up for some unexplained reason.  The most memorable thing about the movie, though, is Julianne Moore seemingly having a wonderful time chewing the scenery as the evil witch.  Ultimately, though, that’s not enough to make this a clear rewatch, as the movie isn’t that entertaining in its corniness.  Still, I could probably watch it again at some point.

The last movie in the pack is “Waterworld”.  Before sitting down to watch it, I was really curious to see if I would find it as bad as everyone else said it was.  The next time I write about science fiction, you’ll find out.

Thoughts on “Repo Men”

January 26, 2022

I actually finished that ten pack of science fiction movies I had a while go — it ends with “Waterworld”, to give a preview of things to come — but obviously had other things to write about and so couldn’t fit talking about them into my schedule.  But I don’t have Persona 5 Royal or an MMO to talk about this week, so I’m going to talk about the next one in the pack, which is “Repo Men”.

The basic premise here is that in some indeterminate future there will be an industry built up around providing artificial organs to people — it isn’t clear at the outset that these are not donated organs but it is revealed later that for the most part, at least, they are artificial — at enormous prices.  When some people can’t afford to pay, the company sends the Repo Men to repossess the artificial organs, which of course ends up killing the patients most of the time.  The main character is one of these Repo Men, whose wife wants him to get out of the business and into something more ethical, like selling the things to people, while his partner wants him to stay.  After an accident puts the main character in the same position as the people whose organs he has been harvesting, he has to flee for his life while his own partner is trying to bring him — or his organs — back.

I’m going to talk in a lot of detail about the premise and about the twist, so if you don’t want to be spoiled you should probably stop reading now.