Monday, January 16, 2012

Gattaca (1997)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (7.8).

Set in "the not-too-distant future", this film is sermon about designer babies, eugenic discrimination, and effort versus genetic determinism. The main storyline is decent enough, and the film occasionally makes some good points, but the film is as subtle as a brick. It also goes way over quota on pretentiousness: it shows a society of impossibly pretty people who never emote, who are seemingly trapped in a world of late-30s retro-noir while wearing impeccable suits at all hours of the day, even if they are astronauts currently being launched into space. It's also hurt by the lack of attention to scientific detail: sure, we know much more now than we did in 1997, but we definitely knew then that upbringing and lifestyle had huge effects on, say, the odds of developing heart disease. Worst of all, the movie left untouched the most significant controversy of all: when designer babies become possible, only the rich will be able to afford such screening. In the world of the film, one's genes determine one's socioeconomic status, but in the real world cause and effect would thus be reversed, leading to much more controversial questions that are barely hinted at in Gattaca. Overall, it's good, but it could have been so much more. Score: 2 stars out of 4.

Aside: Hello-o-o fanservice! Ethan Hawke would not be my first choice in normal circumstances, but he's looking quite nice here and the camera is not shy about showing it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Runaway (1984)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (5.7).

When I want people to quake in fear before me, threatening to force them to watch this movie is one of the most surefire ways to do it. You have the "meh" protagonist acted by Tom Selleck, you have a mediocre villain portrayal from Gene Simmons of KISS fame (without makeup, i.e. mentally scarring us with his hideous visage), and you have Michael Crichton as writer and director of this film about Roomba-like household robots that suddenly start killing people. While this is a more competently filmed movie than, say, Zardoz, at least I enjoyed Zardoz for being the gloriously 70s camptastic mess that it is. This film feels like the sort of phoned-in drek that Cinemax might commission so they'd have something to run in the 3PM-on-a-Sunday-afternoon slot. All that said... it's not gouge-out-your-eyes bad: as much as I hate complimenting Michael Crichton (I am NOT a fan), there's some intelligent writing here, and the film makes a pretty reasonable attempt at sketching a plausible future. Score: 1 star out of 4 (BARELY).

Labyrinth (1986)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (7.3).
There is a time in every child's life when they start to suspect that there might be some physical differences between males and females, but young female viewers of the cult classic Labyrinth got more than affirmation: they got David Bowie.
Nostalgia Chick
As yet another 80s kid-oriented epic fantasy film from Jim Henson and crew, this film is something of a spiritual successor to The Dark Crystal. While similar in many ways, this film visibly attempts to correct for the earlier film's perceived flaws, especially that the predecessor was darker in tone than originally intended. The result is a campy fun fantasy film with an edge of Alice in Wonderland-esque playful humor. Though less epic in scope — no genocides or global conquests to be found here — the film is much more fleshed out than Crystal and feels much more like a solid world. The movie also benefits because the target audience is a few years older than that of Crystal: this film is very much a coming-of-age movie targeted at preteens, which lends itself to more nuanced storytelling. There are a few "comedic" scenes that drag... A LOT... but the rest of the movie has its definite charms. Score: 3 stars out of 4.

P.S.: David Bowie IS the Goblin King.

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (7.0).

This entry from Jim Henson's crew basically kicked off the aforementioned trend of 80s kid-oriented epic fantasy films. The film is done entirely in puppets, causing some uncanny valley problems, and has a pervasively dark tone, probably not what you were expecting from the creator of the Muppets. I feel that the world and backstory is poorly developed: too vague in most places and too orderly and cookie-cutter in the places where it's not vague. In short, the story writing is appropriate for very small children, which hurts the film's attempts at having an epic scope. I wish I could like the film more, but the final result just isn't interesting enough. Score: 2 stars out of 4.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Neverending Story (1984)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (7.4).
“It's only a story! It's not real.” — Bastian
The 80's were a surprisingly rich source of kid-oriented epic fantasy films, and despite the stiff competition this film may well have been the best of them. At first glance, the film almost seems like a pro-library PSA, but it also has a surprisingly rich texture and depth to it. It's also surprisingly postmodern, and for once I don't mean that in the "sarcastically self-aware characters" sense: it's basically German existentialism meets House of Leaves... for kids! I'm not a fan of how the film left out the themes from the second half of the book, but there was probably no way to do it given that the film already runs 100 minutes, and that's after clearly omitting some important characterization. I guess I'm just bitter about the sequel, and how badly it botched the material. Anyway, this film is totally worth watching. Score: 4 stars out of 4 (possibly influenced by the awesome that is the theme song).

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Links: Wikipedia, IMDB (6.8).

Rare Exports is a film adaptation of two earlier shorts: Rare Exports, Inc. and Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions. (Warning: don't watch the shorts yet. You should see the film first... and possibly read up on the Krampus.) Unlike the shorts, the film itself is a Christmas-themed horror comedy. I thought the film did a great job in the beginning, taking its premise completely seriously, but the middle botches things by failing to do anything with the tension established earlier. Suddenly, however, the end of the film takes a swing toward the lighthearted/tongue-in-cheek and ends on a solidly entertaining note. (Aside: this is the least gory horror-comedy I've ever seen. Perhaps unrelated: Finland is nearly antipodal to New Zealand.) Score: 4 stars out of 4.