Saturday, April 23, 2011

Science Fiction #9 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a Don Siegel science fiction movie of the classical vein. Black-and-white, relatively low-budget, good concepts and mediocre acting. It's not quite a B-Movie, but it's just on the edge of it. The whole thing has Film Noir/Hard Boiled Detective-style narration behind it, from the main character, that comes off as wonderfully melodramatic. It's really the best kind of science fiction. Genuinely good, but cheesy all the same.

Now, in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the human race is slowly being replaced with identical, emotionless versions of themselves which grow in giant pods and replace them while they sleep. It's supposed to be a metaphor for Communism, apparently. In the 50's, everything was a metaphor for Communism. It's actually really creepy, and the pods look disgusting. The whole movie is actually a lot like a giant Twilight Zone episode, but unfortunately without Rod Serling or memorable music. Shame. Despite it's shortcomings,

Namely, a lack of Rod Serling,

it's a good story, even though it stops making sense at the end, and not in a twist ending way.

This whole movie is peppered with the campiest dialogue. Every single line is delivered totally strait-faced serious, and it is so cheesy. Entertainingly so, I'll admit, but cheesy all the same. Which brings up an important issue. I think it is time to introduce: The Ashley Wilkes Speech. Ashley Wilkes is a character in Gone With the Wind, and he is prone to delivering this type of speech. An Ashley Wilkes Speech is a speech that's technically related to the current subject, but refers to it in a much more abstract and philosophical way than is at all necessary. An Ashely Wilkes Speech may be deep, but it's not at all practical, and usually delivered at a totally inappropriate time.

"I don't know what we'll do about taxes, Scarlett, but let's take this time to reflect upon our inner character and disintegrating society." Thanks, Ashley.

Our main character here, Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy, by the way), is quite liable to Ashely Wilkes Speeches. Look at his philosophical musings latter in the film, while they're hiding in a cave:

"In my practice [He's a doctor], I've seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn't seem to mind... All of us - a little bit - we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is to us, how dear."

Well, I guess that's true, but it's not really at all helpful...

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a great movie from the classic era of science fiction movies. Cheesy, but totally good, and possessing of a really good concept. Not Rod Serling, though. Not Rod Serling.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Science Fiction #10 - Back to the Future (1985)

Back to the Future, in case you don't know, is a 1985 Robert Zemeckis comedy/drama/science fiction thing about time travel. Marty McFly, a trendy 80's teenager played by Michael J. Fox, is friends with Doc Brown, Christopher Lloyd, a mad scientist who's invented time travel, for fun I guess. So Marty ends up traveling back in time to the 50's and accidentally stops his parents from meeting. What follows is a quite epic time travel comedy filled with many a temporal time paradox. It's a cult classic and has two sequels that only make sense if you watch them all together.

I love Back to the Future. It's probably one of my favorite movies. It's loads of fun, it has the 80's and the 50's, and a wacky scientist, and a hip 80's protagonist, and the best time machine ever.

H. G. Wells has nothing on this.

Honestly, though, I'm kind of surprised that Back to the Future actually ended up on this list. It's a good movie, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't seem like the kind of movie that the people at the American Film Institute would be into. But hey, it's a classic, and probably the only reason I know what a Delorean is.

And to this very day, I ask people if they're sailors when they wear vests like this

This time machine is impressively user-friendly, as far as time machines go. It basically consists of a lever and a panel of numbers. And car parts, obviously. This is very simplistic for a time machine. I mean, look at the TARDIS. It has an entire room full of time travel equipment.

Compared to the Delorean, which is less complicated than my phone, this seems very involved. If he can invent a time machine more simplistic than the ones that aliens build, Doc must really be a genius. Mind you, the Delorean really seems to be a very temperamental car, so I suppose it all evens out.

What's really great about Back to the Future is how fantastically 80's it is. It was cool and current at the time, but now it's hilariously retro and outdated (in a good way), just like the 50's sequences were supposed to be. There's even an aerobics class in the second scene, for goodness sake. Time marches on, I suppose.

This is just such an awesome movie. I absolutely love it. Everyone loves Back to the Future. It's crazy awesome. This is without a doubt the best time travel-themed movie ever. And it has a really great score - the director specifically asked the composer for something big and dramatic because he didn't think the finale could stand up on its own. I think that it makes the movie at least 60% more awesome. In conclusion, Back to the Future is a surprising but totally appropriate choice for the number ten American science fiction movie ever.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Genre #2 - Science Fiction

The American Film Institute defines "science fiction" as "a genre that marries a scientific or technological premise with imaginative speculation." Usually it's used for social commentary - You don't very often find science fiction that isn't trying to teach modern society something.

Science fiction, for me, includes well-done special-effects, innovative ideas, and a good story. Perhaps a new world for a setting. Maybe throw in some time travel, or characters who are machines, or some whimsical aliens. I can always get behind whimsy. Really good science fiction, of course, makes little to no sense. Science fiction is exciting. It takes you to new worlds, and the future, and it's lots of fun, and if it's not done well, it's wonderfully cheesy.

I'm so excited.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Epics - A Debriefing

It's time for a little Post-Genre Post. What do I ultimately feel about the movies I've watched? Certainly, they were all good, and certainly they were all long, but there's more to it than that. What do I feel about each movie, and do I agree with The American Film Institute?

My Interpretation:

#10 - The Ten Commandments: A good movie, but not really spectacular. It's epic-ness comes off as rather forced, through crowds and green screens and dramatic delivery, and none of the other movies have that problem. Most of the other movies are epic more easily.

#9 - Reds: Long and boring, but probably technically a good movie. The most interesting part of it was Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neill, and how incredibly creepy he was.

#8 - Saving Private Ryan: Very good movie. It's very chaotic, and ends really suddenly, which is kind of jarring. The opening scene is the most powerful depiction of war I've ever seen, not that I've seen that many. It I was The American Film Institute, I would have put this movie ahead of both All Quiet on the Western Front and Titanic.

#7 - All Quiet on the Western Front: Very old, and doesn't really stand the test of time. It has a very good story, but terrible imagery, camera work, and other cinematography things.

#6 - Titanic: Good cinematography, terrible story.

#5 - Spartacus: Spartacus is pretty boss. Fun movie, totally awesome, much like The Ten Commandments, but better and with gladiators and Kirk Douglas.

#4 - Gone With the Wind: Who doesn't love Gone With the Wind? When I think classic movies, I think Gone With the Wind. I love this movie, and can't wait to watch it again when it comes up in Romances.

#3 - Schindler's List: Terrific movie, very impactful, and probably the saddest thing ever. You'll be a mess after you watch it, trust me.

#2 - Ben-Hur: The epic of all epics, Ben-Hur's a fun movie. It still comes off as slightly over-dramatic (I blame Charlton Heston for this), but it really is a good movie, and also has chariots. I don't think it's a better movie than Schindler's List, but I do think it's a better epic, and deserves its spot.

#1 - Lawrence of Arabia: The best epic I've ever seen, and one of the best movies I've ever seen as well. Well-acted, great story, great music, great visuals, great characters and lots of camels. If you're going to watch any movie on this list, make it Lawrence of Arabia.
Coming up next: Science Fiction, Oooooh.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Epic #1 - Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia is a classic David Lean epic, and a winner of eight Oscars, based on the memoirs of T. E. Lawrence. T. E. Lawrence (That's Thomas Edward, by the way,) was a British military officer who lead the Arab revolt against the Turks during World War I. He was well-educated, flamboyant, clever and theatrical ("The most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum & Bailey,") and egotistical. Basically, he’s awesome. He knows it, too. He is absolutely certain that he’s amazing, and because he’s so convinced that he’ll succeed at everything he does, he can do just about anything. He’s successful merely because he’s certain that he’ll succeed. In fact, when he does eventually have a major failure later in the movie, he starts to lose his grip on things a bit. He’s darn good at his job before that, though, and looks pretty much awesome in his white robes.


I don’t find this movie boring, but I can understand why people do. There certainly is a whole lot of desert in it. Some people say there’s too much desert, but I say pshaw! There’s no such thing as too much desert! It’s well-filmed desert. Some of the best desert you’ll ever be seeing.

The word “sweeping” comes to mind.

All the visuals in this movie are stunning. Between the sweeping deserts and the huge crowds of people on camels, you have the cities in Arabia, and huge boats, and the shadows. The use of shadows in this movie is really good. When a scene mostly takes place in the desert, it would be hard not to see the shadows at all, but the movie really puts the shadows to good use. You watch the shadows almost as much as you watch the actual people. Not to mention Lawrence’s magnificent white Arabic robes.

That’s awesome right there.

The first half of this movie is probably better than the second half, just because the first half is on such a bigger scale. The first half has huge shots of desert and scenery, and generally seems more epic than the second half, which appears to my untrained eye to be filmed more conventionally. The first half is about Lawrence's rise to this giant heroic figure, and how he's leading the Arab revolt to triumph. Everyone marvels at him, everyone admires him. He's different - he says so himself. He can do anything. He accomplishes things that others have declared can't be done because Allah has willed it to be so. He goes against God and succeeds. He's built up to be this great epic power, and he leads the Arabs to levels of success that they hadn't been reaching before (mostly because of lack of organization, really). Nobody else had thought of them enough to really help out at all, because the English were just viewing them as a sort of side-project, but Lawrence saw a chance for them (and himself) to be great.

The second half is where everything falls apart, both Lawrence's reputation and the revolt. In the end, the revolt goes against the British, instead of with the British, and eventually fails. Lawrence is sent home by General Allenby of England and Prince Feisal of Arabia, because despite his exalted reputation, he's just a pawn in the hands of these political leaders, and now he is no longer useful. The movie ends, very suddenly and without any fuss or even a good image, with Lawrence riding in a little army car in the vague direction of England. It's very understated compared to the rest of the movie, and after all the grandeur that's come before it, seems really anticlimactic, which I think is the point. After all that, Lawrence is just sent home to ride motorcycles. Not a god, not a hero, not different, but just another insignificant soldier.

This is definitely the most complex movie I’ve watched so far. The story itself is relatively simple, but you’ve got all kinds of crazy themes floating around in this movie. Lawrence is culturally conflicted between Arabia and Britain – He wants to be a part of the Arab culture, but he’s really not Arabic, he’s British, and he hates that. I don’t really blame him there – it sucks to be British in Lawrence of Arabia world, where they’re trying to defeat the Turks so they can split the Arabian Peninsula with the French, while telling the Arabs that they can help if they want to. There's Lawrence's status as some kind of god among men, and his eventual fall from this status, and the motifs about legacy, racism, heroism, the magnificence of the desert, culture, politics, and the place we call home. Every single event in this movie symbolizes something else, and honestly, I've watched it twice and I still don't think I quite understand it. There's this huge section in the middle where Lawrence goes through this bloody-thirsty streak that I don't understand at all, for example. This movie will take further study. My effort to interpret this movie is in fact responsible for the large delay between watching this movie and writing about it - a good three weeks. Very complex movie. And they blow up trains. That's art, that is.

This movie is wonderfully acted - there wasn't anyone in it who wasn't fabtastic. Omar Sharif, who plays Sheriff Ali, the buddy of Lawrence, not only has an awesome name, but also has a well-deserved Oscar nomination for this movie, and Arthur Kennedy is the notably awesome reporter Jackson Bentley, which is not easy, because as we all know, all reporters are awesome. Alec Guinness plays the magnificent political figure of Prince Feisal, and also Obi-Wan Kenobi, I am not even kidding, and earned a knighthood somewhere along the way. Even the extras were good. Peter O'Toole, however, is really good in this movie (I assume he's good in other movies, too, but I've never seen him anything else.), and also looks surprisingly like the actual T. E. Lawrence.

T. E. Lawrence is on the right. Peter O'Toole's usually in color, though, which is good, because if nothing else, Peter O'Toole at least has the bluest eyes I have ever seen.

My main impression of this movie, however is as follows: People riding camels. I'm pretty sure that by the end of this movie I had mastered the art of camel riding, just by observation. They ride a whole lot of a camels in this movie. And when they're not riding camels, they're carrying around their camel-driving sticks, and occasionally hitting people with them, when necessary. Camels seem to be an integral part of the entire movie, which is cool because camels are awesome, but I was not expecting before I started watching.

Looking back on the movie, though, my main impression wasn't actually camels. What really stuck with me was how good the music was. This is one of the best movie scores I've ever heard (Conducted by Sir Ardian Boult, by the way). The score is pretty famous, actually, which does not surprise me because it's fantastic, and is rated #3 on the American Film Institutes' list of best film scores. In fact, they rank this entire movie as the fifth best American movie ever. And you know, I totally agree with them. This is a fantastic movie, that does exactly what movies are supposed to do. It brings together it's visuals and its music and its acting and it tells this huge, meaningful story through them. It's a visual experience, and an audio experience, and it uses words and people, and it just all comes together beautifully. And Lawrence of Arabia makes the desert, of all places, seem appealing, which is quite a feat. I mean, the desert.

I am, by the way, very sorry about those two pictures up there in that bizarre crooked table. Have you ever tried to format in Blogger? It's hard.