Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mystery #10 - The Usual Suspects (1995)

The Usual Suspects is a Bryan Singer movie about five thieves and con men who are all brought together into a lineup, and then start planning big crimes together. Most of the movie is Kevin Spacey's character, Verbal Kint, who is one of the criminals, telling the story of the crime that the police are actually investigating. Some sort of large boat has been stolen from and blown up by them, and Special Agent David Kujan is pretty sure he knows what happened, and wants Kevin Spacey to admit it. There's also some sort of criminal mastermind phantom guy called Keyser Soze, who's behind the five criminals committing the crime in the first place. It's a really cool movie - very nineties, though, so it kind of felt like I was watching it on TV, even though I wasn't.

The Usual Suspects is really famous for having a crazy twist ending. And it does. It's very Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The thing is, though, I knew that there was a twist ending when I started watching it. Because I was expecting it, it was really easy to figure out what the twist was, and I did about halfway through. All you have to do is think of the most shocking possible ending. The movie is also spoiled for you if you speak Turkish, but that's beside the point. If I went into this movie not expecting the ending though, I would have been really surprised. Even though I knew what the ending was going to be, it was still really cool when they revealed it. The way they did it was just awesome. The best part of this movie is easily the end, surprising or not. The rest of the movie is fine, but the end is great.

Besides the end though, he rest of the movie was good, but not as impressive. Which brings me to an important issue. Should I reveal the endings of the mysteries? I mean, a mystery is no good if you already know the ending. If people want to go and watch these movies, they'll be ruined for them. You can see my dilemma. I'll have to consider it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Genre #3 - Mystery

The American Film Institute defines "mystery" as "a genre that revolves around the solution of a crime." I'd never thought of mystery as specific to crime, but now that I really think about it, I can't think of anything that I would consider mystery that doesn't have crime in it. A couple of Sherlock Holmes stories, I guess, but that's about it. Sherlock Holmes never appears on the list, though - they're not really good movies, to be honest. There is, hoverer, no less than four Hitchcock movies, some film noir, and a hard boiled detective movie (In fact, the hard-boiled detective movie.)

I'm actually very excited about the mysteries - I haven't seen any of them, and I haven't even heard of half of them (The half that aren't Hitchcock movies). This means that I don't know the endings of any of them, so hopefully I'll be surprised by all of them. After all, the best part of a mystery is the ending.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Science Fiction - A Debriefing

*The American Film Institutes's Top Ten American Science Fiction Movies*

My Interpretation

#10 - Back to the Future: This movie is just fun. I really enjoy watching it. Back to the Future is a classic, and even though it's not really traditionally artsy, I'm glad that it got onto the list. We can always use a good time travel story.

#9 - Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Even though it has campy dialogue and the ending doesn't really make any sense, this movie still has a really cool, really memorable concept that really freaks people out, and is really enjoyable to watch.

#8 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day: I liked this movie more than I expected - I'm not usually a fan of action, and this is definitely an action movie. It's a really good action movie though, and has terrific, groundbreaking special effects, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is awesome.

#7 - Alien: Alien was not as scary as I thought it would be, which was disappointing, but I can see how it scares people. Alien really lets all of the tension build up, and it does it well, and I bet it's terrifying if you don't go into it knowing what to expect.

#6 - Blade Runner: Blade Runner was probably my favorite new movie I saw on the list. It looks amazing, Harrison Ford is in it, the storyline is good, it looks really, really cool. I just really enjoyed this movie, and want to watch it again.

#5 - The Day the Earth Stood Still: A classic 50's science fiction movie and really fun, but I don't actually think it's a better movie than Alien or Blade Runner. Or Terminator 2, for that matter. It hasn't really aged well and its message is delivered pretty heavy-handedly, and doesn't actually make sense when you think about it - Keep peace or die? Still enjoyable to watch, though, and probably really needed in 1951.

#4 - A Clockwork Orange: I still haven't figured out if I like this movie or not. Is it too weird? Just weird enough? I do know that it uses music very effectively and gets its message across well, and definitely sticks with you.

#3 - E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial: I know that it's heartwarming and adorable, but I just think that E.T. is boring, and that Elliot is annoying. It's definitely a family classic though, so make of that what you will.

#2 - Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope: Star Wars is just such an iconic part of culture, and everyone knows what it is. It's a good movie and is really fun to watch and is an important part of American film. Everyone is familiar with Star Wars.

#1 - 2001: A Space Odyssey: I wish that I could buy a version of this movie that only had the part with HAL in it, but since I can't, I'll just have to never watch it again for as long as I live. It's a very good and very artsy movie, yes, but it's also confusing and mind-numbingly boring. Just slow-movie machinery after slow-moving machinery. Still not as boring as Reds, though.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Science Fiction #1 - 2001: A Space Odessey (1968)

Oh how I hate this movie. Well, that's not true. Hate is a strong word. There are lots of parts of this movie that I do like - I'm personally a fan of HAL 9000 - but there are also lots of parts of this movie that I'm...less than fond of. I'm sure it's technically a good movie, but that does not make it anymore mind-numbingly boring or intentionally incomprehensible. You're not supposed to understand this movie. Arthur C. Clark once said that if anyone completely understood the movie, the filmmakers hadn't done their job right. Apparently, some people enjoy that sort of thing. I do not understand this. Some people will tell you that the movie really isn't that hard to understand: It's clearly about evolution and how emotionless humanity is and spiritual enlightenment, and in fact is more enjoyable because you can't fully understand it. These people are liars. I don't get this movie. To me, this movie is the cinematic equivalent of modern art. Lots of people like modern art and think it's great and progressive but I do not like modern art - I don't get it. Not all modern art, obviously, but a whole lot of it. I'm just not a fan, and to me this movie is sort the same thing.

One my main problems with this movie is the fact that it is just so slow. I'm sure that real spaceships do move slowly, but that does not mean that I want to watch it. I swear that two thirds of this movie is just slow-moving machinery. The special effects are very good, yes, but I don't want to look at them for that long of a time period. A real spaceship probably does take twenty minutes to get from one side of the moon to the other, but in this movie we have to watch all twenty minutes of that - I'm pretty sure there's some exaggeration there, but the thing is, I'm not quite sure. It might have actually been twenty minutes. Even when we're not watching slow moving machinery it's still slow - we're watching monkeys or scientists making small talk or a business meeting or sleeping astronauts. This movie is definitely very slowly paced. So very slowly.

The movie's a Stanley Kubrick movie (Who, as you may recall, I'm still not sure if I like or not), so it's very weird. A lot of the weirdness I don't mind at all - HAL and the monkeys are fine , and even the monoliths I'm really fine with, (Except for the noise that they make - It's this horrible buzzing, squeaking noise coupled with tuneless, random moaning - Here's a video link for your reference, you'll get a good sense of it if you start about two minutes in - I swear that's the the sound they play over the loudspeakers in Hell.) but I cannot tolerate the colorful Jupiter landing thing. It happens very near the end of the movie, and it really is just colorful lights coming at you, or splotches of color on black, or the ocean in different colors - very screen-saver-esque. This is already weird and not very entertaining and dated now, but to top it off, this scene goes on for, I am not kidding, eleven minutes. Eleven minutes of this:

It's like your DVD player went to sleep and you're just watching the screen saver. Why do people like this movie? I actually know though - People like this movie because of HAL. And I don't blame them - I love HAL, HAL is amazing. HAL is really one of the most terrifying villains I have ever seen in a movie (It should be noted that I don't watch a lot of horror movies.) He's unfeeling and calm and detached and creepy as all get out - His voice is Douglas Rain, who has never done anything else, but has a cool name and is just terrific as HAL. The part where HAL kills the astronaut through the pod, and the camera sudden zooms in on the eye of HAL on the pod is just terrific. I love that part - It's probably my favorite part in the movie. Even though HAL is just a light and a voice, he's still a character, and that light can really emote.

That light shouldn't be as creepy as it really is. And even though HAL is evil, he's also scared and confused (HAL is far more emotional than any of the human characters in the movie - Which is the point. I think.) You kind of feel bad for him, especially near the end. HAL is sympathetic and terrifying. Like Peter Lorre. Unfortunately, HAL is only in about an hour of the movie - the other hour and twenty minutes is filled mostly with, yes, slow-moving machinery. Shame.

Besides HAL, though, I came out of this movie with two ideas. A.) While people talk about this movie a lot - What the monoliths are, why HAL breaks down, what the lights mean - No one ever talks about how much the space pods look like koala heads.

I don't know what other people see when they look at this, but I can only see a koala. B.) Hey!

That guy has grey eyes! That's cool! I didn't even know that people could have grey eyes...You can tell how engaged I was in this movie. I know I should like this movie - Smart people like this movie, movie people like this movie. But I'm just not that into it. I just don't enjoy watching it. I do like HAL. I do like "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (That's the music - you know: da...Da...DA...DAHDAH, dumdum dumdum dumdum...), but the thing is: I don't like this movie.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Science Fiction #2 - Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

Well what could I possibly say about Star Wars? It's Star Wars! I don't think there's a single person alive in the western world who hasn't heard of Star Wars. It's such an iconic movie with such iconic characters and a lot of people were practically raised on Star Wars. I'm pretty sure that Star Wars is how I learned the first six Roman numerals. So many parts of these movies have become totally ingrained into modern culture: Darth Vader, Yoda, light sabers, the Wookie noise, R2D2 - the list goes on and on. I could probably come up with a huge list of things from Star Wars that are universally recognizable. Even if you don't know what they're called, you still recognize them. Like these things:

What are they called? I don't know! Have I seen them before? I certainly have! Everyone is at least vaguely familiar with Star Wars - It's like a very recent Shakespeare. The movie can easily get on the list on sheer iconocity alone. They have really impacted our culture in a way that not a lot of fiction does. People love Star Wars, and even people who don't can't get away from it. I am totally following its inclusion on the list of the best American science fiction films ever made.

The one on the list A New Hope, which, for those of you not well-versed in Star Wars, is the fourth one that's really the first one, or the first one that's really the fourth one, depending on how you look at it. This one introduces Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia, Han Solo and host of other familiar Star Wars things. Not, tragically, Yoda though. He doesn't appear until the second one that's really the fifth one. Fun fact about Yoda: The guy who plays Yoda also plays Miss Piggy. It's Frank Oz. You can hear it if you listen. Obi-Wan Kenobi is played by Alec Guinness, who we last saw back in Lawrence of Arabia. His career has certainly changed, hasn't it? The movie is directed and written by George Lucas.

Star Wars is well-know for being a really good example of the Hero's Journey. The Hero's Journey is a classic plot pattern that occurs everywhere - I've seen a Discovery Channel special on it, so I know a lot about this subject. You can find the Hero's Journey in ancient mythology, modern cinema, fairy tales, literature, basically where ever you look. Even though the elements that make up the Hero's Journey are really very spesicific, they occur again and again and again. Most fiction that involves any sort of fantasy of sci fi element will turn out to be a Hero's Journey. Basically a Hero's Journey is when our normal main character is chosen for some sort of task, enters the unknown world, discovers themselves an is reborn, and then comes back to the known world. Here's a handy diagram of it - I got it from Wikipedia:

A lot of fiction is a Hero's Journey. Harry Potter is one. So is Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Finding Nemo, King Arthur. You see it all the time, but Star Wars is a really classic example of it - it was modelled specifically after the patten, probably so it looks a lot like some kind of old fable. Star Wars does this a lot - You see a lot of mixing old and new together with Star Wars. And while Star Wars is definitely science fiction, it also has huge streaks of fantasy in it, what with all of its fantastic aliens and its traditional storyline and its frequent rural settings. It's like a twist on the old stories that you used to see all the time. It's fairy tales in space.

Despite being mainstream and geeky and kind of cheesy and makes a lot of money, it does have genuine artistic merit. It subverts an old plot by putting it into a totally new setting, it takes place in a ton of varied and elaborate settings, it features incredibly memorable characters, even just side characters, it creates a totally new universe, has had an incredible lasting impact on modern culture, has music and even just sounds that stick with people (Ben Burtt is the sound guy in these movies, and he's the one who created the sound of the light sabers, R2D2, and Darth Vader's breathing, some of the most recognizable sounds in cinema. He's also responsible for the crack of Indiana Jones' whip and is the voice of Wall-e. The music is done by John Williams, who beside this has done the scores for Harry Potter, Jaws, E.T., Indiana Jones, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Olympics, Schindler's List, NBC Nightly News, Obama's inagaraution, Superman, the Dreamworks logo, and so many more). It really is a good movie. And Harrison Ford is in it, which is awesome. Who doesn't like Harrison Ford?

Science Fiction #3 - E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

I'm really surprised that E.T. is so high on the list. I mean, it's definitely an iconic film, and it was really a new type of movie at the time, and it's heartwarming, I guess, and the special effects are good, but....number three? It's not bad at all, but it's really boring and cheesy and the kid's really annoying and I had to check how much was left every ten minutes. But regardless of all that, it is a classic family film, and Drew Barrymore is adorable, and it does have a fantastic, memorable score. I can see its merit, definitely.

E.T. is a Stephen Spielberg movie about a kid named Elliot who finds an abandoned alien they name E.T., which is kind of like naming a dog puppy but whatever, and befriends it. It's all very heartwarming and charming. For some reason, I really strongly associate this movie with Poltergeist, and I don't know why. I think I once saw a special about special effects that talked about both movies. Or maybe it's just because all of these early eighties movies tend to run together.


E.T. is another one of Stephen Spielberg's major blockbusters, like Jaws and Indiana Jones, but family friendly and adorable. This is actually the third Stephen Spielberg movie we've encountered so far: He directed Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List. He also was the executive producer of Back to the Future, and I don't exactly know what that actually means, but it sounds really important to me. So I'm definitely not going to contest that everything Stephen Spielberg touches turns to awesome, and he definitely should be represented on the list, but E.T.? I mean, E.T.'s alright, but...Elliot is so annoying and it's so boring. It's okay, I guess.

E.T. does have fantastic music - it's composed by the great John Williams, so that's expected (He's been nominated for 45 Oscars). I actually didn't even realize how recognizable the music was until I was watching the movie, but I totally know this music! The special effects are also very good. E.T. almost always looks really real, and the flying on the bicycles look really terrific, too. I'm really not sure how they did it! Look at that:

That's very impressive! So in those respects it's a very good movie, and I can see how people like it. I'm just not that into it really. But Drew Barrymore is really adorable.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Science Fiction #4 - A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Clockwork Orange is a Stanley Kubrick movie - one of the big ones, actually. For me when I think of Stanley Kubrick, I think of The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and then this movie. Admittedly, those are the only Stanley Kubrick movies I've ever see, but still. Stanley Kubrick is just really...Kubrick-y. You can always tell when you're watching a Stanley Kubrick movie, at least based on my somewhat limited experience. This movie is definitely a Kubrick movie. It's got weird camera angles, music that doesn't match what's going on, bright colors, that thing where people glare from under their eyebrows.

Like that. The thing about Stanley Kubrick is that I'm not sure that I actually like him. He's weird and innovative and everything, but I'm not sure whether or not I think he's too weird. I feel about the same way about this specific movie. It was definitely very bizarre, but was it too bizarre for me, or did I like it? I'm just not sure.

A Clockwork Orange takes place in some sort of futuristic dystopian Britain where teens roam the streets causing havoc. One such teen is the main character Alex Delarge, played by Malcolm McDowell, a murder/rapist/gang leader. Alex is just going along inflicting mayhem until about roughly a third into the movie, when he's arrested. In prison he's offered the chance to go free if he participates in some sort of treatment to make him a good person. He takes it, and through a combination of drugs, movies, and this thing:

Alex developes a sort of Pavlovian reaction thing to sex and violence. He becomes violently ill any time he encouners either of them. He also becomes sick whenever he hears Beethoven's ninth symphony, which is a shame because Alew loves Beethoven. Now that Alex is released into the world, he has to deal with the torment of his former friends and enemies, now that he can't defend himself. No where in the movie does it indicate why it should be called A Clockwork Orange.

The movie covers a lot of things. Violence, the issue of choice and humanity, totalitarianism, things like that. The movie's very satirical and definitely has its steak of dark comedy, and is very, very strange and very, very disturbing. I'm pretty sure I didn't even see the real version - Just the R rated one. The music in the movie is almost always classical music (Except for "Singing in the Rain," but we're not going to talk about that ever.) which is appropriate and completely inappropriate at the same time - Classical music is supposed to be a beautiful thing, and the scenes it's played over are definitely not beautiful. It's very jarring, which is exactly what it's supposed to be. The visuals in the movie are really ugly - bright colors and patterns and things, all next to each other - I'm sure it's intentional, but that doesn't make it any less ugly. It is the seventies, I guess.

Four little notes I have about this movie. Just interesting little tidbits: 1. Do you know who is in this movie? David Prowse! He's the guy in the Darth Vader suit! This is before that ! Look at hat, that minor character went on to be the body of one of the most iconic villains in American film. He looks surprisingly nonthreatening, although he is huge.

He's the guy in the glasses. 2. I don't know why anyone would choose to wear fake eyelashes all evening. I know for a fact that your eyes start watering like crazy after just a few hours. 3. I cannot understand anyone in this movie - Everyone is British. It is frustrating. 4. Malcolm McDowell is very good in this movie - he's creepy and crazy and disturbing and everything - but he has really, really blue eyes. It's weird. It almost doesn't even look right. I mean, look at that:

I'm watching this movie and I keep getting distracted by them. Do they always look like that? Is it the lighting? Did they do something post production? How come nobody else notices? To people notice on the street? Do they look like that now? I don't know! It's strange.

A Clockwork Orange is definitely a good movie, but I'm not sure if I actually ,like it. It's just really weird. I'd have to watch it again, and I'm just not sure I want to. It's very disturbing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Science Fiction #5 - The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

This right here is a classic science fiction movie. It's a 1951 Robert Wise film that is simply made to be watched in a drive-in movie theater. It has fake-looking robots (It's true), and weird science fiction-y sounding music - the kind that goes oooo-eeeeeey-ooooo-ey, you know what I'm talking about - and a nice anti-war message told through aliens. It's a quintessential science fiction cinematic event. It's quite a perfect summer movie, so I'm glad I watched it now, it really went with the mood of the season.

The movie starts with the landing of a spaceship in Washington, D.C. Since this is obviously a reason for some concern, the army surrounds it and waits for something to come out. When an alien does come out, he's carrying some sort of metal thing that pops open suddenly, one of the soldiers panics and shoots the alien (Whose name, by the way, is Klaatu.) A giant robot, Gort, then comes out of the ship and starts shooting at people until everything calms down. The alien is taken to a hospital, and the robot stays where it is. In the hospital Klaatu says that he wants to deliver a message to all of the leaders of the world in one place. This isn't actually possible, because it's 1951 and probably the worst time he could have asked for that, so instead Klaatu escapes from the hospital and goes out into the world to learn about humans. He befriends a small child, learns about the world, meets a scientist, etc. Eventually he decides to gather up all of the world's scientific leaders and deliver his message, and to demonstrate his power, he cuts off all of the power in the world for half an hour. The government take this as a threat and shoots him. His robot brings him back to life and he delivers his message.

Apparently, there is a sort of galactic peace-keeping organization run through robots. If anything at all violent happens, the robots start killing everyone in sight. You know, for peace. Planets are therefore forced to be peaceful, least they get destroyed by robots. Since humanity is on there way to space travel, they have to stop their warring ways or be destroyed in the name of stopping violence. After all of the movie, the message the alien had was basically just a heads up. Huh. The poster doesn't actually have a lot to do with the actual movie, but it does portray the spirit of it quite accurately.

This is a fun movie. It's cheesy and the robot is just a guy in a suit and the message doesn't really make sense (Fight violence with violence?), but that's what makes the movie fun. It's so 50's and awesome. On the other hand, though, it's also iconic, a big step for science fiction, and has a serious message. I can totally see why it made the list although I don't know if I would have put it as high as it is. The 50's science fiction movies are a big subset of the genre. They're like really long Twilight Zone episodes. I enjoyed watching the movie, even though I kind of enjoyed it because it was so wonderfully cheesy. It's a classic.