Friday, May 21, 2010

LOST: The Final Season

I'm getting antsy. The second to last episode of Doctor Who to premier in America on the BBCA was so terrible, I haven't even gotten around to the second part I TiVoed, which showed last Saturday. I like the weeping angels and I even like the doctor's future wife (the first time he met her was a few seasons ago... see, the doctor first met her at the end of her life and she met him closer to the end of his life... such things are possible when you have a time machine). I just feel the show has lost some of its bite. And I think this article may shed some light as to why.

Those nutters.


LOST, too, has lost a bit of its allure. This Sunday, the last episode ever premieres. And though I initially loved this season—they led us into an alternate universe without over-explaining it like most made-for-TV programs would've—I have to say what drew me to the show is it's questions, not its answers. The answers, you ask me, almost ruin it. Almost.

If you're hoarding episodes of LOST, there are spoilers ahead. 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"You mustn't be afraid to dream of a bigger gun."

I cannot get past how cool this movie looks. It stars Leo, Juno, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who's becoming one of my favorite actors (see: 500 Days of Summer and Brick). On top of that, they cram Michael Caine in there, who is one of my favorite actors. Like, definitely in the top three on my "living" list.


I think drawing comparisons between this and The Matrix is unfair, but people are doing it.

* * *

I always said it: I'd watch The X-Files if Netflix ever got it for Instant Play. Well, they just did and I started the pilot episode around four in the morning last night. Previously, I'd only seen the show twice and somehow it was the same episode—the one with Peter Boyle. However, I've seen the movies and was pretty enthusiastic about both of them, especially the second one which was kind of like the first movie mixed with The Silence of the Lambs.



Apparently a lot of people didn't like this movie, fans and non-fans alike. I think they need to give it another chance.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Terminator Suckvation

Terminator Salvation is basically a slightly better version of Battlefield Earth. I know this an ad hominen point that's been run into the ground, but it's hard to expect much from a director who encourages the use of his "McG" nickname, especially one who has never made a movie that was worth watching. Never. This guy is such a douche, he publicly tells those who criticize his big screen adaptation of Charlie's Angels and its sequel to "fuck off." I've seen more artistic integrity in a stick-figure doodle. You cannot make such a set of movies and defend it when people rightly recognize it as shit.


I'm so sick of movies with such ridiculous plots taking themselves so seriously. Since when was it okay for a movie to be so joyless? Are all the new filmmakers emo adults who think the audience should be depressed just by the way their movies look? When you have metal skeletons shooting at your characters, it takes a lot of misdirection to make that boring. What we have here is an example of a movie director who doesn't understand drama trying to craft a drama out of a franchise that was fun the first two times around, then uninspired the next.

The movie begins with a story box. I groaned. Then, a future biological machine named Marcus (Sam Worthington) is prepared to be executed on a table which conveniently allows the director to sneak in crucifix imagery—shit's so basic they teach it the first day in Metaphor 101. I groaned again. There's a plot, which is as simple as you can get when you tamper with the mythology surrounding John and Sarah Conner, Kyle Reese, and the fact that, originally, Skynet was supposed to have roasted the world by 1997.

(When the flow of time can be so easily changed, why should we care what happened/happens? One gets the feeling they'll just change it in the sequel anyway.)

Despite this "simplicity," the plot's needlessly complex and convoluted; beginning with Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, they had explanations for why Skynet was "postponed," but no real good reasons beyond the obvious financial ones.


And there was no good reason to continue after T2: Judgment Day, either. It's so obviously a money-making scheme, I was turned off from the get-go. Which isn't to say I didn't give the newer films a chance. It took me several false starts to get through parts 3 and 4, but I did it. Too bad John Conner can't send a terminator back to stop the production of those movies, for they take away a lot from the good ones. You can't trust anything in the series anymore. Part 5 will probably go back and alter it so that parts 1 and 2 never even happened. Then the filmmakers will be free to screw up the franchise in any way they choose.

Terminator is a great movie, but Terminator 2 is also great movie in a completely different way. It wasn't about Skynet and machine-on-machine fight sequences, not entirely anyway. It was about John Conner and his need for a father figure. It was about how a machine, the very thought of which the main character's mother despised, could provide that role. I imagine the idea came to James Cameron naturally. He wasn't just sitting around, wondering what he could do next to keep the franchise going. And for the film's villain, he imagined a logical successor: the T-1000, which provided something we had never seen before in a movie.


The villain in Terminator 3, on the other hand, provided something we had seen done a million times before in all those terrible movies that ripped off the first Terminator films. There was nothing new. It felt more like a sequel to JCVD's Cyborg than a movie worthy of the Terminator title. John Conner was an absolutely terrible kid in part two, yet he was a lot easier to sympathize with than the boring adult version presented in part 3, or the one-note JC in Salvation for that matter.

Which brings me to the continuity errors surrounding John Conner's character. The only father he'd ever known was a machine. He was helped again by a machine in the same incarnation in part 3, albeit a lot less believably. So why, then, wasn't he a little more receptive of the idea of a good terminator in Salvation? Why did he automatically hate Marcus so bad? Even his mother eventually learned to accept the idea a machine could be good. So why the sudden turn-around?

I'll tell you why: bad writing. That and lack of respect for the preceding films. You ask me, that's unforgivable.


The obvious direction the fourth film should have taken was an exploration of Kyle Reese's relationship with John Conner, similar to the father/son riffs in Terminator 2. Instead, you have Reese taken hostage midway through the movie and held there nearly until the end. By the time Conner finally meets him during the ridiculous climax, there's no time left to explore anything remotely interesting.

Which just goes to prove that once you remove the human element, you're left with is a film that amounts to porn for action junkies. But even though it's the focus, I felt even the action wasn't good enough for the franchise. It didn't flow like music as it did in the first two and it didn't do anything new whatsoever. (Okay, one scene was pretty good: it's when John Conner gets into a helicopter, flies away from a nuclear blast, and crash-lands when the EMP knocks him out of the air. It was all done in one shot, which was mildly interesting, but that doesn't make up for the fact that Conner was so lacking in character, I couldn't sympathize with him enough to care.)

Other thoughts about the franchise:

  • The writers of part 3 were sitting around a table, wondering how they could make their villain better than the villain in Terminator 2, which was an impossible goal from the get-go. One writer probably exclaimed, "I know! We'll make it a woman!" And then they proceeded to pat each other on the backs and blow each other.
  • The obnoxious biblical symbolism began in part 3's ending, I believe. John Conner and Clair Danes are Adam and Eve. How goddamned sickening. 
  • In parts 1 and 2, we get a feeling for how the terminators were programmed. We get in their heads and learn how they think. In parts 3 and 4, they don't think at all. They fire a million bullets, even when the characters have long ago removed themselves from the path of fire, and they fall into impossible traps with all the grace of lemmings. (By the way, why do they have such bad aim now?) One terminator, in part 4, is caught hanging upside down in a rope. Instead of shooting the rope, it shoots its foot—its own fucking foot! Yet another point where I groaned. The terminators now lack a certain strategical purpose. They're essentially metal zombies with guns now.

    WarGames

    I hadn't seen WarGames since I was a kid and didn't expect much from it when I watched it for the first time as an adult. I tend to hate eighties movies, which isn't to say I hate all movies which were made in the eighties. I just hate movies which are quintessentially eighties-ish. Yeah, some of the John Hughes stuff was all right, but it's nothing I really want to watch again in the twenty-first century. (Sorry, Ducky. Sorry Long Duk Dong. Sorry Emilio Estevez's career.)


    I'm thankful to say WarGames is not just an eighties movie. It's not Ferris Bueller Hacks NORAD, which was my preconceived notion of the film. The promotional material leads you to believe that's what they're selling, but Hollywood isn't known for its truth in advertising.

    The movie opens in a missile silo. Two regular guys are faced with the task of keeping an eye on their assigned launch station. We're led to believe they never thought they'd be faced with actually having to push the button—it's just a job to them, showing up and looking at the blinking lights while they make idle chitchat. What human being could possibly accept what it really means to push the button? Not many summer blockbusters bother to ask that question. The ones that do don't get it right.

    This one did.

    That's when the unimaginable happens: they're ordered to launch without warning. And what happened next actually had my heart pumping. Pure and simple, the name of the game is suspense. Here, nuclear war is not just a convenient plot device. The appropriate understanding and horror of this warfare is conveyed before we even see the title screen.

    The two men in the missile silo fail to launch the weapon, so the brass at NORAD make the decision to take humans out of the equation all together. A super computer would have all the capabilities of a human to push the button, with none of the conscience.

    the opening

    Next we're taken through a series of seemingly conventional Hollywood setups. Seventeen year old David Lightman (Mathew Broderick) is a somewhat popular kid who spends a lot of time in his bedroom, messing about with his modem-enabled Imsai 8080 mircocomputer, which I hope is in a museum somewhere.


    His high school love interest is introduced, whose character is usually only hinted at but never really fleshed out. It doesn't matter because she seems like a real girl and I didn't think her interest in David ever came off phony. After all, David has the power to hack into their high school's computer and change their grades. What girl wouldn't consider a guy like that a catch?

    One day David is leafing through a magazine when he discovers an advertisement for an upcoming computer game. I had no idea mysterious, Kojima-like hype-generation existed back then, but apparently it did in this movie's version of 1983. The ad promises the best video game ever made, but you'll have to wait until Christmas time to see what it is. David refuses to wait. Instead, he commands his computer to dial every phone number with the same area code as the video game company. The idea is his computer will provide him with a list of every computer connected to a modem in the area. If he's lucky, he'll find one with the secret video game on its hard drive.

    David thinks he finds the computer he's looking for and launches a game called Global Thermonuclear War. What he's really playing, however, is the super computer at NORAD. Now that I'm faced with explaining it, it seems so needlessly complex and convoluted, but the movie handles it so well you'll barely notice: the super computer is an artificial intelligence that plays war games 24/7, constantly learning, constantly predicting the enemy's preemptive strikes and countermeasures so that it'll be ready for the real thing.

    The problem is, there is no enemy and the super computer is already ready for the real thing. There is no good and evil, either. The computer is only doing what it thinks it's supposed to be doing when it decides to launch an actual global thermonuclear war. Which plucks this film from the usual cat-and-mouse thrillers we're so accustomed to.

    Thankfully, the message is not one of technophobia, nor is it as blandly simple as "nuclear war bad." Rolland Emmerich, as well as the producers of the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, should take note: you don't have to be so painfully stupid and obvious when you make a movie like this. Being smart does not negate the ability to entertain your audience.

    Movies should be fun, no ifs ands or buts. WarGames occasionally insults the intelligence (micro-cassette recorders can be hacked to open keypad-protected doors?), but it's fun and cleverly so. If anything, it really captured the attitude of real life hackers who, if you think about it, are the kinds of people who gave us affordable microcomputers and the Internet to begin with. There are some things I didn't like about the movie, notably the stereotypically nerdy computer specialists who help David crack NORAD's backdoor password, but the climax of the film is unlike any I've ever seen. It hit me hard and it stuck with me. I only wish more movies in the genre were so high above taking the easy way out: explosions and gunfights.