Archive for the Movies Category

Dragon Heat and The Viral Factor

Posted in Action/adventure, Crime, Movies with tags on October 15, 2013 by Cara Marie

Two Hong Kong action flicks edited by Chung Wai-Chiu, a fact I only bring up because one of them was so shockingly edited we had to IDMB the editor afterwards. Here we go …

Dragon Heat

A Hong Kong action movie staring Michael Biehn! What could go wrong?

… a lot. Luckily, this was the kind of movie that was hilarious while it was being awful. It suffered from an excess of characters (six good guys, plus miscellaneous cops to serve as canon-fodder; four bad guys on one team, two bad guys on another, plus miscellanous flunkies and an ex-girlfriend). The movie did make an effort to introduce most of them … with little introduction cards and characteristic dramatic shots. (The characteristic dramatic shots get used again whenever a character does something especially cool.) There were also title cards for each ‘chapter’ of the movie.

Dragon Heat is one of the most incoherently edited films I have ever scene. If you can think of an editing technique, it’s in here. (At one point, L asked me why I was complaining about a bizarrely placed fade when we’d just crosscut between the present-day action scene and a black-and-white clip of the character’s signature dramatic shot. The answer is, because it was just another unnecessary thing.)

At first, L and I were impressed that the bad guys were actually decent shots – but it turned out that only applied to people other than our heroes. We were told – in the introductions, and in a particularly memorable scene featuring a duck-shooting game – that our heroes were good shots, but we never saw any evidence of this outside of the duck-shooting game. (Later, there is a close-range sniper battle!)

There was also a cringe-worthy moment when the only woman on our team of heroes actually killed one of the bad guys (no-one had managed it till then; you have to pretend it’s a cop’s job to kill bad guys to watch this movie) and she takes a moment to smile goofily at the team sniper who has a crush on her. They have a *moment*.

… and then Nikita shoots her in the head.

(I’m kidding, it’s not Nikita. It’s Maggie Q playing a much less competent female assassin! And being wasted in general.)

The rest of the team get a little moment of bonding-in-grief, and we move on. Luckily, she wasn’t one of the characters we were expected to care about.

Sadly, I don’t think I ever managed to care about any of them. Which, given the size of the cast, isn’t really a surprise.

The Viral Factor

I watched this while I was in Malaysia, but it turns out it was edited by the same guy who edited Dragon Heat, so I feel like I should talk about it now. Unlike Dragon Heat, this movie seemed competently edited.

This is one of the many movies I watched while I was in Malaysia; I’m talking about it now because turns out it was edited by the same guy who edited Dragon Heat. This surprised me, because The Viral Factor seemed competently edited.

The Viral Factor is the sort of movie that is competent without ever achieving anything greater. The region 4 DVD case is misleading – it makes the movie seem far more action-y than it actually is. Which isn’t to say there’s no action, but at its heart this is a drama about two brothers on opposite sides of the law. It wasn’t until I realised that that I actually started to enjoy the movie.

The action plotline was the least memorable part – someone had manufactured a virus in order to make money selling the vaccines; Jay Chou had to stop it. Also Jay Chou was dying. Also he’d just been reunited with his estranged gambling addict father and criminal brother, and met his criminal brother’s adorable daughter. Awkward family bonding! Things resolved much as you’d expect them to, and I teared up at the end.

The only action scene that really stuck with me was the car chase, and that was for the wrong reasons. See, they were in KL at that point. And I’d just been in KL. More specifically, I’d just been in a KL traffic jam. And I had trouble suspending my disbelief that the roads would ever be that clear.

Pepper in the suit and other Iron Man 3 delights

Posted in Movies, Superhero with tags , , on April 24, 2013 by Cara Marie

I just want to say that Iron Man 3 is a beautiful movie. Read more »

Last night’s movies

Posted in Action/adventure, Middle fiction, Movies, Science fiction with tags on January 26, 2013 by Cara Marie

Notes from last night’s movie night, which turned out to be ‘surprisingly competent movie’ themed, but only because we switched Mortal Kombat off after ten minutes. Spoilers ahead.

Alien Western

Also known as High Plains Invaders. Not to be confused with Cowboys and Aliens.

This might be a Western in its setting, but it’s more like a horror movie in its structure. Also it doesn’t have enough epic landscapes and, despite nearly all of the characters dying, it isn’t depressing enough to be a Western.

It delivers more on the aliens. Sometimes they even afford the CGI to have multiple aliens in shot at once! The aliens have come to earth to steal our uranium. Not to use it as a fuel source – they’re just addicted to it.

The best line in this movie comes after the scientist has declared uranium more valuable than diamonds, thus ensuring the shifty characters try to run off with it. He then says in exasperation that there isn’t yet an established market for uranium.

Alien Western is more competent a film than I expected, but it’s still a made-for-TV movie and it doesn’t have anything special to recommend it. I guess unless you really like James Marsters. I have never seen Buffy, so I’m Marsters-ambivalent.

Cutthroat Island

This, apparently, was the movie that killed pirate movies (at least till Captain Jack Sparrow came along). It cost a lot to make, and made hardly any of it back.

The beautiful thing about the movie is that you can see exactly where all the money went. It went into crafting a lot of very detailed sets (including full-scale, working ships) … and then blowing them up.

Okay, they only blow up one of the ships. And it’s a thing of beauty – all the splintered wood raining down, the black billowing smoke. It’s always really satisfying to watch an action movie with real explosions. CGI just isn’t the same.

Other satisfying things include watching Geena Davis kick people in the head. She seems like she’s really enjoying it, too. She gets to rescue her love interest, Shaw, a lot (after she buys him), and the movie doesn’t seem too concerned about whether or not that ’emasculates’ him. I guess because he’s positioned more as a charming thief than any kind of action hero. I also like that Morgan got to be sexy in a way that didn’t require her being prettied up.

L made an interesting comment which was that he felt like for the first two-thirds of the film, the POV would keep slipping whenever Shaw, the love interest, was on-screen. And he’d end up being the identification character in those scenes. But, in the last third, Morgan (Geena Davis’s character) was consistently the one we were meant to identify with. And he wondered if that was intentional or not.

I didn’t especially notice, but I’m probably inclined to latch strongly to my action heroines’ perspectives. You have to be pretty egregious to break that.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

This movie is about how boys have to learn courage and girls have to learn to appreciate boys.

It’s also about how if you beat something up and then treat it kindly, it will follow you forever.

Okay, the ‘it’, in this case, is an ant. And it doesn’t matter that they start by beating it up, because the experience teaches the snotty kid to have empathy for other creatures, and he’s totally sad when the ant sacrifices itself to save them.

I feel like I am being mean but if I’m forced to watch family movies what do you expect? At least it features real teenagers. I think they still existed in the eighties.

The Hobbit: needed less wizards

Posted in Fantasy, Movies with tags , , on December 22, 2012 by Cara Marie

So last night we came out of The Hobbit and my mother declared that she didn’t know what all the critical reviewers were on about. And did they just not get fantasy?

… queue me being extremely critical. Read more »

Reboot and folklore

Posted in Fantasy, Movies, Science fiction, TV with tags , , , on November 3, 2012 by Cara Marie

So L and I were discussing Reboot and he drew a comparison between Simba in The Lion King and Enzo. Both are caught in the conflict between two father figures, one good, one bad. The bad one seeks to displace the good one, and encourages the son to act out their youthful rebelliousness … in the hope that things will end badly.

And things do go badly, for a while. The bad father displaces the good father. The son is cast out into the wilderness. When eventually the son returns, the bad father is deposed (with more or less effort).

Except after Enzo comes back and Megabyte is defeated, he’s still messed up. There’s no ‘circle of life’ to reassure him; there is no re-emplacement of the status quo. He is literally scarred by his experiences.

(On the other hand, it could have been worse: he could have been Hamlet.)

I’m trying to think of fairy tales that follow this same pattern, but I’m not coming up with any – at least, not with men. The stories aren’t dissimilar to those where the good mother is replaced by the wicked stepmother (or the mother herself turns bad). We don’t see the early part of the story: the stepmother tends to want the daughter out quick-smart. But we do see the exile, once our heroine grows old enough to threaten the stepmother.

But, when the heroine takes her rightful place, it is not as her mother’s successor. Her stepmother’s wickedness may be revealed, but it is not her place the heroine takes. Our heroine becomes a queen in another realm. (Some versions of this kind of story forget about the stepmother in the second half, and the heroine’s mother-in-law becomes the villainess: in this case, the heroine is displacing her.)

Which I guess says something about gender roles in patrilineal societies where daughters marry out.

That’s something interesting about Snow White and the Huntsman, actually: Snow White is the heir who must reclaim her kingdom to set things right, rather than the cast-out princess who will reclaim her status in another realm. Snow White and the Huntsman may not have been the most coherent of movies, but it was certainly refreshing.

I don’t have any real conclusion to this, so I will just leave you with the observation that in Reboot Megabyte doesn’t marry Dot after getting rid of Bob. He waits until Bob is back in Mainframe. Then he uses Dot’s uncertainties about the way Bob has changed in his exile, and disguises himself as original!Bob … with the result that Dot almost marries him instead.

… that will never not be funny to me.

Alien 3, or, a case study in alienating the viewer

Posted in Horror, Movies, Science fiction with tags , on October 20, 2012 by Cara Marie

Alien 3 is possibly my least favourite movie ever. It does this not just by being bad, but by trampling on everything that had gone before it.

It does this during the opening credits, when it kills off two characters whom we’ve become invested in. Just throws them out. They could have left Dwayne and Newt out of the film without killing them off. They could have included them, and used them to torture us through the course of the movie. Instead, they threw them out.

When the opening credits are so staggering, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the film.

Alien 3 is set on an all-male prison planet. This both conveniently gets rid of the need to have more than one female character and makes any women watching the movie super-uncomfortable while they wait for someone to try and rape Ripley! The movie even kindly highlights the threat:

We’re 25 prisoners in this facility. All double-Y chromos. All thieves, rapists, murderers, child-molesters. All scum. Just because they have taken on religion doesn’t make them any less dangerous. I try not to offend their convictions. I don’t want to upset the order. I don’t want ripples in the water. And I don’t want a woman walking around, giving them ideas…

While I didn’t expect any rape attempt to succeed, I was still waiting for it. It was a relief when it came, because then it was out the way.

One of the prisoners in particular was our point-of-view character for the beginning of the film. Clemens was the most sympathetic of the prisoners, the most intellectual, whose crime was one of incompetence rather than malice. He admires Ripley from the start.

Ripley straight away wants to sleep with him. A man who she doesn’t know, whom she has no especial chemistry with … and to be quite honest, who is no Michael Biehn. This made no sense to me … until I realised that I wasn’t meant to be placing myself in Ripley’s shoes. I was meant to be empathising with Clemens’s perspective. Because, I, the audience, am presumed heterosexual male, and of course I want to imagine Ripley would want to immediately jump my bones.

I’ve never been thrown out so strongly by the male gaze in a film. Ripley was so thoroughly the subject and not the object in Aliens that the difference was disconcerting as well as offensive.

Thankfully, Clemens doesn’t survive very long. After he dies; after three men have tried to rape Ripley and failed; after that the film picks up, gains some narrative drive … and still fails to be truly engaging.

I have friends who disagree, but for me the film has no redeeming features. It’s like they thought too many women liked the first two movies, so they had to alienate them as much as possible. If nothing else, they were effective in that.


Posted in Action/adventure, Movies with tags , on October 7, 2012 by Cara Marie

Yesterday I finally watched Haywire. (Because it is my duty to watch all action movies with female leads, or something.) I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t a great movie.

I thought it suffered in the editing, and there were some key sequences I had trouble following. The whole ‘Barcelona’ sequence, for example. This happens towards the start of the movie, and we’ve only met two of the characters at this point. It crosscuts between three different scenes, happening at three different times, and also has the confusion of switching between black and white, and colour. For reasons I never picked up on.

And in retrospect, it seems like something was meant to have happened in Barcelona that made Mallory (our heroine) suspicious of her employers. But whatever it was, I missed it.

On the other hand, all the action scenes were easy to follow. They weren’t always as fluid as they could have been, but I could say that about the whole film. Plus I am so used to watching Muay Thai movies, that MMA is actually a nice change! Lots more grappling, choking people with your leg, that sort of thing. Gina Carano is great in the fight scenes (if not so great when she has to do dialogue). And it’s nice to have a female action lead who isn’t incredibly skinny.

It’s a movie that could have been better … but I’ve watched far worse in the name of good fight scenes. (I’m looking at you, The Protector.)

Event Horizon: might have been better if it had been worse

Posted in Horror, Movies, Science fiction with tags on August 26, 2012 by Cara Marie

Event Horizon is a bad movie that could have been a good movie. The idea is basically, seven years ago this ship vanished out past Neptune. Now it’s reappeared, and a team’s been sent to investigate. Where has the ship been? What happened to all the crew?

It’s a horror movie, so the answer is HORRIBLE AWFUL (SPOILERY) THINGS. I do really like the concept of the movie, but the tone of the whole thing is somehow off. When the team get on the Event Horizon, they start hallucinating – but there’s no subtlety to the hallucinations, not even to begin with, so they fail to actually creep you out. The ‘something’s wrong here’ was too obvious.

The film also couldn’t seem to decide just how seriously to take itself – there were several moments that were presumably meant to be comic (or, I don’t know, charming character moments) but just fell flat. It was as if they’d been dropped in from another movie.

The one area the film actually did well in was the sets. In conjunction with horrible CGI, it’s true, but the sets and design were awesome. A little worrying, as in who the hell thought it was good to make the ship’s doors teethed, but cool to look at. There were awesome images in the film, it just didn’t pull them together.

I do wonder if it works better for people who are more susceptible to horror movies? I like horror, but movies don’t scare me easy. (Except The Descent. Because spelunking is terrifying.) Which I guess means I can direct more of my attention to being critical. (Or, after the movie, letting L be critical and nodding along with him. He blames a lot of its failings on the editing. That and Sam Neill seeming too much like someone’s dad to be creepy.)

So that was that bad movie. We had intended to watch other unclassy flicks like Muay Thai Giant, but were foiled by region-coding. ‘Hi, I know you bought this blu-ray completely legitimately! I’m not going to let you watch it anyway!’ Here’s an idea, movie industry, if you don’t want people to pirate things, maybe let them play the things they’ve paid for?

So we had to watch a respectable movie instead (Green Zone). Which also had problems with subtlety, but was decently made. (Plus, Matt Damon.)

Exploratory missions

Posted in Movies, Science fiction with tags , , on June 25, 2012 by Cara Marie

In the introductory scene where Shaw and Holloway explain their hokey search for Bald Xenu Jesus to the rest of the crew, we learn that several of the crewmembers literally do not know why they are there.

As an expository device, that scene was incredibly clumsy. In a more general sense it was even worse because it immediately made me start wondering about a) who the hell signs up for a two-year research mission on another planet without knowing what they’ll be working on or why, and b) who picked out the crew in the first place.

– Costume Design and the Crew of Prometheus

I enjoy the posts on Hello, Tailor a lot, but point (a) here threw me a little. Because I would certainly consider it. I mean, presumably in 2091 GOING TO SPACE is less of a big deal, but surely it’s still enticing? ‘Mission on another planet’ is enough of a draw that the specifics don’t seem that important.

I know I’ve spent enough time thinking about when humanity finally gets its act together and sends some people to Mars … that’s a four-year, one-way journey. And yet it’s one of the things that kind of makes me sorry I didn’t continue on in geology. Because a geologist would be a reasonable choice to send to Mars. An editor doesn’t have much chance.

Maybe in the future everyone is blasé about going to other planets? But I feel, surely, there are people for whom the thrill of exploration would be enough. It doesn’t matter whether Weyland’s funding it because he’s thinking of terraforming it, or because there’s exciting new plant life that could give us new medicines, or because there’s some reason to think there might be sentient alient life, or just, hey, new planet, might have some interesting rocks!

I mean, back in the day, the Endeavour was sent on a secret mission to discover a hypothetical continent. The official reason was to go to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus, but ‘As soon as that part of the work was completed, so Cook’s secret instructions directed him, he was to put to sea in search of the great southern continent.’ (The Discovery of New Zealand, J.C. Beaglehole.) That’s not just secret from the crew, or the public – that’s sealed instructions that Cook wasn’t to open till after the transit.

And that ended up being a three-year voyage. No cryo-sleep in the eighteen century either!

There’s a lot of things to complain about in Prometheus, but I don’t think them keeping the purpose of the mission secret is one of them. ‘Commercial sensitivity’ is probably all the excuse they need.

How not to raise a happy, healthy robot

Posted in Movies, Science fiction with tags , , , , on June 20, 2012 by Cara Marie

L and I had this big argument once, about artificial intelligence. Could an AI ever truly be sentient? And we came to an impasse, because the foundation of our disagreement was that he believed in a soul, and I did not.

Or, he believed in a soul as separate from the sum of us. I’m basically a materialist.

‘That’s because you’re a robot, and I’m a human being.’

The characters in Prometheus are sitting on L’s side of the fence. Not only thinking it, but constantly reminding David of the feelings he can’t experience. It’s when Weyland says that David can never appreciate his immortality and eternal youth, because ‘for that would require the one thing he will never have – a soul.’ When Charlie says, ‘I guess it’s a good thing you can’t be disappointed, huh?’ When Elizabeth says, ‘You have no idea what afraid is.’

David after Weyland has talked about him having no soul.

This is robot affect for ‘heartbroken’.

David doesn’t disagree with them when they say these things. (‘Yes,’ he tells Charlie, ‘it’s wonderful, actually.’) And yet, David smiles when Weyland says he’s the closest thing he’ll ever have to a son. And yet it was David who suggested in the first place, ‘how disappointing it would be for you, if you heard the same thing from your creator.’ And who says to Elizabeth that he was afraid she was dead.

And we can’t say we don’t observe emotion in him. It’s there, even when there’s no-one to emote towards. There’s wonder, when he brings up the ship’s navigation system. There’s curiosity, that lets out all disease and horrors. And when he quotes Lawrence of Arabia, he calls it, ‘Just something from a film I like.’

Which isn’t to say his emotions are equivalent to human emotions. So much of feeling is in the body. But to deny them altogether … there’s something else behind that.

David, coming his hair to look like TE Lawrence.

I suppose you could program your robot with a TE Lawrence obsession, but why would you?

Charlie asks David why he wears a helmet when he doesn’t need to breathe. ‘I was designed like this because you people are more comfortable interacting with your own kind,’ David says. ‘If I didn’t wear the suit, it would defeat the purpose.’

Here’s another thing that would make people uncomfortable – the thought that a robot might have its own opinions. (After all, it’s inevitable it would be plotting against them, right?) People want to make artificial life – just because they can – but they don’t want it to be too lifelike.

In his advertisement, David even says, ‘I understand human emotions, although I do not feel them myself. This allows me to be more efficient and capable, and makes it easier for my human counterparts to interact with me.’ (He’s specifically referring to not feel human emotions in the first part of that sentence, and thus, I assume, in the second as well.)

If it wasn’t something his ‘human counterparts’ were concerned with, then they wouldn’t need to repeat, over and over, that David can’t feel anything. And David wouldn’t need to reassure them that he doesn’t.

To not reassure them would defeat the purpose.

David talking to Holloway, about to put goo in his drink.

After all, they might not accept drinks from you if they thought they’d just offended you.

The only time that David denies emotions, without it being a response to someone else’s statement, is when Elizabeth asks him if he wants Weyland dead, to be free.

‘Want,’ David says. ‘Not a concept I’m familiar with.’ Asking him such a question, after all, means she’s already far too close to thinking of him as a person. It’s almost an admonishment.

And that’s uncomfortable. Possibly as much for David as anyone else – when Charlie comments, ‘They’re making you guys pretty close, huh?’ David replies, ‘Not too close, I hope.’

David doesn’t want to be human. He’s not Pinocchio, and he’s not the David from AI:Artificial Intelligence. He wasn’t created to love. He was created to ‘carry out directives that [his] human counterparts would find distressing or unethical’ – while still understanding that ‘war,’ ‘cruelty’ and ‘unnecessary violence’ are things that should make him sad.

Why would he want to be human? Humans must seem pretty hypocritical.

Vickers looking unimpressed.

Like how they go on about how superior their robot son is when their daughter’s standing right there.

David’s creator isn’t exactly a great model for humanity either. I find it very interesting when David poses Elizabeth the question: ‘doesn’t everyone want their parents dead?’ Because for Elizabeth – for most people – the answer is no. But not everyone’s ‘father’ is Peter Weyland. David is the closest thing Weyland has had to a son – but Weyland has a daughter too.

And if David’s best example is Vickers, no wonder he thinks every child wants their parents dead. (Or that no parent is ever content with their children.) Vickers wants her father to just die already, to let the next generation take over. It’s ‘the natural order of things’.

Maybe, then, the robots want us all dead.

David looks charmed by the dancing goo.

Or it’s just Pandora’s box all over again.

‘A king has his reign, and then he dies.’

So L and I were having our old argument. And when he spoke about robots trying to get rid off us, replace us, I said, ‘That’s alright. It’s the natural order of things, isn’t it?’ To be superceded by our creations. It might be less ideal than spreading our species out among the stars; it’s still proof of our existence.

When I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion, some ten years ago, I was struck by the ultimate ambition for the Eva. That it would persist, millions and billions of years after humanity was extinct, our world swallowed up and our sun burnt out. There would still be something in the universe to say, we were here.

All the ways I can think that our future has been portrayed once our robot overlords appear … they’re dystopias. Even the non-violent ones. Because, of course, humanity cannot just stand aside.

And I think about the elves, going into the west; and the coming of the age of men.

And I think of the robots as our children.

David with the cube of human accomplishments.

Just something to remember humanity by.

‘A king has his reign,’ Vickers says, ‘and then he dies. It’s inevitable.’

But Weyland just won’t die gracefully. If that’s the request David delivers to the Engineer – for the extension of an already long, productive life – it’s an offensive one. A hubristic one, if we’re thinking of them as our creators. (But then, Weyland has already spoken of himself as a god, in the TED talk. He thinks it’s his right, to have what belongs to his children.)

‘Why did he die?’ little Elizabeth asks, and her father answers, ‘Because sooner or later everyone does.’

And that’s why we have children; to go on after we’re gone. But Weyland won’t cede to his children, neither the human nor the robot. So they both want him dead.

Vickers threatens David.

Only one of these siblings is still interested in their father’s approval.

Weyland speaks of David’s gifts, the long life and youth that he covets; then he says that David can never appreciate them. He would have these things for himself, not content for his child to have them. He would live many more years, hoard his legacy, not have Vickers carry it on.

That’s the sin that gets him killed.

‘Don’t you want to know why they came? Why they abandoned us?’

In the David 8 advertisement, the interviewer finishes by asking David if there’s anything he would like to say. David replies, ‘I would like to express gratitude to those who created me.’

Weyland doesn’t go to his ‘creators’ to express gratitude – he goes to make demands.

Charlie and Elizabeth go to ask questions. Even once it’s clear that this lot of Engineers, at least, wants humanity dead, Elizabeth still needs to know why. She says, ‘They created us. Then they tried to kill us. … I deserve to know why.’

Which is a funny thing, when you consider the history of robot literature, which is filled with ‘They created us. Then they tried to kill us.’ At least, if you consider it from a robot’s point of view … probably the more usual view is ‘We created them. Then they tried to kill us.’ But hey, it’s not like empathy is a learned trait. It’s not like David wasn’t created to understand, but not empathise.

David cries the robot tears of someone who doesn't actually give a damn.

‘What makes you sad, David?’ Only those things that humans do to one another on a regular basis.

The Engineers are human. (100 percent DNA match!) And humans have never needed an excuse to kill other humans. Especially the ones they don’t even consider to be people.

But Elizabeth ‘deserves to know why’, and David doesn’t understand ‘because [he’s] a robot’.

To be fair, Elizabeth isn’t being callous then (and given the circumstances no-one could blame her if she were). That the Engineers changed their minds matters so intently to her, she can’t see how it might not matter to others (did Vickers want to stick around to find out? Did Jarek?).

She also hasn’t been dealing with her creators day in and day out, aware of how little they thought of her. David can’t understand why it matters why the Engineers changed their mind; but David’s well used to being disappointed by his creators. Elizabeth is not.

And also, her parents loved her.

There’s not a robot that can say the same thing.

David waking up in his packaging.

Worst birthday ever.