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Cloud At Last

I’m shocked. This year was a damn good year for new movies. There were ups: Dredd, Total Recall, Argo, and downs: Prometheus, Looper, Flight, and the in-betweens: Django Unchained, John Carter, The Avengers, and this stands in direct opposition to the last couple of years, whose downs and in-betweens weren’t nearly as interesting. 2010 is defined to me as purely Scott Pilgrim, and 2011, purely Drive. 2012 on the other hand saw a deluge of good movies… but still not enough for me to compile a top ten list.

Maybe if I actually managed to see Life of Pi like I set out to, and maybe if I lived in a major city to see Zero Dark Thirty when it came out, but no, shut up — this is Dreck Fiction’s Top Ten Movies of 2012 Rundown, a list of questionable raison d’etre, outside of making ten arguably quality recommendations…

10. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Dir. Christopher Nolan

I hate myself. When The Dark Knight came out and everyone loved it, I could not see the value in it. Nolan’s sequel was boring, overwrought, and dumb as hell. Now, when The Dark Knight Rises comes out and people are generally positive on it but don’t think it’s as good as it could’ve been, I scratch my head yet again. I loved The Dark Knight Rises. It’s visually stunning, socially resonant, and exciting. So am I a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian? At this point, I can’t tell, all the way over here in my lonely, argumentative corner. In some ways, I don’t care, because The Dark Knight Rises and it’s lack of Batman, introduction of neat visual icons, and cool dystopic story, keeps me welcome company.

9. Persepolis (2007) Dirs. Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud

From what little I understand of comics, Persepolis and other autobiographical comics that dominated the underground scene of their time… set the medium. Nowadays any serious comic is like this, but I’d be hard pressed to find an artist with as powerful a story as Marjane Satrapi’s. This movie is beautifully animated, and tells a heartbreaking story of a difficult coming of age during bloody history in the making. It’s a microscope pushed all the way in during a greater conflict, and the humanist themes found are just as emotionally sweeping as in any great war epic.

8. Total Recall (2012) Dir. Len Wiseman

With every remake, we ask: did we really need a remake? The answer is almost always “no,” but I’m glad for a few reasons we got Total Recall 2012 (maybe in fifty-eight years we’ll get a Total Recall 2070). One reason is that for a sci-fi action movie, it isn’t boring as all get-out. There is action from start to finish, which is plainly shocking. How did they afford that? Typically the action movie dynamic is: all the action scenes are super expensive so they can’t be all the movie, so let’s pad this out with exposi — oh shit we forgot to write a story. Here, it’s not only action but action in a lavish sci-fi world. A familiar one, yes, but hey. How many movies are set in current day L.A.? I could stand to see a few more set in 2019 L.A., if I’m being honest.

7. The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) Dir. RZA

This movie and Cloud Atlas really bum me out. In twenty years, people will look back on them and call them cult classics. Movies that fucking failed financially, finally fulfilling forgotten… (where am I?) finally gaining notice only when it’s too late for the filmmakers to benefit and make another. These movies are really something else, and it totally upsets me that people call for originality and novelty in their movies, and then slam these two for being different. I don’t have much new to say on The Man with the Iron Fists, other than I’m so glad I saw it in theatres. I’ve missed way too many modern cult classics — Slither, Grindhouse, and Scott Pilgrim come to mind — when they were in theatres and making no money.

6. The Raid: Redemption (2011) Dir. Gareth Evans

I curse The Raid: Redemption for only one reason — it partially ruined the otherwise perfectly fine Dredd. This is a martial arts movie that goes for the hard hits, and even though I’ve seen that meth lab battle a few times, I always wince at the big impacts. I haven’t been this physically affected by an action movie since the first and second viewing of Crank 2, in all its nipple-cutting glory. I love energy in movies, so if you want to be blown away by a pure action spectacle (think 300 but with no slow motion and an actual story), The Raid: Redemption is just as good as everyone says.

5. Chungking Express (2005) Dir. Wong Kar Wai

Wong Kar Wai is a vicious filmmaker who goes after cinematic conventions like a Charles Bronson-esque vigilante. Though I can’t get my head around how he does it (I assume, with his method, he’d have to fuck up at some point — he’d have to), I’m glad he makes movies as good as this, Chungking Express, often considered his best movie (though I prefer 2046). This movie is two parts — two love stories featuring gorgeous people in a gorgeous city looking despondent through windows at each other.

4. Battle Royale (2000) Dir. Finji Fukasaku

Django Unchained wins points for its tremendously bloody violence, but there isn’t too much of it in the end. Battle Royale somehow manages to keep its chaos going throughout its run, and though it’s generally difficult to stomach (fifteen year olds in school uniforms machine-gunning each others’ bodies apart), the adrenaline matches your guilt. I don’t like the idea behind this movie, I think it’s a little too harsh, but it does create the scenario I love from horror-comedies (this is not horror-comedy, for the record), where characters react realistically and funnily to an insane situation. I think to that scene where two students are shooting at each other at the start of the game, hesitating and stumbling over each other like the fisticuffs in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I’m a little dissapointed that Chiaki Kuriyama went out so quickly, and that after Kill Bill: Vol. 1 she didn’t do much high-profile stuff… but the shotgun dude was cool, and he made up for it.

3. The Road Home (2000) Dir. Zhang Yimou

As much as I might bellyache over The Road Home‘s core conceits, that of good ol’ fashioned, freeze-your-ass off transcendental living, y’all goddamn cityfolk, and one person’s definition of feminism in the obsession and stalking of a man, I can’t help but be utterly silenced by its sweeping, rollercoaster romance. Its got easily my favorite score I heard this year, with that main theme swelling in just the right points in the narrative, keeping the tears inside on a steady flow. For such a tiny story where scope and scale are concerned, there are moments that feel like punches to the gut — this is exemplary cinematic storytelling, audio/video as literary device akin to In the Mood for Love. The sequence of our heroine’s initial courting of the dude builds brilliantly: she attempts to wait for him as he walks along the road (home), but gets cold feet and ducks behind the bushes three or four times. When she finally sums up the courage, she passes him on the road (home) and he gives her a nod. She smiles really big and the theme swells — no dialogue, all expression.

2. Cloud Atlas (2012) Dirs. Andy and Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer

Like I said earlier with Iron Fists, this makes me so sad. You’ll notice that when critics talk down on Cloud Atlas, their criticisms are vague as hell. I don’t believe they know why they hate the movie, and frankly, sir, I don’t believe I know why I like the movie. But I felt it as I sat there in an uncomfortable ass, stadium-seating-impaired theatre, craning my neck upward. The movie pounded with life and imagination, it was like a guided tour through three of the most creative minds in film. I don’t know what we were meant to take away from the film (a reason why it’s not #1), but I feel like if I were to begin deconstructing it, I’d ruin the purity of experience for myself. Also, go Keith David!

1. Brokeback Mountain (2005) Dir. Ang Lee

“Are they gay?” my friend asks when I’m watching it for a second time.
“I think… they’re confused.”

The right answer is simpler: it doesn’t matter. Labels have no place here. This is a story about individuals who are destroyed by such things — cultural expectations, masculine and familial priorities — so any frazzled critic who shouts that calling these characters homosexual marginalizes the bisexual community needs to sleep on it (back in 2005). The characters at various points in the movie maintain that they’re both straight men, and this represents a major failure in American (and global) society. Brokeback Mountain doesn’t point fingers or complain, it does a movie’s job, and makes a much more powerful statement in doing so. One of its most sympathetic characters is actually one of the two men’s wives, and indeed, the film illustrates the destructive power of intolerance in the female characters it reaches indirectly. In my opinion, one of the most heart-wrenching (if somewhat hokey) lines is delivered by Delmar’s (Heath Ledger) second girl.

For a supposedly straight male, I tend to concern myself a lot with LGBT issues (there’s that contrarian again?), but Brokeback Mountain doesn’t speak to The Man Inside me (who will one day walk free of the pain), but the humanist I aspire to be.

So there you have it. See you round.

Actors and performances aren’t frequently covered here because for a long time science-fiction wasn’t an actor’s genre. In recent years however, genre fare has expanded its bounds (or actors have, as you might see it), and it’s always been inclusive to the weird that so often breeds interesting performances. I have no interest in the Academy Award-garnering “I have a disease, here’s my family,” one-man show performances that are typically seen as top in the industry. I want something out of an actor that grabs me or worries me, that makes me think about the character, not the artist’s craft.

These particular performances stand out because the characters they depict experience a great deal of physical pain or bound with endless energy — certainly an endurance test for any performer, despite all the breaks between takes and trailers and stuff. I think the reality of acting dawned on me recently when in an interview Mary Elizabeth Winstead described her experience shooting The Thing as breath-taking in the sense that she was hyperventilating 24-hours a day to act frightened. She was out of breath and light-headed so much, but in the movie it seems like a pretty standard horror role.

Note that the following list isn’t ranking how good I think the performances are, it’s based entirely on… well I guess the blob of text following the number’ll explain it.

10. Ralph Fiennes, Spider

This isn’t a case of bounding off the walls like #2 on this list — it’s a smaller approach. David Cronenberg’s Spider is an adaptation of a book about a mentally unstable British fellow who attempts to piece together a key moment from his past, and suffers the consequences when the memories blur over into the present. This may sound exactly what I was bitching about earlier, but this is a character piece unlike any other — there is almost no dialogue. Right around the level of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, I’d say. There are no soaring soliloquies or shout-fests with fed-up loved ones — Dennis Cleg (Fiennes) interacts with very few people, and when he does, it’s pretty uncomfortable.

He shakes and mumbles to himself, stalks forward with his shoulders slumped. Fiennes has really done it all, whether he’s the hero or the Nazi villain, or my favorite, the sleazy drugdealer from Strange Days, Lenny Nero. In Spider, he joins a good rank in David Cronenberg’s line of male leads (all of them with the exception of Rabid have featured male men characters, though I’m sure that one had a guy hero), another one of which is coming up soon…

9. Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad

This is one of my favorites. On the show, Jesse to me is the interesting character. Walt, played by three-time-in-a-row-Emmy-award-winning Bryan Cranston, is great, but his change is gradual, whereas Jesse is always on the rocks or at the bottom or coming back. He’s also a kid, which is something we must remind ourselves. To help, he uses foul language and says things like “Yo” and “Bitch” as catchphrases; he might jump bad — which is the term I believe they were going for with that title — but he’s actually a pretty nice guy, a victim of his past, of mistakes that ripple out to the end of one’s life.

Though he won the Emmy for Season 3, I think Season 2 was his finest moment — his involvement with Jane, an emotionally strong arc that makes you wonder why the original story had Jesse die at the end of Season 1. His ‘chemistry’ with Walt is just perfect. He’s the reason the premise, for me anyway, works. It’d be great as a show about a seemingly ordinary guy who unlocks the monster inside — but we already have Dexter, and unfortunately, Dexter (1-5) is the better show. In Breaking Bad, things are slightly different, as Walt and Jesse bicker and argue and joke around, and their relationship as student/teacher isn’t forgotten by the writers, and is really compelling to me for some reason.

Aaron Paul’s performance is one of constant exhaustion. Jesse is always running on empty, but he’s got a job to do. In the early days he was driven by money, because while Walt destroyed his life, he couldn’t say no to all that cash he was raking in and then losing. Nowadays (I’m halfway through Season 4) he’s in it because he has to be, and because he couldn’t leave his partner. He couldn’t — and he doesn’t want to.

8. Clive Owen, Children of Men

Those goddamn long shots, man. They must be super-endurance tests for actors. As if filming in front of a disorienting, bizarre green screen for a whole third of a movie in Sin City wasn’t bad enough, now he’s gotta throw his body through all sorts of hoops, navigating physical post-apocalyptic landscapes that seem to go on forever. For us, this makes the world seem real, and the action intense. But for the crew? I can’t even imagine. Children of Men is choreographed and shot so well, it’s like a divine invasion hit Cuaron square in the brainular, and he just painted each frame with gold.

Of course, we know that’s not the truth. Everyone involved put their work in, and that includes our lead, the reluctant Theo.

7. Tom Woodruff Jr., from Everything Good and Gooey

The special effects team of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. has worked alongside Stan Winston and James Cameron in their prolific careers across almost all of the Alien films (the good and the bad), and very recently with The Thing. They’ve created many of the inventive and effective monsters of the past few decades, and Woodruff Jr. generally gets into the suit.

The physical toll the Robocop suit took on Peter Weller might be blamed on his not returning for a third return in that particular trilogy, but I have a feeling it was other things. Regardless, acting in a heavy rubber suit isn’t as fun as it might look on screen. And acting like a monster? Monsters have the tendency to a) move in otherworldly ways, like the Thing, and b) die horribly, like the Newborn from Alien Resurrection. While they do these things, they sometimes operate in environments thick with fog and goo. Ms. Winstead may talk of hyperventilation during the shoot, but Tom Woodruff Jr. I’m sure had brushes with overheating, even in the deep white of Antarctica…

6. Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

One word: Naked Shower Fight.

5. Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner

I’m thinking specifically of the ending scene, which I saw on TV a few days ago during Cinemax’s Blade Runner 30th Anniversary, though I thought that was the 25th because I was gonna do something for it on the website. Given the state of things even that seems unlikely but if I missed it anyway…

While watching the climax, after Roy has met his maker and Rick gets an address, I realize how good this movie is and how it gets better with each viewing — and how jacked up Roy is. “Five, six, seven, go to Hell or go to Heaven — *gets hit, smashes into window* — THAT’S THE SPIRIT!” He really goes crazy here in his ‘pursuit’ for Rick, and we see how childlike he becomes. There’s a poigniancy to the madness, and it’s something that the subsequent roles Hauer took on couldn’t fully reproduce.

4. Jason Stathom, Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage

Jesus. The Crank movies are great, and booming with energy. Stathom has become known for driving a car and killing people, but when I close my ears and think “Crank,” the image that always comes to my mind is Jason Stathom running down the street and screaming into the air. These movies really live up to their namesake, and the fact that the second one is actually better than the first speaks to a sense of inventiveness and adventure that Nelvedine/Taylor work in with fiery passion and technical skill.

It’s kind of like the Escape from New York sequels, Escape from LA and Doomsday — they take a ridiculous premise and break it down scene by scene, element by element, making it less a movie and more a loose string of wild, graphic, and original action scenes with all sorts of gimmicks and mayhem. At the center of it all in Crank and Crank 2 is Chev “Fuck you Chelios” Chelios, undoubtedly the most memorable action hero of the 2000s.

3. Sharlto Copley, District 9

There’s something to getting beat up, and then there’s another thing to getting beat up by aliens, robots, PMCs, and warlords in the arid world of Johannesburg. District 9 has it all, and van Wikus goes through it in his painful-looking journey that’d be like if Dr. Brundle went on a mission to save some aliens while being pursued by the private military he used to work with. While his body becomes something that seems to always explode in pus whenever touched, van Wikus is rolling around in the dirt and sand amidst exploding heads.

Sharlto Copley gave it his all in this movie, and we feel his pain without him having to verbalize it. Even when he gets into the robot suit, which is supposed to be fun, there’s a drill noise and he gets hurt by something! This is one hostile world, which gives a lot of weight to the look and feeling of the movie, which moves along at a brisk pace toward a thundering climax*.

2. Kate Winslet, Heavenly Creatures

It’s small wonder why Winslet blossomed into the superstar actress she is today, for when she was seventeen and a part of a sitcom, she was brilliant in one of Peter Jackson’s most acclaimed films, Heavenly Creatures. Seventeen! She bubbles over with a frenzy of joy and insanity, playing a character with real life connections — a killer — who’s unmistakably a little girl with a troubled mind and misunderstood passions.

She loves the world and all its details so much, though not the one we inhabit. She’s the other half of socially awkward, that of off-putting, where the other character, played by the also brilliant Melanie Lynskey (who, like Kate Winslet, is a beautfiul adult), is inward and quiet. Winslet’s character beams and LOLs, always smiling with that face that looks like it’s about to explode, even when she’s plotting to kill someone…

1. Choi Min-Sik, Oldboy

I don’t think the number one could be anyone else. Mr. Min Sik (Mr. Choi?) never had to naked shower fight, but he did eat a live octopus, fight through an uninterrupted and complex hallway battle, withstand all sorts of torture and transform his appearance radically. The character, Oh Dae Su, becomes a monster, and Min-Sik does this with sweeping power and emotion that culminates in one hell of an ending, where after the Big Reveal, he goes crazy in an intense fight scene, screams for mercy and acts like a dog, and then cuts his tongue out. What a movie, I tell you.

So there you have it. These are the performances I watch out for, and I’ll try to put more of these together for other ‘categories’ of acting later.

*I don’t care how lude this word is. There isn’t much else I can use…

Following or going back and researching production histories of your favorite movies can often yield interesting stages of development. For more troubled productions like Alien 3, a whole ton of writers submitted drafts, many promising, and many who probably would’ve murdered a then smiled upon franchise. Screenplays are written all the time, but are get the go-ahead much, much less often. In science-fiction, there can be any number of reasons for cooked projects. Budgets, that thing when an executive is replaced and he says “yeah none of these projects go forward,” you know how it is. Crazy world.

There is precedent for this type of thing, though I don’t think Dreck Fiction has enough clout to influence publishers, but Harlan Ellision’s I, Robot is widely available, so who knows. Maybe we will see some of this stuff. I also don’t even know if any of it is ‘lost,’ or just difficult for me to find. I don’t stray far from Amazon.com.

James Cameron’s Mother

Avatar is old, son. Older than me, came about in the days of Xenogenesis and Alien II. At the start of his career, James Cameron was just as much of a work horse as he is now (he does indeed take pretty epic breaks to dive to the Trench and stuff, but hey), at one high point writing three screenplays at once — a Terminator rewrite, an Alien sequel (terrifying I’m sure), and First Blood 2. Alien 2 benefitted from the research he was doing into the Vietnam War for Rambo, but it also happened to be influenced by Mother, a science-fiction movie.

The details are scarce, and if they aren’t I don’t very well remember them, but some of it had to do with Avatar (see, I didn’t mention it for nothing), and the Alien Queen. No matter what it is, it combines two of the greatest things ever, James Cameron and science-fiction, which has yielded some classics (T2, Aliens, The Abyss), and some clunkers (Avatar) — Cameron is definitely a hugely influential name in recent scifi, despite being a filmmaker and not an author.

Unfortunately, Mother has been so cannibalized by other Cameron movies it couldn’t possibly be made today (also taking into account Cameron’s Avatar-only agenda until 2020 AD), which isn’t quite the Planet Terror scenario — in that case, an old Rodriguez screenplay was chock-full of stuff, like Savini’s crotch rocket in From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado, but by 2009 still had enough to make for a crazy-ass zombie movie. Maybe it’s fortunate though, because reading Mother would be a warm, familiar place for any fan.

William Gibson’s Alien 3

I gotta be honest, the premise for this screenplay is pretty absurd. The origin behind the Alien, which I suppose preempts Prometheus by almost exactly two decades, is nano-robots, in true Gibson fashion. We know that William Gibson is a good writer and he’s got a fascinating imagination, but in the film and television realm, he hasn’t had great success. I’ve heard that his two episodes of The X-Files weren’t among the most memorable (or were, but for the wrong reasons), and of course Johnny Mnemonic stands as a shining example of the author at its worst, despite the film’s lasting entertainment value.

It’s hard to know whether the scripts are good and the direction and Keanu “I Want Room Service” Reeves performance are what kills it, but I think that either way it’d be an interesting read.

David Hayter’s The Chronicles of Riddick

You might be scratching your head over this, but for me it goes two-fold. I would love, love to see an earlier draft of The Chronicles of Riddick, which is in concept a fun space romp. Modern pulp fiction with a dash of badass angst. And though I have little reason to be, I’m a huge fan of David Hayter. He’s the screenwriter behind the first two X-Men movies, which I don’t really care for, and The Scorpion King, which is not as good as my beloved first two Sommers Mummy movies but was enjoyable enough to a twelve year old, and the voice of Solid Snake, the mascot for a video-game system I never had until a few years ago.

But I follow him on Twitter and I really like hearing him talk about Watchmen and Lost Planet and stuff. And when I saw that he wrote a draft of The Chronicles of Riddick I was shocked. I’d like to see an unfiltered voice (not audio) for this guy.

Interestingly, David Twohy (writer/director of The Chronicles of Riddick) wrote a draft of Alien 3, another in the long line of screenwriters on that film with such a tortured development history that also includes Walter Hill, the great action director and career producer for the cycle.

Philip K. Dick’s Ubik

Need I say more? I know I just got through talking how Gibson can’t adapt his own shit or whatever, but that’s only because we do have Johnny Mnemonic on hand. Philip K. Dick didn’t have much experience with movies, but had something of a hand in rejecting the initial drafts of Dangerous Days, or Android or whatever, which were allegedly rather hokey. So from this I shall jump to the conclusion immediately that he’s got good taste.

And Ubik is a nice and rounded story. A Scanner Darkly seems kind of oddly paced and everything, but Ubik builds toward an ending — it’s more cinematic. In fact, Linklater attempted to do Ubik before ‘settiling’ on A Scanner Darkly. So this isn’t the only time Ubik was tried and shot down. Meanwhile Open Your Eyes and Vanilla Sky happen, so I wonder how the near future Ubik movie will bode now that people can guess the ending.

David Cronenberg’s Red

Red or Red Racers. I’m sure if I saw Fast Company I’d have a pretty good idea of what this movie was all about, but this is a passion project for Cronenberg that never got off the ground due to the whole “Cronenberg never ever made money,” thing. Now, David Cronenberg has asserted that screenplays are not art, so he wouldn’t appreciate this post none, but I’d still love to know what Cronenberg thinks about outside of sexual body horror and hardcore violence. In this case it’s formula racing, a peculiar obsession of the man. I wonder what a movie would be like with the Dronenberg thematic eye, but applied to something like… racing.

Check it here

I gotta tell you this came as a complete surprise. I knew he was making a movie called Cosmopolis, and that it was an adaptation of a book, but I had no idea it was science-fiction, and no idea it was happening so soon.

Didn’t A Dangerous Method just happen?

I sure hope this opens wide, which sounds silly because Robert Pattinson is a big name, but so too I thought of Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender, but the last Dronenberg was nowhere — for me — to be found.

I get real excited when shit like this happens:
The last time Ridley Scott made a sci-fi movie, it was Blade Runner. Prometheus comes out this year.
The last time Dronenberg made a sci-fi, it was eXistenZ.

And yet, the last time Jesus Christ made an SF, it was Terminator 2, and twenty years after that came Avatar so… I have to be careful.

What a specific thing this is, and what a delicate feel modern action directors whiff on so frequently. Movies like Taken are on the right path, movies like The Expendables farther but still there, and movies like Machete miss it entirely. Thing is, those three movies are all pretty acclaimed, relatively speaking. The following movies are overlooked, underappreciated, or downright hated, and that’s because they’re far ahead of their time. Or… twenty to thirty years past…

Punisher: War Zone (2008)

Color, motion, composition, and endless violence. With this four year follow-up to the more popular and successful Thomas Jane Punisher, Lexi Alexander had pretty much free reign to do something we often shy away from, and the result is a balls crazy and allegedly faithful adaptation of Punisher comics. In those comics, people get their heads blown off, bodies torn apart, shot to pieces, and more — if that sounds good, pop this in the VCR and sit back. I think a problem with a lot of action movies these days is a mind-boggling commitment to realism. Movies are escapism, and we get to see in movies what we can’t see in real life or on TV shows or sometimes in our own minds because we wouldn’t think that a chair leg could be used to dispatch of somebody in such a way.

Punisher: War Zone is part slasher movie, and part zombie movie. It’s a slasher because the Punisher wrecks everyone he sees, and it’s a zombie movie — but without the zombies, which as of late have become the weakest parts of a zom… well never mind, that’s an absurd thing to say but I do believe they’re a bit played out. Six years ago. In zombie movies people get their heads blown off, bodies torn apart — you remember. The Punisher does horrible things to the human body, and he’s so eh about it. That’s why we have the straight man in Colin Salmon, a fan favorite despite rarely being in good movies, to react as we would when somebody gets their face removed.

Rounding out the cast are TV faces, in particular Dominic West of The Wire fame. Here he plays Jigsaw, and his reparte with “Looney Bin Jim,” who you won’t recognize from any of the comics, is comedy gold. In the end though, I appreciate that this movie commits to over-the-topness, and is plenty aware of what it is. A violence film, one that’s gleeful in its horrendous violence. The spectacle is spectacular, as people explode and get punched in — seriously, the Punisher could poke somebody in this movie and they’d start hemmohraging. Unfortunately for them he does much more than that.

Verdict: BUY, IMMEDIATREY

The Expendables (2010)

The build-up to The Expendables was enormous. Here’s a movie with everyone, about a team of soldiers who at some point will probably learn that they’re expendable, a classic trope whose best analog here would be Predator. I was also thinking Alien, but that’s not exactly an action movie. So I’m sitting in the theatre watching this movie and in the first five minutes a guy gets his head cut off with a sniper and I’m thinking, “Okay. I can see this.” But then the rest of the movie happens and it’s like… they just gave up. Or actually cared about their awful story. All I know is that it involves Angel Batista and waterboarding some chick, which was uncomfortable. Why would I want to see that? Was The Expendables gonna be the political thriller that’ll really bring to light all sorts of discussions on the morality of torture in our modern day? No, that’s clearly the job of 24: Season 8. There’s little action in this movie, and the action that’s there is average. Mildly entertaining, but highly disappointing.

These actors have Crank, Total Recall, Die Hard, First Blood, Terminator 2, and… Crank 2 between them, and The Expendables falls far beneath all of them. To be fair, Arnold wasn’t really in it, but he’s definitely in the sequel. Christ. I won’t go up to the box office and say “One for The Expendables 2 please… JUST KIDDING!” and then drive back home because it’s rated PG-13 (doesn’t really help though) I’ll do that because the first movie was atrocious.

Verdict: Avoid

Doomsday (2008)

The preemptive criticisms of this post-Descent Neil Marshall flick were priceless. They called it a mix of Escape from New York, 28 Days Later, and The Road Warrior. Now, I can’t speak for 28 Days Later — but look at yourself. Is that a bad thing?! I’d say more accurately the closest analog to Doomsday is Escape from LA, the much maligned sequel to Carpenter’s 1981 classic. Escape from LA to me set a precedent which was never capitalized on until Rhona Mitra hit the land beyond the wall in this movie, where it’s the same old song and dance: we quarantined a segment of population and they’re crazy. Time to check back in.

In Escape from LA you had transvestite Pam Grier, plastic surgeon zombie Bruce Campbell, Map to the Stars Eddie, surfing, evil basketball, and hanglider battles — it was completely wild and unpredictable, a 100% good time throughout, because amidst all this madness you have our favorite hero Snake Plissken, an entirely over-the-top and bad motherfucker. In Doomsday you have girl snake, a woman with an equally great name — Maj. Eden Sinclair.

I’ve talked a little bit about girls in science-fiction movies, and Eden Sinclair always places highly on ‘the list,’ (the one in my head) alongside better known femmes like Ripley and… Clone Ripley. She’s believably badass, and it isn’t like she’s just fighting useless stormtrooper types, you know the corporate soldiers in gas masks — she fights Ren fair knights and Mad Max cannibals. Add David O’Hara and one great chase scene at the end and you’ve got a recipe for Marshall’s best yet movie (though I haven’t seen Centurion). There’s actually more I want to say about Doomsday but this isn’t the time. So for now…

Verdict: Yes!

The Nelvedine/Taylor Catalogue

Crank, Crank 2: High Voltage, and Gamer are all great fun. Let’s look at each individually, because they’d all place on this list and you should infinitely see them.

Crank: The humble beginnings of one Chev Chelios, who finds out he’s a dead man in a high-concept movie. Shot on camcorders and rollerskates, this movie takes you to the action on a unique plane. There’s also very explicit violence and sex. For those It’s Always Sunny fans check out a cameo appearance by Glenn Howerton.

Crank 2: If you thought Crank was good, get ready, because Crank 2 is a phenomenon. Pretty much the insanest and funnest American action movie since Death Wish III. Eye-popping, and in at least two cases cringe-inducing. There’s just something about nipple cutting… These movies are endlessly inventive and highly motivational. Some days I’d like to just get up and run through town with a sexy accent, screaming into the air. The only fault I have with the movie is the villain. As much as I like Clifton Collins, Jr., and as great a character as he was, there was really great chemistry between Chev Chelios and the original guy — the first villain would also engage in a phone conversation with Chev and be like “We’re gonna kill you man,” and Chev would say something very casually and get the dude royally pissed off every time.

Gamer: I really enjoyed this movie. I know some have gripes with it, and maybe it isn’t as good as the others, maybe it takes itself too seriously, but I’m actually a big fan of the imagery in this movie, even as a straightup science-fiction film. The art design is great, the guns are big and cool, the battlefield is appropriately shattered, and Society is bright and eerie. It’s a movie with a surprisingly entertaining story, which is surprising given the saturation on the market across time for all these ‘evil sport on TV, look at yourself’ movies. This came out around the same time as The Condemned and Death Race, the latter of which I saw and also enjoyed quite a bit. If you’re into solid sci-fi shootemups or glorified B-movies or whatever name you want to give something like this, check it out. Explosions, Dexter, Zoe Bell, Gerard Butler with a gun, and the hectic assault on Society make it all worth it.

Verdict: Check em

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)

Interesting story behind this one, but it’s not my place to go over it here. It’s also one that made watching the movie slightly bittersweet, but don’t let it get to you because Hobo is a very entertaining grindhouse flick. It isn’t like Planet Terror or Black Dynamite which, while they do dabble in their respective horror and action, are comedies, and good ones at that. Hobo with a Shotgun pretends to actually take itself seriously — and it makes sense. These guys set out to make a crazy 80s action movie with a lot of blood, and they succeeded. While there was less Hobo than anticipated, it’s still a fun, gory ride, with an early cameo by Ricky from Trailer Park Boys, the one who’s always losing his head.

Of course, there’s plenty more; I didn’t mention any foreign movies, but there are a few that have a lot of action and lean toward the ludicrious — half of the 80s action movie was the HK school, stuff by Woo and To, and there are modern versions of those, but F. I’m out.

Hey guys, I don’t ever do this, but I’m gonna go ahead and recommend picking up The Thing on Blu-Ray when it drops on the 31st. There’ll be a new review shortly after then — just to show my appreciation. It’s a movie that somehow introduced novelty into its form as a remake, and makes for a highly entertaining monster flick.

This sounds like advertising, and I’m even wondering why I write this. The Thing (2011) isn’t the best movie I saw that year, but it’s very close to my heart. It also gets mixed into a fandom-related argument I find myself engaged in — don’t let personal bias get in the way. I won’t promise you’ll be blown away, but The Thing (2011) is like all remakes, prequels, sequels, or 3D re-releases: it does nothing to sour the original’s reputation as a classic, and stands on its own as an effective entry into sci-fi/horror canon.

Looking for free science-fiction-related entertainment but you’re a moron? Of course not, only intelligent people read this blog, it’s actually a requirement to sign on to my newsletter. Don’t know where I’m going with this. Anyway, if you’re looking for science-fiction 4 free, get a Netflix account and pretend like you’re not paying anything. Also, here’s some suggestions on the incredibly free (unless we’re talking about renting movies) YouTube.com.

I’m gonna go with, most of these are humor-based, and some have little relation to science-fiction.

10. Knoxs Matrix Revolutions

The only reason this is so high is because I didn’t think of it. Knox’s clay videos are more popular, and a lot of those are classics; take “Klay Kamping” for example. Here’s a comedy dub of The Matrix Revolutions, re-enjoyed here, perhaps more than it was the first time around.

9. Arnold’s account of Total Recall

Arnold impressions are a tricky business. People always, always overdo it. This guy doesn’t necessarily blow me away, but it doesn’t matter. To be fair, he was working with already great material, but it’s whatever. This video is hilarious.

8. Mass Effect: Commander Shepard is Such a Jerk

Mass Effect is one of the few video-games I think is really well-written and well-acted. It’s a rare thing, for sure. This video showcases the humor element, which is rather high in this three-part space opera.

7. Mega64: Resident Evil 4

These ne’erdowells go around acting out goofy elements of video-games around unsuspecting non-gamers. I haven’t even played RE 4, playing only the next-gen episode, which is a great co-op monster-blow-em-up. For more YouTube RE 4 videos, check out “Mr. Chris rants on KHIII and RE4.”

6. 160 Greatest Arnold Schwarzenegger Quotes

160 Quotes? I got to hand it to this guy.

5. Premakes: The Empire Strikes Back (1950)

Part of a clever video series with a cool premise. They take clips from classic sci-fi and set them to the tune of modern movies. It works particularly well for Star Wars because… well, you know.

4. Room Service

There are times in the day where I’m just like, “Man, I love Keanu Reeves.” What better movie to watch than Johnny Mnemonic, if we want to show our appreciation? I’m sure you can find the whole movie online for free, but let’s skip to the greatest scene, the greatest scene — perhaps ever.

3. Michael Bay: Power Director

I don’t know what the hell this is, but I watch it like once a month. When they show him dubbed over on On the Lot, it’s comedy gold.

2. The Amazing Predator Rap

Whenever I hear someone say “Listen,” with any range of firmness, I think of this video. “The helicopter moves into position.” It’s a great ‘nerdcore’ song, if it qualifies. He mixes dialogue into lyrics, something that was well balanced here and with the Robocop one but I think went too far with T2. This guy’s got a good taste in movies.

  1. Robocop: The Insane Version, Parts I & II

Part I

This is definitely the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I laugh so hard it’s embarrassing. If you love Robocop as much as I do, or as much any sane, mortal man, you must checka this one. I warn you though, this is the whole movie condensed into twenty minutes, so if you don’t want to get spoilered, steer clear. Watch Robocop — right now, regardless — and then see this.

Part II

“You a boy or something?”

11. Spaceship to Earth

Yeah I don’t know, somebody I know… recommended I see this…. and it was really a really smart movie.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a wonderful analogy to the state of the Hollywood picture. It’s the name that sells, same as always, but sometimes it seems that these guys aren’t aware of what they’re doing. They’re stabbing in the dark — Journey to the Center of the Earth has the same marquee value as The Mysterious Island (although who knows, with potential success of John Carter perhaps we’ll see a remake of At the Earth’s Core, and then interest in subterranean movies will be 2013), but because of the Journey 3D movie from a few years ago, that’s ‘renewed interest.’ it’s like a bizarre implicit (to the audiences) system of powering brands, so that in 2012 — the future — a movie called Journey 2: The Mysterious Island has marquee value. Maybe in time we’ll get an Unforgiven II: A Fistful of Dollars, when the western returns into this new Hollywood realm. Metallica can do the music.

Titles to me are an interesting thing, and in this day, the age of the franchise, they’re everything in movies. They’re the face of Hollywood trending, which to the consumer, really takes the ‘art’ out of the ‘art/business’ cocktail that is the film industry — the veil is lifted, we understand that big companies control movies, and right now, they’re taking notes from each other. You can’t call the third Twilight movie Eclipse. It has to be Twilight Saga: Eclipse, because the potential is there for $2 million worth of Twilight fans out there who don’t know the names of the books, and don’t watch trailers. God forbid it’s called Twilight 3.

Bad example; Twilight 3 is an adaptation of a book called Eclipse, so you’d just use that title (or, attempt to). But I think the numbering system, which in this day is underused, has significance. Now, this next segment is going to be really …wtf, in the sense that nerds go on about useless things but this is like that but to the max — bear with me.

Sequel titles are never decided by their artistic value. Were that the case, Rambo III would be called Rambo: First Blood Part III and Rambo Rambo First Blood Part IV, or Rambo IV. There’s no artistic value in the titles of Rambo movies, but this series in particular offers a good analogy; the marketing team or studio or whomever is willing to compromise the logical integrity of a string of sequel titles because they discover that Rambo’s the piece that has financial potential, not First Blood, the title of the original book and movie. To the lay, Rambo III has nothing to do with First Blood, and is is a sequel to Rambo, which came out exactly twenty years later? When you change the title like that, it gets pretty messy. There’s exactly one reason why they do it, and that’s kind of a bummer.

Something that’s re-become interesting to me is Bioshock Infinite, and looking at interviews online of Ken Levine. One of the things often brought up is something I believe I talked about many suns ago on this very website… the idea that Bioshock Infinite is called Bioshock Infinite, seemingly sharing in space occupied by a franchise going in an entirely different direction. There’s an issue here, and the issue is exacerbated by an initial sequel, Bioshock 2, which wasn’t done by Levine’s team, Irrational Games. Had Bioshock 2 been called Bioshock: Sea of Dreams or something, I don’t know I’m just spitballing, perhaps the problem would be less, but as it stands, the fans expect Infinite to take place in a ‘Bioshock universe’ if it’s going to take the name.

Levine’s philosophy here is that of the artist, not the businessman, as we might think. In his fledgling industry, which strives for establishment in popular entertainment each and every day, he’s all about pushing creative boundaries to ‘legitimize’ the medium; he’s right up there with Team Ico and the guys who do Heavy Rain, I suppose. This time around he wants to see what a sequel can do, because when we think of sequel, particularly with video-games, we get five new guns and a new creature or pallette swap. Same old stuff though, for the most part.

Why is it that a video-game sequel cannot be spiritually linked, as it often can be in movies or literature? It’s tricky, because the connection between Bioshock Infinite and Bioshock is closer than that of System Shock 2 and Bioshock, but not quite as with Bioshock 2 and Bioshock. The last example has both games taking place in the underwater city Rapture, and Infinite takes place in the city in the sky Columbia. System Shock 2 is in space, and is different, but similar. (I realize how ridiculous all of this is). The obvious point to bring up here is that they’re just trading on the Bioshock name, because that sells. Well, sure, but what was Irrational trading on the first time around? Don’t say ‘shock.’

I’m pretty sure there was an article on IGN talking about how inappropriate a title Bioshock was, and how a better title was Rapture. No hate toward IGN, but this mentality is definitely what Levine and co. are attempting to challenge. Referring to your game by an in-world element is incredibly limiting — on the flip, a thematic title can carry though. Also, it’s a dangerous practice on principle anyhow, because I’m pretty sure all the Halos are gone by Halo 4, and I don’t believe there were any Metroids in Metroid Prime 2: Echos. That’s the only one I didn’t [start to] play [and never finish because fuck puzzles, even easy ones].

When we think of Bioshock, we should think of a world effected by ideology — interactive impressionistic environments laden with satire. We should think superpowers, studies of civilizations and politics. It’ll be shocking to your system, cerebrally, and visually. The interactive element is dynamic because you’re shooting, using super laser powers (and in Infinite, swing around on rails), and the story/character bits may raise questions. Instead, fans only want to think of Rapture. Stop scamming us, Ken Levine. We’re on to you.

So this was… ostensibly about one topic. Titles… or Bioshock Infinite. It’s been a slow few weeks, which is why there haven’t been any posts. I know you’re all clammering.

 

1. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Note: It’s kind of confusing, but the post “1. The Ghost in the Shell,” did not mean that that was the #1 thing of the year, despite it following the other two Year End Review posts.

Here on Dreck Fiction I’ve talked about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World at length, so this will probably be retreading old territory — bear with me. In the end, the most awesome thing I saw this year came out last year, Edgar Wright’s third, and in my opinion, best movie — crazy as that sounds. When I first saw the movie over the summer, I was blown the hell away. Unfortunately I saw it the last day it was available OnDemand, one of the motivating factors behind the big decision to press enter. I always knew I was gonna like Scott Pilgrim; the trailers seemed promising and I had a lot of faith in Edgar Wright to make something that was at least entertaining. I remember very specifically — quite a feat, as I saw this perhaps five months ago — my dad came in the room and delivered some message so I had to pause the movie, and I paused it right before the Ramona/Roxy fight, maybe after Ramona threw Ann (who?) away. Sitting there, I was just thinking to myself, “I’ve really enjoyed this movie so far. I like the direction this is headed.”

As somebody who’s invested some time in learning about filmmaking, it’s hard for me not to zero in on the technical side of things, and ever since I started this blog I tend to think critically about movies when I’m watching them. Scott Pilgrim actually rewarded me for being aware of the filmmaking, because it’s such a finely crafted movie that when immersion is eschewed in this way, it’s a good thing. It allowed me to notice the details, which to director Edgar Wright are extremely important. The frame is always brimming with significant details and easter eggs — and boy does he and DP Bill Pope love the frame.

In terms of the look of the movie, it’s not even “look what we can do,” not even “look what we can do and how well” — it’s a spectacle resultant of very measured craft. Every eyepopping moment on screen, whether a product of the camera movement, clever composition, actor blocking, or visual effect, means something. Of course, the point of contention then for critics is that what it all means may not interest them, but that’s no excuse to not recognize the inspiring brilliance in this film’s making. Scott Pilgrim, appreciated today only by a small but very, very vocal minority, will have genre standing as time goes on.

It’s an outstanding example of the action-comedy, which, like the horror-comedy (of which Edgar Wright so excelled in six years earlier), requires a hefty amount of balance: tone, structure, wit — these elements aren’t enough, it’s within their combination that Scott Pilgrim and Slither and Desperado and other great, modern genre-mashups emerge. They must work with each other; this doesn’t feel like an action movie with comedic elements or a comedy with action scenes, it’s a whole film that plays out from start to finish, and by the time we reach the end, we’ve laughed, we’ve been excited, and we’re had our hearts warmed. The manufactured feel of so many other comedies and so, so many other action movies was left at the door.

The film had a predestination in terms of its artistic success, just like The Thing (2011), the next Mary Elizabeth Winstead movie, was doomed to critical and commercial failure at the point of its inception. It was based on preexisting material, which is a first for the director, though at the time of screenwriting the final volume had yet to be released, which led to some merciful reshoots* at the end of production. I’ve never read the comic, but I think the process and idea of adaptation set the wheels in motion for Edgar Wright. He took on a mission and was rather noble about it. Like Rodriguez wanting to make Frank Miller’s Sin City over Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, Wright strove to recreate the comic, but adapt it to the moving medium of film.

With such a dedicated force at the helm, there should’ve been little doubt in my mind that Scott Pilgrim was a movie to look out for, and right now there’s little doubt in my mind that the director’s fourth movie will be one to watch. It’s a pretty bold adaptation — in these days of Nolan’s Batman and endless reboots (these X-Men weren’t gritty enough), Scott Pilgrim feels fresh. The creators behind the film obviously adore the movie medium, and don’t shy away from its possibilities. Some people (I think) have called Crank one of the best comic book movies ever, because it is exactly that, despite not being based on anything.

Crank is the antithesis to a movie like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or any of the X-Men movies, which like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider and all these things — it revels in its form. Movies, like comic-books, have a heightened reality, but somehow this gets lost in Hollywood’s endless struggle to be super serious and realistic. I’m not saying that when Peter Parker and Mary Jane upside-down kiss that CG hearts should come out, because that would be inappropriate to its foundational laws of reality, but the dedication to realism has led filmmakers to want to play it safe in terms of spectacle.

With such high budgets, why don’t we ever see something that’s completely balls-to-the-walls? Like fucking Punisher: War Zone! Christ, every time I gotta complain about these damn comic book movies that’ll always be mentioned. War Zone wasn’t made on a $100 million budget, but it was totally fun. It had energy. Like Scott Pilgrim, which, because it was made on a very high budget, was able to go above and beyond. Very rarely in that movie has a frame been untouched by frenetic computer enhancements and craazy color.

At the end of the movie, we know that the heroes are going to fight the villains, probably in New York, and they’ll throw cars around. With a movie like Scott Pilgrim, it’s a mystery as to what’s simply going to be seen next. And when something wild happens, it’s almost always logical or, at least, never truly out of left field. Giant animated yeti is going to fight dragons in the middle of a battle of the bands? Sounds alright to me.

Well, that’s probably enough of my Continuing Adventures in Eternal Praise for this One Movie for now. I kind of lost steam there towards the end, but those comic book movies always piss me off, so when I perceive a chance to rant, I’ll take it.

So there you have it. Those are the ten best, and two worst, things I saw this year. Overall, it was pretty solid. Last year there were actually ten movies, but hey — if TV shows are gonna be as good as Arrested Development, I’ll certainly take TV shows. Good night, and have a happy New Year! (Excuse me if you don’t celebrate New Year’s, I know that’s not very PC of me**).

*The original ending to the movie was changed when the final book was released. Originally, and you can still see these scenes in the DVD, Scott ends up with Knives. Thankfully Brian Lee O’Malley was there to save the day, and Edgar Wright was so goddamn dedicated to being true to the source…

**HAHA SOCIAL COMMENTRAY

Before I talk about the number 1 on this list, which I’m not sure I even want to talk about, I figured to take a quick stop at the Worst Things of the Year, things that you must avoid. In no particular order, because I just cannot decide… (I left one thing off this list because it happens to be one of my friend’s favorite movies, and I’d feel bad trashing on it… let’s say it’s a particular Tony Scott movie with a particular actress from a particular pirate movie…)

The Takashi Miike Catalogue

Well I still have yet to finish Sukiyaki Western Django, and when I do expect to see a review; I’m torn so far. I have however seen — let’s see… two halves, one third, and one whole of his movies. None were good. He had probably the weakest segment on Three… Extremes, and everything else — 13 Assassins, Ichi the Killer, and Shinjuku Triad Society, were all terrible.

There’s no filmmaker I’ve wanted to like more than Miike but simply could not — he turns me in the opposite direction every time. I look at his filmography and see titles and recognize a few of them, but they all seem to be about ultraviolent guys busting each others’ brains out. Oh right, extreme Asian cinema — I love that stuff. Chan Wook Park n shit? No.

Park may have had some violence against women in… every movie so far, I suppose, but never rape. I don’t know rape is really where I draw the line on cinema violence. Irreversible sucks (but for more reasons than that). Cinema violence for me is very important. It’s escapism if it’s gratuitous, and it can be artful if it serves a purpose. People getting shot in Paul Verhoeven movies, people getting bludgeoned in Park movies, people getting mutilated in The Thing, which I just talked about here. I love it all, but when I have to watch for even one minute a girl screaming and being chased around by some dude — even a villain — I freaking hate that shit.

It’s not fun, and is that not what the exploitation mentality is all about? I suppose I’ve never really watched any women-in-prison movies or anything like that, but even those are supposed to be arousing. Entertainment, by some degree. This is just stupid.

So while the violence is good, the other shit is always bad.

It sucks because Sukiyaki Western Django tells me definitively, and for many reasons, that Miike is the Asian Tarantino. Not only because Tarantino’s making a Django movie, or because he’s in this movie, but Sukiyaki is totally grindhouse post-modern. I’ll talk about that later, but in premise it’s a pretty good idea.

The Office: Season 8

Before we begin, let’s do a quick recap of the fall of this TV show…
Season 5: The last time The Office was genuinely good. Once Idris Elba leaves and the Michael Scott Paper Company arc is over (which seemed troubling at the time), stop watching the show.
Season 6: Super over-the-top, some funny moments. Kind of uncomfortable to watch.
Season 7: Very worrisome. No laughs, any episode. Embarassing to watch.

For a time The Office was one of my favorite shows. But they just kept making bad decisions, and the characters got really, really terrible. I never realized but Jim was an incredibly interesting character, because his sense of superiority that the sitcom straight man usually carries (acknowledged by Lindsay on Arrested Development), must be very well balanced. Jim was always kind of an asshole, but nowadays, when that assholicism isn’t balanced by wit or realism or sympathy, he’s just a plan dick.

Dwight is annoying. He’s no longer the naïve ass-kisser — he’s an aggressive weirdo. Pam is one-dimensional, she only talks about the baby, which is… less than exciting. Robert California adds nothing, Gabe is still here for some reason. Andy is the boss and he isn’t what he used to be, Erin is strange, and their relationship is the least compelling of the five or so that’ve been on this show.

The supporting characters have become caricatures of their past selves. They jockey for the camera and act out — shout, dance — one could never possibly mistake this office for a workplace. Old Office worked so well because the comedy was not only well written, but organic. The writers applied comedy to the workplace environment, and the writers now seem to do the opposite, force the workplace into your typical bad sitcom.

The decline has been steady. Each season has gotten worse, and though there are a few glimmers of hope, like the John Krasinski-directed episode which wasn’t totally terrible, and Craig Robinson and the new warehouse. But I’m rarely optimistic. Once a show goes south, it rarely gets back.

Honorable Mentions (For Good Stuff)

Well I totally forgot about Letters from Iwo Jima, so there you have it. Also good was Hobo with a Shotgun, which you should definitely check out. Better than Machete, maybe a little less awesome than Grindhouse.

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