Aug 192016

Scorch Trails Movie PosterEasily the most disappointing sequel I’ve seen in a long time. Which isn’t to say the first movie was great, but at least it seemed to know what it was and delivered a focused and snappy “boys pushed into manhood” story that echoed without aping something like Lord of the Flies.

This sequel loses the snappy focus, jumping along instead from one story point to the next, feeling like a chain of moments, none of which are particularly interesting and all of which feel ticked off from a to-do list compiled during a methodical and fairly uninspired reading of the book.

And the boys who are ostensibly the central characters? They are tag-alongs: present at the action but saying and deciding nothing.

It turns out that I actually liked the first one enough to be discouraged by the way this one turns out…

 August 19, 2016  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Jun 052016

Ex MachinaA small sci-fi film (it’s scale reminded me of Moon) that I enjoyed. Two things surprised me as I watched.

First, technical intellect and intellectual analysis are fundamental to the narrative situation insofar as they are assumed to underpin the possibility of AI in a near-future sci-fi. Yet, the story  itself pushes away from intellect and analysis, imagining a very cramped, “dude”-like notion of emotional life and placing that emotional experience at the center of the characters’ interactions. This is a nice magician’s trick: it makes asking for technical explanations of story events—explanations which would risk breaking the illusion supporting the fiction—a sign of a character not being up to speed intellectually.

Second, unless I’m missing something, the definition of AI offered by the film doesn’t depend so much on consciousness as it does on demonstrating enough autonomy to have become dangerous. This was unsettling. I guess I watched Short Circuit enough times as a child to have internalized a different expectation of a thinking machine.

May 282016

Ryan Reynolds is like a Cinnabon. Both look good, and on a crazy day when you’re feeling “what the hell,” you might decide to treat yourself. The problem is that once the morsel is in hand, you realize that it’s both too much and kinda empty. If you’re the honest sort, you’ll probably even admit it stinks (in one case literally).

All of which is too bad really because Reynolds seems (as much as you can tell from afar) like a nice and geeky guy. And he does look good.

So I am happy to discover that Self/Less, unlike a Cinnabon, doesn’t stink and isn’t terrible. It’s just ordinary and dialed in in a way that reminds me of a well done made-for-TV movie. But that’s fine because what the hell? and sometimes it’s okay to treat yourself.

 May 28, 2016  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Mar 052016

The Congress

The Congress offers an honest portrait of the weirdness of modern life. It is metafictional, hyper-referential and combines both photographic and animated images. The resulting story has a nostalgic, cyberpunk vibe but takes seriously the problems of identity and of anonymity that emerge in a digital world where no one can hide but, paradoxically, no one can be found either.

I expected the film to be broadly critical of digital spaces, but it isn’t. To take only one example, the virtual world discovered by the protagonist, an actor eponymously named Robin, juxtaposes exposure and invisibility in a frenetic, overwhelming space. But her situation is not unrelated to the perpetual exposure and riskiness of the private home she seeks to build for her family by the runway of the airport in the early scenes of the film. Privacy and anonymity are not synonymous, and so there are differences between these two situations, yet the resonance between them suggests that a history of the distinction between personal and social identities in digital spaces can be devised, and that, if it were, it might allow us to make some sense of virtual spaces. The alternative captured by the film would be to mistake isolation for integrity.

The film’s story is at root about the difficulty of aging and the inevitability of growing old. Viewed against this narrative, the social difficulties of the constantly changing digital world emerge as a problem of subjective temporalities. Robin confronts digital change, what we might call “the new,” heavy with memory, and she has difficulty, I think, imagining herself as both old and alive in a world that is not the past. (In this Robin is emblematic of our culture: we have great difficulty representing age as something other than the time of the not-yet-dead, of the past-but-not-gone. It’s not incidental that this impossibility of aging is figured in Robin’s capture while young by an indexical sign, the photograph.) The alienation Robin feels casts the digital as a generational concern and suggests our discourse around the digital is, perhaps fundamentally, the stage we currently use to perform “youth” and “age” as part of our ongoing struggle to live in time.

The film is far from perfect and I disliked the position the autistic child seemed to hold in the story. I’m also abstracting quite a bit from the details in the story. But I think that the film is interesting and provocative enough to support the reading. A happy find.

 March 5, 2016  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Feb 182016

Wide sense8 spread

Sense8 is a difficult series to get started. The focus shifts constantly between characters and locations without any shared story (or any hope of a shared story). Plus, it takes time for the ten characters — 8 principals, and two marginal — to accumulate enough screen time to gather substance and come to life. All of this added up to an urge to move on to other things, but I remained “invested despite,” and I stuck with the series. I suspect some of it has to do with loving Speed Racer and some of it with my head-over-heels admiration of Lana Wachowski (for reasons).

Whatever the reasons, I kept watching, and things began falling into place. Step one: the Karaoke number shared across continents at the end of episode four, “What’s Going On?” Step Two: the genuinely moving conversation between the African man and the Korean woman and the specter of the terrible wedding in episode five, “Art is Like Religion.” By the endlessly screencapped episode five, “Demons,” the full-on crazy, pot-head on acid concept of what the show was doing began to sink in. Plus it was clear that Lana and the fraternal unit were committed to keeping things both relentlessly sexy (Max Remelt!) and jaw-droopingly beautiful (South Korea! India!). I was hooked.

But cross-cultural, cross-continental (mental not physical?) sexy time aside, what is going on here?

My sense is that the Wachoski’s are making classical cinema but that they are carefully breaking two fundamental rules of the form and exploring the consequences. The first broken rule relates to scope. A classical Hollywood feature is 90 to 120 minutes long. In special cases, especially auteur or prestige films, a runtime might stretch to 180 minutes. Sense8 constructs a story that is reportedly complete and that spans sixty episodes or five seasons (lets call them acts). This amounts to roughly 2900 minutes of story. Managing something of this length, I now realize, poses specific challenges. For example, I’ve watched 12 episodes, and by the end I recognized familiar signals that indicate the conclusion of “Act One.” In other words, after 10 hours of television, the initial presentation of the conflict was complete and the drama was about to begin. This is — judged by any ordinary standard — insane. How do you develop a coherent story of such length that is barely (and perhaps non-) episodic? Sense8 is attempting it and appears to be operating within the traditional structure of the five-act play. That’s interesting.

The second rule of classical cinema that the series breaks relates to the construction of space across the cut. Méliès made magic by moving objects in front of a fixed, static camera. Hollywood constructed stable, coherent spaces by cutting from one camera view to another in a rational, cumulative sequence organized by visual matches between shots. Sense8 uses the matching of traditional Hollywood editing in the service of an impossible, magical space. Scenes within the series occur — almost by default — in multiple locations. Conversations, for example, regularly take place between people separated by thousands of miles. The editing, however, takes no account of these physical realities and cuts shots together by the same logic that governs the representation of a conversation at a single table in a restaurant in the most banal of romantic comedies. By the end of the first season, scene after scene plays out in two or three (or more) locations, characters bounce back and forth between locations, and all of these shifts — organized and enabled by the techniques of classical editing — cohere without confusion. The result is a representation of a purely fictional mental space that I feel I have seen and that is integral to the plot but that makes no sense at all when I try to describe it to people who have not watched the show because it is entirely fantastic and completely experiential.

This is all fascinating — and portentous and overblown (yes, I admit it) — but also very entertaining.

I ended the season eager to find out if Netflix would spring for another season. It turns out they have. So I’m excited, but, because I am greedy, I would like to hear that they have green-lighted the full five seasons: I want to see the entire arc and how it works.

 February 18, 2016  TV Logs Tagged with: , ,
Oct 302015

I rewatched this series of movies for the first time since they were in the theatre. (I’d seen the first many times, but the last two each only once.)

It’s better than I remembered.

Filming multipart releases in one extended shoot has become more common post-Lord of the Rings. The Wachoskis were ahead of their time in this regard and many of the things that drove me batty the first time watching the series were, I now realize, missteps in handling the episodic realities of an ambitious three-part story.

 October 30, 2015  Movie Logs Tagged with: ,
Oct 242015

Aliens SEWatched the director’s cut of Aliens, which I’d never seen. Realized two things.

First, the story of the longer version was really engaging. I realize length is an issue with feature releases, but sometimes it is worth letting a film’s story breath.

Second, Sigourney Weaver was acting this movie to pieces. I think the genre of the film makes that easy to discount, but her performance is very, very good.

Oct 232015

Alien 3I disliked Alien 3 when it came out and had never watched it a second time. My brother convinced me to give the director’s cut a try.

It is like a different movie, and Sigourney Weaver is drop-dead amazing. Her performance invents layers beneath and between the lines of the action-horror script, recreating the film as both sensible and engaging.

A new favourite instalment in the series.

Oct 122015


Science giving Nolan a reason to tell a story out of order again. Pretty great movie despite the fact that I deeply dislike both Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway.

 October 12, 2015  Movie Logs Tagged with: