Saturday, October 6, 2012

Oh man, oh god, oh man...

Oh look, it's October! That means science fiction month is over. Let's look at how well that went.


Right. If you'll all let me get the part where I whine and make explanations that suspiciously like excuses, part of the problem was the derailment of my schedule. I stuck to it almost well at first, but then another deadline intruded. And here is where I went wrong: I tried to adjust the schedule in my head, as opposed to actually committing it to my Google Calendar or posting an updated schedule or anything. I have found, time and time again, that if a schedule or a deadline or a thing I wanted to do today exists solely in my head, and something else comes up, I will push it aside and fail to accomplish it. So as much as I dislike changing schedules once I've "committed" to them and put them on a blog that no one reads (if you're reading this, sorry to break your nonexistence to you this way) it would seem that the alternative, when they are disrupted, is not making them. So I apologize for changing the schedule now, but I apologize more for not changing it sooner.

Also, my Day The Earth Stood Still is longer than all the other ones, and still barely maybe halfway done. I think I'm single-handedly trying to make up for the utter lack of serious critical appreciation I've seen for this movie. Because, you know, my opinions are extremely important and highly regarded.

Anyway, I am going to commit to a new schedule for October! Incidentally, it's going to look a lot like the old schedule. Despite my roommate's desire to watch horror movies, I will continue with my goal of watching a boatload of science fiction movies during October, since I failed to achieve it in September. Also, this will give me a chance to legitimately watch Prometheus again. Halfhearted excitement! Here is the new schedule:

October 8th: Solaris (1972). I moved this to the front to give myself a break from The Day The Earth Stood Still, and also some time to finish that behemoth. Also because I've been itching to come back to it. I don't know I'm going to put stunned silence onto (digital) paper though.
October 11th: Solaris (2002). I've also been itching to revisit the remake, which I haven't seen in much longer. I'm excited to see what I didn't get when I was younger (ah, those long four years).
October 15th: The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). I will fell this beast, no matter the toll it takes upon me.
October 18th: District 9 (2009). I've decided this makes a better parallel with The Day The Earth Stood Still than I, Robot does. Also, I have a much greater desire to watch and write about this than I do I, Robot.
October 22nd: Kiss Me Deadly (1955). I moved this after Day The Earth Stood Still because, for some reason only I understand, I seem incapable of writing about one without the other.
October 25th: Inception (2010). Spoiler alert: It might mostly be a dream?
October 29th: Alien (1979). Who says I'm not doing any horror movies?
October 31st: Maybe a surprise! Who knows?
November 1st: Prometheus (2012). I hope I can get a copy of this movie without paying too much, because I didn't like it that much but I would like to write a lot of words about it.

You'll notice that the first half of that schedule mostly refers to The Day The Earth Stood Still in my reasoning for reordering them. That should give you an idea of how hard this review has been.

Also, a (small, imperceptible, not an excuse for not getting shit done) part of the problem has been my feeling that all the writing I'm doing for reviews isn't really necessary. First, the idea behind these systems is that the number should (approximately) explain itself. If a movie gets a score of 255 under a review system, you know that I answered "yes" to every question that system poses, and if it gets lower, you can use math (the horror!) to figure out which questions were answered positively and which were answered negatively. So me writing about it extensively is nice and all, but isn't really the point of the blog. Second, to adequately test this theory (or these systems), I need a lot of sample data, which I simply cannot accumulate by doing one or two lengthy reviews a week.

Now don't worry. I won't stop vomiting entirely too many words into the unpaying void – I've put too much effort into this damned Day The Earth Stood Still review to give up now – but every Friday I will also do much shorter reviews (as opposed to, I suppose, the analyses I've been doing) of whatever I've watched that week (movies I watch on Friday will be covered the next Friday). This may end up with some redundancy, but I've decided that if this scale is meant to measure subjective opinions, and people can change their opinions, then the scores we come up with ought to change with them. I will therefore re-review anything I rewatch, doing my best to ignore the score I gave it previously, and compare the two scores as best I can with my feelings about the movie after each time I watched it. This is some serious psychological shit, but it seems to make sense.

So basically, Monday is classic science fiction, Thursday is new science fiction, Friday is short reviews of everything I've watched recently. Repeat until November, at which point I will hopefully be on schedule and will probably slacken my pace to one large-scale review per week.

And with that, allow me to present you with (trumpet fanfare) The First Ever 8-Bit Film Reviews Weekly Roundup Of Movies That Are Totally Unrelated Except That I Watched Them Recently™ (title suggestions welcome):

Looper (2012): English, 118 min, written and directed by Rian Johnson, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt. 251 (11111011) with System 1, 189 (10111101) with System 2. Wow, those are wildly different scores. Looper is about time travel-facilitated organized crime, and if that doesn't immediately sell you on a film then nothing will. It delivers everything its premise promised: action, badassery, science fiction setpieces, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, and a plot to make your head spin. Unfortunately, it apparently made Rian Johnson's head spin too. I docked points for execution (specifically artistic) because, despite some great acting, cinematography, and occasional intrusions from Johnson's signature (and excellent) jarring editing technique, it runs into a couple of plot holes caused, as might be expected, by time travel. This doesn't affect the film much – you probably won't figure them out for a few days – but I've found two so far. One's not too serious, but the other one is a show stopper, completely invalidating the ending. Oh, and about that ending: ignoring the problems with temporal mechanics, the ending cannot be taken at face value. Logically, this has to be the single most dishonest ending I have ever seen in a film, and if that was intentional I think it's brilliant. If the ending is meant to be taken seriously, then that's another (gaping) plothole. Ultimately, though, plot holes make the road bumpy, but not impassable. The second score is so much lower than the first, I think, because System 2 hits on something System 1 ignores: the personal connection. Don't get me wrong, I loved Looper. I was never bored, I never didn't care about the characters, I never wanted to stop watching, and I don't feel like my money was wasted. But for some reason I ultimately never felt completely in thrall with the film. Maybe I'm being too harsh – I certainly could count the hours of contemplation I spent unravelling the plot and finding the holes as a personal connection – but I still felt, as I left, that I had seen an awesome movie, but not a "great" one, and I think this is what it comes down to. Perhaps when I see it again (and resolve whether the plot holes are real) I'll change my mind, but for now I'm content with saying that 189 out of 255 is pretty good, but that 253 out of 255 is perhaps a little too high.

The Master (2012): English, 137 min, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. 255 (11111111) with System 1, 255 (11111111) with System 2. I think this might be my first perfect score for any movie (I can't remember what I gave Lebowski) and definitely the first to get the same (perfect) score under both systems. And that is absolutely correct. To say that any film is perfect is obvious hyperbole; perfection in a subjective medium is impossible. But based on first viewing (and you will almost certainly see this covered again next week) there is not a frame of this movie that should be in any way different. Joaquin Phoenix's face is like Play-Doh that Paul Thomas Anderson sculpts into a stunning portrait of alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder. His laugh looks more like a painful contortion of his lips, and it's no wonder that you see him bracing for it long before he actually lets loose the chilling sound. And Philip Seymour Hoffman's calm control is almost hypnotic, until we see that thin veneer shatter whenever his authority is challenged. His outbursts explain the real truth behind his continued insistence that he knows Phoenix's character from somewhere; it is not the fantastical science fantasy he has constructed as a religion (the Scientology parallels are unmistakable but never actually important, as it should be) but the extreme similarity of their persons, the feeling of looking at your younger self, or where your younger self could have ended up. And the cinematography! I'm going to end this before it goes on too long, because doubtless countless other reviewers can do a much better job talking about this film in less than 500 words than I. But I will say that 255 out of 255 is the correct score for this movie, whatever the scale.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928): Silent, 82 min, co-written and directed by Carl Theodore Dreyer, co-written by Joseph Delteil, starring Renée Jeanne Falconetti, Eugène Silvain, André Berley and Maurice Schutz. 215 (11010111) with System 1, 175 (10101111) with System 2. Joan loses its first points with me because, despite never disliking it, I never felt particularly entertained by it, which I decided was the goal of cinema for some reason. I frequently found it fascinating, stunning, and horrifying, but it seemed to be trying to sustain the intensity of a fever dream and ending up coming off flat. I've seen silent films I've liked (The Man With The Movie Camera, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, um... The Man With The Movie Camera) and while this certainly wasn't "stop the movie" boring, it never felt sufficiently compelling. Plenty of movies (Martha Marcy May Marlene, uh, the movie I reviewed just above this one) can sustain a terrifying emotional intensity over much longer periods of time. Perhaps comparing these recent films to a silent film from 1928 is unfair, but I tried to go in prepared for a silent movie, and came out appreciating the power of certain scenes while still thinking those 82 minutes felt long. That said, the cinematography was absolutely brilliant. I have never seen a movie use high and low angle shots that well (erhaps The Master but I should really stop gushing), and the constant close-ups certainly seem like they should keep the intensity up. I found this film fascinating more as a filmmaker than as an audience member, and while that's a big part of my life it's not everything.

Robot & Frank (2012): English, 89 min, directed by Jake Schreier, written by Christopher Ford, starring Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon and Peter Sarsgaard. 229 (11100101) with System 1, 243 (11110011) with System 2. It's rare to go into a movie expecting to roll your eyes at more than half of a movie, and come out never once having been disappointed in what was just put in front of you. No one would accuse Robot & Frank of being particularly bold or innovative or "important" (whatever that means), but it is a solidly entertaining and perfectly likable film, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sure, it isn't earning points for "goals of art" or for setting lofty goals for itself (I answered "no" to all questions about intent in both systems), but sometimes that's perfectly all right. Most movies that fail to achieve artistically fail in many other respects as well, but this one doesn't. It's perfectly content to be a passable movie that will keep me entertained until the credits roll, and if it were anyone else they would probably forget it even existed within a week. But for me, because it has a robot (and because it has what I would be willing to bet bet is an absolutely spot-on portrayal of the date-unspecified near future), I will remember it entirely longer and more fondly than perhaps I should. There is nothing wrong with Robot & Frank. This is usually something I hate in movies, but here I'll let it slide.

Scanners (1981): English, 103 min, written and directed by David Cronnenberg, starring Patrick McGoohan, Stephen Lack, Jennifer O'Neill and Michael Ironside. 235 (11101011) with System 1, 183 (10110111) with System 2. Perhaps this is merely an indication of how much left-leaning political analysis I read during the average day, but when an early scene of this film featured the board of directors of a corporation discussing how they had been attacked and that they had to go to war, my immediate thought was "this is a pretty good portrayal of the American military-industrial complex." (I then proceeded to choke on a collection of political lectures from Noam Chomsky.) Scanners is fairly campy, but never lapses into egregious stupidity. Its camp comes from an almost single-minded dedication to violence and gore that some people might find excessive or unnecessary, but I find exhilarating when done right, and this film is an example of it being done right. My only reservations are that it does not satisfy my ideas about the goals of art (to explore), and that the acting was occasionally too campy. This is a movie that you can describe to your friends as "fun," and I encourage you to do so because it's certainly worth watching with a group of people who want to have some.

All in all, a bunch of pretty solid movies! A full breakdown examining these scores against previous ones and judging how the scores stack up to my actual opinions on the films will come sometime later this weekend when I feel like doing it. For now I am going to collapse into my bed and lapse into unconsciousness.

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