Category Archives: Movies
Director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 franchise reboot was, by most accounts, a pretty good Star Trek film. A little heavy on the lens-flare, perhaps, and for those familiar with the characters, it could occasionally suffer from “origin story fatigue”. But all the pieces were there, the roles were well-cast, and the decision to branch out into a parallel universe and free the series from the confines of old continuity was well-played. The recently released follow-up, Star Trek Into Darkness is not just a good Star Trek film or even just a good sci-fi film, it is simply a good film. The all around stellar cast now fully inhabits their iconic roles, and Into Darkness breaks into that once-rare territory of sequels that easily surpass the original.
As a musician, Rob Zombie has carved out a genre all his own, and every new album he releases is, for lack of a better word, an incredibly “safe” buy for me. His back catalog doesn’t really have any low spots as far as I’m concerned, and when he made the transition into filmmaking part of me was hoping for more of the same. And really, things got off to a pretty good start. House of 1000 Corpses certainly had its issues but at the end of the day it feels like it’s just for me. It’s a long-form music video with some pretty great performances out of Bill Moseley and Sid Haig, tons of memorable dialogue, and a few truly impressive scenes (the backyard execution, for one). And it spawned the vastly improved sequel The Devil’s Rejects, which so far is one of my favorite horror movies of the 21st century. Then he started remaking Halloween films and I stopped caring. The original Halloween was a perfect one-and-done horror story; it didn’t need its sequels, much less a remake. Much less a sequel to the remake. So when Zombie started leaking casting info and images from his newest film, The Lords of Salem, I really wanted to be on board. I didn’t get the same strong sense of concept that I did with his first two efforts, but it wasn’t Halloween 3 and it wasn’t aping any of the well-worn trends that have caused me to take a step back from the horror genre as of late, so despite any minor reservations it really felt like something to get excited about.
Danny Boyle is a squirrelly director to try to pin down. In 1996 Trainspotting made me fear hard drugs and heroin in particular more deeply than anyone has ever feared anything, in the history of fear. 28 Days Later came along and was a brilliant “zombie” movie while simultaneously probably wrecking the zombie movie subgenre for years to come. Then, after a handful of great films across a wide variety of genres, the Academy finally backs a truck full of Oscars up to his front door for Slumdog Millionaire, and I just…I might be in the minority here, but I hated that movie. I made it through, but only via sheer force of will. 127 Hours was an incredible experience which threw me firmly back into Team Boyle, but it’s hard to deny that, compared to his other work, it felt like the product of someone who had tasted gold and wanted more. I started to long for the old days, a feeling that finally seeing Shallow Grave solidified. What I’m trying to say is that as a subscriber to the auteur director theory, Danny Boyle renders my belief structure difficult and uncertain at times. He maintains a strong visual style which I adore, but his project choices have such an element of randomness to them that I’m never quite sure how excited I should be about his next release. Anyone else occupying the same fence as I do would be well served to go out and grab a ticket to Boyle’s newest film, Trance.
When I first heard the news of Roger Ebert’s death, 12 hours ago as of the time I’m starting this article, my immediate reaction was that this was going to be the hardest article I ever had to write. Then after reading a handful of pretty eloquent tributes/obituaries from around the Internet, I decided I wasn’t going to write one myself. I felt like everything that could be said had been said, much of it by better writers than myself. I thought I’d save myself the experience of being at the computer at 4am, halfway through a bottle of wine and trying to maintain enough composure to write about something that affected me deeply enough that I feel like I’m still trying to process it. Then I sat down and wrote a few pages of a screenplay for a homework assignment that about five other people in my class will do and even fewer will actually care about. Later on I watched a pretty great documentary called These Amazing Shadows, about the process of preserving and inducting movies into the National Film Registry. As I watched the credits roll on that, I realized I wasn’t escaping this article. There are few things in this life that make me as happy as not only watching movies, but also discussing them with everyone I possibly can, and to that end I owe a great deal to Mr. Ebert. I’ll sadly never get to tell him that myself, but at the very least I can tell a bunch of other people about it.
On the scale of toylines that get turned into movies, 2009′s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra fell somewhere between Michael Bay’s first two Transformers movies. It was slightly more of an incoherent mess with no regard for the source material than Transformers, but at least managed to not be an offensive and racist mess like Revenge of the Fallen. Mostly, it just made me sleepy. I actually fell asleep on my first two attempts to watch it, not getting all the way to the end until the third try. Like how you hear about mental techniques designed to help people withstand torture, I think my body has just been conditioned to shut down during Stephen Sommers movies. Even with a new director I was wary about a sequel, but the fact remains that way back at the tender age of 19, my very first tattoo was a Cobra insignia. I’m immensely fond of the original cartoon and the surprisingly well-written 80′s comic book series, and truly believe that somewhere in there lies the potential for a great series of films. When it comes to fulfilling that potential, GI Joe: Retaliation doesn’t quite get there, but it’s definitely aimed in the right direction.
Stoker is the US directorial debut of Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook, best known in this country for his “revenge trilogy”, comprised of the thematically similar but otherwise unrelated films Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance. I’m a big fan of those three titles, as well as his contribution to the anthology film Three… Extremes, but I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how he’d handle a more low-key American thriller. But the trailer grew on me each of the four times or so that I saw it in the theater, and despite Fox Searchlight’s baffling strategy of following up heavy marketing with a whisper-quiet limited release spread out over an entire month, we finally managed to find a theater nearby that was playing it. Was it worth the wait and/or effort to see? Read on and find out!
The very fact that I spent two hours watching V/H/S with hundreds of other films at my disposal says a lot about the times in which we live. First of all, with lowering equipment costs and a number of affordable digital distribution methods, the idea that anyone can become a filmmaker is more realistic than ever before. Second, the ever-expanding number of film bloggers with which I become acquainted on some level or another means that I’m exposed to a large degree of hype for many movies that would otherwise probably fly under my radar. Sometimes, as with 2011′s Hobo with a Shotgun, this all adds up to a good thing. On the other hand, V/H/S, an eight-writer-and-director foray into the apparently lucrative “found footage” horror subgenre, underlines an important caveat for all aspiring filmmakers out there; just because the tools are easy to get doesn’t mean you’ll be any good at using them.
For the past couple months I’ve been weighing the last year’s worth of films against one another in an effort to come up with some sort of obligatory year-end “Top Five” list, and I’ve arrived at one conclusion. Considering the intense war that Hollywood seems to be waging on its own product and the identical feculent pods that issue forth every weekend from the bloated reproductive sac at the very core of that foul hive, 2012 was an unusually entertainment-rich year. I lurched my shambling form into the theaters more often than usual to be sure, and I can’t lie: I saw a whole lot of really great movies. There’s a lot that I thought might be horrible but wasn’t, and a handful of really big things that didn’t get covered on A Nerd Occurrence due to some poor coordination on our part. So in an effort to talk about everything I want to talk about, I’ve expanded the list to a more inclusive count of ten, and even then I had to make some cuts. So without further ado, in a suspenseful and roughly ascending format, here are my favorite films and strongest recommendations of 2012.
Django Unchained, the latest film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino, is a hyperviolent revenge fantasy set in the American south, two years before the start of the Civil War. Equal parts Jack Hill and Sam Peckinpah, Django is another in a long line of Tarantino’s love-letters to the rough-edged, anything-goes cinematic landscape of the 1970′s. Tarantino wears his influences on his sleeve, and a handful of jaded reviewers have begun calling out his use of genre conventions like it’s something he was ever trying to hide in the first place. What those same reviewers often fail to grasp is the skill needed to blend, refine, and refresh those ingredients time and time again. The heroes and villains of both the “blaxploitation” and western films of the 70′s were all but crushed under the weight of the genres themselves, and have blurred together into a small handful of archetypes that the general viewing public only remembers today as either “Pam Grier” or “Clint Eastwood”. Django Unchained, on the other hand, is a work populated with interesting and memorable characters, and it serves as a reminder of why Tarantino is perhaps the most consistently great director in Hollywood today.
Brevity: the soul of wit, and longtime arch-nemesis of director Peter Jackson.
Really Jackson is the ideal director to handle the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work; it would be difficult to find another director with the same attention to detail and general disregard for streamlined storytelling as Tolkien himself. This isn’t a slight against the author, I’ve read both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings many, many times. But would be dishonest to say that the prose isn’t often cumbersome, and occasionally downright unwieldy. This works in novel form though, where one is free to take in the information at their desired pace. However, it’s the sort of thing that takes its toll on a theatrical audience. Tolkien was also wise enough to cut the exposition off at a certain point, and he confined many of the peripheral stories and character lineages to a set of very thorough appendices and a handful of other books pieced together for those who wish to delve deeper after the fact. Similarly, much of what was shot for the three Lord of the Rings movies was left out of the versions intended for general consumption, and later made available on DVD for the benefit of that smaller audience who were left wanting more. So what happened here? How did The Hobbit, more or less a children’s story and shorter than any one of the three books that follow, end up as an entire trilogy all its own with a very similar runtime? Since this isn’t a traditional film with a beginning, middle, and end, it’s hard to judge it on traditional criteria, so instead I’m just going to do my best to break the whole thing down and have a look at how it’s constructed.