Haiku and Review, Scifi Edition: Barbarella, Event Horizon, Alien: Covenant, Starship Troopers, The Thirteenth Floor

After listening to the latest season of the podcast You Must Remember This, which featured Jane Fonda, my wife and I thought it would be kind of neat to go through Fonda’s filmography.  We started with her first real movie role on Walk on the Wild Side and after a few more films, arrived at…

Barbarella
This is one strange film.
So strange that I had to stop.
And feel terrible…

After half an hour, I’d had enough.  A sexploitation film in every way, though I think what bothered me more than anything was that Fonda seemed 100% committed to the campy role with absolute seriousness.  There’s something eerie about the juxtaposition.  Not recommended.

Now for the rest — I’ve been meaning to see some of these movies for quite a while; we’re talking years for all but the newest (Alien: Covenant).  I had some time last week, so it was a great joy to finally catch up to them.

Event Horizon
What an engine room!
Gotta love the spike decor.
Hellraiser in space.

Not what I expected.  I mean I’d heard this was a horror movie set in space, in the vein of Alien, but I did not know how much Clive Barker influence it had (he was consulted, even, during pre-production).  Laurence Fishburne was so young and thin!  Recommended.

Alien: Covenant
I’ve seen this before
in Star Trek’s Data and Lore
with much less drooling.

I liked Prometheus better than this one.  Not a bad movie, and Michael Fassbender is wonderful as always, but sadly predictable in just about every way.  My favorite moment of the film was when Amy Seimetz, who plays Faris (and wife of Danny McBride’s Tennessee), in her dash to escape the alien, bangs her shoulder against a metal box in the hallway.  It seemed so utterly real, her panic.  Barely recommended.

Starship Troopers
Time to kill some bugs!
Wooden acting master class.
Hooray…fascism?

Wow, is the acting bad in this film.  Helmed by Paul Verhoeven, who also directed Total Recall and Basic Instinct, you’d think that he’d know how to get a half-decent performances out of his young actors, but no, the leads are uniformly terrible, even Neal Patrick Harris.  I couldn’t quite figure this movie out — it’s made to resemble a propaganda film, I guess to satirize the obvious fascism/Nazism imagery, but it almost seems like it’s celebrating it?  It’s weird.  And really bad, and not in a good way.  Not recommended.

The Thirteenth Floor
Plot is tricky, and
D’Onofrio’s amazing
as geek and barkeep.

Craig Bierko is the lead in this film, but Vincent D’Onofrio, as always, steals every scene he’s in.  I think everyone who knows movies knows about D’Onofrio, but he’s one of these actors that I wish was a household name.  Four actors play dual parts in this movie, but D’Onofrio is the only one who really seems like two completely different people.  There’s a twist in this movie that’s quite ingenious; I wish they went even farther with it, but I’ll take what I can get.  Recommended.

Haiku and Reviews: Saga, To Catch a Thief, Rear Window

A Horn and a Wing
star-crossed lovers in wartime
trying to save their child.

I don’t read comic books often, but I think it’s about time I started to, because if they are anything like Saga, I’ve been missing out big time.  Saga is written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples, and it’s been going on for years (the title of the series is very apt) — since 2012.  I just caught up to the last issue, #42, and it is a humdinger.  Even though this story takes place in another world, in space, the kind of stuff you’d expect from comic books, it is extremely accessible and very much a story for our times.  It’s got elements of Romeo and Juliet and Star Wars, and it’s just an epic, epic story.  Great characters, exciting storylines, what we love about fiction.

She drives her car as
if the road does not exist.
All for a picnic.

A single suitcase.
Pink gown, pink slippers, for night.
Then we hear the scream.

Old movies, these two.  Both by Alfred Hitchcock, and both starring Grace Kelly.  To Catch a Thief felt a bit more dated than Rear Window; it is definitely the lesser of the two films, though still quite entertaining, especially the scene where Kelly drives Cary Grant to a picnic lunch.  Even though I’d seen parts of Rear Window before, I never actually sat down to watch the whole movie from start to finish, and I must say, I think it’s my new favorite Hitchcock (Vertigo was my previous #1).  Not only are the lines hilarious (especially Thelma Ritter’s Stella but really, all the characters), the movie is really about movies — how we all are voyeurs when we watch.  The script is impeccable, the balance between humor and suspense just right.  Also, there are times when Grace Kelly here is so incredibly beautiful that I almost had to avert my eyes!  What great casting — she had to be the perfect woman, and she delivers in form and function.  This is a very difficult part for Jimmy Stewart to play, too, as he’s stuck in that wheelchair and so much of his acting is subtle expressions.  There are so many scenes where he has no one to act against, just himself with his camera or his binoculars, reacting to what he sees.  Rear Window is just a gem of a movie.  Roger Ebert, as always, does a fantastic job of reviewing this film.  Watch it, and then read him.

Haiku and Reviews: Don’t Breathe, Kubo and the Two Strings, Southside with You, Hell or High Water, Sully, Don’t Think Twice

After racing through The Crown, we’ve filled the void with some very good movies lately.
imgres
Don’t Breathe
Robbing a blind man
should be easier than this.
Rocky times ahead.
The camera moves like a snake in this absolute nailbiter of a thriller.  Yes, there are some familiar jump scares and boneheaded moves by the victims, but no complaints from me.
imgresKubo and the Two Strings
A boy and his “ax”
with Monkey and Beetle, too
fight for their story.
Never have I seen such smooth stop-motion.  I didn’t even realize it was stop-motion until I looked it up; I was certain it was all CGI.  The story gets muddled at the end, but well worth the journey.  The supporting characters are a riot, and also quite affecting.
imgresSouthside with You
Michelle and Barack
before Jesse and Céline
walk and talk and love.
This movie very much channels Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, but that’s not a bad thing at all.  In fact, it’s a wonderful thing.  Parker Sawyers, the actor who plays Barack Obama, doesn’t impersonate him and yet somehow embodies him.  I don’t quite understand how he pulled this off, but it’s a remarkable performance.
imgresHell or High Water
a pair of brothers
robbing banks to rob them back
sad justice for all
It’s what The Big Short wishes it could’ve been: an evisceration of the financial crisis with heart, humor, and tragedy.
imgresSully
The human factor:
did it save or did it hurt?
One man knows the truth.
My wife had the best line after seeing this movie: “Laura Linney really phoned in her performance, didn’t she?”  All joking, of course.  Linney is fine in it, in the limited time she has.  The film goes into the back story in ways I didn’t know, so it was not only entertaining but quite informative.
imgresDon’t Think Twice
It is time to ask:
Does improv improve with age?
Heavy thoughts with smiles.
I can’t recommend this film enough.  Gillian Jacobs is the heart of this movie and she’s so perfectly cast.  Keegan-Michael Key is as fine a dramatic actor as he is a comic one.  Don’t miss this one.

Haiku and Review: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

Doc Strange, the love child
between M.C. Escher and
a kaleidoscope.

The last time I told anyone to go see a movie in 3D for its visuals was Avatar, and that was seven years ago.  Doctor Strange is another such film — the special effects are quite bedeviling and should be seen on the big screen.  Props must be given to Inception; that fight scene in the spinning corridor no doubt spawned a great deal of the action that we see here, not to mention the rest of the dreamy machinations led by Leo and company.

It’s a prototypical superhero movie, meaning there’s a reluctant hero, some funny lines, and a Big Boss level.  In a way, it’s as familiar as any bildungsroman, and at this point I’m so tired of it that if any film of this genre deviates even a little — like Deadpool — I’m almost grateful to the point of tears.  Benedict Cumberbatch turns his arrogance volume down to about 4 here, and it’s the right level for this damaged character.

Tilda Swinton is of course lovely and amazing as always, but I must say, as a person of Asian descent, it feels like if there was one big-budget superhero movie that could’ve starred many more Asians, it was this one.  I’ve read about the Tibet/China issue that most likely resulted in changing the teacher character from Himalayan to Celtic, so it was a business decision, but it also feels like a lost opportunity.  I’m glad Benedict Wong got in there — he was the best thing in Marco Polo (in a series that was, well, terrible), and he lends his considerable gifts of austerity and gravitas to the film.