A Sound of Thunder

A Sound of Thunder (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Peter Hyams
viewed: 04/23/06

I recall reading about this film when it came out last summer to zero fanfare. It’s an adaptation of a Ray Bradbury short story about people who go back in time and unsettle evolution with crazy results, including most impressively, these weird baboon lizards.

Featuring Edward Burns and Ben Kingsley, this film doesn’t seem to have saved up much budget for special effects. It’s pretty hilariously low-end, at times looking like stuff you would see on some Sci-Fi network television shows. It’s campy and the science aspect of it is insanely full of holes. It’s one of those so-bad-that-it’s-almost-great kind of movies. It’s not great, though. But it’s pretty darn fun.

It’s cheap and cheesy and comical. I don’t know why but I often like bad or outdated science fiction more than “serious” science fiction. It’s just a thing.

How many of you actually ever heard of this movie in the first place?

Hostel

 

(2005) dir. Eli Roth
viewed: 04/22/06

I have mixed feelings about this flick. The first part of it, with backpackers bouncing around Europe looking for sex, features some pretty lame dialogue and character development. It’s cultivating cliches about the whole tripping through Europe thing. It just kinda sucks.

Then when the violence hits, writer/director Eli Roth seems to hit his stride a bit. There are some moments of extreme graphical violence and torture. And somehow this rides some lines between shock, horror, and comedy almost. Though, I am not certain that the comedy is always intentional — it’s hard to tell in a film that seems pretty self-aware of its genre.

The torture and the madness all take place in Slovakia. And while the clients of this torture company are of all stripes of nationality, there seem some pretty nasty commentary aimed at poor and developing Eastern Europe. It’s the new area of fear. Of the poor, of the ruthless, the desperate, all who will pander heartlessly to the rich and evil.

I didn’t really care for Roth’s Cabin Fever (2002), his last feature horror bloodbath that was considered ripe with homage for the slasher genre. He seems to have buddied-up with Quentin Tarantino for good measure and has many more films on the slate. If they sound interesting, I’ll probably check them out. But I don’t think he’s particularly great.

Pulse

Pulse (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
viewed: 04/16/06

An interesting, atmospheric supernatural thriller. It’s good, not great, in my book. I liked the strangeness and ghostly stuff. Atmosphere over gore, etc. It’s a child of Ringu (1998) in a sense with lots of subdued low-key shadowy figures who are scary because they hide behind their hair and stuff. There is this whole weird technology/metaphysical thing that is a little hard to swallow. I tried to figure out if this movie needed more explanation or less. I am not sure.

In the end, it moves into this apocalyptic whirl that is pretty ambitious. It’s interesting. But it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. It echoes of Hiroshima and suicide and the internet. Lots of stuff going on in it. It was a little too long, too. A little too slow. Yeah.

The Wild

The Wild (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams
viewed: 04/15/06 at the Century 20 Daly City, Daly City, CA

It’s hard to believe that it’s taken me two months to get back to the movie theater, and maybe even harder to believe that when I finally got out, it was to see the latest feeble offering from Disney, The Wild. Well, actually, if truth be told, maybe it’s not so hard to believe after all, since I have been busy with this Mystery class a lot and also busy with the kids. And also, it’s been raining for 40 days and 40 nights or something along those biblical lines. The other odd thing was going to this theater in Daly City that I had never been to before. It’s huge. You go up two massive escalators to get to the top. Everybody likes it because it’s easy enough to park at and has lots of screens and whatnot. It’s amazing how city folks appreciate aspects of suburbia.

The movie itself was pretty weak. It’s nicely animated. Money was spent on that. The designs aren’t particularly exciting. And though I haven’t seen it, it seems to have some remarkable parallels to Madagascar (2005) about a NYC zoo, from which the animals take off in adventure.

The only character that I found amusing was the Koala voice by Eddie Izzard. Actually, his lines are pretty lame for the most part. I don’t know why the Koala is English. He has an amusing face and goofy teeth and gets the bulk of the funnier material. It strives to have him be probably 150 times more funny than he really is, so I am not suggesting that the film is particularly successful even on that note.

A History of Violence

A History of Violence (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. David Cronenberg
viewed: 04/08/06

I had been meaning to see this film in the theater and never made it. It was on a lot of top 10 lists and recommended to me by many people by word of mouth. I like Cronenberg pretty well, myself. It seemed like a pretty sure bet.

And it is. It’s a good, solid noir. It’s well-filmed, mysterious, and Viggo Mortensen, Ed Harris, and others are very good in it. I liked it. I recommend it.

But though it was solidly “good”, I don’t know that it was “great”. The only semi-not-good thing about it is Maria Bello, who probably performs the most unbelievable vomiting scene that I can recall. She looks good. She looks right for the part and has her moments. I think it’s just one of those “expectations” things. When you hear a lot of great things, you expect more. And the converse of course works too. Even though it was good, it was a little of a let-down.

That said, it’s still good stuff. There seems, particularly from the title, an idea of violence as a legacy or something. There are aspects of this in the film. Though mostly a pacifist, Mortensen’s ability and capacity for violence are returned upon him. His son embodies this as does his treatment of his wife in one scene. Violence ultimately solves the problems for them. This is the sort of thing that is sometimes explored in Westerns. And in a sense, this could easily have been turned into a Western in many ways. I don’t know that the film makes a specific commentary on this or if it does that it’s very strong. It’s imbued in the film’s title and it’s a key point that many people recognize. Many people thought that this film was pretty violent. In reality, there are a few key scenes and shots, whose potency is effected by the strength of the narrative and the film-making. I mean, has anyone ever seen a Takeshi Miike film? Violence is…ah nevermind.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Andrew Adamson
viewed: 04/07/06

A lot of people reacted negatively to this film because of its Christian allegory. I think that the fact that it has a Christian allegory is less problematic than the fact that a big part of the fact that this film got produced in the first place was an attempt to corner a market for the Lord of the Rings style franchise backed with a broader marketing plan at the Christian-types (or whatever one might call them). The thing is that these books were written with the allegory in them. It’s not like the film is interpreting that in any meaningful way and adding to it significantly. C.S. Lewis made these key factors in his story. It’s just simply part of it. In some ways, making this film without its key Christian themes seems more wrong-minded than the other way around.

Besides, when it comes down to it, it’s really that the character of Aslan is essentially a Christ figure with the crucifixion and resurrection thing going on. He is redeemed for the sins of another character. It’s not as pervasive as one might think given all the backlash and hoopla. I mean, it’s there. So what.

Really, the big thing to me in this film is the incredibly artificiality of the design and the characters. The whole thing looks like what it is, a big CG playground with a few human characters in it. The design is sort of literal and clean so that it’s strange. It’s not designed in a highly stylized way; it’s kind of plain and simple. It looks weird and fake. Maybe that is a type of aesthetic. I dunno.

The other thing that is fucking goofy in this film is who the good guys and who the bad guys are. Like why are Minotaurs (multiple) bad and wolves and polar bears? Why are centaurs and cheetahs the good guys? Who selected which animals and fantasy figures fell on which side? It’s like a total pastiche of elements. Santa Claus for goodness sake! Okay, you know he’s a good guy. But I would have liked to see him kicking some ogre ass. Wouldn’t it have been hilarious to see Santa stab some animals to death? Now that would have been something!

As a story, I grew up with the Bill Melendez television animation version of the story from 1979. I never read the books and it’s not that I thought that that was definitive, but that’s what I knew of it. I think that this film is really not that bad. It’s reasonable. It’s fine.

It’s weird to me that Hollywood is looking more keenly at the Christian market and looking to produce films to appeal to them on certain ideological and content directions. If this is all that they come up with then it’s not such a bad thing. I remember from one of my first film classes hearing about them watching Sam Peckinpah’s Convoy (which I have never seen) (1978) in which Kris Kristofferson is a Christ figure. If you think about it, they are everywhere.

Three… Extremes

Three... Extremes (2004) movie poster

(2004) dir. Fruit Chan, Chan-wook Park, Takashi Miike
viewed: 04/06/06

Oddly, these anthology style films, which always seem like an interesting concept, always seem to mostly suck. It’s usually that one director does particularly interesting work, maybe another does so-so work, and then the rest are pretty awful. Still, it seems like a good idea. In the case of Three… Extremes we have at least two pretty fascinating directors, Chan-wook Park and Takashi Miike (I am not familiar with Fruit Chan), and the idea of some short horror films by them strung together could make for interesting stuff. There was another anthology flick that came out the same year, 2004’s Eros that included work by Michelangelo Antonioni, Steven Soderbergh, and Wong Kar Wai, which I have been vaguely interested in. Though I have read that Wong Kar Wai’s segment was the only good one of that film. Really, it’s essentially watching three short films by different directors. Being a bit of an auteurist, I figure that if I like the director, I’ll probably be interested in the movie. This is the case in point.

But the results a typically mixed. None of it is terrible, I guess. Fruit Chan’s segment, “Dumplings”, is amusing in its transgressively gruesome abortion/cannibalism/eroticism thing. Christopher Doyle, who shoots all of Wong Kar Wai’s amazing cinematography shot this segment, and it’s interesting. Bai Ling is pretty creepy in it, but I don’t know if that was just her or the way she was dressed or something. It has a pervasive gross-out creepiness that earns some credit.

Chan-wook Park, who had become my newest of my favorite directors after watching Oldboy (2003), delivers the weakest effort in the mix, “Cut”. It’s a revenge theme again, seemingly focusing on some self-reflexive aspect of film-making that I didn’t totally understand. It starts with a nice shot of a vampire woman sucking blood from a frozen, mannequin-like man, which turns out to be a scene from a movie that eventually becomes the set where action takes place. The set reflects to some extent the director’s home. There is a lot going on with artifice and there are some comedic things. It’s weird. I just didn’t totally get it.

Takashi Miike’s segment, “Box” is the most interesting of the films. It’s a very arty piece for him, I would say. It has nice cinematography and has all these strange themes in it, people in boxes, twins, live burials, ghosts…it’s kinda wacky. But it’s quite poetic in its open-endedness, and it struck me as the most interesting of the three “extremes”.

This film was overall a little disappointing for me, and really it’s only gone on to support my notion that while the anthology film is an interesting form, it’s rarely turned out rock-solid movies.

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) movie poster

(1963) dir. Roger Corman
viewed: 03/29/06

This is a cool little Roger Corman film about a doctor who creates a formula that he drops into his eyes in order to “see” further into things. Some points this is like X-ray seeing, some points he can just see through people’s clothes, and some points his vision crosses dimensions and eventually drives him mad. It has a crazy, psychedelic subtext, though it predates the explosion of LSD usage, I believe. It’s a tight little flick. Quite fun.

I think I queued this up when I’d read that Tim Burton had been considering a remake of it. I think I’d seen it as a kid on TV or something, but I don’t think it held my interest. It’s more of an intellectual low-budget sci-fi thing, and it’s really pretty cool. Ray Milland. He’s pretty good. And Don Rickles has a good cameo role. I tell you, it’s good stuff.