Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

The World’s End (2013) – Edgar Wright (Dir.), Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Pierce Brosnan, and everybody else ever

Has a beer every been so strong that it burns a hole in a fucking sign?

Has a beer every been so strong that it burns a hole in a fucking sign?

There are those people in high school. You know the guys. Their acne runs rampant and untamed across their goof-toothed faces, their dentures held tight with more metal than a steel mill, their hair perhaps yanked back into a slick oily ponytail, emphasizing each and every pore oozing shiny fluid in a constant stream of social awkwardness. They spend their days logging out the AV room to watch entire marathons of Tarantino films; they quote both Monty Python and Star Wars in their entireties; they own each and every one of the 151 Pokemon trading cards (NO, I REFUSE TO ACCEPT THAT THERE ARE ANY MORE THAN THAT, YOU WENCHES!). Their soporific disdain for general humanity reaches a level of sociopathy known only to the uni-bomber, thereby seemingly indicating intelligence where it might not perennially reside. They are the few. They are the brave. They are the nerds.

And I was one of them.

Now, usually, these fascinating creatures of obsessive delights and questionable hygiene tend to cultivate quality middle-management and the hellishly titled ‘IT Technician’ positions, their fetishes and dorkish fancies relegated to every other Friday night when crowded about a dimly lit Dungeon Master. But, once in a while, when the stars align just so, that bubbling and roiling pot of pop-culture primodial ooze creates something different…something genius. It was from this pit of eternal virginity and ridiculously bad Sci-Fi fan fiction that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright did crawl, two gentlemen of specific and boundless expertise. Along with their hilarious lady friend Jessica Hynes-Stevenson, they crafted perhaps the greatest and most referential sitcom of all time, Spaced. Oh 1999, a simpler time. A time of a Spice Girls movie. A time before The Phantom Menace. This trio of comedic brilliance introduced us to friends, nay, televised soulmates of all humans lucky enough to watch it, Daisy, Tim, Mike (Nick Frost), an artist who paints with his penis (Brian, oh how I love thee), a drunk land lady (Julia Deakin), a woman named ‘Twist’ and the most perfect dog ever to grace God’s green earth. (Awww, Colin). This mania of a serial nonsense, spanning references to Resident Evil, Damien Hurst, Trainspotting and an impressively long homage to Empire Strikes Back, allowed both our writer (Pegg) and our director (Wright) to cut their teeth better than a fucking orthodontic surgeon with a penchant for vampires. Eventually, once both seasons of the criminally short show (twelve episodes in all) passed the world by, their ball-blazing brilliance lost to the universe, Pegg, Frost and Wright teamed up to create the world’s first feature comedy about zombies, Shaun of the Dead.

He looks like the magician you book you your kid's birthday party and arrives with his own heroin and enough STDs to share.

He looks like the magician you book you your kid’s birthday party and arrives with his own heroin and enough STDs to share.

Since then, the Cornetto Trilogy, as it is named for their barely-edible eponymous treats omnipresent throughout all three films, has exploded into an international phenomenon. While Shaun of the Dead was a goofy musing on how the British would deal with an onslaught from the living dead (Bill Nighy says after being bitten, “Oh don’t worry, Barbara, I’ve run it under a cold tap!”), it flirted with intelligence by way of it’s exploration of adult male arrested development. Shaun is a man who must grow to fit the adult universe and leave behind his dead weight pal, the noxious and obnoxious Ed, in order to get the girl and a freaking job. Of course, as the film melts into its referential source, devolving into a mostly by-the-numbers zombie chomp fest, all of the supporting characters becoming nothing more than a human stand-ins for an oinky pal in a Luau, the comedy subsides in favor of drama and message. It’s good; it’s funny; but the men are children and the girls are women. The thesis is simple and exhaustive, rarely providing any fascinating realization. You come for the zombies; you stay for the comedy; you suffer the point.

After that, we were treated with the gut-bustingly gigglicious Hot Fuzz. Once again, it was a titter-filled juxtaposition of British mentality and quaintness against the explosive bombast and brutal violence of Michael Bay movies. Unlike Dead, which gets to the funny without delay, Hot Fuzz simmers and matures, warming its subject to a metaphorically and literally incendiary climax, fully equipped with old women getting kicked in the face, a homicidal goose, and Timothy Dalton impaling his chin on a model church steeple. Once again, you came for the laughs, you stayed for the old men pulling uzis from their bicycle baskets, you waited to get through the ‘message’. Unfortunately, Fuzz lost itself. While the buddy cop dynamic of Pegg’s impossibly competent Nick Angel and Frost’s obsessive and regressive Danny Butterman holds the focus for a majority of the runtime, its interest in adult male bonding does little to progress their already stated premise from Dead, this time the roles reversed.

"What happens in the Gents, stays in the Gents, alright?" ~ Boys, experimenting.

“What happens in the Gents, stays in the Gents, alright?” ~ Boys, experimenting.

Ah, yes, so now we come to The World’s End. It’s pretty much safe to say, this is my favorite fucking movie of the summer. There is no way I’ll accept any bullshit involving flying zombies, half-baked Men of Very Hard Things or the steaming pile of smegma that was Star Trek Into Darkness. This doesn’t just take the cake, it walks into the fucking bakery and shoves its face into every fucking cake it can find declaring, “NA NA NA NA NAH, MY CAKES, ASSHOLES“. Dear Jesus. To say I laughed would be an understatement of such absurd proportions that it is only rivaled by “This Black Death thingy. It’s bad, isn’t it?” (Don’t worry, I would have been fine. I watch House). There are lines forever more ingrained into my sorry fanboy skull (“Fuck off, you big lamp!” and “Smashy, Smashy Egg People” are going on my goddamn gravestone). It’s good. No…maybe it’s great. Now, there are people who might charge into the theater expecting some sort of comedic holy grail. You know, the perfect comedy. And those people are just as stupid as that one Nazi at the end of Last Crusade who chose poorly and turned into what we all know Sharon Stone would become once you turn off her Youth Sucking Device. You know the guy (Side note: I once had an acting class with that man, Julian Glover. He’s fucking old. He prodded me. Not in a sexual way. At least…not that I was aware. Oh god…wait…OH GOD). Now, it probably isn’t quite as testicle-tickling as the previous two installments, but what it lacks in giggle, it makes up for in messageTHAT’S RIGHT. YOU DIDN’T EXPECT THAT, YOU BASTARDS. Yes, it seems that the boys have finally grown up, put on their big-boy pants and discovered that they don’t fit anymore. The World’s End is one of the more depressing treatises on bromance I’ve witnessed in the last few years. While Judd Apatow continues to perpetuate his infinite comedic circle jerk, constantly sucking brighter stars into his celestial festival of cyclic self-abuse, Wright and Pegg use this film to ask the question: what does it mean to get stuck in the past? And how do we survive a parasitic friendship?

We have Gary King (Pegg with a dye job worse than a that old woman at the supermarket with a head of purple), the once and future, well, you get it, of his high school cronies. After an innocent inquiry from a gentleman in his support group, King decides he needs to finish a pub crawl he failed to complete back in the nubile days of yore (meaning 1992). To do so, he gathers his court of middle-aged jesters. What seems like an exercise in mild lampooning in order to up the offerings on the ‘sacrificial lamb’ menu, ultimately encourages you to actually care about these sad-sacks. Of course, there’s King, whose indefatigable abstruseness is the cause of almost everybody’s woe, as well as Frost’s recovering alcoholic, Andy. Those two are a given. Who knew that Paddy Considine (Detective Andy from Fuzz, and that guy that gets shot in the face in the third Bourne movie) would turn into the romantic lead? Also, Eddie Marsan is perhaps the most adorable dollop of corporeal pathos ever to open an account at Barclays. Even John Watson joins the fun, on break from foiling cases while Khan blows up Starfleet, to sell real estate and talk on a bluetooth.

All were shocked whenhHis 'Stop in the Name of Love' routine suddenly took a dark and homicidal turn...

All were shocked whenhHis ‘Stop in the Name of Love’ routine suddenly took a dark and homicidal turn…

Yes, we’ve all seen the trailers. The crawl quickly devolves into a eery ode to Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a peculiarly LEGO twist. While logic would dictate that those idiots should get the fuck out of the infectious town, filled with siren-spouting, hand mangling, easily-offended, unkillable blue-raspberry robots, the boys don’t. King lives up to his name, charging the gauntlet one pint at a time, his entourage doing whatever they can to drag him back to safety. It’s been six years since the Wright/Pegg/Frost band played their last gig, all of them going their own way, from duets (Pegg and Frost’s Paul) to solo pieces (Wright’s hilariously misogynistic and delightful Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), they have finally reached their acme. Pegg is on fire as King, igniting every scene like a dad covered in silly string; Frost successfully navigates the descent from depressed family man to hulking brawler; and Wright couldn’t be more on top of his game. As I once heard in a Community DVD commentary (yes, I am that fucking nerdy, alright? And yes, losing my virginity was exceedingly difficult. DEAL WITH IT), a director making a joke is like “a llama spinning a web. It’s really cool when it happens but no one expects it”. If that’s true, then Edgar Wright is the fucking Spider-Llama. Every edit is a gag. Even his mis en scene is precise and perfect enough to make Trouffaut weep with inadequacy. Together, this trio isn’t just dynamite, they’re a nuclear core of pure hilarity.

It’s a shame Ms. Hynes-Stevenson didn’t join them after her cameo in Shaun of the Dead. All of their movies suffer a distinct lack of vaginal population. It’s pretty much the boyiest clubs of boys since Boy George opened a buoy shop on Boy Bay. (They are fabulous nautical directional devices. Also terrifying and completely useless). In fact, I’m fairly sure precisely none of their movies pass the Bechdel Test. It’s a shame that boys can only talk about boys in an absence of non-penises. Le sigh.

Oh, yes, and Rosamund Pike is in this. And she kicks  a lot of Robo-booty.

Oh, yes, and Rosamund Pike is in this. And she kicks a lot of Robo-booty.

Well, while the climax, compared to Hot Fuzz, is little more than a wordy discourse basically stolen from The Day the Earth Stood Still…just with more ‘cunts’ thrown in, the magic of The World’s End is truly in the characters. It gets dark. Like really dark. Nostalgia isn’t simply a way of life for those of us too emotionally screwed up to take a leap out of the shallow end of the pool, it can be lethal. King is perhaps the most pathetic protagonist of the Wright/Pegg universe. In fact, by all definitions, he is both protagonist and antagonist, never really able to earn the title of anti-hero because there is literally nothing heroic about the man. Every choice is an extension of his brutal self-pity and solipsism, each decision dragging his friends further into the liquor-lined rings of Tartarus. Over and over we are reminded he is the King, the pointman, the Jesus to their Apostles. But King of what? His court has diminished to a band of tired middle aged John’s, none of them interested in reliving the former glory. In aging and losing the spark of youth, they’re all invited into the Collective, a world where mediocrity and homogeny aren’t simply encouraged, but essential. Wright and Pegg fear the mass of middle-aged zombism that so easily subsumes the middle class, each of their Trilogy attacking collectivism on opposing fronts. Here the assault has been perfected. The World’s End’s eventual postulation is that imperfection is human and any eradication of those mild maladies would be to fundamentally change what we are. But those errs come at a cost. And that cost is a man such as Gary King.

Finally, we have a tale of male immaturity that doesn’t simply spout, “Women are terrible and we should be able to act like a stoned bags of dicks. Just flopping about. Like a bag of dicks” (full disclosure: this is the second time I’ve incorporated the image of a bag of dicks into my work. I don’t know why. That image is just so tickling. Like…a bag of dildos…that are actually penises. I wonder if there’s a psychological meaning behind that. Huh). This is about growing up. Granted, it ensures that we know immaturity and acting like drunken louts is a cornerstone of human society, but at its core, The World’s End is a goofy cautionary tale. Growing up is terrifying. To be young is to be labeled a courier of potential, a seed shot out into the dusty earth, assumed to blossom into the grand arbor we all expect. But what if we don’t? What if that potential becomes the scars of our personal failure? What then? The pressures of adulthood aren’t simply great, they’re intoxicatingly horrifying. Gary King is the grandest example of what failure looks, tastes, sounds and smells like.

"I wonder if I'm part toaster, part Cylon? Does that make me a Toaster Toaster?" ~Existential Murder Robot is Existential.

“I wonder if I’m part toaster, part Cylon? Does that make me a Toaster Toaster?” ~Existential Murder Robot is Existential.

Finally, someone understands that childishness isn’t simply a choice. It’s a shelter. And it’s one that will always, always collapse. The question is, will you get out and make your way in time?

by Andrew Mooney

The Fifth Element (1997) – Luc Besson (Dir.), Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich

“Negative. I am a meat popsicle.” ~ Bruce Willis at his dramatic finest.

Here’s the funny thing about having roommates. Sometimes they get really excited about the things you’re doing. Sometimes they want to share in your insane plan to re-culture yourself. Sometimes they tell you, “Let’s do it!”

And then someone quotes The Fifth Element and suddenly everything is fucked. One “Leeloo Dallas, Multipass,” and you’re immediately sucked into a deep dark hole of bizarre sic-fi references, Bruce Willis sneers, arguments about the limits of human/blue person voices and the merits of that period of Gary Oldman’s career where he only played psychotic homicidal maniacs. No matter how I tried to convince people that, “we might not pick one with child-rape in it…” (‘might’, mathematically, being highly statistically improbable as I am convinced almost all of these movies have a little rape in them…and, yes, I am lumping Annie Hall in with this).

Thus, my relapse occurred. With the room set to giggle-factor 10, we switched on the surreal Luc Besson 1997 Science-Fiction-Adeventure film. To those of you who did not have a childhood in the 90’s, The Fifth Element is the tale of a great evil (in the form of a rapidly expanding and surprisingly tech-savvy planet) coming to destroy earth. The only way to stop it is to collect the four stones corresponding to the four elements, earth, wind, water and fire (yes, I too had difficulty with this as we are all aware the first four elements are Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium and Beryllium. Ugh. God) as well as a fifth. This fifth element (see what they did there?) is none other than Milla Jovovich wearing what can only be described as Jesus-bondage gear. Bruce Willis, an ex-special-forces-come-foul-mouthed-cab-driver-come-cross-eyed-cat-owner, is pulled out of retirement to help Leeloo (Milla, the ‘divine being’) and Ian “What the Fuck Am I Doing in this Movie?” Holm to collect the stones and then, well…

Are you lost? Good. Because you should be. I grew up with this film, being only 10 years old when it was released. I watched it with giddy, euphoric, school-boy glee. I accepted the random placement of McDonalds in a car chase. I allowed to pass the fact that the stones, probably seven to ten pounds a piece, can fit in a stomach of a seven-foot-tall blue woman who, in a skinny-off, would give Kate Moss a run for her money. I even accepted everything Chris Tucker did.

He will haunt your every dream and nightmare.

This movie is crazy. Not that it employs any bizarre narrative devices or structures. In fact, plot-wise it is incredibly by the numbers. The issue is this: Luc Besson is French. Hear me out. He is to French filmmaking as Michael Bay is to American. Don’t get me wrong, on the very virtue of him being French he has more artistic skill and talent in one of his pubic hairs than Mr. Bay has in his entire douchebag body (sorry, typo). In much the same way that Michael Bay’s unnecessary epic Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen unintentionally fulfilled the Surrealist ideal with almost Goddardian disregard for sense and narrative arc, Luc Besson employs art direction that, though pretty, is about as worthy of sense as possum stuck in a vending machine. Hilarious and easy to watch…yet you are left thinking “How the hell did he get there?”

If Jesus were into BDSM, this is what he would wear. Red dreads included.

Some examples: apparently, 200 years in the future, hair dye has taken a technological leap backwards. Instead of remaining in one’s hair, it melts at the slightest sign of stress and then leaks down your face. I don’t even…I mean…why? Bruce Willis has air vents in the back of his orange wife-beater. Every female outfit has boob holes. Gary Oldman wears plastic side-part guards in, what I can only assume, is his attempt to become robo-cop.

I am a science-fiction writer. I have been mercilessly drilled to always ask “Why?” and “How?”. “Because it’s pretty!” is not a valid answer. So, let’s extrapolate. In the infamous “Chicken GOOD” Scene, Leeloo puts a plate in a microwave and a fully cooked chicken, along with fresh vegetables comes out the other side. Does this mean that we can now computer-generate matter? Not just matter, but complex organisms such as green beans? Does this mean that in 200 years we will have broken every single law of physics in terms of mass conservation? World hunger is ended? Do people need jobs if they can just press a button on a household instrument and receive a meal fit for five? Also, she is rebuilt and reanimated from a hand. Does death no longer matter? Can we just bring people back whenever we wish, even if we only have strands of DNA? And, a minor plot point…WHY DOES SHE STILL HAVE THE MEMORIES THAT WERE STORED IN HER BRAIN IF SHE WAS RECONSTITUTED FROM A FUCKING HAND?

But then Chris Tucker arrives and every sensible thought melts into a congealed mass of discarded cognizance, leaving you with nightmares of “Korben, Korben-ma-man,” “bzzzzzzzzzzzz,” and “supergreen!”.

I would like to take a moment here and discuss two of my favorite actors. No, it isn’t Bruce Willis whose career after this film took a turn for the humorless, reducing his wise-cracks and duress-induced witticisms to increasingly steely glares. No, it isn’t Milla Jovovich who has made a career of…Resident Evil? Really? Get a real job, Milla. And no, it isn’t Luke Perry. Oh yes, I almost forgot, he’s in this. Remember him? The leather-faced member of 90210? No? Neither do I.

Remember this guy? No, it isn’t Dame Judi Dench.

No, I am talking about two thespians of such British brilliance that they have won countless awards for their stage work and dramatic roles. I mean, of course, Mr. Ian “I Was in Alien and the Original Works of Harold Pinter” Holm and Mr. Gary “Fuck You, Ian, I was Sirius Black” Oldman. I have watched the original Royal Shakespeare Company performances of Harold Pinter. I have seen Holm as a deranged, withdrawn psychopath. I have seen this man ACT. And now he is reduced to being Willis’ goofy sidekick. What happened? Did he have a divorce? Did Besson drug him? For the entire shoot? Was he just trolling for young tail in a hilariously situational comedic environment, a Swingers for an older, British generation? (Note to self: new movie idea).

And then there’s Oldman. That man has done what was never thought possible. For a period of time he only played brutal murderers, the pinnacle of which was his performance as a hopped-up, Beethoven-loving, shotgun-weilding DEA agent in Besson’s amazingly uncomfortable Leon: The Professional. Now he has an oscar nod! And he’s Sirius Black! And Commissioner Gordon! I don’t know what virginal creature he murdered, but he did a deal with some malevolent force in the universe. As the careers of such greats as Derek Jacobi have descended into the murky shit-storms of Underworld: Evolution, he has risen. He has risen high and fast.

Perhaps too fast. Too fast. Watch out, world, the Oldman is coming.

And now, for your viewing pleasure:

Best. Robot. Ever.

Best. Robot. Ever.

by Andrew Mooney

Metropolis (1927) – Fritz Lang (Dir.), Brigitte Helm

Finally, day one was rounded out with Fritz Lang’s sci-fi epic from 1927, making a perfect Scandinavian start. I’ve owned this movie for years and have never even attempted to watch it. I’ve had everyone and their mother and their dog and their dog’s mother tell me it’s amazing. And, let’s be real for a second, it is. Yes, the plot is simplistic. Yes, the vision of the future is surprisingly well-choreographed and biplane-filled (and yet disappointingly Zeppelin-lacking). Yes, every character looks as though they emerged from the wrong end of a clown factory explosion. But it is fucking cool. The sets are massive, the acting is hilariously campy and the number of extras would give the Chinese census a run for its money. This was, hands down, the most enjoyable film of the day.

For those of you not in the know, Metropolis tells the tale of two cities. One houses the filthy rich, hanging high above the massive ‘metropolis’ (see what I did there?) and centered around the not-at-all-allegorically-named Tower of Babel. The other is a nasty, grime-soaked hellish world of machines constantly manned by workers forced into 10 hour shifts. Freder the son of the…I want to say ‘owner’?…of the city is content with his life of chasing dancers and philandering about until Maria, the mesmerizing Brigitte Helm, somehow wanders in with an army of dirtied children in tow. Immediately, Freder is convinced that the world below needs to be liberated from its infernal existence. His father doesn’t agree, of course. So Freder goes down to the catacombs, where the throngs of the downtrodden worship Maria as a saint (Mary/Maria…see what’s going on? Yep. Now you’re getting it!) and realizes he is the peoples’ ‘Mediator’. See Mediator is like Jesus in that…well…okay, that one lost me a little.

Anyhoo, this is where the film takes an odd, wonderfully delicious turn. Joh Fredersen (the father) goes to an inventor, a character played by a man who must have founded the Robin Williams School of Acting. The level of mugging would have given my primary school performance of Oliver! a run for its proverbial pennies (but, for reals, I played Mr. Brownlow. It was a singing audition and I got the only non-singing role. It still hurts).

Subtlety, thy name is…not this guy.

This inventor has created a ‘machine-man’ in order to replace Hel, Joh Fredersen’s wife who died in childbirth. In his position, I would have asked ‘What is your damage?’, but Joh seems decidedly unperturbed. Then…there’s the reveal. The poster-child of the film is, in a word, breathtaking. In my years of creature/robot design adoration in modern science fiction, there is little that can surpass the original great. She’s only there for two or three scenes, but she doesn’t leave your head. The rest of the movie involves Joh Fredersen replacing Maria with the robot and having her wreak havoc in the lower levels to destroy the uprising. Of course, Freder discovers that the robot isn’t his love and tries to stop her. The climax is a pseudo-Buster Keaton exercise in stage combat and sped-up filmmaking. I had never noticed how quickly people could run in silent movies. We would certainly be more productive as a society if we just shut up and turned black and white. Much faster.

Where to begin with this epic? I watched Netflix’s restored version that was apparently unearthed in Argentina (why would a German film be in Argentina? How strange that it would be found in…who are we kidding? Nazis.) If the opening credits are to be believed this version is the closest thing we have to a director’s cut. What was released in US theaters was missing about a quarter of the final film, taking with it a number of side plots and whatnot. Most of it is there, if grainy and almost impossible to discern. Some scenes are simply summarized with title cards. All I can say is that there is a lot going on in this thing. From biblical references to Towers of Babel and the seven deadly sins, man’s dependence on machines and the Whore of Babylon, it’s difficult to know where to start. Some of the imagery, simply from a technical standpoint, was mind-blowing. It was also amusing to discover, after the film was over, that the flooding scene in the below city took 14 days to film. Children. For 14 days. In water. They don’t make ’em like they used to. On that note, apparently the extras weren’t really acting. They were actual poor people yanked from the streets of Berlin. And now, in the present, we’re giving those jobs away to commuter sprites and descendants of Jar-Jar Binks. How far we have fallen.

The best face ever made by anybody.

I will say, for everything I loved about the movie, one element will always stand out for me. Brigitte Helm. Only 18 when this was filmed, a complete green unknown, gives a performance that can’t be described. One minute she’s the sweet and innocent Maria, the next, she’s the whorish bat-shit-crazy robo-Maria intent on driving men out of their minds with desire, making sex-eyes at the audience at home and laughing while burning at the stake. ‘Bitch is crazy’ doesn’t even scratch the tip of the iceberg. So to speak.

I have only one morsel of criticism. There is a scene where Robo-Maria is dressed as the Whore of Babylon, like you do, and performs for society’s upper-(literal and figurative)-crust. That’s an odd plot choice, but I can roll with it. It’s the dance…the dance is…well… Perhaps 1920s Berlin just had an incredibly different concept of ‘sexiness’ and ‘seduction’, but Robo-Maria’s dance wouldn’t give a semi to a sailor. Like a seizure-struck monkey, she leaps about the stage, sometimes imitating a scarecrow, sometimes creeping like the Grinch. Today, such moves could only be found in the whitest of hip-hop clubs, spaces infected with suburban wiggers (that’s still a word, right? Wait…it’s offensive? Since when?) attempting their approximation of Crip-walking after smoking copious amounts of cannabis. Really. It’ that bad. However, whatever she does, it works on the men of Metropolis, who clamber to taste of her bizarre booty-bouncing, hip-popping and hand-gesticulating.

Sexy? Um…I think I’ll pass, thank you.

So, see Metropolis. See it for the technical achievement. See it for Brigitte Helm’s manically brilliant performance. See it because it is good. If I could find the right mood, I’d convince others to watch this again with me. It takes intense concentration and a flair for the sic-fi absurd. But if you put in the work, you will be rewarded.