The 80’s were an interesting time for the action movie. Heroes were given license to blow up everything and everyone in sight, villains all operated out of a giant factory that made god knows what, and every woman had a perm and was expected to show her boobs at some point (usually while making out with the hero). It was in this era that RoboCop was released and, strangely for director Paul Verhoeven, the main female character has short hair, doesn’t flash ’em, and never makes out with the hero. Maybe because the movie is more focused on blowing off limbs and injecting social commentary and being badass. All the effects in the film are practical which gives it a slightly dated feel but I’ll always take dated practical effects to dated CGI. This also happened to make a great accidental double feature with…
Dredd 3D (2012)
Look out all you scrowly, fuzz chinned, gravel voiced, manly men of action. There’s a new scrowly, fuzz chinned, gravel voiced, manly man of action and his name is Karl Urban. The film begins with some familiar beats: the tough anti-hero, the new recruit, the drug-kingpin villain. But because this is Dredd, the recruit is also a telepath and the drug-kingpin (a fantastically evil and dirtied up Lena Headey) produces a drug called Slo-Mo that makes the user process time at only 1% speed. It’s fantastically violent, sometimes beautifully shot, has hilarious dry humor, and is just a lot of fun.
I think by this point we can get over the whole “Wow, who woulda thunked that Ben Affleck would be a good director?” thing. He’s clearly established himself and here, he makes a highly tense, at times very funny, and incredibly well made thriller. Pulling double duty, Affleck also stars as a CIA specialist tasked with extracting six American refugees out of politically turbulent Iran. He comes up with a cover story where they will pose as a Canadian film crew looking for a shooting location. The film opens and closes brilliantly with nail-biting tension and a good portion of the film is dedicated to Affleck’s character spending time in Hollywood creating the elaborate cover story. As a lover of film and film history, I really got into the mostly fun look at cinema in the late 70’s to early 80’s. It’ll be tough at year’s end to think of a more excitingly tense film than this.
The Loved Ones (2009)
Every once in a while, I see a film that is widely praised and… I just don’t get it. I did not enjoy movies like Run Lola Run, Session 9, or Don’t Look Now but they are generally well liked seemingly by everybody else. This also happens to be the case with the film, The Loved Ones wherein a psychotic girl and her psychotic dad kidnap and torture the boy who turned down her invitation to the prom. Thirty minutes into its runtime, I couldn’t wait for this film to be over. There are long stretches where we just watch crazy people acting crazy and I find these shenanegans neither amusing nor interesting. There’s also a secondary storyline with an awkwardly matched couple who do go to the prom and it all amounts to exactly nothing but time padding. Speaking of time, this movie felt like a waste of it.
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits. Each of these people alone could carry a movie playing the crazy person. Get all of them together and you’ve got one crazy movie. Crazy funny that is. And much more clever than the trailers make it out to be. Farrell plays a Hollywood screenwriter trying to write a film that he only has the title of: Seven Psychopaths. His friend, a dognapper, wants to help him with his screenplay but gets them both into a heap of trouble when he steals the wrong dog. Immensely fun to watch and deftly written, it’s a perfect post-summer movie.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
I try very hard to not be cynical. I prefer to think the best of everybody, to hope for the best, to be a kind person, to look at our universe and the people that exist therein as a thing of beauty. I’ve been told it’s unrealistic, that the world doesn’t work that way, that I’m naive. I’m not stupid. I know this world isn’t perfect. But I believe that a cynical worldview is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Enough people stop trying to be positive and cynicism truly will win out and the world really will turn into the thing cynics already think it is. Cinema can help us tap into that uninfected positivity about the world. Movies filled with beauty and wonder and mystery and hope and love are a salve to the spirit. They can uplift us and make us believe, if only for a few hours, that the world isn’t falling down around us, that people can be kind to each other, that life continues, that things can get better.
What does all of this have to do with Cloud Atlas? Only everything.