What I’ve been watching, Spring Edition

Haven’t been watching movies much recently, hence the change from monthly posting.  Lately I’ve been watching the Stargate TV series a lot.  It’s actually better than I expected; enough to keep me going, anyway.  A little surreal to see the parts shot on location at Simon Fraser University – I saw them filming some of them.  Anyway, to movies:

Naked Ambition – A little dull, actually.  It’s basically a documentary about a fashion photographer who discovered the porn industry’s annual trade show and wanted to make a non-pornographic coffee table book about the culture.  Some interesting commentary, but I think I would have found the book itself more engrossing.  I tend to dislike making-of stuff.

The Social Network – Not what I expected, and also better than I expected.  It’s basically a fictionalized and dramatized origin story for Facebook.  Very much like Wall Street but with an Intarweb-based theme rather than stock market machinations.

True Grit (2010) – Entertaining, but ultimately unsatisfying.  I kept expecting there to be a moral or a revelation for the main character towards the end, but there wasn’t (or I missed it).  Basically some shit happens, not quite the way she wanted, the end.  I’m not one to want everything spelled out for me – I like stories that are open to interpretation, but I’m not even sure if there’s anything here I’m supposed to interpret.  Maybe if I had seen the 1969 version or were more familiar with westerns I might have got something out of this.

Forest of the Damned – Unhappy campers get picked off by a herd of succubi.  There’s also a bit about a psycho corralling victims for them because they’re the most beautiful things in the world and nothing is worth living for but to see them.  Basically this flick an excuse to get some hot chicks running around naked in the forest biting people.  It’s a yawner with a couple of terrible cliches.  Also, there is a really super-annoying brass horn sound that accompanies most of the suspense scenes.  I can easily imagine someone on the sound crew having a kid learning the trumpet and thinking, “Wow, if our visuals and direction don’t disgust the audience, this incoherent blatting sound sure will!”

Bilitis – Stumbled over this while researching controversial photographers.  It’s directed by David Hamilton, who is no stranger to controversy – or rather to uptight Americans making a fuss about his work while nobody else bats an eye.  You’d have to be pretty prudish to want to ban this one, although it is definitely a French film – slow, undramatic, and I thought I understood the characters until the ending, which I found confusing.  Also, while there is a competently written plot, good direction and good acting, this film is still clearly a vehicle for the photographer directing it; there is plenty of exhibition of his favorite subject matter.

Lust for a Vampire – Gotta love Hammer schlock horror.  This one actually seemed pretty original to me – a flavor of vampire tale I haven’t encountered before.  Typically passable and yet somehow amusing Hammer acting too.  Sadly it had a predictably tragic ending.

Kingdom of the Vampire – Here we see what it would be like, in an unhumorous way, if the last remaining vampire family were dysfunctional American white trash.  As you might expect, they don’t last long.  Bad acting, bad pacing, poorly lit, inappropriate soundtrack.  Don’t bother.

Super Monster Gamera – Yet another pastiche of clips from previous Gamera movies, glued together with a typical cheesy Japanese superhero/pseudoscience-fiction plot about space women hiding out from some sort of pirate conqueror.  Disappointing.

Meteor Storm – I keep watching these meteor impact movies in the hope of finding one that is actually good and treats the subject intelligently.  So far nothing measures up to Immeteor (that’s how I read the poster title as a kid, and it stuck).  Meteor storm is above average for the genere, having sufficiently good acting and decent effects, but it still flunks in the science department.  Something about meteorites being attracted to San Francisco because of large deposits of a previously undiscovered element (huh? nobody ever mined there?) which emanates measurable “vibrations” that unlike the vibrations of other elements attracts more of itself.  Congratulations on overlooking the simultaneous discovery of deep mineral radar and tractor beams!  Plus, the big rock has a stupid shape (speed icicles) and is easily deflected by a single nuke (oh, spoiler BTW).

Demon of Paradise – When I was a kid there was a movie that really scared me involving a coastal village, dynamite, and humanoid monsters with ugly heads.  I’ve been trying to find it again.  It’s amazing how many movies there are that match that description.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t it.  Completely unremarkable example of the genere.

The Last Lovecraft – I think this may well be the best Lovecraft-based movie I’ve ever seen.  Good acting, good effects, good cinematography, decent soundtrack.  It makes me sad that this is the best one, because it’s comedic.  Give me all this plus make it scary, someone!  (And by scary I don’t mean spring-loaded cats or gratuitous gore!  Doesn’t anyone remember how to do suspense and dread anymore?)

The Man Who Haunted Himself – The plot is in the title.  Pretty decent British Twilight Zone style mystery story, featuring a very young Roger Moore.  Complete with the psychedelic montage representing the descent into madness at the end, and the slightly ambiguous ending.

The Man Who Changed His Mind – Starts off promising; scientist has perfected a means to transfer minds between bodies, with intermediate storage.  A media mogul funds his work in expectation of PR payoff, without understanding enough to anticipate the predictable backlash from skeptics and god-botherers.  End result, the two get in a fight and the scientist loses everything thanks to IP law and not reading the contracts, then turns all mad scientist and uses his invention to get what he wants.  Obviously everything goes south after that and he ends up dead (I was surprised he didn’t end up in the body of an animal, actually).   There was lots of the usual ignorant railing about “unnatural” research and “affronts to the sanctity of the soul” and so on – really sad.

The Monster and the Ape – Wow, this was long.  I thought it was a movie but it turned out to be one of the old serials – about fifteen 20-minute shorts stitched together.  There was an ape. The “monster” was actually a robot, remote-controlled and powered by “metallogen”, an element found only in meteorites.  The story followed the common theme of small-time crooks trying to make it big by stealing an invention.  Every episode ended with a cliffhanger, and the start of the next episode often contradicted it – for example, there’s one ending where we see the unconscious hero fed into a brick oven, but when the story resumes he wakes up and escapes before reaching the door.  Also amusing, the narrator ending the episodes with quotes like “Will $VILLAIN succeed in his dastardly plans?  Will Thor the Ape finally revert to his killer instincts?  Find out next week, in this theater!”  But the ape never did act up much, the villain was always 50% stymied, the hero had always had fisticuffs with at least two thugs at once, and and the good and bad scientists always found a way to trick each other. The token black character was kind of sad, because his amazingly stereotyped behavior wasn’t done tongue-in-cheek at the time; he was first-order comic relief whereas today he’d be second-order.

Dr. Caligari (1989) – Wow.  In my years of hunting down B-movies to watch, I’ve seen some pretty fucked-up shit.  But this is near the top of the fucked-up scale.  It’s sort of halfway between an art school student film and a proper surrealist flick.  I don’t think I understood any of it.

Night of the Creeps – Somewhat unique.  Aliens in conflict jettison a cannister containing brain slugs, which lands on Earth in 1956.  30 years later, the one infected person is accidentally released from cryonic suspension and the slugs start spreading, turning people into zombies as they reproduce in their brains.  It falls to plucky teenagers and a morose lawman to put things right.  Somehow this manages to combine 80s teen movie, zombie horror and a pinch of science fiction in a way that almost works.

Indestructible Man (1956) – Pretty much the same as other movies with the same title.  A convicted criminal is executed, then accidentally resurrected in a science experiment, gaining super-strength and near-invulnerability in the process.  He then proceeds to wreak vengeance on the people he blames for his execution, until the good guys finally find the limits of his indestructibility.  Not a bad story, if a bit linear.

Avatar – Yes, I watched it again.  I was sick at the time, OK?  My mother insisted I watch the making-of material, which was somewhat interesting since I have a very, very indirect connection to the process through work.  Then since I was sick and lazy, I decided to watch the main film again with the deleted scenes in.  It holds up well enough on a second watching, but the same plot holes are still there.

The Living Matrix – Another thing my parents suggested I watch.  Non-fiction – technically.  Actually I think it’s 95% snake oil.  It’s all a bunch of reinvented faith healing crap dressed up in quantum physics clothing.  They’re using misquoted, outdated and/or misunderstood information about quantum physics to assert all kinds of crap about the power of the mind to heal the body and how modern medicine is bunkum.  As usual they ignore the fact that we use modern medicine because it works.  Really the only two things said in this movie I can agree with are that (1) high stress can have a negative impact on your health and (2) if you’re sick, positive thinking can’t hurt; anything else is at best self-defeating.

Eden Log – Interesting.  Very visual – there’s not a lot of dialog so you have to keep your eyes on the screen or you’ll miss stuff.  Having just completed Portal 2, it’s hard not to make comparisons, but there are similarities with the Cube series too.  The protagonist awakes in an unfamiliar environment with missing memories, and must piece the situation together while trying to survive and escape, discovering evidence of corporate and civil malfeasance along the way.  In the end the situation the conflict centers around is as stupid and impractical as the human power cells in The Matrix, but since so many SF flicks require amazing suspension of disbelief around their premises, I’ll do so and say it is still entertaining despite the flawed premise.

The Descent – Surprisingly, one of the better cave-monster flicks I’ve seen.  Very similar to The Cave.  Group of female thrill-seekers explore a new cave and are trapped by a cave-in, then hunted by blind cave-monsters.  Dirty laundry comes out along the way for character development.  Simple formula but reasonably well-executed.

The Brain Machine – Interesting sort of SF government double-cross setup with a computer as the core monstrosity, though unlike most films with a computer villain this one doesn’t have a personality and isn’t bent on conquest or extermination.  One good, prophetic quote by one of the government characters driving the project: “You know, it’s not vigilance anymore, General. It’s surveillance. Eternal surveillance is the price of liberty.”

Plaguers – Zombies in space.  Never seen that one before.  Tedious.

The Blue Lagoon and Return to the Blue Lagoon – Somehow the two-movie set made its way onto my shelf, and having not seen the second one I decided to refresh my memory of the salient plot points – er, I mean memories of Brooke Shields frolicking in the nude.  Anyway, in a nice ironic twist the baby that survives the first movie gets beached back on the same island again, this time with a new parent-surrogate and another appropriately-gendered baby for company.  Pretty much the whole plot of the first movie repeats, with one element added: a visit from some not-so-noble potential rescuers.  In the end, not worth watching – especially given the deplorable lack of nudity.  If you’re going to make a sequel to something as blue as the original, it had better deliver on the same promises and more.

The Host – Pretty darn good.  Nice creature design, decent effects, good acting.  A little over the top and overacted in places, but it evens out.  I like how a lot of the stupid things that happen get called out as stupid by peripheral characters, unlike American monster movies where we’re expected to empathize with incredibly stupid characters as if they’re doing the right thing.  I can’t figure out the English title though – it has no connection to anything in the story that I can see.

Vanilla Sky – Recommended to me as a movie showing a rare favorable slant on cryonics.  I’m not sure I agree with that – at least not entirely.  For one thing, the cryonics org in the film seemed very slimy; I wouldn’t want to sign a contract with those people.  For another, the role that cryonics played in the story is something that can’t happen – and while suspension of disbelief is fine in fiction I guess I feel a bit sensitive about it because it’s a subject close to home and subject to a lot of misconception that could affect me in real life.  Those two quibbles aside, it is a very good, engrossing movie, and I’d recommend it.


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