The Film Corner
TEN BEST SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY & ACTION FILMS OF 2013
(in alphabetical order)
Dir. Henry SaineWhat's sexier than a post-apocalyptic babe adorned in a painted-on jumpsuit that shows off a pair of succulent bobbling melons with a Grand Canyon cleavage? The answer is simple, dummy - a post-apocalyptic babe who smokes cigarillos, dispatches her quarry with Olympic-quality ass-kicking and in most scenes, grips a nice variety of deadly, smoking, phallically symbolic armament - whilst adorned in a painted-on jumpsuit that shows off a pair of succulent bobbling melons with a Grand Canyon cleavage. Okay, this isn't James Joyce, but we are served up a nicely directed Mad Max rip-off (call it Mad Maxine, if you must) - a movie overflowing with high kicking, boob-a-licious babes (and, for the ladies and loafer-light gents in the audience, plenty 0' ripped hunks) who, at every turn, dispatch their victims with sex-drenched and/or macho aplomb. The plot, such as it is, takes place in a world where governments have been usurped by corporate rulers and an army of killers target corporate pigs for assassination, becoming, of course, the new heroes of the "people". Inexplicably, the screenplay needed three writers. Where Bounty Killer rules - aside from the physical attributes of its stars - is the truly first-rate car chases, fight and gunplay choreography - beautifully staged, nicely shot, replete with careful, old-style adherence to spatial awareness and a goofy, near-Looney-Tunes-nutty sense of anarchic humour. The colour palate feels decidedly late 70s and early 80s, the sound a weirdly disconnected, hollow entity unto itself, whilst the special effects are a delightfully imaginative all-over-the-place grab bag allowing for a retro feel to the proceedings. It's too bad that the film seems destined for a life almost solely on home entertainment because in spite of its obvious no-budget, the movie manages to deliver far more joy and genre know-how than most of Hollywood's big budget action fare from the likes of Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams and Sam Mendes, et al - all of whom CANNOT DIRECT ACTION. They're sloppy dunderheads, but director Henry Saine's camera placement, movement and compositions continually puts his mega-budget colleagues (with no genuine visual talent) to shame. In another world, one I had the pleasure to experience for real, Bounty Killer would have been a huge staple in the halcyon days of drive-ins and grind houses. I miss those days and I especially pity movie lovers who never experienced them and, of course, let's lament terrific movies like this that would have been perfectly at home there.
Dir. S.S. RajamouliI saw EEGA knowing nothing save for its inclusion in the 2013 edition of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF). This afforded me the luxury of experiencing one of the most blissfully fantastical, joyful, endearing, romantic, hilarious and utterly heart-rending tales of vengeance I have ever experienced in my life. That the film is the ONLY endearing, romantic, hilarious and utterly heart-rending tales of vengeance I have ever experienced in my life is but the extra infusions of jaggery and ghee in my Poornalu. The stunningly gorgeous Samantha Prabhu plays the sweet, innocent, intelligent, good-humoured and committed Bindu. By day, she devotes herself to bringing educational supplies to the poor of India and by night, she is a highly skilled micro artist. She has been romantically pursued by the charming, goofy Nani for two whole years and she is on the cusp of finally accepting his professions of love. Sudeep is a powerful corporate chieftain who holds investors by the short and curly hairs with his brilliance and prowess at commercial real estate development. He is also a handsome, sexy Cocksman of the highest order and ALWAYS gets whatever woman he wants. Always. This trio comprises a love triangle that is about to turn deadly. When the unthinkable happens - all seems lost, but good Karma rears its happy head and soon we become embroiled in one of the most relentless (albeit endearing, romantic, hilarious and utterly heart-rending) tales of vengeance imaginable. Throughout the proceedings there is much danger, but there is also considerable tears, romance and hilarity. Oh yes, and there are grand musical numbers.
Dir. Sebastián CorderoThe dull, predictable, badly written and clearly expensive space thriller Gravity, for all its endless awards and critical accolades, its phenomenal wide release in uselessly annoying 3-D and, not to mention, its through-the-roof box-office is ultimately a brain-dead picture wherein its most exciting feature is Sandra Bullock floating around in her undies. Luckily for one full house, Adam Lopez's Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2013 pre-festival Spotlight Screenings presented a one-time-only big-screen unveiling of director Sebastián Cordero's terrific science fiction space shocker called Europa Report. It's easily one of the best science fiction films I've seen in years and had me charged with excitement from beginning to end and in all honesty, anyone seeing Europa Report - especially on a big screen - really needn't have bothered with Gravity. Philip Gelatt's first-rate screenplay charts a myriad of characters and perspectives as a private corporation launches a historic manned flight to Jupiter's Moon of Europa, a huge orb covered completely with ice and most probably having one of the likelier possibilities of life in our solar system. The mechanical and practical details of the trip, the richness of characters and dialogue, a clutch of superb performances and visual effects that are nothing less than dazzling, all contribute to a corker of a space thriller with a genuine, as opposed to by-rote layer of humanity (the latter afflicting Gravity to annoying degrees) that is as moving as the movie is thrilling and suspenseful.
THE LAST DAYS ON MARS
Dir: Ruairi RobinsonSolid screenwriting keeps this science fiction thriller afloat in spite of a few directorial missteps in the handling of the action/suspense sequences. Based upon "The Animators", a classic short story by Britain's late, great pulp writer Sydney J. Bounds, screenwriter Clive Dawson more than adequately fleshes out the terror and wonder of the proceedings. In spite of the fact that the film is a far cry from the brilliance of the other recent space travel thriller Europa Report, it manages to be a far more engaging picture than the bloated Ridley Scott abortion Prometheus (and, of course, Gravity) for a mere pubic hair of that picture's costs. Clearly and intentionally making excellent use of an actual desert as a filtered, stylized and CGI'd Mars is just what the doctor ordered to add production value and when director Robinson sticks to straightforward coverage, the fine writing and excellent ensemble playing rise, like cream, to the top. When a natural disaster on the Red Planet Mars loosens up a living entity that begins to wreak unexpected havoc, it grips the crew in a deliciously scary fashion. Whilst some might find elements of the tale derivative of Alien and/or The Thing (among others), the writing is generally infused with intelligence and strong attention to character. Besides, familiarity does not always breed contempt.
THE LONE RANGER
Dir. Gore VerbinskiWhat a spectacular mess this movie is and that, ladies and gentlemen, is
Dir. Robert RodriguezNot since Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar has there been a motion picture endowed with such singular grace and power in pursuit of divining the spiritual and emotional depths of existence - a film that begins with the purest state of grace and ends in the great peace of eternal rest. Machete Kills is pure art - a masterwork of the highest order. Well, not really, but Machete Kills splatters blood, slices through bone and blows up real good. If you're expecting more than a laconic hero, a bevy of babes to rival the stables of every top-flight whorehouse known to humankind and utterly ridiculous chew-the-scenery villains, then look elsewhere. Add to this mixture one ludicrous line of dialogue after another ("Machete no Tweet!"), the aforementioned parade o' babes and oodles of superbly directed hand fights, gunplay and, of course, every conceivable way of slicing villains to shreds with a magnificent variety of blades and you've got another winner from Robert Rodriguez, the Guy Maddin of Grindhouse.
Dir. Caradog W. JamesTwo scientists. One's a babe. The other's a handsome single Dad. They're teamed up to develop artificial intelligence and become a formidable force. Alas, they're working for a corporate military scumbag who wants to use their research and development to create ultra-weapons to go to war with China. The Babe is gets too peace-nikky for the scum-wad's liking and is assassinated. Handsome Dad transforms her into a cyborg. And what a cyborg: she's deadly, she's Artificial Intelligence and has a moral centre. Watch the fuck out! Hell will break loose. And it indeed, does. And indeed, with The Machine, we get another intelligent, thrilling, well-written science fiction film on a shoestring that puts studio-generated product to shame and even provides a sort of unofficial prequel to Blade Runner with healthy dollops of Robocop and The Terminator for good measure. Writer-director Caradog James provides literate dialogue, fleshed-out characters (even within archetypal representations) and super-blistering sequences of action and suspense. He generates terrific performances from the whole cast, but none more inspired than that delivered by Caity Lotz. Damn, the camera loves this sumptuous morsel, but she also renders a cool and complex performance in what amounts to a dual role. Caity Lotz is one sexy cyborg. She love you good. She love you all night. She love you forever. You fuck her over, she kill you good, REAL good!
MAN OF STEEL
Dir. Zack SnyderI've never understood why director Zack Snyder is looked upon as a hack. Yes, he's humourless, but so is Christopher Nolan who frankly, isn't one pubic hair the director Snyder is. Snyder, you see, can direct. Nolan can't. Snyder has a natural affinity for shooting action. Nolan has little affinity for anything - especially action where he's a total tin-eye with no sense of composition or spatial geography. Stylistically, Snyder has genuine flair, but Nolan is possessed with little more than obvious, ham-fisted fakery that bamboozles the Great Unwashed as well, and rather inexplicably, all the others who simply should know better. And now, here we be, at sea, with a new vessel containing yet another superhero franchise reboot. However, in spite of the clear divide between the two aforementioned men of the cinema, they're working as a team on it. Not a bad team, either. Nolan's got producing and co-writing duties whilst Snyder helms and results, happily, in Man of Steel, the best superhero comic book movie since the Sam Raimi Spider-Man series. Goyer, who wrote all of Nolan's lamentable Dark Knight pictures, here delivers an engaging structure rooted in flashback with an accent upon the science fiction elements of the old chestnut that have never been adequately plumbed. Add to this, the near film noir post-war sensibilities, so prevalent in the original first season of the 50s Superman series with George Reeves and Man of Steel grandly delivers the goods and then some. What sells the picture is Snyder's spectacular handling of the action pyrotechnics. It's everything one would want. He seldom stoops to the contemporary annoyance of too many close-ups and confusing machine-gunfire styled cutting. Great compositions, breathing room when necessary, plenty of wide, long and medium shots and a few terrific moments of nail-biting suspense all add up to "one helluva good show!" Yes, Snyder employs a lot of rapid-fire cutting, but it crisply employs genuine PICTURE cutting so that everything serves the forward motion of narrative (even if the narrative often involves extreme pummelling and shit that blows up real good). The big difference between Snyder and his untalented colleagues (Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams, Sam Mendes, Justin Lin, Shane Black, Gary Ross, Joss Whedon and Marc Webb) is that his editors are never forced to resort to those awful cheats of using sound almost exclusively to propel a cut because the footage itself is so haphazard. Snyder's action moves furiously, yet seamlessly because we are responding to genuine visual cuts. Action - rooted in narrative and character, not just pyrotechnics - is what moves, so to speak, the action forward. And, you've got to love Michael Shannon as the dastardly General Zod and especially, the ludicrous amount of collateral damage Superman keeps causing. Now, that's entertainment!
PAIN & GAIN
Dir. Michael BayCan you believe it? A genuinely terrific movie from Michael Bay? Hey, do the math, Sucka: BUFF HUNKY BOYS, HOT BABES, KIDNAPPING, TORTURE, MURDER, LAUGHS O' PLENTY and THE AMERICAN DREAM a la MICHAEL BAY. WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE? It's a crazy, risky, unbelievably sleazy movie and one of the best acted and directed crime pictures I've seen in years. I loved it - to death. Pain and Gain has so many moments when your jaw will be hitting the floor with disbelief that I refuse to reveal any more of the story than I do in the following imagined pitch to studio executives: "So, we've got these three loser body builders seeking a better life, They do what anyone would - they kidnap and torture people to suck them dry of all their finances and worldly goods. Oh yeah, and the main character, the leader of the gang, the HERO - is a former scumbag who ripped off a whole bunch of seniors for their life savings." Do wonders never cease?
WHITE HOUSE DOWN
Dir. Roland EmmerichI thought Olympus Has Fallen was stupid and entertaining. Well, leave it to SF-Action-Disaster specialist Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) to serve up an entire stadium-sized trough of STUPID and deliver one of the best-directed and almost criminally entertaining action movies of the year. Emmerich directs several phenomenal action set pieces with the skill of a true master. In spite of knowing where every second of this movie was going, I found myself on the edge of my seat several times thanks to Emmerich's solid, old-fashioned helmsmanship of the breathtaking action scenes. It's basically a mismatched pair, Channing Tatum as a Secret Service dude, teaming up with President Jamie Foxx a la Lethal Weapon and battling terrorists who attack the White House. I will also admit to joining the audience in spontaneous applause during the following: (a) when the President hoists a rocket launcher and lets rip; (b) when the President unloads several rounds of automatic gunfire into a terrorist, (c) when Tatum commandeers the President's limo for a spectacular chase scene on the White House grounds;(d) when Tatum and Jason Clarke go mano a mano in one of the best directed hand-to-hand fights in many years; (e) when a character least likely to do so brutally bludgeons a terrorist to death with a very cool White House heritage relic and then brandishes high power firearms; (f) and last, but not least, when Tatum's plucky little daughter hoists a flag and - I kid you not - WAVES IT furiously and with pride - to try and stop an air strike - I kid you not - AN AIR STRIKE ON THE FUCKING WHITE HOUSE. Like I said, this movie is stupid beyond belief and it's absolutely not to be missed!!!
Oh, and in case you were wondering…
AFTER EARTH: This vanity project to showcase Will Smith's untalented son in a lead role is almost too awful to even bother mentioning, but mention it I must.
THE COLONY: Post apocalyptic thriller that appears to have a glimmer of interesting ideas buried deep beneath its surface, but never quite finds its footing due to a surfeit of laughably "bad science" that constantly takes one out of the story. dreadful direction veering from sloppy to barely competent, no genuine suspense and stars (Bill Paxton, Laurence Fishburne) who sleepwalk for easy paycheques.
ELYSIUM: Neill Blomkamp's follow-up effort to his exceptional SF thrill-fest District 9 is big, all right, but Elysium is so pulsatingly engorged and bombastically clumsy that its wads keep blowing before the money shots. They're blanks at that and the unhappy viewer will find themselves saddled with little more than a beached whale of a movie. For all its jangling urgency, Elysium is inert.
FAST & FURIOUS 6: Lots of wall-to-wall action, though none of it is well staged. Every set piece is a patchwork quilt of badly composed shots edited machine-gun style within an inch of their life, with no sense of geography. Especially heinous is that most of the cuts are driven by sound cues, not visual ones. Brain dead viewers might enjoy it, though.
GRAVITY: Some dazzling digital effects (though The Right Stuff and 2001: A Space Odyssey have much better "space" effects generated OPTICALLY) and some nice shots of Sandra Bullock floating around in her skin-tight astronaut undies seem to have captured the fancies of film critics who should know better and audiences, that clearly don't.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG: Less emphasis upon Hobbit clog-dancing, but just as deathly dull as Part I.
HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE: I had to nail my feet to the floor to sit through this. Though Francis Lawrence can direct (unlike Gary Ross), it's still a risible slog.
IRON MAN 3: The best thing about this lame sequel in an increasingly tedious franchise is SIR Ben Kingsley's first scene wherein he prances giddily into a bedroom equipped with two half-naked babes and crows with delight over his satisfying 20-minute bowel movement. This is the only genuine entertainment value one will derive from the sheer drudgery of having to get through all 130 minutes of this dull, bloated superhero picture.
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL: Sam Raimi's worst film EVER!!! Nothing he's ever directed is remotely close to how bad this movie is. Bloated, humourless and pointless. Not even James Franco's presence could save it.
PACIFIC RIM: A mostly uncomfortable blend of Transformers and the best of the decades-old Japanese Godzilla franchise. Whilst far better than the former, it never reaches the levels achieved by the latter. At the end of a long, hard day of monster wrasslin', the film's state of the art, but lacks heart.
RIDDICK: Why do they keep making Riddick movies? Why do people still go see them? I guess my second question answers my first question for a sci-fi-action franchise that with no real reason for being.
STAR TREK: INTO THE DARKNESS: Easily the worst film J.J. Abrams has made since Mission Impossible III and it's not like anything sandwiched between these two turgidly directed efforts is more than a pubic hair or two above them. What we get is a dopey revisionist retread of Nicholas Meyer's masterpiece Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the great "Space Seed" episode from the original TV series. It's not only dumb, but places far to much emphasis on action - which, as has been clearly determined - Abrams is not able to direct.
THE WIZARD OF OZ 3D: One of the great all-time classics unnecessarily ruined by 3D.