Wednesday, June 11, 2014

April Movies Bring May Posts 

image from Dune storyboards
Jean Giraud's storyboard sketches for Jodorowsky's Dune

Another double month post – these things have a way of slipping between the cracks of life. In a very busy couple of months it was hard to find time to watch many movies or shows (especially with the Stanley Cup Playoffs dominating television).


Jodorowsky’s Dune
This documentary about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s fever dream of a version of Dune is fantastic. Partly because you find out more about one of the most daring, crazy and weird filmmakers you’ll ever meet, but also because his vision of Frank Herbert’s Dune is both wild and sort of honest in a weird way (he admits it’s a confusing book). Also, you get to meet artists like H. R. Giger who went on to create the alien for Ridley Scott and the French cartoonist, a hero of mine, Moebius (Jean Giraud), who created amazingly vivid storyboard sketches for the film. Admittedly, hearing Jodorowsky talk about how good his version of Dune was going to be was probably a whole lot better than his actual production of it may ever have been.

Mad Men Season Six
This took up most of April for me as I stretched and enjoyed every minute of it. Well, “enjoyed” isn’t quite right, but I was absorbed watching Don Draper’s continuing descent, like a slow draining sink, into alcoholism and his attempt to claw back some of his life and work.

The Italian Trip
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back on another Trip but this time visiting restaurants in small beautiful Italian towns. In this version their roles seem reversed with Coogan seemingly being more accepting of himself and his place in the world while Brydon grapples with his career ambitions.

After a long respected career as a stand-up comedian resulting in general obscurity, Marc Maron began a podcast that was one-half self therapy and one half interviewing long time, and in many cases, more successful, comedian colleagues. The success of the podcast led to this IFC series where Maron plays himself conducting interviews of his friends. It works and you realize the reason you could never be a comedian is that you just don’t hate yourself enough.

Captain America: Winter Soldier
This bit of blockbuster massive budget entertainment is one of the smartest and most politically critical superhero films you’ll find. Cap finds himself becoming increasingly a tool of the kind of government he thought he was fighting against. A government that is suppressing its populace through invasive surveillance and proactive military actions used to be the bad guys, not the NSA backed domestic spooks the US government has become. Casting Robert Redford was an inspired choice given he played the opposite side of the coin in the conspiracy thriller Three Days of the Condor over thirty years ago. While there is a lot to chew on in this film there is also a disturbing seed of an idea that sometimes the most patriotic thing you can do is attack the government you’ve come to mistrust. A sharp blade cuts both ways, I guess.


Pirates! Band of Misfits
From the makers of the stop motion Wallace and Gromit films comes a jaunty tale of a pirate captain with very little success who desperately wants to win Pirate of the Year. With the help of the last known Dodo bird and an ambitious Charles Darwin, he may just win the award after all. Well, of course he does. Good fun all ‘round.
“Get on that plane. Take that chance. Screw your job. Talk to that girl.”

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Image via The Hollywood Reporter

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The original short story is that of Walter Mitty, an ineffectual weenie harangued by his bossy wife, who escapes from stressful situations by day dreaming of himself as the hero of impossibly dramatic scenarios. He’s always brought back to reality only to begin another fantasy of himself as the star of his own internal adventure. Of course, such a story always appeals to actors as they see their entire careers as a Walter Mitty-ism in action. Ben Stiller co-wrote the script and directed the film which allows him to be both the romantic and dramatic lead and the comically inept office worker who lacks enough self confidence to speak to an attractive colleague. So much of this story is anachronistic. Walter is basically an asset librarian working for the print version of Life magazine which is about to publish its last print edition. A globe trotting photographer has sent a crucial image to Walter as a film negative which has gone missing. Despite these out of date tropes (film negatives? Print magazines with a massive staff?) Walter is still able to purchase a last second flight to Iceland where his mobile phone works perfectly? All of that is unimportant as Stiller plays a man so driven by his personal responsibility that he’ll chase a film negative around the world. It’s this trait of being responsible that has kept Walter from ever taking a holiday, or even a job he would enjoy, but now it’s the trait that will break him out of his shell and discover a new found self worth which of course lands him the pretty girl. Despite the foreseeable arc, this is an enjoyable, funny and in its own way, life affirming film. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Get on that plane. Take that chance. Screw your job. Talk to that girl. It might not work out but then again it just might.

This film of a rag tag bunch of white-hat hackers who make ends meet by telling banks how not to get hacked is a long time favourite of folks in the tech sector. The recent revelation that the US government forced many services to insert a backdoor entry into their code to allow NSA agents to access and monitor whatever they wanted rang a bell in my head that may have been the plot of this film. That’s close but not quite right. The plot is that someone has created an incredibly powerful algorithm that they’ve programmed on a chip (for safe-keeping?) and once this chip is connected you can essentially crack into any highly secure server or Web site. The parties interested in this ability range from Russians, organized crime, private companies and of course, the FBI and the NSA. Well, that idea is less likely - many viruses effectively network thousands of unsuspecting computers and use their collective power to slowly crack encoded secure computers - so having that capability on a single chip isn’t realistic. Technically the film has less fiction than other “hacker” films and the idea of the government forcing firms to put a trap door in their code seems scarier to me but the film does succeed on many other fronts. Especially the myriad of implications of being able to hack any site at will that would have access to everything from your mortgage to the cost of milk to your government’s foreign policies.
“Porn has become so prevalent and easily accessible that entire generations have turned their back on “courting” and spun their chairs to their computer screens.”
This is a film about sex and porn addiction from, Steve McQueen, the same director who won the Oscar for 12 Years a Slave and critical acclaim for the movie Hunger. I think I was afraid to watch this movie because I knew it would be difficult and seedy and unseemly. I’d been reading a bit about the contemporary phenomenon referred to as the “Normalification of Pornography” and how the experience of watching sex on video is actually re-wiring the viewer’s brain (thanks to our built-in neuroplasticity). Porn has become so prevalent and easily accessible that entire generations have turned their back on “courting” and spun their chairs to their computer screens. When young folk today do want to meet someone they turn to escorts services, online video chat or smartphone apps for people nearby looking for a sexual encounter. Why is this film about sex addiction different than any film about heroin or alcohol addiction? Well, it’s in the title. This is a topic which many people feel a great deal of shame, making it that much harder to discuss or seek help. In the last days of the 20th century women have celebrated their sexuality, previously considered deviant sexual orientations are now thought of as normal, but male sexuality is still a dark thing best kept in a locker in the basement. Michael Fassbender, who was also in McQueen’s films Hunger and 12 Years a Slave, plays a 30-something executive who is struggling with a sex addiction that leads him into debauchery but also keeps him from maintaining real meaningful relationships even with his own family. To be honest, if you’re going to be a sex addict, looking like Michael Fassbender and living in New York City means you will be a very successful sex addict. Unfortunately, that will make you a very unsuccessful human.

The History of Future Folk
If you watch a very difficult film, you need to cleanse the palette with something easy. This is the classic tale of an alien who landed on Earth to destroy us but fell in love with music, an unknown quantity on his home world. Now someone has come to finish the job he failed to do. Don’t worry music will save the day. A light and fun movie - especially if you like banjo.

X-Men Days of Future Past
I’m not sure I can explain the plot but this instalment of the X-Men superhero series does offer an interesting take on time travel. In an unwinnable war, the X-men send Wolverine to the past to change history to avoid the war. But they don’t really send him back in time – they send his consciousness. Wolverine awakens 50 years earlier but with his contemporary memories. What follows is another confusing take on time travel and space-time implications but it is big and it goes bang and it’s as fun as any the other X-men pictures.

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