A Whole New Genre

I’m going to break out of my typical film post style to tell you about my new favorite genre of film – the sci fi romantic comedy. I’ve recently watched three movies that I thoroughly enjoyed and I realized one thing that was connecting them all was a very atypical frame for a typical story. So here they are, three sci fi rom coms totally worth checking out. If you can think of others, send them my way!

TiMER (2009)

I've finally been watching the later seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and though the show kind of wallows in some depressing/annoying story lines, I really enjoy Emma Caufield in just about every episode. By the way, the sci fi is that little stop watch thingee on her wrist.

Basically, when you boil down the plot of TiMER it’s a pretty straightforward rom com of the woman-having-a-mid-life-crisis-at-30 variety. As a woman I find this more entertaining than some. But even though the movie doesn’t answer most of the really interesting questions it poses, it certainly got me thinking about them. If you had a timer that told you the exact moment you met your “one” how would that change the way you treat human relationships before that?

Our main character, Oona (Emma Caufield), has a timer that’s blank, meaning her “one” hasn’t had his timer implanted (although I’m sure Oona is a little concerned that it actually means she’s going to die miserable and alone). In the end, her story arc is fairly predictable. What I loved about this movie though was the relationships she develops. Her friendship with her step-sister (who has her own timer-related issues) is what holds my attention through this flick. I might even have watched this if it were plain old rom com.

The Invention of Lying (2009)

Our main character Mark (Ricky Gervais) maintains his likability while being an outright liar, by being more peeved than intrigued by everyone else's complete faith in the veracity of his words

Do alternate realities count as sci fi? I think they do. In this alternate universe, no one has ever considered the notion of telling a lie. Everybody also seems pretty prone to saying everything on their mind too (which I’m not sure is a necessary side of effect of lying), which makes for a pretty comedic premise in and of itself. Again, this story basically ends up being a romantic comedy – the guy version. Under-doggy, every-man, Mark (Ricky Gervais) is in love with Anna (Jennifer Garner) who likes him, but isn’t attracted to him. Nothing new.

Except this premise is so radical, I actually found myself having a hard time sinking into it (not that this made the movie less enjoyable for me). I kept thinking to myself, “That’s so obviously not true, why does everyone believe what Mark is saying?” But in a world where people only say what is true, Mark must always be telling the truth, even when he isn’t. I found this movie surprisingly hilarious. And the extra thinking you get to do about a whole new premise makes the rom com feel all fresh and exciting (mostly).

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

This movie had the most fascinating depiction of memory I could have imagined! Don't worry, their roof doesn't have a leak, they're just transitioning to a different memory.

Ok, so I know I’m finding this movie really late, but I just watched it finally and I sort of fell in love with it. To be honest, this movie is what kicked off my new obsession with this new genre. And Eternal Sunshine is far and away the best quality film out of this trio. Because in the end it isn’t really a romantic comedy so much as it’s a movie that is funny but also gives a very honest depiction of a relationship, why it’s falling apart and what it will take to sustain it (the answer: science fiction). I don’t want to get to into the details of this one’s plot because I think everyone knows the premise by now. But all the thumbs up folks. Make some time for this new genre because it will rock your socks.

Perhaps the first installment into this genre was Aliens (1986). I mean the romance/comedy between Ripley and Hicks is pretty much the heart of that movie…

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

I write these posts with little thought to spoilers. Beware.

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Cera happens to play his usual awkward self and an action hero at the same time

 

 

 

Synopsis: A jobless 22-year-old gets to put his video game skills to use when he falls in lesbians with the girl of his dreams and must fight her seven evil exes to the death.

When I first saw this movie, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I loved it. It’s funny, awkward, visually interesting and everyone does an amazing job with their part. But at the same time, it’s frankly pretty sexist. The whole premise that Scott Pilgrim has to fight all of Ramona Flowers exes to get her is bad in and of itself. And while I think this movie believes it overcomes sexism by Scott recognizing some of his own flaws towards the end, it doesn’t change the fact that when Scott has to fight Ramona’s female ex, Ramona does the fighting for him. I’m sorry, but I’m just getting a little tired of girl on girl fight scenes.

That being said, now that I’ve seen this movie three times, I’ve decided I don’t particularly care that it’s pretty darn sexist. I’ve always liked Michael Cera’s quiet awkward style. And while he doesn’t break too far from his standard character, watching him kickass is an interesting twist. And I love how the graphic novel style permeates this film!

Scott is a little bit a failure at life. But hopefully he'll be able to get things together now that he's the winner of his own real-life video game.

I’m absolutely with this film for its sense of humor. And you can sympathize with all of the characters…even when they’re not behaving entirely admirably. This movie is funny and visually stunning. And I call that a win.

Also. I apologize for being a terrible poster. This semester is finally starting to take its toll and I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to post on any kind of a regular schedule between now and Christmas. I’ll try to get in a few more posts between now and then though…expect something about Thanksgiving next week!

Takeaway quote: Being vegan just makes you better than most people.

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Half Nelson (2006)

I write these posts with little thought to spoilers. Beware.

Ryan Gosling is both charming and tragic as he stumbles through his own life and the lives of his students

Synopsis: A Brooklyn teacher struggles with his own ambition to help his students, his own inability to respect school authority and his own loneliness. Oh, and a fair number of crack-induced hangovers.

Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is remarkably aware of the world, yet surprisingly lacking in self awareness. He’s instantly admirable in his history classroom, trying to teach his students to think about the subject in both a broader and deeper sense. He’s by far the coolest teacher in school, and I only wish I could have had him at some point.

But in his personal life, he trips from one misfortune or bad decision to the next. I’m usually not a fan of stories where people do things, and regardless whether they’re good or bad things, bad things happen. But Dan is so ignorant to how his actions are influencing his life, that it becomes easy to forgive him his sins (which are pretty substantial). In every moment he’s trying to do his best, but he has absolutely no sense of how to combat the loneliness he feels.

Dan (Gosling) forms an important friendship with one of his students (Shareeka Epps), which probably ends up saving him from his imminent breakdown

The movie is big on showing and not telling. Much of what we know about the characters’ backstories is learned through inference. What we’re left to infer about Dan is that he got a very thorough and mind-broadening liberal education in college. And now, with his critical and somewhat negative world view, he feels isolated from the people around him who don’t seem to care. He has essentially made himself a bottomless-pit of loneliness…getting lonelier as the movie progresses.

The movie deals with each of its issues gently – especially the story line of Drey, a thirteen year old girl figuring out what it means to grow up. And while many of the scenes are intense, few if any are ham-handed or melodramatic. The movie paints a bleak picture of mental isolation and of how easy it is to make poor choices. But it also speaks to the difficulties and the importance of forming real connections with people. Critics said this movie was bleak but inspiring. It’s no Miracle, but somehow in the face of depressing constancies, the movie does manage to leave us with hope for Dan – and for ourselves.

Takeaway quote: The sun goes up and then it comes down, but every time that happens, what do you get? You get a new day. – Dan Dunne to his middle school history class (and to himself)

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Sci Fi Film Fest 2010

Lance Guest in The Last Starfighter

Be concerned... (from The Last Starfighter, 1984)

I went to visit Della in La Crosse (as per usual) this past weekend. We made cupcakes (as per usual) and watched movies (as per usual). But as totally not per usual, Della’s friend Roshni was there! So to do things up right, we had a movie marathon of epically varying-levels-of-special-effects proportions. We had…a sci fi film fest.

Science fiction, like the Republican Party, is a big tent. We saw video gamers become starfighters and Egyptian gods become aliens and a lot of other things too. Della tried to contend that the definition of sci fi is “lasers from space” (she was trying to get the classic Real Genius thrown into the mix, but come on, it’s about geeky college kids). But we also watched some films without lasers, space or sometimes both.

So, the rundown: Alien is still a good movie. As is Aliens, which I practically have memorized, except for one line which my whole life I thought  was “take off and nuke the site for morbid” but is actually “take off and nuke the site from orbit.” I don’t pretend that my way made sense.

Things I learned this weekend: James Spader is not inherently creepy. Also (from the Aliens movies) smoking in space is no big

The newest Star Trek movie is still delightful and no matter how many times I think I’ve seen enough, I’m always happy to start watching it again. District 9 isn’t very narratively satisfying, but it is fascinating. And Stargate is not at all what I thought it was about…and may have been made a better movie by the fact that I watched it way past my bed time.

I’m not sure The Last Starfighter was ever really a good movie, although I suggest everyone watch it (if for no other reason than feeling justified in using “gonorrhea!” as an exclamation). And I’ve already told you how much I loved 28 Days Later.

We capped the whole cupcake-filled weekend off with the final episode of Firefly, “Objects in Space,” just to remind ourselves how much we adore Joss Whedon. All in all I think our geekdom was satisfied. Also you’ve just been Wars-ed.

Takeaway quote of the weekend: From Firefly (Wash) She can read minds? Like science fiction? (Zoe) You live on a spaceship, dear.

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Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

I write these posts with little thought about spoilers. Beware.

Director, Danny Boyle, describes Mumbai that is constantly in flux and Slumdog Millionaire captures this beautifully

Synopsis: Regis loses his job through outsourcing to India in this tale of a Hindi Oliver Twist’s adventures in the streets of Mumbai. Dream comes true, and you only need to know two out of the three names of the Three Musketeers to make it happen.

I remember when I first heard that the director of Slumdog Millionaire was a middle-aged white man from England I was skeptical about how well this movie could break western preconceived notions about India. When I finally saw the movie, my reservations were quelled. In hindsight, if I’d known how much I respect Danny Boyle, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all.

The film received rave reviews when it came out in 2008 (as well as a bucket full of Oscars), but even critics who loved it acknowledged that the story line is somewhat simple and idealized. I concede the point. There are innovative techniques in the telling of this story (the backdrop of Mumbai’s slums, jumping backwards and forwards through time, using the framework of the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire). But at the end of the day it’s about a boy who falls into the most pure, undying love with a girl. Things go wrong, they get separated, but (spoiler alert) it ends with a cheery Bollyw00d-esque dance scene.

I contend that the film does more than casually portray the darker sides of life. The main character Jamal lives through some gritty and unpleasant experiences. But his brother, Salim, keeps the overall story from drifting into saccharinity. But rather than spoil the twists and turns for you, I’d rather talk about why I love this movie despite the fairytale script.

After an introductory the scene, the film begins with a visually dazzling sequence where the children are chased off of an airport runway and full speed into their slum. In the director's commentary, Danny Boyle said he wanted to literally rush his western audience into Mumbai's slums.

Danny Boyle’s visual style really tapped into the energy of this city. The filming was done on specially rigged up cameras that could be worn like backpacks and braced against body parts. This meant the DoP was running through Mumbai’s crowded streets, trying to stabilize the camera against himself. The film is bright, colorful and fast-paced, both in it’s story and in it’s style. It provides a beautiful, and yet unflinching (as far as I can tell, since I’ve never seen Mumbai myself) representation of India.

The images pair beautifully with A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack. And the movie tops itself off with an upbeat, crowd dance scene in true Bollywood fashion. I could watch this movie again and again just to soak in the images. And to the critics who say that Danny Boyle sugar-coated his story line, it’s worth remembering that a young Jamal literally gets covered head-to-toe in crap. I appreciate that Danny Boyle is always taking on new challenges. And I’m looking forward to seeing whatever he does next!

Takeaway quote: (Jamal unexpectedly has to sit in as a telemarketer calling a woman in Scotland. He tries to convince her he’s from Scotland by saying…) I live across the street from the lake. Loch…Big Ben. Down the road from Sean Connery’s flat.

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28 Days Later (2003)

I write these posts with little thought about spoilers. Beware.

The film ends up not needing much of a special effects budget because all the visual impact comes in the first 15 minutes when Jim (Cillian Murphy) wanders through the deserted streets of London

Synopsis: The world basically ends because some bleeding-heart liberals must have their way. Later, a scrappy band of survivors learns that family means never leaving your loved ones behind to be murdered or worse. And if you have to, at least make sure they’ve got some valium.

So I’ll start off with a confession. I actually saw the movie 28 Weeks Later a few years ago, before I’d even heard all that much about this one. At the time I really didn’t like that movie (and as I’ll get into later, neither time nor appreciation for the original has changed this), so I’d never gone out of my way to watch this movie. But after my new-found obsession with both Cillian Murpy and director Danny Boyle, I thought it was time to give this zombie flick a chance.

Jim doesn't really know what's going on here because he just woke up from a surgery that he had before the outbreak...but that's not really an excuse for running like a girl

And I loved it! First off, this is not a zombie movie. Not once do they use the “zed word” (as it’s referred to in another movie I adore, Shaun of the Dead). Instead, our heroes are chased at breakneck speed by “the infected,” Brits who have been infected with a fast-acting virus referred to as Rage. It doesn’t so much make you hungry for brains as it makes you attack/bite/kill any living thing that moves…and everyone needs to be careful about that because if their blood or saliva gets in your mouth, eyes or any open wounds, then you’ll be one of them in 10-20 seconds depending on the emotional resonance we can get out of you and your loved ones realizing what’s happening to you.

There were a lot of reasons why I think 28 Days Later was the best movie of it’s genre (and yeah, I guess I mean the zombie genre) that I’ve seen. First off, the premise of 28 Days Later is brilliant – we get to skip over mass confusion and panic and instead focus on the people who are (relatively) long-term survivors. These people are inherently more interesting. What it takes to survive is the fascinating part, whether you’re living off candy bars and soda in a subway station convenience store or trying to collect water on the roof of your high rise with every bucket, waste bin or tupperware container you could snag out of empty apartments.

The pacing in the movie is also really great, taking moments that could have been jump-out-of-your-skin scary and allowing them to be sad or funny or generally emotionally resonant. It isn’t long before we’re really vested in our survivors’ continued success and it’s completely believable that they quickly form a new family in the aftermath of so much fear and devastation.

Selena (Naomie Harris) doesn't have long to decide whether or not Jim (Cillian Murphy) has been infected...but it'd be a shame if she hacks him to bits by mistake, 'cause he's so dang pretty

And Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland understand that you can’t simply have your leads run from the infected for the full length of the movie. Obviously an abrupt end in British civilization would lead to various other problems, and about half way through the movie the story takes a turn in style. It becomes almost Jurassic Park-esque, and let me just say, if anyone ever takes 5 minutes to explain to you how secure their fortress is…you know you’re in trouble. Life – including the infected – finds a way.

To top it all off, the film is stunningly beautiful. Danny Boyle shot the whole thing on digital video rather than film, and the qualitative difference is undeniable. It gives the film a beautiful graniness that Boyle takes full advantage in scenes of characters hiding from each other and the infected in the rain. Plus, because it was so easy to set up and take down the digital video cameras, Danny Boyle was able to get permission and help from the London police to close down several sections of the city in order to film Jim wandering through abandoned streets. The shots are breathtaking.

The film is incredibly scary, sometimes sad, and frequently gross. But I’m okay with all of that. Selena and Hannah, the two female leads, are kick ass, the story is original and unexpected and even though it’s a movie full of rapacious infecteds, it’s all incredibly tasteful.

I re-watched 28 Weeks Later and I still say don’t bother. All the actors do a fine job and the premise of repopulating London is an interesting one. But in the end it’s just a movie about a huge crowd of people running from the infected. And I’m sorry, I just don’t feature that…

Takeaway quote: (Hannah) I thought you were biting her. (Jim) I was kissing her!

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Brick (2005)

I write these posts with little thought about spoilers. Beware.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been hit in the face a few times...occasionally by the guy standing behind him

Synopsis: After receiving a mysterious phone call from his ex-girlfriend, Brendan, tries to sniff out what dirt the dame has got herself into. With an abundance of gumption, this would-be gumshoe uses his 1930s gangster slang to step into high school’s seedy underworld and try to set things right.

I’m not particularly a film noir connoisseur, but I’ve seen one or two of the black and white classics, and for some reason I always appreciate modern takes on this inherently old-fashioned genre. Brick does one better than your standard film noir revival though by reverse-aging it’s guys and dolls back to high school. Brendan, our protagonist, gets notes in his locker, meets his informant in the school library and has brusque encounters with the Assistant Vice Principal (cleverly dubbed the “Ass VP” by Brendan’s friend, the Brain).

The movie is chockfull of private-dick style jargon. And all of it is said with a straight face, which is what makes this movie so intriguing. This could easily have been a humorous parody of the genre. There are plenty of lines that with slightly different inflection and a wink to the camera could have been comical. Brendan tells said Ass VP, “If you’ve got a disciplinary problem, then write me up or suspend me” and tells him he doesn’t want him kicking in his homeroom door. But this wit is best served dry.

Brendan repeatedly shakes up the high school's Drama Queen for advice. Upon each visit she's dressed for some new performance.

The filming in this movie is stunning as well. At times the San Clemente high school where the movie takes place is made to look gray and colorless. But even in the classic sun of California, scenes of Brendan running through the school’s outdoor hallways as he’s chased by an anonymous, knife-wielding thug stay true to that noir feel.

Brendan is a quick-talker (isn’t everyone in a noir) with a sharp wit. The always likable Joseph Gordon-Levitt (ok, fine he wasn’t likable in G.I. Joe…wait, spoiler alert?) makes him a lead we love to follow through the twists and turns of the drug dealers and crime lords that hold sway over his high school. The film has other film noir tropes, including the girl who’s too appealing to trust. I’m looking forward to watching this one again.

Takeaway quote: I’ve got all five senses and I slept last night. That puts me six up on the lot of you.

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