Wednesday, February 25, 2015

964 Pinocchio (Japan, 1991)

Nine Things About the Film 964 Pinocchio

1. This is considered to be a cyberpunk film. I personally wouldn't call it cyberpunk - it's unclassifiable. But cyberpunk is the closest genre to whatever this movie is.

2. It's usually compared to Shinya Tsukamoto's revolutionary cyberpunk classic "Tetsuo: The Iron Man". "964 Pinocchio" isn't very much like "Tetsuo", except in its visual style. It's a very kinetic and speed-edited, unexplainable film.

3. It's about a male sex slave named 964 Pinocchio who can't keep an erection, so his mind is wiped and he is thrown onto the streets. He is found by a girl named Himiko, who has her own memory problems and is trying to make a map of the entire city. Himiko goes crazy, imprisons Pinocchio and begins tormenting him. Meanwhile, the corporation that makes the sex slaves decides they better go find Pinocchio. Then things get weird.

4. Some of the scenes in the film are very creative and unique. There are surreal images and sequences that hit deep parts in you. Some of the scenes in the film are really dumb, and remind me of drugged-out college students trying to make performance art, or are trying to be shocking just to be shocking.

5. It took me awhile to recognize that this movie is kind of a twisted retelling of some of the themes in the actual Pinocchio story.

6. The girl that plays Himiko is not a very good actress. But in a movie like this, I don't suppose it matters much.

7. This movie probably has the longest vomit scene of any movie I've watched.

8. People scream a lot in this movie, and yell at each other. That might be part of the reason why the alternate title for this film is "Screams of Blasphemy".

9. This isn't a great film, but for those people who enjoy cyberpunk, or who like films that explore the edges of both cinema and reality, it's definitely worth watching.  Just don't expect to really understand it.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Short Term 12 (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Short Term 12

1. This movie hit me right in the feels. It was one of the most overlooked films of 2014.

2. It's about a group of 20-something adults working in a group home for troubled teenagers. One of the workers, Grace, bonds with a new girl, Jayden. Their relationship triggers problems in Grace's past, and she has trouble maintaining the boundaries between Jayden's situation and her own.

3.  It was written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who based it on his own experiences working in a group home.

4. It's a very authentic movie (mostly), and does an excellent job of showing what it's like to work with kids who have slipped between society's cracks, or who have been dealt a terrible situation in life.

5.  While the major focus is on Grace, it is really kind of an ensemble story. The movie follows three adult workers, and several kids. They all are connected in different ways, and the movie does a good job of showing how an incident in one life can reverberate among the others.

6. The acting is superb all around. The characters are believable, realistic, and illustrate life's tragedies without becoming melodramatic. Brie Larson is absolutely amazing as Grace, the adult that's just as traumatized as the kids she works with. She should have won an Academy Award.

7. There is technically a main climax to the movie; but since the story involves several kids in various situations, there are several "mini-climaxes" spread throughout the film as we follow their subplots. The movie swings your emotions from hope to heartbreak several times.

8. This is one of the best illustrations I've ever seen of the difficulty of maintaining a professional perspective in highly emotional situations. It also helps explain why some people are attracted to such a difficult job.

9. Without giving any major spoilers away, I HATED the ending. It betrayed all the realism of the rest of the movie, and it's disrespectful to the troubled kids stuck in the system. The last five minutes should not have been filmed.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Fifty Shades of Grey

1. Screenwriter Kelly Marcel and director Samantha Taylor-Johnson have taken the infamous, almost unreadably bad novel and turned it into a surprisingly watchable movie. The main problem with it is that it tries to be two movies at the same time.

2. The film is structured as a dumb romantic fantasy, with high levels of melodrama and low levels of logic. A pretty but frumpy college senior named Ana interviews a mega-billionaire named Christian, and falls in love. Christian's unusual sexual outlook awakens something in Ana, and they both struggle with what it all means.

3. But crammed into that juvenile story structure is a different movie, one that tries to make some actual statements about women, power, and sex. Unfortunately, those statements don't quite work in the context of the actual plot, so the movie ends up sabotaging itself.

4. I need to make this clear: People that criticize the movie as promoting non-consensual sex or violence against women have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. They either haven't seen it, or their perspective is warped because of their own sexual or gender-role hangups. The entire theme of the movie is about consent and different ways of negotiating a sexual relationship. There is never any doubt who is actually in control in this movie, or who gets the most pleasure. And it's not the man.

5. The movie gets the dominant/submissive thing kind of right, both physically and psychologically. Better than the book does, anyway. However, it's unfortunate that Christian is coming at the BDSM lifestyle for the wrong reasons.

6. There is a sense of humor and playfulness in the movie that is drowned out in the book.

7. Dakota Johnson gives a good, brave performance as Ana. Jamie Dornan wasn't as good as Christian. He was supposed to be brooding and intense, but came off looking mostly constipated.

8. A huge part of the success of this kind of movie depends on the sexual chemistry between the two lead actors. There is about as much sexual chemistry between Johnson and Dornan as there is between a rock and a piece of wood.

9. Like it or not, this movie is a milestone in popular media's depiction of women as full-blooded sexual beings. It describes a new form of female empowerment that clearly hits a nerve in society... and makes many people uncomfortable. There are a lot of important ideas here. I just wish those ideas were expressed in a story that could be taken seriously.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Jupiter Ascending (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Jupiter Ascending

1. This movie is a glorious, epic mess. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

2. It was made by the Wachowskis, who are most famous for the "Matrix" movies. [They are no longer known as the Wachowski Brothers, Larry and Andy, because Larry has transitioned to a female and is now Lana, so they are brother and sister].

3. It's a mish-mash of pieces of lots of other movies. You can find ingredients from "The Matrix", "Cinderella", "The Wizard of Oz", "Dune", "The Fifth Element", and "Brazil" all mixed into this absurd stew.

4. The plot is about a girl named Jupiter who desperately wants a telescope. She discovers she owns the Earth when bees refuse to sting her because they don't harm royalty. She is thrown into a three-way battle between siblings who have divided the universe up among themselves and are fighting for territory.

5. The movie bounces back and forth between amazing action scenes and then plot-driven scenes that throw as much of the story in quick as they can before another action scene happens.

6. There is a lot of back-story and side-story that is never explained, so you need to figure some of the plot out yourself, if you care enough to. This should have been made as two or three movies, not one. Packing six hours of material into two hours means it's going to be kind of confusing, it's going to have some dumb story connections, and some plot holes the size of galactic vortexes.

7. The special effects are spectacular. The set pieces, design, and cinematography are stunning. And there is a greater diversity of intergalactic characters than I've ever seen in one movie. The movie was supposed to have been released in the summer of 2014 but was delayed in order to complete all the computer effects.

8. There are interesting philosophical topics that are opened, but there isn't enough time to explore them. And the idea of expanding a corporation to the scale of the universe opens rich opportunities for social commentary, which is never really made.

9. As an actual story, the movie is not impressive. Especially the ending, which is one of the stupidest conclusions I've ever seen.
But as an epic space opera fantasy adventure, this is the most kick-ass, visually stunning and kinetic film I've seen in years.