The Life of a scary space octopus

FRAUDULENT TRAILERS ANNOY the heck out of me.  And it’s very clear what I mean by a fraudulent trailer: one that includes content which is completely devoid the film.  That was one of the problems with the insipid Silver Linings Playbook.  In the Life trailer, audio of JFK’s speech about the USA’s moonshot is featured prominently, as if to give a greater context to the film.  Why then the speech, and its full implications, go AWOL come movie-time can be explained by only one reason: incompetence.

And so what you’re left with is a scary space octopus version of Alien.  Like Alien, the nascent forms of the alien life-form are quite intriguing.  Unlike Alien, that’s the best Life gets.  Life quickly devolves into a very second-rate monster-chase film.

I did like the sequel-ready ending of Life, but overall there’s too much mindlessness.  Having to introduce a new tag “trailer perjury” doesn’t help.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): The Ruins, Alien, Moon, Passengers, The Mist, Splice

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Godzilla? Gadzooks!

Godzill posterYOU MAY BE ASKING WHY on earth did I go see this?  Well, the previews made it look like the all-out destruction of the planet (but in a fun way).  It has a 73% Tomatometer score.  And I figured I wouldn’t get bored the way I do with superhero movies, because there is no superhero here to remain ever-invincible.  Lastly, I hoped that it would rekindle the spirit of the classic Japanese films of yore.

Well, no such luck.  I’m more with the 27% of critics who said no thanks; A.O. Scott of the Times:

It is at once bloated and efficient, executed with tremendous discipline and intelligence and conceived with not too much of either.

and:

…one of the pleasures the movie offers is the thought that actors who have done splendid work elsewhere — Mr. Cranston and Ms. Binoche, and also Sally Hawkins as another scientist — are being paid well for shouting, grimacing and spouting expository claptrap.

He left out Elizabeth Olsen, who I like very much from last year’s underrated Oldboy and the fabulous indie Martha Marcy May Marlene.  Olsen and Bryan Cranston are 2 of the few positives Godzilla has in its favor.  Richard Corliss, Time:

Godzilla dawdles toward its Doomsday climax; the movie could win a prize for Least Stuff Happening in the First Two-Thirds of an Action Film.

It really makes you scratch your head as to how so many critics recommended it.  Another case in point of why I write this blog.  For me, I felt it was a disjointed Godzilla text blockjumble of a movie with lots of unnecessary lapses in logic, and that it never capitalized on a gold-mine of vintage mojo waiting for it in the original Godzilla movies.  Besides the presence of Cranston and Olsen, I did like one scene late in the film: skydiving set to 2001’s mystical head-trip music.  Note: I saw the standard (non-IMAX) 3D version, which didn’t help this movie at all.  4/10

Essential Sci-Fi: Alien

Alien poster

Alien is quite entrenched in the vernacular of science fiction fans, and of movie fans in general.  If by chance you have not seen it, make sure to do so.  It is about as good as it gets.

If you’ve seen any of the sequels (Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), Alien Resurrection (1997)), try to separate in your mind this original Alien from the followers, and consider it on its own.  You should also bear in mind when it was made — 1979 — to understand what a seminal film it was.

The original Alien is an essential film of the sci-fi genre, and universally recognized as such.  Therefore, there is already an endless stream of praise and criticism that’s been written about it.  At this point, I will add no more.  A terrifically great film.

Bite this — Jurassic Park (3D)

Jurassic Park (1993), which I saw in its 3D release last night, suffers from slow and incohesive development throughout the first half of the film and too much silliness mixed into the more suspenseful latter portion.  There were a few good action sequences — a T-Rex snapping at children through the collapsed glass roof of an SUV stands out, but just as often the movie resorts to implausible scenarios nearly reaching the ridiculousness of Deep Blue Sea.

Yet the central liability of this picture does not lie so much within its dull periods, or moments that rendered me incredulous; rather, its most grave shortcoming is that it lacked the true sense of wonder which I expected from the great maestro.

Jurassic Park also felt dated, and I don’t mean from the technological point of view.  Big Hollywood monster movies and the related superhero genre have been a ubiquitous presence on the cinematic landscape for decades now — I suppose going back to the beginning of film.  Having seen a number of these competing movies in the twenty years since Jurassic Park was released has perhaps jaded me; raised my threshold of what constitutes a good monster movie.  I imagine at the time it was made, this movie might have been quite cutting edge — but I doubt that too.  Why?  Alien.  The better movies in the Alien franchise feature monsters that aren’t necessarily so much scarier than those of Jurassic Park.  But those movies are so much more frightening.  That’s because it does not matter the exact degree of horribleness in which a monster manifests itself — whether a T-Rex or an “Alien” — when either can just as easily kill you.  It’s because a good monster movie relies on that old stand-by Hitchcockian idea of building suspense.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Hitchcock’s Birds movie, but I’m certain he was able to get a lot more out of a few seagulls and crows than Spielberg got out of giant, menacing, teeth-gnashing dinosaurs.

Mystery, wonder, and fear: Alien

Mystery, wonder, and terror: Alien

Maybe that connects in a way to my comment about Jurassic Park lacking a sense of wonder.  This movie was aimed at the lowest common denominator: young kids.  It was made as a ‘family picture’, and, as such, seems deliberately dumbed down.  There’s nothing wrong with a good, grand family picture.  Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Back to the Future are all superb yet available to the same age group that Jurassic Park targets.  But they are at the same time great movies, classics that still resonate today with moviegoers of all ages.

* * *

This brings me to a note about Mr. Spielberg: he has been prolific over the years, but unevenly so.  Compare Jaws to Jurassic Park.  Close Encounters to Minority Report.  Compare his true stories Catch Me If You Can and Lincoln.  Not much else to say about that — he’s been very productive but inconsistent.  It makes me think again of someone like Stanley Kubrick, who produced one masterpiece after another.

One final negative — the latter-day 3D appliqué on this release rang a little flat.  Children, especially those with an interest in dinosaurs, and their families, have loved Jurassic Park — it’s raked in nearly a billion dollars.  Lucky them: Jurassic Park IV is coming out next year.  But this one’s not for me.  4/10