A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 211 – Akira

Akira – September 27th, 2010

When I was in high school there was a guy in my circle of friends and acquaintances who loved this movie. Adored it. Thought it was one of the best things in the entire world. We did not get along very well and he had somewhat questionable taste in movies at times. So I avoided this. He touted Twister as one of the best movies ever made. What was I supposed to think? And yet this is a classic. He had good taste in this, at least. Still, I’ve never watched it. I’m not sure why I hadn’t even before I met him. I’d seen some anime before high school. Not much, but it wasn’t out of my realm of experience. A couple of channels played the more well known movies and series at odd hours. And I kept odd hours. You’d think I’d have seen it, but I never did.

It’s silly really, that I hadn’t gotten around to it until now. After all, it’s got a lot of things I enjoy. Some cyberpunk elements, post-apocalyptic elements, mysterious government experiment elements. Cool motorcycles. Creepy shriveled kids. Okay, strike that last. I don’t go looking or movies with creepy kids in them, but this movie does indeed have them. It’s also got explosions and rival gangs and a boat load of metaphysical philosophizing. It’s sort of like what you’d get if you mixed Neon Genesis Evangelion with Push and City Limits and/or The Warriors. And then actually had it make a modicum of sense.

To be honest, I’m not sure how to review this movie. There’s a lot going on in it and while I can’t really say it blew my mind or anything, it was a lot to try and put in some sort of coherent order for a review. Because it’s not just a movie where shit blows up. It’s not just about a city that’s slowly imploding from a combination of apathy and greed. It’s not just about rival gangs and turf wars and it’s not just about radicals rioting in the streets. That’s all just the trappings of the world. It’s the set-up. Because the real meat of the movie comes from a plot involving government experiments in ESP that lead to a number of children gaining psychic powers and how humanity isn’t really ready for them. That’s the point. That there’s a path to some form of enlightenment and humans just can’t handle it. And wound in there with that is a specific theme of feeling worthless and desperate and helpless to save yourself.

That’s a lot to put into one movie, you know. So it’s impressive that it all hangs together so well. The lead characters, Tetsuo and Kaneda, are members of a motorcycle gang in Neo-Tokyo in the year 2019. Thirty years earlier the original Tokyo was destroyed in a huge explosion. In 2019 the city is a mess with riots in the streets, high unemployment and a corrupt government. There are a few shots of the city that remind me very much of the Pruitt Igoe section of Koyaanisqatsi. The city has that feel of a place where things were horribly mismanaged from the get-go. The way it all starts out, it seems like it’s going to be about the seeds of a revolution. Kaneda meets Kei, a young woman who’s working with an underground militant group, and gets wrapped up in what they’re up to. Tetsuo, on the other hand, encounters a strange figure, a wizened child who can cause explosions. And that’s where it all goes off the rails. There’s a huge secret that’s been kept since the destruction of Tokyo. There was a boy named Akira and his powers – developed thanks to meddling by the military – went out of control. And now three of his fellow test subjects are left in government care. Tetsuo manifests similar powers, but stronger and harder to control. Which is where his relationship with Kaneda figures in.

The big themes of the movie seem to have to do with the nature of power and the dangers of knowing too much. But the relationship between Tetsuo and Kaneda is key to everything that happens once Tetsuo develops his psychic powers. Both boys grew up in a home for abandoned children. Kaneda protected Tetsuo from bullies, defended him, helped him, and always seemed to be the one to save the day. So when Tetsuo finds himself powerful enough that he doesn’t need any help, well, he snaps. One could probably make a case for Tetsuo representing the people of the city, disenfranchised and taken advantage of, no roots, no purpose, feeling like they have no control over their own lives, that someone else is holding the reins. Indeed, the people of the city follow him like he’s a messianic figure. Until the final confrontation where there’s sort of a big explosion only not quite and Tetsuo turns into a giant blob baby. But you know, these things happen.

I really do feel ridiculous for never having put this in before. I sat through all of the Evangelion episodes and never watched this. Sure, this is lacking in the giant mech department, but it’s definitely got a flair all its own. It doesn’t need the mechs. It’s got its own mythology and backstory (I’d love to know more about the other Numbers kids before the ones we meet in the movie) and some absolutely gorgeous animation that holds up well past when it was made. All in all, I’m very glad I finally saw it.

September 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 192 – Southland Tales

Southland Tales – September 8th, 2010

I am sorry to report that we are not watching a Star Trek movie for the show’s 44th anniversary. This is not because we don’t like Star Trek. We love Star Trek. We love it so much, we’re planning a two week Trekstravaganza wherein we will watch all of the Star Trek movies (yes, all of them), both Trekkies documentaries and Galaxy Quest. But we’re still a couple of movies short and we hadn’t planned ahead for two weeks of Trek and we already watched our other Shatner movie. So, we promise there will be Trek. Just not tonight. No, tonight we have some semi-post-apocalyptic dystopia satire with a heaping helping of biblical allegory!

Around when a couple of neo-Hummer-esque cars started having sex on screen, I decided to simply check out. The movie was pretty bizarre for the first fifty minutes, but really, what can you say to a chrome car penis? There are even characters in the movie who have that reaction. But not too long after that there’s Bai Ling cozying up to Wallace Shawn. They dance later on. And kiss. With tongue. Yeah, that was up near the top of my list of things I never thought I’d see in a movie. And that, I think, pretty much sums up my viewing experience. This movie is just a big old ball of things I don’t think I could have ever predicted would be put together on film.

It almost feels like what I’d expect John Waters would do if told to make a modern-US dystopia sci-fi allegory. I know that probably doesn’t make much sense, but it’s got this sort of tongue-in-cheek crassness about it that I associate with Waters. It’s clearly satire, but in the way Cry Baby is. A satire that’s laughing at itself as much as at what it’s satirizing, and at the same time pointing out serious topics. In this case, issues of US politics, media coverage, privacy, war, terrorism, teen horniness and the energy crisis. But then there’s the car penis and a whole lot of people wanting to have sex and talking about it Very Bluntly.

I’m honestly not sure what to say next. There are things to be said, but I’m not sure what they are, really. I could try to summarize the plot, I guess. I make no promises about it making sense, since the movie’s kind of convoluted. And by ‘kind of convoluted’ I mean ‘really fucking bizarre’. Okay, so, the US was bombed by someone, but it’s never made clear who. In the wake of the attacks the PATRIOT ACT is expanded into USIdent and people are basically monitored by the government all the time. War with several countries in the Middle East forced the US to develop alternatives to fossil fuels, leading to the rise of Fluid Karma, invented by Baron Von Westphalen (played by Wallace Shawn). It’s mysterious and no one’s really sure how it works but it generates wireless energy and comes from a big offshore plant. Then there’s Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson), a famous actor with ties to the Republican party, who went missing for several days and then surfaced with a case of amnesia. And there’s the Neo-Marxists, who want to take down the government. There’s Roland and Ronald Taverner (played by Seann William Scott), a set of twins, one of whom is working with the Neo-Marxists. The Neo-Marxists are filming Boxer with former porn star Krysta Now (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) in an effort to blackmail his contacts in the Republican party into voting for a bill that will limit USIdent. But there’s more going on with Boxer cause he’s got this screenplay about the end of the world and he’s not sure where it came from.

Oh, and Justin Timberlake narrates a good chunk of the movie. He’s all scarred up from the war and has his own little smiley face sticker that pops up and has his stitches, sort of like he’s the Comedian from Watchmen. He gets a dream dance sequence set to The Killers’ All These Things That I’ve Done mid-movie. He fits into the plot, but I think he fits more if you read the additional graphic novels that give all the pre-story for the movie. His narration is mostly for mood, really. It doesn’t help explain anything. It just sort of sets the stage and then moves you through things.

Did you notice the names up there? Wallace Shawn, Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Justin Timberlake? Yeah, add in SNL alums Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, Nora Dunn and Jon Lovitz (and those are just off the top of my head – I stopped watching ages ago so I might have missed some), John Larroquette, Mandy Moore, Miranda Richardson, the aforementioned Bai Ling (famous mostly for being famous, right?) and fucking Christopher Lambert. And Kevin Smith and Janeane Garofalo supposedly had parts too but I missed Kevin Smith and only caught Garofalo in the corner of the screen at the end. That is one bizarre collection of a cast. Some of them play things semi-serious (Bai Ling – whom I suspect is basically playing herself), some of them play things tongue-in-cheek, and some just go way past that and don’t bother hiding the attempt at laughs.

Maybe I should also try to address the biblical stuff. I had to stop and take a break up there with the plot. I lost track of things. There’s this whole allegory going on, with the Book of Revelations, which Timberlake’s character, Private Pilot Abilene, quotes from a hell of a lot. It’s messy, and I had to look up the IMDB FAQ on the movie to get a better sense of it, but really, it’s not that hard to guess that there’s something going down. What with the quoting from Revelations and the glowing and the end of the world stuff. I would guess that, much like the rest of the movie, it’s half satire, half serious. One could probably spend a good amount of time picking it all apart, but I did that to The Matrix in college. I’m good for messianic allegory analysis, thanks.

All in all, I enjoyed it. I really did. I smiled and laughed and by the end, when Mandy Moore and Sarah Michelle Gellar are waltzing on a mega-zeppelin, I didn’t really care if it made sense. Time travel twins, rifts in space-time, an energy source that’s apparently also a drug, musical interludes, car sex and Dwayne Johnson’s character’s identity crisis and rapidly twitching fingers. It’s all so incongruous and yet it’s weirdly fun. Enough so that I think I’ll hunt down the additional material. Not that I think it will help make sense of anything, but if it’s the same tone as the movie, it should be fun to be confused by too.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 170 – When Worlds Collide

When Worlds Collide – August 17th, 2010

I had to take some Benadryl earlier today and it has totally knocked me on my rear, so we decided to look at the shortest end of our movies, time-wise. What with the whole space theme we’ve had going, we picked this. Neither of us have ever seen it! And yet the title alone makes me yearn for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I might have to break out the soundtrack later. Anyhow, this is one of those classic science fiction flicks I can’t believe I’ve somehow never seen. I’ve seen so many bad science fiction movies from this era I keep forgetting there are good ones MST3K hasn’t touched.

Of course, it is pretty riffable. I admit I spent a good portion of the movie making little jokes and comments. But then, that’s sort of second nature to me now. For all that I mocked the dialogue, and for all that some of the plot “twists” were pretty obvious, and for all that it is fairly dated, there was a lot to enjoy about the movie. I mean, I wasn’t watching this expecting iPads and Shakespeare, so it’s not like my hopes were dashed. Given the time period and all, this really is a good, well-made speculative fiction movie.

The basic premise is that astronomers have discovered that two newly discovered planets are headed straight for Earth. One, Zyra, will pass close by, affecting the tides and causing mass destruction. Then right on its heels will be Bellus, which will smash right into Earth, destroying it. Despite most of the world’s leaders thinking the astronomers are total nutjobs, a few men with money put up the funds to build a sort of spacefaring ark that will make an attempt to lift off from Earth and land on the still close by Zyra (which is conveniently very similar to Earth, or so they hope). The scientists recruit people from universities, the best and brightest of their fields, to help build the ship and prepare it with livestock, supplies, and of course microfilm of a couple of libraries worth of books (I like that touch, personally, even if it’s terribly impractical). They’ve only got room for forty people and those places will be determined by lottery just before launch.

There’s the requisite romantic couple, Joyce and Randall, and the requisite romantic difficulties – Joyce was engaged to Dr. Drake before meeting Randall, but with the end of the world nearing, finds herself unable to decide which man she wants to be with. There’s the requisite mean old man, Stanton, who put up a good deal of money to help build the ship but only if he was guaranteed a place on it. There’s a random kid and a random dog, and another young couple whom you know are doomed to not both make it onto the short list at the end. Like I said, the twists are not terribly twisty, and the movie doesn’t really have the heart to kick the sweet and innocent couple too hard.

One thing that did strike me, especially near the end, was how very cynical the movie was about humanity. The movie starts out with a quote from Genesis about God seeing that the earth is corrupt and destroying it. Of course, that’s part of the Ark story, so it’s fitting and all, given the plot of the movie. But sure enough, the movie is pretty frank about humanity being foolish and violent. Stanton might be the cranky old villain of the film, but when he says he knows people will riot when they realize they’re not on the short list, he’s right. People do riot. Then again, there’s not a whole lot of effort made in making the movie a true allegory of the Ark story. Or in making the people who end up on the ship the ones you really care about. They’re chosen randomly. There’s just as much chance that the guys who start the riot could have been on the ship as not. The only people on there who ever really show any selflessness or compassion are the young couple (spoiler!) and Dr. Drake. Otherwise it’s not so much a preservation of the best of humanity as it is a preservation of a random sampling of privileged white folks. But, well, the movie was made in 1951 and the book it was based on was written in 1933. Maybe this was supposed to be more of an allegory than I’m reading it as now.

Anyhow, regardless of the pastiness of the ship’s crew and the cynicism of the movie’s view of humanity as a whole, clearly we’re meant to really throw ourselves behind this effort to save some people. It’s interesting, seeing everyone band together at first, signing up for an enterprise that looks to me like joining a cult – living in cramped barracks in an underground bunker, working on an experimental space ship, all on the word of some scientists the world’s governments have derided as fools. But there’s a definite sense of camaraderie and teamwork. I guess in that sense these really are meant to be seen as good people, just good people who are still human and want to survive at the end.

I’m not going to bother talking about the science. It’s woefully outdated and while I hear there’s a remake in the works, they’ll have to really pile on the pseudo-science technobabble to make the plot work. The tension in the movie starts off coming from how little time there is between the discovery of Zyra and Bellus and when they’ll reach Earth. The introduction of the movie has to explain what observatories are. The computer they use isn’t even called a computer, and it’s a massive array of rods and gears. So no, I’m not going to get into the science. Speculative fiction is more fun when you take something sort of remotely plausible and posit that it really is going to happen, then explore the outcome. This story works on the same principle as something like Larry Niven’s Inconstant Moon (one of my favorite short stories ever). It’s not whether the science is right, it’s how the people in the story react to it. And I addressed that above. I like how this movie handles those reactions, even if they are a bit heavy handed at times. Overall, it’s a fun movie to watch, both for the outdated cheese and for the interesting allegorical look at humanity.

August 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment