A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 531 – The Jacket

The Jacket – August 13th, 2011

Prior to putting this movie in, I had no idea what it was about. Not a clue. I don’t know what I expected, but the funny thing is that I know I looked it up at one point and saw that it starred Adrien Brody and that got me interested. What can I say? I like Brody. But then it slipped away from me and I totally forgot what I’d read about it, which wasn’t much aside from the cast, and it was gone from my mind. There’s a book by the same title in my collection at work, and somehow I think I’d come to the conclusion that while it wasn’t an adaptation of that book, it had some vague similarity to it. Boy, was I wrong there. This isn’t even remotely a realistic fiction story about stolen clothing. What the hell was I thinking?

What this is, is a story about a man who is living slightly outside his timeline. And what that is, is a story I’m up for poking at. If one was going to poke too hard, I think the story might unravel, and in some science fiction that would be a flaw. Of course, time travel stories always have flaws. I’ve just accepted that as part and parcel of the genre. But here I don’t so much see flaws as intentional imperfections. The nature of the time travel, the mechanism by which it’s achieved, the changes made to the timeline and the eventual ending are all left to interpretation. And I’m good with that. It suits the movie just fine.

A man named Jack Starks is injured while serving in the US military in Afghanistan. He has a head wound and is thought dead until his eyes open. After returning to the US, his thoughts aren’t quite all complete. He doesn’t remember everything he thinks he should. He reacts slowly and in some cases oddly. But he’s also quite rational and self-sufficient. While walking down a road on his way somewhere he helps a little girl and her mother, whose truck has broken down. The little girl asks him questions while her mother is sick at the side of the road. He fixes the truck and they go on their way, his dog tags in the little girl’s hand as a gift. A young man picks him up later on and something happens. A police officer gets shot and Jack can’t answer the questions after. He can’t explain and he can’t give names and so he’s convicted and sent to a hospital for the criminally insane. And I would say that this is where the movie starts, except it started with that head wound in Afghanistan and it started again with the little girl and her mother.

The hospital is where the time travel takes place, but I would say it’s up to the viewer to decide if it actually happens or if it’s something slightly different or if it’s a series of lucky guesses on Jack’s part as he brings information back from the future. Personally, I side with actual time travel, but I don’t much care what the mechanism for it is. That’s the part I’m not bothering to poke too hard. The point is that through experimental and frankly illegal treatment, Jack finds a way to access a future version of his own timeline. He pulls himself into the future by several years, except it’s a future where he died years before. He meets people he knew: Doctors from the hospital, the little girl who’s now all grown up. And each time he’s treated, he learns more and does more and puts more together. And each time he comes back he’s more desperate to figure it all out before he dies.

Now, where it gets really interesting for me is the changing of the future. Just by his presence alone Jack makes the future a different one than it would otherwise have been. He’s not supposed to be there, but there he is, the same age he was at the time he supposedly died, healthy and whole and far more clear-headed than he is in the hospital, pumped full of drugs. So he’s able to affect the future, and in doing so he gains what he needs to change things in the past. And when the inevitable happens and he finds himself dying (again) his efforts pay off.

How does it all work? Why does he end up where he ends up? Was it real? What happened to him in the past? Did he really die? Did he die again? And again? Those are all questions the movie doesn’t really concern itself with. They aren’t the important part of the movie. The important part of the movie is that Jack has this opportunity to change not only the life he’ll eventually lead, but the lives of other people. And he does it by learning about those people and finding out what they need. What’s apparent through the course of the movie is that Jack is intrinsically a good person. He just wants to help the people around him. Even when he’s making a bit of mischief, which he does in the hospital and I don’t blame him one bit, he makes it in order to cheer up a fellow patient. And the things he changes for the girl he met and the woman he meets later on are things he didn’t have to change. It wouldn’t have made her less inclined to help him later on since she’d already helped him. But he does help her and he helps her mother and in doing so everything changes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie in a way I hadn’t expected when we put it in. I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t expecting much of anything when we put it in, let alone a movie I found interesting and entertaining. The cast was fascinating, with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kris Kristofferson as doctors at the hospital (Stephen Mackintosh too – he keeps popping up where I don’t expect him), Daniel Craig almost unrecognizable as another patient and Kiera Knightly as the grown up girl. Every one of them gave an excellent performance that only served to make Adrien Brody’s Jack a more solid character in a bizarre situation that none of them can explain. It feels like it should be a complicated movie, what with the time line changes and all, but it didn’t feel complicated to me. I didn’t have a hard time following it. I didn’t need to make any diagrams to keep track of it. Yes, it has unanswered questions, but you can answer them yourself, or leave them be, which is what I plan on doing. The movie is fine regardless.

August 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 341 – Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence – February 4th, 2011

So, like last night’s movie, this was a new one for me. I feel less guilty about it since it came out after I finished college and smack in the middle of when I was in grad school. Graduate courses keep you busy, you know? I wasn’t watching many movies at the time and certainly not ones that required me to focus entirely on them for the subtitles and the philosophy. Because yes, this movie does indeed have a lot of talking about life and what it is and what it means and what qualifies as alive and ethics and so on and so forth, and it’s a good idea to pay attention.

Last night I know I bemoaned the lack of substance in the movie. It touched on things without really going into the depth that I know the material is capable of. Tonight I think there was a bit of a swing in the opposite direction. The movie does these very deliberate slow pans across the gorgeous scenery, with the characters standing still in the middle of it all, talking about philosophy. They quote Shakespeare and Milton and the Bible at each other and to be honest, it started to feel like it was going nowhere and I found myself looking down at my computer to escape it. It’s not that I dislike the topics at hand, it’s just that sometimes it felt like the movie was deliberately looking for ways to make it all seem super meaningful without actually managing to do so. There’s a long scene in a mansion, with someone Batou knows and he’s tricked him and Togusa and it’s all virtual reality, but not really and they talk and talk and talk. It felt like it went on for hours. And this isn’t what I wanted when I said I wanted substance.

Thank goodness there’s a little more meat to the movie than that. It’s not all just seasoning. The plot revolves around rogue androids who are really high end sex dolls. A number of copies of the same model have all gone on killing sprees, eventually self-destructing and erasing their own memories. Section 9, our bad ass government security task force, takes on the case when they find that at least one politician has been involved and that all of the families of people killed by the dolls have settled out of court instead of suing the responsible company. And once that’s established early on in the movie the rest of the story is about Batou – the super heavy duty cyborg who used to be partnered with Major Motoko – and his new partner, the almost all organic Togusa tracking down the point behind the rogues and discussing the nature of life.

You might have noticed that I described Batou as formerly Motoko’s partner. This is because this movie is picking up where the first one left off. Oh, it can be watched on its own, I’m sure, but it’s set in the same continuity, so Motoko is still officially MIA and the vast majority of the movie happens without her. And I think that might be the source of some of my problems with the movie’s long and meandering discussions of ethics and philosophy. Motoko has a vested interest in the questions she raises in the first movie, but Batou seems to mostly be considering the issues at hand here due to his relationship with Motoko and her absence. It puts it all at a remove, because the people talking are all looking at the issue from the outside, whereas Motoko looks at things personally.

The issues at hand are about the dolls and whether they are alive and whether they should be. They touch on how humans create machines to be more human without considering the consequences. And it’s all interesting stuff. After all, the whole plot with the dolls going rogue and murdering people, and the sinister source of the dolls themselves is heavy material. But for all its philosophical maundering, the movie never really hits any true insights. It asks questions and never looks for the answers. It never gives the characters the time to do so.

Once again, the animation is gorgeous, and sometimes the style backs up the material. In particular, when Batou and Togusa go to visit the forensics expert who’s recovered data from one of the self-destructed dolls they all have a discussion about whether the dolls are alive. This is the start of that whole train of thought and it’s introduced well. The forensics expert refers to the dolls as having committed suicide. This provokes a response from Togusa and a different response from Batou, allowing the expert to give them her thoughts on the matter, and all through it are shots of her lab. It is white and cold and sterile, full of dismembered robotic parts hooked up to diagnostic machines. And there is something about the pairing of a discussion of machines coming to life with scenes of them in pieces that simply works in a way that some of the later discussions don’t. I can appreciate the aesthetics of the film while still thinking that they don’t quite support the dialogue and vice versa.

Fortunately for the movie, Motoko does show up near the end, though not in the form we’re used to. Which I like. I think it’s a good choice for this particular story that she be in a different body, showing just how fluid her physical identity is. She isn’t the body she inhabits and therefore she isn’t tied to a temporal form. It gives her character an interesting dimension. And because she has such a completely different view on the matter of what makes someone or something alive, her presence changes the whole dynamic of any conversations she takes part in. By the end, when the creepy dolls are attacking Batou and Motoko looks like they do, and they find a real organic person in the middle of it all, there’s some interesting stuff going on. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends. Thank goodness there’s the series.

February 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 339 – Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day – February 2nd, 2011

Well, it was inevitable, I suppose, that we would watch this today. We might have blown New Year’s Eve by watching Strange Days way early, but we’ve learned to plan better since then (aside from missing Hogfather when we listed our movies). We’ve got a few more with set dates but this was one we nailed down pretty early on. I first saw this movie because of Andy. He loves it. And while I don’t dislike it, I regret to say that I just don’t share his love of it.

I’m not sure precisely why it is that this movie doesn’t strike the same note for me as it does for him. I mean, it’s definitely got its moments. A lot of the jokes make me smile and I like the basic premise. It just doesn’t quite all come together for me. While watching it tonight I tried to figure out why it was that it would be such an amazing experience for my husband and apparently quite a few other people and leave me somewhat flat and I have to admit I’m still puzzled. I enjoyed it a little more tonight than I remember enjoying it the last time I watched it, but it didn’t have me laughing myself sick or having any big cosmic moments. Oh well.

At its most basic core, it is the story of a jackass who needs to find a way to change himself in order to continue on in life. Jazz it up a little and you have the universe’s way of forcing him to do that: He must live out the same day, over and over and over, until he manages to do things right. And not just act them out right, but do them because he believes in them. Phil Connors is our jackass here. He’s a weather man who’s been sent to Punxsutawny to cover Groundhog Day and he hates it. He’s a jerk to the cameraman (Larry), sleazily hits on the new producer (Rita) and basically phones it in only to wake up the next morning and realize it’s not the next morning. It’s Groundhog Day all over again, with the same song playing on the radio and the same people in the bed and breakfast dining room saying the same things and the same everything happening, just like it happened the day before. He thinks he’s lost his mind. He tries to explain it all to Rita, who dismisses him because seriously, what the hell, right? And as the days go on, repeating and repeating and repeating, Phil begins to look for things to do.

Now, this is where the movie gets its humor and its drama. On the humorous side of things, Phil realizes he can do things without consequences, like stealing money and crashing a car. And he starts knowing what people will say, and readies quips and comebacks in anticipation. He memorizes the answers on Jeopardy and dumbfounds people with the things he knows. There’s a whole montage of him doing bizarre stuff. And then there’s the drama when he realizes he can kill himself and he’ll still wake up at six in the morning on February 2nd. Again. And yes, it’s presented humorously, but man, that’s some bleak stuff there. Because he doesn’t just do it once. He enumerates several different ways at one point, in addition to the three I can think of off the top of my head that happen on screen. He reaches a point where he becomes despondent, trapped in this neverending cycle of a single crappy day. And then he seems to wake up a little. He teaches himself French. He learns to play the piano. He does ice sculpture and starts to get to know every single person in the town. And since he retains information from day to day every iteration contains a Phil with more knowledge and more depth.

I think one of my issues here is that I think that’s pretty cool stuff. There’s some debate, it seems, over how many times Phil actually relives this one day, but the director (Harold Ramis) has spoken in tens of years or more. Phil doesn’t age, after all. The original writer of the story has said 10,000 years. It’s never made clear, though Phil does have an interesting conversation with Rita late in the movie, where he lays it all out for her, going through the cafe they’re in and telling her about every person in it. “Maybe God uses tricks,” he tells her. “Maybe he’s just been around a long time.” He says he’s immortal (and he could be! I mean, look at that overcoat – he could totally have a sword under there) and seems resigned to the implications that brings. And that conversation is fascinating to me. It makes this character far more interesting than the rest of the movie makes him for me. And then there’s a rather somber bit where Phil realizes he can’t save someone. There’s a homeless man who’s been there every time, but when Phil actually tries to help him it turns out he dies. He dies every day. There is no stopping it. As I said, that’s bleak. And yet this rather bleak and somber and serious stuff is all played down against the background of this jackass’s humorous redemption. And I guess I don’t feel they’re balanced terribly well.

There’s a love story in here, with Phil hitting on Rita at first and then realizing he doesn’t just want to get into her pants, he really does like her. He grows to love her – and for him, over the course of however many repeats of this day, I won’t deny the possibility. At first he just plays the right role, ending with her getting pissed off when she realizes it was an act. There’s a montage of Rita slapping Phil for good reason. And he’s not quite sure at first how to fix this. How to make her actually like him. Only after countless repeats and attempts does he manage to do it. And okay, that’s presented mostly seriously in that he works towards winning her over in earnest. But it’s the sort of love story tenderness that you get in any comedy-heavy rom-com. It’s goofball romance. Which is all well and good, but it still doesn’t quite work for me with the other serious stuff.

I have read that Harold Ramis wanted the movie to be more on the comedic side whereas Bill Murray wanted to go for more of the philosophical aspect and I have to say I side with Murray on this one. The comedy makes great moments and asides, but really, if we can get what, eight or nine slaps in sequence for humorous effect, why not at least give us a couple of iterations of Phil failing to save the homeless man. There’s really only two scenes there and it feels like it’s meant to be this big emotional turning point for Phil but it’s given less attention, which frustrates me. And I think it’s because I’m picky when it comes to rom-com stuff, but a good time-loop plot with philosophy hits my buttons. It would also have been nice to have Rita be more than a prize for Phil’s spiritual growth, but well, rom-com.

All that being said, if I cut out the philosophical parts, or detach them from the rom-com parts, and focus on the funny stuff? Yeah, it’s good. Bill Murray plays his typical cynical jackass with a heart of (fool’s) gold but he does have fantastic comic timing. He nails things like every exchange with his old classmate from high school, and the bit near the end where he’s just tooling around town fixing everything he’s ever found that goes wrong. And Andie MacDowell as Rita plays a good foil for him, not taking his crap and remaining skeptical about the changes going on in him up until the very end, which sells the transformation nicely. There are some fun bit parts, like Steven Tobolowsky as Phil’s old classmate and Brian Doyle-Murray as one of the groundhog wranglers. I have no complaints about the acting or the premise. I guess when you get down to it, it’s that I want there to be “Who Wants to Live Forever” playing over the end credits and instead there’s the song Weatherman. Oh well. Not every movie can be Highlander.

February 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 328 – Star Trek Generations

Star Trek Generations – January 22nd, 2011

Ah, the end of an era. And I say that with both regret and good cheer, because I find I am capable of loving both original and next generation flavors of Star Trek, so the passing of the torch is a bit mixed. On one hand, I do so love The Next Generation. On the other hand, there’s something so iconic and fantastic about the original cast and the world they inhabited. But as the finale of TNG says, all good things must come to an end. Which is rather the point of this movie. It’s all about moving on and new beginnings. I only wish they’d made it a little sooner.

I fully understand why this particular storyline was done post-TNG. After all, they destroy the Enterprise. That’s a big fucking deal, you know? But at the same time, according to the trivia for this movie, DeForest Kelley couldn’t join the cast because his failing health made it impossible for him to get on-set insurance. Things like that make me sad that there couldn’t have been a better send off for the whole crew. I realize that having a fully realized plot along with a goodbye to a whole cast would be tricky, but it could have been done. I’m sorry Sulu’s not there (even though the character’s daughter shows up). I’m sorry Leonard Nimoy’s issues with Spock’s lines in the script couldn’t be rectified in time for him to agree to join the cast. I’m sorry Uhura isn’t there. I love Kirk and there are some great lines and moments between him, Chekhov and Scotty, but something just feels missing to me, and I suspect it’s the rest of the original core cast. Still, given the timing and the inevitable focus on the newer cast, it is understandable.

And really, there is some great stuff here for the newer cast. Granted, by the time Generations was released, TNG was over. The last episode aired in May of 1994 and the movie was released the following fall. That’s not too big a gap there, which I liked, because man, did I miss the show. I mentioned in my review of the first movie that I watched TNG in its original run. I only missed episodes when it got pre-empted for things like football (those nights were unhappy ones in my home, with only my brother unfazed by it) and by the time the last episode aired, I’d grown up with it. Seven years is a long time when you’re the age I was and I cried when it ended. So the movie was more than welcome and at the time I was only too pleased to have just a taste of the older cast. After all, they were my parents’ crew. Mine were all on screen (except Wesley) and I loved it. But tonight, coming out of six nights of original cast movies, I’d simply have liked a bit more. One more scene with Sulu. One more exchange between Kirk, Bones and Spock. Ah well.

But enough maundering about my feelings regarding the overall tone. Let’s talk time travel. To be honest, this movie has some glaring holes. Time travel plots are tricky to execute well and hole-less and there are certainly some issues here. If Kirk and Picard, once in the time vortex, can exit whenever they want, why not go back to any point they want? Why not go back to keep the trilithium away from Dr. Soren? Why not save the Enterprise? Unless you put some sort of internal logic on your time travel method, you open yourself up to all sorts of issues. And what about duplicates? That seems like prime material for mucking with! After all, take a look at Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and the use of two versions of a single person, one version knowing what the other is doing and creating a paradox wherein they influence their own actions. That’s what makes time travel plots fun! And this movie rather ignores it all. It’s not so much a time travel plot as a convenient tool to allow Kirk’s presence and some rather maudlin scenes wherein we learn that Picard wants a family. It’s sloppy, to be honest.

The whole plot revolves around the character of Dr. Soran, an El-Aurian who’s spent decades trying to find a way back into the Nexus, which is a time vortex in which you can do anything. You can relive moments from your past or create the life you always wished you had. A gigantic ribbon of energy seems to be the only way into it and so Soran has made a deal with the Klingon sisters Lursa and B’Etor for their aid in acquiring the right materials to get the ribbon to do whatever he needs it to do to actually get in contact with it. Kirk was lost to the Nexus when the ribbon hit the Enterprise B during her maiden voyage. So sixty-odd years later, when the ribbon shows back up and the Enterprise D goes to investigate an attack on a solar observatory, it’s up to Picard to stop Soran from destroying everything and so on and so forth. I’m feeling rather Men in Black about the whole “the fate of the galaxy is at stake!” here. It’s always at stake. I sort of ignored the details. I’m sure they were excellent sci-fi technobabble. In any case, there’s a big explosion and the Enterprise has to separate the saucer section and crash land it on a planet. Meanwhile, Picard’s having a very Victorian-feeling family Christmas in the Nexus, where he has a bunch of curly-haired moppets and a wife and a small-but-rideable carousel in his living room. Kirk, on the other hand, is having visions of settling down with a woman named Antonia. And they both leave it all behind to go save the day.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy this movie. I enjoy it a hell of a lot. But I don’t enjoy it for the plot. The plot, to me, feels somewhat incidental. Sure, yeah, the universe is in danger, rogue Klingons want a weapon of horrible power, time ribbon, mad scientist. It’s got holes and I honestly think the series did a better job dealing with Picard’s regrets and life choices than the movie does. So what I enjoy about it is the acting and the character interactions and the visuals, which are nicely done. It is fun to see Kirk and Picard on screen together, even if the means to do so is a little wonky. I like seeing the newer crew get a feature and there’s some fantastic over-acting from Brent Spiner as Data, who uses his new emotion chip and finds it difficult to control. I like the saucer separation and the evacuation scenes, because I love seeing how a ship like the Enterprise D, with all of its civilians and the like, deals with a crisis. I like that the movie exists. It could have been so much better, but it was a bonus taste of TNG when I was missing it and so while it might be nostalgia talking, I like it. Holes and all.

January 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 326 – Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – January 20th, 2011

Why yes, we do indeed own the fifth movie. Oh, we didn’t before this project, but then there were quite a few odd holes in our collection before the project started. There still are, though we’re filling them in as we go. This, however, was an intentional hole. We knew damn well that this would be painful to watch and so we’d never bought it. We never meant to put it in our collection. We never meant to intentionally own or watch it. And yet here we are, with the passionate Vulcan and the three-breasted cat woman and the fan dance and the Row Row Row Your Boat oh my god stop singing. We decided that if we were going to watch all of the others, original series and next generation, documentaries and reboot, then, well. We had to buy it.

Around when they started singing I knew this was going to be a trial. It’s been ages since I last saw this movie and as with the second Star Wars prequel, I’ve blocked out a lot. For instance, I’d blocked out that the singing actually bookended the movie. That’s a tidbit that one might think would stay with me, but no. And so when Andy said “well, at least it’s over” at the beginning I believed him. And oh, oh was I sad when he was wrong. I get that it’s meant to be a sweet little moment between the super close trio of Kirk, Spock and McCoy, and I get that it’s supposed to make us feel like even though they’re all futuristic they can still do the things we do or something like that. It’s supposed to speak to connections, both between the characters and the audience. And it doesn’t. It doesn’t at all. It misses the mark by miles. And indeed this is the way it goes for much of the movie.

I keep trying to find something salvageable in this movie and failing to find anything aside from DeForest Kelley’s scene where he’s imagining the death of his father. The plot is nothing super special at its core. Dude shows up with a bunch of fanatical followers and takes over the Enterprise, using her to go somewhere he otherwise wouldn’t be able to go. But in this case the dude is Spock’s half brother, Sybok (and oh, I will get to him in a moment) and the somewhere he’s going is the center of the universe where he believes God is hanging out past a “barrier” that seems pretty weak when all’s said and done. And he doesn’t take over the ship with force so much as he converts everyone on it into his little cult. It’s creepy, to be honest, and I think that was the point? I think. I’m not sure. But if it was the point, well, that’s one thing it did right.

Sybok, as a character, bugs me. He’s this utterly ridiculous figure. He’s Spock’s half-brother, son of Sarek and a Vulcan princess. He’s rejected the logic and repression of his people and embraced emotion, becoming passionate and totally un-Vulcan (soooo, Romulan?) and somehow he’s also got this super special magical cult leader power. He can see the ‘pain’ others are carrying, which seems to mean emotional baggage of some sort, and somehow bring it to the fore, cleansing them and allowing them freedom. And that’s just grand, isn’t it! Watching him with Bones all I could think of was faith healers. But I think that’s how he’s supposed to come off. The thing is, he just doesn’t fit. Maybe if he wasn’t Spock’s half-brother or Vulcan I’d find it easier to accept him. How about a rogue Betazoid? Then the powers would make sense and we’ve met slimy Betazoids in TNG, so it’s certainly possible for them to use their extra senses for less than honorable purposes. But no. He’s this super unique Vulcan, son of a princess. He’s a Gary Stu, only in bad guy form. Sort of. And I say sort of because he’s not shown as evil. Utterly single-minded and determined, yes. Totally short-sighted and naive about the reactions of the people he’s dealing with, yes. But not evil. Misguided, more. So we spend the movie with a bad guy who’s not so much bad as overzealous.

It’s just so messy. Really, really messy. Nimbus III, with its Human, Klingon and Romulan consulates? Sybok’s utter ignorance about things like the Federation’s reaction to taking hostages? Really? Did he truly think he could claim to have hostages and the Klingons wouldn’t show up shooting? Did he really think no one would try and get the hostages out? He seems completely shocked when weapons get fired, and shocked again when Kirk points out that they can’t get the shuttlecraft back onto the Enterprise while the shields are up. He’s kind of not bright and it makes his whole plan seem ill-thought out. Sort of like this movie. I mean, look at some of the things in it. Uhura’s fan dance? According to the trivia, this was written in as a joke! And they kept it! I feel so bad for Nichelle Nichols. She’s better than that. And don’t even get me started on the evil not!God. Apparently there was supposed to be a pit full of the ten levels of Hell and rock monsters that I can only assume were maybe a step up from Hercules Against the Moon Men. So. It could have been worse? I think I’m going to stop now and just let it go. Move on to the next one and hope this one recedes back into the dim corners of my mind.

January 20, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 30 – Zardoz

Zardoz – March 30, 2010

So. Yeah. Zardoz. A movie starring a shirtless Sean Connery in a red loincloth and leather thigh-high boots. A movie that starts out with some bizarre exposition and a line about the penis being evil. It’s a lot like a fever dream, really. A dystopian fever dream about sex and death and the perils of immortality. Fitting, then, that the main character is played by Sean “Ramirez the Egyptian Spanish Peacock” Connery. Sadly, there’s no beheading in Zardoz. What there is, is a lot of ADR dialogue. There is so much talking in this movie. What should be the beginning of the climax is actually a bunch of the characters reading famous literature out loud, but only in snippets, while being lit by slides of classical art.

I tried to give a basic overview of the plot to a friend and it’s kind of impossible to describe succinctly while also sharing the true scope of the movie and what makes it more than just a sixties dystopia scifi flick. Because it’s not. It’s truly not. You really have to know about the giant stone head and the diatoms and the “touch teaching” to understand just why this is one of the strangest movies we own.

Now, I’m all for dystopias. I find them fascinating. I had the pleasure of hearing the author William Tenn speak a few years back when WorldCon was in Boston, and he spoke about how he believed that every utopia conceived of will always be someone’s dystopia. That no matter what your perfect and ideal world would be, it would be hell to someone else. There is no universal utopia. I think it’s a brilliant observation, and one which movies and literature about dystopias have to be built on in some way. In Zardoz, the dystopia the movie is set in also has what was planned as a utopia, but which is failing. It’s not a utopia for everyone, and for those who don’t fit, and for those who aren’t included, it’s horrible.

You see, the world at large is an untamed wasteland, populated by uncivilized people who are kept in check by a group of “chosen” men who are given weapons by what they believe is a god. The god, Zardoz, is a big stone head that dispenses guns and the instructions to control the others, either by killing them or enslaving them. One of the chosen men, Zed (Sean Connery) learns (is taught) how to read and is enlightened. He stows away inside the head and kills the man piloting it, thereby managing to get into a hidden valley where the secret ruling class lives.

Turns out what’s going on is that there are these “vortexes” in hidden valleys, shielded from the untamed land, populated by a bunch of immortal hippies who claim they’re maintaining all of mankind’s knowledge. One of them built the head as a manner of controlling the people outside of the valley, but really he had a larger plan the whole time. The immortal hippies keep Zed around to study him because he’s so different from them. See, they’re all stagnating and/or going insane due to living forever and not having sex anymore. But Sean Connery’s character brings sex and violence back to them and then they all grope him to “touch teach” him everything they know so he can kill them all.

There’s more to the climax, but it’s mostly a lot of talking about how the vortexes were built with the best of intentions but humanity can’t handle immortality and while all the talking’s going on a group of the immortal hippies are hunting Zed through the valley to kill him for fucking up their dys/utopia. Eventually he finds a way to make the immortal hippies into mortal hippies, which seems to make them all pretty happy, since they were actually miserable living forever and not having sex.

And then he and one of the women climb back into the head and have a baby and grow old and die within about five minutes of movie time.

The end!

March 30, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment