Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Do what I did: Go see it on faith – it’s a Quentin Tarantino film. I didn’t watch any previews or trailers, I didn’t watch or read any reviews. I went in knowing the basic outline and that’s it. I didn’t even need that, all I need these days is “directed by Quentin Tarantino”. But it sounded like an interesting premise, too.

I loved it. And I think I loved it more because I didn’t bother with trailers or reviews.

I don’t really think I can say anything else about it without potentially spoiling it. Except that you should go see it.

Maybe I’ll come back and write something about it in a while when it won’t be so spoileriffic.

BTTF Day!

October 21 2015, the day “30 years in the future” Marty and Doc travel to. 4:29pm to be precise.

Technically the time will be 9:29am on Oct 22nd for me since they’re on californian time, but I’m watching the trilogy on Oct 21 Australian time. Close enough.

I’m disappointed that Nike hasn’t released power laces yet. Maybe they’ll announce them tomorrow. I’ll buy that shit.

Update: Yep! Awesome!. I wonder how ridiculously expensive they’re going to be.

Fury Road

The new Mad Max film is finally out. George Miller has been trying to make it for about 25 years now. But don’t be fooled – he hasn’t spent 25 years working on it. Instead, he’s been paying close attention to what hollywood has been doing lately (being braindead), and religiously updating the Mad Max script so that it apes the latest conventions.

I was really excited for it – decades later, I still consider Mad Max 2 to be the greatest Australian film ever made. The trailers made me both more excited, and nervous – That’s the pursuit special! That must mean that this movie is set between the first and second films, right? But the second trailer showed me the flame-throwing guitar, which made me nervous, fearing style over substance.

Still, style over substance isn’t in itself a bad thing – films like Shoot Em Up (which is awesome) are all style, and a balls-to-the-wall, all-style Mad Max film could work, so perhaps it will be great.

It came out, and the reviews started coming in – near-universal acclaim! Wow, maybe it’s actually good.

There’s been some debate over whether it’s a sequel or a reboot. Anyone who thinks it’s a sequel hasn’t been paying attention. But I think that’s the idea – this is a movie for people who don’t pay attention. It’s not a sequel or an interquel which goes inbetween the first and second movies – the pursuit special was destroyed in Mad Max 2. But it’s also destroyed here, meaning that it’s a reboot. I read one argument that it had to be a sequel, because there are flashbacks to the previous films. Whoever said that hasn’t seen the previous films in a long time – none of the flashbacks are from previous films, they’re just miscellaneous flashbacks showing us how haunted Max is. Not that it matters, since he’s not the main character anymore.

Sure, it has lots of spectacular things. And lots of cool things. The vehicles are awesome, and the world is very cool. It looks great. I can’t think that the musical war-rig with its guitarist is anything other than goddamn awesome. But none of it makes any sense – it’s cool for the sake of looking cool, logic be damned.

For instance, if water is precious, why do you hand it out it by pouring ten thousand litres out in the space of 30 seconds? Ninety percent of it is wasted. Wouldn’t handing it out in bottles be much more efficient and less wasteful? Answer: because it looks cool.

If you use human power to raise and lower your war-rigs to the desert floor, how do you pump ten thousand litres of water at such a rate? Answer: because it wouldn’t look cool if you didn’t.

Why are there weird people walking around on four stilts in a swamp? Answer: because it looks cool. Or maybe Miller is just a big Dark Crystal fan.

Why is the war rig loaded with enough water to keep a whole village alive for weeks? Wasn’t it being sent to collect fuel from Gas Town, which is close enough to be visible on the horizon and at worst a couple of hours’ drive away? Answer: because Miller wanted a scene where the wives were hosing each other down, because that would look cool.

How do you keep “mothers milk” from spoiling out in the hot desert for a couple of days? Is the war-rig’s tanker also refrigerated, in addition to having massive water and milk tanks? Is any of that tanker space actually used for the stated purpose of storing and transporting fuel? Why do you even need “mothers milk” for a 2-hour drive?

Why is the fuel pod filled with fuel? Is your war-rig so thirsty that it needs thousands of litres of fuel to get to a place that’s perhaps 15-20km away? apparently not, since I don’t recall them refuelling at any stage of their 3-day high-speed journey. Answer: furiosa had struck a bargain to exchange the full fuel pod for passage through the valley. So I guess she just…uh… stole thousands of litres of fuel from a place where fuel is scarce and precious, and nobody noticed?

Why are there so many american accents in post-apocalyptic Australia? Answer: because it doesn’t matter – you can’t see sound, so it doesn’t not look cool.

And at the end of the movie, they take over the citadel and turn on the pumps so that everybody can drink their fill of water. Aaaw. My reaction: “And they all lived happily ever after for the next 6 months, when they discovered that they’d emptied the aquifer at an unprecedented rate with an unprecedented amount of waste, and everyone died 3 days later.”

Max Rockatansky is now an incidental character in a movie which bears his name. He’s gone from being the ultimate badass anti-hero to being just some savage who is easily captured, communicates in little more than grunts (and when he’s not grunting, he’s talking in a really weird accent) and is just along for the ride.

During the making of this film, the phrase “wouldn’t it be cool if…” was uttered many, many times.

Mad Max 3 wasn’t brilliant, sure, but at least it had something to say – there was some substance there, and genuine world-building. This film has no substance at all, and the world-building is nonsensical – everything is secondary to looking cool, with the possible exception of beating us repeatedly with the “men are bad” sledgehammer.

This movie kind of reminds me of Shoot Em Up, only with less sense, plot and style. If you completely disengage your brain and you have no interest in or memory of the previous films, then you might like this movie.

Oh, wait, I just described most of the population of this planet, so: near-universal acclaim! Expect sequels. Meanwhile I’m going to pray for a porkyclipse.

Bicentennial Man

Apparently, some people don’t like Bicentennial Man. I’ve even heard Robin Williams reference it in a stand-up routine.

IMHO, this is just another example that people are idiots – Bicentennial man is goddamn awesome.

I was really excited when I heard about this movie – I had wanted to see an Asimov movie since I read the books. At the time, there had been talk of adapting I, Robot to the screen for a while – it was in development hell for a long time, and the less said about the outcome, the better.

But Bicentennial man beat I, Robot to the screen by about 5 years and became the first movie based on an Asimov book. Ironically, there wasn’t ever any competition with I, Robot, because it wasn’t “based on” an asimov book – they invented a new credit for I, Robot – “Inspired by”, which basically means “We couldn’t be bothered doing a proper adaptation, so we bastardised it so much that they wouldn’t let us use the ‘based on’ credit”.

And, so far, to my great disappointment, Bicentennial man remains the only movie based on an Asimov book.

And it’s so spot on that Isaac would have wept if he’d seen it.

One review I read mentioned that it’s “faithful to the ideals of golden-age sci-fi”, as if that was a bad thing and as if the story needed to be updated to be more contemporary – there are no explosions in Bicentennial Man – things don’t explode very often at all in Asimov’s books.

This is because Asimov wrote a different type of sci-fi from anything you’ve ever seen on screen – Asimov’s storys rarely have “bad guys”. And that’s what makes Asimov’s work so awesome.

It’s the very fact that this movie is faithful to the ideals of golden age sci-fi that makes it so goddamn awesome. That, and Robin Williams doing some actual acting.

This was also the movie that, for me, turned Robin Williams from “that guy who does all those stupid movies” into a serious actor. The scene where Robin Williams first appears sans robot costume, when he first sees himself after his “upgrade” and simply stares into the mirror and says “thank you” is a seriously brilliant and moving piece of cinema.

I’m also a fan of Sam Neill, and he’s also in Bicentennial man, so there’s that.

There are a couple of things which I thought were missing from the screen adaptation which I think would have made it a stronger film. For example, in the book, it’s not Andrew who starts the crusade for Robotic rights, it’s one of his human friends. This happens after Andrew is harassed by a couple of teenagers, who order him to strip off his clothes and threaten to take him apart – the three laws of robotics make Andrew helpless to protect himself against this assault, and I think it could have been a really powerful scene in the movie, if a little darker in tone and less kid-friendly than the rest of the film.

But on the whole, Bicentennial Man is a faithful adaptation of an excellent story by one of the masters of science fiction, and I’d give it at least 90%. It remains one of my favourite films to this day.

It holds on to the ideals of golden age sci-fi brilliantly, and that’s why asimov would have wept had he lived to see it – they would have been tears of joy at seeing his story adapted so faithfully and with such heart.

But, no explosions or tits, so a crappy rating. Humanity sucks.

Asimov’s Robots are better than us in every way. Maybe that’s part of the reason why this movie isn’t more popular – people don’t like to see their betters. Asimov’s robots, being more intelligent than man, are also more ethical – they help us because they want to. The epitome of this is Asimov’s “Robot Takeover” story – The Evitable Conflict. Go read it if you haven’t already – I’m not going to spoil it. It’s ironic that this story is turned into your usual everyday “evil robots take over” story in the film adaptation of I, Robot. But I’d rather not get started on that film, Maddox already did that.

Trilogification and cynicism

When it first came out, I wasn’t a big fan of Back To The Future III.

It’s one of – if not the first thing I ever saw at the cinema. I was 9. I had seen the first two on video and loved them.

When I say “at the cinema”, I’m not being precise. “At the theater” might be more appropriate. It was actually a projector set up at the local community centre in the small country town I lived in. Usually, it was for shows or exhibitions – playing movies was a new thing.

As a kid, I was dissapointed that it was set almost entirely in the old west, and that there wasn’t any futuristic stuff or even any time travelling – the only time travel is from 1955 to 1885, and then the rest of the movie is spent trying to get back to 1985. I was also really disappointed at the destruction of the delorean.

But now, I think it’s a marvellous conclusion to the trilogy.

Yes, it’s a change of pace from parts 1 and 2, which are full of adventure and chases while doc and marty labour to fix the timeline and not destroy the universe in the process. Part 3 consists of the effort to get the time machine working in 1885 – it doesn’t have the same sense of adventure.

Instead, it provides a catharsis and it serves to analyse and evolve the two central characters – doc in his meeting clara, and marty in overcoming his problem with being called chicken. I think that as a kid I didn’t appreciate this, but now, I see it’s the perfect direction to take. Part 3 is where all the poingiant character moments take place, and it has some great ones – Marty choosing not to race needles, seeing Doc’s family. It also has lots of clever little jokes and references. Perhaps my favourite piece of dialogue is when marty says “great scott!”, and doc replies “I know, this is heavy” – it always makes me chuckle.

Parts 2 and 3 also serve as an excellent example of turning a story into the first part of a trilogy – the second part expands on the adventure of the first and sets up some plot points for the third, and the third provides character arcs and a satisfying, final conclusion – at much as I’d love to see Doc and Marty have one more adventure, the story is over. It even goes so far as to proclaim “The End”. There should never be a Back to the future 4.

Further, it expands the mythology of the entire series by showing the history of hill valley and its inhabitants – you get to see the first mcfly born in america, where the stricklan family’s love for discipline comes from, and another tannen. There are also more subtle indicators – the manure cart Mad Dog Tannen is punched into is “A Jones” manure, where the manure truck in 1955 is labelled with “D Jones”.

This brings me to another point about the magnificence of the storytelling in the back to the future trilogy as a whole – attention to detail. It seems to me that screenwriters and directors aren’t paying nearly as much attention to detail these days. For instance, the first scene of part 1 – doc’s lab – contains many subtle foreshadowings, such as the plutonium case / news report, and the article talking about the Brown Mansion, which you’ll see later in the film, burning down and Doc having to sell the family estate. These are tiny subtle details which you might not have noticed when you watched. (Mr Plinkett voice) But your brain did. It serves to make the fictional world more realistic and “full”.

Another part of this is consistency. I was watching part 3 and noticed when they start pushing the delorean along the train tracks that they have a wooden brace filled with tyres to dampen the impact. I thought I had spotted a continuity problem, and I said to myself “It’s 1885! where did they get tyres from?!?”. Then I remembered that they had removed the tyres from the delorean so it could run on train tracks. And on inspection, indeed, there were four tyres, and they were 1955-style whitewall tyres – exactly like the delorean had after its 1955 repairs.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s that filmmakers these days are paying less attention, or that I’m more cynical in my old age. I’m sure it’s a bit of both, but I don’t think there’s really very much cynicism there – there have been some truly great movies produced recently. Cloud Atlas springs immediately to mind – this instantly became one of my all-time favourite movies. So I’m not totally cynical.

I could offer many theories to explain why we don’t seem to be getting the same level of attention to detail any more.

Perhaps it’s that more and more things are done digitally, so the director / screenwriter isn’t dealing with real-world objects and locations anymore, so they’re not able to spot these small details early enough – a director on location dealing with props is perhaps more likely to spot these issues, and it’s definitely easier to add that one line of explanatory dialogue when you’re filming the scene, as opposed to fixing it in post with pickups or ADR, both of which require much more in both time and resources.

Maybe it’s the “George Lucas Effect” – it does seem to be that the bigger names are the ones pushing out duds. Given James Cameron’s record, avatar was sub-par. So was Indy 4. And don’t get me started on prometheus. Maybe it’s that these big names are surrounding themselves with “yes men” who are afraid to point out these inconsistensies. Perhaps it’s the hollywood process – appealing to the lowest common denominator – perhaps even these big names are being subjected to executive or studio meddling.

Perhaps the problem is the properties themselves – it’s always the great franchises that are sequeled into horribleness. Perhaps the problem is that Alien got too big. When that happened, the budget increased. But because of the increased budget the studio wants to sell more tickets. So this classic series which everybody knows and loves, which we’re sequelling because we know it has a huge established fanbase, needs more “mainstream appeal”

There are exceptions – great films still get made – look at primer – those guys paid attention. But I wonder if there’s anything that has been made in the last decade which I will look at with the same fondness in 20 years as I now look at something like BTTF, Spaceballs, or Terminator. There surely will be, but i suspect that the 2000s won’t live up to the 80s and 90s. And Back to the Future is surely a pinnacle of 80s filmmaking.

Spaceballs is the greatest movie ever made

I’ve been saying it for a long time now.

Spaceballs is the greatest movie ever made.

Yes, Really.

There are over 50,000 reasons why – there must be at least one reason per frame. One day I think physicists will discover that if one charts every single reference to other works alongside all the little pauses and glances and things that may or may not be mistakes in spaceballs in a particular way in a twenty-six-dimensional space, it spells out the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything.

Here are just a couple of examples (I’ll edit this list as I think of more):
* When Dark Helmet discovers that the radar has been jammed, and is saying “there’s only one man who would dare give me the raspberry”, keep your eyes on Colonel Sandurz – He’s been involved in the scene until now, interacting with and watching helmet, and as the camera approaches for a close-up on Helmet as he says “LONE STAR!”, Sandurz looks at the camera, raises his eyebrow, and steps back – his body language says “Oh, you’re coming in for a close-up? Let me get out of your way…” Gold.
* “Nice Dissolve”

Hail Skroob!

Predestination

I recently saw Predestination, a new Australian Sci-fi based on a short story by Heinlein.

It’s awesome – it’s the best time-travel movie in a good while. I watched it, and was then immediately compelled to watch it again – my brain wouldn’t stop, I needed to make sure that everything fit into place and that I hadn’t missed any obvious brokenness in my enthusiasm. And it was just as good on the second viewing – there are no glaring inconsistencies that I can see, and on the second viewing you pick up a lot of subtle stuff.

It started strong, and then got better. I was particularly impressed with the way it kept me thinking and guessing, and then thinking more and second-guessing my guesses – I found it constantly teasing my expectations of a time-travel movie called “predestination”, it’s like the filmmakers are daring you to name the tropes you think they’re going to use, so that they can avoid them or mess with your expectations of them.

In addition to being a fantastic science fiction film (and IMHO good, serious time-travel films are few and far between, so this is worthy of praise in its own right), I also found it to be a really compelling character drama with a lot of heart.

One other thing which I think deserves particular mention: I love that it’s not set in our universe. It’s set in the past on some alternate earth as envisioned by Heinlein in 1959. This is awesome, and really unusual – usually these types of golden-age story are contemporised – a terrible, terrible example of this being I, Robot. Eeew. It feels like they have constructed a world, even though it’s mostly the same as ours, and the differences are taken for granted in-world – e.g no heavy exposition on exactly what “space corp” does – tourism? mining? exploration? who knows, it’s not relevant. Awesome.

I think it’s probably the best time-travel film since 12 Monkeys. It’s not quite as good as 12 Monkeys, but then 12 Monkeys has Terry Gilliam’s style and amazing performances from both Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt – we’re talking big-league stuff here. And I’d put predestionation in the same league.

I’d love to hear suggestions for other great time-travel films for comparison. Here’s my “time travel movie showdown” table:

Predestination vs: Winrar
12 Monkeys 12 Monkeys
The Butterfly effect Predestination (by a slim margin)
Primer Predestination (Again, by a slim margin)
Looper Predestination
Donnie Darko Predestination (darko disqualified for being too ambiguous about whether it’s a time-travel movie or not)
The Time Machine (either version) Predestination
Back To The Future Tie (contenders refused to compete)

the final frontier

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds where things explode, to seek out new life and new civilizations, and watch while they explode. to boldly go where no man has gone before, and blow shit up.