Sunday, 20 May 2012

Dinoshark (2010)

Following a recent, amazing birthday present, I'm taking a break from the usual critically-acclaimed and traditionally "good" films that I usually write about to watch DinoShark. A hopefully low budget production made especially for the Syfy channel, it's pretty much (i.e. exactly) Jaws but with scales, bad acting and terrible Mexican accents.

Let's get this straight at the outset: DinoShark is, technically, an awful, awful film. But there's something I can't help but love about terrible monster-based B-movies, and DS ticks pretty much all the boxes for that list. You have the really badly created monster; the process of listing the first scary things that come to mind and combining them cannot fail here. The fact that all you end up with is biological mess of a shark with horns and a head transplanted directly from a T-Rex is irrelevant. You've got the so-bad-it-had-to-be-done-ironically script, highlights of which include "The Los Muertos Reef" (i.e. Reef of the Dead) and, a line that I'm sure will go down in history, "Dinosaur season is officially open!". Finally you've got the traditional monster-movie bodycount. Characters are introduced, numerous times throughout the film, less than a minute before they die. After the opening twenty minutes or so, if someone new gets a speaking part you might as well start making arrangements because they aren't going to make it to the credits*.

It's not even in spite of all that that I enjoy Dinoshark, it's because of it. It's awful. But it's awfully fun and hilarious in all the ways proper movies just aren't. I'd be satisfied to look up "So bad it's good" in the dictionary and find a picture of a sharkosaur.

*Something that my DVD copy didn't have. Not that I blame anyone for not wanting to attach their name to this.

Also from this collection are: Sharktopus, Mega Pyhton vs Gatoroid and Dinocroc vs Supergator. There is definitely a theme there. Although I might actually check out a proper film in the way of Remember the Titans before I get to more monster movies.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Moneyball (2011)

As some might know, I'll watch pretty much anything with Brad Pitt in it. The only person who ranks above him in terms of brilliant actors for me is Natalie Portman.

Still, even with the power of Pitt I was a bit apprehensive to dedicate two and a half hours of time I should really  be studying in to a film about baseball. I don't know shit about baseball, and to be honest I don't really want to know shit about baseball. But that very fact is a testament to how well crafted Moneyball is.

Despite following the story of Billy Beane (Pitt) and his newest employee Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) as they shift the focus of managing the Oakland A's from traditional managing to relying on cold hard statistics and figures, the inescapable romanticism that runs in the veins of any sports film remains. Beane's love for the game, and his passion for wanting to make it fair generates this romanticism, even with the best attempts to remain businesslike about it. Frequent, flash-fast outbursts of both anger and joy reveal Billy to not be the uncaring boss that he appears to many to be.

Even though the film is built around baseball, you don't have to know anything about the game to get it. At its heart the film is really about Billy settling the score with himself and dealing with his past failures in the game and in life in general. Sure, if you know the game inside out you might get a little more out of the montages and background chatter, but if you can understand the difference between "winning" and "not losing", in any sense, then you'll be able to understand Moneyball.

It's a truly great film, and probably the best sport film I've seen. It might not necessarily have the flashy pay-off of films like Mean Machine or Goal, but there's much, much more in terms of storytelling (thanks in no small part to Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian's screenplay) and overall quality.

Moon (2009)

Moon is a fantastic sci-fi film, and an amazing triumph as a debut for director Duncan Jones.

That said, it doesn't exactly explore anything new in the "trapped in space" genre of sci-fi that we haven't seen before. But that's okay, we don't go out to a new club every time we go out or watch a new channel every time we flick on the television. The ideas that Moon does look at, without giving too much away, centre around the ethics of using science and trickery on real people for profit, along with the idea of isolation and dealing with being trapped with just yourself, the good and the bad.

Again without giving too much away, Sam Rockwell gives a fantastic performance with a great range. The different sides you see to his character (also called Sam) create a real three dimensional character with a lot of depth and relatability, even if he does come across as slightly shattered in terms of his personality. Similarly, Kevin Spacey adds a lot to the picture, voicing the AI assistant GERTY, the only other "person" on the moon base. GERTY is an interesting character in that there are a lot of science fiction cliches set up for the character to fall into, which are later subverted to quite a likable result. It's refreshing to see a sci-fi film where an AI isn't the harbinger of judgement day for all of mankind.

I was also pleased to see Kaya Scodelario make an appearence in the film. Her part is very small (although definitely not inconsequential) and her performance isn't exactly Oscar worthy, but it's good to see someone from a successful TV series (Skins) make a dignified choice in what they participate in rather than just jump on every project that comes along.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

It might be pretty bad for me, someone who calls themself a bit of a film nerd, to have only just caught this Tarantino classic, but what can I say?

Anyway, Pulp Fiction is pretty much the definitive Tarantino flick: brutal, slick, extravagant, surreal and hilarious. Made up of a somewhat massive ensemble cast, we follow three main storylines that intersect and run parallel, and not necessarily in chronological order. It feels a lot like watching a short miniseries in a way, the three acts could easily function as standalone features to be watched seperately and on different occasions, with a nice overarching story arc revolving around the gangster Marcellus Wallace.

Each part of the film works exceedingly well. with everyone involved giving a pretty much astounding performance. But the real standouts are, as I'm sure any 15-year-old who *thinks* enjoying Pulp Fiction makes them mature will agree, John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson and Uma Thurman. Playing two hitmen and a gangster's wife respectively, they all deliver characters that are endearing and dramatic, populating their world, one that could only exist in movies like this, perfectly.

It's these over-the-top characters that craft the film into Tarantino's mould. Everything is dark and a little ridiculous, making sure that the piece lives up to its title perfectly: it's not a literary classic, it's just some very well produced, trashy Pulp Fiction. But damn if isn't some of the best trashy pulp.

Into The Wild (2007)

Into The Wild, based on the true story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, is an interesting biographical film following a young man's journey to find himself by following the dream many of us have of just packing up and leaving. Coming from a privileged background, and having followed "the plan" set out by his parents, Chris graduates college and runs, donating his life savings to charity and becoming a self-proclaimed "super-tramp".

As the film follows Chris in his adventures across North America, there's a not-so-subtle message centring on re-birth and growing into a different person (in more than one sense). It's a very romantic story, and inspirational in many ways. The sense of adventure and freedom that McCandless embodies throughout the journey speaks to many people much in the same way Fight Club's anti-consumerism message does; we don't need all the entrapments of modern living to be happy.

One thing that does seem to go under the radar for many people commenting on the film, however, is the other explanation for McCandless' fleeing from his past life. The narration provided by his sister heavily implies that this wasn't just an adventure for McCandless, but that he was running scared, especially from his parents. The trials of the relationship between Chris and the pair are revealed gradually, and along with the episodic nature in which McCandless joins up with others in his journey betrays the underlying fact that he fears getting too close to others lest they hurt him. Ultimately, it's his rejection of other people that leads him to the regrettable end that his real life counterpart also shared. If anything is to be taken from the film, it's not that we can achieve happiness if we leave behind all our modern entrapments, it's that we can achieve happiness by doing whatever we want as long as it's shared with others.