Da 5 Bloods
On the Record
I May Destroy You
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Something's disrupted the Earth's magnetic field, so the only logical response is to strap a few nukes to a fancy train, staff it with a crack team of handsome scientists and fire it into the ground. This is a curious one, because despite such a ruthlessly stupid premise, The Core does an awful lot right.
It's stacked with a surprisingly well-equipped cast, for one, with Aaron Eckhart channeling his best bottled blonde beefcake as the project lead and Hilary Swank (just a year prior to winning an Oscar) sliding into an effortless role as a fiery astronaut-turned-pilot. Character actors Bruce Greenwood and Stanley Tucci fill out the roster with equally over-achieving support roles. It's a showy, pseudo-scientific team adventure, not unlike Jules Verne's journeys a century-plus prior, and there's plenty of harmless fun to be had with that type of premise. The big set pieces are imaginative and well-realized, if completely unbelievable and convenient. The plot takes risks and makes real sacrifices, even if most of those seem misguided, happenstance, superfluous and/or preventable.
The Core's biggest problem is its urge to spell everything out in a wave of absurd, hand-wavey scientific jargon that draws attention to its own fundamental shortcomings. Rather than leaving the particulars of the ship's breakneck development and construction to a mere montage, for example, it makes a point of telling us the government threw a whole lot of money at it. As if funding were the only real hurdle, the glistening key to immediate, unlimited scientific progress. It does this constantly, spelling things out where no explanation was really necessary and then flubbing all the answers. There's a feeling of insecurity behind all that, like it's apologizing for its own identity, which makes it extra-ripe for criticism. Beneath all the existential anxiety and self-loathing, tucked away in shame, is a surprisingly well-made film. Fluffy and silly, sure, but also tight and effective. In the end, though, it's a case of one step forward for every two steps back.
Giant, hostile, alien spaceships appear overnight to move on Earth's natural resources; humanity's last, desperate hope is a shaky plan involving a captured UFO from the 1950s and an old PowerBook laptop. Seems like this one was a guilty-pleasure classic from opening day. ID4 isn't well-written and constantly bathes itself in dense layers of cheese, but it tries hard, most the character arcs connect and the big special effects hold up quite well, despite their age.
For a movie that's so thoroughly reliant on spectacle, that last point is pretty important. The power of watching the White House or Empire State Building burst into a billion bitty pieces is still there, irresistible, while the magnitude of the invading fleet remains immense, and I think both can be attributed to the production's choice to eschew then-new CG techniques in favor of a large, intricately detailed stable of miniatures. We get a few hiccups, like the obviously green-screened fighter jets or the absurd visual of a golden retriever leaping to slow-motion safety through a fiery inferno, but for the most part it all looks great and it's still easy to get sucked into the experience.
Of course, the whole thing is over-acted to death. Roland Emmerich has never been one to bring out nuance from his cast, and this is an awfully shallow effort, even by his standards. Bill Pullman nails the big motivational speech, set to a telegraphed swell of patriotic symphony, but otherwise lacks conviction as a limp, reactive PotUS. Randy Quaid is a cheap xerox of every alien abduction stereotype to ever enter pop culture. Jeff Goldblum is naturally quirky enough to make his role worthwhile, but it takes every bit of his innate charismatic magnetism to overcome the dumb plot developments. Will Smith is the only unequivocal success, barking and fist-pumping his way to bonafide action hero status in a simple but essential role as a beefy marine / pure force of will.
From a critical perspective, this is cinematic junk food. Big bangs and shiny lights to dazzle the box office crowd, with a few easy jokes to lighten the mood. But yet, there's something else to it, something essential and inexplicable. It's just raw, simple fun, I suppose, that makes no apologies for how it acts or what it aims to be. It won't make you think or weep, but you'll feel, and that's worth something.
Well, I can't say I was misled by the poster art. Blood Machines is everything it promised to be: a deep, dark splash of tripped-out outer-space mayhem, bold and loud and dirty like an after-hours Cinemax special with a huge, dedicated VFX team. It's a total sensory delight, no matter how poorly-acted and incomprehensible the story might be.
Music is a huge part of what makes this whole show operate, which is no surprise since it's a spiritual (if not literal) sequel to a music video from the same artist, director and production house. Carpenter Brut isn't a household name, but his particular brand of darkwave synth caught my ear a few years ago and that's what ultimately drew me to this film. The entire visual approach hinges on that style, adapting his grungy, sinister, 80s-influenced sound into a perfectly-paired series of distressed, threatening, neon-hued scenes and settings. Occasionally, it overexerts in the pursuit of deliberately edgy material (tons of T&A and blasphemous imagery in this one), but as it's already a pastiche of styles from an era where such envelope-pushing was common, if not actively encouraged, that seems appropriate. Distracting and snicker-inducing, sure, but also fitting.
I couldn't tell you much about the plot. It seems intentionally ambiguous, merely a vehicle to shift our perspective from one complex piece of shifting, shining, shaking computer-generated havoc to the next. The dialogue and acting are also afterthoughts, and overlooking those can be a bit trickier. Those seeking a thick dose of pure indulgence need look no further: Blood Machines is a conceptual marvel, an overfilled cup of fresh ideas and dramatic execution. Maybe if you're high enough, the other stuff won't matter.
A powerful, loyal adaptation of Harper Lee's novel that cuts to the heart of the racial dialogue without condescending or coddling.
Gregory Peck won an Academy Award for his performance as Atticus Finch, the thoughtful father and dignified lawyer who's driven by moral convictions, but his work is enriched by several crucial supporting roles. Child actors Phillip Alford and Mary Badham (also nominated for an Oscar) play a convincingly earnest set of siblings, enthusiastic and inquisitive avatars for the audience. The authenticity of their lock-stepped performances might be partially lain at the feet of director Robert Mulligan, who opted to run with many first takes, lest the youngsters grow weary of the repetition. Brock Peters also shines in limited work as Tom Robinson, a black man on trial for a flimsy rape accusation. Peters really only gets one opportunity to make his mark, but it comes at the emotional crux of the story and he sees that it hits home.
The film isn't without weaknesses - antagonists often seem a little too narrow and stereotypical, and the flat (if essential) epilogue undercuts the power of the film's real climax - but those are minor nitpicks. On the whole, To Kill a Mockingbird is a smart, well-reasoned picture that still speaks to America today, generations after it was set, published and adapted. Jim Crow may be dead and buried, but so long his influence still resonates, this story will carry extra relevance.
Back in the days when digitization was tomorrow's creeping threat and computer programmers were modern-day wizards, Disney toyed with those preconceptions in a bold, experimental mixed narrative. Now, nearly forty years later, Tron serves as a curious time capsule and obvious trail blazer, if not a particularly good film. It splits time between two distinct landscapes: the physical world of dim video arcades, outlaw hackers and evil executives, plus a metaphorical digital reality with stylized unitards, neon grids and airbrushed horizons.
The splashy graphics of the latter are what everyone associates with the picture, a jittering display of cutting edge techniques and loud influences that correctly anticipated countless visual trends of the coming decade. Back in grade school, I carried Trapper Keepers that stole, shamelessly, from this movie. Still, with so many years between then and now, nothing else has managed to look quite like Tron. Computer-aided effects have come miles since '82 - most of the big chase sequences, for example, look quaint in a modern light - but it's still memorably one-of-a-kind. By contrast, the storytelling is sluggish and obtuse, a mixed-up dinosaur that slings too many allegories for its own good. Eye candy is nice and all, but when that sugar rush crashes in the second act, the plot is just too convoluted, too concept-heavy, to compensate. That's usually the point where I fall asleep.
Creatively ambitious and highly influential, Tron can't escape its snoozier tendencies. It's a textbook example of style over substance, despite the best efforts of young Jeff Bridges and a talented team of concept artists.