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Tag Archive: Stanley Kubrick


Review by C.J. Bunce

James Cameron has plenty to say about science fiction and he pulls in some sci-fi directors and dozens of sci-fi actors and creators to lay it all out in his new AMC series James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction.  Many series have wrestled with the subject of defining science fiction, most recently Ridley Scott’s Prophets of Science Fiction, where the Alien and Blade Runner director honored George Lucas, Robert Heinlein, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley. Not known for his interviewing, Cameron opted to record more informal chats with a small circle of his contemporaries, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (plus an interview by friend/science fiction writer Randall Frakes of Cameron himself), attempting to guide them down his framework of analysis, sometimes gaining agreement and other times sparking interesting tangent questions.  The interviews are divided up and sprinkled across six episodes of the AMC television series, and the blanks are filled in with sound bites from creators, professors, writers, and popular names from modern science fiction.  But the companion book, also titled James Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, is far more insightful, showing the broader unedited interview text for each of Cameron’s six key contributors, plus great color artwork to illustrate his history of the genre.  Ultimately the book is a more useful, informative, and interesting overview of science fiction than what the series provides, and recommended for fans wanting to dig deeper into the history of the genre.

For those that haven’t encountered a review of the genre, Cameron’s Story of Science Fiction, available now from Insight Editions, will provide the appropriate highlights.  The combined narrative is at its best when attempting to find the reasons for the importance of science fiction as literature and art, as influence to society, and as a reflection on mankind’s discovery of self, but it’s also fun for any diehard genre fan to follow along, agree or disagree, and ponder the myriad alternatives to the examples given to illustrate the topics covered.  The book is better than the TV series at analyzing and presenting the coverage, tying each key contributor to a sub-genre or major sci-fi concept: alien life, outer space, time travel, monsters, dark futures, and intelligent machines.  Cameron has done his homework and claims to have read nearly anything and everything since he was a kid on the subject.  His own significant science fiction contributions, namely Terminator, Terminator 2, and Aliens, and developing the two biggest women film roles of the genre–Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 and Ellen Ripley in Aliens–are only slightly overshadowed by more than required attention to his film Avatar  as frequent centerpiece topic. He also spends more time on modern science fiction films, sometimes leaving behind classic films that had done it all before.  So surprisingly great influences like Star Trek, Rod Serling, and John Carpenter get far less attention proportionately than you’d find in another science fiction overview, and the vast body of science fiction television series is barely tapped at all.

The most insight comes from George Lucas and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Lucas provides rare reactions to fan criticism of Jar Jar Binks, his Star Wars prequels generally, and his concept of midichlorians manipulating the Force, which he states would have been key to the third trilogy had he kept control of the franchise.  Immersed in an interview about science fiction his responses seem to reflect regret in selling Star Wars to Disney, as if he had far more Star Wars stories to tell.  The rest of the book’s seriousness is counterbalanced nicely by Schwarzenegger, who Cameron repeatedly attempts to get introspective about playing science fiction’s greatest villain and hero cyborg as the Terminator.  Not a method actor, Schwarzenegger reveals himself as fanboy and entertainer when it comes to science fiction, drawn more to the spectacle and excitement of science fiction roles and how the characters appear on the screen more than any life-changing meaning from the stories that Cameron is searching for.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In that niche area of dystopian dog movies (that’s the adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and his Dog and… ?), Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs not only soars to the top of the list, it’s a great film in all sorts of categories: it’s new, yet a classic children’s story, it’s a timely political allegory, and it’s a solid movie about dogs.  We knew Anderson had a grasp on animals in his surprisingly good Fantastic Mr. Fox, but audiences will soon learn he also understands dogs and dog behavior.  The trailers don’t really prepare moviegoers for what lies ahead.  Sure, it’s about an island of exiled dogs so of course audiences are in for a bleak ride, complete with at least one dead canine, lots of dogs in peril as well as many mutilated and diseased.  Yet Isle of Dogs is surprisingly grand in scope, thought-provoking, and even heartwarming.  And epic–don’t be surprised if you start thinking about the closest Martin Scorsese or Stanley Kubrick movie while you’re glued to the screen.  Despite some witty dialogue in places from Anderson’s smart script, this is less comedy and more drama than his past efforts.

The dystopian world is better realized, bigger in scope, and yet more personal than typical futurist visions, beyond that dismal hopeless doom of Mad Max, The Postman, Escape From New York, Twelve Monkeys, Snowpiercer, Looper, Logan’s Run, and District 9.  Isle of Dogs is probably closer to WALL-E and Planet of the Apes in feel.  Isle of Dogs is gloomy and dark and bleak, but it offers a ray of hope for the future from a 12-year-old Japanese boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) and a freckle-faced, high school exchange student named Tracy from Ohio (Greta Gerwig), both out to defy an autocratic government’s ban on dogs.  That’s thanks in major part to the vivid, eye-popping world of future Japan filmed by celebrated Aardman Animations stop-motion cinematographer Tristan Oliver (A Close Shave, The Wrong Trousers, Chicken Run), and the encompassing sounds from this year’s Oscar-winning composer for The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter series, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, The Golden Compass).  As to the stop-motion, audiences can marvel at how far Hollywood has come since the Ray Harryhausen era.  The film follows Anderson’s design choices first seen in his Fantastic Mr. Fox and only continues to add to the unbelievable magical movements carried forward by Aardman’s achievements.  And instead of a typical Romantic, programmatic score, Desplat’s best choices can be found in his use of loud, almost frightening Japanese taiko drums, Fumio Hayasaka’s haunting theme from Seven Samurai, the more celebratory bits from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije, and a simple recurring dog whistle.

Anderson offers up admirable tributes to Japanese culture and film, everywhere from costume design to modern TV reporting stylings, to Hayao Miyazaki themes and Akira Kurosawa landscapes, to traditional imagery like beautiful ukiyo-e on walls and cherry blossoms floating by at the right time.  Isle of Dogs finds a firm footing on the children’s classics shelf of your film library, alongside Roald Dahl’s Mr. Fox but also his Willy Wonka.  It also has much in common in tone with Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal.  The political allegory is thick and layered, a mix of the nuanced and the obvious, a mirror reflection of society that you’d have found years ago in a Frank Capra movie.  Science is mocked, scorned, and worse.  Experts are traitorous and immigrants are exiled.  It’s also graphic in parts at a baser level, showing an animated meal from a dumpster with creepy crawlies that may make your stomach turn, plus an open chest surgery, bloody, torn body parts, and dogs with missing eyes and open wounds.

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Beware the light.

Review by C.J. Bunce

On first viewing of Logan, this year’s most critically acclaimed superhero film, a viewer may love it or leave it.  It’s not your typical Marvel Comics adaptation, full of f-bombs and the bloodiest of action and violence.  Yet it’s also a finely crafted final chapter to the successful X-Men film saga and a tribute to Hugh Jackman’s unprecedented nine-film run as Logan.  Last week 20th Century Fox showed a limited screening arranged by the director of Logan in black and white, called Logan: Noir.  The version is also included on the Blu-ray release available everywhere tomorrow.  If you haven’t seen Logan, skip the theatrical version and go straight to Logan: Noir and if you have seen Logan prepare for a completely different experience with this special edition of the film.

Logan: Noir would be more aptly titled Logan: Black and White, as this is not so much classic noir than a modern Western tale shown in black and white.  Thankfully writer/director James Mangold (Cop Land, 3:10 to Yuma, The Wolverine) carefully and elegantly filmed Logan with an eye for the stark contrasts that black and white film once regularly captured so well.  Parts of the film will reach into your chest and hold you breathless, revealing the full potential of a comic book based film–and more specifically a superhero film.

Its bleak, cold landscapes are evocative of a John Ford (Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Grapes of Wrath) Western.  Its slow, calculated scenic pans are something Stanley Kubrick (Lolita, Dr. Strangelove) could only have hoped to have achieved in his early work.  Inasmuch as Hugh Jackman is a classic, Western, antihero archetype in his so-far-gone, washed-up, tired and grizzled Logan–former Wolverine of the X-Men–he appears far lonelier and resigned to a dismal, unrelenting future in black and white.  The cold contrasts in this Logan somehow create a vision more true to the Old Man Logan of the comic book source material.

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Michael Keaton in Birdman

Review by C.J. Bunce

It always makes sense to be wary of movies that trickle out to the public in limited release.  If you’re not in the movie business, you may also want to be careful about seeing films about the movie business, especially shows about Broadway.  Sometimes knowing what is behind the stage door ruins the magic.  A Chorus Line, The Player, Barton Fink, are all about staging theater or film.  But it often seems like writers choose this topic as a crutch–these are the topics drama college professors praise, of characters full of angst, a script riddled with expletives and characters bantering long speeches full of dialogue and situations calculated to shock and surprise.  They hope the industry insiders will latch onto the movie even if the movie-going public could care less.  These movies come off as self-indulgent and trite, the stuff of drama school or Summer stock.  Birdman unfortunately is another one of those movies.

Michael Keaton plays an actor named Riggan.  You would never know Riggan was his name from watching Birdman as it sounds more like Reagan as uttered by the cast.  Riggan has some kind of schizophrenia, causing him to think he is being talked to by the Birdman, a costumed character Riggan played that once earned him fame.  There’s not enough of the Birdman in the film to understand whether Riggan simply has mental problems or he really has some magical power.  Or maybe it’s intended to be allegorical.  It’s hard to know.  Riggan is trying to produce and act in a play, doing something to get recognized, to make himself relevant, when in fact, he’s still a household name.

Keaton in Birdman

Behind Birdman is a variety of movie gimmicks, all arising out of an ambitious director.  Ambition is a great thing, to be certain.  Yet director Alejandro González Iñárritu throws too much at the audience at once, and although he is certainly getting noticed on the awards front, Birdman doesn’t have the balance to stand the test of time.  Slathered in tongue-in-cheek irony, Birdman relies on the misconception that Michael Keaton, who played Batman in real life, is a washed-up has-been who hasn’t had a good job in years and we will all have some nostalgic reaction to this.  (In fact, Keaton has hardly seen a year since he started in movies where he wasn’t in one film or another).

So the publicity folks want to spin this film as the next Sunset Boulevard, another story of a has-been actor struggling with self-worth.  It’s a mirror image of the New York film and theater industry looking back on itself.  A critique?  Poking fun?  Maybe actors care about that.  Maybe producers and movie moguls.  But why should audiences?  It just doesn’t come close to the subtlety and grand storytelling that made Sunset Boulevard so superb.

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Iconic scenes 2001 A Space Odyssey

If you love 2001: A Space Odyssey or Stanley Kubrick, just walk away now.  More than any other science fiction movie it stops me in my tracks.  Every five years or so I re-watch it, thinking, like tomatoes, I may finally bite right in and say “tasty!”  The movie is absolutely a treat for the eyes in much the same way as Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  These are great looking movies.  But when it comes to storytelling?  Ask fans of the film, those with a critical eye, and no two will describe what the film is about in the same way.  Yet 2001: A Space Odyssey is often on lists of the best movies of all time, lists made by clever people who know good movies.

Only after reading the Cliff’s Notes version of 2001 (the film, not the book) do I understand what Kubrick was going for.  I’m still left scratching my head.  The dialogue is flat like the lines in the Star Wars prequels.  Kubrick admitted he wanted the viewer to have his/her own understanding of the film.  That’s “the point”.  Hey–if you’re a fan of ambiguity it’s the film for you.  If you tried making a movie like it today you’d end up with something like Punch-Drunk Love or the remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  Slow, boring, long, dull.  Most of the film is just banal.  But the star baby!  The black monolith!  So he takes a film and overlays it with well-known classical music and juxtaposes some cryptic symbolic imagery.  Just because someone hasn’t done it doesn’t mean it’s groundbreaking.  If I want cool images and great music sans linear story, I’ll take Powaqqatsi.

2001 huh black monolith

Maybe it’s because I like excitement in my science fiction, not this documentary-style filmmaking.  For that give me a NASA IMAX movie and educate me along the way.  Give me Star Wars or Star Trek II.  Has anyone ever referred to 2001 as exciting?  Great looking films minus a big story to back it up may be why I shy away from mainstream science fiction movies, the kind that get nominated for film awards like Gravity or Interstellar. 

So why is it on the American Film Institute list of best science fiction films at #1 and on the Library of Congress National Film Registry?

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Escape from Tomorrow movie poster

“Don’t mess with the Mouse,” is a maxim in American intellectual property law.  Ask any law professor.  Those who challenge Disney in court usually lose.  But the view that Disney can’t be beaten is part of the myth Disney has created itself, and the success of the critically acclaimed independent film Escape from Tomorrow is throwing movie watchers’ pre-conceived notions of Disney as sacrosanct out the window.  Escape from Tomorrow was filmed nearly entirely on location at Disney theme parks without the permission of Disney.  It turns out there’s nothing Disney can do about it.  The result is better than just a stunt project, but it has its misfires as much as it has its triumphs.

The talented Roy Abramsohn, mainly a character actor who has shown up in TV series from Charmed to Medium to Monk and Without a Trace as well as a recurring role on Weeds, takes on the lead role of Jim, a father and husband of the Clark Griswold variety on his last day of vacation at Epcot and Disney World, the celebrated “Happiest Place on Earth.”  Jim just learned he’s lost his job and is having one of those days where everything goes wrong.  But this is no National Lampoon’s comedy.  Jim is living out his own House of Horrors.

Abramsohn in Escape from Tomorrow

Structurally, the film is brilliantly executed for a first effort.  Were you to go back and look at THX-1138 and Duel and predict the future of its directors, no one could have predicted Star Wars or American Graffiti or Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jaws.  Escape from Tomorrow is better than THX-1138, but not as compelling as Duel.  Does that mean we have a future genius on our hands?  Not likely, but it will make viewers take notice of the next projects of writer/director Randy Moore and cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham.

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Grimm book banner

Review by C.J. Bunce

Grimm the TV series is “grim” to the extent of its various Wesen creatures—some stars of the show like Monroe and Rosalie and the villainous Adalind—as they woge into the faces of a horror movie special effects artist’s dream project.  Strange murders and other crimes from their dark fantasy world come across weekly on NBC with a footing in the reality of a Portland, Oregon police precinct.  But there is an equal balance of humor that can often make you forget the show is so dark.  The comic book spin-off of the series, reviewed here at borg.com last year, allows Nick, Hank, and Monroe to venture off to locations too expensive for a network TV series.  The tie-in Book of Lore highlights the fictional monster culture behind the series stories.  Now a new tie-in novel takes the darkest elements of the TV series even further, to more horrific places that could never make it to network TV.

Bram Stoker Award winning horror author John Passarella takes on the Grimm universe with a new criminal element in Grimm: The Chopping Block, a new paperback novel just released. It’s The Freshman meets Silence of the Lambs meets Fat Tuesday. The remnants of boiled human bones are turning up in multiple places around Portland.  And the victims have nothing in common.  It’s not long before Detectives Nick Burkhardt and Hank Griffin, along with Captain Renard and Sergeant Wu, discover that what the victims don’t have in common says all they need to know about the true nature of the crime.

Grimm The Chopping Block

Humans become livestock under the knives of a Wesen butcher.  Any reader may go along with our favorite character Monroe by book’s end and go Vegan.  Be prepared for descriptions you’d find in any meat-packing plant or Food Network series, only with an unusual meat substitute.  Food prep takes on new meaning.  And the story features a dinner event that The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover only scratched the surface with.

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Room 237 biking

More so than Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or The Shining, writer/director Rodney Ascher’s documentary Room 237 seeks and finds the heart of obsession and insanity.

But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Documentaries often feature thought-provoking, intelligent, smart people with some appropriate credentials espousing new theories.  You will likely walk away from Room 237 thinking your own descriptive words about the participants in the film.  These may include:  Eccentrics.  Crackpots.   Batshit crazy.  Although the film gives these participants ample opportunity to prove their theories, and despite some obvious effort on their part, no rational person would likely use these words to describe them by film’s end:  Geniuses.  Visionaries.  Lucid.

The title Room 237 comes from the numbered hotel room in the Kubrick film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, where a lot of the terrifying horror plot is centered.  (King reportedly hated Kubrick’s adaptation of his book).  The documentary is predominantly the voices of five fanatics who have watched The Shining far too many times for their own good, who we never actually see in the film.  The voices are carried over clips of a variety of Kubrick movies that serve to attempt to prove the theories being discussed.  Room 237 was acclaimed by a number of critics and was named an official selection at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and nominated for several other awards.

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A new movie trailer may explain why Ridley Scott has not been saying anything about what to expect in his new movie Prometheus, the new science fiction film from the universe of the Alien franchise.  Because, like a good magician, he is not going to reveal the big surprises until just the right time.  This is something cool and by itself gets a cybernetic thumb up from borg.com–in its realism, it is oddly prescient, and in its calmness and innocence, something outright creepy.  Check it out:

This new trailer is more an “ad from the world of Prometheus” than a typical trailer with snippets from the movie to entice us to see it.  Like Total Recall with all its advertisements for transplanted memories from the company called Rekall, this advertises something different, something at the core of a lot of science fiction–the ethics of science–just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we should do it.

The ad seems like it may be good for people who like the chilling parts of Philip K. Dick’s science fiction, people who liked the brilliant science fiction film Gattaca, but who also hope that world never arrives.  The character is familiar–we’ve seen androids and similar cybernetic organisms before and have discussed several here at borg.com.  This guy looks like Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the eerie quiet and childlike movements also conjure something dark like something you’d get from Stephen King–or maybe like Data just before he malfunctions and takes out the crew of the USS Enterprise.

When and how is this seemingly sentient thing going to break?

Science fiction is often at its best when it shows us tomorrow… failing.  Like the Millenium Falcon with a broken hyperdrive.

This trailer feels like 2001: A Space Odyssey, maybe just because of the choice of the name “Dave”.  Now I am pretty much not a fan of most of Stanley Kubrick’s work.  Despite some neat outer space scenes in 2001, the single scene with HAL and Dave, and some neat set decoration, I’ve never been able to get through the entire film in one sitting.  I just find it stunningly boring every few years when I try it again to see if I will like it this time.  But if Prometheus is like this ad, with this kind of quiet future scary science… this trailer might have elevated Prometheus for me from a future rental to an actual theater ticket.  And that’s saying something because its traditional trailers haven’t convinced me this is something I’ll care about.  But then again, their print ads state this David 8 robot is powered by… wait for it… Verizon.  Umm… right.  And all the restaurants of the future will be Taco Bell.

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that Sir Ridley Scott, creator of the films Blade Runner, Alien, and the recent Prophets of Science Fiction series, has some visionary tricks up his sleeves.  But the release of this very, very different movie promotion struck me as surprising, in a good way.  And if they do the movie right, “Happy Birthday, David” may be the next sci-fi catch phrase.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com