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Friday, April 20, 2012

Double Feature Friday: Killer Robot Edition

Humans are terrified of robots, and it's no wonder why. After the Industrial Revolution, machines replaced a large portion of workers' jobs. Therefore, as technology advances further, humans fear that robots will annihilate our species. Right now, there's nothing to fear except Google Glasses, so kick back and enjoy some dystopian futuristic cinema.

Let's start with one of the best worst movies of all time: Chopping Mall (1986). You may recognize some of the notable names attached to the picture. Director Jim Wynorski has also helmed such illustrious works as Piranhaconda and The Bare Wench Project 3: Nymphs of Mystery Mountain. The King of Camp himself, Roger Corman, also produced the film. If that doesn't have you queuing up this movie already, well, it gets even better.

The plot is one everyone can get behind: a group of horny teens wants to hang out at the mall after hours. What could be so bad about that? Well, they might knock over displays or have premarital sex on the display linens, and that is simply unacceptable. Enter the robots.

Chopping Mall

These robots are designed to act as mall security, but when their commanding computer goes haywire, they lock down the mall and must destroy the intruders. Perhaps I've been shopping in the wrong places, but I've never seen a mall incident that justified deadly force. These robots mean business, but they never lose their manners; after every murder, they declare, "Thank you. Have a nice day!"

Needless to say, trashy camp abounds in the movie. The highlight, though, is one of my favorite movie quotes of all time. The character Linda declares, with all seriousness, "I guess I'm just not used to running around a shopping mall in the middle of the night being chased by killer robots." I encourage you to pause and reflect on that. Killer robots made a teenage girl less horny. Talk about accidental realism! For its low budget charms and ridiculous so-bad-it's-amazing quality, Chopping Mall simply kills the murder robot competition.

So after that ridiculousness, you may become complacent with robots. You might even think that they're cute and cuddly like Wall-E. Think again, buster. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron) proves that robots will eventually try to destroy humanity. What's scarier than a robot trying to destroy humanity? Simple: a robot going back in time to destroy humanity. Not only are they killing us, but they've also mastered the space-time continuum. Now, you may ask why I recommend the sequel instead of the original. Here's one great reason:

T-1000 in Terminator 2

Not only are the graphics simply better, but T-1000 (Robert Sean Patrick) is a much more formidable opponent than the original Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). T-1000 is mortifying because his body can change shape at any time. Not only can push himself through prison bars and transform his arms into weapons, but he can also shapeshift into any human being. Think that's your mom? Think again! It's T-1000 about to murder you! Patrick has an uncanny ability to remove any humanity from his acting, leaving the viewer ice cold. Honestly, he's so good that when he played Agent Doggett on the X-Files, I was completely convinced that he was an evil uncover operative (and maybe a future cyborg visiting the past to kill Mulder).

But T2 goes beyond teaching you to fear robots -- it also offers up some great survival techniques. For starters, it's time to start working out! Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) goes from frumpy to grade A badass while locked in an asylum with no gym equipment; what's your excuse? Another survival tip: stash a ton of weapons. Sure, they might not work on liquid robots, but they don't hurt to have. And finally, learn how to drive!

Now that you've had your robot defense training, I hope you're prepared for the inevitable robot uprising in our not-so-distant future. Don't say that I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

In Support of Movie Musicals

Now the object of box office ridicule, the movie musical was at one time a force to be reckoned with. Gone are the glory days of top hats and tap dances, but why? Broadway musicals still earn millions of dollars each year, despite the fact that some of the shows have been running for decades. Indeed, even short-form music videos are becoming short films in their own right. Clearly, there's a desire for musical film, so what's the problem?

Seriousness. It hasn't been an easy decade in America, and it shows. Media are constantly screaming about politics, the degradation of women's rights, wars, the economy, etc. Art is an important avenue of response to these societal pressures -- an avenue that wasn't as open during the movie musical's heyday. After all, movies were considered pure entertainment, not art, which is why they weren't protected by the First Amendment (and, subsequently, were heavily censored under the Hays Code). Somehow, it seems that a musical is more lighthearted than even the raunchiest sex comedy, and we can't afford to be so flippant.

But really, what's wrong with entertainment? In these stressful times, we deserve some relaxation. When I watch Top Hat (1935, Mark Sandrich), I'm not necessarily thinking about the social implications of their gender dynamics, and that's perfectly okay. My feminist card won't be revoked for suspending stress for an hour or two as I watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers glide across the screen in perfect unison. My relationship with the film comes from a deeply emotional place; it's difficult to logically describe the sweetness of the music or the beauty of the dance moves. Frankly, it's time for us to give ourselves permission to enjoy this.

Of course, this isn't to say that there aren't intellectually stimulating musicals. Films like Singin' in the Rain (1952, Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen), Cabaret (1972, Bob Fosse), and even Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001, John Cameron Mitchell) engage with social and political issues in a quirky, infinitely consumable manner -- a manner that no other art form can manage. After all, these are movies about ruined careers, Nazi, and sex changes, respectively, but they all capture a certain irreverent spirit. No one would ever deny that at least the first two of these three films are simultaneously art and entertainment.

So why are we still running away from musicals? Let's take a bit of time today to enjoy dancing and singing. And if you're feeling particularly moved, be sure to watch one of my all time favorite musical numbers, "Never Gonna Dance" from the film Swing Time (1936, George Stevens).

Friday, April 13, 2012

Double Feature Friday: 80's Nerd Edition

Let's say that you have some buddies coming over to hang out, have a few drinks, and just relax this Friday night. Sure, you could challenge their tastes with a little Jodorowsky (and trust me, I often do), but I have a sneaking suspicion that an 80's nostalgia night would go over a little better. These movies are lighthearted and silly while celebrating the brainiac in all of us. So put on your glasses, smartypants, and queue up these movies. (Watch Jodorowsky afterward if you're feeling particularly brilliant.)

Perhaps the best 80's theme song goes to Revenge of the Nerds (1984, Jeff Kanew). A handful of nerds attend college hoping for a new beginning, but they discover that the bullying doesn't stop when high school ends. This movie has become a classic for its ridiculous laughs and cheap thrills. Of course, it doesn't hurt that nerds get revenge on jocks the old fashioned way: by taking their women and beating them at their own frat games. It's like Animal House for geeks. And, as everyone knows, nerds make better music, so the film has to culminate in a fabulous electronic musical number.

Revenge of the Nerds

Now, the feminist in me has to disclose that there is a panty raid in this film. When I recently watched this, I thought about how all of the nerds would certainly be on the sex offender registry. There's also the fact that [SPOILER ALERT] head-geek Lewis (Robert Carradine) disguises himself as a jock and has sex with the jock's cheerleader girlfriend. Instead of being alarmed at her rape, the cheerleader is thrilled at Lewis's sexual prowess and becomes HIS girlfriend. Now that I've gotten that bit of feminism out of the way, I'll say that it's a delightful, ridiculous (if problematic) movie that has all of the farting, belching, beer-drinking, innuendo, and childish behavior that a Friday night film should include. Sidebar: my 7th grade science teacher had a test bonus question asking the name of the nerds' frat, and I'm happy to report that my 12 year old self knew it was Lambda Lambda Lambda.

After that, you'll probably want something even more lighthearted. I turn to 1985's Real Genius (Martha Coolidge). Long before Val Kilmer donned the Batsuit or was a member of the Doors, he was a teenage genius helping to develop laser technology. When I think of all of the "cool" tech startup dudes out there today, I can honestly say that they have modeled themselves after this role. Kilmer's Chris Knight is edgy, fun, rebellious, and of course, boyishly handsome.

Okay, I admit it: there's only one thing I want to see from an 80's movie, and it's nerdy revenge on The Man. I think that filling an entire with popcorn and cooking it with a laser is a pretty great revenge idea. How many movies can you think of where a house explodes with popcorn? Not nearly enough for my taste.

Real Genius

Now go forth and nerd it up for humanity's sake. Nerd power!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Double Feature Friday: Leo Edition

The latest trend in Hollywood is re-releasing older films in 3D: Star Wars, Jurassic Park, etc. But it's the re-release of Titanic (James Cameron, 1997) that has the world a-buzzing. Yes, it's been 15 years since every girl in America postered their bedrooms with Leonardo DiCaprio photos from Bop -- that is, with the exception of your humble blogger, who so maturely referred to him as "Leo DiCraprio" and loathed his effect on heterosexual women. Now that I'm not a 10 year old girl, I can admit that Leo has come a long way and proven himself as a strong (but accent-challenged) actor. To atone for my childhood snobbery, here's a double feature starring the man himself.

Film noir may be considered outdated, but Shutter Island (2010, Martin Scorsese) helped reposition it as a viable subgenre of psychological thrillers. All of the classic noir tropes appear: detectives, a disappearance, a whodunnit mystery, and a haunting damsel. The film is set on an isolated Massachusetts island in the 1950s, which allows Scorsese to incorporate the costumes and libations integral to film noir. DiCaprio also gets to use his famous Boston accent as Detective Teddy Daniels, but don't let that scare you off!

Shutter Island

Scorsese definitely wants what he wants in a picture, and stunning cinematography is high on the priority list. The film is filled with rich wide shots to convey the maddening isolation of the island. Every wave, tree, and piece of rocky coast appears to be its own character, intensely and beautifully detailed. This is a stunning contrast to the inside of the island's mental hospital: each room is practically monotone, from the walls and decorations to the characters' wardrobes. Instead of the wide establishing shots, the hospital features sharp angles, strange cuts, and uncomfortable close-ups. The soundtrack also mirrors Teddy's descent into madness: the gradual crescendo into hysteria features the perfect combination of John Cage, Gy├Ârgy Ligeti, and Krzysztof Penderecki that would make any person question his or her sanity. While the actual storyline leaves a bit to be desired, the strong performances, brilliant cinematography, and masterful soundtrack more than make up for it.

But what's a DiCaprio marathon without Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan)? Perhaps DiCaprio's largest cultural touchstone since Titanic, Inception combines his prowess at brooding with enough action to make a film that appeals to quite a wide demographic. The elaborate, mind-bending plot pushes the ensemble cast to the limit, from romantic interpersonal conflict to physically decaying dream worlds.

Inception

Of course, we all know Inception is great. Nolan made sure that it was all anybody talked about in 2010. What makes it truly fabulous is that it beckons repeated viewings. Every screening makes you ask, "What was that? Did that make a noise? I forget where happened there. Did it drop?" That kind of staying power elevates a good film to a great one.

And with that, I am going to plop down a hefty fee to see Leo in 3D. It's the least I could do after my childhood campaign against his career.