We've got one more month of summer, so you know what that means. Lower the shades, crank the A/C, and get watching. Why catch lightning bugs when you can catch up on some movies and shows? Autumn is around the corner and with it comes cooler weather and prestigious films debuting at the Telluride, Toronto, Venice, and New York Film Festivals. Next thing you know, you'll be screaming at total strangers via Twitter about how supporting your crush's awards campaign is praxis. It's a crazy time of year! So enjoy these next few weeks while you can.
Truly one of the great short 20th-century novels (and for many of us, the turning point in school when assigned reading stopped being drudgery), 1984 is one of those foundational texts that radically altered the way we speak. (Ironic, considering "newspeak" is one of the terms it introduced.) Big Brother, the memory hole, thoughtcrimes, doublethink, ungood, Room 101, the Ministry of Truth, and a lot of other terrifying phrases all come from George Orwell's 1949 book.
Two movie adaptations have been made: one in 1956 that is fine, and one brilliant one from (wait for it) 1984 that has been weirdly overlooked. (Some of that may be due to a shadow cast by Terry Gilliam's similar Brazil, released a few months later.)
20th Century Fox
The Criterion Collection has just put out a new 4K restoration, featuring interviews with director Michael Radford and cinematographer Roger Deakins. John Hurt stars as cog-in-the-bureaucratic-wheel Winston Smith, and Richard Burton, in his final performance, is his party superior/torturer O'Brien. The production design mixes desaturated postwar industrial grit with an '80s New Wave sheen. (Yes, dig it out of the memory hole, that was Eurythmics with one of the weirdest hits of the decade, "Sex Crime.")
Producer James Cameron, director Robert Rodriguez, and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis joined forces to take Yukito Kishiro's sci-fi manga and turn it into a better-than-average movie. But given the weirdness of this project, "better-than-average" counts as something of a substantial victory.
It's centuries in the future, and an eerily not-that-uncanny-looking cyborg gal is discovered in a scrap heap by a doctor (Christoph Waltz) who specializes in posthuman surgery. He's also a late-night bounty hunter, but let's not get into that right now. Our young heroine (Alita, played by Rosa Salazar) has a blank memory, but take one look at the title of the film, and you get the sense that her secret purpose isn't sitting around playing backgammon. Soon she'll be zooming around on a Rollerball-esque track, but also gearing up for a fight for freedom.
The effects are cool, the design is unusual, and the love story between Salazar and Keean Johnson is sweet. One word of caution, though: Alita stans are some of the nuttiest online, so any comment other than "This is a perfect film" is gonna get you a hurting. But if we started judging things by their psychotic devotees, we'd have much bigger problems.
20th Century Fox
You may have ridden the snake, but have you ridden the snake in 4K? I don't wanna freak anyone out, but when The Doors hit theaters, Jim Morrison had been dead for just under 20 years. That was 28 years ago. Heavy, I know.
If you haven't seen this idealized version of West Coast psychedelia since then, it's definitely worth a second look. Val Kilmer took a big swing by stepping into Morrison's leather pants, and by and large, he comes off well. Kyle MacLachlan as second banana Ray Manzarek and Crispin Glover as Andy Warhol are but two other examples of the inspired casting. There's a lot in this movie that is dated as hell, especially the fetishizing of Native Americans, but have you ever actually listened to any of Morrison's lyrics? It's no wonder everyone was cramming faces with mind-altering drugs.
Director Oliver Stone has run off the rails a bit of late, but during this stretch, he was at his peak in-your-face cinematic form. It's a great example of the singer matching the song.
Robert Pattinson in spaaaaaaace!
Anyone looking for an unpredictable, original, and daring motion picture should look no further than French director Claire Denis' first English-language film.
When we first see B-Patz (as I still call him, he said it's OK), he is light years from Earth, trapped on a large and rather spare spaceship with an infant. How did he get there? Who is the child? And why are they running a DOS graphic user interface? Well, what's great about this movie is that these questions do get answered, but they only lead to more questions.
With a back-and-forth timeline, we see how Pattinson (and Andre 3000) are part of a prison detail looking to examine reproductive capabilities in deep space. But, in a way, aren't we all imprisoned on a ship with people probing our sexual responses? Maybe! And does that ship have a hallucinatory chamber where the crew act out their deepest erotic urges? No, that's only this movie.
Stranger, perhaps, than High Life is Serenity, likely the winner of the "How in the hell did this get made?" award for 2019.
Remember when Matthew McConaughey was winning Oscars? It wasn't that long ago. Now he's playing a tuna fisherman named Baker Dill. His serene life is disturbed when his ex-wife Anne Hathaway comes to him in a panic. She and their son are being terrorized by her new husband, and she's concocted a scheme for him to come on Dill's boat so that Dill can kill him.
As this moral dilemma roils our captain (Can Dill kill?), some strange things transpire around him. There is no possible way you could ever predict just how cuckoo bananas this movie's twist is. I don't care if you've been studying dramaturgy for 50 years, its "Wait, what?!" factor has almost no equal. No, I am not going to tell you. Yes, it really is that incredible.
When future historians root through our rubble to write the history of our time, they'll recognize the great divide wasn't between East and West, but DC and Marvel.
Warner Bros. Pictures
The Marvel films, thus far the greater financial success, are notable for their good humor and agreeable characters, while the DC stories are about loneliness and anguish and being a bit of a grump. But the latest entry, Shazam!, which has only a gossamer-like connection to the rest of its "cinematic universe," has a notably different approach. It is, and I don't think there's a better word to describe it, fun.
If you don't know the story of Captain Marvel (no, not that Captain Marvel ... it's complicated), it's basically Big, but the kid-turned-grownup can fly instead of, like, work in marketing. When young orphan Billy Batson is chosen to received the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury, this mighty acronym turns him into a musclebound cape-wearing Zachary Levi, goofy grin and all.
There's a villain (Mark Strong) and a deep cut post-credits cameo (I'm not telling), but mostly this is a solid PG-13 action film with good jokes and some warm feelings as Billy uses his powers to find a family.
Before Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, space opera fans in the 1970s didn't have many television options beyond Star Trek reruns. But for 48 episodes over two seasons, there was Martin Landau and Barbara Bain in Space: 1999.
Created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (perhaps best known for Thunderbirds, the British marionette show that didn't care if you could see the strings), Space: 1999 is set on a moon base that survives an atomic explosion which sends the satellite out of orbit and hurtling through deep space. One does not need to be Neil deGrasse Tyson to know that, uh, it doesn't work that way. (Isaac Asimov got his licks in at the time.)
Snazzy intro, though.
Anyway, the costumes, sets, and deep funk of the theme song more than mitigate any pesky contradictory laws of physics. The newly released full-series collection from Shout! Factory features new interviews with the cast and creators, new audio commentary, and a galaxy's worth of additional features and image galleries.
There's so much happening with Star Trek right now. Discovery is cooking up its third season, an animated series from the Rick & Morty producers is en route, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard is about to return with a pet pit bull named Number One. As time moves forward, we may find ourselves remembering the recent reboot films as more of a footnote to the "Prime Timeline."
Which is not to say that these movies -- the "Kelvin Timeline," as they are now being branded -- aren't a great deal of fun. The first one, Star Trek, is a miracle of casting. Pine, Quinto, Urban, Saldana, Pegg, Cho, and Yelchin -- incredible. The third one, Star Trek Beyond, co-written by Scotty himself (Simon Pegg), has an energetic snap that takes full advantage of these great characters. Admittedly, the middle one, Star Trek Into Darkness, is a warp-core-breach-level error from a story perspective. Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan is a disgrace, and the entire paranoid theme seems to just not understand what Starfleet is all about.
That said, J.J. Abrams knows how to shoot propulsive action. There have been a lot of jokes about "lens flare," but the truth is that his movies do look pretty cool. Anyway, a new box set is something to get if you are an obsessive Star Trek fan -- though we all know how few of those there are.
For more, check out Why Hollywood Will Never Make Another Good Buddy Cop Movie:
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