Recent blog posts in the category Movies:

Movie Reviews: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Fifty years later, one of the greatest films ever made has scarcely aged a day in the ways that matter

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019/06/17 08:00
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This essay was originally written for the premiere issue of a journal of science fiction, to have been edited by my friend Matt Buscemi, that never launched. I was elated to provide this piece, but Matt unhappily informed me that not enough stars had come into alignment to make the journal into a going concern. But the rights to the piece were returned to me (they would have reverted in time anyway; they just came back a good deal sooner), and I'm presenting it here as I wrote it, with only minor amendment. Thanks to Matt for giving me the impetus to produce it, as I found out as I was doing so how it was the culmination of over thirty years of thinking about the film.

Few movies, science fiction or otherwise, go almost directly from event-of-the-moment to monument-for-the-ages. By the time I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in the early Eighties, as a wide-eyed kid not yet in his teens, it had a good decade and change to establish its cachet of timelessness. Now it has passed fifty, with me not far behind. What has dated about it, what remains timeless, what has become even more relevant—it’s easy to sit back down with the movie thinking you know what will fill all those categories, only to find you’re wrong in a good way.

For many people 2001 is cinema, not “science fiction.” This is not how it came into the world, but that is where it ended up, and I think both cinema and science fiction are better off for it, even if they both still seem at odds as to what to do about it five decades on. As Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke conceived it, it was meant to be “the proverbial good science-fiction movie,”[1] and I think the way it lives up to that promise is not by way of what story it tells, or what technical details it hinges on, but how it tells a story that of all genres science fiction seems best equipped to support.

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Tags: Arthur C. Clarke  Stanley Kubrick  movies  review 

Movie Reviews: Liquid Sky

The original new-wave (maybe also no-wave?) film, with its blaze of low-budget images, mixes cheesy science fiction, grimy bohemian drug tragedy, psychedelic experimentalism, and no-budget arthouse drama

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/05/01 08:00
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When people talk about "outsider art," they could mean art that's about, by, for, or with the participation of outsiders. Slava Tsukerman's Liquid Sky is outsider art across that board: it was directed by a Russian emigre, co-written by and starring downtown New Yorkers who did a fair amount of starving for their art, and depicts (if in a stylized way) the new- to no-wave scene of the early 1980s in that city.

Don't even try to fit a label to the end result. Cheesy science fiction, grimy bohemian drug tragedy, psychedelic experimentalism, and no-budget arthouse drama all stew together freely here. It's eye-filling, irritating, and mesmerizing in about equal measure; it drags you around by the shirt collar for two hours and then kicks you out of the apartment. I'm still not sure if I like it or not, but it's one of my favorite films all the same. Paradox intended.

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Tags: 1980s  Anne Carlisle  Liquid Sky  Slava Tsukerman  indies  movies  new wave  punk  reviews 

Movie Reviews: The Lift

A dopey dud: a mix of satire and horror that doesn't manage to be either funny or scary.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018/02/15 08:00
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"Take the stairs, take the stairs, for god's sake take the stairs!!" begged the tagline on the posters for the Dutch cult movie The Lift. In theory, this horror-comedy about killer elevators should have been fun. I like it when movies use wit and ingenuity to compensate for small budgets, especially when they're products of a country with tiny domestic film industries. Problem is, the movie doesn't know whether it wants to be a) a droll, cheeky satire of horror movies, or b) the real thing. Like the victims in the movie itself, it ends up stuck between floors.

Somewhere in the Netherlands, there's a fourteen-story commercial office building that recently had its elevators renovated. Unfortunately, they're starting to act a little flaky, as in the opening scenes where a quartet of drunken revelers from the restaurant on the top floor almost suffocate when the elevator breaks down between floors. In comes elevator repairman Felix (Huub Stapel), who peers into the wiring and doesn't see anything askew.

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Tags: Huub Stapel  Netherlands  comedy  horror  movies  review 

Movie Reviews: Strange Days

Twenty years on, James Cameron's (and Kathryn Bigelow's) millennial cyberpunk masterwork still packs the kinds of wallops mainstream filmmaking has retreated from in near-panic

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/10/20 10:00
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I originally wrote this review in 2002, for an earlier incarnation of this site. Due to the various changes of digital address for my Web hosting, it vanished, although I miraculously had a backup copy in my archives. I've unearthed it and republished it here, with some editing and expansion, for the 20th anniversary of the movie's release.

There is a standing rule in movies that you do not unnecessarily date your film. Putting a specific future date on a story, without some historical pretext for doing so, makes it into an antique before its time. Strange Days takes place on the last few days of the year 1999 (I won't say "the last few days of the 20th century", for obvious reasons), when violence and anarchy are seething in the streets of Los Angeles, but if anything, its pre-millennial tension feels even less dated in these times of post-millennial, post 9/11 tension. It's one of the many signs this movie was too far ahead of its time for its own good.

Many groundbreaking films don't get the audience they deserve the first time out. Critics largely trashed Strange Days for its confrontational graphic violence; audiences were either scared or confused by its fulminating story of racism and underbelly paranoia. At least one web reviewer wrote a scathing dissection of it from a Bad Movies We Love point of view. I admired it instantly when I first saw it in a packed theater on opening night, and I've become even more of an evangelist for the film since. It is far from perfect — what movie is? — but the good parts of it have remained so prescient, it's no wonder it outlasted its moment in time.

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Tags: Angela Bassett  James Cameron  Juliette Lewis  Kathryn Bigelow  Ralph Fiennes  dystopia  movies  review  science fiction  technology 

Movie Reviews: Vampyros Lesbos/She Killed in Ecstasy

Amateurish, clumsy, primitive, and weird, but all in such an unselfconscious and unmannered way, these films end up generating an endearing fascination

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/23 10:00
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Cult films aren't made by design, just as nobody sets out to become a cult director or actor. Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy were intended to be moneymaking exploitation pictures, not cult items, and director Jesús ("Jess") Franco and actress Soledad Miranda never planned to end up as the object of veneration by cult film fans. Hence the fascination generated by both of these movies and the people involved with them: the films are amateurish, clumsy, primitive, and weird, but all in such an unselfconscious and unmannered way, they end up generating an endearing fascination. You can't fake this stuff, and you shouldn't try.

The secret of Franco's success, I suspect, was that he wasn't trying. He was making exploitation pictures on tight schedules with minimal resources, and under those circumstances, whatever natural point of view he had for his material was bound to emerge unbidden. The very crudeness of Lesbos and Ecstasy, shot back to back within a matter of weeks, makes them curiously endearing — not in the sense that they're the works of an unfairly maligned or undiscovered talent, but in that it's hard to feign being this unpolished or artless. And they both feature Soledad Miranda, a performer whose mere presence in front of a camera was special even if she was surrounded by a movie that seemed determined to be anything but.

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Tags: Jess Franco  Soledad Miranda  cult movies  movies  review 

Movie Reviews: Angst

Unseen for decades except by the most stalwart, this startling early-'80s experiment remains contemporary for reasons entirely apart from its groundbreaking visuals

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/09/14 10:00
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Little-seen movies foment expectations they have a hard time living down. Once a forgotten film resurfaces thanks to home video or a reissue campaign, it has to live or die on its own, without the protecting encrustation of the mythology accrued around it. This is as it should be; any work of art deserves to be seen as it actually is, and not through the distorting lens of reputation.

Gerard Kargl's Angst, unseen for decades, is as good a case study as any for a movie that transcends its own mythology. Barely released in its native Austria in 1983, it survived after that only by word of mouth and by way of bootlegs. Now, on DVD and BD in English after several years' delay*, it stands free of rumor and, more importantly, all the earlier attempts to pigeonhole it as a slasher or horror film. Describing it in those terms is as limiting as talking about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer the same way; those labels come nowhere near what makes Angst special and important.

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Tags: Gerard Kargl  Klaus Schulze  cult movies  horror  movies  review 

Movie Reviews: Predestination

How did this astonishing little miracle of a movie -- easily the best adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's work to film yet -- pass without leaving so much as a ripple?

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015/08/02 10:00
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Stop reading this. Go to Netflix, your local video kiosk, wherever you can get your hands on a copy of Predestination. Watch it first, because I can guarantee it will be one of the best things you've seen all year, and odds are you might never have run into it if someone else hadn't told you about it. I want to put all this up front, because this movie deserves discussion and thought, and yet it is absolutely impossible to talk about this film without treading into complete spoiler territory. Those are just the facts. Go no further unless you are prepared.

Predestination is nominally science fiction, adapted from the Robert A. Heinlein short story "'All You Zombies—'", but like all the best SF, it doesn't stay stuck inside that container; it batters its way out and leaps towards bigger things. It deals with a man (Ethan Hawke) who appears to be some kind of spy in the employ of a nebulous organization, working behind the scenes to stop a terrorist named "The Fizzle Bomber" from destroying several square blocks of New York City. There's only one curious little detail, one that scoots by quickly enough that you might not catch it: the bombing hasn't happened yet. It's to happen at some point in the future. The spies are time travelers, fixing history when it breaks.

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Tags: Ethan Hawke  Robert A. Heinlein  Science Fiction Repair Shop  Spierig Brothers  movies  review  science fiction 

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