A kooky example of science fiction from Hong Kong, a cinematic world that has relatively little SF to begin with.
Most "science fiction movies" have historically been action films with some SF elements thrown in for spice. The exceptions stand out both for their de-emphasis on action and their uncommon intelligence generally: Arrival, Primer, Upstream Color, Stalker, Solaris, Pi. Sometimes you had fusions of science fiction and action that worked: The Terminator, Blade Runner (and 2049), the high parts of the Alien franchise. But for the most part SF in the movies exists as a leavener, not as a base.
I Love Maria hails from Hong Kong, whose film industry isn't known for having much SF at all in any form. In that sense it's more typical of a Western science-fiction movie; actually, it's closest in spirit to a mainstream Hollywood comedy with SF sprinkles. But it stands out from the few other Hong Kong SF productions for actually putting SF elements onscreen, even if on the cheap, instead of leaving it at the level of a modern-day technology-based thriller (Bitcoin Heist). It also uses the kind of shameless, slapstick humor I find myself laughing at even when I know it's Naked Gun dumb.
Twenty years later, the Wachowskis' digital fable still stands tall, outliving the slickness of the moment and attempts to misappropriate it
Most work we consider maverick and radical comes from the margins. The Matrix bundled genuinely radical concepts into the last place one would expect them: a slick, effects-laden action-movie framework. Its studio, Warner Brothers, promoted it like any other blockbuster project, but cleverly avoided giving away any of its biggest secrets in its trailers or ads. It all worked: not only did the movie rake in hundreds of millions and spawn two (ill-conceived, I feel) sequels, it made itself felt in pop-culture consciousness like little since Star Wars. If that isn't a piece of subversive cultural engineering, I don't know what is.
"A mythology for the information age" was the label I came up with for The Matrix not long after seeing it. Twenty-plus years later, the label continues to stick. The information age is now the disinformation age, and our world has become virtual unreality -- not because it was strong-armed onto us, but because we cheerfully gave ourselves over to it thinking it was a good idea. Against all this, the Wachowskis' digital fable still stands tall, outliving the slickness of the moment and resisting attempts to misappropriate it.
At the end of the day, it's just a fancy excuse to shoot a bunch of scenes in reverse.
Tenet is one of those movies that thinks it's a lot smarter than it really is. And that's a shame, given that director Christopher Nolan is neither stupid nor untalented. It's just that with this film, he's used his intelligence to talk himself into making foolish choices for it. As a spy story, a Bond installment with the serial numbers buzzed off, it's passable. As science fiction, or even fantasy, it's -- to borrow a phrase from another field -- not even wrong.
Ben Kingsley as a frothing mad gangster is only the first of many pleasures in this sleeper-gem of a crime drama that's only gotten better with age
Someone once said that American movies are about plots while European movies are about characters. That goes double for crime films. When they're about assembling a team for One Last Job, they're about the team, or the job, or the betrayal. Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast uses all that as backdrop for a contrasting character study: Gal Dove (Ray Winstone), the soft-in-the-gut ex-safecracker who does not want to leave his comfy Spanish villa for one last job; and Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), the bulldog soldier in Teddy Bass's (Ian Macshane) crime army who most definitely wants him to do it, and will latch his teeth into Gal's ankle and drag him bodily away from his wife and friends if he must.
Dove has no earthly reason to even consider Logan's offer. He lives with his beloved wife Deedee, an ex-porn star, in a mountainside hacienda with an in-ground pool. Every night it's barbecues and garden parties with his friend Aitch and his wife Jackie, also both emigres. One fine day a boulder detaches itself from the hillside behind where he's sunning himself, crashes into his pool, and almost pancakes Dove. That rattles his eyeteeth, but it does so far less than word that his old not-really-buddy Don Logan has decided to drop in.
The film is worthy of the best kind of jealousy, the kind that makes you want to go out and do something just as visionary and overwhelming.
First, a confession of cinematic unhipness: Until sometime earlier this week I never did watch Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now all the way through, beginning to end. Only fragments on TV, or maybe a few minutes glimpsed over someone's shoulder when they watched it. Somehow I kept kicking the can of that experience down the road, until finally Coppola brought out a 4K restoration of his preferred cut of the film and I stopped procrastinating and gave it an evening of my time. The film is worthy of the best kind of jealousy, the kind that makes you want to go out and do something just as visionary and overwhelming, even if it you can't quite cinch shut the bag it's packed in.
Most great "war films" are not about war but some other subject we can only approach fully through the context of war. Paths Of Glory was about the kind of cowardice only possible in the power structures that prosecute war. The Grand Illusion was about how men of principle and discipline are set against each other because war demands it. Apocalypse Now is about how war's insanity is normalizing, both on the individual and collective level. War, especially one as ambiguous and protracted as the one in Vietnam, does something worse than make us mad: it makes us wonder if it was ever a good idea to be sane in the first place, when things can become this broken.
One of the greatest of American films generally, and certainly the most incisive and insightful one about the criminal life.
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being President of the United States.
Fitting that in 2020, when I sat down to watch Goodfellas 30 years after its release, we would have a president who amounted to a mobster. Here we have, still have, one of the greatest of American films generally, and certainly the most incisive and insightful one about the criminal life, because of how it tricks us emotionally into thinking the Mafia code actually amounted to something for those who lived inside it.
Most Hollywood mob movies are about kingpins who rise and then fall: Little Caesar, Scarface (both of them), The Godfather. Goodfellas is unabashedly about a low-level guy, someone who has just enough of a taste of the life to enjoy it, but who will never rise very far -- presumably because he's half-Irish and half-Italian, but really because of his urges to shirk the disciplines of the mob world. He never rises very high, but he he still has a long way to fall.
A blueprint for how to do the impossible -- namely, follow up a classic: give it to another artist of vision and stand back.
There was, to my mind, no earthly reason to make a sequel to Blade Runner, any more than there was a reason to make a sequel to 2001: a space odyssey. But they did in fact make 2010: The Year We Make Contact with Arthur C. Clarke, if not with Stanley Kubrick, and it was good although short of great.
And they did in fact make Blade Runner 2049, with screenwriter Hampton Fancher, if not original author Philip K. Dick, and with original director Ridley Scott as producer and Denis Villeneuve in the director's chair. What they delivered stands so comfortably next to the original, and yet with so much of its own to offer, that it suggests a blueprint for how to do such an impossible thing: just give it to another artist of vision, assuming you can find one, and stand back.
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