Category Archives: Apocalypse

Snowpiercer

snowpiercer-posterWhat Jesse said:

Watch Snowpiercer. Do it now.

Mike’s verdict:

I got a copy of this movie years before Jesse recommended it to me, but I never got around to watching it. For some reason I ended up forgetting what it was about or why I found it interesting in the first place. I actually believed that it was a foreign film with subtitles. If Jesse hadn’t recommended it, I’d probably never have watched it at all.

I’m glad that I finally did; given Jesse’s sparse review though I could easily have forgotten about it again. Since he didn’t elaborate on why I should watch Snowpiercer, I will have to assume that he recognized the film for what it truly is: a review of some of the most enduring themes in the history of political philosophy.

I suspect that many people will walk away from this film thinking it is a commentary on economic inequality – something along the lines of the 21st century protest movements that hope to up-end the so-called ‘One Percent’. Certainly, inequality is a major factor here – economic divide is the source of the film’s main conflict. But Snowpiercer isn’t about economic inequality – it’s about the rationale for maintaining that inequality.

The train here should be looked at as a metaphor (thinly veiled) for a society – everything
humanity needs ,thought not necessarily everything it wants, is within the train, while exiting means stepping into the cold, harsh reality of nature. But just as there are consequences to joining any social contract built to protect humankind, living on the train requires sacrifices to maintain balance. Economic classes develop both from the balance and in support of the balance. The upper-class in the front needs the idea of the poor in the back as much as it needs to physically oppress them. Moreover, the poor need to believe in the possibility of revolution just to maintain meaning in their lives. The train is an intricately designed state; meant to allow the human race to continue living safe from the dangers of nature, even if some lives will be more comfortable than others. The point is not to make every person’s life good, but to maintain a balance that will keep humanity in existence, hopefully until nature itself is less brutal.

The architects of this state understood that classes would be necessary, what each class would require to maintain it’s end of the balance, and how to manipulate both sides to facilitate that balance. The philosopher kings control the state through invisible hands that direct the people; deciding where sacrifices are necessary and building mythologies to make these sacrifices palatable. In the back of the train, the mythology is built on the great revolutionary uprisings that are never successful but close enough to give hope. In the front, people are taught to respect and revere the balance – ‘everyone has their place’.

It almost works. And it like it. Snowpiercer is a contemporary exploration of the social contract, continuing the work developed through Hobbs, Locke and of course Rousseau. That said, their are definitely flaws in this film. Leaving aside arguments against it’s philosophical commentary (that would be a whole other kind of blog), Snowpiercer has some pretty annoying holes: Where does the ‘flammable’ industrial waste / narcotic actually come from? What sort of witchcraft powers the train? Why does the train even need to keep moving? Many of the details seem needlessly implausible.

Even so, the acting is good, the story avoids being too obvious, and the ending was nicely
ambiguous. Jesse got it right, well, I assume.

7/10

Advertisements

These Final Hours

What Jesse said:

Got another Aussie gem fee ya. I want you to check out These Final Hours. I’ve never heard of any of these actors so I had no idea what to expect from this low-budget flick. Familiar premise but I found it a lot of fun and thought-provoking. Check it out.

Mike’s verdict:

This is the first movie in a long time that I’ve had trouble starting a review for. I’ve been thinking it over for a few days, trying to come up with something to say but I keep drawing a blank. The trouble is that this film is really quite generic. It’s not bad exactly, and it’s not totally uninteresting; but there’s nothing specifically novel about it. It’s kind of the Australian movie equivalent of Nickelback – all the right elements are technically there, but there’s no spark of life.

I’m generally a fan of the apocalypse genre when it’s done right and I don’t care much about why the world is ending, as long as there’s a good story surrounding the characters. There has to be a thin layer of anxious suspense, or consistent hilarity, that keeps me interested in the people. And of course it helps if the people have an interesting goal that takes them through increasingly unlikely settings before they arrive at the oasis they’re invariably running to.

This films lacks all of those criteria.  The main characters are mostly sympathetic (technically) but I never really felt invested in them, and the plot lacks any significant depth. I do wonder if this might be different for viewers in Australia who, presumably, would be more familiar with the actors. To me, they’re just generic dramatic action movie stand-ins who haven’t had a chance to develop a unique style of their own yet, but at least a few of them are apparently recognizable in the southern hemisphere.

I must admit that I strongly disagree with Jesse’s assessment of it being a low-budget film – at a reported $2.5 million (Australian) it’s definitely not Hollywood, but it’s not an art school project either.  The cinematography is actually quite well done; I was never distracted by it. Of course that doesn’t fix the overly familiar story line and forgettable characters.

If there is one saving grace, it’s that Jesse was mostly right about the though-provoking nature of the film.  About halfway through I came to the realization that there is a subtle undercurrent present in most apocalypse films which is brought to the forefront in this one; namely, the insinuation that, given the knowledge of certain death and sufficient time to react to it, humanity will destroy itself before the apocalypse actually happens.

For some reason, suicide, rioting and general mayhem are regularly assumed to be the most immediate reaction to news that the world will be destroyed tomorrow. While I generally take a dim view of human nature, I’m not sure that I agree with this assessment. Certainly there will be pockets of individuals who decide to kill the boss that passed them up for a promotion, and a significant spike in drunk driving accidents. I’m even willing to accept the odd suicide as well. But I don’t think that average people will be anywhere near as quick to kill their families or themselves as we’ve portrayed them to be. I think people will be so focused on finding ways to ignore the inevitable and in such a state of denial that when the end does come they will miss it.

In considering the spectrum of reactions presented in this film, I realize that film in general has done a poor job of predicting pre-apocalypse behaviour and this is one more example of that. It’s too bad too; the intention of These Final Hours is obviously to provoke discussion on this behaviour and it would have been nice if the film hadn’t presented such melodramatic examples.

Overall, this movie gets a 5/10. The film is thought-provoking in its misunderstanding of people, but not particularly interesting as a movie.


Interstellar

What Jesse said:

… before he watched Interstellar:

Dude, we should go see Interstellar. Everyone and everyone’s monkey and everyone’s monkey’s dog is saying that it is fantastic. My brother and my cousin and my neighbour and my wife’s hairdresser’s pet saw it and they all say it’s awesome. They also say it’s the kind of movie we definitely need to see in IMAX. It is a space movie after all. Seriously, it’s going to be great. Plus it has Matthew McConaughey – he’s not as dreamy as Brad Pitt but he’s a close second.

… after he watched Interstellar:

Dude, please don’t review this movie. I don’t want people to think that I would recommend this – it will be devastating for my reputation as a movie-watcher and human-being. Please, please, please don’t tell people I made you and our respective significants pay $17 + taxes to see this in IMAX. Please. Let’s just forget this night ever happened.

Mike’s verdict:

I’ve decided to review Interstellar because even though the recommendation was both premature and formally rescinded, in the end I saw this movie because Jesse suggested we watch it: as far as I am concerned, that’s pretty much the definition of a recommendation. The fact that Jesse didn’t have his facts straight before he made the recommendation is irrelevant. Besides, there is already precedent for this type of situation: Black Dynamite.

There’s a lot wrong with Interstellar, but let’s start with the good because it’ll be quick. The atmosphere is great. This movie doesn’t have quite the same feeling of vastness that Gravity has – which is significant given that I watched Gravity on a comparatively tiny 8-foot screen rather than IMAX – but it still does a very good job of expressing the distance and emptiness of space. There is even one scene where I had a twinge of agoraphobia. I also really liked the stark difference in soundtracks between scenes on earth, in space vessels and in open space. You could really, really here the silence when it mattered.

And that’s it for good points.

My first complaint is that every major plot point is obvious – including the big twist. It’s not just obvious from the point of view of the spectator watching on the outside either – the characters themselves definitely should have seen it coming. The only parts of Interstellar’s plot that were not obvious were the ones that lacked any tie to actual science. Jonathan and Christopher Nolan took the liberty of using fantasy to fill in where science stops. In some sense this is fair, unfortunately I felt that the fantasy they invented was too silly. I really enjoy learning about the theoretical science behind space travel and this movie started off really well (at least to my non-specialist eyes). But it takes a bizarre tangent at the point where the science runs out.

Next, the characters. There is one interesting character in this movie; he gets all the best lines and is the only one you will feel for when there is danger. The entire rest of the cast is just there to ensure that the plot moves along – and I was never invested in any of them. In case you are wondering, the one good character isn’t portrayed by McConaughey, nor is it  really a central character in the strictest sense – in fact it isn’t a real person. I hope Bill Irwin is given the credit he deserves for bringing some entertainment to this movie. As far as the real characters are concerned, McConaughey was the same gritty-but-well-meaning character he is in every movie; Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine had suitably adequate performances but nobody is going to remember them for this movie. Matt Damon‘s role is less forgettable, but his performance isn’t really notable. I did like how Topher Grace and Casey Affleck were unceremoniously thrown in like extras though.

Overall, I think most of this movie was okay. I was basically entertained most of the way through until fantasy took over near the end. But it isn’t a good movie and it doesn’t deserve anywhere near the critical praise that it’s been getting. It’s also not worth the money to see it in a theatre – much less IMAX. I wish I’d waited and watched this at home.

4/10


Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!

What Jesse said:

I watched this awesome documentary about the Australian film industry last year and thought it was hilarious. It’s always amusing watching “dignified” high-brow people squirm, and you get plenty of that in this doc about how exploitation films like Mad Max and The Howling became the face of Australian cinema during the 70s and 80s. It seems like in order to compete with big budget Hollywood movies, the only way to go was to go for shock, gore, and all of the over-the-top activities associated with generally bad scripts, hilariously bad performances, and some truly ill-advised stunt work by people who were either incredibly brave/dedicated, or just plain stupid. Enjoy.

Mike’s verdict:

I’m still a little on the fence about reviewing documentaries because there is a very different dynamic between the film and audience compared to traditional fiction-based films. But since there are definite qualities that make documentaries more (or less) enjoyable to watch I’m going to give it a try.

I think that I might have missed the point that the writers were trying to make with Not Quite Hollywood. Before last night, my thoughts on American movies from the late 60s through the early 80s could be summed up as: boobs, gore, and busted cars. After watching Not Quite Hollywood, my thoughts on Australian movies from the late 60s through the early 80s can now also be summed up as: boobs, gore, and busted cars. The only real differenceseems to be the accent.  The writers tried to make the argument that Australian films of the time were somehow ‘worse’ – more boobs, more gore, more busted cars. Maybe that’s true – but I wasn’t convinced. What really came across for me was a feeling that the people involved in Australian genre films had lost their audience at some point after the 80s, and wanted a way to get back in the spotlight. Maybe the film would have come across as less self-serving if it had been written by someone not obviously involved in the subject.

In any case, none of that changes the fact that this film is quite interesting. For me, the most surprising thing was just how closely American culture and counter-culture in the 60s and 70s were mirrored in Australia. Women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, anti-Vietnam protests, the abortion debate: they all feel like very North American subjects to me – obviously because that’s the angle that I learned about them from. Realizing that these issues were being dealt with in very similar ways in Australia (and probably other western countries) at the same time is fascinating. In hindsight it shouldn’t be surprising at all, but perspective  is everything; especially regarding the teaching of history. Placing films on the backdrop of the culture that produced them is eye-opening. It would have been nice to have had more actual comparison with American films though; at least to make the differences more obvious.

While the content of Not Quite Hollywood was definitely engaging, I did find that at certain points I was impatient for the film to move on. The section covering horror/gory films seemed particularly drawn out. It wasn’t a case of the gore being too much, but actually the opposite – eventually I was bored.

In some sense this film actually falls victim to the same issue that its subject matter was criticized for – it tried to be over-the-top, but instead was just too much. A re-edit to bring the film down to an hour and 30 minutes would make it much more accessible.

7/10


Testament

What Jesse said:

I got another “must watch” for you. It’s called Testament (1983). Great little movie about what happens to regular people after the “flash” of a nuclear attack.

The movie was originally made for TV but was so good that they decided to release it theatrically. The leading actress, Jane Alexander, even got an Oscar nomination for Best Actress!

Mike’s verdict:

If Testament happens to be on TV (where it belongs), and there isn’t something more interesting to watch (like curling), and there’s some reason why you can’t just go do something else (like clean the garage), then it’s better than watching an informercial for a “guaranteed” real estate system. Maybe.

It’s not that Testament is bad exactly; it’s just boring. Nothing happens. It’s a nuclear apocalypse and nothing happens. Jesse thinks the movie is about how ‘regular’ people live through an attack. And in a sense that’s true; in this case the attack is close enough to cut off power and communications but not close enough for the initial blast to incinerate everyone – leaving lots of regular people sitting around wondering what to do next. The problem is that these so-called regular people don’t act the way that regular people would act after a nuclear attack.

The intention is clearly to explore emotional fall-out through the metaphor of actual nuclear fall-out. But the writers missed the mark. Yes, regular people will need to try to continue living their lives. We can’t all suddenly become heroes that fight the invaders. But people should be upset. Really upset. Smashing things upset. In Testament there are maybe three scenes where anyone displays an emotion stronger than mild aggravation.

The film presents an extremely rosy outlook for an apocalypse. Instead of people switching to survival-mode and doing whatever is necessary to protect themselves, Testament pretends that communities would actually remain as communities. Even as bodies start piling up, most of the living go on being good neighbours. Not only is this a fantasy, it’s also a very dull one.

Does Alexander act well? Sure. But that doesn’t make the story any more interesting. It was neat to see very young Rebecca De Mornay and Kevin Costner though. 4/10


After the Dark (a.k.a. The Philosophers)

What Jesse said:

Ah! That [something interesting Mike said] reminds me of a great movie I saw called After the Dark. It’s about a group of kids in a philosophy class who are assigned to consider an apocalyptic thought experiment. The world is ending and there’s only room in the bunker for half of them – who, and how, do they choose? At first I thought it was going to be just another tense apocalypse movie full of kids from a Gap commercial. It is exactly that, but it’s also much more. It’s totally a trick – you think you’re signing up to be entertained and then, bam! – you get schooled in philosophy!

Mike’s verdict:

I completely agree with Jesse on all counts for this one; it’s an apocalypse movie full of Gap commercial kids that teaches you some basic concepts of philosophy. And it’s totally entertaining.

At the beginning I was a bit hesitant because the class starts with a discussion of some very cliché philosophical thought problems. I was worried that I was going to have to sit through an entire class of Philosophy 101 students reading from the first 2 chapters of a text-book. Thankfully the exposition is only used to set the scene and the film very quickly moves on to far less obvious considerations.

The dialog is well written, the cast is surprising dynamic and the plot really works well. This film moves fast, and you move fast with it. It’s exciting – I really wanted to see how the kids worked through their predicaments, and I silently cheered when they chose to run the experiment one last time. Oh, and the initial setting in Borobudur, Indonesia is really cool. It would be an amazing place to watch the beginning of the end of the world.

After the Dark is a terrific film, right up to the end. Unfortunately, the ending itself was fumbled. Back-story was tacked-on as if to add one more twist into the plot, but it was needless and greatly took away from the strength of two main characters. There’s an obvious point where this film should have ended and you’ll know it the first time you see it.

Overall, I really liked After the Dark and I wish I could give it a perfect score – but the ending was forced and completely out of character with the rest of the film. Even so, 9.5/10.


This is the End

What Jesse said:

Hey, I have a movie you need to see. Actually, let’s go see it in the theatre. I’ve already seen it once with other people and didn’t bother to invite you. But I want to see it again and don’t want to go alone. What? It’s not in theatres anymore? Okay, well how about this then: we’ll wait until it’s available for home viewing, you can get it for me, and then we’ll watch it at my place. Oh, and every time I see you for the next month I’m going to ask if you have it yet, so don’t take your time.

Mike’s verdict:

This is the End is hilarious from beginning to end. Especially the end. What could be better than a bunch of celebrities, playing funnier versions of themselves coming to terms with the apocalypse while partying at James Franco‘s house? James Franco is a surprisingly good actor, but I’d never really thought of him as funny. He’s definitely funny now. Awesome cast, loads of cameos, fantastic writing. 10/10