Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) HuluPlus (US only) or just on You-Tube, we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.
1973 USSR. Director: Richard Vicktorov. Starring: Misha Yershov, Aleksandr Grigoryev, Vladimir Savin.
Clearly, in the early 1970s, episodes of Star Trek, The Prisoner and prints of 2001: A Space Odyssey were sneaking through the Iron Curtain and finding their way into the impressionable minds of filmmakers. Every strange in-camera technique – from the Alien3 Wide-Dolly shot to the kaleidoscopic lens to a fish-eye shot (actually from a fishes eye in this case) – was used in conjunction with some pretty spiffy production design to yield a fun feast for the senses. The film is aimed at children, as the protagonists are 15 year old kids trained up on earth and sent on a 50 year space mission to the star system Cassiopeia such that they will be 40(ish) when the vessel arrives. But these kids are smart, and the script is smart; Einstein’s Space-Time relativity is discussed at length (maybe too much), as is the concept of folding space, and Star Trek’s Holodeck and Q are both effectively used here 16 years before the ST: THe Next Generation Show even was made! It may be a kids adventure, but it is never dumb-ed down. Even sweeter is that the thrust of the character development of this young space crew centres around a folded sheet of paper love note passed around in school. It’s a superbly acted (by actual 15 year olds) and well told story that a lot of care and money were invested – the soundtrack alone is wonderful – and very much worth your while looking up the DVD or watching in 8 parts on Youtube.
Adolescents in the Universe
1974 USSR. Director: Richard Vicktorov. Starring: Misha Yershov, Aleksandr Grigoryev, Vladimir Savin.
Not wasting any time, and arriving with clearly a lot more money and strange ideas, the sequel to Moscow-Cassiopeia finds our 15 year old crew accidentally breaking the barrier to faster-than-light travel (a fortunately placed worm hole, or the films “Q” – named ASA – meddling again) and arriving at their destination 25 years too early. Here they discover more The Prisoner references (those white security balls), but also a race of albino-bipeds that have been conquered and ousted by their own created machines. The machines want to make their creators so happy that they relieved them of responsibilities, creative impulsiveness, and eventually, the will to live. Looking like Daft Punk (with bell bottoms, and freaky dance moves to boot) the machines split up our intrepid adolescents until they can figure out a way to escape and thwart the fascist/Cylon/AgentSmith regime. Something tells me the production design team for David Lynch’s DUNE spent as much time with Adolescents in the Universe as they did with H.R. Geiger’s concept art. For all the remake-itis going on in Hollywood (in TV land), nothing makes a stronger case for a modern update in long-form TV than Vicktorov’s pair of films. It could be made into the greatest ‘smart-kids’ television, period! As it stands this is a true cult-kid-cinema experience. Watch for the ‘defective obsolete robot ‘husband and wife’ in this one, they are great.
What’s Your Number?
2011 USA. Director: Mark Mylod. Starring: Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Zachary Quinto, Andy Samberg, Martin Freeman, Andy Samberg.
Admittedly the concept of this story bugs me. Faris stars as a young woman who reads some bullshit article that women who sleep with a certain number of men never get married. She freaks out, pledges not to sleep with anyone else and bring in her sexy neighbour, played by Chris Evans, to help her track down old boyfriends since they won’t go against her count. It’s ludicrous. And stupid. But fun. So much fun. And Faris and Evans are wonderful together. It was clear before the movie even started that they would end up together, they always do, but getting there was a huge amount of fun. I just hope the next time they pair up, and I do hope they work together again, the story will be a little less icky.
2012 USA. Director: Baltasar Kormákur. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Lukas Haas, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi.
Mark Wahlberg is a smuggler who has left the business and is sucked back into the old life when his brother-in-law flubs a job and the bad guys come harassing the family. It’s typical Wahlberg saving the day in big action style complete with explosions, chases, gun fights and a little MacGyver action but it’s all very dull. Giovanni Ribisi is great even though he’s playing a caricature of a bad guy but it’s all about Ben Foster who is always a stand out (even in crappy movies).
2011 USA. Director: Shawn Levy. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis.
I couldn’t believe just how cheesy this story of a boy and his robot is. And it’s not sweet in the way Iron Giant is sweet and touching but rather in that annoying way that makes me want to hurl. I swear they’ve inserted pauses where the audience is supposed to aw. It really bothered me but I must admit I liked the concept of robot boxing and the little boy who beats the experts, not to mention that the robot is wonderfully designed. The saccharin underdog story might appeal to 6 to 8 year olds but the robot violence might be a bit too much.
1982 USA. Director: Barry Levinson. Starring: Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Daniel Stern, Tim Daly, Paul Reiser.
In the cluttered genre that is the “coming of age” tale, Diner stands head and shoulders above the rest. In my mind, Guttenberg, Bacon, Stern, Daly, Reiser, and, yes, even Rourke, have yet to surpass their genuinely touching performances, nor has any coming of age film created a set of characters with so much depth and honesty. It is often compared to American Graffiti – a fair comparison, to be sure … yet something of a disservice to what is one of the better films of the 1980s. A more accurate comparison, or at least a more illuminating one, would be a 110 minute version of the diner scene in Reservoir Dogs.
Tell No One
2006 France. Director: Guillaume Canet. Starring: François Cluzet, Marie-Josée Croze, André Dussollier.
I am astonished by how frequently veritable masterpieces slip through the cracks in even the most avid cinemaphiles queue. I stumbled across Tell No One in a small art house theater a few years ago, and was entirely blown away. It is a charming, honest, and wholly believable film, with wonderful acting, multifaceted depictions of love and loss, and a Hitchcockian progression of suspense. I, for one, cannot think of a film with a more riveting chase sequence … let alone one of the on-foot variety. Come to think of it, masterpiece may not be a strong enough term. I will forever recommend this film to anyone and everyone.
2012 USA. Director: Sandra Mohr. Starring: Martine Rothblatt, Richard Keane, Alan Cross.
When Radio Wars is functioning as an audio-visual collage of the early days of radio (another Edison vs. Tesla conflict, a subject I personally never get tired about delving into) it lays out an obvious, but still interesting thesis of how new technology creates friction between the old replacing the new (i.e. TV vs. Film, Print Media vs. Internet). The AM vs. FM battle is a heated one. Yet some point well before the halfway mark in its brief run-time, the documentary morphs into both an infomercial for Sirius Radio and a digression on the valuation of stocks and trading scams which hurt Sirius investors . Director Sandra Mohr has made two docs on the recent Wall Street scandals, and that subject, while related tangentially to the film, keeps threatening to hijack the proceedings. By the time we arrive at the end of the film, it does achieve a symmetry in that establishments are again fighting not to change. Local Toronto DJ Alan Cross makes a impassioned plea against an AI software entity replacing the traditional DJ, but it feels like a 180 shift in who the heck we are supposed to root for. However, because Radio Wars deals far too often in specifics, it fails to a large extent to fully resonate in this iPod / Cloud computing personal playlist world in which we live.