Stuff I Liked 2009 – Movies and TV

OK – after what seems like an age, it’s time to recall some of the best things I found over the last year.

Movies and TV

Last year’s best movie was French (the awesome OSS117), so there was no chance of that happening again. Instead we went off on a sci-fi vibe, I guess some kind of instinctive reaction to the economic implosion and the apparent death of vision and dreaming made flesh in the doom and gloom of the real world. It seems to me that sci-fi is doing what it always did best, providing clear visions of the future based on the prevailing philosophies and moods of the present. As a result we’re seeing futures that, if not echoing the total dystopia seen in the 1970s, at least mirror some of the concerns of today. And at a time when no one, politicians, broadcasters, entertainers, media etc seem capable of presenting us with an even palatable vision of life in the next decade, it’s no surprise that sci-fi is coming back in a big way. What is surprising is that it’s coming at us from so many different angles – not just movies, but books, TV series, comics etc – and that this is the most comprehensive channel for discussion or thought about where we’re heading.

So … Best movies and TV

  1. Star Trek Never thought I’d be so impressed by a movie that didn’t feature the Gone or those crazy starfish things that flew at Kirk before sucking his brain out, but this was brilliant. The Fleet isn’t quite the Peace Corps in space it used to be, but it’s not the fascist theocracy of Starship Troopers either and in a year when movies like 2012 just showed how vacuous ‘effects event’ movies can be, it was great to see something that was really about story and plot. The best thing about it was that when it was over, you just wanted to get back on and go for another adventure with those guys.
  2. Moon Almost the exact opposite, a smallish budget movie with tiny cast centered round a clone on the moon, but really all about identity, dreams and freedom. Moon was like Alien, but with less budget and no scary monsters (unless you count Kevin Spacey in ‘HAL’ mode). Killer soundtrack too.
  3. Terminator The Sarah Connor Chronicles Series 1 starts off in that sketchy space that exists between Terminator 2 and 3, then catapults the Connors into an alternate timestream. By Series 2 it has its own mythology and features so many people zapping back and forth in time that it’s amazing that no one here has noticed. And yet again, while being superficially a sci-fi series it is actually about family relationships and multiple quests for identity, not least from the various Terminators at large in and around the LA area.
  4. Misfits I pretty much loathed Heroes. It seemed as plastic as it could be, the equivalent of those comic books like The Avengers, which exist solely to allow those fanboy fights that shouldn’t happen in a regular book (like Ironman’s dirty dozen v all the bad mutants in the world). Misfits, on the other hand, was genius. In keeping with the comic legend, a bunch of people are given superpowers. Only they’re young urban adolescent chav scum. And they don’t immediately set out to save the world. Fucktastic.
  5. GI Joe OK, so if we are going to go all CGI and spastic special effects on ourselves, then it might as well be in the hands of Junior Michael Bey Boy, Stephen Sommers. Sure it’s stupid, stupid, stupid and it does feature the usual Sommers plots of mad professor type doing bad things and having to be restrained, but it’s waaaaay funnier than Transformers.
  6. Spooks While I was initially blown away (in every sense) with Spooks dedication to incinerating almost all of its key cast members, I’m not sure Season 8 was up to snuff as it were. Sure we lose pretty much the whole team over the course of the series, and there was a vaguely satisfying overall plot (not as good as the Russian plot of series 7), but there was still the sense of one too many ‘terrorist of the week’ episodes. Also because everything moves so fast in spookworld, we really don’t see the effect of individual’s actions on them in much detail. Still glad to have got rid of Ross Myers. She sucked.
  7. Crank Fully in the Misfits camp, Crank is about turning everything up to about 15 (out of 10). It’s about The Stath with no inhibitions and the mind of a muckraker driven to doing anything to keep himself alive. At once both snot-snortingly hilarious and wince-inducingly cringeworthy, this is a movie that really affects you.  And at 88 minutes, it just flies by.

Meanwhile in the shit pit …

  1. Watchmen Was it really only this year that this was released? It seems like so long ago. Bum-numbingly terrible and another example of how comics are not simply storyboards for movies. Maybe, like Lord of the Rings, it works better for people who’ve never actually read the books. Although it  wasn’t as bad as Wolverine The Backstory.
  2. 2012 Yawn. Another day, another disaster movie from Roland Emmerich. And like all his other movies, all the best bits are in the trailer, with the added benefit of having the tedious exposition and dreary ‘human interest’ storyline removed. How far can this guy fall after Independence Day?

Some Cool Things I Did This Year – Videos

Minimal effort video using a toy camera, iMovie and Logic for the music.

Who Watches The Watchmen?

After the crushing depression that was Wanted and the realisation that, Dark Knight aside, pretty much all comic book movie adaptations were going to be a disappointment to me, I was really pleased to find this trailer for Watchmen.

Previously thought to be utterly unfilmable, the movie has already chewed its way through a host of directors, stars, locations and studios. Now it’s finally being put together by the guy who directed 300 – not that that is any kind of a recommendation. Based on this trailer though I can’t wait.

I guess one thing this, Sin City, 300 and Frank Millar’s new movie The Spirit show is that maybe there is a third way for superhero comic book adaptations to go given that they don’t often make great films. The third way of hyper-real visuals, phenomenal amounts of greenscreen and a focus on the key moments within the comics. There is a precedent for this in The Matrix, which borrowed heavily not just from comic books (check out the work of Geoff Darrow), but from Japanese anime like Ghost In The Shell right down to duplicating specific frames.

It’s a method that balances the apparent paucity of the comic book medium (there’s less depth in the average Fantastic Four storyline than in your average B movie) with the need to be somehow more stylish than most films.

Wanted vs V For Vendetta

V For Vendetta stillSo in a fit of mindless entertainment seeking I went to see Wanted. How poor, shallow and truly uninspiring it is. You know that things are bad in the cinema industry when ticket prices rival a small meal and can only be purchased at the ‘concession’ stand because they’ve laid off the staff who used to sell them.

Wanted is, quite frankly, garbage. All the portentious, pseudo cryptic shit the Wachowski brothers sensibly strained out when distilling The Matrix coupled with all the action stunts that got canned when they were making things like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Add to this the most unexciting and useless train sequence since Mission Impossible 1 and you’ve got a picture with loser written all over it. I mean if you’re going to play the Dan Brown thousand year conspiracy thing, you’d really better at least watch a couple of episodes of Alias, if only to see how they make something like 16th Century Da Vinci wannabe Rambaldi into a compelling part of the plot.

As for Morgan Freeman, either he’s just got greedy in his old age or someone at Universal has something on him because this is without doubt his worst movie ever. You’ve got to hope he’s going to enjoy the money because no one is going to enjoy or remember his performance. It’s like Samuel L Jackson after Pulp Fiction when he was in that Shark/Whale film that no one can be bothered to remember and got bitten in two in a travesty of CGI – so bad people in the cinema started laughing. As for Wanted, it’s so bad no one was talking when they left the cinema.

So I get home and decide to continue the brain out by watching V For Vendetta. Bad move. This is everything that Wanted isn’t. It resonates. It forces you to think even as you’re watching Hugo Weaving do his kung fu leaping. It’s a real reflection on life today and the continuing pimping of fear. It makes you wonder how far would you go and what you’d be prepared to sacrifice even as you’re struggling to get over the often badly delivered Shakespearean doggrel.

However, it does share one thing with Wanted. Both were derived from comic books and both highlight the fact that no matter how sophisticated (or base) the comic, you can’t simply copy that into film. Film isn’t simply a succession of comic panels just as comics aren’t simply a selection of stills. Film is both infinitely more dense and compact than any comic book, while comics have a breadth and scope that film can’t even aspire to. Here are some comics that haven’t made it onto the screen well, Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Batmans 1 – 4 (Batman Begins is a film, not a comic book), Supermans 1 – 4, Elektra, Hulk (again), League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Akira (great animation, terrible, terrible ending) and Sin City. As proof, Watchmen is a fantastic comic but utterly unfilmable, while Batman Begins is a great film but would make a shit comic book. Of all the recent comic book adaptations, perhaps only Spiderman manages the crossover and that’s only in the first movie. By the time you get to Spidey 3, it’s all tedious action pieces and have a go happy endings. As far as V For Vendetta goes, the movie is more a take on the comic than any attempt to reproduce its full range, so at least it’s playing to the strengths of the film medium.

As for Wanted, the comic could be every bit as crap as the movie, but I wouldn’t know because I’m never going to pick it up.

The Departed

Watched The Departed again. A truly excellent movie, where even Matt Damon gives a great performance. I have to say that each time I watch it it seems to be shorter and shorter as it becomes more and more psychological. I can’t help thinking that as we get more and more used to DVDs and watching and rewatching movies, we enter a state that is closer to that of the director/editor who watches their film countless times during its construction. Each time you revisit a classic movie like this you appreciate new nuances and depths.

This time I was struck by the parallel mental collapse of both central characters. Dicaprio’s is all in the mind, he’s in a permanent state of paranoid terror, while Damon’s is physical, he can’t have sex or establish relationships. And ultimately both characters are equally trapped and controlled by Jack Nicholson’s Mobboss.

And the glorious ending where everyone betrays everyone and everyone is in turn betrayed just gets more and more intoxicating each time I watch it. The tag line is that it’s his best film since Goodfellas, but I think it blows Goodfellas out of the cinema. This just blows your mind.