Upcoming Movies and BNAT2011 Rundown

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This past weekend, I was one of the honored film nerds at The Butt-Numb-a-Thon in Austin, TX. This miniature film festival, hosted by Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News, lasts for a mere 24 hours: you walk in at noon on Saturday and walk out sometime around noon on Sunday. In between, you have no idea what will hit you until it is playing in front of your eyes. The lineup is always a mix of vintage films, premieres, trailers both new and old, celebrity guests, and various other surprises.

This year’s BNAT film lineup was exceptional. While there have certainly been higher highs during previous BNATs, each previous year has also had at least one stinker of some sort. This year, each of the twelve films was at least fun to watch. Several were brilliant.

Thus, I am pleased to present to you my impressions of each of the movies below. Most are films that will be hitting the streets within the next couple months, so you can enjoy them for yourself.

HUGO (2011)
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: ON

Harry fell in love with Hugo when he saw it, so he decided to open BNAT festivities with this movie, even though it was already in wide release. If you haven’t seen it yet, I do recommend it. While Hugo isn’t a perfect movie, it is a beautiful and moving one. It is both a biography of and a love letter to Georges Méliès, the man who made the very first science-fiction and fantasy films. Hugo is a children’s film that is unafraid to trust the intelligence of its audience. It is a children’s film without a whit of evil, which is something you hardly see nowadays. Are there plot holes? Yeah, there are a few. However, if you’re willing to be swept along in the beauty and adoration of this film, you won’t be disappointed. You might also learn something, as the film’s depiction of Méliès’ life is mostly accurate, despite being wrapped in a fictional storyline.

LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE (1902)
DIRECTOR: Georges Méliès
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: OFF

There is no better follow-up to Hugo than a film made by Méliès himself. Somehow, Harry got his hands on the only 35mm print of this movie present in the USA, and called in film composer Graham Reynolds to provide live organ accompaniment. Le voyage dans la lune bears zero resemblance to actual science, but it is hard not to delight in the fantastical images created for this movie. Méliès was the man who pioneered a host of filmmaking techniques: multiple exposures, stop tricks, time lapse photography, dissolve edits, hand-painted color cinematography. Many of these techniques are on full and impressive display in Le voyage. You can even watch the whole film right here on YouTube.

JUST IMAGINE (1930)
DIRECTOR: David Butler
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: OFF

I’m not even sure how to begin describing this film. It’s a cheesy, early sci-fi film. It’s also a musical. There are Martians with voodoo haircuts and dance numbers that involve flyswatters and insect porn. There’s a “loveable” drunk, food pills, and characters that bear numbers instead of names. It is set in the distant future year of… 1980. Is it a good film? Not by a long shot. Did everyone in our theater enjoy this film heartily? Oh yes. This is one of those cherished films that is so bad, it’s great. I absolutely loved it. I will likely spend the next several years trying to obtain a copy of it. Here, you can get a taste of it on YouTube.

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011)
DIRECTOR: Tomas Alfredson
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: ON

This is one of my favorite films from BNAT this year. It is an intense, slow-burning, complex dive into British espionage of the 1970′s. It is mostly comprised of weary men who circle their brains around each other like suspicious tigers. There is not much space for action in this film, as is appropriate; this film is closely tied to the book it is based upon, and that book is closely tied to a real incident in the 1970′s. This film, we can believe, is a fairly realistic depiction of how spy work actually happens. It’s about politics, careful hints, careful lies, poker faces, alertness, and deftness. The cast of the movie is perfect, filled with magnificent, well-worn actors like Gary Oldman and John Hurt, and they are luxuriously photographed through a haze of cigarette smoke. This is a lush, dense, smart, high-quality film. Be prepared to spend your full attention following the labyrinthine plot and gauging the characters.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011)
DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: OFF

As much as I hate that there is a Sherlock Holmes film series that mostly requires you to not think too hard, I have to admit that I enjoy the rough-and-tumble quality of these high-octane films. Guy Ritchie has always been a director that turns out films crafted from pure verve, and this one is no exception. If you liked the previous film, you will likely enjoy this one as well, as it is generally more of the same. There is one unfortunate development, though: the female characters, sadly, have become disposable. (In fact, at one point, Holmes literally tosses Watson’s wife off a moving train and out of the plot.) Also, you shouldn’t expect anything like a mystery when you walk in. Nor should you expect historical realism. Do expect: rip-snorting action scenes, fun character moments, and a certain giddy joy.

THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS (1946)
DIRECTOR: Robert Florey
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: OFF

An eccentric, handicapped millionaire dies and leaves his money to his nurse instead of his moneygrubbing family members. When the family members try to intervene, a ghostly hand starts murdering people. And then there’s Peter Lorre in a prominent role as an insane astrologer. If that description doesn’t make you want to dive for the nearest video rental outlet, I can’t help you. Since I believe that anything can be made better with some Peter Lorre, I enjoyed this lovely piece of cheese.

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011)
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: OFF

My theory is that Steven Spielberg wanted to make another Indiana Jones movie, but he didn’t want to invite George Lucas along for the ride. The Adventures of Tintin has plenty of thematic and tonal similarities to the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. Impressively, it also keeps pretty close to the original Tintin comics, right down to some story elements that might otherwise be seen as taboo in modern children’s entertainment (yes, the drunkard sea captain is still a drunkard). The film moves at a quick clip, the action is good, and the animation is deft, but there’s not a whole lot of substance underneath the fun. It is worth a view, but it’s not a film that I will likely be thinking about ten years from now.

PORCO ROSSO (1992)
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: OFF

Right now, Studio Ghibli is striking brand-new 35mm prints of all their films, in anticipation for an upcoming Ghibli film festival in New York City next year. The BNAT audience this year got to see the new print of Porco Rosso (it had never been threaded into a projector before!). Yes, it was lovely to view, even though Porco Rosso is far from my favorite Miyazaki film. (Caveat: I’m not a big fan of Miyazaki’s movies in general.  I concede that they are all high-quality films with unusually strong roles for girls and women, but they just leave me cold for whatever reason. But that’s a discussion for another time.) Porco Rosso is charming and atmospheric, but it didn’t really grab me. However, if you’re a Miyazaki fan, and you think a film about a porcine post-WWI-era steampunk flying ace sounds awesome, this will probably be right up your alley.

CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
DIRECTOR: Drew Goddard
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: ON

I am under a review embargo for this film, so I cannot give any details about it. I can say that I enjoyed the hell out of it. This is a film that is laser-aimed directly at the delight centers of my brain. Cabin in the Woods is a horror-comedy-deconstruction from Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, and it is sharp, creative, and funny. You will need to be a horror nerd to get the full effect of this film’s barrage of satire, but even those who don’t think much of the horror genre will find much to like in this movie. To say more would spoil it. In fact, don’t watch any trailers. Don’t read about the film. Just go see it when it hits the screens in April 2012.

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (2012)
DIRECTORS: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: OFF

Yeah, yeah, I know. The first Ghost Rider film was dreck. In fact, there probably isn’t any way possible to make a great film out of the Ghost Rider property. However, I can say that this sequel/reboot is perhaps the best possible Ghost Rider film. Here’s the pitch: they called up the guys who made Crank and said, “Hey, do you want to make a Ghost Rider movie? Here, have Nicholas Cage.” If that doesn’t make testosterone strangle your frontal lobe, you are not likely to enjoy this film. If that does pique your interest (and yes, my interest was piqued), you will find plenty of the following things in this movie: flaming bikes, flaming skulls, general destruction (with flames), disposable bad guys (burning), and Nicholas Cage turned up to about 14 (and on fire). It’s not as great a trashy film as Crank (which brings excess to operatic levels), but it is dumb fun.

THE GREY (2012)
DIRECTOR: Joe Carnahan
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: OFF

My nutshell description of this film is “Liam Neeson battles Alaska.” Neeson plays a very lonely man who makes a living protecting oil drilling teams from wild animals in the wilderness of Alaska. He and several coworkers soon wind up in a plane crash, and the survivors soon find that they not only need to survive the cold, but also a particularly bold pack of wolves. Many people at BNAT really loved this film, but The Grey bothered me and continues to bother me. To me, The Grey is 90% of a great movie: the script is very good, the characters are solid, the performances are excellent, the on-location (-35 degree F weather) setting is perfect… but the film fumbles seriously when it comes to the wolves. While the facts spilled out in the film are mostly correct, the film heavily Jaws-ifies their behavior, and most of the animals seen onscreen are clearly CGI. As a person who has dealt with wolves in the wild (and yes, I was alone and surrounded by dead caribou at the time), I just couldn’t get my brain to leave the fake wolves alone and enjoy the rest of the film. This is particularly sad, as minor changes to the film would fix this entire problem without altering all the other great things that The Grey has to offer. Your mileage will likely vary. If you want to see a really excellent Liam Neeson performance and fake wolves don’t bother you, you will probably find a lot to like about The Grey.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL
DIRECTOR: Brad Bird
BRAIN POSITION REQUIRED: OFF

The M:I films are inexplicably getting better as they go along. Brad Bird, the guy who gave us The Incredibles and Iron Giant, has given us a really great action film. Ethan Hunt’s team actually feels like a team instead of the Ethan Hunt Show. The action sequences are works of cinematic art (see this in IMAX if you can). The gadgets are cool (if improbable). The supporting cast is great (hooray, Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner!). The film is well-paced, pitch-perfect, and one hell of a lot of fun. I can’t think of anything I would change or fix, aside from Tom Cruise’s haircut.

Melissa Kaercher is a multimedia artist, podcaster, skeptic, science nerd, and meatspace network node. She is also Queen of the Lizard People.

3 Comments

  1. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen “Just Imagine”. Did it have some dude with a fake Swedish accent? (Yoompin yiminy!)

  2. Yuppers, that would be the “lovable drunk” character. Another funny thing about Just Imagine: I’ve already found my own copy of it. I hereby promise to wield my terrible and awesome power wisely.

  3. I just looked up that guy. He’s El Brendel. Looks like he basically played the same role in every movie he was in. Sort of the Rob Schneider of his time.

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