Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Apocalypse Extravanganza Part the First!

So, this is slightly later than I planned to post (life sometimes throws a derail like that) but, as promised, we've got a little something special planned for this month that isn't a barrage of Christmas movies (though we WILL be looking at a few of those later on.)

As you have likely all heard by now, and, like most of us, already realized was crap - there's a belief going that the world will end in, as of this posting, nine days.

Now, enough has come forward since to disprove this, but in honor of those steadfast few who still believe, the Third Row will salute the Final Countdown (...commence the synth now) with 21 other fictional accounts of how the world will be ultimately and completely fucked.

This is for the first week, with the next two weeks of entries following in a more timely fashion.

Right...let's do this!

I submit this picture as part of my own bizarre film theory:
The world we see in Pixar's
Cars is in fact the result of an alternate ending to Maximum Overdrive where the cars won and eventually evolved to become the dominant life form on the planet.
...I don't mind saying, I think it makes the films THAT much more interesting.

12/1 Maximum Overdrive

Ah, randomizer - you always know how to put the best foot forward on a theme....oh wait.

Stephen King adaptations are among some of the most bipolar in terms of film adaptation.  On the one hand, you get some true gems like De Palma's Carrie, several of Darabont's adaptations, and others (Kubrick's The Shining is on a line - great movie, terrible adaptation- King himself isn't a fan.)  On the other hand, there's also a LOT of forgettable to downright bad titles that happen to have King's work just used to make a quick buck.

...then you have this puppy.  This marks the first and only directorial effort by King himself, and explains why he never directed again.  Even he thinks this one's bad (in his own words, it's a "moron movie.")  Really, this movie is one of the more bizarre of the adaptations of his work - in part due to its premise (taken from the short story Trucks, this explores a world where machines suddenly gain sentience and all turn against humans) and in part for just how downright goofy it gets with its premise.  I mean, between the fact the group is largely antagonized by a toy truck with a giant likeness of the Green Goblin on the front and their own varied reactions, including a downright priceless scene best summed up in the line "You can't do this! We made you!" the whole movie is just too stupid for me to really hate.  I mean, I can't say I'm broken up that King never directed again, cause really...writing is his strong suit and he's better sticking with it.  Still, this movie has a certain sick charm to it that keeps it from being as much of a write-off as, say, The Lawnmower Man.  Plus, if nothing else, it DOES have a pretty catchy soundtrack by AC/DC going for it. Kind of a nice loose entry to start this with, really.

According to some rumors, the initial pitch for this movie simply consisted of Hideki Anno presenting this picture with the caption 'Do this to the audience!'

12/2 Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth/End of Evangelion

...aaaaaand we go from that levity to the OH GOD end of the spectrum.

This is one of those films it feels a bit weird to write about for me.  In part because so much of the production history is caught up in rumors and hearsay so it's hard to pick out which parts are accurate and which are just fan chatter.  That said, I can certainly see where the claims that Anno made this finale to get revenge on his fanbase for the negative backlash over the TV show's finale came from.

Before I go on, I should probably start by saying - if you haven't seen the original series of Evangelion, I REALLY wouldn't recommend these movies.  Yes, Death is supposed to be a recap, but it's a hyperfast series of cliff's notes that really don't add up to much without their context.  Scenes are flashed out of order without any real sense of the proper chronology, the film plays up more of the quick flash text cards that so irritated people in the show's ending, and really, it's more a bunch of quick cues to refresh the memories of those already in the know.

With that disclaimer aside, going into the movie itself (which is meant to substitute for the head-scratching final two episodes of the series,) I will again say 'OH GOD.'  For lack of a better term for it, the first part of this movie genuinely feels like one of the few productions I would honestly call mean-spirited.  I realize that's an odd claim to make, but when you watch Rebirth/the 'Air' section of End of EVA, you'll see what I mean.  The military siege that makes up much of the first half of the movie is as much an assault on the audience as it is on the cast members.  NERV crew are viciously cut down in cold blood and with direction that simply watches from a detached distance.  The effect makes the scenes downright unsettling, even though we don't know most of the characters dying.  From there, the film moves into its apocalypse of the second half - which, depending who you ask, is either a curious representation of a complete breakdown of humanity, or a total mindfuck.  After having watched it a few times, I actually don't really find it as confusing as I used to.  It's still visually insane, but what's going as it's explained is actually pretty clear, really.

Overall, it's a rather strange way to end the franchise (or at least end it at the time.  The Rebuild series have reopened the doors.)  Equal parts uncomfortable and intriguing with some moments dancing between 2001-grade surreal (not just visually either - one of the elements that stands out strongest for me is during the film's own Armageddon, the Third Impact, in which we're treated to a song that can be best described as what would happen if the lyrics to 'Hey Jude' were replaced with a suicide note) and some surprisingly well done action sequences. 

Actually, on the note of the visuals, I have to say I'm surprised this film doesn't appear to have been released on Blu-Ray yet.  For all that can be said for the script, it's visually quite stunning.  Scenes like the fight between EVA-02 and the mass produced EVAs and much of the Third Impact itself still look great even on the old Manga Entertainment release (which, honestly, wasn't a particularly good quality release in terms of video.)  Definitely not an entry on this list for everyone, but if you've taken the trip with Hideki Anno this far, it would feel a shame not to make the final steps.

"Psst...we just wanted to let you know.  We STILL haven't forgotten about Wild Wild West."

12/3 I Am Legend

Everyone knows a film like this one.  It's that movie that starts out good - actually surprisingly good.  Then it does something that completely craps the bed and it never really quite recovers from it.

Which is a shame, because this film gets off to a pretty strong start.  Based on the Richard Matheson novella it takes its name from (and the most recent of three adaptations of that we'll be looking at during this countdown) the movie casts Will Smith in the story's titular role as the seeming sole survivor of a plague.  To his credit, he actually carries the role pretty well - particularly during the early segments when he's only acting off of himself.  He actually does a pretty good job of showing a man trying to maintain a routine in a world where he's effectively the only one around...as well as the potential for the fact his sanity is fraying as a result of this.  The film even does a surprisingly good job in the section that follows as we learn that no, he isn't alone.  In fact, much of the first half of this movie does well keeping up a sense of tension and not overplaying its hand on the reveals. 

It isn't until the second half that the movie really starts to snag.  First with the reveal of the unfortunately lackluster designs for the film's vampiric antagonists, who are unfortunately hindered by the CGI used to design them.  Admittedly the CG isn't completely bad, however it certainly hasn't aged well, and at times does tend to sap the effect of what the first half build up to be some genuinely creepy mutations.  Doubly so since the overall look feels like it could have been done just as well with makeup and practical effects and subsequently have aged better as a result.  Further, the film's finale feels like it misses the point of the story's title in favor of a more direct reading of it.  As a result of these the last act feels rather clumsy and severely hurts the momentum built up.  The later problem is particularly sad to me since the alternate ending to the movie did seem like they wanted to acknowledge the story's original twist, but even there they pulled their punch.  The result, while a bit better than the ending we did get, still feels rather wanting.  Now granted, this weak ending doesn't change the fact the first half is still well done, and actually worth the watch.  It takes the idea of possibly being the only one left and explores many of the aspects of it, including some of the rather bleak elements.  At the same time, don't be surprised if the ending leaves a bad taste in your mouth afterward.

"No, no.  The joke goes you ask me if my refrigerator's running, then when I say yes, you--it's in the word play, you see?  Look, let's just hang up and we can both forget you tried this, OK?"

12/4 Miracle Mile

It's pretty refreshing when I can walk into a film with absolutely no idea whatsoever what I'm in for.  It doesn't happen that often these days, which is why it's actually a pleasant surprise when it actually turns out to not only be something I didn't expect, but good as well.

This was definitely one of those films - the start leaves you thinking this may be a bit of a classic, if somewhat cliched romantic comedy.  Within the first half-hour, however, the gears have shifted, and the film, in real time, unfolds with a story of a young couple who may or may not be in the looming shadow of nuclear annihilation.  It sounds a bit odd put into text like that, but the film actually handles it surprisingly well.  In one of his few times as a lead actor, Anthony Edwards is actually quite likable as a young man who, by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or right, depending how you look at it) is given knowledge that this may be the last night on Earth.  While trying to keep the information low, just in case, he tries to still seek out and save his would-be girlfriend (Mare Winningham, who also carries her role well.)  While there is a certain comedic element to parts of this film, one of its strengths is the fact it never overdoes that.  It does provide a decent bit of release from time to time, but it doesn't change the fact that things are getting increasingly more out of control, and the continued uncertainty becomes shakier and shakier of what's to come.

I can't say too much else to avoid giving things away, but I will say, for a concept that could have been played up as silly in other hands, this movie actually balances the few chuckles with the darker nature of the story well.  There's never really any forgetting what the stakes will be if the call is true, and so the film is kept reeled in in its proceedings.  Additionally, Edwards and Winningham as the main couple have good chemistry together and really make you care about their couple onscreen and want to see them escape the building storm as it hits a fever pitch.

For the longest time, this film was out of print (I admit, my first chance seeing it was...outside the usual channels.)  Learning with this project it has finally gotten a DVD release does make for a nice silver lining on this one.  It's a rather overlooked gem that I'm glad to see has regained some attention in recent years.

Cronenberg giving an expression here that seems to say "Yes, I'm in this movie, and no, there won't be any body horror to go around.  Sorry guys."

12/5 Last Night

We go from one somewhat obscure surprise to another.  In this case, the end of all things isn't an awkward secret that becomes increasingly harder to keep, but rather a known and accepted inevitability.  Curiously, this movie never actually goes into what will bring about the end - we only see the events on the final night as everyone awaits the end.

This is actually part of what makes this film stand out, really - there is no real need to focus on the end itself, and it instead can spend all its time on the people and how they handle the news.  These range from the depressed Patrick (played by writer and director Don McKellar) who plans to die alone on the roof, to his friend Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) who has successfully finagled to spend his last day making good on every last sexual fantasy he can manage to fulfill, to Duncan (David Cronenberg) a worker at the local power company who has spent the better part of his last day calling from customer to custom to reassure them that yes, they will have gas to the last possible moment, to his wife Sanda (Sandra Oh) who's been lost in the city, where order has broken down.  It's a curious sort of anthology as each of these people's plans all intersect and overlap with one another whille the clock kicks down to the last.

In a way, I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about this movie.  It's a fresh take on the idea of the apocalypse (partially since it was born of an attempt by McKellar to make a movie about the millenium phenomena that he didn't want to see get dated after the year passed,) but there's still something about it I'm trying to nail down.  The script handles all of its plotlines well, and the cast all turn in good performances (it's still weird seeing Cronenberg actually act in a major role, albeit this time with greater success than in Nightbreed.)  I think it's largely the direction that I'm still trying to get myself around.  There are some interesting sequences, such as the film's opening, where we see Sandra walking through an abandoned and rather thoroughly looted grocery store for supplies, but at the same time, the fact the film shows us people who've largely just accepted the end gives everything a somewhat restrained feeling.  It works with the idea of the film, but it did take some getting used to on watching it.  All in all, I'd still say it's a good film, and certainly one of the more unique entries for this project.  It's more just one I may need to watch again after this is over and I can just take it all in again.

"Thank you, thank you.  This next number's from our new album.  It's a little tune we like to call "Yes, We're Right!  Oh Crap, We're Still Here!"

12/6 A Thief in the Night

Rounding out the list, and part of this year, we take another spin at the wild and whacky world of Fundamentalist Cinema.  In this case, however, the results were actually surprisingly better than I was expecting.  Which feels weird for me to say going in on this one.  I mean, really weird.

On paper, this was a movie I was braced to find an uncomfortable 70 minutes to watch - a 1970s indy film about the Rapture, a notion I admit I have my own series of issues with as far as ways the end of the world could come about.  Additionally, based on the last encounter I had with this style of film, as well as years of that wondrous piece of cartooning known as Chick Tracts, I was expecting this to be absolute crap.  I have to admit, it actually fared better than I expected.  Not to say this is a must-see, mind you.  Between its very 1970s aesthetic and, again, the Rapture plotline, your mileage will certainly vary.  Despite these reservations, I was surprised to see this movie actually had a certain element of earnestness to it.  I mean, it's still a film that is designed to scare the everloving crap out of young Christians into straightening up and flying right, but it manages to do so without feeling like it also has a more current agenda it's trying to push on you as well.

As a take on the entire notion of the Rapture/Book of Revelations goes, this may be one of the closest attempts we'll ever see to trying to adapt the idea with a straight face (or as much as it can allow for, but that's a debate I'll stop myself from going into.)  I mean, it's a tricky premise to work with in film with a straight face (the idea of the 'chosen' people suddenly vanishing from the Earth en masse to leave the survivors to deal with the fact the Antichrist is now gonna make the planet into his playground) but the film makes a game attempt in doing so.  This entire idea we get the crash course on through our film's unlucky heroine, Patty (played by Patty Dunning,) who has the dubious honor of being one of the ones wondering why all of a sudden a good chunk of the world is gone...and then realizing, as everything unfolds, the vanished people are actually the least of her worries.  Outside of ideology, it's actually got some decent thriller elements to it, as the world slides into a dystopia under the rule of the sinister organization UNITE.

Like Last Night, this is one I may need to give a rewatch down the line and come back to to really fully sum up my thoughts on.  In the meantime, I give it points for actually passing up going the low road of being a Chick Tracts movie like I was braced for.  While I won't say it's changed my view of the world, it was a better 70 minutes than I was braced for.  It does help that, as said above, the film actually does carry itself with a surprising element of earnestness.  The movie was a personal project overseen by Russell S. Doughten Jr., who even appears in an recurring role in the series.  He's a genuine believer and the film honestly gives the impression of meaning well in its message, even if it IS somewhat designed to scare people (and would then go on to be used by Sunday schools to freak out generations to come.)

This film actually seems both better and worse by comparison watched now in light of last year where Harold Camping's prophecies drove some people to flush their livelihoods away because they so believed in his predictions.  It's still a belief I take some issue with, but at the same time, I at least give Doughten some credibility by comparison for the fact he doesn't seem to be trying to drive people to recklessness by telling them it's soon.  In fact, part of the film is that it relies on the idea that they won't know WHEN it comes, and everyone is caught with their proverbial pants down.  He approaches the idea with a bit more of a sense of, odd as it is for me to say, respect, than many others do.

...also, one of these days I'm gonna have to look into the sequels, because they sound downright insane by comparison.  That's a write up for another time now, however.

In a few years time, the already bitter Dunkin Donuts-Starbucks feud will finally start getting bloody.

12/7 Children of Men

With this, we wrap up the first week on one of the best films to make this cut (I won't say the rest of the list now, but I stand by this statement, dammit.)  It's also one of the grimmest, and for a list of films about the apocalypse, THAT says something.

Based on a novel by P.D. James, Alfonso Cuaron's dystopian vision of the future is pretty disturbing on several levels, not the least of which is how likely several of the elements of what it portrays are to happen in reality.  Probably one of the more unsettling elements of this movie still actually goes to how it chooses to bring about the end - falling more on the 'whimper' side of the line than the 'bang', this film's premise of mass infertility gives us a world where humanity is dying by inches.  As such, we're treated to seeing all the darker sides of the race come out in those last gasps - the racism, the brutality, and the 'kill or be killed' levels of distrust that the prospect of seeing the very end of everything lingering will bring out in people.

Which is actually part of what makes it interesting that the big theme at the center of this movie really comes down to hope - both for the species, and for the individuals involved.  This is probably best hit home in Clive Owen's role as the film's lead - going from a man who has lost everything he had to live for and is essentially dead on his feet to someone who actually finds a cause worth fighting for and even risking his own life to see through.  Of course, this is ultimately a rather bittersweet optimism.  While a part of us wants to see the protagonists succeed, because they're people we ultimately care about, the entire situation the movie depicts of the world does leave one to wonder if, at that point, humanity really deserves another chance.

With a great script, some strong performances, and some downright haunting cinematography (this last one by Emmanuel Lubezki,) this film really has held up to be one of the best to come out of the 'noughties' as the decade is apparently now to be called.  Yes, I realize some might take that as hyperbole, but in this case, I'll chance it.  The film really has held up well, and it remains an intense experience to watch unfold.  Not just conceptually either, the film had some very strong technical efforts going into it as well, in particular a 6 minute long take of a military siege in a refugee camp that actually looks astonishing when you realize how seamless the entire shot is (even further when you learn they only needed three takes to get it right.)  It won't be an easy ride, but it will be worth the time taken.

Which brings us to the end of week 1.  The next batch will be up on Friday (read: actually on time) but also keep with us during the week, as I'll be trying to get some other entries up alongside this project while I'm at it.

As of this entry, 9 days to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment