Recent posts in category Movies


Movies: Dune (1984) [2021 review]

The mere fact that David Lynch's Dune was made at all, and in the Hollywood of the early 1980s to boot, is something of a miracle. Would that it was a better adaptation of the source material, or just a better movie, period.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-09-03 12:00:00 No comments


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Note: Back in 2004, I wrote a review of David Lynch's Dune that was quite sarcastic (shilling for snide). On re-reading it, I disliked the review, in big part because my own feelings about the movie have grown more nuanced. The original review is still available at its original URL but I've removed the Movies category tag for it, so it's now just another blog post. Consider this one its replacement in the actual Movies listing.

The mere fact that David Lynch's Dune was made at all, and in the Hollywood of the early 1980s to boot, is something of a miracle. Would that it was a better adaptation of the source material, or just a better movie, period. It seems best thought of as an SF-tinged descendant of conventional Hollywood historical costume epics — The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, Spartacus — as it has both the best qualities of those projects (epic scope, ambitious plotting, fun casting) and their worst (ponderousness, pretentiousness, miscalculations of pace and tone).

Frank Herbert's now-classic novel used the struggle for resources in the Middle East as the jumping-off point for a blend of soft SF and James A. Michener-esque historical fiction that still remains unsurpassed. Two feuding noble houses in a far-future universe enter into a tricky agreement to transfer control of a strategically important planet, a wasteland that no one would bother with were it not for the invaluable, druglike substance harvested from its sands. When the Atreides, receivers of the planet, are betrayed by the Harkonnen, its former custodians, the dauphin of the Atreides goes into hiding with his mother, and finds he's being received as a messiah by the indigenous population.

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Tags: David Lynch Dune Frank Herbert Science Fiction Repair Shop movies review science fiction


Movies: Pi

Darren Aronofsky's ingenious micro-budget debut, twenty-plus years later, holds up better than some of his bigger-budgeted efforts

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-06-28 12:00:00 No comments


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"I'm so close," implores Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), the paranoid, insular protagonist of Darren Aronofsky's debut feature Pi. He was a math prodigy with a doctorate in number theory before he was old enough to drink. Now he lives in a cavelike Chinatown apartment, surrounded by the looming towers of his homebrew supercomputer Proteus, struggling to apply his theories to the stock market and nursing brutal cluster headaches that incapacitate him for days at a time. But Pi is not about number theory or Wall Street sorcery; it's about the torment of believing you have the keys to creation in your head, and not being able to get them out.

Numbers are the only thing that make sense to Max. Graph the numbers of a system, he tells himself, and patterns emerge — patterns that allow predictions to be made, that allow mastery of the world where before only chaos reigned. Other human beings are alien territory. Even the little girl who lives upstairs from Max and plays math games with him just makes him more uneasy. His friendly neighbor Devi (Samia Shoaib) makes him samosas, but Max has no idea how to return such dotage. The only other person with whom he finds anything like solace is his crusty mentor Sol (Mark Margolis), now retired after a crippling stroke put an end to his career of chasing patterns in numbers.

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Tags: Darren Aronofsky Science Fiction Repair Shop Sean Gullette movies review science fiction


Movies: I Love Maria

A kooky example of science fiction from Hong Kong, a cinematic world that has relatively little SF to begin with.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-05-22 12:00:00 No comments


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Most "science fiction movies" have historically been action films with some SF elements thrown in for spice. The exceptions stand out both for their de-emphasis on action and their uncommon intelligence generally: Arrival, Primer, Upstream Color, Stalker, Solaris, Pi. Sometimes you had fusions of science fiction and action that worked: The Terminator, Blade Runner (and 2049), the high parts of the Alien franchise. But for the most part SF in the movies exists as a leavener, not as a base.

I Love Maria hails from Hong Kong, whose film industry isn't known for having much SF at all in any form. In that sense it's more typical of a Western science-fiction movie; actually, it's closest in spirit to a mainstream Hollywood comedy with SF sprinkles. But it stands out from the few other Hong Kong SF productions for actually putting SF elements onscreen, even if on the cheap, instead of leaving it at the level of a modern-day technology-based thriller (Bitcoin Heist). It also uses the kind of shameless, slapstick humor I find myself laughing at even when I know it's Naked Gun dumb.

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Tags: Hong Kong Science Fiction Repair Shop comedy cult movies movies review science fiction


Movies: The Matrix

Twenty years later, the Wachowskis' digital fable still stands tall, outliving the slickness of the moment and attempts to misappropriate it

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-05-04 12:00:00 No comments


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Most work we consider maverick and radical comes from the margins. The Matrix bundled genuinely radical concepts into the last place one would expect them: a slick, effects-laden action-movie framework. Its studio, Warner Brothers, promoted it like any other blockbuster project, but cleverly avoided giving away any of its biggest secrets in its trailers or ads. It all worked: not only did the movie rake in hundreds of millions and spawn two (ill-conceived, I feel) sequels, it made itself felt in pop-culture consciousness like little since Star Wars. If that isn't a piece of subversive cultural engineering, I don't know what is.

"A mythology for the information age" was the label I came up with for The Matrix not long after seeing it. Twenty-plus years later, the label continues to stick. The information age is now the disinformation age, and our world has become virtual unreality — not because it was strong-armed onto us, but because we cheerfully gave ourselves over to it thinking it was a good idea. Against all this, the Wachowskis' digital fable still stands tall, outliving the slickness of the moment and resisting attempts to misappropriate it.

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Tags: Keanu Reeves Science Fiction Repair Shop The Matrix The Wachowskis cyberpunk movies review science fiction


Movies: Tenet

At the end of the day, it's just a fancy excuse to shoot a bunch of scenes in reverse.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-03-03 12:00:00 No comments


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Tenet is one of those movies that thinks it's a lot smarter than it really is. And that's a shame, given that director Christopher Nolan is neither stupid nor untalented. It's just that with this film, he's used his intelligence to talk himself into making foolish choices for it. As a spy story, a Bond installment with the serial numbers buzzed off, it's passable. As science fiction, or even fantasy, it's — to borrow a phrase from another field — not even wrong.

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Tags: Christopher Nolan Science Fiction Repair Shop movies review science fiction thrillers


Movies: Sexy Beast

Ben Kingsley as a frothing mad gangster is only the first of many pleasures in this sleeper-gem of a crime drama that's only gotten better with age

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-02-19 12:00:00 No comments


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Someone once said that American movies are about plots while European movies are about characters. That goes double for crime films. When they're about assembling a team for One Last Job, they're about the team, or the job, or the betrayal. Jonathan Glazer's Sexy Beast uses all that as backdrop for a contrasting character study: Gal Dove (Ray Winstone), the soft-in-the-gut ex-safecracker who does not want to leave his comfy Spanish villa for one last job; and Don Logan (Ben Kingsley), the bulldog soldier in Teddy Bass's (Ian Macshane) crime army who most definitely wants him to do it, and will latch his teeth into Gal's ankle and drag him bodily away from his wife and friends if he must.

Dove has no earthly reason to even consider Logan's offer. He lives with his beloved wife Deedee, an ex-porn star, in a mountainside hacienda with an in-ground pool. Every night it's barbecues and garden parties with his friend Aitch and his wife Jackie, also both emigres. One fine day a boulder detaches itself from the hillside behind where he's sunning himself, crashes into his pool, and almost pancakes Dove. That rattles his eyeteeth, but it does so far less than word that his old not-really-buddy Don Logan has decided to drop in.

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Tags: Ben Kingsley Ian Macshane Jonathan Glazer Ray Winstone Sexy Beast movies review


Movies: Apocalypse Now: Final Cut

The film is worthy of the best kind of jealousy, the kind that makes you want to go out and do something just as visionary and overwhelming.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-02-18 21:00:00 No comments


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First, a confession of cinematic unhipness: Until sometime earlier this week I never did watch Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now all the way through, beginning to end. Only fragments on TV, or maybe a few minutes glimpsed over someone's shoulder when they watched it. Somehow I kept kicking the can of that experience down the road, until finally Coppola brought out a 4K restoration of his preferred cut of the film and I stopped procrastinating and gave it an evening of my time. The film is worthy of the best kind of jealousy, the kind that makes you want to go out and do something just as visionary and overwhelming, even if it you can't quite cinch shut the bag it's packed in.

Most great "war films" are not about war but some other subject we can only approach fully through the context of war. Paths Of Glory was about the kind of cowardice only possible in the power structures that prosecute war. The Grand Illusion was about how men of principle and discipline are set against each other because war demands it. Apocalypse Now is about how war's insanity is normalizing, both on the individual and collective level. War, especially one as ambiguous and protracted as the one in Vietnam, does something worse than make us mad: it makes us wonder if it was ever a good idea to be sane in the first place, when things can become this broken.

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Tags: Apocalypse Now Charlie Sheen Marlon Brando Vietnam movies review war


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