The weirdest villains in film

November 14, 2007

In a recent review for the film American Gangster, the LA Times included a fun little photo gallery of what they considered “more unusual choices for organized crime bosses.” Their picks include Jabba the Hut (can’t argue with them there…) and Don Lino (aka, the voice of Robert DeNiro) in the animated Shark Tale.

And while that’s fun and all, what about those other outcasts from the population of ne’er-do-wells whose chosen occupations sadly don’t fall into the realm of organized crime? Shouldn’t they get their say as well?

Here, then, are some of my favorite villainous oddballs:

WARNING: some contain SPOILERS (read with care…)

Bowler Hat Guy (Meet the Robinsons) – Something about those spindly legs just really creeps me out and to top it all off, the true villain is the mechanical bowler hat itself (uh huh, a bowler hat) that’s telling him what to do. Ick.

Yzma and Kronk (Emperor’s New Groove) – The first looks like some sort of waspish spider and has a weird thing for llamas. The second is a sidekick who hums his own theme song and happily cooks spinach puffs right in the middle of an evil plot. And when Yzma cackles evilly as a cute little kitten? Priceless.

The Penguin (Batman Returns) – Okay, true, in Batman, Jack Nicholson’s The Joker is mighty odd and, yes, totally insane. But he’s got a kind of sense of humor (in a creepy way) and, well… it’s Jack Nicholson. He’s his own kind of weird. In any case, unlike the Penguin in the original comics who was rather cool-headed, refined and quite intelligent, the Penguin in Batman Returns is, as the Wikipedia entry puts it, “a physically deformed, sadistic, megalomaniacal monster.” Plus, he hangs around with penguins all the time. Literally. I think that qualifies him.

The Wicked Witch of the West (Wizard of Oz) – She melts and her henchmen are flying monkeys. Enough said.

The Claw (Toy Story) – Who knew the fun selector of children’s stuffed animals could be such a bizarre nightmarish creature? Not forgetting of course that The Claw is also a completely emotionless cult leader who gets his brainwashed followers to chant “The Claw is our master. The claw chooses who will go and who will stay.” And leads them to believe that being “chosen” will take them to “a better place.” Scary, scary stuff.

HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey) – As an artificial intelligence, this decidedly creepy villain is nothing but a voice and an oddly pulsating red glow. And really, there isn’t much that is scarier and more goosebumpily bizarre than a villain who never, ever raises his voice.

The Emperor (Star Wars) – Why is it that the names of many evil villains begin with a definite article? I suppose we’ll never really know, but I think it’s clear that this villain at least certainly deserves to have a name that begins with an emphatic “the.” With his ghoulish voice and eerie cackle, not to mention that blue lightning thing he can do with his hands, the Emperor is both evil and just plain strange. Darth Vader has got that cool strong man / deep voice in black metal vibe going on, but the Emperor has an omnipresent cowl and cooky sense of humor. He wins.

Assorted Amélie villains (Amélie / Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) – Perhaps not villains per se, if you want to get technical, but they are all weird and/or mysteriously odd people. So I think they should get their chance too. First, there’s the almost (okay, total) stalker guy from the café who records everything his ex-girlfriend says or does. Then, there’s the obnoxious and cruel grocer who delights in tormenting the boy who works for him and always calls Amélie “Amélie-melo.” And finally, there’s the ghost / possible obsessive picture taker whose eerie mystery haunts the film. Quite the goldmine of weird scoundrels, n’est-ce pas?

No Face (Spirited Away) – Half leprechaun, half “The Blob,” this gold-giving masked spirit vies (successfully, in my opinion) with the witch Yubaba for the title of baddest, largest, most complex, and just downright crazy villain in this spooky Japanese fairy tale.

The Cat King (The Cat Returns) – Pretty much demented, yet still a powerful ruler over, uh, cats, this rotund monarch has “I am CRAZY” eyes, static-style hair and calls the heroine “babe.” And he throws unfortunate palace performers out the window when they can’t make his guest smile. Weird and psychopathic – a winning combination for this list.

Lord Voldemort (pretty much any Harry Potter film) – Let’s recap, shall we? In the first film, he was a face on the back of someone’s head. In the second film, he was a ghost from a diary. In the third film, um… Okay, well, in the fourth film, he was a seriously creepy baby-like creature who transformed out of a boiling cauldron into a noseless man. In the fifth film and (I’m assuming) on, he’s that same snakelike, pasty-faced, noseless man. Yep, I think I’ve made my point…

Dr. Evil (Austin Powers) – This is a bit of a given. And with a medical degree in Evil, he’s earned it.

Honorable mentions: Stay Puft (Ghostbusters), the Black Knight and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog (Monty Python and the Holy Grail), coat hanger aficionado Toht (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark), and potentially Grendel’s mother (the animated Angelina Jolie) in the upcoming Beowulf.


Halloween movies for the scared

October 31, 2007

Not the kids – but rather those (like myself…) who prefer to have the lights only, um, partially dimmed.

Now, I don’t want to say that I’m petrified at the site of a movie monster or anything; it’s more that I’m petrified at the thought of a horror movie at all. Don’t laugh, but even Scream can send me into nightmares for at least a week. I know, I know, it’s supposed to be a “humorous” film, but watching it for the first time in the empty, open suburbs of the Midwest, with lots of big windows, easily accessible garages, and, you know, telephones, and anyone could get scared. Or so I tell myself (and others, muffled from behind the pillow that’s covering my face).

In any case, as someone who has suffered (and I mean suffered) through many Halloween horror fests with friends, I have found it quite necessary to come up with some movies that I feel free to safely recommend to some horror-happy friends without gaining yet another reason to turn on all the lights at any hint at all of sunset. Think about it this way – watch these films, save the environment! I feel better already…

From ghoulies and ghosties

And long-leggedy beasties

And things that go bump in the night,

Good Lord, deliver us!

– Scottish prayer

“Do you know why I can stay in your spooky old room Mr. Olin? Because I know that ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties don’t exist. And even if they did, there’s no god to protect us from them is there?”

-1408 (not one of the movies in my list, I just like the quote – sorry Stephen King, but this one’s a little much for me)
(from imdb.com)

Shaun of the Dead – Without a doubt, one of my favorite movies ever. Perhaps surprisingly, considering the fact that some of my friends do think this a bit scary. Nevertheless, I find it the perfect antidote to being scared out of my wits by an actual zombie movie – I just think of disposable cameras and a “girl in the garden” and all the anxious jitters go away.

A spoof on classic zombie flicks (think Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Office meets George Romero), with a hero who at first thinks the walking dead are simply people who have had a bit too much to drink (an honest mistake), the film’s certainly got its must-have horror moments – bloody zombies attack, screams are screamed, people batter zombies with pool cues – but the humor is priceless. What other movie would have a victory against the zombies moment set to music by Queen?

Young Frankenstein – Also containing one of my favorite movie quotes, this classic comedy from Mel Brooks delivers all of the typical horror fare, including a dark and stormy castle, mysteriously creepy castle denizens, and Frankenstein’s monster him/itself, without any of the fright. And of course, look for a great performance from the late Peter Boyle as the monster (he sings!). Bonus (positive or negative still to be decided): it’s now a Broadway musical. It was inevitable.

Beetlejuice – The thrice-called ghoul played by Michael Keaton in this Tim Burton film (who went on to make Batman with Keaton as well – I personally would have immediately thought of Keaton as the Dark Knight after seeing this movie) wreaks cooky havoc on the Deetz home with fellow ghosts Adam and Barbara (Alec Baldwin, looking very young, and Geena Davis). Winona Ryder also stars as the black clad girl who befriends the couple. It’s odd and totally crazy and definitely a Burton film – with some clear disturbing/spooky moments, especially towards the end. Might not want to watch alone.

Ghostbusters – Because nothing heralds winter like a giant marshmallow terrorizing the streets of Manhattan. Extremely minimal horrors, but with plenty of otherworldly monsters and goings on (not forgetting Slimer, of course), it’s got the added bonus of being an almost universally loved comedy. With Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis as the paranormal avengers, as well as Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Rick Moranis, and Annie Potts.

The Nightmare before Christmas – I know, this is probably a bit standard and boring, but how can you have a list like this without it? After all, don’t be fooled by the name – the whole movie actually revolves around a place called “Halloween Town” and starts off with a bunch of sinister-looking animated characters chanting “This is Halloween!” Now that’s a Halloween movie. This stop-motion holiday film (now in 3D!), another one from Halloween maestro Tim Burton, is spooky and Halloween gloomy without being really scary. And with the additional inclusion of Christmas Town in the movie, you get two holidays in one!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Before it was a critically-acclaimed hip show, and way before it was touring as a sing-along, Buffy was a completely campy early ’90s flick from cult god Joss Whedon starring Kristy Swanson (Buffy), Donald Sutherland as “the Watcher” and Luke Perry as the boy toy. Not to mention Hilary Swank, David Arquette and, believe it or not, Paul Reubens (yes, Pee Wee Herman himself) in other roles. Now, I’m not saying it’s good, and in my mind, it’s definitely got its scary vampire moments, but it’s a lot of camp fun.

Other favorites with descriptions in other posts:

The Mummy – The mummy itself may be scary to some (although I don’t think anyone can argue that the beetles are pretty darn icky), but it’s light monster fun for the action set. Just turn away whenever the mummy or beetles attack anyone and it’s no problem.

Spirited Away – A beautiful and ethereal fairy tale for the indie lover, with an actual long-legged beastie, from Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki. You’ll never see another haunted house quite like this.

Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit – Just pure guilt-free fun.


The Cat Returns

October 23, 2007

A fun movie moment to help speed the week along:

The Cat Returns

Nope, you’re not mistaken (or having an Angela-esque hallucination) – that is a royal procession of upright cats, full Secret Service detail included (i.e., the cat in the black suit).The scene is an early moment from The Cat Returns, an animated film from Studio Ghibli (but not directed by Hayao Miyazaki). Perhaps a bit slow-paced for some, this whimsical whisp of a movie details the fantastical adventures of Haru after she saves the son of the king of cats. Like other Studio Ghibli movies, it’s got lots of personality (cooky sidekicks always included) and small touches (camouflaged cat bodyguards, a criminal notorious for consuming too many fish, cats whose personality and position in life match perfectly with their physical appearance – you can just feel who they are) that make the world feel real, almost eerily so.

And also like Miyazaki’s films, The Cat Returns has that childhood wonder of magic, that air of fairytale fantasy, with its travels on twinkling lights, cats that process through the night, and dashing feline rescuers towering at one foot tall, that helped make the Harry Potter stories so successful on paper and on the screen. No Lord Voldemorts here though – the villain is an overweight cat with poofy hair who addresses Haru with a surfer-style “babe.” In other words, the perfect movie for a rainy day.

Okay, yes, you may be thinking: Studio Ghibli? Again? Well, what can I say, I’m an addict. Fantasy + skilled animation + total eccentricity? How could you not love them?


Best blogs from movie celebrities

October 2, 2007

With so many blogs on entertainment these days, how do you know where to go to get the juiciest stuff? (besides, obviously, going to this blog!) You go straight to the source, of course! For better or for, well, worse, many celebrities, or at least people who would kind of look familiar if you saw them on the street, are actually blogging.

Here are some of the best entertainer blogs out there, organized, most conveniently if I do say so myself, into easy referencing categories:

Quirky fun – is there anything better?

Kevin Smith (My Boring-Ass Life) – From the wealth of content here, some might argue not so boring, but in either case, this blog features relatively regular posts (up to a couple times a week) from the man behind Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Mallrats, and, of course, the whole Jay and Silent Bob saga regarding what he is up to these days. Features lots and lots of pictures, long posts and helpful information about Smith’s new projects and appearances – all told, naturally, with his signature dry, self-deprecating, casually R-rated humor.

Zach Braff – More down-to-earth chatter from that quirky guy from Scrubs and Garden State. Yes, he has “shameless plugs” (his words, not mine) in his blog, and not just in their officially designated area, but they’re scattered amongst (unfortunately infrequent – about once a month) blog posts full of funny and casual chatter. Skip past the seemingly obligatory “sorry it’s been awhile” at the top of each post and you’ll find cool nuggets of fun. My favorite – Zach’s answers to posted questions:

Answers to questions:
No
Yes
Cinnamon raisin.
That sounds like it would hurt me. No thanks.
Wrinkly, like a stone mason’s elbow.
I have several.
It depends; if it’s itching and burning, I would see a doctor.

Also included in the blog: videos, his favorite music, and yes, “Shameless Plugs.”

Funny or Die – Okay, yes, not technically a blog, but it does include a blog! (So ha!) This video site from Gary Sanchez Productions, a production company run by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay (SNL writer, director Talladega Nights and Anchorman) and Chris Henchy (producer on Entourage), features original comedy videos from Ferrell and other celebrity guests as well as user-generated content. Users vote on which videos are funny and which, alas, are not and thus deserve to die (get it – funny… or die?). The blog itself features such gems as:

I spent the last week in Reno and it was great. I went there with some eyeshadow and a dream and came back with a vanity license plate, a sprained ankle and a new husband, one Mr. Rowdy Roddy Piper.

Just for the suspense

Matt Groening – Is it a blog? Maybe a Simpsons archive? The future site for a new version of Mr. X? Or, gasp, a top secret storage space for as yet unaired Simpsons scripts? Sigh. We may never know. As Matt Groening himself says, according to simpsonsfolder.com:

I’ve reserved mattgroening.com. (Laughs) It’s said “This Site Is Under Construction” for three years now. I’ll get around to it. I know how disappointed I am when I go to a Web site and nothing has changed, and until I’m ready to wade in on a regular basis, I’m holding back.

Well, I suppose we’ll have to take his word for it. For now.

Voted Most Likely to Succeed

Wil Wheaton – If you’re a recent convert to the movie blogosphere, this name might not sound familiar, but for an actor who once starred in Stand by Me (1986) and Star Trek, Wil Wheaton has quickly become what the New York Times (not too shabby of a reference) called “a quirky star of the blogosphere” in 2005. With an important dose of that ever-popular self-deprecating humor, Wil’s blog features frequent posts (almost every day or so), pictures and favorite music. For you Alexaholics (you know who you are), his Alex rank currently stands at 110, 149, which ain’t too bad for a random blog. The blog is currently up for a Lifetime Achievement Award in the 2007 Bloggies.

The Omnipresence Award

Rosie O’Donnell – People are just going crazy over this thing. Now admittedly, the recent scandal can’t have hurt, but it certainly does feel like everything really is coming up Rosie (sorry, it was just too easy). Quotes from the blog, pretty much Rosie’s personal press agent at this point, pop up all over the news media (“on her personal blog,” “in a post on her official blog,” etc. etc. You get the idea). The blog itself is a tribute to all things Rosie, presented in that classic Internet format (i.e., no caps or punctuation) and in, well, poetry, plus photos, videos, links to her charities, and, of course, her gift shop. Posts are impressively frequent for a celebrity blogger – essentially every day. The blog currently has the most votes for “Best Celebrity Blogger” at the Blogger’s Choice Awards.

For “flans”-in-training (and those who understand what that means)

Nathan Fillion – The charismatic star of the cult film Serenity (and the Joss Whedon show, Firefly, on which the movie was based) writes every month or so on his MySpace blog about his life, interests and the crazy world around him. His down-home, direct talk is funny and refreshing and makes for an enjoyable read, although you may struggle not to be jealous as he describes his visit to the only paper supply office truly worth visiting:

I had lunch at the Office a few weeks ago. The Annex, the kitchen, the office itself- it’s all real! There is so much space between Pam’s desk and Dwight’s that I never knew about. I rummaged through Michael’s safe. I watched as cast members updated their myspace pages and checked their emails while on lunch, but at their character’s desks! Can you believe it? Now, many of you may have weirded out- sputtering stupid things excitedly while being ushered around on a first class tour. I’ll have you know… I’m not above that. Thank you, Jenna, for putting up with the high pitched squels [sic] of excitement, the stupid questions, and demanding that you answer as Pam.

And just cuz I can’t resist plugging it, if you’re as into The Office as Nathan here, and especially if you’re not into it at all, check out Jenna (aka, Jenna Fischer – Pam Beesley)’s own MySpace blog on my blogroll.

For the Faerie in you

Neil Gaiman – The award-winning author of illustrated fantasy works like The Sandman and Stardust (yep, the one that recent film is based on) and the co-author of the new Beowulf film shares his many, naturally well-worded, thoughts on his life, works, appearances, and other projects, and answers questions from fans and others. There are also lots of extras: book excerpts, interviews, essays, background info on some of his books, a schedule of his appearances, various message boards, and so on.

In memorium

Quentin Tarantino – The now-defunct diary of “QT.” Sure, it was fake, but hey, nobody’s perfect, right? And it certainly had its crazy day in the sun while it lasted.

Misc.

Other celebrities with a will to blog:

David Hewlett – The guy from Stargate: Atlantis (Dr. McKay) and the director of the recent independent film A Dog’s Breakfast shares his thoughts, and promotes his film, at this well-liked blog.

Michael Moore – The documentary star finally finds a way to express himself.

William Shatner – How could this guy not have a blog, I ask you? Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder.

The Huffington Post – Features blog entries from David Mamet, John Cusack, Christopher Guest, Ellen DeGeneres, and more. Click on the Huffington Post link for an index of all Huffington bloggers, or go here for the Wikipedia list of celebrity bloggers on the site.

Goro Miyazaki – From a man who knows something about living in a father’s shadow, the son of acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki discusses the development of his animated film, Tales from Earthsea, based on the Ursula LeGuin novels. For those of you who can read Japanese, enjoy! For us mere mortals, here is the English translation.

Margaret Cho – The well-known comedienne (Notorious C.H.O and, believe it or not, Face-Off) shares her thoughts on life, loves and the world at large, as well as many, many (many, many) pictures and videos.

Pamela Anderson – The eternal blond bombshell writes personal, and frequent, entries about her life, malicious rumors and the world at large in her bubblegummy diary (and I mean that literally – I’m suddenly craving something pink and fluffy…).

Michelle Rodriguez – Lengthy but sporadic messages from the tough Fast and the Furious and Lost beauty on her official website.

And finally…

Check out EW’s best and worst celebrity blogs for their take on some of these blogs, and others not mentioned here.


Madeleine L’Engle

September 27, 2007

A Wrinkle in Time movie

As most of you probably know, author Madeleine L’Engle died this month at the age of 88. I’m a bit late perhaps, but I thought it fitting to pay tribute to this science fiction and fantasy legend and her classic (and quite poetically named) novel, A Wrinkle in Time.

Amazingly (or perhaps not), there has been only one movie, a TV movie, based on the book. What did Madeleine think of it, according to Newsweek?

NEWSWEEK: So you’ve seen the movie?
Madeleine L’Engle:
I’ve glimpsed it.

And did it meet expectations?
Oh, yes. I expected it to be bad, and it is.

The movie she’s referring to featured a “watered down” version of the story, in particular in regards to its religious elements (sound familiar?).

So has a better or at least feature film not been made for fear of religious controversy? Or perhaps due to its heavy science content, or the difficulty (i.e., expense involved) in satisfactorily reproducing a classic fantasy book?

Who knows. But here are some fun facts about this well-known tale to help make my case for a great Wrinkle in Time feature:

But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.

The opening line

The book begins with the line “it’s a dark and stormy night.” Cliché? Perhaps. But it’s still lots of fun, and of course perfect for the movies.

Trivia: It had to start somewhere… That inescapable line was originally written by Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his novel Paul Clifford.

Rejection

Like many classic books, A Wrinkle in Time was, according to the NY Times, rejected by 26 publishers before finally being published at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. To give another example of a rejected classic: Harry Potter was also turned down by publishers – though naturally, accounts of how many times vary, from just a few to about a dozen (her stack of rejection letters was thiiissss big!). JK Rowling herself, and hopefully she knows, says in an interview:

“Four or five publishers turned it down, I think, and the consistent criticism was, ‘It’s far too long for children.’”

An article in the National Review Online also notes that “…a British publisher that rejected The Sorcerer’s Stone did so because it was “too literary.”” Ah yes, the typical complaint against (eventual) huge bestsellers.

Popularity

Again according to the NY Times, A Wrinkle in Time (1962) has sold 8 million copies and is now in its 69th printing. Sure, JK Rowling can sell that amount in about a day (with her hands tied behind her back), but considering that 12 million copies of the three books in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series have been sold worldwide so far and around 10 million copies of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz have been sold since it was first published… in 1900… – the figure sounds a bit more impressive.

Series

Not a lone classic like Catcher in the Rye, A Wrinkle in Time is actually the first book in a series, although it is without question the most read and the most famous book in the series. The other three (A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, A Swiftly Tilting Planet) combine with A Wrinkle in Time to form the series “Time Quartet” about the Murry family. So no need to come up with a Wrinkle in Time 2: The College Years for that summer franchise. Phew!

For a complete list of Madeleine’s works, click here.

Tradition of children’s fantasy

The Chronicles of Narnia. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Alice in Wonderland. Harry Potter. The Golden Compass (hopefully). Most anything by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda). Some of the greatest classic books of all time have been made into the greatest classic movies of all time. And really, I think there’s room for one more in the pantheon.

Some fun, and of course entirely random, trivia: Roald Dahl wrote 6 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents… Perhaps an odd pairing at first sight, but when you think about it, you can certainly see a shade (or more than just a shade) of Hitchcock in Dahl’s books. Hordes of squirrels attacking a girl? Yep, that’s what I thought.

Controversy

A Wrinkle of Time has frequently been banned for its religious and mythological themes. It’s number 22 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Challenged Books of 1990-2000. Harry Potter is number 7 and Bridge to Terabithia (another film adaptation) is number 9. Which brings me to…

Themes

Time travel. Science. Love. Religion. Good vs. evil.

Controversial and heartwarming? If that doesn’t scream movie, I don’t know what does.

Hayao Miyazaki: closeted Wrinkle in Time fan?

Live action fantasy is expensive, limited and time consuming. Animation is expensive and time consuming, sure, but the possiblities? Practically endless. And Miyazaki’s record with animated fantasy adaptations? Spotless.

His most recent adaptation of fantasy literature was Howl’s Moving Castle, inspired by the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, author of the Chrestomanci fantasy series (think Harry Potter, but with more eccentricity, a smaller castle and less children).

Miyazaki was even originally interested in directing an animated version of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea novels, although his son Goro ended up making the animated film (titled Tales from Earthsea) instead.

As Ursula LeGuin herself says:

Twenty or so years ago, Mr Hayao Miyazaki wrote me expressing interest in making an animated film based on the (then only three) books of Earthsea. I did not know his work. I knew only Disney-type animation, and disliked it. I said no.

Six or seven years ago, my friend Vonda N. McIntyre told me about My Neighbor Totoro and we watched it together. I became a Miyazaki fan at once and forever. I consider him a genius of the same caliber as Kurosawa or Fellini.

With praise like that, plus Miyazaki’s additional background in science fiction, who else better to direct an animated version of A Wrinkle in Time? Dubbed, limited release in art house theaters, here we come!

Plot

At this point, if you haven’t read the book, you might be saying: okay, that’s all well and good, but what is this book actually about?

Here then is a (spoiler free) plot summary, taken from Madeleine L’Engle’s official site (because who can describe the book better than her?):

Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. She claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a “tesseract,” which, if you didn’t know, is a wrinkle in time.

Meg’s father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?


“Other” great science fiction movies

September 7, 2007

According to the Times UK, Ridley Scott claims that sci-fi films are dead and that since 2001: A Space Odyssey, there has been nothing new and different. The director said that:

…science fiction films were going the way the Western once had. “There’s nothing original. We’ve seen it all before. Been there. Done it,” he said. Asked to pick out examples, he said: “All of them. Yes, all of them.”

The flashy effects of recent block-busters, such as The Matrix, Independence Day and The War of the Worlds, may sell tickets, but Sir Ridley believes that none can beat Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Hmm, so I guess he doesn’t think his own takes on science fiction, the classics Blade Runner and Alien, measure up as well?

Now, I will probably take a huge credibility hit for saying this, but 2001: A Space Odyssey is not one of the absolute best science fiction movies in my opinion. Yes, it’s certainly groundbreaking and is a very important origin of the science fiction special effects you see today, but is it an enjoyable or even understandable movie experience? No. I’m sure it was revelatory in its day, but I personally think it succeeds more in imagery and theory than as a cohesive film with an actual plot.

That said, I simply can’t agree that there aren’t sci-fi movies out there that don’t have, as Scott claims, “an overreliance on special effects as well as weak storylines.”

To prove my point (hopefully somewhat definitively), I have compiled a list of what I think are great science fiction movies that, shall we say, move to the beat of their own drum and do not rely on or have minimal special effects, and that, of course, have been released after 1968.

science fiction (dictionary.com)
n. A literary or cinematic genre in which fantasy, typically based on speculative scientific discoveries or developments, environmental changes, space travel, or life on other planets, forms part of the plot or background.

Children of Men – A chilling look at a post-apocalyptic world in the not-so-distant future where humans can no longer have children due to mysterious scientific circumstances (in other words, what humans are doing to each other and the world). Essentially no futuristic science fiction effects to speak of.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Spielberg’s classic UFO film. True, it’s got alien abductions and spaceships, but much of it centers around the very human drama of its main characters. Certainly almost as if not just as influential in its science fiction imagery as 2001. The depiction of spaceships and aliens (they’re thin!) has never been the same.

Contact – Based on the book by Carl Sagan (if you don’t really like science, stick with the movie) and starring Jodie Foster. Exploring politics, religion and faith, science, and human nature, it’s a powerful and probably realistic portrayal of what would happen if we did make contact with another intelligence. Only at the very end of the film are classic science fiction effects used.

Gattaca – A very personal look at the human cost of technological advancement. Serious and dark, but not in a Blade Runner “film noir” sort of way, it’s a tragic and romantic tale of human hopes and dreams without any of the flashy sci-fi trappings. Opinion may be divided on this one, but I think it’s an intense and captivating story. With Ethan Hawke, Jude Law and Uma Thurman.

The Prestige – A recent film with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, it’s an almost Memento-style look at the rivalry between two magicians at the turn of the century. Featuring more twists and turns than could ever be explained in a plot summary, this is not a “Harry Potter” magic film, or even just a slight of hand (like the other similarly titled magician movie released around the same time, the great film The Illusionist) but instead a look at the relationship of two men and how science can itself be magical. The real life scientist Nikola Tesla makes an experience, in the form of David Bowie. Yes, David Bowie.

The Fifth Element – A cult classic from Luc Besson, there is no other sci-fi movie quite like it. Sure it uses plenty of special effects, but you cannot deny that it’s different. And the most important thing: it’s a lot of fun. Starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich and Gary Oldman.

Galaxy Quest – The perfect spoof of “classic” sci-fi, this is a hilarious take on the fan world of Star Trek. What if the world of Star Trek really did exist? Enjoy this movie and find out. Tony Shalhoub, Alan Rickman and yes, Tim Allen do a great job, and Justin Long of “I’m an Apple computer” and Live Free or Die Hard fame puts in a great appearance as a “Trekkie” whose wildest dreams are finally coming true. Plus, a pre-Dwight Schrute Rainn Wilson as a techie alien!

Serenity – Based on the cult series Firefly from Buffy creator Joss Whedon, this dark (and slightly scary!) sci-fi action flick features Wild West-type dialogue, characters and action alongside spaceships and a slightly Star Wars-like Empire, the Alliance. There’s definitely special effects, but you can’t claim it isn’t creative and passionate.

Ghost in the Shell – An anime classic and crime thriller about artificial intelligence and the relationship between humanity and technology. The film was a huge influence on The Matrix, just check out the poster.

Nausicaa and the Valley of the WindHayao Miyazaki‘s animated take on a futuristic world decimated by humanity’s treatment of the environment. Dealing with issues of war and, of course, the environment, this 1984 film from the anime master behind Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke is an elegantly sad addition to the science fiction genre.

28 Days Later and 12 Monkeys – Similar sci-fi idea (world-ending virus), very different approaches (zombie horror vs. Terry Gilliam), both insane and mesmerizing in their own ways.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie – Ever heard of the early sci-fi film This Island Earth? There’s a good reason why not. It’s awful. But watching the characters from this cult TV show take hilarious jabs at it in their only feature film, you’ll think it’s the funniest movie on any earth. Incomprehensibly out of print on DVD, if you can find a worn-out VHS tape or DVD at your local Hollywood Video, rent it immediately. It leaves you with only the “fresh scent of pine.”

Honorable Mentions: Minority Report and V for Vendetta

Go here for Cinematical.com’s thoughts on Scott’s statements.


Streamed anime films online

August 29, 2007

Anime news network reports that heavy.com will start to stream classic anime films, as well as television episodes, online in full-screen.

According to the site, it will be “the first time many of these classics will be streamed online.” A full TV episode will stream every week, and a full movie every month.

Films will include (among many others):

Ghost in the Shell – An absolute anime classic. If you like anime, and haven’t seen it, rent it now.

Castle of Cagliostro – A very early Hayao Miyazaki film, about the thief Lupin III, a character originally introduced in manga.

Read or Die – One of the best titles ever.