Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Holiday Spirit, part II: Cinema

To wrap up the holiday season, it seems appropriate to discuss the movies. After all, that's where Isoceleria got its start, and that's when you have a much better chance than the rest of the year to see me in a movie theater.

Before I forget, when in the hell did cheesy little Carmike 12 in Snellville start thinking it was a good choice to charge $10 to see a movie? That's as much as or more than much nicer theaters, like the ones at Atlantic Station ($10, but $9 for a student) or Stonecrest Mall ($9.50).

Holiday-season movies tend to fall into one of three camps: 1) Holiday movies, 2) Oscar-y movies, and 3) Movies that really wish they could be Oscar-y. Holiday movies I'm generally sort of skeptical of, as there's no way they can really compete with what's become the holy trinity of Christmas movies: Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, and of course It's a Wonderful Life. Those movies are wonderful enough to merit their own discussion, which I sort of missed the boat on this year. (December 2008, here I come.)

Oscar-y movies, on the other hand, are ones specifically designed to rake in awards. For whatever reason, there's a perception that these movies are only allowed to be released in the month of December. Think of the movies that advertise themselves with phrases like "Nominated for n Golden Globes!" and the higher n is, the higher propensity it has for association with this category. These movies aren't necessarily bad, but they seems to have a sort of "popular opinion be damned, we're going to pander to what the critics have expressed they're looking for this awards season."

And the "movies that really wish they could be Oscar-y" category turns out to be the one that I often find myself exposed to come late December. I've said it before, that I'm not so much a movie person as a movie-neutral person with movie-person friends. And when I'm hanging out with those people, as I have time to do every late December, it usually turns out that that means going to see one of these movies.

Review: I Am Legend

I respect Will Smith a lot as an actor. Maybe not so much as a rapper--I think the world wouldn't necessarily be worse off for having missed out on getting jiggy with anything. But the man can act. Recently, The Pursuit of Happyness was entertaining if not brilliant, and a welcomed sink of two hours out of an eight hour trans-Atlantic flight. Interestingly, he's really created a name for himself as a science fiction actor: Men in Black, I, Robot, and now I Am Legend.

The general consensus concerning this movie is "it was really good until the zombies showed up." Sure, I'll go along with that. But making that observation would be like saying that Star Wars was really good until the Jedi showed up. First, it doesn't take long at all for them to enter the movie, and secondly (and more seriously), they're such an integral part of the story that getting rid of them is essentially stripping the setting of its originality. Jedi define Star Wars the same way that zombies define I Am Legend. And that's sort of unfortunate.

On the surface, this movie is science fiction. Problem is, there's hardly any science mixed in with the fiction. The prologue to the movie explained the proximate cause of humanity's downfall with a tantalizing bit of genetics and immunology. As someone with more than a passing interest (three quarters of the way to a degree, in fact) in the life sciences, to me, this was one of the most intriguing parts of the movie. I was really hoping for the plausible-sounding science to be a continuing motif throughout the movie, and instead we get a single minute of Will Smith synopsis about two thirds of the way in. I understand that the thread of science is one of the least important parts of "science fiction" to a lot of people out there, but is it too much to ask to pay lipservice to it for more than a sliver of the film?

Devoid of its scientific content, I Am Legend is, at its core, still a zombie movie. Will Smith hides from the zombies. Then he kicks some zombie ass. Then things start to go downhill. Then he discovers a magical cure for zombie-ism! Then zombies invade, and he dies. Something we've seen how many dozen times already? I Am Legend had a golden opportunity to distinguish itself that it never really took. Bottom line: if you're really into zombie action movies, this isn't an awful movie. I just can't promise that you'll get anything out of it.

Caveat to everything I just said: this applies strictly to the movie. I haven't read the book. I gather that, like virtually every book-come-movie, the book is measurably better. I can't verify that's true. I think it probably makes sense that it is. One supposedly significant change is that in the book, the evil monster creatures are closer to vampires than zombies. To me, that's no big deal. But hey, maybe there might even be science in the book, and that probably isn't a big deal to some people either.

Review: Alien Versus Predator: Requiem

Or: "Because the first one was so good that they really needed a sequel, right?"

Recently, my friend Nick asked me if I'd seen the first AvP movie. Yes, I have. He told me he'd watched it on TV, and that there was probably some content editing going on to make the film less comprehensible than it should have been. I assured him that it was almost certainly exactly as comprehensible as it would have been, should he have seen it in the theater.

The answer to "did we really need a sequel?" is absolutely no, we did not. This is one of those movies that just begs for the Mystery Science Theater treatment. Character development is nil. Scientific intrigue, where it at least showed potential in I Am Legend is more of the same ridiculousness. Even the title doesn't make any sense: who is it who's getting laid to rest, anyway?

Not that you were necessarily expecting character development, or science, or... sense from this movie. You were probably expecting lots of stuff blowing up, and heads getting blown off, and a movie that you don't at all have to take seriously. And that's exactly what you're going to get.

Currently listening: "Here It Goes Again," OK Go (via our friends at Rock Band)

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