Though known primarily for his novels, Michael Crichton made a name for himself in Hollywood not only through popular adaptations of his novels such as Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain but also by directing films himself for more than a decade. Westworld was both Crichton’s feature directorial debut (barring the ABC made-for-TV film Pursuit) and one of his earliest original screenplays. Plagued with production woes from the start, Westworld is largely renowned today as a major landmark in science-fiction cinema and an important advancement in film technology.
As David A. Price writes in this New Yorker piece, computer-generated imagery is commonplace at the movies these days. Star Wars gets a lot of the credit for sparking the technological revolution in Hollywood (although there have been a few technological advances since then), and it’s certainly true that the effects team behind that space saga deserves most of the commendation in which they bask. But if the question is where did all of this start? — Star Wars and Avatar and every other CGI-laden movie of the past thirty years — then the answer is almost certainly Westworld.
Continue reading Westworld (1973)
– Oscars went to Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything (Best Actor), Julianne Moore for Still Alice (Actress), and Birdman for mostly everything else. A huge fist pump goes to Whiplash for winning three out of their five nominations, including a long overdue acting award for J.K. Simmons. All in all, a fairly good year for movies.
-It turns out Neill Blomkamp actually is directing a new Alien movie, not just Instagramming it. Thoughts?
-After shitting on him a little bit in last week’s news roundup, Kodi Smit-McPhee got cast in X-Men: Apocalypse as the supercool mutant Nightcrawler. We’ll have our apology ready for when he nails it.
-Happily, The Man in the High Castle got picked up by Amazon for a full first season; sadly, Niko and the Sword of Light did not.
Continue reading Film & TV News: February 23
Much has been written about Amazon’s Pilot Season, particularly its live-action slate–and with good reason, judging from potentially great new shows like The Man in the High Castle. As for the animated fare, critics have been criminally silent–possibly with good reason, judging from titles like The Stinky & Dirty Show. But their first mistake is lumping those shows together with Niko and the Sword of Light. (Their second mistake is probably assuming that animation has nothing new to offer.)
Niko started out as a carefully crafted motion comic. Actually, it started as a labor of love by a group of storyboard artists, concept designers, and animators from several high profile studios. But thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Niko’s journey can now be purchased and experienced on iPads everywhere. These adventures follow the last human boy as he seeks to rid his savage land of the darkness that’s consumed it. With the help of a sword (of light, naturally) and a strange host of creatures he meets along the way, Niko braves countless enemies and discovers more mysteries about his past. Continue reading Niko and the Sword of Light 1.1
Now that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, a.k.a. the “Defining Moment” of the Lord of the Rings saga, is nearly upon us, it’s time to acknowledge that this series has been the longest con in cinema history. Peter Jackson has pulled the wool over our eyes, and it’s about time someone blew the whistle. He’s not the David Lean of fantasy he’s made us all believe him to be. No, Peter Jackson, ladies and gentlemen, is the sick freak behind slapstick zombie horror Braindead.
Dead Alive, as it’s known (or not known) in the States, isn’t even his most deranged work–just wait till you see Meet the Feebles. But it does have the infamous reputation of being the most violent movie ever made. Obviously, Jackson had greedily set out to make a name for himself right from the beginning, though it wasn’t “Lord CG-Crowds” or “Sir Most-Number-of-Endings-Crammed-Into-One-Film” just yet. The fact is, before cannibalizing Lean, Jackson had latched onto the coattails of the Masters of Horror.
Continue reading Braindead (1992)
If there’s one film in the late career of Sam Peckinpah that stands out among the rest, it’s Cross of Iron. By 1977, Peckinpah was still regarded relatively highly within the American film industry despite the fact that his last few films – Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and The Killer Elite – performed atrociously at the box office. While most Peckinpah purists regard Alfredo Garcia as a violent and uncompromising classic, there’s little doubt that The Killer Elite is one of the weak points in the director’s career. Cross of Iron would be followed by Convoy and Peckinpah’s final film, The Osterman Weekend, but the former of the three is the only one that truly taps into the brutal verve that made the director so sought-after in the first place.
Interestingly – though perhaps not so surprisingly – Peckinpah supposedly turned down offers to direct the King Kong remake (with Jeff Bridges) and the first Superman film, opting for Cross of Iron instead. Hindsight is 20/20, sure, and odds are you’ve heard of King Kong and Superman while the “heroes” of Cross of Iron are difficult to name even after you’ve just watched the film – but one gets the sense that Peckinpah wouldn’t care about that, and would’ve picked Cross of Iron all over again if he were given the choice today. It was the quality of the story that mattered most to Peckinpah, and while King Kong and Superman endure to this day for a variety of reasons it can probably be argued that the strength of their scripts is pretty far down on that list.
Continue reading Cross of Iron (1977)
Defiance was one of the few Edward Zwick movies I hadn’t seen, so the recent addition to the Netflix catalogue was a welcome one. Zwick – helmer of the undoubtedly great Glory and Blood Diamond and the possibly-great-but-jury’s-maybe-still-out Legends of the Fall and The Last Samurai – is a filmmaker who can balance blockbuster epicness and fragile emotional sentiment like few other directors. Defiance is no exception in this regard, although it suffers in ways that some of Zwick’s previous films do not.
Daniel Craig stars as Tuvia Bielski, Belarusian Jew and oldest brother to three youngers. The Bielski brothers flee and take refuge in the deep forest when Nazi aggression escalates and their parents are murdered. The forest hides them well enough until more and more refugees hear the tale of the Bielski camp and show up for food, shelter, safety, comfort, destabilizing the small hideout with each new hungry child. As the camp grows more rules and hierarchies must be created and maintained and enforced, and it falls to Tuvia to protect his countrymen against the German threat.
Continue reading Defiance (2008)
William Friedkin’s Sorcerer had the unfortunate timing in 1977 of being released concurrently with a movie called Star Wars, which people ended up liking a little bit. Friedkin was hot after releasing The French Connection and The Exorcist earlier in the decade, but Sorcerer ultimately failed at the box office and slipped into relative obscurity in favor of his other movies. This is a shame, because Sorcerer is a monster of a film.
Based on The Wages of Fear, the first third of the film essentially amounts to four separate prologues for four separate characters from Veracruz, Jerusalem, Paris, and New Jersey (one of these things is not like the other). Roy Scheider cashes in on the success of Jaws two years earlier as lead man in Sorcerer (the New Jersey one), but the time spent with each of the characters is intimate and highly involved; the Walon Green script, too, is like a tough steak that tastes good but has to be chewed and wrestled with. It’s difficult to tell throughout this opening act where Sorcerer might turn next.
Continue reading Sorcerer (1977)