Postmortem: The Thing (2011)

With John Carpenter’s The Thing–based on Christian Nyby’s 1951 movie The Thing From Another World and the original John Campbell short novel, Who Goes There?–we got to see a director at the peak of his powers.  Carpenter was able to combine Rob Bottin’s extraordinary creature effects with a taut story of an otherworldly threat that had the ability to mimic whomever it killed.

So you can imagine that when Universal Pictures decided to do a sequel in 2011–without Carpenter’s input–that fans would probably not be too keen on it.

And that’s a bit of an understatement, with many–myself included–hating the movie on general principal.

Having recently re-watched Matthijs van Heijningen’s prequel, it’s actually pretty good.  And while I wished that it had more in the way of practical effects–though as far as I can tell the CGI is based on designs from Alec Gillis and Bob Woodruff (who are credited) and while it’s not as innovative as the practical special effects of Rob Bottin, They’re okay.

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• Postmortem: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Screenshot 2015-12-14 00.01.59l admit that when I first saw Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey I thought that it was unwatchable.  And when I use the word ‘unwatchable’ I don’t mean on a technical basis–it’s a gorgeous movie with practical special effects that stand up well today–instead I mean I found it almost unwatchably boring.


Recently I gave it another chance and watched it in its entirely over two days, and have come to realize that what I originally saw as boring was Kubrick’s almost clinical approach to the material.

Today, in most science fiction when a spaceship moves through space, there’s lots of noise–which is impossible, since there’s not enough air to carry sound.
Kubrick would have none of this, and modeled the space scenes after what would actually happened when a craft moved from place to place, which essentially means, on a aural level, nothing at all.  I am unsure what’s behind the lack of visible propulsion, though you’d be surprised how quickly you notice the absence of all those sound effects.

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Postmortem: Robocop (2014)

RoboCopI caught the reboot of Robocop in theaters, and recall at the time thinking that it was a bit weak, especially compared to the original film. That being said, having watched it again my first impression was confirmed, namely that it’s not as as engaging or as fun as the1987 Paul Verhoeven movie.  And speaking of Verhoeven’s film, a lot of the credit goes to its rating, which was a well-deserved R. While Robocop’s most recent build is PG-13, which means that it can’t be seen by anyone under 13 years of age without a parent or guardian. So it should go without saying that none of the delightfully gratuitous violence that graced the original will be anywhere near the reboot. And it suffers for it, though it also lacks the gonzo tone of the first movie.  Luckily, some of the central themes (the privatization of public utilities, such as the police, where the man begins, and machine ends, etc) remain intact, though often not quite as clearly defined as in the first movie (the heads of Omnicorp–as opposed to Omni Consumer Products in the original–in the reboot aren’t necessarily evil more than greedy, while their counterparts in the original film gave the phrase ‘severance package’ an entirely new meaning). That being said, the reboot does have some advantages that the first film doesn’t.

One being that the reboot looks more cinematic, somehow bigger and more ambitious–considering that the original cost $13 million to produce, while the reboot cost $100 million, it aught to look better (even in 1980’s dollars).  Considering how attractive the movie is, it looks like money well-spent.  It also takes advantage of the latest in CGI and motion capture technologies, techniques which weren’t available when the original film was made. Another thing is that the chemistry between the main actors is significantly better this time around.  In reference to the original the relationship between Murphy (Peter Weller) and Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) was serviceable, but never particularly convincing, while that between 2014’s Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) and Jack Lewis (Michael B. Williams) has much more in the way of camaraderie and comfort with each other, which is apparent on screen.

So if you go into Robocop (2014) and expecting the excesses of the original film–as I did when I first saw it–you’re going to be Robocop (1987)disappointed because there’re not too many directors that can beat Paul Verhoeven when it comes to over-the-top, subversive filmmaking. But if you haven’t seen the original film then José Padilha’s more conservative interpretation is actually pretty enjoyable. Robocop (1984) is currenty on Netflix

Postmortem: ‘Monsters’

Before Gareth Edwards directed Godzilla for Legendary and Warner Bros. he did a little (it cost $500,000, which is more in line with the catering budget of a movie these days) movie called Monsters, which was what put him on the map.  Seeing that the former has just been released on Netflix and I haven’t yet seen the latter, this is a good time as any to revisit that film.

It revolves around a NASA space probe that is sent to find signs of life in the universe.

Unfortunately, the probe finds what it’s looking for, though it breaks up in Earth’s atmosphere, spreading the aforementioned alien life them all over Mexico.  This results in half the county being quarantined, and the United States working with the Mexicans to destroy the aliens.

Unfortunately for the Mexican and American governments, the aliens have other ideas.

Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a newspaper photographer, who’s trying to get pictures of the creatures that are apparently running rampant in Mexico, a task made more difficult by the fact that he also has to get the daughter of newspaper’s publisher, Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) to the coast so that she can get out of the country before that particular route closes.

And as for leaving Mexico by water, they have only 48 hours till the boat leaves, or they’ll be stranded for the next six months.

Though that’s not quite true.  They could still go overland, though the Infected Zone to the border that separates Mexico from the United States.

Though they can only travel during the day because no one wants to be out at night, when the monsters are active.

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Postmortem: ‘Prometheus’

Ridley Scott, even when his films are sort of silly, like “Legend,” look absolutely remarkable.  He has an eye that manages to catch the smallest details, but his ear for nonsensical story beats is not quite so acute.

For instance, while “Prometheus” was gorgeous to look at, but if you give it any sort of consideration, it doesn’t necessarily collapse, though it does get a mite wobbly under the weight of scrutiny.

Whoever Cut This Trailer Deserves Some Sort Of Award Because It’s Awesome

  • Value

While I understand that, seeing that “Prometheus” is no longer in theaters seeing it in 3D isn’t really an option, I thought that it worked well for the movie.  It goes without saying that it was best in situations that were special effects-heavy, like when David accessed the star map of the Engineer spacecraft.

That being said, “Prometheus” is gorgeous to look at, and being in 3D only makes it more visually lush, but it’s hardly necessary.

Verdict:  I have yet to see a 3D movie–many of which are converted in post, as opposed to originally being filmed in the format–that was necessary in that the viewer is somehow missing something if it’s not in 3D.

  • Violence

“Prometheus” exists in the same universe as the “Alien” films (sort of) which means that violence is almost a prerequisite.  That being said, there’s nothing particularly shocking here.

Verdict: Violence goes with an ‘Alien’ film like Americans and firearms, and while “Prometheus” could have used a bit more, you don’t necessarily miss it.

  • Acting

Well done, because no matter how outlandish things get, everyone on screen takes it seriously.  And are there some high-powered actors here, like Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Guy Pearce.

Verdict: Acting matters, and typically for Ripley Scott, he chooses some of the best actors working today.  And he does so not in a Christopher Nolanesque fashion, which means that you don’t have Guy Pearce playing a butler or something silly like that.

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Postmortem: ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’

Have you ever seen a movie, like “Prometheus,” for instance, in which you were blown away when you first saw it in the theaters, only to see it again and wonder what the whole point was?  In this edition of ‘Postmortem’ I take another look at “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” a movie that I enjoyed the first time around, though I wanted to see it could stand repeated viewings.

I divided it up into six areas:  3D, Violence, Acting, Villains, Heroes and Story.

  • 3D

When I caught the 3D version of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” having already seen the non-dimensionally enhanced version two weeks earlier, I did so primarily to see if it holds up to repeated viewings though I was also curious as to whether the 3D was necessary.  And for those individuals that haven’t seen it in 3D, don’t worry about it.  It isn’t necessary and doesn’t add much in the way of value, though in scenes where large machinery was in play, like with the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers, or when there are explosions with lots of debris it was very interesting.

Other scenes, in other words most of the movie, not so much.

Verdict:  “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” isn’t markedly different–with the exception of a few scenes where it really pops–in 3D.  Check it out if you’re curious, but your money could be better spent elsewhere.  

  • Violence

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is without a doubt an action movie.  There’re numerous fight scenes early on, and they tend to be very visceral and physical.  Is it as violent as “Man Of Steel,” which for me sets the benchmark for superhero movie violence (including movies like “Kickass” and “Kickass 2,” though they differ in that gratuitous violence is what they’re selling to an extent.  Both are bloody and so over-the-top that they play more like a cartoon than anything else, which is their whole point)?

I’d have to say, No.  Captain America is violent, without a doubt, but that violence is of a more “realistic” nature and focused on individuals, as opposed to hundreds or thousands of people.  The scale of the violence in ‘Winter Soldier,’ as well as the way it’s edited,is focused less on the destruction itself and more on the athleticism of armed and unarmed combat.

Verdict: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is an action film, but one that’s on a very human scale.  As a result, comes across as thrilling, as opposed to gratuitous.

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Postmortem: ‘The Happening’

  • Part 1: It’s All About The Benjamins

I imagine that M. Night Shyamalan, coming off the blockbuster success of 1999’s “The Sixth Sense,” thought that he literally ruled the world.  That movie, on a $40 million budget, earned almost $673 million dollars.

His followup,  2000’s “Unbreakable,” cost $75 million to produce, almost doubled the cost of his first film and earned just over $248 million dollars.  While not as wildly successful as “The Sixth Sense,” it was still quite profitable.

His third film, “Signs” was cheaper to produce than “Unbreakable,” at $72 million, but earned over $408 million dollars.

His forth film, 2004’s “The Village” cost $60 million to produce, and earned almost $257 million dollars, but cracks had begun to appear in his armor.  “The Village,” while profitable, had the lowest rating on rating of any of his prior films, at 43 percent.

Most critics believe that it was little more than an extended Twilight Zone episode, though that’s not quite fair to “The Twilight Zone,” which was significantly better.

His next film was his first flop.  “Lady in the Water,” which cost $70 million to produce, earned only $72 million worldwide.  The studio that released all his films prior to this one, Disney, declined to do so for ‘Water.’   Shyamalan then took the movie to Warner Bros., who in hindsight probably wished he hadn’t because–while it earned back its production costs–wasn’t profitable.

His next film, 2008’s “The Happening” had a remarkably low Rottentomatoes score of 17 percent, which one might understandably equate with box-office disaster, but not in this particular case because  it earned over $163 million dollars.

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