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Iro's One Movie a Day Thread

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Welcome to the human race...
is like an average Mofo's
. Im far more harsh on films than you.
Coincidentally, I gave Valhalla Rising
I really just want you all angry and confused the whole time.

Welcome to the human race...
#493 - Sunshine
Danny Boyle, 2007

When the sun starts to die out and threaten the human race with extinction, an expedition is launched to deliver a massive nuclear bomb to the sun in the hope of restarting it.

I really liked Sunshine when I first saw it. Boyle, who has often attempted to channel a Ridley Scott-like versatility when it comes to working in as many genres as possible, had crafted a sleeper hit that drew on a range of sci-fi influences in telling its tale of a world-saving voyage to the heart of the solar system that is suddenly plagued on all sides by a number of internal and external problems. Of course, my opinion of Boyle and his films has started to wane a bit in recent years - watching Trance earlier this year was a major disappointment, and while I feel like revisiting pretty much every film of his I've already seen, the conviction generally isn't very strong. Even so, I had fond enough memories of Sunshine to try giving it a second shot to see how well it has held up.

For the most part, Sunshine holds up as a reasonably compelling space film. It keeps the setting nice and isolated with a handful of very good actors making for a solid ensemble that rise above their seemingly archetypal roles both onboard the ship and inside the narrative. Cliff Curtis gives what's probably the film's best performance as the ship's psychologist who is ironically starting to develop an unhealthy obsession with staring at the sun, while Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans develop a believable rivalry as a nuclear physicist and spaceship engineer respectively. Michelle Yeoh and Hiroyuki Sanada also bring considerable weight to their roles, especially the latter as the ship's captain. Rounding out the main cast are Rose Byrne, Benedict Wong, and Troy Garity, who admittedly don't get all that much material to work with compared to the others but they do well enough with what they've got. As a group, the actors believably sell both camaraderie and tension between one another, especially when various technical difficulties threaten to set them against one another.

As far as the plot goes, Sunshine manages to be fairly compelling even though much of its conflict is human-versus-nature as opposed to human-versus-human. The ever-looming sun sends out flares that threaten to damage the ship, there is no hope of rescue from Earth, even the most essential team members must be able to risk their lives for the mission and so forth. This is enough to sustain things for the bulk of the film, though Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland seem to realise that there's only so much conflict that can be generated by having the crew encounter various setbacks involving environmental hazards and abandoned vessels. This gives rise to the film's somewhat controversial third act:

WARNING: "Sunshine" spoilers below
Basically, what happens is that the ship's crew locate the first ship that was sent out to do the mission but never completed it or reported back. After exploring the empty ship and finding the crew dead, the surviving members head back to their own damaged ship to complete the mission only to find that the captain of the first ship (Mark Strong) has not only survived for several years - with severe burns all over his body, no less - but had deliberately sabotaged the mission after going insane. As a result, he then tries to stop the mission so as to wipe out the human race and be the last man alive. This has understandably raised some criticism for taking an otherwise fairly creative and well-developed sci-fi thriller and sending it into trite slasher territory for want of a better ending. This is only made worse by the fact that Boyle tries to disguise this rather unoriginal and diabolical turn of events by adding blur effects to the villain every time he appears in a shot, without which it would presumably look like the crew was being terrorised by a naked Freddy Krueger and therefore even more ridiculous. It honestly feels like Boyle is demonstrating the same kind of pretension that led to him insisting that 28 Days Later... wasn't a zombie movie.

While I can definitely understand why such a development feels like a bit of an anticlimax to what had up to that point been a generally solid and organically developed film, I also concede that I'm not sure where else the film could have gone from there and that it was at least decently foreshadowed rather than a completely nonsensical twist designed to give the film an exciting ending. As such, I tolerate the third act more so than flat-out dislike it, though that's probably because even then the rest of the film still pays off. Boyle's capacity for generally good visuals and striking art direction are definitely evident here with the ship being built on technology from the not-too-distant future. The production design is evocative of the best spaceship films while still being distinct enough on its own merits, while the effects used to generate space, the ship, and the sun itself are all of sufficiently high quality without drawing significant attention to themselves. The score mixes electronic styles with standard orchestras to create a solid accompaniment to the scenes, especially several scenes where characters are directly threatened by the sun's incredible heat. Sunshine may have its problems and it certainly isn't exactly the most epic venture committed to film, but it doesn't need to be as it ends up being a fairly solid contender for what could have been one of the best sci-fi films of the past decade but is merely just a really good one.

Moviegals 8/10 is actually 10/10 no matter what she says .

Sunshine is a film I've wanted to see or a while, i actually watched the first five minutes twice, looking forward to actually watching it.

Welcome to the human race...
In my defence, that is the two-minute short Pixels instead of the hundred-minute waste of time Pixels.

Welcome to the human race...
#494 - Fireworks
Takeshi Kitano, 1997

A veteran police detective with a terminally ill wife and a sizeable debt to the Yakuza must pull off a bank robbery in order to set things right.

I think I'm about due to get back into Kitano's movies. Sonatine is definitely worthy of my Top 100 these days, but as of writing nothing else has quite made the same leap. If any film was likely to do it, it would probably be Fireworks, which is the consensus pick for Kitano's best directorial effort and not without reason. Kitano's idiosyncratic filmmaking style means that I'm pretty split on how much I like each individual film, but I've never outright hated any of them (hence why I think I'm due for some re-watches). Fireworks definitely features a lot of the same Kitano trademarks - extra beats between scene transitions, long stretches of no action punctuated by the odd spot of brutal violence, characters whose performances alternate between muted understatement and vitriolic outbursts, etc. - but wraps them around a plot that is more consistently compelling than that of Sonatine. Kitano once again plays the lead, this time as a police detective who already starts the film with a variety of money troubles thanks to both the medical bills of his dying wife and the Yakuza breathing down his neck due to some gambling debts. After his long-time partner is shot and disabled by a criminal that he was supposed to be staking out, Kitano decides to settle things once and for all by planning a bank robbery.

The plot is fairly simple, but it's filled out reasonably well. Knowing about Kitano's near-fatal motorcycle accident a few years before this film was made certainly seems to inform the sub-plot involving his character's partner adjusting to life after his injury (especially when he takes up painting, showcasing Kitano's actual paintings from the time period in the process). The film does spend a lot of time focusing on the paintings to the point where it does feel a little like padding, but they are adequately complemented by Joe Hisaishi's appropriately elegaic score. Such scenes set the standard for the film as a whole and extend to what could be considered the plot itself, as Kitano takes a premise full of worn-out tropes (corrupt cop with a heart of gold pulls "one last job" to redeem himself) and filters it through his own peculiar sensibilities. That much is true of the bank robbery scene itself, which is humourous due to its extremely po-faced subversion of the typical Western heist sequence without descending into predictable slapstick. In the same way that Sonatine's second act consisted of a drawn-out sequence of mundane events as the characters waited for the seemingly inevitable conclusion of their journey, Fireworks delivers an extended third act that also subverts the typically suspense-filled finale as Kitano slowly but surely makes his getaway. This may try one's patience, but even on a second viewing the tension surrounding the final scene is pretty tough to bear.

While I don't think it's likely to up-end Sonatine as my favourite Kitano film any time soon, Fireworks is easily the purest distillation of everything that defines Kitano as a filmmaker while also managing to be a strong film in its own right. I naturally recommend it to everyone who doesn't mind a film that's willing to stretch out and deliver something different rather than play its well-worn premise for easy excitement. Everything about it is off-beat in just the right way - the humourous sociopathy of its characters, the balance of both predictable and unpredictable types of violence, the frequently static camerawork, the weirdly sweet core that's buried under layers and layers of nihilistic nastiness, and so forth. The only possible exception might be Hisaishi's score, which is frequently wistful and beautiful in its own right and therefore is at odds with the film as a whole, but when it is used it is used brilliantly (especially during that final scene). I'm starting to think this might even be a contender for the next Top 100, and if that's not a glowing recommendation then I'm not sure what would be.

Just call me "Peg-legged Peg"
Coincidentally, I gave Valhalla Rising
So you just found it average?
That, biscuit boy, is a UV lamp.

I liked your review on Sunshine, I reviewed that myself some time ago. I mostly agree about the third act except I'm in the WTH camp and feel it deeply hurts what could have been a modern classic.
WARNING: "Third act spoiler" spoilers below
There's ways they could have went with the films ending, without pulling a Freddy Kruger out of the 1st ship. The film touches on a spiritual mystery contained inside sunshine (or is it more like a narcotic?), Cillian Murphy earlier in the film is almost burnt to a crisp because he won't stop staring into the sun. That sunshine 'mystery' could have been expanded to be the crux of the third act instead of Capt Pinbacker as a boggy man.

Welcome to the human race...
So you just found it average?
(out of
, as is the case with all my first-time ratings) is "above average".

I liked your review on Sunshine, I reviewed that myself some time ago. I mostly agree about the third act except I'm in the WTH camp and feel it deeply hurts what could have been a modern classic.
WARNING: "Third act spoiler" spoilers below
There's ways they could have went with the films ending, without pulling a Freddy Kruger out of the 1st ship. The film touches on a spiritual mystery contained inside sunshine (or is it more like a narcotic?), Cillian Murphy earlier in the film is almost burnt to a crisp because he won't stop staring into the sun. That sunshine 'mystery' could have been expanded to be the crux of the third act instead of Capt Pinbacker as a boggy man.
WARNING: "Sunshine" spoilers below
As I recall, it's Cliff Curtis's character who spends all his time staring at the sun (and when he's left behind on the first ship, he chooses to kill himself by opening up the sun room so as to stare at the sun full blast). I know the Pinbacker development is a bit ridiculous from a narrative standpoint, but if you're working off the assumption that there is an inherently spiritual mystery about the sun then Pinbacker becomes a necessary part of that equation. Pinbacker becomes something akin to a religious fundamentalist in that he interprets the sun's inherent spirituality in an incredibly selfish and dangerous way. He thinks that the sun going out is "God's will" and so he must sabotage not only his own mission but the back-up mission so as to guarantee the extinction of the human race. This much is backed up by his line where he goes on about how there will be one man alone with God and then he asks Murphy "am I that man?", indicating that underneath his religiously motivated villainy, he really is just a selfish, insane man.

Of course, that doesn't stop the execution of such a thing being handled kind of shoddily.

Welcome to the human race...
#495 - Outrage
Takeshi Kitano, 2010

The alliance between a group of Yakuza clans starts to come apart after a minor dispute escalates into all-out war.

In 2000, Takeshi Kitano attempted to bring his own idiosyncratic brand of crime drama to the United States with Brother, which saw him play a Yakuza lieutenant who had to be relocated to Los Angeles. It down-played the existential nature of a Yakuza film like Sonatine in favour of a complex power struggle between both American and Japanese gangsters that stands out in my memory mainly for just how freely it was willing to kill off, well, pretty much every character, often in some extremely gruesome ways (the scene involving chopsticks and one particularly foolhardy henchman's nose isn't going to leave my memory anytime soon...) It was an enjoyable enough film that had a fair bit of Kitano's usual charm but not enough to make it truly great (though I wouldn't hesitate to rewatch it). Even so, it wasn't that much of a commercial or critical success and Kitano has since expressed dissatisfaction with the film. I bring this up because Outrage feels like an attempt to refine that film's pulpy structure as it centres on a Yakuza kingpin's plan to rein in an unaffiliated minor clan by using one of his associates to do the dirty work for him. Of course, this seemingly simple plan escalates due to a variety of factors and soon a war erupts not just between different clans but also between the members of each individual clan as the betrayals and bodies pile up.

Outrage may not be much of a challenger for Kitano's best film but it's fairly uncomplicated in terms of what it sets out to do. The plot may get a little convoluted at times but it's still capable of keeping your attention no matter what. A lot of that is down to the frequently vicious acts of violence that are perpetrated by the various criminals, not just against each other but also against less deserving victims (most notably the put-upon Ghanaian ambassador who is constantly coerced and blackmailed into helping out the Yakuza). Some of them are darkly comical and play to Kitano's rather warped sense of humour, such as a sequence involving the unfortunate proprietor of a noodle bar. Some of them can be genuinely unsettling - let's just say that the most unforgettable scene involves a serious misuse of dental equipment. Characters are given just enough definition to not be flat vessels of mayhem but not enough for most of them to be sufficiently sympathetic. Kitano himself seems to play a supporting role at first as he spends much of the first half in the background but he soon emerges as a sufficiently compelling (if not particularly likeable) character. Your tolerance for Outrage will definitely depend on how well you can handle a film about despicable characters killing each other for a hundred straight minutes (to say nothing of Kitano's own particular style of filmmaking, though here it's relatively accessible). Fortunately, I can definitely handle Kitano's strange cinematic rhythms, which adds to the brutal gangland chaos that is weaved in and out of this twisted thriller and makes for an adequately entertaining experience.

Welcome to the human race...
#496 - Blackhat
Michael Mann, 2015

An imprisoned hacker is brought in to help track down another hacker.

Michael Mann has been responsible for quite a few good movies in his time, but I don't feel fussed about his most recent work. Collateral was an extremely solid thriller, but I skipped over his modern-day revamp of Miami Vice (though I still have half a mind to see it) and was extremely disappointed by Public Enemies, which seemed to take every thing I liked about Mann's films and ground it all down into a horrible mess. His decision to shoot Public Enemies on high-definition digital video instead of film was a major strike against the finished product - how was I supposed to get truly lost in a 1930s gangster tale where any sufficiently swift movement was accompanied by noticeable video blur? At least the present-day cyber-thriller that is Blackhat seemed like a more suitable vehicle for Mann to experiment with digital video; though the video blur is still distractingly present, there are plenty of other problems with Blackhat that are even more distracting.

It's not like Blackhat doesn't try to be interesting - the premise is some standard use-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief stuff, but it's got some promise thanks to some decent casting and a technologically paranoid plot. Chris Hemsworth trades on his natural charisma and physical prowess to believably play a person who's just as capable of fighting off enemies as he is at actually doing hacking, plus it also sells what could have been a terribly forced romantic sub-plot with one of his teammates (Wei Tang). Viola Davis is appropriately taciturn as Hemsworth's FBI handler, while Leehom Wang gets some decent material as he not only plays the Chinese lawman working with the Americans but also gets extra complication due to being Tang's character's brother. Characterisation only goes so far in this film as everyone plays some fairly rote roles - this much is true of the villains as well, who get barely any development beyond being ruthless greed-driven terrorists (though this may just be because so much of the film involves the heroes trying to figure out who they are, leaving very little time for development). As a result, the heroic characters are only just good enough to hold one's interest, but even then they have the capacity to lose one's interest when the film instead chooses to emphasise its plot.

The main problem with thrillers that involve hacking as a major plot point is that there's nothing terribly exciting about watching other people tap away at electronic devices and reading whatever pops up on the screens of said devices. Mann's decision to do right by the story's demands is at once a bold move but also one that doesn't seem to pay off all that well - even interspersing it with his usual moments of quiet introspection doesn't do the film as a whole much justice. It's got some decent twists and turns but only really seems to pick up towards the end. As far as the technical side of things goes, the heavily-contrasted cinematography would be fine if not for the instances where it exposed its artifice through the aforementioned blurring. At least here it seems like a proper stylistic choice to reflect the characters' focus on computers instead of the real world, but it doesn't feel like an effective one. This much is true when the film actually decides to veer into an action sequence but the direction is let down by the camerawork and, to a lesser extent, the editing. I was hoping Blackhat would be a bit of a return to form for Mann and that the largely negative reviews were coming from a place of prejudiced misunderstanding. While it's certainly more entertaining than Public Enemies, it is still plagued by some serious problems that make it difficult to think of this as a good film. I would not be totally averse to a second viewing, but as of right now I have to concede that the flaws only just manage to outweigh the strengths.

I finally witness Iro give a perfect rating to something and...

it's for a movie that I don't like.
Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.

Welcome to the human race...
#497 - Interstellar
Christopher Nolan, 2014

When Earth undergoes a massive blight that threatens the human race with extinction, a small team of explorers is assembled to travel through a wormhole and find a new planet for humans to colonise.

All things considered, it was surprisingly easy to get fatigued by Christopher Nolan. The Dark Knight and Inception were pretty impressive cinematic experiences, but after the rather underwhelming follow-up that was The Dark Knight Rises it was easy to start becoming less impressed by the man's work. As such, when Interstellar started to gather buzz I was obviously skeptical about it; this same skepticism persisted as I sat through the film. Even so, I didn't outright hate it and decided to give it a second chance recently. As such, I find that I do have a rather complicated attitude towards it that doesn't necessarily translate into a wholly positive or wholly negative rating. If I had to summarise my attitude towards Interstellar in a word, it would be "ambivalence". This is definitely one of those reviews where a rating demands an explanation and I figure I owe it to myself (if not loyal readers) to put it into words.

One of the main things I took away from my first viewing was how much of a sci-fi pastiche this supposedly visionary work ended up being. It begins with documentary footage of old folks talking about living in the Dust Bowl in order to establish a dying Earth that is prone to frequent crop failure and dust storms (because nothing establishes how doomed the world is like having old people reminiscing about the apocalypse as if it were decades in the past). Amidst this, we are introduced to Matthew McConaughey's protagonist, a widower (*ticks off a square in Nolan bingo*) with two young kids who used to be an ace pilot before being forced to abandon his dreams so as to look after his kids and keep his farm going. After the film's gone on for a while, he discovers that NASA has been secretly organising a project that aims to keep the human race alive by searching for inhabitable planets and colonising them, though they are also trying (and struggling) to find a way to establish self-sustaining space stations. To this end, McConaughey's character is recruited to be part of the next mission to go through a wormhole near Saturn and follow up on the explorers who went in search of new planets, but of course things gets complicated...

I'll get the things that I like about Interstellar out of the way first. For starters, it looks pretty good. Nolan and co.'s attempt to create a thoroughly realistic take on science-fiction extends to the development of some incredibly detailed production design and art direction, to say nothing of the interesting technological designs such as those of the military robots that accompany the astronauts. The film understandably won an Oscar for its visual effects, which do well to capture a variety of phenomena such as wormholes, alien planets, and of course the film's climatic sequence that doesn't quite bear discussion without spoiler tags. Hans Zimmer avoids a lot of his usual compositional clichés or at the very least offers interesting variations on them as he composes an organ-driven score that admittedly reminds me of Philip Glass's work on Koyaanisqatsi. The resulting marriage of this music to various scenes of grand interplanetary tableaux is probably one of my favourite things about this movie.

Unfortunately, just because the film manages to create some impressive combinations of sound and vision doesn't mean that the film is impressive as a whole. I mentioned earlier that I considered the film a pastiche, though that's only because there are so many moments that feel like they were lifted from other films and given the slightest tweaks. Whether it's the explanation for traveling through a wormhole that is identical to the one from Event Horizon or certain developments that only serve to remind me of Sunshine (even before I re-watched that film recently), it was hard not to play spot-the-reference rather than get totally lost in the story (though I concede that the former is necessary for translating the science into layman's terms, earlier movies be damned). Considering the fairly inventive take on the heist movie that Nolan provided with Inception, the extremely straightforward nature of this film comes across as a let-down (though I suppose that it might have something to do with the fact that it was someone else's idea in the first place). Even some of the more interesting ideas in use (such as the time dilation caused by space travel affecting the plot in a significant way) don't have the greatest pay-off.

There are reputable performers involved, but even they aren't good enough to elevate a script that frequently feels extremely utilitarian in its attempt to craft a sufficiently intelligent and complex blockbuster. Nolan has drawn less-than-favourable comparisons to Stanley Kubrick for prioritising technical prowess and provocative spectacle at the expense of strong character development; that particular shortcoming seems especially pronounced in a film that is (rather ironically) about the fundamental triumph of the human spirit and how humans as a species are special enough to deserve to survive. Any emotional expressions seem to exist solely to push the narrative forward (which is also ironic considering how the film's narrative seems to imply that the opposite is true) - while that's arguably true of many a film, here it feels exceptionally blatant that the characters and their feelings are of less concern than the plot. This utilitarian approach to sentiment even extends to some of the film's best scenes, such as the one where McConaughey checks his messages. The fact that it gets to the point where an emotionally distant scientist starts to wax lyrical about how the power of love is a tangible force in the universe only serves to drive home that this is probably the most human-oriented film that Nolan has attempted yet and it still feels incredibly rough when it comes to developing humans. It's just as well that several of the performers involved have just enough talent and charisma to infuse some rather flat characters with at least some personality, though they can only do so much in this film.

If you rate on a strict ten-point scale with no allowing for fractions or decimals, there is no true middle of the scale. A five out of ten is slightly below average and a six out of ten is slightly above average. Though there is enough to like about Interstellar that I don't feel like I can hate it as a whole, there's still so much wrong with it that I still don't feel like I can give it a good rating due to its incredible inconsistency. It runs for almost three hours and is clearly intended to be an epic blockbuster that also has a considerable degree of smarts to it, but such smarts are undone by the underweight development of the human factor. I may yet give this film a third chance, but it'll be a while away because I'm not altogether convinced that the grandiose depictions of the final frontier and what lies beyond the infinite are enough to carry a lengthy and somewhat hollow film. In this context, I find it somewhat amusing that Zimmer's score sounds so much like the music from Koyaanisqatsi, an art film that featured no human characters to care about and was mostly focused on creating a mesmerising series of audio-visual experimentations. Most films that receive the following rating usually provoke complete indifference, but Interstellar - for all its many flaws and not-so-many strengths - provokes anything but that.

Welcome to the human race...
#498 - A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014

The inhabitants of a small Iranian town are haunted by a female vampire.

Considering how oversaturated the vampire sub-genre has become in recent years, if a work of fiction is going to feature the world's favourite blood-sucking creature of myth then it has to provide a unique take on the subject for better or worse. Arthouse favourite Jim Jarmusch already decided to make a film about vampires with 2013's Only Lovers Left Alive, though he did so by creating a film full of stark colours and jagged post-rock as befitting his most recently developed style of filmmaking. 2014's A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, on the other hand, is easy to compare to the style of Jarmusch's early films with its black-and-white photography, retro soundtrack, and barely-connected vignettes featuring a small collection of odd characters. As a result, the film has a fairly decent visual aesthetic as it slowly burns its way through a fairly brief running time, but unfortunately it doesn't have all that much in the way in substance. The film's main character is a young man named Arash, who has to put his goals on hold in order to care for his drug-addicted father, which naturally means doing whatever it takes to pay off the local dealer/pimp. Enter the mysterious girl of the title, a vampire who roams the town at night and occasionally picks someone to feed upon, whose path directly or indirectly converges with Arash's several times over the course of the movie.

While the monochromatic look of the film is a nice choice and the soundtrack is also pretty good, there's ultimately not a lot to seriously distinguish A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night from other arthouse vampire films. The Iranian setting (and the pervasive influence of Western culture upon it) does provide an interesting subtext to the characters, most notably through the Girl's trademark outfit that combines a headscarf and cloak with tomboyish Western clothes as she skateboards around or listens to disco records. One can also pick up a coming-of-age narrative for Arash as he pushes through a number of hardships and foolhardy decisions, though that doesn't end up being all that interesting even with the introduction of a vampire to help shake things up. Now that I think about it, I wonder if the Girl could qualify as a "manic pixie dream girl" underneath her frequently silent and dangerously foreboding persona. That would certainly explain why the Girl's own arc isn't too interesting either; she's established as a "good" vampire of sorts (her on-screen victims tend to be bad people and she chooses to scare a child off rather than feed on him), but there doesn't seem to be much reason given as to why she suddenly takes interest in Arash. The story is superficially unpredictable enough that you never quite know where it's going to end up right until the credits roll, but it takes its time getting there and the twists don't feel all that shocking. As it stands, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is pretty middle-of-the-road as far as vampire films go, but I give it points for trying.

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#499 - Visitor Q
Takashi Miike, 2001

The members of a highly dysfunctional family have their lives changed when a mysterious stranger comes to live in their home.

I generally don't go out of my way to view films that could be classified as "extreme" cinema, and after having seen Visitor Q I now remember why. Out of the other three Miike films I've seen, two of them also showcased his capacity for perversely graphic imagery (The Bird People in China was an exception); Ichi the Killer was a cartoonishly hyper-violent crime movie and thus my opinion of it is generally unfavourable, but I did see Audition recently and could at least appreciate that its more graphic content worked within the context of its slow-burning psychological thriller narrative. Visitor Q, on the other hand, is a leaner film (clocking in at under 90 minutes) that is intended above all else to be a satire, but in doing so it constantly assaults your sensibilities by showcasing the actions of four members of an incredibly depraved family. The father is a disgraced employee of a television station who is desperately trying to achieve professional notability by any means necessary, even if that resorts to exploiting his other family members by documenting their lives with his camera. The mother is a heroin addict due to her suffering frequent physical abuse at the hands of her son, who is himself constantly bullied by a trio of classmates that are willing to launch fireworks into the family's home when they're not beating him senseless outside it. Meanwhile, there's the daughter who ran away from home to become a sex worker and has no qualms about taking on her own father as a client. Things all start to change when a mysterious stranger (presumably the visitor of the title) bashes the father in the head with a rock and then comes to live with the family for...some reason.

I can definitely see what kind of film Miike and his collaborators are trying to go for - one can easily pick apart a satire of not just your typical dysfunctional family comedies where the dysfunction is taken to grotesquely absurd degrees but also the growing desensitisation to said absurdity caused by the digital age. This much is apparent given the film's status as an experiment in low-budget digital video filmmaking, which is amply reflected by the father obsessing over rebuilding his journalistic reputation by filming everything in the hopes that it'll make him famous. This reaches an incredibly absurd level when he settles on filming the bullies who are constantly targeting his son and trying to pitch the concept to a thoroughly unimpressed co-worker as a documentary series that focuses on how his son's victimisation affects him personally. As the already-unhinged family members start to act in increasingly depraved ways (which is no mean feat), the mysterious visitor either encourages them on their own twisted journeys or captures them on camera per the father's request and nobody (well, not in the family, anyway) really seems to question his continued presence, as if a camera-wielding stranger hanging around their home is just one more thing to tolerate. Whatever satirical elements are brought to the table are more or less buried by Miike's tendency to invoke a number of deliberately disgusting subjects as part of his treatise and showing them in unflinching detail. He does this to the point where it seems to actively harm the film rather than help it, especially since it is all being played for laughs and there are few things that are worse than an unfunny comedy.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Visitor Q turned out to be such an unpleasant experience. Not only are the plot events I outlined above played for extremely dark comedy, but they don't even begin to describe some of the seriously messed-up things that happen in this film. The climax of Gaspar Noé's I Stand Alone is preceded by a flashing intertitle warning viewers that they have thirty seconds to leave the theatre before the film gets really bad, causing viewers to acknowledge whether or not they could bring themselves to handle whatever Noé was about to show next. Visitor Q has a similar scene towards the end, though it definitely signposts what is about to happen next as if to warn viewers that now would probably be the best time to bail on the film if they hadn't already. I persevered through to the end, but I definitely feel like the third act's developments shattered what little goodwill I still had towards this incredibly twisted piece of cinema. I get what Miike and co. are going for, but despite their best attempts the extremely shocking imagery never quite manages to make the leap from plain sick to sickly funny and, though I grant that it's at least got an illusion of depth that separates it from low-grade shock-horror like The Human Centipede, that's still not enough to stop me from giving it half a popcorn box on basic principles. A thoroughly abhorrent experience.

Welcome to the human race...
#500 - Raiders of the Lost Ark
Steven Spielberg, 1981

A professor of archaeology who travels the world in search of new artifacts is recruited by the U.S. government to recover the mysterious and powerful Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis do.

I figured that I needed a special film to commemorate reaching 500 films in this thread, and what better choice than one of my true all-time favourites? Also, Indy 500. Ba-dum-tish. But seriously, folks, where do I begin with Raiders of the Lost Ark? It's been a favourite of mine for as long as I can remember - to quote one of the film's antagonists, I grew up on this. Indiana Jones was one of my earliest childhood heroes and even now he holds up as a believably developed action hero who has very human flaws that lend serious weight to his more notable acts of derring-do and sell the film's quieter moments really well (thanks in no small part to Harrison Ford's surprisingly good range here). The film surrounds him with an impressive cast playing everything from tough-mannered women to smarmy rivals through to sadistic interrogators. The plot moves along at a constant pace where even the non-action scenes still manage to bring in good characterisation or plot developments. On a technical level, there is a lot of craftsmanship put into every possible aspect of the film, whether it's the detailed production design or the clever mixtures of both cinematography and editing that keep things running at a brisk pace no matter what...and that's without mentioning the fact that it features one of John Williams' best scores.

Now, because positive superlatives are boring, let me write about the flaws that I find with the film.

Of course, it's still a major favourite, but that doesn't mean I can't subject it to the same kind of scrutiny that has come to define my reviewing style in recent times. I give the film some credit for introducing audiences to Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), a rough-and-tumble heroine who is first introduced winning a drinking contest against a larger male opponent in the snowbound tavern that she owns and her reaction to seeing ex-lover Indy for the first time in a decade is to punch him in the face. These are some pretty good badass credentials that do add to the reasons why the tavern fight is one of the best bar-brawl scenes I've ever seen, but it's a shame that they soon go to waste as she ends up becoming something of a damsel-in-distress for much of her screen-time (even though she does do her best to escape, but would it really have killed Indy to free her that one time? Maybe, but still...) That's without mentioning that her whole line about being a child in love is quite possibly the clunkiest line to ever come out of a George Lucas-penned story, though I think that might just be because the rest of the dialogue feels so polished. Just watch the scene where Belloq (Paul Freeman) and Indy meet in a restaurant, then have one of the better "we're not so different" exchanges in film history.

The flaws even extend to the action that has come to define the franchise so well - the truck sequence may be one of the better-executed vehicular chases in film history, but after so many viewings it gets hard to ignore the haphazard ways in which the scenery changes for Indy's convenience (such as trees that dislodge the enemy soldiers clinging to the outside of the truck almost immediately changing to a cliff for an enemy jeep to go flying off). It's interesting to see just how many plot-holes get covered up by the power of editing - there's the notorious submarine situation, but scenarios such as Toht (Ronald Lacey) being ignored in the wake of the fiery bar brawl or even the speed with which the film reaches its conclusion. Having learned that the film won an Oscar for editing, I wonder if it did so simply because it was good enough to cover up certain narrative shortcomings. To this day I still don't quite know what the hell is going on with the room full of mummies that Marion stumbles into at one point, only that it works as an easy enough scare that probably shouldn't be thought about in depth.

Some of you may be wondering "if this is one of your all-time favourite movies, then why are you poking holes in it like this?" In short, because it can take it. Listing everything that I like about Raiders would not only take a while but it'd be boring to read and boring to write. Everybody knows how great Raiders is - even if somebody does somehow read this without knowing, then I can sum it up reasonably well. The characterisation is generally strong when it's not coming second to the narrative - having well-trained British thespians like Freeman or John Rhys-Davies on hand to bring extra gravitas to familiar archetypes certainly doesn't hurt. It may draw heavily on classic adventure serials, but its attempt to add a modern spin to the genre works wonders in every instance. There's a well-developed humour that doesn't fall completely into banal slapstick, the romantic sub-plot stands out because it doesn't feel poorly-developed, the music is constantly changing things up and makes use of not just one but two heroic leitmotifs that never get old, and so on and so forth. You shouldn't need me to sell you on how good this movie is even to people who don't normally go in for films like this. I'd argue that this is one of the few truly essential Hollywood adventure films. If you haven't seen it, then please do so at the earliest opportunity.

Welcome to the human race...
#501 - Resident Evil: Extinction
Russell Mulcahy, 2007

In the wake of the zombie apocalypse, a genetically engineered super-soldier must team up with a group of humans in order to survive.

Yep, even after the drubbing I gave the previous installment when I reviewed it recently, I was still willing to give its most immediate sequel a shot. As befitting its title, Extinction takes place in a world where the supervirus that caused the events of the first two films has not only turned much of the world's population into flesh-eating zombies but has also greatly affected the environment by drying up bodies of water and covering the planet in endless desert. Despite this, water does not seem to be a major concern for the characters. Instead, the plot concerns series protagonist Alice (Milla Jovovich) becoming a road warrior who rides around on a motorcycle trying to stay off the radar, to the point where she won't stay in touch with fellow survivors for fear of endangering them. She is right to fear, because it turns out that one of the few remaining Umbrella Corporation labs is monitoring her. One of the lab's lead scientists (Iain Glen) is not only trying to create a capable and obedient clone of Alice, but is also trying to figure out a method of domesticating the rampant undead.

I recently summed up this film as being "Day of the Dead meets Mad Max 2". The former is pretty much a given considering the elements that make up Glen's side of the plot (underground bunker, chain-link compound on the surface, plans to make the zombies less dangerous and more "civilised", etc.), whereas Jovovich's plot definitely uses a lot of elements from the latter as she is set upon by murderous raiders before eventually uniting with a team of good survivors. This team just so happens to have characters from the previous film in it - while I can take or leave Oded Fehr as a generally likeable ex-Umbrella commando, I can't believe that they brought back Mike Epps as the token black guy/comic relief. Though he may not be quite as obnoxious as he was in Apocalypse, his arc basically extends to him getting bitten during his first appearance and hiding it from his comrades. Pretty impressive how they took an already unlikeable character and united him with one of the most tiresome zombie tropes in existence. There's a whole group of survivors but their developments are minimal and ironically give me little reason to care about their continued survival or well-being beyond the fact that they're there. The highlight is Glen, if only because he's so good at fitting one of my favourite bad-movie requirements - that of the respectable classically-trained actor whose acting ability adds weight to an otherwise underdone role, and he plays an increasingly mad scientist perfectly straight.

Even though Extinction is fundamentally less a character piece than it is a blend of action and horror, that still doesn't mean it's a good example of either of those genres. You get a lot of zombie-killing shenanigans that involve Jovovich's high-powered heroine fighting off a variety of (mostly undead and shuffling) enemies using guns and knives, but none of it feels engaging or impressive despite Jovovich's considerable physicality. The film tries to use the same sort of rapid-fire cinematography and editing to generate excitement, but it's used messily and feels irrelevant considering how little development the heroic characters get. The effects are generally underwhelming; there's even a sequence where the survivors are attacked by infected CGI birds that unfortunately ends up coming across as a slightly less terrible-looking version of Birdemic. While the attempt to combine the series' usual zombie apocalypse setting with a post-apocalyptic desert seems like a nice touch (setting a scene in a sand-covered Las Vegas amidst several half-buried miniature monuments is an admittedly inspired choice), that's not enough to make up for the lack of inspiration or quality in almost every other department. Even so, I still get the feeling that this won't be the last Resident Evil movie I watch. That would imply that I get at least some enjoyment out of them, but it never feels like I'm enjoying them for the reasons that the filmmakers intended.