Friday, September 27, 2013

Iron Sky Movie Review

If memory serves me right, I saw the trailer for Iron Sky (2012) on a few months before it's actual release. It looked hilarious and fun and I put it on my movie list right away. That was the last I heard about it until it appeared on NetFlix Instant Play some time later. At first I couldn't figure out how I'd missed what I thought would be a blockbuster of some sort, but it turns out that it was a Finnish-German-Australian foreign film and hadn't had a very wide release in the US. No wonder I missed it.
In the last moments of World War II, a secret Nazi space program evaded destruction by fleeing to the Dark Side of the Moon. During seventy years of utter secrecy, the Nazis construct a gigantic space fortress with a massive armada of flying saucers. When American astronaut James Washington (Christopher Kirby) puts down his Lunar Lander a bit too close to the secret Nazi base, the Moon Führer Wolfgang Kortzfleisch (Udo Kier) decides the glorious moment of retaking the Earth has arrived sooner than expected. Two Nazi officers, ruthless Klaus Adler (Götz Otto) and idealistic Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), travel to Earth to prepare the invasion and meet with the United States President (Stephanie Paul). As the Nazis ready the Earth for invasion, the Moon Nazi UFO armada darkens the skies ready to strike at the unprepared Earth.
Iron Sky was much more bizarre than I expected. I wanted to see a silly action movie with a ridiculous and funny set of villains. While invading Moon Nazis are certainly silly enough to make even the nations they are targeting laugh, the humor was fairly intelligently written and well executed. There are three things that stood out most to me about Iron Sky; the references to other movies, the CGI effects, and the political mocking of the US.
Iron Sky referenced several other Nazi films and some sci-fi films. 2001: A Space Odyssey and Independence Day come to mind. There is a scene where The President's assistant yells at her subordinates in nearly a shot-for-shot reference to the scene in Downfall that became a hugely popular online meme involving a re-dub of Hitler ranting at his key officers. There's also a reference to Dr. Strangelove where James Washington is wheeled out in a wheelchair and tries to keep himself from saluting the Führer. Some of the movies referenced are foreign films making the reference and humor the scene is striving for may be lost on some American viewers who haven't seen them.
While I do enjoy foreign films, I haven't come across many that had particularly good CGI effects. Even though I loved Pan's Labyrinth, some of the CGI was subpar. The space battles in Iron Sky were impressive. The space ships were detailed and looked great. Scenes on the moon involved a lot of green screen with CGI rendered backgrounds. The camera work intentionally tried to captivate the old filming style that was used in during World War II. While you could endlessly argue about the physics behind several scenes, it's the detail of the scenes that makes them pretty solid. Just forget the physics and enjoy the fun action sequences!
Iron Sky is a sci-fi political comedy. How often to do see that genre mash up? Interesting were the numerous political jokes about The United States from the perspective of other countries. It's not just making fun of republicans or democrats; it's making fun of American politics on the whole. The unnamed President of the United States is an amalgamation of several US political figures. She has the Texas drawl of President W. Bush, the campaign slogan and posters of President Obama, the appearance and ditzy mannerisms of Governor Sara Palin, along with several negative American stereotypes. Of course Madam President is thrilled by the Moon Nazi invasion because "Presidents who start wars always get reelected. I thought I was going to have to bomb Australia or something." The movie overtly suggests that Americans have been guilty of the Nazi-like notion of taking over other countries by force for the sake of making said countries better. I didn't particularly like that suggestion, but I honestly can't think of a good argument against it. Iron Sky takes many jabs at American politics, but does so with witty and intelligent humor.
Iron Sky is full of some good and bad qualities. The story was full of holes, but it doesn't take itself so seriously that it's a problem; the acting was pretty bad in some parts, but the depiction of the Nazis is admirable; a good portion of the script was unimpressive, but it had some fairly intelligent humor and satire incorporated into it; the ending was pretty weak, but still remained fun. The humor is pretty dark at times, but still funny. I'd compare the humor style to that of  Dr. Strangelove. The concept is great, the movie is just okay, and the humor pretty good. There's a notable amount of profanity and F-bombs which I didn't appreciate, it seemed to be there only to earn a higher movie rating. If you can ignore the profanity, it's a great political satire that is worth seeing, but not quite good enough to own a copy for multiple viewings unless you really get a kick out of the idea of Moon Nazis.

Here's the trailer for Iron Sky. Don't tell me that doesn't look at least a little bit fun.

What's your favorite fictional group of Nazis? Space Nazis? Zombie Nazis? HYDRA from Captain America?  I've seen a couple different rendition of the go-to villain organization. Which one is your favorite? Comment below and tell me why!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sharknado Movie Review

Many years ago, double features were things that movie theaters would do. A big budget, highly publicized "A Movie" was the main event. This was followed by a low budget, less publicized "B Movie." They were often campy, cheesy sci-fi or horror films in the 1950's. Now, the movie industry is so dependent upon profits and marketing that most of the ridiculous low-budget camp fests never hit theaters because they likely won't make a lot of ticket sales. B Movies still come out every now and then; they are TV releases or are simply released directly to home video. One such B Movie, Sharknado (2013), has been taking the internet by storm. It sounded so stupid that I had to give it a look.
Thanks to global warming, the California coast is hit by its first hurricane. This coincides with a massive number of migrating sharks. The migrating sharks are scooped up by water spouts (a kind of tornado over the ocean) and begin flooding Los Angeles with shark-infested seawater. Surfer and bar-owner Fin Shepherd (Ian Ziering) sets out with his Tasmanian friend Baz (Jaason Simmons) and bar waitress Nova (Cassie Scerbo) to rescue Fin's estranged wife April (Tara Reid) and teenage daughter Claudia (Aubrey Peebles). As they trek across the panic-stricken L.A, man-eating sharks rain down upon them from the sky and attack from the flooded sea water.
Yes, Sharknado is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. The very idea is just about as laughable as can be. The title and premise is so unspeakably ludicrous that I think it actually became a draw for a lot of people. It became a trend on Twitter for a while and was discussed through Twitter by Olivia Wilde, Mia Farrow, and the notorious geek icon Wil Wheaton among others. After gaining increased publicity through Twitter, the SyFy Channel's encore showing of Sharknado set records for the most watched encore film in SyFy history. Maybe there still is an audience for corny B Movie schlock films.
Sharknado gives us exactly what was expected from such an absurd title; something so unapologetically dumb and cheap that it is hard not to laugh at and occasionally with. The movie does not take itself seriously at all. It makes some allusions to other movies, though it's done with such an air of silliness that I'm honestly not sure if it's a parody or a reference. There are references from disaster movies like 28 Days Later and Twister as well as some shark movies like Jaws. Early in the movie someone kills a shark on the beach by cramming an air tank in its mouth and shooting it. Later while flying in a helicopter near a "sharknado," a shark bumps into them prompting the line, "I think we're gonna need a bigger helicopter."
Have you ever been so angry that you attacked a flying
great white shark with a chainsaw?
The special effects were pretty bad. There were a lot of bad CGI sharks that lacked texture and shading and weren't animated very believably. That's not uncommon for TV films, but it just stuck out like a sore thumb. There was a lot of stock footage of nautical storms in the same scene with people running for shelter on a bright clear day at the beach. I'm not sure if this was intentional for the sake of making the movie look even sillier or if it was just bad editing. While the film is "Not Rated" and has TV safe content, there is lots of terribly animated and fake blood splatter. It simply looks too silly to be taken seriously.
There are scenes of illogical destruction such as a hammerhead shark hitting the pavement which cracks under the shark rather than having the shark splatter. There's a scene with a shark attack inside a flooded residential home, even though there is no flooding outside the home. In another scene a swimming pool full of sharks explodes by pouring one gallon of gasoline and a lit matchbook into it. The sharks don't seem to have any mass since they are able to swim underneath moving vehicles that are driving through a foot of water.  I'm pretty sure all of that is not how physics works, but it does make for some laughable action sequences.
Sharknado is such a dumb movie. The script is absolutely terrible, the acting is on par with most television soap operas, the special effects are pitiful, there are holes in the plot that a Great White Shark could swim through, and the premise is so preposterous that it's almost painful to watch. But the movie is aware of all that. It really looks like the director, cast, and crew knew they were making a ridiculous movie and were genuinely having fun making a movie that they knew would be ridiculous. If we are to rate the movie on how well they achieved what they set out to do, then Sharknado passed with flying colors! What makes a movie like this fun is sitting around with friends while laughing and making fun of the terrible movie. Sharknado is very good for that! If you are the type of person who enjoys watching stupid movies for the sake of making fun of them, you simply must see Sharknado. If you are not, you'll just be annoyed by it. Either way, it's worth renting to see once; it's not worth the money to buy a copy.

Do you have a favorite stupid movie you like to watch just to make fun of it? What is it and what makes it so funny? Comment below and tell me all about it!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Secret World of Arrietty Movie Review

There isn't a whole lot of anime that I can honestly say I enjoy. So when it is brought up while talking to fellow geeks, I have to talk about the movies made by Studio Ghibli. I haven't seen all of their movies, but the ones I have seen are incredible. Studio Ghibli is kind of like the Walt Disney of Japan in that the Japanese studio makes incredible animated feature films. In 2010, Studio Ghibli's sixteenth film, The Secret World of Arrietty, was released and I've just now got around to seeing it.
 Based on British writer Mary Norton's children's book The Borrowers, the film is about fourteen-year-old Arrietty Clock (Bridgit Mendler). She is a Borrower; four-inch-tall people who live anonymously within the walls of a human family's residence, borrowing simple items to make their home. Arrietty lives with her father Pod (Will Arnett) and mother Homily (Amy Poehler). Arrietty is excited to go on her first "borrowing" trip where she'll help Pod gather supplies from the larger house. The Clock family is nervous about the new twelve-year-old boy Shawn (David Henrie) who has moved in to the house recently. When Pod and Arrietty are seen  by Shawn they fear they may have to move to a safer home. When Shawn attempt to befriend Arrietty, he makes a mess of things and inadvertently draws the attention of the house's caretaker Haru (Carol Burnett), who has been suspicious of the existence of "little people" for years.
I've seen other versions of The Borrowers. There was a TV series starring Ian Holm, an action-based movie starring John Goodman, and a television released movie starring The Doctor Christopher Eccleston. The Secret World of Arrietty is probably the best version I've seen to date. There is a different set of voice actors for the Japanese, United Kingdom, and United States dubbing; I've listed the United States cast only because that's the one I happened to see.
The color and proportions are incredible!
As usual Studio Ghibli's art style was remarkable! It's visually lush and beautifully detailed. You could pause the move at just about any point and admire that one frame for all the detailed beauty and heart that went into it. I'm partly colorblind and even I thought the greens used to color the verdant grass was gorgeous. The colors are beautiful and the imagery is beautiful to see.
One of the amazing details in the animation was how realistic the physics were. To a tiny human, a portion of water, for example, will move differently. A Borrower would drink a drop of water instead of a eight ounces. Thus to Arrietty, a drop of water will loom and drip like syrup. The sounds of a ticking clock reverberates immensely, and something like tissue paper is large and stiff. Other versions of The Borrowers have tried to capture the difference that size would have on normal physics, but I don't think any of them has done it as remarkably well as this one. The camera work also helps illustrate the size difference. The scenes with the Borrowers use wide angles from low angles to capture the enormity of the house from their perspective. The animators are always very careful about being consistent with size when a borrower and a human are interacting; other versions aren't always so meticulous about that detail. It causes the difference in size to be more believable.
The movie moves a bit slower than I expected, but it is paced perfectly. The story unfolds gradually and progresses evenly. That's not to say there is no action or that it's a slow movie. Most other versions of The Borrowers are fast paced so that the kid viewers who have a presumably short attention span won't get bored. This results in an underdeveloped story that moves at a dizzying pace. It may bore some viewers under the age of four, but I think The Secret World of Arrietty is a great way to help young kids appreciate well made films that are not bombastically over-the-top and moves at a rushed paced.
The Secret World of Arrietty is an outstanding movie, as has been my experience with other Studio Ghibli films. It doesn't have the epic scale of Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke and the seemingly "kid-friendly" vibe may put off some adult viewers. Even if you are an adult I recommend watching this film. It's absolutely beautiful to behold and is impeccably paced and its drama is perfectly developed. It's also good to see an adventure movie with a strong female protagonist. I think The Secret World of Arrietty is worth owning on Blu-Ray and watching often.

Do you have a favorite Studio Ghibli movie? Which one is it and why? Comment below and tell me all about it!

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Gods Must Be Crazy Movie Review

The 1980 film, The Gods Must Be Crazy, is an obscure cult classic comedy that I have seen many times over the years. I recently watched it with a bunch of friends, most of whom had never heard of it and it was well received even today. I don't want this movie to be forgotten; it's my hope that I'll reach enough post-80's movie watchers so as to extend the cult following of this classic.
Kalahari bushman Xi (played by genuine bushman N!xau) is as surprised as the rest of his tribe when a Coke bottle, thrown from a passing plane, lands in the middle of their village. This "gift from the gods" proves to be a mixed blessing when the tribesmen begin fighting over it and eventually use it as a weapon. To keep peace in the village, Xi is assigned to take the bottle to the "end of the world" and throw it back to the gods. Meanwhile, back in urbanized South Africa, Kate Thompson (Sandra Prinsloo) leaves her office job in the city to take a job teaching Kalahari children. Once in the wilderness she finds herself constantly bumping into clumsy microbiologist Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers).  Elsewhere, maniacal Sam Boga (Louw Verwey) is leading a military coup against the government. The various characters run into each other a number of times before getting drawn into Boga's hostage situation to keep the military at bay, and it seems that the bushman with the Coke bottle is their only chance to escape.
The Gods Must Be Crazy starts out looking for all the world like a nature documentary, but gradually becomes sillier. While describing Xi's culture, the narrator says, "They must be the most contented people in the world. They have no crime, no punishment, no violence, no laws, no police, judges, rulers or bosses. They believe that the gods put only good and useful things on the earth for them to use." The narrator goes on to say, "Only 600 miles to the south, there's a vast city. And here you find civilized man. Civilized man refused to adapt himself to his environment; instead, he adapted his environment to suit him. So he built cities, roads, vehicles, machinery, and he put up power lines to run his labor-saving devices. But somehow he didn't know where to stop. The more he improved his surroundings to make life easier, the more complicated he made it." It really does make you think about the world and how ridiculous and tedious we make our lives.
The comedy is outstanding. There is a lot of physical comedy and slapstick. The incompetent terrorists can't seem to figure out how to load their weapons and are almost as much of a threat to themselves as they are to the government they are trying to overthrow. Steyn becomes an absolute blundering, fumbling idiot when he's around Kate and is constantly dropping things, bumping his head, and getting is foot stuck in trashcans. The humor is not unlike a Mr. Bean sketch. Here's a clip of Steyn innocently trying to return a misplaced pair of Kate's shoes:

The script is also hysterical. The narrator frequently commentates on Xi's interpretation of "civilized" people. Since the other characters are much fatter than anyone he's ever seen and they use magic (technology) he assumes at first that they are gods, but quickly decides otherwise because they are "not very bright, because they can't survive without their magic contrivances". Kate is frequently exasperated by the all the hoopla and becomes highly sarcastic. Humor aside, the script is straightforward, moves the story along logically, and develops the characters well.
Just about the only thing I can complain about is the editing. There are moments in the movie when the footage is sped up a bit during physical action. I'm genuinely uncertain if they were trying to get a slightly fast-forward effect similar to a Benny Hill style chase scene, or if they were trying to shorten the length of a single shot in the interest of time. One would be funny, the other would be sloppy editing. They do this frequently in the movie, and I admit it becomes vaguely annoying after a while. But the riotous physical comedy and wacky dialogue more than make up for it.
The Gods Must Be Crazy is absolutely hysterical and puts me in stitches every time I see it. Most contemporary "comedies" revolve around crude humor, sex jokes, and awkward social situations. This movie is nice and clean and has awkward situational comedy which is actually well done! If you're not such a big fan of physical humor you may not enjoy it as much as I do, but it's a cult classic comedy that I think everyone should see at least once. The humor has withstood the test of time; it's still well received by teens and young adults today. I think it is worth owning. There is a sequel, but I have yet to see it. It can't possibly be as good as this first one.

You can find various places online to watch The Gods Must Be Crazy; just do a quick Google search and you'll find several. I've included the link to watch the full movie on YouTube, though you'll probably get commercial breaks periodically. Just go buy the DVD and enjoy it.

What is your favorite cult classic comedy? Comment below and tell me why!