So there’s another Terminator film in the works, scheduled for next summer. I want it to be awesome, but I’m not expecting much. From what I gather, the impetus to make the film was that the company that made the last one went belly up and somebody ended up with the rights and figured they’d better do something with them, and Arnold’s available again, so what the hell, let’s try to squeeze out another film…

Besides, they’ve got the wrong person playing the Terminator. It’s true that Arnold Schwarzenegger created the role, but he doesn’t own it. In my mind, the role belongs to the one person who’s played a Terminator for much more screen time than Arnold ever did:

Summer Glau played Cameron the Terminator for 33 episodes of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which took place after the events of the second movie and which did more intelligent things with the world of John Connor and Skynet than than either of the last two movies. Or probably the next one.

I’m not sure whether I’m going to see the new Ender’s Game movie.

I’m not alone in facing this decision. The big-budget movie is based on the much beloved science fiction book of the same name, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards. However, a lot of people are reluctant to see it because its author, Orson Scott Card, has in later years turned out to be something of a deranged anti-gay bigot. There’s even an organized boycott of the movie, to which Card has responded with a somewhat tone-deaf call for “tolerance.”

Personally, though, Card’s despicable politics aren’t the problem for me. I don’t pay much attention to the politics of the artists whose work I enjoy because it seems like a silly place to draw the line. I mean, I give business to my dry cleaner without a clue about how she feels about gay marriage, and I couldn’t begin to guess how my auto mechanic feels about immigration. And that waitress I tipped a few days ago — for all I know, she donated the money to Stormfront. As a libertarian, I’m sure most of the people I pay money to every day are supporters of political ideas I oppose, but I see no point in obsessing over it or allocating my spending according to any criteria other than what I want to buy. And I see no reason why I should start making an exception for art.

Other people feel differently, of course, and many of them face a real dilemma: They loved the book, and they expect the movie to be equally amazing and wonderful, but they don’t want to support an anti-gay bigot like Card, not even symbolically.

My reluctance to see the movie is due to something completely different. You see, I have a confession to make: Unlike all those loved-the-book-but-hate-the-author folks, I didn’t like the book. I didn’t hate it either. I barely even remember it. Something about a child who is raised to be a commander in a war against some aliens, right? And “the enemy’s gate is down” is supposed to mean something…?


I generally like science fiction, and I might enjoy the story more as a movie than a book. So I might go see it. Or my wife and I might just spend the weekend reading some good books.

Zero Dark Thirty is a terrific spy thriller.

Almost nobody mentions that. Everybody talks about the controversial issues raised by Catherine Bigelow’s new movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden — the use of torture, the slam at criminal defense lawyers — but if you can set aside your differences with the politics of the characters (and by extension, the filmmakers) Zero Dark Thirty is thoroughly enjoyable as a modern espionage thriller about an intelligence agency’s attempts to break open a terrorist network and trace it to its heart. The plot may not be as intricate as George Smiley’s battle with Karla, but the movie is filled with crunchy details of tradecraft, and the characters are just as morally dubious.



So my wife and I went to see Resident Evil: Retribution last weekend. We decided to splurge a bit on the tickets, because if we’re going to watch some trashy hot-chick violence porn, we really should watch it in IMAX 3D.

This movie hits all the key points of the Resident Evil franchise: Zombies, soldiers, zombie soldiers, a giant slimy boss creature, Milla Jovovich face-kicking zombies, Milla Jovovich gunning down zombies with a pair of shiny pistols, Milla Jovovich waking up on the floor half naked… It was exactly what I expected.

I think this film has secured Jovovich’s position as the top name in ass-kicking ladies (although there is much to be said for Kate Beckinsale in Underworld: Awakening — I’d pay money to see a slow-motion 3D catfight between Alice and Selene). But just in case Milla’s not enough, she’s brought a few friends. Sienna Guillory returns as Jill Valentine, although for most of the movie she is acting under the influence of evil forces. Li Bingbing also makes a good impression as Ada Wong, but she doesn’t get a lot of screen time.

The real stand-out guest ass-kicking hot chick, however, is Michele Rodriguez, returning in full bad-girl mode. You may remember that her character, Rain Ocampo, died in the first movie, but as you might also remember, the Umbrella Corporation has can clone full-grown adults. This allows Rodriguez to come back as a badass evil twin of Rain. But it also allows her to come back as another clone of herself that’s been imprinted with a standard-issue suburban soccer mom personality. After seeing Rodriguez playing so many tough chicks with her patented Sleepy-Eyelid Stare of Contempt, I honestly didn’t know she could play anything else. It was kind of fun to discover her versatility.

The plot is the usual Resident Evil goofiness, involving a giant underground Umbrella Corporation testing facility where the aformentioned cloning takes place. It’s mostly just a plot device to allow the filmmakers to bring back some popular characters. In fact, between the regular returning characters, the cloned characters, and the characters who have switched sides, I’ve pretty much lost track of who’s who. They could swap them all around in the next movie, and I’d never notice the discontinuity.

One thing that surprised me about Resident Evil: Retribution was that parts of it were strikingly beautiful. The opening credits begin with Alice floating underwater and then move backwards in slow motion to show how she got there after the ship she was on is attacked. It’s a violent and stunning visual.

Through some more plot goofiness I can’t get into without spoilers, other beautifully-filmed action scenes are set in Tokyo, Moscow, New York, and a submarine pen in the Kamchatka peninsula. There’s also a visually arresting sequence set on the surface of a frozen sea filled with trapped ships.

What more can I say? Do lots of people die? Are lots of zombies shot in the head? Does Alice get away? Does she discover in the end that there is still more fighting to be done in the next movie? I think you can guess.

Still, if you want to see another Resident Evil movie, well, this one is as good as any of them.

I’m a Bobcat fan from way back, so I’ll probably want to go see this movie, which he wrote and directed, if it actually gets released to theaters. After which, there will probably be Congressional hearings.


I saw X-Men: First Class on Saturday, and I know some other reviewers don’t agree, but I thought it was the best superhero movie I’ve seen in a long time. I’ve not seen any of director Matthew Vaughn’s other movies, but on the strength of this one, I think I’ll have to. It’s that good.

It was well-written too, which is a bit of a surprise since there are six credited writers, which is usually a very bad sign. Instead, the movie gives us a pretty good origin story for the X-Men as an organization.

Most superhero stories are escapist fun at a very basic level, and First Class delivers, but as with many of the best superhero comics, there’s a strong moral element. Some people complain that comic characters are too simple, but that misses the point. The characters in a story like this are simplified to make their moral choices clearer.

Charles Xavier is a mutant raised in a good home. He’s smart, wealthy, and in possession of a telepathic power with few downsides. He looks completely like a normal human and wants to get along with them.

Hank McCoy’s beastly mutation has its advantages, but he’s also noticeably deformed. He can hide it with the right clothes, but it makes him feel like an outcast. Charles’s adopted sister Raven, later to become Mystique, also feels like an outcast. Her power of disguise allows her to hide herself perfectly, but she resents the need to use it.

Then there’s Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Magneto, who looks like a normal human. However, as a Jewish child in the heart of Nazi germany, he saw the cruelty that humans could inflict on those who were different. He hides now, but he thinks that a Nazi-like genocide of mutants is inevitable, unless the mutants destroy humanity first.

Please don’t let me give you the idea that First Class is yet another show about teen angst over “being different.” (I mean, Claire from Heroes was indestructible, and she whined about it. Sheesh.) There’s more to the story than just a morality play, including lots of fun with the various mutant powers. And the whole story eventually winds up at the Cuban missile crisis, which turns out to be instigated by a Bond-esque supervillain millionaire named Sebastian Shaw.

The film is visually impressive and at times beautiful. The special effects are impressive, yet they’re clear and clean, and about as realistic as you could expect from a superhero movie. They support the story rather than overwhelming our ability to understand it. In one of the key scenes that illustrates their relationship, Charles helps Erik learn to maximize his magnetic powers, which he tests by trying to move an enormous object in the distance. Rather than yet another special effects set piece, the distant motion is quiet and understated. It’s not what the scene is about.

All in all, X-Men: First Class is familiar fare, but it’s a decent story, well-told, filled with interesting characters and impressive sights.

I went to see the movie Skyline yesterday.

I should have known better. The distributor has been advertising it like crazy, but as the release date approached, they didn’t preview it for movie critics. That usually means they’re trying to hide how much their movie sucks. And with a Metacritic score of 28 and 10% on the Tomatometer, the signs were not promising. Still, there was something about it…I wanted to see for myself. That turned out to be a mistake.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)


Well, the Academy Awards were last night, and I’m sure all the trendy ironic folks will be making the usual comments about Hollywood self-congratulation, but I mostly enjoyed it. I like movies, and I think good filmmaking deserves to be honored.

I do have one nit to pick, however, with the movie montage they showed as part of their salute to horror movies. Less than halfway through it, I noticed that they were showing a lot of scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. And then I noticed that they kept coming back to Psycho and The Exorcist and the Elm Street series and I started wondering… Was the Academy’s horror montage put together by people who didn’t really know much about horror films?

I think so. I’m hardly a scholar of horror films, and I haven’t gone over the montage in slow motion, so maybe a missed a few, but it seems like the anonymous editors of this montage certainly left out a lot of the horror genre.

To start with, the only zombies I saw were from maybe a one-second clip of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. There’s a huge sub-genre of zombie films that they completely missed. They didn’t even include Dawn of the Dead, or Return of the Living Dead or Re-Animator, let alone modern takes like 28 Days Later or Shaun of the Dead.

It’s a little shocking. I mean, I can understand how they might leave out horror specialist films like Videodrome or  C.H.U.D., but where were Scanners and Invasion of the Body Snatchers? How about The Thing? The Howling? The Dead Zone? Altered States? Any version of The Fly?

Where were Fright Night and Arachnophobia, and the Twilight Zone movie? What about Creepshow and Pumpkinhead and Near Dark? Where were Seven, and Final Destination, and The Lost Boys? Why didn’t we see any piece of the incredible Phantasm series?

It’s a truism that Hollywood has always slighted horror films, but last night they managed the amazing feat of slighting horror films in the middle of a montage honoring horror films…

And for fuck’s sake, how the hell do you leave out Evil Dead?

I saw Avatar yesterday, and it was a pretty darned good movie. If you think you might like this kind of thing, just go see it.

As with James Cameron’s earlier film Titanic, the star of this film is the magnificent setting and the way it is presented. The lush world of Pandora is beautiful, the CGI that creates the aliens is every bit as good as everyone else says, and the 3D unobtrusively helps you understand the the complex action in the forest scenery.

The characters and the plot are simple and relatively straightforward. For some reason, this bothers some people. They point to the thin characterization and simple plot as if it were some kind of terrible failing, and they’re proud of themselves for having seen past the special effects, which is a silly attitude. Seeing past the special effects in Avatar is like seeing past the songs in Rent.

Another thing that bothers some people about Avatar is the politics of it all. For example, here’s Peter Suderman at Reason’s Hit & Run blog:

And the Na’vi, the movie’s marble-skinned alien natives, are easily the most convincing humanoids ever to leap forth from a Hollywood effects house’s CGI server-farm — that is, at least in terms of the way they look and move. The realism stops, however, every time they open their mouths and reveal themselves to be crude, one-dimensional native stereotypes: instinctive and animalistic purveyors of cheap mysticism and nature worship. 

So despite its genuinely impressive technical innovations, Avatar isn’t much a movie: Instead, Cameron’s cooked up a derivative, overlong pastiche of anti-corporate clichés and quasi-mystical eco-nonsense. It’s not that the film’s politics make it bad, it’s that even if you agree, the nearly three-hour onslaught of simplistic moralizing leaves no room for interesting twists or ambiguity in the story or characters: corporations are bad, scientists are good, natives are pure, harmony with nature is the ultimate ideal…

Good grief. A “three-hour onslaught of simplistic moralizing”? There’s maybe three minutes of political content scattered throughout the whole movie. Admittedly, some of it is pretty clunky—references to pre-emptive strikes, shock and awe, and fighting terror with terror—but it all goes by in a few seconds. Maybe James Cameron was trying to send me a message, but so what? I was busy enjoying the rest of the movie.

I think Suderman must have gone into this movie with an attitude, because he sure missed a lot. For one thing, the native people’s connection to nature isn’t just some kind of “cheap mysticism” or “quasi-mystical eco-nonsense.” The Na’vi are connected to nature for a reason. Anybody who’s familiar with science fiction literature will see it coming, but it’s also spelled out quite clearly in the movie.

Also, Suderman and other right-wing critics seem to miss the rather important fact that the bad guys are stealing from the natives and destroying the places where they live, just like any corporation using eminent domain to take someone’s land. A libertarian shouldn’t have any problem with the natives trying to prevent that.

On the other hand, Roger Ebert says it has an anti-war message, apparently missing the fact that the Na’vi good guys have plenty of weapons and don’t mind fighting back.

I’m not saying Avatar is pro-war and pro-property rights, but neither is it about anti-corporate mystical eco-nonsense. It’s about these people on this planet, and some of them are human and some of them are alien, and…really, it’s a big special effects movie. Just go see it and have fun.

I hate it when movie theaters put a message on the screen where they threaten to prosecute us for using a recording device. I understand they want to prevent people from copying movies, and I don’t plan on any bootlegging, but I don’t like doing business with places that treat me like a criminal.

Since a taping incident doesn’t hurt a theater directly very much, I wondered if the message was just a requirement passed along from the distributor. Or were they really serious?

At the Muvico theater in Rosemont, Illinois, they’re apparently serious about it. Viciously and stupidly serious, as 22-year old Samantha Tumpach found out last weekend:

Taping three minutes of “Twilight: New Moon” during a visit to a Rosemont movie theater landed Samantha Tumpach in a jail cell for two nights.

Now, the 22-year-old Chicago woman faces up to three years in prison after being charged with a rarely invoked felony designed to prevent movie patrons from recording hot new movies and selling bootleg copies.

But Tumpach insisted Wednesday that’s not what she was doing — she was actually taping parts of her sister’s surprise birthday party celebrated at the Muvico Theater in Rosemont.

Managers contacted police, who examined the small digital camera, which also records video segments, Cmdr. Frank Siciliano said. Officers found that Tumpach had taped “two very short segments” of the movie — no more than four minutes total, he said.

Tumpach was arrested after theater managers insisted on pressing charges, he said.

I understand the need to protect intellectual property, but this is ridiculous. Copyright is usually a matter of civil law, so taking it to the level of felony criminal charges should only be necessary to punish blatant piracy of intellectual property such as a DVD forgery operation.

It’s also pretty asinine of the theater management to press charges in a case like this. I’m guessing that Ms Tumpach and her friends won’t spending any more money at Muvico in Rosemont. Neither will lots of other people If this story gets around.

FYI, here’s the Muvico contact page.

(Hat tip: Consumerist via Balko)

Update: Here’s my email to Muvico:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I’ve always been disturbed by the now-common warnings against using a recording device in theaters. I understand why recording is wrong, but I don’t appreciate spending good money in your establishment for tickets and snacks, and then being treated like a potential criminal.

Now I read in the Chicago Sun-Times that the Muvico I go to in Rosemont is pressing charges against a young lady for recording  a few minutes of the latest Twilight movie while playing around with a cheap little camera. That’s just crazy. Your theater manager has no sense of proportion—What’s next? Prosecuting customers for littering if they don’t throw away their empty popcorn buckets?

I guess he (or she) also has no sense of the value of customers to the theater business. There are lots of other theater choices in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I don’t have to go to Muvico, and I don’t think I will.

— Mark Draughn

Christian Bale, star of the latest Batman movie and the next Terminator movie, is accused of assaulting his mother and his sister in an incident at a hotel in London. He’s quoted in an AP wire story:

“It’s a deeply personal matter,” Bale told The Associated Press at a news conference at a luxury hotel in Barcelona. “I would ask you to respect my privacy in the matter.”

Yeah, good luck with that.

I just found out the Watchmen trailer is up at Empire Online.

I’m not a super-fan of the comic, but I can understand why some people are. In its day, it must have been the most amazing thing ever. Some of the freshness has worn off now that we’ve seen its techniques used by more recent graphic novels. Kind of like how the ending of Hamlet—big fight, everybody dies—seems like something we’ve seen before.

I’m wondering how they’ll condense the story to fit a couple of hours. Anybody know if the pirates are still in it?

Check out the trailer at Empire Online.