Advantageous, 2015

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Advantageous, directed by Jennifer Phang, is a quietly impactful film that has a lot to say about gender, ageism and race. It does this through the narrative of  main character, Gwen (Jacqueline Kim), a woman who is forced to go to drastic measures after she is fired from the Center For Advanced Living and Health, when they decide to go in a younger direction for their public face.

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Kim is magnificent as Gwen, giving a restrained, poignant performance, and it’s just a crime she’s not starring in more features. (Kim also co-wrote the script with director Jennifer Phang). Freya Adams, who plays Gwen 2.0, is convincing as a woman struggling to adjust to who she is, disconnected from everything and everyone around her, from her own body (which betrays her, causes her pain).

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It has a very touching mother/daughter relationship at its centre (Gwen is motivated by doing what’s best for her daughter’s future, wanting to secure her a position in an elite school), which will always draw me in. There are some achingly beautiful moments between Gwen and her daughter, Jules (Samantha Kim). They are the heart of the film. Family is a theme that runs through the story, as Gwen tries to reconnect with a cousin, wants her help so she will not have to go through with the procedure. She doesn’t get the help she wants when she needs it but the family does tentatively reconnect.

It’s slick and stylish and very understated in its vision of a dystopian future, using cool tones and lots of light to make the world outside feel sterile. Gwen and Jules’s apartment is snug and cosy, by contrast. I love my sci-fi (nearly) any way I can get it, but it’s quiet, thoughtful films like this that get under my skin and stay with me. Some of the points it makes are, perhaps, a little obvious but sometimes I think plain speak is better than a whole heap of metaphors and allusions.

There is hope in the ending, for Gwen and Jules and their family, at least, but the uneasiness that permeates the film is not resolved. It is still there in the others who have undergone the same procedure, if you think about the implications of being able to transfer consciousness from one body to another, discarding ‘undesirable’ bodies for more socially acceptable ones. It’s a terrifying thought.

It was released exclusively to Netflix, so if you have an account, definitely check it out. (I’m assuming it’s on Netflix in all regions).

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Star Trek update

My journey into the original series, and subsequent films, of Star Trek has come to an end (for now). I’m taking a break before I get into The Next Generation, and so on, but I did say that I’d do a second post once I watched the last three films.

This is neither as long, nor as picture heavy, as my first post – I got a bit burnt out on writing after all of that. I want to challenge myself with my writing, so that the quality improves, but some days it’s not a matter of writer’s block, so much as being completely empty. These are all tidied up from the letterboxd reviews I dashed off after viewing each film.

The Voyage Home dir. Leonard Nimoy, 1986

“Oh, him? He’s harmless. Back in the sixties, he was part of the free speech movement at Berkeley. I think he did a little too much LDS.”

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That awkward moment when you’re terrified of whales but are determined to watch all the original Star Trek movies…including the one about the whales. At least I knew that going in, though. Part of me was thinking ‘whales, why’d it have to be whales?’ this whole film but, well, the environmental message wouldn’t really be the same without them.

Terrifying sea dwelling mammals aside, this is a whole lot of fun. It’s very silly (I love silly movies) and charming. The whole ‘do you like Italian?’ exchange was one of my favourites – I had to pause the film to catch my breath. I also enjoyed Scotty talking into the computer’s mouse, Spock trying to swear and Uhura and Chekov asking all those people on the street where to find nuclear ‘wessels’. I just couldn’t pick a favourite funny moment.

Most of the tears shed in this film were tears of laughter, but I did get a bit choked up at the end (Spock with Sarek, the crew seeing the new Enterprise).

Anyway, silly, funny and fun and exactly what I needed when I watched it (except for the whales).

Edited from letterboxd review, which can be read here.

The Final Frontier dir. William Shatner, 1989

“I thought you said men like us don’t have families.”
“I was wrong.”

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I’ll say one thing for this film: it sure left me speechless!

Plenty of people have written about what a mess it is so I won’t go into it too much. There are a couple of nice moments between Spock & Kirk and Spock, Kirk and Bones, some properly funny bits and there are elements I liked but that does not a good movie make.

There are some truly absurd choices made in this movie – Uhura’s fan dance springs to mind as one of them.

I have definitely seen far far worse films, films that were harder to get through, but this was still just…odd. And gave me a lot of secondhand embarrassment.

Going in having read some terrible reviews, I lowered my expectations so much that I will admit I had fun in some parts. But I think my overwhelming impression of the film is that it’s baffling, rather than anything else.

Edited from letterboxd review, which can be read here.

The Undiscovered Country dir. Nicholas Meyer, 1991

“Captain’s Log, stardate 9529.1. This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun, and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man… where no one has gone before.”

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This was a bit of a heavy one for me. Don’t recommend watching it when you’re feeling seedy after a long night of dancing.

It’s a movie about ageing and feeling obsolete, which I feel doesn’t often get explored in these types of films (not that it never does, but I feel like it’s not common); in a youth obsessed culture that’s not surprising.

I want to say something about ending with a quote from Peter Pan/a reference to Neverland. Is it suggesting Kirk refuses to accept what Spock had posited earlier: Is it possible that we two, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness? A one last adventure thing? You’re only as old as you feel?

It’s possible that it was just a throwaway reference but I’m not sure.

I am still unable to sort out my thoughts and feelings about this one (I think I liked it but I’ll have to watch it again in a different mood) but I want to keep this post brief compared to the last one.

Edited from letterboxd review, which can be read here.

To boldly go…

Where millions of others have gone before, actually.

This is a long and picture heavy post.

Screencap of Mr Spock played by Leonard Nimoy from Star Trek The Original Series. He has black hair cut in short bangs, pointed ears and one eyebrow raised. He is wearing a light blue shirt, the same colour of the walls behind him, and is holding a black cat.

As I mentioned in my February roundup, I’ve finally delved into the world of Star Trek, starting with The Original Series. Having finished that recently, I decided to jump right into the following movies.

When I started the show I was not at all prepared for how deeply attached I would become to these characters. I just don’t usually feel so invested in characters from older TV shows for some reason but I’m so in love with them. Especially Spock.

Sometimes I get frustrated with myself for not writing about movies more ‘intellectually’ or critically, but I respond to movies on an emotional, instinctual level above all else. I’ve voiced this concern to friends, before, who have assured me that there is more than enough room for a more emotional perspective on cinema and I honestly think that’s what I’m best at. What I’m saying is, be prepared for a lot of emotional rambling here and some sloppiness in my writing where I omit actor’s names and the like. I’m going to write about the first three movies together, and then there will be another post for the next three when I’ve watched those.

The Motion Picture dir. Robert Wise, 1979

“This… simple feeling is beyond V’ger’s comprehension.”

A screencap of Dr McCoy played by DeForest Kelley and Admiral Kirk played by William Shatner from The Motion Picture. McCoy has short brown hair and a beard, he is wearing a cream shirt with a v-neck, a gold medallion pendant and is standing with his arms by his side. Kirk is seen from the side a slightly behind. His dark blonde hair is short and he is wearing a blue-ish shirt with Starfleet insignia. His right arm is extended toward McCoy.

Given what I said above, it is not surprising that I spent half of this film crying. Only forty minutes in I’d already cried at least four times. (When Kirk meets Scotty, when he sees the Enterprise, when he meets the bridge crew, when he meets Bones again.) But I didn’t get properly emotional until Spock and Jim are reunited.

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The film has some interesting things to say but the scene that will stick with me the most is Kirk grasping Spock’s hand, and Spock saying “This…simple feeling is beyond V’ger’s comprehension.” I actually had to pause the film because I was crying so hard. It’s such a beautiful moment between them and the end of Spock’s journey, started on Vulcan.

The parallels between V’Ger’s journey and Spock’s were fairly obvious, but I loved what the film said through them. It’s about the search for meaning and identity – the search for knowledge in general – that nearly all of us can relate to in some way, or another. Spock comes to realise he must embrace all of who he is, pesky emotions included, for a fulfilled life when he sees the emptiness of V’Ger, an actual machine devoid of feeling. One can experience emotion but still value logic. That struggle with emotion was particularly relevant and personal to me.

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One of the most obvious themes to me seemed to be love. It’s clear that Ilia and Decker were romantically involved at some point prior to the film and, while the end – with Decker merging with the Ilia probe – could be seen as purely about evolution or creating new life, the way they look at each other shows that it’s done out of love, too. There is also the relationship between Kirk and Spock – ‘this simple feeling’ that Spock speaks of could be many things but whether it’s friendship or brotherhood, it all boils down to love.

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Before I finish, let’s take a moment to appreciate the design of this film. The scene with Spock inside V’Ger is utterly beautiful. One shot reminded me of the dream sequence in Vertigo (pictured above) but a more obvious, and likely, comparison is to 2001: A Space Odyssey (pictured below).

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Even when the Enterprise entered warp speed for the first time my eyes popped out of my head. And the lighting in that final V’Ger scene was beautiful.

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Robert Wise clearly spent a lot of time showing off the special effects and design; I can’t be mad about that because they are so pretty.

It’s a fairly contemplative film and, as such, could be seen as slow but it honestly didn’t even feel like 2+ hours to me. bluedionysus on letterboxd called the pacing ‘graceful’ and I couldn’t have described it better myself. If you’re expecting a fun space romp like so much of TOS was, it would probably be disappointing, but a friend had prepared me so I knew what I was in for. The show wasn’t without seriousness but there’s more adventure than there is here. Some of the ideas that are in the film are definitely present in TOS and it obviously draws a lot from ‘The Changeling’, which has a similar premise, but it’s a huge tonal shift from the series.

I know there’s more to this film than what I’ve said but I can’t focus on everything from one viewing alone so I may read a bit about it and watch it again before I attempt any further writing.

Edited from letterboxd review, which you can read here.

The Wrath of Khan dir. Nicholas Meyer 1982

“Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most…human.”

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I may not have cried as many times as in TMP but I think the intensity of my crying at Spock sacrificing himself made up for it. The look on Kirk’s face was completely heartbreaking and then, later, his voice breaking just before he choked out ‘human’ in the eulogy. My heart!

This is a really solid, fun sci-fi flick and I can definitely see why it was better received by audiences than TMP (I think I liked TMP a bit better, or maybe just differently). It’s interesting that the conflict is conducted largely at a distance. I don’t think Kirk and Khan came face to face or, if they did, I missed it while I was checking twitter (a habit I’m trying to break). That just stuck out to me.

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There’s a lot of interesting elements (themes and ideas – ageing, for one, comes to mind) to unpack but I spent most of my energy writing about The Motion Picture and I’m still feeling very emotional about the end of this film, so I need a little distance before I think about those. It’s not as though no one else has ever written about it, though.

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Edited from letterboxd review, which you can read here.

The Search for Spock dir. Leonard Nimoy 1984

“If I hadn’t tried, the cost would have been my soul.”

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I enjoyed this slightly less than the first two but it was still great. It’s a film about friendship and how far we’d go for the ones we love. What we’d risk. That sort of thing always appeals to me.

My favourite aspect, aside from Kirk et al risking everything for Spock, was Bones with Spock’s katra – sometimes Bones’s attitude toward Spock frustrates me but beneath it all, it’s obvious he cares deeply for him. Even before he said this to the unconscious Spock, it’s there:

“I’m gonna tell you something that I…never thought I’d ever hear myself say. But it seems I’ve… missed you. And I don’t know if I could stand to lose you again.”

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It was also just fun to see DeForest Kelley acting like Spock but still being Bones at the same time. I can’t remember the exact quote but in the bar he says someone is ‘illogical’ and calls them an ‘idiot’ in the same sentence. That bar was very cool in general (the scene made me think of A New Hope, when Ben and Luke are looking for transport).

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“My father says that you have been my friend. You came back for me.”

The main reason it was slightly less interesting than the first two is because I enjoy it best when Spock and Kirk are together (and Bones, too, of course), even though it’s still a story motivated by those relationships. They seem to be the heart of the series, for me. (And, I know, many others).

It was nice to see Sarek again and to see Vulcan, too. That shot of the ceremony area just before the fal-tor-pan was really beautiful.

I could easily sit through this again (and undoubtedly will) – I just found it a little harder to write about!

Oh, and just in case you were wondering: I cried.

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Edited from my letterboxd review, which you can read here.

I just love these characters and I could spend all the time in the world with them. I am a little apprehensive about watching IV, though, as I’m rather terrified of whales.

The War of the Worlds, 1953

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I feel that I should preface this post with the fact that this was my first ever foray into The War of the Worlds – I’ve not read the book (though I’ve recently read the plot outline on Wikipedia to compare it to this adaptation) nor have I seen/heard any of the many other adaptations…but now I’m intrigued! And I’d like more. First, though, my thoughts on the 1953 version…it might be nice to note that this was the first onscreen adaptation of The War of the Worlds and was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

{NOTE: this review will probably contain spoilers. I figure both the film and story itself are old enough that they may not come as a shock but thought I’d mention it anyway.}

Released in 1953 the film transplants the action of the story from England to southern California. The opening sequence (I didn’t upload any screencaps) shows art by space artist Chesley Bonestell whilst Sir Cedric Hardwicke tells us why martians find that earth is the only planet in our solar system worth their invasion. We are then taken to earth where a meteor crash causes a stir in a small town…

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I was struck right away by the gorgeous colours of my beloved Technicolor and by the stylish cinematography and I wasn’t disappointed by either as the film progressed.
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Gene Barry (swoon!) plays Dr Clayton Forrester a bespectacled (though only for long distance, he assures as he takes his glasses off to get a good look at Ann Robinson) and deliciously stubbled scientist on a fishing trip with some colleagues when the meteor crash occurs. He meets Sylvia Van Buren, played by Ann Robinson, at the site of impact and the two hit it off rather well (Sylvia seems to be quite the fan of Dr Forrester’s work.)

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The scene where three men are keeping watch over the meteor and slowly realise that there is something inside is very well done – I found there was the right amount of tension and loved how their uncertainty and fear morphed into faux-confidence as they approached the Martian meteor waving a white flag before being incinerated by the heat-ray of the Martian war machine.
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The Martians somehow blow out the power of the town (clearly I wasn’t paying attention to every detail…oops) which leads to the discovery of the death of the aforementioned three men and the realisation that the creatures in the meteor are not at all friendly.
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I absolutely loved the use of coloured lighting in this film. From the more subtle use in the top two stills to the saturation of the still of Ann Robinson screaming. As well as being visually beautiful it highlights the unease and er other-worldliness of the events.

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Look, ma, no strings! Well…almost.

The strings on the war machines were quite obvious, as were the scale model sets toward the end of the film but I always feel that that lends to the charm of a film like this, rather than subtracting from it. You’ll have to click through to see the strings properly but they are visible. Other than that, I felt the effects were rather good (they won an Oscar) and liked that there was a conscious effort to avoid the ‘stereotypical’ UFO look. The war machines used by the Martians (which were designed by Al Nozaki) float slowly sending their heat-rays in every direction leaving mayhem, destruction and death in their wake – the wikipedia article on the film describes them as looking like Manta Rays and I think this is an apt description.

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More gorgeous coloured lighting. It reminds me an awful lot of the work of a photographer whose name I currently can’t recall.

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The bar of light across their eyes reminded me of the famous lighting of Bela Lugosi as Dracula. It also seems to highlight the way Ann Robinson’s character constantly deferred to Gene Barry’s as is so typical of most films of this era and other eras, too (the woman deferring to the man’s lead, that is). It’s still a lovely visual effect.

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There is an awful lot of overacting in this film (one IMDB review accused Gene Barry of this alone but I feel Ann Robinson and others were ‘guilty’ of it, too) but just as the visible strings lend to the enjoyment of the film for me, so does the overacting and melodrama. It is also clear that these actors are entirely committed to the film and I feel that when an actor resents being in this type of movie is when overacting, etc., goes from endearing and fitting with the film to being a detraction from its greatness. And that just isn’t the case here. I was a little bothered by the stereotypical hysterical woman vs logical slightly more calm man as it’s almost always the woman who loses her cool whilst the man will just push through it. Of course, I would probably be a complete nervous wreck myself but I don’t feel like that’s the point here. Despite this, she does get through it and I think the events are shown to play on everyone’s nerves. I feel like this area of discussion requires a re-watch on my part.

I do love that Ann Robinson has been in a couple of other things as (Dr) Sylvia Van Duren and that both she and Gene Barry were in the 2005 adaptation (which I’ve not seen) credited as ‘grandmother’ and ‘grandfather’.

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The scientists used a camera part of the Martian’s war machine to see how the Martians could see. I read that George Pal wanted the final third of the film to be shot in 3D to enhance the effects of the Martian’s attack but the plan was scrapped (the visuals in these two shots reminded me of that fact).

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One of the many things I loved about this film (& other similar films) is the descent into panic as the realisation that the Martian war-machines can’t be destroyed by anything humans have to fight them (not even an atomic bomb) – this is shown particularly well in a scene where people are clawing and fighting each other for positions in any vehicle leaving the city that they can find and leave Gene Barry for all but dead as they eject him from his truck. There is little (well, no) camaraderie in this scene and even his shouts telling them that the truck has supplies the scientists need to try to find a way to defeat the invaders go unheard. Funnily enough, when I was screencapping that particular scene this song popped up on my iTunes…rather ironic, I suppose?

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My favourite scene, though, was possibly when Gene Barry, realising that all hope of defeat was lost, frantically searches the city for Ann Robinson knowing she would be in a church somewhere – their reunion, after they’ve pushed their way through the crowds of people, actually brought a tear to my eye. There was something very real and poignant about the way they clung to each other that I feel is not often seen in a film like this.

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However, all hope was not lost as the Martians eventually perished due to their immune systems not being able to handle the bacteria in earth’s atmosphere that humans have built up immunity to over the millennia. I did like that both the initial invasion and eventual demise of the aliens was out of human control (which seems to be true to the original story) as it’s quite different from other sci-fi films I’ve seen from this era and I think it sets it apart (with others such as The Day The Earth Stood Still) from other films that are truly trashy (in the most wonderful way) B-movies and probably why this film and others on a similar level are remembered more than others. I do have a lot of other thoughts about alien invasion films, especially from the cold war era, but I will leave them for another day.

The religious subtext (described as not-too-subtle) added into the film did irk me a little (the Martians begin to die after attacking a church and the bacteria is implied to be an act of god by the narrator) as I personally felt it was unnecessary but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film and the architecture of the churches did make for some fairly nice scenery so I suppose it was just a minor issue for me.

Has anyone else seen it? What did you think? If you haven’t, have I made you want to see this film?

Oh, and I found this review on the NY Times website that was written when the film was first released – I always love to read movie reviews contemporary to the film in question as a different perspective.