Week 13 of 2019 (3/25 – 3/31)

Amelia 2.0
3/27Atlantic Rim: Resurrection2018
3/28Moontrap: Target Earth2017
3/29In The Loop2009
3/31Harry Brown2009

March 25

Day 84 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! It’s another double-feature day today. These two movies I picked because I have friends in sizable roles in both. By sheer coincidence, they’re both also sci-fi films.

The first is 2015’s Alistair1918, about a British WW1 soldier who finds himself transported to modern day Los Angeles, where a small documentary crew films him as they try to help him figure out how to get home. The second was 2017’s Amelia 2.0, about a dying woman whose mind gets transplanted into a robotic replica and the moral implications of that decision.

Alistair1918 has a really solid premise and I enjoyed it for the most part. There are some definite flaws, mostly due to the movie’s tiny budget. Good performances from: Guy Birtwhistle (who also wrote the script) as Alistair, our erstwhile solider; Annie K. McVey as our documentary director (who also directed the actual film); and my friend Amy Motta as a French theoretical physicist who has a plan that could send Alistair home.

The whole film is shot like a documentary, which almost borders on the “found footage” genre that I despise, but thankfully never quite goes there. It’s a good film and with a larger budget (esp. for visual FX) and some minor tweaks to the script, this would be an amazing feature film. I don’t have a whole lot more to write about this one because it’s fairly straightforward.

Amelia 2.0 also has an interesting premise: where do we draw the line as to what is human? What is memory and does it tie to a human soul? It’s an interesting film to explore that. Set in the near-future, it centers around Amelia, a schoolteacher who ends up in a near-vegetative state after an aneurysm. Her husband Carter turns to a tech company that is experimenting with putting human intelligence into artificial bodies.

What’s interesting about the film is that they don’t really skip the problems in her redevelopment after this transfer. Integrating biological and technological pieces, especially with something as complex and mysterious as the human mind, has tremendous challenges.

Angela Billman reprises her role as Amelia from the stage production this movie is based on, and does a terrific job with the exploration of having to learn things all over again and rediscovering who she is. My other friend Ben Whitehair is gripping as her husband Carter, and we get to watch him unravel a bit as the film goes on and he gets all turned around by conflicting opinions about his wife, even starting to doubt if she’s real or not. They are backed up by Ed Begley Jr. as the visionary owner of the company, Kate Vernon & Eddie Jemison as the scientists who built the program, and veteran character actor Chris Ellis as a US Senator fighting to pass laws to stop this technology from getting out into the world. The whole thing is very Kurt Vonnegut-like in its approach and the ending as well.

I can definitely recommend seeing both movies, and not just to give my friends an additional boost. They are actually solid pieces of science fiction and should be on your list of films to see if you’re looking for time travel drama (Alistair1918) or more philosophical works on humanity and transhumanity (Amelia 2.0).

March 26

Day 85 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s film is 2016’s LBJ, one of two movies about President Johnson that year. Woody Harrelson portrays Johnson during his the end of his time in the Senate, getting tapped for Kennedy’s VP and his rough relationship with Bobby Kennedy. It also covers his first days as President after JFK’s assassination.

This film, another solid work by Rob Reiner, is light on its feet. The surprisingly short runtime of the movie leaves little time to get into major depth on anything. As it intercuts a lot of bits, there are time jumps from that fateful day in Dallas, to Johnson deciding to run against Kennedy in 1960 for the Democratic nomination, to getting tapped for VP by JFK over Booby’s objections. The back half of the movie (after they show the assassination of JFK) shows LBJ adjusting to his new role and deciding to spurn old friends to carry on Kennedy’s legacy and get civil rights passed, which he did in less than a year.

It doesn’t cover a lot of ground, as it looks like they left the rest of Johnson’s presidency to the movie All the Way, starring Bryan Cranston as LBJ, which was released by HBO that same year. (Harrelson actually got advice from Cranston on how to portray the man, as Cranston had already done the research for the Broadway stage production of All the Way). The HBO film also runs over a half-hour longer, focusing mainly on the three highlights of his presidency, listed only as text on the screen at the end of LBJ. If you haven’t seen either, it might be interesting to watch them both together and compare the two portrayals or simply to see the breadth of LBJ’s presidency played out on screen. You could also read Robert Caro’s series of books on Johnson’s life as prelude, as the final book in the series has not yet been finished as of this writing.

March 27

Day 86 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today we step back into the abyss, or the Asylum, if you will, for our film Atlantic Rim: Resurrection, released in 2018. Much like the Transmorphers movies we’ve seen in the past month, this is an Asylum-produced mockbuster where giant piloted robots fight monsters from the depths of the ocean. It’s a sequel to the 2013 film of the same name (minus the “Resurrection”).

Don’t worry, you don’t need to have seen the first one in this series. This sequel recaps it nicely and it’s just as painful to watch as the original. The VFX in this film were a little bit better, as cheap CGI has improved over time. Oddly enough, the movie takes place in L.A., but obviously they can’t call it Pacific Rim because a) it’s a sequel and b) lawsuits. If bad movies are your thing (as they are for me, sometimes), then you’ve got another winner here!

March 28

Day 87 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s film is 2017’s Moontrap: Target Earth. A woman starts having strange dreams and is pulled into a shadow conspiracy when called in to help decipher a mysterious artifact found underground.

This movie is either a remake of or a sequel to the 1989 film Moontrap, which starred Walter Koenig & Bruce Campbell (and that I actually like). It’s hard to tell which it is. This does have the same director and screenwriter as the original, as well as obviously the name. My guess, based on my vast 30 seconds of research, is that it was a semi-remake based on an unmade sequel script that was supposed to involve the planet Mars but was rewritten to involve the Moon.

Actress Sarah Butler actually does a pretty good job in the lead role, as does Charles Shaughnessy (who I suspect was a lot of the budget for this movie) as the villain of the story. I feel like they were hampered by a mediocre, rather “out there” script and absolutely terrible dialogue. I could almost excuse the bad CGI as well, given the micro-budget (at least, I imagine, compared to the original… no budget details found for either one) that they shot on. I’m not 100% certain that the scientists at the beginning weren’t just on a bare sound stage… I think my favorite part of the film was kind of at the climax. There was a sequence with almost no dialogue that I actually really liked and was performed really well. And then people started talking again.

Again, much like yesterday’s schlockfest, if you like bad movies, this is a winner. If not, skip this one and track down the original* (now 30 years old!). It’s no Oscar-winner either, but it feels like they more effectively used what budget they had, plus they had a far more coherent script and two decent actors in the lead roles.

*I’m not going to say you can find the original Moontrap online somewhere… I’m also not NOT saying you can find this online somewhere, like a certain site that rhymes with “hue cube”… totally not.

March 29

Day 88 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s film is based on a TV series and it’s 2009’s In The Loop from Veep creator Armando Iannucci and based on his BBC series The Thick of It.

We see the story largely from the point of view of Toby Wright (Chris Addison), a young new advisor to a Cabinet Minister (Tom Hollander) as the US and UK appear to be debating going to war, and our central characters are mostly trying to stop it. A lot of them are terribly inept, though, and hilarity ensues.

I haven’t seen the series this is (loosely) based on, but I think I’ll check it now… Veep, too. It has a similar feel to something like The Office (the original UK version), where you essentially have a workplace comedy in which the humor is very subtle and mostly just comes from awkwardness. Hollander is great as Minister Simon Foster, who is ostensibly against the war, but is more interested in his career and tends to be the one to put his foot in his mouth publicly more often than not. Peter Capaldi is amazing as the incredibly foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker, communications director for the Prime Minister, who is trying to keep Foster in line while at the same time bristling at the pushiness of the Americans in trying to make the war happen with a UN vote.

Overall, it’s a very subtle satire… possibly a little too subtle. The first time I tried to watch this a few years back, I turned it off because it didn’t connect with me. This time, it did at least a little bit, thanks largely to my watching Capaldi’s run on Doctor Who and gaining an appreciation for his skill as an actor. There’s a sequence right near the climax of the movie where you see him politically backed into a corner. The camera is in a close-up on his face… and that moment is all in the eyes. It’s not a grandiose movement, but you can see the idea click into place. Brilliant and that one moment made the whole movie worth it to me.

March 30

Day 89 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s film is 2016’s Allied, a World War II film from Robert Zemeckis. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star as spies who fall in love and marry after a harrowing mission. Their wartime life in London is thrown into doubt when she is suspected of spying on him.

I’m a sucker for just about any movie set in WWII, and that is no exception. It looks terrific, from the pre-invasion period of Casablanca (evoking thoughts of the 1942 classic) to the bombed-out streets of late-war London. The plot itself is suspenseful enough to keep my attention through the whole thing, which is always good. Pitt and Cotillard are engaging for the most part, although there are scenes that unfortunately feel flat and lacking chemistry. But the suspense keeps that in the background as the story moves at a decent pace, even with only a few heavy action scenes. I really enjoyed the movie.

March 31

Day 90 of the 2019 Movie Challenge! Today’s movie is the 2009 film Harry Brown, with Michael Caine in the title role.

Basically, it’s a British version of Death Wish. A gang of hooligans beat up and kill his best friend, and Harry decides to take the law into his own hands. Unlike Charles Bronson’s (or Bruce Willis, in the remake) character in Death Wish, old Harry’s got a background as a Royal Marine and uses that to great advantage.

Michael Caine gives another completely engrossing performance as this aging ex-soldier who just gets fed up with his situation and does something about it. I’m not condoning it, by any stretch of reality, but for a work of fiction it has a nice impact. Again, if you’ve already seen the original Death Wish, a lot of this will seem like familiar territory. But it’s worth watching primarily for Caine’s work.

So, with this week finished (today, specifically), we’re officially a quarter of the way through this year-long challenge! I have to say it has gone by very quickly, as most of the days do of late.

So what have I learned so far in undertaking this challenge? Well, I’d say the following has held true:

  • I watch much less TV as a whole, which I had to do in order to make time for a full film every day. But it is a good habit in general as I was watching waaay too much TV every day.
  • Some days, prior planning is crucial to make sure I block out time to watch something. There have been a couple of days where I didn’t watch a film while at my day job (thanks to them for allowing me the privilege to do so!) and had a bunch of other activities running late into the evening. I ended up staying up late to watch something (usually a shorter documentary) so that I could post every day.
  • Some Sundays, when updating this blog, I just don’t have a damn thing to say about the week. And I give myself permission to just post the list for the week and move on.
  • This movie challenge has not kept me from doing other things. I’ve made sure that other commitments take priority. Thankfully, being able to watch stuff at work on my iPad has made it easier. that also gives me the benefit of limiting my choices of what to watch that day, so I don’t try to skip something that looks terrible (see Wed & Thurs in the list above).
  • This is really far more of a low-impact challenge than I expected. Not that it’s not challenging in terms of time management, because I committed to doing this every single day.
  • I’m definitely older than I feel. I keep forgetting that some of these movies I’ve seen came out in my teens… THIRTY F**KING YEARS AGO.

Anyway, we shall plug on with this challenge. You never know exactly what changes will come down the line. Right now, I anticipate the biggest challenge ahead will be Labor Day weekend, when DragonCon lands on this city. Since I had a ball last year all 5 days, I plan to do it again. I’ll just have to be extra meticulous in planning… and maybe take in part of the film festival or partake of the 24-hour video room while enjoying that weekend…