Tag Archives: Films

Popcorned: Coming this summer, it’s the End of the World!

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-Casey Klekas

Why is “the end of the world” the lowest common denominator of Hollywood’s latest blockbusters? Probably because we have a healthy obsession with art’s apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian genre. This is not because we live in a so-called “culture of fear,” but because this genre allows us to view our society through retrospective lenses and, in so doing, we gain a unique understanding of the problems at present, illuminated by existential threats to humanity, or the eventual consequences of current practices. They offer a glimpse down the road which might prompt us to ask Siri to plot us a new destination.

After Earth is a film about a father and son (Will and Jaden Smith, no kidding) who crash land on a future, inhospitable mother Earth. For a while, I got this confused with Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, which is also about the return to a has-been home for humans. Not to be mistaken for Elysium, where a super wealthy minority prospers in a remote community (a wheel-like space habitat known as a Stanford Torus, also known to many from the video game HALO) while the earth is overpopulated with poverty and crime.

Apocalypse movies, such as 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Terminator 3, and War of the Worlds all show the recognizable world coming to an end, either through natural (possibly human-induced) disaster, nuclear holocaust, the take over of machines, and/or alien invasion. This group actually shows the end of the world, even if humans eventually adapt and prevail. Two upcoming films that focus on Judgment Day are This is the End, starring comedy’s front men Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and Michael Cera; the other is Pacific Rim about an alien invasion via a wormhole beneath the Pacific Ocean.

Post-apocalypse movies, on the other hand, may show some of the initial disaster, but are mostly focused on what comes after, how societies rebuild, adapt, or struggle to survive. Some are focused on the handful of isolated survivors, like I am Legend, The Postman, and The Road.  Others might show a revived humanity that has endured disasters and taken to rebuilding civilization or else has fled from the surface of the Earth completely (some go below, like the Eloi in The Time Machine, others take to the sky, like in WALL-E, After Earth, Oblivion, and Elysium).

A further category is the dystopian, where society undergoes a profound and often final transformation that we as viewers find morally repugnant. These “end of history” scenarios may come about by natural human progression, or are brought on by devastating wars or as the result of a novel political movement. Normally, some kind of resistance movement develops which we see quashed or succeed. I’d mention the Hunger Games, but I’ve neither seen the movie nor read the books. I should, I know.

So, why do we like this genre so much? Because it tells us about our own time much better than we often can see. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, don’t they say? Most dystopian/apocalypse/post-apocalypse movies, books, and TV shows mythologize the past (our present). They either show a lost paradise, or a reckless people who brought about the world’s end, or something of a combination.

At a very base level, this genre challenges our infinitude. Many suggest that humans cannot be stamped out, that we will evolve whatever the circumstances, such as Kevin “Gills” Costner in Waterworld. Others show simply that the future is up for grabs. You might be more persuaded by Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future, a world full of self-gratification and devoid of meaning. Or you could stick with Orwell and worry that humanity might end up enslaving itself, that “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on the human face—forever.”

Here’s a list of major films that have, are, or will soon hit the theaters: Oblivion, released April 19; The Colony, April 26; M. Night Shyamalan’s After Earth, on May 31; Some levity on June 12 with This is the End; On June 21, Brad Pitt fights zombies in World War Z; Find out what lies beneath the pacific on July 12 with Pacific Rim; Watch the undead be bloody bludgeoned by the incomprehensible west Londoners in Cockney’s vs. Zombies; on August 9 see Matt Damon take on the world’s super rich (including Jodie Foster) in their secluded, serene spacewheel in Elysium, directed by District 9’s Neill Blomkamp; and, on August 23, finish this summer with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as they push through zombies on the way to the pub in The World’s End. (This is the same duo that gave us Shaun of the Dead, quite easily my favorite zombie film, and certainly the best comedy on the undead).

Image from http://www.oblivionmovie2013.com/

Popcorned: The Submarine On The Big Screen

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-Casey Klekas

Last time, I discussed a brief episode I had inside an old Soviet submarine that was docked as a tourist trap in Hamburg, Germany. While my experience taught me the meaning of the term claustrophobic, it has not quelled my thirst for submarine movies. In fact, it has given me a new love and understanding of the entire genre. These films combine all the best elements of war movies, spy movies, and apocalypse movies. As a bonus, at least one side of the match is normally the Soviets or the Nazis.

Submarine movies are choc full of mutinies. Take Crimson Tide: this time a mutiny takes place aboard a nuclear submarine. Its star-studded cast includes Gene Hackman, Denzel Washington, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, and even the film debut of Ryan Phillippe. The crew of the USS Alabama are put on high alert as a band of old Stalinist rebels have taken hold of a nuclear missile silo in Russia, as well as a few attack submarines, and then threaten a missile launch at the United States. Harvard grad and closet pacifist, First Officer (Washington) takes on old-timey captain of the boat (Hackman) in a duel that holds the fate of the world in its hands (when the order comes in authorizing the release of nuclear weapons).

We see another mutinous plot combined with the threat of apocalypse in K-19: The Widowmaker, which is inspired by the true story of the Soviet Union’s first nuclear powered submarine. In this film directed by Kathryn Bigalow (Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), fatal accidents and mechanical failures plague a hastily built boat and a worrying crew. The nuclear reactor has a malfunction, and unless the crew can fix the coolant leak, the crippled ship will become an atom bomb. This will destroy a NATO base and US destroyer nearby, which, as it’s set in 1961, would be the only light needed to send the very hot Cold War into a nuclear holocaust. The ship was never fitted with radiation suits, meaning those sent into the reactor room die horribly from radiation sickness. In fact, the entire ship is irradiated. Yet Captain Harrison Ford will not submit to First Officer Liam Neeson’s request of scuttling the ship or requesting help from the Americans. Mutiny and apocalypse! The true story of the submarine K-19, kept secret until Glasnost and the fall of the Soviet Union, records that all eight sailors sent in to fix the reactor room died of radiation poisoning within a few days. Within the next two years, fourteen more would follow. The other 117 onboard would be plagued with illness for the rest of their lives due to exposure to high levels of radiation. My only real complaint about the movie is that the actors all speak English with a Russian accent, which makes absolutely no sense.

Other great submarine movies include U-571, starring Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton, and Harvey Keitel. This film follows the quest to turn the tide of the WWII in favor of the allies by capturing the famous Enigma typewriter, a codifying keyboard used by the Nazis to encrypt messages.

Speaking of Germans, how can we forget the 1981 classic, Das Boot. Directed by Wolfgang Peterson, Das Boot follows shows WWII from the perspective of a German periscope. The famous German U-boats, or Unterseeboot (literally “undersea boat”), dogged English and American ships in the Atlantic, and in this film (the theatrical cut is 149 minutes, but other cuts are close to five hours long) we follow one crew through the thunderous silence of avoiding detection and depth charges, the explosive barrels sent to the deep from the Allied ships above.

But, my favorite submarine movie is The Hunt For Red October, a story based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name about a new Soviet submarine that with a new, ultra quiet propulsion system could sneak into the Hudson River and destroy America with no warning or chance at retaliation—a “first strike weapon.” Sean Connery plays Captain Marko Ramius who attempts to turn the Red October, the new submarine, over to the Americans. Alec Baldwin plays Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who makes contact with the Russian captain against the efforts of his skeptical superiors. The script is a masterpiece and the acting is superb. By a wide margin, I can safely say that I have seen The Hunt for Red October more times than any other film of any genre.

Jeffrey Jones (you know him as Principal Edward Rooney) plays Skip Tyler, a retired sub captain turned shipbuilder who advises Jack Ryan on smuggled pictures of the Red October. Speaking on the nature of ballistic submarines he says, “When I was twelve, I helped my Daddy build a bomb shelter in our basement, because some damn fool parked a dozen warheads ninety miles off the coast of Florida. This thing [the Red October] could park a coupla’ hundred warheads off Washington or New York and no one would know anything about it until it was all over.” I think this is what I find so gosh darn alluring about submarines and their Hollywood imitations. Of course, a submarine movie need not be so grave (see Down Periscope), but generally their drama comes from the fact that their setting and content is so deadly serious.

I remember in seventh grade, my science teacher was telling the class about nuclear weapons and she mentioned the US submarine fleet having the capacity of destroying most of the world’s major cities. We have eighteen Ohio-class submarines and each carries twenty-four nuclear warheads (432 total, if my math and sources are correct). One of my classmates had a panic attack and her mother was called in to feed her some sedatives.

Of all the films I’ve mentioned, Crimson Tide and The Hunt for Red October should be on everyone’s Instant Queue, although only the latter is currently available on Netflix. I can’t really square my healthy obsession with these films with the fact that I couldn’t muster five minutes in even a museumed version of one of these boats. But, I recommend you try all of the above and see if you don’t sink to the hull crushing depths of my sub-mania.

Popcorned: New Wes Anderson Movie! (Hopefully it’s R-rated)

“Popcorned” is a weekly entertainment blog by Casey Klekas. Rambling from movies to television, from healthy obsessions to shades-drawn, mustard on the collar Netflix binges, Popcorned is a lighthearted, heavy-minded commentary on the shows you’ve missed, the ones you should look forward to, and the ones you should never give a chance.

-Casey Klekas

If you’re a Wes Anderson fan, you can think of your favorite of his films before I finish this sentence. The candidates are, in chronological order: Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), and Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Of course, it isn’t necessary to choose a favorite, although it is easier to do that than to choose the best.

If you were to ask me on Tuesday, “Hey, what’s your favorite Wes Anderson movie, cuz?” without an upward-looking moment of hesitation, I’d say, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” If you were to ask me on Wednesday, I might go with The Darjeeling Limited. But, after just finishing that film for the nth time, I feel as if one should never have a favorite Wes Anderson film because you will constantly be weighing them against each other. Instead of enjoying the long shots of ten different scenes between twenty different characters, you’ll be rating one dysfunctional family, the Tenenbaums, against another, the Whitmans or the Bishops. (Bill Murray’s first name in Moonrise Kingdom is Walt; his last name in The Darjeeling Limited is Whitman. Actually, his ten-second character is known as “the businessman,” but I always think he’s the dead father of Jack, Peter, and Francis. Be on the lookout for further tributes to Walt Whitman).

Perhaps your favorite W. A. film is Fantastic Mr. Fox. Hear me, dear Reader, ye who find this film to be your least of faves. I swear on the soles of the Zissou specials—“These are great!”—that a friend named Spike did claim that very film as his most dear. The first time I saw the film, I admit, I did not stop laughing a most unnaturally induced laugh through at least sixty-three of the eighty-seven minutes. After all, it was my birthday! But I have since reviewed it. Let’s not force it into a hierarchy. I love it. I’m just not that attached to it.

His most recent film, Moonrise Kingdom, was Anderson’s first collaboration with actor Edward Norton. (In an interview with The Guardian, Norton revealed that on the set of Fight Club, he and his co-star Brad Pitt were obsessed with Anderson’s first film Bottle Rocket so much so that they tried to slip a few homages into their own film. One success was when Pitt climbs over barbed wire to steal liposuctioned fat for homemade soap brewing. Here, he caws for Norton to follow, just like Owen Wilson does to his brother Luke during Bottle Rocket’s well-planned heists.) Anyway, this film, though charming and characteristically Wes-Andersonian, still feels like it’s missing something.

Anderson’s upcoming film is called The Grand Budapest Hotel. It includes his usual comrades—Murray, Wilson 1, and Schwartzman—but also some new faces like Jude Law and Ralph Fiennes (don’t know how to pronounce that). The story is set in the 1920s, a great start, and involves friendships, heists, and family fortunes like all good Wes Anderson films.

This brings me to explain why I brought up Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom and why they aren’t even contenders for my favorite Wes Anderson film. Of all of Wes Anderson’s films, only the last two have escaped an “R” rating by the good people at the Motion Picture Association of America (Mr. Fox is PG while Moonrise is PG-13). Again, I love both of these films dearly, but I do not connect with them like I do with his other pictures. Often what is so delightful about Anderson films is that adults, like Bill Murray in Rushmore or Gene Hackman in Tenenbaums, act like children. I wouldn’t argue that there wasn’t any of that in the last two films. I guess I just miss the drug use, sex, and even the curse words in his other films. I miss the grown-up relationships, like the near incestual one between Margot and Richie Tenenbaum. Or the bags of pain killers and muscle relaxers that fuel the Whitman boys on their spiritual journey through India. And the cigarettes! How can you have a true Wes Anderson film without cigarettes? Eli Cash on mescaline. Francis Whitman and Sweet Lime Rita in the Darjeeling’s bathroom. Steve Zissou on the unresponsive albino dolphins accompanying the Belafonte—“Son of a B!*#%, I’m sick of these dolphins.”

So, I suppose all I’m really saying is that I hope Anderson’s next film is rated R for all the glorious reasons his first five were deemed inappropriate for unaccompanied minors. Bring back the debauchery, Wes! It’s why I fell in love with you—er, your films and stuff.