Everest

2015 | dir: Baltasar Kormákur | 121 m

Everest wound up being an incredibly refreshing breath of cinematic fresh air I didn't know I needed. After recently watching some pretty heavy films like Hereditary and Midsommar, Everest was exactly what I needed to clear my palate. It didn't necessarily rise to the top of my all-time favourite movies, but there was something refreshingly earnest about its approach to the disaster movie genre. There were no explosions, natural disasters, evil corporations, or any human antagonists of any variety. Everest simply tells (or tells simply) the story of a disastrous expedition to the summit of the most famous mountain in the world, the highest point on earth at the top of Mount Everest. Up until things go completely sideways - which because this is based on a true story, the audience is expecting the other shoe to drop at some point - proceedings seem to be going quite swimmingly. Which tends to be the way things seem until they don't, I suppose, and the movie does an excellent job at conveying this sense of normalcy. I hesitate to say Everest fosters a sense of complacency, because a huge part of conflict of the film comes from the well-intentioned though ultimately disastrous misprioritizing of other concerns over safety and not a disregard of safety entirely.

The movie does give a sense of how mundane the scaling of Mount Everest seems to have become, in the sense that climbing the famous mountain has been corporatized to a large extent, with a cottage industry of climbing/adventuring companies apparently regularly trekking to the peak with groups of climbers of varying degrees of experience. The impression I got from the movie was that Mount Everest had effectively been franchised and divvied up among these different companies to the point that I couldn't help but immediately think of corporations like McDonalds or Starbucks. I was actually kind of surprised - and a little disappointed - that they didn't at least flash a Starbucks coffee cup or a Big Mac wrapper just to really drive the point home. There was a clear thematic underpinning of the classic clash between the civilized and natural realms, shown through a clearly modern lens where the corporate, ultra-capitalistic gaze sees the world only in terms of what can be bought, sold, commoditized, and/or consumed. It's not even necessarily that the small companies leading groups of tourists to the top of Mount Everest where directly part of that corporate culture, but that the programming from the corporate machine has worked its way into the social source code.

Resident Evil

2002 | dir: Paul WS Anderson | 100 m

I was roughly fifteen years old when the first Resident Evil game appeared on the Playstation and feeding off the hype of a heavy diet of gaming magazines, I was quick to run out and rent the title to see what the fuss was all about. This wasn’t my introduction to survival horror – that had come in Alone in the Dark on the PC – but it was a giant leap forward and ultimately, not a game that I could really get into. I ignored the first three games but absolutely fell in love with the fourth title, which served as a retooling of the series with the advent of an entirely new gameplay structure and embracing more of the shooter aspect of survival horror. With that being said, I can’t pretend to know anything about the series, including any of the characters or the lore of the world that’s been built up for so long. I approach these films as a bit of an outsider, but my gamer roots and knowledge are not entirely forgotten.

Resident Evil has seen live action films over the course of fourteen years, which I find astounding and I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember which ones I’ve seen. Are they that forgettable? On the other hand, Paul WS Anderson and Mila Jovovich have been involved with each film, which must say something (even if it’s just that the films remain profitable).

With a tiny bit of trepidation in revisiting the first Resident Evil movie, I never thought that my main gripe with the film – eighteen years later – would be the film’s soundtrack of heavy rock and metal. While the music and score fit the film just fine, I’ve found my musical tastes have strayed quite far from the genre and served as a firm reminder of the year this film came out. I never minded this entry in the series and have typically regarded it as the best of the bunch: I like the tight corridors and claustrophobic rooms as a setting for being terrorized by not only a group of zombies, but a genetic monstrosity that acts with unflinching motivation. Knowing our group is stuck hundreds of feet underground only adds to the tension: there’s no easy escape.

There’s more silliness in the film than I had remembered, including the flashbacks and much of the dialog, but the story is simple and the action scenes good enough that I walked away feeling satisfied. Without being close to the original games, I won’t pretend to pass judgement on the quality of the adaptation, but I must see this as a victory for “video game movies” in general. What other video game series of films have seen so many sequels?

Palm Springs

2020 | dir: Max Barbakow | 90 m

For someone who grew up idolizing Groundhog Day, I had a hefty built-in nostalgia-fueled skepticism of a modern time loop film that could do anything truly innovative or unique with the genre. Palm Springs upends my pessimistic attitude and blew me away: from the moment I saw the trailer a few weeks ago, through watching the film to the mid-credits stinger, I was completely hooked on this time defying romantic comedy. With a stellar script by Andy Siara, Palm Springs follows Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) as they are seemingly stuck reliving the same day over, and over, and over again. While that seems like familiar territory, the film elevates itself above being a simple clone or rip-off with some fantastic characters and gigantic heart, as well as an acute self-awareness. Indeed, I felt like the film was speaking directly to me – a viewer who is well familiar with the Groundhog Day time loop trope – and indulging in all the meta-topics that friends would discuss about various ramifications of the time-loop mechanic that was established nearly thirty years later.

Such a good script wouldn’t have resulted in such an engaging film without the chemistry of the two leads, and I’m happy to see that Samberg and Milioti bounce off one another brilliantly. I’m liking Samberg in pretty much everything he does, which for some (unfair) reason surprises me with every turn. I restarted watching Saturday Night Live for The Lonely Island’s contributions, and I thoroughly enjoyed 2016’s Popstar. He’s proving himself as a dynamic comedic talent continuously with Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I fell in love with Milioti in The Wolf of Wall Street and her various appearances in great television like Fargo and the more recent Mythic Quest (and I guess How I Met Your Mother). It’s impossible to not get lost in those eyes. Their characters are interesting, layered and sympathetic. I would go into a few examples but wouldn’t want to spoil any moments of the film; it’s pretty short at just ninety minutes and with that kind of runtime, there’s very little waste to be seen on screen, which should make revisiting the film that much more appealing.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing what this group will bring next. 4.5 / 5

Iron Man

 2008 | dir: Jon Favreau | 126 m

What better way to start a new series of posts about Marvel movies than the film that launched an entire cinematic universe and arguably changed the landscape of the modern blockbuster. That film is 2008’s Iron Man, starring a pretty stellar cast led by Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrance Howard all directed by Jon Favreau in one of the best superhero origin films we’ve ever seen. While you can credit the film for launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film doesn’t focus on that future groundwork and is stronger for it. I can’t imagine that idea being anything but a dream at that point with just a tiny sprinkling of this universe building present in the movie (and of course the juicy post-credits scene). Instead, the film excels because it’s so tightly focused on giving us a grounded origin of an iconic, interesting character and utilizing the talented crew and actors to provide a film with broad appeal that executes blending together an incredible concoction of action, humour and drama.  

Starship Troopers - Series Adventure

Starship Troopers seems to be a somewhat divisive film, equally hated and loved with people falling onto one side or the other on their acceptance that the film is satirical in nature, and yes, it’s supposed to be a bit cheesy. I went to see this film with a group of friends in high school and fell in love immediately. The over-the-top and fascist imagery was not lost on me at the time, but I certainly appreciated the b-movie aspects of the film on a literal level as I watched the mobile infantry battle larger than life bugs in true sci-fi fashion. Backed with a large budget and competent directing from Paul Verhoeven, Starship Troopers wowed me with its depictions of a supposed perfect society that features gender equality but is also knee deep in military rule.  

Seven years after Starship Troopers hit the theatres, it received two live-action, direct to home video sequel. Hero of the Federation was directed by Phil Tippett (famous for his groundbreaking special effects in film) and Marauder was directed by Ed Neumeier (who wrote the all the movies to date). As it goes, I probably dismissed the films when they came out and didn’t think much of them, although I was always intrigued and fascinated when I saw box sets of a CGI television series in my routine DVD and bluray hunts and my curiosity was further piqued with not just one, but two CGI animated movies hitting in 2012 and most recently in 2017. 

With five movies out in the wild, I revisited the 1997 original film and undertook the goal of watching all the sequels on a one-per-week basis.  

Collector's Corner: Predestination

If you're a fan of time travel in film, there are certain movies that are required viewing; Predestination is one of those movies. Watching Predestination for the first time a couple years back, it was the cinematic equivalent of love at first sight. As a testament to how much I love this film, this will be one of the rare articles I write that is completely spoiler free, because this is one of those movies that I hope people are able to experience as clean as possible the first time. It's not that I think that spoilers "ruin" movies per se, but some movies definitely benefit more from going in with fresh eyes, and Predestination definitely falls into this category. I knew that this was going to be one of those go-to movies when I was in the mood for a film about time travel. Based on a short story from 1959 called "All You Zombies" by Robert A. Heinlein, Predestination is a perfectly constructed, tightly-paced movie that has one of the best implementations of time travel that has ever been put to film.

Time travel is a hard thing to get right in terms of the logic of how things work out and the paradoxes that result. There are some films like Back to the Future or Terminator 2 that are just so good, that audiences can ignore the minor discrepancies in the actual mechanics of time travel. There are other films like Looper and Avengers: Endgame that address the confusion resulting from time travel head on and use a meta-handwave to essentially focus less on the mechanics and more on the story that time travel makes possible. There are some films like About Time and Frequency that just clearly have no intention of trying to address the logical paradoxes that may result from time travel, and use it purely as a plot device. Then there are films like Predestination that - like the greatest time travel film of all time, Primer - don't have to worry about addressing incongruities, because the mechanics of time travel actually follow logically, and there's nothing to ignore or handwave.

Battle Royale

2000 | dir: Kinji Fukasaku | 113 m

Battle Royale is perhaps the best film about teenagers killing each other for sport ever made. Granted, that's a pretty small pool of movies. Or at least, I hope it is. Normally, I would do a Google search for this kind of thing, but with my browser history the way it is, searching for "movies about children killing each other" might just be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back and earns me an impromptu visit from the FBI in the middle of the night. Originally released in 2000, it would take another twelve years for Battle Royale to be released in North America, likely owing more to discussions over film rights than the more romantic notion of the film being banned because it was so provocative and powerful. Battle Royale is both provocative and powerful, but it definitely did not unite world governments to spend any amount of time and effort to actively ban its distribution en masse. This decision is much to their own detriment, however, as Battle Royale is also a truly subversive film, calling into question the shifting nature of the relationship societies have with their young people, what it means to be both a child and an adult in a modern world, and exactly what is the nature and power of the social bonds between human beings. It also calls into question the amount of blood contained in the human body, because if the characters in this movie are any indication, we are essentially walking balloons filled to the breaking point with blood ready to be popped.

Man of Steel

2013 | dir: Zack Snyder | 143 m

Sometimes, things in life have a way of working out, but not without a little dedication and investment. Nearly a decade ago, I began tracking every movie I watched, and although I was reluctant to give the films a proper rating, I did so anyway. Just before DC released Man of Steel, I created an account on IMDb (then shortly afterward on Letterboxd) and started tracking these films, giving them a basic rating – which is, and maybe always has been, a gut-reaction number I assign the film twenty-four hours after seeing it – and went on my merry way. Seeing my watch history of Man of Steel makes me curious if it was one of the first films that spurred me to record the films I watch and realize my long-thought-of goal to analyze any particular movie to see if it gets better, or worse, with time. This was a project that I had played around with before, but I was able to fully realize it with the tracking capabilities of Letterboxd. Indeed, I can click on Man of Steel and see that it’s been logged (i.e., watched) three times since June of 2013:

June 25, 2013: 3.5 / 5 

December 1, 2013: 2.5 / 5 

June 11, 2014: 3 / 5 

Within twelve months, I experienced a ride on a slow-moving roller coaster of mediocrity in terms of my feelings for Man of Steel, but I ended my run at a lower tier than my first viewing. What went wrong?