Sunday, August 15, 2010

13 Things You Should Watch (But Probably Haven't) Part 1

I was going to do this in one post. Then I remembered how wordy I am and how much I don't like it when bloggers go on and on in their posts. So I decided that if I'm going to do lists of any description, I need to break them up. So, for the next few weeks, you lucky people get to hear me ramble at length about obscure and underrated TV and movies!

I have a terrible time ranking things if I have to make more than three choices. So, I'm going to list these alphabetically. It's not so much a ranking as just a list with a little description. Not all of them are genre-related, but most are.

These movies and shows are not without flaws. They're simply not well known; underrated; unfairly maligned; or ignored in favor of inferior works that are similar in theme; etc. Do they qualify as masterpieces or "the best ever" in their categories? Not necessarily. Watch them anyway.

Aeon Flux (The movie)
Yes, that's right. I'm going to jump right in with the sharks. You remember Aeon Flux? I'm sure you do if you were a teenager in the early 90s like I was. Fans of the original cartoon largely panned the film, and animator Peter Chung denounced it. I can understand why. The film pretty much ignored what continuity there was in the six-part animated serial. The story, visual style, and tone of the film are very different as well.

Do I have a problem with that? In theory, yes. This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy about certain other "re-imaginings" out there.

So, why am I recommending that my readers watch Aeon Flux? Because it's visually stunning. It's one of maybe four post-apocalyptic anything that I've enjoyed. The concepts it explores are a lot more thought-provoking and interesting than anything I remember from the MTV cartoon. (Although I will admit, I haven't seen the episodes in the last ten years.) Finally, it was the first time I was ever impressed with Charlize Theron.

Watching Aeon Flux as anything other than a stand along story is not going to work. It can't be viewed as a remake or even a derivative story of the cartoon. However, it is worthy of more attention than it's ever likely to get.

Brotherhood of The Wolf
I was first introduced to this movie back in 2006 by my friend and collaborator, Natacha Guyot. I've lost track of how many times I've watched it since then. It's a French film, directed by Christophe Gans and starring Sameul Le Bihan as Grégoire de Fronsac, a royal taxidermist sent to investigate a series of animal attacks in the province of Gévaudan. Folklore and history geeks will no doubt pick up on the reference. The film is based loosely around the legendary "Beast of Gévaudan." I enjoy it too much to spoil the plot, but let me say that it's one of the most inventive genre films I've seen in a long time. It incorporates elements from all kinds of things--from fantasy and horror to political thriller to romance and erotica (though not a distasteful or graphic manner.) With this many ingredients, the movie was a recipe for disaster, but it holds together nicely and has so many luminous moments that I probably should have saved it for its own post. Unlike some of the other movies and shows I'm writing about, this one pretty well well-received in the US, where it was released by Universal Pictures. I'm usually surprised when people tell me that they haven't heard of it. Then I remember it's French and I had never heard of it until Natacha recommended it. It's fantastic escapist entertainment that is far more creative and visually appealing than the current slew of generic (or just plain bad) fantasy/horror stuff saturating both the film and television markets.

City of Ember
This is a late edition to the list. It reached the top of my Netflix queue last weekend, and I watched it about the time that I was formulating ideas for the blog. It's based on a series of young adult novels by Jeanne DuPrau. I'm not sure how I missed it when it came out in 2008, but I was intrigued enough by it to buy the books. (Yes, that does mean I'll be doing a comparison post one of these days.) The premise is that in the aftermath of some unspecified apocalyptic events, a group of scientists and engineers create an underground city intended to be a refuge for humanity. Two-hundred years later, the city (aptly called Ember) is falling apart, and two young adventurers must find a way to save their people despite the resistance of their mostly complacent elders. The movie stars Harry Treadaway and Saoirse Ronan, whose performances are far better than the script deserves. I kept thinking what a great movie itshould have been, especially with Bill Murray and Tim Robbins in supporting roles. Overall, it felt like a piece of toffee stretched too thin on one end. By the time things got going in the first half of the film, there simply wasn't enough movie left to provide a satisfactory ending. The last half hour or so tumbles over itself to get the two kids where they need to be, and the action scenes, while exciting, fairly screamed "I'm here for a video game tie-in!" All right. So then whyon Earth am I telling readers to watch the movie? One: I foresee great things for Saoirse Ronan. Two: the sets and effects are amazing. Three: Bill Murray is brilliantly despicable as the Mayor. I hate him so much I want to strangle him, in all the best possible ways.

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