12 Monkeys (1996)

12 Monkeys
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Written by David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples based on Chris Marker’s film La Jetee
(number 466)

I first watched this movie at the movies in 1996/7 (whenever it got released in NZ) with a bunch of my friends. I remember that we saw it at Midcity cinemas and I can’t remember why we went to go see it but it blew our minds. Once the credits started rolling we started arguing about what had actually happened. We eventually left the cinema but had to stop again at the top of the escalators. We realised we were in people’s way and went down the escalator before arguing again at the bottom! It’s one of those films.

This time round I watched it on a sick day when I had to keep going to the bathroom and had a nap halfway through. It was a really good nap.

The opening music and iconography in this film are killer. The weird red monkeys spiralling away, the insistent and mysterious tones of the music. Then it goes into a strange dream sequence and am even stranger reality where Bruce Willis is a captive who is forced to go into a post-apocalyptic frozen Earth to retrieve living specimens.

I very much enjoy this film but I can’t quite get away from the director’s quirks: so much detail in almost every shot, so much evil bureaucracy and weird torture/bondage whenever it can be justified. Once I notice a director’s quirks like this (when I don’t appreciate them) I find them a bit too obvious and therefore distracting.

Madeline Stowe is a psychologist in ‘the present’ where James Cole has been returned to. And she fulfills her role as a very beautiful therapist who makes a connection with James. He sweeps her up in his story later on because he didn’t know what else to do when he had no money. She goes from thinking he’s totally crazy to seeing evidence that he really is a time traveller. In the same moment he becomes convinced that she was right and he is totally crazy, meaning she has to convince him that the stuff he’s said previously was true. It’s a clever narrative switch which is the kind of thing I think is necessary in time travel movies because it’s so easy to have the same ‘avoid the paradox’ kind of plot. The smarter the better when it comes to time travel scripts.

Brad Pitt plays a delightfully nutty dude who James encounters a couple of times and he’s a brilliant kook to assign the guilt of the end of the world plot too.

Creepy voice character who follows James around is a specially terrifying touch. Can he be trusted? Who is he really? Is he on James’ side or does he want to help him? I remember it was the first time surround sound in a cinema really freaked me out, because when the voice is speaking to James for the first time in the cell the voice kept coming from a different single speaker, moving about the space of the theatre.

Does it make me love the people? I guess so. It’s not a deep riveting examination of the human soul but you can see these characters wanting to do what’s right – in their unique flawed definitions of right – and you do feel for them.

Bechdel test: Madeline Stowe’s Kathryn speaks to the woman cabbie and the ticket agent but sadly ‘woman cabbie’ and ‘ticket agent’ is how they’re credited so it doesn’t pass. Jones is the only other woman character with a name and significant lines but they never speak to each other.

Best line:
I really like James Cole: All I see are dead people. – on account of the 5th element pre-reference that happened.

But I think the actual best line is: Oh, wouldn’t it be great if I *was* crazy? Then the world would be okay.

State of Mind: I remember this movie packing a huge punch when I first saw it. I think it’s lost its impact on repeated viewings. That said there’s lots of neat bits and cool lines, and I ultimately think it’s a great film and worth seeing. Just maybe not too often.

… I wonder if I should track down the TV show they’ve made of it?

Watched movie count

Looper (2012)

Looper
Directed by Rian Johnson
(number 284)

Rian Johnson did Brick for his first movie and I gotta say, that’s one of my favourite movies of all time (OF ALL TIME) so I was predisposed to enjoy this. Plus Joseph Gordon-Levitt is amazing and seeing him channeling Bruce Willis is epic fun. I like this movie a lot, it’s timey wimey and violent and strange and two out of three of those things are always a good time for me, but… I dunno. I’m not sure this should be in the top 500?

I mean, I’m glad for science fiction entries. But I honestly don’t think it’s a better time travel movie than the Time Traveller’s Wife, or the very indie Primer. But it is a big flashie one, with Bruce Willis in it, and it was released just in 2012 so it’s fresh in people’s minds.

It does have some very neat time travel stuff, and it’s a great twisty plot. There is incredible darkness in the film, more than you maybe expect from the trailer or from the premise, and I remember being very unnerved when I saw it at the movies, but knowing what’s going to happen makes it easier to watch.

I just thought, I should keep a track of how many Bruce Willis movies there are in this list XD I feel like I’ve watched a fair bit of him already.

Does it make me love the people? Yep. It definitely does that, in between the action and despite the horrific things Bruce Willis’s version of the lead character does. The leads all have an excellent charisma, and there’s a cleverness to how everything fits together which is also a bit heartbreaking.

Bechdel test: Nope. They do that thing where they make Emily Blunt’s character all bad ass and shotgun wielding and you think ‘aw yeah’ but in actuality she’s relegated to very conventional roles of tender mother and love interest. It’s… one of these things Hollywood does I think. Where they’re like “LOOK, SHE’S ALL BAD ASS” only she actually still needs the man to save her and she only interacts with the men and she exists to react to the males. I dunno. It’s sucky.

The only other women are a hooker and the magically perfect Chinese woman from Bruce’s looped past.

Best line: Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but in thirty years, it will have been.

State of Mind: Still love the movie, kind of annoyed with the women characters thing.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

The Sixth Sense
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
(number 338)

I was surprised that neither Ellen nor Blair had seen this film before. I think there’s a lot of preconceptions around this film, and I think the two main ones are absolutely false. The main ones being: this film is only about the twist and the second: it’s M. Night’s best work.

I already spoke a bit about how I think it’s unfair that people judge his later films on this one. That people want to recreate the magic of seeing this for the first time – unspoiled. I dispute that because I think that this movie is amazing, regardless of the twist. The careful cinematography, the creepy atmosphere, the beautiful performances … these things are all greater than the twist in my opinion. That said, I don’t think that this film is necessarily M Night’s best film. I love Unbreakable but Signs is most likely my absolute favourite.

The scene at the end where Malcolm speaks to Anna, as she sleeps, is absolutely transcendent. So heartfelt and beautiful, and through it they both learn to let go and to move on. It gives me chills, honestly. The performances are gentle but they are no less strong for it.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely. I love Toni’s Lynn, who’s so fiercely protective of her son and wants to help him so much, I love Malcolm – Bruce Willis does an amazing job in this role, warm and understated and of course I love Cole. Hayley Joel Osment’s performance is astounding, so strange and convincing. He’s utterly convincing and that’s why this film is heartbreaking.

Bechdel test: Sadly no. It’s just off the edge of passing it a few times. Lynn talks to Tommy Tammisino’s mother but she’s not named. Anna talks to a woman when she’s selling her a ring but she’s credited as ‘young woman buying ring’, and Kyra, her sister and Anna only talk to Malcolm or Cole. Kyra talks to her mother in the video evidence that Cole gives her father but her mother is only called Mrs Collins. It’s close…but not cigars.

Best line:

Kyra’s sister: “Is Kee-wa coming back?”
Cole: “Not anymore.”
(Heart shatters)

Cole: “Every day”
(heart shatters further)

State of Mind: Heart… shattered… needs more chocolate. OMG I love this film!

Unbreakable (2000)

Unbreakable
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
(number 451)

Bruce Willis plays the unbreakable man in a loving homage to comic book stories and the heroes and villains featured in them. M Night’s second film was in my view, unfairly rejected by fans and critics. I have a suspicion that people wanted the same experience as seeing the Sixth Sense for the first time. They wanted that level of twist and surprise, but of course, going in knowing that there would likely be a twist… you’re not going to have that same experience.

Robin Wright of Princess Bride fame plays his wife and she gives a sad and heartbreaking performance, showing the distance in her relationship with David. The incredible pain of being in a relationship which is failing… where there was love but instead there’s just hurt and pain and confusion. She makes us feel it too, with the strength of her performance. Bruce is good too, but he comes across as more blank.

The movie is a slow burn, it’s maybe too slow for some people. I am aware my patience for film pacing is greater than others, because I’ve seen so many very slow movies in Film Festivals. The slow burn works for me, in this movie, because David is slowly discovering that there is something weird about his life, that his body isn’t like normal people’s and it’s not something that would be believable if it happened all at once.

I find it gives you time to appreciate the performances, the cinematography and the music. I love that the music in this movie reflects the character’s journey, not necessarily the action on screen. This is most obviously shown in the scene where David finally takes action as a vigilante. As he fights and then kills a villain the music swells in a heroic ‘coming into yourself’ theme.

The most powerful scene for me is the one where David’s son comes into the kitchen with a gun. It’s a shocking moment, parents taken by surprise by their young child… who is convinced that this is the only way to show his father how unusual, amazing he is. His son is so sure that he wants to prove it to his doubting father, and you have to admit, it would be a definitive proof that David is extraordinary.

Does it make me love the people? You definitely feel for what they’re going through. Maybe love is a bit strong here, but then… I really do feel for them, and I suppose that’s the point. Empathy, recognising the human condition, that’s really what I mean when I ask this question, so yes. The answer is yes to this one.

Bechdel test: Robin Wright’s doctor talks to a female nurse, about Samuel L Jackson’s character arriving for his appointment. I dunno if this counts, it’s not about a relationship with a man but it is about a man.

Best line: “They call me Mr Glass”

State of Mind: Still a great comic book movie, but not for everyone. I love the power of it, and the understated nature of the story even though it deals with huge ideas.