A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Steven Spielberg and Ian Watson based on the short story by Brian Aldiss
(number 274)

I saw this at the movies when it first came out, and probably once or twice again since. I had put off watching it due to being traumatised by the Flesh Fair sequence.

Ah yes, the advanced future where everyone wears grey all the time, the homes are filled with ceramics and chrome and wives stay at home all day doing housework while the husband goes off to work.

As soon as Martin is introduced the abuse starts. The first thing we see him doing is picking up Teddy by the ear as he says ‘Martin, no’, then he makes Teddy choose between the two of them. The way Teddy is animated makes this sequence pretty heartbreaking, although undercut with a laugh when Teddy very wisely chooses to follow Mommy out of the room. Mommy’s casual, amused ‘are they torturing you?’ seems to be a foreshadowing.

Monica’s choice to abandon David in the woods rather than return him to the factory he was made in is supposed to show her humanity, her inability to destroy something she cares about, but ultimately is the most monstrous choice she could have made. She even seems to know it, telling him ‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the world’ before driving off. She had to know that things would be hard for David out there with no one but Teddy.

The Flesh Fair sequence remains horrid. Is it a coincidence that the first thing they destroy is a clearly coded black man? However maybe because I was prepped for it, or maybe because I watched so many horrid things since I last saw this movie, it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. Plus, Brendan Gleeson! Still not pleasant to watch though. The joy in the destruction of others… horrible.

The story is somewhat meandering. It’s a very long running time for a film which only really has four settings and not too much story. It needs a bit of an edit, although the SFX have held up remarkably well for something seventeen years old. The not quite real make up job on Joe is fantastic as well.

Does it make me love the people? Hayley Joel Osment does a fantastic job in this role. It’s very hard not to feel for him even as he’s being creepy and appearing noiselessly or dangerously getting something wrong. I also really love Jude Law as Gigolo Joe and Teddy – the actual humans in the movie are a lot harder to care about, but ultimately it’s not a film about them.

Bechdel test: No, although there is Monica and a handful of other named women almost all the speaking roles in this film are men. Weird really… no need for Martin to have only friends who are boys, or for every scientist to be male… now that I think of it the women are only in two roles: Mothering (Monica, Blue Fairy, the nanny at the Flesh Fair) and sexual (Gigalo Jane, the women hiring Joe.) The only exception is the little girl in the flesh fair who is supposed to be David’s mirror I think.

Best line:

Gigolo Joe: She loves what you do for her, as my customers love what it is I do for them. But she does not love you, David. She cannot love you. You are neither flesh nor blood. You are not a dog a cat or a canary. You were designed and built specific like the rest of us… and you are alone now only because they tired of you… or replaced you with a younger model… or were displeased with something you said or broke. They made us too smart, too quick and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us. That’s why they hate us. And that is why you must stay here… with me.

State of Mind: It remains an enjoyable movie but I feel like these themes and ideas are being explored better in TV now, notably Humans and Black Mirror. I understand Westworld as well but I haven’t watched any of that yet. This film is a moment in time, and no doubt was influential and important for the genre of sci fi and AI movies. I feel like yeah, there’s better out there now.

Watched movie count

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz based on the story by George Lucas
(number 241)

This movie opens in a very unexpected way with a Fosse-esque dance routine. It was very well done, and very confusing.

Disturbing racism: I mean, obviously: Short Round.
Indiana and ‘the girl’ who are worshipped as gods in a starving village in where, Tibet? India? Just because they are white? I guess? They are literally worshipped. Then it turns out they were chosen by the god to bring back the mystical stone… because the loss of the mystical stone has cursed the village. Plus: all the foreigners eat bugs, monkey heads and eyeball soup? There’s a very telling line when they discover the temple and Willie says something like ‘I’ve never seen anything like this’ and Indy says ‘Nobody’s seen this for a hundred years’… which… given that there are at least a couple of hundred Indians in the temple kind of implies he only really means ‘white people haven’t seen this for a hundred years’.

Indiana gets a certain amount of suave in this movie which was pretty unexpected. In the opening he is more or less James Bond-ing it up, which is very different look from the beat up and dirty Indy we’re used to at the end of Raiders.

This movie is really dark! I don’t remember ever watching it all the way through previously although I know as a kid it was watched a lot by members of my family but I only remembered very brief moments so I think almost all of it was new to me. And it’s a dark film, we have child slavery, torture, human sacrifice and mind control… it’s not exactly the fun romp that Anna and I were expecting! I found it pretty distasteful actually, I don’t imagine I’ll be watching this movie again any time soon.

So, my biggest takeaways from this movie: racism, really nasty content, big horrible insects….

It’s hard for me to get invested in the enjoyment of the action sequences in the first place but when I have the bad tastes of the previous nastiness in my mouth it’s even worse.

Does it make me love the people? Brain washed Indy with his shirt off is pretty dishy. Wait that doesn’t count. I feel for Willie, who was living a pretty high life as a show girl in Shanghai when Indy pretty much destroyed her world and kidnapped her. He then has no patience for her being able to keep up when their plane crash lands and they end up in the middle of jungle. her complaints are to me, very valid, but it’s played off like ‘whining spoiled fancy lady’ and as an audience I think we’re meant to laugh at her. I sympathise with her a lot.

Short Round is pretty adorable and bad ass, convinced he can take grown men in combat, he busts himself out of the chains he’s kept in and saves Indy which is great.

Bechdel test: Again, just the one named woman – Willie, aka Whilimena. It’s not like there aren’t lines and roles which could have been played by women in this too. Sigh.

Best line:
Indy: Nothing shocks me, I’m a scientist.

State of Mind: I just…. urgh. And like, racism was a known thing in the 80s, it’s not like you can say ‘ah people didn’t know better back then’, of course they did. There are moments in this film, but I generally think that the reason this film is beloved is because of how much people loved them when they were kids. And it’s hard to put a critical eye on things you loved as a kid, I know this, I just don’t have that association with this movie.

Watched movie count

Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by David Koepp and Michael Crichton based on the book by Crichton
(number 242)

I first saw this movie when I was 13 years old, to the cinema in Lower Hutt with Regan and we both got proper freaked out. For some reason the theatre we saw it in had a T Rex skeleton installed in the front near the screen and I spent a good part of the movie checking on it, making sure it wasn’t moving. I also chewed a lot of my nails down to the quick. I saw it a second time as well but I can’t really remember. I also remember watching it at various sleepovers. It’s an infinitely rewatchable film to me.

I have always loved dinosaurs, my favourite bath toy as a kid was a blue plastic plesiosaur from the old Wellington museum gift shop. We had a couple of awesome dinosaur books as well which I would spend a lot of time pouring over the pictures and trying to imagine how big they would actually be.

Seeing Jurassic Park I had the same reactions to the dinosaurs that Drs Grant and Sattler had to seeing the brachiosaur – pure awe. The animation was so real.. and it still looks really good. We watched this on Blu-Ray on our nice big HD TV and it really holds up. They might have touched it up for the blu-ray release, I dunno. Last year we had Jurassic World and I saw that at the iMax, I feel like the animation of the dinosaurs hasn’t significantly changed… they just look real to me.

Does it make me love the people? I love Grant, Sattler and Malcolm straight away. The cute kids take a little more getting used to. I keep thinking about the book and how the girl was younger and sports obsessed in the book and the boy was older and techy. I kind of like that they traded it around somewhat and made the boy a science nerd instead of sportsy.

Plus how can you not love baby Samuel L Jackson as Arnold, the security officer who is too old for this shit. It’s like seeing Nick Fury before he got recruited to Shield. If only he didn’t die in that way…

Bechdel test: Ellie and Lex talk off screen about how Lex should ride with Dr Grant… which doesn’t pass because off screen and also it was talking about a guy. Lex and Ellie are generally separate for most of the movie, and they’re the only women characters, unless you count all the dinosaurs which… yeah I don’t think that’s a thing. They are together in the big climactic scramble but I think they pretty much talk to Alan Grant and not to each other.

Best line:

Dr. Ian Malcolm: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.
Dr. Ellie Sattler: Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.

Nedry encounters a curious dilophosaurus watching him and chirping: Oh… that’s nice…. – turns away –

Dr. Ian Malcolm: Anybody hear that? It’s a, um… It’s an impact tremor, that’s what it is… I’m fairly alarmed here.

Dr. Ellie Sattler: we can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.

State of Mind: Even though I can pretty much recite this movie, and there are no surprises in this movie for me, I love it to bits. The dinosaur geek in me is so happy every time.

Watched movie count

The Goonies (1985)

The Goonies
Directed by Richard Donner
Writen by Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus
(number 386)

Corey Feldman’s autobiography made me want to watch this, all the stories about the filming of it, the fun he had on the sets and getting on with the other kids. It made watching it a bit more interesting, especially since Corey’s character Mouth is so incredibly great.

Tiny baby Sean Astin carries this movie as Mikey though, and he does a fantastic job at it.

The movie is frenetic, and not just because all the kids are pretty much yelling all their lines. The pace is intense, you barely have time to process what happened in one scene before they’re onto the next one. It’s also a genuinely silly movie, with Data’s odd gadgets, the big brother cycling on a tiny kid’s bike, and of course the incredible evilness of the villains.

I’ve avoided this movie (as with so many others) because I saw a tiny bit of it as a kid and it freaked me out. In this case it’s the baddies threatening Chunk with the blender. I still find it a very unsettling scene. It helped that Blair was laughing during it because of Chunk giving them his life story instead of what they wanted to know.

The movie sets are all great, so many caves and weird Rube Goldberg contraptions. This movie was intentionally designed to be the kid version of Indiana Jones, and I have to say it succeeds at that.

I have to say it kind of…maybe you need to have seen it as a kid first? Or.. I dunno. It felt a bit long and a bit… not obvious, exactly but not surprising. Maybe I had seen more of it than I thought I had. I didn’t love it. Maybe two flatmates wanting me to love it had the opposite effect? Maybe I’m a bit tired out from the work offsite to properly appreciate it? I just don’t know. It’s not one I’m excited to watch again.

I really enjoyed the start, the character intros and them messing around in the houses, but once they went underground I felt I liked it less. I suppose I wanted the story to be about the characters and not the traps, or maybe I just wanted something more like Stand By Me? Heh.

Does it make me love the people? Yeah it’s hard not to form an attachment to at least one of the Goonies. Mouth and Stef were probably my favourites.

Bechdel test: Yes! Andy and Stef talk a bunch, about how they should be leaving, how ridiculous it is that they’re underground, freaking out over dead bodies, etc. They also hug and touch each other a lot so I started accidentally shipping them.

Best line: Well, all of Mouth translating at the start for Rosalita was amazing.

Irene Walsh: I’m serious Brandon! That’s not funny. If he takes one step outside and you’ll be in the deepest, absolutely the deepest, shi, shi, shi…
Brandon Walsh: Shit ma!
Irene Walsh: I don’t like that language but that’s exactly what you’re going to be in.

and obviously…

Sloth: HEY YOU GUYS!

State of Mind: Not sure what everyone raves about, and feeling like a jerk for feeling that way.

Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins
Directed by Joe Dante
(Written by Chris Colombus and with a heavy producing hand from Steven Spielberg )
(number 318)

I pushed this one forward on the list because of Corey Feldman’s biography mentioned it and I don’t think I’d ever realised he was the young kid, Pete, who accidentally spills the first water on Gizmo and I was curious. Besides, it’s been a bit of a Corey Feldman week so y’know.

Gremlins is another one of these movies where I just have no idea how many times I’ve seen it. I do remember there was a huge gap though, between me watching it as a kid and a screening they did at the Embassy a few years back which I attended with some workmates and it was excellent fun. One of those whole audience involvement things and a couple of the Embassy staff dressed up for.

This movie was initially meant to be a pretty straight horror film, ruthlessly tearing apart the perfect suburban America that you’d see in movies like It’s a Wonderful Life . Stephen Spielberg reportedly put his oar in when the test screenings weren’t great, and insisted that the cute little Mogwai was a main character all through, and that more people survive. The result is an amazingly black comedy with hilarious action sequences. I suspect if it had remained a straight horror that it would have been relegated early on to the other schlocky beastie horrors of the 80s which everyone pretty much forgets about.

I love that the first fight scene with the gremlins is between the mom character, Mrs Harris and the gremlins in her kitchen. She kicks some serious ass, Ellen Ripley styles with the various kitchen gadgets. I’d say the microwaving of the gremlin is one of the more iconic moments from the film too, it’s certainly an image that stuck with me!

I like the evident fun they had with the scenes of the inventions conference, where the time machine from The Time Machine appears in the background (and vanishes in a subsequent shot) and Robby the Robot from Lost in Space is walked past. Also spot the ET doll in the department store sequence.

Does it make me love the people? Yeah the first part of the movie is dedicated to setting up the good people and the bad people, and the things that happen are generally by accident. The gremlins are definitely the real bad guys and they are literal monsters. Anarchy in the USA or whatever. You’re definitely rooting for Billy and Kate to win against the Gremlins.

Bechdel test: Yep, Ruby Deagle and Mrs Harris talk about needing more time to be able to pay the rent. Mrs Harris is a name, and it’s better than just being called ‘mom’ so I definitely am counting this as a win. Ruby is the mean old cranky cat lady who gets her come uppance on her chair lift thingie.

Best line: Well, it is tempting to put in the whole thing about how Kate hates Christmas, but it’s pretty bleak and depressing. This one’s pretty good though:

Kate: What’re they doing?
Billy Peltzer: They’re watching Snow White. And they love it.

and the subtle message of the film….

Grandfather: You do with mogwai what your society… has done with all of nature’s gifts. You do not understand.
[entire Peltzer family is speechless with guilt]
Grandfather: You are not ready.

State of Mind: Bright light! Bright light!!!