Sunday, August 10, 2008

Favorites Addended

I didn't realize how long it had been since my last post. I kind of got caught up in pre-production for "The Skin of Our Teeth," I guess. But now, with the show's first read-through tomorrow night, I have a few minutes to finally post something new. Well, almost new.
Actually, I wanted to add two films to my prior "Favorites" lists, which I can't believe I forgot in the first place.
First, I am shocked that I forgot to add A.I. to my list of favorite Sci-Fi movies. Spielberg's masterful re-telling of Pinocchio, started out as a collaboration with the late, great Stanley Kubrick. After Kubrick's death, Spielberg went ahead and made the movie, which divided critics and audiences. Personally, I think it's one of his best works. Based on the short story, "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" by Brian Aldiss, A.I. tells the story of David (Haley Joel Osment), a robotic child purchased to ease the grief of Monica (Francis O'Connor), whose own son is languishing in a persistant vegetative state. When her son surprisingly recovers from his coma, David proves to be inadvertently dangerous and is abandoned by his "mother" (in one of filmdom's most heart-wrenching scenes). Left with only Teddy (a robotic teddy bear in the Jiminy Cricket role, voiced by Jack Angel) to guide him, David must make his through a world where many have come to despise the Mechas (robots), despite being quite dependant on them for everything from domestic chores to sex. David eventually meets up with sexbot-on-the-run, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) at the Flesh Fair - an event where robots are elaborately destroyed as entertainment. Joe helps David in his search for both his real father, a scientist (William Hurt) who modeled David after his own deceased son; and the Blue Fairy (voiced by Meryl Streep) from Pinocchio, whom David hopes will turn him into a 'real' boy. A.I. was derided as overlong (146 minutes) and too dense, comments which never would have been made had Kubrick made the movie. But it is dense subject matter, which requires some time to cover, and Spielberg does so brilliantly. With two astounding performances from Osment (I dare you not to cry when Monica abandons him in the woods) and Law (his sad, yet resigned Joe is probably the most human character in the film); a very funny voice cameo by Robin Williams (as the Einstein-inspired, holographic Dr. Know); stunning robotics from the late Stan Winston and a very distant future populated by sentient machines, A.I. may well be Spielberg's Sci-Fi masterpiece. While writing movie reviews for the now-defunct, I chose it as the Best Film of 2001. I stand by that choice, today. And I have to give at least an honorable mention to another Spielberg masterwork, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which I first saw in Paris with French subtitles. As a high-school Junior, it set my imagination on fire. When it was re-released with an extended ending a year later, I was even more excited by this awesome 'what if?' movie.
The other omission occurs on my list of favorite Horror movies. Neil Marshall's The Descent is the first movie since Se7en to actually creep me out. A group of adventurous women meet each year for a wild and dangerous week of fun. A year after a whitewater rafting trip, which ends in a traumatic accident, they meet in the American South for a caving expedition. They end up lost and trapped in a an unexplored cave system, only to finds that they are not as alone as they think. Writer-Director Marshall (Dog Soldiers; Doomsday) sets up a claustrophobic scenario from the get-go, trapping the women deep underground as a cave-in blocks their return route. But he then ups the ante by adding a tribe of cannibalistic humanoids who are stalking our heroines as they make their way through the dark and foreboding underworld. When I first saw this film, I found myself feeling trapped and having some breathing issues. But with the introduction of the monsters, I found myself on the verge of panic as I tried desperately to see what might be lurking in the dark. Featuring strong female characters, hideous monsters and increasingly claustrophobic dread, The Descent is surely one of the best horror movies of the last 10 years. If you haven't seen it, make sure you rent the original British version, which features a very different (and decidedly darker) ending than the American cinematic version.

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