Is this the best space sci-fi movie of the last few years?

Imagine a film with the visual design of Prometheus, a soundtrack reminiscent of Inception (and scored by M-83), a premise comparable to the Matrix, the wonder of Total Recall, and the isolation of Moon. I don’t know that Oblivion does any one thing better than the cream of the recent sci-fi crop, but it certainly brings everything together into a cohesive and enjoyable whole.

In my mind, whether flawed or not, this is what a sci-fi film should be.

The Purge

Imagine if, in the very near future, it becomes legal to commit any crime you want for a 12-hour-period every year. By allowing society to get its murderous rage out of its system, crime drops dramatically the rest of the year to the point that it is nearly nonexistent. Yes, the concept is ludicrous, as allowing people to riot does much more than a single day’s damage. But at least, for a movie premise, it is a compelling enough basis to build on.

The Purge, however, fails miserably. The film never manages to become less ridiculous than its hook, and despite the sci-fi dystopic concept, it plays out much more like a B horror movie with cheap scares.


First off, The Purge tries to make a statement about what society has become by presenting this preposterous concept as old hat to the family of main characters. They talk about watching the Purge coverage on the news later. They have a little family spat about nothing. Then they get so distracted with dinner that they forget to lock down their house until 5 minutes before the massacre begins. I understand they want to display a casual acceptance of something we find morbid, but it doesn’t work at all.

"Oh my God, guys! I almost forgot it was time for the annual 12-hour massacre! Silly me. You see, everybody’s, like, totally casual about it. It’s not really a big deal. Except the entire neighborhood including us has installed state-of-the-art security systems just for this one period every year, but of course, we almost forgot to USE IT. But whatevs, I was cooking pasta."

Cheap Horror

Picture a night without police where thousands of people roam the street with guns to satisfy their base desires. Our main characters have their house surrounded as a pack of hoodlums intends to break in. While half of them have guns, the other half look like ghost movie rejects. They have spooky dresses with monster masks and walk around like zombies, dragging machetes or baseball bats on the floor. Now, I don’t know about you, but this is the worst planning ever. I’d imagine someone dressed as a crazy person wielding an ax would only manage twenty paces outside their house before they got shot on a night like this. But it doesn’t matter. The movie doesn’t care to make the mindless enemies believable, as long as they can jump in front of the camera and make the audience scream, they’ve served their purpose.

A Noble Lesson

The ridiculousness continues when it comes time for our family to learn from their trials. During the course of the entire viewing, it is shoved down the audience’s throats how normal this event is. In fact, we are told the Purge is good for society. It is a release valve that prevents the country from imploding. Anyway, despite the film’s attempts to convince us that killing is okay, at the end of it all, the good guys decide to stop the violence.

Get it? Killing is wrong! You see?

The entire premise of the film is ridiculous, which is why they tried to hard to convince us otherwise. As a moral lesson, it’s an obtuse one, since it’s likely the whole audience already agrees that murdering people is a bad thing to begin with.

Admittedly, a lot of sci-fi movies do this. Think about Logan’s Run, Minority Report, etc., where dystopic ideals are supposed to be scary. The main character always comes to realize that the opinions of the audience are the ‘right’ way. But at least those movies do a lot more world-building to convince us that what we’re seeing is plausible.

Not so much with The Purge. Between Judge Dredd and this, Cersei hasn’t had a whole lot of luck with movies. But at least Ethan Hawke dies, so there’s that.


The story of Prisoners is fairly standard thriller fare- not the most original plotting as far as the twists and certainly not a unique conflict (kidnapped children). I did guess very key elements of the story fairly early. While this can usually ruin a movie, Prisoners has enough other questions running through your head to keep you guessing and entertained. While there are some unlikely coincidences to lend to more dramatic surprises, the situations don’t stress believability too much. There are some moments that you can’t think about too closely, perhaps, but I would say that the plot works for this movie overall. The big picture is that Prisoners is well paced.

The main story hook, that which the Prisoners title comes from, is compelling enough to make the audience squirm. But really, the film shines in execution. The pacing keeps your attention throughout the entire two and a half hours. The acting is mostly good but I would say that the ambiance and mood are even better. The cinematography and emotion in some of the scenes, like the police car speeding in the rain, are expertly handled.

Speaking of craft: everything, from the setting to the music to the characters, is handled with enough attention to merit praise. I usually don’t get too specific as far as mentioning actors but I did think Jake Gyllenhall played his detective role superbly. We saw everything from his professional callousness to his emotional fatigue all play out in his character arc. The acting and the atmosphere work together to create artistic depth lacking from a lot of films today.

Prisoners looks like a normal thriller but, somehow, the sum of its parts are greater than the whole. It’s easy not to notice it but a shame if you don’t. I came out of it feeling like it was one of the best viewing experiences I’ve had all year. Granted, the film isn’t groundbreaking or historically notable but it definitely sits atop its genre. If you like a good kidnapping nail-biter then this one’s for you.

Kill List

This British film is one of those fabled ‘love or hate’ affairs that often provoke outbursts of analysis and speculation. For my part, I thought the whole thing was poorly done and overblown, and what could have been an interesting movie ultimately trips over its own balls. Many spoilers ahead.

Kill List is 3 movies– 3 distinct parts that feel very different from each other– and this is the core of its dissonance.

The movie begins with a quaint domestic dinner scene. The editing is semi-amateur in quality, looking very much like an indie film and perhaps waiting a bit too long before getting to the point, which is that these two couples look like normal people with normal problems but there is a secret lying underneath. Maybe I got used to the style or it changed when action started occurring but the initial shock of the camera work wore off and I was drawn into it.

The second act takes over most of the film and feels like a black comedy assassin movie. We know Jay and Gal are contract killers and are in over their head. It’s fairly standard stuff for the genre but the plotting is setting up a deeper mystery that really brings Kill List into true thriller territory.

The ending of the movie suddenly delves into secret societies and feels rushed. Events take a sinister turn but make less sense. All plausibility is pushed aside as the characters serve the plot more than make believable decisions. And the climax, one hundred seconds of ridiculousness that lacks motivational depth, really kills any sympathy that remained for the film.

Analysis of the movie is abuzz with strange comments. The truth is, Kill List is not very confusing in retrospect, it just leaves questions unexplained. This type of forced mysteriousness is grating and it is simply a lazy method for the writers to make events seem more interesting and deep. In my opinion, it is an attempt that fails to hide the cheesiness and plot holes.

Everything rests so heavily on chance in this movie. What if Jay never revealed himself to the pagans? What if they just killed their target and moved on? What if Gal shot that last guy before getting stabbed? This is the type of ‘everything was planned in advance’ movie that asks you not to think it through too much.

I mean, this whole premise of a cult worshipping death to the point where they are happy to die needs some background. The whole idea of why Jay is so important to them is unexplained, the reason that the cult gladly gets twenty members shot up to acquire him isn’t mentioned, and really, the portrayal of the secret society is laughable.

I wouldn’t doubt that a less edited version of the movie, or at least the original script, had answers to these questions. I would bet that the explanations just weren’t satisfying or were cheesy and the creators feigned artsiness to disguise the lack of proper plotting.

Kill List is probably not worth such a long post but its reception has an air of being a masterpiece. The vast majority of movie reviewers work very hard to come up with explanations that don’t exist and, to me, display a lack of understanding of the realities of the professional creative process. A quick example is the fact that most people refer to this as a horror film, which it is not.

I have heard theories about the movie representing the ills of the remnants of the British Empire, the falseness of the Iraq War and the current establishment and all that. Sure, if there’s some parallelism involved, that’s great, but the plot should still make sense.

I also dislike the entire line of ‘what if it was all a dream’ speculation. This has become the go-to conjecture when a movie presents its facts in any dissociative manner. Fine, in Inception, even though I disagree with it, I understand why the theory could be offered. In Kill List, however, nothing suggests that dreaming is even a factor. Jay is told to ‘wake up’ a few times but this is more about his reconstruction, his becoming.

Kill List is a film that is supposed to provoke inquisition. Whenever movies like this come out, I always find people zeroing in on the wrong questions. Was Shel in the cult? (No). Was Gal in on it too? (No). Was it all a dream? (Sigh). The reality is that Kill List is unsatisfactory not because it is cleverly going above all of our heads but because it doesn’t attempt to answer its most interesting questions.

In the end, I’m afraid, just because something provokes thought does not make it clever or well structured. It’s easy to tell a joke and leave out the punch line, especially if one doesn’t even bother to come up with one. What’s much more difficult is delivering on an interesting premise.

Hans Zimmer

Riddle me this: What do Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave have in common?

Well, they are both movies about a protagonist being forced into adversity. Captain Phillips does a serviceable job, being mostly interesting because the concept of modern day piracy is fascinating and foreign. It does have some emotion injected at the end but it’s hard to argue that 12 Years doesn’t deal with weightier injustices. The latter film also educates audiences on some of the smaller details of slavery and the period outlook, and while not perfectly executed, is probably the better film.

But what else do these movies have in common?

Hans Zimmer’s fucking Inception music.

Time (Inception)


The track Time plays during the final scenes of Inception and serves as the perfect capstone for a powerful tour de force. Unfortunately, Hollywood wants to piggy back off the best of the best and this song has been showing up in other movies.

Here it is in Captain Phillips:

Safe Now (Captain Phillips) – start at 0:55


Probably less obvious is its rendition in 12 Years a Slave:

Solomon (12 Years A Slave)


Now, I understand the song can be a real tear jerker but, I gotta tell you, Hollywood, it kind of ruins the movies for me. I’m watching a boat captain get dragged into an escape craft by Somali pirates and then I hear the Inception song and think he is in a dream within a dream. Or maybe all poor Solomon Northrup has to do is kill himself and wake up in the arms of his loving wife, a free man again.

That’s the problem with trying to usurp something that is already iconic. Imagine if a gritty heist movie attempted to use the Darth Vader/ Empire theme from Star Wars- it just wouldn’t ever work. And I feel the same way about Inception’s flawless soundtrack. Leave it alone, please.

Now, Captain Phillips was composed by a student of Zimmer’s, although the credits do give the man a shout out. 12 Years? That was composed by Hans Zimmer himself. So here he is, essentially, just phoning it in.

But the plot thickens. Apparently there is another, very similar song, also composed by Hans for The Thin Red Line, called Journey To The Line. Listeners will discover that this is just an earlier version of Time (and Safe Now, and Solomon).

Journey To The Line (The Thin Red Line) – start at 1:24


So now, how can we blame anybody but little old Hans? And, for someone very much on the record as hating everyone overusing techniques he pioneered in Inception, isn’t he being a little hypocritical?

The Awakening

This isn’t a true review and, really, this film deserves more because it is so good, but I neglected posting about it when I saw it and just wanted to quickly get this word out there. Also, there are apparently about 20 films with the title The Awakening so just make sure to get the 2011 version pictured.

I’ve talked before about the differences between good horror movies and bad ones. Bad overdone elements are usually cheap scares and plot resolutions that ignore previous details and lack common sense. The Awakening is very well paced and ends just as good as it begins.

An interesting note is that The Awakening shares a LOT of common elements with The Orphanage. The significance of the protagonist, the location- even some of the aspects of tragedy and redemption are mirrored. Though, while an interesting case study, both films manage to create their own mood, be creepy in their own ways, and end differently. I would say make sure to watch both movies, but I’d give the nod to see The Orphanage first because I think it is the better overall movie (unless you don’t do subtitles).

The Conjuring

I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a great horror movie but there is something about The Conjuring that puts it a step above most others. It’s not especially original and there are no twists or unexpected developments- it’s fair to say that you know exactly what is going to happen in this movie after watching the beginning.

In some ways, the straightforward plot is a strength. I kept waiting for a stupid twist to ruin things and nothing ever came. It was refreshing for something to be taken at face value and simply be what it is.

Still, this is the craftsman’s film. Every aspect of it is well executed. The acting is relatable. The scares do rely on a lot of jumps but they usually aren’t cheap ‘come from off screen suddenly’ tricks. If M. Night Shyamalan perfected the art of horror without showing, The Conjuring perfects showing slowly and drawing out the dread instead of simply having a ghost appear behind someone.

I definitely wouldn’t suggest this film could reach the heights of other horror masterpieces like The Orphanage or The Others, but it is definitely worth a viewing if you like to be terrified.

Iron Man 3

Why I Hate Everything started with a post about the first Iron Man film 5 years ago. That moment defined what I would focus on- breaking down the over-hyped. This isn’t simply bagging on horrible movies but rather placing a critical eye on those things at the top of pop culture respect. It’s not about beating a dead horse but about bringing down the mighty.

Iron Man 2 followed a couple years later and I, against current standards, said it was the better movie- flawed in the same ways as the first but more plausible overall. Both movies fall apart but this one waits until the end.

There have been some developments since. The Avengers surprised me for its superb execution, managing to deliver exactly what audiences wanted while remaining smart. It was filled with comedic moments without pandering. The Dark Knight Rises had a lot to live up to and fell disappointingly short although I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a bad film. And there have been a slew of other superhero introductions and remakes, most of them not even worth mentioning on this blog.

So why bring up all this history when being presented with Iron Man 3? Simply put, the new film has all the flaws of its prequels, fails at mimicking The Avengers, steals the worst parts from The Dark Knight Rises, and ends up being a messy bowl of gruel.

Spoilers ahead.

In a sentence, Iron Man 3 is a great example of an action movie being more flash than thought. To its detriment, the film follows the fast and loose writing style of its prequels, opting to not care for logic as long as it creates drama. Nearly every action scene has a deus ex machina that could have been introduced much earlier except it wouldn’t have led to the underdog motif that audiences love. It’s great to see that Tony Stark needs to rely on his genius brain when he’s not in his armor but would he really fight 2 super soldiers for so long before pulling out his secret hand laser? The action scenes in the film are riddled with examples of this.

The ending of Iron Man 3 deserves a special pit in hell, and these are classically the weakest points of these movies. The tension of the film after Stark’s house is destroyed relies on him having no more working robots and being a hot PTSD mess who doesn’t fully trust himself, and in fact Tony puts himself in harm’s way more than once because of this. Then when it comes time for the giant action showdown he decides to activate his 50+ strong Iron Man ‘House Party’ army? This convenient plot device doesn’t just stretch disbelief, it accuses me of being an idiot.

Yup, this looks like a film exploring the internal struggle of a man relying on cold machines vs. trusting his inherent humanity.

Likewise, ‘Clean Slate’, the predetermined routine to self-destruct all the surviving suits in the finale, has no purpose. I can’t tell you why but Iron Man 3 thought it would be dramatic if Tony decided to quit being Iron Man, and this is a ploy so obviously thrown in at the last second that it has zero bearing on the movie and shouldn’t have been included.

Another ending disgrace? The pillar that the entire trilogy was built on is that Tony Stark has to have this specially powered heart to keep from dying. This important drive of the previous two movies is talked away in the last seconds by simply stating ‘he fixed it.’ A brief montage that undoes previous canon is a clumsy conclusion to the trilogy.

And what about the motives of the villain? Another generic marginalized scientist who makes super soldiers, fine- but why do they all decide to become terrorists? These men and women all have free will, right? What made them evil that didn’t also change Pepper? Speaking of which, the villain’s plan for some reason is to a) put his victim in a *working* suit of powered armor and b) inject Pepper Potts with the super soldier serum. Aren’t these the opposite things that a villain would do to their enemies? I never read Sun Tzu but I would imagine the famous general would prefer to weaken his enemies rather than empower them.

Flash, flash, flash… just don’t think too much about what you’re watching.

It’s not all bad flash, admittedly. The humor in the movie is pretty good, an attempt to follow The Avenger’s wittiness. RDJ has excellent comedic timing and plays the arrogant role well. It’s especially funny to see this unorthodox interplay with a little boy mid-film. And in general, the overall experience of the movie is pleasant because the jokes are entertaining. Unfortunately, while The Avengers relied mostly on banter in a movie that was about the interaction of all the characters and the team, Iron Man 3 often resorts to physical comedy and ridiculous situations not dissimilar to the first Iron Man, and this tends to break the believability of the scenes. How many times is it funny when Tony’s high tech suits malfunction?

Possibly the biggest sin of Iron Man 3 is the same thing The Dark Knight Rises was guilty of- the movie relied so much on the feelings and legacy of the main character that we simply didn’t get to see him actually being a super-hero much at all. Tony Stark definitely has more bad-ass moments compared to Bruce Wayne but we still never get to see him in a fully functional Iron Man suit flying around, blasting things, and kicking ass. This is ok for a weekly television series where audiences have countless hours and hours to explore alternate facets of a story but we don’t get treated to big budget Iron Man all the time and when I pay my money for it I’d prefer to see him in top form.

The point of all of this is not to dwell on what a horrible movie Iron Man 3 is. In some respects it certainly deserves that criticism but I was entertained and got my money’s worth. It’s a fun movie, just not that well thought out or satisfying. And this is what gets me about comic book nerds who will say this movie is awesome. People like Movie Bob proclaimed how amazing the first two movies were and now are saying "Well, I was probably too kind" and are basically admitting those movies weren’t quite all they said they were. But, here’s the catch, THIS ONE IS! It’s just more hype as a response to the excitement of something new. But a balanced movie review it is not.

And that’s the scab I’m picking at here. Iron Man 3 will be hugely successful in the box office and you should probably even watch it if you think you will like it. But this is a film that will clearly not stand the test of time. Having a ‘good time’ watching it and it being ‘great’ are two very different beasts and it’s ok to push for the latter even when the masses are satisfied with the first part.

The Place Beyond the Pines

From beginning to end, this movie is about how choices and actions affect all others around you, even creating legacies that last much longer than is initially obvious. This can be a deep and meaningful message in some contexts but this film prefers to keep a hands-off approach to conveying any sort of lesson. A moving piece at times, The Place Beyond the Pines can ironically leave the viewer a bit empty.

My gut feeling of dissatisfaction stood in stark contrast to the fact that I enjoyed the movie. It took some reflection later in the night to appreciate what I had seen but I still need to fault the execution a bit. For such an expertly unpredictable first act, the police drama that follows feels too obvious and mundane. Even worse, The Place Beyond the Pines is one of those 2 hour 20 minute movies that really could have shaved off 20 minutes.

All of this gives the impression that I disliked the movie but the truth is that it is a powerful experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. None of the characters in the film are saints and deal with life as it is presented to them. The acting performances are top notch and the sometimes dissonant musical tones work well to drive the emotional notes, creating a film with soul. The Place Beyond the Pines isn’t so much about telling the audience how to live but instead chooses to show connectivity in action, inviting the viewer to bring in their own meaning. This sort of thing, while not for everyone, is likely to leave a lasting impression.

The Orphanage

I haven’t seen a horror movie this good since The Others.

‘El Orfanato’ starts slow but interesting, with the right kind of obtrusive creepiness in normal situations that most horror films dream of pulling off. It’s called atmosphere, and the mix of the Spanish language, dusty orphanage building, little kids, and creepy old lady make certain that you will always be a bit ill at ease. The pacing of the movie is great as well. The clearly defined acts have separate feels, starting with perhaps generic spookiness, getting into Poltergeist territory, and then overlapping a bit with the aforementioned The Others.

One great feat of The Orphanage is that it makes sure to have iconic imagery to really stand out and linger in the mind. If unsettling images don’t linger in your mind then I’d argue there was something lacking. This is impressive considering the majority of the action takes place in the most overdone of horror elements- a giant abandoned building.

There are a couple minor elements that feel out of place, as if they were put in more to cause a mysterious fear in the audience. While these moments may succeed in contributing to the greater atmosphere, their purpose on review feels slightly hackneyed. But overall the film is well thought out and it seems unfair to dwell on the least important aspects of it.

90% of horror movies really have no value at all, and among the ones that manage notice, 90% of those can’t deliver a satisfying pay off. When I reference The Sixth Sense and The Others as masterpieces, it is because of their qualities that stand out. A slow build with strong characters, tense scenes without resorting to cheap scares, interesting and emotional questions raised, and a conclusion that both explains previous events and pulls the story together. The Orphanage fits well in this company.