The Fifth Element

Eli Wallach Transformation

The excellent Eli Wallach, whose career spanned over sixty years, passed away this week at the age of 98, and I’m consumed with thoughts of transformation. Of course, he lived and worked for so long that life was a transformation in and of itself. The man from The Godfather Part III is the same man who hilariously shuffled about with Cloris Leachman in New York, I Love You. But he was also a man that melted into his roles. It’s an amazing, yet eternally undervalued talent. We gush for the names who always, and will forever look like themselves – the Robert Redfords and George Clooneys — but the real magic comes from the character actors whose roles trump image, those who disappear, those who leave little to no taste of the real person behind the performance. Some need full masks and CGI to transform, but others need just a hint of makeup or sometimes (shockingly) nothing at all as they’re enveloped by their characters. Elite actors like Wallach allow us to simply enjoy the character and pretend, briefly, that they’re real.



When Francis Crick and James Watson famously published their article “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” in Nature magazine 61 years ago, they didn’t reveal a discovery of DNA nor did they introduce the concept of genetics to the world. Their main contribution to history (with help from Rosalind Franklin) is in the illustration of the double helix model of DNA, which means they gave us a visual for a science that beforehand was only pictured in an abstract manner. Is it fair to say the double helix is an iconic image? That’d be like claiming cels and rocks and fire are iconic. DNA is just a part of life, and the double helix is what it looks like. Still, it is in most forms an illustrational icon rather than the real deal, and few sciences have such a distinctly recognizable visual representation, one that has made genetics a very cinematic area of study. Movies involving experiments and testing involving DNA would still exist without that imagery, but as you can see in the still from The Amazing Spider-Man above, they’re better for having something so easily rendered in CG form. The double helix shows up on computer screens and holographic displays of scientific plans and even in cases where it’s not a literal illustration of DNA, as in the case of the spiral staircase in Vincent/Jerome’s home in Gattaca. Occasionally DNA itself is depicted, though not always correctly, as in the case of the opening credits sequence of […]


Scenes We Love: The Fifth Element

It sometimes seems like Luc Besson‘s name is attached to everything these days. Hardly a week goes by without seeing some new action flick- a Taken here, a Columbiana there- with Besson attached as a producer or writer, but as a director he’s far less prolific. He’s directed a slew of Arthur movies, based off a series of children’s books he also wrote himself, but besides that, the words “directed by Luc Besson” are scarcely seen. So this weekend, which sees the release of the Besson-directed The Family, is a happy occasion (unless you’re Jack Giroux, our own critic who didn’t particularly care for the film). There’s no better time to take a fond look back at one of Besson’s most ambitious and, not coincidentally, most bizarre films: 1997’s The Fifth Element.



There seems to be some kind of popular misconception that if aliens were to land on our planet, they’d somehow want to beat us up. In reality, it’s probably going to be the other way around. Want proof? How about the fact that we assume they’d do it to us. But not every film paints the extraterrestrial as the bad guy, as the following eight clearly show us, good old humanity, as the total asshole side of the exchange.



Circles are surprisingly menacing – it’s just hard to trust something that doesn’t have corners. The film industry seems to know this, because it’s given us some of the most ominous villains out there in spherical form. I know it’s weird; I don’t care. And sure, triangles are pretty shifty too – and let’s not forget the kind of shit rectangles have pulled in the past as well. But for today, here are some movie spheres that you just wouldn’t want to cross.



First popularized by Hitchcock, Merriam-Webster defines a ‘MacGuffin’ as “an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance.” Basically it’s the thing that makes the movie go. For example, R2-D2 is considered by George Lucas to be the MacGuffin of the Star Wars films. But what of human MacGuffins? Anyone can be a hostage or damsel in distress, so lets look at some of the less than conventional living beings that have propelled a plot.



Plenty of franchises seem so bonded to their star that it might seem impossible for a remake, reboot or continuation of the series without that actor. Imagine Rocky or Rambo without Sylvester Stallone, for example. But there’s really no reason to think these are safe properties. The former could easily pass its torch to Rocky’s son, a common concept for rebooting without starting completely over, and the latter could be redone with an Iraq War veteran. We’ve seen The Terminator without Arnold Schwarzenegger, Indiana Jones without Harrison Ford, Alien without Sigourney Weaver, Home Alone without Macauley Culkin and Smokey and the Bandit without Burt Reynolds. One day we could see Beverly Hills Cop without Eddie Murphy, ‘Crocodile’ Dundee without Paul Hogan and even Madea without Tyler Perry under the wig. But there’s absolutely no way for Hollywood to redo Die Hard, especially after A Good Day to Die Hard. Parts of the new movie even seem to be making a case for why there’s no possibility of the series existing without Bruce Willis. Perhaps the actor is actually intentionally sabotaging the property, running it into the ground with a portrayal unrecognizable from the original and a plot that is so bland and outside of what the first film stood for that fans won’t even care about the brand name by the end — unfortunately for anyone truly scheming, as we see with Star Wars, fans can come back from anything, and also this sequel is on track to do at […]


warm bodies guys

Warning: the following post contains a bit of a spoiler about the end of Warm Bodies. Read on at your discretion. With a decent opening weekend gross mostly attributed to young, female moviegoers, Warm Bodies is supposedly confirming its status as the new Twilight. Of course, the vampire love story made a lot more money and received mainly negative reviews, while this new zombie romantic comedy (or zom-rom-com), is certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes and received a B+ CinemaScore grade but only earned about a third of what it cost to produce. There’s an expectation for Warm Bodies to have strong legs, however, through word of mouth. And hopefully that buzz extends to more male viewers, who should appreciate that it’s not as sappy as it seems, even though its main message is the cheesiest of cheesy: “love conquers evil.” Sure, we’ve seen the power of love employed as a weapon by The Beatles and to turn Darth Vader and to keep The Princess Bride‘s Westley alive, but over time the idea that “all you need is love” has become corny enough to ruin the ends of Ghostbusters II and The Fifth Element, among others, with too much sentiment.


We all know the basic staples of the approaching end of days – zombies, aliens, nukes, robots, viruses, asteroids, global warming – all those good things. When a movie uses one of these go-to death-day scenarios we can’t help but to shell out the cash to watch it all go to hell on the big screen. However it takes some real brainpower to pull away from these apocalyptic norms, and when a movie does come along toting some hip new way for us all to die – even if said movie doesn’t pan out – you have to respect their willingness to get creative. Here are some movies that took a chance and gave us an end we’d never see coming.


Epic Movie Countdowns: Back to the Future

Yes that’s right – New Years just happened like, a week ago… counting down, people count down on New Years… that’s the point, and it’s as close as I can get to writing about something that relates to the holidays, and it’s way late. And while I first thought to do this because of the end of 2011, it actually turned out to be a fun list to think about. How do you judge the intensity of a ticking clock? It’s not always how close the characters came to zero – sometimes it’s about the process itself, getting to inevitability, fighting time. It’s rather like life, and the knowledge that being on this world is a sort of countdown. Every year is another tick of the clock, leading every one of us to the same inescapable conclusion. So uh… Happy New Year! …Here’s a list counting down countdowns.


John McCain and Barack Obama

We know that the Election Night coverage can be a bit monotonous, but while you’re waiting for the results to trickle down, you might as well watch a couple movies.

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published: 12.19.2014
published: 12.18.2014
published: 12.17.2014

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