Thursday, April 17, 2014

Three Awesomely Geeky Movies that Most Geeks Haven't Seen. by Sam Stafford

     Toward the end of my most recent tl;dr article, I suggested that if you're tired of bland remakes you might want to check out some of the good stuff in your local video store and/or Internet.  Today I'll be telling you about three fantastic geeky movies, all made in the last ten years, whose combined budget is under $1M -- that's less than one percent of what it cost to make the largely forgettable Robocop (2014).

     This is part of the "long tail" of movies that are easily missed, and I'm going to bet that you haven't seen any of them.  If I'm wrong, let me know in the comments!

Brick (2005)

"So now we've shaken the tree. Let's wait and see what falls on our heads."
     There's a lot to love about Brick, the directorial debut of Rian Johnson (who more recently made Looper, also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  It's beautifully shot, the story is cerebral and suspenseful, and the dialogue is wonderfully snappy.  The thing I love the most about it, though, is that it's an unabashed and unironic noir film made in an era where noir tropes are usually played for laughs.  The setting is a modern high school, but the story follows a classic film noir structure and the actors never once smirk through their hard-boiled lines.  Even if you aren't a noir fan, it's hard not to feel the earnest love that Johnson has for this material.

     Beyond that earnestness, what makes this a must-watch geek movie is that even for a genre where the heroes tend to be loners who succeed through intelligence and resourcefulness, Brick takes that to 11. Protagonist Brendan Frye is almost a stereotypical high school geek -- he eats lunch by himself behind the school, he pulls good grades with a minimum of effort, and during a tense altercation with a popular jock he memorably retorts "There's a thesaurus in the library... Go ahead, I'll wait."  And he's also a complete badass, not in spite of that geekiness, but because of it.

Ink (2009)

"I choose to see you for what you were intended to be, not what you've become."
     It's hard to describe Ink -- it's in every way a fantasy movie, but at the same time there's no fantasy movie I can think of where I can say "it's kind of like that" and give you a good idea of what this movie is like.  It's got a lot of the classic fantasy elements -- a battle between the forces of good and evil, a perilous journey with challenges to overcome, magic, action, and of course redemption.  But it's told in two weirdly intertwining narratives that play out in the real world and in the dream world, and it's not really clear until the end how it all fits together.

     How is it geeky?  This is a movie where the good guys are called things like "Storyteller" and "Pathfinder" -- I'm not positive writer/director Jamin Winans is a gamer, but as you're watching Ink you're going to have a hard time not thinking about what a cool RPG this world would make.  Also, there's a part where people throw each other through tables and the tables put themselves back together because they're real and the people aren't.  Look, it's really cool.  You'll like it.

Primer (2004)

"Man, are you hungry? I haven't eaten since later this afternoon."
     Saving the geekiest for last -- Primer is a geek's geek's sci-fi movie, and its entire budget was less than the cost of one of those fancy gaming tables you've seen at conventions.  This was writer/director/star Shane Carruth's first movie (he later went on to make the very different but equally baffling Upstream Color). This is, plain and simple, a movie about time travel and its implications -- whereas many sci-fi movies use time travel as a plot device to set up the rest of the movie and generally ask that you don't think too hard about it, Primer invites you to think about what happens when your life's story can double back on itself, and in fact it demands it.

     No matter how smart you are, this movie will very likely make you feel stupid the first time you watch it.  I've watched it several times and I still don't quite have it all straight in my head.  It's not that it's intentionally confusing, it's just that once the story gets going, nobody stops to explain it to the audience -- you're along for the ride and you just have to hang on as best you can.  If you like sci-fi that makes you think and draw charts and argue about things on message boards more than sci-fi that's an excuse for lasers and explosions, this is your movie, full stop.

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