Posts Tagged ‘science fiction

22
Aug
15

Movie Review: “Jupiter Ascending”

Jupiter-Ascending-poster

The Wachowski’s, Descending

“Jupiter Ascending”

Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton

Directed by: The Wachowskis

“Hollywood will never let us direct a big-budget movie again…”

Such is and will be (for now) the plight of the Wachowski siblings Andy and Lana. Almost twenty years removed from their first movie “Bound,” the siblings haven’t had a money-making hit since “The Matrix: Revolutions.” While “Speed Racer” was a wild technicolor, hyper frenetic acid trip of a movie and “Cloud Atlas” (with “Run Lola Run” director Tom Tykwer) was wildly ambitious so is “Jupiter Ascending” and as such, like previous two, fails to deliver. Here’s the rundown:

Jupiter Jones (Kunis) is a Russian emigrant of sorts – born on a ship traversing the Atlantic following the death of her father by Russian mobsters. Now grown she lives with other members of her family in a house in Chicago making a living as a maid/janitor. She doesn’t have much of a life and doesn’t want to. Enter Caine (Tatum), a mutant half-human/half-wolf genetic hybrid manufactured to be a soldier who was sent to find her because he’s good at it AND she happens to be the key bargaining chip in a battle over the Earth. Hit ‘Pause’ and let me explain:

Kunis: I don’t know why I’m here.

Abrasax family member: You have the exact genetic sequence of our dead mother!

Kunis: What does this mean?

Abrasax family member: You control the fate of the Earth.

Kunis: I don’t trust you.

Abrasax family member: But you should!

Kunis: Okay, I guess I can trust you now. What do I have to do?

Jupiter meets all three members of the Abrasax family who have divied the galaxy into Monopoly properties (“You have ten planets but Earth is worth more than those combined.”) Earth is the Boardwalk of the universe (“Do not pass Jupiter, do no collect…”) and the Abrasax family have one goal in mind: longevity. Immortality being ludicrous the family “harvest” one-hundred humans to make one core sample of a blue substance that they use in order to be younger, healthier, more beautiful, etc. Never mind the fact they already have giant blue pyramids of these core samples or the fact they live for millenniums – one can ever have too much time, I guess. Jupiter (and us, the audience) gain this information watching her go through a story with more convoluted twists and turns than a Mike Hammer novel. With the help of Caine and Stigler (Bean) Jupiter just may make it out alive and maybe make sense of it all. Maybe.

“Jupiter Ascending” is a wildly beautiful, crazily chaotic, immersively entertaining film that lacked a story. Between the space ships, laser blasts, fight sequences, and techno gadgetry belies a movie of style over substance. Kunis has far removed herself from being Jackie in “That 70’s Show” and a film like this does her no justice – she has more in common with Sigourney Weaver’s ‘Ripley’ or Linda Hamilton’s ‘Sarah Connor’ than she does the stereotypical ‘I’m here to look beautiful, be confused, go along with what everyone is saying and hope everything turns alright in the end’ woman. I was waiting for her to kick ass. Didn’t happen. This film did her less justice than “Extract.”

Of note for those looking for inside jokes or gags there are a few to be had. In one scene Tatum, using his anti-gravity boots), grabs the back of a truck and hitches a ride a la “Back to the Future.” When Jupiter goes to prove she is the genetic descendant of the dead Abrasax mother she goes through multiple lines and always has the incorrect form much like “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or even “Brazil” (note: Terry Gilliam has a cameo appearance in the film). Et cetera.

Should you watch this one? If you have a 50-inch or bigger TV check it out; you can even invite me over. This is a film MADE for a movie theater and such the detail is in the set pieces. If you’re less concerned about the CG then you may want to skip it altogether.

My grade: C-

Advertisements
07
Jun
10

A Medical Credit Crunch and Its “Repo Men”

I wonder what they charge for a spleen.

Starring Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Alice Braga, and Liev Schreiber. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik. Based on the book “The Repossession Mambo” by Eric Garcia

Some movies really do sound like good ideas. In our current economic situation, and with passing of the healthcare bill, and with previous mentions of a “medical FICA” score, a movie like “Repo Men” seems to have more than a grain of truth to it. What would happen if in the future you could buy a new heart/liver/lung/etc.? What would then happen of you ran behind on your payments and repo men actually came to take away said organ? And what happens if a repo man himself had these things happen to him?

Such is the premise for “Repo Men,” the latest and (not so) greatest sci-fi movie since “Surrogates” (itself based on a graphic novel). Here’s the thing: the premise is good, but the execution… not so much. Imagine “Blade Runner” without the noir or “Brazil” without Gilliam’s humor or ambition. Someone once stated that science fiction was supposed to be dramatic elements with a hint of techno-do. The problem here is that the technology, and the premise, are far more interesting than the dramatic elements.

The movie begins with Remy (Law) in someone’s apartment. The guy gets home with a hot blond woman, they start getting hot and heavy, and that’s when Remy introduces himself. Using his stun gun he disables both of them then quickly suits up to do some quick surgery to remove one of the guy’s organs. He claims that it’s “just a job.”

Which is what he continues telling himself, reiterating it over a few beers with buddy Jake (Whitaker). Remy narrates the fact that if you run behind on your car or house payments, the bank takes them but if you run behind on organ payments, that’s his job. The company he works for gets people to sign up for a new, state-of-the-art organ at 19% interest and if you fall behind… well, Remy and Jake are two of the best at knocking on your door and collecting.

Problems ensue with the fact that Remy’s wife Carol (Carice van Houten) isn’t too thrilled with her husband’s job and wants him to go into sales. Remy has a problem with this because it means that his pay will be cut in half and Jake doesn’t want to lose his best friend/partner who he’s known since 4th grade when he kicked Remy’s ass on the school playground. During an outdoor cookout Jake pulls a job in front of Remy’s house, collecting a kidney from a guy taking a cab ride, and Carol is quickly upset and takes their son Peter away. Remy decides to talk with his boss and take a sales job, but does one last “pink slip.”

He awakes in the hospital. Apparently the defibrillator he used to “shock” the heart of a musician with money problems short-circuited and knocked Remy out. Now he lays in a hospital bed with a new artificial, top-of-the-line heart. He doesn’t want it but the longer it stays in the more he grows accustomed to it. Jake and him hit the streets again to collect on some pink slips and he has… problems. He can’t do it. Going from collector to potential collectee client is not what he had in mind and his attitude towards it all changes. He falls behind on payments and leaves it all behind to become like those he hunted.

Meeting and saving Beth (Braga) he finds that she’s opposite of him: her heart is real but the rest of her body is made from replacement parts from other companies and countries. Meanwhile, back at the company ranch, their boss Frank (Schreiber) gives Jake the assignment of finding Remy and collecting his heart. Jake at first refuses but after breaking in and threatening Frank, he has no choice. The movie goes into action as Remy and Beth evade Jake while trying to find a way to get their accounts closed.

What a statement on the credit industry, if not a slightly muddled one. There are several problems with the film which are not just limited to the fact that it comes after a same-themed movie called “Repo! A Genetic Opera.” While I have not seen the “genetic opera” I can say that while the premise for both is intriguing, there’s a squeamish factor to the two; namely, opening someone’s skin and pulling out an organ, Not my idea of a fun time and I squirmed every time I saw it in the theatre (and yes, I know the organs and blood are all fake… it’s just the thought of it happening).

The main problem: structure. The beginning narration leads to a feeling that the character is ruminating on his job and that maybe there’s a social statement involved. Maybe. I’m all about sci-fi social statements (see: “District 9”). And “Repo Men” could’ve a wake-up slap in the face for the modern moviegoer in the same vein as “Fight Club” was a wake-up call against commercialism. It could’ve been. Instead, director Miguel Sapochnik gives up that idea once Remy is on the run and opts instead for action sequences which, while degrading the concept of it all, actually improves the movie because the beginning is so… muddled.

Which brings me to another point: without the core concept of organ repossession, I wouldn’t have made it through the first 30 minutes. I could’ve really cared less about Remy and Jake because their characters do exactly what you think they would do and there’s nothing really interesting about them. After Remy goes “off the reserve” he becomes interesting, but that takes a while. Forest Whitaker as Jake is okay and let’s face it: doesn’t Whitaker play the same “best friend” he’s always played? I’m not a big fan of Schreiber and in this one he looks like he’s cashing a check. He may have been.

There’s one last thing: there’s a difference between homage and building a movie based off of scenes one loves from other science fiction movies. “Blade Runner” was a big influence on this (as noted in the overhead blimps advertising, etc.). There are a few others the movie harkens back to but I can’t think of them except to say that the end was seemingly “stolen” from “Brazil” (director’s cut). If you’ve seen it and you watch the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

This is the type of movie that ends up relegated to cable where those who watch it will go, “It’s not bad.” It wasn’t overly great either but if you find yourself stuck in a snowstorm and it’s the only thing on, at least enjoy the concept.

My grade: C

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

30
Dec
09

Movie Review: Avatar

A little “Aliens,” a whole lotta “Dances With Wolves.”

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, and Stephen Lang. Directed by James Cameron.

NOTE: I viewed the movie in IMAX 3-D. Oh yeah.

“Avatar” is here, and it’s a benchmark in filmmaking. Maybe not the best benchmark, but it’s important just the same.

I had reservations about seeing the film. While I am a fan of a good chunk of the Cameron catalog (“Aliens,” “The Abyss,” “Terminator 1&2,” “True Lies”) “Titanic” left a bad reaction to the world of film. Yes, the film made serious BANK and still sold more tickets than last year’s uber-blockbuster, “The Dark Knight” and yes, the recreation of the “Titanic” as well as its effects was incredible. The big problem was that the script itself (girl marrying for money meets guy from wrong side of tracks and falls in love with him on a doomed ocean voyage) was so formulaic (read: bad) that it might as well have been culled from a Final Draft template. For all I know, it probably was.

That was part of the problem facing James Cameron as he released his first feature film in 12 years. While Cameron is an incredibly gifted technical director, his screenplays leave something to be desired. Maybe “The Abyss” didn’t need much of one, and “Terminator 2” was the first “Terminator” script extended, but “Aliens” and “True Lies” had reasonably good ones. “Titanic” brought forth the idea that Cameron may be foregoing good storytelling for special effects. “Avatar” was Cameron’s chance to redeem himself as a storyteller/filmmaker.

So, is it everything and a bag of chips? On the technical side “Avatar” is not only the bag of chips, but the chip factory. On the story end, it’s slightly better than “Titanic” but not without its faults.

Speaking of, the story goes like this: Corporal Jack Sully (Sam Worthington) is a disabled Marine; his legs don’t work. His twin brother, who happens to have earned a PhD, was recently killed. Sully is given an opportunity for a change in scenery: the planet Pandora.

Sully gets to the planet and is immediately greeted as “meals on wheels”: he has to use a wheelchair to get around. He meets Pandora lab researcher Norm Spellman (Joel Moore) who shows him to his current assignment: the Avatar project. Using a hybrid combination of Na’vi (12-foot tall indigenous blue people of the planet) and human DNA, the “Avatars” are used for diplomacy because the Na’vi people refuse to speak with humans. Fancy that.

Norm then introduces him to Dr. Max Patel (Dileep Rao) and Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver). Augustine is pissed-off about the growing hostility between the humans and Na’vi, the fact that her research funding is strained, and that one of her scientists is being replaced by his twin brother; a simpleton self-proclaimed “Jarhead.” She confronts Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi playing mini-putt and channeling Peter Boyle’s character from “Outland”) who tells her that the reason the entire operation is happening at all is because mineral rock located under the Na’vi homeland tree is worth serious BANK (again, “Outland” anyone?). They allow her to do her research because genocide looks bad on the Corporation and that she needs to put up with the new recruit.

Meanwhile, Corporal Sully goes to check-in with Marine Command. Specifically, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Lang). Quaritch is your hard-ass, war-hardened commander with facial scarring who proclaims that going to Hell would be a vacation compared to their stay on Pandora. He secretly speaks with Sully and promises that if Sully can get him some intel, then he can get Sully’s legs restored.

Sully is loaded into what the “Avatar” interface system, which looks like a giant tanning bed with gel-filled padding and a wire “body” cage. Instantly his mind is “transferred” into his avatar and he’s up and gone. He can run again, climb again, swing, jump again, slide again… he’s got legs again and it’s great. Grace and Norm have avatars as well When he wanders off he makes a stupid movie, jeopardizes the people he’s with, and winds up alone to fend for himself.

He attracts a group of “wild dogs” and is saved by Na’vi native Neytiti (Zoe Saldana). While the reasons she saves him are unclear, she tells him to get back to where he once belonged. He follows her and upon being covered in special “seeds” that float around inside the home tree, she brings him to her folks.

Lucky for him her father Eytukan (Wes Studi) is the Chief of their Na’vi clan and his wife/her mother Moat (CCH Pounder) is the psychic spiritualist. In an act of “brainless wonder” he tries introducing himself and they find he’s a “warrior” and which, unbelievably, leads to them deciding to bring him into the clan, teach him their ways, etc. (see also: “A Man Called Horse,” “Dances With Wolves,” and every-other movie where the “civilized ignorant” must go through tribal initiation in order to find his own humanity and get a better grasp of mankind before the eventual disaster that looms on the horizon approaches).

Sully returns to the main base where all sides applaud him for getting initiated into the Na’vi, having gotten farther than anyone previously. The Corporation and the Corps eye him as an asset for intel they had previously not been able to get. This affords Augustine and her team money and opportunities. Selfridge gives Sully an ultimatum: get the natives out of the tree within three months or the Corporation will bulldoze over it.

Sully is required to video after each avatar session and the longer he stays an avatar, the more he wants to be one of the Na’vi. He, along with Augustine and Company, learns that on Pandora everything is interconnected. His name in Na’vi means “moron” but he gainfully receives their attention and appreciation, finally becoming like them. It’s only when the three months are up and he realizes what he’s done that the shit hits the fan and he must fight against the Corporation and the Corps in order to do the right thing and win back the respect of the Na’vi.

Let me talk for a second about how the film succeeded: technically, the movie is f’n incredible. It’s one thing for advertisers to say, “You’ve never seen a movie like this!” and it’s another for the movie to BE that way. Quite literally, you have never seen a movie like this. The colors and the attention to minute detail (reflections on glass, seeing through objects, etc.) and in a 3-D environment make for an incredible watch. This movie was made for IMAX 3-D, and it utilizes as much of it as it can. I cannot state enough how visually cool it is. One of my favorite things was the projected holographic display monitors. I’m tech-geek like that…

Moreso than a lot of movies of this year, this one invokes multiple emotional responses. Heart-pounding action sequences and breath-taking effects are literally that. At moments you can be wowed, saddened, or even cheer for the eventual comeback of the Na’vi people. Some moments are flat, while others are incredibly in-depth. This is filmmaking that raises the bar, and filmmakers (and ones standing in the wings) should take notice and learn).

To be fair, I also have to mention where the movie failed me and that lies primarily in the story. The opening setup worked out well enough but the characters given dialog that, for the most part, felt left-over from “Aliens.” And yes, from a farther-away viewpoint the plot does sound like “Fern Gully.” When the film relies on formula conventions, such as the tribal chief accepting Sully because he is a “warrior” and because of his daughter… it was hard to forgive it for that and it took about an hour to rebuild my believability in the film. Just as the moment of Redemption occurs, there’s another big snafu: the ultimate battle between Quaritch and Sully.

One of the most difficult scenes/parts of this formula is that battle. It has to be believable. It has to be warranted. You’ve seen it dozens of times before and it’s pretty much a convention of filmmaking. In my lifetime Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader would be the first instance I know and remember. Then there’s Biff Tannen versus Marty McFly (or George) in “Back to the Future.” Sometimes, it doesn’t come off so well; I love the film “Dark City,” but the face-off between Mr. Book and John Murdoch didn’t work for me (it has since gotten better with the Director’s Cut). In “Avatar,” Quaritch uses one of the robotic mechs (like the robots in Mechwarrior) and uses a rifle, as well as an overly-large Rambo knife, to kill Sully and his avatar. My suspension of disbelief on this one got shot to hell.

So, why watch this movie? It’s colorful, innovative, breath-taking, and innovative with heart-pounding action sequences and incredible attention to detail. The script/story isn’t perfect (very few are) but when it works, it works well. The general public should see it because there’s not another movie like it (sorry Pixar) and overall it’s good. Filmmakers should watch it to see what can be done with 3-D, and the fact that Cameron raised the bar on how to tell a story (how to tell, not necessarily what the story was about). Writers should see it to get an idea on how to construct a world (and be jealous of Cameron’s visuals).

My grade: B+/A- (technical alone was an A+, but it lost points for story)

25
Jun
08

Remake Radar: The Day the Earth Stood Still

 

 

Welcome to the June edition of Remake Radar, where we tackle Hollywood’s penchant for remaking previous films (for better or worse). This edition’s remake: The Day the Earth Stood Still.

 

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951)

 

Stars: Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, and Sam Jaffe.

 

Director: Robert Wise

 

Story: Klaatu (Rennie) lands his spaceship on Earth to give a message of peace. The response in kind is to shoot at him. He calls out his giant robot Gort (Lock Martin) and narrowly escapes. Klaatu blends into society by calling himself Mr. Carpenter, and meets single mom Helen Benson (Neal) and her son, Bobby (Billy Gray). He tours around a bit, finds out that mankind has a penchant for warfare, and warns others that if the Earth doesn’t stop making other planets feel uncomfortable, it’ll be destroyed. Speaking of which, unless he gets to Gort and repeats the magic words, Earth WILL be destroyed.

 

Based on: “Farewell to the Master,” by Harry Bates.

 

What do we know now?: It’s coming out at the end of the year! Director Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) will be bringing it to a theatre near you on/around December 12, 2008.

 

The current cast:

 

Jennifer Connelly…      Helen Benson

Keanu Reeves…          Klaatu

John Cleese…              Dr. Barnhardt

Kathy Bates…             ?