Archive for the Science Fiction Category

Predestination

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Science Fiction with tags on February 22, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Predestination photo starrating-3stars.jpgOw! My head hurts. After watching Predestination, my brain is trying to come to terms with the conclusion of this wackadoodle film. It’s actually kind of nifty at first. Ethan Hawke plays a time-traveling agent who attempts to prevent an elusive terrorist before he strikes. The thug is known as the “Fizzle Bomber” and his deadly explosive, if successful, will kill thousands of people. Right from the start we see our hero is badly burned in an attack. After reconstructive surgery he is sent back in time to March 1975 to stop the criminal.

The movie captivates your attention rather quickly. The proper drama really begins with Ethan Hawke assuming the role of a bar keeper. He strikes up conversation with an odd young man named John. Whether this gentleman is the Fizzle Bomber or not isn’t really clear. He is a writer that writes confession stories under the pen name Unmarried Mother. John tells the barkeep that he’s got an incredible story. He’s heard a lot and so the two make a bet over whether it tops everything he has heard before. When John begins with, “When I was a little girl…” you know it’s going to be a doozy.

That there’s something a bit off about this “man” (Sarah Snook), is immediately obvious. John’s revelation appears just 15 minutes into the picture so it‘s not a key plot point. However his tale will unite the two on a quest that will eventually lead them to a finish that will have not one, not two, but three revelations dropped in the final third. This reveal is so preposterous that it feels as if the writer came up with the convoluted ending first and then thought backwards as to how they could make this head trip a reality. Predestination is based on a science fiction short story by Robert A. Heinlein called  ‘—All You Zombies—’.  I suppose we might credit the author known for Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) as the root of this silliness, but ultimately the blame must rest with brothers Michael & Peter Spierig who not only adapted Heinlein’s work but also direct.

Predestination is the belief that everything that will happen has already been decided by God/fate and cannot be changed. The film utilizes this idea intelligently. The carefully constructed tale that Jane tells the barkeeper is a fascinating narrative that draws the viewer in for most of the adventure. The Spierig Brothers have fashioned a nifty little drama. “The most incredible story you ever heard” is indeed pretty bizarre. Yet the script thinks it’s smarter than it really is. A turn of events in the final third undoes an intelligent account until it becomes almost a parody. I wish I could explain it because it makes me laugh just taking about it, but trust me, it’s pretty ridiculous. Michael & Peter could have manipulated the source material utilizing any method they saw fit. As the resolution is presented here, it doesn’t earn these revelations honestly, but rather in a way that is desperate to shock more than it is trying to tell a coherent tale. True, these time travel sagas never add up upon close scrutiny but this aggressively exploits a gimmick ending. As a result the narrative falls apart to problems that other time travel movies do not. Watch Back to the Future or Looper for the gold standard.

02-20-15

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on November 21, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe awkwardly titled The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 follows the further adventures of Miss Katniss Everdeen. As embodied by the effervescent Jennifer Lawrence, the character never ceases to be captivating. The actress can make even the most banal dialogue or scene seem absolutely riveting and crucial. And let’s face it. None of these chapters have a clear-cut ending so that talent is most appreciated. In fact, this one is all the more piecemeal because it ends in the middle of the book on which it is adapted. As such, it’s a perfectly acceptable stopgap measure in between the 2nd and final film.

Mockingjay Part 1 picks up where Catching Fire left off. District 12 has been reduced to ashes. Katniss Everdeen has been saved from the arena but Peeta Mellark is still under the restraint of the state. Her goal is to save him and unite a nation ready to oppose the state. This is a plot centered on exposition. Katniss is sent into the front lines in order to star in a sequence of propaganda videos. These are also designed to infiltrate the Capitol airwaves in order to educate the masses into what is really going on. Assuming a major role in this episode is President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) who was the President of District 13. Thought to be destroyed, the district is actually completely intact, just underground.  Coin is now the leader of the rebellion. I didn’t even see The Giver but she looks like Meryl Streep in the trailers for that picture. Less important this time around is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who is used more as a tool to weaken Katniss. The capitol wants Katniss to abandon her role as the Mockingjay. As a symbol of someone who has broken free from the control of the government she is a dangerous inspiration to the people of Panem.

Mockingjay is inferior to Catching Fire, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value. It’s just that the excitement quotient of the story is a bit anemic. There are a lot of segments where the narrative simply drags. That has never been the case with this series before. This is a running commentary on the fabrication of propaganda in order to promote a cause. The groundwork has been laid for all out war. Gone are the reality based competitions to the death. In its place is a war of words, essentially between Katniss Everdeen and President Snow who uses Peeta against her. I must warn the uninitiated. Anyone unfamiliar with the previous installments will be lost. More than Twilight, more than Harry Potter, this entry does require that you have seen Parts 1 and 2. These are the details concerning the ongoing evolution in the nation of Panem. For those in the know, the production can provide some satisfaction.

11-21-14

Big Hero 6

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Science Fiction with tags on November 12, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Big Hero 6 photo starrating-4stars.jpgMeet Baymax – a personal healthcare robot invented by gifted university student Tadashi Hamada. He looks a like an inflatable Michelin man without the definition. With a quick and easy full body scan, Baymax can determine your vital stats and subsequently treat any ailment. He’s a polite, nurturing fellow of pure innocence. Baymax is the heart and soul of Big Hero 6. He makes this film soar….literally. Indeed he can fly, thanks to some creative enhancements.

Big Hero 6 starts off on a very serious note. Professor Robert Callaghan and Tadashi Hamada are killed in a fire at the university. After falling into a depression, younger brother Hiro Hamada strengthens Baymax with armor and a microchip programmed with martial arts moves. The relationship between Hiro and Baymax is at core of this adventure. It’s an engaging friendship and they are an absolute delight together.  Although only 14 years old, Hiro has created a brilliant new invention – microbots – tiny robots that can link together by swarming into any arrangement imaginable.  Hiro is now on the hunt for a mysterious man wearing a kabuki mask who has stolen his invention. The baddie wishes to exact retribution on those who wronged him.

Hiro gets support from his older brother’s four friends at the university.  Their personalities mesh well, although the screenwriters have taken a few shortcuts. The characters falls into clichéd archetypes easily discernable for young viewers. Nevertheless they have nice camaraderie together. There’s Honey Lemon (Génesis Rodríguez), a chemistry whiz who uses a designer handbag like Batman uses a utility belt. Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) is a solidly built neat freak that screams like a little girl when he isn’t slicing people with lasers. Tough chick GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung) skates on magnetic levitation discs like something out of Tron. And lastly there’s fan boy Fred (T. J. Miller) a laid back dude with an alter ego that breathes fire. The four of them team up with Hiro and Baymax to save the city.  They are a lively bunch.

Big Hero 6 isn’t particularly innovative in the narrative department. The Incredibles kept popping up in my mind. The story is pretty standard: get the bad guy out for revenge. Yet the beginning grabs the viewer’s attention with an enticing set-up. Too bad the ending does not live up to all the excitement that precedes it. Nevertheless the production is bright, colorful fun and the animation is a joy to watch. Big Hero 6 actually bests its influences in this area. Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a 14 year old engineering wonder. His affinity for Baymax is palpable and his upgrades to his brother’s creation inform the chronicle. Baymax is a great physical comedian. He conveys so much with so little. I mean his face is two dots connected by a line. He’s expressionless, but his sweet innocence comes through in every scene. His character is such a refreshing change of pace from the in-your-face, amped up, hyperactive personalities that often plague kiddie cartoons. His pacifist stance explores the futility of vengeance and power of forgiveness. Child Hiro emotionally matures as a human being as a result of knowing Baymax. I found their kinship genuinely touching.

11-09-14

Interstellar

Posted in Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on November 8, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Interstellar photo starrating-3stars.jpgInterstellar is vague in every way that a film can be vague. The year is difficult to pinpoint. It feels like sometime in the indeterminate near future, say 2050, but the production design is more inspired by John Steinbeck novels set in the 1930s. This is the heartland of America, possibly a state like Oklahoma. We see them watching the Yankees as a barnstorming team so maybe they’re in New York. We really don‘t know. The very existence of the human race is endangered by dust clouds, described as blight, that are gradually eliminating the number of crops that are viable on Earth. We’re to assume the whole world is at risk, but only the U.S. is addressed or even mentioned. Farms are collapsing. In a prologue, elderly people reminisce about the farming era in which they lived. Most of the interviewees are actually non actors from Ken Burns’ 2012 documentary The Dust Bowl repurposed here to represent a different ecological disaster.

However one of those subjects is an actual actress – Ellen Burstyn – who plays Murphy Cooper as an old woman. Flashback to the proper start of our adventure. Murph is the highly regarded 10 year old daughter of Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). She is initially played by Mackenzie Foy and later Jessica Chastain. This father-daughter connection is the heart of Interstellar. However the tenderness between father and daughter rings hollow. They are given little to do, save for hunting down an errant drone spy plane together.  Their relationship is an emotional void and the drama fails to engage at this level. Cooper’s eagerness to leave his family and blast off into the stratosphere doesn’t help.  Father Cooper also lives with his seemingly disregarded 15-year-old son Tom (Timothée Chalamet). The script barely acknowledges the boy. Rounding out this foursome is his father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow). Murph communicates with a ghost in her bedroom which ultimately leads her father to a secret NASA base location. There he meets a team of explorers that hypothesizes the solution to the Earth’s problems lies somewhere beyond this galaxy.

Christopher Nolan is a storyteller and he fashions a chronicle with a great deal of attention. There is a lot of science tossed around in the explanation of space travel. I won’t bore you with the particulars but it involves Einstein, relativity and the space-time continuum. I’m not a scientist, but most of it sounded pretty logical to me so I accepted it at face value. Christopher Nolan fills the world with little details that make watching more fun. TARS is a robot helper on the mission. He looks like a monolith that separates into rectangular limbs when he walks and talks. He is refreshingly outdated in style but uncomfortably human when he enunciates. Several times I couldn’t figure out who was speaking, only to realize, it was TARS the robot. He has a sarcastic personality brought to life by actor Bill Irwin. “I have a cue light I can use to show you when I’m joking, if you like.”

Interstellar is filled with fascinating setpieces: (1) a tidal wave on a water planet that rises up out of nothing like a wall, (2) the arrival of a guest with depressing news, (3) an altercation on the frozen tundra of another planet, (4) a docking maneuver that is a nail bitter. But the whole isn’t equal to the sum of these parts. Interstellar is certainly a wonder to behold. Nolan gets the majesty of the universe in all its wide expansive grandeur. The director was clearly inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Richard Strauss’ symphonic poem “Also Sprach Zarathustra” was utilized to legendary effect in that picture. Hans Zimmer attempts to outdo the epicness of that piece. The score is bombastic, almost assaultive. In space no one can hear you scream. That’s because Hans Zimmer’s score will drown you out. Long-time collaborator Wally Pfister was busy directing Transcendence, so Nolan tapped Hoyt Van Hoytema to shoot this saga. The cinematography is full of breathtaking images as they reinforce a lofty tale of epic proportions. If you can feast on the visuals, then perhaps that will be enough to hold you. But any movie that MUST be seen on a big screen to be enjoyed, falls short at telling an engaging story.

Interstellar is an extremely long 3 hour movie. For roughly half the drama, the ideas feel organic as they effortlessly support a real respect for the wonder of the cosmos. But by the 2nd half, something happens. The ideas become more ponderous, the tone more solemn. Physics gives way to mysticism. An initial set up that was driven by the joy of space travel devolves into a superficial meditation on love. Yet for all its efforts to be tear-jerking, I felt nothing. It’s not a bad film, but it is Christopher Nolan’s least captivating picture. It doesn’t seem informed by the director’s vision. It’s more like the 2nd greatest work that M. Night Shyamalan never directed.

11-04-14

The Zero Theorem

Posted in Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on September 24, 2014 by Mark Hobin

The Zero Theorem photo starrating-2stars.jpgQohen, pronounced Cohen but often referred to as merely Q, is a reclusive mathematical genius working for a company named Mancom. The job requires he labor over a formula that makes zero equal 100%. In this way they hope to prove the reason for human existence: “everything adds up to nothing”. If you haven’t guessed from that, Qohen lives in a future dystopia. It’s a cacophonous society of advertising where talking adverts actually follow you as you walk down the street. Qohen is suffering from his own existential crisis. He’s searching for meaning in a world run by heartless corporations. Christoph Waltz plays a bloke who is a bit off his rocker. The hairless introvert refers to himself as “we” and constantly waits at home for a phone call he believes will give him the answer he needs.

Apparently The Zero Theorem completes a trilogy. Terry Gilliam’s dystopian satires began with 1985’s Brazil and continued on through 1995 with Twelve Monkeys. Similar in spirit, there’s no denying that the production has visually appealing aspects. The atmosphere is incredibly claustrophobic as most of the action takes place in Qohen’s cluttered home, a repurposed cathedral that has been abandoned. Gilliam appoints the room with little details like a collage. Director Gilliam surrounds Waltz with seasoned thespians in supporting roles. Unfortunately the parts are too shallow to make much of an impression. Tilda Swinton ends her succession of phenomenal films with a role that feels like a cheap imitation of her dictatorial character from Snowpiercer. The 2nd half improves with the arrival of newcomer Mélanie Thierry as Bainsley, a seductive femme fatale that could either be his one true love or perhaps just a mere distraction.

Despite my fairly level-headed distillation of the plot, The Zero Theorem has no objective to entertain with a coherent story. It’s a vague rumination of a concept. The lack of specifics makes the disastrous beginning extremely hard to sit through. My consistent thought during the first half: What in the name of Egon Pearson is this movie about?! There are creative features of the society that do captivate. Robin Williams briefly appears on a billboard that promotes “The Church of Batman the Redeemer”. Party-goers dance to music on their own cell phones instead of what’s playing at the party. Terry Gilliam’s world building is impressive. But look past those amusing gags and we’re left with an inkling of an idea unable to support a compelling narrative. It recalls his brilliant Brazil in style but not in substance. The Zero Theorem is a thoroughly uninvolving exercise in abstract thought, and it’s not even a very interesting one at that.

09-23-2014

Ghostbusters

Posted in Comedy, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on September 7, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Ghostbusters photo starrating-5stars.jpgHard to believe, but 2014 is the 30th anniversary of Ghostbusters. 1984 was a magical summer for me. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Karate Kid and The Last Starfighter were all movies I saw that year. And that June 8th weekend was a historic one because it not only marked the debut of Ivan Reitman’s comedy classic, but of also another big hit. Gremlins was in fact THE major release that weekend. It was opening in many more theaters and it was executive produced by Steven Spielberg who was red hot from directing E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial two years prior. Even Beat Street, now a little remembered music drama about a newly emerging dance style called breakdancing, was launched in more theaters. Despite debuting on fewer screens, the picture would ultimately become the 2nd highest grossing film of the year. Beverly Hills Cop, opening at the end of the year, would be #1.

It wasn’t easy to find. My local cinema that only charged $2 wasn’t showing it, but me and my buddies desperately wanted to see it.   I was too young to drive so we had to beg my friend’s mom to take us so we could make the trip out of town. $5 for a matinee which in 1984 was outrageously expensive. That would be like $12 today. Unbelievable! I can remember sitting in that darkened theater wide eyed at the special effects, laughing at the gut-busting one-liners. I was captivated by what I saw and it immediately became a treasured favorite. I still cite it any time I’m asked to list my top movies. I’ll admit my love is influenced by nostalgia, but I find it has lost none of its luster.

The plot is secondary to the fun, but I’ll recount it anyway. There’s this high rise apartment building in New York at 55 Central Park West, see. It’s being haunted by a demonic spirit named Zuul which starts terrorizing poor musician Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) in her kitchen. Meanwhile compatible demi-god Vinz Clortho the Keymaster attacks nerdy accountant Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) at a party he’s throwing for his clients. Both beings act as loyal minions preparing the way for Gozer the Gozerian, a Sumerian god of destruction who can manifest itself in different forms. Scientists Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler are doctors of parapsychology. With paranormal activity in New York on the rise, they create The Ghostbusters, an exterminating business of sorts.

Ghostbusters is quite simply one of my most beloved films of all time. The iconic production is a perfect marriage of a special effects extravaganza with spectacular performances to create one side-splitting gem. Bill Murray is the undeniable star and he’s in top form as Dr. Peter Venkman a sly, laid back scientist with deadpan delivery that seems more concerned with dating his pretty client Dana Barrett than actually getting to the bottom of her disturbances. Sigourney Weaver nicely straddles the line between exasperated annoyance and charmed love interest. Bill Murray likewise has great camaraderie with his fellow Ghostbusters Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis). Those two are also responsible for writing the finely tuned screenplay. It zips, it pops and it never lets up. Ernie Hudson joins them later as Winston Zeddemore. He delivers my favorite quip after the group is blown away by the lightening bolts of an evil entity from another dimension. There is a slew of funny dialogue and Rick Moranis’ nerdy portrayal of Louis Tully delivers a lot of it. He‘s hilarious. “Okay, who brought the dog?” he grins after hearing the growl from the long horned beast hiding in his closet.

The spectacular special effects support the story, but they never threaten to overshadow the actors. The technology was state of the art at the time, even earning an Academy Award nomination.  But it lost to the mine cart scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Perhaps time has rendered the optics a bit quaint to a modern audience. The sight of that devil dog leaping from the closet and running around the city is the most dicey. But it’s the comedic interactions between characters that hold our focus, not the whiz bang appeal of the visual displays. Ok so there’s that “monster” near the end that dwarfs everything else. When the Destructor of their choosing threatens the city and their very existence, it’s memorable. That’s the kind of silly moment of brilliance that makes you realize you’re watching a work of creative genius. Oh yeah.  I adore this film.

09-06-14

Guardians of the Galaxy

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Superhero with tags on August 3, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Guardians of the Galaxy photo starrating-5stars.jpgAt heart, Guardians of the Galaxy is a simple tale about a group of misfits. A mysterious orb of untold power is stolen by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) aka Star-Lord on the planet Morag. The valuable artifact is coveted by Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a genocidal militarist of the Kree race. Star-Lord attempts to sell the relic on the planet Xandar and pocket the money, but before he can, it is intercepted by Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a curvaceous alien warrior. The ensuing commotion also draws in Rocket (Bradley Cooper) a anthropomorphic raccoon and Groot (Vin Diesel) a tree-like biped. They all end up in jail where they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a massive brute out for vengeance. This rag tag aggregation of prisoners become allies who unite against a common threat.

Superhero movies are inherently ridiculous. Beings, often from another planet, dress up in some getup and fight crime with their bizarre superhuman abilities. Silly no? That’s why I like mine served with a big fat helping of comedy. The more winking at the audience, the better. Guardians of the Galaxy may be from a comic book, but it doesn’t feel like a Marvel picture in the traditional sense. It concerns a disparate team that are rather disorganized. This motley collection of mercenaries are pretty selfish too. Fighting corruption is the furthest thing from this sorry gang’s mindset as you can get. Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t yearn to adhere to the superhero template. It wants to kick back and relax to the soft rock stylings of the 70s. The production would prefer to just rest its feet on the archetype like it was an ottoman.

What makes the fabric of this story work, is the charismatic mix of personalities that ordinarily would have no business being friends. There’s no reason why this unorthodox lot would ever associate with one another. The combination of individuals is unlike anything ever seen before and yet they are instantly recognizable. First and foremost is Chris Pratt as Peter Quill or Star-Lord as he prefers to be called. He’s a roguish, opportunist who just exudes swagger. Indiana Jones or Han Solo would consider him one of their own. He’s in good company. Zoe Saldana is the sexy Gamora, an assassin, the last of her Zehoberi race. She is a quick witted match for the womanizing Star-Lord. Great shades of Princess Leia! Of humanoid appearance, she sparks believable chemistry with Star-Lord even though she is a green skinned alien. Drax the Destroyer is a tremendously muscled thing not dissimilar to the Hulk. In spite of his brutish looks and psychopathic personality, he masks a remarkably sensitive backstory of pain. Ronan the Accuser killed his family and now he seeks to avenger their death. Gamora has ties to Ronan that will prove to be quite useful.

Computer animated creations can be a mixed bag. Jar Jar Binks anyone? However here the technology has been used with fascinating vitality. Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper) is a genetically engineered raccoon that has been given sentient intelligence. A completely realistic CGI creation, he is nonetheless one of the most engaging all the characters, his rather chaotic, trigger happy temperament notwithstanding. One cannot acknowledge Rocket without also mentioning Groot, a tree creature voiced by Vin Diesel. The two of them are bounty hunters that work in tandem. The imposing guy speaks only three words: “I am Groot.” Despite his limited vocabulary, Rocket and Groot understand one another perfectly which gives rise to some very humorous conversations. Groot is an innocent that exudes more heart than all of the other entities put together.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the spiritual sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy we dreamed about. Action packed, well written and most of all fun! This is a space epic where the unexpected happens. Gamora and Star-Lord romantically bond over Elvin Bishop‘s easy listening classic “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”. A baby tree boogies down to “ABC” by The Jackson 5. Glenn Close sports a hair-don’t that looks like a triple dollop of cake frosting. Director James Gunn has never helmed a production this huge.  His highest profile box office success heretofore was as the screenwriter for the live-action Scooby-Doo in 2002. He pulls out all the stops here.  Superhero movies never get Oscar consideration for costume design but Alexandra Byrne’s work needs be recognized. I truly hope she will garner a nomination. Even during battles scenes, the frightened citizens in the background had creative wardrobe details that I haven’t seen since the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier’s work in The Fifth Element. The jaw-dropping manifestation of this universe is a marvel of modern technology, fashion, and special effects. The art direction never ceases to amaze in a world where outstanding visually impressive displays have become commonplace. And let’s not forget that soundtrack, a brilliant blend of early 70s light rock classics that actually exist to cement the deep emotional bond the main protagonist had with his mother. It’s a stunning presentation full of pathos, love, joy and humor. Sorry Transformers: Age of Extinction, but in the words of a pop hit on this soundtrack, I’m hooked on a feeling. I’m high on believing that Guardians of the Galaxy is the summer blockbuster we’ve been waiting for.

07-31-14

Lucy

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on July 28, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Lucy photo starrating-4stars.jpgThe Plot: “Lucy wishes to be part of Ricky’s act at the club but he forbids it, so she disguises herself to get into the show.”

Of course I’m kidding.  That’s obviously a description of the very amusing 50s sitcom I Love Lucy.  However Lucy the movie, the latest sci-fi offering from director Luc Besson, is no less funny, but unintentionally so. Our heroine starts out as a blonde bimbo. An American woman who just wants to have fun while living and studying in Taipei, Taiwan. The gratuitous setting ostensibly for no other reason than it affords the cinematographer lots of cool shots of Taipei 101, which up until 2010, was the tallest building in the world. Her boyfriend, looking like a Bono wannabe with yellow wraparound shades and cowboy hat, is Danish actor Pilou Asbæk.  They’ve only been dating for a week. Now he’s tricked her into becoming a drug mule for his employer, a fearsome Korean gangster named Mr. Jang. Scenes of thugs congregating are awkwardly juxtaposed with nature footage of a cheetah stalking a gazelle on the African veld. Actor Choi Min-sik relishes his role. He shoots a guy for laughing. The way he strikes a paralyzing fear into the hearts of everyone around him is kind of amusing. Lucy is subsequently knocked out and a highly valuable synthetic pharmaceutical called CPH4 is placed in her stomach. The bright blue gravel looks like something with which you’d line an aquarium floor. While imprisoned, one of Lucy’s captors kicks her in the stomach causing the bag to leak which releases the mind enhancing superdrug into her system.

I suppose I can suspend disbelief and accept that this stimulant has crazy mind altering capabilities, but the drug is so potent, her aptitude qualifies as an unfair advantage. She has the powers of a god. Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) is introduced at this juncture giving a lecture on brain capacity to his students likewise bringing the audience up to speed as well. He explains that if humans could exceed beyond their mere 10% brain usage, they would either choose immortality or reproduction. A clip is shown of every species imaginable copulating at this point, just in case we’re unclear as to how animals get busy. Here’s about where the narrative really gets stupid, i.e. so ridiculous it‘s a joke. On each occasion her mental capacity expands, the screen goes black and a big white numerical percentage notifies us how much of her brain she is now using. We start at 10% then 20 on to 30 and so forth. As the movie plays out the numbers advance speedily the closer she nears 100%. She begins acquiring increasingly powerful mental talents and enhanced physical potential. She learns and retains huge amounts of data in seconds, absorbs information instantaneously, manipulates objects with her mind. Pain is essentially something she chooses not to feel. Did I mentions she has mastered time travel too?

Now omnipotent, she has a pretty significant advantage against her human antagonists. Her power is absolute but it‘s also laughable. Lucy contacts Professor Norman by manipulating electronics and incongruously appearing on the TV in his hotel room. At the hospital she mentally dismantles and entire room full of armed men with a wave of her fingers. At least she spares the one French policeman out to help her (Amr Waked). In a superhero movie it would take another all powerful entity to stop her, but here no one can possibly confront her abilities. In one particularly emblematic scene, a small army of combatants accost her down a hallway. With a few flicks of her wrist, the attackers are levitated. The thrill of an elaborately choreographed fight scene is neutralized in seconds. Crisis averted but so is the excitement.

Lucy is so ridiculously harebrained, that it becomes a compelling watch, like a train wreck. For about the first third of the film it’s a fairly straightforward woman in peril story. Once Scarlett Johansson ingests the narcotic and she begins to understand how to manipulate its benefits, the saga becomes a superhero movie without a legitimate antagonist. Scarlett Johansson morphs from a trembling airhead into an instinctual killing machine. Her voice becomes a robotic monotone to boot. Apparently only stupid people show emotion. I kept wondering when someone else would simply take the same drug so they could oppose her on the same level playing field. Alas no one seemed to figure that out. That lack of sense ironically accords with everything else in this loopy film. The script lazily sets up a far fetched premise without even trying to explain why it would work.

As her intellect grows so does the ludicrousness of the story. There’s a moment where Lucy pages through time with her hands like she’s playing a Dance Central video game. We watch her zip from Paris to New York’s Times Square as the site transforms through various eras. While wearing Louboutins and a sexy black mini, she ultimately has an awkward meet and greet in the Jurassic era with Lucy the Australopithecus.  Yes, I’m talking about the first hominid. Then they touch fingers like when God created Adam à la Michelangelo. I laughed so hard I cried. It’s an efficient little thriller too. The whole thing clocks in at just 90 minutes. A trippy dippy delight along the enjoyable nonsense of concoctions like Congo and Anaconda. Lucy is not good in the traditional sense, but it is hilariously nonsensical in spite of itself. This is pure camp and on that level, it qualifies as an entertaining movie.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Posted in Action, Drama, Science Fiction, War with tags on July 13, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes photo starrating-4stars.jpgThis sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes continues after the viral-based pharmaceutical ALZ-112 caused the fall of civilization. Most of the human population has died off due to their own engineered drug. Genetically evolved Caesar leads a society of super-smart apes in Muir Woods. A team of remaining human survivors immune to the virus are living nearby in San Francisco. One day someone inadvertently wanders into ape territory. In a tense standoff, one of the chimpanzees is shot which becomes the seed that leads to a growing battle for supremacy between the ape and human worlds.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is politically audacious. The narrative goes deeper than just people vs. apes. There is division even within the ranks of each species. Caesar the more level headed peace-keeping chimpanzee is pitted directly against his own kind in one bonobo named Koba. He’s an angry militant that wants to attack them first, lest they be attacked. To be fair, the humans did kill off one of their own first or should I say, an individual named Carver (Kirk Acevedo) did. He was acting alone but now his violent act is responsible for starting a brewing war among different primate species. On the human front it’s Malcolm (Jason Clarke) vs. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman). Guns complicate matters considerably. So does the apes’ ability to ride horses, which looks very cool by the way.

Dawn pushes the technology of CGI a giant step forward. The visual realism achieved in the rendering of the apes is so extraordinary, I forgot I was watching computer images on screen. A lot of the advances in this field are due to the simulation and modeling software developed by Weta Digital back in 2005 during Peter Jackson’s King Kong. However this far surpasses anything seen in that film. The believability of the apes is helped immeasurably by the motion capture performances of the actors that bring life to these creatures. I’ll cite not only the pioneer in the field Andy Serkis (Caesar) but also Toby Kebbell (Koba) who deserves a special mention. They have the biggest parts, but there are many artists putting in great work here. Although unseen, their actual expressions are incorporated into the visuals at various points. Caesar’s love for his primate family is fully felt just as one would feel affinity toward any flesh and blood family up on the screen. I dare say the writing of these digitally rendered creations actually exceeds those of the human characters. I was completely immersed in the story.

I certainly didn’t expect to get a cogent commentary on the nature of war when I sat down to watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but that’s exactly what I got. The script makes a compelling explanation of how the behavior of a few are sometimes extrapolated to everyone in the group. And how a political body might try to justify going to war against, oh I don’t know, let’s say an entire country because of the isolated actions of some fringe fanatics. It makes a strong case that when boundaries are drawn and resources are needed in outlying areas, war is inevitable. There’s plenty of jump-worthy moments to keep action fans entertained as well. I sat there mouth agape on several occasions because the sequences were that thrilling. The quality of Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a nice surprise in the re-introduction of this series back in 2011. Perhaps this production is an even bigger revelation because it’s better and improves upon something that was already quite good. At this rate, the third film should win Best Picture.

Snowpiercer

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on June 30, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Snowpiercer photo starrating-5stars.jpgSnowpiercer is a work of art. A genre busting, amalgamation of action, drama and science fiction, that seamlessly weaves the qualities of disparate styles into an epic tale about a speeding train. The only survivor left on earth are the passengers on a massive locomotive that holds the sum total of all humanity in a climate controlled environment. Like a speeding bullet, it stops for nothing, circumnavigating the entire globe at one complete revolution per year. It hurtles down a track at lightning speeds across a world engulfed in an icy tundra. Snowpiercer is the first English language film from Bong Joon-ho. Savvy art house crowds might remember him as the director of The Host, a Korean monster-movie hit that was released in the U.S. back in 2007. That presaged a talent to watch but nothing could have prepared audiences for this masterpiece.

Working from the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Joon-ho Bong co-writes a screenplay with Kelly Masterson (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead). Together they fashion a post apocalyptic sci-fi dystopian drama. I know what you’re thinking. Those are a dime a dozen these days. But Snowpiercer is different. Powered by a perpetual motion engine, the locomotive holds humanity in its entirety, delineating the world according to class and rank. This caste system on the train is a visually rendered geometric plane of various cars that extends in 2 directions. In the front we get the elite of society living in luxury. In the very back, we have what you’d called steerage if this was the Titanic. Except the existence of passengers aboard the Snowpiercer is much much worse. They are the proletariat subjected to an oppressive rule that recalls the regime of a dictator. Here is where our impoverished team of protagonists reside. It’s the 2030s. They’ve been captive for 15 years and they’ve had it up to here with their lot in life. Let’s just say, they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Snowpiercer is highlighted by a charismatic aggregation of talented actors. Chief among them is Chris Evans as Curtis Everett, an insurgent who leads the uprising. Edgar (Jamie Bell) is his rebellious friend. The elder statesmen of the group is called Gilliam (John Hurt) as in Terry Gilliam, director of Brazil. It’s risky to namecheck the rarefied air of that dystopian classic but Snowpiercer compares favorably. This indigent group also includes Octavia Spencer, Ewen Bremner, and Luke Pasqualinoin among others, in key roles that highlight some troubling developments. Along the way their insurrection is aided by Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) a fellow prisoner. He’s the security expert who engineered the doors separating each car. He is joined by his daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung). On the opposite side we have Tilda Swinton, a strict disciplinarian tasked with enforcing the rules. She carries out the orders of Wilford, a higher power at the head of the train. A classroom indoctrinating the children in the virtues of the mighty Wilford is a chilling scene of worship and propaganda. Wilford’s control is reminiscent of the cult of a dictatorship. An all powerful person few have seen but everyone fears and respects.

Snowpiercer is a politically provocative ensemble piece of legendary proportions. A parable that manipulates the medium in impressively dynamic ways which captivate the mind while delighting the eye. It’s a production designer’s dream that makes full use of color, mood and style in representing the various rooms within the train. Amidst the futuristic sci-fi effects is a relentlessly sensational, claustrophobic indie about a revolution. Yes the fight for liberty is not an easy one. There will be blood. But it’s never in a gratuitous sense to appeal to bloodthirsty interests. Rather the struggles are a reminder that freedom is a right that many have died for lest ye ever take those blessings for granted. A nightmarish brawl shot entirely in the dark is uncomfortably scary. Snowpiercer is the greatest kind of picture. An intelligent saga of well crafted action that creatively entertains with a loopy imagination. It’s cinematically dazzling with heart pounding excitement. I’m not sure if this is the best film of 2014 yet, but it’s getting pretty close.

06-27-14

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 805 other followers