Archive for the Science Fiction Category

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Posted in Documentary, Science Fiction with tags on April 2, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Jodorowsky's Dune photo starrating-4stars.jpgJodorowsky’s Dune is a fascinating documentary because it posits “what could have been?” Chilean born director Alejandro Jodorowsky is known for his avant garde films. El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973) in particular were mainstays of the 1970s midnight movie circuit in the United States. Neither gained widespread distribution, but both became classics of underground cinema. Then in 1975, the cult director optioned the rights to Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic Dune. He then proceeded to amass an impressive assemblage of talent: artists H. R. Giger and Jean Giraud for character and set design, Dan O’Bannon for special effects, Pink Floyd for music, and a cast that would include David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and Salvador Dalí. The group became what he refers to as his “spiritual warriors” – people with whom the director felt a kinship in manifesting what was to be his masterpiece. Douglas Trumbull, in contrast, was considered for special effects first. The director’s personality didn’t gel with the talent behind 2001: A Space Odyssey and he was not hired.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is a engrossing document because it provides the history behind a bizarre movie that never came to fruition. In his fertile and uninhibited imagination, the production becomes sort of a no-holds-barred, anything is possible fantasy with limitless possibilities. Whether an unproven director could have successfully produced an opus of this magnitude is unclear. The undertaking soon ran out of funds. Jodorsoksky burned through more than $2 million of producer Michel Seydoux’s money and hadn’t yet shot a single frame. They appealed for more cash. Apparently the studio was not convinced and shut down the project before it had the opportunity to continue.

Jodorowsky’s Dune makes an entertaining case that this is the greatest sci-fi film never made. The massive Dune storyboard book circulated through various studios in Hollywood as the proposal sought financing partners. The blueprints contain attributes which correlate to visual aspects in Star Wars, Alien, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, The Terminator, Masters of the Universe, The Matrix and others. Alejandro Jodorowsky is an intriguing personality and it’s fun hearing him reminisce about something in which he is still so passionate. He was able to charm a lot of people into initially believing in him. As charismatic as he is, I am certain the man is also stark raving mad. There’s no way the final product could have possibly lived up to the potential that this feature suggests. However, that doesn’t lessen the impact of this captivating document on filmmaking. Ultimately Dune would reach the screen in David Lynch’s infamous 1984 adaptation. Jodorowsky’s reluctance to see someone else’s vision of a project he was so close to, is understandable. Even his climatic recounting of that story is worth the price of admission.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction on November 24, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgIt’s rare when part 2 of a trilogy can not only live up to expectations, but surpass them.  The second entry isn’t the exciting setup, nor the epic conclusion. There are examples, but second installments are often a holding pattern for the final and third climatic entry. Attack of the Clones, anyone? My feeling about Part 1 are a matter of public record. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I even felt that it jettisoned superfluous aspects of the book in service of an improved cinematic experience. Now we come to Catching Fire. I appreciated the novel, but it was hampered by the law of diminishing returns. The plot begins when the people of Panem greet Katniss as she tours the 12 districts with Peeta on her victorious return from the Hunger Games. The two arrive as heroes. But President Snow is not happy with the outcome. The seeds of revolt have been planted. The leader seeks to contain the building restlessness of the populace. His solution will affect the lives of many former winners. Catching Fire violates a commonly held belief that sequels are inferior. This shouldn’t have happened, but Catching Fire actually surpasses The Hunger Games. The film does the impossible. It presents a 2 ½ hour movie that is thrilling from beginning to end and leaves the audience breathlessly waiting for the next installment.

What makes Catching Fire so effective is the utter believability of the narrative. Credit an ensemble cast that delivers without exception. These days, we’re lucky to get one performance that captivates our emotion in a typical big budget fantasy like this. Here I could cite 10 actors that impress with their contributions. However any reasonable discussion must acknowledge the lead. Jennifer Lawrence is a talent of the highest magnitude. Let’s face it. A dystopian future where the state maintains egregious control, is nothing new. We’ve seen this subject before in literary masterpieces such as 1984 and Brave New World to celluloid classics like Brazil and The Matrix. Here the tyrannical state punishes its citizens by making them fight to the death, and then presents the ordeal to the masses as entertainment. The deterioration of society is a prevalent theme in fiction (and in the real world to be quite honest). Yet there still remains an inherent skepticism. In each frame, Jennifer Lawrence expressive portrayal engenders our sympathy. Study her countenance as she takes her National Victory Tour. As she stares out to the faces of the districts whose tributes she has defeated, she reveals pain, often without speaking. Her expressions speak more than a thousand pages. Her tortured soul in full view of a nation. You too might feel sorrow. Miss Lawrence renders a flawless achievement. She treats the role as if she were acting in a biographical drama. Her sincere performance has the gravitas required to engage our passion.

Studio Lionsgate Entertainment increased the budget from the first film by over 60% and it shows. Catching Fire dazzles the senses in almost every scene. The tale is particularly amusing when sending up the frivolous facade of disposable entertainment. The first half detailing the increasing uneasiness, is actually more compelling than the standard-issue combat of the second half. Some of the climactic resolutions will be a bit murky to people unfamiliar with the text. The critique of our media based culture is rather engaging. The actors embody the residents of a despotic state that feels as genuine as any historical saga. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket coordinates our protagonists’ personal appearances. Sporting false eyelashes that extend out like tendrils from her eyes, she is a glittering Christmas tree of changing outfits. She remains just as intellectually superficial, but her character registers a knowing sadness this time around. Her discontent with the process is barely there, but it is perceptible.  Her ever-so-subtle dissatisfaction mirrors the mood of the citizenry. The depiction is masterful in its nuance. Later, Katniss is on stage with host Caesar Flickerman in her pre-games interview show. The glitzy neon, “Hollywood” production is a humorous parallel to American Idol, although the stakes are admittedly much higher. Stanley Tucci is the preening, purple haired, showman with bright white capped teeth. His flashy persona rivals Ryan Seacrest.

Catching Fire does a brilliant job of taking a beloved work and turning it into a cinematic event. You’ve heard the adage “show don’t tell.” In scene after scene, director Francis Lawrence invigorates the words of Suzanne Collins’ novel into a fully realized picture that exploits the possibilities of the visual medium. The evils of living in Panem are explored with an enlightened depth. The actors personify the victims of a single-party totalitarian dictatorship in the saga of an oppressive government. The anguish is authentic, at times heartbreaking. There is a scene in Catching Fire where Katniss takes a TV stage resplendent in a white wedding gown. She is unveiling the dress she was supposed to have worn in her upcoming marriage ceremony to Peeta. As the live studio spectators watch in rapt attention, she begins spinning. The outfit catches fire, engulfed in flames transformed like a phoenix. Her costume grows wings, becoming a mockingjay, a symbol of rebellion against the capital. The galvanizing spectacle will have grave repercussions later, but it’s a heady display – an instant to share in the power of the collective experience. We’re witnessing the manifestation of a star right before our very eyes – in the movie, but also real life. The fame of Katniss Everdeen parallels Jennifer Lawrence’s own soaring career trajectory. Indeed life imitates art.

About Time

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction with tags on November 17, 2013 by Mark Hobin

About Time photo starrating-2stars.jpgRichard Curtis the writer can manipulate emotions with the skill of a pro. He is the architect behind the screenplays of such paeans to love as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love Actually. The last of which he also directed. His take has always resonated on an emotional level with me so I greeted About Time with open arms. But here, for the first time, his perspective isn’t so noble. The result is his most self-centered take on love yet.

A poor sad sack of a fellow had just been told by his dad that the men in their family have the power to go back in time upon reaching their 21st birthday. Now if you’re asking yourself, but how? You’re already too smart for this claptrap. You simply walk into the nearest dark closet, clench your fists, and wiggle your nose. Ok, so I made that last part up, but the rest is the gospel truth straight from the movie. I’m willing to suspend disbelief and the logical explanation of a DeLorean and/or a wormhole to accept hokum if it serves a good story. So does he use his extraordinary gift for the betterment of humankind? Ah nothing so altruistic. No, he harnesses the ability to win the woman of his dreams. Now here’s where it gets a bit icky. The chronicle is infected with purely self seeking motives which underlie everything our protagonist does. You see it doesn’t really matter what women need in his world. It’s all about him and what Tim craves is sweet, lovable American girl Mary.

It’s nice to see Rachel McAdams in any movie. Mary is played with genuine sweetness by the actress and her charisma smoothes over a lot of vexing plot points. She is cheerfully oblivious to Tim abilities. Witness when she falls in love with another guy, Tom is able to “fix” things so that she never even meets what could have been the man of her dreams. Tim is actor Domhnall Gleeson, best known as Bill Weasley in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Parts 1 and 2. This is a role that Hugh Grant could’ve easily embodied with a lot more personality. Although as great as Hugh Grant is, I question whether even he could make a character driven by such egocentric goals, seem sheepishly adorable. The script so desperately tries to portray Tim in this way. Domhnall Gleeson’s motivation is so self serving he’s more Ugh Grant than Hugh Grant.

Richard Curtis slathers on the adult contemporary hits and stocks the cast with a coterie of wacky stock characters from a sitcom. On the surface, there’s a vague “I did it all for love” mentality that might not seem so pernicious. But this is a purely one-sided affair. Tim is exploitative, deluding an unfortunate woman to benefit his own greedy ends regardless of her feelings. It’s pretty creepy. I kept waiting for some moral comeuppance. Some instance where our “hero” would learn that women are not objects to be manipulated, but it never comes. Furthermore there is very little in the way of conflict for Tim because any time something doesn’t go quite the way he wants, he can merely zip back in time and re-do the moment so that it’s perfect. There’s one particularly troublesome suggestion that he actually sleeps with Mary 3 times in the same night, unbeknownst to her, until he gets the experience right. I wonder how she would’ve felt knowing that once she says yes, he can have his way with her over and over without her consent. Groundhog Day did this subject infinitely better and that comedy acknowledged the inherent ethical dilemma of deceiving people to suit your own selfish desires. That’s clearly the inspiration for this. At its best the message of About Time is treacle and at its worst it’s downright immoral.

Ender’s Game

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on November 6, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Ender's Game photo starrating-2stars.jpgIt’s hard to believe this is the story that has inspired generations of readers since its publication in 1985. Orson Scott Card‘s novel has won a host of awards. The text has even become recommended reading for military organizations including the United States Marine Corps. But this is a review of the film, not the book itself. As far as the adaptation is concerned, it’s largely a colossal bore.

The plot is a young-adult fantasy about pupils trying to prove themselves and move through the ranks in some teen military academy. Battle School is an organization designed by the International Fleet to indoctrinate new recruits into their service. This is your standard issue sci-fi combat and it’s pretty generic. If you’ve seen any movie with a space war in it, you’ve seen this. However because of their age, Solarbabies is the reference that kept popping up in my head. It’s a fairly obscure 1986 sci-fi that would be all but forgotten if it hadn’t starred a collection of well-known young actors (Jami Gertz, Jason Patric, Lukas Haas). It was poorly received, but even that film is better than this.

There are others, but here are 3 reasons why the movie fails:

1.) Asa Butterfield exhibits zero charisma as Ender Wiggin. He’s cold, emotionless and expressionless. I’m shocked that a big budget, major Hollywood motion picture would be built around an actor that registers as such a non-entity. Perhaps those are the qualities that make him a success in battle, but it is a complete drag to endure as the star of a movie. Apparently we’re told this young, gifted boy was created for his superior abilities. So it becomes highly ironic when this brilliant, one of kind virtuoso doesn’t see the “big twist” when it happens to him. For the record, it immediately occurred to me our young protagonist commences preparations for his combat training. No I haven’t read the book.

2.) There is a lot of unintentional comedy here. Harrison Ford’s line readings are rather amusing. He acts like he’s merely auditioning for the part. Oh and he’s in a grouchy mood because he’s been asked to do that. Moises Arias plays a pint sized colleague named Bonzo. He is significantly shorter than everyone else. I assume he’s meant to be a threatening presence because he carries himself with all the swagger of The Rock. But with his tiny frame – he looks to be 5 feet tall – it’s difficult to take him seriously. Think Marvin the Martian. “This makes me very angry, very angry indeed.” I found his misdirected anger toward Asa Butterfield hilarious. Their interactions come across like some mock argument in a bad soap opera. At one point he walks into the showers where young Ender, naked obviously, is washing himself. Bonzo demands to fight right then and there. I was waiting for Ender to respond “Do you mind if I get dressed first?” He gets to put on a towel at least. Awkward.

3.) The saga lacks suspense. Young Ender’s chronicle has absolutely no dramatic tension whatsoever. It doesn’t help when his superiors keep telling him right at the outset that he’s their savior. Shouldn’t he come to learn that? I didn’t understand why they needed the other “launchies” when Ender is clearly the favored one in the class. Over and over, time and again, he surpasses one test after another with apparent ease. Getting the respect of his fellow recruits, outsmarting a video game, commanding his peers through a simulation – he exceeds all challenges with little to no effort.

Ender’s Game looks good but it fails at a basic level, to be interesting. Uninvolving characters and a tedious story do not an entertaining film make. I’ll give it points for the unintentional comedy. I laughed out loud several times.  In the last 30 minutes it becomes sort of a cautionary tale at least. It questions the morality of launching a pre-emptive attack on a docile opponent in order to prevent future attacks. But the majority of the movie has nothing to do with that. It’s 114 minutes of watching Ender triumph at doing everything he’s already expected to succeed at. If you want bad teen sci-fi, just rent Solarbabies instead and skip this bore.


Posted in Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on October 6, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Gravity photo starrating-4stars.jpgGravity is 2013’s most visually impressive feature. Right from the beginning, director Alfonso Cuarón seizes attention with jaw dropping views of the cosmos. Astronauts lazily float in space suits while the big glowing blue sphere of Earth looms in the background. Only the sounds of human breathing and electronic blips of communication can be heard. The spectacle is akin to actually floating in space along with our protagonist. There is a feeling of paralysis, of dizziness and weightlessness simply from the cinematography. It’s a dreamy experience. The production’s greatest triumph is that it puts you there, in the moment, and the effect is exhilarating. Let me be clear. This movie absolutely positively demands to be seen in a cinema on a huge screen, preferably on the largest IMAX available. 3D doesn’t hurt either. Yes, I have admittedly not cared for 3D technology in the past. Indeed 99% of the time it is a cash grab to jack up ticket prices to gouge the viewer for more money. Gravity is that rare exception that justifies the format.

The plot is simple. The Explorer shuttle is on a mission. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and scientist turned astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) are on a spacewalk to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Elsewhere at that second Russia has deliberately destroyed one of its own defunct spy satellites. The resulting debris hurtles through the universe towards our pioneers. The shrapnel hits their shuttle disabling everything leaving Kowalski and Stone stranded. That’s the story.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney essentially portray versions of themselves. Clooney is a confident flirt who audibly plays country music inside his spacesuit. He is a raconteur regaling everyone with his stories. The visuals are so mind-blowing, occasionally I kind of wish he would stop telling anecdotes over the gorgeous scene. Bullock in contrast is sensitive and nervous – unsure of this foreign atmosphere. She’s disarming. We identify with her immediately because she is us. She is the story’s sentimental heart. With the effects vying for our interest, her performance is extraordinary because she captivates our concern. The eye popping displays become secondary when she’s speaking.  We focus on her. It’s a remarkable achievement given the environment.

There are occasions where the director’s hand is evident. A single solitary tear cascades down Bullock’s cheek as a glistening globule and into the crowd watching with 3D glasses. At one point, Bullock strips off her astronaut suit revealing her amazingly toned body. She pauses in the fetal position like an embryo in the safe cocoon of her spaceship. The back-story she volunteers involving her daughter, comes across like a shortcut to emotional profundity. Although it doesn’t attempt the same philosophical depth, Gravity clearly owes a visual debt to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s in very good company – one of the few instances where space exploration is so tangible as to make us feel as if we’ve honestly been to the outer limits.

Alfonso Cuarón does a virtually flawless job in creating a you-are-there moment in space. Through cinematography, the actor’s movements and special effects, the genuine sensation of weightlessness is achieved better than in any film since, well since ever. Edits are few and far between. More prolonged camera takes do wonders at lulling the audience into a state of euphoria. There’s no sound in outer space, so even explosions are silent. There is a score however and the musical crescendos underscore major events. Sumptuous and beautiful, Gravity frequently makes you lose your breath due to the majesty that hypnotically unfolds before us. Space itself is the antagonist. It is a thrill ride with the human drama of survival at its center. Gravity is an awe inspiring picture and a potent reminder why it still remains preferable to see a film in a theater than on an iPod.

The World’s End

Posted in Comedy, Science Fiction with tags on August 29, 2013 by Mark Hobin

The World's End photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgFive middle-aged men who were boyhood chums reunite to take part in a pub crawl they never finished when they were in high school. FYI: The legal drinking age is 18 in the UK for shocked American readers. Known as the Golden Mile, the 12 pubs are situated in Newton Haven. You see it’s really eternal man-child Gary King (Pegg), the self appointed leader of the group, that has re-assembled the old gang. Having grown up and moved on, the group has begrudgingly acquiesced after being tricked into showing up. They haven’t hung out simultaneously since their school days. Gary and Andy have actually been estranged because of an accident on that fateful night.

This is the third entry directed by Edgar Wright and written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who also star. The 3 films were nicknamed The Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy. For the uninitiated, the word “Cornetto” is a brand of ice cream in the UK similar to Nestlé’s Drumsticks. Shaun of the Dead presents strawberry signifying blood and gore, Hot Fuzz features classic Cornetto with a blue wrapper representing the police and The World’s End highlights green mint chocolate chip with a nod to sci-fi. None of this is important to appreciate this tale. I only mention it because I’ve yet to read a review that explains this bit of obscurity for the audience.

The World’s End is a humorous romp that suitably entertains on its own merits. It’s probably the least funny of the three, but that’s comparing it to two very enjoyable classics. It percolates with a refreshing wit rarely seen in run-of-the-mill comedies. And it’s not necessary to have seen the other two films. Still, for those who are familiar, this entry is sure to hold more gratification. For example Simon Pegg, who usually represents the straight man to Nick Frost’s wild displays, switches temperaments this go around. There are in-jokes that connect each of these pictures together. Aficionados of Edgar Wright’s will delight in the kind of repartee with which followers have become accustomed. At first much of the humor depends on Gary’s inability to grown up as contrasted with the other four’s more responsible, conventional mentalities.

The World’s End spotlights some nuanced character-building immersed in a story shift that had my eyes wide, mouth agape. The fab five mesh well as an ensemble. There is a genuine camaraderie here as it initially unfolds out like a reunion of old friends and nostalgia. They are eminently believable as reunited buddies hanging out. There are some nicely affecting moments where these individuals are fleshed out. Then a midway reveal flips the script to a complete 180 genre switch. The focus expands from nostalgic drama to science fiction. It’s an amusing disclosure that subverts expectations. I won’t explain more than that but if you’re interested in being surprised, don’t watch the trailer. This allows our “Five Musketeers” to display their impressive athletic skills in lively fight scenes. I loved the shock but here’s where things deteriorate. Subsequent uneven pacing had me checking my watch during the final third. It can even drag a little near the end. However all in all this is an entertaining comedy with a solid screenplay. Fans of the trilogy will be quoting the witty one liners with joy.

“A man of your legendary prowess drinking f—ing rain! It’s like a lion eating hummus.” –Gary King after his friend Andy orders tap water in a bar.


Posted in Action, Drama, Science Fiction with tags on August 9, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Elysium photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgNeill Blomkamp’s directorial feature debut was entertaining as well as intellectually interesting. District 9 was about a group of sick extraterrestrials in need of help. Its inventive commentary on apartheid was nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture. I think it’s fair to say the science fiction thriller heralded a new talent. That’s what makes Elysium largely a disappointment. He has replaced District 9‘s scrutiny of xenophobia and social segregation. In its place is a heavy handed treatment of the growing income gap among classes, along with immigration and healthcare reform. That’s not to say these issues aren’t ripe for critique. It’s just that the conventional approach doesn’t handle it in any meaningful way. It’s kind of a hodgepodge that gets lost in a mélange of stock villains, hackneyed writing and situations that create more questions than answers.

In the year 2154, Earth is a compete slum. Los Angeles looks suspiciously like Mexico City. The 1% have hightailed it out over to an opulent space station that sits above the planet, called Elysium. There they live a life of luxury blissfully unconcerned with the unmitigated squalor that traumatizes their fellow man. It would be helpful to illustrate why they aren’t concerned. Except for an occasional shot of someone walking around a pool, we don’t spend much time with these people. They’re the 1%. We hate them, right? Why bother to understand them? We learn that there are machines on Elysium that can cure all sickness with the mere push of a button. Since they only take seconds to use, anyone can operate them, and they’re plentiful, why aren’t they manufactured and shipped to Earth? This is never addressed either.

The performances are widely scattered across varying levels of aptitude. First the positive. Matt Damon is great. He extracts every ounce of humanity from the vague outline of the assembly line worker he’s been entrusted to play. Damon instills Max Da Costa with a spirit. The evolution of his role is affecting. He draws us into his plight as the main protagonist. Jodie Foster on the other hand is awful. As the Secretary of Defense, she executes her duties with a cold, calculating jurisdiction, frequently disobeying the orders of the President. Physically she resembles that Australian hairstylist from the Bravo reality series Tabatha Takes Over. Speaking in deliberately exaggerated tones with a fluctuating French accent, there is no motive or reason for her malevolence other than the movie needs a villain. Her dastardly plan made absolutely no sense to me. She personifies evil for the sake of being evil. Apparently Foster’s Achilles’ heel is portraying her take on a conservative as anything but a caricature. Quite possibly the worst histrionics I’ve ever seen from an actor of renown. I’m sorry, but her acting is appalling. Not that we needed additional antagonists but there are two more lowlifes to contend with: William Fichtner as John Carlyle, one of the few Elysium citizens that spends time on Earth. He’s the CEO of Armadyne, the corporation that was contracted to build Elysium. Then there’s Sharlto Copley as the South African mercenary that Secretary Delacourt employs to do her dirty work of eliminating illegal immigrants. I didn’t understand his ill defined sleeper agent either. His character is pretty bizarre.

Elysium is a confusing muddle. The effects are extraordinary. I’ll give it that. Blomkamp has visualized a world in such beautiful detail, you’ll swear it actually exists. Matt Damon is effective and as the star, that’s important. His brief exchange with a robot parole officer dummy was the highlight of the entire film for me. Hooray for humor. However the rest of the cast are painted in broad strokes. The villains might as well be twirling a moustache. Jodie Foster is shockingly bad. William Fichtner acts with an affected manner as well. They speak and behave so mechanically, I was sure they would be unmasked as robots by the end. No such luck. Elysium starts out with a mildly promising premise than descends into utter chaos by the third act. Let’s face it, a dystopian future society is cliché at this point. We require innovation. The action becomes just another climax between robotically enhanced humans in a shoot ‘em up that would probably even irritate Michael Bay. By then we’ve realized there’s nothing original up the script’s sleeve and we’ve ceased to care. What a shame. Elysium began with remarkable promise.

Upstream Color

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction with tags on July 16, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Upstream Color photo starrating-1andahalfstars.jpgShe shot the wrong guy! – Me

When does a film go from merely boring to cruel and unusual punishment? That question is explored with Shane Carruth’s 2013 work Upstream Color. If you endured his last opus, Primer, you will know that the director enjoys confusing his audience. But where that was mind-bending, Upstream Color is positively mind-numbing.

A woman’s life, Kris (Amy Seimetz), is shattered when she is stun gunned at a club by a man known only as Thief in the credits. He force feeds mysterious worms to her that have mind control properties. During the next several months he tricks her into writing checks to him from her bank accounts. Then he flees with her money. Still tormented by the worms Kris meets the Sampler who de-worms her. There’s an extended montage where we watch the Sampler extracting sounds from nature. He uses this “music” to lure other infected people to his farm. More on the score later. His farm is full of pigs which have some sort of mind meld with humans. Anyways, Kris must now pick up the fragments from her life and begin anew. She gets a new job and meets Jeff – played by the director. Incidentally Carruth cannot act but who’s going to tell him? He‘s also the producer. Kris and Jeff bond over similar backstories, neither of which are very interesting. You see it’s a romance (pause) between 2 very dull people.

There’s something to be said for experimental cinema. If you think the greatest transgression is when a filmmaker doesn’t trust his audience to comprehend what’s going on, you’ll adore this. Upstream Color is a most cryptic story. The problem is that it is an agony to watch. The saga is made even more tortuous by the score, I absolutely hated it. It’s a tedious combination of blaring horns, wind chimes, glass harps and ambient noise. Anyone familiar with “war on terror” tactics will know where I‘m going with this. At first it’s just eerie but over the course of 96 minutes it’s music torture. Interspersed with these sonic blasts are scenes that recount a tale of sorts, often without words. The joy of the picture is the ability to put these puzzle pieces together and understand what the <bleep> is going on. Those who can (which I did) are apparently supposed to sustain a sense of superiority over those who cannot. I did not feel this. What I felt was boredom. The acting is wooden, the conversations are routine, scene compositions are static, cinematography is mundane. If this was a developmental movie from a first year film student, I’d say interesting attempt. Some half formed ideas are addressed but remain unexplored. As a theatrical release, however, it is most unsatisfying experience.

What my fellow bloggers had to say:
(If you’ve written a review for this film, let me know, and I’ll add you to this list.)

3 Guys 1 Movie
The Cinema Monster
The Code Is Zeek
The Movie Blog

Pacific Rim

Posted in Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on July 14, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Pacific Rim photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgThey don’t get dumber than this. It has a primitive story (robots vs. monsters), explosive special effects and game actors willing to say or do anything to get a laugh. You’ve got to give Guillermo del Toro credit for persuading Hollywood to indulge his fanboy urges. He combines monsters, er uh excuse me Kaiju, robots, an international cast, a huge budget ($190 million!), and throws it all against the wall to sees what sticks.

For the most part, it works. I only wish that Guillermo had the innovation to push this into material that excelled beyond primary concepts. Like puzzle pieces, each actor inhabits a stereotypical role you’ve seen before. Main protagonist Raleigh Becket has lost his brother in an attack and now lives a nomadic lifestyle mentally scarred by the loss. He reports to Stacker Pentecost, a stern commander that has two emotions, pissed and very pissed. I’m curious, was Charlie Day supposed to look like Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters and Burn Gorman recall Crispin Glover in Back to the Future? Regardless the screenplay is funny. Much of it unintentionally so. And my enjoyment was completely dependent on the fact that I was able to laugh with and more importantly AT this picture. There are a lot of humorous developments. Raleigh Becket butts heads with another rival, Chuck Hansen in a full display of alpha male posturing. Just the way actor Charlie Hunnam swaggers into every scene with chest puffed out is good for a few laughs. How many times does this guy need to change his shirt? And there’s something inherently amusing about a woman who has been brilliantly taught her entire life to fight like a champion by her English speaking guardian, but possesses only the most rudimentary command of that language. Was that not part of the lesson plan? Eh! No matter. The production really spoke to the 12 year old in me.

Pacific Rim unfolds like an homage to those Japanese giant monster movies. You know the ones.  Toho studios put them out starting in the 1950s with Godzilla. I grew up on those flicks. They played on TV weekday afternoons after school. (No I wasn’t alive when they came out if that‘s what you‘re thinking) Thankfully the script doesn’t spend too much time on boring exposition. There’s an opening crawl that kind of sets everything up, then lets the computer generated imagery do the talking. Occasionally there’s a slog through some dialogue that will have the viewer asking, “I wonder what the monsters are doing now.“ More often than not the plot has the presence of mind to get back to the combat. And oh what battles! These monsters spit liquid, sprout wings and scream with all the sonic force that modern technology can muster. The pleasures are pure and simple. I appreciate this much in the same way I get a kick out of Congo or Anaconda. No, those aren’t great films, but they are fun. And that’s why you watch something like this anyway, right?

Star Trek Into Darkness

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on May 17, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Star Trek Into Darkness photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgCould this be the end of Spock? Captain James Kirk and Dr. “Bones” McCoy are running through a blood red forest on the planet Nibiru. They’re trying to leave while being chased by its inhabitants. They jump off a cliff and dive into the water below where the Starship Enterprise is hiding deep on the ocean floor out of sight. Meanwhile Spock has been lowered into a volcano with a cold fusion device. He intends to stave off a volcanic eruption there in an effort to preserve the planet and it’s denizens. But now Spock has jeopardized his own life. Kirk wants to save him but to do so he would have to break the Prime Directive and expose their technologically advanced ship to this primitive civilization. This would alter history, a definite no-no. The alternative is to remain hidden and allow Spock to die, something Spock himself is advocating.

That‘s an incredibly heart pounding cliffhanger for the climax of a film. But that‘s merely the opening prologue. It’s but one of many set pieces in a relatively uncomplicated saga that concerns a terrorist that must be stopped. 2009′s Star Trek director J. J. Abrams is back along with producer Damon Lindelof (TV’s Lost) who also contributes to the screenplay this time. The producers have continued their gentle re-invention of the series much in a similar vein as the previous entry. The script doesn’t attempt to appease purists of the series. Chances are if you liked the last one, you’ll enjoy this. If you didn’t, then I’d stay clear away. The key players are back. Captain Kirk and Spock’s bromance seems to be even closer this time around as embodied by Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine. They have palatable chemistry. Plus, there are a couple of pivotal additions to the cast. I dare say that the already attractive ensemble gets just a little bit sexier. Hello Alice Eve! It’s got a spectacular villain in Benedict Cumberbatch. My goodness this man has a voice! The British thespian’s intonations resonate with all the power of a great orator. The plot works because the filmmakers start with good characterizations first and then build interesting situations from that.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a model of how to create excitement. Abrams has wisely fashioned this adventure in the grand tradition of Hollywood blockbusters of yesteryear. That means it’s more concerned with classic narrative elements and character development than it is with lots of noisy action set pieces. Although there are some satisfying ones that take place in London and San Francisco. The chronicle is gripping. I was never bored, always captivated by what would happen next. There’s plenty of action, but it’s never at the expense of a coherent account that you generally care about. The script is quick and witty with a clear eye toward creating dramatic tension with pauses for the audience to catch their breath and delight in the repartee between these people. Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Bones (Karl Urban) have the funniest temperaments. It’s also a very pretty movie. It’s got plenty of attention grabbing cinematography with affected lighting techniques. Lens flares abound! Yes there are some admittedly cheesy (and familiar) story ideas: someone unexpectedly cries, people tenderly touch hands on either side of a glass wall and automatic seat belts looks like black square-shaped bugs crawling over the actors. But more often than not, the emotional connections to these well known personalities push this actioner into the realm of a drama that is extremely engaging. At one point, Spock selflessly commands the crew to teleport out of the ship to safety. When Sulu responds “With all due respect, sir, we’re not going anywhere!” I think I kind of shed a tear.


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