Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Film Jamboree!

It's been a busy week for me with movies. Between the Redbox and the old-fashioned movie theater, I've seen five movies this week, and that didn't even include some movies I've really wanted to see , such as Iron Man 2, The Losers, Descent 2 and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. With my week so filled, was everything I saw worth the viewing?

Pandorum was the first film I watched, starring Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, The Messenger) and Dennis Quaid (Vantage Point, The Rookie) as deep-space astronauts who awake on a broken ship, the Eden, with no memory from a long hyper-sleep and unable to get out of their sleep chambers and to the bridge, where they can assess the situation. Foster eventually escapes through some air ducts, but the situation only gets more dire, as he finds himself stumbling blind through a dying hulk of a ship, with something, or someone, hunting him.

 Pandorum didn't make too much at the box office (about $19 million gross worldwide, but the movie cost $33 million to make) and that's unfortunate. It's definitely difficult surviving as a sci-fi film these days if you're not directly descended from a popular author's library (Jurassic Park, Minority Report) or part of a popular franchise (Star Trek, Star Wars) or have big names like J.J. Abrams attached (Cloverfield). When a film is as good as Pandorum, that quality should be front and center, but it will always carry the stigma of being a sci-fi movie and non-sci-fi fans will never take part. Like the Oscar-overlooked Moon, Pandorum goes down as one of 2009's best ignored sci-fi films.

It's scary, but GOOD scary, with tension dripping off the screen as you feel you're in this dark, claustrophobic place with Foster and Quaid, waiting to see what insane thing happens next. Add atop that great support acting by Cam Gigandet (The O.C., Jack and Bobby), Eddie Rouse (Observe and Report, the upcoming Green Hornet) and the beautiful Antje Traue (in her first English-speaking film). Even former World Champion kick boxer Cung Le does a good job despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he doesn't speak a single English syllable the entire movie. Overall, Pandorum was a great way to start the week off, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who liked The Descent or Event Horizon, as comparisons to both are warranted.

2012, after seeing Pandorum, is cheese. No, wait, maybe it's not Pandorum's fault. 2012 may be just be cheese all by itself. but you know what? It's more like a sharp cheddar than a plain old American cheese. First of all, it's very visually pretty, and any movie in which you see a subway train fly through the air is completely worth price of admission. All in all, 2012 might just be the most fun movie I didn't see in the theaters last year.

2012, of course, refers to the widely-held obsession that the end of the Mayan calendar signifies the actual end of planet Earth. To that end we focus on an anonymous author played by John Cusack and his family as they escape destruction after destruction. Remember when you saw Titanic, and James Cameron forced you to watch the two least interesting people on the WHOLE SHIP when all you REALLY wanted to see was the damn boat sink? Well, here you go. To be fair, I might not be as critical if they had focused more on a couple of minor story lines that actually focused on other people but were almost completely discarded until they were needed, as means to an end as it were. One, about a Chinese family, is introduced in the very beginning but don't make any reappearance until at least the third act. The other involves a couple of elderly Jazz musicians on a cruise ship (great work in limited roles by Blu Mankuma and Geoge Segal) in the middle of the ocean who only make sporadic appearances. All in all, seeing Cusack's family escape danger after danger can get a little drab, as little is done in-between to ease the tension, especially when after the first BIG disaster scene, the tension actually scales DOWN rather than UP. The big climax is actually smaller than the FIRST one, which from a storytelling focus makes no sense, since you'd want to save your big guns for the finale. No such luck, which might not be much of a surprise from the director who ruined Godzilla for the western world (Rolland Emmerich).

But it's a movie I still loved. In fact, it taught me to love! I loved the special effects, big or small. I loved Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, the upcoming Salt), the Jeff Goldblum of this movie.  I loved Tom McCarthy (The Wire, Boston Public), who had a sizable role. (What the hell, I just love the director of the underrated The Visitor) I loved Woody Harrelson's cameo performance, which was spot on. I even loved a Russian pilot named Sasha (Johann Urb).

That's not to say the movie has little in the way of problems. It's not usually my way to be all gender-focused and feminist, but like his former film Independence Day, the heroes are largely male-heavy. The few female roles act mainly as support systems for the male characters to hang onto. Just as Constance Spano and Mary McDonnell were sorely underused in ID4, so are Amanda Peet and the extraordinarily talented actress Thandie Newton in this film. The only remotely strong woman (the Vivica A. Fox character, to keep the metaphor going) is Lisa Lu (Joy Luck Club) who, after her big scene, promptly has no subsequent dialogue. Does it detract from enjoying the movie as a whole? No, but it surely does make you think afterward.

Despite these gripes, you're not watching 2012 for the social commentary. You're watching it for the cheese, to grip the arms of your chair and shriek as your hero once again escapes calamity. And despite not being as good as the aforementioned Independence Day, 2012 was a great by-the-numbers action flick which succeeds in getting it's point across with a maximization of body count. Worth renting and seeing on a good TV.

Am I the only one who believes a movie about Fallen Angels toting machine guns and blasting all hell from the Apocalypse, one starring Paul Bettany (Master and Commander, Young Victoria) to boot, should be a GOOD film? Apparently so, as there's little to recommend Legion to anyone with a pulse, not anything that you haven't already pretty much seen in the trailers, anyway.

The cussing old lady? The one who turns puts the bite on a guy and then goes crawling on the ceiling in all freaky fashion? And the ice cream man, the one with the elongated limbs and the stretched out face? Yeah, those parts, which combined last all of three minutes, are the BEST parts of the movie. And they're in the TRAILER. Actually, come to think of it, there is one more good part, but I'll keep that under wraps so perhaps someone else will join me in my misery which is this film. Oh, and Paul Bettany. He was good too. Awesome, in fact. But he's just not enough.

The story, for anyone who hasn't already watched the trailer, is thus: Almighty God, pissed at us for all the bullshit humanity carries out on a daily basis, sends his Angels to Earth to wipe out mankind.The only one to defy his order, Michael (Bettany) makes his way to Earth ahead of the invasion force and seeks out an unborn baby who would be mankind's salvation. That baby is currently in the womb of Adrianne Palicki (Friday Night Lights), who up to this point was considering giving up the baby for adoption since she has trouble taking care of herself, working in a greasy-spoon diner in the middle of nowhere. It's at this diner that pretty much everything happens.

The problem is it doesn't matter what big names you get to fill out your roster (Dennis Quaid, Charles S. Dutton, Kate Walsh, Tyrese Gibson) if you don't care enough about them when they die. For a film that was supposedly the "baby" of director Scott Stewart (What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the upcoming Priest), it's not well done, especially the storytelling aspect, which ends, but not in any ways remotely satisfying. Even the arrival of Kevin Durand (Lost, 3:10 to Yuma) as Archangel Gabriel is nowhere close to how well he played Martin Keamy (which will now forever be his signature role). All in all, Legion is a mess from front to back, with very little to recommend this movie or be hopeful for any of Stewart's future projects.

The one movie I actually saw in the theater this week, Kick-Ass, might be the best of the bunch. It's equal parts action film and nerd fantasy shtick, as any true comic fan has thought at least ONCE about what it would be like donning a costume and becoming their favorite hero.Great storytelling, combined with perfect casting and adapted well on the same-titled graphic novel by Mark Millar (who's excellent Wanted I reviewed two years ago), it's no surprise that a sequel has already been announced for release in 2012.

Kick-Ass follows Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a normal kid who's grown tired of living in a world where crime pretty much does at it pleases and nobody will stop and intervene in a crime taking place. So, he dons a costume, gets his ass kicked in fights, but nevertheless earns a reputation for the work he does, knocking petty thugs down a notch. This in turn gets him noticed by crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong), who targets Kick-Ass thinking him the source of his late difficulties distributing his drugs throughout New York City.

The real star of this movie, despite star turns by Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad, Role Models) and "star" Nicholas Cage for the celeb factor, is thirteen-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz (Dirty Sexy Money, (500) Days of Summer) as Hit-Girl, foul-mouthed martial arts expert who can handle a firearm better than most adults and wants a butterfly knife for her birthday. She calls a roomful of grown thugs "cunts" and can single-handedly take down a whole warehouse full of armed goons in the dark. The movie may mostly focus on Johnson as the titular hero, but make no mistake, it's Moretz's character that keeps the story moving forward, and she steals every scene.

I don't want to give anything away for people who haven't seen this film yet (I don't know who you are, but my theater was fairly packed, so obviously there are some out there) so if you're in that category please please PLEASE see this film and let me know how it rocked your world.

In Daybreakers, last year's under-the-radar release by German directors Michael and Peter Spierig, vampires are the norm of society. As the opening tells us, humanity was given a chance to assimilate. They refused, and now it's estimated that of the world's population, only about 5% are human. Enter Ethan Hawke (Training Day, Hamlet) as Edward Dalton, a vampire who hates what he is, trying to create a substitute for human blood before the world runs out, and flat out refusing to drink human blood himself. Knowing he's in the minority and has no chance to change the way of things, one accident will change his future in ways he never would have imagined.

The great thing about the setup here is the society portrayed. Vampires treat the world around them the same as they did before they turned: They get up, they go to work, have their morning coffee (with a shot of type O, of course), and otherwise have extraordinarily boring lives. Soldiers go out into the world to hunt rogue humans to bring them back and harvest their blood. It's a bleak time for humanity. But something even darker lies underneath, only showing itself when there's almost no blood left in the world.

With such an original story and message to convey, you'd have to screw up royally for this movie not to pop, and with low-budget indie films like this, that happens more often than not. Fortunately, the Spierig brothers are extremely talented in not only bringing out the best in their actors' performances, but also in the scenery they create, the final product matching their visions beautifully. Hawke is perfectly cast as the conflicted Dalton, who refuses to partake in the extermination of the human race even as he knows that without human blood or some substitute, vampire society as he knows it is over. Other great performances from Willem DeFoe (Spider Man, Shadow of the Vampire), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Event Horizon) and Australian actress Claudia Karvan (Star Wars Episode III, Aquamarine) flesh out a cast that really come alive (or in a vampire society, is it the other way around?) in their performances. Neill especially chews the scenery with a sparkle in his eyes, and it's not just the special contacts he's wearing throughout.

In essence, Daybreakers is about us needing to adapt to survive. With resources only so finite, we have to ask ourselves how we would react were our dwindling supplies suddenly to run out.

When all is said and done, I've seen five movies over the span of a single week and that definitely means I'll be taking a break from them with the completion of this post. Most of the films were good or at least enjoyable with only Legion breaking my heart, but the best overall I think was by far Kick-Ass, with Daybreakers and Pandorum neck and neck at a distant second. With many big things happening in the future (The Lost finale and the recently released Robin Hood come to mind) I'll be looking forward to sharing my ideas and info with you in the future.

Until then, have a fun time.


Opinioness of the World said...

Dude, no shout out to my blog post on Kick-Ass?! Boo...

...glad to see you've been so busy though :)

briankirker said...

Pandorum was servicable. A little too Resident Evil-ish at times (in the way it was shot) but I liked some of the acting. Some of it was genuinely creepy. Appreciated the ending as well.

I had fun with 2012. Reminded me of big budget disaster movies of the 70s.

Haven't seen Legion yet.

Kiss Ass was fun, but way too overhyped. Nicolas Cage was great and the kids were ok. The tone was so inconsistent though. Also, can we please just acknowledge that Cage is one of the great, original actors we have today. He's always interesting even when he's flopping. Not sure why you put star in quotes.

Daybreakers was an interesting movie. Probably need to see it again. I liked the metaphor of blood as oil. Vampires are just like us.

Descent 2 is awful but if you watch it as a comedy you might find some value.