Monday, November 17, 2014

Space Odyssey


Here is my contribution to the Voyage to the Stars Blogathon, John Hitchcock's very imaginative blog challenge inspired by the recent release of Nolan's Interstellar.

Here is my crew for my mission:

COMMANDER:


Janek - Idris Elba - Prometheus (2012)

He's the commander with a commanding presence but he still knows the importance of a sense of humor. "Try not to bugger each other." "Are you a robot?" Also, with his Christmas tree and vintage accordion, he's got character.

PILOT:


Victoria - Andrea Riseborough - Oblvion (2013)

She will make our crew "a perfect team"! She's attractive and very capable, in high heels or spacesuit.

NAVIGATOR:


Penny Robinson - Angela Cartwright - Lost in Space (1965 - 1967)

Well, she's classic, and she's had a lot of experience dealing with different planets, dimensions, aliens, robots, and weird doctors.

SCIENCE OFFICER:


Nadia - Antje Traue - Pandorum (2009)

She will be able kick mutant or alien butt if we get attacked, but she still looks sexy when she's covered with grime. She can keep plants and meal worms alive under adverse conditons.

MEDIC:


Cassie - Rose Byrne - Sunshine (2007)

She has that sensitive bedside manner that will soothe us through the long voyage, and she's not likely to vote anyone off the spacecraft if supplies run low.

ENGINEER:


Dr. Josh Keyes - Aaron Eckhart - The Core (2003)

He can fix anything, solve any scientific conundrum, and he can figure his way out of an inner-spaceship sunk at the bottom of the sea.

MISSION CONTROLLER:


HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Re-programmed, he has promised to be good. Risky, I know, but his voice will keep us calm in an emergency, and he's really smart!

PLAN OF ACTION:

Only light travels at the speed of light. Okay, so ship and crew have been transformed into beams of light although from the point of view of the travelers, fellow astronauts and ship are solid entities. How will we do this? No need to explain. This is science fiction.

Traveling at the speed of light, we can go far, where no man or woman has gone before. The mission is to find extraterrestrial life. Half the crew members believe they will find nothing; we are alone! The other half disagrees. We shall see!

STATUS REPORT:

We originally thought a 3 to 3 ratio of male to female passengers was essential. Then we decided the more sharp female thinkers the better. In order to defray possible partnering conflicts, we found women who would be more than happy to pair up and go in for a threesome with one of the two male crew members. Use you imagination as to who will trio up with whom.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Leap of Faith: Interstellar


I’ll take an epic movie any day, and thank God Christopher Nolan is willing to oblige – especially considering the narrowly envisioned, copycat films released one after the other.

The thrill of Interstellar is its masterful juxtapositioning of touching, earthbound family drama with mind-blowing space odyssey, its cutting back and forth between hardships at a dilapidated farmhouse in a rural dustbowl and a surrealistic journey into a black hole.

Thrilling, too, is how the film starts out in the dusty cornfields, with Matthew McConnaughey as Cooper, a farmer struggling, with the help of his father-in-law (John Lithgow) to preserve his crops of corn and raise his son and daughter. The daughter, Murph, as played by Mackenzie Foy, is an example of Nolan’s casting at its best. As a budding math and science genius fascinated by strange piles of dust on the floor, Foy gets your attention in every scene she’s in, and she sure as hell looks like a younger Jessica Chastain who plays the older Murph.

On the other hand, Matt Damon as a crazed Robinson Crusoe-like character stranded on a frozen planet doesn’t always work out. And what the hell is Topher Grace doing in this film? He does nothing as the unsuitably wimpy partner for the amazing Jessica Chastain who, as the grownup Murph, uses her brain power to solve the story’s physics conundrum while her father uses his courage and instincts to pilot a spacecraft where no film has gone before. Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway is mostly just servicable.

I will say little else about the plot because the joy for me was seeing Interstellar knowing nothing more than its basic premise – Earth is dying and a mission is sent into space to find a suitable planet to colonize. That the film takes you from a dusty farm to different levels far beyond space and time is what makes it special.

Though the story might get shaky with stuff that only Stephen Hawking really understands, the film is always lifted up by the performances of McConaughey as the father, and Chastain, as the daughter, separated by light years, but battling together to save the human race. Throw in some dazzling shots of the belittling vastness of space, mix in some space-action tropes, keep taking the story to another surprising level – like the multiple dream levels in Nolan’s Inception - and Nolan thankfully delivers a substantial epic.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Up in the Air: Birdman


In Birdman or The Unexpected Virture of Ignorance Iñárritu makes nifty commentary about the illusory nature of cinema and stage drama as well as about the power of social media to diminish anyone’s talent – when anyone can be a star on YouTube and any trivial thing can be more popular than legitimate theater. Meanwhile, his following shots down dingy, narrow backstage corridors capture the unseen shabbiness behind the façade of playacting. Raucous, unnerving, sometimes irritating drums accompany the frantic passage down those hallways of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a has-been actor who made a name for himself playing a superhero called Birdman and who is now trying to make an artistic comeback by staging an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, employing, as an audience draw, an incorrigibly egotistical stage star, played brilliantly by Edward Norton, whose penchant for realism goes to the extent of drinking real alcohol and showing a real erection on stage. Another strong supporting performance comes from Emma Stone as Riggan’s lost, in-and-out-of-rehab daughter, and she gets the credit for one of the best moments in the film when she shows her father the power of that little iPhone screen we all carry or would like to carry. Keaton does a fine job as the desperate, fading performer; like Riggan, Keaton is attempting his own comeback in films these days. Keaton’s Birdman voiceover, in a deep, raspy tone imitating The Dark Knight, is, however, mostly as irritating as the drum score. I like many of the individual parts of this film, but the plummeting, fiery asteroid; the dead, beached jellyfish; the pointed commentary about the world of theater – especially the moment in which Riggan enters the theater in his underwear, just in time to enter his scene through the audience – all of this is meant to be brilliant, sometimes forced to be brilliant, and that’s what makes me feel indifferent about this film, that it’s all so deliberate about saying something without making you feel anything, like all the bits in which Riggan’s Birdman persona intrudes upon his real life with demonstrations of telekinesis and flight that are sometimes startling but ultimately “full of sound and fury,/ Signifying nothing.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Three Tries


Three character-driven films include strengths but fail to become compelling overall.

The best of the three - A Walk Among the Tombstones - features Liam Neeson in his usual guise as the tough-guy-who-feels-pain-both-inner-and-outer as he searches for and fights two gruesomely psychotic serial killers. There is a taut showdown among the tombstones, but the final act turns unnecessarily lurid and derivative.

In the same way Neeson’s guilt-ridden Matt Scudder bonds with a young outcast in a diner, Denzel Washington’s smoldering loner Robert McCall strikes up a relationship with a teenage hooker in a diner in East Boston in The Equalizer. Denzel’s diner scenes with Chloe Grace Moretz are superbly shot and performed. The rest of the film turns into an excessive, often silly, deluge of blood spilt as McCall sets out to eradicate all the bad guys involved in victimizing the “innocent” girl.

Finally, Gone Girl is mostly a dull ride as Ben Affleck goes through the motions as the framed hubbie, and Rosamund Pike comes off as mostly unchilling as the cold-blooded "Amazing Amy" Dunne. What happened here? Part of the problem is that the novel is a long and drawn out melodrama that stretches credibility to the snapping point. David Fincher seemed promising as the kind of director who could turn it into something visually arresting and disturbing, but Fincher is tame until a stand-out scene of orgiastic blood-letting that certainly woke me up. Ultimately, however, the film as a whole is a bland disappointment.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem


In The Zero Theorem Terry Gilliam borrows way too much from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (overcrowded megacity glutted with advertising; the meaning of existence; blonde in tight skirt; pigeons) and his own film Brazil (bureaucratic dystopia; totalitarian control; bizarre computers; unlikely relationship; escape into fantasy; tubing) to be an experience as refreshing and original as The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. In addition, Gilliam allows his performers to slip into weirdness to the detriment of the story's essential seriousness. Here, Christoph Waltz plays an agoraphobic, misanthropic computer hacker assigned the job of proving a perplexing theorem that suggests that life has no meaning – while at the same time trying to determine the meaning of life. Despite a promising first scene, and a number of arresting images, Gilliam leaves us with a disappointing resolution, whereas a more spectacular denouement seems to be promised by the film’s opening image. Still, I can’t help but marvel at the amazing detail and outlandish, Pythonesque weirdness of Gilliam’s expansive imagination.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Teen Summer


This summer, the big, loud action blockbusters came out roaring, booming, and punching, but they subsided quickly into the vast realm of the forgettable. Meanwhile, teen-oriented films based on popular young-adult novels offered viewers some lasting emotional impressions. The Fault in Our Stars, The Giver, and If I Stay all have their silly moments, but two of them offer fine performances, by Shailene Woodley and Chloë Grace Moretz, and all of them provide touching moments that are a refreshing break from the ubiquitous blockbuster action made up of extravagant explosions and endless, pounding fisticuffs between heroes and villains. In addition, this summer, Boyhood, a realistic, touching examination of a boy growing up into teenhood, drew young viewers to “art-house” theaters.

We are in the midst of a growing trend. The thriving young-adult fiction market churns out dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and romance novels that get teens reading and hankering for the inevitable film version of the more popular ones. Teen viewers might complain that the filmmakers left out or changed this or that scene, but they love visualizations of their favorite books, and the only pounding is the pounding of their hearts during the romantic scenes – which tend to have a more lasting impression than the noisiest action and the biggest explosions.