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Echoing such luminous sci-fi classics as 2001 and Alien, Pandorum is a
terrific psychological thriller, although it does struggle at times to
be coherent and original. But it's a true mindbender, and it's packed
with action that moves so quickly neither the actors nor the audience
can really catch a breath, which is a good move if your plot is shaky
to begin with.
As with the best deep-space movies, the context is mental illness, what the Professor on Gilligan's Island called, oddly enough, "island madness." Only in space. In the distant, distant future, a ship has been sent from the Earth carrying a lot of people, headed to the only Earth-like planet ever found. Sometime during the journey, things go awry. We pick up the story as an astronaut named Bower (Ben Foster) awakens from hypersleep, abruptly; he's soon followed by his commanding officer, Payton (Dennis Quaid). The rest of the crew is gone, and the only door is locked from the outside. What's happened here? Making matters more difficult is the amnesia that each man suffers from, owing to their having been in hypersleep way longer than intended. Somehow, they must piece together what has happened and find out what lies behind that door - and throughout the rest of the gigantic ship.
Not only does the movie recall Aliens and 2001, you can also see similarities to The Descent and The Abyss; really, any movie in which people are trapped in claustrophobic environs. And although the pacing is frenetic at times, the movie is really chillingly shot (by Wedigo von Schultzendorff). On the one hand, the plot flows linearly - Bower needs to get to the ship's reactor so he can reboot it and save everyone - meaning that the actors race from scene to scene, running out of time. On the other hand, they don't piece together what's happened as quickly as they might in other, lesser films; they seem to figure things out gradually, as if assembling a puzzle in their heads. Bowers and others - and there are others - discover right away, though, that they're not really alone on the ship and that their enemies are extremely strong and fast and vicious.
Injected into this oh-my-goodness-what's-out-there madness is, well, madness. The movie's title is explained as being a sort of mental illness that affects astronauts from time to time, when they just plain go bonkers for seemingly no reason and kill everyone on board. Is that's what's happening here? Is Bower the crazy one? Or is it Payton? Are they, in fact, alone on the ship? Foster is excellent as the hero who remembers a little bit more of their mission as time elapses; Quaid, in turn, shows a few more layers than we're accustomed to seeing from him (he's usually more of a poor man's Harrison Ford). Both actors turn in convincing, full-throated performances that complement, rather than succumb to, the special effects and cinematic wizardry. Often, the effects are the entire show. Now, it's true that you won't see a lot of character development here, as you might in the most cerebral of sci-fi, but what works best here is the paucity of knowledge about the situation and the characters. By spinning the tale gradually, feeding the audience only a snippet at a time, director Christian Alvart dangles the mystery in front of his viewers without allowing them to settle back and solve the mystery on their own. When you're constantly kept on your toes with sudden lurches of unseen shapes and reverberating noises, you - like the befuddled characters - are concurrently kept off balance. The result is an unsettling, entertaining delight.
There is now a long, grand history of disaster films in Hollywood. The
best of the lot have combined suspense with cutting-edge effects to
keep your adrenaline pumping. The worst combine cheesy CGI with shallow
characters whose deaths won't affect you much.
Here's 2012, summed up: Look, some recognizable landmark! Kablam! Look, a giant wave! Wooo! Do our intrepid Good Guys have enough time to outrun the imploding planet and foil a plot to save only the pretty, rich people? Probably! It's pretty clear what happened to bring us to this point. Roland Emmerich, who's made such cinematic classics as Independence Day, The Patriot, Godzilla, and The Day after Tomorrow, was asked if he wanted a quintillion billion bazillion dollars to make a movie about the end of the world, and he said sure. Then he took parts of each movie's script, filmed them mostly with CGI, and pocketed the rest. Viola! Greatest movie! (A quick break to sum up the plot. Apparently, the sun and the planets have all aligned with the center of the galaxy, which winds up causing the Earth's crust to break up, which then causes the tectonic plates to shift. Mass hysteria! Dogs and cats, living together! The End.) See, there are two ways Emmerich could have gone with this movie. He could have given us characters to follow whom we cared a little about, thus involving us in their plights, and mixed in some convincing special effects. Or he could have said, "The heck with the characters, give me blowy-uppy thingys." This sometimes works: See Independence Day, a movie that made me feel pretty good when I left the theater after seeing it but that ultimately, frankly, was pretty bad.
Emmerich chose the latter. Which would have been fine, but the effects themselves are wildly unrealistic and often take so long to set up that you completely notice how godawful they really are. For example and if you've seen the trailer, this is in there there's a scene in which the Sistine Chapel falls, crushing thousands of spectators. Because the toppling is so slow to complete, it becomes painfully obvious that it's just a film running on a screen behind people running away. Sad and unintentionally hilarious.
And you can forget about the plot, really, because most of it makes no sense anyway and would happen only in a Big Movie like this. Of COURSE John Cusack is divorced from his hot, bitchy wife (Amanda Peet) and of COURSE she's hooking up with a plastic surgeon who of COURSE winds up having had some flying lessons that of COURSE will save them all and of COURSE Cusack's young son will somehow save the day as well and of COURSE there is a Russian businessman who used to be a boxing legend and of COURSE he punches someone out. And of COURSE people say "My God!" a lot, because that's what people do in crappy disaster films. And of COURSE the president is black, because in Hollywood black people get to be president only if disaster is a-coming.
At least the acting isn't horrible. Because everyone just runs from place to place in an effort to escape the horror, there aren't any subtle, low-key scenes that would allow good actors to flourish. Cusack is good in general, but what the heck is he doing in here? He's usually so good at picking projects, and he chose this? Willingly? Oliver Platt plays the kind of role that Bruce McGill typically gets, the hamhanded, I'm-in-charge, Al-Haig-like politician. I can't even remember his title. Danny Glover gets to be president and does get the best dialog in the film, even if his role isn't a big one. Woody Harrelson, as a crazed DJ deep in Yellowstone is also a lot of fun, although he's not the kind of guy you'd want to sit next to on a transatlantic flight.
Final verdict: Yikes. Yikes, yikes, and yikes. If you dare watch this travesty, you might find yourself laughing hysterically at things and this is important that were not meant to be funny. If that's your thing, this is your movie. I managed to see this as a matinée, so I'm not out the $10-$15 that some people are right now, so at least I got that going for me. Best advice: Watch it for free at home on a big-screen TV to fully appreciate the magnitude of suck.
Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is the typical sad-sack, luckless loser
that has permeated high schools for seemingly centuries. He has no
friends, he's picked on by bullies, he has a somewhat-odd home life ...
but through it all, he's sure things will be just plain okay in the
Napoleon and his older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) live with their grandmother, but at the beginning of the film she tells them she needs to take off for a couple days. Enter their Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), a self-starter who's living in 1982 (when the coach of his high school football team declined to put him in as quarterback, thus altering Rico's life forever). Some of the funniest scenes in the film involve Napoleon's often-combative relationship with Uncle Rico; Rico is also bound and determined to return to those halcyon days of his youth via a time machine he's seen advertised on the Internet, and he enlists Kip to help him raise the funds.
Napoleon befriends the new kid in school, Pedro (Efren Ramirez), who has a sweet bike, can talk to girls, and has an actual mustache. But like Napoleon, Pedro is a misfit. Both sometimes hang out with yet another taciturn student, Deb (Tina Majorino, all grown up from Waterworld), who secretly (it seems) likes Napoleon. But there isn't a lot of focus on their relationship, because Napoleon himself is fairly oblivious to how people perceive him. This isn't a story about young love or lust, it's a story about a misfit refusing to fit - while fitting in with others like him.
Jon Heder is perfectly cast as the gawky, dorky Napoleon; he resembles Butt-Head in countenance, although certainly not in temperament or intelligence. Mouth agape and with an awkward gait, Napoleon is about as odd a duck as you'd find in high school, and yet he still manages to survive with his dignity intact. He's a good egg, although he seems to overreact at times: "What are you gonna do today, Napoleon? Napoleon: Whatever I feel like I wanna do.....GOSH!" Still, his delivery is perfect. You can readily picture a Napoleon in any high school.
I think where the film ultimately succeeds, aside from the casting of Heder, is that it doesn't fall into the traps of predictability and stereotyping. Sure, it's a high school movie, and there are snobby pretty girls and arrogant jocks, but not much time is devoted to them. Sure, there's a big dance, but it doesn't necessarily turn out the way you'd expect it to. What you're left with, then, isn't a typical coming-of-age story, but rather a unique take on a rather mundane - albeit life-altering - time in a boy's life.
Based on true events, Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips is the rarest
of thrillers, the kind that relies on neither distracting special
effects nor circumspect character development. Driven by a powerful,
soul-baring performance by the inimitable Tom Hanks, the movie never
lags, never oversells the plight of its characters, never reduces
anyone or anything to mere caricature.
Hanks is the titular captain of the United States container ship MV Maersk Alabama, cruising along the coast of Somalia with a full load and heading toward the horn of Africa. Two skiffloads of armed Somalis close in, ready to board the vessel. They're pirates, working for a warlord in their impoverished country, and they smell opportunity.
If this were a standard action flick, we might see the heroism of Phillips and his motley crew as they fight the evil pirates and save the world. It's not so here. There are nuances afoot; for once, we get the perspective of the lead pirate (Barkhad Abdi) without falling into the easy trap of feeling empathy toward him.
The pirates board the giant ship, clearly pleased with their find. Muse (Abdi) quickly proves himself to be a strong, humanistic leader; he's single minded (where's the crew? where's the goods?) but not sinister. His gang includes a strong man with a quick temper and Muse's own relative, who'd begged to come along on the mission - a mission that, when successful, would go a long way to improving their lives.
The movie is told in two distinct halves: the time spent by the pirates on the Maersk as they search in vain for treasure and crew, and the time spent in the ship's lifeboat as they make their way to Somalia. The villains are conflicted and desperate. And armed. But they're quickly immersed in an impossible situation.
This is one of the toughest, most naked performances of Hanks' stellar career. It's sometimes painful and heart wrenching to watch. He's an Everyman, per usual, but he's not also a savior or a hero. He doesn't suddenly develop super strength and overpower the bad guys. He's just a guy in charge of a boat and its passengers.
Matching him wit for wit while frantically trying to keep his own wits about him is Abdi as the skinny, intelligent Muse, seemingly a veteran of high piracy (though not against huge container ships). Abdi is a wonder to watch; unpredictable and cunning but a little greedy and rapidly running out of viable options. Truly a talent to look out for, Abdi nails this role.
The ending is predictable only in the most general sense. Bill Ray's screenplay does not duck some plausible consequences to the actions of each main player and leaves us with a scene that is as emotionally overpowering as anything in Hanks' previous Philadelphia.
It seems that every time Tom Hanks makes a good movie, people begin to label it as "Oscar bait," as if the movie were created just as a vehicle to earn an award. Captain Phillips delivers a tight, action-packed story fraught with none of the usual missteps of the genre, and if it is indeed rewarded with the highest of honors, it will be well deserved.
The Ides of March isn't a story just about the back-alley dealings of
those seeking to gain power; it's a morality tale of how much one must
wrestle between doing things because he feels they are the right thing
to do and doing things that will serve themselves better in the long
run. It is a political melodrama, but it just as easily have been
written about business and high finance. It's highly cynical, with its
points driven home by a terrific cast, and yet it manages not to be
heavy handed or preachy. Indeed, there aren't really any strictly good
or bad guys in this movie.
Ryan Gosling stars as Steven Myers, a top aide to Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), who is running for president; currently at stake is the battleground state of Ohio. If Morris can gain Ohio's delegates, he's pretty much assured to get the Democratic nomination, and in the film it's noted that the Republicans have a weak field themselves (at best). All of this means, of course, that as Ohio goes, so goes the presidency, so there's plenty riding on this one primary.
Morris' campaign manager is Paul Zara, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, a veteran of many cutthroat campaigns. And although Zara has the experience, Morris often turns to his young(ish) aide Steven to gain a less-jaded, more-truthful perspective. (Of course, by doing so, Morris is simply trying to hear from someone who may not be thinking four years or fewer down the road at his next job.) Like most staffers, Steven believes in Morris; he thinks that if the man is elected president, good things will happen. He is the prototypical idealistic aide; doing the right thing will win out over all, he believes. He's not completely naive to backdoor politics, but his organization, his analysis, his acumen, and his spirit are what endear Morris to him.
Even though Steven is not a Mr. Perfect, a self-righteous do-gooder, he's savvy; he knows which buttons to push. He learns, though, that his chief obstacle to success is in recognizing whom is trustworthy, and just because one is friends with another doesn't mean that either owes the other much when it comes to the game of politics. For example, simply feeding the press (in the person of Marisa Tomei) the occasional tidbit doesn't mean that the media will be an extended PR arm for Morris.
Somewhere along the line, Steven reaches a breaking point, a place at which loyalty isn't the most important thing on his plate. This point comes as a result of two pretty bad decisions, one that he knows is a bad idea right away and another that seems a little more innocent but then Steven has underestimated how petty, parochial, and vindictive those in the business can be. It's all about one's level of paranoia. You have to have some in order to foresee problems, but too much of it will hollow out your soul in a jiffy.
Clooney, who also directed, looks and sounds presidential, but he's not the focus of the movie; as with his brilliant Good Night, and Good Luck, he's a powerful supporting character. Things don't revolve around Mike Morris as they do around Steven Myers, and that's one reason the movie works our focus is on the morality battle, and it's presumed that as a sitting governor, that battle's long been over for Morris.
The hand-picked cast is superb. Not only do we get Clooney, Hoffman, Tomei, and Gosling, we also get Paul Giamatti as the governor's opponent's campaign manager. Each one seems to steal scenes, even ones they share. Even Evan Rachel Wood, as a new intern in Morris' camp, turns in a splendid performance.
It's clear that The Ides of March won't be for everyone. It is, as I said, cynical highly so. It won't leave you hopeful about, well, anything. It gives you no one for whom to really cheer and yet no one for whom to really despise. It offers realism in lieu of hope, and its goal of trying to explain the motivations of those who get involved in these campaigns is reached. It's an effective, gripping melodrama.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An ex-superhero is thrown through a plate glass window, many stories
above the city. Was his murder somehow connected to the feared imminent
nuclear holocaust between the United States and Russia? Someone seems
to want the former do-gooders out of the way in this thrilling,
one-of-a-kind, jaded look at superheroes that turns conventional
comic-book wisdom on its head.
It's an alternate 1985. Richard Nixon has been elected to a fifth presidential term. But the USSR is encroaching on Afghanistan, and the US isn't taking too kindly to it. Enter the smartest man in the world, Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), formerly known as superhero Ozymandias, who is working with the ethereal Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a physicist who has achieved immortality and near-omniscience owing to a long-ago lab mishap. With Dr. Manhattan's help, Adrian hopes to dissolve the tension between the two superpowers.
But that's not the only conflict, not by a long shot. Since the characters here are unfamiliar to most audiences, there's plenty of backstory, seamlessly edited into the main story as important details that inform the characters. (For one thing, we get to see the rather graphic - more on that later - origin of Dr. Manhattan.) The superheroes have conflict within their own group, which has gone its separate ways - with different goals and outlooks. Not only that, but the world at large isn't entirely on the side of masked avengers, labeling them as vigilantes. By the present, most of them have ditched their costumes for traditional lives; some tinker with their gadgets in their basements, in hiding, and some merely blend into society.
Here's who's left in 1985, in addition to Ozymandias (who's revealed his true identity to the world) and Dr. Manhattan: Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), and The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Others have gone insane or been murdered themselves in years past; all suffer as everyday humans now.
So how does Watchmen skewer comic-book tropes? Well, they're not always good, you see. Some are, but some maliciously kill, albeit for the greater good. Some take delight in the suffering of man if that man is, say, a child killer. That sort of thing. The truth is, no one here is perfect, not even the superheroes. Another difference is the high level of violence in the movie. This isn't a comic-book movie where the bad guys fall down when they get slapped, no sir. No, the heroes beat the stuffing out of them, with blood, entrails, and the like splattering all over the place. Limbs are dislodged, brains are exposed. It's wildly violent, much like director Zack Snyder's last film, 300, but without the detached, this-can't-be-real tone. This isn't a movie in which the bad guys are brought in for questioning or sent to prison to think about what they've done. This is a movie in which the bad guys are annihilated, period.
In case you're still contemplating taking the kiddies to see this superhero fare, here's another caveat: there's nudity. No, it's not Malin Akerman (although you do get a glimpse), it's the blue-hued Dr. Manhattan himself. Sometimes he's in a thong, but often he's just letting it all dangle there. Funny thing is, it's not really all that shocking. If it'd been one of the humans, perhaps, but Dr. Manhattan is more humanoid than human at this point.
At 160 minutes, the action really doesn't let up. But that's nothing - most movies are fast paced now. This one has a plot that can keep up with the action. In fact, the intricacies of the plot are delicious to unwrap; this was not a movie - superhero or not - where you can predict the end without just taking a wild stab.
I can't understate how tremendous an achievement this movie is. If we're all lucky, this will open the door for more adult comic-book films. The good guys don't always have to be about justice and truth and all that junk, and the bad guys can sometimes get what's really coming to them. I do want to point out that among the outstanding cast, Jackie Earle Haley as the haunted, masked Rorschach is tremendous. Wilson, who appeared with Haley in Little Children a few years back, is also dweebishly strong as the aging Nite Owl II.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Descendants is not a movie that's easily defined. In the macro
view, it's about a man grieving for his wife, who lies in a coma from
which she may never emerge, while simultaneously attempting to care for
his two rambunctious daughters, each of whom is nearly alien to the
workaholic man. But don't hastily dismiss this as a tearjerker about
some guy coming to grips with mortality and/or learning a little
something about himself along the way. This is a movie that runs the
gamut of emotions, with pristine sincerity, grace, dignity, and rich
Matt King (George Clooney) is the workaholic, a lawyer who lives in Hawaii. He has a good life - at least until his thrill-seeking wife suffers a serious head injury during a powerboat race, placing her in a deep coma. Matt's orderly life is no more. He must not only deal with the fact that he may never speak with his wife again, he must also learn an entirely new way of life - one with a domestic tinge. As wife Elizabeth's condition deteriorates, Matt must also deal with family and friends and open doors he never knew existed. All right, that's sort of cryptic, so let me give you this tidbit that is in no way a secret in the plot - Elizabeth, Matt shortly discovers, was having an affair at the time of her accident.
On top of all of that stress and drama, Matt is the sole trustee of a huge plot of land that has been a part of his family for a very, very long time. He and his cousins have decided to field offers for the land, because the trust becomes dissolved in seven short years. Should they sell to the highest bidder or to a local businessman? Either outcome would leave all of them very rich indeed. The sale of the land will make a huge impact on the island, as it could transform what many see as a beautiful, nearly untouched mark of beauty into a symbol of avarice and decadence.
The core of the entire story is Clooney's unbelievably terrific performance; he is vulnerable, strong, confused, decisive, anguished, angry. It's not every actor who can pull off such a wide range of expression, and Clooney is so effective in this movie that you sincerely feel as if you are standing directly in his shoes, seeing all from his perspective rather than just through his eyes. To say that Clooney's Matt is troubled is an understatement, but what makes this performance so remarkable to me is that at no time does he have all of the answers, and at no time does he have no answers at all. He is, to put it another way, us.
The tremendous amount of pressure under which Matt finds himself is exacerbated by his daughters' behavior; partly their reaction to their mother's plight but also because, well, they're precocious and self- absorbed, as most kids are when they're teens or preteens. Add in Matt's cluelessness about how to take care of girls; then you have a real recipe for a wacky sitcom, don't you? Only here it's as real as it gets. First there's 10 year old Scotti (newcomer Amara Miller), who acts out in class - including bringing in pictures of her comatose mother for show and tell. Scotti seems like a girl who just hasn't had enough of a male influence in her short life; you get the impression that Mom was the one who took care of the kids while Dad worked and worked. As a result, Scotti is combining typical rebellious behavior with confusion on how she should feel about her mother's being in a coma. Then there's Alexandra, currently away at boarding school; for her, you get the clear impression that she's a real problem child who's used to being shunted from school to school, like a queen of diamonds in a marked-up deck. She's away when the accident occurs; Matt retrieves her (discovering she's as wild as always) and necessarily leans on her to help him deal with his various problems.
Rest assured, there are moments that will jerk tears from you. However, director Alexander Payne does an amazing job of keeping everything level. This isn't a four-hankie movie, because life isn't a four-hankie movie. Life has its terrible moments and its joyous ones, too, and this film emulates that layer of authenticity to really deliver an emotionally powerful, provocative, and endearing story.
This isn't a movie you can just grab the kids and some popcorn and be lightly entertained, but it's also not a Think Hard movie. It's somewhere in the middle - again, much like life. Payne and cowriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash allow us to become psychologically engaged with everything concerning Matt and his family. We're with him so much that when he makes a blunder, we think to ourselves that we'd probably make the same blunder. It's a pleasure to see a movie in which the protagonist clearly doesn't have all of the answers, even to the easy questions, but has some answers to the hard ones. And that's why this is a hard movie to pigeonhole, and it's also why it's such a beautiful, artful film.
John Klein (Richard Gere), a Washington Post reporter, finds himself
drawn to a small town in West Virginia. In fact, his car dies, along with
his cell phone and watch. He knocks on a nearby house to call for help, and
the man who answers the door attacks him, saying Klein's been around three
days in a row. But has he?
Two years earlier, John's wife died from injuries sustained in a car wreck, and before she died, in an apparent delirium, she had been etching weird drawings. Could her drawings have some connection with this town?
Based on true events, The Mothman Prophecies follows John through his search for the truth. People in the town report seeing a strange being - are they lying, or are they misinterpreting? Are they simply seeing UFOs, or is there more to the story? Intrepid reporter that he is, John wants to know more - although of course his thirst for knowledge is accompanied by a need to know what happened to his wife (why did the car crash?).
Thrillers such as this one are hard to come by. It's not exactly a horror movie, but there are more than enough creepy moments to send a few chills reverberating through your body. It's a film that relies less on special effects than on such quaint ideals as character motivation and development and atmosphere. In fact, this movie's just brimming with atmosphere. We've all seen those cheesy movies in which a car runs out of gas along a desolate country road, and then BAM - some serial killers make dinner or belts out of the hapless occupants. But in this case, the monster is hardly ever seen, thereby heightening the scares.
At the centerpiece is Gere as Klein. I've never, ever been a Gere fan; it seems to me he has one expression. He's never been terribly emotive and has been known in recent years more for the age disparity with his female costars than for anything else (they get younger, he stays the same old dude). Call him ruggedly handsome if you will, but vacuity is never really appealing.
But this is not your typical Gere at all. He definitely turns in the best work of his career. Sure, he was appealing in Pretty Woman, but it was Julie Roberts' movie. Officer and a Gentleman? Ok, but that was Lou Gosset Jr.'s movie. Primal Fear? Red Corner? Runaway Bride? No, no, no. This is acting on a ledge for Gere. It's a true departure from the romantic comedies and the sly psuedo-mystery/dramas. Ordinarily, I would think such a movie would expose Gere for the terrible actor he is. But I would be wrong. This movie was so well written and directed that Gere rose to its level, rather than sinking it. That's a huge credit to him as an actor.
Now, I need to differentiate between good acting and appeal. An actor can look good or be charming in a role and still be a bad actor; by contrast, an actor can look uncharming and turn in a great performance. But what's key is how the actor draws the audience in - do they sympathize with his plight? Are they on his side? How good of an actor he is will answer that question.
Gere's Klein starts out as an average joe, and then we get to see him slowly descend into madness - we even descend a little with him. That vaunted atmosphere is so vibrant and realistic that we turn when he turns and feel things he feels. This is an absolute hallmark of excellent filmmaking (by Mark Pellington, whose only other big film was 1999's Arlington Road). The writing is crisp and eminently believable, and the acting in addition to Gere (including Laura Linney, Debra Messing, and Will Patton) is simply superb. And don't forget the prophecies part of the title, either; this "Mothman" entity issues warnings to whomever it deems worthy. Which sounds good, as long as one can interpret them correctly. Apparently, many have not.
The story is based on actual events that took place in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, but this is no Amityville Horror story. With Amityville, one could distance oneself from the experiences of the family involved; we could say that it would never happen to us, it was only a movie. This is a little trickier with The Mothman Prophecies. It's a creepy, tingly movie that gets under your skin and crawls all over your heart.
Hollywood's gone to the outer reaches of our galaxy (not to mention
it's plumbed the depths of the ocean, mapped dank swamps and arid deserts,
but one place it hasn't gone to with any sort of regularity is the inner
The Core is certainly one of those movies for which one must suspend disbelief. It's a science-fiction movie that emphasizes fiction over all; that is, the physics of the film don't hold up to snuff. If you're an engineer or physicist, you should be smart enough not to watch it - you'll just spend most of your time second-guessing the inane psuedoscience.
It seems the inner core of the Earth has stopped spinning, for some reason, and this has caused the electromagnetic field that surrounds and protects the planet to begin to decompose. This is evidenced by, among other things, pigeons in Tralfagar Square in London suddenly veering at plate-glass windows and sundry people who wish they were extras in a less-violent movie, like Daddy Daycare or maybe Finding Nemo. At any rate, the world's leading scientists, commissioned by the military (it wouldn't be a Save the Planet from Imminent Destruction without our pals in the movie military), figure out that the core's stopped rotating, and that Something Must Be Done to get it going again.
Ah, but what? We've only drilled down about 8 miles, and according to my calculations the distance from the surface to the core is .... a bit further. We must drill down, sayeth the sage scientists, and lo and behold, through the magic of movies, there's this guy in the desert who's been working on a laser rocket thingy that'll help them blast all the way down. This handy little thing is just the cure, so a crew is hastily assembled: Commander Iverson (Bruce Greenwood), Major Beck Childs (Hilary Swank), Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart), Dr. Serge Leveque (Tcheky Karyo), Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci), and Dr. Ed Brazzelton.
Like such doomsday movies as Armageddon, what The Core has going for it are likeable characters and a lot of nifty FX. It also has the unknown working for it; we don't know what lies beneath the thin crust of the Earth, because we haven't drilled beyond it. That allows filmmakers a lot of free reign to depict whatever the heck they want in terms of What's Down There.
What The Core has going against it, however, is a predictable plot and some howlingly awful dialog. Now, it's not giving anything away to mention that at least one person doesn't make it back from this mission. It's also not giving anything away to note that there's at least one knockdown, drag-out hissy fit of a scene in which Keyes admonishes Childs for something she didn't do. It's hysterical to watch, although I suspect the emotion the director was attempting to convey was more like empathy, not euphoria. Or ennui, which is unfortunately how some of the movie felt.
The Core is cheesy. No, not the actual inner core - although, come to think of it, maybe it is, since we don't know for sure what it's made of. And wouldn't that be fitting? A cheesy core for a cheesy film made by cheesy people in a cheesy society? Who's up for some Muenster?
The Crazies, a remake of a seldom-seen 1972 George Romeo film, is about
a small town whose inhabitants drink tainted water and become deranged.
The movie is slick but still terrifying, relying not only on wacked-out
effects but also on unadulterated suspense to really rattle your
At a Little League game in Ogden Marsh, Iowa, a man wanders into the outfield carrying a shotgun. When the man raises the weapon, Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) shoots him dead. But the man wasn't drunk, he'd just gone crazy. Dutton investigates further, with the help of his deputy Russell (Joe Anderson), and discovers that a plane carrying a deadly cargo has crashed into a nearby creek, thus poisoning the town's drinking water.
From there, events quickly get out of hand, as anyone who'd drunk water from their taps becomes first listless and unresponsive, then mumbly, then completely unhinged. But that's only the beginning of the nightmare for the town, which is then surrounded by a military force bent on containing the virus by any means necessary.
This is only kind of a zombie film. I mean, no one's dining on the flesh of their living compatriots, there's no shambling, and mindless killing. (There's plenty of killing, but the afflicted people still have the capacity for reason.) One thing I liked about this was that precious time isn't spend trying to discover the reason for everyone's behavior; attention is focused on the survivors and how they react to what's going on. I also appreciated that at no time does anyone, even the sheriff, have this superhuman ability to know what must be done and how to do it. Dutton isn't a superhero, he's a sheriff.
Another thing that helps a lot is the pacing. Too often, things either move so quickly that you can't figure out what's being done to whom or too slowly so that the suspense angle becomes the boredom angle. This is crucial for a horror film, which basically trafficks in suspense. Director Breck Eisner keeps the action coming without holding up the story (e.g., no drawn-out standoffs when it would look implausible), and there are plenty of creeping-up-on-you moments to choke twelve cows.
Olyphant looks a lot like a younger Bill Paxton here, and he's a good fit - Sheriff Dutton is a solid leader, but he's not an improbable one. He's the kind of guy who rises to the occasion, not surpasses it completely. If you're looking for a movie where the hero is always armed to the teeth and subsequently never gets much more than a scratch on him, this isn't for you. Dutton has to constantly fight with his own instincts and change his attitude during the course of the movie (save everyone, save his wife, save a few people, save himself).
People who make horror movies know they're making them for a pretty select audience. Lots of people don't like horror movies at all, and those who do are somewhat picky about them (particularly with so many big-budget ones from which to choose), so standards are high. It's important to grab that core audience, show them something they haven't seen or haven't seen done particularly well, then smack them upside the head. Classic horror films used the horror of the unseen to great effect, and more-recent genre films try the same thing. (One reason for this is that we've become inured to in-your-face slasher films, because the anticipation of the slasher doing his slashing has largely been eroded. But that's a digression right there.
Basically, if zombie movies in general are your bag, you should love The Crazies. (If you don't like any horror films regardless, there's no way you should see this.) The Crazies is effectively scary, mixing human emotions with raw blood and gore and endless edge-of-your seat thrills.
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