So a few days ago I did my review for Edge of Tomorrow and lamented the fact that an otherwise great movie was ruined by a dopey ending and it got me thinking: “What is a flawless sci fi movie and how many are there?” Now, by flawless I don’t mean the highest grossing or even the best or most entertaining. Often times the best movies are chalk full of flaws. Rather I mean what are some great sci fi movies where I cannot actually find a single flaw?
Now of course these films are highly subjective and definitely stem from my own sense of good or bad in science fiction but it’s my blog. I am going to restrict myself to hard science fiction and keep away from horror and fantasy (so no Lord of the Rings), even when they have some sci fi elements. This list is also going to differ from a list of flawless non-sci fi movies in that things like character (while important and highly appreciated by jaded reviewers such as myself) have less bearing than than concept and story. This list is not presented in any particular order and if you have one that you feel I missed feel free to post in the comments and I will agree or disagree with you.
Groundhog Day just got real.
SPOILERS INCOMING I’m going to have a hard time doing this review without spoilers so feel free to skip ahead to the last paragraph where I highly recommend this movie. This film managed to meet almost all of my hopes and expectations. It had a solid script, the hardest core science fiction you can possible get, excellent acting, edge of the seat action, and literally the latest and greatest in CGI and special effects. I would say this film is 95% of an awesome movie, and that the bad 5% comes in at the last 5 minutes.
The ending, while very (very, very, very) Hollywood caught me so off guard that I had to look at the source material, All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sikurazaka to see how much they changed the ending. However the original story is that very special Japanese sci fi that is to sci fi what Forbidden Planet is to regular movies. Uber sci fi and somehow always seems to involve monsters with tentacles. No help from there really.
As I have said before time travel as a plot device is a tricky beast, always waiting to jump up and bite you on the nuts. It can be done badly easily and using it correctly is the sign of a talented writer and director. The problem is time travel by its very nature has massive plot holes built in and if not treated right these holes can swallow your script. The time travel device here (resetting your day like in the movie Groundhog Day, or in every other sci fi series ever including Stargate SG1 and Supernatural) manages to avoid a lot of that pesky “conservation of mass and energy” business. Of course since human memory is theoretically chemical how memories can survive traveling back is still an issue, but this film managed to avoid that problem and the rest of the time paradox issues by more or less ignoring them.
Gravity is a harsh mistress.
Bonus nerd points if you know where I got that quote. So another movie with a title ripe for puns that is disappointingly excellent. I guess they all can’t be After Earth (the pun there was afterbirth). I should know by now that Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are experienced enough to really only choose good scripts, and once I saw this was written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron I knew it was going to be at least just this side of awesome (he did Children of Men, one of the most underrated movies of 2006 and conclusive proof that the Academy hates science fiction). However, as I sat through the innumerable trailers there was a dark part of my soul hoping it would be less than worthwhile so that I could play with jokes on the order of “Gravity sucks”.
Gravity does not suck, however. On the contrary it is excellent in all regards, as close to a flawless movie as I have seen since Argo. In spite of the fact that it only has two characters I was drawn in and engaged with both of them. You feel each of their pains like it is happening to you, and root for them with the core of your soul. Visually stunning, and rather than treat the movie as a wheezing half dead mule to hang 3D and special effects on Alfonso used the 3D and special effect to enhance the story. Like cooking with spice special effects need to be used with a delicate hand. Too little and you might as well be eating flour and water and too much can turn your meal in to a spice exxxxxxxxxxxxtravaganza that will have you feeling it twice, if you know what I mean.
Experienced readers of my blog should know that when it comes to science fiction movies at some point I have to bitch about the mistreatment of my dear friend science. Some writers treat science as an annoying technical guy who’s contribution to the script is to raise points that are mostly ignored and who once in a while inspires another bad series of abuses of the Fundamental Laws of Physics. Other writers treat science like a the Gimp from Pulp Fiction, brought out only for convenient sexual gratification and otherwise locked in a box wearing a leather bondage costume. Still others treat it like the Tooth Fairy; a creature only really believed in by children but who can be safely ignored by adults who want to believe that you can survive a nuclear blast by hiding inside a refrigerator (you know who I’m looking at, George. Also as long as I am on this subject suck it Stephanie!).
I’m happy to report that Gravity treats the Laws of Thermodynamics like laws rather than those instructions to never cut the tags off mattresses. Conservation of mass and momentum are adhered to nicely. At one point I thought the movie had gone severely off the rails but when you figure out what was happening it makes total sense. Not only do I as a fan of science appreciate that Alfonso knows a thing or two about physics (or had the foresight to hire a couple of experts) but I love that fact that since this movie is ruling the box office it shows the ignorant inbred Hollywood creative types that the audience doesn’t need to be pandered to.
There are very few movies that move us like survival movies. One person against insurmountable odds, fighting to live in spite of the universe being stacked against him or her. This is what I love about zombie movies, and it’s hard to find something bad to say about regular survival films such as Cast Away, the Grey, 127 Hours, or Tree of Life (wait, that wasn’t a survivor movie? What the hell was Sean Penn doing wandering the desert with all those dead people? Or the kid in the flooded house? The real struggle to survive was me not dying of boredom. Since it’s not a survivor film I guess I can find something bad to say about it. Tree of Life sucks). You will never find an environment more inimical to human life as space, and as such it is almost inevitable that a survivor movie be done about it. Sure, it’s been done before but not this well.
Like many great movies the story is beautifully simple. It starts off with Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock-the Heat, Crash, the Blind Side) and Lt. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney-Ocean’s Eleven, the Descendants, Batman and Robin) in orbit on the Hubble Telescope. Dr. Stone is a civilian specialist of some kind brought in to install some new viewing technology onto the Hubble. Dr. Stone is working tethered to the station while Kowalski does a space walk with a very cool EVA jet pack (for the record, there is never a movie, video game, or life situation that cannot be greatly enhanced by the addition of a jet pack of any kind. If I had had a jet pack on my last failed date it would have been much better experience for me in spite of the rejection. However, in most cases you have to use the correct term: “a M-F-ing jet pack!”). There is some other red shirt working out there as well but he doesn’t play much into the movie.
Nearby a Russian missile impacts another satellite, causing a cloud of debris to approach the shuttle and Hubble with terrifying speed. The red shirt suffers the fate of all red shirts while Dr. Stone is cast loose from the station, tumbling in a sickening manner. At the same time large amounts of communications are disrupted (OK there might be some abuse of astrophysics going on here but I won’t ding the film for it) by all the debris.
Honestly I don’t want to get into the story much more that that. I can’t say much without giving away how the people survive and that is the whole point of a survivor movie. I will say that everything the characters do makes total sense and one can hope to have that kind of collected thought in a similar life threatening situation (or just trying to figure out which checkout lane will move fastest at Costco). Also, remember the great scenes in Alien and Aliens where you get to see Ripley in her tank top and panties? Well, you get something similar here a couple times (not quite as good, but still), but don’t expect too much. This film is locked into the PG-13 rating very strongly. (Weyland-Yutani logo from Aliens image courtesy of the Sci Fi T Shirts)
A simple story that makes total sense and is simply awesome. Two stars. Excellent acting and casting for both characters. I really believed them both to be who they were supposed to be, and Dr. Stone was not some super human but rather a real person who had her own massive weaknesses and failings. Two stars. I have to give Alfonso credit for really drawing me into the characters, especially Bullocks. A good film has you rooting for the stars and everyone will be in her camp. One star. A science fiction move that appreciates science. One star. Flawless special effects and CGI, all done tastefully and well. One star. Visually stunning film. You could watch most of this film with the sound off and Slayer playing on your stereo and enjoy the hell out of it. One star. The 3D was done to excellent effect (and you know it has to be good for me to say something positive about it). One star. Overall an excellent movie experience. Two stars. Total: twelve stars.
The black holes.
Nothing, really, and I’ve had a full day to think about it. There are a couple minor things I could nit pick but that would be just petty and small minded (two descriptives that on a different day could readily be applied to me but I am feeling magnanimous today). Honestly this film is nigh flawless (a hint to the answer to my question from the first paragraph, in case you are still wondering).
Twelve stars and not a black hole in sight. Anyone who doesn’t see this film is a sucky poopoo head. Don’t be that guy. See it in IMAX 3D. The pleasure centers of your brain will reward you with endorphins. Date movie? Absolutely, unless you are trying to make your date out to be a sucky poopoo head. The triumph of the human spirit in this film should have her clothes flying off faster than Supermans and even if they don’t at least you get to see an awesome movie before your let’s be friends speech. Bathroom break? Hell no. Hold it. This movie is worth the risk of wetting yourself. It’s only 90 minutes and if you really think you can’t hold it that long Depends it up. There is not a spare moment to be had here.
Thanks for reading. Movies like this make me glad to do what I do. If you have comments on this movie or my review feel free to leave them here, and if you have off topic questions or suggestions feel free to email me at email@example.com. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu.com. Talk to you soon.
I guess I can finally say that my appreciation of Luc Besson as a film director is at an end. True, he has done some decent films. Three to be precise. The Professional, Fifth Element, and Taken (Fifth Element image courtesy of the Sci Fi T Shirt category). However, pretty much everything else he does is stupid schlock, lacking in anything beyond guns and explosions. Taken 2 was an embarrassment, Colombiana a chance to show what what happens when you really just want to masturbate to your leading lady, and Lockout the perfect opportunity to show the world he never took physics in high school. Some people might argue that the Transporter was a decent series, but I just see it as car porn (sorry Liz).
I suppose that one could just take the fact that all his recent movies have sucked as a sign that Luc emptied his good movie magazine early in his career and is left with only some practice rounds and an unlimited supply of spitwads. Unfortunately this cavalcade of mediocrity has forced me to look again at my beloved three movies with a more critical eye and note the lame “Bessonisms” in each that had previously flown under the radar. (WARNING: if you are a fan of Luc’s earlier work skip ahead a couple paragraphs. I don’t want any responsibility for ruining these films for you)
Remember in the Professional how Leon opted to bellow madly at…nothing just after shoving Mathilda and his plant down the vent shaft? Remember how it sounded like he was about to go on a mad rampage only to lie among the corpses? How about how evil for no apparent reason Gary Oldman was? If I were reviewing that movie there would be a black hole for that. Evil for evil’s sake is a lazy filmmakers tool. How about the death of the kid, or the teenie bopper sister? Killing a kid to give a character motivation is pretty ham handed. The movie is still great but like a weird mole being the early warning sign of melanoma these little glitches were the seeds that would later grow into a spreading plant of lameness, destined to occlude the entire screen. If you look at the Fifth Element you can see things like love being the fifth element, or Mr. Zorg (Gary Oldman again) also being evil because…? It advances the plot? Again, great movie but you can’t help but look back and see warning signs.
I guess Taken is pretty flawless. I don’t have any issues there, at least until the sequel surfaced like a bloated corpse finally rising to the surface of a murky scum covered pond.
“So what’s wrong with the Family, Dave?” I’m glad you asked. There are a few problems, but main issue is the main character, Giovanni Manzoni, with whom we are supposed to identify and care about, is the most reprehensible human on the planet. I have a hard time feeling sympathy for a character whom I just saw lower a man live into a vat of acid, or beat a hapless plumber almost to death for trying to gouge a little, or drag a corporate executive behind my car for (maybe) causing the local water to turn brown. The movie starts off with the dead body of a fish seller being hauled out of the trunk and buried in the back yard for selling some less than fresh lobsters. Giovanni in all ways acts like the villain, whereas the actual villains are barely present. We are expected to like him because he is Robert DiNiro and is trying to do some comedy, but that all drains like water from the pocket of your swim suit when you see him plant a homemade bomb and all you are left with is an unrepentant multiple murderer, torturer, and all around serial criminal who’s only regret is he is not still back in Brooklyn killing people.
I suppose some sympathy could be generated for the family, but honestly there is no actual dynamic going on and they are all four identical in character. When you see a family drama featuring contentious Italians the natural expectation is that they will have different personalities and fight like cats and dogs but in the end show they love and support each other when faced with a common enemy. In this film they get all get along famously, saying how much they love each other constantly and never really even have a disagreement. The wife nags Giovanni a bit but really that’s all. In addition they are all three in their own way reprehensible: the wife blows up a grocery store and possibly kills a half dozen innocent people because the shopkeeper was rude, the girl in a classic sociopath who revels in beating the hell out of other students and the seduces the substitute teacher (remember all that skin crawling pedophile romance in the Professional? I guess statutory rape is a thing for Luc as he has another episode in this film), and the son is a classic racketeer who dreams of following his father into a life of crime. I had a hard time caring about any of them, and my sense of moral outrage secretly hoped they’d all get some kind of punishment.
Then there’s the fact that this was an attempt at comedy. Here’s the thing. A movie needs to have tone. Tone is what tells you the movie is about. The Godfather is about a mafia family that kills people. You don’t have any slapstick comedy going on. Ace Ventura is a comedy about a guy who investigates animal crimes. You don’t have a horrific torture/murder scene. It’s true that some movies mix a little comedy into the drama, but like adding the right amount of salt to a cake you need a finite amount and a delicate hand. In a film like this it’s hard to laugh at a funny scene when you just saw a hit man execute a completely innocent family, or cut someone’s finger off. It’s jarring and hurts your brain. The comedy isn’t funny and the drama isn’t serious.
Another problems in spite of the fact that Martin Scorsese somehow got roped into being a producer in this film and they actually show the movie Goodfellas to Giovanni’s character in the film it seems pretty apparent that Luc Besson has never watched Goodfellas. Remember at the end of the film whan Henry Hill is living like a schnook in Bumblef$*@ Arizona as part of the witness protection program, and how miserable he was? Well, Luc took that and decided that what the Federal Witness Protection Plan really does is take families and move them into fabulous villas in Normandy, supporting them all the way. If I could be moved to the south of France as a reward for being a snitch sign me up. Also, the program has to turn a blind eye to the fact that their star witness (who, by the way, seems to do nothing by way of testifying) is still a murdering sociopath. It’s again jarring and took me out of the theater.
There are a few other issues, but I have things to do and I haven’t even started on the story recap. The movie starts off with the Manzoni family-now renamed the Blakes-travelling across France to their new home in Normandy. Giovanni (Robert DiNiro-Goodfellas, Meet the Parents, the Godfather) is an ex mobster. His wife is Maggie (MIchelle Pfeiffer-Scarface, Batman Returns, Dark Shadows) and his kids Belle (Dianna Agron-Glee, I am Number Four, Burlesque) and Warren (John D’Le0-Brooklyn’s Finest, Wanderlust, the Wrestler) are with him, along with the corpse of a fish monger. They arrive at their French villa and set up home. Giovanni tells the neighbor he is a writer (oh, yeah. The Luc Besson Witness Protection lets people make up any old story they like) while Maggie blows up a store and the kids raise hell with their new classmates. They family is protected by FBI agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones-Men In Black, No Country for Old Men, Small Soldiers) and two BBS’s (Jimmy Palumbo-Beer League, Man on a Ledge, Margin Call and Dominick Lombardozzi-the Wire, S.W.A.T, Phone Booth).
They throw a big BBQ for the locals and are something of a hit. Giovanni is given the task of finding out why the tap water is brown and does so by putting several people in the hospital and blowing up a local chemical plant (no one presses charges, of course). Meanwhile the mafia figures out where they are and flies to the village, murdering all the local police and firefighters (the yucks are rolling, let me tell you). The whole situation is headed towards a major showdown but instead the big final fight is over in like five minutes with nary a scratch on any of the family, all of whom deserved to have something bad happen to them (the girl is a maybe on that). In the end nothing is really resolved, none of the characters really learn anything, and no one pays any kind of consequences.
The Italian hit man was pretty bad ass, and there is a scene where he and the rest of the hit crew get off a train that I thought was really, really good. One star. I can’t fault Robert DiNero for acting. He was as great as he always is. It’s just the script that sucked. One star. Same for the rest of the crew. One star. Dianna Agron is pretty damned easy on the eyes. One star. If you were to cut away all the lame attempts at humor you might have a decent crime movie. One star. Total: five stars.
The black holes:
This film couldn’t decide what kind of movie it wanted to be when it grew up: comedy or mafia film. One black hole. The characters were all two dimensional stereotype copies of each other. One black hole. The idea that the FBI can even afford to fly four people to France and set them up in a beautiful villa. Also for the record the FBI has zero power outside of the USA, yet these cowboys were armed to the teeth. One black hole. There is a scene towards the end where Giovanni is tapped as a famous writer in spite of the fact that he is barely literate and has never published something in his life (no one in France has heard of Google?) for a film festival. It is a flimsy excuse to show him Goodfellas and let him spout off about it (the joke of Robert DiNero playing a character watching himself in a movie is not lost on me. I just think it really lame). One black hole. I was never really given a reason to care if Giovanni lived or died (once you see someone lowered head first into a barrel of acid your sympathy for the lowerer dissolves pretty quick (haw!)). The family was marginally better but honestly they could have easily been cast as the bad guys. As a matter of fact it might have been a better film if they had all died in the last fight. Sort of a criminal last stand. Remember how Leon dies at the end of the Professional? One black hole. While I’m on the subject the family escapes without a scratch, no doubt to travel to the next town to blow up, beat up, and murder the locals like an evil A Team. One black hole. Rated R and no nudity. Can you throw boobs like me a boob goddammit? For sitting through your flick I deserve something. One black hole. Total: seven black holes.
A grand total of two black holes, a solid “meh” score. This is the prefect film for one night when you are sitting around with nothing to do but drink beer and eat cold pizza. Not something worth making a big production over watching. Date movie? Another “meh”. I think the issues I had liking a sadistic sociopath might be even harder for most girls. Don’t take the chance. Bathroom break? The clear winner here is the film festival. It’s not only worthless but kind of insulting.
Thanks for reading. I’m lined up to see something else tonight so look for another review tomorrow. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungfu. If you have comments on this film or my review feel free to post them here, and if you have off topic questions or suggestions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a good night.
That’s pretty much what I was saying through most of this film. “Huh? The US military is involved in stealing money from drug cartels inside our borders?” “Huh? The CIA feels comfortable running around killing and torturing Americans inside the US (for the record the CIA’s remit is specifically operations outside of the US borders but a pertinent fact such as that would require like at least 30 seconds worth of research. Google doesn’t type questions in itself).” This wasn’t a movie about lots of little plot holes. This was a movie about a few massive, huge plot holes that made the entire film seem dumb and worthless.
I see this as symptomatic of the lowering of standards for movie writing. It’s like if you are building houses out of bricks and only use the highest quality materials, but once in a while a brick made out of dried cow dung sneaks in. At first you worry about lowering the quality of the house but you soon realize that you make the same amount of money off houses with a few crap brinks in it as you do with a complete brick home, and you figure out that dried cow dung bricks are both easier and cheaper to use so you start increasing the ratio of excrement to bricks leading us to the inevitable conclusion: a complete bulls@&$ house.
For those of you slow on the uptake or were sick on the day they did analogies in school the dung bricks are the plot holes in a movie. Never let it be said that I am not clear in my writing.
(Actually this is my pleasant, relatively naive theory. My darker theory is that Hollywood has done market research and somehow figured out the you, the mouth breathing audience, feels some kind of pleasant sense of self worth every time you spot a plot hole in a script and now they are stuffing them in on purpose in order to appeal to the general population. If this is true than we have no one to blame than yourself and I secretly hate you all for it.)
The other ugly trend I am noticing is how these days every modern film villain inevitably has to be a rogue American military or spy element. The reason for this is clear: if Hollywood is going to maximize its profits (the number one goal of every filmmaker in the world. Creative vision and artistic integrity? File those with petticoats in the list of things relevant today) they need to appeal to the foreign markets, and the only villain countries like China find acceptable is Americans. Of course, we can’t have America portrayed as the villain (you know, pre-emtively invade a country looking for non-existant WMD and then have the companies that supported the President make billions exploiting it) so the only choice is left is crazy or greedy Americans (or countries that don’t actually watch our films. Helloooo, North Korea!)
I have traveled around and enjoy meeting people from other countries, but as movie goers they are a plague of locusts so thick that they have clogged up all the breathing holes in Hollywood and cut of oxygen to the studios brains. Can’t you find some kind of local entertainment to occupy yourselves with and let us go back to making movies that don’t have to be 90% visual and specifically don’t suck? (yes, there are older movies that sucked but at least they never had a multi million dollar marketing campaign pushing them, unless you count Godzilla 1999).
Anyway, 2 Guns. I don’t think this movie is really going to be seen by a lot of people so SPOILER ALERT. Bobby Trench (Denzel Washington-Training Day, Flight, Man on Fire) and Michael “Stig” Stigman (Mark Wahlberg-Pain & Gain, Ted, Broken City) are two criminals casing out a bank robbery. There is a flashback to they dealing with a Mexican drug cartel and not getting the cocaine they wanted. Instead they opt to rob a bank that the cartel uses to store $2-3 million.
At that point we learn that both of them are agents of some kind or another. Trench is a DEA agent and Stig works for Navel Intelligence (??? The list of issues with this is staggeringly long. The Navy does not work on drug trafficking, does not have intelligence operations inside the US, does not rob banks, does not kill DEA agents, and pretty much does not let commanders run around doing whatever they feel like. During the course of the movie you do not see the ocean once. It all takes place in a desert, pretty much making it the one place the Navy has no reason to visit. In fact, this is where you would go to get away from the Navy). Trench is trying to bust the drug Cartel and Stig’s commander wants them to rob the bank in order to use the money to fund other operations (??? Jeez). Trench is helped by his DEA controller Deb (Paula Patton-Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Deja Vu, Precious) and Stig by his a-hole commander Quince (James Marsden-X-Men, Superman Returns, X-Men First Class).
They are going to go through with the robbery but Trench wants the DEA to bust them. The DEA doesn’t show up for mysterious reasons and the two get away with all the money. They double cross each other and Stig gets away after realizing Trench was DEA. Quince gets pissed off because Stig did not obey his order and kill Trench and tries to kill Stig.
At that point the best character in the film shows up in the form of CIA Agent Earl (the great Bill Paxton-Weird Science, Aliens, Titanic. Alien image courtesy of the Sci Fi T shirt collection). Turns out there was a lot more money in that back and it all belonged to the CIA as a slush fund they collect by delivering drugs for the cartels (???). His character was comically over the top but Bill played it so well that you can’t help but love him. He pretty much stole every scene. Anyway, he’s pissed about his money and starts torturing and killing people to get it back. The story gets a little convoluted at that point. Earl blackmails Trench into helping him recover the money. Stig want to clear his name. The local cartel kingpin gets involved, certain people are betrayed, and like all modern movies it all boils down to a multi-bad guy gun fight at the end where Stig shoots down a helicopter with a pistol.
I thought Bill Paxton was awesome. One star. I am a Denzel Washington fan, and enjoyed Mark Wahlberg as well. One star. The action was decent once it got started. One star. Nice little nude scene in the first 1/3rd of the film. One star. The movie was cool with being rated R and never felt like they either ramped anything back or injected anything in just to cater to the MPAA. One star. Pacing was decent, and they at least made an attempt to have a fairly complicated plot. One star. Total: six stars.
The black holes.
The whole premise was a massive plot hole that sucked the rest of the film into it’s event horizon. One black hole. All the other plot holes did not help. One black hole. As much as I enjoy Denzel Washington I look forward to the movie where he does not just play his Training Day character. One black hole. The opportunity to make the plot twists extra cool was missed on several occasions as they did not even try to keep the secrets. One black hole. The film suffered from a lack of a tone. At first it was supposed to be a buddy comedy action film, then it turned into a dark crime film where people get executed, and in the last fifteen minutes turned into a different kind of buddy comedy action film. Two much gear shifting burns out the clutch in my brain. One black hole. Total: five black holes.
A grand total of one star, which puts this film firmly in the “Meh” category. The potential for greatness was present but missed like my high school guidance councilor telling me I should become a farmer. Worth seeing if you are bored and just want to be mindless entertained with the emphasis on “-less”. The plot seems complicated enough but if you try to suss it out you will just realize it’s all pretty dumb. Date movie? Another “meh”. Nothing here will lower her inhibitions but at the same nothing should increase them, unless she has a thing for smooth ruggedly handsome black guys in which case bail. Bathroom break? Nothing jumps out at me. Maybe the scene where the kingpin has the guys tied up with the bull. You’ll know it.
Thanks for reading. More coming soon, although I leave Tuesday for Las Vegas and will unfortunately be there at the Star Trek Show when Elsyium comes out. Talk about ironic. I have been waiting for that movie for a while (on a side note, if you work for the studio and can get me an advanced screening please contact me. I tend to be more kindly disposed towards films I don’t have to pay for and/or see in advance, I swear). Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. Comments on this review or the movie you can leave here. Off topic questions or suggestions can be emailed to email@example.com. Talk to you soon.
OK, I admit I chose this movie from the rest of the dregs I haven’t had the time or inclination to see solely because I saw a lot of pun potential with the title should the movie end up sucking (which I kind of expected). You know, something like “Finally a movie where the actors act asleep intentionally instead of by accident” or “The main character was not the only person in the theater lulled into a hypnotic state.” The kind of lines I get to sit back and feel all smug and self satisfied about when I reread my reviews a month from now.
However, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and in this case my mouse plan went awry when this movie proceeded to be kind of awesome. It was a great psychological thriller with cool twists. I think a sign of a good, intricate plot is you are confused for the first 2/3rds of the film and all of a sudden in the last half hour everything makes sense. There are twist buried in twists and you will spend a lot of the movie scratching your head. Plus, after 70 minutes of what looked like nothing but PG-13 side boob Rosario Dawson (one of my secret loves) pulls out a nude scene that literally blew my socks off.
This is my favorite kind of non action film to review because the writers (Joe Ahearne-a regular writer on Doctor Who if that means anything to you, which it should (Tardis moon landing image from the many Sci Fi T Shirts) and John Hodge-Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, Shallow Grave) and the director (Danny Boyle-28 Days Later, Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) all seem to operate on the assumption that the movie going audience mostly has triple digits when it comes to IQ. This assumption is anathema as far as most of Hollywood is concerned. I guess they assume the best way to make max money is to appeal to idiots. However, it looks like these guys decided that smarter people have some money too and a few extra bucks is not worth the cost of your artistic integrity.
As far as the story goes I’m going to give this one the most minimal effort possible. There are any number of cool twists that I would hate myself for spoiling. Basically an art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy-X-Men First Class, Wanted, the Last King of Scotland) gets involved in an art heist with Franck (Vincent Cassel-Black Swan, Shrek, Irreversible) a career criminal and his gang of thugs. During the heist the Simon gets hit on the head and suffers from amnesia, forgetting where he hid the painting. After doing the usual thug things (torture, etc) the criminals decide to try out hypnosis. Simon picks out Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson-the Zookeeper, Sin City, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as his hypnotherapist.
Honestly I don’t think I can go any further without spoiling the film so I will more or less stop there. There are twists, secret agendas, and one of the most pleasantly surprising nude scenes ever. You will be scratching your head for most of it but if you are paying attention it will all make sense in the end (mostly. A few loose threads but nothing to get worked up about).
A cool complicated story with neat twists that generally makes sense. Three stars. Acting was great all around. One star. Set in London, so everyone had cool English accents. One star. Rosario Dawson looking super hot and super naked. One star. Overall way better than I expected. Two stars. Total: eight stars.
The black holes:
There were a few loose thread and a few things unexplained by the end. Nothing major, but just enough to bug. One black hole. If you weren’t paying attention or skipped out early this film will seem like the most confusing ball of gopher guts you have ever seen. One black hole. There is one other thing but I really can’t say it without dropping a big spoiler, so I will say one more for that last thing that bugged me. One black hole. Three black holes total.
So a grand total of five black holes. I am extremely glad I saw this film. It was well done, interesting, and well executed. If you are looking for something to stimulate your brain definitely see it. If you just want guns, cars, cars with guns, explosions, and exploding cars well…I guess the Fast and the Furious 6 will be out on May 24th. Date movie? Absolutely. English accents tend to turn women on (I hope. I have been practicing mine for four years now) and this film is definitely sexy without being gross. Bathroom break? Hold it as long as you can. If you miss anything in the first 85 minutes you will be confused and if you miss anything in the last 15 you will have wasted the whole movie. If you can’t hold it for 101 minutes buy some adult diapers.
Thanks for reading. I know the movies that I like without being a massive fan of make for slower reviews, but they can’t all be crap in spite of Hollywood’s best efforts. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. Comments about this movie or my review can be posted here. Anything off topic (movie suggestions, invitations to see movie premiers or advance screenings, Rosario Dawson wanting to take me out to dinner, etc.) can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Talk to you soon.
So I’m sure all the nerds out there are familiar with the HAL 9000, the murderous computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, I am curious as to what would happen if Hal came monitor to monitor to the computer controlling the Planet Express Ship from Futurama.
It’s not really that obvious when you think about it. Hal is programmed to kill using any means available to him, and has pods and so on to help. However, Hell hath no fury like that of a women scorned, and when Bender dumped her Planet Express Ship went kind of berserk. Also, Planet Express Ship is armed with some kind of laser cannon and does not seem to be as constrained by the laws of physics as Hal is.
I guess I will have to give this one to PES, although now that I think about it pitting the best technology of 11 years ago against a computer from the year 3000 might be a little unfair. The PES image I grabbed from one of Dave’s many sci fi t shirts. I think he actually wears this one himself.
Whether you were hoping to see an Alien prequel that answered a lot of the mysteries or an intriguing stand alone sci fi effort, prepare to be disappointed.
I think it fair to say that Alien and Aliens holds a special place in my heart, and that place is a deep dark cave of mind numbing pants wetting terror. Alien did serious damage to my ten year old psyche, and Aliens beat it home like kicking a guy in the stomach after he collapses on the ground. To this day I can’t think of a more horrible way to die than to have some alien parasite hug your face, implant eggs in your body, and have a horrific creature come tearing out of your chest (unless it would be being tied down and forced to watch Jack and Jill a second time (Clockwork Orange style) until my brain dribbled out of my ears).
Therefore, as a fan of movies that elicit an emotional reaction (and science fiction) I naturally love both movies intensely (Alien image courtesy of the Sci Fi T Shirts). When I first saw the trailers for Prometheus I was very interested. Then I saw the same trailer at ever movie showing and online opportunity possible (I really think they oversold this film). The burning question on my mind was “What the hell is this movie about?”
Is an Alien prequel or not? The answer, unfortunately, is sort of. I think this is a good example of Ridley Scott and the studio getting greedy and trying to grab too many berries for their hands to hold. By the end of the film they are dropping them all over the ground. This film has a lot of prequel elements: the alien ship is the same, the humanoid aliens are (sort of) the same, there seems to be something about large vases that vaguely resembles the Alien eggs, there is a Weyland Corporation (clearly a nod towards the Weyland Yutani Corp from Alien), and there seems to be some kind of face sucking action going on. However, in an attempt to appeal to both the Alien fan boys and the rest of the unwashed masses (who either don’t care about Alien or were turned off by Alien Resurrection or Alien versus Predator) they added a bunch of dumb elements and major continuity issues, which are really off enough to really annoy the fan boys. There are no actual Alien aliens and the aliens that do appear really don’t look at all scary, except for one Cthulu monster.
Apparently Ridley Scott is a huge fan if both Chariots of the Gods and (the horrible, IMO) Tree of Life because those are the Spackle he used to fill in the terror parts that were completely missing from this film. And like Spackle, they are all pretty beige, boring, and hard to remove. There is something about alien humanoid starting life on earth thousands of years ago by committing suicide so DNA could be entered into the primordial ooze of the earth, and then cave drawings of giant aliens worshiping six dots in the sky.
Let me take a minute to bore you all with how bad the science of this really is. First of all, the the DNA infusion would have had to have happened billions, not thousands of years ago. At one point everyone is stunned that the aliens are effectively human DNA, in spite of the fact that on Earth the DNA in question would have started off as like fish and reptiles and so on, so the odds of the original DNA returning to human is pretty low. Second of all, at one point it looks like the aliens were headed to Earth to do something about 2,000 years ago but had been visiting us for at least 35,000 years. Did they just stop because one or two ships failed to make it?
These are two examples of the astronomical number of plot holes that riddle the script like a Sparklets jug used for shotgun target practice. I often talk about a movie chuck full of holes, but this movie seems to not even care. However, all the the plot holes pale to insignificance when faced with the abysmal stupidity of pretty much every one of the character and the complete lack of motivation by any of them to do anything. There are a couple who stand out in particular for no reason (survival tip #1-if you are trapped over night in a hollowed out mountain filled with grim examples of aliens dying a horrible death try just camping out near the entrance, NOT wandering around looking for your impending death. Also, if you spend 20 minutes jumping at every shadow and worried about how all the aliens died when you are actually confronted with a live alien don’t have a sudden change of heart and try to give it a hug) but pretty much everyone in this movie is dumber than a sack of hammers and we are given not a single reason to understand why they continue breathing, much less joined up on the ship.
I think the stupid, stupid choices every character keeps making is really where all the terror has gone missing. You see, in a good horror movie you feel for characters you identify with. It’s called empathy. You can feel like what is happening to them could happen to you because you like to think you are like them. The thing that made Alien and Aliens so terrifying is Ripley was a very easy character to identify with. Tough, sexy, and above all smart (if you recall her first plan in Aliens was to bail on the planet and nuke the site from orbit). However, if the characters in a film keep doing stupid stuff you can’t identify with them and therefore don’t care when bad stuff happens. In fact, after a while you start to hope bad stuff happens to them just to get them out of your face. It’s like watching a guy lick exposed wiring. You expect him to get electrocuted, and after he does you say “well, he deserved it for being stupid”.
Sigh. 1029 words and I haven’t even gotten into the story yet. I’ll do the short hand version. Aliens created life on Earth. Two archeologist discover cave paintings that lead them to some random planet where they think they came from. They find a buried ship and a bunch of dead aliens. An android with them has his own agenda. Two particularly dumb scientists (for lack of a better term. One of them looked like he just did a dime in San Quentin and the other looked like he ran the concession stand at the local bowling alley) wander off and get chewed on. It turns out the aliens are not the Care Bears everyone assumed they were. Stupid people die in stupid ways. Charlize Theron runs around looking super hot. One archeologist face melts and the other gives herself a Cesarian after discovering she is pregnant with baby Aphoom-Zhah. A really dumb ending is pulled out of an unnamed orifice and simultaneously ruins the last remaining shred of continuity to Alien.
The stars. I will say visually this movie was stunning. CGI and special effects were outstanding, and if you life sci fi brain candy it rocks. Two stars. Acting was actually really good, as long as it was acting stupid. One star. Charlize Theron was looking hot in her skin tight uniform, and Naomi Rapace in her underwear. One star. Science fiction movie. One star. Alien prequel (sort of). One star. Pacing and editing were decent. One star. If you are OK with stupid characters and a story that is built on plot holes, it can be entertaining. Two stars. Total: nine stars.
The black holes. Stupid, stupid characters (like worse than the dumbest teenage slasher flick). Two black holes. Zero motivation for anything. One black hole. Plot holes that operate like Bags of Holding (bigger on the inside). Two black holes. Is it a freaking prequel or not? I can’t stand fence sitters. One black hole. There were a lot of things and potential character development introduced and then dropped entirely, like some kind of small back story on the death of the archeologists dad and the android watching her dreams in cryo, that got dropped. I don’t think all that missing character development got cut in editing. It really feels like they didn’t bother to shoot it. One black hole. If it is meant as a prequel it suffers from severe continuity problems, and if it is not a prequel than the entire movie really lacks any kind of purpose or real import. One black hole. Some pretty mediocre casting. Why would a trillion dollar project (that’s actually the amount quoted in the film) hire a “scientist” who looks like the roadie from the Sex Pistols? One black hole. No horror in this film. None of the aliens really had that Giger visceral terror. Also, one of the things that made the Alien movies so scary was the build up, but this thing jumped right into pretty much everything. One black hole. Like most bad slasher films you can pretty much predict who is going to live and who is going to die, with the added benefit that due to the loose association this movie had with the Alien movies you pretty much know exactly how it’s going to end. One black hole. And finally, a really dumb ending that had me just closing my eyes and resting my head back in my seat. One black hole. Total: twelve black holes.
A grand total of three black holes. Very disappointing in my opinion. I think this movie actually is suffering from too much marketing as I had high expectations going in. I have taken a look at other reviews on this and am not really in line with a lot of them, but I think my opinion is colored by my own fan boy status. Worth seeing? Sure, I guess. Visually impressive, so try to see it on a big screen or even IMAX. If you are a fan of Alien you can look forward to a particular hell as you will not be able to pass on it but the lack of continuity will annoy you like an itch in the center of your back you can’t reach. Date movie? Not unless your date is turned on by every Freudian vagina and penis image possible as well as a lot of gross muck. Bathroom break? There is a scene where Charlize Theron is talking to the captain alone on the bridge that leads to them having sex (maybe. This film was rated R for gore, not nudity or adult situations). While it might seem intriguing, like any number of the stunted minor go nowhere sub plots this added nothing to the story or either of the characters.
This review does not sit well with me. I really, really wanted to like this film (which may be why I am coming down so hard on it). However, I have to be honest and as a nerd and Alien fan this movie kind of missed the mark by a few light years. Thanks for reading anyway. I was hoping this would be the last good movie I would see before having to watch That’s My Boy and Rock of Ages, but instead it looks like it will be the first part of a triumvirate of mediocrity. Cool stuff coming out next week. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you agree or disagree or just have a comment on this movie feel free to post it here. If you have an off topic question or suggestion feel free to email me at email@example.com. Talk to you soon.
Ever wonder what it would be like if someone took two hours of Punked clips and wrote a script around them? Now you can find out.
Ah, McG. I knew one day you would resurface dead in my sights like the bloated corpse of a cow drowned in a stagnant pond. In case you are unaware of Mr. “I’m too cool to have a name”‘s qualifications as a terrible movie director check out the rant I want off on him in my description for this Terminator: Salvation t-shirt from the Sci Fi T Shirts. He mostly does mediocre television. In fact the only other movie credit I am finding is Charlies Angels Full Throttle, so you know he is qualified.
While watching this (for lack of a better word) movie there was a distinctly familiar greasy smell to it, like the odor lingering in the family bathroom 45 minutes after your grandfather used it, and as the credits rolled I realized it was the ridiculously improbable action and refusal to do the slightest bit of actual research that is McG‘s signature style. And with that I sharpened my claws and dove into my keyboard.
Fortunately McG has thrown me a lot of chum to chew on. I won’t say this movie is not entertaining. It definitely has some funny moments. However, the scripts looks and feels like it was written by a 12 year old who has seen a couple romantic movies but secretly thinks his English teacher is going to show up to school with the hots for him (or her). It is a true mash up of genres: a healthy mix of really bad action film with a really bad (and creepy) romantic comedy.
I think it safe to dismiss the action plot entirely, as in terms of doing anything for the script I think an organ grinders monkey armed with a minigun would have been about as believable and a hell of a lot cuter. 30 seconds research or a high school diploma would have told McG that the US Central Intelligence Agency has no jurisdiction inside the United States and furthermore does not have fabulous Los Angeles offices that look awfully like a multi million dollar Apple store. Another 10 seconds research (that is literally what it took me thanks to Google) would have told him that most CIA agents make between $30-60K a year and specifically do not live like rock star millionaires in LA (one guy had a swimming pool for a ceiling in his fabulous bachelor pad). I don’t know if any kind of research would have told him that the CIA does not look kindly on wasting massive amounts of taxpayer money stalking girlfriends, but an ounce of common sense would have.
What action there was was laughably ridiculous. Two guys apparently can take out any number of armed men in a crowded club with no collateral damage. There was some kind of bad guy (Til Schwiger-Inglorious Basturds, Rabbit Without Ears, Knockin’ on Heavens Door) who wants revenge for the death of his brother or something, but that whole story thread only appears periodically and reluctantly, like someone suddenly remembering to take the medicine they hate for a social disease they wish they could forget about. The story focuses on the romance between Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde, Walk the Line, Water for Elephants), a successful product testing executive (not sure what kind of executive job lets you play with a flamethrower, but sign me up) who in spite of being insanely hot is bitterly single. She runs into her ex with his new fiance and suddenly feels the need for romance. Meanwhile CIA operatives and best friends (and possibly related somehow. The story was vague) FDR (Chris Pine-Star Trek, Unstoppable, Just My Luck) and soon-to-be-Bane Tuck (Tom Hardy-Layer Cake, Inception, Warrior, RocknRolla) are both single. Tuck opts to check out online dating and sees a post Reese’s best friend posted for her. They meet up and really hit it off. Meanwhile, FDR is trolling local video stores to pick up bimbos (he’s supposed to be the sleazy ladies man). He meets up with Reese and attempts to pick her up. Somehow in spite of being single for years and so inept in the world of dating she goes to her married best friend for advice her character (Lauren, for the record) suddenly sees right through him and gives him a lecture on what a dirtbag he is.
At that point the movie takes a turn down Creepy Lane (and later merges onto the Creepy Onramp to travel down the Creepy Memorial Freeway) as both CIA operatives make massive illegal abuses of their powers to find out what she does. Tuck is the (slightly) more innocent one and is only kind of stalking her, while FDR is literally stalking her, going to her work to more or less browbeat her into dating him. The two guys find out about it and opt to compete for her affection without letting her know they know each other.
About that time the speed limit on the Creepy Memorial Freeway goes from 55 to 75. They both break into her home to find out more. Each of them assign other agents (who obviously have nothing better to do. Threats from foreign organizations is so overrated) to follow her and bug her apartment with both cameras and listening devices (what part of this really says romance?). They listen in on her talking to her best friend and from there construct complete lies in order to woo her. FDR, on hearing that she likes artist Gustav Klimt, takes her to a private showing where he has another expert whisper facts into his ear. Tuck learns she loves some kind of car (the type escapes me and I don’t care enough to look it up) and takes her driving in one. Upon learning she thinks he is shallow and self centered (a fairly accurate perception in my opinion) FDR pretends to volunteer at a animal shelter and adopts a dog, while Tuck, upon learning he is too safe and not dangerous enough, takes her to play paintball where he beats the hell out of a bunch of kids.
Bottom line, when at the end of the movie she does choose one of these guys the entire relationship will be built upon an entire foundation of lies. I know I’m not an expert on women, but is this the kind of romance story you all want to see?
Anyway, its at this point that the movie actually gets kind of funny, as Tuck and FDR totally try to screw each other up. I will admit to laughing several times and were I to take these episodes out of context (you know, kind of like an aforementioned TV show that rhymes with “dunked”) I probably would have enjoyed the hell out of it.
The stars. In spite of the horrible script and direction, the cast was actually really talented and did the best they could do. Unfortunately they were all trying to lace their shoes with wet spaghetti. One star. I honestly did laugh at some of the hijinks. One star. In spite of the blizzard of black holes I am about to inundate the film with, it was somewhat entertaining. Two stars. Four stars total.
The black holes. A complete lack of research and fact checking from the writers or director. I understand the need to suspend disbelief in a movie, but would it have really been that hard or damaged the story in any way if they had substituted the letters “FBI” for “CIA”? Or made the field office slightly more functional and less amazing? One black hole. In spite of a talented cast of decent actors, all the main characters were pretty two dimensional. One black hole. There was literally more chemistry on screen between Chris Pine and Tom Hardy than there was at any time between Reese and either of the two guys. Honestly, the romance scenes looked like a little girl pressing the lips of her Ken and Barbie dolls together. One black hole. The whole illegal abuse of power and super stalking thing. Two black holes. The fact that the action plot literally went nowhere and added nothing. One black hole. The action scenes were so dumb and ridiculous that I wanted to start something with a stranger (or possibly the projectionist) on the way out just to be reminded of what an actual fight looks like. One black hole. In the end, Lauren chose the sleazier and faker of the two instead of doing what any rational woman should have done and booted them both out with a restraining order pinned to their shirts. One black hole. Overall a stupid and fake story that I found really annoying. One black hole. Total: nine black holes.
A total of five black holes. Suck it McG. I said you were an incompetent director when you screwed up Terminator: Salvation and I am happy to see that time has not improved your skills. Is this movie worth seeing on any level? Yeah, I guess so. It is funny at points. None of the camera work really needs a big screen so feel free to wait until you can see it at home. I can pretty much guarantee that if you get drunk and/or stoned before and during this movie you will laugh your ass off and probably think it’s great. If you see it sober you will probably feel like you just lost 98 minutes of your life and run home to write a bitter review for it. Date movie? Maybe. If your date is into a rom com built around the Three Stooges, can look past stalking that would terrify her in a drama, or just wants some brainless entertainment it might do. However, there is very little chance you look better than either Chris Pine or Tom Hardy so you will most likely lose a lot to the comparison factor.
Thanks for reading. If I get a chance I might still see Mysterious Island, but there is a pretty good chance that film might slip my net. This has been a weekend of mediocre movies. Warhammer tournament tomorrow. Follow me on Twitter @nerdkungfu or send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, feel free to post comment here. As long as you keep it clean I will most likely allow it and try to respond. Talk to you soon.
So apparently Ridley Scott is working on a new Blade Runner movie. I can probably say that this is another franchise that doesn’t need a sequell, prequel, remake, or reboot. Really, once they came out with the directors cut you pretty much had a perfect movie all in one two hour segment. Would you really ask Da Vinci to go back and repaint the Last Supper, only this time put clown noses on all the figures? This is pretty much the same concept.
Replicant image from the sci fi t shirts.
The funniest thing about this story is the serious doubt as to whether Harrison Ford is considering doing it or not. There are stories going in both directions. The most recent ones seem to indicate he will not touch it, which I think is the best move. He looked so young and vibrant in Blade Runner. He has no need to look like an old man like he did in the recent Indiana Jones. Besides, there is no way the new script could end up being anything but suck.
Ridley Scott, do your fans a favor and don’t fall for the huge pile of money the studio must be offering you. Prove to the world that you are a better man that George Lucas. Don’t do this movie.