Gattaca

The power of will, the ability to rip through expectations and assumptions: These are a few of the themes that tag along in the film Gattaca, an off track train, a whizzing, fresh science-fiction film with enough substance and personality to please all sorts of viewers. Ethan Hawke plays Vincent Freeman, a boy who was born into a genetically perfected world with real, untampered genes. His mother and father wanted one natural child: This decision does not fly well with Vincent’s life and society, especially since early on, and maybe because of, he hoped to become an astronaut in deep space.

Like poor eye-sight in the Air Force, Vincent doesn’t have the right genetic credentials for the job, but that won’t stop him. He hires a man who creates for him a new identity–for Vincent’s case, he is given partnership with Jerome Morrow, who is in a wheelchair because of an out of country accident. Jerome is dedicated to Vincent’s cause: He gives him hair, urine, and all kinds of genetic necessities, so that Vincent can pull it off in astronomy school and be considered one of the genetic elite–which Jerome is. There, he must balance his quasi-genetic equilibrium and come out on top with the overt goal: To get blasted into space.

Vincent, or Jerome to them, works at the space base, admired by his higher-ups for his perfect work, and seems on his way to space. But, after the mission commander is murdered, a full-fledged investigation begins, and Vincent must cover his tracks, and replace those in less suspicious areas with Jerome’s follicles. This shows a new, young detective, who from the start one can predict is his brother: They have such a dualistic relationship that it would seem inevitable. And this detective, the genetically perfect brother, has Vincent’s real eyelash, found near the crime-scene.

In the midst of his determined path at the base, Vincent meets Irene, played by Uma Thurman, who he soon falls in love with. Between them is the soft unknown balance between what she knows about him, and what she doesn’t. And when she finally discovers his true genetic identity, she is all but outraged: silent and accepting, her inadequate heart, as she mentions laughably to Vincent, always made her feel less than most. To Vincent, this is like worrying about a sliver when he has a rod in his chest. The dramatic irony invoked in the movie is a huge factor in it being consistently engaging.

The film-making is definitely science-fiction: It has all the props involved in such a bundle. Linear shots of architecture, high ceilings and odd attire, but it although it fulfills the archetype and formula of design, it has much mores substance than most films. In the core is a semi-satire on our genetic convictions, and possible convictions, for we are just now getting into the realm of choosing gender and gene-type. It is a predictive exercise with a round of excellent performances, and a provocative, engaging plot.

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Scanners (1981)

Scanners, directed by horror wise guy David Cronenberg, is a film where the director seems to be smoothing out his style. A majority of the shots involve the camera panning towards a character, in a shoulder shot, with his or her eyes gazing up at something with their big, scanner eyes. It’s done repetitively, and runs tiresome, but the plot is taken into newly explained depth and the actors always make it involving. Cameron Vale, the guy that reminds you of Luke from Star Wars with his sense of virtue, is used by Doctor Paul Ruth to fight against the scanners who have joined together. The leader of this underground group, who we meet personally when he assassinates a scanner at a presentation, is Darryl Revok. He will stop at nothing to find Cameron, and has already killed many scanners who wouldn’t cooperate with him.

The film has a way with muddying the motivations of its characters. No-one from the start is who they seem to be, except Cameron, who as a scanner barely has a personality because he thinks and thinks all of the people’s thoughts around him, as a telepathic. Dr. Paul Ruth has a serum that can suppress this and make all input from other thoughts gone. I’m not sure why Cameron didn’t want this more than he did, for it was the whole problem before Dr. Paul found him.

It ultimately doesn’t let us know who to root for; we are in contact with several double-sided misfits, but don’t know if what their doing is wrong. I think the lack of motivation in Cameron is a key disappointment; what did the Doctor do to get him on his side? Put fifty people in his room and let him suffer from their thoughts? Grumble his raspy voice like a wise-man?

The set-design is always meticulous and atmospheric, though. The scene where Cameron goes to the Artists house is incredible, where he has a massive skull made out of some sort of clay. They hide inside of it, and while the artist walks out and is blown to pieces by guns, Cameron resides inside the head, a metaphor, and scans all of the people around him. He walks out fine, but the artist has died.

The film boasts fine performances and an engaging plot, no matter how under developed the characters were compared to Cronenberg films like ‘The Fly’. It’s a gruesome, horror aficionado’s hot-list entree.

Prometheus

Ridley Scott stirred many science-fiction fans into the tongue-wagging mindset, waiting happily for the arrival of the next Blade Runner. Prometheus is not of the same order, but does blend incredible digital effects with strong performances. The plot, though, doesn’t run away from the same outline of the Alien films: Quiet, intelligent woman goes with a crew of rowdy boys hired by a corporation whose motivations are unknown, and slowly and somewhat suspensefuly are killed down to that last woman. In Prometheus, based on the characters behavior, you wont have to second-guess who is going to drop dead next. But, hey, maybe some fans take comfort in familiarity; or even worse, the filmmakers do!

Regardless of the screenplay letting us down, the action and pace is still there, along with the crowd-pleasing android played by Michael Fassbender. David, such a normal name for such a sophisticated machine, can see the memories of the people he guards while they lay in stasis; he loves movies, and quotes them often. He is a truly enticing character to watch on the screen, and even more so after some very eerie plot turns. The relationship between Elizabeth and Charlie seems a little unnatural; Elizabeth is a quiet woman with a despairing history, and Charlie is a shameless promoter of his own interests, drinking on the ship at will. However, the relationship’s dimensions may be explained by Elizabeth’s inability to birth: This is the couples last chance at mutual happiness.

The film accomplishes its frightening tone with a slow, evolving pace: yet, at several points in the film, I asked myself whether or not the person being killed right now was even introduced? The ship started with seventeen passengers, and it ended with one: Did it really feel like sixteen went down? These sort of elementary notions that are bypassed does not resemble the quality Ridley Scott has produced. The formula for horror, even sci-fi horror, is becoming far to transparent: Why couldn’t he have flipped it upside down, and had the people who were left in the cave at the start, (who obviously are killed), be the ones who outlive it all? The cinema has a language for form and design, but  genre-language does not win any more points, as Tarantino and many other genre-bending directors have shown.

The performances are very well done, and the crafting of each scene, in the sense of composition, is done by Scott’s signature confidence. Prometheus is a movie for science-fiction fans who aren’t perturbed by lack of thought, just awing at spectacle.

Chronicle

8/10

Chronicle holds a certain pedigree aside past superpower standards by being quick, sharp, and not slowed down by the usual pseudo-explanations of energy-weapons and tele-antics. It is a series of footage filmed by Andrew, the vital but troubled anti-hero. For this sort of filming to work it has to be confident with its own dialogue; the filmmaker must cut to scenes with an idea of where it’s going, and Director Josh Trank does this successfully and entertainingly. He doesn’t spend long minute scenes of Andrew or Matt picking up clothes off the floor, but instead makes quick shots of these personal-effects, like Andrew using his telekinesis to turn his oxygen-deprecated mother into a more comfortable sleeping position.

So my take on the hand-held cam criticism is this: it’s a novel metaphor. The cameras lack of steadiness makes it troublesome to follow in its righted-angles and thus making us have to exhibit a form of telefocus (Yes, I just said telefocus). The audience has to work and absorb with their powers of mutual information; we can understand ungrammatical and terribly spelled sentences because we are familiar with them and can make connections. The same goes for images.

The teenage innocence that bears the exposition weighs heavy in the films overall, fairly short, run-time. The film gets in gear when the turmoil of Andrews’ mother’s death and his rampaging father kicks him in the stomach, filled with superpowers and anger, a combination that any comic-book fan can predict as being fatal. It could be argued that the reasons behind his fatal-conclusion was not self-induced; indeed, it is a theme of Schopenhauer. Andrew exerted his power with destructive grace, but could have continued, if it wouldn’t have been for the intervening will of his cousin; so in the end, his cousin nor himself were the cause, but only puppets of power.

Matt, Andrews cousin, displays his interest in Philosophy, and most boldly, in like said, Schopenhauer. For movies with lack of substance It’s always key to remember the heavy-dialogue and store it to be thought about at later times. While Andrew was an introvert, which most of the time in the movies is analogous with intelligence, his cousin is well-tempered and profited with philosophy.

The cause-and-effect dualism is expertly crafted in this movie because all that’s seen is in the bounds of of their powers, a feature length exploration of ability. We don’t see how the characters arrive at the scenario, but why they are there through the action that ensues; It’s like every scene is an open frame, with wild things happening all around. The film weaves itself across its tragedies and out the other end with a sense of honest optimism. A short, yet affecting kinetic thrill ride.

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes

8/10

The rise of the planet of the apes, very long title indeed, is a science-fiction film that aims to outreach all expectations: Quickly paced, stylishly shot, and amazingly realistic CGI effects make it better than all other  planet of the apes films, leaving out Charlton Heston’s original.  It stars James Franco as Will Rodman, a scientist working on apes with new medicine-synthesis’. He invents a concoction that could possibly cure his father’s oncoming disease, and he uses it on him warily and desperately. The result is not only curing, but also enhancing; his memory capacity, ability to learn and so on; this is the premise that creates the quasi-intelligence of the apes, and the reason Caesar breaks from the ape-containment center and retrieves the vacuum-sealed medicine, in Rodman’s fridge.

There is an emotional honesty to the primal love Will has for Caesar, and the subsequent pain of seeing him wreak havoc. The super-intelligence turns Caesar into Alexander the Great, a chest-beating rioter preparing to over-take the planet. When they first escape from their prison, there is a scene where a father is driving through an autumn-looking neighborhood, tossing the daily newspapers with his boys. He gets out of the car when he sees bushels of leaves falling from the trees and onto the street, and when he looks up, it’s the apes climbing branch to branch; this sort of imagery is very imaginative, as the leaves falling reminds one of a coming apocalypse, a shedding of beauty.

The first half takes its time exploring the relationship between Will, the father, and growing Caesar. When animal-control finally has to take Caesar away after attacking a neighbor, he is dressed in a burgundy red shirt and blue pants, the same look given to the character in the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes. The film also has close-ups of newspapers and television coverage of the mission to mars, which is an ode to the original film, where the astronauts arrive at the planet of the apes after a voyage headed for mars.

The darkness of Planet of the Apes is just brewing; the upcoming sequel to the prequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I’m sure will be the evolution of the overtaking, the society crumbling. The final scenes of Rise are riveting, and display great camera choreography from the director, with Chimps swinging across the bridge with rebellious grunts, jumping onto the traffic and smashing windows. The film is a bold and welcome induction into the science-fiction genre: a super-stylized, yet incredibly sensitive look at the unexplained gap in the original Planet of the Apes.

Men in Black III

Men in Black III, directed by Barry Sonnenfield, and starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee-Jones, and Josh Brolin, is a particularly unasked for re-vamp of the Men In Black series, but surprisingly, it isn’t half bad. The cheese is a given, and its displayed from the start, with a moon-base prison-break of a Cronenberg-like mutant, hands morphing to encapsulate a squirmy little insect. Although it has creative parts, Will Smith definitely slips on his black-glasses, but also tries a little too hard in doing it. It is visible that he is prepared to make this movie great, on set as well as in his own performance. If he would have been director, the passion put into the film would have made it reminiscent of an Ed Wood film, I suspect.

Josh Brolin displayed his voice-altering ability in Oliver Stone’s “W”, and a similarly pitched tone is shown skillfully here in an attempt to imitate a young K, or a young Tommy Lee Jones.  He provides a must needed star-boost and charisma, along with a game-changing addition of the unispired but gleefully wacky Griffin, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, a predictor of the future, a transient mind-bender of possible occurrences, and a really funny mumbler of barely audible and barely punctuated sentences.

The film is uneven and the voice of Boris the Animal can sometimes be tedious and never-ending in the long dialogues with himself. I will recommend it to viewers who can handle a little meaningless comedy and a few fun science-fiction elements, but other than that, It is a standard affair.

The Hunger Games

People tend to criticize book-to-movie adaptations not because the movie really was poorly made, but the reader just wants people to be aware that they experienced and put in the effort to read the ‘better’ version.  The books were not Shakespeare,  I read them and saw the appeal, but the main point is that its fluff dressed in sophisticated clothes. The movie was solid, well paced, and far more emotionally descriptive than the novel, and containing a more suitable third-person perspective for such narrative scope. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen, the doomed contestant in the Hunger Games, and does a very nuanced job in a very different tone than her last film, “Winter’s Bone”.

One of the best movies thus far in 2012, brash, fun, sexy and stylish: bring on President Snow’s back-lash!

The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers is as packed with stars as it is super-heroes, yet surprisingly they all deliver their characters moors and idiosyncrasies with audacity and comfort; Iron man returns as Robert Downey Jr., Hulk changing actors again with a calm-faced Mark Ruffalo, a sassy pellet-lipped Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Chris Evans Captain America, Chris Hemingsworth as the god Thor, and the barely introduced Nick Fury played by Samuel L. Jackson, who has allegedly signed his star-name onto nine comic-book related movies. Oh, and don’t forget newcomer Hawk-eye played by Jeremy Renner, a crossbow wielding assassin. The characters are mostly known by the comic-movie niche, the hulk smashing through two semi-mediocre movies, Iron Man with two well executed vehicles along with an introduction of Black Widow in the sequel, and of course the recent Thor and Captain America releases.

The story centers around the upheaveling plans of Thor’s adopted brother, Loki. The movie starts out in a panicked, under-seize state of affairs, a tense Nick Fury walking the hollow infrastructure of S.H.I.E.L.D. Loki soon-after ports into the scene, arriving in desire of the Tesseract, an unknown energy source that Nick Fury previously had under his foot. Loki succeeds and escapes along-side his blue-eyed minions, Hawk-eye and the Scientist, hypnotized by the Tesserect. Now it’s a back and forth heist for the energy source, which eventually unravels in Loki being purposefully caught and then leveraging his higher-deities onto earth, the ultimate confrontation for the assembled super-heroes.

Robert Downey Jr. leads the race with sharp wit that the less dedicated hero-fans needed. The moment-after one word responses, by the puny S.H.I.E.L.D agent and by the culturally unfounded Captain America are relaxing touches. They even joked as New york city was being overwhelmed with green scale-typico aliens. Scarlett Johansson shows well-toned, Russian-suppressed emotion alongside her sassy appeal. Mark Ruffalo was the actor I least liked, partly because his dialogue was slightly redundant, constantly saying to not let him run wild; that Is not necessarily his fault, but he was of such an ex-addict disposition to the point of being overcooked.

The exposition scenes have moments of doggedness and expected situations. But Whedon has a gift or maybe just an obsessive-like consciousness of transition, and each stock-character is a beacon to the characters’ assembly, like a little afghan girl hand-hugging the hulk towards her disease-stricken father, to have Banner and the audience discover she was a courier; and to put it simply, even if they were quietly playing chess it would be exciting; in reality, the fans prescribe the greatness to the heroes; to us, the beginning is like gangsters clambering out of limbos with sagging cigars, long-time greetings. And at least the characters are resilient, not the proto-type overacted bringin’ back the crew moment. But the film structure is far too in accord with itself for my liking. It’s like a pendulum, you are thinking too much about how far down it has swung, rather than the story; the purpose of film-devices is to advance the story, and for the same reason Hitchcock stopped his cameos because he felt it distracted his views, this pendulum camera-work does the same for me, awkward prediction of who’s coming into the panning-view next; however, this is slight compared to what a juggle the film is with so many characters, and it is truly amazing how the final-cut ends up being so well-toned and followable. The music was far from pop or techno that one might grudgingly suspect, but instead takes the preference of Iron Man and twists it a little, with bands like Soundgarden.

The Avengers is secret-agent entertainment, a dialogue of personalities, and a semi-size load of fun. It transcends the genre, and comes out swinging with a record-breaking weekend gross. But whether or not that will rise much, we’ll see. It’s usually a first come first-splurge movie, and next week it will dissipate into its own convention. Regardless, I would sit through it again, and recommend it to any sci-fi or superhero connoisseur.

Signs

7/10

Signs, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is one of the more sensitive outlooks on alien invasion; it takes place in the quiet mood of a farmhouse, where a retired priest, Mel Gibson, resides with his children, Bo and Morgan, and his younger but adult brother, Merrill, a baseball playing hothead played by Joaquin Phoenix.  The thing that essentially makes Signs great is that the ‘aliens’ are not revealed until the end, where the peak of fear and paranoia shows on everyone’s faces, and where it is most likely to effect ours as well.

Morgan (Rory Culkin), and Bo (Abigail Breslin), are having a difficult time coping with their mother’s death. It hasn’t changed them to the point of losing faith, which is the main character theme in the priest, conflicting inside him why and why should I.  It embraces the priest’s sensibilities, and shows how much power he has regardless of how faithful he thinks he is, because essentially his internal self and judgements of his fatherhood is what is ultimately in conflict. The alien’s mix up radio-waves and have patterns that are similiar to most alien-movies, yes; The dogs stray into madness, the crops have an eerie quality to them,  and their are rumbling sounds outside; The philosophical idea of Okam’s razor, which says always go with the more practical breakdown of choices, is used often in the movie, with the crops being probably a prank, regardless of the articulate design, and the rumbling outside, the younger brother assumes, must be some reckless boys of a farmer’s down the road. They run out chasing them, but our left with shadows on the roof and then sounds in the crops: Kids, no doubt, would be obnoxious. These things are past pragmatic reason.

The movie includes M. Night Shyamalan as an actor,  in the role of the man who killed the priest’s wife in a collision: Played with surprising inner panic and guilt, especially when the priest pulls up right when hes about and ready to leave, the priest is unsold on forgiving the man: He wants to, but how can you forgive the cause of your wife’s death, even if it was not purposeful? A sort of embodiment of the reason behind it, and not a personal hatred. The movie gets very suspenseful near the end where they are cluttered into the basement while the aliens roam in the fields and house surrounding them. A heart-pounding suspenseful science-fiction tale of forgiveness and bravery: The water, I will tell you, is definitely contaminated.

Thor

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston.
Runtime: 115m

You would think that the man behind the camera of such excellent period-pieces as Hamlet and Macbeth would have done better with the Norse-material; sadly, Kenneth Branagh turns it into a simplistic Cain and Abel combat of spoiled and expectant demi-god brothers. The only character who deserved anything was Odin, a well-cast Anthony Hopkins, but he already is the king, nigh for his heir to replace him.

The voices of the Gods and of Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, are near as bad as Batman’s voice-overs in 2010’s The Dark Knight. The surface-pounding omnipotence of it all is appealing at first, but by the time the battle finally rings onto the screen, the whole ‘this hammer breaks all’ ordeal becomes tiring, and Thor just plain isn’t cool or catchy enough to cheer on, besides his daunting look, bright-red cape flowing in the wind and muscles like that of Hulk on estrogen-pills.

The Asgaardian portal and special effects are nonetheless dazzling and should be looked at separately from the rather weak storytelling. The Human-acquaintances, played by Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard, are a bit forcefully touching, but still remain well-fitting in the overall breakdown of Thor and his personality; he Is sympathetic, or rather needs to be while involving himself with his brother, and shows that Earth Is not at all alien to him. I suppose the psyche of the superhero is a bit reversed in ‘Thor’; we are used to the under-appreciated, poor or disaster-stricken hero like Spider-Man and the parent-less Superman, not a God ready for the throne to defend and judge the righteousness of his rebellious younger brother, Loki.