Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

World War Z

Movie Review #675

Click here to listen to the review


Paramount Pictures & Skydance Productions present…

…in association with Hemisphere Media Capital & GK Films…

Studio: Plan B Entertainment – 2Dux² – Apparatus Productions – Latina Pictures
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Country: USA – Malta
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish – Hebrew – Arabic

Directed by Marc Forster. Produced by Ian Bryce, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Brad Pitt. Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof. Screen story by Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski. Based on the novel by Max Brooks.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, disturbing content. Runs 1 hour, 56 minutes (Unrated Edition runs 2 hours, 3 minutes). Premiered in London on June 2, 2013; at Champs-Élysées Film Festival on June 15, 2013; and at Belgrade Blockbuster Review on June 18, 2013. Wide release in the USA on June 21, 2013.

Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, and James Badge Dale.

Cinemaniac Reviews two and a half stars

“Mother Nature is a serial killer.  No one’s better.  More creative.  Like all serial killers, she can’t help but the urge to want to get caught.  But what good are all those brilliant crimes if no one takes credit?  So she leaves crumbs.  Now the hard part, while you spent decades in school, is seeing the crumbs for the clues they are.  Sometimes the thing you thought was the most brutal aspect of the virus, turns out to be the chink in its armor.  And she loves disguising her weaknesses as strengths.  She’s a bitch.”
–Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel)

You know the story. I can think of a total of nineteen movies, plus TV’s The Walking Dead, that practice the same mythology as “World War Z”, and that’s without really thinking hard. Some call this very tale the “zombie apocalypse” genre. It’s basically a blend of creature feature and disaster movie elements.

“WWZ” wants to invent, though, so it’s not just “zombie apocalypse.” I give it points without hesitation for its desire to put this in war movie/Call of Duty context. The one problem it faces is that the “zombie apocalypse” genre is so specific, so established, so common, that we need significantly more time allotted in the film t adjust to something that seems brand-new. Unless you have absolutely no skepticism of the story–the “war on zombies”–it’s a bit of a trial to get through “WWZ” as a fluent film, unless you have a large bucket of popcorn to take your mind off the occasional dull spot. The film ends assuring us that this is “far from the end,” and in fact, it feels like part one of a continuous trilogy. Doesn’t this mean that director Marc Forster (“Stranger than Fiction”, “Quantum of Solace”) should have waited just a little while before assuming we get what to expect in a zombie-cum-war movie?

Part of me feels like there was initially more explanation that was snipped out. It’s as if Forster covered up the blank spots himself. What I’m getting at is that “WWZ” is well-written. Brad Pitt ever so naturally plays a father who wants to take care of his family more than anything else. Even if the set design looks suspiciously more like the Big Apple, Pitt’s character lives in Philadelphia as a UN employee, and when he’s called to action on day, he has to think of the world as if it were his family. In other words, his job is now to save the world, specifically from zombies. Any transition from these action sequences into the encompassing sentimental drama, or vice-versa, varies between sudden and nonexistent. However that may be, these two tones work great in separation. The drama features believable dialogue all around. We don’t hear the word “zombie,” for example, until the forty-minute mark, and Pitt’s family chats like an actual family. If there’s one thing severely wrong with the action here, it’s that it comes along way too soon–as earl as seven minutes. Everything else about the action, however, is flawless. Robert Richardson’s cinematography makes for most of the excitement. I actually applaud it for maintaining the PG-13 action movie imminent in the veins of “WWZ”, by deftly cutting away from anything that would seem, well, horrifying. A hand-in-hand employment of camerawork and editing (Roger Barton) operates effectively during the title sequence. That opening is a series of newsreels that use contrast between blurry and sharp snapshots to form the impending title.

“WWZ” is based on a satirical novel by Max Brooks. His dad’s Mel, by the way, and such is even more reason to think that this stern approach was practically a rewrite. The dramatic viewpoint was acceptable, but to be clear, I would have much preferred the satire. It’s so much easier to bring in “something else” for the sake of comedy. Brooks Sr. did it all the time. He wouldn’t just go into the historical details of the Spanish Inquisition, he’d bring in a musical number about it. I don’t doubt Brooks Jr.’s zombie book features a likably offbeat inclusion of war themes. I’m just not compelled to read it, because this movie adaptation’s all-too-serious approach doesn’t exactly make for a memorable story.

I can say it three times if this second time isn’t enough: “WWZ” does have some fun action sequences. These zombies are frantic. They truly are (as my friend’s father put it) “’28 Days Later’ on steroids.” There’s zombies throughout the movie, but to be honest, they really aren’t the primary focus of the movie until the climax. Most of “WWZ” is about Brad Pitt’s Good Samaritan character. If that’s what you’re truly seeking, might I recommend “Captain Phillips”, in which Tom Hanks plays a selfless man who will do anything if it means steering his boat and crew out of danger.

POSTSCRIPT: Am I the only one who is especially impressed when Brad Pitt doesn’t play an antihero? Am I the only one who thinks such is rare?

Coming Reviews

Quantum of Solace
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Dallas Buyers Club
Don Jon
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Easy Rider
Frances Ha

Iron Man Three

Movie Review #663


Marvel Studios presents…

…in association with Paramount Pictures & DMG Entertainment…

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Country: USA – China
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Shane Black. Produced by Kevin Feige. Screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black. Based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Don Heck and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Based on the “Extremis” mini-series written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Adi Granov.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – frequent violence, mild sexual content. Runs 2 hours, 10 minutes. Premiered in London on April 18, 2013. Wide release in China on May 1, 2013; and in the USA on May 3, 2013.

Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, and Ben Kingsley. Also starring Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, and Jon Favreau.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

Maybe I’m missing some insight from skipping over “Iron Man 2”. Maybe you shouldn’t listen to me, because I didn’t find “Iron Man” or “The Avengers” to be anything special. Or maybe I’m right in saying that there’s a reason “Iron Man Three” is such a fun time.

The movie reroutes from mot other superhero movies. It does have a handful of exciting action sequences, especially during the forty minutes leading up to a creative finale–but this isn’t strictly an action movie. “Iron Man Three” is a comedy with big-budget accoutrements. If nothing else, the film proves that superhero movies can focus on personality and peril as one concept, not just on the latter.

This is thanks to the screenplay, which, despite its loose pacing, is terrific. Shane Black wasn’t writing the script alone, but the film is obviously his own. He also provides as the director, and in either department, he seems to be the one cinematic figure who deserves to be working with Downey. Black accentuates exactly what we want in Downey’s character: a personality that’s half Brad Pitt, half Jack Nicholson. (And, of course, wears a bunch of scrap metal.)

It’s not just the Guy Who Plays Tony Stark, though. Don Cheadle works as well as he ever has. He performs in the buddy role, a telling necessity for every Black script since “Lethal Weapon”. His job is evidently to known when to take Downey seriously. It seems pretty difficult to me. I’ll also mention the performances of Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Particularly Kingsley’s, for his transformation into the role of a figure known only as “the Mandarin.”

By now, we’re used to accepting superhero movies at face value, or close to it. But “Iron Man Three” isn’t so shallow. It’s dug beneath the face and entered mind value. A trend that began with “The Dark Knight” for blockbuster characters to have their flaws exposed–now that’s a step in the right direction. Let’s be honest, if Tony Stark is nothing more than “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” then we’ll all want our money back eventually.

Tomorrow’s Review

Radio Days


Movie Review #660


Studio: Dovemead Limited – Film Export A.G. – International Film Production
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Country: UK
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Richard Donner. Produced by Pierre Spengler. Created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster. Story by Mario Puzo. Screenplay by Mario Puzo and David Newman and Leslie Newman & Robert Benton. Additional uncredited writer: Tom Mankiewicz.

Rated PG by the MPAA – mild violence, infrequent and mild sexual content, profanity. Runs 2 hours, 23 minutes (2000 restoration runs 2 hours, 31 minutes). Premiered in Washington, D.C. on December 10, 1978. Royal European Charity premiere in the UK on December 13, 1978. Limited release in New York City, New York on December 11, 1978; in Boston, Massachusetts on December 13, 1978; and in Los Angeles, California on December 14, 1978. Wide release in the UK on December 14, 1978; and in the USA on December 15, 1978.

With Christopher Reeve as Superman / Clark Kent. Starring Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Margot Kidder, Jack O’Halloran, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York, and Jeff East.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

I would forgive the set design, the obvious blue screens, and the home video look in “Superman”, even if the technical department reunited everybody who worked on the looks of “Plan 9 from Outer Space”. (And believe me, the looks aren’t that miserable at all.) “Superman” goes the distance with its campy look. It also embraces it. You don’t have to fanboy the hell out of yourself to love the opening titles, not to mention the story that follows. You could be the average six-year-old. Or you could be the average thirty-six-year-old.

“Superman” isn’t an action movie, either. The melodrama is what heightens our faith in the movie, especially when the implausible adventure arrives. Mario Puzo wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay. Evidently, his heavy work on “The Godfather” strengthens this movie: it’s an epic in the making, not a thin, fleeting comic book. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s tale comes as the rise of a hero–or, in this case, a superhero–starting from the very beginning. The movie flies by faster than a speeding bullet, and honestly, I can’t imagine the pacing being any stronger. It’s 50 minute before the “Superman” costume is used to transition from Clark Kent’s boyhood into his adulthood. 51 minutes before we see Lois Lane working at the Daily Planet. 71 minutes before we see Clark in costume, ready to save the world. A time after that, the name “Superman” is first uttered. We’re told unmistakably that Superman will return; I doubt not that when he does, we’ll begin to see the fall of this hero.

The “Superman” story is one of the most transcendent pieces ever written. This reimagination, from director Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon”, “The Omen”), was a prototypical effort in the superhero genre. Three and a half decades later, it definitely has competitors. Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy being the universally decided cream of the crop. Though even its imperfections, “Superman” has yet to be topped, in its representation of the genre. Knowing that the movie remains fresh, comic booky, and fun (even in the über, über impossible ending), I doubt it’ll lose that power.

Tomorrow’s Review


Movie Review #644

Click here for the audio review.

Studio: Color Force – Lionsgate
Distributor: Lionsgate
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Francis Lawrence. Produced by Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik. Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn. Based on the novel “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA, for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language. Runs 2 hours, 26 minutes. Premiered in London on November 11, 2013; in Los Angeles, California on November 18, 2013; and in New York City, New York on November 20, 2013. Wide release in the USA on November 22, 2013.

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin, Lynn Cohen, Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer, Toby Jones, and Willow Shields.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

If you saw “The Hunger Games” a year and a half back, you already know how the sequel plays out.  Looking at the story only, they begin and end the same way, with climactic scenes that could only be closer if shot-for-shot.  But here’s where the Prophetic Mr. Ebert comes in.  “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it’s about.”  The horror and romance genres have been self-replicating for at least three and a half decades, but each addition is no different than the last.  That’s why the approach taken to “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” makes this a valuable sequel.

“Catching Fire” is not only more certain of its story, it’s more involved in it.  (It’s also slightly better.)  I’ve always firmly believed that dystopian sci-fi isn’t only about showing a corrupt, futuristic government.  It doesn’t work unless it’s accessible.  “Catching Fire” tackles this well, with a story that can be effectively–and rather unexpectedly–bothersome.  It was hardly even suggested what the government of Panem was in the first installment; this time around, society is nothing more than an oversized tabloid.  The bulk of the movie warns about people who can never go far enough with exploiting innocent people, just so long as the public is entertained.  Pair that with the film’s overall glamor, and what came to mind was a cross between 1984 and “Desperately Seeking Susan”.

And after that, it’s the return of the “kill or be killed” theme.  This is the 75th Annual Hunger Games, and the celebratory plan is to bring back a handful of the previous victors.  Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are now against the elites.

Throughout the movie, we see see a few new faces worth noting, but shoutouts go specifically to Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amanda Plummer.  (You could probably guess the kinds of characters they play.)  Another mention goes to Liam Hemsworth, whose role as Gale is no longer a cameo.  Even with that having been adjusted, the major improvement seems decidedly Jennifer Lawrence, who did well with “The Hunger Games” as it is.  Now she’s a fully interesting, more defined character.  She seems to have PTSD, and she pitches that to us believably.

Francis Lawrence took a slightly heavier approach with “Catching Fire”, which almost makes me glad that Gary Ross, an impressive director at the least, refused to take part in this sequel.  The “kill or be killed” scenes are continuously thrilling, marked by great cinematography.  Jennifer Lawrence’s stunt double doesn’t look a thing like her, but why should I complain?  I was entertained.  The movie even pushes the envelope with its PG-13 violence, even going to torture sequences to illustrate Panem’s increased corruption.  By the end, Lawrence had so much blood on her, she looked a bit like Uma Thurman after the Crazy 88′s in “Kill Bill”.

The screenplay was written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (credited as Michael deBruyn).  Both of whom have undeniable talent.  Between them are the screenplays for “127 Hours”“The Full Monty”, “Little Miss Sunshine”“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”“Oblivion”“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”“Slumdog Millionaire”“Toy Story 3”.  All acclaimed, by the way, and their adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s novel is solid.  The problem is they just don’t seem interested in the story itself.  It’s of note that things seem to play out at a rigid pace.  It’s a pretty slow movie.

Though we can get past the fact that “Catching Fire” is a dragging, 400-pound roll of carpet.  There’s several staples fastening us to that roll, and moving along with it is (needless to say) enjoyable.

Final Destination

Review No. 628

If the movie theater is your final destination, pray to Thy Deity that this has not been reissued.


Devon Sawa Alex Browning
Ali Larter Clear Rivers
Kerr Smith Carter Horton
Tony Todd William Bludworth
Director James Wong
Producer Glen Morgan — Warren Zide — Craig Perry
Screenplay Mr. Morgan & Mr. Wong and Jeffrey Reddick
Story Mr. Reddick
Distributor New Line Cinema
Premieres 16 March 2000 (USA)
Wide Releases 17 March 2000 (USA)
Releasing Studio(s) Hard Eight Pictures
Producing Studio(s) Zide-Perry Productions
Language English — French
Country USA — Canada
Running Time 1:38 (theatrical)
MPAA Reason violence and terror, and for language


Final Destination is based on an unproduced X-Files episode, called “Flight 180″. If you already knew this, who’s to say whether you’ve even seen the movie. That one factoid is, as far as I’m concerned, the only interesting point in Final Destination, and you can find it anywhere free of spoilers. Let’s consider that The X-Files didn’t want to produce “Flight 180″. Now I must wonder, why would anyone waste over $20 million making a movie out of something that had the dramatic depth of an X-Files episode, refuse to enhance it from that, and cast the druggie side of Hollywood teens (those from Varsity Blues and American Pie).

I don’t know how James Wong does on The X-Files, but he’s not exactly a formidable director. I still remember laughing at a scene in his 2002 film The One, a martial arts movie where he matched an escapee lab rat with Disturbed’s “Down with the Sickness”. I might be wrong, but since I saw it five years ago, I think the rat was lip-syncing. He certainly has a style, but I’m not sure I’ll ever figure it out. I digress. Wong’s got the gimmicks going from the very start. He tries to scare us by showing us a fan moving back and forth. But it’s no ordinary fan. Its motor sounds like a creature roaring. This appears later on. Not to insult The Evil Dead, but the credits roll over the Necronomicon and the sound editing tries to make us feel schizophrenic. Except I don’t think schizophrenics hear constant shrieking. That would mean constant headaches.

But back to the movie. I’ve heard it billed as both horror and thriller. It’s not thrilling, but it does have a lot of horror gimmickery in the setup. Let’s not forget, teenagers. Teenagers who will probably die later on, but I won’t spoil anything for sure. They all get together in the Charles de Gaulle airport, and one of them notices his boarding pass is marked “final destination.” You’d think he’d say “Excuse me! Is this a misprint?” But this is a horror movie, and he has spells of paranoia. It’s God’s hidden agenda to destroy an aircraft, he decides. His aircraft, to be certain. He gets kicked off the aircraft when he has a vision filled with explosions and blood, both of which appear in excess throughout the movie, but not constantly, or else the screenplay is marked “plotless” and doesn’t earn a copyright from the Writer’s Guild of America. But we’re past all four stages of production, so let’s not worry about the first stage. When this guy gets kicked off the aircraft, they have to move the plot along. His friends come with him, which is confusing. What did they do? Why can’t they be, to employ an impromptu Marsellus Wallace quote, “kickin’ back in the Caribbean?”

That’s the first twenty minutes. Maybe less, but that’s not the point. The point thereafter is to decide whether the protagonist is insane or precognitive. Both sides flirt with the inevitability of a predictable ending, and if you read that back too carefully, or completely misread them, you might spoil it for yourself. But this review isn’t about misreading. It’s about reading. And unfortunately, it’s about Final Destination.

The events start with the explosion of a plane. How was there only one person looking, regardless of whether or not he was hallucinating? Let’s consider some statistics about the Charles de Gaulle airport. It’s the busiest airport in all of France, the second busiest airport in all of Europe, and the tenth busiest in the entire world. Funny how they think they can cheat: there’s only a small handful of people at this airport. So maybe it’s the extras who are precognitive. They know the movie’s bad, so they just go to a different airport set.

Final Destination functions just like Saw and Scream in the way it attracts its audiences and proceeds in its lucrative mindset to open a door for a few sequels that are bound to be exactly the same. There’s a difference, though; a few, actually. One, Final Destination isn’t fun. I shiver–no, I yawn at the thought of this being repeated even once. Two, the series is predictable before the sequel. And it’s not acceptably predictable, it’s genuinely, exhaustingly predictable. Three, it just isn’t inventive. It’s kind of the bizarre, eventfully random movie Uwe Boll yearns to direct, but then again, what will that ever mean.

I’ve been told that one has fun laughing at the unintentional comedy in Final Destination. Sad that even that failed a willing audience like myself. For every nine shifts between eye-rolling, yawning, and eyebrow-furrowing, there was one laugh to ease the boredom. Maybe two.

Then there were times I would wonder aloud, “What the hell is going on.” And then I’d realize, I just didn’t care anymore.


Blade Runner—The Final Cut

Review No. 625

The definitive cut, because “Blade Runner” is sharpened to perfection.


Harrison Ford Rick Deckard
Rutger Hauer Roy Batty
Sean Young Rachael
Edward James Olmos Gaff
Director Ridley Scott
Producer Michael Deeley
Final Cut Producer Charles de Lauzirika
Screenplay Hampton Fancher and David Peoples
Based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick
Distributor Warner Bros.
General Release 25 June 1982 (USA)
General Release (Director’s Cut) 11 September 1992 (USA)
Film Festivals (Final Cut) 1 September 2007 (Venice) – 29 September 2007 (New York)
Limited Releases (Final Cut) 5 October 2007 (NYC) – 5 October 2007 (LA) – 9 November 2007 (Toronto) – 11 November 2007 (Sydney) – 15 November 2007 (Melbourne)
Wide Releases (Final Cut) 16 November 2007 (Spain) – 17 November 2007 (Japan) – 23 November 2007 (UK) – 5 December 2007 (France) – 1 August 2008 (Norway)
Studio(s) American Zoetrope
Language English – Italian
Country USA – UK – Italy – Japan
Running Time 1:37 (theatrical)
MPAA Reason violence and nudity


NOTE: Of which are available, seven cuts of Blade Runner exist: 1) the original workprint version, shown to preview audiences in Denver in Dallas; 2) the San Diego Sneak Preview, shown only once; 3) the US theatrical version, or the “Domestic Cut”; 4) the International Cut, included in the Criterion Collection, with more violence than the US version; 5) the US broadcast version; 6) the Director’s Cut, approved by Ridley Scott; and 7) the Final Cut, released on the 25th anniversary of Blade Runner. Much of the newness in the Final Cut is restoration from the workprint, and while a number of scenes still remain in the bonus features section, at least 33 changes have been made between the Director’s Cut and the Final Cut.

Blade Runner is even better today than it was three decades ago. It’s because a) the visual effects have been restored to something too astonishing to possibly have come out of the ’80s; and b) because there’s people who appreciate it. Who would’ve thought that the 25th was Mr. Producer’s lucky day? May 25th, Star Wars and Alien. Blade Runner on June 25th. It didn’t make much money at the box office, and let’s consider who it was up against (E.T., Poltergeist, Star Trek II…even Clint Eastwood could make money off a fabled career low, Firefox). But let’s also consider how a cult classic is created. In the post-Rocky Horror era, it’s because of home video.

Ridley Scott’s third movie is nothing like his second. It’s science fiction, but cerebral science fiction. Moreover, it’s a neo noir. And it longs to be pure film-noir. Blade Runner is the presentation of a dystopia for Joseph McCarthy’s day. It’s completely social commentary. You have a corrupt leader, you have a corrupt society, you have a man whose freeing the world of corruption. He runs the risk of looking like a vigilante, or a rogue cop.

What makes this tale of dysfunction so thrilling is that it shows every side of the story as if it were a crime procedural. That’s pretty humble when the hero’s saving the world. Though even that cliché becomes exciting. Philip K. Dick had so much invention in his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. No doubt it was difficult to adapt into a neo-noir, when its pulp-fiction roots verged on satire. But the accomplishment was made, and we have a grandiose opening (and ending), setting the dramatic tone of the movie with Vangelis. Their music works so much differently than it did in Chariots of Fire, and so much more effectively. Yes, the movie and the novel are as different as night and day, but at least the movie works ten times better.

Which makes me wonder about the cultural phenomenon Blade Runner is. Of the ones who made this into a cult classic, who are the “Replicants” and who are the real people? It’s pretty much the same as asking who’s a sinner, who’s a saint? Who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy? Harrison Ford plays the saint, specifically the one who decides to become a saint again, against his own will. Rutger Hauer plays the ultimate sinner. He defiles everything.

Except “Tears in Rain”. It goes without saying that it’s difficult hearing a soliloquy so dramatically interpreted, but by the time it’s over, it’s as if you’re tearing up yourself. And if there’s one person on this earth that feels sci-fi can’t be so dramatic, I ask you to read R.U.R., the 1920 play that coined the term “robot.”



Review No. 618

“Gravity”.  Because the levity doesn’t last.



Sandra Bullock Dr. Ryan Stone
George Clooney Matt Kowalski
Director Alfonso Cuarón
Producer Alfonso Cuarón – David Heyman
Writer Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Distributor Warner Bros. Pictures
Film Festivals 28 August 2013 (Venice) – 31 August 2013 (Telluride) – 8 September 2013 (Toronto International)
Wide Release 3 October 2013 (Australia) – 4 October 2013 (USA) – 8 November 2013 (UK)
Studio(s) Esperanto Filmoj – Heyday Films
Language English
Country USA – UK
Running Time 91 minutes
MPAA Rated PG-13
MPAA Reason intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language


Gravity is a movie you just don’t see in Hollywood anymore.  I mean that more literally than you think.  You don’t want to look at a movie that takes your money for 3-D and does absolutely nothing with it, nor do you want to spend your wallet on something at IMAX, only to forget what you watched just hours later.  But that isn’t Gravity, and although I saw it in RealD 3D, I’d easily go back for IMAX 3D.  Everything from the atmospheric twist on the classic Warner Bros. logo, all the way down to the finale (which subverts even the highest expectations), looks like something out off NASA’s website.  It’s easily the best eye candy of its ilk since 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Except in Gravity, the wide camera doesn’t sit there; it floats through space almost authentically.  It makes you wonder what kind of set this Emmanuel Lubezki captured all this on; or if it was all filmed in one, continuous shot.

But Gravity isn’t a movie out of Hollywood, at least not the Hollywood mentality.  As far as the visuals, it’s the best of Hollywood.  Much of NASA’s live astronaut footage just doesn’t offer anything this picturesque.  It’s like watching what’s been captured by a space telescope, and looking at it on extra-large projection.  As far as the sound, Gravity brings us into what the astronauts would hear, not what Obi-Wan Kenobi would hear.  If the sound a) isn’t the score from Steven Price; b) the voice of either Sandra Bullock or George Clooney (distorted by their “armor,” anyhow); or c) someone they hear from mission control: chances are it’s not a sound effect that’ll be used in the movie.  In fact, the movie takes itself entirely first-person.  Sandra Bullock covers her ears…all sound cuts out.  She’s being sent multiple radio signals, and she’s panicking…leave it to surround sound to have the audience looking around the theater frantically.

George Clooney works well with the script’s witty approach.  It’s more than you can say about his last adventure in space (Solaris), even with one hallucination scene that was written merely for his smile.  But this movie isn’t about Clooney, it’s about Bullock, and there’s nothing witty here for her.  She’s believable as a quasi-Ellen Ripley, which is a lot for a woman who resurrects everything from her character in 1994′s Speed to do so.  Maybe I’m commenting on her bravery just a bit much.  She’s as human as anyone.  On Earth, there was so much struggle, but in space, Murphy’s Law is waiting for her again and again.  Try counting how many times she says, “Let’s go home,” after she’s just conquered another near-death experience.  But in an odd way, the improbable view of Murphy’s Law (“that which can go wrong, shall”) makes this feel all the more realistic.  That this would probably take days longer feels authentically astonishing.  Whether that makes this a big movie with a small plot, or a small movie with a big plot, it’s something Cuarón seems to do with many of his movies…and he succeeds in Gravity.

Gravity builds the opening music up to the point at which you can’t hear the person next to you.  Then, we cut to space.  You could hear a pin drop.  It’s the kind of antithesis a movie like this needs and deserves, because the effect creates a sort of omen before we even know what’s going on.  As if we ever know what’s going on, but when something bad is happening, it’s happening.  Think along the lines of Indiana Jones.  Except, atmospherically rendered for an outing in outer space.


Review No. 605

It paints with more than “Primer”.



Director — Shane Carruth
Producer — Mr. Carruth
Screenplay — Mr. Carruth

Shane Carruth — Aaron
David Sullivan — Abram “Abe” Terger
With Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, and Carrie Crawford.

Distributor — ThinkFilm
Release Date — October 8, 2004
Language — English
Country — USA
Running Time — 1 hour, 17 minutes


Primer plays mindgames in a fashion that makes a normal story look uninspired.  As in, it’s never been done before, so who’s it to draw inspiration from.  But it’s more than story here.  The approach isn’t in bringing the surreal and the real into one amalgamation.  Primer presents the real, and at the same time, it all feels like it’s getting more and more bizarre.  I won’t try and explain it: believe it or not, watching a movie that “makes you think,” actually causes migraines.  On one level, it ends so that we feel everything happened the way it shouldn’t have.  On another level, every action that’s taken seems possible, with likely results.  (It’s just…strange!)

Make no mistake, I honor any director who can make me wonder what the [EXPLETIVE] is going on.  It’s a question that you generally either love or hate to ask yourself.  At best, David Lynch did this, but Shane Carruth does it just as well.  He’s an heir to that throne, which has a lot more to say than “doing well.”  Shane Carruth produced this movie on a budget of $7,000.  It sounds like a severely low-budget, and it shows when Carruth accounts for more than half the cast.  But it all works out on a $7,000 budget, so as producer, first and foremost, he’s great, and as director, his artistic visions find no blockage.

(I’ve decided to break the review down hereafter, department by department.  It really is Shane Carruth’s film.)

Written by Carruth…

His writing baffles, and it thoroughly engages, even if you could spend five years studying the sciences on which Primer focuses–and still only have far from a clue what the movie is about.  It’s about men who work obsessively on a science experiment in a garage, and realize they’ve created a monster.  Considering it doesn’t even evoke Frankenstein from this recurring concept (at least not immediately), there’s a lot of needed explanation that only Carruth himself can give.

Original Music by Carruth…

The original music is outstanding.  I don’t know if I’ve ever heard such a successfully eerie use of simple piano progressions.  John Carpenter did it once, but I feel like Shane’ll come back and deliver seconds.  Though there’s some irony that these two both directed and scored their films…

Film Editing by Carruth…

The movie is superbly edited, too, though it’s even better, given the assistance of the camera department and an uncredited cinematographer.  There’s very little actual Steadycam here.  It was obviously filmed on Steadycam (in fact, probably a camera you could get at Wal-Mart), but it’s always slowly floating around.  The parabolic drift of the camera makes for a constantly ominous atmosphere.

Casting by Carruth…

The casting benefits from unknown actors.  Not that this is a Hollywood production making the choice, but lead actor Carruth, his friends and family aren’t Bela Lugosi in an Ed Wood movie.  This is low-budget sci-fi from people who don’t professionally act, but it’s people who are immersed in the intrigue of not understanding what’s going on as they perform the script.  This isn’t “understand the concept” (let alone the bad luck of overused concept that killed Lugosi during Plan 9).  Instead, it’s about “guess the concept, and if you can, then challenge yourself to understanding it all.”

Production Design by Carruth…

This was a well designed production.  The set pieces make everything a lot easier to believe.  It’s part of the lingering difference between a tape created by someone’s home video trek around the house (or the “behind the scenes” reels from a movie set in a household), and an unassuming, lurid thriller.  Even the lighting is natural, created by kitchen lights, etc.  Certainly not a kitchen I’d want to be in, at least not with such tension at hand.

Sound Designed by Carruth…

Carruth designed the sound.  Maybe the home atmosphere and just-above-natural location sound is what makes the movie seem so real.  Again, I won’t dig deep.  This probably could happen; it’s science fiction because of the Frankenstein elements, but even in that, it’s difficult to call fiction.

I guarantee you the same mind-blown experience as me; either that, or the polar opposite.  Now I hate to put that in the last few sentences, but if you’ve made it this far through my review, I’ll guess that eight in ten of you are interested.

If so, here’s a few titles to set the expectation of how bizarre everything is here: Un chien andalou (1929); 8 1/2 (1963); After Hours (1985); Brazil (1985); Blue Velvet (1986); Pi (1998); Adaptation. (2002); Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).  Are you hearing “confusing” or “bizarre”?  There’s a difference, and you don’t want the former.

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The Matrix Revolutions

Review No. 599

Say I hated “Revolutions”, / two films after / the Wachowskis changed the world…



Directors — the Wachowski brothers
Producer — Joel Silver
Screenplay — the Wachowski brothers
Based on — characters by the Wachowski brothers

Keanu Reeves — Neo
Laurence Fishburne — Morpheus
Carrie-Anne Moss — Trinity
Hugo Weaving — Smith
Jada Pinkett Smith — Niobe
Harry J. Lennix — Commander Lock
Harold Perrineau — Link

Distributor — Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date — November 5, 2003
Language — English & French
Country — USA & Australia
Running Time — 2 hours, 9 minutes


Applaud the Wachowskis.  Go ahead, put your hands together.  I’m going to honor them.  No, not like I honor them for their work on The Matrix.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite.  They’ve made a trilogy farther from cohesive than anybody else has gone.  But I’ll get to that later, so just hold your horses:

The brothers knew their genesis was an “it girl” when the box office said so, but they hadn’t respected their own ideas to keep it as one film.  Nobody enjoyed the sequel that came four years later quite as much (as for myself, there was little to no enjoyment), and that was the movie gods’ curse: you don’t follow up an “it girl.”  Oh wait.  I should’ve specified.  By sequel that came four years later, I meant The Matrix Reloaded.  I may have to reevaluate that one to see how boring it actually was, because The Matrix Revolutions is a total disaster.

Assuming this movie took five months for all three stages of production, it began moments after Reloaded hit theaters and editors were rushing to finish up before the October premiere.  I could rattle off a whole list of classics made in five months, but those are inspired, unlike what we have here.  As if Reloaded wasn’t already a reawakening for the story, Revolutions is completely irrelevant.  There’s characters, but you have to wonder where the “To be continued…” line went.  It did appear at the end of the previous entry.  But by bearing the title itself, Revolutions is a distasteful insult to The Matrix.  If there’s anything it borrows from anything else as inspiration, it isn’t the two films it follows.  It’s Blade Runner, and that’s for those who can get to the conclusion.  Rutger Hauer’s immortal “tears in rain” soliloquy is ripped to shreds of familiarity.  There’s even pouring rain!  The only difference?  “Time to die” is not said or hinted at, because we’re looking at something that was made without life, anyhow.

Where Reloaded was boring, it’s easy to say that the first half of  Revolutions features enough pick-and-cheese to make entertainment out of watching it fall apart.  Let’s not forget that all the while there’s insult, insult, insult–all directed at the classic that made this debacle possible.  It’s aggravating to see the directors tear their own masterpiece apart, but we’ve already seen them do it, albeit to a slighter extent.  Let’s not forget, there’s a second half.  Maybe five minutes out of the whole movie had thankful special effects.  I don’t know if that’s the worst of it, or if this is: the entire climax is special effects and nothing more.  It takes over an hour, but what can you expect when the movie starts off by CliffsNoting a whole movie into ten minutes?  It’s neat for a few moments, then it’s just like watching the default screensaver on a Windows Vista computer.  It doesn’t freeze up, but this creation is so far from user-friendly that you kinda wonder if freezing up would maintain the attention span.

Choreography is good here, but I don’t know why I even mention that.  I don’t think I’ve ever watched a movie and wanted to shout: “That’s not him, that’s the stunt double!”  But you can tell with Keanu.  If there’s anything actually good about the movie, it’s the leather.  No wait, that’s just the leather.  Even the rest of the costume design was hideous.  Laurence Fishburne shouldn’t be wearing a Ray Charles outfit under leather, because that wear doesn’t match!  Sorry if I sound like my mother, but if leather suits is everything we have left (yep, the sunglasses aren’t really quality in the movie), then you can’t go around blaspheming leather suits.

Regardless, Revolutions is not a movie that deserves to be watched again, or put in a circular motion (revolution).  I’ll watch The Matrix because it’s a classic.  I’ll watch The Matrix Reloaded once more to reevaluate, and maybe double feature it with The Matrix if I end up liking it.  That second work really good in comparison to The Matrix Revolutions, which was mistakenly titled, believe it or not.  It was meant to be Revolver, I believe–unless the Wachowskis wished to refrain from insulting the Beatles.  (Thank you.)  Though maybe you’d need a Terminator robot, not a revolver, to get rid of the utter awfulness here.


Brokeback Mountain


Friday the 13th: Part V

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The Matrix Reloaded

Review No. 586

“Reloaded”. Bastardized. Misfired.



Directors — the Wachowski brothers
Producer — Joel Silver
Screenplay — the Wachowski brothers

Keanu Reeves — Neo
Laurence Fishburne — Morpheus
Carrie-Anne Moss — Trinity
Hugo Weaving — Smith
Harold Perrineau — Link
Randall Duk Kim — The Keymaker
Jada Pinkett Smith — Niobe

Distributor — Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date — May 15, 2003
Language — English & French
Country — USA & Australia
Running Time — 2 hours, 18 minutes
MPAA Rating — R
MPAA Description — sci-fi violence and some sexuality


Go back seven more decades.  I know this one’s ten years old, but if it’s at all worth celebrating, it’s because the octogenarian King Kong has now been disproved.  It was beast killed the beauty.  Maybe if Robert Armstrong had some sort of crystal ball, he could have foreseen Y2k, the ultimate way to ruin The Matrix.  The computers may not have shut down, but some human computers certainly did.  Riddle me this: if I was supposed to wait four years after The Matrix before watching The Matrix Reloaded (à la those who viewed both in theaters), and then view The Matrix Revolutions (part three) six months later (à la those who finished off the trilogy in theaters), then what was the point of making The Matrix such an entertaining movie?  That’s what I wonder after The Matrix Reloaded.  The Wachowskis obviously hadn’t planned on a trilogy, because they didn’t exactly plan on making a classic sci-fi movie.  It’s a “trilogy crime,” like the one committed thirteen years earlier, when we endured The Godfather Part III (intended as an epilogue, but very close to a third of the trilogy’s length).

Rationally speaking, it’s not a trilogy.  The Matrix featured Neo going out of his hacker life and pursuing a nightmare that was disguised as a dream.  He was programmed the basically save the world, but he was also being used.  Yet The Matrix Reloaded tries to completely follow up and reinvent the genesis, even ending on a title card (not to mention a sudden and unusual shot) that confirms The Matrix Revolutions entirely.  I’m not saying that he who reinvents and follows up is he himself a heretic.  James Cameron did it by convincing us that T-800 was alive–not to mention, that he was a hero not a villain in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  But he did it right.  He didn’t create a love life between his two previous heroes.  I certainly don’t remember Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne-Moss in anything more than a business partnership in The Matrix.  It may have happened, but I highly doubt it would be so fleeting to evade my memory, which is photographic for memorable movies like that which became the first in the trilogy.

May the Force be–”yeah, buddy, let’s throw away that one next!” NO.

Even more money was made by this sequel.  How can I call it a sequel?  It has The Matrix in the title.  Let’s go to extremes: Troll has “troll” in the title, and so does Troll 2, but while Troll is an American movie about trolls, Troll 2 is an Italian movie about goblins.  Look at it this way…they’re still human, I think.  These characters aren’t the same as they were the first time around!  By name, and by actor, sure, but not by personality.  (I don’t even think the stunt guys were the same.  Keanu’s double seemed pretty hopeless.)  This is more like Star Trek, except you can only pray that it ends after forty-five minutes, and I think Laurence Fishburne was in a more Star Wars mentality.  He dresses like Luke Skywalker, and it’s a well-chosen costume since we’re supposed to sympathize him.  Yet we sympathized with Keanu Reeves for over the two hours that preceded this.  For those who missed my prior mention, this isn’t of much apparent relation to The Matrix, and perhaps it’s not by the same directors.  Maybe it’s an extreme comparison, but just as Charles Manson was the same person before he heard The White Album, the Wachowskis were of a completely different mentality before they saw a movie of theirs make money.  Somewhere between 1999 (The Matrix in March) and 2003 (Reloaded in May, followed by Revolutions in November), there must’ve been the Great Epiphany: This is over $463.5 million.  And to think that we’d lose money from this movie!  How about we do it again.  Just once more  No, no, no…twice more!  Up the budget a bit, $65 million sounds like “B-movie” with this many fans, let’s go at least $125 million.  And we’ll release them six months apart.  Keepin’ the audience on a ledge for six months, that’s right!

Exactly how you turn two geniuses into two skilled robbers, ladies and gentlemen.  I certainly wasn’t left hanging.  I’ve seen worse movies, which makes me appreciate some of what made The Matrix Reloaded watchable, even enjoyable once or twice.  For those who know of the icon that is Tom Cruise in Risky Business, or Jimmy Dean in Rebel without a Cause, take the Ray-Ban Wayfarer shades (though I doubt the exact brand was used here) and the leather jacket.  Keanu Reeves wears it well, and it seems to be the master of his acting.  Carrie Anne-Moss is always at the top of her game, especially during action sequences.  In fact, every cast member, save for the anemically performed Laurence Fishburne, delivers well enough.  But they’re just animated puppets under a puppet master who doesn’t care.  Or, as Alfred Hitchcock may or may not have agreed to, they’re cattle being deported accidentally to a slaughterhouse instead of another stable.

No film has made me wonder if a remote control would actually assist with the experience.  I’d like to think there’s a purpose for these talky scenes, but y’know, there’s so much dialogue.  When it cuts into the action that was so much fun in ’99, the least you can ask for is a more interesting attempt.  And a more interested attempt from the Wachowskis.  It’s a game of please the audience.  I’m very pleased by the special effects.  They’re mind-blowing, but then again, the story is mind-numbing so I guess that evens it out.  Best of all is the title.  How true that the classic in a paper shredder is a hokey script known as The Matrix Reloaded, because The Matrix was indeed “reloaded.”  Why there was such desire to misfire, I’m not exactly sure.

POSTSCRIPT: Who noticed that this review is an acrostic?  If I actually did honor what the movie was trying to say with its annoyingly sharp cinematography, I would have unplugged my computer so that…well, just look at the first letter of each paragraph.  A little way of cheering myself up after watching a classic get torn by its own directors.


The Terror


On the Waterfront

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