The closest you can get to going into space – and why you should feel very happy about that.
The words “Living in space is impossible” fade from the screen as a spectacular view of the Earth appears. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is hastily upgrading the Hubble telescope outside of a space shuttle while Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) zips around testing a rocket pack. Faster than you can Stanley Kubrick, a disasterous cloud of high-speed debris destroys the telescope, spacecraft and everything else in its path. With communications satellites included among the casualties of the event, Ryan finds herself adrift with no means of propulsion, running out of oxygen, and totally alone… and that’s just the first ten minutes of Gravity.
This isn’t Star Wars, Firefly, Star Trek, or any number of space operas where it’s easy to live in space thanks to the “whatever” device. Everything you have in outer space is, as Yoda said, only what you take with you; in the case of a catastrophe, it’s also whatever you can find and get to. While primarily a tale of survival in this harsh environment (see Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 for details), this is also the story of courage in the face of adversity, not just finding the means but also the WILL to survive – even when it would be far simpler to just close your eyes, fall asleep and be done. While a few moments have been sensationalized to achieve this effect, director Alfonso Cuarón pulls off what may be the most spectacular and most accurate portrayal of how and why things work and fail in space – not to mention why NASA could really use a bigger budget.
Dario Argento has his way with Dracula. No, not literally… but close enough.
Our story opens with an ample young woman luring a less-than-faithful husband into debauchery, just the kind of late-1800s sin that attracts the likes of Count Dracula (Thomas Kretschmann) to swoop in for the kill. Cut to: Jonathan Harker (Unax Ugalde doing his best Keanu Reeves impression), newly arrived by train into the terrified village that Dracula lords over – just before he goes off to the castle and discovers what the Count really is. Cut to: Mina Harker (Marta Gastini), newly arrived by train and expecting to meet her husband but only finding her friend Lucy (Asia Argento, the director’s daughter) waiting to be washed thoroughly; she had been with Dracula earlier, after all. Cut to: Van Helsing (Rutger Hauer, doing his best Rutger Hauer impression) who mysteriously arrives just before the third act and begins eliminating bloodsuckers, working his way back to Dracula, babe.
Where to begin? The film is nothing if not a low-budget spoof of better Dracula films, over-acted and gratuitous except for the occasional glimmer of true horror – a secret meeting in the village where The Count makes a rare personal appearance is a good example. It’s played for absurdity in a Adam West “Batman” kind of way. For every cheesy transformation we get a cool one; for every eye-rolling moment we get a genuine bit of dread. There is a sense of being played with, as if the viewer isn’t meant to know whether the next scene will farce or spectacle. Intentional or not, the final cut is perfect for a living room full of inebriated hecklers to have their way with it.
You know what the difference is between zombies in World War Z and “The Walking Dead?” Everything.
Beginning like any other day in Philadelphia, ex-UN worker Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) finds himself on the run with his family. The cause: an outbreak transmitted through a bite that turns a human into a rabid, frenzying carrier intent on infecting anyone and everyone it can. A fleet of ships in the Atlantic serves as a base of operation as US cities and more all over the globe are falling to the epidemic, but a handful of specialists think a cure could be had if they could find “patient zero.” With the safety of his family hanging in the balance, Gerry reluctantly accompanies a team across the globe in an effort to discover the cause and a cure, but is it already too late?
Putting the worst parts of 28 Days Later and Contagion into a blender would be a good start to describe what unfolds onscreen, but the most baffling part is the lack of actual blood. The zombie-like affliction seems to have one purpose: infect everyone, but then what? These things don’t eat so much as they infect and move on, but at the speeds they move – like cockroaches scattering when a light comes on – they can’t possibly last very long. To quote Bladerunner, “A candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long,” and if you suddenly turned into a sprinting, climbing infection machine running full tilt for hours on end, how long before your heart exploded? The science for the effect is pure fiction here, which hurts the overall production since the plot is driven by investigators trying to make sense out of all of it. It’s an action-thriller zombie film purged of blood, gore, and most of the drama, and yet it remains surprisingly watchable as an edge-of-your-seat, will-they-or-won’t-they-make-it summer popcorn flick.
While the original idea was to give individual X-men their own story between ensemble films, the stories have been too convoluted to really work (and that’s just from two Wolverine flicks).
Hidden in the Great White North, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is taking a break from humanity following the events at the end of X-men 3. Haunted by the memory of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and everything else he’s done in his too-long life, Logan can’t seem to stay out of trouble, especially when idiots provoke his wrath. Enter Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a young swordswoman from Japan who has been seeking “the Wolverine” on behalf of a soldier named Yashida (Ken Yamamura) he once saved at Nagasaki. Now a tech industry giant on his death bed, the old soldier offers Logan an unthinkable option – to become mortal and die like an ordinary human – but Yashida’s premature death triggers a power struggle threatening to not only destroy the soldier’s legacy but the life of his granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). What’s a good man to do?
As a near immortal due to his mutant healing factor, it seems to be fun for screenwriters to have Wolverine present for all sorts of historical events – hey, it worked for Forrest Gump – so why not the dropping of an atomic bomb? Like the ill-fated X-Men Origins: Wolverine, everyone wants something from Logan because he’s got all the good stuff (even if he doesn’t think so). While the idea drives plot, our hero also spends more time reacting than acting even when his every instinct tells him to avoid the situation altogether. Does he listen? Of course not; otherwise we wouldn’t have a story, pretty girl in danger be damned. To quote Loki’s critique on Marvel’s Thor, “Are you ever NOT going to fall for that?” Thankfully it’s still better than the last Wolverine sorta-solo outing, so there’s that.
The surprise hit movie gets a not-so surprise sequel, but – surprise! – it’s fun, too.
Someone has stolen an entire research lab from the Arctic, but it wasn’t former supervillian Gru (voice of Steve Carell). Since stealing the moon and defeating Vector, he has devoted himself to raising his beloved little girls Margo, Edith and Agnes (voices of Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier and Elsie Fisher), but he’s feeling a little restless going from bad guy to cool dad making an honest living with jellies and jams. Enter Lucy (voice of Kristen Wiig), an operative from the Anti Villain League who kidnaps Gru for his villainous expertise. Back in the game again, Gru and Lucy must figure out who the real villain is and stop them before their evil plan comes to fruition.
While Disney’s Pixar has animated storytelling down to a science, there’s usually a lack a craziness more often found in films by other studios. The original Despicable Me hit on a unique combination of central-plot characters while providing the Twinkies-in-coveralls “minions” as comic relief. Like the Madagascar penguins, the minions often steal the show out from under the principles, but there’s a unique balance in the Despicable Me films that blends it better. What makes their world interesting is all the big things going on in the background that come down to such simple character moments and interactions. While the heavy in the last movie, Vector, was missed, the addition of Lucy intermingles well with the nutty family, and the minions have stepped it up a notch.
Full of atmosphere and ghostly goodness, the only thing that doesn’t seem to make any sense is the title.
In 1971, Carolyn and Roger Parren (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) move their family into an old Rhode Island farmhouse and begin to experience ghostly activity. With all of their money tied up in the home and nowhere else to go, they contact paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) for help. As their investigation turns up evidence from not only the farmhouse but the surrounding area as well, the Warrens will be taken to task against the responsible entity before both the Parren family and their own are claimed as its latest victims.
There are overtones of Poltergeist here as well as a dozen other paranormal investigation films, but this one seems to balance it right, coupling atmosphere with unusually solid portrayals that immediately make us feel and fear for the characters being terrorized. The story itself is reportedly based upon the case files of the Warrens themselves, the real-life investigators portrayed in the movie. Both psychological and horrific elements are employed in this R-rated film, and the cast grounds the early seventies time period with the perfect level of believability to carry the film to its conclusion. It’s just too bad no one could come up with a better title, because “conjuring” appears to be the last mystical thing going on around these parts.
At last: a film that redefines what a “Jaeger-shot” is.
In the future, a mysterious rift in the Pacific Ocean floor begins letting skyscraper-sized monsters into our world: the Kaiju. The first creature leveled most of San Francisco before it was destroyed, but with each subsequent attack, it was becoming apparent that these were not isolated incidents: humanity was at war. The Jaeger program was implemented to combat the threat one-on-one with human-piloted fighting machines; a neural link (called The Drift) shared between a minimum of two compatible pilots made the interface work and the program successful. When the Kaiju begin changing tactics and defeating the Jaegers, the world governments pull their support in favor of ineffective defensible walls. With little left to lose, the last of the Jaeger pilots assemble in Hong Kong to implement a final desperate plan to close the rift, stop the monsters and save the world.
The character end of the plot for Pacific Rim is simplicity itself. No one trusts the washed-up pilot (Charlie Hunnam) and the untested rookie (Rinko Kikuchi) he’s paired up with to watch their backs when the giant robots go into battle, but we already know they’ll rise to the occasion and kick ass when the need calls for it. The rest of the film is mech-on-monster goodness spewing from the imagination of writer/director Guillermo del Toro. Little Japanese girl crying as she runs through empty streets escaping huge monsters? Check. Overcomplicated giganto mechanoids with lots of lights, pistons and weaponry? Check. Fantastic faceless monsters created singularly for the purpose of causing mass destruction? Check. It’s nice to see an effects-heavy summer blockbuster leaning more toward Independence Day than Battleship, but if the next Godzilla isn’t at least this entertaining, the studio should pull the plug on it now and save their dough.