Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Darkest Hour

The Darkest Hour is a low-budget scifi flick with only one actor we know, Emile Hirsch, who has been very good in the few things we've seen him in (Into the Wild). I really don't know what the budget was on this film, but the minimal special effects throughout the film suggest that it is definitely low budget.
Ben and Sean show up in Moscow ready to show their brilliant software program to a Russian company only to find out that the company has brazenly stolen their idea. Ben is the brains behind the outfit, and the only reason Sean seems to be along is because of his chutzpah, a trait shown very well in the opening scene when Sean questions the flight attendant, as we all would like to, about why he has to shut off his cell phone.
Within hours of landing, however, the invasion begins by an almost invisible energy-sucking force. In their flight, they meet two women who join them, plus the same Russian copycat who, hours earlier, ended their business venture. The five try to stay alive while figuring out who and what the enemy is.
I enjoyed this for the most part. Much of the tale revolved around who they met and what could they add towards fighting the enemy. The viewer rather quickly determines that they're outmatched, and wonders how this could end well. And that's why we keep watching: to find out. Because, as time goes on, we begin to care about these characters, or at least some of them.
For those of you interested in true scifi, this is not one of those. You never really know a lot about the aliens and why they're here, although one or two sentences of dialogue give you some clues. We're here because it's an unusual set of circumstances for these characters, and it's interesting to see how they cope and what they do. What would you do?
It's not brilliant, it's not terribly witty, it's certainly not deep, but good acting and a constant pace in this action flick makes sure you're not bored. Thumb's up.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

This version of the third Snow White story this year has a few surprises in it, mainly the presence of seven dwarves who really aren't dwarves. But I'm getting ahead of myself. There are a few spoilers below, but not many, because there's not that much to the story.
Snow White (Kristen Stewart)is a pure young princess to the king, but is imprisoned almost immediately in the story by her stepmother (played by Charlize Theron), who kills her new husband, the king, on their wedding night. Suddenly we know that Ravenna is not the good queen. She's assisted in her evilness by her creepy brother, and sends him and The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) off to find the girl after she escapes from the tower.
The most interesting character -- because the characterizations in this movie are tiresomely thin -- is the Huntsman. As played by Hemsworth, we feel his pain. He lost his wife, and has sunk into drunkenness. But somebody has to venture into the Dark Forest (read "Forbidden Forest" here) to retrieve the girl and her heart for the queen, and the Huntsman is forced into labor for a magical reward. But along the way, the Huntsman -- who doesn't have a name -- finds himself inspired by the princess.
Theron is amazing, simply amazing. The most beautiful woman in the world (in my opinion) is forced, at least in the script, to find young and vital girl after girl so that she can feast on their hearts. It keeps her young. Such is the price of magic. But the heart of Snow White, she is told by the Magic Mirror, will keep her young forever. Immortal and beautiful, which equals power in this realm.
Theron isn't given many lines, but she poses with the best of them. The costumes she wears as the wicked queen are quite remarkable, from Colleen Atwood at her best. And Kristin Stewart, she of Twilight fame, is probably used to having so few lines to get meaning across; she ambles capably from scene to scene, even scaring up some emotion when it's needed.
Perhaps you've figured out that the story is thin, the characters are thinly drawn, but the visual effects, the art direction, are stunning. It's quite remarkable what director Rupert Sanders has been able to do. And it's a good thing he has decent actors to pull together characters who aren't really written on the page.
The movie is about half an hour too long, which makes it drawn out and rather boring. We are treated to the appearance of the seven dwarfs, but even they aren't given much to do. At least they're not made to be the humorous center of the movie (believe me, there is none), except for a small scene with Toby Jones. It's good that these smallish men aren't given cartoonish names, either, like Sneezy or Dopey.
There's a bit of sleight-of-hand with a love interest that's a bit intriguing, but that thread isn't really finished off.
It's dark, it's dreary, it's certainly a bit too long and lags in parts. But you shouldn't miss Theron as the Queen, or those stunning scenes where the art director is king. Thumb's up.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Super 8

Joe Lamb, a local high school student who recently lost his mother in an accident, agrees to make a Super 8 movie with his buddies, a vampire slugfest. While doing so on location near a remote train station, they experience a catastrophic train crash that doesn't look like an accident. Shortly thereafter, other unusual things start happening, and they start to piece it all together to unravel the mystery.
Most of this movie is a set-up to the last thirty minutes of the film. We meet Joe and his filmmaking buddies, we learn their idiosyncrasies, and we learn that Joe (Joel Courtney) has a crush on the newest member of their moviemaking group, Alice (Elle Fanning). We also learn that Joe's dad, a police deputy, isn't dealing well with the death of his wife, and has problems connecting with his son.
I found the movie rather slow, but if you like character-carving sequences, especially of young, funny kids who can really act, you'll like Super 8. Who here, those of us, that is, who grew up before the 1970's, hasn't handled a Super 8 movie camcorder and dreamed of making great films? So it's quite easy to see ourselves in the roles, and how we would react under bizarre circumstances, the ones these kids meet.
The last half-hour of the film brings it all together. We see what's been causing all the disappearances, and how the kids deal with it. So, patience has its payoff. And there's an emotional payoff, as well. You won't find a better actor than Kyle Chandler as Joe's dad. The guy can really wring any emotion out of a scene, and it all plays real.
It's so interesting to me that Steven Spielberg was the executive producer for this film and for one other that I saw this weekend: Men in Black 3. Both have similar themes. Both have taut stories, emotional heart, and great special effects. But one -- Super 8 -- is small, and the other couldn't be any larger. They're both good. Thumb's up.

Men in Black 3

MIB3 is the best movie of this summer. I'm not sure if it'll overtake The Avengers at the box office, but it has the emotional core to be considered a superior movie.
Agent J (Will Smith) travels back in time to the '60's and MIB's early years to stop an alien from assassinating his partner, K (Tommy Lee Jones) and thus starting an alien invasion.
J and K are having, well, relationship problems. They never talk any more. Truth be told, we doubt if Agent K ever did. That is, we doubt that until we meet the sixties version of K, played by Josh Brolin. Brolin gives a brilliant impression of Tommy Lee Jones, complete with mannerisms and dialogue. The difference is that the younger K sometimes smiles, and hints of a love long lost.
It's great scripting and great special effects rolled into a movie that competes with itself, the original MIB (not to be mistaken for the rather slow MIB2). The fight scenes are great, the sixties are a hoot, and this new villain -- whoa! You've never seen anything like him before. Boris the Animal (actor Jermaine Clement) has a foreboding presence, and enough little tentacles around his body to achieve what no man -- or alien -- should be able to achieve. And yet there's this chutzpah about Boris that may just be his downfall. One thing of note: There's not as much humor -- you know, the alien-type slime ball humor we saw in MIB Classic. But that's all right. Everything here, or almost everything, services the story.
Emma Thompson is great as the head of the agency after the demise of Zed. Her name is O. It's just too bad that we don't see enough of her.
Smith is fine. Tommy Lee Jones is great. The movie will make you sit up with wonder, but cry yourself to sleep at night.
Thumb's up.

Friday, June 01, 2012


Shame is a small film, but it's come to international attention, I believe, because of two things. Firstly, Michael Fassbender is now a star, and seems to be in big movies (X-Men, Prometheus). And secondly, Shame is about sex addiction, and makes a pretty big visual statement about it.
Brandon, who lives in New York City, has carefully structured his life so that he can feed his sexual addiction many times a day. However, when his sister visits, his carefully structured world starts to come off the tracks.
This movie is an intense look at a man who has no other interests, no real friends, no intimacies. He lives only to feed his sexual impulses, over and over, many times a day. The movie does a good job of showing how much a slave Brandon is to this addiction.
On the prowl constantly, he looks on the subway trains, in the streets, goes to sex clubs (for men and women), calls hookers, even prowls the hallways at his job. He's an obsessed neat person at home, keeping everything spotless, and his life is a serial parade of sex partners. All very neat if not nice and certainly not perfect.
But when Sissy (Carey Mulligan)
comes on the scene, she stumbles onto several of his activities, including a laptop full of porn. Who keeps their porn available in the living room when their sister is visiting? While that seems ridiculous, that one example, and there are more, serves to explain how matter-of-fact Brandon is about his habit. Matter-of-fact, perhaps, but ashamed nonetheless.
Brandon really does have warmth toward his sister, but she's so clingy, so desperate herself, and so invasive that he has a hard time seeing in her anything other than an irritating distraction.
The sex is not titillating, at least to me. It's non-stop, perpetual, no mental or emotional foreplay implied. Brandon is not looking for connection, and neither are most of his partners. He's looking for physical release, and a physical release from this addiction, at least for a few minutes.
I thought an interesting juxtaposition that we see Brandon as a sex addicted man in the 21st century, a man to be pitied and perhaps judged as immoral, and yet he's surrounded by those friends who choose to have affairs outside their marriages. The boss who spends a preponderance of work time talking to his wife and kids a la Skype, but who prowls for available women every time he and Brandon go to a bar together after work. And then there are the women in the subway with obvious rings on their fingers who look like they're ready to have sex right then and there.
I can't pity Brandon. The guy is good looking enough and makes enough money to keep his life together. I would pity the man -- or woman -- who could not. Brandon has moral choices in many situations. But, because of his addiction, he chooses to make the wrong choice, or, what I think is more accurate, refuses to acknowledge that he has a choice at all.
Perhaps he is to be pitied after all. Thumb's up.