Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar (2014)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Cain, Jessica Chastain, Wes Bentley, John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn 

I’ve always been interested in the far reaches of space, because to me, it’s out there where the greatest mysteries lie. Where does the universe end and what is out there in the vastness of space? And of course, the big one is: are we alone in the universe? I can go on and on formulating questions about space, because that’s all it is, one big question, one gigantic mystery. Which is why I love movies like Interstellar; they play with the idea that the universe begs to be explored. Why the hell isn’t an effort being made to truly explore the universe? Why isn’t a huge spaceship being built for humans to travel through space for long periods of time like in Star Trek or The Black Hole (1979)? I mean, I don’t think that idea is that farfetched. Instead, as of 2014, funding has been cut for NASA, so there’s less of an interest in space exploration, at least from the government’s point of view. Their logic is being that we have more pressing problems to deal with down here on earth; space exploration isn’t really a priority for the United States right now. Sigh. But anyways, at least we can toy with the idea through films like Interstellar.

On this film earth is being ravaged by dust, huge dust storms are engulfing the earth and its becoming mighty hard for humans to live here, everyone is getting sick, coughing, dying. But worry not! The scientists at NASA have discovered a black hole near Saturn. They've sent astronauts through it and discovered that said black hole can lead us to another part of the universe with 12 possibly habitable planets.  But all connection with these astronauts has been lost, and so NASA has decided to send a second mission to see if they can reconnect with these lost astronauts and at the same time explore the planets, to see if it is at all possible to start life in them. Their ultimate goal is to save the human race from extinction. Is this mission a one way ticket to hell? Or will the astronauts get to come back home to their families? Is humanity destined to disappear?

I’m a huge science fiction buff, and while watching Interstellar, I couldn’t help and notice how much the filmmakers borrowed from Arthur C. Clarke’s novels. You see, it just so happens that I’m a devout Arthur C. Clarke reader, I’ve read a lot of his work and well, I just couldn’t help seeing how the guys responsible for Interstellar borrowed heavily from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey. They even borrowed a bit from the ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ novels, especially when it comes to a cylindrical spaceship that has an artificial sun and an entire community living in it. Landing on a planet made up of a gigantic ocean was seen in 2061: A Space Odyssey, the idea of a man from another era waking up years later to encounter an evolved humanity was swiped from 3001: The Final Odyssey. The robots in the film, which look like walking, talking monoliths are a big wink to fans of 2001; but this was all done purposely, it is quite obvious that Nolan has a hard on for Arthur C. Clarke and his works, so when you watch Interstellar, expect a film with Arthur C. Clarke’s DNA engraved deeply into it.

And it’s not just from Arthur C. Clarke’s books that Nolan borrowed heavily from, he also took a bit from  Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969), both films are similar in structure. We have super intelligent computers able to think for themselves, we have astronauts going up into space to explore a mystery, we have that whole idea that we are going to be entering and exploring a place never before seen by humanity, “boldly going where no man has gone before”. We even get a scene like the scene in 2001 in which David Bowman goes inside The Monolith and the film turns into this visual trip. So yeah, both of these films share many similarities, there’s even some visual references to Kubrick’s film, but I’ll let you guys spot those.

The biggest mystery in Interstellar is of course, the black hole which the astronauts must traverse. Black holes have always been a mystery to me as well; at one point I started to ask myself, are these things real? I mean, sure we've all heard about black holes, and most of us believe they exist, but has anyone actually ever seen an actual black hole? No, we haven’t. We simply have an idea of what it could be. Much like in 2001: A Space Odyssey, where we have this strange and mysterious monolith floating up in space, we also have a strange space anomaly in Interstellar: the Black Hole. From what I hear, Nolan enlisted on the help of a physicist in order to get the whole concept of black holes and worm holes as accurate and scientifically correct as possible. From a visual angle, the whole black hole/worm hole thing looks fantastic, it is obviously a highlight of the film. On the other hand, when the film starts talking about fourth and fifth dimensions, relativity theory and multiverses, things might get a bit convoluted for some, but you won’t be able to deny that visually, it’s stunning. I did manage to hear an “I don’t get it” from the audience.

As far as entertainment value goes, well, there’s lots of spectacle here, but let me tell it to you straight, this films emphasis is on teasing your brain, it’s more of a cerebral picture, it likes to explore ideas hardly explored, it likes to go places we haven’t been before. I mean, sure we’ve seen movies that depict black holes before, for example The Black Hole (1979) and Event Horizon (1997), but none of these movies have shown us a scientifically accurate portrayal of one, and here we got Interstellar to do that. The movie is a love letter to Arthur C. Clarke, and really there’s no better sci-fi author that Nolan could be ripping off from. What I would like for Christopher Nolan to do, because it seems to me after seeing Interstellar that he’s one of the most qualified to do it, is direct a film based on Clarke’s Rama novels. Now those movies really do tackle the mysteries of the universe! A movie based on ‘Rendezvous with Rama’ has been planned for years now, but as I type this, it’s still in development hell. So anyhow, what we got here my friends is one of the best films of the year, if you enjoy films that dabble in philosophy and the mysteries of the universe. Me? I’m a sucker for the mysteries of the universe because if you ask me, it’s those big mysteries we should always aim to know more about. 

Rating: 5 out of 5

Friday, December 12, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Torturro, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Paul

Every time Ridley Scott makes a movie I consider it a gift from a cinematic god, so of course I was pumped when I heard that Scott would be directing this biblical ‘Magnus opus’, it seems right up his alley for various reasons. Number one is the fact that he is a master at making the fantastic believable, no matter how complex or how out there, he can make it real. This is something a lot of directors’ continually try to attempt yet fail horribly at; just take one look at Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 B.C. (2008) and you’ll see what I mean. Secondly, Egyptian civilization, pyramids and huge columns have always formed a huge part of Ridley Scott’s film aesthetic. Actually, while watching certain scenes in Exodus, I got a few Blade Runner (1982) flashbacks. Take a look at Blade Runner again and you’ll see just how influenced by the Egyptian civilization Blade Runners art design was, you’ll see pyramids all over the place. So anyhow, with Exodus, Ridley Scott went from the futuristic pyramids seen in Blade Runner, to depicting the actual first pyramids ever made, which in a way brings Ridley Scott's cinematic career full circle.

From the pyramids in Blade Runner (1982) (above) to the pyramids in Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) (below)

Currently we’re going through a religious revival in Hollywood, I guess this is an attempt to infuse society with ‘belief’ as a way to reinforce religious ideals in society, something I’m completely against because I imagine, like John Lennon, a world without religion, where we can be the rulers of our own destiny. But  alas, we live in a world where the grand majority of people are under mind control, and religion plays a huge part of that. Yet, oddly enough I find these biblical movies fascinating anyways because I seem them for what they are, stories, fantasies meant to enlighten us entertain us and maybe show us a thing or two along the way; nothing more. So, this review comes from a non believer who still finds movies like this entertaining. I mean, I loved the heck out of Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments (1956)! That film is so entertaining, so theatrical and so freaking epic! Of course, Ridley Scott had a lot on his plate, he not only had the responsibility of pleasing all those millions of Christians out there by keeping things somewhat faithful to biblical cannon, he also had to turn in an entertaining film that surpasses anything we’d seen before in terms of spectacle. Question is, did he achieve it?

A lot of things went right with this movie, for example, its scope brought to mind those old biblical movies like Ben-Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963), these are films filled with thousands of extras and incredible sets, wardrobe an art direction. I’m happy to say that that’s the kind of film you get with Exodus: Gods and Kings. You certainly won’t feel like you are being short changed with this movie, you’ll see the millions up on the screen. The detail paid to minutiae, is amazing. The carvings on the swords, the thrones, the walls, is just stunning, you’ll believe this is the Egypt of the bible, the film is very convincing in my book.  

One of the things that matters the most for a film of this kind to be successful is that it has to be faithful to the bible, or else the core audience will boycott the movie. In this sense I predict that theaters will be packed with religious folks, as opposed to say a film like Noah (2014), which got everything wrong by changing the story around so much that it alienated its target audience. Religious people didn't get the Noah that they wanted, so they didn't exactly back the movie up, if anything some Christians went to see Noah simply to see how wrong Aronofsky got their beloved biblical tales. This does not happen with Exodus: Gods and Kings which sticks pretty closely to the bible. Sure Ridley Scott takes a few artistic liberties here and there, but overall the story you get is the story that’s in the bible. Moses becomes the leader of the Hebrews, becomes their savior and with gods help, he frees them from the oppressive choke of the Egyptians.

My only problem with the film is that the story is way too epic for one film. This story could have easily been divided into two or three films and it could have been told better. As it is, at times I felt like the story was going in fast forward, skipping important moments that you'd expect to see. We go through the ten plagues, suddenly boom, we’re traveling through the desert, suddenly boom, we’re at the red sea, and boom it’s Ten Commandments time. Biblical events feel rushed, and a lot of important moments where left out. For example, the moment in which Moses turns his staff into a snake, or the moment when the Israelites get tired of waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai so they build their own god and start worshiping a golden calf, then god opens the ground and swallows them up for being unfaithful to him. Why leave stuff like that out? I guess the movie would have been  four hours long if they did, which is why I say this film could have easily been turned into two films.  This is the reason why DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) was divided into two segments, with an interlude for you to go tinkle. In his version, DeMille didn’t cut corners, he told the full thing and took his sweet time to do it. He’s cut of the film is ten minutes short of four hours! The problem is that Scott decided to tell the tale in one film, and my opinion, the story suffered because of this. Ridley Scott either chose to tell an incomplete tale, or a lot of footage was left in the cutting room floor and we might get to see it eventually in a directors’ cut. Still, the film remains amazing, remains epic, it’s just missing certain key moments that only true Christian fanatics will notice were left out.

This film has gotten some heat because supposedly it’s emotionless, but I disagree; I actually think it had a lot of emotion. There are some truly tender moments between Moses and his wife where we see a kinder, gentler side to the great leader. I guess what people are referring to is that Ridley Scott decided to go with a more believable way of telling this story, he avoided augmenting the supernatural elements whenever he could. I mean, sure we see lots of miracles happen (the ten plagues are simply amazing) but Scott found a way to explain most of them scientifically, they aren't just magical events. Even the parting of the Red Sea seems like the tide simply goes down in intensity till the people can simply walk through, Moses doesn't use his staff like it was a magic wand on this one. I guess we could say the film isn’t overly dramatic or theatrical and whenever it can it simply avoids the supernatural. This might take some as a surprise, especially for those who are expecting a huge special effects driven film or operatic performances. Here the effects are used with subtlety, yet when they appear they are a true wonder. Performances are also toned down when compared to Charlton Heston’s old time theatrics.

I enjoyed the amazing cast here, the only downside is that we have a lot of good actors in minor roles. John Torturro plays the pharaoh which took me by surprise. Ben Kingsley plays a Hebrew elder, but again, so underused. I mean, here we got Sigourney Weaver doing next to nothing on this film, same goes for Aaron Paul, but whatever, I hear the original cut of this film was reportedly four hours long, so we might be seeing more of these actors on a directors’ cut of the film, who knows. Final words is, Ridley Scott had a huge tale to tell here and even with these compromises I've mentioned, we still got an amazing film that can be appreciated by both the Christians who want to see their fantasies brought to life on the silver screen and by those film lovers who just want to see a good film. This is without a doubt a strong film and if you ask me, one of the best of the year.

Rating:  5 out of 5


Monday, December 8, 2014

I Come In Peace (1990)

Title: I Come In Peace (1990)

Director: Craig R. Baxley

Cast: Dolp Lundgren, Brian Benben, Betsy Brantley, Matthias Hues, Jay Bilas

I Come In Peace is a film that is known as ‘Dark Angel’ in some parts of the world because that’s the name under which it was marketed worldwide, that was the films original title, but when it was released in the United States, its title was changed to I Come In Peace because two other films had that title already, so to avoid confusion they went with ‘I Come In Peace’, which to be honest is a far better title for the film if you ask me. The title alludes to the films biggest one liner, just before the alien is about to kill someone he says, “I Come In Peace”, which he repeats all throughout the film. But only Lundgren’s character has the bravado to reply “and you go in pieces asshole!”; which is of course spewed in a traditional 80’s one liner tone. So anyhow to me this film will always be I Come In Peace. But alternate titles aside, this movie is so underrated!

The films premise is fairly simple; an alien crashes down on earth looking for one thing: drugs! You see, this alien is an intergalactic drug dealer, and the drug he sells is something he sucks out of the human brain. It’s up to Detective Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) and his obnoxious F.B. I. agent partner (Brian Benben) to find and stop the alien who keeps killing random people by sucking brain juice out of them.

I Come In Peace was directed by Craig R. Baxley; now before you go “who the hell is Craig R. Baxley?” let me inform you that even though this director isn’t a household name, you’ve probably seen some of his films, and if you haven’t then you should. That is if you like 80’s style explosive action.  The films Baxley is responsible for are ActionJackson (1988) which is this explosively violent cop movie starring Carl Weathers as this kick ass cop trying to stop a corrupt politician wannabe, then there’s Stone Cold (1991) starring Brian Bosworth as an undercover cop who infiltrates a terrorist motorcycle gang in order to stop them from committing a political assassination and finally, I Come In Peace (1990) the film I’m reviewing today. What do all these three films have in common? Massive amounts of action, car chases, shoot outs and explosions!

When I say explosions, I mean copious amounts of them. I mean, every five seconds something is literally blowing up on this film! Mr. Baxley understands the effectiveness of a good explosion; he’s something of a kindred spirit to Michael Bay in that way. Let’s see, first off we start with the fact that the alien in this movie shoots a big ass machine gun, now this isn’t just any old machine gun. Whatever this machine gun hits, it explodes into a huge ball of flame! One of the things this film is praised a lot for is the fact that none of the explosions are computer generated, these actors were practically getting their butts burned by the hot flames, in some instances you can tell they were pretty damn close! So kudos to the effects team on this show, this was the time when practical on camera effects were the norm, it’s such a breath of fresh air from all the CGI seen in today’s films. What the director did was fill the film with as many explosions as he could to give to the producers (and the audience) more bang for their buck. For a 7 million dollar film, you get your money’s worth of action, trust me! Because of its ‘small budget’ the story is kept small in scale, for example, we never see an alien spaceship or anything. The film is scope is small, not epic in the least, but it’s entertaining because it’s got aliens with big ass guns! Director Craig R. Baxley was a stunt coordinator on a lot of television and films, so he knows his way around an action scene, and it shows in all his movies, that’s why I recommend them.

Yes, there are cheesy elements to this movie, mainly the avalanche of one liners, like the aforementioned “you go in pieces asshole!” and “Fuck You Spaceman!” The two cops are always fighting and bickering, in traditional buddy cop movie fashion. Lundgren plays the loose cannon tough guy, while Brian Benben plays the dorky and much more vulnerable F.B.I. agent. It’s an unlikely team up, Lundgren is a freaking tower next to Benben’s impish looks, but I guess it works in the end. This movie reminded me a bit of The Hidden (1987), because of the whole angle of having an evil alien wrecking havoc while a good one is trying to stop him, plus, same as in The Hidden, I Come in Peace plays out like a buddy cop movie. Final words is that as you might have figured out by now, this movie isn’t Shakespeare, but it’s explosive cheesy fun, sure it was released in 1990, but it was shot during 89 and therefore still retains that 80’s style action film vibe. Plus it has an alien that shoots deadly flying cd’s! It’s a prime example of 80’s action; we could say that it was one of the last 80’s style action films to be released.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5   

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Hidden (1987) and The Hidden 2 (1993)

The Hidden was directed by a guy known as Jack Sholder, you might know him as the guy who directed A Nightmare on ElmStreet 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), a very entertaining Nightmare on Elm Street film filled with its fare share of memorable moments, like the famous Krueger quote: “you have the body and I have the brain”. Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was a very successful horror film, so of course, Sholder was given a second chance to direct a theatrical release and thus, we got The Hidden (1987) which by the way I have to say is an extremely entertaining action  sci-fi hybrid, which the director himself categorizes as his best film.  

This is the story of an alien race that thrives on sensory input, if it likes something, it takes it, it does it. In the case of this alien, he likes sports cars, girls and heavy metal and he will do anything to get these things. The one problem is that he can’t be caught because he goes around jumping from body to body, so you never know who he will look like. Like Night of the Creeps (1986) or Slither (2006), the creepy crawlies in The Hidden are the kind of slimy critters that will crawl in through your mouth and control your body from within. Thankfully, there’s a “good alien” who has come to stop this greedy sensation glutton, can it be stopped? 

Again I am faced with yet another action film from the 80’s that shows me what real action films were like. It has that high violence quotient that you just don’t find in today’s action films; today’s action films? Yeah right, what a joke. There’s no such thing. Sure Furious 6 (2013) is bucket loads of fun, but it all feels either too far fetched, or like a computer animated film with little tangibility to it. You see the cars blow up and it’s great fun, but in the end you know it’s all a lot of computer generated wizardry. Not so with films like The Hidden, where the action happens on camera in all its explosive glory. Speaking of the violence factor in The Hidden, it’s pretty high. The film starts out with this cool as hell chase sequence that involves a red Lamborghini going through town crashing everything in its way and killing pedestrians along the way. I mean, this alien is so vicious that he doesn’t think about it twice before blowing away ten cops to get through, he’ll do it, he doesn’t care. Which of course amusing because rarely do you see a character that solves everything by simply blowing people out of the way without the slightest hint of  fore thought or remorse; the alien just does it. I like how the film addresses the issue of instant gratification, how the ‘me’ generation of the 80’s only lived for getting what they wanted as fast as they could get it. These issues are still relevant today, I’d say today’s generation is like that, only amplified a thousand fold. 

Though this film is all about slimy aliens that invade our bodies to control us, it doesn’t focus so much on special effects, in fact, we see the alien briefly, only twice in the film. What’s really cool about this movie is the action, which is practically none stop. Expect a lot of Uzi’s and shotguns being fired. Uzi’s were super popular in 80’s action films, these mini machine guns popped up a lot in films like Invasion U.S.A. (1985) and Cobra(1986), and we see a couple of them here. Trust me when I say that a lot of fire arms are fired on this movie! If the alien can get his hands on it, he’ll shoot it. Even bazookas are fired here! This movie is an onslaught of violence! In that sense it reminded me a lot of The Terminator (1984) a film that I feel influenced this one a whole lot. In fact, it has a very similar scene in which the villain enters a police station and starts blowing away police men. The overall structure of The  Hidden is almost exactly that of The Terminator. It’s a film about a nearly unstoppable villain with no remorse, no emotion, it will kill without hesitation.

This film is very 80’s, it’s filled with a lot of cliché’s that we used to see a lot in films of this era. For example, there’s a high speed chase sequence and wouldn’t you know it, these two guys are carrying a huge piece of glass across the street? And of course the car has to drive through it and smash it into a million pieces! Since the alien loves heavy metal/rock and roll, we get lots of 80’s rock and roll tunes throughout the entire film; there are a lot of Concrete Blonde tunes on this film. Another thing that marks the era of The Hidden is this cool scene where the alien walks into a music store and starts stealing cassettes because cd’s where not invented yet? The posters on the wall are all of bands from the era (I spotted one for R.E.M.) also, the alien carry’s a boom box on his shoulders! Not to mention the clothes that some of the characters wear…and the cars they drive. This movie oozes eighties! So anyhow’s The Hidden was a moderate success, it made about 10 million bucks on a half that budget, so of course a sequel was made, but with an entirely different creative team. It was directed by a guy called Seth Pinsker, but don’t ask me who he is or what he’s done. He hasn’t directed anything after this, and with only a few short films and television work under his belt, he doesn’t have much of a career as a director. I guess this was as far as he went as a filmmaker.

This is the kind of sequel that starts off exactly where the previous one left off, so it does have a level of continuity to it. There’s a difference between the two films though, first off, while the first was a very 80’s film, this sequel was made in 1993, so it no longer has that 80’s vibe going for it, and you can actually feel the difference. There’s a scene where the alien walks into a nightclub/rave type of deal, and everyone is dressed with the 90’s fashions, which  is also cool to revisit, it reminded me of a C and C Music Factory music video or something. Another difference between the first film and the this one is that it focuses a whole lot more on showing us the aliens, only thing is that they don’t look a heck of a lot like the ones we saw in the original film, but we do see a lot of them because this time around the alien doesn’t just want instant gratification, he also wants to procreate.

Sadly, what we get with this sequel is more of the same, almost exact same sequences throughout the whole film. The bad alien needs a car, he steals it! He wants a boom box he takes it! The good alien doesn’t know what it’s like to be human, so the girl shows him; oh man is it just me or is this sequel complete snores ville? It’s the same thing all over again. The thing that sets this sequel apart the most is that instead of playing out like a buddy cop movie like the first one did, it instead decides to go the way of John Carpenter’s Starman (1985) and suddenly turns into a love story between an alien and a human. While watching this movie I also got flashbacks from yet another John Carpenter film, namely, The Thing (1982), cause there’s this sequence that involves a dog, an alien and a bunch of slimy tentacles.

So anyways, what we get here is not a very original sequel, it’s essentially the same movie, only instead of getting lots of guns and violence, we get a love story and less violence. But more aliens. I have to say that it does add a bit more to the story by explaining to us a little more about the aliens and their home world, I liked how they compared the good aliens to angels and the bad aliens to demons and their home world to heaven, but if I had to give you an ultimatum about this movie, it would be that I only recommend it if you’re absolutely freaking bored and have nothing better to watch, or if you want to see a bit more of the same. While the original is a good action sci-fi, the sequel is a straight to video cheap-o cash in, yet still, for a straight to video release, you could do a whole lot worse.

The Hidden (1985): 4 out of 5

The Hidden 2 (1993): 3 out of 5


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