Sitting in front at the 3D version of this movie at the biggest IMAX screen in the state is the closest I will ever get to being in space.
Tag: space travel
Serenity (2005, Joss Whedon)
That Firefly movie exploring the secret origins of super-weapon-girl River who’s being hunted by sword-toting government agent Chiwetel Ejiofor, and the secret origins of the Reavers. Hmmm, Rivers and Reavers.
Some main characters from the show (which I still haven’t watched all the way through) are killed. Sweet long traveling shot at the start shows off the entire ship and all the main characters.
Where’d they all go? Mal (Nathan Fillion) stars on Castle, River (Summer Glau) was on The Cape and Sarah Connor Chronicles, her brother Simon (Sean Maher) is in Much Ado, Jayne (Adam Baldwin) was on Chuck, Zoe (Gina Torres) is on Suits, pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk) did Dollhouse, played King Candy and is on Suburgatory, Kaylee (Jewel Staite) was on a Stargate series and The Killing, love interest Inara (Morena Baccarin) starred on Homeland and V, Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) was in Lakeview Terrace and one-man-NSA Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz) stars on Numb3rs.
Also watched Cabin in the Woods for a third time with dad – and this is a couple weeks after Katy and I saw Much Ado About Nothing, so it’s been a very Whedon month.
Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott)
A frustrating movie, because even while watching the two-hour theatrical version opening week, we knew that Ridley Scott has been talking up his extended director’s cut for blu-ray. But Ridley learned nothing from the Lord of the Rings model, cutting out really important stuff instead of fun but unnecessary scenes of hobbits singing, leaving the two-hour version full of plot holes, confusing explanations and out-of-character behavior. At least that’s what I generously assume to be the case, that the movie made perfect sense before the cuts, because otherwise how would a mega-expensive-looking star-studded major film arrive in theaters full of massive story problems that nobody noticed?
I admit the story problems and look forward to watching Ridley’s second (and third, and fourth) edit on my little laptop screen. But I still loved the theatrical version, unlike every single person I’ve heard mention it, because it’s simply the most amazing looking and sounding movie I’ve seen in theaters for a year or more. The picture (2D) is clear, with seamless effects, and I must’ve lucked out and got the only screen in Atlanta with properly calibrated surround sound. I’ve thought I was past the point of being impressed by massive explosions and outer-space action scenes, but I guess everyone else (looking at you, Michael Bay) has just been doing ’em wrong.
Two archaeologists (Noomi Rapace of the Swedish Dragon Tattoo trilogy and Logan Marshall-Green of Devil) discover star maps in prehistoric cave paintings, so a mega-rich old man (played by Guy Pearce in distracting old-age makeup) sends a space exhibition led by a sleek, evil Charlize Theron to check it out. Logan is given black-oil sickness by android Michael Fassbender, impregnates Noomi with an alien. Also on board are pilot Idris Elba, punk miner Sean Harris (Ian Curtis in 24 Hour Party People) and other guys who will be killed in interesting ways.
There’s some religious mumbo, with secret (but easily predicted) stowaway Pearce wanting to confront our creators, the giant, pale muscular men, and ask why they created us. But I could’ve sworn the scientists said at least twice that they’re an “exact genetic match” with us – so they didn’t create us, they are us. Right? And if I got this straight, the planet to which the map led the Earth explorers isn’t the home planet of any race, but an outpost where they were creating biological alien weapons. And when the one living pale guy awakens from cryo-sleep, he sets to destroying Earth, as if that was his plan all along. Anyway, lot of questions, but ultimately I enjoyed the spectacle and think the movie is interesting enough to find the unanswered questions tantalizing, looking forward to sequels or deleted scenes, not blowing off the movie as badly written.
dissenting opinion from R. Brody in the New Yorker:
Scott is the perfect former TV commercial director: he doesn’t invent images but decorates them and lights them to set a consistent mood, which he then maintains, without surprises. He tells you what to feel, or not even—he tells you to admire his ability to get you to feel one thing, whether it’s worth feeling or, in this case, not. As in a TV commercial, the amount of money spent on production design is a part of the movie’s import; the sets and the effects might as well have their price tags dangling from them … he took the same laborious pompier style as fell flat in Robin Hood and attempted to justify it with a ponderous subject. The movie lacks any joyful sense of discovery, such as emerges (intermittently) through the vainglorious bombast of Alien.
But then instead Brody praises the “exuberance” and lack of self-important seriousness of Benjamin Buttons. If he had more fun at The Ben Buttons than at Prometheus, we can learn nothing from each other.
Now that I’ve watched this again on 2D blu-ray, I don’t mind the plot problems as much – in fact, Lindelof convincingly explains in the commentary that character motivations are purposely unknowable – and the visuals hold up beautifully (though scenes like the spaceship crash don’t have the power they held in theaters). The writer commentary implies that it’s all overlit because of demands from the 3D process, but a sci-fi horror flick with great lighting and strong color is a nice change of pace.
The deleted scenes actually weren’t so interesting, especially after playing half the writers’ commentary, but the blu extra called The Weyland Files was nice – strange character bits, training and prep for the mission, research, unexplained anthropological stuff, an infomercial for android David, and a Ted Talk by Guy Pearce without his age makeup.
Silent Running (1972, Douglas Trumbull)
One of the first movies in ages that we’ve tried to watch with people over, ending as usual in failure. I knew it would be sci-fi with an environmentalism theme, but wasn’t prepared for the woeful hippie Joan Baez songs. Pretty good story/ending/character with pretty good physical action and pre-Star Wars model work, with a couple of exceptional elements. First, obviously, Bruce Dern is wonderful and gets better in the second half when he has nobody but himself and his robot drones to act against. Then there’s the drones – they worried me because I couldn’t figure them out. They’re not shaped correctly to have an actor inside, their robotic parts are truly 1970’s-robotic-looking (simple and slow), but their leg movements looked too natural to not be human. I wouldn’t have guessed there were amputee actors inside. Effects whiz Trumbull brings some of his 2001: A Space Odyssey expertise to a sequence where Dern pilots the ship through Saturn’s rings to escape detection – otherwise it’s mostly bunches of boxes painted silver in front of a starfield.
Two “drones” in foreground, with greenhouse-pod behind:
No explanation is given, but Earth sends commands for the deep-space (why didn’t they stay in orbit?) stations that hold the last of the dystopian planet’s plants and wild animals to detonate their greenhouse pods and return home. Three fun-lovin’ astronaut dudes wheel off in their rovers with suitcases full of nukes to complete the task, but Dern loses his cool, kills one of ’em with a shovel (his leg is hurt in the scuffle) and lets the others explode in a doomed greenhouse, then escapes past Saturn (“killing” one of his three drones, which gives him and the other drones more distress than the human deaths do). Interestingly, the submarine-style radio/radar silence of the title is never directly addressed in dialogue or on computer screens – it’s just inferred that Dern is making his escape, leaving the authorities to believe that his ship was destroyed. I’d give Trumbull and his writers (two of whom would later write The Deer Hunter, the other would become a major TV procedural-show writer/producer) credit for letting the audience add interpretation instead of overexplaining everything, but other evidence (like the blatant, subtext-killing Baez songs, the oversentimental but otherwise extremely simple robots and Dern’s confusing leg-injury subplot) would indicate bungled storytelling instead.
There’s not much suspense left after Dern has killed off his fellow astronauts. The movie tries to make us care when he’s joyriding his dune-buggy and injures a robot, and tries to make us believe that a botanist wouldn’t realize that plants need sunlight. But really it’s all build-up to the last five minutes, when he’s located and about to be “rescued”. He sets the sole working robot to the task of watching over the last garden dome, then jettisons it to safety and sets nukes to blow himself (and his rescuers?) into space-junk.
Part of the same financing program to let young filmmakers run wild on low-budget pictures, along with American Graffiti and The Last Movie. Sounds like a program they should’ve continued. Music by PDQ Bach under his real name.
The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976, Nicolas Roeg)
Forgot what a sad movie this is. Bowie falls to earth, finds a patent lawyer (Get Smart creator Buck Henry), makes more money than Steve Jobs, but the government interferes in his plan to return home with water for his desert planet and he ends up a secluded musician, discovered in hiding by his stalker/employee Rip Torn.
The 1970’s were the kind of ridiculous time when Rip Torn could be a sex symbol, starring as Henry Miller in Tropic of Cancer – that I’ve come to accept. And I can accept Bowie as a sex symbol, too. But seeing them both naked in the same movie is just confounding. I suppose that’s Roeg’s point, making Bowie that much more alien by casting him with Torn. Also somewhat confounding is Candy Clark (of Q: The Winged Serpent) as Bowie’s earth girl. She’s a housekeeper at a bad hotel who becomes Bowie’s main source of human comfort – not the brightest bulb but maybe he decides that makes her less of a threat.
Good variety of music – only one Bowie song. The old-age makeup is markedly better than Julie Christie’s in The Go-Between. Hard to imagine how this got released without copious explanatory voiceover added. For instance, shots of Bowie’s home planet/family seem to be subjective, their present situation as Bowie imagines/hopes/fears, but of course this is never discussed. Not that I’m complaining – I like it the way it is, full of Roegian trickery. Bowie gives a blankly contemplative look almost all time, detached, Bowie-like, in other words. Why is Buck Henry thrown through a window at the end, and Bowie imprisoned in a mansionous hotel suite by badmen who don’t seem to know what they want from him? Something to do with Bernie Casey, I think.
One program Bowie watches on his array of TVs is lions fucking, which I found funny since the night before I’d watched The Lion King. Remade for 1980’s television with Wil Wheaton and Beverly D’Angelo. Bowie failed to grab an oscar nomination for playing his thin white alien self, but picked up a golden scroll from the sci-fi academy.
As critic Tom Milne has suggested, [Bowie’s] defenselessness is central to the exchanging of identities and the shifting of power dynamics between the characters in The Man Who Fell to Earth. This also occurs in Performance, Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, Bad Timing, and Track 29, the other films on which Roeg’s reputation as an auteur is based. As Newton becomes progressively more human, he becomes susceptible to the same vices that taint his intimates: the aggrandizement of power and wealth (Farnsworth), alcoholism and emotional dependency (Mary-Lou), abusive sexual behavior (Bryce). They, in turn, in Milne’s words, “rediscover something of that vulnerability,” shedding their protective carapaces even as they variously let Newton down, because, as humans, that is what they are fated to do.
The Tree of Life (2011, Terrence Malick)
This completely lived up to expectations. I’ve been a big Malick fan since The Thin Red Line, and this movie showed plenty of his current style (whispered voiceovers about pained relationships as the camera pans up through the trees) while forging a whole new one, had the boldness to turn a man’s memories and inner life into a visual montage of the history of the planet Earth. It shows small moments, real and imagined, and becomes almost completely untethered to plot. It’s almost unbelievably gorgeous in the way it looks and moves through time. But all this is what I expected, from reading vague reports of the film’s genesis as Malick’s intended follow-up to Days of Heaven, to its winning the top prize at Cannes last month, to the rapturous critical acclaim it’s been receiving upon release. I expected the best, most ambitious movie of the year, by a long shot, and that’s pretty much what I got, so I’m gonna have to process it for a while.
Jack and his brothers live in a quiet Texas town with proud, hardass father Brad Pitt (representing Nature in the film’s mythology) and pure, uncritical mother Jessica Chastain (representing Grace), both of them loving in their own way. Years later, Jack is Sean Penn working at a giant, modern architecture firm, looking world-weary. He chats with dad on the phone (we don’t get to see Brad pull out the Ben Buttons old-age makeup), but Katy guesses that mom has died, maybe recently. Oh, also there’s the history of the universe and of life on earth, with CG dinosaurs. The movie scatters its narrative for so long, it’s like a two-hour trailer for a life-length feature (or perhaps just the rumored six-hour cut). It’s like nothing else, ever, not 2001: A Space Odyssey or Malick’s earlier movies or anything else it’s being compared to.
Production design by “man in the planet” Jack Fisk (all five Malick features, four by Lynch plus There Will Be Blood and Phantom of the Paradise), shot by Emmanuel Lubezki (The New World, Sleepy Hollow, all the Alfonso Cuarón movies), music (very good, sometimes too large and overpowering) by Alexandre Desplat (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Birth) and edited by a bunch of guys (including, counterintuitively, Jarmusch’s buddy Jay Rabinowitz).
It’s not hard to find people walking about Tree of Life, but it’s surprisingly hard to find film critics as unhesitatingly impressed by it as I was. Suppose they’re doing their job, hesitating to fully recommend the most narratively unhinged major film of the year. I haven’t been recommending it around much myself. P. Bradshaw in The Guardian calls it “a rebuke to realism, a disavowal of irony and comedy.” The movie has no built-in defense against people who snicker at the cartoon dinosaurs and the whispered voiceovers and the biblical metaphors. It takes itself very seriously and demands that you do the same, or the whole thing could fall apart.
EDIT 2021: I watched this again – the extended version – and the only notes I took were:
– I don’t remember the abusive mustache neighbor
– too much high-pantsed brad pitt looking disappointed in this version
But at the time of viewing, I felt the full glory and splendor of the Malick, which is what I needed. I’ll revisit this post again when I get to the blu extras.
For All Mankind (1989, Al Reinert)
Very nicely assembled space doc, a tribute to the Apollo missions. Some 16 years after we stopped going to the moon, Reinert montaged audio interviews and film records from the flights into a concise movie with some familiar imagery (still good to see it in well-restored HD) but plenty of new stuff for a space novice like myself.
Lots of anti-gravity play, and talk about music. I was impressed that one astronaut took the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack into space, forgetting that the film predated the first moon landing. And speaking of music, I liked the documentary’s music without paying much attention, didn’t realize until the end credits that it’s all by Brian Eno. Nor did it really occur to me until more than halfway through the short feature that multiple missions were being shuffled without comment. These are two things I’ll have to focus on next time. Turns out Reinert cowrote that Final Fantasy movie I hated, but I can’t hold that against him now.
What he does in this project, editing millions of feet of film and hundreds of hours of audio recordings into an eighty-minute feature, is treat the whole Apollo adventure as a single, epic trip to the moon, peopled by a crew so anonymous that it seems to represent, well, all mankind. … [Nobody] is identified by name. The film simply proceeds, with serene inevitability, from one fiery liftoff to one gentle splashdown, not troubling itself to distinguish any individual mission from any other and never interrupting the hypnotic flow of otherworldly imagery with a shot of a talking head. At first, when one of the offscreen voices says something unusually poetic, or funny, you wonder whose voice it is, but after a while you stop wondering. It doesn’t seem to matter. It’s everybody’s voice.
I began interviewing the Apollo astronauts in 1976. They were mostly retired astronauts by then, changed men. Over the years I taped nearly 80 hours of interviews with those original extraterrestrial humans, and excerpts from the tapes constitute the major part of the soundtrack of For All Mankind. The movie thus speaks with the intimate voice of personal experience.
For All Mankind is the firsthand story of a great mythic adventure. Touching the Moon was by definition a work of inspired imagination and high art, and scarcely requires further embellishment. It speaks for itself more eloquently than it can ever be interpreted: an age-old dream that at long last was fulfilled.
It takes enormous daring to make an avant-garde movie about people as determinedly square as the scientists, technicians, and pilots of the Apollo team; where this journalist, who had never directed a movie before, found the inspiration for that unlikely project is—like so much in the film—unfathomable. … In the late nineties, HBO aired a twelve-part docudrama series called From the Earth to the Moon, to which Reinert contributed two scripts. (The series is less exciting than it should have been—it tries too hard to be stirring—but its history is pretty reliable.) Reinert also had a hand in writing Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, which effectively (if, again, a bit too strenuously) dramatizes the 1970 mission … But For All Mankind is irreplaceable: one of a kind and likely to remain so. It is, formally, among the most radical American films of the past quarter century and, emotionally, among the most powerfully affecting.
Moon (2009, Duncan Jones)
You ask me to believe that in the future, 70% of the earth’s energy comes from a mineral harvested on the moon – fine. And that the harvesting station is manned by only one astronaut, Sam Rockwell – fine. And that to cut training costs, they actually have a hundred clones of Sam Rockwell with memory implants and they wake one up every three years – fine. But then you tell me these moon-harvesting Sam Rockwell-cloning men of the future can’t spell “satellite” correctly on their satellite receiver, that’s where I have trouble suspending disbelief.
Sam is great as the only actor in the movie (people on video screens don’t count) playing clone #5 whose term is almost up and also clone #6 who was awakened prematurely when the computers thought Sam 5 had died. Interesting how the computers don’t have any biometrics on Sam, requiring him to talk to the friendly (anti-HAL, sabotaging the company to assist Sam) Kevin Spacey-voiced computer played by a ceiling-mounted roving smiley-face machine with a cupholder in front and a “kick me” sign on back. Funny also how the company’s way of disabling Sam’s live communications with Earth is to install massive radio-jamming towers around his base instead of, say, just sending an error message whenever he calls. My way would be cheaper.
But it isn’t our job to poke holes in the sci-fi movies – we’re here to enjoy them. And it’s enjoyable for sure. Sam 6 flies to earth in a jet tube meant for a can of minerals and brings legal action against Original Sam and the company in the cough-and-you’ll-miss-it audio finale. The whole thing seems vaguely anticlimactic since Sam 6 appears early in the movie. Once you’ve seen two Sams in the same room, learning about the motivation behind the clone thing is no big deal. But it’s an amusing flick to be sure.
Star Trek (2009, JJ Abrams)
I’m behind on the ol’ movie blog, but nobody ever notices. If I watch a John Ford movie on video and I write about it a few minutes later, or four months later, nobody will know the difference. But posting on the Star Trek Remake three weeks after it came out seems like such ancient history. There’ve already been five or six blockbusters in theaters since I watched this – I’d be surprised if Trek is still playing.
Decent movie, anyway. Already one of thee greatest films of all time according to IMDB users, but I preferred Mission Impossible III. A bit wearying in its length and intensity, with an exasperating number of dialogue references to the original shows and movies (“dammit Jim I’m a doctor” was especially forced).
Good to see John Cho looking badass with a sword (his actual action is shot from so far away, it’s doubtful Cho went through months of fencing training to prepare for the role), and I enjoyed comic relief actors Charlie Bartlett as Chekov and Simon Pegg as Scottie. Eric “Hulk” Bana played the sneering Romulan (not Klingon) bad guy, and neither of us realized that Winona Ryder was Spock’s human mom. L. Nimoy is still a commanding presence, but his role amounts to being young Kirk’s destiny tour guide.
Movie gets its Kirk origin story out of the way (angry young man because of dead father at hands of time-traveling rogue Romulan, joins starfleet on a dare from captain Bruce Greenwood, happens to team up with random group of the best and brightest young crew in fleet history) before making Spock the focus of the movie. Future-Spock failed to save planet Romulus from black-hole destruction, so evil Rom wants Spock to watch him destroy planet Vulcan. Rom gets a 3-for-1 bonus, since both Spocks witness planet destruction and Spock’s mom dies in front of him, prompting a Wrath of Khan-esque action-revenge climax.
The filmmaking is super stylish but it’s not my favorite style… constant handicam motion, fast cutting, lens flare in every shot. Nice to watch planets implode and the torpedo fights and transporter effects. Pleasant enough diversion but I wouldn’t have felt bad to miss it entirely. Katy is annoyed that she had to watch this as a loyal Abrams fan and hopes he doesn’t make part 2.