Interstellar

interstellarParamount/Warner Bros./Legendary (2014) 169 min. PG-13

Director: Christopher Nolan

Screenplay: Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan

Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema; Editing: Lee Smith

Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Garry Fettis

Costumes: Mary Zophres; Score: Hans Zimmer

Stars: Matthew McConaughey (Cooper), Anne Hathaway (Amelia Brand), Jessica Chastain (Murphy), Michael Caine (Prof. Brand), Wes Bentley (Doyle), Matt Damon (Dr. Mann), Casey Affleck (Tom), MacKenzie Foy (young Murphy), David Gyasi (Romilly), John Lithgow (Donald), Topher Grace (Getty), Ellen Burstyn (old Murphy)

Jingoistic homespun set in space, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar feels very loosey-goosey in its pseudo-intellectual way, propounding the universal truths as it does, while at the same time immersing itself in nativist and isolationist sympathies. It’s an unrestrained celebration of America’s expansionist policies, exalting the idea of manifest destiny by extending Western civilization’s never-ceasing spread. This time, we’re exhorted to push upwards, into the stars, in order to open up virgin territory ripe for the plucking to a whole new space age of exploration. Once depletion of this planet’s resources is complete, we set out for new lands and new civilizations to conquer, stripping their resources and raping the environment anew. Apparently it’s open season for colonization when the focus is outside the current ecosphere.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

DotPotA poster20th Century Fox/Chernin Ent./TSG Ent. (2014) 130 min. PG-13

Director: Matt Reeves

Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver; inspired by Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

Cinematography: Michael Seresin; Editing: William Hoy & Stan Salfas

Production Design: James Chinlund; Set Decoration: Amanda Moss Serino

Costumes: Melissa Bruning; Score: Michael Giacchino

Stars: Andy Serkis (Caesar), Jason Clarke (Malcolm), Gary Oldman (Dreyfuss), Keri Russell (Ellie), Toby Kebbell (Koba), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Alexander), Kirk Acevedo (Carver), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Nick Thurston (Blue Eyes), Terry Notary (Rocket), Doc Shaw (Ash)  

Cinema’s umpteenth Planet of the Apes film isn’t a great movie, but it allows a director brand new to the franchise to take a great crack at interpreting the theme. In Matt Reeves’ unusually sensitive hands, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes manages to be unaccountably moving at times, even while we’re laughing at ourselves for being so easily taken in and emotionally manipulated. It should be impossible to take these Ape films seriously on any level other than silly camp but the last two titles have both managed to be deeply affecting. They’re too excessively well-made to brush off lightly and Reeves shows respect for his talking monkeys, rather than approaching them with mockery. True, the concept demands some getting used to. Initially it seems like something Michael Crichton might have conceived, like Congo or maybe even Konga.

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The Signal

signal poster Focus Features/Automatik Ent./Low Spark Films (2014) 97 min. PG-13

Director: William Eubank

Screenplay: Carlyle Eubank, William Eubank & David Frigerio

Cinematography: David Lanzenberg; Editing: Brian Berdan

Production Design: Meghan C. Rogers; Set Decoration: Michael Flowers

Costumes: Dorotka SapinskaScore: Nima Fakhrara

Stars: Brenton Thwaites (Nic), Olivia Cooke (Haley), Beau Knapp (Jonah), Laurence Fishburne (Damon), Lin Shaye (Mirabelle), Jeffrey Grover (Gas Station Clerk), Robert Longstreet (James), Patrick Davidson (Boy Playing Claw Game)  

Nearly kicked out of college when falsely accused of hacking MIT servers, three friends head toward the West Coast. Angry over the degenerative muscular disorder that has reduced him to relying on forearm crutches, whiz kid Nic (Brenton Thwaites) has been drawing further and further away from girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) since he began losing control of his legs. He fears her cross country transfer signals the end of their relationship. Nic’s old track partner Jonah (Beau Knapp), a computer geek accompanying the couple on this road trip, traces an intermittent homing signal through the Southwest desert to its source of origin, where the indignant trio intends to confront the perpetrator really responsible for sabotaging their academic careers, a malicious internet lurker who goes by the handle NOMAD.

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Super 8

Super 8_1346636e90ca50501897f7ad29e66518Paramount/Amblin Ent. (2011) 112 min. PG-13

Director: J.J. Abrams

Screenplay: J.J. Abrams

Cinematography: Larry Fong; Editing: Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey

Production Design: Martin Whist; Set Decoration: Fainche MacCarthy & Dave Kann; Costumes: Ha Nguyen; Score: Michael Giacchino

Stars: Joel Courtney (Joe Lamb), Elle Fanning (Alice Dainard), Kyle Chandler (Jack Lamb), Ron Eldard (Louis Dainard), Riley Griffiths (Charles Kaznyk), Ryan Lee (Cary), Gabriel Basso (Martin), Zach Mills (Preston), A.J. Michalka (Jen Kaznyk), Glynn Turman (Dr. Woodward), David Gallagher (Donny), Noah Emmerich (Col. Nelec), Jessica Tuck (Mrs. Kaznyk) 

Super 8 is period pop Americana set in the heartland, sleepy little Lillian, Ohio in the summer of ’79. Still grieving the recent loss of his mother, monster makeup hobbyist Joe Lamb and his school friends are trying to complete a zombie movie in time to enter a film festival. While shooting a big scene at the deserted railway station outside town, an out of control car driven by a local science teacher purposely jumps the tracks, forcing a military transport to derail. Soon people and pets begin to disappear and electrical appliances go haywire. As an occupying army moves in and the town is evacuated, Joe realizes his super 8 camera captured something escaping the cargo hold that night that might help explain all the strange occurrences, if the air force doesn’t confiscate his footage in the interest of national security first.

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Upside Down

UD-PosterMillennium Ent. (2013) 107 min. PG-13

Director: Juan Diego Solanas

Screenplay: Juan Diego Solanas

Cinematography: Pierre Gill

Editing: Dominique Fortin & Paul Jutras

Production Design: Alex McDowell

Set Decoration: Paul Hotte

Costumes: Valérie Bélègou

Score: Benoît Charest & Sigur Rós

Stars: Jim Sturgess (Adam), Kirsten Dunst (Eden), Timothy Spall (Bob Boruchowitz), Blu Mankuma (Albert), Kate Trotter (Becky), James Kidnie (Lagavullan), Nicholas Rose (Pablo), Holly O’Brien (Paula)

All that glitters is not gold, so in the midst of award season hyperbole it’s prudent to step away from the madness for a moment to better assess the situation. To my mind the most visionary movie about Gravity released in 2013 was not made by Alfonso Cuarón but fellow Latin American director Juan Diego Solanas. For its imaginative breadth and creativity, the Argentine artisan’s gravity defying Upside Down has it all over the more hyped, big-budget epic with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Still, it’s curious that both directors chose to explore the subject of ‘space,’ figuratively and literally, this same year. The emergence of their mirroring movies, eerily akin to Solanas’ own subject involving parallel planets, seems more than simple synchronicity. Perhaps it has to do with the interest Latin American governments have recently shown in developing their own space programs. Continue reading

Prometheus

20th Century Fox (2012) 124 min. R

Director: Ridley Scott

Screenplay: Jon Spaihts & Damon Lindelof

Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski; Editing: Pietro Scalia

Production Design: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Sonja Klaus

Costumes: Janty Yates

Score: Marc Streitenfeld

Stars: Noomi Rapace (Elizabeth Shaw), Michael Fassbender (David), Charlize Theron (Meredith Vickers), Logan Marshall-Green (Charlie Holloway), Guy Pearce (Peter Weyland), Idris Elba (Janek), Patrick Wilson (Shaw’s father), Sean Harris (Fifield), Ian Whyte (Last Engineer)

Director Ridley Scott has given sci-fi cinema some of the classics of the genre, and while his latest, Prometheus, is impressively expansive and uncharacteristically philosophic, thanks to some slipshod editing, meandering continuity and inexplicable character motivation it just misses the mark of greatness. Still, there’s much in the movie to commend. The premise of Prometheus, in which a manned space mission sets out in search of the alien species who engineered the human race millennia ago, was inspired by theories advanced in Erich von Däniken’s 1968 book Chariots of the Gods?, which hypothesized that human progress could be traced to ancient aliens who interceded at some early point in our evolution. Continue reading

The Hunger Games

Lionsgate (2012) 142 minutes PG-13

Director: Gary Ross

Screenplay: Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray and Gary Ross; based on The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Cinematography: Tom Stern; Editing: Christopher S. Capp, Stephen Mirrione and Juliette Welfling

Production Design: Philip Messina; Set Decoration: Larry Dias; Costumes: Judianna Makovsky; Score: James Newton Howard

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Alexander Ludwig (Cato), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Amandla Stenberg (Rue), Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Donald Sutherland (President Snow)

Based as it is on the first novel in a popular trilogy of teen fiction, and given the legion of devoted fans the movie inherited before it was ever released, it’s probably unnecessary to point out at this late stage that The Hunger Games is about a futuristic, state sponsored reality TV show which pits twenty four adolescents against each other in a no-holds barred fight to the finish. Author Suzanne Collins, who also collaborated on the movie’s screenplay with director Gary Ross and Billy Ray, was inspired by the explosion in popularity of elimination round reality programs like Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice, The Amazing Race and even American Idol, where the public at large is invited to vote on their favorites, weighing in on who gets axed each week.

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