Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Movie Review: Skyline... or My Friend the Alien

Why is it that every time Aliens show up on our doorstep like an unannounced relative from some place you'd wish they'd go back to, they only want to kill us, or warn us, or both?

Skyline is yet another one of those... and while it's fairly shocking and has an unending unlike any other Alien Invasion flick, it still presents a fascinating myopic and pedestrian wrangling with the idea of aliens.

The movie unfolds like many before it, were introduced to our characters, and they like them or not, they present various incarnations of the plague of modern day excesses. Our man character/hero is visiting an old friend who has made good. It's never really explained why his friend has made so much cash as to be able to live in an exclusive and cavernously tall resort/condo in a posh part of LA, but then again it matters only a little as the plot throttles ahead to the coming Alien Invasion.

We aren't meant to like anyone but our hero and his girl, so the rest of the characters are shallow and pale, and lack any sort of likable quality. We dont' root for anyone,we ,like the dispassionate aliens that are attacking, care little for the daily struggles of these celluloid creations. So devoid humanity are they that we begin to lose interest until the explosions start. Like War of the Worlds (The Tom Cruise version not the book) this alien invasion is viewed from a narrow perspective.

Were introduced to the Aliens first method of sterlization, distraction and conversion through the use of pretty lights. Somehow, (and don't worry its not explained, and never can be) the light takes possession of those who see it, and propels them towards it, sort of like a mind worm, without the nasty skull boring part. The scenes where thousands of individuals are sucked up like dust bunnies is extremely well done but don't really advance the story, we already know that people are being abducted en-masse by that point. Seeing it is just more confirmation.

The obligatory attempt to escape is thwarted by who else... Aliens, and it's then we realize that this film is not about the flight from Aliens, or the fight against Aliens, its about the futile efforts that men will make in its attempt to avoid being wiped out. There's a little nuking, some soldiers, a lot of Aerial Combat ala Independence Day, and when all is said and done, Humanity is still doomed.

Had the story ended there, this would be an interesting but yet empty movie decrying and depicting the fall of humanity. Yet the movie persists. Our protagonist against all odds, continues fighting, and while he seems to present a beacon of hope for the one he loves, Humanity in general is left decaying in the basement of some extraterrestrial lab. This is not to say that all movies must have an upbeat ending, just that Skyline drops you off of a cliff, and offers only a hard water landing.

Skyline will leave you feeling empty, and a bit dry. Because most of us go to movies to be entertained, and yet in a time that seems to obsess over humanities coming destruction, Skyline says "No, we all can't win, but a few of us might." Sort of like a teacher telling her students that only one of them will be successful, but only after he loses his soul and body, and that the rest should just pack it in.

What it fumbles at saying is this "Any hope no matter how small is worth holding on to", yet, this moral feels empty and shallow once exposed to the harsh light of reality. Skyline offers little to the sentimental, and the whole production seems to mock the idea of heroism in general. While it's attempt is noble, it falls flat, and frankly I'm a bit miffed that I spent my time with it at all.

Hopefully the upcoming "Battle for LA" will rejuvenate my senses, and leave with a bit more encouraging ending.

Rating 4/10 ****

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Inception: How Nolan Broke into Every Geek's Mind pt 2

The Effects

It's an old style of movie, from Ocean's Eleven to Alias Jimmy Valentine, but Nolan builds on this premise by adding a sci-fi/fantasy element that is undeniable and amazingly innovative. No this is no Blade-Runner, but it does open up a fantastic new genre of films that are niether Noir nor New Wave. Nolan has managed to take CG in films and use them in the opposite way of Cameron or Bay who bombard their audiences with hours and hours of CG fests. He's thoughtful and careful use of CG interspersed with real sets, real stunts and actual locations builds the world of the dream into a tangible, breathable and livable space.

Some reviewers complain that they wanted more fantastical scenes to satisfy their imagination. However this is not the aim of Inception, it instead targets a singular narrative, providing a warning for all those to hold on to the seat of their pants as the movies plot plunges forward at a particular speed. Our eyes are satisfied as well as our reason. The effects where most effective add to the experience, and don't distract us from the story Nolan is trying to tell.


This film is difficult to categorize, While it remains a Heist film, there are elements of Film Noir, Spy films, and even direct and pointless action films. Yet there is a diverse set of likable and relatable characters, uncharacteristic of most action films, and rare in spy films. There is also a definite Femme Fatale in the character of Mal. Odder still is the inclusion of a deeply romantic thread running through the entire film, creating a multifaceted story that can be summed up by one genre.

Often when I watch a movie I think about what my dad would have felt about it. It was he who introduced me to films when I was younger. Mostly black and white affairs, westerns, and the occasional Sydney Poitier film. What struck me about inception was the fact that here was a film that could be set in any film time period from the Grainy black and white of the early 40's to the odd technicolor of the late 50's, from the gritty 70's to the post modern and the opulent early 80's. (Minus of course the special effects innovations) The plot works in any time period, thanks to the very subtle non-inclusion of technology. Even the weapons in the film are relatively low tech. This to me is a triumph, the creation of a film that will be popular not just for a few years but will continue to be relevant no matter what the time period.

The Sound Track...

Level 3...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Inception: How Nolan Broke Into Every Geek's Mind pt. 1

Level 1...

"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange."

He can't do this. It's virtually unheard off. It defies all logic, precedent, and common sense. How often I have heard fellow geeks and nerds comment snark-ly the following, "Smart movies can't do well at the box office, most regular people won't get them, and they'll get frustrated at having to think too much." Sigh, how wrong they were.

The Director

Director - Writer, Christopher Nolan has done something few thought possible. He's known for his amazing ability to direct dark and sometimes noir-ish type movies. Case in point the Dark Knight. In fact that film did so well that it is know #3 in all time box-offices gross (domestic), arguably the best Comic book movie of all time. So how could he follow that? Surely not with an original movie, that's smart, visually compelling, an incredibly complex plot, has amazing acting, has a lot of dialogue and captures the viewing public like few other movie's ever have! Except that is exactly what he's done with Inception.

The Story

Imagine you could share your dreams. Imagine that you could construct an entire world in your mind that others could walk around and interact with? That's initial conceit setting of the entire premise. This is a dream world as in the fun house impossible physics of an MC Escher painting. This is a real dimension, based off our real world physics, populated and filled by the dreamers subconscious.

If such a thing were possible, than it would also be possible for someone to use our own subconscious minds against us, exposing our darkest secrets, our biggest regrets, and quite possibly fundamentally altering our image of the real world. that is where Mr. Cobb and his team comes in.

In the movie the technology exists, and we aren't bombarded by the how, or the technical specs. You can enter a shared dream with a subject, and said subject populates the dream which has been created by an architect (in this case a real architect). If you are killed in the dream, you awake to the real world and your fine. No mess no fuss. To awaken normally from the dream you either wait until the drugs used to induce such a state ware off, or use a kick. (ie invoking a response via the appropriate stimulus.)

The Cast

Nolan has some help making this movie incredible of course. No matter how good the source material, the characters must bring the story to life. The stars of this film do this, and do it with such ease and charisma that it makes it nigh impossible to not admire their acting. The startling thing about Inception is the absence of a single weak performance.

Leonardo DiCaprio is at his best. His character (Cobb) is the central figure of the film. He is both hero and villain (we learn this later). His performance as Cobb sucks the viewer into the film. He brings someone to root for, even while we know what he does is morally questionable. Cobb is a man who has been cut off from his family, and living each day with just one hope in mind, finding away back to his children. He gets his chance when he encounters Saito (Ken Watanabe) a very powerful executive of an energy company with a 'job' that involves someone who has Cobb's particular skills. Saito comes across as an intelligent well-bred and confident man, not unlikable. Yet somehow he remains emotionally distant as an employer should.

Joining Cobb in performing the 'job' is Arthur, the 'point man'(J Gordon-Levitt). His job is to protect Cobb as he delves deeper into the subconscious, he is a loyal friend, and very good at his job. Gordon-Levitt has been an up and coming actor for some years now, this film shows off just how good of an actor he has become. Rather then being a distraction, he adds to every scene he is in, and enhances the overall experience through his presence and well disciplined craft.

Equaling J Gordon-Levitt is Tom Hardy, playing 'the forger' Eames. Eames comes off as an extremely intelligent scientist, someone who enjoys dreams for how they allow him to be someone else entirely. He's snarky, sarcastic, and deeply charismatic. His relationship with Arthur is both hilarious and familial. As the job progresses we see just what this Brit is capable of and why he is so confident in his abilities. Ellen Page plays Ariadne, a young architecture student who cobb recruits to assist him complete 'the job'. She is not your typical female heroine, she's plain, very smart, and deeply intrigued by the possibilities the dream world offers her. She's beautiful, but no overtly sexy, allowing her to be much more than simply eye candy (take note Mr. Bay).

Level 2.... up next...

Monday, April 19, 2010

To "Kick-Ass" ... A Geek Dream....: Movie Review

Who hasn't dreamed of dressing up as a costumed crusader and fighting injustice on the streets? Not me you say? Well I cry for you my uninspired friend. That idea is the exact premise of the comic book turned movie "Kick Ass". Let me warn you that this movie is not for the fans of the uber-innocent Batman of the 60's or the boy-scout Superman of Christopher Reeves. This superhero flick is serious as life, and revels in the humor of it's insane masochistic blood lust. Did I mention it has an 11 year-old going off like some strange hybrid of an anime-robocop-prepubescent-predator-mini terminator? No? Well it does, and she kicks more ass in 30 seconds then the entire cast of Kill Bill.

When Dave Lizewski decides that being a superhero can give his life meaning, he decides, rather stupidly, to build a costume, grab some numchucks, (fighting sticks for the layman) and start kicking ass under the moniker, you guessed it, "Kick-Ass". However his brief foray into the costumed saving people gig comes to a painful halt when he's stabbed by some thugs and run over by a car. Now most people would have called it a day at this point. Not Dave, he heals up, and the damage to his nervous system has had an 'uncanny' effect, he doesn't quite feel the same amount of pain as before, plus the tons of metal put inside him to piece his skeleton back together have given him a 'psychological' boost.

"Hey I look like Wolverine..."

Meanwhile, we are treated to two other superhero wannabees, only their not quite so benign. On to the stage comes a cute father daughter pairing, Big Daddy and Hitgirl. This not so nuclear family brings machine guns to a knife fight, and has no problem dishing out death and destruction to anyone or anything that gets in their way. These two are anti-heroes that would make Frank Castle tear-up, if he wasn't simply insane. Their main target? Drug dealers and the mob that has ripped apart their normal family.

Big Daddy is some odd surreal combination of Batman, Punisher and Dirty Hairy, he's a man unhinged, and with his own nearly insane sense of justice, a trait that he has instilled in his young daughter. Hitgirl is every typical 11-14 year old girl who's been raised firing an Ak-47 and practicing her knife wielding skills. She'd much rather slice up bad guys then play with puppies, and she's damn frightening. These two are skilled killers, martial artists, and have serious conviction to kick ass, and leave bullets, and lacerations in every creep they encounter.

So how does Kick-Ass (the main characters moniker) match up with these serious Bad Asses? He doesn't, at least not at first. There is a gulf between them, Kick Ass is a like a 1960's DC character, wanting to do good, and protect the innocent... golly gosh. His intentions are altruistic, and he probably couldn't kill someone even if he tried. As Big Daddy quips... "He should be called Ass-kick, cause that what he's good at."

Big Daddy and Hitgirl are Marvel antihero's as in the fashion of the late 70's. They are darker, edgier, and they curse people out before making them shoot themselves. As they hack away at the bad guys, you might well wonder... Why does Kick-Ass even belong in the same universe as these guys?

The answer? Conviction.

Being a superhero is not about the size of the gun you wield, or how fast you can disembowel someone, or how hard your punch is. It's about how far you're willing to go to make a difference. Kick-Ass has a dedication that won't be denied, the guts to get his ass-kicked and get back up and ask for more. That's why Hitgirl recognizes him as a fellow hero even if he doesn't know how to throw a ninja star to save his life. In the end Kick-Ass does kick said 'ass'... and we love him for it.

So will this movie make you want to be a real life, street haunting, bad mother*%@#&! 'Shut your mouth!', 'just talking 'bout' - superhero?

Hell No! Not unless your mentally unstable, or have serious emotional issues, or have a major masochistic streak. Still it makes for some great entertainment with a serious edge.

Final Score.... 8 Vigilante street fighters out of 10

Monday, February 8, 2010

Caprica: A Review

What do you get when you combine a BladeRunner, Battlestar Galactica, The Godfather (Part 2), and with a heaping helping of a Bear Mcreary score? Apparently Caprica. The show is an intended prequel to Battlestar Galactica, but that show is not requisite viewing for R. Moore's latest outing. Caprica is science fiction television done right, large expansive yet simple sets, beautifully designed cgi that tastefully adds (not distracts) from the story, and a complicated and yet thoroughly engaging plot.

The pilot begins by showing us the titular planet and city that the show is based in. Caprica City is a compelling mix of post modern New York and Tokyo, taking the technology of one, and the smoky 'noir'-ish elements of the other. It's a city inhabited by the Graystones, a small rich and troubled family, whose father, Simon Graystone happens to be the 12 Colonies version of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. His company Graystone Industries is... drumroll please... responsible for creating the first Cylon.

His daughter Zoe Graystone is a typical dysfunctional teenager, plus she has the mind of a genius and the conviction of a terrorist zealot. In secret, she has been designing an avatar, a perfect AI copy of herself, she uses the holoband, a super fast and incredibly lifelike internet (another nifty invention of her father) that allows the users to create networked worlds like mini matrices. (think 'the matrix' if not used in a near apocalyptic dystopian future) Her Avatar, is disturbingly real, a copy so perfect that even her own father has troubling distinguishing
them apart.

His wife, a doctor at a local hospital, married into money, and enjoys a life that most would consider ideal. However all is not well in the Greystone household, and life gets worse in a hurry. Zoe planned to runaway from home, for not only was she a genius, but also a new convert to a growing 'extremist' religion, monotheism. Thats right, The one "true" god. Before she's able to escape however, she is killed in a terroist attack orchestrated by her boyfriend, Ben, whose zealotry and extremism obviously ran deeper and darker then Zoe's.

Into the mix are thrown Joe Adama and his Tauron family. Think of Tauron's as a combination of all the worlds cultures that have mafia and gang stereotypes in them. There Italian-Irish-Russian-Corsican, plus a couple I missed. Joe Adama, somewhat corrupt lawyer/family man lost his wife and daughter in the bombing. He's a man who has been straddling two worlds, the Halatha (Mafia) and the straight and narrow, and the bombing throws his world into chaos. Without the grounding of his wife and daughter he begins to fall back on his roots, and rely on the dangerous power the syndicate can give its members. His son, who is later revealed to be Bill Adama (later Commander Adama of Battlestar Galactica) now looks up to Joe's much grittier much more dangerous brother, Sam. Sam who has embraced being Tauron and revels in the respect such thuggery brings, is not exactly an ideal role model.

With the death of Zoe Greystone, her AI-Avatar is thrown into minor chaos, and is soon discovered by her father. The tantalizing prospect is now there, to reconnect with his daughter through the form of immortality shes has created. A prospect he dangles in front of his new friend Joe Adama, just the sort of thing you don't do to a man whose just lost most of his world. Simon hatches a plan to move his daughter into the real world. He just needs a little favor from Joe, a theft from a rival corporation for the right processor. The plan works and soon he's beta testing his daughters new robotic body, you guessed it... a cylon prototype. Unfortunately, his attempt appears to fail, and he lossed his daughter in the digital soup of the machine.

However the Zoe avatar survives and is now bonded with her robotic extension, enabling it to have the reaction time, and reflexes of an actual human being. We leave the pilot not knowing what will happen next, but this is an amazing and tantalizing start to a great show.

The world of Caprica is rich and full of life, and reminds of our world, while yet being just out of reach. It's not as dark and depressing as Battlestar, but it retains its "real" edginess. It asks questions, but doesn't leave us with moral lessons, just more questions. In part two of this review I'll discuss the first episode so stay tuned....

Caprica airs on SYFY channel on Friday Nights. Check your local listings...

5 cylons out of 5