Archive for the 'Film' Category

Rebels on the run: The evil First Order tirelessly hunts good guys in the sprawling ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

May 4, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 3, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth entry in the projected nine-movie space opera sequence that George Lucas launched in 1977, is a messy but entertaining addition to the saga.

Writer-director Rian Johnson, who’s best known for the 2012 time-traveling drama Looper, splits his sequel to 2015’s The Force Awakens into four interwoven threads. All are set into motion by the nefarious First Order’s pursuit of the Resistance — now in the process of being rebranded as the Rebellion, just like the insurgency from Lucas’s original trilogy. This premise (or at least the timing in play here) is rather confusing, because the narrative involving Rey (Daisy Ridley) and self-exiled Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) picks up literally right where it ended in the preceding film’s coda, which happened shortly after the good guys won a major victory over wicked Snoke (motion-capture legend Andy Serkis), the First Order’s shriveled, misshapen Supreme Leader.

At any rate, as an embittered Skywalker — the missing man being hunted by both sides in Episode VII — adamantly refuses to train Rey in the ways of the magical Force or do anything else to aid the Rebellion, most of the other characters have hastily evacuated their compromised (once-hidden?) base and are fleeing at top speed. A powerful First Order fleet pursues, lurking just outside of cannon range until the inevitable moment the insurgents run out of fuel.

Bereft of outside assistance and perceiving their plight as hopeless, hotheaded pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and First Order defector Finn (John Boyega) devise a plan to disable the new technology that Snoke and his minions have used to track the good guys’ jumps through hyperspace. Finn and his new friend, technician Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) visit a lavish casino in hopes of finding and co-opting a codebreaker with the ability to infiltrate the First Order fleet’s hulking flagship, the Supremacy. Dameron stays behind with the remnants of the rebel convoy, attempting to persuade the tentative Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) to take decisive action in lieu of General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), who was put into a coma by a First Order attack.

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A world-weary, hard-drinking former American diplomat tries to save his friend — and himself — amid a tangle of intrigue in ‘Beirut’

April 30, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 30, 2018

Director Brad Anderson’s new feature, Beirut, is a taut drama set in the war-torn capital of Lebanon.

The movie opens at a lavish reception for a visiting U.S. congressman hosted by American diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) and his Lebanese wife, Nadia (Leïla Bekhti), at their lovely villa overlooking Beirut. The party is subject to a pair of interruptions, one minor and one life-shattering.

First, a colleague tells Skiles that intelligence officials want to question the couple’s 13-year-old ward, Karim, who turns out to be the younger brother of a Palestinian bomb-maker who helped plan the raid of the Israeli quarters at the Munich Olympic Games. Rami (Ben Affan) is eager to renew familial bonds, and naturally, he has no reservations about using force. When Rami’s confederates invade the Skiles household to reunite the siblings, Nadia is fatally shot and killed.

The story picks up a decade later, in 1982. Skiles is now an alcoholic New England labor negotiator whose two-man firm is rapidly losing men. He never thought he’d return to Lebanon, but when a former client hands him a passport and a first-class ticket for a flight to Beirut that departs in a few hours, the dissolute former diplomat answers the call.

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Alex Garland’s enigmatic ‘Annihilation’ tracks five women as they travel into a bizarre region

April 13, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 13, 2018

Writer-director Alex Garland’s new movie, Annihilation, is a suspenseful science-fiction feature about a team of women investigating a mysterious extraterrestrial phenomenon that’s taken hold of a remote coastal region.

Natalie Portman (Black SwanJackie and the Star Wars prequel trilogy) stars as a Johns Hopkins biology professor whose husband disappeared a year ago after departing on a classified military mission. When a tight-lipped Kane (Oscar Isaac of the new Star Wars trilogy and the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis) suddenly returns, Lena has far more questions than her spouse has answers — questions that only multiply when Kane suffers a strange physical meltdown.

While traveling to the hospital, Kane’s ambulance is intercepted by heavily armed government agents driving black SUVs. One of them sedates Lena, who awakens as a detainee in a government facility in a never-identified part of the United States.

The facility’s staff is studying an unearthly phenomenon called “the shimmer,” a translucent field that has been expanding ever since a meteor struck a lighthouse at a state park three years ago. The government has sent people and probes into the shimmer, but until Kane’s quixotic return, no message, machine or person had ever emerged from it.

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Spielberg’s action-packed adaptation ‘Ready Player One’ verges on making a digital silk purse out of primarily 1980s pop culture

April 2, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 2, 2018

There are moments during Steven Spielberg’s entertaining new feature, Ready Player One, when I marveled that the man who is arguably cinema’s greatest living director had the audacity to make a movie that was entirely computer-generated.

That’s not actually the case, of course: Only about two-thirds of the film takes place in the Oasis, an expansive virtual-reality realm that allows the populace of an overcrowded, under-resourced Earth to escape from the dismal reality around them. But it’s the virtual-reality sequences of the movie, based on the 2011 best-seller by Ernest Cline, where Spielberg and his team unleash their creativity. During the set pieces — a no-holds-barred road race through a simulated New York City, a paramilitary raid in a digital nightclub with a zero-gravity dance area and a battle royale outside a fantasy castle on “Planet Doom” — Spielberg packs every square inch with dynamic digital creations and pop-culture references. A team of experts in science fiction, comic books, anime, television and other pop-culture subgenres might need to work around the clock for a year to identify and annotate all the references that have been stuffed into the movie, often for just a fraction of a second.

It’s to the credit of Spielberg and his screenwriters, Cline and Zak Penn (The Last Action Hero, The Avengers and other comic-book movies) that the characters and story don’t get lost amid all the visual turmoil. The protagonist is 20-something Ohio native Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, who played Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse), whose Oasis “avatar” is an anime-style loner named Parzival. Watts is a devotee of the late James Halliday, an introverted computer scientist. The nerdy Halliday (Mark Rylance) made his fortune and fame by creating and launching the immersive, addictive Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation (Oasis for short) in the 2020s, right as the real world was beginning to fall apart.

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Although slow to start and saddled with a flawed leading man, Luc Besson’s ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ is an entertaining and inventive space opera

March 6, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 6, 2018

For a brief span before the space adventure Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was released in July 2017, it seemed to be impossible to turn on a television without seeing an advertisement for the movie. Clearly, some corporation or other had made a huge bet on the feature, which was written and directed by prolific Frenchman Luc Besson (La Femme NikitaLucy and many others).

This investment didn’t pay off, at least in the U.S.: Valerian, which was made for an estimated $177 million, was greeted with bafflement and sank with hardly a trace. The movie took in a paltry $41 million in American ticket sales; that ranked 66th among domestic box-office grosses for 2017, just ahead of fellow comic-book adaptation Ghost in the Shell and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, but was roughly half of what The Emoji Movie and Power Rangers made in 36th and 37th places, respectively.

On the other hand, Valerian had international box-office receipts of nearly $185 million. It wasn’t a runaway hit like, say, The Fate of the Furious, which topped all comers with overseas ticket sales of more than $1 billion, but it (probably) wasn’t a complete disaster for (all of) its investors.

It’s too bad the picture didn’t fare better, because when I sat down to watch Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets the other night, I found a slow-to-start but otherwise well-paced adventure story with some beautiful visuals and intriguing concepts.

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The 2011 prequel ‘The Thing’ follows a bit too closely in the footsteps of John Carpenter’s brilliant movie

March 2, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 2, 2018

John Carpenter’s The Thing, released in 1982, is widely considered a magnum opus in the science-fiction/horror subgenre. I’ve long been curious about The Thing, the prequel released in 2011, which I recently got a chance to see.

The bulk of the movie takes place at a remote Norwegian research outpost in the Antarctic. The geologists at Thule Station — the name is pronounced just like “tool” — have made a remarkable discovery, one which they wish to keep secret, but which they require biologists in order to examine properly. But the scientists soon find that the unearthly thing they’ve dug up from the ice could threaten the existence of every living creature on Earth…

The story is related from the point of view of Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a Columbia University paleontologist whom biologist Sander Halvorsen (Ulrich Thomsen) recruits on short notice to help extract the specimen found near Thule. The pair travel with Adam (Eric Christian Olsen), Halversen’s assistant and Lloyd’s friend, to the Norwegian station on a helicopter piloted by Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

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The movie version of ‘The Martian’ is surprisingly relevant to our historical moment

February 28, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 28, 2018

Mars isn’t a very hospitable environment for humans. It’s cold and it lacks breathable atmosphere, accessible water and arable soil. In short, you wouldn’t want to be left behind there by your five crewmates when your base is suddenly hit by a massive sandstorm and a piece of debris crushes your spacesuit transponder and knocks you out and renders them unable to find you as they’re staging a hasty retreat to orbit and the spacecraft that will carry them home to Earth.

However, that’s exactly what happens to astronaut Mark Watney at the start of The Martian. More than three years ago, regarding Andy Weir’s blog-turned-self-published-novel-turned-conventionally-published-best-seller The Martian, I wrote:

Watney, who’s well-trained and naturally innovative, jury-rigs a series of solutions to each of his problems using techniques and technology that I imagine would be available to someone in his situation. He recycles his bodily waste, converts the floors of his living quarters into a potato farm, and scavenges hardware in an effort to reconnect with Earth. Weir structures his book with an exciting, if somewhat predictable, problem-assessment-solution-resolution cycle that repeatedly gooses the tension levels.

Director Ridley Scott (AlienBlade RunnerGladiatorBlack Hawk Down and Prometheus, among many others) and screenwriter Drew Goddard (the horror movies CloverfieldThe Cabin in the WoodsWorld War Z and a number of TV shows) gave The Martian a faithful adaptation with their 2015 movie. As Watney, Matt Damon narrates some of the action, which — like the novel — falls into a predictable pattern over its middle third.

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Robert Zemeckis’s thrilling ‘Allied’ tells the story of two married World War II spies who may not have managed to come in from the cold

February 27, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 27, 2018

Robert Zemeckis’s 2016 World War II movie, Allied, is a terrific thriller starring Brad Pitt as a Royal Air Force spy who learns that his wife may be a Nazi mole.

The film begins in 1942 in an isolated stretch of desert outside Casablanca as Max Vatan (Pitt) parachutes in to rendezvous with Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), a Frenchwoman who’s laid the groundwork for a plot to assassinate Germany’s ambassador to Morocco. (Why would doing so offer the Allies any advantage whatsoever in the war? Unclear, I confess.)

When the pair both manage to survive the dangerous mission, Max’s bosses in the British intelligence bureaucracy give him permission to bring Marianne to England and marry her. Within months, if not weeks, of Marianne’s arrival, the duo are joined in matrimony, and she is pregnant with their daughter.

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David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’ explores the complicated saga of a twisted California killer

February 23, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 23, 2018

David Fincher’s sprawling 2007 thriller, Zodiac, tells the true story of the hunt for a notorious California serial killer through the eyes of a cop tasked with finding him and a cartoonist who became obsessed with the case.

The movie begins on the evening of July 4, 1969, when a gunman fatally shot a 22-year-old waitress and seriously wounded her friend in Vallejo, and ends with a short coda in the early 1980s. (This was actually the Zodiac’s second confirmed attack.) Although one of the last scenes shows Mike Mageau, the survivor of that Vallejo incident, identifying a suspect as his assailant, no one was ever formally charged with the Zodiac’s murders.

That lack of closure is one of several frustrating things about Zodiac, which begins as a rather conventional movie about a serial killer and then evolves into something more complicated.

Early on, the narrative focuses on a crime reporter and political cartoonist at San Francisco Chronicle, to which the killer repeatedly sent missives, and depicts a number of vicious attacks. After one of these — the October 11, 1969, killing of cab driver Paul Stine — two San Francisco homicide detectives steal much of the spotlight.

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Michael Mann’s 1986 thriller ‘Manhunter’ misses the mark in several ways

February 19, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 19, 2018

In 1986, Michael Mann was arguably at the height of his influence. He was creator and executive producer of the hit TV crime series Miami Vice, then in its second season. He also found time that year to direct Manhunter, a suspense movie based on Thomas Harris’s novel Red Dragon.

That 1981 volume featured the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter, infamous cannibalistic serial killer who would mesmerize readers in Harris’s follow-up, The Silence of the Lambs. Jonathan Demme directed a film version of the best-seller in 1991, three years after the novel’s publication; in so doing, he brought forth an indelible performance from Anthony Hopkins as the sly, seductive but deeply corrupt Lecter.

The unforgettable character became so popular that Harris went on to write two novels centered on the serial killer, both of which were brought to the screen. Further, the murderous shrink inspired Hannibal, a TV series that ran for three seasons and fleshes out the doctor’s murderous exploits before his capture.

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Double-Oh-Seven is by turns callow and caring in 2015’s fine but largely unsurprising spy thriller ‘Spectre’

February 9, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 9, 2018

Skyfall was released in November 2012, about five months after I launched this blog. It was Daniel Craig’s third appearance as James Bond, and director Sam Mendes’s first contribution to the long-running film franchise based on Ian Fleming’s espionage novels and stories. The plot wasn’t super-original — there’s a list of spies that could become public, à la the first Mission: Impossible movie; there’s someone from one of the main character’s pasts, out for vengeance, à la at least half of all action-adventure movies ever — but the action was well-executed and Craig, Dame Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes lent the proceedings an air of excitement and gravity.

Skyfall also put into place some of the traditional elements of the Bond franchise that had been absent from the Craig movies, which are a sort of series reboot. (Bond had yet to earn his license to kill as Casino Royale opened.) We met Bond’s new quartermaster, Q (Ben Whishaw), a figure who I believe was missing from Craig’s previous pictures, and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), who had definitely been missing from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Moreover, a successor for Dench’s embattled spymaster, M, was established in the form of Fiennes’s Gareth Mallory.

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A publisher finds her mettle during a fight over government secrets in Spielberg’s new historical drama, ‘The Post’

February 1, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 1, 2018

Steven Spielberg’s dozens of features are too numerous and diverse to categorize neatly. But if some hypothetical archivist were forced to sort the prolific director’s output into two boxes, she or he could do worse than to choose the labels “commercial movies” and “prestige movies.” Jaws (1975), the prototypical blockbuster, would belong in the first box; so would Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and the other Indiana Jones movies (the 1984 prequel and 1989 and 2008 sequels), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Jurassic Park (1993) and its 1997 follow-up, Minority Report and Catch Me if You Can (both 2002), War of the Worlds (2005) and other works, including the imminent Ready Player One and an upcoming Indiana Jones adventure.

Spielberg’s 2017 feature, The Post, belongs squarely with his prestige movies. It’s in good company, rubbing elbows with Empire of the Sun (1987), Schindler’s List (1993)Amistad (1997), Munich (2005 again), Lincoln (2011) and Bridge of Spies (2015). Other than the director’s very first prestige picture, The Color Purple (1985), which was adapted from Alice Walker’s phenomenal 1982 novel, all of these highbrow movies are based on true stories.

The Post reunites the director with Tom Hanks. The star of Bridge of Spies plays against Meryl Streep as the editor and publisher, respectively, of The Washington Post. Today, the newspaper is an iconic American journalism institution, and Ben Bradlee and Katharine “Kay” Graham are legendary figures. But when we meet the lead characters, in 1971, they have yet to secure their legacies.

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At times graphic ‘Bone Tomahawk’ pits four men against a hostile environment and relentless foes

January 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 31, 2018

Author’s note: This post describes a horror movie that’s suitable for adult audiences only; consequently, sensitive or younger readers are advised to avoid this blog entry. MEM

Bone Tomahawk is an intense 2015 Western about a quartet of men who set out to rescue a man and woman who have been kidnapped by cannibals.

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After a slow start, the vampire mockumentary ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ strikes a rich vein of laughter

January 29, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 29, 2018

Although I didn’t have much enthusiasm for Gentlemen Broncos, I have a soft spot for Jemaine Clement, one of that quirky 2009 independent movie’s supporting players. He first came to my attention as one of the creators of Flight of the Conchords, a hilarious sitcom that ran from 2007 through 2009 on HBO. Clement co-starred in the show as a member of the titular duo, who described themselves as “New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a-cappella-rap-funk-comedy duo.”

Like Flight of the Conchords, which originated in 1998 as a live comedy act, the 2014 movie What We Do in the Shadows grew out of an earlier project. This time Clement’s partners are Taika Waititi and Jonny Brugh, his fellow stars in 2005’s 27-minute-long comedy-horror short What We Do in the Shadows: Interviews with Some Vampires, which showed a trio of vampire roommates being interviewed by television journalists.

As best I can tell, the feature-length mockumentary recreates its predecessor on a larger scale. Clement and Waititi return as co-directors and co-writers. As before, Waititi plays Viago and Brugh is Deacon; Clement’s vampire has been renamed from Vulvus the Abhorrent to Vladislav the Poker. The movie adds a fourth vampire roommate, the ancient Petyr (Ben Fransham), but Cori Gonzalez-Macuer (Nick) and Stu Rutherford (Stu) reprise their roles from the 2005 work.

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‘Aeon Flux,’ a live-action movie based on an MTV cartoon, winds up seeming a little flat

January 26, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 26, 2018

Aeon Flux was an animated series that ran for four years on MTV in the early 1990s. I can’t recall ever having watched a full episode, although I’m sure I caught snippets. I do have a distinct — albeit incomplete — memory of being in a club in Chapel Hill in the mid–oughts and staring at a TV that was silently playing installments of the show.

I never figured out much about the program beyond the basics. The title character, I knew, was a lithe, lethal spy in an oppressive futuristic society. Her foil was the unctuous dictator Trevor Goodchild, who seemed to shift abruptly from being Flux’s assassination target to being her lover and/or person who reveals important truths about Flux herself and the society in which they live.

The 2005 movie Aeon Flux brought the property into movie theaters with a live-action adaptation. I’ve no idea how faithful it is to the original series; for what it’s worth, animation writer/director Peter Chung (the main character designer for the long-running Rugrats TV series that debuted in 1993) is credited here for “characters.”

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Tom Cruise and company stick to a tried-and-true formula in the quick-moving ‘Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation’

January 24, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 24, 2018

Author’s note: I interrupt my string of Scrabble tournament recaps for at least one movie review. Don’t worry, I’ll recap this year’s “late-bird” event shortly. As always, thanks for reading! MEM

2015’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, the fifth in the action-adventure series based on the old American TV series, has got all its moves down pat. The Tom Cruise vehicle efficiently delivers plenty of fights, thrills, gadgets and clever plot twists, along with a side of comic banter involving Simon Pegg and other supporting actors.

There’s nothing particularly eye-opening or surprising about Rogue Nation, but it’s fun, undemanding entertainment. The plot briskly transports superspy Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and cohorts from London to Vienna to Casablanca and back to London again. There are also brief stops in Havana and Paris and some repeat trips to Washington, D.C., for bureaucratic wrangling between vindictive CIA director Alan Hunlee (Alec Baldwin) and Impossible Mission Force chief William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, reprising his role from the 2011 outing Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol).

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The title character in the unusual ‘Molly’s Game’ plays her cards close to her vest

January 11, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 11, 2018

Molly’s Game, is a character study of a thwarted competitive skier who stumbles into the world of running high-stakes poker games.

The feature, which Sorkin directed and adapted for the screen from a memoir by Molly Bloom, opens as its title character is about to start her final qualifying run for the 1998 Winter Olympics. After her hopes of reaching Nagano are derailed by a freak accident, the recent University of Colorado graduate decides to postpone law school for a year and spend some time in Los Angeles. This decision, as narrated by Bloom, is the first spontaneous choice she’s made in her life.

While working as a nightclub waitress, Bloom (Jessica Chastain, the CIA analyst from Zero Dark Thirty and the young mother in Tree of Life) meets Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong), a shady businessman with an affinity for comely young assistants. Keith is a jerk, but he’s a jerk who happens to host a weekly poker game attended by some of Southern California’s richest and most powerful men — and he needs Bloom’s help running it.

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Historical drama ‘Darkest Hour’ is marred by unmotivated character choices

December 29, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 29, 2017

Darkest Hour, Joe Wright’s new historical drama about Winston Churchill’s becoming leader of Britain during the outbreak of World War II, has almost all the ingredients of a great movie.

The cast, led by a prosthesis-covered Gary Oldman as a then-untested prime minister elevated as German forces threaten to engulf all of Europe, is uniformly excellent. Director Joe Wright (AtonementPride & Prejudice) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything) have well-regarded previous works. The sets, props and costumes seem authentic. The problem, I fear, is that McCarten’s script strives for an effect that it fails to earn.

The story begins on May 9, 1940, as an opposition party member speaking before a raucous Parliament demands the resignation of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) after his policy of appeasement has proven ineffective at containing Nazi aggression. In a meeting, Chamberlain and other Conservative party leaders agree to designate Churchill as his replacement.

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First contact gets a thoughtful, stimulating treatment in Denis Villeneuve’s fantastic 2016 film ‘Arrival’

December 23, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 23, 2017

Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 movie Arrival is a breathtakingly fresh tale of first contact with aliens. It’s also easily the most intelligent science fiction movie at least since Interstellar came out in 2014.

Arrival’s premise is simple enough. In the very near future, mysterious black objects position themselves over 12 apparently random locations scattered across the globe, inciting anxiety and panic. Every 18 hours, a panel on the bottom of the vessels — each resembles a skyscraper-sized contact lens — is opened, letting humans enter a chamber where they can have an audience with the aliens. Unfortunately, no one understands what they’re saying.

Linguistics professor Louise Banks is recruited to help the American military attempt to communicate with the extraterrestrials. She begins making sense of their language, which appears to be entirely visual, with some very minor assistance from a theoretical physicist named Ian Donnelly. However, her progress is increasingly hampered by visions from different parts of her life. Banks’s work becomes urgent when a Chinese general decides that the aliens are a threat and issues an ultimatum to them: Leave or face destruction.

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The minor gem ‘Harbinger Down’ is a terrific homage to John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’

December 20, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 20, 2017

Harbinger Down is a beautifully executed homage to John Carpenter’s classic movie The Thing that’s short on originality but long on scares.

This 2015 feature was written and directed by Alec Gillis, a special-effects and makeup veteran on productions going back to ’80s action classics like AliensTremors and Starship Troopers. The plot leans heavily on Carpenter’s 1982 tour de force but is executed well enough to entertain genre fans.

The story gets under way when a professor and two graduate students book passage on the Harbinger, a dilapidated Alaskan crabbing vessel, in order to track how the migratory patterns of beluga whales are being affected by climate change. When Sadie (Camille Balsamo of the 2014–16 crime drama Murder in the First) notices that the whales are attracted to a flashing beacon set in a chunk of ice, she persuades Captain Graff (Lance Henriksen) to haul this mechanical object onto the ship.

The ice turns out to contain a badly charred lunar lander marked with Soviet-era symbols. Within the crew compartment is a sealed spacesuit. Graff orders the entire find stowed in the ship’s hold and bars his crew and the scientists from any further investigation.

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Wooden leads weigh down the dynamic script and direction of ‘Terminator Genisys’

December 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 15, 2017

Terminator Genisys, the would-be 2015 blockbuster, does its best to invigorate an action-adventure franchise that James Cameron unwittingly launched back in 1984. Alas, the movie falls flat — an immense soufflé prepared by a chef who lacked just one or two vital ingredients.

The plot is complex but holds up as long as the viewer simply accepts it as the necessary mishegas that propels the movie from one set piece to another. The action opens in the year 2029, just as John Connor (Jason Clarke of Zero Dark Thirty, Everest and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is on the brink of leading humanity to a decisive victory over the evil computer Skynet and its legion of murderous Terminator robots.

As the last battle is seemingly won, humans seize a large machine-built device that the near-prescient Connor somehow knows is capable of sending people (and flesh-covered machines) back in time. Connor uses it to dispatch his right-hand man, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, Bruce Willis’s son in A Good Day to Die Hard and a key character in the Divergent movies), to the year 1984. Reese’s mission is to protect John’s mother from a Terminator that’s been dispatched to kill her and thus crush humanity’s rebellion even before it can reach the cradle.

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‘Stranded’ features four astronauts (and a very weak script) in need of rescue

December 11, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 11, 2017

Stranded is a subpar 2013 science fiction/horror movie that fails to bring anything new to the subgenre.

The plot is fairly straightforward: A few decades in the future, a lunar mining facility known as Moonbase Ark is struck by a rogue meteoroid storm that wipes out all external communications and damages the generator and life support system. Although the four-person crew is in mortal danger because of the power outage — and, as becomes increasingly important, the engineer’s psychological instability and substance abuse problem — they examine one of the rocks that struck the base and find that it contains a mysterious spore.

Shortly after deputy commander Ava Cameron (Amy Matysio) cuts her finger while running tests on the substance, she shows signs of what appears to be a nearly full-term pregnancy. Dr. Lance Cross (Brendan Fehr, one of the leads from the TV series Roswell) believes that the ailing lieutenant simply is suffering from some kind of aggravated cyst. However, base commander Gerard Brockman (Christian Slater — yes, of Heathers and Pump Up the Volume and whatnot) insists Cameron be put in isolation because of possible contamination.

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Charming ‘City of Ember’ finds wonder and terror in a crumbling underground city

December 10, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 9, 2017

City of Ember is a charming 2008 movie set in a crumbling postapocalyptic community.

The eponymous settlement was built underground centuries before the central action in order to shield its inhabitants from an unspecified disaster, presumably nuclear in nature. The city’s infrastructure, particularly its power generator, is on the verge of failure, but most of Ember’s residents are too complacent to recognize it.

One of the few exceptions is young Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway, an Englishman who’s worked in British TV and recently appeared in the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes). The brilliant, determined teenager realizes that the city’s blackouts are growing in both frequency and length. His conviction that something must be done to save the community strengthens when he becomes an apprentice in the patchwork pipeworks and learns just how little comprehension engineers have of the complex systems they’re charged with maintaining.

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‘Ingrid Goes West’ takes a critical look at self-reinvention, stalking and social media

September 23, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 23, 2017

Ingrid Thorburn, the main character in the new movie Ingrid Goes West, would really really like to be your friend — if, that is, you’re one of those young women who projects a kind of effortless perfection on social media.

Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza, probably best known from a recurring role on the sitcom Parks and Recreation) can be an excellent friend. She’ll like all your posts on Facebook or Instagram, and she can engage in the kind of amusing digital banter that sometimes makes social networking such an entertaining diversion. She’ll even move halfway across the country, rent a room in your neighborhood, buy the kind of clothing you wear, patronize your favorite restaurant, get her hair styled just like yours and kidnap your dog just so she can insinuate her way into your life.

There’s a catch, of course. (There’s always a catch, isn’t there?) Ingrid would prefer that your friendship be kind of an exclusive thing. While she might be willing to share your affections with a husband, she’s not particularly down to be BFFs with the kind of woman who wastes time or attention on a fiancé or a brother or anyone else who enters your orbit.

On second thought, maybe Ingrid isn’t such a good friend to have. But once you’ve made her acquaintance, you’ll find it’s not that easy to break out of her grasp…

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Comedians Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon grapple with love, family expectations and other afflictions in ‘The Big Sick’

August 18, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 18, 2017

Director Michael Showalter’s new dramatic comedy, The Big Sick, is the appealing real-life meet-cute story of Uber driver–cum–comedian/actor Kumail Nanjiani and graduate student–cum–comedy writer/producer Emily V. Gordon.

The story, co-written by Nanjiani and Gordon themselves, begins at a comedy show in Chicago, where Kumail (playing himself) mock-seriously lectures psychology graduate student Emily (Zoe Kazan) for heckling him during his set. The two say they’re not looking for anything serious, but their physical attraction is supplemented by a personal affection that develops between the pair, and soon they’re seeing each other multiple times a week.

Unfortunately, Kumail isn’t ready for commitment, partly because he’s focused on winning a slot at a comedy festival in Montreal, but also because his very traditional Pakistani parents and brother expect him to have an arranged marriage, just like they did. While the family is openly skeptical of Kumail’s comedic dabbling — they’d prefer that he apply to law school — they flat-out declare that they’ll disown him if he doesn’t marry a Muslim woman.

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