Archive for the 'Film' Category

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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