IN TIME (2011) / Science fiction-Thriller

Running Length: 109 minutes
MPAA Classification: PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and strong language.

Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde, Alex Pettyfer, Vincent Kartheiser, Johnny Galecki
Director: Andrew Niccol
Producer: Andrew Niccol, Marc Abraham, Amy Israel, Kristel Laiblin, Eric Newman
Screenplay: Andrew Niccol

The concept for In Time, the new film from writer-director Andrew Niccol (The Truman Show), is interesting, but the way in which it is executed is dreadful. This is one of those movies that you go to watch more for style rather than substance, but rarely does it have either.

Our hero is Will Salas (Justin Timberlake, The Social Network), a factory worker who lives in a future where the world uses time as a form of currency. When your times runs out, you go plop. Kinda like that Bruce Willis vehicle Surrogates. Salas lives at home with his mother and wants nothing more than to be a clichéd human being in every movie ever. So, one night Salas happens across a stranger (Matthew Bomer, USA’s “White Collar”) in one of the local bars. The man seems to be out of place, for it’s apparent that he’s very wealthy. See, in this future, the rich and the poor are seperated by “time zones”. The richer you are, the nicer the area you live in is. Simple enough, right?

Well, a couple of hoodlums notice this as well and pick a fight with the man, claiming that they are entitled to his time as much as he is. A chase ensues, with Salas helping the man out of the bar and through the streets to an abandoned building, where the man explains that his reason for being in this time zone is because he longer appreciates being immortal. So much wealth makes you not appreciate the small things in life and eventually, you just want to go away. This is about as sentimental as In Time gets.

The morning after, Salas awakens to discover that his “time balance” has been tremendously increased. Stupefied, he gets up and races to the window just in time to see the man kill himself by jumping from a bridge. Now, with this large amount of time on his hands, Salas travels to the highest time zone, attracting the attention of the locals, including the daughter (Amanda Seyfried) of a “millenium”-aire (Haha!). The two quickly develop a romantic attraction for one another, but their relationship is put on hold with the arrival of the Timekeepers, who suspect Salas of murder. But before they can arrest him, Salas and the girl elope. Mayhem ensues.

What In Time doesn’t understand is that people don’t enjoy seeing the same thing over and over again and especially not if it’s done poorly. (Well, at least I don’t.) Normally, I’m fine with a little predictability, but In Time is so bad in everything else that it does that it just can’t be forgiven. Seriously, guys — this one is stagnant.

There are problems with both the editing and visual effects. The pacing is even, but continuity is consistently off and the visual effects simply aren’t very believable. (To cite an example, there’s an image of car rolling down a hill that almost resembles stop-motion animation.)

As well as having technical problems, In Time suffers from formulaic plotting, all-around cheesy dialogue, and so many time-related puns that you’d need a to make a tally chart in order to keep track of them. Timberlake and Seyfried each give good performances, but they’re only as good as the script will allow them to be. Cillian Murphy smirks a whole lot and overacts, but given these one-dimensional characters, there’s not a whole lot that these actors can do to impress us.

It’s all a startling disappointment for Andrew Niccol, whose career takes a slight dip downwards. His Lord of War and Gattaca were both fascinating motion pictures, so what went wrong here? Normally in a situation like this, I’d blame the writer for the film’s badness, as that’s where a lot of the problems stem from. But seeing as Niccol was involved in the writing as well, what else am to do?

There is some good news to be had though. During the final ten minutes or so, I’ve never laughed so hard in my entire life. Ever. Who cares if I wasn’t meant to laugh? It’s the most emotion I showed the entire time, and that’s saying something. So unless you’re looking for some mindless Friday night cheese to poke fun at, don’t go see In Time. Don’t even go see it if there’s nothing else playing at the theater that strikes your interest. Go do something else. Live your life. Is it really as bad as I’m making it out to be? Oh, you betcha.

Final rating: ★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★)

© 2011 Stephen Earnest

Review: BLADE RUNNER (R)

Harrison Ford hangs on in one of the more famous stills from "Blade Runner."

U.S. Release Date: June 25, 1982

Running Time: 116 minutes

MPAA Classification: R (Sci-fi violence, sexual content, nudity)

Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah, M. Emmet Walsh

Director: Ridley Scott

Producer: Michael Deeley

Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples, based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

 

By STEPHEN EARNEST / November 19, 2011

Over the past couple of decades or so, Ridley Scott’s legendary sci-fi noir Blade Runner has slowly gained in critical acclaim and popularity. It is now considered something of a masterpiece, and has somehow managed to acquire a rather sizable “cult” following. The American Film Institute added it to their “100 Years…. 100 Movies” list a few years ago, ranking it as the 97th greatest film ever made. But is it truly as grand as everyone says it is?

The movie stars Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a “blade runner”. Blade runners are somewhat like police. They are hired to hunt down artificial human beings known as “replicants” and execute, or “retire”, them. At the beginning of the movie, Deckard is assigned to find a group of six replicants that have escaped from an off-world colony and are hiding out on Earth, in Los Angeles. The plot sounds interesting enough, right?

But it’s not. The concept is fascinating, the synopsis sounds intriguing, but it is not delivered correctly. The story is fairly flimsy. After what seems like a promising opening couple of minutes, Blade Runner falls into a mess of cheesiness, predictability, and, sometimes, absurdity.

Don’t let the futuristic setting fool you. Blade Runner only uses it as a backdrop for the issues that it tackles, such as society, acceptance, and religion. Consider the creations of Dr. Eldon Tyrell, like Roy Batty. He’s practically perfect but somehow still isn’t happy. He wants more. He wants to be immortal. Humans are never quite happy with themselves, even when they have everything going for them. They always want more. Blade Runner does a good job is presenting this message, saying that greed will usually get the better of us, but it does not go anywhere further with it. It’s messages only last for a brief few minutes and then they are spoken of no more.

Deckard may seem like he’s the main character here, but he’s not. Here, in Blade Runner, there really aren’t any main characters at all. Everything begins and ends on Deckard, but he’s out of the picture for a lot of the time. I mean, I guess he could be considered the “lead”, but that’s because there isn’t anyone else that has as much screen time as him. You get what I mean? Deckard doesn’t “feel” like a lead character should. Lead characters should be able to connect with their audience; Deckard doesn’t. He’s also one of the most two-dimensional characters I’ve ever seen in a movie.

And the pace that Blade Runner moves at is ridiculously slow. I realize that all of the “haters” out there always complain about the pacing, and the people who love Blade Runner always get so offended by it, but come on, guys. It’s boring. It’s slow. It nearly put me to sleep. Movies like this shouldn’t be so boring. I mean, at times, it got so dreary and dull that I couldn’t even concentrate. The only exciting part was that final climactic battle near the end, and that was just ridiculous. It resembled one of the boss matches that Solid Snake endures in the “Metal Gear Solid” franchise.

Now, I will say two good things about Blade Runner—- It does look pretty darn good. The production design and the art direction are something to behold, and I agree that they are highly influential in the science-fiction genre. The dark surroundings and rainy skies are very popular in modern sci-fi. Also, the cinematography is grand; smooth and sturdy. But does any of that make Blade Runner one of the greatest sci-fi flicks ever? Good God, no.

I’m not a “hater”. I don’t hate Blade Runner. I just think of it as highly overrated. It’s really not that special of a movie, and if there wasn’t so much critical acclaim surrounding it, I’d think it would be easily forgettable.

RATING: 2/4

Review: BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET (R)

Joe Morton as the Brother from another planet.

U.S. Release Date: September 7, 1984

Running Time: 104 minutes

MPAA Classification: R (Language, brief nudity, drugs)

Cast: Joe Morton, Daryl Edwards, Steve James, Leonard Jackson, Minnie Gentry, Bill Cobbs, Tom Wright, David Strathairn, John Sayles

Director: John Sayles

Producers: Peggy Rajski, Maggie Renzi

Screenplay: John Sayles

By STEPHEN EARNEST / November 10, 2011

I suspect that many will be discouraged to watch Brother From Another Planet simply because of the movie’s premise and title. Hell, that’s mostly what I go on when deciding what movie to watch. But I took a chance on this one and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Joe Morton plays The Brother, who is essentially a walking metaphor. That much you can pick up on from about ten minutes in. The Brother looks like your average black man, but comes from outer-space.  He’s dressed in rags and roams the city, not quite sure what to do. Now, this is a hard act for Morton. He’s the good guy here and despite his stoic nature, you learn to like him. His character doesn’t say a single word throughout the entire film. Instead, his emotions are displayed solely through actions. Can you think of a more challenging character to play than that? I should think not.

The rest of the plot doesn’t concern much else. We follow The Brother as he adjusts to modern American life and human sin. He starts out by being looked down on by society but slowly becomes more Messiah-like. What is it exactly that he represents? Does he represent the slavery of the African-American race? Or does he literally represent an alien, in the most terrestrial sense of the word?

I didn’t have many problems with Brother From Another Planet. The camerawork was nice and it had a handful of great scenes. The biggest fault I could find was that it got a little bit more preposterous as it went along, but that’s not that big of a deal. By the way, did you know that John Sayles financed this movie with his MacArthur Fellows ‘genius’ grant? Did you know that he was one of a very few to be selected for that award? I sure didn’t and I find that to be pretty impressive.

Brother From Another Planet uses many themes and motifs to get its point across. Most of them deal with The Brother and his quest. He becomes involved with the trials and tribulations that most other humans face. He is faced with the epitome of human desecration: drugs. How does he react to them? He tries them, sees how harmful they can be, and tries to put a stop to them.

Brother From Another Planet is not an important film or one that should even be sought out. But it’s clever, well-made, and well-written, and if you have the time to watch a good movie, you’ve got my recommendation.

RATING: 3/4

Review: TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (PG-13)

Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox run away from an explosion in one the many slow-motion sequences "Transformers 2" has to offer.

U.S. Release Date: June 24, 2009

Running Time: 149 minutes

MPAA Classification: PG-13 (Language, sci-fi violence, sexual content/references)

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Megan Fox, Ramon Rodriguez, Kevin Dunn, Julie White

Director: Michael Bay

Producers: Ian Bryce, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Don Murphy

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman

 

By STEPHEN EARNEST / November 3, 2011

I have a theory behind Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Actually, this theory can also be applied to any other installment in the Transformers trilogy.

First off, I think I should give you a little bit of back story on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It’s nothing too difficult to comprehend, but I don’t think it’ll make much sense.

The film’s lead character, Sam Witwicky (played by Shia LeBeouf), has got it all. He’s got a hot girlfriend, a sexually crude mother and father, and a nice Autobot in the garage. What more could a teenage kid ask for? But now he’s got to off to college and leave his hot girlfriend and Autobot behind. So, he decides to leave the All Spark (it has something to do with the Decepticons, but really, who cares?) to his hot girlfriend for safe keeping. Have I put enough emphasis on the word “hot”?

Some time later, Sam begins to experience visions of weird cryptic symbols. He lashes out in fits of writing in the college dorm room, scaring his friends, who aren’t quite sure what to do—-

Alright, that’s it. Really, who cares about the plot? You all know what it entails: giant robot battles. Nothing’s really comprehensible. It’s all just people running slow-motion from explosions, bare-naked ladies, and loud fight sequences. That’s what people want to see. Do they ever question the actuality of a event like this happening? Do they ever notice that these robots speak English in different dialects, even though they are supposedly from a far away planet? No, I guess not. But then again, this movie wasn’t made for the kind of movie-going crowd I encourage.

Now for the theory. See, what I suspect is that Michael Bay hires his screenwriter to write a script that is fairly good (at least, as good as a script can be that involves alien robots taking the form of household objects and invading Earth). Once the script is finished, Bay takes a look at it, decides what he wants in or wants out, and then begins his re-write (of course, this re-write is done with a couple of meat-headed friends).

Now, before this re-write begins, Bay and his meat-head buddies make a list of every movie cliche known to civilized man. This list ranges from the “girlfriend walking in on her boyfriend as he unwillingly makes out with some other hot chick, then he has to chase down his girlfriend and make amends” cliche to the “computer genius that hacks an entire computer system in a matter of seconds” cliche to even the “really loud action sequence followed by a quiet scene where a character has a one-liner, then the loud action sequence continues” cliche. Hell, they even managed to come up with a couple of cliches of their own.

Next, Bay gets paid by a couple of “big name” companies to advertise their products in his film, regardless of how much screen time that product actually gets. As long as it whizzes by, everyone’s happy. Could be half a second. All that matters is that you saw it.

Then, Bay adds in a couple of scatological jokes (for the kids), a couple of slow-motion action scenes, and some really cheesy one-liners. Maybe even a dog-humping–another-dog scene. In the end, what you basically have is a big-budget B-movie directed by a man who can only be described as the definition of the word “inept”. Who cares how much time was put into it? That makes it even more of a disappointment.

I won’t really go into any further detail to describe the absolute abysmal awfulness of this film. There’s no need and frankly, I don’t want to waste my time. You know if you’re you’re the kind of person that likes these movies.

Is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen one of the worst movies I have ever seen? Yes. It was about an hour in when I realized this. I thought to myself, “Can this movie possibly get any worse?” Then a tentacle resembling a bike-chain shot out of a woman’s mouth and began to choke an unsuspecting teen.

RATING: .5/4

Review: DARK CITY (R)

Kiefer Sutherland plays a mad psychiatrist in the visually stunning "Dark City"

U.S. Release Date: February 27, 1998

Running Time: 100 minutes

MPAA Classification: R (Violence, nudity)

Cast: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, Richard O’Brien, Ian Richardson, John Bluthal

Director: Alex Proyas

Producers: Alex Proyas, Andrew Mason

Screenplay: Alex Proyas, David S. Goyer, Lem Dobbs

 

By STEPHEN EARNEST / October 21, 2011

If there’s one good thing that I can say about Dark City, it’s that it has some of the best visual effects I’ve ever seen. The editing is utterly phenomenal, the direction is stunning and well-paced, and the film as a whole is just decidedly well-made. For the eyes, it’s an absolute pleasure to watch. For the ears, eh… Not so much.

The film opens with an introduction from mad scientist Dr. Daniel Schreber, played with utmost lunacy by actor Kiefer Sutherland. He describes the world we are about to see and what goes on in said word. Then we move on to the dimly-lit bathroom of a ominous hotel.

A naked bulb swings from the ceiling. A man (Rufus Sewell) awakens in a bathtub, naked as well. He doesn’t know who he is, why here’s here or what he’s doing.  Immediately, he receives a call from Dr. Schreber informing him that a group of men, known as “Strangers”, are after him. Schreber also informs him that he is John Murdoch, and is wanted for the murder of several women. After a close encounter with danger, he escapes the hotel, trying to find the meaning behind many things. Like why he remembers so fondly this place called Shell Beach. Like why he has psychokinetic powers that resemble those of the men that are after him. Like why he is wanted for murder, although he can’t ever remember killing anyone.

Already, you get the general jist of Dark City. It’s one of those amnesia-related thrillers that hit the cinema every so often.  It’s undoubtedly one of the best-looking films out there, but what it lacks is substance.

First off, most of the scenes involving the “Strangers” are ludicrous. At the beginning of Dark City, we’re expecting something totally different than what it becomes. Proyas sets us up to believe we’re gonna be watching a handsomely-made noir. That’s not at all what we get. Instead, we get huge cult-like gatherings that take place underground between alien parties. We get a fight sequence that resembles something out of  a “Dragonball Z” cartoon. People get sucked into space. A predictable and cliched ending.

Alright, so a little ridiculousness I can handle. But Dark City goes out of the realm of ridiculousness, past the gates of far-fetched, and becomes just stupid. With twenty minutes left to go in the film, I said “Enough!” How can something start off so good and end so bad? And sure, maybe this is the kind of film that Proyas intended to create. In fact, I’m sure he did. But it’s not the kind of film I intend to like.

There’s only one thing that can save Dark City from being bad and that is just the general look of it. Like I stated before, the visuals are magnificent. The production design is wonderfully reminiscent of classic film noir. Dark City seems to take place in the future, but the design scheme suggests otherwise. Part of me wants to like Dark City; the other part wants to hate it. I think that it’s a good film, but everything just unravels in the most absurd way.

I suspect that most fans of science-fiction will be astounded by the brilliance presented in Dark City. Science-fiction can be done right, but Dark City just isn’t my kind of film. It’s just completely unbelievable and in the end, fairly unoriginal.

RATING: 2.5/4

Review: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (PG-13)

Led by Andy Serkis, the apes take their revenge against the human race.

U.S. Release Date: August 5, 2011

Running Time: 105 minutes

MPAA Classification: PG-13 (Language, mild violence)

Cast: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Frieda Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo

Director: Rupert Wyatt

Producers: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Screenplay: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, based upon La planete des singes by Pierre Boulle

 

By STEPHEN EARNEST / October 10, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is not necessarily a bad movie; just an uninspired one. It brings nothing new to the table. Sure, maybe this just isn’t my kind of movie, and I’d agree with that, but I don’t think that my rating is utterly wrong.

You’ll see from the movie posters that it stars James Franco. He’s been the main one getting a lot of praise. But while watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you’ll soon realize that it doesn’t really star him at all. In fact, it stars Andy Serkis as Caesar, the ape. Franco is barely in the movie at all.

I don’t think I need to get into the plot. It’s a prequel to The Planet of the Apes, so you know what to expect. Man treats the apes like crap, apes get back at man. It’s kind of like an allegory for slavery or the inhumane treatment of animals.

First off, I’d like to talk about the writing. Oh dear God, the writing. What a sorry and pitiful excuse for a script. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen a script so cliched and predictable (Is this a Michael Bay film?). I mean, there’s even a scene that involves a playground where the bully of the block decides to take a go at the new kid. And it’s between two apes! Following a formula is not always a bad thing. Some movies actually require one. But you have to spice it up a little. You can’t just follow it verbatim. The number one failure of this film is the predictability of the script, not to mention the cheesy dialogue. I mean, I realize that this movie is about apes and has to be about them in order to work. But was it absolutely necessary to put them in human situations? I understand that they all “super genius” monkeys, but I couldn’t take any of it seriously. It was stupid.

As for the direction, Rupert Wyatt doesn’t really do anything different. It’s the same stuff we’ve seen over and over again and it doesn’t get any better or more creative. The special effects are fine, but nothing nearly as great as you’ve been led to believe. This is the kind of movie that relies on good visuals to make its money back at the box office and they just don’t really cut it, especially since the rest of the movie is bland.

A redeeming quality was the performance from Serkis, who is used to playing characters like this. The movie theater crowds can barely even associate his name with a (human) face. He does great here, really making us think that we’re watching a live monkey. It’s not likely, but there’s a chance he might get nominated for an Oscar.

At the end, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is cheesy, cliched, and filled with unintentional laughs. Don’t see it unless you’re a die-hard fan of the series. And even then, still don’t.

RATING: 1.5/4

Review: BRAZIL (R)

Jonathan Pryce in Terry Gilliam's wildly imaginative "Brazil."

By STEPHEN EARNEST / November 16, 2010

Rarely has science-fiction been done as well as Brazil. It exceeds all imaginative boundaries, venturing into areas so original and unexplored that to see it on the silver screen sparks only pure enjoyment and cinematic pleasure.

The film has no set time period. The set design would suggest that it’s set in the future, but a superimposed title reads “Somewhere in the 20th Century”. Jonathan Pryce stars as Sam Lowry, a workaholic who leads an uneventful life. Often enough, his mind wanders into dreams of fantasy, where he soars through the air, searching for a mysterious and unknown love. The futuristic world in which he lives in is subject to infrequent spouts of terrorism and the government performs ruthless interrogation procedures to find the culprits. So, these dreams are sort of an “escape”.

In a case of mistaken identity, an innocent man (Buttle, not Tuttle) is killed during interrogation and those responsible for the mishap try to cover it up. Lowry is assigned to dispose of any evidence.

This leads him to Shangri-La Towers, the home of Buttle’s widow, to whom he must give a check to compensate for her losses. While there, he runs into the Buttles’ upstairs neighbor, Jill Layton, who, oddly enough, is the woman from Lowry’s dreams. Layton has been trying to help the widow in finding out what happened to her husband, but has had no luck, and even more oddly enough, Layton is now considered a terrorist because of this. Eventually, the plot does evolve into something more straightforward. Lowry tries to convince the authorities otherwise that Layton is not a terrorist, but in doing this, he becomes considered one himself.

What a bewildering, thought-provoking experience Brazil is. Chances are you’ll never come across another film like it again. The set design is one of a kind; beautifully cartoonic landscapes and almost toy-like urban areas. The general look of it is dazzling and in my opinion, it’s the best-looking science-fiction film yet. Sure, special effects are wonderful, but everything in Brazil is entirely made by hand. Is that a feat or what? And plus, it looks way better than anything a special effect could’ve done.

The writing is magnificent. Satire is a hard subject to conquer. It’s not always so easy to be funny while keeping a consistently subtle tone of anger. Brazil pulls it off. It’s downright hilarious; both through words and actions, poking fun at areas where it’s necessary. Gilliam’s humor targets the bureaucracy, government control, and the downfalls of technology. The influences are obviously Orwellian, but the heart is totally Gilliam.

As well, the performances are spot-on. This is Pryce’s first movie (and lead) role and he’s downright hilarious. Incredibly funny. But while he can act eccentric and paranoid, he also can be delicate in some of the film’s softer moments. The film’s wacky supporting character, Harry Tuttle, is played to comic perfection by Robert De Niro and even though he has barely any screen time, he manages to be the funniest in the whole movie.

I’ve always felt that Terry Gilliam was one of the best directors out there. He’s innovative. He manages to funnel creativity into all of his work, never afraid to get a little weird. Of course, there is a setback to this. Just look at the box office totals from his films. That should pretty much say it all.

Reality is always difficult to pull off in film, but fantasy is even more so. It takes close observation to be realistic, but imagination to be absurd. That’s why Brazil is so remarkable. It’s simply genius and, through countless viewings, has managed to amaze and confuse me in ways I can’t even imagine. It’s one of the most important films of our time and succeeds in every category possible. I hope you see it and like it as much as I do.

RATING: 4/4