Tag: science fiction

Iron Man 2


Iron Man 2 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man who is as narcissistic and self-centered as ever. This time around, he had to face-off with a Russian physicist (Mickey Rourke) who was out for revenge for the wrongs done to his father and an American weapons expert (Sam Rockwell) who craved power in politics. Tony also has to deal with his health, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) being the new CEO of the company, a new sexy assistant (Scarlett Johansson), and Rhodey’s (Don Cheadle) need to deliver the Iron Man suit to his superiors. There was no doubt that “Iron Man 2” was bigger and grander than the original. However, I don’t believe it was one of those sequels that disappointed. What I loved about the first one was the fact that it was an origins story. The first hour bathed us in curiosity and the rest tried to explore the lead character’s depth (although we came to realize he didn’t have much depth at all–which I loved). In “Iron Man 2,” it was more about having fun with the main character and his big ego. I thought it was funny, exciting and I liked that it didn’t try to be darker or deeper than the original. In some ways, I had more fun with the sequel than its predecessor. I was also very into what was happening on screen because of the many hints of The Avengers slowly forming (make sure to stay until after the credits). The tone was different than other superhero films because it made me feel like the superhero that we were watching was not the only one in his universe. I also enjoyed Rourke as Whiplash. He wasn’t given much screen time but every time he was, he generated maximum impact. I thought he was menacing but at the same time I felt somewhat sorry for him. When I looked in his eyes, I saw pain and vulnerability trying to wrestle (pun intended) with anger and thirst for blood. One of this film’s drawbacks was it didn’t spend more time putting Rourke’s character on screen to add some sort of enigma and rivalry between him and Tony Stark. I absolutely loved the race track scene and when Stark visited Whiplash in jail. There was a certain crackle and pop between the two characters when they spoke to each other because Downey Jr. and Rourke knew how to play with certain subtleties in terms of intonations and body languages. Those scenes left me at awe and it’s unfortunate because small moments like the jail scene would probably be ignored since most scenes were loud and bright and glamorous. Bigger and louder isn’t necessarily a bad quality but as the “The Dark Knight” has proven, a nice balance between quiet moments and adrenaline rush makes a superior and ultimately unforgettable superhero film–not just a superhero film but a movie that has the power to stand alone in its own right. Directed by the very funny Jon Favreau, it was apparent that “Iron Man 2” had actors that had fun in their roles so I had fun with it as well. I loved that Favreau put himself in his own movie for kicks. I think most professional critics are wrong about this one because they claimed it was inferior to the first. But I’m saying see it and pretend as if it’s not a sequel. I have no doubt that you will recognize a really good movie in it.

Surrogates


Surrogates (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

I have no idea why critics didn’t like this movie. I feel like they all read one really good negative review and they all jumped on the bandwagon. “Surrogates,” directed by Jonathan Mostow, was set at a time when humans could simply purchase a robot and use it as a surrogate to do whatever they wanted via a machine invented by Dr. Canter (James Cromwell). For years, everything was fine until an assassin killed the son (through his surrogate) of Dr. Canter using an advanced weapon. This immediately became a problem because people always thought that there was a fail-safe designed to protect them in the comforts of their homes. Agent Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner Agent Peters (Radha Mitchell) were assigned to find out who the murderer was, what kind of weapon he had and who hired him. But that was just the surface of the mystery. I couldn’t help but compare this film to the dreadful “Gamer” because it basically had the same concept: living one’s life through another whether that particular “another” is sentient or not. I think “Surrogates” is far superior because it looked like it was set in the future, it brought up interesting questions about the difference between consciousness and actually living one’s life, there was a sense of urgency from beginning to end and it was actually entertaining without surroundering to the depravity of violence. I loved that the writers (Michael Ferris, John D. Broncata) chose to show us how Willis’ character was like when he used a surrogate (near the beginning of the picture) and how he was like without his surrogate (the majority of the picture). Making Willis’ character aware of the wrongness of the whole surrogacy situation (especially the scenes with his wife who’s addicted to using her much younger surrogate) and that he was capable of being hurt out in the world full of robots made us root for him. The action and chase scenes were surprisingly effective because the film constantly played on the suspense instead of just giving us one mindless explosion after another. There were also some very neat scenes that involved hijacking of surrogates which meant double identities and double-crosses were potentially abound. There were some twists that I didn’t see coming that sort of paved the way for some plot holes but I didn’t mind it because the movie was so much fun to watch. It was so creepy watching people acting like robots, especially when they would “deactivate” and looked as if they were in a catatonic state. “Surrogates” is not a perfect film but it’s not as terrible as critics claimed for it to be. It definitely had some great ideas that were executed quite nicely so I think it’s worth watching.

Carriers


Carriers (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

A deadly virus ravages the world in Àlex Pastor and David Pastor’s thriller starring Chris Pine, Lou Taylor Pucci, Emily VanCamp and Piper Perabo. The four struggling survivors of the pandemic agreed to adhere to several rules that they thought would ensure or at least maximize their chances of survival. However, when they ran into a man (Christopher Meloni) and his infected daughter (Kiernan Shipka) in the middle of the road, it seemed that nothing would go according to plan. From reading several synopses, I got the impression that this was going to be a zombie flick. It actually wasn’t because even though there was an infection (thanks to “28 Days Later”), the people who died did not rise from the dead and start chasing people. It was simple: you get the virus, you die. I was really into the first half of this picture because of the chemistry of the four main characters. They were all very different and I liked them because they weren’t afraid to have fun even though death was all around. I even thought to myself that I wouldn’t mind being stuck with them if there was a pandemic of such calamity in real life. However, the second half became a little too serious and the pacing began to slow down considerably. For instance, the extended scenes in the fancy hotel was completely unnecessary. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to deliver the creepy atmosphere and maybe some disgusting rotting flesh because the place was huge. Unfortunately, the movie did not use that setting in its favor. The moral conundrums the characters were put into were interesting in the first half but they became heavy-handed during the second half. The decisions the characters had to make did not affect me in the slightest. They seemed like completely different people compared to the beginning. I felt like the Pastor brothers’ writing became preachy (pardon the pun) and it got stuck. It would have been nice if none of the four got infected because right from the very beginning, I just knew that some (or possibly all) of them would die. I could tell that the directors wanted to do something different so I didn’t understand why they didn’t risk it all. Nevertheless, I say “Carriers” is a decent Friday night rental considering the level of thought that was put into the material, the charismatic actors and the limited budget. One should not expect the movie to be a horror film (as I did). There were a couple of shocking scenes but that was about it so it really was more like a thriller.

Moon


Moon (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell in “Moon,” written and directed by Duncan Jones, an astronaut who was sent on the moon by a company to gather precious gas that could solve the Earth’s energy crisis. Excitement came over him as soon as he realized that his three-year contract was about to expire in two weeks. However, his positive energy was quickly doused when he started hearing and seeing things that he wasn’t supposed to. I can’t help but feel very disappointed in this film because I saw so much potential in it. The feel of the picture very much felt like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but I appreciated the fact that it tried to bring something new to the table with regards to man’s relationship with machine (the super-computer named GERTY voiced by Kevin Spacey). I hate saying this about science fiction movies in general but I’m going to: it just didn’t feel real. I’m not talking about the visuals (which wasn’t that inspiring), I’m talking about how everything started to play out. For instance, when Sam realized that there was a clone of himself walking around, his reaction was very underwhelming. I don’t know about you but if I saw a copy of myself without my prior knowledge of its existence, I would freak out, throw things at it and attack it in every way possible (basically act like a crazy person) to get the upperhand. I won’t just sit there and play nice with it, especially when the copy is trying to bully me around. I also had a problem with its pacing. For a film that’s supposed to be full of wonder, mystery and surprising twists, it felt strangely stagnant. Once the clone was revealed, there wasn’t much to drive the story forward. Even their interactions weren’t really that interesting except that they seemed to have opposite personalities. The second twist regarding Sam’s life on Earth was sad but ultimately empty because I didn’t care that much about Sam. I agree with critics and audiences that it was eerie and atmospheric but that’s about it. I don’t see it as being a classic because the elements it tried to tackle weren’t fully realized. “Moon” felt like the SparkNotes version of a really dense material full of complex story arcs and mythologies. And it certainly didn’t have that wow-factor that could be found in sci-fi greats.

Gamer


Gamer (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, “Gamer” was set in 2034 where humans can pay a company (led by Michael C. Hall) to control other humans as if in a video game. One gamer (Logan Lerman) paid to control one of the death row inmates (Gerard Butler) to take part in a very violent “survival of the fittest” competition where the winner could earn his or her freedom. I have to admit that this movie did not interest me whatsoever going into it. The only reason why I decided to watch it was because of Hall. I was interested in what else he could do other than play a sympathetic serial killer in “Dexter.” This movie was a dizzying experience at best. Right from the first scene, we got shoot-outs right after another; body pieces and bullets were everywhere, the camera shook as if the cameraman was having a seizure and the main character acted as though he was on steroids. (Perhaps he was.) The filmmakers took the egregiousness to another level by shamelessly adding “ethical questions” such as whether it was right or wrong to put people in death row in a place where they could kill each other and eventually “earn” their freedom. It wasn’t at all difficult to arrive at the right answer: of course it’s wrong! It’s also wrong to control other human beings for sake of our twisted desires even if such vessels “volunteered” to do it for money. It would have been so much better if the picture embraced its own stupidity instead of trying to ask “insightful” questions. It’s also unfortunate how this film had so many talented supporting actors (Alison Lohman, Kyra Sedgwick, Aaron Yoo, Ludacris) but they ultimately didn’t do anything. It was easy to tell that they just did it for the money. They couldn’t have chosen to appear in it because of the script since it had no depth or wit. While the performances were fine, I really think the problem was the writing. The violence was highlighted even though the core was essentially about what it means to be human and actually live our own lives. The gratuitous explosions and nudity should have been secondary if the filmmakers wanted to grasp a more elevated social commentary. Hall made a good villain but, like “Gamer,” it’s the same old song and dance (pun intended for that riduculous musical scene).

Pandorum


Pandorum (2009)
★ / ★★★★

If I were to describe “Pandorum” in one word, it would be “convoluted.” When Ben Foster finds himself in a space ship waking up from an extended hypersleep, he had no memory of where he was and what he was doing there. Upon further exploration of the ship, he found Dennis Quaid as the lieutenant who was supposed to be in charge during their cycle. He, too, just woke up from hypersleep. They then decided to help each other find a way to a nuclear reactor to reset the failing power of the ship and then take control it. The catch was that the ship was teeming with aliens that are hungry for human flesh. I really like science fiction films because it often begs the question of “what if?” Unfortunately, although this picture was set hundreds of years into the future, it just didn’t feel futuristic. The characters talked like people living today, cursing from left and right included, and for people who are supposed to be smart, they didn’t act that way. The overall look of the picture didn’t look futuristic at all. In fact, it looked grimy and uninspired–like something that one could easily see in a video game. Speaking of video games, the action sequences were subpar. Half of the time, I couldn’t see a thing because not only was the environment really dark, the camera would shake uncontrollably to match the dizzying movements of the characters. None of it worked for me and I grew tired of it after thirty minutes. However, I did like the idea of “pandorum.” It’s a psychological term when a person in space goes through a mental break for unknown reason. Two major symptoms include paranoia and bodily sensations that aren’t there yet the person believes otherwise. That concept somewhat came into focus when Cam Gigandet appeared on screen. Unfortunately, the writers couldn’t help themselves and had to write in a riduculous twist that completely took me out of the experience. This movie was not without potential. If there were no aliens and therefore no annoying action sequences, the film might have had a chance to really explore the silence and isolation that the characters were going through. With such an interesting concept, the aliens were just too literal for my liking. It was too literal to the point where unintentional laughs were unavoidable because what was happening on screen was so ludicrous. And I’m not even going into the very typical one-liners. I say skip “Pandorum” and rewatch “Alien,” “Aliens” or “2001: A Space Odyssey” if you’re looking for an unforgettable space adventure.

Predator


Predator (1987)
★★★ / ★★★★

Arnold Schwarzenegger and his team of commandos (Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, Shane Black) take up a mission to rescue fellow members of the army from the Latin American jungle. Schwarzenegger’s old pal (Carl Weathers) who now worked for the CIA also came along with them to put his own agendas into motion. But little did they know that from a distance, an alien creature was observing their every move and mimicking their voices and expressions. Right from the very beginning, it was obvious that this was a “guy movie” because of its great focus on showing the military lifestyle, its weapons and artilleries, and men acting nothing short of masculine. But what makes it better than most typical films targeted for men is that it had a strong ability to build tension while at the same time still delivering the glorious violence and buckets of blood. Directed by John McTiernan, he didn’t let The Predator reveal itself until thirty to forty-five minutes into the picture. It simply observed from afar via the soldiers’ and the surroundings’ heat signatures while trying to practice certain human qualities. As the commandos started dying one by one, each scene became that much more intense because it meant that the final duel between Schwarzenegger and The Predator was that much closer. Acting-wise, this movie didn’t have much to offer because all the actors had to do was either look tough or scared. Nevertheless, I was engaged and curious what would happen next because the soldiers were pretty much fighting a creature who was a master of camouflage. I thought the strongest part of the film was the final twenty minutes. The dialogue was minimal because Schwarzenegger was the last man standing and he had to stay quiet in order to avoid attracting the alien who loves to hunt. The movie then had no choice but to rely on both the movements of the camera and that of the lead actor’s as he tried to find ways to trap and hopefully kill his enemy. Its special and visual effects may seem a bit dated now but with older films, what’s important to me is the concept. I believe “Predator” more than delivers because it was entertaining, sometimes smart, suspenseful and at times downright terrifying. This is a prime example of a sci-fi action flick that learned something from the horror genre.

Undead


Undead (2003)
★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, this Australian zombie horror-comedy plays more like a science fiction movie more than anything. Rene (Felicity Mason) goes into a farmhouse to escape the zombies that were chasing her after a meteor shower. In the farmhouse, she meets a few others (Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dirk Hunter, Emma Randall) and they must figure out what is happening in the town while trying not to get eaten by the zombies. I didn’t enjoy this movie at all due to a number of things. The characters kept asking, “What were THOSE things? Why are they trying to eat us? Are they dead?” as if they’ve never seen a zombie movie before. Moreover, the characters are very one-dimensional. It would have been so much better if the cops were the cowards and the regular folks would have been the leaders. Taking some of those obvious elements and putting them upside down would have given the illusion that the directors were trying to make a better movie. For a horror picture, this is very light on the scary factor. The zombies are slow enough but did the characters have to be slow as well (mentally and physically)? None of them had actual survival skills and I wouldn’t buy for a second that they would survive if there were real zombies running around. If I see a zombie trying to get to me to eat my brains, I would run so fast, I wouldn’t even think about silly things like leaving something behind. The stupid characters were good at three things: screaming, yelling at each other, and asking redundant questions. Lastly, I’m very frustrated with the fact that there were actual aliens in this movie. It was so random and everything was spelled out for us in the end: why there were zombies and why the aliens decided to visit our planet. What made other zombie flicks so successful (1968’s “Night of the Living Dead” and “28 Days Later”) was the fact that there were questions left unanswered. Even if they were answered, those films left a possibility that the truth lies beyond the given explanation. Overall, “Undead” was a random mess of a movie. It is far from creative and it didn’t have enough enthusiasm to keep my attention. I thought “Zombieland” was far scarier and that was a comedy. That should give you an idea with how lackluster this movie truly is.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Everyone told me that this was probably the most pointless movie they’ve ever seen, but I decided to see it anyway because I wanted to judge it for myself. While I don’t think it’s one of the worst movies ever made, I do think it’s one of most unnecessarily long. With a running time of two hours and a half, there were too much action and not enough reasons why we should care for Sam (Shia LaBeouf) and the Autobots except for the fact that the Decepticons wanted the sun’s energy so that they could continue living. What I loved about the first “Transformers” was its sense of wonder. It hid the robots for pretty much half of the movie and developed some sort of heart and genuine funny moments with Sam. But in this picture, everyone’s simply shooting guns and running away in slow motion (especially Megan Fox, which I understand was the eye candy for guys). I also didn’t like the fact that Michael Bay, the director, kept adding unnecessary (and annoying) characters such as those played by Ramon Rodriguez as Sam’s new college roommate, Kevin Sunn and Julie White as Sam’s parents. Their pathetic attempts at comedy were so embarrassing. When I did laugh (or was it scoff?), I was laughing at the characters instead of with them because of their utter stupidity. No one in their right mind would do the things they did. It’s difficult for me because I do like to give credit for films that are ambitious and this is undeniably one of those films. I could feel it wanting to be “bigger and better” than the first but it doesn’t have a concept of overload. The many negatives far outweigh the very few positives. People who would most likely enjoy “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” are those who don’t want to think or even make sense of the plot. (I found myself very confused with pretty much half of the movie.) In other words, mindless action sequences with big explosions and women running around half-naked. That’s completely understandable. After all, sometimes movies are supposed to be pure escapism. I kind of like the fact that Bay still makes movies despite critics and audiences alike tell him that he makes the most brainless movies ever. It’s just that you can still have a popcorn action flick that is funny and intelligent. The writers and the filmmakers just have to try a little harder to put the right pieces together. This film coming out only two years after the first one, I think they rushed into it and made a very messy, very incomprehensible junk. I just hope the third one will be better (the standard is low) because it’s a shame that people actually pay to see something that they can see in a video game at home.

Avatar


Avatar (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

James Cameron has always given us movies that are beyond anything we would expect whether it’s about an upcoming apocalypse (“The Terminator,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”), a rescue team plunging into an alien-colonized planet (“Aliens”), a secret agent finding out about his cheating wife (“True Lies”), a romantic interpretation of a tragedy (“Titanic”), or a real-life deep sea adventure (“Aliens of the Deep”). So when he releases a new movie with an extremely high budget and spent years and years shaping it, it saddens (and angers) me that people expect it to be downright disappointing. That lack of appreciation for a director who obviously loves his work and cares about his audiences just doesn’t fly with me. That group-think of hoping someone would fail is such an ugly quality and I don’t ever want to be a part of it. As I expected, “Avatar” exceeded expectations and I cannot help but rub its success on the faces of those people who judge a movie by its trailer (including the fools who claim “it sucks” without proper justification such as actually watching the film). Whatever happened to giving something the benefit of the doubt?

“Avatar” tells the story of humans–divided into researchers and the army–who go into another planet called Pandora in hopes of extracting the mineral Unobtainium to save Earth from an energy crisis. The catch is that the area where most of the element of interest is found underneath a giant tree that is inhabited by the Na’vi, the blue-colored, highly spiritual natives who do not get along with the humans despite efforts from the lead researchers (Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore) to get to know their culture and customs. After waking up from a coma and finding out about his twin brother’s demise, a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington–words cannot describe how much I love this guy) is hired by a colonel (Stephen Lang) to gain the natives’ trust (through transfering his mind into an avatar–a DNA hybrid of man and Na’vi) and double-crossing them in the end. In exchange, the colonel promises to give Jake the functionality of his legs by means of an expensive spine surgery. However, things quickly got more complicated when Jake falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and the fact that Jake finds it more liberating (or meaningful?) to be in a Na’vi than a human.

One of the many qualities I loved about this film was its ability to be about a lot of things (love, self-awareness, faith, discovery…) but never losing the wonder of meeting and interacting with an alien culture. Note that I use the word “culture” instead of “species” because we really got to know what they were about and why we ultimately root for them. Right when we plunged into the dangerous world of the Na’vi, I felt like I was experiencing something completely new. Like the lead character, everything was fascinating. I wanted to touch the strange-looking flowers and I wasn’t sure whether a certain creature was friendly or ready to attack. The theme of rebirth was consistently tackled throughout the picture in meaningful ways. Although some may see it as having a religious perspective, being not a religious person myself, I was moved by the possibilities and the interpretations made me feel more alive. I just wish that there were more metaphors and discussions regarding the science. I was interested in how they created an avatar. They did mention DNA hybridization but I’m sure that’s not the complete story. “DNA hybridization” may sound complicated to most people but once one has studied the basics (I have), it’s really a quite simple concept. Having set in the future, it could have really increased that “wow” factor by offering us unconventional explanations and poking fun of the limited technology we have now. (Since we think we’re so technologically advanced nowadays.)

I was very engaged when Weaver’s character was explaining the parallels between the neural connections in our brain and the Navi’s complex relationship with mother nature. That particular scene really supported my ethics and beliefs that a true scientist is sensitive to its subjects and not just all about the cold science. That message is really important to me because, from my experiences, every day I’m surrounded by a lot of people who are all about the brain but who are seriously lacking emotional intelligence. The director makes it apparent that this is about brains vs. brawns (scientists and Na’vis vs. the army) but I think it’s much more layered than that because there were scientists in the film that didn’t care about the natives and there were members of the army that did care (Michelle Rodriguez). Despite all the extended action sequences, I thought it had something more in its core and that’s why I couldn’t help but admire the picture. Admittedly, the story could have been much stronger but when I look back on it, the only way it could strengthen that aspect is to have another hour or so. I certainly wouldn’t cut a scene from the final version because I thought each one had something special to offer. It definitely had Pocahontas elements to it yet it’s different because it was able to offer a modern (or futuristic?) interpretation.

“Avatar” is an outstanding achievement in filmmaking, especially when it comes to its visual effects. I would not be surprised at all if it won every single technical awards in the Oscars or perhaps a Best Picture nomination. With a budget of over $300 million (from what I read from multiple sources), I thought the budget really translated onto film. Not only did the CGI images looked sharp by themselves but it was also amazing to see the CGI mesh so well with live action and the live actors. My experience was also magnified because I saw the movie in 3D. (I suggest you watch it in 3D as well.) With a behemoth of a running time that is 160 minutes (personally, I wish it ran longer), it may seem intimidating at first. But once all the action and imagination starts, you will not want to take a bathroom break. I can only hope others will have a chance to be absorbed in this world that Cameron has created for us. Most of all, I wish that people would stop hating on huge projects such as this one and show more appreciation and humility toward people who work so hard to offer us something new. It’s alright to express distaste after actually giving the final product a chance. But it’s important to still have some respect because what we project to the world is ultimately a reflection of us.

The Fifth Element


The Fifth Element (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

I didn’t know much about this movie when I decided to watch it so my expectations were not that high. I thought it was going to be another one of those science fiction movies that deals with the apocalypse and so happens to take itself way too seriously. I couldn’t be anymore more wrong because “The Fifth Element,” written and directed by Luc Besson, was as funny and interesting as the vibrant colors that could be found in it throughout. Every 5,000 years, a strange power appears and tries to engulf life. It could be stopped by combining the powers of fire, water, wind, earth and the supposed “fifth element” for another five thousand years and the cycle continues. Bruce Willis stars as Korben Dallas, a taxi driver in futuristic New York who used to work for the military. He got sucked into the madness of intergalactic battle when Milla Jovovich–the fifth element, also known as the perfect being–literally dropped into his taxi. Their mission was to gather all the elements and save the planet from being obliterated into oblivion. Gary Oldman as the evil Zorg, Ian Holm as the priest, and Chris Tucker as the hilariously flamboyant DJ also star. I enjoyed this movie more than I expected to because its pace was quick; it didn’t dwell on the specifics on who’s who and what their intentions and motivations are. This film definitely reminded me of a hybrid between the “Star Wars” saga and the B movies of the 1950’s because it had that nice balance of imagination and humor. The only minor complaint I had was that sometimes it managed to distract itself from the story to make room for some of the more obvious funny moments. Tucker was the one who stole most of the scenes he was in because he was able to focus his manic personality into a character that had to be very enthusiastic about everything every time he was on his program. As for the visual and special effects, yes, they are sort of dated but I really didn’t care because I’m more concerned about the concept, how well a film builds on the story, and how it utilizes its characters. “The Fifth Element” is one of those movies that one can really enjoy if one doesn’t mind watching something over-the-top on a slow night.

The Abyss


The Abyss (1989)
★★★★ / ★★★★

James Cameron (“The Terminator,” “Aliens,” “Titanic”) directed this deep sea adventure which stars Ed Harris as the leader of a team of divers hired for a rescue mission after a nuclear submarine mysteriously sinks. His ice queen of a wife (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) who he does not get along with comes along and a lot of tension brews between them. The divers are aided by the Navy led by Michael Biehn but we later discover that he is not emotionally, psychologically, and physically equipped enough to handle the pressure (pun intended) of staying underwater for an extended period of time. This film surprised me because I did not think it would be as emotional as it was. I thought what was going to happen was the divers would find the submarine, encounter some aliens and head back home. I did not think that it was going to be a story of survival, clashing against differing positions of power, dealing with fear and paranoia, and pushing an extraterrestrial agenda. The underwater scenes were nothing short of amazing. I really felt like I was deep sea diving with the characters because all I could see were giant rocks, endless darkness, and blue light coming from their mode of transports. It reminded me of scenes from a fascinating documentary (also directed by Cameron) called “Aliens of the Deep.” I also liked the fact that the alien angle of the story was minimized up until the very end. The tension rises after each scene due to human errors and vulnerabilities so I had no trouble buying into everything that was happening. When Biehn’s character finally lost it, I was scared for all of the characters that he considered his enemy because he knew how to kill and do it efficiently. Although the film could have been shorter, in some ways it worked to its advantage because we really get to feel how it was like to be stuck underwater for almost three hours. Two stand out scenes for me were the resuscitation and the falling into the abyss scenes. I felt a whole range of emotions during those scenes and even I had to tear up a bit because I had no idea how it was all going to turn out. In many ways, it had the drama of “Titanic” and the horror of “The Thing.” There’s a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche (or some version of it) in the beginning of the film that perfectly summed up the experience. That is, “If you look into the abyss, the abyss will look into you.”

Ed Wood


Ed Wood (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Ed Wood,” directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as the lead character, fascinated me in so many ways. It tells the story of a director that I’m very unfamiliar with, his strings of bad movies–how he made them, the behind-the-scenes drama, how the audiences reacted to his pictures–and his relationship with Bela Lugosi (played brilliantly by Martin Landau). Even though it had just enough of serious undercurrents, the comedy was consistent from beginning to end. Each character that Depp interacted with, such as his eventual bitter girlfriend Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker), life-long partner (Patricia Arquette), and idol Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio) brought multiple dimensions to the table. I’ve never seen Depp smile so much in any role. But yet he doesn’t become another commercial character. In fact, that smile had a certain edge to it, as if he’s smiling in order to distract others from his real thoughts and the secrets he wants to keep hidden. I felt like Burton really captured the era he wanted to portray. From the stunning black-and-white look of the film, the kinds of movies that studios were interested in producing at the time (science fiction films which involve giant animals or bugs that terrorize communities), and the cooky groups of people such as cross-dressers, drug addicts, dimming stars, and dreamers whose lives passed them by. And even though Burton sometimes made fun of Depp’s character from time to time, I still felt as though Mr. Wood’s memory was respected because he was portrayed as a man who never gave up on his dreams of making not just movies but actual art that he’s proud of even if others easily come to label his works as the “worst movies of all time.” I admired his determination to his raise the money himself when no other person or company would fund his projects. That struggle really carried this film through for me because it did not merely portray a series of funny moments just for the sake of laughter. In the end, it did not feel like another movie with a quirky way of telling a story. It felt like a near-masterpiece tribute for a man who was never taken seriously but still succeeded because of his undying spirit.

Knowing


Knowing (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

“Knowing,” directed by Alex Proyas, was about a man who stumbled upon a message from a time capsule written by a strange girl fifty years ago. The message consisted of seemingly random numbers but if one decided to look closer, one would find out that it recorded the events of major disasters that were to transpire in the future. Because of all the negative reviews, I had low expectations coming into it. However, the first third was so effective so I naturally thought that the rest of the picture would be as smart and suspenseful. I couldn’t be any more wrong. Nicolas Cage tends to overact in most of his movies and this one is no exception. To me, he was most effective when he first figured out what all the numbers meant. He was able to balance fear, anxiety and excitement while still being that intellectual that he was presented as in the beginning of the film. But the moment Rose Byrne entered the movie, everything started to feel so unbelievable to point where I lost interest. I can’t believe I’m saying this but she actually upstaged Cage when it came to overacting. I actually said, “Just shut up” during one of the scenes because she interpreted her character in such an irksome manner. As for its special and visual effects, sometimes they looked like scenes from video games but sometimes they impressed me. I particularly liked those plane and subway scenes. They looked really haunting and it was very difficult to dispel the images from my head. If such disasters happened, I was convinced that it would look like that. The last third of the movie felt like a completely different movie altogether. I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to that patient and sometimes creepy style of storytelling that pervaded the first third. The third act felt like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (the most recent version), which is not a good thing. Everything felt forced and I had to wonder why the writers felt like they had to do something grand for the sake of being grand. Ultimately, “Knowing” drowned in its own mediocrity. However, I did appreciate its efforts to want to be something more than typical despite its unfortunate yet inevitable outcome.