Monday, September 28, 2009

Pandorum (2009)

As a follow-up to my Paul W.S. Anderson article, I ventured out to see Pandorum, the latest film to be released under his Impact Pictures shingle. Anderson is the producer with his long-time partner Jeremy Bolt, with the directorial duties handed off to German newcomer Christian Alvart. In many ways the film plays like a remake of Event Horizon, as a skeleton crew investigates mysterious doings on an abandoned spacecraft. With a demonstrably smaller budget, Pandorum is more cloistered, far darker, and quite possibly superior to its model.

Offering the requisite suffocating spaces of an Anderson production, it opens with Cpl. Bower (Ben Foster) waking up in a locked hyper-sleep chamber (see above). He's seen in an overhead close-up, his head peering skyward as he frantically tears out the tubes joining him to the wall. It is the first of a series of cramped spaces that Bower must navigate while suffering from amnesia. Alvart utlilizes the overhead close-up later on in an intestinal, tube-filled air vent, emphasizing the repetitive, almost circular nature of his progress. Every time Bower successfully navigates a space, there is another, more elaborately daunting one to take its place. It's a film of frustrated progress, where Bower's goals keep narrowing along with the setting.

Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid, with a fine beard) keeps him grounded at the start. Waking up hours after Bower, he takes the role of communicator, manning the control room to direct Bower's path through the bowels of the ship to the reactor which has to be reset. With his holographic maps and comm devices, Payton is the anchor to a concrete reality, one in which Bower is slowly losing grip on as he goes further down the (mutated) rabbit hole.

Both men suffer from memory loss, and the script doles out their back-story in a slow expository drip. As their minds return to them, the space madness sets in (Pandorum!), their pasts not something either man wish to revisit. It's a clever structure, and Alvart keeps the ooze flowing in between revelations. Foster and Quaid offer up solid turns of wounded nobility and crusty professionalism, respectively, until the nihilistic plot twists threaten to turn their rugged determinism into hysterical self-destruction. It's a sleek, nasty, and highly effective piece of work.

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Friday, September 25, 2009


As Singer puts us all to shame with his prodigious output, I can only shake my head at my Termite absence. I've yearned to shower praise on my favorite Hollywood film of the year, Orphan, as well as the multifarious pleasures of the flawed Gamer. But alas, writing a column a week for TCM has my eyes turned backward in time for the most part.

I'm still planning on contributing a little something on both of those worthy films (as well as on whatever I manage to catch at the NYFF), but for now, I'll just direct you to my defense of Paul W.S. Anderson over at IFC. Looking at his work as a whole, it shows a remarkable coherence, maintaining a visual focus on claustrophobic spaces that are often characters in their own right. The production design is the villain in his films, creating booby-trapped spaces that his genre archetype heroes navigate with aplomb. Also, Resident Evil as blood-soaked love-letter to Milla Jovovich. I think the guy is good. Feel free to disagree.

Also! October 1st! Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber from the Library of America! Buy buy buy!

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tara Reid Tries to Talk into the Phone She Just Hung Up

We pick things up with Tara Reid's character on the phone with another character. They get disconnected. Tara Reid looks confused.

Now we cut to a wide shot. And I promise you, all the next screengrabs are taken in succession from one unbroken take. Tara Reid still "acting" confused:

Then looking at the phone like she's never used one before and isn't aware of the concept of calls getting disconnected:

Then reaching over to hang it up:

Now, watch. Immediately after putting the phone down, her hand goes right back to her head:

And for a split second she holds it there, open as if there should be a phone in it:

Then she quickly brings it down and the scene continues:

These stills are taken from Uwe Boll's magical 2002 film Alone in the Dark. I urge you to see it. It will change your life. It will change the way you see the world. And phones.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Coming Soon: IFC's Tease the Season!

A half-hour Holiday Movie Guide airing on IFC in November. It'll look something like this, only moving:


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Briefly: Angels & Demons (2009)

Catholic groups spoke out against Angels & Demons just as they did in 2006 for director Ron Howard's previous Dan Brown adaptation, The Da Vinci Code, but the film is no more offensive to organized religion in general and the Catholic church in particular than it is to particle physics, logic, or good haircare. This time out, peculiarly coiffed symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is in Rome, searching for some kidnapped Cardinals and a stolen canister of antimatter which, conveniently for the plot and inconveniently for the populace of Vatican City, will explode when its battery powered containment field runs out of juice at exactly (EXACTLY!) midnight. There's something interesting about a Hollywood blockbuster anchored by a character who solves problems with his brain instead of his fists. But this isn't really that film: Angels & Demons is less about true puzzle solving than about a guy who won't shut up about art history caught in the middle of a variety of firefights and foot chases. Hanks is miscast too. He's at his best playing the witty, intrinsically decent everyman; think Forrest Gump, think Saving Private Ryan, think Big, etc. A humorless know-it-all like Langdon takes advantage of exactly none of his gifts as an actor. This isn't the worst movie of the summer — Howard's faithful to Brown's famously breathless pacing, plus the priest who also happens to be an experienced (EXPERIENCED!) helicopter pilot is good for a chuckle — but it's pretty forgettable. Hanks should divorce himself from this franchise (and his hairdresser) as soon as possible.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Briefly: The Soloist (2009)

The Soloist's version of Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) is divorced. The real Steve Lopez is happily married. The film, it would seem, has as tenuous a grip on reality as its schizophrenic subject. That man would be Nathanial Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a Julliard trained cellist who succumbs to mental illness and winds up living on the streets of Los Angeles, where he gets discovered and nurtured by Lopez. Contrary to its title, The Soloist is more duet than solo, with Downey and Foxx equally but uncomfortably sharing the film. It isn't that either gives a bad performances as they strike dissonant rather than consonant notes; Downey works a very stripped-down minimalist angle that clashes with Foxx's more demonstrative, heavy-handed approach. Both could work; they just don't work together. The film is handsome and well-intentioned and quite good at evoking the anxiety-ridden world of the deadline writer. But the characters, who never mesh all that well to begin with, are ultimately drowned out by preachy messages about homelessness, messages that are somewhat hard to swallow given the film's unnecessarily lavish budget, reportedly in the neighborhood of $60 million. The film's final title card informs us that 90,000 people live homeless in Los Angeles. Why not just give the $60 million to them?


Thursday, September 03, 2009

Super Mario Bros: The First Draft

Make your own at Thank You Mario!.