September 26, 2012 12:42pm EST
As the actor/fortuneteller Criswell stated in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, “we are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.” While Ed Wood wasn’t much for writing prescient film criticism into his scripts, he may have accidentally hit upon the precise element that has us all so intrigued by science-fiction. When a sci-fi film is set in a distant future, the visual construction of that film becomes itself an exhibition of wild speculation about where we’re heading. But how often do we get so wrapped up in shopping the technological possibilities that we ignore the underlying story? More to the point, how often is that misguided focus of the filmmakers and/or the studio?
There have been a good many studio sci-fi films over the last few years that have seemed far more interested in wading through the science than developing the fiction. Something like Prometheus fits within this troubling category. It is a movie of great breadth and epic scope, and it pulses to the beat of 3D maps and other space age wonderments. Yet sadly, screenwriter Damon Lindelof seemed to have troubling seeing the narrative woods for all the digital trees. The story is fraught with plot holes and inconsistencies that make Prometheus a beautiful, yet ultimately empty vessel.
On the flipside would be something like District 9. True, its visuals are far less grandiose than those of Prometheus, and not simply by virtue of the fact that its setting is more terrestrial. District 9 shows us a decidedly less polished future. It is a temporally advanced environment with hovering spaceships and even mech suits, but the underscoring themes of poverty and prejudice temper the tech. What we have here is a perfect example of how great sci-fi should be constructed. It’s a matter of the filmmaker first wanting to write a strong, meaningful story and then finding where the sci-fi elements service the plot and not the other way around.
When that approach is not utilized, we get films like James Mather and Stephen St. Leger’s Lockout. The merits, and frankly dubious existence, of its entertainment value notwithstanding, Lockout is a movie that seemed built upon the shaky foundation of trying to retrofit John Carpenter’s Escape from New York for space travel. The story is frightfully contrived and dotted by warp jumps in logic, but it does bear the seemingly requisite number of spaceships and futuristic place settings. Were we really beyond our rights to demand, if not a well-founded script, then at least an interesting character to peek out through the sci-fi hullaballoo?
Duncan Jones’ Moon has a plot that is built upon a simple, yet universal concept: isolation. Sam Rockwell plays an astronaut who is stationed on the moon, manning a post with only a computer interface as a companion. True, Moon’s budget was not out of this world, but it does an exceptional job constructing its futuristic aesthetics. Moreover, Moon is an intensely human story and a fascinating character study that, but for one spoilery detail here withheld, could have just as easily been set in, say, a remote Colorado hotel. It serves the function to which all sci-fi should aspire, and frankly is arguably its utility as a genre: to use the future to emphasize the universal truths of the present.
The interesting thing about sci-fi these days is it seems that not only are the standouts of the genre not dependent upon massive budgets, but that there can be an inverse proportion between the dollars spent on production and the overall quality of the film. Take for example, Battleship. Though it’s not a film set in the future, the invading aliens are happy to oblige the audience with techno spectacle. To say Battleship was of subpar quality is to say it is somewhat unwise to sail the Pacific in a leaky rowboat. It is so concerned with providing that spectacle that it actually goes so far as to borrow relentlessly from other poorly drawn sci-fi from the last few years to create an amalgam of awful.
Then there’s a movie like Chronicle, again not set in the future but possessed of a level of superhuman spectacle. Its conceit is predicated upon an alien encounter and how that encounter advances the mental abilities of three high school students. It was created on a budget that would hardly cover Battleship’s craft services, and yet the care and thought put into the characters and the thematic nuances supersede all the grandiose genre set pieces.
Rian Johnson’s Looper, opening this week, is similarly crafted. It has an outstanding story to tell; one that articulates timeless themes even as it bounces across temporal divides. It is a movie in which the future is not permitted to be the star, and that is precisely what separates great sci-fi from fleeting, unsubstantial technological white noise.
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures (2)]
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Can a silly action movie be too silly? A ludicrous sci-fi flick be too ludicrous? Lockout is a cinematic stunt a motorcycle ride across a tightrope that teeters the line between bombastic fun and inane nonsensical lunacy. A collage of futuristic landscapes and big screen 1-vs-100 scenarios reputable French producer Luc Besson's (The Fifth Element Taken) "space jail" thriller tests your patience for stupidity and cookie cutter filmmaking. The movie does a good deal of winking but nine times out of ten it just has crud in its eye.
Guy Pearce stars as the one-liner-slinging Snow an alleged murderer sentenced to life in the orbital penitentiary MS One. Snow fails to convince Langral (Peter Stromare) head of the Secret Service that his recent running punching kicking car chasing escapades were anything more than a crazy man on the crazy run (when in fact we know it's all in an effort to protect and hand off a MacGuffin briefcase). Meanwhile the President's daughter Emilie (Maggie Grace) heads to MS One to get the scoop on the prison's nefarious psychological experiments only to find herself (thanks to an idiot secret serviceman) in the middle of an all-out inmate revolt. With a hostage situation on the Secret Service's hands there's only one person suitable for the infiltration hostage mission: the guy they just convicted as a murderer.
Forget logic — Snow's the best man for the job because Pearce's gravitas outdoes every tense dramatic moment every flashy action scene every CG spectacle in Lockout. He is the saving grace of the film crafting a character who deserves a Die Hard or Escape from New York instead of the limp half-baked vehicle that's more sizzle reel than narrative film. Grace holds her own with the fast-talking badass forming a rapport that blossoms in the film's calmer moments. But they're rare with writers/directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger insisting on jumping from the dynamic pair to the caricatured villains (apparently MS One is a space jail comprised entirely of Scottish/Irish criminals) or the cliche-ridden Government goons manning a control room.
If Lockout approached its sci-fi and action with the same intimacy that made Besson's District B13 and Taken successful it may have found a footing. But the cat and mouse game exist in a world where plot is written for twists (the nameless "package" continually bears its ugly head in the escape story) and rules are made up on the spot. Anything can happen! — in a bad way. At one point Snow and Emily jump out of MS One into space and fall downward. Because there's gravity in space? A nitpick that speaks to the larger problem: Lockout never tries to make any sense — dramatically viscerally emotionally.
Maggie Grace liked filming Taken so much that she’s decided to be in it again. Only this time, it’s in space. Grace is joining Guy Pearce in Lock Out, a new 3D thriller from Taken writer Luc Besson. Pearce will play a man wrongly convicted of treason, who is offered a shot at freedom if he can rescue the President’s daughter (Grace) from a space prison full of violent inmates. Don’t ask me how the President’s daughter ended up in space jail, or why they even built a space jail, they haven’t gotten around to explaining that part yet. Peter Stormare (Prison Break) and Tom Hollander (Pirates Of The Caribbean 2 and 3) have also been cast in unspecified roles, but, based on their resumes, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they’re playing villains.
Stephen St. Leger and James Mather, who previously collaborated on Prey Alone, will co-direct Lock Out, which they wrote along with Besson. Besson will also produce the film for EuropaCorp with co-founder Pierre-Ange Le Pogam. The budget for the film is set around $30 million, despite the story’s sci-fi nature and 3D effects. Production will begin next month in Belgrade.
Source: The Wrap
Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) never aspires to become one of the youngest people ever to make the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List--it just kind of turns out that way. His adventures begin in 1967 when he runs away from home at 16 just as his parents are divorcing. He finds himself alone in the Big Apple unsuccessfully trying to cash fake $20 checks. One day Frank notices how much respect is given to two airline pilots and he decides impersonating a Pan Am co-pilot might be just the ticket so to speak. Thus begins his brilliant three-year run as a master of deception. After infiltrating Pan Am he changes careers--he's a pediatrician then a lawyer--all the while perfecting his forgery skills. Cashing fake checks all over the country Abagnale amasses millions and quite literally becomes a kid in a candy store buying sports cars and fancy suits losing his virginity and pretending he is James Bond. Still the fact remains Frank is just a kid. Even after all these adult experiences his main objective is to get his father Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken) a down-on-his-luck store owner hounded by the IRS back together with his now-remarried mother (Nathalie Baye). Frank's nefarious activities eventually catch the authorities' attention and Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) a no-nonsense FBI agent in charge of the bank fraud division is soon hot on Frank's tail. But Frank doesn't mind. Part of him wants to get caught and he baits Hanratty to never give up the chase. Hanratty never does and finally brings his man to justice.
Catch Me's acting ensemble shines. Given the fact DiCaprio is in two high-profile movies this holiday season--this one and Gangs of New York--puts the actor back on the radar after a hiatus (perhaps he was licking his wounds after starring in the disastrous 2001 The Beach). Yet if you were to match the performances DiCaprio's stellar turn as Abagnale definitely stands out as the better of the two (the Golden Globes feel the same recently giving DiCaprio a nod for best actor in a drama). He fits the part like a glove--all at once charismatic childish vulnerable and deadly intelligent. DiCaprio easily shows how Frank isn't necessarily a sociopath but more a needy kid looking for acceptance. Say what you will about DiCaprio's movie star qualities he still has the acting chops to make it work. Walken as Frank Sr. also gives one of the better performances of his career playing a sad man who knows the apple doesn't fall from the tree but who is too proud to admit his mistakes--even to his son. Hanks is superb as well (is there anything this man can't do?) playing the by-the-book Hanratty completely devoid of emotion--but making us laugh anyway every time he comes on the screen. He doesn't mean to of course but to see Hanks play something so obviously straight somehow brings out the humor in the situation even more. Just don't ask Hanratty to tell you a joke. TV's Alias honey Jennifer Garner also makes a nice cameo as a prostitute--watch out folks she's heading for the big screen.
Based on the real-life memoirs of Frank W. Abagnale Jr. Catch Me If You Can is a fascinating study of a brilliant mind which isn't by nature criminal--just slightly misguided (ironically the real Abagnale now in his 50s is a legitimate businessman who also acts as an consultant for the FBI's bank fraud division). Under the skillful hands of director Steven Spielberg Catch Me has a great deal of fun going for a very '60s tongue-in-cheek Pink Panther feel from the opening credits to the ease at which Frank goes about his merry way conning everyone including himself. The motto of the film has to be "never deny." Frank accepts everything and things just fall into his lap. Even when Frank tries to tell the truth to the father (played by Martin Sheen) of a woman he wants to marry it works to his advantage. Yet the meat of the film is Frank's inner turmoil at the breakup of his parents of wanting his family back together again and of his need to come clean. Frank secretly wants to be disciplined told what to do and that's why Hanratty becomes so important almost a fatherly figure to him. The film probably plays about a half hour too long especially in explaining what happens to Abagnale after he gets caught but otherwise it totally engages you.