Pitch Black


Even the landscape is giving Vin Diesel the finger.

Even the landscape is giving Vin Diesel the finger.

(2000) Science Fiction (Universal) Radha Mitchell, Vin Diesel, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Claudia Black, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Rhiana Griffith, John Moore, Simon Burke, Les Chantery, Sam Sari, Firass Dirani, Ric Anderson, Vic Wilson, Angela Moore. Directed by David Twohy

Most of us are scared of the dark in one way or another. We are scared by what we can’t see. We are scared by what we don’t know. And those strange noises that could be claws and fangs….those can be terrifying without a doubt. We are frightened by the things that lurk just beyond the shadowline.

With good reason, it turns out. Especially on this planet. A transport carrying Muslim settlers bound for New Mecca and Riddick (Diesel), a prisoner with surgically enhanced eyesight bound, is holed by space debris, killing the captain and sending the ship crashing to the surface of a barren world with three suns.

The situation seems pretty bleak; the surviving senior officer is Fry, the docking pilot (Radha Mitchell) and she’s a bit shall we say prone to panic. What’s worse is that there is no water to be found, and Riddick has managed to escape. That doesn’t please Johns (Hauser), the marshal escorting Riddick to prison (and a guy with a few secrets of his own rattling around in his brain).

It looks like they may have lucked out in finding an abandoned mining operation with a working well and what seems to be a serviceable transport vehicle that only needs power cells in order to get off the ground. That’s when they find out that they aren’t alone on the planet. There are things lurking in the darkness, things with teeth and insatiable hunger. And those miners didn’t just leave. Unless of course you’re talking about leaving this life.

But the crash survivors be OK as long as they stay in the light. Light hurts these creatures, after all. But don’t you just hate it when you land on a planet with nocturnal carnivores just before a total eclipse? So do these guys.

There is a great deal of suspense of the gut-wrenching variety. There is also more than a little gore, so the squeamish need not view this one. Still, this movie is less about viscera than it is about keeping you on the edge of your seat, and sending some genuine shivers up and down your spine. The various creatures, which are rarely seen well due to the darkness, are really amazing CGI creations. Not only do they LOOK lethal, they look plausible as well.

Diesel is excellent in this movie. As the amoral Riddick, he can be intimidating, creepy even – but he retains a rather dry sense of humor. He is a mess of contradictions, with the devils of his worse nature winning out over the angels of his better nature, but he is not entirely unredeemable or evil. He is a man of shades of gray; mainly dark gray, I grant you, but not entirely without light. He turns Riddick into a human being instead of a cartoon, which movies of this nature tend to do. The character was so fascinating that a second movie, less successful, was later made – and a third is due out this September. While Mitchell and Hauser do passable jobs, they are simply blown out of the water by the character and performance of Riddick. Fans of Farscape will get a big kick out of seeing Claudia Black in a small role here prior to appearing in that groundbreaking sci-fi series. David has a role that adds a bit of gravitas and is the moral crux of the film, which believe it or not it possesses.

Fans who liked Aliens will probably revel in this one. Fear and redemption are the underlying themes here, and horror is the vehicle for facing those themes. Shakespeare it isn’t, but Pitch Black manages to look at human nature at the same time as giving us a hell of a ride. Check it out – but be warned, it IS nightmare-inducing even if you’re not terribly sensitive.

WHY RENT THIS: Diesel creates an iconic anti-hero in Riddick. Great monsters and a fabulous premise well-executed.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Exceedingly nightmare-inducing. Some of the initial crash effects are pretty weak, even by the standards of the time. Some of the support performances don’t measure up.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is quite a bit of violence and gore, some nightmarish creatures and a goodly amount of language. There’s also some drug use which isn’t for the squeamish.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Riddick was initially written as a female character and was to have been killed off in the end until Universal decided that the character would prove popular enough to warrant a sequel.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The initial DVD release includes footage from rave parties used to promote Pitch Black. The Director’s Edition has an introduction to the Video Game prequel Escape From Butcher’s Bay and the animated Dark Fury which connects Pitch Black to The Chronicles of Riddick. There’s also a visual encyclopedia of the universe of Riddick as well as a “Johns Chase Log” in which actor Cole Hauser narrates his version of events that led to the capture of Riddick. The Blu-Ray also has a featurette in which the sequel’s connections to the original are explored.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $53.2M on a $23M production budget; the movie didn’t make a huge profit via it’s USA Films theatrical release but has been a big seller on the home video market.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Aliens

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: The Silver Linings Playbook

Advertisements

The Way


The Way

Sometimes the little things we encounter in our journey have the most profound effect along the way.

(2011) Drama (ARC Entertainment) Martin Sheen, Yorick von Wageningen, Deborah Kara Unger, James Nesbitt, Emilio Estevez, Tcheky Karyo, Spencer Garrett, Angelina Molina, Carlos Leal, Antonio Gil, Simon Andreu, David Alexanian, Eusebio Lazaro. Directed by Emilio Estevez

It is a popular aphorism to make life a journey along a road that makes many twists and turns, making it often impossible to see what lies on the horizon. It’s not the destination that matters so much as the journey itself and sometimes, just getting out the door and out on the road.

Tom (Sheen) is a successful ophthalmologist living in Ventura, just north of Los Angeles on the Pacific coast. He is a widower whose relationship with his only son Daniel (Estevez) is rocky; Tom has trouble understanding his son who seems so very different than himself. He drives his son to the airport; Daniel has quit his doctoral thesis in cultural anthropology because he has gotten frustrated with learning about things and has decided to take some time to experience them directly. He goes to Europe, which his father makes clear he doesn’t approve of.

Shortly thereafter Tom gets a call that his son has died in Europe while hiking in the Pyrenees. Devastated, Tom goes to France to retrieve the body of his son. A sympathetic gendarme (Karyo) accompanies Tom to the morgue to identify his son’s body and gives him Daniel’s possessions. As Tom goes through them he realizes he really didn’t know his son at all.

It turns out that Daniel’s intention had been to walk the Camino de Santiago – the Way of Saint James. It is a pilgrimage that has been going on for more than a thousand years with pilgrims walking from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Tom, raised Catholic but not actively practicing, decides to complete the pilgrimage with his son’s ashes, stopping to leave a little bit of his son’s remains at various places on the route.

Along the way he meets a variety of people – a jovial Dutchman named Joost (Von Wageningen) who is walking the route to lose weight but can’t stop eating and drinking the delicacies of Spain; Sarah (Unger), a Canadian with a chip on her shoulder who is out on the Camino to quit smoking (which she intends to do when she reaches the terminus at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela) and Jack (Nesbitt), a garrulous travel writer from Ireland suffering from writer’s block and an excess of bonhomie.

Tom doesn’t really want the company; he’s a private individual who wants to grieve on his own terms. However he can’t help but open up to his travel companions and along the way, not only is there magnificent scenery but he meets a variety of people – from a kindly American priest making his pilgrimage to a group of generous Basques in Roncesvalles to a Gypsy father in Burgos. And the question becomes – is he taking this trip to honor his son, or for reasons he can’t begin to imagine?

This is a movie I expected to like but not as much as I did. Being a lapsed Catholic myself, I’m familiar with the Camino de Santiago and its importance particularly to Spanish Catholics. The remains of the Apostle St. James are supposedly beneath the Cathedral and all along the Way are stops of significance both historical and religious. There is something thrilling about seeing what pilgrims from centuries ago also saw. We are taken along on this journey and it is a road trip of a lifetime.

Sheen, brilliant for so many years on “The West Wing,” continues to show why he is one of America’s most underrated actors and has been for a very long time. There is an honesty, an authenticity to his performance. It’s very subtle and understated and not at all the kind of performance that attracts Oscar’s notice, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an amazing piece of acting.

There are some very wrenching moments. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a child – even if he is an adult – and I hope I never have to. Given what the family was going through as this was being filmed (yes, it was when Charlie Sheen was the center of media attention), it makes me wonder how Sheen and Estevez could muster up the concentration to do their jobs as well as they do here.

This had a powerful effect on me, not just for the obvious reasons of confronting grief or my Catholic upbringing but also because it is about some of our most fundamental values and how they serve us – or don’t – in times of crisis. This isn’t preachy in the least and those thinking that this is all about converting you to the Catholic way, think again – the Catholics haven’t particularly embraced this movie, at least not officially. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a spiritual element to it, particularly on a humanist level. This isn’t a movie about religious denominations, but what drives us as human beings and what is important in life.

This isn’t revelatory in the sense that you’re going to learn anything new about life, but it does give you the opportunity for personal insight. You may not necessarily be motivated to convert to Catholicism but you might very well be motivated to start walking yourself. The Way is the biggest surprise so far in 2011 and may well wind up being the best movie this year.

REASONS TO GO: A film that is both uplifting and deals honestly with grief and reaching out. Gorgeous cinematography.

REASONS TO STAY: May be too slow-paced for some.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some thematic elements that might be a little much for the younger or more impressionable set, as well as a few bad words sprinkled here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The inspiration for the film came from a pilgrimage Sheen made with his grandson Taylor Estevez several years ago. Estevez met someone and fell in love on the pilgrimage and elected to remain in Spain.

HOME OR THEATER: At this point it will be difficult to find in a theater but if it’s playing near you, by all means make an effort to see it.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: The Secret in Their Eyes