Geostorm


Gerard Butler saves the day but not his career.

(2017) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Eugenio Derbez, Amr Waked, Adepero Oduye, Andy Garcia, Robert Sheehan, Richard Schiff, Mare Winningham, Zazie Beetz, Talitha Bateman, Daniella Garcia, Ritchie Montgomery, David S. Lee, Billy Slaughter, Catherine Ashton. Directed by Dean Devlin

 

It was inevitable that the climate change crisis that we are currently facing would eventually lead to some big budget disaster movies. After all, climate scientists have been predicting super storms, increased wildfire activity and rising oceans for years. Hollywood was bound to make a special effects extravaganza about such events.

Geostorm is part cautionary tale in which the technology that has been used to control global warming has been turned around and utilized as a weapon against us. The only ones who can save us all are a hard-drinking, big mouthed astronaut-engineer (Butler) with perpetual six o’clock shadow, his younger brother (Sturgess) who’s a Washington bureaucrat, his brother’s Secret Service girlfriend (Cornish), a brilliant Asian computer expert (Wu), a by-the-book Eastern European International Space Station commander (Lara), a precocious daughter (Bateman), a tough-minded President (A. Garcia) and an even tougher Chief of Staff (Harris). It’s pretty much a parade of cliché characters from start to finish.

I’d go into further detail about the plot but it’s so preposterous that the less you know in advance the better off you’ll be. For one thing, reading the story details on paper might just scare you off – not in the fearful sense but in the “Why would I want to waste my time with that crap” sense. It’s generally not a good sign when a movie opening is delayed several times until it comes out almost 18 months after the original release date – and has changed distributors in the interim as well.

Granted, there are a few things that the film has to recommend it. The special effects for the most part are decent with some even a cut above, but the effects are basically done by a mish-mash of effects houses with varying degrees of success. 80s icon Mare Winningham also makes a brief appearance but is limited to a single scene. She was smart enough to keep her participation to just that.

Butler is generally reliably likable but here it feels like he could care less about the movie, even though he’s one of the producers. Sturgess fares only a little bit better but most of the other actors take their paychecks and move on. So should you.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the special effects are pretty nifty.
REASONS TO STAY: The story is riddled with clichés and ends up being entirely predictable. The usually reliable Butler phones this one in.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of violence, massive destruction and sci-fi action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Devlin has been a producer for more than 30 years primarily with Roland Emmerich, this is his directing debut.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/8/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 13% Positive Reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 2012
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Warning: This Drug May Kill You

Advertisements

Midnight Special


Abracadabra!

Abracadabra!

(2016) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks, David Jensen, Sharon Landry, Dana Gourrier, Sharon Garrison, Allison King, Sean Bridgers, Lucy Paust, James Moses Black, Yvonne Landry, Maureen Brennan, Ann Mahoney, Garrett Hines, Kerry Cahill. Directed by Jeff Nichols

It goes without saying that a father will do just about anything to protect his son. But what if protecting your son means the world dies? Would you trade your son’s life to save the world?

In a dingy Texas hotel room, a news broadcast tersely announces an amber alert for a young boy named Alton (Lieberher). Watching intently are Roy (Shannon) and his friend Lucas (Edgerton) – and Alton. In the dead of night, the two men grimly leave, taking their young charge with them.

A Texas ranch is raided by the FBI and the leader of the cult that lives there, Calvin Meyer (Shepard) reiterates that Alton, the boy kidnapped from their ranch, isn’t just some ordinary kid. The vision he has may be the key to Armageddon – and saving those who listen from being destroyed in the fire of the end of days.

As it turns out, Roy is Alton’s dad and he took him away from the cult, which has sent a couple of true believers to bring Alton back. Also on Roy’s tail is the NSA in the person of Sevier (Driver) who has more than a passing interest in the case – apparently the lists of numbers that Alton has been having visions about contain sensitive NSA data.

But where Roy, Lucas and Alton are headed is to see Alton’s mom Sarah (Dunst). You see, they know that what Alton’s visions are telling him is that he has to be at a certain place by a certain time. And it’s literally a matter of life and death – the death of everyone on the planet.

Jeff Nichols has only four films to his credit (a fifth, Loving, is in the can and should be out in late 2016 or early 2017) but they have all received heaps of critical praise and as you can see by the scores in Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, so has this one. Nichols, who also co-wrote the film, makes subtly thoughtful films, movies that on the surface look pretty straightforward but the more you think about them, the more there is to think about.

He’s also a very visual director and some of the visuals here are thrilling, from the flaming wreckage coming down from the sky like meteorites to the expansive denouement which is largely computer generated. The big graphics seem a bit out of his style, but then Nichols has largely worked indie films – this is his first studio-made film. And it’s a good one.

Shannon has appeared in three of his four films, and he is his usual intense self. I have become a big Michael Shannon film in recent years and for the life of me I can’t recall a truly unsatisfactory performance that he’s given in a long, long time. He’s as versatile as they come and here, he plays the desperate loving dad with the same force of will as he plays, say, the psychotic dirty cop, or the amoral collection agency owner. Every role he takes on he makes his own and the amazing thing about Shannon is that no two characters that he portrays ever feel alike.

A lot of this movie is spent riding around in cars. There are some car chases in it (a good one during the climactic scenes) but mostly the main characters are just trying to get from point A to point B. I don’t mind some travelling scenes but I found the movie could have used fewer of those in this case. Also, the climax includes some very striking visuals but in a sense they almost felt like they come from a different movie.

There is a bit of a Spielberg vibe here, particularly in the relationship between father and son. But in a lot of ways, Nichols is the anti-Spielberg; he’s not dealing with kids in suburban homes but in kids from rural environments. Like Spielberg, growing up is a central theme in his movies but while adults can be more white noise in his movies, the adults in Nichols’ movies are often flawed and a central part of the story.

There are a lot of good elements here; I actually like it more than the rating I’m giving it, but I think most moviegoers will find this less rewarding than I did. More discerning movie buffs however might find much more here to offer than just a road movie with science fiction overtones in a family atmosphere. It’s a lot more than the sum of its parts in that aspect.

REASONS TO GO: An intense yet subtle performance by Shannon. Thought-provoking material.
REASONS TO STAY: The ending is a little bit over the top. A little too much riding around in cars.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a modicum of violence and sci-fi action, as well as a child in peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Adam Driver found out that he had been cast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the first day of filming for this project.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, FandangoNow
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/13/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Starman
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Everybody Wants Some!!

The Objective


The Objective

Just what IS the Objective?

(2008) Science Fiction (IFC) Jonas Ball, Matt Anderson, Jon Huertas, Michael C. Williams, Sam Hunter, Jeff Prewett, Kenny Taylor, Chems-Eddine Zinoune, Qzaibar Allal. Directed by Daniel Myrick

All is fair in love and war, but in war nothing is ever what it seems to be, particularly when the word “intelligence” is attached to it.

It is only months after 9-11 and the conflict in Afghanistan is just getting started. CIA agent Benjamin Keynes (Ball) is trying to find a cleric in the remote mountains of that country, ostensibly to get his blessings for the U.S. invasion to wipe out the Taliban. However, as Chief Warrant Officer Wally Tamer (Anderson) and his team of Sgt. Degetau (Huertas), Sgt. Trinoski (Williams), Sgt. Cole (Hunter), Sgt. Sadler (Prewett) and MSgt. Tanner (Taylor) discover, that was never their objective in the first place.

Apparently satellites have discovered a massive power surge in the mountains and the concern is that the Taliban has a super-weapon of some sort hidden away, and it’s their job to find it. With their native guide (Zinoune) leading the way they soon become hopelessly lost. That’s when the going gets strange.

Unexplainable noises and lights bedevil them. Phantom helicopters seem to be just over the next ridge but never appear. They are fired upon close by but when they arrive at the location that they were fired on from there’s no sign that there was anybody ever there. As ominous as these things are, things begin to get more dangerous – and more deadly. It soon becomes clear that Keynes knows far more than he’s telling them, and that they are up against an adversary that is beyond anything they have ever faced before.

Director Myrick was one of the guys responsible for The Blair Witch Project, and he brought along Williams who also starred in that movie. Like in his magnum opus, there is a low budget vibe here, a less-is-more style of filmmaking. Most of the tension is brought on by things off-camera, allowing the viewer’s imagination to take off with them.

He also utilizes a cast mainly of unknowns which has its plusses and minuses. On the plus side, you’re never distracted by famous faces. To the bad, the acting isn’t always top notch, although it is solid for the most part.

The problem here is the same one faced by our actual soldiers in Afghanistan; mostly we’re faced with a lot of scenes of soldiers marching around, going nowhere punctuated by scenes of sudden and extreme violence. It can be effective in places, but at times it feels like we’ve marched a long damn way to get there and our feet are starting to get tired.

Ball not only is the lead but he handles the voiceover narration as well (that sound you hear are mainstream critics cringing). He is tasked with playing a guy who holds everything inside, from information to emotions which can make it difficult for audiences to latch onto him as their proxy. He does as much as anybody could do I suppose, but still he remains difficult to really get to know throughout the movie and that was a bit bothersome to me as a viewer – although if Myrick was trying to get the audience to feel as in the dark as the soldiers, he succeeded.

There are a few optical effects near the end and it does get a little bit trippy, but on the whole this is a solid, tension-inducing sci-fi thriller. It got a laughable one-screen one day release on which it made $95, so I imagine they are hoping to make back their investment either in the DVD release or the cable run (which I understand is on Showtime at the moment). It’s really not too bad, but it is rather flawed – so be forewarned, at least more than the poor slobs who marched out to Afghanistan to find a cleric were.

WHY RENT THIS: A solid if unspectacular sci-fi horror film set in the Afghanistan war is at least somewhat unique.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It is difficult to relate to the lead characters and despite some good action sequences, it’s mostly watching soldiers march in the desert.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a whole lot of bad language, some violence and some disturbing visuals. I would feel okay with older teens watching this and maybe mature younger teens as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael C. Williams utters the same line in this movie (“Effing Savages”) as he does in Eduardo Sanchez’ 2006 horror movie Altered. Williams also starred in The Blair Witch Project which Myrick and Sanchez co-directed; whether or not the line of dialogue was an intentional link between the two films is unknown.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: An interview with Myrick at the Tribeca Film Festival is on the disk.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $95 on an unreported production budget; I think it’s safe to say that it lost money on its theatrical run.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Cheri