Saturday, May 10, 2008

Movie time

I'm working a lot while Laura's in Ireland, so I haven't had time to do many of the home projects on my to-do list. On the other hand, I've had lots of time to watch movies, so the lack of housework might be due to my priority list. Since Laura's been gone, I've seen Iron Man on the big screen, and Sunshine, Phantoms, and Next on DVD. In brief: Iron Man was much better than I expected (better than it should be, really), a genuinely entertaining comic-book movie. Don't spend any time letting realism intrude, and you'll enjoy. I've gotta say, Robert Downey Jr. is as good in the role as Michael Keaton was as Batman, and just as surprising.

I didn't realize until about halfway through Phantoms that I had already seen it. It's a mediocre movie based on a pretty good book, but it does scary in lots of interesting, effective ways. If you watch it, pay attention to what's actually happening during the scary parts. In some of the most tense parts of the movie, what's actually happening on screen isn't that scary; it's scary by tone, not by action. Next is Nicholas Cage's newest on video; the gimmick is that his character can see about two minutes into the future. It's fun to watch, mostly due to a few scenes wherein our hero knows exactly what's going to happen next, but they're really inconsistent with his use of his power. Nick Cage was probably not the right actor for this role, either. And the whole premise of the movie is a huge, gaping plot hole: the FBI wants him to predict where a nuclear bomb will detonate, so they strap him down in front of a television so he can see the blast on the news and give them warning about where it's going to detonate. This is so blatantly stupid, it drags the entire movie down; two minutes is barely enough time for a phone call, much less anything that'll actually let them stop the bomb. Two minutes' warning is plenty of time to survive a gun battle, though.

Sunshine is interesting. The film is set on a spaceship heading into the dying sun; the crew intends to restart the sun with an impressively large bomb. [There's no way to talk about the movie without spoilers, so I put them in white text. Select the text with your mouse to read it.] The entire cast consists of eight people, the crew of the spacecraft. We get to know the characters pretty well, and we like all of them. Their mission hits a complication, and the complication multiplies. It's excellent storytelling, really. The characters make good decisions with unforeseen conequences, which further put them and the mission in danger. The characters make more good decisions, and more unforeseen consequences continue to plague them, increasing the tension further. Then, about 25 minutes from the end, the movie changes genre to horror-thriller and turns into a sloppy clone of Event Horizon, complete with the creepy Sam-Neill-like survivor of their sister ship stalking the crew with pointy objects. We knew early on that none of the crew would survive; still, when we see them die it's a little painful (especially Michelle Yeoh). And, really: when Cillian Murphy learns from the computer that they've got an extra person on board, it's part "oooh, creepy!" and part "oh, gimme a break!". The genre flip seems like cheating, and somewhat derails the whole movie. I'm still glad I saw it, but it ended up not being the movie I expected.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Which of the characters in "Sunshine" made a good decision? The physicist whose brightest idea was "need more bomb!"? The captain who couldn't tell his chief mechanic to suit up and fix the shield (i.e., to do his damn job)? The doctor who thought that prolonged exposure to intense sunlight was a healthy idea? Or-- best of all-- the navigator who couldn't steer (and who made a major course correction all on his lonesome, with no backup)? Alex Garland wrote those people as idiots. It wasn't good storytelling; it was lame drama based on unbelievable incompetence.

Jeff Mountjoy said...

You're right -- "good decisions" is probably the wrong phrase. "Reasonable decisions" is better. The doctor was just quirky; the navigator just made a mistake; the physicist decided that the second ship would give them a second shot (not a bad decision, with the entire world at stake); the captain's decision wasn't bad at the time, either. The actual bad decisions were the crew not giving the captain 60 extra seconds to repair the panels; the computer not mentioning sooner that an extra person was aboard; the physicist's decision to not share this with the rest of the crew; and the movie trope of "let's split up -- we can search faster!" (which actually worked out okay).

Mostly I'm trying to contrast it with the horde of movies in which characters make actively stupid decisions, merely to get to the next plot point or action setpiece. Really, until the burned-crispy Icarus I captain showed up, I was pretty happy with the movie.

Jeff Mountjoy said...

I do have to say, I'm always amazed at the youth of the crew in these sorts of movies. Though I suppose it makes a kind of sense -- you'd want the crew to be statistically unlikely to develop cancer in-flight. I suspect if this were to happen in real life, the crew would be less likely the best at what they did in the whole world, and more likely a bunch of politically-connected older guys who were extremely full of their own importance....