Blog Archives

Green Lantern (2011)

To quote that sage Kermit the Frog and his words of wisdom concerning Green Lantern: “It ain’t easy being green.”

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a cocky pilot working for his ex-girlfriend, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). Hal never takes anything too seriously and seems to freeze up in moments, recalling his own father’s crash. Then one day a purple alien crash-lands on Earth and seeks a replacement. This alien belongs to the Lantern Corps, a group of intergalactic policemen for the universe. He was mortally wounded by Parallax, a creature that grows stronger on fear but looks like a big rain cloud. The alien’s ring chooses Jordan as the replacement. Next thing you know, the guy is training on the alien world Oa and meeting lantern officers from all over the universe led by Sinestro (Mark Strong). Jordan is unsure of his heroic destiny, though we are reminded many times “the ring does not make mistakes.” In the meantime, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) is dissecting the dead purple alien and gets infected with the fear cloud/Parallax. He lashes out at his father (Tim Robbins), at Jordan, and signals to the giant evil rain cloud that Earth is an all-you-can-eat fear buffet ready for the binging.

For starters, he power is a bit silly and hard to explain. I fall in with the majority of the public when I say, “Green Lantern who?” So the guy’s super duper power is to channel his imagination into green-tinted reality? It’s a bit vague and hard to quantify. So when a helicopter is falling to earth, instead of, say, picking it up or steadying it, Jordan creates a green Hot Wheels racetrack for it to zoom around to a stop. When the evil rain cloud fires its energy projectile, Jordan conjures a catapult to catch the projectile and fire it back. And of course at some point he materializes a green gun to use in combat. I’m sorry but for me this just seems silly. It’s one thing to say, “His strength is the power of his imagination,” and I can see where young kids would gravitate to this stuff, but when it’s realized on the big screen is seems infantile. What are the rules here exactly? It just seems dumb. I can better accept a magic ring that allows Jordan to fly or shoot sparkly lasers. If a healthy imagination is key, then the rings should be choosing some of the world’s greatest living authors and artists. Can you imagine Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) with a lantern ring, or Neil Gaiman (Sandman)? Surely those guys would come up with something more interesting than catapults and racetracks. But you see, the rings, and the lantern world itself, runs on the power of will. Will power is their energy resource (talk about going green). The enemy, the cosmic rain cloud, runs on the power of fear, which is represented by yellow energy. What are the other colors of the rainbow? Is the power of love red? Is the power of envy a darker green? Is orange the color of hunger? Is brown the color of painful bowel movements? Is the power of apathy… forget it.

The biggest misstep is all the time the screenplay squanders on boring old Earth. Just like Thor, the alien worlds are the best part of the movie. But in Green Lantern, we see the training home world (Oa) and the thousands of weird, fun-looking aliens staffed to police the universe. We get a taste of the lantern life and the heavy responsibilities. We get a sense of the powers. And… then… Hal… quits. He up and quits. He says, after about five minutes of training, “You got the wrong guy,” and we head back to Earth. What the hell? We then get to spend the majority of Act II with this guy moping over whether he should or shouldn’t be a superhero. Memo to Hollywood: no one spends this kind of money on a movie where the main character can’t be bothered to accept being a hero with amazing super powers. I can’t be bothered with a hero who can’t be bothered. The screenplay structure should have been: Act I spent on Earth, Act II spent on Oa and in space, Act III return to Earth to save the day. Instead we get about ten minutes spent on Oa. And while I’m on the subject, whenever we see this alien planet it’s like a non-stop Green Lantern convention (does Oa host other conventions? Is next week the semi-annual gathering of amateur ornithologists?), so who is left policing the universe? I understand that a majority of the universe is empty space, but if the lanterns keep getting together for pep rallies on Oa, what’s to stop a universe full of criminals from stealing everybody’s car stereos? Also, lanterns intervene in the universe when evil is afoot, but nobody seemed to give a damn about planet Earth until we got lantern representation with Hal Jordan.

So the bad guy here is a semi-formless rain cloud with a head that sucks people’s fear. It feeds on fear. That is its energy source (get a job in the media, son). Like much else in the film, the rules concerning the villain are never fully explained. At times, this rain cloud thing seems invincible. Most of the time it’s never explained what exactly this thing could do. See, if you explain things then you box in your characters. So if you don’t establish rules for your villain, your heroes, their respective powers, the history of the universe, etc., then they are limitless. It also means that everything onscreen lacks any sort of logic, internal or otherwise. So the villain is really just a fuzzy concept of fear. Hal Jordan and the lanterns have nothing to fear but fear itself. That means that the screenplay falls prey to a plethora of hackneyed messages that feel ripped out of some Saturday morning cartoon series. Everyone feels fear. Accept your fear. Courage means rising above. It’s the same patter that’s been rehashed for hundreds of episodes of people in tights teaching schoolchildren it’s okay (take a drink every time a character utters the word “afraid” or “fear”). The simplistic moralizing on fear and courage made me yearn for a ring so that I could imagine a better villain. Lastly, there’s a scene where our dastardly cosmic rain cloud descends to Earth and starts sucking away people’s fear/energy/souls. There’s a shot of a school bus screeching to a halt and children dashing away. I imagine children’s fears are more heightened since their healthy imaginations and lack of world experience would exaggerate scary things that adults would try and simply deny. Their fear has to be like a delicacy. I guess what I’m getting at is, if I were a giant space cloud that fed on people’s fears, I’d go for the children first.

Director Martin Campbell has crafted some truly spellbinding, breathless action sequences in movies like Goldeneye and Casino Royale, but you can tell that he seems to be straining against the onslaught of computer effects. Campbell is more at home with the open world of practical effects and the tangible. Being confined to the realm of green screen and CGI seems like a shackle for this guy’s own imagination. He constructs solid action sequences, admittedly, but nothing worth bearing the name of Campbell. It’s a special effects bonanza without a hint of realism, like a computer start vomiting onto the screen. It feels weightless and formless, like a giant evil rain cloud. The film reportedly cost over $200 million, which is a high figure for a movie that spends so much freaking time on Earth! Here’s an example of a costly filmmaking expenditure – the suit. Hal Jordan has a skin-tight green suit that is complete a computer effect. That means that every second Reynolds is seen onscreen in his signature outfit, it’s another effect that people labored over for months. Why? I’m pretty sure that in this day and age we have the technology for clothing. Campbell succumbs to the limitations of the material and Green Lantern ends up feeling more like a TV pilot with a runaway budget than the beginning of an epic franchise for its parent company.

Reynolds (The Proposal) is an extremely likable actor whose biggest drawback is that he rarely seems serious, last year’s Buried a notable exception. He’s got this carefree attitude, practically bobbing his head and winking to the audience, and you like the guy even when he’s being a cad or a wimp. His character’s arc is supposed to be the guy who accepts responsibility, learns to accept and move beyond his fears, and it’s a character track that has been long journeyed and will continue to be. It makes for a simplistic hero’s journey storyline that seems to do the least work necessary to move things along. The movie did not fail on Reynolds’ shoulders; you can blame the four screenwriters and a ballooning budget for that one. Lively showed that she really could act in The Town. She shows no proof of this ability in Green Lantern. She speaks every line in a flat, monotone delivery, so much so you start to think she has like an inner-ear infection and can’t hear her own modulation. Her character is the weak love interest/damsel in distress role that regularly peoples these kinds of movies. Her monotone delivery does nothing for the lukewarm chemistry between her and Reynolds. Only Sarsgaard (An Education, Orphan) comes away mostly unscathed. His underwritten villainous character undergoes a monstrous transformation that would elicit sympathy from the Elephant Man.

Green Lantern is a movie that will thrill twelve-year-old boys and few others. It’s full of special effects, noise, and little clarity or wit. It’s not even a particularly fun movie. It repeatedly tells the audience things it should be showing, and it can’t help showing the audience character points (like Hal’s dead dad) that could have been handled with smoother nuance. The movie never feels like it can trust its audience for anything subtle. This is the kind of movie that needs to spell out everything. Green Lantern is muddled, tonally disjointed, the rules are not established, the villain is abstract, the messages are simplistic, the powers are ill-defined and also silly, the action is lackluster and overly dependent on often needless CGI, and the hero can’t even be bothered to accept his super powers. Apparently Green Lantern has about 60 years of comic history and a rich sci-fi universe, and this is the best four screenwriters could come up with? This is the best stuff they pulled from? Green Lantern is a movie that feels dimmed from start to finish.

Nate’s Grade: C

Zathura (2005)

I’m kind of perturbed at how Zathura is being dismissed by the movie going public as, “Jumanji in space.” Seriously folks, does Jumanji hold that big of a place in our collective hearts as a nation? The only thing the two films have in common is that they’re both based on books by noted children’s author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg (The Polar Express) and that they both involve board games coming to life. That?s it. Do we say that Titanic is ?Romeo and Juliet on a boat” because they both involve doomed lovers? Do we say that Jaws is “Moby Dick with a shark?” Or that Blade: Trinity is “The Hunger minus lesbians”? Or that The Island is “Parts: The Clonus Wars with a budget?” Okay, maybe the last one is accurate, but Zathura is a fabulous family film that has little comparison.

Danny (Jonah Bobo) and Walter (Josh Hutcherson) are brothers that have little in common. Ten-year-old Walter loves sports and isn’t too interested in the “kiddy”  things his six-year-old brother likes. Danny himself is battling his own fears and feels left out by his older brother. Their big sister (Kristen Stewart) just wants both of them out of her hair. The family is visiting their dad’s (Tim Robbins) new house. While dad’s out to get some work done, Danny and Walter are antagonizing each other. Walter sends his little brother to the scary basement where Danny finds an old, dusty board game called Zathura. He sets up the tin game board beside his brother and starts playing. Small rockets on poles lurch across the board according to a spinning number. Then a card pops out and says, “Meteor showers,” and sure enough their living room is deluged with fiery meteors (Danny yells to take “erasive action”). Walter is shocked to open the front door and discover their house isn’t parked neatly in the neighborhood but orbiting through the vastness of space. To get back home the squabbling brothers must complete the game, and along the way they’ll encounter giant robots, a lost astronaut (Dax Shepard), and the Zorgons, a race of aliens hungry for some warmth and some fresh meat.

The child acting is rather outstanding. The interaction between Bobo and Hutcherson (Kicking & Screaming) is great. Each really defines and shapes their character well, from Bobo’s whiny insecurity to Hutcherson’s disinterested anger and overt competitiveness. Stewart (Panic Room) leaves a very sizable impression as the agitated older sister. She has the looks and talent to explode in Hollywood in a few years, a la Rachel McAdams. Dax Shepard (Without a Paddle) is the biggest acting surprise. He gives a weighty and endearing performance as a father figure in the film, and he’s totally on the same wavelength with the movie’s tone.

Yes, Zathura gets a bit more conventional with its story as it draws toward the conclusion (trials of courage, learning from past mistakes, reconciliation), but there’s really only one kind of ending for this film. What did you expect from a 30-something page children’s book, half of which are drawings? Zathura may be predictable but it’s got a loose energy, a comedic zest, and a sense of wonder that elevate the familiar.

Smart family films are about as rare as they come. Zathura breaks the template of what “family film” means nowadays; it doesn’t go for cheap, tasteless jokes, it doesn’t hurl scattershot pop-culture references (seriously Shark Tale, are children going to be amused by a Scarface reference?). Refreshingly, the movie doesn’t have a single joke revolving around flatulence or someone getting hit in the nuts. This is a smart, good-natured family film that will thrill adults and children alike. John Favreau (Elf) is carving a really nice niche for himself directing these high quality family films that are in short supply. His direction is focused and his decisions are right on the money. He doesn’t overwhelm the film with an orgy of special effects. He gets the tone of this movie and never panders to his audience, but he keeps the pace bouncy and the tension racked. I was rapt in suspense during the Zorgon docking sequence, and yet Favreau can also illuminate the tensions of our childhood fears, like a dark basement. Favreau is proving himself to be a dynamite artist behind a lens.

Isolating the action inside the house definitely helps build the film’s drama. Instead of unleashing the crazy world of the jungle and watching it wreck havoc, Zathura keeps everything bottled up. This decision does wonders for the film’s suspense by giving a claustrophobic overtone. This is a movie more concerned with storytelling than loud special effects. In short, Zathura is light years beyond Jumanji.

The family dynamic feels exceptionally realistic, and the film has a terrific sense of humor. Siblings do behave this way, and Zathura captures their everyday conflicts in a meaningful way. The dialogue has a real zest to it but never feels trite or inauthentic. Mark my words, “Get me a juice box, biyatch,” will be the best movie line you hear all year. Zathura really soars because of its rib-tickling sense of humor. This isn’t Man Drops Banana Peel followed by Man Falls Down. No I?m talking about a consistent tone that’s sly and whimsical, complete with comedic payoffs for even inanimate objects. The various story elements really come together nicely. Zathura is a blast that will hard to beat this holiday season and beyond.

Favreau has directed yet another family film destined to become a classic. The thrills are thrilling, the comedy is whimsical and smart, the storytelling is careful and focused, the special effects are great, the acting is superb, and even the score really soars. This is just a delightful movie of all stripes and should please adventure-seekers of all ages. I was laughing and cheering from beginning to end and so was my theater. It’s a family film that proudly and refreshingly reminds us the possibilities of family films. Zathura is tremendous fun and one adventure that will suck you in instead of just sucking.

Nate’s Grade: B+

War of the Worlds (2005)

Steven Spielberg is America’s favorite director. He’s made films about alien encounters before (hell, it was most of the title of one movie), but Spielberg has never tackled evil aliens. Alien movies either involve cuddly little green men or the kind that want to destroy our planet. The latter is usually more interesting and finally Spielberg takes the trip with War of the Worlds.

Instead of focusing on high-ranking government officials, War of the Worlds concentrates on an everyday man just trying to save his family. Ray (Tom Cruise) is a New Jersey dock worker and a divorced pop. His ex-wife (Miranda Otto) has dropped off the kids (Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin) for the weekend. Ray isn’t exactly father of the year and his sullen kids remind him of this fact. Meanwhile, there seems to be a series of lightning storms hitting the world that then leave an electronic magnetic field that eliminates all the electricity in the area. A storm hovers over New Jersey and lightning strikes not once but over twenty times in the same spot. Ray goes to investigate the site. The ground beneath trembles and caves in. A giant machine with three tentacle-like legs emerges from the earth and starts zapping any humans it can find. Ray escapes, packs up the kids in the only working car in town, and runs, runs, runs, all with the aliens just a step behind ready and waiting for a people zappin’.

There are three things an audience will have to put behind them in order to enjoy what War of the Worlds has to offer.

1) The film has no plot. War of the Worlds spends the first 15 minutes setting up its handful of characters and their misery with each other. After that, it’s nothing but all-out alien attacks. That’s really it. Ray and the kids run to one place and think they’re safe. The aliens come and attack. Ray and the kids escape to a new place. The aliens come and attack. Lather, rinse, repeat. There is little more to War of the Worlds.

2) Spielberg has pretty much forgotten how to make good endings. I think A.I. was the nail in the coffin. Routinely Spielberg films seem to run out of gas or end rather anticlimactically, but A.I. really cemented the glaring fact that Spielberg cannot sit still with an unhappy ending. So, yes, War of the Worlds both ends anticlimactically and with an abrupt happy ending. Of course the H.G. Wells novel ends in the same fashion so there’s less to gripe about, until, that is, until you reach the implausible reunion. Spielberg can’t keep well enough alone and forces the story to be even happier at the cost of logic.

3) Ignore whatever feelings you hold about Tom Cruise. Off-screen, many feel that Cruise is becoming an obnoxious, pampered, self-involved, couch-jumping cretin. No matter what your feelings about Cruise and his self-taught knowledge about the history of psychiatry, that is not who is in War of the Worlds. He is playing a character. I never understood the argument that because you dislike an actor as a person it invalidates all their acting. I’ve read magazines that actually say people are staying away from Cinderella Man because people think Russell Crowe is a grump. In War of the Worlds, Cruise plays a deadbeat dad who finds his paternal instincts during the end of the world. The character isn’t deep and acts as a cipher for the audience to put themselves in the scary story. Plus it’s not like Cruise is a bad actor; he has been nominated for three Oscars.

Since this is a large Hollywood horror film, the acting consists mainly or healthy lungs and frightful, big-eyed expressions. So it seems natural that little Dakota Fanning would play the role of Child in Danger. Cruise somehow finds some points in the story to exhibit good acting. There’s a moment right after Ray and his kids escape to their mother’s home. He tries making them food out of whatever they saved which amounts to little more than condiments and bread. His kids rebuff his offer and he throws the sandwiches against a window and repeats to himself to breathe. In lesser hands this moment would just be some light comedy, but Cruise turns it into an opportunity to see the character’s desperation. Tim Robbins shows up late playing a nutball going through some self-induced cabin fever.

War of the Worlds, at its core, is a post-9/11 horror film on a mass scale. Spielberg plays with our paranoia and anxiety and creates a movie that is fraught with tension and an overriding sense of inevitable annihilation. The aliens are so advanced and so powerful. The deck definitely seems to be stacked against Earth. I felt great amounts of dread throughout the film knowing that the aliens will find you, they will get you, and it’s only a matter of time. And that’s the recipe for a perfectly moody horror film. War of the Worlds is chilling in its depiction of worldly destruction, and yet it becomes even more terrifying by how realistic everything seems as the world falls apart when its under attack. The introduction of huge, human-zapping aliens is expected to be scary, but who knew human beings at their wit?s end could be just as scary? A crowd of people turns into a violent mob fighting for any last bit of space in Ray’s working car. A man sitting on top of the hood is actually ripping away chunks of windshield with his bare, bloody hands.

War of the Worlds really benefits from awesome special effects. As stated before, we live in a jaded age where most special effects have lost feeling special. Computer advancements have also created a more advanced audience able to point out the big screen fakery at a faster pace. If you don’t believe me, look back at some movies from 1995 or so and see if you’re still wowed. War of the Worlds marvelously displays destruction on such an incredible scale. City streets ripped apart, houses blown up, cars flipping through the air, ferries plunged into the water, and it all looks as real as can be. There are moments I know that have to be computer assisted, like seeing miles and miles of stranded vehicles and people on the side, but it looks like they filmed it for real. The only thing that seemed hokey was people being vaporized by alien ray guns and having their clothes remain. I don’t know if Spielberg was going for a veiled Schindler’s List reference or they thought anything more grim could rock their PG-13 rating.

Due to all of this realism, War of the Worlds is not a film to take young children to see. The startling realism and suffocating sense of dread will keep kids up for weeks with nightmares, maybe some adults too. There’s more than a passing reference to 9/11, and that may be a wound too fresh for some. Thousands of people walk the streets as homeless refugees. There are large tack boards with hopeful missing fliers of relatives. One of the most horrifying images consists of a flowing river filled with floating corpses. There’s also a grand set built around the remains of a downed airplane. When Ray is trying to explain the situation at first, his son interjects, “Were they terrorists?” Spielberg calculatingly uses our memories of 9/11 to create a true-to-life horror story that doesn’t feel exploitative. “War” implies some kind of even ground. This is a massacre, and one parents should be wise not to bring youngsters to.

With War of the Worlds, Spielberg has crafted a chilling, realistic, post-9/11 horror movie. The action is big, the destruction is bigger, and the dread is at a near breaking point. Sure the movie is plotless and the ending is anticlimactic and forcibly happy, but War of the Worlds should appeal to those looking for the safe way to witness the end of the world. Spielberg invented the big summer movie and War of the Worlds is a taught return to form. It’s not much more than watching aliens destroy things but for many that will be plenty for a summer movie.

Nate’s Grade: B

Mystic River (2003)

The acting is phenomenal. The story is twisting and layered with incredible amounts of depth. The direction is calm and focused. This is a great Greek tragedy and a great crime story and human drama. Eastwood scores again.

Nate’s Grade: A

Human Nature (2002)

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman jumped on to Hollywood’s A-list when his feature debut Being John Malkovich was unleashed in 1999. Malkovich was a brilliant original satire on identity, be it celebrity or sexual, and was filled with riotous humor but also blended beautifully with a rich story that bordered on genius that longer it went. Now Kaufman tries his hand expounding at the meaning of civilization versus animal instinct in Human Nature. As one character tells another, “Just remember, don’t do whatever your body is telling you to do and you’ll be fine.”

Lila (Patricia Arquette) is a woman burdened with excessive body hair ever since she was old enough for a training bra (with the younger version played by Disney’s Lizzie McGuire). Lila feels ashamed by her body and morbidly humiliated. She runs away to the forest to enjoy a life free from the critical eyes of other men. Here she can commune with nature and feel that she belongs.

Nathan (Tim Robbins) is an anal retentive scientist obsessed with etiquette. As a young boy Nathan was sent to his room for picking the wrong fork to eat his meal with. He is now trying his best to teach mice table manners so he can prove that if etiquette can be taught to animals it can be ingrained toward humanity.Lila and Nathan become lovers when she ventures back into the city, eliminating her body hair for now, because of something infinitely in human nature – hormones. The two of them find a form of content, as neither had known the intimate touch of another human being.“Puff” (Rhys Ifans) is a grown man living his life in the woods convinced by his father that he is an ape. One day while walking through the woods Nathan and Lila discover the ape-man and have differing opinions on what should be done with him. Nathan is convinced that he should be brought into civilization and be taught the rules, etiquette and things that make us “human.” It would also be his greatest experiment. Lila feels that he should maintain his freedom and live as he does in nature, how he feels he should.

What follows is a bizarre love triangle over the reeducation of “Puff,” as Nathan’s slinky French assistant Gabrielle (Miranda Otto) names him. Lila is torn over the treatment of Puff and also her own society induced shame of her abundant amount of body hair. Nathan feels like he is saving Puff from his wayward primal urges, as he himself becomes a victim of them when he starts having an affair with Gabrielle. Puff, as he tells a congressional committee, was playing their game so he could find some action and “get a piece of that.”

Kaufman has written a movie in the same vein as Being John Malkovich but missing the pathos and sadly, the humor. ‘Human Nature’ tries too hard to be funny and isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is. Many quirky elements are thrown out but don’t have the same sticking power as Kaufman’s previous film. It’s a fine line between being quirky just for quirky’s sake (like the atrocious Gummo) and turning quirky into something fantastic (like Rushmore or Raising Arizona). Human Nature is too quirky for its own good without having the balance of substance to enhance the weirdness further. There are many interesting parts to this story but as a whole they don’t ever seriously gel.

Debut director Michel Gondry cut his teeth in the realm of MTV making surreal videos for Bjork and others (including the Lego animated one for The White Stripes). He also has done numerous commercials, most infamously the creepy-as-all-hell singing navels Levi ad. Gondry does have a vision, and that vision is “Copy What Spike Jonze Did As Best as Possible.” Gondry’s direction never really registers, except for some attractive time shifts, but feels more like a rehash of Jonze’s work on; yep you guessed it, Being John Malkovich.

Arquette and Robbins do fine jobs in their roles with Arquette given a bit more, dare I say it more, humanity. Her Lila is trapped between knowing what is true to herself and fitting in to a society that tells her that it’s unhealthy and wrong. Ifans has fun with his character and lets it show. The acting in Human Nature is never really the problem.

While Human Nature is certainly an interesting film (hey it has Arquette singing a song in the buff and Rosie Perez as an electrologist) but the sum of its whole is lacking. It’s unfair to keep comparing it to the earlier Malkovich but the film is trying too hard to emulate what made that movie so successful. Human Nature just doesn’t have the gravity that could turn a quirky film into a brilliant one.

Nate’s Grade: C+

Mission to Mars (2000)

Mission to Mars begins with a team of astronauts making the first manned mission to the red planet. Unfortunately things go… um, bad, and thus with no knowledge of any survivors and the six month time period it takes to travel to Mars, NASA sends out a rescue mission. More things go bad.

The setting is supposed to be 2020, but everything looks exactly like 1980. In the future there seems to be heavy reliance on product placement. From Dr. Pepper, to M&Ms, to having the damn Mars buggy plastered with Penzoil and Kawasaki. Are these astronauts Earth’s interstellar door-to-door salesmen? I was half expecting them to nix the American flag and firmly plant one for Nike. Maybe the future’s just this way because they drink from square beer.

Director Brian DePalma unleashes fantastic special effect after another, but they can only sugarcoat the bitter taste Mars resides in your mouth. Mission to Mars is tragically slow paced, full of interchangeable and indiscernible characters, and begging for some kind of insight. Don Cheadle and Gary Sinise prove that no matter how great an actor you are, when you’re given cheesy sci-fi dialogue, it’s still cheesy.

The fault lies with the more than three screenwriters and DePalma himself. Plain and simple, DePalma has lost his touch. His good days (The Untouchables) are clearly behind him on his new downward slide. Mars in any other director’s hands would no doubt be different — and that’s no bad thing. DePalma’s style of appropriations rips off the earlier, better, and more insightful 2001 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Mars is surprisingly and sadly devoid of any tension or suspense. The suspense was likely killed in the efforts to portray an “accurate and realistic NASA manned planetary exploration.” Yet the scientific inaccuracies in this “accurate” portrayal are far too numerous to mention – let alone remember all of them. You cannot have tension during a problematic situation when the score is blaring church organs!

One can suspend belief and enjoy movies but Mars is a listless journey toward sentimental other-worldly beings that just want a hug. The friendly alien thing seems to have been driven dry by now. Can we have them destroying our cities again? Pretty please.

Nate’s Grade: C

Arlington Road (1999)

Psychological thrillers are always much harder to pull off than the standard Hollywood action flicks. Bullets and explosions are replaced with taut mental games and psychological grips played with reluctant victims. Though harder to pull off, the spoils can be fruitful. Arlington Road tries to bridge the gap since the last great psychological movie (a little something called Silence of the Lambs) and has lofty intentions. But its efforts fall short.

The movie moves at a snail’s pace and has the feel of a novel instead of a screenplay. Mark Pellington, the director most known for the Pearl Jam video “Jeremy,” is completely wrong for this picture. His blurs, camera swirls, exaggerated close-ups and poor lighting makes you wonder if they forgot to take off the lens cap and seem entirely out of place. Scenes go on forever with no real connection to one other.

Sure, the movie has a boatload of stars. Tim Robbins wondrously pulls off the menacing feel that his creepy neighbor character needs to seem dangerous. Joan Cusack is the standout with her devilish take on suburban motherhood and her never-ending evil grin. But while the acting is good, the movie is devoid of suspense and tension for the most part.

The movie does pack suspense into the last ten minutes. The ending is haunting and will linger with you for some time after you exit the theater. But even a terrific ending doesn’t make up for what the audience has been made to suffer through to get to that point.

Arlington Road tries to reach for the sky with its idea that terror doesn’t come from overseas, but from our own backyards. The idea is ripe with potential, but Arlington Road never lives up to it. I guess the public will have to wait for the next great psychological thriller. But Arlington Road gives me hope for what the future may bring.

Nate’s Grade: C+

%d bloggers like this: