NEW MOVIES TOY WITH BIG THEMES
By Robin E. Simmons
There are a slew of big new movies waiting to battle it out at the box office. The best news for us is that as the summer cranks up triple digit temps in the CV, cool theaters seem even more inviting. Check out these titles for the big and little screen that dabble with the dangers of unbound curiosity, greed and revenge.
It’s been more than 30 years since ALIEN, and over the years there’s been much industry talk about revisiting that world on the big screen, so perhaps it can be said the most anticipated movie of the decade really is Ridley Scott’s epic space opera. For this movie, it’s better to know less than more, so here’s a thumbnail review that will not hint at spoilers that would lessen the fun of experiencing the film. (Yes, the 3-D version is very immersive but not necessary.)
The time is 2093, a few years before the events of ALIEN. Scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) — after analyzing similar cave art all over the world, suggesting ancient alien visitation — wants to prove the existence of God and discover the origin of life itself. Wealthy industrialist Peter Weyland bankrolls the journey to a moon light years away. Suffice it to say that this astonishingly vast and visually rich film is as cutting edge technically as possible. It is also a frightening and sometimes gory journey that revisits the mystery of the “space jockey” glimpsed in the original ALIEN. Big questions are raised about Evolution and Creation, but the final results of taking a trip to meet one’s Maker is definitely not a transcendent holiday in the heavens. International reviews have been mixed, but Scott’s extraordinary, breathtaking production design is as impeccable as it is inventive. An emotional Rapace stands out in the fine cast that includes a cool, aloof Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender as an advanced, smiling but unfeeling android. Considering the huge themes introduced but not fully explored, I was not as intellectually stimulated as I was visually enthralled. The original ALIEN is a high bar to surpass, but this outing definitely enhances that dark and dangerous world. On a personal note, I think director Scott is fascinated with questions of origins and our various notions of divinity (see again the director’s cut of his masterful but underrated KINGDOM OF HEAVEN). I’m still trying to distill what this film is really about and why I found it so enthralling and unsettling. Let me know what you think. Opens here Friday June 8.
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
My guess is that the Brothers Grimm would probably approve of the movie iterations of the Snow White fable they collected and recorded during their forays in rural Germany during the early 1800s. The Grimm boys would also no doubt love the fact that this story is still alive and undergoing contemporary alterations. Why it endures and what it means
— beyond the obvious issues of mother-daughter conflict — is another matter.
Director Rupert Sanders’ first feature reboots the familiar fairy tale and the result is a horrific medievalish nightmare that turns the story inside out. It’s a big, opulent tapestry of fear, courage, desire and revenge. There’s not a lot of chemistry between Kristen Stewart (TWILIGHT) and Chris Hemsowrth (THOR) and the dwarves are great — kind of like Hobbits on steroid — but Charlize Theron steals the show as the singularly obsessive wicked Queen. She’s got being a very bad girl down to a fine art. However, the main thing that makes this movie worth seeing is the sheer, epic, eye-popping spectacle of this ingenious dark fantasy. Now playing.
This taut, Norwegian thriller about Roger, a beguiling headhunter who steals art to maintain his luxurious lifestyle, will keep you on the edge of your seat – and not just to read the subtitles. When his beautiful art gallery owner wife tells him about a rare, extremely valuable painting in the possession of a mercenary, Roger risks everything to get it. The result is a twisty, wickedly funny, relentless, explosively violent cat-and-mouse game where people are not what they seem and the hunter is the prey. Morten Tyldum directs this slick adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s bestseller. Now playing.
A clever premise from Orin Peli (PARANORMAL ACTIVITIES) fails to radiate a satisfying payoff. Strikingly desolate locations in Hungary and Serbia effectively stand in for the ghost village of the infamous Chernobyl nuclear facility’s work force — now radioactive and of course abandoned for many years. The story has six 20-something adventurous “extreme tourists” visiting the place where nothing is said to have survived. Their guide has told the visitors that short visits to the area are not dangerous. We know something has survived (or there wouldn’t be a movie), but even though there are several jolts, and a lot of running around in the dark, it’s all very predictable. Brad Parker directs with moments of visual flair, but it’s not enough to save the movie. Now playing.
NEW FOR THE HOME THEATER:
Danny Boyle’s directorial debut from 1994 is a stylish thriller about three obnoxious roommates who take on a fourth housemate, a stranger, whose sudden demise leaves them with a suitcase stuffed with money and two big questions: What to do with the body and the money? Although the choices they make are sometimes irrational and illogical, there’s plenty of tension that builds in the most unexpected ways as they essentially come unglued, go crazy or both. Ewan McGregor is a standout as a loutish schemer in this Scottish gem. The Criterion Blu-ray edition is, as usual, pristine.
This terrific life-affirming French film adapted from Muriel Barbery’s beloved novel “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” is about 11 year-old Paloma who plans to end her life on her 12th birthday. In the meantime, she uses her dad’s old camcorder to document the utter hypocrisy she sees in the adult world. During her semi-surreptitiously filming excursions she discovers the secret library of the gruff, unattractive concierge (a marvelous Josiane Belasco) of the Parisian apartment building in which she and her family live. When Paloma realizes that the “hedgehog” (Belasco) reads Tolstoy to her cat, the two outsiders develop an unlikely friendship. I love this unexpected, bittersweet film that reminds: Where there’s life, anything is possible. Don’t miss this wonderful movie that was a big hit at 2011 PS International Film festival. NeoClassic Films. DVD.