I can understand that a bleak, disturbing SciFi horror like Pandorum didn’t connect well with Hollywood audiences or generate a lot of income, but it’s a shame because it weaves an intelligent, beautifully shot, truly scary dark dream of psychological paranoia, freaky ideas and tense, claustrophobic set pieces. Helmed by Christian Alvert, a German director best known for unconventional horror films, this was never going to be a flashy, familiar feeling big budget thing, which many probably didn’t expect. Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid are Payton and Bower, two astronauts who awaken on a giant derelict spaceship with severe amnesia and the unsettling feeling that their mission has gone horribly wrong. After a bit of exploring they find out just *how* wrong. Terrifying, monstrous humanoid creatures hunt any survivors through dim, clanging corridors that echo Ridley Scott’s Alien. Payton encounters two initially hostile nomads (Antje Traue and Cung Le) who he must band together with. Somewhere deep inside the ship, the reactor starts to fail. Another mentally unstable survivor (Cam Gigandet) is found by Quaid and starts to dangerously unravel. Gradually the secrets of what happened are revealed along with the reason for the presence of these creatures, which I won’t call aliens because they’re not. This is brutal, grim stuff that isn’t light watching or easy on the senses, it’s a skin crawling deep space nightmare of a film and a tough piece, no kidding. But it’s smart, tightly wound storytelling with fantastic acting (especially Quaid who rarely gets to go this bonkers crazy) and a plot that races along like some intergalactic nightmare until the final revelation, a thunderclap that lets us breathe again for the first time in over an hour. The title itself refers to a fictional psychotic disorder in which one believes the mission is cursed and becomes a delusional nut-job with destructive behaviour, the mental byproduct of extended space travel. This ties neatly into the very real dangers aboard the ship as reality shifts for these characters and their narratives become unreliable. A brilliant piece of SciFi horror filmmaking, a film that still hasn’t gotten its proper due. Get the Blu Ray, it looks fresh, crisp and darkly dazzling.
There’s a lot of ideas running around in David S. Goyer’s The Unborn, ideas that a terrific cast do their best with but ultimately this was one big WTF of a letdown, a boring waste of time that deserved better execution than it got. It’s essentially another Exorcist retread, given a twist, with Odette Yustman (whatever happened to her? She was sort of like Megan Fox Lite) playing a girl who is tormented by something called a Dybbuk, some sort of mythological Jewish entity but also just a fancy way of saying demon. It has something to do with her unborn twin who never made it past utero, her institutionalized mother (Carla Cugino, wasted in a heavily cut role) as well as history dating back to Joseph ‘Angel of Death’ Mengele, the infamous Nazi surgeon who had an obsession with twins, a theme that also plays on here. This thing haunts and eventually possesses her, until she finds help from two priests played by Gary Oldman and Idris Elba, in roles beneath their talent. There’s one nicely written scene where she and her boyfriend (Cam Gigandet, who can’t act to save his life) ponder the universe and all its terrors while in bed that would have been better brought to life by different actors. Various scenes show her interaction with her loving father (James Remar), but they’re underdeveloped and feel edited. Mostly it’s just her running from freaky scuttling apparitions, loose plot threads hanging about like wires in an abandoned warehouse and just.. bleh. There’s definitely something there in terms of brainstorming script ideas, but they screwed it up big time by making a haphazard, boring, generically glossy PG-13 dud instead of putting some actual style, personality and genuinely frightening elements in. Big ol’ missed opportunity. It’s a shame, because there’s some neat, spooky special effects thrown at the wall here that deserve a better film, and I’d expect better from Goyer too. Oh well.
Joel Schumacher used to be a household name amongst Hollywood directors, and then kind of sailed off the face of the map (Coppola seems to have done the same). He was one of the most prolific filmmakers of the 80’s and 90’s and then it cooled off in recent years, but he still churns out a flick or three now and again, one of which is the high gloss home invasion thriller Trespass. It’s in the vein of Cimino’s Desperate Hours, not just for having an almost identical premise but also for the fact that it’s not a great movie, but one that services the genre nicely, gives the crowd just what they’d expect from this fare and even throws in a few earned surprises. Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman play a wealthy couple who live in a fortress of a house that comes under siege from three rabid criminals who are after… something. Is it the alleged diamonds in Cage’s impenetrable safe? Is it the money he claims is all gone or stuck into his lavish home? Or is something darker at stake here? The guessing game that ensues is pretty well done, with perspective flashbacks and red herrings used nicely. The burglars are played by a quartet of the excellent Ben Mendelsohn who give yet another sketchy, terrifying villain portrait, fondly remembered TV actress Jordana Spiro, The always reliable Dash Mihok and Cam Gigandet, who sadly keeps getting casted in stuff way beyond his talent level. His psycho/pretty boy role here is one of the most demanding parts in the script and the guy just doesn’t have anything under the hood except for his looks (see Pandorum for another painful case of him ruining a well written role). Kidman is wistful and scared, doing the same thing she did in Dead Calm without the cold resilience, while Cage does crazy to a T, no surprise there. I heard that midway through filming he suddenly wanted to switch to one of the villain roles, and didn’t get his way. I laughed upon hearing him bellow out ‘shit-hole’ in that maniacally screechy, petulant way of his and I pictured him having a tantrum at the producers for not giving in. This is a humdrum flick that isn’t built to last or make huge impressions, but it serves as an energetic, well mounted domestic siege thriller with enough violence and commotion to keep eyelids from dropping.
The best way to describe Easy A is calling it a wiseass high school retelling of The Scarlet Letter. That can also be a temperature gauge for someone to tell ahead of time if it’ll be there thing, or not. I enjoyed it a lot, thanks to a funny as hell Emma Stone who doesn’t leave out the vulnerability peeking through her guise as strong young woman. It’s a little more relaxed in the content department than some of the bawdier stuff that she got her start in, but still contains sufficient amounts of raunch to please the comedy hounds. Stone also has a veritable army of seasoned pros backing her up, an element which helps her, however she’s quite capable of carrying a film and does so as well. She plays Olive, a spitfire high school girl who finds herself in a funny yet unfortunate situation after her dunce of a friend starts a wildfire sexual rumor about her. Soon the whole school is talking about it, and she takes action in a bizarre move to fight fire with fire…of a certain kind. She boldly takes up the mantle of the school harlot, forever changing things in her quiet serengetti of suburban youth. It all spins wildly out of control, a common characteristic of adolescence, with poor Olive stuck right in the middle of the debacle, which sucks for her but is too funny not to enjoy. Stanley Tucci (“The Bucket List”) and Patricia Clarkson are darlings as her parents, Thomas Haden Church scores points as a deliberately hip and sympathetic literature teacher, and Lisa Kudrow that old flamingo, has fun as a dour guidance counselor. There’s also work from Amanda Bynes as an unhinged religious nut, the perpetually wooden Cam Gigandet, Penn Badgley and a brief cameo from Malcolm McDowell as the world’s most cynical high school principal. As a riff on The Scarlett letter it keeps theme alive, and as a teen comedy with a gaggle of adults trying to keep up with the youngsters, it’s a charmer. Stone holds the proceedings together very well.