So, hey, I'd like to just be catching up on the Fantasia stuff I saw nearly a month ago, but Europa Report is leaving town after Thursday and it's worth telling people that it's big-screen worthy. I initially pictured it as a double-feature with Elysium, but I caught that one in Montreal and it's got enough people saying "okay, but not as good as one would hope" at length (although the common element, Sharlto Copley, is also common in terms of being not quite as prominent as you might expect).
I wound up enjoying it a great deal, which surprised me a bit because the first half had me a bit frustrated - not actively disliking it, but well aware that this was the sort of movie that is precisely targeted to what I love, and if it wasn't bowling me over, something was wrong. I really do think that whoever decided the story should be told out of order made a huge mistake, especially since the back-and-forth made it less than immediately obvious which character was missing in later scenes and what that meant for the crew. But, after one sequence that seemed all kinds of stupid, it hooked me again and never let me go. I'm not sure whether that's an indication of just how much of a mark I am for interplanetary exploration or whether the movie legitimately recovered, but it had me solidly through the end.
But, oh, that dumb scene:
The first "disaster" scene really bugged me. Aside from how it was presenting information that we should have seen clearly half an hour earlier, it also seemed to require three really dumb moves: EVA without adhesive patches for suit repair (only a feature of every science fiction story since 1930 or so), the two astronauts not being individually tethered, the airlock not being able to handle chemicals found in the ship's construction. It's three foolish plot devices in rapid succession to add a little pathos and explain why Earth received this footage all at once, and it's followed up by the characters debating a return home, although I'm pretty sure a ship like that would be impossible to just turn around without planets and moons to arrest its momentum and slingshot it on its way.
That's the kind of thing that The Last Push (now called Astronaut: The Last Push because people hate scrolling their VOD menu screen) did very well and tended to get right. Gun to my head and having to choose, I probably like The Last Push a little more, but Europa Report is kind of great as well Here's hoping for more movies by and for space nuts soon.
Also, I may give it a bit more attention than it merits in the review, but you've got to like that I'm pretty sure this movie passes the Bechdel test (two women talking about something other than men). The utter absence of people acting like their personal problems are more interesting than the potential for finding other life in the Solar system, even and especially for the ladies, was something I liked quite a bit.
* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, 35mm)
I have likely mentioned this a few dozen times on this site, but my favorite subset of science fiction is that which takes place during the "interplanetary era", as humanity expands from Earth but is still confined to the solar system because 2.9979x10^8 meters per second isn't just a good idea, it's the law! By making that sort of science fiction with a focus on discovery over the characters' personal issues, the makers of Europa Report have catered unrepentantly to fans of space exploration, but they've also made a thriller tense enough even for those who aren't so gung-ho about that sort of material.
Two years ago, a privately funded manned mission was launched to Jovian moon Europa, where probes have discovered evidence of liquid water. The crew numbers six: Commander William Xu (Daniel Wu), pilot Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca), scientists Katya Petrovna (Karolina Wydra) & Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargo), engineer James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley), and veteran cosmonaut Andrei Blok (Michael Nyqvist). But, as Dr. Samantha Unger (Embeth Davidtz) informs the audience, contact was lost a year in. Now, newly received footage promises to reveal what has happened in the interim.
The film is presented as a documentary made from the ship's on-board cameras, and that's a smart way to go for a modest sci-fi movie such as this. It gives director Sebastian Cordero the ability to keep certain things hidden and not use elaborate effects shots to communicate the characters' awe at the majesty of space. Despite the exclusive use of in-story cameras, Europa Report doesn't use the "found footage" conceit in the way horror movies tend to do; there are after-the-fact interviews interspersed throughout, and the movie has clearly been edited and scored by professionals. Some may not like that, although the building soundtrack from Bear McCreary goes from non-intrusive to bombastic is quite nice, and the problem with the flashback in the middle is not that the idea is bad so much as it yanks the audience form an already tense situation to one whose broad strokes are already known and which mostly makes everybody involved look dumber than the folks launching a multi-billion dollar space mission and its hand-picked crew should be.
Full review at EFC.
* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 August 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)
I started writing this by referring to You're Next as a home-invasion thriller, which was an accurate enough label but didn't feel quite right. That's because for as much as it's an attempt to play on the audience's fear that they might not even be safe in their own homes, there's a lot of Die Hard in its DNA, so that while it's still got the heart of a horror movie (the type that can pump gallons of blood when necessary), it's not as entirely beholden to dread as its brethren.
Paul Davison (Rob Moran) and his wife Aubrey (Barbara Crampton) are celebrating their thirty-fifth anniversary, which means their four kids and their significant others are returning home for a celebratory dinner: Crispian (AJ Bowen) and his former student Erin (Sharni Vinson); smug Drake (Joe Swanberg) and his wife Aimee (Amy Seimetz); only daughter Kelly (Sarah Myers) and her boyfriend Tariq (Ti West); and youngest son Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and his girlfriend Zee (Wendy Glenn). It's not long before they are passive-aggressively needling each other, completely unaware that there's much greater danger afoot, in the form of the masked marauders who killed their neighbors days before. But then, as much as the guys in the animal masks have set their traps carefully, they didn't figure on some of their victims going down much harder than expected.
Not all of them, though; ten potential protagonists is a lot for a ninety-odd-minute movie to have, so director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett waste no time disposing of some. The violence doesn't quite come out of nowhere - there was a fairly nasty teaser to start the movie off - but it's not quite expected at that moment, and kicks off a good long run of things being very bloody. The make-up and fake blood departments have their work cut out for them, and while many of the kills are staples - arrows, knives, and the like - there are a couple that are rather memorable, both for their being relatively creative and for how carefully the filmmakers trick the audience into feeling like things might just turn out differently.
Full review at EFC.
Naega Salinbeomida (Confession of Murder)
* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)
If movies were graded on a strict plus-minus system, Confession of Murder would grade out as average; it's packed full of silly and unbelievable plotting and twists along with a feeling of missed opportunities with its media satire, and a few good action scenes don't necessarily make up for that. What that doesn't necessarily take into account is that this movie is most fun when it's at its most insane.
The first insane part, perhaps, is that South Korea has a statute of limitations on murder. Why would you have that? It does, though, fifteen years as of 2005, when the case of a serial killer of ten women - one that particularly tormented detective Choi Hyung-goo (Jung Jae-young), leaving him with scars literal and physical - was dropped. Two years later, Lee Doo-suk (Park Si-hoo) publishes I Am the Murderer, confessing to his crimes in great detail. Handsome, telegenic, and superficially sincere in his desire to make amends, Doo-suk is an instant celebrity, which maddens Choi no end, especially since the book doesn't reveal the location of the last body. Also livid - the families of the victims. And there's no time limit on wanting revenge.
There's a smart, subversive satire of a movie about celebrity culture, equal protection under the law, and the reality of the modern media to be made from that premise. Occasionally, writer/director Jung Byoung-gil decides that he's going to be the one to make it, and whenever he does, Confession of Murder sinks like a stone. It's just strange to have a movie that plays on how screwy people get about celebrities set five years ago - did it get less ridiculous in the Republic of Korea between 2007 and 2012? Jung is also too happy to play into cop-movie tropes to be credible in talking about law enforcement's role in society but also a little too dry when dealing with the media. That part is absurd enough in its way, but far too restrained.
Full review at EFC.