from Discovery News

“Oblivion,” the sci-fi mind-bender topping the box office charts this week, is the first big popcorn movie of the season. Set in the year 2077, the film stars Tom Cruise and is notable for being an original story by director Joseph Kosinski –- not a franchise reboot or adaptation.

ImageOriginal sci-fi movies are something of a commodity these days, even though it’s almost impossible anymore to come up with a truly original sci-fi story. The territory has been thoroughly mapped for 100 years in cinema and a few hundred years before then in literature.

“Oblivion” doesn’t break much new ground, but it does take several classic science fiction tropes and sorts them into new and interesting combinations. In fact, the film takes on a remarkable number of major genre themes, each based in real-world scientific issues and conjecture. You might say it throws in everything but the kitchen sink. Oops, wait a sec. There’s a kitchen sink scene, too.

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from Indy Week

It’s said that God protects drunks, fools and little children. If so, He must have been working overtime during Jack Kerouac’s prime rambling days, at least as depicted in On the Road, the new film adaptation of Kerouac’s most famous book.

A scattered but earnest transposition of the novel, On the Road stars British actor Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, our hero and Kerouac’s literary alter ego. Garrett Hedlund (Tron) plays Sal’s best friend Dean Moriarty — Neal Cassady in real life — the alpha libertine who spent his days drunk on life. And liquor. And pot and bennies and whatever else he could get his hands on.

ImageFor the first two-thirds of the film, Sal and Dean carom around with a rotating cast of beatnik acquaintances, drinking their way through jazz clubs and speakeasies and some truly alarming road trips. Those drunk driving sequences are particularly harrowing as the boys barrel across America in a two-ton Hudson.

Director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) uses this imagery quite deliberately, I think. It suggests the manner in which our protagonists recklessly endanger themselves and everyone around them in a headlong rush for kicks and glory. As the film proceeds, a growing sense of dread builds. Even Dean pauses at one point to let his gaze linger on an old wino in the train yard. This lifestyle isn’t sustainable.

The fellas have some adventures and epiphanies along the way, to be sure. Sal spends a season as a field hand and enjoys a brief love affair with a migrant worker, played by the terrific Brazilian actress Alice Braga. (When is someone going to give her a leading role?) Dean gets married — a couple of times, actually. And their pal Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge, in the role based on Allen Ginsberg) finds time to write era-defining American poetry.

Kristen Stewart plays the fourth key member of the gang as Marylou, Dean’s main squeeze. After so many years moping through those vampire movies, Stewart actually shows up for this film and carries many of its most emotionally loaded scenes. You can read in her eyes her hopeless love for Dean, and also the sad resignation that he will never, ever come through for her.

Dean is everyone’s biggest problem, it seems — including the film’s. The character of Dean Moriarty looms large in annals of American literature. In the book, he is a character of incandescent charisma, a holy maniac mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved and desirous of everything at the same time.

In the film, unfortunately, he is played by Garrett Hedlund, who looks and acts like a Hanes t-shirt model. Hedlund has one effective scene, near the end, when the inevitable downward spiral kicks in. But for the most part, Hedlund fails to provide the raw wattage that the role demands. It’s really not his fault — this isn’t a performance issue so much as a casting mistake.

Riley is all right as our narrator and protagonist, Sal Paradise/Jack Kerouac. But wow, does that guy look like a young Leo DiCaprio. Viggo Mortensen puts in a playful turn as Bull Lee/William Burroughs, and Elisabeth Moss completely steals her scenes as a jilted bride forced to deal with all these beatnik hipster assholes.

All the movie’s best scenes, fittingly, are on the road. Salles strings together a melancholy parade of dusty highways and interstate buses and railroad trestles. The interior scenes are all about either sex (everyone here gets naked, a lot) or, heaven help us, literature. I’m sorry, but no matter how august the company, watching drunk 20-somethings reading drunk 20-something poetry is excruciating.

On the Road ends nicely, with a bleary sequence in Mexico and a bitter little coda. It’s a satisfying enough film, but there’s a lingering feeling that it never quite manages what it’s aiming for. As a long-anticipated film adaptation of a very famous book, On the Road could have been a little better. But it could have been a lot worse.

 

from Discovery News

In popular culture, it’s sometimes referred to as “apocalypse porn” — the proffering of imagery and scenarios that depict end-of-the-world catastrophes. You know the routine: Crumbling monuments, abandoned cities, desolate wastelands. Think recent movies like “The Road” and “I Am Legend,” or older classics such as “Mad Max” and “Planet of the Apes.” One of this season’s most popular TV series, “Revolution,” posits a planet-wide blackout that tumbles civilization back a few centuries.

ImageMovies and TV often reflect cultural anxieties, and we’re clearly terrified of this stuff. But what do we actually do on an individual, practical level to prepare for disaster scenarios? Click around online and you’ll find plenty of survivalist outfitters willing to sell you alarming things. A more sober assessment can be found at Ready.gov.

The following is a list of basic items as recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for general disaster preparedness. However, if recent entertainment fare is any indication, our biggest concern is actually the walking dead. So we’ve also added a bonus category: In Case Of Zombie Apocalypse (ICOZA).

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from Indy Week

If ever there were a film that justified a re-release in 3D format, it’s Steven Spielberg’s dinosaurs-run-amok blockbuster Jurassic Park. In both its visual style and its pulpy adventure spirit, Jurassic Park was pretty much 3D already when it hit theaters 20 years ago.

The good news is that the 3D effects in the new edition of Jurassic Park, screening locally in select IMAX theaters as well, are used with evident care and restraint. There’s none of the goofy zoom-into-your-lap nonsense, and no George-Lucas-style overhauls of classic scenes.

The even better news is that the 3D effects genuinely enhance the thrill-ride storytelling techniques which made the movie so popular in the first place. Watching this movie again after (I don’t even want to say it) two decades, I was cheered mightily by the experience. Jurassic Park remains a pretty much bulletproof piece of popular entertainment.

Everyone knows the story, right? An eccentric billionaire uses DNA technology to create a tourist island theme park of actual free-range dinosaurs. They get loose. Sam Neill, Laura Dern and two cute kids run like hell.

Those set-piece spectacles we remember so well are presented once again for our consideration. The T. rex attack on the stranded Jeeps remains the film’s most iconic sequence, and the 3D makeover gives the images new texture and thrust. Blown back up to proper big screen proportions, after years of rattling sadly through the television, the scene is restored to its original glory. And the sound! When the T. rex roars, you can feel it in your ribcage and your brainstem. It’s like some atavistic predator danger switch gets thrown.

The calmer dialogue scenes are punched up in 3D as well, subtly for the most part. Occasionally you get that strange terrarium effect, where foreground figures pop from the frame, and that can be distracting. But other sequences seem designed from the ground up for 3D. The velociraptor kitchen attack, with those long stainless steel counters, is nicely enhanced by selective 3D flourishes. Jurassic Park 3D does not look, sound or feel like a 20-year-old movie. The original creature designs and special effects, only slightly tweaked for 3D, hold up very well indeed.

For the thrills and the effects to really land, you need a sturdy story and characters to care about. I’d forgotten — or more likely never even registered — just how effortlessly Spielberg doles out the goods. In regard to all the weird science, Jurassic Park simply sets up its premise, then plays fair by its own rules. You get the precise amount of information you need to accept what’s happening. The characters are sharply drawn and the relationships are clearly established. Spielberg’s ever-present emotional themes are threaded throughout — innocence in peril, wonder and awe, reluctant fathers, abandoned kids.

Here’s a testimonial for you: I brought my 9-year-old boy to Jurassic Park 3D and he completely flipped out over it. I know he’s seen special effects on par with what’s onscreen here, but he’s never been put through the old Spielberg sentiment machine at the same time.

from Indy Week

In 1993, three young boys were found brutally murdered in the small community of West Memphis, Ark. In the maelstrom of initial disclosures and media coverage, it was reported that the bodies found in a drainage ditch showed signs of ritual murder.

The community panicked, and within weeks three misfit teenagers were arrested for the killings. Even though no physical evidence tied Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley to the scene, and they provided credible alibis, they were convicted and Echols, deemed the ringleader, received the death sentence.

ImageThe baffling, infuriating case of the West Memphis Three has been dragging on for two decades now. A three-part HBO documentary series on the case, the excellent Paradise Lost films by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, raised multiple red flags regarding the trial, including suggestions of false testimony, coerced confessions and prosecutorial misconduct. Those films put such a bright light on the case that thousands rallied to the cause of the West Memphis Three, including celebrities Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp and filmmakers Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson.

The new documentary film West of Memphis, produced by Jackson and Walsh and directed by Amy Berg (Deliver Us from Evil), covers much of the same ground as the Paradise Lost films. About halfway through, however, West of Memphis shifts its focus. By way of new eyewitness and DNA evidence, the filmmakers make a persuasive case that the real killer is Terry Hobbs, stepfather of one of the murdered kids, and that he has been hiding in plain sight all along.

The film also chronicles recent developments in its last half-hour. Most importantly, it documents the decision by the state of Arkansas to release the three men from prison in 2011, on one condition: They agree to an obscure and dubious legal plea that would protect the state from any further civil lawsuits.

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