Jupiter Descending

Jupiter Ascending is currently playing in theaters

Jupiter Ascending


Jupiter Ascending (2015) РRated PG-13

In a bright and colorful future, a young destitute caretaker gets targeted by a ruthless son of a powerful family that live on a planet in need of a new heir, so she travels with a genetically engineered warrior to the planet in order to stop his tyrant reign.”

I was blown away by Jupiter Ascending. Sadly it was not in a good way. I adored the Wachowskis’ Cloud Atlas and though it was one of the best films of that year even if the science fiction segments were the weakest link. This caused me to have hope for Jupiter Ascending and yet, where Cloud Atlas was imaginative and heartfelt, Jupiter Ascending is an utter mess.

We begin with the beautiful Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) scrubbing toilets. I mention beautiful because she in no way appears to be the destitute maid/cleaner that the movie would like to portray her as (and that toilet didn’t really need cleaning). This is the equivalent of the high school movies about the ugly duckling who takes off her glasses, lets down her hair, and is suddenly the prom queen.

Intergalactic Skate Boy (TM) Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) arrives to rescue her from mysterious space baddies out to capture or kill her. The Wachowskis clearly wanted to make this a Silver Surfer movie but lacked the rights. Finding himself outnumbered, he seeks help from former colleague, Stinger Exposition (Sean Bean).

Jupiter finds that she is the reincarnated heir to the galactic throne currently shared by three siblings, Female Exposition Abrasax (Tuppence Middleton), Male Exposition Abrasax (Douglas Booth), and Screaming Abrasax (Eddie Redmayne). As you might guess from my description, there is a LOT of exposition in the movie.

The movie flow is Exposition dump – action sequence – pretty scenery – rinse and repeat. There is actually only one scene that does not fit that mold and is so out of place, it feels lifted from another movie. That sequence is a wonderful Catch-22 involving the paperwork behind Jupiter’s birthright. It is surreal and good for a laugh. The problem with it is that it IS actually lifted from another film, Brazil to be precise. The Wachowskis can call it an homage though because they stuck Terry Gilliam in it with a wink and a nod.

I applaud them for replacing the Bondian unnecessarily slow dipping mechanism with an unnecessarily slow rising mechanism. Beam me up, Scotty but feel free to take several minutes to do so. I’m surprised that the characters didn’t look at their watches or tap their feet as they rose.

Also the villains are confounded by Caine’s shoes but never take them away from him. Why not let him keep a gun, too? Hilariously, in the third act (VERY VAGUE SPOILER), it appears that the villain has honestly, and ridiculously, chosen to live in what amounts to a glass house. How this person survived so long is a question for the ages.

The movie is very pretty but is effectively Cloud Atlas’ Matrix Revolutions. You know, the two Matrix sequels made by the Wachowskis that made you question whether The Matrix was actually as brilliant as you thought it was.


Ugh – So sick – Side Effects

Sorry for the lack of posts. I have the current flu/cold/crud bug going around and have absolutely no energy. I hope to be well(ish) next week and back to regular posting.

Why don’t you watch a good thriller tonight like Side Effects? Side Effects is currently available on instant Netflix.

Side Effects


Side Effects (2013) РRated R

Emily copes with her depression by taking antidepressant medication. But when her dire state apparently spirals out of control due to her husband’s prison release, she turns to a new medication that alters her life forever.

White House Dumb

Air Force OneWolfgang Peterson’s Air Force One (1997 – sadly not currently available on instant Netflix or Amazon Prime) was a wonderful melding of the Die Hard premise (lone, unprepared hero fights off a band of villains to save innocents, including his family) with politics and the Presidency.

Olympus Has Fallen

Strangely, after a decade and a half, two studios simultaneously decided to remake this, choosing to make the protagonist a failed Secret Service member (Olympus Has Fallen)/a cop who failed to become a Secret Service member (White House Down), and set it in the White House so we could bring maximum building destruction.

White House Down

In itself these are not bad premises but in Air Force One, the plan is canny if a little loopy and the number of Secret Service agents are reduced by being on Air Force One. When the plan goes into effect, even though it is aided by someone on the inside, the Secret Service goes into action and does exactly their job. The rest of the story occurs because the President refuses to leave his family.

In Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, we have a full complement of Secret Service agents and auxiliary personnel. When the plan goes down, ALL of the agents search out the gunfire and throw their bodies in front of it, not for any effect other than to let our lone hero begin his mission. Olympus Has Fallen is the worst one, with a withering fire concentrated on the White House entrance and agent after agent walking right into the fire. It was almost as if they were filming a World War I over-the-top trench scene.

White House Down is clearly the more well thought out of the two plots. It has an irritatingly de rigeur and deus ex machina hacker so that various things can be magically taken care of but the overall villains give the best chance for success. Olympus Has Fallen was the right-wing version of the story, featuring a white President and North Korean villains. White House Down features Jaime Foxx as an Obama stand-in and the villains are the military industrial complex. I guess private military corporations are the villains du jour, replacing unscrupulous land developers.

It is a shame that neither of these movies can follow the wonderful blueprint set down by the master of the right-wing political thriller, Tom Clancy. Not only can Clancy concoct wonderfully plausible, if xenophobic, scenarios but he doesn’t have a single invincible superhero solve all problems. Honestly, the only purpose the cabinet served in White House Down, besides being victims and hostages, was to tell Cale how much time was left. Clancy has agents Clark and Chavez doing agent type work, intelligence analysts doing analytical work (except when Ryan gets in over his head), and Presidents doing presidential work. Sadly he is so rich now that other people write his books and they don’t typically understand the ensemble approach.

I will say that White House Down has much better special effects and an early blowing up of the Capitol building makes more sense than the Washington Monument as penis metaphor in Olympus Has Fallen. Both feature rah rah jingoistic patriotism, though most of White House Down features Cale (Channing Tatum) trying to rescue his daughter, while the President seems somewhat incidental.

White House Down can be big dumb fun but I would really like an intelligent thriller.

Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down one-line review:

Seriously, just go back and watch Air Force One.

Michael Fassbender Goes Haywire!

I’ve been lucky enough to catch quite a number of new movies at Carolina Cinemas lately.

Haywire (2011) – Rated R for some violence.

“A last-minute mission in Dublin turns deadly for stunning secret operative Mallory Kane when she realizes she’s been betrayed — and that her own life is no longer safe. Now, to outwit her enemies, she’ll simply have to outlast them.”

Okay ignore my title. Michael Fassbender is in this which allowed me to segue from yesterday’s A Dangerous Method but he is only briefly in this so it is a little misleading.

Do not go into Haywire thinking that this is a Steven Soderbergh film. Soderbergh did direct this film as he did last year’s delightfully scary Contagion but Haywire does not feel like a Soderbergh film. Apparently Soderbergh saw star Gina Carano fight and built a movie around her talents.

Haywire has a fairly large cast but except for star Gina Carano, no one has much screen time. Presumably because of both this reason and Soderbergh as director, some fairly big names appear in Haywire in small parts. I actually didn’t recognize Antonio Banderas the first time he appeared (that ended once he used his wonderful voice). Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, the aforementioned Michael Fassbender, Bill “Game Over, Man” Paxtion, and Channing Tatum round out the cast.

So aside from the minor distraction of those names, the weight of the film falls on Gina Carano. How does she handle it? Well she won’t be winning an Academy Award anytime soon. While she doesn’t mumble, much of her delivery is flat. On the other hand she really kicks butt. She beats up nearly everyone in the film and you really buy that she could.

I do not understand why Soderbergh did not have a better story crafted for Carano. The spy story in this is so trite and cliched that it borders on parody. The only refreshing aspect is that it is about private contractors but Ronin covered this to a certain extent last century.

This brings us to the action. The action is well staged and thankfully Soderbergh disdains the use of shaky-cam. This allows us to revel in the many beatdowns Gina Carano issues. If you view this more as a martial arts film than a spy film then I think it really succeeds. The fight scenes are visceral, brutal and realistic. I especially loved Carano’s scene with Fassbender.

So to sum up, Haywire is a very enjoyable film if you like fight scenes. If you don’t then there isn’t enough here to recommend it. I would really like to see Carano become an action star (in much the same way that Liam Neeson releases one every year at this time) because she really sells the physicality.