Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Appollo 18-Ground Control to Major Blah!

Apollo 18 – Ground Control to Major Blah!

David Giarrizzo

The premise of this movie is a double entendre, a conspiracy theory for anti-conspiracy theorists concerning a conspiracy theory. It’s all too convoluted to explain, so let me set the scene. Old footage from NASA's abandoned Apollo 18 mission is found where two American astronauts were sent on a secret expedition reveals the reason the U.S. has never returned to the moon. There are under budgeted movie producers living there ready to suck our money and brain matter to substitute a real plot with believability and great camera work. But seriously, folks, this film does very little for justifying support for the Arts. With a shoe string cast of three; Warren Christie, Lloyd Owen and Ryan Robbins , it uses a documentary format to attempt credibility. The character development was predictable and a cliche, focusing mainly on the one Astronauts and his family. Ground Control to Major Blah! He has a cassette player in space playing a song written by the band Yes more than three years later than when the mission supposedly occurred. The other characters are even more two dimensional, your typical play by the rule guy and your run of the mill rebel without a pause.

Was there ever really an Apollo 18? When the Apollo program began, there were plans for an Apollo 18, Apollo 19, and Apollo 20 mission to land on the moon. These were canceled in 1970, and the hardware built for those missions was scrapped, re-purposed or donated to museums. I know this for a fact as my father worked on Apollo 17 and was hired by Lockheed shortly after the closing of the space program. I was able to tour the NASA facility at Moffett Field where I saw an assembly of rocket boosters and landing gear, presumably for unmanned missions. The period of History, however, was of great interest. Did Russia really have a lunar lander? Yes, it was called the Lunniy Korabl (LK, for short), developed in the late 1960s and tested on three occasions from 1970 to 1971. Due to the failure of several N1 rocket launches, the LK was never used for a proper lunar mission. Interestingly enough, the LK was initially designed to be piloted solo, but it could accommodate a crew of two cosmonauts. Fact: When moving around on the moon, the astronauts do not appear to be affected by the lighter gravity. They walk normally, even shuffling their feet at times. Fact: While on the "dark side of the moon" it is stated that side never sees sunlight when in fact it does. The far side of the moon is covered by the sun about once a month.

Director Gonzalo L√≥pez-Gallego takes a multitude of shaky, poor lit and often too conveniently located camera shots “journalizing” the space expedition. The film begins with a typed preface stating the films were taken in Super 8, however, the video camera was invented by then, and I noticed that many of the shots were a combination of old video, super 8 and 35 mm. I recall monolithic VCR s existing in the Office of Education in 1970 where my mother worked as an educator.

Writers Brian Miller (screenplay), and Cory Goodman take this Ron Howard like plot, mixed it in with just about every Suspense Thriller you have ever seen, and capped it off with a distinctive vague ending that has become so popular lately. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but the mere possibility of the tapes/films would survive in space, let alone be returned into re-entry without crisping to a chard. There is also some plot errors (which I won’t divulge) left me scratching my dome at the end.

I give it a C minus. Please God, don’t let them make a sequel.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rise of the CGI Apes

Rise of the CGI Apes

By David Giarrizzo

Since the epic 1968 film “Planet of the Apes” directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and adapted by Micheal Wilson and Rod Serling from Piere Boulle’s novel (about an astronaut crew who crash land on a planet in the distant future where intelligent talking apes are the dominant species, and humans are the oppressed and enslaved) , most of the sequels have been a progression of violations of plot continuity and time continuum laws.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes”(1970),

“Escape from the Planet of the Apes”(1971) and “Conquest for the Planet of the Apes”(1972) worked on the premise that Mankind has obliterated itself with a Nuclear War, save a handful of mutants living underground. Where the Apes went while all this nuclear warfare is destroying life on Earth, one might ask. Another point would be “Why do the apes look like normal primates, and then suddenly in Conquest the apes are on hind legs walking around like Homo sapiens. “ All I know is prosthetic latex making up is a pain to apply and remove. “Battle for the Planet of the Apes’(1973) was the last of the sequels, followed shortly by a shoe string budget TV series ”Planet of the Apes” (1974)and an animated series “Return to the Planet of the Apes”( 1975). By then, all plot development had been exhausted, the marketing value was past its prime, and Slasher films were becoming the rage.

Tim Burton decided In 2001 to reanimate the corpse of Boulle, taking us into theTwilight Zone with a remake of “the Planet of the Apes” The script was noticeably different from the original, attempting to make the film a Tim Burton acquisition! Using extreme artistic license, he cast Mark Wahlberg , Helen Bonam Carter and Tim Roth in a film that can only be described as overtly Shakespearean filled with acrobatics and enough plot holes to fill the Albert Hall. Spoiler alert! Just like the original ending, the sole astronaut escapes back to slingshot his spacecraft back to the future, except this time he is greeted by a an alternate Earth with apes driving planes, trains, and automobiles in a fully technology aware world. The acting was a bit over the top, but it was worth it just to see Charlton Heston saying his famous line “Damn them! Damn them all to hell!” this time as an ape.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, also an original story set in present day San Francisco, where man's own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and, ultimately the beginning of the downfall of humanity. Directed by Rupert Wyatt (the co-founder of Picture Farm) . screenplay written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Phillips ( Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Relic), this story portrays a deep psychological character based story with heartwrenching moments generated, ironically enough, largely done by the apes who were all CGIs. A monumental film in itself as this was the first feature length film with its lead character played by a realistic CGI. The animators were numerous, and their work shows. The apes, Caesar especially, had such convincing mannerisms and expressions that the interactions with human actors seemed natural. The human factor is emphasized as this startling intelligent being learns concepts like slavery, anger management, loyalty, and compassion.

With a diverse cast of human and ape characters, this movie moves along smoothly. Best known for his breakthrough starring role on freaks and Geeks, James Franco plays Wil Rodman, a research scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Surprisingly convincing, Franco’s performance has echoes of James Dean with a dash of Dean Jones. Playing off of CGI characters is like shadow boxing. You can’t see your opponent, but you can imagine where he is and where his next move will be. His father, played by seasoned veteran of the screen John Lithgow is a touching portrayal of a person slipping in and out of lucidity, as an Alzheimer patient would. Freida Pinto plays a Veterinarian love interest Carolina Ahranha, a role that seemed secondary and poorly developed.

Nonetheless, she was an adequate female figure for young Caesar to look up to. David Oyelowo (Last King of Scotland) plays a corporate greedy boss who is caught up in the politics of research funding, while the cure for Alzheimer’s is right around the corner. Meanwhile, the comedy relief is supplied by Dr. Rodman’s co-worker, Robert Franklin who is played by TV actor Tyler Labine ( Reaper, Boston Legal, Mad Love)

After attempting to protect one of his human family, Caesar ( amazingly portrayed by Andy Serkis )is incarcerated by Animal Control where Dodge Landon (Tom Felton of Harry Potter) and another sadistic caretaker ( played by Richard Harris son, Jaime) treat the poor creatures like they were felons. Felton’s character sneaks in a line from the 1968 release. As Caesar grasps his arm in defiance, Landon shouts “Get your stinking paws off me, you dirty ape!” This is the moment Caesar speaks his first word, “NO!”

Caesar realizes that the shelter is a death camp for animals, so he manages to procure the solution and genetically modifies himself further and his cell mates to an intelligence level high enough to orchestrate an “Ape Escape” through picturesque San Francisco. I think my favorite shot was the apes riding a cable car to the top of Lombard, purveying the city in defiance. They eventually seek refuge in the Redwood forest just North of San Francisco. There is a small patch of Redwoods remaining nearby SFU, but merely a handful and definitely not a grove. Sadly enough, one must travel through Mendocino Northward to find any substantial growth, and that too is dwindling.

With the final exodus of the apes, a sub plot is introduced explaining the cause for the beginning of the end for humanity. Go see the film if you want to know why, no more spoiler alerts. I’m outta here!

Too many Cowboys, Not Enough Aliens

Too Many Cowboys, Not Enough Aliens!

David Giarrizzo

A stranger with amnesia and a strange shackle on his wrist (Daniel Craig aka James Bond) stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution In 1873 in the Arizona territory. Before he can get there, he has to contend with all the venomous creatures on bellies and on horseback. The Claiborne clan try to get the drop on him, eldest Wes (played by veteran actor Buck Taylor of Gunsmoke) and sons who give him a great old fashioned shoot out, disastrous, of course for the boys and Dad. The stranger wanders into a young bully terrorizing the locals, to whom he teaches manners. Unfortunately, this youth is the local rich kid, lone heir to the Dolarhyde ranch, the local cattle land owners who also own the town. The cocky youth shoots a deputy and is locked up, much to Big Daddy Dolarhyde’s dismay.

Eventually, someone (cause Absolution is such a Mecca!) recognizes him as Jake Lonergan ,a rustler strong-arm , which lands him in Meacham’s(Clancy Brown of Highlander, Shawshank Redemption) jail cell where he tries to remove the strange shackle, where he is stuck in a cell next to the young Turk. . By all normal appearances this would be your typical Gold Boom Town, but this stranger soon finds out they have a secret that has eluded even the town Cattle Baron , Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) . Then, all hell breaks loose.

The town’s people hear a roar and look skyward to see lights like from “First Encounters of the Third Kind” appear deploying smaller jet like crafts. To the horror of the town’s people, the stealth bullet shaped crafts swoop the town, roping humans like cattle, dragging them up to the mouth of the Mother Ship. The stranger’s shackle begins glowing and he makes his escape from the jail house while all this pandemonium ensues.

Faced with numerous loved ones ( including the Sherriff) snatched into the air by these alien rustlers, Lonergan and Dolarhyde must join forces with the assistance of the local Doctor, an Indian Stepson of Dolarhyde, and a Gunslinging mysterious girl next door,

Ella Swenson( Olivia Wilde).

Like all Westerns, there is a formula which involves an anti-hero, a formidable foe alliance, a weak character, a love interest, and a mutual enemy to defeat. In this case, the enemy was virtually unseen. Visuals of the creature were as fleeting as the monsters from “ALIEN” with a “Predator” look, shown only in flashback scenes and shabbily drawn running CGI images. If the director’s (Jon Favreau of Iron Man )intention was to create more of a suspense with the lack of the creature on screen, it was poorly overdone. The alien’s absence only made the under budgeted visuals more evident. The character development seemed to dominate the story, even though the protagonist seems to be a bit unsympathetic to us, we still find ourselves routing for us stupid humans. It did have elements of Indiana Jones, especially the constant hat retrieval of Lonergan and the gratuitous explosions and gunfire.

Cast for his resemblance to Steve McQueen “The Magnificent Seven”, Craig has the cool calm which gives him a nice contrast to Harrison Ford’s gruff John Wayne impression. With the assistance of Speilber
g, we see Ford and a former James Bond on screen together again (Ford as Indianna Jones and Connery as his Dad) creating a complex combination that works well.

Produced by sixteen names, including Steven Speilberg, Ron Howard and the writer Robert Orci, this strange blend of Western Drama and Science Fiction( from a comic book) seems to be a new genre that hasn’t had its day yet. I was impressed by the acting, the lighting, and the camera work. The wholesomeness would appeal to a family, but I wouldn’t recommend it for children under 13 years of age. The on ship scenes of experiments and the drooling alien fangs gave me a bad dream or two. The concept is great and the cast was incredible, however, too many cowboys and not enough aliens make for a poor box office seller.