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Tag Archive: disaster movies


Review by C.J. Bunce

She wanted the story of a lifetime.  He just wanted to fix things.

The pop sci-fi movie appeals to moviegoers who don’t typically dabble in science fiction, and it is frequently cast with the day’s biggest Hollywood stars.  A subgenre that includes Gravity and Interstellar, the pop sci-fi movie tends not to further science fiction as a whole for the avid science fiction fan.   It usually means thin story, heavy special effects, and sappy melodrama.  Some of that might apply to this year’s theatrical release, Passengers, now streaming in digital format, Blu-ray and DVD.

But wait–unlike the typical pop sci-fi flick, this one works just fine, thanks to a straightforward story and the believability and authenticity of a small main cast: Chris Pratt as Jim Preston, an engineer whose stasis pod malfunctions causing him to awaken early on a 90-year deep space transport ship; Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora Lane, a passenger who is a journalist giving up her life for a big story; Michael Sheen as Arthur, a robot bartender who offers sage advice along the way; and Laurence Fishburne as Gus Mancuso, a deck chief on the ship.

Passengers was unfairly panned by critics and moviegoers, but the reasons make little sense.  It all boils down to two elements for the typical non-genre filmgoer.  First, Passengers did not simply give away its plot, or even the true nature of its genre, via movie trailer spoilers, surprising moviegoers looking for a pleasant date movie, and second, for being unconventional.  Yet probably more than any other movie this year it prompts plenty of water cooler conversation:  What would you do if you were put in Jim’s or Aurora’s position?  Jim is a hero (so is Aurora), but he is a pretty flawed hero.  Isn’t that the stuff of a good drama?  Passengers in many ways is the modern-day Stagecoach or Lifeboat–a closed room mystery, but without the whodunnit.  And Lawrence and Pratt have chemistry.

What would you do?

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new-independence-day-resurgence-footage-featurette-47

Review by C.J. Bunce

Independence Day: Resurgence hit theaters in a summer full of major releases, so odds are you missed this one.  Nearly the entire key cast–excluding most notably Will Smith–returned for the sequel to 1996’s surprise summer hit Independence Day: Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Vivica A. Fox, and even John Storey and Robert Loggia in his final role.  Fans of the original and fans of Roland Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Godzilla) and his take on the classic disaster movie will want to check out the new Blu-ray and the extensive special features available this week for the first time, which detail the planning and enormity of the special effects created for the film.

Resurgence is best if viewed as the next entry in a long cinematic history of rollicking disaster films.  Think Irwin Allen’s Earthquake, Towering Inferno, and The Poseidon Adventure or more recent films where Earth’s monuments stand little chance at survival like The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and San Andreas.  Independence Day: Resurgence provides an entirely new look at Earth.  The setting is today, but it’s a parallel world that lays out a possible world 20 years after the defeat of an alien menace.  As revealed in our review of The Art & Making of Independence Day here, Emmerich and co-creator of the original Dean Devlin pulled out all the stops in creating a big-budget special effects spectacle.

resurgence

But it’s not fair to just label it only a disaster movie.  Resurgence is in good company as sci-fi is concerned.  With its mysterious sphere and aliens that telepathically communicate with humans we can look back to the roots of modern sci-fi films in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  It’s critical look at what humans might do when encountering aliens evokes The Day the Earth Stood Still.  And it’s look at the knee-jerk reaction of mankind to militarize and destroy with a blind eye to others we don’t understand is straight out of Starship Troopers and Ender’s Game.  It doesn’t achieve the success of any one of these, but does make for a solid summer popcorn flick with a rousing soundtrack and some cutting edge visuals, and in doing so it plays much like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

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deepwater-horizon-Wahlberg-lg

It must be time again to analyze the importance of a good movie trailer.  A good movie trailer may not indicate a good movie is behind it, but if you can’t even create a good movie trailer from your movie footage then the movie behind it probably doesn’t stand a chance at being good.  Just take a look at all the horrible Batman v Superman movie trailers and this week’s unusually large barrage of over-exuberant advance reviews.

We now have a our first look at what could be a great disaster movie if it wasn’t about a real disaster that has nothing possibly entertaining to share–the failure of BP and the oil industry to properly see that its equipment did what it was supposed to instead of ruin the ocean, nature, and the planet.  But this trailer for Deepwater Horizon reveals–in the way only an exciting action genre movie trailer can–this movie is “inspired by the true story of real heroes”.  What?  Big explosions!  Cool!  Nail-biting tension!  Neato!  The cutesy family talking about daddy’s job feels a lot like an advertisement for… BP.  What is the story of the BP oil disaster?  Wouldn’t a movie about that story star Mark Ruffalo as a lawyer fighting to see that the BP execs get what they deserve?  A story of volunteers trying to save the fish and birds drowning in oil?  Instead we get a well-stocked action film cast with the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson, and John Malkovich–a great cast–for another movie.

Without a doubt it is too early to judge a film by its trailer, but that’s not the point.  It’s up to the marketing folks at the studios to grab us and get us hooked.  This trailer misses the mark.  The solution?  Go back and try again.  Unless this is as good as it gets.

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Expendables team

Review by C.J. Bunce

What you want to see in a giant ensemble movie is probably different than what you’d expect to see in any other movie.  Above all, you’re probably after sheer entertainment—whatever that means to you—and you’d likely judge the movie using a different standard than what you’d expect to see in the next Academy Award nominee for Best Picture.  These ensemble movies are plentiful enough today that they deserve their own sub-genre in the “Action” tab on streaming Netflix or Amazon Prime (what used to be the “Action” aisle in Blockbuster or Movies To Go).

We’re talking about those movies that crammed in every star that could be found, showcases where studios would show off their current talent, but always big in scope and always a box office draw.  A comedy like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World!, disaster movies like Airport ’76, Earthquake, and The Towering Inferno, epic Western films like The Magnificent Seven and How the West Was Won, and biblical efforts like The Greatest Story Ever Told.  Each offered some of the best stars of the day, sometimes full of current stars, sometimes full of has-been stars.

Expendables Ford and Stallone

The Avengers franchise seems to have turned around the ensemble film with its many lead actors in leading roles, or at least reinvented the sub-genre, but they still don’t have the sheer volume as past ensemble cast films.  The Avengers suffers like many past efforts—with so many actors, how can you please every movie watcher with so little time to devote to each actor?  Ultimately it’s all about finding a good balance.  None of these films ever get a nod for filmmaking perfection, and many would hardly even rate a 5 on a 10 star scale, but that doesn’t mean they don’t often result in good, old fashioned entertainment.  Which brings us to The Expendables 3.

Remember the joke about Rambo, The Terminator, The Transporter, Zorro, Jack Ryan, and Mad Max walking into a bar?  Probably not.  It would probably not be that funny.  But it would be fun to see.  It’s that visual that is enough to make The Expendables 3 work.

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Pompeii image

Years ago I had the great fortune of living in Vancouver, Washington, across the beautiful Columbia River from Portland, and every day I watched the skyline of Mt St. Helens as I drove to work downtown.  Fifty years before that, my dad peered up at St. Helens as he walked to school in that same Pacific Northwest town.  The big difference of what he saw–compared to what I saw–was the top of the mountain was gone, destroyed more than 15 years before I got there when the volcano reared its force across southwest Washington, devastating the forests and towns and lives of several people nearby, killing nearly 60 people, nearly 7,000 deer, elk and bears, and 12 million fish.

The eruption was still a topic of conversation years after the blast.  Vancouver had been covered in ash.  People shoveled ash like it was snow, and it even looked like dirty snow.  Vancouver and towns closer to the blast zone’s 230 square mile destruction area were just plain lucky the 24 megaton blast of energy didn’t stretch any further.  Even 20 years after the blast, remnants remained.  We were having our home re-roofed and a worker fell through into our family room pulling with him pounds and plumes of ash that had sat quietly in the shingles and attic all those years.

Mt St Helens 1980

As a kid watching the blast on TV, I learned a new word: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, a disease from inhaling the ash and in its plural form the biggest word in Webster’s Dictionary.  The blast also brought memories from my dad about his service days around the city Pompeii, including reviewing his photos of the aftermath of Mt. Vesuvius and solidified stone tombs still documenting the last acts of the townspeople.   With 1,934 years removed from the tragic event, it’s easy to marvel at how interesting these people looked.  Yet I had a newly found sense of horror last week, reading the New York Times front page news of Syria. Horrific photos showed the gassed suburb of Damascus, with families also found dead in various states of simply living their lives, left in this strange, unreal-yet-too-real and disturbing way.  These people were of course murdered, in contrast to the Vesuvius natural disaster, but both events are similarly shocking.

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