Monday, November 30, 2009

The Day I Lost 180 Minutes

I love having days away from work as much as the next guy. I’m a lazy s.o.b. hence a site dedicated to an activity where I get to sit motionless for 2hour bouts. But the downside to days off is that during the daylight hours there is absolutely nothing worth watching on television. And during the holidays it’s even worse; networks play it safe by turning to marathons, most of which consist of the same movie on a loop. Let’s face it, if that movie is not A Christmas Story then the chance of getting even one view from guys like me is pretty slim. Even the premium channels are weak during the day. But they have “On Demand” so I figured why not check out their library and see if there is anything I haven’t seen. Oh neat, The Day The Earth Stood Still. I would never want to pay for it, but since it’s free why not?

A remake of the 1951 film, this update stars Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, an alien visitor; Jennifer Connelly as Dr. Helen Benson, an astro-biologist; Jaden Smith as Jacob Benson, the young, pain in the ass stepson of the good doctor; and a large, cycloptic alien defense system made up of tiny metallic termites. The plot is simple enough: a large glowing sphere is on a crash course with Manhattan. Convinced it will wipe out the city and that there is zero time to evacuate, the geniuses of the U.S. Government decide to round up the most brilliant scientific minds to examine the aftermath. But when the sphere slows and coasts harmlessly into Central Park the inhabitants of earth are not overjoyed for being spared, instead reach historic levels of panic and automatically assume a state of fear/policy of “shoot first, ask questions later.”

You would think from all the trailer and promotion of the “IMAX experience” for this movie that it would at least be a sci-fi, special effects extravaganza. SPOILER ALERT!! It’s not. It’s an overly dramatic movie that puts a lot of its heavy burden on Jaden Smith’s back and acting performance. While he’s fine at what he needs to do, the movie just falls flat and here’s why. Klaatu professes to Helen that his mission to earth is to save the Earth. But not it’s homo sapien inhabitants, oh no. The Earth. The question Klaatu must answer is: Are humans capable of change? Can they change their ways in order to save their planet and forego intergallaticly sanctioned genocide?

After sitting through 2hours of movie watching an inept government run a “seek and kill” mission for a being they do not understand and watching people riot and run in fear I was kind of on Klaatu’s side. You know what? Unleash the hounds and locusts. Let it all burn down! People don’t change and they treat their planet like crap. If we’re going to make movies with warnings about how we treat our planet and each other then let’s go all the way across the finish line to at least get the message across. Why cop out at the end and go for the sob story? Even innocent men will confess to a crime when a gun is to their head. So people becoming “nice” near the end of existence means nothing about the ability to achieve true change.
I’m sure you can guess how this movie played out. More spheres appear and serve as arcs to help transplant non-human animals safely away from the planet while the locust-like metallic termites go to work on the eastern seaboard. Perhaps what you didn’t expect is a lack of depth for Jennifer Connelly. Her character is a waste and serves a babysitter and dialogue medium to progress the story. She is far too talented to be relegated to a role such as this one. Jaden Smith shows some talent and I’m sure we’ll be seeing much more of him in years to come. And Keanu…the one thing that is not going to help his acting image is playing an emotionless alien…or maybe it’s right up his alley.

You know, this movie is not so much bad as it is just not good. I’d say skip it because you’ll want to finish it just to prove to yourself that you can and that’s a challenge no one should undertake -- 1 reel out of 5

If you’re keeping score there’s still a little over 60minutes remaining on my time lost. And that time went to The Girlfriend Experience, a Steven Soderbergh film made on less than a $2M budget and filmed in less than two weeks starring porn star Sasha Grey. I’d love to tell you what this movie is about, but truth is I don’t know. I mean, I know that for 76 minutes I watched as a high-end escort (Sasha Grey as Chelsea/Christine) went on several…uh…client dinners listening to men complain about the impending 2008 Presidential election and economic decline all while struggling with her open relationship with her gym trainer boyfriend, Chris.

But the film is not presented chronologically and Soderbergh should know better. There is no reason for this cheap trick other than to keep us intrigued by what we do not know, for had this story been told chronologically we all would have walked out by minute 30.

It’s a weak movie with an even weaker storyline that probably would have been best served as a series of vignettes about the economy and election rather than a movie held together by a balsa wood premise. In fact, the most brilliant thing about this movie is the fact that Soderbergh n’ crew were kind enough to keep the runtime under 90minutes.

Grey’s performance is better than I expected, but in no way does it measure up to the hype I had been hearing. Like the movie itself, her character lacks any real depth or dilemma. I am confident, however, that she has the capability to turn in a much stronger acting performance if given the tools (not sure if a pun was intended there). The only reason I will give it a better score than The Day The Earth Stood Still is because this may be something die hard Soderbergh fans will appreciate. But I think instead of wowing you with a surprise performance the movie disappoints at every turn -- 2 reels out of 5

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