Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sunshine

**In the theatrical movie funk known as the month of February, I am turning to DVDs of previously-missed movies.

Sunshine provides moments of brilliance, little warmth

There was a point about halfway through Danny Boyle's "Sunshine" where I had to force myself to stop questioning the science. Indeed, in order to fully accept the story of a manned mission to the sun, one must suspend more disbelief than is in the payload of a nuclear device capable of creating a new sun within an old, dying one. That is the mission of the seven astronauts aboard the Icarus 2, and it is aboard this fated spacecraft (with an unfortunate name, if you're familiar with your Greek mythology) that this crew is faced with questions of responsibility, sacrifice, and--to a certain extent--faith and madness.

This is not an "adventure" film. Written by Alex Garland, who wrote the atmospheric apocalypse-by-virus flick "28 Days Later," "Sunshine" operates on a more cerebral level that plays less like Star Trek and more like Steven Soderbergh's under-rated "Solaris," which examined the effects on the human condition of the isolation of deep space. There is a quiet, moody resignation felt by everyone aboard the Icarus who seem to know, at least without admitting it outright, that their mission is of the kamikaze variety. How could it not be when the all-important shield that protects the spacecraft from being incinerated by the sun during its flight is to be detached when the payload is fired at the dying star?

The spacecraft is called Icarus 2 for a reason, however. The first Icarus was lost from contact seven years previous. When the crew members of the second effort pick up the distress beacon of the original ship, the decision is made to slightly alter their course to see if they can acquire that ship's payload. According to the Icarus 2's physicist Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy), two last hopes for humanity are better than one. Naturally, a change in course brings about a series of problems and even a plot twist that I will not reveal here, but I have a feeling that it is a development that has divided audiences. Personally, I found the third act to suffer for it, but felt that the execution of the filming of this act was gorgeous and haunting. In fact, those are the two words I would use to best describe "Sunshine" as a whole.

The effects on the mind and the desolation of outer space are explored and portrayed in a most chilling way, both literally and figuratively. Would a brainiac wonder if the effects of the body's exposure to the vacuum of space were being shown accurately? Most definitely. It's been a subject of constant debate on the scientific circuit for decades. Of course, the same could be said for all of the science that is in "Sunshine," and this is why it's most important to not get wrapped up in it. This is not what this film is about. It contemplates what it means to one's psyche to hold the future of humanity in one's hands. It strikes a serious mood without straying into cliche "action hero" territory.

Perhaps most essential, however, "Sunshine" observes the psychology of space travel rather than the scientific accuracy of the mission itself. Those who are seeking absolute realism in such a place would do best to sticking to periodicals on solar physics. For the rest of us, who enjoy watching how effects, cinematography, musical score, and acting can be effectively woven together to create a feeling of quiet resignation about a mission that is beyond all comprehension, "Sunshine" is a movie worth seeing in spite of the problems with its final act.

Gouda's Final Grade -- A-

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Eye

Jessica Alba develops a sick sense in "The Eye"

In a perfect world, all films billed as horror movies would be scary, Americans would stop trying to re-make Asian cinema, and Jessica Alba would develop the ability to act. Alas, this is not a perfect world, and "The Eye," the latest Western interpretation of an Eastern fright flick, is proof positive of this fact.

That's not to say that the idea behind "The Eye" isn't at least a little compelling. We have a young blind girl, in this case a concert violinist named Sydney Wells (Alba) who receives a cornea transplant only to learn that the organs she received still contain the tortured memories of their deceased donor. This, in my opinion, creates perfect fodder for generating genuine creepiness, and although I have not seen the Hong Kong original, I am going to surmise from what I've seen today that the original execution was more successful at this.

The problem with the Americanized version, directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud (two French directors who made another horror movie entitled "Them"), is that it fails in every way to properly build suspense. After about the fifth time of watching Alba wake up in a hyperventilating sweat from yet another scary "dream" sequence that would only be scary to a very naive toddler, I began to wonder if they were filming off of a working script, or if they decided to just film one scare gag after another and then whittle it down in the editing room until it resembled a real story. While there were a few interesting innovations along the way, there was no true sense of building action, and a few scenes made absolutely no sense at all. For instance, we later find out that Sydney's eyes came courtesy of a young woman from Mexico who committed suicide, yet one of the "memories" that Sydney has takes place in a local Chinese restaurant. How did the dead woman develop a memory of the interior of this place when it appears that she never actually left the little Mexican village where she died? Apparently the filmmakers just decided it would be cool to make Sydney have a freaky hallucination in a Chinese joint and then hope we would be too frightened and wowed to put two and two together.

Helping Sydney make sense of the images that are plaguing her are her sister (Parker Posey) and her doubtful ocular rehab specialist Dr. Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola). The doctor appears to be about two steps above comatose and one step from saying: "I'm only doing this because she's hot." Alba spends most of her time sputtering out weak dialog in an attempt to win him over to believing that she's not suffering from a mental disorder, and he of course goes along with it for no other reason than because the plot requires him to. The two of them eventually find themselves in Mexico to unravel the mystery of Sydney's hallucinations, and this ends up culminating in a climax that is so out of left field, so contrived, so ludicrous, that an attempt to apply logic to the equation could, quite possibly, open up a wormhole to the twelfth dimension of stupid. That is, if one actually cared enough to figure it out. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) we don't.

Even with its sleek camera work and competent special effects, "The Eye" ends up looking like a mesh of "The Ring," "The Grudge," and "The Sixth Sense," one that was glued sloppily together by ambitious school children. Or retarded adults. Probably the latter.

Gouda's Final Grade: C-