Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The East: Brings Us A Study In Consumerism and Authenticity | A Review

The East: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page | A Constantly Racing Mind

"But if we hurt people, aren't we just as bad as they are?"

I ndependent filmmakers Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling make philosophical films that make you want to ask questions, and examine your own life.  In "Another Earth,” they made us think about our actions and the consequences, and the hope of redemption.  In "The Sound of My Voice," Batmanglij and Marling wanted us to consider the possibility of time travel.  Their stories are thought provoking and they sometimes don't care too much for the rules of storytelling.  In "The East," they have honed their narration skills to much finer point.  The story that "The East" gives us is a look at anarchy, anti-consumerism, and a modern day look at extreme corporate activism.  The film stars co-writer Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård ("Battleship," "Straw Dogs"), Ellen Page ("Juno," "Inception"), Toby Kebbell ("Wrath of the Titans," "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"), and Shiloh Fernandez ("Evil Dead," "Red Riding Hood").  "The East" runs about 2 hours long, is rated PG - 13, and has some interesting characters who we want to care about.

S tarting a movie with a threat, sets the mood immediately and strikingly. What it doesn't tell you is that "The East" builds up the espionage quickly, but evenly.  The film opens up with a scene of an oil-drenched beach and a seagull covered in the goo.  Ellen Page voices over a threat to the corporate eco-terrorist of the world.  The scene changes to hooded terrorist breaking into a nice home in a house in the Hamptons and pouring oil into the vents of the house as a message to the owner, a CEO of a big oil company.  Sarah (Marling) works for an exclusive private spy firm, Hiller-Brood, whose clients are the big corporations.  Sarah (her undercover name) gets a prime assignment from her boss Sharon (Patricia Clarkson), the head of the firm.  The assignment is to infiltrate an anarchist group called The East.  After Sarah has studied the anarchist cell, she prepares to leave for her undercover assignment.  She tells her husband that her assignment is in Dubai.  After her husband (Jason Ritter) drops her off at the airport, she ditches her clothes and luggage, hits the road, and takes off for parts unknown as a homeless drifter.  Her goal is to find those who will help her find the anarchist cell. After some bullying by some rail yard detectives (bullies), she is picked up by Luca (Fernandez) and is given a quick lesson on freeganism.  Yes, that is where you go dumpster diving for food that restaurants must legally dispose of, but is still good to eat.  Sarah is brought to the group seeking medical attention (she cut her arm as a ploy).  Once in the group, she continues her spying and gaining intel on the cell. 

The East: Brit Marling, Shiloh Fernandez | A Constantly Racing Mind

"Why is it self-righteousness goes hand in hand with resistance movements?"

T he different characters that we meet have some interesting backstories.  There is Doc (Kebbell); he’s the group’s medic and a victim of a pharmaceutical company that makes the antibiotic drug Denoxin.  The drug causes the victim to not recognize their own faces, have tendons snap, seizures, and brain damage.  Then there is Izzy (Page).  She is one of the most radical of the group, and the most cynical.  Her crusade against an industrial plant that dumps arsenic into the local water is both heartfelt yet cruel.  She wants to stand up for those who can't.  The leader of the group is Benji (Alexander Skarsgård).  He claims that the people with him are not his followers.  He is both a charismatic figure and a tortured one.  He first appears in the film after about the first 20 minutes looking like a Christ figure, as he is thin with long brown hair.  Despite of what Benji says, he is the cult's leader.  There are others in the group that adds to the dynamic of the film.  Also in the group are Thumbs (Aldis Hodge) as the moral compass of the group, and Tess (Danielle Macdonald) who is the group’s computer hacker.  The activist’s goal is to commit three "jams" or acts of eco-terrorism on three major companies.  Their methods are simple, an eye for an eye.  After each jam, the group loads a video to YouTube announcing what they have done.  Tess encrypts the video so that the FBI can’t track it back to the originating IP address.  Izzy makes the announcements.

"It's easy when it's not your home easy when it's not your life.  The place where you sleep. Your kids, your wife. But when it's your fault it shouldn't be so easy to sleep at night. Especially when we know where you live.  Barry Redmond, CEO of Lorex Oil, 2641 River Road, East Hampton. You dumped fifteen million barrels of crude into the Atlantic. We don't care how rich you are. We want all those who are guilty to experience the terror of their crimes. Because it shouldn't be so easy to get away with murder. Lie to us we'll lie to you. Spy on us we'll spy on you. Poison our habitat we'll poison yours. We are The East and this is just the beginning. We will counterattack three the next six months for their worldwide terrorism.”  ~ Izzy

M arling's character, Sarah, is complex.  She prays and listens to Christian music.  She lies to her husband about her work.  She has her own sense of morality and a certain sense of naivety wrapped within a hard shell of a ambition and confidence.  She is deft at spy craft, she keeps her wits, yet she later succumbs to her feelings about the group and their cause.  She doesn't necessarily agree with their methods and finds herself in the middle of this conflict between the hard right of the corporations and the far left of the anarchist cell.  Sarah sees the utilitarianism of Sharon and her spy firm, and the radical excess of The East.  About a little more than half way through the film, we find her deep in conflict.  She starts to see the inauthenticity of her own life, while she works for the morally corrupt corporations that destroy our world.  Most importantly, she sees how we as individuals support the inequality that consumerism, and therefore capitalism, which allows the rich to benefit at the expense of the labor and suffering of others.  She sees the humanity in the group, and the possibility that she can make a difference.  The group is portrayed as a bunch of fun loving hippy types who feel self-righteous in their cause.  Batmanglij and Marling spent some time in 2009 with an anarchist cell learning their mentality about corporations, consumerism, freeganism, and bathing in a river with a group, thus giving them insight that became the ideas behind this script.  Ellen Page's role is smaller, yet one of the most potent.  As in "Juno," she is a fireball.  She is forceful, smart, and determined.  She later becomes a driving force for Sarah.  There is a scene in the film that is symbolic and foreshadows a later event.  The scene is where Thumbs finds a dead deer in the woods.  A "thrill kill" (kill for sport) that the group doesn't want to go to waste.  The group elects Sarah to cut open the deer so that they can take the meat.  However, Sarah cuts too far and cuts the intestine, crap spills out.

The East: Eco-terrorism and spin the bottle | A Constantly Racing Mind

W hat is poignant about the film is that it brings to the foreground events that we know are going on in the world today.  The government is spying on us; major corporations protect themselves by printing the side effects in small print, and deny that they pollute our water.  In light of Wikileaks and the Edward Snowden incident, "The East" makes a statement.  Marling and Batmanglij's films tend to build the suspense and the drama, but they leave a lot to the imagination when they conclude their films.  I think they do a better job at bringing the "The East" to a conclusion.  As I said before, they tend to leave much to the imagination.  In "The Sound of My Voice," they give you the punch line in the last few moments of the film, and then before you can process what you just saw -- fade to black.  In "Another Earth," the ending is more of a quiet moment of reflection and for some, may have been a letdown.  "The East" is worth watching if you care about global warming, privacy issues, or just about any of humanity's problems.  For me, it was a revelation, which leads me down another level of awareness.

Just remember,
"Those side effects are listed on the side of the bottle.  That is how they rape you in broad daylight."


Movie Data

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Year:  2013
Staring: Alexander Skarsgård,Brit Marling,Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Producer(s): Michael Costigan, Jocelyn Hayes, Brit Marling, Ridley Scott,Tony Scott
Writer: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: 6/23/2013
Running Time: 116 minutes

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Carrie: Accountability, the Force, Consequences, and the Devil Be Damned

"You know the devil never dies, keeps coming back. But you gotta keep killing him."
ere you one of the popular kids in High School?  Or, were you one of the awkward, shy, or even one of the not so well liked students?  Being the social outsider is the basis of this remake of the Brian De Palma's classic adaptation of the Stephen King's masterpiece, "Carrie. “  I'm not a fan of remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings, although there are some exceptions.  The film stars Chloë Grace Moretz ("Kick Ass," "Let Me In") in the title role of Carrie White.  Jullianne Moore ("Hannibal," "Children of Men") plays her mentally unbalanced, over the top ultra-religious, fundamentalist, and abusive mother.  From the strangely sickening squishy sounds of Carrie's birth at the beginning of the film, to the maelstrom of chaos that climaxes the final act, "Carrie" is a modern day version of King's novel tailored for a more modern and technological savvy generation.

"Is this a test?"

ome films don't need remakes, and this one didn't.  That being said, director Kimberly Pierce ("Boys Don't Cry," "Stop Loss") does a great job of updating an already timeless story, yet giving it a modern day look and feel.  Taking the bulk of Lawrence D. Cohen's original screenplay and having screenwriter Roberto Aguirre - Sacasa do an update on it, Pierce does her due diligence in recreating De Palma's cinematic blood fest, but with more blood and gore.

oretz turns in a strong performance while in extreme wallflower mode.  She plays a young, awkward teen who tries to fit into a world that her religiously fanatical mom hasn't prepared her for.  Kids are mean.  In the case of Carrie White, who, in this internet age of cellphones and YouTube, apparently didn't take health or biology class, thinks she is dying after finding herself having her first period while showering after gym class.  To be fair she was homeschooled for the first few years.  The perfectly fit, clear-skimmed, and self-centered girls in her class "help her out" by throwing tampons and feminine pads at her.  We live in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and what Aguirre - Sacasa's script does is incorporates these elements into Cohen's already solid script.

"What did Carrie White ever do to you?"

ierce's take on the interpretation of the script, and perhaps King's as well -- in that the mentality of the girls is meaner, and the image of a blood soaked Carrie is gorier, but not any scarier.  Peirce takes her cue from recent remakes where the gore factor is cranked up several notches, like this year’s "Evil Dead," 2010’s "Nightmare on Elm Street," and Rob Zombie's "Halloween.”  Carrie is more sympathetic, prettier, a tad bit smarter, and more sympathetic.  Our antagonist, Chris Hargenson (Portia Doubleday) is an entitled evil bitch of a character whose inability to take responsibility for her deeds.  After posting the cruel video of the tormented Carrie, she is unable to accept the consequences of her actions.  Facing suspension from school and prom, Chris calls upon her daddy to bail her out of trouble.  Her delinquent boyfriend, Billy Nolan (Alexander Russell) is more menacing than "Welcome Back Kotter's" John Travolta.  The somewhat sympathetic character Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) finds she is pregnant in this version.  Her boyfriend, Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) does a nice job of trying to sooth Carrie’s fears and truly is a gentleman.  Judy Greer (Love & Other Drugs) plays gym coach Ms. Desjardin, and plays her just as caring and sympathetic as Betty Buckley did in the original.

erhaps it's just me, but I don't feel the same reaction to this film as I did to the original.  Part of that may come from the fact that I was only 13 when Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie starred in De Palma's vision of the horror that can manifest itself in mommy – daughter issues on steroids.  I wasn't able to watch it until the early 80's when I saw it on HBO or I rented it on VHS.  At the time, I was truly shocked.  Spacek wasn't quite a household name yet, and at the time of Carrie, she was only really known for playing Holly in "Badlands" starting opposite Martin Sheen as the young lovers based on the Starkweather – Fugate serial murders of the late 1950's.

hloë Moretz has made a name for herself in films like "Kick Ass," and "Hugo.”  Her horror film resume includes the 2005 remake of "The Amityville Horror," the paranormal revenge film "Wicked Little Things," the under par comedic horror Depp fest "Dark Shadows," and "Let Me In," the remake of the Swedish vampire horror film, and now "Carrie.”  Although Chloë's timid, mousy Carrie is believable, I had a hard time not thinking that Hit-Girl would make a less psychic, but more dramatically intense appearance. Or perhaps Abby the vampire would start feeding on her tormentors.

“Go to your closet!”

ulianne Moore's performance is convincing as she goes about mumbling prayers, whispering Bible verses, and reinterprets the Bible to fit her purposes.  With small wooden crosses on every wall of the White's household, Moore's fervent stares, her flagrant self-abuse, and her refusal to live in the 21st century, builds a believable character study of the extreme religious fundamentalist fanatic.  Who can blame her, with the youth of today pairing up and sexually cavorting while sucking each other's face in the school parking lot? 

arco Beltrami’s ("World War Z," "Warm Bodies," "The Woman in Black," "My Soul to Take") score is both emotional and effective.  Gone are the “Psycho” like violin scrapes that accompanied Carrie’s telekinetic outbursts in the original.  Most effectively is during the destruction at the prom.  The score heightens and enhances the emotional turmoil as Carrie flings people and objects around the gym like a Sith Lord in the throes of dark ecstasy as she wields her power as she turns to the dark side as she releases her rage and frustrations at the prom goers.  I think for remakes, or re-imaginings to work, there must be something new meshed harmoniously with the original to make it worthwhile and different, but enough of the original to keep the original fan base around.  A couple examples of this would be, the 2004 TV series “Battlestar Galactica,” and J.J. Abrams alternative time lined “Star Trek.”  Carrie, I think could be better served with a change in casting Moretz in the title role.  She is a good actress, but she is too pretty for the part.  Instead of the girls in the gym class picking on the ugly duckling that is also socially awkward, and introverted, we have the haves picking on the have-nots.  That is a product of Kimberly Peirce’s subtle shifting of the emphasis in mentality and the emotion in the script.

ullying is still an important issue for families everywhere.  Just about every week, I see an article on my Facebook feed about someone’s children who has killed themselves over being bullied at school.  While cinematically we revel at Carrie’s revenge upon her classmates, we know of the true tragedy of bullying and the victim’s desire for revenge can have first hand – in real life.  That is because we live in a post Columbine age.  Carrie is interesting in that the film shows us a divide in the United States of social class, religious thought, and even an underlying split in politics. The Whites lives in a modest house, and Margaret works at a dry-cleaners doing tailoring and repairs.  They are modest, they are religious, and they are different.  Peirce uses extremes to show these differences.  At school, there is a social divide, Carrie is cute, but the other girls are pretty and privileged, they go to hair salons and have cell phones.

ne of the best things that Peirce does is update the hairstyles and the clothing of the characters.  Besides Beltrami’s score, songs from Passion Pit, Cults, and A Place to Bury Strangers play in the background throughout the prom, and during the film.  Carrie is an okay movie that will keep you entertained and at least part of the movie, will give you a sense of horror.  I would wait for the Blu-ray or DVD on this one. 

Movie Data

Genre: Drama, Horror
Year:  2013
Staring: Julianne Moore, Chloë Grace Moretz, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Ansel Elgort, Judy Greer
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Producer(s): Kevin Misher
Writer: Lawrence D. Cohen, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Stephen King
Rating: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date:  10/18/2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ender's Game ~ You Will Be The Last | Featuring Ben Kingsley

Ender's Game ~ You Will Be The Last | A Constantly Racing Mind

A new Ender's Game trailer is available.
"In the near future, a hostile alien race (called the Formics) have attacked Earth. If not for the legendary heroics of International Fleet Commander, Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), all would have been lost. In preparation for the next attack, the highly esteemed Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and the International Military are training only the best young children to find the future Mazer. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a shy, but strategically brilliant boy is pulled out of his school to join the elite.
Arriving at Battle School, Ender quickly and easily masters increasingly difficult war games, distinguishing himself and winning respect amongst his peers. Ender is soon ordained by Graff as the militarys next great hope, resulting in his promotion to Command School. Once there, hes trained by Mazer Rackham, himself, to lead his fellow soldiers into an epic battle that will determine the future of Earth and save the human race." ~ Summit Entertainment
The film is directed by  Gavin Hood and follows a young Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, who is a military savant. Asa Butterfield plays Ender who is his early to mid-teens when this story starts, trains at the Battle School. Harrison Ford plays Ender's instructor at the school and runs him through a series of games designed to teach Ender War Tactics. After successfully completing a zero gravity war game, the instructors agree that Wiggan is a tactical genus.

Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford,  Viola Davis, and  Hailee Steinfeld, and Asa Butterfield star  in this fight for survival for humankind..

Look for  "Ender's Game" on Friday,, November 1st, 2013 in the United States and on October 25, 2013 in the United Kingdom.

In the trailer above, Mazer Rackham is telling (yelling) at Ender. Loudly explaining that war is not a game that you can reboot at any time.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Year:  2013
Staring: Ben Kingsley, Harrison Ford, Abigail Breslin, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis
Director: Gavin Hood
Producer(s): Orson Scott Card,Robert Chartoff, Lynn Hendee, Linda McDonough, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, 
Writer: Gavin Hood
Rating: Rated PG-13
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date:  11/1/2013

All images courtesy of  Summit Entertainment

Monday, October 14, 2013

Captain Phillips: Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi In A Pirate's Tale

Captain Phillips ~ Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
"No problems, Irish.  Everything will be all okay."
T he choice to go with an unknown group of Somali actors was not only the right choice, but also the best decision.  Although Tom Hanks ("Philadelphia," "Forrest Gump") is excellent as Richard Phillips, captain of the he Maersk Alabama, a commercial shipping vessel, but it is the actor Barkhad Abdi as the Somali pirate Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse who brings this story to life.  He is called Muse, pronounced Musi, and he is of unknown age.  Both of these actors are excellent in the portrayal of two men from different cultures trying to survive in today's rapidly changing world.  "Captain Phillips" is a two hour and fourteen minute intricate and mesmerizing thrill ride into the minds of third world pirates.
T here is no need to have the tag line cry out that this film is "based on true events."  This is a story that played out on the national news in April of 2009.  Although, there are probably some aspects of the story which may not have happened exactly as depicted, or were changed to make the story more entertaining, we must remember that director Paul Greengrass ("The Bourne Supremacy", "The Bourne Ultimatum," "The Green Zone"), and the actors Tom Hanks, and Barkhad Abdi, can only give us a small glimpse into the terror of the three days that Captain Richard Phillips was held as a hostage starting on April 8, 2009.  The screenplay is based on the book by Richard Phillips titled "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea."  Screenwriter Billy Ray ("The Hunger Games", "Flightplan"), adapts Richard's book for the big screen with all the fact and fiction that make seeing these types of films worthwhile.

Captain Phillips ~ Capture | A Constantly Racing Mind

I n 2009, the United States’ great economic recession had just reached its lowest point that March.  In 2009 Richard Phillips was 53 years-old, a husband to his wife, Andrea, father of two children, Mariah and Daniel, and was a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.  Phillips is assigned to captain the American registered MV Maersk Alabama and is responsible for the lives of 20 men.  While checking his email, Richard Phillips double checks his assignment to the Alabama, he checks that he has his passport, and he packs a picture of his family.  On the way to the airport, he discusses his fears for his family in a world that is changing way too quickly.  He worries that his son needs to finds a direction in life, that if he doesn't do well in school, that he will miss job opportunities.  While in Somalia, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) awakes to the local warlord driving into his village, causing fear as he rallies the fishermen to get off their asses and go seize some ships and do some legit pirating.  The kicker here is that this is not a Disney film that these pirates are real and people will die.
“It is only business. Nobody will get hurt”
T he contrast that director Greengrass sets down immediately is that while Phillips has a job, and looks forward for his children's future, Muse and his village just want to survive the day.  What we see, is that the villagers must find a way to pay for the privilege to go pirating.  One of the many items offered up is Khat, a plant that is ancient and indigenous to the area.  The plant tends to act as a stimulant, causes a sense of euphoria and a loss of appetite.  Early on, we see that Muse has a rival in his village who is in charge of one of the two skiffs that hunt the waters for ships to loot.  Within the first 40 minutes of the film, we see that life in Somali is a dog-eat-dog world and only the desperate and ruthless survive.  Muse picks three of his fellow villagers to go in his skiff, Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman), the young Elmi (Mahat M. Ali), and the angry and reckless Najee (Faysal Ahmed).  All four of these actors give excellent performances that seem to stem from a sense of brutal anger. 

Captain Phillips ~ Pirates | A Constantly Racing Mind

I mmediately upon boarding the Maersk Alabama in a port in Oman, Phillips takes note of security issues and has the first officer Shane Murphy (Michael Chernus), order the crew to fix them.  There are only 20 men crewing the 17000 + ton, football-field sized, cargo ship.  The film portrays Phillips as a firm but understanding leader as he drills the boat in security measures on apparently its first day at sea.  Timing of events in films has a tendency to either compress or stretch at the whim of the screenwriter.  The actual details in the film may also be small figments of the screenwriter's imagination; however, it seems that the big details are there. 
"We have come too far to turn back now."
F rom the moment the four men stepped onto the bridge, the level of tension that director Paul Greengrass has been building up slowly, now suddenly goes into overdrive.  The twenty minutes that the pirates are on the cargo ship only serve as a foreshadowing of the intensity that is to come later.  Phillips is kept as a hostage when the pirates escape in the small lifeboat, Greengrass ups the ante by focusing on the eyes of the characters.  By doing this, we see and feel the emotions that rage in these actors.  We can see Phillips thinking, planning, plotting, and we can see his fear.  In Abdi, we see through his eyes a sense of hope within hopelessness.  We see a young man trying to find a way for him and his men to escape their fates.  We see in Najee (Faysal Ahmed) a sense of madness, impatience, frustration, and hate.  Elmi (Mahat M. Ali), the youngest, and wounded during the Alabama's takeover, gives the impression of not only fear, and confusion.  Bilal (Barkhad Abdirahman) is the quietest of the four.
W hat stood out for me was the intensity given off by both Hanks and Abdi.  The interaction between the two is solid and real.  I have heard interviews with the actual Richard Phillips and Hanks seems to have nailed his New England accent.  The film has many subtitles as the four pirates speak in Somali for our benefit, while the Phillips character is clueless to what they are saying.  For me, the subtitles kept a sense of movie realism that we as the audience are used to, and find annoying without.  In typical Greengrass style, he films the story in a semi-documentary style with camera movement lending to the realism of the scene. 

Captain Phillips ~ Lifeboat | A Constantly Racing Mind

B arry Akroyd's cinematography is appropriate for this type of semi-documentary film.  Subtle movements, to define the style, yet nothing so vomit inducing.  Christopher Rouses editing paces the film perfectly, keeping us edging closer to the edge of our seats at each turn of events.  Moreover, Henry Jack Mans score is precise, stirs the suspense, and subliminally creates the sense of impending dread.  Paul Green grass pulls of a major coup in "Captain Phillips."  His masterminding and the direction he leads the crew and cast is dynamic, interesting, and almost perfect.  He brings out the emotional tiredness, the frustration and every now and then allows us to see a glimpse of hope.

"I know how to handle Americans."
A lthough the incidents leading to the end of the standoff are well known, Green grass brings the characters and story to life in an interesting and entertaining ways.  "Captain Phillips" is wonderful for what it is, an entertain movie, done well, and gives the audience a sense of national pride.  However, like Ben Affleck's "Argo," many will decry the film for its inaccuracies in characterization, changes in details and the rest of the realities that rear their ugly heads as thy do with all films adapted from novel.  But that doesn't matter, "Captain Phillips" is a must to go see.

Genre: Action, Biography, Drama, Thriller 
Year:  2013
Staring: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman
Director: Paul Greengrass
Producer(s): Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, Scott Rudin
Writer: Billy Ray, Richard Phillips, Stephan Tatty
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: 10/11/2013

All images are courtesy of Sony/Columbia pictures

Friday, October 11, 2013

Original Science Fiction Blockbusters of 2013

Oblivion: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind

Oblivion A Lesson In Remembering

n April 19th, 2013 "Tron: Legacy" director, Joseph Kosinski, opened his second film to Science Fiction audiences. His film was about a man who is having trouble reconciling partial memories of his past, his present situation on a destroyed Earth, and his future. The film stared Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurilenko, Melissa Leo, and Morgan Freeman. Kosinski drew inspiration from many Sci-Fi tropes of past films. "Oblivion" spent 70 days in the theaters and brought in a grand total of $286,168,572 in world wide ticket sales. Only 31.1% were in domestic box office sales while the other 68.9% or $197,061,337 were earned in foreign ticket sales. 

n art as in science, we all stand on the back of others.  We filter our perceptions through the grid of our experiences.  Kosinski has done this by taking, what he thought were some elements of his favorite films of the sci-fi genre and skillfully wove these concepts and tropes to build a story that if it doesn't make you think, it will definitely entertain you. 

Sony / Columbia released on May 31st 2013,  what they had hoped would be a huge success for them. After all, Will Smith is a big star and has for many years, has been a  summertime box office draw. What happened instead is that this $130 million Science Fiction coming of age story barely got off the ground here, in the United States. Domestically, "After Earth" made $60,522,097 and $183,321,030 in foreign ticket sales. "After Earth" walked away with a grand total of $243.8 million world wide. 

ost critics hated "After Earth." The Rotten Tomatoes website gave the film a paltry 11% and had some harsh remarks about the film in general, and more pointed attacks on either the director (M. Night Shyamalan) or the main star, Jayden Smith. While I wouldn't consider the film epic in any manner, I did find the film entertaining. 

This is not your typical Will Smith film.  No sly remarks thrown in, no happy go lucky "Prince of Bel Air," no Captain Hillard whose charisma and appeal we saw in "Independence Day."  No, this is a Will Smith playing a father whose life and his son's life are in grave danger and how he is unable to save the day himself.  On one hand, we have Kitai working to defeat his greatest opponent in this film, and that is himself.  In a Jedi/Zen sort of way we are instructed that "Fear is not real. It is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice."  Jaden Smith plays his part perfectly.  

Pacific Rim: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind

Pacific Rim ~ Apocalypse Canceled

n July of this year, Guillermo Del Toro took a childhood fantasy about the monster films he watched as a child and gave them an updated new look. Instead of focusing on one Kaiju, Del Toro focuses on several in "Pacific Rim." Like the other Sci-Fi films discussed in this post, DelToro's monster mash failed to make back its $190 million production budget in domestic dollars. "Pacific Rim" made $407,545,104 in world wide ticket sales. The studios, however, like domestic dollars to pay back production costs. While Guillermo's baby made $305.8 million in foreign sales, the film barely made $101.7 million in the United States. 

ritics had more favorable comments toward "Pacific Rim" giving the film a ripe 72%, while the users gave it a solid 80%. Partial credit for the film's success goes to Travis Beachamt, who co-wrote the screenplay with Del Toro. 

uillermo del Toro is a complete fan boy and loves to bring stuff from his childhood to the silver screen in bold new ways.  From "El Laberinto del Fauno" ("Pan's Labyrinth"), "Hellboy," "The Devil's Backbone," and the films that he has produced such as "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," and recently "Mama," all depict a certain sense of Guillermo del Toro's longing for the days of his childhood and his sense of philosophical justice that he brings to his films.  "Pacific Rim" is not epic, but it is impressive and awesome.  He and Beacham bring action and adventure, characters designed to be liked and sympathized with, and in some cases, unexpected comic relief that brings to mind the days before our innocence was lost.  Overall, "Pacific Rim" is that movie that the whole family can enjoy and not feel guilty about having to watch a completely mindless action film.

Elysium: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind

Elysium ~ Somewhere Over The Wheel In The Sky

nticipation for Neill Blomkamp's sophomore film Elysium had been building up during the first half of the year. The question on fan's mind was what social cause was BlomKamp going to take up in "Elysium." He took on racism and apartheid in "District 9." Now his focus is on social inequality. The distinction between the haves and the have-nots is clear and pointed in "Elysium." 

ritics were a little less kind to Blomkamp's efforts giving the film a 68% fresh rating on the Rotton Tomatoes web site. The film was released on August 9th, 2013 which was the same weekend that Disney's Buena Vista films also released its animation kid pleaser "Planes." Overall, "Elysium" fell short domestically only bringing in just over $92 million and $180.5 million overseas. Elysium was in theaters only 59 days and brought in a total of $272,712,297 worldwide. 

ax De Acosta (Damon) lives in a world with little hope.  Los Angeles of the future is nothing more than a giant favela.  Max's world is a place where knowledge is power, and it can be uploaded or downloaded from a computer, into, or out of our brains.  He works in a factory where profit is job one, and safety be damned.  Max who is more of an anti-hero, an ex-con, an orphan, and he is a product of his environment.  A former car thief now on probation, Max is working at a factory that makes security robots.  The factory is owned by corporcrat and CEO, John Carlyle, and top citizen of Elysium, who stands aloof above the workers in his factory.He dismisses the board of directors with a swipe of a finger and demands from his underlings more work and more profits.  While on the floor below Max is doused with a lethal dose of radiation and now has a true motivation to seek the medical attention that only citizens of Elysium can afford.

Gravity: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind

Gravity ~ Review of Sandra Bullock's Impressive Performance In Free Fall

ne would think that a film of an individual floating in space, pretty much alone would make for a boring movie. "Children of Men" director, Alfonso Cuarón proves this thought a fallacy. "Gravity" kept the audience on the edge of their seats. The film is in theaters as of this writing. The film is entering its second weekend and is already approaching the $80 million mark. "Gravity" opened strong with $55 million in domestic sales. As of this writing, "Gravity" boasts over  $102 million in worldwide box office sales and the critics at Rotten Tomatoes a solid 97% wile users of the website gave it only 90%.

ith its message of hope and the films allusions to evolution, Alfonso  and his son Jonás wrote a story that is essentially a roller-coaster ride of a film. The film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, however, Sandra Bullock is excellent as she portrays a women dealing with the idea of death and the search for a reason to live. Many of us face this question on a day-to-day basis; not a space catastrophe, but the basic question of why are we here. She handles these questions with a believability that resonates with the audience.

one of these have made their production budget back from domestic dollars, except perhaps "Gravity." I don't know if this is because of very high production budgets allotted to the film's director, or is it because the audience is voting with their wallets and just not venturing out to see these films..Going to a theater to see a film is costly and can be a pain in the ass. Science Fiction films this year, for the most part, were entertaining and worth watching, if not on the big theater screen, or IMAX, but are worth watching on a rented Blu-ray or DVD. Each film had a message and each had its own set of flaws that made the film unique in Sci-Fi genre. I liked each film for different reasons and found that each invoked different emotions upon watching them with my family. The goal of these films are to entertain and distract the viewer from the unrest on foreign soil, or from the inability fo our own government from going broke and shutting down.