22 March 2009

Free Enterprise, Pathology, Sunshine

Free Enterprise
starring Eric McCormack, Rafer Weigel, William Shatner, Audie Englund
written by Mark A. Altman & Robert Meyer Burnett
directed by Robert Meyer Burnett
1998, 121 mins., Rated R

***(out of ****)

If you didn't bother looking at the credits, your everyday moviegoer would probably conclude Kevin Smith wrote and directed this comedy. And keep in mind, this is a huge compliment. I hold Smith at the utmost respect, and even if his films may occasionally not be up to snuff, his scripts are always spectacular. Unfortunately, Free Enterprise doesn't fully reach his caliber of awesomeness, but it's close enough and executed similar enough that it's a admirable and appreciated attempt. I first heard about this flick whilst leaving Faboys a few weeks ago - some fellow audience members were talking about the William Shatner cameo in the flick, and brought up his role here. This was a revelation, although it should have been a hardly surprising one: William Shatner was in another sci-fi comedy! I quickly keyboarded the title to my Netflix Que, and voilia! - it landed in my mailbox two days later. Do keep in mind, the version I'm reviewing is the extended edition pictured above.

Basically, this movie's about growing up, and the difficulties and burdens that come along with that. Life-long Star Trek geeks Mark (McCormack) and Robert (Weigel) are trying to pitch their serial killer movie "Bradykillers" to some studios, but that's going nowhere. Relationship-wise, they're getting nowhere. Life-wise, they're getting nowhere. They're stuck in this rut. But then, one day in a bookstore, they meet their idol, a one Mr. William Shatner, and instead of being this idealistic awesome man, he turns out to be a pathetic oldy who wants to be left alone. This acts as a wake-up call for our two leads. But despite their epiphany, they grow a relationship with Shatner anyway (who has this strange obsession of performing a 6-hour "Julius Caesar" musical on Broadway). Meanwhile, Robert meets the girl of his dreams at a comic store, and it's a difficult road to make sure everything works out well. This whole growing-up things tests Mark and Robert's friendship in a way they couldn't possible imagine! [how's that for a clincher, eh?]

As stated, the script is about as near perfect as you can get. To clarify, Smith is a brilliant writer with a unmatched knack at writing normal, non-screenwrite-y dialog, so to be even in the same league as that guy is a honor in my book. Alright, now that I got the accolades out of the way, the basic premise of Free Enterprise isn't anything new. Granted, Judd Apatow projects hadn't come out when this did, but even then, not new. However, it's the combination of the script and relatable actors that pull this entire project off without a hitch. There's sci-fi and comic references in nearly every scene, there's plenty of sex jokes, and there's your usual "been there, done that" storylines that somehow seem refreshingly new. Kudos to screenwriters Altman & Burnett, I look forward to their work in the future.

McCormack, or "that guy from Will & Grace!" displays his dramatic side, while Weigel and Shatner verge a little more in the pathetic territory as guys who don't know what to do with themselves. Shatner, at least, is very obviously enjoying himself - which is nice to see that a celebrity frequently indulges himself in a little self-referential jokes.

So if you like a coming-to-terms-with-adulthood story with sporadic Star Trek and Star Wars references that nearly shames you because you know where each quote and reference is from, then Free Enterprise is for you. Hell, I'd recommend the movie for Shatner's "Julius Caesar" alone, which I hope sees the light of day on Broadway. David E. Kelly shoulda worked that into a episode of Boston Legal; bollocks - missed opportunities.

starring Milo Ventimiglia, Michael Weston, Lauren Lee Smith, Johnny Whitworth, Keiro O'Donnell, Alyssa Milano
written by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor
directed by Marc Schoelermann
2008, 93 mins., Rated R

*** (out of ****)

Good to know there's people out there as messed up in the head as I am. Once you see this movie, you'll understand my meaning. Pathology is bizarre, and definitely wouldn't survive a wide theatrical release, because I don't think the public would really know how to react to it. The film focuses on the darkness within ourselves, blatantly saying "Dude, it's our nature", and for the more Disney-fed folk, I doubt that's a concept they'd like to explore. But for me, I relish it, I dig it, and I gobble it up, and it's for that reason and plenty of others that I find Pathology to be a awesome movie and highly recommendable.

Inspired by Jason's glowing review of the movie and my interest in Milo Ventimiglia projects (I've been following his career since his Gilmore Girls days; and if you want to start riffing on me about Gilmore Girls, bring it on, dude!), Pathology was a must-see. I figured, at the very least, Milo can flex out his "brooding" abilities: a hardened glare their, a disapproving eye-twitch, etc. Plus, he had that whole wearing dark/badass look going on, so it was obvious he's trying to get himself recognized as a serious, deep actor. And for the most part it works, but Milo is, sadly, unimpressive. Perhaps it's because his work in Heroes has been so lame lately that I'm taking out my disappointment on him here.

Ted (Ventimiglia) just graduated from that oh-so-prestigious place called Yale (no biggie) and gets a internship in the pathology department at a big-time Philadelphia hospital. Being the smarty brains with all the answers doesn't make him a sensational favorite amongst his co-workers, but they decide to reveal to him a little game they've been hatching lately: what they do is that one of the team members goes out and commits a "perfect murder", a once it gets back to the pathology unit, the team have to decipher the cause of death and how that particular person did it. Things, of course, get out of hand, as Ted and Jake, the ringleader of the group, begin competing far outside any sort of civilized boundaries, and unlock their dark, primitive side...

On that note, Pathology very much is a exploration of our primitive nature. As Jake tells Ted, "Really, who needs a reason? We're animals. It's our nature to kill." Jake and the gang enjoy the hell out of what they're doing - the thrill of the murder, of the game. At first Ted is appalled at what's going on, but he gradually becomes intrigued, nearly seduced into what they're doing and decides to join in. He hides what he's been doing to his girlfriend, quite aware of the monster that he's become, trying to maintain what little level of humanity is decentcy he has left in him. Ted's progression from the goodie-two-shoes Yale student to homicidal, revenge-driven master manipulator is a doozy, but riveting to watch nonetheless. It's a waaayy toned down Anakin Skywalker, essentially.

Pathology isn't for everybody, but for those intrigued, I nearly guarantee a good time. Milo fans will eat this up with his mass amount of broodiness, but folks interested in deeper psychological stories with a bit of gore and nudity will revel in the flick's deliciousness. Egh, that's a strange closing paragraph. Pathology's frakked up my head!

starring Chris Evans, Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Rose Bryne
written by Alex Garland
directed by Danny Boyle
Fox Searchlight, 2007, 107 mins., Rated R

*** (out of ****)

This movie was INTENSE!
And I'm so sorry I dismissed this when it hit theaters as redundant sci-fi garbage; I feel really bad now, like I made a deliberate protest of something special. It wasn't until recently - with the constant parading of Danny Boyle's name at every bloody website you visit - that I finally caved in and sat down to watch Sunshine. Though, I gotta say, when we still had promo discs at my work which replayed the same trailers over and over in a loop, the Sunshine trailer nearly always grabbed our attention - the haunting music, the slam-dunk jaw-dropping visuals all caught our interest, but it wasn't exactly something we were all about to go out and see/rent immediately. And like I said above, I was wrong to have that opinion. Although this movie won't appeal to everyone [best example of this would be the work of Richard Kelly: I absolutely hate with a fiery passion his Donnie Darko and Southland Tales, finding both of them self-indulgent pieces of garbage of which he doesn't even know what we 'created'], the beautiful visuals and mesmerizing music alone make the attempt worth it.

In a nutshell, the film's plot is that the sun is dying, and a crew is launched into space to fire this "package", presumably a bomb, into it in order to ignite it for a while longer. At least, I'm pretty sure that's the plan. The crew is made up of self-centered, egotistical scientists seconding as astronauts. Once a transmission from a lost older model of their ship is picked up, the crew conclude that it would be smart to double their chances of success - so they decide to go to this old ship and pick up their "package." But of course, things go terribly awry, and everybody must make sacrifices in order to survive.

Alright, first off, let's speak about the film's most talked-about aspect: the visuals. Yes, indeed, they're everything you heard of, and more! I don't know what type of budget the film had, but just the sequences with the sun alone were awe-inspiring and about as realistic a depiction of the sun as I wager we're ever going to get. This giant ball of fire that is the sun has never before has it been so threatening on film as it is here. Isn't that sorta nifty? It's simultaneously beautiful and frightening! I could spend a good chunk of my day studying the visual effects frame by frame.

Oh, and let's speak about the film's climax, which I know is getting a lot of flake. It really is one of those "what the frak?" moments. Spoilers ahead, in case you didn't get the clue by me saying I'm gonna discuss the ending. Anyway, the ship gets fired up, and Capa (Murphy) is inside the "package", readying it up for it's big delivery [hehehe]. More complicated, bizarre stuff happens and one of the last visuals we see of Capa is him stuck in this giant room as this enormous wall of fire comes right up to him, and instead of burning him to a crisp, stops right before burning his bleeding nose off. We then cut to earth, as we hear a voice over from Capa's last video message sent to his family, saying if the sun is a little bit brighter, then they succeeded. That last minute was alright; I just don't know what the frak happened with Capa inside the "package." It's one giant mess. This ending is brought up in a lot of reviews, and anyone whose listened to a commentary or read some convoluted explanation, I don't care how frakked up it is, tell me!

Murphy and Evans give fantastic performances. I knew Murphy had it in him, but Evans was a surprise, knowing him basically for his action/thriller type flicks. Michelle Yeoh's addition was unexpected, but then again, she co-starred in bloody Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, so this is a giant step up for her. There's several other actors who you'll be pointing your fingers at onscreen, saying "it's that dude!", but the name escapes you.

Get away from all the dazzling special effects and cinematography, what we got here is a movie about people and the choices we make under severe, uncompromising pressure. Or, furthermore, how we bring about such nut-case choices to our doorstep by making choices made with good intention but ending up frakking everything else. There's even a element of fate in all of this, even though I'm quite sure that's not the direction screenwriter Garland was going for. By choosing to locate the earlier model of the spaceship Icarus - made with good intentions, mind you - they've essentially doomed themselves. It's also quite interesting to see characters stand up unselfishly when it's really important and say, "my life's not important - this is. Save earth." When the fate of a entire planet is at stake, ego suddenly takes a back door. How very human of us - we're all-important until some catastrophe happens, and it's then we understand what truly is meaningful and what isn't.

In fact, if you wanted to see a common theme throughout all three of these movies, they're all relatable in that they delve into people and their actions. So, that's kinda nifty how that all turned out, isn't it? Or perhaps I should just take credit for planning it all...

Sunshine is a great movie. Expertly crafted, brilliantly written and acted, and if you can get past the hair-pullingly nutty finale, you will have quite the enjoyable experience. Plus, it's Danny Boyle - you just gotta respect the guy. He may not be the level of Spielberg, but he might someday...


thebonebreaker said...

Three great films ~ glad to see that you enjoyed them all [especially Pathology, as that was a recommendation - thanks for the 'plug' by the way] :-)

Great Reviews Andrew!

Fletch said...

Whoa, whoa, whoa...back it up.

I saw Sunshine in the theater. Thankfully. Of the scads of films I see in the theater, this was certainly one that NEEDED to be seen on a big screen to fully appreciate it.

That said, I hardly think it's *just* the final minute that people, myself included, took issue with. It was the entire third act - specifically, skin cancer god man. The film was rolling along excellently, and then he showed up and turned it into standard-fare horror (and bad horror, at that). That turn in the plot nearly wrecked the whole film.

As for that final final minute, I chalk it up to artistic license and have no issues with it. The way I see it, we're seeing it through Capa's eyes - despite it appearing to be real time, the events depicted probably only took a couple of seconds to actually transpire.

I believe when I reviewed it, I gave the first 2/3 top marks and the final act the lowest mark. Still, I'd recommend it to any sci-fi lovers.

Awesome cast, too.