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Rating History

The Quatermass Xperiment
16 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Professor Bernard Quatermass. Most American genre fans will be unfamiliar with the name of this fictional character, unless they've come across [i]The Creeping Unknown[/i], [i]Enemy From Space[/i] or [i]Five Million Years to Earth[/i] (as they were retitled for release in the United States). Professor Quatermass, the head of the fictional British Experimental Rocket Group, originated in a BBC serial written by Nigel Kneale in the early 1950s. The success of the low budget, quickly produced serials made crossovers into other media more than likely.

In 1955, Hammer Studios produced the first theatrical feature, [i]The Quatermass Xperiment[/i], directed by Val Guest from Kneale's first BBC serial. Commercial success led to a sequel, [i]Quatermass 2[/i] (the first English-language sequel to feature a number in the title), and more than ten years later, [i]Quatermass and the Pit[/i], the first to be filmed in color. Kneale wrote a final serial for the BBC in 1978 (it made no room for additional sequels). Quatermass and his exploits continue to be considered highly influential in science fiction, influencing the long-running Dr. Who series (including one storyline that borrowed heavily from the third serial) and later, Chris Carter's [i]The X-Files[/i]. Just this year, the BBC revived Quatermass with a new production (performed live, it remains unaired in the United States).

As a standalone film, [i]The Quatermass Xperiment[/i] will leave novice viewers wondering why Quatermass became such a popular character in England. Quatermass, as played by American actor Brian Donlevy in the first and second films, is peevish, hot-tempered, and arrogant, with only an anti-authoritarian, anti-establishment streak to make him palatable. In [i]The Quatermass Xperiment[/i], Quatermass has succeeded in sending a manned rocket into space. The rocket ship has crash-landed in the English countryside. Rushing to the scene, Quatermass and his colleagues discover only one survivor (out of three), Victor Carroon (Richard Wordsworth). Victor has devolved into a state of near-catatonia. Quatermass, interested more in what Victor may have learned in space, shows little interest in his well being (Quatermass is too single-minded to allow empathy or compassion dictate his actions). That role is left to Dr. Gordon Briscoe (David King-Wood) and Victor's wife, Judith (Margia Dean), both of whom try, without success to break through Victor's silence.

Victor, of course, isn't what he seems. His catatonia hides not just knowledge of outer space and whatever might exist there, but somehow, he's brought something back with him. What that might be is better left unsaid, since it provides one of the few pleasures in an otherwise slow-to-develop, dialogue-driven storyline. After initial resistance from Quatermass, Victor is hospitalized (rather than quarantined, as he probably should be). Chief Inspector Lomax (Jack Warner) slips into the storyline, concerned about the strange disappearance of the two Victor, or rather something, escapes, causing a few offscreen deaths along the way, a massive manhunt, a suspicious slime trail, a scene involving a monster and a little girl (most likely lifted from James Whale's [i]Frankenstein[/i]), a few dead animals at the local zoo, and finally, after much dawdling, a confrontation at Westminster Abbey where the fate of England (and, therefore, the world) is at stake. No points for guessing who wins. Quatermass, unbowed by a brush with an extraterrestrial organism that posed a substantial threat to humanity, chillingly decides to press on with his experiment.

As expected for a film made with limited resources circa 1955, the special effects in [i]The Quatermass Xperiment[/i] are, to be charitable, laughable. While we never see the rocket ship in flight (we hear it), the final transformation from man to monster is missing and when we do see the monster (an all-too unimaginative puppet), is less than impressive. The audience is also asked to believe that an oversized, slow-moving, slimy monster somehow escapes detection by the police and average citizens out for their daily constitutionals, until the monster manages to find its way to a scaffold inside Westminster Abbey. Given the time period, the less said about the science, the better. To be fair, Kneale was writing speculative fiction, but given the fifty-year time difference, Kneale's ideas are either wrong or simply quaint.

Directing wise, Val Guest does nothing to distinguish [i]The Quatermass Xperiment[/i] from other adult-oriented science fiction films of the period. Guest errs on the side of including too many dialogue-heavy scenes or otherwise superfluous scenes. The actors acquit themselves well, although only Richard Wordsworth as Victor makes an impression (as the sympathetic astronaut). As Quatermass, Brian Donlevy tends to deliver his lines over emphatically, making his characterization unsympathetic (unlike Andrew Keir's interpretation twelve years later in [i]Quatermass and the Pit[/i]). Ultimately, [i]The Quatermass Xperiment[/i] is more notable for its status as the first Quatermass film and its impact on science fiction in the decades that followed.

Zoom (2006)
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Any time a movie studio passes on advance screenings for the press, it?s usually a bad sign that that the studio lacks confidence in the final product. Case in point, [i]Zoom[/i] or, per the extra-long DVD title, [i]Zoom: Academy for Superheroes[/i], a derivative, unimaginative, kid-friendly superhero comedy starring Tim Allen ([i]Galaxy Quest[/i], [i]The Santa Clause[/i]) and a cast of pre-teen and teen actors (plus actors slumming for paychecks, e.g., Courteney Cox, Chevy Chase, and Rip Torn). With a by-the-numbers screenplay by Adam Rifkin and David Berenbaum, and uninspired direction by Peter Hewitt ([i]Garfield[/i], [i]Thunderpants[/i], [i]The Borrowers[/i]), there?s little reason to give [i]Zoom[/i] a chance on DVD or cable television, unless, of course, you happen to be a Tim Allen or Chevy Chase completist and can?t wait a few months for [i]Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer[/i] and/or [i]Spider-Man 3[/i]. You should (wait, that is).

[i]Zoom[/i] gives us all the backstory we?ll need to understand what?s going on from the opening credits, comic book style (an idea, like many others borrowed from the comic book-to-film adaptations of Marvel Comics and its well-known superhero characters). Twenty-five years ago, the government created a five-member super team, codenamed ?Zenith,? to save the world from minor and major catastrophes. Eager to exponentially increase the super-team?s powers, the government subjected them to risky ?Gamma-13? radiation. One member of the super-team, Connor Shepard/Concussion (Kevin Zegers), went rogue, killing three of the other members. Conner?s younger brother, Jack/Captain Zoom (Tim Allen), managed to saved the day by actions sending Concussion to another dimension, but lost his [i]Flash[/i]-like powers in the process.

Fast forward to the present. Dr. Grant (Chevy Chase), a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, alerts General Larraby (Rip Torn), the head of the still existing government project, that a time-space, pan-dimensional rift has opened over Long Beach, California. Concussion, it seems, is about to make a comeback, but it?ll take tend days for him to traverse the distance to the site where the original vortex opened up. Grant and Larraby press the now middle-aged Jack into service. They offer him money and the opportunity to spend time with the klutzy, presumably brilliant, Marsha Holloway (Courteney Cox). Jack, paunchy, grizzled, and bitter at a lifetime?s worth of disappointments, shows little interest in helping the government train a new super-team.

Grant, Larraby, and Holloway recruit Dylan West (Michael Cassidy), a 17-year old, longhaired rebel without a clue with invisibility and astral projection powers, Summer Jones (Kate Mara), a 16-year old outcast who can move objects with her mind (and read emotions too), Tucker Willams (Spencer Breslin), a rotund 12-year old with body-expanding powers, and Cindy Collins (Ryan Newman), a six-year old, temperamental blonde moppet with super-strength. Together, they have to overcome their (superficial) differences, learn to work together as a cohesive superhero team, and, with Jack setting aside his cynicism, forming a makeshift family, all before Concussion returns to exact revenge on Jack and cause general mayhem.

So little effort went into writing and producing [i]Zoom[/i] that it?s hard to know where to begin. It?s not so much that [i]Zoom[/i] is painfully bad (well, the fart and gas jokes are) or objectionably offensive (hmm, the all-Caucasian super-team is, in light of the minority candidates rejected initially), but that it?s unmemorably mediocre and generically derivative. [i]Zoom[/i] borrows haphazardly from the [i]X-Men[/i] trilogy, [i]Fantastic Four[/i], [i]The Hulk[/i], [i]The Incredibles[/i], and [i]Sky High[/i], adding nothing new to the mix. The superheroes and their powers are unoriginal, the character arcs predictable (confidence-building all around, sacrificing individualism for teamwork and the good of others, reconciling with the past, chaste romance for the teenage set, comical romance for adults, and lame costumes names for everyone), and the cast transparently bored with their underwritten roles or mugging shamelessly (Mr. Chase, Mr. Torn, three words: voice over work).

Interestingly, [i]Zoom[/i] tries to cover a broad demographic (if by broad we mean an all-Caucasian super-team and cast, with one or two people of color sprinkled in as extras). The super-team, ages 6, 12, 16, and 17, covers the preteen and teen demographic. The adults, ranging from the geriatric (Torn), the near geriatric (Chase), the middle-aged (Allen), and the not-yet-middle-aged (Cox), cover the adult demographic almost completely, with the exception of twenty-somethings. That doesn?t matter, since [i]Zoom[/i] wasn?t intended for anyone in that age range anyway (too young to be parents, too old to enjoy the juvenile humor). Why more thought wasn?t given to the characters, their backstories, or their superhero identities is a question only the screenwriters and the studio (Sony Pictures) can answer and given how quickly [i]Zoom[/i] came and went in movie theaters (no pun intended) minus advance press screenings, they didn?t care much.

If, though, an inoffensive, unoriginal, kid-friendly superhero comedy is your bag, then [i]Zoom[/i] will be forgettable non-fun for the entire family. As an alternative, you can rent or re-rent [i]The Incredibles[/i] or, if you?ve seen [i]The Incredibles[/i] too many times recently, give [i]Sky High[/i] a chance. If that skews too young for your tastes, then give the underseen, underappreciated [i]My Super Ex-Girlfriend[/i] a try (not a great film by any means, but passable entertainment for a Saturday evening). Others might suggest giving the [i]Fantastic Four[/i] a chance, but if they did that, their judgment would be seriously open to question.

Ashes of Time Redux
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Wong Kar-Wai's ([i]My Blueberry Nights[/i], [i]2046[/i], [i]In the Mood for Love[/i], [i]Fallen Angels[/i], [i]Chungking Express[/i], [i]Days of Being Wild[/i]) fourth film, [i]Ashes of Time[/i], released in 1994 in Hong Kong and over several years in the West, returns to cinemas fourteen years later with a new print (cobbled together from various sources) that better serves cinematographer Christopher Doyle's super-saturated palette, a new score better suited to [i]Ashes of Time's[/i] themes and setting, and more coherent, more accessible storytelling. Still present, of course, is Kar-Wai's idiosyncratic, introspective, character-first, action-second take on the [i]wuxia[/i] (Chinese swordsman) genre.

In the early 1990s, movie producers approached Wong Kar-Wai about adapting Louis Cha's [i]wuxia[/i] novel, [i]The Legend of the Condor Heroes[/i]. After struggling with adapting Cha's novel, Kar-Wai decided on a prequel focusing on four characters from Cha's novels, Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung), a cynical swordsman who lives in a remote, desert inn and earns a modest living as an agent for other swordsmen. Every spring, an old friend, Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Ka Fai), visits him. They share stories of the previous year's experiences. During his visit, Yaoshi offers Feng a drink from a memory-erasing flask of wine. Together, they share a story involving a woman, Murong Yin / Murong Yang (Brigitte Lin), who disguises herself as a man. Pretending not to see through the ruse, Yaoshi offered to marry Murong, but fails to appear at the appointed time. A heartbroken Murong attempts to convince Feng to kill Yaoshi.

The scene shifts to the story of the Blind Swordsman (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and a young woman (Charlie Yeung) who approaches Feng, hoping to enlist his services as a swordsman to kill several members of a local militia as revenge for the death of her brother. Feng refuses to act directly, but allows the (nearly) Blind Swordsman to take the contract. For the (nearly) Blind Swordsman, attempting to fulfill the contract means almost certain death, but it's his only chance to see the peach blossoms of his distant hometown before he permanently loses his eyesight. [i]Ashes of Time Redux[/i] also takes in the story of Hong Qi (Jacky Cheung), an impoverished swordsman, and his wife (Bai Li), who refuses to leave his side, and his relationship with the distant Feng.

[i]Ashes of Time Redux[/i] circles back, often elliptically (a Wong Kar-Wai trademark), to Feng's past, his romantic relationship with his brother's wife (Maggie Cheung), and their connections to the mysteriously motivated Yaoshi. As in other films from Wong Kar-Wai's oeuvre (and one of central influences, Michelangelo Antonioni), unrequited or lost love and the inability to transcend that unrequited or lost love result in ruminating regret, existential ennui and enervating despair. What [i]Ashes of Time Redux[/i] doesn't lead to, however, is to the action set pieces [i]wuxia[/i] fans expect from the genre.

While [i]Ashes of Time Redux[/i] contains several set pieces, they flash by in a blur of motion, light, and color that make it difficult, if not impossible, to tell hero apart from foe (or foes). Shifting the focus from action to character, from the external to the internal, of course, was Wong Kar-Wai's intention all along. That limited (and still limits) the potential audience for [i]Ashes of Time Redux[/i]. Outside of Doyle's sensual cinematography, non-cineastes or non-Wong Kar-Wai fans, will find [i]Ashes of Time Redux[/i] difficult to sit through. For Wong Kar-Wai's fans, however, seeing [i]Ashes of Time Redux[/i] as Wong Kar-Wai intended will prove well worth the decade and a half wait.

Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

[I]Andy Goldsworthy ? Rivers and Tides: Working with Time[/I], winner of the Golden Gate Award, Grand Prize For Best Documentary at the 2003 San Francisco International Film Festival, follows Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy engaging in the creation of ephemeral sculptures from natural, preexisting materials in England, Scotland, Japan, Australia, North America, and even the North Pole. For Goldsworthy, art isn't static, frozen in time, but instead, dictated by changing weather and light patterns, and most importantly, the passage of time. In Thomas Riedelsheimer, the director and cinematographer behind [i]Rivers and Tides[/i], and in Fred Frith, the documentary's composer (himself known for his experimentalism and association with John Zorn, among others), Goldsworthy has found collaborators to perfectly complement the exploration of his artwork.

Most of Goldsworthy?s sculptures disappear with the tide or, more slowly, with the changing seasons, dissolving back into the natural world, often leaving no trace of human intervention behind. Goldsworthy chooses to create his ephemeral artwork not in an art studio, but in open fields, beaches, rivers, creeks, and forests (he does, however, photograph his work, paradoxically saving his artwork in a secondary media). For his material, Goldsworthy uses sheets of ice, icicles, snow, driftwood, bracken, leaves, flowers, stones, and sand. For his tools, Goldsworthy uses his hands, unencumbered by gloves, even in frigid, unforgiving conditions. Goldsworthy?s unique approach to sculpture requires an inner awareness and outward manifestation of the connection between art and nature. Goldsworthy rarely works inside an art studio, instead preferring to meld personal expression with nature and natural, sometimes austere, landscapes and bodies of water. His ephemeral sculptures reflect, above all movement, flow, or the potential for movement and renewal. Almost as importantly, by removing the artificial separation between art and nature, and therefore between human creativity and nature, Goldsworthy reproduces the original, primal aesthetic impulse in creating art, of form not just divorced from function, but transcending function into visual, poetic, and spiritual metaphor.

Thomas Riedelsheimer films Goldsworthy as he creates his sculptures in often-harsh, outdoor conditions, opening with Goldsworthy at a frozen, winter-time beach, attempting to create a guardian-like sculpture out of loose rock (Goldsworthy metaphorically refers to one, repeating sculpture as a pinecone, due to the similarity in shapes, and the potential for life hidden inside the pinecone). With the tide hours away, the sculpture collapses, not just once, but several times. Goldsworthy expresses his frustration at being unable to complete his sculpture in time, but he also recognizes that his work occurs at the ?edge of collapse? (an idea he returns to several times during the documentary). Finally completed, the incoming tide overwhelms the stone sculpture. Unlike his other, more ephemeral work made from fragile, natural materials, however, the stone guardian returns with the next, outgoing tide. According to Goldsworthy, the stone guardians act as markers on his personal and professional journey as an artist. The stone guardians are also reminiscent of stone cairns, collections or piles of stones used along mountain paths across the world to mark a specific location, but more meaningfully, as makeshift memorials for the dead.

Later, again working against the incoming tide, Goldsworthy struggles to build a giant nest-like sculpture (a local describes it as a salmon hole) from driftwood on a beach near swirling tide pools. The driftwood is arranged in an open-ended, coiled spiral, a spiral that reflects both upward movement and the swirling movement of water inside a tide pool. After Goldsworthy completes the sculpture, the camera follows the spiral sculpture as the incoming tide first lifts the nest sculpture from the wet ground, and then carries it around a bend in the river, to re-integrate the materials used to create the sculpture back into nature.

En route to Nova Scotia to complete a commissioned work, Goldsworthy talks uneasily about his dislike for traveling (he lives in Scotland with his wife and four children on a sprawling estate). For Goldsworthy, traveling creates a sense of disconnection, not just from his family, but also from a deeper sense of rootedness, contained in his relationship with nature. Once in Nova Scotia, Goldsworthy uses a large stone outcropping as his base, and then uses ice and icicles to create a sinewy trail of ice that appears to disappear and reappear inside the stone. The dawning sun briefly illuminates the new hybrid stone/icicle work, moments before the sun?s rays melt the ice from the stone, dissolving the sculpture into time and memory.

The documentary next examines another commissioned work, the Stone King Park in upstate New York. Here, Goldsworthy designed the work, a giant, snaking, stone wall that wends its way across a forested landscape, interrupted only by a river and dirt roads. Due to the size of the project, the physical work was subcontracted to local stonemasons, with Goldsworthy acting in a supervisory role. At completion, a camera installed on crane travels along the length of the stone wall, then rises to tree level to offer a fuller perspective of the interaction between the wall and its natural surroundings. Riedelsheimer also employs an overhead, birds-eye view, via helicopter, that rises into the sky, further delineating the contours and breadth of the stone wall.

[I]Rivers and Tides[/I] concludes with two, overlapping segments: the first follows Goldsworthy as he collects red, iron-rich stones, crushes them using another rock as a pestle, and releases the red-ochre powder into a moving stream, a waterfall, and into the wind, generating dense, abstract patterns of light and color; the second, teleports Goldsworthy to a wintry landscape as he throws pockets of snow into the wind. Even in the simplest of actions, resembling nothing more than the actions of a curious, if perceptive, child, Riedelsheimer seems to suggest, Goldsworthy?s creativity connects him inextricably, reverently to the natural world.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman (2009)
4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

[i]Wonder Woman[/i], the fourth straight-to-DVD animated feature film from Warner Premiere and Warner Animation (after [i]Superman: Doomsday[/i], [i]Justice League: New Frontier[/i], and [i]Gotham Knight[/i]) is an adaptation of the DC Comics character of the same name directed by Lauren Montgomery ([i]Superman: Doomsday[/i]) with a screenplay by Michael Jelenic and a story by Jelenic and current [i]Wonder Woman[/i] writer Gail Simone ([i]Birds of Prey[/i], [i]Welcome to Tranquility[/i], [i]All-New Atom[/i], [i]Gen-13[/i]). A classic superhero origin story, [i]Wonder Woman[/i] takes its inspiration from George Perez's reboot of the Wonder Woman comic book series that, in turn, followed the [i]Crisis on Infinite Earth's[/i] mini-series that rebooted the entire DC Universe.

[i]Wonder Woman[/i] opens in the distant past, as Hippolyta (voiced by Virginia Madsen), the Amazon Queen, leading a battle of her Amazons against Ares (Alfred Molina), the God of War, and their son, Thraxx (Jason Miller). Some Amazons fall in battle, but so does Thraxx. As Hippolyta prepares to dispatch Ares to the underworld, his father, the Greek God Zeus (David McCallum) stops Hippolyta from administering the coup de grace. In return for Hippolyta's forbearance, Zeus and his goddess wife, Hera (Marg Helgenberger), offer Hippolyta and the Amazons limited immortality (they can be injured and die, but otherwise live forever) and an island paradise, Themyscira, but with one condition: permanently keeping the depowered Ares prisoner on the island. In time, the gods reward Hippolyta with a daughter of her own, Diana (Keri Russell).

With constant training and instruction, Diana grows up into a fiercely capable warrior princess and chafes at her overprotective mother's limitations on her activities. When, however, a U.S. Air Force pilot, Col. Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion), crash lands on Themyscira, and Ares makes good his escape into the outside world, the challenge falls on the Amazons to send one of their own to the outside world. After a competition leaves Diana as the winner, she?s rewarded with the Lasso of Truth, a golden tiara, and the Wonder Woman costume. From there, [i]Wonder Woman[/i] follows Diana as she tries to acclimate to the outside world and its retrograde gender politics and stop Ares before he repowers and begins another war against humankind.

[i]Wonder Woman[/i] efficiently covers the dramatic and emotional beats of the superhero (or superheroine, to be more accurate) origin story, from receiving or winning her superpowers and costume, to defeating her first major villain, with her maturation and independence providing Diana with the necessary character arc. Besides Steve Trevor, Diana?s foil and romantic interest, [i]Wonder Woman[/i] includes several Amazons, Artemis (voiced by Rosario Dawson), Alexa (Tara Strong), and Persephone (Vicki Lewis), as well as Hades (Oliver Platt), the God of the Underworld, Zeus' brother, and Ares' uncle, here depicted as a self-indulgent, corpulent, duplicitous deity. Hades is less the familiar god of Greek mythology than Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and inebriation (Bacchus in Roman mythology).

Like its direct-to-DVD predecessors, [i]Wonder Woman[/i] doesn't shy away from realistic violence (to the extent that animated violence can be depicted as "realistic"), fully meriting its "PG-13" rating. Amazons are, after all, warriors, and warriors fight and fall in battle, their souls transported to the Greek underworld. American soldiers who confront Ares' rampaging demon army in Washington, D.C. die too (mostly off-camera, though). Heads literally roll (typically via semi-tasteful silhouette). All that violence, however, rarely feels gratuitous, thanks to Lauren Montgomery's tightly paced direction. [i]Wonder Woman[/i] never feels too long or two short, a problem that afflicted the earlier entries in the direct-to-DVD animated series.

The animation too is much improved from previous entries. Working with Korean-based Moi Animation Studio, Montgomery and, presumably, DC animation producer Bruce Timm ([i]Justice League: The Animated Series[/i], [i]Superman: The Animated Series[/i], [i]Batman: The Animated Series[/i]), struck the right balance between storytelling needs (e.g., character designs, background detail and texture, set pieces) and the usually limited direct-to-DVD budget. Besides Wonder Woman's revealing costume, while will never change, at least not significantly, the only real problem Montgomery and Timm face is that the "fish out of water" scenario used so effectively in [i]Wonder Woman[/i] has limited utility in subsequent entries (if and when Warner Premiere/Warner Animation greenlights a sequel).