Movie Night – In Time, Drive, The Thing on DVD

SKIP In Time, the silly sci-fi thriller from writer/director Andrew Niccol.   In Time presents a dark future where everyone stops aging at 25, but at that point you have to purchase or earn additional time, which conveniently counts down on your forearm.  When your clock hits zero, you die. 

This film lets you know early on that it plans on being ridiculous when it introduces Olivia Wilde and lets you know that she’s Justin Timberlake’s mom.  Timberlake plays Will Salas, who lives in the “ghetto” where everyone’s clock is about to run out. 

The time-based society is segregated between the rich, who stockpile thousands of years, and the poor who are always about to die next week unless they can beg, borrow or steal more time.

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Many times, a film like this will get called a “great premise” that is poorly executed.  Not here.  This is not a great premise.  It is a depressing premise filled with depressing, desperate characters.  There is no shock value to the idea of a perpetual youth society nor to a segregated caste society.  The former was done, more or less just as poorly, in the ‘70s film Logan’s Run.  The latter was done 1000 times better in A Handmaid’s Tale.  It certainly doesn’t help that there are huge unexplained holes in both the “science” part of the science fiction and in the various plot devices.  First and foremost, you’d think it would be harder to “steal” someone else’s time than just by grabbing them by the arm.  Hello?  Child safety caps anyone?

But back to our story.  After his mother’s death, Salas “escapes” to the world of the rich (for a society so dependent on segregation, you’d think it would be harder to escape the ghetto than simply going through an unmanned tollbooth).  There he encounters a typical upper class society (the fact that it is filled with servants again begs the question about the desperate need for this society to be “segregated”) and meets sterotypical rich guy Philippe Weis (Vincent Kartheiser).  Even though Will sticks out like a sore thumb as a guy who doesn’t belong with the beautiful people, Philippe introduces him to his family.  In any of a number of creepy visuals, Weis’ mother in law, daughter and wife all look about 19 years old.  The daughter, Sylvia, (Amanda Seyfried) catches Will’s eye.  Maybe it is her typical rich-girl in a movie haircut.  Or maybe it’s the fact that she looks disturbingly like Olivia Wilde.  Seriously?  Eww!

Seyfried with the standard issue rich woman haircut

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The tail end of the movie becomes a “race against time,” as Will and Sylvia go on the run together with their clocks both near expiration, except it is so slow-paced that you wonder how the characters manage to stay awake, especially since half the characters in the movie have their clocks near expiration so that doesn’t exactly add a lot of suspense.  Bonnie and Clyde this ain’t.

There are really no standout performances here.  I’ve noticed that Seyfried tends to play “down” to the level of the material and she does that here.  For a grim character whose mother died and whose entire life has been defined by desperation, Timberlake is a little too cavalier for most of the film.  Cillian Murphy is downright boring as the movie’s main villain, and he gets upstaged by Kartheiser and then gets upstaged by his own minions.  In villain terms, getting upstaged by your minions is really way down there.  Olivia Wilde continues to have a terrible track record as she’s now appeared in three real clunkers – this one, Cowboys and Aliens and Tron:  Legacy.  Someone send this girl a decent script, please!

This film also had a truly annoying habit of celebrating idiotic dialogue.  Remember in The  Flintstones where they replaced every other word with “rock,” like “Let’s go to Rock Vegas” or “Let’s play Rockopoly.”  Do the same thing with “time” and you get an idea of what listening to the dialogue in this movie is like.

Pointless and unsalvageable, In Time was a waste of time.  Don’t waste yours on it.

SEE Drive, the terrific indie-film that plays like a blockbuster from director Nicolas Winding Refn.  From the get go, I loved everything about this movie.  The opening sequence of Drive perfectly set the tone for the rest of the picture, as we see an extended sequence of Ryan Gosling operating as a virtuoso getaway car driver.  There are few high speed scenes like in a typical Hollywood car chase.  Instead, we see Gosling carefully calculating each move as new intel blares through the police radio next to him.  The car chase as chess match is 10 times more thrilling than anything you’ll see in a typical action picture, and Gosling’s silent performance is riveting.  Before the title sequence ever displays, we know we’re in for something special.

We learn that Gosling’s character (whose name is never used) has a day job working at a garage with his pal Shannon (Bryan Cranston).  Shannon also occasionally hooks him up with gigs as a stunt car driver for the movies, but his real dream is to join the NASCAR circuit, believing his young friend has a Michael Jordan-like talent behind the wheel.  Desperate for financing, he turns to the good-cop/bad-cop mobster team of Bernie (Albert Brooks – playing marvelously against type) and Nino (Ron Perlman).  In the meantime, Gosling forms a relationship with his neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her young son.  When her husband returns from prison, still in debt to the criminals who helped send him there, Gosling tries to intervene, but winds up on the run himself.

Gosling’s nameless driver is reminiscent of great anti-heroes of the past, and at time Drive feels like a Sergio Leone spaghetti western with rubber and steel, and a euro-industrial techno soundtrack replacing Ennio Morricone’s spanish guitar.  Refn’s lingering camera gets the most out of Mulligan, Gosling & Brooks and allows them to deliver more powerful performances.  Moreover, Refn engages in a patient, subtle style of storytelling which has worked so well for other import directors like Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) and Susanne Biers (Things We Lost In the Fire).

Gosling’s cool driver in Drive

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Nuanced performances and a solid story are only two of the delights of Drive, and you’re left with the certainty that any movie that looks, sounds and feels this cool got that way because of a director’s vision, and in that sense Nicolas Refn really is the star of this show.  Alternating between worlds – the friendship between Gosling & Cranston, Gosling’s longing for a normal relationship with Mulligan, moments of extreme violence which are never gratuitous, but bring us back into the reality of criminal underworld, all help set the tone, while a wonderfully impersonal score periodically lapses into one of the sweet, atmospheric songs of the soundtrack.   There are several times where it appears the film will jump its tracks, but Refn always reigns it back in at the last moment – delivering taut suspense and heavy-handed drama.  

Ryan Gosling was seemingly in EVERYTHING this year, and to some extent Drive was overlooked while it was in the theaters.  Don’t make the same mistake twice.  This film is a must-see.

YOUR CALL whether to see The Thing, the unnecessary remake of the 1982 John Carpenter classic.  Strictly speaking, fledgling director’s Matthijis van Henigninjen, Jr’s film is not a remake, but a prequel, but since none of the original characters appear in the film (other than “The Thing” itself), it is more of an origin story.  

The plot, the middle of it anyway, will sound familiar.  A research station in Antarctica discovers a crashed alien spaceship buried beneath the ice.  They dig up the frozen alien corpse they find and bring it home with them.  The alien escapes, and pretty soon Antarctic researchers start getting killed.  Clever paleontology grad student Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) discovers that the alien has the ability to copy any member of the team, which means any one of them could be the alien at any time.  No one discovers why the leader of the team Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), who apparently has enough clout in the scientific community to have his own Antarctic research station, would have brought a grad student instead of an actual paleontologist for the biggest discovery in the history of science.  After a couple of disastrous encounters with the alien, the survivors chase it back to its ship, which is suddenly operational after 100,000 years and succeed in killing it (they think).  

If you know the original film, you can see that the entire sequence at the research station comprises the “remake” aspect of this film, and it falls well short.  Missing here is the claustrophobia and paranoia that made the original an all time classic.  Smartly avoiding the classic “alien test” scene from the first film, a clever alternative is devised which is unreliable and does add to the overall level of suspense.  When the film departs from tracking the plot of its predecessor to deliver more of its “origin” story, it also devolves into silliness and plot inconsistencies, which, while not enough to ruin the picture, serve as a reminder of just how far short of the classic original it falls.  The actual “prequel” element to the film, which directly ties it to the storyline of the first film, doesn’t occur until the closing credits.

Winstead goes bad-ass

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There are a couple of bright spots here.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who I would have figured to be miscast as a horror-movie avenger, delivers a strong performance.  As a stand-alone picture, The Thing delivers some decent scares and is overall a solidly suspenseful film, although it occasionally relies on some predictable horror movie conventions that sabotage the atmosphere.  The special effects work well here (although it must be said, no better than the non-CGI work done by Rob Bottin in 1982) and the Antarctic setting is a reliably isolated locale to instill fear.

The bottom line here is that I can’t think of any reason to recommend that you see this picture.  If you loved the original, the origin story will truly add nothing to the story.  If you never saw the original, there is no need to watch this move first, or, sadly, at all.  Instead, treat yourself to seeing an all time horror classic and watch the 1982 The Thing, either for the first time, or as a return to an old favorite.

Kurt Russell in John Carpenter’s classic from 1982

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Rob Lazlo

Rob Lazlo lives in Atlantic City, NJ and is a lifelong Philadelphia sports fan, following the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers. A former professional musician, he toured with the USO and visited Greenland, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Bahrain and many other locales. Rob is a big science fiction fan and loves movies, television, cooking, music and, of course, sports of all kinds. He works as a business consultant and is happily divorced with three children. For other hobbies, Rob plays sports titles video games and dabbles in online games. He also enjoys reading and following politics.

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