Tag Archives: The Book of Eli

After Earth – Where there’s a Will, there’s a Jaden

Smith hits the fan: Jaden takes a knee before facing the Volcano Zone level of After Earth

Smith hits the fan: Jaden takes a knee before facing the Volcano Zone level of After Earth

The original teaser trailer for After Earth felt like an M. Night Shyamalan movie. In deep space, in the future, super-soldier Will Smith and his would-be hero son Jaden crash land on an unpopulated, savage world. But twist! It’s Earth!

But much like Shyamalan’s last disastrous venture, The Last Airbender, After Earth isn’t one of the director’s traditional twist-based thrillers, rather a sci-fi action adventure film. And once more the director is considerably out of his element.

Based on a story idea by Smith the elder, and written by Shyamalan and Book of Eli writer Gary Whitta, After Earth is a father/son bonding tale set within a clumsily considered (and more clumsily realised) science fiction universe. The whole venture feels like an excuse for Will to show off his son; Shyamalan certainly has no chance to show off anything here.

Set some 1,000 years after Earth is abandoned for environmental reasons, mankind has settled on a sunny, Grand Canyon-esque planet called Nova Prime (‘new one’ – not even the most embarrassing use of Latin this film demonstrates). Ranger Corps general Cypher Raige (Will Smith, overcompensating for how ordinary his real name is) has become the hero of humanity after defeating an alien invasion; in what would probably have been a much more entertaining movie to watch. He has perfected the art of “ghosting”, suppressing all fear so that the alien beasties can’t see him. But the death of his daughter at the claws of one of the creatures has scarred his relationship with his son Kitai (Jaden Smith), who has sort of been blamed for her demise despite being only about six at the time it happened.

Attempting to reconnect, Cypher takes Kitai on a mission with him, but soon enough an asteroid collision leaves them the only survivors of the starship once it crashes down to Earth. With Cypher’s leg broken, and the only working distress beacon in the tail section of the starship some miles away (alternative title: ‘Lost in space’), Kitai must venture into the sort-of-unknown to save the day and earn top-billing on the movie posters.

Daddy's issues: Will Smith begins to regret relinquishing top billing to his son

Daddy’s issues: Will Smith begins to regret relinquishing top-billing to his son

The lush landscape of Earth is now dotted with plenty of predators and poisonous nasties, mostly mild evolutions of creatures we already have – slightly bigger eagles, slightly bigger cougars, slightly bigger monkeys, slightly bigger leeches, ordinary-sized boars. But, due to science and why-the-hell-not-ery, the temperature plummets to below freezing after nightfall, meaning Kitai must race to reach a series of hot spots – thermal safe zones, assumedly where he can save his game and regenerate in case he is killed in his mission.

In a plot mechanic worryingly borrowed from space Viking movie Outlander, an alien monster being transported by the ship has also survived, and is after Kitai, who must prove himself a fearless hero like his father. The alien, a feral xenomorph thing that shoots needles, is called an ‘ursa’, from the Latin for ‘bear’, because screw education that’s why. There is nothing remotely bear-ish about these things.

There is almost a decent story in the pre-Earth sequences of this film, although Will Smith’s robotic delivery and 14-year-old Jaden’s slightly awkward performance don’t capture the militant father/struggling son dynamic as well as maybe it appeared behind the scenes. Smith Sr., reduced to Morgan Freeman impressions in Jaden’s ear for much of the film, gives his son as much room as he can to act the star, but the young performer is just not up to carrying a movie – especially with only CGI animals to perform against for much of the time.

The locations are lush but the CGI is poor, and when swarms of computerised monkeys rumble through the ferns it looks almost laughable. The action scenes in general are disastrous, with all but one of them cut short after only a minute – an aerial showdown with an eagle ends almost as soon as it begins.

While the architecture of Nova Prime is briefly interesting, the story leaves it so quickly that we never have a chance to be wowed by the $130m production values. The inside of Cypher’s ship looks like something out of Blake’s 7, all cardboard walls and hangar netting. They were going for a look, clearly, but they forgot to finish it. The one piece of design truly worth commending is in the Ranger Corps’ weaponry – they wield ‘cutlasses’, blade handles with control panels on them allowing the wielder to select the blade of their choosing to shoot out from it. It’s a nice idea, and gets a few brief clever uses; but if you’ll remember the last time a sword was the best thing about a film you were watching The Phantom Menace.

It’s impossible to know what anyone saw in this project. What is the moral? Certainly not environmentalism – mankind has only been gone a millennium and Earth looks gorgeous again! The father/son bond is central but never really pushed, and climaxes on a remarkably awkward joke that suggests not so much an understanding has been reached but that neither man is up to their line of work. Wedged in the middle is the most preposterous re-enactment of Androcles and the Lion you could ever hope to witness. The running theme of overcoming fear allows for a lot of The Secret-meets-FDR nonsense talk from Smith, suggesting fear is something we choose to have, even when watching our sisters get impaled by colossal lizard bug monsters, called bears.

Ursa, minor: Kitai (Jaden Smith) faces off against whatever the hell that thing is supposed to be

Ursa, minor: Kitai (Jaden Smith) faces off against whatever the hell that thing is supposed to be

Shyamalan’s failure is most of all not knowing how to control an action sequence, and he seems to have no sense of what audiences want from their thrill rides. Lacking pacing, drama, emotion, action and even a truly unique vision, After Earth is about as big a dud as Hollywood can hope to churn out these days. Not even the combined starpower of Mr. and Mr. Smith can save this one.

1/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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Broken City – Spin City 2000

Broken record: Crooked mayor Russell Crowe reminds Mark Wahlberg who's boss. Again.

Broken record: Crooked mayor Russell Crowe reminds Mark Wahlberg who’s boss. Again.

Another tale of political corruption in the US here, Broken City feels very much a product of a different time, that time being the 1990s.

Written by newcomer Brian Tucker, Broken City sees New York’s slimy mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) trying to win a tight re-election campaign against improbably nice politician Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper). His name sounds like valiant, so you know he’s the good guy. Unfortunately for everyone (including us), the manipulative Mrs. Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having a not-so-subtle affair, and her accomplice may be a member of Valliant’s campaign team. Proper scandal here, like.

Enter Mark Wahlberg’s Billy Taggart, a disgraced former cop let off the hook by Hostetler back in the day, now a struggling private detective. Taken on by Hostetler to spy on his wife, Billy soon ends up getting caught in a web of intrigue and back-stabbery that might make a good TV movie version of L.A. Confidential.

Breaking so little new ground that it actually manages to pack dirt back into that hole, Broken City is however a passable entertainment, the sort of film that you might catch on the telly at 11pm after an aborted night out and be very grateful to have stumbled upon.

Crowe and Wahlberg, two actors prone to violent bouts of over-acting when under-directed, make a surprisingly good pair here, neither quite able to out-class, or out-yell, the other. Zeta-Jones sleepwalks through her role like never before, but the always reliable Jeffrey Wright and comeback king Kyle Chandler provide quality support, however rarely.

Director Allen Hughes, out on his own for the first time having made the likes of From Hell and The Book of Eli with his twin brother Albert, goes for a gritty look in his film, but finds the night sky of New York too polluted with office lights and street lamps. Even in the darkest corners of Brooklyn Hughes can’t quite make New York look like a bad place to live. The constantly moving camera makes one wonder if his D.P. was involved in some twisted re-enactment of the film Speed, where if the camera dropped under 2 miles per hour it would explode.

The main plot may be nothing new, but it has enough little twists to keep the attention, even if it never gives a sense of New York City beyond the corridors of power. The subplots are a mess however, with Billy’s troubled relationship and even more troubled past feeling like after thoughts, which are hardly resolved at all.

With some nice touches, particularly a television debate between Hostetler and Valliant – in which Crowe is finely caked in fake tan – that takes a turn for the nasty, Broken City is still little more than another post-Oscars screen-filler. It will do fine until something better comes along, but it’ll do even finer on Netflix during a post-Christmas party hangover. If you must see it, save it for then.

2/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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