One review and six previews of this weekend's upcoming flicks.
The problem, in part, with films about the terror of deep space is that their lunch has generally been pre-digested for them by the three existing masterworks: 2001, Solaris, and Alien. Like the American fascination with space travel–largely an artifact of our more Earthbound past–the genre is in decline, and while there have been a couple of pleasurable bumps on the way down, like Event Horizon and Duncan Jones' unexpected Moon, the die is already cast. Europa Report, smart as it is, acknowledges this–there's more than a bit of homage to Kubrik's Space Odyssey on display in this faux doc about the first manned excursion to Jupiter's cold moon.
The scenario comes direct from yesterday's headlines: The crew of the commercially-sponsored (in a crafty modern update) spacecraft Europa One are to make the first manned mission to Europa in order to break the layer of ice that surrounds the moon and check for signs of life. The film's framing necessitates that this is two years in the past, thus we know already that the team has met an unseemly fate and that dread is a pre-supposition as the full complement of handheld, helmet and cabin cams are deployed to show us what went down.
Though budget limitations were obviously a constraint, Blair Witch comparisons citing Europa's handheld approach ring false: Realism is the primary task of the shaky assemblage that sputters, stutters, and glitches throughout. There are moments of brilliance that will especially delight afficionados. The shuttle's landing is a near-perfect replica of the moon landing (in HD), and the first space walk is particularly exhilarating. The film's plot duly moves through a familiar space travel arc of elation, boredom, discovery and ultimately, horror. Hanging at dread and sparkling too briefly, it falters in the last point, delivering a twist that feels like too little, too late and drags the film's IQ down a few points.
Despite the intrusion of marquee talent Sharlto Copley (Elysium), whose boisterous American accent makes him more distracting than charismatic, Europa assembles a tidy United Nations of international stars including Hong Kong's Daniel Woo, Michael Nyquist (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and recent True Blood acquisiton Karlona Wydra, all of whom ably portray space station living writ small. Europa isn't for hardcore fans of sci-fi horror, but is candy for science buffs and makes a tidy appetizer for Alfonso Cuaron's deep space IMAX thriller Gravity, which comes out later this year. The discoveries of Europa Report aren't revelatory, but their delivery is nothing short of state-of-the-art. Rotten Tomatoes: 76%. Kabuki.
Other films to catch:
In a World… – Current indie comedy 'it' girl and all-around hottie Lake Bell writes, directs, and stars in this send up of the voice talent industry with a host of other hot comedians. Rotten Tomatoes: 88%. Century Center 9.
Jobs– Everybody's favorite punk (er?), Ashton Kutcher, gets the rare chance to flex his atrophied acting muscles, but is further weighted by the worshipful script and clunky direction of this Apple memoir. Rotten Tomatoes: 40%. Kabuki.
Drug War – Hong Kong godfather Johnny To made a rare trip to the mainland to film this savage, kinetic exploration of the Chinese drug trade, drawn as a deadlock with no winners, only victims. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metreon.
Portrait of Jason – Unsung New American Cinema affiliate Shirley Clarke directs a disarming portrait of a mercurial gay black hustler in this cagey doc admired by John Cassavetes. Roxie Friday. Rotten Tomatoes: 100%. Roxie, Friday only.
Kick-Ass 2 - McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) becomes the world's first super villain in this discombobulated sequel to the inspired 2001 un-super hero flick. Rotten Tomatoes: 44%. AMC Van Ness.
The Artist and the Model – In occupied France an elder sculptor rediscovers passion when he falls for a beautiful Spanish model in this romantic black-and-white miniature by Belle Epoque director Fernando Trueba. Rotten Tomatoes: 65%. Opera Plaza Cinemas.