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THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997)

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Director: Luc Besson
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 126 min.

For decades, an ancient priesthood has kept the secret knowledge of the Fifth Element—the perfect being—that will save the universe from destruction by an alien foe.  But when the Fifth Element arrives in the world’s hour of need, a group of alien mercenaries destroys its ship; the government only recovers one of the Fifth Element’s hands.  Using that hand, they reconstruct the perfect being in their lab, who turns out to look remarkably like an ordinary woman.  But the Fifth Element is not eager to operate on the government’s terms.  Confused and frightened, she escapes from the lab and winds up in the back of Korben Dallas’ cab.  Korben has gotten out of government service after he was the only survivor of a botched mission, and now he is just trying to make ends meet.  Unfortunately, with the arrival the Fifth Element, he is thrown back into the crazy world of government secrets, militant aliens, and . . . luxury cruises?

I think The Fifth Element is the most ’80-sish movie I have ever seen that was not actually made in the ‘80s… Amazing!  It is hilarious, suspenseful, and also touching.  I highly recommend it to all lovers of quirky ‘80s sci-fi!

THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK (2004)

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Director: David Twohy
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 119 min.

When bounty hunters come searching for the fugitive criminal Riddick on a remote, frozen wasteland of a planet, they severely underestimate their opponent.  Before they even know what happened to them, Riddick has taken their ship and is heading back to the planet that raised the bounty on their head.  There, he discovers that a friend from his past needs his help in saving his world and all worlds from a vicious alien cult that is destroying civilizations throughout the universe.  Riddick is unable to save his friend or his world, but learns that he may be the key to stopping the cult.  He also learns that the young girl he once rescued and used to travel with (Jack) is incarcerated in the worst prison in the galaxy.   And for Riddick, the choice between saving the universe from evil and saving Jack is an easy one.  Jack is his responsibility.  The universe can fend for itself.

If you like sci-fi action and don’t care at all about character development or thematic nuances, then this movie is pretty entertaining.  I kind of feel the same way about this movie as I did about Taken (2008)The hero said he was going to go in there, kick everyone’s ass, and get the girl out . . . and then he did.  The only difference here is an overarching sci-fi good vs. evil theme that is intriguing, but underdeveloped.  It is nice to see a hero-leading lady relationship in an action movie that is more of a brother-sister thing than a romance, reminiscent of Firefly’s Simon and River.  But otherwise, nothing stands out as noteworthy.  Basically, if you want to watch Vin Diesel kill a bunch of people in space and speak in (often amusing) one and two word sentences, this is the movie for you.  The third in the Riddick series just came out September 2013.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

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Director: Alfred Hitchcock
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (released before MPAA ratings)
Running Time: 136 min.

When two thugs kidnap Roger Thornhill from a business lunch at a fancy hotel, he isn’t sure whether he should be more afraid or outraged.  His captors seem to have mistaken him for someone called “George Kaplan,” and they won’t believe him when he tells them they’ve got the wrong man.  When he refuses to cooperate—for the simple reason that he has no idea what they’re talking about—they try to kill him by staging a drunk driving accident. When he survives and returns with the police to the mansion where he was being held, his captors have carefully covered their tracks, making him seem like a paranoid drunk.  But the last straw comes when the kidnappers frame him for the murder of a United Nations diplomat.  Now Roger is on the run—from the kidnappers and from the police—and the only hope he has of clearing his name is to find the real George Kaplan.

You know a film was made by “the Master of Suspense” when you’ve seen it ten times and it still makes you jump.  As is Hitchcock’s strength, the suspense comes as much from action as from lack of action, mystery, and uncertainty.  Humor and sexual tension is smoothly blended into story, and unlike many thrillers today, Hitchcock does not ignore the visual artistry of his filmmaking when focusing on the action of the plot.  His intentional, deliberate use of color and carefully composed shots make his film attractive as well as exciting.  Yes, you must be tolerant of 1950s special effects and ridiculous (and sexist) flirty banter, but Hitchcock’s masterpiece is a must-see for thriller lovers.  Definitely a favorite of mine.  I highly recommend it!

THE WORLD’S END (2013)

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Director: Edgar Wright
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 109 min.

The greatest moment of Gary King’s life was the night he and his four best friends did the Golden Mile—12 pubs, 12 pints, from the First Post to the World’s End.  Well, almost to the World’s End.  They never quite made it to the last pub before collapsing on the hill to watch the sunrise.  A decade later, Gary’s friends have moved on to careers and families, but for washed-up Gary, that high school moment still stands out as his greatest almost-achievement.  And he is determined to “get the band back together” for another go at the Golden Mile—this time to the World’s End.  With his friends reluctantly joining him, Gary returns to his hometown, but he is sure something strange is going on.  No one remembers him.  He was Gary King—the one and only!  But the people act as though they have no recollection of him at all.  As his friends begin to get frustrated with his self-centered immaturity, Gary may be on the verge of having to confront certain truths about his life and grow as a person.  Until he discovers that the whole town has been swapped out with deadly alien robot creatures. . . .

I have been involved in some pretty fierce debates over which is more awesome: Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz.  Unfortunately, The World’s End falls short of the earlier Wright-Pegg-Frost collaborations.  Don’t get me wrong—it was hilarious.  I laughed pretty much the whole hour and a half.  But it lacked the emotional depth and cleverly incorporated social commentary that made its predecessors great.  The emotional stakes in The World’s End were really low.  When friend turned robot, there was none of the emotional angst of Shaun vs. his mum or Danny vs. his dad.  We never got to know Gary King enough to understand him and root for him, and there was very little character development overall.  In contrast to Shaun of the Deads smooth and clever real world/zombie apocalypse parallels, the surface level social commentary in World’s End was poorly integrated throughout the film, causing the ending to fall kind of flat.

All that said, it was still hilarious.  Though I was never emotionally invested, I still enjoyed the movie.  Don’t clamber to see it in the theaters, but if you enjoy the traditional Wright/Pegg/Frost blend of wit, slapstick, and absurdity, The World’s End is sure to keep you laughing.  Just don’t be expecting another masterpiece.

“ORPHAN BLACK” (2013- )

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Creators: John Fawcett and Graeme Manson

After ten months away living with her abusive, drug-dealing ex-boyfriend, Sarah Manning takes a late subway train back to Toronto, hoping to see her young daughter, Kira.  Unfortunately, Kira’s current guardian (Sarah’s own foster mother) makes it clear on the phone that Sarah can’t see her daughter until she has cleaned up her act.  As she is about to leave the subway, Sarah sees a woman identical to herself commit suicide by jumping in front of the train.  In the commotion that follows, Sarah—enterprising young grifter that she is—steals the dead woman’s purse.  She realizes that she looks so much like the dead woman (who is revealed by her driver’s license to be Beth Childs) that she may be able to make even more money by stealing her identity.  But Sarah’s plan to drain Beth’s bank accounts and then escape with Kira goes awry when she discovers that Beth was actually a cop.  Even worse, Beth (now Sarah) is on trial for having accidentally killed a civilian.  As Sarah tries to think on her feet and keep herself out of prison, she also discovers that Beth may have been caught up in something even more sinister and complicated than she first realized.

This show is awesome!  It is a funny, suspenseful Sci-Fi thriller (though you wouldn’t know it from my description above; the Sci-Fi enters a couple episodes in) and is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat as you try to untangle the mystery.  If you don’t like shows that make you think, this is not the show for you.  But if you like humorous, fast-paced, suspenseful science fiction, you will love this show.  It is incredibly well-written, and Tatiana Maslany is a phenomenal actress.  She can play more than one role and have you fully convinced that she is two different people.  She even has chemistry with herself.  I cannot recommend it highly enough to Sci-Fi and mystery/thriller fans. It is quickly becoming a favorite of mine!

Orphan Black will probably appeal to viewers who like suspenseful yet humorous Sci-Fi such as “Warehouse 13,” “Doctor Who,” and “Firefly.” It may also appeal to fans of suspenseful shows like “Alias” and “24.”

STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS (2013)

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Director: J. J. Abrams
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 132 min.

On a planet in the Nibiru system, Captain Jim Kirk and his crew have broken protocol in order to rescue a civilization from a deadly volcano.   When their plan goes wrong and in order to save Spock’s life, Kirk must violate Starfleet’s Prime Directive—never to interfere with the development of an alien civilization—by allowing the primitive natives to catch a glimpse of the Enterprise.  Naturally, he lies about it in his official reports.  Unfortunately, Spock submits a report as well, and Vulcans never lie.  Admiral Marcus responds to Kirk’s blatant disregard of protocol by demoting him to First Officer and transferring Spock to another ship.  But before these changes can take place, tragedy strikes.  A rogue Starfleet Officer, John Harrison, blows up a Starfleet library, and when the Starfleet Command gathers to address the crisis, Harrison attacks again.  Among the dead is Kirk’s mentor and friend, Christopher Pike.  When Mr. Scott traces Harrison’s teleport back to the Klingon home world, all that is on Kirk’s mind is regaining control of the Enterprise and avenging Pike’s death.  But John Harrison may not be who he seems. . . .

J. J. Abrams has once again created an absolutely wonderful Star Trek film.  I am still amazed at how true this cast is to the original characters they are portraying.  Of course Benedict Cumberbatch is a wonderful addition.  Star Trek fans probably won’t be surprised by any of the “twists,” but that doesn’t matter.  Abrams isn’t relying on any cheap tricks or dramatic revelations.  Everything—from the dialogue to the character development to the action sequences—is well written and engaging.  If you like Sci-Fi and/or action movies, go see Into Darkness!  (I also recommend 3D on this one; it’s great!)  

 

“SHERLOCK” (2010- )

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In a modern-day reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mystery stories, consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and his retired Army doctor flat-mate, John Watson, work with (or in some cases, behind the backs of) the police to unravel London’s most enigmatic mysteries.  Although Sherlock’s inflated ego, abrasive personality, and very annoying and influential older brother, Mycroft, often make John’s life difficult, he finds that the thrill of investigating dangerous cases and seeing Sherlock’s impressive powers of observation in action provide him with a sense of purpose he has not felt since the war.  

“Sherlock” is Steven Moffat at his best.  Using his own gift for piecing together complicated puzzles, Moffat draws from his detailed knowledge of Doyle’s works to craft new mysteries that allude to original Sherlock Holmes stories yet fit comfortably in the modern setting, twisting the classic tales in interesting and exciting ways.  Sherlock Holmes fans will not be disappointed by Moffat’s careful treatment of the characters and story lines but will love catching the allusions to classic Holmes cases.  If you are not familiar with Doyle’s works, don’t worry!  There is plenty to enjoy in this fast-paced, action-packed mystery series no matter how much you know about Sherlock Holmes.  

Six episodes of the mini-series have been released so far with a third (and possibly final) three-episode season to be aired Fall 2013.