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Vantage Point (2008)

06/08/2011 1 comment

Eight strangers.
Eight points of view.
One truth.

Vantage Point is a political thriller action film directed by Pete Travis, adapted from a screenplay written by Barry Levy. It stars Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, and William Hurt.

A lot can happen in 23 minutes. Today, President Henry Ashton will be attending a political summit in Salambanca, Spain, to promote an international antiterrorism treaty. The summit is being attended by thousands of spectators and covered by the news crew of GNN, who are all eager to see and hear and record what Ashton has to say. However, as Ashton is about to speak, the summit suddenly explodes in a series of terrifying events as Ashton is shot by an unknown gunman, followed by a series of bombs being detonated, including one that takes out much of the staging area for the summit, leaving hundreds injured and dead. After this shocking event, the movie takes you back through the past 23 minutes several times, each from the point of view of eight different strangers, and each time the viewer learns more of the story and finds more pieces to the puzzle, until the full extent of the conspiracy is revealed at last.

I generally enjoy unconventional storytelling methods. The Rashomon style has long fascinated me, and in this case, rather than each witness providing a subjective interpretation of the events, each witness simply sees different parts of the overall story. Going over and over the same span of 23 minutes might seem like it would get repetitive after the first three iterations, but I found this treatment of the multiple-witnesses convention remained engaging throughout as the plot unfolds, with each 23-minute span offering different viewpoints of the same events. What seems like a simple setup turns into a complex series of interweaving events that ultimately spiral towards the climax in unpredictable ways.

In the course of exploring these different perspectives, we also learn a lot about the witnesses themselves: Rex Brooks, whose job is to offer as complete a picture as she can to the television public while keeping things interesting; Thomas Barnes, a burned-out secret service agent who once saved the President from a gunman and whose primary goal is still to defend him from any threat, even as he doubts his ability to do so; Enrique, who is assigned to guard the mayor of Salambanca and finds himself swept up in the terrorist attack; President Ashton himself, who must weigh his own safety against that of the country he leads; Howard Lewis, a tourist just out to videotape the rally but forced to become a hero under unlikely circumstances; and a little girl named Anna, who is attending the political summit with her mother and finds herself an unwitting witness to several key events, only to get separated from her mother as the terror unfolds. While each witness does offer his or her own spin to the events, you also come to care what happens to them as their respective stories interweave with the overall plot, offering several worm’s-eye views of this chain reaction that will ultimately have long-reaching consequences for all of them.

While some may tire of the repeated views of the same span of 23 minutes from different angles, I found the exploration of the central event to be fascinating, and would recommend political thriller fans at least rent Vantage Point. It’s amazing how much things can change just by altering your perspective.

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Species (1995)


I find it ironic that the first entry in former model Natasha Henstridge’s body of Hollywood work is a movie in which she, well, shows off so much of her body. While the “aliens mating with humans” type plot is hard to pull off successfully (and without resorting to tentacle rape), especially in a serious movie, this one also boasted semi-famous actors and a decent plot. Did it succeed? Let’s find out.

Species is a sci fi horror film directed by Roger Donaldson, and starring Natasha Henstridge, Marg Helgenberger, Alfred Molina, Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Forest Whitaker, and creature effects by H. R. Giger.

When SETI was established decades ago, it sent out a polite “hello” to any intelligent races that might be listening, in the form of information about Earth and its inhabitants, including info about our DNA, hoping that someone would say “hi” back. Twenty years later, they got a reply, in the form of information on the creation of an endless fuel source. Cool – they’re friendly! Naturally, when they send their next transmission, a sample of alien DNA and instructions on how to splice it with our own, a government team is set up to see what happens when Tab A is spliced with Slot B. Led by Dr Xavier Fitch, the team tries following the instructions in the transmission, deciding to make the result female in order to avoid any natural aggressive tendencies of a male specimen. Out of a hundred fertilized ova, finally one of them survives gestation, producing a hybrid named Sil, resembling a human girl. She grows quickly and appears to be highly intelligent, but she has violent night terrors which appear to be flashes of genetic memory of home. Her outbursts during these nightmares lead the team to judge her dangerous, and they try to kill her with cyanide gas. She escapes the lab, and a team is assembled to track her down and destroy her before she can mate with a human male, producing more like her and possibly eliminating the human race. Naturally, she has reached sexual maturity since escaping, and is now on a mission of her own – booty.

With a plot like this, one might expect Species to be nothing but softcore porn with only the vague sketches of a plot and shitty special effects to string the sex scenes together. Surprisingly, the movie actually works as a serious thriller. The opening scenes take the time to lay the groundwork for the story, rather than saying, “Here’s a hot alien chick, look at her boobs and don’t worry about the plot.” The story unfolds realistically, with the plot playing out in a logical fashion, winding up to a conclusion that feels genuinely tragic despite its necessity. Sil’s lack of a nudity taboo meshes naturally with her background – she is a creature of instinct, raised in a lab, with heightened senses, greater strength and agility, and the ideal appearance for attracting a mate. She acts and feels like a genuine organism looking for a suitable mate rather than a space slut willing to shag anyone.

The characters are, thankfully, not a cast of morons. While Fitch’s decision to terminate Sil in light of her violent nightmares seems ill-conceived, it makes sense – she is only likely to get stronger and more agile as she matures, and who knows how she sees the world. The composition of the team gathered to hunt her down is also logical: Dr. Arden to study her behavior for clues about her next move, Dr. Baker as a familiar face that Sil might trust, empath Dan Smithson to track her via her emotional states, and mercenary Preston Lennox for when they have her cornered and the time comes to kill her. Even Sil appears to have genuine motives for what she does beyond “gotta get laid”. While she is deadly, she does demonstrate species-perpetuation instincts, and she is decently choosy about her mates (rejecting one hopeful when she senses that he has diabetes). Though she can and does kill several people through out the movie, she is cunning and discreet, and generally kills only to defend herself or erase a sexual rival – this sort of thing happens all the time in nature on Earth – but as a non-native species there is a higher chance of her buggering up the biosphere.

While Species sounds like it might just be a brainless festival of tits and blood, I recommend it to fans of sci fi horror. Giger’s creature effects are amazing as always, Natasha Henstridge is hot, and the whole thing is overlaid on a surprisingly well-developed storyline. Worth a rental.

Repo Men (2010)


Good news: In the near future, biomechanical replacement organs will be perfected, eliminating our dependency on organ donation. Liver gone bad? Get a new one, no problem. Heart defect? Get a new one, guaranteed for a billion beats, no problem. The Union is happy to aid those with good credit or enough money to afford these miraculous devices. With the aid of these artiforgs, you could live to a ripe old age, as long as you keep up on your payment plan. Now comes the bad news: These replacement organs are expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The payment plan is simple, but charges between 20-25% interest. And if you should default on your payments, the Union is authorized to repossess your shiny new liver. Or kidney. Or heart. You didn’t know? You signed a contract authorizing them to do so. It’s no different than defaulting on your house or car. Oh, don’t cry. It’s nothing personal… just business.

Repo Men is a science fiction action-thriller film directed by Miguel Sapochnik, based on the novel Repossession Mambo by Eric Garcia (also written in-universe by the main character), and is probably unrelated to Repo! The Genetic Opera. It stars Jude “Sherlock Holmes” Law, Forest “The Last King of Scotland” Whitaker, Liev “Scream” Schreiber, Alice “Predators” Braga, Carise “Valkyrie” van Houten, Chandler “Knowing” Canterbury, and Robert Fitzgerald “RZA” Diggs.

Remy (Law) works for the Union as a repo man, an agent assigned to track down Union clients who have defaulted on their artiforgs and reclaim them by any means necessary – generally by paralyzing the target and surgically removing the organ with little care for their survival, though he does ask them (post paralysis) of they want to have an ambulance on standby. Naturally, most of their repo targets do everything in their power to avoid repossession, but that’s part of the fun. He and his partner Jake (Whitaker) are considered the best at what they do, but Remy’s wife Carol (van Houten) is horrified at his job, causing Remy to request a transfer to sales. At his final repo job to reclaim a man’s artiforg heart, Remy’s defib unit malfunctions, shocking him into next week and requiring him to get his own damaged heart replaced with an artiforg. Now Remy has a big problem. His sales job can’t hope to pay for the artiforg, forcing him back into repo. Bigger problem: he finds himself starting to identify with the people whose artiforgs he is assigned to repo. No repos means no big salary means he can’t pay for his artiforg means guess who’s on the run from his own co-workers? Remy is forced underground, into the seedier underworld created as a side-effect of the artiforg industry, desperately seeking a way to get out of the system alive.

Now, I was intrigued by the premise of the movie, happily deconstructing the shinier future visions of artificial replacement organs down to the underlying question of how to pay for them and what is to be done if you can’t. From there it could easily go into drama, or thriller, or even black comedy if you played your cards right. The actual execution of the idea was thrilling, and had me on the edge of my seat at times. Law and Whitaker are both excellent actors, and I had to smile and nod at the inclusion of Schreiber (whom I’d previously seen in morally-ambiguous roles in the Scream trilogy and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate) as the lawful evil executive in charge of doling out these super-expensive wonder-organs. Remy’s evolution from “It’s Just Business” to “My God, These Are Actual People” is generally believable, but Frank just seemed to be there as Remy’s foil, the barometer against whom we measure Remy’s change in point of view and growth of a conscience.

The violence and gore was expected, considering the central premise was a bunch of guys whose job it was to take back organ transplants, though it raised the question of how thoroughly the artiforgs would be cleaned before being transplanted into their next victim client. I wondered, though, at the battle training apparently given to every single executive in the building (but in light of the ending, that probably didn’t matter a while lot). Another plot hole I wondered about was how the general public would stand for the sort of legally binding contract that would allow a corporation to cut you open and take back an artiforg, or why there was no mention of health insurance to defray the cost, but my eventual conclusions were “viva dystopia” and “It’s a sci fi movie, so sit back and enjoy it!” If there was a deep social commentary buried in there, I didn’t see it, though it could easily have compared the artiforg repo business to the tendency of insurance companies to refuse to pay for life-saving treatments.

Overall, this was a shallow sci-fi film pretending to be a thought-provoking thriller, splattered with blood and sprinkled with paranoia. Jude Law is pretty, the Union is evil, and the artiforgs are the ultimate deal with the devil. Good for a rental, but be ready to shut off your brain.