Aeon Flux

Posted on December 4, 2005 at 3:31 pm

Maybe it’s just that my expectations were so low because it was not screened for critics (meaning the studios did not think they would get even one good review), but “Aeon Flux” was not so bad. A little boring, yes, especially in the middle section, a little silly and pretentious, yes, we could have done with a little Serenity-style attitude (and especially some Serenity-style dialogue). But we’ve got repressive bad guys and rebel forces, guns, explosions, stunts, some very cool special effects, and Charlize Theron in a skin-tight black outfit low in the front and laced up down the back. There are worse ways to spend a couple of hours at the movies. So when it comes to atrocious Oscar-winners-turned-iconic-action-heroines movies go, Catwoman is still the clear winner.


Aoen (pronounced EE-on) Flux (Theron) lives in a small, walled-in community 400 years in the future. They are the only humans on earth following a devastating virus that wiped out 99 percent of the population. A doctor named Goodchild discovered a cure for the virus and his desendents still control the community. On its surface, it seems idyllic, but the Goodchild regime is oppresive. There are secrets, including the whereabouts of people who just disappear.


Flux says “I had a family once. I had a life. Now all I have is a mission.” Her family has been killed, and she has devoted herself to the rebel forces, which communicate via pills that sort of psychically transport them to a glowing white chamber where they appear before their leader (Frances McDormand with red hair that looks like she stuck her finger in a light socket).


Aeon and her hand-footed (yes, she has hands for feet) pal Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo of Hotel Rwanda and Dirty Pretty Things) are ordered to assassinate Goodchild. This involves infiltrating a compound surrounded by some lethal vegetation — something that looks like a melon crossed with a machine gun and some grass that takes the term “blades” very literally.


But when Aeon sees Goodchild, she hesitates. He seems to know her. She seems to know him. And he seems not to be the bad guy she thought.


It turns out that both Aeon and Goodchild have more to fear from their friends than their enemies. It also turns out that this perfect on the outside-fascist on the inside society has some secrets to reveal.

On the road to all of these discoveries are some showy stunts and action sequences involving swoopy summersaults and slo-mo running. This is one of those perfect on the outside-fascist on the inside societies where everything happens in huge, cavernous spaces for no particular reason except that it’s a cool setting. They don’t seem to have phones; when they aren’t communicating via telepathic pills, they use a sort of directory assistance that’s a computer voice accessed while standing in a huge empty room the size of a cathedral.

All of this sounds like fun to watch, and it is. But there are three significant problems that keep it from working. First, it never finds the right tone. It takes itself too seriously to be fun but does not have enough complexity to be meaningful. It needs wit and attitude badly. This takes us to problem number two: cardboard dialogue of the “Let’s be careful. You know what we’re up against” genre. It does no good to create a visually arresting scene (even with a very visually arresting leading lady) if you’re going to weigh it all down with talk like that. All of this means that there’s a long dull stretch through the middle — problem number three. It’s not a bad time-waster, especially for fans of the genre, and Theron’s lithe dancer’s body and hurt-but-determined expression and some well-staged stunts are quite watchable, but — trying to avoid a spoiler here, so stop reading if you want to be surprised — ultimately it suffers from the same lack of originality as its characters.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of comic book-style action violence including guns and explosions. Characters are shot, punched, stabbed, kicked, and impaled and some are injured and killed. There are some graphic injuries and a couple of gross moments. There is a non-explicit sexual encounter. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of diverse characters, including very strong women.

Families who see this movie should talk about the ethical concerns involved in the choices made by Goodchild and his brother. What do the names tell you about the characters?


Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy the Aeon Flux animated series as well as the Matrix series, and other dystopic future sagas from Soylent Green to Blade Runner.

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Action/Adventure Science-Fiction Thriller

First Descent

Posted on December 4, 2005 at 3:29 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and a momentary drug reference.
Profanity: Very strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, video tape of drunken behavior, references to drug use, discussion of marijuana use while in competition
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, accidents that clearly cause pain, stunt attempts gone awry
Diversity Issues: Strong, competitive female snowboarder
Date Released to Theaters: 2005
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000E0WJKK

When the helicopter takes you to the snowy peaks at the end of the paved road, where “backcountry” describes a style and a philosophy as oppose to a location, you know you are about to see something beautiful. As if snowboarding was not amazing enough in its gravity-defying freestyle and its seemingly-unstoppable downhill speed, this movie takes you to “first descent” snow, untouched and dangerous, to watch the experts glide down avalanches, rock faces and that dauntingly large jump to show the sport off against a vast, wild playground.


It doesn’t matter a bit that “First Descent” follows a well-established formula for sport movie/documentaries. There are the requisite clips from the sport’s beginnings; the gorgeous scenery of snowy peaks; the focus on a handful of the sport’s defining athletes, past and present; and, of course, the representative soundtrack. What matters here is that it welcomes you into the sport like a friend and introduces you to the joy of finding that great “line”. For those who get sweaty palms and nervous stomachs at watching someone stand atop a cliff face, this extreme snowboarding, ranging from free-style to backcountry, will leave them hugging the floor.


The movie is part documentary — describing snowboarding’s roots and its rapid ascension to the fast-growing, mainstream phenomenon it is today — and part field trip, focusing on six athletes who are taken to Alaska for back-country snowboarding. The six are: Shawn Farmer, who was one of the sport’s wild poster boys; Terje Haakonsen, whose no-nonsense style and fearless approach have made him legendary far beyond his native Norway; Nick Peralta, another who helped define the sport; Travis Rice, whose experience in Japan demonstrates a whole new way of looking at snowboarding; Hannah Teter, a game and gifted young Olympian; and, the 18-year-old surprisingly humble superstar, Shaun White, five-time X Games winner. They range in age from 40 to 17 and one of the movie’s strengths is demonstrating how they all learn from one another as they swoosh down the mountainsides.


The choppy cuts back and forth between Alaska, past clips and footage of competitions are at times a bit clumsy and the back-stories for the six are incomplete snapshots (where’s Peralta’s montage?), however these are small bumps on the slope of an otherwise successful movie. It is doubtful that true fans will learn much that they do not already know or that audience goers will remember anything particular once they leave, but the images of snowboarders weaving down vast snow plains or spinning far above the ground make even the least snow-minded understand the businessman who took up the sport at age 60 and whose eyes sparkle as he admits to being a “complete addict”.


Parents should know that this movie is about a sport that can be quite dangerous. These athletes suffer injuries, wipeouts and other bad falls while the potential for a fatal accident is present in many scenes. Anyone who has a fear of heights should avoid the movie unless they are trying to desensitize themselves. In looking at the history of snowboarding, the movie includes some footage of off-the-slope behavior of the “Jackass” variety, including people breaking bottles over their own heads, jumping from high surfaces onto concrete and other extreme stunts. There are scenes of drinking, drunken behavior, and references to drug use. A recap of the Nagano Olympics, when a snowboarder tested positive for marijuana use, is retold with approval. Youth rebellion through new or dangerous sports is a theme of this movie.


Families might talk about the different subcultures within snowboarding and how they defined themselves as well as how those definitions changed with the sport’s increased popularity. They might also discuss the professionalizing and commercialization of sports in general and the impact those changes have, not just on demographics, but on defining a sport. For example, NASCAR, briefly touched on in “First Descent”, had its roots in prohibition-era liquor smuggling: can you see its links to its past?


Families that enjoy this movie might be interested in other extremely photogenic sport films and documentaries. The prolific Warren Miller has made over 40 movies about downhill skiing filled with scenes of graceful skiers leaping and slaloming down beautiful slopes.


The skateboarding culture touched on in “First Descent” is delved into in Dogtown and Z-Boys. While those who like their adventures at sea level might enjoy the surfing classic The Endless Summer as well as more recent surfing movies such as Step into Liquid and Riding Giants.


The majesty of the Alaskan mountains is also the backdrop for the jaw-dropping film diary about Dick Proenneke who heads to the mountains to test himself in a much less athletic but even more impressive way. The film comprises footage that the self-reliant 50-year-old made as he builds himself a cabin and readies himself for winter over the course of 1967, the first of 30 plus years he ends up staying Alone in the Wilderness.

Thanks to guest critic AME.

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Documentary Movies Sports
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