By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, December 14, 2012 - 0 Comments
When critics, including this one, swooned over Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life last year, much of what held us enthralled was the film’s rhapsodic images of nature and the cosmos. Malick took us on the kind of transcendental trip that has its roots in 2001: A Space Odyssey—whose director of special effects, Douglas Trumbull contributed to The Tree of Life. Well, no director does trippy transcendentalism better than Canada’s Peter Mettler, who has pushed the cosmic envelope in movies ranging from Picture of Light (1994) to Gambling, Gods and LSD (2002).
Mettler’s latest and most ambitious picture, The End of Time, is a documentary inquiry into the primal essence of what makes us tick. Its subject is time. And as if that were not a vast enough topic for a film that clocks in at just under two hours, right off the bat he brings Einstein into the equation and explains that any film about time is necessarily a film about space. The result is a film about Everything. A plot-less 2012: A Space-Time Odyssey. To call it a documentary is misleading. Mettler does not “document”; he’s one of those filmmakers who goes out into the field with the earnest intent of photographing the eye of God, whether in the cardiac-red glow of lava breaking through the Earth’s fresh-baded crust, or in the drama of a dead lime-green grasshopper being hustled off a blood-red leaf by black ant pallbearers. Cosmomentary would be a more appropriate name for the genre Mettler is pioneering. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 7:34 PM - 1 Comment
Now that the Golden Globes are done and we await the Oscars, it’s the shoulder season, a time when Hollywood dumps the movies deemed not quite good enough to release in time for Academy consideration. This weekend we’ve got three pictures based on true stories, though in each case stagy melodrama upstages the truth. Two of them feature heroic scientists—Extraordinary Measures and Creation—and the third, The Last Station (opening in Toronto only this week) tracks the final days of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. But there’s another, smaller film opening in limited release (Toronto only for now) that I cannot recommend too highly—Petropolis: Aerial View of the Alberta Tar Sands, by Canadian filmmaker Peter Mettler. This mesmerizing documentary reveals Canada’s most controversial natural resources as it’s never been seen. In the tradition of Edward Burtynsky, it finds a terrible beauty in grand visions of environmental devastation. It’s a must see film. But first the mainstream choices:
What ever happened to Harrison Ford? This A-list heavyweight has not aged gracefully, and I’m not referring to his looks. Ford seems to be in fine physical shape, and still game to play the battered action hero, as he did in the most recent Indiana Jones sequel. But as an actor he seems to have atrophied. That righteous stare of paranoid intensity, which might have been suitable for The Fugitive, has become a stock gesture, and seems both contrived and inappropriate for his latest role, as a maverick research scientist in Extraordinary Measures.
Similiar to Lorenzo’s Oil, but not as good, Extraordinary Measures is a drama about the race for a medical cure in which the fate of the protagonist’s kids hangs in the balance. It’s based on a book by Pulitizer-Prize-winning author Getta Anand’s book, The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million – and Bucked the Medical Establishment – in a Quest to Save His Children. The film tells the story of how John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) takes a huge risk by quitting his well-paying job to team up with a scientist (Ford) to find a cure for a fatal disease afflicting two of Crowley’s three children. It’s a fascinating tale. And as with Lorenzo’s Oil, the most thrilling moments are the stuff of science. But thanks to an over-torqued script, and the less-than-subtle direction of Tom Vaughan (What Happens in Vegas), dramatic contrivance tends to get in the way of a good story.
Fraser is the protagonist and plays the lead, but he’s clearly not the star, which poses a problem. Ford, who executive-produced the film, throws the balance of the drama off-kilter with his over-written part as the curmudgeonly scientist with a heart of gold—the renegade who blares ’70s rock in the lab and hates the pharmaceutical suits with such a passion that he jeopardizes the project, yet comes through heroically in the end. Ford’s character, Dr. Stonehill, is actually a composite of several real-life scientists, and he comes across that way, as one of those vanity creations that seems custom-designed for the star, with a luxurious repertoire of behavioral tics. And you have to wonder why this academic hermit, who commutes between the lab and the local pub, looks so pumped in his form-fitting t-shirts—less like a lab rat than a movie star who assiduously keeps himself toned for the next lead role. Ford could take a lesson in shape-shifting from Matt Damon in The Informant. Always the ex-carpenter, Harrison likes to talk about how he’s a team player and how everything he does is in the service of the story. His talk-show mantra is that, even though he’s a star, he doesn’t act like one. Maybe that was once the case. But not here. Continue…