Europa Report (2013) A crew of astronauts sent to Jupiter’s moon lose contact with Earth and this movie is the their video log found years later. Nice use of found footage from tons of cameras, hard science fiction shows mundane daily tasks, claustrophobic living conditions, intriguing alien environment and excruciatingly slow passing of time. At first they’re excited to find a mysterious life form, even if they can’t ever share their discovery, but the thing is hostile (you don’t see what it is until the very end). Very believable with a nice cast (including Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist), somewhat underdeveloped characters but still easy to get attached to them.
A Long Way Down (2014). Pierce Brosnan is a washed up TV host about to jump off a building when he runs into three other suicidal people: an overwhelmed caregiver (Toni Collette) a motormouth depressed teen (Imogen Poots) and a one-hit wonder who pretends he has cancer (Aaron Paul). They make a deal to delay suicide for another few weeks, check up on each other and become a weird little family. Poots’ character is a politician’s daughter, so the foursome become newsworthy, invent a story about an intervening angel, and then fame becomes as much a burden as loneliness was. Adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel has a great message, that nobody is alone and life can stink but is always worth living, unfortunately the humour is hit and miss, and would’ve probably worked better if it was even darker.
The Love Punch (2013) Divorced couple Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson look forward to retirement but end up penniless after a shady corporate takeover. Lots of potential with these refined folks being driven to plot jewel heists, drug and kidnap, even murder, and the screwy adventure makes them feel young again, but this movie was badly hurt by goofball escapades, and predictable dumb jokes. Brosnan and Thompson have fantastic chemistry, give great, classic screwball performances, and sidekick couple Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie are fun, too bad this talent is wasted in a silly story.
Pawn (2013) Convoluted cops and robbers pretzel plot told through overlapping flashbacks. What looks like a diner robbery is actually a scheme to get a hard drive full of incriminating info away from the mob kingpin who owns the joint. Caught up in the hostage taking are a beat cop (Forest Whitaker), a decent parolee (Sean Faris) who gets framed for the whole mess and a good detective (Common) who suspects his colleague wants to get way too involved. Had the potential to be more original but worth it for crime movie completists and fans of this all star cast including Stephen Lang, Ray Liotta, Marton Csokas, and Michael Chiklis (with a really distracting English accent).
Predestination (2014). After the above string of disappointing/just ok/ordinary films, this one was so fresh, clever and wonderfully bizarre. Ethan Hawke plays time travelling “temporal” agent on his last mission to track down an elusive and infamous terrorist. The plot makes the most of core time travel ideas–the desire to go back to change history, and the slight deviations and choices that send lives off into wildly different trajectories. Pretending to be a bartender, Hawke meets a mysterious writer using the pen name “the unmarried mother,” (Sarah Snook) who treats him to a mind blowing recounting of her life–“I’ll bet you the rest of this bottle I’ve got the best story you’ve ever heard.” When Hawke offers Snook a chance to go back and adjust things, he ends up meeting himself, creates a paradoxical human being that shouldn’t even exist, learns that the result of frequent time travel is mental illness, and finally comes face to face with the “fizzle bomber” (worst name ever) who he might actually have already met. To say more would ruin the thrill of seeing these people’s paths cross, puzzle pieces click into place and your assumptions confirmed and defied, sometimes in the same scene. Based on the Robert Heinlein short story “All You Zombies,” and features a truly extraordinary performance by Snook.
The Guest (2014) Less intellectually challenging but just as refreshingly entertaining and original, even though it draws heavily from 80s horror and action with a twist of sci fi. A mysterious, charismatic, perfect young man, “David” makes an unexpected visit to a bereaved family, and claims to have served in the Middle East alongside their late son. His lies are uncovered by the suspicious daughter, but before a heavily armed agency descends on the rural town to capture him, David fills an empty spot in the family and solves all their problems in a most disturbing fashion. Burns slow to start with, even feels like a TV movie, then shifts into a fast, stylish, violent conspiracy thriller. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) is eerily calm and capable, whether he’s eliminating bullies for the family’s teenaged son, threatening an unfair principal with a lawyerese, or just flashing that creepy smile and displaying impeccable manners. When the truth comes out, he turns into a terrifying monster chasing the survivors in a Halloween haunted house maze. Director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett have fun drawing from great neon 80s action-vigilante-invincible monster movies and create another memorable character, like they did with grade-A heroine and final girl Erin in You’re Next (2011). I wonder which of these two would win in a fight.