A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 419 – Babylon A.D.

Babylon A.D. – April 23rd, 2011

I am not happy with this choice of movie tonight. I left it up to Andy after we agreed that after my reaction to last night’s movie (tears and severe depression that will likely linger for weeks and I am not exaggerating or misrepresenting) we needed something light and escapist. And he picked this. Dystopic action. I admit, I am more than a little upset about that. I remember almost nothing of the marketing for this and I had very little in the way of context for it. So I trusted it to be a cheesy action flick I could just not think during. Unfortunately it’s precisely the sort of dystopia I was talking about last night. The type I like, but prefer Star Trek to. In other words, it’s so very much the wrong movie for me to be watching tonight.

Really, I think I would have quite enjoyed this on another night. A night when I could handle a dystopic view of the future of our world and not immediately feel depressed. Because the first two thirds or so of the movie are a decently built sci-fi action flick. It’s got a hero I like and some nicely competent women as the focal point of the plot and while I wasn’t pleased to be watching such an unpleasant view of the future I have to admit it was well drawn. Which is part of the problem for me tonight. The unpleasantness is all too easy for me to buy into right now and there’s a point where that stops being fun. If, perhaps, there’d been more of a lead-in for the more mysterious stuff going on, I’d have been better able to detach from it. And it might have helped the ending feel like more of a part of the whole.

The movie is set in a pretty nasty future where large parts of Asia and Russia are a mess of bombed out buildings and refugees living in slums. It’s all desolate formerly urban landscapes and people shooting each other over food. People seem to take it as not so out of the ordinary when a group of armed mercenaries show up and toss a grenade into one of their neighbors’ apartments and escort him out at gunpoint. That is the reality of this world. Toorop, our hero, is led to a waiting car where he meets Gorsky, a mobster who has a job for him: Escort a young woman from a hidden convent in the country to New York. It’ll be dangerous. Getting into the US is virtually impossible and as it turns out, the young woman is a very risky person to have around. Of course. Accompanying her is a woman from the convent. And so the three of them set off through the dangers and chaos of Russia to find someone with the right connections to get them to North America.

Along the way we find out that the young woman, Aurora, has something very strange going on. She reacts to danger before it happens, speaks languages she shouldn’t know, figures out how to operate a submarine and goes uncontrollably wild when she claims she can feel people dying when they don’t make it onto the sub to escape from Russia. She’s sort of a more lucid River Tam. Why is she the way she is? Who wants her in New York? We don’t know. It takes most of the movie for anything much about her to be revealed. Sister Rebeka, who’s taken care of her for her whole life, remains tight-lipped with Toorop even when it’s clear that whatever’s up with Aurora is putting them all in considerably more danger than anticipated. There’s a lot of suspense here. A lot of unknowns.

Unfortunately, those unknowns only get addressed once the movie goes a little off the rails. Once they get to New York we start meeting factions we knew relatively nothing about for the rest of the movie. One scene with the high priestess of a tech church/corporation called Neolite and one encounter with a gang of men claiming to be from Aurora’s father simply don’t do enough to introduce the rivalry going on and the movie suffers for it. Because it turns out that the two sides are really really fundamental to understanding who and what Aurora is and why she’s been brought to New York at all. And you get so little time with them even after they’re revealed that they might as well be anyone. I got the impression that there could have been a lot said about the world through these two groups and how they’re hoping to shape the future but the movie simply never gets the time to do that.

And then there’s the post-ending ending. But while it’s tacked-on at best and leaves one feeling like there’s something missing, that is perhaps because of issues during production and perhaps because it is an adaptation of a book that follows other books. I’m not sure. Regardless of the reason it clearly got the short straw when it came to timing and plot points. And I really think that spending less time on the struggle to leave Russia and incorporating more about the two factions in New York, slowly revealing their plans and backgrounds bit by bit, would have worked out better.

Fortunately, while the plot suffers more than a little, there are some fun performances to watch. Vin Diesel is always great to see in his typical role. And I love that Michelle Yeoh as Sister Rebeka never really lets him boss her around. Mark Strong is always fun to see and given that the other Charlotte Rampling movie we have is Zardoz, I was amused to see her here. So as I said at the beginning, I think I could have rather liked this movie if I’d seen it on another night. But I didn’t and a lot of the things that were good about it – the world building and the setting – were things I really wasn’t in the mood for. Still, it wasn’t a complete loss and maybe some day I’ll put it in again and enjoy it more.

April 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Babylon A.D.

April 23, 2011

Babylon A.D.

There has to be a story behind the making of this movie. It’s a cool sci-fi action movie about a badass unstoppable mercenary escorting a sheltered psychic to America in a dystopic future. I get that. It’s well made and has some well known stars. For eighty percent of the movie it pretty much fulfills my expectations for this kind of futuristic sci-fi. But then it reaches the end and… I still don’t know what exactly happens. The impression I got was that the movie abruptly lost funding while they were filming the end of the movie and it was rapidly finished from a different script just to have something to release in theaters. That’s probably not what actually happened – movies aren’t usually filmed in sequence so even if they did suddenly run out of funds they probably would have had at least some of the ending filmed. I can’t imagine that the end as it appears on this DVD was scripted to be that way – it feels so odd and out of place.

Up until it reaches that ending though It’s a pretty good sci fi adventure film. It starts out in Russia, where a retired mercenary is living on the fringes of a burned out and war torn society. You know that Toorop is an unstoppable killing machine with a heart of gold because he is played by Vin Deisel, and that’s the kind of character he plays. He is press-ganged into taking on an impossible mission by a local crime boss. If he will agree to escort a girl across the borders to America he will get a new passport – a chance to go home.

The girl, Aurora, is of course and enigma. She has been raised in isolation in a cliff side monestray bu her guardian Rebeka. She speaks multiple languages and has oddly encyclopedic knowledge of all manner of things. She has empathic psychic powers. The question is why. Where does she come from and why is Toorop being made to bring her to New York?

I like the world building here. I like the visuals. Particularly when they reach New York and it has a very shiny Blade Runner feel to it. (This is one of the few times that over-the-top product placement feels like an organic part of the movie and is appropriate.) The war-torn anarchy of Russia where the movie starts, with a paunchy and heavily accented Gerard Depardieu, slumming it up as mob boss Gorsky in his high tech armoured personell carrier, is fascinating. This movie depicts a world gone mad, but one not too difficult to imagine when you look at the world of today.

I also spent the entire movie waiting for Michelle Yeoh to start kicking ass, because of course a guardian monk character like Rebeka is a ticking time bomb. She’s a promise waiting to be kept. And for the most part this movie lives up to its promise – right up until the final action scene where Rebeka and Toorop try to save Aurora from two well funded rival bands of thugs who want to deliver her to some kind of insane church of technology.

Then the movie goes on for another fifteen or twenty minutes after that final action scene. First it takes a pretty sharp metaphysical turn into left field as some of the questions about Aurora are answered, then it arrives at another point that could have been a kind of an ending. Then it has a sort of tacked on ending after that grafted onto the movie by means of some expository narration.

The result of the sort of awkward and incongruous endings to the movie is that it feels abrupt, incomplete and unsatisfying. It has all the symptoms of a struggle between the creative intent of the director and the bumbling interference of the movie studio. Which, apparently, is exactly what happened here. It reminds me somewhat of the end of Brazil, but less mental. In the end this seems to me like a movie with a lot of great potential that doesn’t seem to know how to deliver on it when it comes time to resolve things in the end. I don’t know. Maybe it needed another action scene. Maybe it needed to tie off some loose ends. (What happens to the cultists following Aurora and Toorop at the end for example? The movie sets them up to be the nemesis to be overcome and then they abruptly give up and vanish? Very odd.) Maybe the executives at Fox should have eased up and just let Mathieu Kassovitz just make the movie he wanted to make. Who knows what that movie could have been.

April 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment