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Movie Review : Sunshine

WARNING: Spoilers present. Sunshine is an 8.5 out of 10.

Sci-Fi movies with good casting, a good story line and considerable suspense are great when you can find them. Movies like Solaris, 2010, and Event Horizon come to mind immediately, and now you can throw Sunshine into that mix.

Sunshine is huge in dimension, both visually and thematically, but it doesn’t hold back on the smaller more grisly realities of life and death aboard this microcosm of humanity that is the spaceship Icarus II. Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) directed this film, and I have to say it was not surprising even though I only made the connection after seeing Sunshine. This guy has some directorial range, and he really knows how to keep you wound up tight, threatening to throw you into a blender at any second.

The Sun is dying and our world with it. A small team of scientist venture forth in a ship the size of Manhattan, protected by a massive sun shield, in order to save the world. They are Icarus II, on a mission to inject a massive dose of nuclear material into the center of the sun in order to restart it. The first mission, Icarus I, failed for reasons unknown, and so now the Icarus II is the only hope for the human race.

Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow in Batman Begins) plays Capa, a nerdy physicist who spends his time brooding over his baby, a comet-sized nuclear payload stored inside the massive ship. Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later) plays Cassie, Capa’s love interest. There is also Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger.. and The Mummy: Tomb of The Dragon Emperor) who plays Corazon, a dedicated botanist who plays nurse to their abundant biological systems which include a huge cavern full of life-sustaining plants.

On the way to the Sun, our ship of scientists detect a homing beacon that has been broadcasting for seven years and can only be the Icarus I. After much deliberation, the crew makes an informed decision to alter their course and rendezvous with the Icarus I if only to acquire the ship’s payload and magnify their own chances for success. During the course alteration, one of the pilots is forced to make a manual modification and subsequently causes damage to parts of the sun shield.

That’s when the fun starts.

Crew members start to drop one by one as they attempt to repair the sun shield and then go aboard the Icarus I only to find the crew turned to ashes in one of the compartments. While tethered to Icarus I, the ships somehow become ripped apart, leaving the only option of re-boarding the Icarus II to be a leap from one ship to the other – three people with only one space suit – count one more scientist down.

Adding insult to injury, they make the mistake of razing their plants in a massive fire that all but extinguishes any hope of them returning to earth.

As our depleted crew nears the sun, their mission almost over, they realize they’ll only have enough oxygen for four people. However, the computer (voiced by a very sexy Chipo Chung) says there are actually five crew members on board. The identity of the fifth member is unknown. Capa confirms the location of the fifth member and confronts him. It turns out that it is Pinbacker, the captain of the Icarus I, who is now burnt to a crisp but has somehow evolved into a higher state of human being due to his proximity to the dimensional warping of the Sun.

It would have been more interesting if the manifestation of the Pinbacker was to test the moral fiber of the team or to have some other higher stake. But it seemed this was just a crazy guy who wanted to make sure the Icarus team failed in their mission with the justification that the scientists were playing with God’s divine plan to let the Sun die. Basically, it’s like a self-righteous Freddy Kruger is suddenly injected into this stunning, highly philosophical tech film. Still, with the arrival of Pinbacker, it does ratchet up the suspense a couple of notches and shows both the perseverance and determination of the crew to succeed in their mission.

Pinbacker attempts to sabotage the ship, offing at least one crew member in the process, but Cassie and Capa make it to the massive cavern that houses the nuclear payload and fights Pinbacker there as he tries one last time to keep the Sun from blooming again.

Does Pinbacker get his wish? You’ll have to rent it to see.

This movie is beautifully rendered with images of the monstrous sun sail protecting the ship like a brilliant shield, the Icarus II against the massive background of the Sun, and huge golden space suits that make you feel claustrophobic just looking at them. This movie constantly weighs the value of one life against the value of many millions of lives and defines some of the best attributes of human nature; sacrifice, loyalty, determination and love.

Oscar Gets it Right

I’ve been watching the Oscars my whole life, and I’ve seen plenty of rip-offs that really irked me. One of my favorite examples is the Best Actor given to Roberto Begnini for ‘Life Is Beautiful’, which led to a ridiculous acceptance speech. I truly believe Edward Norton’s performance as a white supremacist in ‘American History X’ was the greatest of his career, and deserved the award. Paul Newman got stiffed at least 5 times, and of course ‘Shakespeare In Love’ over ‘Saving Private Ryan’ for Best Picture is another travesty. I could go on and on, as there are many times Oscars have been handed out on some other basis besides best work. But in my opinion, that did not happen this year.

‘The Kings Speech’ won 4 major Oscars:

Best Picture, Actor, Director and Screenplay. And I believe it deserved each and every one. As much as I loved ‘True Grit’, the films in competition were simply not in the same category, so to speak. I saw ‘The Social Network’, and while I thought it was a good film, it is not great. While it doesn’t always happen, these awards should go to excellence in filmmaking. And make no mistake, ‘The Kings Speech’ was excellent. The film really got to me, both as an audience member and a filmmaker.

I usually don’t see films in the theater unless I feel they are big-screen epics, but I made an exception after reading the great reviews on Yahoo movies and hearing from family and friends who saw it. I had already seen several of the Best Picture nominees, and wanted to see this one before the Oscars. From the first five minutes of the film, I knew I was in for a great ride. All I can say is that the details of film were executed masterfully, from shots to sharp writing to great acting. Telling a story at this level deserves recognition, because everyone involved seemed to be aiming for excellence. The emotional content hits home, without being too sentimental. Comic touches are used to keep it light, but underneath the seriousness drives the story home. This balance is hard to maintain for 2 hours, but the cast and crew succeed in a way that other films do not. And this is the point: from beginning to end, ‘The Kings Speech’ delivers. That is what makes it a worthy Best Picture.

I give credit to ‘The Social Network’ for its overall achievements, and it did win 2 Oscars for categories I thought it excelled in: music and writing. I especially admired the Coen brothers retelling of the familiar tale of ‘True Grit’, making it their own and causing me to completely forget the original. But these films have no shame in losing to ‘The Kings Speech’, a real triumph at a budget of roughly $10 million, a low figure nowadays. The focus was on telling a story, and doing it effectively. Overcoming adversity never gets old in American film, and even though this was an import, it fits right in with past winners. It’s hard to care about the ‘adversity’ of ‘The Social Network’: who gets the millions? The main gripe seems to be that older audiences aren’t in touch with the youthful relevance of the film, but the lesson of an overwhelmed man conquering a personal struggle and rising to the moment is timeless. That will always be relevant.

I encourage filmgoers to see all these fine films, as each one is very different from the other. It would be a lot easier to do if they’d go back to 5 nominees instead of 10. I honestly don’t know if there are 10 films per year that can be considered ‘Best’ anything. But this year, they got it right. Enjoy!