Thursday, March 26, 2015

Culture Shock 03.26.15: Tommy Wiseau trades his 'Room' for 'Neighbors'

Oh, hai neighbors!
"Oh, hai neighbors!"
The enigmatic director of the cult-favorite bad movie "The Room" is back, and this time he's made a television show.

Everyone who has met Tommy Wiseau has a theory about him — where he's from, where he got his money, what's up with that unplaceable accent of his, and so on. My theory, not from having met Wiseau but from having conducted a cursory study, is he's an extraterrestrial, an alien wearing an off-the-rack human suit and trying — mostly failing — to pass as a native of the planet Sol 3, aka Earth.

My theory makes as much sense as any. How best can one describe the man — if indeed he is a man and not a Reptilian from Zeta Reticuli — responsible for what is widely considered the worst movie ever committed to film, "The Room"?

Wiseau wrote, directed, produced, financed and starred in "The Room," apparently imagining it as a serious drama about love, friendship and betrayal. You know, the usual things, only filtered through Wiseau's alien-from-another-planet understanding of them.

Unintentionally, Wiseau created a hilarious comedy of errors. "The Room" is less a film and more a stream of non sequiturs. Characters come and go. Plot threads disappear. And no one reacts to anything the way a normal human would.

One of Wiseau's co-stars, Greg Sestero, recounted the bizarre behind-the-scenes story of "The Room" in his funny, often jaw-dropping book "The Disaster Artist," itself now set to become a movie.

So, when you've made one of the worst movies ever and spawned a cult following around both it and yourself, what do you do for an encore? If you're Wiseau, you do what all of Hollywood's big-name talent is doing these days: You take your game to the small screen.

Thus Wiseau now gifts us with 12 episodes of a half-hour comedy series he calls "The Neighbors." Not that any TV channel — not even E! — would touch this. So, "The Neighbors" is debuting on the streaming site Hulu, which made the first four episodes available last week.

"Seinfeld" was billed as a show about nothing, but "The Neighbors" really is a show about nothing. It contains no real plots and no real characters, just people wandering aimlessly. Wiseau seems to grasp that audiences love "The Room" because of its badness, so he has set out to make a deliberately bad sitcom, peppered with callbacks to fan-favorite lines and scenes in "The Room."

Characters in "The Room" idly toss a football for no reason, so characters in "The Neighbors" idly toss a basketball for no reason. It's Wiseau's idea of a crowd-pleaser.

Wiseau, once again acting as writer, director and star, plays two characters, because one just isn't enough to showcase his talents. The main character is Charlie, the apartment manager. The other, Ricky Rick, is (I think) one of the tenants. We can tell them apart because one is obviously Wiseau in an ill-fitting black wig, while the other is clearly Wiseau in an ill-fitting blond wig.

Other tenants include Ricky Rick's psychic girlfriend, a guy who always has a basketball and loves ice cream, a woman named Philadelphia who never wears more than a bikini, several ethnic stereotypes (one of whom owns a pet chicken) and Troy, a high-strung pothead and part-time arms dealer.

I don't think Wiseau has ever met a real pothead. I mean, I know of some who are arms dealers, but none who are high strung.

There's also a visiting British royal named Princess Penelope, who shows up in episode 2 because that's something British royals do, I guess. Did I mention there are 12 episodes of this?

By trying to make a show that's deliberately bad, Wiseau has succeeded only in making a show that's painfully unwatchable. When the actors blow their lines, miss their marks and fumble their props, it isn't funny, merely tedious. The only laughs come from the cast, and even those are forced.

Yet I've no doubt this is exactly the show Wiseau wanted to make. So, maybe this is Wiseau's way of getting revenge on the audience that laughed at his supposed drama "The Room." If so, maybe he's human after all. And if that's the case, well played, Tommy. Well played.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Culture Shock 03.19.15: 'Vampire's Kiss' brings us peak Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage in "Vampire's Kiss."
If you've ever seen a YouTube montage of Nicolas Cage's most over-the-top performances, you've already seen many of the choice cuts from "Vampire's Kiss," Cage's 1988 dark comedy directed by Robert Bierman and written by Joseph Minion.

Stripped from its context, Cage's performance is unreal. In context, it's almost equally so.

With any other actor in the lead role, Bierman and Minion's film likely would be, at best, forgettable or, at worst, a confused misfire. With Cage at his most bug-eyed and manic, "Vampire's Kiss" is impossible to turn off. Like the vampires of myth, it's almost hypnotic.

Shout Factory now brings "Vampire's Kiss" to Blu-ray as part of a comic horror double feature, paired with Neil Jordan's 1988 supernatural rom-com "High Spirits," starring the equally '80s pairing of Steve Guttenberg and Daryl Hannah.

In "Vampire's Kiss," Cage plays Peter Loew, a womanizing publishing executive who spends his nights cruising clubs and his afternoons confessing his feelings of ennui to his therapist (Elizabeth Ashley). In between he spends most of his time at the office making life miserable for his put-upon secretary, Alva ("The Running Man's" Maria Conchita Alonso).

During one night of carousing, Peter picks up a gorgeous woman named Rachel (Jennifer Beals of "Flashdance") who, in the middle of their passionate encounter, bites him on the neck.

From there, Peter, who already was an eccentric, becomes more and more unhinged as he comes to the conclusion that he is turning into a vampire.

At first we think Rachel might really be a vampire and Peter might really be her victim, slowly transforming into a creature of the night. But it's soon clear all this is Peter's delusion and he is descending into madness. And madness is where Cage excels.

In Victorian vampire literature, such as Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and Sheridan Le Fanu's "Carmilla," vampirism represents a release from one's inhibitions. The proper Victorian heroines of Stoker's novel become depraved temptresses after they're bitten by Dracula. In "Carmilla," virginal women succumb to lesbianism. Vampirism in 19th century literature is, more than anything else, an assault on propriety.

When we meet Peter, he's already a jerk and more than a little odd. Even before the  "transformation," Cage gives Peter a strange, unplaceable accent. But after Rachel bites him, Peter ascends to a whole new level of weird. Cage breaks free of his inhibitions and any sense of propriety, and the audience comes out the winner.

Cage's Peter rants, he moans, he twitches — all the while, his mood swings between existential despair and a kind of malevolent glee. When the "vampirized" Peter really gets his freak on, he resembles a comic version of Max Schreck's ratlike Count Orlok in the 1922 version of "Nosferatu." We laugh at Peter, but we wouldn't want to run into him alone in a dark alley.

Vampires in folk tales display obsessive behavior, and so does Peter. He becomes obsessed with a client's contract, which has disappeared from the office files. The notion that something could simply be misfiled makes no sense to him: You put the contract in the file where it belongs. Simple, right?

The missing contract leads to two of Cage's most delirious rants, one to Peter's therapist and the other to Alva, who by this time has become the primary target of Peter's now overt hostility.

Alonso is Cage's perfect foil. Her Alva is every bit as grounded as his Peter is extravagant. Seen from her point of view, "Vampire's Kiss" isn't a dark comedy at all, but a straight-up horror movie about a woman terrorized by a boss whose behavior becomes increasingly erratic until he finally becomes a danger to her. Alva's perspective keeps us grounded, too, lest we buy into Peter's fantasy.

Cage's filmography is filled with off-the-wall roles, from Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" to the 2006 remake of "The Wicker Man." But none of them is quite as outrageous as Cage is in "Vampire's Kiss." This is where we reach peak Nicolas Cage.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Culture Shock 03.12.15: 'Whiplash' is a horror story

A famous tale in jazz circles involves a young Charlie Parker screwing up during a performance with Count Basie Orchestra drummer Jo Jones and Jones becoming so incensed he throws a cymbal at him. In the more flamboyant versions of the story, Jones "nearly decapitates" the young saxophonist.

It is a transformative moment for Parker. Afterward, he practices. He hones his skills. A few years later, the legend of Charlie "Bird" Parker, one of the greatest sax players ever, is born.

It's a good, strong story, and one we hear repeated throughout writer/director Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash." Yet even within jazz, Bird's story is an outlier, a kind of origin myth.

Bird's story isn't Thelonious Monk's story nor John Coltrane's story nor Miles Davis' story.

Before long, we realize Bird's is the only story Chazelle knows, and "Whiplash," for all its virtuosity, is simply variations on a theme. Chazelle turns it into a campfire tale to frighten children.

One supposes Chazelle thinks he's making a movie about music, drive and the correct ratio of inspiration to perspiration needed to create an artistic genius. What he has made is something more primal — a monster movie for performing arts school students.

Watching "Whiplash" is an intense, even harrowing experience, insofar as watching any movie can be said to be "harrowing." It's an experience I'm happy to have had but not one I'm eager to repeat, and it all comes down to the monster that Chazelle and J.K. Simmons create, for which Simmons claimed a deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

And there is no doubt Simmons' jazz instructor Terence Fletcher is a monster. He stalks his prey like a vampire, seduces with manufactured charm and sweet lies, then destroys. To say Simmons delivers a literally mesmerizing performance is only a minor abuse of the world "literally." There is a bit of Svengali here in both the Fletcher character and Simmons' portrayal.

Seen another way, Fletcher is an abusive spouse, although he never claims he will change or do better. He is too subtle for that. With a smile, a laugh and that Charlie Parker story, he lures his victims into giving him just one more chance without ever asking for it. It's seduction at its most insidious.

Fletcher's perfect mark arrives in the form of first-year student Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller), a green recruit with more ambition than sense, aspiring to be the next Buddy Rich and to avoid the fate of his father (Paul Reiser), a failed writer who has settled into a life of domesticated mediocrity.

Neimann's instrument of choice is the drums, and his quest to master jazz drumming reduces to more speed and greater technique. You can't get soul out of the drums the way a talented musician conjures the soul of a trumpet or sax or piano. The drums seem like a lark, or, at most, Neimann's all-too-blunt method of taking out his frustrations. That makes it all the more difficult to believe Neimann's motives are pure. Does he want to be a great drummer, or does he want just not to be his father? Fletcher probably senses what we do when he quizzes Neimann early on and learns no one else in Neimann's family has any musical inclinations. But for Fletcher's purposes, any motivation will do as long as it becomes an obsession. Taunting Neimann about his dad is just one of Fletcher's strategies. Fletcher doles out psychological and physical abuse so extreme it's impossible to believe it could fly under the radar today at any real fine arts school.

But we must remember: "Whiplash" is a fantasy, and the school is the monster's hunting ground.

One can't overstate what an imposing presence Simmons is. The 60-year-old actor makes Fletcher  all muscle and sinew, powered by rage. Neimann never stands a chance. Each time he seems to take initiative or notch a victory, Fletcher is there to end it. Even when we finally reach the Screenwriting 101 happy ending, we can't take it at face value.

Thanks to Simmons, Chazelle has made a great if hard-to-watch movie, just probably not the one he thought he was making. If there were still video stores, "Whiplash" would belong in the horror aisle.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Culture Shock 03.05.15: We are all Spock

In a season 5 episode of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," "Trials and Tribble-ations," the crew of Deep Space Nine travels back in time to the events depicted in one of the original series' most beloved episodes, "The Trouble with Tribbles."

Seeing Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock walking down an Enterprise corridor, DS9's Dax (Terry Farrell) says, "I had no idea. ... He's so much more handsome in person. Those eyes!"

Avery Brooks' Capt. Sisko says, "Kirk had quite the reputation as a ladies' man."

To which Dax replies, "Not him. Spock!"

Three decades after the fact, "Star Trek" acknowledged what fans had long known: Kirk may have been the "ladies' man," but Leonard Nimoy's Spock was "Star Trek's" real sex symbol.

Nimoy died last week of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at age 83. The emotional outpouring that followed from fans worldwide was swift and overwhelming. No doubt Mr. Spock would have found the reaction fascinating but also logical.

Like most of his "Star Trek" co-stars, Nimoy was a working actor, paying the bills by taking guest roles in some of the 1960s' most popular TV shows before "Star Trek" came along. Mr. Spock was both a regular paycheck — every working actor's dream — and just another character role.

By the decade's end, Spock was on his way to becoming a cultural icon.

For a certain audience, Mr. Spock made being a geek cool decades before being a geek actually became cool. William Shatner's Kirk was for many of us a fantasy, the guy we'd like to be but knew we never could. He wasn't just a ladies' man. Kirk could go toe-to-claw with a Gorn and still trick a computer into self-destruction. The rest of the Enterprise crew were a multicultural collection of aspirational role models. Yet it was Spock — half-Vulcan, half-human — who most spoke to viewers.

Spock was aspirational, too. He was the smartest member of the Enterprise crew, famously logical, meticulous and curious. Yet he was also an outsider. He was the lone Vulcan on a ship crewed by Earthlings, but as half-human, he was also an outsider even on his home planet. His relationship with his father was strained, his love life was complicated and while he claimed to be in control of his emotions, it's more accurate to say Spock was emotionally repressed by choice.

Spock went beyond being a role model for aspiring science nerds. Here was an adult who embodied all of the fears and insecurities of adolescence, no matter how well he hid them.

It was a role Nimoy embraced. Google "Nimoy fan letter" and you'll find his response to a fan letter he received in 1968 from a biracial girl who couldn't fit in among either whites or blacks. Nimoy speaks for his fictional character, but he could easily be drawing on some of his own experiences, growing up the Jewish kid in an Irish Catholic neighborhood.

He titled his 1975 memoir "I Am Not Spock" in part to show the distance between himself and the character he and many talented writers, especially D.C. Fontana and Theodore Sturgeon, had worked over three seasons to create. But Nimoy and Spock proved inseparable.

Nimoy returned to play Spock in eight movies (counting the two J.J. Abrams-directed reboot films) and in a couple of episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Even killing off Spock in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" didn't last. Nimoy also directed two Trek movies as well as the comedy "Three Men and a Baby." He took up writing and photography, and he took on other roles, from Paris in "Mission: Impossible" to, most recently, the enigmatic William Bell in "Fringe." He eventually wrote a second volume of memoirs, this time titled, "I Am Spock."

On Twitter, he invited us to think of him as our grandfather and dispensed grandfatherly advice, always concluding with Spock's Vulcan salutation, "LLAP" — "live long and prosper."

In the end, there is perhaps no better epitaph for Nimoy than the one Kirk provided Nimoy's alter ego in "Star Trek II": "Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most — human."

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Culture Shock 02.26.15: 'Predestination' raises bar for time travel

Hollywood has never done right by Robert A. Heinlein.

Heinlein (1907-1988) may have been the "dean of science fiction writers" and the first of science fiction's "grand masters," but you'd never know it from the movies based on his works. "Destination Moon" (1950), which Heinlein helped adapt, was the first science fiction movie to attempt some semblance of scientific accuracy, but that's about all it has going for it. "The Puppet Masters" (1994), with Donald Sutherland, is forgettable. And Paul Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers" (1997) is a misguided satire that fails on almost every level, especially as anything like a faithful adaptation of Heinlein's novel.

Leave it to the Aussies to get Heinlein right. Written and directed by German-born Australian filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig ("Daybreakers"), "Predestination" is more than just the best Heinlein adaptation to date. It's arguably the best time travel movie to date, and it's certainly the best SF film of the past several years. Nearly flawless in execution, "Predestination" surpasses such lauded but flawed spectacles as "Interstellar" and "Gravity."

It's clich├ęd but true: "Predestination" is just too good, and probably too smart, for theatrical wide release in the U.S. But now, with the relentless hype of Hollywood's awards season finally subsided, this sleeper production arrives inconspicuously on Blu-ray and DVD.

"Predestination" is adapted — and expanded — from Heinlein's 1959 short story "All You Zombies," which thankfully has nothing to do with zombies (another played-out Hollywood favorite).

Ethan Hawke ("Boyhood") portrays a man identified in the credits as "The Barkeep." We know him to be a temporal agent — a time cop, charged with making sure history unfolds as it should.

But he's also a barkeep, and one day a man walks into his bar. It's the classic setup for a joke, only it isn't a joke. It does pack a heck of a punch line, though.

The man (Sarah Snook) was born with both male and female parts, and until giving birth to a baby girl, thought he — or, at the time, she — was a woman, if a somewhat atypical one, named Jane.

Jane has a rough childhood but grows up, as girls do, and even falls in love. Then the man she loves abandons her, and only then does she realize she is pregnant with his child.

After childbirth ruins her female parts, Jane transitions to a man, but being a father is no more in the cards than being a mother. A mysterious man slips into the hospital nursery and steals Jane's baby.

Robbed of both identity and daughter, the man who was Jane wants nothing more than revenge on the man who loved her and left her. And that's when the barkeep makes the man an offer.

That is probably the most misleading and incomplete plot synopsis I've ever written, because to tell you much more about "Predestination" would spoil the experience. I will say the story also involves time travel to four different periods and a hunt across the years to stop a terrorist known as the Fizzle Bomber. Yet even that doesn't tell you what the film is really about.

"Predestination" is a head-spinning experiment in paradox, and it's an ambitious, ambiguous meditation on what it means to be anybody. It's science fiction that does what only science fiction can do: lay bare the human condition. Yet it's also a twist-filled thriller that demands your full attention.

Working with a fraction of a Hollywood blockbuster's budget, the Spierig brothers have to be inventive. The result is some clever time travel effects that do more with off-screen leaf blowers than most directors do with millions of dollars in CGI.

Hawke gives an affecting performance as the time agent, but even his emotionally charged work is overshadowed by Snook's sensational turn in her dual-gendered role. We'll be seeing her in bigger films soon. Snook already has lined up a role in Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs biopic.

Whether or not the future is set in stone, "Predestination" seems primed to attain a cult following while other, higher profile SF movies slowly recede into obscurity.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Culture Shock 02.19.15: 'Fifty Shades,' 'Kingsman' both wish fulfillment

Dakota Johnson in "Fifty Shades of Grey."
Released the same weekend, "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "Kingsman: The Secret Service" look like a classic case of counter-programming. One is a romance — of sorts — that appeals to a largely female audience. The other is a violent, explosion-filled action movie taking dead aim at a young, male and testosterone-charged demographic.

It's like a TV network putting figure skating up against the competition's pro football broadcast.

But looks are deceiving, and "Fifty Shades" and "Kingsman" are as much alike as they are different.

Both movies are wish-fulfillment fantasies. To judge either as a straightforward drama is absurd. Critics realize as much when it comes to "Kingsman," but many do not when it comes to "Fifty Shades." It's an easy mistake to make, because "Fifty Shades of Grey" takes itself far too seriously, which is why it fails to satisfy the way "Kingsman" does.

"Fifty Shades" director Sam Taylor-Johnson has her hands tied. She must, above all else, please a core audience of "Fifty Shades of Grey" readers as well as the book's author, E.L. James, with whom Taylor-Johnson reportedly clashed, if the Hollywood trades are to be believed.

At times, we can see Taylor-Johnson struggling against her constraints. An early scene in which leading man Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) surprises our heroine, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), in the hardware store where she works is funny and playful. It's also the one scene where Dornan and Johnson display any real chemistry. It gives us false hope. Otherwise, the only scene where either character feels like a real person is when Ana is partying with her friends — far away from Christian. (Naturally, Christian shows up to ruin the moment.)

If "Fifty Shades" is too serious to succeed as entertainment, it's too tame to succeed as erotica. The average HBO or Showtime series is more daring. The MPAA's habit of branding a commercially crippling NC-17 on virtually any movie that takes sex seriously guarantees that most movies — and especially wide-release films — won't. Anyone hoping "Fifty Shades" will rival Steven Shainberg's enchanting "Secretary" or Adrian Lyne's "Nine ½ Weeks" — or even Zalman King's feature-length fragrance commercial "Wild Orchid" — is in for a disappointment.

The best one can say for "Fifty Shades of Grey" is it dispenses with James' terrible prose. The play-by-play from Ana's "inner goddess" would have rendered the movie an unintentional farce.

The much-publicized scenes of R-rated bondage and discipline are beside the point. "Fifty Shades" isn't about kinky sex. That's window dressing. "Fifty Shades" is a more domesticated fantasy, one in which an ordinary woman tries to heal a damaged man with her love.

"Kingsman's" wish fulfillment is slightly less far-fetched. It's the fantasy of the boy of modest means plucked from the slums and given a life of gentlemanly excitement and adventure, along with beautiful women falling at his feet.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is the clever, good-hearted street tough recruited by Colin Firth's agent Galahad to join a secret organization of super spies who jet around the world looking fabulous, drinking fine Scotch and bedding the occasional femme fatale, all in the service of queen and country.

In this case, it means facing off against a technology tycoon and environmentalist crackpot played hilariously against type by a lisping, blood-averse Samuel L. Jackson.

Like "Fifty Shades," "Kingsman" improves upon its source material. For the second time, "Kick-Ass" director Matthew Vaughn has taken a grubby, unpleasant comic book written by enfant terrible Mark Millar and turned it into a joyously subversive movie. The result is a love letter to the Roger Moore era of Bond movies, mixed with gleefully cartoonish violence and garnished with a raised middle finger pointed at the capital-E Establishment. (How many movies dare imply President Obama is in league with a supervillain?)

"Kingsman" works because it embraces the fantasy "Fifty Shades" merely flirts with. Audiences deserve a movie that goes all the way.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Culture Shock 02.12.15: 'Jupiter Ascending' is pure pop art

The Wachowski siblings' latest sci-fi epic, "Jupiter Ascending," did anything but ascend at the box office last weekend. More than anything else, that seems like a testament to the ill will audiences still harbor toward "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions."

When it comes to building up a fanatical following only to alienate it, Lana and Andy Wachowski have outdone even George Lucas. They're closing in on M. Night Shyamalan territory.

Unlike Shyamalan, however, the Wachowskis are still capable of making an entertaining movie.

"Jupiter Ascending" is exactly that, disastrous returns aside. Like the Wachowskis' underrated 2008 adaptation of the kitschy 1960s import "Speed Racer," "Jupiter Ascending" is a dazzling if somewhat uneven display of pure, unadulterated pop art. Unlike most of their peers, the Wachowskis still on occasion show us things we haven't seen before — at least not in a live-action movie.

You don't just watch "Jupiter Ascending." You become immersed in it. Seeing the movie unfold is like watching 60 years of science fiction paperback art come alive and envelop you with all the speed and urgency one experiences in Japanese animation. "Speed Racer's" box office failure didn't exhaust the Wachowskis' appreciation for anime, and with "Jupiter Ascending" the Wachowskis draw upon sci-fi traditions from both East and West, creating a fusion that bears an unmistakable Wachowski stamp.

There is more than a little bit borrowed from "Dune," too, both the book and David Lynch's 1984 adaptation. The score by Michael Giacchino often recalls Toto's for "Dune." And like Lynch's "Dune," the Wachowskis' "Jupiter Ascending" may have to wait to find its audience.

Mila Kunis plays our heroine with the pulp-magazine-hero name, Jupiter Jones. Jupiter's amateur-astronomer dad died before she was born, and she grew up in Chicago, raised by her mom (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and aunt, and living with an extended family of Russian immigrant stereotypes.

Despite her smarts and the fact she looks like Mila Kunis, Jupiter is forced to help her family scrape by, tagging along with her mom to dust the picture frames and clean the toilets of the well-to-do.

What Jupiter doesn't yet know is she's the genetic reincarnation of interstellar royalty, specifically the late matriarch of the Abrasax family, which owns most of the known universe, including Earth. That makes Jupiter the rightful heir to a lot of real estate. So, now the matriarch's three bickering children — Balem (Oscar nominee Eddie Redmayne, barely speaking above a whisper), Titus (Douglas Booth) and Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) — are scheming against one another, each trying to get to Jupiter, and her share of the universe, first.

Fortunately, before you can say "Cinderella" — and someone does, just in case you miss the obvious similarities — a dashing hero, although not a prince, swoops in to save the day.

Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) is a genetically engineered bounty hunter — a human gene-spliced with a wolf, making him an expert tracker — sent by one of the Abrasax siblings to bring in Jupiter. But he's not the only bounty hunter on Jupiter's trail, and after a few firefights and chases, Caine and his old friend Stinger (Sean Bean), end up taking Jupiter to claim her inheritance. And that sets up more chases and more firefights. The repetition would be too much if it weren't all so gorgeous. Space battles have never looked so good, and the scenes of Caine "skating" across the sky propelled by his anti-gravity boots put the flying scenes in most superhero movies to shame.

Sadly, it isn't all pretty explosions. This being a Wachowski joint, "Jupiter Ascending" is probably 20 minutes too long, with brief lapses into pop-Marxist flame throwing aimed at a "capitalist" straw man. The Wachowskis also try their hands, unsuccessfully, at comic relief, with a detour lifted from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

"Jupiter Ascending" isn't deep. Its story isn't original. It won't make people rethink their lives, and it won't revolutionize filmmaking, sci-fi or otherwise. But for a couple of hours, it'll take you on a ride that raises the standard for "eye candy." That's not to be underestimated.