Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Rising From Ashes, Europa Report, Drug War

Drug War
Rising From Ashes

Europa Report

A trio of mild discommendations to round out the movie week.
First, the Rwandan bicycling documentary "Rising From Ashes," co-produced and narrated by Forest Whitaker. The cyclist Tom Ritchey asked his friend and rival Jock Boyer, the first American to compete in the Tour de France, to come to Rwanda, assess the (very raw) talent, and determine whether it would make sense to form a national team. Boyer committed to a few months in the haunted but beautiful country and ended up staying for years. Rwanda's hilly terrain lends itself perfectly to mountain biking, the event in which Boyer's prodigal student, Adrien Niyonshuti, earned the right to ride at London 2012. It's a story of great hope and some complexity, but director T.C. Johnstone whitewashes a lot of the backstory (both the riders' and Boyer's, whose guilty pleas to ten counts of lewd conduct with a minor he's allowed to dismiss as "a bunch of bad choices"). Set to an overly insistent score and running only 80 minutes, "Rising From Ashes" plays like an infomercial for the team's training center and chokes on uplift.

I can't comment on the science in the sci-fi faux documentary "Europa Report," but I'd love to hear an astronomer's assessment. Sebastián Cordero constructs his film primarily of video from the cameras onboard a private spacecraft sent by Europa Ventures to explore the possibility of unicellular life under the surface of Jupiter's fourth largest moon. Although it holds your interest most of the time, it's not especially cinematic. The earnest line readings by the low-wattage cast - including Embeth Davidtz and Michael Nyqvist, looking ten years older than he did in the Swedish "Dragon Tattoo" movies - play like screen tests. An intriguing idea eventually gives way to a galactic game of Ten Little Indians, and you don't have to work for NASA to recognize the ending as a real howler.

Hong Kong action auteur Johnnie To moves over to mainland China for "Drug War," a police procedural as all-business as its straight-ahead title. It's a battle of wills between stoic police captain Zhang (Sun Honglei) and in-over-his-head meth manufacturer Timmy Choi (Louis Koo), who faces the death penalty unless he helps Zhang nab his boss, "Uncle Bill," and the laughing smuggler known only as HaHa. I like the peek "Drug War" offers into life in China - To creates some beautiful visuals - but we've seen these set-ups, double-crossings, and power exchanges once or a hundred times before. And we're well past the point when an operatic, everybody-dies ending evokes comparisons to Tarantino.

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