November 2003IF ANY: see bottom of this page for recent raves and pans if any

The Core

A film directed by Jon Amiel
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Stanley Tucci, Hilary Swank, Delroy Lindo,
Afrew Woodard, Jon Amiel, D.J. Qualls, Tchéky Karyo, Bruce Greenwood

Out of the blue one day, several people—all implanted with pacemakers—inexplicably drop dead in Boston. The government suspects a clandestine enemy weapon, but geophysicist Dr. Josh Keyes (Aaron Eckhart) and a French atomic weapons expert (Tchéky Karyo) prove otherwise. Apparently it's some sort of freak natural geomagnetic phenomenon. The government dismisses the scientists, but Keyes has become curious about what really did happen. His research into the problem turns up other anomalies dealing with the Earth's electromagnetic field, leading him to the conclusion that the Earth's core has ceased rotating(!). This means that the planet's magnetic field is shutting down, leaving us open to be fried by radiation from space. In fact, Keyes's projections show that all life will be wiped from the planet within a year.

Keyes buttonholes famous geophysicist Dr. Conrad Zimsky (Stanley Tucci, in fine form here), who is initially incredulous but eventually validates Keyes's findings.

As you might expect, the only way to get that rascally core to start spinning again is go dig down to it and nuke it to a fare-thee-well.


The good news is, The Core is pretty well-acted and the FX are decent. There is some passable character -- well, "development" is too strong a word here, so let's settle for "interaction." A lot of money went into the making of this show, obviously, but, as is often the case with sf films, not nearly enough was spent on the script. At least they dropped a load on the actors. As a result of the good acting, The Core is at least watchable and even fun in places. But intelligent it is not.

In fact, The Core is almost unbelievably silly, from stem to stern, requiring a much bigger suspension of disbelief than most other sf films I have seen (excepting Armageddon - still my Gold Standard of scientific imbecility). It would not have surprised me one bit if the late Graham Chapman, Monty Python's most accomplished stuffed shirt, had stalked on camera bellowing, "Right! Stop this film, stop it right now! It's getting much too silly, and I won't have it!" To its credit, thankfully, the movie doesn't take itself overly seriously. It knows it's a turkey, best appreciated by boys approximately ten years of age.

Jules Verne had his heroes trek down to the core by means of volcanic tubes and linked caves. Edgar Rice Burroughs is the one who seems to have started the fad for mechanical contrivances, in his Pellucidar series (which books I enjoyed mightily as a kid). I've seen movies based both on Verne and Burroughs, and I admit that The Core boasts some very good FX sequences illustrating the various outrageous calamities. I liked the scene in which microwaves from space - pouring through a suspiciously and conveniently small hole - fry the Golden Gate Bridge.

But, as we all know by now, slick FX do not a great movie make. Still, The Core could have been a lot worse, despite its utter predictability. It's worth a rental if your sf-hating spouse is away on business for a day or so and you want to catch up on recent video releases.

More info: Wikipedia.

Recent Raves

The Station Agent. It's a film written and directed by Thomas McCarthy. What an absolute delight! This is another one of those little movies in which the characters really get under your skin. Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage) is a train enthusiast who works in a Hoboken hobby store repairing model trains. His boss and friend dies suddenly, leaving him a small dilapidated terminal way out in East Nowhere, New Jersey. Fin, a quiet fellow who prefers to be left alone, takes up residence in the station (after walking there from Hoboken!) and is befriended, rather against his will, by a young Hispanic named Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a gregarious hot dog salesman who parks his truck near the terminal every day. Joe doesn't care that Fin is a dwarf - he can't help being a cheerful talkative guy, a real "people" person. Gradually Fin comes to know some of the other folks around him, notably Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) , an artist who has lost her young son, Emily the town librarian (Michelle Williams) and Chloe (Raven Goodwin), a young black girl who lives near the tracks and herself loves trains. Soon Fin finds himself beginning to fit into the community, albeit unwillingly. This movie is about people connecting with themselves and each other. It's simple and small and it's one of the best films I've seen this year, if not the best. I hated to see it end.

Elf. It's a film directed by Jon Favreau. A harmless if silly holiday confection. Will Farrel (late of Saturday Night Live) plays Buddy, who as a baby sneaks into Santa Claus's bag of toys. He grows to adulthood in Santa's North Pole workshop. When Buddy discovers that he is a human being and not just a really big klutzy elf, he goes in search of his real father (James Caan)a children's book publisher in New York City. As far as I am concerned, this cute film is most notable for the second excellent performance I've seen from dwarf actor Peter Dinklage in two days. In Elf Dinklage plays an egotistical children's book writer. During his brief scene he beats up Buddy, who thinks that the diminutive writer is another one of Santa's elves. Elf is a feel-good Christmas movie that is inexplicably garnering a lot of positive reviews. It's going to be far more popular than The Station Agent but if you're interested in seeing a couple of excellent performances by Peter Dinklage that couldn't be more different from each other, check both films out. Just leave the kids home when you see The Station Agent, because its pleasures are subtle and over the heads of the little ones.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It's a film based on the novel by J.K. Rowling, Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic Press), 2003. Don't give me a hard time. I am a Harry Potter fan—what can I say? This latest installment in the Potter series is much more political in nature, in that it gets into the inner workings of the Ministry of Magic. Harry rings true as an adolescent - surly, confused, elated, and headstrong by turns, with much more of a bad temper in evidence here than in his previous adventures. Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts soon proves to be the most difficult yet. Even though Ron and Hermionie have both been named Prefects, there plenty of trouble brewing for them all as the end-of-term Ordinary Wizarding Level tests draw near. The ministry of Magic has forced Headmaster Dumbledore to take on its approved Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Umbridge. She's a disciplinarian with a poisonously sweet personality, and she doesn't believe Harry's claim that You-Know-Who is back. Her repressive activities set the stage for a series of student revolts, culminating in a few real surprises. Harry's friend Hagrid is missing, and doesn't show up until near the book's halfway point accompanied a surprising and most dismaying companion. J.K. Rowling's young protagonists have grown into adolescence, and she makes sure to give them some romantic entanglements to stir up their developing emotions. This is the longest Potter book yet, but it is, like all of Rowling's work to date, an easy read. Her knack for creating well-rounded characters is greatly in evidence here, and she has made a great effort to keep the plot spinning and the revelations unfolding. The book really requires that you have read the earlier ones, but I daresay that won't be a detriment to most of Rowling's readers.

Tritcheon Hash. It's a novel by Sue Lange, published by Metropolis Ink in 2003. Not a bad first novel. There haven't been many sf satirists of note; probably the best known is Robert Sheckley (The Status Civilization, Mindswap!), and a few other writers - all male, as far as memory serves. But now the field has a female one. Tritcheon Hash is a fast-moving tale set in the year 3011. Men and women have parted ways, with the men remaining behind on Earth and the women schlepping off to a world they name Coney Island, after the women's penal colony on the home-world. After several centuries during which contact between the sexes is severely limited, the female rulers of Coney Island decide to investigate the possibility of re-integrating the race. Tritch Hash, hot-shot pilot, is given the assignment of clandestinely infiltrating Earth's defenses and reporting back on the state of the planet. What she doesn't count on is running into two old schoolmates from ten years in the past: her only male lover, and the best male pilot in the Academy, with whom Tritch shares an intense mutual antipathy.

The idea of the separation of the sexes isn't new—see Philip Wylie's bravura novel The Disappearance—but Lange gives it a fresh, feminist spin with some serious underpinnings to the farcical goings-on. If this book is an indication of where Lange is headed with her writing, I suspect she's going to be getting an increasing amount of attention as she goes. I'd like to see her tackle a more serious novel next time (although I think I'd miss the really wretched puns Lange pulls off), but it can't be denied that Tritcheon Hash is a pretty good start.

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