Also: "Revenge of the Electric Car" and "Immortals."
INTO THE ABYSS
Wherever Werner Herzog turns his documentary lens -- on a volcano about to erupt, on a remote Antarctic research station, or on the walls of a cave covered with Paleolithic art -- his nonfiction films resonate with fervent curiosity. His latest, which probes a Texas triple homicide and its aftershocks, doesn't deliver simplistic verdicts. It's like a TV crime reality show made by an alien. At the center is Michael Perry, a shard of social flotsam whose lack of education is palpable. After a decade on death row, he still proclaims his innocence, though the evidence against him appears incontrovertible. He faces his imminent execution glibly confident that he will either go home (miraculously exonerated) or go home (gladly received by St. Peter). Herzog, conducting his interviews from off-camera, doesn't lobby for his protagonist or decry capital punishment. Lethal injection is presented as society's bureaucratic response to the mindless brutality of its own citizens. The film maintains a pathetic and menacing atmosphere, but there are splinters of hope. An interview with the state's longtime executioner shows a decent man who learned from his experiences. And a sidebar concerning the romance between Perry's imprisoned accomplice and his clever volunteer attorney proves that humans will reach out to each other even in the most joyless conditions. Our species may be destructive and self-destructive, yet we're eternally optimistic.
REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR
With the price of gas and the politics of oil ever more problematic, even electric car skeptics seem to be coming around. Dan Neill, the Wall Street Journal's Pulitzer Prize-winning auto columnist and hard-core speed junkie, declares he'll never own an internal combustion engine again. No less a traditionalist than former General Motors CEO Bob "Mr. Horsepower" Lutz says "the electrification of the vehicle is a foregone conclusion." So how does this nifty documentary build in the essential tone of suspense? Quite nicely, as it follows the vicissitudes, successes and heartbreaking reversals of e-car pioneers large and small. Filmmaker Chris Paine introduces us to grease monkey Greg "Gadget" Abbott, who retrofits classic cars to run on battery power, and PayPal cofounder Elon Musk, whose $100,000 Tesla speedsters hit numerous obstacles on the road to production. Paine takes us inside the GM and Toyota boardrooms where the future of petroleum-free cars is being engineered. The film is the tale of a revolution with a lot of casualties, and if you thought you'd never mist up at a nonfiction movie about plug-in autos, you're in for a surprise. This is a surprisingly emotional trip, and a very enjoyable one.
We will never know what it's like to live forever, but we can at least get a taste of what eternity feels like with "Immortals." The last time something this big and bloated moved this slowly was during the Ice Age.
It's surprising the movie is so bad. It comes from Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari, producers of the spirited "300," and was directed by the visionary Tarsem Singh. But this script has all the depth of a manhole cover.
Theseus (Henry Cavill) must rally the troops to stop the evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) from wiping out most of Greece with help from a handful of gods: Zeus (Luke Evans), Athena (Isabel Lucas) and Poseidon (Kellan Lutz). There are some plot elements about a magic bow and arrow and a group of oracles, but this is a one-note story that never resonates either on a personal or heroic level.
Cavill has the brawn to pull off the near-naked fight scenes where he swings a sword like a ceiling fan. The problem is when he has to deliver the hackneyed dialogue. There's a scene where he tries to rally a handful of soldiers that has elements of almost every "give-'em-hell" speech ever written. Singh showed a knack for visual brilliance with "The Cell" and "The Fall." This film slops over from brilliance to silliness, especially in the Mount Olympus scenes where the gods prance around with contraptions on their heads that look like TV antennas. It all adds up to a bland, boring film for which the end is welcomed. --RICK BENTLEY, FRESNO BEE