Tag Archives: sci-fi

The Best Moments in Film: A family drowns at a beach in Under the Skin

Under The Skin

I came out of the theater in a mix of frustration and puzzlement back in the summer of 2014. Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin was, and still is, many moons later, a difficult film to embrace. Every shot seemed to stretch out into infinity, relentlessly demanding that we observe, analyze and break apart every moment and every bit of dialogue. For every thrilling bit of film reel that was full of mystery and suspense, there were equally frustrating shots that seemed void of substance.

Continue reading The Best Moments in Film: A family drowns at a beach in Under the Skin

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Film Review: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar

I return to blogging after many weeks off. As usual, my time away from activity was not altogether planned, but the product of the many responsibilities I have taken lately, and the many ideas and plans (good and bad) that I have pursued in the last few months. I come back after watching Interstellar just a few days ago, which is the first film I have managed to see in the theater in weeks. Below my review:

Whereas Nolan’s Inception drew me in the more complex it got, Interstellar’s own scientific construct is filled with holes that are not necessarily the fault of its creator, but of the theoretical science the film relies on to make its case. More often than I had expected, the complexity of the film felt superficial and even unnecessary because, at its core, the film is filled with great and moving ideas about existence, time and love that could have been explored a lot more simply.

Continue reading Film Review: Interstellar (2014)

Film review: In Time (2011)

Director: Andrew Niccol

Cast: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy

Year: 2011

What would you do if you knew when you were going to die? How would you spend your last few days or last few hours?

These are some of the questions at the center of In Time, an existential thriller that takes place in a futuristic California where time is the new currency and bus fares cost 2 hours of your life.

Our protagonist, Will Salas, unevenly played by Justin Timberlake lives in a run-down district named Dayton. On his left arm, and that of everybody else, there is a timer, counting down the days, hours and minutes he has left to live. Through work he survives, day by day, too busy trying to stay alive to have any time to enjoy life and get himself a girlfriend as his mother urges him to.

Continue reading Film review: In Time (2011)

IMDB Top 250: Donnie Darko (2001)

Ever since it was released, Donnie Darko, written and directed by Richard Kelly, has turned into one of the most talked-about cult classics in contemporary American cinema. Like other films with a similar cult status, Donnie Darko relies on rather odd symbolism to make its point across.

When a film suprises you and steps away from convention, it often stays with you well after you are done watching it. More than statements that push the story forward, these so-called symbols used by directors such as Kelly act as placeholders that allow us to remember a film for many years, maybe for our entire lives.

Continue reading IMDB Top 250: Donnie Darko (2001)

IMDB Top 250: 12 Monkeys (1995)

My mission to watch all of the TOP 250 films in the IMDB site (as of March 22nd) continues….

Among all of the top rated films of the site, there are few that received as little recognition by the public as 12 Monkeys.

The movie, directed by the underrated Terry Gilliam, touches upon a subject that is much too common in contemporary cinema: the extermination, or near extermination of the human race due to a virus that either kills humans completely or partially (zombies!).

In 12 Monkeys, we are presented with a grim future of civilization. 99% of the human race has been completely wiped out and the remaining few now reside in a subterranean world, far away from the virus that has contaminated the air. A good part of the merit of this film can be attributed to the artistry behind the design of this futuristic world, one in which animals roam the surface freely unaffected by the virus, while humans live away from the sun, no longer populating cities and crowding the planet’s resources, but in cages and laboratories. It is a dark world, where civilization is only a shadow of its former glory, trapped indoors, defeated by the circumstances and alienated by its horrible fate.

In this context, we are introduced to James Cole (Bruce Willis), a man secluded in a cage, punished to live like a rat due to his history of aggressive behavior. On a day like any other, James is randomly selected to explore the surface and collect evidence that could continue to lead scientists to find a cure and piece together the events that led to the extermination of the human race. Despite his supposedly delinquent past, James strikes me as one of the more “normal” humans of this virus-ridden world, since even those who sit at the top of this world seem to be caricatures of humans, strange obsessive scientists that have clearly been mentally affected by their inability to find a cure. In James they find yet another rat lab in which to deposit their hope of finding a way out.

After a few successful trips to the surface, the scientists present James with a unique opportunity. He is to travel to the past, using a time machine, right before the first case of the virus was detected. He is told this is an opportunity to find answers and be the hero. Without many options, James starts a journey that takes him to the early 1990s, in the midst of a society that feels foreign to him. His inability to understand his surroundings and adapt to this world quickly put him in a mental institution where he faithfully meets Jeffrey (Brad Pitt), who is to play a major role in the destruction of the human race.

It is at this moment that James starts shaping not only his future, but the events that would follow, finding himself, sometimes accidentally, in the middle of the situation that led to the spreading of the deadly virus.

From here on, the movie presents us with a dual reality, one rooted in the future, and the other in the past. These worlds are obviously very different, but it is in their similarities that the film makes a strong statement. To James, the future clearly sucks, but the past does not feel all that great either as he witnesses a chaotic society full of vice, corruption, crime and poverty. He is, despite his tendency towards aggression and violence, the only one that seems interested in saving civilization, always struggling to find his voice in a world that does not believe in his doomsday theories. Eventually, James finds a confidant, his psychiatrist Kathryn (Madeleine Stowe). She, unlike the rest starts to listen as he proves, time and time again, that he is too rational and strong-willed in the pursuit of his goal to be crazy. As she starts to trust and support him in his quest, James finds a small escape from the huge burden of responsibility and, in doing so, he begins to make us doubt about the real purpose of his quest, making us question if he already feels he is destined to fail, or even more tragically, whether his mission is real at all.

In this sense, the film finds its force in the uncertainty of the plot. The way it works itself out is not only richly complex, but it also makes us doubt, giving the audience a reason to think about the very nature of the conflict, and whether or not the struggle to save humanity is real or simply the wild imagination of a man consumed by paranoia.

With enough twists and turns to make you dizzy; with a familiar yet original way of approaching a familiar movie genre; with a very convincing and entertaining cast; and a great amount of artistry in its portrayal of the past and the future; 12 Monkeys is one of the greatest and most accomplished sci-fi films of all time. I recommend anyone to watch it before a virus kills us all !

Rating: 4 out of 5 (great)

Note: Initially I had 125 films left to watch of the TOP 250 of IMDB. I have now seen 5 of the films and I have reviewed three. Expect a couple of reviews in the coming days exploring “Gran Torino” and the classic “Casablanca”.

Niels

Film review: Skyline (2010)

There are some movies that are just awful, lacking any redeemable qualities to be appreciated at any level. Skyline, released as the latest incarnation of the Alien invasion movie sub-genre, is certainly one of the truest examples I can remember of utter mediocrity.

I came across this disastrous movie on a night of boredom, lacking the drive to find something original to do and even with the knowledge that the film I was about to rent had received dismal reviews from critics and viewers. However, I decided to give it a chance not only in a desperate attempt to relieve my boredom, but also because it is almost always possible (but not in this case) to find something of value within a film that most people deemed as terrible (no two minds think alike !)

Having past the first five minutes of the movie, Skyline had already lost me. The film begins midway in the story only to take us back, as many other movies do, to the events that led to the moment we first witnessed. It turns out that it was important for a movie lacking any credible emotional or rational substance to try to establish the setting or back-story for lifeless characters we end up not caring about. It could have actually worked better if the film-makers had just made a movie about Aliens killing humans we don’t know the names of. As it turns out, I was relieved that the Aliens were clearly winning and that the characters presented to us were being eliminated swiftly and without much opposition.

Movies such as these do not fail because they lack the funding (Skyline was made for a quite modest $ 10 million) to support the usual grandeur that such a genre tends to require, they fail because they try too hard to be grand and accomplish many things, failing miserably in every level. In addition, we have seen that Sci-fi films about aliens or UFOs can be made for relatively small budgets and accomplish good results, which was the case of the original Alien, District 9, 12 Monkeys and many other great films.

Rating: 1 out of 5 (very bad)

Niels

IMDB Top 250: Blade Runner (1982)

My mission to watch all of the TOP 250 films listed in the IMDB site (as of March 22nd) has officially begun.

In picking the first movie of the long list of 124 films that still await to be viewed, I chose one of the few that I have always been interested in watching but never quite had the opportunity to do so. The movie is Blade Runner, released in 1982. It was directed by Sir Ridley Scott, who is also known for other great movies like Alien, Thelma & Louise and Gladiator. The film stars Harrison Ford, who was still at his prime having already been immortalized by his roles as Indiana Jones and Hans Solo in Star Wars.

It is clear from the very first scene (seen above) why this film is among the most influential motion-pictures ever made. Blade Runner relies heavily on the legacy of science fiction movies to create what was the most believable larger-than-life fictional environment in cinema’s history.

When analyzed from a purely visual perspective, Blade Runner takes many cues from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, conceived over 50 years prior. Both present us with a highly machinized society that thrives on monstrous corporations and social disparities. Blade Runner depicts its version of Los Angeles in 2019, a mere 8 years away now. The first picture we get is that of a heavily industrialized, dense, compacted city of unbelievable scale. As the film progresses, so does our impression of this future. We are taken from the calm, organized, clean and luxurious upper stories of the presumably gigantic Tyrell Corporation to a street level that is compacted, dirty, noisy, diverse and hectic in every way imaginable. Within a few minutes, Blade Runner explores topics that go beyond the central storyline. The movie offers a rather critical perspective of a world dominated by corporations where technology has not necessarily contributed to the betterment of life on Earth. The disparity of riches is apparent, and it is clear that the vast majority does not benefit from the extreme industrialization that the world has undergone.

As a person that is usually inclined to appreciate the visual before any other aspect of a film, I was perhaps devoting a lot more of my attention to the environment so skilfully depicted in the film than to the story itself. However, I believe this is exactly the intention of the director. The objective was not so much on the details that made up the plot, but rather on how this story would gain life within the unique environment that was created around it.

The movie communicated, like very few have, a sense of place. When you follow Harrison Ford, you get a sense you’re just another passerby in the busy streets of futuristic Los Angeles. We are offered with an “inside look” that simultaneously and continuously delivers a sense of chaos, of foul smells, of political and social decay.

It is to Ridley Scott’s credit that the overall success of the film was not severely hampered by the linearity and flawed storyline. However, if analyzed rigorously, we will find that the story lacks pace, where we find characters that seem to be a few revolutions behind the world around them. Such a discrepancy in forward-motion lessens the visual impact of the film but not the extent one would expect.

The storyline is not especially rigorous either. There is a lack of attention to detail that makes us care less about the conclusion to the plot and wonder more about what the rest of the city looks and feels like.

For the artistry behind the making of the film, Blade Runner is certainly one of the most finely crafted science-fiction movies I have ever seen (and one of the most influential), which is not to say it should be considered in any way perfect, or as great as some of its predecessors.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Niels