Tag Archives: dystopian adventures

Children of Men

It’s 2027 and the world’s youngest citizen has just died at the age of 18. People take it hard. With fertility down the tubes, humanity is staring in the face of its own extinction and it’s a pretty bleak picture.

Theo, a former activist, is kidnapped by some scary dudes (Charlie Hunnam, Chiwetel Ejiofor) who turn out to be working for his ex Julian (Julianne Moore). The two haven’t seen each other in 20 years, since their son Dylan died in a flu epidemic, but as the world’s countries have collapsed around them, Julian has led an underground rebellion, and she needs Theo’s help. They need to illegally transport a refugee, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), and while Theo’s cousin can secure the necessary papers, they obligate Theo into accompanying her. Which ends up being just as well because shit goes down and Kee needs Theo. But the world needs Kee: turns out, she’s pregnant with the world’s first baby in 18 years. Now it’s up to Theo to get her safely to a refuge at sea, but no one, not the government, not the angry mobs, not Julian’s own people, are going to make it easy for him.

MV5BODQ4ZjMwMjEtMjc0Ni00MzA4LWE3N2ItODA3NmEwNDU3ZTE3L2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDAxOTExNTM@._V1_First, this doesn’t need to be said but I will say it anyway: fucking Alfonso Cuaron. What a brilliant director. This is just such an astonishing work in film. The sense of urgency is brilliantly sustained throughout. There are so many scenes in this one movie that are best of career, highlight reel stuff that you can never quite catch your breath. There’s a long scene, kind of a car chase in reverse, where the car in question is specially outfitted so that a custom-rigged camera can rotate not just inside the vehicle, but outside the windshield as well. It’s fantastic, heart in throat stuff.

Cuaron stays away from exposition but the film never lacks. We aren’t told much about Theo but we’re shown quite a lot – nearly every scene contains an animal, and that animal is always drawn to him; he never touches a gun; his private cry for Julian; his aborted cigarettes; his seemingly unflappable response to crisis; his need to save others, even strangers. A character emerges without wasting a lot of time on formalities – that’s how you establish a frenetic pace.

And Cuaron’s setting of the film is second to none. It was filmed in 2005, just a few short weeks after London had its own terrorist bombing. Cuaron uses imagery from Pink Floyd (who often sang about oppression, war, and being) and Banksy, a guerilla street artist and political activist. At one point, the camera pans by cages with prisoners inside and one of them gives us a brief glimpse of the “hooded man” from the Abu Ghraib prison torture pictures, seen in the exact pose as the real pictures. There are specific calls to past wars, and political movements (Michael Caine has based his character on the fervent pacifist, John Lennon, Theo’s workplace is a nod to George Orwell’s 1984) but I was surprised how well it holds up, feeling every bit as relevant to today’s issues as those of a decade ago. Which is obviously not a good thing for the world but shows what a specific and visionary film maker Cuaron is. And meticulous. There are so many details, musical cues, religious references, nods to thematically-relevant literature that you lose count. You can’t even notice most upon first-watch, but you absorb them and get immersed in this gritty world and all of its noise and flaws and trauma.

With stunning lensing by Emmanuel Lubezki and astonishing, seamless editing by Cuaron and Alex Rodriguez, Children of Men is must-see moviedom in every sense. Cuaron is an immense talent; his is a filmography that must be discovered and rediscovered at every available opportunity.

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The Maze Runner Trilogy

Like many of you, Sean and I are experiencing ‘weather’. We’re iced in rather than snowed in, which is just as annoying, and harder on hydro lines. When we do have power, we’re watching a trilogy we don’t give a damn about, which I think is a good strategy. As ice storms go, this one’s fairly benign. When I was in high school, we had a massive ice storm that meant weeks without classes, electricity, flushing toilets, or accessible roads. This one’s only distinguishing feature is that it’s arriving mid-April just to annoy the fuck out of us. Hope you’re all staying warm! What’s it like where you are?

The Maze Runner: Every week for the past 3 years, a teenage boy has been dropped in the middle of a very large, very deadly maze. Those who have ventured in have not returned. Those who remain do so by eking out survival in the middle, where it’s safe if not entirely comfortable. They hold on to hope by telling each other the maze must be solvable, but after 3 years, there have been no breakthroughs. Truthfully, it’s very Lord of the Flies. There are also no girls, which means either all the girls solve the maze easily and disappear, or they’re smart enough not to get sent in in the first place. Then one day, Thomas arrives in the maze, and his presence seems to wreak havoc. He engages with the maze in new and startling ways – ways that may lead to their ultimate escape but in the short term stirs up a lot of life-threatening stuff, of which not everyone is a fan. So of course the camp is splitting into two factions when something even worse shows up: a girl. So you know the maze is about to be solved, because finally there’s some female brain power involved. And it is….but it turns out the maze was only the beginning.

This movie is by-the-book YA programming. There’s very little to the characters since they’ve all had their memories wiped, but the actors are pretty decent. You’ll recognize a Thomas-gif-the-maze-runner-thomas-39099571-500-250few faces – Dylan O’Brien (Teen Wolf, American Assassin, Deepwater Horizon) in the lead role, Thomas Brodie-Sangster (the little guy from Love Actually, partially grown up!), and Will Poulter (with a face destined to play villain after villain, poor guy). The movie is dark, and keeps kids in mortal danger. The world is underexplained and the ending is underwhelming. There’s a strong, interesting premise with a pretty standard execution that adds up to me feeling like I’ve somehow seen it all before.

The Scorch Trials: The kids are helicoptered away from the maze and into a safe house run by Janson  (Aiden Gillen). Turns out, the kids were being experimented upon because they have survived the apocalyptic virus that kills nearly everyone else and possibly the cure is in their blood, but it can only be ‘harvested’, not taken. An organization called WCKD (previously run by Patricia Clarkson) was testing them in the maze and you can understand why the kids are feeling wary of them. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know who to trust out here (and these starry-eyed kids keep on trusting everyone despite constant reminders they shouldn’t). While the first Maze Runner had them running an actual maze, in this one they’re just basically imperiling themselves only to escape and eventually to be caught up in even more preposterous circumstances. They’re basically being chased through the desert by Murphy’s Law.

The Scorch Trials are not as interesting. Oh, it’s action-packed, but the sac is so packed with action that it’s sprung a leak where all the good stuff like plot and plausibility have spilled out.

The Death Cure: We know the kids are the key to the cure and that WCKD will do anything to keep them as research subjects – in fact, WCKD has recaptured some of the group, and now, instead of escaping the walls of a maze, they’ll have to penetrate the walls of the city where they’re holding their friends. It’s more dangerous! More action-packed! With higher stakes! I mean, not really. I don’t think any of this was half as interesting as the maze itself, although this movie does pose one interesting question: should we torture a few in order to extract a cure that would save many?

The Death Cure takes some pretty big logic leaps but it means business: zombies, explosions, action by air, land, and sea. Old friends, new friends. Tragic deaths and new beginnings. And maybe even hope for the future. It’s an adequate goodbye, and a more dignified end to the series than most others in the YA genre, but if you weren’t a maze fan before, this one isn’t going to convert you. It’s bloated and ridiculous, but what else did you expect?

Blade Runner 2049

blade4Has there ever been a more beautiful vision of a dystopian society than what Denis Villeneuve and Roger Deakins serve up in Blade Runner 2049?  Even a photo of a dead tree will be captivating to those around you.  Nuclear wastelands, city-sized garbage dumps, and coastal dams will all amaze.  Visually, this is exactly the sequel that Blade Runner deserved.

Story-wise, Blade Runner 2049 is probably the sequel that Blade Runner deserved as well, though that’s not necessarily a compliment.  The story is muddled right from the hard-to-read title cards that try to bring us up to date on what’s happened in that world’s last 30 years.

The facts in the title cards turn out to be quite important to keep up in Blade Runner 2049’s world as we follow an LAPD officer (Ryan Gosling) trying to solve a 30-year-old mystery involving our old friend Deckard (Harrison Ford).  Though it is unfortunate that the title cards are as dense as they are, I would not have wanted the movie to try to retell its background story, as the 163 minute run time is plenty long enough already!

Refreshingly, Blade Runner’s world is not our world.  It is an alternative future, so there is no attempt to revise the original’s timeline (as you may recall, Blade Runner is set in 2019 in a world where robot slaves are fighting space battles and colonizing other planets for humans, so things did not exactly turn out in our world as the first film predicted).  Interestingly, those differences make it easier for the view to focus on the similarities between their world and ours.  Villeneuve has delivered another very thoughtful, deliberate and satisfying sci-fi film, and it’s easy to analogize to our world every time a replicant is treated as disposable property (which happens a lot).  The film also offers a lot to chew on regarding memory and the nature of reality.  Honestly, I’m still digesting it all as a I write, while also trying to sort out a few of the story’s finer points, and this film is one that I’m going to have to watch again to get everything sorted.

It’s remarkable how closely this sequel resembles the first movie,  in style and substance, despite being released 35 years later.  More remarkably, at the same time it is paying tribute to the original, Blade Runner 2049 is telling a fresh story set in this familiar world, and manages to leave the original movie’s largest question unanswered in a surprisingly satisfying way.  So while Blade Runner 2049 is not the best movie of 2017, it is a good movie made great by its technical excellence, which naturally makes it the perfect sequel to Blade Runner.

Ghost in the Shell

GHOST IN THE SHELLFor a movie whose very title references souls and finding meaning within glossy shells, Ghost in the Shell is unbearably hollow.  The packaging is nice but there is nothing underneath. At all.  It will leave you with a number of questions but none of them will be existential.

The first question is how uncomfortable should you be that in what I’m guessing is future Japan (judging from the robot geishas and the right-hand drive cars), basically everyone is white and speaks English. The answer, as always with Hollywood, is VERY.

The next question is how much are you allowed to take inspiration from classic sci-fi (and also shitty sci-fi) before you’re ripping people off. The answer is NOT THIS MUCH OBVIOUSLY YOU LAZY BASTARDS. Ghost in the Shell drops us into a grimy, dark, rainy future full of 3D billboards. To describe it as drawing from Blade Runner is too generous. There are elements of other fictional futures as well, like the Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, and even Tron (lightcycles!). While this movie looks great at every turn, the total lack of originality left me cold.

Next question: does it count as good acting when Scarlett Johansson convincingly plays a Ghost_in_the_Shell_Scarlett_Johansson_2_aeac805303d6c795b51ea920f763a012.pngbeautiful but emotionless robot? As always, the answer is DEFINITELY YES AS LONG AS SHE RSVPS from the Hollywood Foreign Press and PROBABLY SINCE WE NOMINATED ENOUGH BLACK PEOPLE LAST YEAR WE HAVE A 5TH SLOT FOR A WHITE IN 2018 from the Academy.

Bonus question: does it count as nudity when a nipple-less female robot fights while basically naked? That’s a tough one but after much thought, the answer is SHOWING NIPPLES MAY AT LEAST HAVE DISTRACTED THE AUDIENCE SO THEY DIDN’T WONDER WHY THE ROBOT THAT CAN TURN INVISIBLE DOESN’T JUST STAY INVISIBLE ALL THE TIME DURING FIGHTS.

Obviously, lots of questions were raised by Ghost in the Shell, but none of them engage in anything interesting. Instead of the mundane, the film could have delved into questions like what are the attributes that make us human, whether memory is vital to identity, or why are we as a society unable to ascribe value to function in the same way we do to beauty.  Elements of those interesting questions are present in Ghost in the Shell but the film seems incapable of dealing with them. That is Ghost in the Shell’s biggest failing and the reason it gets a score of four glitches in the Matrix out of ten.

 

9

Shane Acker made a short, 10 minute film called 9 while he was still a student at UCLA. One wild ride later, it was nominated for Best Animated Short at the Oscars. It didn’t win, but it sure didn’t lose: Acker was offered the opportunity to expand his beloved short into a feature film, and this is it.

Although 9 is an animated film, it may not be appropriate for kids. It’s got a PG-13 rating and it is, frankly, dark. It’s set in a dystopian future in which man and machine have gone 9_movie-hdto war and likely both have lost. Only dust and destruction are left. And these dolls. They’re clearly sewed together with scraps of material and inexpert stitches, made from whatever parts are lying around but somehow injected with pieces of human souls; they’re all that’s left of humanity.

The machines that are still terrorizing them were born of the same scientist who sewed the dolls. They were made with good intentions but an evil chancellor corrupted them. This chancellor has shades of Hitler to him, and there are Nazi references throughout the film.

9 (Elijah Wood), the 9th doll sewn by the scientist, is prepared to die for humanity’s salvation, but he has to convince the 8 others (Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Connelly, and John C. Reilly among them) to join him.

The film definitely has an edge to it, criticizing our blind pursuit of progress. The film’s pitting of the simplest toy against complex machinery is pointed. That said, haven’t we seen this before? Like a million billion times? Perhaps something else could threaten us for a while? Technology is our undoing: we get it. And we’re not going to do a damn thing about it. Acker’s film is beautiful. His post-apocalyptic vision is too tempting to ignore, but I do wish there was a little more meat and a little more originality to go along with it. Maybe this one should have stayed a short.

The Girl With All The Gifts

I was really worried that this movie would be too scary for me, but its immediate familiarity reminded me that I’d read the book upon which it is based (by M.R. Carey), and knowing I’d survived the book meant I could surely handle the film as well.

Not for nothing: it’s about a “fungus” that’s extremely zombie-like in its presentation. Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) is a teacher at a military-run school at Hotel Echo. Her “hungry students” are all infected with the fungus. Under heavy restraints, they aren’t locarno-festival_the_girl_with_all_the_gifts_publicity_still_h_2016just taught, but tested. Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is test subject #1. She’s a very sweet young girl until flesh is nearby, and then her jaws start chomping involuntarily.

When the base is suddenly overrun by hungries, Melanie escapes with the compassionate teacher as well as Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), the woman doing all the experiments, and just a few remaining soldiers. Because they’re low on blocker gel (the lotion that makes them less appetizing to hungries), they’re loathe to keep her so close by, but Dr. Caldwell is unwilling to let her best subject go. Melanie might be the key to an antidote.

Their small party need to make their way to the next safe spot, called Beacon, but getting there isn’t going to be easy. There’s some typical zombie movie gore, but this movie manages to be more by focusing on the relationship between student and teacher. And Melanie manages to be more than just a zombie, with her constant yearning to be fully girl-1474366013901_largehuman. Newcomer Sennia Nanua is very compelling in her role; Melanie is a monster, but Nanua gives her a sense of humanity that transforms this horror film into something more urgent, more terrifyingly relatable.

Director Colm McCarthy gives us some memorably startling images, even going so far as to shoot aerial footage over Chernobyl for an apocalyptic feel. The Girl With All The Gifts is not a traditional zombie movie, nor horror. It has a social conscience and some sound science, refreshing the genre with intelligence and dark humour. It’s not a perfect movie, it’s a little muddled, a little indefinite, but it’s a thought-provoking hybrid much like Melanie herself.

ARQ

ARQ had its world premiere at TIFF and was sufficiently popular that Sean and I tried but failed to get tickets. It’s a damn good thing we didn’t get them because if I had paid money to see this piece of shit, I’d be in a REAL rage right now, the likes of yet we’ve yet to see on Assholes Watching Movies.

arq_01.jpgIt sounds promising on paper: a dystopian thriller meets sci-fi Groundhog Day. The protagonists, Renton and Hannah, keep waking up in bed when a bunch of bad guys burst in on them. Things don’t go well. But every time Renton gets shot in the face, they wake up in bed again, to do it all over, though not necessarily with better results.

The gimmick wore off cinematically long before it evaporated on screen. Even screwball Bill Murray cottoned on to the trick quicker than this guy. The bad guys are ostensibly there to steal scripts, but it’s soon evident that Renton’s invention, the ARQ, is much more valuable…and it’s inconveniently causing a time loop.

I mentioned before that we failed to get tickets. How then did we see it? It’s on Netflix. That’s right. Just a few days after making it’s $25-a-head, world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s airing on Netflix for free. Even at that low price, though, it arq_03isn’t worth it. The dialogue put me off immediately. It has the look and feel of the kind of television show I would never watch. Even worse, it ends like it’s the pilot of a TV show that hopes to continue this mystery in vague and infuriating terms for the next 6 years. It isn’t, though. It genuinely believes itself to be a whole movie. Don’t believe it, not for a second: ARQ is to be avoided at all costs. Keep swiping left.

 

 

 

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