Tag Archives: sci-fi

TIFF18: High Life

The interesting thing about High Life is the negative space – it’s all the stuff it cleverly carves out. At some point in the future, Earth is sending young, death-row convicts to outer space to “serve science” by allowing their bodies to be experimented upon. What kind of Earth is this? We never see it. What kind of crimes are we talking about? We’re never told.

Monte (Robert Pattinson) is one such prisoner. The film’s first scene shows him alone on a space craft save for a baby – his daughter? Cut to: an undisclosed time before, when he is just one of many prisoners under the scrutiny of Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche). Ostensibly they’re gathering information on black holes, but there’s also fertility experimentation being done – and what we know and they don’t is they’re never coming back from this mission. They were never meant to.

The male prisoners masturbate alone in a ‘fuck room’ and Dr. Dibs then fertilizes the female prisoners, which makes for near-constant space miscarriages. She herself A45FC0CD-D445-49D6-8783-5FC5F4E28DBA-thumb-860xauto-72637enjoys a solitary go at the fuck room, riding a contraption reminiscent of Burn After Reading’s dildo chair. She enjoys a little solo S&M, her white skin framed by the black walls, the room feeling as dark and blank as the space outside, though rarely glimpsed, must also be.

There’s a lot of silence in space; so too in Claire Denis’s High Life. It’s disorienting and confusing and filled me with dread. In contrast to Interstellar or Gravity or The Martian, High Life has very little in the way of special effects, and actually doesn’t bother much with what’s outside the walls of their ship. If you’re a fan of Claire Denis, don’t worry, she’s as inaccessible as ever – bleak, subversive, full of fleeting, nightmarish impressions.

There’s a lot of ritual in this movie but no purity – Claire Denis puts bodies through hell. Body horror? Sort of. A horrific degradation of bodies. Of consent. Of dignity. In Monte we find a different kind of prisoner, and a stubborn will to persist. There’s a special kind of stress, and madness, to be found in the voids but always Denis refers back to what these 9 represent: humanity? What does their treatment mean for the humans back on Earth, and how does it feel to be utterly forgotten and abandoned by society?

 

 

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The Predator

In light of recent events, I feel obligated to point out that the title of this film refers to the fictional species of intergalactic trophy hunters, not director Shane Black’s real-life registered sex offender pal who was somehow cast in a bit role here (whose scene was then removed from the final cut when his sex offender status came to light).  With that major misstep remedied, though not forgotten, the latest entry in the Predator franchise arrives with the theme of evolution underlying the on-screen battles between humans and giant fang-faced aliens.

thepredator_02The ever-evolving Predator crash lands on earth and interrupts a U.S. sniper’s top secret Mexican mission. After ejecting from its ship, the Predator kills the sniper’s support team but the sniper (Boyd Holbrook) manages to escape, mailing a few pieces of the Predator’s gear home as evidence of the encounter. The gear finds its way to the sniper’s son (Room‘s Jacob Tremblay), who figures out how to activate it and in doing so becomes the Predator’s target. The army is no help in containing the Predator so the only ones standing between the Predator and the rest of the world are the sniper, a biologist (Olivia Munn) and a misfit group of soldiers. And the fight is on!

In addition to being a key plot point, the concept of evolution looms large for me as I reflect on this film, because the Predator series has definitely evolved. It’s so much different than the cheesy action/horror nostalgia trip I expected to see. The Predator is a gleeful, self-referential comedy that takes more pleasure in delivering quick, clever banter than it does in splattering the screen with gore.

Make no mistake, though. The Predator is an exceedingly gory film. Faces will be ripped off. Bodies will be sliced into pieces. Internal organs will ooze out of gaping wounds. That, more than anything, illustrates how consistently funny the Predator manages to be, because comedy is the film’s dominant element even in the presence of buckets and buckets of gore.

Black is known for his action-comedies, and his script for Lethal Weapon is rightly recognized as a standout in the genre. An evolution, even. Thirty years later, Black is still rolling along. A bit player in the original Predator (his character lasted all of seven minutes), Black now directs and co-writes (with Fred Dekker) the 2018 version, which is not a reboot of the original. Instead, it revisits what has come before to tell a new story and, by the end, sets a whole new course for the franchise that is as intriguing as it is ridiculous.

thepredator_04Of course, ridiculousness is a Black staple and while Predator does not quite measure up to Black’s best (namely, the amazing Lethal Weapon), it is a wonderfully entertaining film thanks to Black and the extremely solid cast. The standouts of the teriffic ensemble are Tremblay as the protagonist’s code-cracking son and This Is Us’s Sterling K. Brown as a scenery-devouring special agent whose motives are never clear but always nefarious. The Predator keeps up a steady stream of action and laughs from start to finish, and as a result, I’m now waiting eagerly for the even-more-ridiculous sequel that the Predator blatantly and shamelessly promises.

Zoe

Got your fill of rom-coms? How about a sci-fi romance for a change?. Ewan McGregor plays Cole, an artificial intelligence engineer who creates a beautiful and highly realistic synthetic “woman” named Zoe (Lea Seydoux). Cole’s lab isn’t just making convincing companions, it’s also revolutionizing love. “The Machine” is a highly complex algorithm that can predict whether a relationship will ultimately work out. It has also synthesized a drug that can mimic the feeling of falling in love. But all of these things together don’t exactly mean a world full of meaningful relationships: humans will always exploit emotions. And Cole is lonelier than most.

MV5BZDZjOTUyNTctM2E0Zi00MGIwLWEyZmYtYTIzNDg2MmZiN2FmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk3NjQ1MTc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Zoe doesn’t understand that she’s synthetic at first, and it’s a little heartbreaking when Cole has to tell her. Then she questions everything. Like these unrequited feelings she has for him – was she programmed to have them? She was not. But as the two grow closer, and become a couple, she senses things are still unequal. Knowing who she is, what she is, has him holding something back.

Zoe is a movie about the complexities of love, and what happens when technology disrupts it. Men are eager to visit synthetic brothels (Christina Aguilera plays a robot hooker, for some reason) but will they ever trust synthetics to have real feelings? Of course, in a world where those feelings can be manufactured and manipulated with a pill, I wonder if they haven’t been sufficiently devalued that synthetic or not, it shouldn’t really matter anymore.

At any rate, there are some really interesting ideas here, they just aren’t executed all that well. The movie opens up this delicious Pandora’s box but then offers almost no social commentary, and its protagonist’s navel-gazing is immature and insensitive. There are no glaring problems with any of the movie’s moving parts, it’s just that they don’t add up to anything all that gripping or compelling (except for the soundtrack, which was the only notable standout). With themes of authenticity of both personhood and emotion, Zoe pales in comparison to Ex Machina and even Her, and you can’t quite forgive its shortcomings. I suppose movies are a little like robots in that, if you can’t make it better, why bother making it at all?

Fantasia Film Festival Wrap Up

Cinderella The Cat

Um.

Where to start. This is an animated film, but do not let that that mistake you into thinking this is benign in anyway.  Mia, the “Cinderella” in question, was a little girl aboard a ship of dreams, a ship her father was going to turn into some wildly successful, hologram heavy, extremely technologically advanced…something. MV5BMjMyNTFkYzEtNmI3Mi00MGVkLTkyYTgtMTJhN2Q1MzQzMjgyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_Cruiseship? Tourist destination? Curiosity? Lab? Impossible to say because it never happens. Instead her father gets tricked into marrying an evil woman, a woman who has schemed with her evil boyfriend to steal Mia’s dad’s fortune by murdering him on their wedding day, directly after the vows. And they do. And then they for some reason have to wait 12 long years until Mia comes of age and inherits her fortune, which they’re certain she’ll sign over to them. Which makes no sense because for 12 years, Mia’s evil stepmother and her 6 evil stepsisters force her to be their maid as they all live aboard the crumbling ghost of the ship. They hate her for sure and the feeling is mutual but in this case I can’t help but think that the maid fate is actually quite lucky – stepmother forces her own daughters into prostitution.

Anyway, it’s an ugly, sordid tale that I didn’t enjoy. There were no glass slippers, though there are shoes used for drug trafficking. Did you always secretly want your Cinderella with a side of tits and guns and racial slurs? Boy have I got an Italian film for you.

Ajin: Demi Human

An Ajin is a demi-human, as in a human who comes back to life after death. Immediately. 46 are known to exist worldwide, but more are likely in hiding, because their fates are undesirable. These ‘immortals’ are being captured in Japan, by their own government, for sadistic testing. Alive while their limbs are systematically amputated, for example, they are tortured day in and day out until MV5BMzIwYzFiNWItZTM0OC00ZDE0LWE4MTktMTkxY2M2NDRmZjM4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDQxNjcxNQ@@._V1_they succumb. And then they live to do it again.

When demi-human Kei Nagai is sprung from such a lab by another Ajin and former captive, he’s only relieved for a few minutes before realizing that his saviour is going to ask something in return. Something big. But the movie doesn’t dwell on complicated facts or feelings or characters or situations. It’s time for violence! Stunning, beautifully-choreographed violence, which includes a nifty (and probably unnecessary) Ajin perk: a ghost monster who comes out of them and fights alongside them – there’s something familiar about it, maybe not quite Transformery or Pacific Rimy, because it’s smaller scale, but still. The fight scenes are crazy. And the director knows that’s all you came for, so dispenses of all the details.

 

 

How It Ends

Two suspiciously attractive Seattleites are expecting a baby boy and they are happy: yay! Will flies to Chicago to ask for his in-law’s blessing in marriage, despite the fact that he’s, ah, already stormed the beach. An awkward conversation about money ensues and he more or less gets asked to leave.

So, not a success. “Luckily” he gets a second chance. An “event” happened “out west”. Something happened, something catastrophic. He’s on the phone with Samantha when it goes down, but they’re cut off, and she’s scared. The airport shuts down. The roads are immediately impassable. So that leaves Will (Theo James) to traverse America mid-MV5BYTI5OGFjMzctYjQ4My00ZTViLWE2M2YtMmYxYTQ1ZDAzMDEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODk0NjQxNzY@._V1_catastrophe (mid-apocalypse?) with his disapproving, openly hostile, not-yet-father-in-law, Tom (Forest Whitaker). Who would have thought that the end of the world would only be the second worst thing that happens to Will today?

[Acting Master Class 101: If you have a wound, you immediately stick your fingers in it so that you can wince and prove to us how painful it is.]

The road to Seattle is paved with hell. Okay, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but you know, the going is rough. It’s like: murder, murder, murder eVeRy day. Brain-flecked hair, coughing blood, impossible storms, raging fires, fucking over your fellow man, and a vague end of world scenario.

How It Ends sometimes feels like it may never end. It has a pretty good hook but then it meanders in a way that you wouldn’t think possible what with all the mayhem. It almost feels like the director loaded his actors in a car and headed out across Manitoba (standing in for rural Ohio since 1905!) (that was a random date, please don’t pay me any attention) with no destination or conclusion in mind. Which is maybe not the best way to make a movie. But  David M. Rosenthal makes sure there’s something menacing and apocalyptic in nearly every scene, and dude knows a thing or two about disaster porn. It should be noted that Sean, an avowed enthusiast of ridiculous premises, said at one point “They’ve overplayed their hand here.” And yeah, the writer is not subtle. The whole thing’s pretty obvious. But did I hate it? No. Not at first. But then it started to end. And the ending just boggles the mind. So that’s my case. I’ll let you, the jury, decide. The prosecution rests.

 

 

Extinction

Poor Peter – the schmuck hasn’t slept well in forever, plagued by nightmares about losing his family in some sort of attack. Michael Pena stars in Netflix’s new sci-fi offering Extinction, and the guy who’s known as the one good thing to come out of Crash is a perfect fit for family man Peter. It possibly doesn’t hurt that his character appears to work on a set that looks like an exact copy of the Van Dyne lab.

Anyway. Both his boss (Mike Colter) and his wife (Lizzy Caplan) urge him to see a sleep specialist and get his shit in order. But Peter starts to wonder if maybe there’s a reason he’s been chosen for these visions. And, for the first time in the history of marriage, it turns out he’s right. An alien invasion interrupts their dinner party and things get to explodey, apocalypty, emergency level so quickly that he doesn’t even get to say I told you so.

It occurs to me that Extinction’s invaders remind me a lot of something that invaded Ottawa this time last summer. We called it La Machine. Basically they’re storeys-tall robot-puppets that stalked the city’s busiest streets.

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It looks relatively benign behind Sean at the moment, but you have to see it in action to really get the gist. The spider, which is what I was reminded of in the movie, was joined by a dragon AND THEY WERE NOT FRIENDS. When they met up in the city, they invariably fought.

Sorry for the crummy video, but you can kind of see the people under neath the spider’s body who are controlling its various legs.

Anyway, sorry guys, this was a pretty big sidebar, even for me. Back to the movie.

Extinction isn’t bad, you just have to be willing to hang in during the first half, which is pretty standard, perhaps even subpar fare. At any rate: nothing you haven’t seen before. But there’s some clever foreshadowing that makes the second half much more interesting. It’s probably not a great move to inject the film’s personality into only the back end because lots of viewers won’t stick around long enough to find it. But for those that do, it’s an engaging and curious interpretation that a true sci-fi fan has likely encountered before in some form or another, but this kind of backward and forward thinking is always welcome. Extinction, by Hounds of Love director Ben Young, looks like a thriller, but this is a trick. You’ll have to survive the invasion to find out what’s really going on.

Our House

Our-House-TrailerOur House is a retelling of the age-old cautionary tale about the dangers of science. As we all know, science experiments’ most common outcomes are monsters, ghosts, and superviruses, with temporal paradoxes or dimensional portals being all-too-common as well.

Despite the known risks of science, Ethan (Thomas Mann) has to experiment and push the envelope anyway, consequences be damned, as he works on his wireless electricity machine. The Fly poster on the wall of Ethan’s garage/lab is a sure sign that his science project is a risky one, bound for disaster, and he should know better. Even so, for a while it seems like Ethan’s project might actually work, since when his machine is on his little sister can talk to recently deceased loved ones, but inevitably, much more sinister beings begin to make their presence felt.

IMG_2042Full disclosure: I was fortunate  to watch this film with a ferocious guard dog on my lap, so I knew I could handle whatever scares were thrown my way. You likely will not have that same advantage, at least while Our House is in theatres. But even without the dog, the first hour of this movie will be bearable for everyone, including scaredy-cats like Jay. There’s not any significant tension in this film until the final third of the movie, but that last third contains a very suspenseful sequence that made me wish the intensity had been raised sooner, to allow for a longer showdown with the ghosts.

Leaving me wanting more is not a bad thing, and the movie is right to lean heavily on the family drama aspect with its very strong young cast including Mann, Percy Hynes-White, and Kate Moyer. It’s just that a few more ghosts would have made this movie more memorable, because it’s when those ghosts are actively pursuing Ethan and his family that Our House is at its best.