Tag Archives: sci-fi

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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

I Have A Date With Spring

South Korea is in a Renaissance of film. Powerhouse directors like Park Chan-wook,  Bong Joon-ho, and Yeon Sang-ho have produced exciting, glossy blockbusters that made the leap from Asia to Hollywood, but the truth is, some of the greatest stuff being produced in Korea are genre films, and Montreal’s Fantasia Festival is just the place to see them. We’d previously seen movies about fake pregnancy, and an animated zombie movie at the festival, to name a few, but this year we’re seeing even more, and they’re crazier than ever.

I Have A Date With Spring is about a young director, alone in the woods on his birthday, resolved to camp out until he finally completes his script. It’s been 10 years since his last 201806-IHADWS-16film, and 3 years since the script started haunting him, and he just wants to bang it out. Instead he’s visited by strangers, and finding a fan among them, he divulges what he’s got so far:

It’s the day before the end of the world. Aliens decide it’s now or never in terms of visiting the Earth, so they choose 3 sad sacks and do their best to befriend them and learn their worldviews. Each story is told in its own separate vignette.

One, a young schoolgirl, is a bullied outsider who has no place to go when school is suddenly evacuated. She unadvisedly gets in the car with an alien (who looks like a normal Korean man but doesn’t act like one – red flag!) and spends the day with him, driving deserted streets and narrowly escaping his awkward advances. She’s got a pretty bleak outlook, hates her mother and classmates, and spends her time drawing violent and creepy things.

A second is a middle-aged professor, alone in the world except for an elderly mother who calls him from half a world away. It’s a beautiful, young alien who visits him – except for the hacking cough and the unfortunate boils. Will that be enough to stop him kissing her?

The third, a harried and unappreciated housewife who goes to the market one day to find it devoid of shoppers or staff. Instead she plays a crane game with a mysterious young woman who claims to know her (hint: it’s another alien!) and she follows her back to her marijuana hothouse for some relaxing gun play.

The aliens all leave their new friends with a last gift. And that’s when things get twisted.

Writer-director Seung-bin Baek has a dark and wonderful mind. You won’t be able to guess where he’s going so just sit back and enjoy the ride. Aside from some unnecessary voice-over narration in the young director scenes that bookend the film, he strikes a resonant, deeply disturbing chord that’s interesting and fresh and unlike anything else I’m going to see at the movies this year. His characters have loneliness, isolation, and outsider status in common, so when the aliens decide to grant them their innermost wishes…well, that takes us to an unexpectedly sinister and surprisingly philosophical place. The movie is horrific in many ways, but where it most succeeds is in pointing out life’s every day horrors – things that you or I might relate to. Things that might you or I wish for Earth’s destruction also. And that, friends, is why we make our way to Fantasia Fest year after year. We do it for weird.

 

How To Talk To Girls At Parties

Boy is this title misleading! It sounds like it belongs to the self-help genre, but if you’ve been standing awkwardly around the dip, wondering how to break the ice, calculating to the minute when it’s no longer rude to leave, well, I hate to tell you this, but this movie isn’t going to change your life.

It’s based on a short story by Neil Gaiman, which means I went in curious as hell. And director John Cameron Mitchell is an interesting guy, with some visually stunning work tucked into his artist fanny pack. But here’s the deal: Enn (Alex Sharp) is a young punk. That’s not my inner grumpy old man coming out, he’s a teenager in 1977 who thinks punk rock music is going to save his soul. He and his punk friends go out one night in the London suburb of Croydon and stumble upon a party that seems too good to be true: a sex den of beautiful exchange students.

MV5BNTA3ZGY0ZjctZGVjOC00MDdmLTg0NjctOGE4MGE1YTViYjE0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Enn is immediately taken with Zan (Elle Fanning) and his immediate concern is about how to successfully extract her from what appears to be a sexy suicide cult. But that notion is further complicated as it becomes obvious she’s from much further away than America. Zan is an alien. Zan is an alien? It seems that Zan is an alien, an alien who is  disenchanted with her fellow travelers and would really like to hang out with her new teenage friends, experiencing their fascinating culture.

DJ James Murphy developed a new kind of EDM for this movie, one he’s described as “extraterrestrial dance music,” that still feels like a cousin to the Sex Pistols.  So you can imagine that John Cameron Mitchell has created a really cool vibe for this movie, and when it works, it’s a lot of fun. But it may have been a little ambitious to stage a punk rebellion musical. Okay, a lot ambitious. But that’s one of the move lovable things about it. Sure it’s unhinged, it’s messy, it’s campy, it’s weird. It’s a punk rock Romeo & Juliet. It mixes metaphors. It mixes genres. It’s not always successful but it takes big risks and paints with wild abandon. Plus, there’s Nicole Kidman looking like David Bowie in Labyrinth, which nearly stopped my heart. Maybe this movie is not for you. But I hope it finds its audience of weirdos. Weirdos gonna weird.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

SoloThey pulled it off! Despite the director change and the “creative differences” and the reshoots, Solo: A Star Wars Story is not only a coherent film, it’s a film that lives up to the legacy of the best Star Wars character, hands down: that loveable scoundrel, Han Solo.

Solo is a prequel done right. We get to see those legendary events referred to in the original trilogy, which is what you’d expect. But what you can’t count on, and what Solo delivers, it that those moments live up to the hype AND  fit into a grand adventure that doesn’t feel like a dull connect-the-dots exercise the same way Episodes 1-3 did. Clearly, Lawrence Kasdan should have been writing all the Star Wars films. The script for Solo is a masterful work by Kasdan and his son Jon. The elder Kasdan has stated this was his last Star Wars script, which makes me sad mainly because that feels like the final nail in Han’s coffin.

At least we will always have Solo. While Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t exactly channel Harrison Ford, his take on Han is a credible version of the charming smuggler we know and love.  Woody Harrelson is solid (as always) as Han’s mentor, and Emilia Clarke adds a lot as Han’s childhood sweetheart, but it’s Donald Glover who steals the show as a note-perfect Lando Calrissian (and kudos to both Glover and the Kasdans for maintaining Lando’s hard-A spin on Han’s name). Here’s hoping that rumoured Lando spinoff gets greenlit soon. Lando’s so much cooler than the bumbling Boba Fett, whose spinoff is already in production!

Don’t been dissuaded by the (relatively) poor box office results. Solo: A Star Wars Story is a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon and a great way to spend an afternoon at the movies, which is, after all, what the original Star Wars aspired to be.

Total Recall (2012)

hero_EB20120801REVIEWS120739999ARIt’s been a while since I’ve watched the 1990 version of Total Recall, and yet it was still obvious to me that the 2012 version was the same in plot but different in setting. The setting change was particularly jarring. It is bizarre to me that Mars does not enter into the 2012 movie at all – Australia stands in, which is not really an even trade.  No offense, Australia, but a destination (/colony) I can reach by airplane is not nearly as futuristic-feeling as a colony on another planet. Also, is the fact they refer to Australia as “the Colony” in Total Recall a little too close to home?

As with all remakes, I waited for the 2012 Total Recall to justify its existence. And like a lot of remakes, it never did. The Total Recall remake is more serious and more down to earth than the original, and both of those are bad things. The original stands above, not just because it did everything first (including the three boobed prostitute) but because it did everything better (including giving a reason why there would be a three boobed prostitute).

The original is campy and dumb and fun. The remake is muted and sterile and dull. The difference between the two is exactly the difference between 80s Arnold (no last name needed) and Colin Farrell (no time period needed since to say he peaked would wrongly imply he was ever much good). No one with any sense would choose Farrell over 80s Arnold as an action hero, and likewise no one should watch 2012 Total Recall when 1990 Total Recall is either in your basement/garage or the basement/garage of a friend, gathering dust with hundreds of other DVDs.

What Happened to Monday

The world is overpopulated and we are consuming resources at an untenable rate – these are facts, not fiction. It’s kind of depressing that in a dystopian, sci-fi future, the architect of our demise is real, but our willingness to do something about it is the fiction.

In this particular 2078, a strict one-child policy has been made law and is brutally enforced. The GMOs in our food has led to unfathomable rates of multiple-births, so every human is braceleted and check-points are set up to monitor for siblings, who are then removed from the population in order to be cryogenically frozen for a time  when the earth may sustain them. But as Willem Dafoe watches his beautiful and beloved daughter die while giving birth to septuplets, he vows to keep the seven sisters secret. Named for each day of the week, they are raised behind closed doors to be smart and MV5BOGE5ZmVjOGUtZmQzOS00OGQyLWEwNDEtNjkyNDRiZTBhNDA1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_self-sufficient. Each one may only venture outside on the day of the week for which they are named – outside their home, they live as “Karen Settman”, a character that all 7 must be equally devoted to keeping sacred.

Of course, when Monday goes missing, the remaining 6 are going to have a heck of a time tracking her down since between them they only have the one avatar allowed to exist in the world. So the script basically forces itself into an anything-goes amalgam where we’re never sure if we’re watching a gritty crime thriller, or a family drama, or a murder mystery, or jagged social commentary. There are a couple of really great set pieces that may get your heart pumping quickly enough to sustain you during the more aimless scenes in between. It’s an uneven movie, overstuffed for sure, but an interesting premise even if its denouement is somewhat predictable.

Noomi Rapace gets to play all seven juicy roles, and she gives each Settman sister a twist of her own. It’s fun to watch her interact with herself, and it’s a trick pulled off rather deftly. But for me, personally, the  most interesting part of this movie is imaging myself and my sisters (there are “only” 4 of us, luckily – the world could not take a single one more) co-existing even nominally peacefully in an apartment for years, sharing one single identity. The four of us are nothing alike and I can’t even imagine what a compromise would begin to look like. One of  us lives and breathes hockey, and one of us cannot physically stand upright on skates. How do you even do that halfway? One of us is covered in tattoos and one of us refers to them as “prison ink” with a judgmental eye roll. Growing up, we couldn’t agree on a single television show to watch. How would we agree on a single hairstyle, job, boyfriend, drink preference? And let’s face it: whoever pulls the Saturday shift will never have to go to work or school, while poor Monday will forever be stuck without a single drop of fun.

Sean watched this movie and had a very different takeaway. He saw only potential: since we are childfree by choice, he thought our right to a child could be sold to the highest bidder, and he envisioned us living comfortably off the proceeds. So in summation: Jay can’t even imagine a fictional world in which she is capable of compromise, Sean is mercenary, and What Happened to Monday is an entertaining but not quite brilliant addition to Netflix’s sci-fi catalogue.

Anon

anon-trailer-clive-owen-amanda-seyfried-0“Done before and done better.” I could probably leave that as my comprehensive review of Anon, last week’s Netflix original movie, but what fun would that be?

Anon’s premise is simple. In the future, the police can rewind and review anyone’s point-of-view, so can instantly solve any crime. Except lately, there is a glitch in the Matrix, because killings are carried out without the police being able to see the murderer. It’s up to grumpy cop Clive Owen (whose child died young) to solve these cases before the killer does him in and figure out how Amanda Seyfried’s mysterious hacker fits into the puzzle.

In case it’s not obvious by now, Anon is Minority Report’s fraternal twin, somehow born 16 years after its much more atractive sister. Incidentally, Minority Report is currently available on Netflix, at least in Canada, which seems cruel.  But you’ve seen that one before, right?

If you liked Minority Report (and you would if you have any sense at all) then Anon is exactly mediocre enough to watch before you watch Minority Report again – good enough that you won’t feel like you totally wasted your screen time, and bad enough that it will make you appreciate Minority Report even more.

That’s the unexpected virtue of “done before and done better”, that’s the niche that Anon has found, and that sums up nearly all of Netflix’s “original” content.  There’s  simply no need to waste time coming up with your own original idea when it’s way cheaper and easier to tweak someone else’s, and to be safe Netflix covers its bet by having the original on standby, either as a replacement or a superior second feature. Well played, Netflix. Well played.

TJFF: Future ’38

How do I explain this? . Future ’38 was filmed last year but is pretending to have been filmed in 1938. It is set in 2018 but, remember, this is the 2018 as imagined by fictional filmmakers from the 1930s. Or present day filmmakers imaging what 1930s filmmakers would think 2018 would look like.

Film historians or whoever’s job it is to uncover lost screwball comedies about time travel from 1938 have recently uncovered a lost screwball comedy about time travel from 1938. After a brief introduction by a real life scientist who praises the scientific accuracy of all the time travel bits, the film begins in black and white in the height of World War II. Essex (Nick Westrate) is the most dependable GI this side of the Atlantic. His mission: Leap 80 years into the future in search of the powerful isotope Formica which, according to Dr. Elcourt from the Laboratory of Science, will be strong enough by 2018 to win the war for the Allies.

Essex wakes up (in Technicolor) in 2018. A version of 2018 you just have to see for yourself. On the one hand, it’s a startlingly accurate picture of 21st century life. On the other, it’s filtered through the limited imagination of a fictional 1930s science fiction writer. They have a 24 hour news cycle, for example. it’s just a guy on a unicycle though yelling “Extry Extry”.

In 2018, Essex almost immediately meets Banky (Betty Gilpin), a streetwise hotel manager who thinks he’s just “a little queer” because he’s from Pasadena. Once she agrees to show Essex around (“I could use a little fun and you’re Coney Island without the smell”), Future ’38 quickly finds its rhythm. The way they get the 21st century both right and wrong at the same time is funny enough. But Future ’38 is at its absolute funniest as a straight 30s style screwball comedy that mimics the fast-paced dialogue, slapstick, and romance more than it mocks it.

There’s a joke or two here that are maybe just a bit much. Most do land though even once the novelty of the outrageous style and concept has worn off and Gilpin and Westrate play off each other like true stars of the 30s. This could have easily been unwatchable had the writing, casting, and attention to detail not been so spot on. I think you’ll like it.