Tag Archives: sci-fi

3022

In 2190, four American astronauts are taking their turn peopling a refueling station halfway between Earth and a moon of Jupiter where an outpost is being built. It’s a long shift: 10 whole years. Jackie (Kate Walsh) says goodbye to her daughter and joins captain John (Omar Epps), Richard (Angus Macfadyen), and Lisa (Miranda Cosgrove) aboard their space station, all of them in it for a very long haul.

The first year goes smoothly – the nobility of their calling, the novelty of outer space, yadda yadda yadda. The second one is fine: they dance, they play soccer, they hop beds. By the third year, the veneer has worn off and the mission is sprouting cavities. John in particular is having difficulty, experiencing night terrors that are increasingly violent and problematic. They don’t even make it halfway before the doctor on board, Richard, decides John is unfit for duty and they should pull the plug on the mission and return home. No one is happy with this decision, but in either case it gets taken out of their hands when something even more concerning happens. Experienced on board as a flash, Earth seems to have disappeared, had an extinction-level event, or at least that’s what happened to the best of their knowledge now that communication’s been cut. And if you thought they were going a little nutty before they were the last four humans in existence, guess what’s coming down the comet!

The movie takes places entirely aboard this refuelling station so we don’t get any outside knowledge, outside context, or any backstory on any of these characters. Their astronauts, that’s all you’re going to get, and the qualification for astronauting seems to have diminished quite a bit somewhere in the next 150 years. I wish we had known them better, known their grief, known their motivation, known how a mother could leave her daughter to be raised by someone else.

Although there are some plot holes (inevitable in sci-fi, probably), director John Suits does a good job of cultivating tension. And you can’t deny the premise is a good one. It’s just a little wasted in this movie. They start rationing food and life support, but for what? There’s no one to save, nowhere to go. At what point is life not worth preserving? To be fair, the film does take a stab or two at fear of death versus fear of dying alone, and that theme is its own black hole. Bobbing around out in space, rational decisions already on short supply, nothing retains the same value. And yet some will always struggle to live on.

This isn’t the worst thing on Netflix. It isn’t great, but it may satisfy a craving for science fiction. Just know that some details will niggle and learn to let go. Or bring a calculator and prepare to double check some math.

Check out our review on Youtube.

Freaks

This is the kind of movie that throws you into a world and a situation we know nothing about, and writer-directors Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein aren’t in a hurry to tell us.

Dad (Emile Hirsch) has sequestered himself and his 7 year old daughter Chloe (Lexy Kolker) in their home. The drapes are duct-taped closed, the door is quadruple-locked, and no one is allowed in or out. They are preparing for or hiding from some ominous event, and the blood dripping from Dad’s eyes make me think it’s not just all in his head, no matter how paranoid and controlling this all seems.

Still, Chloe is a 7 year old girl. She wants to make a friend, to play in the park, to eat an ice cream cone. So when Mr. Snowcone (Bruce Dern) repeatedly parks directly in front of their home, Chloe can’t resist, and all she has to do is wait for Dad to fall into one of his sleeps to make her escape.

But on the outside, it turns out not everything Dad told her is a lie. There ARE bad people – it’s just harder than she thought to identify them. In fact, Freaks is almost the flip side to The Incredibles. I know, I know, that sounds like weird comparison, but you may recall that as we meet the Incredible family, we learn that super heroes have basically been outlawed and this family has been relocated and have to hide their powers to fit in. Chloe’s family also have powers of some kind, and public fear has meant that all the special people are either hiding or relocated or dead, and the government prefers the latter to the former.

The story keeps us firmly within Chloe’s understanding of her own powers and the circumstances in which she lives. She’s understandably frustrated with her confinement and she makes impetuous, chocolate-driven decisions. The directors have crafted a horror-sci-fi hybrid that keeps us guessing, unfolding at Chloe’s pace, not mine or yours or theirs.

Freaks is perhaps a little inconsistent, but it’s boldly directed and surprisingly well-acted. There’s more character development than a dozen other horror films combined and its message is as strong as it is relevant.

Speed of Life

June (Ann Dowd) is nearly 60 but hasn’t yet filled out the obligatory paperwork for relocation after 60. So says her house. Not in a weird way. The year is 2040 and her house is wired with a bunch of monitors and an Alexa-like voice tells her when her bills are due or the pH in her urine is less than desirable. June rips out all the monitors and buries them in her garden but you can’t really keep Big Brother out.

June has a good reason for not wanting to leave her home. Well, depends who you ask. A good reason to June sounds perfectly crazy to everyone else. You see, back in 2016 she and her boyfriend were having a fight. She’d just found out that David Bowie was dead and Edward, as usual, wanted to crack jokes. His inability to take anything seriously was a pretty big sore point in their relationship and they were on the verge of a blow-out fight about it when Edward disappeared. Like, a rip in the universe opened up and he went through it and was gone. Gone forever. Gone for the past 24 years.

But guess what? One night, Edward (Ray Santiago) reappears. He hasn’t aged a day. He doesn’t know that he was missing, presumed dead, mourned. Doesn’t recognize this older woman as his girlfriend June.

Speed of Life, written and directed by Liz Manashil, is interesting on a few levels:

a) The wormhole: where did he go, where has he been?

b) The relationship: is everything still there 24 years later, when June has changed so much and Edward not at all?

c) What happens in a few days when June turns 60 and “The Program” takes over?

The Program is a very interesting aspect; seniors 60 and over are given mandatory government housing where they no longer go outside, or socialize with other age groups. They are medicated, zombie-like. It’s a little funny because the old people in 2040 are Millennials. Old Millennials. It’ll happen to all of us. And I realize that Baby Boomers are sort of ruining everything just by reaching retirement age in such voluminous numbers. It’s crushing to the generations underneath them. So I get why you would want to deal with the problem. And yet Baby Boomers are also proving that 60 is hardly old at all. It used to be. Now it’s practically the same as 40. I know lots of Baby Boomers who are fit and busy and contributing in many ways, even outside employment (in fact: perhaps particularly outside employment). They are redefining old age even as they seem to reach it. They are living longer, yes, but also, I think, better. There are many more healthy years after retirement than ever before. So think of June (again: Ann Dowd) as somehow so old that she is now irrelevant to society…it’s jarring. It feels very Atwood. God I love sci-fi/ speculative fiction when it’s written by women.

TIFF19: My Zoe

If you love Julie Delpy, as I do, you probably love her talky scripts, her hyper-verbal, over-analytical characters who leave no thought unspoken. She has a knack for combining drama and comedy and elevating both with intelligent commentary. My Zoe is quite a departure. Which isn’t to say that it’s not smart or insightful. But it is very, very different.

Isabelle (Delpy), loving mother to Zoe (Sophia Ally) is going through a divorce from her husband, James (Richard Armitage). Their daughter’s custody is their battleground. They both love and want her desperately, but they might also have the need to hurt and wound each other however they can. It hasn’t been easy. Zoe is a sweet little girl who is too young to understand the animosity. When James notices a bruise on Zoe’s arm, he is not un-accusing of Isabelle. When Isabelle hears Zoe sneeze, she is not un-accusing of James. They are suspicious of each other’s parenting, determined to be the Best and Most Devoted One. I wish I could say that all dissolves when it turns out Zoe is gravely ill.

A mystery illness strikes quickly, and severely, and the waiting room where the two parents wait is a literal tiny glass box where their tension just bounces off the walls and back into their bodies, ratcheting up the hostility with each allegation lobbed. Is it love gone sour that has them at each other’s throats, or just fear and frustration? Truly, to be the parent of a sick child is the most helpless one can feel. It’s no wonder they seek their scapegoats. Up until this point, the movie is riveting: emotional and raw, full of anger and spite. But then it makes a u-turn.

The next half is so materially different that you might wonder if you’d fallen asleep and woken up during an entirely different movie. It’s still Julie Delpy, still playing a devoted mother, obsessed, even. But everything else has changed: the characters, her surroundings, and most of all: the tone. It’s disorienting trying to get your bearings in this new reality.

Delpy is of course quite good – sometimes astonishing, sometimes vehement, often dangerous and despairing. Her performance is a wail heard by mothers everywhere. But if also reaches beyond the normal, natural borders of motherhood and asks: what else? The answers are not necessarily comfortable.

In The Shadow of The Moon

A series of victims, each with the same puncture wounds on the back of their necks. They bleed from their noses, their ears, their eyes. They bleed and they die. The only thing that connects them is a mysterious woman in a blue hoodie, who seems to have visited each before they died. When Locke (Boyd Holbrook) and his partner Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine) investigate, along with their Lieutenant Holt (Michael C. Hall), what they uncover makes little sense.

Turns out, thanks to a glitch in the moon, every 9 years this hoodie woman (Cleopatra Coleman) gets to visit from the future and assassinate a few select people who would eventually contribute to Earth’s destruction. It’s like going back in time to kill Hitler’s grandparents. It’s for the good of humanity, but try telling that to the beat cop on the case. Locke gets a sense of this but no one else believes him, which means that every 9 years he gets crazier, more obsessed, more fixated on a narrative that can’t possibly be true.

The plot’s a little bumbly so it’s better to focus on how isolating it would be to hold a tiny piece of history secret in your heart, to chase a serial killer who reincarnates every 9 years, even after you think you’ve killed her. There’s no scenario in which that makes you a better person. Which the voice-over narration tells you pretty bluntly. And the thing about voice-over narration is that it’s usually used to mask glaring holes in a story that the film isn’t up to showing in a less obtrusive, sermonizing way. It’s rarely a good thing. And as you might guess, as we gain understanding of these slayings, the movie’s tone shifts from detective whodunnit to preachy science fiction – not exactly my favourite.

Jim Mickle’s In The Shadow Of The Moon starts off with promise and then declines steadily from there, perhaps falling to its own ambition, which does not incline me toward forgiveness.

Ad Astra

Space is a lonely place. Cold, dark, and endless, it is described as the final frontier for good reason. Still, for as long as mankind has understood that the stars are bright balls of gas billions and billions of miles away, we have dreamed of exploring the darkness, and solving the many mysteries that must be there, waiting to be found.

MV5BYmFmMDA1ZTUtMmNlOS00ODc3LTkxYWEtMTA0OWM4MDQxMjEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1500,1000_AL_Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) has dedicated his life to space exploration. For better or worse, Roy has also spent his life living in his father’s shadow.  Roy’s dad, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), was a legendary astronaut best known for disappearing somewhere near Neptune while searching for extraterrestrial life.  Roy never really knew his dad, so when he learns his father may not be as dead as was previously assumed, he’s not exactly jumping for joy.  Though to be fair, Roy has clearly never jumped for joy in his life. He’s detached, completely closed off from everyone around him, dedicated only to the missions he’s given, and his next mission is to try to make contact with his long-absent dad, who is now believed to pose a threat to all life on Earth.

The audience gets to accompany Roy on his journey, but of course we provide no company to him. Roy is alone, and while he mostly seems not to mind (indeed, he is really more comfortable in the solitude), Ad Astra weighed heavily on me. The mystery of space has fascinated me for as long as I can remember, and accordingly I have dragged Jay to more sci-fi films than can be counted. Of those countless films, Ad Astra is the first to ask me to examine my curiosity and ask what, exactly am I looking for? What is it about space that draws our dreams away from our home and into the endless void?

There are no easy answers in Ad Astra, and plenty of time to think about the many big questions raised by writers James Gray (who also directed) and Ethan Gross. Space is very quiet, and Roy’s journey is a satisfingly slow one. The journey feels even all the more important because of the slow pace. It becomes more an emotional, and even spiritual, journey than a spatial one, and an exploration of what really matters to us, both individually and as a species.  And it’s a wonderful trip.

I, Robot

Detective Spooner (Will Smith) hates technology generally and robots specifically. In 2035, he immerses himself in vintage clothes, “antique” furnishings, and “oldies” music (most of which is from the 80s). When a brilliant robotics scientist (James Cromwell) is killed, and a robot is the apparent suspect, Spooner is either the worst man for the job, or the best.

Sonny (Alan Tudyk) is the homicidal robot in question, and this murder investigation is immediately making waves. Lawrence Robertson (Bruce Greenwood) is particularly motivated to cover up the crime. Robots are subject to 3 ironclad laws that should make harming a human impossible. Robertson’s company is about to inundate the market with robots for personal use. If the public gets whiff of this, it would destroy their appetite for keeping robots in their homes (understandably). So Robertson’s trying to put a lid on this thing, Spooner’s trying to blow the lid off it, and the hordes of robots are starting to feel more and more sinister.

I, Robot is inspired by the work of Isaac Asimov, a sci-fi writer with a curious and probing mind. He teases out the possibilities and then follows them to their logical, if uncomfortable conclusion. The movie is full of flashy embellishments that of course already look dated. 2004’s vision of 2035 already looks pretty shitty to us folk in 2019. Its original script (then called Hardwired) was a lot more Asimov, but once Will Smith came on board, it was quickly converted into yet another summer blockbuster in which Smith saves the world – with jokes inserted that even Will Smith found dubious. Anyway, it’s been robbed of the subversive Asimov element and turned into 96% action and 4% sci-fi, which, for the record, is officially the saddest ratio in the world. It’s like director Alex Proyas shoved in so many self-driving cars and futuristic guns that the brain just fell out. No room at the inn for critical thought or Important Questions or lingering doubt. Just expensive destruction and robots with unnerving eyes.

It’s not just the role Will Smith was born to play, it’s the role Will Smith has already played literally half a dozen times. He’s quite good at it – the chip on the shoulder, the slow-motion last minute saves. It’s rote, but it has a nice gloss on it. Nobody’s bothering to dig underneath the surface in this film, but it’s decent entertainment if you’re just looking for an excuse to shovel popcorn into face.

Fun Facts

The motorcycle that Smith rides in the movie is a 2004 MV Agusta F4-SPR, one of only 300 produced worldwide, capable of reaching in excess of 175 mph. He wrecked it during filming.

Will Wheaton and Emilion Estevez both tried out to play Sonny (the robot).

The most expensive CGI shot in the whole movie is when they digitally removed Will Smith’s penis from the shower scenes when producers suddenly got cold feet.