Tag Archives: sci-fi

War For The Planet of the Apes

 

This review is late because it’s taken me all this time to decide how to tell you that Sean and I went to see this at the drive-in but I got so baked I have no idea what the movie is about or if I enjoyed it. After days and days of deliberation I think I’ll go with “Ehh, another movie about a talking monkey, who gives a shit” That’s pretty smooth camouflage, right?

I mean, those are probably my true honest feelings because I’ve never been into this franchise. I checked out the moment a trailer showed me an ape riding a horse and I am physically incapable of checking back in. But all my lovely review compatriots have been talking this one up like crazy, like it’s an actual, honest-to-Heston good movie. And I believe them, sort of.

Here’s what Sean and I were able to cobble together over lobster BLTs on the patio:

  1. Caesar, the leader of the apes, has decided to move his congregation to a nicer locale because presumably real estate just got too damn expensive in San Francisco.
  2. He sends the majority through the desert (?) toward ape shangri-la, but he and a few trusty sidekicks stay behind to confront the Evil Colonel and settle a personal vendetta.
  3. The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) really hates the apes, and is really afraid of turning into them. He’s gone rogue though.
  4. The real army hates the Colonel as much as the Colonel hates apes. The Colonel has enslaved some apes to build a wall that doesn’t help him all that much come Go Time.

Is that about it? I’ve got the gist, right? The story didn’t connect with me whatsoever but even in my distracted state I thought the CGI was crazy-good. I usually hate movies like The Jungle Book where I know I’m just watching a cartoon but I didn’t really feel that way in this movie. The motion-capture technology is pretty stellar and Andy Serkis is doing top-notch work. The Special Achievement Oscar was given out from 1973-1995 in recognition of achievements that made exceptional contributions to the motion picture for which they were created, but for which there was no annual award. The last year it was given it went to John Lasseter for his leadership of the Pixar team that birthed Toy Story. Maybe it’s time to dust that award off for the work that Serkis in particular has done with performance capture.

That’s all well and good but I think we can all agree that these pretty words are just frosting meant to cover up the fact that I forgot to bake the cake. If you really need to know more about War For the Planet of the Apes, please follow these links to people who paid better attention than I did:

 

The Film Blog calls it “a hugely satisfying round off to a superlative trilogy.”

Movie Man Jackson calls it “emotional-drama first, action-blockbuster second.”

The Craggus saw it and called it his “new favourite Apes movie and the benchmark by which I’ll be measuring the rest of 2017’s offerings.”

Jason called it a “sheer cinematic achievement in film.”

Bad Bloke Bob called it a “a tonal masterclass.”

Steve J Donahue reluctantly admits it’s “a crowd pleaser” but actually pleases me with his faint praise.

Polar Bears insist “this apes trilogy isn’t just a good blockbuster trilogy; it’s damn good filmmaking overall.”

Sarah finds “much to like about this film.”

Society Reviews called it “uninspiring” and had the same problem with the wall that I did. So ha!

Keith Loves Movies found influences from “The Revenant, Saving Private Ryan, The Shawshank Redemption, and Silence.”

Nerd Feed calls Caesar “one of the greatest cinematic characters we’ve ever seen.”

Andy gives it 5 “damn dirty apes!” out of 10.

Adam found it “wonderfully charming” but noted an “exaggerated runtime.”

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The Space Between Us

An astronaut behaved irresponsibly and went on the first mission to Mars pregnant. Never mind that they won’t even do surgery on me without double checking that I’m fetus-free, somehow they let this woman go into space without peeing on a stick and they blame HER. Even when she dies in childbirth. It’s such a shameful scandal that they decide to keep her pregnancy and the resulting baby a secret from everyone watching on Earth…which means they raise her kid on Mars and no one outside a select few astronauts even knows he exists.

The kid, Gardner (Asa Butterfield), now in his teens, has lived entirely on Mars. He’s only MV5BZjhjMjFjNzctOGE0OC00NmM1LWEzOWQtOTczOTEzNmNmNWVmL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk0NDk2ODc@._V1_.jpgmet about a dozen other people, all astronauts colonizing Mars, including Kendra (Carla Gugino), the woman who is quasi-raising him. He’s smart, as someone raised by a team of scientists would tend to be, and he finds a way to have secretive chats with Earth-girl Tulsa (Britt Robertson). She doesn’t know who he really is, and wouldn’t believe him anyway. But when he shows up at her school (after a months-long journey of course) she is still keen to go on a father-finding adventure with him, while he marvels, mouth agape, at all the wonderful Earthy things he’s only read about in books. Kendra and program director Nathanial (Gary Oldman) chase after him, knowing his organs cannot withstand Earth’s atmosphere.

You might think that the teen romance genre and the sci-fi genre are not natural bedmates, and that’s a fair worry, but it’s not what troubles the movie. The movie failed way before that. There’s actually not much space between the leads, who spend more of the movie sharing a truck cab than on two separate planets. But what we really need to be concerned about is the excruciating nonsense between them. The uncomfortable schmaltz between them. The insane leaps of logic between them. The unforgivable cliches between them.

The movie just doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s not even charming as a fish-out-of-water story because there’s little time between them to stop and smell the roses. This movie is a time-waster at best – not a memorable one, and not an entertaining one. If it was titled The Waste of Space Between Us, at least you’d know what you were in for.

 

 

Paul

There’s just something right to me about a Nick Frost – Simon Pegg pairing. And this movie celebrates their inherent dweebitude. Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are just a couple of nerds visiting the U.S. for comic con and then an alien-themed road trip, you know, Area 51, Roswell, New Mexico, all those popular conspiracy theorist tourist traps. Only this road trip just happens to bring them a real alien, and his name is Paul (voiced\motion captured by Seth Rogen).

MV5BMTQxODA4NDc2Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQzMDQ2NA@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_.jpgPaul crash-landed here decades ago and has put up amiably with interrogation and testing, but he’s making his escape now that the only thing left is to slice and dice him. Is the government simply going to let him get away? Of course not. Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Joe Lo Truglio are all hot on his tail (he doesn’t have a tail). Graeme and Clive have an RV and a religious one-eyed woman named Ruth (Kristen Wiig) and that’s about it: not ideal fleeing-the-government provisions, but it’ll have to do.

Paul is a love letter to science fiction fans. Pegg and Frost made the film’s pilgrimage in real life, and based the script on some of their odd encounters. The idea first came to them on a rainy night on the set of Shaun of the Dead, where they quickly sketched the character. Cameos and references to pop (science) fiction abound – how many can you spot? Paul is a real tribute to the genre but also just genuinely funny, even for those of us without an intrinsic love of extraterrestrials. This isn’t an excellent movie, but it’s a good enough movie, and frankly, it’s funnier than anything presently in theatres.

1 Night

Two couples, both alike in dignity. One is young, one is old. Or we’re supposed to think they’re old even though they’re only in their mid 30s.

The young woman (Isabelle Fuhrman, literally the orphan in Orphan) has just been broken up with at prom. The young man (Kyle Allen, looking a little like a young Heath Ledger) is there too, lusting after her, the girl next door who won’t give him the time of One Night, feature film set stillsday. But then a mysterious older guy gives him some advice, and a mysterious older woman gives her advice, and they spend the night together, pushing each other in pools and falling in love.

Meanwhile, the older couple appear to be falling out of love. Their current relationship is unclear though they’ve certainly been lovers at one point. But witnessing young love is messing with them, causing them to reminisce down a certain romantic path which can only be littered with truth bombs. He (Justin Chatwin, of Shameless) seems to be pushing for a reconciliation while she (Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp) seems resistant.

First time writer/director Minhal Baig has a good idea here but it fails to develop. I think it’s supposed to be a treatise on what it takes to make love last but doesn’t have enough to say about it. It’s character-driven (a kind way of saying plotless) but doesn’t very clearly define said characters. It ends up feeling a little ‘millennials vs hipsters’ and I just couldn’t love it, even if it blossoms from a promising seed. Thank goodness for mercifully short runtimes.

Alien: Covenant

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You always know better than the idiots in horror movies. Don’t go to an uncharted planet streaming John Denver songs to the universe. Hell, don’t go into space period! When you get to the planet, don’t trust its lone inhabitant who lives in a graveyard and conducts science experiments in a drippy cave. Especially when the results of those science experiments look suspiciously like the creepy little things that just blew up your only ride off the planet. But if not for those dumb decisions, there wouldn’t be much of a movie here, and certainly not one about Aliens with a capital A.

As the SXSW Sneak Peek hinted, the idiots in Alien: Covenant are more tolerable than most, because every bad decision leads us to a place we want to go. Ridley Scott’s playful approach here elevates Alien: Covenant above every entry in this franchise since Aliens. The bad decisions aren’t infuriating, they’re chess moves, most of which lead to another piece getting ripped apart into gooey chunks by space monsters.

Everything in this movie services the Aliens, including the speedy pace at which they burst out of people (taking only as long as needed to cause maximum carnage). Alien: Covenant felt like a Star Wars prequel in that respect, as the technology (in this case, the creatures produced by those previously mentioned science experiments) behind the Aliens seems better in the “past” than in the “future”. I suppose that’s inevitable when prequels are made 30 years later, and I was a lot more forgiving of it here that I was with Star Wars. I think that’s because in Alien: Covenant, the changes from the original rules make the movie more entertaining, while the changes in Star Wars made the movies into a CGI tutorial mixed with a boring political drama.

Above all else, Alien: Covenant is fun, and that’s because Ridley Scott and his cast (led by stellar performances by Michael Fassbender (x2) and Katherine Waterston channeling Ripley and kicking Alien ass just like Sigourney Weaver did) deliver everything this franchise’s fans could possibly have asked for. No unnecessary exposition, no extraneous plot points, just Aliens mowing down idiot after idiot.

For that, Alien: Covenant gets a score of eight chest-bursting xenomorphs out of ten.

The Discovery

How would your life change if tomorrow you read in the newspaper that science had confirmed the existence of an afterlife?

A scientist does just that in Netflix’s The Discovery, and his announcement shakes the world. Suicides skyrocket immediately. Is he responsible?

Robert Redford plays Thomas, the scientist in question. A year after the big announcement, he’s basically a recluse, still working on his theories in secret with his son Toby (Jesse Plemmons) and a cult’s worth of helpful believers. He’s pushing the envelope, wanting and needing more and more confirmation – if not for the world at large, at least for himself. It’s personal.

1393540Another son, Will (Jason Segel), estranged from his father since the discovery, returns home. On the return journey he meets a woman named Isla (Rooney Mara) who has her own reasons for questioning the afterlife.

This film provokes a lot of existential questions that not everyone will be comfortable with. But there’s a beauty in finding meaning in life. Believer or not, it draws you in to its essential mystery. Unfortunately, the seed is strongly than the story. It’s a great what-if idea but lacks the terrific follow-through I was hoping for. Your enjoyment of this film depends on how well you deal with great thoughts vs great plots. If you like the ethereal quality of Vanilla Sky, this might be your jam. I certainly enjoyed it, perhaps especially for the thoughtful discussion it generates after viewing.

Would such a discovery be best kept secret? Can you even keep something like this secret? And if the meaning of life and death are in flux, is suicide even the end game – mightn’t some take it a step further? This movie’s a little ambitious for its britches, but I admire that.

Redford does great work in his juiciest role in quite a bit – the mad scientist is off-kilter and complex, and perhaps hasn’t quite thought through all the consequences. His sons provide interesting counterpoint: Toby’s adoration and Will’s skepticism temper Thomas’s zeal. Plemmons is delightfully madcap while Segel plays the stoic. The Discovery is well-cast and thought-provoking and worthy of your time.

Ghost in the Shell

ghost-in-the-shell-scarlett-johansson.jpgFor 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.

 

SXSW: Alien & Alien: Covenant Sneak Peek

alien-F71972Anytime you get a chance to watch Alien with Sir Ridley Scott, you take it. How great is it that we got that chance?  Even better, Scott was not alone. He brought Alien: Covenant footage with him, as well as Covenant stars Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, and Michael Fassbender. An entertaining Q&A took place after the bulk of the new footage. We didn’t learn any big secrets but it’s obvious that all three actors were thrilled to have had the chance to work with Scott, particularly McBride who joked that his parents were thrilled he was finally making a real movie.

ridley-scott-F71972The new footage proves that Scott is not afraid to rip himself off, and that’s great news as far as I’m concerned. You would expect Alien: Covenant to bear at least a passing resemblance to Alien (as the former’s purpose, aside from making tons of money, is to bridge the gap between Prometheus and the original quadrilogy. But the similarities are greater than that, they’re intentional callbacks to the original.  That made the footage from Covenant FEEL like Alien, as it took us to the same places that Alien did, only now we know what’s going to happen (and what has to happen). Scott delivers on his setups with glee, letting us know he’s right there with us. A facehugger scene featuring Billy Crudup was especially awesome. It’s a good bet there will be more moments like that in the footage still to come.

If the rest of the movie measures up to the three full scenes we were treated to then Alien: Covenant is going to be a must-see for anyone who is a fan of the original. And I’m guessing you’re a fan if you are reading this. This one could be great. I’m now super excited to see it when it opens May 19th. And if Scott is available for another screening then, all the better. Fingers crossed!

There’s much more to come from SXSW. Check out @assholemovies for more movies and photos as things happen!

Blade Runner

Jay provides an excellent litmus test anytime I’m unable to separate nostalgia from quality.  It happened with Star Wars, it happened with Indiana Jones, and it has now happened with Blade Runner.  As I write this, it occurs to me that Jay may just hate Harrison Ford, but let’s leave that aside for now.

Yes, because Blade Runner 2049 is on the horizon, I was able to convince Jay to watch Blade Runner with me earlier this week.  Anytime I can get Jay to watch what I will call nerd-fi, a category that includes most movies I saw in the 80s and 90s, it feels like a major brunner4victory.  But only until the movie starts, because so far, about 5 minutes into each movie I proudly show to Jay, she wonders why I bothered to beg her to watch this one, asking things like, “Do you remember it being this bad?” when the flying cars first come into view.

Maddeningly, I can’t even argue against her assessments.  In 2017, Blade Runner is not a great movie.  It’s not really even a good movie.  It’s a movie with vision, it’s beautiful to look at (though the flying cars do look as horrible as Jay pointed out), it brought dystopian futures and particularly Philip K. Dick to mainstream cinema, and it has an ambiguous ending that becomes even more so with every new cut issued by Ridley Scott.  But it’s also a movie with cornball acting, disposable characters that we are barely introduced to, and a ton of sequences that are beautiful but: (a) extremely repetitive (how many times do we need to see a car fly by a Coke billboard or the offworld blimp ad);  (b) essentially silent (like Ford’s visit to a food cart/open air diner); and (c) do nothing to advance the plot (which, let’s be honest, is probably about 35 minutes worth of movie without being padded by all the beautiful shots of futuristic Los Angeles).

brunnerStill, there is something to be said about Blade Runner and something reassuring about its continued relevance.  A big reason reason that the movie feels thin today is because it has been so influential.  We’ve seen so many films build on what Blade Runner started, and in comparison, Blade Runner is like a wheel made out of stone.  In that way, it’s important but if choosing between the original or the best that the genre has to offer today, the modern film is going to be the better one.  But there is still room in my heart for the rickety original, the one that was ahead of its time (and ahead of ours, as Blade Runner is set in the “distant” future of 2019).

And in some distant future of our own, maybe I will find a movie that I feel nostalgic for that also stands up to Jay’s critical eye.  Your suggestions are welcome!

Passengers

passengersImagine being stranded on a deserted island. Would you wish for company, even though you knew that that person would then be stranded too? What if you discovered that you had the power to make that dream come true?

Jim (Chris Pratt) faces a futuristic version of this very dilemma in Passengers, director Morten Tyldum’s follow-up to The Imitation Game. Jim, along with 5,000 others, has chosen to leave his life on Earth to start fresh by colonizing a distant planet. When his hibernation pod malfunctions, Jim finds that he has somehow woken up 90 years before the ship is scheduled to reach its destination. Meaning that he will almost certainly die of old age long before he’ll get the chance to even speak to another person.

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The loneliness is palpable but becomes downright excruciating once he discovers that he’s figured out how to wake another passenger. One sleeping beauty in particular has caught his eye. Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), as Jim discovers through extensive research of the ship’s files, is smart, pretty, and funny and seems like the perfect companion for this 90 year voyage.

It’s quite an interesting predicament. What if Tom Hanks had gotten so lonely in Cast Away that he was able to magically sentence Helen Hunt to life on the island with him? Or if James Franco had been able to trap his buddy Seth Rogen under that rock so that he would have some company? Obviously, it’s a pretty shitty thing to do to someone and Jim knows it. He doesn’t take the decision lightly and it’s a tribute to Pratt’s talent that we can feel his struggle enough to forgive him.

Passengers begins to unravel though once Aurora wakes up. A brief meditation on what isolation can do to a person quickly becomes a typical romantic comedy with an atypical setting. Boy meets girl based on a lie. Everything seems to be going great until girl discovers lie. Girl makes up with boy. If you think the fact that Jim’s deception is somewhat more serious than a How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days article (“He murdered me,” as Aurora puts it) would alter this formula in any way, unfortunately you’d be disappointed.

passengers-3

It’s also worth commenting that Jim chooses Aurora for her looks and charm. Yes, she’s actually quite bright but she’s a journalist. Out of 5,000 passengers, you’d think he could have found someone more qualified to help maintain a spaceship for 90 years and maybe even help him figure out how to get back to sleep. She’s clever and tough but still pretty useless once the ships starts to fall apart and Jim the mechanic needs to figure out how to save her and everyone else on board, thus winning back her heart. The cop-out is downright insulting.  Besides, as cinema, watching someone fix a broken spaceship is neither as suspenseful or exciting as you might think.

What many critics panning Passengers won’t tell you is that the first 20-30 minutes are actually quite gripping. From there on it’s pretty much as bad as they say.