Tag Archives: sci-fi

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.

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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.

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?

Rampage

dimsI didn’t know what to make of this movie after seeing the trailer but I had a bad feeling this would be one of those movies that Jay uses as leverage against me. But I knew I would drag her to anyway. You see, when I was a kid one of my favourite quarter-munching arcade games was Rampage, because it let me be Godzilla, smashing buildings, eating army guys, and grabbing helicopters out of the air. So when I did not realize this movie was based on that videogame until the title popped up at the very end of the trailer, I was more than a little skeptical.

After seeing the movie, I can confim my skepticism was totally warranted. Rampage is just another middling entry in the Rock’s mindless action movie portfolio. It’s not a standout as an action film generally, and not even noteworthy when compared to the Rock’s other action films. At least Rampage knows it’s dumb and has some fun at its own expense (a Rock specialty), and it actually feels quite a lot like the videogame once the action starts.

images (1)Where Rampage fails is that it takes FOREVER for the action to start, which is the worst thing a dumb action movie can do. That plodding pace is particularly egregious when the video game version is as light on exposition as anything ever made, while the movie wants to include a lentghy origin story for the monsters. I didn’t care how the monsters came to be (“radiation” has always been a good enough reason) and I definitely didn’t care to spend time with a sociopathic brother-sister team who made this DNA modifying thingamajig that fell from the sky. Three city-destroying monsters fighting the Rock would have been enough. No more was needed.

So Rampage manages to be too dumb for someone like Jay, who doesn’t like dumb action movies, and not dumb enough for someone like me, who just wanted to see an old mindless videogame become a new mindless blockbuster. If you liked the game you could do worse when Rampage is available on Netflix (but probably also do better), and if you didn’t know Rampage was a game until reading this review then you should probably skip this one altogether.

The Titan

30 years from now, the earth and its population are collapsing because we’ve used up all the resources and the habitable areas are diminishing because of the effects of global warming. As humans so often do in science fiction, and in true life non fiction, instead of fixing it, we’ve left it too late and aim to abandon it, looking to the stars for relief.

In this case, we’ve got our sights set on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Only instead of terraforming it, we’re terraforming ourselves. Or rather: an ambitious doctor is leading a military experiment to genetically enhance humans to make them more suitable for Titan’s harsh living.

Joel (Sam Worthington) is one of the chosen few, so he and his family, including wife Abi MV5BYmZlMGExOTgtNDg0Yy00ZjY0LThiY2YtZjhjM2Y3NzMyZGE2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI1NzMxNzM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_(Taylor Schilling) and son Lucas (Noah Jupe), move to the military base where he and his fellow soon-to-be-super-humans will undergo the medical procedures and training necessary to get them into Titan shape. Professor Collingwood (Tom Wilkinson) fearlessly leads them into battle, but you can probably guess that this review doesn’t end with “and then they all lived happily ever after…on Saturn.”

Of course not. Because messing around with the human genome, with evolution itself, is always, always, ALWAYS a cautionary tale. What normally takes millions of years should never be rushed through in a couple of days. It’s weird that scientists, the very people who patiently explained evolution to us, seem not to have internalized that lesson. So poor Joel is subjected to way more than he bargained for, and yeah it has some pretty scary repercussions for his family, but if you think about it, also for the whole of humanity.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really seem as though anyone in the film has really thought about it. There’s a really interesting premise but the film fails in its identity. It doesn’t take enough risks, or ask the brave questions. And Sam Worthington is the blandest, most unremarkable actor ever – so much so that Sean wondered if he was possibly watching Joel Edgerton, who is the guy Sean is specifically blind to. But neither Worthington nor Schilling (dyed brunette, so she’s more believable as a doctor) are charming enough make us give a damn. Just about the only worthy thing in the whole movie is its location – beautiful Gran Canaria, Spain, which will make for a lovely holiday destination, and deserves to host nervier speculation on its picturesque island.

A Wrinkle in Time

This movie came out when I was in Austin, Texas seeing a billion movies at SXSW, and even so, I still considered taking a time out just to see another movie, one that was just hitting theatres. I never made it to A Wrinkle In Time then, but I finally got around to it this weekend, and I wasn’t the only one: our cinema was packed on Easter Monday, and I was pleased to note how many families were in attendance.

For those of you who haven’t read the book (by Madeleine L’Engle), A Wrinkle In Time is about a young girl named Meg – troubled at school, grieving at home. Her parents are both brilliant scientists, or were – her father disappeared years ago while MV5BNzhkYzRlNzUtNzFhNy00MzllLWFkZGEtNDg0ZTE0YTYzOWNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjk3NTUyOTc@._V1_working on a theory about a tesseract, which would involve “wrinkling” time and space in order to travel through it. One dark and stormy night, a mysterious woman named Mrs. Whatsit appears to tell Meg, her friend Calvin, and Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace, the child genius, that she has heard her father calling out to them through the universe. Turns out, Mrs. Whatsit and her friends Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which are supernatural beings prepared to engage in a rescue mission.

The book was repeatedly rejected – possibly because it was a work of science fiction with a young, female protagonist, and possibly because it asked a lot from its young readers. Not only does it use physics and philosophy as basic concepts, it directly tackles the nature of evil, and pits children against it. The movie, too, follows in its footsteps, embracing what made the novel so special and unique, proudly displaying the magic AND the science, and trusting a young audience to appreciate them both. If anything the movie is a little too ambitious – though I quite enjoyed it, I did, in the end, have the sense that parts of it were quite condensed.

Director Ava du Vernay gets the casting exactly right: Storm Reid as Meg is what we want every 13 year old girl to be – smart and strong and curious and cautious. Her determination in the face of her fear and vulnerability make her an exceedingly compelling character. She may at times be insecure but her love and loyalty toward family see her through difficult times. But of course it’s the larger than life characters that Meg meets that give the story so much colour. The Mrs. Ws are particularly enchanting, and I cannot imagine a more satisfying trio than Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah, large and in charge.

At just under 2 hours, the movie does unfortunately lose some of the detail that MV5BMTU5Njg0NTA0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgwNDU4NDM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,929_AL_make the book wonderful, but it also paints a fantastic picture that I cannot stop myself from going back to in my mind. The visuals are exotic and beautiful and the world-building just divine. I can only guess at the kind of impression it makes on young imaginations.

Though the movie has some flaws, its themes are just as courageous and necessary today as they were when the book was first published in 1962. Light vs darkness, good triumphing over evil, and the only real weapon used is love. It’s also got a (somewhat diluted) message against conformity; Meg has to embrace her flaws in order to win the day.

See this movie with a child’s wonder and you will be delighted. Adapting this book was always going to be difficult, and the worst thing it does, necessarily, is rob us of the opportunity to do some of the imagining for ourselves. But in committing to the visuals, Ava du Vernay does the source material more than justice. She gives us a film full of hope and bravery, and shows little girls everywhere that they too can be the heroes of their own stories.