Sci-Fi

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

mv5bmtqynzk2mja2nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjewnzk3mje-_v1_sy999_cr00674999_al_Oh boy. I’ve had this one coming for a while. Jupiter Ascending is the latest full length film from the Wachowskis, the dynamic duo of writer/ directors who are known for occasionally popping into the Hollywood scene and flipping the sci-fi genre on it’s head. They dropped The Matrix in 1999, and… umm… I guess they fumbled around with it’s sequels, then there was Speed Racer in 2008 which only made back 75% of its 120 million dollar budget. There was also Cloud Atlas in 2012, which had pretty mixed reviews, and, well, I guess they knocked it out of the park with The Matrix and just kind of floundered for almost two decades since then.

So, that brings us to Jupiter Ascending. This movie is about Jupiter (Mila Kunis), a daughter of a Russian immigrant who’s family flirts with the poverty line running a house cleaning business for the rich and the upper class. Her life sucks, having to wake up before 5am every morning and scrubbing toilets all day, every day, but her life gets flipped, turned upside down when she meets Caine (Channing Tatum) a half-man-half-dog (he’s his own best friend!) hybrid from space who brings her to space so she can find out she’s Queen of Earth because her DNA is exactly the same as the actual Queen of Earth whose dead now and the Princes and Princesses of this intergalactic royal family are fighting over who gets to own Earth so they can farm the humans to make big glo-sticks that keep you young forever. This is all the first 15 minutes of the movie. Confused? Me too. (more…)

Looper (2012)

mv5bmtg5nta3ntg4nf5bml5banbnxkftztcwnta0ndyzoa-_v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_Looper is the third feature length film from writer/ director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) who has been swallowed up by the Hollywood machine to direct Star Wars Episode VIII. Looper is a neat little time travel movie set in the not so distant future starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe: a Looper, a man who kills people who are sent back in time by a crime syndicate in the future. Apparently it’s super hard to dispose of a body in the future, so sending it to the past to be killed and left there is a sure fire way to keep things under wraps.

When Loopers sign up for this gig, they are on contract for 30 years which when up is when they are sent back in time to be killed by their past selves, closing the loop. If the loop doesn’t get closed neatly, the mob that hires out the Loopers will make sure both ends of the loop are closed off. Get it? Got it? Good. So, naturally, one day Joe happens to show up to perform a hit only to find himself face to face with an older version of himself (Bruce Willis) who is ready and willing to fight him. Older Joe escapes, and present day(ish) Joe has to track him down and kill him to close the loop before the mob closes it for him. (more…)

The Big Short (2015) & Arrival (2016)

Let’s take a break from the Halloween madness that’s been going on here on the blog and move towards adult films. No. Not, like, porn. Like, films with more mature themes than dumb slasher flicks. Okay, mature themes still sounds like porn, but I swear they aren’t porn. Just, screw it. I watched The Big Short a while ago and never wrote about it, and I saw Arrival in December.

The Big Short (2015)

mv5bndc4mthhn2etzjmznc00zdjmlthiztgtnthly2uxzwmznjdkxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndk3nzu2mtq-_v1_sx640_cr00640999_al_The Big Short is a drama based on the true story of a small group of people in the financial industry who predicted the housing crisis of the mid-2000s and tried to play it to their advantage. It stars Christian Bale as Michael Burry (the most metal hedge fund manager ever), Steve Carell as Mark Baum (just serious Steve Carell), Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett (a bit of a sleazey salesman, but still my bae), and Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert (an eccentric, retired trader).

I honestly really liked The Big Short. I’ve never found a subject like the housing crisis an interesting topic of conversation (let alone a movie), and the folks behind The Big Short understood that I sat in the majority  with that opinion. They managed to make a fun, lighthearted, and still effective drama about a couple of dudes who wanted to play the major banks and make a ton of money. While there was a cast of protagonists, there was still no clear cut “good guy” throughout the movie, but the writing was pretty heavy-handed when trying to establish the big name banks of the United States as the “bad guys”.

The constant celebrity cameos and fourth wall breaking were a nice touch to keep things speeding along pretty quickly despite a running time over two hours. My only complaint with the hyperstylized non-narrative bits (and the fact that this movie focuses mostly on high rolling business folk) felt very much like a carbon copy of Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which only came out two years prior.

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I also really enjoyed the ensemble cast of the film, particularly because their characters were all of different moral fibers and had different motivations throughout the film. A few of the characters actually never interact with each other, which is nice, because going in to this movie, I thought it would be a big financial superhero team up where a bunch of fund managers fight off the big banks. I also enjoyed how the film focused on these characters interacting and reacting to the plot of the housing crisis, and didn’t get muddled by becoming a personal drama. Once the results of the plot unfolded, the film ended. I’ve got to commend The Big Short for being  a tight little drama that stayed fun, engaging and interesting despite it’s heavy subject matter. This is definitely in my list of favorite movies from 2015, I would highly recommend it.

Arrival (2016)

mv5bmtexmzu0odcxndheqtjeqwpwz15bbwu4mde1oti4mzay-_v1_sy1000_cr006401000_al_Flipping 180 degrees from a realistic drama about one of the most crippling financial crises in Western history to a mind-bending sci-fi drama about aliens landing on Earth, Arrival stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and was directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicaro, Enemy), one of the best directors working today. Adams and Renner play linguist Louise Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly respectively, who are called to action by the U.S. military (Forest Whitaker plays Colonel Weber) after twelve mysterious space crafts have landed across the globe. Banks and Donnelly are in charge of developing and establishing communication with the aliens on board the ship to determine their motivations. They’re racing against the clock though, because not every nation is keen on making scientific inquiry with these visitors, and global tensions rise by the minute.

It’s so exciting to see really interesting, restrained sci-fi coming out. As much as I like space schlock, neat, coherent, intelligent sci-fi flicks always have a special place in my heart. While I would consider this a kind of alien invasion film, don’t get your hopes up for  Arrival to be Independence Day 3. A large portion of this film is dedicated to Louise and Ian learning to communicate with the aliens and learning their language. Only near the end do things start escalating quicker and quicker before the movie takes off with one of most interesting conclusions to a story arc I’ve seen in a long time.

The acting was superb in Arrival from everyone, and the great sets, effects, and score helped keep me immersed for the whole thing. I got lots of Under the Skin and 2001: A Space Odyssey vibes from the way certain scenes were shot, particularly the sequences inside the alien ship. The haunting and almost ambient music sounded almost like the film was scored by Sunn O))), and the monolithic design on the ship paired with the unexpected design of the aliens made for a pretty unsettling experience whenever it all came together.

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Similar to Enemy, Arrival is a little open ended in the way you can interpret it. It’s definitely a movie that benefits from repeat viewings, with lots of little, subtle hints in the script and screenplay that all work together like clockwork to help keep the movie as neat and clean, yet as deep as possible. One of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen in a long time, and one of my favorites from last year. Check it out as soon as you can.

-David

Rogue One (2016)

Woah! What is this? I’m writing about a movie released within the last week? It’s a Christmas miracle! Don’t get to used to it kiddos, because I hate movie theaters and probably won’t see another movie on opening weekend for a loooong time.

Remember way back when I said hit guerrilla film maker Gareth Edwards has been swallowed up by the corporate machine, I totally missed the fact that he’s the director for this year’s Star Wars film, Rogue One.

rogueone_onesheetaDisney’s Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: Episode 3.5: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the newest movie in the yearly Star Wars output that Disney has scheduled for the next 500 years. Rogue One is a companion piece to the core Star Wars saga, showing how the Rebel Alliance discovers and steals the plans for the Death Star between Episode III and Episode IV.

Full disclosure: this review is going to be chocked full of spoilers. Also full disclosure: get a tall glass of something to drink, because I’m going to be real salty.

Go watch Rogue One before reading this. Or don’t. I mean, honestly, if you’ve seen A New Hope, I think you can figure out how this one ends.

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Snowpiercer (2013)

I’ve written about certain movies on this blog that I think I’m going to call Arthouse Lite (I’m waiting for the copyright to come through so I can name a shitty adjunct beer – marketed as craft – after it). Arthouse Lite movies are the movies you show your friends to get them to realize there are more movies out there than the big hundred million dollar superhero blockbusters. Movies that are original and fresh and that can provide some extra entertainment value in that you are rewarded for thinking about them a little more in depth than usual. They’re usually very stylistic and a little on the weird side but not so over the top that they would alienate somebody who would have no reference to it. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain is not Arthouse Lite. Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers (yes, that is a real movie) is not Arthouse Lite. Movies like Enemy, Donnie Darko, or Under the Skin are Arthouse Lite. They’re just offbeat enough to grab the attention and imagination of the average person, but won’t make them walk out of the theatre in disgust or boredom.

mv5bmtq3nza1mty3mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwnze2mzg5mte-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Snowpiercer is an Arthouse Lite Lite sci-fi action film and is the latest project directed by South Korea’s Bong Joon Ho, the same guy who gave us the critically acclaimed and still-on-my-To-Watch List movies Mother (2009) and Memories of Murder (2003). The movie is based on a dystopian sci-fi graffic novel from 1982 by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette called Le Transperceneige. Snowpiercer received a very small limited release before word of mouth gave it the momentum to warrant a much larger one. I’ve been excited about this movie since I heard about it a year or so ago. It has a rock solid cast, and I’ve got a soft spot for movies about rebellions and uprisings as well as movies that take place in one location. In case you didn’t know, the assembly of acting talent here includes Ed Harris, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt(!), and real life pretty boy Chris Evans. The basic plot of Snowpiercer is simple: In a post-apocalyptic frozen world, a train running on on a perpetual engine houses the last remaining dregs of humanity. The passengers on the train have been segregated Hunger Games style and the oppressed lower class folk in the rear of the train launch an assault lead by Curtis and Gilliam (Evans and Hurt respectively) to try and take over the front where the upper crust live. It’s your standard feel good story about the 99% toppling the 1%.

Except it isn’t. (more…)

Her (2013)

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t only watch horror movies. Sure, dudes in masks wielding machetes who chop up promiscuous teenagers tickles my fancy some, but every now and again it’s nice to step out of the coffin and experience something a bit different. While I’d definitely  call myself a fan of sci-fi, I feel similar about that genre as I do most comedies. I think a movie in the genre needs to be executed impeccably if it’s going to stand solely on the tropes and stylings of genre. A prime example in the comedy genre would be Airplane, a movie that spends literally every frame setting up or paying off on a joke, and every joke sticks its landing perfectly. It doesn’t need compelling characters, narrative, or conflict because the movie can stand alone on the strength of its jokes. My favorite sci-fi movies and shows definitely cannot stand on how “sci-fi” they are. They need something else to synergize with the sci-fi setting. Take Robocop for instance. Unarguably the greatest movie ever made, its political and social satire works with the sci-fi setting, not just along side it. Their power together makes it a great movie. Battlestar Galactica is a political thriller/ drama that just so happens to take place in space and involves evil robots trying to eradicate humanity. The sci-fi (spaceships, faster than light travel, Cylons) does not get people watching it episode in, episode out. The fleshed out characters, their relationships, their struggles and flaws, and how they overcome those struggles and flaws make the show worth watching. For me, sci-fi needs a human element to grasp on to in order to elevate it to something really worth thinking about. Good sci-fi asks questions and pokes holes in convention. A movie that fits this description to a tee, is Her.

mv5bmja1nzk0otm2of5bml5banbnxkftztgwnju2njewmde-_v1_Her is Spike Jonze’s fourth feature length film about Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), a man going through a divorce who begins a relationship with Samantha, an artificial intelligence operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). It sounds like a quirky indie drama, and while it does fall into a couple of the traps of a schlubby-guy-meets-manic-pixie-dream-girl movie, it deftly soars above a majority of the clichés and keeps you on your toes and guessing what will happen next. Spike Jonze is known for making quirky and weird movies, but Her is definitely an accessible film (unlike the last movie I saw starring Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin). I know I’m late to the party for Her, but understandably I was a little overwhelmed by the ridiculous amount of praise this movie had going for it when it came out. It seemed almost too hyped. It was winning every award ever, and nothing but perfect or near perfect reviews came spilling out after its release. At the time it felt like manufactured hype or Oscarbait, but now that I’ve watched it, I can safely say…

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Under The Skin (2013)

Arthouse films aren’t for everyone. They’re often vague, confusing, and come across as being strange and different for the sake of being strange and different. Now, I’m by no means an authority on arthouse and experimental cinema, but I’ve been through the surrealist rodeo a couple times. Being someone who really likes the visual and technical elements of film, I can enjoy certain art films for their imagery and cinematography, even if their #2deep4me messages fly over my head.

mv5bmtu1mdewmdg4nl5bml5banbnxkftztgwotk3ntcxmte-_v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_Under the Skin is a sci-fi horror film directed by Jonathan Glazer. While definitely an art film, Under the Skin’s plot is easier to digest than something like, say, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. That being said, it doesn’t reduce how evocative and mesmerizing the imagery is in this movie, nor does it make some of the scenes any less uncomfortable to sit through. The movie follows a simple premise. An alien woman (Scarlett Johansson) is sent to Earth to process men for an unknown reason. In order to capture the men she needs, she decides to pose as a beautiful young woman and seduce them. As she ensnares prey after prey, her time among humans begins to rub off on her and she becomes curious about the different experiences and emotions humans go through. See? That wasn’t so hard. (more…)