Archive for the Science Fiction Category

Her

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Science Fiction with tags on February 14, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Spike Jonze.
Screenplay: Spike Jonze.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Portia Doubleday, Steve Zississ, Bill Hader.
Voices: Scarlett Johansson, Brian Cox, Spike Jonze, Kristen Wiig.

Love is a form of socially acceptable insanity

After bringing the warped and surreal works of Charlie Kaufman’s “Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation” to the screen, director Spike Jonze carved himself a reputation for the off-beat. However, a misjudged adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story “Where The Wild Things Are” followed and I have to admit that doubts were raised about his abilities. I wondered how much of Jonze was in his earlier films or did he actually need Kaufman in order to construct something of substance? On the evidence of “Her“, though, it’s apparent that Jonze is the real deal and fully capable of crafting his own original work.

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Europa Report

Posted in Science Fiction with tags on December 5, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Sebastien Cordoro.
Screenplay: Philip Gelatt.
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Sharlto Copley, Christian Camargo, Anamaria Marinca, Embeth Davidtz, Daniel Wu, Karolina Wydra, Dan Fogler, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Compared to the breadth of knowledge yet to be known… what does your life actually matter?

Being released in the same year as the big-budgeted and visually stunning “Gravity” would normally hinder the successful chances of any other film in the science-fiction genre. However, Sebastien Cordoro’s “Europa Report” actually manages to find it’s own niche and invigoration by relying purely on a strong premise and confidence in it’s delivery. It will, most certainly, not pull in the revenue or audience of “Gravity” but it’s proof, yet again, that coughing up the green isn’t always necessary when venturing into the cosmos.

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Gravity

Posted in Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction with tags on November 22, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Alfonso Cauron.
Screenplay: Alfonso Cauron, Jonas Cauron.
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney.
Voice of: Ed Harris.

Clear skies with a chance of satellite debris“.

In 2009, director James Cameron opened the floodgates on the innovation and possibilities of stereoscopic filmmaking when he delivered “Avatar“. Since then, it has been experimented and tinkered with by many filmmakers but now, four years later, Mexican director Alfonso Cauron has set a whole new benchmark.

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Moon

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction with tags on November 20, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Duncan Jones.
Screenplay: Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker.
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Dominique McElliogot, Benedict Wong.
Voice of: Kevin Spacey.

I hope life on Earth is everything you remember it to be“.

Being the son of legendary musician David Bowie must put a lot of pressure on you, especially if your chosen profession is also to entertain. However, this is a pressure that director Duncan Jones seems to relish. His talents are used in a different medium from his father but equally as impressive with this relatively low-budget debut and he produces one of the finest science fiction film’s for quite some time.

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Oblivion * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Science Fiction with tags on September 28, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Joseph Kosinski.
Screenplay: Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell.

Say what you will about Tom Cruise but there’s no denying that his choice of projects have always been bankable. Throughout the 80′s and 90′s most of his films and performances were of a particularly high standard. The same could be said of the 00′s as well. However, over the last three years, cracks are beginning to appear; “Knight and Day“, “Rock of Ages” and “Jack Reacher” have failed to register any form of quality. On the surface, “Oblivion” has all the hallmarks of the Cruiser getting back on track but, unfortunately, proves just as lacklustre as the aforementioned duds.

In the year 2077, Earth has been obliterated by an alien race and the surviving members of humanity have moved on to inhabit Saturn’s moon, Titan. Jack (Tom Cruise) and his wife Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) have remained on earth, though, to protect machinery harvesting the planet’s resources before Jack begins to suspect that his mission isn’t as straightforward as he thought it was.

Director Joseph Kosinski follows up his previous science fiction film “Tron Legacy” with another venture into the future. He works from his own graphic novel and delivers an intriguing premise that pays homage to classic Sci-Fi movies like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Planet of the Apes“. His setting is suitably bleak (captured beautifully by cinematographer Claudio Miranda), his use of visuals are striking and his tone is perfectly sombre. In fact, Kosinski actually assembles a good addition to the science fiction genre. Unfortunately, his assembly soon falls apart due to a script that’s devoid of any substance or characters that we can invest in. The pace is lethargic, to say the least, which only really registers that a lot of the film is just padding. Nothing happens for a good chunk of the movie and when the plot is finally opened up, it fails to make sense or hold any form of coherence. Even if it did, your likely to have lost interest by that point anyway. Cruise wanders around aimlessly (presumably in search of characterisation) and the likes of Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau needn’t have turned up at all. The most frustrating thing overall, though, is that the big reveal is one that we’ve seen many times before and all, but completely, rips-off Duncan Jones’ far superior “Moon“. The similarities are almost shocking and I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen Jones’ name on the screenwriting credits.

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Kosinski is a director that may yet find his feet. He certainly has an eye for sumptuous visuals and can stage a fine action set-piece. However, he really needs to work on a coherent narrative and one that isn’t as dull or desolate as the landscape that his characters roam.

Mark Walker

Love * *

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction with tags on March 14, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: William Eubank.
Screenplay: William Eubank.
Starring: Gunner Wright, Corey Richardson, Bradley Horne, Nancy Stelle, Roger E. Fanter, Ambyr Childers.

I often find it difficult giving my opinion on independent films as I’m aware of the struggles that have been faced in order to bring it to the screen. They are hard to criticise, as the filmmaker certainly doesn’t get the same luxuries or benefits that the financial backing from a big studio would bring. However, when all is said and done, it’s ultimately the material that it should be judged upon. Such is the case with this film; it’s undeniably impressive in it’s assembly but found wanting in it’s substance.

As I can’t really be bothered to write the plot summary, I’ll leave you with the director’s own description of the story… “After losing contact with Earth, Astronaut Lee Miller becomes stranded in orbit alone aboard the International Space Station. As time passes and life support systems dwindle, Lee battles to maintain his sanity – and simply stay alive. His world is a claustrophobic and lonely existence, until he makes a strange discovery aboard the ship”.

As the film opens, we find ourselves in the midst of the American Civil War and a commentary that’s reminiscent of the work of Terrence Malick. Visually, it looks spectacular and you wouldn’t think for a second that this was shot on a shoestring budget. Debutant director, William Eubank certainly knows how to capture a scene and his work here is exceptionally well handled. There’s a good sense of atmosphere and overall, ethereal, feel to the film.
From the battlefields we are then taken to a space station that is orbiting earth and we are introduced to our protagonist who wanders his enclosed environment and ruminates on his lonely existence much like Duncan Jones’ “Moon” or Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey“. It’s not just the setting but also the existential nature of those films that this tries to emulate. Sadly, it’s nowhere near as good as either of them. The isolation of our protagonist brings about a monotony in his daily routine and that monotony is soon shared by the viewer. To put it simply, very little happens. I got the point of his dilemma and the effect that it had on his psyche but it’s laboured too strongly and the connection between the astronaut and the civil war is tenuous at best. There are many verbal musings throughout, whereby some lovely passages of words are weaved together but it sounds more poetic than it does philosophical and I think that’s where the problem lies. The film has airs and graces of having challenging, philosophical, ideas but doesn’t really have anything concrete to cling on to. I kept waiting for some revelation that would tie everything, meaningfully, together but when it arrived, it didn’t deliver the punch I was hoping for and only confirmed my suspicions of how pretentious the film really is. The only thing that really makes sense is that it was funded entirely by the band “Angels and Airwaves” (who also provide the soundtrack) and it comes across as an exercise in marketing their own stuff and no more than a glorified music video.
In fairness, it does manage to hold your interest on the visual front with some stunningly captured images and moments. However, impressive visuals do not a good film make. If it continued how it began, then it might have had something going for it but it didn’t and it doesn’t.

The major issue with Love, is that it believes itself to be deeper and more profound than it actually is.
There is such a thing in the cosmos known as a ‘Black hole‘. This certainly has a hole, and it’s head is too far up it.

Mark Walker

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Robot & Frank * * * *

Posted in Drama, Science Fiction with tags on March 12, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Director: Jake Schreier.
Screenplay: Christopher D. Ford.
Starring: Frank Langella, Peter Sarsgaard (voice), Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Sisto, Jeremy Strong, Bonnie Bentley, Dario Barosso.

Robot & Frank” is the type of film that could, unfortunately, suffer a lot of preconceptions beforehand. Judging it by it’s cover or title, could lead to it being written off as some low-budget, ridiculous science-fiction film. If this does happen, then more fool those that do judge, as they’d be missing out on a marvellous human drama that has a great balance between humour and pathos.

In the near future, Frank is a retired cat burglar who lives alone, while his daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) is travelling the world and his son Hunter (James Marsden) is more focused on his career. Frank also happens to be going through the early stages of dementia, so in order to help him, Hunter buys him a robot caretaker, who will tend to his every need. Frank realises the potential in this, though, and plans to restart his old profession by using the robot as his aide to burgle more properties.

First off, this is a film about memories; the fading ones of it’s lead character and the expendable ones of an automaton. What makes it work, though, is the sensitive and convincing relationship at it’s core. There’s a genuine friendship that’s built between the characters and Christopher D. Ford’s screenplay takes time to touch upon the similarities between them. Robot is entirely reflective of Frank and they could be viewed as one and the same, while lightly skimming over the philosophical theories of Descartes’ cartesian doubt. Does the fact that Frank struggles to remember the past make him any less alive than the robot, who has no past? It’s this type of attention and delicate handling of the material that brings a genuine heart (and head) to the film. It’s an earnest portrait of Alzeihmer’s while also managing to incorporate some fun by it’s schematic caper sub-plot. It’s success is largely down to the strong and convincing actors; Langella delivers a fabulously nuanced performance of a man that once led a colourful life but now finds himself with a failing memory and refuses to accept it. He’s onscreen for almost the entirety of the movie, and throughout, he’s mostly talking to piece of tin. That piece of tin is also miraculously brought to life, though, with the gentle and perfectly fitting voice of Peter Sarsgaard. For this little character (who is never given a name) to win you over is a testament to everyone involved here. Director Jake Schreier handles the material beautifully – in his directorial debut – delivering a depth and profundity with touching family moments, memories reawakened and the importance of them in relation to what it means to be alive.

Although the film deals with a superficial automaton there’s a heart that lies within and that heart beats very strongly.
It’s early doors in 2013 but this is a film that I will fondly remember for the rest of the year and beyond.

Mark Walker

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Cloud Atlas * * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Science Fiction with tags on February 21, 2013 by Mark Walker

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Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer.
Screenplay: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Wishaw, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgees, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, James D’Arcy, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Keith David, David Gyasi, Xun Zhou, Gary McCormack, David Mitchell.

Recently, Yann Martel’s novel “Life Of Pi” made it to the silver screen after an exemplary adaptation by director Ang Lee. However, the novel itself had been deemed ‘unfilmable’ beforehand. There are many literary works that have come under this assumption and David Mitchell’s Booker Prize-nominated novel Cloud Atlas is another. The reception of this film has been very mixed but, give or take, the odd discrepancy and noodle scratching moment, this is an impressively successful endeavour that proves, once again, that the ability to transfer page to screen is entirely possible and vibrantly alive.

1849: a Pacific ocean voyage that unearths a stowaway slave.
1936: an inspirational composition of classical music in Edinburgh.
1973: a manuscript that invites a dangerous conspiracy in San Francisco.
2012: a publisher goes into hiding in a nursing home, fearing for his life.
2144: a totalitarian regime in futuristic Korea gives birth to a rebellious clone.
2321: a post-apocalyptic Hawaii that leads to the cosmos…
These are the six stories that connect life, the universe and everything as past, present and future interlace with one another and humankind struggle to make sense of their existence.

What better way to tell a story than to begin it in the ancient way? An old man sitting around a campfire with scars on his face and wisdom on his tongue. That’s exactly what the trio of directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have done and it sets the perfect opening to an expansive, spectacular, hugely ambitious and visual, storytelling adventure. It’s so vast and labyrinthine that it’s hard to even begin to break it down. It works on so many levels; from the metaphorical to allegorical, as well as, the tangential and does so while setting it in six different centuries (from the 19th to the 24th) and having the same actors play several different roles throughout. It’s difficult to find your feet and it could take at least an hour before you even get a hint or actually begin to grasp anything that’s going on. Once the narrative strands do come together, though, the film becomes a completely immersive experience.
It poses questions as to the meaning of our existence and the direct relation we have to one another and whether our experiences in life are just luck or predestined by means of Karma, reincarnation or simply through a greater, unknown, connection within the universe. In other words, it explores the complex questions and search for answers that have been pondered from time immemorial. It also incorporates the influence of art, television and how easily deities can be constructed and how, essentially, humankind is their own worst enemy. There will certainly be more questions than answers throughout this journey but what this film does, is run with life’s conundrums, meanwhile freeing itself from narrative conventions and hits you from six different angles all at once. It really is astoundingly complex stuff.
Now, I don’t profess to understand Cloud Atlas in it’s entirety. I did manage to get a reasonably good handle on it’s elaborate tapestry but it’s a film that requires, at least, a couple of viewings to fully grasp. The utmost patience and concentration is essential and if you happen to switch off for a second – throughout it’s almost three hour long running time – then it will, ruthlessly, leave you behind. You have been warned: this film will pickle your brain for weeks. It has confounded many; so much so, that it’s been written off as disappointing or a pretentious mess. I, on the other hand, strongly believe that it should not be ignored. The only drawbacks I found were the tenuous linking between a couple of the stories and the tone of the film shifted a little uneasily in places. Nevertheless, this is one of the most ambitious, intelligent and beautifully constructed film’s for quite some time and, if invested in, will bring many rewards.

I don’t know why I’d choose to paraphrase at this point other than to sum up this film (and my review) by leaving you with the words of a wiser fellar than myself: “I guess that’s the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ it-self, down through the generations, westward the wagons, across the sands a time until – aw, look at me, I’m ramblin’ again… Catch ya further on down the trail“.

Mark Walker

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Looper * * * *

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, thriller with tags on December 17, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Rian Johnson.
Screenplay: Rian Johnson.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels, Pierce Gagnon, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Garret Dillahunt, Qing Xu, Frank Brennan, Tracie Thoms, Nick Gomez.

12 Monkeys“, was the last time I seen a science fiction/time-travel movie that featured Bruce Willis and if that was anything to go by then this film could do no wrong. In hindsight, it’s not as tight or as clever as it thinks it is and it’s not quite up to the standard as the aforementioned Terry Gilliam movie but it’s still thoroughly good entertainment.

The year is 2044 and organised crime has a grip on society. Hit men (known as ‘Loopers’) are employed to execute people sent back from 30 years in the future. Time travel is illegal but being under the control of the mafia, it allows them to eradicate people without a trace. One of the rules of being a Looper though, is that they must execute their future selves when they are transported back. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper but he fails to carry out the hit on his older self (Bruce Willis) and they are both forced to go on the run, potentially altering their future with very dangerous consequences.

For any good sci-fi yarn to work, it has to have an interesting and thought provoking concept. This film can certainly claim to possess that. All-be-it, it’s a little self-indulgent and doesn’t entirely hold up under scrutiny but once you let yourself go the film has a lot to offer. Wisely, it doesn’t overplay it’s futuristic setting, preferring instead to go for a more subtle and minimal approach. This helps in creating a better sense of realism for it’s genre and concept, as well as making it easier to identify with the characters – of which, the ubiquitous Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes central stage. Now, a lot has been said about the prosthetic make-up of Gordon-Levitt to have him look more like a younger Bruce Willis and I can see why people have had issues with it. For a start, it seems unnecessary to have a very talented young actor mimic one that isn’t exactly known for having a massive range in the first place. However, this was the path they chose tread and for the first half of the film I thought Gordon-Levitt captured the mannerisms of Willis very well indeed. In some ways, he gave a better performance as Willis than Willis does himself. The only problem I had with the make-up was the meticulously shaped eyebrows. They looked too dark, out of shape and well out of place. Anytime, Gordon-Levitt was onscreen in the latter half of the film, I was distracted by them. Not only did he not look like Willis, he didn’t even look the same way that he started the film. It was bizarre to say the least. That aside, the film is brilliantly structured, well realised and poses the odd noodle-scratching moment. My only criticism would be the second half; it takes the action away from the dystopian city and heads into rural farmland and around this time hits a bit of a lull. Its saving grace being an outstanding performance from young Pierce Gagnon who, just about, acts everyone else off the stage.
Upon it’s release it was heralded as 2012′s “Inception“. I wouldn’t go that far in my praise for this; it didn’t quite have that Nolan magic but in respect of being a piece of exciting and thrilling escapism, it’ll hold up amongst the best of the year. For that reason, filmmakers like Rian Johnson can’t be encouraged enough when they seem intent on delivering movies that an audience can really get embroiled in. I was a big fan of his modern-noir debut “Brick” and despite some critical panning, I also enjoyed his con-man follow-up “The Brothers Bloom“. This is, undoubtedly, a bigger step forward for Johnson but he handles it admirably and I can only hope he continues to provide innovative pieces of work like this, without the Hollywood studios getting their claws into him.

A smart and imaginative thriller that manages to squeeze out more mileage from the time-travel sub-genre. It does so by bringing a fresh and original approach to it’s paradox while also possessing a moral compass.

Mark Walker

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Escape From New York * * * *

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, thriller with tags on October 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: John Carpenter.
Screenplay: John Carpenter, Nick Castle.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Adrienne Barbeau, Harry Dean Stanton, Season Hubley, Tom Atkins, John Diehl, George “Buck” Flower,

During my childhood, I enjoyed many movies from director John Carpenter but it’s been a long time since I’ve revisited any of them. If truth be told, I kind of avoided them incase they didn’t hold up on reflection and quite frankly, I didn’t want my memory of them to be tarnished. The reason I’ve revisited this one is because Eric, who runs The IPC blog asked me to collaborate on a “double-take“, where we would compare our thoughts on a specific film. I’m glad I took part as this cult classic from my younger years still holds many memorable moments.

In the year 1997, the entire city of New York has become a maximum security prison, holding all of society’s criminals. All the bridges leading into the city are cut off, a large wall is built along the shoreline and a large police force is based there to stop any attempted escapees. Things take a turn for the worse though, when the President’s (Donald Pleasance) plane is shot down and he has to eject. Unfortunately for everyone he lands in New York forcing a rescue mission. It’s here that prisoner and ex-soldier Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is sent into the decaying city. If he manages to rescue the president then he’ll win his own life and freedom in return.

Straight from the off-set, this film sets the tone with Carpenter’s own foreboding music score, luring you into an anarchy ridden, post-apocalyptic New York. Like all of Carpenter’s works during the 70′s and 80′s, the concept is sheer brilliance. There are very few directors these days that have the vision or originality that this man had. Unfortunately, Carpenter can’t seem to hit the same heights these days but he was way ahead of his game around this time and this film stands as one of his most recognised and has a fervent cult following. Like a lot of cult movies though, it has it’s flaws; the settings are basic and it has the old flashing computers with an abundance of lightbulbs on show but it’s testament to Carpenter’s vision that his concept overrides these dated faults and the film still manages to remain suitably futuristic. Granted, in some cases it can come across as amateurish – even self-conscious – but good sci-fi primarily works on it’s idea’s and Carpenter certainly applies the idea well here. This is a film that confidently relies on it’s premise and it works an absolute treat. It is also helps that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and has it’s tongue stuck firmly in it’s cheek. That’s thanks-in-large to Kurt Russell, who delivers a string of great one-liners in a memorable and iconic central performance as Snake Plissken – one of cinema’s finest anti-heroes. Unfortunately, the film does succumb to some formulaic action material but it’s credit to Carpenter’s pacing and Russell’s wisecracks for keeping the films head above ground. Despite it’s style and substance becoming a casualty to the action, it’s still a lot of fun, regardless of it’s occasional wandering.

A great sci-fi cautionary tale that a contemporary audience can still identify with. It can also proudly take it’s place amongst the great B-movies and cult classics of our time and lasting proof, that John Carpenter was one of the finest directors working during the 1970′s & 80′s.

To read the “double-take” in full, visit Eric’s site here.

Mark Walker

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