Tag Archives: future

Ghost in the Shell

1 Apr

Put a pretty girl in some Lycra and, poof, you got a movie, right? Well, yes and no. It worked with Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich in the “Underworld” and “Resident Evil” series respectively, but not so much for Charlize Theron in “Aeon Flux” or Halle Berry in “Catwoman.” You can add Scarlett Johansson to that “not” list with this live-action adaptation of Masamune Shirow’s manga “Ghost in the Shell,” done more righteously in the 1995 animation feature directed by Mamoru Oshii. Sure, Scar-Jo looks fetching, much as she does as the Black Widow in the “Avengers” series, and the film, helmed by Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) with lush cinematography by Jess Hall, might even be more optically alluring. The “Blade Runner”-esque reimagining of a near-future Shanghai is a wonderment in its own right and perhaps worth the price of entry, but not enough to atone for an inert script and robotic acting.

Things begin promisingly enough when Scar-Jo’s Major rises elegantly out of a synthetic pool, the first cybernetic organism manufactured by the Hanka Robotics corporation. Major’s a leap forward in human and technology fusion (the flesh and steel body being the “shell,” with her computer-infused brain the “ghost”), yanked from her scientific incubators (a matronly Juliette Binoche among them) and appropriated as a weapon to fight cyberterrorists. The target du jour is an elusive entity known as Kuze (Michael Pitt), who’s out to hack Hanka and the government to pieces. Major’s barely out of the lab when we get a glimmer of her prowess, leaping from a tall building and taking out a room full of assassins with barely a hair out of place. It’s a fiery, kinetic jolt that perhaps comes too early for its own good. The shell in which the film operates becomes quickly inconsistent in tenor and tone, bouncing from somber, semi-serious oppressive future vision (back to “Blade Runner”) to hyperbolic free-for-all and, in the process, uproots the prospect of suspension of disbelief.

Sadly too, Scar-Jo, so fantastic in “Under the Skin” (2013) and normally quite capable, comes off Ben Affleck-wooden here and is further undermined by the film’s lack of an emotional core. The device of Major struggling to tap into her “ghost” to discover her true identity, much akin to Peter Weller’s cyborg in “RoboCop” (1987), piques interest at turns, but ultimately feels tacked on and beholden to the larger sheen. The corporate and governmental double dealings, which strangely seem apt as metaphor for the Trump presidency and its shadowy ties to Russia, also could have been played for greater satire and bite but also become lazy and lackluster plot points. By the end of the film, everything’s empty and contrived. Then the “spider tank” shows up and hyperbole takes off her gown to reveal a not-so-appealing figure.

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Z for Zachariah

28 Aug
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Craig Zobel got under a lot of people’s skin with 2012’s taut thrillerCompliance about a fast-food employee’s horrific interrogation by her superior, and with Z for Zachariah, he continues to plumb the complex inner workings of human interaction in this post-apocalyptic drama propelled by issues of gender, race, and religion.

Set in the near future, the tomboyish Ann (the lovely Margot Robbie) lives in a rich fertile dell and forages for food with her dog. She lives a quiet, remote existence. Down the hill from the big farm house she encamps, there’s an abandoned gas station and a church and that’s about it.

While out on one such expedition to recover game from snares, Ann stumbles upon a stranger in a spacesuit-like encasing waiving a Geiger counter. It’s then that we know the world is no longer a friendly place and that these may in fact be the last two humans on the planet. The how and why isn’t exactly explained, just that radioactive contamination is definitively a part of it. Continue reading

Air

28 Aug

By Tom Meek in Paste Magazine

<i>Air</i>

Sometime in the near future, due to nuclear fallout, the object of this film’s title becomes a rare and precious commodity, one even more valuable and life essential than the scarce petrol in the first three Mad Max films. From TV news clips we get the current state of affairs: Riots and chaos break out as the breathable life force runs out and the world slides into an apocalyptic purge. Those who survive (the educated and the well-off, as everyone else is told to hold tight) get put into stasis in subterranean facilities (ironically, old missile silos) where engineers (Norman Reedus and Djimon Hounsou) breathe the last kernels of air and keep a watchful eye over the remainder of humanity.

The dark ant-tunnel sets erected by director Christian Cantamessa and his crew call to mind the camped confines of the salvage ship in Alien, as does the theme of man being vulnerable and at the mercy of a computer-controlled environ. It’s also a place where authority is nonexistent and order is a tenuous concept from across time and space, open to interpretation.  Continue reading

Terminator Genisys

2 Jul

“I’m old, but not obsolete,” is the new Arnold Schwarzenegger zinger in the “Terminator” franchise reboot, “Terminator Genisys.” “I’ll be back” gets recycled too, and there’s plenty of logic for the aged Schwarzenegger terminator – now affectionately called “Pops” – being gray and wrinkled (his external covering goes like ours). He even gets to confront the young, buff, naked Arnold, so sleek and intimidating as the lethal T-800 prototype back in 1984.

063015i Terminator GenisysMuch of what propels “Genisys” lies in the basis for James Cameron’s game-changing B-film some 30 years ago: the notion of rewinding the clock and altering history and destiny. Wrinkles upon wrinkle in time have changed the game so much you almost can’t tell where rebel leader John Connor (Jason Clarke, with a scar-marred face) ends and Skynet begins.

The ever-churning plot machinations are wild, but don’t offer much bite. Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke from “Game of Thrones” – the second actress from the series to play Sarah Connor, as Lena Headey starred in the 2008 series “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) is still on the hit list, but knowledge from the future has worked its way back in time, so what was a pat scenario in previous chapters becomes a game of time-hopping chess, with Skynet and the humans trying to out-wrinkle the other.

Not to give too much away, but we begin in the Skynet future from where the young Arnold T-800 (a killer computer recreation) is sent back in time to L.A., exactly like in the ’84 original – but just as he’s about to steal the clothes from a trio of punks, things go off-script from what had been. The year of  Judgement Day (1997) has been pushed to 2017 as well. Why? Well, Skynet has decided the best way to rule the world isn’t an apocalyptic nuclear strike, but a Trojan horse computer virus through the highly sought new operating system Genisys – from a company that’s Apple cool and Microsoft hungry. There’s much more to it too; Oscar-winner J. K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) plays a cop in L.A. and again in San Fran in 2017. He’s a bit of a boozer, so no one really buys it when he says he’s seen time traveler Kyle Reese (played by the handsome but wooden Jai Courtney) and Sarah before.

Continue reading

Aloft

23 May
Paste Magazine May 19, 2015
<i>Aloft</i>

Much of what transpires in Aloft washes over you like a hypnotic dream, with peril and anguish looming at the corners, ever ready to flood the delicate drama at the core of director Claudia Llosa’s film. It’s more a sensual experience than a narrative, and while the dystopian prophecy boasts a concrete plot—or two—Llosa has loftier ambitions. Think The Tree of Life or Life of Pi, but Llosa’s film never quite spreads its wings.

Set somewhere in a slightly alternative reality, in the near future, in a place that’s rooted very much in the here and now, Aloft centers on a French journalist (Melanie Laurent) who’s making a documentary about a reclusive female faith healer living in a remote compound on a frozen arctic lake. She connects with a troubled falconer (Cillian Murphy) with ties to the much sought one, who can harness the power of nature to cure terminal illnesses. Given that such skills in a traditional office park might result in long lines and traffic headaches, the tough-to-reach outpost somewhat makes sense—though, if it’s such a bitch to get to, might not the dying and the needy expire long before arriving at the doorstep of salvation?

In a separate spindle, some 20 years earlier, a single mother (an alluring Jennifer Connelly sporting a rat tail) toils on a pig farm raising two boys. The youngest is sick and without much prospect, while the older, through reckless abandon, constantly puts his feeble younger sibling at risk (joyriding in a pickup truck on thin ice). Connelly’s Nana, desperate, turns to a New Age-y sect, where the head, considered a drunkard and a charlatan by nonbelievers, is rumored to remedy those whose doctors have closed the book on. Continue reading

Chappie

7 Mar

‘Chappie’: This RoboCop is street smart, and South Africa’s better than ‘Elysium’

whitespace https://player.vimeo.com/video/117160271 Is Neill Blomkamp the next M. Night Shyamalan? Hard to tell from his latest, “Chappie,” a near-future tale in which a robo-cop gets infused with AI and falls in with the wrong crowd. The good news is that Blomkamp’s third feature is a step up from the pedantically plotted “Elysium” – but it’s nowhere near his cutting-edge debut, “District 9,” which had sci-fi fans hoping for the next coming of Ridley Scott and James Cameron (the early incarnations). 030615i Chappie b“Chappie” also takes Blomkamp back to his native South Africa and the grimy post-apocalyptic ghettos where “D9” took place, where the FX auteur clearly feels more at ease. Much of what transpires is borrowed heavily from Paul Verhoeven’s brilliantly biting satire, “RoboCop” especially “The Moose” – a clear (homage?) clone of the mega bipedal ED-209 that RoboCop has to go titanium to titanium with. It’s 2016 and Jo’Burg (Johannesburg) has remedied its rampant crime by contracting with an arms manufacturer to build and deploy humanoid droids to embed with police forces. They make great shields, hardly miss and never tire. Chappie is essentially scrap parts, put together by an engineer more interested in science than big bangs or big bucks (Dev Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire”) and injected with code that can allow him to learn, feel and essentially be human sans the flesh. Problem is, Jo’Burg is rife with thug life, mostly ripped, tatted white guys with grillz and cornrows who clearly model themselves after Gary Oldman in “True Romance.” Through a plot twist not worth going into, Chappie ends up in the hands of Die Antwoord. What, you’re probably asking? That’s the name of a South African music act (give a google and watch a few videos and be amused or horrified, as it may be) and the duo, Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser, play street punks (I’m not sure if there’s any real acting, as the pair maintain their name and smash mouth personas) who pull Chappie into their service as he begins to learn and grown his consciousness – hopefully in time for the big heist.  Continue reading