Tag Archives: Sci Fi

Downsizing

24 Dec

 

You know that viral tiny house movement where folk show off cozy, cute mini abodes with all the home amenities amazingly in just 250 square feet? You may even have romanticized about trading your palatial digs for the micro version and living more simply. Nice idea, but not many of us would actually do it – we’re too attached to our big, consumptive lives measuring our worth in square feet and wallet size. But what if you could cut down on the consumptive part, stretch your dollar tenfold and live larger than if you won the Powerball jackpot? That’s somewhat the idea behind Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” where, in the near future, dwindling resources reaching “Soylent Green” critical levels has triggered a worldwide movement to conserve and cut back without sacrificing the lush life.

If that sounds like a win-win, it is – except that to do so you must get shrunk down to five inches and live in domed enclaves full of mini mansions, rolling green golf courses and swank nightclubs and eateries. Once done, your $50-a-week food budget can cover you for half a year. It’s a choice, and the world is roughly split down the middle between bigs and littles. Occupational therapist Paul Safrenek (local boy Matt Damon, more in the news these days for his backfiring #MeToo opines) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig, in the film far too little) decide the only way to achieve the house of their dreams is to go small. The medical process isn’t so easy either, and god forbid you leave dental implants in during the process. The matter for Paul becomes a quest for self-discovery in a new land after his wife (genders separate as they do the process en masse and in the bare) balks in the eleventh hour before shrinkage and hops a jet elsewhere. Continue reading

Advertisements

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

15 Dec

 

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” picks up right where “The Force Awakens” left off, and smartly so with Rey (Daisy Ridley, amping up the grit factor favorably) on a remote, bucolic planet trying to press Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) into a few rounds of Jedi training while Luke’s sister, Princess/Gen. Leia (a fitting final performance from Carrie Fisher, who passed away after principal photography completed) tries to steer the remaining Resistance forces to a new base with the evil Empire’s First Order in hot pursuit. How it all sorts out isn’t a straightforward affair, and that plays to its advantage with plenty of twists, turns and pleasant surprises to hold an audience rapt over the two-and-a-half-hour running time.

Given all that, it’s still an unenviable task to have to take over the reins from J.J. Abrams, the creative wunderkind who helmed “The Force Awakens” and has a reputation for making what’s old trendy and hip again – i.e., the “Star Trek” reboot – but Rian Johnson, who also scripted, proves more than game to go where Abrams has taken the next franchise trilogy, and beyond. To be sure, there’s a lot going on in “Last Jedi”; the gaping absence of Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the elevation of Skywalker back to the fore (Hamill well up to the task), the deeper darkening of Darth Vader successor Kylo Ren (a palpably conflicted Adam Driver) and the Trump-like megalomania of the craggy supreme leader with the silly moniker of Snoke (Andy Serkis doing what he does best: seamless live-action capture) and even Yoda – yes, Yoda. But Johnson, who had so effectively juggled time travel threads folding back in on themselves in the satisfying sci-fi thriller “Looper” (2012), orchestrates it all masterfully, jumping from one far-flung point in the galaxy to the next without disconnect, and with plenty of humor and wit to fill any dead space. Continue reading

Blade Runner 2049

13 Oct
Ryan Gosling (right) brings a subdued performance to a dismal future filled with spectacular visuals

Warner Bros. Pictures

Ryan Gosling (right) brings a subdued performance to a dismal future filled with spectacular visuals.

At over two hours, Villeneuve paces the film effectively, smartly holding back and ever ratcheting it up — a feat the director didn’t quite master in his last sci-fi outing Arrival (2016). As you should expect, the action takes place in 2049. Los Angeles is a lot more crowded but still a dark, rain-slicked Gotham with shocks of neon blooming above the drab cityscape. Opening info tells us the Earth’s been beset by overcrowding and famine. There’s nothing green anywhere anymore, so protein farms where mealworm larvae are harvested to feed the masses Soylent Green-esque pap in ramen bowls have popped up. Not to mention there’s the great “Blackout of 2022” where scads of data files and historical records were lost. Gone the way of Lehman Brothers is the old Tyrell Corporation. The manufacturer of “replicants” (biorobotic androids for those unfamiliar with the earlier film or the Phillip K. Dick novel it was based on), are made by Wallace Industries who make the new line “skin jobs” more obedient, yet still physiologically superior to humans, and all imbedded with memories, even though they are self aware they are implants — which seems somewhat illogical and superfluous given the implant process is an arduous one. Continue reading

War for the Planet of the Apes

14 Jul

Since the CGI resurrection of the “Planet of the Apes” franchise (can we all agree to forget the ill-conceived 2001 Mark Wahlberg-Tim Burton version?), the films – “Rise” (2011) and “Dawn” (2014) – have been working their way slowly up to the events that frame the classic 1968 film penned by “Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling and starring Charleston Heston. With “War for the Planet of the Apes” we get more breadcrumbs leading from here to there.

The plot picks up two years after “Dawn” ended with Caesar (Andy Serkis, the action-capture actor who so viscerally brought Gollum to life in “The Lord of the Rings” films) and fellow simians holed up in the woods trying to find a peaceful foothold as man employs military might to hunt down and eradicate them. We learn too that the simian flu that has decimated humankind makes apes smarter while it mutes humans and dims their mental capacity. (There’s your first breadcrumb).

The script by director Matt Reeves (“Let Me In” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and Mark Bomback, who worked with Reeves on “Dawn,” adds some smart wrinkles with the apes trying to disengage from war, setting off to find an ape Eden out of human reach, while Caesar, having incurred deep personal loss, ventures off on a revenge mission. To stir the pot we get Woody Harrelson as a Col. Kurtz type – fittingly titled “The Colonel” – hellbent on preserving humankind via extreme methodologies and, as a result, coming into conflict with other military heads. Like Kurtz he’s gone off the reservation and has a legion of special force-trained believers to back his madness. He also has a few apes that have become turncoats, labeled “donkeys” and regarded slightly above slaves; only prisoner apes have it worse. Continue reading

Alien: Covenant

19 May

Almost 40 Years Since ‘Alien’ Brought Sci-Fi To Pop Culture, ‘Covenant’ Goes Back To Basics

"Alien: Covenant." (Courtesy Mark Rogers/Twentieth Century Fox)

It’s hard to believe it has been nearly 40 years since that little wiggle of a vorpal worm ripped its way out of John Hurt’s abdomen in “Alien,” the sci-fi movie experience that took the fun and fantasy of “Star Wars” and flipped it on its head.

That film’s helmer Ridley Scott, a genius by some accounts, a hack by others and now almost 80 years of age, has shown great commitment to the franchise returning again for “Alien: Covenant.” The film is the sequel to “Prometheus” (2012), which is the first chapter of a prequel series to Scott’s 1979 space chiller that kept audiences up at night, fearful of mutant xenomorph with cascading sets of jaws.

“Alien: Covenant” takes place 10 years after “Prometheus” and approximately two decades before Ripley and her salvage crew discover that wrecked ship loaded with leathery undulating egg casings that we now know better than to peer down into. Bolstered by an impressively eclectic cast, “Prometheus” was a quirky reboot and something of a meta contemplation on creationism and origins that didn’t resonate with a wide fan base — not enough aliens and too many hidden agendas.

The good news with “Alien: Covenant,” especially for loyalists, is that Scott goes back to the basics. But because he has to build off the groundwork laid by his 2012 effort, there’s also plenty of ideologue about man, his creations superseding him and his viability in the universe over time. Scott and his screenwriters — John Logan and Dante Harper — do a nice job getting the plot points to line up seamlessly, though pacing and character development are sacrificed as a result.  Continue reading

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.

Rogue One

21 Dec
Diego Luna and Felicity Jones go rogue in this stand-alone entry in the Star Wars franchise

Walt Disney Pictures

Diego Luna and Felicity Jones go rogue in this stand-alone entry in the Star Wars franchise

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story postures itself as a one-off stand alone, the first (and only?) entry in the “anthology” series versus the “saga” series where the other seven franchise films fall. Just to set the table right, Rogue One does slide into the deck seamlessly in terms of chronology, just where exactly shall remain a mystery as one of the things Disney has done with this change-up is to pack it with nuggets of surprise — so much so that they pleaded with the critical masses to not burst their bubble in their reviews, “that you as press continue to be our partners on this journey.” Such requests generally go unheard as most critics are aware of their responsibility to audiences and art, but having seen the film I get it, and you will too. Though I am sure there are those out there who will spoil, I will not.

The big win for the series and fans overall when Disney took over the franchise from LucasFilms back in 2012, was the infusion of new blood and reined-in filmmaking. No disrespect to creator George Lucas, but Return of the Jedi (1983) couldn’t hold a torch to the darker and meatier The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and the three films in the prequel trilogy (1998-2005) were wooden and so overpacked with CGI magic, that all the character and mythos that cemented the original series got lost in a vortex of filmmaking overindulgence. The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams’ 2015 initial go at the sequel series, was an admirable reboot, leveraging its ancestral roots while setting the stage for the next new adventure, even if it was too much a plot redux of A New Hope (the 1977 original that anointed and defined the blockbuster). Now comes Rogue One charging out of the gate, a breath of fresh air and more restrained in all the right places, but primarily in that it saves its best for last and is orchestrated in a way that every laser blast and saber slash bears profound impact. There’s nothing indiscriminate about what’s placed on screen. Continue reading