Tag Archives: SciFi movies

Memory Motel

Black Box

by George Wolf

Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) needs Post-It Notes to get through the day. A car crash took his wife and his memory, and the colorful little squares give Nolan useful info while his young daughter Ava (Amanda Christine) is often forced to assume a parental role.

But there is some hope…of the experimental kind.

Dr. Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad) thinks she can help Nolan regain his memory and reclaim his life through her “black box” therapy. Worn like a high-tech VR headset, it allows the patient to wander through their own subconscious, re-living past experiences until they manifest in the conscious world.

Wow, that’s amazing! What could go wrong?

Director and co-writer Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour anchors his feature debut with some recognizable inspirations, crafting another sci-fi ode to identity that flirts with horror tropes while struggling to find a unique voice.

Athie (The Get Down, Underwater) carries the load here with admirable range. The Nolan we come to know early on is not one found in his own subconscious. And as Nolan comes to fear that he is not the man he thought he was, Athie deftly balances the dual roles fighting for control.

And memories aren’t the only area full of mystery. Nolan’s friend Gary (Tosin Morohunfola), a Dr. himself, follows some suspicions to uncover disturbing information about the night of his buddy’s tragic car accident.

The note-posting and body-writing may totally recall Memento, but Black Box also swims in waters populated by iconic J-horror visuals and a touch of Get Out‘s “sunken place.”

The wonders of technology can hide a dark, malevolent side, and we can lose ourselves believing we are always in control.

It’s not a new idea, and Black Box doesn’t blaze any new trails revisiting it. But it is committed to the viability of the journey, and finds its greatest success in engagement rather than surprise.

Skin Trade

Blade Runner 2049

by Hope Madden

Who’s ready to go back to the future?

No gigawatts necessary. With Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve returns us to the hulking, rain-streaked metropolis of another generation’s LA. We ride with K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner charged, as always, with tracking down rogue replicants and retiring them.

Things get more complicated this time around.

Gosling’s the perfect choice to play dutiful sad sack LAPD blade runner K. Few actors can be simultaneously expressionless and expressive, but Gosling’s blank slate face and long distance stare seem to say something mournful, defeated and rebellious without giving anything away.

It’s no spoiler to mention that Harrison Ford returns. He’s a welcome presence, and not simply for nostalgia. The film toys with the “is he or isn’t he?” debate that has raged for 35 years, and gives the veteran ample opportunity to contribute.

God complexes, sentience and existence, clones – Ridley Scott saw his own longtime preoccupations playing out in Philip K. Dick’s prose and now, with returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher and new teammate Michael Green (Logan), Villeneuve gets his chance.

Their take is engrossing, satisfying and impressive, though the group stumbles over a few of their ideas—particularly those that consider the female in this particular universe.

As enamored of the original as we are, Villeneuve weaves intoxicating threads and callbacks throughout—most welcome is Hans Zimmer’s periodic moaning and sighing echoes of Vangelis’s original score.

In fact, the echoes from the Ridley Scott (now executive producing) ‘82 classic almost threaten to overrun the film. There are plenty of differences, though.

Villeneuve carves out a much larger corner of author Phillip K. Dick’s universe—not quite taking us off-world, but far beyond the teeming streets, towering buildings and oppressive rain of Scott’s retro-futuristic noir. The expansive story fills the screen with breathtaking frames and immediately iconic imagery, thanks in large part to acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins, at the top of his game.

Few if any have delivered the kind of crumbling, dilapidating futurescape Ridley Scott gave us with his original. But between the stunning visual experience and meticulous sound design, Blade Runner 2049 offers an immersive experience perfectly suited to its fantasy.

Picking at ideas of love among the soulless, of souls among the manmade, of unicorns versus sheep, Villeneuve channels Dick by way of Scott as well as a bit of James Cameron and more than a little Spike Jonze. There’s even a splash of Dickens in there.

Sounds like a hot mess, but damn if it doesn’t work.





Life: It’s What’s for Dinner

Life

by Matt Weiner

Life comes at you fast. Real fast, when it’s a hyper-intelligent Martian lifeform hell-bent on survival. In Life, a seemingly unstoppable alien terrorizes the isolated crew of a spaceship. Is the plot eerily familiar? You bet. Does the film do enough to merit its obvious Alien comparison? Surprisingly, yes.

Director Daniel Espinosa makes the most of the zero-gravity settings on the International Space Station—first with inspired long takes introducing the cramped passages, and later with the haunting, creative blood spurts that will soon saturate them.

Inhabiting the ISS is a multinational crew who has recovered alien life from Mars. All the diverse archetypes are on board, including a wisecracking specialist (Ryan Reynolds), a world-weary veteran (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a suspiciously reserved biologist (Miranda North). Plus a few more alien appetizers, but this paragraph is already more backstory than most of the crew members receive.

Excitement quickly turns to horror once scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) finds a way to bring the cell to life. The astronauts are no match for “Calvin,” as those blissfully ignorant down on Earth have christened the creature. The more astronauts Calvin feeds on, the bigger it gets until it balloons to a nightmarish love child between an octopus and the Xenomorph.

Life is written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the team responsible for Zombieland and Deadpool. And the film allows a few—very few—quiet moments to shade in some character depth. But these quasi-philosophical pauses just get in the way of the movie’s strengths.

And the biggest strength Life has going for it is that the film is a whole lot of fun as a dumb thriller. Well, that and a way-too-qualified cast who can add some pathos to the almost methodically expectant death scenes. (Did I mention how nifty those blood spurts are?)

Much like the ISS crew, the film comes dangerously close to running out of gas by the end. The familiar setup wears itself thin, and Calvin has too much CGI aloofness to win our affection like the Alien did.

Overall though, Espinosa mostly succeeds at keeping the action moving. Life trades in the languid dread of its forebear for a breakneck (among other appendages) pace that requires little thought and demands no frame-by-frame viewings. But while this monster might be a bit immature, it packs a vicious punch.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





Countdown: Summer of SciFi!

The summer of 2014 crapped forth yet another Transformers movie, so it shoulders that shame. But otherwise, it hasn’t been such a crummy season, especially if you are fan of science fiction. The season began a little early, back in April, with Scarlett Johansson’s hypnotic alien abduction poem Under the Skin. But come the hot weather, Hollywood kicked into high gear with few disappointments. Here are the best of the season.

5. X Men: Days of Future Past

Matthew Vaughn’s 2011 re-envisioning of this franchise worked miracles, thanks to an inspired rewrite of history and an even better cast. It was worrisome when the next in this line fell back to Bryan Singer, whose spotty cinematic output in the last decade suggested he may not be the man for the job. But, he proved game for the challenge, bringing the best of one X Men world (Hugh Jackman, obviously) together with the best of the throwback generation (everyone, basically: Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy) for a time travel bit of wizardry, shape shifting and Seventies references. Hearing Fassbender quote James Brown is alone worth the price of admission.

4. Edge of Tomorrow

Why didn’t anyone see this gem? Aliens meets Groundhog Day may seem like a weird pitch, but good Lord is it entertaining! Tom Cruise may irritate many, but he brings it to a role that requires a complete reimagining of character by the time the credits role. Beyond that, he throws some unexpected and much appreciated humor at us while he relives the same horrendous day again and again in the hopes of finding a way to defeat an invading army of aliens. He has the help of Emily Blunt, and he – and we – should be grateful. In what amounts to the Sigourney Weaver role, Blunt flat out amazes. She has never turned in a weak performance, but who saw action hero in her future?

3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

It would have been hard to outdo 2011’s surprise hit Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but director Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) does just that. Though his sequel offers less intimacy and heartbreak, it takes the story of our quickly evolving simian cousins to an epic, even Shakespearean level. Remaining ever neutral in what amounts to a political thriller, Reeves never abandons the energy and imagery of a blockbuster, combining the two approaches to create an exceptionally entertaining whole.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

Director James Gunn does Marvel fans right with one of the year’s most fun rides. Gunn nails the tone, the color, the imagery, and the sound of one Earthling dartin’ about space scavenging, smooching, and basically living the dream. The effortlessly likeable Chris Pratt leads a film, joined by ragtag misfits who collectively become the most enjoyable team of intergallactic scoundrels since Han Solo piloted the Falcon. This is the definition of a great summer movie.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crIaEzXgqto

1. Snowpiercer

An immediate dystopian classic although badly under marketed, Snowpiercer went on to become the most buzzed about film of the summer, and with good reason. Visionary direction from Joon-ho Bong (The Host, Mother) gave the film a dizzyingly claustrophobic tension, while brazen casting victories (Oh my God, Tilda Swinton) and another solid lead turn from Chris Evans work together to create an enthralling allegory of the makers and the takers.





Summer SciFi Hits Keep On Coming

Guardians of the Galaxy

by Hope Madden

As a rule, August – like January – is the month studios sweep out their bin of movies that weren’t quite good enough to make the prime time cut. Usually we can expect little more than dregs until mid-autumn, when both holiday and awards season begins in earnest and studios once again proudly populate cinemas.

And yet, in what has been the summer of SciFi, James Gunn elevates our August with one of the most entertaining films of 2014, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

An uneasy bond connects five interstellar losers, each needing another to 1) avenge, 2) cash in, 3) survive, and 4) save the galaxy. It has to do with an orb, is all very cosmic bounty hunter-y, and includes a raccoon that sounds remarkably like 2011’s Sexiest Man Alive.

Right there – casting Bradley Cooper as the raccoon – Gunn zigs when you expect him to zag. Cooper excels as the very angry varmint, joining an entirely inspired cast.

Chris Pratt, who beefcaked up a bit for the gig, shoulders the leading role in his second relentlessly enjoyable film this year, after January’s joyous The Lego Movie, here playing the American intergalactic scavenger and adventurer, and lover of easy listening jams.

Pratt’s endearing combination of humility and confidence charms, and with a casual goofiness he elevates every line of the admittedly clever dialog, all of it brimming with crisp pop culture humor made funnier by the context (in that no one but Pratt’s Peter Quill could possibly get the earth references). He makes a hero of Kevin Bacon in his dramatic retelling of Footloose, which only gets funnier from Zoe Saldana’s callback in the final act.

Saldana joins WWE’s Dave Bautista and the voice of Vin Diesel (as a tree) to fill out Peter Quill’s band of misfits, and together the crew offers endless amounts of ruffian charm.

As important, all evil doers – from Lee Pace’s zealot Ronan to Benicio del Toro’s creepy Collector to Michael Rooker’s dangerous Yondu – are delightfully diabolical.

Gunn nicely articulates the galaxy and its characters, keeps the humor light, the action quick and the palette colorful.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crIaEzXgqto