Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

AEon Flux

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

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In the early 1990s, there was an animated show on MTV called “AEon Flux” (don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either), which I guess was groundbreaking (at least for MTV animation). Anyway, it gained enough of a cult following to create interest in a live-action, full-length motion picture. The ridiculously skimpy outfits that Ms. Flux wore in the cartoons have been replaced by slightly less skimpy, yet just as appreciated, outfits worn by Charlize Theron, who plays Aeon Flux in this version.

Flux is a freedom fighter in a Utopian society where everything seems perfect. For those of you who don’t enjoy stories of societies in the future, let me just tell you anytime that a society seems perfect, it always means it isn’t, and that some horrible secret usually lies just beneath the surface. The society is ran by Trevor Goodchild (played by Martin Csokas) and his brother Oren Goodchild (Johnny Lee Miller). Yes, the last name Goodchild made me roll my eyes too. Flux belongs to a group known as the Monicans (not the Mohicans, mind you), who strive to end the tyranny of the Goodchilds (Goodchildren?), and make their civilization free once more.

The Monicans are lead by Handler (Frances McDormand, in a ridiculous fiery red wig that looks like Raggedy Ann after a wild night of binge drinking). Or maybe she’s just the go-between woman between Flux and the real leaders of the Monicans, I’m not sure. We were making fun of a lot of this movie during some of the early dialogue, oops. Anyway, Handler commissions Flux to assassinate Trevor Goodchild, which is easier said than done.

I don’t want to ruin the twists and turns just because I thought the movie was ridiculous, so I will be careful here. There are some really silly parts to the film, as when Flux’s fellow freedom fighter Sithandra (Sophie Okonedo) steps on the deadly blade grass that cuts her foot and she lets out a scream more fitting for a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” episode. This is not a very good movie, in fact, compared to other films with stirring, provocative visions of future utopias and dystopias, it verges on the pathetic.

Oh yeah, Pete Postlethwaite is in this too, for some reason, maybe to try to class this movie up (it doesn’t work.) During the film, we wondered why an actress like Charlize Theron would do a movie devoid of just about anything resembling a good movie. I mean, this was right after she won an Oscar for Monster, for goodness sake. Maybe, I said, after a film like Monster that would have been so exhausting, she wanted to try something a little easier.

But, then I remembered that she did her own stunts in AEon Flux, so that would be pretty exhausting, I guess. Theron just looks lost in this movie, but as the poster shows, she sure looks great in this movie. Maybe that’s enough reason to see this movie, but probably not. I’d say it’s borderline awful (the movie, not Theron’s wardrobe choice).

WALL*E

Monday, July 14th, 2008

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If Stanley Kubrick, God bless him, was still with us, and had been hired by Pixar to make a motion picture, it might have been a lot like the new, brilliant film WALL*E. Indeed, the film is Kubrickian in many regards (wow, I sound like an uber film snob when I say the word “Kubrickian”), including a riotous 2001 parody. As with all previous Pixar films, it raises the bar for the next one. It’s incredible that one studio has churned out so many great movies, in fact, they’ve never made a bad one.

WALL*E blends elements of a science fiction story, an apocalyptic cautionary tale, a romantic comedy, a creation myth and a silent comedy. Of course it’s a cartoon. It’s unlike any of Pixar’s other films, in tone it really is closer to a Kubrick film. Like the recent masterpiece There Will Be Blood (another film with Kubrickian overtones), WALL*E is nearly wordless for much of the first half an hour. Director Andrew Stanton and his team create a completely unique and original world for their characters, here an Earth 700 years in the future that has been abandoned by all human life. It is a world filled with garbage, stacked neatly into large skyscrapers and run by cockroaches (I think it was the great film critic Roger Ebert who once said after the end of the world, the cockroaches will rule).

Anyway, in this desolate landscape lives a lonely, little robot named WALL*E, who had been designed to clean up the massive amounts of garbage on planet Earth, and prepare for mankind’s eventual return (WALL*E, by the way, stands for “Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth-class). WALL*E spends his days cleaning a huge wasteland of a city (possibly New York), and his nights adding to his precious collection of treasures he finds in the heaps of trash, his most prized possession being his VHS copy of Hello, Dolly! (one of the film’s many great jokes is that VHS tapes work 700 years afterwards).

Into WALL*E’s life comes the robot EVE (which stands for Extraterrestial Vegetation Evaluator), and, of course, he falls instantly head over heels (or is it head over wheels?), and love is in the air. WALL*E and EVE get involved in many adventures, and the film reveals itself to be quite ingenious, sweet and creative. WALL*E is one of the few animated films that could actually be called an epic.

Most modern day animated films are either visually impressive or have a good story and great characters, but few have all these elements. Pixar really is probably the only American animation studio working today who really has never made a bad movie. The next one will have to be pretty damn great to top WALL*E, though.

Cloverfield (***)

Monday, January 21st, 2008

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We live in an age and a society where just about everything is recorded for posterity: on cameras, on phones, on mP3 players, on camcorders. So, it goes without saying that if, say, a monster ever invaded a major metropolitan city, that somebody would be there to get it all on film. That’s exactly what happens in Cloverfield, the tense, well-crafted monster flick that was thought up by “LOST” co-creator J.J. Abrams, and directed by Matt Reeves.The idea behind Cloverfield is that the film is actually video footage taken from a camera found in New York City. The “footage” starts with a morning frolic between young lovers Beth (Odette Yustman) and Rob (Michael Stahl-David), and then quickly jumps to a party a month and a half later (the joke being here that somebody taped over the carefree day between the two lovebirds). The event is a going away party for Rob, who is going to Japan for business. We are introduced to the other major characters: Jason, Rob’s brother (Mike Vogel), Jason’s girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas), Rob’s best friend and the man who will document the majority of the footage, Hud (T.J. Miller) and Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), a friend of Lilly’s.The friends gossip and bicker about relationships and social drama as if it was life-threatening, until…BOOM! For the next 70 minutes or so, Cloverfield doesn’t let up much, as it follows the group of twenty-somethings through panic, catastrophe and terror. Early on in the film, as the party guests flee the building, one character says in a throw away line, “is it another terrorist attack?” Indeed, it’s impossible to make a disaster film in New York after 9/11 and not be reminded of that terrible day, and some scenes in the film do evoke the feeling of Ground Zero (especially as the group ventures outside of the rubble that was moments before a convenience store).Matt Reeves stated in an interview that he wanted to get a cast of relative unknowns so the film felt as realistic as possible, and the actors are definitely naturalistic in their performances. They are all convincing in their roles without ever really standing out in any way (though some credit must be given to T.J. Miller, since he is off screen for the almost the entire film). It also helps that the monster, once we get a good look at it, is pretty impressive.Cloverfield is a tense, entertaining monster film, and I hope this movie is an indication of the direction the science fiction movie is going in the next couple of years.

Blade Runner (****)

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

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Today, Blade Runner is widely considered one of the most influential science fiction films of the last 30 years, but, for years, that wasn’t the case. A flop when first released, ignored by critics, badmouthed by its star, Blade Runner couldn’t cut a break. That, however, changed when the film began obtaining a cult following in the late 80s, and in the early 90s, Warner Brothers commissioned Ridley Scott to create a hastily put together director’s cut. The main difference between this cut and the theatrical release is the removal of Harrison Ford’s voice-over narration, a narration that had been put in at the last minute on behalf of the studio, who worried that audiences would be confused by the plot.

Now, 25 years and 4 different versions later, comes the new, so-called “final” cut which, after a brief theatrical run, will be coming out on DVD in December. I had the privilege last week to see the new print at Cinema 21, one of my all-time favorite movie theatres, and it looks incredible. As opposed to the 1991 director’s cut, it’s obvious that a lot of time and effort has gone into the 2007 cut, and all of the improvements, mostly slight touches here and there, add to what was already a haunting and brilliant vision of the future.

Drawing from the mood and look of the film noir genre, Ridley Scott and his crew (including the late cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth) made a Los Angeles of the future dominated by darkness, a place where it’s always wet and almost always night, an overpopulated city where corporations, not the government, are the omnipresent force. The far-reaching influence of the look and style of Blade Runner can be seen in just about every post-1982 futuristic film. It helped change the way audiences think about the future (the phenomenal score, by Vangelis, was also highly influential).

For a film where most of the lead characters are replicants, Blade Runner has a lot to say about what it means to be human. Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, an ex-police dectective/”blade runner” who is pulled out of his self-imposed exile (an endless cycle of hard drinking and eating noodles) to track down and “retire” a group of replicants who have come back to Earth. The number of replicants that have escaped changes in every version, but I think that inconsistency isn’t a distraction, because since Deckard goes through most of the film confused and unsure what’s going on, shouldn’t the audience go through the same thing?

I have seen the film several times, and am convinced that Deckard, is, in fact, a replicant. There are several clues that support my theory, though many people (including Harrison Ford himself) believe very strongly that Deckard is human. I had a film professor who told me that all good films leave the audience with questions, and I can imagine the arguments a group of film lovers could have over the (in)humanity of Deckard.

Some of Deckard’s actions and behaviors certainly make more sense if we believe that he is a replicant. Consider, for instance, the scene where Rachel (Sean Young), the young woman who is a replicant, visits Deckard in his apartment, where he forces himself upon her in a scene that can be read as hilariously inappropriate. But, if Deckard is a replicant, then he is simply trying to be human, acting and reacting the way he assumes a human would act and react. As Tyrell (Joe Turkel), the reclusive corporate head honcho who designed the replicants, says, many replicants don’t know they aren’t human (like Rachel).

Rutger Hauer is perfectly cast as Roy Batty, the leader of the group of replicants. He wants more life, and is willing to kill for it. Hauer performance is so haunting, so real that I am convinced that he really is a replicant. Daryl Hannah, as the replicant Pris, is also well-cast, and has some scenes that still creep me out. The cast also includes Brion James, Joanna Cassidy, William Sanderson, Edward James Olmos and James Hong.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner remains one of the most influential films of the 1980s, and demands to be seen again, preferably on the big screen. Based upon the Philip K. Dick novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”