Archive for the Science Fiction Category

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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Cloverfield * * * *

Posted in Action, Horror, Science Fiction, thriller with tags on July 14, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Matt Reeves.
Screenplay: Drew Goddard.
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T. J. Miller, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Chris Mulkey.

Having recently watched (and thoroughly enjoyed) the latest of found footage film’s in “Chronicle“, I decided to look back at one of the sub-genre’s most critically praised. Now, when “Cloverfield” was released in 2008, I couldn’t really give two shits. However, I feel that might have judged this film unfairly and wanted to go back and give it another chance. After all, director Matt Reeves and particularly producer J.J. Abrams have built a steady reputation on the back of this.

While documenting a friends farewell party on video camera, a group of New Yorker’s find themselves videoing something else entirely. Their send-off is interrupted by an attack on the city as a massive and terrifying monster creates incredible havoc and tears the city apart.

As the film opens, we are given the gist straight away; middle-class yuppie-types with too much money and nothing to talk about. They have irritating mannerisms and deliver their dialogue in a resemblance of the kooky characters from the long-running TV show “Friends“. In this, I wasn’t sold. In fact, the only reason I persevered was just too see if any of them eventually got their heads ripped off. Thankfully, that wasn’t too far from the truth. After the long and protracted opening, the film suddenly jolts you to attention as panic sets in on the realisation that New York is under attack from some foriegn entity. The allegory to 9/11 is very apparent. As is the comparisons with another monster classic “Godzilla“. It’s at this point that you realise the dull opening was forgivable. Deliberate even. This isn’t a film about character development or even story. This is an unashamed monster/horror film about thrills and it’s a fine one at that. I have often proclaimed my dislike to a lot of found footage film’s and that particular style does become a bit irritating, not to mention disorientating here. However, it also works very highly in delivering the confusion and tension. The special effects are very impressive indeed and allow forgiveness for many of the film’s shortcomings. As mentioned, I had a real problem with the grating and shallow characters but, like most film’s of the found footage variety, you can imagine my delight at the realisation that there are very few, if any, survivors. That’s not say that I didn’t find myself rooting for them on occasion. I did, but that’s down the creativity of the filmmakers. Matt Reeves, (who done “Let Me In” – the American remake of the Swedish vampire movie “Let The Right One In“) does a sterling job in only his second directorial outing. He manages to mount the tension in abundance and he does it all, without the use of music. It was only after it was over and the credits were rolling that I realised my perception of this film had not been manipulated in any way, with an overbearing score.

You can see the clout that producer J.J. Abrams brings to the table here but his backing only allows a talented director to flourish. And that he does. This is a stylistically crafted, adrenaline filled, modern B-movie that commands your attention.

Mark Walker

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Chronicle * * * *

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on June 26, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Josh Trank.
Screenplay: Max Landis.
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen, Anna Wood, Rudi Malcolm, Luke Tyler.

Shaky-cam, found footage film’s have now become the rung on the ladder for budding filmmakers. Hardly a year goes by now, without at least one popping up on our screens. “The Blair Witch Project“, “Cloverfield” and the very successful “Paranormal Activity” are the most notable. This one though, is the most impressive.

Three teenage friends, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find a hole in the ground, in the middle of the woods. They go down and find a strange illuminated entity. When they emerge, they find that they have telekinetic powers and capabilities. As their great powers grow though, things start to get drastically out of hand.

I’m not a massive fan of superhero movies and quite frankly, I’m a bit tired of seeing them everywhere I look. This film could probably fall into that category but what this has in it’s favour, is a fresh delivery and a real sense of originality.
First off though, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the premise. I found it hard to believe that an awkward, hormone-raging teenager would actually decide to record everything he does on a video camera. To say the least, it stretched credulity. However, the filmmakers are wisely aware of this. They don’t pretend to just pass it off. What they do, is admit to it regularly throughout the early stages of the film. There are constant, self-conscious reminders of people unhappy with it and as result the protagonist takes a bit of a regular beating – but then you would probably do the same if someone had a camera stuck in your face all the time – so the self-conscious aspect pays off enough to keep your disbelief suspended. It even attempts to toss in some philosophical theories that tie-in nicely with the story. This may come across as a bit too ambitious for some but writer Max Landis and director Josh Trank are not arrogant in their delivery. They don’t explain in detail, leaving it wisely up to the intelligence of the audience to notice the references themselves. It’s a clever piece of subtlety that raises this film above the normal standard. One particular mention is of Plato’s allegory of “The Cave” which is entirely fitting for the unravelling of the story. It also explores the different nature in individuals and manages to incorporate a deep sense of ethics. Altruism and Hubris play a big part in the unravelling of the characters and with the level of intelligence and philosophical undercurrent, this is a welcome modern take on the superhero genre.
As the story progresses, the standard shaky-cam approach is gradually abandoned in favour of a
more ambitious style. In keeping with the plot, more inventive and convincing ways are delivered, freeing it from the shackles of it’s particular sub-genre.

A highly creative and ambitious endeavour that has set a benchmark for film’s of this type. It’ll be interesting to see if this style of filmmaking can actually be bettered after this.

Mark Walker

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Prometheus * * *

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, thriller with tags on June 3, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ridley Scott.
Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof.
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Rafe Spall, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Benedict Wong, Emun Elliott, Patrick Wilson.

It has been over three decades since director Ridley Scott made “Alien” in 1979. When news broke of his intention to revisit the genre of science fiction, the anticipation was huge. Originally, this was intended to be a prequel to his earlier film but on second thought, Scott decided to make it into an original film in it’s own right. For one, there’s no doubt that this IS a prequel and I can’t see why he’d proclaim it to be otherwise. For another, he should have decided on a different project altogether, as this doesn’t quite muster the thrills or atmosphere that viewers will, no doubt, expect.

In the Isle of Skye, Scotland, in the year 2089, scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover an ancient star-chart. It points to the possibility of other life forms in the universe. A crew is assembled aboard the ship ‘Prometheus’ and land upon LV-223, to further investigate. There is optimism amongst the crew that they will find the answers to the origins of humankind but what they get in return, is not entirely what they expected.

I tried to go into this avoiding the hype, the trailers and most critical opinions. I also tried to avoid comparing it to “Alien“. I didn’t want my expectations raised too high and for the most part, they weren’t. But whether, your expectations are high or not, there’s still no avoiding a lazy and abysmally written script.
As expected, Ridley Scott has crafted a fantastically visual spectacle. The opening scene alone, of sweeping landscapes and crashing waterfalls is one of wonderment and draws you right in. Scott sets his stall up well and with a patient hand, he introduces us to his not too distant future. As we know from another of Scott’s classic science fiction films, “Blade Runner“, he’s no stranger to exploring existential themes. He does so again here but only just touches upon them. He seems more in favour of delivering eye-candy than inviting us to ponder and it soon becomes apparent that this film is all about the look.
There is an eclectic mix of characters and upon their introduction, shades of the franchise are apparent – It’s basically the same formula all over again. The performances are good though and Noomi Rapace, in her first leading role, is commanding. The always reliable Michael Fassbender, once again, immerses himself and probably stands out as the highlight of the movie. Theron, however, is criminally underused and given very little to work with. As much as the actors deliver what they can with the material at their disposal, the characters are hollow and there isn’t really a particular one that takes centre stage or one that you’re able to identify with. Most of them, are actually just fodder for forthcoming mayhem. The major problem with them though, is that some of their motives are unexplained, leaving an obscurity to the film that I don’t think was intentional. On the surface, this has it all but it’s what’s underneath that counts and Scott has ultimately decided on a script that is far from satisfactory. Plot strands are lazily passed off, in favour of moving the story along to the next B-movie moment. There are some shocks and jumps but the lack of intelligence only grows stronger as the film heads towards it’s inevitable climax. As I sat with my other half in the darkened auditorium and the end credits began to role, she said one word that could strongly reflect most people’s opinions… “Bullshit”.

I find it hard to be as overly critical, as it’s visually ambitious and it’s conception is brilliantly realised but there’s no escaping the hollowness of it all. I’d love to rate this film higher but for anyone who appreciates my opinion, I’d be doing you a disservice. This is a classic casualty of it’s own hype.

Mark Walker

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In Time * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Science Fiction with tags on May 5, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Andrew Niccol.
Screenplay: Andrew Niccol.
Starring: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Vincent Kartheiser, Olivia Wilde, Johnny Galecki, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew Bomer, Yaya DaCosta, Ethan Peck, Toby Hemingway.

Writer/director Andrew Niccol is no stranger to scientific ideas. In 1997 he delivered the Orwellian genetic engineering “Gattaca“. In 2002 he tackled computer generated imagery in “S1mOne“. He also penned the predictory script to reality TV in 1998 with “The Truman Show“. Fantasy and Science Fiction seem to be genres that he’s comfortable with but this is not one of his better efforts.

In the not too distant future, people stop ageing when they reach 25. If they are wealthy though, they can buy time. The rest, have to work for it. Lifespan has replaced money in this dystopian world. One of the workers, Will Salas (Justin Timberlake), is gifted time from a suicidal friend, which allows him to escape his poor background and experience the life of the rich. But there are state police, known as “Time keepers” who are out to thwart his new life.

The premise to this is quite an intriguing one and the dystopian futuristic setting is wonderfully captured by the Coen brothers’ regular cinematographer Roger Deakins. It’s just a shame that with such a strong base to work from, it becomes nothing more than a chase thriller and abandons any attempt to delve into some possible existential theories. Even as a chase thriller, it lacks any form of excitement. It has it’s moments but ultimately the film takes too long in getting to it’s destination. Time is of the essence for it’s characters and ironically, it also gets taken from us, having to slog through this. I’m not Justin Trousersnake’s biggest fan, but he delivers a decent performance. However, the progression of his character as a future ‘Clyde’ to Seyfried’s ‘Bonnie’ is uneasy and a little hard to take. Cillian Murphy’s ‘Time keeper’ police officer is quite an intriguing one but he has little, to no, backstory. When we are given a glimpse into his character it’s too little too late. It’s this overwhelming feeling of emptiness that, as a whole, the film suffers from.

I didn’t go into this film expecting a masterpiece or anything but I still expected more than I got. Despite looking good on the surface, it’s ultimately hollow. Fans of the likes of “The Adjustment Bureau” may find more to savour though.

Mark Walker

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The Hunger Games * * * 1/2

Posted in Action, Adventure, Science Fiction with tags on April 9, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Gary Ross.
Screenplay: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley, Lenny Kravitz, Toby Jones, Amandla Stenberg, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Jacqueline Emerson, Paula Malcomson, Dayo Okeniyi, Jack Quaid, Leven Rambin, Willow Shields.

Gary Ross has been involved in films for quite some time now. He received an Oscar nomination for his screenwriting duties on the Tom Hanks movie “Big” in 1988 but this is only the third time he has directed a film, following “Seabiscuit” and his very impressive debut “Pleasantville“.

“Capitol” is a wealthy city in a post-apocalyptic North America (now called “Panem”). It rules over the rest of the impoverished nation. In order to be perceived as generous, they hold an annual gladiatorial tournament called “The Hunger Games“, where the country’s youngest inhabitants are randomly selected to fight to the death. Only one can remain alive and receive their riches. After her young sister is selected to compete, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a defiant and accomplished survivor volunteer’s to take her place.

If you’ve seen the Japanese film “Battle Royale” or the Sci-Fi/Actioner “The Running Man” then you’ll be on familiar ground with this one. It’s basically the same premise. Considering the subject matter, director Gary Ross does well to tone down the violence on this one though, making the story more accessible to a relatively younger audience. After all, it was based on a best selling teen-novel by Suzanne Collins – who also co-writes the screenplay here. It’s starts very strongly in it’s introduction to a bleak futuristic America. The wealthy are all greed infused with bad tastes and flamboyant styles while the poor have to feed off the land and strive for whatever scraps they can (No change there then). Ross captures the divide admirably though and takes his time in building up The Hunger Games’ rules. It’s all about the entertainment for the well-off and it’s broadcast across the nation as an immersive reality TV show, meaning sponsors, trainers and promotors are all involved. Amongst the highlights of these are a shaggy Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, mentor to the contestants and a ruthless Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, the gamemaker who oversees the action – sometimes manipulating it – by order of Donald Sutherland’s dubious paterfamilias President Snow. The real anchor though, is Jennifer Lawrence. Yes, there may be similarities with her Oscar nominated performance from “Winter’s Bone” but that’s no bad thing. The film relies heavily on her and she’s more than able to carry it. It does, however, go on too long and becomes a tad formulaic in it’s finale. The obvious set-up for part two doesn’t appeal either but other than that, this is a decent film.

Don’t let the fact that Suzanne Collins’ books were aimed at teenagers, put you off. This film manages to work on a level that will appeal to many.

Mark Walker

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Blade Runner

Posted in Film-Noir, Science Fiction on March 15, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120315-192041.jpgDirector: Ridley Scott.
Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, David Webb Peoples.
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, Brion James, M. Emmett Walsh, James Hong, Morgan Paull.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain…”

After Ridley Scott released Alien in 1979 it stood, for many, as one of science fiction’s best films. A mere three years after it, though, he delivered Blade Runner – another foray into sci-fi that was wrought with production problems; a less than happy crew and abundant studio interference. The end result, however, would lead you to believe that everything went smoothly as it soon became a cult favourite and still regarded as not only Scott’s best film but the definitive of science fiction movies. Continue reading

The Thing * * * 1/2

Posted in Horror, Science Fiction with tags on March 6, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr
Screenplay: Eric Heisserer.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Paul Braunstein, Trond Espen Seim, Kim Bubbs, Jorgen Langhelle, Jan Gunnar Roise, Stig Henrik Hoff.

John Carpenter’s “The Thing“, released in 1982, is one of my all time favourite Sci-fi/Horror movies. It would have been lunacy to attempt a remake and thankfully, they haven’t. This is a prequel to the Carpenter classic and has similar ingredients. What it lacks though, is the level of terror that Carpenter could achieve.

Palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) recieves a rare summoning to a Norwegian base in Antarctica to investigate a discovery they’ve made: an alien ship, buried beneath the ice for thousands of years, and its sole survivor. When it awakes, though, Kate realises it’s a shapeshifting monster that won’t stop until it’s assimilated the entire crew…

One of the intriguing parts of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (which was a remake of the 1951 film “The Thing From Another World” and based on short-story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr) was the mystery surrounding the origins of the alien organism. Set three days before the opening of it’s predecessor, this sheds light on what actually happened, and how the marooned Norwegian scientists met their fate before the arrival of MacReady (Kurt Russell) and the American team in the 1982 production. The setting is captured perfectly with the Antarctic outpost recreated, from Carpenter’s vision, with meticulous detail but the intrigue of Carpenter’s production is the main ingredient that’s lacking and the atmosphere isn’t nearly as threatening. However, it’s still a competently handled horror flick by first time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr, who, like director’s Ridley Scott or James Cameron uses a female as the strong central character. This doesn’t compete on the same level as the aforementioned directors’ science-fiction work but by using a female character – instead of treading similar ground with a Kurt Russell type hero – it brings a new vision that give this film a feel of it’s own. Winstead delivers a believable performance, with a bit of testosterone back-up from the reliable Edgerton. Between them, an able cast of unknowns and good attention to detail, this just about achieves what it sets out to do.

If you’re a fan of Carpenter’s film, then the chances are you’ll be interested in seeing this – if only, to get some backstory. If you don’t compare or expect too much, then you might just find that this works on it’s own terms. Nowhere near in the same class as Carpenter but it’s a decent attempt.

Mark Walker

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Perfect Sense * * * * *

Posted in Drama, Romance, Science Fiction with tags on February 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: David Mackenzie.
Screenplay: Kim Fupz Aakeson.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Ewen Bremner, Stephen Dillane, Denis Lawson, Connie Nielson, Alastair Mackenzie, Richard Mack, Stephen McCole.

Director David MacKenzie heads back to the city of Glasgow with Ewan McGregor, after their first collaboration in 2003’s “Young Adam“. That was a gritty and powerful film but here, both of them have excelled themselves, in one of the years most criminally overlooked films.

Michael (Ewan McGregor) is a Glaswegian chef who falls for scientist Susan (Eva Green). She happens to be investigating an epidemic and as they are getting to know each other, people the world over, begin to develop some strange behaviour which leads to them losing their sensory perceptions. First, the sense of smell goes, then taste and so on…

This may be compared (with it’s apocalyptic theme) to the recent Steven Soderbergh, lethal epidemic, film “Contagion“, or more so, Fernando Meirelles’ similar “Blindness” but you’d be doing this film a disservice if you go into it with preconceived ideas based on those lethargic and jaded deliveries. This is a completely immersive human drama that packs some real power and has more in common with one of my favourite films of recent years – Alfonso Cauron’s “Children Of Men“. It has the same stark approach; the authentic feel for the frailty of our society and the same potential demise of humankind. If the end was indeed nigh, you’d expect a bit of chaos and people acting, more than a little, peeved but director Mackenzie and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson never force this issue, allowing the drama to unfold at it’s own pace, with highly effective mood established by the great use of austere Glasgow locations and haunting music by Max Richter. The two leads also help by delivering believable characters with subtlety and McGregor is given a rare chance to show his range – which he delivers admirably. Fine support is also supplied around him, particularly, some slight comic-relief from his “Trainspotting” co-star Ewen Bremner. The film itself, is essentially a love story but it’s a harrowing and heartbreaking one. As the couple are getting in touch with their feelings and exploring their love for each other, they are losing their sensory perceptions one by one. It’s an intriguing premise that builds slowly and Mackenzie’s assured mirroring of the sensory perceptions waning, allow the audience to better understand how it feels, before delivering one of the most powerful and unrelenting endings of the year.

An unconventional, thoughtful and ultimately poetic, ‘end of days’ drama that deserves to find a wider audience. In a year of films dealing with the nature of our existence – “The Tree of Life“; “Melancholia” and “Another Earth“, this stands as good as, if not better. Simply magnificent.

Mark Walker

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