Back In The Day

Way back in the day, when things were simple, and there was far less to bitch about.

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Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

Predators

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on August 8, 2010

PREDATORS (2010)

Well colour me shocked, kittens, but this I actually found this retread to be fairly enjoyable! If you haven’t heard of the Predators franchise, then please rapidly extract yourself from the hole in which you are currently residing and GET TO DA CHOPPA!! Er, I mean, introduce your face to the original film. In actuality, it’s not necessary for the understanding of this film, but there are references to what happened in the original, as well as a number of homages and throwbacks, so it makes the film a bit more enjoyable to watch if you’ve seen the first. I will admit that my memory of the first one isn’t that great, so I’m sure I missed many of those ‘inside jokes’. Either way, the throwbacks I did get were fun. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Box

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on April 30, 2010

THE  BOX (2009)

I hate that I keep doing this to you guys, but I have been running around like a chicken with my head cut off for the past week and a half or so, which is why I have been holding out on you with my reviews. But have no fear, dear minions–I fully intend to get my ass back in the theatre and my DVDs back in my player in order to bring you snazzy little reviews for your reading pleasure!!

I watched The Box recently, not knowing that I was walking into another Richard Kelly film. For those of you who do not know, Richard Kelly was the indie wonder-child who delivered hipster-favourite Donnie Darko to an unsuspecting world. I’m not trying to dismiss Darko or Kelly’s work on that film, as I really did enjoy it and I think it was an interesting and well-made film, but if I had known that The Box was Kelly’s film I would have been better prepared and, probably, a little more wary. The concept of The Box reminds me much of the classic horror story “The Monkey’s Paw”. The Box is ‘based’ on the short story “Button, Button”, by Richard Matheson, but the screenplay is Kelly’s (which, again, would have been good to know–shame on me!). I have not read Matheson’s story, but what little I have read about it leads me to believe that it is infinitely better than what Kelly offered. I should note that Matheson’s story was also used on the Twilight Zone series, and Kelly’s film almost feels like a far too long and overworked episode. Read the rest of this entry »

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Moon

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on March 13, 2010

MOON (2009)

This is an interesting, odd little film. It has hints of Castaway mixed with 2001: A Space Odyssey and a dash of Solaris (let’s think the book instead of the movie for that one), but don’t let that combination scare you. It’s far more interesting and enjoyable to watch than Castaway (yes, I unfortunately watched that monstrosity for a psychology class) and easier to comprehend than 2001. If you’re a big fan of Sam Rockwell’s, then this is definitely the movie for you. If you like watching basically one actor on screen for extended periods of time, going through psychological trauma of sorts, then this is also the movie for you. I’ll try to keep this one as spoiler-free as possible. If anyone sees this film (or has seen it) and wishes to discuss the details at all, then we can head down to the comments section and hope that everyone else reading this review will heed this warning: DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THE FILM AND DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED! Ah, that’s better. Now allow me to talk about the film as enigmatically as I possibly can.

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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on January 21, 2010

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (2009)

Let me start by saying this: I have no idea what this movie was about. I’m not being facetious or cute when I say that– I honestly have no idea what the point of this movie was, what any of the driving forces were, or why most of these things happened. I guess that makes it easier for Michael Bay to make what I can only call a masturbatory film for himself. My mind was short-circuited so many times throughout this movie that, at one point, I  curled into a fetal position and started mumbling to myself. I’m almost afraid to give this thing a full review, but I feel I must warn others to the fullest extent. Let’s get busy.

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Terminator Salvation

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on December 30, 2009

TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009)

I’m a big fan of Terminator 2. I don’t remember the first Terminator movie that well (shame, I know. I need to rent that one…). I like to pretend that Terminator 3 didn’t happen, but unfortunately I had to think about it during Terminator Salvation. Here’s the thing for me: I can’t reconcile the time travel in this series. Yes, I can do it for Back To The Future, but I feel like Terminator almost shot itself in the foot from the get-go with the idea that John Connor had to send Kyle Reese back in time to save his mother, whom Kyle then impregnated and, thus, became John’s father. John had to exist before Kyle existed, especially since Kyle is a teenager in this film. So John had to exist independently of Kyle’s existence somehow, which makes no sense to me. We literally had to pause the film in order to discuss how this worked, and I was not convinced.

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District 9

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on December 28, 2009

DISTRICT 9 (2009)

Not to be confused with District 6 from apartheid South Africa. But, in all honesty, that’s a minor detail; the filmmakers did little to shroud the fact that this was an allegory for what happened under apartheid, and it supplements the aliens (called the new-found derogatory term “prawns”) for the black Africans of the region.

This is the baby of Peter Jackson (yes, elf-lord Peter Jackson of one-ring-to-rule-them-all fame) and Neill Blomkamp, who co-wrote the film with Terri Tatchell. Apparently, Jackson and Blomkamp wanted to do a Halo film, but things fell through and this was the next best thing. It totally plays like a Halo film would, if done properly.

At this point, I’m going to interrupt myself to say this: I started this draft back in October and abandoned it because I apparently had other things to do (probably not true). It’s possible that I’m going to confuse some details and possibly leave some important things out, so please just bear with me here.

The film is appropriately gritty, the camera movements are jarring but not annoyingly so, and the special effects are great. Visually, this film delivers, staying true to the nature of the film and its underlying commentary. The action scenes are unbelievably enjoyable, and I cannot help but express childlike glee at the splatter-effects used when the alien weapons hit their meaty human targets. The film is alarming and disturbing, with very few “touching” moments, and once again plays with the idea of “the monster”. Who are the real monsters in the film? Are the aliens the monsters? They certainly look like monsters, their social skills are lacking, they have incredibly dangerous technology, and they are violent (and vile) scavengers. And yet, as per usual in such films, it is humankind that are shown to be the true monsters.

The performance by Sharlto Copley, who plays Wikus (the lead), is really the lynch-pin of this film. I am so pleased that they chose an unknown actor– and one from Johannesburg, no less–to star in this film. Wikus really is our sole focus for most of the film, so it’s nice to not have the additional baggage of past roles bogging down his performance. Furthermore, he did a fantastic job. Nothing about his performance felt contrived, even if some of the scripted actions came off that way (I’ll get to that in a bit). His transformation from human to hybrid, accompanied by his transformation from oppressor to sympathizer/defector/oppressed, felt every bit real, and what kept the whole film from feeling contrived and well-worn was that Wikus was constantly bouncing between his own selfish needs/goals and his compassion. You feel sorry for the man, but you also feel like he deserves it. It’s a strange feeling to watch the lead of a film be both the hero and anti-hero. It’s not the same as when a lead starts off on the “bad side” and changes over to the “good side” in order to prevail by the end in the name of justice. Wikus is never fully on-board with the other side, even if his actions seem to indicate that he is. Part of this is because of the dire consequences he must face for making this choice, as well as his own delusions about what is happening to him.

It seems that I’m finding more and more to nitpick these days in terms of believability, but I blame some of that on the films I am watching. District 9 is so realistic and so extremely well-detailed that anything that prompts me to have a reality check feels more blatant. The military procedures and vast presence throughout most the film gave me a standard by which to hold all military operations that took place in the latter part of the movie. I simply cannot believe that they’d send in one or two convoys in order to apprehend what they consider to be the two most dangerous beings in the region. That is simply tactical lunacy. I also didn’t understand some of the alien technology (imagine that). We clearly see Wikus in the alien suit employing some sort of shielding device that protected him from the incoming gunfire and turned the projectiles back upon the gang. Why is it that this technology was used only once and never again? It’s possible that the device could only be deployed once and had to be recharged in some capacity, but it was still rather baffling since we never received an explanation for it, and it could have been very useful during the military stand-off scenes.

Those are nitpicks, but my major problems was something I also praised the film for, and that was some of the character’s reactions–most notably, Wikus’ waffling. I bought it for most of the film, but when faced with his military nemesis after having taken out an entire heavily-armed gang single-handed, Wikus defaults back into his wimpy old self and runs instead of fights. He abandons the one alien he managed to forge a sort of friendship (called “Christopher”), and runs, only to find his courage and return to save the day. Honestly, the only reason I could see for this scene was for that dramatic moment because he had already been courageous and combative numerous times. He’d risked his life again and again, and I believe he was already set on helping Christopher out at this point. It felt contrived, as did Christopher’s trance-like state over the mangled bodies of his people found in one of the military labs. Yes, that would be terribly traumatic, and I can understand that for a moment or two, but when you’re racing against the clock and trying to escape an army about to fill your body with lead, I think the instinct of “fight or flight” kicks in over the grief (I believe the aliens had similar instincts, judging from the film). Naturally, the only think that snaps Christopher out of this state is the mention of his son, who is back at the camp waiting for their return (meanwhile, as Wikus is trying to snap Christopher out of it for what seems like five full minutes, I’m sitting in my chair chanting “mention is son already” under my breath).

Those contrivances bothered me more in this film than they should, but I think it’s because of the quality of the rest of the film. I think this is a solid science-fiction film, with a good story and script, a great actor, and some wonderful direction.

Do I recommend this film? Yes, for anyone who likes sci-fi and isn’t squeamish. Watching Wikus change from human to hybrid is often compared to the film The Fly, and if you know anything about Croenenberg (director of The Fly) you know that it’s graphic and not pretty. And did I mention the splatters? Oh, the splatters. *Happy sigh*.

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Avatar

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on December 28, 2009

Craziest thing– apparently preparing applications takes time, and I’m STILL not done! Sigh.

OK, here goes a basic post of my look at James Cameron’s baby, Avatar (2009). Yes, this is a format change. I’m back, for the moment!

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I’m not in love with it, but it WAS rather beautiful and spectacular to watch (saw it in 3-D, of course). Get ready for some heavy-duty spoilers, folks!

The story is a very basic one. A marine “grunt” is tapped to get his consciousness plugged into a human-Na’ vi (otherwise known as the “bluefolk”) hybrid body called an “avatar”, which is used to safely wander the world of Pandora (so clever!) and infiltrate the bluefolk. The point of this operation is to get the bluefolk to move to a different location, because their main village is on top of a bunch of unobtainium (I shit you not–they basically named it “plot device”), and goddamnit the humans want that metal for money! The options are to convince these “savages” to move by the end of three months or else take the land by military force. Our main man, Sam Worthington (or Jake Sully, in the film), is totally game to be the military butt-boy and do some recon as he infiltrates the bluefolk, but as he learns the ways of these so-called “savages”, will he realize that the true savages are the humans, and that he is more like the people he is meant to destroy? Could there be a love interest in one of the bluefolk? Could that love interest, who happens to be the one who randomly stumbled upon him and introduced him to the tribe, possibly be the daughter of the tribe’s leaders? Does she have to reluctantly teach him their ways? Find these answers in every other film that has a similar storyline. Ever.

Here’s the thing about conventional plot devices and clichés: They don’t necessarily mean the movie/script is bad. If you can utilize those concepts well, they can be very helpful and even serve as strong structural supports for your story. However, what I saw in this movie didn’t work that way. Being glaringly obvious in every way with every plot contrivance, to me, is not good storytelling. The moment something was explained in the film, the blueprints for where it was leading were right in front of us. Scenes like the rhinos charging the humans out of nowhere completely lost their edge for me because I was waiting for when that would happen, since the set-up was clear. While the beauty of the world was truly mesmerizing, it’s really hard for me to sit through a movie like that when the story itself–not the exposition bits that make up the majority of the movie– is seriously lacking depth. The movie felt like a supercharged blend of three films: Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, and Ferngully.

It also led me to ask far too many questions about motivation and execution. I get that “humans” (or Americans, really) are bad in this, but even though there was a not-so-subtle dig at the whole Iraq war situation (thank you, liberal Hollywood!), I just don’t fucking buy half of what happened with the big bad corporation. It’s a serious pet peeve of mine when films show the “evil money-hungry/military” guys v. the scientists, and the evil guys always spit in the face of evidence and mock the scientists as “crazies”. If someone discovered a world where all living things were literally connected like brain synapses, and they could all communicate with one another, I highly doubt that a single man could make the decision to completely eradicate the major parts of the system just because he wants to haul back some “important metal” for profit. I get that the Americans are all about destruction, combat, and trampling other cultures, but the last one is something we at least try to be a little more careful about (as in, we would probably NOT make it a primary goal to totally destroy their major religious symbol and gathering place). I, personally, can’t foresee a future that allows for another Native American takeover (yeah, that was blatantly obvious, too), and I don’t think that world destruction of that sort would just be left in the hands of the American military and an American corporation. It’s political-statement-overkill to me, and it reeked of pretentious liberalism that was beyond smarmy and heavy-handed. I’m sure some people can see this sort of thing happening with the “arrogant Americans”, but I really feel the combination of circumstances in this film puts us beyond our typical “generic evil”. I’m also getting annoyed at the stereotypical military man hellbent on violence and destruction, and dammit nothing is going to stop him from killing women and children!!

I felt that the movie could have been an hour shorter, but what made it easier to sit through really was the gorgeousness of it all. I will give Cameron props for that– it was awesome to watch and the 3-D effect really helped. I wasn’t thrilled with the look of the bluefolk, though, because while I could easily see Sigourney Weaver in her avatar, the others just felt too plastic to me. It was hard for me to connect with them because I feel a lot got lost in translation when they played with their eyes. That being said, it was still likely the most amazing instance of CGI “people” I have ever seen, and I will not begrudge Cameron the credit for creating new technology for film-making of this sort. It really could revolutionize high-budget CGI films in a major way, and that’s something extraordinary, regardless of whether or not you consider that kind of film-making to be a “good thing”.

Credit also must be paid to the actors, who did a spectacular job working in bizarre filming situations. I heard about the contraptions they wore on their heads as avatars so that they could get a sense of what would be happening on-screen during their scenes. I didn’t have a problem with any performance in the film, and Sigourney Weaver rocks out as usual. Stephen Lang did a great job as a military badass, Giovanni Ribisi pulled off the corporate asshole flawlessly (I wonder whether or not that’s telling), and even Michelle Rodriguez was likable–she played a tough military chick (shocker!) with a soft spot for native peoples. Zoe Saldana did a good job as a warrior woman/romantic lead. I liked her throaty screams. I was a little disturbed by the implications of the tribes speaking with what I consider “Africanized accents”, but I don’t know if I want to read too much into that right now.

Do I recommend this film? Yes. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy watching it– I did AND I didn’t– but I don’t think this is going down as one of my favourite movies of all time, or as an example of stellar storytelling. However, the visuals are pretty stellar, so I think it’s probably worth seeing it at least once just for that. And if you’re going to go out and buy a ticket to this thing, at least see it in 3-D.

As a side note, I just watched Terminator Salvation last night, also with Sam Worthington, and I feel that the poor boy might be getting typecast! He plays a human hybrid-turned-defector for the “wrong side” so damn well, and in both films the love interest tells him that he has a “strong heart”. My sister and I cracked up in the theatre tonight during Avatar when his girlfriend said that line to him. Unreal.

Let me know if you’d prefer my old format (the few of you who actually read this), and I’ll think about going back to it. Perhaps once I get over applications I’ll get back into the hang of this.

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