You’ve Got Horror for Days? THE VOID’s Got Cosmic Dread for Weeks

The Void. 2017. Directed and Written by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski.
Starring Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Kathleen Munroe, Ellen Won, Mik Byskov, Art Hindle, Stephanie Belding, James Millington, Evan Stern, & Grace Munro.
Cave Painting Pictures/JoBro Productions & Film Finance
Rated R. 90 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2
POSTEREveryone goes on and on about how this movie’s influenced by The Thing, which I’m sure is definitely true. I’d argue it’s more Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness than any of the master’s works. Others go on that it’s Lovecraftian, though I don’t agree totally; the filmmakers say it was their influence, and that’s fine. As I often preach, artistic intent doesn’t always have to equal concrete meaning to the audience.
Most of all, this is an original bit of sci-fi-ish horror on its own. Sure, it draws bits of heart from films co-writers Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski likely grew up watching. It throws back to the 1980s. To give their influences too much credit is to do a disservice to their horrific originality.
Many movies post-2010 seem to feel like throwback means an ’80s-type electronic score and a dark yet vibrant look. The Void has a wicked score, the sound is perfect. Best is the fact the team behind the film went with expert practical effects for the various creatures and abominations. Add these technical aspects to solid performances from one of my latest genre favourites Aaron Poole, as well as the great Kenneth Welsh (Windom Earle from Twin Peaks). This makes for one fine ride into the heart of darkness.
TheVoid1The Lovecraftian influence, the Carpenter roots, they’re fine. Gillespie and Kostanski are what matters. Their story, particularly how it’s told, works wonders on the suspense and tension which builds so dreadfully over the course of the first third of the film. Their directorial work is startling, with grim delight. We start out with an act of violence that’s inexplicable; at the time. From there, the writing-directing team unravel a tale of a cult offering sacrifices to an otherworldly entity called from the cosmos.
Production design on this one all around is fantastic. The location of the hospital is like they found a facility in the middle of nowhere, cultivating a mood all of its own. In addition, the costumes for the cult add to that atmosphere by sort of crashing down on top of the audience. When we first see them it’s a shocking moment, oh so excellent.
Not to mention the cinematography of Samy Inayeh (The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh; another great flick with Poole starring) makes everything feel hazy, terrifying, like a feverish nightmare even before the descent into utter madness and hell. The visual style is most definitely part of what gives it a throwback feel. The biggest part of that essence is the practical effects work, up there with some of the best in the genre.
TheVoid2Kostanski has an extensive background in makeup effects. He’s doing stuff on the new It, he worked on ClownGirlHouseHannibal, and even worked as an uncredited prosthetics shop assistant for 2005’s Capote. Point being, he knows his shit. He uses his chops here, alongside Gillespie, whose resume is as impressive having worked on It and Suicide Squad as assistant art director (both of which his co-director and writer worked on). He was a graphic designer on Hannibal, too. He served as assistant art director on Atom Egoyan’s The Captive, and the underrated found footage 388 Arletta Avenue is his first art directing credit. These two artists together did something on this film which amazes, in the best horror kind of way.
The creatures involved in the descent to hell, as the characters of The Void explore the hospital basement, are totally wild! Some of the best stuff out there, truly. I can see why The Thing is used as comparison. Particularly when it comes to the final monster we witness birthed; like a combination of pieces of living things. A vicious finale creation. That isn’t it, though. Throughout the movie we see various creatures, and you can’t forget the other practical effects like the blood, et cetera. That seemingly simple stuff can often get lost in the shuffle for other, lesser horrors. Not these guys. The attention to detail is what drives this whole effort home.
TheVoid3Above anything else, the end and what the film builds to from the start is the payoff. I won’t spoil it. Just to say that I love the vision these guys brought to the visuals. There’s something wholly original in the way they presented the other world, where Dr. Powell (Welsh) intends on going. Those last shots are perfection, impressing upon us without words the tiny speck that is humanity on the entirety of the universe. Gorgeous, if not also disturbing.
I gave this film a 4 and 1/2 star rating (out of 5) because The Void does what two other similar movies, Baskin and Last Shift, didn’t do despite their awesomeness: it shows us an end result. What I mean is that those other two films, kick ass as they are, sort of end in a place where there’s ultimately no traction. Not saying nothing happens, if you check my reviews of them both I’m actually a huge fan (I’ve seen Baskin at least a dozen times).
The Void goes a step further, not only in its inventiveness and practical effects monster work, it also opts to go full-on cosmic. In this way, I concede that they touch on Lovecraft and his rightful idea about man’s insignificance to other much greater, larger, non-human entities out there in the universe; gods, if you will.
Again, I don’t like to lean so heavily only on influence. Gillespie and Kostanski deserve what’s due – praise, for a breathtaking wave of pure terror, start to finish. They’ll live on with this film, though I cannot wait to see their next project. These guys are the real fucking deal.

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THE DARK TAPES: Fresh Indie Found Footage

The Dark Tapes. 2017. Directed by Vincent J. Guastini & Michael McQuown. Screenplay by McQuown.
Starring Emilia Ares Zoryan, David Banks, Jonathan Biver, Sara Castro, Michael Cotter, Denise Faro, Brittany Fisheli, Jo Galloway, Aral Gribble, Shane Hartline, David Hull, Clint Keepin, Casey James Knight, Shawn Lockie, Matt Magnusson, Anna Rose Moore, Tessa Munro, Jake O’Connor, Cortney Palm, David Rountree, Katherine Shaw, Wayne River Sorrell, Meredith Thomas, Brittany Underwood, Julian von Nagel, Ryan Allan Young, & Stepehn Zimpel.
Thunder Road Incorporated.
Not Rated. 98 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★1/2
Dark Tapes 1Director Michael McQuown sent me a screener for his and co-director Vincent J. Guastini’s independent film, The Dark Tapes. I’d heard of it awhile, hearing plenty of good things. Not overhyped; hyped just enough. I’m always ready to dig in on a found footage flick, no matter how tired the sub-genre seems to get with so many low budget efforts being pumped out simply to get a director and some actors a credit to their names.
The Dark Tapes isn’t a perfect movie. There are a few missteps that could’ve been avoided to make the whole thing more effective, certain tapes in the lot aren’t as good as others. Often anthologies suffer from this fate. The lesser tapes are still good. There’s nothing bad here. Each tape, regardless of its setbacks, has an eerie quality to it respectively.
McQuown and Guastini use a meagre budget wisely, choosing to use effects sparingly and, for the most part, they work. This is one of their best moves, because they don’t set the bar too high yet clearly focused on staying creepy. There are standouts in the series of tapes, presented through the narrative of being proof of government conspiracy-type stuff, the truth the powers that be suppress and keep from the people – a couple deserve their own full-length treatments. Certain segments stand up with some of the best of the V/H/S series (no surprise considering Guastini is not only an effects guy, he did work on the third entry, Viral).
Dark Tapes 2My only beef, and I’ll get to this first before discussing what I enjoyed so much, is that the directing is mostly excellent. Then, they choose to show us too much. For the longest time what we only get glimpses of in frame is what drives the pulse-pounding terror. As you can see in the photo above, that’s a startling shot. Love that moment; freezing the frame only compounds the fear. However, the directors lose some of that momentum later when they choose to show this demonic figure up close for too long. They try offsetting this with the use of camera glitches (et cetera). But it never makes up for the undoing of the fright from seeing the creature long enough we can start picking out some of the less stellar aspects of its creation.
The rest of the tapes are presented with brief shots and bits that are framed properly so that the low budget qualities don’t glare. And honestly, it’s only the one main demon in the “To Catch a Demon” segments that comes off as cheesy, which is late in the game. Otherwise, in the “Amanda’s Revenge” tape, the creatures (or whatever you want to call them) look legitimately gnarly, in the best horror sense. Particularly in that tape, we get some wonderfully old school film shots, the rickety frame, catching a presence in the distance, and it’s so genuinely perfect for the type of eeriness for which this segments is aiming.
Dark Tapes 3The tapes have an overall framing narrative, though I think that while there’s a connection between the tapes as a whole, it isn’t as connective as the filmmakers might hope. Mostly, I don’t feel that the connections are tight enough. The writing is interesting, at every turn. I can’t help think McQuown could’ve brainstormed something better to make them all into the cohesive unit the beginning (and mid-credits) speech we hear wishes it’d become. If this were tighter then it would’ve greatly improved the film.
But the stories, they’re fresh. Even in the moments some of them don’t exactly work as intended, they’re innovative. I found “The Hunters and the Hunted” was my favourite because it caught me so off guard once the revelation came, until then I expected a run of the mill bit of paranormal shlock; a proper twist, if there ever were! Also enjoyed “Cam Girls” except the end devolved into a ham-fisted mess. Before that it was wildly creepy, the editing made it feel very kinetic and full of horrific energy; while it falls apart later with absolutely no subtlety and a ton of unnecessary exposition that could’ve been given to us through imagery earlier (a missed opportunity), this segment  was insane.
And “Cam Girls” has an underlying metaphor in it, about our porn-obsessed culture that involves men watching women through their screens performing, some thinking they’re falling in love just by watching. If only the plot of this segment were worked out better, it’d be a devastating short.
Dark Tapes 5For a low budget, non-studio film, The Dark Tapes has an impressive production value. This is one of the things that keeps even the lesser pieces involving, it’s better than the average indie found footage attempt. With so many of these sub-genre flicks saturating the market, incredibly easy to make on a shoestring to non-existent budget, it’s nice to see what’s so obviously a labour of horror love come to the screen from these directors.
Sure, not every segment is perfect. A couple are scary as hell. And like I’ve yammered on, even in those segments which don’t measure up there’s still things to pique your interest. If anything, the effort the team on this film put in is astounding. Kudos to them all, I certainly hope that McQuown and Guastini do more, whether it’s in found footage that’s up to them. Without a doubt they’ve got horror sensibilities.
The Dark Tapes, warts and all, is one of the better found footage movies I’ve seen as of late, running the gamut of horror, thriller, and science fiction with relative ease. Like Tales of HalloweenHolidaysV/H/S, and Southbound, this is an anthology worth dipping into for a fright.

THE CRAZIES: A Different Romero Infection

The Crazies. 1973. Directed & Written by George A. Romero; based on a script by Paul McCollough.
Starring Lane Carroll, Will MacMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lloyd Hollar, Lynn Lowry, Richard Liberty, Richard France, Harry Spillman, & Will Disney.
Pittsburgh Films.
Rated R. 103 minutes.
Action/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★
posterI’m a huge fan of George A. Romero and his movies, and not just the zombie flicks either. He’s always been politically and socially aware, even if he’s telling stories of terrifying epidemics. People too often overlook the genuinely poignant ideas in certain screenplays of his simply because they’re only horror movies.
But horror is like any other genre. When a writer wants to infuse their stories with sociopolitical messages, no matter how heavy or light the infusion may get, they’ll put it in there. Night of the Living Dead, the series it begat, these were aware, conscious films that used zombies to carry various little messages Romero felt were worth exploring.
The Crazies isn’t particularly one of Romero’s best works. I’d put the Dead series and Martin above this movie, without a second thought. That’s not to say this is all bad. Romero does a few really great things in The Crazies, and regardless of whether the whole matches up to its parts his writing is still solid. There are issues with pacing, too much needless dialogue. What the film gets right is its sense of panic, the frantic nature of how people would react if an unknown epidemic came down upon their quiet little town. And yes, things absolutely do get crazy. Of this there is no doubt.
pic1After an unnerving opening scene the pace lags for an inordinately long time. The screenplay plays like a procedural, except it would’ve served better to get into more action or horror. There’s a definite intensity to the plot, there’s just a lack of any real tension. Romero could easily have done better by starting with a bigger heavier bang. The first scene is creepy, but after that it’s a near half hour before anything else significantly creepy and/or violent happens. This makes The Crazies a bit tedious for the first while. Yes, that does change. Doesn’t change quick enough.
Yet once that old lady uses a knitting needle to stab the NBC-suited man and then sits back down happily, the scary, all too human horror commences bearing down on the viewer with a frantic passion. Although the pace lacks in certain sections much of the acting is appropriately intense and even frenzied when necessary. The feeling that everyone’s going crazy, all human interactions tense, comes across well in a few of the performances. One sort of funny though perfect moment happens when a field full of infected people run mad, being gunned down at the hands of the military – the whole sequence is totally unhinged and beyond depraved, however, it’s the infected woman sweeping the grass I find interesting. This shows us violence isn’t the only option to the infection’s madness; the remnants of these people still exist.
pic2This brings us to one of the best parts about the film. What’s scariest to me about the infection in this Romero story is how the people inflicted with it seem like the same, regular people they were before, just gone totally insane – unlike zombies from Romero’s other works, these crazies aren’t hideously deformed, or even dead, they’re human beings gone utterly mental. The clearest, most precise look at this horror comes when the survivors make it to a farmhouse. Plot-wise, the movie gets most brutal and grim at this point. We see here how infection can drive people to the most sickeningly nasty recesses of their own mind.
The Crazies is one of the earliest movies involving infection/epidemic to explore the military dark side, in that as survivors from the small town try desperately to escape for safety, the army flies overhead and marches on the town, trying to kill off anyone and everyone attempting to leave the quarantine zone. This becomes a norm in the sub-genre of zombies (et cetera): the military is most concerned with covering their own mistakes than saving lives. A lot of themes swirl around the writing from Romero here, which explore the nature of war, the way science and technology have affected our war (and our morals), plus how during times of crisis not all the rules get followed. Again, so much good writing despite the screenplay’s downfalls.
pic1My chief problem with this picture is that it lacks the appropriate amount of horror. What we do get is good. There’s far too much drama and dialogue that doesn’t necessarily do justice to the characters or the plot and story. If Romero went harder at the horror in more scenes, The Crazies would be a genre classic, rather than a mediocre footnote on his career as director.
The depravity and murder comes out in full force. We’re never totally lacking. I’m not sure exactly how much of the original script from Paul McCollough, a close friend of Romero, made it into this final draft. His story, The Mad People, was given over to George with McCollough’s blessing to turn into something different. So, I’d love to know what was in that original draft, as opposed to what ended up onscreen. I feel like Romero held back something, that he maybe felt his friend had a better concept than what he’d imagined. Or who knows. Maybe he just wanted to do something different from the Dead films.
I don’t care if parts of the movie are boring. There’s always gold in even some of the lesser Romero movies. This is a 3 out of 5 star horror flick. Not his best, although saying it’s his worst doesn’t do it the right justice, either. I mean, you get to see a priest self-immolate in front of his congregation and the army, lots of wild death and mayhem. There are sections you might want to fast forward; don’t. Because in between the craziness and the little boring pieces, there’s dialogue worth hearing, other things worth noticing. You might not love it all. Give it a chance, don’t expect the exact quality of Romero’s best, and you’ll likely enjoy it enough for a nice romp on Halloween.

Black Mirror – Season 3, Episode 1: “Nosedive”

Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 1: “Nosedive”
Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Rashida Jones & Michael Schur

* For a review of Episode 2, “Playtest” – click here
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“Nosedive” opens on an idyllic neighbourhood. Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) goes for a run, though she can’t stop looking at her phone at all. Neither can anybody else. Lacie runs, stretches, all while peering into the screen, taking selfies, mindlessly flipping through social media. At home in the mirror, she practices faces and various laughs. In the living room, Ryan (James Norton), her brother, plays a reality game and doesn’t do much other than that.
Everybody’s rated, every interaction has a value. You meet somebody and you give them a rating. Not far off from where we are in social media, but the way this episode brings that to life is terribly sad. From how Lacie doesn’t even really enjoy her cookie or her drink, though she makes sure to post a picture. Her only real happiness is being rated approvingly by others. People only know things about each other through the social media site they’re linked to constantly. Lacie has an awkward conversation with a woman in the elevator which illustrates that so awkwardly, yet perfect.


Then Lacie starts to see a woman named Naomi Blestow (Alice Eve), whose life looks so beautiful. Her rating is high. She entrances Lacie. A strange and awful thing happens when a guy named Chester comes around her office with smoothies. He’s only rated 3.1. Everybody’s shunning him because of a recent breakup. Nobody’s on his side. Regular people have become how fandoms hang off the relationships of their celebrities; regular, everyday citizens at work are treated like celebrities, how people seem to take those sides against one or the other person during a divorce (kind of like right now with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie + many more examples). It’s an eerie though, which already happens on a tiny level already in social dynamics. Social media takes all these types of things and amplifies them horrifically. At least in Black Mirror it does.
So there are other nasty things, like when Lacie wants to move into a nice place. Her hopes and dreams are literally broadcast in front of her there via hologram. But they need her to be “around a 4.5” to get a good discount on the place. Off Lacie goes, home to eat and fawn of Naomi Blestow and her seemingly perfect existence.
I’ve only started to review this series now on the premiere of its 3rd season, but I’ve been following the creation of Charlie Brooker since its horrifying first episode. Needless to say, I feel like the writing in this episode – courtesy of Rashida Jones and Michael Schur – is following suit nicely with the rest of the body of work.
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Lacie needs a “boost” from “quality people” giving her likes, and so on. This begins her quest to try getting the right people to rate her. The whole episode is so pristine-looking, hyperreal, and underneath the sadness is crushing, to the point of being uncomfortable. That’s a strength. Black Mirror‘s always been uncomfortable, to varying degrees from one episode to another. This one is high up there. Because the closer these episodes get to the truth, the harder it is to bear. Watching Lacie desperately try and connect with others simply to get that boost is strikingly tragic. Brings me back to the ICQ days when everybody would try to post their witty status, myself included, to make people feel interested. When Naomi finally likes a picture Lacie posts, it’s the happiest moment she’s experienced in awhile.
And all of a sudden Naomi calls her. They knew each other long ago, they were very close. She remembered Mr. Rags from back in the day. Naomi’s engaged now to Paul M (Alan Ritchson) and they’re having an outlandish wedding; Laci gets an invite. Better yet, she’s the maid of honour. A huge wedding, lots of high “4.7s” and above.
Or is it all too good to be true? The way Ryan remembers things, Naomi tormented Lacie, did terrible things to her. Oh, it all seems like teetering over the edge of something deliciously precarious.
Things are on the up and up, I guess. For now. Lacie takes that new place she wanted, she gets started on her maid of honour speech and trying to practice reciting it for Ryan. “You fucking sociopath,” he scolds over the pathetically forced speech (and the rest of her sad nonsense): “Theres sugary, and then theres diabetes.” She ends up walking out after calling him “Mr. Three point Fuck” and having a rating war. Afterwards she bangs into a 4.8 woman on the street, knocking coffee on her, which gets Lacie another bad rating. Even the cab driver knocks her down a notch. A hilarious though shitty moment for her. And once she gets to the airport things only get worse. A cancelled flight, no more available. One’s available, but only to 4.2s and higher, and with the recent ratings she’s been put down under slightly. Everybody in the line rates her down. Security gets called. For 24 hours, she’s a 3.1 and any ratings are “double damage.” Good christ, she can’t catch a break. When you ranking is that low things get damn tough. Now, without all the privilege of a good ranking, Lacie’s life isn’t as squeaky clean and pretty like before. She’s also walking on eggshells, so as not to get any nasty ratings. After Naomi calls, even though she isn’t happy, Lacie gets a 5 star rating. Things are okay for the time being.

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On the drive in her rental car Lacie has to stop and charge. At the station she gets a bad rating from the douche attendant. Worse is the fact the station doesn’t have a fixture that fits her car, nobody there has an adaptor. Being in the 3s ain’t easy, girl.
She starts walking her way now. One Anonymous user even rates her down simply driving by, not even meeting her. When a 1.4 lady driving an eighteen-wheeler stops, Lacie gets a ride at least. She finds the other half are nicer than the higher numbers. Right now she’s sitting at 2.8, shockingly low. What she gains from knowing this sweet truck driver is that it’s all an addiction to a lifestyle, shackles to something idiotic and fake, and when you start living real life again it’s freedom: “Sheddinthose fuckers, it was like takinoff tight shoes.”
The inevitable happens as Lacie ends up hitching another ride with a group of sci-fi lovers – Naomi calls and doesn’t want her there anymore. She’s down in the 2s now. Despite it only being temporary Naomi doesn’t care. Still, in a sad last ditch effort Lacie says she’s going anyway.
She gets there, after being thrown from the sci-fi bus. In an absolute mess. And she gets up to make that speech, to the terror of everyone in attendance. Lacie starts dropping f-bombs galore, 1 ratings all over the place, as she tells everybody about Naomi helping her overcome and eating disorder and gets crazy real on the crowd.

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Until her arrest. They take her in, process her. A little chip is implanted in her eye, and she’s put in a cell. But funny that, how she’s imprisoned, literally boxed in, yet still she is free. In her mind. She gestures to a man in the cell opposite to her with a motion of rating. Just with no phone. Then they really engage, for the first time. No ratings. They use speech. They talk and interact and the only thing they hide behind is their force confinement. More than that, they only say negative things. They pour out all the anger from the fake positive manners screaming at one another: “Fuck you!”

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Loved this episode. A great return with some spectacular writing and an amazing Bryce Dallas Howard performance. How did you feel about it? Too close to home?

Westworld – Season 1, Episode 1: “The Original”

HBO’s Westworld
Season 1, Episode 1: “The Original”
Directed by Jonathan Nolan
Written by Jonathan & Lisa Joy Nolan

* For a review of the next episode, “Chestnut” – click here
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First of all, dig the opening sequence and title song. Very eerie in a sci-fi sense, yet also beautiful, too. Excellent tune.
Someone talks to Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood). She’s in “a dream.” He’s testing the equipment so to speak. He asks general questions about whether she’s ever questioned the truth of reality. More specifically, her reality. She lives in a gorgeous vision of the old West in America. We meet the “newcomers” such as Teddy Flood (James Marsden). He comes in on a train to where Abby lives in her town. Everybody’s there to enjoy a bit of the old life.
The place: Westworld. Outwardly, it appears as a real slice out of time. Everyone talks the talk. Teddy goes for a drink and checks out the local landscape. He meets a young lady named Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan) and Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) – ladies of the night. He’s more interested in Abby after he catches a glimpse of her through the saloon window. They’ve clearly had some kind of relationship already. They continue it together, gallop through the picturesque America West. Later in the night, Flood comes across a dirty bastard named Rebus (Steven Ogg) and his partner, who he guns down; they’ve killed the Abernathy family. The Man in Black (Ed Harris) turns up cryptically taunting Dolores about not knowing him. He stands toe to toe with Flood, who shoots away and does nothing to the Man in Black.
That’s because Teddy isn’t real.

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See, Westworld isn’t real. It’s a futuristic getaway where people can experience life as it was during the frontier days when America was still gaining its proper legs. People like Dolores and Teddy, they’re park products. They’ve been engineered to provide services for those willing to pay a ton of money. And some of those people, like the Man in Black, are absolutely horrifying. Dolores, she goes on thinking about “how beautiful this world can be.” It starts all over again each damn day. She and Teddy wake up, then go on about their predetermined routes. Sad, right? They’re merely little pawns on a massive scale of operations. Outside Westworld is the real world, where a company makes and designs robots to serve as people, horses, whatever they need. What a gorgeously eerie sequence, as director Jonathan Nolan takes us through the toyshop of Westworld’s company.
Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) is checking some of the robotics, such as gestures on Clementine the prostitute. He talks about Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and the “tiny things” that Ford does to make the robots feel real for the customers. A genius, it seems. Called up to the operating floor, there’s talk of “critical failure.” So Lowe heads out to do some maintenance. Down in the lower levels, he goes with a team of armed men into a storage facility filled with naked “hosts.” They come across Dr. Ford with a cowboy, drinking and having a chat. The cowboy’s Bill, one of the first hosts ever built. Looks to me as if Ford is starting to get sick of what he’s done. Who knows.
But still, things go on as they always did inside Westworld. Dolores and her family wake up, they go about their business like usual. The Man in Black, he’s living it up in his sick dream every day, over and over.

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The visitors get to experience all aspects of life in the old West, from prostitutes and saloons and riding on horseback through treacherous territories. When one couple is out riding the Sheriff goes into a hard malfunction, scaring them a bit. In the real world, Lowe inspects the malfunctioning host. Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), obviously in charge of the narratives in Westworld, is livid that Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) might want to haul out a ton of hosts. What Lowe does is reassure there’s no threat of violence towards the guests. “If theres so much as an unscripted sneeze, I wanna know about it,” Cullen advises.
What I love is the focus on people going to Westworld, how they’re affected by being able to do what they want to these hosts. Some are there for the mere experience of a time in history they’ll obviously never get to experience otherwise. Some are sick fucks, like the Man in Black and others, who go there to rape, murder, do all kinds of awful things to the hosts. Things they can’t do in the real world. Then there are innocent little things, such as a visiting boy who asks Dolores to her face if she’s real. Will this cause a glitch? Or are they programmed to simply walk away, deflect if that happens?
Stranger still is when Dolores’ father finds a picture buried in his field. A photo from the future. It’s likely Times Square by the looks of things. This perplexes the man, although Dolores passes it off. Very curious how the real world might intersect with Westworld in different ways.
Theresa and the others stay, in shifts, on a huge sort of skyscraper set atop a mountain in Westworld. She and Lee debate a bit about Dr. Ford and his “demons.” Lee starts dropping suggestion that he knows the further reach of Westworld for those who manage it – the “bigger picture,” as Theresa puts it. But she is one bad ass woman. No mincing words with her.

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The player piano plays a version of “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden, as Westworld goes on and on into oblivion. Love, love, love that.
Things are getting quite serious in Westworld. The Man in Black isn’t only there to do in hosts. He kills one of the hosts he meets across a table playing cards, though there’s something more behind it.
In the meantime, there’s bad stuff happening elsewhere. One of the bandit hosts is going buckwild. So production is shut down, a couple terrified guests are assuaged, and Lowe tries to fix the situation. He determines it’s the latest update. Just needs some touching up. The “minor improvisation” here has turned into something more, and Theresa isn’t having that shit. They only need a good swerve for the narrative, to make things feel natural for any of the guests curious as to what’s happening.
Ford’s let in on the whole thing by Lowe. He doesn’t feel bothered by being alerted of his mistake. They talk about evolution, natural selection, all that fun stuff. Furthermore, Ford ruminates on how far they’ve come. “This is as good as were gonna get,” he laments. Something more is going on behind that man’s eyes. You can tell just through the way Hopkins plays him.
Out on the open plain, the Man in Black is bleeding his host friend dry. He’s got questions that need answering. I guess the perfect place to do some dirty work would be a place like Westworld. Like, say, if you wanted to scalp somebody the way the Man in Black does. But why?

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The next day, Dolores finds her father still captivated by that picture. He’s been broken. He rambles to Dolores before going into a troubled state: “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.” This sets Dolores’ world on fire. She rides to find a doctor, only to find Teddy. He goes with her to try and help. At that moment, cloaked strangers on horses head into town. Out in the real world, Lee talks about a man named Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro) arriving. In the background, a rendition of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” plays while Hector begins his assault on the Westworld town. Oh, he’s a bad dude. Nasty. A massacre begins, as he and his crew lay siege to everybody in sight. In the crossfire Teddy is shot and dies in the arms of Dolores. Then one of the guests steps out to blow Hector away bloodily. Scary is how the guests rejoice at how real the murder feels, enjoying the sensation. Sick stuff.
Outside, the host recall is starting. They check everything thoroughly now to assess the damage. Lowe brings Theresa’s attention to Dolores. She’s malfunctioning a bit. We’re back at the beginning with her being questioned by maintenance man Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), as the picture is pulled out from her father and he’s brought to be checked by Ford and Lowe. The father host rambles more, as Ford commands him to look into his configuration. He goes back to normal briefly, though continues stuttering into his rambling. He talks about “warning” her. He knows too much. And he wants to meet his maker. That’s some eerie stuff. He goes on about wanting to get revenge on them all – “terrors of the earth” and that type stuff. But eventually Ford determines it was the host being previously used in a horror gimmick, quoting Shakespeare. Case closed.

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These violent delights have violent ends,” is the whisper between Dolores and her father last she saw him (a Shakespeare quote!). She’s been put through all the questions from Stubbs, as her father gets a few readjustments and she’s cleared to go back home. We discover that Dolores is the oldest host in the park.
And she goes back to waking up every day, to the same old place, the same people, the same situations. Except now she’s got a new dad. Though she doesn’t notice. Her old one is herded into storage, along with the malfunctioning bandit. A sad end for the equipment of Westworld. Speaking of equipment, when Dolores begins her day all over again she does something the hosts aren’t meant to do: she kills a fly lingering on her face. She’s changing, even in the slightest.
Oh, and the Man in Black, he’s uncovering more secrets for himself. What’s his endgame? He has a scalp now. One with a labyrinth printed on the inside. Intriguing.

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An amazing premiere episode! Wow. Never expected such awesomeness right off the bat. Nolan is doing good stuff already. Excited for the next episode titled “Chestnut” and it’s directed by Richard J. Lewis.

DAYBREAKERS: Flawed Yet Fun Social Commentary via Vampirism

Daybreakers. 2009. Directed & Written by Michael and Peter Spierig.
Starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill, Jay Laga’aia, Damien Garvey, Ben Siemer, Tiffany Lamb, Michael Dorman, Carl Rush, Paul Sonkkila, Vince Colosimo, Todd Levi, & Claudia Karvan.
Lionsgate/Australian Film Finance Corporation/Pictures in Paradise.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
Action/Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★
posterWith so many vampire movies out there, especially after the fame of the awful Twilight series, new innovations in the plots, or even the storytelling itself, are necessary. Daybreakers is fresh and exciting. Not everything is 100% original, but the film uses vampire love and what we’ve learned from vampire flicks in a non-conventional way. It could’ve been a serious film, all the way. Halfway through the plot things dive into a bit of silly action and other developments rather than stick with its sobering look at a vampire economy falling apart; a vision of how people today in society burn through their resources, augmented into an action-horror-science fiction picture. Although it ultimately becomes a mess of bloody action, there’s a lot of great stuff to enjoy. Not often do we get an Ethan Hawke genre flick, such as his other turn in Sinister a few years after this movie. So with him, Willem Dafoe, and the glorious Sam Neill upfront and centre, there are nice performances to help swallow the ridiculousness of the film’s last third. Directing-writing partners Michael and Peter Spierig give Daybreakers a steely, clinical look to take us inside a world dominated by vampires. Even when it falters, this is a better than most vampire film because its story takes a unique path. Daybreakers offers interesting themes and an action packed finale, despite being better than what it gives us.
pic1The vampire economy running on blood has left some vampires homeless, starving. Quickly there’s a sense of a class division even amongst the vamps. Rich and well-to-do vampires have better stuff, some people have more access. Then there are the remaining humans who’ve become second class citizens, to the point of being used for a blood source. Here, the rich now literally sucking the blood of the poor. Just like nowadays, as big businessmen and politicians bleed us, figuratively, dry.
We can look at it like blood for the vampires is oil for us in today’s society. We are consistently draining natural resources, the rich get greedy and refuse to invest in new, alternative sources for energy, and in Daybreakers the vampires doesn’t understand their vampirism is destroying nature, as well as decimating humanity. Instead of looking for a less negatively affecting alternative or searching for an answer or solution to the problem, the ruling class(/vampires) opt to just keep using and using. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) represents the rogue insider wanting to act on change, like a man on the inside of the cigarette or oil industry, afraid to fully come out and act until he’s driven to it.
The vampire world is rife with “blood related crime” and the shortage of resources makes you wonder: will humans cling to oil in the same way the vampires do to blood? We keep killing the Earth, oblivious to its true consequences, because we’d rather not charge too much, instead enjoying the lifestyles we indulge at the expense of nature.
pic2As I mentioned, the style is something to behold. A very cold, blue-tinted colour palette makes everything feel much how what you’d imagine the vampire would look like. There’s also tons of wonderful makeup and lighting to give the vampires a frightening appearance; ghastly, almost genuinely tough to look at sometimes. Dig the eyes, they look cat-like, animal. Daybreakers relies a bit too heavily on CGI at times, although the CGI they do use is pretty damn solid. Such as a couple of the action scenes later in the film, which are well executed, and they’re limited so as not to get overbearing. The best one is when a military Humvee slides into a beam that impales the driver, followed by a large explosion. Perfect use of CGI.
But the moments of practical special effects are much more impressive. An early one, so simple and yet so effective, is when Edward sits with Charles Bromley (Sam Neill) and stirs his coffee – the blood swirls around, mixing together with the coffee into something reddish. Weirdly creepy. My favourite is the makeup and design fo the first feral, hungry vampire we come across in Edward’s apartment – it’s hideous, intimidatingly powerful when starting to throw Edward and his brother Frankie (Michael Dorman), and the detail of the makeup is unreal.
SPOILER ALERT: the two best moments that involve at least SOME practical effects are when Bromley dies (vamps tear him apart before decapitating the head in bloody ecstasy) and during the scene where Frankie redeems himself for his earlier callousness (the military vamps do a number on him and litres of blood pour out into the frame).
pic2Elvis (Willem Dafoe) adds a great element to the story with his cured vampirism. Very interesting and part of why I love his role. The vampire logic in his idea for a cure is fun, adds something exciting to the vampire sub-genre. After the point where Elvis shows up, and Edward undergoes the experiment, the plot kind of goes to shit. There’s definitely a couple moments worth seeing, the action isn’t totally unwatchable. But you simply can’t help wonder what could’ve been. There’s an unbeatable sequence in the finale that is perfect – when cured people are bitten again, their blood turns other vampires into humans, so this causes a frenzy of biting, killing, gore splashing everywhere.
If the Spierig Brothers were able to keep a focus on the social commentary that’s found earlier in the screenplay, Daybreakers might be close to a 5-star affair. It’s still awesome, though again, you can’t help imagining where the plot could’ve been taken if action and bloodletting didn’t take precedence over story. You can find a lot worse, and it’s one of my favourite new vampire movies over the past decade or more. So many fall into formulaic nonsense. Despite dropping off near the end, this is a winner with a nice serving of blood, an innovative little story, and good actors to hold the story up as much as they can.

Minority Report’s Speculative Fiction is All Kinds of Awesome

Minority Report. 2002. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Jon Cohen & Scott Frank; based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick.
Starring Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Steve Harris, Neal McDonough, Patrick Kilpatrick, Jessica Capshaw, Anna Maria Horsford, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Tim Blake Nelson, Lois Smith, Mike Binder, Jessica Harper, & Peter Stormare. Amblin Entertainment-Cruise/Wagner Productions-Blue Tulip Productions.
Rated PG-13. 145 minutes.
Action/Mystery/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2
POSTER
Steven Spileberg is one of those directors whose work usually calls me back to a specific time in life. The memorable cinematic experiences of my early days were informed by Jaws which is the reason for my fear of deep water, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and its long lasting effect on my strange interests (aliens, paranormal, so on; even though I’m a major sceptic), as well as the adventure and thrill I found in Raiders of the Lost Ark and of course the emotional ride that is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. So many times, Spielberg wowed my young mind, as he did to so many, many others long before me. And yet even while I grew up the classics kept on coming. Jurassic Park changed my life in terms of how I saw movies, that they could be action-oriented and full of science fiction, that the adult and childhood interests in dinosaurs could find a way to fuse in one exciting bit of fiction. On top of everything, Spielberg has dipped his talent into producing a vast number of projects, many of which are classics in their own right without him having taken the reins as director. So usually if his name is attached, I’ll watch a movie simply for that sake, no matter how it turns out.
Minority Report didn’t get ravaged by critics, in fact it generally received a positive turn out. Furthermore, the movie did well domestically and overseas; the profit was more than triple its budget of just over $100-million. At the same time, I feel it’s not as well remembered as it ought to be when considering how great a movie it is, from acting to the direction to the overall look and atmosphere. Reason being that 2002 was a massive year in film, including releases such as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Spider-Man, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Men in Black II, Die Another Day, Signs, The Count of Monte Cristo, and those are just the big ones. Getting lost in the cracks, Minority Report is one of Spielberg’s best post-2000, and one of the last legitimate dives into sci-fi that he took (until taking on duties for Ready Player One). There’s enough excitement and intrigue in this movie to fill a few of them. Cruise gives a solid performance, and Spielberg keeps us on the edge of our seats while we roam the futuristic landscapes of an America that feels not too far off. Ultimately, Spielberg and the writers explore Dick’s story while asking if the technological advancements our society is capable of can manage to outwit the corruption and moral weakness at the hands of the people tasked with using that very technology. The bottom line of Minority Report concerns morality, humanity among the advancements of science, and the will of man to do evil, despite all odds.
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The entire process of the Precrime system is a ton of fun. Spielberg really went to town on coming up with the whole thing. I’d like to know more about how the design was decided. Just that room where Cruise’s character does his thing with the screens, those tailor-made wooden, varnished balls, every last detail is incredibly fun. Of course part of this most likely comes from the original short story by Philip K. Dick, though as I understand it the story’s been changed a good deal. I don’t doubt Dick’s story definitely has plenty of the detail Spielberg then used to come up with the look of his Washington, D.C. law enforcement facility of the future. However, part of it is definitely the master filmmaker himself putting his mark upon the adapted material.
One thing I’ve always loved is the design of the roadways, even the cars themselves. The chase scenes are incredible. Funny how certain reviews out there, by professional critics, have claimed these scenes are silly. Really? Are we watching the same movie? Because these chase scenes are perfectly science fiction and every bit the epitome of action. Totally exciting. That first sequence where Cruise is jumping down across the various vehicles is heart pounding. As far as the visual effects go, there are only one or two slight missteps. When you’re not dealing in practical effects, CGI and the like can sometimes let you down. Luckily, these moments are seldom, only one or twice throughout the over two hour runtime. The large majority of the effects look great, keep the pulse thumping, and add another nice element to the dark, gritty nature of the story and its feel.
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A huge part of what interests me is the idea of the surveillance state. We’ve almost got this amplified version of the CCTV-laced streets in the U.K. in this future vision of Washington, D.C. and other areas. For instance, as Anderton first tries to get away he moves through the malls and the subway stations, and every screen nearby is flashing his name, speaking to him through personalised advertisements, the newspapers in other passengers’ hands read pop-up headlines about John and his Wanted status. Overall there’s a really great riff on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in that Dick, as well as the screenwriters here, further explore the concept of the ‘thoughtcrime’, the idea that basically forms the foundation of the Precrime Division and their precognitive awareness/action on crime.
This entire angle makes for incredibly interesting plot developments. The fact Anderton is tagged in every way to be recognised by all the various computer systems makes for a tough predicament. There’s an optical recognition system around the entire city, which heightens the police search, as it’s not as simple to just hide away when every street corner, every sidewalk is seemingly rigged to scan your eyeballs and go straight to the source for your identity. Eventually, John finds a doctor whose talents lie in the black market – eye surgeries, to be exact. That’s actually one of my favourite sequences, including a cameo for one of the best character actors Peter Stormare; the whole thing is dark, gritty, weird, it’s an awesome bit that adds to the atmosphere, and turns into a nice addition to the chase elements of the screenplay. What I love most about this whole part of the film is that it speaks to the loss of privacy, the great lengths to which some will go in the future to avoid all the intrusion on their personal lives by way of technology, and so on. Before the film released, Spielberg talked about the technology he envisioned for the movie, and it’s also interesting to note he usually consults a lot of technical experts when making science fiction in order to try and bring some degree of realism to the subject matter. So go check out the TED talk with John Underkoffler, a scientific adviser who worked with Spielberg on the film. Then try and tell me we won’t see more of that in the future. In turn, we’ll watch our privacy disappear, more and more. Online ads are already tailoring themselves to our Facebook and Twitter accounts, our personalised information that’s floating around inside the internet. Soon enough, we’ll walk down the street, just like Anderton, and find the screens looking out at us, scanning, tailoring their ads to who we are as people. Most of all, Minority Report isn’t merely thrilling action: it’s a scary vision of a future world towards which we are headed, if we’re not too careful.
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The performances are good, from Cruise in the lead to Farrell and Max von Sydow in their respective supporting roles. Above anything, the atmosphere is what makes this one for me. I love Spielberg’s movies and every one of them feels different, though each of them also has that same magic. Despite moving from genre to genre, as well as through many types of characters and stories, Spielberg always retains that classic style. No matter if the subject material and themes are dark, friendly and youthful, or if they explore a world completely foreign to our own, his films are all capable of transporting us into a sacred space, one beloved by many cinephiles around the globe. Minority Report is one of his best in recent years. There’s a constant excitement, even in the more low key moments. The pacing is exceptional and keeps the whole thing going, allowing Spielberg to stop between his big chase scenes to flesh out a deeply personal, emotional story involving a father and the loss of his son, the crumbling of the relationship with his wife, all of which is folded up in a wonderfully compelling sci-fi tale. Don’t sleep on this one. If you’ve yet to see it, get out and do yourself a favour. Especially if Spielberg gives you the nostalgia feeling in your stomach the way he does for me.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave a.k.a The Matrix

The Matrix. 1999. Directed & Written by Lana and Lilly Wachowski.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster, Joe Pantoliano, Marcus Chong, Julian Arahanga, Matt Doran, Belinda McClory, Anthony Ray Parker, Paul Goddard, Robert Taylor, David Aston, & Marc Aden Gray. Warner Bros./Village Roadshow Pictures/Groucho II Film Partnership.
Rated 14A. 136 minutes.
Action/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
POSTER An interest of mine, as well as the minor in my Honours degree, has always been Philosophy. Even the times when I can’t grasp a concept the entire school as a whole is intriguing. There are so many different philosophies, ranging the gamut of Eastern and Western Philosophy, many great thinkers since time immemorial. So what happens when you take the ideas of many philosophies, create an interesting, modern story, then wrap the whole innovative package inside an action film?
Then, you have The Matrix.
Lana and Lilly Wachowski (formerly known as Larry and Andy) wrote one of the most unique, original science fiction-action adventures in cinematic history, let alone of the 1990s. Their ideas concerning various philosophies translated into something which captivated the minds of those willing to think outside the box. No more did a science fiction-actioner flick need to be about a renegade ass kicker taking on bad guys, villainous henchman, terrorists, and so forth. Nor did it have to involve space, as was often the case before this came along. After The Matrix, this changed. Writers became more willing to take chances, at least until remake and sequel fever got too serious. For a while, though, we coasted on the high of the Wachowski genius. No matter how you feel about the sequels, this first film broke new ground, daring to go where no one had ventured, at least not in any significant capacity. The story, the action, every last bit is equal to the portion before it. And not many movies can make their stories so amazing while also doing amazing stunts and action sequences overall. That’s where this movie gains its traction.
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The Oracle is one of the best parts. Her dialogue does so much. She questions cause and effect. Above her kitchen door is KNOW THYSELF in Latin (Temet Nosce), which was supposedly inscribed in The Temple of Apollo at Delphi; this connects to the Delphic Oracle, the Pythia. In relation to Delphi, this iteration of the Oracle follows suit with the fact the Pythia, the one through whom Apollo spoke, needed to be an older woman “of blameless life” it is said.
One of the most obvious allusions in the screenplay as whole is the concept of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, narrated as usual by that bad motherfucker named Socrates, or as he was known in his break dance circles Socra-deez-nuts.
If you’ve never actually heard of this allegorical story, jump over here, then come back.
So Neo (Keanu Reeves) is essentially one of those people down in the cave. Chained to his life, this imposed reality, he’s left staring at the blank wall. Only here the blank wall is a falsified reality, one that looks and feels alive, real, genuine. But underneath, outside of the cave, is an actual life. One where things have deteriorated. Now, in Plato’s allegory there’s none of the post-apocalyptic storytelling. Only that the truth is beyond the cave, it is out in the light, beyond darkness. So Neo sits watching the fire in the cave, his supposed life and reality and believing the shadows it casts upon the wall are his only truth. Then in comes Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). He brings the truth. All of a sudden, Neo is in the light. At first, it isn’t easy. Like Plato’s narrating Socrates relays, the people exit the cave, they see the light, and initially the light burns their eyes. Likewise, Neo is served the truth so quickly, so cold, his body reacts physically. This is a great adaptation of Plato into a recognizable, yet smart package.
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Who better to play the blank slate, the tabula rasa that is Neo than Keanu? Honestly, though. I personally love the guy as an actor, he can be compelling at times. But really, his sort of disaffected attitude works in the beginning. He’s able to feel like this almost teenage-like character, one whose adult life hasn’t fully kicked in. Then as the hits keep coming he begins to feel more real, an emotional man that opens up to the truth of the world. Added to that, Reeves can do the action bit. He’s attuned to this kind of role. Best of all in terms of his casting is that he doesn’t even need to do a whole lot of intense dialogue. Not that he can’t, he certainly can. Rather, the Wachowskis needed someone able to convey the innocent qualities of the character then carry the action star part as the plot progressed. They got what they needed.
Then there’s Laurence fucking Fishburne. A treasure, unheralded. Yes, he gets lot of roles. I just don’t think people appreciate his range. He’s done everything from play in a Coppola classic to portray a wild gangster to give us the best performance as Thomas Harris’ Jack Crawford character on screen. Here, he gives us the perfect Morpheus. Nobody else could have done it this way. He has an iconic voice anyway, though it’s all in his presence, the delivery of his lines. It’s in the fact Fishburne makes Morpheus truly feel like this all-knowing, ever knowledgeable, almost ancient-type figure. This is a star role as is, but Fishburne gives it the extra boost needed to lift his dialogue off the page and make it live.
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There’s an equal balance of philosophical musing and action in this film. The innovative bits aren’t solely in the enjoyable screenplay. One massive portion of that is due to the unique action sequences. The Wachowskis single-handedly coined the term Bullet Time, which of course comes out in the iconic sequence where Neo finally discovers what Morpheus meant earlier when implying he wouldn’t have to dodge any bullets, someday, at some point. A solid moment. Before that we’re given a wonderfully bullet laden sequence as Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) enter the building on their way to locate and free a confined Morpheus. This entire series of scenes is amazing, as they go right up to the top of the building. That’s where Neo first dodges bullets, almost all succesfully. It’s not until later in a hallway facing the agents that Neo realizes he can literally stop bullets with just his hands. Both of those moments are well executed and intense, particularly the latter as its effectively the climax of the movie, after The One discovers his full potential. But any action fan in their right mind will love this movie for its wild fun. Hundreds of bullets literally drop from the sky when Neo and Trinity go for Morpheus, the agents are tough to beat, and this makes for exciting scenes. Love when Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) comes up against Neo, they’re riveting to watch, and the fight choreography is stellar (as were the scenes where Neo trains alongside Morpheus fighting). Instead of watching the typical sort of action, the Wachowskis give us gorgeous stunts, a bit of the odd elements that come along with the agents and The Matrix’s physics, even Neo himself. You can’t be bored watching any of this stuff, bottom line.
For me, The Matrix is an outright masterpiece of modern cinema. Again, it taught people that action, specifically that with a science fiction angle, needn’t always be the same tired formula. Philosophy and action can mix. Brain and brawn find middle ground, a territory where each co-exist in the minds of bold filmmakers. There are a couple solid performances, a plethora of action sequences to boggle your brains, and a satisfying finale that’s ripe to lead into other stories, yet can easily be taken as one standalone film if you want to see it that way. No matter how you cut it The Matrix blew things wide open. A movie right before the turn of the 21st century that I’ll never, ever find far from my mind. It comes along with exciting memories of being 14, hanging with best friends, eating chips and drinking Pepsi, watching movies late into the night and having fun. And that’s part of what movies are all about, good or bad. Fortunately, this is better than good. It is perfect.

Danny Boyle’s Sunshine Takes Its Sci-Fi Seriously

Sunshine. 2007. Directed by Danny Boyle. Screenplay by Alex Garland.
Starring Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Cliff Curtis, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, & Michelle Yeoh. 20th Century Fox/DNA Films/Ingenious Film Partners/MPC.
Rated 14A. 107 minutes.
Adventure/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★1/2
POSTER
Ever since first laying my eyes upon Trainspotting, I’ve more or less knelt at the altar of Danny Boyle. His films are incredible, often very emotionally compelling and with lots of interesting things happening, no matter the subject. I’m a fan of most of his films, barring a couple that weren’t my cup of tea. On the whole, he’s fantastic. Particularly I find he has two talents: working with science fiction elements (even if he’s only really done that previously with 28 Days Later…) and working with human drama. Luckily, sometimes both of these crossover into one another.
Sunshine is such a film. There’s part of this story focused on the sci-fi plot, the idea of the sun beginning to burn out and mankind trying to find some way to reignite it, lest they be relegated to a world that will perish without its heat and power. The other part is about men and women, human beings, how we see the world and how we imagine what’s outside our own. Furthermore, Boyle and writer Alex Garland look at the human relationships which ultimately the fate of mankind will rely on should we need a crew like those abord the Icarus II to go on a similar mission. In addition to the great drama and the solid science fiction, Sunshine is a visual and auditory journey which many films of its kind aren’t often able to achieve. Garland gives us the interesting writing, as Boyle works his magic with the help of cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler to craft a gorgeous piece of cinema that stands up to some of the better efforts out of the genre in these past few decades.
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I’m sure a good deal of right-wing leaning moviegoers will dismiss this as leftist propaganda. However, forget those types. This is a solid science fiction story. It has echoes of other films we’ve seen before, from Event Horizon to Alien. But Sunshine is very much its own tale. Alex Garland is a solid screenwriter, having already worked with Boyle on The Beach and 28 Days Later…, so that’s at least given them chemistry. And they use it to their advantage. Garland is great at getting to the raw emotion of characters, which is evident in the other aforementioned films, as well. When Capa (Cillian Murphy) must be the only one to go through the airlock, the interim captain isn’t happy, and this brings out a load of tension for a while that plays into the idea that humans aren’t all built equipped with the capacity to handle such tension. These are the situations of human drama that make science fiction better than just a ton of wild elements. Without this basic suspense and tension brought out through the humanity of characters (they don’t even need to be human just have to have heart), sci-fi can easily fall flat. This movie is served well by the writing of Garland’s characters, their development, and the situations in which they find themselves forced along their arduous journey.
Moreover, Garland has a good writer’s mind for action. Not every writer is as good with one as the other. Although, Garland breaks that open being capable of good dialogue, interesting characters, as well as making the story feel exciting by pacing things well, and adding in the appropriate action like he does here.
A few of the sequences are spectacularly adrenaline-filled. One of my favourites is the whole airlock scene, as the interim captain ends up floating off in space and freezing, his face cracking into bits. Sad, even if he’s an asshole. Then just the entire suspense of Mace (Chris Evans) nearly freezing to death too is thick enough to cut with a knife. The first time watching, I wasn’t sure he’d make it. Nice when action scenes aren’t simply big set pieces or explosions or anything like that, but rather built on suspense and tense developments.
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Not only are the characters and the plot well written, Garland’s writing is given breath by the excellent performances. Cliff Curtis, ever a solid character actor, does such a good job as the resident psychologist, whose own obsession with the sun mirrors the villain Pinbacker (Mark Strong). Love Curtis and to see him here giving his all is one reason the supporting cast is as good as the leads. Rose Byrne and Michelle Yeoh are each excellent, as well. They add a great element to counter all the testosterone brought particularly by Evans. Speaking of him, he does well with his character, meant to be a hot-headed sort that wants to kind of push his way forward rather than sit around and talk. In that sense, Evans and Murphy’s characters are juxtaposed nicely. Murphy, as always, is a powerhouse, and he gives a quiet, thoughtful performance as the lead Robert Capa. On his back and through his perspective we encounter each twist and turn throughout Icarus II’s mission. There’s always an intriguing aspect to Murphy, both physically in his looks and in the way he acts. He can become many types, most recently wowing me in BBC Two’s Peaky Blinders. Here, he plays this young doctor, but one with a head on his shoulders, a conscience, so that Capa eventually goes through this trial where he’s put to the physical test, not just having to use his brain but also his body. Lots of great performances make this one entertaining bit of science fiction adventure.
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There’s a bittersweet devastation about the finale. Sunshine takes you to a place of serious science fiction and drama, then twists it all up into something amazing, dark, exciting. Once we come to discover Pinbacker, the fifth crew member left on the Icarus II in its waning moments, the whole eerie angle of the story comes to light (pun not intended; pun hilarious, though). The final half hour has plenty of sweaty tension once more. This carries you right to a beautiful yet slightly sad conclusion. Either way, Danny Boyle and Alex Garland created one hell of a sci-fi picture. From the 1990s onward there aren’t a huge amount of sci-fi movies that I consider amazing. Some, yes. Not a lot. In my humble opinion, Sunshine is an amazing film. It is beautiful, strange, dark at times. Never will you find the pace too slow, nor will you feel as if excitement is lacking. With so many good performances and the writing tightly woven into an emotion-filled, tense, and wild story, it’s hard not to enjoy. Throw this on next time you need a science fiction injection. I hope Boyle will go back to the genre someday, as he has great chops for it.

The Butterfly Effect’s Personal Revisionist History

The Butterfly Effect. 2004. Directed & Written by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber.
Starring Ashton Kutcher, Melora Walters, Amy Smart, Elden Henson, William Lee Scott, Jesse James, Logan Lerman, John B. Lowe, Callum Keith Rennie, Ethan Suplee, Jesse Hutch, Tara Wilson, Kevin Durand, & Eric Stoltz. BenderSpink/FilmEnging/Katalyst Films.
Rated R. 120 minutes (Director’s Cut).
Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★1/2
POSTER
I remember first seeing The Butterfly Effect when it came out. At the time I was in film school and one of our essays required us to go see a movie currently in theatre, do an analysis and write about 1,500 words. Going in, honestly there weren’t any huge expectations. It surprised me, though, and coming out I felt heavily affected by what I’d just seen. Along with Donnie Darko that I recently reviewed, this is a film I truly dig, but one I haven’t watched in years despite having viewed it a bunch after it first released. Coming back to it now there’s still a lot to enjoy.
While I may not see it as near perfect how I did a little over ten years ago, directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber does some great stuff. The Butterfly Effect looks at the power of memory, the repercussions of events from our past that bleed into the present. Above everything else, it makes us wonder whether revisiting the past is worth it. Of course it does so in the sense of exploring its thematic material through a science fiction lens. At the same time, the core story is rooted in a deeply intense and personal drama about a young man whose life, as well as the life of anyone around him, has been altered by significant, damaging events. Not everything works and there are points in the screenplay that could’ve been tighter, but on the whole this is an exciting, at times disturbing, always interesting bit of science fiction wrapped in a thriller concerning the power of memory to affect a person, as well as the enduring effect on a person’s loved ones and relationships if memory cannot be conquered.
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There’s some disturbing content at the heart of this film. Not too long in and we discover Evan (Ashton Kutcher) was molested as a boy by his friend’s father Mr. Miller (Eric Stoltz), and this is one of the bigger actions that causes repercussions. Because even before Evan goes about changing his memories and the past there’s that knowledge that events reverberate into the future, they shape a person’s character. So later when Evan does change things, bouncing between various decisions and making mistakes, there’s a further sense of these reverberations. Bigger now. Gradually, the lives of those involved with Evan over the course of a lifetime get worse and worse. From the upper class university life to a dilapidated crack house where Kayleigh (Amy Smart) winds up, the situations only get worse.
Beyond the disturbing elements, The Butterfly Effect is emotional. The foundation is built upon the relationship between Evan and Kayleigh, which shapes the thriller portions of this film. Evan’s love for Kayleigh, his desire to change her life for the better turns the story into a heartbreaking tale of failed redemption and a story about loss. Essentially, the plot concerns his desire to be the hero; of his own life and his others. The most devastating point in the plot is where Evan tries too hard to be the hero, for everybody, and effectively puts himself in a wheelchair, his arms blown off. All to try saving both Kayleigh and Lenny (Elden Henson), stretching himself too thin. Seeing him relegated to that chair and Evan having to watch his best friend be with the girl he loves so deeply is beyond tough. Despite flaws, this story is a tough ride, but in such an excellent sense. This is what makes the movie both memorable, as well as a so remarkable.
In the end, Evan realizes there’s no escaping the past. No matter his abilities in travelling back through his memories and the past in general, something worse or undesirable always happens. Nothing can alter what has already happened, only what comes afterwards. And the more Evan tries playing hero, the worse his eventual future becomes until he’s finally backed into a corner with no more options.
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For me, one of the largest downfalls to this movie is Kutcher himself. Not only him, though. Some of the acting is just weak. At times, I do like Kutcher. When Evan goes to jail I found his portrayal of the character genuine, his fear and the apprehension, not knowing how to act in that terrifying social space. Likewise, a young Logan Lerman plays Evan as a boy and he does a fantastic job; in certain scenes he retains that innocent childlike essence necessary, in others he feels old beyond his years when Evan is travelling back through memories to try changing the past. But too many times I felt the cheesy qualities of Kutcher’s acting. A few times you can forgive. Yet there are times I couldn’t take him seriously when the plot demands it. Such as when Kayleigh gives Evan a granola bar, in the future where he has no arms, and he crushes it with his prosthetic hand – normally, this wouldn’t make me laugh at all. Kutcher makes me chuckle at this, simply because there are times he’s just not believable. So with a mixed performance like this one it’s tough to love the movie more. Aside from him, Smart gives the same type of performance. Later when Kayleigh is a prostitute, down one particular avenue to the future which Evan mangles, Smart does well with portraying this tragic side of the character. The rest of her performance is slightly bland. One moment in particular kills me: in the future where Evan has no arms he falls from his wheelchair purposefully, while on the ground people laugh at him and Kayleigh tries defending him by yelling at everyone, but Smart’s acting feels much too forced and this brief scene comes off terribly. There are some instances of good acting throughout, don’t get me wrong. Considered as a whole, the cast is all right. Enough to convey the basics and to make things emotional at the right times.
What the movie lacks in solid performances it makes up for with an interesting plot with equally interesting execution on the part of the directors. The visual style is dark, which mirrors the plot and the film’s story. Moreover, the actual atmosphere itself gets darker or lighter depending on how Evan and his actions affect the future’s outcome. So when things feel rosy and wonderful in the college lifestyle, Evan exists in a bright, colourful space. The more sinister everything becomes, the grittier each scene gets and the more shadows hang over every frame.
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No qualms giving this a 3&1/2-star rating. There are plot holes, some cheesy moments of acting, and at times there are good scenes which fall flat for various reasons. However, The Butterfly Effect is engaging because of its emotional hook, and despite missteps in acting along the way Kutcher is still able to make us care about Evan, investing ourselves in his emotional journey across the past through his shattered memories. More importantly, this is an innovative feature, as it dives hard and deep into territory we’ve seen before, but with its own interesting premise.
Also, if you can, see the Director’s Cut. I much prefer the ending to this one. The original Theatrical Cut is good enough. Although the ending doesn’t fit well enough with the vibe of the film. The Director’s Cut ends things off properly grim, yet by the same token there’s this glimmer of hope which stays in-line with the character of Evan and his desire to try and rewrite the past to positive ends. Either way, check out all four of the endings and judge for yourself. This is a nice little flick that I can always go back to now and then for an edgy thrill with heavy hints of science fiction in its bones.