Tagged Science Fiction

Cronenberg’s THE FLY Affirms Alexander Pope: A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing

Cronenberg and his body horror transform Vincent Price's original into remake heaven, as man's reach exceeds his grasp in this nasty modern classic.

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Ridley Scott’s Alien: Gorgeously Horrific Isolation

Alien. 1979. Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon; story by O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett.
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Bolaji Badejo, & Helen Horton. Brandywine Productions/Twentieth Century-Fox Productions.
Rated R. 117 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
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I’m not even a huge science fiction fan. Of course I love any good movie, no matter the genre. But even as a nerd, someone who grew up loving Star Trek: The Next Generation and plenty of other science fiction, it isn’t my first choice. Yet you can’t keep a great film down. No matter if it’s your preferred genre or not. Now, when you start to mix genres together, that’s my favourite. So at a crossroads between horror and sci-fi, Ridley Scott’s Alien converges on my tastes to make for an altogether frightening experience. The undeniable legacy of the film is plastered over many genre films that have come out since. Likely that’ll be the case for a long, long time. Scott’s genius as a director is matched in the writing of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, collaborating here on the story with Ronald Shusett. Working on the isolation of space, in ’79 still a relatively new frontier with untold terrors lurking in its dark and uncharted territories, Alien coils you into madness through its horrifying scenario playing out on a previously quiet ship called the Nostromo amongst a bunch of shipmates trying to get home to Earth.
The atmosphere here is tantamount to actually being out there in the depths of outer space, stuck on a ship somewhere where nobody can hear you scream. Scott makes you feel the despair, the fear, the isolation and its effects. Each set piece is better than the last, every corner and hallway exudes the sense of a real environment. The writing of O’Bannon is one thing. The imagination of Scott is entirely another beast, one that isn’t finished working as of this writing. But the clever effectiveness of one of his most satisfying works never fails to hook me. Watching it right now, nearly 3 AM here in Newfoundland, I’m watching Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett walk through the corridors alone, calling out for Jones the cat. And when he finds that facehugger skin, the chills still run up my spine.
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First and foremost, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is obviously the star of the show. What I dig, though, is how O’Bannon sets the entire crew up as characters. Once we get to the excitement and all the wonderful thrills(/chills), Ripley is our woman. She carries us through the action, the horror, as our tour guide almost. Regardless of her status as protagonist, O’Bannon gives us the time to get to know the others around her, so as not to stick us totally in one perspective. It’s a testament to good writing when a screenplay is able to setup a cast of characters behind the one real main character, to make them interesting, to have us spend time with them and let each one build instead of ending up as simply expendable victims for the alien to kill. Mostly, O’Bannon writes the characters so that they’re natural. In any genre, any writer will have a better chance at making their script more powerful if the characters feel like they’re organic. With a crew like those on the Nostromo, the chemistry has to be tight, like the sort of chat and relationships you’d generally see from any group that spend so much time together. Add to that a bunch of good actors who give it their all and you’ve got one enjoyable feast of emotions that run the gamut from strength to paranoia to bald fear and everything in between.
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That first reveal of the Xenomorph is forever etched in my mind. Having the cat there makes it unique. Those shots of Jones hissing, then the eyes watching poor Brett get nibbled up, they’re really something spectacular. Not sure why it’s so interesting. Perhaps to see a cat, a fine predator in its own right, witness such an apex predator at work is the reason this scene works to such a degree. Either way, when the Xenomorph, so quiet, drops down behind Brett, there’s a HOLY SHIT moment, and you immediately understand how threatening this creature is truly. Forget the size, the look, the nasty jaws and acid blood, just the sheer physical prowess of the Xenomorph to curl down from above, slow, silent: that is horrifying. Later, the scene with Dallas (Skerritt) and the Xenomorph is the stuff of which nightmares are made. Then things only get more frightening, the tension mounts until you feel your spine sucking up against the inside of your stomach. There’s a lot of downright exciting moments, too, but it’s the frights that keep me enthralled with Scott’s work in this movie every damn time.
My favourite sequence? When Ash (Holm) goes haywire. The first time I’d seen the film I never once expected it to happen. Now, I’m still impressed. The eerie way Holm plays the scene, the unsettling close-ups shot tight on Ash’s face as he starts leaking a bit of liquid, starting to go crazy. Then when Parker (Kotto) discovers the secret Ash is hiding, the nastiness of the simple effects make it all the more wild.
The sets are elaborate and Scott is able to take us away to another place. You become completely absorbed in the future world. Right down to how they’re shot and the way we initially follow a tracking shot through portions of the Nostromo before coming upon the crew in their stasis. A fine opener to the film, but a visual aesthetic Scott keeps up throughout the film’s entirety. The coldness of the camera, the silence, I find it works well with the advanced looking technology of the ship itself. At certain times you’re sure to be reminded of Stanley Kubrick. Others, you’re most definitely in a Scott landscape. What I like most are the exteriors, as opposed to the clean looking interiors. Outside we get this idea that yet it’s the future, but it is a dirty, rough and tumble one.
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There’s no denying Alien is a whopping 5 stars. A fantastic ride into the heart of science fiction-horror. Scott blew everybody away, and still does with this piece of work. When people try to tell you horror or sci-fi can’t be art, you show them this film. Tell them they’re wrong. The imaginative direction on Scott’s part, the writing of O’Bannon. The strong central performance of Sigourney Weaver as the beloved Ripley, the beyond excellent support of a cast with the likes of John Hurt and Ian Holm. There is much to love. I can never get enough. I personally love the first three films of the series, and Prometheus.
But this one started it all. The dangerous aliens of the outer reaches have never been so vicious, so adverse to humanity as they are in this Scott masterpiece. Feast on it. Learn from it. This film won’t ever get old, except in the way that it gets better with age in all its horrific, science fiction goodness.

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
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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.

The Survivalist: Realism in Post-Apocalyptic Life

The Survivalist. 2015. Directed & Written by Stephen Fingleton.
Starring Martin McCann, Mia Goth, Andrew Simpson, Olwen Fouere, Douglas Russell, Kieri Kennedy, Ryan McParland, Michael Og Lane, Claran Flynn, Hussina Raja, Logan Kerr, Aran Downey, Sean Doupe, and Matthew Henry. The Fyzz Facility Film One.
Rated 18A. 104 minutes.
Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★★
POSTER I’d been excited for a while after hearing of The Survivalist, as I kept on hearing there was something different about it than other films like it. You will no doubt think of many different science fiction romps where the end of the world is upon us, perhaps everything from The Road to Mad Max and more. However, there is a quiet elegance, a beauty about writer-director Stephen Fingleton’s debut feature film which you won’t always find in other similarly themed movies; this is certainly more close to the Cormac McCarthy adaptation than the early Mel Gibson star vehicle.
What we get here is a world of lush visuals, the earth still vibrant and beautiful, as starvation is rampant and has turned humanity in on itself. Whereas something like The Road explored a total end of the world style situation, where humans were indeed beginning to fold on another, The Survivalist takes on a small story within a bigger world yet it manages to tackle some other issues. Right from the beginning 15 minutes you’ll understand this is a unique and vastly different science fiction thriller than you’re used to. But that doesn’t mean anything bad. Completely the opposite – the unusual nature of this movie will draw you into its complex, and at times both dark and gorgeous world. Featuring a breakout performance from Martin McCann, the plot of The Survivalist comes alive, it grows on you and in you, presenting a incomparable vision of a world future that’s incredibly terrifying at times.
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The Survivalist (Martin McCann) feeds off the land, or what he can, anyways. Earth as it is now, in the future, has found itself ravaged by starvation. People grow crops where and when they can. Not everyone is able to do everything they want, as humanity crumbles further and further. Violence is a new way of life for many. Money is no longer of any use, neither are bits of gold, watches, anything that would’ve been used as currency in the old days. Living on his own, The Survivalist manages to get through the day, each day, one after another.
Except one day his daily routine is interrupted. Two women come to the door – Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter Milja (Mia Goth). They need and want food. They offer up gold and trinkets, but The Survivalist wants none of those things. Nothing is of much use to him anymore. Only Kathryn offers him something far more intriguing, something he has not had for far to long: sex with a woman, Milja to be exact. After they spend a night together, The Survivalist’s life changes, becoming drastically different than it was before. And not for the better, as an arrangement he strikes with the two women devolves into something worse. Suddenly, his whole world and his life are threatened, more than ever.
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The central performance of Martin McCann stuck with me almost from the first frame. He’s got a naturally piercing pair of eyes, though, his acting gives them fire. Even just by himself there is a whole world behind his eyes, and you can watch him go through a range of emotions simply by looking into them. Without words, in many of the scenes, McCann can bring us into the character’s head so well. Combined with the sweeping and emotive cinematography of Damien Elliott, the performance McCann gives is powerful, capturing him in such wonderfully framed shots that it’s hard not to want to keep staring at them long after they’re gone.
Likewise, both Mia Goth and Olwen Fouere are excellent. Fouere, the older of the two, sort of gives Goth the lead-in; both cold, calculating women, but each of them quiet and inconspicuous. They’re like mirrors of one another, or perhaps Goth’s Milja is a shadow of Fouere’s Kathryn. Either way, they both express similar subtle power as McCann, which in turn compliments his performance in the right kind of sense. Three of them together can make an ordinary scene into something much more, and all without much dialogue.
That brings me to another thing I love: the screenplay. Fingleton doesn’t make a typical post-apocalyptic film, which he easily could have done. Yes, as I said, there are parts of The Survivalist that will seem familiar. But it’s in the way Fingleton lets his plot and story play out, twisting, turning quickly at times (though paced at a steady rhythm). That’s why it all works. Even more than that, the exposition is cut to a minimum here, the bare minimum. If there’s even any at all, in terms of the overall story of what’s happening. When it comes to The Survivalist himself there is a brief portion of expository dialogue where he reveals a small piece of his own story, although it isn’t much. I dig that because we don’t have to know a ton about him; several of his actions speak louder than words.
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The entire aesthetic of the film, visuals and sound design included, are so perfectly fitting, full-stop. There is certainly a slow burn feel to the movie, interrupted now and then by situations which give the plot energy, but no matter what is happening at any given time there’s a continually fluid darkness to every frame. From one minute to the next, the cinematography captures everything with a somber beauty, as even the colourful green pastures and clear sunny skies take on a heavy foreboding quality. I always love when the visuals in a film can maintain that gritty feel despite a night or day setting. Because make no mistake, The Survivalist is 150% grim. There are bright and bouncy locations, as the little cabin and the tiny field of crops sitting among healthy green trees all look pretty. But with everything happening within the story there is a black cloud looming constantly, which comes across brilliantly in the cinematography. Coupled with that, the sound design – without a score – takes us deep into the world of the film, from wind blowing between the cracks of the cabin and regular everyday noises like the scraping of plates, the rattle of a mug, to the rush of the river and the natural sounds of the outdoors. Some people might not like that, but I suspect they might be not of the type who enjoy this sort of film in general. Yet if you’re willing to give it a chance the movie’s look and feel, its atmosphere, will get into you with its hooks.
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A quality 5-star film, an amazing debut feature out of Stephen Fingleton. We’re often bombarded with a lot of low budget science fiction films that aim too high before sinking too low with acting and visuals which never quite seem to cut it. In opposition to all those other less movies trying to hard and delivering nothing, The Survivalist goes for less while bringing so much more to the table. With a sparse yet impressively powerful style, Fingleton’s film is full of surprises. It is intense at its core, full of humanity, and above all else the performances root this story in a firm place, as the actors each use their talents to bring a tragic world to life before our eyes. I do hope Fingleton will bring us more to enjoy in the future – his vision of what the future looks like is scary, depicting a depleted human nature – so if that happens, I want more films like this, and quick.

The Magical Sci-Fi of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. 1977. Directed & Written by George Lucas.
Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Jack Purvis, and James Earl Jones. Lucasfilm/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Rated PG. 121 minutes.
Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Sci-fi

★★★★★
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Even though I do like certain novels and films in the science-fiction genre, mostly it isn’t one I’m huge on overall. Not knocking it. I prefer horror, of many kinds, dark dramas and thrillers. Yet that’s the thing about Star Wars, its appeal crosses over regular genre boundaries. It reaches out on many levels to different audiences and draws them together. People act like the franchise’s fans are strictly a ton of sci-fi nerds. Wrong. There are so many people who love Star Wars that come from different backgrounds, in terms of their genre preferences.
Above all else, George Lucas’ first Star Wars film, fourth in the timeline, A New Hope is an incredible achievement. It breaks us into a massive space opera story, throwing us into its middle in an ambitious move by a somewhat beginner filmmaker (yes I know he made films before but c’mon – this is way bigger than anything else he’d done before). The way Lucas fleshed out a massive franchise by putting us into Episode IV as the start of the films released, it’s pretty damn impressive. The ambition is strong in this one.
With a ton of interesting and innovative effects, alongside fun performances from relatively unknown actors at the time, and a truly interesting overarching story, Lucas was able to birth one of the most influential franchises in film history, as well as one nobody who’s a fan will or could ever forget.
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I won’t waste time explaining any of the plot, as I usually do with my reviews. If you haven’t seen this yet you probably already know a good deal, having heard much about Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and his often times pessimistic companion C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels), as well as the handsome smuggler with an attitude Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Even those who’ve never seen a single film in the entire franchise know many of these names. Very hard not to, especially in today’s age of social media.
So instead of recounting the plot a little, I’ll dive in.
Immediately, the first few scenes of A New Hope always grab me. I particularly love the Stormtroopers and their gun fighting, lasers going everywhere, pew pew pew. But it’s the white, sterile sort of spaceship in which they’re fighting that grabs me, then in the middle of it all Darth Vader (played by David Prowse; voiced by James Earl Jones) strolls past in his stark black costume, the iconic helmet shaped like an old Rolls Royce. There’s something about the visuals in the beginning which continually gets me. No matter how many times I see it, no matter that I know what’s coming, there’s a quality to the beginning of the film that catches me and from the start keeps me wanting more. Of course, more comes. Even better is the fact everything outside the spaceships looks so rustic, from the planet Tatooine itself with its desert feel to the cantina, to the Millenium Falcon with its lived-in sense of atmosphere, as if everything is old, used, and the battle between the Empire and the Rebels has decimated almost everything wherever anybody goes. So what really impresses me off the bat about Star Wars: A New Hope is the production and set design, the art department, and more. Once you get further into the story, the special effects impress. And after finding out the origins of the many iconic sounds – lightsabers in battle, the firing guns of the spaceship and so on – it’s all the more interesting because you can see the innovation it took on the part of Lucas and his entire team. They didn’t half-ass a single second.
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From the look of the film physically, in terms of set and design overall, we also need to remember the magic cinematography of Gilbert Taylor. His amazing credits include Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Roman Polanski’s harrowing Repulsion and his later film Cul-De-Sac, as well as The Omen, all of which saw him in the role of Director of Photography. And because of this, we have him to thank – as D.P. once more – for the gorgeous look of how A New Hope was filmed. Then, you add in the massively talented John Williams, whose score is one of the most iconic bits of film history; even if you don’t know the movies, you probably could recognize the theme and other portions of the music.
Moving on, the editing is also a large part of why the movie works, from its wonderful sideswiping transitions to the excellent cuts between the action. Several editors worked on the movie, including an uncredited bit of magic from Lucas himself. However, Paul Hirsch is the one I find myself most interested in, as his work spans many genres, many amazing filmmakers: several Brian De Palma masterpieces such as SistersPhantom of the ParadiseCarrie and Blow Out; then there’s also his work on Creepshow (“The Crate”), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, one of the funniest films ever Planes, Trains & AutomobilesFalling Down, another excellent De Palma adaptation on Mission: Impossible, plus several more recent films that are pretty fun and interesting. So Hirsch brings all that talent to A New Hope – one of the first half dozen movies he worked on. Moving past his efforts for Lucas, which also include the sequel The Empire Strikes Back, he’s become a sought out editor having done one of the latest Mission: Impossible sequels, as well as the upcoming Warcraft movie. Most of all, you can tell even in this movie, at the early stages of his career, Hirsch was talented. The editing could’ve easily been shoddy in A New Hope, but his work, plus the work of the others involved in the editing room, makes this piece of science fiction a masterwork. The transitions between scenes has a remarkable feel, which makes you often forget you’re watching a supposed space opera. Instead, it feels like any other classic, well-made film of its era. Perhaps even better. All due to so much great technical work behind the scenes, elevating all the other work out front.


But without the power of the actors starring in A New Hope, even the most amazing work in terms of editing, cinematography and score would all fall short. Carrie Fisher plays Leia as both a strong yet still vulnerable person, as does Mark Hamill; the parallels between there characters exists in the fact they’re both natural leaders, however, they’ve not yet realized it in this first film. At the end of the movie, both Luke and Leia appear to us now more mature, changed, ready to take on whatever else comes.
Further than that, once Harrison Ford’s Han Solo comes on the scene there is an extra dimension of charisma and swagger not yet present in the filmic universe of Star Wars. Not only does Solo give us a bit of comedic relief at times, there’s also an intensity to his character, the rebel who is not actually a Rebel, if you get my drift. Him and Chewbacca are the two inseparable friends whose job takes them from one end of the galaxy to another. Moreover, Han plays the part of the disbeliever – the one whom Luke, mainly, must convert. So what I like is that Solo also brings in questions of faith, of belief, and this gives us a nice counterpoint to someone like Skywalker who believes deeply in the force, certainly once he starts to discover his Jedi connections. Truly, though, if Ford didn’t play the character, I’m not sure who could’ve done the job. Definitely sure there aren’t many, if any, who could have come into their own as Han Solo and look as good doing it as him. It’s hard now to imagine anyone playing either of these main parts, but seriously: these actors brought a ton of emotion and charisma to the entire movie. The most important of these elements? They bring heart and soul.
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This has always been a favourite of mine, specifically in the science fiction genre. While it’s not as leaned towards science as other movies, in regards to authenticity, that does not matter. You know, I love Neil deGrasse Tyson, but following along closely with actual science isn’t something I care about when watching films.
For a long time, I considered this a great film. Nowadays, after watching it more than several dozen times in my life, I consider A New Hope perfect. Not to say there aren’t any little mistakes or flubs along the way. But to me, personally, this is a 5-star film. This has a beauty and grace about it, and also contains work above and beyond the call of duty in terms of its technical aspects. Not to mention I still get chills now and then whenever I put the Blu ray on. The influence of A New Hope is vast, it will never ever die. And with Episode VII The Force Awakens recently rocking the box office, continuing to do so, the legacy of George Lucas and his original work from 1977 endures. Its light won’t ever, ever go out.

Lucy: Half-Assed Besson

Lucy. 2014. Directed & Written by Luc Besson.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek, Analeigh Tipton, Jan Oliver Schroder, and Nicolas Phongpheth. Ciné+/Canal+/EuropaCorp/TF1 Films Production. Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★
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I’m a fan of Luc Besson. His first feature film, La dernier combat, is a tour-de-force in thinking outside the box and innovative storytelling. Afterwards, he put out other wonderful pieces of filmmaking such as The Big Blue, NikitaLéon: The ProfessionalThe Fifth Element and more. While he tackles an array of subjects throughout his filmography as a director, as well as a writer, Besson usually does impressive work when it comes to science fiction and contract killing. Let’s face it: this is his niche. Nothing wrong with it either.
All that being said, Lucy is not one of his best films. It isn’t trash, though. It just doesn’t measure up to some of the aforementioned efforts with which he hit, in my mind, grand slams. Where Lucy falls short is mostly in the writing, not the execution. The premise of the movie is amazing, but plays on a well-debunked myth that humans only use 10% of their brain. If Besson had whittled away a few bits of his screenplay, there may have been a chance for his ambitious story to fit well with his style of filmmaking. As it stands, this is a decent enough action thriller, albeit one that doesn’t use much of its own brain power. Still, the adrenaline flows from beginning to end in classic Besson style.
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Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is American. She is 25, living in Taiwan. Succumbing to a dark request forced upon her by a recent boyfriend, Lucy is handcuffed to a briefcase full of drugs and made to deliver it for a villainous man named Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik).
Only after meeting Jang, things turn into a terrifying nightmare. Lucy, along with several other unsuspecting individuals, has her abdomen cut open, and inside is placed hundreds of grams of a new experimental drug called CPH4, tucked in a plastic bag. Life gets even worse once Lucy ends up in a cell, chained to a wall. After being beaten by a guard and kicked in the stomach, the bag inside her breaks, leaking the CPH4 into her bloodstream. The drug is meant to expand the brain function of a human being from the supposed 10% we use regularly, to a whopping 100%.
On a rampage to both save her own life, as well as discover what’s happening to her, Lucy tracks down Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) whose studies happen to involve the expansion of the human brain’s functions. Along the way she is tested, both mentally and physically. But most of all, Lucy is becoming – something new, something extraordinary, and something very, very dangerous.
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At the start of the film, we’re introduced to an ape. Shortly afterwards, through dialogue, we discover it is Lucy – the first ever woman. This sets up an idea about evolution, biology, of science and the ways of the world. Although, most of this never really goes anywhere. It does, and it does not all the same. Part of what I mean is that it’s heavy handed. So much animal imagery in the first little while, and it was not needed. Whatsoever. I saw someone talk about this Besson film in the right way recently: it breaks too much a big rule of cinema, in that it tells us too much. Instead of showing things, letting the audience suss out the meaning, almost every aspect in the film’s initial quarter comes to us spelled out in great detail.
Something I did like, in that regard, is how Besson continually gave us the 10%, 20%, 30%, and so on. Not that we didn’t understand her brain power and function was increasing, it was simply an extra way for him to up the intensity. After each percentage update, you can almost feel your own adrenaline pumping, ready for the next big event, awaiting some kind of excitement about to drop on us.
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I can’t exactly say this movie is filled with good performances. Not to say Scarlett Johansson or anyone else in the picture does a bad job with their role. But here there is Johansson, Morgan Freeman, and a favourite of mine Min-sik Choi (his turns in films like Sympathy for Lady VengeanceOldboyI Saw the Devil and others are fantastic). Between them, there is incredible acting power. Except none of that really makes it across here. Especially Freeman who is vastly underused for the majority of the film, as well as Choi whose charisma and idiosyncrasies are not used appropriately either. Particularly, I love Johansson and she does not do much at all in this film. Contrasted with a recent film like the unbelievably incredible Under the Skin, the almost phoned-in performance here makes Johansson look bad – simply because I KNOW SHE CAN DO BETTER. With such an interesting script and characters you’d think these actors might knock this one out of the park, at least as far as their jobs go. Unfortunately, we’re not given any such performances and it’s a large part of why this movie doesn’t do any better than mediocre.
Even the action elements of Lucy don’t end up making things pay off. As opposed to Besson work like The Fifth Element and Léon: The Professional, this one doesn’t pack as much oomph. There are moments of action and adventure. There are pieces of exciting fights. Ultimately, though, Besson opts to go more for telekinesis style fighting, shootouts, and flashy special effects work which does nothing for me. He claims wanting to make the first part similar to Léon: The Professional, the second akin to Inception, and the final act he hoped would draw parallels with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ambitious? Sure. Yet there’s not enough action and choreographed fight sequences in the entire film, at least not proper ones, for the whole premise to be fully realized. The trailer promised an almost non-stop thrill ride along with the titular character, but what we really get is a bit of action and lots of science fiction musing (misguided at that). Worst of all, the finale is packed with a huge gunfight, even a bazooka being fired. And wrapped up in there is a lackluster ending, leaving us with more questions than answers, as well as wondering how all the potential was squandered.
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I can give this a 3 star rating without feeling bad about it either way. Luc Besson is a fantastic filmmaker and, at times, he can truly be a visionary from his technique to the way in which he writes his stories. With all the hopefulness of its premise, Lucy just cannot deliver the appropriate goods. Boasting an impressive cast, a fun idea and the visual flair of Besson, this should have been more interesting than how it turned out. While not every last bit of the movie was bad, obviously, there are too many misfires for it to be anything better than average. Here’s to hoping Luc pulls up the bootstraps and hauls out something better next time.

Isolated Paranoia: John Carpenter’s The Thing


John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. Directed by John Carpenter. Screenplay by Bill Lancaster, from a story by John W. Campbell Jr.
Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Masur, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, and Donald Moffat. Universal Pictures/Turman-Foster Company. Rated R. 109 minutes.
Horror/Science Fiction

★★★★★
2uffzarIt’s hard to choose a favourite filmmaker. For me, and for many, there are tons of great directors out there. Especially when you consider the different genres. I often have a hard time saying I like one director – who happens to stick with a certain genre – over another, simply because I feel particular directors are best within certain genres. Still there are a handful of them I’d place at the top of my personal list.
One such filmmaker is John Carpenter.
Not only does Carpenter direct, he is a master of his craft. Something I’ve always admired about his style is that he likes to do his own scores, which is a big part of his overall aesthetic (funny enough – this movie isn’t scored by him: it’s the prolific Ennio Morricone, so fucking awesome regardless!). He pretty much has what I’d call an auteur style. Nobody does horror-thriller as good as him.
The Thing brings all of the best aspects of Carpenter together, alongside the solid performances of the likes of Kurt Russell and Keith David, as well as Morricone’s wonderfully suspenseful and effective score. This is not just one of the best horror movies from the 1980s, it’s one of the best horror movies. Ever. What starts out like a tense thriller evolves into a horrifically existential science fiction film, all based on John W. Campbell Jr’s short story “Who Goes There?” (also the basis of this 1951 film). I can never get enough of the dreadful, isolated horror Carpenter brings out in this movie. There’s a reason people always talk about this one. And a damn good reason Carpenter is a master of horror.
the-thing-ufoAt an American base in the Antarctic, a chopper chases a dog across the snowy mountains equipped with a man holding a high-powered rifle. When the American crew – including R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley), Childs (Keith David) +more – come out they discover two crazed Norwegians. One tries to throw a grenade but blows up their chopper. The other, aiming for the dog, shoots George Bennings (Peter Maloney), so one of the crew shoot him dead.
At first it seems as if the men simply went insane up in the wilderness. However, after the dog transforms into a hideously deformed creature, MacReady and the crew start to deal with a situation beyond their control. Some sort of virus seems to be spreading, but no one is able to tell who it’s infecting – moving from person to person, The Thing inhabits anyone’s skin it wishes.
Will any of them survive? And if they do, is it really them?
the-thing-1982-1080p-mkv_snapshot_00-33-19_2011-06-10_20-29-06Carpenter really sets up his atmosphere well, in every film. Almost none better than The Thing, as he starts out first with a long cinematic stare into space. From there we move to the Antarctic wilderness, vast landscapes of nearly nothing except for the white snow stretching on for miles and miles. It’s an appropriate way to give us that immediate sense of isolation. Once the exterior isolation is setup, Carpenter moves inside to where all the human elements of the story come into play. Then, furthermore, we start to get their sense of isolation – from the moment you see Mac drinking, playing around on the computer and then dumping a couple shots of J.B. into it, there’s an obvious idea of how sick this guy is with his lodgings up north. It only gets better from there, but I’ve always thought the film’s opening sequence really made the isolation sink it quickly, yet easily.
Not only the isolated feeling, either. With the Norwegians chasing the dog, the chopper exploding after a fumbled grenade toss, adrenaline is flowing hard. The tension is instantaneous and you’re already champing at the bit for what’s coming next. The music, the cinematography, the actors – all pistons are pumping. Carpenter is good for this usually. Again, though, I’m inclined to say one of his best instances is here in The Thing. Carpenter’s sense of atmosphere and tone is so important to what makes him great, as well as unique in the horror genre.
the-thing-1982-screenshot-5While most Carpenter movies have stellar effects, The Thing boasts such an innovative and terrifying creature. It’s truly epic (a word that is overused improperly; I used it in seriousness). Honestly, after the dog becomes that hulking, massive monster, the first time I witnessed it I was awestruck for a minute or two. I still am, really. Such good effects, plus it’s unexpected. Even as I watch it again now, for the who-knows-how-many-times, there is an aspect to that scene I always find reels me in. Plus, afterwards there’s the scene with Dr. Blair (Brimley) dissecting The Thing; even the look on Brimley’s face, his disgust, it makes you almost smell the nasty reek of this alien creature’s insides. Downright incredible, these special effects. From start to finish this movie has such carefully crafted practical effects, you can’t help but admire the work put in.
The entire film isn’t built on effects, nor is it solely leaning on horrific elements to make its mark. Only other stuff Bill Lancaster wrote was Bad News Bears-related. With The Thing, adapted from Campbell’s short story “Who Goes There?” (great read by the way – check it out), Lancaster did some solid work. The screenplay is tight, it’s mysterious and has a ton of suspense, which the master Carpenter draws out perfectly with his style. There are genuinely creepy aspects I find unsettling. Such as when the crew starts watching the grainy videos, then they make their way out to the crater where the ship is sunk down, I find that entire portion so impressive! Morricone’s score is beyond perfectly fitting, it has that classic horror movie feel to it and at the same time there’s stuff you could call very archetypal Morricone (a.k.a dig it). So I’m actually amazed Lancaster did so well with this script, considering he’s never done anything else science fiction or horror. Hats off. Put into the hands of Carpenter this story soars to a new level of terror.
the-thing-original-1There a few performances in The Thing which help it greatly. Kurt Russell, obviously, is one of the reasons this movie kicks ass. They could’ve put a lot of actors in this role and it would’ve been all right. But with Russell there’s that little extra charisma, he’s tough and yet there isn’t some kind of superhero-ness about him. He gets afraid like anyone else in the same situation. Russell and Carpenter work well together, this may be the pinnacle; I dig Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China, but there’s something so perfect about this movie I can’t help single it out as their best collaboration. Then on top of Russell’s skill, Keith David does a nice job – he also did They Live 6 years later with Carpenter, wish he’d been in more of his films. And as much as Brimley gets shit for the “diabeetus” kick, he is spot on here; that scene when he flips and everyone tries to bear down on him, I always thought it was a great moment and shows how well Brimley can play a good character when he wants. Plus his fit lends to some more of the isolated, desolate feeling happening from there on in. All around excellent cast.
Vlcsnap-2011-12-30-07h42m32s88The Thing is a 5 star film. Without any shadow of a doubt. There’s so much happening. Above anything else, there’s a supremely existential terror flowing throughout almost every scene. Once The Thing takes hold, nobody knows who is who, who to trust, and it moves from one person to the next, some times even to animals. So there’s this incredibly dreadful horror at play. Then you throw in John Carpenter’s tense style, Ennio Morricone and his suspense-filled score, a well written screenplay with good actors to play it all out. What a mix!
If you’ve never seen this, my god, get out and watch it soon. Not only that, read the original short story by Campbell, as well as see the 1951 adaptation The Thing from Another World, which was a huge influence on Carpenter overall but especially for this film (obviously). I can never forget this movie, and it’s one I’ll put in any time I need a real creep.

CLOSER TO GOD and the Ethics of Science

Closer to God. 2014. Directed and Written by Billy Senese. Starring Jeremy Childs, Shelean Newman, Shannon Hoppe, David Alford, and Isaac Disney. LC Pictures. Unrated. 81 minutes. Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller.

★★★
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Usually I keep my ear out and head up for any new horror films that sound different, or for whatever reason pique my interest. Closer to God went on the checklist of my IMDB account a long while back, before there was ever a trailer, any pictures online. It was just a poster. Not the one I’ve put on here, but a simple red background with a black outlined tree extending its roots out underneath down towards the movie’s title.
I was surprised when I finally got to see Closer to God because, though it’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, the film was really interesting. Billy Senese, both writer and director, crafts a decent tale of horror, which acts as a film metaphor for the fears people get over human cloning, genetic manipulation, and the ethical/moral implications and ramifications of these practices. While it very literally tackles the subject, the ideas work well with the horror element of the film. This turns out to be more horror than science fiction, even if it wishes to be more the latter.

Dr. Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs) has completed the first successful cloning of a human being. He creates a baby girl – Elizabeth. She is a full-on experiment; made for research and genetic modifications. Not to mention little Elizabeth is made with the genetics of Dr. Reed/an unnamed individual. Naturally everyone is outraged. People hate what the doctor is doing, but they’ve got no idea what else is going on inside the house.
While the storm of angry people push on, morally outraged by the new cloned baby, another child is causing trouble – Ethan.

The housekeepers at Dr. Reed’s home, Mary and Richard (Shelean Newman and Richard Alford), are trying to take care of this boy, troubled little Ethan, who seems to be proving too much. Things only get more difficult, and it turns out Ethan is growing, he’s hurting, and he might just want to get the hell out of the good doctor’s family home.
75-3Something I’m a little tired of is all these indie films, horror or science fiction, which try to be the next Frankenstein. I love Mary Shelley – I’ve read the book, loved it, and I even enjoy the Kenneth Branagh starred-directed version. What I’m sick of is the fact that either critics try to claim a movie is drawing from Shelley, or the film itself relies too heavily on those comparisons within the script. I mean, there’s even a point where we see someone hold up a sign that says – you guessed it – FRANKENSTEIN! And someone literally calls Dr. Reed – Dr. Frankenstein.
Plus, Dr. Reed’s first name is Victor. Y’know, it just feels like a thick layer of cheese over top of what could be a good enough film on its own.
maxresdefaultIt’s a tired, tired comparison. And I get it, the obviousness of it sits right in front of us. I’ve discussed the ethics of human cloning enough via university courses in Philosophy and English Literature to last me a full lifetime.
My biggest issue is that, by relying on the comparison between its own material and Shelley’s Frankenstein, Senese creates an environment where there’s too much reliance on the comparison itself. Frequently the Frankenstein connection comes out, as I mentioned before, and it’s so often that the whole concept becomes annoying. Senese easily created an atmosphere of dread and tension without invoking Shelley, over and over.

When Closer to God really works, though, it works.
A scene truly got to me a little ways in; when Mary (Shelean Newman) goes up to bring Ethan some food. We get a glimpse of him in the corner – you can only barely make out his face, but it is one of pure evil, or emptiness, a void lacking any humanity. He doesn’t make a sound, Mary is clearly unnerved. She leaves, but just as she does and the camera moves back with her Ethan comes running out to the table, smashing things, and screaming in this utterly soul crushing voice that cuts through your skin and your bones. I like to think I’ve seen a lot of horror – in general I’m up to almost 4,100 films in total – but this moment genuinely frightened the shit out into my pants. I was wide-eyed and actually had to text my girlfriend, who is out on a Saturday night unlike her cinephile boyfriend, to tell her how scary the damn scene came off. A great, great bit of subtle horror.

There’s another creepy, brief scene I like, but it’s not nearly as terrifying. There’s an almost horror-beauty to it: Dr. Reed heads out to the gate in front of his house and watches as protesters lob burning plastic baby dolls over and into the yard, just about right at his feet. The way Childs simply stands there, watching these flaming plastic heaps come at him – it’s eerily appealing.
Closer-God-protestor-yelling-700x467As most of the reviews so far have pointed out, the perhaps greatest part of the entire film is the central performance by Jeremy Childs as Doctor Victor Reed. He is an unconventional looking guy to be the lead of a movie – not that I care because I love movies that feel like their characters are real people. There are just so many perfect moments where Childs pulls off the doctor so well. A great exchange happens after SPOILER AHEAD Mary is killed by Ethan – Victor and his wife Claire (Shannon Hoppe) have a short yet rough argument, and Childs does great work with the dialogue between them. He is believable, and that’s what sells the character of Dr. Reed; no matter how cheerily named after Shelley’s titular doctor he may be.
I think if the lead in Closer to God had to have been someone weaker there are tons of scenes that wouldn’t have been able to carry the emotion they did. The chemistry between Childs and Hoppe as the troubled married couple is good stuff. Too many independent films suffer from having wooden acting, along with bad dialogue. These two really sell the fact they are a married couple, it feels like a bad relationship of course, especially considering the circumstances of the film, but it’s real, it doesn’t come out forced and you don’t see two actors acting as husband and wife. The movie is immersive, and certainly the fact Senese wrote a decent script helped that along.
screen_shot_2015-07-08_at_9.51.22_am.pngIn the end, I think what detracts most from this movie being great is the fact it doesn’t pay out on all the ideas of morality and ethics surrounding the original premise. We get excellently developed tension, a slow and steady pace for most of the film, and then it devolves from what could’ve been, at times, fairly profound horror/science fiction.
Instead of doing more with the science fiction angle, Closer to God drops off into complete horror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either, I am a horror hound. But I can’t help feeling at least slightly cheated, in a sense. There’s a promise of grand concepts here. The finale of the film becomes a typical sort of thing – I don’t want to fully ruin the ending or anything. Mainly, I love how creepy the Ethan character was, I just don’t think Billy Senese went anywhere innovative or fresh with what he was doing. Essentially all those Frankenstein comparisons never truly go anywhere, all paths leading to a slasher film-like conclusion.

I think Closer to God, for all its creepiness and tension and the incredibly believable performance by Jeremy Childs, is still only a 3 out of 5 star film for me. There was so much promise in the whole project, but I feel as if Billy Senese squandered a lot of what he’d built up. Again, the comparisons to Mary Shelley’s famous gothic horror novel is an angle I’m frankly done with unless it gets taken somewhere useful.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some beyond creepy scenes in this film. So much of the material involving the failed experiment of Dr. Victor Reed’s that is his “son” Ethan could have really went into incredible territory. Unfortunately, that territory never gets explored. What Senese does with the material is creep us out awhile and then go for the jugular with a far too heavy handed approach at the finish.
Check this out if you’d like to see some interesting horror/science fiction, but know this: it is mostly generic horror you will find. Even with the supremely creepy bits sprinkled throughout, Closer to God is closer to nothing special. See it for, if anything, Jeremy Childs, and a handful of eerie scenes.