…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “sci-fi

Playerhaters from Outer Space!


Guy Pearce is a punching bag. He is a man without a past, able to negotiate with or win against authority. This lanky figure, under the shadows of independent cinema, portrays movies’ masculine myths, sleuth, cowboy, king, explorer, diver, fishing on both good and evil. He says your insecurities loud enough for you to hear. I referenced at least five of his movies but he relives them all in the Luc Besson-incepted and Stephen St. Leger and James Matherdirected sci-fi Lockout, a movie set in 2079, while wearing a women’s sized medium graphic tee to expose his veiny biceps, telling audiences he’s not too old to play the Hollywood game of Commonwealth actors working out on the gym to get leading roles. He’s passable as a sellout but let’s be honest, he bagged this role because Hugh Jackman was busy and Pearce wants to buy a condo and put kids through college.

This movie has a plot. Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace) is on a humanitarian mission to a detention centre on outer space – I feel so stoned typing that – where the prisoners are cryogenically frozen to keep them from assaulting each other. Somehow the American government taxes the rich in this sci-fi. She’s there to check whether the detainees are treated fairly but all goes awry when one escaped prisoner (Brit TV actor Joseph Gilgun)  helps lead the hundreds of others into taking the scientists controlling the complex as hostages, including Emilie. The secret service’s (led by Peter Stromare) mission is to rescue the hostages, bringing in maligned rogue CIA agent Snow (Pearce) to rescue Emilie and to hope that the prisoners don’t discover that she’s the president’s. Daughter!

The performances here is interesting, where the supporting cast either flaunt or hide their European accents (Besson by the way has occasionally portrayed America through his European lens), one of the prisoners, suffering from the dementia caused by the freezing, is acting like a Scottish gargoyle. Grace is painfully deadpan as a blonde-tressed damsel with sleepy eyes but all she needs was an impromptu haircut from Snow for her face to open and show her second note, shooting off the script’s witty banter to counter his remarks against her that are so sexist that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Pearce’s performance here is lazy but it’s also admirable to watch him play devil’s advocate without trying. Together Grace and Pearce play off each other like middle school kids who punch each other as a shorthand for affection, Emilie learning the ropes even though Snow doesn’t readily give them to her.

There are some contrivances in this fictional world that the characters aren’t smart enough to grasp, like when Emilie doesn’t realize that Snow’s friend helps her cause. The movie’s technology is also questionable. But those shortcomings are compensated with its honest execution. Its tone is just like Snow’s philosophy that despite being surrounded by concepts, these characters speak and act as snarky yet competently forceful. It has its share of quotables, referring to kin-hood and character flaws delivered ridiculously. And sometimes a movie not caring about how good it is makes the actors and the set pieces seem like they’re going all out. I’m not the kind who predicts on a movie’s success – and keep in mind that I wouldn’t pay to see this movie – but if this ends up being a cult favourite or a franchise, I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d actually be happy. Image via THR. 3/5


PRIM-rose EV-er-DEEN!


That’s who representative Effie Trinket chooses out of a glass bowl to see who will play in the futuristic, titular 74th annual Hunger Games. It’s the nightmare scenario for the girl bearing that name (Willow Shields), as well as for her sister, our heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), because the former will be too young to survive the bloodbath that comes with these games. Imagine if the neon lights of “American Idol” have younger and more homicidal contestants. But let’s get back to the real issue – this representative looks so ridiculous that I didn’t even know that Elizabeth Banks was playing her. It’s as if Nicki Minaj apparently is the face of the future, one of the adults from Panem’s Capitol – the seat of power of a futuristic version of North America – who all look like anime villains. And I haven’t run out of metaphors and references – as if Zac Posen and the now-defunct Heatherettes’ palettes puked on Stefano Pilati and Viktor and Rolf’s otherwise perfect tailoring, these futuristic designs fitting within the uber-capitalistic society, the latter’s flag looking like an Aryan bastardization of Rome built in the Rockies. It reminds me of what Walter Benjamin said about how France under Napoleon emulates Rome. And it’s not just because science fiction stories, by nature, are pretty much ideas and fashions and designs from the present day set in titanium. Present and future societies will always repeat their past. And these games are a reminder of the past, Effie repeating the words of the video she shows to the district about how the games are the Capitol’s way of giving peace and fear, indoctrinated that her messed up world is perfect.

I also noticed the differences between the people in the Capitol and Katniss’ peasant-like District 12, where pastel and steel are separated from earthier tones. She’s her family’s provider but when she volunteers as the district’s female tribute to replace Prim, she transforms. Her earlier ‘masculine’ habits of hunting are still intact. I never imagine her in a beautiful dress, as I’m supposed to, but there she is wearing a red number in her publicity tour as one of the tributes. She even twirls and shows off her ‘fire’ for the audiences. I saw this as a change from awkward, unsightly adolescence to full-blossomed adulthood but that binary is complicated that she’s one of twenty-four chosen while the rest of the people in many districts are stuck without ‘growing.’ But then again that seems more realistic, that the glamourous adulthood of our imaginations can’t come true for everyone. And even with being chosen she still has to compete with twenty-three other youths to ‘have it all.’ It’s like what Panem’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland) says to the man presiding the games (Wes Bentley), that this kind of entertainment brings false hope to the masses. Dystopic sci-fis are really great in bringing up these issues in exaggerating present day conundrums and it’s really to Suzanne Collins’ – who wrote the original novels and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Billy Ray and the movie’s director Gary Ross – credit to have created such a detailed world.

And Lawrence, playing a younger version of her Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone, is one of the foundations that make this world more solid, especially with the contradictions within her character. Her full cheeks masks her eyes’ rage and curiosity. She’s awkward – during athletic/publicity training she asks her designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) how she can make people like her. Effie criticizes her for being ill-mannered after many conflicts against the sponsors and her co-tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). But this young woman eventually finds and protects her new family, inadvertently becomes the face of a new rebellion and rides out a semi-fabricated story that she and Peeta are the games’ star-crossed lovers. That the characters, Collins and Ross’ final and cynical word on their love feels subversive for a young adult narrative. Although at least some of their love is real, Katniss bringing him medicine and both saving each other’s lives during the games.

If there’s anything I’ll strongly say against this movie, it’s that Ross and cinematographer Tom Stern bring their camera too close and fast, especially in its opening sequences. As much as I would like to be acquainted with these characters – the shaky cam replicating her perspective as she walks and runs through her journey – I also want to see the world where they belong. The Bourne-style quick-cutting also doesn’t help with the violent scenes. Seeing those deaths, admittedly, was part of the sadistic fun and it kind of sucks that the audience doesn’t get to fully experience this. The cast also includes Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson and Alexander Ludwig. Image via Villagevoice.


HMWY Best Shot: Serenity’s Characters


It’s surprising that a “Buffy” fan like me – I’ve seen and love the movie too – wouldn’t catch “Firefly,” but I had my stupidity to blame. I wanted a “Buffy” 2.0 – so why didn’t I read “Fray?” – and it seemed too much of an outlandish concept for me. But Nathaniel, probably the only person guiding me through my schizophrenic viewing habits, chose “Firefly’s” movie adaptation for his best shot series, keeping in mind that creator/writer/director Whedon’s having a big year this year. So why not? Above is a shot of carnage fitting for the movie’s ‘space western’ genre mash-up and that although Joss Whedon isn’t on top to direct Blood Meridien but he should at least be in consideration.

This experience is making me regret that I didn’t watch the series, the logical reason should be Whedon’s sharp writing and I suppose it’s nice to see futuristic cowboys but it’s really because of the characters and casting, including Alan Tudyk, David Krumholtz and Sarah Paulson. Specifically, of Adam Baldwin of Full Metal Jacket fame. I wouldn’t say that this part of the movie’s premise is ludicrous, and that his character Jayne butts heads with the titular Serenity‘s Captain Malcolm (Nathan Fillion) a lot and wants to kill the mysterious River Tam (Summer Glau). But like come on guys, his tight, short-sleeved shirts makes me think that the show should have given him a love interest. Things would have totally been different if I was on that ‘boat.’ Looking at his iMDb “Firefly” isn’t the only show I should watch for him. Apparently he was in “Angel” too and fuck do I have to watch “Chuck” now too? What kind of fan am I?

The best lines and situations saved for Malcolm, or Mal for short (Why isn’t Fillion, this movie’s star, getting the Jeremy Renner roles? The guys look alike but he’s taller yet yes, more intentionally awkward). And there are some good shots of him being framed by the movie’s well-done mix of multicultural sci-fi punk ethos, contrasting yet perfectly complementing his character as this old school masculine gunslinger. Above is him moving a fan to see what River is up to and below is him being irreverent, mocking Buddha – one of the religions and ideals that he as a character questions – for his love interest Inara’s guilty pleasure. Kudos to the movie’s art director Daniel T. Dorrance and costume designer Ruth Carter for this awesomeness.

But the movie’s most visually compelling character is River, who only gets into and stays in the boat because she’s the younger sister of one of the newer crew members (Sean Maher) and because she’s psychic. She looks like a friend of mine here in Toronto who also blogs about movies, actually. My best shot actually involves the movie’s intricate opening sequence, a series of scenes that would get novices like me confused as to what the movie is about. There are wide shots of different planets followed by a teacher explaining ‘the verse’ in an outdoor elementary school – thank God the future has smaller class sizes, am I right or am I right? – which turns out to be a dream sequence, Matrix style. Her brother helps her escape her almost permanent comatose state, which is actually hologram-recorded by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character, Javert looking at his Valjean and waify Cosette and trying to find out where they could be hiding.

But the fun of watching her doesn’t stop there. She has two kinds of entrances, one where her leg(s) and the seam of her flowing dress come into the shot and one where the camera zooms or shock cuts into her perma-startled face. She also climbs up the ceiling to hide sometimes. And the one below? Bad. Ass.


Slaughterhouse Five


How does this movie even exist? What, are you saying that there’s also a movie adaptation of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four?” Besides, Kurt Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse Five almost describes a world that isn’t tangible, its emotions and shock and awe and horrors are more present. Second to that is his imaginative ideas about the future, his non-linear plots putting his characters in a haze. It didn’t even occur to me to picture what our hero Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) might have looked like, even if Vonnegut describes him pretty well.

This source material screams Stanley Kubrick if he portrayed one scene every two minutes. This definitely is oceans and light years away from the comfort zone of the director we have ended up with, George Roy Hill, whom we expect more in dusty Western or Depression era landscapes. What Hill and Vonnegut do have in common here is that they both show the desolation caused by historical events. However, Hill gravitates more to history’s effects on the male psyche which is yes, fractured but is also trying to evolve and desperately survive.

Pilgrim isn’t your typical hero because he gets unstuck in time, able to travel from his present day in postwar suburbia to his stint as a drafted private to a futuristic planet where the Tralfamadoreans kidnap him. There’s an irony to ‘unstuck in time,’  suggesting a freedom only from linear constraints. He types that he doesn’t have control of when he travels. He can’t change passed horrors nor use his free will to alter the future. It’s unsettling how passive he is about this and his children equally react to his discomforting philosophy. And of course the editing between one scene – or rather one time frame from another – is impeccable, sometimes going back and forth within seconds, as Billy walks up the same footsteps that others like Edgar Derby (Eugene Roche) have, to similar destinations of horror.

And Sacks, who was 23 when filming started, is capable in the role of the time traveler, going through these phases of his life with ease and knowledge. In the physical sense he’s like a boring white boy/blank slate/archaic Ryan Gosling prototype with his well proportioned frame and blond locks. He’s both believable as the gaunt, awkward child fighting a crusade and as someone who has charmingly learned the tricks of manhood my default. I don’t know why this guy never stuck to acting, maybe it’s because he didn’t really stick out. George Roy Hill preferred his lead performers as stoic all-American archetypes instead of making them overact, letting that job be carried by the supporting characters around like the Italian stereotype Paul Lazzaro (Ron Leibman), etc.

I also can’t fully figure out why this ambitious movie didn’t stick to audiences neither but I have a few theories. For one, it fits less within the topical 70’s obsessions. Science fiction or a future-obsessed zeitgeist flourished within the 60’s and the 80’s, sandwiching this decade into a dry period when, offering its own dozen sci-fi films, it didn’t have a hold on its own aesthetics and additions to the genre. This feels more like a movie from a few years past when Vonnegut wrote the book, its anti-war sentiment and its transcendent philosophies about time and free will.

It’s also troubled with any book adaptations, especially those of contemporary/’postmodern’ works. Can any image justify Vonnegut’s words? When reading the book, we come across the name ‘Dresden,’ a traumatic flashback that persists despite how permanent his futures seem. ‘Dresden’ just makes me imagine this whiteness of destruction – a masochistic and romantic view, I admit – and seeing dead soldiers and crumbling buildings, no matter how shocking they look, inadvertently soften the blow.

Yet I still wish that big audiences rediscover this movie instead of it falling back into a new Hollywood curiosity. I wonder how they’d react to its views about America’s awkward fumbles during and after the war, especially in a surprisingly irreverent and humorous scene when Billy’s wife accidentally kills herself. But I guess people are too busy now, as they were back then, watching Cabaret or The Godfather.


…My Posts Keep Chasing Pavements!


I’ll tell you first about The Film Experience, where my DVD review of George Nolfi‘s The Adjustment Bureau is. It’s just about adjuster Harry’s (Anthony Mackie) struggle as it is protagonist David’s (Matt Damon), as David tries to defeat the adjusters from stopping the latter to stay with his one true love Elise (Emily Blunt), and they run around NYC, hands together. Link’s below.

Speaking of a movie where people run around a big city, I might have just written the whitest review for Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block  ever. Here I am talking about the symbolism, treating the movie like a 19th century novel. I wonder if other online film critics have moved into the neighborhoods like ones I grew up in, ones where gang fights happen, making them go like ‘believe,’ ‘allow it!’ and ‘MERCK!’ But then I’ve always been the most square boy in the block. And I come from the same people that birthed the JabbaWockeeZ. Oh where oh where did my swag go?  Anyway, when Basement Jaxx hits the right notes and the kids in the hoods of South London blow up that first alien, that’s where the fun begins. I hope you have fun watching the movie – after its early festival and UK release, it’s out in selected cities in North America like LA, New York, Seattle and Toronto. Image for Attack the Block from Anomalous Material, where my review is. Bitch.


…With Your Best Shot: Aliens


I’m back!

Things aren’t as solid as they seem, pardon the expression, in James Cameron‘s Aliens, although we’ve been taught that lesson in the first film, Alien. In Ridley Scott’s masterpiece we get the breakdown of facades, each crew member suspecting each other of harboring the alien inside of them. When he finally get to see the alien that everyone is afraid of, it doesn’t look as gooey with its shiny exoskeleton.

ph. Twentieth Century Fox

Running opposite to the impervious behemoth of the spaceship in the original film, Cameron takes this lesson further by making the inanimate featured in the film more flexible, as if they have a life of their own. We see this in the beginning, when Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) pod thing docks into this Metropolis like port, although there’s something  fluid about the pipes, or the way that mechanic arm moves as it frees Ripley from her pod. The colony planet’s suspicious too. Would you set up a colony where rock formations look like arms? Even if I was the CEO of a greedy, careless, callous company, I’d say EFF NOO!

My ‘best shot,’ or the one that captivates me the most, is the one above when the new, militaristic crew enters the colony’s gates. Metal and wires jut out of the ceiling like tentacles. You’d expect a cheap scare to come out after, that’s how eerie this place looks. This animistic structure that this depopulated colony has become foreshadows the gooey tentacles insulating the underground levels for alien egg-laying purposes. Or when the aliens are actually crawling in the ceiling on top of the soldiers. You’d think that Cameron had a termite problem while writing this script in the 80’s. Did he?

An inanimate yet uncanny object of note is also Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jordan’s (Carrie Hehn) decapitated doll head, her most prized possession. A series of attacks and escapes leads Newt and the team to some water-filled sewage area where one of the aliens kidnap her. Since she can’t holler out her ‘final’ ‘Help me, Ripley!’ in her British accent, here’s the doll doing it for her. That doll and her fake eyelashes is the second greatest actor in the history of cinema.

The humans, in turn, become more machine-like. A close-up of Ripley that make her seem uncanny, Bishop who actually is uncanny, the muscular body types of the soldiers – speaking of which, it’s strange seeing guns, installed binoculars and exposed skin on these soldiers at the same time. On that shot above, Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) isn’t ‘fully covered’ as soldiers would be in other movies about planets in outer space. And of course, the forklift Transformers-like machine that Ripley hops into that is really useful for her in one of the film’s most gratifying scenes.

Apocryphal information: my first Weaver film is not the Alien movies. Maybe it was Dave but it was most likely her turn as Lady Claudia Hoffman in that Hallmark movie Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Do you guys know what I’m talking about? This TV movie was awesome. It also had “Dawson’s Creek’s” Monica Keena as our Snow White Liliana Hoffman and Sam Neill is the oblivious father. It’s strange seeing Keena as the good girl and Weaver as the bad woman, but that TV movie cemented Weaver as an icy villain/anti-hero in other movies where I’ll watch her. Also, one of the ‘dwarves’ was a tall guy with a scar who’s also hot.

Digression! I remembered my introduction to Weaver because of the first scene, where she is Snow White. The frost covers her pod and everything. I’m not the only one who sees this, Vasquez points that out too, using the comparison to point out how ladylike she in comparison to the soldiers. I’m not sure if and how the metaphor sticks, since the original story is about a young woman’s blossoming sexuality and Freudian issues avant la lettre. Here instead, Ripley has both lost her status as a mother and is an exile. The mother alien is thus her evil mother/stepmother?

Lastly, Newt reminds me of the screaming child in The Bad and the Beautiful, both of whom remind me of young Cossette. I won’t be making more allusions.

This post is part of Nathaniel Rogers’ Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.


Not a Transformers 3 Review


Michael Bay‘s Transformers: Dark of the Moon or Transformers 3, starring Carey Mulligan’s shit cheater boyfriend, several Coen’s alumni including someone halfway through an EGOT and the aristocratic Rosie Huntington Whiteley, opened the prestigious Moscow International Film Festival and is out today. I present a conversation between me and a critic friend who, as his job requires, saw it before all of us little people!

– I’ve actually heard of Rosie Huntington Whiteley.

– And hopefully after this, Paolo, no one will ever hear of her again.

– The reason I like hearing of her is at least she’s not ‘model-actress’ Brooklyn fucking Decker, like model-actress is some tramp stamp you apply to the movie’s token hot girl I’ve never seen walk a runway, even if it is a Victoria’s Secret one.

– It doesn’t change the fact that she is one of the worst actresses of any type in the history of forever. See it and see what I mean. Or better yet, don’t see it. That would be even better.

– Worse than Andie McDowell or Kelly Preston? Also, I like rooting for model-actresses. Jane Fonda won two Oscars, for the lulz.

– Worst than the fucking worst worst you can imagine. Incomparably worst.

– Like Ryan Gosling’s blow up doll would have seemed like Liv Ullmann compared to her worst?

– As I said before, incomparable.

Context: 1. My life long dream right now is to be a film critic, and I hope that my future employers don’t see my procrastination, cowardice and lack of professionalism as a hindrance. Seriously, I should be working on a 1600-er on another McDormand film, Almost Famous, instead of this shit. 2. I was into fashion once. 3. The original version of this post contained a Steven Spielberg erection joke but alas, I’m too classy for that. 4. I’ve had lots of unprotected gay sex, I haven’t been tested for HIV since college, and I don’t want to. Being HIV-positive is obviously bad, but if I learn that I’m negative, I might consider this knowledge of relatively perfect health as a reason to consider watching Transformers 3.

Criticize This’ Andrew Parker’s reviews Transformers 3 in his personal blog.