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The Signal

The Signal

dir: William Eubank

2014

A lot of films have too much money and not enough ideas.

A lot of films have too many ideas, and not enough money.

Some films have no ideas, and no money.

The Signal is some combination of these positions. Call it a super-position if you like.

I am amazed that this flick got made and was released upon an unsuspecting, unwilling and uninterested public. Amazed. It’s so almost accomplished and so horribly amateurish at the same time. Either one of those should have damned it to not-even-illegally-downloading-it hell.

That anyone thought this could be made and shown to people, to humans, and not have them fall into dissolving pools of frustration is a testament to the optimism of humanity. This is, as far as I can tell, William Eubank’s feature debut, and it’s as if he wants people to grunt “Meh, smells like M. Night Shyamalan-type crap to me”.

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The Giver

The Giver

What you're giving me is the desire for this flick to
be erased from my memory

dir: Phillip Noyce

2014

By all the gods above and below, this is the dreariest flick I’ve seen in a long time.

I know enough about the book The Giver to know that since the 1990s the book has been on the reading list for high school students, probably causing them collectively to groan whenever they see the advertising because it stinks of homework. Same way the rest of us feel whenever Shakespeare or Anne Frank’s Diary is mentioned.

But honestly, how did this book get such traction in the American consciousness? I haven’t read the book so maybe it’s a masterpiece of dystopian allegory or didactic science fiction, but based on what’s ended up on the screen it’s a trite, dreary and fundamentally unbelievable story with a simple-minded resolution that not even a kid would buy.

And yet a lot of people have read it, and a lot of people saw the film. I remain categorically unimpressed.

It even has The Dude, and even that doesn’t work. Shameful, shameful work.

The world of The Giver is one we’ve seen many a time before. It’s a bland gated community without too many dark skinned people, and everyone is blandly handsome and polite. Plus, they’re all in black and white. In other words, it’s not just that the images we are seeing are in black and white, we’re informed, by how it changes, that the denizens of this community also see everything only in black and white, like dogs.

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Godzilla 2014

Godzilla

Go, you great ginormous gorgeous thing, you.

dir: Gareth Edwards

Come in, close the door, have a seat. We didn’t know we missed you, Godzilla, because we thought we’d had enough of you over the last 60 years. But it turns out we really missed you.

Sure, we bumped into you in 1998, in that terrible film by the German Michael Bay known as Roland Emmerich, where Matthew Broderick was meant to save Manhattan from you, but that was an embarrassing run-in. It was the equivalent of going out and seeing an ex you still think fondly of, covered in vomit and staggering in the gutter. It’s best to forget about that time.

And honestly, the halcyon days between you and the audience was so long ago that we’ve all moved on. We’ve amused ourselves with cute kitten videos on the internets, and week after week of superhero flicks being poured out into the cinemas. The question becomes: do we ever really need to see each other again?

Gareth Edwards made a flick called Monsters back in the grim, distant days of 2010. In really obvious ways it was a test run for making a new Godzilla flick, except for a miniscule fraction of the cost. The budget for Monsters was in the tens of thousands. The budget for the hair care products alone used on performers in Godzilla would have been in the millions. It’s an easy transition for Edwards to make, apparently.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

I wouldn't trust them to guard my corned
beef sandwich, let along an entire Galaxy.

dir: James Gunn

2014

When I first saw the trailer for this Marvel movie, which was probably playing just before another Marvel movie was about to play on the screen, I cringed inwardly, and sighed melodramatically. I do that, sometimes.

To me, because I’d never heard of these characters or this comic book ever, it smacked of arrogance on Marvel’s part, in that they’re so big now and have made so much serious bank since starting up Marvel Studios, that they could literally put any shit together and expect people to see it because it says Marvel Marvel Marvel all over the place.

Marvel. It had megaflop written all over it. If I had money to bet on its failure, I would have bet everything.

I was sure this film would die a horrible death at the box office, and it would be a stinging rebuke to Marvel’s hubristic attempts to take over the entire world. Stan Lee would have to eat dinner out of a can, they would from then on only make Iron Man movies all the time, more and more ludicrous crossovers like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four versus Loki Loki and more Loki. Disaster on an epic scale.

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Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

That's the look of an American actor who just found out how
little he's going to get paid to be in a South Korean film

dir: Bong Joon-ho

2013

On its surface, Snowpiercer sounds like a pretty dumb idea for a movie: it’s about a train that never stops upon which the last remnants of humanity reside, due to a man-made global ice age.

Thank you for being so dumb. And if I tell you it’s based, despite its Korean director Bong Joon-ho, on a French graphic novel, you’re going to think it’s the dumbest thing since flared pants. Oui oui? Incroyable!

But if I then tell you that it’s one of the weirdest and most enjoyable flicks I’ve seen this year, then you’ll really think I’ve gone stark raving bonkers barking mad plus 1.

Snowpiercer has a strange premise, but it has a plot anyone can appreciate. Aboard this gleaming train, the scum of humanity are relegated to the tail section, where everyone’s dirty and it’s horribly grim. Talk of mutiny, of revolution bubbles up from their darkened bunks. Whispers here and there indicate that something’s gonna happen, and happen soon.

If something didn’t happen, well, we’d just waste two hours watching a bunch of bored, dirty, unshaved people on a train, and I see that every day for free, being one of them.

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Transcendence

Transcendence

We all know it's only a matter of time. You know in the end
the machines will win

dir: Wally Pfister

2014

Transcend… from what to what, you might ask? Transcendence is an interesting story mired by a world in which the impact of advanced technology is not as unbelievable as the actions of many of the silly, silly characters to be found abounding in this script. For there to be a popcorn friendly story, a lot of the super-smart people on display have to do a lot of dumb things, and that never bodes well for a high concept sci-fi story.

Personally, the premise (uploading Johnny Depp into the internet) is intriguing. The idea of uploading human consciousness into some kind of machine has been around for a while (predating William Gibson’s cyberpunk stuff from the 1980s), but recent advances in actual technology have to up the ante when it comes to what people dream up in science fiction. So it’s not just about a person’s consciousness uploaded: it’s about quantum computing, nanotechnology, technological singularities and artificial intelligence as well. And whatever other kitchen sinks the screenwriters cribbed from old copies of Wired magazines.

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Under the Skin

Under the Skin

Is this the expression of an inhuman, alien intelligence,
or is it the look of a person thinking "Did I remember to
turn the oven off before I left home?"

dir: Jonathan Glazer

This is a deeply unsettling film, or at least it was for me. The strongest evidence for this is the fact that the movie takes a whole bunch of Scarlett Johannson nudity and renders it unpleasant and deeply disturbing.

This is science fiction in the truest sense of the use of the term, in that it's not just an action flick with robots and aliens fighting it out over the skies of New York. It is, in some ways, more of a horror film. Right from the start the soundtrack and the sound design is structured to make us feel unsettled, and, in my case, really anxious.

You can probably find parallels between this flick and a few others, but it's fairly novel in its structure, and in the amount of information it withholds from us. There's barely any dialogue in it, and almost all of the story it has to tell is delivered visually.

As the flick starts, there are some stark and 'alien' (but really simple) looking visuals, and a screeching tone that causes goosebumps. I wasn't sure what we were watching, other than a skewed homage to 2001 in some form, but what I chose it to mean, as a muffled voice in the distance sounds like it's trying out words for the first time, is the creation of something. Something designed to look like a someone. Because the final of these introductory images is an unblinking eye.

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Edge of Tomorrow

Emily Blunt - Edge of Tomorrow

It's secretly your film, Emily, they just haven't
told Tom yet.

dir: Doug Liman

Who doesn't want to see Tom Cruise die violent deaths again and again and again? I defy anyone to say otherwise.

Well, this movie seems to have been constructed to serve the interests of both groups of Tom Cruise aficionados: those who actually like him (and what a strange bunch of people they must be), and the far more numerous group of people who behold him and his actions with contempt and fear. As the most prominent member of that church-level scam/cult Scientology, and for his many bizarre actions, he has rightly earned himself a special place in our hearts.

It's so special, in fact, that the prospect of watching him die numerous times becomes an enticement rather than an obstacle.

The premise, taken from a delightfully-titled Japanese manga called All You Need is Kill!, which I wish they'd kept as the title, has been seen in a number of formats and places since Groundhog Day, but that's the one everyone keeps bringing up, as if it's not a lazy grab. Saying "It's Groundhog Day with mech suits and aliens!" isn't creative, inventive or funny, it's just an example of how the path of least resistance to an easy idea is a testament to the fact that you shouldn't be bothering, at all.

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Riddick

Riddick

Dark, darker than the darkest dark chocolate

dir: David Twohy

You get these strange moments in the world of cinema where, because of your familiarity with its ins and outs, you get the stupid impression that nothing will ever surprise you again. It’s the height of foolishness.

The movie industry is always surprising me. How it continues to exist in this age, the sheer abundance of films it keeps pumping out to ever decreasing profits; it staggers me that it’s still going. Most of all, some of the movies they make thinking there’s an audience for them surprises the hell out of me.

That they, in their infinite wisdom, have made a third Riddick movie, imagining as they have, or at least hoping desperately that the multitudes are clamouring to see this character again, for me is on a par with a studio thinking the world wants to see a Jar Jar Binks movie. Or that the world needs, desperately craves a Turner & Hooch follow-up, or that Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger should make a sequel to Twins. Call it Triplets! Get Mel Gibson to play the middle one! Everyone from your maiden aunt to dribbling infants will kill to see that!

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Catching Fire

Girls with bows and arrows, skills and a lot of motivation to
use them must be obeyed at all times

dir: Francis Lawrence

I don’t think anyone is surprised that Catching Fire is a better flick than the first one. Almost every single reviewer mentions it in the first few sentences of their reviews. It’s almost like there’s a groupthink – overmind controlling us all. Of course I’m totally immune to it, but, you know, watch out for it. Or, at least that’s what I’m being told to type.

The thing is, though, as much as I enjoyed it while I was watching it, I had the nagging impression that someone who hadn’t read the books would be hard pressed figuring out what was going on and why, and also why they should care.

Perhaps I’m underestimating people, and underestimating the power of Jennifer Lawrence’s acting abilities as the central character Katniss Everdeen. I’m not going to be surprising anyone by praising her as an actor and a human being: she’s great! She might have received an Academy Award for her role in Silver Linings Playbook, which is still a pretty ordinary film, but she deserves it for her work in these somewhat pulpy and grandiloquent films. Her acting is superb, no matter how absurd the situation or the moment.

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