#967 – Divergent

Sci-Fi

The dystopian future portrayed in Divergent is horrifically basic and feels entirely created to enable a message of ‘be yourself kids’. It’s patronising. This future also has no train platforms…

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#966 – Chappie

Sci-Fi

Chappie the robot is phenomenal, Chappie the film isn’t. The script is confusing despite its simplicity, there is no narrative focus and it’s pot-marked by cheap laughs, which undermines a whole lot. Jackman is brilliant with mullet donned and in khaki shorts, but is woefully underused. This film is cool, but Blomkamp somewhere along the line lost its centre and that is a real shame.

la_ca_0105_chappie

#959 – Ex Machina

Sci-Fi

There is a brilliance to Ex Machina, of that there is no doubt. There is though, a little necessary critiquing, which needs to be done if only to start a debate. You see, if truth be told, I’m unsure if I’m being needlessly harsh and/or overly sensitive in regard to Garland’s work, but I think there is an issue with where it leaves the viewer when the titles roll.

Premise-wise there is nothing to complain about. Isaac’s creepy Nathan, a Zuckerberg-like genius, builds robotic women to further science, and because he can. The film seems to say this reasoning is a pretence and that he’s actually a mad scientist from the Dr. Frankenstein stable with a lavish helping of misogyny thrown in. Fine. His latest model, Vikander’s Ava, is so real he decides to Turing test it on the, at first, unsuspecting nice guy, Caleb, played by Gleeson. This is then all set in the wonderful isolation of Nathan’s stunning home-cum-lab placed in the most beautiful and remote scenery nature has to offer.

Between the characters the tension is superb, the conflict and unease of who is in control at any moment is an ongoing tooth and nail tussle present in every exchange. However, as things progress, and unravel, and the audience is thrown over the precipice of the climax there was an unease within me about what the film was saying.

It is difficult not to ruin the ending in continuing this discourse, but be assured this is a discussion for those that have seen the film, so stop reading now if you haven’t.

There is overall, in the plot and theme of the movie, a reduction to the notion that males need females, and do so on a spectrum that starts at ‘not that healthy’ and slides to ‘very unhealthy’ in how this desire manifests. It is a spectrum clearly represented by Nathan and Caleb. As for women, the film shows that they have no place being controlled by the whim of males, essentially the dysfunctional half of the human race, but that their only ‘out’ is to exploit them. Especially if you look like Alicia Vikander. The film seems to be saying there can be no positive and equally beneficial relationship between man and woman. It’s a dark, dark stance to take.

In many ways this is all well and good as a crux on which to build a narrative. It’s a sort of extended examination of the ‘battle of the sexes’ and equally (and somewhat ironically seeing as we’re talking about robots) ‘natural selection’. This is coupled with, in the case of the male characters most overtly, the conflict of super-ego, ego and id. It then undercuts itself dramatically.

Ava is free, but depicted as being entirely driven by aesthetics, her desire for flawless skin is a majestic sequence, as the soft whirs of her mechanics are shown and covered with a reverence. But what is one meant to make of this desire to fit in, appear attractive and meld with the pre-requisites of the male gaze. Her final outfit is a sham. A virginal white dress, that is fiercely stylish and sexy, coupled with, presumably just what she always wanted, a pair of white four and half inch killer heels. It appears a bizarre choice in the context of the character and by extension the filmmakers; it left me perplexed.

Hell, maybe Ava is simply just the grim outcome of a solely male and reductive notion of what females should be…

This is though a fantastic film. It’s scintillating science-fiction with some serious kink to what plays out. A thought provoker; not only its content, but how and why that content is delivered the way it is. You can’t ask for more.

Finally, I’m going to end by mentioning a sequence we can all agree is out of this world good; the dance scene.

Ex Machina Alicia Vikander

#937 – Edge Of Tomorrow

Sci-Fi

Edge Of Tomorrow is one of the best films of 2014. I’m talking top ten. It’s different, smart, cool and stacked with interesting characters in a not dissimilar way to Aliens.

Cruise manages just about to not be ‘Cruise’, helped considerably by the dislikable qualities his character has to start and then his continuing short-comings. Blunt though is where the film focuses, gazing at her as a ‘full metal bitch’, she’s phenomenal, up there with Ripley as a strong female in a sci-fi setting.

The real deal here though is the story and the way it’s worked. The ground-hog day mechanism of repeating sequences is done eloquently and with a savage brutalism, as we see Cruise killed remorselessly and repeatedly to restart his day. There are times when I felt compelled to place my hands in a defensive posture as the inevitable arrived, especially when Blunt ploughed a bullet through Tom’s head again and again.

Production design is exceptional and the action sequences tough and jarring, the beach scene might be all aliens and exoskeletons, but it shares a lot with the opening of Saving Private Ryan. There is little that comes close to good, solid sci-fi. This flick is seriously good, solid as a rock sci-fi, which will be watched over and over and over…

Oh, and it’s written by Christopher McQuarrie and directed by Doug Liman, no wonder it’s so money.

Edge Of Tomorrow Emily Blunt

#919 – Guardians Of The Galaxy

Sci-Fi

Guardians Of The Galaxy is refreshing, in that it’s a super hero movie that doesn’t take itself seriously and manages, for the most part, to avoid the duller tropes of the genre. Chris Pratt is incredibly easy to like in the lead and the script does have genuine humour. I’m not sure it rises above the status of popcorn movie, but sometimes that’s okay.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Zoe Saldana

#915 – Interstellar

Sci-Fi

Simply put, Interstellar is incredible. It’s also analogue obsessed. It also covers hell of a lot.

There is an issue with the amount going on, the different elements of the narrative and subsequently the type of film you think you’re watching changes from one moment to the next. It is undoubtedly though a Nolan film thematically, but there is also Kubrick, Aronofsky and, dare I suggest, Malick in the mix too. This is why the film is incredible, in the dark of the cinema there were numerous moments where I was aware of my own reaction to what was before me on screen. Predominately grinning like a child, throughly engaged by tension, wonder and spectacle. Incredible, yes, but coherent, not really.

Analogue, I must mention the analogue nature of it all. Everything was so tactile and tangible. Every switch and dial clicked, think of the two docking sequences… that desire for grip. It’s an interesting counterbalance to the cerebral concepts dealt with, which are unfathomably complex and their outcomes that are almost impossible to grasp.

This is superior movie making, it’s the sort of directorial ambition that needs to be commended, even revered.

Interstellar Matthew Mcconaughey

#904 – Under The Skin

Sci-Fi

This is a film. When cinema is discussed as an art form, films like Under The Skin are what is being talked about. The beauty and power contained is this essentially simple concept are staggering. It’s abstract in the best way, with nerve and an unsettling nature, all the while remaining accessible.

Brilliant in form and troubling thematically, this is filmmaking of the highest order.

Under The Skin Scarlett Johansson

#899 – Transcendence

Sci-Fi

The problem with Transcendence is… Actually there’s a lot wrong with it. Its main problem is it’s about artificial intelligence and yet has a stupid plot. There are big, interesting ideas, but the whole thing has all the corners and edges dulled into oblivion due to the terrible story.

Director Pfister was director of photography for Nolan on the similar themed and far more compelling Inception. What’s happened is that he’s made a Nolan film, but really badly. The cast is crazy strong, to the point of not actually having enough lines (just ‘lines’ there are no ‘good lines’ for anyone) and/or screen time for them. Cole Hauser is barely more than an extra.

Money was clearly thrown at this film, but that hasn’t helped either. The expensive special effects make no sense, what they’re there to show is just so dubious as to be thoroughly unbelievable. Considering the subject matter there is an irony that illogicalness pervades everything. And the conclusion? We’ll just say Robinson Crusoe On Mars made more sense.

This could’ve worked, but a much firmer and more experienced hand was required in both the direction and script. Finally, a noteworthy mention to critic Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune who referred to the movie as “The Computer Wore Johnny Depp’s Tennis Shoes”… That’s about right.

Transcendence Johnny Depp Rebecca Hall

#898 – The Machine

Sci-Fi

There is no doubt that The Machine owes a lot to films like The Terminator and Blade Runner. The music in fact takes its synth-lead straight from Vangelis. This though is not a problem and while the concepts challenged are far from original, the presentation of them is.

The story is that of MOD funded research into repairing damaged soldiers using AI and fancy prosthetics. The conflict comes from the lead scientist (Stephens) who believes the technology has far reaching positive possibilities vs. the system, who just want better soldiers, yadda, yadda.

It’s budget sci-fi, but really good sci-fi. The aesthetic of the film is dark, with interesting lighting set ups and lens flare Abrams would commend, I wonder though whether this dim setting was a necessary constraint, hiding the actual locales. If it was or it wasn’t it creates some memorable sequences, most notable the glinting eyes of rebuilt war veterans peering from the darkness.

Lo-fi it maybe, but the special effects are amazing, especially the scene where The Machine’s body is flooded with synthetic fluids to bring it to life. And while nothing new is added to the debate about what constitutes being alive, when explored well, as it is here, it’s always an interesting watch.

The Machine