Contact (1997): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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A scientist who has devoted her life to discovering extraterrestrial life form not only has her breakthrough but also uncovers a secret message.

Carl Sagan:  “The astronomer of the people”. Astrophysicist, author, researcher, and controversial figure regarding his scientific, political, and religious views.

Robert Zemeckis: The enormously talented director of films such as the “Back to the Future” franchise, Forrest Gump (1994), and “Cast Away” (2000).

Two and a half hours of lessons about life… on this planet or the next. And Carl Sagan was there since day one to make sure that everyone got the science right. And that everyone got a glimpse of what he “saw”. Of what he envisioned. Unfortunately, halfway there, cancer beat him and left his last breath. He was 62.

Fortunately, his adaptation, his vision, was left in the brilliant hands of Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis grasped Sagan’s concept of the “Encyclopaedia Galactica” which is based on the science fiction novel “Foundation” by Isaac Asimov and delivered a heartfelt drama about a girl who turned into a woman with the brightest of minds and who wouldn’t stop until she discovered the truth.

The truth that science should be seeking. And not at the expense of people. The same truth that faith in something higher than ourselves should be doing. And again, not at the expense of people. “Contact” is a sci-fi/drama that doesn’t patronise, exploit, manipulate or try to impress with fake, non-coherent, uneducated scientific jargon. It takes its time to find a middle ground between science and religion and make it about not who is right and who isn’t but about respecting the fellow human being who just happens to have a different view of the “cosmos” than ourselves.

It is amazing how the real-life discovery of an arctic meteorite from Mars coincided with the film’s shooting and how Zemeckis grasped the opportunity and adapted Bill Clinton’s actual interview which looks like it is custom-tailored to the film’s discovery. Luck and talent are beyond understanding here.

Lastly, I find it really interesting how in a film that is primarily sci-fi, having so much to offer to our way of thinking, the best shot (my opinion anyway) is a young Ellie running up the stairs, after having found her dad lying on the floor, to get his medicine.

“Contact”… One of the best political, social, humane science fiction you will ever get to watch.

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The Man who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot (2018): Adventure / Drama / Sci-Fi

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An aged American war veteran is sent to the Canadian wilderness to kill… the Bigfoot.

I had no idea this film existed until I came across the title. And then I said… “Damn! Now I have to know how Hitler and Bigfoot co-exist in the same sentence”. I’ll tell you this, ostensibly, the film makes no sense whatsoever and one would think that writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski smokes way too much. But this is not the case!

This is purely my interpretation of what the film is about so, feel free to have your own should you decide to watch it. An old man who once achieved so much and a nation owes him is left with nothing but his dignity and loneliness in a world he does not understand anymore and no one to share it with. And when he is just about to bite the bullet, the government knocks on his door to assign him with an unfathomable mission, and the opportunity to once more save the world.

Did I say too much? Sam Elliott and Aidan Turner as old and young Calvin Barr respectively and Caitlin FitzGerald as Maxine deliver subtle yet powerful performances making this film with the confusing title an existential drama on the painful feelings of loss and regret. So, what is the rest all about? That’s up to you to figure out.

P.S. The last flashback scene is heartbreaking…

Prospect (2018): Drama / Sci-fi / Thriller

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Father and daughter land on a planet’s remote, exotic moon to harvest precious gems and get rich but between merciless people and dangerous forest dwellers, escaping becomes the ultimate goal.

Directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl shoot the feature version of their homonymous short, on a $3.9m budget. And the result pays off. Well directed, well paced and well acted, “Prospect” invests in a claustrophobic opening sequence and amazing shots from space. While on the ground, intentionally or unintentionally, the film can be pitched or could have been pitched or maybe it was as “Mad Max in an alien moon”.

Films like “Prospect” make me more optimistic. It is an indie, low budget sci-fi that pays respect to the genre and the art of cinema with cast and crew fully supporting and believing in it. And so did the fans who applauded its minimalism at the festivals and didn’t care if props and costumes were handmade by, among others, cosplayers!

Inspirational! Well done!

Replicas (2018): Crime / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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After losing his family in a car accident, a synthetic biologist breaks every physical law and ethical barrier to bring them back.

I’ll get right to the point… One of the early debates in the film is between Will Foster – the scientist – and his wife Mona about the existence or not of the “soul”. I don’t know about humans but “Replicas” definitely lacks it. Writer Chad St. John seems to know about the tech side of the film but he, director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and the production team seem to neglect the emotional side; the feeling of desolation that absolutely ruins a man upon losing his family, the feeling of joining them, the feeling of lying down and not getting up ever. Much less, not lying down at all and have the clarity to apply science levels you have never applied before. Especially from Chad St. John I would expect more as he also wrote “Peppermint” (2018) where he emphasised a lot on the assassination of Riley North’s (Jennifer Garner) family and the soul-crushing aftermath.

And from an, allegedly, thought-provoking sci-fi/drama turns into action… I don’t want to keep on going, you got the gist. “Replicas” is a messy, soulless film that cast and crew, from pre to postproduction, didn’t believe in. It could have been a lot more. Shame.

Glass (2019): Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller

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A security guard with extraordinary abilities tracks down a dangerous man with twenty-four personalities while the mastermind patiently awaits.

Nineteen years later, “Glass” finally makes it to the big screen only to give some answers and raise more questions. M. Night Shyamalan’s heroes and villains from “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2016) are brought together, unite, believe and doubt themselves and each other, and eventually clash. Here’s what happened straight after the film was released: It was pounded by the critics and deified by the audience. I guess the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes.

The pace is the main issue. The two hours seem significantly longer as the first act seems a bit rushed whereas the second, due to the lengthy psychotherapeutic verbosity that ostensibly leads nowhere, drags and feels like a marathon. As for the third act, since it’s a Shyamalan film, I can’t say anything without giving away spoilers. What I can say is though is that there are certain concerns regarding the unbelievability of certain events, and events that give the trilogy a whole new direction you will either love or hate. Bold move but, at the end of the day, that’s Shyamalan for you.

Mr. Glass’s character development is another issue. He has become as intelligent as the script needs him to be. And that is partially why the story is led to a certain direction that, on occasion, lacks common sense. Then there is the when and how everything is happening; the timing, the understaffed hospital, the low security, the underdeveloped final clash…

BUT… don’t go in there with your own expectations of how you would like it to begin, develop, or end. Remember that with Shyamalan’s films one can only wonder if what they are watching is the end or merely the beginning. If it helps, focus on the acting which is breathtaking. The, once again, meticulously chosen hero colour pattern. The directing and the photography which makes it a world-class thriller. And keep in mind that the characters from “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2016) belong to two different studios which collaborated for the first time (and according to Shyamalan probably the last) to bring this project to life. So, a lot of Industry Professionals truly believed in it.

Think of “Glass” as a confrontation of a man’s ultimate altruism against another man’s monstrosity, orchestrated by a third man who believes that humans would be physically and mentally capable of everything… if they only knew how to trigger their true identity.

Or don’t think of any reviews or critiques, just go and watch it, and see for yourselves…

Unbreakable (2000): Drama / Mystery / Sci-Fi

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A comic book gallery owner discovers that the lone survivor of a horrible accident has an amazing ability.

It is only befitting to review this one at this point in time and… you know which one is going to be next! Now that “Glass” (2019) has been heavily promoted as the third part of an otherwise stealthy trilogy, “Unbreakable” has been given a lot more gravitas.

When it was first released in 2000 some people loved it, some people laughed at it, some people were just left scratching their head. I will avoid major spoilers about the ending just in case someone hasn’t watched it yet. As a standalone, there was really no closure. When it comes to ‘Mr. Glass’, justice was served. But what about David Dunn? He finally found his calling, and then what? Was that the end of the hero’s journey? To discover an ability and do nothing with it with it afterwards?

As part of a trilogy, the scope changes. It makes you now want to go back and watch it again, get to know the characters once more, and see how they can potentially be connected to the 24 personalities of Kevin Crumb in “Split” (2018) before you go to the cinema and watch “Glass” (2019). Remember the scene at the football stadium when David Dunn heads for the drug dealer? What if you suspected that the mother and child he brushes past and senses child abuse just before, is believed to be little Kevin with his mom? Hmm…

Anyway, “Unbreakable” is arguably M.Night Shyamalan’s most innovative and resourceful directing, Eduardo Serra’s darkest cinematography, and one of the best James Newton Howard’s score. It marks the fourth collaboration between Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson who are both irreplaceable. Memorable moments:

  • The hooded rain poncho obscuring Dunn’s face.
  • Long tracking shots and high and low camera angles to create the illusion we are in a graphic novel.
  • Repeatedly seeing Mr. Glass through or around glass to remind us of his connection with it but also his weakness.
  • Respectively, the raincoat David Dunn wears in most scenes to “protect” himself from the rain (water).
  • The graphic novel’s colour patterns; Dunn wears green and Glass purple.
  • Speaking of, the saturated colours over the muted colours at the station.

“Unbreakable” is not a superhero film, yet it follows the hero’s self-discovery path. And even though it is not a graphic novel adaptation, is most definitely made that way to “beam us up” to the narrative storytelling of the world of pictures.

Sorry to Bother You (2018): Comedy / Fantasy / Sci-Fi

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In a parallel universe, in Oakland, a telemarketer goes from having nothing to having everything to losing it all over again when in reality he had it all, lost it, and then tries to gain it again.

Is it perplexed? So is the film… Before I write any review, I make sure not to read other reviews or critiques so I know for a fact that I am stating my point of view and my point of view alone. “Sorry to Bother You” is “Comedy”, is “Fantasy”, but it is not “Sci-Fi”. It looks like a fresh take on Charlie Kaufman’s way of thinking, topped up with Boots Riley’s unique approach. Before watching it, the range of comments I had heard spanned from “genius” to “moronic” and from “amazing” to “horrendous”. So, chances are that you will either love it or loathe it. Here’s what I think…

Cassius Green represents the number of times you have asked yourself “Why does no one see how wrong the world is”? At first, he sees it. Then he becomes part of it. And then he wakes up, gets out, and does something about it. Lakeith Stanfield is brilliant as Cassius who lives in a surrealistically psychedelic world, like ours, just more artistically – Kaufman-esque – portrayed. Well, in our world, Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America, a laughable joke from “The Simpsons” (1989), so not that much more…

Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) represents the system that feeds off greed. And our ambition to do something more with our lives, and become something better, and change that system, can fool even ourselves and become that very same greed that feeds it.

“Sorry to Bother You” parodies our world not because it wants to undermine it. Boots Riley comprehends the “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you” (George Bernard Shaw) mentality, and through a respectful, meaningful, and didactic parable, makes you laugh but also “see” how much work needs to be done so our world can be a tad more understood.

Last but not least, Detroit, who is none other than the one and only, breathtaking, and always dazzling woman and actress Tessa Thompson represents love. In a subtle and artistic form, she has always been the one to prevent us from going astray and make us become the people that we always hoped we would be.

Stargate (1994): Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

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The discovery of a mysterious device in Egypt will teleport a linguist and a Colonel with a military mission galaxies away to a world where Ra rules over an ancient civilization.

Who built the pyramids? How were the pyramids built? When were the pyramids built? Blending history with fiction, Rolland Emmerich manages to build up an engaging premise surrounding the aforementioned questions which, to this day, people post online or publish books and articles.

“Stargate” has everything. Brilliant directing and photography, strong storyline, relatable characters, impressive visual and sound effects, great performances, excellent music score, and right editing pace. A solid sci-fi flick with no kitsch and no cliche, offering an entertaining take on Egyptian Mythology that will especially satisfy the thought-provoking conspiracy lovers believing that once the aliens paid us a visit. And not only.

That said, between them and those who think that “Stargate” contains “Americans liberating the world” right-wing hidden messages, “religion is oppressive” beliefs, and “power to the people” left-wing ideologies… I’ll side with the “Aliens built the pyramids mirroring Orion” dudes…

Bird Box (2018): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

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In a post-apocalyptic present, a mother with two kids run for their lives as a menacing presence of unknown origin, when seen, forces people to take their own lives.

Here’s the film’s obvious pitch: “The Happening” (2008) meets “A Quiet Place” (2018). Let me put it this way… It doesn’t meet either. Both of them raise important questions but provide, to a certain level, some answers leaving the viewer speculating about the cause and effect based on the clues they provided.

“Bird Box” raises questions and doesn’t bother at all with answers. No one with the basic level of intelligence will stare at the ceiling as the end credits roll down contemplating what potentially could these entities (?) be. Not revealing them is absolutely fine in my books. The unseen yet sensed ominous presence can be terrifying indeed. Not revealing their origins, their purpose, their powers, nothing whatsoever, makes them as unrelatable as the characters themselves. So, yeah, there is that too.

Susanne Bier has done a terrific job behind the camera. “Bird Box” is a well-shot, well edited, and well-produced film. So, I will quote (again) Howard Hawks: “You can’t fix a bad script after you start shooting. The problems on the page only get bigger as they move to the big screen”. Months before, Netflix also produced “How it Ends” (2018) with the reviews being as embarrassing as they come – especially on how it ends! I guess history teaches us that we are not taught from history after all…

Sandra Bullock is still an amazing actress and still keeps nailing the parts she gets. Even in this one. So, I really hope that we see her in films she deserves to be in and not films like “Ocean’s Eight” (2018). Actually, I hope we never have to see again any film like “Ocean’s Eight” (2018). Not even blindfolded…

Never Let Me Go (2010): Drama / Sci-Fi

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Three kids who grew up together in a posh, strict, and ostensibly ordinary boarding school, become young adults and face the life they were destined to have.

How would you feel if you found out your whole life is already chosen for you? How about both chosen for you and a lie? Once I thought that sci-fi without visual effects is like a lift without a mirror. How wrong was I?! “Never Let Me Go” is not the only film that makes it to that list. But it makes it to the top – my humble opinion anyway.

Its strongest suits:

  • Kazuo Ishiguro’s powerful existential drama diving into the human psyche.
  • Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley delivering electrifying performances.
  • Rachel Portman’s enthralling and spellbinding score.
  • Mark Romanek’s best film yet.

The film’s pace might put the average viewer off. It is a slow burn but it is of great importance not only to understand the characters but to become them. See life how they see it. Experience pain how they do. Be there for them when they curse the day they were brought to life.

The book goes into deeper depths analyzing or emphasizing characters and situations, and that way, everything becomes clearer in the end. The film doesn’t and therefore it raises more questions than answers.

Be patient and pay attention to the details. With acting that brings tears to your eyes and soundtrack that adds “hope, humanity, and heartbeat” in an alternate, seemingly heartless reality, “Never Let Me Go” is a depressingly beautiful, cinematic adaptation that strikes a chord.