Looking for a smart, slick Sci-Fi thriller that has the emotional heartbeat to keep you caring right through the narrative? Check out Gregory Hoblit’s Frequency, a brilliant little high concept mind bender that’s aged so well they even recently rebooted it for TV, which I’m a little dubious about. Like it’s celestial Sci-Fi premise, the film is kind of a lightning in a bottle type flick where they captured the exact recipe of magic, character relationships and plot points that resulted in something really special, and I’m doubtful the new one could come close. Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviesel are awesome as father and son separated by both time, space and even death, until a miracle comes their way. Frank Sullivan (Quaid) is a firefighting, fiercely loving family man in the 70’s who is crazy about his wife (Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell) and young son. Flash forward thirty years or so, his son (Caviesel) is grown up and now a cop, haunted by the past, and his dad has died in the time since. One year there’s a particularly powerful set of Aurora causes by sunspots, right when Caviesel happens to be tinkering around with a HAM radio. It’s delightfully farfetched, but this cosmic occurrence allows him as a grown up to communicate through time thirty years previous, reconnect with Quaid and try to set his family on a less tragic course. The reason it works so well is the dynamic between the family; Quaid, Mitchell and their young son (Daniel Henson) are so thoroughly believable and adorable as a family that we stick by them with each beat and deeply care about their outcomes, which are constantly shifting every time the past is changed via the future, and vice versa. Quaid has two friends (Andre Braugher and Noah Emmerich) who revolve around the character development too and have their parts to play, as does Shawn Doyle as a menacing serial killer who crosses their paths. Quaid loves to pick out these high concept Sci-Fi scripts it seems, he’s been appearing in them throughout his whole career from InnerSpace to Enemy Mine to Dreamscape to Pandorum, the amount of interesting stuff in his filmography is inspiring and this is one of his best. This is a tale to get lost in and revel at the sheer escapism it throws your way, a clever twist on time traveling that puts it’s two charismatic protagonists at dual control panels and gives them the power over fathomless phenomena, connected by an astrological two way radio that knows no bounds of space or time. A classic for me.
“Beowulf meets Predator” boasts the enthusiastic critic blurb on the poster of one of my favourite sci fi genre benders, Outlander. It’s pure outlandish fun, and better yet it knows it is and therfore doesn’t feel any need to spend a bunch of time on grasping exposition to convince you of any shred of authenticity. It simply hums along on a pure rush of unchecked adventure, always aiming to please and for the very most part, doing so wonderfully. Jim Caviesel stars, and he’s an unassuming Ken doll of an actor who has more intensity than anyone gives him credit for, which always makes me spring to attention when he’s in the driver’s seat. Here he plays Kainen, a voyager from a far away galaxy who has crash landed his spacecraft on earth way back in the time of the Vikings, stranded and in need of refuge. Only problem is, he’s been on the run for some time from a large, hideous and very dangerous creature from his home planet called Moorwen. Moorwen has a very personal and deadly vendetta against Kainen, one which threatens the Viking tribe who give him shelter, led by noble king Hrothgar (John Hurt). Kainen comes from a planet with technology and civilization far advanced from Earth at that time, which makes him a hit with the tribesmen and even more so with Hrothgar’s daughter (Sophia Myles). Moorwen threatens their way of life in its rampage against Kainen, causing tragic collateral damage to a rival clan led by Gunnar (Ron Perlman makes heartbreaking and stone tough work of what is essentially an extended cameo). It’s an awesome movie no matter what anyone says. Any film about an astronaut from a far off galaxy who bands together with friggin vikings to battle a fluorescent space dragon is just automatically a winner. In all seriousness though, this one really is something special,and almost seems like a Dennis Quaid vehicle if it were made in the 80’s. Fun, thrilling and never too serious, it knows it’s place and owns the genre shelf it sits on.
The late Tony Scott and Denzel Washington collaborated on five films, the second last of which is underrated sci fi thriller Deja Vu. It contains Scott’s trademark visual style, all skitchy sketchy frames, deliriously rapid editing and deep, gorgeously saturated colours that pisses a lot of people off in its garish, flippant aesthetic. I for one love his style, and here he is coming down off the high that was his masterpiece, Domino, exercising restraint that was no doubt mandated by the studio bigwigs. Nevertheless, the same unmistakably heightened forces of filmmaking that flow through the veins of this crackling thriller can be found in most of his work, just in smaller doses here. The film tackles a lot in its unassuming narrative, from terrorist bombing, an elliptical story that’s put in an otherworldly trance by a plot point involving a high tech time travel capability, and a surprisingly heartfelt undercurrant that somewhat sneaks up on you. During a captivating opening credit sequence, we see a horrific explosion onboard a navy transport ferry in the New Orleans harbour, killing over five hundred people including women and children. ATF Agent Doug Carlin (Washington) is called in to investigate, and before long his cunning intuition catches the eye of FBI Agent Pryzwara (an unusually calm Val Kilmer) who is spearheading a very hush hush investigative technique that’s being used to track the terrorist in the days leading up to the incident. What Kilmer doesn’t tell him is the mind-bending metaphysical implications of it, but keener Denzel gets wise to their act, and throws himself headlong into a quest to stop the bomber, save the mysterious Claire (Paula Patton, just phenomenal) who was murdered and has ties to the event, and reverse time. Denzel is an implosive wrecking ball of determination, his ingenuity and reserve made me wonder why Carlins career aspirations stopped short of the ATF. I don’t know why Patton isn’t in more films (she recently starred alongside Denzel again in the super fun 2 Guns), she brings a battered resilience to her work, and is a radiant beauty to boot. Peppy gerbil Adam Goldberg is the obligatory one liner spewing techie who’s got more going on than his exterior may read, and Bruce Greenwood is all stern bluster as the FBI honcho in charge. This film doesn’t often come up in discussions of either Denzel’s or Scott’s greatest hits, but it’s ripe for rediscovery and praise. Propulsive action, far fetched sci fi intrigue that’s hard to digest and follow, yet simultaneously wicked fun, and like I said before an emotional core that takes you by surprise. There’s a sentence that I internally intone to myself whenever I see a film, or aspects within a film that fire up my adrenal glands, tear ducts or simply rouse my soul. Be it a banger of an action sequence, a romance that hits all the right notes, a good old fashioned fantastical invention or visual flights of fantasy that stir wonder within me. That sentence is “This is why I watch movies”. I get no greater pleasure in my cinematic escapades than being able to say that to myself as my heart pumps to the tune of whatever grand spectacle I’m witnessing before me onscreen. I can tell you, the sentence was uttered while watching this one, and now that I think of it, pretty much every film in Scott’s portfolio. Highly recommended.