Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

David Lynch’s Dune

David Lynch’s Dune is a great film despite what critics, moviegoers, the general consensus and Lynch himself would have you believe. It’s obvious that heavy editing turned it into something of a pacing quagmire, scenes are truncated, oddly conceived voiceovers are added, and yadda yadda. Doesn’t matter. This is still an exquisitely crafted, beautifully atmospheric space opera that takes full advantage of production design, casting, special effects and music, I loved every damn minute of it. I’ve recently been reading Lynch’s semi autobiography and it seems clear that that money shark producer Dino De Laurentiis had final cut and just couldn’t reconcile letting the runtime go past two and a quarter hours. Shame, as there was no doubt way more that we could have seen, but what’s left is still magnificent. I haven’t read the books so I can’t speak for any lapses as far as that goes, but what we have here is a sweeping science fiction fantasy saga about warring royal families, shifting alliances and metaphysical forces all revolving around the desert planet Arrakis, where an invaluable spice is mined and fought over by all. Duke Leto Atreides (Jurgen Prochnow), his wife Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) and their son Paul (Kyle Maclachlan) travel far across the universe from their home world of Caladan to oversee Spice harvesting and production. Buoyant, herpes afflicted fatso Baron Harkonnen (the inimitable Kenneth McMillan takes scenery chewing to a whole new level) seeks to usurp and steal the operation for his house. So begins a series of wars, betrayals and no end of staggeringly staged set pieces and baroque, abstractly conceived production design that Lynch & Co. slaved over for years to bring us. The sand worms are a visual marvel, as are the gold and silver spaceships, the interiors of which feel both lushly industrial and gleamingly regal. Maclachlan and Lynch had their first team up here, the first of many, and the young actor is a magnetic lead, handling the arc well from a naive prince to a desert outlaw who wins over the leader (Everett McGill) of the indigenous tribe of Arrakis and falls in love with their princess (Sean Young, somehow *even* sexier here than she was in Blade Runner). Lynch has amassed an unbelievable cast here, an epic laundry list of names including Patrick Stewart, Max Von Sydow, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Virginia Madsen, Alicia Witt, Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, Freddie Jones, Jack Nance and more, all excellent. Sting is in it too and I have to say that his is the only performance that’s campy in a bad way instead of good, you should see him leering at the camera like he’s in a second grade play. One of the film’s greatest strengths is the original score by Toto, who dial back their trademark rock vibe and produce something atmospheric and elemental in the vein of Vangelis or Tangerine Dream. Their main theme is distinct and oddly melancholic and the rest is synthesis style, beautiful work. I don’t know what to tell you about the whole editing debacle, I mean I guess if De Laurentiis hadn’t have had to swing his dick around Lynch may have had his three plus hour cut, but would that really have been better, or would there have then been a complete lack of pacing and progression ? Who knows, but the way it is now, admittedly there’s a lack of complete coherency and one can tell certain scenes are missing while others languish and take up too much running time, but the issues are nowhere close to as disastrous as the swirling reputation around this film suggest. I’m just so stoked on it now because I avoided it for years thinking it was some giant cinematic mistake a lá Battlefield Earth. Not a chance, and I think many people are just being a bit dramatic, because this is a showstopper of a fantasy epic and I loved it to bits. Just bought the Blu Ray off Amazon a minute ago, excited for many revisits.

-Nate Hill

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The King has risen: A Joyous Appraisal of AQUAMAN

Now the dude in the video above isn’t singing about the movie I caught today (and I’m not denying the fact that that is a damn tasty burger he has there) but his song along in the words of the film’s charismatic lead: “That was awesome,” is kinda how I feel right now.  Yes folks, despite any negative press you’ve heard, read, whatever – Aquaman is a feast – a thrilling adventure that really transported me. Not merely into the sumptuous and glorious undersea kingdoms created by the filmmakers involved – but back to the fun, exuberant times I ‘used’ to have at the movies – before the dark clouds engulfed us, trapping us in the forgotten seas where the dark creatures of the trench started forcing us to feed on one franchise after the next. Dark, moody, brooding, shit. That is not the joy I remember in that magnificent dark place we call the cinema – where worlds merge and the magnitude of the movie-maker’s vision takes me into it’s care, placing me, willingly, under it’s spell.

What a spell indeed, let me tell you. James Wan had me when I read his response to a question regarding the tone of Aquaman: “I’m a film fan, I’m a product of the 1980s and 1990s, and a lot of people have said that  Aquaman has a very 1980s quality to it. Especially the high-fantasy of the 1980s, like Flash Gordon and Krull.”

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Flash Gordon meets Krull! Vibrant, fantastical, magical world building on a big canvas. I don’t chiefly give to much of a fiddler’s fart about the MCU or the DCEU and their never ending cavalcade of chicanery, but, when I read Wan’s response to that question I was, hands down, not missing this picture. And it’s become a common phrase of late – “see it on the biggest screen possible” – but, meh, they’re right. Aquaman is a big picture, so that’s the best advice I can give.

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The cast are wonderful in their parts, and I get the feeling they understand the kind of ride they’re crafting. The exposition is fluid like the oceans that dominate the movie. You feel carried along on a current if excitement and wonder as the story advances. But, one the best parts truly, in terms of constructing this film which Wan did so masterfully, is that he simply shunned the Marvel formula of tying it together with all that has come before – a line of dialogue sorted that out. It’s a freeing maneuver that allows this exciting director to do what he does best, which is to flex is visual muscles and take us into a world that makes anything James Cameron has done thus far seem a little flaccid. The production design, the gliding camera, the effortless action. Oh my God – I love it.

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Momoa brings a grand juxtaposition of the boy unwilling to take up his trident, mixed with a guy just playin’ it cool. His nonchalant approach is great, and I caught myself smiling at his delivery more than once. He is supported by strong players all. Patrick Wilson’s power-mad dictator, Dolph Lundgren on his seahorse (sorry, sea dragon). Willem Dafoe, always dependable, Nicole Kidman, getting better with age (love that fish suit), Amber Heard, feisty-sexy, badass Black Manta and hell, his dad is Jake ‘the Muss’ for Christ’s sake – and he can drink Fishman under the table.

It’s a whale of a tale I tell you lads, a whale of a tale that’s true. ‘Bout the flappin’ fish and a mother’s love – stoppin’ a deep sea war with the shores above. I’d swear by my tattoo if I had one but put simply – scintillating, sensational, spectacular. Home might be calling, but they’ll need to leave a message ’cause I’ll be out . . . watching Aquaman . . . again. GO SEE IT NOW!

As always, dig your movies . . .

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That Dude in the Audience.

Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris

Concept: Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is not a remake of the 70’s version but a separate adaptation of the novel by Stanislaw Lem, existing as its own vision of that story. Many people ripped on this as being an inferior retread of Andrei Tarkovsky’s strange, deliberately slow film (which didn’t work for me). Now bear with me: in my humble and frequently disputed opinion, Soderbergh’s is not only the better film but the definitive version of this story. It’s shorter, less theatrical, far more accessible but in the end it’s timbre simply struck a far more resonant chord with me, and I never argue with that intuitive barometer. This version is also slow, but finds a hypnotic, mesmeric cadence to the story of psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), his deceased wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone) and the mysterious sphere of luminescence, the planet Solaris. Kelvin has been called there by his friend and colleague Gibarian (Ulrich Tukur) after some… odd things start happening to the astronauts aboard, and it’s here on this quiet, near abandoned space station that he undergoes an intense, otherworldly and very personal metaphysical journey that is catalyzed by the forces of the planet sparkling below them and deepened further by the difficult, unexplored regions of human psyches and behaviour. The planet below has a habit of resurrecting Kelvin’s wife who died years before and placing her on the station with him. Why? Who can say, but it certainly provides everyone involved with all sorts of dilemmas both internal and external, starting with the nature of love, loss and grief. This version of Rheya is clearly not Chris’s wife, but a copy made by the planet based on his memory, mental images and unresolved emotions surrounding her. He struggles at first to see this, then he does. She too struggles at first with existential confusion, and comes to a similar realization, with heartbreaking results. This film is thoughtful and ponderous even by Science Fiction standards, there isn’t a single action scene or anything like that, it is solely character based, atmospheric storytelling that draws you in ways some people have forgotten film is capable of. Clooney is at his most vulnerable here, the charm, affability and mile wide smile nowhere in sight. This is a man whose grief has come back full circle to him, and the haunted, staggered reaction upon seeing his wife again for the first time is my favourite work he has ever done. McElhone is an actress who rarely gets the chance to exercise her full potential, but this is a career best for her, she goes to some places that are hard to get to, and her methods of getting there in her obvious scene prep and meditative focus are beautiful to behold. The scenes near Solaris are interlaced with their complicated, stormy yet devoted relationship years prior, which is the lynchpin and mapping schematic that Solaris later draws on for… whatever it thinks it’s doing. Composer Cliff Martinez often works with Soderbergh, and their collaboration here is succinct and tandem, the soft, rhythmic electronic beat pulsing along to images of sleek, still hallways of the station and the vividly coloured planet below, holding secrets that seem just out of reach. The film questions not only love and life but the way human beings perceive each other, whether a tangible person can exist based only upon someone’s dimming memory of them, and what part exactly does the soul play in all of this. “We don’t have to think like that anymore”, Rheya lovingly reassures Chris when he worriedly questions the semantics of Solaris’s plan. Opaque is the nature of this story, but through it we are invited to feel our way to truths that hide behind the swirling pulsars adorning Solaris and the ongoing relationship between these two lovers who are star crossed in more than just a metaphorical sense. Complex, difficult themes to be sure, but it’s all dealt with in organic, rapturous fashion as Soderbergh lets glances, body language, music and affection tell the story instead of heaps of dialogue or obvious beats. A love story wrapped up in a gorgeous musical tone poem gilded by an intelligent, thought provoking science fiction story that questions the essential, reaches for answers in unconventional ways and does things with film that the medium was meant for. One of my top ten favourite films ever made, and up there with the very best Sci Fi’s out there.

-Nate Hill

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact is a periodically good film that suffers from over-length, clutter and sideshow syndrome, as in it doesn’t trust itself to stick to the effective core story without throwing in all sorts of other hoo-hah just for for the sheer hell of it. At two and a half hours it feels more stretched than Bilbo did before leaving the Shire, and would have been way better off slicing out a good half hour to streamline. What does work is really captivating though, especially a fantastic Jodie Foster in a performance of striking determination as a woman who never loses the sense of wonder she had as a child, and strives to make contact with anyone that may be out there in the vast universe. Of course her efforts meet budget cuts, skepticism and sneers from the government and fellow colleagues like Tom Skeritt’s prestigious researcher, a sadly one note character whose allegiance turns on a dime when she actually receives a message from a faraway galaxy. Speaking of one note characters, get a load of chest puffing James Woods as an obnoxious NSA prick with all the depth a kitchen sink has to offer. John Hurt fares better as an eccentric billionaire who offers Foster funding and support, as does always terrific David Morse as her father. Matthew McConaughey is sorely miscast as a spiritual man and love interest, William Fichtner is excellent as her loyal colleague and friend, Jena Malone great as nine year old Jodie Foster, while Jake Busey, Angela Bassett and a whole armada of unnecessary tabloid celebrity cameos show up too, leading right up to Bill Clinton, who I’m convinced is an alien himself. The thing is, so much of the film is just commotion and nonsense, geared towards wowing audiences instead of trusting the fact that they’ll be at ease with just Foster’s story, which is the connective tissue. The elaborate and drawn construction of a machine based on alien blueprints, pesky religious extremists, theological fanfare that falls flat and incessant faux tv newsreel footage that buzzes around like unwanted house flies and kills the atmosphere, there’s too much in the way. My favourite scene of the film takes place somewhere deep in the universe Foster has travelled to through a wormhole, in which a mysterious being tells her that “human beings are capable of such beautiful dreams, and such terrible nightmares”, a sentiment that parts the clouds and gives the story clarity, as does her arc, relationship with her father and desire to know what’s out there, who we are as a race and where we came from, and it’s in that wonder that the film finds its strength. Much of the rest is just lame earthbound noise.

-Nate Hill

Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report

Few films successfully balance story, character, emotion, action and special effects on a scale as grand as Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, which I saw for the first time last night and am still reeling from. It’s brilliant, intelligent science fiction, a labyrinthine murder mystery, complex detective story and a thunderous action movie all rolled together in a perfectly pitched recipe, probably as close to flawless as you can find. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, Spielberg world-builds fantastically around the concept of ‘Pre-Cogs’, neurologically damaged clairvoyants who can predict murders before they happen and have been put to work in Washington DC of 2054, where Lexus hover cars jet along vertical freeways, mad doctors replace eyeballs in a grimy shanty town flophouses, holograms dance about and there hasn’t been a single murder in six years, which is all about to change. It’s a startlingly complex, succinct version of the future where every bell and whistle serves the story instead of being simple gaudy arbitration to flaunt the studio’s money showboating across the screen. Tom Cruise gives a focused, implosive turn as John Anderton, chief of the high tech PreCrime unit, tasked with taking the PreCog’s readings and implementing force to ensure that these future murders never take place, that is until his very own name comes down the tube and he’s propelled on an odyssey to clear his name, smoke out elusive corruption and put ghosts of the past to rest in several different cases. Talk about an eclectic cast of actors supporting him, with standouts including Max Von Sydow as the grandfatherly director of the program, Lois Smith as an eccentric botanist with ties to the past, Kathryn Morris as Anderson’s intuitive ex wife, Colin Farrell as a sharp federal agent who both hinders and helps Anderton’s cause, Peter Stormare positively devouring scenery as aforementioned mad doctor, Tim Blake Nelson as a chatty prison warden, Neal McDonough and Patrick Kilpatrick as fellow PreCrime cops and Samantha Morton who almost walks off with the film in an arresting portrayal of angelic, animalistic PreCog Agatha, whose gifted brain holds power to unlock the past. The central mystery of the film is deep, broad and filled with hairpin turns you don’t see coming, it’s noirish in the way it unfolds but slick and streamlined in design, like all the best retro futurism I can think of, this now included. Better still is the fierce, uncompromising emotional centre where it finds gravity, particularly in a heartbreaking scene where Agatha enlightens John and his wife to their own pain, hers and that of those in the past she is trying to find retribution for, it’s a devastating sequence of blunt truth and unfiltered compassion that resonates beautifully from Morton, Cruise and Morris who all nail it. What more can I say? Roger Ebert said it best when he wrote that this film reminds us why we go to the movies in the first place, and I agree. I was attentive, rose up to met the narrative with my focus and always felt entertained by both the large scale fireworks and careful mechanization of story. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity

There’s a select few theatre going experiences that are mile markers for me in the sense that they changed and expanded my realm of experience in the cinema. I remember seeing Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity in 3D, AVX, iMax fuckin all the bells and whistles were present and accounted for. I walked into the theatre almost on a whim while my ex was at dance rehearsal and I had a few hours to kill downtown, the film had already been in theatres for about a month, I was aware of the buzz but the trailers weren’t doing it for me and it wasn’t high on my priority list. Well.. I’m glad I made that impulsive decision because not only is it now one of my favourite films, but the theatre experience, particularly alone and totally attentive to the immersive universe it created, is something I’ll treasure forever. Sandra Bullock gives a career best as mission specialist Ryan Stone, stranded in the heavens when chunks of a decimated satellite shred through the space station she’s fixing up, leaving her and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney in a roguish portrait of cavalier stoicism) adrift among the stars. It’s an arresting nail biter of a sequence that leads to many more, all staged in breathless, unbelievably realistic fashion by Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Bullock’s character is in a purgatorial womblike state up here, wounded by tragedy from years before and unable to fully continue on with her life without some kind of rebirth, which the unpredictable vacuum of space is more than willing to contribute to at every turn. Hair raising near misses and death defying escapes abound, with moments of tranquil, hypnotic pause to catch glimpses of the dazzling blue green globe below or communicate across millions of miles and a language barrier with an Inuit man over a rogue radio signal. This is all a lead up to what has to be one of the most stirring, adrenaline soaked descents to the planet’s surface ever filmed. Cuaron knows how to raise pulses and get you to invest in character so that when the time comes for Steven Price’s gorgeous cosmic battle cry of an original score to herald her journey home, attentions are riveted. It’s likely my favourite sequence ever shot in a film set in space, a triumphant display of resilience and poetic grandeur as she plunged through the embryonic atmosphere of our planet in a rickety little escape pod and hurtles towards the surface, angelic strains of music echoing all around her, surrounded by flaming meteors of detritus from the space station like fallen stars. I wish they’d bring this film back to theatres every couple years so we can relive the glory at its fullest potential. A masterpiece and miracle of an achievement from all involved.

-Nate Hill

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar

Many films are ambitious enough to reach for the stars, but Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar reaches for them and then plunges headlong past them into the universe’s vast infinitude to grasp ideas and tell a story that challenges intellect, stirs emotion and dazzles in the way a thinking person’s SciFi film should. I suppose it’s impossible for me to pick a favourite Nolan film as they are all pretty much solidified classics for me, but if you asked me which one stood out without necessarily labelling it as my top pick, I’d point towards this one. There’s a few key areas in which the filmmaker tries to make a deliberate departure from the style he has become known for, chief among them being just how based in emotion this story is. From Rachel and Bruce in The Dark Knight to Cobb and Mal in Inception there’s always been something of a heartfelt element to his work, but here the relationship between intrepid astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter Murphy, played throughout the years by Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn and the fantastic Mackenzie Foy who is the youngest actor in the film but gives the most soulful work, is really something that anchors the film every step of the way. The relationship between father and daughter here is a connection that transcends time, space, the stars and laws of the universe itself or at least in the way we comprehend them, and while many scoffed at these themes from Nolan and rolled their eyes, I found it to be one of the most powerful things in any film he’s done. Interstellar is bursting with ideas, glimmering special effects and dedicated performances, starting with Matt and Mackenzie and going on down through the ranks with supporting star power from Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, William Devane, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, David Oweleyo with standout work from Bill Irwin as the witty, loyal robot TARS and John Lithgow as Cooper’s salty earthbound stepfather. Nolan plumbs the inky vacuum of space for visual grandeur and vast, stunning set pieces including a planet with roaming tidal waves, a breathtaking ice world and a hair raising docking scene as their ship rotated furiously through space, his sense of scope is incredible and the blend of practical effects vs CGI is a seamless ballet amongst the stars, few films feel as tactile and spacious. As much as he is about the fireworks here, ultimately his focus lies on the intimate as well, with love being explored as more than just a biological function and more like a cosmic field of energy that has laws, boundaries and the same strengths as any other element. Cooper travels through a wormhole and to galaxies so far beyond our own that time seems to have no meaning, but that does nothing to shake the bond he has with his daughter, and this is where the film is so effective. He’s out there trying to find new worlds and sustain the human race, no doubt, but to him it’s Murphy, their connection and the forces which hold it together that ultimately keep him going and win the day. All the elements work to reinforce this throughout the film, with Hathaway’s yearning for the lost astronaut she loves and even Damon’s nefarious self love that leads him to acts that although are horrible, come from an emotional place. Hans Zimmer’s totally unique original score also has a heartfelt undercurrent, usually his work, and especially in Nolan’s films, has a heavily punctuated, thunderously orchestral style but here he’s traded that in for a softer, much more melodic piece that legitimately sounds like galaxies unfolding all around the viewer and has a deep longing behind every twinkling electronic tone. A blockbuster with brains, big ideas and plenty of action, but also with heart and feeling to back it up and fuel this voyage to the stars. One of Nolan’s absolute best, and one of the most brilliant science fiction films we will likely ever see on the big screen.

-Nate Hill