Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

Jaco Van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody 


Ever see a film that you actually can’t really, properly describe to someone? You often hear “it’s hard to describe”, but you know those ones where you really do find yourself short of a five second cocktail party summary, left with nothing to compare it to and no way to impart the contents in quick, succinct jargon? Jaco Van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody is exactly that type of film, an experience so dense, disorienting and thought provoking that one needs at least a few months after the initial viewing alone to ruminate, mull it over and meditate on what was seen before even a word of analysis is offered. On surface level it’s about a man named Nemo Nobody, played by Jared Leto in a jaw dropping, multifaceted encore of a performance. Nemo is over a hundred years old, the last mortal on an earth of now immortal humans, and he recounts his life, or many lives, rather, to a journalist. That’s the diving board that vaults into an intricate narrative full of love, grief, joy, tragedy and the peculiarities of being human. We see Nemo at hundreds of junctures of his life, penultimate crossroads where he could make either choice, but if he makes neither of them, can then see both outcomes, how they carry forward his trajectory into the future towards more crossroads, more lives, more decisions, like the infinitely branching tributaries of an ever flowing river. How would one make a film like this work onscreen, you ask? Well, not easily. The thing runs almost three hours and often gets a little caught up in itself, especially in the midsection, but it’s sheer ambition and uniquely structured storytelling carry it on wings of light, spanning through a hundred years and countless events that Nemo sees passing. He has three loves, or at least three the film focuses on: luminous Ana, played by an excellent Juno Temple and then Diane Kruger as she gets older, mentally unstable Elise (Sarah Polley) and Jean (Linh Dan Pham), all of whom help shape him or have key parts to play along the branches of his tree of life. There’s a lynchpin event from his youth upon which it all hinges though; faced with the decision to move away with his mother (Natasha Little) as her train leaves, or stay behind with his father (Rhys Ifans), the boy begins to run, but also looks back. This nano-moment is the key to eternity here, the introspective Big Bang that gives way to our story. At times the film lags, and the slack could have been pulled tighter during the development of the three relationships, but the first and third acts that bookend the whole thing move along like the forces unseen around us, using cinematic tools to compose a symphony of motion, music, scientific pondering and emotional resonance. No other film is like this one, and my attempts to describe it above still just don’t even scratch the surface of the dreams found within its runtime. There’s only a few other ones out there that have aspirations as cosmic as this one, and most, including this, have made it into my personal canon of favourites. Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, The Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas and Terence Malick’s Tree Of Life are such films, and Mr. Nobody now sits at their table. 

-Nate Hill

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Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce

Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce is the most dementedly unique horror SciFi mashup you’ll get. Based on a novel that’s literally titled ‘The Space Vampires’, the film is exactly that and more. It’s so out of it’s mind that at a certain point you have to surrender and bask in it, and grab the sides of the cart as it veers between all kinds of increasingly bonkers plot points. When a strange, rice kernel shaped object shows up in earth’s atmosphere, a team of exploratory astronauts led by intrepid Steve Railsback goes on up to investigate. What they find up there eclipses any weirdness aboard the Nostromo, Millennium Falcon or Event Horizon. Intergalactic vampires lie in creepy cryo suspension, just waiting for unlucky hosts to come along. Soon they’re exposed to earth and it’s a gory mad dash all over London to stope them from turning every earthling into zombies. Yes, that’s actually the plot, and despite how it sounds on paper, they really make it work. That’s mostly thanks to the screen shattering, ridiculously good special effects, especially in the opening aboard the alien’s strange, baroque vessel which is one of the most otherworldly and atmospheric sequences in any horror film ever. Once the action shifts back to earth it’s a pure shit show and near comedy of errors, with Railsback’s frenzied cosmonaut teaming up with a peppy British intelligence agent (Peter Firth), and even Patrick Stewart comes out to play as some vague scientific bro. There’s boundless imagination at work here, carried by sheer movie magic to contribute lasting, impressive images and create an entirely unique horror experience. Plus, how could a flick about space vampires not be amazing (we will not speak of Dracula 3000). A sci-Fi horror classic, an under-sung jewel of visual flights of fancy and practical effects laden nightmares.  

-Nate Hill

Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049: Thoughts from Nate Hill


As I settled in to watch Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner: 2049 in a thundering imax theatre, I truly did not know what to expect. I’d successfully avoided spoilers up until that point, done a scant bit of reading hither and thither on a surface level, and obviously been privy to the mind boggling, overwhelmingly positive buzz that’s been flowing forth since the first critics were screened. ‘Masterpiece’, ‘Movie even of the century’ and ‘instant classic’ were some of the lofty adulations that were being hurled around right out of the gate, and it’s not often a sequel to such a long worshipped, culturally influential bombshell of a science fiction film has been welcomed so eagerly and almost unanimously praised. There’s been a gulf of time between Ridley Scott’s 1982 neon fever dream, which is indeed a masterpiece and one of my favourite films of all time, and the shoes to fill have never, ever been bigger. So, does it live up to the original? Is it better? Worse? Pandering fan service or bold pioneer trek into new galaxies of thematic and tonal exploration? The answers to those questions are somewhat more complicated than yes, no or similar succinct absolutes. I can say, however, that Villeneuve’s near three hour machine-dream is one of the most beautiful, ambitious, thoughtful, well wrought films I’ve ever seen, a staggering achievement in all arenas and indeed a piece of cinema they’ll be talking about for years to come. It’s a masterpiece on its own terms, blending elements of the original which we all loved, but bravely surging forward into it’s own brand new chapter of this world, a little bleaker and more austere than the poetic lullabies of Scott’s L.A., yet no less wondrous or sumptuous a creation. This is a world where quite a bit of time has passed since the initial story, and the environment these characters dwell in has shifted along with it. Los Angeles is wearier, emptier and less of a gong show than we remember, yet the buzzing life that we recall catching fleeting glimpses of between monolithic, impossibly gigantic skyscrapers is still there, that endless nocturnal hum has thrived through into a new age. So too have replicants, now far more advanced, under the label and stewardship of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his mega corporation. Ryan Gosling plays a young blade Runner, a profession, it seems, that has not run out of supply in demand. Under the very stern watch of LAPD Captain Joshi (Robin Wright, terrific) he navigates a meticulously paced detective story that, yes, eventually leads him to missing former Blade Runner Rick Deckerd, played by Harrison Ford in one staggeringly well pitched performance. That’s all I’ll really be specific about in terms of plot, because it’s a gorgeously wrapped present that should be opened corner by corner, inch by inch until the viewer has actively and emotionally seen the big picture, a thoughtful process that challenges the audience and should be the standard not just for science fiction, but for big budget films in general. While Blade Runner 1982 was a visual and musical feast for the senses and still maintains that edge over it’s sequel, 2049 has a cerebral and multifaceted patchwork quilt of themes, questions and notions that play across the screen like a ballet of auroral, magnificent wonders, layered, ponderous cinema with an emotional weight and resonance that took me right off guard, a quality that although present in 1982, wasn’t quite as developed as what we get here. Hans Zimmer’s score is every bit the thundering piece you’d expect and is brilliant, a slightly industrialized departure from the lyrical, ethereal tones of Vangelis, but equally as captivating. I could go on, but I’ll let you see the thing for yourself and paint your own picture. I’ll say this: Blade Runner 1982 is the rainbow coloured light shone through a prism, abstract, illusory and trancelike. 2049 is the prism itself, the source of the light and the place where it’s understood from a more conscious, waking-life perspective, and that’s the closest I can get to explaining just how different these films are from each other. One is a dream poem, the other is a deep methodical meditation, but both are vital halves of the mythology. However you look at it, Villeneuve’s 2049 is astounding, achingly beautiful work on every level, not to mention the work of everyone’s favourite unsung maestro, cinematographer Roger Deakins. This is an important film, as it may just hasten the exodus of brainless big budget fluff and help Hollywood enter a golden age of well crafted, intelligent blockbuster films once again. One can dream.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Sender


The Sender is godawful Z-Grade SciFi with cloying, grating intentions, a script with War Of The World’s type ambitions that was given an allowance of like ten bucks to come into fruition, and the result is a windows 98 screensaver with a fraction of a pulse. It’s a shame because they scored two dope actors in Michael Madsen and R. Lee Ermey, but as good as they are they’re both sheepishly notorious for appearing in bottom feeding diarrhea like this to put food on the table. Madsen strains his tear ducts as the sympathetic father whose adorable daughter has mysterious connections to extraterrestrial activity from years before. He’s on the run from all kinds of government folks including Ermey’s gonzo, overzealous military asshole, a one dimensional fire and brimstone go-getter who hunts them six ways to Sunday. That’s about all you’ll get, besides cameos from Dyan Cannon and golden oldie Robert Vaughn, as well as some Fisher Price worthy UFO effects and an all round lack of pride in the craft from everyone involved. Poo.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Xchange 


Imagine Face/Off, but cheaper and the ‘face off’ concept replaced by actual body/soul teleportation and you have Xchange, a fairly decent, pretty silly little low grade, high concept SciFi piece with some decent actors (barring Stephen Baldwin, that hamface) and a story that makes you think, albeit not too strenuously. Somewhere in the nearish future, a company called Xchange has patented a weird body mind swapping doohickey that allows instantaneous teleportation via swapping my out with another person’s body over at your destination. Of course a method like this attracts trouble, in the form of terrorist Kyle MacLachlan, who wants to do all sorts of mean things with the technology. A counter agent (Kim Coates) hunts him down, and a random blue collar worker (Baldwin) unwittingly gets caught up in the espionage, finds himself trapped in a clone’s body whilst the terrorist and agent switch places, and… yeah. Something like that. I’m sure the movie makes more sense than this review, but I may have been under the influence of certain things when I watched it. MacLachlan and Coates are a funny pairing, as one is obviously suited as the villain (Kim), while the other always seems to play upright types (shades of Agent Cooper here). Kyle gets to be mean for about five minutes right in the opening, before the ol’ switcharoo goes down and then Kim flexes his all too familiar, and always entertaining villain muscles, which seems to be a calculated casting choice by the powers that be. I remember this being not half bad, but any film with Baldwin (exception for The Usual Suspects) just sinks a bit simply by having him around to stink it up with his presence, although the other two do just fine with their roles. Definite late night cable background noise when everyone else is passed out. 

-Nate Hill

M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs 


As much as M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs is a brilliantly structured ScFi suspense yarn that’ll give your ticker a run for it’s money, it’s just as effective as a touching exploration of faith and hopelessness, the warring notions that there is either someone or something out there looking out for us, or more distressingly, there is not. One need only watch Mel Gibson’s staggeringly well pitched performance as a man bereft of belief in anything beyond the tangible to feel as alienated as he and his beloved relatives do when a sneaky, marauding band of extraterrestrials take up residence on their remote farm, leaving vast crop circles all about the place. As a dimly paced, impossibly eerie invasion narrative grips us from the forefront, we’re also somewhat primally aware of the story of a once steadfast man, already ruined by personal tragedy, come apart at the seams and start to lose his last vestige of belief in anything beyond our world. Gibson’s wide eyed desperation is almost scarier than the otherworldly beings themselves, which is saying a lot considering these are some of the most unnerving alien critters ever seen on film. A farm is the perfect oasis of desolation to set these events in, and the nocturnal romps through the corn in search of these beasties will make your heart skip a few hundred beats in apprehension. Gibson abides there with his ex baseball pro bro (Joaquin Phoenix) and two adorably deadpan children (Rory Culkin and a very young Abigail Breslin). There’s a deep sense of coziness that is violently uprooted when these unwanted guests show up, an idyllic tranquility tainted by an unknown element most foul, raising the stakes nicely, leading up to the claustrophobic finale. The proceedings almost have a dream logic to them, as if this whole deal is happening on a plane removed several degrees from ours. Characters interact in peculiar, staccato fashion, certain elements here and there don’t sound or feel like they’re… “real”, for lack of a term that doesn’t exist. Whether by choice or happy accident, Shyamalan unsettles us far beyond being spooked solely by the aliens, who aren’t seen in full till way later in the film anyhow. There’s just a hollowness to Gibson’s plight, a restless gnawing anxiety fighting at the whites of his eyes as he struggles to find the light that has left his path. The ending is a perfectly etched out cap to his arc that sideswipes you with emotional heft you never knew the film had in it, and a thoughtful, planned out story beat that takes some contemplation to fully absorb. On the surface, Shyamalan’s work here is a restless sea, but there be dragons roiling underneath, internal demons that extend farther than the excellent science fiction storyline and touch upon ideas much more disturbing: the endless fear of what comes after death, and who is really out there watching us, besides cornfield dwelling lizard-men. Great stuff. 

-Nate Hill

Aeon Flux


Before Ghost In The Shell, Dragonball (fucking shudder) and a host of other attempts at making anime content work as a live action film, there was Aeon Flux, a supremely weird dystopian Sci-Fi palooza that should have just been the first and last of it’s kind, ground zero for moving forward, lesson learned in terms of knowing that such specifically artistic material just *doesn’t* translate at all beyond the original animation versions. You’d think they would have learned with this one, but nope. Charlize Theron can practically carry any material on her own, she’s just that dynamic, and when supported by an impressive vessel of visual effects and a clinical, sleek stylistic palette she’s even better, but this beast has no heart beating at the centre of all that, and it shows. Theron is Aeon, a powerful assassin working for the Handler (Frances Mcdormand), assigned to bring down a dangerous regime in a utopian city where humanity’s last vestige of populace exists following some viral plague decades before. Of course nothing is as it seems and when she gets to the man behind the group (Marton Csokas) she discovers all kinds of secrets. There’s plenty of inventive future-world action, including a neat sequence where Aeon sends in wicked fast micro-bot marbles to blast through a door, and interesting aerobics courtesy of a character played by Sophie Okenodo, who has hands instead of feet, an anomaly the film finds little time to coherently explain. Even less explained is the sudden appearance of Pete Postlethwaite as someone who resides in a giant floating thingy far above the city, kind of like the man in the moon in the midst of chemotherapy. It all makes not a great amount of sense, through no fault of it’s own. That goes back to my thoughts at the beginning of the review though: Sometimes, a specifically drawn or written anime saga is just too much in it’s own abstract, perfectly balanced embryonic harmony, and trying to shunt it along into the very different realm of live action storytelling just isn’t possible. That’s certainly what has happened here, and with pretty much every other attempt I’ve seen to adapt the medium. 

-Nate Hill