Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

Alex Garland’s Annihilation

Alex Garland’s Annihilation is a stunning, incredible, awe inspiring and strikingly unique piece of work. It’s the kind of film that has you leaving the theatre and wanting to run up to strangers on the street passing by, shout how great it is in their faces and promptly buy them a ticket of their own. It’s reassuring that smart, dazzling big budget science fiction still thrives in Hollywood, and projects like this build upon and terraform the preexisting genre to produce things previously unseen, stories that wear their influences upon their sleeve whilst simultaneously hitting you as something you’ve never conceived in your wildest fever dreams. It’s also not the film you might be expecting from trailers and descriptions so far, in the best possible way. Is it about a team that heads off into a strange, quarantined area to investigate a possible extraterrestrial presence? Yes, but not really. Is it a clever blend of Alien-esque horror and trippy, delirious cosmic futurism? Sort of, but that’s just the tip of a very large, very deep iceberg surrounded by a wall of scintillating effervescence dubbed ‘The Shimmer’ by wary scientists and the military. It’s into this enshrouded no man’s land that biologist Natalie Portman and a team of professionals with nothing to lose venture, and where the film really kicks off. Every character has some kind of inner trauma which has caused them to self destruct in their own ways, an unnerving theme that Garland holds up to his audience like a prism and explores with equal scrutiny. Portman has never been better, changed by the disappearance of her soldier husband (Oscar Isaac) and eerily drawn to The Shimmer. Jennifer Jason Leigh is Ventress, coldly stoic and freakily collected as team leader. Tessa Thompson caught my eyes with her fiery work in both Westworld and Thor: Ragnorak, she’s purely haunting here as the detached, withdrawn and highly intuitive Josie, nailing her final scene with earth shattering poise. Gina Rodriguez burst onto the scene with her excellent work in Deepwater Horizon and is pure dynamite here as Josie, the emotional firebrand of their troupe, giving the character’s eventual meltdown scene a remarkably authentic edge. These four actresses pull the tapestry of the film’s narrative together with their collective and individual work ; they’re nothing short of superb. Garland has found a way to express otherworldly phenomena in an artistic and scientific way that no other filmmaker has yet achieved. The images are breathtaking, the visual effects beyond top tier, the ideas are ambitious and reach full on for the stars, and the whole deal should be the gold standard of genre films at the multiplex. I’ll say no more, and let you discover it for yourself. Oh but I have to mention Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s score, an indescribable auditory experience that reaches dreamy levels of expressive percussion in the third act. Ok, I’m done, just go see it right now.

-Nate Hill


B Movie Glory: Necessary Evil

There’s always those B Movies that seemed to be sewn together out of bits of other scripts and produced solely so SyFy or Space has something, anything to fill up their 3am Saturday time slot. It’s like production team grabbed discarded narratives from all kinds of genre flicks, shoved them in a magic bullet, but purée and served up whatever the result is to the distributor. Now, this can often be a terrible idea resulting in boring mish-mash horror flicks that make little sense, or they can oddly kind of work in their own absurd way. Necessary Evil… kind of works, kind of doesn’t, there’s definitely something splattered on the canvas with it’s narrative, what it is though, I’m not even sure the filmmakers had an idea. It’s part Lovecraftian horror, part psychological something, part social satire and all schlock, but these themes bleed into each other until even the most attentive viewer will have not much of a clue what they’re watching. Best I can describe it: a super sinister doctor named Fibrian (Lance Henriksen) runs a shadowy psychiatric ward. There’s all kinds of rumours about illegal testing, dodgy pharmaceuticals, mass mind control and occult ties, none of which is ever made clear or disproved. However, when you have Lance playing your asylum director, you can almost be sure the place is up to something it shouldn’t be, he just has that cavalier maliciousness that he always switches on for these types of parts. A police detective and a reporter are onto him, and do theor best to infiltrate the facility, but his powers have already spread to the city outside, causing people to act strange and… well, a bunch of other weird shit. Danny Trejo has an amusingly hostile extended cameo as some vague operative working for Fibrian, and yada yada. It earns points for sheer WTF-ness though, it’s like every day on set they picked one crew member to add the craziest thing they could think of to the script and just ran with that (which would be a cool free association method of improvisational filmmaking, now that I think about it. They outdo themselves in a hilarious, out of left field cliffhanger ending that gets pretty cosmic and out there, adding a straight up supernatural element that cements the demented vibe they’ve strived for with the whole thing. A true oddball.

-Nate Hill

The Spierig Brother’s Predestination

It’s tough to say much about Predestination without giving away the tantalizing, thinking man’s dream of a story, but I will say that I’m sorry it flew under my radar until now, because it’s one of the most thought provoking, intelligent and wicked sharp films to come along in decades. There’s a special place in my collection for each and every movie in the time travel sub-genre, I love those thematics to death and imagine my surprise when I finally caught up to this one two years after it’s release and discovered it’s my favourite in the genre by a mile. Innovative. Beautifully made. A guessing game for the ages. Plot revelations that glue your jaw to the floor. Two staggering central performances from Ethan Hawke and mesmerizing newcomer Sarah Snook. Hawke plays a temporal agent working for a mysterious handler (Noah Taylor doing an even slier rift on his Vanilla Sky character), his job being to jaunt through time and stop murders before they happen. If that sounds generic, familiar or a path well trodden, therein lies the irony because it is anything but. Any preconceived notions of a flashy, slick thriller will be decidedly dismantled once you chow down on this beauty of a story, unwrapping each twist and turn of the narrative like a present. Hawke is an actor I never used to take seriously, I always just thought of him as the kid cop from Training Day. He’s surprised me in recent years though, deliberately picking fascinating scripts and knocking it well out of the park with his performances. Sarah Snook is an Aussie up and comer who does an absolute encore here in a heartbreaking, multifaceted performance that should have gotten her awards recognition. This is the first film on record to tackle some previously taboo subjects regarding the concept of time travel, ideas that everyone has no doubt thought about but Hollywood has been too chicken to explore thus far, so props to these storytellers. Also, if you thought time travel flicks were elliptical and paradoxical until this point, you ain’t seen nothin’ til you’ve seen this one. It’s also just a brilliant, emotional, daring story told in a soaring cinematic fashion that stirs thoughts and pulses throughout.

B Movie Glory: Sci Fighters

Picture a bleached out, acid washed dime-store version of Blade Runner on a shoestring, bargain budget and you’ll have some notion of Sci Fighters, a silly futuristic flick starring lovable wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper and B Movie stock villain Billy Drago. By most standards it’s a miserable little exercise in schlock, but if that’s your thing to begin with, it’s a pearl. So it’s set in 2009, and the film was made in 96’, which going by a combination of the math and the severely bleak atmosphere, the filmmakers didn’t even stretch their timeline barely past twenty years from their date, showing either amusing carelessness in writing or even more amusing cynicism for where we’re headed, and how fast. The setting is Boston, and it’s a goddamn slum, with perpetually overcast skies, garbage heaps everywhere and a general sense that people have given up. Piper is Grayson, a hard boiled detective on the trail of a somewhat unusual killer. Far above earth in a filthy off-world prison on the moon, criminal Dunn (Drago) has encountered some weird alien parasite which hijacks his gaunt frame and torpedos back stateside to start a murder spree. Drago vs Piper in a sad-sack, disease ridden Boston is pretty much the suitable logline, and it’s not half bad. Piper makes a more grounded leading man than the film deserves, while Drago is straight up certifiable (nothing new) especially when the extraterrestrial, who has a garbled and endearing speech impediment, is controlling him. Effort is put into the atmosphere to some degree, but I feel like the success in achieving mood was probably also by accident of just leaving shit lying around set. A true peculiarity, worth it only for fans of the two actors and schlock-hounds alike.

-Nate Hill

Luc Besson’s Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets

Luc Besson’s Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a lot of fun here and there, but I couldn’t help being a smidge underwhelmed by the whole deal, having waited years for news of a new Besson space opera following his insta-classic The Fifth Element. There’s just… something missing in the magic here, an undercurrent that should be cohesively flowing through it that’s sort of absent, leaving it feeling very episodic and loose. It’s not the heavy CGI that bothered me either, as the effects here are some of the most flat out amazing and well done graphics I’ve ever seen, particularly in a prologue set on a shell beach style planet with avatar natives running about, a stunning way to open the picture. No, it’s something illusory that didn’t ring true, something that was there in Fifth Element and just didn’t make it to the meeting this time around. The story centres on space feds Valerian (Dane DeHaan, who I just can’t help but be annoyed by in anything I see him in) and Lauraline (Cara Delevigne), hunting through the universe for a treasured artifact from aforementioned shell beach planet, mainly focusing on a manufactured megastructure housing over eight hundred million different species, all clambering over each other in the craziest, most colourful celebration of special effects to come along in a while. Seriously, the wildly varied aliens, gorgeous vistas and chase sequences set in the City are really something to be proud of, and when the film is in action mode, it’s a delight. Story suffers a lot though, with Clive Owen awkwardly hamming his way through a military captain role, John Goodman playing Jabba The Hut, a vague genocide subplot involving the avatar dudes, it all happens dimly and is hard to get a grasp on from scene to scene. Also, the writing for Lauraline and Valerian’s suuuuccckkkks. It’s meant to be adorable, glib romantic back and forth, yet just feels clipped, unnatural and stale. DeHaan drones on with it, and doesn’t ever feel at home in the role unless he’s doing stunts that don’t involve dialogue. Delevigne fares better and seems to really be having fun with her role, stealing the show from under Valerian’s nose. The best acting work of the film, shockingly, comes briefly from Rihanna as a shapeshifter thing called Bubble with an affinity for dancing and a hopeless romantic’s heart. Ethan Hawke is also there as some kind of zany cowboy pimp, an energy that’s a far cry away from his usual stone-faced intensity. Watch for the quickest ever cameo from an under-utilized Rutger Hauer, so fleeting that if you’re even a minute late to the theatre you won’t have a clue he’s in it. I did enjoy lots with this one, including a romp through the dining hall of a gluttonous alien race that resemble Harry Potter trolls, a fantastic extended action set piece in a sprawling bazaar market that overlaps into multiple dimensions, providing clever shortcuts, escapes and pratfalls for all involved, and the rich detail in costume design as Valerian travels through Rihanna’s section of the City, not to mention top drawer special effects all about the film. It just didn’t have the heart or connective tissue to make all these elements stick or resonate though, like a shattered mirror whose pieces are off lost somewhere. I found myself wanting to pop in my Fifth Element DVD multiple times, for there the story provoked emotion and made you deeply care for it’s two intrepid protagonists and their romance, whereas here it just feels a bit lifeless and forced, with an overarching narrative that needed way, way more fleshing out to really work or go somewhere. Next time, Luc.

-Nate Hill

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

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