Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

David Cronenberg’s The Fly

It’s taken me years to finally get around to David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but I’m glad I did as it’s a terrifically slimy gore-palooza boasting practical effects that are on par with classics like John Carpenter’s The Thing and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Cronenberg is known as the prince of body horror, and has carved out a now legendary swath of schlock-tacular horror films (many of which I’m unfortunately not caught up on), but his nightmarish visions almost always have a brain in their heads or something to say about media, psychology, biology or the way things work. In The Fly he takes a look at the universal human fear of disease and decay, a collective primordial disgust that Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis fuel their performances with. Goldblum is Seth Brundle, a brilliant but terminally awkward scientist who has developed a functioning teleportation device. Well almost, as he has trouble sending anything alive through it, and it has a habit of turning monkeys inside out. One night he drunkenly sends himself through, unaware that a tiny little stowaway has come for the ride. The computer gets confused, combines their DNA at a molecular level and, viola! Jeff Goldblum starts literally turning into a giant fly, and trust me when Cronenberg is at the helm of such a premise, no expense is spared on gallons of vile corrosive goo and repulsive glistening prosthetics, so don’t order in Pizza Hut if you have this one on in the living room. Geena Davis is effective as the journalist that falls in love with him and has to bear witness to the grotesque transformation, but unfortunately the film isn’t long enough to work as a romance, choosing instead to put the horror front and centre, which is where it’s strongest aspect lies. Goldblum is great as the twitchy doctor, and uses his physicality brilliantly once the metamorphosis begins, giving his lanky frame a staccato, animalistic rhythm that suits the character well. The effects are dazzling, if retro gore is your thing, a whole party bag of slime, pus and deformity that stands as a showcase for the FX team. I like Cronenberg’s horrors, or at least the ones I’ve seen, because no matter how schlocky they get, he never veers it totally into the sandbox and forgets his themes, he always seems in complete control of the nuttiness, following a specific recipe that doesn’t derail anything and that probably why he has become such a pedigree name in the genre. The film could have been a tad longer and a bit more fleshed out in places, but still serves as a slick, well drawn shocker that has not surprisingly stood the test of time.

-Nate Hill

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Cary Jo Fukunaga’s Maniac

Cary Jo Fukunaga’s Netflix show Maniac is to date the only one I’ve ever binged in one sitting. It’s fucking magic. I slept in and got to work late today because I just had to finish the thing last night. The one word that comes to mind with this is unique. It’s a science fiction comedy drama stroke of cosmic brilliance that draws on everything from Kafka to Michel Gondry to Cloud Atlas to Inception to Kubrick and many others, but not for one moment does it feel derivative, and there is, and I mean this, nothing out there quite like this. If you’ve seen a trailer or read a blurb, you’ll know it stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill as two participants in a mysterious pharmaceutical drug trial, and indeed that is the launching pad for this strange, wonderful story infused with cassette futurism and dream logic, but oh just wait and see how deep, how multilayered and complex it becomes with each passing minute. After two opening episodes that burn sort of slow but are very important for developing character and establishing tone and setting, this hallucinatory, multi dimensional odyssey of self discovery and awakening constantly surprises the viewer by shirking narrative standards, constructing a script that feels fresh and untrodden, like a dimly lit path where anything could jump out at any second and all the well travelled beats have been cast away. Hill and Stone are unparalleled here, each playing a score of different characters throughout time and space and doing things with their work that I’ve never seem come from them before. Despite this being a fantastical show that traverses many internal worlds and has a whole host of dazzling special effects to showcase, above all it is an extremely thoughtful, often very dark psychological exploration of these two beings, the technology around them and how it may be used to map the human mind. Justin Theroux brings humour and eccentric humility as the neuro-chemist who is running the drug trial, Sonoya Mozuno is brilliant as his intuitive, chain smoking second in command and the cast is fleshed out by the likes of Hank Azaria, Josh Pais, Julia Garner, Geoffrey Cantor, Rome Kanda, Billy Magnusson, Glenn Fleshler, Joseph Sikora and more. Joining them are also veteran actors Sally Field and Gabriel Byrne in key roles, both of whom I love and haven’t seen in anything substantial for quite some time, they really shine here. I’m aware that this is loosely based on a Norwegian series of the same name, but honestly Fukunaga has used that as a drawing board and universally expanded the premise into something really special, original and magnificent. The central realms of the drug trial that Hill and Stone experience are the main show and the template used to plumb depths of the human condition, but just as vital is the story unfolding in the lab with Theroux, Mizuno and Sally Field, a slightly satirical look at how technology has started to approach the borders of the human soul, and even blur some lines there. I hope this gets traction, exposure and the high praise it deserves in the community. This is the best thing in any medium I’ve seen so far this year, and I can’t wait for countless revisits.

-Nate Hill

Kurt Wimmer’s Ultraviolet

I feel sorry for everyone and anyone involved with the disaster that is Kurt Wimmer’s Ultraviolet, because it has to be one of the worst films of the century. Wimmer also made Equilibrium, which is excellent, but this seems to be like the stylistic antithesis of that, everything that worked right subtly and in moderation there has been employed at a furiously excessive level here. The entire thing looks like it was shot against a green screen and then rendered sloppily by a roomful of monkeys. Poor Milla Jovovich has been a trooper through some crap in her career but this has to be the ultimate embarrassment, she’s stuck playing some pseudo vampire warrior chick who babbles in monotonous inner monologues about nothing in particular and crashes her way through sword fights and stunt work like she’s fighting her hardest to escape the film and go make another Resident Evil movie, right after she fires her agent. Set in some dystopian future world where viruses reign supreme and blah blah, she’s protecting some kid (Cameron Bright) who lives in a carry on suitcase (literally, it’s like a Harry Potter tent), from a big bad megalomaniac villain (Nick Chinlund does his best, but man is the writing bad) who wants to use his blood or DNA for something blah blah. The great William Fichtner sheepishly mumbles his way through a supporting turn that adds nothing but ineffective exposition because I still have not a clue what happened. Every action set piece has the numb, ineffectual scream of mediocrity, and your eyes glaze over quicker than Milla whips her katana around at nothing. At first I thought this was a failed anime adaptation a lá Aeon Flux or something, but nope, Wimmer has the sole writing credit. I’ll always love the guy for Equilibrium, but man he struck out big time with this giant fucking pile of excremental detritus. The only plus side? Milla is smoking hot as usual.

-Nate Hill

Shane Black’s The Predator

So.. Shane Black’s The Predator. Haters gonna hate I suppose, but I really don’t get the negativity thrown this one’s way, it’s a shit ton of fun. Admittedly a stark departure from any other film in the franchise, Black’s signature is to brand things with an irreverent comedic stamp, and they should have realized that when they handed over the torch to him. This is Predator in American suburbia, a much smaller film than those before, but no less gory, imaginative or propulsive, and certainly nowhere close to as disappointing as I’ve read in some of these hilarious reviews. After a jungle set opening that mirrors John McTiernan’s original classic both visually and musically, a device worn by one of the Predators gets accidentally mailed to the young son (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) of the military sniper (Boyd Holbrook, channeling 80’s Michael Biehn nicely) who managed to kill one of them, all hell breaks loose when the rest of the creatures come looking for it, and intergalactic war hits the home front. Holbrook is placed on a prison bus populated by the Loonies, disgraced ex soldiers with PTSD who serve as the perfect rogue unit to abscond with the bus and take on the aliens using guns, bad jokes, a constant stream of profanity and eccentric personalities. Elsewhere, Olivia Munn’s super scientist makes educated guesses about both the intentions and biology of the Predators, eventually joining forces with the Loonies. It’s madcap and almost has an adult Amblin vibe which actually works quite well. Scene stealer Sterling K. Brown makes an oddball villain as a snarky Fed with his own agenda, while Jake Busey slyly plays the son of his dad’s Uber Predator hunter from the 1990 sequel. Now, the Loonies are as off colour a bunch as you’d expect to see in a Shane Black flick, but for me their weird chemistry and crudeness worked. Keegan Michael Key is the coked up comic relief, a guy who punctuates every awkward silence with a severely raunchy joke, Alfie Allen is underwritten but present, Trevente Rhodes scores big as Nebraska Williams, a chain smoking ex CO who is the brains of the bunch. My favourite performance of the film is Thomas Jane cast way against type as Baxley, who suffers from Tourette’s except when the plot requires him to steadily hold a firearm. I’ve read a lot of people call his character insensitive and I’m not sure what they’re drawing from, I have a family member who has Tourette’s and Jane’s work here is one of the most realistic depictions I’ve seen on film, it’s probably just all the other comedic commotion around him that accents it. Alongside Jane, I really like Munn, who obviously doesn’t look the part of a brainy scientist but fully gets the vibe here and has a lot of fun with her role. The Predators themselves seem bigger, louder and more vicious than before, often seen in broad daylight, with nastier attitudes and, at one point, speaking in plain English albeit via translator. Their part of the story is definitely far fetched but has imagination and thought put into it. They’re less the hunters here (except for that eleven foot tall motherfucker) and more like space spies with their own private feud going on. This has obviously been a divisive film so far.. I’ve heard a buddy say that it’s ‘one of the worst movies he’s ever seen.’ I can’t imagine that’s anything but overzealous overkill, it’s not an instant classic or anything but it was bloody fun, entertaining stuff. Honestly, my only complaint? It wasn’t long enough. There are areas that feel patchy and I imagine that’s where this studio interference I keep hearing about took place, and although it doesn’t come close to ruining the movie, I’d really love to see a director’s cut from Black at some point. But what we got was a solid blast of a film from where I’m sat. I mean, you get a guy like Shane Black to make a Predator film, it’s not like this is some gun for hire, he’s his own specific artist and is going to make the thing his way. Studio cuts aside, he’s done a slam bang job here, an action horror comedy sci-fi hybrid that feels as retro as it should while injecting new life and flavour into the mythos. Call me crazy, I guess.

-Nate Hill

Paul W.S. Anderson’s AVP: Alien Vs. Predator

Here’s the thing: much of what is needed was in place to make an epic, badass Alien/Predator crossover flick. They had a solid premise, a director with a sure footing and visible background in horror, an able cast with a genre/franchise titan as a callback to earlier entries, and all the special effects they could want at their disposal. So how did AVP: Alien Vs. Predator end up being an oven roasted, inexcusable slice of shit? Well, script and execution I suppose, the whole thing just has a murky, suspiciously rushed feel to it and no trace of memorable pedigree at all. However, to me their first mistake and cardinal sin was to rate the thing PG-13. These are two intense, extremely graphic and gruesomely violent horror franchises, and as such any amalgamation should, of anything, step up the carnage, so whoever had final say as far as that goes should have a face-hugger attached to every orifice of their body. So what does work? Well, Lance Henriksen for one, but he has a history of being the best thing about many films he’s been in and it’s hard for him not to shine through any amount of muck. He plays the dying CEO of infamous Weyland Yutani corporation and gives all the grit and gravity he can amongst a flurry of inconsequential CGI. Recruiting a team of scientists and mercenaries, he plans to descend into an Antarctic pyramid where centuries ago, the mythic Yautjas and the primal Xenomorphs had a Royal Rumble. Star Sanaa Lathan is actually great as the ‘final girl’ of sorts in this slasher game, other team members include Ewan Bremmer, Raoul Bova and Tommy Flanagan, but most are lost in the confusion, poorly written or forgotten entirely. The battle scenes are haphazard and sloppy, the dialogue barely there and the colour scheme is this kind of shitty, subdued blue-hue nonsense with no personality it’s own, like an icy deodorant commercial that just happens to have monsters in it. Many people blame director Anderson, but who really knows. People forget that he’s responsible for the first Resident Evil film which is solid, gutsy horror and has the type of energy meant to be found here, as well as Event Horizon, one of the scariest, well wrought sci-fi/horror flicks of the century, so he was a reasonable candidate to helm this. In any case, it’s a big ol’ mess, a titanic wasted opportunity and a dark stain on both respective legacies. There’s a sequel which I haven’t seen, but it’s probably just as wretched.

-Nate Hill

Robert Rodriguez’s Predators

I like to call it Robert Rodriguez’s Predators despite the fact that he only has a producer’s credit, but his influence is all over it, plus the presence of Danny Trejo. This is one solid flick though, and definitely holds up against the first two films. The premise could even be said is more innovative than before, because as with any sequel or update, the story must evolve and break new ground, a feat they’ve outdone themselves with here. The Predators have taken it upon themselves to kidnap the roughest, toughest individuals of the human race and set them loose on a giant planet designed to be a game preserve, and have their fun. Adrien Brody does tense vulnerability to a T as a special ops badass, joined by an Israeli soldier (Alice Braga), a Russian spetznaz operative (Oleg Taktarov), an ex cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo), a psychotic maximum security inmate (Walton Goggins), an African rebel (Mahershala Ali), a disgraced Yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and… Topher Grace, whose involvement gradually becomes clearer. They’re forced to band together against a squadron of specialized hunters who pursue them, complete with the vicious wildlife native to this planet. It’s incredibly cinematic, brutally entertaining stuff, and the actors give it their all, including Laurence Fishburne as a crazy dude who’s been alone on this world a few too many years. Standout scenes include the chilling moment these poor folks reach the crest of a hill, spot two giant suns in the alien sky and realize they’re not in Kansas anymore, as well as a knockout showdown between the Yakuza and a giant predator that eerily mirrors Sonny Landham’s Billy making a final stand in the original film. Atmospheric, well casted, acted and shot, a solid action horror funhouse that lives up to the Predator legacy.

-Nate Hill

Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade

Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is slick, bloody, wired Sci Fi action pulp and I loved every second of it, mounted on a high concept premise that’s just this side of outrageous and filled with both enough body shredding extreme violence and atmospheric mood to fuel an entire TV show. A quirky, intelligent mix of horror and futurism, Whannell puts the same brains responsible for the first Saw film into the story of Grey (Logan Marshall Green) a mechanic who is given a nifty new implant following the murder of his wife (Melanie Vallejo) that also leaves him a quadriplegic. Dubbed the Stem and cooked up by a weirdo tech mogul (Harrison Gilbertson), it latches onto his nervous system and makes him a super fast, highly capable killing machine and he sets out to find his attackers and… well.. kill them all in just about as violent ways as anyone could think up. There is actual thought, care and innovation put into this world and it’s construction though, until the very exploitive genre material feels lifted up by pure creation and we get something that thinks, feels and ponders just as much as it stabs and bleeds. An organic mix of Blade Runner style setting is welcome, as both the city they live in and the esoteric score by Jed Palmer are very LA 2049 with a hint of steampunk. Green is a great actor who has slowly been building steam in fits and starts, he had a smaller role in Prometheus and headlined the very underrated Cinemax original Quarry recently, but her he shows he can do leading man work in bigger projects, he’s tough, engaging and sympathetic. This is an extreme vision of a futuristic world that although seems alien to us, is not so different in many ways, and that makes it both scary and compelling. One of the best this year so far.

-Nate Hill