Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

Every few years, if we’re lucky, we get a science fiction movie as good as Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, a cosmic miracle of a film. Built around the ages old trope of aliens invading earth, and even throwing shout outs to sci fi flicks of yore (Robert Zemeckis’s Contact, Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day to name a few), it ultimately is completely it’s own thing and there has never been anything quite like it ever before in the genre, or in Big Hollywood. Villeneuve, whether working in crime, thriller or mind-fuck territory, has always proudly broke the mold and blasted new crevices into seemingly charted out tonal territory. It’s only fitting that a SciFi outing from him is something remarkable, and he terraforms the genre to incredible thematic plateaus here. Amy Adams is reliably terrific as a linguistics guru brought in by the government to try and communicate with a mysterious race of extraterrestrials, shadowy beings who have illegally parked their mammoth, monolithic ships systematically all over the globe. What do they want? Why are they her? Tensions rise when the military (Forest Whitaker gives the obligatory general role his trademark brand of implosive compassion) and the CIA (Michael Stuhlburg does paranoia to a turn) butt heads over what to do, while a snarky mathematician (Jeremy Renner, excellent) has his own ideas. Adams develops an inspired way of both understanding these beings via their unique brand of written language and imparting to them our English words, or at least a variation. The scenes inside their ship are so haunting and atmospheric we get the sense this is real footage we’re sneaking a peek at, and the government may bust in and raid our TV room any moment. The beings themselves are a visually intriguing bunch, like dreamy space elephant/whale/spiders who evoke a strange, genuinely alien aura. But time is running out, and if Adams can’t make both their language and intentions clear, the big guns of fear and ignorance threaten to come out and play. The film has an important, uplifting message that communication should always supersede violence, a hard truth but a necessary one. My favourite aspect of this film is its elliptical final act, and anyone who has already seen it knows what I’m talking about. Much of the film, although artistic, is straightforward, but Villeneuve really plumbs the fathoms of human consciousness and pulls forth ideas that not only are rarely explored this maturely onscreen, are also very difficult to understand in linear, analytical fashion. It’s this drive to push his audience, to dole out just as much brain and soul candy as eye candy into our cinematic trick or treat bags that’s the reason he’s such an important, landmark filmmaker, and it’s a joy to see such films take centre stage at the multiplex. With key supporting work from the great Tzi Ma and a ghostly original score by the late maestro Johan Johansson that eerily inhabits the film like an alien force all its own, every individual and element involved combine to give this film something special and rare: a genuine sense of wonder.

-Nate Hill

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“This, it was given me to know…”: Remembering KRULL with Ron Silverman by Kent Hill

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They say the mark of a good writer is their ability to distill the essence of their story into one or two sentences. Now, it is very easy to distill the plot of Krull into a summary or a logline of that length. However, it is entirely another matter for me to briefly encapsulate for you, dear PTS listener, how much I love this movie.

All I can say is, from the moment I saw it, I loved it.

Why?

Well Krull, for me, is the embodiment of the perfect movie. It harkens back to those great adventure novels I had read prior. Tales that primarily involve a hero on a quest to: rescue the princess, defeat the bad guy and save the day. A tried and true formula if ever there was one.

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That’s broad-stroking it sure – but at the heart of it – that is Krull.

At the same time you have a movie that is part science fiction, part fantasy/adventure, part traditional hero’s journey. Combined with the elements of impressive scope, danger, excitement, laughs, thrills, spills, chills – I could gush for days, if given the opportunity.

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It is also a film with remarkable talents on display, both in front and behind the camera. A cast made up of phenomenal veteran performers and vibrant newcomers – which in some cases would go on to have individually storied careers and achieve great heights of fame. Yes Liam Neeson, I’m talking about you.

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The production team mirrors the cast. A mixture of seasoned craftsmen with future icons – none more so than a young man named James Horner, eventual Academy Award winner, who composed, for my money, one of the greatest scores in cinema history.

And so to my guest…

I have long wished to speak to someone, anyone , who worked on my favorite picture of all time, so, as I often do, I reached out and after a long stretch I was surprised to have a reply from producer Ron Silverman. What joy! Naturally, I had thousands of questions, but, being gracious and appreciative for the time my guests grant me, I narrowed the list down to the essentials – this being both efficient timewise and satisfying enough for my curiosity. And trust me, though our time was brief – there were many revelations and delights to be had.

Many people have looked at me funny when I tell them Krull is my favorite picture. I guess they assume it would, more likely than not, be one of the big ones like JAWS, STAR WARS or SUPERMAN. All of these are vital and I do have a resounding love for them true, but, when you find a picture you can watch over and over – a film which delights as much on the thousandth viewing as it did the very first – well Krull is that for me. I hope you’ll enjoy listening to some insights from this – my favorite movie.

 

Creepy Creatures and Haunted Houses: An Interview with William Malone by Kent Hill

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I first became aware of the work of William Malone when I saw his movie CREATURE. For most, all they see is just some cheap imitation of Scott’s ALIEN – but there is much on offer if you give the flick more than a sideways glance. There exists the same thrilling, eerisome mood generated that marks all of his movies and which culminated in his remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.

Growing up in Lansing, Michigan and going to the same high school as NBA legend Magic Johnson, it would be music and not sport that would eventually see the young Malone make his way west to Los Angeles. But the music soon died and William found himself looking for work. He took a job at Don Post Studios doing make-up and costume duties before attending film school at UCLA.

His first film would soon follow, the cult classic SCARED TO DEATH. This was the beginning of a storied career of other great features like FEARDOTCOM and PARASOMNIA as well as work on the small screen in series like TALES FROM THE CRYPT, MASTERS OF HORROR and FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES.

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It was great talking with William about everything from directing Klaus Kinski, his non-existent role of TV’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK, having one of his scripts become a sequel to UNIVERSAL SOLDIER and the (I find it intriguing) story behind the making of the troubled SUPERNOVA, of which Francis Coppola mentioned to him that they should have stuck with Malone’s original script Dead Star.

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Aside from being the world’s foremost collector of FORBIDDEN PLANET props and paraphernalia, William Malone is a fascinating movie-maker and a delight to chat with. I trust you’ll feel the same . . .

. . . ladies and gentlemen . . . William Malone.

 

James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence

Like your SciFi smart, slick, realistic and extremely trippy? Don’t miss James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence, a voyage into the twilight zone that will push the limits of your lateral thinking until you feel your brain lashing out at the paradoxical borders of it’s realm of thought, an effect brought on by only the most challenging films out there. Like many stories it begins at a lively dinner party somewhere in the Hollywood hills, as a group of old friends talk, laugh, gossip and reconnect. There’s a comet passing by over the night skies of LA though, a phenomenon that has, shall we say, a unique and very disturbing effect on those below. I really don’t want to say anything about what happens to these people, but it’s weird and warped in that kind of metaphysical way that keeps your rooted to the screen and has your spine shivering with each new development. Adding to the immersive atmosphere is the fact that most of this seems to have been improvised with the actors around the general core of the story, so we have a very naturalistic, humorous vibe among the group that doesn’t feel scripted or staged at all, and more or less plays out in real time, while there’s initially still linear time anyways (oops). The cool thing is that this film could be made for like, five hundred bucks, shot on an iPhone over a spare weekend with your friends. It’s that barebones and simple in the technical department and there are zero special effects save for one brief shot of the comet (hello stock footage), but the implications and function of the story are infinitely complicated, and that’s where the wealth of the film lives. If you find yourself sitting around one night wishing for a flick that really will blow your mind, give this little gem a go, while it’s still on Netflix.

-Nate Hill

Gregory Hoblit’s Frequency

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.

-Nate Hill

Lee Tamahori’s Next

Lee Tamahori’s Next is an ironically titled piece of garbage, because in working my way through Nicolas Cage’s minefield of a post-90’s career, all I wanted to do was yell “next!” and shut this one off. Next in line is actually Ghost Rider, which is like going from the frying pan into the fire, but you can’t win em’ all I suppose. I’m all for a trashy Cage flick now and again, even enjoying some of his more lambasted outings but this one really takes the cake. Adorned in a greasy mop-mullet, he plays a low rent Vegas magician here who actually does possess a bit of the ol’ clairvoyance, which comes in handy when Ice Queen FBI Agent Julianne Moore wants to recruit him for the bureau’s x files department to stop terrorism before it even happens, particularly an attack on Vegas expected soon. It’s a thin setup and he spends most of his time hitting on truck-stop waitress Jessica Biel, who is at least half his age. That’s another thing with the latter half of his career, this old grandpa Cage keeps getting casted with these babes who are young enough to be his daughter, and man it feels weeeiirrddd. (Two films starring as Eva Mandes’s boyfriend! Two!). I know the guy’s a superstar but believability is strained when you realize none of these chicks would actually do that if these flicks were real life. Anywho, the terrorist plot here is a lazily written thing, the baddie literally called Mr. Smith, played by Thomas Kretschmann, too great of an actor to always be stuck in these half ass styrofoam villain roles. Cage uses a mode of telepathic foresight to investigate, a gimmick that plays around with time and reality but lacks any modicum of coherence and just becomes super duper confusing to the plot. This one is all glitter and razzle dazzle up front, but there’s nothing under the hood to back up the hollow roar of it’s somewhat promising premise that gets trod upon by sloppy filmmaking and an overall sense of tackiness. Next!

-Nate Hill

Alex Proyas’s Dark City

Alex Proyas’s Dark City is a radiant jewel of sci-fi beauty, madness and mystery, one of the best films of the 90’s, a testament to just what kind of world building is possible using special effects and a textbook example of deep, ponderous ideas one might explore in this area of the medium. It kind of got overshadowed by the release of The Matrix the same year (which is also masterful) and slipped through the cracks a bit, but it managed to hold on and re-emerge with a kind of cult aura around it, a reverie that prompts discussions in hushed tones and friends holding screenings for new generations who haven’t had their minds and eyes blown out of their skulls by the experience just yet. It kind of goes the Blade Runner route by fusing inky black retro noir with startling futurism, albeit less monolithic tech design and something more organic and otherworldly. In a nameless, perpetually nocturnal city, a man named Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a dingy apartment next to a dead hooker, with no memory of who he is or what happened. Chased all through the night by mysterious, pale gentlemen in hats and trench coats, he doesn’t so much try to clear his name as much as find out what his name actually is, and why things have gotten so strange in this city. He’s supposedly got a wife in Emma (Jennifer Connelly has never been sexier), a lounge singer who knows more than she lets on, and wily detective Frank (William Hurt, fantastic) is on his trail too. Then there’s the creepy, wheezing asthmatic Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland playing against type) who has a connection to the trench coat brigade. To give too much away would be criminal, but let’s say that the story goes to some truly mesmerizing and disturbing places that explore far beyond the topical murder mystery of the first act and shake the foundations of the world we see built, rearranged and then completely disassembled right before our eyes. At the heart of the narrative lies perhaps the biggest question ever asked by humans: what are we, where are we and what’s the reason for all this? The film blazes it’s own trail of answers to fit the story, but is no less provocative than those age old quandaries, and there’s a point in the third act (you’ll know when it happens) where the lid is blown off of what these characters think their world is, and it’s like a collective gasp from all the universe, one of the most simultaneously harrowing and tantalizing moments in cinema. Sewell plays it opaque as always, I’ve never really been able to connect with him as an actor, but because his character here has sort of a vacant, blank slate thing going on anyways, it works. Hurt has always had a questioning in his eyes while at work, a tender, inquisitive nature that’s put to the test and then some over the course of his brilliant arc. Connelly has all the stars of the galaxy in her gorgeous eyes and it’s so cool to watch her go from sidelined wife/songstress role into take no prisoners, dark angel mode as she joins the search for truth. As the impending legion of trench coats there’s a handful of varied faces including Ian Richardson, Bruce ‘Gyro Captain’ Spence and the absolutely terrifying Richard O’Brien, who goes down in history as one of the scariest villains on hand here. Director Proyas did the classic The Crow in which another atmospheric metropolis takes centre stage, the man knows how to set us right in the environment and keep eyes rooted to the screen with each and every shot. The disconcerting score by Trevor Jones is a restless jangle that puts forth auditory fragments like half remembered clues from a dream before, adding further to the atmosphere. It’s simply one of the best tales ever told on celluloid, a timeless piece of storytelling that speaks on all levels of consciousness. Oh, and remember Shell Beach.

-Nate Hill