Science-Fiction

Flatliners (2017)

Hands up if you didn’t realise this was a remake of a 1990s Kevin Bacon film

So, my hand is up. Especially when I made the connection halfway home after viewing the 2017 reimagining. Flatliners posed a really interesting question at the beginning of it’s film as it questions what happens to us after we die.

Whilst the premise kind of intrigued me, with the trailer placing five medical students all are trying to prove something new in medical science. And Ellen Page’s Courtney takes centre stage for this discovery. What lay beneath was peculiar though, instead of being profound and using the existence of the afterlife as a platform, it rather focuses on the sins of the flatliners.

Flatliners does open in almost a subliminal message to not check your phone whilst driving as Courtney with her sister is involved in a crash because Courtney was checking her phone. As the result of this crash, Courtney carries guilt about causing the death of younger sister.

She invites Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) and Jamie (James Norton) to help her with a project. The project? To intentionally cause a near-death experience, and record the brain activity. Much of this film would rely on the performances of the cast and their believability of this ‘experience’. Unfortunately, when Ellen Page flatlines, it shows no more life than she did when on-screen.

And this continues with the rest of the cast, as it does touch on the motivations of the rest of the cast but I felt Niels Arden Oplev’s choice was to get the bulk of the story rather than nurturing these characters to grow. As a result, Flatliners actually bored me fairly early on. Also, it seemed apparent that Sophia and Jamie fit a mould that is all too common, as Sophia bends to her mothers beck and call whereas Jamie is the preppy guy that is coasting his way through the internship.

After Courtney’s flatline experience, she seems nonchalant about it all, until rounds the following day with her medical student colleagues and answers the questions without hesitation. This sets up the rest of Flatliners after they all connect Courtney’s newfound knowledge to her near death experience.

So what do the others decide to do? Stop their hearts as well and tap into a newfound consciousness, of course. Aside from Ray (Diego Luna) who remains severely against what is now being called ‘flatlining’. After everyone goes through their experience the film then enters strange territory as it becomes a paranormal, psychological thriller of sorts.

But for that to work, it has to be convincing. And I don’t think Flatliners manages to get convincing in any regards. The cast do not make the hauntings convincing either, probably down to their quite unlikable characters, but also the borderline idiotic venture they put their bodies through. Diego was the only shining light throughout the film as he constantly opposed this ridiculous study from the start.

As I mentioned Oplev seemed dedicated to the cause of the paranormal and psychological elements held within Flatliners. However, because I had already lost interest at this point due to the lack of substance behind the characters, I couldn’t get on board with how the film played out into it’s climax. It chose to adopt a few jump scares which were very foreseeable and thus became even more boring.

I have no idea if the 1990s was similar, or completely different, but with this reimagining I have no intention to view the original. The film does feel fairly apt for it’s runtime and doesn’t drag it’s feet so much, but I just couldn’t get invested in a largely unlikeable characters and idiotic nature of the story. Flatliners certainly flatlined for me.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Cor. What a title. 

The ability to build worlds within film has advanced an incredible amount, especially since the days of James Cameron’s Avatar. Luc Besson has had his hand in the Valerian pie for a long time, and recently thought that the technology was there for him to create Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Besson worked to adapt the French comic book series for the screen, but the title sticks out like a sore thumb considering the comic series is called Valerian and Laureline. I had a certain sense of apprehension for this as the last Besson film I had the ‘pleasure’ of watching was Lucy, and I absolutely loathed that film. But the trailer managed to lure me in with the visuals and the science-fiction element to the film.

Valerian (yeah, I’m just going to call it that from now on) hooked me from the opening sequence as the space station expands and welcomes other nations on-board. As it expands, alien life begins to join and the station grows exponentially into Alpha. As it reaches critical mass, it is pushed out of Earth’s orbit to travel by itself.

Besson apparently sat on this film for some time, and it’s clear to see why as world building that is undertook in Valerian is exceptional, from the market to the whistle-stop tour of the Alpha station is incredibly vibrant. Unfortunately for Besson and Valerian the enjoyment for the film slowly begins to fade when you look past the pretty visuals in the opening thirty or so minutes.

Generally speaking the scripting was just downright awful. And especially cringe worthy when agent Valerian (Dane DeHaan) was trying to woo? his partner agent Laureline (Cara Delevingne) by saying the most inane things. Some of the lines had me shaking my head in disbelief that they had made the final cut. Dane and Cara themselves were good in the role, but Cara’s character does fall into the standard damsel in distress character although Laureline as a character seems to be better than that.

But I don’t think the scripting was helped by the narrative, as it seemed to be jumping all over the place as Besson tried to mash together the love story between Valerian and Laureline and this mysterious element that they have found themselves pulled into. Often it felt as though it wasn’t sure which direction the film wanted to be pulled in.

The film does stand at over two hours, but unfortunately does feel like it’s over three hours as it slogs its way between the narrative, scripting and the indulgent visuals. I don’t think this could have been helped as Besson took the time to dress the screen in the incredible visuals, which were incredible to watch unfold on the screen.

I did enjoy the pairing of Dane DaHaan and Cara Delevingne as they bounce off each other, and do seem to have an interesting chemistry on-screen. Cara was the better off the two regardless of her damsel in distress characterisation, and Dane plays the cocky, arrogant character to perfection, regardless of the script-vomit that tumbles out of his mouth.

It has to be said though, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets only has one true winner, and that lies in the visuals. Besson builds incredible worlds, from the inter-dimensional market to the Thousand City Planet of Alpha and it’s incredulous atmosphere. I mean water, a fully submerged water section on a space station. Really?

However, between the scripting and the narrative being all over the place it’s not something that makes me want to rush back to see it all over again. Aside from the dazzling visuals and Cara’s performance as Agent Laureline, there is little to enjoy about this film. Even the score pulled me out of the film, by sounding reminiscent of Star Wars. As I try to recount the film, I have come to realise that it is less-than-memorable, with only a few glimpses sticking out, including the marketplace sequence being one of better in the film.

If you find yourself going to see it, see it on the biggest screen possible, but other than that, I wouldn’t rush out to see it, which is a shame as I wanted to like Valerian more.

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Ridley Scott returned to his famous franchise with Prometheus back in 2012. If you were anything like myself, you could not wait for the next instalment in the Alien franchise. So fast-forward five years and Scott has followed up the whirlwind piece of Prometheus with Alien: Covenant.

Now while it’s not important to have seen the original Alien films, it’s pretty important to have seen Prometheus as the events of Alien: Covenant takes place ten years after Prometheus and both prominently features the character of David. (Michael Fassbender)

This caught me off-guard a little bit, because after the events of Prometheus, I was confused as to how Fassbender’s David managed to make it safely onto the Covenant ship, practically unscathed. This comes down to the testament of Fassbender’s android performance in Prometheus and the feeling that David is all-too real. However on the covenant ship he takes on the role of Walter, a new and improved android.

Walter assumes a practically identical role to David, caring for the ship whilst the crew are in cryosleep, as the crew head to a planet that is perfect for terraforming whilst Walter tends to the colonists and embryos ready to start a new world. The ship is struck by a neutrino blast that causes the now-awoken crew to question Walter’s commanding of the ship and by chance, due to this blast, they stumble on a seemingly perfect planet to begin their new life.

I thought the music was perfect for Alien: Covenant, and was really extenuated by the mysterious and tense setting of the mysterious planet they land on. From the wide-open spaces that Ridley Scott is incredibly good at, to the small-enclosed spaces of the Covenant ship, the film was made even tenser with that claustrophobic feeling.

(And that use of Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla was gorgeous)

With Prometheus being the origin story for the Xenomorphs that plagued Ripley and co throughout Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant is continuing that trend and peeling away more of those layers. But Ridley Scott continued to tie in attitudes to religion and strongly  conveys the messages of creation and meeting your maker throughout Alien: Covenant.

The themes throughout the 120 minutes really worked and were not piled too heavily onto the story. Otherwise there may have been an overconsumption of this, which would have led to it ruining the story. I thought the narrative structure was brilliant, especially as it builds up around the newly found David and his story of the Prometheus ship and crew.

The great thing about Alien was the terrifying xenomorph that plagued the crew and that there wasn’t much gore used throughout, rather it relied on the closed space and tense battle between it and Ripley. Alien: Covenant has decided to use an abundance of gore through the xenomorph attacks, which is fine, but I feel as though it sometimes it overused and lets the film down in areas.

The casting was electric for the lead roles of Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterson and Danny McBride but I felt everyone else was kind of subpar and throwaway characters. McBride’s Tennessee was an interesting character and worlds away from the comedic background that he has become known for. Waterson seemed to be channeling the headstrong Ripley in this film, but not before showing emotion in the opening scenes that seemed to be devoid of Ripley in Alien.

(That was also different, as the crew were made up of couples in charge of safely navigating to Origae-6)

Fassbender was electric as he channelled two different characters, the companionist Walter and the vengeful and conniving David. The difference between the characters was excellent and was really effective for the different moods they were conveying and I feel as though that is testament to Ridley’s direction through the film.

I was really impressed, and feel as though Ridley Scott’s prequels are currently going strength to strength. I thought the narrative structure on the film was apt, considering what was revealed in the first instalment and was perfectly played out on the screen with the help of David. However, the clear winner is the world building that Ridley Scott is just renown for, from the mysterious planet expanse, to the closed-off spaces that add to the tense scenes within the film.

The planet that the Covenant crew descend on it, is just incredible. Although the film does falter in certain sections, those feelings are soon washed away with the incredibly scenery and intriguing characters throughout Alien: Covenant.

Just like Prometheus, I want to see the next instalment. Now.

Ghost In The Shell (2017)

I had a strange sense of apprehension when heading into the viewing of Ghost In The Shell, but not because of the controversy that surrounded the casting of Scarlett Johansson, but probably because of my sheer enjoyment from the trailers.

This futuristic world that was shown was wonderfully fascinating, seeing behemoths of advertising, but also the glow of the colours that emanated from the screen. Scarlett Johansson’s casting was met with an abundance of controversy as she was cast in what was previously a predominately Asian role, but these voices grew quieter as the release crept closer.

This colourful glow in the trailers, was immediately evident in the opening scenes as vibrantly red Hanka Robotics staff carry Scarlett Johansson to an operating room to remove the brain, as her body slowly dies. Her brain is implanted in a skeleton composed solely of cybernetics, and then taken through the final stages of completing then ‘Shell’. This also marked a huge step forward in robotic technology for Hanka.

This body becomes first to have a conscious human mind controlling it, but she is immediately placed into an Anti-terrorist unit with the Department of Defence. I had no prior knowledge about Ghost In The Shell aside from it’s original work being a popular manga series, and had an Anime feature back in 1995. But, with the nature of this story, the question of ‘has technology gone too far?’, was always going to be at the forefront, especially as the line between human and robotics becomes increasingly blurred in this future world.

But instead of solely relying on the story to win over the audiences, Rupert Sanders bathes Ghost In The Shell in beautiful colours of this crafted futuristic world as Major (Scarlett Johansson) dives from atop a building and dramatically crashes through a window to save civilians in a beautifully shot sequence, mixed gorgeously with appropriate slow-motion.

Sanders does show a deft touch in immersing you into this world, which is also helped by electro-synth soundtrack that really adds to this futuristic feeling landscape. What really does help, and gets the audience involved is the direction of the characters and Sanders displays an excellent awareness of the screen presence for each of the characters involved.

Major’s right hand man, Batou (Pilou Asbaek) and the antagonist Kuze (Michael Pitt) all deliver solid performances giving Ghost In The Shell that extra intensity that it required, but significantly backed up by the ever-brilliant Takeshi Kitano as the not-usual emotionless entity but seemingly exhausted Aramaki.

As I mentioned, as the line of human and robotics becomes increasingly blurred, Hanka Robotics are threatened by the cyber-terrorist Kuze, which sends the film into some incredibly dark scenes, typified by Major’s ‘deep dive’ into the already terrifying Geisha-bot. But cleverly, Sanders chose not to go all in on the good vs evil story, as he touches on the identity battle Major faces as she experiences these ‘Glitches’, which becomes the more interesting storyline. 

And this story comes to a boiling point when Major comes face to face with Kuze. The story becomes this intoxicating battle of what is good and what is evil and couples it with touches of whether these cybernetic enhancements are good or bad. But this may sound overwhelming, but it really isn’t. Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger managed to feed enough of the story throughout the first hour or so, to keep it interesting and intriguing to carry it over the remaining forty.

That’s not to say that the film is foreseeable, as the story can be construed as weak in areas, but it’s the way in which the story is told makes it compelling. This coupled with the futuristic world and the collaborative effort of the cast made the aforementioned apprehension wash away instantly.

Considering Rupert Sanders previous film was Snow White and the Huntsman (which was quietly enjoyable), it has really escalating his presence as Ghost In The Shell was incredibly enjoyable to watch and had the perfect mix of storyline, action and the beautifully crafted CGI-scenes. The action was exciting when it needed to be, especially as Batou has an extravagant scene in the nightclub. For my money, Sanders managed to create a great mainstream adaptation of the original, which I will have to watch to see how it compares, but it has done nothing but excite me more for that viewing.

Midnight Special (2016)

Midnight Special was one of my highly anticipated films of last year, but unfortunately did not manage to get to see it in the cinema, but eventually it made an appearance on a streaming site that I was able to access. Jeff Nichols’ fourth feature length film looked to be quite the science fiction thriller piece, so I was excited to finally watch it.

Majority of the promotional footage and trailers featured the image of a young boy that seemed to radiate a blinding blue light from his eyes. In Midnight Special, our first meeting with the young boy, he is wearing goggles and noise-cancelling ear mitts whilst reading a comic book. During this introduction with Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), we see Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton watching the news, regarding the kidnapping of Alton and the case being placed on amber alert.

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Already Nichols has managed to tell the opening segments to the story with enough vigour to grip me, but also with the help of an intense car journey down the back lanes of the southern states of North America. Without relaying too much information, the film quickly changes the pace with an FBI-raid on a ranch, which houses a cult.

What becomes clear is that Roy Tomlin, (Michael Shannon) the man responsible for the kidnapping of Alton, is actually the boy’s father. But also that Alton has a special ability to intercept secret encoded satellite messages. This obviously is quite the concern for the FBI and the American government, so they want Alton located, as much as the cult to bring him back ‘home’.

Jeff Nichols’ manages to keep up the fast pace as Roy and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) continually avoid the police, but also the cult members that were sent by cult to find Alton. But the trouble is during this rip-roaring pace; the question remains as to why this is all happening?

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What begins as a rip roaring pace and filling the opening segment with mysterious characters, Midnight Special begins to lack in a strong storyline as it enters the latter half of the film. In instances, a strong storyline is sometimes superseded by the strong characters and with a strong cast containing Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver, one would suspect Midnight Special is one of those instances.

It isn’t.

The plaudits of acting would rest on Jaeden Lieberher’s shoulders, as Alton seemingly becomes weaker and the film bores into it’s second hour, and Lieberher’s performance is convincing amongst the others, well, less than convincing performances.

For me, Kirsten Dunst’s maternal character was pretty much pointless in the story and did not add any width to the story. She didn’t have the intrigue that Roy and Lucas did during their introduction, but even their mysteriousness eventually slipped away. Adam Driver’s NSA analyst was an excellent inclusion as he accepts the mystery that is Alton, but Jeff Nichols’ did not manage to effectively incorporate this into the story enough, he focused on the mad chase that surrounded Alton and the mysterious coordinates that Sevier (Driver) works out.

As I previously mentioned, Nichols created what was seemingly a science-fiction thriller and there were certain aspects within the film that was enjoyable, including the pace to the opening of the film, and some wonderful shots of the sun setting and rising. Unfortunately for me, the enjoyable sections of Midnight Special were too few and far between when the film lost its way with the story, but also the less-than-convincing cast performances.

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Midnight Special could have become a cult classic, but the story seems to have taken a cop-out route and it just doesn’t seem to make much sense, for me anyway. The cast had me filled with promise, considering the ability of them but again, I felt let down by Shannon & co aside from Leiberher’s performance. Alas, the opening hour was good and thrilling, culminating in a meteor shower that looked majestic, but from there the film slowly begins to drop off and seemingly loses itself in free fall. As much as I enjoyed the opening hour, I could not shake the closing hour practically ruining the film for me. Unfortunately Midnight Special was a bit of dud.

Arrival (2016)

After an unbelievably tense traffic sequence on film, Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario was a big runner in the Oscars last year. And this year he’s back with the highly anticipated science-fiction thriller Arrival. And it’s no surprise with his talent that there are already smatterings of Oscar contention for Villeneuve again.

This time it’s Amy Adams taking the central role as Dr. Louise Banks, a top class linguist enlisted to help decipher a message from these weird pebble-shaped objects hanging in the sky. But already within the five minutes, Villeneuve and Adams have already broken our hearts in scenes that are uncannily similar to the opening sequence in Up.

The way in which the pebble-ships are introduced is interesting, as Dr. Banks is distant to the seemingly important news that has everyone crowded around the television screen and actively disrupting her class on Portuguese. She brushes off their existence until she is asked to help decipher their mysterious message by Colonel Weber (Forest Whittaker) with the help of Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) a theoretical physicist.

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Rather than immediately focusing on the aliens inside the pebble-ship, Villeneuve focuses on the overcoming of the language barrier between the crew and the heptapods (aliens). Villeneuve also cleverly includes the processes of learning language, as Dr. Banks breaks down her plan to Colonel Weber who seems less than convinced with her approach.

When it comes to end of the filmmaking calendar, questions regarding a films Oscar contention begin to enter the fray and these questions about Arrival are 100% justified. Villeneuve is proving again he has the chops, but alas has been left empty-handed thus far. This could very well change with Arrival. It has to be said that Amy Adams is in strong contention with her strong and believable performance as Louise Banks, as the focus never shifts from her character she maintains the narrative superbly.

Although he has previously shown a knack for creating unbelievably tense sequences in Prisoners and Sicario, Villeneuve managed to incorporate some awe-inspiring shots that were simply wonderful to watch unfold on screen, including the below shot of the pebble-like ship in Montana. This only adds to the enjoyment on screen and is replicated when we take a trip around the globe to see the other ships.

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The story is excellently fed through the screen and left me wanting to know more about everything to do with the films backstory from the linguistics, to the heptapods and to the other eleven pebble-ships and their positioning. How close the film is kept to the original material by Ted Chiang, I do not know, but it has left me eager and wanting to know more.

Although a big chunk of this film revolves around these heptapod beings, it doesn’t feel like it’s closely fixated on this subject, as Villeneuve manages to capture the effect this task has on Dr. Banks but also the inability of the World’s top nations coming together at a crucial hour. Amy Adams as Dr. Banks pulls in an excellent performance as she becomes wearier and increasingly unsettled with flashbacks of the opening scenes. It’s a believable performance as she remains headstrong in her approach and drives the film forward as the central figure.

As the twelve ships converse with their countries counterparts, information is withheld between the countries, when it should be shared and with it comes a sense of suspicion driven by the Chinese. The Russians begin to follow suit and take aim at the ships, causing disarray between everyone all over the world.

Arrival is a delight because everything in this story works and leaves us wanting more throughout the elaborate unwinding of the true nature of these ships and why they have arrived. This unravelling also brings forth a rather interesting twist in the narrative that really works and fits superbly. I have often found science-fiction plot twists weak, or laughable, but with Arrival it fitted perfectly tonally and narratively with the story.

Villeneuve has continued his powerful filmmaking exploits with Arrival and is quickly becoming one of the top directors to look out for. Sicario was a phenomenal piece of film, and Arrival could’ve have easily been two hours longer and still been just as enjoyable. As it stands at around an hour and forty minutes, it’s of perfect length and I wouldn’t be surprised come Oscar nominations if Arrival is the hot tip.

Moon (2009)

There is something about films involving space that has always peaked my interest. One of my favourites is Danny Boyle’s space epic Sunshine and I have enjoyed the very peculiar Solaris, the whimsical adventure of The Martian and the mind-bendingness of Interstellar. So naturally, I am led to Duncan Jones’ directorial debut of Moon.

Funnily enough, Moon is set on the moon, but set in the future where mankind has figured out how to harvest the moon for a renewable energy source. This kind of work would surely take a massive workforce, right? Wrong. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the lonely operator for Lunar Enterprises aided with his robot pal, GERTY (Voiced by Kevin Spacey) that can display emotions through yellow faces. (See Below)

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What was really enjoyable about Sunshine was the immersive element created by Danny Boyle, but also the claustrophobic feeling of the Icarus spaceship. Moon adopts these elements, but also has the effects of isolation on Sam alone during his three-year contract with Lunar Enterprises. Sam is two weeks away from getting off that rock and being reunited with his wife and daughter.

The madness of isolation creeps up on Sam as he goes about his daily routine, talking to his plants and imagining fictitious relationships between them whilst watching television shows and building a model town. Sam sees a woman sitting in his chair and burns his hand in one instance, highlighting that maybe his mind is beginning to get the better of him.

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Sam Rockwell is brilliant in this role as he depicts perfectly this madness, but also for his performance in the rest of the film. (Which I cannot really speak of due to spoilers) But also Duncan Jones manages to negotiate both the vast landscape of the moon, but also the solitude of Sam, confined to the bunker.

As the film ticks over its 90-minute runtime – which was perfect for the film of this calibre – Sam discovers that everything is not right on the Lunar Enterprise base. He has a crash in the rover, whilst trying to mend one of the unmanned harvesters. After this crash, he overhears a conversation between GERTY and Lunar Enterprises, which sets off the alarm bells in Sam’s head. (Especially as the live satellite is meant to be bust)

Although the story isn’t that groundbreaking, it makes for interesting viewing all the same for how Sam Rockwell’s Sam Bell interacts with the story. But I think the importance of Moon is not the story, but rather the acting on show from Sam Rockwell and showing a range of emotions throughout the film.

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It’s worth noting that it’s clear to see Jones’ has taken influence from 2001: A Space Odyssey with the similarities between HAL 9000 and GERTY, and to some degree even sounding the same. And the inclusion of an orchestral piece near the beginning, before being moved into an array of bleeps and sonars integrated into the soundtrack.

Duncan Jones’ Moon is an interesting and enjoyable piece of filmmaking. With the likes of Sunshine, Interstellar and Solaris he has continued this trend of keeping me intrigued with films involving space and the very different ideas throughout the range of these films.

Although more depth could have been explored regarding Lunar Enterprises, Duncan Jones could’ve intentionally left their exploits open-ended for discussions. Regardless, the star of the show is Sam Rockwell by a mile, but Jones backed him every step with the claustrophobic bunker and the incredible effects of the Moon, including a crackin’ shot of the Earth.