Category: Science-Fiction

Alphaville

Jean Luc-Godard seems to think if you correlate number-tags to a woman’s neck you can call yourself science-fiction; although it may not be the normative spaceship piloting fair, Alphaville is unique in its philosophical approach. William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, cites Escape from precinct 13 as an inspiration to his writings, a John Carpenter film, when a character mentions, paraphrased, “I flew over Normandy during the invasion”, and by this single strip of contextual dialogue, it emits a time and place unrealized simply by exteriors; this is done often in Alphaville, as the time in which filmed does not permit the use of special-effects that we have today.

Near the end of the third act the director positions aerial shots stationed on Lemmy backing out by way of a stolen car and zigzagging out of the parking lot, causing the whole scene to feel predetermined; above, a deity, spectating the intergalactic missions of Lenny.

The stark black and white camerawork sets a somber mood, and the lengthy film, when pushed past its own pretensions, is also very interesting and engaging.

The Ghost in the Shell

The Ghost in the Shell is a masterpiece of film and sound composition. The camera is a world-forming vehicle of emotions and inquisitiveness, from the long-panning shots of urban desolation, to the montages of Major Kusanagi gazing with her nano-optic eyes at the sky-high building structures, wondering her place in the world.

The film was directed by Mamoru Oshii and stands tall today as  classic anime alongside the earlier “Akira”. Comparing the two is similar semantically to the comparison of the first and second Godfathers. They are both great anime films, and are regarded as great science-fiction in circles of live-action movies as well. As the major says, “If we all reacted the same way, we’d be predictable, and there’s always more than one way to view a situation. What’s true for the group is also true for the individual.”

The Ghost in the shell comes in two-packages. The original, and the 2.0 version, the latter appealing to the new generation of  CGI. The original has a painted quality and I prefer it for the sense of artistic authenticity.  The film is a catalyst of the metaphysical. It wears this well, while also being action-packed and gizmo-heavy. I can’t stress enough the sound and foley sound dynamics of the movie; helicopters flying, the puppet-masters well-pitched monotone, melancholy soundtracks, it is a film of overbearing beauty, not leaving any part of the film-making bundle out.

A common criticism is of the two-dimensionality of the characters; but this seems as dim as saying the film Goodfellas’ wasn’t good because the characters lacked sympathy. It is a time and a place, and the theme is bold enough as to think you’d catch on that its a pretty cold, information-driven world.  I grasped onto the character of Batou and Togusa. Batou was a sort of beauty of the beast, big and brawn, but heartfelt and mentally present. Togusa was a family man, albeit a bit cliché and seen before, who ran-down the world the old-fashioned way, with a revolver and not an elbow-wrenching sub-machine gun; generally, Togusa is comic-relief, a dummy for Batou and the Major to poke fun at and show their superiority. And we see this in the second Ghost in the shell film, where the visible inadequacy to the mental rigor of Batou is shown, because Togusa is pure human, yet he is still an important character for the sake of the Majors ideal of an unspecific group-type.

All of the characters above are detectives on the task-force of section 9, in charge of A.I. discrepancies and crimes. They must stop the ghost-hacking entity called the puppet-master, and doing this is a long journey of cyber-crosses and political espionage.  It has the genius syntax similar of the modern film ‘Inception’, but with added spunk, style, and atmosphere. If you haven’t seen the film, watch it, and if you’ve seen it once, watch it again.

Inception

Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” has penetrated pop-culture’s vein in the 20th Century, creating a suavely paced, intelligent and versatile thriller of the mind. The word Inception is used in culture falsely here-forth, and most people don’t realize that Nolan didn’t invent the word Inception. It means to begin or incite, but in a sense there is a modular meaning to the word now: According to Online dictionaries, the term inception in the realm of science means “the act of instilling an idea into someone’s mind by entering his or her dreams.” And Nolan has incited ideas into many people’s minds: layers of knowledge, of impenetrable realities and uncontrollable human emotions. Though vital, the film could use Fellini as the director of the emotive moments, which consist of long gazes and dream-like stillness, that ultimately seem empty and forced. Without them, the movie would be a structure of constructs, ideas, and tasks; but Nolan at least knows that a movie consisting only of logic like so is not much of a movie at all.

Inception surrounds the circumstance of Dom Cobb, who is an extractor of dreams, performing tasks for corporations against rival companies. He does this with unexplained dream-intervention technology. After a devastating situation of death and sabotage of Cobb’s wife, which he is considered as the main suspect, he must flee from his children and out of the country. Now, after sporadic jobs, he finds a corporate-entity who pronounces shadily that he can return him to his kids for doing one job for him, and this job involves inception, an operation Cobb’s done only once, unsuccessfully. They must incite, meaning actually create an idea instead of removing one, that Robert Fischer wants to break up his father’s empire. To do this, Cobb assembles a mighty team of specialists, Arthur, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) the point-man, who finds out information on all persons involved, Eames (Tom Hardy) who can morph into a new body and pretend to be a close person in the dreamers life, and Ariadna (Ellen Page), the young architect student who designs the dream.  The crew conflict with each other and their pasts, especially Cobbs, since it can appear and harm them in a dream, and confront multiple layers of dreaming for the single-goal of an idea.

What is left in the dark, on a cerebral level, is which layer of the dream we are currently watching. Nolan is able to do this without making the viewer frustrated, but I think he fails on the part of human mystery. There is nothing abnormal about the human scenario, only the dream: All that we think or hesitate about before entering the dream is what ultimately does happen: Cobb’s wife, security in Fischers dreams, and the like. But what of the personality of Fischer: What if he was not as easy-going, or melancholy to the point of vulnerability, but instead there was a traumatic shock to the crew. Like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, Fischer could use more subconscious mystery and deceit, maybe with a pinch of Lynchian terror. Yet, this would not compromise to the consistent nature of Nolan’s filmography, which is essentially psychological noir, not abstraction.

On a critical level, the film has flaws. But don’t mistake these as meaning I didn’t or don’t like Inception; I saw it three times when first released and still find it an enticing and unique movie experience. It is truly revolutionary, in fact, as it took in a large gross while still being intelligent and visceral. Filmmakers will hopefully soon realize that people are more capable of understanding what’s on the screen than Hollywood assumes.

Minority Report – Film Review

Although I’m not a surging fan of Spielberg’s movies, “Minority Report” is an overlooked gem in his filmography. It features a super sci-fi atmosphere and a universe as special as it is bizarrely complex.

“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

Tom Cruise leads as  John Anderton, traversing the viewer through a journey of corporate corruption. The film poses a complicated narrative about the various contradictions within the concept of free will. The movie is based off of a short-story/novella by Philip K. Dick, an author who specialized in dissecting the legitimicy of our reality.

Their is a gloomy, closet-light sort of decor to the whole film. It isn’t a romance sci-fi, or even a extremely flashy science fiction movie, but a dark, sometimes depressing outlook on loss; in parts it reminds one of Ridley Scott’s noirish Blade Runner.

In this world, in 2054 A.D., government has the ability to predict future murders and stop them in their mind-dwelling tracks; It’s called the Pre-cog program, and involves three telepathic visionaries of the future outputting  information to the agency.

The troops flee out and arrive at the potential murder area to conflict with the violence. Chief Anderton is the best at his job: Spielberg confidently shows Anderton’s confidence with full frontal views of him moving his arms with virtual information, swinging it, and looking for clues on the motherboard.

The staging is excellent in the way it takes the plot with the utmost sense of importance, even if most of the film is frantic getaways. I don’t think its much of a criticism to say it consisted only of getaways, because each pit-stop is revealing of the times; he’s not hiding behind garbage cans, but getting his eye-removed so he can re-enter his past-employed  building, or finding an elderly women with an odd love for botany.

It reveals the society’s technology all at the same time: Much of this was of Spielberg and crew’s own invention, since Philip K. Dick’s story has little explanation of devices used, and was never one to bother on such descriptivism anyway, being a writer concerned mostly with character and plot.

The film is a masterpiece of super-detective science fiction, wildly synced action sequences and incredible art and concept design. The actors fill out their characters skillfully, including Max von Sydow as the president of the pre-cog program and Collin Farell as a snoopy investigator.

Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn

Star Trek: Wrath of Kahn, directed with great science-fiction ability by Nicholas Meyer, is a space-zipping adventure, a battle of vengeance and past moors. It’s based on Gene Roddenberry’s classic television series that brought modern-problems into space, and it retains the same stars with William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock.

The film starts as a meditation on Captain Kirk’s purpose: During this time in his life, he trains future starflight commanders, through the simulations he excelled at. But his longtime friend and doctor, McCoy, played by DeForest Kelley, sparks a nostalgia on Kirk’s solemn birthday. He dreams of more exploration. He receives this, but through duty, not self-action: After two of his men port onto a desolate planet, they find a compound ravaged by time, and are soon taken over as hostages by Kahn, a vengeance-bent genetically-engineered man, putting Captain Kirk responsible for his wife’s death. He wants the genesis, a matter-expanding device that can create whole planets.

The spaceship battle of wits that ensues between the two masterminds, the calculated Kahn and the human strategist Captain Kirk, is for the ages. The set design is highly-efficient, and the logical-dialogue is spot-on. I was never a fan of the star trek series, but even if one is not, The Wrath of Kahn is still a crowd-pleasing affair: fast, pulp-like vengeance, and a strong storyline and characters. A must-see for any science-fiction fan.

Film Review: Ghost in the Shell 2 Innocence

The ghost in the shell 2 lacks the linearity and overall stand-on-its own quality of the first film. I feel like Mamoru pieced it together with his signature intelligence, but was compulsive and sought immediate sparks of “Oh-Wow” and not a film as a whole. It’s as if the director sub misses himself to the grandeur of his first film, and accepts that this is an afterword. And on that, it does well.

It takes off where the first left off in the sense that the major is not involved in the start and we assume is in the cyber grid in her new form. Batou takes the helm as the protagonist, sustaining the internal dread of major not being by his side.  The story, like all the critics mention, is a bit scattered and unfocused. The ‘Kim’ scene I found to be really cool, although I’ll be honest and went for the rewind-button in a thought-the-technology skipped stupor. The characters, it seems, have come to such a sterile point with their society that the way of their self-expression, emotion or disbelief, is through probing their vast minds and memories for philosophical quotes. At least that’s my justification for how many are thrown off throughout and in fact, they didn’t bother me and I always tried to understand them in their delivery and context.  I didn’t like the soundtrack as compared to the first. It didn’t have the immediacy to it, more like an afterword feeling like I said before. An ‘after the war’ solitude. There are sporadic references to the first, like Batou quietly saying he knew a girl who loved to swim, a deep murmur that us as devoted viewers understand and remember.

  I enjoyed the movie very much, especially the second half and the scene with the dolls dropping down by their wired-sinews. The animation was top-notch and has a sort of hip-like magnificence that is reminiscent of what George Lucas did to star wars in the later movies. That moment, when the doll we so telepathically want returned to action and her friend Batau; It generally runs as an ode to characters, like a television show, where their is no possible way you want be excited by them. All in all, If you saw and loved the first film, there’s no reason why you won’t like this one too. If you check it out without any expectations or hopes, you might just be amused.

Film Review: Dark City (1998)

6/10

Dark City is a voyage into the unknown, into a world with no sunlight nor hope, where memories are imprinted into minds as if on a conveyer belt. It embodies this premise with great style and overall structure, but lacks sharp dialogue or logic that would make it a truly great cinematic experience. It is one of those films where it does cool tricks for the camera, but when the plot demands the use of those tricks it falls short.

The story surrounds John Murdoch, (Rufus Sewell), who wakes up in a bathtub to find he doesn’t remember anything: He looks at himself in the mirror, like so many more inspired folk in cinema of the past have done, and tries to think about his identity. Nothing. He dresses himself in clothes that are stashed around him, and knocks over a glass-bowl with a goldfish in it. He picks it up, and puts it in a tub: If he has no memory, how does he remember language and that fish require water? The cop later comments on the peculiarity of a murderer saving a fish, and this starts the hesitation of Inspector Frank, played by William Hurt, on whether or not Murdoch truly is a murderer, or if he was set-up.

The real set-up is the world: The doctor, played by Kiefer Sutherland, is forced to imprint false memory’s every night at midnight. He is the most inconsistent character in the movie, and the director is confused with his own characterization. He wants the doctor to be weak and cowardice, yet also brave in his end-goals; If he didn’t make him limping and with  Scrooge-like mouth gesture, he might be a character of true depth. Instead, we don’t know what he is thinking or what to think of him, which makes his end-goals all the less dramatic.

John Murdoch also had a wife, who he was angry with for ruining their monogamy. The imprinters have Murdoch’s past memories inserted into one of their own, and this man now follows the clues of John’s memory towards where he thinks he would go; Murdoch has his wallet and his ability to read the context of a related person, like his Uncle.  The imprinters show loads of self-empowered energy, omnipotence the director wants us to indulge in. They are able to fly, we see, but when they really need to, like when chasing after Murdoch on top of houses, they seem to not be able to: Why not?

The film is a bold science fiction movie that just plain loves itself too much; the appeal of the imprinters, with white placid skin and dark clothing, wears thin and the front shots of their assembly becomes nothing special.  The relationship between Murdoch and his wife, Jennifer Connelly, is turned upside down after the realization that their love was imprinted; yet, during the final scenes, where it is Hollywood fitting for them to fall in love again, Murdoch seems to distracted with his power and thoughts to want to display any dazzle, which is exactly what Director Alex Proyas and his fellow screenwriters are doing.

Film Review: 2001- A Space Odyssey

2001 is a synthesis of Kubrick and Clarke’s storytelling capabilities, and is an unattainable standard for space-bound pics, at-least the ones with clear hard science-fiction motives. Duncan Jones’ ‘Moon’ is under Odyssey’s wing, among others, including its admittedly sub-par sequel. Like most repeatedly say, the movie is a picture book of poster-ready images, never once escaping its own brilliance.

The beginning of 2001 is at a dry, desolate landscape, filled with wandering apes. The sun and moon rise to form eclipses, a gnostic metaphor for inspired evolution, which soon comes in the form of a dark, rectangular monolith, one of the greatest images in cinematic history. The apes cower and groan at its sight; but this jump-starts their evolution, and the next part in the story flips millions of years later, to a space-shuttle heading for the moon. Dr. Heywood Floyd is preparing to brief a group of supervisors about the cover-story for whats been found on the moon: No one presently knows exactly what it is. The monolith?

The third act is the day-to-day lives of the 2001 Astronauts, Dave Bowman and Frank Poole. The two converse casually, eat the normal vacuum-frozen meals, creating an eerie comfort to their surroundings. They sit at the same table, while looking at two different video-tablets on the same interview. One can see they do their own things, while also able to speak and be friends. The split between them is a robot, named HAL 3000. A rectangular output-device with a glowing red dot as a face, HAL turns the scheduled space-shuttle into horror and chaos; he alleges a part to need maitenance, as part of a scheme to take out the two astronauts and safely clear the way for the missions end-goal. Human-error is what HAL fears the most, but perhaps not as much as having his plug-ripped.

The phlegmatic manner in which the shots are placed, by Stanley Kubrick, is worth a generation of film-students study. Each scene has an importance, and they are all aesthetically innovating; the scene I found the most impacting, was the claustrophobic moment when Bowman and Poole are conniving on the strange actions of HAL, inside a sealed Pod. The camera turns into HAL’s POV, and we see him focusing on each of the astronauts lip-movement, through close-up panning; he’s studying their rebellion.

Anyone interested in this movie should read Arthur Clarke’s ‘The Lost Worlds of 2001’  with some real unique journal entries of him working diligently for months with Kubrick, who he regards very highly as a professional and a friend. The movie will never be forgotten: a dark, pessimistic view of artificial intelligence.