Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi’ Category

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50 Movies in 100 Day: The Philadelphia Experiment

January 23, 2013

The Philadelphia Experiment

Randomly decided via Netflix what film to watch, the idea of time travel and a military experiments gone wrong seemed like an entertaining idea.  But it ended up just being so so, it was like so many other political/military films, everything goes wrong, and instead of point to the people who might know, people go in the opposite direction and are very illogical.

The story starts around World War II when the government decides to test out a radar invisibility on a ship.  It ends up opening a time vortex, the other end opens up in 1984when they try another similar experiment.  Two shipmates close to the explosion end up being propelled forward in time.  Things aren’t as they remembered them.  One of them starts having episodes where the time power starts to cause him issues, he eventually gets pulled back to the Philadelphia.  His crew mate goes and tries to find his family and figure out what is going on.  Eventually he does the logical thing and tracks down the scientist who had done the experiment in the first place and finds that he has to travel back in time and turn off the machine on their end to save everything.  He does that and comes back to 1084 so he can spend time with the girl he fell for in the few days that he was there (and whom he had kidnapped).

This is an old film, well, 1984 so as old as I am, and it is just too illogical at so many points.  They don’t go to the military, they barely even try and contact them.  And after it goes wrong one time, they kidnap someone because clearly that will make everything better.  And when the military does track them down (well the one down, his friend had already gone back in time) he runs away from them again and tries to find his family.  I would in some ways compare it to Prometheus from this past year, something that wasn’t bad in theory, but ended up having too many major plot holes in it that they couldn’t get even close to covering up.  People doing the dumbest thing rather than the smartest, and while I realize that might be more accurate for some people, every single activity and action as the dumbest, not likely.

The acting in the film I would call typical 80’s horror acting, it isn’t all that great, probably has stronger cheese to it than anything.  None of the performances stick out and the cast doesn’t have any major actors of note.  It just ends up being a lot of forgettable performance.  Same with the direction, nothing sticks out all that memorably, it is pretty similar to special effects to Wrath of Kahn, the stuff that is a basis for a lot of what we see now, any sort of vortex, time portal anything like that, all has basis from this sort of old film styling because we know what it is without thinking about it anymore.

This is a film that I would recommend skipping, it definitely was an intriguing idea for a film, but like I said it pulled a few too many Prometheus-esque moments.  It has some hockey entertainment value but that is about it.  The best way to put it is that I enjoyed it for having seen it but beyond that, it isn’t something that an average movie viewer is going to enjoy all that much.

Critical Grade: D

Entertainment Grade: C-

Overall Grade: D+

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50 Movies in 100 Days: Star Trek Wrath of Kahn

January 23, 2013

Star Trek: Wrath of Kahn

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I haven’t seen this film before.  I’ve seen a few of the first episodes from the original series, but I haven’t watched any of the Shatner movies before, which is surprising because how many films have “KAHHHNNNN” in them.  I also like the references that the new Star Trek film put in.

The story is that of revenge, which I always appreciate.  Khan, stranded in a crash on a remote planet, which has changed its orbit, ends up being accidentally rescued.  Kirk while on a training mission gets a garbled call from a scientific out post.  They go to investigate and end up falling into a trap which Kahn has laid for them.  Things turn more sour when they find that Kahn has killed most of the people on the outpost.  They find the rest of the people from the outpost and trick Kahn into a fair fight.  Things end up going nearly as planned but there are some sacrifices that need to be made.

The acting is what you’d expect.  It is the cast from the series and Shatner is Shatner, Nimoy is Nimoy, and so many others from the original series.  They play their roles as they were meant to be played as they have played them many times before.

Overall this is a very good film, I liked the plot, and while I have had a friend said there is an episode where I could have learned more about Kahn and his back story.  I think that it was a very entertaining film.  It has a plot that is well put together and it is memorable for the characters in the film.  I enjoyed it a lot and it was fun to nerd out to.  It is harder to review than many films, it is older to special effects standards are a bit different and something based off of a TV show is also harder to review.

Critical Grade: B-

Entertainment Grade: A-

Overall Grade: B

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Disctrict 9

October 1, 2010

District 9

This film is very well made in terms of the technical aspect, however, came across to me as heavy handed in how it presented the message against racial discrimination that it so heavily propagated.  This in turn removed a fair amount of the enjoyment factor from watching this film.  However, there are some good performances and in theory it is a very interestingly done film.

The story starts 20 years ago when a Prawn ship stops above South Africa.  No first contact is made until humanity breaks into the ship and finds the prawn living in terrible conditions, many near death.  The prawns are giving spots to live on earth and are watched over by a governing body known as MNU.  The integration of the prawns into society does not work extremely well and they are discriminated against and violence and tensions rise between the prawns and the humans.  So MNU comes up with a solution, take all the prawns to their own separate location away from the humans.  This relocation is to be led by Wikus Van De Merwe, but things go violently wrong as the eviction notices are served and Wikus finds that he needs to change his standing on how to handle the prawns.

The problem I have with this film, and with Crash which is similar in how it allows the viewer to think about the message it presents, is that it tells you what you must think.  It is very inflexible in its story and once you have figured that out, there is no real interest in the story because you can accurately predict everything that is going to happen and what emotions are going to go along with it.  This just removes much of the joy from watching the film.

The acting in this film is done primarily by unknowns, and for the most part the performances are simply average.  There is only really one to highlight and that is the main character Wikus.  Sharlto Copley gives a very good performance as Wikus Van De Merwe.  He comes across as someone who is very much out of his element most of the time and very much behind the regime as they try and force the prawn to move.  His change is gradual as to how he reacts as his views on the prawn change, and it isn’t a forced sudden revelation.

Visually is what makes this film work as well as it does.  Neill Blomkamp combines some very good CGI with a gritty world.  This film shows that sci-fi doesn’t have to take place 1000 years in the future and many galaxies away, but it works right now.  The time period doesn’t matter to have a sci-fi element to it.  The prawn themselves are very well created as they aren’t terrifying aliens or cliche looking aliens.  They simply are a race that looks as confused and fragile as the human race often looks.  The style that the story is told in is an interesting one, and one that works quite well.  The beginning and end of the story are done in a much more documentary style (this continues for a while at the beginning and only the last few minutes at the end) but regular filming is insert in between these bookends as well as during them every once in a while.

This could have been a really good film but it was too predictable in its story telling and too forceful in how it presented its ideals.  Visually it should be recognized as being a good film and Blomkamp, a relatively young director has a bright career ahead of him.  It is a film that is worth watching and that many will appreciate for the message that it presents, but it isn’t presented in a style that I feel would best suit its message.

Entertainment Grade: C

Critical Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B-

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Gattaca

April 17, 2010

Gattaca

Gattaca

This is a strongly made sci-fi film that explores the idea of genetic selection and the implications there of.  It is an engaging story that doesn’t focus on some massive change in technology but instead the ideas of the technology.  The story blends the sci-fi aspect with romance and some intense thrills, it a film that has all that much fluff.

In the future people are generally conceived and genetically altered so that they are “perfect”.  If you aren’t engineered then you can’t get as good of a job.  Vincent Freeman was born naturally with no genetic alterations and when that happens, there isn’t much you can do, you can’t get a real job.  There are ways around the system, none that are legal, but if you can find someone who looks enough like you and they are willing to supply you with blood, DNA, finger prints, etc. that you need to beat the system.  Vincent does this, working with Jerome Eugene Morrow who was genetically engineered to be great, and when he wasn’t as great as he was supposed to be.  So he lets Vincent pretend to be him, living his life.  The problem starts when an eyelash falls around a crime scene.  He then tries to keep his identity hidden so he can go into space piloting a mission.  He is also wooing Irene Cassini trying to keep his true identity hidden from her.

The acting in this film is very solid.  Vincent is played nicely by Ethan Hawke.   It is a role where he is acting while acting, this is an interesting thing to think about.  They do a good job of using Jude Law for playing Jerome Eugene Morrow.  You don’t really think about Hawke and Law looking all that much like each other, but they actually do a solid job having them look close enough to each other in this film.  Uma Thurman plays Irene and does a solid job as well.  The performances aren’t memorably great as the ideas of presented in the film are what really make it pop.

Visually the film is very solid.  It is a blend of a futuristic world, but it blends a world that we see around us right now.  I think that this blend helps it be focused less on the technology and toys as compared to many sci-fi films that are much more worried about the big picture of all the fun technology that they can show off.  Andrew Niccol does a solid job directing this film and as this was his first direction and he wrote this film as well.

What makes this film pop is the ideas behind it.  The whole idea of genetic selection and perfection as compared to the normal population that is turned out is very interesting.  The talent and the visuals aren’t anything extremely great but they are solid enough to propel the story forward and not get in the way of the story.  It would have been nice to see Niccol continue down this line of film as compared to heading out and making a film like Lord of War which doesn’t work with the same depth.

Entertainment Grade: B+

Critical Grade: C+ *

Overall Grade: B

* On Rotten Tomatoes, if I want to see how the top critics rated it, which was at 50%, but from all the critics overall, it was 82%.

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Frequency

April 14, 2010

Frequency

Frequency

I have issues with this film, for a while it was a guilty pleasure film of mine because the story is pretty interesting, it tugs on some heart strings, and who doesn’t want to have a tip to go back in time and invest in someone like Microsoft or Yahoo and get rich off of it?  However, when I think back on the film, which I haven’t watched in a little while, but I have seen probably three times, I’m just not so sure I like it as much as I thought.  It is a quite contrived story that the talent pulls off fairly well, but it doesn’t pop as much as you’d like it to.

The story begins with John Sullivan, played by James Caviezel, monkeying around with an old radio of his fathers.  An odd phenomena happens and suddenly the radio is able to link into the past, just before his father, Frank Sullivan, played by Dennis Quaid, is killed in a fire.  John realizes what has happened and he decides to save his father.  Like in any good time travel film, there is a noticeable butterfly effect and every change that John makes in the past comes shooting forward in ways that you basically expect.  This part of the story isn’t all that bad and does tug at ones heart strings.  The problem is that they try and work in this whole secondary serial killer plot that drags from time period to time period because of the butterfly effect.  This part of the story is just too contrived and just doesn’t flow as well as the rest of the story.  The other thing that I’m not a huge fan of with this story is the end.  It is the end that you expect to see the whole time, the typical wrap everything up with a pretty ribbon ending that all good Hollywood films end with, which will from here on be referred to as a Hollywood ending with no more explanation as to what it is.

The two lead performances as are solid.  James Caviezel can act decently well.  There are points in the film where his character could be more believable, but he does a solid job throughout, just with a little limited emotion.  Dennis Quaid is in one of his better roles.  He does a good job as a concerned parent or concerned leader situation, i.e. G.I. Joe and The Day After Tomorrow, but his acting talent isn’t anything all that special.  The rest of the rolls are filled in by smaller actors and actresses who do a serviceable job, but none of the performances are really all that memorable.  Michael Cera even makes an appearance as one of the little kids in the film, something I didn’t realize until recently.  Oddly enough, it isn’t his typical Michael Cera type of role.

Visually this film does a solid job of creating the same town in two different time periods.  But it is less impressive then it sounds, like most fairly small towns, not all that much changes.  The old houses might get a new coat of paint and the vehicles will look newer and the trees a bit larger, but small towns don’t change that much in a twenty (or so) year period of time.  Gregory Hoblit does a solid job with his direction in this film and while I do remember this film fairly well, he wasn’t able to create that one reason why.  It’s more something I remember just because of repetition of seeing it.

This film isn’t anything great and to truly enjoy it you have to be able to turn off your brain for a little bit and just watch it as a guilty pleasure of a time travel-esque film.  It lacks the substance to allow for deeper thinking.  It isn’t a bad film and it will definitely entertain, but there have been better films made along this line that have come out.  Although, time travel is generally a very sticky type of film to be made because so many of them end up being very cheesy or leave massive plot gaps.

Entertainment Grade: B-

Critical Grade: B

Overall Grade: B-

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eXistenZ

April 13, 2010

eXistenZ

eXistenZ

An intentionally mind bending film that doesn’t live up to films such as Dark City and The Matrix.  It has an engaging story and ends up being pretty confusing once it gets down to it.  David Cronenberg has made a lot of good films and this wouldn’t be one of the greatest in most peoples opinions, but it is very good and enjoyable.

The story is about a video game called eXistenZ created by a protegee named Allegra Gellar, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.  The game is different then your typical video game in that it is a virtual reality.  It is played by multiple people and they are propelled into the world of eXistenZ.  Jude Law plays the next big character in this film who works opposite of Allegra Gellar, Ted Pikul.  He rescues her after something goes wrong with the system.  And they launch into a chase to keep the system safe and find out what is wrong with the system.  There are a whole lot of twists in this film and it is definitely worth checking out to see how it ends.

The acting in this film is solid.  Jude Law does a solid job as always in his performance and Jennifer Jason Leigh gives a good performance as well.  There is a fair amount of other talent in this film.  Willem Dafoe does a good job in this film.  Ian Holm and Christopher Eccleston also show up in the film as well.  They are solid performances as well, but Law and Leigh are the two major players in the film and everyone just shows up at a little bits in time during the film.

Visually this film does a good job.  Cronenberg does a great job directing films and he does a good job of keeping the worlds in this film separate.  And he does a great job writing this story as well, Cronenberg is a solid writer as well as director.  The futuristic technology in the film is kind of lacking as it is a sci-fi film.  But it combines action with an un-sci-fi feel for this sci-fi film.

It is a little bit less of a great film as compared to Cronenberg’s other works, at least in the eyes of the critics.  The film is a lot of fun and the twists are great, but it doesn’t have the depth of man of those films like Dark City and The Matrix.  Enjoyable but nothing extremely special, but you can watch it as a lot of fun which is what it is meant to be.

Entertainment Grade: B

Critical Grade: C+

Overall Grade: B-

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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

April 6, 2010

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

This is another one of my favorite films.  It is one of the original CGI films.  Besides the talent, obviously, it is 100% CGI, and extremely impressive for being so early.  Part of the reason I was so disappointed when I saw the previews for Avatar, the CGI looked worse then this, at least at that point, and this probably had a sixth or seventh of the budget, at most.

The story is that of an alternate world.  Zeppelins are docking with the empire state building, and Sky Captain and his team of mercenaries are patrolling the skies.  And then the robots start to show up.  They fly into New York City and dig up the reactor in the center of the city.  Sky Captain and his crack squad of mercenaries can’t stop them.  They track down the signal that is controlling them with the help of a news paper reporter Polly Perkins.  When Sky Captains tech man Dex is captured, Sky Captain and Polly Perkins go after him and stumble across Totenkopf, a member of a secret government team headed up by the German, Totenkopf.  They find out his plan and then they have to stop it, with a little help from Frankie, and old buddy of Sky Captains.

The talent in this film is pretty solid.  Jude Law heads up this film as Sky Captain.  He has a nice little swagger in this film.  Polly Perkins was played by Gwyneth Paltrow.  She does a good job of playing a bit of a ditz in this film or at least acting like one but being very smart and manipulative in reality.  Sky Captain knows, but he kind of just lets her drag it on because he likes her.  Angelina Jolie play Frankie and is in a pretty limited role.  Dex is played by a relative unknown Giovanni Ribisi.  Dex is probably one of the standout characters in this film. What makes it so impressive is the fact that they are acting with little to nothing there.  A lot of the acting was just in a giant blank room.

Visually this film has to be impressive.  The budget was so small for this film, and like I’ve already implied, the CGI is extremely impressive.  I’d say that it looked as impressive as Avatar’s trailer, I’m sure that Avatar ended up being better, but it did have a $300 million in terms of budget.  Kerry Conran directs this film brilliantly and did a good job in terms of writing the story as well.  I’d like to see more CGI films of this ilk.

Overall a fun film.  It has what I would call a very simple story, however, it is a good one.  It’s kind of what you’d imagine the sci-fi films of the forties and fifties to be like.  The technology isn’t all that impressive, in terms of the robots int eh film, but they are very old fashioned and that makes this film.  It is just the atmosphere of the film that makes everything pop.

Entertainment Grade: A-

Critical Grade: B+

Overall Grade: B+