Category Archives: Science-Fiction

Lost Boy – Short Film Review


A visually stunning sci-fi short film that relies entirely on visual imagery to tell its story. The plot is rather vague and ambiguous, but there are several very clever cinematography tricks used against the backdrop of a desolate, dark landscape.

It seamlessly uses the pan across an object, swipe to a different character, pan, swipe, different character. The slow pans move in closer to the subject following each successive swipe, just like Spielberg did in Jaws as Brody watched the town folk swim in the water while he sat back and nervously watched.

In this story, the antagonist isn’t a shark, though, it’s a large android-like figure with a red band of light covering his eyes, like Cyclops from X-Men. He is chasing after a cyberpunk-looking figure, who’s often running in slow motion, the background a constant source of tension. The ‘cyclops’ weaves in and out of the frame horizontally, creating a demonic aura, though we don’t completely understand his moral position by the end of it.

Great world-building and production design, though it plays out more like a music video than an actual narrative. I couldn’t tell you the motivations of the characters if I tried, but whatever they are, they looked cool going after them. Personally, I would have liked the terminator-style chase sequence to be a bit more frantic and have a little less slow motion. The slow motion implies that we care deeply for this character’s livelihood, but we don’t. Speed it up and it becomes more energetic, intense, and engaging, instead of just simply pretty to look at.

Directed by Ash Thorp and Anthony Scott Burns

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Iron Man 3 (2013) – Film Review

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The first thing I thought walking out of the theater is that this movie is either innovative or disrespectful; there is no hiding the fact that liberties have been taken with the entire genre in the new Tony Stark vehicle.

Without giving away any spoilers, if you look at the one liberty (and those who’ve seen it know exactly what it is),  and judge it solely on it’s merit and the merit it had in the comics, you’re going to call it disrespectful to the origins. But if you look at how it fits into the whole plot and schema of the movie, it’s a very clever device.

The movie is about identity and accountability, and of all the character flaws shining through Tony Stark, no-one can deny he’s not afraid of being known and being accountable.  Indeed, that was the whole moral conundrum that resulted in him de-weaponizing his whole company in Jon Favreau’s first Iron Man movie.  And then he goes and makes a public statement to a terrorist, even blurting out his home address (though it’s surprising that by now everyone doesn’t know where the great Tony Stark lives, especially an international terrorist).

The new Iron Man does have a boat load of humor, courtesy of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” director Shane Black. But don’t let these cover-up the depth that aches beneath the surface. Tony Stark is living anxiously after the events of the Avengers. The anxiety-attacks could have been a little better written, maybe with hallucination or more of his pain shown alongside visuals.

Robert Downey Jr. looks wide-eyed and breathes heavily throughout the film. And although he’s a great actor, there’s just not enough built-in or earned emotion for us to feel a whole lot of sympathy; and just imagine how difficult it might be for a viewer who hasn’t seen the events of the The Avengers.

Some of the greatest scenes in the movie come in the form of a young boy Tony finds in a small-town.  Their personalities are very similar and it results in a lot of spark on-screen. They quip, talk about fathers, and help each other out in a charming, big brother sort of way.

The remote-controlled armor is an odd duality. The movie’s premise promotes the idea that Tony is Iron Man, Iron Man is not Tony.  It’s an inciting moment for Tony’s third-act epiphany; he has gone too far.  He builds a boat load of armor, his technology commanding a bit too much of his attention.

The movie is an interesting exploration of the old theme of man-or-machine, even if the climax may be a bit overlong. The explosions never really end in the climax and the lack of quiet moments spliced in between the chaos creates a numbing affect. The repetition of the action sequences simply normalizes the barrage of fireworks. It goes off the rails, falling into the default mode of a standard superhero showdown.

Cosmopolis (2012) – Film Review

David Cronenberg’s ‘Cosmopolis’ isn’t as effective as one would hope from a director with such longevity. It features Robert Pattinson as a young capitalist, Eric Packer, roaming in a limo through a city that, in numbers, is practically his. He is confident and filled with absolutism, the sort of rock-hard complex that can explain his seat in society without one even knowing his profession. Pattinson rolls off Cronenberg’s intellectual jargon with sterility, creating a mood outside of the character: The things Packer says sometimes seem outside of himself, like he is talking not about what he wants to do, but what he should.

The themes are different for Cronenberg: sure, the movie has sex, sexual demands, and lack of meaning behind sex, all part of his past portfolio, but he takes on capitalism with a preachers might. He’s really trying to pry some nastiness up from the ground; but in all, It’s hard to take it in from a character like Eric Packer, who has conquered the system. As the majority are not rich and well-informed, the didactic notions of the people concerned in the movie all seem hypocritical. The people who are more impacting when it comes to capitalist unfairness are from the neo-realist films of Italy and America’s depression-era.

With all great filmmakers, a flop is still worth more of a penny than the work of other less gifted directors. There are moments in Cosmopolis that are thrilling and artful, most especially the scenes including Paul Giamatti as a man who wants to kill for notoriety. It takes a scene with little physical content or inventiveness and analyzes it far beyond first glance. In the end, if you’re going to be killed, talking about it doesn’t change anything.

One aspect of Cosmopolis that is done right: the music. It’s a bumping, techno-like rhythm that rolls along side the colorful limousine, all done originally by Howard Shore. It features the death of a rapper–and his subsequent song playing as Packer mourns the death he, as an information man, didn’t know about right away. He’s as much crying about his lack of knowledge as he is the death, having met him but once.

The cold nature of the film will turn some away  without a doubt. But this surreal, strangely engaging film presents streams of ideas followed by detailed direction by David Cronenberg.

Dredd 3D (2012)

I was happy to be able to see Dredd not only in 3D, but also at a multiplex specializing in I MAX. It was a truly exciting film: from the beginning scenes spanning across the outer region of Mega City One, with towering buildings scattered across the land, to a zooming motorcycle hosting a well-equipped Judge: In this case, Judge Dredd. Played by Karl Urban, who seemed at first a little too much of a character actor, he puts on the boots and shows he’s got the muscle for the job. Wearing a mask that covers him from the nose up, he has the huge task of working with minimal gesture, and not making it look campy and forced, like Sylvester Stallone did in the original movie.

The plot is fairly simple and objective: a veteran judge is forced to take a rookie along, only to end up imprisoned in a tower swamped with gun-men and drug hounds. This rookie, though, is not the normal wanna-be judge. She is a very powerful psychic: she can twist the mind and predict the future based on the thoughts surrounding her. Quite the asset for a police raid, yes. The special drug involved is called ‘Slo-mo’, a substance that causes the user to slow down in time, seeing action and motion at a very low speed. This is used conceptually to great effect: when two men are thrown off a building, we understand why they are forced to take this drug. And we pity, unlike Judge Dredd.

The character of Dredd is not very complex: It seemed that in the original film, they tried more to pry into the skin behind the helmet, and the poor execution caused that to fail. But here they don’t seem to be trying to pry at all. It seems more attention has gone towards the action and intensity, which are both top-notch, while Dredd says little besides one-liners, some stronger than others. The one-location premise, though, is sometimes a bore: It’s hard to imagine the unpredictable when you know the location is static; it’s one of those movies where you wonder how it could go on and where it’s going to be headed next, which isn’t always a good thing.

The lighting and set-design for Dredd matches it’s tone perfectly: It’s dark shadows and gritty decor are a reflection of the corruption and abuse ongoing in Mega City One. Essentially, Dredd holds the same plot foundation as The Raid: Redemption from 2011, though the style is undoubtedly different. In The Raid, swat-teams are designated to take down a drug building: in Dredd, only two armored Judges are sent out.

The Dead Zone (1983)

David Cronenberg’s ‘The Dead Zone’ has the usual characteristics that accompany his films; slow, character-driven narrative; intelligent use of story concepts and a keen sense of suspense. But the episodic, time-leaping narrative doesn’t feel like the sort of loose storytelling suitable for the concept behind the film. It features Christopher Walken as a second-sighter, a man who by touching the hand of a person with his own can see beyond the present and envision future tragedies or murders. The film develops his powers through episodes and encounters with certain people; after a car accident and five years in a coma, he wakes up to find his once true love has understandingly moved on. This leads to several emotionally intense scenes between the two, but he loves Sarah enough to not be angry or disapproving of her decision to move on with her life.

Though it is similar to Cronenberg’s style, it is also a somewhat mainstream turn for the director. Based on a Stephen King novel, it shows just how far Cronenberg refuses to bend his personal touch for the sake of mass audience appeal : not very much. Some viewers may find slow scenes of character development tiresome; but most, I think, would find the concept intriguing and the suspense enchanting.

Once Johnny rehabilitates, he sees the first hints of his powers through his Doctor, Sam Weizak. When he touches his hand, he’s able to view or re-live the doctor’s past, during a thriving war, filled with rolling tanks and fire and angst. Tonally, It seems wrong to make the first vision Johnny has as a massive set-piece; but, this is the first proof to Johnny and his Doctor, after Sam calls his mother, who he thinks has died, upon Johnny’s request, and discovers Johnny is right: she’s alive.

Johnny’s second-sight ability is exploited through the media. During a press conference, a bold man demands answers about Johnny’s abilities. He flies up to Johnny at his table, sits down and extends his hand, an experiment, though a little different than the one seen in Cronenberg’s earlier feature, Scanners, where a man’s head pops like a tomato. This reporter is told things he doesn’t want to hear: about his sister, about his past. He jumps down from the hot-seat angry: the joke isn’t funny, and Johnny, played with utter psychosis by Christopher Walken, is not laughing.

The set-design on The Dead Zone has an eerie, small-town tone to it that, if you’ve ever read Stephen King, feels like the adaption is not only of the words, but the feel as well of working-class terror.

Cronenberg doesn’t use the second sight as a narrative tool or a mechanism to throw the viewer off. He could very easily have mixed reality with prediction and created a much more mind-bending film; but instead, he makes a practical movie with emotional intelligence and scene after scene of brooding tenseness.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t isolate itself from its predecessors, like it does the citizens of Gotham. It is constantly referencing the mythology and the prequels, little nuggets that the pure fan-boy can appreciate. The director, Christopher Nolan, commented on the graphic novel “The Long Halloween” with much praise, and that is the sort of recognition that makes us assured that he’s the man for the job, or should I say was. His trilogy has marked itself on the wall of epic blockbusters, juxtaposing itself boldly against The Matrix and even The Lord of the Rings. But this isn’t the breakthrough conclusion that acts like a parent to the earlier entries; no, this is a bomb-flying thrill ride at times, but a slow-paced dialogue romp at others. It’s not the sort of comparison that does any sort of cinematic justice.

Batman has been gone for eight years, following the death of Harvey Dent. When a notorious villain involved in the League of Shadows surfaces, who they call Bane, he is pumped into confronting evil once more. A death-trap, his physique is not as tuned as Bane, and the Police haven’t stopped hating him. He deals with personal meditation similar to the strenuous training in the first Batman film, “Batman Begins”.

“I believe in black eyeliner.”

The first quarter of the movie, I feel, is unbearable. It is the worst constructed aspect of the film, with redundant dialogue and one-line emotions. Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, and people are starting to poke fun at him; long-nailed Wayne and the like. But do we really need several unknown and unexplored characters throwing out nasty puns about him? Then, we see Alfred for the first time, directing a kitchen full of young maids preparing the meals for a banquet; he is the hearty caretaker, not an objective wedding planner. But then, Nolan turns it around with a waterfall of emotion: Alfred tells Bruce how he wishes he had a family, and would move on from the Batman gig. He tells him about his dreams. While this Is expected in the conclusion, and there are definitely hugely poignant moments between the two, the frequency of there tear-sharing causes it to have less of a punch.

One thing that causes The Dark Knight Rises to seem like a recovering of 2009’s The Dark Knight is that Mr. Wayne is coming out of retirement. We watch Bruce inch himself back into the world, re-establishing his friendships with Foxx and Jim Gordon; but we know them, and we know how they will respond, essentially with the same elbow-nudging wit as everyone else. I really think the dialogue was neglected here: 2009’s Dark Knight is jam-packed with philosophical and memorable ramblings.

Selina Kyle a.k.a Catwoman

Here, the one-liner is prominent and over-used. And the only one who deserves and can perform them, Is Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. A master jewel thief and a secret Wayne admirer, she leaps hesitantly between her own self-interests and actually making a difference, while always bursting with her signature sass. Spoiler: She doesn’t really purr at all.

John Blake

There are a lot of new characters in Rises, and pretty much all of them were involved in Nolan’s film ‘Inception’. Introduced is police officer John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, who is an idealistic orphan with a strong intrigue for the Harvey Dent/Batman case. He believes Batman didn’t kill Harvey, or at least refuses to believe it. He was a sign of hope to him and the other children at the orphanage. Jim Gordon soon becomes aware of the Police Officer, and moves him over to his side. He is an overall strong character, even if not entirely necessary, especially on the final film.

Bane

The villain of Rises is the notorious Bane, a brass-shouldered leader with a clan full of devoted followers. His story is told in a Roman-like fashion, showing him at a young age, living underground in the hell of a Gotham prison. He did what no-one else could: he made the jump into the light, as a young child. The connections between this film and Batman Begins makes me think one ought to back it up and watch Batman Begins again; Scarecrow will seem funnier. And with the League of Shadows being referenced a lot in Rises, some will be clueless, but if you see Batman Begins, It all connects beautifully and conclusively. Even Liam Neeson makes a guest appearance from his earlier role, albeit only for a few seconds.

Miranda

Marion Cotillard, the actress playing the delusional wife in ‘Inception’, stars as Miranda, a charity-driven woman trying to work with Wayne to better the world. She is sensitive and business-like, and even despite obvious differences between the two, they grow on each other and become intimate. She takes over the company when Bruce steps up to the Bat-mobile, and is trusted to watch over a Russian scientist’s fission reactor that could potentially provide sustainable energy. The scientist is in the first scene, I believe, since the first scenes of a movie you don’t know who to focus on, I settled for Bane. The scientist was taken out of the plane, which was crashed by Bane and company, and pronounced dead: In reality, Bane parachuted him out.

People were saying from the start that Bane was difficult to understand through the mask. His breathing and talking are one in the same, and the static does sometimes make it difficult; but mostly whats causing the difficulty is the purposefully off-pitched acting from Tom Hardy. He follows a string of low-pitched words with an accentuated high-pitched voice, creating a chilling enthusiasm behind such massive biceps.

The camerawork is staged very similarly to the other Batman films. Slow pan-ins to old men with jaws hanging low in awe, scrolling scenery of the city. Mostly every scene transition converts into a pan, moving in towards something, whether its Catwoman cracking a safe or a Wayne board meeting. During the exposition, this transitional panning is used to a conscious point: let’s slow down the cutting and the drowning Hans Zimmer score and actually have some intertwining plot strings. And it lasts nearly an hour.

The Dark Knight Rises has memorable parts, though it also has parts that create gaps in the chronology out of lack of profundity. Even with a few narrative bumps, it is still an intense, world-encompassing, (well, city-encompassing), film with enough characters to give us a tour of the whole city.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man reboot has of course caused a hoopla of ‘what?’ and confusion, since only several years ago the franchise had concluded. The first Spider-Man was Sam Raimi’s vehicle, a wondrous display of set-pieces and talent: But with the new Spider-Man, we see a new look, tone, and feeling for the character. Here, Peter Parker has the on-the-fringe personality that is so attracting in the movies: Avenger flicks have made huge gross amounts in movie history. His parents left him at a young age with his Uncle Ben, played with the old-style charm of Martin Sheen, and Aunt May. Although It distinctly establishes its own uniqueness, there are some scenes that seem strangely similar.

I liked the fact that Spider-Man had to create, spindle shall we say, his own webs. It put a limitation to his tower-swinging capabilities; after all, you can’t be heroic without an Achilles heel. It has a true effect of trying to fit-in with a modern-retelling; the characters use smart-phones and Bing search engines, but the drama always remains in the neatly-wound realm of superhero flicks. When Peter comes home, late at night, bloody in the face, the Aunt assumes nothing, or seems not to; and right after Peter is bit, he comes home in a jittery sweat, eating and catching flies between two fingers: Why couldn’t Uncle Ben ask him if he was on coke? These are domestic people, let’s show it that way.

Garfield’s Parker is a lot more narcissistic with his own feelings, partly because more tragedy is involved in this Spider-Man. There are many scenes where he is teary-eyed, and easily visible behind his dusty, bloody face. He needs Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone, and at first it seems to be a Romeo and Juliet story, only the Montagues end up dieing instead of the children. There scenes have a vibrant, muted expression, and an innocence that is too far gone in Peter’s life.

The villain in The Amazing Spider-Man is a bit unusual. We don’t necessarily have that subjection of hatred towards him like most superhero flicks; he is a brilliant scientist with a desire to change his life and handicap, and even the lives of others. Though, after recording himself deep in the sewers, we see that he is not only turning into a reptile, but also a ideological mess; he has the sort of impenetrable mindset that insists on helping the world by turning them all into lizards like him. A brooding tale of deceit, responsibility,  and family history.