Tag: andrew niccol

Anon


Anon (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

The high concept sci-fi thriller “Anon,” written and directed by Andrew Niccol, possesses a curious idea, but the execution is so dour and so slow that at times experiencing it feels more like a chore than entertainment. In the middle of it, one considers the possibility that the story might have been better off had it been shaped as a tight episode of “Black Mirror” instead of a feature film. At times the pacing is not at all appropriate for the type of technology or future it attempts to criticize.

Niccol presents a future without privacy in which the government has complete access to every single thing that nearly every single person does every second of every day—with the exception of a select few, most of them hackers, who have found rather creative ways to remain anonymous. Should investigators wish, they are able to review records of past events taken from people’s recollections. No warrant is required. Initially, this level of access appears to be highly beneficial because there is a killing spree in New York City.

Detective Sal Frieland (Clive Owen), a man still mourning his young son’s death, is assigned to the case. The prime suspect: an anonymous hacker named only as The Girl (Amanda Seyfried) whose speciality is in removing or altering memories of her clients. The police force aims to capture her, but she is consistently one step ahead. Clearly, it requires more than ingenuity to take her in.

The picture is fond of detours when the story is best told straight: Frieland’s grief and alcoholism, pressure from high-ranking officials to protect the sanctity of a technology currently on the verge of being utilized nationally, a suspect possibly a misunderstood persona. With every left turn, which is meant to become an interesting subplot, notice how the pacing tends to slow down. The reason is because these elements are nothing new or compelling; they are simply plugged into this particular world and unnecessary plotting is written around them. Remove the futuristic world altogether and realize there is nothing worth seeing here. Therein lies the problem.

Owen and Seyfried are fine; they try to do what they can with the material. I am almost certain they have been instructed to speak in a low-key way in order to amplify the mystery of the setting. Normally, these are expressive and emotive performers. It feels like they hold back here. When their characters show more varied expressions, particularly during the final act, it comes across as false because they are quite muffled throughout the picture’s duration. The sudden disparity took me out of the supposed drama.

“Anon” wants to be taken seriously and the photography reflects this yearning. The images are drenched in neutral colors. Primary colors appear to be banned. Voices must be kept under a certain decibel. The sun’s rays are barely seen despite numerous shots of skyscrapers. I suppose this level of control should be applauded, but I wished the same effort was made to create an extremely efficient screenplay. There is more style than substance here.

Good Kill


Good Kill (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Although a member of the U.S. Air Force, Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) has not been on a plane as a fighter pilot for years. Instead, he is a part of the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) stationed in Nevada, controlling drones from halfway across the world. Already unhappy with where his career has ended up, he begins to question whether it is morally right to keep performing his job after the CIA becomes a significant part of his unit’s missions.

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, “Good Kill” tells an unexpectedly engaging portrait of a man who controls military drones while sitting in an air-conditioned shipping container in the middle of a desert. This is due to a powerful and focused screenplay that highlights the impersonalization of war from several angles. During the film, we are forced to ask ourselves: If we are given the chance to kill someone, for whatever reason or none at all, from halfway across the world—to watch them die, to observe their burnt and crumpled bodies, likely to be in pieces, can we do it?

Hawke has a gift for playing characters with clipped wings. In Niccol’s modern science fiction classic “Gattaca,” Hawke plays a man who dreams of visiting space but is restricted from doing so because he is genetically imperfect. Only the best of the best are able to go up there. Here, he plays a man who wishes to pilot a fighter plane once again but technology has gotten so advanced over the years that it is deemed there is no need to take such unnecessary risks. Instead, he sits behind a computer as if he were a kid playing a video game—the key difference being that every action he takes has real-life, very often fatal, consequences.

Just about every scene hinges on Hawke’s body language. Major Egan is a quiet man. Even when he speaks, his words tend to say very little, much to the frustration of his wife (January Jones). Thus, it depends on us to observe closely what his body is saying given a situation. For instance, notice how he walks toward the shipping container where he is required to do a job he detests. He looks fatigued, dejected. He might as well have weights tied around his ankles. When at home, his eyes are rarely present, always staring at something very far away—as if in mourning of the man he used to be.

Hawke builds a dramatic gravity through body language, a task not at all easy to accomplish. This is proven by his co-star, Jones, who is by far the worst performer on screen. Just about everything she does looks forced and fake: the looks of worry, the tears, the feelings of abandonment. When she is on screen, the material drags a bit—a stark contrast against Hawke’s subtle and effective performance. While Jones is beautiful physically, it is a challenge to relate to her thoroughly because of her inauthentic acting.

Appropriately, the film is at its most powerful during the missile strikes. We watch the monitor closely as we hear the characters perform checks and countdowns. We look at the people being targeted. We look at the surroundings. Complications happen. Mistakes cannot be taken back. Unlike a video game, you cannot simply push a button and restart from the last save point. Instead, you take the dire mistakes with you and they fester in the mind.

The Host


The Host (2013)
★ / ★★★★

A perfect world now exists because of extraterrestrial beings who have taken over the planet via controlling people’s bodies. Meanwhile, humans who managed to escape the main invasion are continually on the run. When Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) plunges to her death, her body is taken to the infirmary. An alien called Wanderer, just about the size of one’s palm, is put inside her. But Melanie is an anomaly. Instead of her mind and body being completely taken over by the parasite, she remains to have some control. Wanderer cannot help but be fascinated by the human experience despite the fact that it is assigned to go through her host’s memory in order to discover the rebels’ hideout.

“The Host,” based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer, falls into the trappings of syrupy romance despite the fact that its universe offers a whole lot more than dealing with trivial problems like being torn between two boys. Since its approach is small when the bigger picture demands to be explored, the majority of the picture ends up being a bore, mostly taking place in a cave where there is in-fighting. It does not warrant two hours of our time.

The protagonist lacks depth. The screenplay has not found a way to circumvent the fact that since Melanie’s body is split into having two minds, every thought she has is expressed–whether it be the original Melanie or the alien’s. As a result, the lack of subtlety makes the character one-dimensional when she really should be the most complex. Ronan tries to make the most out of the role, but she really cannot do much other than look sad or robotic depending on the situation.

There is a lack of a detestable villain. The Seeker (Diane Kruger) is potentially interesting in the beginning. Kruger plays her to be very calculating and cold. However, once the hunt for Melanie’s body begins, we see her mostly driving a helicopter, a car, or shooting at people. Later in the film, she changes a little bit (prior to going under the knife) but I had a difficult time believing the charade due to the absence of a believable, smooth character arc. Many changes within the characters seem to occur on a whim which is at times confusing–or just very poorly written.

The flashbacks are corny and elementary. One of the things that bother me in the movies is when I sense that characters are being introduced as if we were watching a parade. The flashbacks employ this approach and so when events are supposed to be sweet or emotional, I caught myself snickering at the mawkishness of the scene.

Based on the screenplay and directed by Andrew Niccol, “The Host” offers some neat images like a field of wheat grown inside a massive cave, but pretty images do not save the material from a deficiency of ambition or even a sense of very energetic fun. For the most part, one will find himself waiting for something to happen. When it finally does, the rewards are few and unfulfilling.

In Time


In Time (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Set in the near future, humans were genetically engineered not to live past the age of 25. Once a person turned of age, a green countdown of one year appeared on one’s arm. When it reached zero, death was a certainty. Will (Justin Timberlake) was twenty-seven years old which meant he’d been scavenging for minutes for two years. In world where time was used as currency, as one would use money to buy a bottle of pop or pay toll to be allowed to pass a certain area, a couple of years, let alone hours, wouldn’t get an individual very far, especially if one lived in the ghetto, as did Will and his mom (Olivia Wilde), a place known as a Time Zone, where the rich limited the circulation of time. “In Time” began like a great science fiction film: it left us in middle of a curious era, handed us the rules of the game, and allowed us to navigate through the necessary exceptions and recognize why they were justified. We observed what people did in the Will’s time zone which ranged from people trying to make an honest living to earn time (but were often short-changed) to thugs (Alex Pettyfer) who harassed others and stole their time via arm-to-arm contact. One of the most compelling early scenes involved a woman who had only an hour and a half on her arm but a bus ride required a fee of two hours. After much begging to no avail, despite explaining that her destination was approximately two hours away by bus, the driver coldly suggested that she ran as fast as she could to get to her destination on time. I liked that the director allowed the woman to have only one look at the people sitting on the bus where not one volunteered to give minutes. It wasn’t that they were required to but it was a decent thing to do. That scene gave me strong feelings anger and sadness because I had been in that situation before. A person couldn’t pay for the the fare and I just sat there, impatient as to when the driver would finally step on the gas. Unfortunately, I felt like the film’s grand ambitions were thrown out the window in the latter half in order to make room for romance and chase sequences. While there was undeniable chemistry between Will and Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of an influential and rich man (Vincent Kartheiser) who could live for thousands of years if he so chooses, their differences were not explored beyond the set-up of poor guy wanting more and rich girl wanting to be less suffocated by parental controls. Since the roots of the partnership was executed superficially and lackadaisically, when they decided to rob banks and give time to he impoverished à la Robin Hood alloyed with Bonnie and Clyde, there wasn’t much tension or excitement. We wanted to them to get away from Timekeepers Leon (Cillian Murphy), Korsqq (Toby Hemingway, sporting a runway-ready haircut), and Jaeger (Collins Pennie), assigned by the government to capture the duo, because they strived to do good for the downtrodden but it was a passive rather than an urgent experience. Finally, I yearned to see more scenes of Sylvia’s father do more than looking glamorous and serious. There could have been complexity in him because we saw that he, too, worked for higher, possibly more sinister, echelons. It was a slight disappointment that “In Time,” written and directed by Andrew Niccol, circumvented daring intricacies for the sake of digestible answers. If it had maintained its initial promise–heavy on the concept, light on the adrenaline–and had been more careful about clunky details, it could have been a paragon of modern science fiction.

Gattaca


Gattaca (1997)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Gattaca” took place in a time where designer babies were the norm (known as “Valids”) and were expected to live nothing short of their potential. Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) was a special case because even though he was not genetically engineered, he found a way to pass as one with the help of a recently crippled Valid named Jerome Eugene Morrow (Jude Law). Vincent claimed Jerome’s identity so he could work for Gattaca and reach his dreams of exploring outer space. Meanwhile, a murder in the company led the cops (Loren Dean, Alan Arkin) to find Vincent because of an eyelash they found in the scene of the crime. Vincent, as Jerome, had to evade the authorities and balance his time with a co-worker (Uma Thurman) he fell in love with. I watched this movie for the first time when I was a freshman in high school Biology. I remember generally liking it but I did not love it because I was basically forced to sit down and watch it. Having grown up a bit and given it a second chance, I immediately fell in love with the film because the main character had so much conviction. I looked in his eyes and I saw pain–pain for not being conceived as “perfect” and for not being loved as much as his brother. I related to him because he felt like he had so much to prove to the point where it almost destroyed him. The picture could have been a typical science fiction project–too cerebral for its own good and almost insular in its approach. However, “Gattaca” was really more about the emotional struggle of a character so brought down by society (even his father told him the closest he would get to reaching his dreams was to become a custodian for Gattaca) that he would do asolutely anything to prove them wrong. One of the many things I loved about the movie was it boldly took its argument regarding nature versus nurture in relation to being successful a step further. It also was able to comment on the role of the kindness of other people and the right timing of events that could help to pave a new path for a person with a specific circumstance. I thought it was a powerful contrast against things that were very controlled such as aformentioned genetically engineered babies where parents could pick the physical attributes of their future child. If I were to nitpick on a weakness, there were times when the romance between Hawke and Thurman became borderline cheesy with the two of them giving each other a piece of their own hair as a test to determine if they trusted each other. Neverthless, those scenes were negated by a consistently beautiful cinematography with its use of color indoors and outdoors. “Gattaca,” written and directed by Andrew Niccol, is not only one of the most astute science fiction films but also one of the most moving. The film is set in the future and the issues are more relevant than ever but it’s quite timeless.