Tag: science fiction

The Boys from Brazil


The Boys from Brazil (1978)
★★★ / ★★★★

I heard about this film in several of my Biology classes so I thought I’d check it out. Gregory Peck as Dr. Josef Mengel stars as a Nazi scientist with an evil plan: assassinate ninety-four sixty-five-year-old men in a span of two-and-a-half years. Believe it or not, that is only the first step of his much more menacing endgame. Sir Laurence Olivier is the Nazi hunter who tries to stop Dr. Mengel after hearing about it from a young Nazi seeker played by Steve Guttenberg. Watching Peck and Olivier interact, especially during the final scenes, was a pleasure to watch. They both have such power in the way they deliver their lines yet still have that subtetly that makes the audiences question whether what they see is really the entire picture. The way Franklin J. Schaffner, the director, told the story reminded me of the best spy films I’ve seen. He managed to build the suspense after each scene but at the same time still have minor payoffs to keep the viewer engaged. I thought this film had three standout scenes: when Guttenberg learns the information that the Nazis are planning (it reminded me of “Alias” when Jennifer Garner would drop in a conversation she wasn’t meant to hear), when Olivier learns about the science that goes behind the Nazis endgame (the science is completely believable which made it all the more impressive), and one of the last scene involving the dogs (which I thought was deeply symbolic). Those three scenes alone convinced me that this film should be seen by many. Although there wasn’t as much gun-wielding action scenes as I would’ve liked, the characters are shrewd and the plot was intelligently written with genuine moments of comedy dispersed along the way.

Terminator Salvation


Terminator Salvation (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

This fourth installment of “The Terminator” franchise may not have been as good as the first two films but it was a step above from the somewhat mediocre third outing. Initially, I was underwhelmed during the first few minutes of “Terminator Salvation” due to my high expectations. However, once the ball started rolling about fifteen minutes into the picture, I really got into it and I was curious what was going to happen next. (Not to mention I was at the edge of the seat during the more intense chase scenes.)

This sequel is set in year 2018 and it features a grown-up John Connor (Christian Bale) and his struggle to lead humanity against Skynet and its fatal machines. It also tells the story of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a man that was sentenced to death back in year 2003, woke up fifteen years later and eventually found out that he was a hybrid between a human and a robot. Their paths later collided because Wright was saved by Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) during his first encounter with a terminator; Connor, on the other hand, was on a mission to find his father, Kyle Reese, because if he dies on the hand of Skynet, Connor would not exist and therefore alter the future altogether. To prevent further confusion, it must be noted that it was not explicitly mentioned in this installment that Kyle Reese time traveled back to the past and conceived John Connor. (I dislike describing storylines that involve time travel. It’s always been my weakness so I apologize if it is in any way confusing or inaccurate.)

Being a summer blockbuster film or not, the visual and special effects are outstanding. In my head I kept thinking, “How did they even manage to shoot that?” and “Hey, that’s a neat stunt.” Throughout the entire picture, I really felt like I was watching the planet in ruins after Skynet took over. The post-apocalyptic feel reminded me of the best scenes from “Blade Runner” and “Children of Men.” As for the acting, I thought everyone did a really good job because they were convincing in their respective roles. However, Worthington was the one that stood out the most. I found it strange that I cared more about his character than Bale’s–the supposed main character. Even though Worthington was tough on the outside, there was a certain sensitivity in his eyes that reminded me of Joseph-Gordon Levitt’s style of acting in his most dramatic roles. Worthington embodied Marcus Wright so fully to the point where I was convinced that there was more to his story and that he’s not just a hybrid between a human and a robot. He almost made me wish that he was the focus of the story instead of John Connor. (And that’s probably not a good thing.) If he chooses to appear in films that are astute while at the same time able to feature his acting abilities, Worthington is definitely someone to look out for in the future.

For me, the main weakness of “Terminator Salvation” lies in its story. With such a big mythology set up by the first two films, this one felt considerably smaller in scope. The secondary problems that chip off from that primary issue include having too much action sequences, not having enough character development, not having enough comedic moments to let the film breathe, and sidelining John Connor’s importance. It’s nice to have exciting action scenes (and they undoubtedly do have that here) but it’s hard to care if there’s not enough moral conundrums facing characters who matter. It’s also suffocating if the tone of the picture is one-note–this one felt too serious for its own good, as if it was trying to be “The Dark Knight” when it was not even close to that level. What made the first two installment so great are the vibrant pockets of humor that were ultimately ingrained in the media consciousness. (Remember “I’ll be back” and “Hasta la vista, baby”?) Lastly, John Connor did not feel as important as he should have been. Yes, I got that he was supposed to be leader and therefore supposed to be tough and commanding. And that’s the problem: I only saw him in that light and I wish McG, the director, established more scenes where we could ascertain another dimension of his personality.

There’s no doubt about it: I would recommend “Terminator Salvation.” However, I must urge people who have not yet seen the first three films (especially the first two) to catch up because there were references here and there that enhanced my viewing experience. If one had not seen the prior installments, one will most likely miss those or “not get it.” While I admit that this is far from a perfect post-apocalyptic adventure with subtle moral ambiguities, the positives outweigh the negatives as mentioned above. Perhaps if this series is to survive (and it most likely will), a more capable director and stronger writers could take over to truly blow die-hard fans and nondie-hard fans out of the water. In the meantime, “Terminator Salvation” will have to suffice.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine


X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is the first in line to get his own spin-off from the highly popular “X-Men” franchise. Though I must admit that it could have been a lot stronger, I was entertained for more than half of the time so I’m ultimately giving it a recommendation. I thought the way that the film started off was solid: a sickly little boy named Logan (who will eventually be named Wolverine) stumbles upon a shocking revelation regarding his bloodline. From then on, the opening credits feature Logan and his brother Victor Creed (who will eventually be named Sabretooth played with intimidating ferociousness by Liev Schreiber) fighting side-by-side in several wars. The two soon team up with William Stryker (Danny Huston) in a government task force consisting of people with strange abilities (Will i Am as John Wraith, Kevin Durand as The Blob, Dominic Monaghan as Bolt, Daniel Henney as Agent Zero and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool). A few years later after Wolverine leaves the special team, members of that team start getting murdered. With a little bit of (albeit morbid) motivation inflicted by Sabretooth, Wolverine goes on a journey of great measures to find the people responsible for taking away things that are important to him. While the action scenes are entertaining, I think the dialogue could have used several alterations. Some of it are so cliché, a friend who I was sitting next to started to voice out what a particular would say in a situation. With movies that are based on comic books, there’s a way to wink at the audience without resulting to painful clichés. Another negative that I have about the film is its significantly slowed down middle portion. Yes, characters such as Cyclops (Tim Pocock) and Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) are fun to watch, but some could argue (such as another friend of mine who I saw the movie with) that they were truly unnecessary to the story. I did not read the comics so I don’t know how closely the movie followed it but I feel like if the film were to intergrate major characters such as Cyclops and Gambit, they should feel more important. One of my favorite characters in the “X-Men” universe is Gambit but, when I really think about it, I feel like he could’ve been used more in this picture. Still, I take consolation in the fact that Gambit is finally featured–a step above from his unfortunate absence from the other “X-Men” movies. Those are only somewhat minor complaints and I really enjoyed the picture when I look at it as a whole. For me, die-hard fans can either love it or hate it but casual fans should be pleased because it does have some eye-popping fighting scenes and visual effects, something one would typically expect from blockbuster films. I can only hope that the next spin-off will have stronger writing and pose deeper philosophical questions regarding special abilities and society, while at the same time still having that intense energy that “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” possesses.

Blindness


Blindness (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

I think a lot of critics and audiences alike have been way harsh on this film. I concur that this picture is not easy to swallow and digest since most of the story took place in one area. It definitely got suffocating because the audiences are subjected to see the same place for about an hour and fifteen minutes (the middle portion); the only things that changed are the increasingly disgusting living conditions of the blind and the dynamics among the wards. Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore lead one of the wards, a doctor and a doctor’s wife, one lost his sight and the other one kept her sight (though it must be kept a secret), respectively. It was interesting to watch their relationship change as the film went on because Ruffalo depended on his wife regarding pretty much everything. There was a brilliant scene when Ruffalo talked to Moore about not seeing her the same after she feeds him, bathes him, and cleans him up in ways that a nurse or mother normally does. There was this undeniable tension between them but at the same time they must stay together because everything around them is falling apart. I thought it was interesting how Fernando Meirelles, the director, chose to tell the story. In the first few scenes, we focus on this one man who suddenly goes blind in the middle of traffic (Yusuke Iseya) and slowly transition to other people suddenly going blind to the point where it becomes an epidemic. The epidemic and ravaged city reminded me of “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later,” only instead of zombies roaming the streets, it’s blind individuals. I also liked the slightly hopeful ending because the suffering was not entirely for naught. Still, by the end of the picture, I still wanted to know the source of the epidemic. That lack of explanation somewhat got to me (and I imagine as most people would). I don’t deny the fact that I saw some hints of great filmmaking here such as the stark contrast between certain images in the beginning and the end of the movie. I also liked the “Lord of the Flies” element in the quarantine zone when everyone had to decide who would get how much food, who the leader should be and who would emerge victorious between the wards. I’ve never seen Gael García Bernal so immoral so his character definitely took me by surprise. With a little bit more explanation and less saggy middle portion, this would’ve been a much powerful film. The acting was already really good and there were scenes that really tugged at my heartstrings. See this if you’re curious and hopefully you’ll see what I see in it: potential.

The Midnight Meat Train


The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

Bradley Cooper has come a long way since I first discovered him in “Alias.” Even though he seems like a pretty boy on the outside, he can effectively play characters that have many sides to them. I also have to give him kudos for not playing the same type of character in his movies. In “The Midnight Meat Train,” directed by Ryûhei Kitamura and based on a short story by Clive Barker, Cooper plays a photographer who one day finds out about a butcher (Vinnie Jones) who kills people on the subway after taking pictures of a woman who was being harrassed by a couple of thugs. Wanting to gather more evidence before he approaches the police, he becomes obsessed with the butcher and his girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) becomes worried about his new personality. This film is especially gory and violent which horror fans will undoubtedly love. What’s even better is that it is quite suspenseful especially that one scene when two people decide to break into the killer’s apartment. I just had a feeling that it would go terribly wrong so I had to watch the film through my fingers. What didn’t work for me, though, was the last fifteen minutes. Instead of being a straight-up horror film, it hybridized with the science fiction realm. I understand that this is based on a short story and I shouldn’t hold the movie responsible for following it. I just needed to mention the fact that it did get ridiculous and I even caught myself rolling my eyes because of the ending. It definitely took away some of that realism regarding being attacked by a butcher on a subway in the most gruesome ways. Still, I’m giving this a slight recommendation despite the mediocre rating because it genuinely thrilled and scared me.

Watchmen


Watchmen (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

We all know the fact that people complain whenever a film doesn’t stick closely to its source material. Well, “Watchmen” remains very loyal to its graphic novel–with a few tweaks here and there so the audiences will be able to relate more with the politics it tries to tackle. I never thought I would ever read a review (like the one from Entertainment Weekly) that complains about a picture sticking too closely to its source. It seems like some critics just find a way to complain about something (no matter how ridiculous it sounds) to sound insightful so it’s hard for me to take that specific review seriously.

“Watchmen” may be about two hours and forty minutes long but Zack Snyder (who directed the 2004 version of the cult classic “Dawn of the Dead” and the highly overrated “300”) directs the movie so astutely, it doesn’t feel like it’s that long. I was particularly impressed with the way the film started: it goes over the Minutemen of the 1940’s in about ten minutes during the opening credits and then it takes us to its current setting which tells the audiences how different their successors have become. The death of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in the hands of an unknown murderer sets up a series of events that results upon the reunion of five other superheroes: Rorschach (played brilliantly and hilariously by Jackie Earle Haley), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman). Unlike most superhero movies, the six of them are atypical in such a way that they are nihilistic, not afraid to hurt or kill, and each of them can be placed in various areas of the moral spectrum. They do not necessarily have a common goal initially but their beliefs and methods of acquiring information are often at odds with each other. A typical villain is not necessary because their own selves are ultimately their worst enemies. Though some can argue that there is a “big bad” in the film, to me, nuclear weapons and politicians’ hunger for power are the driving forces that force the characters to choose the morally gray path.

Each superhero is featured in one way or another so the audiences get an idea on what makes the characters tick (pun intended). In a way, we eventually learn to see them as regular human beings with real problems instead of gods that can jump in at any time and save the world. In fact, I can only remember one or two scenes when the characters decided to do a good dead just because they are superheroes. Although at times, the dialogue may sound a bit cheesy, especially the romantic scenes between Wilson and Akerman, the film provides a great balance between seriousness and humor. I also liked the fact that the sex scenes look realistic (as opposed to other superhero flicks) and the filmmakers weren’t afraid to show certain body parts from both genders. Usually, films like this tend to objectify women’s bodies but I didn’t get that feeling here. In my opinion, this is lightyears better than “300” because of its rich moral ambiguity and ability to genuinely entertain. Those who expect a typical superhero film may be disappointed but those who want to see something different should be impressed. “Watchmen” is a breath of fresh air from the likes of “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Spider-man.” Along with “Coraline” and “The International,” this is one of those few movies of early 2009 that is worth watching in the cinema; it also should be remembered as the year progresses.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Directed by the enigmatic David Fincher (“Se7en,” “Fight Club,” “Panic Room,” “Zodiac”), “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a sight to behold, but it is too long for its own good. While the first and last hours are absolute perfection, I couldn’t help but feel tired during its saggy middle. There were so many repetitive elements that Fincher could’ve left out because they do not contribute to the overall big picture. I consider this film as one of Brad Pitt’s most complete performances. Throughout most of the picture, we see him with wrinkly skin and broken down posture; however, we feel for his character so much because even though he is born in extraordinary circumstances, he leads a pretty ordinary life. Pitt reminds everyone that he is more than just an actor who is mostly known for his pretty face. Prior to watching this film, I thought this would be another “Big Fish” which highlights oddities and fantasies but I was glad to be proven wrong. Although the characters we meet during Pitt’s journey are colorful, they are not out of the ordinary–they are people who are not unlike anyone we can meet off the streets, but they have fascinating stories to tell because of their beliefs and drive. My favorite character who Pitt meets is played by Tilda Swinton. She craves to do something with her life, but she feels trapped because of a specific failure she experienced in her past. That fear to continue only to possibly fail again is universal so I couldn’t help but get affected. Cate Blanchett is always amazing in every movie I see her star in so it was no surprise that she delivered. I couldn’t take my eyes off her during her ballet sequences. I could feel the pain in her eyes whenever the topic of getting old is discussed; her insecurities are heightened whenever she sees her lover get younger every time they meet. Like the fear of failure, the fear of getting older is universal as well. Although those two actresses did a great job, I think Taraji P. Henson, as Benjamin’s mother, should be recognized as well. She played her character with such sincerity, I felt warm whenever she’d express her enthusiasm. Even though this film is about many universal ideas, my favorite issue it tackled was the idea of returning home. There was a quote that made me think because, being a college student that goes to school about seven hours away, it is true in my case: “It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed, is you.” I didn’t love this picture, but I really liked it because it has so much to say about life. In a nutshell, despite its depressing tone, it made feel so thankful and so happy to be alive.

The Day the Earth Stood Still


The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

I haven’t seen the 1951 version by the time I wrote this review so I’m not going to compare the 2008 version to that one. That said, it’s interesting to me how Keanu Reeves can be so good at playing robotic characters (like Neo in “The Matrix” franchise) but so bad at playing real people that are supposed to be emotionally crippled or conflicted (as Alex Wyler in “The Lake House” and Detective Tom Ludlow in “Street Kings”). I thought he was effective here as Klaatu, a humanoid whose role is to determine whether the human species need to be obliterated in order to save the Earth. He was creepy, convincingly powerful, and had a definite sense of purpose. He claims that if the Earth dies, everything else will perish along with it but if all humans die, the Earth and everything that it nurtures will go on living. I thought that was a decent reasoning so I went along with it. What’s unforgivable, however, is its lack of human emotional core. That’s when Jennifer Connely and her step-son (Jaden Smith) come in. Their backstory isn’t enough to convince me why Reeves should spare the human race. In the end, I wanted to see an apocalypse because humans are portrayed as violent people (the United States army) and incapable of standing up to authority, such as when Kathy Bates (as the president’s Secretary of Defense) followed what the president wanted her to do despite her best instincts. There are only four things I liked about the movie which saved it from utter failure: the somewhat brilliant visual effects, Gort as Klaatu’s automaton companion, the idea of humans’ nature regarding a precipice and change, and John Cleese as the Nobel prize-winning professor who we meet in the middle of the picture. The rest is junk, which is a shame because the movie is started off very well. The director, Scott Derrickson, could’ve made a superior film that is more character-driven and less visually impressive. After all, the story is about humanity and why we should be saved from extinction. Since the director lost that core (or maybe he didn’t find it in the first place), the final product is a mess. This picture can be an enjoyable Netflix rental on an uneventful Friday night but do not go rushing into the cinema to see it.

Journey to the Center of the Earth


Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

I almost gave this a two stars out of four because there were moments where I thought it diverged too much from the adventure and focused a little bit too much on lame/unnecessary character development. With a family-friendly summer blockbuster film, one expects breath-taking action sequences right after another instead of a forced attempt of sentimentality. Still, I decided to give this film three stars because there were some truly memorable scenes such as the mine ride, the cave of crystals, the T-Rex, and the geyser. Brendan Fraser, like in “The Mummy” films, is really likeable as a scientist whose lab is about to be shut down; Josh Hutcherson continues his role as a kid who’s a little bit sarcastic but often keeps something up his sleeves; Anita Briem is also a neat addition because she provided energy when the story tends to slow down a bit. I did not see this in 3-D even though the entire picture is designed to be seen in such a format so I can’t comment on how much or if it’s better than on a flat screen. Still, there’s plenty of visual eye candy and adrenaline for those who just want to sit back and not think too much. But I must admit that I really like the science in the film: how Fraser’s character used kinematics to determine how high they are from the ground as they free fall, the application of Geology when it comes to recognizing certain rocks and their properties, the concept of bioluminescence (the production and emission of light when chemical energy is converted to light energy), and more. It made the movie that much more fun for me because I’ve taken classes that deal with those concepts. (I am a certified nerd/geek/dork.) This is the kind of movie that a babysitter can let kids watch because it’s pretty harmless, there’s a plethora of bright colors, and pretty funny one-liners. It could’ve been a lot better but it could’ve been a lot worse.