Tag: science fiction

Monsters


Monsters (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

The original plan was for Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy), a photographer, to take Sam Wynden (Whitney Able), his boss’ daughter, from Mexico to the United States via a ferry because the land between the two countries were infested with giant octopus-like aliens. But after Kaulder and Sam had a night out of drinking and celebration, Kaulder ended up taking another woman to his motel room. The next morning, when Kaulder wasn’t looking, the woman stole some money including Sam’s passport, a requirement in order for her to get aboard the boat. “Monsters” was an effective science fiction film despite its small budget because it had a solid hold on its tone. The first forty minutes focused on the flirtation and possible romantic connection between the two protagonists. Even though Sam claimed she was engaged, it was apparent that she enjoyed Kaulder’s advances. When he suggested that he stayed on her bed because it was big enough for the two of them, she hesitated for a moment before sending him off his way. The rest of the picture’s running time was dedicated to their nail-biting journey across the infected land. Initially, they were protected by men with guns but we knew that they were simply there as bait. When they heard a strange noise from a distance, it was only a matter of time until the aliens came out from the shadows that hid them so well. I believe the film was highly influenced by Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park.” Kaulder and Sam were always stuck in some sort of a vehicle as they were forced to observe the carnage. A small sound could potentially capture the aliens’ attention and so I caught myself holding my breath for them and hoped that they wouldn’t err. Furthermore, there was a scene set in a gas station that was very reminiscent of the children’s encounter with velociraptors in Spielberg’s sci-fi classic. We even had a chance to learn about how the aliens reproduced. It was horrifying. I felt like a child again; the feeling was similar to when I found out that if a worm was cut in half, the halves could survive and regenerate. (The concept still feels alien to me.) The extraterrestrials did get close to the characters but the filmmakers made a smart decision to not allow the creatures to catch up on them to the point where a human and alien would make contact. For a human to escape a giant alien equipped with sensitive feelers and great force would have been too unbelievable. It was all about the escape and the moments in which the characters believed that it might have been over for them. I understand some people’s disappointment about the film’s lack of CGI, gore, and explosions. That’s exactly why I enjoyed it. It was proof that those elements weren’t necessary to make an effective science fiction film as long as it has a wild imagination combined with a human story.

Dreamscape


Dreamscape (1984)
★★ / ★★★★

A government research facility (led by Max von Sydow) had begun to use psychics to go into people’s dreams and actively stop whatever it was that gave people nightmares. However, some of the psychics weren’t strong enough to withstand certain psyches so the enigmatic facility hired Alex Gardner (Dennis Quaid) who earned money by using his abilities in the racetracks. On the side, a political leader (Christopher Plummer) wanted to use the research to obtain more power in the government via a president’s (Eddie Albert) assassination. “Dreamscape,” directed by Joseph Ruben, had a lot of great ideas but it was poor in execution so the film turned out average and often lackluster. I didn’t mind the dated special and visual effects because, at least for me, how ideas are put together is what matters most in a science fiction picture. There were far too many glaring distractions such as the unethical romance between the characters of Quaid (the subject) and the Kate Capshaw (the scientist). There could have been more tension between the two if they didn’t end up in bed together but instead they suffered from flirtations that led to dead-ends. It could also have added another dimension to the material because the research oftentimes led to actual dead-ends. The film was at its best when it explored how scary it was to plunge into a stranger’s dreams. It should have taken advantage of the fact that the seemingly innocuous individuals on the outside may have the darkest subconsciousness. Since the subject of the picture had such a high concept, it should have explored the unpredictability of fringe science. Another interesting aspect of the story was the other psychic (David Patrick Kelly) named Tommy who mastered how to navigate through other people’s psyches. As Alex’ rival, Tommy should have been exponentially more menacing. Instead, I found him to be a bit too cartoonish and it was difficult for me to see him as a villainous parasite. And he didn’t need to be so obvious. I think the best villains are the ones who are insidious, the ones who pretend to be the hero’s friend. “Dreamscape” was not a bad movie but it needed a lot of editing (such as getting rid of the annoying music that signaled audiences that a character was a good guy or a bad guy, depending which character was introduced) and sharpening of ideas. I enjoyed that the plot wasn’t too complicated but it needed a bit of edge and more friction between the subjects, the experimenters, and the outside parties. Potential got this film halfway to greatness but it needed something extra–something beyond the conspiracy and the nightmares.

Resident Evil: Afterlife


Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Nothing much happened in “Resident Evil: Afterlife” other than the fact that Alice (Milla Jovovich) continued on her seemingly interminable quest to shut down the Umbrella Corporation. After hearing a hopeful transmission that promised food, shelter, protection, and no infected individuals, our protagonist hoped to find refuge in a place called Arcadia. But when she reached the promised land, she found nothing but a beach and abandoned helicopters. Meanwhile, off the coast of California, Alice and Claire (Ali Larter) landed their helicopter on a prison where other survivors (Boris Kodjoe, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Kim Coates, Kacey Barnfield, Norman Yeung, Fulvio Cecere) hoped to be rescued as they kept a man (Wentworth Miller), who promised to divulge a secret passage that led outside if released, captive. I didn’t expect the film to be insightful or groundbreaking in any way. But I did expect it to entertain. I wasn’t entertained. I was confused during the first thirty minutes because Alice had the ability to be in multiple places at once. For the rest of the time, I grew impatient as the material delivered the run-of-the-mill deaths from our not-so-colorful group of characters. There was only one scene I liked which involved a duel between Claire and a giant man wielding a massive ax. I was at the edge of my seat because I felt like Claire was in serious trouble considering she didn’t have any superhuman powers. And I think that’s the problem with our main character. Alice didn’t feel human so we couldn’t empathize with her when she had to face danger. She was capable of sacrifice but it didn’t feel like she cared for the people she seemed to protect. It felt like she was more interested in the challenge of shooting as many zombies as possible. The only fun fact about her was she liked to stack quarters on her spare time. But she even did it so robotically. Just because the material was inspired by a popular video game, it didn’t mean that each aspect of the film had to feel cold and calculated. When the characters met their demise, I didn’t care. I thought about who was next to be eaten or shot. I also wanted to talk about the zombies. It’s never a good sign when the zombies from television shows like Frank Darabont’s “The Walking Dead” look better than zombies in a movie. I don’t mean “better” as in more attractive; I mean “better” as in more convincing, more menacing. The franchise had about eight years to master its tone. Not once did I see that Paul W.S. Anderson, the writer and director, attempted to use mood to suspend his audiences in suspense. If Anderson had found a way to balance science fiction, action, and horror (with occasional humor), “Resident Evil: Afterlife” would have breathed new life into the series. It should have stayed dead.

Unbreakable


Unbreakable (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) was on a train from New York to Philadelphia that suddenly derailed. Everyone on the train passed away except for him; in fact, he walked away from the wreckage without a scratch. This strange phenomenon caught the eye of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a man born with osteogenesis imperfecta–since his body lacked an essential protein, his bones were very low in density and therefore easy broken. Elijah had a passion for comic books and he was convinced that David was a superhero in the making. Was Elijah a madman who became embittered from his experiences as a child or was he a friend that could help David realize his true potential? M. Night Shyamalan did a fantastic job blurring the line between science fiction and realism by establishing a heavy but malleable solemn mood. I thought it was great in building the tension as we were given information that could lead to the conclusion that David might be special. The film could simply have been about a man coming to terms with his “gift” (if he did indeed has one) but it took the more introspective path and it became a story about a family trying to stay together. David and his wife (Robin Wright) were on the verge of divorce due to reasons undisclosed and his son (Spencer Treat Clark) became fixated with the idea that his dad was special in order to deal with the fear of his father being plucked away from his life. Shyamalan’s talent in telling a compelling story was always at the forefront. Even though I did not know the truth about David’s identity, I cared about him because I was as confused as he was. “Unbreakable” was highly successful in building an inordinary experience from ordinary elements. I loved the way the director gave us information that was open to interpretation but not so abstract that it became frustrating or even insular. I also enjoyed the awkward camera angles because it challenged our perspectives visually and intellectually. And in a way, the film was also about perspectives: do we believe that David is a superhero or just a man trying to get by? It was strangely moving and I thought it ended at just about the perfect moment. Most people have lost faith in Shyamalan’s talent in creating stories that are involving, honest, and creative but at the same time defying our greatest expectations. I’m not one of them because when I rewatch his films like “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” (or even “The Village” to some degree) I cannot help but notice the level of detail he puts into his work. What I think he needs is to step back, look at what made the aforementioned pictures work and tell a story he would love instead of what he thinks the public would love.

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.

The Book of Eli


The Book of Eli (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

“The Book of Eli” was about a man (Denzel Washington) whose goal was to protect a book and journey toward the west of post-apocalyptic America. Along the way, he met a friend named Solara (Mila Kunis) who was enslaved by a power-hungry leader (Gary Oldman) in desperate search for the very same book that the mysterious man held. The picture started off strong and it immediately looked great. I believed that I was really looking at a world so ravaged by starvation, desperation and a lack of ethical and moral conduct. It reminded me of John Hillcoat’s “The Road” in terms of its tone and sadness elicited by the gray environment. Unfortunately, the middle section felt interminable and it lacked a sense of isolation that the first twenty to thirty minutes had. It was painfully obvious that the film tried to establish a contrast between Washington and Oldman’s characters. For a movie about faith and retaining that faith against all odds, the easy answers came quick so the material ultimately lacked subtlety and I slowly lost interest over time. As for the action sequences, they came few and far between but only one stood out to me. I was impressed with the almost western-like stand-off in and out of the house of an old couple (Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon) who happened to be cannibals. I wished more action sequences were similar to that scene in terms of tension and delivering dynamic (sometimes awkward) camera angles. Furthermore, I craved more interactions between the protagonists and the couple who offered them human meat to eat as a meal. There was something very sinister during that part of the film but at the same time it felt darkly comic. It would have been nice if Washington and Kunis forced themselves to eat the human flesh just as they felt forced to drink the tea offered to them prior. At the end of the day “The Book of Eli,” directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes, blended into other more recent post-apocalyptic movies with religion as an undercurrent instead of standing out via using similar works as templates to avoid making similar mistakes. I would have liked the movie a lot more if it offered us answers that were vague but surely make us think like haunting ending that Bill Paxton’s “Frailty” had. I just wanted to be challenged instead of spoon-fed.

Daybreakers


Daybreakers (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

It was year 2019 and vampires have taken over the world while humans were forced to hide because the creatures of the night hunted and used them for blood. Now faced with a shortage of blood because there were more vampires than humans, a hematologist (Ethan Hawke), a vampire who also sympathized with humans, aimed to create a blood substitute that could solve vampires’ problems. However, the leader (Sam Neill) of the company in which the hematologist worked for and the hematologist’s brother (Michael Dorman) himself had other plans. This movie had an interesting take on vampire movies because, like “28 Days Later” in terms of zombies, it related vampirism to a disease because it talked about having a cure. That scientific angle fascinated me, even though not 100% of it made sense in the end, and appreciated that it tried to do something new with the genre. Hawke did a great job as a man who, ten years being a vampire, hated what he had become because he did not want to become a vampire in the first place. I enjoyed his interactions with Claudia Karvan, as a human who led a resistance against vampires, and Willem Dafoe, as a vampire who accidentally turned human. The action sequences where exciting, thrilling and sometimes startling because it went in directions I did not expect. I just wished that the picture had a stronger last twenty minutes. It felt anticlimactic instead of urgent (especially if the fate of the planet boiled down to one showdown) and the abrupt ending left much to be desired. I was not quite certain whether it was setting itself up for a sequel or we were supposed to be hopeful for what would happen next. The ending needed a defined tone but it did not have a chance to reach a certain point because the filmmakers did not allow it to simmer. “Daybreakers,” written and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, caught my attention and managed to keep it because it had grand and creative ideas about vampirism. It had its weak moments such as introducing a politician who was not explored in any way but it also had strong moments showing how far vampires would go to get food. Perhaps it took itself too seriously at times (it certainly would have benefited if it had taken some pages energy-wise from “Zombieland”) but I could not help but admire how dedicated it was with its new concepts.

A Scanner Darkly


A Scanner Darkly (2006)
★★ / ★★★★

Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, “A Scanner Darkly” was about a cop (Keanu Reeves) who was assigned to spy on his group of friends in order to capture a guy named Bob Arctor. But it turned out that the main character and the man that the cops were interested in was the same person; Bob, like many people, was addicted to a drug called Substance D which supposedly induced multiple personality disorder. Directed by Richard Linklater, “A Scanner Darkly” is one of those movies that is full of promise but it gets in the way of itself because too many questions were asked but very few (if any) were answered in a clear way so I couldn’t help but feel cheated. For instance, I was curious about the real underlying effects of the drug in question. Some addicts experienced hallucinations such as bugs taking over their bodies, others experienced drunken stupor, while some were always on the verge of euphoria. It then begs the question whether the drugs’ effects were somehow connected to our personalities. I wanted to know more about the science and the effects of the drug in the brain. There were scenes that tackled the drug’s effects on the brain (I liked how it related the whole phenomenon to split-brain patients) but they were superficial at best. Maybe it wasn’t that shocking to me because I’ve seen split-brain experiments in real life. I didn’t care much about the friends (one of which was played by Robert Downey Jr.) acting stupid and asking “insightful” questions that led nowhere. The scenes with the friends made me feel like the movie was way into itself; instead of trying to pull me in, it made me question whether the story was really going anywhere. I do have to say that the animation was enjoyable because it added an extra dimension to the project. Everyone pretty much led their lives half-awake so that lucid tone made me feel like I was one of them. I liked that the animation was there to highlight certain facial expressions and quirks to convey certain truths behind the dialogue so it didn’t feel much like a gimmick. I thought the animation worked especially well in scenes where characters experienced hallucinations. Nevertheless, I wish the movie spent more of its time in engaging us instead of teasing us with its vast ideas. It was borderline pretentious. I felt like there was a disconnect (when it should have been clearly connected) in exploring the relationship between the drug world/addicts and the very same people who wanted to eliminate the drug off the streets. The main character embodied both worlds but the way the story unfolded left me hanging, somewhat confused, and frustrated. It’s definitely a different movie experience but I think it makes a good double-feature with Linklater’s other film “Waking Life.”

Legion


Legion (2010)
★ / ★★★★

I was excited to see “Legion” because the trailer took ahold of my interest, but unfortunately, it was one of those movies that mistakenly put all the good parts in the trailer. Paul Bettany stars as an angel who decided to descend from heaven to protect a pregnant woman (Adrianne Palicki) whose child was supposed to be the Messiah. A group of characters (Lucas Black, Tyrese Gibson, Percy Walker, Dennis Quaid, Jon Tenney, Willa Holland, Kate Walsh and Palicki) were stuck in a diner in the middle of nowhere as humans with weak wills were possessed by angels and tried to kill them. Basically, God lost faith in humanity so he wanted to eradicate everyone. I don’t even know where to start with this movie. While the acting was subpar at best, the writing was even worse because not only did the premise not make sense but it also failed to come together in the end. Aside from the scene with the old lady visiting the diner, there was a strange lack of tension or excitement especially for a movie about the end of the world. The experience would probably have been more bearable if there were more likable characters. All of them complained so much to the point where I just didn’t want to hear it. I couldn’t believe that their very first scenes were full of whining. They expressed so much self-pity; instead of wanting to root for them to survive against all odds, I just wanted them to die because I didn’t see another dimension to them. To me, they were just weak individuals and I had a difficult time accepting the fact that they managed to survive for so long. As for the action, I don’t know whether to laugh or feel sad with the idea that bullets could stop angels (using humans as vessel) from the job they were assigned to do. I constantly wondered why the angels just didn’t descend from the heavens like Bettany’s character and finish the job themselves? I was so confused for the longest time and it was really painful to sit through. Action sequences were happening on screen but I just didn’t care because I wasn’t invested in the premise despite the fantastic elements. Talents of essentially good actors like Bettany, Quaid and Gibson were wasted in this piece of silliness. Thankfully, I saw this movie on DVD. If I had paid $10 to see this in the cinema, I think I would have demanded my money back. “Legion,” directed by Scott Stewart, didn’t have a defined identity (perhaps it can pass as a really bad zombie picture?) and a genuine driving force to keep the momentum going so it didn’t know what to do with itself. But I know what I wanted to do: I wanted to turn the movie off. The only reason why I didn’t is because one of my rules is to give each movie equal opportunity from start to finish.

The Box


The Box (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

An unsuspecting couple (Cameron Diaz, James Marsden) from the suburbs in the winter of 1976 received a box with a red button from a man with a deformity (Frank Langella). They were told that if they pressed the button, they would receive a million dollars in cash. However, upon their decision to press the button, someone they didn’t know would die. I’ve read and heard all sorts of frustration about this film and I have to admit I was really excited to see it. I like debate as opposed to just everyone agreeing that something is horrible or a masterpiece. It was a weird movie but definitely not as strange as I thought it would be. I liked its ability to keep me guessing. At first I thought the strange events that were happening were driven by some sort of a government conspiracy or some sort of an alien life form. But as it went on, I started wondering if the happenings were really happening. It was like watching “The Twilight Zone;” the more unbelievable the story became, the more I wanted to know what was really going on. Unlike most people, I didn’t feel frustration with it. I learned to embrace its enigmatic nature because I rooted for the couple to succeed. The primary moral question was always at the forefront for me. Admittedly, I would have made the same decision they chose (yes, they did press the red button–which is not a spoiler because if they didn’t press the button, there would be no movie) because they really needed the money. However, as much as I enjoyed watching the strange happenings unfold–like people becoming sort of possessed and having unexplainable nosebleeds (think “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”)–the picture desperately needed focus. While I was able to follow it with the best of my abilities, when I looked at the big picture, it was a bit confusing and some scenes needed to be trimmed off. In a way, it became redundant as it went on and the movie probably should have only been approximately an hour and twenty minutes. Nevertheless, despite the mediocre rating, I’m willing to give it a slight recommendation because it entertained me and it worked as a hybrid between science fiction and a paranoid thriller. “The Box,” based on a short story “Button, Button” by Richard Matheson and directed by Richard Kelly, kept the mystery alive throughout because of some nice twists. It was not as focused and as tight as I would have liked but it definitely had the potential to be really good.

Inception


Inception (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The film started off like a spy film: the glamorous and exotic locale, fashionable suits, femme fatales. But unlike typical espionage pictures, the first half of the characters’ goal was not to steal a valuable object but an idea located deep inside a target’s dreams. The second (and more difficult) half was to get away with it by allowing the target to wake and continue living his life as if nothing had been taken away from him. This simplified two-step process was known as “extraction,” in which Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a leading expert. Cobb was not allowed to return to the United States to see his children so Kaito (Ken Watanabe) made an offer that Cobb simply could not refuse: to plant an idea in a future corporate leader’s mind (Cillian Murphy), known as “inception,” which had rarely been done before. If this last massion was successful, it would lead to Cobb’s freedom. In order to accomplish the mission, Cobb had to assemble a team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao) with very special talents and they had to dive in the target’s subconscious while navigating their way through defenses set up by the mind and the secrets Cobb kept from his unsuspecting team.

When the movie started, I barely had any idea what was happening. I knew something exciting was happening on screen because of the intricate action sequences and splendid visuals but as far as the story went, it was still nondescript. However, that was not at all a problem because the film eventually established the elementary elements required so that we could have an understanding of what was about to happen. Despite its two-and-a-half-hour running time, I was impressed with its pacing. There was an assigned time for getting to know the lead character in terms of his career, his past, and his inner demons. Once I had a somewhat clear idea of his motivations, I immediately felt that there was something wrong with the way he saw the world and the specifics were eventually revealed in an elegant, sometimes emotional, and often mind-bending manner. Their missions were often sabotaged by Mal (Marion Cotillard), Cobb’s projection of his wife who had passed away, due to an unsolved guilt that he constantly pushed away. Throughout the course of the film, that guilt, like Mal, became more powerful and became a hindrance that the main character and his team could no longer set aside. Anyone with a background in Psychology will truly appreciate the film’s level of intelligence in terms of Sigmund Freud’s revolutionary idea involving the subconscious manifesting in our every day lives and maintaining our mental homeostasis. But what impressed me even more was the minute details in the script such as the characters mentioning topics such as positive and negative emotions interacting and which side had more power over the other, one’s sense of reality while being in a dream… within a dream, and even questions like “If we die in our dreams, do we die in real life?” were acknowledged. That’s one of the things I loved about the film: it was able to present ideas we are aware of but it just had enough dark twist to create something original.

As with most movies with grand ambitions, I had some questions left unanswered. What about those instances when we are aware that we are dreaming and we can control what will happen in our dreams? I have experienced such a phenomenon time and again (and I’m sure others have as well) and I was curious if and how the movie could explain such a strange occurrence. And what about those moments when we sleep but we are not yet dreaming? What if our dreams are interrupted? Sure, the team injected chemicals in their bodies to stabilize the feeling of reality in dreams but, as the movie perfectly illustrated, nothing completely goes according to plan. Perhaps I’m just being more analytical than I should be thanks to the fascinating sleep studies I encountered in Neurobiology and Psychology courses. But I believe a mark of a great film is open to question, interpretation and debate. I say we question because we have embraced the material and we are hungry for more. That’s how I know I’m emotionally and intellectually invested in a film. That absolute killer final shot and the audiences’ collective sigh of anticipation for the clear-cut answer as the screen cut to black was simply icing on the cake.

“Inception,” written and directed by Christopher Nolan, was certainly worth over a year’s wait since it was still in pre-production. I remember trying look for more information about it during my midterm study breaks (and getting so caught up in it) so I am completely elated that it was finally released and it turned out to be one of the finest and most rewarding movies of 2010. It may not have been its goal but “Inception” certainly adds a much needed positive reputation to mainstream movies, especially in a season full of sequels and spoon-fed entertainment. I was optimistic early 2010 in terms of the quality of movies about to be released in theaters, especially when Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” came out, but now I am more than convinced that the film industry is experiencing a drought of refreshing and daring ideas. Some critics may compare “Inception” to “The Matrix” (both great movies) but I think “Inception” functions on a higher level overall and it has an identity of its own. Perhaps an injection of new blood that is “Inception” will inspire movie studios to take more risks in terms of which movies they green light. There is no doubt that mindless, swashbuckling popcorn adventures or even extremely diluted romantic comedies have their place in the market. But with the critical and mass success of “Inception,” it shows that audiences are always ready to be inspired by new ideas and to dream a little bigger.

The Cell


The Cell (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

A psychiatrist (Jennifer Lopez) decided to go into the mind of a deeply catatonic schizophrenic serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio) who turned his victims into dolls after torturing them. The reason she did it was because she felt as though she failed trying to help a former child patient who also had schizophrenia. She was able to try to help people despite their catatonic states because of an advanced technology which allowed connection between two or more psyches. I enjoyed this film even though the happenings outside of the mind were kind of weak. It reminded me of a very light hybrid of “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Saw” franchise. I just did not believe the chemistry between Lopez and Vince Vaughn, an FBI agent assigned to the case. And I wished that the events that were happening in reality were approached as a gritty procedural drama-thriller to serve as a contrast against the hyperfantasy in the mind. However, the fantasy scenes were fascinating to me because anything could happen. There were some really chilling images in the killer’s mind such as the scene with the horse and when Lopez stumbled upon a room where the killer kept his victims and they looked like really scary dolls. As great as the images were, I admired the concept even more because it was able to hypothesize what could be inside a murderer’s mind–something that a lot of people (including myself) are curious about. However, I can admit that perhaps not a lot of people would enjoy this movie because it asked the audience to take a huge leap of faith. First, we had to accept the idea that a machine that was able to dive into someone’s mind could work despite the ethical reasons why we shouldn’t. Second, it was almost as though the movie asked the audience to sympathize with the killer–not his actions per se, but the person who was abused time and again as a child (Jake Thomas) who happened to have a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia. Written by Mark Protosevich and directed by Tarsem Singh, I’m giving “The Cell” a recommendation based on the fact that it was wildly imaginative at times and it was able to keep my interest despite the heavy material. However, I don’t recommend it to people who are looking for a more typical thriller involving the good guys looking for a bad guy who kidnapped an innocent and now the good guys had to find that innocent person before time ran out.

Splice


Splice (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Two biochemists, Clive and Elsa, (Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley) who worked for a pharmaceutical company (led by Simona Maicanescu) decided to make an animal/human hybrid because they felt that they should push the boundaries of science in order to ultimately free humanity from unsolved genetic diseases. As well-meaning as they were on the outside, I loved the fact that as the film went on, I began to feel detached from the characters instead of feeling attached to them like in most other movies. As astute and gifted as they were, I felt that they were selfish, arrogant, rash and they deserved what was about to happen to them. The special and visual effects kept me glued to the screen. I wasn’t sure how much of the creature (played by Delphine Chanéac) was computer-engineered but I couldn’t take my eyes off her due to fascination and complete horror. From the trailers, I thought “Splice” was going to be a standard sci-fi/horror picture but I was glad it turned out differently. Instead of going for the easy scares (although there were three or four), it took its time to establish the characters and place them (and us) in moral conundrums to see how they would respond to the challenges that faced them. Since the two biochemists were in a romantic relationship prior to the genetically engineered creature, there was something amusing about the way they eventually took on the role of being a parent for the creature including the usual tensions that arise during motherhood and fatherhood. There were even some Freudian implications that became very obvious as the movie unfolded. Having said all that, I felt that the film stalled somewhere in the middle. The movie hinted Elsa’s dark past which should have explained why she treated Dren (the creature) the way she did. But the whole thing was so vague, I felt like I was constantly reaching for something in the dark that may not even be there. As the picture reached its somewhat typical and predictable climax of characters running in the woods and fighting for survival, I waited for some answers about Elsa’s past but I didn’t get any. Instead, there was a completely gratuitous scene that just made me feel uncomfortable and rotten. The last time I felt that badly in a movie theater was when I saw 2009’s “The Last House on the Left.” I know about Vincenzo Natali’s reputation as a director who likes to inject something different in his projects but I strongly believe that the scene in question could have been altered in such a way that it didn’t degrade women. Nevertheless, I’m recommending “Splice” because it exhibited intelligence, its ability to surprise and it worked as a cautionary tale.

Cold Souls


Cold Souls (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Paul Giamatti stars as himself in “Cold Souls,” written and directed by Sophie Barthes, who one day decided, with the help of Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn), to extract his soul and put it into storage. He came to such a drastic decision to relieve some of the anxiety he was feeling about doing a play. He figured that if his soul was not in his body, we wouldn’t be such a worry-wart and therefore wouldn’t think about the little things that didn’t quite matter in the long run. However, after the operation, he found himself to be not quite himself anymore–the subtlety in his acting was gone, his ability to relate with others was ziltch and even his wife (Emily Watson) claimed that he was “different.” That catch was when Giamatti decided he wanted his soul back, the Russian black market already got ahold of his soul. The concept of this film was quite impressive when I saw the trailers, but unfortunately, the execution was lackadaisical and meandering. I thought I would get a “Being John Malkovich”-level film because of the many questions and intricacies regarding the soul but I felt as though the film didn’t want to tackle such big questions and issues head-on. When it comes to movies, when I feel reluctance coming from the filmmakers’ parts, I constantly find myself having a hard time buying the concept of the movie. Unfortunately, it happened in “Cold Souls.” Instead, the picture ran rampant with broken scenes of Giamatti doing random things that didn’t add up to anything. It’s not the lead actor’s fault; he was tremendous in this film–his quirks and outbursts were downright hilarious and self-deprecating. It was really the writing and direction that bogged this film down to something dangerously soporific. For such an interesting topic that have been theorized by philosophers for hundrends of years, it didn’t have any power so the film felt stagnant. Half-way through the picture, I wondered if the movie would have been more interesting if it had been a hybrid between a comedy and a thriller. After all, the Russian black market was involved. But instead of menace and dark wit, we get somewhat of a comic look at their lives as they try to gather souls from very talented actors like Sean Penn, Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, George Clooney, and the like. Sometimes the comedy worked but most of the time it didn’t. With a more capable director and a sharper writing, this film would definitely have been so much better. I say “Cold Souls” might be a good rental for very patient viewers but it’s definitely not for those looking for something that’s dares to look at the extremes of what-if.