Category Archives: Science Fiction

Rise of the Planet of the Apes


And I’m back! That took a while…I figured I am long overdue for a post. Now that I have free time again *shakes fist at September* I can finally work up the nerve to post new reviews. Yay!

Here is one I wrote in the summer, enjoy!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes tells the now familiar story of man playing god, ignoring all warning signs and messing about in the gene pool. Will Rodman (James Franco) is trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, a disease with which his father suffers. Will’s father (played by John Lithgow), a once beloved music teacher has now been reduced to rubble by this cruel disease. Will’s experimentation culminates in the birth of Caeser, a super smart adorable chimp. When Will brings Caeser home to foster him, he is astounded by Caeser’s mental capacity. Things become complicated when Caeser’s sense of independence and rights become more developed and he begins to act out.
The story centered around Caeser (whose movements and facial expressions are brilliantly performed by the fabulous Andy Serkis) is the film’s strongest feature. Caeser is a tragic character caught between two worlds and frustrated at his status as an outsider. His tale is emotionally compelling and exhilarating when he gains the courage to lead. The crowning gem of the movie is Caeser and his fellow apes flight for freedom.

The other half of the film, however, which focuses on Franco’s conflicted emotions as a son and scientist feels half baked in comparison. Rather than fully shape this story, the actors and issues presented are squandered in melodramatic plot turns that are far too sappy to become anything bearing emotional importance to the audience. John Lithgow turns in a particularly overdone performance and Freida Pinto is wasted in an underdeveloped role which evolves into nothing more than her being the film’s token female character. Overall, I thought the script and the onscreen confrontations were childish. Things just don’t add up. Several questions come to mind: I get that these apes are super smart but how does that also make them tactical battle aficionado’s? What gives them all the ability to throw javelins and slings with deadly accuracy? Are these not learned skills? Maybe logical consistency is asking too much. Although the action was fun and Caeser’s story is engrossing, I don’t feel like there was much else there. If you are a big fan of the Planet of the Apes series it would be worth checking this out. Other than that, I’d give it a pass until it hits the small screen.

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Filed under Action, genetics, Prequel, Science Fiction

Thor

Shakespeare meets a hammer wielding Norse God. Sounds like an interesting combination, and it is for the most part. Kenneth Branagh takes the helm of Thor which leads this summer’s pack of comic releases (soon to be followed by X-Men: First Class and Captain America) and deviates from the regular fare of superhuman characters to something more divine. Branagh focuses the film on his characters inner struggles against self and identity and thus shies away from the obvious choice of making Thor an explosive action flick. It’s an interesting gamble, and it succeeds to a certain degree. Unfortunately, Branagh is contending with a script that does not have the writing or character development to allow for a very interesting story. Furthermore, while there are a few action scenes to raise the audience’s collective heart rate, they feel uninspired and fail to give Thor a much needed spark. Thus Thor is an odd chimera, sitting in a no man’s land, wedged between an action film and a Shakespearean-esque character drama. The film’s main plot revolves around Thor’s redemption after he breaks a long standing truce between the Asgardian’s (his people) and the Frost Giants. After this little indiscretion his father, Odin, banishes Thor from Asgard faster than you can mispronounce ‘Mjolnir’, in the hopes of teaching him humility. He lands on Earth, befriends a ragtag group of humans led by scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and from here hilarity ensues as Thor is thrust into everyday earthly activities armed only with his Asgardian know-how. Typically, I think redemption storylines work quite well in comic adaptations (i.e. Iron Man), however it feels as though the writers didn’t take much time developing the plot or characters, focusing more on the jokes then the overall story arch. Thor’s path to redemption does not feel like a journey of personal growth for as soon as he hits earth, he quickly sheds most of his arrogance and becomes the perfect gentleman. Furthermore, the subplot regarding Thor’s treacherous brother Loki feels even less loved as it is both dull and predictable, culminating in a very anticlimactic ending.
The films strongest points are definitely in the performances of Anthony Hopkins and Chris Hemsworth. Hopkins brings a restrained power to his character and makes good of his limited screen time as the ruler of Asgard and Thor’s father, Odin. Hemsworth is a lot of fun to watch as Thor, infusing the character with the perfect amount of passion, aggression and good humour. Co-stars Natalie Portman, Stellen Skarsgard, and Kat Dennings prove capable in their roles though like the story their characters feel a little undercooked. Although Portman is an intelligent woman, she is not scripted as a believable scientist, for while she can pronounce complicated theorem she spends most of her screen time giggling in a tizzy over Thor.
Thor is a fun summer film but its weak storyline and unsteady character development amounts to only a slightly above average turnout for Marvel Studios, landing it firmly between Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk on my Marvel meter.

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Filed under Film, Science Fiction, Uncategorized

The Fly

Horror and sci-fi fans alike rejoiced with the 1986 release of The Fly, a remake of the 1958 horror classic. David Cronenberg both directed and wrote this reimagining, fusing together his usual cocktail of techo-paranoia and body horror. The Fly begins at a science convention, with writer Veronica “Ronnie” Quaife (played by Geena Davis) hitting it off with scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum). He quickly lures her off to his lab where she soon discovers that Seth is no ordinary lab rat, but rather a certified genius on his way to creating the world’s first teleportation device. Ronnie is desperate to write a story on him and brings her idea to her editor, ex-boyfriend and borderline stalker creep, Stathis Boran, who is quick to dismiss Seth, assuming his work is an elaborate hoax. Undeterred Ronnie works out a deal with Seth to follow the progress of his work and create a book about the project. All seems to be going well in their professional and personal relationship until Seth unwittingly turns his teleportation device into a gene-splicer. Seth’s transformation into “Brundle-fly” is simultaneously repulsive and tragic. In the end, Cronenberg creates a film that delivers both the grotesque scenes befitting any of his early body horror films and a critique on man’s use and abuse of technology and nature.
Although a little corny at times I really do love this film (and not just because I worship the Altar of Cronenberg). First, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis have fantastic chemistry. They were married shortly after The Fly was released so it’s safe to assume their onscreen romance was fuelled by off-screen passion. Davis handles her character with intelligence and avoids becoming another simple female horror drone. Goldblum is of course the star of the show, spewing frenetic energy in the role he plays so well, that of the rambling smart and somehow sexy scientist (yes, he is still able to pull off sexy in this film despite the terrible hair and various states of decay). Cronenberg is able to create a relatively smart sci-fi horror. He questions mankind’s drive to push technology to its limits and manipulate nature. In his films this manipulation always tends to lead to some unpleasant mishap, as seen in The Fly where Jeff Goldblum experiences the consequences of his failed experiment as a wasting disease. Whether you want to ponder the message of this film or just revel in the fantastic gore (it didn’t win an Academy Award for Makeup for nothing…) The Fly delivers on every level.

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Filed under David Cronenberg, genetics, Horror, Science Fiction

Inception

Ever since viewing the teaser for Inception nearly a year ago I have been eagerly awaiting its theatrical debut. I caught an early matinee screening one week after it opened in order to avoid a critical mass of human contact, and excitedly submerged myself in Christopher Nolan’s cinematic dreamscape. The story is simple enough: a group of information thieves, each with a specific job, plan to enter the dream state of a young businessman in order to plant an idea in his head (the act of ‘inception’). The film takes us into several layers of the dream realm and ends up creating an interesting lattice of storytelling rarely seen in summer blockbusters. The film mashes together genres such as action, film noir, fantasy, and mystery to create an entertaining and smart film.

Inception was worth the wait, and although it has been over-hyped (I believe that The Dark Knight is Nolan’s superior film) it still delivers with memorable visual effects and a creative storyline which was reportedly ten years in the making. The film is well cast, made up of performers that are so irritatingly good looking the film borders on reaching ocular nirvana. The character banter is quick and interesting enough to maintain the attention of the audience over the course of the film’s 148 min run time. Leonardo Di Caprio does well as Don Cobb, the film’s tragic hero, whose ability to do his job is compromised by the projections of his dead wife which plague his subconscious and create an element of danger for the other dreamers. Hands down the most interesting elements of the film are its action sequences, particularly one spectacular fight scene involving a rotating hallway. Joseph Gordon-Levitt reportedly spent 6 weeks filming the brawl which is perhaps one of the most visually mind boggling and creative fight scenes to grace the big screen in recent years.

The film does have its pitfalls of course. While the dialogue between characters is often sharp and entertaining it easily becomes bloated when used to describe the processes of the dream and other concepts Nolan is trying to explain. Although Nolan feeds each of his characters with enough explanatory data to hold the audience’s collective hand through what they are witnessing, some of the scenes are laughable, particularly when attempting to describe the many levels a dreamscape can contain. Even with these blunt attempts of translation some audience members will still lose their bearings of whose dream is whose or lose interest completely (on a second viewing of this film I saw two people walk out and several surrounding me whisper to friends in confusion). Perhaps Nolan’s most remarkable feat with this project is that Inception broke the world record for the most amount of times the word ‘dream’ can be uttered in one film. Finally, Nolan introduces philosophical issues regarding the nature of dreams, reality and human perception to the plot. Although he attempts to touch on the subject several times, Nolan never makes a clear statement and instead leaves the ideas floating without many thoughtful connections. Overall, Inception offers audiences a beautiful and action oriented trip into a dream land, though it lacks a deeper reading into the bigger philosophical questions brought up throughout the story.

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Filed under Action, Christopher Nolan, Film, Science Fiction, the unconscious

Splice

Splice is Vincenzo Natali’s delightful and disturbing concoction of science, absurd humour, dark sex and of course a monster.  An update of Frankenstein in the era of genetic manipulation, Splice takes us into the lives of Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) who are the rockstars of the scientific world.  The film begins with them having spliced together pink sluglike blobs named Fred and Ginger from whom they can harvest proteins for the pharmaceutical company funding their experiments.  When Clive and Elsa try to request funding for a project that involves splicing human DNA into their creatures they are quickly shut down.  Not easily deterred Clive and Elsa decide to go ahead with their project in secret and in a series of escalating dares and temptations, they allow their creature, Dren, to grow into a big problem.

            The film had its ups and downs and although the conclusion proved to be a little absurd it ends up going down easy as Natali navigates his audience through strange terrain, all the while maintaining a healthy balance of disturbing plots twists and dark humour.  It is able to tackle issues such as genetic manipulation, cloning and definitions of humanity with varying degrees of success.  The film’s more unsettling elements spoke to the Cronenberg lover within and had me squirming in delight.  Natali’s inclusion of quirky jokes and absurdist situations allows viewers to settle in for an amusing, albeit dark ride.  The real element that works in the film is Brody and Polley’s chemistry.  Each handles their character with a dark intensity and is able to breathe life into their onscreen relationship in a very believable way.  Another definite highlight in this film was the creature, Dren.  Created with an almost seamless blend of makeup and CG, Dren is a fascinating and simultaneously skin crawling sight to behold.  Dren’s ‘not quite human’ existence is the moral centerpoint of the whole film and serves as a stunning example of what can happen when moral judgements get blurred and situations slip beyond our control.

            Although Splice is entertaining and perhaps one of the most creative films in recent years it definitely will not be everyones cup of tea.  The film rests firmly in the science fiction/moral parable genre and is not a typical horror film .  However, what this film lacks in scares and suspense it more than makes up for in its disturbing storyline which puts an innovative twist on a classic tale.

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Filed under David Cronenberg, genetics, Horror, Monster, Science Fiction, Vincenzo Natali