Tag Archives: Sci-fi

Shape of Water: How I Fell in Love With a Monster

A FAIRY TALE FOR TROUBLED TIMES.

In 1954, a boy called Guillermo del Toro went to the movies and saw what is now a classic monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon. He loved the movie, not just for its thrills but also because he found the leading lady, Julie Adams, beautiful. When he saw her and the monster, he thought, ”I hope they end up together”. At one point, del Toro the grown-up filmmaker was considered for a remake of the movie, but The Shape of Water is a much better idea – a monster movie with heart and a gorgeous visual look that has become his trademark.

In early 1960s Baltimore, the mute Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is working as a janitor at an aerospace research center. When the facility receives a mysterious new discovery, referred to by the military as an ”asset”, it is accompanied by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), a cunning and sadistic man who doesn’t really care about the creature he found in the rivers of South America. To him, the ”asset” might be of interest in the escalating competition with the Soviet Union because of its amphibious qualities… but you don’t really need the creature alive to understand it.

The ”asset” is a humanoid and if you’re not careful he can be very dangerous, as Strickland painfully learns. But when Elisa is left alone with the creature, she approaches him gently, offers a gift, and slowly forges a bond of trust. However, Strickland and the military are beginning to pose a direct threat against the creature…

Taking place during the Cold War
Fans of the director will recognize many ingredients here right away. The story takes place during the Cold War, but fuses that part of history with a fantastical tale, much as del Toro did in the Hellboy films (set during World War II) and his masterful Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), which was set shortly after the Spanish Civil War. There are usually ghosts or other creatures in del Toro’s films, and the amphibious humanoid here looks slightly familiar as it is played by frequent del Toro collaborator Doug Jones. He was very memorable as another amphibious creature in the Hellboy films, and he’s a treat here as the ”asset” – deadly for sure, but also sweet, funny and perhaps even sexy as the story takes a turn for the (even) weird(er) in the movie’s second half.

This is cinematographer Dan Laustsen’s third project together with del Toro, and he’s likely a huge reason why it’s so easy to identify this film as a del Toro project – their most poetic, romantic and at the same time ludicrous scene must be Elisa’s waterlogged attempt to give the creature more space in her bathroom. The film’s greatest performance is delivered by Hawkins as Elisa, a mousy yet passionate woman who is immediately intrigued by the ”asset”. The film is firmly on the side of those who are a little different, including Richard Jenkins’s character, the gay artist who lives next door to Elisa and has a crush on a handsome, younger guy at a diner. Together with Octavia Spencer, who plays Hawkins’s co-worker, they all make a hugely entertaining team, another familiar ingredient from del Toro movies; the director rarely portrays isolated characters.

Shannon is very good as the opposite, a smart but psychopathic Army loyalist, but the actor never turns him into a simple villain; this is a compelling character and Shannon finds little quirks to make him special.

Alexandre Desplat’s music score reinforces the magic of this fairy tale, which becomes increasingly engaging as it goes along. Some of the set pieces will have you on the edge of your seat, especially the creature’s escape from the Baltimore facility. 

The Shape of Water 2017-U.S. 119 min. Color. Produced by J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor. Cinematography: Dan Laustsen. Music: Alexandre Desplat. Cast: Sally Hawkins (Elisa Esposito), Michael Shannon (Richard Strickland), Richard Jenkins (Giles), Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg.

Trivia: Ian McKellen was allegedly considered for Jenkins’s part.

Venice: Golden Lion.

Last word: “I set it in 1962 specifically, because when people say, ‘let’s Make America Great Again,’ they’re dreaming of that era. It’s an era where the cars had jet fins, the kitchens were automatic. Everything was super-great if you were white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant, but if you were anything else, you were fucked. It hasn’t changed that much.” (Del Toro, Indiewire)

 

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Blade Runner 2049

30 years after the events in the first movie, K (Ryan Gosling) is a new replicant model who’s working for the LAPD as a blade runner; his latest mission leads to a startling discovery. There really was no need for a new Blade Runner, and the slow-moving, drawn-out story doesn’t take us anywhere new. The 3D adds nothing, but as in the original, the visual effects, production design and the outstanding cinematography transport us to a different world that is both beautiful and horrifying, serving as a warning to take better care of our planet. A few explosive scenes also provide the occasional adrenaline shot.

2017-U.S. 164 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green. Cinematography: Roger Deakins. Music: Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch. Production Design: Dennis Gassner. Cast: Ryan Gosling (K), Harrison Ford (Rick Deckard), Ana de Armas (Joi), Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis… Dave Bautista, Jared Leto, Edward James Olmos.

Trivia: Co-executive-produced by Ridley Scott. Three shorts were also released in 2017, exploring events that take place between the original and the sequel.

 

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Ex Machina

TO ERASE THE LINE BETWEEN MAN AND MACHINE IS TO OBSCURE THE LINE BETWEEN MEN AND GODS.

Programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest for a one-week visit at the isolated home of his company’s mysterious CEO (Oscar Isaacs); once there, he’s introduced to a new creation, a robot (Alicia Vikander) with artificial intelligence. Writer Alex Garland’s directing debut is a lauded sci-fi drama that plays out methodically and slowly, with well-conceived visual effects that lend terrific support to Vikander’s fine performance. The conversations between her and Gleeson’s programmer turn increasingly intimate and disturbing – on the surface, this is a cold experience, but human emotions are pounding underneath. Isaacs is good as the Steve Jobs-like CEO, brilliant and intimidating.

2015-Britain-U.S. 108 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich. Written and directed by Alex Garland. Cast: Alicia Vikander (Ava), Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb Smith), Oscar Isaacs (Nathan Bateman), Sonoya Mizuno.

Trivia: Felicity Jones was allegedly considered for the part of Ava.

Oscar: Best Visual Effects.

Last word: “The way Ava moves is not robotic. It’s like a too-perfect version of how humans move. And in the perfection of those movements, to me, it feels a bit other. It’s quite hard to say why it’s other, it just feels a bit ‘off.’ It just feels a bit wrong. That was an idea that Alicia Vikander, who was the actress, arrived with. [She said], ‘I’ve got an idea about how to play Ava.’ She was a ballerina from age 11. She’s got incredible control over her physicality. She did that job at a very, very high level within Sweden. As soon as she said that, I thought, ‘That is absolutely brilliant.'” (Garland, Gizmodo)

 

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

A UNIVERSE WTHOUT BOUNDARIES NEEDS HEROES WITHOUT LIMITS. 

Centuries into the future, Valerian and Laureline (Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne) are agents working for a police force on Alpha, a space station containing millions of humans and other space races that’s suddenly threatened by an unknown force. Two decades after The Fifth Element, Luc Besson returns to sci-fi with an expensive and colorful adventure in 3D. Imaginative, with a fun, brief performance by Ethan Hawke as ”Jolly the Pimp”… but ultimately more like ”a thousand snores”. The leads are cute but uninvolving.

2017-France. 137 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Luc Besson, Virginie Besson-Silla. Written and directed by Luc Besson. Comic Book: Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières (”Valérian and Laureline”). Cast: Dane DeHaan (Valerian), Cara Delevingne (Laureline), Clive Owen (Arün Filitt), Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock… Rutger Hauer, Mathieu Kassovitz, Ola Rapace. Voice of John Goodman.

Trivia: French title: Valérian et la cité des mille planètes. Directors Louis Leterrier and Olivier Megaton show up in small roles. The comic book also inspired an animated TV series in 2007-2008.

 

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Demolition Man

THE FUTURE ISN’T BIG ENOUGH FOR THE BOTH OF THEM. 

In 2032, violent criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) is thawed from his cryogenic sleep for a parole hearing, but escapes; desperate for help, the police also thaw John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), Phoenix’s arch-nemesis, a cop sentenced for manslaughter. A futuristic action movie with a sense of humor, even if it is depicting a dystopia where a new high-tech but deeply moralistic and autocratic society has emerged after a major earthquake in California. Having two 1990s antagonists clash in this world is a fun idea, but the movie is undermined by a thin script and formulaic showdowns.

1993-U.S. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Marco Brambilla. Cast: Sylvester Stallone (John Spartan), Wesley Snipes (Simon Phoenix), Sandra Bullock (Lenina Huxley), Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Bob Gunton… Denis Leary, Jack Black, Jesse Ventura, Rob Schneider.

Trivia: Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jackie Chan were allegedly considered for the lead roles. Lori Petty was first cast as Huxley, but later replaced by Bullock.

 

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War for the Planet of the Apes

FOR FREEDOM. FOR FAMILY. FOR THE PLANET. 

A few years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), the war between apes and humans is growing bloodier and Caesar finds a personal enemy in the ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The third film in this series borrows from Westerns and POW movies for a relentlessly grim (with the exception of a new ape, played by Steve Zahn, who’s been on his own too long) adventure. Drags a bit in the middle, but on the whole this is a gripping, action-filled clash between civilizations, with mankind in decline. Awe-inspiring views of forests and wintry landscapes, outstanding motion capture work and visual effects, all aided by a multifaceted score.

2017-U.S. 140 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Directed by Matt Reeves. Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves. Cinematography: Michael Seresin. Music: Michael Giacchino. Cast: Andy Serkis (Caesar), Woody Harrelson (The Colonel), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Terry Notary, Steve Zahn, Ty Olsson… Judy Greer.

Last word: “I wanted the movie to be, like, a widescreen movie like a David Lean movie, or a Leone movie, and see the apes against the landscape of the planet. What I’ve been excited about from the beginning was the idea of taking cutting edge technology and mirroring that with traditional forms, with the idea of myth, and a really classical story. So you’d have this odd experience of seeing something that felt very rooted, a kind of timeless story, and yet the uncanny aspect of there being these apes that are playing out that drama. And so on this one, I wanted it to be a very epic-scale movie, but still very intimate.” (Reeves, Den of Geek)

 

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Transformers: The Last Knight

RETHINK YOUR HEROES.

Optimus Prime and Megatron are long gone, but new Transformers keep coming back to Earth; Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) finds new allies in his quest to learn why. The fifth and worst of the franchise (so far) relies on a lot of comedy that falls flat (including a butler bot voiced by Downton Abbey star Jim Carter) and when it isn’t cheesy, as in the opening that takes us back to the age of King Arthur, it’s downright dull. The 3D battles are all vintage Michael Bay, but curiously unimpressive. Anthony Hopkins is woefully wasted.

2017-U.S. 148 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Michael Bay. Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Cade Yeager), Laura Haddock (Vivian Wembley), Anthony Hopkins (Sir Edmund Burton), Josh Duhamel, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Carmichael… Stanley Tucci, John Turturro. Voices of John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, Steve Buscemi, Omar Sy.

 

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Lucy

SHE HAS THE POWER.

American student Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), who’s living in Taiwan, is tricked into delivering a mysterious briefcase to a mob boss; after being subjected to a drug, her physical and mental capabilities increase in unimaginable ways… In this silly (but popular) sci-fi-actioner, Luc Besson plays around with the old idea that we’re only using 10 % of our brain. Unfortunately, there isn’t much food for thought here and the last twenty minutes are unsatisfyingly overblown. The action is more engaging and Johansson is solid in the lead.

2014-France. 89 min. Color. Widescreen. Written and directed by Luc Besson. Cast: Scarlett Johansson (Lucy), Morgan Freeman (Samuel Norman), Choi Min-sik (Mr. Jang), Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek.

 

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Alien: Covenant

THE PATH TO PARADISE BEGINS IN HELL. 

In 2104, a colony ship called Covenant is hit by a shockwave and makes its way to a nearby planet where the crew finds a ship connected to the earlier Prometheus mission. This sequel to Prometheus (2012) is set a few years later, and if a lack of traditional alien monsters disappointed you then Ridley Scott makes sure to compensate. Evoking memories of both Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), this robust horror adventure also connects the story to themes and characters from Prometheus. Plenty of bloody shocks, visually splendid, and Michael Fassbender is good as the androids. But the writing is uneven, with an obvious final twist.

2017-U.S. 122 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Ridley Scott. Cast: Michael Fassbender (David/Walter), Katherine Waterston (Daniels), Billy Crudup (Christopher Oram), Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo. Cameos: James Franco, Noomi Rapace, Guy Pearce.

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

THIS SUMMER, THE GALAXY WON’T SAVE ITSELF. 

When Rocket steals valuable batteries from a hostile race, the Guardians of the Galaxy are hunted – and saved by a man (Kurt Russell) who claims to be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father. This 3D sequel delivers exactly what fans of the first movie expect – colorful battles in space, constant banter between our antiheroes who now consider themselves family, lots of inside jokes and a fresh bevy of 1970s rock hits to go along with the mayhem. Very entertaining, with a hilarious cameo by David Hasselhoff, and an OK story that deals with Peter’s daddy issues. But above all, the motley Guardians are the best thing about it.

2017-U.S. 137 min. Color. Widescreen. Written and directed by James Gunn. Cast: Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Zoë Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff… Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone, Glenn Close, Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh. Voices of Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Miley Cyrus. Cameos: David Hasselhoff, Stan Lee.

 

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Ghost in the Shell

In the future, Mira (Scarlett Johansson) wakes up with only her mind intact after an accident; using a cybernetic body, she is now part of a task force that’s trying to find out who’s hacking a powerful corporation. This live-action take in 3D on the original manga and the 1995 animated movie changes a few details and tries to complicate The Major’s background, yet still follows a predictable Hollywood formula without giving us something deeper to ponder. A few eye-popping visuals, and Johansson is obviously committed to her identity-relieved character… but a lackluster ride it is.

2017-U.S. 106 min. Color. Directed by Rupert Sanders. Comic Book: Masamune Shirow. Cast: Scarlett Johansson (Mira/The Major), ”Beat” Takeshi Kitano (Aramaki), Pilou Asbaek (Batou), Michael Pitt, Chin Han, Juliette Binoche… Michael Wincott.

Trivia: Margot Robbie was allegedly considered for the lead.

 

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Ghost in the Shell

IT FOUND A VOICE… NOW IT NEEDS A BODY.

In 2029, Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team are hunting a hacker known as the Puppet Master who’s infiltrating a vast electronic network that uses cybernetic bodies. The film that inspired the Wachowski siblings to make The Matrix (1999) is an impressively staged, creative thriller about a futuristic society where everybody’s using enhanced ”shells” instead of their bodies, leading to philosophical musings on identity. Intense action is counterbalanced by quieter moments that are effectively scored by Kenji Kawai’s brooding music. Interesting throughout, even if tension comes and goes. 

1995-Japan-Britain. Animated. 83 min. Color. Directed by Mamoru Oshii. Comic Book: Masamune Shirow. Music: Kenji Kawai. Voices of Atsuko Tanaka (Motoko Kusanagi), Akio Otsuka (Batou), Iemasa Kayumi (The Puppet Master), Koichi Yamadera, Tamio Oki, Yutaka Nakano.

Trivia: Original title: Kôkaku kidôtai. Rereleased in 3D in 2008. Followed by Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004). The original manga was also adapted as an American live-action film, Ghost in the Shell (2017).

 

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Life

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SEARCH FOR. 

After receiving a sample collected by a Mars probe, the crew of the International Space Station realize that it contains an organism; it doesn’t take long for the harmless creature to evolve… It’s one thing to be inspired by elements of a great movie and another to just lazily use it as a blueprint. This horror thriller takes the same story as Alien (1979), even some of the same scares, and plants it in a more realistic, contemporary set-up. Delivers thrills, which is all some audiences will ask for… but a bit of ambition wouldn’t have hurt.

2017-U.S. 103 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal (David Jordan), Rebecca Ferguson (Miranda North), Ryan Reynolds (Rory Adams), Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya.

 

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