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Tag Archives: sci-fi

The Martian

On a routine space expedition to Mars, a ground crew are on their final research mission when a fierce storm lashes the planet’s surface. The team of astronauts, severely buffeted by the relentless gales, manage to scramble back to their craft. They watch in horror as one of their crew members, Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon), is blasted hundreds of metres out of sight by the high winds. Assuming he has been killed, Commander Melissa Lewis (by Jessica Chastain) departs the surface of Mars to preserve the lives of her remaining crew. They start their journey home to Earth. Several hours later when the storm has passed, Watney now lies on the calm Mars ground. He regains consciousness and slowly realises he has been left behind on Mars … alone. Now what should he do?  … Left on this inhospitable barren planet, does anyone even know he’s alive?  … How will he survive?  … Will anyone ever come back for him?

This is an entertaining and well-made movie. Once the viewer realises it’s not supposed to be a serious sci-fi, but more a light-hearted drama (almost comedy) made as an adventure story, the whole experience is enjoyable. As Astronaut Mark Watney, Matt Damon is perfectly cast as this highly intelligent, but realistic and practical botanist who’s left to use his every ounce of instinct and ingenuity to figure out a way to survive. He’s got to be smart, as there’s a whole station of highly advanced technical equipment to operate and there’s fundamental mathematics and science to be applied to this survival situation. His co-stars add interest and intrigue to the story – I love that there are some strong, smart women in driving roles – Jessica Chastain is our courageous and innovative Commander Lewis; Kristen Wiig is the digital satellite expert at NASA; and Kate Mara as the crew’s technology whizz. Our resident “Mars” expert at NASA Ground Control is Vincent Kapoor, played very well by Chiwetel Ejiofor, the necessary political animal is NASA Director Teddy Sanders, by Jeff Daniels, who must navigate the stakeholders to get what he needs to keep the space crew alive, the media at bay and the political climate positive. It’s good to see Sean Bean here as NASA’s Mitch Henderson (and not a bad guy for once), he hasn’t been around much lately. Overall, it’s an entertaining adventure story, supported well by a great script and good soundtrack – how timely to note that David Bowie’s “Starman” is used very well in this, along with several other songs from a time gone by. Quite deservedly, the movie won the 2016 AFI Award for “Movie of the Year” and it made no. 5 in the African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) 2015 “Top 10 Films”. It also won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture and Matt Damon for Best Actor. In the 2016 Academy Awards (Oscars) it was nominated for Motion Picture of the Year and in both the Oscars and the BAFTA’s nominations were for Matt Damon (Leading Actor), Writing, Production Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects. It is based on the book “The Martian” by Andy Weir. Very well done.

Made in 2015. Directed by Ridley Scott.

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2016 in Movies

 

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Source Code

Colter Stevens (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is jolted awake, he’s on a commuter train heading into Chicago. Opposite him, a beautiful girl (by Michelle Monaghan) chats to him with familiarity, but he has no idea who she is. The train conductor comes past to check his ticket, passengers go about their business … but what’s going on? Who’s this girl opposite? Why does she think she knows me? Why does she call me a different name? Confused, he gets up and heads to the bathroom – he glances in the mirror and sees a stranger – what the …? Suddenly, an explosion blinds him and he is violently shaken into oblivion. He regains consciousness in the dark, there’s a voice somewhere (by Vera Farmiga) but he remembers nothing but the weird train dream. Slowly the pieces come back together and he starts to figure it out – he’s a helicopter pilot in Iraq, last thing he remembers is when he was on a mission yesterday … so something must’ve gone wrong … but where am I now, and who are these people?

This is an intriguing movie – it’s never clear what will happen next, which makes it great. I’m not going to describe the plot too much as it’s much more enjoyable when you learn what’s going on at the same time as Colter does. The consistency is the military lab where Colter comes to, he learns he’s part of a secret military experiment called “Source Code”. His only link with the real world is Goodwin, by Vera Farmiga, who is calming and great in this role. Of course, Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent – as if without even trying. Michelle Monaghan is beautiful and entertaining as Christina and the whole thing is very well done. It’s not too long, which makes it better and Duncan Jones introduces some interesting concepts with this. He’s done a great job (he’s rock star David Bowie’s son) and this is another good effort after his first movie, Moon, also very good and just that bit different.  I enjoyed this a lot.

Made in 2011. Directed by Duncan Jones

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2014 in Movies

 

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Gravity

Just out past the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, the Hubble Telescope is undergoing maintenance and upgrade. Brilliant medical engineer Doctor Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) has invented a new component for use in medicine, which is now being tested on the Hubble, so she is working remote from the space shuttle to install and configure it. This is her first mission. She’s working alongside long-experienced Commander Matt Kowalsky (by George Clooney) and technical engineer Shariff (by Paul Sharma). Kowalsky is overseeing the operation while Stone works. He’s pretty relaxed out in space – in fact, he quite likes it out here – space walking is like floating (or even flying) and he’s aiming to break a colleague’s long-standing record of the longest space-walk before he retires at the end of this last mission. Suddenly, their routine installation is interrupted by the voice of Mission Control Houston (voiced by Ed Harris) who advises they must pack up immediately to avoid a risk nearby. From this point, things start to go very wrong … Stone and Kowalsky must use all their training and instinct to manage the situation and make sure they all get out alive … as this is no longer a routine mission …..

In a word, this movie is “gripping” – science fiction is not my genre of choice, so it’s saying something that I found this to be great. The performances of both Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are very good – particularly Sandra Bullock, whose character has the primary focus of the movie. She is totally involved in this from the outset – as is the audience – and I guess that the production of this movie would have been hard work for both her and George Clooney. As usual, for me the ending is too convenient and implausible, just to finish things off – but I am prepared to live with that given the excellence of the rest of it. The camerawork is exceptional (I saw this in 3D) and the sequencing of the space-walk scenes (I guess you could call it choreography) was great. It boggles my mind how the cinematographers achieved what they did here – the direction is amazing, with camerawork that takes you everywhere the astronauts go – it’s marvellous. The camera seems to float through space with the characters – the utter endlessness of black space envelops you as you watch and feel engulfed by it. It is a mistake to expect a sci fi movie brimming with space monsters or highly visible special effects of animation, but the director really does take you where he wants you to go – and he shows you what he wants you to see – it’s very well done.

Made in 2013. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2013 in Movies

 

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The Hunger Games

In Panem, sometime in the future, a long-standing reality television show “The Hunger Games” recruits its candidates for the coming season. This is a game show with a difference – two “players” are selected from each of 12 districts that were isolated after an unsuccessful rebellion, where the nation’s underclasses now live. The “players” must fight each other (and the challenges that arise from the game-show itself) to their death, until only one player remains – the Winner. In Area 12, very young Primrose Everdeen (played by Willow Shields) is selected, but her protective older sister Katniss (by Jennifer Lawrence) takes her place. She and the other teenage Area 12 player, Peeta (by Josh Hutcherson) are taken to the Capitol for the game where they learn the game’s rules and some tactics, then after audience introductions and a major promotional launch, play commences in the vast holographic arena. The citizens of Panem watch the show play out on live television, commentated by the game’s charming host (by Stanley Tucci) while the players fight for their lives …

I didn’t think I’d like this movie and it wasn’t what I was expecting at all, but this is pretty good. Perhaps not quite up to all the media hype of the time, but still it is very well made and the concept is thought-provoking. The human nature revealed by the characters is interesting and the drama is very well developed. The way the “arena” is stage-managed by the television show brings an additional layer of intrigue to the story – and that the entire viewing audience watch these “players” struggle for survival is bizarre, but still you feel a need to watch. A small point – it is too long, but still very good and easily watchable. As our charming game show host, Stanley Tucci is excellent, but as usual he goes along under the radar. Jennifer Lawrence is very strong as Katniss, our heroine. Great to see a cameo by Lenny Kravitz and the young Amandla Stenberg is very good – she was nominated for a Black Reel award for Best Breakthrough Performance for this work, well deserved. Cinematography is excellent – the action sequences are very well done. The movie is based on the book by Suzanne Collins.

Made in 2012. Directed by Gary Ross

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Movies

 

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Moon

Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) lives at Selene, a collection station on the far side of the moon. Sam operates the Lunar Industries station that mines clean energy Helium 3 and sends it back for use on Earth. He is counting down the days of his final three weeks here on Selene, as he readies himself for his return to Earth. After a three year posting, he is keen to see his wife Tess (by Dominique McElligott) and his daughter Eve (by Rosie Shaw and Kaya Scodelario) when he gets back home. Selene is a one-man operation, so Sam’s only interaction is with his over-protective caretaker robo-computer, GERTY (by Kevin Spacey). He knows he’s been there too long – he’s starting to hallucinate. One day while he is out of the station, he crashes the harvester and is knocked unconscious. When he comes to, he’s back in the station infirmary, but things aren’t quite the same now … is this really happening, or is he just hallucinating even more?

This is thought provoking sci-fi. There are few special effects, but the fascination is in the ideas it explores … the relative passage of time, human experience, humanity existing alongside technology, memory, clones and the effect of isolation. This is Duncan Jones’ feature film debut and he has done well. I understand that Jones is the son of David Bowie. He has made an interesting piece where Sam Rockwell often plays scenes with himself, or with the voice of Kevin Spacey as the curious GERTY. The isolation is depicted well and the moon environment is just as you would expect it. There is no sign of super-special effects here, it’s more about the notions than the visuals. Yes, it is quite well done – a marvellous first movie.

Made in 2009. Directed by Duncan Jones

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Movies

 

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Cowboys and Aliens

It’s 1873 … Jake Lonergan (played by Daniel Craig) is an outlaw in the Wild West who suddently “comes to” in the desert – he feels like he’s been knocked out, but his memory is sketchy and he’s not quite sure what has happened or where he’s been – the only clue is a strange heavy metal cuff around his wrist. It’s a hot, dry and dusty day and he finds his way to the nearest town, Absolution, to rest and get his bearings. In town, he gets involved with several locals who don’t take kindly to strangers – then gets involved in a fight with the wrong guy … Percy Dolarhyde (by Paul Dano) who is the smart-mouthed but immature son of a notorious heavyweight bully in town, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (by Harrison Ford). This just can’t get any worse … can it?  … Suddenly, strange lights appear in the night sky and the town is beseiged by weird flying shapes and scary events – several of the townsfolk are snatched from the streets and disappear into the flying shapes.  The men form a posse and plan to hunt down these strange captors. Although the men of Absolution were quick to dismiss the arrogant stranger, Lonergan, they now find themselves dependent on him to help them rescue their kin …..
 
I have previously written that science fiction just isn’t my thing.  However, this is a really entertaining movie – of course it helps that two of my favourites … Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig … are in it. Part of the entertainment factor is that they are both in an unfamiliar genre here. It’s just good old “Cowboys and Indians” but with an extraterrestrial, seething, slimy and modern twist. You won’t see any explicit Bond or Indiana Jones moments here (nor is there any sophisticated sci-fi) but if you like that sort of stuff, you’ll like this. It’s a witty, funny and good adventure all set in the pioneering days of the Wild West. Enjoy.
 
Made in 2011.  Directed by Jon Favreau
 
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Posted by on September 26, 2012 in Movies

 

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Solaris

Far into the future, Earth is the home base of a corporate enterprise that stretches far beyond the stratosphere. A branch of this organisation is being established to determine its feasibility on a space station that orbits Earth, the enterprise is called Solaris. On Earth, Chris Kelvin (played by George Clooney) is a psychologist with a busy and successful practice. His client list spans both Earth-bound and space-resident people in need of counselling and guidance. One day, Chris gets a strange and worrying video message from his friend Gibarian (by Ulrich Tukur) who is working on Solaris. Gibarian is clearly traumatised and terrified, but doesn’t explain why. He begs Chris to come to Solaris and help.  Chris travels to Solaris to find out what’s happening there and to make sure his friend is safe.  What he finds when he gets there changes his life forever ……  

Although science fiction is not my genre of choice, in fact I usually purposely shy away from it, this movie is excellent.  It teeters on the boundary between plausibility and fantasy so that someone like me can get enjoyment out of it.  As Chris Kelvin, George Clooney exhibits his marvellous acting ability once again.  He is intense, every emotion is clearly shown and he is very good in this wide ranging role.  Steven Soderberg has made a unique movie with a moody, dark setting to match the suspense.  His scene construction develops very well and the scarcity of music and often vast silences are enough to set each scene very well indeed. The cinematography is exquisite, the blur between real-life and hallucination is very well done and the audience is in this every step of the way.  Clooney is very well supported by a small but very strong cast of Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis and Jeremy Davies – these performances are all unique and totally marvellous.  It’s a great movie.

This is a remake of the 1972 movie of the same name by Andrey Tarkovskiy that won the FIPRESCI Prize and Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in the same year.

Made in 2002.  Directed by Steven Soderberg

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Movies

 

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