Bright

Magic is so unsatisfying. When anything is possible, the screenwriter can be so lazy. Just wave a wand at it. So while the premise of an alternate society that evolved with fairies and orcs alongside humans is sort of intriguing, and makes the race relations story somewhat fresh (?), I just can’t commit my full attention to this kind of movie. I spend too much time complaining out loud…

Arrival

There’s no way in hell that she would’ve learned that amount of the aliens’ language in such a short time frame. But that is a minor quibble. And ironic, in a movie about time travel. Or is it simply seeing the future?

Amazingly gripping, when so little really happens. But maybe that’s just the former language teacher in me speaking. What’s really different about this, in terms of a modern science fiction film – or really just about any genre these days – is that it’s more interested in the underlying ideas and philosophical questions that arise when we make contact with aliens – or they with us – than in intergalactic warfare or conflict in general. The only ones fighting here are the humans.

 

Blade Runner 2049

Wow.

A sequel worth seeing. Not only worth seeing, but quite possibly better than the original… this is very nearly a masterpiece.

Some will say it is too long, but I think that the pacing is very deliberate, and quite necessary. It allows the viewer the time to think, to ponder the questions that are being asked, and to come to the same conclusions that K comes to. This flies in the face of most current moviemaking, and that’s fine with me.

I was reminded at one point of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” when a key character talks about how memory is essential to identity. And it is the intersection of memory, DNA, robotics, and all of the ethical questions raised by those things that make this movie so interesting.

See it and think…

The Martian

Matt Damon has the charisma to pull off this kind of film, and it was engaging from start to… almost finish. After all that, why did they have to go all Gravity on us? Such a Hollywood ending… Plus, the 3-D glasses gave me a headache.

Ex Machina

The central premise here is of course what I have been going on about for like 25 years now, to mostly deaf ears: Evolution is ongoing. Humans are not some kind of pinnacle of the natural order. We branched off from the other apes x million years ago, and there will be other branches in the future.

If we manage not to kill ourselves in some eco-disaster or nuclear holocaust, and if therefore we are not an evolutionary dead-end, then it seems clear that our descendants will be… like Ava.

Best scenes: disco dancing, and the knife in Oscar Isaac’s stomach.

The Zero Theorem

This felt a bit like a rehash. Weirdos in absurd, Dilbert-esque jobs in a dystopian future with garish costumes and strange, oddly old-fashioned mechanical aspects to the “futuristic” technology… Brazil anyone?

And of course the plot needs to involve a quest for nothing less than the meaning of life. I half-expected it to be revealed at the end as “42.”

Elysium

The year is 2154 and folks are still using laptops? Like, everywhere, including while running to different positions in the heat of battle? Ha! I’m pretty sure this film was shot after the advent of cell phones. Which, also in this film, pretty much look and function like cellphones. I guess speech recognition and the whole wearables category just peter out here in the coming century.

The weapons are pretty bogus too, and drones don’t seem to’ve made much progress. Matt Damon takes one down by throwing a rock at it, basically. The one cool weapons technology I noted was a force field shield that effectively protects its user from any projectiles. But the real progress seems to have been made in medicine, as anything that ails you can be repaired by lying down in a fix-it bed that scans your body, identifies the problem, and then proceeds to simply fix it, in a matter of seconds, by means of some on-screen text such as “re-atomizing.” Wow.

Among the cast, you’ll recognize Damon, of course, along with Diego Luna, William Fichtner, and Jody Foster. The first three take their roles more or less seriously, and Damon actually does a respectable job, in the way that he is seemingly always able to do. Only Foster seems to realize that she is in a bloated parody of a serious science fiction actioner… She hams it up like I’ve never seen her do, indecipherable Euro accent and all. I detested District 9 – what made me think that this might be worth watching?

Interstellar

I read on Facebook that this project was originally to be directed by Steven Spielberg. I’m glad that it was not. Christopher Nolan brings just the right amount of weirdness to it. Actually, the first half did feel a bit Spielbergian in its scope and its big characters, and its emphasis on family, particularly the children…

And then onward into space, and we are sucked along and it’s going pretty much as we expect, and then, whoa, wtf?! From that point on its pretty trippy, and both the conundrums and the plotlines are descended from those of Memento and Inception. So what, then, is it really about? The passage of time, certainly. Distance, and how love might be a bridge across it. Which leads to a consideration of the touchy-feely aspects of the film that might seem at odds with the rational, astrophysics side of things.

As Matt Zoller Seitz says, “The movie’s science fiction trappings are just a wrapping for a spiritual/emotional dream about basic human desires (for home, for family, for continuity of bloodline and culture), as well as for a horror film of sorts—one that treats the star voyagers’ and their earthbound loved ones’ separation as spectacular metaphors for what happens when the people we value are taken from us by death, illness, or unbridgeable distance.”

But don’t let’s spoil it for those who haven’t seen it…

Other notes:

1. Seeing this on the big screen, in 70mm, was the bomb.
2. I liked the robots. They were faithful to the end, not like Hal.
3. That Dylan Thomas bit got old…

Snowpiercer

This felt, for the first 20 minutes or so, like another ho-hum, overdone and clichéd dystopian near-future story. Gritty and grimy, like the survivors in The Road, but with far less open space, and a lot more camp. I don’t mean tents and backpacks. Camp as in affected humor, exemplified in the performance of Tilda Swinton. We have the expected multi-racial cast, with seemingly one of every expected personality type. Caricature, but otherwise nothing much to keep one’s attention, with the exception of the fantastic set design.

It’s once the team gets moving, from the back of the train toward the front, that things get interesting. Set aside the obvious references to the back of the bus, and the 99%, going ’round the earth in one futile circle each year. The train cars themselves are worlds unto themselves, each more interesting than the last. There is of course no question that our hero will make it to the front car and an ultimate confrontation with the head honcho of the 1%. It’s the journey that counts.

Memorable.

Her

Do you believe that animals possess consciousness? Or one step further: Is it possible that, say, your dog feels something like love for you? It’s pretty clear that humans don’t have a monopoly on these traits and emotions.

But what about machines? Despite claims to the contrary, no computer has yet passed the Turing test. We are not yet fooled into believing them human. Yes, they can beat us at chess, and Jeopardy… but they’ll never be able to feel real, human emotions… right?

Her bypasses the whole physical aspect – no need for a body here – and goes right to its point: We can fall in love with machines, and they with us. This is not so far-fetched as one might think. After all, it’s not as if homo sapiens is the endpoint of evolution. There’s more to come, and Her may be right on target.