Tag Archives: science fiction

Movie Review: Area 51 (2015)

Area 51

There was a time I was semi-obsessed with Area 51, the alleged secret US military base in the Nevada desert where alien secrets dating back to Roswell are said to be stashed. And so I thought I’d give the film Area 51 with an attitude akin to how I approach UFO sightings these days — sceptical but hopeful.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to be even worse than what I thought it would be. In short, Area 51 epitomises everything wrong with the found footage sub-genre. It uses every trite tactic in the book, looks cheap, feels cheaper, uses little-known actors to play stock characters spewing pathetic dialogue, and most of all, offers zero scares, thrills or creativity.

The premise is as formulaic as you imagined. A bunch of young people decide to break into Area 51 to uncover the alien conspiracy and government lies. Despite been terrified of getting caught and going to jail, they do a lot of stupid illegal stuff and record it all on cameras while complaining about it the whole time.

As it turns out, security at Area 51 is worse than your local supermarket, allowing the teens to get in with ease. They see a lot of lame stuff they try to trick you into thinking is impressive with their fake excitement and shock, before — you guessed it — aliens break out and start killing people.

The film’s whole idea of horror is people running around with shaky cameras while breathing loudly. That and brief glimpses of a “monster” before people are suddenly snatched away are pretty much the only two tactics of the entire movie. I guess I should not have been surprised given that it is directed by Oren Peli, whose previous directorial effort was the first Paranormal Activity.

The characters do stupid stuff and say stupid things non-stop, such as “What’s that noise?”, “Where’s that sound coming from?”, and my personal favourite, “Do you think we should be here?”

Shamefully, the film doesn’t even offer much legitimate information about the real Area 51, or at least what sources believe the place is like. Come on, at least educate us a little.

So yeah, Area 51 is a flaming turd, a combination of everything that annoys me about movies. I disliked it immensely.

1 star out of 5

Movie Review: Ex Machina (2015)

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In the superhero era, sci-fi movies these days are bigger, louder and more special-effected (is that a word?), and so I was really looking forward to Ex Machina, the low-budget (US$15 million) directorial debut of career screenwriter Alex Garland, best known for penning the scripts to sci-fi semi-classics like 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Never Let Me Go (and he wrote the novel The Beach, which was made into that movie with Leo DiCaprio and Virginie Ledoyen).

The film received an avalanche of hype as early as last year, and I’m glad to say it does not disappoint. As a pure sci-fi story that goes back to the roots of the genre, Ex Machina delivers. Despite very little action and a deliberately mellow pace, the film is gripping, thought-provoking, tense and claustrophobic all the way through.

Without giving too much away, the film begins with a young programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) from the world’s largest search engine company, Bluebook (basically Google), winning a contest to meet the company’s enigmatic billionaire CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), who lives in a secluded research facility that requires a helicopter to access. Nathan invites Caleb to participate in an experiment involving his latest creation, a beautiful humanoid android named Ava (Alicia Vikander). It’s Caleb’s task, through conversations and observation, to judge whether Ava has consciousness, or whether she’s just simulating consciousness. And so begins an intriguing series of “sessions” between Caleb and Ava as Nathan looks on through surveillance video.

As you would expect, things are not as simple as they appear, and soon Caleb finds himself with a lot of unanswered questions. There are mini twists and turns galore, with Caleb growing more paranoid about both Ava and Nathan, and eventually, himself. Who’s telling the truth and who’s lying? Who’s playing whom? It’s one of those films where you never stop questioning the characters’ motives and what they are trying to achieve, and it’s this mystery that provides the strong pulse to the heart of the tale. It helps that it’s not a hackneyed plot that relies on one massive twist to shock audiences — this is a fascinating sci-fi story from start to finish.

In typical classic sci-fi fashion, there is a surrealistic feel to the experience that is almost dreamlike. The high-tech facility where the bulk of the film is set is grey and sombre, and the windowless walls seem as though they are closing in on Caleb as his paranoia and claustrophobia grows. The facility is juxtaposed nicely with the outdoor scenery the characters occasionally escape to, providing a technology vs nature dichotomy that plays into the film’s layered themes.

The film would not be what it is without the spectacular performance of Alicia Vikander, a Swedish actress whom I had only seen once prior, in the disappointing Seventh SonVikander is a perfect blend of beauty, sexuality and grace, and her dancing background really helped provide the right mix of human and robot to Ava. You believe what she is — a highly intelligent robot who could easily be mistaken for an attractive human but for the see-through limbs and mid-section. Everything about her performance, from the way she moved to the facial expressions and even the way she spoke contributed to making Ava so authentic that she bordered on creepy. Most importantly, she makes you believe in Caleb’s reactions to her. Vikander’s going to be a star, no doubt about it.

Oscar Issac also impresses as Nathan, a genius with demons to exorcise. After seeing him shine in Inside Llewyn Davis, The Two Faces of January and A Most Violent Year, I knew this was going to be the case. Isaac is a chameleon capable of playing anyone, and the intensity he brings to Nathan elevates the character into more than it should have been. Can’t wait to see him in the new Star Wars film at the end of the year.

By contrast, Gleeson is the weakest link. He’s pretty good as Caleb — just not as eye-catching as the other two — though I suspect the burden of suppressing his Irish accent in favour of an American one affected his performance to some degree. Interestingly, the first time I saw Gleeson was in an episode of Black Mirror, the brilliant Charlie Brooker sci-fi series, where he played a life-like android himself. That was a phenomenal story with parallels to this one, and I’d recommend fans of the movie to check out the “Be Right Back” episode of Black Mirror if they haven’t already.

Ex Machina does have a few holes in it as the story veers towards its tense conclusion, a problem common to even the best sci-fi films, though on the whole it’s hard to ask for much more from Garland in his directorial debut. It’s also a fine film from an aesthetics perspective; the special effects are used sparingly but effectively — mostly on Ava’s semi-transparent body — and the cinematography does a solid job of balancing the emotional and visual aspects. This is a fable that will make you think about the inevitable fallibility of human nature and the future of technology, especially in an age when artificial intelligence is making it difficult to distinguish sci-fi from reality. Even Stephen Hawking said recently that he believes “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Now think about that.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Predestination (2014)

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Predestination wins the award for the most ambitious sci-fi movie of the year. I don’t mean ambitious in terms of scale and scope, like Interstellar, but ambitious in terms of its central conceit and its execution of it. I have a feeling this will be one of those cult classics people either love or hate, and, despite its flaws, I find myself falling into the former category.

This is one of those movies where you can’t really say too much about the plot or else you’d give away too much. Suffice it to say that it is a sci-fi film with a time travel foundation. Ethan Hawke plays what is known as a Temporal Agent, someone who travels back in time to catch criminals before crimes are committed. Aussie Sarah Snook, in a star-making performance, plays two roles, a young woman who grew up in an orphanage before trying out for the Space Corps, and an older man who tells his story to Hawke’s character in a bar.

All of this will make sense as the movie progresses, but what should be noted upfront is that Predestination is not just a time-bending movie. It’s also a gender-bending movie as well as a mind-bending one. It’s by no means impossible to follow or even figure out the twists and turns in advance, but like many time-travel movies, it’s complex and circular, and may require multiple viewings if you want to make sense of it all.

Directed and written by Aussie brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, who last made the underrated political vampire movie Daybreakers (also with Hawke) in 2010, Predestination is based on a the short story All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein. It feels like a short story adaptation too in that it requires some level of suspension of disbelief and is told through unconventional narrative methods, jumping around in time and delivering stories within stories.

In some ways, the make-or-break point of the film is whether you can buy the idea of Sarah Snook, as good as she is, playing a believable male character. If you can, then all the other pieces of the puzzle fall into place. If not, then the whole thing begins to crumble. In my humble opinion, she was more than good enough to make me believe in the characters and their emotions, which is why I found the journey to be so engrossing. For the first half of the movie, at least, I had no idea where the story was heading and why it was being presented in the way that it was — and yet I felt as though I had been entranced by the peculiar narrative. At a certain point, the whole point of it all becomes clear, and even if you think it’s stupid you still have to be impressed by its creativity and audacity.

With a relative lack of action and a narrower, personal scope, the film is not as well-rounded or as exciting as some other time travel films like 12 Monkeys or the more recent Looper, but it makes up for it with stronger character development and a distinct Twilight Zone-feel.

At the end of the day, Predestination is a strange film and an acquired taste — one that happens to be my cup of tea. I love sci-fi and fascinating time travel stories, and I enjoy films that challenge you — for better or for worse — to pick apart its logic. Throw in the excellent performances of Hawke and Snook, and the stylish direction and visual style of the Spierig brothers, and Predestination is turning out to be one of my dark horse highlights of the year.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Interstellar (2014) (IMAX)

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Well, it looks like I have to reshuffle my list of the best movies of 2014 – again.

Memento. The Dark Knight trilogy. Inception. Time and time again, Christopher Nolan proven to be one of the most creative and visionary directors of this generation. His latest, Interstellar, is his most ambitious project to date, and also arguably the most rewarding.

I rushed to see the first session available of Interstellar this morning, not knowing what to expect other than a 169-minute sci-fi starring Matthew McConaughey. I intentionally avoided the trailers, the reports, and the early reviews. In fact, I didn’t even know who else was in it. Going in blind was the best decision I ever made, and so I am going to make sure there are no spoilers in this review so that your experience, if you haven’t already seen it, is as fresh and awe-inspiring as it can be.

Interstellar is the very definition of an epic. The ambition, the scale, the scope, the cast, the special effects, the storyline — even the running time; everything about this film is huge, which makes it perfect for the big screen, and in particular, IMAX, which I fortunately saw it on. It is not available in 3D (which I hate anyway), but this is one rare situation where I do wonder if the added dimension could have enhanced the visual experience even more.

I don’t want to give away the plot, so all I will say is that Interstellar is first and foremost a space exploration film. I liked the fact that there was no arbitrary exposition at the start of the film explaining the world the film was depicting. There’s no voice-over, no subtitles, no Star Wars-like opening crawl. It immerses you into the story straight away, while at the same time creating an intriguing mystery that needs to be slowly pieced together. And while the progression of the narrative is relatively simple, there are some exciting twists and turns along the way.

Interstellar is also a great big adventure flick filled with excitement, action, drama, and emotion. There are big set pieces, jaw-dropping landscapes and seamless effects, though all of these things feel like they are there because they are integral to the story, rather than simply to provide candy for the eyes.

My number one film of last year, Gravity, is probably best characterized as a space survival film. That was a thrilling spectacular which had some of the above elements, but Interstellar just takes it to a whole other level in every way. And it’s even twice as long! Interestingly, the film that first popped up into my mind when watching Interstellar was another McConaughey classic, 1997’s Contact, another one of my favorite sci-fi films. Both are about exploring the unknown with a health dose of hope and fear, and pose thought-provoking questions about human nature and humanity.

I don’t know much about the science the film rests on, though I assume there are going to be a lot of gaping holes, inconsistencies and flaws in logic. But the silliness of the science is beside the point. The important thing is that Nolan made me believe in it. Like he did in Inception, Nolan takes some very complex ideas and concepts and boils them down in a way that ordinary audiences can understand. Perhaps not fully comprehend or even grasp everything that is happening, but at least enough to be able to suspend disbelief and not get lost in the storyline. To me, that is the key to the film, and my guess is that if you did not enjoy it, it is because you were unable to buy into the film’s ideas in the first place.

Nolan’s films have been accused of being too cold and emotionless in the past. That is definitely not the case with Interstellar, which is powered by a surprising amount of human drama. Not all of it was effective — some of the dialogue came across as a little mushy, a little sentimental, and shall I say, McConaughey-esqe, though in the grand scheme of things I cannot fault Nolan for trying, because the film’s ultimate pay-off and message would not have worked without emotion.

I know I have not been the biggest Matthew McConaughey fan, and I admit I cringed a little when he first opened his mouth in the film (I expected his dialogue to be “Alright, alright, alright” on an endless loop). Smugness like that is hard to contain, even for an Oscar-winning actor. Slowly but surely, however, McConaghey managed to grow on me, and by the end of the film I was convinced he was the right man for the role. I cannot say much more about the other performances without mentioning their names (not knowing the whole cast adds to the pleasant surprises), so I will simply say that there is more than one Oscar winner in the cast and that they are all very good and go a long way towards mitigating the flaws in the dialogue.

Interstellar might not be perfect. It may not even be as intriguing, action-packed or ground-breaking as some of Nolan’s other films. And it even stars Matthew McConaughey. But man, I don’t think I’ve been more entertained more by a film in years. Nolan really reached for the stars with this grand epic. Some may think it was a spectacular success; others may think it was an admirable failure. For me, I’m just glad I was fortunate enough to be on the journey.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Divergent (2014)

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Divergent is, by all accounts, the next big thing after Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games. It’s based on the bestselling sci-fi novel series by American author Veronica Roth and stars one of the hottest up-and-coming stars in Hollywood, Shailene Woodley. The film was a commercial success and a sequel, Insurgent, is slated for a March 2015 release.

So is Divergent the real deal, or is it yet another pretender in the vein of The Golden Compass, Percy Jackson, I Am Number Four and Vampire Academy?

To be honest, I don’t think I can make my mind up — yet. It has a fairly typical post-apocalyptic premise, in which the world — as far as we know — is essentially decimated but there are elements of extremely advanced technology, kind of like The Hunger Games.

What sets the premise apart is the introduction of the idea that all human beings can be categorized into one of five factions: Abnegation the selfless, Amity the peaceful, Candor the honest, Dauntless the brave, and Erudite the intelligent. When someone turns 16 they are given a personality test which tells them the faction they belong to, though they are still given the freedom to choose whatever they want. Once you choose a faction, however, you are there for life.

Say what? I hear you say. Yeah, it doesn’t make much sense to me either. First of all, how can humans only have five personality traits? Second of all, how can a person be deemed to have only one of the traits? Thirdly, what is the point of the test if you get to choose whatever you want anyway? And lastly, how does any of this help create a more peaceful, more organized and more advanced society?

Anyway, our teenage protagonist, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort, who coincidentally plays Shailene’s lover in The Fault in Our Stars — awkward!) reach that age whenthey have to undergo the test and pick their faction. But of course there’s a twist — we find out that Beatrice is “special”! She joins a faction regardless, and the first half of the film revolves predominantly around her group training to become a badass, and the budding romance she develops with a team leader (Theo James). Later on, stuff inevitably happens, leading to a climactic showdown in which — you guessed it — only Beatrice can save the world.

When I put it that way, Divergent sounds like a pretty stereotypical teen/sci-fi flick, not all that different from The Hunger Games or Ender’s Game, both of which have similar plot points and progression.

Having said that, I still found Divergent to be a surprisingly entertaining and engaging experience (especially during the tense and exciting training sequences). That can happen when you have an $85 million budget and a first-class production team and cast.

Neil Berger is a solid commercial directors proven track record in making test intelligent thrillers such as The Illusionist and Limitless. And regardless of the future of this franchise, Shailene Woodley is poised for big things. Despite her age (22), she has a remarkable screen presence, which she uses to carry the film from start to finish, and she also has this face that’s not immediately attractive or appealing, but somehow grows on you as her personality starts to shine through. Most young actresses would be thrilled to be called the poor (wo)man’s Jennifer Lawrence, but in Woodley’s case it would be an insult. She’s for real. (And while we’re at it, Beatrice Prior is a good enough character to not be called a poor (wo)man’s Katniss Everdeen either.)

English actor Theo James won’t be getting hype like the Twilight boys because his character is fairly lame and secondary, but he does what he can with limited material to work with, and Zoe Kravitz, Lenny’s girl, adds some sass as Beatrice’s closest friend. Ansel Elgort is decent, but he doesn’t have much screen time. The rest of the supporting cast is A-list, with Kate Winslet playing a key government official, Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn as the parents, and Jai Courtney as a faction member, with minor characters portrayed by the likes of Maggie Q, Ray Stevenson and Mekhi Phifer.

The problem with the film lies ultimately in whether you can stomach the illogical premise. Most sci-fi films have plot holes and things that don’t necessarily make sense, but in many cases audiences can look past the flaws as long as the film works within the confines of its own rules. The Hunger Games, for example, had several issues with logic, though nothing stood out to the point where the whole film was at risk of collapsing. With Divergent the situation is a lot more iffy. We get what the premise is trying to say about free will and how people tend to be judged and grouped by appearances or a single characteristic, but when it fails what I like to call the “smell test” you have to ask yourself whether you can accept anything else in the story.

I haven’t read the book, but perhaps the author did a better job of fudging the premise than the movie did. In any case, given that there’s more to come in the story that might provide some much-needed explanations and context, I’m going to withhold my judgment for the time being. In reviewing Divergent as a standalone movie, however, I admit the premise did bother me, perhaps not to the extent that it ruined the film, but it certainly tempered what would have otherwise been a solid first entry to a series capable of competing with the Hunger Games franchise.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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I didn’t initially plan on seeing Tom Cruise’s latest blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow, at the cinemas. The well-publicized Groundhog Day device applied to a sci-fi premise didn’t feel all that enticing to me, and neither did the fairly stock-standard trailers I had seen. In the end, I was swayed by good word-of-mouth reviews and decided to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did. Edge of Tomorrow is everything you could hope for in a summer blockbuster — exciting action, tremendous special effects, superstar power, and just plenty of old-fashioned fun.

The story is actually based on a Japanese light novel called All You Need is Killin which the protagonist is placed in a time loop that keeps bringing him back to the day he dies in a war against aliens who have invaded Earth. Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage (a nod to the Japanese protagonist Keiji), a PR man of sorts for the NATO-lead United Defense Forces in their fight against the alien race called the “Mimics.” He’s not exactly a likable guy, and for that he ends up being on the front line in humanity’s last-ditched effort to topple the Mimics once and for all. Then, as the “Live. Die. Repeat” tag line suggests, Cage is forced to live the same day over and over again until he can either defeat the Mimics or the time loop ends. The only person who can help him is Sergeant Rita Vrataski, played by Emily Blunt, a giant sword-wielding warrior affectionately nicknamed the “Full Metal Bitch.”

It’s a synopsis that sounds almost typical, and in many ways Edge of Tomorrow is straight and predictable. Having said that, I was surprised by what an enjoyable ride it was. First of all, despite the time loop, the film never feels repetitive (my main fear). There are of course some parts that are repeated, but for the most part the script does an excellent job of varying up what to show audiences and throwing in little differences and curve balls to keep things interesting.

Another strength is its ability to switch tones between serious and funny with apparent ease. We feel Cage’s pain, frustration and helplessness at his situation, but we also have plenty of fun with it when the movie tells us it’s OK. Many of the deaths Cage has to endure are actually lighthearted and in some cases quite hilarious, as is a lot of the banter he has with army leader Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) and the members of J Squad, a ragtag team of crazy rejects he has been assigned to.

Most of all, the film comes at audiences at a finely tuned pace — relentless enough so that you never have time to stop and think about all the plot holes or things that don’t make sense, but not so fast that you lose track of what is happening or the sci-fi explanations you’ll need to grasp. Speaking of which, I was impressed with how smart and efficient the film was in explaining Cage’s predicament, including WHY everything was happening to him. For me it was important to know that the time loop had a reason, and director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith, Jumper, Fair Game) does a great job of creating a “believable” premise and helping audiences in suspending their disbelief.

The action is finely executed and goes hand in hand with the top-notch special effects. The human soldiers wear these mech-warrior suits that remind me a little of Elysium (but are actually quite commonly seen in Japanese anime) and look very convincing in both their design and movements. The Mimics have a unique look with a body that is constantly changing, and they move so fast that there’s no mistaking that they are not from this world. The only complaint I have is that the enemy, as often is the case in these invasion movies, are essentially generic robots that don’t serve any purpose other than to overwhelm our heroes with sheer numbers.

The performances are fantastic, as you would have expected with any Tom Cruise film. Say what you want about him, but Cruise, at 51, is still looking great as an action hero. He may be the craziest “technically sane” man alive off-screen, but when it comes to making movies, Cruise has always been the consummate professional. His trademark intensity shines throughout the film and he is superb whether as a conniving coward or a courageous soldier. Emily Blunt also looks like she had a lot of fun making this, trading her stereotypical image of the prim and proper damsel in distress for baddass warrior (who also happens to be in incredible shape). A lot of scene-stealing supporting roles too, including from Paxton and Brendan Gleeson, as well as Aussies Noah Taylor and Kick Gurry.

At 113 minutes, Edge of Tomorrow is about right in terms of length and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The thing that almost ruined the film for me, however, was the ending, which I felt did not match the rest of the film’s high standards. In the beginning I was confused, but then I realized it just didn’t work. I think it’s a reflection of the fact that the script had to undergo several rewrites and that they went into filming without having finalized the ending.

Apart from that, Edge of Tomorrow is a surprise summer hit that ticks all the right boxes. I don’t think it’s Tom Cruise’s best sci-fi — that honour would have to go to his all-time classic Minority Report — though I believe it ranks right up there at either No. 2 or 3 along with the underrated War of the Worlds.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: Tom Cruise has actually only starred in five sci-fi features: Vanilla Sky, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow

Movie Review: Total Recall (2012)

Admit it. Mention “three boobs”, and the first thing that pops into your mind is Total Recall. No, not the 2012 remake with Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, but the 1990 original with Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s the kind of classic it was and is, and its many iconic images is a huge reason why it landed at number 10 on my list of the 20 Most Rewatchable Movies of All-Time.

Ultimately the problem with Total Recall 2012 is that it pales in comparison to the memorable 1990 version. While not a horrible sci-fi action flick in its own right, and despite featuring far more attractive actors (no offense to Arnie, Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin) and impressive special effects, the film just didn’t feel like it could match the intensity, humour and freshness of the original.

We are told that the 2012 Total Recall is not strictly a “remake” of the 1990 film, but merely another very loose film adaptation of the Philip K Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. I don’t know if I buy that because based on this Wikipedia entry, the 2012 remake appears much closer to the 1990 film than the short story itself.

The plot of the 2012 film virtually mirrors that of the 1990 film, minus that whole Mars business. Okay, so it’s a little more intricate than that, but all you need to know is that it’s the future and there is an autocratic superpower and a bunch of rebels fighting against them. Colin Farrell is Douglas Quaid, a factory worker who suffers from a recurring nightmare which suggests that he is some kind of secret agent. Like Arnie before him, Quaid heads to this place called Rekall, which can supposedly implant fake memories, but all it does is reveal that perhaps his nightmares are more than just dreams.

The progression of this remake is roughly similar to that of the original but the fact that they remain firmly on Earth instead of heading to Mars means the films have some very significant differences. There are, of course, no mutants now, but instead there are these lame robots. There’s none of the reddish sand of Mars, but rather, a post-apocalytpic, clearly Blade Runner-inspired future that offers a wet, crowded blend of Eastern and Western cultures. The vast improvements in special effects mean prettier landscapes, cooler machines and gadgets.

None of these changes, however, have translated to a better film in substance.

Farrell exhibits more emotional range than Arnie (not hard) and Beckinsale and Biel are sexier femme fatales than Stone and Ticotin, but unlike their predecessors, none of them seem to be having any fun (not even Bryan Cranston!). Save for a few one-liners from Beckinsale, this film is dead serious from beginning to end. The 1990 film was often wry; this one is nearly always bleary.

There are a lot of fast-moving gun fights, explosions and chase scenes (on foot and in vehicles) but few generated genuine excitement for me. Much of it was because I never really cared for the characters or what they stood for, and more importantly, because I never got the sense that they were in any real danger. It was pretty to watch but not gripping from an emotional standpoint.

The film also has a bunch of references to the original (yes, including the three boobs), but it felt like they were there for the sake of being there, rather than as tributes. It begged the question of why a film that is uninspiringly stuck halfway between a remake and re-envisioning was really necessary in the first place.

One of the most interesting things about the 1990 film for me was that, even at the end, you still questioned whether what you were seeing was real or in Quaid’s head. Disappointingly, the 2012 film, through various story-telling devices, makes its answer very obvious early on and left no doubt by the end.

Total Recall 2012 is directed by Len Wiseman, husband of Kate Beckinsale and best known for his work on the Underworld series and the fourth Die Hard instalment. I can’t deny that he has a certain visual flair and I thank him for keeping the smoking Kate Beckinsale around for much longer than Sharon Stone, but I can’t say it was one of his stronger efforts. I am willing to bet that years from now, the mention of “three boobs” will still conjour up memories of the original, and not this film.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: In Time (2011)

I am more accepting of average sci-fi movies than most, primarily because I believe having an intelligent, creative premise means you’re almost halfway there.

In Time, the new star-studded sci-fi action film written and directed by Andrew Niccol (best known for Gattaca and Lord of War), has what I think is a brilliant premise — at some time in the future, genetic engineering has enabled humans to stop ageing physically past the age of 25, and the phrase ‘time is money’ has become literal.  All currencies have been replaced by time, which can be earned, spent and gambled just like money.  Everybody has a clock on their forearm that counts down towards zero, and when it hits zero, you die.

Naturally, people want time, and they’re willing to do just about anything to get it.  However, like money, some people have more than they know what to do withy, while others are living day-to-day, not knowing where the next minute or second might come from.  Though not entirely unique (Logan’s Run, for instance, has a similar premise), I found that to be a very compelling idea brimming with potential.

And so I was excited about In Time.  Sure it had Justin Timberlake (the hero from the ghetto), but it also had Amanda Seyfried (the poor little rich girl), Cillian Murphy (the ‘Timekeeper’), Alex Pettyffer (that’s Mr I Am Number Four, as a time stealing thug), Olivia Wilde (I’ll keep her role as a surprise) and that guy from White Collar (Matt Bomer).  Call me optimistic, but I was hoping that it would be this year’s Inception.

Well, I was wrong.  While In Time was not the painfully horrible piece of crap some critics have labelled it to be, it was undoubtedly a frustrating waste of a promising premise.  There were so many interesting places they could have gone with this film, and instead they went down an utterly bizarre path, one that completely underutilised the concepts the premise afforded.

I could forgive all the half-assed sci-fi concepts and stuff that made little sense and had no explanation (like the time transfer mechanism and the whole point of the system), but what I couldn’t ignore was all the false hope that the film built up in the first third but failed to deliver.  And my goodness, the loose ends they just kicked to the curb (Timberlake’s dad, anyone?)!

Timberlake and Seyfried make a cute couple and there are some slick action sequences, but the further the film went along the more disappointed I became in the generic direction it was heading.  Just because there is an emphasis on action and romance doesn’t mean the film cannot also be intelligent and challenge audiences to use their brains a little.

Then again, I suppose if all you’re looking for is a forgettable action sci-fi romp with sexy stars, then In Time might be enough.

2.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Source Code (2011)

There’s nothing like a clever, action-packed sci-fi film to get the mind spinning and the blood pumping, and that’s exactly what Source Code is.

Jake Gyllenhaal wakes up on a Chicago-bound train sitting across from Michelle Monaghan, not knowing how he got there and uncertain of who he is.

Without giving away too much, there’s a terrorist threat and he’s the only one that can stop it, thanks to some top secret military experiment that allows him to relive the same eight minutes over and over again.  I’ll stop there, but there’s a lot more to the story than just that.

To be fair, it’s not exactly an original idea, because we’ve seen this type of concept before, perhaps most recently in Tony Scott’s 2006 film Deja Vu, starring Denzel Washington.  But Source Code, directed by David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones, and based on a screenplay written by Ben Ridley, is a much better film that intrigues from start to finish with its compelling mysteries, many twists and turns, and some top notch performances from its stars (in particular Gyllenhaal and Vera Farmiga, though I thought Jeffrey Wright’s performance was a little over the top).

Initially I was concerned because the idea of reliving the same eight minutes over and over for even a 93-minute film seemed kind of tiring to me.  But thankfully, the film was much more than that, creating such different scenarios each time and mixing it up with interesting breaks in between, never making the film repetitive and always making you wonder what will happen next.

What set it apart from others similar films in the genre, however, was the crafty human edge they managed to splice with the techno-thriller plot.  Without being corny or overly melodramatic (always such a fine, difficult line), Source Code featured some unexpected moments of tenderness and packed more heart than films of this type could have hoped for.

Of course, as with most sci-fi movies, logic issues and plot holes are always there if you go looking for them.  But on an overall level, I was satisfied with all the explanations once we got to the end.  In any case, with all the tension and trying to figure out the mystery of the ‘Source Code’, it wasn’t hard to overlook the flaws.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Never Let Me Go (2010)

Award-winning, English-Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro is one of those writers that I keep hearing about but haven’t had the chance to read.  So I guess the next best option was to check out an adaptation of one of his better known books, Never Let Me Go.

I went into this film having no idea what it was about except it starred Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightley and new Spiderman Andrew Garfield (from The Social Network).  The poster and the title suggested a moving romantic drama, a tear-jerker, if you will.  After all, Ishiguro’s best known work is probably Remains of the Day, so I thought I knew what kind of movie to expect.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised and a little shocked to find that Never Let Me Go is actually a science-fiction film, and a weird one at that because it didn’t look or feel like your typical film of that genre.  It’s still a moving romantic drama and a tear-jerker, but the entire premise of the story is firmly grounded in sci-fi.

I don’t want to give away too much, because part of the joy of the film is figuring out just what heck is going on, but basically it’s set in an alternate reality, where in 1952 there was a medical breakthrough that allows humans to extend their expected lifespans beyond 100 years.

The film has gotten some rave reviews, but I found it more fascinating (because of the premise) than anything else.  Anchored by strong performances from all of the leads, this was a slow-moving, often confusing, sometimes frustrating, occasionally touching and ultimately haunting film (gave me the chills, in a good way).  I liked how it ended but it was a bit of a struggle at times.  I think it’s the type of film that has the power to really move people and make them think about love, life and death, but it didn’t quite get there for me.  It just felt like something was missing.  Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood.

3 stars out of 5

PS: I also found it interesting that Keira Knightley was purposely made to look ‘plain’ by the film’s director.  Great job, because this was the ugliest I have ever seen her!  I was wondering why she looked so horrible.