Sunday Video Essay: Blade Runner’s Noir Influence Is The Essence Of It’s Science Fiction

The Lessons From A Screenplay YouTube Channel spends a satisfying 10 minutes examining the noir roots and tropes behind Ridley Scotts 1982 masterpiece, and soon to be latter day sequel-ized, Blade Runner. This is not just your run-of-the-mill lesson in aesthetics, but rather the core aspects of noir, normalization of crime, police corruption and death. Enjoy it as we are only a few days away from Denis Villeneuve’s spin on the world, and it will be interesting if he and his screenwriters can capture that tone.

Blu-Ray Review: The Man Who Fell to Earth

Director: Nicolas Roeg
Screenplay: Paul Mayersberg
Based on a Novel by: Walter Tevis
Starring: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry
Country: UK
Running Time: 139 min
Year: 1976
BBFC Certificate: 18


The pop star vehicle tends to be a dirty word in cinema. From the cheesy Elvis movies to Britney Spears in Crossroads and Madonna in Swept Away, it’s fair to say a great many megastar musicians have failed to ignite the silver screen in the same way they have a stage. One pop star who managed to collect a number of interesting, if not always successful, acting roles throughout his career though was the late, great David Bowie. From fun cameos in films like Zoolander and TV shows like Extras, to a fine turn as Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s Prestige, Bowie used his chameleonic abilities to great effect in a handful of work away from his music. His first starring role in a feature film was in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth and, to many, this remains his finest on-screen performance. I’d never actually seen it, so, being a big fan of Bowie’s music, I was keen to get my hands on Studiocanal’s new special edition re-release of the film on Blu-Ray.

The Man Who Fell to Earth sees Bowie play Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who arrives on Earth to find water for his dying planet. He shows up at the door of patent lawyer Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry), asking him to help set up a company to launch some technology decades ahead of what is currently available. Newton wants to earn enough money to build himself a new space craft to get back home, and indeed his company, World Enterprises, proves a huge success. However, he gets distracted by sex, alcohol and TV, moving in with working class girl Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) whilst rival businessmen plot to muscle him out of the picture.

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Friday One Sheet: SOS

When advertising a ‘movie-star-vehicle,’ it barely needs to be said: Advertise the faces of your stars! Removing the credit block entirely for a clean Apple/Tesla kind of design, the science fiction-romantic-action picture indeed gets big, brightly lit studio portraits of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. And while the dots and dashes might seem a little superfluous, they actually do say “S.O.S.” in Morse code, which is the basically the core idea of the picture.

And because we missed it earlier this week, the trailer for Passengers is also tucked the fold.

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Fantasia 2016 Review: Realive

When screenwriters turn towards directing their own features, the case is often that they can make their talkiest screenplay into a film. This is not necessary a bad thing at all, especially considering the case of Mateo Gil’s new science fiction tale, Realive (aka Proyecto Lazaro). Here is a film which asks a lot of astute science fiction questions around death and resurrection as our twenty-first century medical science advances towards growing organs, rejuvenating the body with stem cells, and cryogenically preserving the dead or the dying in the hopes that they may be attended to in the future. The corporation at the heart of the film’s Lazarus Project has a witty tagline that demonstrates some of the nuanced qualities of the screenplay, “Immortality is only a question of time.”

You are probably familiar with Gil’s work if you have watched any of Alejandro Amenabar’s cerebral but scary films, from Tesis to Abres Los Ojos (remade with Tom Cruise as Vanilla Sky) to Oscar nominated The Sea Inside and the criminally underrated sword and sandals flick on mathematics and religion, Agora. Gil is to Amenabar as Alex Garland is to Danny Boyle. And the adroit, glossy and verbal Realive is certainly Gil’s Ex Machina.

Structured in three layers, the film examines the case of Marc Jarvis, the first man to have his body pulled out of Cryo and re-constructed to the point where he can be paraded out in front of investors to further justify private company funding for perhaps the immortality of the human race. Much of the film is set in 2086, and involves the medical processes, and complications, in rehabilitating Marc’s body while acclimatizing his mind to 70 years of progress. Marc’s nurse explains (and demonstrates) that attitudes on sex and relationships have significantly changed in the 7 decades he was absent, and the film teases us with demonstrations on the way the internet is now fully audio-visual, and offhand mentions that nobody gives a shit about pulling oil out of the ground for energy or raw materials. Oh, and t-shirts have no neck-bands on the anymore.

Because the film is as much about the humanity as it is about the science, a second, quite significant, layer of the films structure spends a fair amount of time with Marc in 2016. He deals with the fallout of being diagnosed with cancer in his mid thirties, and the tough decision with his fiancee, here, exceptionally played by Game of Thrones‘ red wedding bride, Oona Chaplin, to commit suicide to preserve his body in the best possible shape for the slim hope that the freezing process will work, and that the company will last long enough until such a time comes to resurrect and heal the disease. The emotional crux of the matter, handled with lots of time and energy in the film, are potentially months of lost last days in Marc’s voluntary and pre-mature death. Upon his awakening, there is the anxiety that everyone he has ever had any ties will may be gone. Marc makes jokes over wine to his friends when he announces the decision, “I’ll be sure to fuck all your grandkids!” But, the levity is a cover.

There are several strata of anxiety on display here, both big picture and on an individual level. Science of course, does not work perfectly, nor free of the unexpected, and being an early test subject, Marc suffers immensly in his new body. Fans of Showtime’s exceptional medical inquiry show, The Knick, or those who may remember a certain scene from Alien: Resurrection will have a field day with how Realive understands that science, in execution, is a messy process of trial and error and far more disappointment than elation. Success is just failing not as badly. There is a classical mix of hubris and fear that has driven scientific speculation in popular art for centuries. A more daring step by Gil however is to make Marc neither the hero type, nor one who necessarily rises to the occasion of his own trail. This puts him in line with the characters of Ridley Scott’s vastly misunderstood Prometheus, where the so-called heroes were kind of shallow fuck-ups, with little self awareness of their own limitations.

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DVD Review: Solaris

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Fridrikh Gorenshteyn, Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on a Novel by: Stanislaw Lem
Starring: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 160 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 12


The next port of call in my journey through the work of Andrei Tarkovsky takes me to Solaris. It’s probably the director’s most well known and popular film, but at the same time it seems to be his most divisive. Some critics have cited this as the film where Tarkovsky’s style began to get too philosophical and slow for its own good, with a couple claiming the philosophies lean towards the cod end of the spectrum. It’s views like these that made me a little apprehensive about watching the film (and reviewing it for that matter). However, I’m determined to work through all of his films being re-released and would like an opinion on them, even if it’s a negative one, so the other night I found myself sitting down in front of the projector to check Solaris out.

The film sees psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. It is believed the crew has gone insane and he is sent to confirm and find out why, possibly destroying the station afterwards if it is irredeemable. Once on the station, he finds that one of the crew members has committed suicide and the other two seem emotionally unstable. The problem on board soon becomes apparent when a woman appears in Kris’ quarters who seems to be his recently deceased wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk). This isn’t a mere ghost or dreamed memory though, she’s physically there in the station with him and the others can see her too. This embodiment of his wife doesn’t share Hari’s memories though, or at least not more than a few fractions to make her seem like Kris’ wife. She isn’t a mere shell either – although not human, she has her own thoughts and feelings, which Kris’ fellow crew members give little regard to. They refer to her and the other ‘guests’ on board as things they should cut up and analyse, even when Hari is in the room with them.

Kris realises this isn’t his wife straight away of course and initially tries to dispose of her, tricking her into a rocket and firing her off the station. However, another version soon appears so he realises he can’t get rid of this painful memory and instead learns to embrace it, mentally and physically. He grows too attached though and neglects his duties on the station, instead suggesting he stay on Solaris with Hari (3.0) forever.

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Trailer: Equals

A futuristic love story set in a world where emotions have been eradicated, there is a long tradition of this idea in the history of pop cinema and literature, from the big dumb action of The Island and Equilibrium, to George Lucas’ cooler ideological THX-1138, flower-powered Logan’s Run, all the way back to George Orwell’s seminal novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is good happenstance that Ridley Scott, who famously re-purposed the iconography of Orwell for Apple Inc. as a TV advertisement to launch their Macintosh computer, acts as the producer on the film.

Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult star in the film as the couple breaking down the barriers , along with some impressive Chinese & Japanese architecture. I dug the film quite a bit when I caught it at TIFF last year.

Friday One Sheet: Neo-Neo-Fascism?

This porcelain-doll, almost avant garde, collection of symbols and a beautiful white face, for me evokes the science fiction fascism and post-nationalism that is at play in the Hunger Games franchise: The rising phoenix/eagle/jay, the line of storm troopers, the rose simultaneously shedding tears of blood and down below branded in the mocking-jay logo. At least that is my impression as one who has not read the novels nor seen any of the films up until this point. Sorry, I cannot muster the interest. But the poster does indicate ‘classy sci-fi’ which at this point, the final entry in the series, I guess they are going for?

TIFF 2015 REVIEW: Equals

In the future envisioned in Equals, it as if Jony Ive ended debates on industrial design and all we are left is Apple monoculture. Everything is white and smooth surfaced. The architecture is soothingly clean concrete. Opening with a shot of a bedroom set sliding seamlessly into hidden wall-space; out of sight when not in use. War, poverty and nearly all human imperfections were eliminated long ago for the mere cost of engineering any and all emotion and sexual desire out of the species. What that remains are efficient, tranquil workers, passive and obedient. But something is wrong…

If you are a lover of science fiction films, Equals will be sounding quite familiar at this point. There is a long tradition of this idea in the history of pop cinema and literature, from the big dumb action of The Island and Equilibrium, to George Lucas’ cooler ideological THX-1138, and really all the way back to George Orwell’s seminal novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is good happenstance that Ridley Scott, who famously re-purposed the iconography of Orwell for Apple Inc. as a TV advertisement to launch their Macintosh computer, acts as the producer on the film. Of a smaller scale than the typical Scott pictured Director Drake Doremus, also taking a page from Spike Jonze, delivers a high concept but still very much commercial movie. Infused with tenderness, he tells the story through through body language and the tiny gestures as the characters are dwarfed by both technology and architectural spaces.

Orwellian realpolitik and spectacular action set-pieces are traded in for intimacy and tactile immediacy. A worthy goal for this kind of film, but somehow, it is rarely achieved. The primary focus here, this makes Equals stand out in its own quiet way. With the added benefit of being shot on locations in Japan and Singapore that were mainly designed by architect Tadao Ando. It is astonishing how much real spaces lend a realism birthed of constrained artistic challenges seen less and less in our CGI and green-screen era.

Silas and Nia, played by Kristen Stewart and Nicolas Hoult, respectively, are white collar (quite literally) workers for the news and media branch of the Atmos company. A world-spanning corporation (perhaps the only one) whose focus is resolutely on pushing humanity to explore the stars. Exploration of innerspace has been thrown onto the dust-pile of history. Nia writes the corporate press-releases, and Silas draws the images to accompany them. Their gigantic work tablets sound off with soothing chimes when each of their workaday micro-tasks are complete. They go to sedate meetings or eat their designer cafeteria dispensed meals in a fashion that is politely co-operative and passively isolated. The cinematography favours shallow focus with whites as crisp as the company uniforms.

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Trailer: Ex Machina

Alex Garland is known for writing a number of science-fiction films, both 28 Days Later, Sunshine for Danny Boyle, as well as Adapting Kazuo Ishiguru’s novel Never Let Me Go for Mark Romanek, and even the most recent adaptation of dystopian-justice comic, Dredd.

Garland’s directorial debut is the single location, three-hander drama, Ex Machina, starring Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander. It premieres in North America on March 15 (and has had a positive response from other markets for which the film is already in commercial release) at SXSW Festival, before a commercial release on April 10th.

A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.

“Want to see something cool?” Check out the trailer below.

Cinecast Episode 380 – More Hovering

 
Party crasher on the set of the RowThree Cinecast arrives in studio in the form of one Sean Dwyer from Film Junk. More well-equipped to take the punches from Matt Gamble than anyone, it turns out to be a much more agreeable show than we anticipated – even with the latest Wachowski output being compared to Citizen Kane. That’s right, from the Ascension of the Jovian Gas Giant to the depths of Jude Law’s Russian sea we are a literal high and low podcast. Later in the Watch List, Sean and Andrew look deep into the “Black Mirror” while Matt and Kurt praise another successful editing venture of the great Louis C.K. – of course it doesn’t stop there. We have Steve McQueen, Spike Lee and “that one about the Nazis” on Amazon TV; among many other tid-bits of discussion. We’re happy and honored that Sean could finally make an appearance and happy to hear of the many upcoming moments of greatness still to come from the Film Junk crew.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 

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Occultober – Day 6 – Event Horizon

Event Horizon
One of the few science fiction films featured here, this should be no surprise, because few are crazy enough to merge genres in this fashion and talented enough to pull it off.

I would never say that Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon is perfect. But it does have some incredibly scary moments, and a pretty sustained level or creepiness across the entire runtime of the film. That is if you can stomach the gorier moments in the film. It is kind of amazing that this was a studio released film with a sizeable budget, considering how graphic the imagery on display. Perhaps this is what endeared the film to me back when I caught in the theatres, the reviews were toxic and the film was a financial failure, but it has just a bit of je ne sais quoi (and two talented actors) to make the whole thing work. And it works well in the dark.

Laurence Fishburn captains rescue ship, commissioned by a scientist (Sam Neill) who hopes to find out what happened to the vessel knowns “Event Horizon” which disappeared, seven years prior but suddenly resurfaces in a decaying orbit around Neptune. The engine was a prototype designed to give faster than light travel by folding space, but instead, it may have opened a portal into another dimension, possibly to Hell.

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