Sci-Fi

Primer

I’ve been sitting on this one a while as it is a part of one of my favourite memories. The first time I watched the amazing hidden gem, Primer,  was with my younger brother. Baffled after first viewing, we spent a couple hours online and with pens and paper trying to map out the whole thing. After that, we headed back into the living room and watched it again on the same night (while standing on an ottoman for the second half since we saw a silverfish and were too scared/ enthralled in our re-watch to deal with it).  I wish I still had the chicken scratch timeline map we’d created during watch #2.

Somewhat like Predestination, this is not a movie to watch while cruising twitter. Seriously, this is a lesson, bring a pen.

This absolutely sparking hidden gem centers around four friends attempting to build an error checking device.  In doing so, they stumble across a finite time travel with specific rules.  In doing so, everything they are is tested in front of the backdrop of “what would you do with that kind of power?”

This movie is as confusing as it is groundbreaking.  On a minimal budget with suggestions of science magic, these 4 friends embark on a journey of time travel that tests every fiber of them and their very humanity.  As these guys fit in the category of your average middle class ‘guy,’ it becomes more relatable than, say, Biff Tannen’s experience in time travel.

While this movie is an actual mindF*** (I’m looking at you, Inception), it is ultimately completely sensical and follows a specific set of rules making it reconcilable with some attention.  That’s because Shane Carruth, writer, director and star (he also composed the score), is a software engineer and mathematics major turned filmmaker.  He planned every second of this movie so well, that you’ll know it makes sense, but probably have to draw it out at least once.

While this trailer isn’t TOO spoilery, I definitely prefer that I went into this movie fresh (I didn’t even know it was about time travel for a bit).  That said, give it a glance to see the tone and vibe of it all.  It’s not the sparkling epic of your average time travel movie, it’s a much more subtle approach to the genre.  Also, if you’ve studied software engineering at all (I have in a very removed way in a philosophy course on the functions of the human mind, so I mean it when I say “at all”), you will really pick up on how those functions were important in the mapping of this flick.

Watch this one when you’re still awake enough to spend time and attention on it.  For me, that meant a 4 am re-watch standing on an ottoman.  Aka, absolute perfection in movie viewing.

Great if you liked: Predestination, Pi, Back to the Future, Inception, Moon, Interstellar, Timecrimes, Timelapse, Arq, Donnie Darko, Looper, 12 Monkeys

Equilibrium

Remember all those books you read in high school about the dystopian future? Fahrenheit 451? The Handmaid’s Tale? The Giver? 1984? All ‘dem? Now imagine someone took all of those, added pre-Batman Christian Bale, some ridiculous gun fighting and made it into a badass sci fi action flick. Boom. Equilibrium.

Don’t let writer/ director Kurt Wimmer’s tendency toward unnecessary remakes scare you, this totally original (well, save for the books mentioned above) sci fi is an absolutely wonderful self contained story line.

In the not so distant future, the government has suppressed all emotion with the mandate of preventing war via a drug to be taken at required intervals.  (The giver, anyone? #Soma).  Along with doing so, all sources of emotion are contraband and, if found, burned on site. (451, anyone?).  John Preson is a cleric tasked with maintaining the world order.  After meeting a woman who has been off her drugs, before her execution, Preston questions his emotionless lifestyle.  After slipping up, he seeks out the resistance and considers the uprising.

There was a while when ipod video was still a thing and this was the only flick I had saved on mine, so I watched it far too many times.  But with the current “rise up” climate, this one comes straight back to me.

This is a really fun take on the dystopian drama that will ease you into wanting the more heavy stuff. I just blew through V for Vendetta and am on kind of a resistance rebel kick, and this blends in seamlessly.

And side note, the whole gun fighting thing is actually pretty dope.

Great if you liked: 1984, The Giver, Batman Begins (ugh), The Prestige (also ugh, but same Bale, I guess), The Matrix, V for Vendetta, Minority Report, Gattaca

Monsters

I was lucky enough to catch this one on TV so long ago.  It always stuck with me, yet I never remembered enough about it to find it again.  It wasn’t until Batman v Superman when I recognized Scott McNairy as Wallace Keefe that I was just an imdb rabbit hole away from finding this gem.  (At least something good came out of that movie, ammiright, people?)

Monsters is one of the few sci-fi/ horror films to take place AFTER the planet changing event and show life on earth in the aftermath. (Think District 9 or 28 Weeks Later).  It has the creepy vibe of movies like The Mist and Signs, only it’s actually good. (Ammiright, people?)

After a probe sent to collect samples of extraterrestrial life crash lands between the US and Mexico, an outbreak of “creatures” spreads through a land mass between the two countries.  The area is surrounded and labeled the “infected zone” where few would dare set foot.  The zone is surrounded by military and filled with citizens refusing to leave their homes behind.  Andrew, a photographer looking to document the infection, is tasked with bringing his publication owner’s daughter home from Mexico.  After some unfortunate events, Andrew and Sam are unable to pass safely to the US and must cross through the infected zone to get home.

What is really cool about this movie is the realistic view of humanity in a universe where an alien creature has taken over part of their land.  The citizens living in a war zone are all too reminiscent of… real citizens living in real war zones.  Andrew, as a member of the media, acts for the viewer in questioning why these people would behave as they do and brave what they have. It paints a seemingly realistic picture of a war torn or “infected zone” in reality. Andrew and Sam act as the sheltered Americans who see the real fear on TV and prepare to return to their lives in their suburban homes and real life relationships after braving a real life conflict.

I’ll note, this isn’t the aliens vs humans war movie the trailer makes it appear.  It is much more about the human condition.  But also we see a lot of aliens which is dope.

Great if you liked: District 9, War of the Worlds, The Mist, Signs, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later

Southland Tales

Guys, I am still pretty sure the end of the world is imminent, and we’re way passed Idiocracy.

I give you a less comedic, and yet, completely insane telling of the world’s ultimate demise, Southland Tales. “Not with a whimper, with a bang.”

Set in an alternate LA just before July 4, 2008, this flick tells the interwoven stories of an amnesiac action star (The Rock), a police officer (Sean William Scott), a tripped out soldier (Justin Timberlake), a porn star (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and, I don’t know, half the cast of SNL and a gaggle of B list stars, teeing up to a 4th of July celebration that may or may not be the apocalypse.

From the mindhouse of the guy behind Donnie Darko, this bent timeline ensemble is an insanely fun star studded romp that, while pretty out there, rings a little bit true.  Made in 2007, the porn star trying to get a reality show story seemed somewhat far fetched.  Call in 2016, and the satirical alternate LA seems all too real.

Aside from it’s… story, this movie is also a lot of fun when treated like an anthology of scenes.  It has the futuristic campness of an acid trip Blade Runner, a soundtrack that dreams are made of, and scenes that could be standalone short films.  Timberlake has a music video like interlude that is his complete antithesis and, alone, is a great film. (See below if you need convincing)…. (Honestly, it could be a standalone short film about a veteran returning from war, turning to illegitimate work after being left behind by the government after a war injury, PTSD, valuing over masculinity, and vets turning to drugs.  And watch Justin do his best to hide his Justin-ness, and at 2:40, let his Justin-ness spill over into a casual dance move).

It’s campy.  It’s crazy.  It’s real.  It’s allegorical.  It’s biblical. It’s a TRIP. It’s full of space and future bullshit.  It’s sci fi.  It’s comedy. It’s star studded. Honestly, look at the cast.  Most are bona fide standalone characters, but it also gives it that “everyone in hollywood showed up to add a layer of cameo” vibe from bonkers flicks like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It’s also full of quotes that are completely unquotable and yet, you’ll want them on an inspirational poster.

It’s also pretty long and comes with a comic book prequel, so save it for a Sunday if you’re willing to dive right in.

Great if you liked: Blade Runner, Idiocracy, Donnie Darko, Dr. Strangelove

Predestination

It’s Tuesday.  Perfect time for some thinking Sci-Fi in Predestination.

Ethan Hawke stars as a Temporal agent on the hunt for a criminal, the Fizzle Bomber, who has eluded him through time.  A Temporal agent’s duties involve intricate travels through time to ensure their law enforcement exists “through eternity.” On his final mission, he is to take out his elusive white whale.

Dripping with unseen hints, a story is told to the agent by a bar patron (who oddly looks a lot like Leonardo DiCaprio) of  Jane, of a shattered career, lost love, and the amazing feats of human kind.

You could see two different trailers for this film and think they’re completely unrelated.  But they’re not.  Watch closely.

Predestination is great for, among other reasons, the fact that it plays with our linear sense of time.  Typically, we see time as a straight line from past, present to future.  For our Temporal Agent, his past, present and future transcends our timeline and exists in a line linear to his age, but not through that of our universe. (Whoooaaaa).

This is one of the highest quality, in both production value and story, sci fi films that I have seen come out of the festival circuit.  Based on a short story by the legendary Robert A. Heinlein, and adapted for film by the makers of Daybreakers, this is not one to go missed.

Amazing if you liked: Daybreakers, Looper, Source Code, In Time, Snowpiercer, Minority Report

Attack the Block

If you’ve heard me say “bruv” (and if you know me, you have), Attack the Block is the flick that got me saying it. This British sci fi follows a street gang in Brixton that stumbles across and kills an alien creature that pops out from a meteorite. Preparing for fame, they scoop up their creature to bring to “Hi-Hatz,” their weed dealer in their building. Things go “awry” when more meteorites land, dropping black, hairy, scary aliens that terrorize their surroundings.

John Boyega kills it in his feature debut as Moses, the gang’s leader. It’s a fun picture of British street gang life, and an unbelievable version of the “we’re under attack, what do we do?” trope.

This flick is so much fun and has a very cool “trapped in a tenement” sort of vibe with varying types of “rooms” that we liked in flicks like Snowpiercer (never heard of it? It’s coming up) and the book World War Z.

This is a great film if you liked: Kingsman: The Secret Service, any zombie movie, The Raid, Dredd3D