Film Junk Take Two: Chappie and Robot & Frank

take2chappierobotfrank

Take Two is a new feature where we arbitrarily choose two movies and compare them. Then we call out the smart moves, the epic misses, and leave you with a takeaway. Assuming there is one. Let the comments begin.

As a warm up for the release of Ex Machina, our third Take Two compares two movies that would seem to be the same. They both take a well worn SF subject: robots and their relations with humans. But their treatments are both stylistically and emotionally quite different. Chappie is about a robot trying to become human. Robot and Frank is about a robot that knows he is a robot. And doesn’t care about becoming human. And then in a coincidence of cosmic proportions, both movies take different directions to arrive at a single emotional moment that is identical right down to the blocking and camera angle. Only on Film Junk will you get this kind of stuff.

Warning: Light spoilers ahead. However, if you haven’t seen these movies by now, you’re probably in the wrong seat.

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Film Junk Take Two: Snowpiercer and District 9

take2_district9snowpiercer

Take Two is a new feature where we arbitrarily choose two movies and compare them. Then we call out the smart moves, the epic misses, and leave you with a takeaway. Assuming there is one. Let the comments begin.

In our second Take Two, we look at the recent Snowpiercer and one of the better SF films of recent years, District 9. Not an odd pairing at all, they both explore the effects of social injustice. In Snowpiercer, it’s about what humans in a confined, self-sustaining environment do to each other. In District 9, the players are humans and aliens. The aliens come off as well as the humans.

Warning: Light spoilers ahead. However, if you haven’t seen these movies by now, you’re probably in the wrong seat.

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Film Junk Take Two: Prometheus and Interstellar

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Watching movies and teasing out their greatness is fun. Our new Take Two column introduces the next level of film appreciation while making it easier to come up with sharp opinions and comments that kill. Here’s the way it works: we arbitrarily (very arbitrarily) pair two movies. (Veteran commenters will immediately recognize their first chance to criticize). The movies will have similarities and differences. We call them out to make interesting points, reveal classic director’s moves, and expose takeaways that will have you thinking. When you’re finished, the two films will be totally refreshed. And you may have even changed your mind about which one works better for you.

Our first Take Two is Prometheus (Ridley Scott) and Interstellar (Christopher Nolan). Simply viewed, they are both about galactic journeys. One is a quest for knowledge and the other, for survival. Common SF tropes of course, but with these two directors at the top of their game, it’s fun to see how they bring them to life (or not).

Warning: Light spoilers ahead. However, if you haven’t seen these movies by now, you’re probably in the wrong seat.

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Quantum Entanglement: How Interstellar Got the Science Right But the Human Math Wrong

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Warning: This article contains light spoilers for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.

“So Mr. Nolan you want to make a movie about a father and daughter who share a powerful love for each other but time dilation turns it into a real bummer? Hmmm. Love meets general relativity, you say. Well nobody’s done that before.”

When you learn a little about the quantum (sub-atomic) world, it’s easy to understand why Nolan and his physicist buddy, Kip Thorne, could get so inspired. These theories about the tiny stuff everything is made of are so tantalizing (and overwhelmingly counter-intuitive) that when melded with great human themes, the artistic potential is legitimately and (maybe literally) mindblowing. But creatively the two elements of humanity and quantum physics are not an easy fit as Nolan finds out in Interstellar.

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From Steampunk to Space Cowboys: Movies That Combine Sci-Fi and Western Sensibilities

Sheriff! There’s a stranger rid into town and he ain’t using no horse!

As you might imagine, the subject of cowboys and SF is in the front row because of Cowboys and Aliens opening this past weekend. The question is: just how did moviemakers get from westerns to outer space so effortlessly? How is it the horsepower age became an endless source of plasma drive adventures? Just as important – how successful have these films been – classics or tagged for disposal in the local black hole?

Here’s how Film Junk looks at it.

First, a director will set his or her film on a vast frontier. Then add a rugged individualist (maybe even an outlaw or a bounty hunter). Make law and order shaky at best. Mix in an ethnic conflict or a territorial dispute and explore the moral dilemmas. What do you have? A western or science fiction? What’s on their heads – hats or space helmets? And even with that giveaway, some of our best filmmakers have still found ways to blend these two genres into engaging films that stand on their own.

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Battle: Los Angeles Review

Battle: Los Angeles
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Written by: Chris Bertolini
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Michael Pena, Bridget Moynahan, Ne-Yo

Battle: Los Angeles is really two movies. One is a disappointing SF film about an alien invasion. The other is an earnest, reasonably authentic war movie, which in its best moments recreates what it must be like to be embedded with real troops. Unfortunately it has some worst moments too. If you enjoy video games, Battle: Los Angeles is ready for you to boot up. You’ll feel right at home except for not having your M16 of course. For SF admirers, aside from the alien hardware and a fresh reason to be invaded, there’s not much here for you.

Leading the platoon (and giving the movie a fighting chance) is Aaron Eckhart. As Staff Sgt. Michael Nantz, the invasion puts his resignation on hold and gives him a new 2nd Lt. – William Martinez – to report to. It’s made clear up front that, in spite of a haunted past, the Staff Sgt will quickly become Martinez’s mentor as the 2nd Lt. grows into a leader. (If this is starting to sound familiar, yes it is). The film quickly introduces the men in the group but spends no time going past stereotypes. As the alien beachhead storms ashore in Santa Monica, the surfers are easily overrun and our platoon is thrown into the deep end.

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The Ultimate Body Piercing: A 10MP Camera Bolt-on for the Back of Your Head

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, an NYU assistant arts professor has implanted a camera lens in the back of his head. With no record of his early nomadic years in the Middle East, his motivation is to document his next year, apparently in arrears. However, the camera will not be live 24/7 as might be expected from such a committed individual. Aside from his evenings (sleeping is apparently quite uncomfortable), during the day, he wears a lens cap to protect NYU students’ privacy. (Using a flap of skin or comb over was not considered reliable).

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The Game Has Changed: A Film Junk Exposé on Performance-Capture Technology Starting with Tron: Legacy

“I’ve worked real hard to get this part and no freakin’ code is going to screw me over!”

On a promotional tour for Tron:Legacy, Jeff Bridges made an intriguing comment. He said the day might come when he could appear in movies without actually acting. “I could still make films,” he told The Daily Mail. “I can say, ‘I’ll lease you my image’”. He was too polite to add that if you lease my image, it will cost x. If you hire me to do the acting as well, it will cost more than x. This is going to be huge.

In Tron:Legacy, the film’s lead, Sam Flynn is drawn into the digital world of Tron and not only finds his father but a younger version of his father. Jeff Bridges plays both father parts. (Hint: No make-up is used in the creation of the younger Bridges). Eric Barba, visual effects supervisor describes how:

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Skyline Review

Skyline
Directed by: Colin and Greg Strause
Written by: Joshua Cordes, Liam O’Donnell
Starring: Eric Balfour, Donald Faison, Brittany Daniel, Scottie Thompson, David Zayas

Skyline isn’t quite the penthouse – it’s more like a second floor walk-up.

Its lumpy story arc, profusion of vanishing plot elements, and inadvertent humor (second hand smoke) are easy targets for reviewers who only live to snark. So, spoiler alert – no snark in this review (well, maybe just a little). But in spite of these haute cinematique defects, in Skyline, The Brothers Strause (as they would like to be known) earnestly strive to give you an authentic alien invasion experience. Unfortunately, they need human characters to propel the story and engage our emotion. That’s where they come up a little short but, I suspect, not short enough to ruin a nicely detailed alien onslaught for SF fans.

With an excellent SFX resume (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 2012, Fast and Furious) it’s no wonder The Brothers Strause introduce the movie’s lead – Eric Balfour as Jarrod – as a special FX genius called to L.A. to sign on with a well-known rapper. Jarrod’s “got the eye” and knows that “computers are just tools” so it’s a good fit for everyone except the writer of that line. Unfortunately, before Jarrod can bring his eye to bear on creative issues, the invaders fill his optics with more compelling sensations and his demise in the first reel is barely averted.

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Between Dimensions: Babylon A.D. (2008)

Between Dimensions is a continuing feature that examines science-fiction on the screen in all of its forms: big or small, good or bad.

Babylon A.D. should have been called Babylon A.D.D. for Attention Deficit Disorder. This overstuffed film from Vin Diesel and Director Mathieu Kassovitz defines helter skelter for the new millennium. The story tries to focus on an unusually gifted child (she spoke 19 languages at the age of 2) who is competitively coveted by a religious group and a brilliant scientist. That’ s Theme One. Vin plays Toorop, a man-about-dystopia, who is hired to get the child (Aurora) from A to B – in this case from a Chechnya-like Russia to a glossy upgrade of the USA. (A similar story was presented infinitely better in Children of Men. Focus Vin. Focus.)

Along the journey, the filmmakers share their views on where the world is headed. Themes Two to Five include omnipresent hi-tech surveillance; bio-tech births and resurrections; nuclear missile proliferation; man’ s inhumanity to man; mercenaries for religion. There are more. And Vin Diesel is asked to keep it all afloat. You just know this ship is going to spring a leak somewhere.

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Inception: Quantum Dreaming or Just Another Summer Action Movie?

Inception. It’s an action thriller about people sleeping. Really.

A filmmaker’s greatest challenge is getting the audience to suspend its disbelief. After about 30 minutes of Inception, the new thriller from Christopher Nolan, I had suspended disbelief. Not easily, but I did. But then another 30 minutes later, I had to do it again. And 45 minutes on, once again. By the time Inception finished, I was exhausted. I had suspended disbelief so often I wasn’t sure where I was for real. Which maybe is what Nolan was after. I just don’t think he wanted me to get there that way.

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6 Rules for Making an Academy Award-Worthy Alien

A good alien is arguably the holy grail of SF film. And with the developments in CGI and motion capture in the last decade, we have arrived at an authenticity point. It allows me to confidently predict that in the next five years we will see the first engaging, plausible, awesomely strange alien in a movie. (I have used all these adjectives to eliminate Jar Jar Binks although any one of them would have sufficed.)

Computers and brilliant software have made this quest legitimate. From their light but effective use in Predator to the breakthrough Gollum (strictly speaking not an alien, but cut me some slack — it’s still early in the article) through the Alien series to the first virtual alien character Christopher Johnson of District 9, we have hybrid CGI characters making movies better. I haven’t included the Na’vi as they are essentially blue humans, not an otherworldly species. But to give Avatar credit, its heavy lifting has ensured that some future director will finally create an authentic exotic alien.

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