Thursday Movie Picks #53: Science Fiction Movies (No Space/Aliens)

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! This is another entry to the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog. Here’s the gist:

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… 

Science Fiction Movies (No Space/Aliens)

It’s interesting that the requirement for this sci-fi genre is no space/aliens as a lot of my favorites in this genre aren’t the ones with aliens in them. In fact, I love sci-fis that don’t look or feel science fiction-y, in fact, intriguing sci-fis are those with rich layers of human drama that remind us what it means to be humans.

I immediately thought of including Ex Machina here, but I decided not to include something from this year. Instead, I’m selecting three from the past few years that have a small/modest budget (under $25 mil) that have made a big impression on me:

Predestination (2014)

The life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.

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As I mentioned in my review, the less you know about the plot the better the experience. Since I was just talking about directing duos, I have to mention the Spierig Brothers who also made this vampire sci-fi Daybreakers. The premise is rather bizarre and definitely not an easy one to grasp, but it’s well worth a watch. I like how the film started out with a bang but then the pace slows down considerably in the first act as we’re introduced to the characters played by Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. The odd pacing seems deliberate and I actually think it’s pretty effective and engrossing in getting us to care about their journey. Snook is quite a revelation here and I kept hoping to see her getting prominent roles.

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HER (2013)

A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with his newly purchased operating system that’s designed to meet his every need.

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Once in a while, a film you hadn’t heard much about suddenly sneaked in and took your breath away. In 2013, that film for me was HER. That’s what I wrote in my review over a year ago, and there’s still very few films that affected me emotionally the way this one did.

There are many robot/human *love* stories that’s been done time and again but what Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) experienced with Samantha (voiced brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson) is quite unlike any other. For one, there’s no physical presence of Samantha in the film but yet her presence is felt so viscerally. I’m going to borrow my from my own review… This is the kind of thought-provoking science fiction story that I wish Hollywood would make more of. Sci-fi is not always about aliens or cool-looking futuristic equipments or cars or what have you, but a good sci-fi should actually makes us ponder about our own humanity. I realize this film isn’t for everyone as there are a few people I recommended this to that aren’t wowed by it. That said, I think you owe it to yourself to at least give this one a shot.

Never Let Me Go (2010)

A love triangle develops between three friends who came of age at a mysterious, secluded boarding school and are destined to lead brief lives.

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This is another film where the less you know about the plot the better. If you just look at still photos or even the poster (which you can see on my review post), you’d never thought this is a sci-fi. It looks more like a mystery drama, and I think that’s the vibe director Mark Romanek was going for. Working from Alex Garland’s script, who later made his directorial debut in Ex Machina, the pace is decidedly slow and graceful in the way things unfold. The romantic drama sensibilities offer a stark contrast to the cerebral sci-fi nature of the story. I really need to watch this again, but I remember being really absorbed by this film. Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield are excellent here, it’s still one of my favorite performance from both of them even after seeing more of their work. It’s also exquisitely-shot in muted hues that perfectly match the somber tone of the film.

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What do you think of my sci-fi picks this week? Have you seen any of these films?

 

Weekend Roundup: Never Let Me Go review

Welcome to May, everybody. For having endured a pretty cold and snowy Winter, I’m certainly glad Spring has arrived and Summer is upon us! I was fortunate enough to watch not one but two excellent sci-fi movies this weekend, a genre I like especially if it’s the thought-provoking kind. And both Never Let Me Go and Source Code (to be reviewed at a later date) definitely fit that category.

NEVER LET ME GO

I first heard about this film when I saw the absolutely gorgeous, evocative poster for it and it’s one of my top ten fave posters last year. I was so intrigued when I saw the mysterious trailer that I had to find out what the Kazuo Ishiguro‘s novel is all about. All I can tell you is that the trailer did a fantastic job in keeping the twist under wraps.

The film tells us right away in its opening text that there has been a medical breakthrough in 1952 that is key to expanding the human lifespan beyond 100 years. Carey Mulligan narrates the story with an ever soothing voice as 28-year-old Kathy H. (It’s reminiscent of Cate Blanchett’s as Galadriel in the Lord of The Rings) and the film is seen through her viewpoint. The film then goes into flashback mode into Kathy’s childhood in an idyllic English boarding school named Hailsham, where she befriended Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield).

The kids at Hailsham, live in a world and time that seems familiar to us, but yet as the scenes unfold, we have an inkling that it’s quite unlike anything we know or experience. For one, none of us have to scan our wrist going in and out a building. The headmaster tell the kids that they are ‘special’ and keeping themselves healthy is a paramount importance, which should clue you in about the very purpose of their existence. Words like ‘completion’, ‘deferral’ and ‘carer’ all have totally different meaning when used in the context of their situation. The reaction of the outside world, such as the way the delivery people look at them, also provide clues to the kind of realities Kathy, Ruth and Tommy face.

The monumental question of ‘what does it mean to be human?‘ isn’t something new, plenty of other films before it such as Blade Runner have made us ponder about the ‘who, what, where and why’ of our existence and its fleeting nature. But what’s unique about Mark Romanek‘s direction from Alex Garland’s script is that the film doesn’t feel like you are watching a sci-fi. The subtle way the haunting realities are revealed are ever so subtle, but the impact are no less pungent. Yes, the pace is decidedly s-l-o-w, but I actually appreciate its gracefulness and understated elegance. The romantic drama sensibilities offer a stark contrast to the cerebral sci-fi nature of the story.

This film is achingly painful to watch at times… and stays with me long after the credits roll. Though the author and filmmaker don’t spoon-feed their opinions on the matter, it’s arguably a cautionary tale against science in the absence of ethics, no matter how ‘noble’ the cause seems to be. I hope people who watch this realize what happens when they try to play God. The unnerving part for me is how the subjects themselves react to the fate they’re subjected to before they’re even formed, even when Tommy screams of injustice (in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes), that’s as far as it goes. The same way when Kathy experiences a personal betrayal from someone closest to her, there’s not a hint of retaliation on her part. Perhaps that’s how they’re ‘wired’… I don’t know, but it’s heartbreaking to watch.

It’s hard to say that I ‘enjoyed’ this film because of the reasons stated above, but I have to say I admire and appreciate it immensely. Beautifully-shot in muted hues that perfectly match the somber tone of the film, it also boast top notch performances. As Paolo noted in his comment on the poster post, I too am glad that Knightley plays second fiddle to Mulligan here, and not the other way around. I compared Mulligan’s voice to Blanchett’s above, and I could easily say the same thing about her nuanced acting. I’m already impressed by her performance in An Education, and she proves once again she’s one of the best young actresses working today. Garfield and Knightley are both good and affecting in their roles, and Izzy Meikle-Small is brilliant as well as the younger Kathy. But it’s Mulligan who carries this movie with her refined poise, she truly is the heart and soul of the movie. Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins also turn in memorable performances as teachers of Hailsham who ultimately don’t see eye to eye about the mission of the school.

Overall, it’s a rather bleak piece but one that’s worth a watch for those on the lookout for an exquisitely-done sci-fi drama that packs an emotional wallop. This one definitely won’t be just a fleeting existence in my cinematic memory.

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Well, what did you end up seeing this weekend? Or if you’ve seen Never Let Me Go, I’d love to hear what you think.