It’s a pretty uneventful weekend after a busy one of last. Hubby and I opted for home cinema as I’ve already seen two of this weekend’s new releases: The Monuments Men and The LEGO movie. Click on the title to read my review of it, I actually agree with the critics on both films. It’s no wonder the latter is a big hit at the box office with nearly $70 mil, there’s really no competition for a family movie and it’s an awesome one for all ages!
I did see two very good older films I’ve missed out on: Europa Report and Pirate Radio [review coming next week]. I saw the latter partly as my attempt to see as many films of Philip Seymour Hoffman that I’ve missed out on. It can’t be more different in terms of tone and subject matter but I quite like both in varying degrees. Here’s my review of …
An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon called Europa.
This is not an action-packed kind of sci-fi movie like Elysium, so if you’re expecting that you’re probably not going to like this movie. It does start pretty slow but I quite like the realism style of filmmaking here, making it look more like a documentary that makes it look as if we’re watching real NASA footage. CEO of Europa Ventures Dr. Unger (Embeth Davitz) serves as a *talking head* of sort, explaining what happened with what’s happened in the Europa mission. The narrative switches back and forth between current time and flashback of the team of six astronauts who’re privately funded to explore one of Jupiter’s moons to see if there’s any potential sources of life.
The date on the screen shows that the crew has been on that ship for a long time, as weeks turns to months and even year. It’s fascinating to see the mood shift from the earlier time of the mission to the increasingly-dire time of their last days. There are barely any movie stars on this film, in fact there’s practically no leading role here as the ensemble cast seem to get equal screen time. I’ve loved Sharlto Copley from District-9, and there’s also Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist from the original Dragon Tattoo trilogy, plus Davitz who impressed me in Junebug and Mansfield Park. Those three are the only names I recognized in the film, but they as well as the entire International cast (Daniel Wu, Anamaria Marinca, Christian Camargo, and Karolina Wydra), did a nice job here.
There’s genuine tension throughout, which continues building as the ship lands somewhere and the crew start collecting Europa samples. One by one, each crew member is dealt a nasty blow, and the whole sequence felt all too real. In fact, one of the scenario of two space engineers Copley and Nyqvist, doing repair to the ship look so similar to an early scene in Gravity. This is definitely one of the most suspenseful and heart-wrenching scenes to watch, beautifully-acted by both actors. Props to director Sebastián Cordero for his effort considering this is only his fifth feature film.
Now, I’d have given this film a higher score if it weren’t for the rather clichéd ending that kind of make me roll my eyes. I was expecting something a bit more um, intelligent and realistic as that’s what the build-up seems to suggest. [SPOILER ALERT – highlight text if you want to read] I think if they’d go with some kind of natural gas/chemical substance that’s native to Europa but toxic to mankind and would also disrupt the ship’s electrical system, it’d have given the story a bit more weight. The whole ALIEN killing machine has been done to death and it makes the finale less impactful somehow.
My hubby said that as if the filmmakers were running out of ideas to end the film and just threw something together at the last minute. It’s a bummer as I think a bit more originality would’ve made this an excellent slow-burn sci-fi thriller. Still, it’s got enough going for it for me to recommend it if you’re a fan of the genre. I appreciate the performances and that it’s made in the true spirit of the sci-fi genre (see Conor’s article on this topic). The production values and effects are pretty good as well for its low budget of $10 mil.
3 out of 5 reels
What did YOU see this weekend? Any thoughts on Europa Report?
As part Anomalous Material’s Hollywood Fantasy Draft blog event, I posted my dream cast last week. Now check out the movie pitch below… tentatively titled …
The Renovaré Project
(Renovaré is Latin for “to renew” or “to restore”)
In the year of 3020, a fraction of the earth population are now living temporarily in a distant planet. A young military protégé on a mission back to earth discovers that everything he knows about the apocalyptic event is not what they seem. …
This untitled sci-fi drama is a mix of NBC’s The Event and the ‘V’ miniseries with elements of Equilibrium thrown in. It’s a story of overcoming unspeakable deception and the courage to fight against insurmountable odds in the name of humanity and love. Because of the nature of the storyline, the film will have more of an open-ended conclusion. I envision this to be a two-part or trilogy series.
It’s a post-apocalyptic setting… most of the world as we know it has been destroyed by a catastrophic meteor shower two years prior. Humanity is facing extinction on earth as only a select few of surviving humans are now living temporarily in a distant planet called Bhumi, a dystopian society that are far more structured and sterile-looking environment where diseases are rare and conflicts are minimized as the citizens have been “programmed” to obey and please authorities without question nor protest.
The Bhumi authorities are in fact an alien colony called the Luciens who are responsible for the meteor attacks. They are a highly-intelligent and technologically-advanced creatures who have shape-shifting abilities. They live off of minerals similar to what exists at the earth core, and their government is totalitarian in nature. They’re a slow-breeding race, so their population only numbering in the hundred of thousands. On top of that, the shrinking mineral resources on their planet slow down their reproduction ability even more.
A new leader in their society, who goes by the name Damien, wants to solve that problem, as well as create a perfect world of hybrid race of Luciens-humans who’d submit to him. The Luciens can’t simply invade earth because the high air pollution in the earth atmosphere endanger their health in much bigger impact than they do humans. Therefore, instead of a full-on invasion, the Luciens think it’s more effective to do it strategically and in phases. They’d obliterate most of the earth population (using their own bombs that are made to look like meteor attacks), sparing only those they deem intelligent enough to match their kind. These men and women are the chosen ones who were ‘rescued’ and trained months before the catastrophe happened, as they possess the skill set needed for the Renovaré project. The purpose of that is two-fold: One, to help rebuild earth once the effect of the meteor shower have subsided; and two, to be mated with their own kind to start the ‘perfect’ breed. The Luciens’ shape-shifting power enable them to blend in with humans and they use their supreme intelligence to gradually brainwash various earth leaders into believing meteor attacks are imminent and the only way to save what’s left of humanity is to create a temporary living quarter in a different planet.
All the human survivors now living in Bhumi have been brainwashed to think that Renovaré‘s main mission is to reset the world as we know it to improve or make it better. The film’s protagonist, Joshua Prescott, has been made leader of one of the ELITE team of the Renovaré Project because of his intelligence and military prowess. The team created by Bhumi’s new government to clean up and rebuild a new, better environment on earth. Bhumi is a relatively-small planet that will not big enough to accommodate Bhumi’s targeted population of the hybrid race, but they have to make sure the climate is ready for them to move in. It’s whilst on a mission back to earth that Joshua slowly learns the truth about what he’s been conditioned to believe… and suddenly he’s faced with a darker reality that is even more bleak than he’s ever thought or imagined.
The 40-year-old British director may be a relative unknown to most moviegoers, but in just the past 2 years, he’s directed two critically-acclaimed movies. His directing debut Moon won Best British Independent Film in 2009. I feel that he’s got the chops to create an emotionally-engaging sci-fi flick that is heavy on the plot and character-development and less about the bombastic action sequences. I also think he can handle the romantic aspect of the story, based on what I’ve seen in Source Code.
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Chris Hemsworth is Joshua Prescott, the film’s 31-year-old protagonist. Prescott is an aerospace engineer who’s also a pilot, tall and handsome in a grizzled kind of way, and a charismatic leader. He had just proposed to his long-time girlfriend Lena Bouvier when he’s recruited by the Luciens for the Renovaré project.
Viggo Mortensen is Bhumi’s Commander in Chief Damien and the film’s main villain. He’s the leader of the alien beings who are highly-intelligent and has shape-shifting abilities. Damien has the appearance of a man in his late 40s, charismatic with a quiet grace but is relentlessly ambitious to create a perfect ‘breed’ between his own kind and the ‘best’ of the human race.
Emily Blunt is Lena Bouvier, Joshua’s fiancée who survives the meteor strike and is a member of the remaining resistance group who knows about the Luciens and that they are behind the meteor attack. She is a nurse who’s in the middle of a night shift when the attack happens, but fortunately her father gets to her in the nick of time to bring her to safety.
Hugo Weaving plays Lena’s father, Léon Bouvier, a scientist who has been skeptical about the real cause of the meteor attack. Deeply distrustful of the government that grows increasingly strange in the months leading to the catastrophe, he builds a secretive underground scientific chamber for his research as well as hiding place. When Lena’s mother is killed in the attack, he grows even more vigorous in his quest to uncover the truth.
Romola Garai plays Saffron, the Lucien girl chosen by Damien as Joshua’s mate in Bhumi. She is one of the few female members of Damien’s ultra-secretive science program and is fiercely loyal to him and his cause. She’s been instrumental in the brainwashing process of Joshua and his team.
James Purefoy is Seth Jones, the leader of the earth’s resistance group in Europe. He lives in the same Scottish castle ruin where Lena and the remaining earth survivors dwell in. He’s a British air-force pilot whose family is killed during the meteor attack and shares Léon’s conspiracy theory of what happens on earth. He has feelings for Lena and after two years being heartbroken about Joshua, she finally opens up to him… that is until Joshua suddenly reappears.
Idris Elba plays Andrew Cudjoe, a former executive of a Global Natural Resources Corporation based in London. Because of the company’s main focus in mining, processing, and energy operations, the Luciens have surveyed his company for information even a year before the meteor attack. Andrew is Vivien’s husband, but they were separated when she got recruited by the Luciens. He’s now become Seth’s right hand man in the resistance.
Thandie Newton plays a sculpture artist Vivien, whose beauty catches Damien’s eye. She has been Damien’s lover in the past two years though like Joshua, she too has been haunted by dreams of a man she doesn’t remember. She has become attached to Damien but somehow can’t shake the feeling that there is something strange about life in Bhumi and that Damien might be keeping something from her.
Sir Sean Connery plays an ailing Protestant pastor Charles Wilby, whose son is also recruited by the Luciens. Even though he’s injured in the meteor attack, he’s been ministering the group of people to remain hopeful of a better reality despite the circumstances. He dies shortly after Joshua tells him that he’s met his son who’s one of the engineer in Bhumi’s central station.
ADDITIONAL CAST: Jamie Bamber – Michael, Charles Wilby’s only son Sean Bean – A Lucien general, Damien’s right hand man David Bowie – Cameo as a Lucien cleric
Two years after the meteor strike, a dozen group consisting of about 24 people are sent to survey various areas of earth. They’re tasked to make sure earth is ‘ready’ to be rebuilt and report back to Bhumi’s authorities. All the human survivors now living in Bhumi have been brainwashed to think that Renovaré’s main mission is to ‘reset’ the world as we know it to improve or make it better.
Joshua Prescott is the leader of Faction 316 consisting of eight men to survey the area of formerly the UK, and set up their station in a Scottish moor. In their sixth day, they come across a group of survivors living in the basement of a castle ruin. They survive on canned foods and water they’ve managed to collect just before the meteor strike. Prescott and his team have orders from the Renovaré general to execute survivors because of threat of meteoric ‘poison’ that will potentially contaminate the area and endanger the lives of the survivors who’d later occupy the space. Prescott normally have no problem obeying orders, as he believes that sacrifices have to be made for the greater good. But when he meets Lena, a beautiful woman who’s rumpled and scrawny given the circumstances, it’s as if he’s seeing the woman in his dreams, so he’s unable to kill her and her friends. He orders his team not to harm the group.
It turns out there are imperfections in the Luciens’ memory erase program. On some individuals, the procedure has ‘leaks’ in that the subject will recall bits and pieces of their past in the form of dreams. In the last few months leading up to the mission, Joshua has been dreaming more frequently of Lena, but he has no idea who she is. The fact is, Joshua and Lena had gotten engaged just months before he’s recruited by the Luciens and had his memory wiped out. In Bhumi, Joshua has been involved with another woman, Saffron, a Lucien chosen by Damien specifically for him, yet he can’t help feeling drawn to Lena. Joshua doesn’t remember Léon even though he was pretty close with Lena’s father prior to being recruited. This convinces Léon even more that something has been done to these human recruits that causes them to lose their memory.
Seth sees Joshua as a personal rival as well as a threat to his group. The next day, he and a few of his loyal men launch an attack against Joshua, which results in several of Seth’s group getting killed in the process. Léon begs Seth for cease fire and tells him that that he believes Joshua is the key to knowing the truth about what really happened. Joshua is the only one who can provide proof of the Luciens’ existence, besides, the resistance is no match to the much more well-equipped Renovaré team. Seth reluctantly agrees.
Meanwhile, Joshua’s dreams of Lena are getting more intense ever since he came back to earth, to the point that he would wake up weeping uncontrollably. Frantically, he goes back to see Lena and Léon and find them in the middle of a praying session with Charles, whose condition is getting worsened because of the injury he sustained during the meteor attack. Yet his eyes are still full of hope as he reaches for Joshua’s hands to calm him down. He tells him about his son Michael who’s about the same age as Joshua and proceeds to show him a torn picture of him that Charles carries with him at all times. Joshua recognizes Michael as one of the engineers working at Bhumi’s central station and when he informs Charles this, the ailing 75-year-old makes Joshua promise that he’d make things right and help the survivors find the truth. The next day, Charles dies.
Joshua now feels torn between his allegiance to Damien and a life he’s grown accustomed to in Bhumi, and his strong feelings and deep empathy for Lena and the resistance group. Despite what he’s learned on earth, he still can’t fathom that Bhumi is ruled by an alien race as they look and behave just like humans. A week later, right before he makes a quick trip to Bhumi to report to Damien, Andrew finds Joshua behind Seth’s back and tells him about a strange visit he encountered in his office just weeks before the meteor attack and how his guests were very interested about the iron ore-grade commercial mining operations in various parts of the world. He doesn’t know what it all means, but figures that it might provide a clue to the origins of the Luciens. Joshua notices a tattoo of a woman’s face on Andrew’s arm, she is the splitting image Damien’s lover but he refrains from saying anything.
Back in Bhumi, Joshua and Saffron are invited to dinner by Damien at his compound. Damien is very fond of Joshua and tells him of his grand vision for earth. Joshua does his best to pretend everything is ok, but every time he looks at Vivien, he can’t help wondering her connection with Andrew. He also feels incredibly uneasy to share a room with Saffron because of his feelings for Lena, and refuses to sleep with her. In the middle of the night, he leaves his room to get some air in a secluded lake. He finds Vivien there and Joshua uses the opportunity to ask her about Andrew. Sure enough, Joshua’s description of Andrew fits the picture of the man in her dreams. Joshua tells Vivien what he learns from earth and Vivien breaks down in tears and Joshua consoles her in his embrace, telling her to make sure to keep this a secret for now. At this point, Saffron sees the two of them and thinks they’re having an affair.
The next day, Saffron confronts Joshua and threatens to tell Damien about the affair. Joshua denies it but Saffron refuses to believe him, and in a moment of panic, he lunges at her and accidentally knocks her unconscious. That night, he drugs Saffron and takes her to earth to be examined by Léon. Indeed he finds an alien DNA in Saffron, thus proving his theory. Joshua goes berserk realizing he’s been utterly betrayed and lied for the past three years, and immediately wants to return to Bhumi to kill Damien. But Lena stops him, telling him that being brash about this might actually cost them dearly. Damien is so powerful that he not only would kill Joshua but could also wipe out the surviving earth population. Right now, the human population controlled by the Luciens in Bhumi outnumbered the survivors, so the only way to fight against the alien colony is by setting the humans free of the Luciens’ ‘spell.’
Joshua realizes there is not a lot of time before Damien finds out about Saffron and his team members to grow suspicious of his activities on earth. It turns out there is a mole on his team who saw Joshua sneaks Saffron to earth. He alerts Damien immediately unbeknownst to Joshua who’s on the way back to Bhumi. Damien is furious and in his wrath, he trashes Joshua’s compound. Vivien tries to provide an alibi for Joshua but Damien accuses her for conspiring against him and in his rage, he chokes her to death.
Damien orders his subordinates to capture Joshua who’s still en route to Bhumi. Joshua notices there are three military planes trailing him, and an intense air chase ensues. Joshua’s plane is hit but he manages to land about twenty miles from his earthbound station right in the middle of a thunderstorm. But by now he can’t go back there because members of his Faction are loyal to Damien. He has no way of contacting Léon to run away, so he must kill his former team mates because they know the location to the resistance group’s hiding place. He gets into a shootout with members of his Faction, which leads into a chase across the hilly Scottish moor. Joshua is the best-trained shooters in Bhumi, so he manages to kill them all but he does get shot in the left shoulder. Seth ends up finding him unconscious just a mile outside of the compound and brings him inside. When Joshua wakes up the next day, Lena has treated his wound and tells him Seth rescued him. She tells Joshua she was terrified of losing him again. Though he still doesn’t remember her, he falls for her all over again and they share a kiss.
Léon is ecstatic that his future son-in-law has returned and he tells the group a new hope has arrived. The resistance group welcomes Joshua with open arms, and even Andrew who’s been Seth’s best friend, proclaims that he could be the group’s new leader. Joshua suddenly realizes Seth isn’t amongst the crowd. Joshua searches for Seth to thank him for saving his life, but finds neither he nor Saffron are in the compound.
Joshua and Lena marry in a small ceremony. There is a new hope for the resistance group now that Joshua is on their side. But it’s no time for celebration as they have to move to a different hiding place in case the Luciens find out their current whereabouts. There’s also a whole new uncertainties concerning Seth and Saffron.
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.
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.