Sci-Fi

Serial Experiments Lain

Championing anime, especially something as wondrously bizarre as Serial Experiments Lain, is a worthy cause, but I still can’t make heads or tails of The Daily Beast’s accusation that Hollywood sci-fi films are ripping off anime. Vague and accusatory headline in tow, author David Levesley points out cosmetic similarities between recent science fiction studio fare and well-regarded anime gems with the added (hand-drawn) cherry on top of claiming filmmakers won’t own up to the work they’re stealing from. It’s a bombastic statement (that probably feels gut-level correct for anyone who thinks “Hollywood is out of ideas” is both true and a response for everything), but the gruel here is so clear that it’s see-through. It’s an impotent, misplaced rant with an uncomfortable cultural angle. The quick and dirty comparisons from the piece include: Transcendence = Serial Experiments Lain (and unnamed multitudes) because they both include a person being uploaded to a computer upon death. The Hunger Games = Battle Royale (an old favorite) Inception = Paprika because they both involve a dream machine Pacific Rim = Neon Genesis Evangelion because of the mechs Her = Chobits because they both have a love story between man and compu-lady These similarities would be damning evidence of rip offs…if anime were the only storytelling well of the past two thousand years.

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Back to the Future

All this week, Film School Rejects presents a daily dose of our favorite articles from the archive. Originally published in August 2011, Kevin Carr celebrates a Movie We Love, Back to the Future. Fitting, as today is November 12, the 58th anniversary of the famous Hill Valley Thunderstorm… Marty McFly is just your typical high school kid who has his own rock band, rides a skateboard to school every day and wants to make out with his girlfriend in his own car on the weekend. He also has a inexplicably close relationship with zany Doc Brown down the road, but that’s all okay because that guy has just invented a time machine out of a sports car. After the terrorists that gave Doc Brown the plutonium to get the time machine working come after them with big guns, Marty travels back to 1955 where he meets his parents, accidentally stops them from falling in love and must find a way to get them back together before he disappears from existence.

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Metropolis 1927

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Scott Beggs are using the 2012 Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the best movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they march with the masses to the factory while dreaming of Utopia by exploring the more-than-spectacle magic of Metropolis. In the #36 (tied) movie on the list, a madman fuels a robot with his obsession, but it will lead to his downfall when the people form an uprising. But why is it one of the best movies of all time?

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Breaking Bad Poster

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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Frankenstein 1931

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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Oblivion Trailer Screenshot

What with Iron Man 3, Oblivion, Elysium, Pacific Rim and the myriad other blockbusting sci-fi movies coming out, 2013 is shaping up to be a great year for the genre. If by “genre” you mean “these four ideas repeated over and over again.”

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? This one’s a super quick short that showcases some CGI skills in service of what might happen if the mascot of Fox’s football programming ends up designing the game of baseball in 2142. Marc Rienzo has made the sport a bit more exciting by adding robots and explosions. Sorry, baseball fans. I didn’t enjoy my correspondence statistics class back in high school, so a sport with bell curves in its heart just isn’t for me (unless I’m there with a beer in hand, then it’s the best thing ever). Although this short has no real story to speak of other than “Pitcher throws ball, then…”, it’s still a stunning display of tech skill. It’s fun, but non-Mets fans may want to look away in the final seconds. What will it cost you? Only 1 minute. Skip work. Watch more short films.  

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? In the near future, we’ve all been implanted with chips that constantly record everything we see. That could get kinky, but the police state in this short from Jimmy Eriksson and Eric Ramberg uses the videos to give definitive proof of crimes or get picture-perfect testimony from witnesses. When one agent tracks down a suspected killer, he’ll find out that the perfect system they have in place has a slight problem. The sparse words are a bit clunky (as is some of the action choreography), but the reason to celebrate this one is the array of CGI tricks that the filmmakers (and their future) have in store. There’s a lot of slick-looking camera work and magic in the computer-generated visuals that could definitely come in handy for modern day police forces. If only there were some spare RC parts lying around… Thanks to Short of the Week for sharing it, and if you’re not following that site, you really should be. What will it cost you? Only 5 minutes. Skip work. Watch more short films.  

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? Sure, kicking a stool out from under someone is a great way to let them hang, but the villainous, gruff-voiced robot in Rocky Curby‘s unique short film would rather cut through their legs until they swing by the neck. Curby is an artist for Disney, but it looks like he’s been spending some free time on science fiction that isn’t for the kids. It’s a freakish mash-up with a young robot whose shadow has a violent side, an Old West feel and a healthy amount of red stuff. Why do robots bleed in this universe? Who cares. It looks really, really cool. Although the story could flow a bit smoother, the sound design works beautifully to make each moment hit harder, and the visuals are slick and strange enough to keep eyes wide open. Long story short, it’s what might happen if Quentin Tarantino had a parking spot at Disney. What will it cost you? Only 5 minutes. Skip work. Watch more short films.  

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Pedro Almodovar

In all honesty, the headline here could be “Another Film From Pedro Almodovar? Yes, Please” because the man can make as many movies as he damned well pleases. However, there’s a certain thrill to learning that he might have another science fiction project in front of him, considering what he did with the (admittedly sci-fi-lite) The Skin I Live In. According to Variety, the director is interested in going over-the-top for an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-inspired concept. So not only is there more sci-fi to come from Almodovar, there’s more body horror. Unsurprising, but still exciting. It doesn’t appear that we’ll get to see it any time soon, but since he’s been averaging one film every 2-3 years (and with I’m So Excited coming in March of 2013), perhaps we’ll get to see his take on 1950s sci-fi by 2015. That gives him plenty of time to announce that Antonio Banderas is starring.

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Hathaway and Hemsworth

If you’re looking for a movie about cyborgs that has a creative team with a good amount of solid, robot-related sci-fi experience under their belt, then Amped might be the project for you. THR has word that this is going to be the next film for director Alex Proyas, who first captured film fans’ attentions with things like The Crow and Dark City, and later went on to make his robot bones with 2004’s I, Robot. Proyas isn’t the only robot-friendly name with a hand in the creation of this project, either. Amped comes from a Daniel H. Wilson novel of the same name; and if you don’t know who Wilson is, he’s a contributor to “Popular Mechanics” as their “resident roboticist,” and he wrote the novels “How to Survive a Robot Uprising,” “How to Build a Robot Army,” and “Robopocalypse,” which is serving as the source material for Steven Spielberg’s next film. The guy knows his robots. But what, exactly, is the story that Proyas’ eye for sci-fi visuals will be bringing to the big screen? Let’s let the original novel’s Amazon description fill us in:

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? An astronaut (Justin Zachary) patrolling a desolate planet alone discovers a dangerous threat to all of civilization in this sci-fi short directed by Tyson Wade Johnston. From the desert setting, to the hovering ships, to the brief phone call back home to his daughter on video chat, this has all the visual trappings of a modern war movie without a war. There’s even a bit of “Heart of Darkness” thrown in for good measure. It’s all atmosphere, which is a credit to Zachary’s acting (he’s also all alone out there on the limb), but the massive-feeling, professionally polished CGI gives him a ton of help where it can. We’ve been seeing a lot of science fiction short films with solid graphics cropping up lately, and this is another one that certainly stands out. What will it cost you? Only 13 minutes. Skip work. Watch more short films.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? Channeling Enemy of the State, a chase is at the center of this slick short from Dennis Liu. It takes the rapidly approaching possibility of targeted advertising tied into our social network (which was explored in Minority Report) and extrapolates it into the security/privacy debate. It’s slightly enigmatic, using that as a hook that satisfies. The acting and writing are more than strong, but the real star here is the concept brought to life by a fully realized CGI world and pro-level camera work. Replace the faces here with big name stars, and this could be any larger budget science fiction attempt of the past decade. All of that to say that Liu clearly has the chops to play at the highest level. What will it cost you? Only 14 minutes. Skip work. Watch more short films.

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2001 A Space Odyssey

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius are using the Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the greatest movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, Landon explains why 2001: A Space Odyssey is responsible for him being a movie lover and Cole talks about hating it the first time around but finding a lot to love on round two.

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Looper

Rian Johnson‘s upcoming Looper is clearly filled with thought-provoking elements, but certainly one of its more interesting aspects has to be the way in which Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are playing the same character, but at different ages. Much ado has been made about the effects work used to make Gordon-Levitt more lantern-jawed and Willis-looking, but not a whole lot has yet been said about how Gordon-Levitt approached his performance. How exactly does one go about trying to play a younger version of a star whose screen presence is as well-defined as Bruce Willis’? i09 caught up with the actor and his director and got some answers on this subject, as well as a few others. When talking about his preparation for the role, Gordon-Levitt said, “I studied him [Willis], and watched his movies, and ripped the audio off of his movies, so I could listen to them on repeat. He even recorded some of my voice-over monologues [from Looper] and sent me that recording, so I could hear what it would sound like in his voice.” That sounds like a good way of studying Willis’ cadence and perfecting the way that he talks, but does that mean Gordon-Levitt’s performance is going to simply be a glorified impersonation?

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Dredd 3D

“Judge Dredd” started as a comic book series in 1977 and eventually became so long-lived and popular that it spawned a really bad film adaptation in 1995. Get that movie out of your head now – pretend like it never happened – because Dredd 3D is a completely new take on the character; one the values hard-hitting action over comic book camp, one that has no interest in wacky side kicks or studio mandated love interests. The story is simple: in the far future, humanity has started living in gigantic city-states the size of small countries that are densely populated and densely developed. What with so many people being piled on top of one another, poverty has run rampant, crime is ubiquitous, and street gangs rule the day. The only line of defense between innocent people and complete chaos are the Street Judges, a group of dangerous and highly trained operatives who prowl the streets on their big motorcycles while carrying their big guns, acting as judge, jury, and executioner all in one. Our story centers on a Judge who goes by the name of Dredd; he’s pretty much the most badass one.

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Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson‘s Looper is fresh from being showered with praise in Toronto and Chicago (see our praise here), so it’s fortunate that Johnson possesses the technology to go back and live through the adoration all over again. Of course, that’s the toughest technical part of writing a movie about time travel. The mechanism itself is both used frequently and difficult to get right. If the logic behind the time travel is off, audiences might be forgiving, but there’s a special brand of nerd (I’m raising my hand) who has extreme difficulty looking beyond illogical time travel. The perfectly legitimate reason is that bad time travel reduces down to a gimmick used for convenience instead of momentum. It’s like introducing a gun into the plot but having it shoot banana pudding at the climax. It’s giving yourself license to do things over, and few filmmakers seem to have the discipline to resist the easy path. So it’s encouraging to see Johnson talk about his time travel element in Looper. As Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis attempt a game of cat and also-cat, this is what we can expect to see in their temporal-jumping:

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Looper

With his third feature film Looper, writer/director Rian Johnson marks the official return of the smart science-fiction film that works to stimulate audiences while making them think. Such a double-layer genre of “style equals substance” sci-fi has been elusive but more than often successful in Hollywood as studios took a leap of faith on projects like Blade Runner, The Matrix, Dark City, Minority Report, and most recently Inception. I can only assume that the film industry insiders who attended the premiere of Looper at the Toronto International Film Festival also leaned towards that same exercise and brought up comparisons of years past to properly qualify their impressions of the film. In doing so, none could be more accurate than Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, the 1995 mind-bending remake of the French cinema classic La Jetée (which also featured Bruce Willis…). Johnson may have been inspired by the closing scene of Gilliam’s opus, where an innocent child watches an older man fall on his knees after being shot by airport security. Other worthy comparisons include some of Brian De Palma’s earlier works (especially The Fury) and the Back to the Future trilogy. Worry not, there is no correlation in tone between Doc Brown’s DeLorean adventures and the central plot elements of Looper. But like Robert Zemeckis, Johnson approaches time travel from the viewpoint of subjective consequence, which remains the most fascinating aspect of this very popular concept. Similarly to the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance where Marty’s parents must fall in love, […]

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Gabriele Muccino

Gabriele Muccino is one of Italy’s few exports, and his mainstream US work is a toss up between the tearful Pursuit of Happyness and the equally-tearful-but-for-different-reasons Seven Pounds. One further cemented Will Smith as a serious acting talent, and the other one called it into question. We’ll see Muccino’s latest mainstream attempt when Playing For Keeps – starring Gerard Butler as a former soccer star trying to get his family life together – hits theaters on December 7th. It could be a chance at redemption for Butler’s character and for Muccino. After that, he’s got a few Italian productions lined up, including the thriller Il Colpo (The Blow), he’ll be directing a segment for the anthology Shanghai, I Love You, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, he’s prepping a science fiction movie that he’d like Keanu Reeves to star in. This is really interesting, considering that in 2010, he was set up with Reeves for the sci-fi Passengers, where Reeves would play an astronaut who wakes up way too early from hyper-sleep and wakes up a female astronaut so he doesn’t go crazy. However, screenwriter Jon Spaihts recently told us Muccino was out and a new director was in the hot seat. Could Muccino be back on board just a few months after that statement? It sounds likely. The other option, of course, is that Muccino has a different sci-fi project in mind and still wants to work with Reeves. Either way, it seems plausible that we’ll see a genre […]

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Terry Gilliam

It’s been nearly two decades since Terry Gilliam last time traveled into the science fiction world of insanity and Twelve Monkeys. According to /film, it’s time to break out the champagne and party hats because Gilliam is heading back into sci-fi territory with his otherwise dormant The Zero Theorem, and he’s bringing along Christoph Waltz. That is, as they say, a Bingo. The story focuses on Qohen Leth (who was previously to be played by Billy Bob Thornton), a computer genius working dilligently to solve an impossible theorem. He lives in a 1984-style world where the omniscient Management keeps an eye on everyone. Beyond Leth, there’s a love interested looking to virtually hook up and a new friend who builds him a suit that will take an inventory of Leth’s soul in order to prove or disprove the theorem. Definitely a Bingo. The good news is that the project is gearing up quickly and attempting to shoot in October. That is, until some terrible force of nature closes down the production as per Gilliam’s enemies’ contract with the Devil. Let’s bask and enjoy this good fortune while it lasts. With a lot of luck, we’ll get to see it in 2013.

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