Science Fiction

Robin Wright in The Congress

Stardom is a fundamentally contradictory experience for audiences. On the one hand, we can feel like we know a star intimately as a human being, despite the many roles that they play and despite the fact that they do not know us. We carry our past knowledge of the star onto each new project. And every time a star is captured by a camera, a brief record of them is made, in a moment solidified for a seeming eternity. Marlene Dietrich may be long deceased, but in revisiting any close-up fashioned from Josef von Sternberg’s films, she can feel as immediate to us as she was to the cameras eighty years ago. On the other hand, a star is always both more and less than a human being. Stars are the foundation for an industry of magazines, brand names readily available for peddling products, personalities to be mimicked, fashion icons to aspire to, and economic conditions for a film’s making and marketing. We can experience fleeting moments of intimacy with a star image, but the industry that makes stardom possible continually alienates us from a polished, selectively represented human being before us. It is through this dual capacity of stardom that stars continue to exist well after the physical lives of the people who embodied them. These inherent tensions between personhood and media are explored in great depth in Ari Folman’s new film The Congress, a film that uses the strange condition of stardom and the technological advancements of the current […]

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HER

There are two things that are probably beyond contestation about Spike Jonze’s Her: It’s a critical darling (as evidenced by its many rave reviews, its presence on end-of-year lists, and its continued haul of awards season recognition), and It has an immersive, thoroughly realized vision of an unspecified near-future. It’s hard to think of a science-fiction movie in recent memory as invested as Her in what the future will look like, feel like, dress like, and what effects this will have on something as intrinsic and everyday as human relationships. But beyond these two points, there is much to be found that’s worth debating in Jonze’s film. Her diverts from science-fiction’s tradition of painting an overtly dystopic future of constant surveillance and centralized control familiar to any Philip H. Dick fan, yet as sleek, inviting, and even beautiful as the film’s immaculate surfaces and evolving technologies are, there seems to be an insidious coldness and emptiness that lies beneath the surface, a sense that something is lost between the glass walls and mobile devices that separate people in Jonze’s Los Angeles.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The morning’s best writing from around the movie website-o-sphere. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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trailer enders game

“Probably the most egregiously overlooked area of gay visibility is, if you can swing with me on this, science fiction…Since all these shows are set in the future, the grim possibility exists that, at least in their creators’ minds, there are no gay people in the future. It’s a curious notion for science-fiction to embrace…” Discussing queer visibility on network television, Bruce Vilanch wrote these words for The Advocate in 1997, but he might as well have been talking about films in 2013. Last year, I made a point that “the genres that dominate Hollywood right now are also the most heteronormative (action sequels, superhero franchises, and children’s films)”; outside of the occasional allegory, one could add science-fiction to this mix as well. Of all the conversations surrounding the controversy over Orson Scott Card’s affiliation with the homophobic National Organization for Marriage in advance of Lionsgate’s expensive adaptation of Ender’s Game, one repeated assertion has been bugging me quite a bit – the notion that the film itself will have nothing to do, and does not in any way exercise, Card’s problematic politics. Such a view sees the routine absence of homosexuality in popular movies – specifically, genre movies – as somehow apolitical.

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Rian Johnson’s new film, Looper, is a pretty awesome time travel flick, one with as many elements that are clever and original as there are purposefully derivative and influenced. It’s the kind of smart and stylish sci-fi cinema we expect every once in a while on the festival circuit, like Sound of My Voice (which hits DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday), rather than from a major Hollywood studio. Looper does fit the indie model, though, since Sony/Tristar picked it up for distribution only after it was done shooting, yet as Brian’s review of the film attests, we can still consider it a good sign for mainstream movies of this genre, and we can hope that Hollywood will see Johnson as the sort of directorial talent they need. But is it the best science fiction film since The Matrix? That’s a question posed in a headline from Time magazine yesterday, though its respective post doesn’t address such a discussion let alone attempt to answer the inquiry. Well, if we exclude superhero movies, animated features (Pixar, Miyazaki and The Iron Giant among them) and the Star Trek reboot, Looper is currently one of only two original studio films of its order to be battling for the status of best reviewed since the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking modern classic. The other is Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? By looking into the future that combines Google glasses, our app addiction and a cranial connection to the information superhighway, the team behind Sight has made something that stands out miles above its peers. In it, a program built right into the eyes delivers games and information directly into the visual field – something that one young man takes advantage of while out with a reluctant date. The look is sharp – evoking a world where there’s no need for decorations because white space is needed for in-eye displays, but the real reason it works is that there’s a brain to go with the story’s beauty. It’s a terrifying one, questioning a dependence on technology and showcasing what our lack of control might mean. It’s as coy as a lamb to the slaughter, with a version of ourselves thrust into a future that comes with cool convenience and unimpeded danger. This is short filmmaking at its best. Hat tip to our own Brian Salisbury for sending it my way. What will it cost you? Only 6 minutes. Skip work. Watch more short films.

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Jason X The End

The Mayans, the wise race of ancients who created hot cocoa, set December 21st, 2012 as the end date of their Calendar, which the intelligent and logical amongst us know signifies the day the world will end, presumably at 12:21:12am, Mountain Time. From now until zero date, we will explore the 50 films you need to watch before the entire world perishes. We don’t have much time, so be content, be prepared, be entertained. The Film: Jason X (2001) Set 400-plus years in the future the notorious, seemingly indestructible Jason Vorhees has been in a cryogenic frozen state for around 400-plus years after several unsuccessful attempts to be killed for nearly 20 years of profitable cinema. In this future Earth has been abandoned by humans due to pollution (yes, this did inspire Wall-E) and we’ve moved onto another planet called Earth Two set in another, distant solar system. A small group of students travel back to abandoned Earth on a field trip with their professor and locate the 400-year-old frozen Jason Vorhees (yes, this did inspire Futurama) in the Camp Crystal Lake facility and decide to return back to Earth Two with the infamous killer. Knowing full-well that Vorhees was a killer they decide to thaw him out along with the other frozen scientist they obtained on-site. Obviously they have no clue what the significance of a giant dressed in rags and wearing a hockey mask means to the livelihood of people under the age of 24 (no, contrary to popular belief this […]

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? With ominous, sweeping shots of a city caged, David Gidali‘s short shares a bleak look at an Israel of the future where different cultures are kept apart. In the middle of the night, a mysterious event brings two silent figures face to face (without a wall in between them). This is the definition of simple-yet-effective filmmaking. It’s beautifully epic and conveys an idea with laser focus – stunning science fiction with a cultural compass. What will it cost? Only 2 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? There are few things as creepy as British people talking about science, which is just one small reason why Matt Westrup‘s The Gate is so damned chilling. It features some gruesome creature design and some solid CGI – especially for an independent outfit. Plus, it’s based on reality. That’s right. Our own DNA is a mysterious, messed-up jungle of unused genes that are waiting to mutate and strike. Enjoy your weekend! It was announced last week that Wayfare Entertainment would be financing a feature version, and after checking it out, it’s easy to see why. What will it cost? Only 8 minutes. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films

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Pixar Wall-E Commentary

Oh, those geeks and their wonderful ways of storing minuscule tidbits of information and pulling them from their mental storage unit to spur on debates. What must it be like to listen to a group of them talk about a movie they love? How about a movie they’ve all worked on? That’s exactly what Disney and Pixar did for WALL*E. They’ve pulled four of the geekiest minds on the production crew, minds that would analyze every, minute detail of a film and test it for accuracy, and let them talk all over the film. And, like any good geek conversation, the pop cultural references come with each, nerdy breath. So, without any further ado, it’s time to find out what this Geek Squad has to say about WALL*E.

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The Best Short Films

Why Watch? This sweet movie from Sandy Widyanata features a young boy who steals a busted up video game controller from a young girl. She chases him through their neighborhood junkyard, and what happens when he pushes a few buttons is a pleasant surprise. Shot to perfectly capture the endless summer day of youth, the CGI is seamless and the story is so familiar that it tells itself (except for the last few moments of course). This excellent gem is like a cool sip of lemonade on a hot day sweetened with sci-fi. What will it cost? Only 1 minute. Skip Work. You’ve Got Time For More Short Films

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Nacho Vigalondo Extraterrestrial

Let’s face it. When the alien invasion comes (and it will), most of us are going to be useless to help fight them back. We’re either going to be hiding or running for our lives into government-run bunkers. Nacho Vigalondo gets this, which is part of the reason why he chose not to focus on the heroes for his latest film, Extraterrestrial. His follow-up to TimeCrimes is a sci-fi flick married to a conversational screwball romantic comedy. He was gracious enough to give us a glimpse of his madcap mind – explaining his love for guilty characters, celebrating Invasion of the Body Snatchers and explaining the connection between his latest movie and the TV show Moonlighting. Extraterrestrial is out Friday, June 15 in select theaters, and you can demand it through Tugg.

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Back to the Future

The Mayans, the wise race of ancients who created hot cocoa, set December 21st, 2012 as the end date of their Calendar, which the intelligent and logical amongst us know signifies the day the world will end, presumably at 12:21:12am, Mountain Time. From now until zero date, we will explore the 50 films you need to watch before the entire world perishes. We don’t have much time, so be content, be prepared, be entertained. The Film: Back to the Future (1985) The Plot: 1980s styled Michael J. Fox (see: feathered hair, acid washed jeans, high tops) stars as every-kid Marty McFly who accidentally gets sent back to the 1950s via a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his eccentric cohort, Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd, in one of his best scene chewing roles to date.) While going back in time may seem like a cool idea, Marty quickly realizes that altering the past can have serious effects on the future. Finding himself suddenly 30 years in the past, Marty discovers he must keep his now teenage parents’ relationship on track or else he will risk erasing his own future. As Doc would say: “Great Scott!”

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Science fiction has long been considered by some experts to be a lesser genre than traditional dramas and character studies. Because it lends itself so easily to exploitation, science fiction isn’t always given the respect it deserves. Sure, it tends to be a box office winner, as evidenced by the fact that more than half of the all-time domestic grossing films fit easily in that genre (with at least two more – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Shrek 2 – marginally related as genre films). Still, some still consider science fiction something not to be taken seriously. It is for this reason that “legitimate” film directors might shy away from science fiction in lieu of more important or significant projects. However, many directors got their start or their earliest fame from working in science fiction and other allegedly exploitative and pulp genres. This week’s release of Prometheus reminds us that even though Ridley Scott has directed historical epics (Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven), military action films (Black Hawk Down), crime thrillers (American Gangster) and straight dramas (Thelma & Louise), he got his start in science fiction with Alien and Blade Runner. Scott isn’t the only director to begin a successful career in science fiction. Here are seven other directors who started out or received some of their earliest success in this genre.

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Ridley Scott Alien DVD Commentary

Prometheus is Ridley Scott‘s latest magnum opus, a groundbreaking cinematic achievement beyond our wildest imaginations. At least that’s what we’re all hoping for with the film. At the very least we’ll take a return to the sci-fi terror Scott unleashed on audiences earlier in his career, but Prometheus is a film moviegoers all over will be talking about. We’d love to hear Scott talk about it, probably along with screenwriter Damen Lindelof. We’ll take Jon Spaihts just because he comes with the package deal, but it’ll be a commentary that delves into the depths each man had to go to craft yet another legendary, sci-fi tale. That will be amazing. Anyway, here’s the commentary for Alien. Seriously, though. How can you introduce Alien?

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Twilight Zone

According to Variety, Matt Reeves‘s Twilight Zone has captured another writer who is no doubt currently wondering why he’s back in Abraham Lincoln’s time and unable to convince anyone of the assassination. Jason Rothenberg wrote the original draft, which was tackled by Anthony Peckham (Sherlock Holmes), and now Joby Harold (All You Need is Kill, Awake) will take an ink-filled stab at it. The most fascinating thing about the Warner Bros. project is the idea that Rod Serling‘s show will essentially be stretched into a feature film. Previous movies based on the iconic television show were serials, and the show itself got paper thin when it tried to fill an hour-long time slot, so two full hours of being in the Zone could be a bigger challenge than most expect. After all, how much clever brow-beating can we handle? The answer to that question lies in watching every episode. Tread carefully, but there’s still hope for this project. Despite Hayden Christensen’s strange take on playing a motionless guy, Awake was a clever little flick (that Harold also directed). With any luck, his talent will be the final polish it needs to get shoved in front of cameras.

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Ridley Scott on Alien Set

Of the directors we’ve covered in this feature, Ridley Scott might be the most forward. He’s brash an unorthodox, and when speaks, you get the sense that he threw his filter in the trash years ago. At this point, brass buttons are well-deserved. Alien, Blade Runner, Black Rain, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Black Hawk Down, and a popcorn bucket-full more prove the man’s vision as a storyteller. A movie fan from a young age, Scott first found success as a commercial director. His first flick, The Duelists, was hailed at Cannes but made it to few screens beyond. It was a science fiction journey featuring a seven-member crew woken from stasis to explore a strange signal that made him a major name, and this weekend he dives back into that world with Prometheus. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from a bloke from South Shields.

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Star Trek 2 Teaser

Update: So, yes. This is a fan-made trailer. But it’s insanely good. And it must have taken a lot of effort. Apologies for posting it as official. The Klingon picture on the other hand, is definitely confirmed as real. Original Post: Benedict Cumberbatch appears to be stuck in a sci-fi beehive in the new teaser trailer for Star Trek 2. Or it might be some sort of rejuvenating bath. Either way, the trailer boasts an eerie, technologically ambitious voice over which promises to find the final solution for all of our problems. Usually when someone seeks that out, a bunch of people die. That’s probably why Chris Pine‘s Captain Kirk looks so concerned. This is Christmas in June for Trek fans, because this trailer is excellent, and because J.J. Abrams just sneaked an image of a Klingon into some recent footage. Check out both below:

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Channing Tatum

There’s good reason to believe that Channing Tatum‘s starring in The Wachowski‘s Jupiter Ascending won’t make it completely dull. According to MTV, the actor is confirmed for the role, but where this might have been bad news a year ago (a massive original sci-fi work from directors who made an indelible mark on the genre teaming with a “star” being hoisted upon us all), there’s hope now. Why? Because Tatum’s turn in 21 Jump Street helped to prove he had a personality beyond what blockbuster blandness was forced into the grinder. Plus, the Wachowskis took Keanu Reeves (the king of soporific acting) and made him into an iconic character). Plus, Magic Mike might do a lot to show off a glittery body butter-coated version of Tatum’s personality as well. In the forthcoming Jupiter, Tatum will play an alien of incredible intelligence sent to kill a character played by Mila Kunis. Unsurprisingly, he’s unable to kill her because, come on. Seriously. Could you? Instead, he falls in love. Most likely, bad things ensue. Hopefully a dance battle.

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Nic Mathieu Cadillac Turbulence

Paramount and J.J. Abrams are planning a super secret sci-fi project, but they’re not the only ones in the game. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warners is staying in the science fiction business with The Wind – a script from David Koepp (Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds). It takes place in a space colony, and that’s all that’s known, which means we know more about it than the Abrams gig. It will be the feature directing debut for commercial talent Nic Mathieu. In checking out his work, The Wind will most likely involve a healthy amount of fantastic CGI concepts (see link and above). As for the hiring, conventional wisdom says that studios like commercial directors because they’re more easily controllable, but Warners is remarkably hands-off with projects like this. Although, that also depends on the budget. The studio hasn’t been exploding with sci-fi in the recent past, but their future looks spacey. Gravity, Pacific Rim and Cloud Atlas are on the horizon, with this and hopefully more to come. The science fiction Renaissance continues.

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