Archive | January, 2015

Grunting at the Screen (170)

31 Jan

The information age isn’t finished with us.

A lot of fans liked Christian Alvart’s Pandorum, so they should be pleased to hear he has another project in the works. SUM 1; a young soldier is stationed in a tower in a middle of a forest defending it from an alien creature.

Has potential.

Alvart is producing- directing duties go to Christian Pasquariello.

Up until a few days ago, I would have told you that the wildest forthcoming Science Fiction movie featuring Nazi’s would be Iron Sky II: The Coming Race.

That is no more. Make way for Skysharks; featuring Nazi zombies riding flying sharks.

Read that sentence again.. yeah.

Director is Marc Fehse

I’m not sure how to report on this one. Alex Cox is directing again.

No I am not a fan. I’ve seen very little of what he’s done and what I’ve seen has not excited me.

Anyway, the thing is this project is science fiction, and a literary adaptation.

It’s Harry Harrison’s Bill, The Galactic Hero.

It is far from a conventional production. In fact he made it in collaboration with the film class he was teaching (and in fact several of them share director credit with him).

It is also shot in Black and White.

Cox describes the production as an anti Starship Troopers (as was the original novel). He has little time for Heinlein’s book or the subsequent adaptation. (He is also unimpressed by the Ender’s Game adaptation.)

It is the year of the robot.

I keep saying so and it keeps being true. The first of the major robot movies in the UK is upon us.

Ex Machina.

Coming up in March is Robot Overlords.

And very shortly after Chappie,

Age of Ultron is on its tail and then Terminator: Genisys.

Tomorrowland will have a strong robot component.

Even the films from real life have a robotic lean: Spare Parts is the true story of how a team from an inner-city school beat MIT at a robot competition

I have no idea when Automata will reach the UK, but I am sure it will be on disk rather than a theatrical release.

Is there a reason it is all happening now? I don’t know.

What is more the wave of robots will not crest for a while, we have the Pacific Rim sequel next year. And the Ghost in the Shell live action movie means cyborgs will have a very robotic look to them.

With so many robotic movies in the works, what is the future of our metal friends and foes? I predict diversification; Nazi Robots, Alien Robots, ancient robots….

Jon Spaihts; screenplay Passengers has been in development for at least five years. It has been so long we thought it past hope,

Just in case you forgot it is about the biggest douche in the cosmos: a colony ship moving between star systems malefactions waking one passenger from hibernation. He faces the prospect of living out his life and dying alone, until he gets the idea of waking a woman as his companion, to share his fate… what a douche.

Anyway, the film project is back in play with the hiring of Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum. Sony is the new studio and it looks like they are serious about getting party thing started.

Wachowskis Rising.

February approaches and with it the latest offering from the Wachowskis.

I haven’t said much about Jupiter Ascending. First of all because there hasn’t been much to say. Like other projects lately the film makers have been keeping things close to their chests.

The synopsis has not been especially helpful: a toilet cleaner discovers she is genetically identical to the queen of the universe, a hybrid soldier protects her from the queen’s assassins.

This could be OK, it could also be absurd.

What it has making it stand above other products (besides being an original production) is one word “Wachowskis”. Although their reputation has suffered since the controversial Matrix Sequels, I have seen their last, Cloud Atlas, and I believe they are as strong as they have ever been.

I think Jupiter Ascending could be the film that redefines space opera.

Its release has been delayed

And that is generally a poor sign, it suggest the studio has a lack of confidence that it will perform. The official reason was that the FX needed a longer time to perfect (which is plausible).

As the release approaches trailers have been released. They have been encouraging, but trailers are infamously deceptive.

Of course we will be seeing it: it is no good moaning about the unoriginality of current Science Fiction -with the now ingrained policy of remaking, rebooting and sequelising everything with even the hint of a name- while ignoring the few film makers who pursue a policy of only making fresh movies. There are so few of them.

Jupiter Ascending opens on February 6, 2015

Ex Machina


You know the basic set up, Caleb is invited to a remote dwelling by internet billionaire Nathan to meet Eva, a charming ingénue who also happens to a robot, the first one who might possibly have an artificial consciousness.

The purpose, t discover if Eva truly has artificial intelligence.

As he gets to know Eva and his host, he finds things more complicated than it first seems.

Eva is deeper and more complex than expected.

Nathan is a bit of an asshole and far darker than he first seems.

It starts slow.

And yes, as reported it does largely consist of conversations between two of the three cast members.

But what the heck, it is fascinating.

The performances are good and the limited locations are beautifully shot.

Ex Machina is one of a breed of films that just could not exist before the long, slow turn towards science fiction films with ideas.

It began way back with the Matrix Reloaded and continued with Inception and Interstellar. It showed you could have big films with big ideas (and actually make some money)

There are a lot of ideas here, most of them surrounding the conundrum of machine consciousness. Some (like Mary in the Black and White room) new to me.

The female audience may feel a little uncomfortable: there is a lot of dressing and undressing here, everything from clothes to skin are peeled on and off and it underlies how “the other” as in the “artificial intelligence” is seen as feminine.

On the other hand the metaphors evoked by the gendering of the machine are powerful; we do not even appreciate that Eva is naked: all wires surface and visible bones, until she actually dresses.

There is a lot here I cannot discuss without spoiling it, some twists (at least one telegraphed and one not so much) but in the end what we learn here is that what makes a machine challenging is not its robotic nature but its humanity.

Ex Machina opens in the US on April 10th

Trailers seen

Fantastic 4. Contrary to rumour this had less of a found footage look than expected, in fact it looked quite conventional, also did not seem to evoke either traditional Fantastic 4 or Ultimate Fantastic 4.

On the other hand Almanac’s trailer was very found footage, unlike the teaser this showed a little plot and some of the dark consequences of time travel. It’s beginning to look interesting.

Chappie’s trailer made it look quite like Short Circuit.

And what else was there? Oh yes. Kingsman. Looked busy and quite acceptable.

And if you want some real movie news you know what to do.

And if you want to walk the wild side of genre video try Starburst’s review section

I’m Jack Eris and if you know me, you know Jack.


Grunting at the Screen (169)

17 Jan

The information age isn’t finished with us.

January is usually the quiet month that said there are a few releases of interest.

In the US you can look out for Michael Mann’s hacker thriller Blackhat which opened January 16.

In the wake of the Sony hacking scandal it could not have come at a more opportune moment.

There have been some reviews: words like stylish, moody and intense were bandied around.

For some time there has not been a lot of detail of the plot, but details are emerging: a blackhat hacker breaks into a Chinese Nuclear power station’s system and causes a meltdown; An American and a Chinese investigator team up to track down the blackhat. In the meantime they release another hacker from prison, Chris Hemsworth, who may be able to beat his blackhat rival.

The critics don’t think it is the most realistic plot ever written, they also agree that it is very much a Michael Mann movie and his familiar style is all over this.

Reviews are very mixed, but they agree that Chris Hemsworth is the most unlikely hacker (lacking the requisite pastiness, physical cowardice and social disability for the role). However there is no lack of action and the cinematography is far from boring.

Also in January was the much delayed, much derided fantasy Seventh Son on January 2.

Vice with Bruce Willis turned up on January 16th 2015. So far it is shaping up as the most low-key release from a major star this year.

A couple of reviews have emerged and the news is not good (which kind of explains the low key release).

One called it a cheap knock-off of Blade Runner. In fact they think it is pretty crude. The other claimed it had good ideas but terrible execution, even said it looked poorly made (and there is no excuse for a film to be badly filmed).

The major US opening for the US will likely be the found footage Science Fiction feature Almanac, I have seen the trailers, they remind me of what I don’t like about found footage movies, but I am willing to wait for reviews.

The major UK opening will be Ex Machina on January 23. Written and directed by Alex Garland; it is attracting attention in the film magazines. It will be Britain’s first robot movie in a year filled with robot movies.

A couple of reviews have appeared in the British press and they are very positive.

We have a release date for The Green Inferno, it’s 27 March 2015, we don’t know if it’s a real release date but it’s something.

Fresh to DVD this month is post-holocaust thriller The Rover.

Nazi Zombie sequel, Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead, has also gone straight to disk.

Here is the Starburst review

Beyond, the Scottish alien invasion film has also turned up on disk: is it all real? Is it an extended delusion? This film intends to leave you guessing as to whether an alien invasion is or is not the symptom of a collapsing relationship.

Idris Elba is producing, but not starring in Poe Must Die, not exactly a biopic, it’s an adaptation of the novel by Marc Olden; author Edgar Allan Poe teams up with bare-knuckle fighter Pierce James Figg to fight a powerful psychic in league with the devil.

Sounds nutty.

This is still at the deal stage so, no shoot date or release date has been announced.

There has been movement on the Ashley Wood project Zombies vs. Robots. It is now attached to a director: Andrew Adamson. Adamson has directed several high-profile projects: Shrek, Shrek 2, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, And the Wardrobe. Michael Bay’s company Platinum Dunes is producing.

We have a little detail about the plot; a group of robots protect a girl, he last human on earth, from a world overrun by intelligent zombies (intelligent zombies?).

And oh yes, it has been renamed: Inherit the Earth.

And if you want some real movie news you know what to do.

And if you want to walk the wild side of genre video try Starburst’s review section

I’m Jack Eris and if you know me, you know Jack.

Grunting at the Screen (168)

2 Jan

The information age isn’t finished with us.


2014 was OK. It was no 2013 but we did OK
It was not quite a landmark year for science fiction. (Thanks for snowpiercing Jupiter Ascending!) But on the other hand Snowpiercer itself got a release and if you saw it, it is likely you liked it.
The Science Fiction I saw and liked included.
Edge of Tomorrow
Guardians of the Galaxy
and Lucy (yeah I know, it was silly)

It was also the year of The Machine, and The Zero Theorem,

But mostly it was the year of sequels; sequels we liked and sequels we did not care to see:
Captain America: the Winter Soldier March
Sin City: A Dame to Die For,
X-Men: Days of Future Past,
Transformers Age of Extinction,
Amazing Spider-Man 2,
The Raid 2:

And the sequels made money. Transformers Age of Extinction alone made a billion and a half dollars worldwide. And that means there will be more sequels (I am not even getting into the reboots)
Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, even the X-men sequel was judged to be a good a piece of film making (I wouldn’t know) but by and large it signals a dilution of Science Fiction’s precious bodily fluids.

Soon they will be saying everything that can be done, has been done.

And it is not true, there are stacks of books to be adapted and Inception proves original science fiction can be…er… original.

OK, my top ten or 2014. I actually saw more than ten movies. However I can’t say I saw ten of them worth so much as a second look.
In no particular order.
Edge of Tomorrow
Captain America: the Winter Soldier
The Raid 2
Guardians of the Galaxy
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

You may notice the glaring omission of Interstellar. I saw it, I reviewed it, I liked it. But I didn’t love it. It is admirable but not a very loveable film. Sorry.

It was not the big year for science fiction I hoped for: Jupiter Ascending got delayed
and Snowpiercer never made it to the UK. 2013’s momentum was rather blunted, I loved The Winter Soldier but there was no Pacific Rim this year.
There was however Edge of Tomorrow which was something, it underperformed but it seems it will eventually pass the $100m in the US (the first Tom Cruise to do so in a while)

Again this was the year of several prominent Science Fiction bombs:
Transcendence, I, Frankenstein, Last Days on Mars.

Again the big winners were the franchise films: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Transformers 4, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Looking forward:
2015 will bring a shed-load of Robots.
Not theoretically. Look what’s on the horizon:
Robot Overlords
Ex Machina
and how could I forget it, Chappie.
That is not all we are also looking at the AI drama “Uncanny”
For sure. Not all of these films have distribution deals but if they are coming out, it will be in 2015.
They may even be joined by Bruce Willis’s Vice.

Of course this also stands for sequels as well; the biggest movie of the year is going to be a robot movie as Earth’s mightiest heroes take on the world’s wildest machine in Avengers: Age of Ultron…

And then we will have all those films that were snowpierced from 2014: Jupiter Ascending, Almanac, The Green Inferno, Kingsmen: The Secret Service etc.

And for the other originals (and we use that term in a very specific way. No sequels, no remakes…)
Marvel Studio’s Ant-Man, Disney’s Tommorrowland and Ridley Scott’s The Martian.

And now for the bad news.
You may or may not have noticed I have not been giving the remakes and sequels much space this year.
There were out there but I wasn’t biting.
Well there are a whole lot more coming.
2015 will bring us:

Hitman: Agent 47
Mad Max: Fury Road
Fantastic Four
Star Wars: The Force Awakens,
Jurassic World
Terminator: Genisys

Some of these I am on the lookout for. The Marvel movies are always worth a look. (Yeah, I bitch a lot, but still see them). Maybe Mad Max, I don’t know. Maybe Fantastic Four; the director and cast are talking a big game, and maybe if it is different enough… maybe.
I have tried to remain positive but to be honest, I despair. Mad Max? Terminator? Star Wars? What is this? 1985? Any single one on their own of them would be fine, but arriving all in the same year, this speaks of a dearth of imagination, heck the death of imagination.
And all we are promised is more of the same. Why? Because we ask for it; when they announce these cinematic trips down memory lane we get excited, when they release them, we put down our money, sight unseen.
We did what we did and we got what we got.

We have exciting news from the Robert Rodriguez front. Sony has bought the distribution rights to Fire and Ice.
It looks like this is very much a “go” project.
Robert Rodriguez has been planning a live version of the 1983 Ralph Bakshi animation for several years. He is a huge Frank Frazetta fan and he wanted to make a tribute to his idol.
He has planned out the story now and thinks he has enough to make a series of films so he wanted a major cast to go with it, and for that he needed major studio participation and Sony has now provided it.
Rodriguez is looking to start preproduction in late spring or early summer.
The news is bitter-sweet to me, I would like to see him do Nerverackers next. But what the hey?

As you come out of the Holidays in the US look out for Predestination which is opening January 9th. It is the latest from the Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers) It starts Ethan Hawke and is based on one of Robert Heinlein’s most famous stories.

Is it possible to do body horror in the age of CGI? Well we are about to find out. Here is another trailer from the live action version of the manga Parasyte,

It hasn’t
escaped my attention that this year sees the release of both Kingsmen: The Secret Service and Man From U.N.C.L.E. (the reboot).
Here are a couple of interesting facts; the turning of James Bond movies to the grim and gritty side has freed contemporary spy films to explore the more speculative and fantastical side, both U.N.C.L.E. and Kingsmen seem to be taking this path: U.N.C.L.E. being actually set in the 1960s, while Kingsmen embraces the whole ethos of gadgets, tuxedos and secret bases. Both films are by Englishmen: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. by Guy Ritchie and Kingsmen by Matthew Vaughn.
Most interesting is that these two individuals once worked closely together, Matthew Vaughn as producer Guy Ritchie as director.
Do I sense some rivalry going on here?

I have to warn you. There is no Bob Marley in this film at all. A blatant breach of the Trades Description Act if you ask me.

Anyway we open up on the glory that was Ancient Egypt (quite like Trafalgar Square, with the columns and stone lions…)
This is a film by cinema’s premier visualist. Ridley Scott, and it shows it. He deploys his full range of technique, helicopter shots, perilously close camera action, immaculate use of location, his classic “great room scene” and all too sumptuous cinematography, just to show who really is the “daddy” of beautiful film.

As a retelling of the biblical tale of the Israelites exit of Egypt this is quite pacy, it moves along faster than any Scott film has in years. We have a quick preliminary scene involving the army of Egypt verses the Hittites (who are depicted as a ragtag hoard and not the potent military force they actually were). A dip into Moses’ (Or Moshe’s as they put it) secret origin, before we get into the interesting religious stuff.

God is depicted less as a burning bush as a creepy kid who only Moshe can see (no really, I don’t want to be blasphemous but that kid was scarier than Damien from the Omen!), and as if to cock a snoot at Einstein, he did play dice.

The plagues are hustled through briskly. A pity. Not to say I like to take my plagues at leisure, I would not suggest that. That said they are spectacular; the plague of crocodiles (don’t remember that from the bible…) neatly outdoes Spielberg (twice, trumping both the boat scene in Jaws and reptile attacks from Jurassic Park – do crocodiles really get that huge). Then we swiftly move through; Blood, frogs, flies, boils, dying animals … actually there are so many of them that you cannot help anticipating the ultimate one: Darkness.
Anyway at one point an Egyptian sage tries to give a rational answer for the whole thing (and pays the ultimate price for this faux pas).
It is here that the arsenal of GCI is deployed, which is neither surprising nor disappointing, you really can’t unleash the wrath of god today unless you have a few petaflops of processing at hand. It is both a competent and spectacular depiction.
Anyway Darkness comes on, disappointingly the Angel of Death (“Hey, Dude”) was not personified, wasting the opportunity to show a Terry Gilliam style winged skeleton with scythe, I would have enjoyed that…)
Other than that it proved the post impressive plague, as the shadow of death sucked light itself from the city and takes the Egyptian first born.

At this point I have to indicate that we are not short-changed in the acting department; despite the scale this film is largely a two-hander with Moshe (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) go one on one on each other. They both deliver excellent performances, Bale in particular delivering a performance miles from his Bruce Wayne persona. The only criticism of the supporting cast is that we see so little of them. The acting is universally strong.
In fact the strongest moment of the film is where Pharaoh changes his mind after releasing the Israelites and it is depicted in the slightest widening of Edgerton’s eye.

And so to the parting of the Red Sea, you know the inspiration of this one? Tsunami; the logic is there, first the sea pulls back, it practically disappears, and then you have the great wave.
The process here is drawn out giving us the chance to get half a million refugees across the vast rocky gap, lure the Egyptian cavalry into harm’s way and provide a direct conclusion to the conflict between Moshe and Pharaoh in the middle of the seabed.

The return of the sea is expectedly dramatic and well worth the price of admission.

That said, Exodus is about more than large scale set pieces, it is also an exploration of faith verses doubt, at one point Moshe describes Israelite and meaning “those who wrestle with god” and in a way we all struggle with our feelings about existence and purpose.

All in all, this is pretty good retelling of a familiar story, more than that it just oozes quality: Scott gets $200m worth of quality from a $130m of budget. It may not have the bangs and whistles of a summer blockbuster but it is a fine addition to the director’s portfolio of spectacles cementing his legacy as one of the great artists of the screen.

And if you want some real movie news you know what to do.
And if you want to walk the wild side of genre video try Starburst’s review section