Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Unrequited infatuation, friendzoning, and romantic conflict permeates, giving the film an undertone of futility; a metaphor for the dystopic world of the Hunger Games series. Yes, the film has its Twilight moments. But redemption comes in the form of the smouldering uprising against the oppression of The Capitol alluded to in the film’s title. Overall, it’s impressive, however I left feeling like it wants so badly to make a commentary on the shallowness of present day media and society in general; but doesn’t quite make it. Like The Capitol is so ridiculous it’s almost satire. Maybe thats the point. ★★★★

Review: Upstream Color

I approached this film with my usual optimism for fringe sci-fi but was left wanting. The setup had me expecting a story about military-grade mind control via psychoactive nematodes implanted in terrorist sleeper agents, or even a whole population (possibly with some form of psychic connection) — cool right? Instead the film is purposefully vague and meanders around aimlessly, like its mentally disturbed protagonists. It’s as if Carruth can’t choose between several potential plot developments that might be more interesting or meaningful.

Verdict: ★★☆ – Worth watching but may leave you feeling frustrated.

Upstream Color on Flixster

Our search for a paradoxical existance

A post along these lines has been floating around in drafts for a couple of years, but my thoughts on the subject were dredged up recently while watching a couple of films, namely AI: Artificial Intelligence, then literally laid out on the autopsy table in Prometheus. As an atheist, I’m specifically interested in the phenomenon that many humans, especially those of a religious persuasion, cling to the creationist ideal–that we humans were created by the will of some higher being, and this is what gives our lives meaning.

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District 9

District 9

OMG SPOILER WARNING!

I had the awesome privilege of watching District 9 yesterday. The above shameless photoshop is the result of a mix of fandom and procrastination but really I just wanted to show off my lame photoshop skills. Actually, the truth is it was such an epic image, I had to do something fun with it. Yes, that’s Melbourne for the keen readers among you.

Why was D9 such an awesome film? Firstly, director Neill Blomkamp does something very clever. He manages to create a powerful empathetic relationship with the alien race (derogatorily referred to as “prawns”). How? By making them refugees who we humans proceed to treat like shit because we don’t know what to do with them (well apart from barbaric scientific experiments, of course!). Turning the lead character into one of the aliens also helps. By the end of the film, the aliens are the good guys, which is what sets this film apart from the cliched ID4-type storylines.

The second reason this film appealed to me is the fairly overt references to recent computer games of a similar plot. It looks and feels unquestionably like Half-Life 2, largely due to the similar tech and weapons. The assault rifles encased in white plastic are also reminiscent of the Portal gun. The clunky physics of the mech suit Wickas uses reminds one of Dog as well. Additionally, the story happens to a regular guy just during his normal day at work.

Some interesting trivia to finish up. The title “District 9″ is a reference to “District 6″, from the apartheid (meaning ‘separateness’) episode in South Africa’s history where 60,000 non-whites were forcibly relocated. Appropriate, given that’s essentially happens to the aliens.

Star Trek

Disclaimer: Obviously, this post will contain spoilers!

I recently saw J. J. Abrams’ film Star Trek and was left feeling slightly underwhelmed. I had heard good things about the film but left the cinema and was followed home by a daunting cloud of “meh”, which was quite disappointing. This puzzles me as the film certainly ticks all the right boxes. Abrams has got his formula down pat, now; his TV series like Alias and Lost were just warm-ups. Perhaps a parallel with one of the film’s main themes can help me here. It must be that logically, the film has everything required for a great experience. However, apart from a brief moment in the opening scene, the film failed to engage me on an emotional level.

Let’s see, it’s based on proven IP, which movie publishers love, as this almost guarantees a healthy audience size. Director J. J. Abrams on the ticket will attract the Alias, Lost, and Cloverfield die-hards (the latter includes myself). The loyal Star Trek fan base will go and see it out of curiosity; and the prejudiced die-hard Trekkies will see it simply to scoff at its inferiority. It has a great cast including Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg and Eric Bana. Casting a couple of knowns means you get the Heroes fans and the Shaun of the Dead fans for free. The addition of Leonard Nimoy added a warmly familiar nostalgic touch.

Now, I’m about to risk sounding very sexist, but I disclaim that I’m only pointing out the Hollywood attitude to demographic reasoning, and in no way justifying it. Casting a relatively unknown but predictably handsome lead (Chris Pine) means the girlfriends will have something new and pretty to keep them amused while their boyfriends can enjoy his various macho exploits. And there is plenty of action to speak of: a healthy seasoning of well-choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes, most of which are staged on precariously narrow or dangerously high platforms…or both. We also see some Point Break style skydiving suspense which was actually impressively well-shot; achieving the best sense of speed that I’ve seen on film to date for scenes of this kind.

That brings me to the production values, which were exceptional as to be expected. Special effects were of high quality without being over the top. I was only disappointed there was not more emphasis on the epic futuristic Earth that we can all hope for. It was briefly alluded to by the teasingly occluded glimpses of a distant mammoth city we see in the background of a scene from Kirk’s childhood.

Abrams’ Star Trek also more than delivers on sci-fi cliché requirements. Look I have nothing against cliché’s; when used well they provide a comforting sense of familiarity, and even humour in a lot of cases. Here, these include a scene where the extremely impractically overdesigned, yet epically scary-looking spaceship appears, ridiculously dwarfing the puny Earthen ship.

On the topic of ships, there is adequate symbolism regarding alien races. Romulans as a race are characterized by their spikily pointed tattoos which mirror the design of their ships. In contrast, Earthlings are perfectly groomed and wear boring monochromatic outfits, and their ships are very sterile and pure in design. Vulcans, as the allies of Earthlings appear only marginally different than us, and as extra evidence, we learn early on that the two races can cross-breed.

The word “singularity” was used more than once, and “alternate reality” was also thrown in, for good measure. There was plenty of complicated alien tech including phasers (Pew! Pew! Pew!), faster-than-light travel, teleportation, gravity wells and a last minute escape. We had close encounters of the chase-scene-kind facilitated by improbably large terrifying alien creatures. On more than one occasion, a ship’s shields reach a percentage below fifty which is stock-standard sci-fi speak for “we’re in the shit captain”. What else? Hover cars/bikes; automaton Robocop-style law enforcement; a scattering of comically unspoken yet curiously framed miscellany of supporting alien cast members; indoctrination of children instead of education. Finally, (and yes this is a sci-fi cliché) humans remain primally human despite their world being saturated by technology.

Which brings us to… The angsty teen demographic is catered for with both protagonists defiantly rebelling against the destiny laid out by their parents. We also witnessed a good deal of enough “courtship” including some unrequited lust, which ensures those teens who are angsty because they are just too damn horny will be able to relate to the film.

Yes, overall, careful analysis confirms the Star Trek equation infallibly satisfies the criteria for “perfect film”. Yet something was still missing and I wish I could find it, but my Vulcan discipline prevents me.

Maybe that’s it! Could the film possibly have succeeded in creating such a powerful empathetic connection with the character of Spock that I was left incapable of acknowledging any emotional responses? Perhaps, for the entire film, I was just unconsciously discarding them as counterproductive anomalies…

*breaks down and cries*