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Tag Archive: Pinocchio


Review by C.J. Bunce

Credit for the success of Blade Runner 2049 as a worthy sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner is a shared prize for director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario), the writers, including screenwriter Michael Green (Logan, Alien: Covenant), source material creator Philip K. Dick, and original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher (The Mighty Quinn), plus at least two dozen other unnamed creators whose early science fiction works were mined for the story.  Predictable, derivative, slow-paced, and overly long, Blade Runner 2049 still lands as a solid sequel and will no doubt please fans loyal to the 1982 film.  The beauty of the sequel is the earnest, ambitious effort of Villeneuve under the eye of executive producer and original Blade Runner director Ridley Scott to give the story a reserved touch.  The sequel has the now classic dystopian look of the Mad Max or Terminator: Salvation variety, stretching the original Syd Mead futurism and punk noir vibe into a different but logical new direction–think Blade Runner with the lights turned on.

From the first scene Villeneuve & Co. dig in to not just sci-fi tropes but cyborg heavy themes that sci-fi fans know very well from similar explorations in countless books, television series, and films since the early 1980s, when the idea of adapting something like Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? into a big budget film was something less familiar to film audiences.  The filmmakers touch on many classics–Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Shakespearean tragedy–to countless episodes of the Star Trek franchise (lead character and Replicant K/Joe played by Ryan Gosling revisits several direct themes the android Data explored in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  More than ten minutes is spent revisiting the latest technology called an “emanator” that Star Trek Voyager fans will be familiar with as the Emergency Medical Hologram’s “holo-emitter,” a device allowing holograms to move around the world.  What in the early 1980s may have wowed audiences is here not so eye-popping because of the legacy Trek tech called the holodeck.  But none of these flashbacks to sci-fi’s past really take anything away from the elements re-used in Blade Runner 2049 because they are all stitched together into a clean story.  To some it will be a Where’s Waldo? of sci-fi storytelling and to others the simple nostalgia of exploring Isaac Asimov’s themes of the Robot and the Self will be worth a revisit.

Many questions are asked in the lengthy 2 hour-and 43 minute-long film, and some, but not all, will be answered, disappointing a few loyal fans of the original.  Deaths of characters and actors since the original limit the return of certain characters from the original, but where they happen it’s done right.  One scene, however, is a complete misfire–a character walked onto the screen to the gasp of this reviewer’s theater audience, only to find it wasn’t really who was expected based on the build up of the scene.  But the biggest misfire is Villeneuve’s use of sound and score.  Thankfully for the reputation of Vangelis, which scored the original film, Villeneuve turned to Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer this time, creating a dreadful use of sound in a film.  Where the use of Vangelis’s synthesized cautious, futuristic melodies took a backseat to story and dialogue in the original, here Wallfisch and Zimmer lean on dissonant John Cage-esque chords and blare noises like someone sitting on a piano or a kid plugging his guitar into an amp for the first time, over and over, at full volume–the aural equivalent of J.J. Abrams lens flares.  The poor sound really takes away from a visual work that could have benefitted by a closer reflection of the use of sound in the original.  I.e. take at least one earplug along, especially in an IMAX or other digital theater.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

For me, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the film that got away.  I was lucky to have been taken to every great sci-fi classic and Spielberg film from Jaws forward, but multiple Star Wars viewings probably nudged out my chance to see this one back in 1977.  Close Encounters didn’t arrive in theaters until the Christmas season that year and it would likely have generated some nightmares as I was only about a year older than the boy co-star of the film–so it was probably a good thing.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind is back in theaters this week to celebrate its 40th anniversary.  Watching it for the first time on the big screen was like filling in a last brick in the wall.  It’s a satisfying re-watch, and every time you screen a classic in the theater again you learn something new.  The film is being preceded this week by a behind-the-scenes featurette, including an interview with Steven Spielberg and excerpts from the home movies he routinely films as he directs his movies.  It also contains a clip of each iconic scene in the film, so those who haven’t seen the film and want to view it for the first time may want to duck out for popcorn during the previews.  Close Encounters is screening only for a few more days, so no matter how many times you have seen it, it’s time to go back again.  Nothing beats a classic, especially a Spielberg film, on the big screen.

You might find Close Encounters’ pacing to stand out as a bit slow.  Movies today need to be action-packed to grab viewers.  The elements the viewer needs to know are laid out methodically, and yet the film is not told in normal storytelling fashion.  Richard Dreyfuss’s innocent everyman Roy Neary is not your normal protagonist.  Every bit the victim here, he also may be more like a lottery winner, selected to do what many dream of.  He asks for none of the personal invasion he encounters–ripped from his family and job, this uncontrollable compulsion arrives, pursuing him with only a realization that whatever this vision is about it’s somehow important.  From the film’s abrupt start it feels very avant-garde, a bit like modern independent filmmaking, with its back and forth explanation of a communication project in progress spliced with a utility worker who experiences a strange event.  Sequences of real world end-to-end conversations that other directors might have edited to more quickly get to the point also illustrate unusual directing decisions.  Only in what doubles as a horror movie sequence–basically a child abduction–do we get a clear realization of aliens as one possible antagonist of the film.  And when the movie really kicks in at Devil’s Tower the audience can see the international marriage of scientists and military is possibly another villain.  Or is there a villain at all?  Many scenes suggest dissonance itself is the culprit–all the barriers to clear communication that get in the way–the ongoing, pounding barrage of multiple interpreters in a single conversation, air traffic control operators speaking at once, Neary’s wife played by Teri Garr and her kids all talking or screaming or beating toys to pieces, Roy’s co-workers on the radio all speaking at once, a room full of scientists babbling at each other as they try to interpret these six repeated numbers beings sent to them from outer space, aliens playing rapid tones against humans doing the same.  And the sound of all the toys turning on at once, the toys of little Barry (Cary Guffey) that wake up his mom Jillian, played by Oscar nominee Melinda Dillon, forcing her to join the story as a victim along with Roy.  Then the resolution of conflict only arrives as the aliens and humans finally reach clarity with the tonal communication between them in the film’s climactic encounter.  In the preview to the film, Spielberg mentions Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket’s crooning “when you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are” as his inspiration–what the film is all about.  That familiar Disney motif is certainly present thanks to John Williams’ beautiful score.  Maybe Roy is his own enemy–unable to break away from the influence of these beings?  Or by following this calling does he rescue himself from a family that doesn’t understand or listen to him, and a mundane job and neighborhood of zombie-like suburbanites who always seem to be watching him?

Whatever the through line of the story is intended to be, the film is sweeping and enormous in scope, addressing subjects everyone can get sucked into: telepathy, conspiracy theories, all the UFO theories (from cattle mutilations to Area 51 to alien abductions and flying saucers), and unexplained phenomena (from missing people to the curious fascination of aliens with rummaging through refrigerators).  It’s all there in this suspenseful package, all from this brilliant young filmmaker who said he and his cast just couldn’t wait to show everyone this great thing they had created.  Hints at so many films are contained here that you could wonder if Spielberg starts generating every subsequent project idea by first watching Close Encounters:  We see the young child’s parents terrified in their home by some strange force in Poltergeist as Jillian tries to prevent the aliens from breaking into her home.  We see the quiet standing crowd at night waiting at the foot of Devil’s Tower for something good or bad to happen filmed similar to the soldiers waiting as the Ark is opened at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And it’s almost a surprise to realize the mother ship at the end of Close Encounters is not the ship from E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, another giant, flying, lit-up Christmas tree-house transporting that curious little botanist who would arrive only five years later.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Yesterday the international press reported that Facebook shut down an artificial intelligence experiment when two robots named Alice and Bob started to communicate with each other in a non-human dialect of their own.  Intended to test the robots’ ability to negotiate with each other, the programmers did not include coding that required their discussions to be intelligible to humans.  A new novel takes the story further as its two lead characters Ray and Ada, also robots, work together to carry out missions to kill businessmen in Los Angeles for a secret client.  Adam Christopher’s new sci-fi novel Killing is My Business is a 1960s noir story, only it’s a different kind of noir.  Not steampunk noir–maybe call it robot noir, it features Ray the robot, not a futuristic android or cyborg, he’s the last of the robots after their use came and went years before the story begins.  Ray was formerly programmed as a private investigator–he has the skill and resourcefulness of Chinatown’s Jake Gittes–only he’s been reprogrammed as a hitman.  He does his business in the city like any P.I. would back in the ’60s, and despite his obvious robotic appearance he still blends in.  It’s still Los Angeles, albeit a parallel Los Angeles, with gorgeous cars, a pulp novel’s worth of detective work, and, of course, plenty of murder to go around.

We read the story through Ray’s eyes and his analytical voice carries some of the innocence of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but mixed with the decisive actions of Robocop, only subtract the ethical subroutines.  He’s smart but a bit of a Pinocchio, somewhat naïve, and his handler Ada only gives him the information he needs to know to do the current job.  His limitation is a 24-hour recording memory, which is wiped when he returns to his alcove each night, but his morning briefings include relevant bits from his past jobs so he’s not completely a blank slate each day.  The stakes are raised if he doesn’t get home, and no, he doesn’t turn into a pumpkin, but he can fail like any machine.

When we meet Ray he thinks he’s embarked on another typical case, only a strange trend may be emerging:  Why are his targets turning up dead before he gets a chance to pull the trigger himself?  Killing is My Business is a mash-up of pulp noir and science fiction, but it’s also as much a robot’s horror tale.

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spirited-away-clip

He may be the world’s greatest living director.  Hayao Miyazaki, master storyteller and moviemaker, retired but rumored to be coming back for another film, and animator extraordinaire.  He is one of Japan’s national treasures and international film icon.  His catalog of works have garnered literally hundreds of awards and nominations.  Miyazaki’s only film to receive an Oscar, 2001’s Spirited Away, is returning to theaters next month to celebrate the 15th anniversary of its release.

Spirited Away is on many critics’ lists as one of the top five films of the century thus far, and it is Japan’s highest grossing film.  It’s the story of a brave young girl who enters a spirit world to rescue her parents and herself.  It is an incredible fantasy, with dark undertones about real-world concerns including human greed, borrowing bits and pieces from classic children’s stories Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Pinocchio.  It offers spectacular characters and is a story of great courage.

spirited-away

We have yet to be disappointed with any anime production from Miyazaki and the house of Studio Ghibli.  Whether it’s My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Whisper of the Heart (1995), Princess Mononoke (1997), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008), From Up on Poppy Hill (2011), or The Wind Rises (2013), you know you’re getting sumptuous visuals and a compelling story.

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Chappie dog skyline

Writer/director Neill Blomkamp has a unique vision for his sci-fi films.  His first foray, District 9, resulted in a rare nomination for the genre for an Academy Award.  District 9 looked at the social upheaval caused by a future immigration of aliens from a doomed spaceship.  Last year, he turned Matt Damon into a cyborg making an escape to a Utopian world in Elysium.

Now Blomkamp again looks at human society and culture but this time in the context of a robot with artificial intelligence in Chappie.  Chappie is a fish-out-of-water story about a robot experiencing what it means to be alive.

This modern take on the 1980s robot movie Short Circuit and update to Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial intelligence stars Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel as an inventor who creates the robot that thinks and feels.  His creator role is like that of Geppetto from Pinocchio, and Chappie experiences his own growth like the puppet that wanted to be a real boy.

Chappie movie poster

As with Blomkamp’s prior sci-fi films, the special effects look to be superb.  The robot moves freely like a human, and it’s easy to predict that moviegoers will fall for this new creation.

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