Category: Science Fiction

Feb 11 2015

Videophiled: Time-traveling through ‘Predestination’

Predest

Sony

Predestination (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD) is kind of a generic title for a perversely clever time travel tale, but you can understand why The Spierig Brothers, the screen credit for filmmaking team Michael and Peter Spierig who adapted Robert Heinlein’s short story to the screen, didn’t go with Heinlein’s title. “—All You Zombies—” would give audiences the wrong idea. There are no zombies in the story. What we get is much weirder, the story of an agent (Ethan Hawke) for the Bureau of Time Travel on the trail of a deadly bomber and a sad young man who calls himself “The Unwed Mother” and offers a life story of tragic, soul-crushing loss, betrayal, and loneliness. Australian actress Sarah Snook plays the young man, who was born and raised a girl and underwent a change of sex because… well, unless you’ve already read the story, the revelation of each dramatic turn is best experienced. Meanwhile, as his / her story unfolds in linear fashion at first, the film starts looping back to reveal a complicated patter of a life lived in overlapping eras, crossing paths in ways that send our tragic figure down that path as if fated.

For a faithful adaptation of a short story, the film is packed with plot twists and narrative surprises and the challenge faced by the Spierig Brothers is obscuring details that would give away the twists without making it obvious. On that front they are fairly successful—it can be a little distracting when a face is purposely hidden from view, but the story is so strange and the personal ordeal so emotionally crushing that it kept my focus. While one side of my brain worked at sifting through clues and trying to pieces together the grand design, the other side was caught up in the personal odyssey. It could have become something of a sideshow gimmick but Snook makes it work with an affecting portrait of torment and isolation. Sure, the young man who first enters the bar seems a little “off” in our first meeting (something the film is able to leverage into initial tension), but as the film unfolds, what seems weird simply becomes sad. It’s terribly clever with a densely-woven plot (all of it there in the blueprint of the story), but the human drama and the slow revelation of kinship shared by these two strangers in the bar gives the film its bruised heart and its lost, isolated figure of tragedy a sense of purpose and reason to go on.

Blu-ray and DVD with a featurette and bloopers. The Blu-ray includes an exclusive 75-minute documentary “All You Zombies: Bringing Predestination to Life.” Also available on Digital HD and VOD.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Feb 07 2015

TV / Streaming Review: ‘Black Mirror’

Britain’s audacious answer to The Twilight Zone for our plugged-in world of social media and screen culture, Black Mirror seemed to come out of nowhere. The anthology show debuted on Netflix in December with “The National Anthem,” which caused a viral sensation. That first episode addressed hacking, cybercrime, political protest, and extortion with a savagely satirical story about the kidnapping of a royal family member. To save her, the Prime Minister was instructed—in the form of a video ransom demand streamed for the world to watch—to fuck a pig on live television, and he did. “The National Anthem” was the most transgressive thing I’ve ever seen on TV, and I see a lot of TV.

Rory Kinnear (center) in “The National Anthem”

Written by English journalist-turned-satirist Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror’s creator, that episode was wickedly, nastily funny. Unlike most premium American television, however, its shock value has a real point. The YouTube terrorism of “The National Anthem” is but an nth-degree exaggeration of our own cyber-bullying, celebrity phone hacking, and North Korean cyber-attacks.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Jan 21 2015

Videophiled: Scarlett Johansson is ‘Lucy’

Lucy

Universal

Lucy (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – Luc Besson and his EuropaCorp studio is the salvation of the unpretentious, mid-budget, hyper-charged action movie. Usually Besson is content to write and produce the films, which have launched careers of such protégés as Louis Letterier (The Transporter), Pierre Morel (Taken), and Olivier Megaton (Colombiana), but he takes charge of this marvelously ridiculous action fantasy starring Scarlett Johansson. She plays Lucy, an American girl in South Korea who becomes the unwitting recipient of an overdose of an experimental designer drug that supercharges her brain and her consciousness along with it.

The premise is built a science cliché that is a misrepresentation at best and outright falsehood at worst—that we only use 10% of our brain, or the potential of our higher brain functions, as the sage professor and narrator played by Morgan Freeman puts it—and the script goes batshit crazy with it. Her growing abilities (measured with regular updates on the percentage of her brain now utilized) are a mix of superhero powers and telekinetic powers indistinguishable from magic and explained with science mumbo jumbo. It’s basically a fantasy wrapped in the guise of science and used as an excuse for an action thriller, but what a thriller. This is a kinetic explosion at its best with Johansson striding through it with a sense of drive and assuredness that is a super power all its own. Weaving through her journey is a revenge tale involving a Korean drug lord (played by Choi Min-sik—Oldboy himself!) and part of the pleasure of the film is how, after such a build-up, unimportant that whole subplot is to Lucy. The way she handles that annoyance is far more effective at explaining Lucy’s transformation than all the exposition spouted by Freeman. Besson’s attempts to frame it in some kind of evolutionary context would be laughable if it wasn’t so damnably fun.

On Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray includes two featurettes and bonus DVD and Digital HD copies of the film. Also on cable and digital VOD.

More new releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

Jan 14 2015

Videphiled: ‘Stingray: The Complete Series’

StingrayCom

Timeless Media

Stingray: The Complete Series – 50th Anniversary Edition (Timeless, DVD) “Stand by for adventure!” After two successful sci-fi Supermarionation shows for British TV, producers Gerry and Sylvia Anderson turned to undersea action in Stingray. The heroes are the World Aquanaut Security Patrol (WASP), deep sea agents whose mission of exploration is transformed into one of defense when the Aquaphibians attack from the underwater city of Titanica. Supermarionation refers to the Anderson’s brand of marionette puppets and the shows are completely performed by the inexpressive but engaging puppets (with strings in full view). Captain Troy Tempest is the stalwart human hero, supported by his co-pilot Phones and Princess Marina, a mute underwater dweller he rescues from the villainous Aquaphibians in the first episode. Lois Maxwell, the definitive Miss Moneypenny herself, is the voice of Lt. Atlanta Shore, daughter of Troy’s boss and Marina’s rival for Troy’s affections.

The scripts are awkward (as is much of the puppet action) but the Andersons love their gadgets and their vehicles and, as silly as some of this science fantasy show is, it is a blast for its in souped-up submersibles, led by the state-of-the-art Stingray, and for the colorful design and creative science of the show. The blue-skinned Aquaphibian spy on the surface is played a Peter Lorre clone, right down to the sniveling dialogue. It’s odd and kitschy enough but still a warm-up to the more accomplished Anderson programs that followed, specifically Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. “Anything can happen in the next half hour!”

39 episodes plus commentary on select episodes and a featurette among the supplements.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Dec 24 2014

Videophiled: ‘Dominion: Season One’

DominionS1

Universal

Dominion: Season One (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD), another new apocalyptic vision from SyFy, is essentially a spin-off of the 2010 feature Legion, set about 20 years after Gabriel leads a war on humanity and Archangel Michael turns his back on heaven to protect humanity and The Chosen One destined to save them. He’s now grown into Alex Lannen (Christopher Egan), an earnest soldier in Vega, the future incarnation of Las Vegas as a walled city under military command and control and a ruling elite vying for power in a decidedly undemocratic system. There’s all sorts of complicated politics and various factions and interest groups, with Michael (Tom Wisdom) serving as something between adviser and deity and Gabriel (Carl Beukes) preparing for another war with his army of lesser angels (who have all taken over human bodies) looking more like a band of demons on earth (complete with black wings for the angels—color coding is everything), but otherwise this is all familiar territory with only the specifics changed. Alex is in love with the daughter of the city ruler but she’s betrothed to the son of the city’s most powerful man, and of course everyone is driven by their own interests and alliances. And hey, who would have suspected that angels keep secrets? There’s nothing religious here apart from the mythology of angels as the ancient race of God’s warriors. Egan is fine as the reluctant Chosen One and TV vets Anthony Head (Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Alan Dale (Lost and Once Upon a Time) are the two patriarchs competing for power but the rest of the cast feels like they’re recycled versions of other actors playing recycled incarnations of other characters.

Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a bonus Ultraviolet digital copy of the season. The Blu-ray features an extended version of the season finale and an HD version of the digital copy.

More new releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

Dec 09 2014

Videophiled: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ versus ‘Time Bandits’

GuardiansGalaxy

Disney

Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney, Blu-ray+Blu-ray 3D, DVD, VOD) is based on one of the more obscure Marvel Comics to get the big screen treatment, but everything about the film suggests a filmmaker trying to recapture the sense of energy and color and sheer fun of Star Wars and the pop space opera. That’s a pretty good marriage and director James Gunn, whose talent for balancing genre tropes with tongue-in-cheek humor and colorful characters came through nicely in Slither, makes it a winning union.

It’s not that the story is particularly fresh—there’s a super-evil megalomaniac (Lee Pace) bent on exterminating an entire race of beings and he needs a fabled super-weapon to execute his plan, which intergalactic soldier of fortune Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who calls himself Star Lord, happens to have—and frankly the whole everything-hinges-on-a-series-of-showdowns third act is getting a little tired by now. That’s par for the course for both comic book action spectacles and space opera adventures and this doesn’t shake it off.

But Gunn does make the journey a lot of fun, with an oddball cast of renegades who, tossed together in a deep space prison, team up to escape and wind up staying together because it suits their purposes, but really because it sucks to be alone. These guys are all outlaws, but they are not villains, and in the right place at the right time, that makes them heroes. The script is tossed through with entertaining banter, the action sequences are spirited and filled with inventive imagery, and the spirit of the whole enterprise is bright and energized, right down to the bouncy jukebox of seventies tunes that Peter carries around as his personal soundtrack.

Chris Pratt is shaggily charming as the rogue-for-hire with a souped-up space ship and a soft spot for underdog causes, Zoe Saldana is Gamora, the butt-kicking, green-skinned assassin who wants revenge against her adoptive father, wrestling star Dave Bautista is the muscular and very literal-minded Drax the Destroyer (again, on a mission of vengeance), Bradley Cooper voices the gun-toting, wise-cracking Rocket Raccoon, and Vin Diesel is the heart of the team as Groot, a walking tree of few words.

Here’s a deleted scene from the Blu-ray:

The DVD includes a short promo for the upcoming The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The wealth of extras is saved for the two-disc Blu-ray (which features both standard and 3D versions of the film). Director James Gunn really engages with the film for the commentary track. He’s not new to the format—he did commentary for Slither, Super, even his screenwriting debut film Tromeo & Juliet—but you gotta figure he’s been waiting his career for something like this and he’s clearly engaged to share it all. He’s also in the playful 21-minute “Guide to the Galaxy with James Gunn,” which crams a lot of territory into a very short piece. There’s also a short overview on the visual effects, a brief collection of deleted and extended scenes (with optional commentary by Gunn), and an obligatory gag reel.

Also on cable VOD, iTunes, Amazon Instant, and other digital rental services.

TimeBanditsBD

Criterion

Time Bandits (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) is a fractured fairy tale from the cracked imagination of Terry Gilliam, who wrote the warped adventure with fellow Monty Python alum Michael Palin. It’s a strange and weird and wonderful mix of boy’s own adventure, Python-esque humor, and grim irony, all wrapped in tall tales, ancient myths, and historical figures. British schoolboy Kevin (Craig Warnock) is pulled through a series of holes in time and space by a raucous band of renegade dwarfs (among them David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, and Jack Purvis) attempting to plunder their way through history. They’re no criminal masterminds, mind you, and the incredulous Kevin becomes a voice of reason and even something of an anchor when the gang gets tangled up in silly spats and Three Stooges-like shenanigans. And he gets the ride of his life as he meets Napoleon (Ian Holm, who is delighted by “little things hitting each other”), Robin Hood (John Cleese), and Agamemnon (Sean Connery) along the way.

This was Gilliam’s sophomore picture and he makes a significant leap from his debut solo effort Jabberwocky as both a storyteller and a cinematic artist. He lets us see it all through Kevin’s eyes, from a roaring horse that breaks out of his bedroom closet like a dragon from a storybook to the comforting entrance of Sean Connery as the heroic Agamemnon adopting Kevin like he’s an orphaned prince. But the whimsy and idealized heroics are leavened with satirical jabs—Robin Hood’s men are not so merry and their benevolence comes at an unexpected price—and the whole adventure turns out to be monitored by the scheming personification of Evil (David Warner). The colorful set pieces, imaginative design, and physical humor seems aimed at kids, while the dark satire presages Brazil, making it as much an adult film as a children’s fantasy. It’s hard to tell if the grim coda is Gilliam’s idea of a tragedy or a happy ending, but it does tap into a primal urge of adolescent rebellion: a child’s revenge fantasy made real. It’s also hilarious and imaginative and completely unruly, emphasis on that last note. Chaos reigns, evil exists, and the best we can do is keep our eyes open and hold our own.

Criterion released an edition on DVD back in the early days of the format and Image released a disappointing Blu-ray a few years ago. This edition comes from a new 2K digital transfer from the original camera negative supervised by Gilliam and it is a great improvement over all previous American disc releases. It includes the new featurette “Creating the Worlds of Time Bandits” with production designer Milly Burns and costume designer James Acheson discussing the design and creation of the world and illustrated with production sketches and artwork and stills from the finished film.

Carried over from previous Criterion releases is commentary by director Terry Gilliam, co-screenwriter and actor Michael Palin, and actors John Cleese, David Warner, and Craig Warnock, recorded in 1997 and featured on the original laserdisc release. There are also some archival interviews: Terry Gilliam in discussion with film scholar Peter von Bagh as the 1998 Midnight Sun Film Festival and actress Shelley Duvall with Ton Snyder on Tomorrow from 1981. And in place of the booklet is a fold-out insert with an essay by film critic David Sterritt on one side and reproduction of the time-hole map from the film on the other.

More releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and VOD at Cinephiled

Oct 22 2014

Videophiled: ‘Snowpiercer’ – Class Struggle on a Runaway Train

snowpiercerSnowpiercer (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD), an international production from Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho based on a French graphic novel, is a high-speed metaphor speeding down the science fiction tracks of genre cinema. That’s the way I like this brand of filmmaking: with the metaphors big, muscular, detailed, and punchy. You either give yourself over to the allegory, in this case a giant train as a self-contained eco-system traveling through a world plunged into an ice age with passengers segregated into castes and the oppressed poor rising up in revolution, or give up. There’s not much in between.

Think “The Odyssey” as reworked by Karl Marx and set on the Siberian Express. Chris Evans (Captain America himself) is the angry young leader in the dungeon of steerage class battling his way through the train, car by car, to the engine, seeing his fellow revolutionaries cut down by the stormtrooper soldiers as the poor, huddled masses progress through the levels of privilege and decadence. And Tilda Swinton all but steals the film from him as the devoted functionary dedicated to class division and population control through repression and purges, embracing the essence of her character as both live action political cartoon and deluded acolyte of an Oz-like ruler with Darwinian tools. It is the class system of the industrial revolution in microcosm played out as high-concept action movie, and with Bong (The Host) at the helm, it’s a violent, graphically dynamic journey.

Blu-ray and DVD with hosted by Geek Nation film critic Scott Weinberg and featuring William Goss (Austin Chronicle), Drew Mcweeny (Hitfix.com), Jennifer Yamato (Deadline), Peter S. Hall (Movies.com), and my old colleague James Rocchi (who is identified as MSN Movies, despite the fact the site effectively shut down a year ago). A second disc features additional supplements: a nearly hour-long French language documentary “Transperceneige: From the Black Page to the Black Screen,” the shorter “The Birth of Snowpiercer,” a piece on ‘The Characters” with actor interviews,” an animated prologue, and addition interviews and concept art galleries.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinemaphiled

Oct 07 2014

‘Destroy All Monsters': Rumble in the Jungle with Godzilla and Friends

The original Godzilla (1954), especially the original Japanese release, is more than a mutant monster movie of the atomic-scare fifties. It is a stark disaster thriller that evokes the terrors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the lingering poison of the nuclear radiation. The two destructive forces come together in a screaming atomic lizard, a dinosaur roused from dormancy by the lingering radiation and set loose for a new nuclear holocaust, and the black and white photography lends an atmosphere of dark and doom.

'Destroy All Monsters'

The sequels are a different story. The films went color. The special effects of cities stomped to rubble by a radioactive dinosaur became a kind of giddy entertainment instead of a nightmarish metaphor. And as far as the movies were concerned, Godzilla was no longer a post-nuclear plague unleashed upon Japan let alone a villain. He was a character in its own right and the stories that followed his 1954 debut mutated (so to speak) into monster smackdowns that allowed audiences to root for his victory against a new menace to civilization without any sense of irony. While not exactly a friend of mankind, he turned into a protector of Earth when it is threatened by other monsters and, later, alien invaders. This was Godzilla’s turf and no one was muscling in.

Destroy All Monsters (1968), the ninth Godzilla film and the twentieth kaiju (giant monster) movie from Toho, returned Godzilla godfather Ishiro Honda to the helm.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Sep 17 2014

Why ‘Goldfinger’ at 50 remains the definitive James Bond movie

Goldfinger was the third Bond feature but the first Bond blockbuster, an instant smash hit that turned the series into a phenomenon. Fifty years after its Sept. 17, 1964 London premiere, which was overrun by fans fighting to get into the theater, it remains the definitive big-screen incarnation of the world’s most famous secret agent.

Sean Connery and Shirley Eaton in 1964's 'Goldfinger'

“Of all the Bonds, Goldfinger is the best, and can stand as a surrogate for the others,” wrote Roger Ebert in 1999. “If it is not a great film, it is a great entertainment, and contains all the elements of the Bond formula that would work again and again.”

The first two Bond films — Dr. No and From Russia With Love — were both unabashedly sexy and brutishly sexist, cartoons of glib machismo with martini wit and international flair. Sean Connery brought his Bondness to life with a mix of charm, arrogance, elegance and rough-and-tumble toughness.

Today you can see them as time capsules of Mad Men fantasies of masculinity with comic-book action. Goldfinger not only ups the ante on every level, it adds a few new elements that made the series.

Continue reading at Today.com

Sep 16 2014

Videophiled: ‘Godzilla’ goes to America

Godzilla2014

Godzilla (2014) (Warner, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, Digital HD, Cable VOD), the second American attempt to bring the cinema’s lizard king of giant monsters stateside, succeeds (mostly) where Roland Emmerich’s misguided 1998 remake floundered. It is surprisingly faithful to the classic Godzilla monster mashes of the sixties and seventies, when giant creatures would attack mankind and Godzilla would rise from the ocean to smite them. Clear out the backstory, the family drama, the military response, and the scientific mumbo jumbo, and that’s what this story really comes down to. It’s simply executed as an American disaster spectacle rather than a Japanese kaiju spectacle.

Gareth Edwards, who showed remarkable ingenuity and imagination in the low-budget Monsters, gives us a Godzilla that looks like the fabled atomic dinosaur of the Japanese films and retains the majesty and dignity of the monster as a ferocious force of nature who rises to take on ancient enemies (called M.U.T.O.s in the film) roused from dormancy. The human framework of the story is the weakest part, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson taking leading man heroics without much defining personality and a supporting cast that includes Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and Bryan Cranston all but wasted in weak roles, but at least it establishes the gravity of the situation. They become more important as witnesses, providing Edwards with a human perspective to the spectacle. Most of the giant monster battles are shot from ground level and human POV, which helps instill the film with a refreshing sense of awe missing from so many CGI spectacles.

Let’s just say for the record that this is a dark movie, lots of night and murky atmosphere from which the threats emerge, and the Blu-ray handles the darkness well, with the important details standing out of the dark. All disc editions include a collection of featurettes, most on the light, snacky side. “The Legendary Godzilla” provides the production side, with the almost 20-minute “Godzilla: A Force of Nature” walking us through the film from inspiration to execution and three shorter pieces focusing on key effects, including the creation of the M.U.T.O.s. “MONARCH Declassified” offers three mock-historical featurettes from the world of the film. The Blu-ray includes bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.

More new releases on disc and digital platforms at Cinephiled

Sep 16 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘Arrow: Season Two’ misses its Netflix mark to push disc and digital sales

ArrowS2

The second season of Arrow, the first major TV superhero success story in the wake of the “Dark Knight” / Marvel Universe revolution, arrives on Blu-ray and DVD today, as well as full-season digital purchase.

It was also supposed to become available on Netflix streaming over the weekend. Originally scheduled for Sunday, September 14, the Netflix release was pushed to October 8 at the last minute. That’s the same date as the Season 3 premiere, which means no binge streaming to catch up before the new season beings. Disc and digital purchase is the only way to see the second season until then (you can watch five select episodes of the second season on Hulu, but that’s it).

It’s proven good business to make previous seasons available a couple of weeks in advance of the new season to build up excitement among fan and entice new viewers to tune in but Warner Bros. Television, which produces the show, has its eye on sales this time. The last minute delay is designed to boost sales on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms.

Arrow is the type of show that generally does well in disc sales—genre-oriented with a passionate fan base that likes to own its favorite series—and the disc editions are packed with supplements and include Digital HD Ultraviolet episodes for streaming.

Fans were not happy and the fan-oriented sites have tripping over themselves to get the details ever since the series failed to appear on Netflix on Sunday.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Sep 14 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘Person of Interest: Season Three’

PersonInterestS3

Person of Interest: The Complete Third Season (Warner, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) adds another partner to the team (Sarah Shahi as a coolly efficient former CIA assassin), turns renegade activist and maverick genius Root (Amy Acker) into a wary ally, and most dramatically kills off a trusted and beloved ally, a loss that sends the reliable John Reese (Jim Caviezel) into a dramatic tailspin. This season expands the surveillance conspiracy aspect of the series—the premise depends on a supercomputer hooked up to every camera and communications device on the grid—by introducing a second system controlled by an shadowy international organization and sold to the American government with an elaborate terrorist plot. As the show gets more complex and the cast gets bigger, Detective Fusco (Kevin Chapman), the one-time corrupt cop who saved his soul be helping out the team and eventually became a reliable and trusted member of the secret squad, wound up getting forgotten, swept to the fringes of most episodes, but he takes the lead in coaxing Reese back to the team in one of his finest hours.

It’s an increasingly complex series, which keeps its fans riveted to the show, while still delivering stand-alone mystery of the week episodes that sends the team out to save an innocent (and sometimes a not-so-innocent) victim from harm. It remains action packed and full of science fiction-level technology but the characters are still the most interesting dimension of the show and the loyalty they show one another defines the series and keeps me connected to the elaborate mythology. By the end of the season, it goes in directions most viewers would not predict, setting itself up for big changes in the fourth season which begins in September.

23 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD editions, along with three featurettes, commentary on the season finale by actor Michael Emerson, and the 2013 Comic Con panel presentation. The Blu-ray release also features bonus DVD and digital copies.

Five select episodes of the show – including the three final episodes of the season, can be streamed at CBS.com.

More TV on disc and digital at Cinephiled

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