It’s nearly the future, but it’s just now for Theodore Twombly, a successful professional writer of assuredly sentimental personal letters. The world is more automated than anything imagined by the cold wizards behind Google Glass: in an elevator leaving work, Theodore murmurs to the tiny device in his ear, “Play melancholy song,” and after a few bars, refines, “Play different melancholy song.” In a softly lit, given-to-orange-red Los Angeles, shot partially in Shanghai, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) procrastinates on finalizing his divorce while thinking of what went wrong with his wife (Rooney Mara), while having a warm, Platonic, female-male friendship with his neighbor, Amy (Amy Adams), a married documentary-maker and programmer. His sentiments shift when he buys an operating system for his computer, an intuitive entity that listens to you, that understands you, which dubs itself Samantha and has a chipper, flirtatious, intimate, slightly husky voice: Scarlett Johansson. A.I.-yi-yi: she’s got the emotional intelligence of a lover and a mother. Read the rest of this entry »
Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to “TRON: Legacy” is a sleek, glassy repository of curated design, as much a lexicon of coolly appreciated influence as a functional motion picture in its own right. “Oblivion” took its first creative breath as an unpublished graphic novel by Kosinski, who shares story and writing credit here, and it has the kind of magpie fecundity you’d hope to find bursting from the pages of une bande dessinée freshly re-inked into English. But as a movie, it’s like a data mind-meld, a terabyte farm of all the films Kosinski has ever steeped in, a reduction to one singularity, an uberfilm that displaces all that it came from. But sad for the film’s fortunes, “Oblivion” requires story and actors, and it has Tom Cruise at his most Cruise-ey. Read the rest of this entry »
In Rian Johnson’s fine and fantastic “Looper,” a man in the near future confronts men from the farther future and dispatches them from the face of the earth. It’s a savvy variation on the hitman genre and a magpie fashion of gently-brushed-in science fiction that manages to entertain in its small details of the everyday while proposing and prompting notions about our existence in the eternal now, the split-second we’re always holding, losing, anticipating with each breath and fleeting thought.
I think old Tom got it first and got it best, but Johnson is oh-so-very-close with his fine and fantastic third feature. “Old Tom” would be T. S. Eliot, and the poems would be those of “Four Quartets.” There was much drop of jaw while watching “Looper,” but it was not too far in when I remembered a single, singular, exquisite, simple passage. Stories about time travel open onto corridors of paradox, and “explanations” readily detonate. The most soothing passage I know about movies working Möbius rubber-band strips of time travel is part of a poem: “Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past. / If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable. / What might have been is an abstraction / Remaining a perpetual possibility / Only in a world of speculation.” Read the rest of this entry »
“Animatics” are a tool used to previsualize special effects, and watching the lightly-likable futuristic sketchbook “Total Recall,” and each of its successive action setpieces as Colin Farrell’s factory worker is thrust into a counterespionage-agent counter-reality, I felt as if Len Wiseman had directed the year’s most excellent animatic, as well as the prettiest dystopia since the first half of “Wall-E.” Workers commute in an overpopulated future through the core of the earth—”prepare for gravity reversal”—from Colonies sketched from the “Blade Runner” playbook to a cordoned United Federation of Britain, with buildings and flyways and green spaces stacked to implausible heights, as much amusing doodles as feasible structures. Read the rest of this entry »
A feverish feat of studied immersion and unrelenting design, Panos Cosmatos’ “Beyond the Black Rainbow,” set in 1983, is both otherworldly and innerworldly in its hallucination of futurisms past. A seemingly telepathic woman is held captive in a clinic called “Arboria”: the treatments we see are probably not going to help her get any better. It’s all a matter of mood and tone, or taste, and would likely drive many potential admirers out into the open even before the main title appears at ten minutes into the film. The style-savvy Cosmatos at least dazes, if not dazzles, with his SF simulacrum’s aggressive array of close-ups and immersive use of film stocks, filters, anachronistic typefaces and an analog synthesizer score by Jeremy Schmidt of Black Mountain. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Prometheus” is a glorious triumph of cinema as spectacle, of movies as atmospheres and quicksilver instants of human reaction and bombastic bursts of large-scale action and sound and symphony. As a traditional commercial movie? For those expecting fully explored themes, rather than jabs of implication, or dynamically structured exposition and traditionally paced emotional catharsis, from one of the most gifted art directors who ever became a film director, it may turn out to be something else altogether.
The camera races across the rangy, gorgeous impossibility of a landscape that is in fact Iceland: what world or worlds is this? We won’t know for a while. But it’s gratifying to settle into one huge Ridleygram. Read the rest of this entry »
#OccupyGattaca! Clever lad Andrew Niccol’s latest high-conceit parallel-universe science-fiction allegory, “In Time,” is also a bold, goofy, political parable that pits plutocrats who “come from time” (time = money) against the ninety-nine percent of the population that pay out their days in seconds against minutes. The unexplained gene-splicing that allows everyone to stay twenty-five sets an internal clock ticking on that birthday, which gives you a year: a year of currency to spend in order to live. You can stay twenty-five forever if you earn enough time and also evade the police, now known as “Timekeepers.” Read the rest of this entry »
“World On A Wire,” (Welt am Draht) the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1973 science-fiction epic about virtual reality, made for German television, has been restored from its 16mm Ektachrome origins and into 35mm visual splendor. Among other things, it’s a gorgeous, strange time capsule of futurism past, with dollops of Philip K. Dick, intriguingly prescient musings on alternate realities, and many other recognizable Fassbinder themes and players brought at long last to light. Read the rest of this entry »