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Posts Tagged ‘Children of Men’

I have had conversations with three people recently (one being my own farther!) who have said they don’t like Sci-Fi.  When asked why they all came up with the same vague answers about it not being real, or realistic and they can’t suspend disbelief if the concept is too far from reality.  But none of them had a problem with unrealistic plots in other films if the film was gunny or exciting.  When challenged they all came up with a Sci-Fi film they actually liked, but hid behind things like, “but its funny” or they like the star.  I didn’t intend to turn into a ardent defender of Sci-Fi or any other genre, but firmly believe there are two types of movie; good and bad, this is true regardless of genre.

With this in mind I have come up with my ultimate list of ten(ish) Sci-Fi films everyone should watch.  I have taken out some of the more challenging movies: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Solaris (1972), Twelve Monkeys (1995), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004); anything animated that they may try and dismiss as kids films: Akira (1988), WALL·E (2008); and anything silent: Metropolis (1927).  I have also taken out anything with serious baggage like Star Wars and Star Trek.  We are left with my Must See Sci-Fi list:

Alien (1979) & Aliens (1986)Alien

Blade Runner (1982) blade runner

The Thing (1982)the thing

The Terminator (1984) & T2 (1992)Terminator 2 Judgment Day

Back to the Future (1985)Back to the future

The Matrix (1999)The Matrix

Donnie Darko (2001)Donnie Darko

Serenity (2005)serenity

Children of Men (2006)children of men

Inception (2010)Inception

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Heather over at Man I Love Films has published a list of her “TOP TEN FAVORITE POST-APOCALYPTIC MOVIES” I started replying but soon realised it was just a list of other movies that I would recommend, so I decided to post my own alternate list instead. As an alternate list I have avoided all the films heather chose, The Mad Max Trilogy, 28 Days Later, 12 Monkeys, Children of Men would all have made my list. Escape From New York may have made the list and Reign of Fire would have been worthy of an honourable mention. As anyone who listens to Wittertainment (if you don’t know what Wittertainment is google it) knows, Post Apocalyptic is an oxymoron as there is no “post apocalypse”, after an apocalypse there is nothing! So putting that cheery prospect aside we will continue to use the term Post Apocalyptic as it is the accepted name of this sub genre.

Planet of the Apes (1968) Everyone knows all about Planet of the Apes, most people have seen at least one of the movies and many know the twist at the end, but go back and watch it again and remind yourself just how great it is.

Death Race 2000 (1975) I saw this movie when I was very young, too young! I loved it at the time but didn’t really get it. Following a financial crisis and a military coup United States has become a fascist police state. The most popular sport is the Annual Transcontinental Road Race, a race where drivers score points for killing pedestrians as they race from coast to coast. The acting is terrible and the production cheep, but it has aged surprisingly thanks to a simple subtext that makes it an effective political satire.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Heather favours the 2004 remake that I must admit I like but the original is my all time favourite Zombie movie. At its heart it is a clever satire and allegory of modern consumer society but forgetting that its just a great horror movie.

Hardware (1990) Written and directed by Richard Stanley and based on a short (7-page) comic strip called SHOK published in 2000 AD by Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neill. Set in a dystopian world ravaged by war, the population is living of the scraps of the dead and decaying civilisation. A soldier retuning home for the Christmas cease-fire, gives the head of a long destroyed robot to his sculptor girlfriend, before long it begins to reassembles itself the body count begins to rise. There is an inherent honesty in the low budget simplicity of the movie that is as sumptuous in its grime and bleakness as it is in its sense of desperation.

Delicatessen (1991) Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s feature début is set in a strange retro post apocalyptic France. A bizarre little film about a butcher and landlord who finds an interesting and cannibalistic way of feeding his customers. Like so many films of the genre, it is about a fight for survival, but in this case its on a smaller and more intimate scale.

The Matrix (1999) One of Heaters honourable mentions but deserving a place on my list as a hugely influential film and one of the best films of the 90’s. A lot of The Matrix is set within “The Matrix” so it is easy to forget the real world scenes onboard the Nebuchadnezzar. Like The terminator movies the glossy Sci-Fi is enhanced by the grim reality of the dystopian future. 

Doomsday (2008) Doomsday is a bit of a mess of a movie but it such a good fun mess it really doesn’t matter. Made up of multiple set pieces including shootouts, car chases and sword fights (inspired by movies as varied as Escape from New York, Aliens, Mad Max 2 & 3 and Gladiator) the final result is a little disjointed but each element is extremely well made. At the heart of the story and holing it all together is Rhona Mitra in her best role to date as a sort of female Snake Plissken. Think of it as a more polished and high quality take on a Enzo G. Castellari style movie. It actually gets better each time I watch it. 

The Road (2009) Post Apocalyptic movies are often gung-ho survival of the fittest stories in the new world order, The Road is very different. A melancholic and chilling story of a world dying with a whimper told through a grim and gritty story of a farther and sons fight to survive. It sounds depressing but it strangely isn’t.

Stake Land (2010) Thanks to a certain franchise of sparkly, vegetarian, teenage vampires the genre has taken a bit of a beating in recent years, Stake Land redresses the balance with the style, brutality and themes of a zombie film except with vampires. Like many great genre movies it is enhanced by a strong subtext, reflecting the time it was made, the tone of the movie is bleak but with a small but vital glimmer of hope, in other words a reflection of the world today.

Perfect Sense (2011) Like the road Perfect Sense tells a story of society going out with a whimper and not a bang. Starting with taste, people start losing their senses. Concentrating on a chef and a scientist (Ewan McGregor and Eva Green) who fall in love as the epidemic unfolds it could have been soppy, disjointed and depressing, it isn’t.

Here are a few more movies that are set in Post Apocalyptic future that are worth a look: Monsters, Zombieland, The Hunger Games, The Book of Eli, A Boy and His Dog, Night of the Comet. And don’t forget The Terminator and Terminator 2, set in the present day but featuring characters who have travelled back in time from a post apocalypse future. There are also a lot of films set in a dystopian future that probably don’t fit the Post Apocalyptic tag, they include: Metropolis, Brazil, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Rollerball, Eraserhead, The City of Lost Children.

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The Dark Knight Rises may turn out to be both the biggest and the best film of the year. Every movie fan with a virtual soapbox to stand on will review it in one way or another, I may do so myself some time in the future, but for now I will not. Instead I have decided to do something different. I am looking at the key players in the movie and picking out my favourite of their movies or performances excluding The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Christopher Nolan: The modern interpretation of the term masterpiece refers a pierce of art (in any medium) that is receives high critical praise and is often considered the pinnacle of the artists career. But the original, true meaning is very different. During the old European guild system, an apprentice wishing to graduate from a guild and become a master craftsman or member of their guild would have to produce a Masterpiece. If successful, the piece would be retained by the master or the guild. Using this theory, Following (1998) is Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. An ultra low budget mystery, crime, thriller with no star names. This led to him making Memento (2000), a simple revenge, thriller that is elevated to a superior mystery by the ingenious idea of telling the story backwards. Using the same criteria, it could be argued that Following was a practice run and Memento is the true masterpiece. Taken on its own merits Insomnia (2002) is a great movie, it just isn’t as good as the Norwegian original. It is a worthy and justified remake that is sympathetic to the story of the original but has its own individual touches. You know how movies come in two’s, this year there are two Snow White movies, a few years ago there were to giant asteroid movies, 2006 was the year of the Victorian stage magicians. Neil Burger’s The Illusionist was good, Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige was much better. Legend has it that after The Dark Knight took a billion dollars Warner Bros let Nolan make any movie he liked. What he came up with was Inception (2010) a little art house movie disguised as a big budget studio blockbuster. Inception may well be his best (non Batman) film, but for introducing me and most of the rest of the world to his work I am declaring Memento to be both his masterpiece and finest hour for Christopher Nolan.

Wally Pfister: Cinematographer/Director of Photography Wally Pfister started out as a cameraman for a Washington news service before being given his first break by Robert Altman. He then enrolled in American Film Institute where a film he worked on was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Like so many great filmmakers, he received his first break as a Cinematographer from Roger Corman. Most of his notable works have been on Christopher Nolan films, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight finally winning for the movie that truly is his finest hour, Inception.

Christian Bale: Where do you start with Christian Bale? A child star in Empire of the Sun who found real fame in his late twenties. Noted for his extreme physical transformations for the movies The Machinist and Rescue Dawn, in I’m Not There, it is a tossup between him and Cate Blanchett as to who is the best “Dylan”. In 3:10 to Yuma, The Prestige, The Fighter, Public Enemies and Terminator Salvation he gives more subtle and low key performances than his co stars, it is therefore a surprise that his finest hour is probably his most showy and over the top performance, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

Anne Hathaway: Many people know Anne Hathaway from her film début The Princess Diaries and can’t see beyond that. I first saw her in Havoc or Brokeback Mountain (saw them both around the same time) where despite all the praise going to Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal I thought the best performances came her and Michelle Williams. I was impressed enough to go and see The Devil Wears Prada and enjoyed it, but her finest hour is Rachel Getting Married. A family drama about a young woman who is released from rehab to attend her sisters wedding. A truly an amazing performance, her character is ultimately a miserable, selfish, narcissistic bitch but she also comes across as vulnerable, funny and sometimes even likable. 

Tom Hardy: I have seen many movies featuring Hardy and remember a great buzz about him around the time of Star Trek: Nemesis, but to be honest I really didn’t take notice until Bronson. Since then he has been brilliant in everything I have seen him in. as for his finest hour, it could easily be Warrior where his performance is monumental or Inception where he offers some great comic relief within an ensemble, but it has to be Bronson. 

Gary Oldman: How do you pick the finest hour from the thirty year career of an actor as talented as Oldman? Far more varied than you would think Oldman is at his best when he is wild and out of control, look back at Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, Stansfield in Leon and Beethoven in Immortal Beloved. That is why it may come as a surprise that his best performance may well be his most low key and economical performance, George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. 

Michael Caine: Gary Olman’s career may be long but Michael Caine has been around for ever, certainly since before I was born. Many of his most notable performances came in the mid/late 60’s and early 70’s and include: Alfie, Sleuth, Zulu, Get Carter and The Ipcress File. He reinvented himself in more comic roles in the 80’s such as: Educating Rita, Without a Clue and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Outside Christopher Nolan movies, the pick of his 21st century movies are The Quiet American, Children of Men and Harry Brown, but for his finest hour, you need to go back to the 60’s for his iconic performance as Charlie Croker in The Italian Job.

Morgan Freeman: Freeman found fame relatively late in life. In his early fifties and after thirty years in the business, in a two year period he appeared in Driving Miss Daisy, Glory, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Bonfire of the Vanities. He makes a lot of movies, therefore there is a certain amount of crap in there too, but the highlights are very high, the include: Unforgiven, Se7en and Million Dollar Baby. His finest hour is probably The Shawshank Redemption. 

Marion Cotillard: A captivating actress who has been brilliant in every film I have ever seen her in. For many people she if best known for her Oscar winning portrayal of Edith Piaf in La vie en rose. Others will know her from her English language movies: Public Enemies, A Good Year, Big Fish and Nine. She was also memorable in Midnight in Paris and Inception. Although deep down I know her finest hour was as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose, I still go back to where I first saw her, Lilly, the long suffering but high maintenance girlfriend in Taxi (and its first two sequels).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The former child actor found fame as a teenager in the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun. his most notable movie appearances from this time is probably 10 Things I Hate About You. He went on to appear in: Havoc (along side future Dark Knight Rises co-star Anne Hathaway) and earned acclaim in Mysterious Skin Stop-Loss and The Lookout. In recent years he has impressed in 500 Days of Summer, 50/50 and Inception, but his finest hour is still the high school noir Brick. 

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Catching up on an old episode of The Matineecast got me thinking about movies set in dystopian futures. Ryan referred to dystopias that are not that far in the future, and via the movie Pleasantville (1998) he and his guest Sasha James Talked about how a nostalgic view of America in the 1950’s could be a dystopia for people from the present day. My first thought was that we could now be living in what would be the dystopian future that people in the 50’s feared. With dwindling natural recourses, and rising costs, losses of civil liberties and an over reliance on technology coupled with the threat of war and terrorism, we are probably closer to dystopia than utopia. With this in mind I have avoided movies set in an unrecognisable world to concentrate on dystopias that are not that different to the real world.

Movies like Gattaca (1997), V for Vendetta (2005) and In Time (2011) exist in a society that has adopted practices that oppress the masses and it is through rebellion that people are able to find a better life. There are other films like1984 (1984), Brazil (1985) and Code 46 (2003) that revel in their desperation and futility by pulling rug from under the hero, and the audience with it. Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and Children of Men (2006) find a happy balance where the despair is tempered by a glimmer of hope. The brilliance of Fahrenheit 451 the way we see a character comes to distrust what he has been taught to believe in and chooses to fight the system from within. We see a similar idea explored in the interesting if a little overrated Equilibrium (2002), set in a society where emotions are outlawed it also explores what it is to be human. Both these ideas are explored in the underrated and misunderstood RoboCop (1987). In there own way the characters in Rollerball (1975) and Death Race 2000 (1975). This is very different from District 13 (2004) and A Clockwork Orange (1971) whose protagonists are and remain outsiders. An interesting case is The Handmaid’s Tale (1990) whose main protagonists desire is only to escape the system but her desires bring her into the sphere of those who are trying to change things.

When you mention Mad Max many people think of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, in some ways the best film in the trilogy, but the original low budget Mad Max is actually equally as good in its own way. Set in a near future world were society is crumbling and law & order has begun to break down people will do what it takes to keep moving to stay on the road. It was relevant in its day but it has found new relevance in recent years. If we think about the glue that holds society together, it is not fear of prosecution, but a moral belief of right and wrong, if you take that bond away the world as we know it will crumble. We see the early days of this in Mad Max, and the subtlety with which this idea is displayed within a violent revenge thriller is why it is possibly the best dystopian movie. This breakdown of society is in the background of neo-noir Trouble in Mind (1985) and retro-future comic book inspired Streets of Fire (1984) but lacks the despair of Mad Max. The other movie that perfectly depicts society at a tipping point is Strange Days (1995). Made in the mid 90’s with LA’s troubles fresh in the memory and set just five years in the future, now more than a decade in the past, some would argue the world is a worse place now than what was depicted. Given the reality TV obsession of the last dozen years and current distrust of media and governments, The Running Man (1987) now seems strangely prophetic. Battle Royale covers some of the same ground but is all the more shocking in the way it casts children against society.

It is human nature to try and change and shape society, but some movies have taken this to an extreme. By travelling back in time from a dystopian future to change the present and reshape the future, their present. This is handled in different ways in different movies, the hero of Twelve Monkeys (1995) is haunted by memories of his own death and with it his failure to save the future. Millennium (1989) takes a different point of view as the characters from the future battle to hide the existence in the present through fear that it will change and potentially destroy the future with the effects of the paradox of time travel. While Millennium is afraid of the effects of paradox, The Terminator (1984) exists within a paradox. It is only within an effort to kill the hero who can save the world that he is conceived. The one thing all these movies have in common is the way they only give us glimpses of the dystopian future, a future created in the present.

One thing that is clear, there are as many differences as there are similarities within the genre, but the movies that are the best and that age the best are the ones that have a deeper relevance. This can be an overt plot, a subtle subtext or just a theme that anchors the story in reality.

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Another strong decade, 2004 and 2009 only just missed out.

2000: Almost Famous, Battle Royale, The Claim, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memento

2001: Mulholland Drive, Donnie Darko: Amelie, Training Day, Y Tu Mamá También

2002: City of God, 28 Days Later, Talk to Her, Hero, Punch-Drunk Love

2003: Oldboy, Kill Bill vol 1, Lost in Translation, X2, Azumi

2005: Sin City, Batman Begins, The Descent, Good Night and Good Luck, Serenity

2006: Pan’s Labyrinth, Casino Royale, Children of Men, Miami Vice (I know I’m of about three people who like it), The Departed

2007: Juno, No Country For Old Men, The Orphanage, Death Proof, Into the Wild

2008: The Dark Knight, The Hurt Locker, In Bruges, Let the Right One In, Gran Torino

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