Getting My Sci-Fi On.

It appears I have developed a taste for sci-fi movies. Though I would never define my filmic tastes by a certain genre, enjoying most with equal pleasure, it has to be said that sci-fi has for a while been my least favourite. Maybe its because I didn’t really understand The Matrix, was freaked out by Minority Report and wasn’t raised by a family of trekkies. Either way I have always preferred the sci-fi hybrid far more than in its pure form; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Jurassic Park, Inception and Back to the Future for example. Now whilst it can be argued that all films are a hybrid of genres of sorts, more undiluted sci-fi ventures such as Children of Men, Star Wars and District 9 don’t quite hit the spot as the adventure-come-sci-fis do. Anyway, what has invoked such a change of heart you may ask. Well this may be attributed to a certain gentleman that goes by the name of Duncan Jones a.k.a. Zowie Bowie, son of David. If you are regular visitor to this blog (now is as good a time as any to thank you for this) you may remember a particularly glowing review I gave to his debut film Moon. Well, he recently released his second film, a noticeably higher budget and higher concept film Source Code.

Now whilst Source Code could be described as a sci-fi thriller, Jones is clearly influenced by this genre in its most unsullied form, citing his love of Blade Runner and Stars Wars as inspiration for the film. Whereas Moon set the stage for an emerging talent, Source Code cemented his position as a bankable director. Sure he’s only two feature films into his career and bankable is probably not a word a creative and imaginative guy like Jones particularly cares for, but these two films have both been critical successes, whilst Source Code looks to be a commerical success too. Certainly a good track record so far.

Source Code, with its Groundhog Day meets Deja Vu set up could potentially have been a grating and repetitive and perhaps predictable film. However the narrative is expertly written and works on so many levels. There are essentially two locations, the pod where Jake Gyllenhaal resides whilst being instructed on Source Code and the train where these instructions play out as Gyllenhaal (Colter Stevens) unravels the mystery bomber. Each ‘replay’ lasts 8 minutes and during each segment a little more about both Colter’s character, past and the bombing mystery is unravelled. Whilst at times complex and confusing, both Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan who plays the girl he’s with make for charming and sympathetic characters, allowing the audience to really engage with the material. There’s sentimentality for the softies and a more realistic, poignant revelation for the cynics as well as plenty of baffling quantum physics theory for the true sci-fi following. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat and though not completely unguessable the genius unfolding of what is essentially two narratives make for a fascinating film. From the opening sequence this is a gripping film and bravado filmmaking from Jones with excellent CGI, editing and cinematography. Also look out for noteworthing support from Vera Farmiga and the song ‘I am the One and Only’ by Chesney Hawkes as Monaghan’s ringtone, which also features in Moon (a lovable directorial quirk). Not only do I want to see more of Jones’ films but sci-fi’s in general, something I never thought I’d hear myself say (see myself write??? doesn’t quite have the same ring to it). Especially after being so scarred by Minority Report. Seriously, even a period drama could rectify the sight of those frozen bodies floating in the jellied pool.

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On the road again

So after that little pit-stop I have recuperated (can you believe I’ve never written that word before!) my passion for writing about film, inspired by two easy-breezy light hearted-come-serious subject matter undertone films, namely ‘The Kids Are All Right’ and ‘Happy Go Lucky’.

I watched Kids on Saturday (just to clarify this is an abbreviation of ‘the kids are all right’ and not some confessional on a creepy weekend pastime), which was one of two of the Oscar films I hadn’t gotten around to seeing. I’ll keep the review short and sweet. Whilst it wasn’t as funny as the trailer had it cracked up to be, it remains that this is a witty and somewhat realistic film. The interactions between characters feel more humanistic and improvised than your stereotypically contrived script and this often means the narrative and situations are more relatable. That being said, the main characters Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) aren’t exactly likeable. Nic is patronising and rude, whilst Jules is flighty and a bit prickly. The actresses do the best they can with what I deemed to be quite unrounded characters, but they’re not exactly people you’re rooting for. The scene in which Nic calls her 18 year old daughter Joni a ‘big girl’ is just plain irritating and you can understand why Joni and brother Laser are so sarcastic and temperamental. Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson, respectively) are probably the best things about this film. To me they are the best drawn characters and most similar to ‘real’ teenagers, obviously we are all different but thinking of the two Hollywood extremes ‘complete rebel and totally misunderstood’ or ‘butter wouldn’t melt saccharine angel’ these two characters seem to find the middle ground pretty well. Then comes Mark Ruffalo who is perhaps one of the most undersold leading men around playing the sperm donor Dad who comes into the lives of lesbian couple Nic and Jules. This is where things get quite complex, feelings start to get hurt and accusations start flying. The film also seems quite static: you’re not sure if the characters are any better off for their ‘journey’ or just a bit more damaged and confused than before. The ending feels somewhat forced and Ruffalo’s Paul is told to bugger off and does. To be honest I think this film was largely over-hyped, Hollywood probably thought this was a film that appealed to modern audiences and their desire to redefine what it means to be a family but unless it’s done well, there’s not really a point. To be blunt, this was pretty disappointing; it’s not as funny, mature or moving as it hopes to be. The highlight for me was the opening Vampire Weekend song.

Next up was a very funny little film called ‘Happy Go Lucky’ which propelled the career of Sally Hawkins, most recently known for ‘Made in Dagenham’. She plays Poppy, a bubbly, comedic sort of girl who sees the world as with an ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ outlook and just like her the film is full-on. It’s dialogue crazy and never really let’s up to give the audience a chance to breathe. While for the most part Poppy is endearing and funny there are times when it could be a little bit annoying but Hawkins is so likeable it’s hard to be annoyed at her. The film has some darker undertones and is on the whole very well acted, though it can be a little repetitive. You could be left wondering what the point of it all was, but ultimately I think it’s a very good showcase of adulthood still being fun. Life doesn’t have to end in your teens when suddenly you’re burdened with financial worries, employability and more ‘serious’ stuff. Like Poppy you can have a good job, amazing friends, go trampolining and flamenco dancing, clubbing and still be 30 and not have to worry about mortgages or career ladders. I found this film uplifting and reassuring, a little odd and rather random but otherwise a very genuine portrayal of ‘life’. Whatever that’s meant to be…