Exploration, and Fear of the Unknown. Europa Report (2013)

Europa-Report-posterSpace is a concept that’s always intrigued us, in our yearn to understand more of the universe than we currently know. Generally speaking we are a hungry race, hungry for knowledge, and understanding. Sebastian Cordero’s new film Europa Report (2013) asks the question, what if we discover something best left alone? Europa Report is a science fiction film, recently released on Itunes after it’s festival debut, with a cinematic release in August. It’s quite a conceptual mish-mash, a space drama like Moon (2009), burrowing the concept of found footage and horror most notably used in contemporary cult hit The Blair Witch Project (1999). In addition it also has touches of the documentary, in order to try and give it a realistic sheen. 

Six astronauts go on a mission to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter in order to survey it for signs of sentient life. We the audience see the story unfold as ‘lost footage’ from the feed from mission control, to the Europa One. The mission goes swimmingly at first, as we see the crew first adapt to their surroundings in Europa one, inter-spliced with segments from those behind the mission talking about the general course and plan. An abrupt solarstorm knocks out the communication systems, leaving the crew essentially stranded with no choice to continue. The situation only gets more perilous as they set foot on Europa. 

A sample of new life.

A sample of new life.

Let’s start with negatives first, so we can finish on a positive note for a film I quite liked. Europa Report generally follows that typical horror formula, as our protagonists gradually are killed off one by one, as we’re left questioned who will survive. The thing is, throughout the whole film there’s clips from a crew member who’s clearly survived the mission, and we don’t hear from the others. This reliefs the narrative of a lot of needed tension. We never really get to know our 6 ambitious young astronauts either. This usually means the emotional impact is significantly weakened when we don’t identify, or feel empathy for a much loved character. A lot of this is down to the script, it only touches on the surface of each character, a few of them only having a few lines throughout the entire film. In addition the cinematography is very realistic, but for a horror film you need those close-ups, and dramatic shots to milk the drama, which mostly isn’t there.

Lost in space.

Lost in space.

Apart from the loss of drama, the way it’s shot is very elegant. The shots inside the ship are from multiple cameras in fixed positions like the genuine article, and it’s very convincing. It’s a hard trade-up either way really, realism, or drama. One thing I have nothing but praise for are the wonderful aesthetics. The sights and sounds of the moon Europa are breathtaking, and the shots following the engineers as they attempt to fix the ship are like nothing I’ve ever seen. It captures the true wonders of exploration, and why we yearn to see new things. The casting of lesser-known actors is always a good thing when reality is involved because it preserves that authentic feel, the idea that these people are astronauts, not actors portraying them. The main recognizable presence on board is that of Sharlto Copley, from District 9 fame who gives an impactful performance, however brief his screen-time may be.

Overall Europa Report is worth a watch simply for the stunning visuals, and refreshing concept. Admittedly as it develops into horror territory I wasn’t scared, shocked, or fearful. I don’t even know if I was supposed to be? It’s still a fantastic attempt, and a solid entry into the science-fiction genre that’s only a few details from being a classic. That’s all for now, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views. 

 

IMDB Top 250 Review: #179: Twelve Monkeys (1995)

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For more reviews in my IMDB Top 250 series, click here.

What do I think of when people say the name Terry Gilliam? A man who is so full of good ideas, perhaps too many, that when revealed to others his imagination simply clogs his creations. Terry Gilliam  (Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) is an ex-pythoneer who has a knack for flights of fancy, or anything bizarre, surreal, insane, or deranged. 12 Monkeys (1995) is probably his most well known film, and his main one accountable for his financial success in directing. Typically his films haven’t done financially well at the box office, and usually go on to become cult hits. I didn’t know what to expect from 12 Monkeys, but i rarely do when it’s a Gilliam film. I’m still fairly undecided if I loved it, or hated it. 

James Cole (Bruce Willis) is a convict living in a dystopian world where society now lives underground, due to a mass viral outbreak that killed roughly 5 billion of the population, leaving a small 1 percent behind. James is a convict guilty of several counts of violence, and ill-behavior. As penance, a ruling board of 5 scientists send James back to the past in order to find out more about this outbreak. They send him to 1990, instead of 1996 as chaos ensues, and he is arrested for gibbering about the future which police officers interpret as madness. He is locked away for his insanity, as psychologist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) begins to feel sympathy for him.  James almost turns insane himself numbed by the intensity and quantity of drugs administered. He escapes the confines of the institution from the help of completely insane conspiracy nut Jeffrey Goins (Brad Pitt). James kidnaps the good doctor Railly, and takes her on a journey in order to alter the future he comes from.

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The ruling board of scientists.

The synopsis may seem messy, but it’s a very ‘busy’ film as you’d expect from Gilliam. Essentially it’s an apocalyptic future science-fiction drama, with elements of romance. James’ psyche is stretched between two worlds and we see his mind deteriorate as he attempts to identify what’s real and what isn’t, although seemingly all of it is. Conflicted by Railly’s words, and that of the scientists the whole thing is incredibly surreal. The goal to stop this ‘army of the twelve monkeys’ is a wild goose chase, and is based around the idea of the recollection of false memories, and how we our self alter our memories to the most logical or likely solution, though it can fool us. The state of dream is thought of in this way too. James has a recurring dream, which would turn out to be the closing moments of the film which he sees as a child (due to time travel) which he recollects differently each time. 

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While entertaining, and certainly original, Twelve Monkeys left me wanting. There’s just a bit too much going on, if it were more streamlined and the script were more solid I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Admittedly the performances went a long way in holding it together, particularly that of Willis, and Pitt. It’s an odd concoction of a film, artistic in it’s ideas and views, yet it plays out like an action film, with strong hints of romance? You could literally repackage the film again and again, in entirely different ways. For example: A psychologist falls in love with her patient who thinks he’s from the future, who sees himself die, only to dream about seeing himself die, incorrectly. Brad Pitt plays a maniac, while Bruce Willis thinks Brad Pitt will cause an apocalyptic plague, when in reality he just raids the zoo.

Bizarre, quirky and distinctly original. However original though, at points I found it rather tedious. I’d be surprised if this is exactly what Gilliam wanted it to be. Some elements certainly seem shoehorned in. I didn’t love Twelve Monkeys. But I was intrigued by it. At 179, it holds a solid, firm ranking. I’m tempted to say it deserves it’s place simply because there are films on the list that don’t bring anything new to the table, while this does. For now, I’ll stick with debatable.

Judgment – Debatable

The Evolution of Science-Fiction, and the Hollywood Sequel. Planet of the Apes (1968).

planet_of_the_apesPlanet of the Apes, or the ‘Apes’ series as it’s often referred to is possibly one of the very first commercial series in terms of long and extended cinematic stories. Stemming from it’s first film Planet of  the Apes (1968) the eighth installment of the series Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is due for release next year. However, as long and as influential the series has been, no film has been able to capture the true science fiction stigma that it encapsulates, the true intrigue and excitement that’s been lost since. Originally based on Planet of the Apes the novel (La planete de singes, in French), a 1963 French novel by Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes is directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and directed by Arthur P. Jacobs.

The story is a simple one, yet one that grips and maintains intrigue and interest. Taylor (Charlton Heston) and 3 other astronauts crash in their spacecraft on an unknown planet 300 light-years from home. The computer also details that they’re roughly 2000 years into the future from the past they left. As they explore the dusty barren planet they discover a colony of ape people who slaughter the primitive humans who roam around the land. They kill one of Taylor’s comrades, and surgically destroy the brain of his other leaving Taylor himself in captivity. The affectionate scientist Zira (Kim Hunter) begins to realize that Taylor is an intelligent being and not inferior like the other primitive humans. Conspiracy begins to unravel as the truth is made clear about the origins of the ape people, to the shock and awe of everyone.

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Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!’ – George Taylor

The premise is one that encapsulates the very initial ideas of Sci-Fi and feels very B-movie in it’s core mechanics. Two important elements that should be in every science fiction film are the driving forces of Planet of the Apes, exploration, and subversion. Exploration both literally and figuratively, in the exploration of new worlds, boundless frontiers, but also exploration in science, ideas of space travel, scientific discovery and such. After all Taylor and his fellow astronauts were originally sent to find live on new planets. It’s that kind of basic element which defines science fiction, not special effects or manufactured aesthetics. To counterbalance this, science fiction films should be subversive. They should completely subvert life as we know it, and offer a different and often darker or disturbing vision into the past, present or future. That defines Planet of the Apes to the core, in it’s climatic scene when George Taylor pounds at the sand, mourning the loss of the civilization he knew, symbolized by the remnants of the statue of liberty.

Dr.Zaius as he admits, there was life before Ape, that of man.

Dr.Zaius as he admits, there was life before Ape, that of man.

Performance is an aspect often neglected by science fiction films, but this is not the case for Planet of the Apes. George Taylor is at first the skeptical and well adjusted protagonist, signaled by his mocking of his mocking of his friend’s naivety at the very beginning. The other astronaut is completely aghast by the notion that they’re light-years away from earth and will never see their families again. George says plainly that there’s no point and they have a job to do. He is the stubborn and rebellious one, which is why he’s the one to survive so the aftermath is even more shocking as his psyche breaks. We emphasize with George and feel his pain as he sails further towards the brink of conspiracy, realizing the truth. On a larger scale, the characters and performance are important because we need to relate to the character to truly immerse ourselves within the situation and new reality of the film. Otherwise the general effect is lost if we can’t relate.

Are humans primitive in our self destructive manner?

Are humans primitive in our self destructive manner?

Planet of the Apes is an immersive sprawling epic in an often misunderstood genre that’s lost it’s way recently. Modern science fiction films like Prometheus for example feel like they’re trying to break the mold, trying to completely redefine the genre from which they originate. As shown you don’t need a ridiculous over-ambitious concept, because even when you do you usually end up with some nice aesthetics, but ultimately an empty husk of a film, such as Avatar. Clearly simplicity is the aim of the game, and is what the genre needs to ultimately reinvigorate it’s self. I can’t remember the last decent contemporary Sci-Fi film I’ve seen since the release of Moon which was truly beckoning in terms of smaller casts and minimalism. I think we can learn a lot from Planet of the Apes, a film that can’t be replaced, no matter how hard Hollywood tries with it’s misplaced optimism and over ambitious goals. 

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The Icarus, ironically named because it didn’t fall from the sky like the Greek legend. Unfortunately it’s destination was always planned.

The message of Planet of the Apes, if any is that technology maybe someday be the end of us. A probably true statement, or more accurately that we are self-destructive beings. Dr.Zaius describes man as bloodthirsty race, primitive or not, the indictment is quite true. When we look at the absurdist ways of the ape culture, it really makes an audience reflect on themselves, and the culture we’ve built and whether it’s truly justified. The religious parables from the sacred scriptures are particularly poignant in their critique of religion. In elements of performance, story, symbolism, direction, and aesthetics Planet of the Apes puts up high scores round the board and is a must-see for anyone, particularly those who have looked upon sequels and remakes with disdain. That’s all for this time, thanks for stopping by, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views. 

Evangelion 2.22 – You can (Not) Advance (2009)

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After multiple distractions, I bring you Evangelion 2.0 (2.22). I wasn’t directly planning on reviewing the sequels but I got a fair amount of hits, and good feedback on them, so it only seemed logical. This time instead of the standard subtitles I went for the funimation dub instead (THIS WAS A BAD IDEA). The dub was unsurprisingly, pretty damn awful in parts. However I can’t really blame anyone but myself, and funimation of course.

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Evangelion 2.0 has an action-packed opening sequence, introducing a new pilot, the bizarre covert agent Mari, as she pilots EVA unit 05 to a successful victory against an attacking angel. Then we switch to NERV HQ which is also under angel attack, as pilot 3 (or the second child) Asuka Langley joins the fight, successfully killing it. A lot of the narrative revolves around Shinji, Rei, and Asuka as both of the girls seemingly develop feelings for Shinji (god knows how, the man has the emotional capacities of a brick). NERV struggles to maintain all three evas, however they are sent a forth by the states and are forced to put unit 02 in stasis (due to a law that defines a country may only have three active units). Unit 3 is infected by an angel, as it traps Asuka inside. Shinji and Unit 01 are deployed, however he refuses to fight in fear of killing her. His father, Commander Ikari replaces Shinji with a dummy plug (A computer program that’ll run the EVA on it’s own) it does and the results are catastrophic as it completely destroys unit 3, including the capsule that contains Asuka.

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She is fine, but put in quarantine for fear of her being corrupted by the angel for the time being. Shinji once again runs away from his problems, refusing to pilot the EVA again. Yet another angel attacks with the city already in ruins as NERV deploy Unit 02 with the unknown Mari piloting it. She attacks it, but fails to do any damage, as she uses a passcode to remove the safety constrictions of the EVA, turning it from machine, into a feral beast. However even then she struggles, as Unit 00 (Rei) tries to aid her. Unit 02 breaks the AT Field, as Unit 00 runs a missile directly into it’s core, but the angel remains unharmed. All of this builds to a tense conclusion as Shinji comes back and pilots Unit 01 once again, enraged as the angel has ingested Unit 00 in it’s entirety. His heightened emotional state causes Unit 01 to act insanely as it savages the angel, and saves Rei. The story finishes with the technical team observing Unit 01 and it’s angelic appearance. Ritsuko then predicts the third impact is coming (Apocalypse).

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There’s a lot happening in Evangelion 2.0. First thing of note is, the canon from the TV series is completely changed in dire contrast to the first film which pretty much copied the series shot for shot. The action is certainly in abundance, and the animation budget really shows. The themes of religion, and sin are much more evident. When angels are slain, Tokyo 3 is left washed in seas of blood, or left barren rusted and grey. The writing is marginally more realistic with the characters feeling more accurately adjusted considering they’re on the very brink of devastation. It also touches on the idea of Shinji and his father, as he faces why he pilots the EVA, mainly to garner his father’s approval which he realizes after his father praises him. Asuka features highly in this one which is expected from the stuck-up, elitist, uppity-bitch character.

If this isn't potent religious symbolism, I'm not sure what is.

If this isn’t potent religious symbolism, I’m not sure what is.

I didn’t really understand everything. For example the weird moon-sequence, with the moon-man who somehow has an EVA? Then he didn’t actually appear with it? That kind of baffled me along with a few occurances near the end. Though I don’t suppose there’s much reasoning in the realm of Japanese science fiction, fiction. Especially with one of the key themes being religion, you’re always bound to have some bizarre happenings. One last thing i’d like talk about before I summarize is Hideaki Onno and his use of score. During one of the more tense scenes he uses deliberately melodic music during a scene of intense violence. It’s a technique often used in live action cinema, most notably The Godfather 2. It’s particularly effective and profound and is probably my favorite moment of Evangelion 2.0. The thought of these towering metal giants fighting, as the score likens it to childs play, when they border so close to the end of it all. And here’s the scene;

Summary: Evangelion is a visual spectacle, and a very symbolic one. It’s plot is deep-rooted and complicated, but also ideological with the strange relationship between science and religion that allows mankind to defend it’s self against the would-be apocalypse. It’s also a story about people, or children in the biblical sense. Everything about Evangelion 2.0 oozes texture and visceral tones. However, there’s a lot of fan-service and it certainly tries to derail the serious, and harsh mood of Evangelion. That being said it’s still an incredible piece of animation, and i’d recommend it. Until next time folks, Like/Follow/Comment, and follow me on twitter @Sams_Reel_Views. I’m also now writing at Filmoa.com.

Cloud Atlas (2012) or ‘Experimental narrative, and it’s flaws’.

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Hello there, and welcome to Sam’s Reel Views. Today we look at quite a big, controversial piece of cinema as we take a look at Cloud Atlas. Cloud Atlas is a German film, written, produced, and directed by Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski. At roughly a hundred and 2 million dollars, Cloud Atlas is easily one of the most expensive films ever made. It’s a ‘german film’ but ultimately it’s a piece of world cinema, being shot around the world, containing American, British, and Chinese actors, depicting a number of races, and worlds too. It’s billed as a ‘Drama and Science Fiction’ film, which is true but ultimately far too narrow a description to apply to such a diverse and varied film. The film very much has an ensemble cast, starring among many names, Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, and Susan Sarandon. The narrative contains 6 very different stories, that basically effect each other in chronology, the majority of the character playing a different character in each. What’s more odd is we don’t see the stories in any odd chronology or sequence as the stories inter-cut constantly showing snippets of each before progressing. A very nice and artistic concept, but ultimately flawed in it’s execution.

The futuristic world before 'The Fall'

The futuristic world before ‘The Fall’

‘The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing’ follows a man visiting Africa securing a slavery contract as during the journey back he befriends a slave who stowed away on the ship. During the journey a doctor treats him for a parasitic worm, however the doctor is slowly poisoning his patient in order to steal his belongings, as the slave he befriended saves him. ‘Letters from Zedelghem‘ follows a bisexual musician, who works as an understudy for an old withered, hag of a musician. He threatens to steal his work, as the young man shoots him, finished his symphony before killing himself, moments before his former lover finds him. ‘Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery’, I didn’t really follow, I didn’t really understand exactly what was happening in those segments. Something about a conspiracy? and an assassin? ‘The Ghastly ordeal of Timothy Cavendish’ follows a publisher, who is shook down for money, when he runs to family for help, though he is imprisoned in a nursing home instead. He escapes, and writes his memoirs, and lives a happy life. ‘An Orison of Sonmi’, is about a clone, who is essentially an artificially made human worker who is freed by the commander of the revolution in a dystopian society which gradually leads to his death, and her execution. ‘Sloosha’s Crossin’ an Ev’rythin After’ follows a primitive valley men who tries to protect his daughter from an evil shamanic tribe, when he is aided by a woman from a selection of people who are still technologically advance following the events of ‘The Fall’. 

The beautiful 'Neo-Seoul'

The beautiful ‘Neo-Seoul’

So the positives first. The cast is excellent, each one portrays their multiple characters perfectly, and it really shows off the talents of each and every one of them. In particular it shows some rather unconventional roles for Tom Hanks, and Hugo Weaving which is a nice change of pace. The setting, choice of filming location, and aesthetics are all great, with some really beautiful stills. However, unavoidably the problem in Cloud Atlas is pretty glaring, the way it’s shown. The 1 minute cuts or so with it not focusing on a storyline for more than 2 minutes at a time causes major attention span issues, and sometimes I just missed things because it’s hard to really understand what’s happening the whole time. It causes a really big demand from the audience, but not only this. As a result, it’s hard to really build tension, emotion, and ever the confusing thing is seeing an actor in one scene, then another, and when it’s bundled into a hard running time of 2:52:00, it’s rather hard to really appreciate as a great piece of cinema. Some of the stories are bland, mainly the non-futuristic or dystopian ones, and some are incredible so in many ways it is hit and miss, the editing is certainly interesting as you’ll see scenes with kind of similar emotions paired with each other.

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What ultimately is Cloud Atlas about? well, the directors have said in many interviews that there’s no definite meaning, and it’s all for individual interpretation, yadda yadda and so forth. However, my view is that it’s ultimately about story telling. And how we can influence one another. You see a traveller’s journal, who influences a singer, who writes a letter a journalist reads, who is published by a publisher, who’s own book is made into a film, and so on, and that’s the main narrative link between the stories. Other than that there’s probably something to be said about diversity, or some quip that tragedy, death, and happyness will always be factors in life no matter what the context or origin from which we originate. 

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Cloud Atlas is a piece of art, with incredible visuals, acting, score and writing. However the way it’s told is a real divider for audiences, it drives the piece from a segmented narrative, into artistic avant garde cinema which certainly isn’t for everyone. To be honest, watch it, and understanding and trying to maintain the narrative strands in my mind was a chore, and it definitely drained the experience for me, as opposed to if the segments just ran in order, in wholes. However, If I do have one thing to say about Cloud Atlas is that you definitely should watch it for yourself and judge. Anyway that’s it for this time, I return with Annie Hall tomorrow. Until then, thanks for reading, please Like/Comment/Follow if you feel inclined, and thanks. 

– Sam

Evangelion 1.11 You are (Not) Alone (2007)

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Time for something a bit different today, taking a break from the Woody Allen films with the first of four films which are remasters of the original Neon Genesis Evangelion series. Evangelion 1.11 (or 1.0) is animated (anime) film, that’s highly involved in ideas of science-fiction, and in many ways horror, with an incredibly deep religious subtext. I saw the original series many years ago, and was somewhat a fan but never finished it, which made watching this all the more tempting.

EVA Unit 01.

EVA Unit 01.

Evangelion follows a teenage boy named Shinji Ikari, who lives in Neo-Tokyo in the vaguely distant future (I can’t remember canon time dates). His father is a high ranking official in an organization NERV which is essentially some kind of global protection organization. The world borders on apocalypse as monsters known as ‘Angels’ continue to attack Tokyo, Shinji’s father summons him to pilot an Evangelion (A machine designed to fight the angels) as the human race struggles to survive. The film follows the first few attacks in the chronology, and the events leading up to Shinji piloting it, and the aftermath of so. It also focuses on fellow pilot Rei Ayanami, the other eva pilot, and also on Shinji’s father and their incredibly strained relationship. The first few battles with Angel 4, And 5 are fairly routine, with Unit 01 sustaining damage but ultimately protecting Tokyo. The climax involves the 6th angel as it comes close to penetrating and destroying NERV HQ, as drastic measures are taken as Shinji gets one shot using a special protoype positron cannon, which manages to create incredible tension considering it’s an animation.

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The film is only the first of a 4 part series, so you can’t really expect it to be as tense, and capturing as the later installments. The film seems very much similar to the original TV series, in some sections down to the shot with much fresher, revitalized animation which really captures the spectacle of it all. The animation is really crisp, and the battle scenes are incredibly gripping, however EVA still has elements of fan-service, and some very irritating, or otherwise ridiculous characters. Throughout the introductory cast, it’s basically impossible to fund someone who’s just a standard functioning human-being, especially with 4 or 5 of them (Shinji, Rei, Gendo) being angsty and untalkative  which really doesn’t create good drama. You could say it’s a part of the whole apocalyptic genre, and it’s a new world or such, but ultimately in my eyes that’s what holds Evangelion back, a lack of identifiable or amiable characters. However it is realistic in the way they behave, and is in many ways the very antithesis of the azumanga diaoh bubblegum bullshit that anime often gets tied down to, it has a variety of dark, synical characters who have seen too much and don’t know how to express themselves. In terms of mis-en-scene Evangelion 1.11 is incredibly symbolic in terms of religious symbols that really ties into the whole apocalypse, and idea of creation unmaking it’s self.

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Only a short review today, as I’m incredibly tired from a 6 hour train journey yesterday. Tomorrow we’ll crack on with part 3 of the Woody Allen films, and hopefully something new on Monday. Evangelion is an acquired taste, but certainly a good choice for those interested in science-fiction and apocalyptic dystopian drama. Until next time, I’ll leave you with this clip, and ask you to follow/like/comment/share if you like what you’ve read, and cheers!