Sketchley's Translations Main Index
By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com) Ver 1.18 2024.02.11

Science Fiction Film Reviews


The Abyss

AeonFlux

Avatar

Back to the Future

Back to the Future Part II

Back to the Future Part III

Battle: Los Angeles

Blade Runner

Chappie
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
District 9

Dune (2021)

Edge of Tomorrow

Elysium

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

The Fifth Element

Gattaca

Jurassic Park
The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park III

The Martian
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Starship Troopers
War For the Planet of the Apes
12 Monkeys

The Abyss

4 stars

Release date: 1989
Written by: James Cameron
Directed by: James Cameron
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2023.07.23
In January 1994, the USS Montana, a ballistic missile submarine, has an encounter with an unidentified submerged object and sinks near the Cayman Trough. With Soviet ships moving in to try to salvage the sub and a hurricane rapidly approaching, the US government sends a SEAL team to Deep Core, a privately owned experimental underwater drilling platform near the Cayman Trough to use as a base of operations. The platform's designer, Dr Lindsey Brigman, insists on going along with the SEAL team, even though her estranged husband Virgil "Bud" Brigman is the current foreman. During the initial investigation of the Montana, a power cut in the team's submersibles leads to Lindsey seeing a strange light circling the sub, which she later calls a "non-terrestrial intelligence", or NTI. Upon learning about the NTI, the SEAL team leader is ordered to accelerate their mission and take one of the mini-subs without Deep Core's permission to recover a Trident missile warhead from the Montana. His team departs just as the storm hits above, leaving the drilling platform's crew unable to disconnect the umbilical support cable from their surface support ship. The hurricane eventually pushes the support ship so far out of position that its cable crane is torn from the deck and plunges into the sea—falling directly toward Deep Core!

The Abyss is an intense, contemplative film with all the thrilling sequence that one would expect from auteur Dir. Cameron. Perhaps most interesting is that there aren't any enemies per se, and the majority of events occur simply due to the various characters' reactions and the circumstances that they find themselves in. The main antagonist, SEAL team leader Lt. Coffee—played pitch-perfect by the always reliable Michael Biehn—arguably does things for what he perceives as the greater good. In some ways, the main "opponent" is the utterly hostile environment that the characters are forced to live and work in, and the film asks the question if the "enemy" is actually themselves.

Arguably the best aspect of the film is that it was filmed "on location" (i.e. underwater), and that everything we see is entirely plausible for the time period that the film was released in. The main shortcoming of the film is its third act, which is let down by the limits of visual effects technology when the film was made. The "Special Edition" goes a long way toward rounding out the film and completing its major themes. However, even despite the additional scenes, the ending still relies a little too much on what amounts to deus ex machina to save the day. The film also ends before we see the world's reaction to its first contact-like encounter, which would have given the film a truly transformative conclusion. Nevertheless, by and large the film is a thought-provoking, thrilling ride with many unexpected twists and turns, and is populated with well-rounded characters with plenty of shades of grey. Can't be missed!

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AeonFlux

1.5 stars

Release date: 2005
Written by: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2016.11.21 (revised 2023.11.18)
In 2011, a deadly pathogenic virus killed 99 percent of the Earth's population. Four centuries later, in 2415, the remaining five million humans inhabit Bregna, a dystopian walled futuristic city-state, which is ruled by a congress of scientists. Although Bregna is largely an idyllic place on the destroyed Earth, people routinely disappear and the population is plagued by nightmares. A skilled warrior, named Aeon Flux, is a member of the Monicans, an underground rebel organization who communicate through telepathy-enabling technology and are led by the Handler. After a mission to destroy a surveillance station, Aeon comes home to find her sister Una has been mistaken for a Monican and killed. Aeon is subsequently sent on a mission to infiltrate the government complex to kill Trevor Goodchild, the leader of Bregna. When she comes face to face with him, however, she is overwhelmed by memories of having lived a life with him, even though it is the first time that they have met. She is captured by the authorities, but Goodchild is equally overwhelmed by memories of her, and insists that they meet again—once she has escaped from her imprisonment!

While AeonFlux has its flaws, it is in many ways one of the better films from the string of societal revolution films that came out during the late 90's and earlier 2000's. This film made a greater impact on the viewer than its peers because of its intriguing look at something fundamental to the human condition. The film doesn't spell it out, but this viewer considers it to be an examination of the soul. Perhaps one could say it is about the connection between the body and the soul—as nothing else could really explain the type of transferred memories between reincarnations that we're shown. The film doesn't even pretend to have any answers. Nevertheless, what the film does present is intriguing.

Another of the film's strong points is its visuals: notwithstanding the eye candy, it is a gorgeous film to look at, with a lot of care put into what appears on screen. The visual choreography—not just the fight scenes, but the editing of the shots—is breathtaking at times. The future tech it presents is also unique and intriguing in its own way. I don't think anyone will look at grass the same way after seeing this film!

That said, even though the story is done well (not necessarily well done), it leaves the viewer feeling that it could have fleshed things out a bit more here and there, and at the very least, made the protagonists a bit more sympathetic.

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Avatar

2 stars

Release date: 2009
Written by: James Cameron
Directed by: James Cameron
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.01.10
Jake Sully is a paraplegic ex-Marine who has replaced his recently deceased identical twin brother on a multi-year contract to Pandora, an alien world being mined for the valuable mineral unobtanium. Pandora is inhabited by giant humanoids called Na'vi. Jake was able to take over his brother's contract because Earth scientists use genetically matching Na'vi-human hybrids—called avatars—to explore the biosphere and interact with the Na'vi, and the avatars are frightfully expensive to produce. On planet, Dr. Grace Augustine the head of the avatar program, considers Jake a poor substitute for his scientist brother. On the other hand, Parker Selfridge, the company manager, and Col. Miles Quaritch, the head of the company's security force, both like it as Jake is a former soldier and can serve as a bodyguard, among other things. However, on his first deployment, Jake is attacked and chased by a panther-like creature, and is separated from his team. He is rescued by the Na'vi Neytiri, who after seeing an auspicious sign, takes him to her clan. Neytiri's mother, the clan's spiritual leader, orders her daughter to teach Jake their customs. Jake's human comrades all see this as a huge win: Grace sees an opportunity to get back into contact with the Na'vi after an unexplained fallout, and Parker and Miles both see an opportunity to learn about the Na'vi's home: a giant tree called Hometree, that stands above the largest unobtanium deposit in the area. As he's being promised that the company will restore his legs as a reward, Jake takes to his new assignment with gusto. However, his loyalties start changing the more he learns of and adopts the Na'vi culture.

Avatar is an intriguing film. On the one hand, it plays it extremely safe and doesn't take any risks, to the point that it's predictable. On the other, it's beautifully filmed by a genius director, and presents not only a well developed alien race and their culture and language, but also the entire biosphere of the world that they live in! One of the best aspects is the completely unforced, and naturally-developing Jake-Neytiri romance. The best scene in the film is the first time that the paraplegic Jake gets into his avatar body and is able to use his legs once more—from the first wiggle of his toes to his wiggling them in the garden dirt.

Alas, as smooth as the story slickly unfolds, it is also one that we've seen dozens of times before: invaders colonize a foreign land, come into conflict with the locals, and a love between a man and a woman from either side of the divide forms, causing the one from the invading side to question their loyalties, and join the locals to stop the invaders. Perhaps it's for the best that Dir. Cameron invested most of the film's time in developing the fresh and original world and culture of the Na'vi. The film also suggests an intriguing question: if humans are wired up and using avatars, are the Na'vi doing a less-technological version of that when they make their connections to the animals on Pandora to communicate with and control them? Sadly, the film doesn't stop to ask if the animal–Na'vi connection is a two-way one, and if the animals are communicating as much with the Na'vi as the Na'vi are with them. Nevertheless, the film is a visual masterpiece*, and could be seen just for its breathtaking visuals.

* I say that without having ever seen it in 3D. All the shots are filled with details right out to the edges of their framing, and the only way to enjoy that without risking a visual headache is to do that in the forced-focal-point free 2D.

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Back to the Future

stars

Release date:
Written by:
Directed by:
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on:
Coming soon!
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Back to the Future Part II

stars

Release date:
Written by:
Directed by:
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on:
Coming soon!
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Back to the Future Part III

stars

Release date:
Written by:
Directed by:
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on:
Coming soon!
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Battle: Los Angeles

3.5 stars

Release date: 2011
Written by: Chris Bertolini
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.05.26
Significant clusters of meteors that appeared with little forewarning land in the sea near 20 major coastal cities. The meteors turn out to be something else, as hostile aliens emerge from the sea, and mercilessly attack the people who have gathered to watch them fall. As the aliens carve out a beachhead, Marines from a nearby base are dispatched to help evacuate the civilians and form a defensive line. Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz—who is set to retire and is training new recruits—is assigned to 1st Platoon Echo Company, and their assignment is to retrieve civilians from a police station deep in the enemy's beachhead.

Battle: Los Angeles is a war movie, with aliens. It focuses in on and follows the one Marine unit, and refrains from giving us a big-picture overview, or even going into detail on who the aliens are, their leadership, and why they're invading urban areas. In some ways, it's frustrating, but in many other ways, it's a good thing, as it forces the viewer to come up with their own answers.

The ensemble cast is filled with well-known faces, which helps make it easier to keep track of who's who—always a challenge in war films as everyone tends to be dressed in the same drab uniforms. The film is loaded with plenty of war-movie cliches. However, the twist that the enemy army are aliens makes it arguably much more interesting, as that naturally increases the unpredictability of the film. The writers and director wisely put limits on what the aliens know and understand about humans, and that leads to dozens of scenes where the aliens blindly ignore what is obvious to another human, or the aliens take inexplicable actions because they don't know what the human priorities are.

While the film doesn't have the same intensity as Aliens, Battle: Los Angeles successfully walks the same path, and even manages to give us some unexpected new takes in the soldiers vs. aliens genre.

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Blade Runner

3 stars

Release date: 1982
Written by: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2016.12.05
This film is good, not because of what it tells you, but because of what it asks you to interpret in your own way. How else could we still be debating and discussing it 30 years after its release?

The film was at once extremely familiar and foreign. So many movies and anime have copied its cityscapes that I was immediately reminded of such works as Bubble Gum Crisis, and the influence they had on my manga work in the early '90s. The plot, on the other hand, is more about what it suggests and implies, than what it specifically shows. Take Tyrell's massive trifocal glasses—what do they say about the character? Couldn't those massive trifocals be a metaphor for Tyrell being the all seeing, but at the same time a barrier that blinds him?

Throwing my 2 cents into the debate on whether Deckard is a Replicant or not: I'll say this: all the humans in the film are portrayed as physically flawed (e.g.: Gaff has a limp, Sebastian has Methuselah Syndrome) and the Replicants are not. In reading some of the debate on Deckard, one point stood out: what if Deckard is a Replicant with Gaff's memories? It certainly explains some things. And even though that deflates the navel gazing on such things as a human falling in love with a Replicant, it does adds a slew of new thoughts—do androids experience love the same as we do? What exactly is it that makes a human a human? Is this film told from the Replicant's perspective? And so on.

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Chappie

2 stars

Release date: 2015
Written by: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.05.26
Skyrocketing crime rates lead Johannesburg to buy Scouts—autonomous humanoid robots with minimal minimal AI—from weapons manufacturer Tetravaal. The Scouts either completely take over from or work jointly with the human police force in high-risk situations. They were designed by Deon Wilson, who is secretly working on a full, human-like AI in his free time at home. Vincent Moore, the leader of a competing project within the company, is envious and grows more frustrated when the police are unwilling to even give his heavy weapons platform a look. Finally cracking AI, Deon asks the Tetravaal CEO to let him test it on a police robot. She promptly refuses. Undeterred, Deon steals a damaged Scout that was recently written-off, puts it in his van, and takes the company's sole "guard key" which is needed to update the Scout's software. On his way home, he is kidnapped by gang members Ninja, Yolandi, and Amerika. They want Deon to disable all the Scouts in the city so that they can complete a heist on an armoured car to get the money they need to pay off a local crime boss who has put a price on their heads. When Deon explains that Tetravaal doesn't have remote controls for the Scouts, they order Deon to reprogram the one he has in his van. Deon installs the AI, and once activated, it responds with childlike trepidation when activated. Ninja forces Deon to flee, while Yolandi names the robot Chappie, and the two begin bonding. However, being damaged, Chappie's battery will run out within a week. Ninja is impatient and wants to train Chappie to be a gangster to help out in the heist, while Deon wants to oversee Chappie's development. In the midst of this conflict comes Vincent, who is starting to cause mischief to make the city police notice of his project.

Chappie is all over the place, and exploding with ideas. However, unlike District 9 or even Elysium, Dir. Neill Blomkamp doesn't let many of those ideas pan out and develop properly before introducing the next one. For example, a security guard gives Deon a deadline to return the guard key by nightfall—which he doesn't—and then there is no mention of any repercussions as the film's focus has shifted elsewhere. Things like that happen a handful of times, and there are even one or two times when things happen without us being properly primed that such things could happen at all. It makes one wonder if too much was cut when the film was being edited.

That said, the basic premise of the film is intriguing, interesting, and unique. While it's amusing to see a robot behaving like a petulant, sulky teenager, the film isn't actually that far off the mark when it comes to how AI's are being 'trained' at the present time. My main concern is that the film paints the protagonist Chappie AI in an extremely sympathetic light. However, in the course of the story, not only does he mature from a child to young adulthood, he also figures out how to transfer someone's consciousness from one body to another. And that's just one week. Imagine what he'll be able to do at the end of week two?

Nevertheless, if you enjoyed Dir. Blomkamp's earlier films, you will definitely get a kick out of this one. Even if you're not a fan, this film has to be seen for its realistic portrayal of police robots, and the Moose—a remote controlled bipedal robot tank. And let's not forget the highlight: Hugh Jackman rocking a mullet.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

4 stars

Release date: 2014
Written by: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.01.20 (revised 2024.02.04)
Ten years after the deadly Simian Flu pandemic, the worldwide population is drastically reduced, with only about 1 in 500 being genetically immune and surviving the disease. Human civilization has been destroyed after the subsequent societal collapse. A colony of apes, all bestowed with genetically enhanced intelligence by the virus, has establish a community in the forests north of San Francisco. They are led by Caesar, along with his lieutenants Maurice, Rocket, and Koba. A group of humans, led by Malcolm, unknowingly enter the apes' territory in search of a hydroelectric dam that would restore power to their community in San Francisco. In an unexpected confrontation, one of the group injures Rocket's son. Malcolm manages to prevent things from escalating further as they are surrounded by the apes' warriors. Caesar speaks, shocking the humans, and orders them to leave. Prompted by Koba, Caesar soon brings his army to the human community as a display of strength. Caesar announces that, while the apes do not want war, they will fight to defend themselves. He then demands that the humans stay out of the apes' territory. Dreyfus, the leader of the human community, is alarmed and frightened by the unexpected turn of events. Due to that and desperation—as the humans have only 2 weeks of fuel left to power their generators—arms his community and starts preparing for an assault on the apes to secure the dam. Malcolm convinces Dreyfus to give him a chance to take a small team to the forest to attempt to reconcile with the apes and peacefully access the dam. Dreyfus gives him three days. Arriving at the forest, Malcolm heads into it alone to try to not only meet Caesar, but also to convince him to let them access the dam. However, not only are the apes hostile to humans in their territory, several of them were subjected to torturous medical experiments before the pandemic and are itching for retribution!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a great film that in many ways is greater than the sum of its parts. It has an excellent exploration of what it means to be a leader and the challenges that leaders face. Caesar is not only confronted by human antagonists, but also by his fellow apes and his own values. This is paralleled in the human side as well. We see understanding, shared values, and comradeship between the humans and between the apes, as well as between a few of the humans and a few of the apes. Perhaps most remarkably for an 'action film', there are no villains, and every character is a complex blend of shades of grey. Every character is well established, and their actions stem from their belief that they are doing what's best for themselves, their comrades, and their communities. In its own way, the film is an indictment of the people who cannot look beyond the past sins of a few, and stereotype entire communities based on that.

The highlight of the film is the virtuoso 360-degree shot with Koba on a tank going nuts in the ape attack on the human settlement. If there is ever a scene that captures the chaos and violence of battle, this is it. This shot not only depicts what kind of person Koba is in a specific sense, it also encapsulates the general tone of the apes' attack: opportunistic, desperate and shockingly violent. For me, however, the best part of the film is the extensive filming on location in the wet and rain-soaked rain forests of Vancouver Island and the lower mainland. They are places that I grew up with, and are very familiar to me. It's something about the type of moss on the trees, the layers of underbrush in, under, and around the trees, and the type of rain. I knew instantly how cold the actors must have been during filming, but also how invigorating being there must have felt. The sheer nostalgia of those shots more than made up for the disbelief-breaking cognitive gap caused by the recognition that the forests north of San Francisco look nothing like that!

Nevertheless, this is one of those rare films that one wished played a little bit longer because the characters, their motivations, the consequences of their actions, and the world-building have all been done so well.

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District 9

4 stars

Release date: 2009
Written by: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.09.02
An extra terrestrial spaceship parks itself over Johannesburg in 1982, and just sits there. Weeks later, investigative crews drill there way in, and find inside over a million malnourished aliens, later derogatorily referred to as Prawns. The Prawns are relocated to an internment camp called District 9, which evolves into a slum over the following decades. Due to social unrest, the South African government employs MNU—a large weapons manufacturer with dubious intrests—to relocate the Prawns to a new camp outside the city. MNU appoints Wikus van de Merwe the thankless task of leading the relocation. His first job is to serve eviction notices to the Prawns. Investigating one Prawn shack for illegal weapons and technology, he accidentally sprays himself with a container of alien fuel. Problems begin to mount when not only is Wikus ineffective as a leader and he loses control of the mercenaries employed by MNU, the fuel reacts with his DNA and he begins mutating into a Prawn!

While District 9 has resonances with 80's science-fiction action films, it is a rarity: it heads off into uncharted territory and creates a new, unique world of its own. Who'd have thought that there would be dimwitted spacefaring aliens who just happened to bumble upon Earth, without even the knowledge or capabilities to open their spaceship doors? And once they are on Earth, the best they can do—despite their advanced alien weaponry that they smuggled down with them—is to turn their internment camp into a slum? Nevermind the unanswered questions about where they came from, what they're doing on a spaceship, and whatever calamity happened to them, their slum situation and treatment on Earth is uniquely fascinating. Layered on top of that is a story about government-employed multinational companies that are more interested in making obscenely large profits than in preserving the morality of the country, let alone its laws.

Into the mix is thrown the antihero Wikus van de Merwe, who is completely out of his league when he is assigned to lead the evictions. Note that the name is a play on the South African Van Der Merwe jokes—their equivalent to stupid people who completely lack common sense. He is played pitch perfectly by Sharlto Copley as someone who, while constantly being self-serving, becomes more humane the more he transforms into an alien. Nevertheless, the central theme of the film is discrimination. As Chris Mikesell from the newspaper Ka Leo wrote: "Substitute 'black,' 'Asian,' 'Mexican,' 'illegal,' 'Jew,' 'white,' or any number of different labels for the word 'prawn' in this film, and you will hear the hidden truth behind the dialogue."

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Dune (2021)

4 stars

Release date: 2021
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.12.21 (revised: 2024.01.08)
In the distant future, Duke Leto of House Atreides rules the ocean planet Caladan. He is assigned by Emperor Shaddam IV to replace Baron Vladimir Harkonnen as the fiefholder of Arrakis, a harsh desert planet and the sole source of "spice". Spice is a valuable psychotropic substance that imparts heightened awareness, and is the key to faster-than-light interstellar travel. Shaddam plots for House Harkonnen to retake the planet, secretly aided by his Sardaukar troops, to destroy House Atreides, whose spreading influence he considers a threat to his power. Leto is reluctant, but sees the advantages of controlling Arrakis and forming an alliance with its mysterious natives: skilled fighters known as the Fremen. Lady Jessica—Leto's consort—is an acolyte of the Bene Gesserit, an exclusive sisterhood whose members possess advanced physical and mental abilities. As part of a centuries-long breeding program, they instructed her to bear a daughter whose son would become the Kwisatz Haderach, a messianic superbeing with the clairvoyance necessary to guide humanity to a better future. However, she disobeyed and bore Paul, a son. Paul is trained by Leto's aides such as Duncan Idaho, and Gurney Hallek in martial and mental disciplines, as well as the Bene Gesserit disciplines by Jessica. Paul confides in Duncan and Jessica that he is troubled by visions of the future. The Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother and Imperial Truthsayer Gaius Helen Mohiam visits Caladan and subjects Paul to a life-or-death test to assess his humanity and impulse control, which he passes. Later in a secret meeting with Baron Harkonnen, Mohajam insists that he spare Paul and Jessica during his coup, to which the Baron duplicitously agrees. House Atreides arrives at Arrakeen, the fortress stronghold on Arrakis. After learning that Duncan's advance party has made contact with the Fremen, Leto begins negotiations with the Fremen's chieftain, Stilgar. They also learn of the dangers of spice harvesting, and the giant sandworms that travel under the desert. Leto leads a flight of ornithopters, helicopter-like vehicles, to see the spice harvesting for himself. When Paul disembarks to help rescue a spice-harvesting crew, he is overcome by intense premonitions when he is exposed to the spice. It comes at the worst time, as a giant sandworm is bearing right down on them!

There is a lot going on in Dune, and Dir. Villeneuve wisely breaks the novel into two parts (this film has the onscreen title Dune: Part One) and populates his film with well-known actors to help us make sense of it all. The above partial synopsis makes the film appear quite a lot denser than it really is. Each major thing—whether that be a plot point, relationship, or location—is introduced with the appropriate amount of time and gravitas. Villeneuve also intersperses his film with pregnant pauses to allow us to not only comprehend what we just saw and heard, but also to marvel at one fantastic new visage after another.

The film rightfully won a set of Oscars for its audio and visual achievements, as it gives us a whole slew of different planets, groups, cultures and life forms, while also making each and every one instantly recognizable as well as visually and acoustically distinct from the others. Perhaps the film's greatest achievement is how the art direction allows us to instantly understand who or what belongs to which group at but a glance. Nevertheless, the highlight of the film is simply how richly textured and realistically it depicts Arrakis—from how both the locals and off-worlders have adapted to life in the desert, to the truly alien flora and fauna that inhabit the planet. The film is filled with unforgettable visuals, and is one of the rare great films that ends much sooner than the viewer would like. And that's despite its 155 min. length!

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Edge of Tomorrow

4 stars

Release date: 2014
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Directed by: Doug Liman
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.05.05
Inhuman aliens invade Europe in 2015. In 2020, the combined Earth military achieves a victory at Verdun with newly developed mech-suits. They then plan a major invasion of alien-held territory, and the British commander orders Major William Cage—from media relations—to cover it. Having no combat experience, Cage attempts to blackmail the general to get out of the assignment, but is busted back to Private and assigned to the misfit J-squad. The next day, the landing on the beaches in France are a total failure. Cage somehow manages to kill a larger blue alien in the melee in a suicide blast, and inhales its blood in his dying breaths. However, Cage isn't dead, as he jolts awake 24 hours before the invasion—and keeps awakening there whenever he dies!

The film is an intriguing examination of video games. Specifically: how does reviving at your last save point with all the knowledge you've gained affect your subsequent actions? Tom Cruise hits the right notes as Cage as he constantly struggles with coming to terms with his situation, and finding a way out of it.

The highlight is Dir. Doug Liman's structuring of the film. He wisely jumps over some parts during the first few times we see Cage's day, later coming back to fill them in when it fits the needs of the story. While some scenes are necessarily repeated, they are either significantly changed by Cage's actions to make them unpredictably fun, or kept mercifully short so that the film never gets stale.

This is one of the rare films that does anime-style mecha right. Coupled with its intriguing science fiction concept, you'd be doing yourself a disservice to miss this film.

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Elysium

4 stars

Release date: 2013
Written by: Neill Blomkamp
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.02.15
In the mid-22nd century, the Earth is overpopulated and heavily polluted, with most people living in poverty. The rich and powerful live on Elysium, a space station in orbit equipped with Med-Bays, advanced medical devices that not only cure all injuries and disease, but increase longevity. Max Da Costa is a reformed convict who works in the factory of Elysium resident John Carlyle. He is harassed by robot police, and has to deal with an automated parole officer who mercilessly increases his parole period. One shift, he is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation and informed that he has only five days to live. Max and his friend Julio seek help from Spider, a human smuggler, to get Max to Elysium so that he can use a Med-Bay to cure himself. Being desperate, Max makes a deal with Spider to steal data directly from Carlyle's brain in order to secure a trip to Elysium. Max succeeds in stealing the information, however, things go sideways when Elysium's Defence Secretary Jessica Delacourt dispatches security agent Kruger to hunt Max down—as Max now carries a secret program that would allow her to take complete control over Elysium!

Just like the mythical Elysium, this film is as much about metaphor as it is about palpability. On the one hand, we get the tranquil, clean, and idealized spacious residences of the Elysium space station. This is contrasted with the dusty, polluted, cramped, and crowded slums of future Los Angeles, where life is harsh, and authorities are even harsher. While those with the means—like Max's nurse friend Frey Santiago—are able to escape the worst aspects of the slums, others like Max are constantly being beaten down by it. Is it any wonder that Max had turned to a life of crime before the start of the movie, and returns to it due to the terrible things that happen to him during the film? Perhaps the worst thing is the callous, inhumane way that Max is treated. In some ways, the police robots that break his arm are more sensitive than the humans in positions of authority.

What I admire the most about Elysium is that it has big ideas. Just like District 9, the movie introduces one thought provoking idea after another. In some ways Elysium grasps at even grander ideas and themes, such as irregular migration, health care, worker exploitation, and the justice system. Perhaps that is why the film doesn't succeed in pulling it off in the same way that District 9 managed to do. Nevertheless, the film is incredibly timely, and still gets plenty of things right. This is, after all, one of the rare films that successfully manages to pull off cybernetically enhanced soldiers. The film also hearkens back to the best science fiction and action movies of the 80's. At the same time, it has echoes of the bleak 70's science fiction films with the protagonist trapped in inescapable circumstances. However, unlike them, Elysium ends on a transformative note. This is one of those films that you would have liked for them to have continued for a little bit longer and have shown a few more hints of what happens next.

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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

stars

Release date:
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The Fifth Element

4 stars

Release date: 1997
Written by: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Directed by: Luc Besson
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.10.13
In 1914, aliens known as Mondoshawans come to Earth to an ancient Egyptian temple and meet their human contact, a priest in a secret order. Due to the approaching war, they take the only weapon capable of defeating a great evil that appears every five thousand years. The weapon consists of the four classical elements as four engraved stones, and a sarcophagus containing a "fifth element". In 2263, the great evil appears in deep space as a giant fireball. It destroys the Earth warship that was attempting to destroy it, and then heads towards Earth. Priest Vito Cornelius, the Mondoshawans' human contact, informs the President of the Federated Territories of the great evil's history and of the weapon that can stop it. On their way to Earth, the Mondoshawan ship carrying the weapon is ambushed and destroyed by Mangalores—alien mercenaries who were hired by Earth industrialist Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, who is working with the great evil. The only 'survivor' is a severed hand in metal armour that is brought to New York City, where biotechnology is used to recreate the original occupant of the sarcophagus. It turns out to be a humanoid woman named Leeloo who remembers her previous life. Alarmed by the unfamiliar surroundings and high security, she escapes and jumps off a ledge high up the side of the building. Whereupon she crashes into the taxicab of Korben Dallas, a retired Major from Earth's special forces. Dallas delivers her to Cornelius, who recognizes her as the Fifth Element. As Leeloo recovers, she tells them that the stones weren't aboard the Mondoshawan ship. Concurrently, the Mondoshawans inform the President that the stones were entrusted to the alien opera singer Plavalaguna. Earth's military arranges it so Dallas and Leeloo are sent to meet Plavalaguna in a flying hotel on planet Fhloston. However, Cornelius stows away on their spaceship. The Mangalores, who are also after the stones, also sneak aboard the flying hotel to get them for Zorg!

The plot of The Fifth Element may sound confused, but the story is told in such a way that it is anything but confusing, and is quite fun! As it jumps around, it gives us one amazing set of visuals after another, and creates a well structured and well realized 'universe' in which its epic story unfolds. Due to the films kinetic nature, the story doesn't overstay its welcome in any one place, and we wonder what it would have been like if the characters spent more time exploring the amazing locales the film takes place in! Due to that, this film joins the ranks of such great films as Star Wars 4 that not only successfully paint a large canvas that other stories can be told in, but also have endless replay value.

The highlight of the film is its European origins. As such, it has a totally different flavour when compared to the typical English language science fiction film. This film positively oozes culture, and is sprinkled with a rich variety—from a Hong Kong street seller in a flying boat (!) selling his wares in the grungy slums of New York, to high society and royalty attending a space opera on a Polynesian-themed flying hotel! The film even splurges on small side diversions that add to the richness of its tapestry, such as muggings in NYC (and suggestions that they are rather commonplace), to stoned-out ground crew exchanging radioactive spaceship fuel with virtually no regard to personal safety! In short, the film is endlessly quotable. The only drawback to the film is when Leeloo learns about war; possibly because the sequence is tonally different from the rest of the film and reeks of having one's cake while also eating it. However, that sequence sets up the masterful ending with the final revelation of what the 'fifth element' is. It's a bit goofy, but ultimately it's a fun, visionary film.

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Gattaca

4 stars

Release date: 1997
Written by: Andrew Niccol
Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2021.12.28
Vincent Freeman was conceived naturally. The problem is that in this not-too-distant future, eugenics is common. Due to that, Vincent is classified as an "in-valid" in society, as his genetic profile indicates that he has a high probability of several disorders and a short lifespan. His parents, regretting their decision, use genetic selection with their second child. Vincent's brother, Anton, quickly surpasses Vincent in physical attributes and abilities. Vincent dreams of space travel, but is always reminded of his genetic inferiority. One day, he leaves home. He works as a cleaner, the typical job of an in-valid, but still dreams of going to space. He gets his chance when he arranges to use the donated genetic samples of Jerome Morrow—a 'valid' swimming star who was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident—in exchange for providing the lifestyle that Jerome is accustomed to. Vincent takes on Jerome's persona and passes the interview to get into the spaceflight conglomerate Gattaca. However, not only must Vincent be successful in his ambitions to get into space, he also has to conceal who he truly is. A real challenge when a stray hair, skin cell, or even drop of saliva will give him away!

Gattaca is a challenging film. Not only does it challenge our perception of the supposed benefits of eugenics—arguing its point from the perspective of those that are rejected by society for apparently being inferior—but also arguing that the potential of people is more than their origins, more than what their genes define them as. In addition to Vincent struggling against society as an in-valid and striving for his true potential, we are shown the two valids, Anton and Jerome, struggling with their apparent failure of not living up to their potential.

The pleasure of Gattaca is that it is a meditation on eugenics cloaked in a suspenseful thriller. The inclusion of the police searching for a murder not only ratchets up the tension, it also raises questions about what is legally right not necessarily being morally right. The visuals are intriguing, with a lot of plain, visually uncluttered spaces being used to reflect how the genetic selection process is mirrored throughout society. The film also employs retro-futurism, which gives it a timelessness—it could have happened yesteryear just as much as in the purported not-too-distant future. While the movie is loaded with famous and will known actors who all put in great work, Jude Law's performance as Jerome is sublime. He is both brash and weak, at the same time as he is boastful and helpless. This is a film of great ideas, and one that isn't afraid to run with them to thought-provoking conclusions.

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Jurassic Park

stars

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The Lost World: Jurassic Park

stars

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Jurassic Park III

stars

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The Martian

4 stars

Release date: 2015
Written by: Drew Goddard
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2016.11.07 (revised 2020.12.04)
Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris and lost in a dust storm on Mars while the rest of the crew make an emergency evacuation. Telemetry from Watney is cut due to where the debris hit his suit, and he is presumed dead. He wakes up, alone on an entire planet. After attending to his immediate needs—self surgery (!!) and oxygen—he has to contend with a fate of certain death... unless he can "science the shit out of this" to survive long enough for help to arrive!

I really like 'near future' space travel and exploration films, so I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It's one of the more realistic space movies to come out in recent years, and even though it is aimed at the layman, it trusts in the intelligence of the audience. Alas, the film doesn't probe very deeply into many issues aside from the political side of operating a space agency. That is why I rank it moderately lower than "Interstellar"; a film that deeply probed the feelings of separation and loneliness that go hand in hand with space travel. But, to this film's credit, it does depict the title character struggling to stay in control and master his emotions—a very important part of being an astronaut—in the face of some truly terrifying circumstances.

I found the juxtaposition of disco music a bit jarring at times, however, it does feed into the narrative of Watney making the most of the things he finds himself surrounded with—not to mention subtly pointing out how music can be used to fight loneliness. It is also one of the steady sources of the humour that is sprinkled about this film. That humour making the film very accessible, the title character very relatable, and one of the film's highlights.

This movie left me with a lot to think about. However, it's a bit light on science-fact for my tastes (I'm a fan of Discovery and National Geographic space documentaries). Though, I admit that I'd probably get worn out by that level of discourse well within the 2 hour running time of this film.

I was challenged by the film in certain parts, and although it had a foregone conclusion, with this type of film its not so much the destination but the journey that is important. And above all else, aside from cheating a bit at the beginning to set up the scenario, the film never jumps the rails with unrealistic developments such as aliens, the supernatural, or an improbable number of 'accidents'—everything is well within the realm of plausibility, and all the more extreme actions that occur are based on logical conclusions.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

4 stars

Release date: 2011
Written by: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2023.07.30
Pharmaceutical chemist Will Rodman is testing the viral-based drug ALZ-112 on chimpanzees at the biotechnology company Gen-Sys to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. The drug is given to a chimpanzee named Bright Eyes, greatly increasing her intelligence. However, during Will's presentation for the drug to stockholders, Bright Eyes is forced from her cage, goes on a rampage, and is shot dead. Will's boss Steven Jacobs terminates the project and has the chimpanzees involved in it euthanized. However, Will's assistant Robert Franklin reveals that the reason for Bright Eyes's rampage was that she had recently given birth. Will reluctantly takes in the infant chimpanzee, eventually giving him the name Caesar. Discovering that Caesar has inherited his mother's intelligence through being exposed to ALZ-112, Will decides to raise him. Three years pass and Caesar has become highly intelligent and able to adeptly communicate through sign language. Will begins treating his father, Charles, with ALZ-112, which seems to restore his cognitive ability. Five years later, Caesar, now entering adulthood, questions his origins and place in the world. Concurrently, Charles's condition returns as his immune system becomes resistant to ALZ-112. One day, Caesar injures an aggressive neighbour while defending a confused Charles when he wanders outside. As a result, Caesar is taken by animal control to an ape shelter. There, he is tormented by both the alpha chimpanzee, and the shelter's chief guard. Will attempts to make an appeal for Caesar's release, but is told that it will take at least 6 months. Concurrently, he gets approval from Steven to begin development of ALZ-113—a more powerful, gaseous version of ALZ-112—when Will tells him that not only did it cure his father's Alzheimer's, but also appears to be capable of increasing intelligence! However, when administering the drug during a test to a bonobo named Koba, Franklin is accidentally exposed to it, and soon becomes ill...

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a thoughtful reexamination of the Planet of the Apes mythology. While it is essentially a reboot of the franchise and stands on its own, it can also serve as the backstory, or origin of the 1968 film, as it also includes small nods to the original—such as Earth losing contact with astronauts who have departed on a trip to Mars. The most thought provoking, and arguably realistic aspect of this film, is the way in which it establishes both how the apes gain intelligence, and how most of the humans disappear from the Earth. However, the highlight of the film is Andy Serkis's performance as Caesar. The motion capture performance it is based off is so authentic that we quickly forget that what we are watching is an entirely CG character, if we even registered that to begin with!

The film is repleted with a pantheon of skilled actors and actresses—though there are fleeting thoughts that Tom Felton may have become typecast as a villain. On top of that, the film asks some big questions about the nature of animal testing, the nature of research at biotechnology companies and how they may inadvertently risk public safety for profit, and how a global pandemic could be accidentally started. Viewing this film post Covid-19, its foresight is chillingly accurate (in the sense of how easily a virus can be transmitted around the world). However, the film makes the astute observation that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Some of the CG hasn't held up over the years, but the film is still remarkably fresh and current. It is well worth a viewing.

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Starship Troopers

stars

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War For the Planet of the Apes

3 stars

Release date: 2017
Written by: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.11.28 (revised 2024.02.11)
Two years following the battle in San Francisco, Caesar and his tribe of intelligent apes from San Francisco are at war with a human military force led by a ruthless Colonel. The humans also use the intelligent apes—derogatorily referred to as 'donkeys'—that were loyal to Koba and fled Caesar's tribe after Koba's death (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). One of the Colonel's platoons assaults an ape outpost, but the apes repel the attack, with only a 'donkey' named Red and a few human attackers surviving. The tribe releases the humans as a sign to the Colonel that they wish to make peace. Shortly afterwards, Red makes his escape from his ape minders. While burring their dead, Caesar's eldest son Blue Eyes and friend Rocket return from an expedition where they discovered an oasis in a desert that would make a safer home for the tribe. That evening, the apes debate how quickly they should depart, with Caesar ultimately deciding not to leave that evening, due to needing time to prepare the proper provisions. Later that night, however, the Colonel infiltrates the tribe's home with a small team, and kills Caesar's wife Cornelia and Blue Eyes, after having mistaken him for Caesar. Cornelius, Caesar's remaining son, manages to survive. The tribe leaves the next morning, however Caesar separates from them under the pretext of serving as a decoy. Rocket, Caesar's loyal adviser and friend Maurice, and Luca accompany him, not only to help Caesar succeed, but to make sure he returns alive; especially because Caesar is being blinded by his desire to get revenge on the Colonel!

Where Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a more-or-less optimistic look at humans and apes struggling to find a way to coexist, War for the Planet of the Apes is far more clear-eyed on what such a situation would actually become. The complication is that the 'simian flu' that wiped out most of humanity between the first and second films has mutated into a debilitating variant, and the human side are in conflict with themselves on how to deal with the new variant and those infected by it. The most vital character in this film is Maurice, as he serves not only as Caesar's guide, but also as his moral compass and is the compassionate heart of this film.

The film also throws a moral challenge at Caesar in addition to all the physical and tactical ones, as he also has to deal with the trauma of Koba's rebellion and what steps Caesar had to take to resolve it in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes—specifically how he is haunted by Koba's ape-on-ape atrocities, and how Caesar is starting to take on Koba's negative characteristics in the current war. In many ways this is a great war film, as it has taken all the romance out of it and depicts a vicious conflict with tragedy on both sides. That said, in some ways the film is thematically close to a zombie film in how the humans react to the evolution of the simian flu. The main complaint I have with that, however, is that meant that there aren't any sympathetic humans in the film. It seems that the series has traded in its roots of painting everyone several subtle shades of grey for the black and white apes-good, humans-bad spectrum.

Nevertheless, one of the highlights of the film is the on-location filming on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The shots set on Long Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park were particularly nostalgic for me. Above all else, the thing that this film and its immediate predecessor perfectly recreate is the cold drizzle in the temperate rain forest! The drawback to that, however, is that it occasionally interrupted my suspension of disbelief as I started to wonder why none of the apes were getting hypothermia! Nevertheless, War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect conclusion for the reboot series—one that respects the series' characters and takes things to their logical ends, with a surprisingly poignant conclusion.

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12 Monkeys

3 stars

Release date: 1995
Written by: David Peoples, Janet Peoples
Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Review by: Aaron Sketchley
Reviewed on: 2022.08.15
A deadly virus released in 1996 wipes out almost all of humanity, forcing survivors to live underground. A group known as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys is believed to have released the virus. In 2035, James Cole is a prisoner living in an underground facility beneath the ruins of Philadelphia. Cole is selected to be sent back in time to find the original virus to help scientists develop a cure, in exchange for reducing his prison sentence. Cole arrives in 1990—not 1996 as planned—and is arrested and placed in a mental hospital on the diagnosis of Dr. Kathryn Railly. He encounters Jeffrey Goines, a mental patient with environmental and anti-corporate views. Returning to 2035, he is interrogated by the scientists, and recognizes Goines in the pictures that they show him. They give him another chance to complete the mission, and send Cole back in time. He accidentally arrives in a battlefield in World War I, where he is shot in the leg, before being transported to 1996. He finds Railly at a venue where she is giving a lecture on the Cassandra complex. Kidnapping her, Cole forces Railly to drive him to Philadelphia, where they learn that Goines is the founder of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. They head out to find and confront Goines, with the fear that it was Cole himself who gave him the idea in 1990 of using a virus stolen from Goines's virologist father to wipe out humanity!

12 Monkeys is, at its heart, a film full of ideas. On the surface, it asks questions about our treatment of the insane, and whether or not they are the ones who are actually 'insane' and who we should actually be fearing. The film also provides a challenging exploration of time travel, probing whether or not the human mind can actually handle the mental shock of being in a different time period—something never really addresses in easy-breezy time-travel films such as the Back to the Future series. It continues with other thought-provoking elements, such as drug-testing and animal rights, as well as a bleak future made out of the detritus of the present, which is somehow much better off than the grungy and broken-down present! The movie also not only makes allusions to, but even includes footage from other classic films in similar genres!

While it's arguable that 12 Monkeys contains a paradox—in that Cole may have planted the idea of the end of the world in Goines's mind—it never shows Goines suggesting or otherwise relaying the idea to the individuals that truly precipitate the destruction of humanity. Nevertheless, the film challenges us with the subjective nature of memory, and subtly alters the details in Cole's troubling reoccurring dream of a foot chase and shooting in an airport. The film has another theme about people's declining ability to communicate, which is underscored by the future scientists' over-reliance on technology during their interrogations, and people in the present-day locking others away in institutions instead of actually listening to them and their concerns. However, the film also adds a note of caution on the risks and dangers of people being swept up in the ideas (or delusions) of others.

The film presents a complete vision of a bleak, troubling future, and a fractured present. Dir. Gilliam has given us an auteur masterpiece full of shots whose skewing ranges from subtle to obvious—but never superfluous—of a grim future and an evening grimier present. The film is extremely well acted, with a certain protagonist hitting all the right notes of believable insanity and barely concealed thrill when they begin their plot to end the world, which rivals Madeleine Stowe's performance of Railly steadily becoming more unhinged the more she is subsumed by the idea of Cole's apocalyptic future. However, it is Brad Pitt's gesticulating performance as Goines that steals the show and transforms this film from memorable to unforgettable!

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