Wonder Woman (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The name, And Views Are My Game.

Born from clay, and raised on an island of only women, Princess Diana has long dreamt of war and adventure. Her mother, Hippolyte, tells her to put such matters out of her mind; that bloodshed is cruel and pointless, that their lives are much better without the influence of men, and the war god, Ares, but Diana doesn’t listen. She trains with her Aunt, Antiope, becoming the most skilled warrior on the island, until, one day, a plane with a man, Captain Steve Trevor, crashes in the ocean. Rescuing him from the water, Diana learns that there is a massive conflict, World War 1, raging outside the island, and that millions have already perished. Believing that this is the work of Ares, and that if she kills him, the world will be at peace, Diana dons armor, picks up a sword and shield, and sets off for London. But when she gets to the World of Men, she realizes that things aren’t as simple as she thought.

Wonder Woman is a movie I was very excited to see. Not only is it the first big budget superhero film starring a woman, directed by a woman, but the reviews I’d read had been extremely positive. On top of that, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Wonder Woman character. See, Superman might be my favorite costumed hero of all time, but Wonder Woman is the first superhero whose comics I ever read. Seriously. When I was a kid, my parents got me a collection of Gold and Silver age comics, one of which was the original origin of Wonder Woman. So, from an early age, I’ve been exposed to her mythos and adventures, and I was very interested to see what the filmmakers would do with it. What would they change? What would they keep? But, most important of all, would the movie be any good? Would the dialogue sound natural? Would their be character development? Would the action be exciting, and would the performances be good?

Well, having just seen Wonder Woman, I can happily say that I was very, very satisfied with the picture. This is an extremely well-made movie. It’s exciting, there’s a lot of great humor in it, the acting is superb, with the chemistry between Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor deserving an extra special mention, and there’s great character development. Diana starts off very naive and optimistic, believing that she can end a global conflict by stabbing a dude in the face, and ends more mature and measured, understanding that life’s a bit more complicated than that. I also love the team that she and Steve assemble to help them fight the Germans. See, people have made comparisons between this film and Captain America: The First Avenger, where a superhero gathers up a team to fight in World War 2, but I don’t think that’s fair. The team in that movie isn’t given nearly as much screen time, or personality, as the team here, and they just aren’t as interesting. In Wonder Woman, by contrast, you’ve got three really cool guys to work with; Samir, an Arab con artist who speaks several languages, Charlie, a Scottish sniper with a knack for singing, and the Chief, a native American smuggler who uses the war as a way to avoid racism back home. And, finally, I actually really loved the fact that they changed the film’s setting. See, in the comics, Wonder Woman leaves her home to fight the Nazis in World War 2, and when I saw that they’d changed the time period, I was a little skeptical. Were they just doing it to avoid comparisons with Captain America? Having seen the film, though, I actually think that was a smart choice. See, Diana is very naive. She’s never seen a conflict like this before, and she believes that she can end it by killing a single man. That’s actually quite similar to the way soldiers and politicians viewed the First World War. They’d never seen a conflict of this scale, or with these kinds of weapons before, and they applied their outdated Victorian principles and battle tactics to it, resulting in catastrophic losses of life. The setting is a perfect mirror for Diana’s transformation as a character. Plus, there really aren’t enough movies made about World War 1. There are a few great ones, like Lawrence of Arabia and War Horse, but, for the most part, filmmakers don’t talk about it, which is sad, when you consider how devastating it was, and how important it is, historically. But I’m getting side tracked.

With regards to complaints, I really only have one. The first few minutes are very exposition heavy, with there being a lot of voice over, and Hippolyte telling young Diana stories that will factor in later. Because of that, the dialogue there feels a little bit stiff. But, really, that’s about it, because as soon as Steve Trevor crashes on the island, the movie kicks into high gear, and, trust me, it doesn’t let you go.

Guys, I had a ton of fun with this movie. It was exciting, it was funny, I loved the characters, and I honestly want to see it again. Go ahead and give it a look.

Snowpiercer (2013)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My game.

The world is a frozen wasteland. The last remnants of humanity are confined to a giant train, and forced into castes based on what car they live in. Those in the front lie in the lap of luxury, whilst those in the tail dwell in total squalor. Twice before, the inhabitants of the tail staged uprisings, only to be beaten back into submission. Now, though, the tail Enders are smarter. They’re better organized. They’ve got a charismatic leader in the form of Curtis Everett, and, this time, they’re going all the way to the front. They’re going to take control of the engine, and, by extension, the world. Will they succeed? Watch it, and find out.

Snowpiercer is a special film, for multiple reasons. Not only was it the most expensive Korean movie ever made, with a budget of about $40 million, it was also director Bong Joon-Ho’s English language debut, and cemented his status as a cinematic superstar. Because even though films like Memories of Murder earned him critical praise, and The Host, which I reviewed here recently, put him on Hollywood’s radar, Snowpiercer’s massive critical and commercial success guaranteed he would continue to be given high profile projects.

But why was the movie such a huge hit? Well, like The Host, it all comes down to superior craftsmanship. And I don’t just mean the acting or the script, both of which are excellent. I mean the way the movie looks, how its edited, the sound design. It’s all top notch. This really feels like a fully-fleshed out world, with each of the train’s cars having a distinct look and design. My favorite one, easily, is the sea food and aquatic life car. It is, to put it simply, gorgeous! The movie is also extremely exciting. There are two really great action scenes; one in the dark where the tail Enders are being attacked by guys with night vision goggles, and one involving a sniper, who’s trying to shoot the heroes from across the cars. If nothing else, you never feel bored while watching this movie. And that alone is enough to warrant a recommendation.

That being said, Snowpiercer does have flaws. The biggest, by far, is the fact that it doesn’t have much replay value. See, a lot of the movie rests on certain twists that get revealed towards the end, and when you uncover them, you can’t really look at the movie in the same way anymore. And unlike other films with twist endings, like The Sixth Sense or Fight Club, which demand that you watch them again, so you can see the clues, there really isn’t any such demand with¬†Snowpiercer. Those earlier films are puzzles. You need to watch them multiple times to solve them. You really don’t have to with Snowpiercer. I watched it once, I got everything I needed to know, and have never seen it again. Even so, the film’s strong performances, unique premise, tight plot and impressive effects do make it worth watching. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

The Host (2006)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

When a huge amount of formaldehyde is dumped down the drain, strange things start happening in Seoul’s Han River. First, all the fish in the area mysteriously die off. Next, pedestrians start noticing something big, and creepy, skulking below the surface. Then, after four years of waiting, a giant monster bursts from the water, eager to eat, and kidnap, humans. One of those taken is Park Hyun-Seo, the daughter of a neglectful Snack Shop Owner, who, with the help of his aging father, alcoholic brother, and athlete sister, sets out to bring her home. But things get complicated when the American military, the group responsible for creating the monster, block off the river, and release a poison, Agent Yellow, into the air. WIll the Parks save their daughter in time? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

When it came out back in 2006, The Host was a smash hit. Not only did it become the highest grossing Korean film of all time, it also garnered glowing reviews, and launched its director, Bong Joon-Ho, from a popular local filmmaker to a global talent that Hollywood was eager to work with. Because of this, and the upcoming release of Okja, Bong’s newest film, I decided to give The Host, and a few of his other movies, a look. See, It’s very rare for Asian directors to become big in Hollywood. There are exceptions, like Ang Lee and John Woo, but, for the most part, Asian filmmakers are relegated to the periphery of the popular conscience. So what about The Host is so special? Why does Hollywood know this film, and its director, and not others? Simple; its entertaining and well-made.

The Host takes a very basic premise–family tries to save daughter from monster–and tells it with just enough skill, and heart, to keep you engaged. And unlike many foreign films, which feature jokes that really only make sense in the original language, The Host is completely universal in its characterization and humor. I don’t speak a word of Korean, and the first time I watched this movie, it was without subtitles. And yet, I still knew what was going on, and who everyone was. That’s because Bong did a brilliant job of using costumes, hair styles, and other bits of visual shorthand to establish who the characters were. The film also looks amazing. Seriously! Anyone hoping to direct great monster movies should give this flick a look. It is a masterclass in how to shoot a blockbuster. Now, with regards to complaints, I do have a few. I think that the film, which is over two hours long, could have been shortened. I also couldn’t get over the fact that the Monster kidnapped Hyun-Seo, and didn’t just kill her. I understand that she needs to stay alive, because otherwise the story won’t happen, but, still. That seemed like a logical error. Granted, most people probably won’t care, and, even for me, its a nitpick. Beyond that, though, I have no comments. The Host is an entertaining, well-crafted monster movie, which transcends linguistic barriers to deliver high thrills and huge laughs. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Sense8 (Season 2, 2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Will and Riley are on the run. So is Nomi and her girlfriend, Neets. Lito has been publicly outed after confronting a friend’s abusive ex. Kala has gone ahead and married her fianc√©, Rajan. Capheus, having done the unthinkable by standing up to a local warlord, is now hailed as a hero. Wolfgang is reunited with his best friend, Felix. And Sun, poor Sun, is still trapped in solitary confinement. But not for long. Because things are moving, and faster than you might think.

Sense8 is a show I really enjoyed when it first came out. I liked the concept of people becoming psychically linked. I liked the international cast and setting. I liked the fact that it touched upon relevant social issues, such as gender, sexuality, and identity. But, as much as I liked it, I was more than willing to admit it had problems. Hokey dialogue, underdeveloped plot threads, illogical character choices; these were just a few of the bigger flaws I noticed. And yet, I still recommended the first season to everyone, and was excited to see what the creators, Lily and Lana Wachowski, would do with the second. Well, season 2 is finally here, and this is what I have to say about it.

A lot of the problems from season 1, such as on-the-nose dialogue and stupid character choices, carry over. So does the show’s reliance on racial and national stereotypes. And yet, the funny thing is, when you’re watching the show, you don’t really care. Seriously. Maybe its because the dialogue is less hokey than before, or because the stereotypes–like the idea of the white savior and Asian martial artist–are actually addressed this time around. But, honestly, I think its because the show has so much heart, and so many great character moments, that you forgive its weaker aspects. There are so many great beats in the first episode alone –like when Sun is reassuring kala that sex is something to enjoy, and not be afraid of, or when Lito’s boyfriend, Hernando, gets outed during a lecture, and handles it with grace and dignity–that I have to recommend you all see it.

To put it bluntly, Sense8, season 2 is silly, but its the best kind of silly. Its fun, its inoffensive, and it leaves you feeling warm inside. You really love these characters, and you love following them on their journey. Does that journey make sense, or follow any kind of narrative logic? No. But who cares. The show is still beautiful, and I still think you should give it a look.

Mifune: The Last Samurai (2015)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Toshiro Mifune; if you know anything about Japanese cinema, or cinema in general, really, you’ve heard that name before. Not only was he Japan’s biggest movie star in the 50s and 60s, but his films went on to inspire the likes of George Lucas, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese. To quote this documentary, “Without Mifune, there wouldn’t be a Magnificent Seven, Clint Eastwood wouldn’t have a Fist Full Of Dollars, and Darth Vader wouldn’t be a samurai.” And that’s true. Many of Mifune’s most popular films–Seven Samurai, Yojimbo–were remade in the States as Westerns. George Lucas openly admits that the original Star Wars was modeled after Mifune’s Hidden Fortress. And Darth Vader’s outfit is, indeed, highly reminiscent of a samurai’s armor. But who was he in real life? What was he like behind closed doors? Those are the questions that this documentary seeks to, and, in my opinion, manages, to answer. Because this is a highly engaging, deeply entertaining film.

I learned so much from this picture, not simply about Mifune, the man, but also about the Japanese film industry, and the impact that his work has had on the world. There were so many things that I found out about him that I never would have suspected. For instance, did you know that he was actually born and raised in Qingdao, China? Yeah, until he was 20 years old, he never set foot on Japanese soil. Not only that, he was also Christian. His parents were Methodist missionaries, and that’s why they were living in China to begin with. And as if that’s not crazy enough, he was originally supposed to play Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars, but he turned it down because his agent thought the movie would be a flop. This documentary is full of fascinating little tidbits like that, and with interviews from his children, actors and stuntmen who worked with him, and filmmakers who were inspired by him, including the likes of Spielberg and Scorsese, you get a real well-rounded portrait of the man. You see his strengths, like his charisma, strong work ethic, and loyalty to friends and colleagues, and his flaws, like his pride, drinking, and pension for womanizing. And the film, in a shockingly short runtime–just about 80 minutes–manages to paint a thoroughly detailed picture of what japan was like at the time he came on the scene.

If you like movies, if you like history, if you like to learn and be entertained in general, give this film a look. I guarantee that you will enjoy yourself. Because I did. And unlike other documentaries I’ve seen, such as The Act Of Killing and The Last Days, I actually do want to watch this again. And that says something.

Colossal (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Gloria is an out-of-work writer, struggling with alcoholism. When she is unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, she returns to her hometown in the Midwest, hoping to get her life back on track. There, she reunites with her childhood friend, Oscar, who helps her move in, and even offers her a job waiting tables at his bar. While settling in, Gloria sees news reports of a giant, Godzilla-like monster terrorizing Seoul, South Korea. And as if this weren’t strange enough, Gloria finds, to her horror and amusement, that when she walks through a park at 8:05 in the morning, she can control the creature. How? Why? Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie, and find out for yourself.

In a world where every film is either a sequel, remake, spin-off or adaptation, a movie like Colossal, which is none of those things, and whose premise has honestly never been done before, stands out. The concept alone–a random person in America somehow being able to control a giant monster halfway around the world–should be enough to get you in the theater. And that’s not even considering how the concept itself is executed. This is an extremely well-acted, highly compelling movie, with some very impressive visual effects, especially when you consider how small the budget is. The dialogue is also very good, with each character having a specific, individual voice, and there being some very fun exchanges in the first half of the movie. I really think that more people should see this film, and I’m hoping that good reviews and a strong enough box office gross will convince studios to start making original content again.

That being said, Colossal does have problems; the foremost of which is an inconsistent tone. See, the movie is marketed as a comedy, and, for the first half, it’s just that; a comedy. The set-up is pleasantly absurd, and there are jokes a plenty. But around the 50 minute mark, the film stops being plain silly, and shifts into drastically darker territory. And when I say dark, I mean just that. Murder, drug addiction, emotional and physical abuse; these are just a few of the thinks that get brought up halfway through this movie, and that end up taking the spotlight. And the transition between the two tones is not handled well. The film also tries to throw you for a loop by having certain characters who you think will be good turn out to be bad, and other characters who you imagine will be important just kind of vanish without explanation. And while I normally love it when movies try to avoid cliches, and play with your expectations, I don’t like it when they don’t provide you with any kind of build up, and just go “You see this character who we’ve spent 30 minutes establishing is one way? Uh, yeah, he’s actually not like that at all. Sorry!”

That being said, I do believe that the film’s performances, its effects, and, above all, it’s originality, make up for whatever flaws it might have, and I do highly recommend you go see it. Go out and give it a look.

Unique Sci-Fi Films To Learn From

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Sci-Fi; It’s probably my favorite genre in cinema, and it’s certainly one of the most varied on Earth. Since it’s only parameters are that it must concern, “imagined future scientific or technological advances, or major social or environmental changes,” it is basically broad enough to encompass any story under the sun. Now, if you’re like me, you’re not content with simply reading or watching sci-fi. You want to make it as well. But, of course, one can’t simply jump head first into the creation of art. One must study the works of others, learn what works and what doesn’t, and then, using this newly acquired knowledge, go forth and invent. But what films should you watch? That’s what I asked myself when I concocted this list. What movies advanced the sci-fi genre with their unique story lines, innovative visual effects, and ability to get audiences to ponder moral and philosophical questions? These ones, my friend. Not only are none of them sequels, remakes or spin-offs, but each, in their own way, changed sci-fi forever, be it with their unique premises, narrative structures, or filmmaking techniques. They also cover the vast spectrum that sci-fi can encompass; from horror, to action, to comedy, to noir. I might not be a fan of all of them, but I do have to commend them for their originality and influence, and, for that reason, I must insist you all give them a look.

The Matrix (1999)

Directed By The Wachowskis

What’s it about? Neo is a hacker who’s always sensed that there’s something wrong with the world; something not quite real. Then, when he is contacted by a mysterious man known as Morpheus, he learns that his suspicions are correct. There is something wrong with the world. It is, in fact, an illusion; a simulation generated by living machines to keep humans subservient. A select few people have been freed from this dream world, referred to by all as “the matrix,” and are now dedicating everything they have to fighting the machines. Neo decides to join their ranks, acquiring amazing skills, and uncovering some surprising secrets about himself, in the process.
What makes it unique? The matrix was one of the first big budget American films to touch upon the idea that our world is an illusion, and to play with what living in a computer-generated reality would be like. What rules could you bend? What rules could you break? It was also one of the first western sci-fi films to draw heavily from East Asian cinema, particularly Hong Kong action movies and anime. The elaborate Kung Fu fight sequences, cyberpunk visuals, these were things that American audiences hadn’t experienced before. The movie also pioneered certain special effects, like bullet time, and helped set a precedent for other action movies to follow; that being that films with gun fights, car chases and explosions didn’t have to be dumb. They could feature unique, thoughtful ideas. They could reference literature, and various philosophical concepts, such as Plato’s allegory of the cave, and choice versus destiny.

District 9 (2009)

Directed By Neill Blomkamp

What’s it about? When a massive UFO lands over Johannesburg, South Africa, a number of starving, destitute aliens are found inside. The creatures, referred to condescendingly as “prawns,” claim to have no knowledge of how to fly their ship, or use their technology. They beg the humans to grant them asylum, and the humans do so, but it doesn’t take long for interspecies hostility to arise. The aliens are herded into a massive ghetto, District 9, and forbidden from ever leaving, or interacting with people. But even this is not enough, as Johannesburg’s residents demand that the government force the aliens to go somewhere else. The film follows Wikus van der Merwe, an Afrikaner bureaucrat, whose been given the task of removing all the aliens from district 9. Wikus is initially disdainful of the aliens, and more than happy to see them go, but after an accident in district 9 starts to cause him to mutate, he finds himself forced to work with an alien, Christopher, who wants to return to his home world.
What makes it unique? District 9 is one of the few sci-fi films set in Africa, and one of even fewer films, period, to comment on Apartheid. It is also unique because, unlike many other sci-fi films, it is presented as a documentary, complete with fake interviews, stock footage and various other details one would normally see in non-fiction cinema. All this works to create a greater sense of realism, and helps ground this seemingly preposterous premise in plausibility. It’s also very rare for a movie to feature humans wanting to keep aliens on earth. Most other movies involve the humans wanting to force them off the planet. In District 9, though, the humans are determined to keep the aliens away from their space ship and away from their technology.

Inception (2010)

Directed By Christopher Nolan

What’s it about? In a world where humans can enter each other’s dreams, Dominic Kobb uses this technology to steal from CEOs. But when one of his intended targets catches and blackmails him, he finds himself forced to do the impossible, implant an idea, instead of just take one. Success means finally being able to go home to his children. Failure means life in prison, with no chance of parole. With the task, and stakes , firmly in place, Kobb assembles his team, and sets about planning their special reverse heist. But when they finally enter their target’s Mind, they find something unexpected, and terrible, waiting for them.
What makes it unique? Though the idea of entering people’s dreams had been explored in movies prior to Inception’s release, this was one of the first pictures to examine the concept in thorough, visual detail. The different levels of the human psyche, the means through which one can establish that something isn’t real, how time passes in the dream, all these are explained, and utilized, in the film. The movie also boasts some of the most Mind-blowing visual effects ever put to film. These include a sequence wherein two men fight each other in a rotating corridor, and a zero gravity moment where a group of people are tied together and forced into an exploding elevator.

Snow Piercer (2013)

Directed By Bong Joon-Ho

What’s it about? The world has become a frozen wasteland. The last remnants of humanity are confined to a giant train, and the occupants of said train are divided based on what car the live in. Those in the front live in the lap of luxury, whilst those in the tail dwell in total squalor. Twice before, the inhabitants of the tail staged uprisings, only for those in the front to beat them back into submission. Now, though, the tail Enders are smarter. They’re better organized. And they mean to go all the way to the front, where they intend to seize control of the trains eternal engine, and thus, the world.
What makes it unique? Not only is this the world’s first big budget Korean sci-fi movie, it’s also one of the few dystopian films to take place on a train, and depict dystopia in a realistic manner. Cannibalism, mass suicide, drug addiction, these are some of the ugly truths of a post apocalyptic scenario that are openly addressed in this film, and which are rarely seen in other dystopian action movies. The film also has a startlingly somber ending, with there not being any real victory for the Tail Enders and everyone more or less dying, as they would in real life. The designs for the various cars is also incredible, with the seafood and aquatic life car deserving an extra special mention. The film also does a good job of getting its viewers to consider what is necessary for a society to thrive, the steps that have to be taken for balance to be maintained, and various other philosophical queries.

Alien (1979)

Directed By Ridley Scott

What’s it about? While making their way home from a job in deep space, the crew of the spaceship Nostromo receive a distress beacon from a nearby planet. When they arrive there, however, they find the place completely deserted. No plants. No animals. No intelligent life. What they do find, however, is a series of large, bird-like eggs, one of which hatches, releasing a small, squid like creature that attaches itself to the face of a crew member. Though they do manage to remove it, they quickly learn that their trials are nowhere close to being over, as another, more horrifying, monster bursts from his chest and begins terrorizing them.
What makes it unique? Alien was one of the first, if not the first, horror movies to take place in outer space. Sure, there had been movies about monsters from other worlds landing on Earth, and horrifying creatures birthed by science prior to this film, but this was the first to bring people into am alien environment, the cosmos. It took advantage of the fact that the victims are literally trapped inside a confined space, because, if they leave it, they’ll die. They can’t run away. So they’ve got to stay and deal with this creature. The film also does a great job of exploring the anxiety that accompanies going to a new place and encountering new things. We, like the victims, are never given context for what this creature is, where it comes from, or how to deal with it. And there is nothing more frightening than the unknown. The film also stands out as a chilling and effective rape metaphor. The vaginal architecture of the main spaceship, the penis-like design of the creature’s head, the fact that it is “born” from the chest of a man who was assaulted by a face hugger: all this indicates that we are meant to think of the film and it’s horrors in a sexual context. The film is also unique in its portrayal of gender roles. The main hero is a smart, competent woman. A man gets “raped” by a female monster. No one is given traditionally masculine or feminine jobs based on their gender. All this makes the film unique,both for its time, and now.

The Terminator (1984)

Directed By James Cameron

What’s it about? In the future, a sentient defense system, Skynet, has all but wiped out the human race. Only a few people remain, and they are led by John Connor, a brilliant strategist with a knack for destroying Skynet’s forces. Hoping to change the past, and undo his existence, Skynet sends a cyborg assassin, or Terminator, back to the year 1984 to kill John’s mother, Sarah. Unbeknownst to Skynet, however, Connor has sent back an assassin of his own, young Kyle Reese, a soldier who has sworn to protect Sarah, and stop the Terminator, at all costs.
What makes it unique? This film helped set the standard for how action could be shot, and how practical special effects could be used. Many of the film’s sequences, like the car chase, and visuals, like the terminator’s robotic eye, old up to this day. The film also did a great job of setting up mystery and tension. The audience, like Sarah, doesn’t know what’s going on, or who these men are that are following her, until about halfway through. The film also does a great job of playing with the concept of time travel, and choice versus destiny. Skynet sends the Terminator back in time to kill Sarah , so that John Connor won’t be born. But by doing so, it motivated John to send back Kyle Reese, the man who would become his father, in the first place. So was it chance? Or was it design?

Blade Runner (1982)

Directed By Ridley Scott

What’s it about? In a dystopian Los Angeles, the Tyrell Corporation manufactures humanoid robots, or replicants, to perform tasks too dangerous for ordinary people. However, the use of replicants is illegal in Earth, so whenever they are found on the blue planet, special assassins known as Blade Runners are deployed to kill, or “retire,” them. When four recently escaped replicants arrive on Earth, Blade Runner Rick Deckerd is given the task of “retiring” them. But as he tracks them down, and does more research into the Tyrell corporation, and the nature of replicants in general, he finds himself questioning their, as well as his own, humanity.
What makes it unique? Though a critical and box office flop at the time of its release, Blade Runner’s dark style, futuristic designs, and themes of identity and free will have had resounding impacts across the sci-fi genre. Everything from TV shows–Battlestar Galactica–to anime–Ghost In The Shell–to video games–Cypher–has, in some way, been influenced by this film’s look, tone, or ideas. And for good reason. Nearly forty years after its release, the effects and sets of Blade Runner hold up as some of the best in cinematic history. The movie is also unique in terms of its genre. With its grizzled protagonist, Los Angeles setting, and dark, morbid tone, Blade Runner is one of the first examples of a genre known as future noir, meaning film noir set in a sci-if context. It’s also one of the first films to get its hero, and it’s audience, to ask the question, “what is it that makes us human?”

Ghost In The Shell (1995)

Directed By Mamoru Oshii

What’s it about? In the future, the line between man and machine has blurred. Virtually everyone has been “enhanced” in some way–be it possessing cybernetic limbs, eyes, or, in some cases, entire bodies. These individuals are referred to as “ghosts,” or living consciences, in “shells,” their robotic bodies. Motoko Kusunagi, an officer in the elite crime fighting unit, Section 9, is one such entirely enhanced individual,and she often finds herself questioning her own humanity. One night, while carrying out an assassination on a foreign diplomat, she sees the man’s interpreter get hacked by a mysterious individual known as “the puppet master,” and she and her team set out to catch him. But as she gets closer to solving the case, and uncovers more and more about the puppet master and his scheme, she finds herself questioning her own purpose, free will, and existence.
What makes it unique? Everything about Ghost in the shell, from its gothic, philosophical tone, to its Hong Kong-inspired, cyberpunk setting, to its unusual technology–people with USB ports in the back of their heads, and mechanical fingers that can break down into smaller, pincer like appendages–was unheard of, and revolutionary, at the time of its release. The impact that the movie had on science fiction, and pop culture in general, cannot be overstated. Countless other films–The Matrix, Avatar, Surrogates–have been directly inspired by this movie. And, to this day, it is held up, not simply as one of the best animated films of all time, but one of the best movies of all time. The film is also very unique in how it deals with gender and sexuality. This is a future where sexual reproduction is all but gone, and where mechanical replication has taken its place. Motoko, though technically a woman, has an entirely robotic body, which does not menstruate, and therefore does not view herself as a sexual being. She’ll often undress in front of other people, without ever acknowledging how that might effect them. And yet, she’s never reduced to eye candy. She’s considerably more rough and commanding than her male counterparts, and finds herself questioning femininity and what it means to be a woman. There’s a great scene where she’s walking through a mall, and sees a dummy in a department store window that looks exactly like her. This deeply effects her, because she, being almost entirely robotic, feels like a doll, like a replication, or pale imagination, of what a woman should be. The film also uses lots of imagery that’s evocative of birth and sexual reproduction, and really haunts you with its queries into what it means to be alive, conscious and female. The movie was also one of the first sci-fi films to comment on the internet, and how our reliance on technology has cause us to become detached from each other.

Back To The Future (1985)

Directed By Robert Zemeckis

What’s it about? It’s 1985, and Marty Mcfly is just your average American teenager. He’s got a girlfriend, a family, a best friend in the form of his neighbor, mad scientist Emmett Brown, and a pocket full of dreams as a rock star. But Marty’s hopes aren’t high, as he’s seen by more or less everyone, including himself, as a loser. He’s failing in school, his band isn’t getting noticed, and his parents are both spineless and neglectful. If only there were something he could do. Well, as chance would have it, Doc Brown calls him out to the mall one night to show him something special. The something special in question turns out to be a time traveling DeLorean, which Marty decides to take for a spin. But when Marty finds himself transported back to 1955, and Doc winds up murdered by Libyan terrorists–long story–the former must find a way to get himself back to the future, and, hopefully, change the past so that his life will be better.
What makes it unique? Not only was this the highest grossing film of 1985, not only was it vital in helping to create the skateboarding subculture, not only was it quoted by the president in his 1986 state of the union address, but In a genre dominated by dark, brooding stories full of deep, philosophical queries, Back To The Future offers a more light-hearted, comedic take on science fiction. It’s also one of very few films in which a character interacts with his parents when they are the same age as him, and that hinges upon him getting them together so that he will even exist.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)

Directed By Steven Spielberg

What’s it about? One night, while bringing home a pizza, a ten year old boy named Elliot sees a bizarre alien creature hiding in his tool shed. Though the being promptly flees, Elliot manages to lure it back to his room with Reese’s pieces candy, and the two become friends. Elliot learns that the creature, whom he and his siblings refer to as “E.T.” Is an alien botanist who was stranded on Earth when government agents found his spaceship, and that he has many powers,including reanimating plants, and telekinesis. Elliot vows to return ET to his own people, and keep him hidden from the government and army, tasks which prove considerably more difficult when he discovers that the two of them have become psychically linked.
What makes it unique? Like Back To The Future, E.T. The Extraterrestrial stands out as a more lighthearted, family friendly entry in the sci-fi genre. Most of the time, Aliens are shown as strange, terrifying monsters who want to kill or eat humans. But not in this film. Here, they are shown as intelligent, loving, and with distinct personalities and jobs. The story is all about friendship, about the bond that Elliot has with this visitor from another world. This is also one of very few sci-fi films, not made specifically for children, that stars children, and that portrays children in a realistic manner. There’s absolutely no dumbed down, sugar-coated baby talk in this picture. The kids in this movie shout, swear, lie, sneak booze, pull pranks, and behave like real kids do. And that’s always nice, and refreshing, to see. The film also possesses many now iconic moments, like the one where ET, using his telekinesis, lifts Elliot’s bike off the ground, and flies them in front of the moon, an image that has been parodied in countless other forums.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Directed By Michel Gondry

What’s it about? Ever had a bad break up? Ever wish you could just erase certain memories, or people, from your head? Well, in this world, you can. And that’s precisely what Joel does after he and his girlfriend clementine split up. He goes into Lacuna, a company that specializes in memory erasure, and undergoes a procedure wherein all his experiences with Clementine are removed from his mind. As he does so, however, both he and the technicians operating on him start to learn about the importance of remembering things, even painful things, and set off on individual missions to recreate the past.
What makes it unique? Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind is one of only two sci-fi films–the other being Her–to win the academy award for best screenplay. And for good reason. The film’s nonlinear structure, likable, well- rounded characters, and unique explorations of memory and the past help it stand out, not simply as a work of science fiction, but as a story in general. The movie also does a very good job of getting us to consider what it would be like to live in a world where one could erase other people’s memories, as well as your own. Would you use other’s lost memories to blackmail or seduce them? Would you get others, and yourself, to forget your most shameful mistakes? Would you, by not remembering the things that you’d done, make the same mistakes over and over again? Science fiction has, since it’s inception, been used as a creative means of getting people to think, and Eternal Sunshine does that beautifully.

Her (2013)

Directed By Spike Jonze

What’s it about? In the future, Theodore Twombly is a depressed letter writer, going through a messy divorce. At the behest of a friend, he purchases a Sentient Operating System, or OS, to help organize his life and schedule. Because OS’s are designed to suit their individual owner’s needs and preferences, Theodore’s system, Samantha, ends up being everything he could ever hope for in a woman. And, much to the chagrin of his friends and ex-wife, he winds up falling in love with her. But seeing as Samantha is just a voice on a computer, their relationship is anything but easy, and, as time goes by, Theodore begins to realize that maybe this isn’t the best thing for him.
What makes it unique? Like Eternal Sunshine before it, Her holds the rare distinction of being a sci-fi film that won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It’s also unique for being one of the first mainstream films to show a romantic relationship between a man and a computer, something that is especially relevant now in our social media obsessed age. And while I myself might not enjoy some of the script’s attempts at humor, and the more bizarre aspects to the story, the movie is undeniably original, both in concept, and execution. For that reason, it should be noted as a unique work of science fiction.

Minority Report (2002)

Directed By Steven Spielberg

What’s it about? In 2054, Captain John Anderton heads “PreCrime,” a special unit of the DC police department that apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge provided by three psychics called “pre cogs.” Anderton’s team has been so effective at stopping murder that the federal government is seriously considering adopting PreCrime’s method on the national level. While the Department of Justice is investigating PreCrime for any possible errors, however, the pre cogs predict that Anderton will murder someone in the next 36 hours. Anderton, claiming that this is a set up, since he doesn’t even know the person he’s supposed to kill, goes on the run, and, at this point, it is revealed that the pre cogs aren’t always uniform in their perception of things to come. From time to time, PreCrime receives a so-called “Minority Report,” wherein one of the pre cogs predicts an alternate future. Realizing that this could prove his innocence, Anderton goes on the run, determined to find the report and clear his name.
What makes it unique? As stated before, science fiction, at it’s best, is supposed to get audiences to consider various moral and philosophical questions, and Minority Report does that extremely well. For while a story about someone being framed for a crime is hardly original, it is far less common to see a story about someone getting framed for a crime that hasn’t even happened yet. This raises a whole bunch of fascinating questions: are we justified in imprisoning people who haven’t, technically, done anything? If we can predict future events, and stop them from happening, would they have actually happened at all? Is the future set? Do we have any free will? All of these questions are addressed in thorough detail throughout the film, which sets it above many other pictures with similar premises. The movie also does a great job of getting the audience to consider issues like privacy in a media-dominated world, and the nature of self perception. And none of this is even getting into the look of the movie, which, with its washed out color palette, holographic screens, and advanced vehicles, stands out as yet another classic example of future noir.

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Directed by Robert Wise

What’s it about? When a UFO lands in Washington DC, and a humanoid alien emerges, no one knows what to do. Does he come in peace? Does he come as a conquerer? People are so nervous that before the alien, Klaatu, can speak, they shoot him, temporarily rendering him unconscious. After he is brought to a hospital and revived, however, he demands to be taken to Earth’s leaders, but is told that the world is too divided for him to do that. “There is no way that such a thing can be done,” they tell him. This, however, does not dissuade Klaatu, who leaves the hospital, disguised as a regular human, and walks amongst us, hoping to get a better sense for our species. And all the while this is happening, Klatu’s indestructible robot guard, Gort, watches the humans, a silent sentinel with unknown powers and intentions.
What makes it unique? Though its very much of its time, with the central themes being mankind’s fear of nuclear annihilation, and the need for global unity, The Day The Earth Stood Still stands out as an unorthodox portrayal of alien visitors. For while most films show aliens looking totally different from us, and arriving on Earth as conquerers, refugees, or simply by mistake, Klatu looks completely human, and comes to Earth as an emissary of peace. He’s here to get us to stop fighting one another; to stop building weapons of mass destruction. Yes, his message is downright obvious by today’s standards, but, back in the 50s, when the Cold War was in full swing, and when fear of nuclear annihilation was a very real thing, such stories really resonated with people. And to this day, Klaatu and his mission stand out as very unique in the sci-fi genre. We’ve had many alien invaders, but not so many alien ambassadors. And the fact that this film has one makes it worth mentioning.

Metropolis (1927)

Directed By Fritz Lang

What’s it about? In the futuristic dystopia of Metropolis, wealthy industrialist reign from high rise complexes, while poor workers labor below ground to keep the machines that power the city running. Freder, the bored son of the city’s ruler, spends all his time in pleasure gardens, never interacting with common people, or knowing what to do with himself. His world changes, however, when he sees a young woman, Maria, taking a group of children on a field trip to see how the rich live. Instantly taken with her, Freder leaves the comfort of the high rise complexes to find her on the lower levels, where he becomes aware, for the first time in his life, of the horrible conditions in which the poor live. Realizing that he must do something, and hearing a prophecy that says a mediator will one day come, and bring together the rich and the poor, Freder sets out to help the workers and change Metropolis. Unbeknownst to him, however, are other forces, which have their own agendas, and which threaten his and Maria’s love.
What makes it unique? This was one of the first, if not the first, feature length movies in the sci-fi genre. Never before had a film depicted the future in such grand, exquisite, and thorough detail. It set the standard for every science fiction film to follow. Everything about its style and look, from the giant, gothic skyscrapers, to the flying cars, to the humanoid robots, has been replicated or mimicked in other works. C-3PO’s design from the original Star Wars is taken from Metropolis. Madonna’s music video “Express Yourself” draws heavily from Metropolis. Lady GaGa, Queen, Cult of Luna–all have adopted the aesthetic of Metropolis in some form or another. Metropolis also set the precedent of sci-fi movies using allegories and alternate realities to comment on real-world issues, with many critics in the 20s actually saying that the film was pro-Communist. And as if it didn’t set the standard for subsequent sci-fi enough with its visuals and messages, Metropolis also set a precedent for future films, like Blade Runner and John Carpenter’s The Thing, by being under appreciated at the time of its release. In short, if you want to see where the modern sci-fi movie began, look no further than this silent masterpiece.