The Mermaid (2016)

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

When playboy businessman Liu Xuan purchases the Green Gulf Wildlife Reserve, he uses a sonar device to clear the area of fish. Unbeknownst to him, the Gulf is actually home to a small community of mer people, many of whom have been made sick by his company’s activities. To save themselves, the mer people send one of their own, Shan, a mermaid who can walk on her fins, to assassinate him. But, as is always the case with such stories, Shan ends up falling in love with Liu, and things get complicated from there.

The Mermaid is a very weird film, with very many aspects to it. It’s got romance. It’s got fantasy. It’s got cartoonish, slapstick comedy. It’s got very blatant environmental messages, and its got surprisingly horrific violence. When I first saw it back in 2016, I really didn’t know what to think. On the one hand, I appreciated what the filmmakers were going for, as far as messages were concerned, and I liked the fact that a Chinese picture had become a global hit, with it actually out-grossing Hollywood blockbusters like X-Men: Apocalypse and Batman V Superman. On the other hand, I wasn’t a fan of the over-the-top acting, cartoonish slapstick comedy, and surprisingly gory climax. When I expressed my confusion to Chinese friends, they told me that all these things–the clashing tones, big acting, broad comedy–were just part of the director, Stephen Chow’s, style. Maybe so, but that didn’t help me make up my mind.

Well, having thought about it for a few months now, I think I can safely say that I didn’t enjoy The Mermaid. I didn’t like how silly and unrealistic the comedy got, with one character literally spending an entire scene whizzing around a room on a jet pack, and I was really turned off by the climax, which involves the gruesome murder of an entire family. And as broad as the humor might be, there are some jokes in it that really only make sense if you speak Chinese, or are well-versed in Chinese pop culture. Some movies, like In Bruges and Trainspotting, can deftly ride the line between humorous and horrifying, and even hit you with pathos when they’re done. The Mermaid is not one of those movies. It’s heavy-handed when it comes to conveying messages, and it never manages to make the transition between silly and sorrowful seem natural.

And yet, with all that said, I would, in a weird way, recommend this movie to you all. As I mentioned earlier, it was one of the highest grossing films of 2016, so, clearly, there’s enjoyment to be had in it. And I know for a fact that there are many people, like the fans of Baz Luhrman and the Tom & Jerry shorts, who like extremely cartoonish acting and humor. So, if you’re one of those people, or are a fan of Stephen Chow’s other works, give this film a look. You’ll probably have fun.

A Hard Day (2014)

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

While driving to his mother’s funeral, corrupt Detective Geon-Soo Ko accidentally kills a man when the latter stumbles out into the road. Fearing murder charges on top of an Internal Affairs investigation, Ko disposes of the body by stuffing the corpse in his mother’s coffin. But when he starts getting threatening phone calls from a man who claims he knows what he did, Ko finds himself pulled into a much bigger, much weirder conspiracy.

A Hard Day is what I like to refer to as a situation movie. What I mean by that is, it’s a film where it’s the situation that keeps you engaged, even though the characters and dialogue aren’t that interesting. You don’t really know much about Ko. You know that he’s a corrupt cop, you know that he’s got a daughter, a sister and a brother, and you know that he likes to smoke. But what his personality is, what his taste in food, movies and music are; these are things that you’re never shown or told. As such, you don’t really care about him. He’s not what’s keeping you engaged. What is keeping you engaged are the absurd lengths that he goes to in order to not get caught, and how big and weird the situation he’s in turns out to be. Throw in some quirky humor, and some surprisingly intense action, and you’ve got a perfectly fun thriller.

As I said in my reviews for films like Man From Nowhere, Train To Busan, and The Chaser, South Korea is my go-to country when I want good thrillers. There’s something about the way they make crime and mystery films that just elevates them above the fray. The stories are always engaging, the production is top notch, and they have a very specific tone–at once gruesome and comedic–that is almost impossible to duplicate in the West. And unless you think I’m exaggerating, look at the American remakes of OldBoy and A Tale Of Two Sisters, and tell me that something didn’t get lost in translation. A Hard Day is another well-made Korean thriller. It’s not as unique as films like OldBoy or The Wailing, and it’s not as intense as films like The Chaser or I Saw The Devil. It’s a lot more straight forward, and considerably more comedic. And, overall, I would say it’s a step below those other movies. Still, it’s got a lot of the things I like in Korean thrillers–an interesting story, some off-kilter humor, a unique tone–and I don’t regret watching it. And, in a way, I would actually recommend it to you all. No, it’s not as good as the films I just mentioned. But if you want to get into Korean thrillers, and aren’t quite ready for some of the more disturbing aspects of films like OldBoy or I Saw The Devil, give this movie a look. It’s a perfectly fine entry point, and I think you’ll enjoy it.

Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (2017)

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

Years have past in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe. Will and Elizabeth’s son, Henry, has grown up, and is now looking for a way to lift his father’s curse. Captain Barbosa has become the world’s wealthiest pirate, commanding a massive fleet, and wearing fine silks and jewelry. And Captain Jack Sparrow? Oh, Captain Jack Sparrow. Captain Jack Sparrow has become a washed up parody of his former self, unable to walk straight, let alone raid, pillage and plunder. But things aren’t over for any of them just yet, as a young astronomer, Karina, appears, claiming to know where Poseidon’s Trident is hidden. And if that weren’t enough to keep everyone on their toes, an evil ghost, Captain Salazar, emerges from the Devil’s Triangle, looking to exact vengeance on a certain dreadlocked buffoon. (Gee, I wonder which one).

The best way for me to describe Pirates of The Caribbean 5 is like this; it’s not groundbreaking, but it is enjoyable, and I don’t regret going to see it. Like Alien: Covenant, Pirates 5 sticks to its franchise’s formula–young lover’s on a quest, aided by Captain Jack, hunted by some supernatural monster–and boasts some cool sets, some impressive effects, and some super fun action. Neither one pushes the envelope that hard, or possesses very original, or fleshed out, characters. But unlike Alien: Covenant, which is considerably darker, and doesn’t have much humor in it, Pirates has a much lighter tone, and features a lot more jokes. Granted, some of those jokes don’t land. But, for the most part, the lighter tone and greater emphasis on slapstick won me over. Like I said, I don’t regret having taken a few hours out of my day to see this movie, and I kind of do with Alien: Covenant. That says something.

Now, before you get the wrong idea, I don’t think this picture is flawless. The jokes don’t always land, there are way too many side characters, and I don’t like the way the script portrayed Captain Jack. In the first few films, he behaved like an idiot, but you kind of got the sense he was putting on an act. It was almost like he was trying to convince everyone he was a fool, so that they wouldn’t expect it when he pulled off an impossible escape, or beat fifty guys in a sword fight. In this movie, though, he really does come off as an idiot, and whenever he does something, it honestly feels like he just got lucky. That’s sad. Captain Jack was one of my favorite movie heroes growing up, and I don’t like seeing him neutered like this. At least Wolverine got to go out with a bang.

Guys, all I can say is this; Pirates of the Caribbean 5 is harmless fun. Its got some good humor, and some very creative action scenes. You probably won’t remember it, but I don’t think you’ll regret going to see it either.

Master Of None (Season 2, 2017)

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

After spending six months in Italy, mastering the art of pasta making, Dev returns to New York, where he reunites with his friends, and has wacky misadventures involving love, technology, race, and, of course, food. Lots and lots of food.

Now, if you’ve read my blog, you know that I absolutely adored the first season of Master of None. I thought it was very funny, and a lot of what it had to say about modern technology, the immigrant experience, and the limited roles available for Asian actors really spoke to me. And, for the most part, Master Of None, season 2 maintains a lot of what made that first season so great. The series regulars are awesome, there’s some biting social commentary, and, of course, it’s funny. Very funny. In fact, I laughed a lot more at this season than I did at the first one. I still like the first season better, but that’s mostly because I like what it has to say. But, if you don’t care about commentary, and just want to laugh, I would recommend this season to you. And, in general, I would recommend the season to everyone. It’s a fine example of modern television.

That being said, I do have problems with it. The biggest, for me, is the season long romantic arc between Dev and the show’s new female lead, Francesca. I… hated it. Seriously. I hated it. I hated Francesca’s character. She’s a bland, uninteresting bore. I hated how Dev’s constant complaining about how he likes her, but can’t be with her, ground the comedy to a halt. This whole scenario, liking someone who’s already in a relationship, was dealt with beautifully in one, 20 minute episode in the first season. We don’t need a four episode arc to tell this story. Another thing that works against this season is all the cutaways to food. Yes, food is a huge part of Dev’s character, and the first season did feature it, but there it was kept to a gracious minimum. It never got in the way of the story. Here, the cutaways override the story. There were many moments while I was watching where I was certain that the only reason they were showing this was that Aziz Ansari wanted to eat something, and he told the crew, “film it.” And, finally, part of what made the first season special was how it thoughtfully dealt with social issues. The second season does have a few episodes, like “Religion,” “Thanksgiving,” and the finale, “Buona Notte,” which deal with faith, coming out to one’s parents, and sexual harassment in the workplace, but, for the most part, food and mother of all bores, Francesca, take center stage here.

Still, I did like the season overall, and I would recommend it to you. It is funny, and it does have a lot of what made season 1 great. Just go in with tempered expectations.

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.

Get Out (2017)

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

Chris and Rose are in love. They’ve been going out for close to five months, and they’re about to make one of the biggest steps in their relationship, meeting each other’s parents. This, of course, is nerve-wracking for everyone, but the situation is made doubly awkward by the fact that Rose’s family, who are White, don’t know that Chris is Black. Chris informs Rose of his concerns, and she tells him that there’s nothing to worry about. Her family are nice. They’ll love him. Chris isn’t convinced, having spent a lifetime facing micro aggressions from “nice” people, but he goes along anyway. And, at first, everything is fine. Rose’s family are nice, micro aggressions not withstanding. They do seem to like him. But, as time goes by, Chris starts to notice some things that aren’t quite right. The family’s Black servants, Georgina and Walter, are inhumanly polite and docile, almost as though they’ve had their personalities drained. And Rose’s mother, Missy, a psychiatrist, is strangely adamant about submitting Chris to hypnosis. Tension builds as the family’s friends, each one whiter and more oblivious than the last, show up for an annual get together, and submit Chris to a tidal wave of awkward statements and pho compliments. Finally, Chris decides he can take it no more, and tells Rose that they need to leave, but, much to his horror, finds that he can’t.

Get Out is a movie that I really didn’t know what to expect with. The premise seemed interesting, and I liked the actors I recognized in the trailer, like Skins’ Daniel Kaluuya, and Being John Malkovich’s Catherine Keener. At the same time, though, I was worried that the film’s social commentary would wind up being too heavy-handed, and I didn’t know how successful a comedian, Jordan Peele, would be at directing a horror movie. Amazingly successful, as it turns out, because this movie is AWESOME! It’s well-acted, well-written, ripe with tension, and manages to deftly ride the line between humorous and horrifying, and all while subtly making its viewers aware of their own innate prejudices. I’m not joking when I say that at no less than four points in this movie, me and everyone else in my theater cheered with delight at something that just happened. It’s rare for a film to impact me on such a visceral level, and I’ve got to give it up to Jordan Peele, the cast, and everyone involved for making a film that got to me the way this one did. But by far the best part of this entire movie was Lil Rel Howery, whom plays Chris’s best friend, Rod. I’m not joking when I say that he stole EVERy scene he was in. There wasn’t a moment he was on screen where I wasn’t laughing my butt off. He NEEDS to be in more stuff, because he is AWESOME. Something else I want to give Get Out credit for is the fact that I legitimately had no idea where it was going. When I finally learned what was happening beneath the surface, I actually turned to my girlfriend and said “Shit! I did not see that coming.” And she actually said to me afterwards, “You need to write stories like that; stories where you can’t guess what’s going on.”

Guys, what else can I say? Get Out is awesome. It’s smart, funny, scary, and an amazing directorial debut from Jordan Peele. Give it a look!