LFF 2015: ‘Evolution’ is as mysterious as it is beautiful and a masterclass in tone and restraint

It is difficult to discuss Evolution without giving away a lot of its surprises. Needless-to-say, Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s masterful film (only her second in a decade) is disturbing, beautiful and restrained. Mysterious from beginning to end, the film challenges and intrigues, reaching down inside to grab hold of something within us all that is ancient and primordial, engaging on a level that exists within not only a collective imagination but our collective biology

Smart, stylish ‘Ex Machina’ brilliantly mixes emotions and technology

Ex Machina is a superior techno-thriller that asks a lot more questions than it’s willing to answer. Filmmakers have long exploited the dangers of artificial intelligence, but few have the courage to examine the hubris behind Man’s technological self-destruction. Alex Garland’s assured directorial debut showcases a patient filmmaker adept at world building. Like all good sci-fi films with big ideas and bold visuals, you’ll be thinking about Ex Machina long after you leave the theater.

‘Chappie’ is gloriously bonkers

Writer-director Neill Blomkamp pushes all his chips onto the table with this fascinating sci-fi gamble that dares you not to be entertained. Derivative, ultra-violent, and completely baffling, Chappie also manages to be insightful and sweet at times. This technically-accomplished and thematically-suspect ­­­­­­robot melodrama has something for everyone to love (and hate). Mostly, it offers the giddy exhilaration of a movie that’s determined to tell its story, no matter how bat-shit crazy it is.

Sundance 2015: ‘Advantageous’ wins with stunning visuals and smart sci-fi

Jennifer Phang’s 2012 short film, Advantageous, was a haunting rumination on the nature of existence in a world that no longer needs you. This feature-length adaptation maintains Phang’s assured visual narrative, but a sluggish script makes for some frustrated viewing at times. Still, Phang is a filmmaker to watch. Her impeccable eye yields plenty of surprises, making Advantageous a fascinating little sci-fi gem.

‘Jupiter Ascending’ rises to absurd and hilarious heights

That sound you’re hearing is a massive sigh of relief from David Lynch. He no longer holds the dubious distinction of producing the most expensive B-movie in the history of Hollywood. That honor now belongs to The Wachowskis, whose Jupiter Ascending has officially displaced Dune at the top (or bottom) of the heap. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. Jupiter Ascending not only looks spectacular, it’s a laugh riot. Ridiculous dialogue, hammy performances, and enough mythology to baffle Zeus make this disaster a must-see for all lovers of cheese.

Sundance 2015: ‘H.’ is this year’s ‘Under the Skin’

There are dozens of striking images in the new sci-fi thriller H., and almost all of them are creepy. Much like 2014’s evocative masterpiece, Under the Skin, writer-directors Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia aren’t interested in telling a cohesive story so much as creating an auditory and visual experience. Frustrating and fascinating in equal measure, H. is a brilliant mindbender that cinephiles should seek out.

‘Doom’: The doom of the Rock’s action career and video game adaptations in general

In 2013, The Rock was named the highest grossing actor of the year with his films pulling in a combined $1.3 billion. Things were not always this great for The Rock though. When he first started out his initial run of action movies in search of action stardom, he didn’t have much luck. The Rundown and Walking Tall, while perfectly fine action films on their own, both underperformed at the box office. Then came Doom, which was either going to be his third strike or his home run. It ended up being the former, causing two things to happen – The Rock’s action career disintegrated for 6 more years, and the belief that video game adaptations are unsuccessful was bolstered.

‘Predestination’ is an original thrill in a dead January landscape

Walking into Predestination clean is perhaps the best advice to offer any cinephile willing to hunt down this likely future cult classic. It would be easy to just describe Predestination as Looper tossed in a blender with Minority Report, but the Spierig Brothers are going in a very different direction here. A direction that may lose a few viewers along the way.

‘The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay’ handily bests its film counterpart

2004 was supposed to be the year of Riddick, at least as far as Universal Studios was concerned. In response to the adamant fan demands for a sequel to the 2000 cult-classic Pitch Black, Universal was attempting to seize an opportunity by building a multi-million dollar franchise out of one the sci-fi slashers surviving characters: Richard B. Riddick, better known as simply “Riddick”.

The Beautiful/Terrible Loop: ‘Portal’ and the dark reality of endless possibilities

The Portal series is home to Valve’s most deliberately uneven and deliriously uncomfortable of narratives. The seemingly innocent fun of cutting holes between dimensions and using them to pass tests or accomplish tasks is offset by the brutal after-effects and the havoc which they can wreak. Likewise the witty banter and amusing dialogue of characters like GLaDOS and Wheatley are immediately rendered moot by the homicidal and power-hungry psychological states that each AI shows when challenged or placed in a position of authority.

Childhood memories and explaining ‘Donnie Darko’

The gateway movie to my full-blown film addiction was Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (2001). Kelly has yet to create a film that matches the mood or magnitude of his first success. This supernatural thriller has sparked a cult following behind its intense narrative and themes. Countless arguments have played out discussing it’s a representation of madness. Made in only 28 days it utilised a low budget of 4.5 million. This made it a poster-child for indie films.

‘Interstellar’ is a bumpy, exhilarating ride

Interstellar begins at an indeterminate point in Earth’s future, when blight and drought are pushing humanity to the breaking point. “This world is a treasure, but it’s been telling us to leave for a long time now,” laments engineer-turned-farmer, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey). He’s a practical man who set aside dreams of space travel in order to provide for his family, and yet his powerful intellect keeps him sneaking glances skyward. When he and his precocious daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy), decipher mysterious signals directing them to random GPS coordinates, Cooper is only too eager to indulge his curiosity.

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