After Earth (2013) Written by Will Smith, Gary Whitta, and M. Night Shyamalan Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
The best movies are conceived while watching Discovery Channel docudramas. This is apparently what went through the heads of the creators involved because After Earth was inspired by a show Will Smith watched on that basic cable channel. From this humble roots came a story about a father and son lost in a remote region after a car crash with only the son able to travel out and search for help before his father died. Then Smith decided to set the story a thousand years in the future and make it a science fiction venture. Also, this was supposed to be the first of a trilogy. The basic skeleton of this film isn’t horrible, but the individual decisions made about its presentation turned it into an awful mess.
The Bad Batch (2016) Written & Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
The film begins promisingly. A young woman is tattooed on her neck and tossed on the other side of a fence that spans the U.S.-Mexico border. Signage indicates that this is a no man’s land, a place where the refuse of the United States is now tossed in an unspecified future point in time. The woman finds a run-down car where she takes a bit of respite only to be chased down and captured by a bizarre tribe of body-building cannibals. All of this sounds like it could be the makings a new post-Apocalyptica, refashioning the tropes of Mad Max into something of the 21st century and female-driven. Yet, all of the promises of Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night feels squandered in what becomes an aimless character-deficient story.
Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Alita is a movie almost 20 years in the making. In 2000, James Cameron registered website domain names that involved this property as a film. In 2003, he confirmed he was going to direct a movie based on the early 90s manga. And then delays began, and Avatar went into production, and other projects came about. Eventually, Cameron stepped aside, taking credit as screenwriter and producer. Robert Rodriguez came onboard in 2016 with the film set to be released in July of 2018. That didn’t happen, and the movie was delayed to a primo January release in 2019. All this is to say that this film has had so much time to be worked on tweaked and improved so it should be great. But there is a common theme in Hollywood where a film has a window between enough pre-production and too much that it overbakes. Alita was burnt to a crisp.
Stranger Things is an unabashed recycler of 1980s movie tropes, so it is worth our time to explore the films that inspired the show. It’s easy to see the influences of Steven Spielberg, Dungeons & Dragons, Stephen King, and George Lucas in the show, but here are some inspirations that are not in the mainstream public sphere quite as much.
Stranger Things Season 3 (Netflix) Written by Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, William Bridges, Kate Trefry, Paul Dichter, and Curtis Gwinn Directed by Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, Shawn Levy, and Uta Briesewitz
When the 1980s is referenced in modern popular media it is typically with bright neon colors and pop music, nods to Ghostbusters, Goonies, and Gremlins, the sound of Mario snatching a coin backed by synthesizers. When did the 1980s as an aesthetic and unique cultural touchpoint begin? The early 1980s are naturally a carryover of the late 1970s but when did this decade come into its own? 1985 is a reasonable touchpoint; when the color got turned up, and the consumption of the Reagan era went into full swing. If you noticed a marked difference in the look and feel of Stranger Things, you wouldn’t be wrong. This third season is unashamedly dripping in its time, arguably more so than the previous seasons. This is also the most cohesive season if we look at the plot structure with very clear throughlines that bring us to a conclusion. There’s not a lot of character downtime, for better or worse.
Black Hollow Cage (2017) Written & Directed by Sadrac González-Perellón
Ambiguity in media is often the point of frustration for many audience members. I can remember in college where classes read texts that left all the answers up in the air encountering students who would get red-faced with anger over the lack of finality. I was always the opposite; I cherished stories that left me hanging; they would linger in my mind for a long time. These texts were worth going back to and analyzing deeper. This comes down to two different ways of looking at life. Some people get very upset if they feel they don’t have a handle on the way the universe works and seeing it not correspond to their values. Other people accept the mystery of the void and keep going, knowing there will be blank spots and bumps in the road, that a lack of meaning is inevitable. I fall into the latter camp and so too does this film.
Dark Season 2 (Netflix) Written by Jantje Friese, Daphne Ferraro, Ronny Schalk, Marc O. Seng, & Martin Behnke Directed by Baran bo Odar
You know how when a serialized show in American starts a new season and they sort of ease the audience back into the story, maybe using new characters to reintroduce the cast? Yeah, Dark just says, “Where did we leave off last time? Yes? Let’s go” This show does not let up for these eight episodes, and it is all the better for that. By the time you reach the prophesied final moments of Winden, your brain will have been stretched and tied into a knot. Yet, the showrunners throw a curveball that sends your mind hurtling into questions about what the third season could possibly be. This is science fiction on a human relationship level done oh so right!