Written by Katsuhiro Otomo & Izo Hashimoto
Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo
While there are a decent number of science fiction films that could be classified as masterworks, I personally believe it is the rare few that could be called visionary. I use that word in the sense of building a world that feels so unique and real, taking elements of our present and showing them taken to an extreme in the future. Every time I’ve watched Akira, I get that sense; it’s the same feeling I have watching Blade Runner. This is a fully realized world; we just see a small glimpse of a critical moment. Neo-Tokyo is one of the best science fiction settings ever created, and this story captures the best of the science fiction genre, particularly the subgenre of cyberpunk.
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Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
Written by David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, & Billy Ray
Directed by Tim Miller
After recently rewatching Terminator 2: Judgment Day, I became curious about the latest attempt to revive the Terminator franchise. At this point, we now have three separate timelines branching from T2 that all seem to fail to continue a story that feels finished. I watched the T2 Director’s Cut, and it has an ending scene with John Connor grown in the new future where he serves as a senator. It felt like the day had been saved; everything was wrapped up. But of course, Hollywood couldn’t let that be when there was more money to make. I had seen Terminator: Genisys, which is unwatchable, and wondered what damage control would be done in Dark Fate if maybe they had made a palatable follow-up.
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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Written by James Cameron and William Wisher
Directed by James Cameron
Certain movies extend beyond just being a new film and exist in their time as a cultural phenomenon. Terminator 2 was that sort of a picture, where even ten-year-old me, who couldn’t see the film at the time because it was rated R, could feel how big it was. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the biggest action star at the time, and he was returning to work with James Cameron. Since directing the first Terminator, Cameron had helmed Aliens and The Abyss. In the latter film, he experimented with computer special effects that audiences had never seen before. For such a small number of films, the director had gained massive acclaim. At the time, with its budget of around $100 million, it was the most expensive movie ever made.
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The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Written by Edmund H. North
Directed by Robert Wise
This month (May 2021), I will be looking at films considered Science Fiction Masterworks. In October, I did this with some horror movies and wanted to do something similar. Science fiction is an extensive film category that has overlaps with other genres like comedy, action, and horror. It can also be very futuristic and high tech or grounded in our present-day with light elements of the fantastic. To start things off, I watched The Day the Earth Stood Still. I know some things about this movie, the theremin music by Bernard Hermann, the famous “Klaatu Barada Nikto” phrase, and the opening scene of the flying saucer landing in the middle of Washington D.C. A remake was done in 2008, which I have heard was dismal, while the original has garnered a ton of praise.
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Written by William Harrison
Directed by Norman Jewison
By this time in his career, Norman Jewison was making an eclectic variety of films, never tying himself to a single genre. With Rollerball, he tackles science fiction, and while having a solid concept, the execution is incredibly poorly done. The story is so muddled & meandering with characters & conflicts so poorly defined that the film just collapses about thirty minutes in and never recovers. That’s a shame because there is certainly something here that could have been made into an interesting nightmare utopia type of film. Jewison and his collaborators just never seem to find those threads to tie it all together.
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Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)
Written by Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein, Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, and Zach Shields
Directed by Adam Wingard
No one ever thought the Godzilla films had great human stories, even going back to the original Toho productions. I’m not kidding myself that we ever had some person on the ground that delivered a compelling character arc. However, I feel like we are at a point where you could do that? But this movie certainly doesn’t achieve that, and I would be hard-pressed to recall a single name of any human character in this movie. Below I will include them when I summarize the plot, but that will only be after googling the cast list because they leave no impression whatsoever and probably should have just been deleted from the final cut.
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Violence Voyager (2019)
Written & Directed by Ujicha
Gekimation. A new word for me and one I won’t soon forget. It describes the very unique style of animation seen in the work of Japanese filmmaker Ujicha. Characters are paper cutouts moved & posed in real-time against paper backgrounds. There’s no stop-motion animation here. It’s hard to compare this to any other animated works because it is so unlike anything else. There are hints of early South Park with the DIY-paper aesthetic. Storywise we’re in Junji Ito/David Cronenberg territory, a very retro body horror atmosphere. But Violence Voyager will be a shock to your senses no matter how many things you know inspired it.
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This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will get to pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.
Written by Leslie Dixon
Directed by Neil Burger
If you could take a pill that would make you a super smart guy, would you do it? This month’s patron pick was explicitly chosen to irritate me, and I love it for that. Would I have ever voluntarily chosen to watch Limitless? Hell no. Am I looking forward to writing this review? Of course, I am! This film is what a stupid person thinks an intelligent person is like. It’s Michael Bay’s concept of what a genius would be. The people that fawn over Elon Musk and think he’s a god among men while ignoring that he’s the child of privilege probably rank this picture as one of their favorites. It is absolutely hilarious in how much it gets wrong and in its perception of succeeding is.
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Last and First Men (2020)
Written by Jóhann Jóhannsson & José Enrique Macián
Directed by Jóhann Jóhannsson
In 2016, I went to the theater to see Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. One of the things that stuck with me when the end credits rolled was the haunting score by Jóhann Jóhannsson. Since his first solo album in 2002, the Icelandic composer had already established himself blending traditional orchestra, electronic instruments, and choral elements. Last and First Men would be his only directorial effort. It premiered in early 2020 at the Berlin Film Festival, but Jóhannsson had died in 2018. Toxicology reports showed a lethal combination of cocaine and flu medication in his system. Jóhannsson was only 48 years old.
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Space Station 76 (2014)
Written by Jack Plotnick, Jennifer Elise Cox, Sam Pancake, Kali Rocha, and Mike Stoyanov
Directed by Jack Plotnick
Space Station 76 is as much about its aesthetic as it is any plot or character arcs. Now, that can be an incredibly frustrating thing if you aren’t into the aesthetic. I completely understand if someone was turned off by this film because they just don’t care for the look and tone. I thought many parts of the movie were a little too self-indulgent and leaned into some weak improv. Overall, I think it is an interesting little oddity, clearly made by people who have a vision of what they wanted to do, and they did it.
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