Ad Astra (2019) Written by James Gray and Ethan Gross Directed by James Gray
Ad Astra is like Apocalypse Now mixed with 2001 and directed by Terrence Malick. That is a very loaded statement, but it’s the most accurate way I can sum up this film in a single line. Is it as good as those individual parts? No, but it is still one of the best science fiction films I’ve seen in years. The story is kept centered on the characters while allowing space for awe & wonder over the cosmic landscape. There are brief moments of action & peril that help to punctuate how empty and cold the solar system feels. This is an odyssey in a not too distant future that feels like the most likely bland extrapolation of what humanity would do with a conquered solar system.
12 Monkeys (1995) Written by David and Janet Peoples Directed by Terry Gilliam
Having recently re-watched Chris Marker’s short film La Jetee I decided it was time to watch the feature adaptation, 12 Monkeys again. I had only seen 12 Monkeys once before in college and enjoyed it a lot. It is what led me to Marker’s short, which has gone on to become one of my favorite pieces of film. I also developed a love for Terry Gilliam during my college years, with Brazil becoming one of my favorite pictures, even reading up on the complicated history of how it came to the screen. 12 Monkeys is expectedly a strange film, merging the underlying narrative of La Jetee with Gilliam’s own aesthetic sensibilities.
Children of Men (2006) Written by Alfonso Cuarón & Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
It’s been approximately ten years since I sat down to watch Children of Men, the film I put as my favorite film of the last decade, the 00s. A decade later, with a thousand plus more movies watched, I can see the cracks in the picture better now, but it still holds up as a significant technical achievement and vision of a very potential future on the horizon. Since Children of Men first came out, we have had global tumult including, but not limited to, the passing of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, which have been frightening signifiers as to the direction our planet is taking. Climate change has worsened, which lead to an influx of refugees and creates the very circumstances under which Children of Men’s future is born. All we are missing is the sudden, unexplained infertility.
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.