The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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Dr Amicus
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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#51 Post by Dr Amicus » Mon Aug 03, 2020 6:28 am

A few recent viewings:

Split Second (Tony Maylam, 1992) - Lowish budget Blade Runner rip-off set in a (then) future London of 2008 partially flooded as a result of global warming with Rutger Hauer on the track of a mysterious killer. As noted by some in the 101 Films thread, this is ridiculously entertaining even if not enough is made of the setting. This extends to the killer who, by both narrative and thematic logic, should be
one thingShow
a mutant rat
but instead appears to be
something elseShow
some kind of demon / satanist
- although these are not necessarily mutually exclusive, the film doesn't quite decide. Bonus ludicrous points for having an Introducing Roberta Eaton in the opening credits and cutting out her scene, and a wonderfully OTT Michael J Pollard as a rat catcher.

The Runnning Man (Paul Michael Glaser, 1987) - I never could quite get the love for this future game show satire, the Corman produced Death Race 2000 from the 70s is funnier, more pointed and just better. Still, the strain of if-this-goes-on in SF is an old one and it's certainly fun but falls between the two stools of too respectable for low budget satire and big budget spectacle (like, say, The Hunger Games). Also, it really feels like it was directed with the aim of looking good on tv - lots of medium and close shots in that early 80s style.

Scanners (David Cronenberg, 1981) - Cronenberg's breakthrough and an early mainstay of the video library (I got my parents to rent it for me when I was 12 or 13...) thanks to it's (in)famous gore effects. Psi powers had been popular in the 50s thanks, at least in part, to the influence of John Campbell at Astounding - this is also the time of Dianetics et al for context - and he was convinced in its status as genuine science. There are later films on a not dissimilar subject, the Pal produced The Power from 1968 especially, but it's emergence in the early 80s links both to Cronenberg's earlier films and the recurrence of popularity in para-science exemplified by the ubiquitous Uri Geller. Rewatching for the first time in over 20 years, I was struck by the pre-Cyberpunk elements to it - the warring corporations as mafia entities (the early board meeting is explicitly about revenge and counterstrikes) and the whole computer hacking via telephone and mind sequence. Cronenberg is a favourite of mine and this is a fine film - let down by the lead performance (Stephen Lack who is really not good). At times you can almost see the script being written in front of you - this feels like sequences may have got lost in the edit or (as apparently was the case) being shot with an incomplete script. Still, it matches the ambiguity of the ending which is as haunting as when I first watched it.

Demolition Man (Marco Brambilla, 1993) - Another rewatch and not seen since the initial release, although annoyingly the version on Prime is in 1.77:1 not 2.35 (not unknown for Warners it seems on Prime). I think it holds up better than I thought at the time, the jokes are still funny and if the satire is too broad to really count (it lacks Verhoeven's ferocity) it's nice to see the effort. Having said that the not-quite-Utopia was a staple of early Star Treks and not much has progressed here - but the nods back to Huxley's Brave New World sees the film in a much longer tradition of Utopian / Dystopian literature. Indeed, the whole premise of a contemporary person going to the future and discovering how it works was the main format of late 19th Century Utopian literature (Bellamy's Looking Backward especially, but also Morris's response to it, News From Nowhere) - many sections are our representative asking about how a particular problem was solved and being told at length for the rest of the chapter. However, we never here do work out how the three sea shells work! Anyway, apart from that, Stallone is pretty much at his best, Bullock is an entertaining sidekick and Snipes has fun eating the scenery - unfortunately the humour did mean that when Judge Dredd came to be filmed just after this, the makers of that film decided to tone down the humour so as not to make it seem too similar (in many ways, this is in tone a better Dredd film than the one a couple of year later).

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#52 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Aug 03, 2020 9:00 am

Never Cursed wrote:
Sun Aug 02, 2020 9:01 pm
For those who have seen it, is demonlover sci-fi? I can't quite tell from the descriptions I have read here and elsewhere
Its more paranoia thriller, as much looking back to Les Vampires (as did Assayas's own Irma Vep) as forward to a internet connected future.

Remembering back to the last time I watched Split Second almost a decade ago the thing that most stuck with me about it is that the mild-mannered slightly bookish sidekick, who would normally be our guide to the world compared to the Rutger Hauer larger than life gruff cop figure, pretty early on gets some sort of elaborate demonic ritual symbol carved into his chest and quite naturally freaks out about the permanent scarification that has been done to him for the rest of the film!

I have a VHS of Split Second in a double bill with Wedlock (aka Deadlock), which is the other great Rutger Hauer sci-fi film of the early 90s. That is a sci-fi riff on The Defiant Ones as a man and a woman go on the run from the law although they have to contend with wearing paired explosive collars that will be set off if they get a certain distance apart from each other! Cue lots of scenes of the couple getting accidentally separated and having to chase after each other, including the set piece moment of jumping off the top of a building to maintain the same distance from the other person who has been bundled into a lift! It also interestingly pre-empts the same use of paired collars in Battle Royale II!
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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#53 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Aug 03, 2020 11:58 am

Some youth-centered sci-fi revisits:

Super 8: The best Spielberg film, not made by Spielberg, for the next generation. When I first saw this film in theatres, I had the same feeling that more modern audiences likely had when they watched Stranger Things (which I believe would never have been made if it weren’t for this film that directly answers the question that, yes, the right artist can retain the magic of Spielberg’s tuned style). Painstakingly funny (to this day, I can barely keep a straight face when someone raves about production design, because all I hear is Riley Griffiths screaming about “production value!”), persistently thrilling, and imbuing a long lost sense of childhood camaraderie, this really is the ideal reincarnation of 80s childhood fantasy magic.

The ending never completely clicked for me, but it’s easily forgivable in favor of all the mechanics that do. The cast alone sells this one, and while I expected more of the kids to become famous, I remember spotting Elle Fanning as she graced the screen for the first time and immediately felt like I was seeing a Star emerging (though I had seen her before this in Somewhere, her presence here had a novel effect). A revisit wasn’t quite as impactful, but all parts felt a bit more cohesive, and the momentum’s fluidity still shows.


Attack the Block, the other ‘Kids v Aliens’ film from the start of the last decade, fared about the same on a revisit. It’s fun, funny, and Alex Esmail steals every scene he’s in as the pyromaniac right hand man of Boyega’s internalized gang leader, but the final product amounts to less of a lasting impression than the Abrahms film. I may find the intergroup dynamics to generate quantitatively more soft laughs, but whatever character development exists fades from memory as soon as the credits roll. Still an enjoyable movie that fans of Super 8 should seek out, though that’s easily the better film.


Disturbing Behavior: Well, two decades have not treated this film as kindly as I had hoped, with the considerable nostalgia I had for it dissipating amongst the glaring flaws in characterization and direction. Despite the obvious issues, the narrative still moves along with some thrills in the second half, and it’s a pretty funny satire for holding no prisoners in painting cliched tropes of 90s Americana with the bombastic jabs they deserve. The wish fulfillment for the outcast to assume all those who ascend the ladder of popularity to be artificial, literally, is also inspired- and if viewed as a projection of the disoriented 90s kid’s social nightmare, playing with science fiction and horror genres, it’s ripe for an analytical re-evaluation.

The full-step with 90s teenagers’ ‘obsession’ even extends to a particular Kubrick homage in A Clockwork Orange, knowingly the film that has been misinterpreted by toxic angsty emerging adults for years! We also get the leader of the adults-as-unsympathetic-villains declaring, “science is God!” in the final showdown, cementing the prophecy of the pubescent vision that adults don’t care about our emotions. So yeah, the film feels like it was made by an angry high school male, which can be as self-reflexively perceptive as it is formally unkempt.


The Faculty is a much better movie, with more interesting science fiction. Whatever you expect from applying the Body Snatchers idea to high school life, this film transcends those predictions. I forgot how bizarre this gets especially in the scene where they take amphetamines and clash in the exact ways they would in real life, but not necessarily in the movies, in the lab basement. There’s no room for predictable dialogue that prays on stereotypes when you get such a diverse group together in a claustrophobic space- and the scene becomes a messy, surreal, anxiety-filled buildup to
SpoilerShow
mimic the blood-test scene in The Thing
There’s an air of novelty that isn’t needed for this to be a solid programmer, but thankfully Rodriguez has greater ambitions. The film’s interests are less with traditional youthful themes of oppression and feeling misunderstood, and instead focused on the sheer confusion and uncomfortability with being a teenager. These kids have no idea what they’re doing even in the showdowns, self-doubt plagues them and we share those projections. The motives of the filmmakers allow for actions to be puzzling and the protagonists to be frantic, because nobody is prepared to face foreign challenges with composure or confidence at that age- not even the kids who are 2cool4school.

The twists and turns that come as members of the eclectic group begin to engage interpersonally further emphasizes the unknowability, and unpredictability, of social relationships at that age. The concept of mistrust couldn’t be more appropriate, to genre or milieu! And of course you need to get high to prove yourself (in this case to be your ‘self’) reinforces the seriousness of peer pressure, and repurposes the need to not be alone, by stressing how coercing another to get on your level of substance use is also a safety measure of self-preservation.

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#54 Post by domino harvey » Mon Aug 03, 2020 12:08 pm

The Faculty is still my favorite Body Snatcher-type movie, and a rare example of a 90s teen movie that holds up as something more than a time capsule

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#55 Post by domino harvey » Mon Aug 03, 2020 12:20 pm

I did see a couple intriguing though not quite successful French sci-fi films within the last year that may be of some interest: Les jours où je n'existe pas (Jean-Charles Fitoussi 2003) is a (too) arthousey study of a man suffering from a strange affliction: every other day, from Midnight to Midnight, he disappears from existence. He has no memory of the missing time, and he literally just leaves and reenters the world whereever he departed it. After spending his life in isolation, he begins a relationship with a woman who must deal with this handicap, and that she does in more ways than you might think. I didn't think the film was very successful while watching it, as the static and drawn-out sterileness of it seemed a poor fit for the subject matter (or any film). But I have to admit I haven't forgotten its odd and disturbing last act and I do think many people here would probably like it on the whole more than I did. An equally out there premise is given a different brand of lowkey execution in Simple mortel (Pierre Jolivet 1990) and this is gonna be another French film where I ask where the remake is! A man hears a voice on the radio commanding him to go to certain places and do certain tasks or face the consequences. He does and the tasks escalate as the source of the voice is revealed to be an omnipotent external observer not averse to taking extreme action. This would be a great premise for a big budget action movie that built in some great set pieces to exploit the premise, but here the setpieces are often too small and other than an unforgettable "incidental" exit of one of the people he makes the mistake of telling about the radio voice, the film never quite cashes the million dollar idea check it is hoarding. Still, I think it works better than the Fitoussi film, but put Bruce Willis and some outrageous demands in this thing and you'd have a classic (and, actually, the plot description makes it sound a bit like Die Hard with a Vengeance already!)

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#56 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Aug 03, 2020 1:39 pm

Perhaps because it’s feeling too real right now, but I can’t believe I omitted Contagion in my initial list. Also, while I’m not looking to stretch the parameters of sci-fi too much, I’m curious what nouvelle vague (aside from the obvious Godard) people think would qualify.. plenty of Rivette and Godard could but they feel more like experimental fantasy for the most part.

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#57 Post by knives » Mon Aug 03, 2020 1:49 pm

Aren't the Rivettes more obviously fantasy? They do operate on the principles of magical realism afterall. The most obvious choices I can think of are Chris Marker's films with Jetee being the most obvious choice. Varda's The Creatures as well.

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#58 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Aug 03, 2020 1:56 pm

Yeah Rivette is more clearly fantasy but I couldn’t recall if some of the ones I’ve seen less often were more ambiguously so. La jetee and Alphaville I put on my original shortlist and will probably both make my final list. Looking forward to revisiting the Varda which wasn’t on my radar.

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#59 Post by domino harvey » Mon Aug 03, 2020 2:19 pm

It’s abominably bad. The answer to the question, “Why is there a Varda film starring Michel Piccoli and Catherine Deneuve that no one ever talks about?” will arrive quickly upon watching

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#60 Post by L.A. » Mon Aug 03, 2020 2:36 pm

Warms my heart to see people having nice things to say about Split Second :D. Ordered a copy from 101 Films’ Shopify page. It’s been over 10 years when I last saw it so looking forward to revisit it again.

Btw, there is a US Blu coming out on August 11th which appears to be the same release as the UK disc.

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#61 Post by bottled spider » Mon Aug 03, 2020 4:22 pm

I think Marker's fiction-documentary hybrid Level Five is probably science fiction. Certainly it has science fiction aspects. But the fiction is non-narrative, and think the characters are based on real people Marker knew (I'm not sure). I could recommend it insofar as it has fascinating aspects, but I wouldn't champion it insofar as other aspects are nails down a chalkboard for me.

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#62 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Aug 03, 2020 4:59 pm

I've been going through various episodes of the 90s Outer Limits revival that are 'recommended' from a variety of sources, which has built to a list of roughly 1/3 of its total output. So far I'm unimpressed, and time will tell whether I'll keep going (and recs on this forum are most welcome for prioritization).

Most of the eps I've seen so far are not only predictable but cheesy, which may very well be the intention, and isn't always a hard negative. Valerie 23 progresses exactly as one will expect, however with an unexpected amount of nudity to stress the realism of the A.I. companion pros, before turning into a Terminator knockoff. The Choice is equally predictable, despite its attempt to lead the audience down a different path, and the 'twist' hits on a diluted form of thematic xenophobia from the X-Men comics. Rite of Passage, which seems to be one of the more universally celebrated eps, probably fared worst of all- the journey of the central couple missing all the excitement clearly others saw, so I guess this is a 'me' problem.

The alien eps so far have been okay. Hearts and Minds has an interesting concept but the follow through missed the mark; although Quality of Life, even with a predictable finale and hokey acting/set design, worked pretty well for me- especially in its implications of human vulnerability (specifically empathic connection) as flaws rather than strengths in the lens of self-preservation. Much like the To Serve Man episode of The Twilight Zone, regardless of one 'seeing the twist coming' the ep still retains its intelligence, even under all the tacky dressing.

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#63 Post by domino harvey » Mon Aug 03, 2020 5:05 pm

I still remember Inconstant Moon being a very sweet love story— if that one actually sucks, I’d probably pack it in. But honestly I haven’t seen most of these in many years and most of them all run together for me (except for Valerie 23, which teenage me def remembers but that wasn’t exactly me giving it a recommendation TWBB!)

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#64 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Aug 03, 2020 5:15 pm

Haha I know domino, you didn't even phrase it as a rec and if I had seen it as a teenager I'd remember it quite well too! If the rumors are true where the ep I was able to track down was edited, it still had enough nudity to make me wonder what the original uncut version was like!

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#65 Post by bamwc2 » Mon Aug 03, 2020 6:23 pm

Does anyone know if Proxima is available to stream anywhere? It played throughout much of the rest of the world, and at one fest here in the US, but I can't seem to find it anywhere online.

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#66 Post by domino harvey » Mon Aug 03, 2020 6:30 pm

It’s available with subs from iTunes somewhere in the English-speaking world, as it is circulating

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#67 Post by bamwc2 » Mon Aug 03, 2020 6:45 pm

Thanks. Just found it by googling the right combinations of words. It's on iTunes all right. I've never used them before, but will give it a try tonight. In the meantime, I have a very unpleasant experience to finish up for this project.

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#68 Post by bamwc2 » Mon Aug 03, 2020 7:32 pm

Argh. I just went through a whole process of downloading iTunes, figuring out my Apple ID, resetting my password, and entering my credit card information just to be told it's only available in the Australian iTunes store.

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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#69 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Aug 04, 2020 5:30 am

I have two thematically linked recommendations to start off my main contributions to this list:

Brainstorm (Douglas Trumbull, 1983)

Oh, the horrible irony of the only character who doesn’t have a near death experience in this film being played by Natalie Wood, whose last film role this is and whose death just after the film was shot almost cancelled it entirely (there are couple of shots using body doubles that got it completed) and casts this whole story in a different light. Despite that, I think this is a quite beautiful, and strangely uplifting, film about life after death and the possibility of capturing that experience for others to view.

This is the only other feature film directed by Douglas Trumbull after Silent Running, and I think it is even better. Christopher Walken stars in the most Christopher Walken role that there has even been, naïvely too excited by the project to recognise the threats and having his marriage to Natalie Wood fall apart whilst his attention is elsewhere. Louise Fletcher is the more abrasive colleague well aware of the outside forces that are about to swoop in but even so can do nothing to stop the project from being co-opted, instead just left guardedly chain smoking and looking warily at Cliff Robertson’s slick boss assuring them of full participation in the project.

It starts as a small story of a research team having a breakthrough in a new wearable piece of headwear that records not just first person footage of another person’s experiences but every sensory experience associated with it such as taste and touch. You are not just watching footage as if you were riding a rollercoaster but actually experiencing what the original wearer of the device felt when they were recording the event. Even the emotional and physical experiences, which have the power of not just being able to provide the feelings of pleasure or fear but to also transfer across and cause the viewer’s own body to respond in kind. In an optimistic way of providing the sensation of being able to walk again to a disabled person, but also in a dangerous manner where a particularly strenuous lovemaking experience could cause a heart attack by proxy if someone in a more fragile state of health were to playback the footage.

Everything gets recorded to a giant strip of magnetic tape and stored in a library to be retrieved and accessed at any time. But when the main team members have their project taken away from them and the military comes in looking for new ways of training pilots (or even having them pilot planes remotely into a warzone from a safe distance) it leads to Fletcher fighting with both Walken and Robertson. In her anger late in the lab one night she accidentally burns herself and has a heart attack, but in her dying moments manages to put on the device and starts it off recording.

So now we have ‘the ultimate trip’ bequeathed by Fletcher’s character. What happens in the process of death? Its all there tantalisingly available right there on a spool of tape (the ultimate McGuffin?), only Robertson has (probably wisely) locked it away forbidding anyone from accessing it. Though tellingly has not immediately destroyed it, which perhaps suggests Robertson’s fatal flaw in wanting to appropriate the experience and keep it under lock and key for his own (or the highest bidder’s) use.

The second half of the film becomes a bit of a race against time thriller (and very similar to Scanners) as Walken and Wood (their relationship getting strengthened in the process of Walken ironically pursuing a death wish) try to access the facility remotely set against Robertson trying any means necessary (getting blunter and blunter as desperation grows!) to gain access to the now locked archive to stop the playback machine from unspooling completely. It’s a great climax of physicality against the intangible, and we with Walken get to experience Fletcher’s final moments with that amazing moment of the playback being ended but things have now gone too far and Walken is having his own near-death experience directly now, which only the voice of a loved one can pull him back from.

I really love this film. Sure it might be a bit cheesy but its heart is in the right place, and that’s really what counts. Beyond the notions of the afterlife it deals with so many down to earth issues as well that are in the end much more important such as the collapsing and reforming of marriages along with the anger and betrayal felt of not being in control of your own research and what the company you work for decides to do with it (the moral responsibilities of the creators for the inventions that they unleash upon the world that might have wonderful applications, but also potentially devastating ones too in the wrong hands). Also I feel that the corporate usage of otherwise benign, even lofty, research for commercial or warmongering goals gets taken even further by the film into actively interrogating the aspect of human nature that reduces everything to just how it can be used for conflict or for sex. As well as the need for corporations and governments to ‘own’ and appropriate every aspect of human experience from birth to death, and now even beyond it to the new frontier of the afterlife as well. Its such a rigorous critique of human nature that I can forgive the slightly overblown climax (that tries, and I would argue succeeds, to outdo 2001’s “Beyond the Infinite” sequence) showing floating angels and suchlike, because that is kind of a forceful retreat into simple purity where after all experience and personality that makes up a human life is re-lived (relieved?) and stripped away we get a straightforward experience of love and acceptance

There is also the slowly building theme of appropriating people’s experiences, recording them and making them available to others to experience vicariously. Which is sort of suggested to be the end point of the cinematic experience if approached only as a pure sensory one and which is why it is so interesting that the film itself shifts to widescreen 70 mm footage for the ‘playback’ sequences from the device (and that following this film Trumbull himself moved into working in IMAX films and immersive theme park rides), almost as if the experience of using the device is ‘bigger than life’ in some ways in comparison to ‘normal’ day-to-day experience. Maybe it provides a more desirable experience than mundane life, which then makes people dismiss everyday life as just an unnecessary irritation to be tolerated to get back into the experience machine? I think that Brainstorm is wonderfully ambivalent about this situation and is both in thrall to this idea that we could one day capture and be able to share a totality of experience with others, yet also is simultaneously concerned about the dangers that has of not just physically harming people but removing the need for interpretation and artistic licence from life. That in the quest for ever more overwhelming sensory input from imagery it disregards the other qualities of film that are just as important, of narrative and a well told story.

Or in other words when I don’t have to (falteringly and imperfectly) describe an experience to you but just point you towards a piece of footage that will convey all of the necessary ideas and emotions directly what room is left for future development? Is everything that came before and will come after rendered pointless after reaching that final frontier? Does it make your individual experience pointless when all you are doing is living vicariously through the experiences of others, with no more input to provide on your own part? I think that is also what makes the arguably too blunt climax showing literal angels work beautifully too because it is getting at exactly that idea of too explicit a special effects visualisation of a concept, where in the world of the film that has removed any ambiguity from life itself, yet the film we are watching as an audience has to have made certain (arguably cheesy!) artistic choices to decide what and how to convey the afterlife! So we are seeing both the tyranny of removal of ambiguity for a single concrete vision, and yet another singular (or at least singular to this particular film) artistic interpretation of the afterlife simultaneously!

I think this is the ur-film to later devices that turn up in everything from Until The End of the World to that Daft Punk anime film Interstellar 5555 (there is a direct homage to the machine from Brainstorm as it appears in the recording studio as the band are laying down their first tracks on Earth). Even if they are not consciously homaging Brainstorm, there are a few films that I don’t think could have existed in the form that they do without its influence. Such as…

Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995)

The recording of experience is very reminiscent of the machine in Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, to the extent that I wonder if Brainstorm had an influence on the device there. Though in Strange Days the device does start out with some of the sci-fi ideas about what it is like to only live through the experiences of others (and the issue of death as the final frontier gets dealt with here too, starting with the opening bank heist gone wrong sequence which has not had its ‘snuff ending’ neatly snipped out. It is rather amusing that it is not the morality of taking footage of a crime or even revelling in the experiences of the criminal up to the point of their death being ethically questionable, just that the direct experience of first person death is too extreme for the clients that the footage is going to be passed along to as just a fun thrill ride by proxy!) but it all gets folded into a portrait of the world on the cusp of the millennium and the prospect of an ever darker future to come. Which makes Strange Days both immediately dated (both in its climax taking place on New Year’s Eve 1999 and the grunge band fronted by Juliette Lewis! It is in the running for the most 1990s feeling film ever made!) and strangely prescient of smartphones and the future of streaming video to incite and inspire revolution too.

The device is the McGuffin to explore very themes of information dissemination and police state corruption, since the inciting event motivating the action here (though only fully revealed half-way through the film) is the Rodney King-style police beating, turning into killing being officially covered up as a gangland shootout, of a famous black rap star and his entourage after they get pulled over by a couple of rookie cops and the attempts by both the cops involved and the organisation as a whole to cover it up once they realise that one of the women in the car at the time was wearing one of the experience recording devices and captured the whole event. Its about the searing anger of witnessing such an horrible event carried out by those supposed to be protecting us without any of the mediation to mitigate the brutality that has the power to have an incendiary effect on the population at large. Which is a theme that has unfortunately always stayed current, because it always has a relevance to current events. Maybe it was always thus, just now there are devices to capture it and disseminate it immediately (really that's the main problem the characters in this film have that also dates the film to the mid 1990s: there is no internet to just upload the video to and then they would not have to have gone on the run trying to find a way to broadcast it!). And it is horribly ironic that eventually the hugely important piece of footage kind of becomes unnecessary in light of a whole new re-enactment of the violence with a new victim in the middle of the New Year’s celebrations in order to get the point of police brutality across yet again.

As much as Brainstorm, I think that Strange Days is paying homage to De Palma’s Blow Out too in its subplot of the politically motivated killing of the women who witnessed the initial killing being couched under the cover of 'just' a serial killer murdering random women. Argento (and The Eyes of Laura Mars) would seem to be references too in the use of the point of view in the stalking scenes and the horrible manner in which the killer forces the women to wear the device and experience the direct ‘thrill’ of their own deaths through it (which is the aspect of the film that caused the BBFC to heavily cut the film on its theatrical and video releases. I think it may still be edited in the UK)

Kathryn Bigelow pretty much remade this film a couple of years ago in Detroit, but almost paradoxically the more grounded and 'true story' setting there made everything seem less realistic! Perhaps that is the power of sci-fi, that it can often fully deal with potentially incendiary topics?
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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#70 Post by Feego » Tue Aug 04, 2020 10:46 am

Westworld (1973, Michael Crichton)
This was my first viewing of Westworld, and the main thing that ran through my mind the whole time is that this is just a dry run for Crichton’s later novel Jurassic Park. We already have the basic scenario of a fantastical theme park breaking down with deadly results for the guests, and the theme of scientific progress coming back to bite the inventor’s ass is present as well. Too bad this film never goes far beyond being just a scenario. We get lots of scenes of “business” as technicians repair the robots of the wild-west park and struggle as the bots occasionally break down (before finally going truly wild!). But the main characters are too flat to really care about (no fault of the actors). James Brolin and Richard Benjamin play the enthusiastic but bland heroes hoping for a nice vacation. Nuggets of their history, mainly that Benjamin is recently divorced, are provided but never developed.
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The casting of handsome, macho, square-jawed Brolin as the guy who dies while nerdy Benjamin outlasts everyone is cute and clever. I especially liked the slow-motion used whenever Benjamin fires a gun, suggesting a hidden violent streak in him that is only now manifesting in this fantasy environment. But again, the film just sort of leaves it there, and I never found myself particularly sympathizing with these guys.
Contrast this with Spielberg's adaptation of Jurassic Park, which featured six protagonists and managed to flesh them all out amidst the action. What we are left with here is a cool “What if?” premise that ultimately feels pretty hollow. This being said, it’s still a fun little movie, and recasting Yul Brynner’s black-clad hero from The Magnificent Seven as the villain was a stroke of genius. Brynner pretty much originated the Terminator 11 years before Schwarzenegger!

Soylent Green (1973, Richard Fleischer)
As I’m sure it was for many others, the big reveal was spoiled for me years ago by the cultural ubiquity of the film’s most famous line. But there was still much tension in this dystopian police procedural as I waited for Charlton Heston to figure out what I already knew. Perhaps because I wasn’t preoccupied trying to figure it out, I was able to sit back and appreciate the film’s grimy prediction of 2022 New York City. The opening photo montage concisely displays how humanity has happily polluted the Earth, leading to worldwide food shortage and overpopulation. People in the future (which is now just two years away!) live and treat each other like animals. Even those lucky to have a job, like Heston’s detective, pilfer and scavenge for food at every opportunity. The idle rich keep beautiful women as slaves, calling them “furniture,” and these women are happy to live in comfort even if it means suffering occasional abuses. The street scenes are shot with a green filter suggesting a pestilent haze. There is nothing attractive about this society. It’s a believably grim warning of how our indifference to the environment will ultimately be our downfall. And in the year of COVID-19 and BLM protests, it’s disconcerting to see a nearly 50-year-old movie in which crowds of people wear protective masks and rioters are cleared out of the streets with bulldozers. Despite the camp legacy the final twist has inspired, it really is a sad and inevitable conclusion to this cautionary tale. Adding to the sadness, Edward G. Robinson gives a touching performance in what turned out to be his final role.

Invaders from Mars (1953, William Cameron Menzies)
I’d watched this before and was impressed by the first third or so but found the rest to be a slog. A second viewing hasn’t necessarily changed my opinion, but I do appreciate the positives a little more. While this is certainly science fiction, it verges quite close to horror as a child desperately tries to convince the adults around him that an alien spacecraft has landed and taken control of his parents. Menzies creates a Kafkaesque landscape of off-kilter sets and unrelenting grimness. Under the Martians’ control, the friendly dad becomes physically abusive, and a little girl turns into a proto bad seed and sets her house on fire. I adore the extreme close-up of the glammed-up mother (who sleeps with a full face of makeup) raising her eyebrow and leering at the camera to unsubtly reveal to us she’s one of them too! A haunting choral moan underscores each abduction, and it becomes all the more chilling when we discover that the characters can hear it as well! The film loses steam midway through when stock military footage disrupts the visual stylization. But the climax is a doozy of sub-Ed Woodian insanity as Martians played by men in green felt onesies with visible zippers up the back run hither and thither along the same corridor for what feels like an eternity. For anyone seeking this out, be sure to watch the U.S. version with the original mind-bending conclusion. The U.K. version substitutes a more conventional ending and adds some deadly dull exposition to an earlier scene.

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senseabove
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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#71 Post by senseabove » Tue Aug 04, 2020 1:23 pm

Less a Sci-Fi List review and more of an accidental litmus test, it turns out: I watched Lizzie Borden's phenomenal Born in Flames tonight, which I've been meaning to watch for years and finally did because I wanted something short and I'd seen it mentioned as sci-fi before... but this is just not sci-fi? It's set in a relative, atemporalized, dystopian-ish "future"—10 years after a very loosely defined "peaceful political revolution" in the US that leads to a Democratic Socialist government, but we're never given a year, and diegetically, it is entirely aesthetically of its production year. Looking at it from now, it could just as easily be a realistic alternative history past. My first reaction is that it should be mentioned in the same breath as Battle of Algiers as a pseudo-document of radical leftist activism; and in spite of its gruff punk/no-wave/lo-fi aesthetic, it's breathtakingly deft at delineating strains of leftism and instra-movement squabbles that feel so absurdly relevant to the events of this year, you almost want to laugh to keep from crying—I've seen versions of damn near every conversation and monologue in this movie published somewhere online in the past three months. But this "future's" differences are entirely sociopolitical, not technological. There is no attempt to imagine new technologies that aid one "side" or the other, nor any to augment contemporary fashions in some "futuristic" way, nor any unexplained phenomena of any kind other than a mass political movement that is, admittedly, even more unbelievable with the full effect of Reaganism in hindsight. Given the impending explosion of the AIDS crisis and more prevalent access to computers that were to follow it, it's honestly more surprising for what the movie excludes from its future. It doesn't even try to extrapolate or play fast and loose and get things spectacularly wrong. So while I think it's a fantastic movie, I'm not sure why I ever saw it mentioned as sci-fi. And maybe it feels especially less like sci-fi now that a Democratic Socialist has actually been within shouting distance of the Presidency twice? Do other folks consider this sci-fi?

(Also, does anybody have the First Run blu-ray of this? I can't find a single review of it, or even any information about it at all.)

bamwc2
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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#72 Post by bamwc2 » Tue Aug 04, 2020 3:49 pm

Viewing Log:

The American Astronaut (Cory McAbee, 2001): The solar system is dominated by interplanetary traders willing to move any cargo for the right price. When we meet up with space trucker Samuel Curtis (writer/director Cory McAbee) he's delivering a cat and receives the rarest payment of all, a cloning machine that is currently making a female human. In this future, the planet Venus contains all the women in the galaxy, and have endless orgies with a single man who spends his life as their stud. As it turns out, their most recent man has died and his family has put up a bounty to retrieve the body for burial. But the Venusian inhabitants aren't willing to part with it without getting a replacement. Hence, Samuel recruits a sixteen-year-old named The Boy Who Actually Saw a Woman's Breast (Gregory Russell Cook) to become trade bait. It's tempting to describe this bizarre musical western comedy as something like later Lynch if he ever returned to sci-fi, but McAbee's vision is all his own. It's a mind boggingly strange journey, but with memorable songs and a surreal approach, it's one I'm glad I took.

Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011): Celebrating her acceptance to MIT, seventeen-year-old Rhoda Williams's (Brit Marling) life changes when a duplicate of planet Earth appears in the sky. Watching the alternate Earth instead of the road, she crashes into a car driven John Burroughs (William Mapother), killing his wife and son. Four years later, a morose and suicidal Rhoda finishes her stint in jail, without any direction in life. Unsure of what else to do, she applies to be part of a private sector space flight that is scheduled to visit Earth 2. Although they had identical histories, communication with Earth 2 reveals that the events since the day it became visible have diverged. While waiting to hear back, Rhoda enters John's life by pretending to be from a local cleaning service and offering him a free maid for a day. The film functions on less of a sci-fi level as it does a drama about a character who is suddenly offered the chance to visit a world where her doppelganger never makes the life altering decisions that she made. It asks us to put ourselves in Rhoda's place decide what we would do if were in her shoes. With a cerebral script from its star and director, this one was a real winner.

Kin-dza-dza! (Georgiy Daneliya, 1986): A chance encounter on the street sends Soviets Uncle Vova (Stanislav Lyubshin) and Fiddler (Levan Gabriadze) transported across the galaxy to the desert planet Pluke. Soon the Earthlings meet telepathic space hobos Wef (Evgeniy Leonov) and Bee (Yuriy Yakovlev). Attracted to the matches that Uncle Vova brought with him, the foursome embark on a wacky adventure to try and return home. Watching this film was a singularly unpleasant experience. It seemed to be made by avid fans Terry Gilliam's aesthetic who think that the director didn't go far enough. The film is aggressively quirky, and radically unfunny. It's the type of film where the 'humor' is achieved by having people put bells in their nose or springs in their mouths and endlessly repeating the sound "coo". I hated this movie. Hated it. Hated it!

Letters from a Dead Man (Konstantin Lopushanskiy, 1986): Another Soviet sci-fi film from 1986, this one was a little bit better. A nuclear holocaust has destroyed the surface of the Earth, and the small fraction of humanity that survived now lives their lives in dark, dank underground bunkers. Nobel Prize winner Professor Larsen (Rolan Bykov) spends his days writing letters to his son that would almost certainly never be read. Even with total devastation surrounding him, Larsen refuses to give up on the last ounce of hope he has. I first heard of this film in a write up at Slant, where the author pointed out that director Lopushansky was a protégé of Tarkovsky's. You can see the similarity between their techniques in the long, dialogue free tracking shots. Shot in an almost sepia tone black and white, the film does a tremendous job conveying the isolation and desperation that these characters feel.

The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015): My wife read the book, but as parents of a young child, we never made our way to the theater to see this Ridley Scott blockbuster. A weekend viewing with all three of us finally filled in the hole in my knowledge. Matt Damon plays botanist Mark Watney, part of an Mars expeditionary team that is forced to abandon the planet prematurely after a severe storm. When a satellite dish breaks off and strikes Mark in the dust storm, his fellow crew mates lose track of him and assume he's dead. Leaving him behind, Mark awakens to find himself alone on the planet with insufficient resources to survive long enough for a rescue mission. Much like Robinson Crusoe on Mars, our protagonist must work his way through a series of problems to survive another day. That's pretty much what this film is about. Mark faces a difficulty, works to solve it, and gets to survive a little longer. It doesn't add up to a bad formula, but it does get a little rote. Damon is charismatic in his role, and Scott brings his unique visual style to make this a beautiful film.

Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2019): Set in a distant future, many years after a spontaneous human combustion killed off half the Earth's population. Now there exist a group of humans known as "the burnish" with advanced pyrokinetic abilities. The burnish are all hunted fugitives, and our story begins with a Galo Thymos, a member of an elite group of mech suit wearing fire fighters in the futuristic city of Promepolis. That day Galo captures the leader of the burnish, Lio Fotia. But soon after Lio escapes and gets reunited with Galo, and the two learn that their understanding of the other is radically incorrect. United, the pair fight against a common enemy and try their best to save the fate of all humanity. For the first ten minutes or so, I was unimpressed. It seemed like it was going to be a hyperkinetic anime about putting out fires, and I felt like I had seen enough of it. However, it got interesting when the film began to explore its backstory and build on its broader mythology. The first CG anime I've ever seen, the film also has a unique visual style that I found particularly memorable.

Shin Godzilla (Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, 2016): In the 2010s, the US and Japan both got their own Godzilla reboots. I saw the US one when it first came out, and liked it. It turns out that this remake is pretty good too, but for different reasons. The giant lizard monster emerges from the oceans where it has been adapting to radiation and eating nuclear waste that Japanese corporations dumped off of Tokyo Bay. Despite reassurances that the creature would never be able to support itself on land, Godzilla emerges and begins destroying urban centers. The CG creation has evolved quite a bit since Haruo Nakajima first wore the suit in 1954, but the same basic premise remains of a monster wrecking Japan, and scientists doing their best to find a way to stop it. Ultimately, their method of victory is just as laughable as the original film's oxygen bomb, but if we put the scientific absurdities aside, it functions as brainless fun. I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed watching the bureaucrats fight to save their country in this one. The humans get a lot of air time. Not all of it works and it's highly cliched, but still ultimately enjoyable.
Last edited by bamwc2 on Tue Aug 04, 2020 4:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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knives
Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:49 pm

Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#73 Post by knives » Tue Aug 04, 2020 3:58 pm

I actually thought Shin Godzilla did a much better job of updating the seriousness and themes to the modern day then the American although I love that one for different reasons. The film fits well with Anno's pessimism that has defined his other works like Eva.

bamwc2
Joined: Mon Jun 02, 2008 11:54 am

Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#74 Post by bamwc2 » Tue Aug 04, 2020 4:09 pm

knives wrote:
Tue Aug 04, 2020 3:58 pm
I actually thought Shin Godzilla did a much better job of updating the seriousness and themes to the modern day then the American although I love that one for different reasons. The film fits well with Anno's pessimism that has defined his other works like Eva.
I've never seen any of his other films, but would certainly be open to check them out.

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knives
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Re: The Sci-Fi List Discussion and Suggestions (Genre Project)

#75 Post by knives » Tue Aug 04, 2020 4:17 pm

His television work is probably his best. Though not formally credited FLCL is probably the greatest thing he's connected with. That would actually be great for this list as well.

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