Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or an instant-streaming service.
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July is Sci-Fi Month: the Fourth Annual Science Fiction Film Series begins on Wed., July 9 and continues through August 6. I host the series, and we have a scientist from DMNS speaking about the actual science in the film. For more information, visit my Facebook page. In honor of the series, I review two sci-fi films this month.
In a future world where global warming increases exponentially, the governments try an experiment to cool down the world by shooting a chemical into the atmosphere. The cooling works, but too well—the world is plunged into an ice age and mostly everyone dies. The survivors are all housed on a train constantly travelling around the world, financed and run by an eccentric billionaire (Ed Harris). The micro-society has a tight military rule, where clear class distinctions have arisen. The action centers around a rebellion led by Curtis (Chris Evans) and Edgar (Jamie Bell), who methodically work their way from the back of the train (poor) to the front (rich). Putting aside the outlandish premise, the film delivers an intelligent and thoughtful take on our current society and the imbalances therein.
The first English-language film by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host), this is a thoughtful, interesting, and increasingly captivating film. Based on a French comic book, it gets to the core of how we organize ourselves into societies. It is at times an action film and at times a philosophical film. The cinematography is tense and thematic, the direction is crisp, and the acting is acutely sharp. The film is not bereft of stars either, most of whom are in secondary roles: Tilda Swinton, Harris, and John Hurt. The mix of seasoned veterans and young stars adds heft to the film. This is smart sci-fi that delivers in the end.
You will like this if you enjoyed Blade Runner, Europa Report, and/or Moon.
Opens July 4 at the Sie Film Center.
The best science fiction asks us to consider what it means to be human. While Her (directed by Spike Jonze) is not populated with aliens and spaceships, it nonetheless qualifies as science fiction as it tackles this question in a near-future setting (Los Angeles of the future is played by Shanghai of the present!). Yet it is much more than sci-fi, however, and it bleeds over into a love story and even a romantic comedy. The catch here is that our hero Theodore Twombly’s (Joaquin Phoenix) love interest is an artificially intelligent operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). The best science fiction also takes the science of today and extrapolates into future possibilities. The future world of Her is frighteningly close.
Twombly works for a company writing love letters for paying clients. Recently separated from his wife, he is a lonely man who surrounds himself with technology. When he sees an ad for the first AI Operating System, he buys it immediately. The OS is interactive and learns from the user; it also begins to develop emotions and emotional attachments. On paper, this sounds like an absurd concept, but the writing, directing, and acting are so endearing that we immediately relate to the realistic implications.
The relationship plays out much like an actual human relationship, and we begin to understand that Theodore is not a singular case in this society. How easy and natural it all seems may be the scariest/most interesting part of the film.
Nominated for five Academy Awards this year, it won its only award for Best Original Screenplay. I gave a short synopsis of the film a few months ago, and I said at the time that if you could only see one Academy Award nominee, this one should be it. Upon seeing it again, I am convinced of that. It is the rare film that crosses genres, makes us laugh and cry, and delves deep into our humanity. We walk away from the film asking many questions—mostly of ourselves and how we live our lives. How far away is this world? Probably closer than we think.
You will like this if you enjoyed Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, and/or Stranger Than Fiction.
Now available on Redbox or Amazon Instant Video.
This film, along with all other films I’ve reviewed, may be found at the Sam Gary Library when it is released on DVD. Look for the Indie Prof display at the end of the DVD racks.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.