Tag Archives: science fiction

Slouching towards Elysium

The militarized and highly protected exclusive space station for the rich and over-privileged looms over Earth in the 2013 science-fiction and social-justice film “Elysium.”

It is ironic that in the same week that we finally focus our attention on the fact that the heartless, fascistic, unelected Pussygrabber regime is keeping non-citizen Latino children separated from their parents and in cages, “President” Pussygrabber himself demands that we create a/the “space force.”

Gee, how might militarized space play out in the future?

In the 2013 Neill Blomkamp sci-fi film “Elysium,” the rich and powerful live in luxury on a space station (named Elysium) that orbits above Earth, visible in the sky from the surface of the planet. Below on Earth, we’re shown a desperate population that deals with poverty, pollution, overpopulation, hunger, sickness and disease, crime, shit jobs and general misery.

Most of the action on Earth takes place in a futuristic Los Angeles, which is comprised of a lot of Latinos and which is fully bilingual; our white protagonist, played by Matt Damon, was raised by a Spanish-speaking Latina woman and he speaks Spanish as well as English himself, and his best friend, played by Diego Luna, is Latino, and the woman and her daughter whom he tries to help (the latter is in need of a significant amount of health care that isn’t available to her on Earth, but is readily available to the denizens of Elysium) are Latina.

The miserable residents of Earth, who are kept in line by robot thugs, routinely attempt to reach Elysium via small spacecraft, usually if not only for life-saving medical care, but they much more often than not are shot down by the denizens of the space station before they can reach it; the rabble’s success rate of reaching the militarized and weaponized Elysium is quite small.

Elysium’s security is handled by a heartless Department-of-Homeland-Security-head-type she-Nazi played by Jodie Foster, who apparently was the inspiration for our current, real-life head of Homeland Security.

Elysium’s super-computer recognizes you as a citizen or a non-citizen of Elysium; your citizenship status is all-important, as it determines how (and pretty much even whether) you live. And, again, robot thugs, not unlike the U.S. Border Patrol and other law-enforcement thugs, keep the desperate masses in line for the elite of Elysium.

All sound familiar?

Admittedly, “Elysium” is a flawed film — for example, at the end of the film we are to believe that the space station, which is tiny compared to the planet, has enough resources to save everyone on Earth — but its set-up and its social commentary are fairly brilliant.

And it’s fairly visionary, because it is the direction in which we already are headed: an over-privileged few have far more than they’ll ever need — and they protect their over-privilege and their overabundance with violence and with the threat of violence — while the masses don’t have enough.

There are solutions to our problems. To name just one solution: birth control. Overpopulation causes so much pain and misery (hunger, homelessness, pollution, overcrowding, the rapid spread of disease, etc.), which is one of the reasons that while I love my Latino peeps, I oppose the backasswards and ultimately evil Catholick church, with its emphasis on its adherents having more and more children and its official prohibition against even contraception (and, of course, abortion).

No, I don’t advocate forced sterilization or forced abortion or anything like that, but I do advocate totally free birth control and totally free sterilization (and totally free abortion [within the first trimester, and later if medically called for]) for those who want it and request it.* The money that we’d pay toward controlling the population would be a drop in the bucket compared to what we spend because we don’t sensibly control our numbers.

We are at a junction where we still can put our collective foot on the brakes and enact policies to stem such preventable problems as even more overpopulation and even more pollution and even more climate change. And, of course, we must oppose the militarization of space, for fuck’s sake.

Or, we can just sit on our collective asses and wait until “President” in Perpetuity Pussygrabber gets his “space force,” which we’ll pay for, of course, and which he and his henchtraitors only will use against the rest of us — “Elysium”-style.

P.S. Slate.com’s Jamelle Bouie wrote a pretty good piece positing that perhaps this time the Pussygrabber regime really has gone too far. In his piece, Bouie concludes (the links are Bouie’s):

… The common thread among each administration official is that they have grossly mischaracterized the situation at the border, hoping to justify their actions by portraying asylum-seekers as vectors of criminality, when they have a legal right to seek asylum, and when their offenses [crossing the border illegally] [usually] are only misdemeanors.

They’ve gotten scant support from fellow Republicans, who seem to see political danger, if not the moral challenge at hand. “The president should immediately end this family separation policy,” said Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska in a Facebook post, calling the policy “wicked” and correctly framing it as “a new, discretionary choice.” Many Republicans rightfully fear a backlash at the polls, should the policy continue.

[“Alt-right” Pussygrabber whisperer] Stephen Miller may have successfully trolled his opposition, but like the attempted “Muslim ban,” his weapon of choice is a moral travesty and a political disaster in the making. Instead of bolstering his boss, it may weigh him down with another crisis, jeopardizing his party’s hold on Congress and the administration’s ability to operate with impunity.

We’ll see. I truly had thought that the “Access Hollywood” tape probably would do Pussygrabber in, but for the most part we heard crickets from the Repugnican Party on that one. Now, though, we’re hearing even from the likes of Laura Bush that separating non-citizen children from their parents and keeping them in cages is a shitty fucking thing to do.

Even the perpetrators of this latest evil have admitted, sideways, that it’s evil, because they continue to knowingly falsely blame the Pussygrabber regime’s entirely voluntary policies and procedures on the Democrats.

And Homeland Security head Nazi Kirstjen Nielsen recently proclaimed: “We cannot detain children with their parents. So we must either release both the parents and the children — this is the historic get-out-of-jail-free practice of the previous administration [blame the Democrats!] — or the adult and the minor will be separated as a result of prosecuting the adult.

“Those are the only two options. Surely, it is the beginning of the unraveling of democracy when the body who makes the laws — rather than changing them — asks the body who enforces the laws not to enforce the laws.”

Here we see again the Nazi-like false, propagandistic claim that we have “only two options” (in this case, not separating children from their parents only for the “crime” of illegally entering the U.S. entirely is an option) and the Nazi-like attempt to fall back on “law-and-order” bullshit in order to try to justify doing evil to other human beings.

When the law results in the pain and suffering of innocent human beings, fuck the law. The law is made for and should serve human beings — NOT vice-fucking-versa.

We allow neo-Nazis like “President” Pussygrabber, Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III, Pussygrabber puppeteer Stephen Miller and Homeland Security boss Kirstjen Nielsen to hide behind “law and order” at our own peril; they can try to use “the law” against the rest of us at any time. (First, they came for the undocumented, brown-skinned immigrants…)

P.P.S. Finally, I should note that of course the fictional space station Elysium and “President” Pussygrabber’s proposed Great Wall serve the same purpose: to keep the rich and over-privileged — and mostly white — people safe from having to share any of their (well, “their”) shit with the poorer, often-brown-skinned “others.”**

This is why Pussygrabber’s wall hasn’t faced the backlash that it should have: many, mostly white, Americans are fully on board with protecting — and growing — what they (we) have while others continue to suffer without (and make no mistake: our selfish excess most definitely comes at their loss).

We don’t want to admit that (our selfishness, our materialism, our racism, our xenophobia, our tribalism, our heartlessness, our willful blindness, etc.) outright, so we talk about “law and order” instead in order to try to make our motives appear to be much, much higher than they actually are.

And we call ourselves “Christians.”

P.P.P.S. Seriously, here is a photo of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen —

Kirstjen-Nielson-rtr-img

Reuters news photo

— and here is Jodie Foster as Elysium’s head of security:

Image result for Jodie Foster Elysium

Give Nielsen a haircut and we’re there.

Seriously, though, while there are calls for Nielsen to resign — and I think that she should resign — why would the cadre of stupid white men who gave her her marching orders get to keep their jobs?

Nielsen is nauseating, but all of the Nazis in the occupied White House need to go. Just one token head rolling won’t do, and methinks that a focus on Nielsen’s removal only whiffs of sexism, as much as I don’t want to defend Nielsen in regards to anything.

*No, I don’t advocate paying people to get sterilized or to use contraception or to get an abortion. That would open up a huge ol’ can of worms. But there is no good reason not to provide birth control for free to those who want it, and with a reduced population, or at least with a population whose growth rate is being managed, quality of life for everyone would improve.

And, of course, the Catholick church, which has demonstrated amply how much it truly cares about children, can and should go fuck itself. I see precious little difference between right-wing “Christians” trying to dictate the law for everyone and Sharia law. Both are theofascist.

**In my review of “Elysium” I compared the space station to our gated communities. Of course, Pussygrabber’s Great Wall would just make the entire nation one big gated community.

It’s much easier to build even a ginormous gated community that an exclusive, humongous space station, but hey, with a/the “space force,” maybe a real-life Elysium is in the cards…

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‘Rogue One’ gives me a new hope

Updated below (on Thursday, January 5, 2017)

Right about now we all could use a new “Star Wars” movie that doesn’t suck. “Rogue One’s” diverse cast of heroic characters (see the movie’s publicity image below) has the white supremacists in a frothy lather, which is yet another good reason to see it.

Image result for Rogue One cast

With Darth Donald furiously filling his administration with hell’s best and brightest — and our only hope rebel electors who halt the construction of the Death Star and thus save the republic when they meet in the state capitals on Monday — it’s great that we have a new “Star Wars” movie to look to.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the first live-action “Star Wars” film that isn’t part of the ongoing nine-film series (which has hits and misses), opens on Friday, and it looks like it’s going to be a worthy “Star Wars” movie, unlike last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

I like that “Force Awakens” features a heroine instead of a hero (British actress Daisy Ridley as Rey did a great job), and that it is somewhat diverse, with black British actor John Boyega as rebel stormtrooper Finn and Latino Oscar Isaac as rebel pilot Poe Dameron. (Boyega and Isaac also did a great job, and, like many, many others, I’ve always had something for Isaac…)

But “Force Awakens,” although acted well enough and technically sound, of course, given its big budget, suffers significantly from being a brazen rehash of the “Star Wars” movies that came before it, replete with a third Death Star (well, OK, it’s a weaponized planet, but in essence it’s a third Death Star), another climactic light-saber duel, and, of course, the climactic destruction of that third Death Star.

“Force Awakens” also features a geriatric Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford as a geriatric Princess Leia and Han Solo, which didn’t give me a warm and fuzzy sense of nostalgia as much as it gave me the sense that the fucking baby boomers just won’t get off of the stage, no matter how long it has been since they wore out their welcome. (At least Han Solo dies in the movie…)

Perhaps most sinfully, “Force Awakens'” “villain,” Darth Vader descendant Kylo Ren (the son of Han Solo and Leia, he is played by Adam Driver), isn’t actually bad-ass at all, but is a whiny little bitch (much like Darth Donald). And that Kylo Ren is just a bad Darth Vader knock-off only emphasizes the fact that “Force Awakens” is just a bad “Star Wars” knock-off…

Oh, sure, it’s great to watch Rey kick Kylo Ren’s ass, but the whole fucking premise that Leia and Han Solo had a son who grew up to try to emulate Granddad Vader is just stupid. As is that third Death Star.

“Rogue One,” though, looks promising. It’s a more immediate prequel to 1977’s “Star Wars: A New Hope”* than was 2005’s “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” which is the best of the first-three-numbered “Star Wars” episodes of 1999, 2002 and 2005 that were made after the first three released “Star Wars” episodes of 1977, 1980 and 1983. (Indeed, “Sith” is the only of those three proactive episodes worth watching, really.)

We already pretty much know the plot of “Rogue One”: Rebels to the Empire manage to steal the (first) Death Star plans so that the rebels then can destroy it. But while that back story was mentioned** in “A New Hope,” it never was fleshed out (recall that “A New Hope” begins with Princess Leia safeguarding the Death Star plans with the [an]droid R2-D2, who/which then jettisons in an escape pod with sidekick C-3PO), and very apparently “Rogue One” fleshes out that back story.

That “Rogue One” takes on fresher (albeit pre-established) material rather than simply rehashing old material, as “Force Awakens” did, is a big draw to me, as is the fact that I was a “Star Wars” fan at nine or 10 years old, replete with action figures and plastic toy replicas of the vehicles. (The fact that my mother cavalierly bought me a regular TIE fighter instead of the Darth Vader TIE fighter that I’d very specifically and repeatedly requested for one Christmas [a true story, unfortunately] probably contributed to the person that I am today [including my being fairly used to deep disappointment].)

While I grew up as a “Star Wars” fan — not only was finally seeing the very first “Star Wars” film a major event for me (I was taken to see it by an uncle who felt pity for my brother and me that our lazy, selfish, baby-boomer parents had yet to take us to it [another unfortunately true story]), but “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” also were big events for me, even though “Jedi,” with its second Death Star (and its inevitable destruction), largely is a rehash of “New Hope,” just with a bigger budget and on a larger scale — I still expect a new “Star Wars” movie to bring fresh elements to the table, and “Rogue One” appears to do that.

And I didn’t need another reason to see “Rogue One,” but the fact that the Trump-loving white supremacists/neo-Nazis are boycotting “Rogue One” because it’s just too damned diverse (and thus apparently is anti-white, you see) is yet another significant reason for me to see it.

You would think that these “alt-right” losers would have boycotted “Force Awakens,” because in it, the heroine Rey kicks the ass of the bad-ass wannabe Kylo Ren, who reminds me a lot of the neo-Nazis: He very much wants to be a bad-ass, and is trying to mimic an actual bad-ass who came before him, but he’s just a pathetic, petty terrorist; oh, sure, he can cause plenty of harm to others, but at heart, he’s a weak fucking coward — who gets his sorry ass kicked by a girl.

I love it that as with “Force Awakens,” “Rogue One’s” main hero is a heroine, Jyn Erso (played by British actress Felicity Jones), a rebel who apparently is aided in her cause against the Empire by fellow rebels played by Mexican actor Diego Luna, black American actor Forest Whitaker, Chinese actor Donnie Yen, and Riz Ahmed, who is a Brit of Pakistani heritage.

I’ve enjoyed the work of Luna, Whitaker, Yen and the adorable, doe-eyed Ahmed, and I’m happy to be able to see all of them in one movie.

And that ass-kicking droid in “Rogue One” (named K-2SO, apparently an Imperial droid that/who is droidnapped and reprogrammed to work for the rebels) strikes me as pretty fucking cool — like a C-3PO who/that finally grew a pair.

Movies do a lot of things. They are escapism, for sure, and right about now we Americans — and those who live in nations that are affected by what we Americans allow our government actors to do (and what we don’t allow them to do) — sure could use some escapism.

But movies also are a deep part of American and global culture, and it’s not a one-way street; movies not only reflect the culture at large, but they help to shape the culture.

Even the dimwitted, cowardly members of the “alt-right” and other neo-Nazis know this, and that’s why they hate to see images of racial and gender equality in our mainstream movies; they want only straight, white, conservative men to be the sole heroes in our movies in perpetuity.

But “Star Wars” has been, at least in its own way, subversive from Day One. Even in 1977’s retroactively titled “A New Hope,” it’s clear that the evil Empire, with its legions of stormtroopers and military hierarchy and massive weaponry, is much like the short-lived Nazi German empire.

And “Star Wars'” heroes have not been its villains (although no doubt many have fetishized its villains to the point of not really even viewing them as villains); “Star Wars'” heroes always have been the little guys and gals who have stood up to the big, fascist bullies against all odds.

“Star Wars” has been anti-neo-Nazi since its birth in 1977; the mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, neo-Nazi mega-losers of today boycott it way too late.

And I’m incredibly fine, when I go to see “Rogue One” — taking a break from the news of the stunningly awful team that is being assembled in Washington, D.C., to “make America great again” by bringing it to the brink of its destruction — knowing that at least there shouldn’t be any neo-Nazis in the theater with me because of their pissy little boycott.

Update (Thursday, January 5, 2017): I finally saw “Rogue One” in IMAX on Monday.

While not a perfect movie, it probably is the best “Star Wars” movie to be released since “The Empire Strikes Back.” It certainly has the look and the feel of the 1977 “Star Wars.”

Like every “Star Wars” movie, “Rogue One” has some characters (humans and non-humans) that are rather dumb, to be frank, but in “Rogue One” the strong characters thankfully cancel out the others. Droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) steals the show as a C-3PO with balls, and Felicity Jones as reluctant Rebel Jyn Erso and Diego Luna as Rebel leader Cassian Andor are a strong heroine and hero team.

Riz Ahmed seems underused as Imperial turncoat Bodhi Rook, a character that is rather undeveloped, as are the characters of blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (who is reduced to babbling a mantra about the Force, which many viewers are going to find more tiresome and annoying than anything else), played by Donnie Yen, and radical Rebel offshoot Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker, whose importance seems diminished by a deficient back story.

The CGI of the long-dead Peter Cushing as Governor Tarkin is rather obviously CGI, and it’s surprising how much of the CGI Peter Cushing is in “Rogue One.” I’ll leave aside the discussion as to whether or not we even should be resurrecting dead actors via CGI, and just say that the CGI in “Rogue One” is lacking. We’ve come a long way from the creepy CGI of “The Polar Express,” but in “Rogue One,” it’s not far enough.

For all of it flaws, again, “Rogue One” succeeds in bringing back the look and feel and spirit of the 1977 “Star Wars” without entirely rehashing old story lines, as “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens” did.

Yes, like “Revenge of the Sith,” “Rogue One” fleshes out events that already were alluded to in the earlier films, but still, it’s a masterful fleshing out.

And it’s rather exhilarating, in fact, if you are an old “Star Wars” fan like I am, to watch “Rogue One” take you right to where the 1977 “Star Wars” begins.

I give “Rogue One” at least an “A-“. It misses primarily in some lacking character development. And I still don’t know about that CGI.

“Rogue One” must be given points for its diverse cast — it’s so refreshing when the hero isn’t yet another straight white guy — and for its rather bold ending, which I’d talk about except that it would be a major spoiler to tell you the fate of the main characters.

*I was nine years old when that movie came out, and it wasn’t subtitled “A New Hope” until 1981, when the movie was re-released.

**The iconic opening crawl of “A New Hope” reads:

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…

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Film review: ‘Interstellar’ is stellar

Interstellar, Big Hero 6 score more than $50M in opening weekend

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway star in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” which has hints of many other sci-fi films but has a rather unique message of its own. (No, it is not a rehash of “2001”… And it is better than “Gravity.”)

First, the criticisms that widely are being thrown at Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”: Real people don’t talk that way. The science often isn’t solid, to put it mildly. The plot twists are predictable.

I, for one, frequently pleasantly was surprised by the twists and turns and surprises that “Interstellar” presents us with, including even my not having known that a major star plays an important role in the film, which is filled with stars, both of the astronomical and the Hollywood type, and while I suppose that if you are an astronomer (and not many of us are), you will only be able to dissect the film against your knowledge base, in my eyes “Interstellar” delivers on the sense of awe of the vastness of the cosmos that we commoners see films like “Interstellar” for in the first place.

Sure, Matthew McConaughey has been overused a bit in the movies as of late, but he is a solid lead for “Interstellar,” and one could argue — and I do — that Anne Hathaway’s character actually is, in the end, the most important character in the film.

Tellingly, I think, the scene that I found the most poignant in “Interstellar” apparently is the scene, or at least one of the scenes, that Slate.com’s resident astronomy writer, who reviewed the film, hated the most. He writes:

In a conversation between [Matthew McConaughey’s character] and Anne Hathaway’s character about love, she says that love is an artifact of a higher dimension (what does that even mean?) and “transcends the limits of time and space,” as if it’s a physical force — an allusion to gravity, which, critically to the plot, does transcend dimensions, time, and space. The dialogue here was stilted to say the least, and it gets worse when [another] character talks about a parent’s love for his children, saying, “Our evolution has yet to transcend that simple barrier.” Who talks like that? The movie is riddled with attempts to be profound, but due in part to the clunky dialogue it just sounds silly.

Sure, there is some “clunky dialogue” in “Interstellar,” but it’s meant to be a grand, sweeping sci-fi epic, not a modern comedy whose dialogue never would stray from the vernacular. And the character who makes such a comment as “Our evolution has yet to transcend that simple barrier” obviously has some screws loose, so it’s not surprising, really, to hear him repeatedly speak that way.

Probably the biggest takeaway for me from “Interstellar” is the Mars vs. Venus worldview — and which of the two worldviews, at least in “Interstellar,” turns out to be the most critical to the continued survival of the human species. (I won’t elaborate on any of “Interstellar’s” plot points here, as no reviewer really could do such a summary justice, and as, in the end, “Interstellar” very much is about the effect of the whole, not the details of its parts.)

It’s interesting, I think, that just as McConaughey’s character rebuffs Hathaway’s soliloquy about love transcending the limits of space and time (a rebuff that, in the film’s plot, has some serious consequences and repercussions), so does Slate.com’s astronomy writer. Theirs is a worldview, the Martian worldview, that apparently is dyed in the wool.

It’s an important worldview (and don’t get me wrong; I read the aforementioned astronomy writer’s stuff all the time, and I like it, so I will continue to read it), but it’s only half of the story (at most).

Mars is nothing without Venus, and that, I think, is the central message of “Interstellar” that apparently only we Venusians, like only Anne Hathaway’s character (and the character of the daughter of Matthew McConaughey’s character) in “Insterstellar,” can see.

Even if my Mars-vs.-Venus analysis doesn’t do it for you, “Interstellar” is worth seeing for (again) the sense of awe that a good sci-fi film can instill in us earthbound folk, and I, for one, found its intricate, puzzle-like plot to be fascinating. I like the way that Nolan and his screenwriting brother fairly neatly tie up the loose ends, and I’m fine with “Interstellar” not having explained every little detail and phenomenon, because that not knowing — which is anathema to the Martian worldview — is the stuff on which we Venusians thrive.

My grade: A

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Greatness eludes ‘Elysium,’ but Blomkamp is getting better

Film review

This film image released by Columbia Pictures-Sony shows director Neill Blomkamp, left, and Matt Damon on the set of "Elysium." The film, opening nationwide on Aug. 9, is a rogue burst of originality _ a futuristic popcorn adventure loaded with contemporary themes of wealth discrepancy, immigration and health care. (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures, TriStar, Kimberly French)

Associated Press image

Writer and director Neill Blomkamp directs Matt Damon on a set of “Elysium,” Blomkamp’s second big entry into the sci-fi genre.

Like his “District 9,” writer and director Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” is a worthwhile and entertaining but imperfect sci-fi venture in which Blomkamp takes the opportunity to inject social justice.

“Elysium” hits much closer to home here in the United States than “District 9,” which is set in Blomkamp’s native South Africa, did, however.

“Elysium” takes on at least four large American sociopolitical issues: immigration, class-based access to health care, the environmental degradation of planet Earth, and the phenomenon of the gated community, which is a euphemism for what actually are becoming privately militarized compounds as the filthy rich get richer and the rest of us get poorer and the rich want to keep the shit that they’ve stolen from us safe from us.

Set in the year 2154, in “Elysium” Matt Damon plays Max, a member of the poor working class in a future Los Angeles whose residents speak both English and Spanish. Most of Max’s companions, including his best friend Julio (played by Diego Luna) and his love interest Frey (played by Alice Braga), are Latino.

Like poor Mexicans attempt to get into the United States (although not nearly with the same frequency since the U.S. economy crashed and burned, like everything else did, under the watch of George W. Bush), poor and desperate Earthlings attempt, via spacecraft, to get into Elysium, the name of the gargantuan wheel-like space station that orbits Earth in space like the moon, and that like the moon, is visible on Earth. (The full backstory of the construction of Elysium is not given in “Elysium”; like the moon, it’s just taken as a given, which is OK, since we don’t really need the backstory anyway, since we already have a very good sense of how Elysium came to be.)

Protecting Elysium from the poor and desperate Earthlings who wish to reach it — the “illegals” — is the space-station plutocrats’ defense secretary, the sometimes-French-speaking Delacourt (an icy Jodie Foster) and legions of humanoid robots that keep the “illegals” (who even on Earth are deemed “illegals,” because they are not allowed admittance to Elysium) in line, mostly on Earth but also on Elysium should any of the “illegals” actually make it to Elysium.

Max, whose job is in a factory that manufactures the robots that keep the “illegals” in line, is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation while on the job — there is no OSHA in Blomkamp’s dystopian Los Angeles — and is given five days to live, and he finds out that Frey’s daughter has terminal leukemia.

The elites on Elysium have the automatized technology to cure a human being of any malady (as long as he or she is still alive, anyway), and Max’s underground associate Spider (Wagner Moura), who is a futuristic coyote, has a plan that could take Elysium down, and so the film takes off from there.

True, as others have noted, “Elysium” does go off the rails a bit, as it goes from a social-consciousness movie into a typical Hollywood action flick, but then, it more or less saves itself at the end, when it returns to its social-consciousness beginning.

Matt Damon carries “Elysium” well. He is a reliable workhorse of an actor. And as his own sociopolitical views lean strongly leftward, my guess is that he infused his performance with the sense that with Blomkamp he is furthering good causes (because, methinks, he is).

I found Jodie Foster’s performance, however, to be remarkably stilted and lifeless. I mean, she was nominated four times for the Best Actress Oscar and won twice. Foster’s character is supposed to be icy, I get that, but Foster nonetheless seems to have phoned it in. Some of this might be Blomkamp’s fault, however; as we get no backstory on or real development of Foster’s character, perhaps the two-dimensional portrayal is about the best that she could do.

And while Blomkamp apparently likes Sharlto Copley enough to have put the star of “District 9” in “Elysium” as well, Copley’s villainous Kruger, a mercenary who is on Delacourt’s payroll, is, as others have noted, over the top. Indeed, this villain, when compared to the other characters in the film, even that of Delacourt but perhaps especially that of Max, seems to have been cut and pasted from another film entirely… (Ditto for Kruger’s immediate associates, who also seem like refugees from a “Mad Max” movie.)

And like “District 9” does, “Elysium” suffers from some inconsistencies and some explanations that don’t make sense, as though Blomkamp hadn’t really thought all of it out.

The ubiquitous humanoid robots that keep the “illegals” in line on Earth suddenly go mostly or even entirely missing when the action moves from Earth to Elysium, and while our protagonists and antagonists battle it out on Elysium, I found myself asking myself, “Where the hell are all of the robots? They’re all over Earth, but they’re missing in action on Elysium?”

Apparently a “reboot” of Elysium’s “core” (its central computer) somehow is going to remove President Patel (Faran Tahir) — whom the right-wing, merciless Delacourt despises because she considers him to be too soft and too merciful toward the “illegals” (whose spacecraft she just wants to blow from the sky as they try to reach Elysium, without exception) — and, presumably, put Delacourt in the deposed Patel’s place.

How, exactly, the mere rebooting of a central computer would achieve that change of guard, Blomkamp doesn’t explain. Nor does he explain how the mere reprogramming of Elysium’s “core” to recognize all Earthlings as citizens of Elysium would magically mandate that all Earthlings automatically are to receive the level of medical care that the denizens of Elysium get.

I mean, it’s not like reprogramming a computer, no matter how powerful it is, is the same as reprogramming human beings. (That said, the craniums of the denizens of Elysium apparently are linked with implanted, wireless circuitry that at the least allows them to communicate hands free [Google and/or Apple is/are working on this right now, right?], and there is a character [a CEO whose corporation Max works for, played by William Fichtner] who, much like how R2-D2 held the plans to the Death Star, holds the plans to “reboot” Elysium inside of the small computer that is implanted in his head, where he has downloaded the plans, but, presumably, the over-privileged denizens of Elysium cannot be reprogrammed into believing that they actually had elected someone else as their president or that the destitute denizens of Earth suddenly now are their sociopolitical equals.)

Also, if we are to buy the central premise of “Elysium” — which is that the rich and the powerful tiny minority (the 1 percent, if you will) have fled the increasingly overpopulated, diseased and polluted Earth for their own mega-gated community in the sky, and that they have done this in order to protect and to preserve the limited, apparently scarce reserves of life-enhancing things for themselves — then how can we buy “Elysium’s” ending, which apparently portrays the 1 percent’s hoarded resources, or at least their hoarded medical-care resources, as being enough to serve at least the entire area of Los Angeles, but apparently even the entire Earth?

This does not compute…

Still, despite “Elysium’s” flaws, it’s a more than watchable film, it’s an improvement over “District 9” (and so Blomkamp seems to have a promising career ahead of him), and it’s great, of course, to see a mainstream film take a socialist-y stance on current hot topics such as immigration, access to medical care, environmentalism, and, of course, the ugly phenomenon of the gated community, which is but a manifestation of the insanely great class division that we see in the United States of America today.

I don’t expect American wingnuts to love this film, and that’s a great thing.

My grade: B+  

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Star Trek Into Spoilers

Film review

Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) interrogate the Osama-bin-Laden-like antagonist (Benedict Cumberbatch) of “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

I wanted to like “Star Trek Into Darkness” much more than I actually did. I even saw it in 3D at my local IMAX (I got a good discount, but still…).

This contains ample spoilers, so, if you are intent on seeing “Into Darkness” without any surprises/“surprises” being ruined for you, don’t read this now. Come back after you’ve seen it if you remember to do so. Otherwise, read on:

I won’t rehash the plot of “Into Darkness.” You can get the plot points anywhere else. I’ll just delve right into what works and doesn’t work.

I’m fine with the band of new actors who now play the characters from the original “Trek” series. I’m not a “Trekkie,” so this isn’t something like blasphemy to me.

That said, while Zachary Quinto’s Mr. Spock is good — although one might argue that it doesn’t take a great actor to play a character who, for the most part, is not allowed to display human emotions — Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk is a bit flat and reduces the character to maybe one notch above a frat boy. I don’t remember the original Captain Kirk (William Shatner’s, I mean, of course) being this testosterone driven.

Indeed, the macho persona that is built around Chris Pine’s Kirk is driven into the ground. We get it already: He’s reckless. He’s a maverick. He loves a bar fight and he loves him some pussy — and it doesn’t even have to be human pussy. Please, give me Captain Picard over this shit.

The banter and bickering back and forth about Spock’s logic and reason and discipline and restraint and adherence to the rules and Kirk’s impulsiveness and maverickiness and his compulsive rule-breaking gets very tiresome, as we’ve seen this schtick countless times before in the original television series and in the films. “Into Darkness” doesn’t improve upon it — it only regurgitates it.

Yes, rebooting a franchise runs the risk of just repeating all of it because the film industry these days is all out of fucking ideas.

That’s the idea that you get when you discover that the super-human bad guy in “Into Darkness” (played by Benedict Cumberbatch as well as the character can be played) actually is Khan, the same genetically-engineered bad-guy character from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Only you — or at least I — didn’t get this right off the bat, because the British-born Cumberbatch looks nothing like the Mexican-born Ricardo Montalban.

I’m fine with some of “Into Darkness'” use of references to earlier “Trek” episodes, such as the appearance of the tribble, which, sadly, I found to be more effective than the cameo of the ancient Leonard Nimoy, who, I’m thinking, might still appear in “Star Trek” films even after his death (Spock never dies, right?) — but I found important plot points of “Into Darkness” to be blatant rip-offs of earlier “Trek” films.

Kirk saving the ship even though to do this he must expose himself to a lethal level of radiation was ripped right out of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” only this time it is savior Kirk instead of savior Spock who is exposed to the lethal radiation, and therefore the touching scene in  “Star Trek II” where it’s a dying-of-radiation-exposure Spock inside of the Plexiglass enclosure and Kirk on the outside of it is just reversed in “Into Darkness.”

And Spock’s primal yelling of “Khaaaaaaan!” in “Into Darkness” is, of course, just a reversal of the moment in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” where it’s Kirk who’s doing the yelling.

I guess that this paean to “Star Trek II” was supposed to thrill “Trek” fans, but it made me just feel ripped off. It looked like incredibly lazy and uncreative screenwriting to me. I could have stayed home and watched “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” if I’d wanted to. I don’t see why the second installment of the “Star Trek” movie reboot had to take so much from the original movie franchise’s second installment.

Maybe there is hope for the third installment of the reboot, though. Recall that the third original “Star Trek” movie, subtitled “The Search for Spock,” was all about reviving the Mr. Spock who had died at the end of “Star Trek II.”

At the end of “Into Darkness,” Kirk is brought back to life after his death from radiation exposure in a quick-and-dirty, very apparently scientifically unsound manner (ditto for the revived tribble), and all is well, even though we, the audience, if we have two brain cells to rub together, feel ripped off by this all-too-easy, convenient wrapping of everything up in the film’s final moments — even if we can breathe a sigh of relief that the next “Star Trek” movie apparently won’t be subtitled “The Search for Kirk.”

Anyway, you have to earn a sappy ending, and “Into Darkness” just thrusts one onto us, like the creature in “Prometheus” homoerotically (but very sadomasochistically) thrusts its huge penis-like appendage down that humanoid’s throat at the end of that film.

Speaking of which, I’d had high hopes for last summer movie season’s “Prometheus,” too, which is why I saw it also in 3D at my local IMAX theater (only I got no discount that time…).

But what “Prometheus” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” have in common is that they both take source sci-fi material that once was very popular and successful and remix it, but not in a way that improves upon the source material; as I indicated above, they do it in a way that suggests that Hollywoodland is just all out of fucking ideas.

And both films put flashiness above originality and better-thought-out plot points, apparently believing that if the special effects are good enough, the audience won’t notice anything else, or at least will forgive anything else.

That said, as pure summer-movie entertainment (which, I believe, is meant to be fairly mindless by definition), “Into Darkness” is watchable, more so than “Prometheus,” because “Prometheus” (as I noted in my review of it last year) has so many inconsistencies in it that it had you leaving the theater pondering all of the shit that didn’t make sense.

“Star Trek” always has asked us to suspend our disbelief, so we are willing to be more forgiving for lapses of logic and reason in “Star Trek” fare than Mr. Spock might ever be, but there’s no fucking excuse for “Star Trek Into Darkness” to have ripped off “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (and even “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”) so fucking much.

My grade: B-

P.S. I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the political points and comparisons to recent history that “Into Darkness” very apparently is trying to make.

Apparently “Into Darkness'” Khan is supposed to be something like an Osama bin Laden — you know, Bad-Guy Terrorist No. 1 — and Khan’s destruction of a Starfleet military installation that is disguised as a peaceful archive apparently is supposed to be like the destruction of the World Trade Center.

So we have Kirk — your typical testosterone-fueled white guy — wanting to go after Khan and snuffing him, and you have Mr. Spock arguing that no, the law — and fairness and justice — require that Khan be captured alive and put on trial.

Khan is captured alive — although only because he allows himself to be — but after Kirk’s short-lived death that Khan at least indirectly is responsible for, a now-enraged-over-Kirk’s-death Spock goes after Khan with even more intensity and rage than Kirk initially had intended to go after Khan.

So what’s the message here? Are we to gather from Spock’s actions that it’s OK — indeed, that it’s probably preferable — to kill the “bad guy” out of a sense of outrage and revenge rather than to capture him and put him on trial? (I use quotation marks because at least in “Into Darkness” we learn that Khan has his own reasons for his “terrorist” actions, regardless of what we think of his actions and/or his reasoning behind them — much as with the case of Osama bin Laden.)

Are we to take from “Into Darkness” that Spock’s initial call for restraint is always, or at least usually, bullshit? That immediate militant retaliation is always, or at least usually, the best solution?

If so, what kind of message is this to pump out into the popular culture of a nation that, in no small part because of its popular culture, eschews intellectualism and restraint and prefers reckless violent retaliation (even if it’s “retaliation” against the wrong fucking party or nation) as it already fucking is?

And if you think that my comparison of “Star Trek Into Darkness” to current-day events and politics is a stretch, then why does director J.J. Abrams, at the end of the film, dedicate it to post-9/11 veterans?

Do Abrams and his three screenwriters view those who fought in Vietraq as heroes or as dupes? Or as duped heroes? I mean, since Iraq had had absofuckinglutely nothing to do with 9/11 or with Osama bin Laden, what can we say of those veterans? What can we say of veterans who were so incredibly misused, who essentially were used as stormtroopers for Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and for other subsidiaries of BushCheneyCorp (including, of course, Big Oil), whose intent was to gain no-bid federal government contracts for their war profiteering and, of course, to steal Iraq’s oil for the oil mega-corporations’ profits? Who are the good guys again?

I left “Star Trek Into Darkness” with the unpleasant feeling that perhaps J.J. Abrams meant it to be a statement of the moral superiority of the United States of America over other nations — a virtual recruiting ad for the U.S. military, even.

I mean, fuck, “Into Darkness” opens with officers of the Enterprise saving a planet of “savages” that don’t look different enough from the “savages” that the white man once “saved” here on Earth (these “Star Trek” “savages” even chuck spears at our so-called heroes, for fuck’s sake).

True, the character of the corrupt Admiral Marcus (played by former RoboCop Peter Weller) in “Into Darkness” demonstrates that not all of those in Starfleet are morally superior and advanced — indeed, the character of Admiral Marcus seems to be a stand-in for someone like Dick Cheney — but still, it seems to me, the take-home message from “Into Darkness” is that whatever the always-well-meaning U.S. military fucks up pales in comparison to all that it gets right, and “Star Trek Into Darkness” keeps alive the myth of the studly white man as the perma-hero to the extent that I have an idea for the title of the next “Star Trek” film: “Star Trek: The White Man’s Burden.”

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‘Alien’ meets ‘Tree of Life’ in Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’

Film review

Earthlings from the ship Prometheus visit the ship of humanoid aliens in Ridley Scott’s epic “Prometheus,” in which Scott unfortunately bit off far more than he actually could chew. 

Warning: Contains spoilers (if you really could call them that…).

I’m pretty sure that my companion and I weren’t supposed to laugh at the final visual of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” but we did, and that very apparently unintended laughter from the audience member, I think, underscores what’s wrong with the film.

Before I saw “Prometheus” yesterday — in 3-D at an IMAX, the biggest and loudest way to see it, at least here in Sacramento — I had read another reviewer compare “Prometheus” to Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” and while at that time I couldn’t see how that comparison could be apt, I see it now.

I wrote of “The Tree of Life” at the time of its release:

I get the impression with “The Tree of Life” that the 67-year-old Malick [he now is 68] had two films inside of him trying to claw their way out of his chest cavity like identical twin aliens a la “Alien,” but that he was concerned that if he didn’t put them into one film, he might not live long enough to get both films made, so he put both of the films into a blender.

Again, either of these two films probably would have been or at least could have been great, Malick’s ode to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” (and to “Jurassic Park”) or Malick’s very personal (perhaps too personal) recap of his own childhood as an American baby boomer having grown up in Texas.

I also noted of “The Tree of Life” that “the story of the humans in ‘The Tree of Life’ probably would have made a much better stand-alone film, stripped of the ‘2001’-like surrealism of cosmic vomiting and universal diarrhea, in which creation often rather violently explodes all over the place.”

It’s kind of weird, in retrospect, that I mentioned “Alien” in my review of “The Tree of Life,” because now we have Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” which is like “‘Alien’ Meets ‘The Tree of Life,'” and the same criticism that I leveled of “The Tree of Life” is true of “Prometheus”: that “the story of the humans in [‘Prometheus’] probably would have made a much better stand-alone film, stripped of the ‘2001’-like surrealism of cosmic vomiting and universal diarrhea, in which creation often rather violently explodes all over the place.”

In the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” — and it’s a grand, origin-of-man opening scene that makes us think way too much of the grand, origin-of-man opening scenes of Kubrick’s “2001” and Malick’s “Tree of Life” – we have what appears to be literal cosmic vomiting, as a proto-human, humanoid alien apparently vomits his (its?) DNA onto planet Earth as its body disintegrates into a waterfall, further seeding planet Earth with its DNA, eventually leading to us human beings, which doesn’t make much more sense, scientifically, than the myth that Eve sprang fully formed from Adam’s rib. But if I understand “Prometheus” correctly (and can anyone?), Scott presents this as more or less scientifically plausible.

It’s fine to create your own cosmology, but your cosmology needs to make sense, needs to follow logic and reason, if you are presenting it as logical and reasonable. “Prometheus” is chock full of logical and chronological inconsistencies and contradictions. Were I to watch “Prometheus” on DVD and be able to stop and start it again, I probably could fill pages of notes of all of the shit that just doesn’t make sense.*

And that doesn’t make “Prometheus” deep and unfathomable. That makes “Prometheus” not very well planned out.

The acting in “Prometheus” is good, even though our heroine more or less is an Ellen Ripley reboot, and expect Ridley Scott and his army of technicians to sweep the Oscars with technical awards, and indeed “Prometheus'” ultra-special effects and BIGNESS do indeed draw you in, at least at times throughout the film’s two hours, and so as summer-movie entertainment, “Prometheus” more or less succeeds, but by trying to do way too much, and by not making much sense in the process, “Prometheus” lets you down.

The main problem with “Prometheus” indeed seems to be Ridley Scott’s outsized ego. “Prometheus” isn’t just the dude in Greek mythology who first brought the use of fire to mankind, and “Prometheus” isn’t just the name of the ship in Ridley Scott’s first sci-fi film since 1982’s “Blade Runner,” and “Prometheus” isn’t just the humanoid alien at the beginning of Scott’s latest sci-fi film who apparently is the father (father/mother?) of all mankind on Earth, and “Prometheus” isn’t just the title of Ridley Scott’s latest film. “Prometheus” also very apparently is Ridley Scott — who wishes to remind you that he first brought the “Alien” franchise to mankind!

At age 74, perhaps Scott thought that “Prometheus” might be his last film, and so he had to make a splash. Ironically, it seems to me that had he tried to make much less of a big splash, “Prometheus” would have been a much better film, because it isn’t a big splash — it’s a big mess. A very pretty mess, but a mess nonetheless. With “Prometheus” Ridley Scott bit off way more than he could chew.

There are elements of “Prometheus” that I like. I like the proto-human, humanoid aliens, and I would have liked to have known an awful lot more about them, but I suppose that that would have been too much like “Star Trek” for Scott, and again, I have the feeling that we aren’t told more about these aliens not because Scott was trying to be coy (although I don’t rule out that he decided to save some details for sequels, of course), but because he actually never bothered to flesh out his cosmology for “Prometheus.”

Reviewers have been raving about Michael Fassbender’s performance as David, the android. I like Fassbender — he’s good in pretty much every role that he plays — but David is only a mish-mash of androids that we’ve seen before in the previous “Alien” movies and in many other sci-fi films. The protagonist juvenile android of Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” also is named David, whose “daddy” is the CEO of a corporation, just like “Prometheus'” David is the ’droid “son” of a CEO. (The symbolism, I suppose, is that sculptor Michelangelo created his own David. Deep!)

Yawn.

And the theme of the robot who knows that he doesn’t have a human soul has been visited many times before, not only in “A.I.” but with “Star Trek’s” Data, of course. (To “Prometheus'” credit, I suppose, the android David apparently does not, in Pinocchio-cum-Data style, long to be a real boy, as does “A.I.’s” android David. “Prometheus'” David seems to prefer his status as an android.)

But why do almost all of the androids in the “Alien” movies have to be decapitated or cut in two? As I watched the talking head of David in “Prometheus,” I really could think only of the android characters of Ash and Bishop in “Alien” and “Aliens,” respectively, who were decapitated and cut in two, respectively, but who kept talking. Why couldn’t Ridley Scott have kept David in one piece?

And why did Scott have David deliver lines that are so similar in their content and even in their cadence to the lines that HAL delivered in “2001,” such as something along the lines of: “I know that we have had our differences,  [insert hero or heroine’s name here], but I can assure you that I am fully functional now”?

David’s being the only one “awake” for more than two years while the human crew were in cryosleep as their ship traveled to its destination (the Earth-like moon of a planet far, far away) on a mission that most of the crew members were not briefed upon until after their arrival at their destination also makes David too much like HAL and “Prometheus” too much like “2001” (as well as their grand opening scenes that retell how humankind came into being).

And for fuck’s sake, I love Guy Pearce, but if you have a character who is supposed to be an old, old man, why not just have an old, old actor play that role? (AARP, are you listening?) It’s taboo these days to put makeup on a white person and have him or her play, say, an Asian or a black person, so why is it OK to just put makeup on a younger man to have him play a Yoda-old man? (Age progression is different. Pearce’s character, the CEO of “Weyland Corp.” and the “father” of android David, is ancient throughout the entire film.)

Many reviewers have noted that “Prometheus” appears to be Ridley Scott’s attempt to take back the franchise that his 1979 “Alien” started, and indeed, the final, very apparently unintentionally risible scene of “Prometheus” — in a which a proto-“Alien” alien bursts from the torso of one of the proto-human, humanoid aliens — seems to be Ridley Scott fairly screaming: “See? I gave birth to the alien!”

Admittedly, the “Alien” franchise went off the tracks with its third installment, but “Prometheus” hasn’t put it back on track.

Gee. Maybe James Cameron can rescue the “Alien” reboot…**

My grade: B-

*You are demanding at least one thing about “Prometheus” that doesn’t make sense, so fine: Why does the humanoid alien at the end of the film, who, we are told, has been in cryosleep for at least 2,000 years, decide, upon finally wakening, that he still must fulfill his destructive mission on Earth? How does he know that the mission is still a good idea? Is it not possible that things have changed in two millennia? And even with the humanoid aliens’ advanced technology, how was he (it?) kept alive in cryosleep for two millennia?

Here’s another logical problem: The automated surgery pod that operates on our heroine — if it was programmed for male patients only, as we are informed, how did it cut open and then close her uterus? (Was the alien being in her uterus? She was told that she was pregnant, so I assume so.)

Here’s another problem: How can you actually reanimate the head of a humanoid being that has been dead for centuries? (And isn’t it repetitive? Ash the android’s head was reanimated in “Alien,” for fuck’s sake. WTF is Scott’s obsession with reanimated heads?)

And yet another problem: If the humanoid aliens’ DNA were exactly like Earthlings’ DNA, then why are the humanoid aliens hairless, pale (translucent, really) and huge? If the DNA were an exact match, wouldn’t Earthlings be giants, too?

There are many more inconsistencies and contradictions, but those are good for starters.

**Lest you laugh, Wikipedia notes that “Prometheus”

…began development in the early 2000s as a fifth entry in the “Alien” franchise, with both [Ridley] Scott and director James Cameron developing ideas for a film that would serve as a prequel to Scott’s 1979 science-fiction horror film “Alien.” By 2003, the project was sidelined by the development of “Alien vs. Predator,” and remained dormant until 2009 when Scott again showed interest.

I am not certain whether Scott and Cameron were working together or were working independently on an “Alien” prequel, but I rather would have had Cameron make the prequel than Scott…

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‘Splice’ is a splice gone wrong

Film review

Warning: Contains ample spoilers.

In this film publicity image released by Warner ...

Bioenginer Elsa (Sarah Polley) meets a very young Dren in the sci-fi film “Splice,” above; and below, a young Dren (Abigail Chu) plays with her teddy, and a grown Dren (Delphine Chaneac) tries on makeup with her “mother” (Polley).

Abigail Chu

In this film publicity image released by Warner ...

“Splice” is an appropriate title for a film that seems have spliced together two different films: a thoughtful, philosophical one — and typical Hollywood sci-fi thriller garbage.

I’ve always liked Sarah Polley, and Adrien Brody is OK — he’s a reliable if not an exciting actor — so to see them team up in “Splice,” the kind of movie that I usually wouldn’t see, seemed promising.

Alas, it turned out to be a false promise.  

“Splice” takes on some interesting issues in its first portion, but then squanders it in its latter portion. The issues that it initially raises include the ethics of creating new life forms –including the question as to whether these new life forms are creatures in their own right, especially when they contain human genetic material, or are “specimens” to be treated only as objects of study (and thus killed when deemed necessary) — the ethics of corporate weasels being involved in bioengineering, and the age-old topic of parenthood.

Speaking of which, as scientist couple Clive and Elsa, Brody and Polley don’t make very good parents. As far as I can tell, we’re supposed to like Clive and Elsa, but their actions toward their human-animal hybrid creation (well, mostly it’s Elsa’s creation) that Elsa names Dren (that’s “nerd” backwards) don’t make them very likeable.

When Elsa asks Clive whether or not he was trying to drown the young Dren or whether he knew that she could breathe underwater, it belies Elsa’s intelligence and it makes us not like Clive very much too early in the movie. (Of course he was trying to drown Dren.)

Then there are the fairly heartbreaking scenes in which Elsa takes away Dren’s beloved cat — an awful thing to do to a minor, to take away his or her pet without extremely good cause — and in which Dren tries to go outside to explore, as any caged human being or any caged animal or any caged human-animal hybrid would want to do, and Dren smiles broadly in anticipation — only to get a shovel in the back of the head at the hands of Elsa.

None of this makes us like Elsa very much, and again, I surmise that we’re supposed to more or less like her.

And any misbehavior on Dren’s part, such as what she ultimately does to Fluffy, mostly stemmed from her shitty parenting and from rather normal human childhood and teenaged rebellion.   

And then there’s the look of Dren. I can get over her chicken legs and her chicken feet that make her look like she’s always wearing high heels, and her goat-like pupils (which are pretty cool, actually), and I can even get over her possession of a monkey-like tail, but apparently the filmmakers didn’t feel that those alterations of the human schematic were enough. So they gave Dren a retractable lethal stinger at the end of her tail, and after a while she even rather ridiculously sprouts wings, all in all making her resemble quite the she-devil.

Speaking of that stinger, perhaps the best scene in the film — next to the hilarious scene in which the mole-rat-like bioengineered creatures named Fred and Ginger are introduced to their owning corporation’s stockholders (well, I laughed if only no more than a few others in the audience did…) — is the one in which Elsa decides that Dren’s stinger has got to go. (It kind of reminds me of how my mother destroyed my brother’s BB gun after he used it to shoot at his two siblings [including me].)

Up to that point in the film Elsa had always been defensive of Dren, but when you see Elsa cut Dren’s black dress off of her before performing a stinger-ectomy on Dren, suddenly the naked Dren becomes the lab specimen that Elsa had always insisted that Dren was not, and the symbolism of that scene makes one realize how much clothing serves to humanize us.    

But as if the retractable stinger at the end of Dren’s tail — and her retractable wings, which no animal, to my knowledge, possesses — weren’t enough, the filmmakers then have Dren switch, unbelievably, from a female to a male.

Why? So that first she can seduce Clive into fucking her and then so that, as a male, she can rape Elsa.

That’s what I mean by the latter half of the film being typical Hollywood trash: It just wouldn’t be a Hollywood blockbuster if Clive and Elsa didn’t have sexual relations with their creature, would it? And we have to go as far with Dren as we can, even having her/him ominously flying around at the end of the film. (Hell, why didn’t they have Dren belch fire, too?)

Nor would it be a typical Hollywood blockbuster sci-fi film if Elsa weren’t shown pregnant at the end of the film, making a sequel possible.

So the first portion of “Splice” I give a B+ and the second portion I give a C-.

“Splice” is better-than-average entertainment fare for its genre, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the mere presence of art-film actors Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody (both of whom have won Oscars, Brody for best actor and Polley for best adapted screenplay) has elevated the bioengineered-monster genre that much.

My grade: C+

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