Romy Shiller

Archive for the ‘sci-fi’ Category

Under the Skin

In Drama, Film, review, sci-fi on June 12, 2014 at 8:01 am

under the skin poster

About: Under the Skin is a 2013 British-American science fiction film directed by Jonathan Glazer. Produced by James Wilson and Nick Wechsler, it was written by Glazer and Walter Campbell as an adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2000 novel of the same name. The film stars Scarlett Johansson who preys on men in Scotland.

Plot: In Scotland, an attractive young woman travels the country in a van picking up men. As she lures her victims into a trap with the promise of sex.This film is brilliant and odd. I was wondering if I could talk about this film and veil what is actually going on. After doing tons of research I noticed that nobody is doing this and actually raising the curtain to reveal the wizard helps, it does not hurt the film in any way. Now, I went into this film knowing nothing so everything was metaphor. I had my own narrative about a new visual language going which is still relevant but much was literal and not metaphorical. When I see this film again it will be a completely different experience.

I am of two minds about this film. On the one hand I think that maybe it should not be in mainstream cinemas because it is so different. Then I think that it should be in mainstream cinemas because it is so different. I mean, as an audience, we are used to seeing killings and serial killers in a very usual way. This film-style kind of reminds me of Lars Von Trier in that we might need a new visual language to talk about death and being human. Maybe the horror of kidnapping or murder should not be ‘usual’ at all.

The impassionate, unemotional luring of victims is a good way to show the horrific. It is only comprehensible as a foreign experience. It can only make sense as Other.

Glazer, the director, says, “When people ask me what the film’s about, it sounds ridiculous, so I just don’t say what it’s about! I think people may go see it who are Scarlett fans but maybe not fans of a film like this, and then there are people who are fans of a film like this but maybe not fans of Scarlett. It’s quite interesting to put those two ingredients together, I suppose. I’m hopeful that people will see it because it’s quite exciting to have something so experimental to be seen.”

Everything here is new and this newness is shown through the experience of our lead character. The experience of being human is fleshed out on many levels. How she experiences the ‘new’ in life, death, sex, love, food, the environment etc. is very revealing about the nature of passion and curiosity.

The camera work is stunning and there are some unique angels. Daniel Landin — has worked as a lighting designer for Alexander McQueen’s fashion shows and as a DP for music videos for Radiohead, Robbie Williams, Madonna and others — about the unique challenges he faced in bringing Glazer’s vision to the screen, including working with existing light sources, filming non-actors (without their knowledge) and camouflaging a Hollywood star.

He says that he, “started out as a filmmaker myself and essentially fell into music videos at a point when they were quite experimental and were very much director-led short pieces that would go along with music. As a result, I had a very good opportunity to explore lots of different techniques of filmmaking, which is essentially where I started the process – being more influenced by experimental cinema, primarily early Soviet cinema, expressionist German cinema, post-WWII French cinema. I don’t really see in essence that influence by commercials and videos, but rather that I’ve been able to work within those areas in ways that are creatively satisfying.”

Landin says, “Preceding the shoot, we explored the possibility of using very small cameras. What was available to us was either not small enough or not good quality enough. As a result, we ended up developing our own camera which enabled us to record very high quality raw data on a very small camera. Initially, that took the form of putting Scarlett inside the van which she drives with 8 cameras hidden within that van. So she could drive into any situation without it appearing that there was any kind of filming process going on.”

The script is sparse. The acting is good. It was complex for me to reconcile this Hollywood actress with a serious role. However, Johansson did do Lost in Translation and Her, both of which are phenomenal films. I gave her the benefit of doubt. There’s only about three lines of dialogue in the entire film, so it can hardly have been the standout script. The main point of her character is that she doesn’t actually have a character. She doesn’t do emotion. And it was filmed in Scotland. In winter. And most of the film consists of her standing around in wet boots and a too-thin coat. Or stripping off her clothes in a derelict squat and luring men into a vat of black ectoplasm. (At one point, she appears naked. Johansson fans, of which there are many, most especially the male variety, have been lighting up message boards for months with discussion of this particular fact.) Nakedness was not gratuitous and so integral to the character and plot that her decision to do this made her a serious actress in my books.

Johansson says, “I heard Jonathan was making a film and originally it was a very different story. But I met him, and it was very clear that he was struggling to figure out what he was doing with it, and what had attracted him to it… I thought it would be incredibly challenging to play a character that’s free of judgment, that has no relationship to any emotion I could relate to.”

I lovelovelovelove experimental film but I saw this film with sci-fi fans, not experimental film fans, and they adored it. I think that the fragility of being human transcended the unique form of the film. I am really looking forward to seeing this film again.



In Film, review, sci-fi on April 13, 2014 at 8:59 am

divergent tat

About: Divergent is a 2014 American science fiction action film directed by Neil Burger, based on the novel of the same name by Veronica Roth. The film is the first installment in the Divergent film series and was produced by Lucy Fisher, Pouya Shabazian, and Douglas Wick, with a screenplay by Evan Daugherty and Vanessa Taylor. It stars Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Zoë Kravitz, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer, Jai Courtney, Miles Teller, and Kate Winslet.

How many teen-angst films with identity-seeking and romantic plots can a supposed adult like me see? Oh, thousands I guess. You know, The Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games, The Harry Potter films etc. Young adult book-to-film adaptations are nothing new, but since The Hunger Games rocked the box office, the race to snag the next hot property seems more rabid than ever.

This film had potential. The make-up [!] was great. Tattoos. Piercings. Costumes included black clothes. Industrial looking sets. Non-conformity was a major theme – all good BUT this film needed to be edgier, more intense, more hard-core. The film needed to mirror the non-conformity it puts forth. We need a music video vibe here. The leads were miscast. The direction was off. The premise is a good one: conformity vs. non-conformity, however, unfortunately, it falls flat because of poor delivery in terms of the leads and direction.

Plot: The story takes place in a dystopian post-apocalyptic version of Chicago where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Beatrice Prior is warned that she is Divergent and thus will never fit into any one of the factions. She soon learns that a sinister plot is brewing in her seemingly perfect society.

The five factions: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (truthful), Erudite (intelligent) and Dauntless (brave). Beatrice is born into Abnegation, caregivers who also run the government, but is fascinated by Dauntless. She embodies a notion of plurality. She is more than one thing and that is why the test does not work on her, which is why she is Divergent: 16-year old citizens have undergone aptitude test using a serum to indicate which faction they would really fit and which they would need to choose on the Choosing Ceremony. Beatrice takes the aptitude test with a Dauntless woman as her proctor. Her test has resulted different attributes of several factions (Abnegation, Erudite and Dauntless), which means she is Divergent. Four has a tattoo of all factions and aspires to being more than one thing.

Since Divergent people can think independently and government cannot conform their thinking, they are considered threats to the social orders. Erudite is planning to overthrow Abnegation and become the ruling faction. There appear to be several reasons to get rid of Divergent people.

The female lead [Shailene Woodley as Beatrice or Tris] was way too mild. She should have been a kick-ass chick, not a very weak copy of Jennifer Lawrence. Man, Jennifer Lawrence would have been great here. The male lead [Theo James as Four] was so generic he could have been swapped with any young, hot, male actor. Kate Winslet as the evil and calculating Jeanine, leader of the Erudite faction is superb, as usual.

A review says: In Divergent, we see Kate Winslet as we’ve never really seen her before — playing the cold and rather ruthless antagonist Jeanine Matthews — and that’s exactly why she took the part. “I was sent a lovely letter by [director] Neil Burger,” she says. “It came with a gigantic packet of Divergent info. I hadn’t heard of the book at that point, and so I devoured it immediately. And on reading it, frankly, I wanted to play a baddie! It’s something I have never done.”

Everything aside from the casting and direction is fine. The story is based on a recognized novel and the script was faithful to it. It follows a romantic tradition in Hollywood film. The editing matched the pace of the action. The acting by the cast is good.

I think the impulse here is a good one. The emphasis on non-conformity resonates as a theme [only] with the X-Men films. The importance of showing divergence cannot be underestimated. I wish that this film committed to its emphasis on difference by being different in some way.

A sequel, Insurgent, is scheduled to be released on March 20, 2015.


ROMY SHILLER is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing.


In Film, review, sci-fi on August 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm


Movie Synopsis: In the year 2159 two classes of people exist. The very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Rhodes, a hard government official, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. That doesn’t stop the people of Earth from trying to get in, by any means they can. When unlucky Max is backed into a corner, he agrees to take on a daunting mission that if successful will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds.

I was just going to provide some background and not discuss the film at all because it’s not out in the UK yet but this is a film review and while I won’t give anything away I’ll address certain elements.

It’s important to know that this is an action flick. I was all set for a complex story about class inequality. That theme is obviously there but it’s not the focus. The trailer was deceiving on that count – yup. Think bam or boom and you’ll be close.  Social issues such as financial inequality, immigration and healthcare are right at the forefront of the latest from South African director Neill Blomkamp. But it’s no weighty drama; much like in Blomkamp’s first film, District 9, those issues are part of a futuristic sci-fi action story designed to fit right in with other summer releases.


Neill Blonkamp’s first movie, District 9, was a sardonic, gut-punching masterpiece. His new movie, Elysium, is just a crazy over-the-top action movie. There’s none of the depth or complexity of District 9, but there are cyborgs punching each other in space. And that’s awesome.


Matt Damon who plays Max Da Costa is the Star and he’s good. Jodie Foster who plays evil Secretary Delacourt is a Star but she’s bad.

Damon, as he’s proved time and again, makes for a wonderful protagonist. He’s an Everyman who’s also extraordinary, a combination that few can pull off like Damon can. His experience as Jason Bourne pays off handsomely, as his action skills are never in question.

Foster is not as successful. Whether it’s her choice of accent or just an underwritten role, she’s never convincing.

As a matter of fact, someone I went with said Foster seemed disconnected from her role. A review I read says, “Jodie Foster plays Madonna playing Margaret Thatcher…” and “In a movie where Matt Damon is doing his best to be down-to-earth while running around in a big metal exosuit and jumping out of spaceships, it’s even weirder how over-the-top Jodie Foster gets with her role. Pretty accurate, I think.

The soundtrack by Ryan Amon, who was found on YouTube, reminded me of the film Inception.A few years ago, musician Ryan Amon was living in Santa Cruz, Bolivia with his wife and working on scores for movie trailers when he got a single-sentence message out of the blue with a very cryptic question — “Is this you? — and a YouTube link. The link went to one of Amon’s early tracks and the email was from Neill Blomkamp,

So should you see this film? Yes, I‘m curious to know what you think. For me, it was a disappointment.


In Film, review, sci-fi on May 2, 2013 at 1:38 pm

[published April 29,2013]
posteriAbout: Oblivion is a 2013 American science fiction film co-written, produced and directed by Joseph Kosinski and based on his unpublished graphic novel of the same name edited by Radical Comics, It stars Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Zoë Bell, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. The film was initially scheduled for release on July 10, 2013. Since the 3D re-release of Jurassic Park was set for April 5, 2013, the US release date was moved forward to April 19, 2013. According to Kosinski, Oblivion pays homage to science fiction films of the 1970s.

Shiny. Good set design and effects. Weak script, editing, direction and acting. I attended the film with the same sci-fi groupies that I saw Prometheus with. They made me promise to look up the plot, which was far from clear. I did – oh… [PLOT]

Critic Matt Brunson says, The filmmakers fail to answer a sizable number of questions, electing instead to let audience members fill in the blanks to such an extent that anyone who sees this film would have a justifiable reason to sue to get their names added as co-scenarists.

If you need a clear and excellent comparison look at the great and far superior film, Moon.

Oblivion has a good concept but in my estimation, the execution of the concept is poor. The plot involves a predatory Alien/Scavenger presence, two workers protecting a harvesting of earth’s water resource; Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is now one of the last few humans stationed on the planet; the other survivors have migrated to a massive tetrahedral space station called the Tet and established a colony on Titan. He lives in a work tower thousands of feet above the Earth where he and his communications officer and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are part of an operation to extract the planet’s remaining resources for the Titan colony’s use, especially water. Jack and Victoria underwent a “security wipe” five years prior, which erased their memories and prevents them from giving up information under interrogation. There is a suspicious homing beacon aimed at a long, lost craft carrying humans aboard who are in suspended animation and other things I don’t care to ruin for you.

tom gun

The acting by Tom Cruise: In the past I was a fan of his but his last couple of films have been awkward and his judgment is now suspect, really. His acting here is just plain bad; in my opinion he needs to emote more. In one scene in particular, a shock of recognition needs to be more evident. The New York Post echoes my feeling: Cruise can’t dial up much emotion, so the two love interests for his character are two more than he can convincingly handle. He may be at home in the cockpit of a killing machine, but when it comes to displaying his humanity, he’s no Wall-E.


Co-stars Morgan Freeman who plays resistance leader Malcolm Beech and Olga Kurylenko who plays Cruise’s main love interest are fine but hardly extraordinary. I will not blame Freeman for the film’s flaws and really hope that he makes a better choice in the future.

Andrea Riseborough, 2012

Andrea Riseborough plays a love interest with a twist, is good and made her name on the London stage before moving into British TV drama. She took the lead roles in Sir Peter Hall’s productions of Miss Julie and Measure for Measure, [she] played opposite Michael Fassbender in the English civil war series The Devil’s Whore and won a Bafta TV award for playing a worryingly sexy version of the young Margaret Thatcher in BBC4′s The Long Walk to Finchley. Supporting roles included a part in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, while her lead in Rowan Joffe’s Brighton Rock carried the film and led to Oblivion.

The cinematography stands out here. Regarding ‘spectacle’: That isn’t normal for a book, movie or even video game with a post-apocalyptic setting, but the tapestries, backdrops, CG effects and, most of all, the camera work in “Oblivion” breathe life into a film that is captivating in the beginning, compelling (though slow) in the middle and, unfortunately, flat in the end.


Director Joseph Kosinski said; You don’t want to make a confusing movie.

Yeah, right. FILL. IN. THE. BLANKS. On one level this is a very simple film: Like I said, it is shiny. On another level there is a huh?-factor.

This film is not torture but thin.