A bit of a modern E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, where E.T. is a little sleek robot voiced by Zach Galifianakis and society is hooked on social media and instant gratification instead of… Reaganomics? I don’t know, I wasn’t alive back in 1982. I don’t think anyone was. Regardless, this movie is a perfectly emotional exploration of what real friendship looks like and a satirical takedown of Apple (an obvious stand-in for Tim Cook doesn’t care if children die, which, yeah, I can see that), Facebook, and big tech in general. The latter was done earlier this year with the more manic and dysfunctional family-oriented The Mitchells vs the Machines, so these two movies exist as a bit of a prefect double feature. Dysfunctional families, dysfunctional robots, friendship, and the negatives (and positives!) of unchecked tech.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “There is a throwaway line about killer clowns living in the woods, which is why children don’t go in there to play anymore, which makes me think this movie takes place in an entirely new branch of the timeline after Harambe was shot in 2016 where those creepy clowns popping up everywhere in the north around then really kind of took hold of the world. Ron’s Gone Wrong would be very disappointed in this Reddit-addled VHS cover pull-quote.”
A sumptuous adaptation of half the influential novel that captures the weirdness, introspection, and pre-Star Wars design of 1960s sci-fi (and tries to address some of the dated elements). Plus, sandworms!
My VHS cover pull-quote: “It is weird that these sci-fi guys have names like Paul and Duncan. We should just replace the first letter of their names with X. Xaul. Xuncan. Lady Xessica. There we go.”
A less inventive sequel that has lost the novelty of the original but not the spirit or solid filmmaking. It relies too much on the ‘people making dumb decisions’ trope in horror movies, though, and doesn’t do enough to separate Cillian Murphy daddy figure from John Krasinski daddy figure. I’m definitely into the world, that main characters, and I’m looking forward to parts III – IX and beyond as long as it’s profitable. Like The Purge. Did you know there’s a new entry in the Purge series called The Forever Purge coming out?? What even is that?
My VHS cover pull-quote: “Spoiler, but let’s stop killing Djimon Hounsou in movies. He was a cool, chill character who died stupidly just because they needed him out of the way for the ending.”
“Who would have thought a tech company didn’t have our best interests at heart?”
The animation techniques honed in Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse are let loose and used to tell the frantic, heartfelt story of a chaotic cartoon family against the machinations of a Mark Zuckerberg stand-in. In terms of energy, it feels like the next evolution or step up from the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies, which are both classics in my book of modern movies that most people don’t think (and probably aren’t, actually) classics but I like quite a bit.
This, however, feels destined to be an actual classic whose legacy may only be hampered by the relatively tame marketing push and it just being dropped on Netflix instead of having a meaningful theatrical run. Having to watch a film with blink-and-you-miss-it visual flourishes on a TV really made me long for the big screen and the togetherness theater experience and all that. But that’s hardly the movie’s fault! The film is a kinetic, hilarious techno journey into a sugar-addled Asimovian not-too-distant-future with the requisite (and fairly progressive) family component to bring the emotion.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “There is a particular scene in this that has been making the rounds on the interweb involving a deadly Furby colossus spouting eldritch phrases, which is why it is my favorite film of the year. If I say something else is my favorite film of the year in December 2021 or something, don’t listen to Future Nick. That asshole doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he’s an old person who’s out of touch with everything. His time is over and he doesn’t even realize it yet. I, on the other hand, am young. I am important.”
It’s Lord of the Flies in Space and now you know the whole movie which isn’t really a spoiler. Not as “sexy” or chaotic as the trailers and posters tried to make it seem, but it does at least try to discuss toxic masculinity and has a distinct and capable visual style that Neil Burger has evolved since shooting Limitless.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “I saw this at a drive-in and they paired it with Chaos Walking, which made it a B minus shitty sci-fi double feature kind of night. Chaos Walking actually kind of feels like a distant sequel to Voyagers, both attempting to tackle toxic masculinity from an almost wholly male perspective and botching it quite a bit by downplaying the fem characters.”
A paranoid, whispered assembly of folklore and cosmic horror happenings that explores many permutations of this kind of story before vaguely settling into one collectively conjured nightmare. The CULT following it’s gaining is well deserved.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “I don’t need much to enjoy a movie, just a skeleton that’s all kinds of H.R. Geiger/Alien-inspired in the first 20 minutes like this has. Come on, Hollywood!”
A simple sci-fi story that feels a bit like it’s been done before while still being well made and effectively moving. The bleak outlook with only the slightest glimmer of hope puts it at odds with Interstellar, one of my favorite recent sci-fi pieces, but that actually works in its favor. We’ve had plenty of hopeful space stories; I’m down for one where we totally fucked up and there’s only a very slight chance that humanity can survive beyond the end of the movie. Considering it’s 2020, that feels more realistic. Maybe 2021 will be hopeful.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “George Clooney now employs a younger actor to play his character in his like 30s, but I think he overdubs the actor’s voice with his own creamy Nespresso tones. It creates a bit of a creamy Nespresso disconnect, though, because Clooney’s voice is pretty iconic and sounds wrong flowing from the non-Nespresso spokesperson mouth of Ethan Peck.”
“Is that what you think we’re doing out here? Committing suicide?”
It plays fast and loose with the source material, but Alex Garland and company have still crafted a challenging, remarkable piece of science fiction that digs into humanity’s sense of self and asks substantial questions.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “Replicates your cells and doesn’t stop until you are something new! -Nick Perilli? Natalie Portman? Who are we? Who are any of us? What is next?”
And with that line that has appeared in a myriad of other films like it, the ball begins to roll in Jeff Nichols’s straight sci-fi effort. In many ways, Midnight Special feels like Spielberg making Cameron’s The Abyss, and I can’t imagine anyone would (nor should) take that as a criticism. But Nichols has obviously taken many cues from directors before him here, even if his rural Americana vibe and affection present in Take Shelter and Mud (both “better” films) remains intact. Most everything works, though. The kid has an apt young-Culkin quality to him, the plot is indeed soulful, and the effects are just understated enough. Plus, the actors — Michael Shannon in particular (as always) — really help sell everything that’s happening.
My VHS cover quote: “Not since Star Wars VII has there been a science fiction film featuring Adam Driver.”