Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (dir. David Slade, 2018) – A young programmer attempts to adapt a fantasy novel into a choose-your-own-adventure video game, but loses control over the choices in his own life.
Bearing the hallmarks of a typical Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch pulls us into Charlie Brooker’s deeply engaging mind game that yet again flaunts his creative brilliance and dark tendencies.
Named after the creature of the whimsical Wonderland tale, Bandersnatch is itself a monster of a wildly imaginative story. Black Mirror’s first interactive episode has us live and re-live the multiple lives of Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), whose obsessive creation of his choose-your-own-adventure game soon starts to warp his own reality.
“I feel like I’m not guiding [my decisions],” he tries to explain his building disorientation. “Someone else is.”
And every time we choose whether to have him destroy a computer or hit a desk, he looks down at his own hands fearfully as if they do not belong to him. His conviction that he is being controlled brings about a tinge of guilt – that we may just be responsible for recklessly manipulating the fate of a sentient digital being (see: USS Callister, Hang the DJ).
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Ready Player One (dir. Steven Spielberg, 2018) – The creator of virtual reality world OASIS issues his final challenge after his death – to find his Easter Egg that leads to his fortune.
Pop culture gets a stylistic tribute in Spielberg’s return to form with Ready Player One, a triumph in blockbuster fashion.
A faithful adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One may be comparable to watching paint dry. After all, not many would be thrilled to watch a kid recite every line of Wargames, or play a text adventure ad nauseam in bids to unlock virtual gates. It makes sense then for the film to completely reinvent the novel’s games for the big screen. Who better to helm the director’s job than Steven Spielberg himself?
The de facto virtuoso of cinematic adventures is backed by the original novel’s author Ernest Cline, who works with screenwriter Zak Penn to bring his story to life. The team does well to send main hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) on new challenges designed to excite in the visual form. That is even if practical effects take a back seat to a heavy amount of CG-inspired action.
In Spielberg’s hands, the potential desecration is done with little chance of raising hell in the fan community, who will enjoy spotting more than a few cameos. The epic car race at the beginning alone already features vehicular stars Christine and the DeLorean, or more strikingly, the King Kong and the T-Rex of Jurassic Park fame.
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Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland, 2018) – A team of military scientists enter The Shimmer, a quarantined zone where mutations thrive.
Annihilation finds both terror and beauty in the mutation of nature, as it does the same in our innate instinct for self-destruction.
It is in our nature to destroy ourselves. As Annihilation puts it, almost none of us commit suicide, whereas almost all of us self-destruct in some part of our lives. We drink, or take drugs, or destabilize the happy job or happy marriage. For some, vices are due punishment on themselves for reasons of guilt. Others feel alive by simply keeping our lives in motion – even if it is but chaos.
Such self-destructive tendencies occur biologically too. We change, as nature mandates. Human cells divide at a constant, and the natural process of mitosis sees our bodies duplicate new cells to replace damaged ones. We degenerate to heal and deteriorate with age, while cells replicate rapidly – without control – turn cancerous.
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The Cloverfield Paradox (dir. Julius Onah, 2018) – During the testing of a device that may solve the Earth’s energy crisis, a space crew ends up facing a dark alternate reality.
While a decent work of entertainment, The Cloverfield Paradox is as much a sequel to Cloverfield as Toy Story is the second parter of Puppet Master. (It isn’t.)
By now, the secret is out. The Cloverfield Paradox has turned out less of a sequel to the monster movie than an ambitious concept riding on the waves of it. It would not be wrong to call this a marketing scam. But on the bright side, the anthology has lent a boost to scripts that would have usually gone under the radar.
After all, the trick had worked once. Two years ago, 10 Cloverfield Lane sprung a pleasant surprise, where John Goodman’s conspiracy theorist abducts a young woman and claims the role of her protector. His ambiguous motives tease his insanity, but also a possible catastrophe beyond the bunker. Could the disaster be connected to the titular monster? The question rouses anticipation for its arrival, which makes the final minutes particularly gratifying.
Similar loose ties should have been expected of The Cloverfield Paradox. If only the Netflix production had not been touted as the answer to how the monsters first arrived on Earth. Setting viewers up for disappointment from the get-go, The Cloverfield Paradox is off to a shaky start.
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Blade Runner 2049 (dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2017) – A long-buried secret leads K to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who has been missing for thirty years.
A plodding pace for thin plotting tempers enjoyment of what is otherwise a thematic marvel, with visuals made for the cinematic experience.
Just two years from the future that Blade Runner predicted thirty years ago, and we are still steps away from emotive replicants, hover cars, and instant showers. What has however exceeded 20th century expectations, is digital imagery. Film has since seen brilliant advances in simulating realistic holography and futuristic landscapes. It is hence no surprise that Blade Runner 2049 would be a visual masterwork.
What about its narrative then? Years have left the ambitious sequel at a disadvantage, asking questions that have already been asked before. Its predecessor Blade Runner had been made in 1982, when novel ideas such as singularity were rife with unknowns. The source material Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick goes further back to 1968, at a time when A.I. had been but an abstract concept.
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Lucid Dream (dir. Kim Joon-sung, 2017) – After the abduction of his son, Dae-ho attempts lucid dreaming, an experimental psychiatric therapy that enables patients to access lost memories.
Better enjoyed as a dramatic thriller than science fiction, Lucid Dream owes more to its excellent cast than the jerry-built plotting.
When an elusive memory is all you have to find your missing child, what wouldn’t you give to relive it for a glimpse of a clue? That is what drives Dae-ho (Soo Go) to revisit the day of his son’s abduction over and over again. Assisted by neurologist So-hyun (Kang Hye-jeong), he repeatedly reconstructs the scene in hopes of uncovering forgotten details, even if the experimental therapy comes at a cost.
Entering the dream world is nothing new but a rehashed concept, which The Cell and Inception have put forth on a grander scale. Lucid Dream sets itself up for inevitable comparisons to its spiritual predecessors, but makes a lesser mark in terms of stunning visuals or layered storytelling.
Continue reading “Review: Lucid Dream / Lusideu deulim (2017)”