Alien: Covenant (dir. Ridley Scott, 2017) – The crew of a colony ship decides to abandon route in favour of an uncharted planet, where they encounter a fatal parasitic threat.
Alien: Covenant strikes a neat balance between Alien’s horror entertainment and Prometheus’ conceptual ambitions.
Fifteen years after Alien: Resurrection ended the well-loved franchise, Ridley Scott took a bold chance. With Prometheus, he reinvented his familiar story with provocative revelations, complicating a slash-and-dice formula with layered, philosophical mythology.
This alienated some fans, who baulked at reduced body horror and potential answers to the unknown. Mysticism is after all, what had made Alien terrifying in the first place. Others find joy in dissecting theological implications, savouring consequent food for thought.
For a fan who stands in the middle, Alien: Covenant feels like a satisfying compromise. Harmony is attained between the best of both worlds, as the original’s blood fest is dished up with the prequel’s intellectual fodder on the side. An elegant opening plays to the latter, reiterating the complex dynamics between man and machine.
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Let’s Be Evil (dir. Martin Owen, 2016) – Three chaperones are hired to supervise some gifted children, who live and learn through augmented reality glasses in an underground controlled facility.
An inventive concept starts off strong but ultimately proves embryonic, delivering neither satire nor thrills.
It is not difficult to believe the future that Let’s Be Evil envisions. After all, the new generation already spends most days wired up to their devices, preferring the screen glare to the sun. Then, it is not difficult to imagine either, the power that big tech corporations wield over youths. It is a scary thought. Google was even once impelled to assure us of their corporate morals in their motto, Don’t Be Evil.
A play on that very slogan, Let’s Be Evil sees these fears realised, as technology is used to cultivate youths into obedient learning machines. In what is known as the Posterity Program, gifted children are raised in a high-tech facility, where their worldview is controlled through artificial intelligence and augmented reality. Automation fully manages their strict regime of study, sleep, repeat.
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Time Sweep / Tiempo muerto (dir. Victor Postiglione, 2016) – After the death of his wife Julia, Franco finds a dangerous way to bring her back.
An understated and evocative drama, on life after death in more ways than one.
Franco (Guillermo Pfening) has just lost his wife Julia (Maria Nela Sinisterra) to a sudden accident. The heartbroken widower will do anything to bring her back. In Julia’s diary, he finds an unorthodox way in the mysterious phenomenon, “tiempo muerto”. Known as a dead moment, this is when he gets to meet his love for the last time – in a memory of the past.
From Argentinian director Victor Postiglione, Tiempo muerto is a lean and well-paced independent drama with minimal excess. Sans the usual time travel theatrics, the taut thriller relies in verism and leaves fantasy to the fringes. The result is a character-driven dramatic core, veracity cemented by brilliant central performances.
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Residue (dir. Alex-Garcia Lopez, 2015) – After a massive explosion in the city centre, photographer Jennifer Preston uncovers a government conspiracy and more unsettlingly, the paranormal.
Don’t expect a fast-paced thriller with a perfect resolution. Residue is a slow-burning albeit promising pilot, made to build anticipation for what is to come.
Make no mistake. Residue is excessively drawn out, and maddeningly inconclusive. That doesn’t mean it is not worth a watch. Set in a dystopian near-future, the aspiring Black Mirror episode is a plodding yet assured pilot that promises things can only get better from here.
Intrigue lies in the compelling premise of this sci-fi/horror mystery thriller, where a massive explosion on New Year’s Eve leaves the city centre in quarantine. The measure is ostensibly in place due to contamination from a bio-weapon facility. But any X-Files aficionado will be loath to take the official word for it.
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Stories of Your Life and Others (Ted Chiang, 2010) – The collection includes eight of Ted Chiang’s original published stories of remarkable wit and consistency.
Meditating on the irresolvable meaning of humanity, Stories of Your Life and Others is an essential for keen readers of sci-fi, theology and philosophy.
What if language has the power to change our perception? The story behind the acclaimed film Arrival owes its cerebral genre narrative to Ted Chiang’s source material. Story of Your Life tells of one woman’s account of her newfound perspective and resultant personal choices, positing how linguistics can shape civilisation.
The story is interestingly in itself, an experiment in language. Tenses shift between past, present, and future to untangle a complex yarn. Physics come into play with Fermat’s Principle of Least Time. But while rooted in vernacular and scientific technicalities, the speculative work is primarily philosophical, questioning the dichotomy of freewill and fate.
Equally thought-provoking themes can be found in the rest of the collection, Stories of Your Life and Others. Each of the eight short stories proves remarkable in their sophistication, accessibility, and rare originality.
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iBoy (dir. Adam Randall, 2017) – Left with fragments of his smartphone in his brain, Tom develops powers to manipulate electronics and begins his plan for vengeance.
Teen vigilante iBoy fails to escape tropes, the ultimate villain of all superhero adventures.
In the real world, phone bits lodged near your temporal lobe will likely be incapacitating, if not fatal. It is quite fortunate that our victim lives in fiction then. And with an alias like iBoy, it is hard to expect anything less than ludicrous, as the young vigilante takes on the big mission to sweep the seedy corners of London.
That dated pseudonym belongs to Tom (Bill Milner), a brooding teen who witnesses a sexual assault on his classmate Lucy (Maisie Williams) and gets shot in his head. A nasty scar is not all he gets. Phone fragments in his brain render him able to connect remotely to nearby devices. Sort of like a human modem, if you’d like.
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