Category Archives: Contemporary

Posts about titles younger than ~10 years.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

“Through readiness and discipline,
we are masters of our fate.”

The exposition for this film (which is more prominently labelled Live. Die. Repeat. on the Blu-ray cover, the tagline from the posters, but retains the Edge of Tomorrow title in the credits), starts even before studio logos have cycled through, with tiny clips of TV coverage explaining that tentacly and clairvoyant aliens have overrun much of Europe and that only the development of new battlesuits has stopped them from crossing over to Britain (and, ultimately, the rest of the world).

Tom Cruise plays William Cage, a US military officer whose job is not to fight, but to disseminate propaganda about the war effort on television talk shows. When a general orders him to cover a large-scale invasion of France from the front, Cage reveals his cowardice and lack of compassion for regular soldiers. All his attempts to weasel out of the assignment achieve, though, is a deployment to the very tip of the charge. Without his rank or job protecting him, and because the enemy somehow knows of the surprise attack in advance, Cage promptly… dies. Horribly. Within minutes of touching down.

And then he wakes up again, a day earlier, with the memories leading up to his death intact. The reason: he came in contact with one of the aliens’ blood during his death. But nobody believes him, so on to battle he goes… to die again. And again. He knows what’s coming, to a degree, but no matter how he changes his ever-renewing present, he still always winds up dead. Continue reading

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A Golden Wake (2014)

A Golden Wake is a change of pace for Wadjet Eye, which has previously mostly published fantasy or science-fiction games. Their new point-and-click adventure game is neither of those, but rather a historical story set around the real-life land boom around Miami in the 1920’s, with a jazz soundtrack and jugendstil decorations to prove it.

The main and only playable character is Alfie Banks, a young man eager to make his name in the world (or live up to his family’s name, anyway). Ousted from his late father’s New York real-estate firm via jealous co-workers, he decides to pack up and go to Florida to seek his fortune. It’s 1921, and the local housing market is booming, especially the development of Miama-near Coral Gables, masterminded by one George Merrick. Merrick is one of several historical people who appear as fictionalised versions of themselves in the game and functions as a sort of father figure for Alfie, giving him things to do. Continue reading

Belle (2013)

In the late 18th century, a British gentleman about to set sail in service of the king turns up at the English country estate of an older relative, the highest judge in the land, to submit unto the latter’s care the former’s illegitimate daughter. Who is the result of a union with a black slave. The young girl, soon a young woman, as well as the racism she has to endure, inspires her surrogate father to pave the way for an end to slavery in the British Empire. It sounds rather fanciful, doesn’t it? But it happens to be true. Or at least plausible, given that very little is known about the actual Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her actual role in the Lord Justice’s ruling is unclear.

Belle wastes little time with setting up the meat of the story. There is only a short prologue showing Dido meeting her biological father and being handed off again; Mansfield, the judge, is irritated at first, but quickly grows to like the girl, as does her white cousin Elizabeth, also a ward of the childless Mansfield’s. Less than ten minutes after the film’s opening moments, a lovely match cut magically grows the two girls into young ladies, who display a naive interest in men even as the social rules for women of their position heavily restrict any contact between the two sexes.

Dido is no Rosa Parks, and Belle no Spartacus (1960). Because the film mainly sticks to the historical record, the main character can’t be a great public leader in the abolitionist movement, as maybe she would have been were she and the movie’s premise entirely fictional. The slavery question is part of the film, but more on the margins. What’s in the centre instead is a Jane-Austen-y story about good matches and courtships and engagements or almost-engagements and pining for, or being wooed by, the wrong man. The photography is lush, the costumes lovely to look at (if maybe less conservative cleavage-wise than they would have been in reality, was my initial reaction, but maybe that was wrong of me), the music (by Rachel Portman, familiar with period pieces and romances) beautiful and the language charmingly old-fashioned. The romantic portion of the film, in short, is pretty, if conventional. Continue reading

Futurestates, season 5 (2014)

What’s Futurestates? To quote its producers, “For four epic seasons, FUTURESTATES ha[d] taken us on a journey to explore possible futures through the prism of today’s global realities. Written and directed by veteran and emerging indie filmmakers […], this groundbreaking series of science fiction shorts invite[d] the public to envision the future.” I didn’t like every single episode – who can say that about an long-running anthology show (see my reviews for seasons three and four)? -, but overall, the series was a worthwhile collection of thought-provoking science-fiction short films. It never really gained any traction with viewers, though, so maybe that’s why producers decided to change things up for the fifth and final “season”.

They tasked an emerging-media company “to reboot the series as an immersive, next-generation project. For the first time, it utilizes a shared storyworld between each of the individual films, a rich backstory, and an immersive web experience across multiple online platforms to tell a larger story. The goal was to experiment with a new narrative form and a nonlinear storytelling structure, yet allow each of the films to still stand on its own.” The success of the latter goal is debatable (I’ll get to it further down), and that of the first, well… Continue reading

Technobabylon (2015)

About 70 years from now, Technobabylon predicts, nuclear wars will have become commonplace. In that world, the U.S. and China will both have violently split apart. The European Union, interestingly, stays together, but apparently at the expense of some unspecified liberties (an extrapolation, perhaps, of the current European attitude towards GMO). Newton, a new city-state implied to be somewhere in the area of what today is southern Somalia, is a place of refuge both for people fleeing from conflict as well as people aiming to test – and widen – the limits of what science can, and should, accomplish. Even the police detectives there are scientists.

This spot at the vanguard of research where almost anything goes technologically is also a remarkably diverse place, with people from all different corners of the world coming together. Because of budget restrictions and the fact that most of the game takes place at night, there aren’t particularly many crowd scenes where one could really observe this, but the main characters and the handful of NPCs are pleasingly varied in skin colour and sexual identity. As the Technobabylon of the title, the city is the setting for the newest game by point-and-click adventure-game publisher Wadjet Eye (developed by James Dearden from an unfinished series of freeware installments).

With its science-fiction noir trappings, the game’s story is difficult (and would be spoilery) to summarize. Suffice it to say that it involves deception, a string of weird murders, duplicity, a man accused of a crime he didn’t commit, treachery, a digital network more advanced than the internet (albeit looking like an 80’s cyberpunk vision of virtual reality), double-crosses, and a highly advanced artificial intelligence and the forces arraigned against it for reasons that are at odds with each other. All of these elements crisscross in the plot and ultimately prove to be the ripple effects of a decades-earlier betrayal. It’s all very engaging even if I saw the central plot twist coming halfway through (thanks to a painting and a name I correctly identified as foreshadowing and thematically relevant, respectively).
Continue reading

Winnie the Pooh (2011)

The confusingly-titled Winnie the Pooh is currently, and probably for the foreseeable future, the last traditionally-animated feature to come out of Disney. That is a somewhat more fitting (temporary?) ending than The Princess and the Frog, which, though overall okay, seemed torn between upholding the company’s traditions and injecting modern sensibilities. The new Pooh, on the other hand, is very definitely a film looking backward to the studio’s past and, for adult viewers, to the simpler time of childhood (the original trailer hits the nostalgia pretty hard). Disney even made a point of hiring Burny Mattinson, probably today’s longest-tenured Disney employee and who had worked on the original Pooh films back in the 60’s and 70’s, as head of the story department for the new instalment.

That adherence to traditions shows. The film opens, like the original The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977), with live-action shots of Christopher Robin’s room, including all the stuffed animals to feature in the story. It is also somewhat episodic, though the subplots (getting Eeyore a new tail, “rescuing” Christopher Robin from a scary creature, and Pooh’s pursuit of honey) are more interwoven than the three originally-separate short films. There are even similar story beats (like a stylized song sequence illustrating the characters’ understanding of a fictional nightmare beast and Tigger… “expressing” himself). Continue reading

City of Ember (2008)

In the wake of the first Harry Potter and Narnia films, a lot of studios jumped on the “let’s adapt a popular science-fiction/fantasy kids’ book and hope for a franchise” bandwagon, a trend that seems to have peaked in the late 2000’s (and has since been replaced with a run on “edgy” young adult novels). One of the many resulting movies is City of Ember:

Towards the tail end of an otherwise unspecified apocalyptic event, world leaders make a decision to sequester a portion of humanity in an underground city, cut off from the planet’s surface both physically and mentally (in that children born there are not supposed to learn about the outside world). They leave secret instructions with the city’s first mayor on how and when it will be safe to come back, to be passed on from mayor to mayor. Unfortunately, there’s a break in the chain, knowledge of an exit is lost, and the city’s intended “expiration date” is passed.

This low-information plan is rather daft to begin with, of course, but I guess there wouldn’t be a film otherwise, and I did like the montage that visualised the whole process. And I really love this kind of premise, where the survivors of a cataclysm use old technology handed down by their forbears without knowing where it came from or how to fix it. Ember, the place, has a nicely grimy and run-down look to it given what was presumably a rather low budget. It’s a pity that the rest of the movie doesn’t match the art design in quality. Continue reading