Category Archives: Dystopia

The Discovery

discoveryNote: Today we have another special guest recommendation!  I have a backlog of recommendations from Jesse but they’re all too hard to find right now and this one is readily available.

What Sam said:

Mike, you should watch The Discovery and let me know what you think. I value your opinion and think that you would thoroughly enjoy it. Kidding, I don’t really value your opinion but I really want to talk about it with someone and you are the only person I know with a movie blog. GFY!

Mike’s verdict:

At the heart of The Discovery is a fascinating thought experiment.  How would you react to knowing that there is an afterlife? Would it change how you live this life?  Now imagine you were told that a soul / spirit / consciousness / whatever left the body immediately after death, but with no indication of where it went.  Would not knowing the destination change how you felt?  How about if you were told that one scientist had evidence of something empirically measurable leaving the body immediately after death, but with no idea what that something is (maybe it’s not a consciousness at all) and with no idea where that something might go?

The latter scenario is where this film begins – science has reported something measurable leaving the body and society has, as it does, filled in all the unknowns with assumptions.  The most immediate result of this is that a not insignificant number of people across the world kill themselves under the assumption, or at least expectation, that there is another plane of existence and – crucially – that it is better.

There is a lot to consider in this thought experiment.  To start with, there is the obvious problem of determining what biological or physical occurrences would be convincing as evidence of a consciousness that can exist separate from the body.  Then of course there is the problem of figuring out where that consciousness actually goes. Interesting questions for sure, but these are in fact not the point of the film.  While the science considerations are distracting (they definitely distracted me at first), the real point of this film is to explore how science fits into society at the crossroads of the empirical colliding with the spiritual.

It’s typically accepted that religion won’t give concrete evidence for its assertions – indeed many would argue that faith without evidence is the point of faith.  This of course is almost anathema to science, which has at its core tenant that assertions must be verifiable and reproducible.  And yet, a case could be made (as I think it is being made in this film) that society doesn’t necessarily hold science to its own standard. The exploitation of scientific reporting by news media looking for anything sensational to sell advertisements is undoubtedly a concerning trend, but this is only possible because society is just as inclined to accept the word of science as it is the word of spiritual leaders – and just as likely to get these words very confused.

The Discovery isn’t about the idea of an afterlife, it’s an indictment of a society that is willing to take on faith (whether spiritually or scientifically) the notion of something beyond. The implication is that people want so badly to find something better, that they are willing to accept anything that will help substantiate their hope. Belief in an afterlife is a potent example to make that point, but it can just as easily be applied to any issue that science and religion makes claims about – so, everything really.  And in making this case, the film highlights the hypocrisy of expecting science to take responsibility for not having all the answers, while allowing religion to actually rely on not having all the answers.

Unfortunately, the narrative gets a little off track nearing the end as it attempts to actually make some sense of the science that it invents.  I would have preferred a more ambiguous ending so that the main questions could stick with the audience rather than allowing everything to be confused by complicated alternate realities.

Beyond the main focus, I liked most other aspects of the film. Robert Redford was fairly convincing as the (initially) socially clueless scientist and Jason Segel was equally believable as the reluctant skeptic; though at times I felt like I was watching the same character he played in Jeff Who Lives at HomeRooney Mara was an interesting choice for a role that is almost-but-not-quite the manic pixie dream girl.  Her character has substance, but in the end she exists (rather literally) to explain Segel’s protagonist, and that’s a bit disappointing.

On the concept alone I would rate this film a full 10/10. But taking into consideration the odd direction of the plot in the end, it gets knocked down to 8/10.




What Jesse said:

… before he watched Interstellar:

Dude, we should go see Interstellar. Everyone and everyone’s monkey and everyone’s monkey’s dog is saying that it is fantastic. My brother and my cousin and my neighbour and my wife’s hairdresser’s pet saw it and they all say it’s awesome. They also say it’s the kind of movie we definitely need to see in IMAX. It is a space movie after all. Seriously, it’s going to be great. Plus it has Matthew McConaughey – he’s not as dreamy as Brad Pitt but he’s a close second.

… after he watched Interstellar:

Dude, please don’t review this movie. I don’t want people to think that I would recommend this – it will be devastating for my reputation as a movie-watcher and human-being. Please, please, please don’t tell people I made you and our respective significants pay $17 + taxes to see this in IMAX. Please. Let’s just forget this night ever happened.

Mike’s verdict:

I’ve decided to review Interstellar because even though the recommendation was both premature and formally rescinded, in the end I saw this movie because Jesse suggested we watch it: as far as I am concerned, that’s pretty much the definition of a recommendation. The fact that Jesse didn’t have his facts straight before he made the recommendation is irrelevant. Besides, there is already precedent for this type of situation: Black Dynamite.

There’s a lot wrong with Interstellar, but let’s start with the good because it’ll be quick. The atmosphere is great. This movie doesn’t have quite the same feeling of vastness that Gravity has – which is significant given that I watched Gravity on a comparatively tiny 8-foot screen rather than IMAX – but it still does a very good job of expressing the distance and emptiness of space. There is even one scene where I had a twinge of agoraphobia. I also really liked the stark difference in soundtracks between scenes on earth, in space vessels and in open space. You could really, really here the silence when it mattered.

And that’s it for good points.

My first complaint is that every major plot point is obvious – including the big twist. It’s not just obvious from the point of view of the spectator watching on the outside either – the characters themselves definitely should have seen it coming. The only parts of Interstellar’s plot that were not obvious were the ones that lacked any tie to actual science. Jonathan and Christopher Nolan took the liberty of using fantasy to fill in where science stops. In some sense this is fair, unfortunately I felt that the fantasy they invented was too silly. I really enjoy learning about the theoretical science behind space travel and this movie started off really well (at least to my non-specialist eyes). But it takes a bizarre tangent at the point where the science runs out.

Next, the characters. There is one interesting character in this movie; he gets all the best lines and is the only one you will feel for when there is danger. The entire rest of the cast is just there to ensure that the plot moves along – and I was never invested in any of them. In case you are wondering, the one good character isn’t portrayed by McConaughey, nor is it  really a central character in the strictest sense – in fact it isn’t a real person. I hope Bill Irwin is given the credit he deserves for bringing some entertainment to this movie. As far as the real characters are concerned, McConaughey was the same gritty-but-well-meaning character he is in every movie; Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine had suitably adequate performances but nobody is going to remember them for this movie. Matt Damon‘s role is less forgettable, but his performance isn’t really notable. I did like how Topher Grace and Casey Affleck were unceremoniously thrown in like extras though.

Overall, I think most of this movie was okay. I was basically entertained most of the way through until fantasy took over near the end. But it isn’t a good movie and it doesn’t deserve anywhere near the critical praise that it’s been getting. It’s also not worth the money to see it in a theatre – much less IMAX. I wish I’d waited and watched this at home.


The Purge

The PurgeWhat Jesse said:

I was expecting the average thriller but was pleasantly surprised that the movie had a more philosophical / political tone to it. The sequel will be out this year and also looks interesting. The concept takes class warfare to the extreme and was a little over the top but I thought it was effective overall.

Mike’s verdict:

I wasn’t really expecting much from this film, and that’s pretty well what I got. It’s a fairly standard thriller with dark scenes, spooky music, and startling jolts. At least on that level I think The Purge did a decent job of building suspense; there are certainly worse suspense-dramas. Of course all of the ‘twists’ are obvious – that’s how Hollywood thrillers work – but the atmosphere was good. My main complaint is with all that the film left out. The idea of a 12 hour legal free-for-all is in itself very interesting and exploring that idea within a suspense thriller could definitely work. Unfortunately, Jesse managed to get more out of that side than I did.

There is so much that could be explored from a philosophical point of view: Do people really need a ‘release’ from aggression? Are the consequences of such a release worse that the stress of not allowing it? Are there groups that will be unfairly exploited? How hard is it for a person to be convinced that the suffering they are inflicting is justifiable? And even beyond the philosophical, there are practical questions that could be looked at: Should only murder be allowed? What happens if someone is seriously hurt, but manages to survive? What about other crimes like vandalism or theft? Should the entire effort be started and finished during the 12 hour window or can I set a trap ahead of time that will be triggered during the specified time? Can I set a trap during the 12 hours that will be triggered sometime after?

But The Purge didn’t really touch on these to any great degree. There are clear references to the fact that certain people believe the whole exercise is nothing more than an excuse to kill the homeless. But these are rare, and there’s hardly any real discussion of the implications. Most of the movie is about the family trying to stay alive given the uncertainty of the villains, and whether that uncertainty comes from the free-for-all concept or not, its effect is just like any other suspense thriller.

I think this film would have worked better if the writers had completely left out any overt references the philosophical side. We would have had exactly the same suspense, but the audience would be able to read into it as much as it liked. Or The Purge could have gone in the complete opposite direction and actually explored the concepts that it was hinting at. Essentially, I like the concept and want it to be covered in a totally different movie.


12 Monkeys

What Jesse said:

The 90s were great. I wish I could live there again. Oh, and there was this movie called 12 Monkeys. It was pretty good because it happened in the 90s. The guy from Monty Python directed it, but it’s not funny. Brad Pitt is dreamy in it. He’s always dreamy, but especially in 12 Monkeys.

Mike’s verdict:

I’ve paraphrased a little – Jesse didn’t actually use the word “dreamy”, but I’m trying to keep this space mostly family friendly.

I will admit that Brad Pitt did do a good job with this. I’m not really a fan of him because most of the time he just acts like Brad Pitt and I find that makes it difficult to think of him as the character he’s supposed to portray. But in 12 Monkeys he does a really good job of pretending to be mentally unstable. Especially the first few scenes he’s in.

Bruce Willis on the other hand is just Bruce Willis. He’s always Bruce Willis. But in his case it works because in every movie the character he plays really is Bruce Willis. Plus he doesn’t seem to age.

Madeleine Stowe did an okay job too, though she didn’t really have the same dynamic range as Willis and Pitt.

Overall, I was entertained. The story was interesting, it had interesting characters, and it had interesting settings. It’s too bad it looks like it was filmed in the 90s, but I’ll still give it 8/10.

Battle Royale

What Jesse said:

You’ve never seen Battle Royale? You have to see it. It’s crazy, it’s violent. Children kill each other – what’s not to love?

Mike’s verdict:

A Japanese alternate universe dystopia, Battle Royale is the film adaptation of a 1997 novel by Koushun Takami. The premise is a group of children are taken to an island and forced to fight each other until only one is left alive. To make sure they don’t all just sit around singing Kumbayah instead of fighting, the children are forced to wear collars that will explode if at least one of them doesn’t die every 24 hours. There is ubiquitous surveillance so that the organizers can keep tabs on everyone. Oh, and certain areas of the island are rigged to keep the kids moving around. Sound familiar? No? That’s okay, Suzanne Collins hasn’t heard of Battle Royale either.

The thoughts you have when you walk away from a  movie are certainly important, but the thing I look for most in a film is its effect on how I feel while I’m watching. Obviously this can be a result of a few different components but I’m mostly concerned about atmosphere. Sometimes it’s awkward situations or really effective music, sometimes it’s tense scenes and sometimes it’s the literal atmospheric conditions the characters are in – for instance, seeing people being rained on or falling in the mud.

Watching muddy children try to kill each other definitely elicits discomfort. Since I’m pretty that’s the point Takami was trying to make, I give Battle Royale a 9/10.

It could have had a perfect 10, but I found a few scenes in the middle moved too slow.