Tag Archives: Films

Safe and Sound: A Review of I Am Mother

Film poster for I Am Mother. Image on poster shows a robot holding a baby. In the background are the faces of the main characters. Content warning: death of a pet and blood. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

I Am Mother is a 2019 Australian science fiction thriller about a human girl who was raised by a robot that was designed to repopulate the Earth after some sort of extinction event.

The characters in this tale don’t have conventional names like you or I do. Instead, the human child is called Daughter and the robot who raised her is called Mother.

While Daughter is well cared for, her isolation not only from other people but from anything outside of their isolation bunker is absolute.

Mother insists it isn’t safe out there, and her word is law.

Characters

Clara Rugaard as Daughter
Clara Rugaard as Daughter

Daughter was an intelligent and thoughtful young woman. She’d previously been obedient of Mother’s wishes, but her curiosity about what life was like outside of the UNU-HWK_Repopulation Facility and dissatisfation with what her mother told her about it was growing stronger by the way.

 

Luke Hawker as Mother (performance)
Luke Hawker as Mother (performance) Rose Byrne as Mother (voice)

 

Mother the robot who had raised Daughter and who was making preparations for the next human infant she’d take responsibility for. She was strict and protective of her daughter. While Daughter’s health and happiness was important to her, she refused to compromise on any of the rules she’d come up with on how best to raise a human child in a post-apocalyptic environment.

Hilary Swank as Woman
Hilary Swank as Woman

 

Woman was the injured, dying stranger who stumbled upon the bunker one day. She’d lived a life filled with fear and danger. Every move she made was calculated to give her the highest probability of surviving just one more day.

My Review

Just like with Annihilation, my biggest reason for wanting to watch this film had to do with the fact that all of the main characters in it were women. All of the science fiction films I grew up watching were male dominated. Some of them were comprised of nothing but dudes. Others might have as many as one female hero for every three, four, or five male heroes.

I’m elated to see this changing, and I’ll continue to highlight science fiction films that change those old norms as I find them.

You may have noticed that the cast for “I Am Mother” is pretty small. No, I didn’t leave anyone out to avoid sharing spoilers. This tale was so tightly woven around the fates of the three main characters that they seemed like the perfect number of players for the plot.

Mother, Daughter, and Woman were three complex individuals whose goals sometimes clashed sharply. Finding a solution to their conflicts that satisfied all three of them would be a herculean task at best because of how differently they all measured success and how much friction existed between what everyone wanted.

No, I can’t go into more details about that without giving you spoilers. It is definitely something that’s worth exploring for yourself, though. I’m the sort of viewer who picks one character – not necessarily the hero, mind you – and spends the entire film hoping she will succeed. In this case, my loyalties shifted from one scene to the next.

Daughter and Mother having a discussion.
Daughter and Mother having a discussion.

One of my strengths as a viewer is that I always want more information about the science in science fiction, so there were a few things about Daughter’s upbringing that I wish had been addressed with a bit more detail. For example, how was Mother planning to keep her immune system strong when the girl had never been exposed to any outside germs? Were there vaccines for every possible virus and bacteria in this world? How did Daughter get sufficient vitamin D when she’d never been outside and ate what appeared to be a somewhat monotonous diet?

These weren’t exactly criticisms, though, because I came to easily accept other parts of her existence that were spaced even further away from our current scientific understanding of human biology and growth patterns. I strongly suspect that wondering about how this stuff actually worked, alongside many other questions this story brings up, is something the filmmakers did on purpose for their audience.

Some questions become more interesting if you’re not spoon-fed answers to them, especially since the mystery elements of the plot were so simple to put together in my experience. There were plenty of clues about what was really happening with Mother and Daughter for anyone who pays attention to what they’re watching and thinks critically about it.

I figured out the mystery pretty early on. What was compelling about it was seeing how Daughter reacted to the clues she also had access to and what happened when she realized that the information she already had wasn’t fitting together the way it should.

Something was missing.

I’ll leave it up to my readers to discover what that something was. What I will say is that this is a film I’d happily watch again. It was simply that well written and thought provoking.

I Am Mother is available on Netflix.

Wholesome Adventures: A Review of Frozen II

Film poster for Frozen II. Image on poster is of Elsa using her powers to create ice against a purple background.Frozen II is the 2019 animated fantasy sequel to Frozen. It is about Elsa and Anna’s attempts to figure out the origin of Elsa’s magical powers and save their kingdom from being destroyed by the elemental spirits of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air.

It isn’t strictly necessary to watch Frozen before checking out Frozen II, but I do highly recommend the first film in this series to anyone who loves the fantasy genre or animated films in general.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will only be discussing characters who were also in Frozen.

Characters

Idina Menzel as Elsa
Idina Menzel as Elsa

Elsa was the Queen of Arendelle and Princess Anna’s elder sister. She possessed magical ice powers whose origins were unknown. While she’d grown quite comfortable with using them, she had a deep longing to understand where they came from and why she had them.

Kristen Bell as Anna
Kristen Bell as Anna

 

Anna was the Princess of Arendelle and Elsa’s younger sister. She was deeply in love with her boyfriend, Kristoff. 

Josh Gad as Olaf
Josh Gad (right) as Olaf

Olaf was a sentient snowman created by Elsa’s magic who was first introduced in Frozen. He was as intelligent and silly as always.

Jonathan Groff as Kristoff
Jonathan Groff (centre top) as Kristoff

Kristoff was an ice harvester and Anna’s boyfriend. He was strong, loyal, and determined to help the people he cared about in any way he could.

Sven was his pet reindeer. He was a good reindeer.

My Review

Prepare yourselves for a story filled with wholesomeness and joy.

I love a good adventure that ramps up quickly in a storyline, so I was glad to see this film move so fast in the beginning. That snappy pacing was exactly what Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven needed before setting off on their journey.

Yes, there was a brief summary of what happened in Frozen for anyone who isn’t familiar with this franchise. It was shared by Olaf and was as hilarious as it was accurate. As mentioned earlier, I think anyone who hasn’t seen the first film would have no trouble getting caught up to speed if they jumped straight into Frozen II. The nice thing about film series written for kids is that they tend to be pretty welcoming of new or distracted viewers, and this one was no exception to that rule.

Every sequel has to live up to the story that began that series. I had high expectations for Frozen II based on how much I loved Frozen. While this was a fun story, I thought it didn’t quite have all of the magic of the first one. Many of the jokes in it were references to things that happened in the first instalment, so they had to be explained for people just tuning into this series. I did find myself wishing the screenwriters had spent more time developing new, original jokes, especially when it came to characters that hadn’t been introduced previously. With that being said, I still enjoyed Frozen II and do recommend it.

Olaf was by far my favourite part of this film. Just like in Frozen, he was a regular source of amusement for both the audience and the other characters. His understanding of how the world works was childlike in certain ways and yet quite mature for a snowman of his age in others. I desperately wanted to include one of his jokes in this review, but I think it’s best if you discover all of them for yourselves.

If you need a lighthearted distraction for viewers of all ages, Frozen II is a good place to start.

Frozen II is available on Netflix and Apple TV. It is no doubt quickly attempting to catch up with Frozen and become available everywhere else in the known universe as well.

Righting Wrongs: A Review of See You Yesterday

Film poster for See You Yesterday. It shows the two main characters running. There is a large clock in the background. Content warning: death of a parent, police violence and gun violence. I will be discussing the last two items in this list in my review.

See You Yesterday is a 2019 science fiction film about C.J. and Sebastian, two high school students who are best friends, fellow science enthusiasts, and inventors.

Their latest invention is a backpack that allows the person wearing it to travel back into time. The technology wasn’t perfect. It could only go back into the recent past and could only be used a certain number of times. They were still figuring out how to change those limitations when the events of this film took place.

After C.J.’s older brother, Calvin, was murdered by the police, she and Sebastian decided to use their unfinished invention to travel back in time and save her brother before time ran out for him for good.

 

Characters

Eden Duncan-Smith as C.J. Walker
Eden Duncan-Smith as C.J. Walker

 

C.J. was the protagonist of this tale. As an incredibly intelligent and driven young woman, she believed she could solve any problem that came her way by seeking the scientifically correct answer to it.

Danté Crichlow as Sebastian Thomas
Danté Crichlow (left) as Sebastian Thomas

 

Sebastian was C.J.’s best friend. He was just as intelligent as C.J. but tended to be more cautious about trying new things until he’d gathered all of the date he needed about how they worked.

Michael J. Fox as Mr. Lockhart
Michael J. Fox as Mr. Lockhart

C.J. and Sebastian’s science teacher

Mr. Lockhart was C.J. and Sebastian’s supportive science teacher. He didn’t believe in time travel, but he did believe that his two smartest students would do incredible things with their lives. Supportive teacher, but doesn’t believe in time travel.

Anyone who is a fan of this actor’s previous work will find a delightful Easter Egg about it at some point in this tale.

Brian "Stro" Bradley as Calvin Walker
Brian “Stro” Bradley as Calvin Walker

 

Calvin was C.J.’s overprotective but loving older brother. He admired his sister’s intellect and believed that she’d one day make life better for their entire family because of it.

My Review

This was such a good story that I’m planning to watch it again!

Obviously, there were strong social justice themes in this movie. The blurb and trailer for it will give that fact away immediately to anyone who somehow missed it. C.J.’s invention was really cool in and of itself, but the thought of it being used to right terrible wrongs only made me more curious to see if and how she’d reach her goal of saving her brother’s life.

C.J.’s character development was beautifully handled. There were excellent reasons for her sometimes stubborn behaviour and unshakeable belief that science can be used any problem if one works hard enough to understand what happened and how it can be changed. I’ll leave it up to other viewers to discover these things for themselves, but it was delightful to see how her past and present shaped who C.J. was and who she was becoming.

There were a couple of fantastic plot twists later on in the storyline. They made perfect sense given everything C.J. had gone through earlier. While I did see them coming due to how familiar I am with tropes in the young adult and science fiction genres, I’d be pretty curious to find out if other audience members had the same reaction to them. Either way, they enhanced the viewing experience nicely.

My brain is beyond eager to discuss the ending in this post, but I’ll need to carefully dance around what actually happened in it in order to avoid spoilers. What I can say is that it fit the themes of this tale well and it had a powerful message for audience members about how we should respond to police and gun violence.

Ending on such thoughtful terms was such a great decision. I’ve read that the director isn’t planning to make a sequel, so it looks like the audience will have come up with our own theories about what might happen next.

A Note on the Violence Tags in My Review

Some of the violence was implied. Other acts of violence were shown directly to the audience, albeit in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. There were the briefest hints of blood in a couple of scenes, but in general this was a pretty blood-free story (especially given the subject matter).

See You Yesterday is something that I’d recommend just as highly to adult viewers as I would it’s original young adult audience.

See You Yesterday is available on Netflix.

A Review of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Content warning: snakes and bugs. I will not be discussing these topics in my review.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a 2017 fantasy, action, and comedic film about four high school students who were accidentally transported into a magical video game and needed to beat every level of it in order to get back to the real world.

This movie is a reboot of a franchise that began with the original Jumanji in 1996. According to my spouse, there were multiple Easter eggs from the first version of this tale tucked into the storyline, so keep an eye out for them if you’re already familiar with this franchise.

With that being said, I’d never seen the original and had no problem figuring out what was happening in the plot or who the characters were because everything was explained clearly.

Some of the secondary characters had too many spoilers wrapped up into their backstories to be introduced in this post, so I’ll stick with the four protagonists in the character section of this review. They will be described both as their game world avatars and real life personas.

Characters

Game World

Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone
Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone

 

Dr. Smolder Bravestone was a strong, confident archeologist, explorer, and team leader.  He was Spencer’s avatar.

Jack Black as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon
Jack Black as Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon

 

Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Obero was a cartographer, cryptographer, archeologist, and palaeontologist. He was Bethany’s avatar.

Kevin Hart as Franklin "Mouse" Finbar
Kevin Hart as Franklin “Mouse” Finbar

 

Franklin “Mouse” Finbar was a zoologist and weapons carrier. He was Fridge’s avatar.

Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse
Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse

 

Ruby Roundhouse was a martial artist and fighting dancer. She was Martha’s avatar.

Real World

Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin
Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin

Alex Wolff as Spencer Gilpin.

Alex was nerdy and sometimes socially awkward student at Brantford High School.  He and Fridge were childhood best friends, but now he feared he’d been left behind.

Madison Iseman as Bethany Walker
Madison Iseman as Bethany Walker

 

Bethany was a  popular, pretty, and self-centered student at Brantford High School. She spent a great deal of time taking selfies and posting them on social media as shown in the photo above.

Ser'Darius Blain as Anthony "Fridge" Johnson
Ser’Darius Blain as Anthony “Fridge” Johnson

 

Anthony was a strong and athletic student at Brantford High School. He was proud of how much work he’d put into his body and enjoyed showing off his strength.

Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply
Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply

 

Morgan was a quiet, shy, intelligent, and cynical student at Brantford High School. She struggled with letting people get close to her, especially if she thought they wanted something from her.

My Review

My characters descriptions were more negative than usual in this review. The beginning of this film made it a point to hammer home each character’s flaws, how aware they were of them, and how those problems were affecting their lives.

The four main characters moments after they were transformed into Mouse, Dr. Bravestone, Ruby, and Shelly.

Since the four teens the audience were just introduced to were about to be transformed into video game avatars, getting to know them was crucial.

One of the things this film did incredibly well was to show how each character’s tics and habits carried over into the game. All of the adult actors mimicked the teens they were playing so well that it was easy to forget they were acting!

I loved seeing all of the little ways they reminded the audience of their teenaged selves. This was especially funny when it came to Shelly because of how she’d been transformed from a beautiful young girl into a fairly average middle-aged man.

Yes, the storyline did address the gender flip there, but it was done in a very respectful manner. Gender and gender identity was never the butt of the joke in this tale which was refreshing. When the storyline gently made fun of Shelly, it was for her self-absorption and other character flaws, not the fact that she had no idea how to properly urinate standing up. (Although there was a hilarious scene involving just that early on in the plot!)

What I would have liked to see was more attention paid to the character development. The four protagonists were all written in pretty stereotypical manners as you might have gathered from the descriptions of them above. While I understood that much of it was written that way to poke fun at some of the more ridiculous – and even sexist –  tropes in video games, I think more time could have been spent developing the main characters and showing how they were different from typical video game avatars.

As entertaining as the plot was, there were times when I was honestly a bit bored with the characters at times because of how easy it was to predict how they’d behave. I’m saying that with the understanding that a casual video game player like me probably isn’t the ideal audience for this sort of film at all. People who immerse themselves in that hobby may have a very different reaction to it, so I don’t want this criticism to dissuade anyone from giving it a try if the trailer grabs their interest.

Just remember that there is a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff going on here. The less seriously you take it, the better.

The cartoonish violence was a lot of fun, though. I’m the sort of person who looks away from the screen or TV when a violent scene pops up, and I was able to handle the fight scenes without a problem. Characters certainly get thrown around a lot in all sorts of ways that are only possible in a virtual world, but there was no blood or gore to make my stomach turn. That was definitely something I appreciated.

All in all, this was an amusing way to spend a couple of hours. It was a light, cheerful storyline that didn’t require the audience to do much analyzing at all. You just had to sit back and enjoy the show. There’s something to be said for movies like that!

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is available on Netflix.

Unexpected Love: A Review of The Shape of Water

Film poster for The Shape of Water. It shows the two main characters embracing.Content warning: racism, sexism, a few brief scenes involving blood, death of a pet, and sexual harassment. I will only mention the first three items in this list in my review.

The Shape of Water is a dark fantasy romance about a lonely janitor who falls in love with an amphibious humanoid creature who is being held in captivity by the U.S. government. It is set in 1962 in an undisclosed government facility.

This film was directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, as well as other honours at the Golden Globes, British Film Academy Awards, and the Critic’s Choice Awards.

The tags for this post do contain mild spoilers. I will not be discussing them in detail today but wanted to label this correctly for future readers.

Characters

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Eposito
Sally Hawkins as Elisa Eposito

 

Elisa was a mute woman who worked as a cleaner at a secret underground government facility. Her dear friend and chosen family member Giles described her as “the princess without voice.” She has a whimsical personality that found joy in little things like dancing down the hall or gently interacting with everyone she met.

While I can’t go into her backstory without sharing spoilers, I will say that she was someone who was quite alone in the world. She had no genetic relatives to rely upon.

 

Doug Jones as Amphibian Man
Doug Jones as Amphibian Man

 

The Amphibian Man could not speak, but he was intelligent. Very little was shared about his background in this film other than the fact that he was the first of his kind discovered by humans.

 

Richard Jenkins as Giles

 

As mentioned above, Giles was Elisa’s dear neighbor and friend. He’d worked as an adverting illustrator for many years but was struggling to find work as his industry switched from painting to photographs for the imagery in ads.

He was a kind, gentle, creative man who could be a little absent-minded when it came to looking after basic needs like fixing himself dinner. Like Elise, he was quite alone in the world for reasons I’ll leave to future viewers to discover for themselves.

Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller 
Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller

 

Zelda was Elisa’s co-worker and friend who served as her sign language interpreter at work. Her personality was assertive and opinionated, the opposite of how Elisa generally behaved.

 

Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland
Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland

 

Richard was a United States Colonel in charge of the project to study the “asset,” as they referred to the Amphibian Man. He followed protocol strictly and was obsessed with getting the results his bosses expected.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler
Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler

 

Dr. Hoffstetler was the physician who was given the responsibility of figuring out the physiology of the Amphibian Man’s body. The U.S. government hoped to learn how to create astronauts who could better adapt to the rigours of space exploration by learning how this creature was capable of breathing both air and water.

 

David Hewlett as Fleming 
David Hewlett as Fleming

 

Fleming was the laboratory’s head of security. He was a rigid, unfriendly man who expected perfection from himself and everyone around him.

My Review

Prepare yourselves for some gushing. This was such a good story.

There was an immensely satisfying amount of foreshadowing. I’d imagine that anyone who is familiar with the romance or science fiction genres could spot the biggest plot twists coming ahead of time. This wasn’t the sort of film that relied on the audience not knowing what to expect next. It was how the characters reacted to them that was important, and this was something the filmmakers showed beautifully.

The cinematography was beautiful. I was immediately drawn into the plot thanks to how much effort was put into constructing this era. It was also interesting to watch shots that had important things happening in both the foreground and background.  They added so many layers of meaning to the storyline.

Octavia Spencer and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water.

I did find myself wishing that the racism, sexism, and other types of discrimination in this era was presented in a more nuanced manner. In my experiences with sexism and biphobia, a lot of it can be subtle depending on who is around and what prejudiced folks think they can get away with. People can convey so much with body language and the words they do (or don’t) use that I was surprised by how blatant everything was here.

Perhaps things were radically different in 1962 in this regard. I wasn’t alive then and will defer to people who may say this portrayal is more accurate than I originally thought it was. But I still would have liked to see these topics handled a little more sensitively. (I will also defer to other reviewers to discuss their personal experiences with racism and ableism as it relates to this point).

With that being said, I still really liked seeing how these various types of prejudice were not only expressed but intersected with each other and this is my only criticism of a film I otherwise loved. The storytellers did a good job of showing how someone might be advantaged in one area (e.g. race, social class, or gender) while still oppressed in others (e.g. disability or sexual orientation).

The numerous references to water in this film were well done. They included everything from bathing to hard-boiling eggs, and they were just the tip of the iceberg. One of the things I enjoyed the most as I was watching it was to take note of all of the aquatic-themed moments that needed a little more effort to take notice of. It was satisfying to add them to my list of these references and try to guess where the storytellers would subtly introduce the next one.

This isn’t a criticism in any way, but I did want to make note of the disclaimer about blood in this tale. There were a few scenes that included characters who were bleeding from non-accidental injuries. While the violence that caused these injuries was briefly shown on screen, I always like to warn my readers ahead of time about stuff like this. I’d be happy to discuss it in full, spoiler-y detail in private with anyone who needs to figure out if this is the right thing for them to watch.

I’d heartily recommendThe Shape of Water to anyone who enjoys the romance or speculative fiction genres.

The Shape of Water is available on Netflix and Apple TV.

Dangerous Voyage: A Review of Europa Report

Content warning: Found footage and mental illness. I will be discussing these things later on in this post. Europa Report is a 2013 science fiction film about an international group of astronauts who are sent on an expedition to Jupiter’s fourth largest moon, Europa, to see if they can find any evidence of life there.… Read More

Creepy Christmas: A Review of Krampus

Content Warning: Blood and a dysfunctional family. I will be briefly mentioning these things in my review. Krampus is a 2015 dark fantasy horror comedy film about a young boy named Max who has a disappointing Christmas with his argumentative, dysfunctional relatives and accidentally summons a festive demon to his home as a result of it.… Read More

A  True Selfless Act Always Sparks Another: A Review of Klaus

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction films. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, Coco, Winchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, A Dog’s Purpose, and Jurassic… Read More

Good Things Come in Small Packages: A Review of Downsizing

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction films. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, Coco, Winchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, A Dog’s Purpose, and Jurassic… Read More

A Review of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction films. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, Coco, Winchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, and A Dog’s Purpose.… Read More