Movie Mondays: Sci-Fi for Short Attention Spans

~posted by Frank

I’m about to make a heretical statement, but I find many sci-fi films to be….boring. There’s never a lack of grand ideas to explore, but often I find them to be less than compelling on the screen. And then there are great sci-fi films like Interstellar – but at nearly three hours, it felt like an eternity. So, I offer you three recent sci-fi flicks – two quiet, one action-packed – that kept me intrigued and clocked in at under two hours.

Ex Machina stars Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, a programmer who gets to spend one week working on a secret project in a gorgeous, hi-tech, remote house owned by Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive and ruthless CEO (comparisons to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are not far off). What Caleb doesn’t know is that his task is to interact with artificial intelligence – in the form of Ava, a beautiful female (Alicia Vikander) – in an effort to see how a human reacts to a strikingly human A.I., and vice versa. Ex Machina is sleek, sophisticated, and above all smart. While it may not be the most original concept or feature wall-to-wall action, it succeeds because it tackles big questions and doesn’t dumb them down for the audience.

Z for Zachariahbased on the novel by Robert O’Brien (but with significant changes), takes place after a cataclysmic event wipes out nearly all of humanity, except for three survivors: Ann (Margot Robbie), a young woman whose farm was protected by being nestled in a deep valley; John (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a government scientist who invented a suit to protect him from the elements during a disaster; and Caleb (Chris Pine), a miner who was underground during the catastrophe. The three tackle issues of subsistence, love, sex, morality and faith. It’s a quiet film and patience is required, but if you’re a fan of strongly developed characters facing ethical challenges, then this is the film for you.

If the films above are too sedate, then Edge of Tomorrow is your best bet. Based on the 2009 novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka (and later adapted as a graphic novel), it stars Tom Cruise as Cage, a military officer who is literally dropped into combat with the Mimics, an alien race that is mowing down everything on earth. Cage is killed within minutes, only to wake up at the beginning of the same day. He discovers that this will continue until he can defeat the Mimics (hence the alternate title Live. Die. Repeat). Cage teams up with Rita (Emily Blunt), who used to have the ability to reset time, to defeat the Mimics and save what’s left of humanity. The action is non-stop but doesn’t feel relentless, and despite the grim storyline, it’s surprisingly funny, intelligent and engaging.


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