Tag Archives: sci-fi

“Repo Men” an Empty Sci-Fi Thriller

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

For Jude Law, the dramatic and thought-provoking sci-fi genre is old news.  That’s not to say that Law has moved beyond the genre, but rather that most would assume that at this point he knows how to do it well.  Law excelled in his past performances in “Gattaca” and “Artificial Intelligence,” but his latest sci-fi endeavor “Repo Men” falls much shorter than its expectations and hype generated by the movie’s promoters.  The director merely threw two talented actors, Forest Whitaker and Jude Law, into a disjointed story that never seems to quite understand its intended tone.

Released around the time of intense political debate over healthcare reform, what might seem “timely” for some is nothing more than empty social commentary (unlike the clear success of “Daybreakers” released only a few months earlier).  The best part about the movie is the chemistry between Whitaker and Law’s characters as they laugh and slice their way through a futuristic dystopia based on sexual and violent excess.

Remy (Law) works in this morally questionable world as a repo man for The Union, a large, greedy corporation that produces artificial organs and body parts at a very high price to its customers.  While the company hands out the empty promise of improving and extending life for those suffering from debilitating health problems, there is a small catch.  If you can’t afford to make the payments on your organ, or “artiforg,” The Union sends its highly-skilled personnel out to recollect the organ, giving little thought to the victim’s survival post-operation.

Remy and his partner Jake (Whitaker) are the best repo men that The Union has to offer, but Remy’s wife disapproves of his job, forcing the former military man to resign for his family.  However, on his last job a faulty defibrillator severely damages Remy’s heart, requiring the company to give him an artiforg that he inevitably has to pay for.  Remy literally has “a change of heart,” and after the operation can no longer cut into the chests of innocent men and women.  His debt piles higher and higher and eventually the young outcast goes on the run with Beth (Alice Braga), a beautiful, young nightclub singer whose body is made up different black market artiforgs.  Together the two fugitives embark on a mission to escape from and take down the system, evading the tireless pursuit of The Union, led by Jack.

What “Repo Men” has in a top notch cast, it severely lacks in direction, tone and character.  In his major directorial debut, Miguel Sapochnik fails at guiding a coherent storyline.  Essentially, Sapochnik cannot seem to figure out whether or not the movie is supposed to be more of a drama or big-budget action comedy.  Law has said that the movie is intended to mix comedic delivery with explicit, bloody sequences as a way to parody or comment on the gore and violence of modern action movies and pop culture.

The story’s progression hardly makes sense at times and becomes a joke itself.  The balance between comedy and gore feels more awkward than anything else.  Particularly misguided is one scene between Barga and Law that uncomfortably mixes sensual eroticism with graphic gore, leaving the viewer even more confused about Sapochnik’s intentions.  Ethan Hawke’s “Daybreakers” attacked the healthcare and resource preservation angle much more successfully with a clear goal and style that was severely lacking in “Repo Men.”

The movie is centered on Law and Whitaker’s perception of duty and service, which comes from both characters’ backgrounds as military men.  The movie attempts to determine whether “a job is just a job,” but falls flat in engaging the audience and making them think.  The only exception to this rule lies in Whitaker’s character, whose senseless love of violence and duty to maintaining order works alongside a personality that is surprisingly funny.

The film amounts to nothing more than a “Blade Runner” wanna-be interrupted with moments of cringe-inducing “bad-assery.”  While the violence feels a bit excessive at time, the shock of this strategy creates fight sequences characteristic of your classic “guy movie.”  In essence, this is the movie’s only appeal, and a weak one at that.

‘Caprica’ not your ordinary sci-fi

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

caprica

A scene from "Caprica" of Daniel Graystone and his daughter Zoe. Photo from Syfy.

While fans of the critically acclaimed hit series Battlestar Galactica might be a bit put off at first, the new SyFy series Caprica is a promising insight into the world that started it all.  Despite an unfortunate 9 p.m. time slot on Friday nights and scant promotion leading up to the show’s premiere, Caprica shows significant promise and beautifully melds science fiction with modern day relationships and social issues, grounding the back story for galactic battles and robot armies in a world much like our own.

For some, the idea of creating a sci-fi/fantasy prequel is brand suicide, ruining all that was good about the original work and tainting its memory with unnecessary and migraine-inducing characters (here’s lookin’ at you, Jar Jar).  However, Caprica allows Battlestar producers David Eick and Ronald D. Moore to reimagine the universe in a way that is distinct from, yet as richly layered as, its predecessor.

Set 58 years before the fall of man, the series takes place on the planet Caprica, capital of the 12 human colonies.  In this alternate polytheistic reality, humans worship the ancient Greek gods and those who espouse monotheistic beliefs are considered to be religious radical outcasts.  The plot follows the interconnected storylines of two families, the Adamas and Graystones, in their quest to make peace with the deaths of their loved ones while simultaneously shaping the fate of humanity.  Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), a smug, computer genius and corporate tycoon skyrocketed to the upper social strata after inventing the holoband, a device that allows people to connect to a virtual reality version of the Internet through life-like avatars.  Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) is a lawyer from the planet Tauron who constantly struggles to reconcile his Caprican life with the traditions of his homeland and his connection to the Tauron mafia, known as the Ha’La’Tha.

The lives of both men are thrown into disarray after Daniel’s daughter, Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), and Adama’s wife and daughter are killed in a terrorist attack.  The attack, executed by Zoe’s boyfriend, was organized by the monotheistic organization Soldiers of the One, to which Zoe also belonged.  Following the suicide bombing, Graystone searches for a way to bring his daughter back and, consequently, save his company from ruin using a free-thinking, self-aware avatar which Zoe created in her own image.  This avatar goes on to become the first Cylon, a race of cybernetic beings that eventually destroys most of humanity in Battlestar Galactica.

This past summer the Sci-Fi channel changd its name to SyFy in an attempt to broaden its audience and steer away from the nerdy, male-centric fan base.  Caprica exemplifies this new brand strategy, contrasting Battlestar’s dark, somber world of space battles and robots with a more vividly colorful human drama.  Caprica clearly focuses on underlying themes more akin to a soap opera than your traditional sci-fi series, emphasizing human relationships and connections.  The show functions more as a drama with sci-fi elements than a clear-cut sci-fi show.  It explores modern themes of racism, terrorism and corruption in a world rife with decadence and excess in the wake of its exponential technological progress.  However, the social commentary can be a bit heavy handed, bordering on moral preaching and blatant cliché.

Although Caprican society is, for the most part, a reflection of modern American society, it distances itself enough from being a mirror image.  Stylistically, it carries an air of nostalgia by mixing 1950s-style fashion with a society much more technologically advanced than our own.  While the mobsters might don their fedoras and drive around in what looks like a 1951 Buick Roadster, their children text each other constantly and use computers that look like nothing more than sheets of paper.

The casting is superb, with Stoltz and Morales giving their best performances as morally conflicted men coming to terms with their grief and the consequences of their actions in the wake of tragedy.  Behind Stoltz’s cool, contemplative demeanor lies a man interrupted by occasional flashes of ruthless arrogance and human frailty.  The chemistry between Stoltz and Paula Malcomson, who plays Graystone’s wife, is palpable, allowing the characters to perfectly complement one another.  While Stoltz may appear more quiet and reserved, Morales shines in the moments where Adama wears his heart on his sleeve, struggling to cope with the longing he feels for his wife and daughter while losing his 11 year-old son to the influences of his Mafioso brother.

In the beginning, Torresani’s portrayal of  Zoe Graystone/Zoe the Cylon paralleled the feel of the pilot episode: drawn out, overdone and exaggerated.  However, as the show approaches its eighth episode, much of the long character development has been replaced with a quicker-paced story arc format.  Torresani, like the screenwriters, has become more comfortable with her character and the flow of the show.

While diehard fans of Battlestar may worry about the focus of Caprica, the prequel remains true to the world it has created while reaching out to a new audience to make a frakking fun time.