Sleep Dealer
2009
Directed by Alex Rivera
Budget: $2,000,000
The CHUD Review

Money is no obstacle to someone with a real vision. Anyone else would have looked at their 2 million dollar budget and thought that a cyberpunk movie that tackles modern immigration issues and that features a high speed battle drone chase would be beyond their capabilities. Not Alex Rivera.

Sleep Dealer is set in near future Mexico. People no longer physically cross the border; instead they jack into the internet and work illegally from a distance. It’s outsourcing taken to the next level. But since these are the lowest class people conditions are poor and sometimes the technology backfires, blinding the workers… or worse. Meanwhile in the United States a Latino pilot flies battle drones remotely. His mission is to battle terrorists – a code name for desperate people trying to find clean water. He finds himself entangled in the life of one of those workers, and it changes everything about his own life.

Rivera’s film is fascinating because it reaches so high and does so successfully. His FX aren’t state of the art, but they work, and they are used to support a real story with real characters. What I especially love about Sleep Dealer is the feeling that this world is one that’s very near to ours, always the sign of a truly visionary scifi director.

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District 9
2009
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Budget: $30,000,000
The CHUD Review is Coming Soon!

Is it hyperbole to call District 9 one of the great achievements of the year? Hold your judgment until you’ve seen this incredible movie, one that manages to out thrill every big budget science fiction film of the last couple of years while also maintaining lots of smarts and lots of wit.

I have a review coming so I don’t want to blow my wad on this little piece, but I have to say that watching the film at Comic Con this year was an experience I’ll likely never forget. Last year’s Comic Con saw some viral marketing for the movie, which I dismissed as it looked like it was for a video game. In the 12 months since then the anticipation grew as I understood what the film actually was, but expectations remained low. I especially thought District 9 looked essentially like a simple riff on Alien Nation.

While there are certainly similarities between the films, District 9 is a completely original work that does what the best science fiction does: makes us look at the world around us with new eyes, all while engaging our imaginations in exciting ways. The film’s alien species, the Prawns, are perfectly realized, and director Neill Blomkamp has created a film that slowly unwraps itself over two hours, finally ending up in a finale that’s exciting and rousing and better than any other scifi action I have seen on screen in 2009.

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Primer
2004
Directed by Shane Carruth
Budget: $7,000 (no, I’m not missing any zeroes)
The CHUD Review

I love this movie. The first – and to date only – film from Shane Carruth, Primer is the blueprint for how to make an indie science fiction film. You don’t need a huge budget. You don’t need a cast of professional actors. You just need a good idea, a great script and lots of chutzpah.

Like Timecrimes, Primer is a time travel movie that’s more concerned with how time travel affects the traveler then with how cool it would be to meet dinosaurs. The film uses time travel as a metaphor for technological advancement; it’s about two engineers whose garage project ends up having completely world changing implications and the way each of them approaches it.

Primer is dense with ideas and has a richly layered story that simply cannot be fully understood on a first viewing. That isn’t to say that it can’t be enjoyed on a first viewing but rather that engaging in some time travel of your own – going back to the very start of the film and reliving it again – reveals tiny hints and elements that were utterly hidden the first time through.

Carruth has been off doing whatever it is that he’s doing these days. For a while he had a script he was working on, but I don’t know what – if anything – is next for the writer/director (who also stars in the film). If this is the only movie he ever makes his track record will certainly be one of perfection.

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The Host
2006
Directed by Bong Joon-Ho
Budget: $11,000,000
The CHUD Review

Today saw the news that another reboot of Godzilla is coming. But why bother, when Bong Joon-Ho perfectly recaptured the zeitgeist that made that original black and white film work so powerfully?

The monster in The Host may be much, much smaller than Gojira, but like that classic beast this monster is the product of the American military screwing around; this time it was washing toxic chemicals down a drain as opposed to atomic testing, but the results were no less awesome.

Wrapped around this tale of a huge monster attacking Seoul is a delirious family story, a political message and more than a little satire. Bong Joon-Ho pokes fun at the way the media reacts to crises, the way people react in front of cameras, the way societies fall for misinformation. Then he creates great characters who are funny and sad and has them get chased around by a huge, awesome looking mutation that rises from the river. An almost perfect monster movie.

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The Fountain
2006
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Budget: $35,000,000
The CHUD Review

Only one third of this film is really a science fiction movie, but that third is the kind of trippy, heady science fiction nobody makes anymore. And if you look at the box office for this wonderful, moving, beautiful film, you might understand why.

Director Darren Aronofsky is no stranger to science fiction; his Pi is low budget scifi that rivals Primer, but is way weirder and headier. The Fountain is his meditation on mortality and love, a deeply personal and earnest examination of the dichotomies of joy and pain. What I really love about The Fountain is the way it eschews Western concepts of grief and embraces a more Eastern view of death as a natural part of the workings of the universe.

To be fair the science fiction segment, which has Hugh Jackman hurtling through the cosmos in a clear bubble with a tree at its center, is pretty vague about the science in its fiction, but I think all the answers are there for the unraveling. Aronofsky uses the bubble in space segment to create gorgeous viewscapes that are reminiscent of 2001, ending in a scene of surrender that is glorious and touching.

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