Exam, Directed by Stuart Hazeldine, 2009
Exam is only tangentially a sci-fi movie, and the reasons that is the case are subtle yet best left-unexplained given that much of Stuart Hazeldine's film succeeds based entirely on the enigma of the script. Eight sharply dressed job candidates are walked into a windowless room. They are told by the invigilator that they are being given eighty minutes to derive the correct answer to a question. What's the question? No one knows. That is for the candidates to figure out, but if in doing so they break a number of rules (they can't "spoil" their single sheet of paper, they cannot attempt to communicate with the guard or the unseen observers, they cannot leave the room), then they will be immediately ejected from the exam.
I have such an affection for movies that are set entirely within a single room that it's practically in my genes to like a movie as spatially confined as Exam, but Hazeldine's script is strong enough to attract even those who don't already love this niche. In fact, Hazeldine was nominated for the Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer BAFTA earlier this year. He didn't win, but it's certainly a nice hat tip to how promising of a filmmaker he is. It's not easy to keep a 90-minute run time brisk when your players spend the entire time talking in a single room, but Hazeldine keeps things interesting with a mixture of strong characters and properly measured discoveries. I'm a little disappointed that things don't go out with a bigger bang, but the mystery is fascinating even if the payoff isn't as mindblowing as one may expect.
Salt, Directed by Phillip Noyce, 2010
Salt may not appear to be a sci-fi movie. It's selling itself as an over-the-top action thriller about a U.S. CIA agent who is on the run from her own government after she is accused of being part of a secret group of sleeper cell Russian spies who have been laying in wait since they were children. However, Salt is so over-the-top, so implausible in every single regard that I'm convinced it takes place in an alternate reality that screenwriter Kurt Wimmer just never bothered to work into his script. And yet, oddly enough, that's really not a complaint on my part.
Salt is silly, no doubt, but I actually had a lot of fun with it once I concede to its belligerent disregard for the laws of this universe. It's got the same strange understanding of physics that Wimmer has worked into his biggest action scripts (Equilibrium and Ultraviolet), a complete refusal to portray the CIA in anything even remotely close to a realistic light, and enough awesomely absurd bits of action and set pieces to make it all worthwhile. I still think Angelina Jolie is a bit miscast given her currently skeletal frame, but she does a great job beyond the physicality. And as far as this year's intentionally-unreal, raging-against-the-government action movies go, I think Salt is, much to my own surprise, beats out The Losers and The A-Team to be the best of the bunch thus far.
Goblin, Directed by Jeffrey Scott Lando, 2010
I don't think anyone ever believes me when I say that certain Syfy original movies are actually pretty decent. It's rare, sure, and there are very few that I would actually recommend that non-Syfy fans should go out of their way to watch, but there are in fact Syfy movies that aren't entirely worthless. Goblin is one of them.
It's about a family who head to a tiny town to help sell the isolated locals on a lucrative real estate enterprise. Unfortunately for them, they arrive on a cursed anniversary that brings out a Goblin who will gobble up all small children in the town.
The digital effects are about average as far as Syfy goes, but they're actually tempered a bit since the Goblin wears a robe most of the time and thus you're not constantly staring at Playstation graphics. Plus, there a number of pretty sweet kills and bloody dispatches to be enjoyed. The plot, being that it is nearly non-existent, leaves much to be desired, but it's not as groan-inducing as many of its brethren can be. Would I recommend it to non-Syfy fans? No, it's not that good. But if you're already a regular visitor to the channel, you'll probably enjoy it.