Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

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Rating: A-/ Occasionally I have dreams where I wake up in someone else’s life, or a changed version of my own. In these dreams, I decide I need to play along although I have no memories of how I got here and don’t recognize the people around me. Telling them I was someone else just hours ago, I realize, will just make me sound unhinged and crazy. Sometimes I know it’s just a dream but I feel a weird kind of responsibility toward them, these people, whether they are slightly altered versions of my loved ones or complete strangers my subconscious makes up. Continue reading Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

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Movie Review: Cube (1997)

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Rating: B-/ As far as I’m concerned, Cube is an amazing premise somewhat undone by a few pretty bad actors. Aside from the weak links in the cast, Cube has creative minimalist sets built on a fairly low budget, intriguing characters each with something interesting to bring to the table, and fascinating shifting dynamics between the leads. There’s something missing, but what’s there makes a pretty good watch for the most part. The director gets points for originality, and making the most out of meager sets and props. With almost nothing, he creates a story that makes you want to keep watching. Too bad some of the actors (I’m looking at you, Maurice Dean Wint) can’t measure up to the film’s mostly high standards.  Continue reading Movie Review: Cube (1997)

Ex Machina (2015)

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Many films have been made about the perils of man trying to play God, but Ex Machina actually delivers on provoking thought and discussion from it’s audience. In a time when science fiction thrillers are the proverbial dime a dozen but most don’t do more than provide mild entertainment for 80+ minutes, Ex Machina is a breath of fresh air, a piece of science fiction so uncannily real and creepy it is likely to get under your skin and stay there.

There’s a concept called the ‘Uncanny Valley,’ which suggest A.I. will actually become more and not less unsettling if they are designed and programmed to closely resemble human beings. But in a world where advanced A.I. is possible, who should you fear more; the robots or their hubristic creators? Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a bit of a nerd and an all-around good guy who happens to be extremely intelligent. When the organization he works for, a internet search engine company called Blue Book, holds a drawing to choose a lucky employee to get the meet the head honcho and brains behind the operation, Caleb can hardly believe his good fortune.

Being a genius doesn’t necessarily come equipped with an abundance of kindness or humility, that’s never been truer than it is for Blue Book’s former kid prodigy, Nathan (Oscar Isaac.) Nathan is an narcissist, an alcoholic, and a man who reaches a mentally ill level of creepy and ratchets up that creepiness a notch every minute you’re in the room with him. He is, however, a mastermind at coding, hacking, and, as it turns out, building shapely female robots. When Caleb meets Ava (Alicia Vikander,)  a beautiful cyborg with a sweet and innocent manner, it’s fascination at first sight. Nathan wants Caleb to perform the Turing Test on Ava to discover if she’s equal to a human being in her level of empathy and cognitive responses, but what happens to Ava if she fails?

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If you like smart science fiction that actually incorporates science and philosophy in it’s story and challenges you to think about the ideas it’s presenting, this movie is for you. After being introduced to three compelling characters with their own individual (and sometimes frustratingly ambiguous) motivations and needs, we are forced to ask the question; which of these people is innocent? Who has the most humanity? Who is telling the truth? Who is full of shit? If Ava is not as innocent as she initially appears, does that make her less human or all too human? Which is a scarier concept?

Where does ownership end and violation begin in Nathan’s abuse of his robots? They’re his creations, but does that mean they should have to suffer at his hands? You give life to something, but then you mistreat it, and thus abuse your power. It’s a story as old as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but writer/director Alex Garland breathes new life into the concept, basing it off an idea he had as a boy. It’s easy to think of this as the anti-Chappie (and I was one of the few that actually liked Chappie!) because while that film handles the idea of a scientist creating artificial intelligence and the ensuing complications with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, Ex Machina is silk-smooth and insinuating when it comes to it’s themes.

The plot points are never applied with too much force, and it should come as no surprise to you that all the actors are extraordinary in their roles. Gorgeous cinematography when the movie dares to venture outside of Nathan’s expansive pad juxtaposes the mechanical, the manufactured, and the ‘fake’ with staggering scenic beauty. Can one be as real as the other? Ex Machina will grab your attention until the last scene.

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Aliens (1986)

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There’s something inherently terrifying and grotesque about the creatures in Alien and it’s sequel, Aliens. The way they scuttle across the floor like crabs. The way they latch onto your face and impregnate you with their evil spawn. But nothing has posed quite as epic a threat as the alien queen mother in James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, Aliens. She’s fucking huge, for one thing. She has a vendetta. No wonder, Ellen Ripley, our heroine, abhors her.

Let me just say that Aliens is not a bad movie, by a long shot. It has good production values, effective acting, a solid story, and sympathetic characters. But, frankly, it just didn’t measure up to Ridley Scott’s original in my opinion. I know, right? Let the incredulous comments begin.

The plot of Aliens picks up right where the original left off. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) hops in an escape pod on the doomed spaceship the Nostromo and puts herself in cryo until rescue arrives. hopefully sooner rather than later. Fifty-seven years later (later, definitely later) a large ship picks her up and she soon finds herself at war once again with her mortal enemy, the face-huggers. Engineering her return to the vile creature’s planet is the weasley, manipulative Burke (Paul Reiser,) and she sets forth to save the settlers that have inadvertently arrived on the planet from the original with a bunch of soldiers with huge egos who, in the end, don’t stand a chance.

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The character of Ripley is consistent with the original, but we learn new things about her, like she has a daughter that aged and died while she was in cryo. Ripley’s new daughter figure comes in the form of Newt (Carrie Henn,) a little waif who’s whole family has been killed and who has been living in the ventilation system in the  compound where the face-huggers attacked. This adds an emotional component, as Ripley struggles to protect Newt and the soldiers from a larger-than-life menace and her extra-terrestrial children.

Now on why I think this is a good movie, but not as good as the original film. The first movie in the series was claustrophobic and loaded with atmosphere, whereas this one is more of a standard action flick. Alien incorporated modest practical effects and was done on a fairly low budget, while Aliens has a much larger budget and is much bigger and brassier than the original.

Now for the good. The characters are more sympathetic and more fully developed in this one, from the soldiers played by the likes of Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn to the little girl, Newt. You didn’t care as much about the protagonists in the first movie (other than Ripley,) but the side characters here are given some serious consideration by the writer. Aliens is also much less of a slow-burn, so if you like fast-paced action films that are not so much mood pieces as roller-coaster rides, this is the movie for you. The first was less of a Hollywood film, which was what I liked about it. But this one has more of a character arc, exciting mood, and a sense of mainstream appeal.

I was occasionally not as into Aliens as I probably should have been, I’m not much of a action fan. It gets to the point where I actually get bored by explosions and gunfights no matter how well they’re done for that sort of movie. I very much enjoy more atmospheric/ ‘slow burn’ films, but don’t let that deter you from this action-packed, entertaining movie. Alien and Aliens are very different films, despite being linked by the same heroine and universe, and they’re both worth watching in their own way.

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Alien (1979)

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Seven intergalactic travelers. One fucked-up alien antagonist. Apart, they don’t stand a chance. Together, they’re still pretty much screwed, unless the intrepid Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) can find a way out.

    Alien is a hugely influential, claustrophobic sci-fi thriller which makes fantastic use of practical FX. Director Ridley Scott (who would later helm one of the other all-time sci-fi greats, Blade Runner) creates a irrepressible heroine in Ripley, who exudes coolness and confidence but has enough of a soft spot to make a mad dash to save the cat when shit goes down. She also makes a mean science fiction-horror ‘final girl.’

Ellen wasn’t always in a position where she was forced to be a hero. A passenger on the spaceship Nostromo, her job is is help the crew mine ore on friendly planets. However, when Kane (John Hurt) crawls into some kind of hatchery on a downed ship and gets an unidentified creature glued to his face, his unwise and ultimately fatal misstep gets the rest of the crew into a whole lot of trouble. Stalked by an alien of superior intelligence and an aptitude for hunting prey, the film’s desperate band of characters must overcome their differences and their power struggles and attempt to survive an overwhelmingly dangerous entity. On top of that, one of the passengers is hiding a secret- one that could potentially get them all killed.

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People get the impression from the much talked-about and riffed-on ‘chest-burster scene’ that Alien is a big gorefest, but they would be not entirely accurate to assume this. In fact, Alien is less a schlocky splatter fest and more an atmosphere-filled, even subtle thriller which is also a bit of a slow burn. People are picked off one by one and try to pull together and overcome helpless terror in a pretty hopeless situation. Moreover, the Nostromo is not a overly friendly place for women passengers to begin with; there are only two female passengers among a group of men with big mouths and big egos. In a way, Alien can be seen as a feminist allegory; it is only when Ripley decides to shed her anxieties and her clothes, believing the creature to be dead, that it viciously tries to bring her in particular down.

Ripley is a strong protagonist in (a she doesn’t scream and fret a lot like many heroines. (b she doesn’t need a man to save her, (c she doesn’t amble around clad like a prostitute while strangling men with her legs/inadvertently turning on the  fanboys who watch and (d she doesn’t have an unnecessary and poorly defined love interest. She does have one gratuitous pantie shot to please the gents who are watching but she mostly doesn’t fall into any of the traps of science fiction heroines. Although Weaver is very good, it should also be mentioned that all the actors do an outstanding job in their respective roles.

The design of the monsters is very good, the film ratchets up the suspense masterfully as the body count makes a steady rise, and Ridley Scott manages to keep this tale grounded in reality. Sure, the spaceship setting and face-hugging creatures are fantastical, but the ongoing barrage of fear and squishy sound effects- and the reactions of the characters- feel all too real. Alien is an effective scare flick that created an innovative world for the spin-offs and sequels to follow and leaves you feeling satisfied at the end. Tune in to The Cinematic Emporium for my follow-up review of the film’s sequel, Aliens, coming soon.

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Political ignorance. Emotional disconnect. Reality television craze. No wonder butthurt educational administrators have tried to ban and censor ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in schools. This book predicted the 21st Century!

Guy Montag is a regular joe, occasionally prone to  sporadic bouts of philosophizing, who happens to live in an appallingly dumbed-down futuristic America where books are confiscated and burned. He should know; he’s a ‘fireman,’ whose job is not to stop fires but to start them. Guy has very rarely questioned his place in the world, his role being to destroy literature and condemn errant readers to death by the lethal injection of the deadly robot dog ‘the hound.’

One day Guy meets free-spirited teen Clarisse McClellan, and their burgeoning friendship is the beginning of an eye-opening but dangerous transformative experience for Guy. He sees what a shitty façade the so-called comfort and prosperity he lives in entails. In Bradbury’s America, people (including Guy’s brainwashed, reality-TV addicted wife Mildred) sit glued to their interactive, inane programs, people are spoonfed political rhetoric and propaganda like blind, deaf infants, and teens and adults alike express their rage and ennui by getting in a car and running over anything- man or animal- they can find.

There are definitely some similarities between the discord making up ‘Fahrenheit 451”s pages and today’s overly social conscious yet utterly socially ignorant world. It’s a quick read, lovingly written, with mind-boggling precursors to modern technology. The society pictured here takes anything stimulating or challenging from people’s ready access, and the sheep-like civilians don’t even put up a fight. Instead, people who like to read or even explore the world and themselves beyond instant gratification and inane excess are considered freaks, abnormal. and subhuman, and thus worthy of extermination by ‘the Hound.’

Everybody is unhappy, but nobody knows they’re unhappy, or why. In the style of something like “Fight Club,” violence is the only conceivable release from boredom and empty consumer culture. I loved this book mostly because of the writing. I found myself inwardly nodding to myself while reading the incisive prose, and wanting to jot down some of the things written within the slim, but potent little novel.

The world-building is also fantastic. Bradbury creates a bleak but instantly recognizable world riddled with violence, apathy, and drug addiction. People are so fixated on the devices and happy pills they have forgotten what makes them happy, much less human. They’ve certainly forgotten each other, so focused are they on their flickering, opium-soaked electronic worlds.

Although Guy is the protagonist of ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Beatty, Guy’s maniacally evil boss, may be the most interesting out of the cast of characters. For a man who hates books and reading, Beatty is certainly well-read, and belies his disgusted attitude toward knowledge with a plethora of classic literary references and quotes. I kind of wish they had gone into Beatty’s past a bit more, a backstory that Bradbury himself goes into a bit more depth about in the afterward of the edition of the book I read.

Don’t let the fact that “Fahrenheit 451” is a ‘classic’- a double-edged term often associated with dusty bookshelves and interminable boredom get in the way of reading what is surely one of the best dystopian novels of all time, loaded with spiritual and social significance without being wordy or a drag. Teachers and parents who try to withhold this book from teens’ hands  are certainly barking up the wrong tree (though if I’m not wrong, teenagers will find a away to acquire those books and videos which are kept from them.) This is great discussion material, and much more substantial than most young adult books on the market today.