Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy_Rocket_movie_poster

Quipping, self-aware superheroes save the day in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a fun if somewhat overhyped action/sci-fi helmed by James Gunn, the director of dark comedies such as “Slither” and “Super.” “Guardians of the Galaxy” never takes itself too seriously, which is a good thing, but there are some painfully standard characters and set-ups, such as Zoe Saldana playing the sexy fantasy femme fatale who doesn’t take shit from anybody for about the hundredth time, and to some extent even Chris Pratt as the stoic, smart alecky muscle bound protagonist.

These aren’t bad characters, we just feel like we’ve seen them and their kin before, in many, many blockbusters. And we have haven’t we? That doesn’t make the experience not fun. Bereaved kid turned intergalactic crook Peter Quill (Pratt) acquires a artifact of overwhelming power, but he doesn’t realize it’s significance until a genetically engineered raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper,) his tree companion (voiced by Vin Diesel), and a deadly female assassin (Saldana) try to take it from him.

Together the four of them must escape from a secure prison in the recesses of space and make the decision to work together- despite their complete dislike for each other- and defeat Ronan (Lee Pace,) a maniacal dictator who wants to wipe out an entire race of people as well as anyone who stands in his way. Accompanied by his three former adversaries and an angry extraterrestrial named Drax (Dave Bautista) who is determined to kill Ronan in retaliation for the death of his wife and daughter, Peter goes on an epic adventure that could result in new lives for he and his four companions- or their deaths.

I’ll be honest- this movie didn’t rock my world. I guess I was just expecting more than what I got considering all the hype. That said, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a shamelessly fun and entertaining film that bears up to multiple viewings. Is it particularly unique in the universe of superhero movies? Sadly, no. But it’s well-done for its kind of movie, although it doesn’t break spectacularly out of the confines of it’s genre. The performances are charming, the special effects stunning, and the humor fresh, frenetic, and funny.

The Rocket Raccoon-Groot duo comes off best out of a buoyant if sometimes standard cast of characters, although the romance between Peter and Gamora (Saldana) is beyond predictable. I liked the look of Ronan, the main villain (although he himself could have been a bit more compelling) but Ronan’s superior baddie looked beyond lame with his obviously CGI features and massive chin. Although “Guardians of the Galaxy” is not a great film, it is a good one, and it doesn’t take an outstanding critic to see that it is a fun one. I only hope that the upcoming sequel will be up to par.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-zoe-saldana-chris-pratt

Children of Men (2006)

600full-children-of-men-poster

In these visions of the future, do things ever go even slightly well? Okay, okay, I’ll grant you “Star Trek,” with it’s intergalactic exploits and shows of compassion and friendship between James T. Kirk and the impeccably logical Vulcan Spock. “Star Wars” maybe, But for the most part, for every good thing that happens in a science fiction film, a hundred shitty things happen almost simultaneously.

Take the government for example. The government in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men” is shady at best, completely, reprehensibly corrupt at worst. They even offer suicide kits for disillusioned citizens with which to off themselves in a pinch. “Ah, but at least there IS a government,” you say? Well in this society, even total anarchy seems preferable to this Hell on earth. Never has a post-apocalyptic future looked so bleak.

In “Children of Men”‘s world, women have become infertile, causing mankind to lose faith in our survival. Politically apathetic citizen Theo (Clive Owen) is begrudgingly hired by his ex-girlfriend Julian (Julianne Moore) to smuggle the teenaged Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey,) the first pregnant woman in eighteen years, out of the ransacked Britain to a program that supposedly can help her.

Julian is a member of an underground group known as the Fish, which rebels against the government, often through acts of urban terrorism. She and Theo have a big-time history, having had and lost a child together. As Theo and Kee make a desperate bid for survival, everyone wants what Kee’s got for their own twisted agenda- including some of the Fish, who think ownership of the child will help their political cause.

“Children of Men” seems hyper realistic despite it’s mostly unreal premise, which nonetheless bears resemblance to many aspects of societal discord, including the Fish as kind of a post-apocalyptic IRA. The actors give excellent performances, including virtual unknown Ashity as Kee and Michael Caine as an amiable pothead who’s long since retreated to live apart from society’s electric eye.

I like the fact that Kee is promiscuous and not at all attempt to capture the sanctity of a Virgin Mary-type character. The girl’s got a mouth on her, and, you know, I kind of like that. However, she and Theo form a (strictly platonic) bond as they evade the corruption of futuristic Britain. There’s also a Holocaust-type vibe to the story as Illegal immigrants are caged and brutalized for the sake of the country’s ‘purity.’

I was initially not sure if I would like this movie, since it was not on my immediate radar, but “Children of Men” proved to be timeless science fiction, up to par with “Blade Runner” (I personally think “2001” is about as riveting as watching paint dry, to use a film-critique stereotype, so you won’t get my support on exulting that one.) I actually found myself tearing up at one point, which I only do occasionally, because “Children of Men” has what many apocalyptic fests lack- a heart. This is one of the few science fiction movies I would even readily describe as ‘beautiful.’

Violent but strangely sad and tender, “Children of Men”knocks it out of the ballpark and is most not just another stuff-goes-wrong-in-the-future motion picture. People with short attention spans might be disappointed, but those who approach the experience of watching a movie as akin to reading a book will instinctively know what I know- that patience, and thoughtfulness, holds its own rewards.

childrenofmen

Firefly: The Complete Series (2002-2003)

Firefly Poster

 Gorram it! How that gosa television station “Fox” could cancel the best show in the ‘verse after one season but keep mediocre drivel like “Family Guy” is beyond me. As someone who’s running the risk of sounding like a major nerd right now, I will say that “Firefly” may not quite be the best show ever (there are definitely runners-up, FX’s “Fargo” among them) but no TV series can compete with “Firefly” in terms of pure rewatchability value and making me care about it’s cast of characters.

In Joss Whedon’s cult space western, the gun-toting action crackles and so does the dialogue as rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) commandeers a ship packed with rapscallions who will take any kind of work, legal or otherwise. The crews’ lives are complicated when they take convict siblings Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau) under their wing.

River is a victim of experimentation by the corrupt government; she knows too much, sees things that others cannot, and that makes her dangerous. Simon defied his parents’ wishes and went on a hunch to rescue River and smuggle her into the far reaches of space. The show is focused on the relationships and witty pitter-patter of banter that having a group of people, vastly different and not all easy to get along with, would come along with.

Joss Whedon creates a vivid world that is both futuristic and a throwback to the old Spaghetti Western films of the yesteryears. The entire cast performs their parts admirably, and the character development and backstory building are unparalleled. It’s hard to pick a favorite character (for me, it’s a tie between the cheerful mechanic Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite ) and the smart aleck pilot Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne (Alan Tudyk)) because all the characters are so well done and saddled with great one-liners.

I really like the mix elements of the different cultures featured on each planet. I personally am not vouching for a relaunch of the series at this point (things have changed, including the deaths of two major characters in the movie spin-off, “Serenity,” and the cast has aged considerably) but I am seriously fangirling for the graphic novel follow-up, “Leaves on the Wind,” written by Joss Whedon’s brother Zack. I just hope it is consistent with the quality of the series.

I am not a huge fan of Joss Whedon’s stuff in general (“Dr. Horrible” has it’s moments, “The Avengers” and what I’ve seen of “Buffy” are just okay.) The nerds seem to love him (not that I’m in a position to be calling people nerds, I just got a Wash quote pin at a sci-fi convention not a week ago.) But “Firefly” is enough to make me love him at his best and appreciate his fertile imagination.

I’ve seen “Firefly” all the way through like six times and I never fail to catch little details I might not have been aware of before that increase my appreciation of the show as a whole. I am consistently wowed by the thought put into the depth and psychological nuance combined with the action and humor. The characters are just so well done, from the rough-hewn, wise-cracking grunt of the group (Adam Baldwin) to the very classy call girl (Morena Baccarin) that Mal refuses to admit he has feelings for (in “Firefly”‘s world, courtesans are called ‘companions’ and held in the highest regard.)

There’s also a definite emphasis on female power and badasserie. The lack of alien lifeforms featured and a lowish budget should not deter you from enjoying this great science fiction series. Just realize it’s more about the characters and their relationships than big-time gun and knife fights (though there is some of that, too.) Highly enjoyable entertainment with plenty of humor and verve to spare.

firefly

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Okay, confession time- this is my first “Planet of the Apes” movie. I have never seen the Charlton Heston original. Hell, I haven’t even seen the crappily reviewed Tim Burton film with Helena Bonham Carter and Mark Wahlberg.

But I have to say, despite my lack of experience with the “Apes” franchise, this one grabbed my attention right away. This is up there with Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” as science fiction at its most emotionally charged, tinged with social commentary.

This is a star-studded cast — James Franco, John Lithgow, Tom Felton of the “Harry Potter” films — and yet the film belongs to the apes. These CGI wonders are incredibly realistic, and through the magic of modern technology, given the facial expressions of actors.

The plot: Will (James Franco) works for a scientific research facility, where he is trying to create a serum that will help the brain repair itself, curing maladies such as Alzheimer’s and other mental disorders. His heartache and his inspiration is his father Charles (John Lithgow) whose mind is in the grip of the disease.

For reasons I will not go into here, Will is put in charge of raising Caesar, a highly intelligent ape. Caesar’s expressions are contributed by Andy Serkis, the face behind Peter Jackson’s Gollum and King Kong. Will quickly gets attached to Caesar, but Will’s veterinarian girlfriend, Caroline (Frieda Pinto) wisely advises him that Caesar will not be young and cute forever.

Caesar’s presumed of abandonment at the hands of Will and abuse perpetrated by cruel ape handler Dodge (Tom Felton, mustering every bit of his meanness from his Draco Malfoy days) is upsetting but crucial to Caesar’s development as a character. But rather than make Will (Franco) into a villain, the film makes him a essentially good character who grows to care for Caesar deeply, but cannot take charge of his fate.

It hurt me to see Caesar abandoned and abused by the humans, so watching him break free and command a legion of primates in the ape revolution is gratifying. Most of the time, the movie makes you believe in its characters and happenings 100% percent, which is hard to do in a super-intelligent-apes-take-over-the-world movie. Caesar is an amazing character who grows so much throughout the movie, reaching a peak of development that some human film characters never even aspire to.

You don’t have to be a “Planet of the Apes” fan to see there is some kind of genius at work here, and this timely and relevant film will thrill and engross you. See it. Trust me.

Blade Runner (1982)

“Blade Runner” is how a science fiction film SHOULD be made, as a speculative thinker, not as a silly disposable piece of throwaway camp like “Star Wars” (yes, I dissed George Lucas’ Magnum Opus. I can see you fanboys writing that down.) I won’t place this on the pillar of perfect science fiction like “Firefly” (’cause I just won’t,) but the creativity of the whole enterprise shines through, past the dark sets and blackened hearts of the characters.

Early in the 21st Century (yep, folks, we should be seeing some crazy shit real soon,) Tyrell Industries has refined the android model to the brink of perfection. These beings, called ‘replicants,’  are man-made entities virtually identical to the human but used for all the dirty work- war, prostitution, dangerous jobs. They were implanted with memories that are not their own and manufactured to feel no empathy or identity as an individual.

But things have changed. Replicants have formed a consciousness of their own and have become too dangerous to keep. That’s where Deckard (Harrison Ford) comes in. Deckard, a ‘Blade Runner,’ is assigned to kill illegal Replicants. In turn, a group of Replicants attempt to force their their creator, Dr. Tyrell (Joe Turkel,) to increase their longevity (the androids have a maximum life span of three or four years.)

    It’s Deckard against Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer,) the maniacal, intelligent leader of the Replicants, and his three cohorts. And you know what? I kind of wanted Roy Batty to win. He’s a great, complex character, even though he goes to violent extremes to get what he wants (I felt for two of the victims, but less for the third.) Deckard is frankly kind of a bore. He’s typical stoic Ford, and the way he borderline-rapes beautiful female Replicant and love interest Rachael (Sean Young) is a little sickening.

I liked Batty a lot, but I was equally taken with J.F. Sebastion (William Sanderson,) and eccentric and somewhat childlike inventor suffering from Methuselah Syndrome, which leaves him prematurely aged.  He’s a little talked about character, but I find him just as interesting as Batty. J.F. picks up waifishly appealing Replicant Priss (Daryl Hannah) and takes her home with him, a decision that turns out to be the worst of his life.

There are a few corny scenes and lines (like “Wake up! Time to die!”, uttered by Leon (Brion James,)) but the movie is very original and iconic. I love the unique sci-fi vision originally created by Philip K. Dick (author of the book ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’ that “Blade Runner” is based on) but brought to life by Ridley Scott. The movie’s world is damp, dreary, but strangely compelling. The final confrontation is sad and creepy and maybe even a little darkly humorous, all at once.

Rutger Hauer’s performance as the lead android is wonderful. He is creepy yet tragic, all he wants is more time. In a world where humans have really screwed their creations over, the creations want to feel the sunlight a little longer, to live to see the world through aged eyes. Why should their experiences mean any less? The final line by Hauer (…”Like tears in the rain”) perfectly summarizes this.

“Blade Runner” is a classic movie that is most definitely worth multiple rewatches. It’s important in that it deal with the moral quandaries of science and creation, the way ‘Frankenstein’ did. It features a stunner of a performance by Rutger Hauer (too bad he plays in so much crap now…) and a chilling orchestral score. Watch it. Watch it more than once, if you haven’t already, and think about the implications behind it and films of it’s ilk.

Moon (2009)

sam-rockwell-moon-unused-posters-41

“Moon”‘s success stems from Sam Rockwell’s terrific performance and filmmaker Duncan Jones’ ability to create a compelling and smart sci-fi thriller with a small budget and only a few actors. The story itself is a little bit “Blade Runner,” a little bit the “Doctor Who” episode “The Almost People,” with a little bit of “The Twilight Zone” for good measure, but has a sense of self and a style all it’s own.
Sam Bell (Rockwell) as nearing the end of a three-year stint on the moon base Sarang, harvesting energy to support the earth’s population, when he starts seeing and hearing strange things. Sam is completely alone, save for the company of GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey,) a rather disconcerting artificial intelligence computer with an on-screen emoticon for a face. Sam yearns to get home to his wife Tess (Dominique McElligott)  and small daughter Eve (Rosie Shaw,) and seems to have a lack of trust for the computer that calls itself his friend.

When Sam sees a phantom girl while doing a routine job and crashes his lunar vehicle, life quickly deteriorates from isolated and lonely to frenetic and batshit crazy. Faced with a double that says it’s Sam as well, Bell must overcome his distrust for the duplicate and uncover the secret Sarang hides. Is Sam going crazy? Or is the company he’s working for, Lunar, covering up an aberrant secret?

I better not tell you anymore about the plot of this film (don’t look at the forums, don’t research it, just watch it!) but I will say that, while sometimes slow-paced, “Moon” is extremely well-done science fiction. Sam Rockwell’s performance holds your interest throughout and he does a phenomenal job playing two versions of the same person, but putting a unique spin on both men. Some scenes could be a little silly (such as a physical altercation between two duplicates) but Sam Rockwell does such a good job that he seems to just make it work.

The conclusion is crazy and heart-tugging but very well-thought-out and the movie might take a couple watches to fully understand. Strangely enough, the filmmaker, Duncan Jones is David Bowie’s son and was born Zowie (!)  He’s planning to make this the first in a trilogy of films set in the same universe, which I would definitely love to see. He also wants to make a graphic novel companion to “Moon,” called “Mute.” He’s got an abundance of imagination and I really hope he can make it happen.

Do not try to predict the twist ending of this movie. Do not look it up. It’s really one of those movies that are better when you go into them blind, so to speak. I will post the trailer here, but I highly suggest that you don’t watch it until you see the movie. I’m not ashamed to say that “Moon” is much better than “Inception” as a mind-fuck sci-fi thriller/drama and should have raked in the about a million awards “Inception” got for it’s mediocrity. Sam Rockwell is primarily a character actor but he has proved he can carry a full-length feature with practically no one else on screen. Like “Cast Away” or “Buried,” this is pretty much a one-man show, and Rockwell rises to the occasion spectacularly.

Watch it.

moon_Sam_Rockwell_pic

I, Robot (2004)

600full-i,-robot-poster

‘Inspired’ by a short story collection by science fiction author Isaac Asimov, “I, Robot” is a fun action movie that owes a lot to Will Smith’s charismatic star power. Det. Del Spooner, an overly paranoid cop with a major case of survivor’s guilt, hates and distrusts all the robots who have become standard servants of man in the near future. So when Del has reason to believe that ‘Sonny’ (voiced by Alan Tudyk,) a highly intelligent and inquisitive robot (most robots are drones that exist only to serve) murdered apparent suicide victim and creator of robots Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell,) he’s all over the case.

Alfred Lanning created a set of rules within every robot for the safety of humanity, but it seems that Sonny, whether a killer or not, has the ability to bend or break the laws of robotics. Smart-ass Spooner teams up with an uptight robotics employee, Susan Calvin (Bridget Moynahan,) to uncover the plot behind Alfred’s death. Meanwhile Spooner finds himself being attacked by groups of robots, but as an distrusting full-fledged technophobe with a long history of hatred towards our cyborg friends, who will believe him?

“I, Robot” is an entertaining and action-packed adventure that occasionally hints at something more, although it is no doubt not as thought-provoking and pensive as the book on which it was based. People seem to pan the movie for that reason. ‘Why can’t it be more like the book?’ seems to be the common criticism. As someone who hasn’t read the book, I say that “I, Robot” does a perfectly good job presenting interesting ideas, but the result is more mainstream than philosophical.

Spooner isn’t really that far a cry from the other sarcastic action-heroes Will Smith has played, but the upside to this is that the role fits Smith like a glove. Spooner is cocky, very flawed guy with a pretty bad attitude, but you don’t really dislike him. For one thing, he makes you laugh, and for another when you find out his backstory you’ll feel for him. The moments between him and his grandmother Gigi (Adrian Ricard,) who loves him fiercely but absolutely doesn’t take any shit from him, are also poignant.

The special FX are effective, with another strong point being the voice and presentation of Sonny. Things have come a long way since “Star Wars” when R2-D2 was a midget in a blinking metal costume. Sonny is just human enough to be sympathetic while still being slightly unnerving. Props to bringing Susan and Spooner from mutual dislike to respect and possibly, romantic interest without any irritating flirtatious banter or unnecessary sex scenes.

“I, Robot” is a popcorn movie for sure, but it’s a fun, exciting popcorn movie that doesn’t insult your intelligence too much. Quite simply, if you like Will Smith’s “Men In Black” type character with his one-liners and sarcasm, you’ll like this movie. If you like good special effects and a decent story that keeps you guessing, you’ll also like it. People who are looking for excess depth or a totally creditable plot look elsewhere.

968full-i,-robot-screenshot

Zathura (2005)

The first part of this film is the sad story of how divorced Dad Tim Robbins copes with his three bratty kids (He does commendably, better than I would.) The second part disposes of Robbins and takes a turn into pure ridiculousness, as his two sons Walter and Danny (played sloppily by Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo) play a mysterious board game with magical properties (a la “Jumanji”), which proves to have unforeseen consequences.

The acting, save for Robbins’, is really bad, not only from Hutcherson and Bobo but also from Kristen Stewart, who plays the completely useless, gape-mouthed character of the boys’ older sister, and Dax Shepard as the astronaut who lands on their doorstep when — surprise! — the board game sends the little losers into deep space. The script is not much better, providing entertainment that is mediocre at best for anyone over the age of twelve.

Worse is the unlikablity of the characters, particularly Walter (Josh Hutcherson), a vile little twit who has a thoroughly unconvincing road to Damascus halfway through, becoming a better brother to little Danny. Only slightly better than Walter is Danny himself, annoyingly whiny and obnoxious.

Stewart fails to provide steady support as Lisa, while Shepard reads his lines like a man reading the instructions on a container of boxed macaroni and cheese. A twist occurs in the last act that proves to be moderately interesting, if underwhelming, but by that point it is too late to care.

My younger sister (age nine) liked this, though even she had to admit that the acting was pretty piss-poor. Maybe your younger kids will like this too, even the older ones if they lower their standards enough. But this is not imbued with family magic like “Up,” “Tangled,” or “Spirited Away,” and in this writer’s opinion is only worth watching if all your other DVDs are suddenly destroyed in a fire or sucked into a black hole. Avoid.

Flight: A Novel by Sherman Alexie

Image

“Call me Zits,” states the disaffected, acne-afflicted anti-hero at the beginning of Sherman Alexie’s fast-paced, compulsively readable novel ‘Flight.’ Zits, an fifteen-year-old Native American orphan, is shipped off to yet another foster home when he gets into a fight with his foster father and physically attacks him. He is sent to Juvie but escapes with a charismatic boy he met in jail, who brainwashes him into committing a violent crime. In the midst of shooting up a bank, ZIts is shot in the head and transported back in time for reasons unknown to him.

Zits enters the bodies of five different characters, from a mute Indian boy fighting for his life during Custer’s Last Stand to a white pilot grappling with his guilt in a modern day setting. Along the way, Zits sees the intrinsic violence and anger that resides within humanity and the futility of revenge and blame-placing. By the end of it, he is changed for the better- but is it too late?

I already knew Sherman Alexie was a talented writer from back when I read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” but what I didn’t expect was to be completely transported by this book. Let me put it this way- usually it takes me weeks to get through a book (I’m a slow reader) and I finished this in two days. “Flight” was funny and made my heart hurt at the same time. You can’t help feeling for this boy, although for all intents and purposes he is not a very sympathetic character (he lies, steals, sets fires, and kills.) He’s never known ‘home’ or ‘family’ or ‘love,’ and most of his foster parents are just in it for the money.

I know it’s a cliche, but he’s built up resistance against an uncaring world. I know nothing about Indian history yet I never felt lost or stupid reading this book, it’s that accessible. The writing is at once conversational and literary; there is no hint of smut or trashiness in the narrative. The events leading up to the shooting are pretty rushed, but that just gets the reader to the fantasy element quicker. It also builds up a sense of confusion and disorientation, Zits doesn’t really know why he wants to commit the crime, all he knows is that he hurts and he wants to make others hurt as he has.

“Flight” is harsh, heartbreaking, strong, unsentimental, and tough. It’s protagonist doesn’t know what he wants, and his fresh, angry voice drives the narrative at breakneck speed. I want to read all of Sherman Alexie’s works now. When I’m reading Alexie, it doesn’t matter than I’m not in the know about poverty or reservation life or Native American woes, because his themes are pretty much universal. I highly recommend this book to all those that like good fiction.

Image