Tag Archives: Space Travel

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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Firefly: The Complete Series (2002-2003)

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 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.

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Moon (2009)

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“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.

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