Category Archives: science fiction

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 A   If you’re looking for non-stop, edge-of-your-seat action with a twist, then this is your movie. All the original characters from the first film are back, along with a few “new” ones to enhance the experience. The movie opens in Missouri in 1980, as a young Kurt Russell is romancing a pretty young blonde. He turns out to be the father of Peter Quill, who came to be Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). This is a major reveal as we finally get to meet this previously mysterious figure. There are, however, a few wicked twists to this story.

Fast forward to the present, where Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), leader of the Sovereign race, has hired the Guardians to protect some valuable batteries from a trans dimensional monster, agreeing to turn Nebula (Karen Gillan) over to Gamora (Zoe Saldana), her sister. Nebula was apprehended for attempting to steal the batteries herself.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 D The dimensional monster is defeated in a scenario both extremely violent and hilarious. Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) manages to steal a few of the batteries, which leads to the Sovereign race sending a fleet of drones to stop them. In the fight that ensues, we see that the Sovereign are a highly technical race who handle the drones like so many video games, yet they lose when a mystery ship helps out. The ship belongs to Ego, who is Quill’s real dad.

A subplot plays out the fact that Yondu (Michael Rooker), who initially captured Peter on Earth when he was just a boy, broke the code of the Ravagers by doing that and is confronted by Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone), leader of the Ravagers, who exiles Yondu.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 B

The story returns to the Guardians, who crashed on a nearby planet after the drone fight.  Ego takes Quill, Gamora, and Drax (Dave Bautista)  to his world so he can explain everything to Peter. With Ego is the female Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who is an empath alien and “pet” to Ego. She explains that she can know people’s feelings and emotions by touching them.

Turns out that Ego has a few interesting skeletons in his closet that become known as he interacts with his “guests”, and Peter is more of a pawn than a “son”, which leads to a final battle between father and son even more intense than what Star Wars had. In the end, one character dies (I won’t tell you which, but several possibilities manifest themselves). Marvel head honcho Stan Lee makes his “required” cameo in a brief scene with characters known as Watchers, one of the few surprises in this film, which introduce some characters from other Marvel stories and some of the original comic book Guardians.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 C

After the closing credits (which are themselves filled with small funny pictures and “I am Groot” logos which chameleon themselves into credits) there are various short vignettes that set up some angles for the upcoming third installment. Be ready for an 80s TV icon to make an appearance near the end (and it’s NOT Stallone).

Overall, “Guardians Vol. 2” doesn’t disappoint and maintains a hectic pace from beginning to end with crisp action and fight scenes and clever banter between the characters. Rocket, Drax, and Gamora are well “fleshed out” as we find out some little-known things about their feelings for each other.

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Life Is A Gripping Ride

“Life” is a bit of a misnomer because while it does follow life, somewhat, it’s actually a thrilling, even scary ride that doesn’t let up once you’re strapped in. The film opens up on a view of space and a space probe returning from Mars while carrying a sample of Life poster 2

the planet’s soil. What’s especially scary about this s that within the next year, we are actually sending a probe to the Red Planet to do just that. The probe is damaged by small meteorites, so the crew of the International Space Station is tasked with retrieving the probe by using a large mechanical arm, then taking the soil sample in to study it for life signs. It doesn’t go quite as planned but the task is accomplished and the soil sample gets scrutinised. British biologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) Finds one microscopic organism in the soil, but an atmospheric accident in the lab causes the organism, named Calvin by school children, to become dormant. Hugh tries to make it

Life pic 2 active again by giving it mild electrical shocks. This has the unwanted effect of rendering Calvin violent, and it crushes Hugh’s hand and escapes into the lab, where it attaches itself to and consumes a lab rat, getting bigger in the process. Engineer Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) enters the lab to retrieve Hugh, bur is himself attacked and killed by Calvin.

Life pic 1

From this point on, “Life” is essentially a remake of “The Blob” in space, but remains  a solid, edge of your seat sci-fi horror film as the ship’s crew gets to become Calvin’s “blue plate special”. It becomes critical when only two members are left—Dr. Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) and David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the space station’s orbit deteriorates as the two debate the possibility that the reentry may not kill Calvin. Jordan decides that Miranda must use one of the two escape modules and return to Earth as he enters the other module, traps Calvin inside, and directs himself into deep space, saving Earth. All I’ll say is it doesn’t quite turn out as planned in what turns out to be a final shocker in the end.

As I said earlier, considering the timeliness of our exploration of Mars, this becomes an even more frightening film.

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84 Years Later, Kong is Still King

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In 1933, Merian C. Cooper astounded the world by bringing a fantastic version of Beauty and the Beast to the silver screen. It was the story of a giant ape revered as a God on a remote island where evolution paused millions of years ago and dinosaurs still roamed. It was hailed as “The Eighth Wonder of the World”, and was brought to life by master technician Willis O’Brien, with help from Marcel Delgado and a young Ray Harryhausen, that last being uncredited, but he used the experience in 1948 to create Mighty Joe Young. But enough history, let’s dissect this story.

William Randa (John Goodman) and his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) wrangle a senator to fund a mission for his Monarch Corporation, a nebulous entity shrouded in secrecy which is hunting for “large, living monsters”. The mission gets piggybacked with a geologic trip to the area, but not before Randa secures a military escort in the person of Samuel L. Jackson as Lt. Col. Preston Packard and his Sky Devils helicopter assault team.

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It should be noted that this story unfolds shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, and Packard and most of his men are eager for “one more tour of duty” in this adventure, which is laced with 1970s classic rock tunes the audience of a certain age will fondly remember. The target, “Skull Island” is continuously surrounded by violent storms that have kept it hidden for a long time, and has just recently been identified by satellite imagery.

As the helicopters break through the clouds, they disperse and release “helicopter bombs” to assess the geological makeup of the island. This act brings out a titanic gorilla which attacks the helicopters and knocks them all out of the sky. Among the ragtag crew is James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), an aspiring photojournalist and peace activist looking for that one picture that will make her famous. The soldiers and civilians get separated and try to get back together again. As they roam around they encounter a huge mutant water buffalo. Conrad is a former member of the British Special Forces in Vietnam and a jungle expert, so he’s a natural leader for his group, which winds up at some ancient ruins where they encounter fierce-appearing natives and Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Riley), who has been living on the island since crashing there during World War II. Marlow gives them the lowdown on the native life forms on the island, which include giant spiders and ants (although we never see the ants) and a large snakelike animal with front arms and a bony head which he refers to as “skull crawlers”, a word he just made up because it “sounds scary”.

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Also present is a species of large cephalopod, which makes a brief appearance as a giant, active sushi bar for Kong. The skull crawlers are definitely the main threat as they are fast and ferocious, and manage to decimate the troops a bit as they amble around. Just as nasty are “ugly birds” of some mutant variety which are actually some sort of pterosaur that account for a few more deaths. Preston wants Kong dead, but Marlow is against the idea because he points out that Kong is basically the only means of protection against the skull crawlers, especially one “big one”. One of the scientists adds to the argument by pointing out that in nature, when one species is wiped out, another steps up to fill in the void.

Kong_Skull_Island_poster  This is NOT your grandfather’s Kong, and parents should be made aware that the scenes of gore and monster violence are very intense, so you may want to consider leaving the kiddies home for this one. The ending of this film is slightly upbeat, but I must confess I didn’t stick around for all the end credits to see how they were going to tie this one up with the Godzilla legend in 2020, so I may have missed a big point. The lush jungle scenery of Hawaii, Vietnam, and Australia give this film a “travelogue” look—at least until the monsters show up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Passengers Is Believable Sci-fi

passengers-poster   Passengers takes a fresh new look at an old problem which is currently on a lot of lips as we prepare to colonise Mars—how will people get there? This film concentrates on the “Homestead Corporation” which is sending thousands of people (in this case 5,000 passengers and 258 crew members) to a new world on a 120-year long trip under suspended animation on the Starship Avalon. At the beginning, we see the huge, essentially robotic ship and how it handles meteorites in space. It encounters a huge piece of space debris which figures heavily in the plot later.

passengers-2Jim Preston(Chris Pratt)is one of the passengers who awakens from the induced slumber and finds no one else has. He interacts with the ship’s systems and discovers that a malfunction has awakened him early and the ship still has 90 years to travel before it reaches its destination. Jim ambles around and encounters an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen) who helps him keep a grip on loneliness until he finds another sleeping passenger named Aurora Lane(Jennifer Lawrence).

Jim agonizes over her, we eventually find out, for a whole year before waking her up for his own selfish needs, knowing that by doing so he basically ends her life prematurely. Jim and Aurora develop a friendship, then a romance, before she finds out Jim awakened her and grows to dislike him for it. Jim tries all sorts of tricks to win her back. About this time, several of the Avalon’s systems malfunction, and a crew member,Gus Mancuso(Laurence Fishbourne) also awakens.

Together, they figure out that something is causing the ship to malfunction, but it turns out Gus is ill and dying. In fact, he dies before the problem is found, which turns out to be a piece of the huge space rock that crashed in the Avalon at the film’s beginning.  Jim and Aurora have to fix it themselves,  which involves a highly dangerous extravehicular trip that costs Jim his life, although Aurora uses the ship’s robotic doctor to revive him.

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Jim figures out a way to get Aurora back into suspended animation to finish the trip, but as the film ends we discover that she opted not to do that and made a life for themselves on the ship as the crew awakens when the Avalon nears the Homestead Planet 88 years later. Passengers,uses a sharp, credible script to work in the heavy, gee-whiz special effects in what turns out to be a formulaic romantic story on steroids that is highly enjoyable.

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Arrival Slick New Invasion Film

arrival-poster-2    Never have I been so completely confused by such an excellent piece of film making. There is an old Eastern provern that says time is a constant, renewing circle, yet those that don’t understand it are doomed to “fall out of time and perish from their own lack of knowledge”. Time is a weapon in and of itself, and that’s the premise of “Arrival”, a movie told from the thoughts and voice-over of Amy Adams, who plays Louise, a linguistics expert who gets brought in by  Forrest Whitaker, who has worked with her before and wishes to have her around as part of his team, also composed of scientist Ian (a post-Avengers Jeremy Renner) who are assigned to investigate a giant UFO that’s stationed itself over the western U.S. Plains—assigned to decipher the aliens’ language so we can tell what they want. Turns out that 11 more such ships have stationed themselves over various parts of the world and other governments are engaged in similar operations.

The beginning of this film is originally confusing, but it quickly clarifies itself as Louise’s life as she gets married, has a girl, and eventually loses that girl to what appears to be cancer and her husband walks out on her as a result. Louise, it turns out, has some sort of sixth sense that allows her to empathise with others, which turns out to be a great help in understanding the aliens.

The team enters the alien ship by a door which opens at regular intervals each day. The aliens are large globs with six octopus-like tentacles that open up into similarly octopoidal hands. Officially, they are called “Heptapods”, but when Louise asks what they should call the two aliens in the craft, Ian suggests “Abbott and Costello”, and it sticks. The aliens have deep, sonorus vocals, but they communicate by creating circles of a cloudy inklike substance from their “hands”. They appear to float in a heavy, foglike atmosphere on the other side of a glassy wall.

Arrival 1.jpg After a while, communication appears to become possible as the team mathematically analises the pictures of the “idea blobs” the aliens make, but several of the worldwide teams have apparently lost something in the translation and disconnect themselves from the info net that was set up. Even our own team is tricked into carrying explosives into the ship, but as it explodes, the aliens isolate Ian and. Louise from the explosion. That’s when Louise really realises that these are not evil entities, but the world prepares a violent conflict anyway, led by China, Sudan, and Pakistan. Louise re-enters the craft and sees only one alien. Her query reveals that the other was fatally hurt by the explosion. She apologises for the attack and fathoms out the whole story. The aliens have come to help us figure out how to make use of time as a commodity, a tool, a “weapon” (this “weapon” reference is what others mistook for aggression.

Arrival 3.jpg From that point, we go through a “fast-forward” segment where Louise manages to reach the Chinese warlord and convinces him of the aliens’ true purpose, leading into the various world powers agreeing to defuse tensions and work together again. The crisis is averted and the alien ships leave.

This is definitely not your run-of-the-mill invasion film, more in the vein of the original “Day the Earth Stood Still”rather  than “Independence Day”, and in the end you tend to remember Louise rather than the aliens. This is a highly intellectual tour-de-force that plays out a bit slowly in the beginning but always stays on track. It gets 5 Tomahawks all the way.

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Insurgent Is An Elegant Mess

Insurgent 2 First off, let me say that if you haven’t seen the first part of the Divergent trilogy, you could get lost easily in this complex story. That being said, the production crew does a great job of salvaging any newbie audience members. The good-looking cast, capable screenwiters, and terrific video effects willingly pull you into this post-apocalyptic Chicago, isolated by a giant wall, and you take in and believe everything you see and hear without question.

Like last time, the story centers around Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) on the run from Jeanine (Kate Winslet), the leader of the Dauntless faction in control. There is an artifact–a box–that supposedly will answer all the questions about this world, but it can only be opened by a Divergent, so Jeanine orders all Divergents be rounded up in an attempt to open the box. The fact that Divergents not strong enough to do it will die means nothing to her.

As the story progresses we discover that Four’s name is really Tobias, and his mother, believed dead, is the opposition leader, and her ultimate motives are suspect. Tris decides to give herself up to avoid further deaths, and at this point we get treated to awesome visual effects as Tris goes through the tests needed to open the box. The fact that she succeeds leads to a complicated ending that is meant to catapult you into the third movie yet to come.

Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality, “Insurgent” runs 119 minutes of action-packed adventure in a science-fiction vein. It’s complex yet easy to follow at the same time.What is outside the wall around Chicago? Has humanity destroyed itself beyond the walls? Will we find out in the third installment? Do we really care?

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