Category Archives: science fiction

A Quiet Place Is Confoundingly Worthy

A Quiet Place 2 All the important things first—this is NOT the film I was planning to see, but occasionally you sacrifice for the sake of your movie companion. Secondly, this monster film was not what my companion wanted to see either, but this being Friday, you sometimes have to make quick adjustments. Suffice it to say, A Quiet Place questions more answers than it answers questions.

It opens up in a small New York town, and the set and characters remind you of an episode from The Walking Dead as a small family rummages for supplies in the  depopulated town. They converse by sign language, and we get the story in bits and pieces. Seems a quasi-apocalypse hit, and we catch glimpses of newspapers lying around that reveal strange creatures that are blind but focused on sounds to decimate the population.

A Quiet Place 6 Film director John Krasinski is the father, Lee, and his wife is played by Emily Blunt as Evelyn. There are three children at the film’s opening, but one of them unwisely runs a noisy toy and is gobbled up by one of the monsters on the edge of a small bridge. The remaining two children are Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe). The family is holed up in a farmhouse, and they are using sign language so the roaming monsters won’t hear them and attack.

A Quiet Place 5 In effect, this begins as a silent movie, and we are put on notice that films without dialogue can still be powerfully effective as what the characters are trying to convey is put on screen as captions. There are fleeting glimpses of the creatures as we mosey along and find out how many days this has been going on. We find out Evelyn is pregnant, and we have to wonder what these people were thinking, having a baby in a world where a crying infant would bring death to them—not to mention the painful, noisy act of birthing itself.

A Quiet Place 1 Further complications arise when Lee takes Marcus with him to go check on fish traps he has laid out in a creek to provide the food they’ve been eating. Regan follows them and leaves Evelyn alone to unknowingly deal with one of the monsters. Turns out Lee is a bit of an electrical engineer and has been working with sound waves with various hearing aids, and this features prominently in the film’s climax. Evelyn gets away, and so do the kids, but Lee is not so lucky.

A Quiet Place 7In this final reel, we get a good look at the creature, and are faced with a pertinent question—this is New York, so does this thing relate to the Cloverfield movies? Adding to the confusion is that the creatures’ origin is never discussed, but news is already out that a sequel is planned—and we would be pissed if there wasn’t. This was a captivating, engrossing film, but it left too many unfilled holes you can drive an SUV through—and the questions MUST be answered.

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RAMPAGE—Video Game Translates Well As Movie

Rampage poster 2  The mainstream critics are savaging this movie because of “inferior writing and faithlessness to the source material”. Really? Rampage was a video game. Was anybody expecting Shakespeare from “Mario Brothers the movie”? I thought it was great overall, with an easy-to-follow script/story and dazzling special effects. Next time somebody tells you America no longer knows how to make big monster movies, tell them to go watch this one.

The action opens up with a female astronaut going into a space station to recoup some scientific samples. She finds the station (looking suspiciously like the defunct Skylab) in disarray, its crew dead. turns out the damage was done by a lab rat (just wait till you see it to pass judgement). The astronaut recovers the samples (which are biological genetic experiments) and escapes, but the escape pod is damaged during the escape and explodes, scattering the biological samples to several Earth locations.

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As this unfolds we meet Primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) a former special forces member and anti-poaching agent who has developed a close bond with albino gorilla George. George gets exposed to one of the space samples and starts growing. This brings in Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who worked on the original CRISPR (an actual scientific project) designed to alter an organism’s genetic makeup, but was railroaded into creating genetic weapons and falsely jailed for that.

Rampage 8 Also in on the fun is agent Harvey Russell of the OGA (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, on loan from “Walking Dead”) who initially rubs Okoye the wrong way, but winds up helping him greatly. He reveals there is also a wolf affected by the samples in the Midwest, as well as an alligator in Florida. The two lead figures for Energyne Industries, Claire Wyden (Malin Ackerman) and her brother Brett (Jake Lacy) are using an antenna on top of a Chicago skyscraper to attract the animals, where they’ll be hopefully killed while they recover DNA samples to sell at usurious prices to the highest bidders.

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The wolf and gator have not only grown big like George, but also mutated. The gator has horns and the wolf has flying membranes. Okoye and Kate manage to get the antidote to George, who then proceeds to help defeat the other two monsters. Here is the only spot I found to stretch belief a bit as the gator and wolf climb up the side of buildings the way George does. Throughout the film, Johnson gets to deadpan some cliche lines, such as “We assholes have to stick together” and “of course, the wolf can fly”, but in total, this is a crisp, tight film that rivets your attention. When you can get my friend Kathy to say she enjoyed a monster sci-fi movie, you really got something. George himself winds up being the comic relief at the end in a scene that sums up this romp perfectly.

 

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Annihilation Confusing, Disturbing

Annihilation poster The critics and I vastly disagree on this film. Most of them praise this film highly, whereas I think it’s much like a bunch of writers threw their scripts in a blender to see what would come out. Unfortunately, it’s this. Basically, this movie falls in the “let’s remake something with an all-female cast”, which, as 47 Metres Down and the recent Ghostbusters rehash pointed out, rarely works.

The first scene shows us a meteorite breaching our atmosphere and crashing into a lighthouse. For some reason, the lighthouse is NOT totally destroyed by the strike. From there we switch to a school where former soldier Lena (Natalie Portman) is teaching biology. We are forced to endure meaningless dialogue that reveals her husband is MIA during an assignment for the government at Area X, which is being affected by something called The Shimmer, and is where the meteorite crashed. Lena is as surprised as we are when her husband reappears. He becomes violently ill and gets whisked away by an ambulance.

Annihilation 3 This is where things start to unravel alarmingly. The ambulance gets stopped by military troops and Lena is drugged, eventually waking up at Area X and meeting Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is in charge of an upcoming mission to The Shimmer with an all-female crew because previous all-male crews never made it back, except for Lena’s husband Kane (Oscar Issaac). Lena wants answers so she joins the mission too.

Annihilation 2 The Shimmer seems to be, or at least looks like, a 1960s drug-induced psychedelic nightmare, where everything is made up of similar matter that is not quite plant life, yet not quite animal. The ladies encounter a huge alligator, then some nebulous carnivore that winds up being able to use the voice of the woman it killed before being itself dispatched. Along the way, the women find a videotape from Kane’s expedition that shows a gruesome operation. The women decide to reach the lighthouse, but only Lena makes it there. As the confusing story unfolds we get bits of Lena’s post-mission debriefing mixed with shots of her mission as well as unnecessary asides into Lena’s affair with one of her fellow teachers.

Annihilation 1 When Lena finally reaches the coast, a lot of the scenery is crystallised (why, we are never told). and inside the lighthouse she finds a body that turns out to be her husband, along with a video camera that reveals how he died. Voices lead her to a tunnel below the lighthouse where she runs into an alien that takes the form of the dead Dr. Ventress. Lena shoots the alien, but when she makes it out of the tunnel she is met by yet another alien, whom she dispatches with an explosive similar to what her husband used on himself.

In the end, Lena is told her husband recovered when the lighthouse was destroyed and they embrace as she asks “you’re not really Kane, are you?”, and this stirs the pot one final time. What purpose did all this serve? Could it be the prelude to an alien invasion, or just a reaffirmance that women can screw up a sci-fi plot just as well as men? The answers are NOT forthcoming, and I don’t think this movie will last more than two weeks in theatres—it’s THAT bad.

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Black Panther Action-packed

Black Panther poster 1 Marvel’s quality seems to be getting better with every new film they release. The Black Panther has set a new zenith that will probably not be eclipsed until “Infinity War” hits theaters in a few months. This film was well written, visually stunning, and acting was top-notch. It took a few liberties with the comic book character but was handled so cleverly that we hardly noticed. I may go see it again, in 3D, to get the full effect.

T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) must take over as king of Wakanda when his father dies in an explosion at U.N. headquarters (as seen in Captain America: Civil War). T’Challa is heir to a centuries old birthright to become The Black Panther following his father in a ritual that involves consuming a drink from a heart-shaped plant affected by the massive deposit of a metal called vibranium when a meteor crashed into Africa long ago. The Wakandans have used the vibranium to develop incredible technology and weapons, all the while remaining invisibly shielded from the outside world as they present the fascia of being a poor third world country.

Black Panther 3 A subplot is introduced early as in 1992, Prince N’Jobu’s son, N’Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan) wants to supplant T’Challa as king and use Wakanda’s weaponry to stage an African-American empire under his command. This man is a black ops soldier who goes by the name of Killmonger. If the plotline was followed verbatim, Killmonger would probably be a genetically enhanced warrior created by Hydra, but this angle is never fully explored. The movie deviates a bit here by stating N’Jobu, Zuri (as an adult played by Forest Whitaker), and N’Jobu’s son Erik (Jordan plays the adult version) get involved in a skirmish that interacts heavily with the rest of the story.

Black Panther 9 From there, yet another subplot carries things along as a black market arms dealer , Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is identified as the man who stole some vibranium from Wakanda. He is wanted by the Wakandans for that theft, so T’Challa tracks him to a South Korean underground casino with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) his former lover, and special forces warrior Okoye (Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira), and a fierce fight ensues, resulting in Klaue getting away, even after a heart-pounding chase.

Black Panther 8 Another character who figures prominently is T’Challa’s 16-year old sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), whose primary duty is developing new technology for Wakanda. At one point, she refers to wounded CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) as “another broken white boy to fix”. This refers back to the post-credit scene in “Civil War” where Bucky Barnes is shown to have been taken to Wakanda to repair his battered body and mind.

The fight scenes are smartly choreographed and well-spaced in the film to allow plot and action to flow continuously. The cast includes Angela Bassett as Ramonda, T’Challa’s mother and Queen, Sebastian Stan appearing as Bucky Barnes in a post-credit scene, and Marvel boss Stan Lee, whose mandated cameo as a gambler in the casino evokes the necessary comedy angle. One post-credit scene obviously hints that Wakandan technology will be used in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. This, I repeat, may be the best Marvel movie ever.

 

 

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STAR WARS—THE LAST JEDI

Last Jedi 1 Early reports on this film (which opened tonight [Dec. 15] nationwide was glowing in its praises. I came, I saw, I concur. Yes, the novice Star Wars fan will be lost if he hasn’t seen at least the last three films in the series (not counting last year’s “Rogue One”), but that’s the beauty of these films—fans have seen them all, probably several times (I own the first 6 on tape), and know what’s going on. There are some out there who think that since Lucasfilm sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney, only young people will be interested. At tonight’s showing, I can safely say the average age must have been around 45.

When we last saw the gang, there were some new rumblings going on as Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) took over from the Emperor and is grooming Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to take over Darth Vader’s spot . Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) are the two main new characters around which this tale evolves.

Last Jedi 3 Rey has gone to the highly isolated planet Ahch-To, where Luke has gone into seclusion on an island, hoping to convey Leia’s (Carrie Fisher, in her last appearance) wish for Luke to rejoin in the fight. At first, Luke refuses, but as he senses she is indeed “one with The Force”, he relents and agrees to train her. As the two get closer, their powers co-mingle as Rey makes mental contact with Kylo, which sends crossed signals and leads to a brief exchange between Luke and Rey.

Last Jedi 2 Meanwhile, the First Order (which has taken over for the Empire) has the rebellion just about finished as they force the Resistance fighters, led by Leia, off their base world and chase them through space, decimating the Resistance fleet in the process. Rey is now in charge of the Millenium Falcon, Han Solo’s old ship, with Chewbacca still the co-pilot. Finn is en route with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) to the casino on Canto Bight to find a hacker DJ (Benicio del Toro) who can disable the First Order tracking device use to trail the Resistance. Del Toro is not the only “big name” appearing as a secondary character. Laura Dern plays Vice Admiral Holdo, a part that creates friction but ultimately redemption.

Last Jedi 4 Near the end, the Resistance lands on an old base world called Crait and braces for a final assault being led by Kylo Ren, who has taken over as Supreme Leader after killing Snoke. Just when things look darkest, Luke arrives on Crait to confront Kylo alone, after giving him the same warning Obi-Wan gave Darth Vader back in Episode 4—“If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can imagine, and will be with you always”. Of course, Kylo ignores the warning, and puts Luke down.

The film makes impressive use of CGI, and despite cutting back and forth between scenes and plot lines, the action remains easy to follow (for the true fans). We still have one film to go in the current trilogy, and one wonders how Leia’s character will be handled since Miss Fisher’s untimely death. Tom Hardy, British Princes William and Harry all had cameos as Storm Troopers in Last Jedi, which runs two and a half hours.

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The Orville May Not Be Enough Spoof

Orville 3  Seth McFarlane believes he has the perfect sci-fi spoof for us with The Orville. After the pilot episode, it looks like no one believes him—not even the Fox Network, which has only commissioned 3 more shows as of September 10. Here’s the lowdown:

Seth McFarlane returns home to find his wife in bed with a blue-skinned alien, after which he walks out on her. Fast-forward a year later and Seth’s Captain Ed Mercer character gets his own command—the exploration ship The  Orville. He meets with the crew and his officers—Dr. Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerrald), chief medical officer; Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), helmsman and his best friend; Lt. Commander Bortus (Peter Macon), second officer from a single-gendered species; John LaMarr (J Lee), navigator; and Isaac (Mark Jackson), a Kaylon artificial life form that considers humans inferior. He has no first officer but learns one will join him on his initial mission. Turns out that officer is his ex-wife. So far this sounds too much like my life to be comfortable.

Orville 4 There is a plethora of strained divorce one-liners here but a few funny moments, such as when Bortus informs Mercer that his race only excretes waste once a year. As the story moves on, Mercer’s crew has to secure a time-advance device that a scientist says can be used to solve the problem of feeding colonists but could also be used as a weapon.

Orville 1 This could be a good alternative as a comedic Star Trek parody, but it tries to be too serious while exploring for laughs where no man has gone before—except for Mel Brooks, who went there with more flair and aplomb in “Spaceballs” years ago. Overall, I don’t find McFarlane to be an adequate comic persona, and I don’t think America is ready for a Star Trek spoof—especially when it has so little to offer. At least the special effects are fairly good, but won’t be enough to save this travesty.

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Wonder Woman—DC Does Superhero Right

Wonder Woman 4 When DC decided we needed to see a totally new superhero for the Justice League films, they opted for Wonder Woman (portrayed by Gal Gadot, as seen in Batman vsSuperman) and decided to do it right. The tease we got in B vs S hit on all cylinders by giving us a lady who’s not a “where’s the guy who’ll save me” female, but rather a super powerful demigod. Then they gave the directing job to Patty Jenkins and gave her a dynamic co star in Chris Pine’s Captain Steve Trevor.

Wonder Woman 3 Here, the story deviates a bit from the comics as the story is set during World War I rather than the Second World War. Tying in the story with the entire DC Universe  is the story’s opening in Paris’ Louvre Museum where a Wayne Enterprises truck delivers a package to Diana Prince. The package contains the WWI photo we saw in B vs S, and a note from Wayne that he found the included original pic and hopes she’ll tell him the whole story about it. This gets Diana reminiscing about the past as we enter her thoughts as she relives her youth on Paradise Island (here called by the original name of Themyscira, the Greek name in mythology). The deftly handled banter between characters fleshes out the story about the origins of man, the Amazons, Zeus and Ares (Mars), the god of war, as well as how Diana secretly trains to become a warrior. Queen Hyppolita, who fashioned Diana from clay and is perhaps overly protective of her sculpted daughter, first refuses to have Diana learn to fight, but after Trevor crashes near the island in a German plane, Axis soldiers land on the island by boat and a vicious fight ensues which convinces Hyppolita that Diana is the one named in legend to defeat Ares and restore world peace, a job that will require her to enter the world of men.

Wonder Woman 2 Trevor and Diana wind up in London, the headquarters for the Allied forces, and here we get some light-hearted yet historically accurate flavour as Diana acquires “modern” clothes and complains “How does a woman fight in these clothes?”, then gets snubbed and practically gets thrown out of a “men only” war briefing. Trevor gets help from Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis) to sneak into Belgium and pull off a commando raid to neutralise the new weapon Mustard Gas (a real WWI biological weapon). Here follow several armed encounters, some on horseback, which is also historically accurate for WWI field combat.

Wonder Woman 1 Diana eventually goes one-on-one with Sir Morgan, who is actually the God of War who is using the War as a subplot to corrupt all of mankind. Trevor winds up giving his life for the cause, and we finish the story with Diana looking at the old WWI photo. This should hold us until later this year when the Justice League movie finally reaches us. This movie does a great job at story telling and is the best DC superhero film to date. Let’s hope it’s a springboard for better DC Universe films.

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