Category Archives: science fiction

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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Valerian Visually Stunning Yet Comes Up Short

Valerian 3 First off, let’s put our cards on the table. French films do NOT play well in America, and French science fiction is a tough ball of wax, especially when it’s based on a little-known (in America) comic book. Not even the powerhouse duo of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg could work their magic back in 2011 with “The Adventures of Tintin” in spite of the fact that Tintin is known all over the world but a virtual unknown in America. Additionally, the French seem to have little knowledge about making sci-fi films—they are too quirky.You can go all the way back to 1902, when Georges Melies made “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” (The Trip To The Moon). Decades later, in 1966, the Eddie Constantine movie “Alphaville” royally flopped in America.

At this point, enter Luc Besson, who in 1997 directed “The Fifth Element”. The redeeming value there was that Milla Jojovich and Bruce Willis were teamed with Gary Oldman in this French-made romp.  Here, Besson wrote and directed Valerian And The City of a Thousand Planets, and has Herbie Hancock, Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, and Rihanna for flavour, but overall, this film asks the average American to process too much information.

Valerian 5 The opening starts off well, enhanced by David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in the background and a visually stunning, growing space station as we witness the different astronauts who met here in the past. The story tells us the station got too big, so much so that it became a threat to Earth and was set adrift in open space where it continues to be a roaming example of human technology and meeting place for space races.

Valerian 2 The French expect the viewer to connect all the dots on their own, so there ensues a series of unrelated adventures involving Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and his partner, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delavigne), a couple of government agents who travel through time and space solving cases—which is the supposed foundation for a future film series with the characters. Think James Bond 500 years in the future, and you have the general idea.

The story loosely follows the history of a planet that was destroyed 30 years before Valerian’s events, involving the giant space station Alpha, and the various aliens who have made it their home.

Valerian 1 The commander on Alpha is not all he appears to be, and eventually gets his come-uppance as a secret hinted at near the movie’s beginning becomes known. Valerian has a desire to marry Laureline, and she appears receptive to the idea, yet that aspect is merely used for comic relief. Rihanna appears as a shape-shifting dancer who also has a secret.

The most expensive independent film ever produced, at well over 100 million Euros, the visual effects and grandeur of this movie are utterly outstanding, but the script gives the impression that three (maybe more) writers actually scrabbled a series of unrelated incidents together into one movie. Yes, there IS a story here, and the nimble-minded can manage to follow it, but a sci-fi “newbie” seeing his first film with Valerian will be turned off for life with the genre. At 2 hours and 17 minutes in length, it appears to go for hours without end and is chock full of action, aliens, weapons, and special effects. Unfortunately, not even Luc Besson had the glue to make this all stick together. I have little expectation of this movie breaking even in America. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if it wound up getting pulled from theatres within weeks.

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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

Kong Skull Island 1

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.

Kong Skull Island 2

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”.

Kong Skull Island 3

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.

passengers-3

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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