Showing posts with label Movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Movies. Show all posts

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Closing: The 2015 Science Fiction Experience

Space by Stephan Martieniere
My participation in The 2015 Science Fiction Experience was minimal. Nevertheless, it was no less enjoyable as I spent most of my time reading great reviews posted by the rest of the participants. Thanks to Carl V. from Stainless Steel Droppings for hosting once again.


The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
This book is all about the journey. I loved traveling through the galaxy along with this crew. I particularly liked the episodic style utilized in this novel and the ensemble of characters that become so central to the overall journey.


Gravity (Warner Bros, 2013)
I'm a big fan of science fiction films, yet I waited a long time to watch Gravity, a highly regarded film by many. It all comes down to personal taste. I have found that the nitty gritty details and slow moving plotting I often enjoy when reading hard science fiction books are lost on me when translated to film. As suspected, I couldn't wait for this movie to end. The plot did not keep me at the edge of my seat and the improbability of the events as they develop at the end did not help. So, as much as I love science fiction, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, this film was not for me.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, Marvel Studios)
This is a similar story with a different ending. I refused to go to the theaters last summer to watch Guardians of the Galaxy because I thought I would not like the film. Wrong!! I loved everything about Guardians of the Galaxy. That scene close to the opening with Chris Pratt as Peter Quill singing along to a 1980's song just about did me in. I was hooked by it. I love the soundtrack, the humor, and the action. But really the best part of this movie is how five outsiders who don't belong anywhere get together and become a family. I loved that about this movie. And I fell in love with Groot and Rocket. A sequel is scheduled to release in 2017. I won't miss it!

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn (Microsoft Studios, 2012)
I rented Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn on a whim knowing that it is military sci-fi based on a game. Since I am not a gamer, however, there is not much I can say about the contrasts between the original storyline and characters in the game and the movie. The movie plot vaguely reminded me of Starship Troopers with cadets training to go to war in a world where it is expected that they should join the service and hate the enemy without question. Young Cadet Thomas Lansky, however, is ambivalent about his future and his role in the service, so a coming-of-age story is incorporated into the overall plot. A surprise attack toward the end of the movie changes everything -- no more questions, no more choices -- and Master Chief shows up in all his glory to help survivors. I loved Master Chief's character and was disappointed that he did not have more screen time. The end was a sort of beginning. Although the first half of the film is a bit cliché, the second half picks up and Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn ends up being an entertaining sci-fi film with great action.

Reading Habits: Thoughts on Introductions
2014: Top Books of the Year

Thursday, January 9, 2014

SF Movies: Elysium & Oblivion


Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Tristar Pictures
Directed and Written by Neill Blomkamp
Released in Theaters: August, 2013
DVD Released: December 17, 2013
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodi Foster, Sharito Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura

I love my sci-fi movies and Matt Damon is a favorite actor, so I looked forward to the release of Elysium on DVD during the holidays when I'm usually on vacation and can indulge myself in marathon movie watching at home.

The plot for Elysium falls under social science fiction with plenty of exciting action. It all comes down to a matter class, with the very wealthy living high above in the space station Elysium, and the rest of humanity surviving life on Earth. Most of the action takes place in a post-apocalyptic Earth decimated by pollutants and overpopulation. It's the year 2154 and Earth's inhabitants are wracked by decease, poverty, filth, and hopelessness. The population has few choices left. Some live and die working for the few Elysium owned mega-corporations where they are treated as nothing more than disposable cattle, others turn to crime for which they pay severe penalties, or in desperation, join rebel forces and attempt to gain citizenship in Elysium by breaking their immigration laws.

This life contrasts severely with the immaculate, rarefied, and sterile world that the wealthy enjoy in their space station with its controlled environment. Each luxury home has its own high-tech medical pod to take care of incurable deceases, and anti-immigration laws prevent undesirables from entering their airspace, so that the issues of overpopulation and poverty do not exist. It's all about control, and no one believes this more than Elysium's hard-liner Secretary Delacourt (Jodi Foster) whose actions reflect her beliefs, even as the moderate President disagrees with the results.

Max (Matt Damon) dreamed of going to Elysium as a child, but turned to crime in his youth and is now trying to lead a productive life by working in an Elysium-owned corporation. After suffering from a massive dose of radiation at work, he is given five days to live and is dismissed without a thought by the wealthy owner. Max realizes that his only chance at survival is going to Elysium for a cure and contacts rebel forces working to change the status quo. His journey is almost impossible, and throughout he encounters danger, his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga) whose daughter is dying of Leukemia, and Delacourt's own private assassin on Earth.

I found the central sociopolitical plot points used in Elysium, overblown and without subtlety. Blomkamp's idea for a space station inhabited by the "haves" reminds me of isolated, and already existing, gated communities -- used as a base but expanded to build a dystopian future. The same goes with the reasons utilized for Earth's devastation and touchy sociological and political contemporary issues such as pollution, global overpopulation and the question of immigration laws, citizenship (I noticed everyone speaks Spanish including Max), and healthcare. The huge sense of entitlement v. poverty, or the "let them eat cake or die" attitude is blown out of proportion to fit the futuristic angle, but yes, the issues involved are immediately recognizable.

The action is exciting and entertaining, with science fiction details that range from the crude to the sophisticated to fit the plot, but there are places where plausibility, (in the plot), takes a backseat to the non-stop action. And as is expected with such actors as Matt Damon and Jodi Foster in the cast, the characterizations are above average, although I would not say outstanding or memorable. The rest of the acting was either average or over the top (that assassin!).

My husband and I watched this film together, and he had tons of questions about the plausibility of how the space station worked and the ships landed. We both ended up with questions at the end about plot holes or particular plot points that did not make sense. And, we had a long discussion about the sociopolitical aspects that were touched on in this movie. We both enjoyed the action and gritty dystopian atmosphere, and while I probably won't watch this movie again on purpose, I may get caught up on the action. I know my husband will watch it again. :)


Also on the holiday movie menu:


Action & Adventure, Science-Fiction & Fantasy
Universal Pictures
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Written by Joseph Kosinski and Michael DeBruyn
Released in Theaters: April 19, 2013
DVD Released: August 6, 2013
Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau

I'm not sure how to best summarize the plot for this movie without giving away too much or too little information. I will try my best though. Years ago Earth was invaded by aliens. Earth won, but the war left the planet uninhabitable with heavily polluted, radiation zones. Most humans have been evacuated to a colony in Titan. Supervised by Sally (Melissa Leo) from Control on the Tet (a sort of space station), Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Vicka (Andrea Riseborough) are two weeks from completing their mission as the mop up team on Earth overseeing the extraction of vital resources, such as water from the oceans, gathered by giant processors to be used at the Titan colony. Jack's work is to patrol the planet's surface from the skies and repair droids when needed, but when on the planet's surface, there's always the danger of attack from remaining alien scavengers. The situation changes drastically when a spacecraft crashes and Jack rescues Julia (Olga Kurylenko), the beautiful woman he has been seeing in recent dreams and impossible memories from before the war. As truths begin to surface, Jack and Vika's world unravels until the only answers left are too terrible to consider and the only choice left to all involved may be life or death.

Oblivion is beautifully shot science fiction film with a glossy, crisp, and clean post apocalyptic earth. It is a desolate landscape, but aesthetically pleasing with a black, white, and grey motif and few moments of vivid greens, bright blues, and later reds to shock the eye… I mean even the two main characters, Jack (Tom Cruise) and Vicka (Andrea Riseborough) are neutral in color -- wardrobe, makeup, hair, demeanor. There are also gorgeous still shots in this movie that can be used as magazine covers and/or saved for posterity as futuristic sci-fi art, or something along those lines.

The science fiction elements in this story are soft in nature, and although the storyline kept me engaged enough throughout, in the end I was underwhelmed with it as a whole. The movie begins with simple, contained scenes, and rather slow action, the plot builds as it moves along with revelation after revelation and multiple plot changes along the way. However, even as heavier action becomes part of the story, I found little tension in all that build-up. I watched this movie with my husband and brothers, and we all agree that if key plot changes are missed, nothing makes sense.

My favorite performance of this film has to be Andrea Riseborough's characterization of Vicka. I found it to be terrifyingly subtle. I love the way her character slowly falls apart so quietly, and how her eyes, body language, and tone of voice say it all without effort. The rest of the cast does their job as expected, nothing outstanding or out of the ordinary.

So, for me, Oblivion turned out to be a science fiction film with some messy plot changes, beautifully shot but predictable action scenes, and above average cinematography. My husband and brothers, on the other hand, loved the film as a whole! They were riveted throughout and say they will watch it again. So there you have it, two completely different reactions to the same film. One last comment, the title is perfect for the film.


The 2014 Science Fiction Experience

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, directed by Peter Jackson 
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Poster
I am a Tolkien fan. I'm a complete Lord of the Rings nut! I read the complete Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy almost every year during the holidays -- Christmas through New Year's -- or sometimes during the New Year's weekend if I'm not on vacation. In recent years watching the Peter Jackson movie trilogy (the director's cut of course) has also become a tradition.

My favorite poster
The Dwarves
But people! THIS year, Peter Jackson's movie of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is releasing today, 12-14-12. Actually, although The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien is one book, in the movies the adventures of Bilbo Baggins will become a trilogy. I do understand that information included in the Appendices from the Lord of the Rings trilogy books that pertain to The Hobbit will be incorporated into the movie trilogy. I can't wait to see how Jackson and his crew consolidate the information.


The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit
There and Back Again
by J.R.R. Tolkien
As far as the book The Hobbit or There and Back Again goes, I read it a long time ago in school and remember enjoying it, but frankly this is not a book that I re-read. While discussing this with my husband, who is also a Tolkien fan, we both wondered why neither of us really re-read The Hobbit. We both came to the conclusion that it is because we think of it as a children's or young adults' story. A bit light in content compared to Lord of the Rings. Regardless, I decided to re-read it last week before the movie release.

What I found while reading The Hobbit is a lighter and less detailed version of Tolkien's world than that found in Lord of the Rings. The story has its dark moments, don't get me wrong, but for me there is something missing from the overall adventure. I definitely appreciated this book more when I was a younger reader.

On the positive side, The Hobbit is a tighter story than The Lord of the Rings, after all it is one book with a beginning and an end. It serves as a magnificent introduction to Tolkien's world of hobbits, wizards, elves, dwarves, and great heroes. The war of good against evil is there, but so is the pull of men's greed, nature in all its glory and the darkness in men (or the representation of men) that taints nature, and of course there are Tolkien's heroes -- the small, insignificant characters who battle and conquer fear, insecurities and incredible odds to beat immense evil.

Bilbo Baggins makes a great Tolkien hero. He is reluctant of course, and thinks he is too small, insignificant and cowardly to play the role of burglar needed by the dwarves. Bilbo is a proud hobbit though, and part Took, not just Baggins. Tooks take to adventures, so he accepts the challenge and goes off with thirteen dwarves to reclaim treasure stolen by Smaug the Dragon and to restore the King of the Mountain. The dwarves are led by Thorin, the her to the mountain's kingdom and they are all led by Galdalf the Grey, wizard extraordinaire.

Gandalf the Grey and Bilbo are both central in this adventure. The thirteen dwarves are named and described in the book, but only a few of them are really well characterized. The rest are pretty much interchangeable and don't get many lines throughout the whole adventure. Tolkien says that "Dwarves are no heroes," and for much of the story they are not, and neither is Bilbo! The adventure is all about the journey as they all find their hearts and courage.

Some of the adventures are more exciting than others. One of the most detailed chapters in the book where the reader actually feels the danger is "Chapter V: Riddles in the Dark," where Bilbo finds "the Ring" and meets Gollum. The two engage in a series of creepy and wonderful riddles that provide the reader with a dark, eerie and a true life or death moment for Bilbo. The other adventure that really pops takes place in "Chapter VIII: Flies and Spiders." This is where Bilbo begins to find his courage, an ability to lead and gains the respect of the dwarves.Of course there are the scenes with Smaug the Dragon... but I won't go into those, you'll have to read the book.

Overall this is a great adventure and I still believe that it is geared toward young adults. However, I can't think of anyone who loves Tolkien's works who won't read The Hobbit as an introduction to the amazing, incredible world he created. Worldbuilding? Tolkien was the master! !

Going back to the movie(s) by Peter Jackson, I can't wait to see how he depicts Bilbo's adventures and all the great characters he meets on his way. For example: the Necromancer was a bit of a mystery in the book, but I understand that he makes an appearance in the movie, so I'll wait and see how that turns out. And, Smaug the Dragon? I can't wait to see that sly old beauty...


This post is for my daughter who is a Tolkien fan-a-tic and whose birthday just happens to be today! 

Happy Birthday, Vanessa!!!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2012 Science Fiction Experience: Science Fiction "B Movies"

Joining the 2012 Science Fiction Experience has made me crave not only books, but also science fiction movies! Now, I'm not talking about the best of the best here... I do love those: Star Wars (the original series), Blade Runner, The Matrix, Alien, a few of the Star Trek movies, etc. I also happen to have a secret passion for "B" movies. You know... the ones that get the dreaded "Rotten Tomatoes" ratings every year, the ones that the critics hate and that serious science fiction fans can't stand to watch? Those.

So, I began by watching some of those movies that I know are flawed (some of the seriously flawed), but that for some unknown reason I get stuck watching anyway. It's interesting because here and there these movies all offer something to science fiction fans. I looked for that this time around instead of doing what I usually do -- talking through most of the movies, pointing out what's wrong with them to my poor husband (who does the same thing to me), or just laughing at the most inappropriate moments, it's fun!

The first movie I watched was Pitch Black. Pitch Black was directed by David Twohy and stars Vin Diesel. Why do I watch this movie? I enjoy the action, the fact that in effect it has that sci-fi/thriller/horror edge to it with the aliens providing the gore, while some of the humans provide the real horror through their questionable actions. They prove to be the true monsters to be conquered by the oh so very dark hero, Riddick. Of course the thriller aspect of the film is still provided as those same humans are pitted against the aliens. It's nothing new or fresh in science fiction, but I do enjoy that type of story line within this genre.

Now, when it comes to the actual sci-fi details and world building, the story is lacking and the action aspect of the film takes precedence over character depth or specific details. This is where Pitch Black falls under the "B movie" category for me. A great science fiction film is all about the details, and those are missing. For example right at the beginning of the movie the pilot (Caroline Fry) crash lands the ship on the planet after they are hit by debris from a comet. However there's no way she could have survived the crash as all the windows of the ship burst right on her face as they are entering the planet's atmosphere at top speed. Later on, Fry should not have survived her foray into the alien's cave either, but obviously it wasn't her time to die yet.

There's also the planet itself and the fact that seems to be very close to three suns, with desert-like weather and blistering temperatures. The survivors are not prepared for a trek through this blistering desert. They don't have the right gear, nor do they have water... yet they survive a long trek by drinking alcohol without any outward effects. And then there's Riddick, the questionable hero of the piece. He obviously has abilities that are beyond those of a mere human. For example, he can see in the dark, but the rest is basically implied. In Pitch Black, Riddick is just a very dangerous criminal who somehow can survive in the dark when others can't, can smell when someone is bleeding (even though this is not apparent), and can even fight the native aliens and win, but how he does this is never explained. Ever. Not even at the end of the movie.

There are also lots of cliches used in the film. Most of what happens is foreshadowed. You know when someone is going to bite the dust, or make the stupid move that's going to get someone killed. This is not a movie I recommend as a great example of a science fiction film. However, as an action film with some of that science fiction flavor it can be highly entertaining to watch on a Sunday afternoon.

There's a sequel to Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick where Riddick's abilities are explained. I've also seen that film, but that would be another post. :)

I did watch two other movies in the "B movie" category:

Soldier is a 1998 science fiction-action film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. The film stars Kurt Russell as Sgt. Todd, a soldier trained from birth. This was one of the biggest flops ever in the history of film! There's some military sci-fi action in this film with a bit of social sci-fi. The problem is that neither is really developed and the film devolves into an action film that doesn't really make a point either way.

The interesting factoid about this film? The screenwriter David Peoples "considers Soldier to be a "sidequel"/spiritual successor to Blade Runner." Ahhh, nope! Sorry, but I don't see it.

Push is a 2009 American science fiction thriller film directed by Paul McGuigan starring Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Joel Gretsch and Djimon Hounsou. The film focuses on a group of people born with various superhuman abilities: Movers (Telekinetics), Watchers (Foreseers), Pushers (Mind Controllers), Sniffers, Shadows, Shifters, etc...

The main characters, three young adults band together in order to take down the "Division", a government agency that is developing a dangerous drug to enhance their powers, hoping to create an army of super soldiers. This was an interesting movie with a good premise I enjoyed, even as I watched the dead end action scenes that had no real purpose and its inconclusive and sequel-bating ending. This movie is like an episode in an ongoing series with no real conclusion. Incomplete.

That's it for my science fiction "B" movie watching. That was fun!