Tag Archives: sci-fi

The Predator

I’ve been distracted lately.

Like, sometimes I’ll be too busy to post reviews in a timely fashion. But this isn’t that. I went to see The Predator, and I liked it quite a lot. Army Ranger (or some other special forces guy) and a group of military misfits vs., you know, the predator. Right? Lots of in jokes from previous movies (at least, from the original one), a cool autistic kid (which sounds implausible, but yeah, this may be the best use of a child in an action movie), a 90% valuable use of a token female scientist, plus lots of blood and explosions.

To be clear, my standards are not very high. The movie is what it is, but this was a solid example of its type.

My point is this: I liked the movie, but I still just forgot to write a review until I was thinking about watching a movie today. “Wait, I can’t do that until I’m not behind!” I guess I’m just glad I remembered at all?

Popcorn is also a fine example of what it is, ie, empty calories that taste pretty okay in context, but it’s not like you’ll be telling someone in a week or so how great the popcorn you had last week was. Which is maybe what I actually thought about the movie? But I’m sticking with “I’ve been distracted.” Because I have, even if the other explanation is pretty valid too.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The first thing I did upon preparing for this review was to look up my review of Jurassic World. Thankfully, it came with correct opinions already firmly in place: the treatment of the female lead was abysmal, the children were badly tacked on, the dinosaurs and action disaster portions were exactly what I wanted them to be. So, it was a flawed film that I can understand would have been far worse to people who were unconcerned by the primary focus.

Therefore, I have pretty good news! The recent new sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, has the same strengths and virtually none of the flaws of its predecessor. We pick up with the same two lead characters three years later, deciding what to do as the world learns that Isla Nubar[1]’s volcano is no longer dormant, and all the dinosaurs are about to go extinct, y’know, again. I’m not going to pretend there’s much tension as to their decision, but having established that some people are going to an exploding island to rescue some dinosaurs from oblivion, I’ll leave the plot at that instead of delving into any details of the remaining acts[2].

But so my point is, none of the old flaws. That’s awesome! I’m not claiming it’s a Bechdel ready film (although it honestly might be), but it doesn’t kick feminism in the crotch like last time. The kid is not annoying, and furthermore is actively relevant. (Spoiler: there’s a kid.) A thing I don’t know but wish I did is whether any of the previous sequels captured the same sense of wonder as those original herds of dinosaurs in the very first movie did for teenage me. Like, maybe they did not, but maybe they did and I just forgot because it was not the first time anymore? Which means maybe I’ll forget this too, but I had some sense of wonder, at least by proxy, when the paleo-veterinarian encountered her first dinosaur in the flesh. (Second spoiler: there’s a paleo-veterinarian.[3])

Which is, ultimately, the other really good thing about this movie besides that it fixed its progenitor’s flaws: Fallen Kingdom has an emotional core, around the literal fact of dinosaurs dying and dying out. Not only did I care about some of the characters, I absolutely cared about the dinosaurs. (Not just the one with a name.) I’m sad if this movie isn’t doing well, because it deserves to be.

Even if Jeff Goldblum was badly tacked on. (Third spoiler: Jeff Goldblum was badly tacked on.)

[1] the island off Costa Rica where the park(s) used to be, before things(es) went wrong
[2] …which is more than I can say for the trailers. I really hate movie trailers.
[3] I’m not thinking very hard about how you get that doctorate / degree sans practical application training. I’m also judging you if you are thinking about it very hard.

Blade Runner

Today I learned I’d never seen Blade Runner before. I’m honestly not sure how that happened? Nevertheless, I think I was right to want to watch it before the sequel.

It will be hard to talk about this without spoilers, mainly because I’ve known so much about it myself, long before seeing it. I guess I will not worry about it much, in order to get some sense impressions out of the way. 1) Deckard isn’t a replicant. This was easiest to determine, because every replicant in the movie had, at one or multiple points, a weird yellowy reflection in their pupils, and he never did. 2) The replicants themselves were mostly sympathetic; they were dealt a raw hand and seemed to be trying to find a way out, and I respect that. At the same time, they were murderous enough to make the blade runner role seem like a reasonable one instead of an arm of the state focused solely on keeping down someone who might otherwise come to dominate humanity. (See also the Sentinels in X-Men.) In fact, the biggest flaw the movie had was exactly that: there was no reason given why the replicants were so murder-happy, and it was a little too easy. 3) Gaff (the guy played by Edward James Olmos who was apparently Japanese for this role?) was a total enigma to me, and I think I was supposed to get more out of him than I did, or maybe I just need to watch it more? Whatever, it was worth commenting on.

And, uh, I guess that’s all? A mistake I see I’ve made is assuming you are all familiar with this. In case you aren’t: Blade runners are special cops trained to hunt down replicants, who are no longer allowed on earth after the most recent version committed some offworld murders and are now seen as glitchy / broken / whatever you call an android when you for some reason don’t think it capable of independent morality.

Which reminds me of a little more to talk about after all I guess. Like, what happened to earth? That’s not fair, in retrospect, because of a spoiler I won’t go into, but the majority of what we see is a perpetually rain-darkened shithole where nobody is happy or particularly seems to have much of anything to call their own. Every surface is covered in advertisements, which, okay, that’s valid 2019, but the majority of the ads are inviting people to leave the planet and go somewhere better. And it seems like most people who could leave have already. I’m not sure I have a point, I’m just interested in the backstory of this world. All the parts of it, really. But the part we got was pretty good.

Alien: Covenant

Got around to seeing me an Alien movie, and my short answer is this: it fell short of what it should have done in exactly the same way that Prometheus did before it, but without the benefit of my belief that if only Prometheus were the first half of a longer story, everything would come to rights again.

Here’s the thing. Alien: Covenant is exactly the movie I was looking for, a sequel in which we find out What Happens Next. …at least, it should have been. It so easily could have been. Instead, that plotline is jettisoned in favor of something that is no longer sfnal at all and back to pure horror. Which, okay, that is where this series started, and there’s nothing wrong with it, and I kind of appreciate the specific details of this horror movie, none of which I will be telling you.

But then, after failing to deliver on the possibilities of the first movie, it simultaneously fails to deliver on a bridge to the original 1979 Alien, which is the only other job it had. In point of fact, timelines being what they are, I would say it is impossible to get from this story to that one. (And if I were to ignore timelines, which is at least semi-possible, it would mean that to get from here to there, I would need Ridley Scott to make exactly the movie I wanted him to make this time, which he is clearly unwilling to do.)

Long story short once again, my advice is stick with Alien/Aliens and assume Ripley got her happy ending, as that is the best way to deal with this series.

Star Trek Beyond

MV5BMzQ4Njk3MTQ1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTQyODg5ODE@._V1_SY1000_SX660_AL_First of all, it’s weird that “Star Trek” has turned into an imperative verb in the new movie series. I mean, it is, right? Who is being commanded? I guess probably Kirk. (I reject the idea that the audience is the object.) And that established, Star Trek Beyond what?

Given ample use of spoilers, I could probably wax rhapsodic with theories and themes galore that might or might not fit the bill; but there’s no use in spoilers here. That said, I do have more questions. This one is more from the original series, but I had reason to be reminded of it. Given that the Enterprise‘s five year mission is to expand the borders of known space, why are they so frequently coming across Starbases? My best answer is that it’s not the random exploration we’ve been lead to believe, but instead a boring grid pattern search, such that the Federation is expanding somewhat close behind them at any given moment. Which is a sensible way to do things, but it definitely kills a lot of the cowboy mystique that has grown around Kirk’s era of Starfleet.

Anyway, though: this is definitely a Star Trek movie, and for once does not suffer from JJ Abrams’ fundamental misunderstanding of the size of space. There are other reasons to watch it, but that should probably be enough all by itself? Also, it is way, way, way better than The Search for Spock, even if I belatedly notice at least one parallel to that flick.

Ghostbusters (2016)

MV5BMTU0OTQ5NDMzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTUxODMxOTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,673,1000_AL_I actually saw two movies on Thursday prior to departing for a camping trip. As usual, I have squandered my chance at a timely review of a new release movie. This happens with such reliability that this can probably never be my actual job? No, I’m kidding, there are much better reasons for that outcome than lack of timeliness. Still, though, I’m here now, so let’s talk.

Ghostbusters, right? There’s been a lot of chatter for months about this movie, mostly along feminist lines. On one side of the divide are people complaining about an all female cast of main characters taking over the reins of a major nostalgia franchise. On the other side are people who want to slap the smirk off the first group of people, because, Jesus, how is this a thing someone can justify complaining about in 2016? (I, uh, may have an opinion in this race.) For my part, my complaint from the start has been, why is this a reboot? Why not a next generation sequel? This complaint, while I have not really let it go after the fact, was never enough to keep me out of the theater.

Anyway, though, the outcome? I’m gonna stay away from plot, because you know what’s up. Four women in New York with unlicensed nuclear reactors strapped to their backs are out to solve a ghost problem. Anything less would be impossible for you to know, and anything more is best saved for the theater. But was it worth it? I have mixed feelings.

See, on the one hand, they drew so very heavily from the nostalgia well. Yes, I loved the movie unabashedly, but it’s not really easy to tell if I’ve been puppeted into feeling that way. On the other hand, and I think this is key: every moment that I walked out of the theater laughing about and already quoting back and forth with my friends was a moment that was new and fresh to the new characters. I hope it passes the test of time, and I hope any potential sequel is neither a pale facsimile of this one nor a tired retread of a plot that already exists. Because I really want to see it again already. I know for a fact there are jokes and sight gags I missed; and more importantly, I want to get some of those lines down solid, because I wouldn’t be surprised to be throwing them around in casual conversation 30 years from now, just like I do with the old lines today.

X-Men: Apocalypse

MV5BMjQxMjY5MzU1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzgyNjY0NzE@._V1_SX690_CR0,0,690,999_AL_I saw the new X-Men movie a week or two ago, and I liked it, but what with being busy and behind on internets and seriously really busy what with houses that don’t clean themselves and weddings that don’t plan themselves and jobs and the whole being an adult thing, I’ve maybe lost track of anything I might have said about it.

Apocalypse, as you will learn in the opening moments of the flick, is set in a tenuous 1985 between the recent First Class and Days of Future Past and the original X-Men movie that due to timeline manipulations may not even exist anymore. See, there’s this Egyptian guy who I haven’t gotten to in my readings of the source material[1], and now that he’s awake again, he wants to rule the world as is his wont.

And then, you know, mutanty things happen. It seems like there should be more to say, about themes or some such? Maybe I waited too long, maybe I expect more than is necessary from a perfectly fine X-Men slugfest. Either way, I’m seeing a movie tonight that I will perhaps review more timelily, and this is what you get.

Final thought: Psylocke, another character who I have not gotten to in comics, seemed kind of shoehorned in just for the purposes of costume fan service. Which is kind of lame.

[1] Unless I have? But if this dude is based on the Living Pharaoh, he is much, much cooler in this movie than in the comics he was drawn from.

Limitless

MV5BMTY3NjczNzc5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzA2MzQyNA@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_I kind of wanted to see Limitless a good long time ago, because of how I like Bradley Cooper and the plot seemed cool in a wish-fulfillment kind of way, but I never did. Then recently CBS released a show about it, which I did watch, and it turned out a) to be good (and more importantly, fun) but also b) a sequel to the movie rather than a reimagining of it. So at that point, I had to watch it. Which I have!

And, yeah. Wish fulfillment is the name of the game. You just take this pill, and suddenly you can remember everything you’ve ever seen or learned, not to mention how easy it becomes to learn new things and make new connections. And the downsides are… well, fairly minimal.[1] From there, high stakes cats and mice, criminal enterprises, stock markets, genius books that capture the public imagination: you know, the kinds of things people would do if they had, er, limitless potential.

Recommended to people who like brain wish-fulfillment or Bradley Cooper. Not recommended to people who like Wars on Drugs. Oh, and the show is definitely better, if for some reason you feel a need to choose between them.

[1] There are more realistic downsides in the show, which is early on often a remake of the movie after all, but smarter.

Men in Black 3

It needs to be said, right up front, that MIB^3 was an entirely unnecessary movie. Even if there was no other reason, it is troubling that this is the movie that tells the world a) that Tommy Lee Jones deems himself ready to retire or b) that the studio figures he cannot cut the mustard fighting aliens and/or quipping deadpan against Will Smith. Let’s be honest, both of these are crimes against humanity. Plus, blah blah blah Hollywood sequelitis, nobody can write well about time travel, et cetera.

But the thing is, a movie doesn’t have to be necessary to be fun, and probably I will not ever get tired of watching the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air tackling his way through alien goo, incomprehensible technology, and Tommy Lee Jones’ deadpan to save the world yet again from the latest space-borne menace. Mind you, I will probably have the good grace to feel bad about it before I walk into the theater, and in direct proportion to the amount of missing Tommy Lee Jones. But I’ll still like it. We’ll all still like it. I mean, come on.

Star Trek

MV5BMjE5NDQ5OTE4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTE3NDIzMw@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Obviously, you are aware of this movie, and you’ve probably already formed your own opinion. And anyway, I’d be leery of spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it. In theory, this constrains my review by quite a lot, but I figure it leaves me free to talk about what I really wanted to anyway. But, first things first. Did I like it? Enough to see it three times on opening weekend. Did it have flaws? I can think of a couple offhand, one extremely nitpicky and one that, absent, would have failed to feel like a Star Trek movie anyway. Plus, I think I’m willing to claim that at one point, there was actually an insufficient amount of technobabble. Was it accessible to non-fans? I feel as though it really was, and the reviews I’ve heard from non-fans (and in one case, an actively anti-fan) have borne this impression out. So you should really go see it, if this has not already occurred.

Because what J.J. Abrams made here was a philosophical, character-driven action movie, and really, how many of those do you think exist? Of the ones that exist, how many do you think aren’t insufferably smug about it? This right here is a narrow field to occupy! Action: ’cause, you know, space battles and laser gun fights. Character-driven: the driving forces of the story are all based in interactions. Kirk and McCoy’s friendship. Kirk and Spock’s rivalry. Spock’s relationship with his human mother. Nero’s irrational impulse for personal rather than systemic revenge. (He’s the bad guy.) Philosophical: take a group of people that shook the foundations of the Federation (and, projecting outward less than you’d think, the galaxy) and drastically change their history. Okay, many of the changes were not drastic, but one was, and there are clear, subtle ripples from there even before the main plot of the movie takes over. And then explore the question of random chance versus unalterable destiny.

I liked that by the end of the movie, the history of the Federation is vastly divergent from the one that fans of five TV series and ten movies know. And I like that it’s not going to be “fixed.” It was a bold move that I think is going to pay off in spades for the future of the franchise. But as much as I approve of that, I absolutely adored watching as, moment by moment, destiny pushed beloved characters into roles that they had fallen into by seeming happenstance in the original timeline. This new Trek may have surprisingly non-causal time travel that never really existed in “my father’s” Star Trek, but it also has some modicum of fate. And that’s kind of cool.