Tag Archives: sci-fi

Snowpiercer

There are only two things you actually need to know about Snowpiercer.

  1. What happens in the movie is this: Captain America fights a train. …well, okay, everyone in a train, not the train itself. But I’m not joking. If you want to see a movie where Captain America fights a train from one end to the other, this is that movie.
  2. The premise of the movie is this: What if we actually listened to scientists about global warming and the looming danger to our species, and did something about it, and the thing we did was seed the sky with some kind of science chemical that would lower temperatures, and we did this seeding via the contrails coming out of planes, and the end result was that oops, over-correction, the world is completely frozen now and has been for the past 17 years, and everyone is dead except for this one train full of people.

I’m not even kidding. The premise is don’t listen to the science on global warming, or we’ll all die because of chemtrails. I’m not sure a movie has ever made me this angry this quickly. It was less than two minutes in!

Anyway. If you can get past that (and maybe you shouldn’t be able to), the rest of it with the train-fighting by Steve Rogers[1] is mostly entertaining; I think the highlight is the truly surreal sushi dinner, but there’s also all the fighting and shooting and dark humor about classism and religion. Taken as a whole and with a different initiating event, I might have liked it quite a bit.

Also, though, it doesn’t make a lick of sense if you think about how any of it works. Like, nevermind the why of it, if you just accept that the planet froze and there’s a train going around the world with the last survivors of humanity on it? And also there are sharp, militarily enforced divides between the haves and have nots? No part of that survives really any scrutiny at all. So, y’know, turn your brain off.

[1] Okay, I may have exaggerated a few times. It’s not literally Captain America, it’s just Chris Evans in a slightly different role than normal. That said, I didn’t think Knives Out had Captain America as a murder suspect, so.

Spider-Man: Far from Home

I saw the new Spider-Man movie over two weeks ago. You may consider primal scream therapy to be occurring during the paragraph break, because, seriously. I am consistently too busy when at work and too mentally drained when not at work to do almost anything thinky, and yet the further from the movie I get and the more other reactions I see, the harder the thinking part of a review becomes. It’s awesome[1].

So here’s the thing about Peter Parker. My formative experiences with the character (as opposed to Spider-Man, who was a sufficiently popular Marvel character that I was always baseline culturally aware of him) were in the Ultimate Series, where he was the glue that held everything together. Naturally, therefore, a movie that is positioning him for the same role in the MCU, as a result of massive spoilers from Endgame, is going to be my bread and butter.

Things that remain to be said:

  1. Far from Home is a title with very little nuance that I can detect. It’s straight up, Peter goes on a class trip to Europe, where some things that he was hoping to avoid if he wanted to keep his identity a secret occur. It feels like it should have been deeper than that?
  2. This movie does not explore the social and cultural ramifications of another massive spoiler from Endgame. It handwavily acknowledges them, and then ignores them. Which is good! That could be a very dark movie, and if I want to watch grim comics[2], that’s what DC is mostly doing.
  3. What the movie does instead is team up Spider-Man and Nick Fury and a new guy (unless you’ve heard of him elsewhere) against giant elemental creatures who want to devour the world and then move on to other dimensions, just like they did before now. Which is kind of big for a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but least he has the best AI acronym that has ever happened (E.D.I.T.H., and if you have somehow not seen this movie and can figure out the acronym, I’ll buy you a beer) to help him along the way.

It was good. It almost had me tricked on one plot point, which was impressive (but I cannot explain how of course). Another plot point was handled pretty clumsily, to the point where I’m not sure what they were going for, and the most obvious explanation equals truly bad writing. But my point is not that it was great, even by MCU standards. It was good, and it was consistently fun, and that’s the right tone of movie to follow the end of their ten year grand experiment.

[1] On the (haha) bright side, I have managed to spread a Fables graphic novel out over this whole period, and am zero books behind. ….but seriously, send help. This is a nightmare.
[2] But man would I watch a grim Marvel TV show about it. Which is what I thought Agents of SHIELD would do, but no, they had to go and prove complete divergence from the movies instead. Which is dumb and bad and wrong, and the writers are dumb and bad and wrong (or Kevin Feige is for forcing it on them), and grr, argh.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Thanks to punctuation, I don’t need to point out that this is distinct from the 1956 movie where Godzilla and his title are separated by a comma instead of a colon. I guess I did anyway, but these are the things I think about when searching IMDB for the correct link.

Aside from what is admittedly just an assumption that the 1956 version and this one have only the superficial parts you’d expect in common, what I knew about Godzilla: King of the Monsters is that it is set in the same world as Kong: Skull Island and would rather more deeply involve the secret government agency Monarch that they made mention of in the post-credits scene. So when I watched half of the movie thinking, “this is written like it’s a sequel to some movie I never saw,” that was a little confusing. Because it definitely wasn’t a sequel to Kong. I saw the Godzilla remake with Matthew Broderick, which predates this blog by some years, but I completely forgot until I looked up after the credits rolled that there was also a Godzilla remake five years ago, with Bryan Cranston who you may remember from Breaking Bad but who I remember from Malcolm in the Middle. Which it turns out that this movie is a sequel to, or at the least a sequel of sorts. Since I didn’t see it, I’m not really qualified to say? But it seems relevant, if you want to not be as confused as I was.

That confusion aside, it was exactly what you’d expect. There are a lot of monsters with names that you might recognize, and a lot of these monsters fight each other[1], and there’s a lot of discussion of radioactivity, and the title is pretty definitely a spoiler. It’s just that kind of movie. If you like the type, you will like this. It’s a little overwrought even by fate of the world standards, which I think is also as it should be? On the other hand, if you don’t like giant monsters fighting, there is definitely nothing above and beyond that baseline to draw you in.

But it was pretty good, you know? Also, there’s another sequel in the works.

[1] Side note, he said as though digressions were not already his stock in trade: there was a Godzilla-themed monster fighting video game on whatever system existed in 2002, so maybe a Nintendo 64 still? No, that would be at least GameCube. But also it might have been some form of Playstation. Whatever. That is where I recognized most of the names from, with the exception of Mothra and possibly Rodan.

Blade Runner 2049

The other movie I’ve watched lately (because these are both like two weeks old, sigh) is Blade Runner 2049, a long overdue sequel. Or an unnecessary one? The thing is, that is both true (in that Blade Runner told a complete story with a satisfying conclusion that revealed a lot about human nature) and untrue (in that this movie tells a mostly complete story with a conclusion who satisfaction depends on what you believe the movie to be (I’ll get back to this) that reveals at least a little bit more about human nature), and ultimately I will err on the side of it had good effects and a surprising amount of naked people (or not; mostly not, come to think of it) and if it was maybe a little long, I don’t think it was longer than it needed to be, and all in all, apparently my review is a tepid thumbs up?

It was better than that. It was not great, and I think I wanted it to be great as a means of justifying its existence, which is not judging a thing on its merits, so I feel bad about that. Anyway, it is, as advertised, the same movie 32 years later. There’s a Blade Runner, whose job is to get rid of rogue older models of androids, but that is a job whose niche is rapidly closing since the newer androids are programmed better now and always follow orders and never rebel. Except, obviously, there’s more to it than that.

What I like about Blade Runner is that it is a story with a central moral dilemma. The sequel does not have that. It takes a snapshot of a likely future based on its progenitor work, and it lovingly explores every facet of that snapshot. At the end of the movie, maybe two things that matter have happened, but it is important to acknowledge that the things I am talking about do really matter, and the world is a different place than it was when the movie started.

The good news is, a well-told story about a world that once did something amazing is pretty worthwhile, even if it is not in itself as amazing as the last story was. Also, though, I should watch it again. I am pretty sure that there are more layers to be revealed, when my own preconceptions about where the plot is (or should be) going aren’t getting in my way.

Avengers: Endgame

I went to see the fourth Avengers movie on Friday afternoon, right after work and thusly before it was feasible that my on-call duties this weekend would interfere. (As it turns out, it has been non-stop smooth sailing, but I had no way to guess that then.) Obviously I can’t talk about the movie, because, well, you know.

So, the tickets I wanted to buy were sold out before I knew they were on sale. Not literally sold out, but the useful seats were, I mean. So I’ll have to go a second time[1] to see the Alamo’s version. None of this is the point. The point is: after I couldn’t get the tickets I wanted, I sat around for a few weeks waiting for the problem to solve itself, and then ended up not being able to get out of my on-call this weekend as previously referenced. The first time I knew for sure what show I would be able to make was Friday earlier in the afternoon. BUT: there’s this theater a few miles away attached to a mall, only the mall has been closed for years and is in the process of being torn down. Nobody goes to this theater.

So, I was able to get tolerable seats about two hours in advance, and went to a 5:30 show. When we got to the parking lot, it was… well, it’s not a huge lot, most everything beyond the theater’s entrance to the mall is fenced off. Also, what lot there is has not been well taken care of. The upshot of all this is that there are a limited number of spaces, yes, but there are a much more limited number of spaces that have been repainted anytime since the mall died. The upshot of that is that all of the good spaces were already taken, at only 5pm, and man can people not park straight without lines. Some lanes got gradually narrower, eventually dwindling into nothing; some lanes were only a little crooked off into the distance but with one random car blocking half the lane for no good reason. It was a mess and a madhouse. At 5 in the afternoon on a Friday at a mostly dead theater.

Someone not me said that this is plausibly a once-in-a-lifetime (or maybe even a once-in-an-ever) event, where the 22nd film over the course of 11 years tells one complete story. From my anecdotal evidence above, there are a lot of people who know that, even if they don’t have the same words for how weird and rare and wonderful this is.

The big question, then, is will these people be satisfied? Man, I don’t know. I started to say more, but then I realized that it would be by my considerations hugely spoilerish, so I will drop a follow-up comment below the review. Which I haven’t actually done yet; this is just a story about the time I went to see Avengers: Endgame.

And now: my review.

They stuck the landing.

[1] don’t throw me in that briar patch

Captain Marvel

I’ve tried to stay away from reviews of Captain Marvel, much as I try to stay away from reviews of most movies before I see them, but a little moreso this time. There’s too much going on for me to not want my opinion to be unadulterated, and especially since I didn’t see it for nearly a week. That said, I saw a couple reviews, and sure enough, this will be somewhat in response to those.

The first review was effusively positive, putting this near or in the top tier of Marvel movies over the past 11 years. I do not find that I agree with this, from a structural perspective. The origin story was approximately by the numbers, and the fish out of water elements that would have made it unique were blunted by a ’90s greatest hits soundtrack that pulled me out of the story every ten minutes[1]. There were twists, some predictable and some not, there were cool fight scenes, there were cool character beats. I absolutely liked it, but on the whole, it was merely fine.

Except. That’s not perfectly true, because context does matter, and boy does this movie ever have context. It’s the first Marvel movie (and nearly the first superhero movie; I can only think of one recent example[2]) with a female character in the lead. The other review I saw was mostly[3] talking about Brie Larson’s flat affect and not very sexy outfit. I cannot decide whether it’s sadder that the affect comment is factually incorrect, in that she laughed and smiled and got sad and angry pretty regularly, or that this was complained about in a published review even though the script lampshaded a “you’d be pretty if you smiled more” scene, right at the beginning of the second act.

My point is this. Captain Marvel is a great movie and a great Marvel movie, not because of the plot or the acting or the effects, but because Carol Danvers is unapologetically powerful and (this is separate, trust me) unapologetically strong.That shouldn’t be enough to elevate a movie from fine to great, but until the proposition stops being a controversial one, it will be.

[1] It’s not even that I dislike ’90s music. It’s good! But it was presented as “look how ’90s this music is! Because we’re in the ’90s and this is a prequel. Set in the ’90s. Get it?!”
[2] Hmmm. There’s also Tank Girl and arguably Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It depends on how narrowly you proscribe the genre, I suppose. This is where years of Marvel comics reading is making me accidentally snobby, it seems.
[3] To be fair, which I’m somewhat disinclined to do, it may not have been mostly. It’s possible I got fed up and quit reading instead.

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.