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Book Review – Annihilation

annihilationI had my wife read Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and report back to me if it was worth reading before the movie is released. She loved the book and suggested I pick it up, as it would be a quick read. This was a fortunate turn of events, because had I read the book first, I would have told her that she wouldn’t enjoy it and to just wait for the movie.

The book tells the story of the twelfth expedition into Area X, a weird part of the country that’s been abandoned by civilization and taken over by plant life and bizarre new species of animals. The narrator, referred to only as the Biologist or Ghost Bird, records her findings and past experiences into her journal, which makes up the book.

Before the Biologist began her journey, her husband had been part of the previous expedition and he may or may not have returned. The Biologist is travelling, not just for scientific understanding of Area X, but to also discover the fate of her husband.

For a short read, this book took me a long time to finish after I started it. It was dense with descriptions of the bizarre Area X, in an almost Lovecraftian level of detail. There wasn’t much of a narrative push to keep me reading, as the story is moved along by one strange finding after the other. However, the odd environment is never explained, nor are many of the findings put into context, which means much of this book is the narrator saying, “Isn’t this weird” and me just nodding my head.

The book is written in a dreamy sort of way and none of the characters act like people. Everyone seems out to kill everyone, right from the beginning and we’re never allowed to grow attached to anyone. The dialog doesn’t read like real human speech but aggressive robots. The narrator freely admits to being aloof and preferring to be alone. However, in the context of the other members of the expedition, this doesn’t pack any punch as all the characters are eerie non-humans.

I think this is why I preferred the flashback scenes between the narrator and her husband. There was no science fiction in these chapters, but against an actual human, the narrator becomes more interesting. Her husband is more outgoing and a people-person and this shines a light on the narrator. She’s frustrating but not a cold monster, she’s solitary but has heart for nature. Watching her marriage strain against the clashing personalities, alongside the husband’s departure to Area X, makes for an interesting read that the science fiction parts of the book fail to replicate.

I think, when it comes to science fiction, I either need believable science or interesting characters. Annihilation had neither. VanderMeer’s writing is too abstract while also being too detail oriented, with descriptions down to the measurements but with zero context. The characters are like ghosts of people and maybe there’s artistic merit to that style that I’m missing. I’m sure I’ve read books with characters like this before that I enjoyed, but it wasn’t the case with Annihilation. I’m still excited for the movie, but that’s more to do with Alex Garland directing it, as Ex Machina was great. My wife will continue this trilogy of novels and, maybe, she might convince me to keep reading as well. But, unless such prompting happens, I personally have no interest left.

Why Revenge of the Sith is My Second Favorite Star Wars Film

wuytffbfpizc6lcyt1nonr69zmkNot the second best, mind you. I know Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is, for the most part, not a great movie. There’s bad acting, mishandled characters and weird choices throughout. I’m not here to explain why it’s a good film. I’m here to tell you why I like it so much.

First, I should mention, time heals all wounds. X-Men: The Last Stand is watchable, now that X-Men: Days of Future Past provides those original films closure. Jurassic Park III is no longer the disappointing end for that series. And Revenge of the Sith isn’t how Star Wars’ big screen legacy ends.

The thing about the Star Wars prequels was that they were always going to be depressing. They were telling a story about the rise of the Empire and it’s iron fist rule. Obviously, the movies dropped the ball on that and wasted a lot of potential, but Revenge of the Sith comes the closest to what that tone should have looked like.

itstreasonthen-rotsTake for instance, the scene where Mace Windu and some soon-to-be dead Jedi go to arrest Senator Palpatine a.k.a. Darth Sidious. There’s a tension in the lead up that the prequels didn’t have. We know the Jedi can’t succeed in that moment and we’re going to have to watch their failure play out on screen. The end result isn’t fantastic movie making, but the build before that has weight that remains even on repeat viewings.

The same tension goes for the two “seduction of the innocent” scenes between Anakin and Palpatine. “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis”, as a story, might only be interesting to people who enjoy the expanded universe, but the scene is atmospheric and a rare, quiet moment that works compared to the previous two movies botched attempts at introspection. The scene where Sidious reveals himself as a Sith Lord to Anakin is one of Hayden Christensen’s better scenes, acting-wise. There’s a real sense of conflict in Anakin at that moment, of betrayal and anger. In fact, he comes across much more conflicted here than he did killing Tusken Raiders  or will when it’s time to kill some younglings. And, of course, Ian Mcdiarmid chews the scenery like it’s his last meal.

ddamosyMcdiarmid, alongside Ewan Mcgregor, comes out of the prequels with his head held high, and that might be due to the fact that he gets to be one of the only actors who gets to have fun. While Mcgregor gives his scenes the heart that is missing most of the time, Mcdiarmid gets to cackle and hiss and go gleefully into the Dark Side. This is a character whose been waiting for decades to see his plan come to fruition, hiding and restraining himself. Finally, after all this time, he gets to be himself and Mcdiarmid plays those scenes like Sidious is making up for all that lost time. His fight with Yoda, though anti-climatic, is like watching a Golden Retriever let off the leash for the first time. That dog isn’t coming back.

Back to the beginning of the film, though. Revenge of the Sith has one of the best opening of Star Wars films, alongside Return of the Jedi. Obi-Wan and Anakin’s adventure outside and in an enemy cruiser, filled with elevator high jinx and R2-D2 misadventures, is the type of adventure the prequels didn’t have. The climax of that opening, with the ship splitting into pieces as Anakin pilots and Obi-Wan cracks wise is the type of fun we should have had back when we first landed on Naboo.

spacebattleNow, of course, after that opening, there’s a lot of dead air. Outside the for-mentioned “The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis” scene, we don’t have much to latch onto for a while. Anakin finding out he’s going to be a father has some life, but the complete mishandling of Natalie Portman keeps all Anakin and Padme scenes far from enjoyable. Once Obi-Wan confronts General Grevious, the movie kicks back into gear. But, no surprise, Grevious is a letdown when it comes to his combat skills. Like most scenes, Mcgregor keeps the movie afloat by shear will.

But, then, Anakin learns the truth about Sidious and the Jedi fail. Anakin turns to the Dark Side, a lot quicker than it should be, but George Lucas was probably getting just as impatient with his script as the rest of us. So, we come to Order 66.

The Jedi should not have fallen the way they do in this movie, they should have had more fight in them. But, as time has moved forward, a theme has presented itself in these prequels, that has been later picked up and run with in later Star Wars stories, including The Last Jedi. These movies are about the Jedi at the height of their power politically, but they have become complacent and apathetic in their battle against the Dark Side. Watching Jedi Masters fall so easily due to their lack of critical thinking and weakness in the Force might not be a hundred percent satisfying, but John Williams’ score and a few visually striking shots help provide those moments with emotion.

Williams, I should mention, gave these prequels so much life and identity though his music that you could argue that he’s the reason any of these scenes work, and I would be won over to your side. As much as I liked The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I don’t think anything Williams has done in those movies has matched the music in the prequels. And he helped Revenge of the Sith with that thrilling, heartbreaking “Battle of the Heroes”. There’s more than one reason why those final battles have as much weight as they do, but that piece of music, melded with “Duel of the Fates” in the film, is a huge part of it all.

The third act of Revenge of the Sith is what the prequels were building up to over three films. The battle between Yoda and Sidious is an entertaining one, with Yoda getting to be snippy and show off his power in the Force. It’s satisfying seeing him knock the Sith Lord over a chair, it’s cool seeing how much stronger he is than Sidious at times, but it’s also frustrating, knowing that the character we’re rooting for can’t win. I don’t buy into the fact that Yoda could have won if he had climbed back up those seats and continued the fight. This was a surprise counter-attack and fighting Sidious while dealing with guards and clone troopers after falling from such heights might have proven difficult for a eight-hundred year old Jedi Master who spends most days in a bean bag chair.

downloadThe fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan is a long one, with more ups than downs. The lead-up conversation between the two characters is full of great lines, and their delivery speaks volumes. When Obi-Wan tells Anakin that his “allegiance is to the Republic…to democracy!” there’s frustration and desperation in Mcgregor’s reading. He thought he and Anakin were on the same page about all of this, what is he supposed to do? “Your new empire?” he asks Anakin, in mockery and disbelief. You idiot, “You’ve allowed this Dark Lord to twist your mind” and yet still a refusal to take the blame for failing his student. Later, near the end of the battle, he tells Anakin, “I have failed you” but there’s still an arrogance in his delivery. Obi-Wan won’t be able to take the blame due to him for a while, it’s too much for him to handle.

On the other hand, you have Christensen’s lines being read like a petulant brat, but that’s what Anakin has become. And, to be fair, there’s a precedent for that. Darth Vader, in all his stern and fear in the original series, doesn’t like things going against what he wants. The line of succession for the officers in The Empire Strikes Back is due to Vader being a bully, who’s tantrums are now controlled Force chokes. But, in the moments on Mustafar, Anakin still has twenty years of anger, regret and loneliness ahead of him. So, when he shouts, “You will not take her from me”, it’s not as a regal and terrifying villain, it’s as a brat who still needs a few lessons from the Dark Side.

image_1aa52034I can’t defend the ‘high ground” moment or the “You were my brother but have fun burning for a long time and maybe surviving to come back to haunt the whole galaxy!” However, the scene where Anakin is taken by Sidious to be repaired, to be placed in a robotic suit of wires and machinery for the rest of his life, is too moody and sad not to defend. Yeah, Vader yells “No!” but first he asks about his wife. Sidious lies to him, of course, but, from a certain point of view, Vader did kill Padme (stupid poetry and medical failures aside). There was a Darth Vader comic I read, not a very good one, that had a moment where Vader was beaten and alone and losing his mind. He’s visited by a vision of Padme, who leaves him again, despite his protesting for her to stay. Reading that, it dawned on me how lonely Darth Vader must be, how much regret he must have to fight down every single day. It’s a heartbreaking realization, and I wish the prequels could have shown us that. But, bringing that into Revenge of the Sith gives these last moments a stronger punch.

I remember reading an article about how Darth Sidious’ rise to power was an accurate representation of Hitler’s ascent. I always found that interesting and I remember reading reviews in 2005 of people comparing Revenge of the Sith to the Bush administration. But, those people had no clue that this movie was going to become of the most documentary Star Wars films ever.

palpatine_3In November 2016, I started experiencing déjà vu. Because of their lack of foresight, the Jedi allow themselves to become embroiled in politics. Soon, after the Clone Wars start, you can’t separate the Jedi from the war. Once they were the defenders of peace and the helpless, but soon the government’s cause became theirs. Their Jedi code, their mantra, stopped being as important to them as their political standing. Meanwhile, in the real world, a large population that form organized religion have decided that politics, more often than not, far-right politics, are more important than their own doctrine or that the two line up perfectly. Where’s there’s teaching of love and being an alien just passing through this world, it was drowned out by a desire to see their beliefs in the place of power. And as the Jedi were betrayed, not just because they were no longer of use, but because their mortal enemy had taken power, many of the real world religious figures should be ready to be dropped as soon as they’re no longer useful politically. And, just like the fate of the Jedi, when those that desire greed and power are the ruling party, there will be a sudden realization that these politicians don’t share those beliefs of love or peace. Being part of the Republic was more important than being a Jedi, even if they wouldn’t admit it.

It’s hard to watch Darth Sidious boast about dissolving the republic and creating the “first galactic empire”, to thunderous applause no less while the real world becomes less global and more “patriotic”. A desire for security and a removal of those we don’t trust, along with people finding ways to defend self-proclaimed Nazis, creates a government and country that rules by fear and threats of violence. Suddenly, it’s harder for me to tell if I’m writing about the movie anymore.

the_forceAgain, Revenge of this Sith isn’t a great movie. Padme is ruined as a character, going from someone who was supposed to start the rebellion to a whimpering dolt who dies of a broken heart. Instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes and helping out those who will be hurt by their actions, the last remaining Jedi go into exile, continuing to fail at their own teachings. Hayden Christensen, while better in this movie than Attack of the Clones, still fails to deliver a performance to defend. Mace Windu dies like a chump, Grevious dies like a chump, Count Dooku dies like a chump, a lot of Jedi die…you know what, I lost my train of thought.

But, there’s that force push between Anakin and Obi-Wan, Sidious showing actual concern for the fate of his new apprentice, a visually impressive and exciting opening and that melancholy tone throughout. Objectively, it’s not on the level as Return of the Jedi or The Force Awakens, but it has more to say then those two movies. It’s not a crowd pleaser, but the prequels were never going to end on a cheerful note. They were about the collapse of the Jedi Order, the manipulation of the government, the creation of Darth Vader.

vader_sidiousIf this had been the first, or even the second movie of  the prequels, with more story launching from the end of Revenge of the Sith, I think we would have had a better trilogy overall. With one more film after this, about Vader hunting the last Jedi or the start of the rebellion, Revenge of the Sith might have been considered a decent start. Instead, it’s a somber, depressing, sometimes infuriating and disappointing film that does exactly what it needs to do while also failing to deliver the most obvious of moments or explanations. And while characters we like do stupid things, they also remind us why we like Star Wars. Obi-Wan is cocky, Anakin is relentless, Yoda is surprising and Sidious is bananas.

But, those are all reasons I, myself, like Revenge of the Sith. It’s my second favorite Star Wars movie, behind The Empire Strikes Back. Third is probably Return of the Jedi or A New Hope, but hopefully, time will place The Last Jedi high up there as well. I don’t need you to agree with me, I don’t need to you to say, “Hmm, I do like Revenge of the Sith now!” but I hope you understand why the movie has it’s defenders.

Let’s Play – SOMA

soma___official_cover_art_by_sethnemo-d93l45jFrictional’s SOMA depressed me and I found it hard to play for long stretches because of that. The tension of the horror elements, the grime of  the world and the hopelessness of the story left me having little initiative to keep going. Add in the fact that I’m worried I’m developing some sort of motion-sickness, first noticed while playing Dishonored, and it wasn’t a pleasant time.

Limbo was a depressing game but it had platforming elements to keep my brain occupied on something besides it’s oppressiveness. SOMA, like other so-called “walking simulators” has little in the way of actual “game. It’s immersive but that comes at a price. Like the main character, trapped at the bottom of the ocean, I felt like there was no escape. A tough sell for someone looking for escapism.

previewscreen_08-0Luckily, the story is well told and the voice acting is strong. But, the tension is raised by the monsters roaming around with you in this ruined science faculty. It’s not that I found the designs of these creatures to be incredibly upsetting, but the jump-scares that were set upon me made me feel anxious, which isn’t a state of being I love to be in. Sweaty hands from intense wall climbing and combat is one thing, but a queasy stomach because something is going to scream and chase me is another, less desirable thing.

I suppose that’s what makes for a fun stream. I don’t know how many other games have elicited a reaction so broad from me before. I’ve yelled and screamed before, but not in pure terror like I did in SOMA. I don’t know how much fun the monsters make a stream in the long run, since, after the initial scares, I had to spend most of my time just hiding and not looking at them.

maintenance-0The other problem, and this might be a technical issue on my end, is that the game is very dark, graphically speaking. Most of the tension, I would assume, would come from dark hallways and intense lighting. But, to get the game to be even visible on my Twitch, I had to raise the brightness all the way up, eliminating much of the atmosphere. Again, maybe I could have done something else to fix the problem, mess around with OBS a little more, but my days of being a technical problem-solver are coming to a close.

Either way, I’m glad I played SOMA and experienced it’s rich, sci-fi story first-hand. This is definitely the kind of tale I would have enjoyed in a movie or book. In game form, I still appreciated it, but it left me with a pit in my stomach. I doubt I’m going to go back and play-through Frictional’s Amnesia games, because I don’t think I could handle the tension. But, I’ll definitely be paying attention to what they do next.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

 

Book Review – The Three Body Problem

20518872The Three Body Problem took me forever to finish but I always enjoyed my time reading it. Because it’s hard science fiction, long and translated from Chinese, the book itself is dense. Every page takes time to get through and skimming will only hinder any understanding or enjoyment the book provides.

The first chapter starts in China during the sixties and I realized how little of China’s history I know. We follow cultural revolutions, scientific movements and political restrictions, most of which were new to me. I think I might have to pick up a history book next. The rest of the story is told in the modern day, as we follow scientist Wang Miao as he tries to understand visions that keep appearing as a countdown in his photographs.

The Three Body Problem takes its time getting to the main plot of the story. By that, I mean, it takes until the last fourth of the book to reveal what’s really happening. If the back of the cover didn’t tell me what this series was, I would have been fairly surprised by the change in direction.

For a long time, the book seems focused on these visions Wang Miao keeps seeing. Then, it’s more focused on this weird video game that shares its title with the book. The game, which doesn’t seem like something I would ever want to play, deals with players trying to solve an alien planet’s predicament of having three suns. See, you can’t really predict seasons, and most seasons are either freezing or scorching, so civilization can’t really grow. It’s a game that only a few brilliant players invest time into and there might be a bit of The Last Starfighter going on behind the scenes.

And that’s the book. Reading about Wang Miao’s gaming sessions, his visions and the scientific history of 1960s China. The mystery isn’t really handled like a mystery, the plot doesn’t really move along at a quick pace. By the time the reader and the characters know what’s really going on, there’s more behind us than ahead.

But, as I said at the beginning, I always enjoyed myself while reading the book. It’s dense, yes, but it’s never dry. I didn’t understand everything, especially near the end when the books got into particle physics. Michael Crichton always wrote in a way that made me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much helium in a balloon!” Liu Cixin writes in a way that makes me say, “Yeah, I get it! Like too much…wait, no. How many protons are in that much helium? What’s the quantum integrity of a common balloon? Wait, what exactly is particle physics? I dont…I don’t get it!”

And it’s still enjoyable! I don’t understand it all, but it’s not necessary to have a physicis degree to follow the plot. It’s also interesting to be reading this type of book written from a completely different perspective than I’m used to finding. Views on culture, science and extraterrestrial life never totally line up with what I’m used to, even if it’s just a different way of experience the same facts. It really is fascinating to see how different American science fiction can be from other countries, but also how strong the similarities can end up. Science is science in any language but it’s how we interact with it that create such different cultures. The Three Body Problem, which won Best Novel in the 2015 Hugo Awards, is a heavy read, but a fascinating one.

All the Books Show: Episode 104 – Hugo Awards 2017

It’s that time of year again! Where Nic and I talk about the Hugo Award winners! I guess it’s a seasonal thing. Maybe, even, a fifth season of sorts.

It’s nothing like a fifth season.

26228034We talk about the Hugo Awards, looking at the winners of most categories. Nic was correct in the movie, so he has that to boast about now. I was surprised by the winner of Best Novel, but that’s because I didn’t like the first book in the series and I didn’t expect a sequel to take home the top award. It’s happened before, yes, but it’s not super common. N.K. Jemisin joins a very short list of authors who won two years in a row. Congratulations N.K. Jemisin! I wish I liked your book!

I tried to stay out of the politics of this year’s award and after the winners were announced, I went back to see if there were any. It seems like most of the shouting has died down. I hope it’s for the better. The Sad and Angry Puppies made something I thought was fun not fun. But, now, I think there’s a bit too much “We shut them the hell up!” from the other side. I just want science fiction and fantasy to be fun for everyone involved. I hope we can just move on and enjoy good writing and interesting ideas.

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See you next week, podcats!

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – A Review

valerianWe shouldn’t compare Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to The Fifth Element, even if director Luc Besson is behind both of these films.

We shouldn’t compare the two because The Fifth Element had lead actors we liked, like Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. Valerian, on the other hand, has Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne. Dehaan, who was compelling in Chronicle, is a black hole of charisma in this film. As the action lead, he’s a failure. Too young to be taken seriously, too much of a snot to be likable, Dehaan’s portrayal as one of the galaxy’s best soldiers is hilariously off mark. Delevingne, who you might remember as the shaking, shadowy non-character Enchantress from Suicide Squad, fairs betters in the film but not by much. She has a flat, no-nonsense delivery that helps some of the lifeless dialog seem planned that way. But, she too comes across too young for the type of character she’s playing. If I’m supposed to believe either of these two have the field experience to be given any of the responsibility they have in Valerian, then consider me unconvinced. The only time I had any affection for them was when the two were dressed like characters from Final Fantasy X. Then they changed clothes and I lost all my positive feelings.

valerian_and_the_city_of_a_thousand_planets-hdWe shouldn’t compare Valerian to The Fifth Element because that nineties film had an energy that felt more like a comedy than a drama. It’s almost a scifi Rush Hour and not just because of a manic Chris Tucker. Valerian’s plot moves at a snails pace but I still found myself forgetting what our “heroes” were doing or if it had anything to do with the plot. The movie’s second act is a huge detour from anything that matters to the story and, when it finally gets back to the main plot, I had almost forgotten the goals and problems I was supposed to be invested in. A good example of why we shouldn’t compare the two movies is how The Fifth Element has that famous opera scene that connects to main plot. In Valerian, we had a strip tease from Rihanna that has little to do with the threat to the city (of a thousand planets). Sure, Dehaan needs her help, but only because of a sidequest that’s taking up forty minutes of the movie.

valerian-and-the-city-of-a-thousand-planets-2017-dane-dehaan

There’s not much more to say about Valerian. It was an exhausting film and not in the way that War for the Planet of the Apes left me ragged. I was bored after the first half hour and was never won back. Clive Owen gives a performance that left me feeling bad for the guy. None of the supporting characters, alien or otherwise, were charming. While I complained about the reason Rihanna’s character is involved, she’s has an energy that the film desperately needs but then ignores. The alien race we follow from the beginning is too noble to be interesting and too passive to connect with. The film’s opening of humanity greeting hundreds of new races to it’s space station, all set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” is charming but false advertising for the rest of the movie.

Yes, we should support original scifi (even adaptations), especially the ones that get bigger budgets. But, when the results are movies like Valerian, it’s hard to fault studios for not wanting to fund one hundred and fifty million dollar films, no matter how pretty they are. We shouldn’t compare Valerian to The Fifth Element because we still talk about that movie and Valerian will probably not last in the public consciousness. Heck, this review is running short because there just wasn’t enough on screen to talk about.

All the complaints people had about the Star Wars prequels apply here. Technical aptitude over plot, archetypes over characters, and stilted dialog over, well,, human dialog. George Lucas was torn apart by fans. Yet, for some reason, I’ve seen people trying to give Luc Besson a pass because he tried something big and grand and failed in the process. Maybe they’re just fans of The Fifth Element. But Valerian is no Fifth Element. Let’s not compare the two.

All the Books Show: Episode 81 – The Programmed Man

New week. New episode. It’s a great time to be alive. We talk a bunch of book news and reviews, Advocacy Day, people co-writing books with their cats and we find another book that hasn’t checked out since the 70s.

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Here’s the cover.

This book sounds so bad. I can handle some old fashion views of manhood in old science fiction, but it either has to be surrounded by good ideas and plot or it needs to be a little bit subtle in its machismo. The Programmed Man sounds like neither. But maybe you’ve read it and love it. Let me know. Prove me wrong. Bet you can’t.

You can follow us on Soundcloud, Youtube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Rolling Stone’s Top 20 Sci-Fi Films of the 21st Century

Rolling Stone magazine just put out a list of their top scifi films of this century and it’s an impressive collection. I’ve seen all but two of the movies so I’ve decided to rundown the list and see what I thought of their selections. You can check out the original article here for their reasons. Either way, this is a good time to be into science fiction and you should fill out the checklist I setup here to show the world how much you’ve seen.

mpasunshineposterb20. Sunshine
I already gushed about this so you can read the post here. A good summery is that I liked it a lot, it felt somewhat old school and also left me feeling down, in a good way. More man vs. nature, with some man vs. man and man vs. himself thrown in for good measure. It’s got a killer soundtrack and should be higher on this list.

19. Donnie Darko
I will never understand why people like this film. It pretentious and muddy, without real meaning or an understanding of pacing. Pure film school crap and I’m certain you have to be a freshman in college to have good feelings about this thing. Like everyone at the end of this movie, I wish I could forget it happened. #baddream

attach-2850-monstersposter18. Monsters
The cinematographer’s monster movie, though it would have helped to have a guy on lighting. I feel like it’s more impressive that this movie exists rather than what it does. Made for half a million bucks on prosumer cameras and out of the box editing programs, it looks pretty darn professional and makes me jealous. On the other hand, it’s not super entertaining. As my wife states, it’s really about actors starring at things, and she’s right. The problem is, because of the darkness, we can’t see what they’re looking at.

17. Reign of Fire
I remember thinking this movie was pretty cool stuff when I saw it in theaters. Today, it’s alright but not a great film. I agree with RS though. With Bale and McConehay in the lead roles, this movie would be a blockbuster if opening today. Even if the whole film doesn’t hold up, the dragons still look cool.

attack-the-block16. Attack the Block
The inner city indi scifi film we never knew we wanted but got anyway. This movie is fun, weird and not too shy to throw in some social commentary. I like that it’s all in one night, that it’s a better Goonies than the Goonies and forces us to root for character we wouldn’t expect. The monsters are cool and the slow-motion final is amazing and worth watching on loop a few times.

15. Cloverfield
This is one of those ‘one and done’ films for me, it was great in theaters and did something new to an already great genre, but I’ve never rewatched it. A film like this, that relies on a certain trick, such as the found footage, isn’t something that works as well a second time, either because the surprise is gone or I don’t want to sit through shaky cam anymore. Still, it was a great night in the theater.

14. Primer
A film that I tried really hard to understand. It’s confusing, but intriguing, despite an almost criminally low budget. I’m not ashamed to admit I went online to find explanations to this afterwards but I’m a bit embarrassed that I still don’t quite get it.

13. Minority Report
Better than a lot of us remember. It’s fast paced, gorgeous and has some real, painful heart in the main story. I used to think this was too dark to enjoy but that actually helps now that I’m older.

Big_Moon_revised12. Moon
To say I loved Moon is an understatement. I made everyone I knew watch this after I had. It’s just too great. It’s small, personal and the kind of scifi film anyone can make if they have the right talent. Rockwell is sometimes a little off the wall, but he plays it just right. Kevin Spacey as the computer is like a warmer version of Hal, that actually wants to help. And what a soundtrack! It must be a prerequirisit for science fiction these days and I’m fine with that.

11. The World’s End
This was just non-stop fun. While Shaun of the Dead is still my favorite of these films, TWE was so good it almost took the top. My wife didn’t love it, she found it too serious to be a laugh riot. Me? I like a little darkness and drama to give weight to the jokes. I was smiling the whole time because this movie just doesn’t stop. If you haven’t seen it, do.

10. The Host
I think I was a little disappointed with this movie. It’s reputation is on par with Battle Royal but it never clicked for me. There were times when it was almost there, especially during the first attack. But it drags in the middle and the end doesn’t totally hit home. I liked the humor but didn’t get the politics. Your milage may vary.

her_xlg9. Her
Just watched this a few weeks ago. I’m of two minds about it. On one hand, I like the way it explores relationships and humanity falling out of talking to humans. It’s well acted, well scored and gorgeous. On the the other hand, it borders on boring and slow. I feel like this film could have been cut to a ninty minute timeframe and have been stronger for it. As it stands, not bad but not life changing. At least, until I get my intelligent O.S.

8. Looper
I don’t get it. Looper isn’t a bad film but a top 20? From the past thirteen years? No way. The concept is cool but it’s poorly executed and Emily Blunt’s character comes out of nowhere. I didn’t think the action was that great, or the acting. Considering the guy who made this was the one responsible for Brick, I would have thought this to be more promising. Not for me.

7. Serenity
The great tragedy of Firefly is well known but Serenity almost makes the pain go away. Being both a stand alone movie and a continuation of the show, this one is a feel good film. I know some people are still bitter about the show’s end, but I feel like Serenity is a true endcap for the series, giving closure to most of the things we felt denied. What a way to go out.

district9_poster6. Distrit 9
This movie was one of the best surprises I’ve ever had. I had no idea what to expect so everything about this movie seemed to come out of left field. It was a high speed thrill ride with depth and characters you cared about. I was so nervous near the end that I actually prayed to God that things would turn out well. That’s how into the movie I was. And still am.

5. Gravity
Top five? Maybe. Considering how much science it fudges, and how rough the small amounts of dialoge are, it seems like it’s so far up because of freshness and good will. If this list was made a while back, I bet Avatar would be here, because both films are experiences, rides, but not the greatest. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie and the soundtrack, but without the big screen to watch it on everytime, it doesn’t seem as strong as other choices on the list. But then, this is Rolling Stone’s list, not mine.

wall_e4. Wall-E
Probably my favorite Pixar film after Finding Nemo and the Toy Story series. It’s cute, I love the simplicity of the story, the characters are charming, it’s just a great film. I might not have even thought of putting this movie on the list, but I’m glad it made it.

3. Under the Skin
Melancholy as anything on the planet. This would be another film I didn’t fully understand, but the basics are there. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are, Earth is rough and loneliness is a universal language.

2. Inception
Number two? I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ve only watched it once and then was in the theaters. But when I saw it, it left a strong impression on me, one that hit hard for someone going through a breakup and trying to reconcile happy memoires with sad realities. But number two? Over Moon? I guess that makes sense, but I’m not thrilled.

children_of_men_ver81. Children of Men
This makes sense. It’s not my favorite film, but it does seem like the strongest contender here. I might have put District 9 at the top instead, but this isn’t my list. But enough about me, this is Children of Men’s moment. It’s a great movie, depressingly uplifting under a dark tone without feeling hopeless. Humanity has never looked worse, and better, than this film and the ending has as much weight as needed. I need to watch this again.

Missing in Action
If Cloverfield made it, Chronicle should have been here and higher. Easily better than Looper or Donnie Darko, maybe they didn’t add it because it’s almost a superhero film but its a white-knuckle ride through and through.

Also missing are Another Earth and Troll Hunter, though the latter might be considered fantasy. My guess is Rise of the Planet of the Apes didn’t make it because this a non-franchise list, but I wonder if 28 Day Later is too much of a straight horror movie to make the cut? I would probably keep War of the Worlds off because of the sappy ending and also The Island because we shouldn’t reward Michael Bay, even for good movies.

Scifyed

mpasunshineposterbI’ve been in a science fiction mood lately. It started when I rented Sunshine from the library. The movie worked for me on a lot of levels; it was dark and (as Kendra likes to say) depressingly uplifting. It was well acted, the science was a little rubbery but done well, and it had a beautiful soundtrack (which is used in the X-Men: Days of Future Past trailer, so whenever the tune stated up in the movie, I kept hearing Xavier ask, “what’s the last thing you remember?”).

In a lot of ways, Sunshine reminded me of The Grey, in both at what it did and how it made me feel afterwards. But the difference is I wouldn’t want to fight wolves but I still think I would risk a trip to the sun.

Sunshine also reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey, because both movies show how lonely space is and how dangerous it can be. Honestly, Sunshine actually curbed some of my ethusiasm for space travel because it really is a dark, dangerous place that’s hostile to life and is, for the most part, depressingly empty.

Combine that with the fact that I watched The Planets and How the Universe Works on Netflix, and my scifi itch continues to be scratched (and grows, because it’s probably a scifi rash that I shouldn’t mess with). I think space actually does depress me on some levels because during one episode of HTUW, they were talking about how, someday, the universe will run out of hydrogen and the stars will slowly die out. They were talking about it, the music was swelling and sad and they showed images of the stars dimming and fading, and I swear I almost cried. I never thought I would care so much about the fate of stars.

Luckily, I was reading David Brin’s Startide Rising, which is filled with space travel and aliens and talking dolphins and all kinds of scifi goodness, so space started feeling fun and filled with adventure again. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to fly ships into the void with dolphins and chimps, but I would like to and Brin gives me hope of seeing those dreams fulfilled.

Having done all that, I began to realize that I’m not as well versed in the scifi universe as I would like to be (a realization I see everytime I look at how many Hugo winners I haven’t read). So, I decided to find some movies in the genre and finally watch them instead of talking about wanting to watch them.

Including Netflix and the library, I grabbed Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Blob, Silent Running, and the original Solaris. So now it’s time for some capsule reviews/thoughts about all of them!

silent_running_xlgSilent Running was the first movie we watched and I liked it. It has that’s 60s vibe to it, with the ‘save the planet’ messege, even if the only way we can save the planet is to send it into space. I liked Bruce Dern in it and it was funny that we watched it Saturday night and then the Oscars the next day, onyl to find Dern up for best actor for Nebreska. I guess everyone but Kendra and I knew who the guy was! On a side note, I’ve had that hippie song from the movie stuck in my head for weeks now.

Soylent Green was next. Since the ending is well known, the movie had to stand up on it’s own and not how surprising the twist was. Charlton Heston was good (as he normally is), as was everyone else in the movie. The world was interesting but the movie was slow, even compared to older films. I guess I’d say the movie was simply alright. It doesn’t really add anything to the world outside of the “Soylent Green is people” line.

Next, we watched Logan’s Run. This movie started off really well and had that cool, 70s scifi feel to it with its beeping soundtrack and Michael York-like class to acting. It had me for most of the movie, but then that weird robot shows up and freezes people. And then a weird old guy goes on about cat names. And the movie stops for about twenty minutes. The end is decent but the movie never regains the fun of earlier.

The Blob was super dissapointing. When I was a kid in fifth grade, my school’s library had a book series on movie monsters that I absolutley devoured. The one book on the Blob was one of my favorites and I always wanted to see how cool the movie was for myself. Twenty-five years later, I see the truth and I’m worse for it. The movie is boring, especially considering it’s a 50s monster movie. I don’t know how they failed with this. Whereas Invasion of the Body Snatchers is still grade A monster movie making. It’s still creepy, still well acted and I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The Cold War analogy is a little strong for my taste, but it works in context with the film.

solarisI ended with Solaris, which is ironic because it’s the one I wanted to watch most after Sunshine. It’s another movie that reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a slow movie and one that challanged my patience but it had enough charisma to keep my watching. It’s more about human relationships than space and that’s okay. The film has some incredible shots and cinematography, especially the weightlessness scene, and the constant white light from the planet outside is almost maddening. Looking back, I wonder how many Russian films I’ve seen because I can’t remember many besides this one now. Interestingly, though maybe only to me, is that somehow I did the math wrong in my head between when I started this movie and when it would end. When it was over, it was twenty minutes later than I had figured. With the films strange style and my poor math skills, I felt like this movie achieved its goal of messing with space and time.  

cosmos-a-spacetime-odyssey-first-season.21012Last night, since I was still coming down off this science fiction high, I decided to watch Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on demand. I was pretty dissapointed with it. It may be because it was the first episode and the show is building up to the good stuff, but in the first hour I didn’t learn a thing. The Cosmic Calander was cool, considering humans have only been around for the last hour of the universe, but that was the only big piece of interest. To be fair, I might be asking a lot since I’ve been reading and watching a bunch of stuff about the universe, but I don’t understand how you can’t say anything worth knowing in a whole hour. I almost feel like the show is for the dumb people of the world.

That may sound harsh, but I’m sticking by it. If you, as a human being, don’t already know the order of the planets, than you are dumb. If you don’t know there’s an astroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, you are dumb. These are simple facts about the solar system you are in. This should be common knowledge. It would be like not knowing the names of the continents or not knowing the surrounding towns of your home. You don’t know the first thing Google shows when you type in ‘planets’. But maybe there are people who don’t know these simple facts. Maybe Cosmos will help them. But that makes me sad.

There also seems to be a lot of beating up on the Church. These things bother me because I’m a Christian and I love learning about science and the universe. It’s strange how the more we learn, the more I see God, while others see less.

But, to get back to my main point, I’m in a big science fiction mood and I don’t know how to get out of it…

Meh, it will work itself out. It’s not like I’m planning to watch The Omega Man or The Day the Earth Stood Still this weekend…Oh shoot.

planets_image

First image when Googled…