Category Archives: science fiction

Author Frederik Pohl Passes at 93

There was a time in junior high school when I was devouring all the classic science fiction at the local small town library, or at least trying to. I was fascinated by Bradbury, found Asimov and Clarke far too obtuse, loved Ellison to death, dug Heinlein and Dick, and also really liked Frederik Pohl.

Besides Harlan Ellison, Pohl was one that entranced me into reading more of his work immediately. I spent some time exploring Gateway, Jem, and the secrets and stories of the Heechee. Fantastic stuff. I should give it another read after all this time. Two days ago, Pohl passed away at the age of 93. He’ll be missed.

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Prometheus

Prometheus ~ First things first, get any notion out of your head that this flick has anything to do with the Alien series. It may, but waiting for those bits that connect it, or even expecting them, will lessen your enjoyment of this otherwise fairly good scifi horror. It’s Ridley Scott, it’s terror in space, but Alien it is not.

Motivated by ancient cave drawings, a space mission in the future travels to a distant planet described in those drawings. The assumption is this is where to find the origin of man, our creators, who the scientists in charge call The Engineers. Yes, it’s vague, and attempts are made to explain it along the way, but in the end it gets us to the planet, and starts the action moving.

The Prometheus and its crew land on the planet, explore an abandoned complex full of dead Engineers and one by one get picked off by various horrors from within and without in Alien-like suspense. Ghosts, monsters, mystery goo, infections, its all here. There is also the obligatory robot we don’t know whether to trust or not. Paranoia is the name of the game, and Scott does it well.

Now for the cringeworthy spoiler alert and reason you might not want to see this flick. After being quite suddenly impregnated, Noomi Rapace (from the original, and superior, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), playing a character named Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (yeah, I couldn’t get the Doctor Who reference out of my head either), gives herself an abortion. It is every bit as horrifying, and more so, as it sounds. Definitely one of the hardest things for me to watch in a movie in quite some time. Consider yourself warned.

There’s a terrific ensemble cast including Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Wong, Guy Pearce, and the always terrific Idris Elba. Can that man do no wrong? There’s also Sean Harris, who played the assassin Micheletto, the best thing about Showtime’s “The Borgias.” He is equally as good at scene stealing here too.

Worth seeing, but with several provisos, you have been warned.

Enthiran – The Robot

Enthiran – The Robot ~ This is a film whose reputation precedes it. Called the Avatar of its country, reputedly this is the most expensive film made to date in India, and also its highest grossing film. Not strictly a Bollywood film, but more accurately a ‘Kollywood’ film as it was made in Tamil Nadu, it is s work of science fiction, but as with all Indian films, it is truly a creature of mixed genre.

Also known as Robot, and Robo, and Enthiran, and a dozen other titles and spelling variations worldwide, this is roughly a Frankenstein story – a scientist makes a man in his own image, scarily Elvis-like, which tries to be human but eventually is looked upon as monster. The Robot, Chitti, is played by award winning veteran Indian actor Rajinikanth, who also plays his creator. His deadpan performance as the Robot is both fearsome and hilarious.

Written and directed by Shankar Shanmugam, or simply Shankar, the film has changed the way the world views Indian science fiction. And as the film is called the Avatar of India, similarly Shankar is called its James Cameron. No doubt he is one of their greatest visionaries.

The music is by A.R. Rahman, who also did the music for Slumdog Millionaire, Couples Retreat, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and dozens of Indian movies, among others – but this soundtrack was a worldwide instant blockbuster. That’s the popularity power of this flick.

The real star here is the special effects. CGI and animatronics from a company called Legacy Effects, the brain child of special effects wizard Stan Winston. From the robotics that make up our hero to the evil robot rampage to the outrageous cartoonish but reality based feats later in the film, as the evil robot fights everyone, and of course, the climax, the effects are king. More cars and guns than you have perhaps ever seen on the screen. Mind boggling. Matrix and Terminator, step aside.

This movie has everything. Adventure, romance, comedy, musical sequences, violence – both cartoonish and realistic (lots of gunplay and a very scary and racially offensive attempted rape scene, so it’s not for the kids), it’s all here. In many ways it’s a superhero movie sans costumes. This three hour long Tamil science fiction masterpiece, like Avatar, must be experienced at least once. Recommended.

Revolution

I recently had the chance to view the pilot episode of “Revolution” via OnDemand. Apparently it’s also on Hulu and NBC.com, so I have to wonder if anyone will watch this when it airs Monday night. After the last few television projects from J.J. Abrams, I was prepared to be unimpressed, but I gotta say, I might give this a shot. It actually seems like it might be fun, conditionally, that is.

The concept of “Revolution” is a world where all the power has gone off. Logic dictates some sort of electromagnetic pulse possibly, but who knows really what it could be in a J.J. Abrams show? Didn’t he make up that island you could drive on “Lost”? So the power goes off, and our story begins fifteen years later. America has devolved into small villages of folks living off the land and warring militia states. Still, nobody has gotten the power back on, or even had the know-how to build a simple generator. Did no one pay attention in high school science class?

Logic aside, it does have its moments that set it slightly above other scifi fare currently on TV. I like our reluctant hero Miles, played by Billy Burke, who is like a mild-mannered badass with a sword. I also like our middle management villain Neville, played by Giancarlo Esposito, Fring from “Breaking Bad.” He plays the baddie with the same quiet deadly charisma of The Operative in Serenity.

“Revolution,” created by Abrams, and with this pilot episode directed by Jon Favreau, also depends a lot on its potential genre nerd cred. One of the best moments in the pilot is when Charlie, played by Tracy Spiridakos, and someone who has lived most of her life without power, reveals her secret stash – in an Empire Strikes Back lunchbox, and we hear a few notes of John Williams movie score. Moments like that elevate this show, and make me want to keep watching.

The only thing that would keep me from watching, and it’s the condition I spoke up at the beginning of this review, is that plot device that the show revolves around. What caused the black out? If that will be the carrot on a stick, that keeps viewers watching, yet never gets revealed, I think I’m out. I don’t want another “Lost,” and I certainly don’t want another “Flash Forward” or “Journeyman” where we never find out what happened.

Now watch the following preview at your own risk. It’s one of those that pretty much tells you everything that happens in the pilot, right in the preview. Stupid television executives…

In Time

In Time ~ This is one of those types of science fiction concept flicks that would have been right at home on a double bill with other 1970s era movies like Rollerball, The Omega Man, Logan’s Run, and Planet of the Apes. The concept is the draw point. Here in In Time, the idea is a world where time is currency. Similar to the aforementioned Logan’s Run, one has a limited lifespan, 25 in this case, but more time can be earned or stolen, and some people can live for centuries.

This is a lot more clever than it at first appears to be. Much fun is had in dialogue with time measurements in place of monetary amounts. Many of the characters are named after famous watchmakers. Fun.

Justin Timberlake deftly plays Will Salas, who loses his mother to time limit and also is given over a century by a stranger in the space of a day. The stranger also imparts over a century to him before expiring himself. On the run from perennial baddie Cillian Murphy as a Timekeeper (that’s futurespeak for cop) for the stranger’s murder, Will ends up on the run with Amanda Seyfried as a hostage. She’s the daughter of a rich socialite, played by Vincent Kartheiser, Pete Campbell of “Mad Men.” This is where In Time spins into current day thriller as opposed to retro-sci-fi.

In Time was written by producer and director Andrew Niccol who’s had similar flicks under his belt like Gattaca, The Truman Show, and S1m0ne. It’s as if he’s got one foot in the day after tomorrow scifi vibe. He also wrote the story that The Terminal was based on and produced a handful as well. I’ll be looking for his name in the future based on In Time. There’s more to this flick than seems at first glance, worth a look.

Ray Bradbury Is Dead

Ray Bradbury is dead. That is the news I woke up to this morning. I still can’t believe it is real.

Recently, with so many pop culture deaths, I have had to write more than a few memorial pieces here on the blog. A dear friend told me just a few weeks ago I was very good at it. I would like to do the same here for this man I admire so much, but I can’t. I just can’t. I have no words. Other folks will have to do it for me, as they have done here.

Again, I have no words. People often talk of the day that Bill Haley died, or when John Lennon was shot, or when Kurt Cobain took his own life, as the day the music died. This is the day of no words.

The man was an inspiration, a genius, a forefather, an icon, perhaps one of the best writers of our time. I could read Bradbury’s work over and over again and always get enjoyment and wonder, and still learn from it on each reading. His words made me think. I could say that Harlan Ellison and Stephen King made me want to write, but Ray Bradbury made me want to read.

Ray Bradbury is dead. Today is a day without words.

Futureworld

Futureworld ~ I was just talking about Peter Fonda and this flick on this blog recently so when I saw Futureworld was on Encore Action, so I DVRed it. It’s been at least a serious three decades or so since I’ve last seen it. It’s nowhere near as good as I remembered it, and despite being a feature film, looks barely above television quality, bad for even a Samuel Z. Arkoff production. it does still have its merits though.

Futureworld is the 1976 sequel to the popular 1973 scifi thriller Westworld, and was followed a few years later by the very short-lived CBS TV series “Beyond Westworld,” which was even worse, as demonstrated by it only lasting five episodes.

In Westworld, written and directed by Michael Crichton, the Delos Corporation has created three ‘amusement parks’ – WestWorld, MedievalWorld, and RomanWorld – populated by lifelike androids where guests can indulge in any fantasy they can imagine in each park genre, including having sex with and/or killing the androids. A malfunction affecting all the robots makes them suddenly attack and kill all the guests, highlighted by the Gunslinger, as played by Yul Brynner, and terror ensues. So ends WestWorld.

In Futureworld, Delos seems to have recovered from this PR nightmare and gone back into business. Fonda and Blythe Danner are newspaper and television reporters invited to see what the new Delos is all about and make sure it’s safe. They elect to visit FutureWorld, one of the new parks that have been added. There is some great dialogue between the two regarding newspapers being dead, nice call from 1976.

Most frightening about the film is how much the parks resemble Disney in design and visuals, but I suppose that’s on purpose. On the down side the acting is abysmal and the sexism is humiliating. That the technicians must be gay or robots if they don’t succumb to Danner’s charms is one of the more pitiful bits. There’s also a painful conspiracy subplot about Delos replacing world leaders with robot doubles.

Yul Brynner as The Gunslinger does appear in footage from the first movie and in Danner’s bizarre dream sequence. Too bad he couldn’t be in more. As a true scifi movie villain, perhaps he could have dragged this flick up a few notches from its bad telemovie level.

One Year, 26 Seasons, Seven Doctors

Now I have to say up front that there are a few other blogs and websites out there doing this, but this one is by my friend Terry Willitts, and his is the best. No, I’m not biased, it’s just that good.

Spinning out of his project for last year, a blog that covered every issue of the cult classic comic book Cerebus by Dave Sim – 2011: The Year of the Aardvark – Terry has taken on the original “Doctor Who” series with his new blog – One Year, 26 Seasons, Seven Doctors. Each day Terry examines one of the serials that make up the long history of the British Time Lord.

Check it out here.

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V – Visitors, New and Old, at Biff Bam Pop!

Head on over to Biff Bam Pop! and check out my review of the “V” television series, both the original and the recent re-imagining. You can see it directly here. Enjoy!

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Attack the Block

Attack the Block ~ Every once in a while a movie comes in under the radar and by pure word of mouth everyone is like, “You have to see this.” Attack the Block is one of those films. Not in theaters, couldn’t find it bootleg, and it took forever to get through Netflix, but I finally got a chance to see it.

Attack the Block has been billed as an alien invasion movie in the style of Shaun of the Dead, and it does in fact have Nick Frost in it and was written and directed by Frost/Simon Peggy/Edgar Wright collaborator Joe Cornish. The premise has aliens attacking South London and a teenage street gang defending their turf. In reality, it’s a theme that dates back to the American 1950s, but Cornish delivers it with flava. The flick begins when the boys kill an alien and descend into the teenage underworld looking for bragging rights and cash.

Once I got my head back in “Eastenders” mode (I’m out of practice, PBS stopped showing it in this area several years ago, and I’m never going to forgive you, channel 12) and was able to understand the thick accents that pass for English, I was all good with these kids, but it did take a while, some concentration, and subtitles. When it turns out it ain’t just one alien out there, the real fun begins. It’s really Shaun of the Dead meets The Warriors meets Red Dawn set in Walford Square under alien siege. Yeah, it’s that much fun.

I really kinda dug the almost Akira-like moped chases, and the aliens are truly frightening – big black furry masses with neon blue jaws of teeth. The colors of this flick are amazing. Intense, scary, brutal, and visually stunning, Attack the Block lives up to the hype, and is a must-see.

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