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Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi’ Category

District 9 opens with an overview of the situation at hand.  Years prior, a spaceship full of half-starved, desperate aliens coasted to a stop over Johannesburg, South Africa.   Presented with over a million aliens to care for, the South African government contracts with a corporation called MNU to set up facilities for the aliens.   Before long, the refugee camp becomes a permanent slum.   Human/alien tensions rise, crime soars, and anti-alien laws are enacted.

Given the awful nickname of “prawn”, the aliens are corralled into District 9, where gangsters prey on their poverty and desperation and MNU schemes to harness the aliens’ weaponry for their own ends.

District 9 utilizes the style of a documentary and introduces us to Wikus van der Merwe, an affable kind of guy with a great wife and a father-in-law in charge at MNU.   Wikus is the sort of guy who is the perpetually cheery, socially stunted sort of coworker you don’t like to get stuck in an elevator with.   He’s charged with getting eviction papers signed by all aliens before they are moved to District 10, a new “settlement” for the aliens.  While investigating an alien dwelling, Wikus is sprayed with some sort of black substance, which causes him to begin changing into a prawn.   He is taken into MNU custody, escapes, and runs to District 9 where he begins to seek answers about his condition.   Christopher, an alien with a small child, tells him the black substance will power the ship hovering over Johannesburg and they must get it back.   If they get it back, Wikus can be cured.

My main concern with District 9 was that the CGI would be distracting, as is so often the case, but the prawns are beautifully rendered and look as realistic as it gets, to be quite honest.   Wikus’ transformation from man to prawn is equally realistic, as if he’s Brundlefly without the exuberance at his transformation.

In fact, District 9 is one hell of a finely crafted sci-fi movie.  Wikus van der Merwe is horrifically, realistically human; Wikus condescends to the prawns even when he needs their help, constantly is looking out for his own interests and is only willing to make a change (albeit a slow, agonizing change) after witnessing the horrors that MNU, and by proxy, he has participated in.   Wikus is an incredibly flawed, at times unsympathetic character, but Neil Blomkamp boosts the character with the portrayal that all Wikus really wants is to get home to his wife, who he loves beyond measure.

District 9 is an unlikely Hollywood film.  Made in South Africa, featuring unknown actors and featuring a cast of humans who are the very worst kind of human and aliens that are probably the most human, it’s the kind of movie that got legs somewhere and it’s good that it did.   Sharlto Copley does a hell of a job breathing life into Wikus and Neil Blomkamp shoots the whole thing beautifully.   It may be weird to say, but my favorite character in the whole shebang is Christopher’s young son, who may be the most adorable alien ever put to film.

A very solid entry into the science fiction genre, I would imagine you’ll see District 9 on many “top sci-fi movies” lists in the future.  If we were running on the star rating here, I’d give it 4/5.

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Let’s leave the bitching about the deviation from source material aside, shall we?

That sounds odd coming from me given my untempered rage at X-Men Origins: Wolverine and my deep longing for Deadpool to be as close to the comics as possible, but let’s face it:   Hellblazer (the comic series that Constantine was based on) was going to be changed, like it or not,  given the religious subject matter and John Constantine’s actual behavior in the comics.

Constantine begins with the suicide of Isabel, a troubled young woman who believes she can see angels and demons.   Her twin sister Angela is a detective who is convinced her devoutly Catholic sister could never contemplate an act that would sentence Isabel to a lifetime in hell.   Angela tracks down a reluctant John Constantine, a bitter exorcist who loathes the hand that life dealt him.   It’s only when Constantine gets an inkling of what’s really at stake that he jumps into action.

I don’t find Constantine to be guilty at all; I really enjoy it, for what it’s worth.   (I went to see it in the theater by myself, which is a rare happening given that I hate seeing movies by myself.)   My annoying and not at all charming bias for Keanu Reeves may be showing, but he didn’t do a half-bad job at playing a world-weary, cancer-stricken jerk with a capacity for redemption.    Rachel Weisz does a fairly good job given the fact save for a scene where she comes back from a short jaunt to hell, but who’s counting?    And Shia LaBeouf pops up as an annoying assistant to Constantine, pre-Transformers.   Shit, Gavin Rossdale – Mr. Stefani and frontman of Bush, who I was fond of in my junior high days – makes an appearance as a villain.   Who would have thought, huh?

Constantine does ascribe a very Catholic view of things to its universe.   The special effects aren’t wonderful, but they’re not terrible either; the story’s fairly bland at times but hey, you get Peter Stormare as the Devil!  (It’s worth it to watch just for Stormare’s appearance.  No lie.)

If we’re chalking it up to guilty pleasures, I’d say that Keanu Reeves’ performance is enjoyable in an unironic way, which makes it difficult for some people to admit.    I’d say that it’s fun while being ridiculous; that Tilda Swinton is made of awesome and was perfect casting as an androgynous angel is a good pleasure point, if you will.   The twisty-looking plot isn’t all that twisty; if you sat through a couple of Catholic masses and a few episodes of Murder, She Wrote you’ll see the ending coming but the cast makes it fun while you’re waiting for the climax.

All in all, a nice escapist movie for a rainy weekend, I think.

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Fantastically bad!

Johnny Mnemonic

Watching Johnny Mnemonic is akin to watching a train wreck in the sense that the train goes off the rails, flips twelve or thirteen times and then explodes in a massive conflagration akin to the sum total of all explosions in Michael Bay flicks.   It’s that bad.

Based (and I use that term loosely) on the William Gibson story of the same name, the film takes all the good in Gibson’s story and scratches it out in favor of a Hollywood love story and corporate greed.    Johnny Mnemonic bears little resemblance to the story it sprang from, much to the film’s detriment.   (More on that later.)

Johnny (Keanu Reeves) is an information courier in the future.   Since this is a movie featuring Technologically Advanced Dystopia, Johnny has neural implants that allow him to upload data to his head.    He takes a job transporting data from Asia to Newark, New Jersey – insert your own Hell joke here – and manages to massively overload his implants.   He has 24 hours to extract the data or his neural implants will enter an advanced state of seepage and kill him.   It puts a major crimp in Johnny’s plans that the data he has stuffed in his brain is the cure for a deadly disease that’s infected mass amounts of the world population.   An evil corporation named PharmaCom realizes that the cure they were holding will diminish their profits, since curing a disease is cheaper than treating the symptoms.   They hire the Yakuza to cut off Johnny’s head.   Add in a bodyguard named Jane and Johnny’s adventures around town become the explosive, shoot-y variety.

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The movie is gaudy by even the standards of the ’90’s.   The visual effects of what the Internet looks like are over the top even in those days, using bright neon colors and geometric shapes.   It looks and feels like someone’s interpretation of the Internet through the design aesthetic of Body Glove clothing.

What makes the movie truly memorable is the insane supporting cast it’s got going on.  Udo Kier, Dolph Lundgren (as a nutso street preacher!),  John Spencer, Ice T (!) and Henry Rollins (!!) are all there.   It’s downright bizarre.  Lundgren plays a crazy preacher on call for the Yakuza who wields weapons like a cross-knife.   No, really.   And Rollins, he of the screaming anger and years of tours with punk band Black Flag (and later, Rollins Band and spoken word), plays a doctor named Spider.    Ice-T plays the leader of a gang called the Lo-Teks who aren’t low-tech in the slightest.

It’s really Reeves and Dina Meyer as the bodyguard Jane who play their roles with such a serious bent that it’s unintentionally comic.   The screenwriting doesn’t help, because let’s face it:   Keanu Reeves will never be a world class actor.   A great guy, sure, but not a great actor.   And the following rant does him no favors at all:

What starts out as a futuristic thriller devolves into complete and total insanity.   Somehow, even though both characters are completely devoid of personality, Johnny and Jane fall in love.    Henry Rollins sacrifices his life so that Johnny and Jane can escape.   (That’s always where the movie lost me, when Dolph Lundgren takes out Henry Rollins.   Does. Not. Compute.)    Johnny and Jane make their way to Lo-Tek heaven where a Navy-trained dolphin helps Johnny hack his own brain to broadcast the cure for this terrible disease to everyone on the planet.

I repeat:

A NAVY-TRAINED DOLPHIN HELPS JOHNNY HACK HIS OWN BRAIN.

It’s like some sort of Hollywood exec had an acid-trip and watched Discovery Science and came up with this idea.   (Jones the Navy-trained dolphin is in the story, but it’s still weird.   Weirder, actually, since the dolphin’s addicted to smack, but it makes sense in the context of the actual story.)

The last twenty minutes or so come off as entirely bizarre, too bizarre to be real or imagined, and it doesn’t help that Ice-T is playing Ice-T and Dina Meyer and Keanu Reeves are running around, emoting like blocks of ice, or that you realize the sum total of your investment in this movie rests on whether or not a fucking dolphin can help Johnny out or not.

In the story, Johnny acknowledges that he’s like a “bucket of water” that’s constantly emptied and refilled.   He’s tired of that existence, so he goes to Jones to get the data out of his head and instead of sending it out, Johnny, Molly (the Jane character in the story) and Jones sit on it.   Instead, Johnny and Jones hack out faint traces of previous jobs Johnny took from his neural implants and blackmail his former clients with the data.    Johnny and Molly become Lo-Teks, do whatever they want and upgrade Jones to a better tank and score him some heroin whenever he needs it.   I’m not kidding in the slightest.   And it makes more sense than what the movie gives us.

Gibson’s story is a bleak and brutal piece of work and while I understand that movies are made all the time that don’t adhere to the original works they stemmed from, Johnny Mnemonic feels drastically incomplete and wrong for not incorporating a lot more of Gibson’s edge to it as well as shearing a lot of the good stuff from the work.

That being said, Mnemonic is a fun relic to watch for the overacting and the gaudy set pieces, the numerous strange and weird actors that pop up in odd places and the general cheesiness of it all.   It’s a major Hollywood production that’s cheese-laden and wallows in its own overblown grotesqueries and, if memory serves me correctly, bombed at the box office.   It’s a weird movie to watch and it’s quite a bit of fun to laugh at and enjoy in a hideous, post-mortem sense.

However, if there’s anyone out there that unironically enjoys this movie, I do not want to know.   Good heavens, let me remain ignorant.

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Oh, Guillermo del Toro!

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Poster found here.

Hellboy II picks up mostly where the first left off.   The paranormal team is still fighting the good fight sans Harry, who was shipped to Antarctica, and a new member comes aboard.   Johann Krauss is a German ectoplasmic man in a steampunk looking suit and he’s a stickler for rules and regulations.   Naturally, he and Hellboy don’t get along well.

In other parts of the world, Prince Nuada of the elves has returned from exile with a mission — to unite all the pieces of a long forgotten crown broken apart in a truce between elves and humans in order to reawaken an indestructible Golden Army.   As fate would have it, Hellboy and friends are the only ones who can stop Nuada from extinguishing the human race.

I don’t know if there’s another director out there who can top Guillermo del Toro, who directed this, the previous Hellboy movie and films like Pan’s Labryinth, Blade II and others, for flawless style.   Del Toro’s films are almost always jam-packed with rich and stunning sets with laborious details.

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Hellboy II is odd because it’s an inviting action/sci-fi flick.  It’s filled with warm reds and golds as well as these crazy sets and creatures that del Toro dreamed up.

Beautiful, striking features only carry you so far and that’s where Hellboy II stumbles.   The story is nothing new or inventive, of course, but the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Blah Blah Blah is so tiresome, so banal that you wonder why the camera lingers with them for so long.   Selma Blair’s Liz Sherman gets a new haircut and some new power control but remains the same wishy-washy sort of girl from the first movie.   Hellboy obsesses over Liz but refuses to do dishes, griping about it all the way.   Abe Sapien has a childish crush on an elven princess.   These stories are engineered to make an audience feel receptive or sympathetic but all they do is grate on one’s nerves.

The slog through the boring character arcs is worth it for the gorgeous visuals; no expense was spared on special effects and sets and it shows.   If Hellboy II had reached a little higher on the characters, it could have been much better, though.

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SPOILER WARNING.

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I can’t recall when I first saw The Day The Earth Stood Still, but I do reckon that it was most likely with my mom.  To say that my mother is enthusiastic about this movie is understating it a bit; I think it’s actually one of her favorites of all time.

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An alien spaceship lands in Washington, triggering fear and suspicion worldwide.   Out steps an alien, Klaatu, bearing an important message for all nations of the Earth.  Along with him is Gort, a sinister looking robot.   Humans mistakenly believe Klaatu may attack them, so they shoot him.  After he’s locked up inside a hospital, he escapes and blends in with Earthlings, learning more about our culture and ways before convincing a fellow scientist to have a meeting of the greatest minds on earth so he can spread his message to all nations equally.   The message?   Embrace peace or perish.

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The Day The Earth Stood Still is a sci-fi classic and with good reason:  it belongs to none of its knee-jerk, reactionary brethren of the decade.  (Them, anyone?)  Instead of being a frightful tale of how atomic power can go dreadfully wrong (duck and cover from those giant ants/spiders/creatures, kids), it’s a slow-burn tale of how we are the horrific ones.

Bad special effects aside, it’s the theme and central idea to the movie that still play to a modern audience.   The fear of outsiders, the fear of global destruction and the fear that we may not be the big fish in the food chain we perceive ourselves to be are all still very relevant – Soviets or no Soviets.  Klaatu’s indignant frustration at the stupidity of the people of Earth but kindly outlook on the mother and son duo that he befriends are exemplary of human traits, sure, but none of us had the power to reduce Earth to a cinder.

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The man in the silver rubber suit is no longer as terrifying as he once was, nor does Klaatu’s then high-tech spaceship strike anyone as being anything other than ultra-retro, but the disturbing, unsettling feeling that The Day The Earth Stood Still conveys is that we do have a choice – Klaatu or no Klaatu – to decide our own fate.  It is our own stupidity and as Klaatu puts it, our own irresponsibility that gets in our way.  It is our choice to be smarter or be a lot deader, even if there’s no giant alien robot around to police the hell out of us.

We still live with the threat of horrible things looming over us.  It’s no longer worrying about the Soviets dropping A-Bombs and the idea of the KGB looming large over the capitalist stronghold of America; now it’s militant religious terrorists, dirty bombs and bioterrorism.   To be typically crude:  same shit, different day.   In other words, Klaatu’s message is something that still resonates because we’re still behaving in the same fashion.   We can doom ourselves … or not.

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Arguably, while the humans are left with a choice to DON’T BE SO STUPID or DIE IN A MASSIVE FIRE, FOOLS, Patricia Neal is the initial savior of humanity.  It is she that gives Klaatu a chance; it is she that helps him evade capture and it is she that goes to Gort the giant robot and makes sure he A) doesn’t blow shit up everywhere to avenge Klaatu after he’s been killed and B) resurrects Klaatu.

In other words, Patricia Neal?  Is the shit.  Also, thanks to Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and some screenwriters, we have the immortal words the Evil Dead franchise ticks along on:   Klaatu barada nikto.

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My mom’s recollection of this is that it was really cool back in the day.  She was awed by the sound on the special edition.   One of the things that sells The Day The Earth Stood Still is the creepy, semi-disturbing music which runs to and fro through the film.   (Good job, music composer.)   She pointed out how freaking alien Michael Rennie (Klaatu) looks in his oversized suit and scary-lean figure.   And above all, the special effects still seem real to her, and I imagine the movie has a whole realm of meaning to her that it will never have to me, primarily because even though we live in times with fear, I never had the threat of having atomic bombs rained down on me by Nikita Khruschev.  (I also never lived next to a SAC base, which my mother also did, right when a bunch of Americans and Russians were thinking hard about pushing some little red buttons.)

I think it is this movie that gave me my love of sci-fi; not sci-fi for fantasy’s sake, but the kind of sci-fi that makes a larger point.   The Thing and other movies of that ilk all have bigger questions in mind than just what they are at face value and I think… I think this comes from early viewings of The Day The Earth Stood Still with my mom.

If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for?

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You know, I kind of have a love/hate relationship with Arnold Schwarzenegger.    It’s the predictability factor; you can count on any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie having some bad puns and the requisite “I’ll be back” quote but there’s something comforting in that.   He’s like Old Reliable; you can watch almost any Schwarzenegger movie and feel like you’ll be somewhat entertained and there’s no nasty surprises headed your way.

The Running Man was the first Schwarzenegger movie I have any memory of seeing; I still love it as much as I love Terminator 2.  Of course, T2 is the far superior film as The Running Man is pretty much a piece of ’80’s glitzy crap that remains at the bottom of Schwarzenegger’s resume.   It’s a movie that’s often forgotten.

As an adult, I’d probably mock this one to no end.   You know, your childhood days have a funny way of affecting your views on movies though.  I remember watching this one on cable with Older Sister when we first got cable – when cable seemed like something so new and fancy that my sisters and I nearly died when my parents signed up for cable service.   I estimate that Older Sister and I ran through several hundred viewings of The Running Man over the years either on lazy weekend afternoons or sugar-fueled late nights.   It’s funny, because we never mocked The Running Man but yet Older Sister and I made running cracks out of every other Schwarzenegger movie.

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These graphics were totally sophisticated. Er, for 1987. Can you tell?

The first thing you should know about The Running Man is that it’s based on a Stephen King book.   Granted, King wrote under his pseudonym Richard Bachman, but in my humble opinion, King starts out with a really good “What if?” kind of situation and gives it a great fleshing out.   Having a Stephen King story as your basis is a strong point.   It’s probably the best point of the movie, I think.

Of course, they changed it up from the original source material but… hey.

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Okay, so basic plot outline time.   Think of your typical dystopian future and add in Schwarzenegger as Ben Richards, an Army type who refuses to fire on civilians during a food riot and is relieved of command, but not before his subordinates carry out orders to kill the rioters, which include innocent women and children.   Richards is carefully portrayed to be the rogue soldier who caused all this and he is thrown in prison.

While in prison, Richards meets up with Weiss, a techy type who’s a part of The Resistance (they’re resisting lots of things, but mainly it seems to be ICS, the main television network) and Laughlin, a hardened fighter.  The three escape prison and Richards takes a woman hostage and forces her to travel with him to Hawaii to complete his escape.   Unluckily for him, she manages to rat him out – but not before a TV producer and host notices the escape footage of Richards.  The TV host is Damon Killian, the face of the world’s most popular television show, The Running Man, and he’ll stop at nothing to get Richards on the show.

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