Posts Tagged ‘scifi’

Image result for ghost in the shell impawards*** This review may contain thermo-optical camouflage spoilers ***

A young woman is brought back to life as a cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier and must stop a terrorist who wants to destroy the Hanka company that created her.

Without drawing too many comparisons to Shirow Masamune’s 1989 Manga and Mamoru Oshii’s animated 1995 counterpart, director Rupert Sanders’ Ghost in the Shell adaption is interesting, if somewhat plodding in places. Scarlett Johansson’s Major is devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals but Jamie Moss, William Wheeler and Ehren Kruger’s screenplay never really explores these missions and we are immediately thrown into an origin story of sorts where the missions are intertwined with the main plot of Major discovering the truth about herself.

Heavily Blade Runner influenced, whereas Deckard was a character in a world, Major’s world seems to revolve around her which limits Sanders’. That’s not to say it’s not a full realised world, it looks visually stunning. There’s political also business corruption, cyber-drugs, human trafficking and Yakuza activities touched upon. The sets and striking costumes are finely put together. Scarlett Johansson’s Major anti tall, skinny Hollywood typecast aesthetically excels and Pilou Asbaek is great as Batou with his cyborg enhanced eyes. Notable are Takeshi Kitano as Aramaki, Majors dirty Harry-like boss and Julia Roberts looking Juliette Binoche as Dr. Ouelet. Michael Pitt as Kuze is sadly given little to do aside from deliver theatrical lines cloaked in distracting, yet, excellent CGI. Also Michael Wincott has an extended cameo and is sorely missed early on.

Edited by Billy Rich and Neil Smith it appears purposely but jarringly choppy in places, who knows possibly to cash in on the younger age rating or a home media extended marketing ploy, either way this hampers what could be a decent if somewhat condensed adaption as Major, a brain in her mechanical body, or shell fights her way through cyber- enhanced foe at times utilising her tantalising thermo-optical camouflage. You’d think though that the screen writers would have the opportunity to deep dive into the themes, rather than dull them down. Also the cumbersome spider tank steals from the closing some much needed tension. There are a few twists and emotional scenes in amongst the handful of action set ups but the premises are material we’ve seen explored before. Lorne Balfe and Clint Mansell’s music is moving and perfectly fitting, to Sanders’ credit it has quiet times, Asbaek particularly shines in these moments.

Essentially this incarnation of Ghost in the Shell is a journey of self discovery and one finding themselves, not about Major becoming more. It’s reminiscent of Robocop, Strange Days, Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet and countless others and that’s the snag with the timing of this live-adaptation, a good movie is (usually) a good movie no matter how original or unoriginal it happens to be but it doesn’t feel fresh enough to break the mould.

Overall, it’s worth your time if only for the visuals, comic book action and robotics. Now with the origin-like story already told a sequel could be very appealing indeed.

Star Trek Beyond Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The USS Enterprise crew are tricked to a nebula in the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a ruthless enemy who wants to tear the Federation apart.

Director Justin Lin offers a fast paced third instalment with plenty of explosions and phaser laser shoot-outs. The action comes at full velocity especially after the Enterprise (is unnecessarily destroyed again). With the established cast of well loved characters Lin effortlessly helms what feels like a big budget Star Trek episode as they crash land on a planet. The effects are for the most part excellent, even if larger-than-life for epic set-up sake, especially in the opening attack and closing with the fleets star ship USS Franklin, zooming about a giant space station Starbase named Yorktown.

With Kirk regulars (Chris Pine), Spock, Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) the cast look more at ease, seemingly settled in their established roles and bring the well loved characters to life suitably. Echoing Wrath of Khan (1982) thankfully protagonist Idris Elba as Krall has a strong screen presence and is one of the better Star Trek baddies, for a moment in the closing it appears he’s going to become sickly honourable but appreciatively the writers were wise to avoid the trope. The new addition Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is excellent on all accounts, her character fits universe perfectly. There are flashy moments where she uses a holographic device similar to Total Recall (1990), Escape from L.A (1996) and Superman II (1980) etc, still, her character is well developed and Boutella breathtakingly executes the fight scenes (there is an opportunity for her to join the cast of characters with untimely death of the excellent actor Yelchin). Under Lin’s direction Elba and Boutella simply shine throughout.

While it lacks any real Gene Roddenberry nebula exploration writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung offer a straight forward story, the usual fitting Star Trek speak and relationship touches, echoing past films and series of the original crew, notably Bones’ interaction with Spock and Kirk. If anything it on the nose honours the original outings a little too much while not investing time in investigating the planets vegetation or natural life forms in place of a survival piece. It retains the series’ sci-fi roots, but skimps on the science and discovery, replacing it with blockbuster exploits. The staging, sets and costumes are perfect; Star Trek Beyond has some great visuals and it is wonderfully produced. Michael Giacchino’s great Star Trek theme finds it way throughout out and his additional scored music is more upbeat and less sterile, fittingly taking chances like Lin’s Beyond in whole. It’s interesting that they use the Franklin an old Starfleet ship, with Pegg and Jung’s transparent twist being reminiscent of H. G. Wells’ Morlock or the Cave (2005) to name a few. Touchingly there’s not only a tribute to Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) but to the whole original time-line crew where Zachary Quinto’s Spock comes across his older alternative time-line self’s belongings. The joint mission statement brings it casually to a Star Trek 50th Anniversary fan servicing close, enticing a fourth adventure.

Overall, Beyond feels like an expensive and extended action packed episode, while not boldly going to places they haven’t been before, it’s an enjoyable comfortable stop.

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When Judge Dredd’s past catches up with him and a former Judge reappears he’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit and Mega City is thrown into chaos.

The first film adaptation based on the popular British comic book character Judge Dredd, director Danny Cannon (The Young Americans) delivers a visual treat complemented by Adrian Biddle’s cinematography. While some of the special effects, back projections etc. have aged, many elements, especially the sets, practical effects and makeup still hold up nicely. The costumes designed by Gianni Versace are a mixed bag and Sylvester Stallone as Judge Dredd is wise to discard the clunker unpractical 2000 A.D. costume pieces at every opportunity.

At times it feels choppy, especially in the last act. What’s seems evident as you watch Cannon’s offering is that it’s uneven, this apparently is due to studio interference, creative disputes and script changes. The other thing which takes the edge off the mix of Blade Runner and Bravestarr inspired aesthetics, aside from it feeling lighter than it’s comic source material is it’s similarities to Stallone’s Demolition Man (1993) which came out two years earlier. They’re both police films set in the future; feature comic relief Rob Schneider, the main character is framed, there’s corrupt officials – the list goes on and you can’t help feel a slight case of déjà vu.

Despite Dredd nontraditionally removing his helmet Stallone does a good job as the shamed Judge, John Spartan, er I mean Judge Joseph Dredd, sentenced to life imprisonment. Again Stallone’s Dredd works best when he’s playing it straight, training cadets, sentencing and offering emotion with his mentor Chief Justice Fargo played by the excellent Max von Sydow.

The comedy throughout is humorous – but it just doesn’t fit Dredd’s tone and would have been better placed in an action movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously like Demolition Man. Judge Dredd for some reason tries to be both a violent action and one-liner Schneider buddy movie. The cast are on form and the characters are fleshed out. Notable is Diane Lane as Judge Hershey. Jürgen Prochnow’s Judge Griffin the the rest of the cast are effective in their respective roles, right down to a small bit part by Ian Dury.

The mystery story is fleshed out and plays out quite well with reactivated projects, faked evidence and doctored photos. There’s some stand out scenes which include Dredd fighting psychotic Rico Dredd played wonderfully by Armand Assante as his clone Judges are awakened. With some great makeup there’s the Angel Gang, a family of cannibalistic scavengers. There’s Rico escaping from prison and reactivating a giant ABC Warrior robot. And a part where Schneider’s Fergee and Dredd must run through a tunnel in 30 seconds or be burnt alive.

With Alan Silvestri’s score adding weight, Cannon pacts in a lot of story threads which gives it scale. And to his credit Judge Dredd has plenty of visuals and some interesting darker sci-fi elements.

While its 2012 attempt fairs better, Judge Dredd ’95 remains a scifi action worth checking out.

The Final Version is the third book I’ve had published; my first was a zombie chiller and the second was a vampire horror novel, and was better received reaching #13 in the fantasy horror chart. The Final Version is the first novel I draft, even though released third. I, who never in the first 30 odd years of my life, ever imagined would write one word for publication. I never could have predicted it would reach #12 in the charts.

Yesterday, while prepping my next novel Darkest Moons (out October 2016) I looked over The Final Version digital eBook edition which is available is on Amazon (shameless plug). After rereading some of it was one of the strangest experiences of my life. I didn’t recognise half of what I’d written. Had no recollection of writing it. “Where did those words come from?” I questioned. “Who did they come from?” All I can figure is I went into some kind of writer’s trance. There’s a Bladerunner feel, but a plastic and neon one in and in contrast to crowded over population there’s an emptiness, loneliness where people have buildings to themselves and go about there business under big brother’s eye. The suburbs are different again, policed ravaged and dangerous.

But what came out is something that makes me laugh today after UKs decision to leave the EU because of the way the political landscape in the World especially the shift in UK and USA, which echoes in the  subtext of the novel’s backdrop. The Final Version, centres around a hearty mix of cyberpunk, DNA, A.I. Robots and Cloning, but its also a post war story of sorts, a warning if you like – which I hope doesn’t come to pass. Where the elite chose not to revive their fellow people (in cryo status), to keep power and resource across the remaining cities to themselves. Of course there’s assassinations, conspiracy, but never more has a piece of fiction I’ve written become a step closer to reality not just with DNA, advancements in technology and transatlantic travel but the blurred warped political agendas and unity of humankind.

For less than a coffee check out the future… Are you unique or simply the final version?

Amazon The Final Version

The Final Version Trailer

Critters Movie Poster*** This review may contain toothy grin and dart quill spoilers ***

A group of ‘Crites’ hijack a prison ship and escape to earth where they lay siege on a farmhouse attacking the family inside.

Director/writer Stephen Herek Critters is an ambitious creature sci-fi, along with fellow writers Domonic Muir and Don Keith Opper it juggles a lot of sci-fi elements despite a predominantly rural setting. There are intergalactic face-changing bounty hunters, alien creatures, spaceships and ray cannons. Herek and company in true 80’s fashion spend little time in giving the creatures and bounty hunters a back story leaving it to the imagination. This works in its favour compared to the excessive exposition in many of today’s films. Likewise, the Critters just happen to come across the farmhouse after chowing down on a bull. Interestingly at the time of Critters’ VHS run I unjustly saw it as a rip off Gremlins, much like Munchies. Yes it cashed-in on its popularity but writers have since pointed out that it was written before Joe Dante’s classic went into production and subsequently underwent rewrites to reduce the apparent (in the ether) similarities between the two films.

The escaped alien Crites with their sharp toothy grins and tranquilizing dart quills amusingly roll around like hedgehogs on speed. Encapsulating the sound of 1986, artist Che Zuro plays in the background among some other 80s bands with David Newman’s score giving power to the action setups and menace to the Critter puppets. The encounter in the cellar where the father is attacked is quite effective, especially the preceding search and reveal by torchlight.

The Critters are amusing times, at one point they converse with subtitles, “They have weapons” says one, “So what?” replies another before getting blasted away. There’s also scenes where a Critter encounters an E.T. (1982) doll – tearing it apart, a toilet hiding Critter (a likely homage to 1985’s Ghoulies) and also a moment where one eats a cherry bomb may rouse a chuckle.

In the opening the commander of the prison hires two shape-changing bounty hunters to pursue the Crites/Critters to earth (maybe his inspired AVP Requiem’s story-line). These hunters, with Space Marine like costumes get some humorous moments mainly because of mistaken identity by the small townspeople. Tim Curry-like actor Terrence Mann takes form of the rock band front man Johnny Steele, complete with a Bon Jovi hairdo. While the other takes on faces of a few locals notably Don Opper who plays a duel role of both the bounty hunter and the towns paranoid drunk Charlie McFadden.

McFadden a friend of young Brad Brown have a Miyagi and Daniel san Karate Kid bond which is older man young boy relationship that are seemingly avoided in films these days. Brad played by Scott Grimes (who latter would voice American Dad’s Steve) is a stereotype 80s film kid experimenting with fire crackers, bickering with his sister and trying to bunk off school. Notable is Billy Green Bush’s Jay Brown as an everyday farmer and his wife played by Dee Wallace Stone). Wallace is given very little to do, the character Helen Brown is purely functional and pretty much retreads her E.T. mother role, that said she does get to fire off a few shots at those Critters. Playing Brad’s teenage sister April is fresh faced actress Nadine Van der Velde (who was 24 years old at the time) and incidentally appeared in the aforementioned copycat film Munchies. Actor Billy Zane sporting a little rats tail shows up as April’s boyfriend, destined to be Critter fodder. For sale-ability appeal Blade Runner’s acting veteran M. Emmet Walsh plays the pretty useless local Sheriff Harv.

There are a handful of stunts and although the optical effects have unsurprisingly dated the practical effects still hold up well. The impressive gooey face changing sequence is memorable and the Critters themselves are simple and effective from the rolling, to the firing quills with plenty of good old fashion blood on display after an attack. After the bounty hunters cause some mayhem in the church and a local bowling alley (the teams shirts echo a Ghostbusters logo design) they arrive at the farmhouse to capture the Critters. In the final act after the family house is invaded we have our heroes go about rescuing April from a giant kidnapping Critter. Herek gives us an obligatory end explosion, a chance for a special effect team to show off their fine miniature model skills, with moments for the editors to flex their skills. In addition, with some eggs laid in a barn there’s the inevitable unashamed set up for a sequel (which came two years later in 1988).

Critters still has a charm about it thanks to the novel creature design and acting of likable Grimes’. Produced by New Line’s Bob Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm St.) Critters is squarely aimed at its mid-teen target audience and despite some bumpy pacing Critters delivers enough laughs and playful alien set-ups to retain a lasting appeal long after the VHS was replaced by DVD and on-demand films.

Azeroth stands on the brink of war, the leader of the humans and the leader of the orcs are then sent on a collision course that will decide the fate of their people.

There is a honesty and truthfulness that comes with a Duncan Jones film, from having a famous father (a true legend) Jones broke convention not becoming one of those superficial celebs making a living in the shadow of a parent. I know very little if any thing about Warcraft, I know it’s big and I know it’s a fantasy role playing game so I’m not going to pretend I know more than that.

Warcraft with all the whiz bang jiggery pokery, beneath the sweeping shots and special effects there is a heart felt tale about parenting and loss. What Jones’ offering has is that Moon, Source Code humanity which Jones effortlessly brings to the table, that roundness and grounded feel that he stamps on his films. The script has an honesty that it’s not just some money making studio movie but an indie-spirited film finely crafted on a large scale. You feel your mate made this great spectacle, there’s an underlying apprehensive innocence in contrast to a sense of wonder and adventure. Warcraft seemingly feels that he isn’t in it for the money, but for the story telling and artistic craft of it all.

Unusually the subtitle ‘The Beginning’ was absent on the title screen in the cinema version, it simply says ‘Warcraft’ possibly linked to the rating. While available for all to see with an adult, the battles are intense, stabbings etc. it not just the scary demon and skeletal faces that will scare the young kids but the emotional impact of orc Durotan (CGI capture Tony Kebbell) wife and child storyline. As Orc clan honour is tested, there are duelling wizards, a giant golem and griffin. Jones also briefly throws in a few elves, dwarfs and huge wolves for good measure. There’s betrayal, double-crossing and retribution, the powerful magical Orc, Gul’dan (the excellent Daniel Wu) literary sucks the life of humans akin to The Dark Crystal.

The casting is not mainstream, Ben Foster’s wizard Medivh avoids stereotype and is a young incarnation of a wizard, as is Llane (Dominic Cooper) a younger than expected King. Battle hard human Lothar Travis Fimmel (of Amazon’s Vikings) as well as some grand action scenes, emotional set ups (one echoing the Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan showdown) he also gets comedic moments, many alongside wizard/mage apprentice Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) who again is not what you’d expect for someone so powerful. This casting works in Warcraft’s favour and if you had a thing for blue women Smurfette, Neytiri and Mystique, Stark Trek olive and She-Hulk green is the new in colour with Garona Halforcen. Fittingly cast is memorable underrated Clancy Brown (of Highlander fame) as the principled conflicted Blackhand, Gul’dan’s right-hand orc.

The daytime colour is bright and vivid in contrast to the pin sharp night time and darker scenes, Warcraft has a unique look and feel. The execution is near on perfect in the confines of the budget and today’s capabilities with brutal sword play and battles. The director is wise to keep the focus on the interesting characters and themes of conflict, family and loyalty with Ramin Djawadi ominous score adding to the proceedings. Warriors, Kings, magicians and creatures, the human cast and the CGI performers melt together and you invest in the characters and their secret meetings and campsite confessions. The computer imagery, textured layers of animation and 3D modeling fuse with the mix of practical stunts and sets. Fimmel and Kebbell are notable but Paula Patton as hardened Garona steals the show as a go between peace keeper and will no doubt set geek hearts aflame. Writers Jones, Charles Leavitt and Chris Metzen juggle the many major characters successfully and the cast deliver the fantasy dialogue with ease.

Jones and crew give us the Matrix of fantasy, lots of things will be familiar not just reminiscent because of Lord of the Rings, Dungeon and Dragons, Fire and Ice, Planet of the Apes, John Carter to name a few. But because of an inherent subconscious of the genre that’s in the ether and part of our pop culture. But like the stylised Matrix did for sci-fi (as much as I hate to admit it) after the dust settled it stood on its own feet and was a milestone in film. As a 70’d kid Warcraft for me puts magic back in the mix instead of it languishing in low budget TV shows, a soulless blockbusters or sub-par cash-ins, here Jones takes it to a fitting level where it should be and cleverly sets up a follow up.

There’s unavoidable rooted fantasy tropes littered throughout and Jones injects a little nuance or twist wherever possible. As a sci-fi  fantasy, medieval-ish action saga Warcraft is highly recommend.

Synchronicity Movie Poster

*** This review contains time travelling spoilers ***

A partly funded experiment creates a wormhole, that the lead scientist hopes will usher humanity into a new scientific frontier.

Independent writer/director Jacob Gentry’s Synchronicity is a sci-fi noir that attempts, on a very low budget, to channel Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Gentry is smart enough not to disguise or apologise for low budget short comings and like the recent Automata and The Machine it doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not, avoiding the pitfalls of many recent low budget with ‘named actor’ science fiction films.

Michael Ironside extended cameo as Klaus, a domineering, super-rich businessman who’s bankrolling Jim’s experiment is excellent and unintentionally upstages actor Chad McKnight’s best quirky effort as a Jeffery Combs-like Jim. Abby Brianne Davis does her best to out do Sean Young’s Rachel as a nonchalant woman who may or may not be assisting Jim or Klaus. Davis really nails this curious absorbing role thanks to a good performance and fitting dialogue.

The budget does enough to create a doomy atmosphere with a dystopian stylishness thanks to some interesting locations, special effects and Ben Lovetts’ score unashamedly reminiscent of Vangelis.

Complications arise at once the time travel begins and with only a handful of characters Gentry keeps the viewer engaged with some intriguing narrative twists. It’s clear the viewer is on low budget feature ride, the minimal psychological and symbolic flower wormhole gives it an artsy Kubrick and Tony Scott feel, without overblown special effects, that may give sub-genre fans a buzz.

Its very much a character piece. When Jim goes through the wormhole proving the viability of time travel it becomes a doppelgänger tale akin to the effective Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes, incidentally also not reliant on flashy effects.

If time travelling speculative science fiction with video calls, heels, high rise buildings and shafts of light is your thing, you’ll a kick out of this low budget – less is more sci-fi.

*** This review may contain robotic spoilers ***

An elite army unit is helicoptered to a remote, off-the-grid island training facility along with a synthetic enhanced female.

What could have been another Syfy channel or Asylum picture thankfully is not due to some commendable CGI work and solid performances from the relatively unknown cast. Don’t expect B flick, man versus robots, Battle of Damned (2013), Kill Command is played straight and is a tighter more polished production. It is one of those simmering science fictions with a group of soldiers fighting to the death as they make there way through woodland, a hi-tech facility and later a training city setting.

Actor Thure Lindhardt as Captain Bukes keeps the proceedings grounded and David Ajala as Drifter, echoing Drake from Aliens character is notable with Bentley Kalu’s short screen time deserving a mention. It’s Vanessa Kirby as hybrid Mills (in a role reminiscent of The Machine and Ex Machina) who steals the show, as the team are tracked and picked off one by one with the fitting Brad Fiedel-like score by Stephen Hilton sounding out.

Director/writer Steve Gomez offers a satisfying turn of events as it’s revealed that it’s the machines who are in training. There’s some nice touches with the robots upgrading and using the wildlife for target practice.

Granted there’s some choppy pacing and yes, gamers will be familiar with the designs, it also borrows from a countless range of scifi films from Predator to Screamers, more recently Skyline and Edge of Tomorrow to name a few. That said, Gomez’s serious small debut is far more rounded than many recent big budgeted films. The Terminator-like closing along with its twist ending lends is self to an inevitable tantalising sequel that with a bigger production would be gladly welcomed.

Galaxy of Terror Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On a desolate, storm-lashed planet called Morganthus, survivors of a crashed spaceship are attacked by their fears.
Director Bruce D. Clark offers a choppy edited and scripted affair. Nevertheless, there are some interesting kill scenes including a man fighting his doppelgänger, a woman being consumed by a giant maggot (Taaffe O’Connell’s notorious death scene), another man being killed with a throwing star by his own severed arm. As with most Roger Corman productions there’s plenty of imagination but low budget production values.
The cast are an assortment of familiar TV and film actors from Happy Days to V and a Nightmare on Elm St. who do their best with the script and ill-fitting costumes. There’s Sid Haig, Robert Englund to name a few. There’s some nice effects on display, along with matte paintings and sound effects. Interestingly as a precursor to bigger things, James Cameron serves as production designer and second unit director, there are reminiscent smidgens of The Terminator and Aliens visuals on display, even though not as well lit or executed.
Galaxy of Terror is unashamedly a series of kills strung together with gore moments and effects. But so were the majority of films in its genre at the time. Worth viewing if only out of interest for the practical effects work.

10 Cloverfield Lane Movie Poster*** This review contains spoilers ***
After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter with two men.

Director Dan Trachtenberg offers a well directed solid suspense thriller, that borrows from Stephen King’s Misery, War of the Worlds and of course Cloverfield in the closing. 10 Cloverfield Lane’s minimal main cast are on fantastic form, notable are Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. but it’s John Goodman who steals the show and is given more depth than the other characters.

What starts out as a seemingly typical torture kidnap thriller turns into something quite different. With the claustrophobic location of an underground bunker complete with air shafts, which Winstead has to worm her way through, it does have it tense moments. Loyality and trust themes builds the tension throughout thanks to Goodman’s questionable character Howard. He gives a stellar performance with Bear McCreary’s score adding to the edgy proceedings. With fine effects and some tight writing from Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle it works as a stand alone film as well as a ‘side-quel’ to J.J Abrams earlier 2008 outing. Clearly the small cast and few locations transparently function to warrant and somewhat set up a big budget third instalment. but don’t expect any alien action until the latter half.

It’s fast pace, unconventional story telling holds interest and makes it worth while viewing alone. Cloverfield fans will be pleased but those who aren’t aware of the Cloverfield link may get more satisfaction from the alien twist ending and Howard’s real intentions.