Notice...

The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.


***SPOILER ALERT***
Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Dark Tower (Film) - In Spite Of The Negative Press, I Enjoyed This Film!

The Dark Tower

I have been hearing about film adaptations of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower book series for many years. Nothing ever seemed to come to fruition until now, and it isn’t even an adaptation, but rather a sequel of sorts. Anyway, since the release of this film that is based on the story and characters of the famed novels of Stephen King, I have heard nothing but bad. Currently with an 18% rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a 6/10 rating on IMDB, 78% of Google users are reported as liking this film.  I am one of the 78%.

In the center of the universe there is a giant tower that protects all of the realms of the universe from monsters. If the protection afforded by the tower were to ever fail, hideous monsters would enter the various worlds causing death and destruction on a huge scale. Walter O’Dim, an evil sorcerer also known as the Man in Black has made it his mission to bring down the tower and unleash the evil forces that await. Walter uses children that he connects to a weapon as a power source to shoot energy bolts at the tower to destroy it. Fortunately, Walter hasn’t found the single child that can bring the tower down, yet.

Roland Deschain has made it his life’s mission to avenge himself upon walter for the killing his father. Roland is the last of his kind, the Gunslingers, a highly trained knight-like band that were used as law enforcement in Mid-World. Unfortunately for Roland, his world has “moved on” and become a bleak and desolate place that is populated by people who exist through subsistence. If Roland can catch the Man in Black and kill him, he will not only get his revenge, but he will save the universe.

The catalyst that brings Walter and Roland together is a deeply disturbed young man named Jake Chambers. Jake is a middle school aged kid that has disturbing dreams and draws pictures of the images he sees in those dreams. Following an incident at school, Jake’s already concerned mother decides that Jake should attend a psychiatric “camp” that will help Jake cope better. When Jake recognizes that the people from the “camp” are actually the same as those in his dreams, he bolts and manages to get away. Jake tracks down an abandoned house from his visions that contains a high-tech transport device that can open portals to the other realms. Jake enters the portal and arrives in Mid-World.

Jake then happens upon Roland and they begin traveling together. Roland explains his purpose and what Walter is about and then takes him to a village to have his visions interpreted. It is discovered that Jake has strong psychic abilities that Walter can track. Walter then unleashes another attack against the tower that opens a small rift allowing one of the monsters to enter Mid-World. Roland kills it before it can kill Jake, but is wounded in the battle. Roland’s wounds are beyond the medical abilities of Mid-World’s healing methods. The people of the village have a portal machine and Jake uses it to transport Roland back to his world to get him medical treatment, and more ammunition. When Jake tries to contact his mother to let her know that he is okay, he discovers that she has been killed. Now he also has a stake in Rolands mission of revenge.

Walter detects the use of the portal and captures Jake and hooks him up to the machine to destroy the tower knowing that he is the one child that can. Roland sets about rescuing Jake by battling Walter’s minions, killing them all, and finally killing Walter with a trick shot.

In the aftermath, Roland tells Jake he has to return to Mid-World and since Jake has nothing left for him in his own world, he should accompany Roland as his companion. Jake accepts and they transport back to Mid-World together.

Now, if you are a fan of the books series, you may be among those who do not like this film. It is so different and off the beam of what was the books, you may not even recognize a lot of it outside of the names of the characters and the setting in the first parts of the film up until Jake and Roland transport out of the village. Outside of that, there isn’t a lot that a staunch fan of the Dark Tower series that is canon. This film takes a completely different direction.

As one might recall from the books, When Roland reached the tower and opened the door at the top of the tower, everything reset and went back to the beginning of The Gunslinger. The last line in the last book was the same as the first line in the first book, “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” I have read and heard in some of the social media that I follow that The Dark Tower is intended to be a sequel to the last book in Stephen King’s series of the same title. I am just guessing that when Roland opened the door and reset the story, it was thought that perhaps everything may not repeat as it did before, but rather allowed for a whole new story to be told. This film is a whole new story unlike anything that Stephen King wrote. I have always felt that while there have been many adaptations, with a very few exceptions, King’s books tend not to translate into visual media very well. Stephen King writes in such a way that the words he puts together makes pictures in the reader’s mind that are eminently more terrifying than anything that can be shown visually. As far as I am concerned, many times when the horrors in the writing are brought to the screen, they are laughable at best.

One of the things I liked about this film was the way the characters were portrayed. Matthew McConaughey makes Walter’s evil palpable. Walter has zero regard for life or the needs of others and is bent on bringing about the apocalypse. Anyone who tries to get in his way, he kills by simply telling to “stop breathing.” He does this to Steven Deschain, Roland’s father, as well as to Jake’s step-dad. But the way he does it is just so nonchalant and without feeling that it embodies evil. It was a great performance.

Idris Elba represents the good opposite Walter’s evil and does it with class, as one might expect. Roland is an expert at handling weapons, but he is lonely. The world has moved on and has left him behind to pursue the Man in Black across the world. Elba shows this in his expression so well. He looks tired and sick during most of the movie and one has to wonder if he actually has the strength to defeat Walter when and if he ever catches up to him. When Jake takes him to New York and has him treated, he revives and becomes stronger thanks to a bunch of pills he is given at the hospital. His strength and vitality return and he is part of some incredible scenes.

Jake is portrayed by Tom Taylor, a young British actor who is 16-17 years old and is more mature than what he is supposed to be, which is in the sixth or so grade. It is pretty obvious that he is older, but he turns in a convincing performance as a scared kid who is experiencing disturbing things beyond his control. He is confused and alone and latches onto the only pillar of hope for understanding, which is Roland.

Together the cast clicks even though they spend a lot of their screen time apart, one can see that there is going to be a huge conflict in the end, and one hopes that good triumphs over evil because the survival of the Earth, as well as the other realms, is forfeit if Roland fails. To this end, the action scenes are well put together and always moving, but not at too fast a pace. The pacing of the action scenes and camera angles affords the viewer an opportunity to be amazed at what Roland can do. The visual effects are amazing and add a lot to the story, especially in the final ten or so minutes that Roland battles Walter’s minions, and finally killing Roland.  If there were real gunslingers, one would see some amazing feats of marksmanship. But even as one can see that they are visual effects, they are done so well as to be believable.

Among other aspects that I appreciated in the film were the location shots filmed in South Africa. The locations they chose were accurate to what I would have pictured in the books with the wastelands and rocky terrain that was featured. I also thought the film’s score was well done and appropriate to what was happening on the screen. Some of the music was quite epic and heroic in scope which accompanied the action scenes very well.

If there was anything that would have me picking nits, it would have to be the closing scene of the film. Jake and Roland are back in New York having a hot dog (Roland assumes that the wiener is made of dog meat) and Roland tells Jake that he has nothing left there and should accompany him back to Mid-Earth. As that ended and they headed off camera, the scene felt more like the ending shot of a television show than a major motion picture. I was almost expecting to see something like “Join us next time for the adventures of Roland and Jake on The Dark Tower.” While keeping in mind that there is actually plans in the works for a television series and perhaps other motion pictures, perhaps it was appropriate, but I thought it was a little cheesy and made me kind of feel like we were watching the pilot episode for a television series.

All-in all, in spite of what the critics say, I thought The Dark Tower was a great film with some excellent direction, acting, and action scenes. The length (just over an hour and a half) was perfect for a diversion on a summer afternoon.

Well, there it is…


Qapla’!

Edited By Benjamin Arrowood

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

LIFE - An Old Trope in Sci-Fi Set Aboard The ISS - Not Great But Worth Seeing Once

Life

I never saw an ad or preview for this film. I also know that it did not play in either of the two local theaters in the town where I live, so this film was completely off my radar. I actually didn’t learn anything about it until my wife found it advertised on sale in an ad for a local department store so I had her pick up the BluRay.

Life is a rehashing of an age-old trope in science fiction of a crew being trapped in a confined place with a malevolent alien stalking them. They more or less get picked off one at a time until there is only one survivor. While there is not a lot new in the story, which for the most part is extremely predictable, there are some aspects that, in my opinion, make this film worth a look if you can find it in a Red Box, on a streaming service, or by waiting until it is in the $5 bin at a local department store. Judging from the ratings I have seen, it shouldn’t be a long wait.

The story is set mostly aboard the International Space Station with a crew of six.  There are two crewmembers from the US, two from the UK, one from Japan, and one from Russia. In the opening scene, an unmanned vehicle returning from Mars could possibly be delivering evidence of extraterrestrial life on board. The probe is damaged when it passes through an asteroid field and is unable to be guided back to its appointed landing place, wherever that might have been. As it works out, the crew of the ISS are able to capture the probe before it either burns up in the atmosphere or goes skipping off into interplanetary space.

A scientist aboard the ISS then finds and revives a single-celled organism which begins to multiply into a multi-celled life form. The crew of the space station goes on television with a classroom full of kids who give the name “Calvin” to the creature which is how it is referred for the rest of the film. Calvin goes dormant again when there is an atmospheric accident aboard the station and the scientist decides that he will try to revive the creature with a mild electric shock. While this does indeed revive Calvin, it also apparently angers it and it attacks the scientist and kills another crewmember that tries to rescue the scientist.

For most of the rest of the film, Calvin continues to kill crewmembers, and there is no way to inform ground crews because communications are cut off by a malfunction of station systems. At the same time, Calvin grows rapidly as it kills and consumes crewmembers. The remaining crew try to push the creature into deep space by using the station's thrusters when Calvin tries to re-enter the station through the thruster ports, but all this does is cause the station to fall into a decaying orbit.

The crew had managed to get a distress call off before the comms system went off line and the response from ground crews is to send an unmanned Soyuz craft to push the station out into deep space and prevent Calvin from landing on Earth. The two remaining crew members of the station decide they cannot allow the virtually indestructible Calvin to reach the planet and they use two escape pods (that do not actually exist on the real ISS) to escape, but one crew member decides to sacrifice himself by luring Calvin into his pod and launching it into deep space while the other is to return to Earth to explain what has transpired aboard the doomed station.

Both pods are launched at the same time. One is thrown off course when it hits some debris and careens off into deep space while the other performs a controlled re-entry from the station, splashing down near two Vietnamese fishermen in a boat.  As it turns out, it is the pod with Calvin aboard that splashes down and is opened by the unaware fishermen, thus releasing the organism on the planet.

As I mentioned earlier, it is quite predictable. As a matter of fact, my thirteen year-old daughter knew that the pod that landed in the ocean would contain Calvin.  But beyond the story, there is much in this film to be admired and appreciated.

First of all, the performances of the cast as astronauts aboard the ISS are quite convincing. Now, I don’t claim to know everything about astronaut training, but I do know that they are trained to deal with problems that arise without panicking, rather they are trained to analyze the problem, find a solution and execute. That is exactly what the crew on the ISS in Life try to do, but as it is a film, the odds are against them from the beginning and with the nature of the creature that they are facing, there is no amount of training that will help them deal with the danger.

When on board the ISS, astronauts move from one place to another by pulling themselves along rails and other handholds that give them a good start then they basically fly from one place to another. Those aboard the ISS call this “translating.” As I watched the film, I was impressed with how smoothly astronauts moved from one place to another and wondered how it was done. Well, they used wires to fly the actors from one place to another on a station that was made up largely a green screen background and a few items that the crew had to interact with, and the film had a nearly authentic look to it. I have watch a lot of NASA TV and the behaviors of the Life actors was very much like what I have seen on NASA’s service. When the astronauts on the station are still in the movie, they are still moving in the micro-gravity environment of low Earth orbit and they are never really still, rather they kind of bob up and down a bit. I would have to say that there was a lot of time and effort that went into making this film as authentic as possible.

One of the things that I thought was unfortunate about the film is that I didn’t really care about any of the characters. There was really nothing that endeared them to me and I didn’t really care whether Calvin killed them or not; they were quite one-dimensional. So, as one can note from my synopsis, I cannot really recall any of the character’s names and no one special comes to mind. Not even the character who decided to sacrifice himself at the end to save his fellow crewmate, and also to save the planet from a relentless entity.

So, all in all, I enjoyed the film in spite of the shallow handling of the trope (people versus a malicious alien in a confined space) and the lack of depth of the characters. The sets and the performances of the actors themselves made it a fun film to watch with the positives slightly outweighing the negatives.

Well, there it is…


Qapla'!

Edited By Benjamin Arrowood

Saturday, August 5, 2017

War For The Planet Of The Apes - A Great End To Caesar's Story

War for the Planet of the Apes

*** Spoiler Alert ***

There is absolutely no doubt that we are in an age of movie-making that is loaded with prequels, sequels, and reboots. Sometimes, this is not necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes they become quite tiresome. War for the Planet of the Apes (or simply War as I will refer to it for the remainder of this article) is the third installment of a reboot series  that began with Dawn of the… and Rise of the…  This reboot series is anything but tiresome and I found myself looking forward to this film since it was announced, and was not disappointed in the slightest with what I got for my wait.

Caesar, the first ape to possess human-like intelligence has solidified his leadership of his band of apes. They seem to have carved out a decent life for themselves in a forest away from humans. The escalation of the Simian Flu, a virus that happened as a result of a scientist’s efforts to cure Alzheimer’s Disease, subsequently infected and killed billions of humans. However there are still small pockets of humans left here and there. One such group is a rogue paramilitary organization calling themselves Alpha-Omega, or AO for short.

When AO attacks Caesar’s colony, there is a pitched battle and it is discovered that there are apes helping AO who were part of a group that opposed Caesar before. Caesar’s troops manage to capture the AO soldiers and a renegade ape named Red. After questioning, Caesar releases the humans as a sign of goodwill with a message that he and his kind just want to be left alone. Caesar then decides that their location is no longer safe and decides to relocate his colony. Before the apes can move, the leader of AO, known as the Colonel, leads a raid on the ape camp that leaves Caesar’s wife and oldest son dead.

Caesar decides to take revenge against AO so, along with a couple of his most trusted lieutenants, head off in search of the AO camp which is somewhere near the border. Along the way, Caesar kills a soldier living in an abandoned village with his mute daughter who turns out to be quite a bit of help. Caesar is also joined by a chimp who calls himself “Bad Ape,” also quite a bit of help as the plot progresses.

Upon arrival at the AO camp, Caesar discovers that his group of apes were captured and are being used as slave labor to build a giant wall. The Colonel believes this wall will help him defeat a group of Regular Army soldiers that are coming after him. The regulars are after the Colonel because he is killing any humans that are infected with the Simian Flu. After Caesar has been tortured and starved, he manages to escape with the help of mute girl along with Bad Ape. While the other apes in Caesar’s group escape their confinement, Caesar goes to confront the Colonel, whom it turns out has been infected with the Simian Flu and commits suicide.

The Regular Army soldiers arrive and there is a pitched battle between the two groups. Caesar joins the battle and is wounded, but still manages to set off an explosion that wipes out the AO, and allows the Regulars to win the battle. The explosion also sets off a massive avalanche of the snow in the surrounding mountains that buries what is left of the AO camp as well as the Regulars.  Caesar and his ape troop, along with Nova escape by climbing trees.

The remaining apes cross the desert and find a peaceful place near a lake where they begin to set up camp. In the closing scenes, Caesar dies with the promise that his remaining son, Cornelius, will know what Caesar has done.

War is a film that I like for many reasons.  The story is easy to follow it is rounds out the series as it is so far in a great way. Along with the first two films in the reboot, Rise and Dawn, we get a complete picture of the events that led up to the first Planet of the Apes (1968) film. One can imagine how the events of the first film may have transpired with apes learning how to use human language and how Caesar became a legend.

What I like most about War and the previous two films is how the CGI added so much to how the apes communicate with the audience, not through language, but rather through the expressiveness in the body language of the ape characters and especially in the facial expression. Often times, the look on an actor’s face, at least one who knows how to show their emotions rather than just read lines, can say so much more in just a few seconds than an entire page of dialog. Sir Lawrence Olivier was a master of this technique (I would refer you to his performance in Spartacus (1960) as an example). It would seem that the artists responsible for doing the CGI work on War understand this technique very well. There are numerous instances where one can read exactly what is on one of the ape character’s mind when there is a closeup shot.  Along with that is the body language of the ape characters. I would have to guess that Matt Reeves (Director), Andy Sirkis (Caesar), as well as the Visual Effects people (and there is a small army of those) did their homework well to make this film feel real.  Honestly, while I was immersed in viewing War, I found myself completely suspending disbelief and was totally taken in by the ape’s character personas.

Another aspect of War (as well as Dawn of...) is the film’s score composed by Michael Giacchino. It is so good and fits so well that the music is almost another character in the film. Strong when it is supposed to be, and poignant in the right places, it add so much to the film. Giacchino is nothing less than a genius.

War for the Planet of the Apes rounds out the trilogy that is the story of Caesar and how the Apes took over the Earth brilliantly. I have always been a fan of the Planet of the Apes franchise in all it’s forms; this series of films reaffirms that and leaves something to look forward to should it be carried on to future installments.

Well, there it is…


Qapla’!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Liked It For The Most Part But There Are A Few Nit-Picks

Spider-Man: Homecoming

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

Since it was announced several months ago, I have been looking forward to seeing the Marvel Studios Spider-Man Homecoming film. I did get the opportunity to do so recently and after seeing it and thinking about it, I have some mixed feelings about it.

Homecoming is the story of young Peter Parker and his struggle to come into his own as a superhero. During the day, mild-mannered Parker is a student at a science and technology school, but as soon as the bell rings, he dons the Spidey suit he received from Tony Stark and swings into action locating and working to stop a few petty crimes, and at times, manages to make little more than a nuisance of himself.  In one funny scene, Parker tries to stop a car theft, but the would be thief turns out to be the owner of the vehicle trying to break in to retrieve his keys. However, on one fateful evening, Parker finally gets what he thinks might be his big break as he foils an ATM theft being perpetrated by a group of thugs using some high tech equipment and weapons.

It turns out that the weapons are being supplied by one Adrian Toomes, a former salvage company owner who learned about the weapons when he was assigned to help cleanup New York following the Battle of New York from the 2012 film, The Avengers. Unfortunately, Toomes company was replaced by Stark’s U.S. Department of Damage control, which launched Toomes into his life of crime building and selling high tech equipment on the black market.

While as Spider-Man, Parker is a formidable foe for Toomes and his henchmen, but he is not quite up to the task of taking him down alone, at least not at first. Stark, who has been mentoring Parker since he was recruited to help Team Iron Man in the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War.  In an incident in which Parker thought he had an opportunity to take Toomes down while making a weapons deal, hundreds of lives are put in danger when the Staten Island Ferry was split in half by one of Toomes weapons that malfunctioned, and it took Iron Man stepping in to cleanup the mess and save the ferry from sinking. It was at that point that Stark Determined that Parker was just not mature enough to handle the big problems, so he takes the Spidey suit back.

More determined than ever, Parker uses his old suit, made from a conglomeration of street clothes, to continue to pursue Toomes. Again, Toomes proves just way too tough and winds up trapped under a pile of rubble and left to die while Toomes hijacks a plane full of the technology salvaged from the destroyed Avengers Tower. While trapped, Parker realizes that what stark has told him is true and when he finally manages to free himself, he intercepts the plane and crash-lands it near Coney Island. When Toomes’ Vulture suit malfunctions, Parker steps in and saves Toomes’ life leaving him and the plane to be confiscated by police.

There is a lot that I liked about this film. While I am not a huge Spider-Man fan, I do like the way that Tom Holland portrays Parker and how he is written. Most of his quips as he thinks out loud and his banter as he does battle are awesome and just as I remember them from the comics, but are up to date to fit today’s lingo. Peter Parker is a neat kid that I wouldn’t mind having in my classroom and I enjoy his quick wit. I also liked Aunt May, who is way more savvy than her comic book counterpart (as I remember her). It was neat seeing Michael Keaton on the screen again, a bit aged, but just the same. I have always enjoyed the way he seems to be calm and cool on the outside, but still there is a sense that something is boiling underneath, and when he goes off, watch out!

The main story is good, but in a discussion I had with my son about this movie, he helped me realize that there are some departures in the script that don’t seem to make sense or are not completely necessary for the story. It is also quite predictable and would seem to suffer a bit from lazy writing and directing, as well as what in my mind are some attempts at some cheap laughs.

One of the major things I did not like was seeing Tony Stark fall back into his stand-up routine of one cheeky remark after another. After seeing the three Iron Man films, I was hoping that I would see some maturity in the character. I was pleased when it finally started happening in Age of Ultron and how the trend continued in Civil War, but it was short lived and we have the old Stark back, a character that I am having a lot of trouble finding respect for.

Over the years, I have been enjoying the Marvel movies and have come to trust them as something I can take my daughter to without having to worry about questionable content. There were several moments in this film that I felt were inappropriate to the story and displayed blatant bad taste. At one point in the film, Parker is on the phone with Aunt May while Stark is present. Stark talks to her saying “Hey May! How ya’ doin’? What are ya wearin’? Something Skimpy I hope…” which he follows up with “okay, that’s inappropriate.”  Yeah, no kidding it’s inappropriate, and also bordering on sexual harassment.

In another couple of scenes, there are scenes of bullying by one of Parker’s classmates as he continues to refer to Parker as “Penis” Parker instead of Peter. In this day when schools are working to minimize this sort of behavior, there is no place for it in a superhero film that will most likely be viewed by many younger children despite the PG-13 rating. In one scene, the bullying character is acting as DJ at a party and using a sound system to get everyone at the party to join in by yelling “When I say penis, you say Parker!” and then leads the party-goers in repeatedly trying to humiliate Parker.

In yet another scene during the Homecoming dance, Ned is in the school’s computer lab helping Parker track Toomes weapons. When a teacher enters the room and asks Ned what he is doing, he responds, “Oh I was just, um… Looking at… Porn.”  How would you enjoy explaining that to your pre-teen child?

Once again, Stark weighs in when he chews Parker out for his failure on the Ferry by telling him, “You screwed the pooch hard, big time. But then you did the right thing. You took the dog to the free clinic, you raised the hybrid puppies.” and then he once again finishes with “alright, not my best analogy.” No it isn’t, and it is also not necessary.

In the final scene of the film, after Parker gets his Spider suit back from Stark, he is standing in his room with the suit on as Aunt May breaks into the room and exclaims “What the F---!” although the scene is cut off before May is able to finish the word, everyone knows what she was going to say.

There are several other instances of language in this film that one may or may not feel are appropriate to the characters or the story, but really Marvel, is this what we are going to stoop to in future films? Cheap laughs? Bathroom humor?  It hasn't been necessary in the past and I hope it doesn’t become a part of the future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I am by no means a prude, I’ve been around the block and know the ropes, but as far as I am concerned, some of what I saw and heard in this film is simply gratuitous and over the top.

But there are also some real gems of scenes that are absolutely very cool.  While I have spoiled a lot here, I will not spoil the final scene at the end of the credits, if you see this film, do not leave early, it will be worth it.

Well, there it is…


Qapla’!