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.

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’!

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Rain Never Came By Lachlan Walter - Outstanding Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi From Down Under!

The Rain Never Came by Lachlan Walter

To be completely honest, I honestly cannot remember how I heard about this book. I think it might have appeared on my Facebook feed at some point while I was in the middle of another book for the new podcast I am involved with, The Orbital Sword. In any case, I had no idea what to expect other than knowing that it is a post apocalyptic Sci-Fi novel by an author from Australia. Being I love this kind of story, I thought I would give it a go.

The Rain Never Came is set in the state of Victoria, Australia, near the town of Newstead, apparently some time in the future where there is limited supplies of food and water to sustain life. While there is no reason given for this situation, one can only assume that it has something to do with climate change because the drought has apparently lasted for decades according to the main character, Bill.

The story begins innocently enough as Bill watches a football match being held in a stadium that is falling to ruin. Bill is soon joined by his best mate Tobe. They talk for a while and then there is a post-game gathering at the local pub. Sometime that night, the people at the pub, including Bill and Tobe, see some strange lights off in the distance and many hope beyond hope that it is a sign that rain is on the way. There is no rain and Bill gets so inebriated that Tobe has to take him home.

The mood of the book darkens a bit when the story turns to describing how Bill goes about his daily chores on the property that has been in his family for many years. All of his efforts go toward gathering food and water in traps he has set on the land. There is nothing growing on the property with the exception of a single rose standing in tribute to someone that has passed on and is buried on the property. Bill makes sure that the rose gets plenty of water every day whether he has enough for himself or not.

On the morning after the football match, Tobe arrives at Bill’s place and convinces him to go on a little adventure to find out what the lights in the distance were about. It is going to be a long trek across the bush where there are potentially many dangers including being caught by the “Creeps,” better known as the Compulsory Relocation Police, or CRP for short. Being caught by the Creeps means that one loses his freedom for sure, but there are also many unknowns which would make getting caught an undesirable thing indeed.

Bill and Tobe do learn what the lights were about and it isn’t good.

There is a lot that I liked about The Rain Never Came, but I particularly enjoyed the banter between the two main characters. The story is told from Bill’s point of view. He and Toby are Mates, which in Australia seems to mean far more than friendship. In spite of what Bill thinks or wants, or actually has the desire to do, he has been called upon to help his mate, and does so, but not without complaint. The back and forth between him and Tobe is mostly in jest and good nature, that is until Tobe reveals a long held secret.

Tobe is quite the fascinating character in his own right. He is a tough character, bushman through and through. Very little seems to bother him as he leads the way through the adventure. I sure wouldn’t want him against me.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this story is how Walter sets the mood of the piece. After the football match, we get a picture of people that are hoping against hope that things will get better. They want to hang on to what little they have, but everyone has a breaking point, except for Tobe, of course. Then there is the ever present threat of the Creeps coming in to mop up stragglers and take them off to the camps.

The pacing of the story starts off quite slowly, adding to the mood of the work. While it isn’t a very long book, it seems to take longer than it actually does to read because of the setting. I am not saying that it is slow or boring, but rather that it helps to illustrate just how difficult it is to survive in that world, and how the people have accepted their situation and learned to adapt and survive.

I give my highest recommendations for giving The Rain Never Came a look. It is a heck of a story by an author who can communicate ideas clearly and hold a reader’s attention.

Dr. Walter tells about himself on his blog…

“I am a writer, science-fiction critic and nursery-hand (the garden kind, not the baby kind), and have completed a PhD that critically and creatively explored the relationship between Australian post-apocalyptic fiction and Australian notions of national identity. My debut novel Bone Dry is coming out soon from Odyssey Books, and I also write criticism for Aurealis magazine and review for the independent ‘weird music’ website Cyclic Defrost. I am currently writing both a post-apocalyptic western and a book-length story cycle that aims to take giant monsters seriously. I love all things music-related, the Australian environment, overlooked genres and playing in the garden.”

Well, there it is…


Qapla’!

Edited By Benjamin Arrowood

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Star Trek: Section 31: Control by David Mack - Scary Orwellian Star Trek Fiction, Or Is It Fiction?

Star Trek: Section 31: Control by David Mack

Fans of Deep Space 9 know all about the relationship between the clandestine organization called Section 31 and the relationship it has with Dr. Julian Bashir. During the television series, it was not good and in the books, it has only grown worse as time goes on. Well, due to some shady business that Bashir got himself into while working to save the Andorian race, he finds himself defrocked, demoted, and disavowed by Starfleet, but he still has one goal, to once and for all bring Section 31 down and expose all of it’s illegal and immoral activities for all to see.

Control opens with Bashir, beaten and battered, trying to insert a chip into a console at Memory Alpha for as yet some unknown reason. What follows is an incredibly fast paced story that is so Orwellian in nature that it can be quite disturbing if one thinks about it too long.

In April of 2141, Dr. Aaron Ikerson introduces his invention that he calls Uraei, a computer program that is designed to monitor and record activity; everyone’s activity. It does this by inserting itself into devices that have become part of everyday life in homes, on starships, or anywhere it happens to touch. The purpose of Uraei is to ensure the safety of the people by watching activity and making analyses of the activity to determine a threat level. It isn’t designed to take any action, but as time goes on Uraei becomes more and more intelligent and begins making decisions that include some very bad things.

In the meantime, Bashir, Sarina Douglas and a reporter are on the run from Section 31. They meet up with Data and Lal who agree to help them in their fight to stop the clandestine agency from continuing their own terrible activities. The story winds through several locations, including a meeting with the now leader of the Cardassian Government, Elim Garak. The only problem is that it seems that no matter where they go, or how careful they are to cover their tracks, Section 31 is always a step ahead of Bashir and his group.

Control is one great story, but it is also a very dark and foreboding story, for sure the darkest Trek story I have read or watched since the DS-9 episode “In The Pale Moonlight.” It is not only dark, but it is also quite disturbing as what Mack has composed seems all too plausible given the current technology that we have available. I can only but wonder if there is an Ikerson out there somewhere right now, working on a project to monitor us through the devices we take for granted. Am I paranoid? Perhaps. But read this story and remember that as the imagination of humans reaches into the future with more and more fantastic fictitious ideas, it always seems that reality is just a few steps behind the fiction.

This is a fast-paced story, the action starts with the opening pages and moves at a breakneck pace to the end with almost no time to catch one’s breath between scenes. It is really two stories under one cover and has a sense of futility for the hero, who finds success at the end of his journey, but it comes with a very, very high price. On the surface, Control is just a yarn spun by a great author, but under the surface, he gives a lot to think about and contemplate as technology continues to advance.

At the same time, there is a lot here that any Trekkie will enjoy. There are numerous references to familiar stories that, when I read them, made me smile and remember fondly, but there was also a sense of foreboding as I thought back on the adventures of the past being observed and even influenced by Uraei. I cannot help but admire how cleverly Mack wove his invention so neatly into the stories of the past, going back even before the launching of the Enterprise, or the founding of the Federation for that matter. Simply brilliant!

I give this book my highest recommendations and can honestly say that it is one of the best Star Trek books I have ever read.

Well, there it is…


Qapla!