Tag Archives: Science Fiction

TrollHunters: Rise of the Titans

[3 stars]

When last we saw our intrepid heroes, they were….well, don’t worry about it, there is a significant recap to remind you and get you current from the final moments of Wizards. Which, to be honest, left us hanging a bit and with a need to wrap it all up.

And, yeah, that’s not entirely going to happen, but that isn’t a surprise either. Rise of the Titans breaks into new ground for the franchise, having done fantasy and science fiction and myth, we’re now into Kaiju, with obvious nods to Godzilla vs Kong and Pacific Rim. The story is big in more ways than one. It is also a bit more rushed than the series since they’ve only allowed themselves a bit less than 2 hours to cover all the ground they wanted. And it is a LOT of ground. It also means there isn’t any of the really quality voice acting and character building we’ve seen in the past…because this is a wrap up. There are revelations and epiphanies (and some logic leaps for that matter) but none of the big arcs we’ve seen in the past, unless you count this as the end of an uber-long arc for all the shows, which would be fair.

The story was written and directed by several people, which shows in the breakdown of this event movie. For all intents it’s about 4 episodes in length, and the flick is divided into some natural breaks, though completely one story. This also isn’t a segment of the franchise that you can watch out of order, as you could the many series. Without the grounding of the previous stories, it will make absolutely no sense. It’s a gift to its audience, and has a wonderful ending that I’m desperately hoping they just leave as is. Not because it isn’t good, but because it is and doesn’t require anything more.

Either way, if you loved the foundation series, as I did, then you will enjoy and must see this conclusion. If you haven’t found the shows yet, give them a shot. Yes, they’re for younger people, but there is so much in there that adults will be well hooked and entertained as well. At least some of us will be.

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Cosmic Sin

[2 stars]

There’s 80% of a movie here. Sadly, that missing 20% is sort of essential to pull it all together. Director and co-writer Edward Drake (Breach) either was unable to deliver the missing footage or simply over-edited the movie in a way that excised important aspects of the plot. Honestly, I don’t know which, but more than once I had to ask WTF about situations and comments where the base information was never revealed or setup events don’t seem to have occurred.

Now here’s the thing. Bruce Willis (Breach) and Frank Grillo (Skyline) are the names that helped sell the production, I’m sure. And they deliver exactly what you’d expect them to deliver…dry wit, hard action, dark comedy. But about the only character with any set of levels is Adelaide Kane, and her role is relatively small, if integral.

The initial concept, that of first contact gone (maybe) wrong, is classic and full of possibility. But the level of male toxicity (and I even hate typing that statement) makes the rest of the story inevitable and just plain sad. There is no nuance, no humanity to the decisions and actions, despite some lip service to moral implications.

You can comfortably skip this and miss nothing. But if you insist, just strap in for the action and let the plot just wash over you like bullet points.

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Loki

[4 stars]

The third of the D+ MCU series is, again, unique in design and storytelling, playing into it’s main character to inform the style. I give them great credit for that. Like each of the original comics the series are based on, they are allowing creators the freedom to tell the character stories in the most appropriate ways.

However that means that each time, each show has to level-set for the audience. Because of that the initial pacing of this short series, much like WandaVision, was slow, but it had an ever-increasing cadence that came together by the end. Interestingly, the light-hearted feeling of it all made the entire season feel like a close cousin of Doctor Who, especially given one of the bigger reveals. For those who don’t watch both shows, they would have had no dissonance while watching. But, for those of us who are broader omnivores in the genre, the tone and pace were unmistakable. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was occasionally distracting for me.

Also, much like WandaVision, I feel like this is a show that is going to be more enjoyable on rewatch…once it all makes sense. I didn’t have  suspense pulling me along so much as curiosity while all the parts were spinning in the air. Some of that is the Owen Wilson (bliss) interplay with Tom Hiddleston (Thor: Ragnarok), which was amusing, but not quite intense enough to pull me in.

On the other hand, Sophia Di Martino, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Motherless Brooklyn), and Wunmi Mosaku (Lovecraft Country) really brought the energy and impact throughout the story. There are several shorter-lasting roles of note too, but to list them would be to spoil. Suffice to say that the cast embraced the absurdity of it all and ran with it in earnest. (Also not unlike Doctor Who.) And they sold it well. It certainly helped to have a single director, Kate Herron, to guide the entire ship into its final port. Herron’s complete guidance was especially needed so that the delightful physical metaphor in play could be handled well from beginning to end.

My biggest gripe: I only wish it had more than six episodes for the season. Even though it didn’t feel rushed, and I got ahead of several aspects, I’d love to see what more they could have explored. Fortunately, there is a second season already planned.

As a total sidebar, what is happening now in the MCU as Phase 4 is getting spun up is exactly what Ron Howard had hoped to do with Dark Tower (jumping between movies and TV series). The idea was thwarted by the studios. You gotta believe Howard is watching with a certain amount of evil glee at the success of the MCU. You’d also hope that the studios are kicking themselves at this point having missed the chance to blaze that ground and build an empire. But studios don’t have a soul…or long memory…so I suspect they’ve not even acknowledged the miss.

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A Quiet Place: Part II

[3.5 stars]

While this sequel can’t compete with the unrelenting tension of the first installment, it is an adventure all its own, building out the world and the story. It’s also a hand-off of sorts, shifting focus from Emily Blunt (Animal Crackers) to her children, Noah Jupe (The Titan) and Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place). Though I must admit, I don’t recall Jupe’s character being so bloody foolish in the first movie.

Director John Krasinski (Animal Crackers) also nicely shifted the adult focus to Cillian Murphy (Anna), providing a different view of the invasion and its impact. And he continued to show his writing ability with a tightly constructed story that uses everything he threw into it.

But this story has quite a bit more soundtrack in it than the first. To be fair, Krasinski sort of tapped that trick in the first part and repeating it would have been boring. But the film definitely had a bit less suspense for the talking. And the impact of Djimon Honsou (Serenity) was less than I’d have hoped for, though I appreciate Krasinski’s strong choices again for the story and structure.

If you liked the first part of this tale, you do have to see the second. Watching the characters grow (literally and emotionally) isn’t something you get often enough anymore. Natural sequels are hard to come by, but this found a way.

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How I Became a Superhero (Comment je suis devenu super-héros)

[3.5 stars]

Every time you think this genre has been tapped out, someone comes up with a fresh or entertaining entry. This French police procedural/superhero tale creates a rich world full of humor and complex characters, but with some solid bite and depth to make it interesting. All the more impressive it’s coming from a first time director, Douglas Attal.

In the focus of the story, Pio Marmaï draws us in with an unexpected charm and a character who slowly peels back layers with every scene. He is initially easy to pigeon hole and dismiss, as even his partner, Vimala Pons, is tempted to do. But she, like us, realize there is something more there worth digging into. And, with the help of Leïla Bekhti and Benoît Poelvoorde (The Brand New Testament), society is protected from Swann Arlaud (Romantics Anonymous). But the story is not quite as straight forward as that. Nor would you want it to be.

Definitely queue this up if you at all like the genre. It’s clever, funny, and with a nice French edge to it all that keeps it from becoming too much anything else.

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The Tomorrow War

[3 stars]

Tomorrow War opens with a bang. And, honestly, that was my first warning signal. Because then it jumps back in time to set up that moment before coming back to it. I understand why director Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie) felt he needed to do that. A segment of his audience would have been impatient with the setup; but I wish he had trusted them a bit more. Especially as the real frame of the movie isn’t the action, but rather the family relationships that are set up before the action really begins.

Chris Pratt (Onward) drives this story on that level. And he does it without all the wry humor and forced boyish charm he uses in his other franchises. Not that his humor isn’t present, it just isn’t weaponized in this role. Along with Betty Gilpin (Isn’t It Romantic) and Yvonne Strahovski (Predator), he builds out a dynamic and set of connections that pull along the story. J.K. Simmons (Invincible) and Edwin Hodge (The Purge) add to all that nicely as well.

But, as I mentioned, there are concerns in this movie. Genre shortcuts abound. Aspects are only half-considered. The world is only partially exposed. And there is a moment at the start of the final act that will simply make you cringe. It is the epitome of willful-stupid. Fortunately, they get past that rather quickly, though they still don’t accept all the consequences of the actions at the end. But I will say that Zach Dean’s script does try to cover at least some aspects of the science before the story wraps up.

What it comes down to is this: if you’re looking for more of a time-travel action flick, you still can’t beat Edge of Tomorrow/Live. Die. Repeat. But that isn’t really what this movie wants to be. This movie is more like Contact or Interstellar. It’s about family with aliens as the foil for getting there. However, there is plenty of action to keep you focused in between and around the rest of the tale.

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Intersect

[2 stars]

When a story is taking place at Miskatonic University, it sets up some expectations. Some of those are met in this odd little indie, mostly it is left wholly unsatisfying.

Admittedly, I came because Gus Holwerda added in a time paradox. The two concepts together were too intriguing to avoid. And there is some interesting story telling going on. As is typical we start at the end and work our way backwards-ish. Slowly revealing the truths and issues of the past.

It doesn’t help that some of the script is just bad science and some is just woodenly delivered; ultimately that isn’t it’s greatest flaw. Jason Spisak (Pacific Rim: The Black) and Leeann Dearing (despite her costuming) do relatively fine with their parts. And James Morrison adds some solidity for the time he is present. Abe Ruthless, however, isn’t the least credible. But it also isn’t the acting that’s the issue. Where it all fails is the final moments.

Time paradoxes need a resolution or a definitive lack of one to end comfortably. They also need a clear and obvious paradox. The ending to this tale is an unresolved chord with a sense of what might happen but with nothing clear. In fact, in some ways it makes no sense at all, in terms of resolving the unidentified paradox or threat and the outcomes from it.

I did love that Holwerda allowed this to be a slow burn. It isn’t at all rushed and there are layers to experience. But because of the end, I can’t really recommend it. If you are intrigued enough to seek it out on your own, remember I did warn you.

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Hard to Be a God (Trudno byt bogom)

[2.5 stars]

There’s nothing quite like a 90 minute tale told in 180 minutes. And while that’s probably a bit too quippy, it is certainly the effect this Russian sci-fi had on me by the end. That and a lingering sense of nausea from the wealth of filth and bodily fluids being bandied about.

But Aleksey German’s final film has an ethereal and hypnotic quality to it. The camera work is glorious and simply floats along. It is in black & white, but filmed with ability and care. And the camera has its own presence in the story as well, though it never really seems to be for a reason.

The tale, set up at the top, is that a group of scientists have landed on a planet similar to Earth but about 800 years behind in development and where the Renaissance never took place. It’s a grim and awful world indeed. One of the scientists has set himself up as the son of a local god. And that’s about all the story you get.  The rest is mayhem and casual violence and abuse. It is a long tale that has multiple interpretations, I’m sure, but the one that is loud and clear is that god doesn’t exist and the awfulness that we have in the world is of our own making…and even if god existed they couldn’t prevent man from screwing it up. (Don’t try to parse the paradox that, in theory, god made man as he is.) Oh, yes, and Jazz is an acquired taste (which is as close to humor that the movie gets). It didn’t need 3 hours to make all that clear.

And while German and his wife adapted the classic novel by Arkadiy Strugatskiy and Boris Strugatskiy, my understanding is that it is a rather loose interpretation on the order that Jodorowski or Fellini might do. Whether you want to dive into this or not is really up to you. There is something in it that kept me going for the full run, but I can’t rightly say I enjoyed it or that it left me surprised or shocked or enlightened. I simply went for the ride and came out the other side wondering how I might have better spent my time as a shorter version of the story was not on offer.

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Code 8

[3 stars]

This is a nice piece of science fiction by Jeff Chan and Chris Pare, where nothing is clean cut; all of the main characters are one shade of grey or another. It makes for a much more interesting story. Code 8 has been sitting in my queue for a while. With the announcement that a sequel (with the original cast, writers, and director) is now in the works, I finally decided to let it spool. And I’m glad I did.

The story isn’t perfect, but it definitely works at making a complex alternate world where random people get powers and how that would affect things. It is, of course, really just a thinly veiled metaphor for how we deal with immigrants and people of different races, but rarely in such heavy-handed ways as to pull you out of the story.

And the story itself is really very small and human. Robbie Amell (Upload) is trying to earn money to help his family in a world where he can’t legally or easily get a job. Stephen Amell (Arrow), Robbie’s real-life cousin, provides another path for him. What unspools from their choices is a good heist/action story with a lot of heart and a bit of corruption and sacrifice.

Alongside the Amell boys there are a few deeper performances. Kyla Kane and Sung Kang are worth noting. And then there were a couple smaller, unexpected roles. One of the nicest surprises is Kari Matchett (Leverage) as the sick mother. Matchett is always a solid and engaging actor, and she elevates all her scripts because she takes them all seriously. Yes, I’m a fan, what can I say? Another unexpected bit is from Peter Outerbridge (Haunter), who barely appears in the story but who has an outsized weight in the plot. On a guess, this is where the sequel will focus.

Code 8 isn’t your typical sf distraction. It attempts to give you a full world and interesting characters that feel real. Is it a bit exaggerated? Sure, a bit. But it assumes people are complex and that actions and events have consequences. It doesn’t make things easy, and you come to the end feeling satisfied that you’ve seen a full story. I’m honestly looking forward to its sequel, when it arrives.

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Infinite

[3 stars]

When Antoine Fuqua (Equalizer 2) is directing you are likely expecting a gritty, well-paced action drama. It’s what he does and does well. But when a voice over starts off the movie explaining what’s going on rather than putting it into the story … and that explanation is utterly ridiculous to boot, you know you’ve likely set your expectations incorrectly. Fortunately, it does then go into one of several car chases and fight sequences to take the bitter pill of exposition out of your mouth. However it forever removes you from the chance to go on the journey with the main character, Mark Wahlberg (Instant Family), because now we know the truth.

To be clear, I have no problem with the base preference of the story (that there are people who can remember all their previous lives and skills). It’s a nice sort of reverse Highlander. However, it’s the explanation of the conflict and the goals involved that I found hard to digest. By the time we get a very delayed, and particularly illuminating bit of exposition, via Chiwetel Ejiofor (Locked Down) about half-way through the flick it’s too late to care. It is just all so arch.

What it does have going for it is a cast willing to commit to the story and some fun action scenes. Wahlberg and Sophie Cookson (Red Joan) work well together. And Dylan O’Brien (Flashback) gets to kick off the story in a role I’m sure he would have had trouble turning down…it’s as close to Bond as he’s likely ever to get.  Liz Carr (The OA) has the only role with a grounded sense of humor, while Jason Mantzoukas (Invincible) pushes it all a bit too much.

The fact is that this is a huge cast and a huge canvas, but with few standouts other than the main three players. It was intended for the big screen with visuals substituting for, and distracting from, the weak story. The logic holes, particularly around Ejiofor’s character’s ultimate plan, are gigantic. Add to this the Matrix-like aspects of the story (not to mention Endgame) that get shimmed in and, well, you’re left with an amusing actioner without a lot of believable substance. Maybe that’s enough for an evening’s distraction. It got me through…barely.

This was another of the big budget pandemic victims, pulled from theaters to be only streaming. I can imagine it played bigger and more distractingly on the huge screen. But on a smaller screen it requires a bit more story and character to hold the audience and my attention. Ultimately, I had some fun. I certainly enjoyed the action, and hummed through the plot. It wasn’t an easy story to tackle, though a group with more chops in genre might have found a more elegant path to present it.

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