Archive for May, 2013

On ‘Saturn 3’, no one can hear you stifle a yawn

May 30, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 30, 2013

Last year, I wrote about some 1970s and 1980s science fiction movies that fascinated me, even though I was too young to see them in the theater. (Left unmentioned was the fact that I did go see at least three pictures — the original Star WarsClose Encounters of the Third Kind and Animal House — in initial release despite really being too young and immature to have done so.)

Well, there was another picture that, along with AlienOutland and Capricorn One, fascinated me due to its science fiction content but went unwatched by me. It was a film called Saturn 3, and here’s what I knew about it: It was set in some kind of ill-lit outpost, it starred Farrah Fawcett, and it featured a menacing silver quasi-biological robot called Hector.

It turns out that someone (perhaps illicitly) has posted a rather murky full-length copy of Saturn 3 on YouTube, so the other day I got a chance to watch what turns out to be this justly obscure outing from 1980.

This was a film, I should stipulate, that started out with no small measure of promise. The story was conceived by John Barry, the British production designer who won praise for his work on A Clockwork Orange, Star Wars and Superman. Martin Amis, now a well-established British novelist, wrote the screenplay. The cast list essentially contained just three names, but oh, what names: Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel and Farrah Fawcett. Read the rest of this entry »

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Carpenter’s ho-hum ‘Ghosts of Mars’ is a pale imitation of the master’s best work

May 29, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 29/May 31, 2013

John Carpenter is a film legend, the director of such science fiction and horror hits as HalloweenThe Thing, Escape from New York and They Live! Unfortunately, Carpenter’s outstanding resume just serves makes Ghosts of Mars, his ho-hum 2001 outing, all the more disappointing.

The story, scripted by Carpenter and Larry Sulkis, is promising. The story begins in the year 2176 on Mars, which is in the process of being terraformed and colonized by a matriarchal society. Martian police Cmdr. Helena Braddock and a team of two veteran and two rookie officers are dispatched to an outpost to pick up one James “Desolation” Williams, a notorious criminal who is wanted for murder.

The task seems simple enough, even though Williams is considered highly dangerous. But when the team’s cargo train arrives at the town, they find it has become a charnel house. Several beheaded corpses are hanging from the rafters of the recreation facility. A few inarticulate individuals are hanging around, but they’re incapable of explaining what has happened.

It soon becomes apparent that the eponymous ghosts of Mars have taken possession of a number of humans and begun killing the rest. After Braddock is slain, it falls to her chief deputy, Lt. Melanie Ballard, to organize the surviving members of her team, Williams’ gang and a few others against a coming onslaught of zombified townspeople.

Read the rest of this entry »

BR25C: The Plot to Kill a City

May 28, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 28, 2013 

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

“The Plot to Kill a City” — Season 1, Episodes 6 and 7

Originally aired Oct. 11 and 18, 1979

Synopsis

Our hero enters a bar and finds Rafael Argus, a notorious assassin. A scuffle ensues that ends with Buck Rogers seemingly knocking Argus unconscious. Dr. Elias Huer scans Argus’ mind. Afterward, Huer tells Rogers and Col. Wilma Deering that Argus is about to be inducted into an organization called the Legion of Death. (It is also referred to at least once as the League of Interstellar Mercenaries.)

As the trio leaves Huer’s office, a bomb explodes, knocking down Twiki and Dr. Theopolis. Both are unharmed, but Rogers is disturbed. It turns out that this is part of a string of bombings that the league (or legion) has undertaken in order to avenge Earth’s having killed a legion (or league) member. Rogers agrees to take part in an effort to defang the Legion of Death.

Since Argus operates in the shadows, Huer says, no one in the legion about to welcome him into its ranks has a clear-cut idea of what he looks like. Thus Rogers shall assume his identity. Deering will also go undercover in a backup effort to discover how the legion intends to take its revenge on Earth. Huer briefs the pair on legion members: strategist Kellogg, psychokinetic Quince, token female Cherise and tough guy Markos.

Rogers dons Argus’ S&M outfit and heads to Argus’ ship. A very somber Huer outfits Rogers with special capsules that unleash a few seconds of darkness. After they say farewell, the protagonist enters the spaceship, which is controlled by a sassy female-voiced computer.

En route to the stargate, three police starfighters intercept Argus’ ship. Rogers unsuccessfully attempts to evade them but is taken into custody. He is, evidently without any questioning, placed into a holding cell with a rogue named Barney. After perhaps two minutes of confinement, they are able to escape (the entire prison — which on-screen evidence indicates has a staff of just two!!!) using a classic Star Trek-style diversion and a darkness capsule. Earth-system policemen are made to seem fairly incompetent in this sequence, despite their ability to apprehend Argus-cum-Rogers. Read the rest of this entry »

A battered but not fully humbled Tony Stark battles terrorists and mutants in ‘Iron Man 3’

May 22, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 22, 2013

The conundrum of the superhero story is simple: A superhero by definition is powerful, but easily resolved conflicts are boring. Therefore, in order to make an interesting superhero tale, his or her or their victory must be difficult to obtain.

Often superhero movie, television and comic book writers make victory hard to secure by pitting the protagonist against a supervillain, an antagonist so strong that the hero’s extraordinary strength is at least partially neutralized. Sometimes the hero is shorn of his abilities. And quite often — see Superman II, a classic of the superhero genre — the writers use a combination of these solutions.

That’s the case in Iron Man 3, where the eponymous hero arrogantly invites an enemy attack upon his home and pays a steep price. Consequently, billionaire genius and ex-playboy Tony Stark (the scintillating Robert Downey Jr.) spends most of this movie — even most of the climactic battle! — outside of the exoskeleton that is the source of his superpowers.

There are two advantages to this approach. One is that it allows us to see more of Downey’s expressive and entertaining face. Another is that it makes this cocky hero incredibly vulnerable.

Will Stark be able to save the president from the Mandarin, his terrorist superfoe? Will he be able to save the love of his life (and the CEO of Stark Industries), Pepper Potts, from a sinister genetic engineer? Heck, will Stark even be able to save himself from low-level goons tied to these shadowy figures?

Isolated and exposed as Stark is, the movie induces real doubt as to what the diminished hero can accomplish.

Read the rest of this entry »

Super-detective Jack Reacher stars in Lee Child’s taut ‘Tripwire’

May 21, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 21, 2013

Jack Reacher, the über-capable fictional former Army detective, made his feature film debut in the 2012 movie that bears his name. But the ex-MP who could has been around since 1997, when England-born Lee Child released Killing Floor, the first of what is now a 16-book series.

Some months ago, I read and enjoyed Echo Burning, which Goodreads.com lists as the seventh Reacher book in its narrative (not real-world publication) chronology. A few weeks ago, I began Tripwire, which dates to 1999.

The story begins when a New York City detective searching for Reacher encounters our hero in a strip club in the Florida Keys. Reacher, wary of attention, lies about his identity. A few hours later, the detective is dead, and the hero knows that he must find out who killed him and why.

The quest leads Reacher to the New York City suburbs, where he unexpectedly finds himself attending a wake for his friend and former commanding officer, Leon Garber. Yet this discovery, like many in Tripwire, simply leads to more questions. Jodie Garber has been searching for Reacher because that was what her father was doing. But why was Leon doing so? Read the rest of this entry »

BR25C: Vegas in Space

May 20, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 20, 2013

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Vegas in Space — Season 1, Episode 5

Synopsis

The episode opens with Buck Rogers and Col. Wilma Deering unsuccessfully battling “hatchet fighters,” which confound the starfighters’ automatic targeting systems. Rogers’ vessel sustains a direct hit, but this turns out to be only a training exercise.

The Earth squadron having been supposedly demolished by what are described as the remarkably speedy and maneuverable hatchet fighters, a discouraged Deering orders all ships to return to base. En route, Rogers tries to persuade the colonel that the Terran pilots can destroy their enemies if the computer initiates targeting but humans actually pull the trigger. Deering is skeptical, saying that the Earthlings are unable to do so.

In New Chicago, a young woman named Felina returns home and reviews her video messages. (Rather charmingly and quaintly, these appear to have been recorded on some kind of linear tape device — there’s a tell-tale squeal when Felina hits the rewind button.) The second of two messages is an urgent warning from the woman’s boss, who tells her to leave her apartment immediately because she is in danger. Just after a perplexed Felina finishes watching the message, she is surprised by something off-screen that has been stalking her since she arrived home. Read the rest of this entry »

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