Posts Tagged ‘science fiction movie’

Rebels on the run: The evil First Order tirelessly hunts good guys in the sprawling ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

May 4, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 3, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth entry in the projected nine-movie space opera sequence that George Lucas launched in 1977, is a messy but entertaining addition to the saga.

Writer-director Rian Johnson, who’s best known for the 2012 time-traveling drama Looper, splits his sequel to 2015’s The Force Awakens into four interwoven threads. All are set into motion by the nefarious First Order’s pursuit of the Resistance — now in the process of being rebranded as the Rebellion, just like the insurgency from Lucas’s original trilogy. This premise (or at least the timing in play here) is rather confusing, because the narrative involving Rey (Daisy Ridley) and self-exiled Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) picks up literally right where it ended in the preceding film’s coda, which happened shortly after the good guys won a major victory over wicked Snoke (motion-capture legend Andy Serkis), the First Order’s shriveled, misshapen Supreme Leader.

At any rate, as an embittered Skywalker — the missing man being hunted by both sides in Episode VII — adamantly refuses to train Rey in the ways of the magical Force or do anything else to aid the Rebellion, most of the other characters have hastily evacuated their compromised (once-hidden?) base and are fleeing at top speed. A powerful First Order fleet pursues, lurking just outside of cannon range until the inevitable moment the insurgents run out of fuel.

Bereft of outside assistance and perceiving their plight as hopeless, hotheaded pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and First Order defector Finn (John Boyega) devise a plan to disable the new technology that Snoke and his minions have used to track the good guys’ jumps through hyperspace. Finn and his new friend, technician Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) visit a lavish casino in hopes of finding and co-opting a codebreaker with the ability to infiltrate the First Order fleet’s hulking flagship, the Supremacy. Dameron stays behind with the remnants of the rebel convoy, attempting to persuade the tentative Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) to take decisive action in lieu of General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), who was put into a coma by a First Order attack.

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Alex Garland’s enigmatic ‘Annihilation’ tracks five women as they travel into a bizarre region

April 13, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 13, 2018

Writer-director Alex Garland’s new movie, Annihilation, is a suspenseful science-fiction feature about a team of women investigating a mysterious extraterrestrial phenomenon that’s taken hold of a remote coastal region.

Natalie Portman (Black SwanJackie and the Star Wars prequel trilogy) stars as a Johns Hopkins biology professor whose husband disappeared a year ago after departing on a classified military mission. When a tight-lipped Kane (Oscar Isaac of the new Star Wars trilogy and the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis) suddenly returns, Lena has far more questions than her spouse has answers — questions that only multiply when Kane suffers a strange physical meltdown.

While traveling to the hospital, Kane’s ambulance is intercepted by heavily armed government agents driving black SUVs. One of them sedates Lena, who awakens as a detainee in a government facility in a never-identified part of the United States.

The facility’s staff is studying an unearthly phenomenon called “the shimmer,” a translucent field that has been expanding ever since a meteor struck a lighthouse at a state park three years ago. The government has sent people and probes into the shimmer, but until Kane’s quixotic return, no message, machine or person had ever emerged from it.

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Spielberg’s action-packed adaptation ‘Ready Player One’ verges on making a digital silk purse out of primarily 1980s pop culture

April 2, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 2, 2018

There are moments during Steven Spielberg’s entertaining new feature, Ready Player One, when I marveled that the man who is arguably cinema’s greatest living director had the audacity to make a movie that was entirely computer-generated.

That’s not actually the case, of course: Only about two-thirds of the film takes place in the Oasis, an expansive virtual-reality realm that allows the populace of an overcrowded, under-resourced Earth to escape from the dismal reality around them. But it’s the virtual-reality sequences of the movie, based on the 2011 best-seller by Ernest Cline, where Spielberg and his team unleash their creativity. During the set pieces — a no-holds-barred road race through a simulated New York City, a paramilitary raid in a digital nightclub with a zero-gravity dance area and a battle royale outside a fantasy castle on “Planet Doom” — Spielberg packs every square inch with dynamic digital creations and pop-culture references. A team of experts in science fiction, comic books, anime, television and other pop-culture subgenres might need to work around the clock for a year to identify and annotate all the references that have been stuffed into the movie, often for just a fraction of a second.

It’s to the credit of Spielberg and his screenwriters, Cline and Zak Penn (The Last Action Hero, The Avengers and other comic-book movies) that the characters and story don’t get lost amid all the visual turmoil. The protagonist is 20-something Ohio native Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan, who played Cyclops in X-Men: Apocalypse), whose Oasis “avatar” is an anime-style loner named Parzival. Watts is a devotee of the late James Halliday, an introverted computer scientist. The nerdy Halliday (Mark Rylance) made his fortune and fame by creating and launching the immersive, addictive Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation (Oasis for short) in the 2020s, right as the real world was beginning to fall apart.

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The 2011 prequel ‘The Thing’ follows a bit too closely in the footsteps of John Carpenter’s brilliant movie

March 2, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 2, 2018

John Carpenter’s The Thing, released in 1982, is widely considered a magnum opus in the science-fiction/horror subgenre. I’ve long been curious about The Thing, the prequel released in 2011, which I recently got a chance to see.

The bulk of the movie takes place at a remote Norwegian research outpost in the Antarctic. The geologists at Thule Station — the name is pronounced just like “tool” — have made a remarkable discovery, one which they wish to keep secret, but which they require biologists in order to examine properly. But the scientists soon find that the unearthly thing they’ve dug up from the ice could threaten the existence of every living creature on Earth…

The story is related from the point of view of Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a Columbia University paleontologist whom biologist Sander Halvorsen (Ulrich Thomsen) recruits on short notice to help extract the specimen found near Thule. The pair travel with Adam (Eric Christian Olsen), Halversen’s assistant and Lloyd’s friend, to the Norwegian station on a helicopter piloted by Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

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The movie version of ‘The Martian’ is surprisingly relevant to our historical moment

February 28, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 28, 2018

Mars isn’t a very hospitable environment for humans. It’s cold and it lacks breathable atmosphere, accessible water and arable soil. In short, you wouldn’t want to be left behind there by your five crewmates when your base is suddenly hit by a massive sandstorm and a piece of debris crushes your spacesuit transponder and knocks you out and renders them unable to find you as they’re staging a hasty retreat to orbit and the spacecraft that will carry them home to Earth.

However, that’s exactly what happens to astronaut Mark Watney at the start of The Martian. More than three years ago, regarding Andy Weir’s blog-turned-self-published-novel-turned-conventionally-published-best-seller The Martian, I wrote:

Watney, who’s well-trained and naturally innovative, jury-rigs a series of solutions to each of his problems using techniques and technology that I imagine would be available to someone in his situation. He recycles his bodily waste, converts the floors of his living quarters into a potato farm, and scavenges hardware in an effort to reconnect with Earth. Weir structures his book with an exciting, if somewhat predictable, problem-assessment-solution-resolution cycle that repeatedly gooses the tension levels.

Director Ridley Scott (AlienBlade RunnerGladiatorBlack Hawk Down and Prometheus, among many others) and screenwriter Drew Goddard (the horror movies CloverfieldThe Cabin in the WoodsWorld War Z and a number of TV shows) gave The Martian a faithful adaptation with their 2015 movie. As Watney, Matt Damon narrates some of the action, which — like the novel — falls into a predictable pattern over its middle third.

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‘Aeon Flux,’ a live-action movie based on an MTV cartoon, winds up seeming a little flat

January 26, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 26, 2018

Aeon Flux was an animated series that ran for four years on MTV in the early 1990s. I can’t recall ever having watched a full episode, although I’m sure I caught snippets. I do have a distinct — albeit incomplete — memory of being in a club in Chapel Hill in the mid–oughts and staring at a TV that was silently playing installments of the show.

I never figured out much about the program beyond the basics. The title character, I knew, was a lithe, lethal spy in an oppressive futuristic society. Her foil was the unctuous dictator Trevor Goodchild, who seemed to shift abruptly from being Flux’s assassination target to being her lover and/or person who reveals important truths about Flux herself and the society in which they live.

The 2005 movie Aeon Flux brought the property into movie theaters with a live-action adaptation. I’ve no idea how faithful it is to the original series; for what it’s worth, animation writer/director Peter Chung (the main character designer for the long-running Rugrats TV series that debuted in 1993) is credited here for “characters.”

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The minor gem ‘Harbinger Down’ is a terrific homage to John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’

December 20, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 20, 2017

Harbinger Down is a beautifully executed homage to John Carpenter’s classic movie The Thing that’s short on originality but long on scares.

This 2015 feature was written and directed by Alec Gillis, a special-effects and makeup veteran on productions going back to ’80s action classics like AliensTremors and Starship Troopers. The plot leans heavily on Carpenter’s 1982 tour de force but is executed well enough to entertain genre fans.

The story gets under way when a professor and two graduate students book passage on the Harbinger, a dilapidated Alaskan crabbing vessel, in order to track how the migratory patterns of beluga whales are being affected by climate change. When Sadie (Camille Balsamo of the 2014–16 crime drama Murder in the First) notices that the whales are attracted to a flashing beacon set in a chunk of ice, she persuades Captain Graff (Lance Henriksen) to haul this mechanical object onto the ship.

The ice turns out to contain a badly charred lunar lander marked with Soviet-era symbols. Within the crew compartment is a sealed spacesuit. Graff orders the entire find stowed in the ship’s hold and bars his crew and the scientists from any further investigation.

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Wooden leads weigh down the dynamic script and direction of ‘Terminator Genisys’

December 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 15, 2017

Terminator Genisys, the would-be 2015 blockbuster, does its best to invigorate an action-adventure franchise that James Cameron unwittingly launched back in 1984. Alas, the movie falls flat — an immense soufflé prepared by a chef who lacked just one or two vital ingredients.

The plot is complex but holds up as long as the viewer simply accepts it as the necessary mishegas that propels the movie from one set piece to another. The action opens in the year 2029, just as John Connor (Jason Clarke of Zero Dark Thirty, Everest and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) is on the brink of leading humanity to a decisive victory over the evil computer Skynet and its legion of murderous Terminator robots.

As the last battle is seemingly won, humans seize a large machine-built device that the near-prescient Connor somehow knows is capable of sending people (and flesh-covered machines) back in time. Connor uses it to dispatch his right-hand man, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney, Bruce Willis’s son in A Good Day to Die Hard and a key character in the Divergent movies), to the year 1984. Reese’s mission is to protect John’s mother from a Terminator that’s been dispatched to kill her and thus crush humanity’s rebellion even before it can reach the cradle.

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‘Stranded’ features four astronauts (and a very weak script) in need of rescue

December 11, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 11, 2017

Stranded is a subpar 2013 science fiction/horror movie that fails to bring anything new to the subgenre.

The plot is fairly straightforward: A few decades in the future, a lunar mining facility known as Moonbase Ark is struck by a rogue meteoroid storm that wipes out all external communications and damages the generator and life support system. Although the four-person crew is in mortal danger because of the power outage — and, as becomes increasingly important, the engineer’s psychological instability and substance abuse problem — they examine one of the rocks that struck the base and find that it contains a mysterious spore.

Shortly after deputy commander Ava Cameron (Amy Matysio) cuts her finger while running tests on the substance, she shows signs of what appears to be a nearly full-term pregnancy. Dr. Lance Cross (Brendan Fehr, one of the leads from the TV series Roswell) believes that the ailing lieutenant simply is suffering from some kind of aggravated cyst. However, base commander Gerard Brockman (Christian Slater — yes, of Heathers and Pump Up the Volume and whatnot) insists Cameron be put in isolation because of possible contamination.

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Charming ‘City of Ember’ finds wonder and terror in a crumbling underground city

December 10, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 9, 2017

City of Ember is a charming 2008 movie set in a crumbling postapocalyptic community.

The eponymous settlement was built underground centuries before the central action in order to shield its inhabitants from an unspecified disaster, presumably nuclear in nature. The city’s infrastructure, particularly its power generator, is on the verge of failure, but most of Ember’s residents are too complacent to recognize it.

One of the few exceptions is young Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway, an Englishman who’s worked in British TV and recently appeared in the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes). The brilliant, determined teenager realizes that the city’s blackouts are growing in both frequency and length. His conviction that something must be done to save the community strengthens when he becomes an apprentice in the patchwork pipeworks and learns just how little comprehension engineers have of the complex systems they’re charged with maintaining.

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Humanity has an inauspicious introduction to an alien organism in the sci-fi/horror movie ‘Life’

May 17, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 17, 2017

The grandly named 2017 movie Life is a grimly efficient horror flick set aboard the International Space Station in the near future. I use the word flick advisedly: This is a B-movie premise mounted on a very respectable $58 million budget.

The space station’s six-person course — ah, I mean crew — is working on a project called Pilgrim, in which an automated probe is returning Martian rock and soil samples to near-Earth orbit for analysis and experimentation. Matters get off to a rocky start when the probe is damaged by debris, which leads to a hair-raising high-speed rendezvous.

But that’s nothing compared to what happens when exobiologist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers that one of the samples contains a dormant single-celled organism. Once Derry brings the laboratory chamber’s temperature and atmosphere to Earth-like conditions, the microscopic creature begins first moving and then multiplying.

Humanity is captivated by the discovery, and an overjoyed elementary-school student names the life form Calvin on a live broadcast. No one is happier than Derry — although he and his crewmates will soon come to regret their finding.

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Confessions of a lifelong fraidy-cat; or, Why I (mostly) can’t abide horror films

May 15, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 15, 2017

When I was a child, I would sometimes glimpse horror films on television. These brief exposures inevitably made my pulse race and usually left me terrified, regardless of whether the scene showed someone being harmed or even threatened.

Once when I was 10 years old, my family and I attended a family gathering at my Great-Uncle Paul and Great-Aunt Jesse’s apartment in Queens. (Or maybe I was 8 or 13. Who knows?) The apartment’s combined living room and dining room was full of people. But one moment, when I happened to be facing the TV, I saw something that made me feel completely alone and utterly vulnerable.

There was some old 1960s movie on; I remember it being in color, although I couldn’t even tell you if the scene I saw involved a Frankenstein’s monster coming to life or a vampiric woman awakening. In fact, I’m not even sure if the sound was on or off. But just watching a few seconds of this production frightened me to the core. I think one of my parents — my mother? — noticed that I was petrified and steered my attention somewhere else, or perhaps got someone to change the channel.

It’s a weird childhood trauma to remember, if trauma is indeed the right word for such a minor ordeal. And yet thinking back on that moment — muddled though my recall of it might be — I get terrified all over again.

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Return to outer space — recalling another not-so-terrific science-fiction adventure from the waning weeks of 1979

May 10, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 10, 2017

Occasionally, YouTube’s algorithms offer up something interesting. That happened the other week when I stumbled upon some video clips excerpted from The Black Hole, the poorly received 1979 film that was the first-ever Disney production to receive a PG rating.

When I looked up the film’s release date, I found that it came out on Dec. 21, 1979 — exactly two weeks after the premiere of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I went to see The Black Hole in the cinema during its initial theatrical run, which meant that that month was full of science fiction excitement and disappointment.

The nearest art-house cinema to my current home is the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham, N.C. The Carolina regularly shows old science fiction, horror and fantasy movies, and a few years ago, they brought in The Black Hole for a showing. Naturally, I went.

The film that had disappointed young me also disappointed adult me, albeit for somewhat different reasons. But that hasn’t stopped me from returning to movies (and occasionally books) that my younger self enjoyed. Which, not at all coincidentally, will be the topic of my next post…

The Enterprise crew takes an entertaining but inessential voyage in ‘Star Trek Beyond’

April 13, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 13, 2017

Star Trek Beyond, the third entry in J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the venerable science fiction franchise, is a pleasant but ultimately inessential way to pass two hours.

As the picture begins, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the intrepid crew of the starship Enterprise are roughly three years into their five-year mission. But Kirk has grown weary of deep-space exploration (there’s an amusing shot of him opening his closet to see several hangers displaying identical uniforms). Meanwhile, his first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto), feels compelled to break off his relationship with the human communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) because of his wish to help propagate the Vulcan species. This longing is only magnified when he learns of the death of Ambassador Spock (the late Leonard Nimoy, glimpsed in stills), his counterpart from and link to the original Star Trek TV series.

When Enterprise puts in for resupplying, rest and recreation at the remote (and oddly named) Starbase Yorktown after an unsuccessful attempt to broker peace between two warring alien races, there’s a distinct air of discontent about the ship. And yet Kirk remains up for a challenge; when the alien Kalara (Lydia Wilson) rockets toward Yorktown on an escape pod spinning a tale about how her crew has been marooned on an even more remote planet named Altamid, the captain gathers his crew for a voyage through an uncharted nebula.

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Intriguing independent science fiction suspense movie ‘Infini’ is a minor treat for genre fans

February 28, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 28, 2017

The 2015 science fiction suspense movie Infini borrows plenty of concepts from superior movies, among them Invasion of the Body SnatchersSolaris and Aliens. But although this independent film is obscure, having been made in Australia on a minuscule budget, it’s executed well enough to make it worthwhile viewing for science-fiction aficionados.

Most of the movie takes place on an abandoned mining base on Infini, the farthest-flung outpost in the galaxy. A few hundred years into the future, when members of Infini’s skeleton crew go insane and program a deadly cargo to be sent to Earth, troops are teleported (“slipstreamed,” in the movie’s parlance) to the location to shut down the shipment. But the first wave of responders quickly go insane, and an elite search-and-rescue team led by Capt. Seet Johanson (Kevin Copeland) is summoned to clean up the fiasco.

The group encounters the only known survivor of the disaster, a security specialist named Whit Carmichael. The frazzled Carmichael (Daniel MacPherson) claims that he shut down the base’s heating system during the carnage, thereby leaving most of it in a deep freeze as crazed personnel slaughtered one another. He agrees to help his would-be rescuers disable the cargo transport, but during the process many of the team members are exposed to the same toxic biological material that plunged earlier visitors into madness.

The rest of the story consists of Carmichael’s increasingly frantic efforts to evade the armed psychotics who are hunting him (and each other) while counting down the hours until he can teleport back to Earth.

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A slight excess of goofiness taints the majestic science-fiction horror atmosphere established in ‘Event Horizon’

January 25, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 25, 2016

Event Horizon is my favorite bad movie of all time. I love this 1997 feature because it comes oh so close to bona fide greatness.

The story is set in the year 2047, 32 years after humanity has established its first permanent base on the moon and a quarter-century after commercial mining has begun on Mars. After a brief prologue in which an obviously lonely scientist, William “Billy” Weir, wakes from a nightmare and tells a photograph of what turns out to be his dead wife that he misses her dearly, the action shifts to the U.S. Aerospace Command vessel Lewis and Clark minutes before it fires its main engines for a 72-day journey to the remote reaches of the solar system.

Only after the ship arrives and its crew emerges from stasis chambers — and after Weir, who’s tagging along for the ride, suffers another nightmare — do Capt. Miller (Laurence Fishburne) and his comrades learn why they have been yanked from a well-deserved shore leave and dispatched to the rarely visited fringes of known space. It turns out that a ship thought destroyed in 2040 has been found in a decaying orbit around the planet Neptune, where it is broadcasting a short but cryptic radio signal.

The Event Horizon was said to be a research vessel that was lost after its reactor went critical. But Weir (Sam Neill) informs his captive (and highly skeptical) audience that this information was fictitious — a cover story. In actuality, the ship disappeared without a trace after activating its gravity drive, a novel device built by Weir that may permit interstellar travel by folding the space-time continuum.

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Bong Joon Ho’s unusual ‘Snowpiercer’ is a harrowing and haunting post-apocalyptic science fiction film

December 23, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 23, 2015

When Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer came out in 2013, the science fiction film was widely acclaimed. I hesitated to see it, however, because the premise — a new Ice Age has caused the extinction of all life on Earth but for the passengers and crew of Snowpiercer, a nuclear-powered train that endlessly circles the planet — and the plot — brutal oppression incites a violent revolt — seemed dour and depressing.

I was right, but so were the critics: Snowpiercer is a harrowing, haunting and beautiful movie. Its protagonist is Curtis (Chris Evans, best known for playing Captain America), a man in his mid-30s who has spent half his life aboard the train. Curtis is widely respected among the downtrodden proletariat who are packed into the car at the end of the titular snow-piercing train. The movement is nominally commanded by Gilliam (John Hurt), but everyone except the man himself recognizes Curtis as the rebellion’s true leader.

With the aid of a mysterious mole among the elite classes who inhabit the posh cars at the front of the train, Curtis and Gilliam devise a plan that will help them gain control of the very front of Snowpiercer — specifically, of the engine that powers the train. They begin by foiling the gates that keep the huddled masses (literally) compartmentalized and contained at the rear of the train. This allows them to liberate Namgoong (Song Kang Ho, also known as Kang-ho Song), the technician–cum–drug addict who designed the train’s security system.

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On the artistic and cinematic merits of ‘Aliens’

December 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 21, 2015

Back in July, I referred to James Cameron’s 1986 movie Aliens as seminal. I actually called it that twice, first in my review of Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a. Live Die Repeat) and then in my writeup of Nick Cole’s 2014 novel, Soda Pop Soldier, which happens to pay homage to the Cameron film. (Rather improbably, the narrator of the book has not seen the movie.)

When I wrote those blog posts, I wanted to link to something that would back up my assertion about the importance of the movie. But I couldn’t find something that struck me as definitive, such as an entry on one of the American Film Institute’s lists of the top movies, and I didn’t want to get bogged down.

So I did what I often do when I’m looking into a topic: I opened a bunch of links and then I left the tabs open in my web browser for months.

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Considering why the original ‘Star Wars’ was such a hit and why the animated ‘Lord of the Rings’ was not

October 7, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 7, 2015

As I wrote earlier today:

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, a fantasy-adventure trilogy first printed in 1954–55, was a seminal publication. Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, an animated feature based on Tolkien’s work that was released in 1978, is an obscurity.

By contrast, I saw the original Star Wars during an extended first run in 1977, and I immediately fell in love with the movie: I instantly wanted to buy all of the Kenner toys based on George Lucas’s movie. For years, I bought and devoutly studied novelizations of the original trilogy of movies as well as original Star Wars novels. (In the latter category, Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and Brian Daley’s trilogy of Han Solo adventures held prized places on my bookshelf and in my heart.)

So why did I cotton to Star Wars so thoroughly while The Lord of the Rings left me cold? Part of it was the quality of Bakshi’s movie — as discussed earlier, I generally found it to be adequate, whereas I thought Star Wars was out-and-out thrilling. But there are also major differences between the narratives woven by Tolkien and Lucas, and I wanted to explore those.

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In the symbolism-laden ‘Solaris,’ Steven Soderbergh explores a remote corner of space where the past is strangely present

July 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 22, 2015

Solaris is a work that I’ve engaged repeated over the course of my lifetime. The original book, by the great Polish author Stanislaw Lem, was penned in 1961. I’ve always held it in great regard, although my understanding of it is rather limited.

The premise is simple enough: Something has gone grievously wrong with a scientific expedition to the planet Solaris, an oceanic planet that manifests waves and weather patterns in ways that indicate the presence of some form of intelligence. A psychologist named Kelvin is dispatched to the research station to investigate why its communications have become erratic. While there, he becomes obsessed — some might say haunted — by a figure from his past, much like the surviving station crew members. To say too much more would be to give away part of the story’s mystery and power.

I first read Solaris as a young man, probably while I was in high school (if not even younger). Although I haven’t read it in many years, I remember the book being about the limits of human psychology and scientific inquiry. Lem ultimately positions Kelvin as neither a hero nor an expert — he is simply an average man baffled by, and at the mercy of, an immensely powerful force he can neither comprehend nor combat.

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‘Red Planet’ is an outer-space expedition that ultimately goes nowhere

July 8, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 8, 2015

Fifteen years ago, two big red cinematic bombs were unleashed upon the movie-going public. The marginally superior of these two films was Mission to Mars, a Brian De Palma helmed effort that debuted in March 2000 and starred Gary Sinise, Don Cheadle and Tim Robbins. The other Mars movie was Red Planet, a November release headlined by Val Kilmer, Carrie-Anne Moss and Tom Sizemore.

Mission to Mars was an ideas movie with action, an attempt by a great director to make a successor to 2001: A Space Odyssey. By contrast, Red Planet was an action movie with ideas — an effort to replicate the original Jurassic Park in a science fiction milieu. By this I mean not that Red Planet is a monster movie, as Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster is, but that, like the earlier movie, Red Planet attempts to envelop its candy-coated center with a veneer of scientific concepts.

There are plenty of differences between the two movies, of course, one of them being that Jurassic Park had an excellent script. Red Planet can’t claim the same, unfortunately. It was penned by Chuck Pfarrer and Jonathan Lemkin, who between them have no credit more impressive than Navy Seals or The Devil’s Advocate. Which isn’t to say that these movies — or their other outings, such as Virus or Shooter — are bad; it’s just that, like Red Planet, they’re simply not very distinguished.

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Adventures in libertarian utopia: ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ puts its violent antihero through a vicious, violent and dynamic wringer

June 4, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 4, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road, the new science fiction action movie from George Miller, is a brutal, kinetic, testosterone-powered thrill ride that finds cause to recognize (and even celebrate) women as something more than sex objects.

This is the fourth film in Miller’s series about a warrior who roams a twisted post-apocalyptic Australian desert landscape. While watching it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this apt dismissal of an entry in James Cameron’s franchise starring an Austrian as a post-apocalyptic warrior: “Terminator 2 probably ranks as the most violent tribute ever made to peace.”

The title character here is portrayed by the versatile English actor Tom Hardy, who played the petulant Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis, the puckish Eames in Inception and the murderous Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Hardy steps in for Mel Gibson, the Australian-American whose star was made in no small part by Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), all of which Miller wrote and directed. I’ve only seen the first of the earlier movies in its entirety (and many years ago — the details are quite hazy), although I’m of an age where snippets of the 1985 film couldn’t help but impose themselves on my adolescence.

But familiarity with Mad Max’s previous outings isn’t a prerequisite for watching Mad Max: Fury Road. The important thing is that the viewer enjoy watching cars and trucks race towards and past one another while various (mostly heavily muscled) characters direct guns, harpoons, explosive-tipped spears, chainsaws, knives and fisticuffs at one another.

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The pleasant but punchless ‘Star Trek: Insurrection’ continued the march of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ movie mediocrity

May 14, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 14, 2015

Roughly midway into the 1998 movie Star Trek: Insurrection, Jean-Luc Picard is faced with a moral dilemma. The captain of the good ship Enterprise has discovered that Starfleet Admiral Matthew Dougherty is conspiring with the Son’a, a sinister alien race, to secretly relocate the Ba’ku, the 600 peaceful agrarian residents of an isolated and idyllic world. Dougherty and the Son’a leader, Ru’afo, want to exploit a unique natural resource — the radiation emitted by the planet’s rings, which reverses the decrepitude of aging. Unfortunately for the Ba’ku, the only way to collect this radiation in industrial quantities involves a process that will render the world’s surface uninhabitable.

Picard has been ordered to depart the area and allow the Son’a to continue the Ba’ku relocation, which Dougherty claims has authorization from top United Federation of Planets officials. But the captain considers the forced relocation to be morally abhorrent — a violation of core principles that he, the Federation and Starfleet have spent years struggling to uphold. In a somber moment, he stands alone in his quarters and begins pulling his rank insignia from his collar…

In other hands, this might have been a dramatic scene. Here, however, it seems preordained — just another script point. Insurrection was written by 1990s Trek television series producers Rick Berman and Michael Piller and directed by Jonathan Frakes, who plays William Riker, the first officer of the Enterprise. And, rather like Generations, which was the first movie featuring Picard, Riker and the rest of the crew of the 24th-century Enterprise, I think that Insurrection would have worked better had it been released and displayed on small screens rather than silver ones.

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Despite its stellar reputation, I recommend that most viewers avoid ‘Star Trek: First Contact’

April 7, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 7, 2015

Star Trek: First Contact was the eighth movie in the Trek franchise. It was also the second (following 1994’s Star Trek Generations) of four movies to feature the Next Generation cast.

First Contact has a number of things in common with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. These films marked the directorial debuts of, respectively, Jonathan Frakes (William Riker) and the late Leonard Nimoy (Spock), the first officers of TNG’s 24th-century Enterprise and the original series’s 23rd-century U.S.S. Enterprise. Both movies involve serious threats to planet Earth, which can only be resolved with journeys through time to Earth as it was roughly 300 years prior to the TV series’ main timelines. And both stories have generous doses of comedy, which are often due to the space-traveler-out-of-time aspect of the narratives.

These films are also the most popular and successful ones starring their respective casts. The Voyage Home, a 1986 release, grossed nearly $110 million. First Contact, which came out almost exactly 10 years later, grossed $92 million. The only Trek films that made more money were the J.J. Abrams–helmed reboots from 2009 and 2012, which populated the roles of Kirk, Spock and company with a brand-new cast.

I like The Voyage Home quite a lot, but I’ve never really been a fan of First Contact. In rewatching it recently, my opinion of the movie rose — but only slightly.

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‘Star Trek Generations’ got the 24th-century Enterprise crew off to an uneven start in the movie theaters

March 11, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 11, 2015

Star Trek Generations, the seventh feature film in that science fiction franchise, opened in theaters in November 1994, a few months after the end of the seventh and final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The movie, which was written by TNG producers Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, was explicitly intended to springboard the newer cast into a cinematic series.

Generations did so in part by transporting a character from the original show and movie series into a 24th-century adventure. The Next Generation had largely avoided this kind of crossover, at least partly out of deference to the wishes of Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, who died in 1991 at age 70.

(Dear readers: There be spoilers ahead. I mean, they’re for a 21-year-old movie, but still, you’ve been warned!)

The movie starts in the 23rd century as Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and two of his former crewmen participate in the maiden voyage of the fourth starship Enterprise. This time around, Kirk isn’t in charge — he’s just a guest aboard the Excelsior-class vessel, registration number NCC-1701-B. The crew includes a young ensign named Demora Sulu (Jacqueline Kim), the daughter of Kirk’s old helmsman. Kirk wonders aloud how Sulu was able to start a family. “If something’s important, you make the time,” Montgomery Scott (James Doohan) reproachfully tells his former commanding officer.

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