Category Archives: sci-fi

Monsters Vs. Aliens: This is as close as I get to enjoying a Reese Witherspoon Rom-Com

Monsters Vs. Aliens
starring Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Seth Rogan, Will Arnett, Keifer Sutherland, Paul Rudd, and Rainn Wilson
directed by Conrad Vernon
Dreamworks (2009)
There seems to be an animated movie that pays homage to just about every genre out there, so it’s only right there would be one dedicated to monster movies from the mid-20th century. I used to love those movies as a kid. Ah, who am I kidding–I still love ’em.
Monsters Vs. Aliens actually focuses on one monster movie I’ve never seen though: Attack of the 50 Ft. Tall Woman. I remember the iconic poster for it, but I’ve never had an opportunity to watch it. Susan (Witherspoon) is set to marry the man of her dreams, an ambitious weatherman voiced by Paul Rudd, but while fretting outside the church she’s struck by a meteorite and soon grows to a frightening fifty feet tall–and her hair turns white for some reason. She’s captured by the military and thrown in a prison for monsters until a giant alien probe lands on Earth in search of the substance Susan absorbed to gain her height and powers. Her allies in the battle against aliens include the Missing Link (Will Arnett), the Blob (Seth Rogan), a super-intelligent cockroach (Hugh Laurie), and a giant bug that’s even bigger than Susan.
The plot of this movie is shaky, which could be forgiven considering it’s both a children’s movie and an homage to those cheesy sci-fi movies from the 50s and 60s, but I’ve seen so many high caliber animated movies over the last several years that a film like this needs more than an A-list cast and slapstick. Basically the meterorite that hit Susan had a precious mineral the aliens want, so the chase is on to capture her and extract it. Meanwhile, the U.S. President, aptly voiced by Stephen Colbert, goes into panic mode and authorizes the other monsters to thwart the aliens. Good enough for me.
I didn’t watch this in 3-D, so I couldn’t tell you how that turned out. I will say watching the film in plain ol’ 2-D doesn’t hinder the viewing experience, though the scenes meant for the 3D viewing are blatantly obvious–just like every other 3-D movie. If you’ve got kids that might have a penchant for the weird, this is a good movie to let them watch, and for the grown-ups it is a nice tip of the hat to those movies of yesteryear. Though, I would suggest the adults grab a classic monster movie to work with this one as a double-feature. Maybe Attack of the 50 Ft. Tall Woman or Them!.
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Filed under aliens, animated, Hugh Laurie, Keifer Sutherland, monsters, Monsters Vs. Aliens, movie review, Paul Rudd, Rabid Rewind, Reese Witherspoon, sci-fi, Seth Rogan, Stephen Colbert, Will Arnett

Getting Graphic: "Birdwatching from Mars" by Barry Napier and Luis Puig

Issue #1: The Ghost of the World
written by BarryNapier
illustrated by Luis Puig
independently published (2011)
While I’ve read my fair share of self-published novels and novellas over the last year or two, Birdwatching from Mars marks the first time that I can recall reading a self-published comic book. Given the precarious nature of finding quality work in the morass of self-published books for sale, I usually start reading such works with both naive optimism and well-earned wariness. Fortunately, I’m already familiar with Barry’s ability as a storyteller, so I was put at ease from the get-go.
Birdwatching is a high concept piece of work that deals with an end of the world scenario that’s quite familiar, yet offers its own fingerprint on the genre. We see the ravaged world through the eyes of three characters, years after an asteroid on a collision course prompted the evacuation of Earth to a settlement on Mars. Dante, a battle-tested survivor with a makeshift machete; Frank, a starved wanderer on his way to Utah; and Colonel Stone, an overwhelmed protector of a select batch of survivors in the underground Utah bunker that is attracting Frank, Dante, and others; they each try to make sense of a world long collapsed, haunted by ruins, cannibals, and it would seem a new predatory creature at the top of the food chain.
In about twenty-two pages or so, Barry and Luis offer the introductory glimpse of this world and basically set the stage for whatever they have cooked up in the succeeding issues of this comic series. There’s very little dialogue from which to get a sense of these characters, aside from a couple of private conversations between Colonel Stone and the lone senator inside the compound. Instead it is the visuals, along with a fair amount of exposition, that the reader must use to grasp how dire humanity’s situation really is. For those in the safety of the bunker, resources are perilously low and risk a riot if the truth is revealed, while the few survivors above ground who haven’t abandoned their civility forage for what little is left as they are drawn to the Utah installation out of some remnant of hope.
All while a new civilization on Mars is presumably being built–and watching Earth’s dying days play out.
It’s not an earth-shattering, jaw-dropping debut, but a more forlorn unveiling. You basically read through and watch Barry and Luis set the chess pieces on the table, left to wait as future issues set those pieces in motion. I’m conditioned the graphic novel, which compiles several issues into one compilation and gives a fuller reading experience, so for me I feel like I’ve gotten only a taste of this story. Still, I am interested enough to see where this story goes in future issues.

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Filed under Apocalypse, Barry Napier, Birdwatching from Mars, comic book review, comic books, Getting Graphic, Luis Puig, sci-fi

Rabid Reads: "The Damned Busters" by Matthew Hughes

The Damned Busters (To Hell and Back Book #1)
Angry Robot Books (2011)
ISBN (US): 9780857661036
ISBN (Digital): 9780857661043
Available via: Amazon / Book Depository
Have you always dreamt of being a superhero? Sure you have. What? You haven’t. Well, screw it, go with me on this anyway.
Chesney Armstruther is an actuary for a large insurance firm (if you’re a layman like me, that means “statistician”) whose life is in a rut. Heck, maybe his life is the rut. Rigidly devoted to numbers and the odds, while at the expense of a social life, Chesney finds poker with a few of the boys to be his best bet at gaining a few friends. But, before he can host his first game in his small, dreary apartment, he accidentally summons a demon from the pits of Hell after hitting his thumb with a hammer and uttering some nonsensical profanities. The demon insists Chesney sign over his soul in payment for summoning it, but Chesney refuses, pointing out he didn’t actually summon anyone. This snafu leads to Hell’s minions going on strike because of the contractual dispute, which in turn leads to Satan negotiating a settlement with Chesney in order to get things moving again. What is Chesney’s end of the settlement?
Chesney Armstruther is going to become a superhero.
The absurdity of this fantastical premise was too good to pass up when I heard about it. The book, however, is not what I expected and I wound up reading what was more of a metaphysical satire than a hero satire, with a tone that came off as a bit uneven the longer it went. The book starts off strong, and Chesney’s rather dry and dispassionate demeanor plays well in his protagonist role. The villains, as they were, also worked nicely, with the Devil and Chesney’s unscrupulous boss either working against him or manipulating him as he tries to figure out how to be a superhero–two hours at a time each day.
As the novel progressed though, I found my affinity towards certain characters diminishing, Chesney included, or never liking them in the first place, like his love interests, Poppy Paxton and Melda McCann. The most comically endearing character was, without question to me, Chesney’s endenture sidekick Xaphan, a wisecracking hellion with a penchant for rum, cigars, and 1920s gangster lingo.
Xaphan, in a lot of ways, acted as an animated deus ex machina, and several of the scenes where he helps Chesney muddle through his powers, responsibilities, and tough decisions were the best part of this book. And because of that, the divergence from a story about a wannabe superhero to a story about a pawn in a tug-of-war between Heaven and Hell was more palatable than it I thought it had any right to be.
I guess my criticism boils down to my preconceptions as a reader simply not being met. It’s a good book and offers an interesting story, but it doesn’t feel like the book gets to the heart of the matter until well past the halfway mark. If you enjoy a good dose of humor in your action novels, this is a pretty good book to consider, but don’t trick yourself into thinking it’s a superhero novel, as it only flirts with that premise long enough to go where it seems the rest of the series is headed.
CymLowell

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Filed under book review, Damned Busters, Matthew Hughes, Rabid Reads, sci-fi, superheroes, To Hell and Back

Rabid Rewind: "Mr. Nobody"

Mr. Nobody
starring Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger
written and directed by Jaco Van Dormel
Pathe (2009)
How do you like your speculative fiction? Do you like it straight forward, asking that one big question? Or, do you prefer the movies that are more vague, less linear, and bordering on the pretentious? Well, if you answered the latter, then Mr. Nobody may be the movie for you.
Jared Leto plays Nemo Nobody plays a centenarian in the year 2092, famed as the last human who will die of natural causes, as technology has advanced to make aging obsolete. He is an enigma to the world and treated as less a celebrity, but more like a barnyard oddity. And a reporter has arrived to hear his life story, since so little is actually known about him.
But, Nemo’s memories seem confuses as he tells his story with not one linear path, not two, but three. And each of these lives is visiting at three key moments in his life, during his childhood, teen years, and mid-thirties. Each of the three lifetimes show how his life played out after falling in love with one of three girls, Jeanne, Elise, and Anna.
The movie plays out in a non-linear fashion, shifting about not only through the three key time periods–along with brief interludes in Nemo’s present as an old man narrating the tale–but also shifts between the three realities. Exploring the choices he made in his life and which ones were the right ones. When his parents divorced, would he choose to stay with his father in Britain or leave with his mother to Canada? Would he wind up with the emotionally disturbed Elise, the romantically distant Jeanne, or the girl who got away, Anna.
I really wanted to love this movie, and for the first ninety minutes I did. The problem was that there was another hour to go and the movie was spinning its wheels. God, I hate it when a movie insists on being over two hours long when so few need to be, and I think this one would have been fine if they had shaved fifteen to twenty minutes off of it.
There are some genuinely good performances from the likes of Sarah Polley as Elise, Juno Temple as the teenage Anna, and Rhyss Ifans as Nemo’s father. Even Jared Leto offers up a strong performance as both the thirty-something Nemo and the elderly and invalid Nemo–under a metric ton of make-up effects.
It’s a movie that is visually stunning to watch, both for the glimpses of the fantastical, but the effectiveness of the more mundane scenes. Again, my only real gripe as a viewer was the length of the film and how it seemed to stall a little after the midway point. I shouldn’t be looking at the clock, waiting for the movie to wrap up, as it makes me harbor a resentment towards the rest of the film. Shame, too.

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Filed under Jared Leto, movie review, Mr. Nobody, parallel universes, Rabid Rewind, Sarah Polley, sci-fi, science fiction

Rabid Rewind: Splice

Splice
starring Sarah Polley, Adrien Brody, Delphine Chaneac
directed by Vincenzo Natali
screenplay by Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, & Doug Taylor
Warner Bros. (2010)

I remember quite a few years ago there was some weird cult/organization that held a press conference, during which they declared they had successfully cloned a human being. Of course, it wound up being a hoax, a recruitment video basically that the media was all to eager to facilitate. But the idea that a human had been cloned so early in the twenty-first century felt disturbing. What made it all the more disturbing was who was claiming responsibility. So, how about a movie that uses that as a kind of jump-off point?

Two young scientists (Polley and Brody) are the rockstars of genetic engineering, with their next feat an entirely new species spliced together from the genetic material of several animals. Their goal is to eventually find a way to cure human disease, while the corporation they work for is driven by less noble goals–profit rules all for the higher-ups footing the bill. So, when the suits tell the scientists that they are shutting down their lab so they can concentrate on more menial duties in deriving the genetic material that will garner the desired profit, they secretly go into business for themselves and splice human DNA into a brand new organism. A hybrid creature they come to call Dren (NERD, the company’s name, spelled backwards).

It’s kind of like Species, but so much better. Where the 90s movie didn’t really delve into any subtext, and relied heavily on action sequences, Splice is a far more intimate and contemplative film. It isn’t just a morality tale about genetics and cloning, but also about the relationships formed and tested between the two scientists and what essentially becomes their daughter, Dren.

And Delphine Chaneac as the CGI-accentuated monster, Dren, practically steals the movie right out from under Polley and Brody. There’s very little dialogue on her part–almost none now that I think about it–so her performance relies on facial expressions and body language. Considering that her face is altered through CGI and the lower half of her body is digitally rendered, her performance shines through. And in the latter half of the film, that performance gets very disturbing.

I have read and heard negative reviews for this film, I honestly can’t imagine why. I guess there are some viewers sitting down to watch this movie and expecting Alien, but this is nothing like that movie. If you want to harken back to a classic horror film, maybe take a look at Cronenberg’s The Fly. Better yet, watch this movie without preconceptions and just let the story hit you. I’ll bet you’ll walk away impressed and possibly a little shook up.

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Filed under Adrien Brody, Delphine Chaneac, genetic engineering, Guillermo Del Toro, horror, movie review, Rabid Rewind, Sarah Polley, sci-fi, Splice

Book Vs. Movie: Surrogates

The Book:

written by Robert Vendetti
illustrated by Brett Weidele
published by Top Shelf Productions (2006)

The Movie:
starring Bruce Willis, Rhada Mitchelle, Ving Rhames, and James Cromwell
directed by Jonathan Mostow
screenplay by John Brancato & Michael Ferris
released by Touchstone Pictures (2009)

I read and reviewed the two graphic novels (The Surrogates and The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone) by Robert Vendetti and Brett Weidele back in the spring. So when I finally got around to watching the film adaptation, I thought I’d do a little contrast-and-compare.

In the graphic novel, the lead detective is a kind of hard-boiled kind of cop that epitomizes the gritty art style that defines him. Bruce Willis, however, looks very polished as that character. Almost cosmopolitan, dare I say. Granted, he’s classic hard-nosed Bruce when his surrogate is damaged and he has to continue his investigation by walking the streets the old fashioned way. Personally, I thought his surrogate looked a bit like his psychiatrist character from The Sixth Sense, while his real-life counterpart looked like an even more grizzled version of Die Hard‘s McClain.

The story goes that a couple of people have died–murdered–while operating surrogates, which is something that has loss been deemed impossible by everyone in the know. So, the cops have to not only work with the monopoly that manufactures surrogates in order to find out how it’s possible to kill someone via a surrogate–a notion they dismiss outright–and deal with the anti-surrogate movement that is where their lead suspect resides.

The book tackles a lot of the philosophical questions related to living life through an avater. Things like vanity, reclusiveness, classism, racism, and a slew of other issues are approached at different points. In the movie, however, the focus really leans towards the mystery and the potential conspiracy behind who would want to sew seeds of doubt concerning the security of surrogates. On the other hand, the action scenes are so much more potent on screen than on paper. Seeing man versus man-in-surrogates was a sight to behold.

Winner: The Book. I say check out the book first, especially if you’re interested in those underlying questions about a technology that would allow you to look how you’ve always dreamed (if you have the cash), and live life while sitting in a pod and treating real life like an elaborate video-game. If you just want some sci-fi action with cool special effects and a couple of explosions, then go with the movie, as it has its own benefits.

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Filed under adaptation, book vs. movie, Brett Weidele, Bruce Willis, comic book review, movie review, Rhada Mitchell, Robert Vendetti, sci-fi, Surrogates, Ving Rhames

Getting Graphic: "Serenity: Those Left Behind" by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews

Serenity: Those Left Behind
by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews
illustrated by Will Conrad
Dark Horse Books (2006)
ISBN 1-59307-449-2

Did you watch Firefly when it was on Fox for its single season about ten years ago? Neither did I. It kind of slipped under my radar at the time. I caught the last couple of episodes, and fell in love with show just in time to learn it had been cancelled. Way to go, Fox.

I did, however, manage to catch the film Serenity, which acted as a psuedo-sequel to the TV show and a bookend on the story as a whole. So, to think there are graphic novels to help keep this universe going, it’s a nice consolation.

The events of this book take place between the end of the show and the movie, which is kind of a necessity in my view since some irrevocable events occur in the movie.

The gang are on a job when things go awry–what else is new for them–and have to make a quick escape. Meanwhile, the proverbial boys in blue recruit a person from Mal’s past to hunt the Firefly crew down. Those guys always seem to find Mal’s enemies when they don’t want to do the dirty work themselves.

The story is fairly average when you stand back and look at it, but the characters are depicted so accurately to their flesh-and-blood counterparts that it’s easy to just sit back and read the back-and-forth between them. And given the fact that the story takes place before the movie, there’s some sacrifice in the suspense department.

Still, if you enjoyed the show and lamented its premature demise, this book gives one more chance to escape into that strange future Whedon cooked up. Something between Star Wars and Deadwood, which is not a bad way to go I suppose.

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Filed under Brett Matthews, comic book review, Firefly, Getting Graphic, graphic novels, Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion, sci-fi, Serenity, western, Will Conrad