Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Guest Review: Dredd

Director: Pete Travis
Year: 2012
Score: 7.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

Dammit I ALWAYS cry at the end of Titanic!

Dammit I ALWAYS cry at the end of Titanic!

I didn’t have particularly high hopes for Dredd. Tainted as the character was by the horrendous iteration that could best be described as Sylvester Stallone with a saucepan on his head, the only reason I actually watched it was because my wife fancied a film before she went to bed and we needed one of a specific length of time. With a sigh, I fired up the 95 minute long Dredd and sat back, preparing myself for what would no doubt be 45 minutes of being bored before falling asleep. As it turns out, Dredd turned out to be much better than I dared hope it would be.

In the violent near future, Judges dish out harsh and instant punishment to criminals on the street. The story follows Judge Dredd and a trainee as they find themselves trapped in a tower block, locked down by ruthless drug lord Ma-Ma. Rather than traditional coke or heroin, the drug of choice is called Slo-Mo; a futuristic reality altering psychedelic that slows down the user’s perception of time. This is cleverly utilised in a plot that builds to a crescendo as wave after wave are thrown at Dredd to try and stop him reaching the summit.

Karl Urban’s Dredd is very different to Stallone’s as there is little to no effort to try and create depth of character; he’s all about justice and PAIN. Cold and abrupt, Dredd is everything that he should be and his relentless progress through the tower block keeps you gripped and filled with suspense throughout.

Dredd feels like it could quite easily accommodate a sequel if the right plot was found; in the same way that The Raid and The Raid 2 build on each other I imagine the same could be applied here. It’s worth a gamble on if you fancy an action film, as it’s solid and it does what it says on the tin.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.

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Guest Review: Predator

Director: John McTiernan
Year: 1987
Score: 8.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

"No seriously guys, who’s got the keys? I've been bursting since that last village and I am not in the mood to muck around!"

“No seriously guys, who’s got the keys? I’ve been bursting since that last village and I am not in the mood to muck around!”

Before the hate, let me put this score into context. Predator is an action film. Action films are not known for intense emotional dialogue, heartfelt sentiments or character evolution. They are known for blowing stuff up and beating people up. That’s it; nothing else is particularly relevant. In this regard Predator is the best action film, as it delivers all that you could possibly need from the genre.

I could waste your time and mine by explaining the plot, but you know the score; Arnold Schwarzenegger et al. are dropped into a jungle and picked off one by one by the ominous be-dreadlocked alien Predator, until a final showdown. It’s not Tolstoy, but who cares? For its time the CGI is quite advanced, and although some of the effects are starting to look a little tired the majority is achieved through live action; something that looks as good now as it did then. What Predator does surprisingly well is generate a sense of isolation, a feeling of being stranded and preyed upon that plenty of films since have tried and failed to do.

Containing iconic pearls of wisdom such as ‘Get to da choppah!’, ‘Cause some damn fool accused you of being the best’ and ‘What happened to you, Dillon? You used to be someone I could trust’, there are enough clichés to make Shakespeare spin in his grave and almost enough testosterone to fill a swimming pool (gross), but you can’t help but enjoy what’s going on.

Many will disagree on this, but to me this should be the go-to action film as far as anyone is concerned. Compare it to later contenders for example; Transformers or Predator? Independence Day or Predator? It’s no contest really. Sometimes I want to be moved by a film, sometimes I just want to be entertained. For that, there really is only one choice.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.

Guest Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

Director: J. J. Abrams
Year: 2013
Score: 8.5/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

This is where Nick Frost should be standing! It's written in my contract that Nick Frost would be here!

This is where Nick Frost should be standing! It’s written in my contract that Nick Frost would be here!

Whilst I’m not a fan of Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, this really is an excellent run out for one of television’s most revered sci-fi franchises. What this and its predecessor do so well is pure adrenalin-fuelled action, at the expense of sticking character development on the back burner; Zachary Quinto continues to do an excellent job of playing Spock; with Abrams less dependent on the character in Into Darkness than his first attempt.

Benedict Cumberbatch proves once again that he can’t be type-cast by taking up the role of Khan, a super villain with far superior strength and mental abilities who wears a long coat. This is a touch unfair as he does a very good job; both actor and role feed off each other and he provides an impassioned performance despite his character’s cold and clinical nature.

There comes a point (that I won’t spoil for you) in the plot that is so very out of touch with the rest of the film that it borders on the tedious, but the action recovers to a thrilling climax that reeks of Abrams and could be transposed into anything that’s gone before and sadly will probably remain the template when Star Wars VII: Milking The Cash Cow comes around. Don’t get me wrong – it works and it’s really good so it’s a bit churlish of me to complain, it’s more of a warm blanket of familiarity than the cold tedium of inevitability.

In summary: watch it, enjoy it.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.

Review: WarGames

Director: John Badham
Year: 1983
Score: 8/10

The WarGames movie tie-in version of the arcade game Galaga features Matthew Broderick's face staring out at the player in an effort to cause distraction.

The WarGames movie tie-in version of the arcade game Galaga features Matthew Broderick’s face staring out at the player in an effort to cause distraction.

This sci-fi(ish) thriller could very easily have not stood the test of time given how reliant it is on computer technologies that are supposed to seem futuristic. However, it still holds up, primarily because it’s really good fun, with a perfect tone and the right balance of humour and techno-thrills.

Young Matthew Broderick (several years before he was Ferris Bueller) is a great asset, nailing the role of David Lightman, the bright high school student hacker who’s quickly in over his head but manages to pull MacGyver-esque stunts to get out of any fix and solve problems his seniors just don’t understand. Other members of the cast are also good, especially Dabney Coleman, who rarely disappoints. Also look for John Spencer (The West Wing) and Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill) as the pair of missile launchers in the prologue.

A few minor criticisms: despite being one of the first mainstream movies to feature a hacker as a protagonist (a step forward in the fight for equality for nerds and geeks!), it nonetheless perpetuates stereotypes about computer nerds (Exhibit A: the scene featuring two of David’s nerdier hacker friends); David’s parents’ lack of concern about (or knowledge of) his activities, even once he’s been effectively taken into custody by government agents, is hard to believe; and there’s a bit where the love interest played by Ally Sheedy has a moment of stupidity that seems jarringly out of character, seriously asking David whether his detention by the authorities was “because of what you did with my grade?” despite already knowing that his hacking had caused a temporary military crisis. Just ignore these minor quibbles and enjoy the ride as I did.

Review: Solaris (2002)

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Year: 2002
Score: 6/10

Who wants to play 'Is this still from Gravity or Solaris?'?

Who wants to play ‘Is this still from Gravity or Solaris?’?

A hard film to review, this. Do I attempt to judge it on its own merits, or compare it to the Tarkovsky version I watched the day before? The difficulty of the former is that many of its merits are entirely derivative (though it’s touted as a new adaptation of the Lem novel rather than a remake of the Tarkovsky film), so how much praise do they really deserve? I’ll aim for somewhere in the middle.

While it’s well made by Steven Soderbergh and well acted all around, in many ways this feels pointless since it brings very little to the table that’s new. On the other hand, it trims the running time by more than an hour, which is a plus given that a key problem with the original is its length and pace. It still manages to hit on most of the original’s key plot points and meditate (if not to the same degree) on most of its philosophical questions. It’s similarly cold and lacking in action, and the relationship between the protagonist and his dead wife (cue Robyn Hitchcock) is a bit more heavy-handed.

If I’m recommending one or the other to someone who’s seen neither, I think I’d point them to the Tarkovsky version on the basis of its place in film history and the fact that it’s slightly more interesting and considerably more innovative. However, if the recommendee’s time is limited or they prefer less ambiguity, perhaps I’d point them to Soderbergh.

As a result of this film I’ve come to a realisation about Jeremy Davies: he’s great (in this as well as the TV series Justified and the films Spanking the Monkey, Rescue Dawn, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, etc.) but he pretty much plays the same character in the same way every time I see him so he must lack range.

Review: Solaris (1972)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Year: 1972
Score: 6.5/10

The Soviet Union certainly had a strange approach to wet t-shirt contests.

The Soviet Union certainly had a strange approach to wet t-shirt contests.

At 167 minutes and with a pace that makes it feel like twice that, Andrei Tarkovsky’s version of Stanisław Lem’s novel is a real slog to get through. It’s philosophical and psychological drama in the guise of a science fiction film, with a heavy dose of tragic love story (or, more accurately, an exploration of the human desire to recover lost love) thrown in too. There’s something haunting and hypnotic about it, in spite of or perhaps because of its confusing and mysterious nature. Given the sci-fi trappings, the lack of action – especially when amplified by the slow pace – is challenging to say the least. So, ultimately, is it moving and does it amount to a successful exploration of the deep questions and themes it attempts to tackle? I say no to the former, as the protagonist’s plight and the love story elements had little emotional impact on me, but mostly yes to the latter. In that regard I judge it a partial success. It’s boosted by a killer ending, one of those shocking final moments that force you to reevaluate much of what you’ve just seen. Random thought: the underlying love-conquers-science message must go down well with climate change deniers.

Guest Review: Predators

Director: Nimród Antal
Year: 2010
Score: 7/10
Reviewer: Drew Pontikis

"I'm flying, Jack! I'm flying!"

“I’m flying, Jack! I’m flying!”

The Predator franchise has taken a bit of a pounding during its lifetime; the lowest point for both the series and anyone who chose to watch it being AvP: Requiem. Happily, Predators gives it a nice warming shot of adrenalin, despite some very ropey casting and even ropier dialogue.

Having been dropped into a jungle, a collection of planet Earth’s most baddest asses group together and, having initially taken shelter under Adrien Brody’s nose, find themselves being hunted by a group of Predators on a jolly to their local planetary game reserve. The character roster is taken from The Children’s Book of Stereotypical Bad Guys; ranging from the Black Ops guy, through Yakuza, all the way to Machete (yes, the actual Machete; nope, I don’t know why either), and some of the dialogue is just awful. Of particular note is Adrien Brody’s character; it’s like he got the part at short notice, panicked, googled ‘how to look hard’, watched 25 seconds of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and thought ‘yep I’ve got this, let’s shoot us a movie!’. It’s so dreadful it reminds me of a badly dubbed ’70s kung fu movie.

Ignoring the dialogue and focussing on the action for a moment, Predators is in my opinion the best in the franchise since Arnie was directing people towards a helicopter. The action is clever, and whilst there’s rarely anything surprising it isn’t as predictable as the dialogue suggests it might be. You don’t build empathy with the characters, you’re only marginally interested in the plot, but it doesn’t matter; it does what an action film is supposed to do. Even Lawrence Fishburne’s bizarre 15 minute appearance doesn’t detract from the enjoyment, and it’s hard not be pleased that the Predators finally have a half decent film again.

Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and film fanatic. A fan of racing sims, first person shooters and horror films, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes. Follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 or read his game reviews at http://obscenegaming.wordpress.com.

Review: THX 1138

Director: George Lucas
Year: 1971
Score: 7.5/10

Shitty 2004 CGI monkeys in a low-budget 1971 sci-fi film? This, George Lucas, is why so many people hate you.

Shitty 2004 CGI monkeys in a low-budget 1971 sci-fi film? This, George Lucas, is why so many people hate you.

Fascinating low-budget dystopian sci-fi drama/thriller that’s as interesting for its actual content as it is for its place in film history as (a) George Lucas’ debut (see what he could make back when he was genuinely creative!) and (b) American Zoetrope’s first disaster. It’s highly evocative of (and, let’s be honest, rips off) Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and presents perhaps the most vivid and oppressive depiction of a non-apocalyptic dystopia I’ve seen on film. There are some core problems, mostly with the narrative (surprise, surprise!) – structurally it’s not especially coherent, the middle section (featuring our hero in a kind of prison) doesn’t really work, and the final act is disappointing in its simplistic focus on pursuit (featuring Yet Another George Lucas Car Chase™) – but there’s much to enjoy despite them. The sound design is brilliant (the oft-heard snippets of techno-babble spouted by bureaucrats who rule through surveillance are especially effective); there are some great ideas; the satirical elements still seem relevant and on-point; and the final shot is deservedly iconic. Robert Duvall is fine but frequently upstaged by the excellent Donald Pleasance. The version now available is Retcon Lucas’ 2004 reissue, featuring new CGI insertions that are mostly (with the obvious exception of the CGI monkey versions of the shell dwellers near the end) more seamless than those in the Star Wars reissues.

Review: They Live

Director: John Carpenter
Year: 1988
Score: 4.5/10

Carpenter's not-especially-subtle dig at film critics. Get it?

Carpenter’s not-especially-subtle dig at film critics. Get it?

John Carpenter’s sci-fi satire falls squarely into the ‘great idea terrible execution’ category. It takes a really long time to get going – we don’t see any of the titular aliens until a third of the way through – though that wouldn’t be such a problem if the first third wasn’t so reminiscent of bad ’80s television. The production values are terrible; don’t get me wrong, I can handle low-budget, but this is just bad. Its biggest flaws are the awful acting (especially from Roddy Piper, a professional wrestler inexplicably cast in the lead role), shitty special effects, hokey action (including a pointless fight scene between the protagonist and his eventual buddy that goes on for over five minutes), repetitive, cheap-sounding ’80s-TV-show music (co-written by Carpenter), and characters whose behaviour is constantly baffling (seriously, Piper is incapable of convincing others to try the sunglasses by giving them a brief summary of what’s going on??). Some of Piper’s lines, such as “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass – and I’m all out of bubble gum” and “Brother, life’s a bitch – and she’s back in heat”, are the sort of things that might have worked coming from Ash in the Evil Dead movies or Duke in the Duke Nukem video games (which actually ended up using them!), but they’re cheesy in a bad way here. The real shame is that the premise is so promising; it’s clear Carpenter had some interesting ideas, not to mention some worthwhile satirical points to make, but all was squandered in execution.

Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Director: Philip Kaufman
Year: 1978
Score: 7.5/10

In a bizarre cameo with no lines, Robert Duvall shows up as a priest playing on a swing surrounded by kids. Because, you know, there's nothing creepy about that at all.

In a bizarre cameo with no lines, Robert Duvall shows up as a priest playing on a swing surrounded by kids. Because, you know, there’s nothing creepy about that at all.

Effectively creepy alien invasion movie has a palpable sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness. Keeping our perspective so localised – forcing us to fearfully imagine what might be going on outside of San Francisco – adds to the tension nicely. Denny Zeitlin’s unusual score also works well. Donald Sutherland and a young Jeff Goldblum are solid, as is Brooke Adams, who I’ve previously only seen in Days of Heaven. For a movie about an invasion, there’s precious little violence. The ending is satisfying and memorable. Caveat: I haven’t seen the 1956 version; I watched this version first, having heard it was superior.

Review: Elysium

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Year: 2013
Score: 5.5/10

This futuristic facial reconstruction sequence is a lot like watching one of those time-lapse videos of animals decomposing - but in reverse. Cool.

This futuristic facial reconstruction sequence is a lot like watching one of those time-lapse videos of animals decomposing – but in reverse. Cool.

Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to one of my all-time favourite sci-fi movies, District 9, was always likely to disappoint me, but I was surprised by just how much. It has some cool ideas and visuals, and some of the action is staged well, but it’s dramatically defective. No matter how hard they push the childhood flashback angle, there’s very little emotional impact of anything that happens, let alone the final sacrifice. Also, amusingly, the climactic plot device is basically a variant of ‘Have you tried switching it off and back on?’. Matt Damon is passable; Jodie Foster, on the other hand, overacts and uses a weird accent. Oddly, they share no scenes together. Does this mean District 9 was a fluke? I’ll be watching what Blomkamp does next with interest to find out.