Tag Archive for 'Sci-Fi'

Doctor Who, Series 2

Doctor Who, Series 2 (9/10/15) Netflix (2005-06 ***1/2) Created by Sydney Newman, starring David Tennant, Billie Piper, Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke and Penelope Wilton as Harriet Jones. 14 episodes, originally aired 12/25/05 – 6/8/06. A time-traveling alien and his companion, Rose Tyler, go about the known universe, and history, getting into trouble and doing their best to sort things out. First off, I understand that David Tennant is considered to be one of the favorite Doctors, but I felt like I had just gotten used to Christopher Eccleston in the role and it took me a few episodes to warm to Tennant, who I felt tended to over-act at the drop of a hat. I’ve heard from a number of people that the “new” Doctor Who series starts out rough but at some point the production values should start to reflect bigger budgets. I found the on-screen “values” to be widely varying over the course of the season, though there’s a general sense that they’re “doing the best they can with what money they’ve got.” I haven’t watched any of the old Tom Baker-era episodes since I was a teenager, but they evidently made an impact on me: There was something about the 4th episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” that really, really felt like an episode from the late-1970s. It had this whole “shot in the studio” vibe to it, from beginning to end. I have no idea if that was intentional or not. This second season / series also started digging into the old show in a big way, featuring appearances by K-9, The Daleks, The Cybermen and even Sarah Jane Smith, one of the Doctor’s previous companions. As I explained in my review of the first series, I started watching the show on Netflix while by wife was out of town, not sure if I would really commit to it. But I think I actually may have crossed a certain threshold fan-wise: At some point the Daleks went from being ridiculous tin cans with irritating voices to being mildly scary creatures. Does this make me a “Whovian?”

Doctor Who, Series 1

Doctor Who, Series 1 (8/31/15) Netflix (2005 ***1/4) Series created by Sydney Newman, starring Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke and John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness. 13 episodes, originally aired 3/26/05 – 6/18/05. A Time Lord picks up a 19-year-old companion named Rose Tyler and takes her on a whirlwind tour of time and space, leaving a trail of dead bodies in the wake of his TARDIS. Even though my wife and I had watched the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood in its entirety, I had deliberately put off watching the parent show. But with my wife out of town on her long European holiday and having run low on things to watch, I figured: “Now’s the time.” I had heard from various friends that the “new” Doctor Who reboot (which is ten years old now) starts out very cheesy before settling into something more serious. Consequently I wasn’t entirely surprised by the flatulent extraterrestrial Slitheen family and things of that nature. I also had a memory from my teenage years of watching a handful of Tom Baker episodes of the old show, and, from what I could tell, the new incarnation had a great deal in common with it. I can see the appeal of the show. But am I down with watching another seven seasons? I don’t know. On another note: Sometimes I’m embarrassed by my inability to make even the simplest of connections, but I didn’t realize until after watching most the first season that Billie Piper (who plays Rose) also recently played Frankenstein’s third creation Lily in Penny Dreadful.

Robocop

Robocop (8/25/15) Netflix (2014 ***) Directed by José Padilha, starring Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Jackie Earle Haley and Samuel L. Jackson. When the only honest cop in the corrupt Detroit police department gets blown up in his driveway, a robotics company gives him a second chance to clean up the city. I enjoyed this remake more than I expected, mostly because I expected almost zero from it. The film was cast with always-nice-to-see faces in major roles, but I wish they’d cast a more interesting and/or familiar lead. This attempted franchise reboot also tinkered with the original premise, and in particular with the basics of the main character and his relationship with his family. This very much altered the story dynamics in a way that may have been an attempt at a more relatable central character, but resulted in a weaker story overall. The other major questionable decision was to tone down the original series R-rated content to PG-13 level, in the hopes of producing a series with wider appeal. Not surprisingly, it did not result in a better film. However, ignoring that, the new version of Robocop was still mildly entertaining, with a couple of juicy Easter eggs thrown in as well.

Contact

Contact (8/22/15) HBO (1997 ***) Directed by Robert Zemeckis, based on the novel by Carl Sagan, starring Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, David Morse and William Fichtner. When young astrophysicist isn’t busy boning rugged-looking men of the cloth, she spends every waking minute listening for extra-terrestrial voices. I hadn’t watched this film since it was originally released. I remember being fairly disappointed by it, actually, having expected much more from Robert Zemeckis, the director behind Back to the Future (1985) and Best Picture winner Forrest Gump (1994). My expectations were clearly higher than they should have been. It’s interesting that this film shares something in common with another film I watched lately, one that also stars Matthew McConaughey: Interstellar (2014). Both films begin on fairly grounded reality, then progress into a second act related to the execution of a large-scale space project / mission, before reaching a dramatic climax that is (no spoilers here) somewhat abstract in nature. I gotta say that McConaughey’s acting chops had improved substantially in the interim.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (8/22/15) HBO (2001 ***1/4) Directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss, starring Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, Sam Robards and William Hurt. The parents of a young boy in a coma open their home — and possibly their hearts — to an incredible simulation of a scientist’s dead son. I remember seeing this film when it was first released, and my takeaway at the time was that it started out feeling like one of Spielberg’s best films… but then it took a turn and became something very disappointing. Nearly 15 years later, I can see it with somewhat fresh eyes and lowered expectations. The film divides itself into three distinct parts, the latter two of which are separated by… let’s just say a significant time span. Each of those parts has its own tone, and the jarring shift between the first and second parts was by design. I also appreciate more that Spielberg undertook one hell of a risk by taking up the deceased Stanley Kubrick’s final film and seeing it through to completion. Finally, I would like to give a shout-out to my former PDI co-workers who worked on the effects for A.I. (I did not.) Somewhere in our cupboard I still have a commemorative souvenir glass from the project.

Interstellar

Interstellar (7/29/15) Norwegian Airlines: OSL -> LAX (2014 ***1/4) Directed by Christopher Nolan, starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Matt Damon and Michael Caine. On a planet seemingly set on the hostile rejection of its human inhabitants, mankind’s only hope may exist on the other side of a conveniently-placed wormhole. While I avoided spoilers, I had heard mixed things about this movie. In particular I’d heard things like “I liked the first half.” or “I enjoyed it up to a certain point…” This film is what would be considered for the silver screen as hard-core science fiction. One of the fundamental things it asks of its audience is an understanding of relativistic physics and what that means in terms of time passage at different frames of reference. Put simply, you must accept the ramifications of spending too much time around black holes. While I refrain from being specific enough to give anything away, I will say the film contains a sequence that — while I understood what was happening — was just abstract enough that it nearly lost me as an audience member. However, I will ultimately judge Interstellar by how it affected me emotionally, and I did find it to be emotionally satisfying overall.

Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland (6/22/15) DWA Screening (2015 ***) Directed by Brad Bird, starring George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie and Raffey Cassidy as Athena. A teenage girl discovers a lapel pin that gives her a glimpse of a Utopian futuristic world. By now the verdict on Tomorrowland is already in: It’s a dud, both critically and at the box office. This is unfortunate, especially since Brad Bird (Iron Giant, The Incredibles) is such a beloved figure. And while we may never get to see his San Francisco earthquake film 1902, he had proven his ability to helm a big-budget action film with Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol (2011). For me, Tomorrowland started strong, with a good first act and the first half of the second, but then at the midpoint its fuse fizzled out and it ended weakly. I loved the message: That there was a time not so long ago when the future was seen as an amazing place, filled with wonders limited only by the imagination. On an intellectual level, I appreciated the elegance of pitting Utopian versus dystopian versions of the future against each other. Unfortunately, for Tomorrowland, that conflict was presented almost too literally, and what action there was in the film’s climax didn’t feel especially meaningful.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World (6/21/15) Glendale Pacific 18 (2015 ***1/2) Directed by Colin Trevorrow, starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio and Jake Johnson. Decades after the original Jurassic Park fiasco, gene-splicing efforts to create a new attraction (and species) prove… regrettable. I still remember how turn-paging Michael Crichton’s original novel was and the thrill of sitting in a packed theater in the summer of 1993 to see Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park. After two somewhat disappointing sequels in 1997 and 2001, the Universal franchise lay dormant for a decade and a half, yet never quite going away. I went to Jurassic World with limited expectations. Quite frankly, I didn’t expect anything more than a fun roller coaster ride, and that I got in abundance. In a way, the film’s core premise — that in order to boost the audience they had to genetically design a pretty freaking horrifying dinosaur — was the story of this film too, which looks to break all kinds of box office records. Also, you get to see Chris Pratt ride a motorcycle through a jungle with his velociraptor buddies!

Multiplicity

Multiplicity (6/20/15) Encore (1996 **1/2) Directed by Harold Ramis, starring Michael Keaton, Andie MacDowell and Michael Keaton. A stressed-out contractor meets a crazy scientist with the answer to his time-management woes: Cloning. Back in the mid-1990s, the late Harold Ramis’ looked for a concept worthy of following up his beloved Groundhog Day (1993). His solution was to use the relatively new motion control technology pioneered in the Back to the Future sequel in 1989 to give the world multiple (I won’t reveal how many) Michael Keatons. Plus, at its heart was a theme nearly everybody living in the busy modern world could identify with. Yeah, on paper it must have seemed like a good enough idea, but somehow the execution left something to be desired. Possibly the problem was that not enough was done to exploit the premise, with too much relying on Michael Keaton’s various performance(s) and the gimmick itself.

Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek: Insurrection (6/17/15) TMC (1998 **) Directed by Jonathan Frakes, starring Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden and F. Murray Abraham as Ru’afo. Starship Captain Jean-Luc Picard breaks the rules and disobeys the Federation’s plan to relocate the inhabitants of a special planet. This film was barely watchable, begging the question: Was this the film that killed the franchise? No, as it turns out, it was not: Star Trek: Nemesis was released in 2002. With all deference to Jonathan Frakes’ directing talents, it was probably not the wisest decision to let him helm a big-budget theatrical release, let alone two. This was actually his second Star Trek feature, having directed Star Trek: First Contact two years previously. While I haven’t watched that 1996 film since around the time it was released, Star Trek: Insurrection definitely resembled a slightly bigger-budget episode of the TV series, making it perfectly watchable, but with very little to recommend it. According to Frakes’ Imdb.com filmography, this was the last feature film he directed, but he has been quite active as a TV director in the past decade and a half.