Tag Archives: Science Fiction

B Movie Glory: Sci Fighters

Picture a bleached out, acid washed dime-store version of Blade Runner on a shoestring, bargain budget and you’ll have some notion of Sci Fighters, a silly futuristic flick starring lovable wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper and B Movie stock villain Billy Drago. By most standards it’s a miserable little exercise in schlock, but if that’s your thing to begin with, it’s a pearl. So it’s set in 2009, and the film was made in 96’, which going by a combination of the math and the severely bleak atmosphere, the filmmakers didn’t even stretch their timeline barely past twenty years from their date, showing either amusing carelessness in writing or even more amusing cynicism for where we’re headed, and how fast. The setting is Boston, and it’s a goddamn slum, with perpetually overcast skies, garbage heaps everywhere and a general sense that people have given up. Piper is Grayson, a hard boiled detective on the trail of a somewhat unusual killer. Far above earth in a filthy off-world prison on the moon, criminal Dunn (Drago) has encountered some weird alien parasite which hijacks his gaunt frame and torpedos back stateside to start a murder spree. Drago vs Piper in a sad-sack, disease ridden Boston is pretty much the suitable logline, and it’s not half bad. Piper makes a more grounded leading man than the film deserves, while Drago is straight up certifiable (nothing new) especially when the extraterrestrial, who has a garbled and endearing speech impediment, is controlling him. Effort is put into the atmosphere to some degree, but I feel like the success in achieving mood was probably also by accident of just leaving shit lying around set. A true peculiarity, worth it only for fans of the two actors and schlock-hounds alike.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

Luc Besson’s Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets

Luc Besson’s Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a lot of fun here and there, but I couldn’t help being a smidge underwhelmed by the whole deal, having waited years for news of a new Besson space opera following his insta-classic The Fifth Element. There’s just… something missing in the magic here, an undercurrent that should be cohesively flowing through it that’s sort of absent, leaving it feeling very episodic and loose. It’s not the heavy CGI that bothered me either, as the effects here are some of the most flat out amazing and well done graphics I’ve ever seen, particularly in a prologue set on a shell beach style planet with avatar natives running about, a stunning way to open the picture. No, it’s something illusory that didn’t ring true, something that was there in Fifth Element and just didn’t make it to the meeting this time around. The story centres on space feds Valerian (Dane DeHaan, who I just can’t help but be annoyed by in anything I see him in) and Lauraline (Cara Delevigne), hunting through the universe for a treasured artifact from aforementioned shell beach planet, mainly focusing on a manufactured megastructure housing over eight hundred million different species, all clambering over each other in the craziest, most colourful celebration of special effects to come along in a while. Seriously, the wildly varied aliens, gorgeous vistas and chase sequences set in the City are really something to be proud of, and when the film is in action mode, it’s a delight. Story suffers a lot though, with Clive Owen awkwardly hamming his way through a military captain role, John Goodman playing Jabba The Hut, a vague genocide subplot involving the avatar dudes, it all happens dimly and is hard to get a grasp on from scene to scene. Also, the writing for Lauraline and Valerian’s suuuuccckkkks. It’s meant to be adorable, glib romantic back and forth, yet just feels clipped, unnatural and stale. DeHaan drones on with it, and doesn’t ever feel at home in the role unless he’s doing stunts that don’t involve dialogue. Delevigne fares better and seems to really be having fun with her role, stealing the show from under Valerian’s nose. The best acting work of the film, shockingly, comes briefly from Rihanna as a shapeshifter thing called Bubble with an affinity for dancing and a hopeless romantic’s heart. Ethan Hawke is also there as some kind of zany cowboy pimp, an energy that’s a far cry away from his usual stone-faced intensity. Watch for the quickest ever cameo from an under-utilized Rutger Hauer, so fleeting that if you’re even a minute late to the theatre you won’t have a clue he’s in it. I did enjoy lots with this one, including a romp through the dining hall of a gluttonous alien race that resemble Harry Potter trolls, a fantastic extended action set piece in a sprawling bazaar market that overlaps into multiple dimensions, providing clever shortcuts, escapes and pratfalls for all involved, and the rich detail in costume design as Valerian travels through Rihanna’s section of the City, not to mention top drawer special effects all about the film. It just didn’t have the heart or connective tissue to make all these elements stick or resonate though, like a shattered mirror whose pieces are off lost somewhere. I found myself wanting to pop in my Fifth Element DVD multiple times, for there the story provoked emotion and made you deeply care for it’s two intrepid protagonists and their romance, whereas here it just feels a bit lifeless and forced, with an overarching narrative that needed way, way more fleshing out to really work or go somewhere. Next time, Luc.

-Nate Hill

Jaco Van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody 


Ever see a film that you actually can’t really, properly describe to someone? You often hear “it’s hard to describe”, but you know those ones where you really do find yourself short of a five second cocktail party summary, left with nothing to compare it to and no way to impart the contents in quick, succinct jargon? Jaco Van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody is exactly that type of film, an experience so dense, disorienting and thought provoking that one needs at least a few months after the initial viewing alone to ruminate, mull it over and meditate on what was seen before even a word of analysis is offered. On surface level it’s about a man named Nemo Nobody, played by Jared Leto in a jaw dropping, multifaceted encore of a performance. Nemo is over a hundred years old, the last mortal on an earth of now immortal humans, and he recounts his life, or many lives, rather, to a journalist. That’s the diving board that vaults into an intricate narrative full of love, grief, joy, tragedy and the peculiarities of being human. We see Nemo at hundreds of junctures of his life, penultimate crossroads where he could make either choice, but if he makes neither of them, can then see both outcomes, how they carry forward his trajectory into the future towards more crossroads, more lives, more decisions, like the infinitely branching tributaries of an ever flowing river. How would one make a film like this work onscreen, you ask? Well, not easily. The thing runs almost three hours and often gets a little caught up in itself, especially in the midsection, but it’s sheer ambition and uniquely structured storytelling carry it on wings of light, spanning through a hundred years and countless events that Nemo sees passing. He has three loves, or at least three the film focuses on: luminous Ana, played by an excellent Juno Temple and then Diane Kruger as she gets older, mentally unstable Elise (Sarah Polley) and Jean (Linh Dan Pham), all of whom help shape him or have key parts to play along the branches of his tree of life. There’s a lynchpin event from his youth upon which it all hinges though; faced with the decision to move away with his mother (Natasha Little) as her train leaves, or stay behind with his father (Rhys Ifans), the boy begins to run, but also looks back. This nano-moment is the key to eternity here, the introspective Big Bang that gives way to our story. At times the film lags, and the slack could have been pulled tighter during the development of the three relationships, but the first and third acts that bookend the whole thing move along like the forces unseen around us, using cinematic tools to compose a symphony of motion, music, scientific pondering and emotional resonance. No other film is like this one, and my attempts to describe it above still just don’t even scratch the surface of the dreams found within its runtime. There’s only a few other ones out there that have aspirations as cosmic as this one, and most, including this, have made it into my personal canon of favourites. Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, The Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas and Terence Malick’s Tree Of Life are such films, and Mr. Nobody now sits at their table. 

-Nate Hill

Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce

Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce is the most dementedly unique horror SciFi mashup you’ll get. Based on a novel that’s literally titled ‘The Space Vampires’, the film is exactly that and more. It’s so out of it’s mind that at a certain point you have to surrender and bask in it, and grab the sides of the cart as it veers between all kinds of increasingly bonkers plot points. When a strange, rice kernel shaped object shows up in earth’s atmosphere, a team of exploratory astronauts led by intrepid Steve Railsback goes on up to investigate. What they find up there eclipses any weirdness aboard the Nostromo, Millennium Falcon or Event Horizon. Intergalactic vampires lie in creepy cryo suspension, just waiting for unlucky hosts to come along. Soon they’re exposed to earth and it’s a gory mad dash all over London to stope them from turning every earthling into zombies. Yes, that’s actually the plot, and despite how it sounds on paper, they really make it work. That’s mostly thanks to the screen shattering, ridiculously good special effects, especially in the opening aboard the alien’s strange, baroque vessel which is one of the most otherworldly and atmospheric sequences in any horror film ever. Once the action shifts back to earth it’s a pure shit show and near comedy of errors, with Railsback’s frenzied cosmonaut teaming up with a peppy British intelligence agent (Peter Firth), and even Patrick Stewart comes out to play as some vague scientific bro. There’s boundless imagination at work here, carried by sheer movie magic to contribute lasting, impressive images and create an entirely unique horror experience. Plus, how could a flick about space vampires not be amazing (we will not speak of Dracula 3000). A sci-Fi horror classic, an under-sung jewel of visual flights of fancy and practical effects laden nightmares.  

-Nate Hill

Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049: Thoughts from Nate Hill


As I settled in to watch Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner: 2049 in a thundering imax theatre, I truly did not know what to expect. I’d successfully avoided spoilers up until that point, done a scant bit of reading hither and thither on a surface level, and obviously been privy to the mind boggling, overwhelmingly positive buzz that’s been flowing forth since the first critics were screened. ‘Masterpiece’, ‘Movie even of the century’ and ‘instant classic’ were some of the lofty adulations that were being hurled around right out of the gate, and it’s not often a sequel to such a long worshipped, culturally influential bombshell of a science fiction film has been welcomed so eagerly and almost unanimously praised. There’s been a gulf of time between Ridley Scott’s 1982 neon fever dream, which is indeed a masterpiece and one of my favourite films of all time, and the shoes to fill have never, ever been bigger. So, does it live up to the original? Is it better? Worse? Pandering fan service or bold pioneer trek into new galaxies of thematic and tonal exploration? The answers to those questions are somewhat more complicated than yes, no or similar succinct absolutes. I can say, however, that Villeneuve’s near three hour machine-dream is one of the most beautiful, ambitious, thoughtful, well wrought films I’ve ever seen, a staggering achievement in all arenas and indeed a piece of cinema they’ll be talking about for years to come. It’s a masterpiece on its own terms, blending elements of the original which we all loved, but bravely surging forward into it’s own brand new chapter of this world, a little bleaker and more austere than the poetic lullabies of Scott’s L.A., yet no less wondrous or sumptuous a creation. This is a world where quite a bit of time has passed since the initial story, and the environment these characters dwell in has shifted along with it. Los Angeles is wearier, emptier and less of a gong show than we remember, yet the buzzing life that we recall catching fleeting glimpses of between monolithic, impossibly gigantic skyscrapers is still there, that endless nocturnal hum has thrived through into a new age. So too have replicants, now far more advanced, under the label and stewardship of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his mega corporation. Ryan Gosling plays a young blade Runner, a profession, it seems, that has not run out of supply in demand. Under the very stern watch of LAPD Captain Joshi (Robin Wright, terrific) he navigates a meticulously paced detective story that, yes, eventually leads him to missing former Blade Runner Rick Deckerd, played by Harrison Ford in one staggeringly well pitched performance. That’s all I’ll really be specific about in terms of plot, because it’s a gorgeously wrapped present that should be opened corner by corner, inch by inch until the viewer has actively and emotionally seen the big picture, a thoughtful process that challenges the audience and should be the standard not just for science fiction, but for big budget films in general. While Blade Runner 1982 was a visual and musical feast for the senses and still maintains that edge over it’s sequel, 2049 has a cerebral and multifaceted patchwork quilt of themes, questions and notions that play across the screen like a ballet of auroral, magnificent wonders, layered, ponderous cinema with an emotional weight and resonance that took me right off guard, a quality that although present in 1982, wasn’t quite as developed as what we get here. Hans Zimmer’s score is every bit the thundering piece you’d expect and is brilliant, a slightly industrialized departure from the lyrical, ethereal tones of Vangelis, but equally as captivating. I could go on, but I’ll let you see the thing for yourself and paint your own picture. I’ll say this: Blade Runner 1982 is the rainbow coloured light shone through a prism, abstract, illusory and trancelike. 2049 is the prism itself, the source of the light and the place where it’s understood from a more conscious, waking-life perspective, and that’s the closest I can get to explaining just how different these films are from each other. One is a dream poem, the other is a deep methodical meditation, but both are vital halves of the mythology. However you look at it, Villeneuve’s 2049 is astounding, achingly beautiful work on every level, not to mention the work of everyone’s favourite unsung maestro, cinematographer Roger Deakins. This is an important film, as it may just hasten the exodus of brainless big budget fluff and help Hollywood enter a golden age of well crafted, intelligent blockbuster films once again. One can dream.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Sender


The Sender is godawful Z-Grade SciFi with cloying, grating intentions, a script with War Of The World’s type ambitions that was given an allowance of like ten bucks to come into fruition, and the result is a windows 98 screensaver with a fraction of a pulse. It’s a shame because they scored two dope actors in Michael Madsen and R. Lee Ermey, but as good as they are they’re both sheepishly notorious for appearing in bottom feeding diarrhea like this to put food on the table. Madsen strains his tear ducts as the sympathetic father whose adorable daughter has mysterious connections to extraterrestrial activity from years before. He’s on the run from all kinds of government folks including Ermey’s gonzo, overzealous military asshole, a one dimensional fire and brimstone go-getter who hunts them six ways to Sunday. That’s about all you’ll get, besides cameos from Dyan Cannon and golden oldie Robert Vaughn, as well as some Fisher Price worthy UFO effects and an all round lack of pride in the craft from everyone involved. Poo.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Xchange 


Imagine Face/Off, but cheaper and the ‘face off’ concept replaced by actual body/soul teleportation and you have Xchange, a fairly decent, pretty silly little low grade, high concept SciFi piece with some decent actors (barring Stephen Baldwin, that hamface) and a story that makes you think, albeit not too strenuously. Somewhere in the nearish future, a company called Xchange has patented a weird body mind swapping doohickey that allows instantaneous teleportation via swapping my out with another person’s body over at your destination. Of course a method like this attracts trouble, in the form of terrorist Kyle MacLachlan, who wants to do all sorts of mean things with the technology. A counter agent (Kim Coates) hunts him down, and a random blue collar worker (Baldwin) unwittingly gets caught up in the espionage, finds himself trapped in a clone’s body whilst the terrorist and agent switch places, and… yeah. Something like that. I’m sure the movie makes more sense than this review, but I may have been under the influence of certain things when I watched it. MacLachlan and Coates are a funny pairing, as one is obviously suited as the villain (Kim), while the other always seems to play upright types (shades of Agent Cooper here). Kyle gets to be mean for about five minutes right in the opening, before the ol’ switcharoo goes down and then Kim flexes his all too familiar, and always entertaining villain muscles, which seems to be a calculated casting choice by the powers that be. I remember this being not half bad, but any film with Baldwin (exception for The Usual Suspects) just sinks a bit simply by having him around to stink it up with his presence, although the other two do just fine with their roles. Definite late night cable background noise when everyone else is passed out. 

-Nate Hill