Tag Archives: Science Fiction

K Pax


K-Pax is a beautifully told, warmhearted film that despite being mildly frustrating in it’s persistent ambiguity, is no doubt a better film for never really drawing a line and stepping to one side of it. Kevin Spacey is charming and sad as a mysterious man called Prot. Prot lives in a psychiatric ward and claims to be from a distant planet (named K Pax, naturally) in a faraway galaxy. Jeff Bridges plays the kindly therapist assigned to take care of him and eventually coach him out of his delusions. But are they delusions? Prot boasts uncanny, impossible knowledge of the solar systems and beyond, and won’t budge on a single detail of his story, which is not characteristic of someone suffering mental illness. Is Prot really who he says he is, or simply a man with a past so deeply traumatic that he’s spun this web of science fiction around his pain and nestled into it like a cosmic comfort blanket? This is where the film refuses to delineate or choose, which is either it’s one fallacy or it’s strongest, bravest creative quality, I haven’t decided yet. It’s interesting that they’ve casted Bridges because there’s a noticeable vibe akin to John Carpenter’s Starman here, which he starred in. Spacey and him are pure magic, navigating their scenes of dialogue like a dance of light, showing kindness and compassion in a situation that breeds confusion and fear. The supporting cast is peppered with talent including David Patrick Kelly, Mary McCormack, Aaron Paul, Alfre Woodward and Bill Lucking, but it’s Bridges and Spacey’s show all the way, and they turn the script they’re given into spun gold. Not to mention the crisp, brilliantly lit cinematography courtesy of John Mathieson as well. It’s one thing to come across intelligent science fiction, but when a film has the emotional heft to back up the tech and brains, you get the whole package, and this one delivers. 

-Nate Hill

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Immortal: Ad Vitam


Immortal: Ad Vitam is comic book based high fantasy that wasn’t handed a budget big enough to sustain it’s visual dreams, and sadly as a result is the oddest looking thing ever, like a cross between a screensaver and an early 90’s video game cut scene. Set in some distant surreal future where ancient Egyptian gods (who may just be extraterrestrials) rule over a stylized New York City full of mutant humans, it’s a striking yet incomplete vision. When god Horus is sentenced to die, he descends from a giant floating pyramid in the sky and searches for both a male human host to carry his essence and a female one to bear a child, continuing his holy lineage in case he gets caught. Or… something like that, it’s a weird ass movie. German actor Thomas Kretschmann plays Nikopol, a prisoner who escapes cryo-incarceration after a ward malfunction, now on the loose and playing host to Horus, who’s thoughts he can hear in his head. A rogue doctor (Charlotte Rampling) has discovered a girl (Linda Hardy) she deems a genetic anomaly, also catching Horus’s attention. Now, the creator of the comic book, Enki Bilal, is also credited as director and seems to be adapting his own work, but it’s a shame that he didn’t strive for proper funding in order to sell the visual effects, because as it is now I can’t even give the film a decent rep simply based on the kindergarten level CGI that permeates the whole thing and pulls you right out of the story. It’s sad because the story has such promise, it’s really a creative blast with some unique ideas, and the human actors hold their own, especially Kretschmann, but they’re afloat in a pixelated, ill rendered botch-job of a visual palette and it’s quite a drag to have to sit through. Some of the cityscapes look reasonably polished, but as soon as we zoom in and see gods or human/animal splices walking around it’s cringe time. I will say that effects aside they’ve created a terrifically eerie atmosphere though, truly otherworldly, dreamy Blade Runner style aura that helps quite a bit. Perhaps one day they can go back with money, a team and fix all the potholes so one can truly enjoy this potentially great film. Until then, it’s a bit hard to take seriously as a whole. 

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Progeny


What do you get if you cross Rosemary’s Baby with The X Files? 1998’s Progeny, or something like it anyway. Surprisingly thoughtful, restrained and adept for a B movie, it’s got a tightly wound little story about a human woman (Jillian McWhirter) who is impregnated by extraterrestrials that are tinkering around with our biology for who knows why. Her husband (Arnold ‘Imhotep’ Vosloo) is at a loss and doesn’t know where to turn as her condition gets progressively more… icky. Help comes in the form of two kindly doctors (Lindsay Crouse and Wilford ‘Diabeetus’ Brimley) and a UFO-ologist played by an unusually laid back Brad Dourif, but will their collective effort be enough to save her life, remove whatever being is in her womb and escape the attention of the aliens for good? Browsing the shelves this looks like a full on schlock-fest based on the cast and general vibe, but it’s something a bit more tasteful that takes itself just seriously enough to separate it from the mass of junk in this arena. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some slick scares and a few gooey wtf moments, but they’re used with a modicum of discretion and as such feel earned, always taking a backseat to the actors who give the human drama weight. Great little forgotten sci-if/horror. 

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Johnny 2.0


It’s always fun to come across genuinely intelligent science fiction films, especially when you go into them expecting a half assed, clunky yawn, which happens frequently. Johnny 2.0 is an overlooked little cyber-punk gem in an unassuming release package, a thinking man’s sci-fi story that could have easily gone the other way, but contains enough inspired creativity to rise above the muck. Jeff Fahey plays Johnny Dalton, a genetic researcher whose facility is attacked by activists. Waking up from the disaster he is stunned to find that he’s not Johnny at all anymore, but a clone who has been in cryo for 25 years, awakened now for one purpose: set out across a post apocalyptic wasteland to retrieve the original Dalton and smoke out a web of conspiracies that have hatched over the years. There’s all sorts of really intriguing ideas at play here including MRI memory mapping, organic tracking suits, genetic reconfiguration and personalized holograms, a wealth of scientific world building that earns this film its stripes in the artistic departments. Fahey is excellent, as is a noble Michael Ironside, Tahnee Welch and John Neville. Super solid storytelling, ideas worth exploring, an impressive level of design and atmosphere achieved despite the limited funds, there’s not too much you can say about this one that is not the highest of praises. 

-Nate Hill

Gabe Ibáñez’s Automata 


Gabe Ibáñez’s Automata had the misfortune of being released in the shadow of another film concerning robotics and artificial intelligence, Ex Machina. It’s hard to compete with the kind of hype that film generated back in 2015, and as such it kind of slipped through the cracks. It’s a shame because there’s much about that’s striking, stylized and fascinating, despite being a bit too elaborate for it’s own good. Drenched in a rainy neon Blade Runner atmosphere, it follows a bleak story involving insurance investigator Jacq Vaucan (a bald, somber Antonio Banderas) as he navigates a broken world ravaged by solar storms that have whittled down the human populace to around twenty million. Robots have been employed to rebuild the dying infrastructure, and Jacq keeps tabs in case any of them violate their primary directive, under the stewardship of his boss (Robert Forster). When rogue police officer Wallace (Dylan McDermott is dynamite) shoots a robot he claims was trying to alter itself, Jacq surmises that there’s a ‘clocksmith’ out there trying to give them minds of their own. It’s all very vague and we never really have anything more than illusory whispers or half explained concepts to go on, but these matters find him and the company’s nasty head of security (Tim McInnerney) venturing far out into the desert where a faction of robots, led by Javier Bardem no less, have grossly deviated their protocol and are evolving into… something else. Banders’s once wife Melanie Griffith does double duties as a creepy liaison in their case and the voice of a sympathetic sex slave-bot who plays a key role. I’m not entirely sure what the story arc is supposed to be, as it’s often muddled and dense, but it seems confident that it has one, and isn’t just flying blind into Euro experimental abstract mode as some scenes suggest. It has a point to make, it’s just wrapped that up in enigmatic fashion and cloaked any sense of linear exposition in blankets of atmospheric ambient sound, deliberately indistinct story beats and strangeness. I’m okay with that to an extant, as there’s plenty to enjoy visually, especially with the robots and their design, but many won’t be and will want more than just machine dreams without a manual to guide them. I for one enjoyed the memorable image of bald, parka clad Banderas hunting primordial androids in a washed out, used up wasteland. All that’s missing is a score by Vangelis or Tangerine Dream.  

-Nate Hill

Stuart Gordon’s Fortress


Stuart Gordon’s Fortress is one of the more overlooked dystopian sci-fi thrillers of the 90’s, and despite somewhat being a B-movie, it holds its own in pretty much every department. Quality story, terrific acting (even from the king of stilted delivery himself, Christopher Lambert) and a story with more depth than the poster or marketing might suggest. Lambert plays an unfortunate man on the run with his wife (Loryn Locklin) in an America of the future where having more than one child per mother is prohibited. They’re both nabbed trying to make a break for Mexico, locked away in a horrific prison called Fortress, a place where science has run amok and all kinds of neurological and biological experiments are performed on the inmates under the steely direction of evil Director Poe (Kurtwood Smith). Fortress is an unorthodox nightmare where basic rights are replaced by those of cattle or worse, and no one is safe from micro implants, mind alteration and all sorts of fun stuff. Lambert plans an elaborate escape with the help of various inmates including Vernon Wells, the late Tom Towles, Jeffrey Combs and Clifton Collins Jr., all putting in excellent and varied performances. The scene stealer is Kurtwood Smith though, who is usually cheeky, psychotic or sarcastic in his work. Taking on the type of role that typically goes to a Malcolm McDowell type guy, he tackles a character that is the farthest thing from sympathetic you could find and sort of turns that on its head, making him seem very much human in one galvanizing piece of acting work. You can label this type of thing second tier or low budget, write it off or not take it seriously, but the fact remains that many of these efforts are works of art in their own right, beautifully crafted adventure stories set in universes more vibrant and imaginative than our own, stories just to the left left of normal and full of schlock, machines, creature effects and smoke machines. Gordon is a master in this arena (remind me to tell you about Space Truckers one day), a creative force to rival Roger Corman and the like. Fortress is my personal favourite in his stable, and one shouldn’t underestimate its entertainment value and ability to hold up decades later. Oh and also, this suffers from an adorable condition I call Blade Runner Syndrome™, in which the far off year the film’s timeline exists in has been caught up to by our own trajectory, making the films future look like our past. This film’s specific year? 2017, as you’ll see in the poster above. That means that right now, Lambert and Smith are duking it out in that clandestine compound somewhere out there. Cool thought. 

-Nate Hill

What David did next…

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When we last saw David he was pulling a Gwyneth Paltrow. He and Noomi Rapace were off to find answers ’cause The Engineers didn’t want to chat much about their deadly ink or their venomous space cobras.

But before we get to that, let’s go back in time to when people enjoyed the benefits of minimal furnishings and Guy Pearce had no need of old man make-up. We learn little in this austere setting, except for the fact that David is well versed in art and music, and, he has been cursed with the same disease that brought about the demise of the cat. Namely . . . curiosity.

And it would seem, after some reflection in the wake of Alien Covenant,  that curiosity isn’t only lethal to cats, but indeed any and all who go in search of the origins of deep space signals  and derelict spaceships. You could very well make the case that curiosity is the driving force in the Alien franchise, or at least, the main reason the cast members of these movies frequently end up in the shit.

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After a little musical interlude featuring a familiar theme and an equally familiar main title sequence, just to remind us that Covenant is indeed and Alien picture, we quickly find ourselves with our most recent batch of disposable characters soon back up that famous creek, without a paddle.

We receive a brief audience with the dutiful brother of David, Walter, right before the solar sailor (on serious growth hormones) gets hit with a whammy; plunging our heroes into peril as James Franco is deep fried and committed to space before he even gets a chance to tread those sexy space corridors.

His wife and Ripley in residence, Katherine Waterston, is understandably pissed. They were set to build a log cabin by a lake on their new home world but . . . well . . . that aint what this movie is about. This movie is about the dangers of curiosity and how it bites you on the ass.

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Getting back into a familiar turn of events, the crew of the good ship Covenant intercept a message from the cosmos, or more specifically, Danny McBride does. This guy after all has to have something to do other than wear the funny hat and keep the rest of the cast awake by making them say his name, occasionally making them chuckle and eventually getting to be what LL Cool J was to Deep Blue Sea.

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So they follow the signal to its source, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, and instead of the hostile world upon which we all first got our face-hugger on, this planet is stormy but beautiful. So they hit the ground running and that’s when all the fun starts. Walter ditches the hood he saved from Assassin’s Creed and puts on another hat as the gang grab some guns and go a hunting.

ENTER: THE DERELICT SPACECRAFT.

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Yep, just when you thought they’d found a happy place to situate a new colony they find old faithful, (space-jockey cruiser) crash-landed and oozing dark secrets. Rapace is gone but for her dog tags and family photos which tells us that this is the spot that is marked with an X.  Soon a couple of the expendables get infected by stirring up some bad pixie dust and we get the first glimpse of our alien, albeit a little pale. He busts a move and starts killing people like it’s nobody’s business.

Then a hooded man appears. He’s not the guy who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, but a guy who’s looking to breed a master race with himself fixed at the center as God/Creator. It’s David. He might need a haircut and a real job, still he remembers his Lawrence of Arabia and, turns out, he’s laid some eggs. Yes – those eggs!

 

So David has been awaiting this ride, and after successfully breeding the Alien we know and love, some synthetic on synthetic action, pretending to be the only other guy in the cast who looks exactly like him (but with a different accent), we round out the festivities with a little power-loader . . . I’m sorry, crane action, we get back on board the mother-ship, watch and see how our favorite star beast reacts to sex in the shower til again the poor bastard gets blown out of yet another goddamn airlock.

Phew . . . it’s over. Well, not quite. See David is a little like Chucky . . . he aint that easy to get rid of. The story ends with David listening to the Wagner he opted for in the beginning before vomiting up a couple of fresh eggs to share with those friendly sleeping colonists in the next movie.

Prometheus 2 is not a bad flick. It’s just not really the Alien flicks we cherish. I get what Sir Scott is up to, and David Giler along with Walter Hill will be happily sipping their brandy-wine for a few more years as Scott continues to expand this prequel universe til eventually a de-aged Sigourney Weaver shows up and tells some screaming queen to get away from something . . . you bitch!

DAVID WILL RETURN . . . ?

Still, as ever, happy viewing

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The Dude in the Audience

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