Category Archives: science fiction

A Genre Bending Chiller That Delivers

I get so tired of watching ads on television for movie thrillers. In these ads they usually show you the best, or most arresting, parts. You watch the movie and find the rest is pretty tepid. Not so with 10 Cloverfield Lane, a genuine thriller that will get your heart racing and rivet your attention to the screen.  In it, a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) comes to after an automobile accident to find herself in a bunker run by survivalist John Goodman.

10 Cloverleaf Lane

She’s told that there’s been trouble outside and the air is poisonedand that she is only safe in the bunker,  but she comes to suspect that crazy old John has trapped her for other reasons.  I can’t tell more so I won’t ruin the surprises, but let’s just say that Goodman is magnificent, good enough to earn an Oscar nomination, though those aren’t generally give for this sort of movie. Genres are combined and bent and the ending will astonish you. This is one thriller that delivers! It’s available now on an  immaculately produced Blu-ray with terrifying surround sound that also includes a DVD and a digital copy.

Ant-Man – Small Hero Delivers Big Entertainment

The universe of Marvel Comics is generally large, no make that gigantic. You have a collection of super heroes with superpowers and villains that seem virtually unstoppable. The Avengers have destroyed part of New York City and other parts of our earth as well.  How could a tiny hero from Marvel’s “B” series compete. Very well, thank you. What Ant-Man lacks in size and power, it makes up in charm, levity, and ingenuity.

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A lot of that feeling has to do with Paul Rudd, one of the most affable actors in Hollywood. Rudd plays a just released con with principles who is stalked and hired by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, in great comic adventure form) to wear a suit that will shrink him in size so he can steal and destroy the only other suit (Yellowjacket) from villain Darren Cross (A deliciously evil Corey Stoll). Cross plans on selling the suit to HYDRA, which as we know from other Marvel movies and particularly from TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., is bent on world domination and destruction. The lengthy exposition is breezy and the last third special effects are awesome.  The Blu-ray disc looks and sounds like a million bucks. You’ll enjoy it on a regular set up but if you have a home theater with surround sound, you’ll be knocked into orbit. Very enlightening and entertaining extras showing how it was all done. Two codes, two, so watch all the credits. “Ant-Man will return” it says. I can’t wait.

Is There an Android in Your Future?

Androids. One of the most popular, recurring themes in science fiction. A theme very popular today as several movies and television shows have focused on topic and made it very, well, human.

Ex Machina

First up there’s the feature film, Ex Machina in which nerdy genius Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a contest which allows him to spend a week with Nathan Bateman (Oscar Issac), the mysterious, reclusive CEO of the company where Caleb works. Nathan lives in a house in the middle of primeval forests, accessible only by pontoon aircraft. He has created Ava (Alicia Vikander), an android he wishes to pair in conversation with Caleb to see if artificial intelligence really works. No spoilers here just a note that this suspenseful film delivers a memorable climax and conclusion.  It’s on DVD and Blu-ray, the latter boasts a superb picture but the sound is tricky. The dialogue is on the soft side but if you boost it, the music score and sound effects might blow you out of your home. The exaggerated dynamic range eases up after the first third of the movie.

Humans

Humans is an 8-part first season of a show filmed in Great Britain and shown in the U. S. on AMC. The show is set in the near future where people can buy “synths,” as the androids are called, to do domestic duties and the like. But the creator of the androids that look exactly like humans gave a small group of them extra, human emotions and reasoning powers. Humans follows the interactions of this artificial family with a real human family. They win over most of the real humans, but not all. At the end of the season, the line between human and android begins to blur. Low key yet totally absorbing thanks to fine casting and an intelligent script.

Extant

Extant was created as a starring show for Halle Berry. She stars as an astronaut scientist who orbits in space for a year, then returns to earth mysteriously pregnant. That’s the main theme, but a parallel one examines her relationship with her android son, Ethan. One of the most interesting questions asked is whether Ethan is “property” or not. The show turned into a bit of a snooze in its first season, so no blame if you stopped watching it. But season two is revved up with new acting blood, tighter scripts and more answers. Give it a second chance and I think you’ll agree that it’s appealing science fiction. And after watching all three of these productions, you’ll probably start looking at the stranger next to you at the bus stop and asking yourself “I wonder if he/she is one of them?” You’ll never know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FX – “The Strain” Will Terrify You

I can’t believe that a sci-fi/horror film geek like myself missed the whole first season of this remarkable, and oh so very scary show. Gosh, it was created by Guillermo del Toro, one of my favorite horror directors who directed The Devil’s Backbone, one of the greatest ghost story movies ever made and Pan’s Labyrinth, one of the greatest fantasy film stories

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ever made. And it stars Corey Stoll, who was so brilliant in the first season of House of Cards. No cost has been spared to created great, sometimes gruesome special effects. Del Toro himself tautly directs the first episode.

The story starts when an airplane arrives on the New York tarmac with all but four passengers dead. A virus is feared and that’s right, but it turns out to be a disease that was totally unexpected. There are vampires of a special sort loose and the infected passengers begin to infect other people and on and on it goes. Stoll plays a CDC inspector who finds out the truth and through circumstance draws a small band of people in to help him. One of these is an elderly professor who has had experience with this plague during World War II when he was a Jewish prisoner of war. It is The Master, pictured below, who has started everything rolling and it is The Master who was on that plane. Prepare for a few jolts in this

The strain 2

adult series (watch it when your kids are safely in bed asleep).  Prominent characters bite the dust, characters are forced to do things they find unpalatable, and it’s often all about survival. Season two premieres Joly 12 at 10 p. m. on FX . But don’t go in unarmed, you have time now to binge on Season 1. Hulu (Called Hulu Plus until earlier this week. Now the Plus has been dropped)  has all 13 episodes which makes its modest monthly fee seem quite low. While you’re there you can also binge on the first three seasons of Spiral, the gritty French crime procedural. That makes Hulu pennies an episode, and they have a lot more, too, including a huge collection of Criterion films and some very old TV shows in great shape.

Note: The first photo above is the original promotion art forf season 1 but it was withdrawn. I can’t imagine why. One of the ways the vampires can infect a person is to splatter these tiny “worms” that can enter the body through the nose, ear, or yes, the eye.

 

The Returned

I’m a bit behind the curve on this, but my goal is to share with you anything I discover that’s quality home entertainment. Now there have been a lot of shows on TV lately about zombies and resurrected humans, but it is only now that I have discovered the best one, the French TV series The Returned. It’s set in a small town in France that has an elderly, creaking dam positioned above it. In the past that dam broke and killed most of the population; now, when the water is low, you can see a church steeple poking out above the water line. And that water line is getting mysteriously lower and lower, while the dam shows no cracks.  The first episode takes us back two years when a school bus loaded with kids plunged over a railing, killing them all. In the present ,one of those kids comes back, unscathed and unable to remember what happened.

The Returned

Others return, including a weird looking boy who was murdered in a home invasion 35 years ago. He finds his killer alive in a most unusual place. A serial killer comes back, and a young man who committed suicide on his wedding day. His intended betrothed is now about to marry a police captain. Even animals come back. A wolf slated for taxidermy comes back with a growl.  Then some of the returned and some of the regulars get hideous skin lesions. And well, no more spoilers, there’s a surprise around every corner in this series. It’s well acted and directed, scary as can be, eerie as can be, and shot in HD with a surround soundtrack. And it’s streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime. If you don’t know about it, Netflix streaming is one of the best bargains on the planet, now licensing more and more foreign television. The Returned is also going to be on DVD and Blu-ray in February 2015. Finally, A & E is going to produce an American version to air in  March 2015, but even though it has Michelle Forbes in the cast, I’m betting the original will still be better. Oh yes, the original has subtitles but they’re easy to read.