47 posts categorized "Sci-Fi"

July 27, 2016



This predictably stagnant Hollywood reboot picks up a little entertaining momentum from its talented four female leads. The movie is worth watching if for no reason other than witnessing Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones turn on their comic charms. It might make you wonder why there aren’t more female-dominated movies coming out of Hollywood.

Co-writer/director Paul Feig’s vague attempts at splitting the difference between the '80s era of Ivan Reitman’s original story, and modern day New York, fail. Promising cameos from Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd tease at what could have added comedic texture to a paranormal adventure movie that goes through the motions when this comedy should obviously go over the top.

Scene-stealing credentials go to Kate McKinnon, whose winking character Jillian Holtzmann’s clear-cut lesbian tendencies provide comic jolts whenever she’s on screen. McKinnon's bold creation is one fun and funny character to watch.

An inspired dose of social satire rolls through the story. A clever reverse sexism subplot finds Chris Hemsworth playing Kevin, a straight man assistant to our lady scientists. Kristen Wiig plays the offending boss molester with masculine glee. Sadly, the filmmakers don’t exploit the set-up’s comic potential enough to make an impact.


Although the movie fails to connect its obligatory big spectacle sequences with the barely existent arc of its characters, the performances elevate the movie enough to keep you chuckling. It is a kids' movie after all. The Halloween costumes are already in production.

Rated PG-13. 116 mins. (B-) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

July 23, 2016



The big thing that this movie is farthest away from (as its title promises) is authentic storytelling. All the fancy-schmancy sci-fi spectacle and charismatic actors in the film can’t make up for some of the clunkiest screenwriting in recent memory. Like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don’t fit, “Star Trek Beyond” jumps between giant action set pieces lacking in context, nuance, and expositional background. The narrative is a sloppy mess.

I veer away from Hollywood films more and more these days. When I do come around to take its latest temperature I’m more disgusted than ever.

Critics and fanboys can blow all of the hot air they want about this film’s supposed connection to the original Gene Roddenberry television series, but boy, they are wrong.

A sad example arrives via the late Anton Yelchin’s underdeveloped role as Chekov. The essential Star Trek character is squandered beyond belief. He’s reduced to a few overheard, throwaway, one-liners.


Idris Elba is also terribly wasted in the villainous roll of Krall. By the time the movie gets around to Elba’s big scene, it’s too little too late. What a waste of awesome talent.

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Sofia Boutella, and Anton Yelchin all give inspired performances that get shoved under the rug of a movie lacking a developed narrative arc.

With its five contributing scriptwriters, “Star Trek” feels exactly like the by-committee screenplay you’d expect from so many chefs in the kitchen.


Rated PG-13. 122 mins. (C-) (Two stars — out of five / no halves)

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June 16, 2015


Solaris Auteur and gifted film theorist Andrei Tarkovsky, son of a celebrated Russian poet, Arseniy Tarkovsky, carried his father’s keen sense of elevated philosophical exploration into his films.

Inspired by filmmakers such as Buñuel, Eisenstein, and Bergman, Tarkovsky intuitively apprehends the flexible nature of the filmic medium to incorporate abstract ideas ranging from deeply held romantic values to metaphysical and political realities from a personal perspective. He allows provocative images (frequently drawn from nature) to editorialize and expand on the human condition that he studies from a plaintive viewpoint.  

Polish author Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel provided the basis for “Solaris,” a film that Tarkovsky considered the weakest of the seven features he made during his career. The dystopian psychological drama is set during the ‘70s-era Cold War in the context of ready-made science fiction.

Solaris2The burly Lithuanian actor Donatas Banionis plays Kris Kelvin, a Russian psychologist mourning the death of his wife Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk). Kris visits his father at their solitary family home on the last day before Kris travels to a distant research space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The station’s three-man skeleton crew have fallen prey to a strange phenomenon that has rendered them useless. Discredited “pilot” Henri Berton visits with Kris and his father to show them a film of his testimony before a government review board, from years ago, of his own experiences on Solaris. Now an old man, Berton can barely stand to watch his former self describe a gigantic “four-meter-tall newborn” rising up from Solaris’s lava-like ocean as he hovered above the planet’s surface in a helicopter. Like the scientific review board, Kris doesn’t believe Berton’s “hallucinations.” During the sequence, Tarkovsky seamlessly switches between color to black-and-white to add dramatic depth to the wonderfully deployed exposition.

Upon his arrival to Solaris Kris discovers a space station in disarray. Tarkovsky’s ingenious production design of a modern space ship in decline provides the viewer with a wealth of details to contemplate.  

One of the cosmonauts has committed suicide. The other two are mentally unstable. Their attempts to probe Solaris’s ocean with X-rays has resulted in the planet attacking their brains. Almost immediately Kris falls prey to the same insidious force, one that sends a replica of his deceased wife to serve as an ever-regenerating distraction from his mission. Every new version of Hari is more convincing than the last. Kris’s sense of reality will be forever changed.  

After its release “Solaris” achieved a cult status among science fiction fans for the film’s effective set designs and strange sense of suspense. Seemingly opaque thematic elements contributed to the allure of seeing the picture more than once in order to decipher its hidden meanings. Andrei Tarkovsky’s prodigious ability to conceptualize grand-scale narrative structure with a fluid sense of cinematic time continues to influence filmmakers even if few rise to such dizzying heights.  


Rated PG. 169 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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