34 posts categorized "Sci-Fi"

October 07, 2017


Blade_runner2049All spectacle and no substance describes Denis Villeneuve’s predictably overwrought yet lightweight sci-fi snoozefest. Even Ryan Gosling comes across as phoning in his performance as K, a smug replicant blade runner who finds the remains of a female replicant that was at one time pregnant with a capital P. Robots aren't supposed to get pregnant. K’s assignment is to track down the offspring and destroy her.

Robin Wright’s presence is squandered as K’s LAPD boss Lieutenant Joshi. Equally wasted are Jared Leto’s efforts as Niander Wallace, the head of a replicant manufacturing company. Nothing connects in Villeneuve’s dirge tempo of unmotivated storytelling. There isn’t enough storyline to follow, much less any sense of immediacy given to the thin narrative at hand. You don’t care about any of the characters, much less the overall story.


Absent is the vital social context of Ridley Scott’s original 1982 film, which initially suffered from a theatrical release version larded with ridiculous voice-over narration. It was years later that Scott’s director’s cut corrected the mistake, exposing “Blade Runner” for the great film that was buried beneath a layer of narrative static. 

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“Blade Runner 2049” is all visual noise lacking in subtextual depth thanks to co-screenwriters Hampton Fancher (“Blade Runner”) and Michael Green (“Alien: Covenant”). The film doesn’t have enough satirical meat on its bones to be a proper “sci-fi” story, or a “neo-noir” that the filmmakers wish it could be. Gone is the anti-corporate political stance of the the original. Philip K. Dick is rolling over in his grave. The movie makes a limp gesture toward the backlash of slavery against slave owners, but you’ll have a hard time staying awake enough catch it when such undertones waft across the screen.


At two hours and 43 minutes, “Blade Runner 2049” is a chore. Film editor Joe Walker (“12 Years a Slave”) could have excised 45 minutes and this movie would still be too long for its sketch of a storyline. If you suffered through Walker’s other recent films (“Arrival” and “Sicario”), you know you are not in able hands.

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The movie almost shifts into gear when Harrison Ford finally makes his reliable appearance as Deckard in the film’s last half-hour. The only other compelling element is Ana de Armas’s comically named Joi (see porn slang “jerk off instruction”), K’s virtual-reality girlfriend. Even here the filmmakers drop the ball during a sci-fi threesome wherein Joi inhabits the body of a prostitute for an act of lovemaking with K that goes missing from the movie.


Just as with “Dunkirk,” here is a lackluster big-budget movie with no social points of relevance to modern global reality. You’ve heard of “fake news,” well these are phony movies doted over by phony critics who don’t know good from bad. But don’t take my word for it, go see “Blade Runner 2019; it might provide you with some of the best sleep you’ve had all year.

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Blade runner 2019

Rated R. 163 mins.

1 Star


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May 25, 2017



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity helps keep the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

Aliencovenant-colesmitheyRidley Scott, the director responsible for one of the most iconic and terrifying sci-fi films in history, flops with a prequel/sequel that might be pretty to look at but leaves much to be desired. If you can’t make a franchise picture that serves as a stand-alone film, why bother?

Among its multitude of conceptual and practical errors is this film’s casting of actors whose performances fail to hold a candle to that of the original film’s impeccable cast. Katherine Waterston is no Sigourney Weaver, not even close. She doesn’t have the steel or the physical statue for her role as Daniels, an astronaut who seems better suited for melodrama than sci-fi suspense. Waterston doesn’t have Weaver’s since of determination and reflexive instincts.

Katherine Waterston

If you’ve recently watched Scott’s original film, you can’t help but be struck by the lack of cohesion between characters in “Alien: Covenant” compared to those on display in “Alien.” Each actor in “Covenant” seems to be off doing their own thing. For all of the critical praised constantly being poured on Michael Fassbender (he plays twin androids in “Covenant”), he’s no match for “Alien’s” Ian Holm, an actor of towering gravitas whose gruesome revelation as an android gave audiences a jolt.

As well, Danny McBride’s ham-sandwich performance as flight captain Tennessee is a far cry from Tom Skerritt’s Dallas. And the list goes on. There is a case to be made that today’s acting pool simply aren’t as skilled as actors of the ‘70s. Billy Crudup or Yaphet Kotto? Let’s just say that Crudup is boxing way outside his weight class.

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“Alien: Covenant’s” lightweight performances eventually take second place to the film’s cobbled-together storyline that feels obligated to force gratuitous violence (with sex) whenever screenwriters John Logan (co-screenwriter on “Skyfall”) and script newbie Dante Harper feel the story lagging, something this film does plenty of regardless of their attempts to distract that there isn’t much of a story here to begin with.  


Where “Alien” had a determinedly anti-corporate subtext running through the film, “Covenant” bends a knee to imperialist overreach under the guise of searching for mankind’s creator. Barf. “Covenant’s” opening scene is an overwrought attempt to steal a glimmer of magic from the ending of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

In the scene, an uncredited Guy Pierce reprises his role as Peter Weyland from Ridley Scott’s even more disappointing “Alien” franchise installment “Prometheus.” Screenwriting instructors looking for an abysmal example of exposition, will gravitate to this train wreck opener wherein Pierce’s egomaniac order his android to bring him a cup of tea. I’m sure you could open a sci-fi movie on a weaker leg, but I can’t imagine how.

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Once you make it past this film’s disappointing set-up, you will only feel yourself sinking into more discontent after the Covenant spaceship’s crew decide to neglect the 2000 colonists and 1000 embryos onboard the ship in order to follow a signal coming from an unknown planet. Couldn't the screenwriters find a new trope to push the action? Reusing the same one from the first "Alien" movie just feels cheap and lazy. 

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A baloney script, poor casting, lame performances, and an unfocused production design make for a second-rate sci-fi movie that is nothing more than a pathetic knock-off of the original. Go back and watch “Alien” (1978) or James Cameron’s “Aliens” (1986), or even David Fincher’s “Alien 3” (1992). Each one is a dozen times better than this waste of time.


Rated R. 122 mins.

1 Star

January 16, 2016



The magic is gone from the “Star Wars” franchise. It has been for a very long time. The franchise started its decline when “Return of the Jedi” fell short of its predecessor (“The Empire Strikes Back”) way back in 1983. Every sequel or (ill conceived) prequel that has arrived since “The Empire Strikes Back” has possessed ever-less panache. If you think otherwise, go back and watch the films in the order that they were made.

You’ll never hear a Star Wars fan criticize George Lucas’s decision to abandon a linear approach to the storyline by inverting the series to break up the narrative into an abstract puzzle. Still, the overall effect is annoying to the point of distraction. No audience member should feel impelled to do a refresher course to figure out where the latest film of a franchise falls into its grand scheme. Faulty logic. This is one of a myriad of reasons that the James Bond franchise far outweighs Star Wars.  

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This latest installment of fandom’s favorite mongrel pet is a poorly paced MacGuffin-chase plot, ginned up with groan-inducing spoonful doses of pro-war imagery and its attendant rudimentary vocabulary.

“We blow up the big gun.” “Keep the target hard.”

I kid you not.

Such dumbed down dialogue flows like so much toxic water in Flint, Michigan throughout this movie.

Yes, yes, yes, and amen. This is war fantasy cinema propaganda for kids. Barf.


This film’s pro-war indoctrination warms kids up to the idea of killing faceless victims (as always the soulless storm troopers, who it’s hinted at might be an army of black slaves).

No one ever said “Star Wars” was highbrow entertainment. If you doubt that this film’s core genre is children’s cinema, just look for its corollary toy merchandising. The bloated, overworked, storyline is all bubblegum gobbledygook about a map that leads to Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill, looking oddly similar to a late era Oliver Reed).   

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The franchise’s culturally malnourished formula is to blame. “The Force Awakens” has none of the political commentary of “The Legos Movie,” but it does possess a political agenda, however oblique, aimed at its intended pre-teen audience.

The narrative surface is shallow and brittle. It’s all recycled style with accidental war propaganda thrown in as subtextual substance. George Lucas might believe in socialist ideas in his private life, but that’s never on display in the Star Wars films. Such potential complexity is a moot point considering that co-writer/director J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek — 2009) oversees this film’s production.

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Rejiggering the same formulaic storyline results in an awkward cast of bland character prototypes reused though another sluggish round of children’s soap opera cinema parading as sci-fi. This is not the science fiction of social satire that Paul Verhoeven or Neil Blomkamp brings to the sci-fi genre.


The filmmakers here avoid an obvious opportunity for social subtext by not taking advantage of interracial romance between Daisy Ridley (as Rey, a junkyard salvager) and John Boyega (as Finn, an AWOL stormtrooper). Daisy Ridley is a spot-on cross between Emma Watson and a young Keira Knightley. That might sound like a compliment, but it’s not. If ham acting is your thing, then you’ll love watching Ridley mugging and pulling faces like a community theater actress playing to the last row.

What could have provided the movie with some much-needed heart merely gets blended through the Star Wars machine recipe. The writers go out of their way to renege on Finn’s potential as a renegade freedom fighter for the resistance. Finn describes himself as a member of the resistance when it suits him in the moment, but is quick to privately reveal that he holds no such allegiance. The character’s lack of integrity speaks to the film’s unwillingness to make any meaningful allegories, ever. The film’s ostensibly mindless viewer is invited to shut up and eat his or her freaking popcorn.


Sure the filmmakers make sure to tug at nostalgic heartstrings to induce a tear wherever possible, but that isn’t enough to redeem this undeniable snooze of a film. The movie could loose 25 minutes and still feel too long. As if that weren’t enough, this picture’s lame use of 3D is a final insult to make you wish you’d spent your money and time on “The Hateful Eight” instead.

Rated PG-13 135 mins.

1 Star


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Every bit helps keep the reviews coming.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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