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Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
We had twenty years to prepare...
...and yet THIS was the crappy sequel we got.
What a disappointment. This movie had none of the heart or emotional impact of the first, nor even (with two decades' advances in technology) the exciting CGI of the original. Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, and Bill Pullman, saddled with terrible scripts, seemed to be doing only parodies of their reprised characters, while Will Smith wisely skipped the project. Vivica Fox has STILL not learned to act, but mercifully, was on screen only briefly. The rest of the forgettable cast, mostly nobodies (and those who deserve to be, like Liam Hemsworth) were just awful.
It is being reported that Emmerich blames the twenty-year delay in this movie on --no kidding-- George W. Bush (of course, is there anything a liberal WON'T blame on him?) Who does Emmerich blame for it being so BAD?
I can't believe I was looking forward to this. Don't waste your time or money; go watch the original.
So-so mash-up of better movies
No, "Vice" is not the worst movie of all time, as some would have you believe. On the other hand, those who gave it ten stars need to see more movies. But while covering very little new ground, it did manage to plod along, and do an average job of it.
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS... The biggest touchstone for this film would have to be "Blade Runner;" like that film, "Vice" also explored the concept of the humanity of those who are not quite human. The "artificials" (as they are called in this story) have been placed in an adult amusement park (called "Vice," hence the title) in a concept similar to "Westworld," except that this film's budget apparently would not cover sets that were anything more elaborate than everyday urban. The minds and emotions of these "residents" are quite real, but each day their memories are erased, so that they will not recall the criminal traumas inflicted on them by human visitors; they have no idea that they are living in a fake world, and have been placed in the "Vice" amusement park to be assaulted or murdered by paying guests. Of course, if they were to start RETAINING those memories...
A police detective (Thomas Jane as the inevitable "loose cannon" cop) believes that, rather than getting evil intent out of their systems, raping and murdering the residents of Vice only inflames the passions of criminals, who then come back into his city and commit crimes against real humans. He therefore repeatedly ignores the orders of his cliché-ridden captain to stay away from the park, their city's biggest source of revenue.
Of course, he teams up with one of the original inventors, played by Bryan Greenberg, whose incredibly wooden performance marks a low point in a movie filled with poor acting. A runaway resident, played by the lovely Ambyr Childers, also takes part in the scheme to take down Vice's founder (Bruce Willis) but finds that her programming will not allow her to shoot him (a minor plot point brazenly stolen directly from "Robocop.") Too bad, because aside from being the stereotypical "corporate bad guy," Willis has almost no role, phoning in a one-dimensional performance that consists almost entirely of frowning at computer monitors and issuing orders; I suspect his "starring" role took up no more than a single day of his schedule.
Though not entirely original, the combination of the familiar stories is somewhat intriguing, if marred by mediocre and unimaginative execution: the producers would have done better to explore the philosophical and moral points of the story rather than engaging in an endless parade of chase scenes and disposable security officers. But for what it is, an obvious direct-to-DVD make-work project, "Vice" is a decent enough effort. It could have been better, but it could also have been worse.
Big Game (2014)
Just how desperate IS Samuel Jackson?
Can we hold a telethon to raise some funds for Samuel L. Jackson? Obviously, he is sorely in need of money, or else he lost a bet (or both.) I cannot image any other possible explanation for why he would participate in a ridiculous film like this one.
I understand that this film, about a young Finnish boy defending the President from assassins, was intended as a family-friendly version of "White House Down," and so the violence and language would be greatly toned down from the usual Jackson level (although he does manage one interrupted "mother f**ker," his apparent signature phrase.) But getting rid of blood and f-bombs does not mean one also must abandon common sense and good writing.
This train wreck comes CLOSE to the "so bad it's good" category, but doesn't even manage that. You may not be able to look away, but the one phrase you'll find yourself saying over and over again is "wow, REALLY?" Yes, it's that bad.
Consider yourself warned. Go watch a classic adventure movie with your kids instead. Go see a new, but good, movie with your kids. Heck, GO OUTSIDE and don't watch anything at all. But there is NO real reason to subject yourself --or your kids-- to such dreck.
Childhood's End (2015)
This was from SyFy Channel?
Not a perfect adaptation by any means, but this is head and shoulders above the "Sharknado"-type schlock that the SyFy Channel usually produces.
It's been decades since I read the source novel, so I cannot speak to a lot of specifics, but the changes I did notice seemed unimportant, if a bit arbitrary; the human representative is now a random farmer, rather than the UN Secretary General, for example. However, I do know that this adaptation evokes much the same "feel" that I recall from Clarke's famous novel.
Those who have not read the book may think that one infamous "surprise" (the appearance of the aliens, which I won't spoil here) is typical of SyFy cheesiness, but you have to recall that in 1958, when the novel was published, this would have been a relatively original twist, especially in a society that was much more religious than our current one. (Incidentally: kudos to the makeup man.)
The criticism some have made about the slow pacing of the story is valid; however, I would prefer to think of it more as "patient" than simply slow. This certainly COULD have been tightened up to two episodes, but losing some of the emotional scenes (not to mention the gorgeous music with which they were scored) would have been a shame.
This is not "Independence Day" or "Star Wars." When you are in the mood for that kind of escapist sci-fi, "Childhood's End" will not satisfy you. But it was very well done for what it is: a thoughtful reverie from the mind of one of the golden-age masters.
I like a good monster-of the week movie as much as the next guy (maybe more) but this new mature side also looks good on you, SyFy Channel. Congrats, and keep it up.
The Invasion (2007)
Surprisingly effective retelling of the classic sci-fi thriller
This 2007 sci-fi thriller starring Nicole Kidman is the fourth film version of Jack Finney's novel "The Body Snatchers," the earlier movies being the classic 1956 "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and its 1978 remake of the same name, and 1993's "Body Snatchers." (Actually, it's the fifth one, if you also count "Invasion of the Pod People," a direct-to-video bomb described by one IMDb reviewer as "a flick about an alien ginger plant that turns mean girls into sex-starved, naked lesbians.") But a good story can stand repeated interpretations, and this is no exception.
Although Kidman's acting is in some scenes fairly stiff, and Daniel Craig (fresh off his first turn as James Bond) seems somewhat wasted in his role as her boyfriend, this is a surprisingly effective version, nicely playing up the most important element of the story: the growing apprehension and suspicion that captures the quickly-dwindling number of uninfected people. With almost no sci-fi trappings other than minimal make-up effects, the movie instead emphasizes that psychological angle; the victims are not physically replaced as in the earlier films, but mentally enslaved. (In a small but key role, Veronica Cartwright plays one of the few who are immune, a tip of the hat to the 1978 version in which she also appeared.) A new element is the introduction of a child character, the safety of whom is a key motivator for Kidman, who plays the boy's mother.
While this film does take a slightly different route from its predecessors in replacing the original bean-like "pods" with a virus-like epidemic brought to Earth on a crashing space shuttle, it repeats a key plot point: that "they get you when you're asleep." Since everyone has at some time had the experience of struggling to stay awake, this puts the audience right in the same situation: what if staying awake meant more than seeing the end "The Tonight Show," but was instead a matter of life and death?
I know some reviewers are upset with the producer's decision >>>SPOILER ALERT<<< to have mankind ultimately defeat the alien invasion, but the "twist ending" from the earlier films is already well-known, so little is lost from having the plot of this one essentially tied up in a neat little bow (although I must admit that the climactic "escape" scene that ultimately leads to the victory was a bit lackluster.)
Still, while by no means a science fiction classic, "The Invasion" is an entertaining movie, and well worth seeing at least once.
The Grudge (2004)
Needlessly jumps around, but an OK creepshow
Some viewers may be confused by the constant jumping back and forth in time. This may be intentional; in one of the final scenes, we see that Peter (Bill Pullman) can sense the presence of Karen in the room some three years later.
SPOILER ALERT: To straighten out the timeline, this is the order in which the thirteen deaths are shown: 7,5,6,8,9,10,4,11,1,2,3,12,13. That is, although Yoko's death is the first shown in the movie, it was actually the seventh to occur.
The deaths occurred in this order: The Japanese woman Kayako and her son Toshio were murdered by her jealous husband Takeo, who then killed himself. Peter died shortly after (killed by the ghost of Toshio.) Three years later, Jean was killed, followed by her husband. Yoko arrived and was killed. The mother Emma died (and Karen ended up in the hospital. That evening, Susan (Emma's daughter) died, never having gotten word that her whole family was dead. Alex (Karen's boss) was killed by the ghost of Yoko) and the police inspector was killed by the ghost of the Takeo. Finally, Kayako's ghost killed Karen's boyfriend, and (ultimately) Karen.
Light on facts, but nicely done
A slight but nicely done overview of the U.S. space program, from its earliest days prior to the Mercury flights, through Gemini and Apollo, to the shuttle program.
I stumbled onto this documentary when it aired on public television recently. Billed (at least on Direct TV) as "Apollo astronauts discuss the fear and exhilaration of going into space," it turned out instead to cover a lot more ground, albeit rather lightly.
Written and produced by Richard Dale, and narrated throughout by actor Michael J. Reynolds, this is less an extensive history than a dramatic overview, more poetry than nuts-and-bolts. A gorgeous original score by Richard Blair-Oliphant accompanies some of the best NASA film and video from over 40 years of space exploration, both the familiar shots as well as some never before seen outside of raw mission footage.
No one will accuse this film of getting into too much detail. Only the highlights of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs are covered, and Apollo-Soyuz and the Skylab missions are never even mentioned. The Soviet space program, which in the early days mirrored (and in some cases exceeded) the achievements of the American program, is also ignored.
While thin on facts, the writing is generally good, though the script has a tendency toward the melodramatic. For example, Gus Grissom is repeatedly said to have "cheated death," for contrast with the inevitable pathos of the Apollo 1 fire. Similarly, the selection of subjects dwells a bit too much on the Challenger and Columbia disasters for my taste; Apollo 13, on the other hand, is never mentioned at all. But ultimately, the tone is one of pride and inspiration, emphasizing the courage of the "rocket men" who risk their lives in the exploration of space.
While hardly a source of new information, those already familiar with the history of NASA may enjoy "Rocketmen." It's a difficult film to find, but well worth the 90 minutes.
Not "so bad it's good." JUST. PLAIN. BAD.
I've seen "Sharknado." I've seen "Mega Python vs. Gatoroid." Heck, I loved "Shark Attack 3: Megalodon." THOSE were the kind of movies that you watch BECAUSE you know they'll be bad, with schlocky effects, stupid story lines, and (most of all) horrible overacting.
This stinking pile just doesn't rise to even that challenge. It's pretty bad when you know that even the SyFy channel would have turned down a movie.
"Robotropolis" had promise, with a basic robots-gone-wild premise, and fair effects work. But the story took forever to begin, and once it had, even the actors seemed bored. Rather than the humorous overacting seen in most C-grade sci-fi films, these walking mannequins were UNDERacting. I'm not trying to be funny, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that the CGI robots were more believable, more interesting, and even more realistically emotional than the "actors."
Example (Spoiler Alert, as if it matters): a reporter is doing a story as a robot plays soccer with some men in the background. Suddenly, the robot shoots and kills one of the players. Now I can let go the fact that the other players simply stand there with NO reaction; maybe they're in shock, maybe they're afraid to move, maybe they've been paralyzed by some heretofore unrevealed robotic stun ray, for Pete's sake. But, what reporter, sent to the damn island JUST to do a story about the robots, would look at the camera and say "I'm told the robot has just shot a man," and NOT EVEN TURN TO LOOK AT THE DEAD MAN OR THE ROBOT???
I could go on, but there's no reason. I fast forwarded to the few scenes with additional "action," but they got not better, and no one ever seemed particularly afraid (I swear, I've never seen people "flee" so slowly.) And finally when they movie cuts to black without revealing the outcome (which was actually revealed before the OPENING credits) it's as if the director realized no one would still be watching anyway. He was right.
Read the other reviews: of the unlucky few who have had the misfortune to have seen this movie at all, there are even fewer who actually managed to watch the whole thing; I am not among them, thank God. I just wish I could "unwatch" the parts I did.
There's still time for you to save yourself from watching any of it. Do so.
You want a motive? The jury had no trouble finding one: Edmund Perry and his brother Jonah had attempted to mug a policeman, who reacted, quite reasonably, by shooting him. It was simply their bad luck that their intended victim turned out to be an armed plain-clothes policeman rather than what they assumed was just another unarmed white guy.
Nor was this just the "official story," as implied in early accounts by the New York Post and Village Voice, both of which played up the fact that Perry had just graduated from a prestigious prep school, and suggested that latent racism on the part of the detective was the actual cause of the tragedy.
Jonah himself confessed to two neighbors that they had been trying to rob someone when Edmund was shot. In fact, 23 witnesses all confirmed the officer's version of the events. He was cleared of the shooting, and the media quickly dropped the subject.
Not so, apparently, the racial grievance industry, for whom propaganda like this execrable film is a major product. Never mind the facts; just make sure the minority is shown as the victim.
Edmund Perry had already been accepted to attend Stanford on a full scholarship. It is unfortunate the consequences of choices HE made prevented what might have been a successful and fulfilling life. But sometimes, justice really IS blind.
Star Trek Continues (2013)
FINALLY! a Star Trek fan film made by professionals
There are a lot of Star Trek fan films out there, ranging from full-blown semiprofessional productions to computer-animated battles scenes imported from some pimple-faced teen's Xbox. But while the time and effort (and in many cases, expense) involved in making the films can be considerable, the result is often lackluster at best. You can well appreciate the work that went into it but, if viewed objectively, not so much the final result. In many cases, for example, one is left with the suspicion that an actor is involved not because he was the best choice for the role, but because making the film was his idea, and only his Trekkie obsession saw it through to a "completed" form.
Thankfully, "Star Trek Continues: Pilgrim of Eternity" does NOT fall into that category. That's not to say that this was not also a labor of love; Paramount's attorneys jealously prevent anything else. But it doesn't SHOW this time. There's simply very little that has to be excused with a a whine of "well, they're just fanboys, what do you expect?"
After a few semi-experimental efforts in the form of a couple of original vignettes and a slightly lengthened recreation of the final scenes of "Turnabout Intruder," "Pilgrim of Eternity" is an entirely new 51-minute production, a sequel to TOS's "Who Mourns for Adonis?" and guest-starring Michael Forrest, who played Apollo in the original. The look and feel of the production is spot-on, with great writing, and near-perfect sets, lighting, music, and sound (as one would expect with a crew of professionals doing the writing, sets, lighting, and sound.) One high mark: even with a limited budget, the USS Enterprise created by visual effects artist Doug Drexler (veteran of Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise) is absolutely gorgeous!
Of course, no amount of behind-the-scenes work helps if the cast is not also good. Vic Mignogna, a dead ringer for a young Robert Stack, makes a very convincing Kirk (much better than Chris Pine, in my opinion.) While adopting many of William Shatner's familiar mannerisms and inflections, he does so without becoming a distracting and annoying caricature (sorry, James Cawley of "ST: New Voyages.") Likewise, Todd Haberkorn is also quite good as Spock, though with somewhat less of the air of tightly-restrained humor that Leonard Nimoy brought the character.
I'm less enthusiastic about Larry Nemecek as Dr. McCoy (replacing Chuck Huber, who played the doctor in two of the early "Star Trek Continues" vignettes, and who still appears on many of the website's pages.) I suspect this choice was a case of "gimmick casting" because of Nemecek's deep Star Trek connections. Gimmick casting is fine on its own --everybody needs publicity-- as long as the show doesn't suffer as a result. Unfortunately, Nemecek is a terrible actor, mumbles his lines, never seems to know what to do with his hands, and is far too out-of-shape for the role (unless they decide to recreate "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.") Hopefully, Huber will return in future webisodes (although Nemecek has already signed on again for 2014's "Lolani.")
Aside from the coup of landing Michael Forrest to reprise his role as Apollo, other more-successful examples of "name" casting come in the form of Chris Doohan recreating his father's role as Scotty, and Grant Imahara of "Mythbusters" fame as Sulu. Kim Stinger and Wyatt Lenhart, both professional actors, round out the cast as Uhura and Chekov. And yes, that is Next Generation's Marina Sirtis lending her voice as the Enterprise computer.
This first full-length production webisode takes place two years after the events of "Who Mourns for Adonis?" The new story, written by Steve Fratt and Jack Trevino, provides a very satisfying resolution to the poignant end of the original show: Apollo returns, much older and dying, and with the help of the Enterprise crew finds a new way to live beyond demanding the worship of others. Brief homages to the established Star Trek canon, in the form of an early holodeck prototype and a newly-established position of ship's counselor, are welcome without seeming lazy, gratuitous, obtrusive, or "cute" (something J.J. Abrams has yet to master.) The pacing is good, the characters convincing, and the "feel" of the story, and its ultimately positive message, would have been right at home in the pantheon of the original series.
This is not to say that all is perfect with "Star Trek Continues." The actors, while serviceable, are a weak point. Even though he is better than most, Mignogna may well be one of those "it's my baseball so I get to pitch" fanfilm captains, and needs to develop a bit more charisma in the role next time. Similarly, Imahara and Doohan would both benefit from just a few acting lessons (along with dialect coaching to tweak Doohan's Scottish brogue.) I would fervently hope that musical interludes from Kim Stinger's Lieutenant Uhura will not be a regular feature. Also, next time out, Michele Specht (Mignogna's wife) really needs to dial back her annoyingly over-the-top performance as the new ship's counselor Dr. Elise McKennah, or risk having her character become the "Jar Jar Binks" of the Star Trek universe.
And are we SURE it's not too late to replace Larry Nemecek?
Still, having seen many of the fan films seeking to recreate the original Star Trek series, I am very enthusiastic about "Star Trek Continues." If this first production is an indication of the quality we can expect from all of their work, I look forward to seeing many more. It's not yet perfect, but it is far and away the best out there.