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Metal Hurlant Chronicles (2012)
Quite Enjoyable Sci-Fi Series
My wife and I tore through these episodes pretty quickly. They were quite enjoyable and we made a game of trying to guess the "twist" endings. Most of the time, the twists had twists! In one episode, the twist was there wasn't a twist! Being a half-hour show also also eliminated the padding that you would have gotten with hour-long episodes. I also thought the series had pretty good special effects for a low budget effort. It succeeded in capturing the flavor of Heavy Metal magazine and it looked quite different than anything else on TV. I hope SyFi or some other network picks it up. It's great news that the producers are making a second season.
The Devil's Double (2011)
An Amazing Story
I didn't know much about this film going in, but I was amazed by the story and by the performance of Dominic Cooper. I also thought it was a great look at what was happening in Iraq before the US invasion and how Saddam's son got away with what he did. Sure, the story skips through about 10 years in two hours, but such is the problem of shoehorning a real-life story into movie time constraints. There's also a great sequence where Ussay is driving around fulfilling his insane agenda while the US is bombing the heck out of Baghdad. But, once again, the best thing about the movie is Cooper's performance. If you see it's you'll know what I mean.
Serbuan maut (2011)
Everything about this movie is true!
How does a guy from Wales go to Indonesia, hook up with Indonesia's top- notch martial arts experts, and make one of Asia's greatest action movies of all time for a mere $1.1 million? I don't know, but all the reviews here are true, this is 100 minutes of non-stop action and violence with spectacular fight scenes and impressive fight choreography and direction. Sure, there's very little character development, but that's because there's simply no time for it.
This is the type of movie "Max Payne" and "Hitman" wanted to be. Hollywood should scoop director Gareth Evans up immediately and let him helm its biggest big-budgeted action pictures!
Never Let Me Go (2010)
Mood stays with you
There's many ways to judge whether a film is successful, and certainly or some things to consider is whether it evokes a mood and whether it stays with you the next day. On those terms, I think "Never Let Me Go" is successful. I certainly felt the sadness and the inevitability these characters suffer, and I still thought about their situation the next day. The film is also beautifully shot and the images are stark and haunting.
But I do agree with the reviews that the science fiction elements of the story have been dialed down -- way down. The film chooses to emphasize the relationship between three friends who are taught from childhood that their purpose is to donate their organs in this alternative reality where apparently cloning was pioneered in 1952. Very little is actually explained about how this affects society except to keep everyone alive to age 100. Have the clones been totally brainwashed to accept their fate? Do none of the clones have the desire to run? Some of them seem to be child-like even in adulthood, is that the answer? And why are the doctors only taking one organ at a time?
You would expect in a fully realized world at least some people would be protesting the use of clones for replacement parts and there would be a movement for the rights of clones. But there's none of that here. And that's the film's problem. It's big on emotion, but weak on science fiction concepts. I was happy I saw it, but if you're looking for a big action sci-fi movie, this isn't it.
The Divide (2011)
Looking at the reviews here you will see some people really like this apocalyptic nightmare while others call it a worthless piece of trash. I think I figured out why there is such a wide division.
On the positive side, the technical aspects are top notch. The lighting and cinematography are great, the set design allows for plenty of nooks and crannies so that the shots don't get repetitious, and the cast is loaded with familiar and solid actors such as Michael Biehn (Terminator), Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes), Courtney B. Vance (Law & Order: CI) and Rosanna Arquette (Desperately Seeking Susan). Not bad for a $3 million film.
On the negative side, anyone familiar with Hiroshima and Chernobyl knows that radiation poisoning causes tiredness, weakness, nausea and eventually death and not the antics depicted here where the men go crazy with murder and lust. Sex would be the farthest thing from their minds, which makes that premise unbelievable. Also the director cranks up the tension, apparently to keep the audience from thinking about the massive plot holes such as how and why a bunch of soldiers in hazmat suits burst in on the survivors after their multi-story New York City apartment building collapses on top of them. Think about how long it took an army of workers to dig out the New York Trade Center. The scene exists solely to get a gun and a hazmat suit into the basement bomb shelter which could have been done in other ways.
The bottom line is this is an effective horror movie but a relatively bad science fiction movie that accounts for the division in fan reviews. Horror fans may like it, sci-fi fans may not.
John Carter (2012)
Decide for Yourself
With the DVD/BluRay release of "John Carter," the home video audience will be able to decide for itself whether this movie deserved the terrible treatment that Disney gave it. For me, the film is visually stunning and gets better as it goes on, racing to a slam-bang finish. It's easily better than "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull" and the three Transformer movies, all of which are in the $300 million+ domestic earnings club. With a little help from Disney, John Carter should have easily grossed about double its $75 million domestic take on top of the $210 million it took in internationally. The question of why it didn't will be a topic of discussion for some time. There might even be books written about it, especially since Rich Ross, chairman of Walt Disney Co.'s film unit, and a few others resigned because of the film's failure.
The simplest explanation is it was orphaned by current Disney chiefs who don't like science fiction movies and don't understand them. Other than "Tron" and the Witch Mountain movies, Disney has rarely done sci-fi, usually with dismal results. But some have suggested that Disney deliberately sabotaged it, needing a write-off to compensate for the huge profits The Avengers movie was going to bring in. After all, where is the famous Disney merchandise? The only thing Disney is selling is a T-shirt with the JCM symbol on it. Disney made $2 billion from "Cars 2" merchandise but it didn't even try to put out any "John Carter" merchandise. Strange.
Also Disney seems to have set up director Andrew Stanton for failure. It doesn't seem like the studio gave him any positive help or guidance other than apparently wanting him to throw out the novels and go in a different direction. In the end, it gave him tons of money to buy plenty of rope to hang himself with. If the film was a success, everyone would take credit. And if it was a failure, then it would be Stanton's fault.
Disney's highly vaunted marketing department also failed to give the film any help at all, perhaps even scaring away audiences and millions of dollars of earnings. It changed the title from a fantastically romantic one, "A Princess of Mars," to the more anonymous "John Carter of Mars," to removing the "of Mars" so audiences may not have even known it was sci-fi. The movie poster shows nothing of what is in the movie and is probably the worst seen in decades. The DVD/BluRay cover is even worse. making it look like a Conan the Barbarian movie rather than a sci-fi epic. The ineptitude shown here could not have been an accident.
As for the movie itself, it's slow going for most of the first half. Stanton is trying to juggle three prologues and material from the first three Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. Someone at Disney should have advised him to simplify the plot and stay within the confines of the first book but the script instead bears of the scars of too many ideas introduced by too many rewrites. By the second half it buckles down to the kind of swift action climax that Pixar, and Stanton's contributions to Pixar films, is known for.
Technically the movie is top-notch. The photography is beautiful. The CGI is really great. Costumes, production design, et al. are excellently executed.
There's a gem of a movie hidden here. If Disney hadn't been so eager to take a big loss on the film, the studio might have had another film franchise. Even so, the film is not as bad as it's been treated. Hopefully, home video audiences will see it for what it's worth.
Iron Sky (2012)
Didn't know anything about the movie when I saw it, and I found it hilariously offensive. This is a Finnish-German-Australian science- fiction comedy made with fan donations that winds up making a lot of fun of Nazis, Americans, and even a few jokes about the Finns and the Australians.
Basically, the Nazis have been hiding out on the moon for 70 years making plans to conquer the world. The only thing holding them back is the development of a supercomputer, which conveniently falls into their lap in the form of an iPhone when a black US astronaut arrives on their doorstep. The Nazis are about to implement their invasion when the iPhone battery dies and they decide to go back to Earth, with the black astronaut now brainwashed and turned white (I told you it was offensive), to gather more iPhones.
On Earth, the Nazis wind up scripting a Sarah Palin-like US President's re-election campaign with Hitlerian speeches and Goebbels-like imagery before the all-out (slapstick) interplanetary war breaks out.
There's a large amount of referential humor and one-liners that help if you're up on current politics and WWII history. It's all pretty silly, but production values for this $10 million movie are quite outstanding, and it's one of only a handful of successful sci-fi comedies ever made. For a B-movie, it's really a lot of fun.
Falling Skies (2011)
No Special Effects Budget
I agree with what a lot of commenters have pointed out, but I think ultimately the show's biggest problem is it has a very limited special effects budget that sabotages the stories. A good example is the opening sequence in the pilot showing how the Earth is attacked and occupied. It's told through a series of children's drawings. This is a $1.98 writers' solution to the problem of not being able to afford a proper special effects opening. Imagine if Battlestar Galactica didn't show the Cylon attack or if V didn't show the coming of the alien ships. As a writer, you have to do a lot of tap dancing around to distract viewers from this.
After the lackluster pilot episode, the pace of the episodes pick up as the writers come up with a series of missions the Massachusetts 2nd has to go on. As people have pointed out, these are the typical missions to get food and medical supplies and look for loved ones captured by the aliens. But I think the action is well-directed and the writers successfully come up with situations that keep the special effects down to a minimum. My interest in the series picked up again through these middle episodes.
The big problem comes with the series' final episodes. The rebels spend four episodes getting ready to take the fight back to the aliens and the battle ISN'T EVEN SHOWN! Likewise several other regiments are destroyed, and WE DON'T SEE THAT EITHER! All the action happens "off stage" and we only see the aftermath.
In these "preparing for battle" episodes, the writers are forced to fall back to clichés and endless discussions about the characters' self- doubts, their problems, and what they hope to accomplish. Talk, talk, talk! And they have to come up with reasons of why the aliens, who know where the rebels are, just don't call in air strike and massacre them. The lack of a special effects budget cheat the viewers out of a payoff.
Science fiction series have long had to rely upon "ship" episodes to stretch their budgets. That's where an episode uses pre-existing sets, no guest stars, and a minimum of special effects to save up for a really expensive, special effects-laden episode. Falling Skies consists of nothing but "ship" episodes!
Strange but Fun
I came across this short film directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and starring Carla Gugino and Eric Stoltz (and other well-known actors) on a DVD of short films called Wholphin DVD magazine. Not only was it the best of the bunch, but had it been longer, it would have been indistinguishable from a pro film and good enough to be released. Totally professional look and feel. Also it gave an excuse for Carla to sing rock and roll and Joseph to play drums (as he did on Saturday Night Live) as well as direct.
The film is based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, and Stoltz is an insurance investigator looking into the suspicious circumstances surrounding Carla's mansion burning down. Scenarios and theories go back and forth in a battle of wits in a modern-day film noir. As I said in the summary, it's a strange but fun film.
Why it's similar to 1964's The Time Travelers
As I understand it, Ib Melchior and Dave Hewitt had a falling out over 1964's The Time Travelers. Both are credited with coming up with the story, but Hewitt left the production and Melchior wrote the screenplay and directed this little sci-fi B-film classic himself. Hewitt wrote his own version of the movie and later directed it as 1967's Journey to the Center of Time, making just a slightly different version. I can't remember ever seeing what is essentially a remake arrive just three years after the first movie's release. But then again, both films were grist for drive-ins where few people probably noticed the similarities. These movies had me scratching my head wondering if I had seen it before on TV where, after repeated viewings, I was able to make the connection between the two films.