Category Archives: SF

Come see me at Condor

This weekend, starting tomorrow Friday January 19th, is San Diego’s local SF convention, Condor.

Condor is small, intimate, and friendly convention, and one I have always enjoyed even before I began appearing on the panel discussions.

Here is my schedule for the weekend. It’s the busiest one I have gotten yet and it looks to be loads of fun.

 

Friday

Noon: If I Had A Time Machine. Room: Presidio

1pm: How Reliable is Science. Room: Garden II

3pm: This Is A Game? Room: Garden II

4pm: Social and Economic Ramifications of Teleport. Room: Garden II

6pm: Post-Apocalypse Fiction. Room: Presidio

9pm: First Line, Last Line. Room: Garden I

10pm: Can I Get A Prozac. Room: Garden II

 

Saturday

10am: Online-Only TV Series. Room: Garden II

1pm: TV Noir Part Deux. Room: Presidio

2pm: Friend’s Sidekicks, and Other Hooligans. Room: Garden II

4pm: My Favorite Doctor. Room: Presidio

6pm: Large Scale Continuity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Room: Balboa

8pm: Back to the Future. Room: Balboa

9pm: Scientific Urban Legends. Room Balboa

 

Sunday

10am: Our Favorite Time Travel Movies & Shows. Room: Presidio

Noon: Six-Guns, 38s and Laser Pistols. Room: Garden II

1pm: The Internet: Valuable Research Tool or Kitten Photo Gallery? Room: Presidio

3pm: City on the Edge of Forever. Room: Presidio

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New Year’s Eve Movie

This posting is a few days late but I am still shaking off the effect of this year’s flu, which for many is particularly rough.

New Year’s Eve a local movie appreciation society Film Geeks San Diego hosted an invitation only screening of an undisclosed title. Getting an invitation was easy, all I needed to do was respond to the posting. I arrived at the Digital Gym, a fine micro-theater and school, gave the supplied password, and I was in. This sounds much more cloak and dagger than it was, but the air of what unknown film my friends Miguel and Beth had selected supplied a lot of fun. After three cartoons the title was announced to the twenty people invited to the private screening: Liquid Sky. I had heard of this film but had never seen it and that was perfectly fine by me. I love cinematic experimentation. We stopped the film just before midnight to ring in the New Year and then continued with the screening.

Liquid Sky is a movie about the lives of a small collection of aspiring models, actors, and fashion people living lives of hedonism, experimental music, and drugs an alien spacecraft lands in the milieu, manned by tiny unseen creatures that have come in search of opioids. A scientist from West Berlin follows the aliens into the neighborhood, studying the extraterrestrials and hoping to warn the residents of the dangers that are in. It would seem that the aliens have switched their habits from heroin to opioid like chemicals produced in the human brain. What unfolds is a story of sex, manipulation, assault, and eventually murder as the visitors harvest their ‘crop.’

Though it is a product of the early eighties Liquid Sky, in part due to is highly unusual and stylized make and androgynous characters possesses a strong Ziggy Stardust sensibility. Made on a small budget the film is devoid of the special effects so common to 1982 and for a story with as much sex and sexuality as it had is even restrained in it in on screen depictions. (Though be warned that there is an on screen rape scene presented, as it should be free of titillation.) Liquid Sky gained a cult following and lately there has been talk of a sequel.

Following the feature there were more material presented but I could feel my energies flagging and made the short drive home, all in all not a bad way to start off 2018. I know many people are hoping that 2018 will be a better year than 2017 to which I say, do not hope, make it a better year, the choices are up to us.

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Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Spoiler Free

 

As is our custom my sweetie-wife and I waited until Sunday morning to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, crowds are more behaved and the ticket prices are cheaper. I enjoyed the last film in this saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but I can certainly see the critique that some of leveled at TFA as nothing more than a rehash of the original Star Wars. Now, I believe that going back to the original story beats was a feature and not a bug. I think the powers that be knew that they had to regain the fans trust after the terrible disappointments of the prequel trilogy. That leaves the question ‘Will the next film be a rehash of The Empire Strikes Back?’ IF the sequel to the new trilogy were a rehash then the franchise would be nothing but call back and a money grab.

The Last Jedi is not The Empire Strikes Backs.

It is the middle film of a trilogy and this is the section of the story where things get darker, where the antagonists gain an upper hand, and our hero suffer defeats and loses. All that happens in The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, but the story beats and more importantly the themes are very different.

The Last Jedi is a very different beast of a Star Wars movie. The theme takes a new path, the reveals are more nuanced, and the backstory that is uncovered strikes right at the heart of Campbell’s Heroes Journey. There is one reveal that I have already seen people flat out refusing to believe is accurate. Just as so many fans refused to accept that Vader was in deed Luke’s father; this bit of information is also rejected. And just as with the ‘I am your Father’ reveal this one fits too perfectly with the story’s theme to be a red herring.

Picking up where the last film concluded, The Last Jedi carry on the struggles of Rey as she tries to discover who and what she is, Poe Dameron and the resistance fighting for their survival, and Finn finding that his loyalty still facing deep tests. The movie is two and a half hours long but it rarely drags. The plot moves at lightspeed, and with the well-established disregard for space’s vast distances. (Really, how does the Falcon get from Hoth to Bespin without a working hyperdrive?) But with Star Wars you disable those critiques. This is fantasy not science-fiction and it must be approached in that manner.

The film makes several very unexpected moves. Going into this knowing it is the middle of a story creates expectations, ones that the writer/director seems to delight is subverting. This too is a feature and not a bug. I had a great time and can’t wait to see how this all concludes.

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Revisiting my Youth

So, as I have mentioned the notion has been bouncing around my head to try my hand a pulp style adventure. I have received some good advice that perhaps I should start with a short story first and then perhaps attempt a novel.

A few weeks ago my sweetie-wife and I was walking near the Antique Row area of Adam’s Avenue in San Diego and as we passed the Adam’s Avenue Bookstore, a treasure horde of used books and my favorite used bookstore in town, I popped inside to see if they had any of the old Doc Savage novels.

They had one: Fear Cay.

I bought it, and bought another book that my sweetie-wife wanted and we headed home. Now when I was a young teenager I discovered the Doc Savage novels shortly after discovering science-fiction in general. These were pulp adventures written in the 30’s about the superhuman hero/adventurer Doc Savage and his team of five fantastic men as they spanned the globe fighting evil. There are more than 180 of these novels and I think I have read maybe twenty, but my memory is one of fun, adventure, and a pseudo-supernatural mystery that always turned out to have a scientific explanation. Really just the sort of thing I am thinking about exploring. Armed with my pulp novel I settled in to read Fear Cay.

Wow. The prose is terrible.

The adventure unfolds pretty much as I remember most of these adventure unfolding, but I had no recollection at all just how clumsy, expository, and plain bad the actual writing was. I have worked my way through this book but I can attest that it was not a smooth and effortless journey, Certainly I do not want to imitate the prose style of something like this, only the atmosphere of grand adventure. I have a short story coming together for my own pulp hero and after I finish work on my novel that will be by next project.

As an aside, apparently writer/Director Shawn Black (Iron Man 3, Lethal Weapon, etc.) if planning on making a live action, period set, Doc Savage movie staring Dwayne Johnson as Doc. That should be interesting.

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Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok is the third stand alone film based the character of Thor, who is in turned based on the mythological Norse god of Thunder. Many people feel that Marvel studios have been floundering a bit with what exactly to di with this character. His first outing in Thor many said was a story and scope that seemed to small, too constrained for such a gran operatic character, while the second movie Thor: The Dark World many accused of trying too hard for gravitas. Personally, I enjoyed both movies and Blu-rays of each sit in my library, but they are also not my favorite films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This time out Thro is dealing with Ragnarok, the Norse myth’s end of days prophecy, and event being hastened along by Hela the Norse goddess of the death. Taking a tonal cue from the successful Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, Thor: Ragnarok is a film that has serious potiential outcomes for its character and the MCU’s grander continuity while also playing many of it’s beats and scene for laughs. This is a very difficult balance to effect and while I think there were one or two miscues overall Thor Rangarok lands well and it a very entertaining movie. Chris Hemsworth, following on his performance in the remake of Ghostbuster, proves that comedic muscles he displayed in that re-envisioning were no fluke. Mastering the emotional turns of dram to comedy with flair and competence. Tom Hiddleston continue to show why he is the most popular actor in the MCU, and sadly Idris Elba continues to be criminally underused for an actor of his tremendous talents. Of course it wouldn’t be an MCU film without newcomers to welcome to the grand canvas. Tessa Thompson show good range and depth with her character, a scavenger with a mysterious toe to Asgard. However it is Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster that simply steals scene after scene, proving that while Hiddleston and Hemsworth has charisma and talent they are no match for old age and treachery. Goldblum has always guided his performances with a off-center balance that makes them difficult to predict, and in this role his abandons all pretense of balance craft a villain that is at turns comedic, threatening, and full of guile. Of course there has been plenty of chatter about Cate Blanchet as Hela. Cate is Cate and her performance is enjoyable. What a treat it would have been had Hela and Grandmaster share a scene or two.

Mark Ruffalo returns as Banner/Hulk and for the first time I truly enjoyed a Hulk sub-plot. Upping the characters’ verbal abilities and improved FX makes it possibel to have the Hulk as a character.

If you enjoyed and mix of drama, action, and comedy seen in the two Guardians of the Galaxy films then Thor: Ragnarok is likely to be a hit with you.

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Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

Last night’s plans for board and card games fell apart and turning lemon into lemonade I took the opportunity to see Blade Runner 2049.

Blade Runner 2049 as the name suggests is a sequel to 1982’s classic SF film Blade Runner. The original movie was set in Los Angeles 2019 and concerned a policeman, Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, who was a Blade Runner, someone who hunted down and killed rouge androids called replicants. Through the course of first film Deckard learns empathy for the replicants and eventually flees with one, becoming a fugitive himself. It is a source of endless debate if Deckard is truly human or a replicant himself. (The director Ridley Scott is adamant that he is and Harrison Ford is equally adamant that Deckard is human.) Now is it thirty years later, and we are again following a policeman/Blade Runner as he pursues a mystery concerning replicants from the original film and an impossibility of their existence.

Where the first film’s foundation lay in ambiguity Blade Runner 2049 deals with more explicit information, but doesn’t sacrifice the deep philosophical questions that drove the original including what is it that makes us human. To explore these questions in addition to the replicants, the writers have added digital artificial intelligences creating a world that is awash with people who aren’t considered ‘human.’ The Film’s protagonist is ‘K’, and he status as a replicant is made clear from the earliest scenes of the story. That he is hunting his own kind is one of the sources of tension for the story. As he uncovers secrets and mysteries about the events of the original film, K discovers truths about himself and the world around him.

Clocking in at two and three quarters hours Blade Runner 2049 is not a short film, but it did not feel overly long. This is a movie comfortable in its pacing, and well footed enough to slow down and explore ideas and characters without fearing that it might bore the audience. (Though that itself makes it a movie for everyone. There were walkouts about halfway through last night’s screening. However the original Blade Runner failed at the box office and because a classic, revered and studied to this day.) A tricky aspect to crafting a sequel is what do you do about the fact that world has moved on since the first movie? Even in 1982 setting Blade Runner in 2019 was overly optimistic about technological advances and now the original simply is impossible. The filmmakers solution was to treat the Blade Runner setting a parallel time-stream and continue forward along it, ignoring reality’s conflicts. (Though I wonder how many of the younger audience member’s understood the significance of the CCCP in the world-building.) With frequent nods to the original film and even the original novel, Blade Runner 2049 is a respectful and intelligent film from the man who directed last year’s equally smart movie Arrival. I can’t wait to see what he does with Dune.

 

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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan 35 years later

Last night I went the Fathom Event Anniversary screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I remember standing in line on a hot summer day on San Diego 35 years ago waiting to see this movie. It did not disappoint then and it did not disappoint last night. There are few SF/Fantasy films that hold up well over a single decade much less three.

Last night’s presentation was the Director’s Cut, presenting a few expanded scenes and a couple of alternative takes, but essential the movie, like the song, remained the same.

I am not going to recap or review the film. By now you have seen it, known about, or just don’t care.

I was surprised by how much the film moved me. Mind you not only have I seen this multiple times before, but I own this edition on home video. This is one of my very favorite films, a movie that has very very few flaws, and one I often watch to raise my spirits. I went last night because it had been more than 20 years since I last watched it on the big screen and never this particular edition, I expected to enjoy it, but not get emotionally invested all over again, yet that is exactly what happened.

The battle in the nebula still excited me, set my heart racing and quickened by breath, I still wanted to scream at Kirk as he walked into the trap upon the Enterprise’s first encounter with Reliant, and Spock’s sacrifice continued to be a gut-punch. This is the power of art, to move you, to reach in and grab you by the feels even when it is well know and familiar territory. This is why re listen to albums over and over, buy television program on home video, and re-read books. It is humbling and astounding.

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Blu-Ray Review: Shin Godzilla

One of the pleasant surprises from my vacation visiting my family on the east coast was getting a copy of the Blu-ray of Shin Godzilla, Toho’s reboot of cinema’s most successful franchise. Regular readers of my blog may remember that I saw this movie in a theater last year and enjoyed the experience. I can say that re-watching it on home video only enhanced my enjoyment and appreciation.

The Blu-Ray itself is thin on bonus features, containing only a trailer and a panel interview about the movie, however the transfer looked great. The picture was sharp, vivid with a clear and powerful soundtrack.

As I stated Shin Godzilla is a reboot of one of film’s most iconic characters. Rather than stick with the convoluted continuity stretching all the way back to 1954, this story wipes the slate clean and proceeds with a story in which Kaiju monsters have never exited.

One of the more difficult aspects to this sort of movie is finding the human story that takes place within the setting of a giant rampaging monster. The original Gojira cracked this using the story as a frame to discuss the recent war, the fears of nuclear power, and the conflict between what you want for yourself and sacrificing for the greater good. Shin Godzilla, well removed the horrors of World War II, centers it story on government officials tasked with dealing the impossible situation. While carrying forward a story about a young idealistic politician and his team of misfits and heretics the movie also finds organic methods of discussing nuclear weapons, governmental paralysis in crisis, and Japan’s international relationships, particularly with the United States.

The film has plenty of unobtrusive call backs to the 1954 original, principally in the soundtrack with sound effects and music well repurposed. Nearly all of the effects work quite well. (I did not like the eyes of the monsters earliest form. They struck me as pasted on and looking like the toys eyes you can stick on just about anything. This, however, is a fairly minor flaw.)

This is film that in many ways mirrors the tone of the original, approached with a seriousness that works and well worth having on Blu-ray.

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Movie Review- Morgan

A few weeks ago I had Netflix send me the disc for The Belko Experiment and on that blu-ray were previews for two films that sparked my interest one of which was Morgan.

Now I will admit that I had low expectations foe this movie. After viewing the trailer it seemed to me that it had a fairly high probability of being a modestly budgeted Alien clone, but that was not the case.

Morgan is a mid-budget SF films about a corporation’s secretive artificial life experiments, the L-9 Morgan project. After an incident resulting in the serious injury of program personnel Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) a risk assessment and management specialist is sent to the isolated facility to determine the dangers to the corporation and if the project should be terminated. The staff, having developed emotional attachments to their projection, resent her presence and her mission.

As I stated this did not turn out to be an Alien copy but Morgan is its own thing. (Some reviewers have unfairly compared it to ex Machina but that I think is a misreading based on surface elements alone. A tight, mostly one set locale, an artificial intelligence of unknown motivations, and a general atmosphere of suspense.) I believe, and unfortunately because this was a rental disc with all the bonus features crippled, it is only a belief, that the filmmakers were more directly inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and James Whale 1931 adaptation. This is the story of creating life and the relationship between the created and the creator. Unlike Frankenstein there is not a single genius but rather a talented team of scientists played by a group of experienced character actors including Michelle Yeoh, Paul Giamatti, Toby Jones, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and with Anya Taylor-Joy, whom I last saw in the lead in the terrific horror film The Witch as the titles character Morgan.

Morgan is a decent, enjoyable, and competently produced movie. Directed by first time direct Luke Scott and produced by his father Ridley Scott, the film makes the most of its modest budget, never looking cheap or like corners were cut, but rather utilizing the limited location and cast to created a confined suspenseful story. This is not a must see movie but it is still worth your time and an enjoyable way to pass 90 minutes.

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Time Scales

As a writer of science-fiction I often have to think about the time scale of future history, which wraps around and has me thinking about the time scale of actual history.

For example take a hypothetical person born around the time I was 1960. (I was not actually 1960 but it good enough for an example.) If that person lives until they are 80 they die in 2040, that an interesting stretch of history. Now say that person has a grandchild or great-grandchild born when in 2030. The kid and the oldest hang out for ten years because the oldster has cool stories before personal computer, home video, cell phones and so on. The kid born in a better time has a better run and dies when they are 90, or 2120. That kid, when they die, has spoken with and interacted with a person who was alive before man flew in space, but is passing away in the 22nd century.

With the rapidly expanding abilities of our medical technology there’s no doubt those number are on the conservative side. To me this gets more staggering when you play these numbers against history.

Move it all back and we have someone passing away in 2020 who had direct contact with someone born in 1860. That old person in 2020 could very well have known someone who had born on a plantation as a slave. That’s how tight and close our history truly is. Things and events we think of as the distant past are really just barely one step removed from living memory.

It is staggering.

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