Movie Review: The ABYSS

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the abyss20th Century Fox
1989
PG-13

“Howdy. Uh…how are you guys doin’?”

When a nuclear missile sub mysteriously sinks, the Navy commandeers the crew of a civilian deep-sea oil rig to help in the rescue operation. This perilous mission becomes a wondrous odyssey into the unknown as forces from the ocean’s deepest region begin to make contact with the divers. For Bud Brigman and his estranged wife Lindsey, it becomes also a test of their physical and emotional limits. Their journey into the endless night of the ocean’s depths lays bare the human heart in an elemental confrontation between death, love and something else…the strange inhuman watchers in The Abyss.

The Abyss. James Cameron’s other movie classic that didn’t involve future kill-bots, Xenomorphs or a doomed luxury liner. There’s another one that seems to be escaping my attention, but whatever.

My history with this movie was…surprising, actually. The Abyss was, as I recall, one of a handful of movies that were released at the same time, that featured a story of deep-sea unknown terror. It was one of those movies that I didn’t really noticed back when it was released, as there were other more important flicks I needed to watch. Yeah, that’s it. The Abyss was eventually bought on VHS by my parents because…I don’t know, really. I do know we recently acquired a VCR the previous year, so I remember going through the family movie collection one weekend afternoon, bored and wanting to watch something–anything–and spotting this. So I watched it. And I’ve rewatched it many times since then.

The Abyss is one of those Science Fiction movies that only the 1980s could produce, in that it has that mix of wonder as well as that touch of excitement and fear that normally would be the hallmarks of a classic Spielberg movie from the era. The story is the classic humans encountering aliens…only the twist being these aliens dwell deep in the ocean, instead of outer space. Well, maybe they were from outer space at one time, but they clearly loved the ocean floor property. Location, location, location, and all that. You got the scientist that wants to study the mysterious goings on, the blue-collar guys that are hired by the U. S. Military to dive down, and the military soldiers on board as well, all with their own agendas, that leads to some interesting drama and tension. Oh, did I mention the scientist and the foreman of the boat are estranged husband and wife? Yeah, there’s that, too.

Rewatching, the effects themselves hold up surprisingly well. Especially considering this was kind of the prototype use of the liquid CGI rendering that was featured heavily in Cameron’s future sequel to the Terminator. Of course, the movie ends in a very positive and hopeful kind of way that, depending on your disposition, will make you feel all warm and fuzzy, or trigger your cynicism powers.

Overall, The Abyss is one of those classic science fiction movies that, while not one from my childhood per-se, still holds nostalgic value as well as being a great sci-fi yarn that I still watch from time to time.

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Book Review: PSYCHOSPHERE

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brian lumley psychosphereBrian Lumley
Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.
1984

A machine, Psychomech, granted Richard Garrison great and terrible mental powers–strength enough to restore his dead love and vanquish his enemies. Through Psychomech, too, Garrison learned of the Psychosphere, another plane where mental powers ruled supreme–and where Garrison was sole tenant. Now a new mind has entered the Psychosphere, a mind twisted and evil and bent on controling the Earth. Richard Garrison must discover the owner of that mind–and destroy it!

The second book in Lumley’s Psychomech trilogy, continuing with the goings on with former Army Corporal turned demigod Richard Garrison, his zombie wife and the dog who loves him.

I had to pause for a few minutes to take in what I just wrote, there. Anyway, the plot of this book…

Ever since the events in Psychomech, Richard Garrison has been rendered, not really a full-on god, but at least powerful enough to give Gozer a run for his/her/it’s money, with two other consciences dwelling within his…head? Is that right? Anyway, with all of this PHENOMINAL COSMIC POWER!, he spends his free time gambling and making enemies with the mob. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess. There is a problem, though–Garrison is slowly leaking the power he has, mostly due to wrecking the Psychomech pretty badly in the previous novel, and the other two consciences are coming out to play more often than not. Also, Vicki is beginning to think that she no longer loves Garrison like she thought. Oh, and there’s an obese albino hermaphrodite psychic in an underground fortress attempting to take over the world in there, somewhere.

Psychospere was…interesting. It starts off as a pretty intriguing thriller, then gets weird as the story progresses. This may be due to the obese albino hermaphrodite psychic character. I just like writing all of that out. This character is about as powerful as (apologies for mixing geek references, here) Professor Xavier, if not moreso, and really has a thing for hedonistic orgies that would make Caligula blush. Like with the first book, the parts that seemed to drag more in the story were the parts where Garrison is in his head reality, dreamstate kinda place (the psychospere? it’s never really explained fully what that titular thing is), dragging around the remains of the psychomech and slowly losing power. The big ending conflict was decent, and the way Garrison resets everything was interesting. Overall, I would say Psychospere, like the first entry in the trilogy, was a bit overlong but interesting enough to finish. Is that considered damning with faint praise? I could never get a grasp on that concept…

Movie Review: SUNSHINE

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sunshineFox Searchlight Pictures
2007
R

“At the end of time, a moment will come when just one man remains. Then the moment will pass. Man will be gone. There will be nothing to show that we were ever here…but stardust.”

It is the year 2057, the sun is dying and mankind faces extinction. Earth’s last hope rests with a courageous crew of eight men and women on a mission to ignite the fading star with a massive nuclear weapon. Deep into their voyage, out of radio contact with Earth, their mission begins to unravel and they find themselves fighting not only for their lives, but for the future of us all.

When it comes down to it, I would say that, when it comes to science fiction, I really don’t have a set preference of style. Like anything else genre-wise, it depends on whatever mood strikes me. I can enjoy some good hard sci-fi just as much as a space opera; hybrid stuff like western/sci-fi or even horror set in SPAAAAAAAAACE!, mainstream or mind-bending obscure…I trust you get the idea, here. I loves me some sci-fi.

When it comes to the cinematic science fiction, there are times when you come across a movie that starts off rather strongly, and maintains that strength for the first two thirds…and then suddenly turns into another movie altogether, more often than not at the expense of having the movie end disappointingly. It’s not a bad movie, it just could have been a great movie had it continued with the original story.

Such is the movie Sunshine.

It’s the future, and the sun is dying out, resulting in the Earth being a bit dimmer and a lot more chilly in the summer months. In an effort to give our own personal star a much-needed booster, we sent out a ship named Icarus I, but something happened that resulted in losing contact with the ship and the mission failing. So, Icarus II heads out, with the same mission of kickstarting the sun, hopefully without being distracted by something shiny. Well, more distractedly shiny than the sun. I mean, is there anything more shiny to get distracted by? Cursed Daystar. Anyway, the mission is going as planned, as the various members of the expedition are doing their relative science-y stuff and having the occasional spat that comes with being stuck in a confined area for a long amount of time. Roommates do that. Around the time they’re passing by Mercury, though, they start getting a signal from what turns out to be the Icarus I. There’s a disagreement as to whether to push on with the mission, or to stop by the wreck of the Icarus I and see if they could get that payload as a backup in case the one they’ve got to get the sun going somehow fails. They decide to press on (that was the civil way of saying it), but then a great mishap involving the sun shield happens, resulting in them docking with Icarus I anyway. Once inside, they discover that the entire mainframe of the ship was sabotaged by the crew themselves, having been driven mad by the sun. They discover the remains of the crew, all burned up together when they dropped the protection from the sun’s radiation. Seems they all decided that the sun dying was supposed to happen, and this was the result. Bad news, yes…but then it turns out someone is sabotaging the Icarus II. Someone who really shouldn’t still be alive. Then it turns into a slasher movie, resulting in what you would expect would happen. Fight against the odds, big tense self-sacrifice moment, The End.

The big issue I have with Sunshine is the part when, after they dock with the Icarus I (why would you name a space ship Icarus? Are they not familiar with the actual myth story? It doesn’t end well, you would think they would know that, all that book learnin’ and stuff), the movie suddenly turns into that confusing third act of Event Horizon. It’s not even a very good emulation of that third act; we go from a pretty tense hard science fiction movie, then into what is basically your standard slasher, only the villain has no logical reason to exist. Mainly because they shouldn’t have survived being crispified by the sun and left floating around for several years without oxygen by the time Icarus II showed up. My brain is hurting right now trying to figure out the logistics of this just writing the review.

Look, Sunshine was a good movie. A very good movie. Then not so much good movie. Do I think you should watch Sunshine? Yes, definitely. The first two thirds are great. Just understand about that third part. It’s not terrible, mind…just…well, you get the idea. Like finishing up the Mona Lisa with crayons.

Book Review: PSYCHOMECH

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psychomechBrian Lumley
Tor
1983

The terrorist bomb blast ‘introduced’ two very different men: multimillionaire Thomas Schroeder and British Army Corporal Richard Garrison. The industrialist welcomed the army man to his mountain retreat, endowed him with wealth, and introduced him to the one woman he would always love. Blinded in the inferno, Garrison at first though that Schroeder’s kindness sprang from gratitude and guilt. But when Schroeder revealed the unique mental abilities he and Garrison shared and his plan to cheat death, Garrison began to wonder about Schroeder’s true motivations. Was he Thomas Schroeder’s friend or the test subject for Schroeder’s dreams of reincarnation?

So, in my on-going quest to try and read everything that Brian Lumley has written that is not in some way tied in with his Necroscope series, I began this first book in what is known as the Psychomech Trilogy. And after reading the titular first novel, my first thought after closing the book was, “There are two more of these to get through.” It wasn’t that it was a tedious slog to get through, it’s just that Lumley does have a talent for turning what could be a 250 page story into 400+ pages. The man is big on purple prose and exposition, he is. And I typed out that last bit in a cheesy Cockney accent in my head.

Bit of a backstory here, before we proceed: I first came across the second book in this trilogy at a now-defunct small used book store over fifteen or so years ago. Since I have this kind of OCD about reading series books out of order, I decided to hold onto this one until I could find the other two. That was easier said than done, as I didn’t come across those in physical mass market paperback form until I spotted them both at (say it with me) Half Price Books. Goodie for me. Only, there was already a bit of a reading que, so getting around to actually reading them took another couple of years (yeah, I may have an addiction, here). But finally, I was able to get to them, and now, if you haven’t given up and moved on to something more exciting on the Internet, here is the first of the three.

Thomas Schroeder is a very rich and powerful German industrialist who is in Ireland at the beginning of the story on business with the IRA, who have kidnapped his wife. He manages to get the best of them, but then he learns of a bomb they planted in his hotel room, of which he’s saved from by the brave actions of one Corporal Richard Garrison of the Royal Military Police, which results in the loss of Corporal Garrison’s vision. Not to worry, as Schroeder feels rather indebted to him for saving not only his life, but also the lives of his wife and infant son, that he brings Garrison to his rather swanky digs in Germany, to try and help him see again. Of course, there’s more to Shroeder’s intentions than just that, and while Garrison doesn’t seem to mind, it is hard to get a bead on whether things are a bit more sinister or not. It involves ESP and a bit of the old advanced horoscope drowsing made all sciency and stuff. Meanwhile, in Plot B, there’s this former Nazi officer who once tried to build a machine to create supermen for Hitler during World War II. Of course, now that he’s in hiding under an assumed name and life, he’s once again trying to build the machine, along with a psychiatrist who’s employing the Nazi as a gardener, under the guise of building a psychiatric machine to help alleviate one’s fears, called the Psychomech. Mech-mech-mech. Anyway, Schroeder dies, leaving all of his wealth and land to Garrison, along with Schroeder’s life long companion and bodyguard, named Willy Koenig. Not too long after that, Garrison marries a woman who just so happens to be having an affair with the psychiatrist that has built Psychomech, and after a couple of years of marriage, decides to dissolve their marriage by way of an overdose on the Psychomech itself. Only, instead of killing him, Garrison turns into a god, resurrects his long-dead-of-cancer first love, and absorbs Willy Koening into his being, along with Thomas Schroeder. The end.

As mentioned previously, Lumley does do a lot of exposition, quite a bit of dialog in his stories. Fortunately, he’s good at it, otherwise this would have been a slog to get through. Instead, Psychomech was decent, engaging with some slow parts, yes, but overall really creating a good sci-fi yarn that wasn’t really what I was expecting. I didn’t go into excessive detail with the story recap, as there is a lot of scenes involving a subconscious dream state that, while I understand it’s there to establish what the Psychomech machine is all about, was probably the least favorite parts of the book for me. And the ending is one of those abrupt kinds that made me go, “Well, that happened” when it got to the last page.

The Psychomech trilogy is probably Lumley’s more obscure series of novels, and judging by this first book, I can see why. Worth a look-see.

Book Review: 3001 The Final Odyssey

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Book Review 3001 The Final OdyssyArthur C. Clarke
Del Rey
1997

Perhaps it is better to be un-sane and happy, than sane and un-happy. But it is the best of all to be sane and happy. Whether our descendants can achieve that goal will be the greatest challenge of the future. Indeed, it may well decide whether we have any future.

One thousand years after the Jupiter mission to explore the mysterious Monolith had been destroyed, after Dave Bowman was transformed into the Star Child, Frank Poole drifted in space, frozen and forgotten, leaving the supercomputer HAL inoperable. But now Poole has returned to life, awakening in a world far different from the one he left behind–and just as the Monolith may be stirring once again . . .

Here it is, the final book in the so-called Space Odyssey Series of books. I remember wandering into a Walden Books that was inside one of the malls in Omaha (this was back before Barnes & Noble forced the smaller book stores in the area to cease when it opened up nearby) and running into the display of this new publication, thinking, “huh…he wrote another one?” Followed immediately with, “wait, Clarke is still alive? Good for him.” And then wandering off to see if there was anything good in the Faith and Christianity section. This was the later part of the 1990s, you see. This was before I rekindled my love of horror and sci fi literature.

Regardless, 3001 The Final Odyssey was, if you recall from the previous reviews I’ve posted, included along with all of the other titles in the Space Odyssey series when I got them all in one shot from Half Price Books. Not a bad deal, considering the original cover prices for books that are, for the most part, less than three hundred pages in length, and contain a considerable amount of rehash from the other books. Anyway, on to the story plot…

After a bit covering the entities that created the Monoliths that started all this wackiness, the body of one Frank Poole–the ill-fated member of the original expedition to the Saturn Jupiter Monolith all the way back in 2001–is found frozen and meandering about in zero gravity around the Kuiper belt by a space tug in the year 3001. After being revived (because this is THE FUTURE! and all that), he is taken back to Earth, where he begins learning about the wondrous…wonders of THE FUTURE! he suddenly finds himself in. Also, he becomes something of a curiosity for the citizenry, and especially for the person assigned to be his guide through all that. I can imagine how amusing the whole “Back in my day…” spiel would be at this point. Meanwhile, it seems that the Jovian Monolith has received some orders from the Big Giant Monolith several light years away, essentially saying that humans had a good run, and to wipe ’em out. So the Monolith starts multiplying again to block out the sun; fortunately, the Bowman/HAL hybrid thingie that calls itself Halman now, has infected the Monolith with a virus that disintegrates them. Humanity saved, and future looks pretty bright. The end…for good now.

So, here we are, finally. The final book of the four in the Space Odyssey series, and…really, the majority of the time it’s a futuristic fish-out-of-water kind of book, with a revived Frank Poole suddenly finding himself the Philip J. Fry in this Futurama situation. Like his other books, Clarke seems to have more fun with the technical wonders of speculative future tech, with the actual plot being kind of a secondary thing. It was the way of the old school Science Fiction writers, keep in mind. I do have to admit, though, with the revelation of the Monoliths being constructs that were more or less breaking down a bit, and taking them out with a virus from within kind of takes the awe and mystery out of the sails, but really. By now there should be some kind of explanation for those things. I did like the history of the alien beings that started the whole thing. Gives a bit of overall scope of how long this has been going on.

Overall, 3001: The Final Odyssey was a decent cap of a decent science fiction series. Sure, the book raises more questions than it answers, but I was rather satisfied with how things ended. As to the questions this leaves…well, I’m going to just have to speculate and use my imagination for those. Sadly, Clarke died eleven years after this book was published. But, if you get the chance, check out the entire Space Odyssey series, maybe not like I did, but it’s worth checking out.

Movie Review: BLADE RUNNER 2049

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blade runner 2049Columbia Pictures
2017
R

“All the courage in the world cannot alter fact.”

Officer K, a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard, a former blade runner who’s been missing for 30 years.

The original 1982 cult sci-fi classic Blade Runner is one of those movies that everyone talks about, even when they’ve never seen the movie itself. I know you posers exist. Even you out there that claim to have read the “book” (air-quotes due to the fact that it really barely qualifies as a novella in length). Not that I’m not a poser myself…I have gone for a while knowing about the existence and relative importance of Blade Runner without having seen the movie. It’s the movie that inspired countless sound samplings in numerous German industrial bands, after all. What started off as a box-office bomb has become a cultural icon.

All that to lead into this review of the long-time gestating sequel, Blade Runner 2049. And I must make mention that, while this review isn’t going to be posted until immediately after the Halloween’ing season on my blog, I am writing this pretty much immediately after having watching it with the other Exalted Geeks. I did, however, already post the pubcast of our thoughts on that movie, so at least there was that. Which is to say, by now most of you who were going to watch Blade Runner 2049 probably have already done so; but regardless, spoilers be ahead, brave reader.

Picking up 30 years after the events in the first movie, we follow a Replicant Blade Runner (that’s not a spoiler, that’s actually addressed within the first ten minutes or so in the movie) on a routine mission to retire a rogue Replicant model. During that mission, he stumbles upon the remains of what may be human bones, but may not be, which leads to an even deeper mystery involving Replicants who can supposedly reproduce, in which the Replicant Blade Runner (let’s call him “Joe”…because he does so later on) into seeking out the former Blade Runner Richard Deckard, who’s been hiding out in the nuclear wasteland of Las Vegas (symbolism?), to find out who the offspring of a human and replicant pairing has produced 30 years ago. The guy who owns the corporation that builds the Replicants also wants to find out who this person is, but not for very nice reasons. Oh, and there’s also a side love story between Joe and his holographic girlfriend. I wish I was making that up.

Obviously, the one big concern going into this new Blade Runner was, will it hold up to the scrutiny of all Nerdom? Will it continue on in the grand tradition of mind-blowing science fiction, complete with a complex story that continues on with honoring the original yet telling its own unique self-contained tale, along with some mind-melting and gorgeous visuals? Something that begs to be watched multiple times, and yet still managing to get something new out of it with every viewing? Or, will it go the more accessible route, and make a 21st Century sequel that foregoes everything that made the original such a beloved cult classic, and just go with what they think would make it all kewl and stuff…namely, another action sci-fi flick with lots of ‘splosions and fights between the robots and humans, and ham-fisted fan service type cameos and references.

Well, let me go ahead and assure you, brave reader, that this movie is the former kind of sequel. One that manages to tell its own engaging story, yet remains in the world that was built before. This movie is gorgeous. It’s well-acted, well-written, well-shot and overall well-made all together. It’s a long movie, yes, but it’s very engaging. There is a lot to take in with this movie, which makes me want to take in multiple viewings, maybe even owning it when it comes out on DVD. One of these days I’m going to have to suck it up and get a BluRay player, but for now, DVD suits me just fine, really.

The one complaint I did have is a minor one: At several points, there’s a very loud bass boom that hits unannounced. I understand the use of audio as a way to enhance the viewing experience, but maybe it was the quality of the theater speakers, but every time it hit, I wished I brought earplugs. Otherwise, though, I hasten to call this a perfect movie, but compared with the rest of the year, Blade Runner 2049 certainly has taken the top spot in best movies I’ve seen thus far this year. Highly recommending that you see this in the theaters (trusting it’s still around by the time this gets posted in the first of November, mind) for the full-on experience.

Movie Review: EDGE OF TOMORROW

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Movie Review EDGE OF TOMORROWWarner Bros. Pictures
2014
PG-13

“Now listen carefully. This is a very important rule. This is the only rule. You get injured on the field, you better make sure you die.”

When Earth falls under attack from invincible aliens, no military unit in the world is able to beat them. Major William Cage, an officer who has never seen combat, is assigned to a suicide mission. Killed within moments, Cage finds himself thrown into a time loop, in which he relives the same brutal fight–and his death–over and over again. However, Cage’s fighting skills improve with each encore, bringing him and a comrade ever closer to defeating the aliens.

Edge Of Tomorrow is a science fiction movie that I remember seeing the teaser trailer for once while waiting for another movie to begin. It consisted of Tom Cruise in a mech suit of some kind, wondering around a battlefield with things blowing up around him…and that’s about all I remember before my brain began drifting to other, much more interesting things, like wondering if there was time to go get a package of Reese’s Pieces to mix in with my popcorn (I opted not to go). I wasn’t really planning on ever watching Edge Of Tomorrow, more out of disinterest in yet another gritty science fiction war movie, let alone one that features Tom Cruise in there. But, yet again the great ogre that is boredom reared its ugly head one weekend afternoon, and spying this on the streaming decided to kill off a couple of hours. The resulting reaction was…mixed, at best.

It’s the near future of…2015, and in a totally ironic reversal, Germany has been invaded…by a horde of intergalactic aliens called the Mimics, sort of a hive-minded Lovecraftian horror that managed to kill all the humans in their way. Five years later, the world’s combined military forces have finally managed their one victory, led by a sergeant in a mech suit that was dubbed the Angel of Verdun. This provides a much-needed boost of moral for the humans, and before you know it a major offensive in France is planned, with public affairs officer Major Tom Cruise William Cage being recruited to cover the day of the assault. Major Cage has a slight disagreement with this idea, and so he’s busted down to Private, labelled a deserter, and assigned to the J Squad for the battle. Of course, the battle itself doesn’t go well, and Private Cage dies taking out a rather large Mimic, getting covered in its blood with his dying breath. The End. Oh, wait, no…Cage wakes up again, reliving the last 24 hours leading up to the battle, with the memories of the previous attempt fresh in his head. Realizing he’s stuck in his own personal Groundhog Day hell, he proceeds to spend maybe hundreds of the reiteration of the same day trying to figure out a way to stop the Mimics once and for all. And this involves hundreds of times trying to convince the Angel of Verdun that he’s not nuts and help him do so. Of course, the standard time loop wackiness ensues, leading to finding the Big Alien Brain behind all this, which might involve Cage having to make the final assault without his timey-wimey powers.

As I was watching this, I kept asking myself, who was it that decided that Tom Cruise, of all people, needed to be an action star? This seems to be his modus operandi with movies since the end of the 20th Century. You would expect him to maybe be in a parody of an action movie, like with Charlie Sheen (Hot Shots) and his brother Emilio Estevez (Loaded Weapon 1). I don’t watch a lot of Tom Cruise movies, but going over the filmography page on IMDB, it seems that after doing Eyes Wide Shut, there’s been a lot of action movies on his list. And okay, he was in the action movie comedy Tropic Thunder, which is an awesome movie and everyone should go see it. But still, Tom Cruise still seems…off as a choice for action hero material. But, I digress.

It probably won’t come as much of a surprise when I say that I’m unfamiliar with the Japanese novel this movie is based on, All You Need Is Kill. Which is a very Japanese sounding name, there. And from what I’ve gleaned on the interwebs, there was a lot of plot streamlining for the movie, so one could say that Edge Of Tomorrow is loosely based on the novel. That said, my impression of Edge Of Tomorrow is essentially Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers. That’s the movie in a nutshell, minus the having to travel to distant planets to battle the alien horde. Mind you, I happen to dig the whole “stuck in a time loope” trope, when it’s done well, and here it’s done pretty good. Also, you get kickass mech suits and the late, great Bill Paxton as the Master Sergeant, with a whole lotta stuff blowing up. In other words, it’s an sci-fi action movie that tries to be smarter than what it really is, and the result is a rather enjoyable popcorn flick that you don’t have to think too hard about, as all the technical stuff is spelled out for you. You can just sit back, munch on some popcorn, and enjoy the show.

Overall, I did enjoy Edge Of Tomorrow the same way I enjoyed the original Independence Day, right down to the “hooray human endurance” happy ending. Mind you, I don’t understand why Warner Bros. decided to play up the movie’s tag line–“Live. Die. Repeat.”–upon the home video release. To many, that’s the actual title of the movie. I had a co-worker refer to it as that, asking “Have you seen Live Die Repeat?”, which took him describing the plot to make me realize he was talking about this movie. Regardless, you should check this out some time as a rental if you haven’t done so.

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