Movie Review: STARGATE

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“I don’t want to die. And your men don’t want to die, and these people certainly don’t want to die. It’s a shame you’re in such a hurry to.”

It was a fall afternoon on a Sunday in 1994. I was attending college in Wayne, Nebraska; some of my friends and I attended a service at one of the megachurches in Souix City, then took in a showing of the newly released sci-fi flick Stargate. I had no idea what that movie was; at the time, I was blissfully ignorant of most genre movies being released at the time. This was also before I knew who Roland Emmerich was. All I remember was someone in the group saying, “Let’s go see Stargate,” and I was just along for the ride. Fortunately, it was a pretty fun ride.

After a flashback to an archeological dig in Giza, Egypt in 1928, we meet one Dr. Daniel Jackson in the current day, trying (and failing miserably) to convince his collegues of his theory that the Ancient Egyptian culture was influenced by aliens. He’s offered a gig to decipher some strange–one would say “alien”–hieroglyphics on the item that was found at the aforementioned Giza dig. Turns out, those weren’t hieroglyphs at all, but constellations, and putting those bits into the ginormous stone circle activates a wormhole. And since we’re a curious lot, Dr. Jackson joins a team of military soldiers lead by Colonel Jack O’Neil into the wormhole to see what’s on the other side. And what’s on the other side is a planet on the farthest side of the known galaxy. A desert planet, to be exact; one that has a pyramid-like structure, as well as locals that appear to have bearly entered the Bronze Age. Also, they see a necklace of the Eye of Ra that Dr. Jackson is wearing, and begin to worship the off-world newcomers. Turns out, the locals speak a variation of Ancient Egyptian, so Dr. Jackson is able to communicate with them. Seems that this alien culture has close ties to how Earth’s Egyptian culture arose. Namely, an alien going by the name of Ra possessing an Earthling and setting himself up as a god. But then, the Earthlings revolted and Ra escaped and set up shop on this planet, where reading and writing is outlawed. And wouldn’t you know it? During all this exposition, Ra’s ship arrives, and the god is none too pleased at this turn of events. And with Colonel O’Neil being a bit on the suicidal side of things due to the tragic death of his son prior to this movie, he brought along a nuclear warhead to detonate in the event of a hostile alien situation to protect Earth from invasion. And Ra and his minions are as hostile as they come. Wackiness and an alien uprising ensues.

There’s really not much more I can say at this point, other than Stargate remains one of those sci-fi classics that I never really tire of watching. I’ve seen this many times, owned the movie at one point (which got lost in the shuffle of life some time ago, unfortunately, and I haven’t had an opportunity to replace it), and its legacy still reverberates in pop culture today. And yes, Stargate is another one of those big budget B-Movie flicks that I recommend whole-heartedly.


Movie Review: INNERSPACE

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innerspaceWarner Bros.

“You’ve got a big future in retail food marketing, and I’d hate to see you blow it now by going psycho on us.”

Ah, Joe Dante. His movies factor into my Nostalgia Databank quite often. Gremlins, Explorers, and of course, Innerspace, a kind of Fantastic Voyage by way of a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedy.

It was the summer of 1987. The parental units decided to take my sister and me to the drive-in theater just outside of Fremont, Nebraska for a special fireworks display and a showing of the recently released Innerspace. So, my first viewing of this movie was by way of an American movie experience that was in the later death throes at the time. It was quite the experience, mainly because I was fending off mosquitoes more often than paying attention to the movie. But, I ended up watching Innerspace a few more times on video rentals and one time on Cinemax.

In Innerspace, a Navy Lieutenant named Tuck volunteers for a top-secret experiment that involves being put inside a submarine pod and miniaturized, with the express purpose of being injected into a rabbit. Because SCIENCE! But, because this is the 80s, the lab is set upon by a rival organization before the injection could happen, and during a chase, the itty-bitty Tuck is injected inside a grocery store clerk. The clerk…well, he’s a bit of a hypochondriac. Okay, okay…a whole lot of a hypocondriac. Anyway, after doing soe science-y stuff, Tuck manages to see and communicate with his unsuspecting host, with all the wackiness that would ensue with this kind of thing. So now, Tuck only has a few hours of oxygen left, and he needs to get out of the clerk and get re-embiggened. But, the bad guys have the computer chips necessary to do that, and so Jack gets the clerk to enlist the help of his estranged girlfriend to go after what they need. Will they be able to extract Tuck in time, before he becomes a permanent fixture inside his hapless host?

What can I say, really, other than Innerspace is another one of those fun family oriented science fiction flicks from the era that more or less defined modern whimsical fantastic storytelling. Sure, the story is pretty derivative from Fantastic Voyage, and it’s a predictable plot, but it’s nevertheless a fun ride throughout. The dynamic between Dennis Quaid and Martin Short as Tuck and Jack the clerk respectively is inspired. And just for pointless geek moments, this movie features a pre-Star Trek Voyager Robert Picardo as a bad guy named “The Cowboy”. It seems Picardo features in more than a couple of Dante movies in the 1980s. Anyway, it’s another fun 80s sci-fi flick that is worth the watch some rainy Saturday afternoon.


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justice leagueWarner Bros.

“I miss the days when one’s biggest concern is exploding wind-up penguins.”

Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists newfound ally Diana Prince to face an even greater threat. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to recruit a team to stand against this newly awakened enemy. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of heroes — Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash — it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.

Lead-up to the big DCEU team-up movie has not been an easy one. While I seemed to be in the minority in thinking that Man Of Steel was decent if not severely flawed, Batman V Superman was a hot mess, and Suicide Squad was also a hot mess, but at least it was a bit more entertaining. Wonder Woman was awesome, but something I consider more an exception to the rule, rather than being a positive step in the right direction for the DCEU franchise. So, it was up to Justice League to fully turn my doubts around about the viability of the series. Will Justice League prove to be the contender with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or will this prove to be its undoing, ending up like Universal’s Dark Universe?

Also, I realize this is going to be posted at the beginning of the new year, a couple of months since it premiered in theaters, but regardless, possible spoilers ahead. I won’t know until I’ve written this thing, and all.

Pretty much picking up in the aftermath of Batman V Superman, it seems the death of Superman has caught the attention of an ancient intergalactic warlord named Steppenwolf, who has tried to conquer the Earth before, but was stopped by the ancient heroes…heroes which included the Amazons, the Atlantians, and the Green Lantern Corps, among others. Now that the so-called “old gods” have disappeared, Steppenwolf has come back to retrieve three hidden alien devices that, when combined, will turn the planet into the hellish world he desires it to be. As such, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince begin recruiting other superpowered heroes to help stop the invasion and beat it back from whence it came. Among the ranks are half-Atlantian, half-Human Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman, Speed Force-adept Barry Allen, aka the Flash, and Victor Stone, aka Cyborg. Cyborg is unique in that his powers stem from bonding with the very alien items that Steppenwolf is searching for. Even with that lineup, though, the team still seems to get their collective butts handed to them. They need to get another team member with a bit more power to go toe-to-toe with this New God. Someone…super. Some kind of super man, if you will.

Okay, fine: they resurrect Superman. I told you there would be spoilers.

So, Steppenwolf gets all three devices, goes to Russia and begins terraforming, and the superheroes plus a newly revived Superman (complete with shiny new duds) shows up, lay the smackdown, and everything ends on a happy note, with Bruce and Diana continuing with the notion of formation a league of some sort, for justice. Then the post-credits scene happens, and now I’m sad again. You’ll see what I mean when it happens.

I’ll be forthright: I went into watching Justice League with some very, very lowered expectations. Like, nearly non-existent. I was pretty much convinced that Wonder Woman was a fluke, and Justice League would continue in the same level of suckage the other two “team-up” movies in the DCEU were. But, I was proven slightly wrong.

First, the good: all the superheroes were done right. I’ve said that Ben Afleck was probably my favorite Bruce Wayne / Batman so far, and I’m sticking by it. Wonder Woman is still awe-inspiring as well as a furious butt-kicker (all apologies to Lynda Carter, you’ll always be my first Wonder Woman). As far as the newbies go: I had my doubts about Aquaman, and especially Jason “shirts make me itchy” Momoa’s kind of dude-bro vibe I got from the previews, but that actually works for the character. I was impressed. I am now interested in a possible Aquaman stand-alone if he continues playing the character, no mean feat. This iteration of the Flash, while effective as the comic relief of the group (because the world is not yet ready for Plastic Man, pity as that is), I wasn’t fully convinced he was Barry Allen. He seemed more Wally West than Allen. But, that’s the direction they took, and he played it well. The biggest surprise for me here was Cyborg, as I was convinced he was going to be regulated to background character that only comes up to give out technobabble and such. No, his arc was fairly substantial, given the time frame. And since I’ve already let the cat out of the bag, I have to say it: Superman is finally Superman. No longer is he brooding, he actually laughs at times. Even his costume is brighter than on Man Of Steel. Also, the running time is significantly less than the other movies, so it goes by in a relatively brisk pace. Which, really, brings up:

The bad: While I was glad for a nice, refreshingly shorter movie run time, I get the feeling that maybe that extra half-hour would have actually been beneficial to flesh out things a bit better. Like, with the main baddy of the film, Steppenwolf. He’s not only the most two-dimensional villain I’ve come across since the heyday of the 1990s superhero films, but his motion-capture CG rendering is the worst I’ve seen. It took a lot out of my enjoyment, as I kept thinking how hard it could have been to just use a live actor and use the CG sparingly to beef things up? Could have used some more baking time, guys.

Overall, while the action and fight scenes were breathtaking, and finally getting to see Supes back in form, Justice League seemed to fall just short of the epicness that a team up movie like this should have been. Regardless, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and while not a complete turn-around, Justice League is a step in the right direction for the DCEU. Definitely try and catch this on a big screen some time.

Movie Review: The ABYSS

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the abyss20th Century Fox

“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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brian lumley psychosphereBrian Lumley
Tom Doherty Associates, Inc.

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

“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.


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psychomechBrian Lumley

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.

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