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.

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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.

Movie Review: The LAST SHARK

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last-shark-posterUTI Productions
1981
PG

The Last Shark. AKA Great White. AKA L’ultimo squalo. AKA Italian Jaws. Okay, maybe I made up that last one, but it’s apt, considering Universal successfully sued to block its theatrical release here in the United States for plagiarism of Jaws.

While this movie was originally released under the title Great White, the version I watched was titled The Last Shark, so I’m going with that. Also, I should maybe point out that I haven’t seen Jaws yet. I’ll give you some time to process this shocking revelation. Point is, regardless of having never seen Jaws, I’m familiar enough with the story that, having watched The Last Shark, even I knew this was an almost beat-for-beat rip-off of Jaws. And in case you’re wondering why I watched this, well…I was in the midst of my free trial of Prime on Amazon, and this was available for streaming. And I was morbidly curious.

Anyway, we open on the ocean side community of Port Harbor, where everyone seems to be crazy about wind surfing. And after an opening credits scene featuring a young man making some rather mediocre moves (I’ve seen Frosted Flakes commercials with more exciting wind surfing than this), said young man is then eaten by the titular shark. This grabs the attention of a local horror fiction writer and a professional shark hunter, who both want to eradicate the threat, but then the mayor wants to pretend there is no shark threat, because that would mean canceling the upcoming wind surfing regatta, and that would mean possibly losing his bid for governor. So, the mayor has a massive steel net installed to keep the shark out of the area where the regatta will be held. Of course, this doesn’t stop the shark, which manages to bust through the net to take advantage of the all-you-can-eat buffet going on, resulting in the mayor’s aide getting eaten. So now, several attempts to make the shark go boom are made, but not only does the shark turn out to be way smarter than presumed, but can hilariously break the laws of basic physics. Can the author and shark hunter manage to kill the shark before any more of the community folk become shark food? Well…yes and no…respectively speaking…

As you may imagine, The Last Shark (or Great White, or whatever version you’re familiar with, if any) was entertaining for all the wrong reasons. The derivative script, the bad dubbing, the incredibly shoddy editing and flow, not to mention the amount of suspension of disbelief needed to believe that wind surfing is so important that people come from miles around to watch it once a year. Okay. I mean, there is a pretty popular Chicken Festival in one of the obscure small towns in my state, along with other localized festivals, but wind surfing? Also, the beach celebration leading up to said wind surfing festivities features a Hippie-In-A-Box. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

There’s a version of The Last Shark that exists as a Riff Trax edition. If, for some reason, this review has enticed you to watch this, then outside of some kind of intervention by family and friends, I can at least urge you to try and find that one, to take the edge off of the badness. Remember, I’ve had literal decades of experience with these kind of movies. Do not attempt to watch The Last Shark without the proper protection.

Movie Review: The NEON DEMON

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neon demonAmazon Studios
2016
R

“I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t write, no real talent. But I’m pretty, and I can make money off of pretty.”

I started hearing buzz in the horror community about this particular movie titled The Neon Demon build over a year ago, and kept running into the title here and there. It was directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, who many may know as the guy who did the artsy movie that was marketed as a Fast & Furious knock-off Drive, as well as Only God Forgives. Neither one of those I watched; but, given that this was listed in the Amazon Prime streaming under the “horror” section, I decided to go ahead and give it a watch. It was only just short of two hours, so during my recent rehabilitation stint and nothing else to do, I popped it on the player.

The Neon Demon falls squarely within the What The Bloody Heck Did I Just Watch?!? files. This doesn’t fall squarely under the “horror” title, per se; if anything, this is really akin to the classic David Lynch movies that makes you think that you’re experiencing a noir-ish drama through a nightmarish filter.

The story of The Neon Demon can be boiled down to aspiring young model goes to Los Angeles, gets picked up by a modeling firm, begins to get a taste of fame within the world of supermodels, and starts to go a bit insane from the pressure and alienation. Oh, and then gets killed and eaten by her competing model friends in an Elizabeth Bathory-style attempt to retain her youth and beauty for themselves. As is what happens in L.A., I would presume. I was only there once, in 1984. There was a lot of palm trees and citrus there.

Anyway, the entirety of The Neon Demon plays out like a two-hour fever dream, with a deliberately despondency and pace that, when pared up with the rather trippy EBM soundtrack, has the effect of walking through the world coming down off of some very potent pain medication. There was a bright, over-saturation of the colors and especially the whites that gave a feeling of a void and added to the despondency. And speaking of despondency, the acting from everyone added to the overall waking dreamlike quality, being slow and deliberate, like this all can’t be real but somehow is. To that end, this had the added effect of having Keanu Reeves emote the most in this movie. Mind=blown.

Overall, The Neon Demon has a lot more going for it than just being an artsy horror movie. It’s very well shot, well acted and put together. The story is rather thin, though, and the plot does seem to meander about aimlessly at more than one place. There are some very stark and disturbing scenes, and the final thirty minutes well earns its “horror” nod, so don’t think this is going to be all that easy to sit through. As far as recomendations, I would say yeah, it’s worth a watch some time, especially if you like movies like Requiem For A Dream and Mulholland Drive.

Movie Review: LIFE

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lifeColumbia Pictures
2017
R

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station are on the cutting edge of one of the most important discoveries in human history: the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars. As members of the crew conduct their research, the rapidly evolving life-form proves far more intelligent and terrifying than anyone could have imagined.

I grew up being a space science nerd at a very young age. I remember being fascinated with space and space travel since before Kindergarten. My parents maintained an ongoing subscription to Discover magazine for several years for me (it had the most pictures and stuff), as well as encouraged me to learn more about this area of study as much as they could. Of course, this just fed into my growing love of the science fiction genre, especially with movies. Which is to say, sooner or later it was inevitable that I would get around to watching the latest Alien rip-off, Life.

Okay okay okay, maybe “rip-off” is the wrong word to use, here. I mean, on the surface, the premise of Life (which, sadly, does not involve shots of the nummy cereal food) seems pretty similar, with some modifications: a bunch of scientists on the International Space Station discovers microscopic life within a soil sample taken from a Mars expedition, they manage to revive said life and watch in fascination as the space amoeba grows from microscopic to a CGI blob-ish thing. Eventually, one of the scientists decides to zap the alien blob because science, which annoys the blob–which was named Calvin by the scientists, by the way, like how you name a goldfish–leading to it somehow kicking the butt of the scientist and escaping its enclosure, and managing to kill a couple other scientists before getting out of the lab. Also, whenever Calvin eats something, it (he?) gets bigger. Naturally. Soon, the surviving scientists find themselves trying their darndest to survive and not get eaten, while the damage to the space station mounts along with the body count. Soon, it’s down to two remaining scientists, who hatch a plan to lure Calvin into one of the escape pods and blast him back out into deep space. Only, this involves one of the scientists to be inside with Calvin and manually override the preset controls to get it to not land on earth, while the other scientist escapes on the other pod to get back to Earth and warn everyone of a potential threat. We then end on a twist that everyone saw coming the moment the solution was mentioned. The end.

Life, as a science fiction movie, is fine. It’s well-shot, well acted and manages to get some effective claustrophobic thrills out of a story that is rather cookie-cutter. Again, I refer back to the comparisons to the movie Alien that everyone seemed to be making, and there’s some point to that; after watching Life, I personally like to think that this was more a prequel to the movie The Blob, mainly due to how Calvin ate and metabolized everything. And while we’re on the topic of Calvin, I have to say that the “monster Calvin” effects were kind of…off. He came off as kind of an underwater fern thing rather than a space monster. But, in the end, while I saw the ending coming, I was pleased with the standard dun-dun-duuuuun ending they went with.

Overall, I get the nagging feeling that Life would have worked better as an episode of the revival-era Outer Limits television show, rather than a full-length movie. The movie does try to get that hard sci-fi cred with how they approach the science part of the fiction; by the time the ending credits roll, though, I wasn’t really craving more beyond that. Worth a rental, at least.

Movie Review: The VOID

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the voidD Films
2016
NR

“Statistically, you’re more likely to die in a hospital than anywhere else.”

When police officer Carter discovers a blood soaked man limping down a deserted road, he rushes him to a local hospital with a bare-bones night shift staff. As cloaked, cult-like figures surround the building, the patients and staff inside start to turn ravenously insane. Trying to protect the survivors, Carter leads them into the depths of the hospital, where they discover a gateway to immense evil.

There seems to be a resurgence of independently made horror movies that takes their cue from the 1980s era, and I for one can’t be any more giddy about this. It’s no secret that it was the era that I consider the best in horror and science fiction; you can argue with me to the contrary until you’re blue in the face, I stand by my statement until my final death rattle.

Take The Void, for instance, coincidentally the subject of this review. This movie plays like a compilation of John Carpenter’s Greatest Hits, mixing up themes from Assault On Precinct 13, Prince Of Darkness, and In The Mouth Of Madness (admittedly, not from the 1980s–1994, to be precise–but it might as well have been, it’s that kind of awesome), and resulting in a very dark and claustrophobic supernatural horror that will mess with your head and then stick there long after the movie is over.

So, the story begins when a Deputy comes across a man late at night in the middle of a deserted road, looking quite the worse for wear. He takes him to the nearest hospital for help, which happens to be the one that’s in the process of being closed down due to a fire some time back, and as a result, has a skeleton crew there, one such staff member that happens to be the Deputy’s estranged wife. Soon, two vigilantes that were tracking the young man arrive, as does the Sheriff to help with the processing arrest, when the hospital is discovered to be surrounded by robe-clad figures. Discovering the hard way that they were not the Polyphonic Spree and in fact mean them harm, everyone finds themselves trapped together inside the barricaded hospital, forced to work with each other to try and escape and survive. Then reality starts bending around them; certain individuals go a bit on the insane side and attack the others, and while the Deputy and the two vigilantes try to find a way out through the basement, they discover that the building is warping reality as well, discovering hallways and rooms that don’t exist according to the blueprints. Turns out, the doctor in charge of the hospital has been messing with some Lovecraft-level dark sorcery in an effort to defy death since his daughter died. Mind-bendy horror ensues, with an ending that will make you go, “huh?” In a good way, I assure you.

Overall, The Void was a great horror flick that had a lot of substance to chew on, as well as tons of dark foreboding atmosphere and great practical effects. The acting was rather good, and the development of the characters was good as well, lending some weight to their plight. The reveal of the doctor as the main Big Bad was, admittedly, cliched and expected. However, the very Clive Barker style ending is very much worth it at the end. Well worth the watch.

Movie Review: BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADAMY

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Movie Review BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADEMYSony
2017
R

It’s four years later, and a new group of students has been placed in Saturday detention at the infamous and prestigious Crestview Acadey. When Siouxsie, sophomore ‘undercrust,’ crashes the party to avenge her sister’s death, a Saturday detention reserved for the privileged seniors of Crestview Academy turns into a date in hell. It’s not long before a naive pussycat lover, gay drug dealer, smokin’ hot preacher’s daughter, squeaky-clean senator’s son, and the uninvited younger outsider find themselves locked-up in school with no way out, wondering who (or what) has set them up. Hilarity and suspense ensue while each ‘bad kid’ pits one against the other, and one by one each falls victim to absurdly gruesome ‘accidents’ while trying to escape.

On the strength of the better-than-it-should-have-been Bad Kids Go To Hell, I decided to immediately watch it’s sequel, Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy, as kind of a back-to-back double feature. The result was…well, I’m not surprised, let’s just say.

I’ll just come out and say that Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy is a lackluster sequel, and kind of a mediocre movie in and of itself. We have the same basic premise of the first–weekend detention with a whole new bunch of stereotypes kids, only one of them has infiltrated their upper crust clique’ to solve the murder of her older sister at a party.

Mind you, things are a bit more subverted with the plot when compared to the first movie, as the kids never get to the library (it’s locked and no one knows the security code), and the whole conspiracy hinted at in the first one is more to the fore here. And there’s no implication of any kind of “hauntings” here, just a bunch of serial killer offings of everyone until the culprit is revealed in the third act, with the remaining movie kind of losing steam until the end.

It really says something that the best parts of this movie involved brief scenes with Sean “Still Working After Lord Of The Rings” Astin, taking over from Judd Nelson as Headmaster Nash, who hams it up with cheerful abandon. Outside of that, we have characters who lean more towards annoying rather than quirky, there are so many flashback scenes injected in the main narrative that it would give Quentin Tarantino a headache, and the big reveal of who’s doing the killing is revealed rather early in the movie (not that we didn’t finger the culprit early on just by virtue of having seen so many of these things to begin with…also, there’s a scene that not-so-subtly gives things away if you pay attention), turning the rest of the movie into a siege movie for the last third.

Bad Kids Of Crestview Acadamy was “Meh”. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the movie it was a sequel to, but at least it didn’t try to just rehash the entire plot of that one. This movie needed more involvement from Sean Astin, for certain. Watch it if the thought of not seeing the sequel gets you twitchy, otherwise you can just skip this one.

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