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If history has taught us anything, it’s that when people are confronted with an invasion, they inevitably fall into one of two categories: collaborator or resistor. It has been that way in every war that has ever been fought; when enemy forces take over, some will fall in line and others will fight back.

There’s no reason to think that that would somehow change if said forces came not from another country, but from another world.

That’s the basic gist of “Captive State,” an alien occupation thriller directed by Rupert Wyatt from a script he co-wrote with Erica Beeney. It’s a story of what it means to live under the rule of an enemy that seems too powerful to overcome – and what it means to stand up to that enemy anyway.

It’s not a particularly subtle movie; it wears its ideas on its sleeve and is more about blunt force than surgical precision. The story is a bit overlong as well and meanders through its middle third. However, the low-fi aesthetic is interesting and there are some good performances. Add it all up and you get an acceptable (and forgettable) sci-fi outing.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 February 2019 13:53

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ fights the good fight

Considering the popularity of sci-fi/fantasy fare, you’d think that Hollywood would be better at adapting Japanese anime and manga for American audiences. However, whether it’s a cultural divide or an aesthetic difference or what have you, the undeniable appeal of those properties usually winds up getting lost in translation.

So when I started seeing ads for “Alita: Battle Angel,” I was skeptical. Based on Yukito Kushiro’s popular “Gunnm” manga from the early 1990s, it’s the sort of complex, thematically dense work that Hollywood has traditionally screwed up. Why would this time be any different?

But then I looked closer. It’s a marvelous collection of talent. You’ve got Robert Rodriguez, one of the best “genre” filmmakers of his generation, directing. Rodriguez also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Laeta Kalogridis and James Cameron – yes, that James Cameron – who also served as producer and has been moving this project forward for the better part of two decades. Oh, and there’s also an incredibly talented cast featuring far more Oscar winners and nominees than you might have anticipated for a seemingly straightforward sci-fi shoot-‘em-up.

Does it live up to that pedigree? Maybe not quite; there are some clarity issues regarding the storytelling and a few uncanny valley concerns regarding the CGI. However, there’s no disputing the vivid visual nature of the film; there are dynamic set pieces scattered throughout. And the performers all treat the material with due respect, resulting in nuanced and complex performances beyond the standard genre fare.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 30 January 2019 13:40

To tell the truth – ‘Golden State’

What would it be like to live in a world where there was no greater crime than telling a lie? And what if you were one of the few people with the ability to detect said lies – as well as the official state-sponsored authorization to venture outside the truth?

“Golden State” (Mulholland Books, $28), the latest novel by Ben H. Winters, takes a look at just such a world, a skewed near-future state in which pure, unadulterated truth is mandated by law. Interactions are defined through basic, unassailable facts – with no room for anything more.

While we might believe that absolute truth would be the way to go, the reality is that massive gray area between truths and lies is where the lion’s share of human relationships live. When truth is all that is allowed, it’s not long before free will begins to fade.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 22 January 2019 16:37

From Earth to a moon – ‘IO’

The end of the world has been a prime cinematic subject pretty much since cinema has been a thing. Our imaginations are obsessed with endings and beginnings – and a good post-apocalyptic yarn can give us some of both.

So it’s no surprise that we’d get a movie like “IO,” a story of the last remaining people on an Earth whose environment is rapidly decaying beyond our ability to live upon it. It’s about what it means to cling to home even when home is no longer the safe haven we remember it to be – and the consequences of that desperate desire to stay when every indicator is that we must go.

It’s certainly a well-made movie – one of the higher-quality offerings you’re going to find amongst the wealth of original options constantly streaming forth from the Netflix monolith. And it features some good ideas and some solid performances. While it’s a bit lacking in terms of earned emotional impact – soul, if you will – it’s certainly a better-than-decent way to kill 90 minutes or so.

Published in Movies

There’s something freeing about walking into a movie that you know is going to be bad. Sure, you strive to enter into a cinematic experience with an open mind, but the truth is that keeping the bar nice and low can be beneficial to all involved.

However, there are some films where the bar simply can’t be lowered enough. Films like “Replicas.”

“Replicas” is so bad as to be baffling. The story is nonsensical, a jumble of illogical decision making and word salad jargon. The effects border on the laughable; the CGI work would have been bad a decade ago, let alone today. And the performances are wooden to the extreme, with the shocking exception of star Keanu Reeves, who might be the most emotive performer in a cast for the first time in … ever.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 14 November 2018 12:27

‘The Labyrinth Index’ amazes

As a book reviewer, dealing with ongoing series can be tricky. Leaving aside the fact that you need to have started from the beginning – no mean feat when new books are constantly crossing your desk – you have to find ways to keep your own viewpoint fresh as an overarching narrative unfolds over six, eight, 10 books. So as a rule, I don’t usually wade into those waters.

But every rule has its exceptions. One of mine is Charles Stross and his Laundry Files.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 19 September 2018 11:21

To catch ‘The Predator’

When Hollywood isn’t rebooting or remaking, it’s sequel-izing – even if the previous entry is years or even decades in the past. The successful efforts are fairly few and far between, but the wave of IP filmmaking doesn’t appear to have crested yet.

And so we get another “Predator” movie.

“The Predator” is the fourth standalone film in the franchise, following “Predator” (1987), “Predator 2” (1990) and “Predators” (2010) – please note that we’re not including the two crossover films with the “Alien” universe. Shane Black – who is not only one of the best action screenwriters of the past 25 years and a heck of a director, but actually played a small part in “Predator” back in 1987 – is the ideal man to bring this franchise back, someone with a clear affection for and understanding of the source material. Black directs from a script he co-wrote with Fred Dekker.

Set in the present day, it’s the story of a soldier whose chance encounter with an alien in the jungle leads to a fight to save himself and everyone he cares about from a gruesome (and I do mean GRUESOME) death. It is packed with gags and gore, a throwback sort of action movie that feels like it would fit right into the heyday of the original. It’s a flawed film, to be sure, but action fans will have a hell of a time.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 05 September 2018 10:41

Brothers in arms – ‘Kin’

It’s always interesting to watch a feature debut. Seeing first-time directors and/or writers take their initial bow in the world of mainstream cinema … it’s bearing witness to the realization of what is almost certainly a lifelong dream. Maybe it’s an effort that promises future excellence. Maybe it’s even a fully-formed masterpiece. But really, it’s likely to be flawed and uneven, alternating quality with rookie mistakes.

The new film “Kin” definitely falls into that last category.

The movie – directed by twin brothers Jonathan and Josh Baker and based on their own 2014 short film “Bag Man” – is an ambitious effort, an attempt to bring family drama and science fiction together. Unfortunately, while there are shining examples from both ends of the spectrum, the combination never really meshes the way it needs to, despite its surprisingly robust cast and intriguing concept.

Published in Movies
Friday, 31 August 2018 09:30

‘A.X.L.’ a real junkyard dog

Summer blockbuster season is coming to a close. With Labor Day right around the corner, the cinematic cycle is set to begin anew. As per usual, late August is littered with oddball offerings – some good, some bad.

Take “A.X.L.” This is a movie that you very well may not have even heard of before this very minute. Basically, it’s about a young man who finds and befriends a robot dog.

Yeah. That’s what I said too.

Published in Movies

If you’re looking to read some YA genre fiction, you’ve got plenty of options. You can’t swing a cat in a bookstore without hitting half-a-dozen sci-fi/fantasy/whatever books aimed at younger readers. If you’re looking to read some GOOD YA genre fiction, well … you’re going to need to put the cat down.

The point is that there’s a glut of content out there, so don’t be afraid to shape your expectations accordingly. Look for something that speaks to you - whether it’s an author or a plot or a theme or an idea - and take a swing.

Will McIntosh’s “The Future Will Be BS Free” (Delacorte Press, $17.99) promises something that feels a little different. It’s the story of a near-future America under the sway of a despotic and corrupt President, one in which the truth has become so malleable and subjective as to be almost meaningless as a concept. Into this America, a group of gifted teens attempts to bring a beacon – an unfailingly accurate and foolproof lie detector. But their initial dreams of societal (not to mention financial) gain soon fall by the wayside as they discover that there are plenty of people out there with little interest in the truth.

Published in Buzz
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