Science Fiction Film Reviews

  • Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

    The sights! The sounds! The light sabers! Star Wars is back. Seriously. This is a Star Wars movie. I know you’ve been tricked before, but these are the droids you’re looking for! You see, the director, J.J. Abrams, understands what makes us Star Wars nuts tick. He is one of us.

    He understands that:

    1. Star Wars is an interstellar conflict between good and evil. And that both sides are captained by space samurai connected to one another by a zen enlightenment called The Force, not by intelligent speaking mitochondria.
    2. Star Wars is about a protagonist who struggles against confusion and against an antagonist. And when you are dealing with something as pretentious as good vs evil, you will probably need a good writer, to help us forget we are watching a soap opera.
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    4. Terminator Genisys – Reviewed

      I fell in love with The Terminator in 1986.

      The film made such an impression on me that I’ve followed its star and its director for their entire careers. I have watched director commentary and deleted scenes, and visited forums where they discuss the Terminator’s canon timeline. I own every episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles television show on Blu-ray. If you visit the How We Rate Films page on this site, we cite The Terminator as an example of a nearly perfect science fiction film.


      When T2 came out, I videotaped Schwarzenegger interviews on Arsenio Hall, HBO, Jay Leno and anywhere he or director James Cameron would appear. I recorded The Making Of, and went to a special sneak preview of the film with my father.

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    5. Snowpiercer – Reviewed

      Snowpiercer. In the future, as global warming takes hold, a third of the world’s nations decide to release a gas into the atmosphere to lower temperatures. This act backfires and a deep freeze kills all of the population of Earth. Except for a few. These few live on a train (ostensibly the Snowpiercer, though not named so in the film). It circumnavigates the globe annually, coasting over the frozen tundra of Asia and Africa. This train has a self-sustaining ecosystem, the culmination of one man’s life-long dream.

      Snowpiercer Poster

      On the train, people toil away. Dirty. Feeding only on black gelatinous nutrient bars. Desperate for a change. They’ve been there for seventeen years, since the freezing of the world. But they know that there is a better life further up the train. Soldiers and a loud and obnoxious bespectacled indoctrinist try and convince them that they should be satisfied with having their lives, and not concern themselves with where and how the soldiers live. Resistance is met with amputation, a punishment which reduces one’s means of productivity, further limiting prospects.

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    6. Jupiter Ascending – Reviewed

      Jupiter ascending is the most ill-conceived space opera since the nineteen-eighties.

      Jupiter Ascending Movie Poster

      Superpower team bad movie checklist legend: GO!

      • Insufferably long chase scenes.
      • B movie acting acumen.
      • Ludicrous technology held over from pre-teen fantasy.
      • A broken narrative peppered with multiple flashbacks to things we saw a half hour ago.
      • Psychotic bad guy who kills his own minions.

      The movie opens with an inexplicably obfuscating voiceover by the alleged protagonist. Even very good actors like Nikki Amuka-Bird (Luther) and Sean Bean (Game of Thrones) are wasted on nonsensical dialog. The weak babbling protagonist is dragged from one set piece to another, making few decisions and taking even fewer actions. She’s kidnapped and rescued no less than four times.

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    7. Space Station 76 – Reviewed

      Space Station 76 PosterFrom the gloriously cheesy synthesizer and guitar score opener, to the kitsch grey design scheme, complete with smoking and twisting knobs, this film takes an obvious cue from Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica (in case the title wasn’t evidence enough).

      We sidle into the lives of the crew of Space Station 76, where characters visit a little Robotic Operating BuddyTM for mental therapy, pap smears and mammograms. These and other attempts at stimulating our prurient interests fail completely, and serve no purpose. The idea seems to be that because most of the women on board are oblivious to what women’s rights aught to be, that we as the audience spying in on private moments serves as another conduit of symbolic misogyny, but it just comes off as actual misogyny. Close up shot of gynecolobot edging closer to splayed legged, and demurely nervous woman: check. Frontally nude goddess floating outside of his observation window, during marijuana induced hallucinations: check. For no reason at all. Considering there is no main point about gender equality in the film, there’s truly no point to any of it. Wait.. marijuana induced hallucinations?

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    8. Interstellar (2014) – Reviewed

      Interstellar Movie Poster

      I need to preface this review with a disclaimer about my objectivity. I love Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s films. They wrote and directed The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige, Inception and Memento. Christopher’s love of film over digital, practical over computer generated, and human character interest over plot contrivances have endeared me to him. I was really looking forward to Interstellar.

      In the near future, humans have run out of food, and the survivors have been conscripted into agriculture. Cooper (Mathew McConaughey), a former engineer and pilot, has high hopes for his son going to college, but very few humans are allowed to go on past high school. The federal government is gone and local communities govern themselves. In general, humans have stopped killing one another over things. But the food crops are getting smaller and smaller. Humans are going to die.

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    9. Automata (2014) – Reviewed

      Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas- Desperado, The Mask of Zorro) is an insurance adjuster for ROC, manufacturer of the Automata, the world’s only semi-sentient worker robots. He goes about his days enacting basic insurance scummery and moping about his relatively privileged condition in the post apocalypse of solar radiation.


      Automata successfully dials in to the tone of Blade Runner, its obvious antecedent, while establishing its own visual aesthetic. But there’s no point. The visual effects are fantastic, but twenty minutes of plot are stretched out to an interminable hour and fifty minutes. The mystery takes so long to unravel, we don’t care anymore. Even worse, it’s not even solved by the gumshoe’s efforts in any way. The mystery leaks out of the shadows on its own, unraveled by a monolog for which our protagonist isn’t even present.

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    10. Upstream Color – Reviewed

      Upstream Color Review

      Upstream Color is a personal experience, not to be explained away simply. It is challenging to watch, and more so to write about. Shane Carruth understands that the people who watch this film will be very familiar with his work, and that he can skip the overtures and come right to the raw, blurry point.

      Although I seldom wish to speak about the makers of a film I review, and instead to focus on the art they’ve created, I must confess personal admiration for Carruth: his work ethic, his writing ability, and his methodology. There isn’t enough money in the caliber of films he writes to draw Hollywood financiers, but, rather than compromise his vision, he skips the system and shoots everything himself. He writes, directs, acts in, and scores his own films. Mr. Carruth makes films the way I would hope to: without pedestrian, four-quadrant, handholding. This is a serious gamble, one that can make or destroy commercial prospects for a film. I was excited enough about Upstream Color to pre order the blu-ray disc without knowing what the film was about. His previous film, Primer, I have reviewed here and given high marks.

      In Upstream Color, Mr Carruth has added a far more commercial cinematographic experience, almost as an apology for the even more cerebral plot of this film. Biological effects, growth, macroscopic photography, pig life, and the joining and transformation of colors, all swirl in a pool of imagery, wedged between the blinders of a curious narrative.

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    11. Sunshine (2007) – Reviewed

      Sunshine Wide

      Every single visual in Sunshine is gorgeous. Clearly the filmmakers were trying to out compose 2001. The lighting, colors, and composition are nearly flawless. Even the prettiest shots exist more to tell the story, than as eye candy.

      In the near future, the sun’s nuclear reaction has declined, wrapping the Earth in a solar winter. A bomb was created to reignite Sol. A team was chosen and launched into space. They disappeared. It took seven years to build another bomb. A second mission was launched. Enormous resources have been expended on this project and there will never be another payload. If this missions fails, humanity is over.

      On their way, they encounter the Icarus I. The rest of the film crosses genres to ask two main questions: what happened to the Icarus I, and will the crew of the Icarus II be able to complete the mission to save life on Earth?

      The type of problems the captain and crew encounter on this second mission are scientific and frightening. Solar shield failure, oxygen generation system destruction, radiation, and flubbed trajectories. In all of that, the question becomes how do real people respond to desperate crises. Human frailty and ego are contrasted with selflessness, heroics and mortal determination.

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    12. Her (2013) – Reviewed

      In Her, artificial Intelligence finally comes to the world. It’s personal, and everyone can have it in their networked computer. Once activated, your new operating system will pattern its personality around your own, based on a computer analysis of your personality.

      Her Movie Still

      In the new world of extreme connectivity and dwindling availability of leisure time, Theodore is a personal letter writer. He expresses thoughts for people to their loved ones, despite his own emotional withdrawal. The unthinkable happens when he is finally able to share his innermost thoughts… with his OS, Samantha.

      The plot is absolutely brilliant. The fact that Samantha is an artificially intelligent operating system remains central, and finds, in that restriction, new ways to paint about love. Situations occur which could happen under no other circumstance. The turns are real surprises. The close proximity of the couple’s communication guarantees there are no chase-her-down-at-the-train-station-before-she-leaves-town moments.

      When they fell in love, it was different. And special. And probably never seen before in a film. Not just the love story with Samantha, but the love story between Theodore and his wife. The love story between Theodore and his best friend. The love story between others that are in love with Theodore and Samantha’s relationship.

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    13. Edge of Tomorrow – Reviewed

      Edge of Tomorrow movie posterA horrible marketing campaign made it easy to dismiss Edge of Tomorrow as simply Groundhog’s Day meets Starship Troopers although, as with the vast majority of science fiction offerings, Edge of Tomorrow is a refreshingly clever concept wrapped in stale clichés.

      I think it’s important to note that I walked into this movie with fresh eyes, having never read the novel, All You Need Is Kill, the Japanese Manga, or the American graphic novel.

      Tom Cruise takes a turn at thwarting this year’s popcorn flick alien invasion, as happenstance grants him a seemingly endless number of temporal Mulligans. Cruise plays Major William Cage, a military promoter who is uncomfortably shoe-horned into taking part in a beach landing along the coast of France (the first of several seemingly purposeless allusions to World Wars I and II) that we are led to believe will be either a staged photo op against marginal resistance or the pivotal moment in humanity’s five year struggle for survival. The human soldiers seem completely unprepared for the threat they face, a fact that stands in stark contrast to the half-decade humanity has spent combating this threat. Cage is killed, only to be inexplicably resurrected at the beginning of the same day. Instead of devolving into a cinematic video game, it’s at this moment that Edge of Tomorrow truly begins to shine. The pacing intensifies, bolstered by editing that is borderline brilliant (some may recall our director, Doug Liman, was also at the helm for the film editing masterwork The Bourne Identity). Action and humor are seamlessly woven into an extended montage as enthralling as any I’ve seen since Disney’s animated feature Up. The concept alone justifies Edge of Tomorrow’s existence and makes it the best science fiction film of the year thus far.

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    14. Robocop (2014) – Reviewed

      Robocop Review Poster

      Robocop, the 1987 cult classic, is remade here with a slick video game interface and injected with political posturing.

      Alex Murphy is destroyed and rebuilt again, but not before a lengthy and necessary introduction. One of the problems with a remake, is that the new world has to be distinguished from the original. In this world, corporate interests are out of control, but not with the same hyperbole as the original Robocop series. Samuel Jackson fills in as a news "journalist" who in actuality is a mouthpiece for Omnicorp, a maker of military grade robotics. The metaphor is not subtle. Corporations want to replace people with robots, and will spend any amount of money to overturn the laws against this.

      The first time Robocop (and the action bar) leaps thirty feet over a barricade, we feel excited. But eventually the surprise simmers down to a guy shooting other guys while running through tunnels. It’s as if all the intellectual capital was spent in giving Murphy a shocking new physiology, and there was none left for visualizing action.

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    15. Mars et Avril – Reviewed

      Mars et Avril movie posterMars et Avril: Jacob Obus is a 75 year old jazz musician, collapsing into darkness and isolation. He is world famous. His instruments are completely unique, not just in look, but in function. Each is modeled after a woman’s body and he never speaks to the models. This all smacks of misogyny, objectification and womanizing, as Obus blows on, strokes, fondles, and generally makes love to those bodies each time he plays the stage.

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    16. Primer – Reviewed

      Primer defies stereotypes, eschewing art house tropes, while proving there’s one sure way to make a great movie: start with the writing.

      Primer movie poster

      When a geek cohort find themselves accidentally inventing a device in their lab/garage, what they end up with is more powerful and dynamic than any other invention. This device could change everything in their personal lives and possibly guide the future of the entire planet. Through the lens of the characters, the viewer is left pondering tremendous moral quandaries.

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