Category Archives: Geek Movie Review

The Cinematic Sci-Fi Timeline

This is a cinematic sci-fi timeline, and effort to create a rich history of advancing technology and the issues, heroes, and morality tales that lead to a moment rich for player character involvement. That moment might be at the end of this progression, or at any point along the way the GM finds interesting.

This isn’t an effort to actually jam all these differing stories into a single continuity, and I am not claiming RUNAWAY is actually the precursor to RoboCop. I am also aware that some of these do have official crossovers (half of then through Dark Horse comics), and I don’t care if I invalidate those either.

Nor am I trying to fit ever science-fiction movie in existence into a single reality. Just a specific subset I feel have some themes and throughlines in common that make for an interesting potential universe.

This is just a thought experiment, designed to place actual inspirations into slots where a pastiche of each *could* form a logical continuous timeline with just a little tweaking.

Each movie includes the year the movie was released, for clarity. No specific set time is suggested for when these movies should occur, but I assume the timeline runs roughly 200 years from 1970 to 2170. The timeline movies forward with each italicized breakdown of how the listed movies represent the events of that point in the timeline.

The Timeline (1970-2070)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
The governments of the world come to accept that alien life is real and travelling the stars, but keep the information from the general public.

Terminator (1984)
Crucial moments in the development of the world are impacted by a very small number of time travelers, resulting in multiple, overlapping alternate timelines, proof of some variant of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Carrie (1976)
Firestarter (1984)
The Fury (1978)
Perhaps as a step in evolution, perhaps as a response to the first cases of time travel and alien contact, verifiable psychic phenomenon begin to sporadically manifest. The governments of the world alternate between exploiting and just killing such talents, but needless to say thigns often go poorly.

Predator (1987)
Aliens continue to visit Earth in small numbers and without the public learning, but such visits are not always friendly.

Looker (1981)
As technology advances, the wealthy and powerful begin to realize it can be used to control the lower classes, to focus even more power in the hands of the few.

Runaway (1984)
As society groans under the need to provide for an expanding population and worsening natural resources, autonomous robots become increasingly common in advanced societies. Something they go rouge, and must be put down. Sometimes an increasingly tech-savvy criminal class makes use of them.

Push (2009)
Scanners (1981)
Suspect Zero (2004)
The number of individuals with psychic powers grows, and organizations begin to form to deal with them exclusively.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Predator II (1990)
The pressure on society begins to lead to the collapse of institutions and social norms. As the middle class ceases to exist, the underclass becomes increasingly violent and hard to control. The tiny sliver of the wealthy and powerful, and their increasingly independent corporations, seek to control the masses through any means. This is a rich environment for a small number of alien visitors to exploit conditions for their own amusement or gain.

Red Lights (2012)
Slowly, the scientific community begins to publicly study psychic powers, though skepticism remains high.

RoboCop (1987)
Governments begin to collapse and corporations gain more power. This leads to efforts to have corporate-controlled paramilitary forces, and to use cybernetic technologies to enforce obedience on a soldier-servant class.

Event Horizon (1997)
The strain humanity is putting on Earth is clearly unsustainable. The oligarchs and mega-corporations experiment with ways to spread to other worlds, though their reckless willingness to attempt anything that might succeed leads to horrific failures.

Outland (1981)
Total Recall (1990)
Thanks to advanced in space travel, humanity begin to move to new worlds, though all still within the solar system.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
The need for cheap labor leads to attempts to uplift other simians. But if we made apes intelligent and independent enough to serve as slave labor, they are intelligent and independent enough to rebel. Such efforts are outlawed.

Furtureworld (1976)
Rollerball (1975)
Solent Green (1973)
Westworld (1973)
The world is in near collapse. The upper classes have literally fantasy worlds to play in with their nearly unlimited wealth, while everyone else fights for scraps and is distracted by death sports. Early cyborg technology begins to advance to primitive androids, though these require fairly regular maintenance and human-augmented control.

(If society does totally collapse, a new timeline forms here, with Damnation Alley, Mad Max, A Boy and His Dog, and so on, eventually reaching Thundarr. Our timeline doesn’t go that route.)

Minority Report (2002)
The existence of psychics is publicly accepted, and they begin to be integrated into the government and corporate efforts to control a growing population that is increasingly dissatisfied and dangerous.

Blade Runner (1982)
The total collapse of human civilization is prevented by creating autonomous androids to serve as the ultimate slave labor force, while humanity begins to truly move to the stars. But only those who are healthy and talented are chosen my megacorporations to be shipped off Earth, and it turns out intelligent and independent android slaves have many of the same issues intelligent and independent ape slaves did.

Alien (1979)
Silent Running (1972)
Robots begin to be replaced by androids in most tasks, though simpler robot technology is more stable. Though some governments have gone to the stars, it is the corporations who have the money and resources to push the boundary of the final frontier. What they find doesn’t always go well for the corporate employees who find it.

Blade Runner 2049
Back on Earth, things still boil (details left out as spoilers for the movie)

Aliens (1986)
Colonization becomes standard, and most android behavior issues are solved. But as humanity’s sphere of influence spreads, so does its interactions with other alien life.

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Spoiler-Free Blade Runner 2049 Thoughts

I saw Blade Runner 2049 with some friends.

I think it does a wonderful job matching the style and world and storytelling style of Blade runner.

This despite doing some things I normally think of as terrible ideas for sequels. But in this case, they were good calls.

I also think it was full of thematic and philosophical nuggets that are more interesting in conjunction and contrast with the original than they would be alone, but going into detail would be spoilers, so I’m not doing that yet.

In any case, I’d be happy to watch Blade Runner 2079 when it’s released in 2052.

Blade Jogger

Blade Jogger

In preparation for seeing Blade Runner 2049, Lj and I opted to watch a version of the original.

I’d like to claim it inspired me to write a post about how the only innocent character isn’t the protagonist or antagonist, or thoughts on what we owe our inheritors, an essay on the value of a life lived for a single moment, or my analysis on why the universe itself cries throughout the entire film, or something classy like that.

But that just wouldn’t be me.

Instead you get:

Ten Mash-Ups I’d Watch But Have Never Heard Anyone Suggest

(and their advertising tag lines).

Blade Runner vs. Predator
Who hunts the hunter?

Robocop V – Chucky Cop
When the police are demonic dolls, who do you turn to for help?

Christine: Transformer
Evil is changing.

Dungeons and Dagon
You are not high enough level.

Men in Black Mirror
Whatever’s going on, it’s weird and depressing.

Doctor Clue
Master Mustard, in the 11th century, with the lead pipe.

G.I Joe vs the Volcano
Amercia’s Best can Get the Job, but can they Do the Job?

Gremlinbusters
Who You Gonna Feed After Midnight?

The Last Star Writer
A fanfiction forum is a test from an alien alliance to pick the one geek who can think of ideas awesome enough to save the galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy Quest
They’re going to need Guy’s leg.

Honorable Mentions
The Fhtagn Four
Mr. Fhtagn. His mind can bend into any shape!
Invisible and Insane Woman. Out of Sight, Out of Mind.
Eldritch Thing. It’s Cthulhuing Time!
Human Torch. We set a guy on fire. He… doesn’t do much.

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Geek Movie Review: The Dark Tower

This is a spoiler-free review.

Where I am Coming from: I have read, and enjoyed, the Dark Tower books, but I’m not invested in them, their characters, or the story elements. I have no primal need to see any of it in a specific form, so I can’t be disappointed the way I could be by Lensman or other formative stories of my life. To me the ideas are the best part of the Dark Tower, and I am most interesting in seeing those ideas on the screen, rather than any specific character or event.

My Reaction: I enjoyed this movie very much.  I found it to be well written, well acted, and well directed. The ideas I am most interested in from the Dark Tower began to be presented (obviously you can’t fit all the neat ideas from a multi-book series into a single movie), and the movie developed some of its own neat stuff, which I think is important for an adaptation.

It also gave me tons of ideas for stories and game elements, which is also a big bonus for me with a movie. There were a very few Easter Eggs I noticed that I enjoyed.

The Audience’s Reaction: The crowd at the theater I was at seemed to like the movie a lot, and their was applause when it ended. On the one hand I was at a super-cheap 11am Saturday matinee (less than $6 tickets) so people might have lowered the bar, but on the other hand the sound cut out briefly a couple of times at the beginning so a lot of people began the experience annoyed.

Of the people around me, I heard one person who specified they loved the books, and one person who said they’d never read the books, and one person who said they normally hated Stephen King all mentioned they enjoyed it a lot. I didn’t hear anyone have anything negative to say, though obviously the majority of folks didn’t share any opinion at all where I would hear it.

My Entirely Anecdotal and Subjective Verdict: I thought this movie did a great job of a very difficult task, and I hope the plans to related tv series and sequels are carried out. Most of the changes made from the source material seemed to be to have been made for reasonable goals, even if I might have gone a different direction with them.

This is particularly good as a source or inspiration for certain kinds of RPG settings, though I can’t say what without adding a spoiler. If you watch the reviews, it should be clear.

In my binary digit-based rating system, it gets a thumbs up.

 

Geek Movie MiniReview: Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island was, for me, a delight. It knows it’s a giant monster movie with roots in grindhouse and pulp, and it isn’t embarrassed about that at all. But it also sees the benefit in things like characterization, story, pacing, and development.

I clapped with childhood glee, laughed, cried, and gasped. I am exactly the target audience for this.

In my binary digit-based review system, it gets a thumbs up.

Star Wars Spoilers… for Force Awakens

Back when I watched The Force Awakens I noted that I enjoyed it, and that I’d post more thoughts about it when I thought the statute of limitations on spoilers was up.

Now that there’s a NEWER Star Wars movie in theaters, I feel pretty free talking about The Force Awakens without feeling bad if I spoil anything.

That said… spoilers!

Overall I felt this movie had a near-impossible task. It had to get people excited about a whole new generation of Star Wars, from a whole new company. Yes, many fans were… I’ll go with “unimpressed” with the prequels… but they were nevertheless huge financial successes. And they were the definitive Star Wars films to millions of fans who saw them as their introduction to the series — and hated travesties to millions of other fans.

Many of the original actors are still around, and nostalgia creates a strong call to see Leia run a Republic, Solo try to go straight, and Luke train a new order of Jedi. But given those actor’s ages, a new set of adventures really had to introduce new characters.

And, let us not forget, the last new Star Wars film was Revenge of the Sith in 2005. It was a decade old by the time Force Awakens came out, which means the coveted 12-17-year-old crowd were 2 to 7 at the END of the prequel trilogy runs. And that’s just looking at the US market. The size of some overseas film markets grew enormously in this time. The Asia pacific went from $9 billion in 2011 to $14.1 billion just from 2011 to 2015. Many of the worldwide audience you want to draw into a new ongoing series of movies will never have seen the original on the big screen, and may not have seen it at all.

So this movie had to be better than the prequels without denigrating them, give us new characters, give us the original characters, reintroduce the entire Star wars universe to a new audience, and tell a great story. It did some of these things better than others.

For my own take, I loved the new characters. Rey, Finn, Poe, and BB8 were all interesting, great SW characters to me. I even like Kylo Ren, because he is such a winy emo Sith. He’s struggling in a different way than Anakin or Vader ever did, and if Darth maul or Palpatine ever had second thoughts they didn’t make it into the big screen. I am excited to see more of Rey and Finn and their adventures.

I mostly didn’t enjoy the return of existing characters… though the “We’re home!” line choked me up because I am a giant sap, and the love between an adventurers and an old starship is one of my sappiest sap buttons. But Han never felt quite right, Leia wasn’t given much to do, and while Chewie’s grief moved me, it was spoiled by the fact Leia didn’t go to him first when the Falcon returned after Han’s death.

The story itself was workmanlike, which isn’t a compliment when it comes to Star Wars. A lot of the things WITHIN the story I loved, dialog was snappy, combat sequences were awesome, and there was no long, boring podracing equivalent. But a reboot Super Death Star (now with 32% more Death! tm) didn’t interest me, and even lampshading it with Han noting there was always a way to do this didn’t keep it from feeling like a retread.

I FORGAVE the retread parts, because I saw what I felt were efforts to reintroduce this series to a new audience, and I accept that’s a reasonable thing for the first Star Wars movie in a decade to do. And, I loved the dialog, action, and relationships of the rest of the movie. I dislike sill giant cgi monsters getting out of the hold, but adore Rey and Finn having separate, interesting character development arcs. I don’t enjoy R2-D2 being mysteriously “asleep” apparently for years, but I love Luke as the wise but failed elder warrior and teacher.

Yes, a lot of it was watching a reboot of A new Hope. But that story still resonates with me, and I (at least at the moment) don’t think Episode VIII is going to be a reboot of Empire.

Not a perfect film, but one that gave me a lot of good stuff. When I compare that to any of the prequels, I can feel only gratitude and relief. And hope for what is to come. The foundation was laid differently than I would have laid it, but it looks to me to be a strong foundation

And I look forward to seeing what is to be built on it.

At this point, I figure I’ll discuss my thoughts on rogue One sometime in December 2017. 🙂

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Haunted House Review: The Harvest

Lj, Jessie, and I went to “The Harvest” at the Seattle Interactive Theater. It’s a haunted house performance, in our case with champagne service.

There was no photography, which was both awesome (everyone focused on being in the moment, rather than taking selfies) and kind of a shame (the set dressing was the best part of the experience). There were also multiple full front nudity scenes (of both genders) you could stumble upon or be invited into, which I suspect impacted the decision to not allow pictures.

The set up is you have been invited to a party by The Doctor, and you spend time in his lounge at first. Then you gain access to the rest of the facility, and can wander at your own pace through different set-ups. This was less about jump scares (though there was at least one), and more about finding the story in the runes, mad scawlings, set-pieces, actors (who I thought of as NPCs) and out-of-view sound effects.

The production values were similar to what I have experienced at high-end LARP events, with the theater space divided into corridors of biohazard plastic and rooms and nooks at odd angles. As is often the case with such things I wish it was longer (I was just getting into it when the climax hit), but better too short and having it drag on.

There was some seating, which was nice, but not much since you barely have time to view everything at any reasonable pace in the performance time allotted.

I don’t think I’ll get in the habit of doing this every year, but it does do a nice job of immersing you in a foreign space, physically and mentally, and that’s a nice change of pace from a movie or book.

I give it four out of five severed heads.

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Geek Movie Review: Magnificent Seven (2016)

Just got back from seeing The Magnificent Seven (2016). I enjoyed it a lot, and it’s my favorite western of recent years. That said, I don’t think it’ll be considered a timeless masterpiece.

But I don’t NEED a western to be a timeless masterpiece. That’s too high a bar for me to set for success, and on its own terms I thought this was a solid movie. This general plot is one of my favorite stories, and I am happy to see any competent new take on it, even if it doesn’t surpass the originals.

In my rankings of heptaheroic tales, I place this firmly behind Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven (1960), but above Battle Beyond the Stars, Samurai 7 (the cyberpunk anime), The Magnificent Seven (1998 tv show), any of the sequels to the 1960 movie, and The Seven Magnificent Gladiators.

Nearly any heptaheroic makes me want to play an RPG, and I suspect that’s because it’s a story of disparate heroes gathering against overwhelming odds to protect the innocent and downtrodden. By killing people. It maps very well to classic RPG tropes and can often be easily supported by a wide range of rpg systems.

It also makes me want to do more stuff with Guns of Tarnation, for the same reason.

In a binary digit-based rating system, I give it a thumbs up.

Suicide Squad — Not Deadly Boring

Lj and I saw Suicide Squad last night.
Mild spoilers and personal opinions below.
A note on my biases. I was entirely turned off by Man of Steel, and only saw Batman v Superman when it was free on the headrest of the airline seat in front of me… and it was so dull and stupid I nodded off a time or two.
OTOH, the trailers for Suicide Squad looked like fun to me, so I want and saw it.
I enjoyed it a lot. Lj enjoyed it, but not by as much.
It is far from a perfect film. It wants to be the villain version of Avengers, but has even more main characters AND has to introduce them all. It assumes we know who the major DC heroes are, and even some villains, but most of the main characters need enough explanation for us to understand them, and the filmmakers obviously also want us to care about them. That eats into time to actually develop them, and while the more-than-2-hour run time went by quickly, a lot of things felt rushed.
I DID enjoy the arc presented,a nd I thought the actors did great jobs. They were hampered by a script that was uneven in its characterization (more than once characters do something that seems entirely out of character, and while I can tell the movie *thinks* we should know why, any explanation is at best a guess), and motivations and power levels are also inconsistent. Characters prove they are extremely competent, then aren’t, then are again. Threats are stated “If X, then Y!” but logic doesn’t support that claim… and it becomes crucial to the plot.
There are efforts at twists, and about half of them don’t work.
However, there is a lot of good stuff too. I felt the use of modern music to help set the tone and make it feel different from a hero movie with sweeping orchestral scores was brilliant. A few characters came off very well. I can’t help but think if this was the second Suicide Squad movie, a lot of issues with background and characterization would have been solved. As it is, I’m looking forward to the sequel.
Things don’t always go the most obvious direction, which is good (even though the direction they do go is sometimes unsupported). OTOH the movie doesn’t feel like it has to stop and explain every development, and sometimes that works.
It also very much leans on being part of the DCinematic Universe… which I mostly feel works against it instead of for it, though that might be less true in rerun viewing after things like Justice League are out.
There are some problematic elements, the most noteworthy of which is Harley Quinn. She’s a polarizing character, and this portrayal of her tries to walk a tightrope. To me it’s clear there’s a message the movie *wanted* to tell about the abusive relationship she’s in… but that takes a back seat to enjoying sexualizing her and jumping to the action. That’s better than not addressing the issues at all, and it’s not universal in the movie (Amanda Waller, for example, is much more no-nonsense badass than the pin-up version of her we got in both Arrow and the New 52), but I think it’s a fair criticism that the message, if indeed the movie made it, got lost.
On a binary opposable-digit based rating system I give it a thumb’s up, while acknowledging it has issues, and some folks will hate it, and I think a lot of them will hate it for entirely fair and reasonable issues.

Geek Movie Reviews: San Andreas

Here’s my geek-tinted review of San Andreas. Mild spoilers.
First, this isn’t mostly about the quality of the movie. I like cgi disaster porn, and this was a good example of that genre. It gave me everything I wanted in that regard. If the idea of liking “cgi disaster porn” resonates with you, this movie should be fun. If you want more out of the movie than that, I make no promises.
I’m not saying it’s particularly believable, but at least the giant earthquake movie does focus around a major known faultline, and it doesn’t turn the silly up to 11 by having the east coast fall into the ocean or something.
It DOES have a takeaway I loved.
This is a movie that celebrates things I want to be celebrated by pop culture. The heroes are most often reward for being smart and educated, rather than strong or deadly. Indeed, the heroes never kill anyone. Rescuing people, most often through skill and logic, is the thing that allows the heroes to prove they are brave and heroic.
Scientists are rewarded not for magically fixing things with ray beams, but for running experiments to test theories, understanding the world around them, and using that knowledge to inform people.
No, the science may not be great (though it is better than “mutated neutrinos,” not that such a bar should be hard to clear), but the methods and ideas are recognizably sciencelike. Being at a university is heralded as something positive and awesome.
Also, none of the main female characters are powerless. Without their direct action, everyone else would have died at some point in the movie. Yes, The Rock is the main star, but after him it’s a team effort, and it’s very clear his daughter is the next most crucial protagonist. She gets off to a slow start. But after that her knowledge and decisions making keep people alive (a fact noted by other characters in the movie).
These are trends I approve of.
As a geek who loves largely mindless cgi disaster porn, I give this a d10.