This week’s column will be a short one; I apologize if it doesn’t fit with your expectations — if I’m known for anything, it’s probably verbal rambling — but it’s been a tough week for me, SF/F movie-wise. You see, I sacrifice my days, my eyesight and my brain cells in search of the “sleeper” movie you might have missed — the non-blockbuster straight SF or fantasy movie that got overlooked by the casual moviegoing fan. Or the highly-touted “should-see” movie that is severely overrated; the one I think you should avoid at all costs. I have watched a lot of movies that I anticipated and been disappointed — but found a few that I thought were probably better than they appeared on the surface. It is for you, the intrepid reader of this column, that I do these things — no, don’t call me a hero; I am glad, even proud, to serve! Just as an example, here are several movies that I started to watch, but as in the case of Vogon poetry, my intestines threatened to leap out of my mouth and strangle me if I continued.. Figure 2 shows the poster for just one.
Is it possible to award a movie a minus rating? If so, two of the following three “flicks” certainly deserve at least a minus-1 widget. So without a lot of further ado, let me quickly tell you about the two I couldn’t finish and the two I did. I liked the poster for SYFY’s Day of Reckoning; I figured at the least there’d be some halfway decent CGI — as opposed to the majority of SYFY’s original offerings (they’re somewhat notorious for bad CGI). Holy cow, was I ever disappointed!
As the film opens, we’re in some kind of control centre for a deep mining operation, drilling several kilometers into the Earth’s crust (for what purpose I didn’t stick around to find out); as the crew chows down on somebody’s birthday cake, they’re also watching a monitor showing the drill. At about three kilometers, there’s some kind of seismic rumble, and some blurred figures seem to fly up the hole towards the cameras. Mere seconds later, these giant (human-sized) black birdlike things with big spines on their heads, walking like pterodactyls on their elbow joints, start ripping the human crew to shreds. Okay, these aren’t very good CGI — in fact, they’re awful — but the movie has to get better, right? Right? We’re “treated” to the sight of thousands of black (i.e., looking painted on, not properly matted in) birdlike/pterodactyl-like flying things pouring out of one of those giant strip-mining holes (Anyone see Stephen King’s Desperation? That kind of hole) and around the world, with shots of them — and some ground “troops” that are vaguely humanoid — fighting the world’s armies.
Cut to several years later and the world is now on a sort of war footing; there are posters telling us to watch for “Three Signs: 1) a sea-life die-off; 2) I forget what “2” was; and 3) an eclipse. Those are all signs of what’s now being called the “Day of Reckoning”; we’re told that millions died. Then we’re in a schoolyard, where some kids are riding skateboards and listening to their music on earphones — in short, looks like today — and this one young man starts talking to his girl friend; telling her that if she’s worried about the upcoming eclipse, she needn’t be. There have been “at least eight” eclipses since The Day, and nothing’s happened. It was at that point I quit watching. Not only was the CGI not good, but there’s no subtlety to what’s going to happen. RATING: -1¤
I really, really wanted to like Resident Evil — The Final Chapter, honest I did. For its time, which started fifteen years ago, Resident Evil was a different kind of zombie movie, with a decent amount of tension and suspense. It was a spin-off from a very successful video game, which I played several versions of on the Sony Playstation (various models). It had the claustrophobic feel of being underground and in tunnels at times; you identified with the protagonists — Alice (Milla Jovovich) and Matt (Eric Mabius); even some of the soldiers — especially Rain (Michelle Rodriguez). And the storyline was plausible in a far-fetched kind of SF way. You bought into the idea that Alice/Milla was enhanced by the T-virus, which had “bonded with her” at a genetic level, and the idea that the virus could spread world-wide in days, killing those plants and animals it couldn’t zombie-ize. (Well, you might not have, but I did.)
And the series introduced some good and likeable actors (Ali Larter, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr, Mike Epps, Wentworth Miller, Kim Coates) — but then killed them off one by one! And what the virus could do (aided by bad guys such as Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) and Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) kept growing; at first it just animated the dead and made them hungry for the uninfected — then people and animals kept mutating. And people who had died in previous episodes (Rain, Jill Valentine) came back as bad guys; all that kept the paranoia going and the interest high. But I think Paul W.S. Anderson, the writer and director (and Milla’s husband, in case you didn’t know) just finally ran out of ideas — or maybe wrote himself into a corner. He retconned the origin of the Red Queen (the A.I. that ran The Hive under Raccoon City), the reason for the T-Virus, and finally Alice herself, In a movie that made very little sense. And as much as I like Milla Jovovich — she’s a terrific action star and very attractive — and the idea of the franchise, I think I’m kinda glad it’s over. (I hope!) RATING: 2¤+
Okay, I guess I asked for this one. Confession: I’ve been a Steven Seagal fan since Day One. His first movie, Above The Law, came out when I was living in Edmonton, and starred (besides Seagal) Pam Grier and Henry Silva. (It was also one of Sharon Stone’s early movies, but not her first.) Rumour has it that Seagal is planning a sequel. (What, Toscani Gets Fat and Old? Pardon my sarcasm.) It was followed by a string of martial arts hits that were, on the whole, pretty well written (with notable exceptions) and featured actors like Michael Caine, Joan Chen, Kelly LeBrock (who he married for a while), William Sadler, Keith David, Brian Cox, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Eric Bogosian, Everett McGill, Katherine Heigl (as a teenager), Marg Helgenberger, Randy Travis, Kris Kristofferson and a host of other name actors.
Somewhere around On Deadly Ground, the quality of the films started to drop, and after a while, Seagal — who was originally quite slim and athletic (an acknowledged aikido master) — began to bulk up. He began wearing long leather coats in an attempt to hide how fat he had become; his hair began thinning and he had a transplant to give him a permanent widow’s peak — but those are all externals. He began making direct-to-video movies for the eastern European market — where he is a superstar — where he used stunt doubles for most of the action shots, and even had his voice dubbed in English, presumably so he wouldn’t have to actually remember the absolutely forgettable scripts. But occasional gems (The Glimmer Man with Brian Cox and Keenan Ivory Wayans, for example) sneaked through, so I kept watching and hoping.
The Perfect Weapon, alas, is not one of those gems. The year is, if I remember correctly, 2029, and to counter the threat of nuclear war, the world (I guess) is under what appears to be the equivalent of martial law. Seagal plays The Director, who is the figurehead whom all should follow and revere. (Now, Seagal is only five years younger than I am, so by 2029 he should look markedly different. But no, he’s got the same amber glasses, fake widow’s peak, and that little goatee-mustache that makes him look like a wannabe Mafioso.) When they showed a major city with his face being projected on all the buildings, I turned off the movie. I didn’t even get far enough into it to verify this rating. RATING: -2¤s. (Yes, I know I’m being unfair, but RHIP. It’s my column, after all.)
And now we come to the reason you thought I was being redundant in my column’s title: “A Short Capsule Review” — nope. This is a short review of the movie Capsule, an offering from 2015 that somehow sneaked under the radar. It’s basically — for most of the movie — a one-man show; in the latter part of the movie we see some other actors, but the main character, Guy Taylor (Edmund Kingsley) carries it most of the way.
Imagine that in 1959, Britain beat the world to the punch by launching a manned space capsule! (Remember that NASA itself was only formed in 1958; the first manned rocket we know of was Yuri Gagarin in April 1961 — and the American first manned flight was several months later that same year, with Alan Shepard.) As you probably know, the NASA flight had a number of safety factors built in — including redundancy — that were lacking in the Soviet flights; even so, our safety record was ruined when the three astronauts of Apollo 1 were burned to death (Ed White, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, and Roger Chaffee); we know of a number of Soviet deaths during the early years of manned spaceflight as well. But if the British had launched a capsule in 1959, what are the chances that it would come to some kind of grief? Well, according to this movie, about 100%…
As we begin the movie, the commander — Guy Taylor, an experienced pilot, who has trained for several years for this mission — is just waking up from a period of unconsciousness. His capsule is leaking both fuel and air, and his radio connection with the British monitoring station (he took off from Woomera, Australia, so I assume they’re monitoring him from there too) is very “iffy.” He manages to shut off the attitude rocket (#3 thruster, I think), that is leaking fuel, but his air is down to under 30%. The rest of the movie is about him trying to save the mission and return to Earth. It’s all very well done — right up until about two-thirds of the way through — and I won’t spoil it for you by telling you the ending. But I thought the ending was not well thought out — or plausible — and there are a number of anachronisms or errors that are obvious to anyone who paid the slightest attention to space flight in the 20th century. I’d give Kingsley a 4¤ rating, but unfortunately, due to the last quarter or so, the movie itself only gets a 3. It might be worth your while if you have a spare hour and a half. RATING 3¤s.
Please comment on this column; here, or on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I link to this column. I welcome all your comments. Even if you hate the column, as long as you tell me why, we can always discuss it. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. See you next week!