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Film Review: Jupiter Ascending

The trailer for this looked so pretty and ridiculous, I just knew I had to watch it… and last night, I finally did.

*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*

Jupiter-Ascending-poster

Last week I reviewed the Wachowskis’ foray into Netflix and awarded their efforts with Sense8 five glorious splats. This week, I’m reviewing their latest cinematic offering: the ever so lavish if somewhat over the top, Jupiter Ascending.

Jupiter Ascending is based on a well-worn fantasy trope, that of the ignorant Chosen One being thrust into a chaotic world when they eventually become aware of who they really are and their grand destiny etc. We’ve seen it a dozen times before and the execution here didn’t really offer anything fresh, except that Mila Kunis is a Russian immigrant in Chicago, which added an extra layer – albeit thin – to the Cinderella-esque aspects of this story.

Like Guardians of the Galaxy, I don’t think this movie is meant to be taken seriously, but it could’ve been a lot more awesome had as much time been taken with the story and character development as was clearly taken with the ostentatious sets and costuming. This film is exquisite and attention to detail is excellent, from the way feathers sprout in a goatee on the token black guy to the intricate tribal etchings on the spaceships. This film should win an Oscar for set- and costume-design. But it’s a superficial prettiness, a gilded veneer that adds little sparkle to a lacklustre storyline.

Having recently watched 2010: Odyssey 2 and in the wake of films like Prometheus, I wasn’t super impressed by the idea of a master alien race being the seeds of human life across the universe. The reason why this alien race seeds human life was even more implausible, at least in the way it was portrayed. Here’s where we get into spoilery territory… so apparently, the master race who has a near-religious affinity with genetic engineering, splices their DNA into native populations on planets in order to grow these populations for a harvest which results in an immortality elixir providing the wealthy uppercrust of the master race longevity and youthful appearances. Now this I can totally get behind, but why would said master race leave humans on Earth to their own devices, allowing them to develop nuclear weapons to a point where they might actually be able to defend themselves from an incoming harvest? These master aliens and their various minions are also capable of erasing memories, turning invisible at will, and restoring buildings after Man of Steel-scale destruction in a matter of hours, so why they don’t take advantage of some very real and easy opportunities to kill Mila Kunis’s character and the eponymous Jupiter, I have no idea. Because plot convenience.

Okay, so this film is science fantasy in the vein of Star Wars and John Carter of Mars so I shouldn’t examine the science of this too closely, but a master race that farms and obliterates entire planets, should at least have more effective weapons when they are desperately trying to kill a target. Nope, instead they have what amounts to stun guns allowing the hero to swoop in in the nick of time to save the damsel in distress, again and again and again.

Jupiter’s character is a space Cinderella but instead of a fairy godmother, she has a magical genome and becomes a queen, not a princess. She also gets a genetically spliced space werewolf with wings instead of a prince – the princes here are trying to kill her – which is kinda cool, but Channing Tatum is less wolf and more elf. They give him this whole vicious backstory – that’s never explained – but never show him going full beast (despite allusions to Beauty and the Beast – barf!). In fact, most of the time his facial expressions range between kicked puppy and a dog about to get belly rubs leaving him as a cardboard cut-out, one-dimensional, stereotypical yet reluctant hero. As such, he swoops – literally, given his gravity-surfing boots – in to save Jupiter from her own idiocy time and time again. It becomes so predictable that there is zero tension in this film. Zero. You know he’ll save her and they’ll all survive major explosions and other certain-death moments because this film is all about the happy ending. I’m not against Disney-esque uplifting feel-good films, but I’d like the film to at least throw a few curve balls and maybe have believable moments of angst. It’s not a good sign when you start rooting for the hero to die just to make the film a little less predictable and pedestrian. Also, this love story. Yeah, I have nothing good to say about it. Cute at best, but oh so very trite.

About this hero business. I am so sick of seeing this damsel in distress trope and Jupiter here was the most reactive, idiotic female protagonist ever, who needed constant saving from herself by the big, burly dude. I’m not sure if it was Mila who thought it was a good choice or the director, but to have her utter these little gasps every time something astonished her – almost always – was a bit much. There were precisely two stronger female characters, one was a psycho bitch trying to outwit her brothers who vanished from screen after her five minutes were up and the other was a stoic space captain- hooray for a person of colour! But sadly the only one of any significance in this film. I am absolutely not counting the token Asian and black guy hunters who appeared and disappeared just as quickly without serving much relevance to the plot. In a fantasy film featuring feathered aliens and even sentient dragon-people, why couldn’t the royal house of Abraxas be people of color or even biracial? Nope. Given the aliens’ obsession with genetics, I find this an interesting choice that smacks of Aryan eugenics. Perhaps it was meant to make a statement about the evils of such things. I’m not sure. As a side note, there was no apparent LGBT+ representation in this film either, making it pretty ordinary Hollywood sci-fi fare.

The best part of this film was Eddie Redmayne’s character – a totally unhinged alien royal with some serious mommy issues. He was by far the most complex character, but he hardly got any screen time and when he did, he didn’t have much to do other than be an asshole. There were a few moments where we got to see his more complicated and vulnerable side toward the end of the film and I was looking forward to him developing a relationship – however creepy – with Jupiter (the genetic recurrence of his mother) but that gets cut short in the interest of flashy action scenes that got boring after the first thirty seconds because it’s so painfully obvious Channing won’t die despite getting mauled by a dragon. And he still didn’t wolf out! I feel cheated! *sulk*

Did I enjoy this movie? Weirdly sort of yes. It was brainless entertainment and two hours of eye candy. The score is also pretty impressive thanks to Michael Giacchino. Would I sit through this film again? Not if you paid me. Would I see a sequel? Only if Channing goes full space werewolf! It was ridiculous fun, but these days I’m looking for more than that in my sci-fi. We already get the fun, spectacular, hilarious stuff from Marvel. I wanted a lot more from this movie that seemed to have a huge creative force behind it but lacked the courage perhaps, to blaze a trail into new territory the way the Wachowskis’ did with The Matrix. Perhaps that’s the biggest problem. Every time I watch a film by these siblings, I expect to have my mind blown the way I did with The Matrix, and then I’m left only with disappointment when it doesn’t happen. 2/5 ink splats for me, for being exceptionally pretty and somewhat entertaining.

2 inksplats

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Firstly, I apologize for the lack of Tuesday reviews the past couple of weeks. I was busy packing for the move, then moving, then unpacking and sorting out my new life in Sweden hence the lack of posts. And this leads me to today’s review. Given that I spent most of December 24th unpacking the last of the boxes, Christmas Eve – which arrived with a delightful flurry of snow – was spent with a bowl of chicken soup in front of the PC watching Guardians of the Galaxy.

GOTG-poster

To be honest, I haven’t read that many actual comics and my childhood was spent devouring Tolkien-esque epic fantasy not pages by Marvel and DC. That said, since discovering the wonder of the graphic novel as a slightly older young adult, I’ve been fully committed to watching everything Marvel has to offer. (I’ve been less ecstatic about DC offerings thus far) so of course Guardians of the Galaxy (from now referred to GoftG) was a film I knew I was going to watch regardless what the reviewers said.

Turns out, this film got rave reviews and that left me a little skeptical. I tried going into this film having no to low expectations and I think that certainly helped me enjoy this film a lot more than I might have otherwise. Humour is a bit of a hit and miss with me. Much of what passes as comedy with general movie-goers falls flat with me and I tend to outright avoid comedies because of my… let’s call it ‘quirky’ sense of humour, so after reading reviews calling GoftG ‘hysterical’ and ‘laugh out loud’ funny, it was with much trepidation that I settled down to watch.

With baited breath I awaited the accursed voice-over giving me a run down of the world and how space politics came to be yadda yadda and surprise surprise, it never happened! Kudos GoftG for not pandering to your audience with narration! Five stars awarded in the first three minutes! But what wasn’t explained to the audience with clunky narration was sneaked into expository dialogue that made my eyes twitch a little. Still, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been so I’ll forgive these moments of exposition because I was definitely being entertained.

While others criticized films like Battleship and John Carter, I found both extremely entertaining and really funny. GoftG joins these two on my shelf of ‘highly entertaining when you don’t really want to engage your brain.’ For two hours, I found myself snickering at the jokes – particularly those by Rocket – and rooting for the unlikely bunch of misfit heroes. Yes, cliches abound and much of the movie could be seen as a patchwork borrow/steal from just about every other science fantasy film ever made, but I still enjoyed it immensely. It’s good old-fashioned swash-buckling space adventure with a lovable, if hardly smart, bunch of underdog heroes and a creepy villain who is also less than competent most of the time. I did, however, feel that Lee Pace was under utilized here. He took my breath away in The Fall and is pitch perfect in The Hobbit so I would’ve loved more from him here as the villain.

With a two hour running time, I was afraid this movie would feel long the way certain X-Men films have, but GoftG managed to keep up the pacing and keep me enthralled until the very last scene at the end of the credits. While some of the other Marvel films have taken a turn toward darker themes, GoftG keeps things light and frivolous with blood conspicuous by its absence despite a fair bit of violence, jokes mostly clean – sadly, I think some more ribald humour for the adult audience ala Shrek would’ve worked well given the characterisation of Starlord – and the general ambiance of the film one of feel-good adventure. I’m not sure how the tone of this film will fit into the greater Marvel picture given the bleak undercurrent in the Captain America films, the darker characterisation of Tony Stark, and the corrupt – and awesome – villainy of the likes of Loki, but it definitely feels like a much needed breath of fresh air given the sometimes overbearing canon into which it fits – well, sort of fits.

Overall, GoftG didn’t impress me, but it definitely didn’t disappoint and was exactly the sort of brain-vacation entertainment I wanted. This scores 3.5/5 ink splats from me and I’ll probably – definitely – be watching the sequel.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in Reviews

 

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A review of NIGHT WITCHES by L. J. Adlington

Hi everyone, I’m new to the blog *waves* Thank you Dave for inviting me over to review some super cool speculative fiction. I’ll mostly be reviewing YA books, but I’ll also review the odd film or two. I have a quirky taste in books and films so I hope my reviews will introduce you to lesser known but no less awesome SF/F stories.

 

About me in a nutshell:

My name is Suzanne and I’m a tattooed story-teller from South Africa, but I currently live in Finland where I hibernate during the long winters writing, reading and watching everything under the speculative fiction banner – except horror, because I’m a wuss. I have a peanut butter addiction and a shibu inu called Lego. You can find out more about me and my books at my website. And instead of giving you a picture of my face, I thought I’d show you the cover of my forthcoming YA novel, I HEART ROBOT, because this cover is so much prettier 😉

You can also hang out with me on Twitter or Facebook if you’d prefer.

 

And now for the review…

A supernatural thriller-romance set in an all-girl teenage bomber-pilot regiment, combining witchcraft and legend.

TWO NATIONS AT WAR. ONE GIRL CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE. Rain Aranoza is a teenage bomber-pilot from Rodina, a nation of science and fact ruled by the all knowing Aura, where the belief in witches or any type of superstition is outlawed. Rain’s regiment is made up of only teenage girls and their role is vital to the war effort against the Crux, a nation of faith and belief, where nature and God are celebrated and worshipped.

But Rain is struggling with another battle. She’s always had a sense that her nature is different from everyone else’s, and that a dormant power threatens to burst out of her.

When she encounters a young Scrutiner she falls in love with him, but is torn between what she has been taught is right, and what feels right. As her understanding of her latent power grows, the enemy threatens both her friends and her love. She can no longer ignore the power but she must choose how she uses it … But what will she lose in the process?

Amazon

When I reached the end of this novel, four words came to mind: Brilliant! Amazing! Original! Enthralling!
 
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this up at the library. The cover immediately caught my attention (hooray for a person of colour being on the cover!) and then that blurb. Teenage bomber pilots? Sign me up! This book was astonishingly good, the perfect blend of science and fantasy starring a sympathetic MC who I adored. That said, it was the secondary characters who stole the show here, and one of the secondary characters was even genderqueer.
 
This book scored lots of points for diversity. What really had me captivated though wasn’t the MC, or the cool planes, or the love interest with tattooed eyelids (creepy and awesome), but rather the world. The author weaves a rich tapestry that pits religion against science, humanity against artificial intelligence, and nature against machine using appropriate vocabulary and teenage slang born from the fantastic world the characters live in. This all added a most authentic feel to the book and had me fully immersed in the story world from cover to cover.
 
What sealed the 5 ink splat deal for me was finding out this story was inspired by the real night witches: all-female fighter pilots from the Soviet Union who became a rather formidable force during WWII. The fact that this bit of history is woven into the story, including thematic material gleaned from Stalinist philosophy, added an extra dimension to the book, one which I found fascinating and terrifying, especially considering the YA demographic for which this book is intended. It was a brave move by the author and one she executed flawlessly.
 
I strongly recommend this book to anyone looking for a strong YA science fantasy featuring diverse characters in an incredibly well-constructed world. This book gets 5/5 ink-splats from me! Right, I’m off to find more books by this author.

 

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