Tag Archives: Sci Fi

Transcendence (2014)

transcedence

Transcendence

Director: Wally Pfister

Writer: Jack Paglen

Recommended? maybe, maybe not

I don’t know, maybe I just have a low bar for films. All the reviewers say this movie is crap. That it’s plodding and Johnny Depp isn’t peppy. That it doesn’t explore its heavy subject matter in-depth enough, or that it’s hypocritical that the movie has an anti-technology message yet uses the latest in CGI special effects.

That last critique kind of stuck with me, and I realized… maybe part of why this film is being panned is because people don’t want to think about what it has to say. After all, cries against the “hypocrisy” of the anti-technology crowd are pretty much the mewing of defensive fools who are desperate to discredit the obvious truth that technology can be alienating and destructive.
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The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

The Purge: Anarchy

The Purge: Anarchy

Director: James DeMonaco

Writer: James DeMonaco

Recommended: Surprisingly enough, yes.

Bechdel Test: Pass, right off the bat

Trigger Warnings (for the film, not necessarily the review): Rape threats, intense weird classist violence

“Anarchist” was a pejorative for a long-ass time before people started calling themselves anarchists. So while I’m pretty convinced the definition of anarchy is “a society without systemic oppression” and not “when everyone runs around killing one another,” I kind of get why some people still hold onto the latter understanding of it.

That was what I told myself to steel myself to watch a film about lawless violence that had “anarchy” in the title.

Maybe I didn’t need to. The Purge: Anarchy is, well, more or less an anarchist film.
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The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman

The Forever War

The Forever War

by Joe Haldeman

1974, St. Martin’s Press

Recommended? Yes

As far as I know, The Forever War is basically the antiwar sci-fi novel. Between it and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, you’ve got the “why it sucks to go to war” pretty well covered.

Written in 1974 and based on Haldeman’s experience as a draftee in Vietnam, The Forever War uses science fiction’s potential to its artistic fullest—he takes an element of war he’d like to describe (the alienation of returning home) and exaggerates it for effect with science.

In the world of The Forever War, the battles are taking place lightyears away from each other and from Earth. And despite a series of wormholes scattered throughout the galaxy, ships are required to travel for months or years at a time through regular space at near the speed of light. Which, for those science fans following along, means time dilation. While only months go by for the people aboard the ships, years, decades, even centuries pass on earth. After every raid, soldiers return to a completely different world. The moral? You can never go home.
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The Walking Dead, seasons 1-4

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead, seasons 1-4

2010-2014, AMC

Recommended? If you’re going to watch epic amounts of TV, then yes.

Rooting for The Walking Dead isn’t exactly rooting for the underdog, I know. It’s apparently the most-watched show on cable. But, after binging my way through four seasons, I’ll say this: I’m glad it’s so popular.

As a warning, this review is going to assume you’ve seen the show or don’t care about spoilers. It’s light on specifics, though.

The Walking Dead is a post-apocalyptic zombie drama set primarily in rural Georgia, based on a comic series I haven’t read. When it first came out, I gave it a shot but got kind of bored after a few episodes.

You see, the protagonist is a cop. The second-in-command? Also a cop. This isn’t a really good way to hook me. In fact, throughout the whole first season, I basically felt like the screenwriters were good-cop/bad-copping me: good cop is so good! Bad cop is so bad! Therefore, we need more good cops!
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The Purge (2013)

The Purge

The Purge

Director: James DeMonaco

Writer: James DeMonaco

Recommended? you could do worse

Bechdel Test: Pass

I saw a trailer for this film awhile back, long before I convinced myself to watch it. In the year 2022 unemployment, poverty, and crime are at record lows—all because for one night a year, from 7pm to 7am, every crime is legal. (And by “every crime” the filmmakers really just mean murder.)

I’m an anarchist. My entire political understanding is wrapped up in the idea that without law and government, we’d actually all get along alright. I wasn’t expecting to like The Purge.

But the filmmakers actually took the themes of the movie in interesting directions.

First of all, let’s talk about class war. The protagonists are bootstrapping war-profiteers, basically: the husband sells security systems to rich people for the Purge. “Ten years ago we couldn’t pay our bills, and now we’re thinking about buying a boat,” he says at some point early in the film. The family puts out a symbolic display of blue flowers, showing their support for the Purge, before retreating into their secure home.
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Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall

Shadowrun-Dragonfall-pc-cover-large

Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall

Harebrained Studios, 2014

Recommended: Without question

Summary: Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall is a fun, incredibly well-written computer roleplaying game that takes place in a good-guy-anarchists-against-evil-megacorporations future. It nods to punk anti-fascism; it makes fun of state communists; there are multiple, non-sexualized homosexual relationships; and there’s awesome German graffiti everywhere in the background. So yes, I like this game. It didn’t get everything perfect, but it got a hell of a lot right.

There’s always going to be a place in my heart for Shadowrun. I think I was in fourth grade when a friend introduced me to the world for the first time, handing me the second edition core book. There on the cover were a bunch of punk humans and elves, hacking a computer terminal in the middle of a gunfight.
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Dredd (2012)

Dredd (2012)

Dredd

95 minutes

Director: Pete Travis

Recommended? No.

Problematic: Protagonizing the police; protagonizing fascism; villainizing drug users; villainizing sex workers; misunderstandings of class and crime; etc.

Bechdel Test: Pass.

When it comes down to it, this is a film about some white cop who runs around a projects building killing poor people because some of them might be dealing drugs (drugs that honestly look really fun and aren’t presented as having any negative side effects). It’s one of those non-stop-action movies that’s light on complexity but high on moralizing. The protagonists have body armor and high-tech gizmos and the opponents are impoverished. It’s somewhat entertaining, has strange moments of beauty, and tries but fails to be anything but a feature-length accolade of how great the police are.

It’s hard to imagine that this film was written by and for anything other than suburban, middle- and upper-class Americans.

The character Judge Dredd comes the UK comic series 2000AD and is intended to be a black-comedy satire of authoritariansm. This film adaptation, however, seems to entirely miss the point. And, according to the screenwriter Alex Garland, intentionally so: it was written as he understood the comic as a ten-year old boy. So there you go. Unfortunately, while I’m all for black-comedy and satire, this film is direct proof as to why those things are dangerous when they go over people’s heads.
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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

146 minutes

Director: Francis Lawrence

Recommended? Yes

Problems: Racial, mostly to do with casting white actors to play roles that were written as POC

Bechdel Test: Pass

So, firstly, this is good movie. It’s got great acting, great writing, works as a YA film without condescending to kids OR adults, and it’s a damn good adaptation of a really good book. Incidentally, this review will contain no major direct spoilers, but it will kind of assume you’ve seen the first movie, or read the first book. If you haven’t, you might want to get on that.

Just to get it out of the way, fuck the whitewashing of characters in this whole series. Jennifer Lawrence is terrific as Katniss, but the fact that the casting call was limited to white actors is egregious, and the fact that the cast in the movie is, overall, whiter than the cast in the book, just sucks.

Apart from that, though, this is a really solid movie, and is consistent with the book (by Suzanne Collins) in terms of putting forward a revolutionary storyline. It picks up a short time after the first one left off, with Katniss Everdeen tentatively safe after having won the Hunger Games. She learns of how she embarrassed the Capitol of Panem in the process, thus unintentionally becoming a symbol of resistance for the already discontented people of what is usually described in summaries and reviews as a “futuristic dystopia” but might better be referred to as a “fascist state,” since there’s nothing particularly unrealistic or speculative about the levels or means of oppression it employs. More on that in a moment. In an effort to destroy her and her fellow victor, Peeta, as revolutionary symbols, President Snow arranges a Hunger Games in which Peeta and Katniss will fight again, this time against an assortment of hardened killers and experts, and hopefully be killed.
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