Tag Archives: star trek

10 Summer Sci-Fi Films with promise

15 May
Peter Jackson attaches his name to Neil Blonkamp's new sci-fi drama District 9 which hits August 11th
Peter Jackson attaches his name to Neil Blonkamp’s new sci-fi drama District 9 which hits August 11th

  We are entering the third weekend in May, and the summer movie season is already well underway. So far, the biggest surprise has been the box-office strength of JJ Abrams Trek film, which had a great start and has continued to build strong. We’ll find out this weekend how well it fares in the face of the new Dan Brown adaptation Angels and Demons. The most refreshing thing about the new Trek is that in addition to being a terrific summer entertainment, it’s a true blue science fiction film and not just special effects and set design dipped in a sci-fi coating. And for fans of real science fiction, that’s a big thing; sincere, intelligent films in the genre are few and far between. 

However, it looks like that all might be in the process of changing. Every year and every summer brings a certain  number of films centered around aliens, robots or space travel but it’s been years since we have seen a glut of serious-minded science fiction hitting the theaters. With the post apocalyptic thriller The Road opening in October, and James Cameron’s epic science fiction experiment Avatar coming in for a landing in December, science fiction looks to be gaining steam. And before we even get there, there are clones, aliens, cyborgs, virtual wars and robotic warriors marching their way into multiplexes this summer.

The following are ten best bets for serious science fiction lovers. The titles range from independent features to big blockbusters, thoughtful space odysseys and B-movie action pictures. Some are adaptations or sequels and a few are completely original. What they all have in common: a specific, creative and hopefully exciting, sci-fi vision.


10. Gamer

 release date: September 4th

Trailer HERE


Ok, maybe I’m cheating a bit with this one. There doesn’t look to be much thoughtful or intelligent here, but by the looks of the trailer Gamer is full-blown speculative fiction mixed with hardcore action movie tropes. In the future, the biggest visceral thrill is not controlling A.I. avatars, but taking the wheel of actual human beings and pitting them against each other in various battle scenarios. This virtual killing experience is called Slayers and Gerard Butler plays a man trapped inside of this world trying to fight his way out and rescue his wife from another game universe called Society which is like a high-tech, twisted version of The Sims. Add in Michael C. Hall (Dexter himself) as the villain, Ludacris as a fellow Slayers’ avatar and Kyra Sedgewick as the host and you have a recipe that could result in the next Running Man. And we all know that’s a  classic right? The trailer looks like a perfect matinee ride, and the creators of Gamerhave taken some pains to make the sci-fi world at the center of the movie enticing if not plausible.

9. Pandorum

release date: September 4th

trailer HERE


Creepy Ben Foster from 310 to Yuma and 30 Days of Night teams with Dennis Quad to take on the sci-fi chiller Pandorum which becomes the latest entry in the “haunted spaceship” genre. That genre’s best entry, Sunshine, turned out to be a hard sci-fi thriller wearing a horror mask in the last third. This one looks typically disorienting, and that’s appropriate since it seems to revolve around the effects of deep space on the mind. The Pandorum of the title appears to be some sort of disease. While it’s slightly disconcerting to see Paul W.S. Anderson’s name on the film, he only serves as a producer and his own film Event Horizon contained without a doubt the creepiest haunted starship I’ve seen. I have some hope for this one.

8. Splice

release date: September

trailer: no trailer available currently.


Director Vincenzo Natali has provenhimself as a strong voice in science fiction with the skillfull thrillers Cube and Cypher. This time, he’s working a somewhat larger scale and telling a contemporary Frankenstein thriller about gene splicing scientists Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley who create a female creature whose own unique biology proves to be catastrophic for the world around her. Though it comes off sounding like Species, every other facet of the movie looks intriguing, including some rather disturbing creature designs that sidestep goopy monster and suggest an unearthly shuffling of human traits into something unnerving but also exotic.

7. Sleep Dealer

release date: playing in limited release right now

Trailer HERE


Respected in it’s release at the SundanceFilm Festival in January of last year, Alex Rivera’s first feature length film, Sleep Dealer tells the story of a walled off Mexico where workers plug-in to operate robotic construction units located across the border in the U.S. Cyberpunk needs a good jolt in the arm, and this low-budget indie film looks like it has the goods to deliver. I expect that this one might end up trumping the others on this list as far as it’s imagination and character development are concerned, but the trailer shows alot of the low budget seams. Will this matter? If you don’t get a theatrical shot at this one, I expect you will be able to grab it on dvd before summer ends.

6. Surrogates

release date: September  25th

Featurette HERE


Jonathan Mostow’s film sits right at the precipice dividing the summer and the fall film slate, but it’s production looks like a summer blockbuster witha neat idea at it’s center. Human shut-ins use robotic replicas called Surrogates to interact in the real world. When humans connected to surrogates start dying, an ex-cop played by Bruce Willis starts investigating, both in person and with his surrogate. It sounds like I, Robot but not being tied to a sci-fi classic and adding in the more compelling idea that the robots are only devices for their human masters impulses safely seperates this one from that Will Smith vehicle. Also, it’s nice to see Willis tackling something a little more ambitious again.

5. Terminator: Salvation

release date: May 21st

Trailer HERE


At first, I was skeptical about this prequel/revamp of the Terminator franchise. Whether Arnold appeared or not wasn’t such a big deal to me, but extracting the time travel elements was troubling. The original pictures played with fate, destiny and the human drive that proves necessary to trump the more calculating, efficient machines. When McG signed on, I pretty much wrote it off. But the addition of Bale in the cast, and a strong, gritty trailer made me reconsider. Recently I saw McG’s football drama We Are Marshall and was relieved to see that the man can deliver what a movie requires. Sure, that film about a town’s struggle in the face of tragedy is different than this one, but if you consider that the only movie Cameron made before the original Terminator was Pirahna 2: The Spawning, I think McG is in a better place. At any rate, it likely won’t be boring and if it can bring all of it’s pieces together it could be the strongest Terminator outing since the original. I have faith. After all, Bale wouldn’t settle for anything less than something professional.

4. The Time Traveler’s Wife

release date: August 14th

trailer: no trailer currently available

The Time Traveler's Wife

Based off a captivating novel about a man whose own genetic make-up causes him to time travel involuntarily, this film has the opportunity to improve upon that original work. Hopefully excising some of the creepier and ill-advised segments from the book, including a sexual encounter between the protagonist and his younger self, The Time Traveler’s Wife could potentially become a summer movie romantic sleeper. Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams look to be appealing as the couple at the core of the story who struggle to weather the personal devestation that Bana’s time traveling jaunts can cause. Playing with alot of unique time travel concepts(Bana’s character shows up without any clothing or protection when he jumps), and telling a heart-wrenching tale about human love and devotion, Time Traveler’s Wife might be the one flick that offers something for a wider audience beyond the typical sci-fi geek.

3. Moon

release date: June 12th

Trailer HERE


David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones directs this space oddity about a man over-seeing a robotic mining operation on the moon. Sam Rockwell, who is usually brilliant, plays astronaut Sam Bell and his A.I. companion is voiced by Kevin Spacey. The trailer captures elements of loneliness, isolation and dementia which makes the film look more Solaris(either version) than 2001: A Space Odyssey. When clones of Sam start crashing to the moons surface and questioning his sanity, things take a turn for the wierd. I’m sold.

2. 9

release date: September 9th

Trailer HERE


Shane Acker’s 9 was a visionary and exciting short film about a small automaton fighting a mechanical beastie in a ransacked future world for the souls of his compatriots. Now, Tim Burton and russian director Timur Bekmanbatov produce Acker’sdirectorial debut  of his own short subject. I’m not completely sure if the story is fantasy or science fiction or a mixture of both, but it draws from classic quest narratives and the sort of robust visual sensibility that old pulp magazines used to possess.  With tons of talented voices involved , and a trailer that gives me Gilliam/Del Toro/Juenet-style chills, 9 promises to be, in the words of the sage Michael Bay, AWESOME.

 1. District 9

release date: August 4th

Trailer HERE


For me, this indie film, which boasts the tag “Presented by Peter Jackson”, is one of the most awaited movies of the summer. Drawn from a short film by Neill Blonkamp called Alive in Joburg, District 9 pairs great visual effects with a real-world story. This alien invasion is more like an inhabitation, with hapless extraterrestrials attempting to live among the human beings because their choices are limited. The social and cultural ramifications of this mish-mash look to be explored in the film. Not sure yet if it’s all done documentary style, or that’s merely the hook for the story. Either way, District 9 looks like something special. 

Movie Review: Star Trek Boldly Begins

8 May






“I’ve waited for this day all my life…This day of reckoning”

cinemagrade A-The above quote is spoken by the Romulan warrior Nero in JJ Abrams new reboot of the Star Trek franchise, but I think I also heard it whispered among the Trekkies sitting in front of me as the lights went down and the Paramount logo came up tonight. Yea, no doubt about it. This was a big one for all parties involved. My wife and I don’t hail from the land of the Trek maniacs, but we are among the Losties, a group no less geeky than our star faring brethren but perhaps more culturally acceptable (at least for now). Give it 40 years, 5 series, and 11 films and then see how many of us are walking around with shaved heads and carrying large hunting knives.  Either way, whether you were rooting for JJ or Roddenberry or keeping your fingers crossed for a Shatner Priceline tie-in, we were all holding out for a winner. And it delivered. Big time.

It’s been a long time since we have had a truly great, epic space opera. The Star Wars prequels, while not nearly as bad as the current consensus would have them, were at best entertaining distractions with poorly constructed narratives and clunky, numbing dialogue. At worst, they were dramatically hollow in the places where they should have been brimming with passion and heart. Abrams’ Star Trek changes all of that with a film that is far more boldly conceived than any of its franchise predecessors. It does three things amazingly well: it tells a solid, interesting story, it builds onto and accentuates an inspiring and expansive universe, and it draws out of its leads terrific performances that truly give their characters emotional weight and reality.


 The new movie begins immediately with an unknown Romulan warship tearing its way out of an anomalous lightning storm. When it does so, a small federation starship challenges it, the Romulan captain demands to know the whereabouts of a Mr. Spock, and eventually one young first officer is thrust into the position of captain and does the only thing he can do to buy the evacuating crew the time they need to escape. He rams his ship into the Romulan destroyer, and sacrifices his life for the others, who happen to include his wife and newly born son, James Tiberius Kirk. And like that, the entire Trek universe has been reinvented.

That opening scene is really something else. It sketches in details with speed and efficiency. The production design gives us ships and technology that are sleek and metallic, but a bit retro. We can believe that this world is a relatively young, burgeoning future where the Federation is still getting its legs and learning how to best monitor the galaxy. George Kirk, Jim’s father, is only in the film for a few moments but instead of being a shadowy legend we get to see him being a reluctant, but determined hero. His sacrifice means something, only five minutes in. And it really does change things dramatically for the film.

See, the James Kirk of the previous films knew his father, was prompted by his father to join Starfleet and had all the benefits of a structured upbringing with a nurturing figure that loved him and inspired him. The James Kirk of this film does not. When Nero’s ship enters the picture, everything that would have happened in that timeline is knocked off its base: fighting Khan, saving the whales, throwing down with God, and everything else is no longer a certainty. Every character is freed up to go wherever this particular story takes them, although they still possess the same traits and spirit of those original characters. And then, there is Spock.


Or rather, there are two Spocks; the younger and the older. Abrams, trotting out the elements of fate, destiny and providence that come up so frequently on Lost uses Leonard Nimoy as the delivery boy of those same themes here. And Nimoy doesn’t disappoint. He slips into this character as if he had never left it, and he brings a greater sensitivity and world weariness to Spock. Add to that Quinto’s more impassioned, even arrogant portrayal as he actually wages a tug of war with his two disparate lineages and you have a classic character fleshed out in ways he never was before. The idea of the logical, emotionless alien who harbors human feelings has become a cliché since Star Trek debuted. It doesn’t feel stale though, and the writing and the acting are the primary reasons why.

The acting is uniformly strong all across the cast. Chris Pine has perhaps a job even more difficult than Quinto whose biggest hurdle is trying to suggest that he could ever become Nimoy in any potential future. Pine has to embody Kirk the character, shrug off the idiosyncrasies of Shatner the actor and suggest the differences in this alternate Kirk. If it sounds confusing to read, then imagine what a challenge it would be to actually convey that. Still, that’s exactly what happens. This isn’t Star Trek 90210 or Muppet Babies in Space. We aren’t just seeing a cool, hip, snarky version of Shatner’s more romantic, literature loving captain. Pine gives a layered performance that starts with the attitude but goes all the way through. It’s not an impersonation. It’s a whole new creation, and it’s a believable one. I’m looking forward to what Pine will do with other roles, and what he will do with this role in the future.

new-trekkie-photoAbrams pits Kirk and Spock against each other early on and the rest of the characters get to spin in their orbit a bit. This supporting crew doesn’t get the same development they did in the earlier films. Scotty and Bones make out the best. Pegg shows up late, and provides hearty doses of comic relief that aren’t manic, but simply bemused, which is in keeping with Doohan’s portrayal.  Karl Urban is the winner amongst the cast for being closest to his original character while looking nothing like him. Bones is probably the character least affected by the changes in the continuum, and it shows.

If I have made it all sound like imitation than I have betrayed the movie’s accomplishment. The characters are interesting to us initially because we know them, but satisfying to us later because they manage to surprise. There are consequences and stakes, and that is hardly ever true of a “prequel” because we always know how it ends up. Characters may go through a series of hoops where they jump differently, but they always have to land in the place we left them. This movie isn’t saddled with that. At any moment, we could have a moment like the one at the end of Wrath of Khan. Anything is possible.


Eric Bana as Nero is another strong point. Bana as an actor is an odd presence on film. Sometimes he can be very dynamic, especially in villainous roles (see Chopper) and yet so often it seems that he sleepwalks through his performances. Nero isn’t an emperor or a skilled warrior. In the future he comes from he was really just a blue collar worker; a miner who was affected deeply by a galactic tragedy. He’s a ball of seething rage and bitter drive thinly masked by his own self righteous sense of “justice”. Bana gets that, and he channels every physical and emotional trait of the character through that idea.

For all of the great acting and intelligent writing, the movie isn’t a serious affair or a particularly literary endeavor. The plot is classic space opera, with massive coincidences and clandestine meetings and a few dues ex machinas, even if God himself doesn’t show up demanding a starship. The script has been banged together into a vehicle just suitable enough for making those hyper jumps to the film’s climax without flying apart before the thing ends. And that’s all it really needs to be. It paves the way for numerous action scenes that are staged with imagination and a sense of space and logical motion. No herky jerky camera work, although the lilting movement during the space battles is almost vertigo inducing and that’s as it should be.


Despite the superb effects, wonderfully odd creatures (loved the green skinned girl, the ice planet’s giant insectoid, and the cabbage midget) and rousing battles,  the heart of the movie are its characters and ideas. Star Trek always imagined a universe where mankind was seeking to better itself, to move beyond its more base natures and come into its own unique destiny. This new film posits that each individual has his own destiny that sits outside of one race or one civilizations’ overarching path, and in the moment it is our understanding of our place and the choices we make that define that. Forty some years after it first struck out on that mission, Star Trek is still boldly exploring those ideas, and in some ways, better than it ever has before.

Star Trek isn’t just one of the best summer movies I’ve come across in some time; it’s also the best space adventure I’ve seen in ages. The only thing that prevents it from getting a 5 star rating is the fact that it never quite makes the leap into the truly dramatic or spectacular. There are no moments as awing as the creation of the Genesis planet or as emotionally disarming as the death of Spock. What it does it does wonderfully, and it’s far better than I would have ever expected it to be. It’s so good in fact, that it isn’t a far stretch to wish it had been just that little bit of extra that would have rendered it extraordinary. Still, it accomplishes something few movies have done for me in a while. It generates that gnawing urge to see it again, as soon as possible. Bravo, Star Trek. Live long and prosper.