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Tag Archive: Now streaming


Review by C.J. Bunce

The right mix of writing, acting, art direction, and music come together in Orbiter 9, a direct-to-Netflix Spanish film that really has it all.  Like the critically-acclaimed Midnight Special, saying too much about the plot will give away too much of what is compelling about this film.  But you can be sure to find a tense piece of science fiction derived from those classic tales of great writers of the past like Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Philip K. Dick.  It’s a tale of future Earth where Earthlings have ravaged the planet, so, like recent sci-fi entries Passengers and the Lost in Space reboot, the only chance for humans is to embark on long voyages to distant worlds.

Clara Lago (The Commuter, The Librarians, LEX) masterfully plays Helena, a young woman left on board a spaceship heading from Earth to a distant colony who encounters an engineer named Álex, coming to repair the ship’s oxygen system, played by actor Álex González (X-Men: First Class).  We learn from a video image Helena is re-watching that her parents left her alone three years ago when the oxygen system broke down–their math showed that with Helena flying alone the oxygen could still get her to Celeste safely.  Raised on the ship since birth, she has never met another human.  She is diligent in her daily rituals, including exercise, with a determination to complete her mission prompted by her parents’ sacrifice.  But after Álex’s arrival, everything changes.

More believable than prior visions of the future in this sub-genre (Passengers, Moon, the Cloverfield series), Orbiter 9 may pull its tale in part from classic Greek sacrifice mythology or closed-room mysteries like Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, and wrestles with the limits of sacrifice, for family or others–again, a concept addressed in many past sci-fi stories, Star Trek in particular (think Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “Suddenly Human” in Star Trek: The Next Generation and “Child’s Play” from Star Trek Voyager).  Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?  Orbiter 9 attacks this question in many surprising ways.  And unlike many a recent sci-fi film, it’s story belongs in a full feature format like this–it’s not just another short story dragged out to fit a movie-length format.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When next surfing your next adventure on Netflix, fans of seafaring stories will want to make sure they save some time for the 2005 television mini-series To the Ends of the Earth, one of the best accounts of the brutal, nasty, ignoble, and vile side of life in the early 19th century.  In what would be a relatively simple flight across continents today on a jet plane was a life-risking venture on the high seas in 1812, as a young British aristocrat named Edmund Talbot travels by a converted ex-warship to Australia, and learns more about social positions, decency, military discipline, and character than he contemplated when he booked his voyage into politics around the globe.  As with the recently reviewed series The Terror, To the Ends of the Earth is a grimy, authentic look at life below deck for the several tiers of passengers (a mirror of British society) in a classic man-of-war.   But where the production for The Terror looks gorgeously historic, it’s the stench that seems to permeate this tale in a way unmatched by The Terror, the A&E Horatio Hornblower series, Master and Commander: To the Far Side of the World, or Kenneth Brannagh’s Shackleton. 

Sometimes just plain gross, but never in a gratuitous way, To the Ends of the Earth is a smartly written story in the same serial delivery as the Hornblower series, this one three 90-minute chapters for a total of 4.5 hours.  Based on a trilogy of novels from the 1980s by Nobel Prize-winning Lord of the Flies author William Golding, for fans of modern film and modern takes on Sherlock Holmes, the series is a great, early pairing of the BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the big screen Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadow’s Moriarty, Jared Harris.  Although his fictional story is less popular an his voyage less memorable, Harris elevates his layered Captain Anderson to a naval leader comparable to Forester’s Pellew and Foster and O’Brian’s Aubrey (and a comparison of his captain then to his The Terror captain 15 years later is also worth the watch).  A younger Cumberbatch also shows his acting chops and foreshadows his later rise in filmdom, carrying each scene for nearly the entirety of the series’ 4.5 hours as the show’s tour guide, Talbot.

Flies.  Rotted food.  The stench of the wounded and the dying in close quarters.  The constant rocking of the ship, inability to walk, or sit, or drink, or sleep without getting sick, wet clothes, rashes, injuries, preparing for battle, losing men overboard–this film stinks (well, almost) like no other, and thankfully without the addition of Smell-o-vision.  Add to that being lost, the uncertainty of ever landing anywhere, distrust, embarrassment, mutinous types, savvy sailors and poor sailors, alcohol, drugs, sex, and no doctor or surgeon in sight for six months.  Oh, the good ol’ days, right?  We must take the books’ author and the studio’s word for it as to true authenticity, but the costumes and treatment of the human condition seems completely spot-on.  Thomas Hobbes’ life outside society as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” has hardly been more plainly laid out.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Say what you like about the three sequels to 2003’s surprise Disney hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, if you love adventures on the high seas, you’ve had a place to come home to, with Dead Man’s Chest (2006), At World’s End (2007), and On Stranger Tides (2011).  If you love the full scope of 3D technology, the series has revealed the potential beauty of the technology as the films provided some beautiful cinematography.  Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales truly brings pirate lore full circle, with Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and more all coming back and as barnacled as ever.  The fifth entry in the series is now streaming on Netflix and available on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, and 4K.

In a year that should see award shows celebrating 17 years of Hugh Jackman fleshing out the story of genre favorite character Logan, also known as Wolverine, 14 of those years saw Johnny Depp create the most memorable character of his career as Captain Jack Sparrow.  Always coming back for more and playing the heart out of his stumbling, distracted, but savvy survivor of visits to the bottom of the ocean and back, Depp solidified what a generation (or two) will always think of first when they hear the word pirate.  Taking a close second for that honor is Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Hector Barbossa, who also graced the screen in each film in the series as an equally interesting but different kind of salty pirate.  When you think of great, modern, master thespians stepping into high-profile genre roles to make them compelling, Rush as Barbossa should be at the top of your list.

Along with the great costumes, weapons, ships, and locations, audiences will find even more Rube Goldberg and Charlie Chaplin-inspired physical comedy in Dead Men Tell No Tales.  For the perennial dose of pirate gravitas, Academy Award winning actor Javier Bardem steps in to the guest star space filled in past adventures by the likes of Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Penélope Cruz, Zoe Saldana, and Stellan Skarsgård.  Bardem is another perfectly cast actor, as a gritty, mighty captain condemned to death with his crew by a young Jack Sparrow.  With some of the series’ best visual effects, Bardem’s Spanish Captain Salazar and his crew roam the high seas looking like they are walking on the ocean’s floor, complete with wet flowing hair and clothes–and missing body parts.  They are ghosts, but a new–and brilliant–take on pirate ghosts (or are they ghost pirates?).  Plus… ghost sharks!

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Review by C.J. Bunce

She wanted the story of a lifetime.  He just wanted to fix things.

The pop sci-fi movie appeals to moviegoers who don’t typically dabble in science fiction, and it is frequently cast with the day’s biggest Hollywood stars.  A subgenre that includes Gravity and Interstellar, the pop sci-fi movie tends not to further science fiction as a whole for the avid science fiction fan.   It usually means thin story, heavy special effects, and sappy melodrama.  Some of that might apply to this year’s theatrical release, Passengers, now streaming in digital format, Blu-ray and DVD.

But wait–unlike the typical pop sci-fi flick, this one works just fine, thanks to a straightforward story and the believability and authenticity of a small main cast: Chris Pratt as Jim Preston, an engineer whose stasis pod malfunctions causing him to awaken early on a 90-year deep space transport ship; Jennifer Lawrence as Aurora Lane, a passenger who is a journalist giving up her life for a big story; Michael Sheen as Arthur, a robot bartender who offers sage advice along the way; and Laurence Fishburne as Gus Mancuso, a deck chief on the ship.

Passengers was unfairly panned by critics and moviegoers, but the reasons make little sense.  It all boils down to two elements for the typical non-genre filmgoer.  First, Passengers did not simply give away its plot, or even the true nature of its genre, via movie trailer spoilers, surprising moviegoers looking for a pleasant date movie, and second, for being unconventional.  Yet probably more than any other movie this year it prompts plenty of water cooler conversation:  What would you do if you were put in Jim’s or Aurora’s position?  Jim is a hero (so is Aurora), but he is a pretty flawed hero.  Isn’t that the stuff of a good drama?  Passengers in many ways is the modern-day Stagecoach or Lifeboat–a closed room mystery, but without the whodunnit.  And Lawrence and Pratt have chemistry.

What would you do?

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It’s been nearly five years since we first reviewed the award-winning, low-budget sci-fi alien invasion flick Attack the Block.  Now that Jodie Whittaker is in the spotlight for her selection as the next Doctor in the BBC’s Doctor Who, and John Boyega will be returning this December for his second stint as Imperial turned Resistance fighter Finn in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, let’s look back to them working together as co-leads in writer/director Joe Cornish’s modern cult classic.  Attack the Block should be in every sci-fi fan’s arsenal.  When we first reviewed Attack the Block here at borg.com, we compared it to another low-budget British sci-fi/horror mash-up, 1985’s Lifeforce (which co-starred a then less-known Patrick Stewart).  After repeat viewings since then, it’s clear Attack the Block is a much better film, full of action, suspense, humor, and good acting by young actors who all feel very real on-screen.  In 2011 only fans of the actors from the Cornetto films would have noticed it, because of the slightly larger than cameo performance by Nick Frost, one-half of the Simon Pegg/Frost comic duo (Shaun of the Dead, The Fuzz, Spaced, Paul).  Attack the Block was an unknown commodity that didn’t get much reaction at the U.S. box office in 2011 because it was not marketed well and it was not a typical, Hollywood-made sci-fi epic.  It was before its time–it’s Stranger Things, UK style.  It’s Judgment Night and John Carpenter’s original Attack on Precinct 13 meets E.T., if E.T. didn’t have good intentions and Elliot wasn’t a nice little kid.

It takes a bit to warm up to the main cast of Attack the Block.  We follow a teen gang of British kids in masks led by John Boyega’s character Moses as they unabashedly and violently mug a nurse named Sam, played by Jodie Whittaker.  From the beginning Whittaker’s Sam really is the only person in the film we are completely sympathetic toward, despite efforts of the writer to get viewers to understand this gang of kids.  We almost get to the point of sympathy for the others once Sam decides she may very well be killed by aliens if she does not join up with the gang, and this film takes a swing at answering the question: “Under what situation would a victim, however reluctantly, join up with her attacker?”  Violent alien beast invasion, of course!  Despite playing the thug, Boyega had charisma even early on and it’s understandable why he has his own band of followers.  He gets in over his head dealing with a slightly older drug kingpin who “owns the block” and takes the kid under his wing for a drug sale.  His followers are a motley sort. Along with a pair of much younger kids that add some comic relief, and an additional wandering, stoned teenager, they must come together to fight the gang leader and worse—the onslaught of big hairy aliens.

The scarf of a future Doctor!  Jodie Whittaker in Attack the Block.

Six years later, Attack the Block easily holds its own.  For alien invasion film fans, it offers one of the best aliens of any 21st century production–big or low budget—giant dark, furry beasts built like hybrid gorilla/buffalos, with phosphorescent blue fangs, able to leap and spring and climb buildings.  We don’t ever see clear views of these creatures, and that mystery and an overall lack of gore throughout the movie helps form the mystique of these creatures–think the uncertainty of when the shark appears next in Jaws–and it makes them just plain scary as they chase their targets down hallways and up buildings.  They aren’t hive-minded aliens from Alien or conniving predators as in Predator, but they don’t need to be.

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