Another year, another Oscar night with no Oscars. For me, anyway. M once again trudged through the snow to an Oscar party at her friend’s place across the street, and I settled in to watch some unfamiliar science fiction. This is my seventh year doing this, but only the second year of inviting people to join me. Despite some miserable road conditions and a lot of wind – blown snow, I had a pretty good turnout. Only a few people got stuck at home and couldn’t make the drive (which meant we were a little less crammed, haha, so silver lining I guess). First up?
There’s been an earthquake convergence! And a mixing of civilizations! And there’s a globe spanning wind so amazing that everybody uses planes to get around (and occasionally to hit people)!
This one was a lot of fun, if a little loose plotwise. Not that it lacked one, but it seemed to change direction a few times. Bad guys became good guys and criminals became innocents and antihero types became more anti than hero. I expect much of this was intentional, and in a more polished film it might have worked, but the characters in this one felt more like cookie cutters that wouldn’t keep their shape than fully realized individuals that couldn’t be so simply described. Six of one, I suppose.
Ben Kingsley was in this one, too, but his five minutes were almost up before we even recognized him, haha.
I feel like Slipstream reached a little beyond its grasp. What felt like inconsistent characterization was probably supposed to be complexity and growth. I liked that it tried to drop us into a world and then show rather than tell, but it felt more incomplete than expansive.
Mark Hamill had a much smaller role than we anticipated. Slipstream seems to be one of those movies where they sell it on the presence of a well known actor in a lesser role, without really making it clear that’s the case. I forgot Paxton was even in it, despite him getting first billing on the DVD case. Added an element of surprise, haha.
All that said, we liked it. It could have used a lot of improvement, but I don’t want to give the impression it was a tire fire. It probably tried to do a bit more than it really had the chops for, but overall it was a win. Which brings us to…
The Andromeda Strain 
In terms of quality, this was the big winner of the evening. A fallen satellite/probe has brought something home with it, and that something isn’t good for people.
A whole town is dead, along with everybody that’s tried to enter since the satellite crashed. An elite team of scientists is brought together, and they attempt to identify and nullify the threat using… science. This is literally a few people in a bunker running tests for the better part of its two-hour-plus runtime, and it is absolutely intense.
Every answer brings further questions, and immense preparation proves insufficient as the team races to determine what exactly the potential epidemic is, and how to prevent it from destroying humanity.
The characters are well developed and each bring their own beliefs and scientific prejudices into this overwhelming situation. I can see why The Andromeda Strain is still considered by some to be the benchmark for epidemic/outbreak films; it really does everything right.
In addition to the town full of dead people, there are a few animal tests undertaken as they investigate the pathogen that are a little horrific; the movie bears a PG rating but those situations could with the heavy realism make that seem a little light to me. Plus, I think you’d want to be a little older to really appreciate it, anyway.
The crowd thinned a little after this one, as we were already rolling into the wee hours of Monday morning, but a few of us stuck it out for our final flick…
TimeRider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann 
TimeRider was a nice light romp of a movie, following a motocross biker with mad skillz and no navigational talents that gets lost and drives through a secret time travel experiment. Oops! Poor Lyle winds up a hundred or so years in the past with no idea what’s going on. But, seriously, no idea. Everything’s filthy, he keeps getting shot at, and nobody understands half of what he’s saying, but he mostly just seems to think he’s lost and things are weird. At one point somebody specifically namedrops the very recent Civil War, and he just responds that what they’re saying doesn’t make any sense.
This one definitely benefits from a healthy suspension of disbelief, but we had at least some idea of that going in. Not all the details, but we at least knew we were going to watch a motocross racer go back in time for some reason, so we were more or less in an appropriate frame of mind. Peasants are terrified of him, a local girl takes a shine to him, and of course the outlaws he runs into decide they need to have his ‘machine’ for their very own.
Some US Marshals turn up hunting said outlaws, and Lyle teams up with them in an effort to save the girl and his motorcycle. Classic stuff. We get a number of shootouts, some clumsy romancing, and a subplot back in our own time involving the scientists trying to find a way to undo their mistake. TimeRider didn’t feel like it was trying to do anything too fancy (it is what it is, if you will), but it promised me some goofy time travel shenanigans and it delivered.
I wish the Adventure of Lyle Swann had felt a little more adventurous, but overall we all had fun with it, and that’s really all we were asking for.
And that’s the 2019 Oscar Night Scifi Superfest! Time to start planning for next year.
I’m playing a pen and paper rpg again!
The game is Stars Without Number, an Old School style science fiction rpg with a cool setting, written by Kevin Crawford and available via rpgnow, etc. The other night we sat down to build our characters and even got a little bit of gaming in, and it felt good. Too early to really declare an informed opinion (we were only half-using the rules, since we didn’t arrive planning to play and hadn’t prepared), but we had a lot of fun. We’ve got 5 of us playing, with CP running the game, and in classic scifi style, we opened with a jailbreak. Our players?
P – Ashok, a weak but pretty confident wanderer that seems to have both a knack for getting into trouble and a talent for talking himself back out of it.
MM – XLT to be Decommissioned (Decom for short), a medical robot that was manufactured with an assassin’s body by mistake. He seems unsure about where his destiny lies.
MR – Weesah, a victim of a misogynist tech-based caste system that was drafted into a revolution and trained in explosives and terror tactics
CD – Asdon, an illegal salvager that’s apparently got some aggression issues and a *very* lax moral compass.
Me – Jaeger, a pilot from a dysfunctional and once-powerful family heavily involved in technology R&D, especially where space travel is concerned. Recent events have left me alone and broke, supporting myself via contract work.
After a contract gone wrong, we all found ourselves locked up in a Star Command prison cell. A riot broke out elsewhere in the prison and we were able to get free of our cell. Weesah hacked some systems, Ashok distracted and misdirected some guards, and Jaeger retrieved or belongings from some lockers before piloting our impounded disaster of a ship out of the prison and to safety.
Decom ran interference and provided support, and Asdon shot a couple guards in the back so he could take their Star Command shuttle. After arriving at a nearby moon known as Luke’s, Jaeger stripped a few useful upgrades out of the shuttle and then Asdon sold it for parts.
We’re a strange crew; it’ll be interesting to see how these characters develop…
Haha, this one was bonkers! It claims to be a post-apocalyptic version of H Rider Haggard’s She, but that’s a pretty ridiculous stretch. There is indeed a character named She, and there is a journey undertaken by a couple of friends, but that’s about as close as it gets. The first chunk of it was pretty much just a mess, but after about 20 minutes it leveled off a little; the movie remained pretty insane but the plotting turned into something relatively followable.
It all starts with Tom, Dick, and Tom’s sister Hari (can’t make this up) traveling to a neighbouring valley to sell soap at a post-apocalyptic market. Unfortunately the Norks (kinda nazi footballers) show up and kidnap Hari. The movie flits back and forth between Tom and Dick (spending their time getting poisoned and sold and mostly running around in circles) and She, the living goddess of the something-or-others (a clan of amazon warriors). They mostly seem to be buying or stealing men for her to sleep with and then kill. Eventually Tom and Dick convince She and her right hand woman to assist in their quest to rescue Hari from the Norks, which is where the movie finally finds its plot. It’s not an amazing plot – mostly it just follows our intrepid heroes as they stumble from one band of weirdos to another – but it’s simple enough that the movie finds a certain bizarre groove to settle into.
Cruel mutants, hippie werewolves, a weird cult led by a telekinetic, a strange ‘doctor’ with a tutu-clad giant for an assistant, and of course our Nazi footballers/gladiators/punks. Lots of escapes and mediocre fight choreography serve to shove Tom, Dick, and She (and her right hand, to a lesser extent) from one weird post-apocalyptic community to the next.
It generally doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; this one seems to fall more along the lines of ‘viewing experience’ than ‘tour de force’. Eventually our heroes find their way, disguised, into a gladiatorial arena and nearly kill each other before recognizing one another and stealing Hari away from the Norks. They make their escape from the Nork fortress to a nearby bridge (where they earlier fought a duplicating man), and set a series of traps while the Norks delay pursuit. I’ve already forgotten why they delay. The Norks are certainly in no hurry. Probably busy generating inspired graffiti.
Norks have horses, so they’re loaded with pursuit confidence, I guess.
She, Tom, Dick, and Hari go all Swiss Family Robinson on the Norks until She’s right hand turns up out of the blue (she left the party about 35 minutes ago and hasn’t even been mentioned since) with the entire Amazon army and kick the snot out of whoever’s left.
Happy endings ensue.
Certainly not one to watch with any seriousness, but as a goofy parade of chaos it was decently entertaining. I expect I’ll watch it again some day.
Any recommendations for weird bad scifi/fantasy films I shouldn’t miss?
It’s that time of year again already! M trekked across the street for her annual Oscar party, and I settled in for some science fiction flicks that I’ve somehow managed to never see. First up?
Primer must be one of the most recent movies I’ve ever watched on Oscars night, but it’s still been on my list for entirely too long. If you’re not already aware, it’s a super-smart independent time travel film. This particular DVD has been sitting on my shelf for the better part of a decade; I knew it was complex and intelligent, so I didn’t want to sit down and only half watch it, as I knew I’d get lost doing that.
I’m glad I gave it my attention. Partly because it was really solid, and I liked it a lot, but also because I’d heard right… this movie had some serious expectations for its audience. I paid attention throughout, and I’m no dummy, but I still checked online the next day to make sure I’d caught everything (I did pretty well if you’re curious). Really glad I finally got around to seeing this.
This is the first year that I actually invited other people to join me for Oscar night. Life being what it is I still ended up mostly soloing the first and last films, but I had a couple other viewers for the most anticipated movie of the evening:
Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity (1985)
Daria and Tesa, ready to fight back.
This was pretty much just as amazing and bad as we all expected it to be. Chunks of plot seemed to exist purely so they could justify the title, and it was way beyond cheesy. High points included the bickering androids using ‘robot voices’ to accuse one another of shirking work and tattling, the completely random insertion of a ‘phantom zone’ (full of zombies, for the record, and no phantoms at all), and a villain that – from about 2/3 of the camera angles – looked like an uncanny-valley clone of Christian Bale.
The plot is ostensibly a ‘most dangerous game’ sort of deal, but it takes most of the movie to get to the game itself, and the main hunt only lasts about 20 minutes. We were all very entertained, though, so we’ll call this one a win this time around.
Daria leads Rik back to the castle, after a long night of setting up two traps that will accomplish little to nothing…
Silent Running (1972)
This is probably the youngest I’ve ever seen Bruce Dern. He cares for one of the Earth’s last forests, in a dome attached to a spacecraft. The other 3 members of his crew don’t care so much, and when they receive orders to jettison and nuke the forests so that their ship can be converted into a commercial freighter, poor Bruce is the only one not thrilled with the orders.
Tragedies occur, things go south, and Bruce is left trying to care for a single surviving domed forest with the help of three squat little bots; he renames them Hughie, Dewey, and Louie. Tortured and alone, he eventually reprograms the drones for medical needs, poker playing, and other useful skills, and goes a little stir crazy while he’s at it.
I liked this one as well (it was a good year for SciFi night), and I’ve been meaning to watch it for ages. It’s on tons of ‘you need to watch these’ science fiction film lists, but it always got bumped for other things. No more! It wasn’t exactly a fast-paced film so it may not be a great fit for everybody, but it certainly feels timely (environmental issues haven’t exactly faded into oblivion over the last few decades), and was a fine closing to 2018’s Oscar Night SciFi Superfest. Here’s to next February!
Well, last weekend was the Academy Awards, which of course means M went across the road for her friend’s Oscar party, and I sat down at home with a bunch of Science Fiction movies I hadn’t seen (generally because they were before my time). This year I started with Time After Time, and it was delightful!
This one’s been on my list for years, but kept getting pushed aside up make way for other movies. I’m super glad I finally at down and watched it. HG Wells (Malcolm McDowell) chases Jack the Ripper (David Warner) through time and space to 1970s San Francisco, and meets a lovely and independent young lady (Mary Steenburgen). Madcap adventure, romance, and comedy ensue. Wells is charming and wonderfully naive, Jack is cruel and confident, you get the idea. I totally recommend this.
It was so good that I decided I could go high risk with my next selection, and that is how I found myself watching Metalstorm: the Destruction of Jared-Syn.
3d, PG, 1983. I almost feel like that’s saying enough. This is one of those post-apocalyptic road rage movies that were so prevalent in the wake of Mad Max. Mostly they just make you realize what a genius George Miller was/is. Everything feels slow and unimpressive, the vehicles look lame, you get the idea. Maybe that’s more accurate though… What are the odds that everybody working on a car after the apocalypse is some sort of monster garage hero? This one isn’t what I’d call actively bad, it’s just not at all good. The bad guy is filling a giant crystal with stolen souls, the good guy always leaves his helmet in the tank-car, there’s a girl and a scoundrel and an honorable subvillain. It checks all the boxes, but does so with a crayon.
The final movie in this 2017 Oscar trifecta was The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, and what a closer! Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is a rockstar/scientist (and brain surgeon?) who uses a rocket car and a black box to punch a dimensional home through a mountain, inspiring an interdimensional alien exiled/trapped on Earth to rally his War of the Worlds compatriots and steal the black box, triggering an interdimensional incident that could result in global thermonuclear war. Along the way we meet Buckaroo’s fan club slash militia, a romantic interest that seems to be the long lost twin of hours ex-wife, and a series of ever-less useful bureaucrats and aliens. I definitely enjoyed it, but I think I mostly just love that it exists; it was a very different era for truly creative endeavours.
That’s it for now. I’ve gotta say, I’m truly excited to see what I dig up for next year.
I work at a bookstore, and a while back we got something in called the Finder library. It looked pretty cool, it had apparently won an Eisner award, and it was being released by dark horse, who may not be perfect but are responsible for the english version of Blade of the Immortal. This fact alone is enough to convince me to at least look at their stuff (Blade remains the only comic book series of any length that I purchased and read the entire run of).
So I bought it. And I read it. And I was floored. It’s huge and amazing and staggeringly deep, and I reread it fom cover to cover only a week after reading it the first time. I read it a third time before the second volume came out, at which point I read it a fourth time so I could read them back to back.
I have made the entire series (two ‘Libraries’ and an additional arc called Voice) my most prominent staff pick at work, where I keep it permanently in stock so that other people can experience it. The fact that it’s a graphic novel seems to scare some people, while the fact that it’s science fiction concerns others, but it’s so much more than either of those labels conveys.
It’s also incredibly deep, and layered, and complex, but it reveals itself to you as you read. Just hang on and enjoy the ride. And for those of you that need the plot? It follows Jaeger, half-Ascian finder and sin-eater, as he weaves in and out of various lives, some of which we get to know more intimately than others. It takes place in a far-flung future where much of civilisation is made up of a few genetic lines, with everybody else living on the fringes. It explores more issues than almost anything I can think of and does it better than most. It builds a world so big you’d swear it had to be real, and introduces you to it a piece at a time.
Finder is one of the best things I’ve ever read.
But don’t take my word for it. Strange Horizons calls it “bar none, the best SF comic being published today.” Warren Ellis calls it “completely fascinating,” and names it as one of his “treasured favourites of the last ten years.” Seriously, read the book. The whole thing. And when you’re finished, tell me you aren’t amazed.