Because I Feel Like It (Guest!) Reviews – Alien Isolation

The Alien is quite possibly the scariest and most brilliantly designed creature in science fiction. It’s deadly, it’s smart, it’s unimaginably violent in its natural life cycle, and it’s all-around pretty freaky-looking. The first Ridley Scott film was a masterful blend of science fiction and pure horror, and it always stuck with me. Its subsequent sequels felt a little lackluster, watching multiple Aliens being killed off by machine gun fire at the hands of some over-the-top space marines. As a result, I was very excited for Alien: Isolation, since everybody told me it was a lot like the first film – one Alien, a dark and dingy space station, and the protagonist trying to stay alive while being hunted by the perfect organism. And oh boy, did it deliver.

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Because I Feel Like It Reviews: Robocop (2014)

RobocopPoster Earlier on this year, the Joe Padilha-directed remake of the much beloved 80’s sci-fi film Robocop debuted to mixed reviews. I finally got around to watching it, and while I certainly believe that in a direct comparison, the remake falls flat, I also feel like the newer film has gotten a lot of undeserved flack from critics. In reality, it is an attempt to add a much more personal, human element to its speculative sci-fi aspect, and as a result, resonated more emotionally with me than the original.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I’d like to say off the bat that I do really enjoy the 1987 Robocop directed by Paul Verhoeven. It’s a smart, funny satire of military-industrial privatization that showed some serious testicular fortitude in terms of its willingness to show some brutal violence on-screen. If this version were to try to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps, it’s quite likely that Padilha would find himself unable to fill the colossal insteps of the original. It’s for that reason that I believe the creative crew on the remake made a smart choice in taking a different thematic tact than Verhoeven did. True, the jabs at the callous nature of corporatizating law enforcement are still present; Samuel L. Jackson plays this world’s equivalent of Bill O’Reilly on a network that might as well be called Nox Fews, and Michael Keaton fills the role of the profit-driven CEO of arms manufacturer OmniCorp. However, despite attempts to update the discussion for a modern world of unmanned drone strikes, I personally found that their lack of subtlety caused them to come off as a token effort to give people what they expect from a new version of Robocop ’87.

Where Robocop 2014 shines (and in my opinion, outshines the original) is when it decides to take a more inwardly reflective look at the nature of humanity through the eyes of Alex Murphy (played here by Joel Kinnaman). After the attempt on his life, Murphy goes through the same emotional trauma of any soldier who has lost a limb (or worse) in the service of their country. However, in his case, the trauma is magnified by the fact that he’s lost just about everything that he identifies with being Alex Murphy. One particularly effective visual representation of just how much he’s lost physically made me inwardly shudder at how utterly disturbing it would be to go through what he has. At one point, Murphy takes a page from Johnny Got His Gun in asking the doctor who saved him (played by Gary Oldman) to kill him rather than to go on existing as something he perceives as barely even human.

Robocop shines when it focuses on the human element.

Robocop shines when it focuses on the human element.

While many reviewers complained at how long it takes the film to get Robocop out onto the streets and dealing out justice, I felt the first hour of the 2014 film was by far the most powerful, building empathy for Alex Murphy as a person in a way that the original never did. Seeing the sheer enormity of what he has to deal with; facing isolation from the entirety of the human race, forging an entirely new identity, and fearing that his wife and child will reject him upon seeing his new, mechanized form makes you root for him in a way I never did with Peter Weller’s version of the character.

Later, Oldman’s character tinkers with Murphy’s brain in order to make him a more effective officer, to the point where he only believes that he’s in control. In reality, the computer in his body is running the show. But when he begins (seemingly impossibly) to defy the system, it brings about questions regarding the essential nature of consciousness and theory of mind that are rarely broached in spectacle sci-fi. Padilha and his team of screenwriters deserve credit in taking the franchise both in a new direction, and in making that new trajectory such an intelligent one.

That being said, my biggest issue with the film is its third act. After so many interesting questions, and the introduction of such a strong human element, the film is left with nowhere to go in its last 30 minutes other than to essentially re-create the original’s third act. Much like its imitation of the 1987 version’s political satire, the failure of Robocop ’14 to take the potential it builds in its first hour anywhere new or interesting results in a rather disappointing paint-by-numbers action movie conclusion. That’s not to say that it’s BAD by any means, but I wish that Padilha et al could have brought the same ambition and humanity to the film’s conclusion as they did to its opening.

In conclusion, though it is a mixed bag, comparing Robocop 2014 directly to Robocop 1987 is a wrong-headed approach to watching it. The two have similarities, but in fact it’s when the remake attempts to adhere too slavishly to the structure and characteristics of the original that it loses opportunities to become something more than a hollow imitation. In contrast, when it acts on the chance to place something truly human inside the machine, it creates a powerful and affecting story about loss and re-discovering identity that makes it easily worth your time.

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Geek Spiel: What Star Wars Can Learn From Redwall


A recent piece of news stated that not only will Harrison Ford be returning to the Star Wars franchise, but that Han Solo will be having a “major role” in the new films. This, along with this particular cast photo:

…are some of the first inklings we’ve been given about existing characters returning in the J.J. Abrams directed sequels. This scarcity of information led some fans to theorize that the new movies would draw upon the plentiful material from the Star Wars Expanded Universe (SWEU). Many of the books in the expanded universe contain characters and storylines that rival Han, Luke, and Keia in terms of the devotion of their fanbase. Continue reading

Because I Feel Like It Reviews – Thor: The Dark World

Being the second film in Marvel’s Phase Two, the sequel to 2011’s Thor had a lot to live up to, especially following the monstrous success of The Avengers. Furthermore, with Kenneth Branagh stepping down as director in favour of Alan Taylor, much skepticism surrounded whether or not an almost exclusively TV director would make the jump to film. It turns out that thanks in part to a cadre of writers with ample experience writing the Marvel lore (several worked on Marvel’s numerous animated series), and Taylor’s own experience on fantasy giant Game of Thrones, a film was produced that improves significantly over its predecessor, in spite of several flaws that still nip at its heels.

Geek Spiel: Five Cool Books You Might Not Have Tried

This week, I felt like taking a bit of a break from the usual deep, social commentary to address one of my other passions: talking about cool stuff that I love. As you, loyal reader, may not know, I’m fortunate enough to be a book reviewer for a local indie bookstore (for those interested, you can check out my reviews when they go up over *here*). As such, I have the chance to check out some titles that I might not have if I had to pay for them. Some turn out to be total dreck, but there are some pretty priceless gems in there too. Today, I want to share a couple of the awesome, lesser known books I’ve come across both there, and in the process of my own literary spelunking.

The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

The-Six-Gun-Tarot cover

Supernatural westerns are one of my favorite subgenres, and one that I feel like doesn’t get explored nearly as much as I’d like it to. Mix that in with Lovecraftian horror, and a deft combining of various different religious and mythical lore, and you’ve got a super-fun and novel read in the form of R.S. Belcher’s Six-Gun Tarot. Set in the town of Golgotha, it follows the tale of Jim, a young boy on the run from the law who finds himself under the protection of John Highfather, a man who seemingly can’t be killed, and his deputy, Mutt, the half-human son of the great storytelling deity, Coyote.

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Because I Feel Like It Reviews: Looper

So far, Rian Johnson is 3 for 3 in my eyes. He made a fan out of me with his other two directorial creations, Brick and The Brothers Bloom, for which he took on the dual roles of Writer and Director. In some ways, his most recent film, Looper, is a departure from his usual style, but still retains enough of his signature fingerprints that both lovers of sci-fi (and time-travel in particular), as well as old-school fans of his works will likely enjoy it.

Set in 2044, Looper follows the story of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Joe is a special kind of hitman. You see, thirty years in the future, time-travel has been invented, and swiftly outlawed, so that the only people who use it are criminal organizations. When these organizations want to get rid of someone, they send them into the past, where Joe is waiting to execute them. The only catch is that, eventually, your future self is sent back and executed. Once that happens, the “loop” is closed, and the Looper (the name for the hitman) retires to a golden payday, to enjoy the next thirty years as they see fit. But when Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back, young Joe hesitates, allowing his future self to escape. From there, both Joes are on the run from the mafia they work for, as Young Joe looks to close his loop and set things right. But Future Joe came back for a reason, and he won’t let his younger self stop him from accomplishing his mission.

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Nick reviews Indy game sensation “Faster Than Light”!

Everything has gone dark. The Mantis pirates aboard the S.S Madpipes have severely damaged my surveillance equipment. As I am manning the shields, trying to prevent further damage a missile tears through the hull (courtesy of the Mantis starship) almost killing me and leaving the room engulfed in flames. Fruitlessly I try to extinguish it before fleeing towards the Medical Bay remotely opening the blast doors of the Shield Room on the way, allowing the vacuum of space to combat the rapidly growing fire. My pilot girlfriend is already in the Medical Bay patching up her wounds. She is all that is left after my best friend/engineer was kidnapped by slavers. We huddle together staring at the damaged surveillance feed, not knowing exactly where the Mantis intruders are, our only clues being the all familiar hiss of opening doors drawing nearer, and nearer. As the S.S Madpipes continues to take abuse from missiles and blast lasers I take a deep breath, and prepare for our last stand.

This is a true story that occurred during my time with FTL. FTL stands for Faster Than Light, but a more apt acronym would be Forget To Live because that is what you will be doing after one round.

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