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Dredd (Blu Ray/3D/Digital Copy) 3-D
Dredd (Blu Ray/3D/Digital Copy) 3-D
Offered by 1st Class Digital
Price: $19.95
6 used & new from $8.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Does What It Needs To, September 21, 2014
This is your basic, functional, shoot-em-up sci-fi action flick. No thinking required, but at the same time all too plausible as a vision of the future.

Is it brilliant? No. Is it light years ahead of the cringe-worthy Stallone travesty from the 90's? Absolutely. Karl Urban manifests infinitely more presence than the pathetically humanized Stallone - not least of all because he has the basic decency to keep his helmet on. Olivia Thrilby also delivers the goods as Psi Judge Anderson.

Where I personally found this film lacking though was in its failure to capture the feel of the luridly, almost claustrophobically dense city-scapes of the original 2000 AD comics. Which was, I think, a feeling worth capturing. By contrast, in this film the streets, the wide open spaces, and most especially the vehicles were all a bit ordinary. None of the vehicles or even the roads would've looked out of place in today's world: just the kind of thing you could see by looking out your window. I can't help but wish this film had known the touch of someone like Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton: someone who knew how to create a dense, surreal, and yet also hyper-real cinematic experience. As it is, the fundamental ordinariness of the visuals gave this film the feel of a work with a budget significantly less than the $50 million it apparently cost to create.

The villain of the piece, Ma-Ma, played by Lena Headey, was also verging on the ordinary. Not exactly substandard, but by no means the overpowering menace a truly great hero requires.

So in the end we're back to where we began. This is your basic, functional, sci-fi action flick. Not brilliant, but not too shabby either.

Theo.


Dredd [3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray + Digital Copy + UltraViolet]
Dredd [3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray + Digital Copy + UltraViolet]
DVD ~ Lena Headey
Price: $7.88
96 used & new from $3.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does What It Needs To, September 20, 2014
This is your basic, functional, shoot-em-up sci-fi action flick. No thinking required, but at the same time all too plausible as a vision of the future.

Is it brilliant? No. Is it light years ahead of the cringe-worthy Stallone travesty from the 90's? Absolutely. Karl Urban manifests infinitely more presence than the pathetically humanized Stallone - not least of all because he has the basic decency to keep his helmet on. Olivia Thrilby also delivers the goods as Psi Judge Anderson.

Where I personally found this film lacking though was in its failure to capture the feel of the luridly, almost claustrophobically dense city-scapes of the original 2000 AD comics. Which was, I think, a feeling worth capturing. By contrast, in this film the streets, the wide open spaces, and most especially the vehicles were all a bit ordinary. None of the vehicles or even the roads would've looked out of place in today's world: just the kind of thing you could see by looking out your window. I can't help but wish this film had known the touch of someone like Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton: someone who knew how to create a dense, surreal, and yet also hyper-real cinematic experience. As it is, the fundamental ordinariness of the visuals gave this film the feel of a work with a budget significantly less than the $50 million it apparently cost to create.

The villain of the piece, Ma-Ma, played by Lena Headey, was also verging on the ordinary. Not exactly substandard, but by no means the overpowering menace a truly great hero requires.

So in the end we're back to where we began. This is your basic, functional, sci-fi action flick. Not brilliant, but not too shabby either.

Theo.


DCU: Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
DCU: Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
DVD
Price: $3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Completely Blew Me Away!, September 20, 2014
This film brings back a depth that's long been lacking in DC Animated productions - particularly in their one off feature films. Older fans might almost consider this work a very welcome blast from the past - a return to the halcyon days of Justice League Unlimited. I wouldn't quite say The Flashpoint Paradox shares the moral depth of that show at its absolute best. But it does come very close.

Its other main point of divergence with that older material lies in just how far this film is prepared to go, and in just how dark it is prepared to get. Stories set in alternate universes have always granted writers permission to explore far more extreme events and outcomes than would ever be allowed in the proprietor's canonical universe. On home turf creators must always labor under the commercial requirement to keep all the main pieces of intellectual property intact. And let's face it: it's tough to create the illusion that anything is ever really at stake when characters and their worlds always seem to ultimately return to the manufacturer's default settings. But if there's one thing I can virtually guarantee about The Flashpoint Paradox, it's that it will take you places you never even imagined DC would go.

I'd also like to add that this film has an exceptionally strong soundtrack, courtesy of composer Frederick Wiedmann. We're all used to seeing DCAU features with amazing production values, but this score is another step up yet again. Like the film itself, it's of an entirely different order to anything we've experienced in a long while. I very much hope we'll be hearing more from Wiedmann in the future.

There are only two reservations I would express about this film.

First, this is NOT something you want to be showing to young children. It just isn't, okay? This is by far the darkest and most violent piece of animation I have ever seen from DC - or Marvel either for that matter. It's an awesome piece of filmmaking for the older fans for whom it is clearly intended. But it's not something you want to park the kids in front of.

That said, taking the film on its own terms, my only real reservation is as to the fundamental premise on which this film's alternate reality turns. It's all a bit wobbly; or at least, it seems so to me. This is a great pity, because Flashpoint is such an amazing piece of work on every other level. So it's all the more sad to see the writers letting themselves down in their fundamental concept. If they'd taken just a little more care and effort to line all the dots up logically, they could've spared a very good film an embarrassment it didn't need to have.

But even with such reservations, my final verdict is that this is still far and away the best animated feature length film I've seen from DC in a long time. If you have any interest in the genre at all, SEE IT.

Theo.


Rick and Morty Season 1
Rick and Morty Season 1
Price: $16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The Funniest and Most Philosophically Dense show on Television?, September 16, 2014
I still remember the thrill of seeing SpaceGhost Coast to Coast and the original generation of Williams Street cartoons for the first time. Despite the ultra low budgets and the artwork lifted from old Hanna Barberra cartoons, they had an originality to them that just blew you away: that let you know that something fundamentally different from anything you'd seen before had arrived on the scene.

Since those early days Williams Street has continued to produce some very good stuff... but also some shows that didn't quite hold up to the standard of their original material. Shows that, more by dint of their failures than their successes, taught us that as easy as the greats might make it seem, there's a whole lot more to crafting a successful surrealist comedy than just stringing together a series of wacky non-sequiturs.

Rick and Morty is far and away the best thing that Williams Street has made in a long time. Maybe ever. Its surreal, madcap energy may well surpass that of any other show they've produced. But it's also so much more than that. The characters have just the right balance of nihilistic madness and humanity - and it is through their journeys across infinite insanity and horror that this show faces up to the one great issue that all serious literature has had to face since Hamlet: the human quest for belonging and permanence in a cosmos that is ultimately a meaningless maelstrom.

Rick and Morty is rolling in the aisles funny. It's also quite possibly the most philosophically dense show on television. Not buying that claim? Try watching Morty's speech to his sister when she's about to leave home in episode 8 and then get back to me. Of course, that speech will mean a whole lot more to you if you watch episodes 1 through 7 first. Just sayin'.

I don't know whether to call this show existentialist, nihilistic, or simply absurdist. Or even that there are any pat answers to this question.

I only know that like all the greats, it wears the mantle of its profundity lightly.

And it makes me laugh harder than any cartoon has in a long, long while.

Theo.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 17, 2014 7:05 AM PDT


Rick & Morty: Season 1 [Blu-ray]
Rick & Morty: Season 1 [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Various
Price: $26.12

5.0 out of 5 stars The Funniest and Most Philosophically Dense show on Television?, September 16, 2014
I still remember the thrill of seeing SpaceGhost Coast to Coast and the original generation of Williams Street cartoons for the first time. Despite the ultra low budgets and the artwork lifted from old Hanna Barberra cartoons, they had an originality to them that just blew you away: that let you know that something fundamentally different from anything you'd seen before had arrived on the scene.

Since those early days Williams Street has continued to produce some very good stuff... but also some shows that didn't quite hold up to the standard of their original material. Shows that, more by dint of their failures than their successes, taught us that as easy as the greats might make it seem, there's a whole lot more to crafting a successful surrealist comedy than just stringing together a series of wacky non-sequiturs.

Rick and Morty is far and away the best thing that Williams Street has made in a long time. Maybe ever. Its surreal, madcap energy may well surpass that of any other show they've produced. But it's also so much more than that. The characters have just the right balance of nihilistic madness and humanity - and it is through their journeys across infinite insanity and horror that this show faces up to the one great issue that all serious literature has had to face since Hamlet: the human quest for belonging and permanence in a cosmos that is ultimately a meaningless maelstrom.

Rick and Morty is rolling in the aisles funny. It's also quite possibly the most philosophically dense show on television. Not buying that claim? Try watching Morty's speech to his sister when she's about to leave home in episode 8 and then get back to me. Of course, that speech will mean a whole lot more to you if you watch episodes 1 through 7 first. Just sayin'.

I don't know whether to call this show existentialist, nihilistic, or simply absurdist. Or even that there are any pat answers to this question.

I only know that like all the greats, it wears the mantle of its profundity lightly.

And it makes me laugh harder than any cartoon has in a long, long while.

Theo.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 25, 2014 5:57 AM PDT


The Real History of Science Fiction, Season 1
The Real History of Science Fiction, Season 1
DVD

2.0 out of 5 stars Who Did They Think They Were Making This For?, September 15, 2014
If you have any knowledge of science fiction at all, it is very, very unlikely that you will learn a single new thing by watching this series. It seems to have been made by people who either knew no more than your average fan (or even, dare I say, a slightly below average fan), or alternatively, by people who made a cynical choice to focus exclusively on material that already came prepackaged with a built in fan-base.

Each episode follows a simple formula. Episodes start with a nod to the progenitors of the genre: writers like Verne and Wells. Following that, there is a brief stopover with some classic films from the 1950's. Thereafter, aside from maybe a few old Dr. Who or Star Trek episodes from the 60's, things focus almost exclusively on big budget studio films made from the 1970's onwards, with perhaps a hit television series or two from somewhere in the same period thrown in. The first half of the 20th century is excluded almost entirely, and there's precious little about written works of science fiction from any era - unless, that is, they also got made into movies.

The makers of this series further insult the intelligence of their audience by taking an almost wholly uncritical attitude to literally every work featured. The only time even the mildest disparaging remark is allowed to be uttered is when it's to point out what a great leap forward a particular work was over that which preceded it. Beyond that, what little analysis there is stays on the level of, say, pointing out the link between Godzilla and fears of nuclear weaponry; or between real world distrust of big government and the X-Files.

Sometimes this series just gets things flat out wrong - and we're not talking about particularly obscure factoids here either. For example, it tells us that the 1970's introduced us to the idea that we might not need to look to the skies with fear, as the aliens might actually be benevolent: witness Spielberg's 1977 blockbuster Close Encounters of The Third Kind. Really? Ever hear of a 1968 film called 2001: A Space Odyssey, made by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick? Or the "Cosmic Trilogy" of C.S. Lewis, first published in the 1930's and 40's? Or even, arguably, The Day The Earth Stood Still, released in 1951. The list goes on and on.

Ultimately I can only wonder who they thought they were making this series for. With a title like "THE REAL history of science fiction" (my emphasis), I was expecting to get some inside scoop previously unknown to me - and indeed, to the world at large. But even setting aside any unrealistically high expectations created by the title, it is very difficult to imagine any audience this series would be suitable for. I just can't imagine anyone having enough interest in science fiction to sit through this thing, and yet so little knowledge of it that anything here would be news to them. Well... maybe someone still in childhood or early adolescence who's just discovering the genre. But even they (or perhaps, especially they) deserve better: something that acknowledges the influence of books that didn't get made into movies, puts a little more effort into fact-checking, and examines its chosen subject matter with at least an occasional note of criticism.

If you are interested in science fiction and would like to hear things that you might not have heard before, I hope you won't mind me mentioning a book that recently gave me a great deal of pleasure: The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey by Fred Nadis.

It was everything this series is not.

Theo.


Iron Man 3 (DVD + Digital Copy)
Iron Man 3 (DVD + Digital Copy)
DVD ~ Robert Downey Jr.
Price: $19.96
56 used & new from $4.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Not up to the standard of previous outings, September 15, 2014
The first Iron Man movie was great. The second, at the very least, was good. This was the kind of film where the screenwriters (or someone in the development process) felt the need to give the hero a cute kid as a sidekick.

Are you beginning to get that sinking feeling?

I can summarize this film quite easily. And I think I can do so without giving away anything that could reasonably be considered a spoiler:

Hero starts off superficially on top of the world after previous triumphs. Yet not without inner demons gnawing upon his soul (c'mon people - this is Tony Stark). So he gets into some real trouble and has to go away and find himself. Then, in the end, we have a climactic final battle. Oh yeah, and there's an evil conspiracy that needs to be uncovered.

Speaking of which, this movie did have a political subtext relating to events in the real world. But not the kind of subtext you get to feel clever for having deciphered. More the kind that leaves you with an aching skull after having been hit over the head so hard.

Finally - and I realize not everyone will consider this a fair criticism of a movie based on a comic book - there was absolutely no sense at all in why the baddies' superpowers worked the way they did. None. There's a spare slot in the human brain/genetic code, so therefore... well, you'll get to see. I can't help but wonder if this was all conceived as nothing more than a series of cool special effects.

Robert Downey Jr.'s rendering of Tony Stark is as good as it ever was. But the point is, for it to be worth making that third movie, there needs to be _more_. And in this case, there just wasn't.

I watched this movie at home. About 15 minutes before the end, just as the climactic final battle was getting underway, I was feeling pretty sleepy. So I went to sleep. I finished off the film the next day, but only because I'd already decided I wanted to review it on Amazon.

Theo.


Tau Zero
Tau Zero
by Poul Anderson
Edition: Hardcover
25 used & new from $18.55

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars High Concept Hard Science Fiction, July 22, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Tau Zero (Hardcover)
Tau Zero deals with an expedition of human interstellar explorers accidentally sent on an eonic journey through the cosmos, courtesy of the time dilating effects of near-light space travel. This is serious hard science fiction, with no fantastic leaps of superscience assumed. Purists of today may quibble that some of the science has been re-written since 1970 when the book was first published. But by the standards of its own day, this was as realistic as things got. Indeed, the vessel in which our travelers make their epic journey bears more than a passing similarity to the interstellar ramjet described by Carl Sagan in his television series Cosmos, first screened a decade later. If you're reading this review on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, I'll include a link to a YouTube clip in which Sagan describes that ship in the comments section below.

What prevents Tau Zero from being a 5 star book for me is the lack of psychological depth in the characters. Although Anderson himself would've been just 15 at the time of the Pearl Harbor attacks, throughout this book one can't help but hear the voice of that cohort of science fiction writers for whom World War II was the defining event of their generation: a group of authors who, as a whole, seemed more interested in giving expression to a single provocative idea than in exploring the inner workings of the characters who lived it out.

With that in mind, one also can't help but compare this work to that of other science fiction writers publishing at around the same time. J.G. Ballard, although only four years younger on the calendar, is a generation removed in his fundamental approach. It's also impossible to avoid comparing this book to The Forever War - published just 5 years later and grounded in very similar science, but again, generationally removed in its subtlety of human portraiture. It is tempting, if perhaps a little harsh, to say that Tau Zero reads like a story about stick figures by comparison.

Nevertheless, for all its limitations, this is a novel that any serious fan of science fiction must read. Certainly, it is essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in understanding where the genre has come from, or who still nurtures a lingering fondness for futures past.

Theo.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2014 7:24 AM PDT


Tau Zero SF MASTEWORKS EDITION
Tau Zero SF MASTEWORKS EDITION
by Poul Anderson
Edition: Paperback
27 used & new from $9.75

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars High Concept Hard Science Fiction, July 22, 2014
Tau Zero deals with an expedition of human interstellar explorers accidentally sent on an eonic journey through the cosmos, courtesy of the time dilating effects of near-light space travel. This is serious hard science fiction, with no fantastic leaps of superscience assumed. Purists of today may quibble that some of the science has been re-written since 1970 when the book was first published. But by the standards of its own day, this was as realistic as things got. Indeed, the vessel in which our travelers make their epic journey bears more than a passing similarity to the interstellar ramjet described by Carl Sagan in his television series Cosmos, first screened a decade later. If you're reading this review on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, I'll include a link to a YouTube clip in which Sagan describes that ship in the comments section below.

What prevents Tau Zero from being a 5 star book for me is the lack of psychological depth in the characters. Although Anderson himself would've been just 15 at the time of the Pearl Harbor attacks, throughout this book one can't help but hear the voice of that cohort of science fiction writers for whom World War II was the defining event of their generation: a group of authors who, as a whole, seemed more interested in giving expression to a single provocative idea than in exploring the inner workings of the characters who lived it out.

With that in mind, one also can't help but compare this work to that of other science fiction writers publishing at around the same time. J.G. Ballard, although only four years younger on the calendar, is a generation removed in his fundamental approach. It's also impossible to avoid comparing this book to The Forever War - published just 5 years later and grounded in very similar science, but again, generationally removed in its subtlety of human portraiture. It is tempting, if perhaps a little harsh, to say that Tau Zero reads like a story about stick figures by comparison.

Nevertheless, for all its limitations, this is a novel that any serious fan of science fiction must read. Certainly, it is essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in understanding where the genre has come from, or who still nurtures a lingering fondness for futures past.

Theo.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 30, 2014 9:16 AM PDT


Tau Zero. SF Masterworks.
Tau Zero. SF Masterworks.
20 used & new from $6.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars High Concept Hard Science Fiction, July 22, 2014
Tau Zero deals with an expedition of human interstellar explorers accidentally sent on an eonic journey through the cosmos, courtesy of the time dilating effects of near-light space travel. This is serious hard science fiction, with no fantastic leaps of superscience assumed. Purists of today may quibble that some of the science has been re-written since 1970 when the book was first published. But by the standards of its own day, this was as realistic as things got. Indeed, the vessel in which our travelers make their epic journey bears more than a passing similarity to the interstellar ramjet described by Carl Sagan in his television series Cosmos, first screened a decade later. If you're reading this review on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, I'll include a link to a YouTube clip in which Sagan describes that ship in the comments section below.

What prevents Tau Zero from being a 5 star book for me is the lack of psychological depth in the characters. Although Anderson himself would've been just 15 at the time of the Pearl Harbor attacks, throughout this book one can't help but hear the voice of that cohort of science fiction writers for whom World War II was the defining event of their generation: a group of authors who, as a whole, seemed more interested in giving expression to a single provocative idea than in exploring the inner workings of the characters who lived it out.

With that in mind, one also can't help but compare this work to that of other science fiction writers publishing at around the same time. J.G. Ballard, although only four years younger on the calendar, is a generation removed in his fundamental approach. It's also impossible to avoid comparing this book to The Forever War - published just 5 years later and grounded in very similar science, but again, generationally removed in its subtlety of human portraiture. It is tempting, if perhaps a little harsh, to say that Tau Zero reads like a story about stick figures by comparison.

Nevertheless, for all its limitations, this is a novel that any serious fan of science fiction must read. Certainly, it is essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in understanding where the genre has come from, or who still nurtures a lingering fondness for futures past.

Theo.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 30, 2014 9:16 AM PDT


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