Jack’s Bad Movies – Left Behind

2015-07-31 by . 1 comments

IMDB’s description

A small group of survivors are left behind after millions of people suddenly vanish and the world is plunged into chaos and destruction.

Left Behind poster

The movie opens with Chloe Steele (Cassi Thomson) coming home from college for her birthday. Expecting to spend the weekend with her family, she is surprised to discover her father, Rayford (Nicolas Cage), has to unexpectedly leave to pilot a plane to London. This isn’t a bizarre occurance or anything, he happens to be a pilot as his primary occupation, cheating on his wife is his second one.

Rayford, an unlikable guy who planned this trip to spend a weekend away with a stewardess, says things are fine between him and his wife, but that isn’t true. I guess things really went bad in their marriage when his wife Irene (Lea Thompson) found religion and starting babbling about the Rapture. An event believed by some Christians to signal the second coming of Christ / end of the world. Would you believe that her new views, which are driving a wedge into her family, end up playing a part in the movie? Let’s watch and see.

Chloe confronts her father at the airport about his cheating ways, which he denies, and he departs on his flight. She in turn decides to take her younger brother, Raymie, to the mall after bickering with her crazy mother. While at the mall Raymie suddenly disappears, leaving all of his clothes behind. Chloe is in shock. Sure, her younger brother has played the disappearing act before (that’s what younger brothers do), but never with this level of commitment. As Chloe attempts to get some help, other people in the mall are also having a freak out. Looks like all the children are gone, and also a few adults. A driver-less car crashes into the mall. Chloe catches a special news report that says that people (mostly children) across the world are missing, and that panic has ensued. The smarter patrons of the mall see this opportunity for what it is, and massive looting starts.

Jump back to plane flight to London. It looks like a bunch of people have disappeared as well, including all the children and the co-pilot, leaving behind their clothing. Sidenote: I’m not sure I’m comfortable with a Rapture in which everyone shows up to the party naked. The passengers pretend to be upset about the missing people, but are probably secretly grateful to enjoy a long flight with more seats and no annoying kids.

Rayford can’t seem to raise anyone on the ground, and suddenly realizes there is a plane right in his flight path. I’m not a pilot, but it seems to me that once you realize something is going to collide with you, you’d want to immediately veer out of the way. But alas, I must be mistaken, for Rayford makes repeated requests for the other plane to move. That plane obviously has no pilots left, and between this, the missing co-pilot, and the small plane that crashed in the mall parking lot that I am only mentioning now, we can safely conclude that most pilots are devote Christians. Rayford finally considers turning at the last possible moment, getting his plane damaged in the process. Rayford decides to turn around and head back to New York.

I forgot to mention that when Chloe caught up with her father at the airport, she bumped into some famous reporter and they seemed to hit it off. That guy is on the plane, and wouldn’t you know it, he is also a pilot, or something, because he ends up helping Rayford out quite a bit, including as co-pilot and taking pictures of the leaking fuel that catches on fire.

Back at home Chloe receives a voice mail from her father about his plane’s condition and assumes he is dead. Returning to her house, she also discovers her mother’s jewelry in the shower, but her mother is not to be found. I guess Chloe knows that her mother always showers fully bejeweled, or something. She decides to mosey on over to her mother’s church, only to discover the only one there is Pastor Barnes. Barnes explains that God took all the good people to heaven, including Chloe’s mother, but left him behind to be a messenger. Not really though, he was left behind because he didn’t believe in the product he was selling (his words, not mine).

Despite a damaged plane which is leaking fuel (sometimes on fire) at an alarming rate , Rayford takes the time to investigate the disappearances of people around him. He finds a few Christian items amongst the co-pilot’s, missing stewardess’, and missing passengers’ clothes. His conclusion? They all shopped at the same airport gift shop before leaving for London. Rayford tells the stewardess he was having an affair with about his wife’s statements concerning the rapture and he thinks all the good people have been taken off the Earth. The stewardess is more concerned to learn that Rayford was married than she is to learn she is one of the damned left to suffer the Apocalypse. Priorities, I guess.

Meanwhile, Chloe, seeing New York City going to pot and thinking her whole family is gone, decides to climb the Brooklyn Bridge (or some other bridge) and commit suicide. Just as she is ready to jump she receives a call from that reporter guy. They don’t have anywhere to land and they are dangerously low on fuel. Chloe was, of course, the logical choice to call in this situation. Chloe procures a truck and manages to clear a space for the plane to land. The remaining passengers and crew deplane only to see New York City in flames. The reporter says it looks like the end of the world, but Chloe tells him that it is only the beginning (of the end). Things are looking up for that stewardess though, because Rayford’s wife is out of the picture.

If you look at that IMDB description at the top you’d see a couple of glaring inaccuracies. To me is suggests most of the people were taken off the Earth, but that isn’t what happened. Also, the world isn’t plunged into chaos and destruction until the end of the movie.

This movie is apparently based off a series of books which mostly focus on the aftermath of the Rapture as those “left behind” deal with a crumbling world that apparently no longer has any good people on it.

Filed under Bad-Movies

The Solarian War Saga

2015-07-28 by . 1 comments

I recently signed up for a trial membership of Kindle Unlimited to find new reading material. Like so many others, I discovered their “100,000s” of books were most ones no one had ever heard of. They have a few stand out series, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Lord of the Rings, but the vast majority of their unlimited selection is comprised of titles and authors few have heard of.

On a whim I decided to choose a science fiction series titled The Solarian War Saga by Felix R. Savage.

The first book, The Galapagos Incident introduces us to a future where humankind has spread out throughout the Solar System. The main protagonist is Elfrida Goto, a half Japanese woman who is working on the United Nations Venus Remediation Project. This is an effort to make Venus habitable. They acquire asteroids, load them with some kind of organisms that can survive the 600 degree weather, and crash them into Venus. Elfrida uses remote viewing (think Surrogates 2009) to attempt to acquire asteroids and relocate any settlers who may be already there. Things turn dicey when her remote body’s machine intelligence appears to have its own agenda and goes rogue.

The series tries to imagine a future where technology has taken us to the point of remote sensory, bionic implants, and highly advanced artificial intelligence. These intelligences are so advanced that the United Nations (the supreme authority on everything in this future) has placed bans on just how smart machines can be. This was a direct response to some incident on Mars that resulted in all colonies being lost there and the planet going dark.

The writing might lack a little at times, and the science doesn’t hold up to a lot of scrutiny, but I enjoyed the series none the less. After reading the The Galapagos Incident I continued on to The Vesta Conspiracy, The Mercury Rebellion, and finished with the short story prequel Crapkiller (an ill advised title in my mind). People who enjoy a good space opera might enjoy visiting the future of Felix R. Savage for a few books.

The first book is available for free on Amazon, and the series is available via an Amazon Unlimited subscription (or trial).

Filed under Review

Ant-Man: A (mildly spoilery) review!

From the moment it was announced, Ant-Man was viewed as a bit of a risky move by Marvel. Even for a comic book movie, a guy that gets really small and talks to ants seemed like a bit of a stretch. Could they make it work? Would this be the beginning of the end for Marvel?

Of course not. Marvel doesn’t seem capable of making a genuinely terrible movie, and Ant-Man was far, far away from terrible. Following up on epic adventures like Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel gives us a small, fun, and funny heist movie that more than delivers.

The short version: 9/10, definite watch, and do so in 3-D if possible. One of my favorite MCU movies yet, largely because it’s something different from what we’ve gotten so far. For more details, keep reading.

Note: There will be very minor spoilers here for some elements of the movie; I will try not to give away anything major, but you may want to skip this one until you’ve seen it. If you’re willing to risk it, click on down:

more »

Revisiting The Terminator

2015-07-17 by . 1 comments

The film that put James Cameron on the map, The Terminator is quite rightly seen as a science fiction classic, a film that has had enormous impact on modern pop culture thanks to both the lasting impression that The Terminator made and the huge career boost that James Cameron received afterwards. Without The Terminator, I very much doubt that we would have seen the rest of James Cameron’s filmography come to fruition, never mind the number of actors that he has since helped turn into film stars.

The story follows Kyle Reese as he travels back in time from a post-apocalyptic future in which an artificial intelligence known as Skynet has taken over the world. His mission is to protect Sarah Connor from a killing machine known as a Terminator that was also sent back in time to kill her thanks to the fact that she is destined to give birth to the leader of the human resistance.

The time travel mechanic is a creative and tidy way to set the story in motion, and allows James Cameron to hint at the much larger world he has created without it getting in the way of the progression of the story and the momentum that is being built from the very start. It also allows Cameron to easily explain why Kyle can’t call for back up, and why the police and authorities are simply unable to help – it’s a very smart way of ensuring that their is no easy way out for the main characters, keeping them isolated and on the run for the entire movie.

Which is important, because at it’s core The Terminator is little more than a slasher flick with a science fiction flair. The Terminator itself is the ultimate slasher bad guy, a silent, expressionless, intimidating and virtually unstoppable killing machine that is never too far behind our heroes, who are hopelessly outmatched. The best example of this is during the now iconic assault on the police station – even dozens of cops on their home turf can’t do anything to stop the Terminator, really upping the ante and making the Terminator feel as dangerous and unstoppable as it is meant to be, while at the same time showing us how capable Kyle Reese must be to have successfully fought the Terminator off several times before now.

Potentially more important, The Terminator manages to avoid the casual misogyny and conservative politics that are now synonymous with the slasher genre, defining itself as markedly different during a time when slasher flicks saturated the market – no doubt a part of why The Terminator was both a critical and commercial success in it’s time and why it still stands up as a solid piece of film making over 30 years after it’s initial release.

It’s also worth pointing out how well developed the relationship between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor is in The Terminator when compared to Terminator Genisys, and it’s mostly because of the subtle but important character work that the The Terminator does with Sarah Connor both before and after her first encounter with Kyle Reese. You can understand completely why a vulnerable and scared Sarah Connor would seek comfort in the only man in the world that knows what she is going through, but the equivalent of this in Terminator Genisys is (like everything else in the film) rushed, forced and ultimately unsatisfying.

And the only reason that this all works as intended is because of Cameron’s ability to recognise and work within his limits. His original idea for The Terminator also included a liquid metal robot that would go on to be the primary antagonist in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but he cut it because he knew that the visual effects available in 1984 weren’t good enough to do the idea justice. This restraint is noticeable throughout The Terminator, which saves it’s limited special effects for important moments and manages to do more with it’s modest budget (just $6 million!) than films that cost upwards of 20 times as much – I’m looking at you, Terminator Genisys.

I still stand by my opinion that The Terminator should never have been a franchise, with the phrase “diminishing returns” very much applicable to the series after Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but that’s neither here nor there – The Terminator is a testament to the importance of inexperienced directors being given the opportunity to prove themselves, showing us the potential longevity of a film when an idea is executed well by someone who knows what they are doing. Even if The Terminator has since been overshadowed by it’s own sequel, it’s still an important and entertaining film that shouldn’t go under appreciated.

For more film and TV review and other articles like this, visit ScreenNerds.

Filed under Review

Highlights from 2015 – 2nd Quarter

2015-07-06 by . 3 comments

Top Stats

The question with the top number of votes goes to Wad Cheber who asked How many axes did Gimli bring on the quest of the Fellowship?. This question was answered by Joel.

The second most voted question (and incidentally the top voted answer) was What was the first Sci-Fi work to feature a spaceship? asked by rand al’thor. The question was answered by Wad Cheber.

The most viewed question (by a staggering 25198 views over the next runner up) was In the Netflix Daredevil series, is the “Black Sky” concept from any comic? asked by CreationEdge. This was answered by Omegacron.

Side-note: These questions show a very low correlation between views and upvotes.

Top User Picks

Richard

I quite liked this question from new user kviiri. Short, succinct and surprisingly answerable
In terms of answers, I was especially proud of the one below. I spent a lot of time playing with the custom map and finally decided to make a video to demonstrate what I was talking about. The fact that it didn’t get many upvotes or an acceptance didn’t even bother me (that much). A good answer is its own reward :-)
@SS’s demands seemed quite unreasonable at first glance, but with a bit of work, this question was actually pretty fun to answer:

Praxis

I really enjoyed @Richard’s answer to my question
It is succinct and answers every part of the question, and the chosen illustration is perfect. It also introduced me to a book that I was not aware of…I have lost hours to it now, for better or worse.
@JasonBaker’s answer to
is brilliant.
Last but not least, I very much enjoyed @JasonBaker’s thorough answer to
even though it wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear!

N_Soong

My favorite questions were:
and
My favorite answers were:

Mooz

My favourite answer

Nika G. posted an excellent answer to Why would Arya join the Faceless Men?

  • She wants revenge. She’s hungry for the blood.
    • Well researched
    • Excellent analysis of how exactly she progressed from The Saltpans (previously known as Whitewalls) to The House of Black and White
    • It tied-in her connection to Jaqen / The Faceless Men
    • Tied-in her want for revenge
    • All backed-up by relevant canon
My favourite question

The Honorable Ned Stark asked about the Origin of the name Azor Ahai

  • It’s always good to ask the seemingly unanswerable questions
  • Made me question the importance of names made up by George R. R. Martin
  • Sent me delving into the depths of my favourite canon
  • I had a lot of fun trying to find a suitable answer
  • Made me learn so much, including that George R. R. Martin is extremely deliberate with his name choices!
  • I maaay have earned some extra rep from the bounty offered by @Arm0geddon

Jack B Nimble

My favorite question to answer was

Could the Earth-2149 Squirrel Girl destroy Colonel America’s shield?

a rare versus question that can be answered via science (sort of).

Filed under Question of the Week

Gorilla vs. Shark? Not so fast…

(This post represents my best understanding of SF&F consensus policy on “Gorilla vs. Shark” questions. Special thanks to everyone who reviewed it for me to make sure it really represents a consensus!)

For a very long time, it has been a nearly global Stack Exchange policy to close “which is better?” questions as off-topic. To my knowledge, there isn’t a site on the Stack network that doesn’t follow this rule. It was even the subject of a famous blog post by Jeff Atwood, one of the Stack Exchange founders, that discusses these questions under their more popular name: Gorilla vs. Shark.

On most Stack sites, the “vs.” portion of that name is figurative. The policy is targeted at questions asking for subjective opinions about which hardware product or application or programming language is “better” than the other. Obviously, the answer to these questions is almost always “it depends on your situation”, making them unsuitable for being part of Stack Exchange’s Q&A format.

On SF&F, though, we have a somewhat unique take on these question: when someone asks “Who would win, a gorilla or a shark?”, they really want to know who would win that fight. But that means we have to tweak the standard policy on these questions a bit, to make sure it really applies to the questions being asked. So, what makes a “Gorilla vs. Shark?” question on SF&F? Lets find out!

The Community Consensus

The first, and by far most important thing to take away from this post is this:

Not every question with “vs” in the title is Gorilla vs Shark!

Rather, we need to examine each “versus” question on its merits, and figure out whether the question really is off-topic. A good place to start is to look at the reasons Jeff Atwood gives in his original blog post, detailing why these questions are bad. He gives four reasons:

  1. Nobody needs to know the answer to this question
  2. It’s not nearly specific enough.
  3. It is difficult to learn from these questions.
  4. It drives away experts

If you look at these problems, it should be immediately obvious that #1 doesn’t apply here. If we’re being honest with ourselves, nobody needs to know the answer to anything on SF&F. Unlike most other Stack sites, questions on SF&F rarely solve real problems. Rather, people ask and answer questions here purely because the topic interests them, and they want to know things. That also knocks out #3 –  we learn from any question that gets an answer – and #4 – experts come here specifically because they enjoy sharing their science fiction/fantasy knowledge.

That leaves us with #2: most of these questions are not specific enough. What does this mean, though? According to Jeff’s post, the problem with non-specificity is that it leaves the question too open for interpretation. As he puts it:

Where will the fight be, in what location? Underwater, or on land? What are the rules of the fight so we can determine a victor? Will it be to the death, or under some type of points system? Can they be trained specifically to fight by trainers, or are they completely on their own? Without any kind of scope, every answer can make any assumptions they like — and there will assuredly be hundreds, all different.

As it turns out, we can take some guidance from this bit, and apply it to questions asked here. The goal, then is to find a way to determine if a question is “specific” enough to be answered.  There have been several meta discussions about this topic, and the consensus has been that these kind of questions are on topic and answerable if they meet the one basic guideline:

Can we answer this question objectively, based solely on in-canon information?

In other words, if we have to guess what would happen, or speculate what would happen – even if we think we have enough information to do so – the question is off-topic. In particular, it’s not good enough to have all of the “stats” available for a fantasy match up, because we’re talking about fantasy universes. Anything could happen in such a universe, up to and including the laws of physics being different, so we can never assume anything to be true unless we’ve seen evidence of it. In the majority of cases, that means that the determination about potential Gorilla vs. Shark questions boils down to this:

Has this fight/race/confrontation/etc actually happened, and what was the outcome.

(This is not a hard and fast rule — there are cases where we can predict the outcome with very high confidence — but they are rare.)

What Makes A Bad Question?

So, we have a good rule, but it sounds like the only way to know if a question is on-topic is to either know the answer, or even worse, to know for a fact that there is no answer. That’s obviously sub-optimal, as it rules out a huge fraction of the community from being able to moderate those questions. Fortunately, there are a couple of rules of thumb that will help weed out the worst such questions, with pretty good accuracy. (There will always be mistakes, of course, but that’s why we have meta.) The following types of questions almost always turn out to be off-topic:

Totally Different Universes

Does the question ask for a match-up between fictional characters from two completely different universes? (This includes a match-up in the “Real world.”) If the match up cannot possibly happen because the characters never coexist, the question is off-topic. Sure, it seems trivial to ask “Could The Hulk beat up Floyd Mayweather?”, but as far as we know, Earth-616 has no Floyd Mayweather, so who knows?

This is probably the biggest category of real Gorilla vs Shark questions in SF&F. For example, A fight between Dr Manhattan and Electro from spiderman [closed] was closed, properly, because those two characters will never meet. Similarly, Can a lightsaber be stopped by captain America’s shield? [on hold] asks about a confrontation that can’t really happen. Note that we can probably make a really good guess what would happen in the latter case, based on other things that have happened in the respective universes. But that’s not enough — there is no canon answer to this question, so it’s off topic. And note that it doesn’t just apply to fight between fictional charactersIs a warp drive better than a hyperdrive? [closed] is also closed, because Star Trek and Star Wars just do not coexist.

Known Never to Have Happened

These are a bit trickier, but in some cases, the amount of canon information is small enough that we know an in-universe confrontation is impossible. A good example is Who would win a fight between Tom Bombadil and a Nazgul? [closed]. This one was a bit contentious, because it doesn’t fit our first criteria — both of these characters are from the Lord of the Rings universe and could have met. But we know that they didn’t, and it’s unclear what other information we have that could help predict the outcome of such a confrontation. We also know that no new canon information is forthcoming to change that situation. So, this one remained closed.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that just because a particular match-up hasn’t happened in-canon does not automatically make the question off-topic, though it’s definitely a huge red flag. Ultimately, what we need to determine is:  do we have enough information to accurately determine what would happen, without resorting to speculation. For example, the seemingly silly question Could the Earth-2149 Squirrel Girl destroy Colonel America’s shield? asks about something that hasn’t happened, and isn’t likely to happen (given the two characters’ personalities); nonetheless, the question is specific enough that we can use in-canon information (in this case, what we know about Earth-2149 squirrels and vibranium) to give a concrete answer.

(This question does delve into another contentious topic — what exactly we mean when we say “no scientific explanations”, or “no assumptions unless we have evidence” — but we’ll save that for a different blog post.)

Too Vague / No Clear Answer

Does the question leave so much open to interpretation that the question becomes meaningless? Does the question asks for a match up that depends on too many factors to know the answer? For example, numenor vs. gondolin [closed] asks about a confrontation that definitely could have happened in the Lord of the Rings. But there are any number of things that would sway such a battle — luck, natural events, competency of leadership, etc. There’s just no “one good answer” to this question.

Another problematic type of question are those that could, in theory, happen in more than one fictional universe. Many fantasy or urban fantasy settings have very similar types of creatures in them: vampires, zombies, werewolves, dragons, etc. Asking who would win such a fight in general isn’t answerable. For example, if you were to ask “Could a Werewolf beat a Vampire”, the answer would be very different in The Dresden Files (probably not) vs. The Vampire Diaries (depends on the day).

When In Doubt?

Sometimes, the decision is easy. A question like Spider-Man Vs The Hulk is probably not “Gorilla vs. Shark” — these are two characters that interact with each other on a regular basis, so it’s pretty likely they’ve fought at some point.

Unfortunately, it’s not always going to be that easy to identify good questions — questions that don’t clearly fall into one of our “Bad” categories. In most cases, you’ll have to look at the body of the question and try to determine if there’s a good chance the question has an answer. A good example of this would be a question like Vampires Vs. Werewolf. Based on the title alone, as we’ve already seen, this question should be off-topic. However, the body of question makes it clear: we’re talking about the Twilight universe. That makes this a good question: even without having read the novels, you can probably guess that this type of fight is likely to have happend (which is has), and thus the question has an answer.

Similarly, some questions may be off-topic at first, but can be salvaged. Take, for example,  Hulk vs. Superman – did they ever fight? Who won?. This question was originally closed as G vs. S, because it focused too much on some subjective questions. However, Marvel and DC have done such crossovers, so this fight has happened. Once the question was edited to focus on that aspect, it was reopened and answered. If possible, we should try to fix these questions, or at least solicit some feedback from the OP to get it fixed.

Lastly, there are a ton of fictional crossover that you would never expect, and sometimes it’s a judgement call if two characters really have shared the same setting. For example Doctor Who has crossed over with Star Trek, and Marvel Comics has crossed over with both Star Trek and Star Wars. On one hand, it seems like there wouldn’t be any comparisons that are completely impossible. On the other hand, these are typically one-off, gimmick, or “What if…?” style events, that most fans would not consider “canon”. In general, if you think a particular comparison between two fictional universes is “highly unlikely”, you should go with your gut; just be prepared to be corrected :)

Overall, in cases where things are not clear-cut, just try to use some good judgement — and maybe a bit of Googling — to see if such a match-up is even possible. Feel free to leave a comment directing the OP to meta if they disagree with your close. Or, you can always come ask ahead of time in chat — we’re happy to help.

 

 

 

Filed under Site News

Mutants in the Marvel Universe

Recently, a SF&F user asked this question, about Inhumans vs. Mutants in the Marvel Universe.  With the arrival of the Inhumans in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and an upcoming movie), and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s appearance in two separate movie universes, its a topic that has generated a bit of interest.

This post is an expanded, more in-depth version of my answer to that question. There’s a lot more to Marvel’s mutant population than just mutants and Inhumans, and things can get confusing. Unfortunately, as with most things Marvel-related, it not a simple question to answer. What constitutes a mutant? How many kinds are there? What’s the difference between them? Are they different species? Here, I’ll try to answer all of these questions and more.

One note on the cinematic universes: there are a lot of movie universes based on Marvel material, but I’m only going to discuss two of them here: Earth-199999, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Earth-10005, the X-Men Cinematic Universe. These are the only two large-scale cinematic universes that are still active; as far as I am aware, none of the other (now-defunct) movie universes included any type of mutated human. This includes the two Spider-Man universes, the two Fantastic Four universes, etc, all of which I’ll be ignoring from here on out.

more »

Jack’s Bad Movies – Jinn

2015-06-14 by . 4 comments

Jinn, a 2014 movie staring Dominic Rains with supporting actors Ray Park and William Atherton, is so lost that even the people trying to sell it can’t decided what the movie is about.

Netflix’s description

An earthly crisis prompts a race of beings called the jinn, who’ve walked invisibly among us since the beginning of time, to make themselves known.

IMDB’s description

Shawn, an automotive designer, enjoys an idyllic life with his new wife Jasmine until it is interrupted by a cryptic message. The message warns of imminent danger and a curse that has afflicted his family for generations. Having lost his parents as a child, Shawn doesn’t believe this unsettling revelation of his past….until strange things start to happen. Unable to explain the threats and fearing for his life, Shawn turns to Gabriel and Father Westhoff, a mysterious duo claiming to have answers. With their help, and the aid of Ali, a shackled mental patient, Shawn discovers that there is far more to this world than he ever imagined. These revelations set Shawn on a collision course with the unknown, and he alone must find the strength protect his family and confront the ancient evil that is hunting them.

Amazon’s description

After receiving a cryptic message from his past, Shawn Walker learns of an ancient curse haunting his family. He discovers man is not alone on this planet… and that he is in the middle of a war between good and evil that has waged on for centuries.

Rotten Tomatoes’ description

In the beginning, three were created. Man made of clay. Angels made of light. And a third made of fire. For centuries, stories of angels and men have captured the imagination and been etched into history crossing all boundaries of culture, religion and time. These two races have dominated the landscape of modern mythology, shrouding the evidence that a third was ever created. This third race, born of smokeless fire, was named the jinn. Modern man has all but forgotten this third race ever existed. It is time for him to remember.

That last one is the opening monologue of the film.

The movie opens in India, circa 1901. A man enters a cave, reciting scripture passages, and occasionally addressing a slumped figure sitting in the middle of the cave.

Based on the number of times we keep going back to this same shot, I can only assume it was the most expensive shot in the whole movie, and they wanted to make sure they got their money's worth.

Based on the number of times we keep going back to this same shot, I can only assume it was the most expensive shot in the whole movie, and they wanted to make sure they got their money’s worth.

The man says that it can keep the body, but he wants the girl back. He throws some random things in the corners (mirrors?). I kept thinking, these mirrors are going to do something important, like trap the creature. That was my own foolishness, they ended up doing nothing. The guy confronts the demon creature, falls in a hole, climbs out, throws some water in the creature’s face (which only serves to enrage it) and pulls out a dagger. At this point the creature says it is going to kill him, and his children, and his children’s children, and so forth. You might be thinking, wait, if he kills him AND his children, that should pretty much end the line right? RIGHT? We’ll get back to that.

Flash forward to the present day, in Michigan. Shawn is some kind of car designer. He has random car decorations in his house (like a hood) and drives some kind of special edition Camaro that looks like a Firebird, called the FireBreather. That may seem like a lot of information about a car in a movie about Jinn, but don’t worry, we’ll get back to that as well. As Shawn is sitting around his house doodling, his wife Jasmine (Serinda Swan) answers the door and receives a mysterious package. She doesn’t need to sign for it, and it is very poorly wrapped. Shawn opens it (because in this world he has never heard of terrorists) and discovers a VHS tape inside. His wife wisely questions how they would even watch a VHS tape in this day and age, but for some reason Shawn conveniently has a player at his work.

Shawn watches the tape and discovers is a message from his deceased father, just before he and his mother died in a fire that consumed their house. He says Shawn comes from a long line of special people who can fight these demons called Jinn. His father says that there are people who will help him, and that Shawn needs to succeed where he failed.

Shawn returns home to find that his apartment has been randomly rearranged and his wife is missing. He calls the police, only to have his wife return home and they realize that nothing is actually missing. They put everything back and go to bed. Shawn has a nightmare about the night his parents died. He remembers seeing someone in the fire. He wakes up and goes to get some water, only to see that his furniture has been rearranged again. Him and his wife look out their window at the strange silhouette (I forgot to mention a creepy silhouette in the window across the street). Earlier the wife speculated it was a movie cutout. Not surprisingly, as they are staring at it, it moves. At this point, I would like to mention that this movie is supposed to be a suspense horror. It is neither of those things.

The next morning Shawn tells his wife he’d like to have a child. She says she has a dark secret, she is incapable of having children. She says he understands if he wants to leave her for his. Shawn, being the super jerk that he is, DOES leave her, to go to work. Shawn is at work, and he receives a mysterious call saying he has to go to a church. For some reason he does this. At the church he meets Gabriel (Ray Park) and Father Westhoff (William Atherton). These two guys knew his father, and want to help him stop this Jinn uprising once and for all. They say that as soon as one of his family members has an heir, the Jinn kill the parents. So when that Jinn from the beginning said he was going to kill the guy’s children’s children and all that, he meant it. This Jinn patiently waits for the next male heir to have a kid, then he strikes. Anyways, Shawn doesn’t believe them, but Father Westhoff gives him a magic dagger just in case. I’m just going to call it the Ajanti Dagger.

Good for killing the Golden Child and Jinn alike.

Good for killing the Golden Child and Jinn alike.

Anyways, he takes the dagger. Also Gabriel says the Jinn is hunting him because he has a male heir. How’s that? Oh yeah Jasmine is pregnant. Also, she’s been kidnapped. No one seems all that concerned about the kidnapping though. Shawn just kind of meanders around, occasionally saying stuff like “what is next on the bucket list before we find my missing wife?” (not a direct quote). Ray Park (which I have decided is now the star of the show) goes to a mental institution (Insane Asylum isn’t PC) to see a guy who might be able to help. Turns out it is Shawn’s crazy uncle he didn’t know he had played by Faran Tahir.

I like the idea of mental institutions today still using the classic 'chain him to the middle of the floor' treatment plan.

I like the idea of mental institutions today still using the classic ‘chain him to the middle of the floor’ treatment plan.

His uncle tried to take this mental test of worthiness and he lost his mind because he failed it. Now he is insisting that Shawn take the same test. As they are talking to the estranged uncle somehow the Jinn starts taking over the other patients in the institution. They all start attacking Ray Park and Shawn. This happens to be the highlight of the film. Ray Park gets to go all Darth Maul on these guys. At one point he creates all these little particles of light and goes super slow motion and beats down a bunch of patients, essentially punching the evil spirits out of them. This is also a common treatment plan in modern day institutions. This is by far the most interesting part of the movie. Shawn forgot his keys at the front desk, so Gabriel (Ray Park’s alter ego in this movie) uses his mind to retrieve the keys and get them to Shawn. To bad in the process he gets swarmed by escapees and beaten down. Not even Toad’s spit could save him.

Shawn returns to Father Westhoff, and the good Father starts him on the trial. Shawn then goes through several different times and scenarios, trying to fight the Jinn but failing. Then at some point he taunts the Jinn, and then runs for his car. He jumps in his car and drives off, as the Jinn becomes Lord Voldemort’s wispy flying black cloud thing. Shawn then drives all over town, pleading with his car to ‘show em what we got’ and ‘don’t fail me now.’ Which might sound good, if you had forgotten he was basically just fleeing the creature with no other plan. He drives back to his house and confronts the Jinn again. I can’t remember at what point his dream / trial ended and real life began again, but it doesn’t seem to matter. His suddenly lucid uncle shows up to help him, but is immediately beat up. Then the Jinn grabs Shawn by the throat and lifts him off the ground. Now Shawn has another dream sequence. This time set back in the cave in India, where he suddenly develops telekinetic powers and defeats the Jinn. Then we go back to him being choked by the Jinn, and he is able to grab its throat, there is a struggle, and then they both fall through his window into his pool / water feature. Now at some point Father Westhoff had given him a flask of holy water (at least, that is what he calls it). In the pool the flask comes undone and now all the pool water is holy. The Jinn disintegrates.

At this point a bunch of other Jinn warp into town. Shawn takes off his shirt and gets ready to fight them (not sure why that shirt was encumbering him, but I guess it was). The leader says there is no further need for hostilities, and Shawn stabs him in the head. Man is always the aggressor in these kinds of things. Shawn finally remembers his wife was kidnapped, and demands they give her to him. The remaining Jinn just teleport away. Shawn returns to the church and discovers his wife, who apparently had been kidnapped by Gabriel, you know, for safe keeping, was there the whole time. Also somehow Gabriel is alive. Now, during the movie it was said Gabriel was Jinn who was on the side of humans. But I assumed he is an Angel, since all this power is highlighted with white light, instead of the red fire we see other Jinn using, and he is named after an angel. But that question is left for a sequel, or something.

Flash forward a year, the baby is born and Uncle Ali now lives with them. As they are preparing breakfast, the baby’s pacifier falls to the ground. Before any of the adults can pick it up, the baby uses telekinesis to get it back. Everyone just kind of sits there and looks at the baby. Roll credits. After the credits we see that same cave scene with a Jinn sitting. In this 97 minute movie I’m pretty sure that cave scene represented about 400 minutes of the film.

Filed under Bad-Movies

Stitchers – Early Episode 1 Release

As seems to be the trend these days, the first episode of an upcoming show has been released a bit early, though this time officially. The show is Stichers, and it’s a summer show for the ABC Family network. The full episode can be found as an exclusive on the EW website.

Here is a short, spoiler-free review of this new sci-fi show.

The basic premise of the show is a strange mash-up of Inception, Source Code, and iZombie. A top secret, unnamed government agency has developed technology that lets them inject the mind of a living person into the memories of a recently-deceased one, to extract information that person took to the grave and help solve crimes. The main character, Kristen, is a college student with a particularly odd (and, as far as I can tell, entirely fictional) condition called “temporal dysplasia”, which means she has no concept of the passage of time. This makes her perfectly suited for use in the memory device, and the episode shows us her first pass at using it. Once inside, Kristen can walk freely around the memories, even manipulate them to some degree, though she can’t physically touch anything. For memories tied to particularly strong emotions, she can also get drawn fully into the experience, feeling the emotions as if she were there and dragging up other, related memories from the subjects’ subconscious.

The episode follows the main character as she gets recruited into this new world, as well as showing us some of the problems her condition is causing in her private life, and how they eventually collide. The show made really good use of some simple effects and editing to show what it was like going “inside” someone else’s mind, saving most of their FX budget for one really flashy explosion. It was subtle, but clear, what was going on.

Though this is a science fiction show, it’s mostly a procedural with science-fiction elements (similar to, say, Almost Human). All the expected elements are there: a government agency no one knows about, a team of anti-social tech geniuses, the main character who lives to flaunt the rules, the overbearing boss who yells at everyone, and even a best friend who’s pulled into the drama early for a really lame reason. They work pretty well together, though the addition of the roommate to the “team” seemed forced and unnecessary. (However, as she is played by veteran SyFy actor Allison Scagliotti, of Warehouse 13 fame, I will at no point complain.)

The show has a similar tone to my previous favorite ABC Family show – Kyle XY – in that the show isn’t really about the science. The science fiction aspect is just there, everyone just accepts that it’s real, and moves on to the actual plot. On the plus side, if you ignore the dead-brain interface, the rest of the technology in the show stands up better than a lot of highly popular network shows. Though the main character and her roommate are both “IT geniuses”, most of what they do is at least plausibly based in reality — dressed up for TV as you expect, but nowhere near Scorpion or NCIS levels of stupidity.

The main problem I had with the show was that most the characters spent at least a small part of the episode being cliches, with some worse than others. Kirsten, has a mental disorder that basically makes her a psychopath: because she can’t “feel time passing”, she has no sense of emotional attachment or loss. (Someone close to her dies early on and she shows no distress because, as she explains, the minute she knew he had died, it was like he had always been dead.) She really plays up this aspect of her character in how she treats other people; the show is desperately trying to paint her as a young female House. That worked for Hugh Laurie, but didn’t work out so well for Rainn Wilson. In my opinion, they need to tone that down a bit or the character will turn people off.

The boss character, played by another SyFy veteran (Eureka‘s Salli Richardson-Whitfield), also felt a bit wooden to me. In this case, I can’t really pinpoint where I lost interest, but she’s playing the “head of a black ops agency” bit in a very paint-by-numbers way. Hopefully she’ll begin to show some personality, once we’ve established just how in charge she is.

The other characters were not quite as bad, though the lead nerd in the show had a few fragments of extremely terrible dialogue, especially during the scene where Kirsten goes under for the first time. There’s also the standard attempts at establishing nerd cred (he asks for a list of Doctor Who actors in a way that no Doctor Who fan would ever do), and some obvious fan service (the “Cat Woman” suit designed by the even-more-cliche nerd sidekick.) The only character on the show that showed a consistently realistic personality was the roommate, Allison Scagliotti’s character, and I hope they’re smart enough to give her screen time to show it.

Overall, I found the show to be about as enjoyable as I expected. It’s a summer show and it’s on ABC family, so I wasn’t expecting Game of Thrones. Science fiction is rare on ABC Family (unless you count Ravenwood…) but this time, it seems like they did a pretty good job. It seems like it will probably stand up well against the summer fare coming out of SyFy, and give me something to watch while I wait for the return of Arrow. That’s really all I can ask.

I’d give it an even 5/10, and a try to catch it.

Filed under Review

Supergirl “leaked Pilot” – An almost completely spoiler-free review

This fall, CBS will begin airing a new superhero show Supergirl. This series has a lot in common with the highly popular CW shows Arrow and The Flash. The new show shares the same executive producers, Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, and all three are based on popular characters from the DC Comics universe. The new show has a tone somewhat reminiscent of The Flash. It also has one more thing in common: reminiscent of last years unauthorized release of The Flash pilot episode, the premier episode of Supergirl has been leaked six months early.

Leaving aside the details of how and why this leak happened, since it did, we get an early look at the show in much more depth than the officially released trailer gave us. Without giving away too much, here are some first impressions of the show, and how well it stacks up to the growing competition in the comic-adaptation space.

General Impressions

First of all, just to be clear: this is being called the “pilot” episode, but it’s not really a traditional pilot. It’s is obviously a final product – S01E01 of the series, with all of the final cast in place and post-production work done. This is good news and bad news. Good news, because we get a faithful representation of what the show will be like for the rest of the season, but bad news because there probably won’t be much chance to fix things that might be broken. (I may be wrong here, we shall see.)

Generally speaking, I think the show is much better than the trailer led us to believe. I still have concerns over where the focus of the show will be, but the pilot seems to be moving in the right direction. The main complaint about the trailer has been how much time was spent on the mundane details of Kara Danver’s life. Was that an indication that the show was trying too hard to attract a broader audience, at the expense of the core superheroine story? I think the pilot gives us good reason to think that’s not the case. I thought the episode had a nice mix of straight up action, character development, and laying groundwork for the rest of the series. It has about the same mix of heroic plot vs. dramatic development that it’s sister shows on the CW did during their first episodes.

The Good Stuff

The first thing that struck me was how little time this show wasted getting the basic exposition out of the way. Within the first 5 minutes of the episode — basically, the opening stinger — most of the plot questions people had from the trailer are answered, right up front. They let us know quickly what’s happened already and where the world sits. It’s also clear that these writers have worked on DC shows before, and they know their stuff, which is a good sign.

Without giving too much away, the show follows the basics of Kara Zor-El’s modern origin story: sent to Earth as a young girl to protect infant Kal-El, an accident causes her to arrive much later. By the time Kara arrives on Earth, Kal-El is fully grown and has revealed his existence. Supergirl is set in a world where Superman is a household name, though the show goes to extreme measures to avoid using the S-word (there are lots of reference to “he”, “him”, and “my cousin”.) The reason for her delay is explained, but it’s a key element to what looks to be the first season’s story arc, so I won’t go into any more detail.

I really like that this show didn’t have your traditional superhero origin story structure, not even for the first episode. Kara was 12 years old when she left Krypton for Earth, and was made fully aware of the special powers she would have. As we see in the trailer, once she decides to embrace her super side, the show jumps right into the heroics: in the first episode, we see flying, super-strength, x-ray vision, invulnerability, and heat vision. Watching Clark Kent come into his powers, and struggle to master them, can be interesting (it was done very well on Smallville; maybe less well in Man of Steel), but it’s been done. We’ve spent three seasons watching Oliver Queen on Arrow become the Green Arrow, we don’t need to spend a whole season waiting for Kara to figure out she can see through walls.

I also like the fact that the show has a nice upbeat tone, much like The Flash, and in stark contrast to the current DC cinematic universe. The show is bright and colorful, and most of the people are generally happy, or at least content. Thus, when Kara has an emotional moment with her sister, it actually seems important — the character’s not just moping around because that’s how she is. There’s also a lot of friendly banter and humor thrown in. I’ve talked to a lot of casual fans who watch The Flash but not Arrow or Gotham for exactly this reason – it’s just more fun to watch. This show was fun to watch.

The Less-Good Stuff

Of course, there were some places where the show seemed to miss the mark. For one thing, much of the character development seems rushed, or even forced. In parts, watching the pilot was almost like watching a really long trailer — it felt like there was chopped up from a longer, more coherent scene. For example, the Supergirl costume montage from the trailer happens at just about that speed in the episode: we go from an obvious fan-service first try to final outfit, including a Kryptonian powers montage — just a few minutes. It seems like the scene was meant to set up the relationship between Kara and her sidekick/support-nerd, but everything happens so fast there’s no real impact.

Several other character development plot threads (e.g. Kara’s blind date) seem like they’re supposed to be giving us characterization, but they’re moved past and forgotten so quickly they don’t mean much. And much of the banter seems a bit forced, like it’s desperately trying to drive home just how comfortable these characters are together, even in a situation where they probably shouldn’t be!

They’re also falling into a pattern that drives me crazy on The Flash — Kara’s secret identity is almost an afterthought. When the show starts, only four people know she’s Kryptonian — her family. When the show ends, we’ve added at least three more! Please, please lets keep that number down for at least a half a season?

Hopefully we can chalk all of that up to this being the first episode, trying to get the characters and their relationships settled and in place, so we can get to the good stuff. The second episode will be crucial in determining if this will be an ongoing problem for the show.

Another miss, for me, was the Kat Grant character. Calitsa Flockhart is obviously channeling Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada, but that’s a huge set of shoes to fill, and it comes across cliche. Even worse, she completely drops that act when it’s time for her to be serious and sensitive, then goes right back into it. She almost comes across as having a split personality.

And really, there’s just too much of her. Perry White or J. Jonah Jameson play mostly bit parts in their shows: they’re foils for the other, primary characters that work for them, and rarely the focus of any scene. Kat Grant, on the other hand, dominates all of her scenes with Kara, and not merely in a keeping-her-secret-identity way. She really does completely overpower Supergirl’s personality, but doesn’t really add much to the scenes. I was constantly wanting to fast forward past her scenes. In seems like they’re positioning her character as a kind of surrogate mother figure for Kara (though, as far as we know, her adopted parents are alive), but most of the time she just comes of needlessly harsh. Perhaps the writers plan to use this dynamic to show Kara’s personality changing as her confidence grows, but if so, I hope they get to it fast, because I was completely sick of Kat Grant by the end of this episode.

Lastly, and perhaps most annoyingly, is how much this show wanted to be about Superman without being allowed (I assume) to say Superman. It’s obvious that Kal-El is the far more famous of the two cousins, and by tying Kara’s story in with his, it lets us fast forward past a lot of otherwise tedious exposition. But the number of times Kara’s cousin comes up in conversation got old very quickly. The fact that they try so hard to avoid naming him makes it even worse. During the opening exposition scene, they identify him as Kal-El and Superman but after that, we only get one occurance of “Man of Steel”. Instead, Kara would frequently talk about “him” in a way that we’re supposed to know who she’s talking about. Obviously, since she’s related to Superman, it’s going to come up, but the point of this show is that Kara is a hero in her own right. She doesn’t need to have her now-older cousin’s specter towering over her all the time. Much like Gotham is not about Batman, Supergirl should not be about Superman. Hopefully this will dwindle away as the episodes continue — we’ve gotten the idea, lets move on.

Conclusion

I think this is going to be a good show. The major elements I think are there. While I have some issues with some of the dialogue, I think the actors themselves mostly have their characters nailed. Melissa Benoist, in particular, seemed to have no problem carrying the show when she needed to, although her Kara Zor-El was much more believable than her Kara Danvers. The central relationship with her sister seemed genuine (jury’s still out on the other two budding relationships). There’s a good hook that should provide good fodder for the early villain-of-the-week episodes, with hints of the broader story arc as well.

This isn’t going to be a show for the hard-core DC comic fans, though. It’s clearly meant for a broader audience, even more than any of the other DC shows on TV so far. Constantine this is not. But I’d make the same assessment about The Flash and that’s turned out to be one of my favorite DC shows to watch, so don’t let that discourage you from giving this one a try.

Overall, I would probably rate this show at about 7 out of 10. I’m not quite as enthusiastic about it as compared to Arrow, The Flash, or even Agents of SHIELD. I would probably rate it somewhere in my top 10 comics-based shows, around where iZombie and (likely) Legends of Tomorrow are sitting.

Definitely worth watching.

Filed under Review