Archive for August, 2016


by Adam Ferenz

July 3, 1985. Written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan and Thomas F. Wilson.

Back to the Future is one of my personal favorite movies. I’ve seen it so many times, I’ve lost count. It is endlessly entertaining. It has also become problematic, for some, who accuse it of golden age thinking. I disagree, and will get to that in a moment. What the film is, ultimately, is wish fulfillment, and fantasy, mixed with heaping doses of humor and escapism. The adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown were a vital part of my filmic youth. So, what was it all about?

Plotwise, it’s about a high school student who travels back in time after seeing his mentor get shot to death, and ends up meeting his parents before they became a couple, and how he must navigate the waters of avoiding altering history, because, you see, his mother has the hots for him. Yep. But, more on that in a bit. In reality, it’s about consequences, about hopes and dreams. Oh, and lots of humor.

The film isn’t ultimately a deep, philosophical argument about man’s place in the universe, nor is it about the randomness of existence and chance. It would be a stretch to say that is what it is about, though it is not unfair to consider those themes while watching it. What this film is, is a pure entertainment piece. This business of making one feel joy, of laughing, of being thrilled by the events and coming to care about the characters,  which it accomplishes expertly, by keeping the story simple without ever being stupid or shallow. This is a film with a great big heart. (more…)

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by Jaimie Grijalba

Note: This is my last essay for the Sci-Fi Countdown of Wonders in the Dark on the first film directed by Richard Kelly. I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to write about the three films of one of my favorite directors of all time, and may this be a testament that I want a new film by him. Any film. Thanks to those that took the time to read these essays, which are more and more personal, and may we have a wonderful top 50 Science Fiction films of all time.

Another note: This Might Contain Spoilers.

I think one of the hardest things that someone can do is trying to write about your favorite film of all time… and, yes, Donnie Darko is still my favorite film of all time at my 26 years old. It might seem childish to some, but it’s one that feels the closest to my heart in many ways, and while I’ll try to attempt to explain why, I honestly don’t want to expose myself that much, so maybe I’ll focus as much as I can in the science fiction aspects of the film, mainly because I think that it’s why it had so many votes… or is it?

For al the science and the fiction that matters, the film portrays one element that would relate directly to it: a time travel towards the end, where the main character jumps back to the moment where a jet engine is about to fall onto his room, but instead of jumping out and meeting with Frank, he laughs and stays, thus changing the future and “correcting” history, becoming a super hero and some sort of Christ like figure that sacrifices itself to save the rest from the sins of humanity, that are thoroughly dissected and exposed in the film that we just saw. That, just on the surface level, and that is if you actually think he travelled back in time, instead of “dreaming it all”, like many theories support. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

March 31, 1999. Written and Directed by The Wachowskis. Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster.

What is The Matrix? Existence. Perception. Reality. Fantasy. It is everything and nothing. A construct intended to use humanity as a battery for a race of sentient machines. A battleground for the fight to free humanity from the clutches of said machines, and their minions, the Agents, lead by Agent Smith. Into this enters Neo, a young computer hacker who discovers the awful truth about mankind’s current condition. The film is as much about ideas as it is about plot.

What is The Matrix?

The Matrix is the world the machines create to trick humanity into sleeping their lives away as an energy source. When Neo meets Morpheus and Trinity, the leaders of a resistance cell, based on a ship called the Nebudchadnezzar, his life is irrevocably altered, and the course of humanity reset. One could talk about the action sequences-such as the assault on the stronghold to free Morpheus, a ballet of glass, leather coats, shiny marble floors and bullets-or the chase through the tunnels and final fight with the construct, an Agent known as Mr. Smith. But that would miss much of the point of the film, which is about dual identity. It would be easy to say that the Wachowski Brothers-as they were then known-were interested in this for personal reasons. But, the Wachowski’s were really more interested in exploring what is real and what is forced. Choice or will versus enslavement.

They accomplish this through a variety of means. Philosophical discussions. Action sequences doubling as metaphors, or very specific staging of events in order to evoke a sense of self.  Much has been made of the film’s Abrahamic roots, and while this is true, what with obvious nods like the ship being named the Nebudchadnezzar, one character being Morpheus-to change-another being Neo, “the one” or the Chosen, and yet a third, the aptly named Trinity, this is but one layer on which the film operates. (more…)

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(53) Akira


Bob Clark

Today, we reach one of the definitive anime experiences of the past 30 years, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Along with that, some musings on what it means to predict the future, and what we’re best left looking forward to in all tomorrow’s apocalypses.


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Screen capture from “Hell or High Water,” one of the best films of 2016

by Sam Juliano

One more week and we’ll be scraping our shoes on the foot mat of September, with the Labor Day weekend to follow shortly thereafter.  Seems like it all flew by us in record-breaking fashion, but conventional belief has always asserted that the older you get the faster things move forward.  The temperatures have been high, typical of late August, though the past week has been marginally cooler than those it preceeded.

The science-fiction countdown is just about half way completed and that too is rather amazing when you consider it seems we just launched it.  The essays have been simply superlative and a small but reliable group of commenters have been carrying their weight in some terrific comment threads.  Many thanks to all especially John Grant, Jamie Uhler, Bob Clark and Robert Hornak for their vigorous participation.  But others have been wonderful in that capacity as well.  We are now reaching the stage of the countdown (the upper half) where all the real fun should begin.

Lucille and I have been out and around the past week, though I have continued a torrid pace of home viewing, if not quite as intense as the past four.  We took in an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in a grungy and oppressively hot Manhattan back-room theater on Saturday night, and it turned out to be hugely problematic for so many reasons, but since I know those who brought it to fruition I’ll refrain from any other commentary.  I’ll leave Miller himself to turn in his grave.  This is the seventh time I have attended this play on the stage in my lifetime, and even taught it once to high school juniors. (more…)

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ET - 1

by Robert Hornak

Note/confession: E.T. is one of my favorite films of all time, and not just from a nostalgic point of view, though that is indeed an unquenchable part of it, but from a pure cinema, pure demonstration of skill point of view… and yet, for all that love, I won’t at all be giving it the loving treatment here that it deserves. This will not be an essay equal to my respect for the movie – let’s just say today I’ll be working without storyboards. Trouble is, I’ve had a terrible week time-wise, with unexpected responsibilities and a tectonic shift in my usual schedule. This isn’t a plea for sympathy (unless you just want to give me some), rather a set up to suggest that this is exactly the right time to see, think about, and say a few words about the movie: I believe it’s a story about childhood for adults who are overwhelmed by adulthood and who too often forget what it was like to yearn so purely. When I watch the movie, it stunts and expands in equal measure – an emotional projection of the squashy guy’s bizarro stretchy-neck. It stunts because every time I see it, I’m right back to being 11 and seeing it for the first time – it simply hasn’t lost any of the power of its first run for me. It’s so densely of its time (in terms of mise-en-scène and in terms of its ubiquitous grip on/embodiment of whatever the ’80s were), that I sink right back into its world from the moment Williams’ quiet, weirdly-hollow music plays over the thumb-scrawled title, and I’m with it right through to the still-teary end. But it expands by my life experience since that first viewing, by the fact that I’ve got the baggage of all the hundreds (conservative estimate) of times I’ve lost somebody, was disappointed by a negated desire, got sideswiped by a sudden change of life plans, or simply sank into sadness over a friend long gone by proximity or worse. It’s my movie (and everyone has one or more of these) that lets me be young again and grows into something more meaningful as time extracts its years, precisely because those years are passing. (more…)

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

The line between science fiction and horror is often breached because humanity’s fear of the unknown has proven fertile soil for the fevered imaginations of scifi writers and filmmakers. The 1950s, of course, produced a slew of Atomic Age nightmares, as the science fact of massively destructive weapons merged with the paranoias of the time. Some forget that this period in human and movie history also was awash in psychoanalysis—the science of the mind—with Freudian theories all the rage in films of all types.

The 1957 scifi/horror classic The Incredible Shrinking Man from director Jack Arnold is firmly rooted in these socioscientific concerns. The plot is propelled by environmental horrors. A radioactive cloud floats toward the boat where the title character, Scott Carey (Grant Williams), and his wife Louise (Randy Stuart) are relaxing and coats him with a stardust sheen. Scott doesn’t start shrinking, however, until he is exposed to insecticide after they return home. While there is plenty of frightening action ahead, it is in the aftermath of these initial events that the film takes on more psychological and philosophical shading, and makes a pointed critique of a society slipping a straitjacket of conformity and wholesomeness over its citizens following the chaos and lingering malaise of World War II.

Scott asserts his privilege as a white man in a white-male-dominated society in the very first scene by ordering his wife to go below deck to get him a beer: “To the galley, wench.

Fetch me a flagon of beer,” he jests. Unwittingly, he did the manly thing by saving her from getting dusted, but because his rescue was unintentional and unconscious, we know we are in Freud’s realm of the uncanny. Freud said, “The uncanny is anything we experience in adulthood that reminds us of earlier psychic stages, of aspects of our unconscious life, or of the primitive experience of the human species.” (more…)

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