2067 (2020)

2067 movie poster

If you’re going to watch a movie with an extinction threat in this cursed year, it has to have something other than a virus threatening humankind. In 2067, it’s the loss of all plant life on Earth. ‘Fake’ oxygen now has to be provided for survival, but illnesses that stop even that working are rife. Humanity’s days are numbered, and with none too many digits left on the clock. So far no one has been able to come up with any ideas to fix it – but just maybe they can invent a time machine (so much easier than regrowing a plant??), and travel forward to find out how it was managed in the future’s past!!

Urm… that’s very Bill and Ted 3, now I think about it, but with none of the fun factor o.O

Anyway. Ethan Whyte (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a utility worker, not much special about him – so when a radio signal from the future mentions him by name he’s thrust into the confused role of possible saviour of the species. But who sent the signal, what is he meant to do – and what forces are acting against him?

I do like a bit of time travel sci fi, but to be honest I might be the only person in my (virtual) viewing group who got anything out of this movie! To be fair, it’s not as well done as it could have been. I thoroughly enjoyed the time loop mysteries and paradoxes, and I thought the whole thing looked pretty cool especially for a low budget effort. But…

Hmm, yeah, but – just about everything else. The acting was neither awful nor great, but the lead was just not written in a way that made me care too much – he’s too whiny, too weak, and with a tagged-on backstory that I’m not sure really comes to fruition. The surrounding cast aren’t really crafted well enough to help, either, and the dialogue from all was rather more miss than hit.

The story has a few too many bits that don’t really work – starting with the underlying premise, but that’s maybe the easiest to ignore – spoiling those bits that are more interesting and well done. I think there was a core of an intriguing tale, but then padding it out a bit introduced a bit too much ‘meh’. And some of the emotional ‘hits’ were a bit daft – I mean, you travel that far into the future, of course everyone you know is dead? Really?? Such attempts to manufacture drama and empathy rather backfired for me.

Overall, then, it was a bit frustrating. There were glimmers of potential swamped in too much ‘not great’ hitting ‘pretty bad’ at times. I still enjoyed it for a throwaway movie as it pushed my ‘time travel shenanigans’ button and I liked the whole aesthetic, but I am well aware that I’ll be in the minority on that one!

Released: 2nd October 2020
Viewed: 16th October 2020
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 4/10

Altered Carbon (season 2)

altered carbon poster

I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of this adaptation of Richard Morgan’s book(s), but it took me a while to get around the the second. Truth be told, I have very little recollection of the second and third books, so it took a bit of research to say that this second series is based on the third book, Woken Furies.

A bit of background… in the far future, the science of ‘stacks’ allows for a person’s memories to be downloaded and turned into DHF (Digital Human Freight) to be sent across the stars faster than a human could ever travel. The galaxy has thus been populated. A side effect of the process, though, is that the very rich can clone their bodies and download their consciousness into them regularly – thus achieving immortality.

Takeshi Kovacs is a soldier. No, more The soldier. He’s trained to fight from the instant he wakes in a new ‘sleeve’ (body), without the usual period of readjustment.

Following the events in season 1, Kovacs finds himself returning to his home planet, Harlen’s World. But there’s no time for nostalgia between the politics, the repeat glimpses of a former lover who is surely dead, and oh yeah, the serial killer going around causing ‘real death’ – one that can’t be undone with a clone and a backup – of the society’s founding families.

I will admit that Joel Kinnaman was a big part of the appeal of season 1, and not just cos he kept taking his shirt off 😉 Any show that swaps out the lead actors has an uphill battle, so kudos to them for nabbing Anthony Mackie for the new Kovac sleeve. Better known as one of the Avengers, Mackie is excellent with the physicality of the role and does almost as well as Kinnaman with the not-quite-emotionless soldier.

However, I still ended up being less than impressed with the second season, and that’s because of the story. Series 1 was about world building and the fantastic tech that’s caused so many changes – with a huge murder mystery thrown in on top of amazing visuals. Here, though, it’s all about Quellcrist Falconer, Kovac’s lost love and head of the rebellion, and it just wasn’t as interesting a story as I wanted. Sure, by the end there are stronger background threads, but by that point I’d struggled to hold as much interest.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t really remember the second and third books. I can’t comment on how closely they stuck to the text, but it feels like something was a bit missing in making all the elements work more smoothly – and entertainingly – together.

Still worth a watch if you liked the first season, but go in with much lower expectations.

First broadcast: February 2020
Series: 2
Episodes: 8 @ ~50 mins each

My rating: 7/10

Project Power (2020)

project power poster

There’s a new drug on the streets of New Orleans. This one doesn’t just make you feel powerful: it literally gives you superpowers. However there are catches: it will only last for 5 minutes, and you have no way of knowing what power you’ll get. Invulnerability is great, turning into a human torch might have it’s uses, but then again you might just be one of the unlucky ones that just explodes. Messy.

Into this set up throw a teenage drug dealer, a cop who isn’t above fighting fire with fire, and a dangerous man on a mysterious mission.

I do like my superhero movies, especially those that are trying something a little bit different. This almost manages that. The device of the pills, the random effects, and the time limit are highly intriguing. Are they used as well as they could have been? Hmm.

Full marks for the cast. Jamie Foxx is always excellent, and Dominique Fishback steps up strongly into a surprisingly big role. I say surprising, because marketing had led me to believe Joseph Gordon-Levitt would have a bigger part, but he’s a little in the background.

What works: the SFX are well done, the acting is good, and the action is high. What isn’t quite as strong: the plot didn’t feel that original, and the mechanics of the superpowers are allowed to be a little fuzzy when it suits. The attempt to add logic of a sort never, ever works well in these kinds of stories, either.

Overall, this was a pleasantly diverting, fun and daft kind of a Friday night action flick. If you have Netflix and a liking for that sort of thing, you could certainly do worse.

Released: 14th August 2020
Viewed: 21st August 2020
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Morning Star – Pierce Brown

morning star cover

“I rise into darkness, away from the garden they watered with the blood of my friends.”

Book 2 of the Red Rising trilogy, Golden Son, ended with our hero in a sticky position. Usual warning: just by mentioning characters who have survived to book 3 might be a spoiler, so back away now if needs be!

On the verge of a massive win in his campaign to bring down the Gold society, Darrow’s unmasking leaves everything in tatters. What’s to come is about as unpleasant as it could be: capture, torture, betrayal. Can the once-Golden Son rise again, from the deepest pit?

Having followed the political machinations over the past two books, there’s a lot of pressure to bring things to a satisfying conclusion here. And mostly, I think it succeeds admirably with this less than easy task. Which isn’t to say it’s perfect. There’s sometimes too little sense of real danger, of consequences to insanely risky plots. Terrible things do happen, but sometimes the crazy plans just seem to work a bit too easily.

Which is a minorish complaint, honestly. Overall I liked the way the story continued to a satisfying conclusion. It was a pleasure to read, although perhaps a little more variety in the onslaught of fighting and bad things and quite frankly horror – but, it gets to where it needs to be, and it does it in style.

The trilogy gets a 9/10 from me, although nothing has reached the heights of that first book. Still, I’m excited to see where the next book – picking up 10 years later – finds us.

Kindle: 544 pages / 65 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: Red Rising book 3
Read from 24th August – 6th September 2020

My rating: 8.5/10

Every Sky a Grave – Jay Posey

every sky a grave cover

“Elyth held the earth loosely clasped in her left hand, felt its damp weight, its sponged texture cold with the night.”

Language is power. Literally. Discovering the fundamental language of the universe has allowed humankind to spread out across the galaxy, to bend reality to suit their needs. Carefully controlled, this power is held by the First House of the Ascendance. An agent of the First House, Elyth, is sent out on planet-killing missions when the worlds – and the Words – become too corrupted to save.

But when she’s sent to the planet Qel, nothing goes to plan. Struggling to understand what she senses deep within the planet, the Deep Language itself doesn’t work as she expects. Who or what is going on with Qel? What was the real mission the Paragon intended for her, hidden not just from the opposing Hezra, but perhaps from Elyth herself?

I was utterly intrigued by the concept of this book: language as literal power is a great premise. However, if I’m being honest then the way it’s used – to kill planets – was a bit of a turn off. Part of the eventual plot does hang on this but still, when you’re introduced to such a grand concept being used so… illogically? … it kind of spoils the enjoyment. So, apologies for the minor spoiler but I think it’s worth it to encourage you to stick with things.

We follow Elyth as she tries to discover what’s going on with Qel and some of its inhabitants. She’s a great character: powerful, kick-ass, independent. Her character development flows very well. When she meets a mysterious messiah-like figure, the scale of the puzzle only ramps up a hundredfold!

Most of the book takes place in various wilderness settings, and environmentalism seems to be a strong theme. But we also have the cold logic of the First House, and the dark military presence of the Hezra as well as Elyth’s own combat skills. There’s a lot of advanced tech to have fun with, too. The world building is a big strength here, although I would have liked to see more of the cool things.

The story is perhaps a little simple given the scale of possibilities – more action than sci-fi. It feels a lot like an opening chapter, with an awful lot more to be revealed. I think the subsequent stories might be exceptional and I’m looking forward to finding out!

Overall: intriguing, well enough executed, but was a little too opening-chapter for higher marks.

NetGalley eARC: 384 pages / 24 chapters
First published: July 2020
Series: Ascendance book 1
Read from 5th July – 9th August 2020

My rating: 7/10

Golden Son – Pierce Brown

golden son cover

“When the first colonists ventured forth from Earth to make their home on the moon, they created a hierarchy for labor. In time, they improved this hierarchy through genetic and surgical manipulation of their fellow man. The result was a color-coded Society of perfect efficiency, one dominated by a superior breed of humanity, the Golds.”

(Usual warning, merely mentioning characters who appear in book 2 might be considered spoilers for book 1 – so go read the wonderful Red Rising instead of this might-be-spoilery-for-it review ;))

We pick back up with Darrow following his graduation from the Institute that made him kill his peers to prove himself worthy of leading Gold society. But of course, Darrow isn’t really a Gold – he’s from the lowly Red caste, ‘carved’ to mimic his social superiors in every way to help bring down the civilisation that oppresses so many.

What follows is an action-packed roller coaster of political machinations. Darrow’s rise is not assured, his battles far from over. Then there’s all the emotional baggage to sort out – and that might prove more tricky than attempted assassinations. Trust is a rare commodity at the best of times, never mind when you’re lying to your friends about the most basic aspect of yourself.

I ended up not quite loving this book as much as its predecessor, but that’s not a big complaint! I think perhaps the claustrophobia, the more defined playing space, of the Institute worked in the story’s favour, whereas now we’re out in the big bad solar system and it makes things a little wilder. There were points when I found the action a little exhausting, then the politics a little heavy. And yet overall it works brilliantly.

What really lifts this is the author’s exquisite use of language. While wholly fitting with the themes of war and plotting and revenge, there are such poetically lifting turns of phrase. For example:

“Roses of a thousand shades fall from the trees as Golds fight beneath them. They’re all red in the end.”

Still, if I was inclined I could pick holes in things. Darrow is maybe a little too perfect. There’s a sense of inertia often found in such stories, where nothing has really changed for generations until this ‘special’ new characters comes along. And I found the introduction of a new character, a new sub-race, to feel quite sudden. Perhaps I just didn’t notice a mention in book one?

But, small complaints. The whole is still gripping. Absolutely no spoiler to say that the book ends on a cliffhanger, so thank goodness book 3 is already available – and next on my TBR to find out how this might possibly all resolve!

Kindle: 443 pages / 51 chapters
First published: 2020
Series: Red Rising book 2
Read from 23rd July – 3rd August 2020

My rating: 8/10

The Vast of Night (2019)

vast of night poster

In the late 1950s, small town life had a slower pace, more of a sense of community. The entire town would attend the local high school basketball game, for instance. And while almost everyone is gathered in one place, strange things might happen in the quiet streets.

16-year-old Fay is covering the telephone switchboard while listening to her friend, Everett, broadcast his radio show. A strange noise on the line, a stranger call to the show… this small town in New Mexico has seen odd things before.

I liked this movie on several levels, but my first observation – and warning – would have to be that it is slow. It’s not a bad thing, and in fact fits the time period and sense of a slower kind of living very well. The evocation of the 1950s is excellently done, overtly with the old-time tech (switchboards, radio equipment, etc) and a little more subtly with just the way of life portrayed – community, trust. With no big ‘names’ in the cast, it’s all impressively acted, too.

As the mysteries unfold, the sense of unease is done very well, too. That’s increased with some fascinating cinematography. Drone camerawork gives a long, low-level sweep through the town, before cutting to watching our characters as if on a very, very old tv set. The screen frequently goes black, too. It’s a bit creepy, in a good way.

The story is not unfamiliar, and indeed there are myriad nods to things like The Twilight ZoneWar of the Worlds, and even a bit of an X-Files vibe going on. Indeed, I could see this being an episode of that show – but, with more understated elegance. But while it might be a story that’s been done before, I like the attempt at telling it in a different way. That plus the experimental visuals make this a highly intriguing bit of cinema.

Still, I’m a little on the fence. It remains quite slow, mysteries aren’t necessarily answered – or, maybe shouldn’t have been? – and I’d recommend that you do have to be in the right mood for that, and for a little style and atmosphere over substance.

Released: 29th May 2020
Viewed: 17th July 2020
Running time: 91 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Clone Wars (season 2)

clone wars s2 cover

Following straight on from the first season of this animation that bridges the gap between episodes II and III of the Star Wars saga, I found the second series to be a little more sure of itself. It’s also pretty dark for a ‘cartoon’, with scenes of torture and brain parasites taking over characters, just as for-instance. But, this is a war – clue’s in the name – and if nothing else it sets the whole thing up as a far more serious affair, and not just something for the kiddies.

I’ve never disliked Star Wars, but nor am I a rabid fan. It’s grown on me over the years, though – hence watching this, I suppose. Still, coming at it all from that kind of basis doesn’t make for the best viewing, as there’s just so much to miss. A revenge plot is based on a death I had to go look up – and, it’s in one of the first two movies. Oops, so much for paying attention! So if I’d ‘complain’ about anything it is that getting the most out of this series involves just that – paying attention. Not something I’m always known for with TV 😉

But, it does pay off. The depth of the overarching story is what, I start to gleam, gets some fans so enthralled with the whole thing – and for once it’s nice to take a peek behind that curtain. I’m impressed with how various things are pulled together – and annoyed that the main movies failed with so much of it.

We’re also seeing more of familiar faces like Anakin and Obi-Wan, making them into more rounded characters than the movies managed. Of course, the sense of danger is diminished knowing they go on to further films, but there are other, novel characters to fill that gap – and towards the end of the series, a bit of an origin story developing for a name even I recognised!

Another strength is probably how much is focused on the clones, the Stormtroopers. For the first time, this series finally gives them a sense of individuality and it’s all the better for it. Heck, there’s even a possible clue as to why they are such rubbish shots in later movies 😉

I’m very happy to push on with this. From Saturday morning telly-level fluff that the first series had hints of, this is heading for full-blown cinematic, deep delve story telling. I hope I can keep up! 🙂

First broadcast: 2009
Series: 2 (of 7)
Episodes: 23 @ ~22 mins each

My rating: 8/10

A Princess of Mars – Edgar Rice Burroughs

princess of mars cover

“I am a very old man; how old I do not know.”

I have mixed feelings about classic sci-fi. It’s good to know the roots of your favourite genre, but it doesn’t always age so well. The Barsoom books, however, can be taken more as adventure stories that happen to be set on a fantasy version of Mars that might as well be Narnia. There’s an indulgence to stories from what seems like a simpler time, maybe a slightly patronising tone to the reading that lets you nod and play along and just enjoy the lack of complication.

John Carter is a Virginian gentleman and veteran of the American Civil War, who stumbles into a mysterious cave and wakes up on another planet. He’s promptly captured by the warmongering Tharks, the so-called ‘green men of Mars’. To say there’s a large amount of the Mary Sue to Carter would be an understatement. The lower planetary gravity gives him super strength and he easily beats many of the larger warriors, earning himself a stay of execution. He then picks up the language in about twenty minutes flat, before falling in love with a captured princess from the other of Mars’ main species, the ‘reds’.

The pace of this story is lightning. There’s little dwelling on anything, and big events happen in a sentence. That’s part of the appeal, really: it’s simple but it keeps moving so fast that if you can let go it provides a light distraction. Alas, it can also seem a little unsatisfying for the same reasons, plus the fact that you just know (the other) JC can never really lose…

Except, there’s a framing tale. Carter is telling his story – perhaps it’d be nice to think of them as an old man’s tall tales? – and not quite everything goes to plan. That’s why there are ten sequels, I suppose 😉

I’m glad I read this. It doesn’t feel like high literature, but it is one of the classics from its time, and despite its many flaws for a modern audience there’s a lot to like here. Definitely not sci-fi, but as a boys’ own kind of adventure, it’s quite fun.

As a final note, if – like me – your main knowledge of this comes from the somewhat disappointing movie, John Carter (2012), it’s clear to see both how much they had to leave out, and how much better the story is with just that bit more meat and context.

eBook: 202 pages / 28 chapters
First published: 1912
Series: Barsoom book 1
Read from 12th April -10th May 2020

My rating: 7/10

Firewalkers – Adrian Tchaikovsky

firewalkers cover

“The Masserey-Van Bults were coming in all the dry way down the Ogooue Road, and, as Hotep would say, there was much rejoicing.”

In a not-so-distant future, the Earth has become a scorched hell zone. The very rich have escaped to orbiting habitats, accessed by space elevators. At the base of each, service townships (Ankara – not the Turkish capital, to save you my confusion!) have sprung up, populated by the likes of Mao. Mao is a young Firewalker – someone who will head out to the sunstruck wastes to fix the solar panels and tech that keeps the Ankara viable. It’s a deadly job, but when his other option was facing the bugs of the protein farm…

Adrian Tchaikovsky has a thing for bugs, as his previous works have shown – slight trigger warning for that, I suppose, but I loathe wriggly things and coped just fine.

In this novella, he manages to create a highly believable world, a set of intriguing characters, and switch direction at least twice. The pace is almost a little too much, but it certainly keeps the interest! I did wonder if the use of slang and dialect was going to be irritating, but very quickly I settled into it and it adds plenty of atmosphere – another way to create this world in a truncated way.

Mao pulls in a couple of skilled friends to head out to discover why the power to the township is failing. We get a sense of their lives, the new ‘world order’, and the results of a couple of hundred years of continued climate change. The timing is so coincidental: young people heading into life-threatening danger, the only way they can scrape a living, to save the privileges of the super-rich.

I won’t spoil the huge twist in direction, but it wasn’t what I was expecting! It wasn’t what the group were expecting to find in the middle of a barren desert, either…!

As I said, there’s a lot packed in to a fairly short tale. Well worth the read, and all too relevant for our times, in many ways… let’s hope we don’t head quite the same way, eh?!

NetGalley eARC: 185 pages / 10 chapters
First published: 12th May 2020
Series: none
Read from 8th-12th May 2020

My rating: 8/10