Defiance: This Summer’s Best Sci-Fi TV Show

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This summer has had a larger than usual share of genre TV shows, but the best one was Syfy’s Defiance. Its second season took the show and its characters to new places and on the whole it was a vast improvement over its freshman season.

Defiance takes place about forty years into the future in the town of Defiance, which is actually built on the ruins of St. Louis, MO. In the show, several races of alien refugees came to Earth and attempted to terraform the planet and the resulting war ended in a stalemate where humans and aliens are forced to live side by side as they struggle to rebuild society and the planet.

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This season saw four major storylines that were skillfully interwoven and mesmerizing to watch as they unfolded.

One had to do with Datak Tarr (Tony Curran), a Castithan mob boss who ruled Defiance’s underworld last season with a vicious fist. After being elected mayor to the town, Datak Tarr allowed the devious Earth Republic (E-Rep) into the town and effectively ceded control of it. He was also jailed for murdering an E-Rep official. This season dealt with Datak dealing with his fall from grace and his attempts to rebuild.

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But first he had to deal with his scheming wife Stahma (Jamie Murray), who took over his business and turned out to be better at it than he was. This was a conundrum for Datak because women in the albino-skinned Castithan society have a low ranking and he had to accept the new reality. While he was still calculating and malicious, Datak learned a bit of humility and had to swallow his pride.

The next storyline followed Datak Tarr’s son Alak (Jesse Rath), who is a lot like Michael Corleone. He doesn’t want anything to do with his family’s criminal business and would just be fine doing his DJ job and caring for his human wife, Christie (Nicole Munoz). But as shown in the second season, the two have had marital problems. He cheated on her while Christie struggled in trying to be accepted into his family and had to adopt their alien culture. She even went so far as to secretly cross-dress as a Castithan at an underground nightclub. Her father Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene) also had to deal with having Castithan in-laws out of necessity. Once a prominent mine owner and a rival to Datak, Rafe had his mining business and home taken away by the E-Rep. This forced him to an uneasy alliance with Datak as he sought weapons for an insurrection.

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Niles Pottinger (James Murray) is the town’s provisional mayor and the face of the E-Rep in Defiance. As a representative of the E-Rep, he doesn’t have the town’s best interest at mind and has a sordid past. Throughout the season he contends with keeping things running smoothly in the backwater town and with courting the town’s former mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz). Now, she is forced to take over her younger sister’s brothel (after she was killed by Stahma in the first season) and reluctantly accepts a position as Pottinger’s advisor. In this season, Amanda struggles to make peace with her fallen status, while agonizing over her sister’s disappearance and finding out she was killed. Continue reading

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New Doctor Who Off To A Mundane Start

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Peter Capaldi made his debut as the new Doctor in “Deep Breath”, the season premiere of Doctor Who. Unlike the two other modern regenerations we’ve seen, this debut episode of a new Doctor had a very different tone.

To be blunt it was rather underwhelming.

This verdict doesn’t have anything to do with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, it would be harsh to judge him solely based on this episode. On the other hand, when new actors took over the role of the famous Time Lord, they left very deep impressions. who horseCapaldi’s Doctor doesn’t have any particular quirks or kinks about him and that was a shame. Yes, in the new episode “Deep Breath” the Doctor was characteristically confused after his regeneration at the end of the special “The Time Of The Doctor”, but Capaldi seemed to be just going through the motions. It felt like when he was spouting off disjointed lines about not knowing his hands or talking to a dinosaur that he was just acting.

Even as he settled into the role later into the episode it was very clear that this Doctor would be more subdued and less flamboyant, eccentric or even energetic like the three previous actors to play the Doctor.

It’s a change of pace, but it may turn off some Doctor Who fans who were used to fast-talking and goofy Doctors, which were so endearing.

But Capaldi’s interpretation of the Doctor wasn’t what was offkey about the episode “Deep Breath”. Rather, it was the story itself.

As stated in the opening, this debut of a new Doctor was decidedly different. It was more low key and unfortunately mundane at times with its center being an uninteresting mystery taking place in Victorian-era London.

The episode starts with the Doctor’s Victorian compatriots the Paternoster Gang: the reptilian Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her wife Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and the warrior Strax (Dan Starkey) witnessing a rampaging t-rex in downtown London. The dinosaur coughs up the Doctor’s space/time vessel the Tardis and that is how the Doctor and his Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) first appear in the episode.

dinnerAn interesting start, but then “Deep Breath” dovetails when the new Doctor (the 12th? Wouldn’t he be the 13th if you count the War Doctor? Or is he a reset?) starts rambling about in a forced manner at his friends’ residence. Clara is trying to grapple with the fact that the Time Lord she knew and loved (Matt Smith) is now morphed into this noticeably older and confused man. Seeing the two of them together with the in-your-face age difference was jarring to watch and the dynamic between the two feels strained.

After a few uncomfortable scenes of that, the story shifts to this cyborg (Peter Ferdinando) going around abducting people to cannibalize them for parts. This part of the story was rather predictable and mundane. Even the listless fight sequences between the cyborg’s army and the Paternoster Gang wasn’t interesting to watch, nor was the confrontation between the Doctor and the cyborg.

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“Deep Breath” did come to life near the end of the episode when a certain character made a surprise appearance. As welcome as it was, the cameo served to remind Clara (and the viewers) to learn to accept the new Doctor and to support him. However, the problem wasn’t accepting the new actor, but that his character deserved a better episode to launch his stint. It’s way too early to write off this understated version of the Doctor and some clips from the upcoming Doctor Who previews look intriguing. It’s just lamentable that the new Doctor is off to an unremarkable start.

Annette DeForrester

Top 10 Space Adventure Films

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Ever since the very first Star Wars film made its debut, sci-fi cinema has seen its fair share of space adventure or space opera films. Boasting brash heroes, larger-than-life villains, cool spaceships, exotic worlds, strange aliens and grand adventures, these films tried to recapture the magic of Star Wars. Admittedly, many of these were just poorly executed Star Wars knockoffs. But there are many gems that were nifty, exciting and had a lot of heart or were just so goofy that they’re fun to watch.

10. Battle Beyond The Stars: Despite its bargain-basement production values and other flaws, this film is arguably the best of the early grade-z Star Wars ripoffs. The script (by John Sayles) is an battle beyondouter space reworking of Seven Samurai with young Shad (Richard Thomas) setting out in a sentient ship (with a front shaped like a woman’s breasts!) to search for mercenaries to defend the peaceful planet Akir. The film features special effects done by James Cameron (yes, that James Cameron) and a score by James Horner that predates his work on Star Trek II.

9. Flash Gordon: This attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze by dusting off the famous Alex Raymond comic strip character is a campy delight. Football player Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) is hijacked to the planet Mongo and has to stop the planet’s ruler Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow) from destroying the Earth. The film doesn’t take itself seriously and it shouldn’t since its ladled with gaudy sets and costumes, cheesy special effects and a script with lines like “No! Not the bore worms!” Still, Flash Gordon is a great guilty pleasure to watch.

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8. The Fifth Element: Bruce Willis is your not-so-average Brooklyn taxicab driver in the 23rd century who is burdened with the responsibility to protect a beautiful but kooky damsel (Milla Jovovich) that is fated to save the Earth. The Fifth Element like so many of these films has a silly but infectious quality while being a thrilling joy ride chock full of weird aliens and a scene-stealing, out-of-left-field comedic performance by Chris Tucker. He plays a flamboyant talk show host that gets caught up in the pyrotechnic mayhem and his screaming adds to the laughs!

titan27. Titan A.E.: There are many animated space adventure films, but Titan A.E. is the best of them. This Don Bluth animated film takes place fifteen years after Earth was destroyed by aliens in the 31st century and humanity now lives as ragtag refugees in space. Salvager Cale Tucker (voiced by Matt Damon) sets out on a quest with his friends to find the Titan, a humongous starship that holds the key to humanity’s survival. Titan A.E. is energetic and awe-inspiring with eye-catching galactic visuals, which is why it’s an underrated animated classic.

6. The Last Starfighter: Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is your typical teenager looking for some excitement in his life. He gets it when he is unexpectedly whisked to the planet Rylos to join its Star League and defend it from enemy aliens. At the time of its release, one of The Last Starfighter’s selling points was its then-revolutionary CGI effects, which are woefully dated. It resonates to this day because of its heartfelt performances, sincere execution, and a central theme about a nobody filled with wanderlust who makes a difference.

5. Serenity: Joss Whedon’s directorial debut is a sequel to his cult TV show Firefly. Serenity reunites that show’s serenity moviecast and continues the adventures of quick-witted space cowboy Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his quirky crew onboard the space freighter Serenity as they stay one step ahead of the law in the ‘verse, the hated Alliance. The film carries on with the same endearing traits from the show such as witty banter, appealing characters with nuanced histories, and a believable and detailed ‘verse filled with high-tech and backwards colony worlds.

4. Avatar: Filmmaker James Cameron’s labor of love is a visually stunning and grand space epic with an imaginative and well-conceived Avataralien world populated with exotic aliens, flora and fauna. The planet Pandora looks like what it’s supposed to be: an alien world. This impression is sold thanks to its floating mountains, giant six-legged creatures and translucent forests. The story updates the standard sci-fi pulp adventure and follows Jake Scully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic who integrates himself with the planet’s Na’vi population via an artificially grown Na’vi body. Over time, he becomes their greatest protector and the stuff of legendary sci-fi space heroes.

3. John Carter: It’s too bad Disney dropped the ball in promoting this terrific adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter books. Taylor Kitsch plays the title john carter 2character who is a Civil War veteran that is transported to Mars (or Barsoom as the natives call it) and gets entangled in a grand adventure to save a beautiful princess (Lynn Collins) from a rival kingdom. John Carter was the quintessential space adventure film with haunting and wild alien locales, thrilling scenes, great special effects and a dashing hero. It captured the swashbuckling tone of Burroughs’ works perfectly, and although it died in the box office, it deservedly has its legions of fans.

guardians of G2. Guardians Of The Galaxy: Marvel Studios’ entry into the space adventure sub-genre is an exciting and fun-filled romp with very endearing heroes that captured our hearts. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) a.k.a. Star-Lord, the legendary outlaw (in his mind at least), teams up with a group of misfit alien thugs and killers to prevent an evil alien from using a power-enhancing stone to destroy the peaceful planet Xandar. Guardians Of The Galaxy perfectly balances drama, action and humor while displaying lovingly detailed out-of-this-world places from the pristine and futuristic Xandar to the seedy and raucous criminal outpost Knowhere. But most of all, the film has a sense of wonder and pulp-inspired fun.

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1. Star Wars films: Starting from the very first film (Episode IV: A New Hope or just plain Star Wars) in 1977 and continuing with the new installments coming our way, the Star Wars films are the epitome of space adventure/space opera epics. Even the flawed entries like Episode I: The Phantom Menace presented audiences with richly detailed and imaginative worlds and characters. star wars 3 shipsCapturing and enhancing the excitement from early sci-fi movie serials, they’re a tribute to those blustering sci-fi pulp adventures on film and print. More importantly, the Star Wars film changed the sci-fi film landscape forever thanks to eye-popping special effects, fast-moving, cliffhanger-laced stories and most of all, unforgettable characters like the Skywalker family, Han Solo, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Lewis T. Grove

Marvel Wins The Movie War…For Now, Part Two

 

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Marvel Entertainment has ruled the box office with its numerous hit films, especially those produced by Marvel Studios. Meanwhile, DC Entertainment and its parent company Warner Bros. while successful with TV and video game adaptations of the DC superheroes seemed to be asleep at the wheel in putting out film products to counter Marvel’s box office dominion.

Late Start

Around the beginning of this decade as Marvel Studios was blossoming what was DC Entertainment doing around this time? We got from them Green Lantern and The Dark Knight Rises. The former film didn’t perform to expectations and failed to resonate with fans and audiences. Green Lantern was hamstrung with weak villains, pedestrian storytelling, and for a film featuring a cosmic hero it was too Earthbound. On the other hand, the final film in Christopher Nolan’s DDark Knight trilogy was well received at the time of its release, but many grumbled that it was too ponderous, pretentious and its villain Bane (Tom Hardy) couldn’t compare to The Dark Knight’s Joker (Heath Ledger). What was noticeable was that Batman’s world seemed smaller and darker than the more light-toned Marvel Cinematic Universe. It seemed odd that Batman was the sole superhero around in Nolan’s films, although for The Dark Knight Rises’ plot of Gotham held hostage, that was a necessity. It was plain to see in the end that while the Batman films were hugely successful, they did not do anything to expand the DC Universe in film. So once that trilogy was completed there wasn’t anything to follow it.

Does all of this mean that it’s over for DC? Should they throw in the towel? Hell, no! They may be way behind Marvel at the moment, but they are gearing up for a new war that will start in March 25, 2016. The release of Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice is just the opening salvo. However, the failures of Green Lantern and The Dark Knight Rises in terms of creating a cinematic universe is why DC had to start over with Man Of Steel in 2013, already a few years behind Marvel Studios. That reboot of Superman and his mythos was successful, but it’s considered controversial by many fans who decried the character deviations, especially when Superman killed at the film’s end.

man of steelNevertheless, the film did begin an earnest establishment of a larger universe. Take the scene near the end when Superman (Henry Cavill) and Zod (Michael Shannon) fight above Earth and tear apart a satellite belonging to Wayne Industries. It was a nifty Easter egg, but it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment and the film should’ve done more. Imagine if a post-credits scene was shown where the near destruction of Metropolis is shown on a TV screen. The camera would’ve pulled back to show that the TV was in a cave and that Batman could be seen watching the disaster on TV. Or have the TV in a non-descript apartment where a certain green Power Battery could be spotted.

Regardless, Man Of Steel was DC’s first true attempt at establishing its own cinematic universe. Its Easter eggs may pale next to Iron Man with the Avengers Initiative scene, but it’s a start.

Broad Horizons Ahead For Both Companies

From March 2016 until 2020, DC has eight films scheduled for release. At this point, the general public doesn’t know which properties will be on the big screen aside from Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, but current rumors point to Shazam, Wonder Woman, the Justice League (finally!), a new Batman, and a proper sequel to Man Of Steel. DC and Warner Bros. should be commended for not rushing things unlike some other movie studios with comic book properties (looking at you Sony). This means that when the universe is finally presented it should be cohesive and well done.

dawn of justiceRegarding the recent decision to move Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice from May 6,2016 to March 25,2016, it may seem like an admission of defeat. One way of looking at it is that DC recognizes what a juggernaut Marvel Studios and its films have become and want to avoid direct competition. But it’s really a more strategic move by DC and Warner Bros. to ensure that Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice reaches the widest possible audience. That is why they moved up the film’s release date so it doesn’t have to compete with the third Captain America film. A lot of people wwomansalivated over the prospect over these two comic book titans going at it in the box office, but in reality such direct competition would hurt both brands. In this case, DC would have suffered more. Why? It’s likely that Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice would’ve won the match against the third Captain America film, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a proven brand with devoted followers and Captain America has risen significantly in popularity thanks to his last film. There isn’t any way that the third film would flopped; it would’ve earned a respectable amount of money in the matchup, enough for Marvel to declare a pyrrhic victory and claim their film held up well against DC’s better known characters. In the meantime, if Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice didn’t have super impressive opening box office numbers or heaven forbid came in second on the opening weekend, it would’ve spelled a PR disaster for DC and stifled their burgeoning cinematic universe. DC had more to lose than Marvel, so taking a page from their competitor’s strategy book, they positioned their centerpiece film in a less competitive time period where it’s guaranteed to score high.

With DC beginning its own universe, which at this point is still in planning stages, Marvel is charging avengers ultron posterforward with more film releases. Next year will see the eagerly anticipated sequel Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man. The following year we’ll get the aforementioned third Captain America film and on July 28, 2017 the Guardians of the Galaxy will return to theaters with a new film. Additionally, Marvel recently announced several release dates through 2019 for five more films in the MCU. No details have been released but the speculation is that these films may include sequels to Thor, the Avengers, possibly Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr. recently expressed interest in continuing to play Iron Man), and new properties like Captain Marvel, Black Panther, the Inhumans, or Doctor Strange.

A film based on the last character mentioned, Doctor Strange, also means that Marvel is branching off in yet another direction. Like with Guardians Of The Galaxy, which is actually a space adventure film, a Doctor Strange film would not be a traditional superhero film, but rather one that deals in the genre of horror and fantasy. The fact that Scott Derrickson has been hired to direct the film is indicative of its horror trappings since Derrickson’s resume includes horror films.

lineupGuardians Of The Galaxy and the upcoming Doctor Strange film point to how Marvel has won the Movie War because they’ve done so well with superhero films that they are now able to branch off into other genres. DC has tried doing this in the past with poor adaptations of Constantine and Jonah Hex. If DC’s film slate includes a rumored movie based on its fantasy property Sandman, then this would prove that DC is remaining competitive and moving beyond superheroes as well. Continue reading

Marvel Wins The Movie War…For Now, Part One

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Sorry DC Comics fans, but with the runaway success of the recently released Guardians Of The Galaxy film and the announcement that the upcoming film Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice won’t directly compete with the third Captain America film, it’s pretty clear that Marvel Entertainment has won the Comic Book Movie War over its rival DC Entertainment.

DC’s Early Success

For years DC was at the apex of comic book-based films thanks to Superman then Batman dominating the box office. Marvel wasn’t even a contender; it was consigned to bargain-basement FFshlock efforts like Captain America, The Punisher and Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four, which wasn’t even released. It seemed like Marvel just couldn’t get its act together and was floundering with its attempts to put something out into theaters much less TV. Meanwhile, DC had solid hits with its flagship heroes and films that although were flawed, were generally well received.

supe lexDC’s advantage was that it was (and is still) owned by the studio giant Warner Bros., which had the deep pockets to finance the superhero films. This was why the Superman and Batman films looked so good. In their day, they had big budgets with big-name stars, directors and the best special effects and production people working hard to put out quality efforts. The best Marvel could muster was getting Dolph Lundgren to star as the Punisher.

Fans asked for years where were the big-budget adaptations of Marvel’s best heroes? While Batman tore through theaters where was Spider-Man? Well, Marvel was just a comic book company then that went through many owners who didn’t know a thing about expanding into other media, specifically film and TV. Then there was the legal mess over who had the rights to produce a Spider-Man movie that was only resolved a couple of years before Spider-Man. By that time, Marvel had gone through bankruptcy and in order to raise money sold their coveted properties to different film studios. That is why properties like the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man aren’t made by Marvel Studios today.

Double-Sided Victory

Despite their overall success, DC still had some chinks in their movie armor. For every rousing Superman II or Batman there were undeniable stinkers like Superman III or Batman & Robin. Worse were truly abysmal films like Steel and The Return Of Swamp Thing that not only failed in the box office, but sullied the reputation of superhero films.

batmanDC Entertainment didn’t fully capitalize on the success of the Batman and Superman films. Yes, they did push forward TV adaptations of the Flash and Superman, but they should’ve concentrated on making quality films of their other properties. Instead they pooled all their efforts into Batman, which made sense since he’s their most popular superhero. But the problem with that approach is that when a Batman film falters it affects the rest of their line. And this is what happened with the release of Batman & Robin in 1997. That film strayed far from the winning dark and gothic formula that director Tim Burton used in the first two films and instead was a throwback to the campy 1960s TV shows. That silly approach used by director Joel Schumacher irked many fans who felt that Batman was a dark and serious hero and putting him in goofy situations was undignified. At the same time, DC was floundering with their attempts to reboot the Superman film franchise after the pitiful failure of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace back in the 1980s. A lull existed for DC superhero films that lasted from 1997 until 2004 when the DOA Catwoman was released. DC wouldn’t get back on its feet until the following year when Christopher Nolan’s reboot Batman Begins was unleashed.

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That film’s success did come with a price. Chiefly that Nolan’s unique and grounded Batman universe couldn’t have any ties to the rest of the DC universe. Hence no mentions of Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. Not even their home cities seemed to exist in Nolan’s dark and brooding world where costumed beings didn’t have true superpowers. As good as that was for the Batman films, it meant that DC couldn’t use them to introduce other heroes. That’s not to say they didn’t try expanding. There was almost a Justice League film made. George Miller was supposed to direct it and a cast was set, but the 2007-2008 writer’s strike ended that dream. Then everyone knows about Superman Returns and Green Lantern, two highly anticipated films that failed and left DC’s expansion efforts stillborn. Unfortunately, as these two films floundered Marvel Studios began its ascension.

The first few films based on Marvel properties were huge hits with the public and fans, some decried how they ignored fundamentals in core concepts. For instance, as Hugh Jackman became a big star for his portrayal of Wolverine, many complained that he was too tall and good looking. Others griped about why Spider-Man all of a sudden had organic webbing and never invented web-shooters. Then there were the misfires that were forgotten in the wake of the successes of Spider-Man 2 or X2: X-Men United. Those included Daredevil, Hulk and Ghost Rider. Continue reading