Top 10 Utopian Films

Star Trek future London

One of the niftiest things about sci-fi films are the eye-popping portraits of the future. Most recently, audiences were floored by the breathtaking futuristic cityscapes seen in Star Trek Into Darkness. Keep in mind, that for dramatic reasons, things may not be perfect in these futuristic utopias. In fact, sometimes with these paradises there are significant drawbacks about them and the cost of paradise is often steep. Still, from flying cars to robotic servants, these films best showed how humanity can create a future to strive for.

Buck Rogers in the 25th century10. Buck Rogers In The 25th Century: A utopian vision inspired by late ’70s deco! The pilot for the TV show was shown in theaters before the proper series started. Tackiness takes on a new meaning in this future society with wise-cracking robots, skin-tight outfits and cheesy sets. But thanks to unfrozen astronaut Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard), things like disco, basic military tactics and boogying down make a comeback!

9. Gattaca: Imagine a future with Gattacamodern architecture from the 1950s, turbine cars and where you get all the social and employment opportunities just for being you. Yes, you can live out your dreams…as long as you’re genetically pure. It’s a haven for the one-percenters. For the rest of us created the old fashioned way, well, we’re shit out of luck. But that doesn’t stop Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) from achieving his dreams in this tech noir thriller by passing himself off as one of the genetically pure.

I Robot8. TIE: I, Robot/Bicentennial Man: Both films dealt with the nature of evolving androids in the future. They featured sprawling and impressive skylines, servant androids, and nifty, futuristic vehicles. In lots of ways, life is the same as it is today in the films except with the technological advances. Life isn’t perfect and androids and robots must grapple with their civil rights. This is dramatically shown in I, Robot where the robots attempt a takeover. But overall, the futures in those films seem enjoyable.

Logan's Run apartment

7. Logan’s Run: More cheesy, ’70s-based, sci-fi trappings! Humanity’s remnants live in an underground city connected by a rail system, making it all look like something from Disney World’s Tomorrowland. In Logan’s (Michael York) futuristic society, life is pleasant and hedonistic with casual sex and drug use. No one has any cares except for their looks. The only drawback is that once you reach your thirtieth birthday, you’re euthanized.

6. Demolition Man: Welcome to San Angeles, a city rebuilt from Demoliton Man on patrolthe ashes of Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara. Along with clean streets and civil order, Taco Bell is the winner of the Franchise Wars and courteous behavior is strictly enforced. Also, crime is so rare that when a master criminal from our present (Wesley Snipes) is thawed out he creates chaos since cops in the future can’t cope. Enter John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), a roguish policeman from the same time period, who is also unfrozen in order to stop him.

meet the robinsons5. Meet The Robinsons: Young inventor Lewis time travels to the year 2037, which is a time period heavily influenced by Tomorrowland. There, he meets the wacky titular family and contends with a mysterious villain from his past. Lewis also experiences a colorful world filled with curvy skyscrapers, genetically enhanced frogs, flying bubble cars, robots and even cloned dinosaurs. It’s a bit like The Jetsons, but much cooler looking.

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey: Unfortunately, most of the nifty innovations and tech showcased in that monumental 2001 part 2film weren’t available by the time the actual year of 2001 came along. That year would’ve been better if we had some of the inspiring developments depicted in Kubrick’s masterpiece like space planes, commonplace space travel, a moon base, and super-advanced AIs. On second thought, we’re probably better off without the super smart and neurotic AIs like HAL 9000.

Minority Report

3. Minority Report: Director Steven Spielberg worked with futurists to create a believable and probable future stocked with stupendous technologies and inventions. Sure we have no privacy and eroded civil rights in Washington, D.C., circa 2052 thanks to the PreCrimes police force led by Jon Anderson (Tom Cruise). But take a gander at Minority Report’s amazing depictions of the future. Personalized holograms for customers in stores, electronic papers, glass-based computers, jetpacks, and robotically controlled cars that can scale walls. It all makes that future seem bearable to live in.

Hill Valley BTTF Future

2. Back To The Future, Part II: What’s not to love about the optimistic future seen in this follow up to the first Back To The Future? Start with the cool-looking flying cars that clog skyways. You can convert your old cars to fly for just $39,999.95; it’s a steal! Next move on to dehydrators, holofilms, dust repellant paper, and hoverboards by Mattel (just avoid using them over water. All these innovations were part of a whimsical look at Hill Valley, CA, circa 2015. Even the clothing is uber cool–power Nikes with auto laces and jackets that adjust to your size! Worried about crime? No need to, with lawyers being abolished, justice is swift and efficient. Just watch out for those tranks, lobos and zipheads!

Starbase 11. Star Trek films Beginning with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and continuing most recently with Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek films have shown audiences pleasant and sometimes astounding images of our future. From Earth all the way to deep in the galaxy, humans have made san franciscoincredible social and technological advances. Gone are war, disease and poverty. Innovations like faster-than-light space travel, transporters, replicators and holodecks enrich humanity. The Star Trek films also displayed an Earth in the 23rd and 24th centuries that look clean and pristine. Take a look at the dazzling cityscapes of London and San Francisco in the latest Star Trek film. They set the bar for breathtaking and enviable views of the future. Of course, humans have to deal with Klingons, Borg and other alien bad guys. But with the likes of James T. Kirk (William Shatner, Chris Pine) and Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), humanity can breathe easier. 😀

Lewis T. Grove

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Top 10 Stan Lee Cameos In Marvel Movies

One of the highlights for any Marvel film are comic book creator Stan Lee’s often humorous cameos. Some are better and more memorable than others. These are his best appearances to date in Marvel superhero films.

10. Security Guard With His Partner, Hulk: One of the very few highlights in this film was seeing Stan Lee and Lou Ferigno together as security guards who pass by Bruce Banner. And he actually has lines to speak unlike earlier cameos (and screaming “Look out!” as debris falls in Spider-Man doesn’t cut it).

9. The Pickup Truck Driver, Thor: During a segment where New Mexico locals try to move Thor’s hammer, Stan tries using his pickup truck to loosen the mystic weapon out of the ground without any luck.

8. Man In The Park, The Avengers: In the film’s final moments there is a media montage with reporters interviewing New York citizens about the Avengers. Stan is park visitor who scoffs at the idea of the Avengers. In his too-short appearance he remarks, “superheroes in New York? Give me a break!”

7. Army Officer, Captain America: The First Avenger: Stan Lee plays an army officer at an awards ceremony for Steve Rogers. After Rogers is called to accept the award,  a diminutive official informs an announcer that Rogers won’t be attending. Stan mistakes this guy for being Rogers and comments, “I thought he’d be taller.”

6. Man Drinks Hulk Juice, The Incredible Hulk: Bruce Banner’s gamma-irradiated blood accidentally spills into a juice bottle in a bottling plant that is later drunk by Stan. He reacts immediately to the drink and mutters “wow.” According to reports in the film, the juice had quite a punch!

5. Stan Lee As Hef, Iron Man: Now is Stan supposed to be playing famous Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner or is he only mistaken for Hef because of his wardrobe and gorgeous entourage? The debate goes on with this funny scene where Tony Stark addresses him as Hef when Stark arrives at a function.

4. Willie Lumpkin, Fantastic Four: Stan Lee actually plays one of the characters that he helped create in the Fantastic Four. Only fans of the comic book will recognize Stan as the Fantastic Four’s lovable mailman Willie Lumpkin; in the cameo he delivers overdue bills to Reed Richards in the Baxter Building.

3. The Librarian, The Amazing Spider-Man: His most recent appearance is a very funny one. A heated battle between Spider-Man and the Lizard spills over into Peter Parker’s high school library. Stan Lee plays an oblivious librarian to the chaos behind him because he is listening to classical music on his headphones.

2. Stan Lee Tries To Crash A Wedding, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer: Reed Richards and Sue Storm are holding a posh, invitation-only wedding in Manhattan. Stan Lee is prevented from attending by an usher because he’s not on the guest list. It was his funniest appearance and a recreation from Fantastic Four Annual # 3 where he and Jack Kirby aren’t allowed into the characters’ wedding.

1. Stan Lee Meets Peter Parker, Spider-Man 3: Peter Parker in the middle of swooning over himself early in the film encounters Stan as they both admire a news blotter on New York’s buildings about Spider-Man. He looks at Peter and tells him “I guess one person can make a difference. ‘Nuff said.” This is Stan’s best line spoken in these films and sums up a poignant philosophy that is at the core of his stories. Also, unlike other cameos it’s prominent and memorable.

On that note, one thing keeps glaring out with these cameos. Co-creators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko aren’t featured anywhere in these films. Of course, Kirby is no longer with us but they could at least feature a landmark named after him. Wouldn’t it have been cool if the Thing passed by the corner of Yancy Street and Kirby Avenue? Or if Peter Parker attended the Ditko Art Exhibit? Something the filmmakers can think about for future films.

Check out this video that features Stan Lee’s cameos:

José Soto

Top 10 Sci-Fi Movie Monsters

 

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When it comes to monsters, the science fiction genre has many worthy contributions. Whether they’re from outer space, developed in a lab or a byproduct of our amok science, sci-fi monsters have thrilled audiences for decades and will continue to do so. Here’s the ten best sci-fi monsters on film.

10. Giant Ants (Them!): Sure they look hokey by anyone’s standards, but that spooky noise the behemoth ants created is memorable and the film (about efforts to destroy deadly gigantic ants created by nuclear radiation) is one of the best examples of giant animal monster movies from the ’50s.

9. The Judas Breed (Mimic): Guillermo del Toro directed this underrated monster movie about a genetically engineered insect (a cross of a praying mantis and termite) that evolves to feed on humans in subways and alleys. The creepy insects do this by appearing somewhat humanoid in the dark to lure their prey. Vicious, deadly and hard to kill, the Breed are a classic.

8. Ymir (20 Million Miles To Earth): An alien egg is brought back by a space expedition to Venus and hatches in Italy. The hatchling soon grows to humongous proportions and goes on a rampage in Rome in this Ray Harryhausen masterpiece.

7. The Creatures from The Mist (The Mist): Yeah the ending was too bleak but the film’s extra-dimensional creatures that plague the trapped shoppers in the supermarket are truly terrifying. An army experiment breaks the seal between dimensions unleashing a mist filled with assorted deadly carnivorous life forms that spit out corrosive webbing, lay eggs on human hosts and are just outright nightmare inducing.

6. Godzilla (Godzilla, King of the Monsters): The ultimate statement of nuclear radiation being bad for the environment as atomic bombs awaken and mutate a gargantuan dinosaur that destroys Tokyo with its atomic breath and destructive might. The original is still the best and most dire film of this genre. Let’s not talk about that abomination put out in 1998 which starred that Ferris Bueller guy.

5. Brundlefly (The Fly): David Cronenberg’s AIDS allegory cleverly updates and amps up the horror in this remake of the ’50s film. Jeff Goldblum’s scientist Seth Brundle has his genes accidently spliced with a fly when he teleports himself, and the result is a hideous amalgamation of the two.

4. T-Rex and Raptors (Jurassic Park trilogy): Let the extinct stay extinct! That message comes across in this Steven Spielberg classic about cloned dinosaurs that break loose and eat people in a soon-to-be-opened island theme park. The effects were groundbreaking then and are still impressive as the T-Rex is shown to be the badass that it was and the velociraptors nearly upstage the tyrant king with their cunning and agility.

3. Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankenstein): Boris Karloff’s quiet and eerie portrayal of the creature created out of dead human body parts by Dr. Frankenstein is still unsettling. Some thanks should go to Jack Pierce’s makeup and the atmospheric directing by James Whale in this classic statement of humanity’s folly in trying to control nature through science.

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2. The Thing (The Thing): John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of Howard Harwks’ film from the ’50s set a standard in moody paranoia and gross creature makeup effects. Not having a defined shape, the chameleon-like alien found by a doomed Antarctic research teams mimicked any life form it encountered. Including humans. But when the movie shows the Thing in-between transformations as its body disgustingly twists and contorts, it strained any viewer’s fortitude.

1. Alien Xenomorph (Alien films): The uber-space monster. Designed by H.R. Giger, this creature truly looked alien with its elongated skull, double mouth, exoskeletal structure and acidic blood. It’s a unique iconic look that few monsters have been able to match. Add to the mix, the fact that it can blend into its surroundings and it’s just plaine frightening.  Of course, what brought the movie houses down was the bloody debut of the serpentine infant alien that literally burst out of poor John Hurt’s chest.

Honorable Mentions: The Cloverfield Monster (Cloverfield),  the alien Predator (the Predator films), Hulk (the Hulk films), the Mutant Bear (Prophecy), the Bugs (Starship Troopers), the Mutant Baby (It’s Alive), Rhedosaurus (The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms), and the Gill Man (Creature From The Black Lagoon).

José Soto

Top 10 Modern Doctor Who Episodes

For us Yanks across the pond the season finale of Doctor Who will air this weekend with “The Wedding of River Song.” That said, let’s look at the ten best episodes from the modern era which started with Christopher Eccleston in 2005 and is running currently with Matt Smith. This list will only include regular episodes, not the Christmas specials and other shows that have popped up over the years.

10. “The Girl in the Fireplace” The Doctor has a brush with romance (aside from the tension between him and Companion Rose Tyler) when he meets Madame de Pompadour via time portals on a derelict spaceship.

9. “The Eleventh Hour” Our first introduction to Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Karen Gillan as Amelia “Amy” Pond showed the kismet the two had as partners across time and space.

8. “School Reunion” Old-time companion Sarah Jane Smith (the late Elizabeth Sladen) returns to the Who-verse and it’s a joy to see her holding up quite well; the scenes where she and Rose (Billie Piper) exchange Companion stories were great.

7. “Bad Wolf/The Parting of The Ways” The Ninth Doctor’s swan song is epic without being too overblown and bittersweet while giving us one of the best modern Dalek storylines and radically changes the dynamic of the show.

6. “The Girl Who Waited” This one illustrates the danger of time traveling with the Doctor when Amy enters the wrong door in a planet and winds up trapped for over thirty years waiting for rescue while time passes by normally for her husband Rory (Arthur Darvill) and the Doctor.

5. “Human Nature/The Family of Blood” An amnesiac Doctor hides from predatory aliens out to feed on him by transforming into a human that falls in love; then we are given a glimpse as to how coldly vengeful the Doctor can be when he regains his memories and dispatches them.

4. “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” When the Ninth Doctor first appeared he was an angry, morose person but here he starts to lighten up in the second part of this creepy World-War-II era episode, which features great visual sights, frights and introduces Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman).

3. “The Doctor’s Wife” This Neil Gaiman-written episode has the TARDIS’ core matrix is transferred by an evil sentient asteroid into Idris (Suranne Jones) an enchanting, attractive woman who is dying. The asteroid transfers its mind into the TARDIS and tortures Amy and Rory as the Doctor and Idris (showing us a rare examination of their relationship) try to recapture the Time Lord’s ship.

2. “Utopia/The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords” A three-part epic that brings back Jack Harkness from Torchwood and re-introduces the classic Who villain The Master (played first by Derek Jacobi and then with devilish glee by John Simm) who is found literally at the end of time by the Doctor and Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman). Then he is reincarnated into a Tony Blair type of politician who infiltrates modern-day British politics and becomes Prime Minister, instituting a reign of terror.

1. “Blink” Any fan can see that guest star Carey Mulligan’s Sally Sparrow  is a prototype for Amy Pond. She’s pretty, smart, young and quite resourceful when dealing with the best of the new Who villains, the Weeping Angels. They appeared as angelic statues that steal a person’s temporal energy by sending them back in time, which they did to the Doctor and Martha. Trapped in the 1960s, the Doctor communicates to Sally via DVD Easter eggs, and the entire episode is a brilliant use of time travel and genuinely frightening villains. The last few seconds with the Doctor warning viewers not to blink are unforgettable.

José Soto

Top 10 Marvel Movie Villains

With Marvel’s superheroes blazing their way across movie screens, one factor for the films’ success is the supervillain(s) the heroes face. As any good storyteller will tell you, the vital ingredient for a gripping yarn is a formidable foe to put the story’s protagonist to the test.

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Being that the Marvel superheroes have such memorable enemies and that they translate well to the screen it’s one reason why the Marvel films have been successful. Naturally, with future Marvel films coming up, this list will change, but that’s part of the fun in making up these lists. So for now, these are the top ten villains to appear in Marvel movies…and the five worst.

Ivan Vanko10. Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2 (Mickey Rourke): Combining elements of Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo for the big screen, Vanko is a cold, deadly and enraged Iron Man foe who was much more engaging than the original film’s Obadiah Stane or this one’s Justin Hammer.

9. Emil Blonsky/The Abomination in The Incredible Hulk (Tim Roth): Come on, the guy had the balls to go up against the Hulk man to man! That’s one tough SOB, and yes when he becomes The Abomination and fights the Hulk it looks like something out of  a video game. But it was a lot more fun than that turgid Ang Lee film.

8. Bullseye in Daredevil (Colin Farrell): One of the bright spots in that film, Bullseye had a maniacal sense of energy, ego and deadliness that upstaged Daredevil and gave him a personal motivation for trying to defeat the title hero.

7. The Red Skull/Johann Schmidt in red skull hugo weavingCaptain America: The First Avenger (Hugo Weaving): A bit one-dimensional but well-played by Weaving  as an uber Nazi whose ambitions elevate his evil to another level altogether.

green goblin spidey 16. The Green Goblin/Norman Osborn in Spider-Man (Willem Dafoe): The outfit stunk otherwise the Goblin would’ve ranked higher. Dafoe, however, gives Osborn his all as a crazed CEO with fantastic gadgets and (aside from the outfit) largely works as a villain.

5. Col. William Stryker in X2 (Brian Cox): Despite not having any powers, Stryker is one terrifying person whose bigotry and fear of mutants is a driving force that threatens the lives of the film’s mutants whether they’re hero or villain.

4. The New Goblin/Harry Osbron in new goblinSpider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 (James Franco): A true tragic villain, Harry doesn’t become bad until the end of Spider-Man 2 where the agony of his father’s death and his own inadequacies unhinge him. His hatred for Peter Parker/Spider-Man, the means he goes about seeking vengeance and his final tragic redemption are the best things in the third Spider-Man film.

doctor octopus3. Doctor Octopus/Otto Octavius in Spider-Man 2 (Alfred Molina): The best of the science-driven-mad villains. Molina gives us a very dimensional Doc Ock who isn’t driven by world conquest or revenge but to achieve a scientific goal. Never mind that trying to create his version of fusion threatens the world. Calculating and arrogant even before his accident, Octavius paid the price for his arrogance and was a formidably tough foe for Spider-Man.

2. Loki in Thor (Tom Hiddleston): One loki in thorof the biggest surprises wth Thor is how subtle and crafty Loki came off. It would’ve been easy with a title as God of Mischief to have him be a Norse god version of The Joker and be cackling and chaotic. Instead, thanks largely to Hiddleston’s quiest expressions, Loki is seen sympathetically as the seemingly less-favored son who holds a secret grudge against his brother Thor. The film successfully shows why Loki detests his situation and why he turns on his family; it’s more layered than him finding out his true origin. Rather his envy and anger are due to his own insecurities, Thor’s arrogance and is his validation for taking over Asgard through crafty means.

old magneto1. Magneto/ Erik Lehnsherr in X-Men, X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand ( Ian MacKellen): As one of the deadliest and most powerful villains, Magneto is someone you can’t help empathize with considering his background; he’s a World War II concentration camp survivor. He developed a hatred for non-mutants who persecuted his own kind,  thus making him feel justified in his actions against society. Magneto was usually one step ahead of Professor X and willing to go the extra distance to achieve his goals whether it involved harming a young girl or firing a gun point blank at a cop with his magnetic powers. Despite his age, Magneto was someone to take seriously as a foe and was also the mirror image, in terms of idealogy, of Professor X’s dream of peaceful co-existance with humans. Sadly, many of humanity’s actions throughout the original trilogy only added fuel to his cause and made viewers wonder as to who was truly evil or misguided.

new magnetoSpecial shout outs in no particular order go to Mystique (Rebecca Romijin Stamos) in the X-Men films, Venom/Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) in Spider-Man 3, The Kingpin/Wilson Fisk (Michael Clarke Duncan) in Daredevil, Jared Nomak (Luke Goss) in Blade II, and Magneto/ Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) in X-Men: First Class.  Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto was good enough to make the top ten list but for most of the movie he is actually an anti-hero who only becomes truly villainous by the film’s end.

And now for the five worst. Before getting to the these turds let it be noted that all it takes to sink a film (sometimes singlehandedly) is a poor villain. When coming up with a screenplay attention must be paid to the villain’s motivation, execution and threat level. It’s a hard thing to pull off; when it works you have a great movie when it doesn’t you have a franchise killer. So here they are, the Marvel movie villain Hall of Shame inductees:

5. Howard Saint in The Punisher (John Travolta): You know as a villain you’re in trouble when the colorful assassins you send after the Punisher like the Russian are more interesting than you.

4. Toad in X-Men (Ray Park): Talk about hamming it up! That scene at the Statue of Liberty when Toad tries to mock Storm with his silly dancing earned him a good lightning strike that ensured that he didn’t return in the sequels.

3. Blackheart/Legion in Ghost Rider (Wes Bentley): Boring, boring, boring! Generic demonic foe that looks more like a goth reject than the son of Mephisto. His father was a more intriguing foe yet this film chose to focus instead on this bratty emo.

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2. Dr. Doom/Victor Von Doom in Fantastic Four (Julian McMahon): This is miscasting at its worst. McMahon was terrific as the narcissistic plastic surgeon in Nip/Tuck but lacked the gravitas to be Marvel’s most infamous and regal villain. Everyone expected an Eastern European despot but got your standard egotistical CEO and coming so soon after Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin performance it just drew unfavorable comparisons. In trying to tie his origin with the Fantastic Four and making him a mutated being, this film robs the character of his rich backstory and menace. In this film he’s just a poor Goblin/Magneto/Electro knock-off. He was more like his comic book counterpart, power-hungry and more Machiavellian in the sequel but that film’s awfulness wiped out any improvement made to Doom’s character.

1. Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: Destroyer of worlds, nearly omnipotent, a force of nature personified by a giant being with that wonderfully whacky Kirby outfit, that is how fans conceive of Galactus. Do we get this on film? No! We get a cloud. A stormy cloud. Seriously how lazy is this? What’s equally laughable is the filmmakers’ attempt to explain why they went with a cloud, apparently they wanted to leave it up to whoever did a Silver Surfer film to have a free reign designing Galactus. All this did was help to scuttle that film and any followups to the Fantastic Four. The execution reeks of not being imaginative and/or having a limited f/x budget. It was the ultimate payoff that never happened and signified the film’s problems. There was too much going on in the movie to adequately explore the most famous Fantastic Four story, it would have been better to end it with a cliffhanger even if it never happened. It would have left less of a bad taste.

José Soto