content by

Alasdair Stuart

Guardians of the Galaxy Is A Story About Finding, and Choosing, Your Family

There’s a moment towards the end of classic British sitcom Spaced where Simon Pegg’s character, Tim Bisley, pleads with his landlady for forgiveness. The eventual scene where she forgives him, this being Spaced, involves a tank—but the first time Tim tries it, there’s one line that really strikes you, a line that’s repeated a few times in the final episode:

“They say the family of the twenty-first century is made up of friends, not relatives….”

Tim could have been talking about the Guardians of the Galaxy. (In fact, I like to think he probably is talking about them, right now, somewhere just off Meteor Street.) Guardians of the Galaxy may not be strictly a family film, but it’s one defined by family. The first two scenes alone set the stage as young Peter Quill, horrified and grief-stricken, refuses to see his dying mother for the last time. It’s a gut-wrenching moment, the last possible thing you’d expect at the start of an ostensible action-comedy superhero movie, and absolutely the opposite of every single opening scene we’ve seen in a Marvel movie. It shocks you, wakes you up, and is followed by a gear change that’s even more drastic.

[Read more]

Amazon’s Oasis Pilot: Thoughtful SF That Deserves a Series

There’s a point early on in Oasis, one of the contenders in Amazon’s new pilot season, which grounds the episode perfectly: Peter Leigh, a recently widowed priest with some serious concerns about his future in the church, has been functionally drafted onto the next mission to Oasis, the first interstellar colony. He has nothing left on Earth, so he agrees to go.

The technology that propels him into orbit is very clearly slightly modified Russian boosters. There’s the same tapered design, the same steppe-based launch facility and the same sense of Peter riding into orbit on the top of a very large, intensely combustible object that someone has only just finished soldering together. It feels real, and clunky, and untidy.

That realism is carried through to Oasis itself. When Peter arrives, he finds in short order that Oasis is not the lush One Percenter paradise it’s portrayed as back on Earth. The first thing that happens after he lands is that his descent capsule is immediately cut apart to use in building the colony. The second is that he’s told his ticket home will be available at the end of his contract. Still dazed, he finds himself in the midst of a colony that either doesn’t want him or is terrified that it may need him…because, as it turns out, founder Peter Morgan has disappeared and everyone is frightened to sleep. When they do, they see things: the worst things they’ve done in their past, transposed to the arid blank canvas of Oasis and desperate for attention…

[Read more]

Ode to The Master: A Brief History of Everybody’s Favorite Evil Time Lord (or Lady)

About a week ago, the BBC were forced to confirm that John Simm would be returning to Doctor Who to play The Master alongside Michelle Gomez’s Missy. While the manner of this spoiler damage control was colossally annoying, it’s led to a lot of fun speculation about just how well the two incarnations will work together. A lot of people are expecting a Master vs. Missy showdown, but, given the clear throughline of the character over the course of the show’s history, I think they’re going to get on like someone else’s house on fire.

Roger Delgado was the first actor in the role, appearing for the first time in “Terror of the Autons.” The character was set up, almost straight away, as a dark mirror of the Doctor. What made him especially interesting was how that gave context to the often mercurial, difficult-to-like Third Doctor. Where he was impulsive and at times dismissive, Delgado’s Master was calm, patient, and even likeable, in a way that made the Third Doctor’s emotional growth all the more powerful and, in turn, the Master’s lack of it all the more telling.

[Read more]

Why the Original Ghost in the Shell Remains a Cyberpunk Classic for the Ages

There’s a point towards the end of Ghost in the Shell where Major Motoko Kusanagi is in serious trouble. A Section 9 operation has gone horribly wrong and now she’s all over the TV news, caught on camera in the act of executing a young man in cold blood. Kusanagi is remarkably calm about this and while waiting to testify, she asks her boss Aramaki for a look at the draft of his defense. His response is:

“There is no defense.”

Kusanagi looks at him, surprised, angry. And he pushes.

“Is there?”

That question, and the complex ethical grey area that it illuminates, is the space that Ghost in the Shell inhabits. Right and wrong, honesty and deceit, human and machine. Every line is blurred. Every line is crossed.

[Read more]

Can Life Tackle Alien Horror Better Than Ridley Scott?

Alien casts a very long shadow. Ever since Ridley Scott’s movie came out (a frankly horrifying number of years ago), its long, spiky fingerprints have been all over science fiction horror cinema. People in jumpsuits, interpersonal conflict, a betrayal or three, a near total party kill, an action sequence in a near vacuum, aaaaaaaand scene! Relatively easy to replicate, not so easy to build upon, although several notables have tried. Personally, I like the hard left turn that Event Horizon takes into full-on horror, for example, but it’s an acquired taste.

So, if anything you do as a filmmaker is going to be compared to Alien or its ilk, you’re faced with two choices. Either do something as original as possible, or make the best possible version of the movie that people are expecting to see.

Life does the latter. And still throws in a couple of surprises along the way.

[Read more]

The Matrix Rebooted: Here’s Why We Need to Take the Red Pill and See Where This Goes

According to The Hollywood Reporter, a Matrix reboot is now in the works. Word is that Zak Penn (The Avengers, X-Men 2, other films of which we do not speak) is in place to write, Michael B. Jordan is interested in starring, and so far no decision has been made on just what form the story might take. There have been vague rumblings about a Morpheus or Trinity prequel but what seems more likely is a The Force Awakens-style “18 years later” do-over.

Firstly, yes, the original The Matrix was 18 years ago. I know. Me too.

Secondly, a Matrix reboot is that rarest of beasts: a reboot that’s not just good news, but may be required.

Here’s why.

[Read more]

Kong: Skull Island Is A Surprisingly Complex Story of War and Survival, and Also a Giant Gorilla

Kong: Skull Island is not the movie you think it is. Or rather, it’s not just the movie you think it is.

It is the latest update to the story of King Kong. You do get Skull Island (of course), you do get lots of Kong being a genuinely impressive frightening physical presence. You also get lots of other Skull Island denizens. There’s even a film camera rolling, although the footage is being shot for very different reasons than in the original King Kong.

All of this is handled very well, too—in fact, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and cinematographer Larry Fong have created what may be the definitive Skull Island. There’s none of the rubbery CGI that damaged the Peter Jackson version so badly, and every one of the island’s denizens has believable mass and physical presence. That in turn means that this Skull Island feels like what it should be: a horrifically dangerous place, almost chthonic in nature. There’s one moment in particular in which Chapman (Toby Kebbell, who also helped out on motion capture for Kong) sees Kong up close and personal, and it’s truly awe-inspiring. This Skull Island is an ecosystem like no other, and the characters, as well as the audience, are uninvited guests.

[Full review, with some spoilers, below…]

Logan’s Run (So Far): Why We Keep Watching Wolverine’s Solo Movies

This Friday, Wolverine’s time on movie screens comes to an end. For now. You can’t keep a good franchise down, and coating one in adamantium and unleashing its berserker fury pretty much guarantees a return for some version of everyone’s favourite grumpy Canadian at some point in the next couple of decades.

But not this version of him. Hugh Jackman and Sir Patrick Stewart, two of the anchors of the labyrinthine network of X-Men movies, are both stepping down with Logan. Early word is that it’s a fantastic, and very fitting, swan song, too—but, in order to get my head in the right place for it, I thought it would be best to re-trace James “Logan” Howlett’s cinematic steps through his solo. Here’s what I found.

[Read more]

The Best Locked-Room Mystery in Space You’ll Read All Year

Mur Lafferty’s Six Wakes opens with the single best locked-room mystery you’ll read this year. Maria Arena is a crewmember aboard the Dormire, an interstellar colony vessel. The Dormire is crewed by six people who will remain awake throughout the years-long journey. The idea is simple: As each crewmember ages and finally dies, they will be downloaded into a freshly grown clone body, with all the skills and memories they’ve acquired over their previous life downloaded from the mind map of each person kept by the ship’s computer. The system’s worked for decades—cloning has revolutionized culture on Earth and it’s a perfect way to maintain a crew’s presence on the Dormire’s voyage humanely (and without going all horrifically stalker-y like Passengers did).

Or at least, that’s the theory.

[Read more]

Realism, Honesty, and Joy: Remembering Bill Paxton

Bill Paxton was genre cinema’s Jimmy Stewart: a performer who simply didn’t know how to turn in bad work. If you wanted a character that would show up, react honestly, and push the movie along, you got Paxton. It’s no accident his career involves on-screen confrontations with the Xenomorphs, Predators, and a Terminator. It’s also no accident that he was so prolific—Paxton’s everyman quality meant he was a solid fit anywhere in a cast list. You wanted a villain? You got Paxton. You wanted a well meaning but doomed second hero? Paxton. Good old boy who was neither old nor especially good? Paxton. Patriarch tortured by the multiple demands of his job, wives, political career and church? Paxton. Blue-haired punk? Golf-obsessed detective? Loud-mouthed marine? You name it, Bill Paxton played it, and played it better than anyone else ever could.

[Read more]

Beyond Han and Chewie: Cassian Andor, Sacrifice, and Redemption

Even two months after the movie’s initial release, I’m still ruminating on the fact that there is more to every lead character in Rogue One than the script (which can be a bit cursory) might make you think: Jyn and Bodhi are the spiritual architects of the Rebel Alliance as we know it. Baze and Chirrut, besides being the best Gay Space Dads Ever, embody the fundamental faith and code of honour that the Empire can never destroy. And Cassian and K2S0 embody the redemption inherent in resistance (as well as being the closest the movie gets to giving us a Han and Chewie dynamic).

Given the events of act three of The Force Awakens and of A New Hope itself, a Han analogue was always going to be part of Rogue One. This is the universe of the Star Wars movies at their most lawless and fluid: the Empire closing its fist around the worlds of the Old Republic while scoundrels, thieves, and gangsters take what they can from the rapidly shrinking territory still left. That’s what makes Han’s journey through the original movie so compelling—he willingly and heroically sacrifices his own freedom and, potentially, his life, for something bigger than he is. Plus he looks awesome doing it.

[But Cassian is much more than just a Han Solo analogue…]

Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour Series: Delectable, Delightfully Deranged Urban Fantasy

Here’s the thing; every monster story is true. Vampires? Goblins? Werewolves? The weird gnarly stuff made entirely out of teeth that no one’s survived meeting long enough to write a TV series about? ALL OF THEM. All here, all right under our noses. Next to us on the subway. Ordering coffee ahead of us in Starbucks. Laughing too loudly at the new Resident Evil movie.

The obvious choice to take in a situation like this is to tell the story of the department that deals with all of these monsters. There’s a reason the Men in Black keep coming back after all, even if they won’t let you remember. There are a million stories in the urban fantasy city, and almost all of them involve how difficult it is being a monster, or a cop who investigates monsters, or a monster cop.

Enter Matt Wallace, stage left, with the world’s most badass collection of culinary professionals behind him.

[Read more]

Everything About The LEGO Batman Movie Is Awesome

You really should go see The LEGO Batman Movie if you can—not just because a lot of us really need some escapism right now, but because it’s one of the best Batman movies ever made.

Seriously. This, the 1966 Adam West-fronted Batman, the 1989 Tim Burton movie, and 2005’s Batman Begins are the ones to beat…and I’d rate LEGO Batman over two of those in a heartbeat. Not only is it endlessly funny (the jokes start before the picture does), but it’s extremely clever, draws from a bottomless well of Batman lore, and is genuinely sweet.

Oh and also? Best Barbara Gordon EVER.

[Read more]

From Alice to Zombies: Rewatching the Resident Evil Movies

The Resident Evil series is currently taking its final gore-soaked-slow motion-wirework-Kung fu bow. It’s quietly one of the oddest franchise success stories in horror, not least because it’s a six-movie series with a female lead in a genre where women still tend to appear either as victims or scenery with dialogue. But the franchise is also notable because of its odd relationship with its subject matter, its total inability to back away from a bad stunt, and for just how grim the films are.

To prepare for one last trip to the Hive, I pre-gamed the first five movies. Here’s what’s I found.

(Warning: Spoilers for all five previous Resident Evil films below.)

[Read more]

The Moral Compass of Battlestar Galactica: Remembering Richard Hatch

One of my earliest science fiction memories is the battered and well-loved VHS of the Battlestar Galactica movie that sat in our local video store. It was unlike anything I’d seen before: massive and epic and grim. The music was great, the ships were incredibly awesome and, occasionally, there were colossal space ants. I watched it over and over and, when the TV show hit the repeat circuit in the UK I did the same thing with that.

Starbuck was the coolest, of course, but other members of the cast held my attention, too—not the least of which was Apollo, played by Richard Hatch. He was dutiful and calm, the straight man to every single one of Starbuck’s jokes but, despite that, he held your gaze. It took me a while to figure out why, but when I did it was clear as day…

He was a good guy. A man of principle and honour and compassion in a universe that had precious little use for any of those things.

[Read more]