Capsule Reviews: Arrival, Doctor Strange, Shooter, Star Wars VII

Arrival, which  should be re-titled “Dead on Arrival,” is one of the most boring alien invasion-time travel paradox films I’ve ever seen. Decent acting, really juvenile direction, terrible script (calling it a script makes me gag a little) and an incredible number of repeated long track shots that I think were supposed to introduce tension but were really, really boring. The time travel twist – well, that would give away the plot – IS a real brain teaser which (hint) has something to do with the order of events as presented in the film.









Doctor Strange wasn’t one of my favorite comic book heroes when I was growing up, and he hasn’t improved with age. He’s still a prick. The plot for this episode (I’m sure they are planning to inflict sequels on us) also depends on a time travel paradox, only, this time, the paradox is so non-evident as to be non-existent, which is only fair because there are no time paradoxes, time travel being impossible regardless of what Steve Hawking thinks. However, the spectacular special effects (which, honestly, are neither that spectacular nor overly impressive) appear to have been leftover from “Inception,” Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2010 science fiction mind bender. I’m pretty sure some of them were actually outtakes from that much better dr-strangeChristopher Nolan film.







Which brings me back to an older release, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, a film that wasted no great expense on its special effects. In fact, they look almost as hokey as the special effects in the original series.

star-wars-viiQuestion: How many times does the Force have to awaken, and why does it keep going to sleep? And why did Disney think it would be good idea to dust off the original script from the first Star Wars film (Episode IV if you are keeping score,) perform a sex change on Luke Skywalker, turning him into a female Jedi prospect named “Rey” (played by the really excellent newcomer Daisy Ridley) and then reincarnate bad boy Han Solo into a renegade black storm trooper, also well-played by John Boyega.

Ridley and Boyega are in on the joke, and both play their characters for the laugh potential. Ridley, who appears to have some acrobatic skills, runs everywhere with her arms akimbo, elbows sticking out, which is really funny once you realize that she is doing it because it is funny and not because she has a birth defect.  (I wonder if she came up with that or if the director did.)

Boyega actually splits the Han Solo character with Oscar Isaac, who plays Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron, with Boyega playing the reluctant hero aspect of Han Solo’s character, and Dameron playing the bad boy fighter pilot.

Ridley, Boyega, and Dameron will, of course, reprise the original love triangle between Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), the original Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), with the additional complication that Boyega, being black, introduces a deeper racial element into the Star Wars plot,

In fact, just about the only character who isn’t coming back is Han Solo himself, who manages to get himself killed by his son, Kylo Ren, renegade Jedi student, abjectly played by the terribly miscast Adam Driver. Kyolo Ren is supposed to be standing in for Darth Vader, but he doesn’t have Darth Vader’s ominous presence. In fact, like Driver, he is downright boyish, this Vader knock-off lacks the physical presence of the original Darth Vader, David Prowse, a former Mr. Universe, who suffered the double misfortune of having his lines dubbed by James Earl Jones, and his face doubled by the late Sebastian Shaw, who is the actor we see when Darth Vader’s mask is finally removed.

Will this stop me from seeing Star Wars VIII? Of course not. I will keep seeing them as long as they keep making them and I keep breathing. That’s just what you do when you are a science fiction writer, as I am, sometimes.

shooterShooter is a new USA Network series adapted from a Mark Wahlberg film of the same name which in turn was adapted from a novel by Stephen Hunter. (Wahlberg is producing the series.)

I was looking forward to this one, until shortly after the beginning of the first episode, when the protagonist, a former Marine Corps sniper from the Gulf War era (in the original novel, he was of Vietnam vintage), says that he heard the shot that shatters his leg before he felt the bullet strike.
Sniper rifles fire round at around 1500 feet per second. Sound travels at around 1125 feet per second…which really ruined the series for me. My father taught me that many years ago, when he told me that you never hear the bullet that kills you.

Stephen Hunter, who knows a thing or two about firearms, makes a cameo appearance as the gun dealer who sells the protagonist his shooting supplies, appears not to have script oversight. The rest of the pilot was a really poor, second-hand remake of a film that really wasn’t good enough to be remade in the first place.

Shooter is one of those movies that, like The Crying Game or Bruce Willis’ The Sixth Sense, depend on a gimmick that leads to a surprise ending….and, once you know the gimmick, the film loses its kick, but this Shooter didn’t have one to begin with.

designated-survivorThis week’s roundup ends with a mini-review of Kiefer Sutherland’s new ABC Network series, Designated Survivor.  If you have somehow missed the promos for this one, Sutherland suddenly becomes president of the United States because, as the designated survivor, he was kept away from the Capitol during the State of the Union address, which blows up, killing all but one Congressman, who “miraculously” escapes immolation with the rest of the ruling élite.

What is most interesting about this show isn’t the acting (which is pretty good), or the direction, which is all right, or the writing.  No, the problem with this show is the basic premise, the idea that the United States of America is stupid enough to gather the entire ruling élite of the nation, the president, vice president, cabinet, the Supreme Court, and the Congress together in one place at a previously announced location.  What could go wrong?

Oh, right. Terrorists could blow up our entire government with a few well-placed explosive devices, but isn’t that plot device  too far-fetched even for Hollywood… wait a second….oh right: That’s exactly what we are going to be doing on January 20th, 2017, as the United States inaugurates Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States.

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