Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Roger Moore (1927-2017)

"Keeping the British end up, sir."
-The Spy Who Loved Me-
From a very early age it seemed this writer had the good fortune to have a mother that seemed to endlessly pick a series of film classics with which to visit in cinemas. All of them seemed to capture my imagination and influence and inspire this life of mine. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)was one of those films and it was the first Bond film I had ever seen. Could all of this be why it's my favorite Bond film ever? It's undeniably a great Bond film if you're a fan of the franchise and especially Roger Moore (1927-2017).
My mother, Florence, seemingly took me to some of the best cinema ever released as a youngster. Between my desire to see a film and her own seemingly oblivious good taste we seemed to score seats in theatres for all of the very best growing up.
Richard Donner's Superman (1978), Star Wars (1977), Blade Runner (Blade Runner) and of course The Spy Who Loved Me. (Okay Warlords Of Atlantis (1978) and Godzilla Vs. Megalon fell in the mix too). These were films that remain guides in this writer's life today. And it's not simply nostalgia. These were classic, wonderful films and Roger Moore's 007 was one of those characters that seemed to speak to the man in me with a passion for justice. His interpretation of the character was an important part of my formative years.
All my life I've sat on the sidelines cheering on Roger Moore's work as 007 only to watch him be torn down as James Bond lite or as some kind of unsubstantial Bond time and again. He was considered too funny. He wasn't serious enough. He wasn't bad ass enough. He didn't have an edge. He was too old in the end. Sean Connery was the superior Bond. Timothy Dalton was a much needed replacement. Rubbish. It's all elitist Bondian hogwash I say.
Moore was a superhero for a generation. He was suave, debonair and exuded cool and class. He seemed the smartly-dressed influence of a generation of 80s pop like Martin Fry of ABC. The guy was special.
My Bond, embodied by Roger Moore, was consistently brilliant as a British agent and sturdied and fortified a franchise for years to come. Moore played the part of 007 for over ten years (1973-1985) by starring in seven James Bond pictures: Live And Let Die (1973), The Man With The Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983) and A View To A Kill (1985).
Most of the aforementioned films rank among my favorites. The Spy Who Loved Me remains this writer's favorite of the franchise. Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only come in as penultimate classics.
And to further underscore the Moore's talent he brilliantly played the role Simon Templar in The Saint (1962-1969) for six season on TV.
This only scratches the surface of the man's work and his philanthropic generosity.
Sadly, three years after the death of his films' arch rival, Jaws, played by the late Richard Kiel, Moore is gone and this fan is sad to see him go. We'll be forever grateful for those seven films Moore delivered as James Bond and having such a colorful influence on this life.
Roger Moore was 89 years of age.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

John Hurt (1940-2017)

"My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today."
- Hazel (voiced by John Hurt), Watership Down-

Sadly, this writer is spending way too much time saying goodbye to artists he's loved across a lifetime.

Catching up on the losses of 2017 another big,big man lost in January of this year was English actor John Hurt (1940-2017).

You want to talk about a prolific performer. Hurt was in demand and always busy.

For me and for many science fiction fans, and likely the general film going population, Hurt may best be remembered for his unenviable chest burster sequence as Kane in director Ridley Scott's classic Alien (1979).

Yet film fans will certainly recollect their favorites when it comes to Hurt. Personally, I'm by no means a Hurt connoisseur, but I'd like to offer a selection of some of his performances that I recall fondly and that hurt so great.

Alan Parker's Midnight Express (1978), Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980), Sam Peckinpah's The Osterman Weekend (1982), Michael Radford's 1984 (1984), Michael Caton-Jones Scandal (1989) and Rob Roy (1995), Jim Sheridan's The Field (1990), Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) and Hellboy (2004).

Let us also not forget his voice contribution to Martin Rosen's fantastic and gorgeous animated features Watership Down (1978) and The Plague Dogs (1982). And the list goes on and on. These are but just a few films that resonated with me through the years.

Hurt even portrayed the War Doctor in TV series  Doctor Who (2013). He also filmed scenes as a key character in the unaired Pilot for the awesome and extremely underrated TV series The Strain (2014). That would have been interesting to see.

And yet, this is but a sampling of his immense and exceptional work. It's sad to see him go.

And then there are the films that never see the light of day.

On a personal note, I recall being in Ireland in 1995 and sitting across from him in a pub and even earlier in the day at a fish and chips shop by the ocean in County Cork in a place called Ballycotton. He was filming a movie with Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando that never saw the light of day. I was so star struck upon seeing the man sitting next to me I didn't have the nerve to say hello, but it was definitely like sitting next to a living legend for me. We literally breathed the same air and shared a lager (sort of) just feet away later in the evening at Stephen Pearce pub in the same small Irish village. He was surrounded by a few adoring ladies. He's easy to adore. My upbringing to respect people's space kept me from crossing that line. Oh well, I still have his films along with that quiet moment.

So it's sad to see another great go. His performances speak for themselves. He was that rare and special talent.

The charitable John Hurt was just 77 years of age.


Bill Paxton (1955-2017)

"I didn't think it was a whale's dick honey."
-Chet, Weird Science-
"That's it man. Game over man. Game over! What the fuck are we gonna do now? What are we gonna do?"
-Private Hudson, Aliens-

It seemed Bill Paxton was given endless dialogue to chew or at least some of film's most memorable lines. Paxton never wasted an opportunity to get our attention. Carpe Diem. He seized the day as an actor and was rewarded for it with wonderful contributions to film an television before his untimely passing.

It's never too late to pay tribute and say goodbye to a talent that had such an influence on my young life in pop culture or in my more discerning moments as an adult.

Bill Paxton (1955-2017) was a superbly talented man and, like so many, we will miss his presence in film and television.

Since this is such a distinctly personal place to write this writer would like to make mention of some major Bill Paxton highlights.

The list of his films and television appearances are many and vast. There are even science fiction films like the forgettable Predator 2 (1990), Thunderbirds (2004)  and The Colony (2013) in which he starred that disappointed, but never as a result of his own contributions. He made every part special and his own. And there are still numerous other works that are solid with some being exceptional.

These are the film that rank very high or essential on the list of must see Bill Paxton films here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic. James Cameron's The Terminator (1984), John Hughes' Weird Science (1985), James Cameron's Aliens (1986), Carl Franklin's One False Move (1992), Walter Hill's Trespass (1992), Tombstone (1993), James Cameron's True Lies (1994), Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan (1998), Bill Paxton's own self-directed Frailty (2001) and Doug Liman's Edge Of Tomorrow (2014).

In television he played the crucial role of Bill Henrickson for five seasons of the exceptional HBO's Big Love (2006-2011).

Heck, the man was so beloved people penned blogs with his very name in the title of those blogs as tribute and inspiration. Think The Paxton Configuration just for starters.

Bill Paxton, so sorry to see you go. I know I'm going to miss you.

He was just 61 years of age.

These are just a few highlights from Weird Science (recorded over the weekend), a film that essentially helped navigate us through high school. Bill Paxton and John Hughes what would we have done without you?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Knights Of Sidonia S1 E5: Adrift

"You should do whatever you have to do to survive in any situation."

Japanese manga artist Tsutomu Nihei has created some pretty dynamic, eye-popping artwork. The manga artist is the brains behind Biomega (2004-2009), Noise (2001), Blame! (1998-2003) and of course, our spotlight here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic, Knights Of Sidonia (2009-2015).

With the release of Netflix original animated film, Blame! (2017), and to celebrate the work of Nihei, it was time for another look at the anime adaptation of his soon to be heralded classic. Knights Of Sidonia (2014-2015), by Sadayuki Murai and director Kobun Shizuno, is something special and remains true to the Nihei manga. Murai would collaborate with Nihei for the Netflix film Blame!.

Thus far, the first four episodes of Knights Of Sidonia have delivered the perfect balance of action and character in the classic space opera mold but with plenty of twist. The latest installment offers another completely unexpected approach in style to science fiction conventions with which the series enjoys to challenge us.

Knights Of Sidonia, Season One, Episode 5, Adrift is here.

The story focuses almost solely on Shizuka Hoshijiro and Nagate Tanikaze.

Adrift in her orb-shaped escape pod following her defeat at the hands of the Guana Hoshijiro is rescued by Tanikaze.

Tanikaze's Garde unit is damaged and limited with a severed arm following his success in destroying the Guana as covered in Episode 4, Sacrifices here.

Tanikaze is warned not to proceed toward Hoshijiro's trajectory because it will take him away from the lifeboat vessel that is Sidonia unable to return safely. Tanikaze defies the odds to rescue Hoshijiro. He passes the point of no return.

Heroically Tanikaze reaches Hoshijiro's life pod. He exits his Garde now on reserve and back up power. Using a jet pack he makes his way to her pod to bring Hoshijiro back to his Garde unit.

Back at the damaged Garde unit Tanikaze, clearly smitten with Hoshijiro, and Hoshijiro with Tanikaze, take residence and the two work together to insure their mutual survival.

Adrift in space the two work their intellect to ensure survival manually attempting to restore the Heigus particle supply through a type of solar capture. The Heigus particle supply is what powers the Garde unit.

All of this happens appropriately in the quiet of space. The dead of space is never interrupted by annoying J-pop tunes or needless noise. The episode is effective for its embrace of silence as the two pilots simply exchange simple ideas and normal banter with nothing more than their own company. These quiet moments are quite beautiful.

The use of music is minimalist in approach if at all. It's affecting and quite reminiscent of Makoto Shinkai's exquisite Voice Of A Distant Star (2005) here.

The simple fact these two have one another further highlights just how alone an individual would be in space alone. It's not nearly as lonely with two.

The bravery of Tanikaze to rescue Hoshijiro speaks to his incredible character.

So often in anime there is this idea of a chosen one, both male and female. Some may be reluctant and not at all cock sure. You had reluctant pilot Shinji Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996). Thanks to director Hideaki Anno Shinji was a psychologically traumatized fourteen year old with serious parent issues but with some degree of skill or destiny.

The number of young male, never mind female, pilots in anime are almost too many to count. Reluctant, head strong, cocky. You name it and anime has it. Noah Izumi (Mobile Police Patlabor), Asuka (Neon Genesis Evangelion), Noriko Takaya (Gunbuster). The list goes on.

Tanikaze is skilled and well-trained but certainly not infused with confidence and bravado.

In live action film, you even have young Ender Wiggins in a film like Ender's Game (2013).

But here in Knights Of Sidonia, Tanikaze is determined and focused if not also in love.

Together the two assess their life support and estimate they have ten days between them. The two work in a very small compartment inside the Garde to stay alive.

Survival episodes in science fiction are often quite thrilling. UFO's Sub-Smash (1970), Battlestar Galactica's You Can't Go Home Again (2004) and Stargate Atlantis' Grace Under Pressure (2006) are just a few splendid examples.

At one point Hoshijiro sheds her suit and simply floats as she is able to gain sustenance from simply photosynthesizing. Naked and with Tanikaze turned away from her the two simply talk and the moments continue to fill in these character voids beautifully.

Breaking from the drifting couple, Adrift takes us back to Sidonia for some historical back story regarding the Gauna and the discovery of a mysterious pyramid-like structure with a substance called Kabi, the only known substance capable of penetrating a Guana core because a Guana will literally stick to it.

We also learn Captain Kobayashi and Lala Hiyama, the talking bear, are the last two surviving members of the original strike team 600 years ago placing them amongst the Immortals. Nagate's grandfather, Hiroki Saito, was one of the Immortals who went underground.

Intriguing, and this writer is not versed enough to make the connection yet if any, but a talking bear (not Lala) also appears in Tsutomu Nihei's manga Biomega (2004-2009) (see image below) complete with the hand hook. So there is indeed some cross universe mythology building from Nihei.

Also, the Earth was split in two by the Guana and may explain why survivors were launched aboard the seed ships.

And when the Guana came they were shaped like humans. This is a very Japanese theme. Think of the human-like creatures in Attack On Titan (2013-present) or the humanoid creatures of kaiju eiga like the one found in Daimajin (1966). Consider if you will the man in a rubber suit. There is something to these often humanoid features that speak to humanity's battle with itself. Knights Of Sidonia works with these very Japanese science fiction conventions.

And so, not surprisingly, Hoshijiro believes the Guana may desire communication, but because we are different and perhaps communicate differently are unable to work with us. This, again, speaks to humanity's own inability to communicate across cultures. And of course with one culture desiring to kill another or another with a hardened, unwavering belief system it makes healthy communication difficult.

Dehydrated and with time running out Tanikaze grows weaker due to an inability to photosynthesize. Hoshijiro filters her urine for water to nourish Tanikaze.

In the end the two young pilots are rescued by a full fleet of Garde units violating normal protocols to bring Tanikaze and Hoshijiro home. But why? Because Tanikaze is special.

Adrift works magnificently well as a simple lifeboat tale for two in the dead of space. It's simple, affecting and beautifully executed. Not to mention Knights Of Sidonia continues to be a gorgeously rendered animation with a wonderful color palette for space. This is animated science fiction at its very best.