Sunday, November 24, 2013


I hadn't really considered writing another lists post but the gauntlet, as they say, has been thrown down ... and I'm not sure who "they" are but they must be pretty fricking old because who the hell wears gauntlets anymore

Anyway. Ahem.

The movie Gravity has been inspiring many people to compile a new list. I've seen the movie (and more on that later) but if you have not, it gives nothing away to explain that it happens in outer space, in orbit around Earth and in several space craft/space stations. It's inspired lists about the best space movies  .. and therein lays a problem.

Space movie is a term that is open to interpretation. It could include any move where activity takes place in space, Star Wars for instance, where scenes take place on space ships and space stations but also take place on planets. Fair enough, but what distinguishes Gravity is that it is an "outer space" movie, where the action takes place in orbit, on a ship or a station or during a space walk.

So my list is the best Outer Space movies. To make the list the bulk of the movie has to take place on a space ship, or a space station, or anything with a self contained atmosphere, either in orbit or travelling. If the movie has scenes where someone leaves the enclosure in their space suit even better. So Forbidden Planet, one of the greatest sci fi movies ever made, doesn't make the list because only the opening scene takes place on a space ship and, as the title suggests, most of it takes place on a planet. Same with another fave of mine, Pitch Black; a space movie wherein the characters travel through space to reach their destination but their destination is a planet and that's where most of the action takes place

Aliens does not make the list; it is a great sci fi movie but most of the action occurs planetside.

ALIEN however is where we'll start the list (I don't number my lists and the order is not necessarily a ranking though I'll save the best for last)

Alien has many of the fixtures of a horror movie in particular the haunted house movie; people trapped in a limited environment and pursued by some terrible entity. But it really is a science fiction movie and I just don't mean the space ships and alien; with the inclusion of the character of the synthetic human Ash, it examines what it means to be human, one of the quintessential sci fi themes. Also one of the first sci fi movies that didn't look at the space faring future as something shiny and perfect; this is a well worn gritty future where the space men aren't square jawed noble explorers but sweaty lunchbox workers who squabble over profit shares. Most of the action takes place aboard the spaceship Nostrodomos so it qualifies nicely for this list. And it really takes advantage of the locale; the crew is not just in a house out of which they could flee, they are trapped inside the only atmosphere in range that can support their life; a fact that Ripley uses to her advantage to kill the alien

OUTLAND is another sci fi movie that presents us with a grittier, funkier version of the future. I have not seen this movie on any of the lists I mentioned which I find shocking, because not only does it perfectly meet the criteria of a space movie, it's a pretty satisfying film

Outland is essentially High Noon in outerspace, featuring Sean Connery as an unwanted, princalpelled sheriff on an orbiting mining station. Like Alien, much of the film's appeal is its gritty look; this is not a gleaming future filled with exotic worlds and double sunsets, this is a squalid, dirty, dangerous mining station where people go to make a living, not to discover new life. And like Alien, it is quick to point out the danger of working in space, an early scene shows us why, kiddies, we must always make sure our space suits our sealed. There is also a scene later in the movie where Conery's character dons a pressure suit and goes outside the station, in open space, to evade his pursurers

LOCKOUT is another law and order movie that takes place in space. It is a prison movie, and this prison happens to be in orbit around the Earth

Lockout is an action movie and much of it is fairly derivative, Guy Pearce plays a kind of rogue agent sent up to the prison undercover to rescue the president's daughter ... and if that sound a lot like Escape from L.A., you'd be totally correct. But it's a fun move, a fun B movie, not terribly concerned with the science of things but it moves at a good pace and Pearce is bang on as the cynical, goodguyunderneaththeclineastwoodshell. And it does feature a scene where characters leave the space station in suits ... an incredibly unbelievable scene but it's at the end and if you've hung on that long, you really don't care, nor does it matter

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is not an action movie and not technically a horror movie but it's pretty damn scary and I don't just mean Keir Dullea's totally wooden performance

This may be, in a sense, the ultimate out space movie. This is one of the most cerebral sci fi movies ever made ... or one of the most vapid. The cerebral part comes from director Kubrick's use of visuals to depict some fairly deep concepts, like how we time travel as we age yet can never appreciate that until it's too late; the vapid part comes from Keir Dullea's gaze. But it is very much a space movie, with most of the action taking place in and outside of space ships; these scenes still look good today which is amazing because they were created without CGI, but with the remarkable model work of Douglas Trumbull

Speaking of Douglas Trumbull

SILENT RUNNING was a movie not only directed by Trumbull, it was one of the first "green" sci fi movies ever made ... but make no mistake, this is also an out space movie

In this movie, Bruce Dern (in essentially a one man show) strives to protect the last forests on Earth .. well from Earth .. the forests are no longer on our planet, they are in giant domes attached to a typically eloquent Trumbull space ship. The big bad government back on Earth wants the domes to be destroyed but of course Bruce Dern refuses to do so .. hey it's Bruce Dern, counterculture actor supreme. Did that expect total cooperation? The entire movie (as I remember it) takes place aboard the ship

2010 THE YEAR WE MADE CONTACT is another movie I have not seen on many lists and that puzzles me

This sequel to 2001 fits the criteria perfectly; most of the action takes place in space, on space vessels and astronauts spend a good deal of time in their pressure suits out in open space. It's a good movie. It does not have the surreal aspirations nor the pyschadelic style of 2001 but that's not a bad thing. It is a well made, well acted movie that, in my opinion, cleaned up some of the ideas of the earlier movie while providing just as many thrills

SOLARIS, like Space Odyssey, is a space movie with, shall we say, aspirations.

I'm going to talk about the American version of this movie, released in  2002, that was based on a older Russian film that was in turn based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem. I tried reading that novel a long time ago but I didn't get all the way through it and I've seen the Russian movie. This is a psychological thriller but also a space movie, the action taking place on space stations orbiting Earth and orbiting the planet Solaris. This is a Stephen Soderburg movie so it is not an slam bang fast paced affair, but it is a movie with many rewards if you are in the mood for a slower pace. The setting for this film may be space but really, the action takes place as much in the minds of the characters as it does aboard their spacecraft. It also stars George Clooney, in one of his understated perfectly measured performances, and of course he now stars in Gravity, the film that started this whole list thang

SUNSHINE, directed by Danny Boyle, is as much "horror" movie as space movie, with some of that psychological thrillerness (yeh, I said "thrillerness) thrown in for good measure

The film follows a group of astronauts who are sent on a mission to reignite a dying Sun ... our sun, in case the capitalized noun didn't give it away. That in itself makes it a rather unique movie, being in orbit around the Sun rather than a planet. Needless to say the action takes place aboard a space ship. There are similarities to Solaris (which despite the name does not involve a sun) in that mind games are afoot, but whereas Solaris was self contained, Sunshine is more overt ... yeh there's violence. I was not totally satisfied with the ending but it's a good ride up to that point.

APOLLO 13 is very much an outer space movie and while the action is split between the space capsule and Mission Control back on Earth, the fact that is .. well .. based on facts, makes this one a unique outer space movie

This movie is a thriller, I won't go into a dissertation about how accurate it was to the true story and it doesn't really matter, the fact that basic events actually happened makes the thrills that much more effective. Ron Howard and Tom Hanks are two names that, when, associated with a movie makes me begin to nod off before the first scene, but this is a good movie, tightly directed  with some superb performances. And this one is hard to beat for it's outer space credentials

MAROONED is like the fictional version of Apollo 13, though it was released many years before that movie

This is another movie that I did not see on any of the lists I perused and I found that shocking. Released in 1969, this may be the quintessential outer space movie. Like Apollo 13 and Gravity, it tells the story of American astronauts, in orbit, who find themselves in trouble. And like Apollog 13 the action is split between the endangered space craft and Mission Control. There is some period corniness to this movie but it stands up fairly well and the model based special effects hold up fairly well as well

MOON is a move that does, I'll admit, skate a bit with my criteria as it takes place on the Moon (shocker eh) but being on the Moon is very much like being on a space craft; you have reduced gravity and you are dependent upon an artificial environment to survive

Moon is in the same vein as Solaris and Sunshine, this is a psychological thriller and like Solaris, it questions our identity. To enjoy this movie you have to enjoy the work of actor Sam Rockwell as it's virtually a one man show. Let's say that I enjoyed the movie but for me, it's best taken in small portions

That brings us to the last movie on the list .. and stop clapping, you got this far you can't cry poor

GRAVITY clearly meets all my criteria because it is the film that inspired it

Gravity is not a futuristic movie, like Apollo 13 and Marooned, it is based in the present, following astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle as they attempt to repair the Hubble space telescope ( I told them not to have that thing built in Taiwan but did they listen to me ...) Because Gravity deals with present technology and tech that is very well known, like the shuttle and the Hubble and International Space Station, much has been written about inaccurate science and improper behaviour of the astronauts. The science I could  care less about, this is a movie and the science is close enough, many of the events are possible if not probable and that's good enough for me.

Some of the behaviour did kind of raise my eyebrows, the movie opens as scientist Sandra Bullock is working on the Hubble and we see George Clooney (guess he didn't get enough of space in Solaris) in his jet pack, just winging around for the hell of it .. I doubt that would ever happen but the scene does a great deal to very quickly establish the personalities of the characters and that's enough for me

This is a good movie, a very very good movie. It is visually stunning and is one of the few movies that uses 3D properly, and the film does something not used enough; as Sandra Bullock finds herself in trouble, we see events through her POV and in those scenes, I found myself ducking

But for all it's visual power and for the many genuine thrills it provides, Gravity has an emotional core that, while the plot barrels along and we careen from thrill to thrill, is allowed to take its time in order to develop.

The best space movie, like any good movie, understands that no matter how much razzle dazzle you put on the screen, no matter how eye popping are your visuals, it means nothing without that human character, without a woman is kind of an accidental astronaut, trapped in her space suit, gasping for breath, clinging to a tiny handhold as the world wheels below her, and space yawns behind her, empty and cold and lifeless; it makes her life more important and it gives her something to fight for

Thursday, November 7, 2013


NUMBER TEN: First name Marion, last name Berry

NUMBER NINE: The mayor's personal security detail has been replaced by a pair of pit bulls called Stink Eye and Pinky

NUMBER EIGHT: The mayor suddenly has a lot of energy, like a lot of energy ... a lot .. like so much energy not only does he call all night sessions of council in his own city, but he jumps in his Escalade and goes to other cities to convene council there .. at three in the morning ... pressed against a councilman's window yelling "You gonna come? Huh? Are you? We can have a meeting, let's have a meeting, you wanna have a meeting, you gonna come?"

NUMBER SEVEN: You know your mayor may be a crack head because strange smells are coming out of City Hall, the new deputy mayor is referred to only as "The Cook" and his worship advices a visitor "Oh I wouldn't light up that cigarette here"

NUMBER SIX: The mayor makes an announcement that from now on he must be referred to as His Worship Snoop Dog

NUMBER FIVE: He replaces the city seal with something he refers to as The Great Pipe

NUMBER FOUR: From this time on City Hall will be known as "my crib"

NUMBER THREE: The mayor has been spotted trying to pawn a city bus because all he needs is "a little taste"

NUMBER TWO: When a reporter enquires where the mayor's secretary is His Worship Snoop Dog replies: "Ho is out earning me some of that sweet sweet smoke, what's a dude to do"

NUMBER ONE: And the number one way you know your mayor may be a crack head: First name Rob, last name Ford
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