M.L. Miller aka the @$$hole formerly known as Ambush Bug here! Sprouting from the success of the Best of the Best in Horror Countdown that ran all last month, I thought we would Countdown the Best of the Best in Sci Fi in 2017. Since my area of expertise is horror, I have enlisted my buddy Matt Adler to come up with the Top Ten Sci Fi films of 2017. Along with Matt’s picks for the top ten, I will be adding a pick of my own that is worth noting. Many of these films are available On Demand, digital download, or on DVD/BluRay and when I can, I’ll try to link to them at the top of the reviews.
As far as how the list was compiled? Well, Matt will explain in each of the review why he thinks this film is worthy of the countdown and why it is where it is in the list. For me, I am simply going to offer lesser known suggestions that may not be blockbusters, but they pack a big sci fi punch despite all of that. Any film released after November 1st, 2016 is game for the list. Look for new countdown entries every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through November.
So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let us know what you think of the films, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong we are, and most importantly, come up with your own list…let’s go!
#4 WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES #4
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017)
Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves, based on characters by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and the book by Amanda Silver
Starring Amanda Silver, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Ty Olsson, Ty Olsson, Toby Kebbell, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer, Sara Canning, Devyn Dalton, Aleks Paunovic, Alessandro Juliani, Max Lloyd-Jones, Mercedes de la Zerda, Roger Cross, Chad Rook
Find out more about this film here, @ApesMovies, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Matt Adler
This may shock you, but this is actually the first Planet of the Apes movie I’ve ever seen. I know, I know, that’s insane. “Where have you been since the 1970s?” and “Who even goes to see the third part of a trilogy without seeing the first two?” are two of the comments that greeted me when I revealed this fact to friends.
To answer that first question, I was always wary of the concept of a society comprised of anthropomophic apes; it seemed kind of silly, and not in an intentional way. I imagined that the appeal was the incongruity of ape characters behaving as dignified and proper human beings, something akin to the old pictures of chimpanzees smoking cigarettes. An amusing novelty, nothing more.
I was wrong! Despite the fact that it has more prepositions than I am generally comfortable with in a movie title, I was really impressed with the depth of characterization and thought that went into this film, and there are strong performances from ape and human alike, particularly Andy Serkis as Caesar, and Woody Harrelson as the psychopathic Colonel. It touches on themes of prejudice and xenophobia that are highly relevant in today’s world.
And despite having almost no knowledge of this franchise, this third and final movie in the rebooted series easily gets you up to speed, with a concise intro recapping the major developments of the first two films. Still, I enjoyed this enough that I may want to go back and watch them anyway, along with the rest of the POTA films.
Worth noting: THE PHOENIX INCIDENT!
New on DVD/BluRay and digital download from its website here!
THE PHOENIX INCIDENT (2015)
Directed by Keith Arem
Written by Keith Arem
Starring Yuri Lowenthal, Travis Willingham, Troy Baker, Liam O’Brien, Michael Adamthwaite, Brian Bloom, Jamie Tisdale, James Patrick Stewart, Mark Withers, Deborah Geffner, Maria Bobeva, Constance Broge, Paul Thomas Arnold, Jaimie Fauth, Ryan Keating, Holgie Forrester, William Goldman, James L. Brewster, Elise Muller, Tony Prince, Dan Willoughby, Scot Ruggles, Ron Ross, Brandon White
Find out more about this film here, @phoenixincident, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
There seems to be a plethora of “Phoenix Lights” found footage films out this year. THE PHOENIX FORGOTTEN was released in theaters and left quickly and I hope to be reviewing it when it arrives on BluRay. I already covered the mysterious and scarily authentic looking THE PHOENIX TAPES ‘97 and how here’s THE PHOENIX INCIDENT, a pretty strong entry in the growing “Phoenix Lights” subgenre of found footage films. Let’s put it up against my Found Footage Questionnaire.
What’s it about?
Four thrill seeking campers plan to ride their four-wheelers along the Phoenix deserts and are unaware of the lights occurring above Phoenix until it is too late. Wounded and stalked by monstrous creatures that are unleashed from a massive craft in the desert, the campers face the military, religious madmen, and monsters of an alien origin and it’s all captured on the cameras the campers have taped to their helmets. What makes THE PHOENIX INCIDENT different is that it not only can be viewed as a found footage film, but it also was made into a documentary format, incorporating many of the scenes from the film itself in with interviews from investigators, government leakers, and relatives of the four missing and presumed dead campers.
Are the actors successfully acting like they aren’t acting?
While the actors are kind of acting like the typical thrill seeking twenty somethings and don’t really have enough character to make them stand out other than the one who wears a bandana, the one with floppy hair, the one with dark hair and the one with blonde hair, they do a decent job of acting like people in peril. These guys are just regular dudes out to have fun that find themselves in the middle of an alien invasion. There is a lot of screaming, a lot of panicking, and a lot of running. Which doesn’t involve a lot of acting chops, but it’s done convincingly. The interview segments with relatives, military officials, and others involved with making the documentary portion of this film are equally convincing and do a great job of painting a thorough and detailed picture of the events that occur on the night of the Phoenix Lights.
Does the footage found seem authentic and untouched by additional production (no omniscient editor making multiple edits between cameras or an invisible orchestra providing music)?
What is cool about THE PHOENIX INCIDENT is that in the main menu, you can choose to see the untouched found footage of the four thrill-seekers and their final night captured on film or you can choose to pick the documentary incorporating the found footage, but having it presented in a produced documentary format with it’s own music, edits, multiple cuts, and interviews. I watched segments of the untouched version and while I was entertained, I found the documentary version much more thorough and fulfilling a watch. Still, the filmmakers went out of their way to make the found footage feel pure and untouched, which was appreciated.
Why don’t they just drop the camera and get the hell out of there?
For one thing, the cameras are taped to the helmets of the four-wheeler drivers, so they couldn’t drop it. Basically, everything these guys see, we see. But in the documentary footage, we are made privy to the actual footage taken by the military as well as the found footage, so while the formats change, the reason for filming is for military documentation. In the world of the film, we are looking back at the start of a very public alien/human conflict—a conflict that occurs worldwide, with the documentary looking back at the beginnings of this conflict which occurred on that Phoenix night in 1997. So the documentary does a fantastic job of incorporating military footage as well as the footage from these four campers on that fateful night in a slickly produced way.
Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
Not really. If anything, this film owes more to ALIENS with its attention to tactical military maneuvers and night vision during a battle zone. While the night vision is reminiscent of the scenes we see in REC, the inhuman nature of the aliens being more bestial than humanoid and the sheer bombast of the action makes one feel like this is more influenced by STARSHIP TROOPERS and James Cameron than BLAIR WITCH and REC.
Does anything actually happen? Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
A hell of a lot happens. There is the initial sighting. A UFO crash. And an entire chase sequence that lasts the duration of the final 40 minutes of the film. This is one fast paced film reliant heavily on action and movement. Having endured quite a few found footagers that move like they are sludging through molasses, it is refreshing to see a film that actually feels like it took a shot of adrenaline at the halfway point and never really slows down until the end. While it is pretty obvious from the footage the fate of these four guys, the one thing that annoys me is that they label the four as missing when it is pretty clear they were torn to bits by these aliens. Sure there seems like there is a bit of a government cover-up, but the footage is definitely contradictory to the message the family and friends convey about the missing four.
Does the film add anything to the subgenre and, ultimately, is it worth watching?
I liked the way this film started running at about the half hour point and never let up until the end. This is a fast paced movie with lots of energy and peril at play. There really isn’t a dull moment and the whole thing never sticks around long enough in one spot to become boring. I also have to give it up to this film for the packaging and formatting of the film itself. Offering the story up in pure found footage and documentary format is an extra step that shows these guys care about this film and watching both versions of the tale tells the same tale from different angles. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before done at this scale. I also think the special effects were especially well done. The monsters were distinct and scary, though I don’t know how these four legged and savage beasts have the ability to traverse thousands of miles across space and pilot advanced ships when they act more like insectoid tigers tearing through its prey. But despite all of that THE PHOENIX INCIDENT is a complex and thorough take on found footage that fans of the subgenre should not miss. It’s a grim and gritty take on a common type of film, but one that leaves and indelible mark in how far it goes and how intense it will get.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
Matt Adler is a writer/journalist, currently writing for AICN among other outlets. He’s been reading comics for more than 25 years, writing about them for more than 10, and spends way, way, too much time thinking about them, which means he really has no choice but to figure out how to make a living out of this stuff. He welcomes all feedback.
M.L. Miller goes by many names—Ambush Bug, Mark L. Miller, hey you jerk over there! He’s an original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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