Category: Reviews

Movie Review: The Double

Movie Review: The Double

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The doppelganger myth is a venerable one that has frequently surfaced in literature and occasionally in the movies. The most famous cinematic treatment was probably one of the earliest (if one excludes the many trick films that duplicated their actors), The Student of Prague, and the legend also provided Roger Moore with one of his better parts in little-seen sleeper The Man Who Haunted Himself. Surprisingly, the premise seems to have occurred more frequently on television, possibly because it lends itself to dramatic conflicts that are best resolved in the half-hour or hour long format. Most notable among them are two superb episodes of the Twilight Zone, “Mirror Image” and “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room,” the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “The Curious Case of Mr. Pelham” and one of the better episodes of the revived Twilight Zone, “Shatterday,” adapted by Harlan Ellison from his outstanding short story and featuring a fine performance by Bruce Willis. The Double, written and directed by Richard Ayoade from a novella by Fyodyr Dostoyevsky, and starring Jesse Eisenberg, ably demonstrates that the inherent dramatic promise and conflicts in the doppelganger premise are well extendable to feature length, providing one of the best such cinematic treatments of the idea to date. Continue reading “Movie Review: The Double”

Movie Review: Escape From Tomorrow

Movie Review: Escape From Tomorrow

 

My mother and sister were once trapped for two and a half hours in the “It’s A Small World” attraction at Disney World. I hadn’t a clue what their ordeal was like until I suffered through Escape From Tomorrow, which at least was an hour shorter .

This is the type of movie that gets so much attention for the story behind its production and its so-called “audacity” that the poor quality of the finished product becomes almost irrelevant. Continue reading “Movie Review: Escape From Tomorrow”

Gravity: The Science Fiction Film in Free Fall

Gravity: The Science Fiction Film in Free Fall

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Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity has received an exceptional amount of critical acclaim for a science fiction film, more so for any other I can remember since Peter Weir’s The Truman Show.   This may be because, as with Weir’s film, many don’t recognize it as belonging to the genre. Yes, it takes place in outer space, the most familiar setting for the science fiction film, but since it (like the 1969 film Marooned) deals with events that could conceivably and possibly happen in the immediate future, it’s probably not unanimously regarded as such by mainstream critics, who don’t realize that the depiction of possible futures is precisely one of the main goals of science fiction. That may be why I’ve found myself less enthusiastic about the film than so many others after viewing it. As was the case with the wildly overrated Moon (2009), over-familiarity with the genre seems to greatly diminish my ability appreciate what others find to be so novel; on a purely visual and cinematic level, it’s certainly a tremendous achievement on the part of Cuaron and his crew, but on a story level, Gravity is (no pun intended) somewhat of a letdown. Not only will it also be overly familiar to other fans of written science fiction, but those well-versed in its cinematic equivalent will also find themselves recognizing various visual and story motifs. Continue reading “Gravity: The Science Fiction Film in Free Fall”

The Real Thing: An Intellectual Defense of Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby’s The Thing From Another World

The Real Thing: An Intellectual Defense of Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby’s The Thing From Another World

 

If you were to survey most of the reviews on the Internet, you probably wouldn’t realize that The Thing From Another World has not only long been considered to be a classic, but is one of the most important science fiction films ever made. And if you’re using the Internet exclusively as a resource, that’s part of the whole problem. Although even the very best science fiction films of the Fifties have had to struggle against unfair blanket criticisms and mischaracterizations, the case of The Thing from Another World is especially tragic, as not only is it a landmark film in the genre, it was one of the few science fiction films to attain a high degree of acclaim and respectability from mainstream critics and fans alike. Whereas it used to routinely be on the top of all-time best lists in the genre, it now rarely does so; instead it has become the object of sneering derision and contempt by genre snobs who are upset that it’s not exactly like the original novella and by amateur armchair critics who have an ignorant and uninformed bias against older films in general and older science fiction films in specific. Continue reading “The Real Thing: An Intellectual Defense of Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby’s The Thing From Another World”

The Jeffersonian Rocketship: Heinlein’s American Ethos in Destination Moon

The Jeffersonian Rocketship: Heinlein’s American Ethos in Destination Moon

 

With today’s review of Destination Moon, we begin a three-part look at three of the most important science fiction movies of the 1950s, films that have had an immense impact on  genre cinema since their release, and are also united by their conservative political leanings, either explicitly stated or in the form of subtextual undercurrents. And just to make it clear, the approach I take to film criticism is one of strict formalism; in other words, I do not care a wit as to what the politics expressed in a film are, or the politics of the artists involved are, as long as the final product is good. Unfortunately, such an approach is not shared by many left-leaning critics who feel it is their imperative to knock a film either down a peg or several notches for not adhering to their progressive ideology, or reflecting attitudes of the day that seem regrettable in hindsight, while in turn ridiculously overpraising any movie that does conform to leftist bromides. These reviews are an attempt to redress that imbalance, and provide intellectual criticism of fantastic cinema that is politically provocative while avoiding demagoguery. Continue reading “The Jeffersonian Rocketship: Heinlein’s American Ethos in Destination Moon”

Book Review – A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

When a series of books spawns an award-winning HBO Series, I suppose one should take notice.  I have an aversion to popularity contests when it comes to books, but I decided to give this one a try.  I was not disappointed.

Probably the best thing this book does is get rid of a lot of fantasy novel norms.  The good guys are always good and the evil guys always evil being one of them.  This book dismisses that idea by giving each character both lovable and despicable qualities.  Even the honorable Eddard Stark of Winterfell in this book has his flaws: he has fathered a bastard child, he is stubborn and headstrong and to be blunt is not political in a place where he should be political.  On the flip side the evil characters do have some good in them in at least the form that many fight for their family.  Don’t get me wrong, the villains are indeed villains but they often surprise you  in some ways.

The novel’s literary form basically switches from character to character.  Each chapter begins with the name of the character that is the focus.  During that chapter the story is told from their point of view.  I find this is one of the best ways to tell a story other than to have just one person the focus for the whole story telling it from a first person point of view all the way.  The writer can keep certain secrets this way and pass time quicker simply by changing character.

The world of A Game of Thrones is has a  great medieval feel to it but is truly its own world.  Magic is this world, at least so far as this book has taken us so far, is subdued but you get the feeling that great power slumbers beneath the surface.  Religion and faith magic is very real but also subdued.  The creatures of myth are few and far between but you also feel that there will be more to it later.  This starts out as a simple medieval tale but as it grows the complication and the power is growing with it.  It is like seeing the begining of a long fuse lit, knowing in the end it is going to lead to a big explosion

This is where you can tell that George Martin was writing with his eye on a sequel.  This book only takes you through the beginning of the story and sets the scene for later.  It provides the needed early character and situational development that will be needed for the sequels.  Martin is also not afraid to develop great characters and then kill them off.  This is what give the book its realistic feel.  The good guys die and evil sometimes does indeed triumph from time to time.  Things are not always nice and battles are not glorious affairs but often brutal and bloody.

The story is intensely political.  The queen’s words: “you either win at the game of thrones or you die” are very true.  Honor in this world can be a real liability as well as an asset.  But the bad guys also have their bad moments as they often underestimate the good characters because they are honorable.  The weapons of this game are not just swords either; sex and intrigue also have their roles to play. Yep, this is an adult fantasy book so be advised if you see your eight year old reading it.

Are there some conservative themes?  Well, to George Martin’s credit, he does not create a world where women are equal to men.  Titles are handed down through the male side of the house and this is realistic for ancient and medieval societies.  One thing I could note from this is the simple fact that women’s equality is only as much as is allowed by men and this has always been true.  Not to say, that there are no powerful women in the book, but they do not achieve their power through claiming they should be equals but by simply being women in the truest sense of the word.

The other conservative theme might be the simple fact that one of the great causes of trouble for Eddard Stark is a lack of funds brought on by wanton spending by King Richard.  It is this debt that has put less than savory characters into power.  They are needed to constantly raise funds for these overindulgences.  Debt is never a good thing and brings out the jackals.

If the book has a downside, it is the simple fact that it is very long.  Be prepared for a long read only to realize the story has only started.  Things are definitely left hanging for the next book. So if you are the kind of person who wants to see resolution of a story in a single novel, you will not have it here.

All in all, the book is a worthy read that will have you ready for the next one.  Definitely worth the money and the time.

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

I saw Frankenweenie in a nearly empty theater on its opening weekend, and while competition from the already-successful Hotel Transylvania no doubt contributed to its financial disappointment, the morbid subject matter and the unfortunate fact that too many people nowadays refuse to a watch a movie made in black and white no matter what the actual quality were no doubt factors as well. That’s all the more the pity since it’s one of Tim Burton’s very best films, his funniest and most personal since Ed Wood and his most heartfelt and moving since Edward Scissorhands. In a vapid and disappointing movie year, it’s a genuine delight and something worth cheering. Continue reading “Movie Review: Frankenweenie”

Book Review – A Canticle for Leibowitz

Canticle – song used in liturgical services

When looking through the Hugo winners of the past I discovered this book as a winner. I wondered because one of the other nominees that year was Deathworld by Harry Harrison.  It seemed strange to me that Deathworld would lose to a book which I had never heard of at the time.  Having read it now for the first time, I would say I can understand the dilemma.  For my part it would have been close as both books are not only well written but imaginative as well.  A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. ultimately would have prevailed; I think, because it dealt closer with real life issues at the time.

The book opens after the nuclear holocaust that was so feared in the 1950s.  In many ways nuclear war at the time was not a mutually assured destruction thing.  It was not until the massive proliferation of ICBMs and multi warhead missiles that the nuclear war people theorized became the complete end of human existence.  In the days of bombs and bombers, most people thought humanity would survive but not civilization as we knew it.

The book takes place mostly around an abbey dedicated to Leibowitz who was an electrical engineer and a survivor of the holocaust.  The monks seem to indicate that he turned to religion after this to save what knowledge could be saved after the nuclear war.  The book is three parts that are separated by centuries of time.  The first part deals with the issue of getting Leibowitz canonized as a saint.  The second part deals with the opening of the knowledge of the abbey to the intellectual community.  Part three deals with the abbey and the church dealing with the fact that this opening of knowledge has led humanity back to the same end of nuclear annihilation.

From a literature point of view this is a remarkable well written book.  Its use of Latin and Hebrew is superb and adds to the charm of the book.  My Latin is not at all that good but I understand the beauty of it in this story.  The story is engaging although one character is never resolved – Lazarus the Hebrew.  Other than that, the book flows well and does not insult your intelligence.

The central theme is the interplay between science and religion.  The issue addressed is knowledge verses wisdom.  Sure we can do things with science, but does that mean we should do those things.  Asking the question of are we ever going to be wise enough to stop history repeating itself is one of the great things that kept me going in this book.  Tons of other sub themes and I strongly suspect that every time I would read this book I would pick up something new.  It is that good.  The ultimate saving grace of humanity is that the colonization of the stars saves the race from itself.

As a libertarian, I dislike it when people keep knowledge from advancing and yet at the same time I also know humanity enough to realize that at times we are not wise enough to handle what we know.  I think the book addresses this issue well and does not so much offer answers but gets you to think about the issue.

As a theist but Non-Catholic, I felt like someone who (because of ignorance) does not always get the joke but understands the message. Religion has at times been the preserver of knowledge, but it has also been a source of misery for not being practical enough or being too overly superstitious to realize when that knowledge needs to be released to alleviate human suffering.   At the same time, religious figures often cause people to ask themselves whether things are being done with moral understanding.  Double edged sword.

I definitely would recommend this book. It has an honored place on my shelf.  It is simply a very realistic view of  the science verses religion dichotomy during the rebuilding of society after it is destroyed by nuclear war.  It is intelligently written and I suspect I would like it even more if my Latin was better.

Next Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin from A Song of Ice and Fire.  Yes, I am reading something fairly new and I will probably pick up the first season of the series from HBO to watch and review as well.  After I read the books of course.

The Not-Quite Ultimate Adaptations

The Not-Quite Ultimate Adaptations

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I concluded last month’s review of The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum with the wishful speculation that there might exist some alternate reality where Weinbaum’s stories served as a plentiful source of wonderful film adaptations. What I failed to note that is that Weinbaum has not been ignored by Hollywood; there has already been one theatrical release and three television adaptations based on his work. Continue reading “The Not-Quite Ultimate Adaptations”

Looper and Judge Dredd a Double Review

Looper and Judge Dredd a Double Review

Two very different science fiction movies. One with a slightly ludicrous reason for time travel, but a movie that is at the same time thought provoking and filled with top notch acting. The other a gory action thriller which treats the futuristic elements as backdrop for the story rather than trying to push the story along with the backdrop (see the new Total Recall for the wrong way to do this). This was a good weekend for science fiction at the movies.  Before I get into the meat of the review I suggest you go watch both of these you should not be disappointed.

Looper

It is rare that a sci-fi movie can cause me to suspend disbelief and just sit back and enjoy it when the central scientific element is fatally flawed. Looper is that kind of movie. The central plot device in Looper is not believable on any level.  There are so many more efficient ways to use time travel to cover up murders than what is portrayed in the movie that it stretched credulity to the maximum for me. Then to add insult to injury the movie does not stick with it’s own continuity as the final resolution in the film is contradicted by what the film makers show you in the first half. These would be fatal flaws in most any other film. This is not the case with Looper.

While the time travel element of the movie is flawed beyond redemption the acting is phenomenal. The two main protagonists Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis bring the film to life. New comer Marcus Hester is another highlight of the movie. This child actor can act. While on the surface this movie seems like it is a action thriller and it has that element it is really a coming of Age movie. Joe the main character played by Gordon-Levitt and Willis is a fatally flawed individual.  He was sold by his mother to a gang and raised by a the leader of the local Mafia to become a hit man.  He seeks solace in prostitutes, and hard drugs. He is a selfish and childish man and while the older Joe (Willis) tells himself and anyone that will listen that his quest to save his wife (who is killed by the mafia in the future) is a noble one. The younger Joe (Gordon-Levitt) points out how selfish this quest is, since it involves the murder of children who may one day head the mafia. Young Joe gets to look in the mirror and doesn’t like what he sees. The movie concludes with Young Joe making the unselfish choice that his older self can not make and in that moment he transforms from the wounded child into a whole man.

Dredd

This is a complete 180 degree departure from Looper. Both movies share the same post apocalyptic urban landscape and both feature characters who are mutants, but there the similarities end. Dredd is a movie about law enforcement in the worst of all possible situations. I have long been a Fan of the Judge Dredd comic and this movie, unlike the Sylvester Stallone abortion, is a Judge Dredd film. The movie is about the first day on the job for Judge Anderson and if you know anything about Judge Dredd you will know she is Dredd’s sometime partner and a powerful telepath.  Dredd is a movie about choices, hard, quick, and decisive choices. This is not a movie for liberals. In fact this may be the most conservative film of the year.

The idea of making the hard choice is addressed early in the movie when Judge Dredd is informed by his superior that he must make the final decision to keep Anderson as a Judge or to wash her out of the program. Later as Dredd is preparing to take Anderson out for the first time he tells her that as Judges they can respond to only 6% of the crime in Mega City One and that they have to make the choice of what crimes to investigate. This theme of the hard choice runs through the entire movie. Making the wrong choice gets you killed, making the corrupt choice gets you killed, even making the right choice sometimes gets you killed, but you must choose.

The movie will resonate with those of you in the audience who have been in the military and in situations where you have been forced to make life and death decisions on just your intuition and best judgement. This is not a movie for wishy washy liberals, it is not a movie for metrosexuals, this is a movie that will speak to people who regularly read this site.