The Deep is a wildly imaginative bit of fiction anchored in universal truths and spun creatively from real trauma. It is simultaneously a collaborative work based on the mythology created in experimental rap songs, and a uniquely singular novella. Like its main character, the mysterious Yetu, it is both plural and one. It’s quite unlike anything I have ever read. If I tried to ensnare and then relay its essence, imagine if Toni Morrison wrote a piece of science-fiction. It’s that soulful, and that weird. But to reduce it to that type of blurb would do it a disservice.
A fantastic underwater utopia inhabited by strange sentient creatures (the Wajinru) who are descended from pregnant women tossed overboard during the transatlantic slave trade, communal memories, climate change, the end of the world…it’s all woven into the rich tapestry of Rivers Solomon’s tome which reads like an epic poem. Rich in metaphors and bold imagination, it channels both the grief and the triumph of the marginalized.
Love who you love. Own your past. Create your future.
For all the heartache, the novella builds to an amazing closing line that left this reader reeling.
In Ad Astra, lonely astronaut Roy McBride is married to his physically and psychologically draining job, which predicatably ends his marriage, and has followed in the footsteps of dear old dad, who decades earlier headed up the infamous Lima Mission to Neptune to search for extraterrestial life. The mission was assumed lost, until some crazy anti-matter flares make their way to Earth with disasterous results from – you guessed it – out Neptune way. Oh yeah, and old daddy may be the one who created this mess. So, of course, sonny boy has to go out there to see what the heck is going on, save the solar system, and wrestle with his deep-seeded father issues.
Despite Hoyte Van Hoytema’s stunning and sometimes vertigo inducing celestial cinematography and a few good stand alone sequences, James Gray’s emotionally drab and tired father-and-son / man-is-a-lonely-beast space opera is one of the biggest cinematic disappointments of recent memory.
Everyone in the film looks exhausted (Brad Pitt, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, Liv Tyler…even the normaly bright-eyed Ruth Negga) and it’s no surprise given the broad strokes with which all the characters are painted and the shocking banality of space travel and colonization on display. In James Gray’s near-future universe, human beings just keep getting caught up in the same old mistakes, trite archetypes, and psychological hang-ups.
Oh, look, an Applebees and Subway on the lunar colony. And pirates fighting over mines. Mars is just one giant underground bunker that looks like it was designed with cardboard packing material from Amazon.com. Out in the middle of nowhere near some random asteroid, humans are experimenting on primates, who go maliciously bonkers in an oddly thrilling sequence that plays like a revival of an abandonded sequence from Gray’s last curiosity about human exploration, The Lost City of Z. Why were we messing with primates in space? Well, it’s just because, you know, animal torture is what humans always do. And hell, it is boring as hell out there, so why not?
One of the most irritating elements of the film is Brad Pitt’s near constant, and woefully undercooked voice-over that is strung together from routine psychological check-ups and philosophy 101 inner monologue. The Tree of Life this is not. Underscoring the voice-over and anti-action are Max Richter’s minimalist tones, pale echoes of Hans Zimmer and Justin Hurwitz’s work from the superior in every way First Man. The aformentioned cinematography of Van Hoytema is technically stunning and beautiful to look at it, but it’s not married to anything of deep substance. Interstellarthis is also not.
I don’t blame Gray for tapping into classic thematic tropes. Some of the best stories of all-time deal with father-and-son drama and the loneliness of human existence, but if you are going down that well tread path you need to have either something new to say or do it in an interesting way. Sadly, in his attempt to hang these tropes inside his musings on the empitness of space, Gray shows how tired and empty these ideas can sometimes be.
Science fiction is a genre I have a love-hate relationship with. It so often has been co-opted by fantasy and rarely focuses on the science half anymore. Even my once beloved Star Trek, which used to explore alien lands and space exploration through the veil of politics and philosophy, has devolved into action-based space opera nonsense. Sometimes when co-opted by horror (see Alien) it can be fun as hell, but more often than not schlock. And when it’s just one of the flavors of something more satirical and speculative, ala the works of Kurt Vonnegut or Margaret Atwood in novel-form and Black Mirror in streaming serialized form, it reaches my preferred heights. Then, of course, there’s the guilty pleasure of something like Verhoeven’s film adaptation of Starship Troopers (action! satire! fascism! horror! gore!)
But it’s been a long, long time since we had something like 2001: A Space Odyssey – Kubrick’s seminal film which turned science-fiction into a religious experience. Let’s not forget though, it was based on a dry, very serious-minded short story by legendary science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Which brings us to First of Their Kind…a novel I discovered while promoting my own during #IndieApril. I was nervous to approach it, as it was science fiction, and the last science fiction novel I read (Artemis by Andy Weir) was a huge disappointment. Thankfully, I took the gamble…
C. D. Tavenor’s debut novel, First of Their Kind, harkens back to the best work of Arthur C. Clarke. This is serious science fiction that focuses on well thought-out and researched science and its potential future applications. Continue reading →
Well, those ever-expanding genre polls over at Wonders in the Dark continue…and next on their docket is the Top Sci-fi films. Below is the list I submitted, and in the coming weeks and months they will be unveiling their list after all the votes are tabulated. I went with a fairly liberal definition for sci-fi, hence some genre-bending monster and horror films made the cut (but alas, no Leprechaun in Space!). Also making the cut are films like Being John Malkovich, as I saw in the film a “scientific” explanation for how people were able to enter the head of John Malkovich…an unnerving “fiction” for sure!
Sci-fi films from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s (along with Universal Monster movies from the 30’s) ruled my childhood as they were shown in endless loops on local television on the weekends…so there are many sentimental favorites here. The list topper, from one Stanley Kubrick, should come as no surprise for my readers, as it is also a film I routinely name in my revolving Top Five Films of All Time. Coming in at number 2, might surprise some, as it’s also a Universal Monster classic…James Whale’s Frankenstein, a great film based on Mary Shelley’s trailblazing sci-fi-by-way-of-parental-wish-fulfillment-nightmare gothic novel.
The best science fiction films typically tap into some disturbed psychology and common fears…hence its natural and seamless blend with horror (see Alien). Satire, both gentle and militant, mixed with science fiction can also be potent (see the works of Jonze and Verhoeven and Miller). At its most noble, science fiction allows us to dream bigger dreams (see the best of Spielberg and Nolan).
I’ll let the rest of the list below speak for itself – links provided to more detailed write-ups and reviews of applicable films provided by clicking the title. Continue reading →
Is Ex Machina yet another in a long line of Promethean caution tales? Or is it a misogynistic nightmare about the evil extremes of genius? Or wait…is it in actuality a crypto-feminist manifesto? Or…is it like Dave Eggers The Circle or Spike Jonze’s Her a satire of a somewhat scary, occasionally lovely “watch out or we’ll be doomed in a split second if we aren’t careful” future just around the corner? With its slick production values and blank slate aesthetic, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is all of these things and none of them.
When a young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) working for a Google-gone-mad-like company gets chosen to spend a week at the founder’s (the ever chameleon-like and always engaging Oscar Isaac) hideaway estate to work on a secret project, and it turns out to be the testing of new AI (the weirdly alluring and borderline creepy Alicia Vikander), it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is all going. Continue reading →
There’s currently a film on VOD called Predestination, which has to be one of the trippiest time travel flicks I have ever seen. Based on the Robert Heinlein short story “All You Zombies,” directed by the Spierig Brothers (don’t worry, I didn’t know who they were before this either) and starring Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook (if there is any justice, a star should be born here) as two temporal cops hopping through time to stop the crimes of the Fizzle Bomber, it blew my mind that this had not been given a major theatrical release. Had the similarly minded Wachowski Siblings made this right after The Matrix, it would’ve been a huge hit and they would probably be remembered today for the latter and not the former. But it blew my mind more for what it was able to achieve in storytelling. It’s impossible to talk about what happens in detail without giving away major plot points. Early on I had a hunch what might be happening, but I was totally floored by the depth of what was happening and how the filmmakers dragged us down deeper and deeper into this endless temporal loop. It makes no sense while simultaneously it makes beautiful sense in its own twisted logic. It made me wonder…could this actually be one of the greatest time travel movies ever made? Only time will tell…
…for the purpose of this musing list, let’s be optimistic on its lasting impression and notch it at number 10. Let the rest of the countdown begin:
9. Somewhere in Time (Jeannot Szwarc, 1980) – Legend has it this was one of the first films to find success in the early days of video cassette rentals (ahhh…somewhere in time indeed). I remember making my parents let me watch it with them when I was very young (maybe 6 or 7) because Superman (Christopher Reeve) was in it, and it left me confused as I didn’t understand how one of King Henry’s wives (Jane Seymour) was still alive and acting in movies. Also during this timeframe in my life I was similarly confused as to how a medieval Saint (Joan Van Arc) ended up staring on TV’s Knots Landing. At any rate…lush visuals, haunting music, a beautiful setting and a love story beyond time has made this a huge cult hit, and rightfully so.
8. Happy Accidents (Brad Anderson, 2000) – This is not a romantic comedy. I repeat: this is not a romantic comedy. It’s actually one of the best time travel movies ever made. It’s a shame Brad Anderson has never really found the huge success he deserved after delivering a trio of thoughtful, well done genre pieces (this, Session 9 and The Machinist). This one is also a bit of a miracle as it made the always annoying Vincent D’Onofrio actually likable for once in his miserable acting life. Oh yeah, and Marisa Tomei is lovely here, too. Continue reading →
Christopher Nolan might not be the incomparable artiste that Paul Thomas Anderson has become, the lyrical poet that Terrence Malick succeeds at being, or the rabble-rousers that the sicko David Fincher and the pop pastiche-aholic Quentin Tarantino are…but damn it, he’s the best Brand there is in Hollywood. You know what you are getting every time you see a Christopher Nolan film, and unlike, say a Michael Bay, you should be ecstatic you’re getting it. He’s going to entertain you and make you think while conjuring his own impossible cinematic dreams, attempt (sometimes clumsily but always admirably) to tap into a zeitgeist, dazzle you with his technical skill, twist the plot and up the dramatic ante every time he steps behind that camera.
His sprawling space opera, Interstellar, is no exception. It is at times wondrously ridiculous and miraculously beautiful in its ambitions
In the not so distant future, food is running out from over-population and environmental calamities that have produced a new Dust Bowl. There people are forced into farming as society has transformed from one of innovation to one of scraping by that has been branded as “caretaking.” It is here where the widowed Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) eeks out an existence with his son and daughter, Murphy (played by Mackenzie Foy as a child and Jessica Chastain as an adult), while he dreams of his lost opportunity to be an astronaut after a test flight crash and the disbanding of NASA years earlier. The boy has already been tested by the school system and found to be a perfect candidate to be a farmer, while the smart-as-a-whip Murphy gets suspended for bringing a book to school that teaches the Lunar landing as a fact and triumph of the human spirit, when the new consensus teaches it was Cold War propaganda (and no one should ever dream of space travel again as growing food is the only noble pursuit).
But strange things start happening. Automatic technology (drones and plows) begin acting up. There are gravitational anomalies happening. And Murphy thinks there is a ghost in the farmhouse trying to deliver her a message. It all adds up to father and daughter stumbling upon a secret base where, lo and behold, Cooper’s former professor, Dr. Brand (Michael Caine), is leading an underground NASA team that has discovered a wormhole beyond Saturn and is plotting manned voyages to search for inhabitable planets on the other side. The very survival of the human race is dependent on their mission, and they want Coop to pilot the next one which will be headed by Dr. Brand’s own daughter, the aptly named Amelia (Anne Hathaway). Continue reading →
In a cinematic world overrun by rehashed ideas, sequels, prequels and reboots…it’s both ironic and a minor miracle that a film about resetting time over and over and over would be such a solid piece of entertainment.
There’s absolutely nothing revolutionary about Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman’s polished adaptation of the Japanese book All You Need is Kill (a much snarkier title that fits the themes very well), yet it all works. Here’s Tom Cruise as another smug character unwittingly thrust into saving the world…yet he manages to imbue his performance with a dark sense of humor that allows you to forgive the tropes of this quasi-messianic overcooked tripe. Here’s yet another “grunts vs. aliens” invasion/war set-up…yet when handled in a competent way, the cliché can still be fun to watch. And here are the hive-like aliens…called mimics (for what reason???)…who can meld time (naturally) to anticipate enemy moves…that look something like a Lord of the Rings reject monster wrapped in Matrix machinery and move like octopi…that, hey, as silly and derivative as they are, when brought to life by slick effects and well-orchestrated battle madness can still seem special and cool. Oh, and the coup de grace…let’s add a Groundhog Day element (remember the mimics can reset time) that leads to inevitable scenes of Cruise dying over and over and over again while he tries to get others to believe him and locate the Omega mimic (essentially the queen)…and in one humorous montage repeatedly is shot by Emily Blunt (his trainer and cohort in this time tripping madness) like an injured horse. Continue reading →
Ahhh…shit…(SPOILER ALERT!) I gave away a major spoiler of Star Trek Into Darkness in the title of the post! Though, honestly, people, is it any surprise that Khan makes an appearance in part two of Abrams’ reboot series? Following the trend of comic book films, it seems as if Abrams’ Treks will only be as good as their villains…which means this sequel is a slight notch above its overrated predecessor but is still a mish-mash rehash with nary an original idea to be found and completely void of the political allegory and societal mirror-holding that made the original series so…original. I was a bit more invested in and entertained by this rehash as if you are going to rehash plots and villains, you might as well rehash the best. I mean I can’t even remember the villain in the first film.
Though the DUN DUN DUN previews made it clear things were going to get more serious this time around, the film is inexplicably sub-titled Into Darkness…as there’s nary a moment of literal or thematic darkness to be found in the shiny happy continuation of Abrams’ shiny happy series. Okay, okay, they do speak the words war and genocide, and alotta people die James Cameron-style when the ships get all blown up and stuff. But you gotta hand it to a guy who just doesn’t give a damn. If J.J. wants to do an opening nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark in a sci-fi film, well, by golly, he’s gonna jam that in there! And if he wants to have his set designers craft an entire starship to be made of interior reflective surfaces so that his signature lens flares can go whole hog and burn your retinas…then damn it, Jim, he’s gonna do it! And if he wants to stretch out certain emo-scenes Felicity style to the point of banality…then frick, he don’t need Keri Russell present to do that. You see, J.J. is like that smart dorky crafty kid who grew up to be geek chic. He’s completely hung up on the nostalgia Hollywood peddles, which has made him a golden boy in a town that loves to recycle all that is golden. This means that many will find what he does pretty cool, but if you want anything deeper than re-imagined childhood reveries, then you better look elsewhere.
And although all the lens flares and explosions render certain action scenes incomprehensible, there are still some wondrous set pieces and stupendous special effects to be found here. Continue reading →
It’s like Metropolis meets The Matrix meets Magnolia meets The Road meets Star Trek meets Leprechaun meets yadda yadda yadda…ya dig?
Ahhhh…remember 1999? It was sooooo cool to be a sophomore in college and watching movies, man…movies that spoke to my generation. The old people just didn’t get it. This was our time, and film was right there with us at the turn of the millennium saying, “Hey, ma! Look at us! We’re the first people to ever have these cool ideas!” Of all the trailblazing films that came out that year, there are two that stick out in my mind the most as having been born of the moment – the Wachowskis’ The Matrix and Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run. Both played with film convention while waxing about alternate realities and parallel lives, and at the time….THEY BLEW MY MIND. Unfortunately The Matrix begat two mind-bogglingly awful sequels that tarnished the legacy of the original, and as gimmicky fun as Run Lola Run was, it just never really held up all that well. Though I liked some of Tykwer’s later work (Perfume still has to be one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen and I was one of the few who liked The International), the Wachowskis completely imploded. And as it turns out, all of those cool ideas were just rehashed from previous cool ideas.
Now thirteen years later after they appeared to be the second-coming of cinema only to crash and burn, the three have teamed up and concocted a dazzlingly ambitious adaptation of David Mitchell’s self-proclaimed unfilmable novel, Cloud Atlas – a nearly indescribable film that will infuriate those who allow it to while it should please those desiring to return to the bygone days of 1999. So what do we talk about when we talk about Cloud Atlas? Continue reading →