I’m Bored First while The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last

I can’t help but express my disappointment for Margaret Atwood’s latest dystopian novel, The Heart Goes Last.  I was so excited when NetGalley sent me an advance Kindle copy as I was a huge fan of the MaddAddam Trilogy.  But I’m sad to report that Atwood, the sly mistress of speculative fiction, finally seems to be running on fumes.

The Heart Goes Last begins promisingly enough.  In the (not so distant?) future, a young couple, Charmaine and Stan, is living out of their car while the world around them has gone to hell after a financial collapse decimates most of the East Coast of the US turning it into one giant version of Camden, NJ.  But then the once hopeless couple sees a way out when they hear about The Positron Project in the planned community of Consilience.  Here, well-mannered prisoners mix with the desperate destitute (but otherwise law-abiding) masses who can’t find work.  The inhabitants take turns living in a planned community and a low-security prison, swapping time, houses and lives as they carry out tasks for the corporation that runs Consilience.

Atwood creates a golden opportunity to explore the slippery slope of our current privatization of prisons, but sadly the novel glosses over that as things devolve into the absurd and Charmaine and Stan’s tale becomes a silly sex farce (not too far removed from Woody Allen’s cringe worthy Sleeper) jam-packed with CEO’s gone mad, corporate conspiracies, wife swapping, sex bots (who in grand Atwood wordplay are branded Possibilibots), and Neuropimps  who erase all of your past hang-ups so they can imprint your sex drive onto anyone (who pays for it) or anything (there is a darkly humorous side bit where one minor character imprints onto a teddy bear). Continue reading

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Intimacy, Technology and Social Media in The Circle and Her

Dave Eggers The Circle

In Dave Eggers’ new novel, The Circle, young, impressionable and lonely Mae Holland lands a dream job with a utopian posh social media tech company thanks to nepotism.  There she becomes fully immersed in her new work, which turns out to be so much more than just another job, it’s a way of life…and Eggers’ quasi-futuristic look at a corporation-as-religion is both humorous and horrifying.  The Circle, like some parasitic mash-up of Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook is hell-bent on creating a world of complete transparency where cameras monitor everything, and every thought or notion that pops into someone’s head is shared ad nauseum on its social network.  The intentions seem noble – education through access to every piece of information available, surveillance as a way to deter crime, and transparency of governments to create a true global democracy.  But The Circle soon becomes a monopoly bending the populace and world governments to its will under the guise of this being the will of the people who champion The Circle’s causes through “Likes” and sharing.  It quickly becomes obvious that not everything should be known.  Eggers seems to be saying with this cautionary tale that there’s value in mystery and privacy is still a right.

Mae, unfortunately, falls head over heels for The Circle, and her connection to the corporation goes from whirlwind romance to abusive relationship.  She can’t seem to break herself from this way of life even as she witnesses the destruction of friends and family.  Eggers describes moments where Mae gets a certain “high” from posting, pinging, and liking across The Circle, where there’s a feeling of euphoria mixed with exhaustion.  Yet in the corner of her mind she sees a tear in the universe opening up that seems poised to swallow her into utter darkness.  And that’s what all this interconnectedness is…a black hole where synthetic moments take the place a real emotions and connections.

Her Joaquin Phoenix

Eggers’ vision could take place in the same universe as Spike Jonze’s latest and Academy Award nominated film, Her.  His protagonist, Theodore (an awkwardly charming and sad-sack Joaquin Phoenix), seems like the type of guy Mae Holland would date, and The Circle the type of place he might work.  But in Jonze’s universe, Theodore works at a company where he ghost-writes handwritten letters – synthetic pages of falsified emotions – and he’s fallen in love with his new state-of-the-art and self-evolving Operating System named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who gives a breathy and compelling performance without ever appearing on-screen – something that I initially thought of as a crime on Jonze’s part but actually works quite well).  Continue reading

A Damn Good Flood

Specimen One:  Toby, a former high-ranking member of the now defunct fallaciously pacifist eco-freak religious cult, God’s Gardeners.  Specimen Two:  Ren, a former Gardener, and up until just now, an exotic dancer at Scales & Tails.  Could it be?  Are these two women the last people on earth?  Told in a series of alternating POV’s, flashbacks and flash-forwards, part of the fun of Margaret Atwood’s sometimes laborious novel, The Year of the Flood, is finding out if they are…or if they aren’t…and if they aren’t…who or what awaits them in a post-apocalyptic world?

Though it’s by no means a necessary pre-requisite, perhaps if I had read Atwood’s earlier novel Oryx and Crake (whose events run somewhat parallel to The Year of the Flood in the same futuristic and doomed universe) I would not have been as confused early on, and when certain characters made an appearance or particular events were referenced, there would’ve been more “AHA!” moments for me.   But you see, it’s not so much a grand serial epic or the apocalypse per se that Atwood is most interested in.  It’s the speculation… Continue reading

A Review of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men”

Interesting but Overcooked Speculative Drama, 9 January 2007
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Alfonso Cuaron (most well known for directing the overrated and raunchy coming-of-age story “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and the third–and the best–of the “Harry Potter” series) does a nice job of setting the mood with his gritty and eclectic take on a dystopian future where women have become infertile and Britian is a volatile police state where the biggest crime is being an illegal immigrant. This central conceit is mildly interesting, but the screenwriters populate the allegorical fiction with stock characters: people and ideas painted with broad strokes and little development, and peppered with quirky side-stories and characters who are often more interesting than the overly symbolic main plot line.

What emerges is quasi-entertaining movie bubbling over with overcooked details and a few good scenes. Though dropping the ball in the intimate interludes that are supposed to add dramatic weight (the screaming match on the bus between Clive Owen and Julianne Moore about grief seemed especially staged and unreal), Cuaron directs the suspense and action scenes with appropriate zeal. Sadly, everyone in the film constantly looks tired (Owen taking a nap in a car and Moore actually yawning in one pivotal scene), so between the good stuff I often felt the same.

There are three really well constructed sequences that on their own are very thrilling: a reverse vehicular escape from a an angry mob that ends tragically, another vehicular escape at dawn down a dirt farm road where the car just doesn’t want to start, and one of the closing scenes of a lonely rowboat in a choppy bay surrounded by fog.

The rest is haphazard filler that had me distracted most of the time. “Children of Men” eventually became of movie of frustrating details. For instance, the title makes no sense when you think about it. Unless sprung from immaculate conception, we are currently all children of men, so this would only be an appropriate title if all the women in the world were dead and men started having babies. The movie cost over $80 million dollars to make (and it looks great) but why couldn’t they fork out the extra cash to pay for the real Rolling Stones’ version of “Ruby Tuesday” instead of a lousy cover? The song plays a crucial part yet becomes aggravating to hear. Finally, instead of caring about what happens to the two lead characters during the excellently filmed siege of the refugee camp, I cared more about what was going to happen to some poor gypsy woman and her little dog.

Though it has plenty of interesting minutae to keep things entertaining, the film never coalesces as a whole. Despite three really good scenes, “Children of Men” unfortunately solidifies Cuaron’s status as the best director yet to make a great film.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0206634/usercomments-388