Tag Archives: Science Fiction

Movie Review: Jurassic World (2015)

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Rating: C+/ The dinosaurs are in fact bigger, brassier, and toothier, and the CGI has been never better, but much of the credibility and heart of the original Jurassic Park is lost in this retread. It might seem strange to talk about credibility in a series that features living,  breathing dinosaurs resurrected in a modern setting, but somehow the original film made you believe in an outlandish scenario and breathed life into the characters involved in the chaos in a way this follow-up only dreams of. Okay, it’s not a bad movie, but it’s not the classic we were hoping for- or that this franchise deserves. Continue reading Movie Review: Jurassic World (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

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Many films have been made about the perils of man trying to play God, but Ex Machina actually delivers on provoking thought and discussion from it’s audience. In a time when science fiction thrillers are the proverbial dime a dozen but most don’t do more than provide mild entertainment for 80+ minutes, Ex Machina is a breath of fresh air, a piece of science fiction so uncannily real and creepy it is likely to get under your skin and stay there.

There’s a concept called the ‘Uncanny Valley,’ which suggest A.I. will actually become more and not less unsettling if they are designed and programmed to closely resemble human beings. But in a world where advanced A.I. is possible, who should you fear more; the robots or their hubristic creators? Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a bit of a nerd and an all-around good guy who happens to be extremely intelligent. When the organization he works for, a internet search engine company called Blue Book, holds a drawing to choose a lucky employee to get the meet the head honcho and brains behind the operation, Caleb can hardly believe his good fortune.

Being a genius doesn’t necessarily come equipped with an abundance of kindness or humility, that’s never been truer than it is for Blue Book’s former kid prodigy, Nathan (Oscar Isaac.) Nathan is an narcissist, an alcoholic, and a man who reaches a mentally ill level of creepy and ratchets up that creepiness a notch every minute you’re in the room with him. He is, however, a mastermind at coding, hacking, and, as it turns out, building shapely female robots. When Caleb meets Ava (Alicia Vikander,)  a beautiful cyborg with a sweet and innocent manner, it’s fascination at first sight. Nathan wants Caleb to perform the Turing Test on Ava to discover if she’s equal to a human being in her level of empathy and cognitive responses, but what happens to Ava if she fails?

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If you like smart science fiction that actually incorporates science and philosophy in it’s story and challenges you to think about the ideas it’s presenting, this movie is for you. After being introduced to three compelling characters with their own individual (and sometimes frustratingly ambiguous) motivations and needs, we are forced to ask the question; which of these people is innocent? Who has the most humanity? Who is telling the truth? Who is full of shit? If Ava is not as innocent as she initially appears, does that make her less human or all too human? Which is a scarier concept?

Where does ownership end and violation begin in Nathan’s abuse of his robots? They’re his creations, but does that mean they should have to suffer at his hands? You give life to something, but then you mistreat it, and thus abuse your power. It’s a story as old as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but writer/director Alex Garland breathes new life into the concept, basing it off an idea he had as a boy. It’s easy to think of this as the anti-Chappie (and I was one of the few that actually liked Chappie!) because while that film handles the idea of a scientist creating artificial intelligence and the ensuing complications with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, Ex Machina is silk-smooth and insinuating when it comes to it’s themes.

The plot points are never applied with too much force, and it should come as no surprise to you that all the actors are extraordinary in their roles. Gorgeous cinematography when the movie dares to venture outside of Nathan’s expansive pad juxtaposes the mechanical, the manufactured, and the ‘fake’ with staggering scenic beauty. Can one be as real as the other? Ex Machina will grab your attention until the last scene.

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Aliens (1986)

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There’s something inherently terrifying and grotesque about the creatures in Alien and it’s sequel, Aliens. The way they scuttle across the floor like crabs. The way they latch onto your face and impregnate you with their evil spawn. But nothing has posed quite as epic a threat as the alien queen mother in James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, Aliens. She’s fucking huge, for one thing. She has a vendetta. No wonder, Ellen Ripley, our heroine, abhors her.

Let me just say that Aliens is not a bad movie, by a long shot. It has good production values, effective acting, a solid story, and sympathetic characters. But, frankly, it just didn’t measure up to Ridley Scott’s original in my opinion. I know, right? Let the incredulous comments begin.

The plot of Aliens picks up right where the original left off. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) hops in an escape pod on the doomed spaceship the Nostromo and puts herself in cryo until rescue arrives. hopefully sooner rather than later. Fifty-seven years later (later, definitely later) a large ship picks her up and she soon finds herself at war once again with her mortal enemy, the face-huggers. Engineering her return to the vile creature’s planet is the weasley, manipulative Burke (Paul Reiser,) and she sets forth to save the settlers that have inadvertently arrived on the planet from the original with a bunch of soldiers with huge egos who, in the end, don’t stand a chance.

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The character of Ripley is consistent with the original, but we learn new things about her, like she has a daughter that aged and died while she was in cryo. Ripley’s new daughter figure comes in the form of Newt (Carrie Henn,) a little waif who’s whole family has been killed and who has been living in the ventilation system in the  compound where the face-huggers attacked. This adds an emotional component, as Ripley struggles to protect Newt and the soldiers from a larger-than-life menace and her extra-terrestrial children.

Now on why I think this is a good movie, but not as good as the original film. The first movie in the series was claustrophobic and loaded with atmosphere, whereas this one is more of a standard action flick. Alien incorporated modest practical effects and was done on a fairly low budget, while Aliens has a much larger budget and is much bigger and brassier than the original.

Now for the good. The characters are more sympathetic and more fully developed in this one, from the soldiers played by the likes of Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn to the little girl, Newt. You didn’t care as much about the protagonists in the first movie (other than Ripley,) but the side characters here are given some serious consideration by the writer. Aliens is also much less of a slow-burn, so if you like fast-paced action films that are not so much mood pieces as roller-coaster rides, this is the movie for you. The first was less of a Hollywood film, which was what I liked about it. But this one has more of a character arc, exciting mood, and a sense of mainstream appeal.

I was occasionally not as into Aliens as I probably should have been, I’m not much of a action fan. It gets to the point where I actually get bored by explosions and gunfights no matter how well they’re done for that sort of movie. I very much enjoy more atmospheric/ ‘slow burn’ films, but don’t let that deter you from this action-packed, entertaining movie. Alien and Aliens are very different films, despite being linked by the same heroine and universe, and they’re both worth watching in their own way.

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Alien (1979)

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Seven intergalactic travelers. One fucked-up alien antagonist. Apart, they don’t stand a chance. Together, they’re still pretty much screwed, unless the intrepid Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) can find a way out.

    Alien is a hugely influential, claustrophobic sci-fi thriller which makes fantastic use of practical FX. Director Ridley Scott (who would later helm one of the other all-time sci-fi greats, Blade Runner) creates a irrepressible heroine in Ripley, who exudes coolness and confidence but has enough of a soft spot to make a mad dash to save the cat when shit goes down. She also makes a mean science fiction-horror ‘final girl.’

Ellen wasn’t always in a position where she was forced to be a hero. A passenger on the spaceship Nostromo, her job is is help the crew mine ore on friendly planets. However, when Kane (John Hurt) crawls into some kind of hatchery on a downed ship and gets an unidentified creature glued to his face, his unwise and ultimately fatal misstep gets the rest of the crew into a whole lot of trouble. Stalked by an alien of superior intelligence and an aptitude for hunting prey, the film’s desperate band of characters must overcome their differences and their power struggles and attempt to survive an overwhelmingly dangerous entity. On top of that, one of the passengers is hiding a secret- one that could potentially get them all killed.

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People get the impression from the much talked-about and riffed-on ‘chest-burster scene’ that Alien is a big gorefest, but they would be not entirely accurate to assume this. In fact, Alien is less a schlocky splatter fest and more an atmosphere-filled, even subtle thriller which is also a bit of a slow burn. People are picked off one by one and try to pull together and overcome helpless terror in a pretty hopeless situation. Moreover, the Nostromo is not a overly friendly place for women passengers to begin with; there are only two female passengers among a group of men with big mouths and big egos. In a way, Alien can be seen as a feminist allegory; it is only when Ripley decides to shed her anxieties and her clothes, believing the creature to be dead, that it viciously tries to bring her in particular down.

Ripley is a strong protagonist in (a she doesn’t scream and fret a lot like many heroines. (b she doesn’t need a man to save her, (c she doesn’t amble around clad like a prostitute while strangling men with her legs/inadvertently turning on the  fanboys who watch and (d she doesn’t have an unnecessary and poorly defined love interest. She does have one gratuitous pantie shot to please the gents who are watching but she mostly doesn’t fall into any of the traps of science fiction heroines. Although Weaver is very good, it should also be mentioned that all the actors do an outstanding job in their respective roles.

The design of the monsters is very good, the film ratchets up the suspense masterfully as the body count makes a steady rise, and Ridley Scott manages to keep this tale grounded in reality. Sure, the spaceship setting and face-hugging creatures are fantastical, but the ongoing barrage of fear and squishy sound effects- and the reactions of the characters- feel all too real. Alien is an effective scare flick that created an innovative world for the spin-offs and sequels to follow and leaves you feeling satisfied at the end. Tune in to The Cinematic Emporium for my follow-up review of the film’s sequel, Aliens, coming soon.

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Home (2015)

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For lightweight, innocuous entertainment to put the kiddies in front of while you get some work done, look no farther than Home, Dreamworks’ latest star-studded offering. However, if you want something a bit more emotionally challenging and satisfying for adults as well as toddlers, then you might be better off looking for something in the annals of Pixar studios for while Home looks beautiful and is a harmless enough way to spend 90 minutes, it is ultimately like the film’s race of aliens that benignly attempt to invade earth- well-meaning, but silly, shallow, and happily average and unextraordinary.

The extraterrestrial Boov might not be the brightest lights to grace the galaxy, but they’re really good at one thing- skedaddling. In fact, the leader of the Boov, Captain Smek (voiced by Steve Martin) as made a special point out of running away from whatever scares him. They also have little use for individuality, though they do have a group of supposedly super-intellectual Boov with  giant-sized swollen heads whose job it is to come up with ideas in times of discord.

The Boov could use some ideas right about now. They’re escaping their mortal enemy, the Gorg, which brings them to earth, a baffling planet they benignly take over, benevolently colonizing and herding the humans onto a reservation-like floating island. Then there’s that Boov that nobody likes, the gregarious, overenthusiastic Oh (Jim Parsons.) Oh becomes a most wanted fugitive  when he accidentally sends a intergalactic housewarming party invitation  to the Gorg.

Oh narrowly escapes Boov capture and meets Tip (Rihanna,) a feisty human preteen and the single escapee of a mass earth-wide capture of humans. Tip wants nothing to do with Oh’s kind, being single-mindedly concerned with rescuing her mother (Jennifer Lopez) from the Boov’s incompetent clutches, but they predictably bond and go on the adventure of a lifetime while teaching each other pithy life lessons about tolerating those different from yourself and fighting for what you care about, all to a peppy Rhianna and Jennifer Lopez pop soundtrack.

Home has it’s charming moments, I’ll give it that. It looks good visually, has some good messages, and contains some cute humor regarding Boov’s use (or rather, misuse) of common household objects. I guess everyday life and culture would look baffling to an outsider. But the movie is also dominated by cliches, corny sentiment, and trademark Dreamworks crude humor that detracts more than it brings to the overall viewing experience (I am not a prude, however, I am also not three years old, which is why I was less than impressed with a gag about a an alien drinking restroom ‘lemonade.’)

Every cliche is here; the candid talks while looking out at the sunset, the unlikely friendship which grows from distaste to mutual respect, even the gotcha ‘I thought you were dead’ moment so ubiquitous in modern animated films. Dreamworks seems unwilling or unable to deal with risky emotion or pathos, instead speaking in platitudes and refusing to delve too deep,  which is why it will, always, always be behind Pixar in my opinion.

Pixar delves daringly into real-life issues. Up had the strength to deal with Ellie’s death head-on. Inside Out showed us the emotions of a prepubescent girl, and rang true to anyone who remembered being young. Home doesn’t really have a lot of humor that would tickle someone over twelve’s funny bone, and it really doesn’t have a lot going for it. I got occasional chuckles and an incessant pop soundtrack to punctuate the ‘aaww’ moments. It all rings a bit hollow, and even young kids who are older at heart might see right through it’s flimsy plot cliches and flat characterizations.

Now, I’ll give Home an utterly average rating, but I’m not going to try to dissuade you from watching it with your kids, who might find it perfectly delightful. It’s not a bad movie by any means (better by far than the studio’s 2013 effort The Croods,) just perfectly standard, without anything particularly new or innovative to offer. I just couldn’t bring myself to feel anything, least of all wonder, definitely not emotion. Neither terrible nor particularly worthy of anyone’s time or energy, Home is primarily a Rhianna vehicle (how strange to hear the adult singer voicing a eleven-year-old girl)-  and might serve as a pleasant diversion if you don’t bring up your expectations too much.

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A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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So, I just watched Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange for the first time yesterday. For better or worse, it is magnificently unique; you’re unlikely to see anything else like it in your entire life. What really struck me wasn’t the story, though it was good, but the visuals and sets, which were outstanding. The backdrops to this bizarre tale are somewhere between Salvador Dali, M.C. Escher, and 70’s decor from hell.

Alex Delarge (Malcolm McDowell,) the antihero of “A Clockwork Orange,” likes to hurt people. It’s that simple, he rapes, assaults, and kills not for personal or fiscal gain, but simply because he can. What better way for a Ludwig Van Beethoven loving youth with an insatiable appetite for ultraviolence to spend his nights and weekends?

Delarge lives in a dystopian Britain filled with rot, decay, and futuristic gangs that like to rape women and beat the shit out of people. Alex is a proud member of such a gang: the self proclaimed leader of his ‘droogs’ (Alex and his friends speak in a slangy imaginary language which incorporates English and Russian,) he is simply content raising hell and causing trouble.

When Alex’s life of crime finally catches up with him, he is sent to prison (transitioning the film’s psychedelic backdrop, temporarily at least, to a more standard Borstal setting) and eventually winds up participating in a traumatic aversion therapy to cure him of his criminal impulses, winding up as timid as a puppy, an emotional eunuch repulsed by the very thought of violence.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a very long movie, 137 min., but it doesn’t seem to contain a bit of filler. It just has a really long story to tell. Malcolm McDowell (hard to believe he’s in his seventies now!) is chilling and creepily charismatic as a unrepentant sadist. His parents (Philip Stone and Sheila Raynor) don’t beat him or deprive him of his rights, but they really could care less whether he goes to school or what sadistic new pastime he picks up.

Is Mom and Dad’s bored apathy what has turned Alex into a monster? Children pick up quickly on whether they’re cared about or not, whether their teachers and parents legitimately give a shit about them or how they choose to wheedle away their days. But is the ultimate self absorption of parents and authority figures enough to make a psychopath? Alex, ever the charming beast, would be unlikely to care about these matters.

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Furthermore, Alex lives in a spectacularly self absorbed society that mirrors our own. This is taken to darkly comedic heights when the ‘cat lady’ (Miriam Karlin) tussles with Alex with a obscene phallic statue that’s apparently ‘an important piece of art.’ Alas, the poor wretched woman is crushed by it. What is it  Tyler Durden in Fight Club said? ‘The things you own end up owning you.’ And sometimes you’re bludgeoned to death by your own porcelain penis. An absurd demise you’d be unlikely to see in any other movie, ever.

Ironically, the prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley,) for all his off putting talk of fire and brimstone, is the only one in this world besides the sharklike, predatory Alex himself with any sense whatsoever. It is Quigley’s character who supplies the film’s message; you can’t coerce or manipulate anyone into being good. “Goodness comes from within.” They have beaten and brainwashed Alex into submission; what have they accomplished? You act in a kind and morally generous way because you want to, because you think it’s the right thing to do.

This lesson could be applied to organized religion; even if you tantalize a bad apple with tales of heavens’ spoils and frighten them with stories about a fiery hell, they will eventually show their rotten core. And naturally, Alex gets the last laugh, even while both political parties use him as a puppet for their own personal gain.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a culturally significant work, but it’s not for the extremely sensitive or those with weak stomachs. Furthermore, it’s definitely not for kids or impressionable teens. A triumph of visuals and sound mixing, it can be a little bit disturbing at times and deeply puzzling at others, but it’s become a cultural icon for a reason. Malcolm McDowell’s maniacally inspired performance seals the deal that though “A Clockwork Orange” is not a perfect movie, it’s a pretty damn good one.

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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Political ignorance. Emotional disconnect. Reality television craze. No wonder butthurt educational administrators have tried to ban and censor ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in schools. This book predicted the 21st Century!

Guy Montag is a regular joe, occasionally prone to  sporadic bouts of philosophizing, who happens to live in an appallingly dumbed-down futuristic America where books are confiscated and burned. He should know; he’s a ‘fireman,’ whose job is not to stop fires but to start them. Guy has very rarely questioned his place in the world, his role being to destroy literature and condemn errant readers to death by the lethal injection of the deadly robot dog ‘the hound.’

One day Guy meets free-spirited teen Clarisse McClellan, and their burgeoning friendship is the beginning of an eye-opening but dangerous transformative experience for Guy. He sees what a shitty façade the so-called comfort and prosperity he lives in entails. In Bradbury’s America, people (including Guy’s brainwashed, reality-TV addicted wife Mildred) sit glued to their interactive, inane programs, people are spoonfed political rhetoric and propaganda like blind, deaf infants, and teens and adults alike express their rage and ennui by getting in a car and running over anything- man or animal- they can find.

There are definitely some similarities between the discord making up ‘Fahrenheit 451”s pages and today’s overly social conscious yet utterly socially ignorant world. It’s a quick read, lovingly written, with mind-boggling precursors to modern technology. The society pictured here takes anything stimulating or challenging from people’s ready access, and the sheep-like civilians don’t even put up a fight. Instead, people who like to read or even explore the world and themselves beyond instant gratification and inane excess are considered freaks, abnormal. and subhuman, and thus worthy of extermination by ‘the Hound.’

Everybody is unhappy, but nobody knows they’re unhappy, or why. In the style of something like “Fight Club,” violence is the only conceivable release from boredom and empty consumer culture. I loved this book mostly because of the writing. I found myself inwardly nodding to myself while reading the incisive prose, and wanting to jot down some of the things written within the slim, but potent little novel.

The world-building is also fantastic. Bradbury creates a bleak but instantly recognizable world riddled with violence, apathy, and drug addiction. People are so fixated on the devices and happy pills they have forgotten what makes them happy, much less human. They’ve certainly forgotten each other, so focused are they on their flickering, opium-soaked electronic worlds.

Although Guy is the protagonist of ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Beatty, Guy’s maniacally evil boss, may be the most interesting out of the cast of characters. For a man who hates books and reading, Beatty is certainly well-read, and belies his disgusted attitude toward knowledge with a plethora of classic literary references and quotes. I kind of wish they had gone into Beatty’s past a bit more, a backstory that Bradbury himself goes into a bit more depth about in the afterward of the edition of the book I read.

Don’t let the fact that “Fahrenheit 451” is a ‘classic’- a double-edged term often associated with dusty bookshelves and interminable boredom get in the way of reading what is surely one of the best dystopian novels of all time, loaded with spiritual and social significance without being wordy or a drag. Teachers and parents who try to withhold this book from teens’ hands  are certainly barking up the wrong tree (though if I’m not wrong, teenagers will find a away to acquire those books and videos which are kept from them.) This is great discussion material, and much more substantial than most young adult books on the market today.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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There’s hardly a moment that’s not brimming with action and excitement in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” a modern continuation of the “Mad Max” series substituting Mel Gibson for Tom Hardy as the lead. I’ve liked Tom Hardy since his role in the weirdo biopic “Bronson,” and although I haven’t seen this film’s precursors (!), I was intrigued by it’s rave reviews and no small amount of unwarranted controversy from feminist critics.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is not a particularly deep movie; not particularly wise to the intricacies of human nature other than the well-worn assertion that when the apocalypse rolls around, shit will go down. You know what? That’s okay.  Because what this latest installment does have is cool car chases, crazy set pieces, and kick-ass female characters (remind me why this was branded misogynist again?)

You know that a movie with a rock n’ roll gimp playing a flame-throwing guitar on the front of a fortified tank as the baddies ride into battle has got to have some redeeming social value, or at least be cool as hell. In the not-so-distant future, oil and water have become precious commodities and society has broken into factions, each more brutal than the last. Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is mad about stuff, namely the state of civilization and the death of his wife and daughter which have festered in his mind and culminated in crazy hallucinations.

He gets kidnapped by an insane cult led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne,) who promises his ‘wild boys’ eternal paradise in Valhalla if the live- and die- by his will. Max then gets made into a ‘blood-bag,’ a commodity whose blood is to be used to renew Immortan Joe’s wild boy’s when the time comes. But Max escapes, and with much trepidation joins Joe’s renegade warrior Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and a group of the maniacal leader’s sexual slaves in route, the the ‘green place,’ a Utopian locale based on Furiosa’s distant memory.

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I was pleased and relieved to see that Furiosa and Max’s relationship was not (as I feared it would be) ‘let me get past your hard-as-nails facade and awaken the woman within’ bullcrap. It’s based on mutual respect, certainly more than sex or romance, and I love how he forgoes shooting the gun at a crucial moment to hand it over because she’s just, y’know, a better shot. For someone who was expecting a filmy post-apocalyptic sex scene, maybe with incense and gauze curtains or some such shit, I was pleasantly surprised.

I am not the audience for this movie, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy it. I am the less-than-1% who actually prefers European art films and understated independent films to big-budget multi-million dollar smashes, but the nice thing about “Mad Max: Fury Road” is it doesn’t try to be deep or profound (like Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy) but just has fun being itself, a big fun goofy action movie of larger-than-life proportions, like playing a particularly epic video game. There’s scarcely a dull moment.

It’s interesting to see how classical mythology (namely Norse) has collided with modern sensibilities, selfishness, and consumerism with Immortan Joe’s boys (one of his warriors, a wet-behind-the-ears kid named Nux (Nicholas Hoult,) describes ‘going to Valhalla to eat a Mcfeast’- a little post-McDonald’s product placement there) 😉 The wild-boy’s ideology reminds me of ISIS and any other cult or hate group worth it’s salt- you get to be an asshole, and you’re rewarded for it tenfold in the afterlife.

Watch it for the guitar gimp. And if not for the guitar gimp, watch it for Tom Hardy. And if not for Tom Hardy, watch it for Charlize Theron as an indomitable heroine and her group of newly liberated wards who must find their own deeply-buried strength. Never to we get the feeling that Theron’s identity as a woman makes her softer or weaker than any of the guys. And we don’t get that gag-worthy prerequisite scene where the warrioress takes off her helmet and tosses her hair around, making the stoic hero’s jaw drop.

This might actually be worth watching in 3-D. So pop your popcorn, put on your 3-D glasses, and put your innate need for deep meaning and intellectual stimulation away, because you’re in for a wild ride. I bet considering this movie’s wild success, Mel Gibson’s kicking himself for turning down the amount of money offered to play in this film. If you discard your initial skepticism (I’m talking to you, art film addicts and hipsters) at seeing a film that actually made loads of money- a remake, no less- I’m sure you will find a lot to love about this film.

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The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

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Oh, will someone think of the (zombie) children? 😛

“The Girl With All the Gifts” is about twice as good as you’d expect a novel about a wide-eyed, sensitive, lesbian zombie child with an off-the-charts IQ to be.

At first the premise threw me off- call me a traditionalist, I but I think of zombies as shambling wrecks of people who moan and groan and have absolutely no qualms about eating human flesh. They do not think, reason, and enthuse about Greek mythology. A precocious zombie tyke with a nagging conscience? Puh-leeze (to be fair, there were some of the voracious mindless variety of undead in this book too.) But further on through this odd but innovative book, I’ll be damned if I didn’t fall in love with little Melanie and her benignly waffling ‘should-I-shouldn’t-I ‘ approach to cannibalism.

Melanie isn’t like other kids, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to make connections as she navigates a cell block where she is kept prisoner in post-apocalyptic Britain. During the breakdown, millions of people died from a rampaging fungal infection and were suspended in a middling state between life and death, These ‘hungries’ soon wiped out the majority of the population, and the remaining British population has either holed itself up in the crime-ridden city of Beacon, escaped to a large research facility, or become a vicious, feral ‘junker.’

Then there are the ‘others,’ children who incongruously are neither Hungry nor human, but straddle both worlds and are used as experiments by the cure-seeking government. Enter Melanie, a bright, clear-eyed girl who loves her kind, lovely teacher, Miss Justineau (although this infatuation is less lust than hero worship.) In truth Justineau is there to gauge the children’s intellectual capabilities to prepare them for dissection, but she has grown to quite like her zombified, studious little pupils, especially Melanie, a strange child whose intelligence is only matched by her eagerness to learn.

Melanie dreams of saving Mrs. Justineau and whisking her away from the awful research facility, but it is Justineau who saves Melanie from going under the knife on the cold operating table of evil scientist and uber-bitch extraordinaire Caroline Caldwell- just in time for a devastating junker attack. On the run from junkers and hungries alike, Justineau, Caldwell, Melanie to two military men named Parks and Gallagher escape in an RV, intent of staying away from the evil that has consumed their base. Meanwhile, Melanie tries her hardest not to succumb to her cannibalistic desires.

Even Miss Justineau would be on the menu, and nobody wants that, least of all Melanie. While Parks and Caldwell seem to be somewhat archetypical (Parks is a hard, brutal military man, while Caldwell will do anything in the name of science- even dissect zombie children without anesthesia,) Justineau comes off as just plain naive at times, balking at the idea of Melanie being restrained despite Melanie’s intense yearning to devour human flesh (you can’t do that! She’s a child! How would you like to be tied up if you were a homicidal cannibalistic zombie child?”)

The book is pretty well-written, with a handful of decent metaphors and a rich vocabulary, and Melanie herself is a compelling character, once you get past her distinctly non-zombie-like affect. The science is studied- a little too studied, in my opinion; the passages on the contagion get a little long winded- but the upside of this is that the virus and it’s effects are frighteningly and acutely believable. Despite the fact that several of the main players are slightly stereotypical, “The Girl With All the Gifts” has fairly good character development, especially considering it’s genre (sci-fi/horror) and the author’s background (mostly comic books.)

Most of the novel is exciting and fast-paced, with lots of fight sequences and scenes of horror and gore, but it ultimately has it’s heart in the right place as well as teeth bared at your throat. Containing scenes of both touching tenderness and biting social commentary about those who are only considered worthy as far as they can help us move forward in society- in the name of science and otherwise, “The Girl With All the Gifts” is an easy read, but by no means a brainless one (no pun intended.) It’s intense, compelling, and sometimes scarily plausible.

A note on the movie- Hearing that Paddy Considine (“Dead Man’s Shoes,” “My Summer of Love”) was going to be in the film adaptation is the best news I’ve heard all week. But I’m a little puzzled as to why Miss Justiineau (portrayed as a black woman in the book) will be played by Gemma Arterton (“The Disappearance of Alice Creed,” “The Voices,” a lily-white actress. I like Arterton, but cannot fathom her playing a character that was written to be African-American.

Likewise, Melanie (who was described as ‘very fair’ within the first few sentences) and Gallagher (who was supposed to be a ginger) are played by African American actors. I mean, what the fuck? I know I’ll get flack for this (mix it up and all that,) but can’t the characters stay within the races the author assigned for them? Just a thought. Nevertheless, I eagerly anticipate this movie and hope it can live up to the the potential the book established. She-Who-Brings-Gifts-2

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Kindred

Occasional bad luck is inevitable. Dana, the protagonist of ‘Kindred”s luck is cataclysmic. A strong willed and -minded black woman married happily to a white older man, she is transported through time and space without so much as a how-do-you-do to slavery-era Baltimore to save her white ancestor, Rufus Weylin, from an untimely death. Without Rufus’ inevitable union with a slave woman, little Dana will never come to be- or so she believes as she returns time and time again throughout Rufus’ life to save him, increasingly cognizant of what a sadistically self-obsessed monster he is gradually becoming.

“Kindred” is my first book by Octavia E. Butler, and I was struck by how well it delivers on it’s sumptuously creative premise. It is a speculative work of fiction, but is anything but fantastical when dealing with the hardships of the slaves on the Weylins’ plantation. Seeing Dana try to hide her education and her fierce independence in attempts to play the role of a ignorant, subservient slave held a kind of morbid fascination for me. In Rome, do as the Romans do. But in this case you pretty much have the equivalent of a red target painted against your cursedly brown flesh.

As it turns out, time travel works in this kind of like the wormhole to Narnia. Dana is summoned back to the past only to find that was hours for her, turns out to be years for the people left behind in the past. ‘Kindred’ never lets you forget the spiraling disorientation of living in such a changeable reality.

Dana is a well-developed character, weakened but not weak, strong but not infallible. Even Rufus himself, sniveling bastard that he grows up to be, is painted with nuance and ambiguity, rather than thick, derisive strokes. You can see that Rufus is a worthless chode, but you can comprehend how he came to be that way, and hopefully regard him at brief moments with pity, rather than with all-consuming (and for all intents and purposes, well deserved) hatred.

I found the writing in “Kindred” both pragmatic (no frills to be found) and compelling. I was a little put off by how careless Dana, and later, her husband Kevin are at changing the timeline. Actions have consequences, every science fiction-slash- time travel buff knows that. But Dana and Kevin take no heed of the drastic ways they effect historical events.

Also, it was weirdly icky how Butler described Rufus’ continual sexual exploitation of the slave girl, Alice, as love, albeit, a ‘destructive love.’ It was old-fashioned and sometimes downright gross, and I thought that Butler , as a feminist and a woman , would no better than to call assault anything but what it is, assault. Love is wanting what’s best for someone. Rufus certainly didn’t want what was best for Alice, he wanted what was best for himself.

He was a sad little boy who grew into a nasty, pathetically small-minded man, having learned nothing but cruelty and hatred from his father. I liked how his relationship with Dana, his savior, stayed ambiguous throughout (until the end when thing went down in a big way.) It made the book so much more interesting than if she had just hated and been repulsed by him.

More than a science fiction novel, ‘Kindred’ goes beyond mere concept, delivering a pulse-pounding story with a compelling cast of characters. In a time and culture where slavery is a distant concept hidden away in history books, ‘Kindred’ takes it to the forefront of our attention as we watch history unfold with Dana. Like Dana, we are riveted and deeply moved. Unlike Dana, we experience it from the comfort of our own home. ‘Kindred’ isn’t just a must read for science fiction lovers. It’s a must read, period. Fin.