My friend Lavender, of nomansland.blog, and I discussed what we loved about the new Star Wars film. Check out our review – AFTER you see the film:
My friend Lavender, of nomansland.blog, and I discussed what we loved about the new Star Wars film. Check out our review – AFTER you see the film:
This review contains spoilers.
I was intrigued by the premise of this movie: Two people, on a 120 year long journey in space, are awakened from hibernation 90 years before the ship reaches its destination.
I like Jennifer Lawrence and Star-Lord, er, Chris Pratt, and I had heard it was a great story. I also loved director Morten Tyldum’s thriller “Headhunters” (which stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from “Game of Thrones”).
While “Passengers” was entertaining, it seemed that something was missing. It didn’t delve deep enough, for one thing. I wanted more. More what, I don’t know. It just felt superficial to me.
(If you didn‘t see “Passengers,” don’t read the rest of this review. It contains SPOILERS.)
One thing that seems off is the part of the film that begins when Gus (Laurence Fishburne) wakes up. Besides the wrench it throws into the point of the movie being that they’re the only two people awake for the next 90 years, the subsequent action seems like it belongs in another movie entirely.
But even more annoying to me is Lawrence’s character, Aurora. Maybe it’s just me, but she seems snobby, like she thinks Jim is beneath her. More than once, she mentions that under ordinary circumstances, she would never end up with him, but she doesn’t say why. He’s adorable and romantic and sweet. What’s not to love?
I found it odd that it took her so long to bother getting to know Jim. Was she so upset about the prospect of being alone that she didn’t notice she wasn’t alone?
And while I can understand her anger at discovering Jim was the one who woke her, she ceases to be a sympathetic character once she attacks him while he’s sleeping. I know some reviewers couldn’t get past the moral problem of what he did, dooming her to a lifetime aboard the ship, but I was more disturbed by Aurora’s violence.
Was waking her from hibernation so unforgivable? He was ALL ALONE IN OUTER SPACE. Who knows what anyone would do in similar circumstances?
Clearly she does forgive him in the end, when she realizes she doesn’t want to be alone on that ship either. We are supposed to believe she really does love him after all, but the line between love and need is blurry.
Then he tells her she can get in the Autodoc and go back into hibernation and she says “No”? What! That’s all she cared about, and now she doesn’t want that anymore? I’m not buying it. At this point, they seem like they’ve fucked each other over too much to live happily ever after.
My other gripe is a minor one: It’s too clean and shiny. I like my sci-fi gritty, and everything in “Passengers” is too perfect – the ship, yes, but also Lawrence. Her outfits look like ads from a futuristic fitness magazine. And would you still bother to do your hair and makeup every day if the only person who is going to see you is that guy you hate? Me neither.
Photos: Columbia Pictures
One great thing about living near Los Angeles is being close to all the cool exhibits at the museums, and one that I did not want to miss was Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Guillermo del Toro is a science fiction and horror writer, director, and producer whose movies include “Pacific Rim,” “Mimic,” “Crimson Peak,” “Hellboy,” “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” “Blade II,” and the Spanish-language films “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Devil’s Backbone,” and “Cronos.”
From Guadalajara, Mexico, del Toro now resides in Los Angeles, where he is currently working on a film called “The Shape of Water.” He also is the creator of the FX series “The Strain.”
The collection displayed at LACMA is huge and very impressive. Of course it includes memorabilia from his films – costumes, drawings, notebooks, and props – but it also includes a lot of cool stuff from his collection of art, books, artifacts, and life-sized sculptures of people including Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Harryhausen and several others.
The exhibit is organized by the themes that run through del Toro’s films. The first is “Childhood and Innocence,” and includes props and drawings from “Pan’s Labyrinth” and other items in his collection that pertain to this theme.
Another theme is “Victoriana,” evident in his gothic romance/ghost story “Crimson Peak.” The name of del Toro’s residence Bleak House was taken from a Charles Dickens novel. (And in case you’re wondering, this is a separate house from the one he lives in with his family. This one is just for all his cool toys.)
In the “Magic, Alchemy, and the Occult” section, we learn that del Toro is heavily influenced by the writer H.P. Lovecraft as well as a series he loved as a child called “Man, Myth & Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural.”
A room themed “Movies, Comics, Pop Culture” displays del Toro’s collection of comic books and movie memorabilia. He loves Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel.
Inspired by “Planet of the Apes” (1968), a young del Toro filmed a display of his toy figurines with his father’s Super 8 camera, a pivotal moment: “When I first projected that first Super 8 reel, something happened that was absolutely life changing,” he said.
Del Toro’s self-described “Frankenstein fetish” is evident in the exhibit “Frankenstein and Horror,” an homage to Mary Shelley’s famous monster, as well as other famous movie monsters. “Freaks and Monsters” shows del Toro’s fascination with sideshow “freaks,” and how this influences his work.
There are also areas dedicated to “Death and Afterlife,” lucha libre (Mexican masked wrestling), a recreation of del Toro’s rain room (not to be confused with the other Rain Room at LACMA), and so much more.
Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters is at LACMA until Nov. 27, and will travel to Minneapolis and Toronto in 2017. For more information, go to http://www.lacma.org/guillermo-del-toro#about-the-exhibition
Photos by EarthToShawna
If you haven’t seen the Season 6 finale of “Game of Thrones,” you may want to come back after you’ve seen it. This is your spoiler warning.
Let’s talk about Cersei’s industrial goth dress. I’m guessing someone in the costume department has seen the “Hellraiser” movies way too many times, because I feel like I’m watching Clive Barker’s “Game of Thrones.” Let’s not forget the Night King looking like Pinhead’s distant cousin:
Everything is happening, and it’s about time. We knew Cersei was planning something sinister, but who knew how big it would be? That wildfire explosion was crazy. One thing I didn’t see coming was the end of Margaery, Loras, and Mace Tyrell. But I was happy to see those pesky Sparrows go down.
Walder Frey also had it coming to him, after the carnage of the Red Wedding. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but Arya apparently believes it’s a dish best served with one’s sons baked inside. Gross.
The truth of Jon Snow’s parentage was figured out by readers of the books some time ago, so last night’s “shocker” wasn’t much of a revelation, but it was satisfying to see it finally play out on screen, even if we knew all along Jon wasn’t Ned’s bastard son. I think Ned would be proud of the man his nephew has become. “The King in the North!”
Daenerys’ scenes – some of my favorites in the first few seasons – have lately been a batch of fries sitting under a heat lamp while the other stories catch up, so it’s nice that she’s finally going somewhere. The part where she dumps her boyfriend was blah, but it’s so darn touching when she names Tyrion the Hand of the Queen, it almost makes up for it.
It’s nice that we got to see a little bit of everyone, since it’s the last episode we will get until 2017. But come on, that was not enough of Sam and Gilly. (Cool library! And then we move on.)
I think the most unexpected and breathtaking moment of the finale was Tommen’s suicide. But the most heartbreaking was Davos confronting Melisandre about Shireen’s murder. “I loved that girl like she was my own,” he tells her. “She was good, she was kind, and you killed her!” (Stop making me cry, Onion Knight!)
I love GoT, and I’m going to miss it while it’s gone. Until next year.
In other news
I’m reading Hugh Howey’s post-apocalyptic “Wool” series (which is awesome – go read it right now if you haven’t), and hopefully I will have more news to report about this soon – “Guardians of the Galaxy” writer Nicole Perlman has reportedly been hired to re-write “Wool” for 20th Century Fox and producers Ridley Scott and Steve Zaillian.
“Wool” began as a stand-alone novella, which Howey published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing system. Interesting note: Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” also was based on a self-published book. Self-publishing seems to be gaining more respect.
Maybe anyone can write a novel. Maybe even … robots? Yes, as Hugh Howey himself predicted, a novel has recently been written by artificial intelligence. The AI had some help from humans, so writers aren’t obsolete just yet. The novel, a team effort led by Hitoshi Matsubara, a professor at Future University Hakodate, was an attempt to win Japan’s Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award. The novel, “The Day a Computer Writes a Novel,” didn’t win, but it passed the first round of screening.
The idea of robots taking over the world is just science fiction, though. Right? Well, not if you believe in a theory known as “technological singularity.” Singularity theorists say that superintelligent machines will one day overtake humans. Of course, there have been multiple books, movies and TV shows about cyborgs, androids, robots, or machines overthrowing humans. Most of them seem too far-fetched to come true, but some of them (“Ex Machina” and “Her”) seem eerily possible.
Moving on to a more scientifically plausible prediction about non-human intelligence, a Cornell student recently estimated that Earth won’t contact alien life for another 1,500 years. This might sound like a wild guess, but it’s based on math: Evan Solomonides and professor Yervant Terzian presented a paper earlier this month, at the American Astronomical Society meeting, which explains that because we have only been sending signals to space for 80 years, we’ve reached less than one percent of the galaxy. We shouldn’t expect to make contact until we’ve reached at least half of the solar systems in the Milky Way.
The astronomers address what’s known as the Fermi Paradox, which asks: “There must be other planets like Earth, so why have we not heard from them yet?” Solomonides’ answer is a good one, but I will offer up another possibility: Maybe the aliens are just waiting to see if this Trump thing blows over before they decide if we are worth talking to.
“Game of Thrones photos,” HBO.
If you had a chance to have a new body, would you take it? To have your memories transferred to a body cloned from your cells and given growth hormones to age the new body from infancy to your current age? A healthy body, free from disease, injury, scars, or wrinkles?
If you’re one of the characters in Jessica Chiarella’s debut novel, “And Again,” you would do it. The four main characters are suffering from injury or disease, and are among the first to undergo the new procedure.
It is a fascinating concept, and inspires questions like, How much of our memories are in our brain, and how much is in our bodies? Is it muscle memory that enables my fingers to type these words?
One of the characters, Hannah, is an artist, and she finds her gift is lost when she receives her new body. She also finds she misses her scars and tattoos. We may not realize how much of our body’s history is a part of our personal identity.
So much of others’ behavior toward us is a response to our physical appearance, which was evident in Connie’s story. As a former actress suffering from AIDS, she was treated like a pariah, but when she gets her beautiful, new body, the attention she receives is a double-edged sword. It is rather telling that her only friend – before and after the procedure – is a blind man.
The other clones, a woman paralyzed in a car accident, and a corrupt Congressman, also struggle. David seems to think he can wipe the slate clean with his new body, and be a better man, but old habits die hard. Linda, on the other hand, may as well be a complete stranger, as far as her children are concerned. She had lain in a hospital bed for eight years, while her husband and children have gone on with their lives without her.
The patients meet regularly in a support group to discuss their experiences, as no one else understands what they are going through, but when two of the clones have an affair, and David’s shady dealings threaten the future of the SUBlife program, all hell breaks loose. I won’t say any more than that; you will have to read it yourself.
‘Born with Teeth’
For me – a lover of juicy memoirs AND Star Trek – Kate Mulgrew’s book, “Born with Teeth,” was a special treat.
I have only seen Mulgrew as the indomitable Capt. Janeway of “Star Trek: Voyager,” so I didn’t know much about her life or her career before that, but I was hooked from the first page, when Mulgrew was, literally, born with teeth. Her mother decides Shakespeare would have a field day with that, and thus is planted the seed of Kate’s career.
Mulgrew, from a big, free-spirited Irish Catholic family in Iowa, participated in a poetry contest in fifth grade. Her mother, invited to hear Kate recite her poetry at the contest, instructed her daughter to also read “The White Cliffs,” by Alice Duer Miller. Her own poetry elicits only polite applause, but when Kate finishes her dramatic reading of “The White Cliffs,” the audience is moved to tears.
On the way home after the contest, her mother tells her, “You know, Kitten, I watched you today, and it dawned on me that you can either be a mediocre poet or a great actress. Now, which do you think you’d rather be?”
Kate throws herself into acting, and through the many hardships life throws at her, she clings to her work, and not only survives, but thrives, through determination and grit. It’s no wonder she won the part of the fearless leader of the “Voyager” crew.
Mulgrew has led an amazing life, but I won’t give it all away and ruin it for you. Suffice it to say, I knew she was a wonderful actress, but I was pleasantly surprised to find she is also a great writer, and as I read her exciting, and sometimes heartbreaking, life story, I discovered that Kate is not only talented, but courageous and passionate as well.
By Jessica Chiarella
Touchstone; January 2016
“Born with Teeth”
By Kate Mulgrew
Back Bay Books; Reprint edition; January 2016
I read “Station Eleven,” Emily St. John Mandel’s fourth novel, in just a couple of days. It’s one of those books you can’t put down. I have a thing for post-apocalyptic tales, and I love novels like this one, in which the narrative takes the reader back and forth through time. This one connects the events from the pre-collapse past with those in the desolate place the world has become 20 years after the “Georgia Flu” pandemic wipes out most of the planet’s population.
I hear you saying “Another disease-wipes-out-most-of-humanity story?” You think you have heard this story before, but you haven’t.
A traveling symphony/Shakespearean troupe caravans through what is left of the Midwest – tiny communities that have formed in the wake of the pandemic. (Replace bands of marauding Indians with religious cults, and covered wagons with old pickup trucks, and it’s almost the Wild West.)
The lead caravan has written on it the words “Survival is insufficient” (taken from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager). And indeed, survival is not enough, which is why the troupe brings music and Shakespeare to the survivors of the apocalypse.
The Star Trek quote is also tattooed on one of the actor’s arms. Kirsten, who was a child when the flu hit, is mocked for having among her few belongings a glass paperweight. But she treasures it for its beauty. Also among her prized possessions are two issues of a rare graphic novel called “Station Eleven,” about a scientist living aboard a space station.
The story of Station Eleven parallels the main narrative, reminiscent of Tales of the Black Freighter, the comic within the comic book “Watchmen.” It’s interesting to see the comic book tale unfold, and how it relates to the plot.
Kirsten is my favorite character, sort of a tough, Katniss-like heroine, but Kirsten is only one of five main characters. My one complaint is that I wish the book were longer, so that there would be more time to get to know the interesting characters whose stories are woven together in this carefully crafted, plot-driven story.
Mandel is a gifted writer. This is one of those books that I love but also hate because I will never be able to write something as beautiful as this haunting story about what it means to be part of the human race: “We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie … it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt.”
It’s true we don’t realize how much we take for granted until it’s gone – things like running water, electricity, antibiotics, but also family, familiarity, the simple pleasures of art, music, and good food.
“What would you miss?” the inside cover of the paperback asks. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was reading this novel late into the night, grateful for my sleeping family, for the electricity that made it possible for me to read in the darkness, and for every little thing that is part of our daily lives that we often don’t give a second thought.
“Station Eleven” was a finalist for the National Book Award, a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award, and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2015. A film adaptation is being developed.
By Emily St. John Mandel
Vintage, June 2015
I’m not blogging this week, but my friend Lavender Vroman and I did a joint review of “The Force Awakens,” which can be found on her blog. Check it out – after you see the film:
Atwood’s new novel starts out believably enough – the economy has taken a dive. Stan and his wife Charmaine have lost their home and are forced to live in their car. When vandals harass them, they have to scram and find another place to park. It’s not a good time.
They apply for the Positron Project, an economic experiment in which residents are given jobs and a nice house to live in six months out of the year. The other six months they live in the community’s prison.
The desperate couple is approved, and they move in. A shower! Clean towels! A bed to sleep in! A dishwasher! They don’t seem to mind sharing the house with their alternates, and they don’t even seem to mind spending half the year in prison. They are kept busy with their prison jobs, which mostly involve knitting and tending chickens.
Already, I’m confused. Why do they have to live in the prison half the time? They aren’t criminals. If it doesn’t make sense to me, why is this not questioned by the residents? But for the sake of the story, I accept it and move on with the story.
And it’s a compelling story. We can see that there is something sinister going on behind the scenes of the glossy Stepford-ish community because we are told as much: The somewhat spineless Stan is warned that there’s no going back, that no one ever gets out alive, but he signs the contract anyway, since his naïve wife has her heart set on it.
The residents of the twin towns of Consilience/Positron have no contact with the outside world. They are allowed to watch TV, but mostly 1950’s TV shows and movies. The music they are offered is Doris Day and Bing Crosby.
Charmaine herself is somewhat of a Doris Day type, always trying to look on the bright side. So it comes as a bit of a surprise when she is late getting out of the house on switchover day, and runs into the man who lives in the house when she and Stan are in the prison. They begin a torrid affair, right then and there, and before long, Stan and Charmaine are wrapped up in a plot from which they can’t escape.
The book poses a lot of interesting questions: How much control over our own lives are we willing to give up? Would we be willing to sacrifice our morality and our dignity? And how much autonomy do we even want?
It is a throwback to “1984” and “Stepford Wives,” but the fact that I stayed up too late reading this crazy page-turner is a testament to its originality. It was unpredictable, and I wanted to know what would happen next, despite each plot twist being more far-fetched than the last.
Perhaps the real question Atwood is asking is “Is this really so unbelievable?” If the science were possible, would someone do the things they do in this book? We all know power corrupts, and if there’s a market for something, however immoral, there is always going to be an evil someone who will try to profit from it, and herds of idiots who will follow him.
I realize this is sci-fi, but even within that genre, I want to believe. I want to be convinced. But I could have forgiven the silliness of some of the plot devices, if the characters didn’t behave so out of character.
One character, in particular, is such a wild card that I wonder why Atwood didn’t write her as two separate characters. It would have made more sense. Maybe it was supposed to reinforce the suspense and the feeling that you don’t know who you can trust. But it was distracting.
Stan’s brother’s name is Conor – Con for short – and he’s a con man. It’s little things like this that foreshadow the eventual obviousness that the novel is meant to be a farce, but if it’s a comedy, it’s a disturbing one.
It’s an interesting read, as long as you’re willing to suspend disbelief for 320 pages. It’s a quick 320 pages because there’s never a dull moment. (There’s also crazy sex stuff; you’ve been warned.) I would feel better about recommending it, if the place where dystopian tale meets satire had been written a bit more seamlessly.
“The Heart Goes Last”
By Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese; September 2015
I love dystopian science fiction, and time-travel stories too, so Dark Horse’s new graphic novel “Ei8ht,” which began as a webcomic by Rafael Albuquerque, is right up my alley.
“The past is green,” the intro reads, “the present is purple, the future is blue – the Meld is something else entirely.” From the start, we see this is not your average time-travel tale, if there is such a thing.
The colors match up to the scenes in the story. If a panel is illustrated in purple, we know we are seeing the future; the past is in green, etc. I’m not sure the color guide is necessary, but I guess it helps if you’re easily confused.
The first chapter is a bit vague, as our hero’s trip to the Meld leaves his memory fuzzy. I get a “12 Monkeys” vibe, though, as Joshua seems to have been sent there in an attempt to find a cure to a plague that is wiping out people in the present time. Or in the future. (Maybe I do need that color code after all.)
“Ei8ht” takes a Mad Max-ian turn when we see what kind of place Joshua ended up in. The first person Joshua meets in the Meld is a Tank Girl type, armed with a bow. She and her buddies seem like the same kind of characters you might run into in “Fury Road.”
It’s an inhospitable desert dimension that is not a nice place to be. Think of it as a sort of Bermuda Triangle, which factors into the plot, in Chapter 2.
The story is compelling and the art is haunting. I definitely got sucked into the story. Of course there is the page-turning element of mystery – who is Joshua and why is he stuck here? But it’s also exciting to discover new worlds in science fiction, and the Meld certainly qualifies.
Albuquerque has described the Meld as a “temporal trash can,” a place in time where everything that’s ever been or will be on Earth can coexist – including dinosaurs and Nazis.
I initially liked the fast pace of the comic – don’t you hate it when a story arc drags on and on? But then in Chapter 5 I wondered if it wasn’t moving too quickly. Is this a miniseries?
If it’s over, then it’s a bit of a letdown. It’s too short to be a complete story, and there is so much wasted potential if this is the end. But the graphic novel (which collects comics 1 through 5) is called “Volume 1,” which leads me to believe there is more in store for these characters. I hope so.
“Ei8ht, Volume 1: Outcast”
By Rafael Albuquerque and Mike Johnson
Dark Horse Books; October 2015
I am a big fan of “Star Wars,” and I also love comic books. But “Skywalker Strikes,” the graphic novel which collects issues 1 through 6, is the first Star Wars comic I’ve read. The last Star Wars “Expanded Universe” books I read were Timothy Zahn’s books, the Thrawn Trilogy, back in the early ’90s. The trilogy is set five years after the events in “Return of the Jedi.”
I am sure that the upcoming Star Wars sequel “The Force Awakens” will have little in common with Zahn’s books, as Disney now owns the Star Wars franchise and has more or less declared the Star Wars Expanded Universe not part of official canon, pissing off Star Wars fans everywhere.
I get why they did it, but it seems a little insulting to throw out all the books and comics that came before Disney, and also a bit tricky. Coruscant, for example, a planet prominently featured in the movie prequels, first appears in Zahn’s “Heir to the Empire.” Are they only keeping EU if it was picked up in the films?
Also angering some fans was Disney’s refusal to renew Dark Horse’s Star Wars publishing license in January. They instead gave the license back to Marvel, which they also now own.
Star Wars comics were published by Marvel from 1977 to 1986, when they canceled it. So Dark Horse had been publishing Star Wars comics since 1989. In short, this is the first Star Wars comic released by Marvel since the ’80s.
Because Disney has said the new comics are canon, it is possible that the characters introduced in them will be part of the new movies, so if you don’t like spoilers and theories, stop reading now.
If you’re still with me, you’ve read my spoiler alert and have been warned.
The biggest surprise in the new comic is the appearance of a woman named Sana Solo, who claims to be Han’s wife. She confronts him on a planet where he and Leia are hiding from Imperial forces, and even asks Leia, “Now who in the hell might you be, lady?”
Earlier in the comic, she is shown (in a mask) trying to track Han down, and it seems she’s a bounty hunter when she says Han belongs to her, but in light of her claim, her words take on a new meaning.
The fact that Sana is black has fans speculating about a “Force Awakens” theory – that she and Han could be Finn’s parents or grandparents, especially considering director J.J. Abrams’ decision not to reveal some of the characters’ last names (as it would give something away).
Of course, this is all just a theory, and Sana might just be a lying stalker. But why put her in there if she’s not important?
One thing I like about this series is that it’s not boring. From the very first page, we are in the thick of the action, with the Rebels infiltrating an Imperial weapons factory, but their plan to destroy it is thwarted by the appearance of Vader. Luke, who still doesn’t know Vader is his father, wants to fight him, but the voice of Obi Wan tells him to run. At least old Ben knows Luke is no match for his old apprentice.
I like the art in this collection; Han and Leia look like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. Luke is another story. Sometimes he looks like Mark Hamill and in other panels he’s almost unrecognizable. Maybe it’s just me.
Some of the action is recycled. A quick escape is hindered by a problem with the Millennium Falcon. Luke continues his existential Jedi angst. Han and Leia argue-flirt. Han flies through an electrical storm in an attempt to lose their tail – just like the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” when he flew into an asteroid field. He even says, they “stopped following us, didn’t they?” In “The Empire Strikes Back,” he says, “They’d be crazy to follow us, wouldn’t they?”
The introduction of Sana reminds me of the introduction of another character – Gwendolyn from the comic book “Saga.” Marko’s crazy ex trailed him across the galaxy before confronting him and his new woman.
That’s not to say the lack of originality has turned me off the new comic completely. I am looking forward to reading more, if only because I want to see what’s going on with Sana, and a few other new plot points that have been introduced. (OK, one.)
If I am not blown away, it’s only because I expected more from Marvel. In their defense, I think their biggest obstacle was that the element of suspense is missing, because we already know what’s going to happen. But then why choose this time period? It’s filler. Or an excuse to set up the lineage of the movie’s new characters, if the theory proves to be correct.
That being said, it’s nice to see everyone again, and while the plot may not be earth-shattering, it’s familiar and fun to read while waiting for the movie.
“Star Wars Vol. 1: Skywalker Strikes,” by Jason Aaron
Illustrated by John Cassaday and Laura Martin
Marvel; October 2015