Interstellar. As much as I whine about Christopher Nolan films, he’s got some gifts. My experience the second time around was almost the reverse of my first viewing: I was feeling the family story, and the epic space adventure had me twiddling my thumbs. I need an alternate cut of this movie that removes the “let’s explain the science” interludes. Just gimme the melodrama. The heightened emo stuff just wrecked me.
The Thing. I feel like this one has been in the air a good bit recently. I… don’t understand all the hubbub. It’s fine. Just wasn’t for me.
10 Cloverfield Lane. One of those movies that takes a few different shapes. Start with a stalker suspense, then abduction horror, then bunker survival, then… well, ya gotta watch it. Love how a few new details surfacing makes you change what you’re rooting for. Good ride.
There was a lot of inherent cultural relativism in the science fiction I discovered then. It gave me the idea that you could question anything, that it was possible to question anything at all. You could question religion, you could question your own culture’s most basic assumptions. That was just unheard of—where else could I have gotten it? You know, to be thirteen years old and get your brain plugged directly into Philip K. Dick’s brain!
That wasn’t the way science fiction advertised itself, of course. The self-advertisement was: Technology! The world of the future! Educational! Learn about science! It didn’t tell you that it would jack your kid into this weird malcontent urban literary universe and serve as the gateway drug to J. G. Ballard.
And nobody knew. The people at the high school didn’t know, your parents didn’t know. Nobody knew that I had discovered this window into all kinds of alien ways of thinking that wouldn’t have been at all acceptable to the people who ran that little world I lived in.
Paris Review – William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211
Arrival. I loved the short story collection that this movie draws from. I wish they’d played the extremes just a bit more. Maybe get even more nerdy with the science/linguistics, and even more fragmented/playful with the chronology. Can’t have everything, though. It’s about as good an adaptation as you can ask for that’d still get wide release.
L’Inhumaine. Marcel L’Herbier’s old French 1924 silent film. I saw this one at Ebertfest, along with Darius Milhaud’s original score played live by the Alloy Orchestra. It… messed with my head.
It starts at this awesome crazy-designed mansion of wealthy singer. You see, she’s a babe and there are men competing for her attention. One is jilted and attempts/fakes suicide. People mourn. There’s a big scene at a Paris theatre with a big rabble-rousing crowd. (That scene also features some awesome cameos from real-life friends from the art world – Proust, Joyce, Pound, etc.). The singer feels guilt. The suicide guy returns. One of the other suitors, a Maharaja, seeks revenge for his jilting by posing as a taxi driver and planting a poisonous snake in her cab. She dies. A mad scientist revives her. Etc. That’s not even the half of it. The final trippy hallucinatory sequence is NUTS. There’s montage, translucencies, overlapping images, swapping color filters, flashes of bold color, accelerating cuts. Don’t sleep on the old stuff.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had fun, and quickly forgot it. It mostly felt good to be watching a Star Wars movie again. If you’re pretty sure you don’t care about Star Wars in general, this movie will not convince you otherwise. If you do, you will probably leave feeling satisfied, depending on how you like your ratio of pandering nostalgia vs. breaking new ground. The hat-tips and references to previous movies wore thin pretty quickly and for me slowed down what otherwise has some nice momentum. Definitely some groaners, though (for example, the snowy mountain Nazi castle…). I really like Ridley and Chiyoga as the new faces. Isaac is always reliable. I feel like in a few months or maybe not until VIII we’ll look back and admit “Hey, VII is pretty thin but it’s not a total trainwreck and that’s okay”. Ranking the best episode 7’s in 2015:
- Creed, by a landslide.
- Furious 7
- The Force Awakens
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. I don’t know how you could watch the prequels and pick anyone other than Obi-Wan Kenobi as the coolest guy in the galaxy. I also appreciate that it undercuts the Jedi a bit. They are powerful and try to do some good, but they mess up a lot. I really dig the psychological battles and manipulation in this one. Great stuff. While Christensen is not a good actor, I buy into his tortured melodrama because I believe in Darth Vader’s arc. You’ll forgive a lot if the story is worth believing in. Would have loved more of that. Meanwhile, who the hell is General Grievous? (Know what’s cooler than two light sabers? Four light sabers!) Yeesh. Better than the other two prequels, I think, and a good way to close things out.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. One of my major complaints of the prequels is that everything looks so nice, and nothing really feels lived in. Very true in this one. I like that we get to hang out with Obi-Wan so much, doing private eye stuff, chasing down assassins. Overstuffed and scattered, though, and there’s just no way that Anakin & Padme fall in love. Teen Anakin is a nightmare. While I don’t see him in that relationship, I can start to feel for him here, just tragicomically buffeted by his emotions, absolutely at their mercy. The soundtrack is in peak form here, too.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Maybe it’s just that time has washed away the hurt and shattered expectations of 1999, but my thoughts after a second viewing:
If I learned anything from STAR WARS it’s to let go of hate and stuff and I realized episode 1 is kinda campy and charming on second watch?
The story is blah, the writing and acting is blah. But yet, I don’t regret watching it again. I love how every setting is packed with goofy species and local details, every cityscape is full of air traffic. If there is any saving grace, it is the soundtrack – the best part of all of the prequels.
I read ~1/3 of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, and no further. Got distracted by other books and never found my way back.
Ex Machina. Definitely thinner the second time around (the first), but it’s still fun.
Blade Runner (Final Cut). I like how the more I watch this the less I root for Deckard and the more I pull for Roy, Pris, Leon, and Zhora. Deckards’s kind of a jerk, right? Fits with the film noiriness to have a hero with a dark side. Those elements stood out a lot more this time, too, so much smoke and fog, backlighting, rainfall leaving everyone bundled and drenched. I forget how jarring some of the cuts and transitions are, but I’ll forgive a lot. Such a whole, rich world. You feel like you could go there. Filed under: Blade Runner.
On two strains of Greek narrative (economic and theological) that continue in modern science fiction storytelling. Good stuff. Filed under: Daniel Mendelsohn.
The Robots Are Winning! by Daniel Mendelsohn
Ex Machina. One of my favorites of the year so far. Oscar Isaac’s Nathan is awesome, flipping back and forth from intimidating to genial. He’s a brogrammer archetype. Excellent critique here of tech sexism and overreach. His overconfidence makes him too casual, flippant about the ethics. Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb has his own blinders, about gender in particular. Some of the dialogue was tiresome. I wish they’d felt more courage to just let people talk, and let the audience get lost a bit (if needed) without preface and theory. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised how they handled the ending. I’d imagined something more traditional. Loved it. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for a couple weeks now. Good stuff.