Posts tagged science fiction
If Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s bar-hopping buddy flick “The World’s End” had a motto, it would be: In cervesia veritas. Just like the Latin expression In vino veritas, their picture is a statement about the truth-revealing power of alcohol. Except instead of imbibing wine like the ancient Romans, these five friends unwittingly find factuality by consuming beer. Delicious brew in “The World’s End” isn’t just a catalyst for discovering personal truths though, it also helps expose dangerous Earth-shattering secrets.
The film’s story centers on Gary King (Pegg), a drug-addled 40-year-old who has pathetically clung to the peak of his youth: a night he and his chums attempted their town’s ultimate pub crawl. Down on his luck and desperate to relive the time of his life, he cons estranged pals (Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Paddy Consadine) into joining him for another go at all 12 bars. After arriving however, they quickly make the horrifying discovery that robots now control their town. Realizing that Gary’s team is wise to them, the mechanical men soon give chase, but can these buddies survive long enough to enjoy a pint at the crawl’s final pub, The World’s End?
“The World’s End” is the third movie in Wright and Pegg’s Cornetto trilogy, which includes “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” Although these flicks aren’t interconnected stories, they all feature Cornetto ice cream, Pegg and Frost in main roles, gifted homage, and poignant emphasis on complex friendships. This film is no different; Pegg and Frost play pals frequently at odds and the plot pays glorious tribute to science fiction classics such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Like other Wright and Pegg pictures, “The World’s End” creates brilliant laughs from snappy banter, beautifully choreographed fight scenes, and the outrageous crisis coping mechanisms its characters.
As Gary, Pegg gives a fascinating performance, accentuated by the unusual manic energy and odd wiry strength he brings to the part. Pegg is also slippery in a way where you can never trust Gary, yet you can’t help wanting to anyway. Frost, who normally plays zanier characters, provides a pleasantly grounded portrayal of Gary’s uptight foil Andy. Freeman, Marsan, and Consadine are also a joy to watch, superbly rounding out this quirky group as the brainy smooth-operator, the timid family man, and the shy nice-guy.
Although beer may be the driver for this booze-fueled adventure, it represents more than that to the characters. The substance signifies a holy grail-like, tasty moment when all is right with the world. In that way, “The World’s End” is an ode to drinking, emphasized by its intense shots of golden brew, entertaining pub names, and beer-themed lines like, “We’re gonna see this through to the bitter end. Or…lager end.” The film’s celebration of carefree intoxication fits perfectly with Gary’s nostalgia.
Wright and Pegg play up Gary’s wistfulness by using a stylized opening sequence and a soundtrack heavily rooted in the 1990s. Despite their amusement reflecting on the past, they are still careful to express the dangers of nostalgia through the drastic consequences of Gary’s actions. What’s slightly disappointing, is that despite their condemnation of Gary’s behavior, Wright and Pegg ultimately copout and let him off the hook. Perhaps the strangest part of movie is its darkly comedic ending, which is the only part of the film that doesn’t match the rest of the Cornetto trilogy. Still, “The World’s End” is a fast-paced, chuckle-filled ride so loaded with clever jokes that it’s impossible to notice everything on first viewing. Like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” you’ll want to watch it again and again hoping to catch them all.
My Grade: A…as in Amazing! A Must-Watch!
In 2009, Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut “District 9” punched audiences in the stomach with its gut-wrenching realism and gripping social commentary. The emotional bruising left in its wake didn’t just seize viewer attention though, it captured Hollywood’s too. Struck by Blomkamp’s creativity with a smaller budget, the industry decided to offer him a larger one for his sophomore effort “Elysium.” Working inside the Hollywood machine can be tricky however, since directors often compensate for greater resources with major creative compromises. What’s miraculous about Blomkamp’s flick is that it doesn’t seem like he sacrificed anything, because “Elysium” is a grim, arresting picture.
Click here to read more of this review.
Have you ever reached the end of a book and felt completely confused about what happened? Maybe you had a hard time with one of those “classics” filled with symbolism that you were forced to read in school. I’m not talking about tomes like that though. Have you ever been totally befuddled by a modern, run-of-the-mill novel? If you still answered “No,” you’re lucky, because I can’t say the same after finishing Danie Ware’s sci-fi/fantasy tale “Ecko Rising.”
I can normally handle science fiction literature, but I’m not used to fantasy. At first I thought my inexperience with the genre is why I didn’t get “Ecko Rising.” However as a fairly intelligent person capable of processing complex concepts daily, that rationale didn’t make sense to me. I also wondered if I struggled because Ware’s novel is the first in an intended series. Perhaps I needed to read another one to grasp her yarn? That couldn’t be it either, since I’ve gone through other multi-volume story arcs and still understood the first book. After much thought, I deduced that the reason why I couldn’t comprehend “Ecko Rising” is that it’s just not well-written.
Ware herself is not a bad writer. I know that seems contradictory for me to say, so I’ll explain. She proves her talent with a creative premise, vivid prose, and a fast-paced narrative. Although she doesn’t explain many of the specialized terms that exist in her unique worlds, which is why “Ecko Rising” is confusing as heck. Characters in her story speak in bizarre dialects with weird slang and jargon that doesn’t get defined. Ware starts using these terms expecting you to somehow pick up their meaning based on their context, something that isn’t easy. A map at the front of the book gives you some frame of reference on places at least, but it doesn’t help that much.
Ware’s story focuses on Ecko, some sort of bionically enhanced assassin living in London. His gadgets allow him super strength, speed, and stealth that make him a force to be reckoned with. While on a mission, he blacks out and wakes up in a mysterious world with no technology, strange characters, monsters, and magic. As dark forces descend upon this peaceful land, it seems like Ecko is the only one who can save it. Is he dreaming? Is this place a virtual reality test for Ecko set up for someone’s amusement? Or scariest of all, is it real?
A testimonial on the back cover for “Ecko Rising” describes it as “The Matrix meets Game of Thrones…” which I think is a fairly accurate comparison. There’s this constant mind game going on with Ecko and the reader about whether his environment is a computer simulation just like “The Matrix.” And the fantasy elements combined with Ware’s multiple simultaneous storylines and intense sex scenes feel very much like “Game of Thrones.” Most of the erotic portions are titillating, however I could have done without the book’s messed up rape passage.
Ware’s locations that she constructs for “Ecko Rising” are fascinating places to inhabit, brought to life by descriptive language that is quite colorful, even if it has a tendency to be a bit repetitive. She always keeps the action moving at a brisk pace, intertwining several perspectives at the same time, which makes it easy to get through this 500-plus page novel. Unfortunately if you’re like me, you’ll reach the end, wondering what it was all about and why you stuck around.
Hi all. It’s been a while since my last “Weekend Movie Preview” column, I know. Things have been busy for me, so I’ve been publishing one review at a time lately. However, I was thinking it would be nice to spice things up and use this format to share my reviews of two films that came out this weekend. Check out my thoughts on the Superman reboot “Man of Steel” and the apocalyptic comedy “This Is the End.”
Click here to read my reviews.
Joseph Kosinski’s sci-fi flick “Oblivion” is like the South Park episode “Simpsons Already Did It,” where Butters tries to cause havoc, and is continually foiled when he learns that “The Simpsons did it!” first. With Kosinski’s film though, you might say, “Cinema did it!” repeatedly after the introduction of each well-traveled science fiction theme in the movie.
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Full disclosure: author Daniel M. Kimmel is my friend, and my colleague in The Boston Online Film Critics Association. However I can honestly say that I would have loved his book Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender’s Guide, regardless of whether I knew him personally. Kimmel’s debut novel is brilliant satire of the film industry, which also happens to be a hilarious, heartwarming science fiction story about unexpected friendship.
Click here to read more.
Thankfully I wasn’t a total steampunk noob when I sat down to read James P. Blaylock’s latest novel The Aylesford Skull. I was luckily introduced to steampunk subculture few years ago, by a memorable newspaper article that profiled avid Massachusetts people in the scene. Since then I’ve been fascinated by the movement’s fusion of science fiction and Victorian era clothing, themes, and technology. So when Titan Books offered me a chance to review a steampunk book, I was excited by the concept of an adventure in this imaginative world. Naturally, I also was a bit wary since this would be my first foray into steampunk literature, but I figured if Blaylock is referred to as a “steampunk legend” then I was probably in safe hands. And I’m happy to report that I was.
Probably the most surprising thing about The Aylesford Skull is how subtly it fits into the steampunk genre. Initially I expected overt reminders of this book’s place in the subgenre with all kinds of wacky futuristic contraptions, terminology, and styles of dress. I quickly discovered that the Victorian England inhabited by Blaylock’s protagonist Langdon St. Ives, is not very ostentatious. There are occasional references to goggles, airships, and other advanced technology, but nothing that screams steampunk. In fact, Blaylock’s setting is remarkably similar to the London of another Victorian era hero: Sherlock Holmes.
As a character, Langdon St. Ives is essentially the steampunk Holmes. Both are brave, intelligent men who consistently find themselves wrapped up on complex mysteries fraught with danger and intrigue. Like Holmes, St. Ives has a faithful companion who is almost always by his side, and he has friends from all walks of life that assist him when needed. Hasbro is St. Ives’s equivalent to Watson, and his young friend Finn Conrad seems like he could easily fit in among the young scamps Holmes occasionally employs for assistance. St. Ives even has a nemesis Dr. Narbondo, who’s a dastardly mastermind akin to Professor Moriarty. Their resemblance is clearly intentional since Blaylock features a character who aids St. Ives named Arthur Doyle as a nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Scottish author who created Sherlock Holmes.
Despite their common traits, St. Ives is not simply a Holmes carbon copy. He’s a professor and adventurer as opposed to a detective. St. Ives is also a fuller, more sympathetic character because he’s a family man with a wife and children that he cares about. He’s not a manic detective obsessed with his work who goes looking for trouble; St. Ives becomes incidentally embroiled in it. This admirable man is motivated by genuine concern for his loved ones, and he’ll do anything to protect them.
Blaylock’s tale involves supernatural elements, and like Holmes, St. Ives is a man of logic, so he’s reluctant to accept the ideas at first. Unlike one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s yarns however, The Aylesford Skull doesn’t have a rational justification for its fantastic portions. Unfortunately that’s one of the book’s few shortcomings, its murky, slightly confusing exposition on how the titular Aylesford Skull actually works.
Aside from this thin MacGuffin, The Aylesford Skull is a brisk, fun romp that you’ll devour quickly. Throughout the book Blaylock deftly weaves multiple characters and shifting points of view together in a way that effectively maintains momentum and drives the story forward. When the personalities do cross paths, their dialogue has a dry British humor that makes for amusing banter. And while there’s no grand explanation of the mystery from the protagonist in the style of Holmes, Blaylock’s conclusion is action-packed enough to make up for it. If this is what steampunk literature is supposed to be like, count me in for more outings.
The Aylesford Skull is available in stores and online at www.titanbooks.com.