Friday, August 18, 2017

Summer Movie Round Up, Part 2: Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes, Valerian, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Dark Tower

I need a little break from thinking about all the terrorism, natural disasters, and general upheaval in the world in the last week, so I figured it was finally time to write my follow up to my Summer Movie Round Up, Part 1.  I think I saw most of the big budget Hollywood science fiction and fantasy movies that came out since May (I deliberately skipped the new Transformers, but I'll bet my review would be, "Lots of explosions.  Kinda dumb.")

So does the 2017 movie season redeem Hollywood from the mostly terrible 2016 summer movie season?  Let's find out!

Wonder Woman

I'm not the biggest fan of the super hero genre or its domination of the SF/F movie domain in recent years.  But even a super hero curmudgeon like me could see that Wonder Woman was going to be special, seeing as Hollywood has managed to reboot Spider-Man three times in the last 15 years but had yet to make a big budget movie about the most iconic woman super hero.  And they even had a woman at the helm with director Patty Jenkins.  The best part for me: seeing this will annoy MRAs and other loathsome types.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Invisible Men: Wells and Ellison

Receptionist: Doctor, there's an invisible man in the waiting room.
Doctor: Tell him I can't see him.

H. G. Wells and Ralph Ellison each wrote a novel about an invisible man.  The titles are actually slightly different.  Wells's is The Invisible Man while Ellison drops the "the."  Aside from sometimes being confused with one another (as in the meme above), the books are typically thought to have nothing in common.  It's not even clear if Ellison, writing 50 years after Wells, was familiar with Wells's novel, although his protagonist does allude to one or more of the films based on Wells's work.

I think for all their vast differences these two books have some surprising connections, especially when it comes to the complex relationships between the individual and society.

I'm starting with Ellison because I happened to read his book first, although for me the connections reach both ways.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Roland Takes Manhattan: The Dark Tower (Bonus Reviews of The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three)

A film like The Dark Tower presents a lot of challenges.  It's based on a series of eight novels, a series that has some of Stephen King's most fervent fans.  The universe is complex and weird enough that translating it to film is going to be tricky even over a few films.  Making a single film digestible for people who haven't read any of the books is nearly impossible.  And even worse: neither of the first two books would work as a stand-alone movie, because they're mostly set up and world building (see my bonus reviews of The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three below).

I liked The Dark Tower.  Is it a great movie?  Not exactly, but I think it did a good job considering the challenges any Dark Tower movie would face.  I definitely don't think it deserves the mostly bad reviews it's been getting (although here's a fairer one from Allie Hanley).

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Grief, Compassion, and Dairy Queen

Peanut Buster Parfait

My mom died 17 years ago today.  I usually commemorate this with what my mom liked to call "a recommended daily dose of Dairy Queen."  This year is no different: I had a Peanut Buster Parfait (that didn't look quite as good as the one in the picture above, but was pretty tasty).  Last year I wrote about reading one of my mom's favorite books, The Clan of the Cave Bear.  In 2015 I explained my Dairy Queen ritual of commemoration, and I encouraged others to remember their loved ones.

This year as I partook of my frosty maternal communion, I thought about how everyone deals with grief and how this should be a route to compassion for each others.  We're all in pain, and we're all in this together.  So we should give everyone a break.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Nerd at the Beach

Exhibit A: Scenic beauty!

I recently spent a few days with my wife in Panama City Beach, Florida.  As a nerd by both profession and personal inclination, I've never been big on the beach life, requiring as it does physical activity in copious amounts of direct sunlight.  Still, there's a lot to love about the beach even for nerds.  So here are things I like and don't like about the beach!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Ghost Grandma in Space: Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds has been on my to-read list for years.  I've liked some of Reynolds's stuff, like last year's Hugo finalist Slow Bullets (although I honestly didn't love his much beloved Revelation Space).  What struck me about Blue Remembered Earth was was that it's SF set in about 150 years in a world where African countries are basically running things with a little help from India and China - I'm intrigued!  I'm glad I finally got to it, although it's not quite what I expected.

Reynolds starts slow and takes a long time to get going, but somehow this slowness didn't make me feel bogged down.  It took me awhile to get through this, but that's because I had to put it down for awhile to get through a couple library books and my Hugo packet.  This novel definitely could have been shorter, but I didn't mind the leisurely ride.

The plot begins with Geoffrey Akinya, a biologist in Tanzania who just wants to be left alone to study his beloved elephants.  But Geoffrey happens to be a member of a rich and powerful family.  When the matriarch of the family dies (Eunice, Geoffrey's grandmother), his cousins send him to the moon to pick up his grandmother's safety deposit box.  Also, while he's there, he visits his sister, Sunday, who is an artist on the moon.  This trip leads Geoffrey and Sunday on a bit of wild goose chase across the solar system that I don't want to spoil.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Root for the Apes: War for the Planet of the Apes

The thing I've always loved about the Planet of the Apes movies (as well as Pierre Boulle's novel) is how deeply subversive it all is.  Stories about "a planet where apes evolved from men" turn so many of our self-assured certainties on their heads when it comes to evolution, "progress," intelligence, race, and the place of humans in relation to our fellow animals and the universe.  If you didn't read "a planet where apes evolved from men" in Charleton Heston's voice, I must insist that you go back and do so immediately (see the clip at the end if you need help).