The Martian (A). Woo-hoo! The Movie Snob is back in action. Recently I’ve been taking care of my mom after cataract surgery, so not much time for movie watching. But today I got out and finally saw the latest movie from director Ridley Scott (Alien), and I thought it was great. If you liked Gravity and Apollo 13, you need to get out there and see this film. Matt Damon (Interstellar) plays a modern-day Robinson Crusoe—an astronaut on a mission to Mars who is separated from the rest of the crew in a terrible windstorm. His comrades believe (with good reason) that he has been killed, and they have to blast off to save their own lives. But he survives the storm, and the rest of the movie is about whether he can somehow survive long enough to get rescued. The cast is full of big stars: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) as the mission commander. Michael Pena (Ant-Man) as the pilot. Sean Bean (TV’s Game of Thrones) as the earth-side head of the particular Mars mission. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) as the overall head of the Mars program (if I understood right). Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia) as the head of NASA. Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) as the NASA public-relations person who mostly stands around and looks concerned. Anyhoo, this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat. I saw the 2D version, but I heard good things about the 3D version. Check it out before it leaves the theaters.
Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer (2014). I enjoyed this weird new sci-fi novel, which is “Book 1 of the Southern Reach Trilogy.” The story seems to be set in the present day, but it’s hard to tell because everything is kept very generic. It seems that some sort of strange or alien presence has taken over a specific area of our planet, called Area X or the Southern Reach. (It sounds kind of like Florida.) No humans live there anymore, but periodically an expedition gets sent into the Southern Reach to see what is going on and to record their observations. The expeditions usually end badly for those involved. Annihilation is the story of one such expedition—four women who are never even given names—and the weird stuff they encounter in the Southern Reach. A blurb on the back of the book compares the novel to Lovecraft and Kubrick, which are apt comparisons. I also detected echoes of the novel and movie Solaris, and part was even reminiscent of a horror story I once read called Cold Skin. Anyway, it was a good read if you like weird science fiction, and I do plan to read the rest of the trilogy someday.
Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms, by Holly Ordway (Ignatius 2010). Ignatius is a leading publisher of dependably orthodox Catholic books. That, together with the title of this book, tells you most of what you need to know about it. Ordway, an English professor, was a reflexive atheist for many years. But her curiosity and desire to know the truth of things led her into a series of conversations with her Christian fencing coach (of all people). Those conversations led to her conversion to Christianity and, ultimately, Catholicism. I thought it was an interesting and well-written story.
The Movie Snob enjoys a bit of the old ultraviolence.
Sicario (B+). Think back, dear reader, to the winter of 2010. Remember how Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt teamed up for that lame remake of The Wolfman, and we all thought, “<Sigh> I wish Benicio and Emily would team up for a good movie sometime. Maybe something about drug cartels.” Well, our long wait is over. Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent working the drug war in Arizona. After one particularly horrific mission, Kate is recruited for some mysterious cloak-and-dagger ops being run by a shady agent named Matt (Josh Brolin, Men in Black 3) and an even shadier Colombian(?) named Alejandro (Del Toro). Eager to go after some kingpins instead of the low-level guys she’s used to dealing with, Kate signs up. But is she in over her head? And will she make it out alive? This is a well-made drama, but it’s not for the squeamish or faint of heart. I must say that Del Toro is particularly good. It’s been a long time since his Oscar-winning turn as a Mexican cop in Traffic, and it seems like war-on-drugs movies bring out the best in him.
The Honorable Barbarian, by L. Sprague de Camp (1989). I thought that fantasy writer L. Sprague de Camp (1907–2000) wrote back in the 40’s and 50’s, so I was surprised to see that this yellowing paperback from the used-book store bore a 1989 copyright. Apparently it was one of the last books he wrote. I got a kick out of it. It’s about a young man named Kerin, who has to flee his home rather precipitously and who proceeds to get himself into all sorts of dungeons-and-dragonsy adventures. de Camp plainly has fun creating different cultures and political systems for Kerin to have to deal with. Of course, it’s not great literature; the characters are two-dimensional, and they are off-puttingly casual about rape. But if you can overlook that, it’s a breezy read and a good yarn.
The Zombies were a 1960s rock band and part of the so-called British Invasion. A minor part, to be sure: they charted only three singles in America, all of which made the Top Ten. They broke up in late 1967, and their last hit (“Time of the Season”) peaked in 1969. But like their undead namesakes, the Zombies proved tough to kill. Keyboardist Rod Argent formed a band called Argent that had a Top Ten hit in 1972 (“Hold Your Head Up”). Vocalist Colin Blunstone occasionally contributed vocals to The Alan Parsons Project, which was a favorite band of mine back in the day. And Wikipedia says that various reincarnations of the Zombies have been kicking around for a while. Now they are kicking off a new American tour, and their first show was two nights ago in Dallas’s historic Majestic Theatre. They are promoting a new album, but they are also performing their last 1960s album, Odessey and Oracle, in its entirety. It’s a good album–trippy, tuneful, and said by the cognoscenti to be very influential on other musicians. Anyhow, the show was good (if a little too loud). The first half featured several new songs, a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” and the Zombies’ other two Top Ten hits, “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There.” After a short intermission, they came back and played Odessey and Oracle straight through, ending with “Time of the Season,” and then doing a reprise of “She’s Not There” for the encore. For a bunch of old British guys in a band that broke up 48 years ago, they played quite well. Blunstone’s distinctive voice, high and breathy, is pretty much the same as it ever was. If you like the Zombies, or at least their three hit songs, I encourage you to give a listen to “Old and Wise,” a Blunstone track on the Alan Parsons Project album Eye in the Sky.