The Clockwork Universe (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob.

The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society & the Birth of the Modern World, by Edward Dolnick (2011).  Aw.  I just pulled this book off the shelf and discovered it still bore a price tag from my beloved Borders Bookstore, may it rest in peace.  Anyway, this is an enjoyable read about the scientific revolution in and around the time of Sir Isaac Newton.  Dolnick keeps it pretty simple and even interesting, which is saying something considering that I generally find science pretty boring.  But Dolnick knows how to tell a story, leavening the science stuff with juicy tidbits about the plague, methods of execution, and the wicked personal rivalries between some of the scientific figures of the day.  I plan to send this volume on to my scientist sister and see what she thinks of it.

Mystery Science Theater: Volume XXVI

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVI.

The Magic Sword.  (C).  I don’t know, somehow this one just should have been funnier.  It’s a lame 1962 swords-and-sorcery flick in which Sir George (Gary Lockwood, 2001:A Space Odyssey) has to defeat an evil wizard (Basil Rathbone, The Hound of the Baskervilles) and rescue a beautiful princess (Anne Helm, Follow That Dream).  There’s so much material to work with, like George’s six assistant knights who get killed faster than bugs in a Raid commercial, and his inept sorceress foster mother, I don’t know why it wasn’t funnier.  The really amazing thing is that director Bert I. Gordon, whose movies were regularly skewered on MST3K, agreed to sit down for a documentary short about his career.  What a good sport!

Alien From L.A.  (D).  Yes, this is the 1988 cheesefest starring Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kathy Ireland (Necessary Roughness).  She plays a clueless loser named Wanda who, through a series of ridiculous events, finds herself playing Indiana Jones in the lost city of Atlantis, far below the earth’s surface.  I think the director made her inhale helium before she read every line, because her voice was impossibly squeaky.  Unfortunately, the MST guys couldn’t do much with this one.  It just wasn’t very funny.

The Mole People.  (B).  This is a pretty good episode.  Some archaeologists (including Hugh Beaumont of Leave It To Beaver fame) find their way into a subterranean world inhabited by an ancient race of albino Sumerians.  The top archaeologist, a square-jawed John-Wayne soundalike, subdues the entire race with his trusty flashlight and courts a comely non-albino lass who happens to be among the mole people.  Pretty entertaining, with some laugh-out-loud riffs.  A decent short documentary about the film also appears on the disc.

Danger!! Death Ray.  (B).  Another pretty good episode.  The movie is a terrible 1967 rip-off of the James Bond movies.  Our “hero” is a pretty-boy spy with the unlikely name of Bart Fargo.  As one of the riffers comments, there is absolutely no tension or suspense at any point during the movie.  But the riffing is the point, and it’s pretty good.  The disc includes a short, choppily edited interview with Mike Nelson as a bonus, but it doesn’t really add much value.

The Bookshop (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald (1978).  I had never heard of Fitzgerald until I recently read a short magazine piece calling her one of Britain’s best writers of the 20th century.  This is a very short novel, only 123 pages, but it packs a punch.  It’s about a youngish widow who decides to invest what money she has into opening a bookshop in her small backwater town.  In doing so, she crosses one of the town’s leading citizens.  It’s a pretty steely view of small-town life, for sure.  I liked it and will look for more of Fitzgerald’s books.

Morgan

A movie review from The Movie Snob.

Morgan  (D).  Okay, you are probably asking yourself, “Why did The Movie Snob waste his time with this poorly reviewed sci-fi thriller?”  Basically, I saw it because it features Anya Taylor-Joy, who was quite good in the recent spookfest The Witch: A New-England Folktale, and I wanted to see more of her acting chops.  Unfortunately, this movie was not a good showcase for anybody.  Kate Mara (The Martian) stars as Lee Weathers, a corporate honcho sent to investigate an “accident” at a secret research facility under a spooky old backwoods house.  Turns out that genetic experiments have resulted in the creation of Morgan (Taylor-Joy), a freaky smart and strong teenaged girl who is actually only 5 years old.  And we all know how playing God with genetic experiments goes.  There’s very little fun to be had, but it is sort of fun watching notable actors you didn’t know were in the movie pop up unexpectedly.  Hey, there’s Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Spectacular Now)!  And Paul Giamatti (Rock of Ages)!  And that guy who played Agamemnon in Troy!  But the movie is basically a stale retread of other movies, some better (Ex Machina, Hanna) and some not (Species).  The ending is a real howler.  Skip it.

Voyage to Alpha Centauri (book review)

The Movie Snob hasn’t been getting out to the movies, so here’s another book review:

Voyage to Alpha Centauri, by Michael D. O’Brien (Ignatius Press 2013).  So what is Ignatius Press, reliable publisher of orthodox Catholic books, doing publishing this great big doorstop of a sci-fi novel?  Well, because it has a lot of religion in it (of course).  In the fairly near future, man has figured a way to build a spaceship capable of going more than half the speed of light.  That puts Alpha Centauri, the star nearest to us, within striking distance—if you’re up for a voyage that will take nine years going out and nine years coming back.  Anyhoo, the story is told from the perspective of one passenger on the giant spaceship that is built to make the voyage.  There are lots of religious and philosophical asides, and there is also a lot of commentary on the surveillance state.  It reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength a little bit.  It’s a weird book, but interesting and definitely different.