Book review from The Movie Snob.
The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell (1996). How about a science-fiction novel about first contact with an alien species that is chock full of religious talk? That’s what The Sparrow is. In the near future, a radio telescope discovers unmistakable signs of intelligent alien life on a planet in the (relatively) nearby Alpha Centauri solar system. Remarkably, the Jesuits (a Catholic religious order) are the first to mobilize after this discovery, putting together a team of priests and lay people to pilot an asteroid-turned-starship to this alien world. The author’s style didn’t really grab me, especially the many scenes that I guess were supposed to be humorous. Also, the story takes a long time to get going because Russell starts out telling it on two tracks: the story of the discovery and mission preparation, and, some 50 years later, the story of the Jesuits’ attempt to figure out what went wrong by interviewing the mission’s sole survivor and returnee. But after bouncing between these two narratives for a while we eventually get to the first-contact adventure, and I must admit that part of the story held my attention. Although I can’t say I loved the book–there’s some fairly gruesome/lurid stuff in the first-contact-adventure part of the story–I sort of want to read the sequel to find out what happened next….
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Ad Astra (C). This movie has done very well with other critics—currently scoring 80 out of 100 on metacritic.com—but I was underwhelmed. It’s a sci-fi flick set in the near future. Brad Pitt (Burn After Reading) stars as Roy McBride, an astronaut so unflappably cool he makes Neil Armstrong look like a bowl of quivering jello. Strange, deadly energy pulses from Neptune start threatening life on Earth (and on the moon and Mars, which have been colonized), and it seems that Roy’s father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman), who disappeared on a scientific mission to Neptune years before, may have something to do with it. Before you can say “2001,” Roy is blasting off from Earth on a mission to contact dear, old dad and, with luck, save the world(s). Lots of critics have compared Ad Astra to Apocalypse Now, which is fair, but to me the more obvious comparison is the 2007 space thriller Sunshine. Anyhoo, I found the movie visually appealing but much lacking in the story and character departments. Roy is so locked down he is hard to empathize with. Donald Sutherland (Forsaken) pops up in a small role, and Liv Tyler (That Thing You Do!) has the tiny and thankless task of flashing on the screen a few times as Roy’s estranged wife.
A book review from the desk of The Movie Snob.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (1932). I read this classic dystopian novel a long time ago and was inspired to re-read it by an episode of the National Review podcast called “The Great Books.” It is a weird story, much weirder than I remembered it. Huxley set his tale in the distant future and predicted a caste-bound society in which people are created in laboratories and subjected to extensive physical and psychological conditioning so that they will be perfectly adjusted to their eventual caste and status in life, whether the lowly, semi-intelligent worker class or the higher classes who do the finer work in the bio-factories and conditioning centers. (The caste descriptions are, unfortunately, pretty racist.) Everyone, save only the tiny group of world-governing Controllers, is kept mindlessly content with a feel-good drug called soma, constant entertainments, and endless recreational sex. But off in the wilds of New Mexico is a reservation of people who still live the old way, and the action of the tale is sparked when a reservation dweller called the Savage makes his way into modern society and questions everything he sees. Definitely worth a read. The volume I got also featured a subsequent Huxley essay called “Brave New World Revisited,” but I found it very tiresome and couldn’t finish it.
A movie review from The Borg Queen.
Bumblebee (B+). After the original Transformers movie (2007), this would easily be the next best movie in the bunch. Directed by Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), this movie takes place in the late 80s as Bumblebee first makes his way to Earth. The movie has nostalgia, humor, heart, a little drama, and just the right amount of action. Hailee Steinfeld (The Edge of Seventeen) does a great job carrying this film. Even my mom liked this movie. Check it out.
A new review from The Movie Snob.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (C-). I saw the original Star Wars when I was about 10 years old, so I should be the perfect audience for an origin story about the coolest dude in a galaxy far, far away: the one and only Han Solo. Sadly, I was bored. I think Alden Ehrenreich (Hail, Caesar!) is probably a good actor, but his Han is unfortunately bland. Emilia Clarke (TV’s Game of Thrones) is pretty but otherwise makes no impression as Solo’s love interest. Donald Glover (The Martian) does a little better as a suave Lando Calrissian, but I could never forget I was watching Donald Glover, who was so funny on TV’s Community. Woody Harrelson adds another major franchise to his collection (Hunger Games, Planet of the Apes), but he doesn’t really give the story any juice either. In sum, Solo is a forgettable movie. My favorite pop culture podcast, The Weekly Substandard, has devoted two whole episodes to Solo, and I’m looking forward to hearing what those critics have to say about it.
The Movie Snob is back.
Rifftrax: Space Mutiny (B+). Ahoy, gentle readers! I have not blogged in a while, owing to various family-related issues that have kept me out of the theaters. But my sister was in town last week, and we managed to hit the multiplex for the latest Rifftrax live show. You can catch a re-broadcast of it this coming Tuesday, June 19, and I give this one a hearty thumbs-up. The opening short was pretty lackluster, something about a boy and his dad visiting a mysterious magic shop that may actually be magical! But the main event is Space Mutiny, a 1988 sci-fi cheesefest that was actually riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in 1997. The riffers did a fine job, but the movie alone would have provided plenty of laughs. The plot is largely incomprehensible, but it’s something about a mutiny aboard a giant spaceship that happens to look exactly like the 1978-79 era Battlestar Galactica. Don’t miss it!
A new review from The Movie Snob.
Annihilation (B-). This new sci-fi movie starring Natalie Portman (Thor) is loosely based on a novel from just a few years ago. I think I liked the book better (see my review here). As in the novel, a weird phenomenon kind of like a dome has descended on some remote, swampy area (Florida maybe?), and weird stuff is going on inside. The government occasionally sends a team into the mysterious area to investigate. (Almost) no one ever comes back. Portman plays a soldier–biologist named Lena who joins the latest mission, a five-woman expedition led by psychologist Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Margot at the Wedding). Once they venture into Area X, it turns into sort of a horror movie, so don’t go if you’re squeamish! Anyhoo, I didn’t like it as well as director Alex Garland’s previous effort, Ex Machina, but Annihilation still held my attention.
I saw Annihilation at a new Alamo Drafthouse here in Dallas, and I caught most of the pre-show. It included a couple of old music videos of a children’s rock band that featured . . . a nine-year-old Natalie Portman! It was pretty entertaining.