The Demon Rift & other stories

Marjorie Kaye's book blog

Review: Skyfall–a bit of a downer

Spoiler Alert

I have mixed feelings about Skyfall, the new James Bond film directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty).

Since 1963’s Dr. No, and until the current set of three (Casino Royale, Quantum of Silence and Skyfall), Bond films have given audiences beautiful people, cities most of us will never see, and fantasy.  Evil geniuses hatched outlandish plots to rule the world, requiring ridiculous amounts of money, often wagered in elegant casinos full of tuxes and evening gowns, up-dos and bow-ties. There was always a seduction, with Bond making love to a dangerous goddess-like bad girl. He would growl and of course, she stretched and purred as the music crescendo-ed. Then, there was the action, involving Secret Agent gadgets, long stretches of chases, fights, dodges and jumps moving through exotic streets and narrow alleys crowded by costumed extras. All of it was played out by vivid characters, whose barely there emotions let us thrill to the stunt because we owed them no empathy when they met their cinematic ends.

We expected dreamy, gleaming surfaces that offered an occasional flash of something darker, a secret, a hint of the forbidden. Or at least we did until the last few with a new Bond, and a new kind of Bond.

James Bond has become emotionally complicated.  Now he has a past. There’s still some fantasy. The chases, as always, are entertaining, but the convoluted plot, takes us to all those far away places for show, and they have little to do with what is at the heart of the Skyfall plot–betrayal and abandonment of both Bond and the bad guy, Silva, by “M,” whose cold pragmatism allows her to apply the cost/benefit dynamic to those who serve the Crown so valiently.  The resulting blow-back (literally) is caused by Bond’s seeming death and Silva’s (Javier Bardem) transformation from a dedicated agent to a relentless enemy. Underneath M’s steely professionalism there’s a maternal caring that both Bond and Silva perceive. And that makes her betrayal and abandonment of each all the more painful–a pain we the audience can see and understand. No more mere glimpses of dark secrets, we learn of the sacrifices both men make and it makes  us and them question M’s decisions.

And so I was never sure how to feel.

Javier Bardem, as usual, was the best thing in the movie. Daniel Craig is growing on me. I’d had my heart set on Clive Owen for the new Bond, but Craig has this battered charm that works. I wonder if the scripts are going to get even darker in tone, sort of in keeping with the reality of the world today. If so, the character may be named Bond, but he will no longer be the same  tuxedo-ed hero we knew. I did like Judi Dench‘s “M.” Along with the crisp manner, she brought a light humor to the more recent Bond offerings, before they became so dark. Sorry to lose Judi Dench, (if you’ve made this far, I hope you took the spoiler alert seriously), but Ralph Fiennes can send me on a mission any time.

The script could have been way tighter. I did like the youth versus age and experience theme., but I found myself wanting to keep Bond a mystery. I hope they can find a way back to that cool spy and lover we found so irresistible, the man who was unknowable.  As director Kevin DiNovis, recently commented, “There’s a place in the world yet for exploding pens and volcano lairs.” I agree, but perhaps that place lies in the “discovered country” of the movies that spoke to who we were–moviegoers relishing a new world that was breaking away from the rules of the past and we were breathless at the idea of all that glamor and sex.  Change has sped up and it’s a little disconcerting.  We may not be able to jettison the past so easily now.

For the time being, I’ll look for the gleam in those Arctic- blue Ralph Feinnes eyes and the steely pale blue gaze of Craig’s as the new “M” sends 007 out to save the world again.

Ah the mysteries behind those sexy blue eyes.  In the next Bond film, I hope they reveal a secret formula or two.

November 13, 2012 Posted by | Movies, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A movie review: Cloud Atlas the movie connects the drops.

I saw Cloud Atlas this weekend, and I recommend it, especially if you have read the book.

Before you read this review, I recommend you read my review of the book, Cloud Atlas.

Whether or not you enjoyed reading the book, (I enjoyed some of it but I still wanted to throw it against a wall at the end) I believe most people will enjoy at least parts of the movie without wanting to toss Tom Hanks off a highrise. I did not go into see this movie with high expectations. Okay, here it is–my reason for not expecting much:  I hated The Matrix and Cloud Atlas was co-directed (with German director Tom Twyker who did Run, Lola, Run, a movie I remember liking ) and co-written by the Wachowskis who gave us The Matrix.. Go ahead and hate me. Although virtual reality stories hold special interest for me (see  my The Thirteenth Floor review and marjoriekayesbabylondreams.com website)  I found The Matrix pretentious and sophomoric. No way would anyone look that buff after spending a lifetime in a pod and those aliens using us to power their alien stuff didn’t make sense. We wouldn’t be cost effective. Plus the long coats, the dippy mysticism and all the martial arts got on my nerves. I could go on but it won’t convince anyone who loved Matrix the movie. Another thing, I should disclose that I briefly worked on casting the Matrix  sequel (nothing fancy–just  set up auditions for the secret service guys and you’d have thought we were guarding the secrets of the universe rather than a few pages of barely there script).

Regardless, in my opinion, Cloud Atlas the movie is better than Cloud Atlas the book.

The problems that I had with the book centered on Mitchell’s failure to adequately connect the six stories.

I felt like Mitchell the writer was showing off.  I wanted more than he gave in terms of connecting the stories.  It was all icing and very little cake. Then those last two pages of  “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,” the first and last story. They were the last  frickin’ frackin’ two pages of the novel, and might as well have started with “So you see boys and girls . . .” The movie was able to stitch the stories together. Movies have more options in terms of pacing, plus visual and audio devices, something a novel lacks. As small a thing as a shiny blue button on a 1930’s vest that becomes a beautiful stone prized by a goat herder helped me connect. The music helped. Casting the same actors in different stories helped a lot and most of all, the editing, which blended the parts of each story, pacing them all to build and crest like music wove the narratives into a satisfying ending, an ending that differed from the book. The stories had been simplified, characters pared and the plots crafted to suit the film and it helped.

This film conveyed the message, the universal theme that Mitchell meant for us to discover in his novel. I  felt Mitchell said it rather than showed it.  The movie, on the other hand, did what movies do best. It made us feel it so that we could think it. The reviews I’ve read of this film have been mixed. At three hours, it is very long. All I can say is that I liked it, and so did the others in the audience.  There was applause at the end, and I doubt many  had read it.  It didn’t matter. They felt it; so did I,  shiny blue buttons and all.

October 31, 2012 Posted by | Movies, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

13 reasons to sleep with the lights on.

OEDB is short for Online Education Database . A lady named Dollie sent me a OEDB link to 13 Horror Classics, books and stories that are scary and manage to be literature as well, so I’m sharing the link. Image

I checked it out and I’ve read all but one or two. How about you?

http://oedb.org/library/beginning-online-learning/13-horror-classics-that-every-student-should-read

October 26, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A book review: Cloud Atlas: Six stories in search of Ovaltine

Spoiler Alert

If you plan on reading the book or if you plan on seeing the movie, this Cloud Atlas review may rain on your plan.

The movie, Cloud Atlas is due to be in theaters on October 26, and the trailer looked very interesting, so I decided to read the book and compare it with the movie. The novel, Cloud Atlas, is the third book by British author, David Mitchell. Cloud Atlas has won  awards, including the British Book and the Nebula. Cloud Atlas is a collection of six related stories, described as a puzzle or a set of Russian nesting dolls. I think paper dolls would be closer.

Each of the six stories takes place in a different time and setting. Mitchell writes all but one in first person and that is where the similarity ends. Each story is written in a different style.  Mitchell’s  command of the narrative style of the 19th century, his inventiveness in terms of language, and detailed settings of the future worlds in stories five and six are impressive. Five stories are in two parts. Story six, in one piece. is in the middle of the novel and it follows the five half stories. After story six, “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After,” Mitchell completes the other five in reverse order, with story five, “An Orison of Somni-451″ resuming after six until he ends the novel by completing story one, “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing.”

“The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” is written ala Herman Melville (the story takes place around 1850) by a thirty something American notary, Adam Ewing. We are introduced to Ewing as he waits on a South Pacific island. There’s been a shipwreck and along with Ewing, we meet his companion, Dr. Goose, an eccentric English physician.   Following this story was tough sledding.  Ewing learns about the victimized peace-loving Morioiris, enslaved by the Maoris (part of the evil “White Man” plan).  All of this is revealed as Ewing witnesses a Moriori being flogged. When exploring the island, Ewing discovers thousands of carvings of faces. Frightened, he scrambles to safety and encounters  a beating heart hanging from a tree. He speculates on what kind (hog, human?) but never solves the mystery.  As his sea voyage continues via a Dutch ship, Ewing rescues a stowaway, Autua–the Moriori he saw being beaten.  The mid sentence ending thing was annoying.

Story two, “Letters From Zedelghem”  takes place in 1931 Europe, beginning in England then moving to Belgium. A young English musician/composer, Robert Frobisher, writes his best friend and  lover, Sixsmith, telling him of his plans to travel to Belgium and exploit Ayrs, a famous composer who hasn’t written anything since contracting syphilis. Frobisher is something of a snot and the black sheep of his family. Leaving a trail of bad debts, he asks Sixsmith to send him money.  Frobisher means to convince Ayrs that he, Robert, will help him to continue his work. Rather than Frobisher exploiting Ayrs,  crafty old Ayrs takes credit for Frobisher’s new compositions. There’s no sympathy for Robert. He’s a narcissist and a schemer. Out of the blue, not related to anything else in the story, Robert finds the first half of Ewing’s journal.  Also, we learn that Robert has a crescent shaped birthmark on his shoulder. We’re left hanging, the story unfinished. There isn’t been one character in either story whom I’ve found interesting, nor have I cared.

Story three, “Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery,” has two ties to story two (“Letters …”) and one to story one. Three is the only one of the six written in third person.  It’s the 1970″s and we know this because Disco music plays. Luisa Rey, a journalist in her 30’s gets stuck in an elevator with Sixsmith, a sixty-something scientist and Frobisher’s friend from story two. Although they are strangers, Luisa and Sixsmith spend over an hour together feeling very comfortable talking. Luisa has a birthmark on her shoulder, just like Frobisher’s. Sixsmith has written a report, blowing the whistle on plans for a dangerous new energy plant–an atomic energy plant like Three Mile Island. And so the killing begins. First, Sixsmith, and you know Luisa’s on that list. Luisa is the daughter of a cop, a dead hero. There’s a hit-man named Smoke after her,  and we leave the story as her car is plunging off a bridge and into some deep water. I found story three to be the weakest. The plot would have been at home on any Hawaii Five-O, Columbo, or Rockford Files episode. The characters were paper thin and totally forgettable.

Story four, “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” begins with a murder. A reviewer who panned a book is thrown off a balcony by the author. Oops, better be careful. Timothy Cavendish, the book’s publisher, is  in his late sixties. When the book starts making money, Cavendish joyfully pays off debts until the imprisoned author’s thuggish brothers threaten him, demanding 60,000 pounds. Before he flees, Cavendish receives a submission: Half Lives, The First Luisa Rey Mystery. Cavendish begs his own estranged brother (Cavendish slept with his wife) for help and when the story breaks, Cavendish, courtesy of his sneaky brother, is trapped in an old folks’ home with a Nurse Ratched running things.  This story was marginally more interesting because of Cavendish’s chaotic nightmarish journey, randy reminisces of past romances and Mitchell’s use of a florid narrative style.  Mitchell showcases literary flourishes while the character declares: “I disapprove of flashbacks, foreshadowings, and tricksy devices; they belong in the 1980’s with M.A.s in post-modernism and chaos theory.” Style-wise, the story goes from being The Lavender Hill Mob to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Alec Guinness as McMurphy.

Story five, “An Orison of Somni-451″ is a dystopic science fiction piece set in Korea. Corporations run what’s left of a polluted world. The narrative is a dialogue between Somni-451, a rebel “fabricant” and the “Archivist.” Somni began her life as a customized clone, working for “Papa Song” a fast food franchise where fabricants serve twelve years, and then are rewarded with a glorious retirement in “Hawaii.” Tinkering with her programming results in a wiser, more informed Somni, who becomes a pawn of the “Union,” the rebel entity trying to upend the Establishment. Most of the story involves her on the run to rebel headquarters, where she will become a figurehead and mentor to facilitate a fabricant uprising. Along the way, Somni encounters a statue of Buddha and we encounter the first “author’s message,” when a nun explains the meaning of the symbol. Whenever I see an overt message in fiction I always think of Woody Allen‘s movie, Bananas, or maybe it was Take the Money and Run, (I’m not sure but  I do remember the joke ) where during dialogue the words “author’s message” keep flashing. This was the first story I actually enjoyed, but I noticed elements of  other sci fi. The layered corruption and Asian setting evokes Philip Dick‘s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Somni’s reflection on the Union’s true purpose brings to mind O’Brien’s  speech in 1984.  And what really happens aboard that fabricant  ship bound for Hawaii?  Think Charleton Heston screaming, “It’s people!” Before her execution, Somni asks to finish seeing a movie, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, a connection  imposed on the story, rather than an outgrowth of plot or character development. Why does Somni want to spend the remaining minutes of her life seeing a movie? Somni has a crescent shaped birthmark on her shoulder.

Story six, “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” is in the middle of the book and is all in one piece. We’re in the future, way past the time of Somni, and, other than a few pockets of ocean and islands, the world’s atmosphere is mostly toxic and full of bad germs. This first person narrative is delivered by an old man on an island, what used to be Oahu. The story, told in a dialect with nods to hillbillies and the Australian outback concerns what happened when Zachry, the narrator was sixteen. A ship carrying a bunch of “Smarts,” a more technologically advanced and sophisticated group landed and the result was that Zachry and his family hosted a “Smart,” Meronym, a dark-skinned woman of fifty (an impossibly old age by the standards of Zachry’s people). Her stay was six months and during that time she studied the cultures on the island. Along with Zachry’s peace-loving goat herders, who believe in re-incarnation and pray to the goddess, “Somni,” there are militant groups, including the predatory warriors, the Kona. Despite his distrust of Meronym’s motives, Zachry became her guide, including a trip to Mauna Kea, to see the “observ’trees.” Meronym, who has a crescent birthmark, rescued Zachry from slavery and before leaving, she gave him a piece of technology, an egg-shaped device that projects a holographic image of the fabricant, Somni. This is kept and wondered at by Zachry and his descendents. Before she left on a ship decimated by illness, Meronym told Zachry that his culture is one of the most advanced left in the world.

After story six, Mitchell completes  the rest of the stories, starting with five. As I said, I did enjoy Somni’s story and I got a kick out of the wild prison break in the Cavendish story. The only intriguing part of Luisa Rey was her recognition of Frobisher’s music, a device I believe could have been used in the other stories effectively and also, Luisa’s hesitating when she passes The Prophetess, the ship in “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing.” Frobisher’s suicide in story two made me shrug because he was so unlikeable. I read part two of story one, “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,” with the expectation that Mitchell would lock in a piece that would unite all the stories into one, universal narrative. I couldn’t find it. I read again, assuming I didn’t read it carefully enough. The last two pages were pure “author’s message” and I was reminded of another movie,  A Christmas Story. It’s 1939’s Middle-America and Christmas time. Ralphie, a nine-year old boy, schemes for a b-bee-gun to be under the tree.  Ralphie is also a fan of Little Orphan Annie, and he has sent in all the boxtops to get a decoder ring. When it finally arrives in the mail, he eagerly listens to the radio show for Annie’s secret message, only accessible to those in the inner circle of decoder ring-bearers. Then, he locks himself in the bathroom, ignoring the wails of his younger brother who has “to go.” As he huddles in the bathroom, defiant and decoding, the secret message Ralphie discovers is “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.” Disgusted, Ralphie feels Little Orphan Annie has played him.  When I read the rest of “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing,”I knew just how Ralphie felt.

October 16, 2012 Posted by | Book reviews, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Movie Review: The House at the End of the Street — resting on a tired plot

Attention: Spoiler Alert

As I write this review, The House at the End of the Street is in theaters. I doubt it will stay there long before it sinks into the depths of Netflix  one point five stardom. This film, directed by Mark Tonderal (Hush) with story by Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3 and U-571)  and screenplay by David Loucka (Dream House) offers a worthy cast headed by Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Shue and Gil Bellows.

The House at the End of the Street shows its cards in the first scene where it’s night and a woman hears a bump. She rises from her bed, and we see a figure and a mop of blond hair covering  the face of whoever made the bump. One determined blue eye peers out from the mop as a hand takes a long sharp knife from the kitchen.  Right before the woman encounters the business end of the knife, we see the mad determined gleam in the blue eye.  Despite the efforts of all involved, we also see part of a face that could use just a smidge more estrogen.  The woman says, “Carrie Anne? What are you . . .” We assume Carrie Anne, from her toned bicep,  must be working out. Then it’s shower curtains as Carrie Anne’s knife meets the woman’s kidney.  Soon, the woman’s waiting-in-bed husband  becomes victim number two.  Okay let’s jump ahead.

A woman (Elizabeth Shue) and her daughter (Jennifer Lawrence) move into a big house.  Sitting in a rustic area with trees and a hint of wilderness, this prime real estate is a steal because of property values dropping in the neighborhood. The crime of the notorious Carrie Ann refuses to be forgotten. They never found her, you see. Now her brother (Max Theriot)  lives there alone. The woman and her daughter are at odds. There’s been a divorce and rather than the absent rock musician father, the woman, a doctor, has custody of the daughter. Of course there’s lots of fighting and predictably, the misunderstood neighborhood boy living alone becomes the center of it all.  The girl can’t resist the tortured blue eyes of her studly handsome neighbor, who wasn’t around when the murders happened. He went to live with an aunt when he was seven you see. Now, all he wants to do is fix the place up and sell it, he tells her. He doesn’t tell her about his sister, Carrie Anne, tied up in the cellar. They were twins, and he feels responsible for her. Unfortunately, crazy Carrie Anne manages to get away and he ends up chasing her down and killing her. In the meantime, the neighbor girl decides to seduce the tortured but cute neighbor, much to the distress of her mother and annoyance of various high school bullies, who make it their business to drive him out by harassing him. Poor soul, he’s all alone now that Carrie Anne’s gone. Or is she?

I kept waiting for something to surprise me in this pre-fab project. The lack of originality had me shaking my head as we see that those neighborhood punks had the right idea. Lonely boy finds another girl to be his crazy sister and it’s official, he was Carrie Anne when the murders occurred.  It turns out that his mom and dad were so angry when the real Carrie Anne fell off her swing and died, that they forced him to take her place. Fed up, dealing with puberty as a girl, he killed them. Understandable. Predictably, neighbor girl figures his secret out and she and mom have to fight  him off. The movie ends with him on Thorazine as he stares glassy-blue-eyed at a jigsaw puzzle.

Young Mr. Theriot is playing Norman Bates in a TV production, Bates Hotel. Ah good plan.

For the life of me, I’ll never understand how projects like this are made and released while more worthy scripts are met with indifference. The plot and characters were indifferently written and trite. The actors, including Mr. Theriot will appear in more worthy projects. And if the writers and director do another one of these clunkers, I hope the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock haunts them, hopefully inspiring more original fare.

September 24, 2012 Posted by | Movies, Uncategorized | | 3 Comments

LUMINARIUM: There’s nothing like a brain.

In commenting on the solar system family photo taken by Voyager 1, Carl Sagan referred to the “blue dot”  as home to every human who has ever lived.  Now,  we’re looking at potential lots on Mars,  and using real cash for virtual reality property. LUMINARIUM explores computer generated virtual reality as well as the different realities created by the brain itself.

LUMINARIUM is the second novel by Alex Shakar. His first novel, THE SAVAGE GIRL, a fantasy about Pop Culture, was a New York Times Notable Book.

LUMINARIUM begins in the New York of August  2006.  Protagonist Fred Brounian sits in a  black vinyl recliner as  someone attaches wires to a helmet that he’s wearing. Fred is a paid lab rat, part of an experiment  by neuro-scientists at NYU.   Several sessions have him wearing the helmet.  Each session will stimulate a different part of his brain. The aim, the attractive researcher explains,  is for Fred to experience an after-death “Rapture,” without the death part. The goal is to induce the “God” experience, freeing the subject from the “ignorance” of faith.

Fred, a thirty-something software designer, needs the money. Fred is paying for the hospital care of his identical twin brother and business partner George.

George, whose cancer has nearly consumed him, has been in a coma for months. George and Fred were CEO partners of a software company whose virtual reality program “Urth” “an anime style world of pastoral villages and underwater bubble towns…” should have made them  rich. A “best laid plan,” it fell apart when  911 happened.  Slick operators  stole the company. Quirky little Urth  now belongs to Armation, a military  enterprise  in Florida, where “a ready pool of Disney Imagineers, Pixar animators, and Electronic Arts programmers” convert Urth into a military simulations program.  George had wanted to start over and create a game of “spiritual evolution.” Fred  accused him of thinking “reality was up for grabs.”

Sam, George and Fred’s younger brother, is an executive in the new Armation order.  Sam is helping the move  to Florida, and suggested that Urth software would be useful in simulating urban disaster search and rescue.  Sam’s need for control is right out of the Steve Jobs playbook.  His social skills make Jobs look like Bill Clinton.

There have been  glitches in the new search and rescue program, and a suggestion of sabotage. Fred is the most likely suspect.  There were  hard feelings, but Fred needs his old job back.  Fred’s first lab rat session results in a hyper-awareness that causes him to shadow an old woman in pin-curls, who meanders into a store and shoplifts. This results in his arrest for shoplifting  tweezers. That’s right, tweezers. In addition, Fred receives emails from comatose George, a situation that threatens his already tentative hold on reality. As Fred struggles to regain stability in his life, the disorientation caused by the lab experiments, and more messages from George result in him questioning his sanity. He wonders if someone is playing a cruel joke.

Fred is surrounded by illusion and mysticism. His father is an actor and magician. Fred’s mother practices Reiki, a Japanese brand of energy healing. Mom believes that George emanates a healing energy from his hospital bed. As Fred tries to make sense of his expanded senses, the product, we assume, of the lab experiments,  we, along with Fred, have difficulty sorting out reality. Shakar’s use of stream-of-consciousness in these sequences reminded me of the movie Altered States with a swirl (the old woman’s pin curls, “this infinite pinwheel of shit,“The spiral had twisted shut again…”) of the senses that blurs the lines between different realities.

The cryptic emails from George contain the word “avatara.” Researching Hinduism, Fred discovers identical twin avataras, Nara and Narayana, who represent the human and the divine. The concept of “duality” is used throughout the novel. Fred clings to his identical twin. He reads stories to George about simultaneous twin occurrences, which “according to Carl Jung are …the dual manifestation of a single collective unconscious.” Fred questions how he could “stand the two-sided coin on edge“– experiencing the divine, the supernatural,  knowing that he would never be able to verify.  He wonders if existence is the result of some cosmic plan.  Is everything random?

Under all of this searching for alternate realities and the exploration of religions is the fear of death. Calendar pages mark dates leading to the fifth anniversary of the loss of the Trade Center Twin Towers. The enormity of this event permeates LUMINARIUM. Fred contemplates death, but can’t imagine not being somewhere.  New York copes, but is forever changed. Fred faces a future where he is no longer a  twin.

Creating different realities is a way of coming to terms with death. Besides the programs of various virtual worlds, Shakar takes us to a Florida mini-golf course , which is a virtual world modeled on pre-911 New York.  Armation Florida employees live in the planned community “Celebration,”  designed for controlled reality.  Pre-fab reality is predictable and as safe as the womb. Sam yearns for it; Fred is both attracted and repelled.

George coins the word “holomelancholia…the inevitable disappointment of virtual worlds.” This concept fascinates me. I wrote my second book (currently in revisions) in response to Kurzweil’s prediction of the utopias that await us via mind-uploading. In Bali Hai, the “post-biological destination” setting of my novel Babylon Dreams, everything is perfect but the past. Through mind-uploading, we can escape death, but we can’t escape ourselves. Our bodies wear out, but can the human spirit live on indefinitely? One thing that makes life worth living is the luck of the draw, the chance that dreams can be realized or  taken away. As Eric Packer, the protagonist of Cosmopolis (see my August 27, 2012 film review) did, I think eventually, we would all choose the “void.”

In his letter to readers, Shakar puts it this way: “How do we deal with a changed world, with a universe that one day seemed with us and the next seems to turn against us and oppose us at every turn?”

LUMINARIUM is the third literary novel that I have reviewed at length on this blog.  It is the first that I totally recommend. The stream of consciousness style is dense. The long paragraphs were a challenge to my short-attention span, but I kept on reading.  There were a few places where I felt he was doing a research paper rather than telling a story, but not too many to lose my interest in what happens to Fred. In his comments on LUMINARIUM  in the New York Times Sunday Book Review (September 2, 2011),  Christopher R. Beha remarks, “This premise, however ingenious, might have yielded a schematic novel of ideas, if Shakar weren’t so committed to showing his readers a good time.”  I feel that Shakar’s respect for his readers is reflected in this commitment to “show us a good time.”  Shakar gives us a complete, heartfelt story.  Telling a story well and entertaining readers should not be limited to genre writers. Along the way, Shakar looks for answers, but doesn’t claim success.

If mind-uploading happens before I face whatever waits on the other side of that coin, I would like to float around in a place like Shakar’s “Urth,” especially in one of those underwater bubble towns. Maybe I’ll find Ringo’s Octopus’ Garden.

September 10, 2012 Posted by | Book reviews, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Cosmopolis: A huge throbbing chainsaw and a cream pie

Right before I entered the theater to see Cosmopolis, a 2012 film written and directed by David Cronenberg from a 2003 Don DeLillio novel, a fellow middle-aged lady asked me why I had decided on seeing it. “I almost went,” she said,  “but people kept telling me how boring it was, and so I decided on something else.” She said the name of the movie she had decided on; I forget which one.

I told her that I had heard the same thing, but I liked Cronenberg movies. I had read mixed reviews regarding Pattinson. Having worked in casting in a previous incarnation of my professional self, I was curious to see what kind of chops this young actor was sporting since he traded in his fangs.

Okay, let’s get this over with. The dialogue of the Cosmopolis script is dense, artificial, and extremely inaccessible. Do you think I came up with the “huge throbbing chainsaw” on my own? Nope, it was one of the script’s many gems. The whole script reminds me of those scenes I’d get assigned in acting class when I was at UCLA. Existential works are often assigned to nineteen-year old students, who spend a lot of time imagining their glorious futures. We’d mouth lines, pretending to know what was going on, and since most of our fellow students were as clueless as we, it wasn’t a total humiliation. In fact, this script might have worked better in a theater in terms of audience enjoyment. In theater, audiences are an active part of the whole experience.

Movies are inclusive, but the audience is passive. The aim is to immerse you in a point of view and in a world. For the most part, when watching films, you feel rather than think. That’s how movies communicate–by manipulating our responses.

I think that deprivation is the point. Cronenbeg wants us to feel like outsiders, straining to understand what is going on behind those tinted limo windows.

In Cosmopolis, a character remarks on how the future is cannibalizing the present, and time is broken up into infinitesimally smaller bits. People can’t keep up with how fast things change or deal with the necessary “creative destruction.” Eric Packer (Pattison), a self-made multi-billionaire recalls that when he was four, he calculated how much he would weigh on each planet of our solar system. The kid must have been interesting to potty-train.

One thing hasn’t changed. Eric, the protagonist of Cosmopolis, is every bit as bloodless as Edward the lovesick vamp. Most of the action takes place in the interior of a white stretch limo where Eric, a 28 year old self- made capitalist, holds court. Along the way, various minions enter the womb-like limo interior. We see all the symbols of wealth on numerous small screens, but the only tangible evidence is isolation from the damage caused by the machinations of the rich and entitled. Eric stares impassively through the bullet-proof windows at the rage of on-going riots. One by one, these employees report and/or perform. Reports he receives from two of his even younger male staffers reveal that Eric has lost all of his money, and all the capital of his clients. The news has no effect on him. He’s restless and bored. Two of the women, including his art dealer/mistress (Juliette Binoche) bask in his attention, reflecting back to him his narcissistic approval. One employee (Emily Hampshire) forced to interrupt her day off, strokes the nozzle of her water bottle as a doctor (inside the limo which hosts an ultrasound and mini-lab) performs what, for Eric, is a highly erotic prostate exam. Eric’s attention to the woman ends as the exam ends. He is only affected by the doctor’s comment that his prostate is asymmetrical.

I’ve known people like Eric. There’s an unspoken message: Impress me; entertain me. Make me care; make me notice. And the people in Eric’s small world do try. It’s not enough. Eric has a hard time feeling anything. His outer shell is a white limo that becomes increasingly defaced as it crosses through an urban nightmare. Several times, during the course of the day, he encounters his new wife, an equally bloodless blonde. Each time, he coerces her into having a meal with him. She rejects him sexually, saying that her writing (she’s a poet) takes too much of her energy. Her rejection is what he finds compelling.

When his “I deal in theory” servant (Samantha Morton) sniffs at the sight of a man self-immolating on a sidewalk, dismissing it as an unoriginal gesture (it’s been done), Eric wonders at all that pain to just make a statement, to say something.

The movie is a journey. Ulysses, the character from Homer’s epic, The Odyssey (okay technically he’s Odysseus), as well as James Joyce’s novel  inspired DeLillio. Both works (Ulysses) were also an influence on Mark Rothko, the artist whose “Rothko Chapel” Eric means to buy. Talk about entitlement; Eric assumes everything’s for sale. The trip is a slow crawl through Manhattan traffic, its street arteries clotted by a POTUS visit. “We (as in the royal we) want a hair cut.” Eric announces. The barbershop in question is across town. It is a space, that for Eric, means the comfort of the familiar–mirrored walls, swivel chairs, etc. He dismisses his bodyguard’s warning that someone means to kill him. This devourer of the future craves the illusion of the past.

Very little elicits an emotional response from Eric or from us, the audience. One sweet exception is a cream pie that gets smashed into titan boy’s face. The pie is wielded by a man with his own film crew. The man, who has smashed pies into the faces of countless heads of power, assures Eric that he’s nonpartisan. Castro got served too. So after a spectacularly bad hair cut, and an off the wall murder, Eric faces his end in a run-down building and a bare-foot, hang dog (even more than usual) former employee (Paul Giamatti). Before he was downsized, this employee went nuts trying to keep up with the rate of changes in the way things are calculated.  How’s that singularity thingy workin’ out for ya?  Now the man has no identity. For him, “no identity” means no appointments, no plans, and no credit card receipts.

Eric forgot, the man accuses him, that all the Universe’s symmetry and repetition means nothing without the isolated exception, an exception, like the asymmetrical prostate, a benign condition he and Eric both have.  Worse, this man has a fungus between his toes, and it urges him to kill Eric. In the words of the long-ago church lady, “Isn’t that special?” Eric has failed to save him, you see, and so Eric must die. Eric doesn’t seem too concerned. Death is new; it’s something he hasn’t done.

We all have this in common. We all fear death and want someone to make it better. Some of us find comfort in religion and others in superheroes. No wonder vampires are so popular. Unlike zombies, you’re undead and you get have sex and you keep your marbles (smarts).

As far as Pattinson’s chops go, he’s got them. The vivid desperation of the other characters collides with the impassivity of Pattinson’s face. He’s a neutral so that the colors are more vivid.  I’ll be interested to see what he does and how he is cast as he ages. I think he’ll welcome the chance to do character work, and I hope he can keep working.

Regardless, I suspect some of those scenes will be showing up in actor showcases. There are some things that don’t change.

August 27, 2012 Posted by | Movies | , , | Leave a comment

A movie review: Prometheus–an alien nation of infection

Attention: Spoiler Alert!

PROMETHEUS, the prequel to the ALIEN films is now in theaters. Directed by Ridley Scott, who directed ALIEN, the first in the series, PROMETHEUS is one of two eagerly awaited science fiction movies of the the 2012 summer. The other movie is THE AVENGERS.  Although there are other science fiction movies debuting this summer, PROMETHEUS and THE AVENGERS are the ones that fans have been waiting for. I saw THE AVENGERS and I didn’t care for it. What little I did like included performances by Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo. Because I wasn’t a fan of the comics and not familiar with the characters, I didn’t think it right to review it. On the other hand, I have seen every one of the ALIEN series and really liked the first two.

PROMETHEUS was a disappointment.

The opening is beautiful.

A bald, blue, giant man, stands on the edge of a precipice, and far below is a scary Niagra-like waterfall. He drinks from what looks like a coconut shell with little bean-like things in it. Not a good idea. He isn’t jolly and this isn’t a valley–ho, ho, ho. The blue skin starts mottling a nasty black spider pattern.  He keels over and plunges into the water where we see images of organs and vessels pulsating. The images take us into his cells where we see his DNA breaking apart and blending, we assume with all that water.

Skip ahead with me to a new time and place,

where a pair of archeologists discover an ancient cave drawing of a giant being (with a bald head so start doing the math). It’s one of many drawings featuring giant men discovered in the artifacts of  ancient cultures all over the world. Thousands of miles separate these drawings done by artists with no possible way to communicate. The discovery scene with the digging and brushing off the find, as well as the excitement of the scientist love-birds  reminded me of the opening scene from JURASSIC PARK.

Now, we’re on a spaceship, off to an unknown galaxy.

The crew is in hyper-sleep, tended by an android played by Michael Fassbender, a good actor whom I find both  creepy and sexy.  The android reminded me of a baby-sitter where the kids are asleep and the absent grownups have a great sound system and supply of dvds. He walks around taking notes, peering into a female crew member’s dream (not nice) as he listens to music and watches old movies including LAWRENCE of ARABIA. His glowing yellow visor contrasts beautifully with the gleaming surface of the ship. Why did they put him in flipflops? That was odd. The beauty and serenity of this sequence reminded me of the opening of 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY. The android’s name is David. Remind you of anything–like maybe HAL’s friend, “Dave”?

Next we have the briefing of the crew.

They all sit around, joking and drinking coffee while Charlize Theron (one of the best things in the movie and is she ever on a roll this year) gives a presentation that includes graphics showing the similarities of drawings and how they point to a different creation process in terms of how we got here . There’s also an explanation of the mission by a holographic message. It’s the powerful  Weyland, the ninety-something owner of the company. Weyland is played by Guy Pearce in the worst old-age make-up I’ve seen since the last eighth grade production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Really guys? That totally took me out of the movie. There are a lot of seventy plus name actors who could have convincingly played twenty years older. Pearce is at the most fortyish. This was bad casting as well as bad make-up.  The whole scene with the wise-cracking crew reminded me of the Marine grunts crew-briefing in ALIENS. Where’s Bill Paxton? They could have used him. The hip black captain (Idris Elba) tried, but just couldn’t  supply enough of the required “cool” factor with so many science nerds making lame jokes.

So the mission is for us  to find “where we humans came from.”

Darwin was a quack and the bald men planted us on earth. Those drawings were an invitation, weren’t they? The planet landing sequence was cool. We see these big domes. And . . . they’re hollow! One by one, like an Agatha Christie play, scientists start dying–with a little help from Android David, and the stowaway–you guessed it! Guy Pierce who happens to be Charlize’s father–a plot line thrown in like an extra onion to the stew. Didn’t help. When it comes to an invitation, BYOB takes on a whole new meaning and all the aliens, alienettes and mini-aliens slithering in that dome consider the spaceship a giant kegger. At the end of it we find out that the big blue bald guys were cooking up weapons of mass destruction at a safe distance from their world.

Yes, they were in our little corner of the universe and yes, they are our daddies.

However, they weren’t satisfied with how we turned out and were planning to come back to re-do  us using some of their other little works of art–the ones with two sets of razor-teeth. Unfortunately for them, someone didn’t mind the stove and there was an accident. All the aliens died a long time ago. Or did they? David the Android manages to not only spike the drink of one of the scientists with alien juice, but also intends to harvest a little alien bun-in the oven, planted in the unfortunate scientist girlfriend. She outsmarts him and does her own c-section before the little nipper gets too frisky. Okay then, David’s last trick is to wheel his old boss out to see the one remaining bald alien who has been in some kind of super sleep for a zillion years. David figures out how to wake him up. Ah, good plan! Does the alien give away any trade secrets–say to eternal life? The old man eagerly awaits. The big blue guy grins, kills Weyland and rips David’s head off. David isn’t particularly upset.

By now, what’s left off the crew has figured out that they need to destroy the big alien ship.

It was on its way to earth and after the long layover, the remaining alien will be off to off us.  With a heroic “it’s been a privilege captain” every one blows up. Everyone, that is except the bald alien, who is finally killed by the “little bun in the oven” that’s all grow’d up.  David (in two pieces now) tells the remaining scientist he has figured out how to pilot one of the small remaining alien ships. Does she want him to take her home? Nooooo. Of course not.  She wants an explanation, so off they go to find ET’s home. She explains that because she’s human, she needs to know. Really? Just call me Data.

June 13, 2012 Posted by | Movies | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman–Hi ho-hi ho-politically correct we go!

No Spoiler Alert!

(Hello–It’s Snow White)

As I write this review, SNOW WHITE and the HUNTSMAN, a 2012 release,  is a currently in theaters. Directed by Rupert Sanders (first film) and co-written by Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock (director of  THE BLIND SIDE), it stars Charlize Theron as Ravenna (the evil queen), Kristen Stewart (Snow White) and Chris Hemsworth as the studly huntsman.

If you enjoy films with great visual effects, you ‘ll enjoy this film.The story, however, is muddled.

In my opinion, the movie’s too long. I became restless about three-quarters into it.  The story meandered. It may be that the writers were working from other versions of the fairytale and we’re all used to the Disney version. Regardless, it seems that they failed to settle on one version. Unfortunately, the result is muddled and questions like why Ravenna doesn’t kill Snow White when she kills the King and who this Huntsman really is are not answered. We’re left with too many loose ends.

Where is Prince Charming? He’s been demoted. His name is “William” (Sam Claflin)  and he’s the son of a duke. Ravenna’s overly devoted brother “Finn” Sam Spreull (Hamlet called and wants his hair back) keeps a handy supply of local maidens in the dungeon for those occasions when Ravenna needs a dose of youth to freshen up. Ravenna tricked the King, Snow White’s father, into marrying her. Ravenna has issues with men–and everybody else–and makes it her business to spread misery like a bad rash over the entire kingdom. Too bad she has no other outlets. Ravenna could do a mean blog and likely, the Facebook friend from hell.

Charlize Theron makes a believable evil queen–very intimidating. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. This actress is good in just about every role she does.

For some reason Ravenna keeps Snow White alive as a permanent dungeon resident. That is until The Mirror announces Snow White is “the fairest in the land.” Ravenna is not happy (she never is).  Especially when she learns Snow White can kill her. There is good news though. Snow White’s heart is a permanent beauty treatment. If Ravenna eats it, there need be no more messy maidens.

Kristen Stewart is okay as Snow White. She simply isn’t compelling. There’s a heaviness to her acting. No perceivable sense of humor.

When Finn comes to collect Snow White’s heart, Snow White escapes.  Then Ravenna sends out the Huntsman and one thing leads to another, including Ravenna impersonating William and handing  Snow White the poison apple. She bites, falls dead and guess whose kiss wakes her up. Not wimpy William–it’s Hunky Huntsman.

So now Snow White is really annoyed–that apple was the last straw. The result– Snow White leads an army and storms the castle to end Ravenna. The huntsman and William, and six of the seven dwarfs (one dwarf dies) join in the battle. Several well-known non-dwarf actors hi ho it to the castle including Bos Hoskins and Ian McShane. The dwarf scenes have lots of bathroom humor and though funny, they’re not in sync with the tone of the narrative.  Not surprisingly, this cast was a major issue for working actors who are in fact dwarfs. Of course they win and Snow White kills the queen. Kristen’s soulful Twilight stare helps Ravenna into the light.

This reworking of the Snow White fairy tale sounds a feminist note. It ends with her coronation. Who is going to be Mr. Snow White? Will it be the devoted William, the tormented rough-around-the edges Huntsman, or maybe a dwarf? Wait for the sequel. One thing for sure– no white charger, no “Some day my prince will come” for this girl. She has a kingdom to rule.

June 10, 2012 Posted by | Movies | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Movie Review: Episode 50–The Devil (and my agent) made me do it.

Netflix, Netflix, Netflix … whaat WERE you thinking? I trusted you Netflix. You said two and a half stars! Nooooooooooo!

EPISODE 50, a 2011 release, has 2.5 stars from the Netflix fairy.  This 2011 “offering,” written and directed by Joe and Tess Smalley begins benignly enough with yet another “found footage” paranormal premise. This time it’s for a paranormal reality (think Ghost Hunters) show–only these guys are out to show us the smoke, mirrors and faulty wiring that panic folks into thinking their places are haunted. These dudes (and one dewy-eyed dudette) are out to shine a light on superstition and vivid imaginations. Their purpose is to put this poppycock silliness to rest so that “real science” will get more attention. When a dying rich guy who fears going to hell offers them the chance to investigate the West Virginia Lunatic Asylum, the site of several unexplained and gruesome deaths, they see “Season Finale” or  “Episode 50!!” So they load up the van and head for West Virginey–visions of Emmys dancing in their heads.

Trouble (along with a ghost in the window) arises when they encounter a rival group called “ASK” (don’t ask) a trio of God-fearing folks from UCLA. ASK is convinced that the Devil is real. So of course the two groups start circling each other like the Sharks and the Jets until the dewy eyed dudette calls a halt while her counter-part in the ASK group, a rather mousy medium looks panicked at the thought of picking up whatever signals the asylum is beaming. They agree to work together–or rather the TV show crew will work and the church people will take notes.  The rest of the film devolves from the formatted “Ghost Hunters”  to a plot mess more complicated than three seasons of “Dark Shadows.” Towards the middle of the film we’re treated to music supporting the “found footage” and ghosts start staggering, crawling on the ceiling, and locking people in rooms that just happen to contain the files that help the investigators to figure out that it’s just one bad guy-ghost (a serial-murderer, what a surprise!) who is holding all the spirits there and not allowing them to “go into the light children.” There’s a gate to hell and it’s not even at the hospital; it’s in an old prison. And so off they go to the old pokey. Right. My favorite line was “I never pay attention to crap like ‘The Exorcist.'” Oh reeeally? You mean that ole’ black magic movie? This masterpiece ends with a show-down–mano vs cloven hoof as the  “Devil’ (the Devil looks like a bare-chested guy with a mean set of horns)  guarding an old gate with flames, etc.  The big bad Devil is vanquished by the skeptic TV guy wielding a crucifix (after the church guy dies heroically). Priceless. Netflix—how about half a star?

June 8, 2012 Posted by | Movies, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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