The Why of Denise

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My short story, “The Why of Denise,” has been published. http://strangefictionszine.com/the-why-of-denise/

It’s a story taken from my second book, Tales from Babylon Dreams, a novel about the pros and cons of living after death in virtual reality, and how a man’s custom paradise becomes his living hell.

There and back again: Netflix’s ARQ

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There and back again: Netflix’s ARQ   a review      *Spoilers*

Netflix feature, ARQ cover image

Cover image for Netflix feature, ARQ from IMDB

ARQ, a 2017 Netflix sci fi feature, entertains, but like the three-hour time loop that drives the action, remembering details is a challenge. Written and directed by Tony Elliot (Orphan Black) ARC uses the time loop plot device, similar to Groundhog Day and Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow.The protagonist relives the same events, changing his behavior to create a different outcome. Like The Edge of Tomorrow alien conquest, a different outcome for Renton, ARQ’s protagonist, means living rather than dying.

Compared to ARQ, The Edge of Tomorrow is a Cadillac of a time loop film.

Cruise’s movie sports big name co-stars, elaborate CG nasty aliens and a save-the-world ending. Experiencing the same day thousands of times via a time loop, Cruise’s character begins as a self-serving asshole and ends up as a self-sacrificing, much wiser guy.

With its single dreary setting, dinky CG and flat characters, ARQ is a stripped down 1992 sedan.

ARQ’s time loop story is an economy ride but it gets you there. Rather than fighting aliens, it’s dystopia time!   There’s global famine, nasty air quality and a pitiless dictatorship. However, no teenagers show up to save the world.

ARQ keeps you invested due to its slick editing and a no frills but smart script.

 In a darkened bedroom, Renton (Robbie Amell—The Tomorrow People) wakes next to his lover, Hannah (Rachel Taylor—Jessica Jones). Seconds later, masked men burst in and tie them up. They want Renton’s “scrips” (money). These “Bloc” rebels are fighting “Torus,” a corporation that aims to rule the world. Renton, a scientist in hiding who had worked for Torus, suspects they’re not only after money; it’s Renton’s new invention, the ARQ.

In a world depleted of energy resources and food, the ARQ is a perpetual motion machine.

When someone mentions seeing apples in another room, it has the same affect as shouting, “squirrel” to a pack of golden retrievers. After their apple break, they return to interrogate Renton. When Hannah betrays Renton, revealing the hidden money, Sonny, the oldest of the group, shoots him dead.

Okay then. We’re back in the bedroom. Renton is waking up again.

He remembers dying. He’s not in heaven so what gives? Again, the rebels break in and it’s deja vu. The same scene plays out with different details but Renton dies again. When he wakes, Renton realizes that his perpetual motion machine has another feature: it loops time. So Renton keeps looping the loop, learning what not to do, trying to change what happens. But he’s not the only one who learns what’s going on and on. Hannah remembers. Renton wants to save Hannah but is determined to destroy the ARQ. Hannah will help Renton escape but only if he lets the Bloc have the ARQ. Like Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca, Hannah believes that she and Renton “don’t amount to a hill of beans” compared to saving the world from Torus.

When Sonny, a Torus spy, becomes aware of the ARQ loop, it’s game on.

As the scene kept repeating, the story reminded me of a game. With little backstory on any character and only the thinnest sense of a bond between Renton and Hannah, the pacing takes over. Each loop is a round as the players duck and weave, trying to move ahead in the same space. Character becomes superfluous as the game plays out.

As Renton, the cutting-edge scientist, I feel Robbie Amell is miscast.

He’s too young. An older, more experienced actor might have given Renton more shading. Rachel Taylor and the rest of the cast are fine, but the game aspect of this script results in the actors becoming pawns. The only actor I found interesting was Shaun Benson (Channel Zero) who plays Sonny, the bad guy. Whenever Sonny appears, rather than a game, the character aspect dominates. My guess is that Benson is a more experienced actor than the rest of the cast.

Overall, I found ARQ diverting but forgettable.

If you love sci fi and you’re home, looking for something to watch, you might want to check ARQ out, if only to see the variables of each loop. Who wouldn’t like to redo parts of their own life? When it comes stories driven by time travel and time looping, play it Sam; play it again and again.

LORD of ILLUSIONS

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LORD of ILLUSIONS: Lordy what a mess! But in a good way,  a review with ***spoilers***

 

Cover image for Lord of Illusions

Lord of Illusions Cover Image–IMDB

Directed and written by Clive Barker, Lord of Illusions begins as many horror films do with the camera showing us all the creepy things that we know spell “time to go someplace else.” We’re in the desert and looking at an abandoned one story building. There’s an array of small animal bones, skulls, old broken dolls, dead snakes, etc.

A group of people drives up and approaches the building commando-style.

Inside, there’s a party going on and it’s obvious these gun-toters aren’t there to bring the dip. As these fun-interruptus types barge in, we see someone sitting on the steps. The androgynous figure is a character named “Butterfield” (Trevor Edmond). who is the biggest, baddest fan of “Nix.” Nix (Daniel von Bargen) is a mellow-voiced sorcerer who plans to sacrifice a young girl. The girl cowers in the corner while a large, nasty baboon bares its teeth and tries to bite her.

I think the point of the party and the sacrifice is to kill the world and hang around after and gloat. But, I’m not sure.

All the party goers are having a great time. They’re shaving their heads and looking at each other like good sex is going to happen soon. The head of the commandos is a guy named Swann (Kevin O’Connor). Things get crazy. Nix ends up dead and buried with an iron mask nailed to his head. The mask will keep the Lord of Illusions dead. In the meantime, Butterfield who survives the fracas, is getting really mad.

So we jump fifteen years. Swann is a world famous magician.

A detective (who knows the “dark-side” we’re told via a flashback and a newspaper headline) named Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) is on a case. When Harry stumbles on a murder-in-progress, it’s a revenge killing. Someone is stalking the people who broke up the party and nailed Nix, the Lord of Illusions. Of course Butterfield (now played by Barry Del Sherman) is involved and of course Harry decides to investigate. This takes him to Swann’s Beverly Hills mansion and Mrs. Swann (in name only we’re told), Famke Janssen.

So let’s skip ahead, shall we? Swann fakes his death.

Though Swann fools Butterfield, Butterfield still manages to dig up Nix and re-book the party with all the same folks invited. Of course, they’ll bring their scissors and razors. What fun. At the party, Swann ends up in a stand-off with Nix, who is disappointed because he had counted on Swann to help him kill the world. Afterwards, the Lord of Illusions assumed he and Swann could just hang out together. Poor Butterfield is so unappreciated. Harry shows up and there’s another stand-off. After the Lord of Illusions loses, predictably, the only people left are the best looking–Scott Bakula and Famke. The world is saved. My guess is both Famke and Scott considered firing their agents after this.

I kept watching despite the mess and confusion.

There were dangling plot lines like the client who paid Harry to investigate the unfaithful husband and the cool woman cop. Also I wondered why the Magic Castle magician  helped Harry find some perfectly irrelevant info. What about Lord of Illusions did I find compelling?

I think it was Butterfield and the party-goers.

They were so passionate, so into whatever Nix was selling, it was seductive. The movie came alive during the party scenes and whenever Butterfield showed up. Otherwise I felt as if I was watching some good actors (Bakula, Janssen, O’Conner,etc.) looking like they would rather be having a root canal. All in all, I’d opt for the Lord of Illusions rather than the root canal, but as far as that party goes, I’m not shaving my head for no one.