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.

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There and back again: Netflix’s ARQ

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*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 The 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.

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.

The film 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 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.

Thomas’s Guide to the Hereafter: Netflix’s The Discovery, a review

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***spoilers***

Cover image for Netflix feature, The Discovery

Netflix’s sci fi feature, The Discovery- IMDB -cover image

The Discovery is a 2017 Netflix production written by Charlie McDowell and Justin Lader (The One I Love) and directed by Charlie McDowell. Starring Robert Redford, Rooney Mara and Jason Segal, The Discovery considers what might happen if people knew for sure there was life after death. I’ve enjoyed many of Netflix’s productions. Unfortunately, The Discovery was not one of them.

Is there life after death? The Discovery leaves you with more questions than answers.

Robert Redford plays Thomas, a scientist who proves that there is life after death. What is the proof? We’re never given specifics, but the world reacts with a tsunami of suicides. On the hour, the number of people who have offed themselves in hopes of a better reality is updated. People have suicide parties.

The movie opens on a TV interview in progress. The journalist (Mary Steenburgen—director McDowell’s actress mother) asks Thomas if he regrets making his research public. He doesn’t. A crewmember thanks Thomas and then shoots himself in the head.

As a species, knowledge of the inevitability of death sets us apart. Fearing the unknown, we all want to know what comes after.

The scene changes to a ferry. Will (Jason Segal), a neurologist and one of Thomas’s sons, is on his way to see Dad. The ferry is empty except for Isla (Rooney Mara) an enigmatic young woman who runs hot and cold in her encounter with Will. Although Will is opposed to his father’s research, he confides that as a child, he had a brief after death experience. The ferry lands and they part company. Then Will has a premonition. He races to the beach as Isla tries to drown herself and despite her protests, he rescues her.

Toby (Jesse Plemons, one of the best young character actors working—Black Mass, Fargo season 2) is Will’s brother. As they drive to Dad’s new residence, Toby tells him to be prepared for Dad’s project.

I wish I wanted to know more about The Discovery.

There’s an emotional distance. The scenes are dreamlike and like many dreams, emotionally flat. Thomas himself is a cold fish; we have no idea what drives him. The low-key dialogue, almost whispered at times, bothered me. The director wants to keep us at a distance. Why?

Thomas owns a building that was once a private school. People wearing orange jumpsuits roam the grounds. Are they members of a cult? No, we’re told. It sure looks like one. These people are failed suicides, Thomas claims. He gives them purpose. Soon, Isla wanders in and joins the group.

Besides job assignments, there’s a meeting every night and oh yes, there are experiments. Thomas wants a better look at what’s on the other side of death. He’s invented a cap that has a zillion wires attached to it. The wires connect to antiquated video equipment. The idea is to briefly kill someone and then revive him. Maybe the brain camera will record some netherworld home movies.

After another failure, involving an honest to goodness fresh corpse, Thomas is ready to give up. Will, who hates the experiment, accidently discovers that some footage did, in fact record on the monitor.

The monitor’s jumpy images made me want to find some rabbit ears (ask your parents if you don’t know what rabbit ears are) and thump the side of the monitor.

Like every soap opera character in TV history, Will decides not to reveal his discovery, especially not to Dad. Studying the recording’s clues, he decides to find out what it means. Lots of detective work yields little until Isla joins him. Then they fall in love. She tells him more about her life, including how her son died.

As the story meandered to an end, it seemed this film, like Thomas’s wired cap, was an intellectual experiment, devoid of any emotion, its only purpose, to yield data for analytic discussion. Jason does come up with an answer for the why of the afterlife, but it made me shrug (hint—watch Groundhog Day).

Another movie that explores the existence and purpose of an afterlife is 1990’s Flatliners, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts.

Flatliners’ plot centers on medical interns whose experiments resemble Thomas’s. Each intern dies and is brought back by the others. The results are similar to Thomas’s, however, Flatliners kept you on the edge of your seat. It had interesting characters, a dynamic conflict and sharp editing. A remake of Flatliners is scheduled for a September 2017 release.

Will there be a remake of The Discovery? If there is, just shoot me, but make sure you bring the rabbit ears.