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Memory is a powerful thing. Certain memories are so vibrant, so potent, that recalling them almost feels as though we’ve been transported back to the moment in which they took place.

But just how real could that sense of transport truly become?

That’s one of the central notions in “Recursion” (Crown, $27), the new novel from author Blake Crouch. It’s an exploration of what might happen if mankind was allowed to use our most vivid memories as a gateway to what came before. It’s a compelling thriller built on big ideas – typical of Crouch’s thought-provoking sci-fi sensibility.

Published in Buzz

If history has taught us anything, it’s that when people are confronted with an invasion, they inevitably fall into one of two categories: collaborator or resistor. It has been that way in every war that has ever been fought; when enemy forces take over, some will fall in line and others will fight back.

There’s no reason to think that that would somehow change if said forces came not from another country, but from another world.

That’s the basic gist of “Captive State,” an alien occupation thriller directed by Rupert Wyatt from a script he co-wrote with Erica Beeney. It’s a story of what it means to live under the rule of an enemy that seems too powerful to overcome – and what it means to stand up to that enemy anyway.

It’s not a particularly subtle movie; it wears its ideas on its sleeve and is more about blunt force than surgical precision. The story is a bit overlong as well and meanders through its middle third. However, the low-fi aesthetic is interesting and there are some good performances. Add it all up and you get an acceptable (and forgettable) sci-fi outing.

Published in Movies

What would you do if you found yourself in a world that was similar to your own, yet undeniably different? What if you were displaced by tragedy, only to wind up in a place where you were largely unwanted? What if your old life was erased, leaving you with just a few scraps of memory?

Those are the questions at the heart of K. Chess’s excellent “Famous Men Who Never Lived” (Tin House Books, $24.95). It’s a wonderful piece of speculative fiction, following two people who find themselves adrift in a place that is just different enough from their home to be jarring and unsettling. They are surrounded by people who view them as other – as alien – and their connection to the past grows ever more tenuous as they try desperately to remain connected to whatever cultural consciousness to which they can cling.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 20 February 2019 13:53

‘Alita: Battle Angel’ fights the good fight

Considering the popularity of sci-fi/fantasy fare, you’d think that Hollywood would be better at adapting Japanese anime and manga for American audiences. However, whether it’s a cultural divide or an aesthetic difference or what have you, the undeniable appeal of those properties usually winds up getting lost in translation.

So when I started seeing ads for “Alita: Battle Angel,” I was skeptical. Based on Yukito Kushiro’s popular “Gunnm” manga from the early 1990s, it’s the sort of complex, thematically dense work that Hollywood has traditionally screwed up. Why would this time be any different?

But then I looked closer. It’s a marvelous collection of talent. You’ve got Robert Rodriguez, one of the best “genre” filmmakers of his generation, directing. Rodriguez also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Laeta Kalogridis and James Cameron – yes, that James Cameron – who also served as producer and has been moving this project forward for the better part of two decades. Oh, and there’s also an incredibly talented cast featuring far more Oscar winners and nominees than you might have anticipated for a seemingly straightforward sci-fi shoot-‘em-up.

Does it live up to that pedigree? Maybe not quite; there are some clarity issues regarding the storytelling and a few uncanny valley concerns regarding the CGI. However, there’s no disputing the vivid visual nature of the film; there are dynamic set pieces scattered throughout. And the performers all treat the material with due respect, resulting in nuanced and complex performances beyond the standard genre fare.

Published in Movies

From its very beginnings, speculative fiction has been used to comment on the world in which we live. Sometimes, it’s a lens that allows closer examination and subsequent extrapolation; other times, it’s a mirror that forces us to look at a potentially unsettling reflection. The very best often does both.

The new collection “A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers” (One World, $17) – edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams – offers numerous examples of just how good that very best can be. They are stories that look forward from our current fractured place and project just how our societal journey might progress if we remain on certain paths. There are bleak prophecies and optimistic hopes, tragedies and triumphs – all of them springing from similar starting points.

Published in Buzz
Tuesday, 22 January 2019 20:43

What dreams may come – ‘The Dreamers’

In a world where sleep may be never-ending, what manner of dreams may come?

That’s the foundational question posed by Karen Thompson Walker’s literary sci-fi novel “The Dreamers” (Random House, $27) … but it’s a question with many answers. Through an inexplicable epidemic, Walker offers up an illustration of how tenuous our grasp on a collective reality truly is. We all see the world differently whether we’re awake or asleep - and it doesn’t take much to make everything change.

Published in Style

There’s something freeing about walking into a movie that you know is going to be bad. Sure, you strive to enter into a cinematic experience with an open mind, but the truth is that keeping the bar nice and low can be beneficial to all involved.

However, there are some films where the bar simply can’t be lowered enough. Films like “Replicas.”

“Replicas” is so bad as to be baffling. The story is nonsensical, a jumble of illogical decision making and word salad jargon. The effects border on the laughable; the CGI work would have been bad a decade ago, let alone today. And the performances are wooden to the extreme, with the shocking exception of star Keanu Reeves, who might be the most emotive performer in a cast for the first time in … ever.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 10 October 2018 12:20

New novel proves a worthy ‘Foe’

What is it that makes us who we are? And just what would it take to create something that accurately captures that indefinable something?

“Foe” (Gallery, $25.99) by Iain Reid is structured around that deceptively simple question. We all think we know what it is that makes us tick, but what if there were someone out there who wanted – who NEEDED to find a way to accurately recreate you for reasons that were seemingly important yet unfortunately murky.

What Reid has built is a philosophical puzzle-box of a novel, a near-future speculative journey that explores the notion of self-determinism and the lengths to which we will go to execute our perceived duty – both to ourselves and to those about whom we care the most.

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 05 September 2018 10:41

Brothers in arms – ‘Kin’

It’s always interesting to watch a feature debut. Seeing first-time directors and/or writers take their initial bow in the world of mainstream cinema … it’s bearing witness to the realization of what is almost certainly a lifelong dream. Maybe it’s an effort that promises future excellence. Maybe it’s even a fully-formed masterpiece. But really, it’s likely to be flawed and uneven, alternating quality with rookie mistakes.

The new film “Kin” definitely falls into that last category.

The movie – directed by twin brothers Jonathan and Josh Baker and based on their own 2014 short film “Bag Man” – is an ambitious effort, an attempt to bring family drama and science fiction together. Unfortunately, while there are shining examples from both ends of the spectrum, the combination never really meshes the way it needs to, despite its surprisingly robust cast and intriguing concept.

Published in Movies

In the realm of speculative fiction, the line between “inspired by” and “derivative of” is gossamer thin. It can be wonderful to read works that wear their influences proudly, but if influences are all the reader sees, the story ultimately falls short.

But sometimes you read a book that pulls from the stories that have come before while also generating something with heft and impact, something that feels timely and thoughtful, something that is reminiscent of what has come before without ever feeling like a facsimile.

Siobhan Adcock’s “The Completionist” (Simon & Schuster, $26) is just such a book, a vivid rendering of a bleak near future where water shortages have led to scientific solutions with unintended consequences – consequences that have put the future of mankind into question.

Published in Buzz
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