Why does the sun go on shining?

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.
The Earth seen from Apollo 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve just been to see a movie about the extinction of all life on this fragile ball of rock and it was the most uplifting two hours I’ve spent in a cinema this year. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, begins with the announcement that a seventy mile wide asteroid (with the sinister name of Matilda) is going to collide with the Earth in three weeks and follows Steve Carell and Keira Knightley’s road trip as they try to get back to their respective long-lost love and family.

Lorene Scafaria’s second movie feels like the pretty sister to von Trier’s Melancholia, with the end of the world acting as a backdrop to what really matters, Carell, Knightley and a mutt called Sorry‘s search for what they need to get through the rest of their – foreshortened – lives.

SaFftEotW is a much more heartfelt and touching piece of work than Scarfaria’s previous movie, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, mainly because Steve Carell can bring a sense of pathos and charm to any role; I suspect he could reprise the role of Hitler in a remake of the now infamous Downfall and we’ll all lie down like Sorry and have our tummies scratched.

On top of that, a great collection of the funniest women (Oh, Connie Britton you’ll always be my Mrs. Coach) and men in Hollywood turn up to add colour to a perfectly realised end of days, not least of which is President Bartlett himself, who in less than ten minutes screen time almost manages to steel the entire film. I think Ang is starting to worry that my admiration for Martin Sheen (and Carell) is turning into something about which we need to have a conversation.

Go see Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll question your sexuality, but you won’t be bored.

Excuse me while I call my Mam.

God does not build in straight lines

In 1974, Dan O’Bannon produced a science fiction comedy about a transport ship which ran into trouble with a sentient bomb. Dark Star was a critical and financial flop so O’Bannon’s revenge was to invade the nightmares of a generation with the Ridley Scott helmed Alien. Thirty-three years, five movies, four forests worth of comic books, umpteen video games and toys later and Scott has returned to play in the Alien universe once again.

Owing more to Nigel Kneale and Erich Von Däniken than Agatha Christie, Prometheus is as sprawling and ambitious as Alien was claustrophobic and intimate, and feels like those old 1950’s hard scifi epics of yesteryear. Unfortunately, while it’s entertaining and visually stunning, the increased sense of scale belies a lack of depth in the story.

There are several plotlines, each of which could be a movie in its own right: the Dänikenesque Engineers, the search for God and subsequent meditations on the nature of faith, the political machinations of a multi-planetary corporation, the creepy alien that just wants to be a real boy. But because we only get to play in the universe for just over two hours nothing can be followed up in a truly satisfying manner.  Just like The Chronicles of Riddick – opening up a universe does not always mean the stories can justify it.

And while the performances were perfect (especially Fassbender’s David), the sets beautiful, the sense of creeping terror in keeping with the tone of the original Alien, Prometheus still feels like a synthesis of old ideas none of which really gel.

Unlike the movie’s namesake, Scott has failed to steal fire from the Gods, ultimately giving us a very stylish adventure which lacks substance.

Ein kleiner Schritt für einen Menschen, ein riesiger Sprung für die Menschheit

Since Rare Exports, Troll Hunter, and Let the Right One In, Scandinavia has become the place to go for original genre pieces.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uX2cS8wvQHI&feature=youtube_gdata_player]

Based on these opening four minutes, Iron Sky could be ready to join this Scandtheon. We’re in for a treat on the 20th of April.

2012 in Alternate History

2012
Image by drspam via Flickr

According to io9, it’s more than just the end of the world that we need to worry about for 2012.  Their predictions for this year include:

They missed out on a couple though:

  • Whitley Streiber (famous for being anally fingered by aliens) wrote about the boundaries between three parallel earths thinning in a parade of mental illness that would make David Icke blush;
  • Dan Brown’s apocalypse, which can only be preferable to reading any more of his dross;
  • Endless parkouring assassins jump around trying to give conspiracy theorists more to do than in any other year.

Still, it looks like the US isn’t going to get its first female president in time.

Chasing Unicorns

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/33025640]

 

Somebody give Carl Rinsch $200 million dollars and let him make what he wants. Easily the most imaginative entry in Philips’ Parallel Lines competition.

See the rest of the winners here.

Absolute Nightmare

Reign of the Nightmare Prince cover

There’s a long tradition among Western writers of lionising ancient ways of life, as if there’s something better about giving up all the trappings of modernity and wallowing about in the pain and dirt. The myth of the noble savage is responsible for such idiotic beliefs as the power of alternative medicine and the idea that anything that refutes the scientific process is necessarily true. Worst of all, it gave us Avatar – a movie that makes Smurfs 3D look like Citizen Kane.

Reign of the Nightmare Prince is just like Avatar – noble savages in tune with nature are attacked by evil technologists who want to take their resources – but differs in one respect; you care what happens. The story’s told from the point of view of one of the alien natives who’s returning from their version of Walkabout to find out monsters are killing off the rest of his people, and follows his attempts to muster a defence in the face of impossible odds.

Although it’s an entertaining and fun read, it’s not explained why the aboriginal population of an alien planet feels so human and a lot of the non-native attackers are almost as one-dimensional as Jake “I see you” Sully. Also, the end was so abrupt it felt like a sixth grader who’s suddenly reached the word limit on an English essay but don’t let that put you off.

If you’ve got some downtime while you’re committing genocide on an alien planet you could do worse than Mike Phillips’ début.

Ev’rybody Wants to Be a Cat

I don’t like procedurals. Put CSI Whatever on the TV, I’ll yawn. The Mentalist or Lie to Me, I’ll yell at the screen like a programmer watching The Net. Even Agatha Christie winds me up – I’m sure Miss Marple was responsible for a swathe of death in 1920s England. It takes a lot to make me want to pay any attention to something that even smells of murder mystery.

Pet Noir is a collection of short stories by Pati Nagle, all based around the adventures of a genetically modified tabby cat working as a detective on a space station, and it sounded like it could be different. Unfortunately not. Sure, the trappings of science fiction are there – animal uplift, a space station, cloning – but if you scratch the surface all that’s left is a set of fairly standard cop stories.

The cat in question feels no more than a human pretending to be a cat and the other animals turn out to be mere ciphers, the universe is barely sketched out and the much more interesting story of how human (and animal) society has coped with the massive changes brought about by space travel, new sentient species, and future technologies has been completely ignored.

This time, the future’s so bright, it feels like 1980.

Fresh Steamed Soul

Steampunk. Ooo-kay.

An anthology. Riiiight.

A self publishing co-operative. Hmmm

Soul-transfer. Oh God no.

This could have been so bad.

This could have been worse than the worst kind of Mary-Sue fan-fiction.

Actually, Book View Café’s shared universe collection The Shadow Conspiracy II was pretty decent, if rough in places.  The usual steampunk tropes are there: Babbage’s invention of the computer two hundred years early, Lady Ada doing the science bit, zeppelins, romantic science, and lashings of adventure, and running through all the stories is the conspiracy for which the books are named. The ability to transfer the consciousness from human to steam-driven automata has been discovered and is being used by various dasterdlies for NO GOOD.

Anthologies are, by their nature, hit-and-miss affairs, but even the worst of the stories here are pretty decent, if forgettable, yarns. Standing out are Kimbriel’s Abide with Me – a tale of parental loss and hope – and Nagle’s Claire de Lune, which pits Vodon against a moustache-twirling villain.

While soul-transfer provides a pretty decent MacGuffin, there’s very little sign of any conspiracy (shadowy or otherwise) and any real future plot advancement will likely never happen.  Not to worry, it took six seasons of Lost before the audience realised it, so they should be able to push out another four volumes.

These types of work have a habit of trying to be too clever and, without a ruthless editor, usually end up being awful but Radford and Bohnhoff did a good job of keeping any amateurish edges hidden.  It’s not much more than the price of a pint, so you can do worse than picking up a copy.

Douchebags vs. Aliens

skyline movie promo
Image by Sappymoosetree via Flickr

I should have known better. I didn’t listen to Dr. Kermode. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 10%. But I knew better.

Skyline is the worst movie to come out this year. It’s a confused mess of a movie that makes Sharktopus look like Citizen Kane and manages to make root canal surgery feel like a viable alternative to a night out in the cinema.

Just like 2008’s big monster movie, Cloverfield, it starts off with a party designed to help the audience get to knows and care for the main characters, but all that seemed to do was make sure we wanted the aliens to get the job over with sooner. Really, we’re supposed to care that a motley collection of self-obsessed hipsters are about to have their brains sucked out by a betentacled vagina?

The acting was more wooden than the Billy aisle of an Ikea store, the sound effects so loud and overwrought that even Michael Bay would think twice, and it was a relief to see the credits. How something so bad ever got a cinema release is a mystery fit for Mulder and Scully.

It’s Douchebags vs. Aliens and I’m on the side of the betentacled vaginas.

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July Reading

This Gaming Life: Travels in Three Cities by Jim Rossignol.

A whistle stop tour of gaming culture which avoids the usual clichés of describing gamers as nerds or gaming as an antisocial and harmful habit. Rossignol splits his essay into three parts each dealing with the different types of gaming that have emerged across the world and it’s not only a decent essay about gaming but touches on some exciting developments such as gaming with purpose and games-as-propaganda.

The Vesuvius Club: Graphic Novel by Mark Gatiss.

An adaptation of Gatiss’ novel about an Edwardian James Bond type getting into scrapes around London and Italy, which seemed like the Cliff Notes version of the original novel.  The story itself is pretty camp and leaves you unsure whether to give the book on which it’s based a chance.  Quite disappointing considering Gatiss’s track record on Doctor Who and Sherlock.
Warning: May contain hand-drawn penis.

The Wheel of Time, Book 12: The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.

Just when I thought I was getting to the end of a very long slog, I found out that this final volume in the twelve book series was to be split into three huge books.  From notes left when Robert Jordan passed away, the epic battle between light and dark is being finished by fantasy writer and fan Sanderson.  Definitely a commitment, but Sanderson’s input has given the story a sense of urgency that makes the reader know the last battle is only around the corner.