Last night my wife and I were contemplating going to the movies. She really wanted to see the cystic-fibrosis–related teen rom-com/drama Five Feet Apart, and I wanted to see the post–alien-invasion SF drama Captive State. So we compromised: she went to Five Feet Apart, and I went to Captive State.Continue reading “Review: Captive State”
I read Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster this weekend.
It’s the story of sixteen-year-old Jared, who’s doing his best, trying to balance baking weed cookies, caring for his elderly neighbours, keeping his dad from losing his home, keeping his aggressive mom off his case, and generally just trying to not fail grade ten.
It’s not real helpful that he’s started hearing crows talking to him.Continue reading “Review: Son of a Trickster”
Finally, last night, I watched Bad Times at the El Royale. Back when I first saw the trailer, I thought it was an Evans movie for sure, but it ended up playing at the multiplex down the street instead, for all of two weeks. I managed to miss it. Now I regret not seeing it on the big screen.
El Royale takes place at a hotel in Lake Tahoe, on the border between Nevada and California. The border literally bisects the hotel. Rooms on the California side are $1 more per night.
The movie opens with a priest, a singer, and a vacuum-cleaner salesman trying to check in, one lovely afternoon in 1969, but the clerk is nowhere to be found. Once they do track him down, a fourth guest appears, and she’s got some baggage. Well, they all have baggage, but the fourth woman appears to have kidnapped someone.
Of course, this is a noir-ish thriller, and no one—not even the venue—is who they seem to be.
I quite enjoyed El Royale. It felt a lot like a Quentin Tarantino movie, but it was written and directed by Drew Goddard. Goddard managed to take all the good things about a QT movie—colours, music, sudden violent twists—and discard the endless soliloquies. It really makes for a tight, nasty thriller, and it’s just the thing I was looking for.
If you like violence, secrets, thunderstorms, ’60s music, and violence, it might be just what you’re looking for too.
Header image from The Movie DB.
Last weekend I watched The Old Man and the Gun at the Evans Theatre. I loved it.
Forrest Tucker (played by Robert Redford) robs banks. We meet him as he’s robbing the latest one. He’s polite, he’s charming, he’s got a gun that he shows the manager (but that we don’t actually see till much later). He makes his getaway, and after he’s switched cars he spies a truck broken down on the side of the road. It’s driven by Jewel (Sissy Spacek), whom he offers a ride home (after the cop cars go screaming by, hunting a getaway car he’s no longer driving).
Forrest is in a gang with Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits). The media dubs them the Over-the-Hill Gang. They don’t seem to need to rob banks, not for the money, at least; they seem to enjoy it.
(Aside: Teddy’s tragicomic Christmas story was my favourite scene in the movie. It’s got nothing to do with the story, but it says something about his character.)
Rounding out the story is the police officer John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who is determined he’s going to be the one to nail the Over-the-Hill Gang. Will he succeed? Will our plucky anti-heroes get away with their next heist? Will Forrest and Jewel’s meet-cute turn into something deeper? Watch the movie to find out. It’s worth it.
Few things in this movie are stated outright. What appears at first glance to be an old-timey hearing aid is more likely a police-radio scanner, and this revelation makes it easier to understand how Tucker manages his getaway in the opening scenes. As mentioned, we don’t actually see his gun for quite some time, and it’s unclear by the end of the film if he’s ever even loaded it, much less fired it. One of the centrepiece heists isn’t even shown on-screen; we see a bit of the planning, a lot of hand-wringing by the Over-the-Hillers (“Can we even do it? Is it worth trying? I can’t run near as fast as I used to”, etc), and then a news report about the crime as Tucker puts the loot into its hiding place.
It’s a fun movie, a funny movie, and a sneaky, sly movie. I loved it.
I read recently that Robert Redford decided to retire after making The Old Man and the Gun because he wanted to go out on a fun movie. I think he did a fine job.
This is the first review I’ve come across for the new made-in-Manitoba anthology Parallel Prairies, and I’m glad to say the reviewer appears to have enjoyed my short story “Vincent and Charlie”.
Another rural close encounter of note in the collection is Brandon-based Patrick Johanneson’s Vincent and Charlie. The story explores the concept of alien telepathy and memory manipulation from inside a mind descending into dementia. Johanneson finds an artful balance between suspense and sentimentality and adds a soupçon of Men in Black for good measure.Sarah Jo Kirsch, The Uniter
Parallel Prairies launches Oct. 11, 2018, at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg, and Oct. 13, 2018, at Brandon University’s John E. Robbins Library.
You can order the book from McNally Robinson, too, if you’d like (there will be copies available at the launches, of course).
…and it’s sort of my fault.
It started with a request for book suggestions: Nikki was looking for books that “captured [my] soul”.
I made a suggestion, naming a couple of my favourite short-story authors. (FYI, Kelly Link goes by @haszombiesinit on The Twitters.)
Michael Swanwick, as is his wont, replied.
I offered up my 2-year-old review of Get in Trouble.
Mr. Swanwick agreed with me.
Kelly Link chimed in.
And then it all kind of snowballed.
So I’ve got that to look forward to. I hope it comes to pass; I think it’d be a fascinating interview.
- Sleeping Giants
- Waking Gods
- Only Human
As a young girl, Rose Franklin falls into a hole and discovers a giant mechanical hand. As an adult, she goes to work on what has now been named Themis: a giant robot of alien origin, which, for unknown reasons, traveled to Earth sometime in the distant past, only to be disassembled and scattered around the globe.
Along the way she teams up with a couple of military pilots, a man who claims he’s descended more or less directly from aliens, a rogue geneticist, and a mysterious stranger who wields more power than literally anyone else on Earth.
But no one’s ready for what happens when the robot builders show up. Or what happens when a handful of people are transported to the builders’ homeworld.
Turns out an invulnerable giant robot can have a profound effect on the geopolitical landscape.
The novels are epistolary, told in the form of transcripted interviews, news broadcasts, personal journals, letters, and the like. Sylvain Neuvel is a master of propulsive storytelling—I read books 2 and 3 in a couple of days apiece (normally it takes me between a week and a month to read a book), and the story itself had me laughing more than once. I especially enjoyed the tone of the Mysterious Stranger’s dialogue, even though he was sometimes not a very nice person. (There are no shortage of not very nice people here, and everyone’s flawed, just like the real world.)
The story examines the consequences of discovering that, not only are we not alone in the universe, but there exist aliens quite capable of wiping out the entire human race without breaking a sweat. How do you fight against a threat like that? And what happens when flawed human beings get access to that technology?
Well, you’ll have to read the trilogy to find out. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Highly recommended, especially if you’re into first-contact yarns, sardonic humour, giant robots, or geopolitics. Oh, and linguistics.
On the weekend I finally watched Disney’s Tomorrowland. I sort-of remembered its theatre run, which was underwhelming (apparently it lost over $100 million dollars, based on its production and marketing costs vs. its box-office take).
The story in a nutshell: As a boy, Frank Walker goes to live in a retro-future paradise, till he’s booted out for some crime that remains unspecified until nearly the end of the movie. He grows up into a bitter, bitter man (played by George Clooney). Meanwhile, Casey (Britt Robertson) might be the key to Frank’s return to Tomorrowland, and also the key to, you know, staving off the seemingly inevitable end of the world. Facing off against them is Nix (Hugh Laurie) and his army of
skinjobs Audio-Animatronic robots.
I thought it was a decent movie, worth a watch, even if it was unsubtle. The scene in the Texas collectibles store (Blast From the Past), where Casey squares off against evil AA ’bots Hugo* and Ursula, was chockablock with reminders that Disney bought Star Wars. Some of the AAs were pretty creepy, especially the manically-grinning leader of the Men-in-Black–styled “Secret Service” squad.
In a world that seems to prefer its entertainment on the grim & gritty side, optimistic SF is a hard sell. It has a tendency to come off preachy or heavy-handed, and this movie didn’t manage to evade those pitfalls. I’m still glad I watched it, though.
It’s an interesting companion to Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays, which I read a few months ago, in that both explore the idea of alternate futures, especially the sorts of futures we seemed to expect in the 1950s (flying cars! shining towers! personal jetpacks!).
* Hugo Gernsback, because of course.
Cross-posted on Goodreads, sans footnotes.
Every time I read a John Scalzi novel, I’m reminded what a good writer he is.* This one’s no exception. He handles the big picture and the small, personal details with equal deftness.
After I finished the epilogue, I jumped back to the prologue. With the knowledge of everything else that happens in the book, it was fun to see how this little piece of the story — largely unconnected to the events in the remainder of the novel, featuring characters we wouldn’t see again — still added to the whole.**
When I started reading the book, I wasn’t sure if it was a stand-alone novel or the launch of a new series. When I got to the end, it was pretty plainly the opening volume in a multi-volume set. (Don’t get me wrong — the novel is complete in itself, but the ending indicates there’s more to come.) Under normal circumstances, I’d have felt a twinge of irritation at this, but in this case I was relieved. I want more time with these characters, and I want to know just how they’re going to deal with an empire in collapse.
The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi
- McNally Robinson Booksellers
- Or, if you live in the Westman area, the Brandon branch of the Westman Regional Library has a copy.
One final note: Peer review is important. Read the novel and you’ll see what I mean.
* In a lot of ways, John Scalzi’s writing reminds me of Joe Haldeman, who is one of my favourite writers.
** A note on prologues: Elmore Leonard famously wanted writers to avoid them, and generally speaking he’s right (IMHO). But any list of “rules” of writing are really guidelines, and usually reflect what works best for the author writing the list of rules. I’ve read a lot of Elmore Leonard’s detective novels, and I can’t recall ever running into a prologue there.
I don’t skip prologues when I read, but I do notice when they really don’t connect at all to the story. When that happens, I agree, it would have been better to excise the prologue entirely.
The Collapsing Empire’s prologue was fun enough — and connected enough to the overall story — that I read it twice.
Capsule review of the movie: Finally, a Star Wars prequel that doesn’t suck.
Capsule review of the mall parking lot on the Saturday before Christmas: Don’t. Just don’t.