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Archive for the ‘Two Stars’ Category

Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) is a successful lawyer in New York City who commutes to the suburbs by subway. One night in spring, when there is a power outage on the train, he is delayed and by the time he gets home it’s dark. As he approaches his house, he sees a raccoon in the yard and as he scares it away, it runs into the door to the attic above his separate garage. He follows it upstairs and chases it out of the attic.

As he looks out of the attic window he sees his wife (Jennifer Garner) and twin teenage daughters in the lit up kitchen in the house. Covered by darkness, he sits down in an old dusty chair and looks out the window. He does not want to go inside. Eventually, he falls asleep.

When he awakes the next morning, he decides not to go to work, or go home. He just watches his family go about their day as they report him as missing. Now that he has been gone for a full 24 hours, he can’t bring himself to return. He stays in the attic another day, and another.

Wakefield is almost a one man show, with Bryan Cranston doing an excellent job as the actor. He narrates the story in a subdued voice, almost just thinking to himself. Some flashbacks illustrate his lackluster marriage and his burned out life.

The movie is very slow and at times I found it hard to remain engaged. As the story progressed, I found myself interested in how it would eventually end. Adapted from a short story by E.L. Doctorow, this is not really a movie, but a long monologue. It would work great as a one man play.

This would be a dud, were it not for Bryan Cranston’s excellent acting. As it is, it’s a study on life, marriage and identity.

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After total destruction of the Earth, all that is left of humanity is on one gigantic spaceship, the Noah, en route to Canaan, a planet at another star, so far away that the journey will take more than 1,000 years. The ship is huge. Under a dome the habitat is comprised of cities, countryside and vertical farms. People live in houses, apartments, even skyscrapers. They drive cars, ride in buses and trains. The sky, the sun, the moon, the stars are all simulations. So is day and night, and the seasons. People live ordinary lives, have jobs, go to school, compete for positions, love, hate, fight, and play. All the while the ship moves at relativistic speed toward a new home.

Hana Dempsey is a city planner. She is high up in the social hierarchy. When the story starts, the ship has been traveling for 340 years, with another 700 or so to go. Imagine living your entire life inside a ship, an enclosed system, without any opportunity to ever get out. For us, 340 years ago was 1677, about 100 years before the American Declaration of Independence. That’s how long they have been traveling.

Through Hana’s eyes, we get a snapshot of a civilization in such a “generation ship.” Hana and her friends become suspicious about strange and violent deaths, and they start investigating. Their findings pull them deeper and deeper into very dark secrets that the very ship itself seems to harbor. Their activities set off a revolution and popular uprising that not only threatens their way of life, but the mission itself, and therefore the existence of humanity. Can the uprising be quelled? Can order be restored? Can the ship continue its mission and keep traveling for many, many more centuries?

The author uses the first person present tense method of narration. I seem to find books like this; just recently I read the trilogy on time travel by Nathan Van Coops, who also uses that writing approach. But Ramirez is clumsy with it, and I don’t think it works well. Some of the people use telepathy, as well as thought and memory exchange through brain implants, giving the humans communications methods that are more difficult to follow. It’s hard for the reader to tell if a person is thinking, or speaking, or sending telepathic messages. Sometimes the author also violates the point of view, and while Hana tells most of the story, sometimes he seems to switch to other viewpoints, confusing the reader even more.

The Forever Watch wants to be a hard science fiction book, but there is too much far-out technology that it is almost distracting from the story, and the hard science starts feeling a little hokey at times.

I don’t know why the title of the book is The Forever Watch. I really think there should have been a better title. While I was reading it, I could never remember what the title was. I just kept thinking of the generation ship book. How about The Noah?

As you can see, I think the book has its flaws, and some reviewers have called it a tedious read. However, if you are into the sub-genre of generation ships, like I am, it is a book you must read, and you will enjoy. It is full of unique ideas and concepts, and while the author completes the story and makes The Forever Watch as standalone novel, there is ample opportunity for a sequel.

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Yuri Eden wakes up on a starship on mankind’s first voyage to another star, Proxima Centauri, four light-years away. He does not know why he is there, he does not know his destiny, but he knows he is not there by his own free will, and neither are the other 200 or so “colonists” who will be dropped off on an earth-like planet in orbit around the star.

Proxima is the story of forced colonization of an utterly alien world, and the hardships that accompany such an endeavor.

Baxter is a world-builder. He tells the story of first contact with alien life on an alien planet. But he also constructs a political system in the late 22nd century, roughly when Proxima takes place.

I enjoyed the first contact and colonization sections of the book, but I didn’t care about the distracting artificial intelligences and their political machinations, the silly political structure, and the military power structure that seems to dominate society.

It’s like he meant this to be a space opera, but there was too much material, not enough focus, coupled with shallow character building and an almost silly plot, that was distracting from what could have been a good, albeit slightly boring, story of colonization of another star system.

In the end, I enjoyed reading Proxima, but do not have any interest in reading the sequel, Ultima. I don’t care enough for the world Baxter built here, and for its characters.

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hull-zero-three

Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear is a generation ship story. What’s a generation ship, you might ask?

The stars are so far away, with the closest being four light years distant, that it’s nearly impossible to visit other stars with any technology we can imagine. If a ship could travel at a tenth of the speed of light it would take 40 years to travel to the nearest star. So to get anywhere, a ship has to be outfitted so the crew that leaves never arrives. They live their lives on the ship, they have children, and grandchildren, and grand-grandchildren who all live and die on the ship. The generation that finally eventually arrives never knew earth, never lived on a planet, and never experienced the outdoors. Just imagine you live on a ship that arrives on a new planet that you will populate now, and you know that the ship left 240 years ago – when we signed the Declaration of Independence.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong on a journey that lasts centuries.

Hull Zero Three is a story of such a generation ship. A man wakes up busting out of a pod, naked, freezing, wet, and in darkness. He does not know where he is and who he is. The environment is completely alien and very hostile. But he survives, and he slowly finds out who he might be and where he is.

Besides describing the Ship, this novel also deals with the ethical and psychological aspects of sending humans on such trips.

This is not an easy read. You have to be interested in the construction of a space ship. There is a lot of detail that would make no sense to anyone but a science fiction buff. And the generation ship aspect adds yet a different twist.

If you are interested in other generation ship stories, I have compiled a list below with my reviews.

Rating - Two Stars

Generation Ship Novels:

Aurora – by Kim Stanley Robinson

Ship of Fools – by Richard Paul Russo

Non-Stop – by Brian W. Aldiss

Orphans of the Sky – by Robert A. Heinlein

The Dark Beyond the Stars – by Frank M. Robinson

Lungfish – by John Brunner

Seed of Light – by Edmund Cooper

Tau Ceti – by Kevin J. Anderson

Ark – by Stephen Baxter

 

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day-after-never

“There’s a view from the top of the building next door. We can see both exits.”

Tucket points to the old, four story building to the right of the lab. He seems to be referencing something invisible in front of him as he explains.

“What have you got there?” I point to the ball in his hand.

“It’s a Third Eye Hot Shot.” Tucket says, grinning. I wait for him to explain further, but he seems to think it unnecessary. The reference isn’t completely lost on me, however. I recall that Third Eye is the name of a tech company that produces perceptor chips in his century. The perceptors allow direct access to the user’s mind, allowing them to see a modified environment around them called the meta-space. The meta-space acts like an amped up version of the Internet, but layered over real world spaces. It allows users to see and interact with everything from media and advertising, to actual functional controls for objects in the real world.

“You can use the meta-space all the way back in 2017?” I ask. Tucket shakes his head.

“There’s no input this far back. Meta-mapping won’t get completed till the 2080s. But since I have a portable unit, I have access to all the data and programs I’ve downloaded whenever I go.” He holds the ball up.

“Hot Shot is the best. Doesn’t come out till 2160, but I went up and got one before this trip, and it has tons of data already included from your time.”

“Like Google Maps for time travelers.”

“Google was actually the parent company.”

“Ah. Makes sense.” I stare at our target building. “So how do we get up there?”

— Van Coops, Nathan. The Day After Never: A Time Travel Adventure (In Times Like These Book 3) (Kindle Locations 2132-2141)

After In Times Like These and The Chronothon, The Day After Never is the third book in Van Coops’ time travel adventure series. He definitely left things open for another book.

While I rated the first two with three stars, which is pretty high for my ratings key, I gave this one only two. It’s still a time travel adventure, but this time, the author put in mysticism to make the plot work. The first two books were as hard-core time travel as it gets. By that, I mean that the entire plot and the action are completely based on the unique premises that time travel concepts bring with them.

This time he seems to have run out of unique time travel ideas. So he put in the Neverwhere, the place you go when you die, as a central concept. One of the Ben Travers that died in the second book is now one of the protagonists in the third book, living all in the Neverwhere. The book alternates between the two realities chapter for chapter, one in the Neverwhere, the other in the real world. In the Neverwhere, reality is conjured up by memories only. You can live in environments you can remember. You can also live in environments others can remember. And through memories you can create portals to the real world, invade those spaces and even people’s minds.

Time travel concepts are extended to space travel, and at one point Ben and his buddies travel on a space ship trailing a comet for a time travel anchor.

I am pretty sure that if you are reading this you are not whatsoever interested in this concept salad of a book. I wouldn’t be either. But having invested considerable time in Van Coops’ world of time travel by reading his first two books, I really didn’t have a choice, and I needed to finish it.

I like the man’s writing, and creativity, and world-building skills. I also enjoyed his somewhat unorthodox and risky use of the present tense in his story telling. You can see the fast pace of action this method creates when you read the except I have supplied at the top of this post. Van Coops is, after Niffenegger, my favorite time travel author. While the book by itself would only get a star and a half, given that it’s part of a trilogy, I give it two – sort of for an uplift.

Rating - Two Stars

 

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magnificent-seven

A remake of the 1960 film The Magnificent Seven (then with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson), director Antione Fuqua brings a modern view of a classic Western theme with a modern cast (Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke).

It is 1879. A really, really bad guy by the name of Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) is terrorizing the town of Rose Creek, about a three days’ ride from Sacramento. He “owns” the town, including the sheriff, and thinks nothing of killing a man in broad daylight in front of the entire town to make his point. Stand against me and I will kill you, your wife and your children.

When Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter, happens to come into town, Emma Cullen, the widow of a man just killed by Bogue, recruits him to help her avenge her husband and the free the town. Reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven, Sam rounds up The Magnificent Seven, a band of outlaws, gamblers, hired guns and miscellaneous killers, and returns to Rose Creek to get the town ready for an epic showdown. True to the tricks of Home Alone, they booby-trap the town with deadly ambushes and dynamite. Of course, in the end, just like in The Seven Samurai, the dozens of townspeople turn out to be pretty worthless in the gun battle, and The Magnificent Seven have to do most of the killing.

The Magnificent Seven is a killing feast with body counts close to those of Saving Private Ryan or John Wick. There isn’t much going other than shooting Western gun man style on a grand scale.

In the end, it’s an entertaining film. The bad guys are REALLY bad, the good guys are rogues but since they fight for good, we root for them, and when the credits roll at the end, we realize we had a good time.

We watched an amalgam of The Seven Samurai, Ocean’s Eleven and Home Alone with a lot of gunfight violence.

Rating - Two Stars

 

 

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infiltrator

U.S. Customs agent Robert “Bob” Mazur (Bryan Cranston) goes undercover to infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel by posing as a business man out to launder money. He is joined by a fellow agent (Diane Kruger) who acts as his fiancé to make the situation credible. The two get deeply involved in the cartel and gain their trust. Everyone is invited to their wedding.

This is based on a true story that took place in 1985. Watching the movie, I cannot imagine that an agent would take such enormous risks, where the slightest mistake could cost him his life, just to bust a bunch of criminals.

Bryan Cranston, whom we all got to know and love as Walter White in Breaking Bad, does an excellent job acting as Bob Mazur.

Rating - Two Stars

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hell-or-high-water

Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are brothers from a farm in Texas. Their mom passed away, and the farm is being foreclosed on. Toby is terribly behind on child support payments to his ex-wife. Tanner is the black sheep of the family. Both are impulsive and combative.

In a frantic effort to save the farm they decide to rob various branches of the bank that is foreclosing on them. They intend to steal just enough to pay off the mortgage. But things go sideways quickly when a Texas Ranger by the name of Marcus (Jeff Bridges) gets on the case. With this partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham), he pursues the robbers with relentless energy and insight and eventually brings about a final showdown.

Hell or High Water plays in West Texas, where it’s hot and dry and flat, and the men all carry guns and drive large trucks. The movie does a nice job depicting life in that environment. It received a surprising 98% on the Tomatometer, and while I enjoyed the story, it wasn’t good enough to satisfy my self-imposed requirement for more than two stars.

Rating - Two Stars

 

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Movie Review: Blood Father

blood-father

[click to enlarge]

John Link (Mel Gibson – yes, that’s Mel Gibson riding that motorcycle) is an ex-convict who is now on parole and makes a meager living as a tattoo artist out of his trailer in Indio, California, when he gets a call from his estranged 17-year-old daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) whom he has not seen in years. Lydia grew up with her mother and several husbands. As a teenager she ran away from home and got involved with the drug cartel. John Link, however, is her “blood father” and when she comes to him for help, he is willing to risk everything, his parole, even his life, to get her out of the bind she is in.

Blood Father is a piece of fast action pulp fiction, reminiscent of Gibson’s famous Mad Max movies. Getting young innocent girls, or in this case, not so innocent girls, out of trouble is a surefire recipe for a successful movie. Just watch Liam Neeson in Taken or Kevin Kline in Trade to get a feeling for the sub-genre. Dads saving their girls speaks to all dads. Dads would do anything to save their girls. That’s just nature.

And thus, a successful suspense movie, is made.

Worth the thrill ride!

Rating - Two Stars

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Movie Review: 45 Years

45-years

It’s spring in Norfolk, England. It’s cold, clammy, always foggy, and there are puddles on the roads. Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) and her husband Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) are a week away from a party celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary. It’s the 45th, because during the 40th, Geoff was getting a bypass. They are a retired couple living a quiet life of long-forged routines. She takes their dog Max for walks. He putters around the house.

Then, one day, a letter arrives. The body of his first love, Katie, has been discovered. During a trek in the Alps 53 years before she fell into a crevasse and was never found. Through global warming, the glacier was receding, and her fully preserved body was surfacing. We don’t find out how the authorities know how to contact him. But we do find out that he has not told everything to his wife.

Kate finds herself jealous of a woman 53 years dead, who was with Geoff many years before they had even met. Over the next few days, they are forced to face realities of life, and what it means to have a marriage of 45 years.

Do we ever really know the person we are with? Do we carry secrets with us that nobody knows about anymore? And if we do, like I suspect we all do, are there bodies in the ice that can surface to bring it all out?

45 Years is a story about life and growing old. The traces of the passion we felt when we were young are still there, fleeting and passing, just intense enough to make us yearn, and sometime cry a little when we are alone. We all have to carry our own experiences with us, enshrined in our memories, and only seldom does anyone else get a glimpse inside.

Rating - Two Stars

 

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There will be time

Jack Havig is born with a strange mutation that allows him to travel backward and forward in time at will. As a child, his parents are sometimes puzzled when he suddenly disappears and then just comes back moments later.

As Jack grows up, the polishes his skills more and more. Since he can control time, he can actually travel to another era, spend weeks, months or even years there, and then come back to the minute after he left. If he was alone in his room, nobody would even have known – except that he aged while he was gone.

Eventually he succeeds in his quest to find others with his unique skill. But he soon discovers that these others have formed an organization with evil intentions. That’s when he decides he has to extract himself and fight for humanity.

He finds out that it is not easy to hide from an organized gang of time travelers. There Will Be Time is told from the perspective of Doc, a friend of Jack’s family who has known them from before Jack was born. Doc narrates the story as he follows Jack, his growth and his later mastery of time travel and associated intrigue.

A well-structured story, it is sometimes a bit tedious as it goes into too much detail about far-future history and speculation around it.

The chapters are titled with roman numerals. However, at the end, the book includes what is advertised as “bonus stories” titled Progress and Windmill. It took me some time of reading into those stories before I figured out that they really had nothing to do with the novel, and that left me somewhat confused at the end. I think they should have left those out. They didn’t add anything and were somewhat meandering and pointless by themselves.

In the end, There Will Be Time is a must-read book for time travel aficionados like me.

Rating - Two Stars

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Corridors of Time

Malcolm Lockridge is a former U.S. Marine in the middle of the twentieth century. He is in prison because he accidentally killed one of the thugs that tried to mug him. A mysterious, beautiful and apparently rich woman proposes a deal that he can’t refuse, in exchange for getting him out of prison.

She takes him into the woods somewhere in Denmark, where they enter an underground corridor with very mysterious properties. As you walk down the corridor, you walk past gates into different times. You exit the gate at a labeled time, and out you come into the selected era.

Lockridge quickly figures out that the corridors are used by enemy factions working on manipulating history to their advantages. He first becomes a pawn in their games, and soon finds himself as a pivotal figure in history, spanning from the Neolithic age almost 2,000 B.C and going forward about 4,000 years into the future from now.

Anderson has a unique descriptive style, which lends itself well to this story, where he has ample opportunity to put the reader into the deep past. When reading his description, I find myself seeing clear and vivid pictures in my head. Here is an example. Lockridge has just woken up in Denmark about 1,800 B.C, and he looks around:

White sunrise mists rolled low across a drenched earth. Water dripped from a thousand leaves, glittered in the air and was lost in brush and bracken. The woods were clamorous with birdsong. High overhead wheeled an eagle, the young light like gold on its wings.

— Kindle Locations 547-548

I found the story charming and entertaining, but confusing at times and occasionally tedious. The complex web of  international and intertemporal intrigue across the ages was so complicated, the story, the “time” line and the plot were difficult to follow.

The Corridors of Time is not one of Anderson’s best, but for a time travel buff, it’s a must-read.

Rating - Two Stars

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Randi

The Amazing Randi is a magician who dedicated his life debunking psychics, faith healers, clairvoyants, and any con-artists who try to make money passing themselves off as having supernatural skills.

The most famous such con-artist is Uri Geller, who made an international career out of duping people into believing he has supernatural powers. Randi and Uri Geller had a long, adversarial relationship.

An Honest Liar is a documentary about Randi and his life. It’s mainly put together of interviews of Randi himself and his friends and associates over the years.

While the film is about Randi and his skills, it also brings forth surprising revelations about his personal life that most of us didn’t know. Was Randi actually the deceiver that we thought he was, or was he also deceived?

Rating - Two Stars

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Movie Review: Spy

SpySusan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is a clumsy CIA analyst who works in a bat-infested basement in Langley, directing her partner Bradley Fine (Jude Law) in his missions. Apparently through amazing technology only the CIA in the movies has, she reigns over a complete God-like power to see all his adversaries in the building he is in, she sees through his eyes and she talks to him through an earpiece.

It’s like she is the little gnome inside his head, peeking out through his eyes.

Eventually, Fine gets killed, and through a unlikely set of circumstances, she volunteers to go overseas undercover to infiltrate the world of illegal arms dealers in a quest to save the United States from a terrorist with a suitcase nuke.

This movie seems like it was written for McCarthy to fit her body type and by now type-cast character: a plus-sized woman with great spunk, outsized self-esteem and just the right amount of vulnerability to be cute and likable.

This is basically another Bridesmaids with a hugely contrived plot, an entire case of spy-movie stereotypes, and a continuous barrage of slapstick humor.

I laughed out loud, I enjoyed the movie, and by the time I had reached the front door of the theater I had pretty much forgotten it.

Rating - Two Stars

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Redwood Highway

Marie (Shirley Knight) is not happy living in a retirement community in Southern Oregon. Her son comes to visit her dutifully, and she hides when he comes. Her 22-year-old granddaughter Naomi is getting married to a 34-year-old artist, whom Marie has stereotyped as a no-good loser. She does not approve of the wedding, and does not intend to go. Marie is generally disgruntled with her life, cushy as it may seem in a nice retirement home. So one day she loads up her backpack and walks away, reminiscent of the Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared I recently read and reviewed.

Her destination is the Oregon coast, 80 miles away, to be an unexpected guest at her granddaughter’s wedding. She will get there on foot, along the Redwood Highway. She hasn’t been to the ocean in 45 years, and she thinks it’s about time. But walking 80 miles for a grandma through the woods is not easy, and she couldn’t quite do it on her own without the help of a few “trail angels” along the way. One of them is a lonely widower named Pete (Tom Skerritt), who helps her with her blisters and with good advice, including maps. Another is Stacia (Michelle Lombardo), who invites her into her home and patches her up, physically and emotionally.

What she does not know is that her disappearance has triggered a manhunt all over Southern Oregon, as her son and granddaughter suspect foul play.

Redwood Highway is a nice feel-good movie. There have been times when I have felt like grabbing my backpack and walking away, many times. But there were some flaws in the film. Marie had some scenes of flashbacks to her own youth and lovers, but those were always inconsistent, sketchy and disconnected. She would hallucinate characters, talk and yell out loud to them, only to have them disappear, and I, as the audience, could never quite figure out who they were and why they were important. In my opinion, every flashback, every hallucination, every scene of Marie’s mental instability could just have been omitted,  and the plot and story would not have suffered, but rather turned out more stable and consistent. Another ten minutes of survival adventure and a more elaborate ending would have made a better movie. It my rating, this flaw cost half a star.

Interestingly, Redwood Highway is listed as having earned only $100,000 at the box office. Obviously a real flop. But then, it’s rated 80% on the Tomatometer, and it is the highest-rated movie of the actress Michelle Lombardo, who started her career as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model about 10 years ago.

Perhaps you need to be “older” to enjoy this. But I am “older”, so it worked for me.

Rating - Two Stars

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