"review" · cinema · foreign · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

{film} the world’s end

Top 5 Reasons to visit The World’s End (2013)

…seriously, don’t crawl getting there. Run! and maybe hurdle a few objects along the way.

cornetto_trilogy_Onesheet

1: You love Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007).

I use the present tense on purpose because you watch them at least once a year. You know that hurdling fences gag does not get old—and so does The World’s End. Besides the recurring jokes, the bromance, the English, the Western, the themes, settings, angsts the trilogy is revisiting in each installment, what is especially fantastic in the 3rd is the switch between Simon Pegg’s and Nick Frost’s character types; yes, that stroke of genius is my take-away.

Edgar Wright’s direction means clever cutting, excellent sound (not just music), and the choreography in physical movement and narrative—the fight scenes, getting characters from one pub to the next…One of my favorite moments is that “musical” number after the 5 leave the pub realizing that maybe their lives might actually depend on finishing the crawl; think that ridiculously silly pool-stick-beating-zombie number in Shaun of the Dead.

worlds-endWorlds-End-Simon-Pegg-Nick-Frost

2:  Your coming of age isn’t actually a John Hughes film, but the decade after…

Sean (a 1994 alum) sang along with every song. Granted, how many other East Texans came of age with a Brit’s soundtrack other than Sean. Even so that opening sequence (patterned off of late-80s, early ’90s MTV) and Gary King’s (Simon Pegg) wardrobe and middle fingers are all too familiar. And sure, there are key themes and figures (such as King) who are familiar to everyone’s youth, but dammit! I get tired of historical fiction set/made in the 1980s.

(Show of hands if you (like Sean) recognized The Sisters of Mercy on cue.)

Worlds-End-2013-Movie-Image

3: You know the Cast will be (and is) marvelously smart and funny.

Simon Pegg is magical. He can be an absolute ass and yet manage to be incredibly charming at the same time. The utter abandonment of vanity helps. Then there is his ability to cry well, oh, and apologize whilst maintaining that spark of mischief. Nick Frost (Andy Knightly), Paddy Considine (Steven Prince), Eddie Marsan (Peter Page), and Martin Freeman (Oliver Chamberlain) not only make up King’s court (note the character last names) but they are the childhood friends grown-up—and while I initially wasn’t sure what to expect chem-wise between them, they play really really well together. And as for befitting roles? brilliant.

I still think nothing that has been suggested in the last 10 minutes beats ‘smashy smashy egg men’.—Andrew Knightly (Nick Frost)

Worlds-End-2013-Movie-Image 22

4: Because you know that being the Grown-up can really suck sometimes and you could use a comedy that will actually make you laugh about it.

Gary King isn’t the only character in crisis. No, the film interrogates a particularly problematic issue with adulthood : the denial and concealment of messes. Messiness isn’t mature. Mature is having your shit together and off the lawn. Is it, really? In the film Mature has resulted in the “starbucking” of the pub[lic house]—and for the greater good of what exactly? It is an interesting question.

Not that growing up is all bad: One of my favorite grown-up moments to no one’s surprise is when Steven tells Sam Chamberlain (Rosamund Pike) that he will leave his young fitness instructor girlfriend (whom he boyishly bragged about earlier) if he had the slightest chance of being with her. The other moment vying for that spot involves Sam as well, when she is educating Gary on the that was then, and this is how it is now.

For all the drinking done, I wouldn’t show up drunk to the viewing–the film will shame you for it. The pints, the time together, you’ll not want to miss what Wright & Pegg are doing here.

You grow up to get wiser, to become someone, not to show your aptitude for becoming sheep—or a “blank,” or a “smashy smashy egg man.”

Worlds-End-Cast-banner

5: You, too, do not like leaving things unfinished

The Golden Mile, the Cornettos…actually getting to close the deal, confront that bully from the past, as well as that romantic crush, find some reconciliation with a friend’s betrayal and, of course, finishing a good pint. How does one mark progress if not actual arrival? How does one actually become of age? there is something about letting go, resolutions, and The World’s End can be a bit silly, but it is considerate. there is so much pressure to become, to finish, but what if you arrive to find the “finished” product not what you were promised, or as it was promised (and thus terrifying)…

I was eager to see what an ending to this type of trilogy would look like, and I was pleased.  that said, the closing of the film probably held the least appeal for me, though it is perfectly in keeping with its choice of genre (classic sci-fi). the speech with the Network was dangerously close to over-done, the closing narrative oozing a bit with cheese in the better world vision department. That ending has to do with minding the genre—which, no doubt, has all the sci-fi genre finishes.

Worlds-End-Teaser-Poster

The World’s End (2013); Director Edgar Wright; Writers: Mr. Wright & Simon Pegg; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited Paul Machliss; music Steven Price;  produced by Nira Park, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner; released by Focus Features.  Starring:  Simon Pegg (Gary King), Nick Frost (Andy Knightley), Paddy Considine (Steven Prince), Martin Freeman (Oliver Chamberlain), Eddie Marsan (Peter Page), Rosamund Pike (Sam Chamberlain).

Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references. Running time 109 minutes.

A.O.Scott’s NYTimes Review “Last Call for Friends to Grow Up” in which he concludes:  Edgar Wright’s “project is childish fun with adult language and grown-up costumes, and he executes it with energy and precision. The Cornetto Trilogy is named after a popular ice cream treat, and the buzz of “The World’s End” is more like an antic sugar high than a reeling, drunken stupor. There are no headaches, dry mouth or crushing shame at the end — no “Hangover,” in other words. I’ll drink to that.”

"review" · cinema · sci-fi/fantasy

{film} upstream color..

I am posting about Upstream Color (Shane Carruth) twice: one without spoilers and one with. This post is spoiler-free! : the other is here.

upstream-color-poster-29936_650x400Plenty hear “indie film” and flee, and not without good reason. Some really do come across as indecipherable, and a film is constructed with a particular audience in mind. I see an indie label on a film and wonder: do I just surrender to the film, or am I supposed to engage all the critical apparatus I have? With Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, I would recommend both. Begin by just experiencing the film, the structure guides and instructs and most importantly it facilitates a dawning of a most basic and important sort. Then re-watch. Then read if you want, because there is a lot of conversation about this film. [[Upstream Color is streaming on Netflix (as of today anyway)]]

Below is a spoiler-free version. I want to present a reading that may help. I don’t think it will hurt a complex film such as this one, but I tried to pick examples that should not spoil too much. I am also writing this without having read others’ take on the film (I skimmed a New Yorker article and left it before it held anything of particular insight); I did watch and converse on the film w/ Sean, of course; I have especially avoided interviews with writer-director Shane Carruth because if the film can’t be read in some convincing way without his externally drawn insight, he sucks at his job and the film fails. I will, nevertheless, be keen on what he has to say in the near future.

Upstream Color is not the easiest film to simplify, and a detailed summary would not only be dull, but unfair—also, you can find walk-throughs elsewhere. [The trailer at end of post is awesome, check it out.] I like the first half of IMDb’s synopsis:

“A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism.”

uc film poster

Do you ever wonder from where does that astounding connection between two people come? Two people who begin an intimate relationship wherein love might be ascribed are asked: how did you two meet? One might answer: I was running late for work one day and I saw her on the train and I felt very deeply that I had to get to know her. I became obsessed, like we were meant, like were being inexplicably drawn together—as if we were together in another life. A reason you might even ask one or both persons (or even wonder for yourself and significant other) is because of the otherwise inexplicable. They seem an odd pairing, unlikely; or one or the others’ struggles cause you to marvel over their commitment to one another. What is the tie that binds?

upstream-color-pigs-cropped

There are other connections at work, relationships to be recognized in Upstream Color. There is The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) whom I affectionately dub “the pig whisperer,” mother-daughter orchid venders (Kathy Carruth & Meredith Burke respectively), and a Thoreau-reading Thief (Thiago Martins). What has a “pig whisperer,” florists, and Thief to do with one another much less the traumatized girl and some guy off the street? Much of Upstream Color has to do with a realization of the connections between seemly incongruous people, things or events. Every aspect of the film works to demonstrate congruity between unlikely pairings, their interdependence. Take the title of the film for example: “the words upstream and color seem like a random pairing, holding no apparent relevance to one another until the film, at length, lends it significance.”^^

A certain loveliness is found in how it Upstream Color is structured to mimic a growing awareness of that for which the film is arguing, removing the obfuscations, collapsing time and space cinematically to create important realizations. The ability to visualize connections lends them greater veracity; we, in sense, actualize them. Upstream Color is structured with its medium in mind: frames spliced in sequences, juxtapositions that create narrative; the viewer creates the movement and relationships. For non-students of film, Upstream Color is structured like a puzzle, fragments collect and interlock toward a more conscious visualization of a type of interconnectedness at work in the film—and just as possibly, in the world. The science in this fiction is ecology (both in terms of biology and sociology).

uc orchid

“Implementing the visual art of film to create strong inferences, Carruth eases the viewer into a greater and more conscious connection with the structure of his narrative, into seeing how the seemingly incongruous may, in fact, harbor congruity.” […] He “works hard to articulate one relationship to the other through a variety of means before placing them in a shot together for greater transparency.” ^^ The film opens with well-spaced, barely discernible dialog. The explanations are in the actions and edited sequences played out on screen. For instance, when we are first introduced to Kris and Jeff they inhabit different shots juxtaposed. Both are running, but Jeff is the jogger and Kris, we recognize, is a part of an organized run. We connect the action (their running) and proximity (the cut) and unconsciously relate the two figures, which is troubled by our understanding of space and time. They aren’t together; and yet an association has been made. We have to wait until later for the two to share a train and, more importantly, a screen together for “a more tangible proximity [to] confirm what is earlier (however less consciously) hinted at.” ^^ I should add here that Carruth relies on a viewer’s ability to remember (or ability to re-watch the film). Jeff wasn’t a remarkable enough a figure for me to recall him from that first scene to his next, and I was aware (after Primer) that I needed be really paying attention. Having had the trailer in recent consciousness may have helped as well, or recalling what Carruth looks like. Memory aside, just how deep Jeff and Kris’ connection goes is further illumined as the film collects as dialog and incisive cuts (to name two) following the silent and spare (yet voluminous) train sequences.

Upstream Color introduces inklings, moves to strong suspicions, then on to some sort of confirmation or revelation.The film reads like a mystery of the sort one finds in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry 2004). As Eternal Sunshine progresses we begin to fill in the finer details of what is really going on, what certain figures, objects, or events actually mean. Like Eternal Sunshine, it is enjoyable to watch the first time, but even more so upon the second viewing.

Upstream-Color3-640x334

“Carruth “cross-cuts sequences wherein movements, objects, shapes and/or sounds are repeated to form vital connections that draw characters and concepts together.”^^Evidence of another’s existence and influence begins to appear everywhere. He will also uses a singular sequence to speak to the interconnectedness the film contemplates, i.e. The Sampler pushes over bricks and records their sound, or slides a rock down a corrugated steel pipe, or records the hum of electricity. These actions become an event to later share, but in their moment we relate action with consequence.

While I spend more time speaking to the visual reliance, the use of sound as a way of perceiving relationships is another significant aspect of the film. I am especially taken with the correlation between sounds in nature or the rural with those within the towns and industry. Many shots focus on a figure’s ear, the tilt of the head as if listening, the movement of fingers as if playing along to something only they can hear.

UpstreamColor_still3-620x263

Henry David Thoreau: I haven’t spoken of this element of the film, which is important to its reading. There are people writing about it. I skimmed a New Yorker article and there was section on the worm references in Walden alone. If you’ve read both Walden and “Resistance to Government (Civil Disobedience),” the relevance is apparent, but I would want to spend another viewing on it. If you like Thoreau, this film will certainly interest you.

uc z

Upstream Color is billed science fiction. And it is. But if you are expecting overt scientific explanations at some point (if not every point) in this genre film, you will be sorely disappointed. The only known certified practitioner of science and medicine appears ~56 minutes into the film and all the doctors do is deepen the conflict of the film.

uc poster taglineUpstream Color is a bizarre film–the charming sort of bizarre. It frightens and reassures, it rages and smiles warmly. And its oft quite understated manner is worth the while…that and Amy Seimetz as Kris. She is seriously fantastic and so much depends on her capability as an actress. The film really is just beautifully done: gorgeous imagery, great sound. Sure I left with questions, and the first viewing left me with a headache, but it is also a very rewarding experience. Carruth isn’t trying so hard for clever that the coherence of the film is lost. However, if he is trying hard for provocative (to say nothing of evocative), it works.

————————

^^ I wrote a final paper (dated July 15, 2013) for my Fantasy in Film class at UC Denver about the use of fantasy in Upstream Color, it bears the boring title: “Weaving Fantasy into the Fiction: Visualizing Congruity in Upstream Color.”

Upstream Color (2013) Directed, written, director of photography and original music by Shane Carruth; produced by Carruth, Casey Gooden, Ben LeClair & Scott Douglas; editing by Carruth and David Lowery; Studio: ERBP; Starring: Amy Seimetz (Kris), Shane Carruth (Jeff), Andrew Sensenig (The Sampler), Thiago Martins (Thief), Frank Mosely (husband), Carolyn King (wife), Kathy Carruth (orchid mother) and Meredith Burke (orchid daughter).

running time 96 minutes. Not-Rated.

"review" · cinema · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

{film} upstream color*

I am posting about Upstream Color (Shane Carruth) twice: one without spoilers and one with. This post has spoilers! : the other is here.

upstream-color-poster-29936_650x400

Plenty hear “indie film” and flee, and not without good reason. Some really do come across as indecipherable, and a film is constructed with a particular audience in mind. I see an indie label on a film and wonder: do I just surrender to the film, or am I supposed to engage all the critical apparatus I have? With Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, I would recommend both. Begin by just experiencing the film, the structure guides and instructs and most importantly it facilitates a dawning of a most basic and important sort. Then re-watch. Then read if you want, because there is a lot of conversation about this film.

Below is a w/ spoilers/conversation version. I want to present a reading that may help. I am writing this without having read others’ take on the film (I skimmed a New Yorker article and left it before it held anything of particular insight); I did watch and converse on the film w/ Sean, of course; I have especially avoided interviews with writer-director Shane Carruth because if the film can’t be read in some convincing way without his externally-drawn insight, he sucks at his job and the film fails. I will, nevertheless, be keen on what he has to say in the near future, and read the interviews to which he so graciously agreed.

Upstream Color is not the easiest film to simplify, and my detailed summary would not only be dull, but unfair—also, you can find walk-throughs elsewhere. As a synopsis, I like the first half of IMDb’s:

“A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism.”

uc film poster

Do you ever wonder from where does that astounding connection between two people come? Two people who begin an intimate relationship wherein love might be ascribed are asked: how did you two meet? One might answer: I was running late for work one day and I saw her on the train and I felt very deeply that I had to get to know her. I became obsessed, like we were meant, like were being inexplicably drawn together—as if we were together in another life. A reason you might even ask one or both persons (or even wonder for yourself and significant other) is because of the otherwise inexplicable.Why did he pursue someone obviously disinterested in him, who warned him of very affecting mental health issues, who has been traumatized and is dealing with strange sensory overlays in its wake all this time later? And he has his own issues that equally complicate a relationship. They seem an odd pairing, unlikely; or one or the others’ struggles cause you to marvel over their commitment to one another. What is the tie that binds?

What if the answer for that deeply abiding connection was a worm, a parasite that had taken up residence no thanks to a thief who discovered he could use chemical properties in the worm to control people’s minds. With the help of an owner of pigs, the worm is extracted and transplanted into a pig; a pig who becomes attracted and attached to another pig in the pen who has a human counterpart as well. The pigs’ experiences become intertwined with the humans’. Two humans mate because their pig counterparts have mated; so in a way, they are together in another life. So the short answer for that deep and abiding connection is: our pig counterparts found each other and so then we are, likewise, drawn to one another. Are we allowed to see this in metaphor in a science fiction film?

Upstream-Color3-640x334

There are all these connections at work, relationships to be recognized in Upstream Color. There is The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) whom I affectionately dub “the pig whisperer,” mother-daughter orchid venders (Kathy Carruth & Meredith Burke respectively), and a Thoreau-reading Thief (Thiago Martins). What has a “pig whisperer,” florists, and Thief to do with one another much less the traumatized girl and some guy off the street?** Much of Upstream Color has to do with a realization of the connections between seemly incongruous people, things or events. Every aspect of the film works to demonstrate congruity between unlikely pairings, their interdependence. Take the title of the film for example: “the words upstream and color seem like a random pairing, holding no apparent relevance to one another until the film, at length, lends it significance.”^^

A certain loveliness is found in how it Upstream Color is structured to mimic a growing awareness of that for which the film is arguing, removing the obfuscations, collapsing time and space cinematically to create important realizations. The ability to visualize connections lends them greater veracity; we, in sense, actualize them. Upstream Color is structured with its medium in mind: frames spliced in sequences, juxtapositions that create narrative; the viewer creates the movement and relationships. For non-students of film, Upstream Color is structured like a puzzle, fragments collect and interlock toward a more conscious visualization of a type of interconnectedness at work in the film—and just as possibly, in the world. The science in this fiction is ecology (both in terms of biology and sociology).

uc orchid

“Implementing the visual art of film to create strong inferences, Carruth eases the viewer into a greater and more conscious connection with the structure of his narrative, into seeing how the seemingly incongruous may, in fact, harbor congruity.” […] He “works hard to articulate one relationship to the other through a variety of means before placing them in a shot together for greater transparency.” ^^ The film opens with well-spaced, barely discernible dialog. The explanations are in the actions and edited sequences played out on screen. For instance, when we are first introduced to Kris and Jeff they inhabit different shots juxtaposed. Both are running, but Jeff is the jogger and Kris, we recognize, is a part of an organized run. We connect the action (their running) and proximity (the cut) and unconsciously relate the two figures, which is troubled by our understanding of space and time. They aren’t together; and yet an association has been made. We have to wait until later for the two to share a train and, more importantly, a screen together for “a more tangible proximity [to] confirm what is earlier (however less consciously) hinted at.” ^^ I should add here that Carruth relies on a viewer’s ability to remember (or ability to re-watch the film). Jeff wasn’t a remarkable enough a figure for me to recall him from that first scene to his next, and I was aware (after Primer) that I needed be really paying attention. Having had the trailer in recent consciousness may have helped as well, or recalling what Carruth looks like. Memory aside, just how deep Jeff and Kris’ connection goes is further illumined as the film collects as dialog and incisive cuts (to name two) following the silent and spare (yet voluminous) train sequences.

Upstream Color introduces inklings, moves to strong suspicions, then on to some sort of confirmation or revelation. The notion of reciprocity is an especially noteworthy revelation—it removes us from that level of anguished helplessness Kris undergoes at the beginning of the film; we are provided the hope of intervention, awareness as an activating agent toward change. The film reads like a mystery of the sort one finds in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry 2004). As Eternal Sunshine progresses we begin to fill in the finer details of what is really going on, what certain figures, objects, or events actually mean. Like Eternal Sunshine, it is enjoyable to watch the first time, but even more so upon the second viewing.

upstream-color-pigs-cropped

“Carruth “cross-cuts sequences wherein movements, objects, shapes and/or sounds are repeated to form vital connections that draw characters and concepts together.”^^Evidence of another’s existence and influence begins to appear everywhere. He will also uses a singular sequence to speak to the interconnectedness the film contemplates, i.e. The Sampler pushes over bricks and records their sound, or slides a rock down a corrugated steel pipe, or records the hum of electricity. These actions become an event to later share, but in their moment we relate action with consequence. We also see how The Sampler profits from this cause and effect. What The Sampler takes from the consequence of toppling, tumbling, scraping, industry or anguish is translated into a knowable auditory perception then packaged and sold—if not tossed aside in the hunger for something more meaningful (i.e. grief).

While I spend more time speaking to the visual reliance, the use of sound as a way of perceiving relationships is another significant aspect of the film. I am especially taken with the correlation between sounds in nature or the rural with those within the towns and industry. Many shots focus on a figure’s ear, the tilt of the head as if listening, the movement of fingers as if playing along to something only they can hear.

UpstreamColor_still3-620x263

Henry David Thoreau: I haven’t spoken of this element of the film, which is important to its reading. There are people writing about it. I skimmed a New Yorker article and there was section on the worm references in Walden alone. If you’ve read both Walden and “Resistance to Government (Civil Disobedience),” the relevance is apparent, but I would want to spend another viewing on it. I am taken, primarily, with the lines Kris recites in the pool. I want another look at that, because of the words/lines most strongly intoned seemed to conjure pieces of the film.

uc z

Upstream Color is billed science fiction. And it is. But if you are expecting overt scientific explanations at some point (if not every point) in this genre film, you will be sorely disappointed. The only known certified practitioner of science and medicine appears ~56 minutes into the film and all the doctors do is deepen the conflict of the film. They serve only to confirm that the earlier inhabitation of the worm and its extraction actually occurred; that or suggest that we (to include Kris) are experience an incredible hallucinatory journey. But this isn’t a fantasy film, it is supposed to harbor that horror of potentiality a less fictional fiction like science fiction can offer. Much of “the film’s success depends upon an implication of reality. The pigs are not left to metaphor in relation to Jeff and Kris (among others). There are biological ties that cannot be ignored (the painstaking transference of the worm; the pregnancy; the shared sense of anguish and helplessness when the piglets are taken away). A film that would make explainable the oft obscured connections and intersections in life has to maintain a denial of unreality.”^^ How the worm works to facilitate such a sensitivity/awareness between animals is a scientific explanation the viewer brings. Perhaps there are signs, some kind of corollary we should be identifying within the film. The film resonates with our understanding that both the visible and invisible connection between figures, objects and events exists, and it demonstrates this in impressive ways. Is it enough?

uc poster tagline

Upstream Color is a bizarre film–the charming sort of bizarre. It frightens and reassures, it rages and smiles warmly. And its oft quite understated manner is worth the while…that and Amy Seimetz as Kris. She is seriously fantastic and so much depends on her capability as an actress. The film really is just beautifully done: gorgeous imagery, great sound. Sure I left with questions, and the first viewing left me with a headache, but it is also a very rewarding experience. Carruth isn’t trying so hard for clever that the coherence of the film is lost. However, if he is trying hard for provocative (to say nothing of evocative), it works.

———————

an article Scott (in comments–thanks!) links: it is really good, especially on writing about the sound which I hardly touched on at all above:  “The White Worm: Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color” ” by Nicholas Rombes (June 10th, 2013)

^^ the quotations are mine, pulled from a final paper (dated July 15, 2013) that I wrote for my Fantasy in Film class at UC Denver about the use of fantasy (how/why) in Upstream Color, which bears the boring title: “Weaving Fantasy into the Fiction: Visualizing Congruity in Upstream Color.” per a request, my paper [such as it is, not as edited as it should and grade unknown, etc]: Weaving Fantasy_L Darnell

**no doubt there are infographics by now, but Sean had a nice way of looking at how the figure interrelate. The Sampler, orchid vendors, and Thief are adjacencies; the worm is the interstitial; the others are collateral damage.

Upstream Color (2013) Directed, written, director of photography and original music by Shane Carruth; produced by Carruth, Casey Gooden, Ben LeClair & Scott Douglas; editing by Carruth and David Lowery; Studio: ERBP; Starring: Amy Seimetz (Kris), Shane Carruth (Jeff), Andrew Sensenig (The Sampler), Thiago Martins (Thief), Frank Mosely (husband), Carolyn King (wife), Kathy Carruth (orchid mother) and Meredith Burke (orchid daughter).

running time 96 minutes. Not-Rated.

"review" · cinema · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

{film} into darkness

I did a quick spoiler-free post here. This will have “spoilers!” (yes, you heard River Song correctly my Whovian friends.)

star trek Chris-Pine-and-Bruce-Greenwood-in-Star-Trek-Into-Darkness

Kirk (Chris Pine) has a thing or two to learn about being a Captain of a Starfleet ship. There is protocol, one. Another: honesty and transparency in filed reports. We’ll be unamused by the irony of this one later. His risks involve rule-breaking and we can hardly fault him choosing love/friendship over an impersonal order. Kirk not only represents a human element in character and station, he fights for it. He often comes across as so given over to human emotion/desires that we are to be pleasantly surprised that he is quite calculating/intelligent. He is a great character.

Of course, one of his greatest traits is also one of his worst flaws. He can run with the emotional in less healthy ways, like vengeance. Arrogance is a bit of a problem as well. Kirk is uncomfortably volatile at times. We like that he can be hard to anticipate, it produces the right sort of tension—for the audience, not his superiors. He weighs risks with his gut rather than his mind; and we have to trust his gut. [aside: tests have shown that people who trust their gut suffer less from buyer’s remorse. it is a fallacy to think that the gut is anything less than a refined-since-birth-decision-making part of your brain.] As Pike (Bruce Greenwood) worries, perhaps Kirk’s ‘gut’ is too young, and he’s been placed into his position too soon.

I’m still warming to Chris Pine, but it was a great moment for him when sitting at the bar receiving grace. The character shouldn’t wear humility well, but for those necessary glimpses, Pine was convincing. Our theater audience was completely still. The film moves to humor and we can breathe. Then we are launched into dread and the spectacle of a firefight. –was it just mean or did anyone else notice that extraordinary delay in responders?–

star trek stid-banner

The villain, we believe, is one of Starfleet’s own, an agent gone rogue. And we aren’t wrong in the sense that this mystery man is employed by the powers-that-be. Our particular anxiety is that he represents only his own interests; and what we know of them makes us uncomfortable with how they do not align with our own. Of greater threat: he is physically and intellectually superior; he observes fewer boundaries; and seems unstoppable. Furthermore, he is in some ways a victim of the same terrible power that has targeted the USS Enterprise. The dilemma is hardly an either/or. And each character (good and bad) removes themselves to answer for their own beliefs, rather than uphold or defend a national rhetoric.

The villains are those gone rogue, acting in their own interests, but then the heroes are portrayed in pursuit of their own conscience as well. And this isn’t to say that any of the aforementioned interests do not consider those for whom they feel responsible (nation, brethren, crew). In the end, it is whomever has the greater moral solution, that gets the gold star, and neither militarization nor vengeance gets that star. Primarily because certain sacrifices are unwarranted, no place is made for their consequence: loss of lives (often collateral) being a big one; betrayal is another. It is telling who elicits feelings of betrayal and why. Some such conflicts can be resolved given time and communication: Uhura/Spock; Kirk/Pike; Kirk/Spock; Kirk/Scotty… Others cannot be resolved because self-sacrifice is out of the heroes’ hands. They are not going to die for a worthy cause, but for the egotism of a tyrant (read Marcus).

Kirk shares sympathies with varying perspectives throughout the film and he is able to institute whatever stop-gap is deemed necessary from crossing those lines that the film’s villains have. The crew helps. They come with their own experience and sense of reason. They, too, calculate the cost and when it comes down to risking another’s life instead of their own, that seems to be the line to withdraw into any other solution. The relationships become strained in the shifts of power/authority, but they bear up and it all balances out—after all, they are their own. Kirk isn’t the only [action] hero with a skill-set all his own.

Star-Trek-into-darkness-zoe-saldana-as-uhura-33015492-637-692Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is pretty badass and more than a device to elicit sexual tension and/or a power struggle between alpha males. They’ve cast another intelligent, decisive young woman to model underwear with a raised brow and little more. Uhura and Spock’s relationship continue to be a fascination; as is the bromance between Spock and Kirk, sigh. The relationships between the crew members gives not only the film an endless supply of humor, but a lot of heart as well.

I continue to be impressed with how well this new cast have come to inhabit characters created long past and yet still allow themselves to be known. The sets and costumes undergo a similar presence. Old jokes and references to Star Trek past are nice smiles and anxious moments in the present—and they are actually more than a quaint nod to Trekkies. For instance, the “red shirt” was employed in a way that increased a sense of Chekov’s (Anton Yelchin) peril.

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Star Trek: Into Darkness was/is an exhilarating ride. Its humor and action sequences replete with suitable quantities of chase, fights, crashes, and explosions entertain. The drama of maturing the captain and his crew as individuals and in relationship foster an even greater affection for the franchise. Action films, at their crux, need only artfully timed effects and quips to satisfy the viewer. It needs nothing else to recommend what our heroes and villains look like. It is a nicety when they work a bit harder. It is a sweet strangeness when an action film, a genre characterized by violent conflict, to use its own terms as a conflict. –what is the purpose of the USS Enterprise? –on what terms (policy) do we interact with foreign entities? –what kind of vicious cycles have we found ourselves in and seem to perpetuate upon increasingly shaky justifications? We harbor both villains and heroes and this is an excellent source of conflict for an action film already rife with internal conflicts to confront.

Our villains may rise up from among us, but they are made (engineered) into their presented state by those who are given over to fear and anger, as well as a hunger for prestige that can only seem to be articulated in terms of war. “Power corrupts and Absolute Power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton). And when this happens, the film reminds us of an equally time-worn truth: that we have moral compasses within ourselves and amongst our community of persons [who are also not sheep]. It is evidenced in the powerful legacy of those heroes who are created by the people from among the people—spoken of in terms of service and rescue and self-sacrifice. It is no coincidence that the dedication at the end of the film is made to post-9/11 veterans.

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—————–Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)——————

Directed by J. J. Abrams; written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Damon Lindelof, based on “Star Trek” by Gene Roddenberry; music by Michael Giacchino; director of photography, Dan Mindel; edited by Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey; produced by Abrams, Kurtzman, Orci, Lindelof & Bryan Burk; Paramount Pictures. Starring: John Cho (Sulu), Benedict Cumberbatch (John Harrison), Alice Eve (Carol), Bruce Greenwood (Captain Pike), Simon Pegg (Scott), Chris Pine (Captain Kirk), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy), Peter Weller (Starfleet Admiral Marcus), Anton Yelchin (Chekov).

PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence. running time: 132 minutes.

"review" · concenter · fiction · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · young adult lit

{book} the friday society

friday society coverThe Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

Dial Books, 2012.

Hardcover, 437 pages. teen fiction. {owned}

An action-packed tale of gowns, guys, guns–and the heroines who use them all

Set in turn of the century London, The Friday Society follows the stories of three very intelligent and talented young women, all of whom are assistants to powerful men: Cora, lab assistant; Michiko, Japanese fight assistant; and Nellie, magician’s assistant. The three young women’s lives become inexorably intertwined after a chance meeting at a ball that ends with the discovery of a murdered mystery man.

It’s up to these three, in their own charming but bold way, to solve the murder–and the crimes they believe may be connected to it–without calling too much attention to themselves.

Set in the past but with a modern irreverent flare, this Steampunk whodunit introduces three unforgettable and very ladylike–well, relatively ladylike–heroines poised for more dangerous adventures.—publisher’s comments.

That “modern irreverent flare” is the thing that seems to be snagging people’s attention with this read, and I can’t say I was immune. Of the few things anachronism truly has a hard time forgiving: playing with the language is one, so your long sword is made of pvc pipe, but none shall be referred to as “hot.” It’s just too startling.

confession: I am not a Jane Austen fanatic—I like her well enough, can appreciate her and all that, and Emma is hilarious fun. I know that as a female English Major in Literature I am supposed to have read every volume at least three times and swoon at the mention of Mr. Darcy. My reading of Wuthering Heights could be viewed as disrespectful at best. This does not make me immune to a love of the historical period or even ignorant for that matter, but maybe what it does make me is sensitive to the idea that not everyone does take to it; that perhaps the time frame harbors a language and culture that could seem impenetrable to potential lovers of Steampunk—a subgenre which necessarily must reside then and there historically, at least until more envision it further along the timeline.

I was reading a blog post the other day where a mother was trying to find fantasy books that might appeal to a daughter that only likes ‘realist’ fiction—to broaden her genre horizons and share her own love for fantasy. Well, The Friday Society is “contemporary chick lit” in steampunk clothing. A bridgework. And Kress does not approach the genre without credential, so if you worry that she is incapable there is a lovely anthology of short stories (Corsets and Clockwork) in which Kress’ is one of the best. Kress is being deliberate here and I find this bold move fascinating.

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{Adrienne Kress. Photo: Tanja Tiziana}

As much as the modern language should have turned me off of the read, I liked The Friday Society. It was light and fun, and I enjoy Kress’ style. I like the feminist inclusions. Cora Bell is remarkable to me because Kress has built in recognizable vulnerabilities with which to commiserate and creates an opportunity to show some self-determination, e.g. Andrew and the kissing and the effort or lack thereof to overcome his distraction. Some young female leads seem immune to that sort of foolishness and I liked this lead for having hormones and not necessitating deep emotional attachment—call me old fashioned that way.

in which I elaborate: We have a strong female protagonist who kisses a young man who is not an actual love interest. She does not end up with him. Turns out that the attraction is not the first sign that they were fated and the make-out sessions (a term used, 256) do not confirm ours suspicions of such. Cora is physically attracted but unsure that she even likes/respects Andrew. She kisses him back because she likes it, and pursues further kisses for the same reason. What does the Cora/Andrew spin tell us? One: Girls experience sexual feelings/response/pleasure, too—even to distracted and foolish extents. Two: just because she likes kissing and is attracted to a male she does not “love” does not make her a loose woman, but rather it may actually be possible if not normal to be sexually attracted to someone not “loved.” Three: just because she wants and enjoys does not render her incapable of applying her intelligence to the situation; which, after validation of the first two points, is awesome to see played out. You are neither a slut nor a freak, but you should be wise. [read 256-8.]

Accusations of being a “tease” are thrown around regarding Cora, but more often with the gorgeous and gregarious Nellie. Nellie who is, like the other two, in the throes of deciding who she is and whom she envisions herself becoming. What responsibility can and should she take for happening to be born physically beautiful?

confession: I flinch at the use of the word “squee.” And Lady Sparkle? I, like Cora, cringed, but Nellie is a dynamic and a personality to be missed. I like Nellie as much as Cora. She seemed ridiculous to me at times, but between her candor and the parrot Scheherazade I was won over. But not completely, not yet; which may have more to do with those moments where I just did not feel “girly” enough. Some women’s fiction alienates me in the same way.

Few of the characters are to be missed, really. Kress has a way with villains (Alex and the Ironic Gentleman is home to some of my favorite villains ever). The non-villainous Raheem and his possibilities have me curious, though I was experiencing a dreadful surfacing notion that I was in for a Charlie’s Angels twist. Fortunately Kress resists the urge to be normal and thus predictable (and I hope this continues). One point of resistance is Michiko. Michiko is not a token character, but one who could and should be an available historical figure to explore in parallel to the other two. She is one of three and Kress develops each of the three along their own paths (in alternating, 1st person, narrative sections), using “happenstance” to intertwine and affect each other until the most natural conclusion could be met.

“Go home, Michiko.” How she wanted to. She missed Japan—the countryside, the food. Understanding what the hell people were saying. (93)

Michiko understands very little English and comes from a very different culture. She carries the easiest explanation for physical bad-assery, but few authors would be this daring. Cora and Nellie click. Michiko takes some work.  It does take time for the three to work together, but Michiko is the more solitary line of the three. She is held most dramatically in in relationship to the others by this sense of fate, paths crossing in various and frequent inventions, all surrounding crimes being perpetrated in their vicinity.

“We’ve already been pursuing this, each of us, in our own way. And somehow we always manage to help each other out. It’s fate. It…it has to mean something. Everything is connected. Right?” She turned to Michiko, who nodded, but it wasn’t clear if she was agreeing with Cora or just humoring her. Nellie still didn’t look convinced. Cora sighed and sat down at the foot of the bed. “Haven’t you always wanted to just do something yourself?” she asked, her voice softer. “To make a real difference? Not for anyone else. Not an assignment or a task. Something that you made the decision to do?” (353)

The Friday Society is an excellent read for a young woman, especially perhaps the ones who take themselves too seriously literarily. Kress infuses a lot of personality and concentrates on building her characters. She has a great sense of humor. At times the crime-story seems frustratingly secondary–probably because it is. I found it a bit ridiculous at times and I acknowledge that that has to do with my aging, but I found the earnestness of it appealing. I’m looking forward to seeing what Kress does with this series.

recommendations: I mentioned young ladies, but young gentleman could do with reading these sort of heroines, too. for those looking for an accessible steampunk or science fiction or historical fiction (Kress is good with tech language as well as detailing costuming, place and normalities without breaking pace).

an author interview by InkyGirl regarding this book.

a Sci-Fi Experience 2013 qualifier

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"review" · cinema · foreign · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

{film} mr. nobody

M

“We cannot go back; that’s why it’s hard to choose.” (Nemo)

mr_nobody08Nemo Nobody is 118 years old and the only remaining mortal human in the year 2092. Who is this man called Mr. Nobody? No one knows, including himself. There are no records of his 118 years of existence and the stories he tells a young reporter are contradictory. After an opening tutorial on the adaptive behavior of a bird stimulated by varying conditions, we are given a sequence of a 34 year old Nemo dying in multiple ways. We then meet the 118 year old Mr. Nobody who is confused by the psych doctor mistaking his age, which he believed to still be 34. We “learn” who Nemo is through interviews with the physician and a reporter only to wonder, as they do, which choice was the one actually made? And where do these death scenes come in?

 Nemo occupies four primary ages in the multiple storylines presented: 9, 15, 34 and 118. The transitions are most usually facilitated by an emergence from sleep, water or story. Birth imagery, railways, roadways, dreaming…The divergences in timelines stem from multiple sources, but the most significant choice is whether at age nine he goes with his mother or his father when they divorce. At 15, depending on with which parent he resides, it is with whom does he fall in love and how does that play out? At 34 he is at another crossroads, often of a reassessing nature: where had his choices gotten him.

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There are three girls from Nemo’s neighborhood who dictate three primary love interests who are cast in multiple outcomes. Anna appears more central than the other two, associated with red; Elise with blue, and Jean, the least and most forgettable (to Nemo, anyway), of the three in yellow. They are visually very different, so the color associations are of interest, though I am stumped by the blue. Nemo’s hair and glasses change depending on which branch and limb he is occupying in the story. The special effects make-up—especially the old-age make-up and the scar—is phenomenal. The casting of the younger Nemos is smart not only in looks but abilities. I do not know how you feel about Jared Leto’s performance in his band 30 Seconds to Mars, but he does exceptional work in Mr. Nobody.

The personalities of the primary characters are consistent irrespective of timeline/situation. The settings vary and fluidly move from “sets” to models to locations. Mind the detail in the sets. Writer/Director Jaco Van Dormael moves through levels of consciousness, even taking us to Mars via a story a teenaged Nemo is writing—even as travel to Mars is shown to be possible by 2092. There is a “timeless” quality that is facilitated by “classic” objects mixed among the new—with the future being an exception. But 2092 is supposed to be an exception, a terminus of anything that is suggestive of a life being lived; sex was rendered obsolete, there is “quasi-mortality,” it is antiseptic. The terminus questions what a life “lived enough” looks like, this is where those few stories involving Jean reside so importantly in juxtaposition with the other two love lines, e.g. on one line, a 15 year old Nemo lays out and pursues a set of goals with a “safe choice” (however “fated” in appearance) and to what end (for either of them)?

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Nemo Nobody aged 118: “Most of the time nothing happened… like a French movie.”

As with that opening, the Carl Sagan-esque lectures (by an iteration of Nemo) interspersed throughout inform the narrative significantly (see “Big Bang” here). The platform for the hypnotic state visited informs as well, but the presence and repetition of argyle is disturbing on so many levels (Halloween costume anyone?). The repetition of objects, colors, patterns contribute to meaning and tension, and help with a fluidity in the narrative–despite the increasing confusion and exasperation of viewer and interviewer. Which memory is a true one? What choice did 9 year old Nemo make, and every age after, that caused him to be where he is—a position that has confounded their record-keeping? Natalya* was not satisfied with the film’s explanation. Annoyance with a film she decided was taking too long exhausted her patience with the outcome. And the film does linger in moments, in precious interactions, in gorgeously composed scenes. Mr. Nobody is a film that takes its time and I thought it paid off (at least up to a scene I will call “5:50”). In what amounts to a contemplation on choices and the infamous “what if,” Mr. Nobody employs hard and soft sciences for its fiction(s). It is visually entrancing and oft uncomfortable. And not just uncomfortable in the realization that no ‘hunky-dory’ line exists.  What does it mean to live, to remember, and to imagine a life unfold before (and behind) you? What would make Mr. Nobody somebody?

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Mr. Nobody (2009). Written & Directed by Jaco Van Dormael; Music by Pierre Van Dormael; Cinematography by Christophe Beaucarne; by Editing by Matyas Veress & Susan Shipton; Produced by Philippe Godeau; Studio Pan-Européenne; Starring: Jared Leto (Nemo Nobody: 34/118), Rhys Ifans (Nemo’s father), Natasha Little (Nemo’s mother), Diane Kruger (adult Anna), Sarah Polley (adult Elise), Lin Dam Pham (adult Jean), Thomas Byrne (Nemo 9), Toby Regbo (Nemo 15). Belgian (English-speaking version).

Running time 141 minutes. Not-Rated, but equivalent a PG-13, due to language and sexual content. *Sean and I were able to censor our 12 year old, having seen the film before.

IMDb. wiki.

a 2013 science fiction experience.

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"review" · cinema · sci-fi/fantasy

{film} looper

Looper-2012-Movie-Poster

In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.—IMDb

————

Older Joe: I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.

There are remarkably few reviewers disenchanted with Looper (2012), but those who are seem to share the same issue: the science in the fiction. Oddly enough, just because time travel is a key aspect to this science fiction film, it is disinterested in talking about it. It practically chastises the viewer with comments like Joe’s (above) and this one from the crime boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) “This time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg…” Even without those occasional overt comments, the story removes itself to other concerns pretty quickly, relying on the softer science and recreating memory (physical or no) as its most central interest of time travel. Looper would be a nice anti-dote for the mind-bender Primer (2004)—which, if you are in love with the science/consequences of time travel that little indie cult film is a must.

I’ve yet to hear any complaint on the performances. You’ll hear none from me. I was really worried about how distracted I would be with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s donning of prosthetics to look more like Bruce Willis. And I was sort of distracted. It is the eyebrows, lip, and shadow mainly. And it was startling, in a lovely way, how Gordon-Levitt not only adopts Willis’ facial profile, but his mannerisms as well. When the two sit across the table and interact, I was riveted, and very much amused. Gordon-Levitt as the younger Joe is, well, young and not all together as clever as the older version of himself, an extremely badass and emotionally mature Willis, but he gets there–a development that is crucial to the film. Emily Blunt is dependably Emily as the character Sara who is a little further along the timeline of maturity than Joe. Pierce Cagnon, the little boy who plays Cid, is terrifying. He made me want to pee myself he was that convincing.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Bruce Willis

Rian Johnson wrote and directed Looper, and is credited the same with Brick (2005). Expect that sort of unflinching dark—in humor, violence, and outcome. In Looper, where beginnings and ends are in focus, the path between is the mystery. Knowing the end, how does one change the past? Knowing the beginning, how does one change the future’s seemingly inevitable trajectory? What of the impact of a parent on the child, the parental figure on the vulnerable… Survival is a menacing state and Johnson with Looper is determined to pull it from the abstract and create concrete scenarios in which to ground his explorations. The caliber of talent he directs is key for that emotional complication. This is not one for those who cannot handle residing outside the austerity of black and white thinking. The actors are determined to share their torn nature and desperate circumstances with the viewer.

It is of interest to me where Looper finds its sentiment and where it scoffs at the facades of popular nostalgia. Hipster be warned, you are again the butt end of a joke, and how significant that the unwittingly iconic Gordon-Levitt is cast in such a role. Seriously though, it is noticed the styling of the mafia in the “present day” and the mimicry pushing further back along the timeline as the future moves forward garbing their “vigilante terrorist” in wide-brims and dusters. In a way it marks vengeance over greed, but do they really differ? We do not get to see the affluent and sheltered—only the grit and scrapes. And like the refusal to play the time-travel-digressions, it is desperate to avoid other genre expectations as well. Looper is what happens when an true Indie gets a hold of the Sci-fi genre. It even refuses to give the stripper-lover big breasts.

The effects are good, really good. The soundtrack more ambient. The lighting is perfect, and like Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (2012), bad things happen in daylight as well as night, so really there is no escape there, no grand gesture on where evil and truth should reside. And the violence is bloody and affecting—please no young audiences in your vicinity for this one. Joe is complicated, and desperate, and there are some unpleasant decisions to be made. The humor is a pleasure, and sometimes it is less obvious. For instance, the interaction between Abe and Joe regarding Joe’s choice of language and his future travels become even more amusing when you read the trivia and learn that they could not afford to film in Paris as previously planned.

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The urban versus rural landscapes features prominently, not only the rural as a place where things grow out of the earth/nature, but as it is connected with particular female characters. The three women characters have a mother/lover aspect, each to varying degrees with Emily Blunt’s Sara placed between Piper Perabo’s Suzie and Qing Xu’s Summer (and not just in timeline). Yes, I noticed the naming, too. The women are tough, decisive figures, but it is the rural connection with Sara and Summer that add to the statement about lost boys. Everything is just cleaner among the more natural climes—it is a site of restoration. Which makes young Joe’s use of it as a meeting place something to think about when we are to wonder about his nature… That, or it just remarks upon the error of my reading. Or maybe he is the coyote.

Abe: Ask yourself: who would I sacrifice for what’s MINE?

It is tricky to talk about probable consequences of time travel when the film doesn’t want to go into detail (whether it can or not) and the viewer might. However it does create a set of basic assumptions upon which much of the conflict is built. Fortunately, the assumptions are not hard to grasp, and that may be the source of some of the complaints; it may be too simplistic. I like the accessibility, and I enjoy the very simple impossibility of the dilemma which comes to rest in the question of love and sacrifice. The action, acting, filming, sound, effects, pacing, characterization and progression: all good and entertaining. But one of the things that sets Looper apart is that it is interesting, to say nothing of feeling undeniably relevant. Not an older generation observing or complaining, but a young man standing in the middle looking back and forward and wondering aloud and trying to hold onto the most hopeful vision of a seemingly impossible future in the present.

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Looper (2012), Directed/Written by Rian Johnson; Music by Nathan Johnson; Cinematography Steve Yedlin: Editing by Bob Ducsay; Produced by Ram Bergman & James D. Stern.Studio: FilmDistrict, Endgame Entertainment & DMG Entertainment. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Joe), Bruce Willis (Old Joe), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Noah Segan (Kid Blue), Piper Perabo (Suzie), Jeff Daniels (Abe), Pierce Gagnon (Cid), Qing Xu (Summer Qing/Old Joe’s Wife).

Running time: 119 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.

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 this post and film is part of The 2013 Science Fiction Experience