February 24, 2019

The Iron Giant, an animated classic

I was nosing around for a movie that might appeal to family members of varied interests. The Iron Giant, a 1999 animated film hit the jackpot.

This was Brad Bird’s first directorial outing and was not deemed a financial success at the time. Thankfully, he continued working and has added movies like The Incredibles 1 and 2, Ratatouille and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol to his catalogue.

Due to DVD distribution and streaming, this almost 20-year-old animated work has arrived at cult status and rightfully so. The animation looks like it was done by a Japanese manga artist and a really quirky comic book illustrator. The voice-over actors include the late John Mahoney, Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald, Harry Connick Jr., Eli Marienthal and Jennifer Anniston. Even Cloris Leachman has a bit role.

There are definitely two tracks to the production, one a basic “boy helps monster” plot line for kids, and an adult deeper examination of prejudice, fear of the Russians, secret government doings, guns and war. Brad Bird manages to entertain both age groups with wit, artistry and heart.

The Iron Giant deserves wider acclaim. This 1999 animated feature is currently streaming on Netflix.

Wool by science fiction author Hugh Howey

Dystopian novels have started to bug me so I had vowed to take a break from them. My teacher brother-in-law got me to relent one more time with the highly recommended Wool Trilogy by Hugh Howey.

Book One is actually 8 books that depict life in an enclosed Silo, seen from the perspective of Holston, the Silo’s sheriff, Jahns, the Silo’s mayor and Juliette, the new sheriff after Holston chooses to leave the protection of the Silo. Juliette becomes friends with Lukas, an IT guy who is interested in astronomy. Bad guy Bernard, head of IT, engineers a coup that causes a revolt led by workers from “down below.”

Author Hugh Howey

Howey has created an unusual world filled with fascinating characters who get caught up in power trips, tradition and deception. While working at a bookstore, he wrote the first installments of Wool and self-published the science fiction piece on the internet. It was not until the work took off that he signed a print-only deal with Simon and Schuster. Twentieth Century Fox has purchased the movie rights.

The trilogy continues with Shift and Dust. I have copies of them waiting for me at the library. Hey, science fiction buffs, wanna meet me at the Silo? Let’s just say that I’m glad I made an exception for one more dystopian story.

The Shape of Water by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro

Mexican film director, Guillermo del Toro has created another dark fantasy world, this time set in 1962 Baltimore in his most recent film, The Shape of Water.

Sally Hawkins is cast as Elisa Esposito, a mute janitor in a secret government science facility. Along with her fellow cleaner, Zelda Fuller (the inimitable Octavia Spenser), they watch a creature from South America being violently transferred to a tank in their place of employment. Michael Shannon as Colonel Richard Strickland is the cruel handler of this living asset.

Elisa and the amphibious man develop a connection, shall we say. She recruits her neighbor Giles, a closeted gay artist played by Richard Jenkins, along with friend Zelda to kidnap her aqueous paramour. Did I mention that the Russians are also interested in the fate of this seemingly sentient water being?

The Cold War, racial segregation, cruelty to living creatures and the subjugation of women all figure into the film’s setting. Despite the heavy references, this movie should satisfy the horror and romance date crowd, as well as serious film buffs.

If you enjoyed del Toro’s 2006 film, Pan’s Labryinth, you will love The Shape of Water. You may not see much sun or anything sunny in this dark work, but there is beauty, humor and emotion nonetheless.

Bladerunner 2049, currently in movie theaters

Rocket ahead 35 years and Blade Runner 2049 gives an update of the iconic 1982 Blade Runner movie. This is no remake but a continuation of the story with Harrison Ford playing a very agile senior citizen on the lam along with cameos by Edward James Olmos and an electronically-created Sean Young who were both in the original. The 1982 director, Ridley Scott is on board as one of this project’s executive directors, too.

Make no mistake, this movie is a different animal with French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve at the helm, and Ryan Gosling is the errant-replicant hunter.  The cinematography is stunning, the score uses industrial-type noise in a symphonic manner and the story line is clear. I enjoyed the experience although the almost 3 hour film could have been shortened by at least 20 minutes. My husband was hugely disappointed however, having been a big fan of the original film.

True, the vivid characters created by Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah in the 1982 movie have no equals in this new take on the dystopian world created by author Philip K. Dick. Unfortunately, Robin Wright and Jared Leto, excellent actors both, do not have roles in this film that allow them to give similarly indelible performances.

Still and all, if you like the neo-noir science fiction genre and have any affection for the 1982 Blade Runner production, you could do worse than to choose Blade Runner 2049 as a movie option.  On the flip side, my husband would have preferred to have stayed home.

Please let me know your thoughts if you catch this film, but be forewarned that a small screen will not do this film justice. I did not have the benefit of a 3-D version but you may want to find a theater that gives you that option.

Let’s hope this is NOT what our world looks like at mid-21st century!

The Handmaid’s Tale: Chilling series on Hulu

I must admit that I have never read any Margaret Atwood but The Handmaid’s Tale which debuted as a novel in 1985 has been on my “to do” list for years. Now comes a tv series adaptation of the iconic book presented as a Hulu original.

Elizabeth Moss (Peggy on Mad Men) is extraordinary as June/Offred, a baby-making handmaid in a religiously fanatic society of a frightening fictional future.  We see flashbacks of her previous unfettered life as a wife and mother along with scenes of her current servitude in the household of The Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and his barren but beautiful wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). Her only reason for existence is to bear children for this upper crust couple.

Fellow handmaids include her revolutionary friend Emily played by Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls) and Moira, her friend from her married days, portrayed by Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black) who seemingly escapes from this dystopian world, biblically called Gilead, but whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Having watched five of the ten episodes, I can say this is a finely-made mini-series with vivid costumes, artful cinematography, intelligent dialogue and masterful acting. New episodes premiere on the Hulu streaming platform on Wednesdays. You could say I have the series “book-marked.”

Dark Matter: Mind-bending book

Block out some time if you start Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, a science fiction tour de force that is set in Chicago. Book maven, Jenny Riddle suggested this mind-bending novel and it immediately grabbed me from the first chapter to the last. The prose is straightforward with major sections of dialogue so this is a quick read.  Chicagoans will recognize some of the settings: Logan Square, the Lake Michigan shoreline and the industrial South Side.

Although this is inventive science fiction, it is also a meditation on the choices we make in life, the trade-offs, the career pursuits and the importance of family. Throw in a dollop of wonky science talk and you have a thriller that seems current yet eternal in some of its themes.

Previous books by author Crouch have been made into the 2015 tv series Wayward Pines and the current tv show, Good Behavior on TNT starring Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey fame.

The cover design with the multiple images of the words Dark Matter will annoy your eyes initially, but get half-way through the novel and the graphics will seem perfect for this inventive book.