November 21, 2017

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.

11.22.63 TV Series on Hulu

Someone recommended the streaming series 11.22.63 currently on Hulu. Based on a Stephen King novel and starring James Franco as Jake Epping who goes back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination in 1963, I was not inclined to put this on my watch list. The author, the actor and the subject matter did not allure me.
Thankfully, I checked out the first episode in the 8-part science fiction series and was immediately hooked. Not only is Franco engaging, but he is joined by acting luminaries such as Chris Cooper, Cherry Jones and Tonya Pinkins. Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald and George MacKay as Epping’s 1960’s sidekick are absolutely riveting.
The time shift between present day and the early 60’s in Texas is most amusing. Brightly colored cars with chrome and fins along with girls in pony tails and pastels give one an immediate sense of time and place.
Going back to Dallas during that fateful November 1963 wouldn’t seem entertaining, but in the hands of TV veterans J. J. Abrams, Bridget Carpenter, Bryan Burk plus  best-selling author King, we are given a new spin on all of the facts and conjectures that have been part of our national psyche. Binge on.

SyFy’s The Expanse on Amazon Prime

The holidays allowed me to get my sci-fi geek on with The Expanse, the SyFy series currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Termed a space opera/mystery science fiction drama, my brother-in-law informed me that the show is based on a series of books written by James S. A. Corey (the pseudonym for two guys named Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.)

The show is set in the future when humans have colonized space including Mars and outposts on the asteroid belt. We are introduced to Belter detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) who is tasked with finding Julie Mao (Florence Faivre), the missing daughter of a business tycoon. The main cast is rounded out by Jim Holden (Steven Strait), an Earther airship captain, a Martian pilot named Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), another crew member who grew up poor “on the Belt,” Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), a mechanic who is dangerously devoted to Nagata plus Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a leader with the U.N. and strongly pro-Earth.
Ancillary roles are filled by Paulo Costanzo (Royal Pains), Chad L. Coleman (The Walking Dead), Shawn Doyle (Big Love) and Jared Harris (The Crown) among many others.

The computer generated images of life in space are impressive, the clothing in crowd scenes amusing and the acting and writing quite good. If you like sci-fi shows, The Expanse may be your kind of program. Season 2 returns to the SyFy channel on February 1, 2017.

Stranger Things on Netflix

When three different people rave about a streaming tv show in one day, I better take notice. So it was with Stranger Things, a Netflix original series created by the Duffer Brothers and starring Winona Ryder and Matthew Modine. Talk about a blast from the past on several levels. When was the last time you saw either of these two actors in anything? Ryder depicts a down-trodden mother replete with a rounded-shoulder walk that telegraphs low self-esteem and a dogged determination. Modine plays a bad guy with a shock of white hair and careless disregard for children and human suffering in general.

The real stars of the series are a gang of kids who are trying to save their buddy who has mysteriously disappeared. As I watched the children peddling along on their bikes, it struck me that Stranger Things is the Spielberg movie, ET with a decidedly more twisted and spooky atmosphere. You won’t be thinking, “Aw, isn’t that touching” at any point in this show.

The electronic-influenced soundtrack, written by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of the Austin-based band SURVIVE, has gathered enough buzz to warrant two audio releases. Volume One is available on Friday, August 12 with Volume Two ready for purchase the following week.

Some questions are answered by the end of the eight-episode first season, but not all is wrapped up with a bow. Netflix has green-lighted a second season that the Duffer Brothers say will be more like a sequel. I can’t wait to learn more about “The Upside Down” which won’t make sense to you unless you watch this inventive and darkly addictive streaming series on Netflix.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Two versions of the book cover

At 880 pages, Neal Stephenson’s science fiction tome, Seveneves is heavy in both senses of the word. The prose is dense with science, but the author makes us care about the characters as they encounter cataclysmic events.

Something or someone has blown up the moon. The lunar debris creates a “Hard Rain” that threatens to extinguish all life on earth. Humans endeavor to launch as many people as possible to the Cloud Ark which exists in the stratosphere near the international space station.  A group of women (the Seven Eves) figure prominently in the preservation of the human race.

This book was on Bill Gates summer reading list and he said it “inspired me to rekindle my sci-fi habit.” If you like science and are not put off by the length, by all means, dive in.  In honesty, the first two thirds of the book is more engaging than the last third. The timeline spans 5,000 years so that’s a long time to keep the reader’s interest. Still and all, I enjoyed Seveneves and may dip into some of Stephenson’s other successful books, like Snow Crash, Anathem or Cryptonomicon.

It’s a Bird, it’s a plane – no, it’s Flyboard Air!

<a href="http://www internetapotheke viagra”>In the video clip below, French jet ski champion Franky Zapata appears to be sailing through the air on an untethered contraption called a Flyboard Air that appears to be using a jet propulsion engine. The device supposedly allows the rider to rise to 10,000 feet, stay aloft for ten minutes and reach a speed of 93 mph. Sceptics point out that no details have been provided about how the Flyboard Air is controlled so this may be doctored footage.  Judge for yourself.

Link to the youtube clip:

The Martian by author Andy Weir

On a recent trip, I perused books in an airport store and was drawn to Andy Weir’s The Martian since it was an easy-to-carry $10 paperback. My flight literally flew by so engrossing was this best-seller.

Science geeks will love the tech talk in this space travel saga, but the taut plotting will keep most readers engaged even if you skim some of the science details.

Botanist Mark Watney is stranded on Mars when his fellow astronauts erroneously deem him dead. This science fiction account shows Watney’s ingenuity in keeping himself alive with only what he finds on the Red Planet.

A film adaptation of the book, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon as Watney is currently in the theaters. I had been advised to read the book before seeing the movie and I would concur.

After being turned down by several literary agents, Weir initially self-published The Martian in 2011. Crown Publishing picked it up and re-released it in 2014. I bet those agents are kicking themselves!

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

I had seen the book title Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith and had written it off as another silly True Blood/Twilight-esque entry into the current mania over supernatural beings. My husband checked out a library copy of his sequel, The Last American Vampire and deemed the writing quite excellent.

I decided to tackle the original Grahame-Smith novel on Abraham Lincoln. What a revelation. Not only is the mash-up deliciously inventive, but, aside from the vampire story line, the historical research on our 16th President is right on the mark. If adding vampires to books gets people to read about history, so be it.

The book was turned into a movie which got mixed to negative reviews so I am recommending the book only. I can’t wait to start the follow-up novel listed above, or possibly his book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

What’s next for Grahame-Smith? He could probably convince me to read even Tom Sawyer and Leprechauns.