Review of Equinox by Christian Cantrell

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★★½ 


-Culture is a form of immortality. It’s probably the only form of immortality.

Christian Cantrell’s short book, Containment, was one of my all-time favorite science fiction stories, so I was very excited when I discovered that Cantrell was coming out with a sequel, Equinox; I was also quite surprised because Containment was published in 2010 so there was nearly a 5-year gap between book one and publication of the sequel.

I’ve read many of Cantrell’s stories, and I’ll call them stories instead of books because they are generally of the short story/novelette length, and I can read them typically in the course of a weekend or short week. Equinox completely bucks the trend because it’s a full length novel. Since most of my reading is done on a Kindle, this completely caught me by surprise. I took a quick peek on Amazon for reference and the print version of Containment is listed as 298 pages while Equinox is 574 pages.


I should also mention that Equinox is not your typical sequel. It’s really very much its own independent story with a 100% new story line. In fairness it is nicely tethered to the original story, Containment, at key parts; it’s certainly done well enough to qualify it as a proper sequel, but it’s truly unlike any other sequel I’ve read.

Despite, all of my ramblings about Equinox’s length, and about and how it fits in as a sequel, it’s a very, very good story. The one caution that I’ll offer is that it is relatively heavy on the “science” part of science fiction-especially at the beginning of the book. In general, this part was very enjoyable for me and certain revelations were actually fascinating. The scientific sections probably fall more into the category of “world building,” but if you’re not someone who’s interested in hard science, these sections may be hard to get through. For me, they actually improved the story.

-You’re thinking linearly. To figure out where technology will be in the future, you have to think exponentially.

Without revealing any spoilers, some of the more interesting scientific concepts covered were human development in the absence of gravity, the genesis of off-Earth colonies, future power sources, currency and construction methods, and brain-computer interfaces. There’s also some interesting dialogue on the future of 3D printing, and required steps to establish security protocols to prevent falsifying copyrighted items or creating weaponry.

One of my favorite accomplishments of the book is that Cantrell constructs a plausible utopian future for the human race and then systematically deconstructs it within the first 10% of the book.

-Luka realized that he was being called upon to lead, and that being a true leader was not about doing what was easy or popular, or even necessarily what was humane. Being a true leader meant having to make the right decisions…

There were many nice plot twists throughout the book which for me made it rewarding despite the fact that it was a longer read than anticipated. The book is certainly not only filled with the scientific; it has plenty of human drama including love, self-sacrifice, drug addiction, suicide and political corruption.

I’d highly recommend the book to fans of Christian Cantrell, and anyone who enjoys science fiction with an emphasis on the science. I believe reading Containment first would make Equinox more enjoyable; however, Equinox could stand alone as a single novel.

Rating books is a subjective science, and for me although most of the science inserted into the book added to the depth of the story, there were some sections where I found the science was a bit too heavy to maintain the proper pace of the story. This is the only reason that I’ve rated Equinox four and a half stars instead of five stars.

Click here for my review of Containment.


Special Contest: Author Christian Cantrell has generously agreed to donate an autographed copy of Equinox to one lucky reader of this post. Simply add a comment to this post to be entered to win. Deadline for entry is April 15th, 2015. One entry only per person.

Have you read Equinox or any works by Christian Cantrell? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of Equinox.

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Movie Review Jupiter Ascending

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★☆☆☆ 


Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski (as The Wachowskis)
Writers: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Starring: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Booth, Maria Doyle Kennedy, James D’Arcy

In their last movie venture, Cloud Atlas, the Wachowskis tackled big questions about life and death. They contemplated the notions of reincarnation; déjà vu; the purpose of love; identity; karma; life as a repetitive cycle – one might even say that they attempted to address certain Quantum theories, but primarily the movie asked: Can enlightenment, love and sacrifice change what appears to be a recurring historical cycle of cruelty, oppression and greed? All this intellectual inquiry came via a daring, genre-spanning, non-linear narrative that challenged the limits of conventional storytelling. If you admired the Wachowskis then, for their ambition, chutzpah and a stubborn refusal to dumb down – their new movie will come as a cold cup of bitter disappointment.

Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending feels more like a patchwork of several science-fiction stories untidily stitched together, and even then, it doesn’t make a particularly distinctive pattern. The problem isn’t that the movie lacks passion, but that the Wachowskis, with their comic–book sensibilities, have always put their greatest emphasis on design and aesthetics, and here unfortunately, they allow the visual image to get the best of them, investing so much attention in creating eye-catching technology, architecture and spectacle, that they seem to have become oblivious to huge logical gaps and the numbing conventionality of their story. Instead of serving as a launch-pad for interesting ideas as in their previous movies, Jupiter Ascending expects viewers to check their minds in at the door and take in a series of Technicolor displays geared to short attention spans, enlivening what is a routine damsel-in-distress story. Possibly originally conceived as an empowered female heroine, Jupiter Jones actually spends most of the movie being kidnapped and rescued, constantly falling from a variety of high places so that Caine, her hero, can soar in Superman-style, and scoop her up in his arms. Jupiter’s half-man, half-werewolf warrior-protector zips around on gravity-defying  boots, rescuing her over and over and over again, fighting off bounty hunters, winged lizards, skeletal  assassins, arriving in the nick of time before she’s duped into foolish agreements,  as spaceships explode or crash through wormholes and city-scapes.  I found myself thinking ‘Well, that’s all very pretty and bright and colourful, and lots of things are going ‘Pow!’ ‘Whizz!’ and ‘Bang!’ but what’s actually going to HAPPEN next? What’s going on in the story?’ Disappointingly very little it seems.

The problem is that the film fails to find any distinctive way to express itself – there is too much going on too quickly. Visually it’s spectacular, but it comprises almost exclusively of escapes, chases and rescues, in which any kind of engaging storyline is lost.

The plot is basically this: Jupiter’s Russian mother Aleksa (Maria Doyle Kennedy) fled to America after mobsters killed her British astronomer husband Maximilian (James D’Arcy). Jupiter now works as a cleaner, lamenting her life of scrubbing toilets. Improbably, she is found to be the exact genetic replica of the dead mother of three inter-galactic ‘Royal’ siblings, which somehow makes her Queen of the Universe or something. It also entitles her to their property, and unsurprisingly, they’re not inclined to let her stroll in and take it. She’s also dismayed to find that the family business consists of ‘harvesting’ the inhabitants of overpopulated planets in order to make the elixir of youth, which only the privileged can buy. Here, the concept of an immortal human elite seeding other civilizations throughout the galaxy, functions as a vague critique of capitalism. In this universe, genocide is simply the pursuit of profit, and apparently there’s nothing more profitable to be done with entire worlds than to boil down their populations and drain their collective life-force.

Channing Tatum as Caine (playing a pointy-eared,  half-albino dog-man for his sins) has been kicked out of space army or something for ripping someone or other’s throat out with his teeth, then had some wings surgically removed as a punishment, and now doesn’t go anywhere without a pair of hover roller-blades.  Surprisingly, Tatum manages to invest this role with the vestigial makings of a character, thanks to his unusual ability to play a ‘tough-but-good-guy’ without making us laugh out loud at a lack of credibility. Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones never really gets much of a chance, poor girl – she really isn’t given much to work with. Kunis spends most of her time trying to understand what’s going on, staring perplexedly through those very big eyes of hers – mostly only having to react to things being explained to her (when she’s not being rescued). The pair then team up with Stinger (Sean Bean) a fellow ex-space-soldier who has retired to Earth to lead a low-profile life in a house full of bees (providing  the daftest notion of the movie – Bees are genetically evolved to recognize royalty, though of what use a human Queen is to their evolutionary progress  I have no idea). Sean Bean makes a good fist of being Sean Bean, which at least brings a degree of naturalness to his role. The evil trio of Borgia-like siblings – Balem, played by flavour-of-the-month, Eddie Redmayne, pouts, shudders, whispers ninety percent of his lines and then shrieks the other ten, while Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth) purr their English-accented villainous schemes, but inevitably end up being subsumed by the visuals, sound effects and music (composed by JJ Abrams favourite, Michael Giacchino).

The Wachowskis again wear their personal preoccupations and interests on their sleeves – the ones I could spot were David Lynch’s Dune (if you hated Dune you’ll hate this movie, although if you loved Dune you’ll probably also hate this movie);  personal transformation and genetic manipulation (unsurprisingly);  a critique of capitalism and consumerism; the  Flash Gordon movie;  the art of Moebius and an homage to  the movie Brazil, complete with reference to ‘27-B-stroke-6’ and a cameo appearance by Terry Gilliam. Artistically, this is the first time the Wachowskis seem to be behind the curve rather than surfing the next wave and in my humble opinion, they really should have spent that extra six months after the release date was delayed on the development of a decent storyline and script rather than the visuals.

In Jupiter Ascending – The Matrix has turned into near chaotic CGI overkill, and somewhere, Agent Smith is smiling, because he’s won…now, THAT was a terrific villain.

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2015 All rights reserved.

Have you seen Jupiter Ascending? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of Interstellar.

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About Reviewer, Ren Zelen
REN ZELEN describes herself as “a writer, academic editor, reviewer, pop culture junkie, movie buff, rock music enthusiast, science nerd and Sandra Bullock lookalike”. Her fiction and past reviews can be found on her own website: Lethal Lexicon.

Her post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel ‘The HATHOR DIARIES’ is available from Amazon in both the UK and USA.

Her book/film/TV reviews can be found on various sites on the web. Information and contact on twitter.

Movie Review Ex-Machina

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★☆☆☆ 


Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac

It wasn’t a bad turnout for a mid-afternoon screening in a London theatre. Ex-Machina had been out for a little while and had attracted generally favourable reviews. The cinema was about two thirds full. I’d been recommended to go and take a look. The only odd aspect I noticed was that I seemed to be the only woman in the audience.

Initially I wasn’t in a rush to go and see this movie – I always approach movies about ‘female’ androids with scepticism because, from the first sexy, seductive female robot, the Maria of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, with her shiny, fetish-gear bodywork, it has long been a sci-fi movie trope that a female robot/android/cyborg is created by male scientists in the form of a beautiful young woman. These aesthetically pleasing and sexualized female bots are inevitably played by lovely young actresses, which enables the film-maker to professedly raise ‘serious’ points about ‘consciousness’ ‘humanity’ and ‘technology’ while also giving male viewers a jolly good eyeful of naked, nubile female flesh. As Steve Rose puts it in his excellent Guardian article – “The non-scientific term for this is ‘having your cake and eating it”. In that aspect this film is no different from its B-Movie predecessors. The movie eye lingers over the bodies of these pliant, perfect, ostensibly ‘artificial’ women, while the male protagonists keep their clothes firmly on – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Then, as it usually goes within these narratives – once the female body has been literally ‘objectified’ in this way, the next step the god-like creator will take, in his pioneering brilliance, is to make ‘her’ sentient – which, of course, means sexually receptive, which, apparently, is essential to her ‘humanity’ at least according to the smug and deeply unlikeable creator in this particular example of the ‘fem-bot’ genre. The other cliché in these kinds of movies is that lovely ‘female’ automata tend to be built by unhinged loners who might find it difficult to otherwise get laid (definitely not a profile the real-world scientific community would endorse) and unfortunately, the male characters in Ex Machina also conform to this outmoded notion.

For those of you who do not as yet know the plot of Ex Machina – a young coder at the world’s largest internet company wins a competition to spend a week at a private retreat belonging to his brilliant but reclusive CEO boss. On arrival he learns that he is expected to participate in an experiment which involves interacting with the world’s first true artificial intelligence, which comes in the form of a beautiful female robot, to see if she passes the ‘Turing test’. You get the idea.

First of all, hats off to Oscar Isaacs, who plays the part of Nathan the CEO with such a perfidious smugness,  in real life he would make you want to stick a fork into him within minutes of making his acquaintance (although I’m too much of a real lady to do such a thing and yes – the pun was intended).  Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, the unfortunate employee who has to endure Nathan’s inherent hubris and drunken, pontificating company. He plays it like the clever, sweet, awe-struck, Irish boy that he is – albeit with an American accent. The implication is that he’s a ‘good guy’ (and just too nice to have a girlfriend – which is another lazy movie cliché).

It seems entirely conceivable that Nathan the CEO would be intent on creating the first AI, if only to make himself some friends to play with, since no real person could tolerate him for long. He also likes to make authoritative pronouncements as to what he thinks are the requirements which would make a machine truly ‘human’ (because a reclusive, self-absorbed egotist would know).  Just as well then, that he’s got Caleb to do the Turing test for him. And so enter Ava, played by the delicate Alicia Vikander. Giving just the merest hint of staccato movement and using her Swedish accented English to good effect to appear just on the wrong side of natural (although her movements are accompanied by the faintest mechanical whirring lest we forget) . Turns out, she really hates her creator (quelle surprise) because he is cruel and untrustworthy, and, with her big eyes and direct gaze, batting her natural looking lashes, and smiling winsomely with her head slightly tilted, she has really very little trouble in charming Caleb, the dear love-starved lad – so, after a cursory effort – to the four winds with scientific detachment!

Writer/Director Garland is quick to point out that Ava’s femininity is only external. “People instinctively think there is a difference between male and female brains, but in many ways it doesn’t stack up when you look at it,” he says. “Her seductiveness makes sense in the context of the story,” he argues. “If you’re going to use a heterosexual male to test this consciousness, you would test it with something it could relate to. We have fetishized young women as objects of seduction, so in that respect, Ava is the ideal missile to fire.”  Well indeed, and she’s there to charm the audience too, at least the male component which make up the majority. It made me wonder what the guys flocking to see this movie got out of it  – I give them credit for not being there just to ogle at all the naked female flesh, I mean, that’s pretty available everywhere nowadays – so why would they want to see this movie? As a heterosexual woman my response is a more detached one.  I’m immune to the distraction of the ‘lovely magician’s assistant’ who’s there to take the audience’s attention away from the magician’s sleight of hand. And the lovely Ava is, or course, a distraction. Mainly from noticing that despite the movie’s smooth, slick, stylish appearance, and all the money that’s been thrown at it, it’s really all been done before.

Ex Machina may at least provoke a debate as to why a robot should have sexuality at all. “It’s tricky,” adds Garland , “Embodiment – having a body – seems to be imperative to consciousness, and we don’t have an example of something that has a consciousness that doesn’t also have a sexual component. If you have created a consciousness you would want it to have the capacity for pleasurable relationships, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable that a machine (may) have a sexual component. We wouldn’t demand it be removed from a human, so why a machine?”

Gives a whole new meaning to ‘Open the pod bay doors Hal…’ doesn’t it? Gosh, and it made me give my toaster a second look, I can tell you…it’s a hottie.

But seriously, isn’t this actually just another form of fetishization?  According to recent movies it seems that even without a body to ogle at, males apparently find it difficult to resist female-based technology. In Spike Jonze’s Her, for example, Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his new operating system even though she is just a voice. Once she is given a female identity, ‘Samantha’ basically becomes Phoenix’s Dream Girlfriend App – supportive, chatty, curious, completely available. He’s happy as larry – at least until he finds out she’s been just the same with other people – about 8,000 of them.

The most serious question posed by Ex Machina, for me, is how easily manipulated we are once our ‘profile’ is known. It is by knowing his ‘porn profile’ that Nathan can create a female- bot he knows Caleb will find almost impossible not to fall for, and being the boss of the biggest search engine on the web, Nathan is privy to all the personal information and ‘profiling’ he needs. It’s not the AIs I’m scared of, it’s the corporations already gathering all those profiles and scheming how to use that information to make us buy what they want us to buy, go where they want us to go, think what they want us to think. I’m more worried about how they might like to make robots of us all.

Perhaps I missed something, but Ex Machina offered me nothing new regarding its subject matter. The screenplay seems to be a reworking of two much older stories, that of Pygmalion and Frankenstein (irony of ironies, written by a woman). The subsequent myriad of monster and AI tales which have ridden on Mary Shelley’s  coat-tails have already examined the various notions of what it means to be human and the possible repercussions of creating sentient life. In these stories too, all the problems arise when intelligent self-determination raises its head. It is inevitable that a sentient being would need independence and rebel at the control of its creator. Why would we need machines to be so adept at impersonating humans in every detail anyway?  The ‘sexualization’ question in this movie is a bit of a red herring – as if all science nerds really want to create are machines  they might like to screw and then, why would  they care if the machine ‘really’ likes it or whether it just ‘pretends’ to? That question has never bothered anyone watching porn, has it?

I for one, will be more interested to see what Neill Blomkamp will make of the genre in his upcoming AI film Chappie . Meanwhile, if you are looking for a more original take on the question, I’d recommend Teknolust, the film starring Tilda Swinton. As Steve Rose again points out – “if we’re looking for a robot who really transcends gender stereotypes, it could be the most famous one of all: Star Wars’ C-3PO. He is basically the first transgender robot….and there is absolutely nothing sexy about him.”

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2015 All rights reserved.

Have you seen Ex Machina? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of Interstellar.

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About Reviewer, Ren Zelen
REN ZELEN describes herself as “a writer, academic editor, reviewer, pop culture junkie, movie buff, rock music enthusiast, science nerd and Sandra Bullock lookalike”. Her fiction and past reviews can be found on her own website: Lethal Lexicon.

Her post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel ‘The HATHOR DIARIES’ is available from Amazon in both the UK and USA.

Her book/film/TV reviews can be found on various sites on the web. Information and contact on twitter.

Review of Golden Son by Pierce Brown

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★★☆ 


-Eo said if I rose, others would follow. But I’ve not yet risen. I’ve not yet done as she asked of me. I am not an example. I am an assassin.

As the second book in the planned Red Rising trilogy, I had to wonder if there would be a sophomore slump. I had special concern since Red Rising was Brown’s debut novel. To give perspective to my expectations for Golden Son, I considered Red Rising the best book that I read in 2014, and Goodreads awarded Red Rising best debut novel in 2014.

-What terrifies the Golds is simple, cruel, and as old as mankind itself. Civil War.


So was there a sophomore slump? Yes and no. In a nutshell, the first 20% and the last 20% of Golden Son were excellent-in fact, as good as anything in Red Rising. However, I found the pace of the middle 60% much slower than anything that I experienced in Red Rising.

To me, this makes Golden Son a very worthy read, especially for someone who’s dying to continue the storyline developed in Red Rising. The middle of the book was not unbearable; it just lacked a lot of the action and suspense that I’m accustom to with Brown’s writing.

-A fool pulls the leaves. A brute chops the trunk. A sage digs the roots.

I received a complimentary review copy of the ebook in advance of publication of the Golden Son. I mention this because it may have contributed to my second complaint with Golden Son and that is the introduction of too many characters. Most people, myself included, do not have the luxury of sitting down and reading a novel in a single sitting. As such, with the volume of characters and interwoven story lines, I would periodically get confused about which character was which. Complicating this was a backdrop of shifting alliances. So one character who was presented as sympathetic to the cause could suddenly shift allegiance. When reading the book over a series of weekends and evenings, it makes it very easy to get disoriented.

Related to my complaint of too many characters, however, the printed copy of Golden Son has a very helpful list of the main characters and families printed at the beginning of the book. I know this because I’d pre-ordered Golden Son months ago and was pleased to see this when it arrived in the mail. If you’re a Kindle reader like I am, newer models of the Kindle include the feature “bones of the book” which will probably give you a link to a quick schematic which typically lists this sort of detail.

The bottom line is that if you don’t have a newer Kindle, I’d highly recommend that you purchase the hard copy version of Golden Son. It will help to reduce confusion associated with the long list of characters, and it’s always nice to have a hard copy if you’re inclined to loan it to friends after you read it.

A final comment tied to the cast of characters. I think that Pierce Brown does a very nice job of setting up Golden Son as a stand-alone book for readers who have not yet read Red Rising. He continues the story from Red Rising, while at the same time building a unique story that stands on its own. I do think that readers will get more out of Golden Son if they read Red Rising first, but it’s not required. To get reacquainted with the characters, readers may want to re-read Red Rising before reading Golden Son, but I opted not to do this and I don’t think it detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

-..­.you will recover from this. We are not our station in life. We are us-the sum of what we’ve done, what we want to do, and the people we keep close.

The bottom line is that if you’re a fan of Red Rising, this is pretty much a must-read book. Brown develops the storyline in an interesting direction, and cleverly builds suspense toward the conclusion in the third and final book in the trilogy.

Click here for my review of Red Rising.

Have you read Golden Son or any works by Pierce Brown? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of Golden Son.

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Review of Time After Time by Marc Nash

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★★☆ 


If At First You Don’t Succeed…

In a society ruled by women, a society where men are banned from gyms, watching action movies, smoking, drinking and various other masculine activities, a secret sect of men send someone back in time to assassinate the mother of the woman who will start the oppression of all men…but things don’t quite go to plan.

With no experience of violence or weapons, the assassin’s target lives in the middle of a rough housing estate. He must deal with the gangs of youths before he gets close to his mark.

When he does get close to her, he fails his mission spectacularly, time and time again, with hilarious consequences.


In Time After Time, Marc Nash offers an exceptionally original read, full of clever comedy throughout this captivating time travel tale. The atmosphere and harshness of the housing estate seem to emanate from the pages and you can almost imagine you can feel the bass of the tracks that the DJ of the estate is playing while he watches the drama unfold outside his window.

I felt more empathy for the poor assassin the more I read. And I was rooting for him by the very end. I loved the unusual but satisfying conclusion.

A truly excellent read if you like your science fiction with a dark sense of humour. It’s a great quick, action-packed read and it’s almost certainly under-priced at only £1.54 ( $2.40)

Have you read Time After Time? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of Time After Time.

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About the Reviewer
J.M.Tweedie writes Science Fiction and is currently three quarters of the way through her first novel (as yet untitled). When she’s not writing, she can usually be found working hard at her full time day job with the NHS UK, looking after her family or with her head in a good book.
You can find out more about her and sample some of her writing at her website or alternatively follow on Twitter.

Movie Review Interstellar

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Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★½☆ 


Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Wes Bentley, David Gyasi

-‘Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light’

InterstellarThese lines from the poem by Dylan Thomas are repeated over and over in Interstellar, as if to emphasise the theme that as a species, we humans can be recalcitrant, resourceful and valiant – but chiefly when desperate – when our very survival is threatened. 
Interstellar opens  in America’s farm belt at an unspecified future date. The world has succumbed to famine caused by overpopulation and a blight that is killing all crops and creating huge, damaging dust storms. Nitrogen is increasing in the atmosphere, feeding the mould on the crops but decreasing the oxygen on which we depend. Slow asphyxiation or starvation is our inevitable fate. The situation is deemed irreversible – Earth as the home of humanity is doomed.

Former NASA engineer and test-pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) farms acres of corn along with his family: son Tom, (Timothee Chalamet) daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy), and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) and struggles to cope as crops fail and dust storms rage. He’s puzzled by odd magnetic anomalies affecting his equipment and by the ‘poltergeist’ that knocks books off his daughter’s shelves.

Interstellar2NASA (whose massive real-life budget cuts lend realism to the movie’s premise) can exist in this agrarian dystopia only as a secret, underground ‘think-tank’. The respected physicist Professor Brand (Michael Caine – inevitably the repository of avuncular wisdom in Nolan’s films) and his team have devised two scenarios for saving mankind. Both plans involve abandoning Earth and starting again on a new, habitable planet, but only plan A involves taking Earth’s 6-billion population along for the ride. (Interestingly, the more likely scenario in which only the privileged few could escape is never considered or discussed). Plan B involves taking along hundreds of frozen embryos to colonize an alternative world. There is a huge problem with Plan A – namely, overcoming our gravity to launch a massive home-ship into space – but Brand is convinced he can solve the necessary equations that will make this possible. He informs Cooper that a wormhole appeared near Saturn ten years ago, conveniently arriving just when needed and fueling speculation that it may have intentionally been placed there by ‘other’ entities intent upon giving humanity a means of survival. Several years ago, astronauts were sent through to survey the potentially habitable planets on the other side. Now, armed with data from these initial scouts, another craft must make the journey to determine which world is most likely to be humankind’s final destination.

Conscious that his children, and all future generations, are at stake, Cooper agrees to pilot the craft. He is accompanied by a crew of four: Brand’s daughter, Amelia (Anne Hathaway); scientists Doyle (Wes Bentley – nice to see this actor back) and Romilly (David Gyasi) and the robot TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) who is reminiscent of 2001’s HAL 9000. Cooper’s beloved daughter Murph is unforgiving of her father for abandoning her – a resentment which continues into her adulthood, when (now played by Jessica Chastain) oddly, some might say, she continues the same work that took her father away by becoming Brand’s second-in-command.

Visually and conceptually audacious, Nolan’s ninth feature also manages to be more emotionally intense than his coolly cerebral thrillers, and touches on such personal themes as inter-relationships between family, the sacrifices parents make for their children (and vice versa) the repercussions of our decisions, and the effects of our irresponsibility regarding the environment which will decide what kind of world the next generation may inherit from us. Nolan’s movie is as much about the bonds of love and friendship which hold us together and inform our decisions, rational or otherwise, as the science behind such a venture into uncharted space. Interstellar is not so much a space-adventure as a space drama, presenting us with a more realistic future in which space travel, while possible, is dangerous and unpredictable. It acknowledges our current understanding of science, and the gaps in our knowledge. The effect of time dilation in the presence of a black hole is explained and there is even a little about the relationship between quantum mechanics and relativity. Luckily, Interstellar maintains the science at a level still accessible to laymen, and credit for this is owed to the veteran CalTech physicist Kip Thorne, who consulted with the Nolans and the actors on the script (and rightly receives an executive producer credit).

Interstellar3Nolan’s homages and influences are often evident. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Oddysey is referenced as is Kaufman’sThe Right Stuff , Shyamalan’s Signs and Zemeckis’s Contact.  Interstellar’s warmer tone and parent-child relationships are reminiscent of Spielberg. Limiting the use of CGI, Nolan relies on practical effects to create a movie that must feel more real than a Marvel-style space romp. There are some exciting action set pieces and the narrative is reasonably unpredictable, plus a surprise cameo appearance by an A-list actor. The movie takes some risks with its finale, which must depart from the science into speculation to provide the denouement. It will inevitably leave the viewer with some questions.

My personal peeves involve a rather overwhelming score by Hans Zimmer (someone get that man off the organ so we can hear the dialogue!) and Matthew McConaughey’s tendency to subscribe to the ‘Marlon Brando School of Method Mumbling’ which, married with his ‘soft-spoken Southern-gent accent’ makes a listener sometimes strain to hear exactly what he’s whispering about.

Interstellar is a sci-fi movie made by a realist and it indicates that even ‘the best of us’ might not be immune from fear, self-delusion and moral compromise. Here, good people lie to themselves and to their closest confidants, but they all have their reasons. Others compensate for their mistakes by making the most selfless sacrifices. Others find that their love of mankind is the very thing that makes them crack under duress – our strengths and weaknesses are not so easily definable. Perhaps the only thing in the universe more incomprehensible and complex than quantum physics, is the nature of love, fear and all human emotion.

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2014 All rights reserved.

Have you seen Interstellar? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of Interstellar.

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About Reviewer, Ren Zelen
REN ZELEN describes herself as “a writer, academic editor, reviewer, pop culture junkie, movie buff, rock music enthusiast, science nerd and Sandra Bullock lookalike”. Her fiction and past reviews can be found on her own website: Lethal Lexicon.

Her post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel ‘The HATHOR DIARIES’ is available from Amazon in both the UK and USA.

Her book/film/TV reviews can be found on various sites on the web. Information and contact on twitter.

Movie Review I, ORIGINS

Average Fan Rating:
          0 votes

Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★★½ 


Director: Michael Cahill
Starring: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Steven Yuen

One of the functions of Art, is to act as a catalyst towards asking those awkward, unanswered questions and scrutinizing our response to the unknown or the uncomfortable. Any movie that is brave enough to examine the relationship between science and spirituality in such an unapologetically sincere way, and yet remain engaging and undidactic, is deserving of my respect.

Iorigins

I, Origins was the opening movie for the Raindance Film Festival and is now on general release in selected cinemas. It is Mike Cahill’s second film and is a metaphysical conundrum in similar vein to his first, 2011’s Another Earth. What sets this film apart  (in addition to its glowing cinematography) is that I think very few young directors nowadays would have the nerve or ambition to examine spiritual notions so candidly, without chickening out and hiding behind a veil of irony, sardonicism or satire. Ardent and entertaining, I, Origins deserves to be one of the most discussed indie films of the year. If the ideas inherent in the interplay of science, spirituality and sex, three of the most divisive subjects in human history, don’t excite you, you’ve clearly never had any of those intense, prolonged (and usually late-night) conversations analysing and debating all of those subjects.

The movie concerns Ian Grey (Michael Pitt) – a biologist pursuing a Ph.D. in eye evolution. With the help of first-year student Karen (Brit Marling, who starred in and co-wrote Another Earth) he is searching for the genetic switch that prompts the creation of photosensitive cells, in hope of finding proof to comprehensively discredit the long-standing argument for the existence of an ‘intelligent designer’ that claims that certain natural objects — most commonly the human eye — are inherently too complex to have arisen through evolution alone. Lab-assistant Karen suggests a new approach to the problem: they should locate a sightless organism with the PAX6 gene and manipulate it, effectively building an eye from scratch. While he supports Karen’s ambition of mutating a primitive, sightless species to give them basic functioning eyes, the only eyes that are really significant to Ian at that time are those of the mystery woman he has had an encounter with at a Halloween party. The woman was covered head-to-toe in black. Her face mask reveals only her heterochromic eyes, which he photographs. But after a hurried sexual encounter in the bathroom, he loses her. But this encounter has affected him on a level he can’t quite comprehend – certainly not a rational level. He becomes desperate to find his mystery woman. After an inexplicable series of coincidences he is led to a billboard advertising French cosmetics. The billboard depicts only a pair of lovely female eyes – they are unmistakably her eyes – he recognises her gaze – impassive, hypnotic. He tracks her down, she is a model called Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) and an impetuous, heady romance leads to a marriage proposal, which coincides with a major breakthrough in the lab – and then to a tragedy which will change the course of events.

The movie isn’t perfect – one has to suspend one’s disbelief and overlook some scientific jumps which might not bear close scrutiny, some attempts at humour seem incongruous. Also, the two leading female characters in the movie are clearly meant to be opposites, and disappointingly display the inevitable clichés. Marling initially somewhat overdoes the ‘intellectual female scientist’ bit – Karen is a workaholic and wears a lab-coat and specs (like her boss) so she is obviously practical and intended to be taken seriously. Meanwhile, Sofi is a spontaneous creature of impulse – sexy, exotic, free-spirited and unpredictable. The women are mind and spirit – emphasising the dichotomy between rationality and instinct, logic and intuition. Grey finds himself irresistibly drawn to Sofi, despite her contrasting beliefs to all of his intellectual endeavours. The chemistry of sexual attraction is enigmatic and irrational, and often not the choice that logic would dictate. Michael Pitt (whose own physiognomy can put any French actress’s pout to shame) carries I, Origins very capably, demonstrating fine range. He plays a man entrenched in his scientific beliefs forced to deal in the intangible, with thoughtfulness and a bruised kind of sensitivity.

To give director Mike Cahill credit, he doesn’t give us easy answers. An ensemble effort by its cast – the poignant Pitt, Marling, Bergès-Frisbey and Steven Yuen (of The Walking Dead) allows the film to become a subtle commentary on love, spirituality and science, without ever offering definitive answers – leaving the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions. Much like Ian itself, it’s a ‘Grey’ area. I,Origins doesn’t harbour any favourite theories, but instead, the film offers a platform for conversation and analysis which should leave the viewer thinking and perhaps looking at things a little differently for a while.

The film-craft and technical qualities are exceptional, from the luminous work of German cinematographer Markus Forderer, the production design by Tania Bijlani, to the mood-enhancing score by Will Bates and Phil Mossman (incorporating well-chosen tracks by Radiohead, apart from others). Mike Cahill’s artistic intentions might be described as a cinematic lens focussed onto the vagaries of human perception – here at least, putting the ‘eye’ into sci-fi. I, Origins is an intriguing examination of our attitude to science, spirituality, interpersonal relationships and the ties that bind us all together, wrapped up in an intriguing detective story. I’d advise you to go and take a look.

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2014 All rights reserved.

Have you seen I, Origins? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of I, Origins

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About Reviewer, Ren Zelen
REN ZELEN describes herself as “a writer, academic editor, reviewer, pop culture junkie, movie buff, rock music enthusiast, science nerd and Sandra Bullock lookalike”. Her fiction and past reviews can be found on her own website: Lethal Lexicon.

Her post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel ‘The HATHOR DIARIES’ is available from Amazon in both the UK and USA.

Her book/film/TV reviews can be found on various sites on the web. Information and contact on twitter.

Movie Review Under the Skin

Average Fan Rating:
* * * *   1 vote

Rating from TwistedSciFi ★★★☆☆ 


Director: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Scarlett Johansson

 -“Time is a man, space is a woman, and her masculine portion is Death.” William Blake 

Under the Skin’ is a flawed but audacious adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2000 quirky, semi-satirical novel about an extraterrestrial predator. The movie version, directed and co-written by Jonathan Glazer (previously known for ‘Sexy-Beast’ and ‘Birth’) tells the tale on several levels: on the one hand it is a straightforward psychosexual horror movie in which feckless, lustful youths appear to receive their comeuppance, and it is also a ‘Stranger in a strange land’ story – the fish-out-of-water, the mysterious visitor transplanted out of their comfort zone into a place baffling to them. In terms of narrative and atmosphere, Glazer’s film reminded me most of ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’, Nicholas Roeg’s adaptation of the excellent Walter Tevis novel in which David Bowie plays an alien who crosses the galaxy in search of water only to end up as a failure and an Earthbound alcoholic. Both Bowie’s character ‘Newton’ and Johansson’s ‘Laura’ inhabit a human form by which they eventually become distracted and derailed – the complications and unforeseen reactions of their human bodies, exemplified through interaction, sex and empathy, or lack of it, become contributing factors to their downfall.


However, the notion of alienation in this movie becomes a more complex issue and perhaps a polerizing one. One of Glazer’s achievements here is a disorienting level of discomfort, arising from familiar things being severed from their customary context. He stylishly absorbs the influences of Nicolas Roeg and David Lynch, and further filters them through the stern and dispassionate lens of Kubrick or Tarkovsky. The film becomes a stark parable about gender relations, loneliness, lust, empathy and alienation.

I’m not a great fan of Scarlett Johansson and have never found her to be the most expressive of actresses, but, like Bowie in his movie, an estranged, deadpan, understated approach is perfectly suited to this role. Laura is an alien creature adrift in a beautiful woman’s body, unwittingly learning what that may mean. In an audacious, if not wholly successful move, Johansson’s kerb-crawling expeditions were shot with hidden lenses as she trawls the streets of damp, windly, grimy Glasgow in search of male flesh. A Hollywood A-list starlet in this kind of environment is as much of an alien as any extraterrestrial from an intergalactic spaceship could ever be, and that of course, is the point. Johansson being placed in this context, with lots of hidden-camera shots of real passers-by in real Glasgow streets and Glasgow shopping centres, while she coolly sizes them up for their seduction potential and calorific value, is quite disconcerting. Her dissociated ‘life-form’ observes the earthly life-forms around her, from ants to men and while on the prowl, her expression is imperturbable and her feelings unreadable. From these genuine crowds, professional actors emerge for dialogue scenes, although one can never escape the fact that it is Johansson that dominates the screen.

Glazer’s interest is primarily in Johansson’s face and its striking, incongruous, somewhat amorphous beauty. It is helpfully deconstructed by one of the hitchhikers she picks up: “Your eyes. There’s summat about your eyes – your lips – your black hair.” She assumes a friendly personality, peppered with flattery, when she’s smoothly seducing the startled young men. The men she meets are bored and horny and can’t believe their luck— but if she is bemused by a response or begins to feel something like empathy, she retreats into a near-catatonic state, her eyes like the vast pools of dark oil that appear solid, but where the aroused men will soon disappear, engulfed into a cosmic void. Her alien lures them in with polite, persistent questions, barely pausing to hear the replies. Then she takes them back to ‘her place’ where, undressing, she leads each one into a pool of viscous black fluid where they see the bodies of former victims floating naked in the gloom. It’s never made entirely clear what the purpose of her collection is (although in the book they’re ‘meat’ for the gourmets of another planet).

While the Faber novel takes satirical swipes at a range of human targets, from sexuality to factory farming, and is a reflection on class, humanity, and sexual identity, Glazer and co-writer Walter Campbell create a sparse, slightly surreal fable with a minimum of dialogue, relying on his trademark striking visuals which here serve to juxtapose scenes of fantasy with gritty realism to disorienting effect. It has proved to be polarizing work. On initial viewing the movie was met with negative and positive criticism in fairly equal measure. The dissociation and dissonance is underlined by Mica Levi’s “musical” score — all scraping violins and droning synth jumps and thumps which remain aurally grating.

Metaphors about the male-female dynamic abound throughout – Johannson’s alien ‘Laura’ being both a watcher and predator of men. In the society she enters, and to which she brings nothing besides a body, Laura is a knowing sex-object, in dress and demeanour a kind of sex toy; she might have come to Earth to prove a point about male expectations of women. If ‘Under the Skin’ conveys any gender-political message, it does so through the disparity in excitement between the male characters’ reaction to Laura and that of her response to them and to the camera.

Her beauty is her trap but, inevitably, it also proves to be her undoing. As the Marquis de Sade observed, “We get pleasure from the sacrilege or profanation of objects that expect our worship” – he perceived that a beautiful woman excites reverence in direct proportion to how she also inspires violence – her beauty may be her power, but it is also her peril, and the beautiful woman is often especially punished for her indifference. Just like another ‘girl-next-door’ pretending to understand sex more than she really does, Laura, while aware of her appeal to men, views sexual fulfillment as an abstraction. She attempts to play by the sexual rules she sees operating in the society in which she is placed, seemingly to acquire her own ends, but the rules have their pitfalls and of these she will soon be made aware. When she allows herself to be penetrated by a comforting stranger, her shocked reaction sends her spiraling into confusion not unlike that into which she drops her own victims. She is not of this Earth, but now her alienness is a mark of a more recognizable sense of estrangement. The existentially uprooted Laura finally begins to understand herself in the way she does her victims – as a commodity, and recoils in distress from this knowledge and her newly found sentience which has been set in motion by her sexual initiation and, subsequently solidified by the violence and degradation of a sexual attack. As she comes to better understand ‘the human’, she becomes increasingly vulnerable and terrified as a woman, which I’m guessing is Glazer’s point, rather obliquely made – and that, as the film sadly articulates through its abstract visual language and downbeat ending, is no way for a girl to come to understand her body, regardless of what’s under her skin.

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2014 All rights reserved.

Have you seen Under The Skin? Please share your comments below, and don’t forget to click on the yellow stars at the top of this post to share your rating (1-5 stars) of Under The Skin.

Like what you’re reading? Have you signed up for our free enews yet or are you following this blog’s rss feed?

About Reviewer, Ren Zelen
REN ZELEN describes herself as “a writer, academic editor, reviewer, pop culture junkie, movie buff, rock music enthusiast, science nerd and Sandra Bullock lookalike”. Her fiction and past reviews can be found on her own website: Lethal Lexicon.

Her post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel ‘The HATHOR DIARIES’ is available from Amazon in both the UK and USA.

Her book/film/TV reviews can be found on various sites on the web. Information and contact on twitter.