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Interstellar Movie Review – The Best Science Fiction Movie of the Decade

interstellar-nolan

Christopher Nolan’s big movies are overstuffed, wobbling shopping carts full of stuff that are always about to topple over. The Hitchcock and Kubrick shots, the frantic editing, the acting that varies between overwrought and flat, the plots that make less sense the longer they go on, but they’re still incredible to watch.

Interstellar is just that. A barely coherent mashup of 2001 and Contact, it’s a glorious mess that gets worse as it goes  along, that, like most big Nolan movies could have been 40 minutes shorter, and that’s still the best science fiction movie of the decade.

In an age of CG cartoons, Nolan is still trying to make movies and it shows. Spaceships, robots and explosions are in every other movie, but Interstellar is actually based on a science fiction premise, instead of playing with scifi toys.

Interstellar self-consciously references 2001, but also humanizes it. Interstellar may be much looser and messier than anything Kubrick would have tolerated, but it also provides the audience with human stakes in its stories about multi-dimensional evolved humans, black holes and temporal variances.

It’s an optimistic movie about the importance of space travel and human potential. It’s a science fiction movie that is about the strangeness of the universe.

The plot of Interstellar is a train wreck, but Matthew McConaughey drags it along with him in overwrought scene after scene with extra ham on top. He embodies the passion of a messy project. His character and his performance is Interstellar’s rejection of abstract idealism in favor of specific human needs.

Michael Caine’s Professor Brand and Matt Damon’s Mann prove to be unreliable sociopaths whose speeches about the greater good cover for their selfishness. But Cooper’s selfishness is always front and center. He leaves his family behind, not to save the world, but because he loves the idea of flying a ship. And he wants to leave the mission to get back to his family. It’s his human needs that allow a transhuman future to connect to his world.

It’s a subversive message that challenges the authoritarianism of so many science fiction movies.

2001 showed people becoming inhuman. Interstellar humanizes even the robots whose design abandons the humanoid form, but whose personalities pick up human traits. Becoming less human isn’t the path to evolution. Embracing our humanity is. It’s a clunky message, but there have been worse messages in movies.

Interstellar is badly broken and yet its ambition and dysfunction is a breath of fresh air. It has little in common with the usual Marvel or Hasbro toy line movie. Instead it’s a science fiction movie about messed up people making mistakes in a universe with a limited tolerance for human error, but also a universe with amazing possibilities.

And that is what science fiction used to be before it became the background for brand merchandising movies.

Mortdecai and the Critical Backlash Mass

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Mortdecai didn’t deserve all the hate thrown at it when it came out. It’s not a great movie, but it wasn’t anywhere as bad as the reviews which told everyone it was the second coming of Hitler, instead of a modern Pink Panther caper that sucked a lot less than the Steve Martin Pink Panthers.

But Mortdecai fell victim to the critical backlash mass.

A successful actor or director becomes known for one gimmick. The gimmick is irritating, but initially it’s also entertaining. Like Johnny Depp doing a wacky character, Robin Williams going for cheap tears instead of laughs or George Lucas making CG Star Wars cartoons. Then the backlash builds with every movie until it blows.

And it blows all over a movie that might not even deserve it. Like the critical backlash mass building against Robin Williams over Patch Adams and exploding over Jakob the Liar. Or Johnny Depp in Mortdecai.

The hate had built up with the fourth Pirates movie that no one outside China wanted. It hissed to a boil with Dark Shadows and The Lone Ranger, both flopped, and then exploded in violent rage with Mortdecai.

Depp’s Charlie Mortdecai is the weakest part of the movie, but also the part that holds the rest of the movie together. The script isn’t great and the movie could have used a bigger and longer climax (one of the few movies these days that you can say that about), but most of the working parts were okay. Visually it looked good. The cast was good, especially Paul Bettany’s Jock. And most of the jokes worked okay if you like them big, goofy and obvious.

But all the parts rubbed up against Depp’s Mortdecai. And Depp wearing wacky outfits and makeup already rubbed too many critics raw. Imagine Mortdecai with Jim Carrey in the lead and it could have been even more annoying, but it wouldn’t have been showered with the same amount of critic rage. They reacted to Depp’s Mortdecai as an extension of every annoying mannered character from Willy Wonka to Sweeney Todd.

Mortdecai needed its own Peter Sellers. An actor who could just dive into the role sincerely, instead of prancing around with a mannered, “Look at me, I’m acting so goofy” air of an unfunny class clown in a high school production of Pirates of Penzance. Maybe Robert Downey Jr. could have done it. But Depp can just do exactly what he’s been doing since that long forgotten good Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It’s all he’s ever going to do now.

But Mortdecai was still fun. It wasn’t a great movie. Or an especially good one. It wasn’t even Hudson Hawk. But it was up there with a decent Moonlighting episode. What happened to it is the difference between viewing movies on their own or as part of a dynamic cultural dialogue. And that’s how critics, and everyone is a critic now, see them.

Mortdecai stopped being its own movie and became an extension of Depp’s other wacky movies and that became an extension of a trend in movies that had to be stamped out.

Depp recovered and went on working. Big actors are hard to take down. And Black Mass was just more of the same. And there’s an unfunny Depp video as Trump and another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.

It’s the shakiest movies that are easiest to take down. Movies with no built in audience anyway. Like a caper about a wacky British art dealer and thief. Or a movie in which Adam Sandler plays a cobbler who can become other people. The stars go on, but the blowback destroys a smaller fun movie and the careers of smaller, maybe fun people.

Is anyone going to let David Koepp direct again? Would Tom McCarthy’s carer have survived if Spotlight hadn’t been in the can? Critics find a release in lashing out at annoying actors for being annoying, but the actors don’t go away, the people who took a risk and tried to make a different kind of movie and were lucky enough to get a major star to sign on, only to be wrecked by his backlash, who more often go away.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson Book Review

2312 is a bad book by a bad writer. It’s a pretentious book by a pretentious writer which is why it has a Nebula.

Kim Stanley Robinson can write well about terraforming. That is his whole career. Unfortunately he can’t write 11830394characters that you don’t want to punch in the face or come up with plots that are any better than those of a bad movie and he tries to disguise that with the usual scifi hack’s toolbox of orientalist references and random scientific terms.

2312 is the kind of book that John Varley’s Steel Beach should have killed. Not only did Varley thoroughly cover every new idea that Robinson holds up as if it’s a trophy he won at the fair, but he also showed why these neo-futuristic societies in which everyone sits around using super-technology to play with themselves in every sense of the word are dead. Kim Stanley Robinson didn’t get the memo. Neither did the writers who keep farting out the same crap.

But 2312 is worse than most of the bunch. David Brin’s Existence was deeply flawed, but it had new brilliant ideas in the mix. Kim Stanley Robinson doesn’t have those. 2312 has some great terraforming descriptions and that’s it.

Its plot makes so little sense that it would be unfair to blame it on drugs Its main character Swan is the most obnoxious main character in a novel ever. She’s either whining or throwing tantrums for hundreds of pages. The destruction on Mercury and the qubes aren’t a grand conspiracy, but petty fallout from something completely unrelated. There is no reason for most of the novel and its events to even exist. At one point the characters decide that the problem is income inequality on earth and so they dump a lot of wild animals on it. The wild animals eat some people in villages, but the characters explain that it’s okay and the animals also fixed all the poverty somehow.

You really have a problem when Philip K. Dick novels have plots that make more sense than yours.

To distract you from this, Kim Stanley Robinson inserts “lists” after every chapter to seem literary. But it would be more “literary” for him to construct a new plot instead of engaging in lit gimmicks that are as mediocre as his novel.

There’s not much to write about 2312 because despite its size, there is nothing there. There are some pretty descriptions of sunrise on Mercury. But if you want anything more than terraforming ideas and descriptions of sunrises, you’re out of luck. 2312 takes the kind of society Varley wrote about decades ago, subtracts anything that might be interesting and throws in annoying characters who still somehow lack the personality to be memorable.

2312 is a terrible book. By a terrible writer. I might have mentioned that.

The Unincorporated Future by Danni Kolin and Eytan Kollin book review

The Unincorporated Future by Danni Kollin and Eytan Kollin is an unimaginative mashup of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars the unincorporated futureseries, Tron and bits and pieces of Metaplanetary. Reading through it and John Varley’s Slow Apocalypse was a reminder that a talented writer can make a story where not all that much happens readable and untalented writers can take a war spread across the solar system and the destruction of entire planets and make it every bit as exciting as watching paint dry.

There were a whole lot of Unincorporated volumes before The Unincorporated Future that I didn’t read, but going by what I did read, I haven’t missed a whole lot. The story is one of those incredible never-done-before tales about outer planet colonists fighting the tyranny of evil corporations on earth. The blurbs compare this to Heinlein, but The Unincorporated Future has as much in common with Heinlein as Kevin J. Anderson has in common with Isaac Asimov.

The outer colonists are religious, not in the sense that it’s really a part of their lives, but every now and then they mention Allah and there’s a Rabbi who wanders around but does nothing useful. This gives them moral superiority when destroying planets. Moral superiority that the evil earth corporations lack when they’re destroying planets.

The Unincorporated Future is one of those showdowns between different Space-Hitlers, both of whom kill billions of people, but some of whom we’re supposed to root for, because they occasionally feel bad about it. Not bad enough to stop doing it. But bad. There’s also a Tron element in it that feels more like World of Warcraft, but that’s so lame it’s not even worth mentioning.

Some of this could be forgivable if either or both of the Kollins could actually write. They can’t. The dialogue is terrible. The cliches are rancid. And they can make destroying a planet every bit as interesting as ordering lunch. Most of the action manages to happen off-screen, even though it’s the only thing keeping the narrative going.

The characters are so one-note that they might as well be made of cardboard and hopelessly undeveloped. The dead savior is named Justin Cord. No, seriously. J.C. The villain does everything but twirl his mustache and rape his way around the novel.

What is truly sad is that someone made the decision to publish four of these, even though they would have barely passed muster in the 80s. It’s a sign of how poor the Science Fiction part of the field has become that this didn’t get tossed out the door. And you can’t even blame the Kollins for that.

The state of Science Fiction is so poor that John Scalzi is considered a major writer even though the only thing he can write is scenery descriptions. Once he starts writing people, he’s operating at Kevin J. Anderson’s level. Cory Doctorow is now considered a writer, not a punchline. So why not the Kollins. They can’t write and they’re recycling things that were cliches 40 years ago. They’re not even hacks, because hacks can at least write.

Bring ’em on.

Here’s a Suggestion for Galavant Season 3, Kill Galavant

galavant

Seriously. Kill Galavant. Kill Isabella. Kill Sid.

Galavant does evil characters well. The best moments of the season focused on Richard, on Gareth and on Madalena.

After two seasons, the show developed a meaningful romantic relationship, not between Galavant and Isabella, but between Gareth and Madalena. And a heroic growth narrative arc, not for Galavant, but for Richard.

The season finale worked because it focused on Richard.

Villains are just more fun. And Galavant can only write them well anyway. Galavant is barely tolerable. Isabella is nails on a chalkboard irritating and always will be. Same for Sid. They’re insipid, irritating heroes. So get rid of them.

Season 1 wasn’t good. Season 2 dived into desperate gay jokes and parodies and fourth wall breaches like a drunken sailor. But it did get Richard, Gareth and Madalena right. So why not just stick with it? This is an unconventional show anyway. Make it a little more unconventional and make it a musical fantasy comedy about villains.

There’s precedent. Lots of precedent.

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