Highway of Eternity by Clifford D. Simak
I'm a fan of Clifford Simak's writing, but not all his stuff is great... even the books of his that I really like I wouldn't say are perfect (but what is?). This was the last book he ever finished, and while he had a lot of interesting ideas, I'm not sure he had worked out how to weave them all into a coherent story. It wasn't a bad read, but there are a lot of unanswered questions by the end. For example, what is the titular Highway of Eternity and where did it come from? We never find out. I would not be surprised to learn that the author was making the plot up as he went along and didn't know how he was planning on ending it, so just decided to try to tie up as many dangling plot threads as possible in the epilogue. It kind of feels like a gyp in certain ways.
The plot is about a couple of twentieth century guys with preternatural powers, who get mixed up with a family of refugees from a million years in the future. They're fleeing from aliens who wish to help humanity take the next step in evolution by transcending their physical bodies and existing as pure consciousness, which I have to say does not sound that objectionable to me.
I couldn't help questioning how people a million years removed from us would not seem completely foreign to modern day humans, and Simak does try to address this by having the future characters explain (three times throughout the course of the book) that they were the "hillbillies" of their time, which doesn't feel like a totally satisfactory answer to me. Maybe if they'd only been from a thousand years or so in the future, I might have bought it.
With Simak, I think I may have started out by reading what happened to be his best book first, and everything else has been slightly downhill from there. That book would be Way Station. I guess I'd rather talk about that than Highway of Eternity, so I'll say a little something about it here. I stumbled upon it in the library at a time when I was feeling bored with Star Trek and Stargate, and it reinvigorated my interest in science fiction. The story is about a reclusive Civil War vet who is a curiosity to his backwoods neighbors, as he has barely aged in over a hundred years, which turns out to be because his life has been extended by aliens who recruited him to secretly run a "way station" for interplanetary travelers, based in his old farmhouse. It's a fairly optimistic, thoughtful, "pastoral" sort of a story. One of the things that drew me to sci-fi in the first place is the idea that there is potentially amazing stuff out in the universe- possibly beyond human comprehension- that we have yet to discover, and reading Way Station helped me to remember that.
If I were a filmmaker, Way Station is one of two or three stories I've read that I'd like to adapt to film. It seems like it would be a relatively inexpensive sci-fi movie to make, since a lot of it would be set in the country, with really only one futuristic set that would need to be built, though alien makeup and effects would certainly drive up the cost.
Actually, that's not the first Clifford D. Simak book I read; I read one many years earlier, as a kid, called They Walked Like Men, but it didn't make a huge impression, and I didn't realize that that was by him until I looked at his bibliography. Way Station was the book that made me take notice and seek out his other stuff. So, if you were to read anything by Simak, I'd recommend Way Station.
City by Clifford D. Simak
Okay, this would be another good book by Simak to start with. I remember reading the first chapter a few years ago, and then giving up on the rest of the book until the present, because I'd initially been put off by how dated it felt. It would seem I gave up too easily, because it gets much more interesting from that point forward. Now that I've read the whole thing, I can say it's practically on par with Way Station.
I'm not usually put off when science fiction feels dated- of course, when I was a kid, I couldn't always tell when something I was reading was outdated, like the notion of there being canals on Mars. The book was originally published in 1952, so of course the author is going to get stuff wrong, but it's most glaring how off he is in the first chapter, which is set in 1990. Simak's fear that humans are too dependent on machines and not enough on each other is probably a concern he'd probably still have if he were still with us, though if he were writing that story today, it would probably be about the internet rather than everyone having their own private planes and cheap atomic power. I also find it ridiculous to imagine a world in which people completely abandon cities to go off and live on their own. There simply isn't enough room on the planet for that to work.
The anachronistic way of speaking doesn't help. I have never heard anybody use the word "dadburn" in my life, unless it was in the movies or TV or maybe if somebody was using it ironically. Funnily, each of these chapters has an introduction written from the point of view of some future scholar, who actually explains that, "Phrases such as the classic "dadburn the kid" have puzzled semanticists for many centuries."
I should explain that this book is essentially a collection of short stories, originally published individually, taking place over the course of thousands of years, charting the eventual decline of the human race and the rise of intelligent dogs who take their place, until humans are widely considered to be nothing more than mythical creatures.
In the foreword, written in 1976, twenty four years after the book's original publication, Simak expresses a pessimistic attitude about humankind's aptitude for destruction, especially after the invention of the atomic bomb. He writes that if we still haven't blown each other up in another thirty years, we might... might... start to breathe a little easier. Phew!
Humans don't go extinct due to war in this book, however. In the story that I perhaps found most captivating- which many might find slightly similar to James Cameron's "Avatar"- a lot of them go to Jupiter and are transformed into Jovians. Human volunteers are sent to Jupiter in order to be converted into that planet's dominant lifeform, called Lopers, but none of the volunteers ever report back to deliver their findings. The guy in charge of the mission, unwilling to send any more men to an uncertain fate, undergoes the procedure himself, along with his faithful pet dog, and both discover that as Lopers, their senses and brains are greatly heightened and that the reason that nobody ever came back was because they didn't want to; returning to their old bodies would be like torture. I can definitely understand that; living in my own body is like torture to me now.
That was an instance where a story being dated didn't hamper my enjoyment. Jupiter is depicted in this story as though there were a solid planet beneath those swirling clouds, but of course we know better now. However, I was able to accept it the same way I can accept a habitable Mars in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. Actually, this book reminded me of The Martian Chronicles in a way, since they employ a similar format of stringing together a series of short stories into one narrative.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
I haven't read these books yet. I understand that Elizabeth Banks' character was given a much bigger part in this movie than she had in the book, which I was happy about because one of the more memorable parts of the previous movie to me was when it became clear that she actually is deeply troubled by the fact that these kids are forced to fight to the death, whereas up to that point, she'd come across as, at best, maddeningly blind to the horrible reality of it all, like all the jerks in the Capital. Actually, not knowing much of anything about the books going in, the first time I saw her in the movie, she struck me as a this really ghoulish spectre of death, so it was just interesting to me to see a character like that reveal more layers than I suspected.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
I almost didn't go to see this movie. My sister didn't have great things to say about it and I honestly was not a fan of the previous two films in the series. I liked what Peter Jackson did with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy; those were quite possibly the best film adaptations of those books that could be hoped for. I'm not sure anybody feels that way about these Hobbit movies, except for perhaps the casting of Martin Freeman as Bilbo- he was certainly my first choice. But they stretched out and added so much crap, there's not much resemblance to the book. Bilbo and the dwarves can't just ride down a river in barrels; they have to be fighting orcs and doing crazy acrobatics at the same time.
That said, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed this movie more than the previous two. Perhaps that has something to do with lowered expectations. It's weird, though, because I'd previously found most of the action sequences to be numbing, but this movie, which was practically all action, managed to hold my interest the entire time.
This is apropos of nothing, but I feel like noting that when I was a kid, I was surprised to learn that The Hobbit was written in the thirties; I just assumed that it was one of those stories that had been around for centuries, like Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, etc. I was familiar with the story through this read-along-book and record that were tied in to the Rankin-Bass special. As my dad noted once, Gollum scared the hell out of me.
I've been listening to The Mission Log, a Star Trek podcast which is covering every Star Trek movie and episode ever made. It's fun and interesting to listen to while somehow managing to avoid coming across as overly nerdy. Anyway, that podcast is produced by Rod Roddenberry, who also made this documentary.
I've never been one of those Trekkies who idolizes "The Great Bird of the Galaxy," Gene Roddenberry. That's not to say that he doesn't deserve a ton of credit for creating one of the best loved TV series and franchises of all time, but a lot of other people had a hand in that show's success as well, and maybe they don't get enough credit for their efforts. Also, I think this idea that Roddenberry was some kind of grand visionary only came about after TOS ended and is something he let get to his head, perhaps to the detriment of the franchise. I am glad that this documentary devoted at least some time to focus on some of those negative aspects of his character.
"Trek Nation" didn't tell me anything about Star Trek or its creator that I didn't already know. But it was still fairly enjoyable.
Into the Woods
I've seen this and "Sweeney Todd" and I have vague memories of seeing at least part of "Sunday in the Park With George," and I think it's safe to say that I am just not a fan of Stephen Sondheim's music. It's not bad, but it's mostly not catchy or memorable either. Some of it is okay, but it's mostly not my thing.
Other than the music, I thought this was an okay movie. What's weird about it, though, is that I didn't know much about the story going in, and at the point when I thought it was nearly over, there turned out to be at least another thirty minutes or so, which is not necessarily a bad thing; it's kind of an interesting subversion of "happily ever after." But I guess it's not really a positive sign that I'm sitting there thinking, "Geez, how much longer is this?" Part of me almost feels like this is the sort of movie that I might appreciate better with a second viewing, now that I have a better idea of what they're going for.
Meryl Streep is good as the witch, of course. I like how sympathetic they made her. When I saw "Tangled," I felt kind of bad for the villain Goethel (voiced by Donna Murphy), though I'm not sure that that was the intention of the filmmakers. In "Tangled," Donna Murphy plays a woman who is hoarding the secret of youth, which other people want to take away from her, and that makes her the villain. But in "Star Trek: Insurrection," Donna Murphy plays a woman who is hoarding the secret of youth, which other people want to take away from her, and that makes her the victim. I don't get it.
Speaking of Star Trek, I was impressed by Chris Pine's singing; I forgot he was in this movie until he turned up. Sure, most people may prefer Shatner's Kirk, but at least this one can sing.
Oh, yeah, I thought it was funny that Lucy Punch played one of Cinderella's stepsisters in this movie because she'd already played a similar role in "Ella Enchanted." Then when I got home, I looked on imdb and found out that this was actually the fourth time she'd played a wicked stepsister character.
In this Brian De Palma film, Kirk Douglas is a former secret agent who is looking for his psychic son, which a top secret government agency stole from him in order to turn him into a weapon. The son is played by Andrew Stevens, who, if you grew up during a certain time, probably know him best from the erotic thrillers he starred in. It starts out pretty exciting and action filled, but then slows down a lot. I wasn't bored or anything, but the ending was pretty sudden and weird. I could have used a more satisfying epilogue.
Kind of like a slightly longer episode of The X-Files (but not in a bad way, like the second X-Files movie), this Norwegian movie is about two crime scene cleaners who discover a mysterious young woman living in a series of hidden underground rooms out in the woods while cleaning up the remains of an old man who was supposedly killed by animals. "Thale" might disappoint anybody expecting a really creepy horror movie or whose main interest in the movie is the brief nudity shown in the trailer, but I thought it was an entertaining little film. Also, I'm part Norwegian, so it was interesting to me in that sense, though I'm so ignorant about my heritage, I didn't even realize the characters were speaking Norwegian at first or that the story was based on Norse folklore.
I feel bad for the Wachowskis. Ever since "The Matrix" films, they haven't had a stellar track record at the box office. "Cloud Atlas," the movie they made before this one, was a bomb, though I personally thought it was brilliant and immediately became one of my favorite movies of all time.
"Jupiter Ascending" bombed as well, and though I didn't like it anywhere near as much as "Cloud Atlas," I thought it was reasonably entertaining. It wasn't great or particularly memorable or anything, but I enjoyed it way more than the moronic "Lucy" at least. Perhaps it was that aforementioned lowered expectations; I went in not expecting a lot and ended up being somewhat pleasantly surprised.
Having seen this movie, it makes me more upset that the guy who played the main villain actually won an Oscar for best actor over people like Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Keaton... not for this role, of course. Maybe he's a better actor when he's Stephen Hawking, but his performance in this movie is laughable.
If you don't know anything about "Jupiter Ascending," Mila Kunis plays the titular Jupiter, who finds out that the Earth is just one of many planets where human life has been seeded by a wealthy corporation. Once the populations reach maximum capacity, the people are then liquified and turned into some kind of immortality elixir. It probably doesn't spoil much if I reveal that Earth is spared this fate in the end, so it seems like a happy ending... that is, it would be a happy ending, if you can ignore the fact that there are presumably still countless planets out there where men, women and children are being turned into goop so that aristocratic assholes can live forever. I'm guessing they were saving those loose ends for the sequels, except there probably won't be any sequels now, so if you want to know what happens next, you're probably going to have to read someone's fanfic.
Okay, well, here's where going in with lowered expectations did not help. Maybe I didn't lower them sufficiently. It was worse than I thought it was going to be. How did this stupid movie get made? Don't answer that; I know it's because the studio thought it was basically going to be getting "Sin City 2." Obviously, that's the film this most closely resembles, but it also had me thinking of "Dick Tracy" and "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." However, I loved "Dick Tracy" and "Sky Captain," while not great, was an interesting experiment. "The Spirit" was just awful.
I remember thinking this movie looked kinda cool based on the trailer, but the script is a mess. It was so bad, I almost stopped watching at several points, which I almost never do with movies I start. I couldn't help exclaiming disbelief multiple times at how overwrought the dialogue is. Okay, there were a couple parts that I found mildly amusing, but they don't make up for how terrible this movie is.
I will say that the backstory Frank Miller deviseded for the Spirit and his nemesis the Octopus, while a total departure from the comic books (which I haven't read), was kind of interesting, as was the Octopus' ultimate aim, but those ideas were wasted in this movie.
I'm glad I saw this for free on TV; I would have been so pissed off if I'd wasted money to see this... even if I'd seen it at Budget Cinema... even if I'd gone on a Tuesday when admission is a dollar.
I Walk The Line
According to imdb trivia, this is considered by many to be Gregory Peck's worst film. If that's the case, he's pretty lucky, because it's not bad. Gregory Peck has criticized it as well, partly for the Johnny Cash music for being too on the nose, describing exactly what's happening on the screen, which I would have to agree with.
Peck plays a southern sheriff who has an affair with the daughter of a bootlegger, who is played by Tuesday Weld (she plays the daughter, not the bootlegger). Before I watched this, I was kind of hoping the affair would work out, I guess because I like Gregory Peck and think Tuesday Weld is cute. But the affair turns Peck's character into an obsessive asshole who doesn't care if he hurts his wife, even as she tries to be understanding of his dalliances. Actually, I'm not sure I can even say he turns into an asshole over the course of the film since we don't get a clear picture of what he was like before he met Tuesday Weld; another problem Peck had with the film is that it cuts out a scene at the beginning that supposedly would have given a better understanding of his motivations.