Snowpiercer: A Sci-Fi Movie Review

Back at the beginning of the summer one of my relatives recommended this movie to me.  He’s a sci-fi fan but of course tastes vary.  Well anyway, I watched it last week and it was bizarre.  The premise of the movie is basically ridiculous.  As a way to combat global warming, humans treat the atmosphere of earth with a chemical that ends up plunging them into an ice age.  The temperature drop is so severe that all human life is destroyed except for a tiny remnant that lives on a train that constantly circles the planet.  This is the eponymous “Snowpiercer.”  So, this is the first problem with the movie.  If the earth was becoming cold and uninhabitable would you build a train as a refuge?  I would think that an insulated bunker somewhere near the equator would make sense.  Or something under the ocean would remain warm for centuries.  It’s just a ridiculous idea.

Put the inconceivable nature of the premise aside and let’s look at the story.  The train has a population that is stratified by position on the train.  The back cars of the train are inhabited by the wretched refuse who are crowded into cattle cars and fed protein concentrate bars that look like sludge.  Moving forward the environment and the inhabitants become progressively more fortunate until by the front few cars we have the elite who live in luxury and eat delicacies like sushi and fresh fruit.  The proles in the rear are controlled by armed guards and punished for infractions with barbaric violence.  When a man whose child is taken away by one of the rulers throws his shoe at her we see an example of this.  For this offense, his arm is exposed through a gasketed aperture in the side of the train to the frigid gale whipping past the train.  After eleven minutes, his arm is brought back in and struck with a sledge hammer.  The arm shatters like one of those rubber balls that’s been dipped in liquid nitrogen and bounced off the floor.  That’ll teach him!

The majority of the movie is the chronicle of the revolt of the proles and their battle to reach the front of the train and conquer their overlords.  Along the way we see details of how the ecosystem of the Snowpiercer works.  The prole food is revoltingly produced while the elite have whole car lengths of aquariums full of rare fish and rain forests of plant life to produce food and purify the water.  We also get some of the back story to explain how the proles became so downtrodden and the greater horrors that transpired when they first entered into the train.  The details are horrific and make you wonder why these people even bothered to keep struggling.

And finally, the climax occurs when the proles reach the engine.  At this point we learn the answer to how this train maintains the balance between life and death.  And we meet the engineer, Ed Harris, who charms us into seeing his point of view.  And of course, the movie ends on a catastrophic reversal that resolves the whole thing.

So, is it any good?  Parts of it are interesting and some of the characters are fun to watch.  I especially enjoy Tilda Swinton as the schoolmarmish sadist who has the man’s armed frozen off.  She’s quite demented fun.  But I’d say as a movie it’s just too jumbled a mixture of action, sci-fi and human drama to recommend.  It’s just too nuts.  But maybe there is an audience out there for this.  But it’s not me.

Cowboy Bebop – A Sci-Fi TV Review – Part 1

Years ago, I had read that Cowboy Bebop might have been one of the influences on the making of the TV show Firefly.  Being a big fan of Firefly, you would have thought that I would have tracked it down and watched Cowboy Bebop long ago.  And you would have been wrong.  I never did.  Now this might have been because it was an animated series.  Or maybe because it wasn’t originally an English language show.  Or maybe because I figured it wasn’t as good as Firefly.  Who knows?  Anyway, I started watching the first few episodes last week.  My first conclusion is that Joss Whedon definitely borrowed heavily from the look and feel of Cowboy Bebop.  Secondly, it is an enjoyable show and stands on its own merits.  Now let me qualify that second statement.  It’s a cartoon.  The characters and the action are larger than life.  When a gun fight breaks out bullets saturate every last square inch of wall space around the protagonist.  Every fight has fists and feet flying in all directions and every facial close up has clenched jaw muscles and popping eyes.  Basically, everything is exaggerated to cartoon level.  Oh, and there’s a Welsh Corgi as part of the crew of a space travelling bounty hunters.  Suffice it to say that reality is in no way a condition for something showing up in this show.  But the characters have consistent personalities, the look of the show is very well done, there’s a fascinating backstory with terrible enemies and mysterious women and the plots although wildly unrealistic are (in my opinion) enjoyable.  As I’ve said, I’ve only watched the first five episodes but I like it well enough to want to keep watching it.

 

Alright, now what’s it about?  Cowboy Bebop is a space ship that so far has a crew of three humans and one Welsh Corgi.  They are bounty hunters who work for whatever government (or other organization) that can provide a large enough pay day.  Like on Firefly the culture seems to be a combination of American and Chinese culture.  Also, as on Firefly, humans inhabit a number on moons and planets (but this time within our own solar system).  Cowboy Bebop seems to work on both sides of the interface between the criminal and legal spheres.  Their biggest problems seem to be monetary.  They are chronically short of funds.  The protagonist is named Spike and seems to be a young man in his thirties who enjoys his job as much for the fighting as for the rewards.  In his past, he worked for a very high-level mob boss.  Spike’s partner is an older man with a much angrier façade but can also be depended on in a fight.  The similarities to Mal and Jane Cobb in Firefly are pretty strong.  The regularity with which the ship comes up empty handed after a mission is also a point of similarity to Firefly.

I consider that I prefer live action movies to animation but I’ll go on record as saying that Cowboy Bebop seems a highly creative show and has many features that make it interesting and entertaining.  I look forward to seeing the remainder of the series and will report back on its qualities.

 

So now I know where Whedon got his inspiration.  And maybe his own effort may not have been the superior to the model.

Forbidden Planet – The Quintessential Sci-Fi Movie? – OCF Classic Movie Reviews

A lot of stuff has been said about what makes Forbidden Planet such an important sci-fi movie.  The ground-breaking special effects, the plot element of a human military vessel exploring space that would spawn the endless iterations of the Star Ship Enterprise.  And of course, there’s the classical angle.  Supposedly the plot is an update of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

So, there’s all that good stuff.  But to my mind the real reason can be summed up in two words, Anne Francis.  When the angelic face of Miss Francis first appears on screen I began to see the movie in the correct light.  This was an epic adventure story that rivalled the Odyssey of Homer for timelessness and meaning.  Now the fact that I was a sixteen-year old boy at the time probably colored my thought processes to some extent and the skimpiness of her costumes might even have had something to do with it.  But let’s face it, giant ants can only get you so far.  If you want to keep the natives from getting restless you have to appeal to their most powerful motivations and if a blonde-haired, blue eyed creature with a very pretty face and extremely long shapely unclad legs is brought center stage, suddenly even the acting skills of Leslie Nielsen seem greatly enhanced and worth a fair hearing.

But now that I’m in my dotage and no longer as easily swayed by a pretty face, I’ve had a chance to re-evaluate the movie.  Surprisingly, I’m still a big fan.  And this is despite the obvious weaknesses that are extremely evident in such an old film.  The dialog has some extremely cliché-ridden exchanges including:

  • The captain tells off the young woman because her uninhibited interest in the young men in his crew will be a distraction from military discipline.
  • Morbius displays the stereotypical arrogance of the academic intellectual toward the practical military authorities.
  • The banter provided by the ship’s cook is the comic relief that would seem right at home in an Abbott and Costello movie.

So what makes it good?  Well, the humans are mostly likeable and admirable.  The plot unwinds in a manner that allows for the gradual reveal of the mystery.  Of course, the who of the question is answered long before the why and how of the problem.  But the details provide reinforcement of the underlying lesson to learn.  We are reminded that smarter isn’t the same as perfect.

And the special effects are still pretty good.  The animation of the Krell infrastructure impresses the viewer with the gargantuan scope of the installation.  The humans walking through it literally look like ants at one point.

And finally, the interaction between the isolated inhabitants of this dream world and the crew of the no-nonsense military vessel is classic.  It reminds you of the stories that portray the first contact between Europeans and the South Sea Islands.  The sailors always have a feeling they have somehow discovered paradise with its idyllic climate, scantily clad, friendly women and tropical fruit. The military men are enthralled with how favorably it compares to the boring, spartan existence of their all-male naval vessel.

Are there problems with the story?  Yes.  Morbius seems a little too dense for a brilliant scientist.  The resolution of the crisis at the end is a little jarring.  The solution is quite heavy handed.  But all in all, it’s a pretty neat story.  I think it indicates why the Star Trek series was so popular.  But I think it also shows why the later tv series were less interesting.  The adventure and discovery aspects became less of a focus as the Enterprise became less of a military/exploration vessel and more of a social worker/nanny vehicle to the stars.

The Edge of Tomorrow – A Short Movie Review

Last night I watched the Tom Cruise movie “Edge of Tomorrow.”  The first thing that strikes me is that it is a sort of mixture of things.

First off, it’s a mil sci-fi movie.  It tells the story of aliens invading and battling humans.  Almost the entire movie takes place within the confines of a single battlefield.  And because it’s a big budget movie with a big star that part is done rather professionally.  The special effects and sets are very good looking.  The action takes place in England and France and Germany so there is the interest of seeing The Louvre and London engulfed in military paraphernalia and smashed by battle.  So, there’s all that.

Next, it’s a time travel story.  The gimmick is that Tom Cruise has been caught up in the gears of the aliens’ ability to alter the future.  Because of a chain of events involving his lucky killing of a high level alien, Cruise is effected in such a way that every time he gets killed in battle, it resets time back to the start of the day of the battle he’s in.  But when he returns to that day he remembers each of these past lives.  It’s sort of like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog’s Day.  So, even though he’s a complete neophyte to combat, he can learn from what happened to him on the previous incarnations.  Comically, after countless iterations he can effortlessly step through the battlefield performing a choreographed dance with death.  Of course, this means to keep advancing his progress on the battlefield he has to keep dying over and over again.

So, in a way, it’s also a metaphor for, or even a parody of someone playing a first-person shooter video game.  You keep playing the game and increasing your knowledge and skills.  You also have to die over and over and over.  And for anyone who has spent a lot of time playing one particular game you understand the psychologically painful experience of building up the necessary muscle memory and rote memorization of the endless sequences of motions and thought processes needed to wend your way to the next level.  That’s the feel this movie provides.

I’ll have to say it’s a mixed experience.  It’s both stimulating to sense the iterative advancement and at the same time irritating.  There’s one particular sequence that occurs almost endlessly during the movie.  It’s when he’s awakened by a sergeant screaming abuse into his face.  It must happen at least two dozen times.  By the end of the movie I’m genuinely hoping Cruise just clocks him in the face, just to shut him up.

So, does the movie work?  Yes, it does.  The initial introduction to Cruise’s character presents him as an unlikeable jerk.  By the end of the movie he has had to grow.  There’s even, believe it or not, the elements of a love story in the tale.  And, Lord help me, I know how ridiculous that seems in the context of a war movie.

Who is this movie for?  If you’re a Tom Cruise fan and you liked him in War of the Worlds and Minority Report you’ll probably like this movie a lot.  If you’re a mil sci-fi fan I think you’ll probably enjoy it.  If you don’t like science fiction or war movies you will hate this.  And if you’re neutral on Tom Cruise, sci-fi and war movies I think it’s 50/50.  It’s a good sci-fi movie and provides solid entertainment.  But it isn’t “Gone with the Wind” so if you’re looking for highly cerebral or morally meaningful move on.

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 5 – Season 5 & 6 (Conclusion)

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 4 – Season 3 & 4

 

Wow!

That’s some damn show.  I won’t drop any spoilers.  Suffice it to say that in the last four episodes everything seemed to be going to hell and I was incensed at the trajectory I saw for the plot.  But by the conclusion I was satisfied that there wasn’t a better possible ending.  I’ll take a while to digest the whole story.  There’s a lot there.  Criminals and cops and their girls.  But at the end Raylin and Boyd together are the motor that runs the show.  They are like the two poles of a magnet.  Opposite and linked.  And then there’s Ava.  Who’s responsible for that disaster?  And then there’s just the sheer scope of the mayhem. By the end of the show the killing becomes like a steady rain.  I seriously wondered if the last episode would close on nothing left of the cast but body bags in the morgue.

Justified is a very well-made crime drama.  The main characters are interesting and in some ways sympathetic.  The run of the show is neither too short nor too long to provide a solid entertainment experience.  The story runs its course and the potential of the situation like the coal in one of the Harlan County mines is extracted and exhausted.

In a crime story that has both, it’s sometimes difficult to strike the correct balance between drama and comedy.  In my opinion Justified manages that balance unusually well.  With the large and shifting parade of criminals and lawmen, victims and friends, there were many colorful characters that provided ample opportunities for laughs.  But often that laughter was tinged with disgust at the ignorance, greed or stupidity that was the source.  And the laughs were often at the expense of the lawmen too.  Trying to outsmart idiots sometimes ended up poorly.  And Raylin consistently had troubles with his love life.  Too often it intersected with his work.  And when that happened, his boss Art would call out, “Raylin, would you come in my office and close the door?”

Critiquing entertainment is far from an exact science.  Objectivity is not even a theoretical consideration.  Why I like Justified so much probably has more to do with me than with the show.  And if your tastes are at all different from mine then we could completely disagree on the quality of this TV show.  With all of that said, I highly recommend Justified to anyone who likes well written and acted drama with a healthy dose of ironic humor thrown in for leavening.  Everything about the show is well done and enjoyable.  And probably best of all it has the correct balance.  There is a beginning, middle and end.  At the end, it was enough.  Anymore extracted from these characters will need to be a different chapter in a different place and with a different flavor.  Harlan County, Kentucky has been successfully mined and the treasure collected and sold to the consumers.  Amen.

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 3

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 2

 

I’ve gone over each of the movies separately. Now I’ll consider them together and finish off any other ways of blathering on about them.  After all I am in the blather business.

Which movie do I like better? It’s very hard for me to give a straight answer to this.  Some of my favorite scenes in either movie is Doc Holliday mugging on screen with Johnny Ringo and Ike Clanton in Tombstone.  But Kurt Russell makes me want to turn the very same movie off every time he tries to do drama.  Alternatively, Wyatt Earp has lots of very nice cinematography and music scoring and great story development and supporting actors like Dennis Quaid and Gene Hackman.  It also has a three hour running time and perhaps too much fidelity to the mundane facts behind the Earp legend.

I’ll fudge the answer. I’ve imagined a scenario where these two movies could have been the basis for a much better outcome.  Here are the points I’ll pound:

  1. Go with Kevin Costner as Wyatt Earp. If Kurt Russell needs a consolation prize, let him be the younger brother Morgan. He’s got a good dying scene where histrionics wouldn’t be too distracting.
  2. Hire the director from Wyatt Earp but don’t let Costner get his way.
  3. Keep the running time to 2 hours 15 minutes. This isn’t Ben Hur. A western longer than that is asking for trouble.
  4. Include some of the background info. Especially play up the meeting and earlier collaboration of Wyatt and Doc.
  5. Give Val Kilmer more screen time. Why not a card game with Doc, Wyatt, Johnny Ringo and Ike Clanton. That could really give them a reason to hate each other.
  6. End the story with the end of the vendetta. Afterward come up with a big set piece where Doc goes one way and Wyatt goes another.
  7. Put a limit on the amount of screen time for the Earp women. Mattie and Josie are both extremely annoying and really put a damper on the fun.
  8. Give us a little more of the internal dynamics amongst the Cowboys. Ike, Curly Bill and Johnny Ringo seem like vitriolic characters and it would be reasonable that they would have some entertaining fights going on.
  9. For mercy’s sake make sure somebody punches John Behan in the mouth and steps on his stupid derby hat.
  10. Give Adam Baldwin a good part in the movie (with lines).
  11. Bring back Bill Pullman as Ed Masterson. I want Earp to call him an affable man again like it’s a cuss-word. Also I want to see him catch on fire when he’s shot again. Great fun.

So that’s it. In a perfect world we’d go back in our time machine and re-direct history to remake Wyatt Earp-Tombstone as a masterpiece. Whoever the patron saint of lost causes is may my prayer float up to him and give him a good laugh.  So that’s it.  I’ll still watch Tombstone at least once a year and Wyatt Earp about once every five years.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda.  But still fun to talk about.

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 2

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 1

Kevin Costner was originally going to be Wyatt Earp in Tombstone.  But he and the director/screenwriter disagreed on how much of the movie was supposed to center on Wyatt Earp and his background.  He left the production and decided to make the movie “Wyatt Earp” instead.

Wyatt Earp is a sort of biography of Earp.  It starts with Wyatt as a teenager trying to run away to fight in the Civil War, shows him falling in love, marrying and losing his young wife to typhus.  Giving in to a drunken despair he commits some capital crimes and has to flee his old life never to return.  He went out to the frontier and worked first as a buffalo skinner and then as a lawman.  These chapters effectively chronicled the background and events that formed the man that we recognize in the various versions of the legend.  And it shows his links to other characters of legend like Holliday and Bat Masterson and his brother Ed.  And we get the particulars of all of the Earp brothers and their wives.  And what does Wyatt Earp end up as?  He’s a man hardened to the realities of life in the West.  And someone who trusts his family and very few others.  This sets up the events that transpire in Tombstone and afterward.

Costner plays the part with his typical understated style.  The supporting cast is interesting and probably the best of them is Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday.  The production is done in high style with excellent cinematography and a full musical score.  The direction and scene selection seemed well thought out and deliberate and didn’t produce any confusion over plot elements which was important considering the length of years and progression of different characters covered in the film.  It is a very long film coming in at three hours.  And the deliberate pace and varying importance of the scenes probably was too much for some viewers who really came to see the Gunfight at the OK Corral.  In fact the film was neither a financial or critical success.

So, what do I think of it?  I like it.  I think it comes closer to the actual facts of the story than Tombstone.  And I think despite his unflamboyant acting manner Costner does a much better job of portraying Wyatt Earp as he actually was.  Where I would fault the effort is being so unreservedly faithful to the facts.  Neither The Gunfight at the OK Corral or the subsequent vendetta appear as grandiose and mythic as they do in Tombstone and other descriptions.

It’s a shame when a critic complains about an historical account being too accurate.  It almost seems like nostalgia for mendacity.  But that’s an occupational hazard when dealing with the Old West.  In fact, there’s Holy Writ that covers it. In the western epic “The Man Wo Shot Liberty Vanlence,” one of the characters who I believe is a newspaperman says, and I paraphrase, When the legend becomes the facts, print the legend.

In Part 3 I’ll tie these two films together and ramble on about all thing cinematically Earpish.

 

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 3

Wyatt Earp and Tombstone, A Comparison – Movie Review – Part 1

We’ll start with Tombstone.  It’s a thoroughly entertaining movie but with a major flaw.  Namely, Kurt Russell does not have the gravitas to portray Wyatt Earp.  So, while I enjoy watching Tombstone more than Kevin Costner’s “Wyatt Earp” I think he made a much better Wyatt than Russell did.  So much so that whenever Russell is speaking I’m annoyed.  Whenever someone else is in the spotlight I’m happy again.  It’s very distracting.  So, there it is.  I’m conflicted about this movie.  Let’s look at the other portrayals.  Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday is the true star of the movie.  Almost every scene, almost every spoken line he has is memorable and immensely entertaining.  Almost all of my favorite scenes in the movie are his.  His interaction with Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo is pure gold.  His mockeries of Ike and Billy Clanton are extremely funny, each in its own way.  And all of it together with this portrayal of a deadly gunfighter who is also a highly complicated dying man is a fascinating character to watch.  I keep wishing the movie was called Doc Holliday and that it would flashback to Doc’s earlier life and extend the movie far beyond the Tombstone chapter.

After Kilmer’s Holliday, I think Powers Boothe’s Curly Bill Brocius is my next favorite character.  The first time I saw this movie I did not recognize Boothe at all.  He seems much thinner than I ever remember him in even earlier movies.  And he is a jolly villain.  Always laughing and joking even as he is committing murder and mayhem.  When he is finally dispatched by Wyatt during the famous creek battle I was sorry to see him go.  I think I was secretly hoping that he’d get Russell somehow.  After these two I’ll lump all the rest of the cast together and call out just some of the fine performances.

Stephen Lang Played Ike Clanton as a vicious killer who would cower and run if the fight turned against him.  My favorite scene with Ike is his card game with Doc Holliday.  Holliday’s long winning streak makes Ike question his honesty.  Holliday suggests maybe the better game for Ike was a spelling bee.  This didn’t make Ike very happy.

Thomas Haden Church plays Billy Clanton to great comedic effect.  In one scene Doc Holliday pulls a gun on Billy and tells him to put his hands up.  When Billy says that Doc is so drunk that he’s probably seeing double Doc pulls out another gun and tells Billy he’ll shoot both of them.

 

Sam Elliot and Bill Paxton play Virgil and Morgan Earp and provide workmanlike portrayals.  The rest of the large cast provide varying levels of interest to the story.  Charlton Heston has a small part as the rancher Henry Hooker who comes to Wyatt’s aid.  It’s a good moment and ties the movie to the old western tradition.  For me the weakest part of the story is Wyatt Earp’s romantic life.  His common law wife with the laudanum addiction and his girlfriend the actress don’t seem to really add much to the story.  The feud with the Cowboy gang doesn’t really seem to mesh with the other parts of Wyatt Earp’s life and the ending just seems tacked on.

For me the reason to watch Tombstone is the sequence from the “Gunfight at the OK Corral” through the “Last Charge of Wyatt Earp’s Immortals.”  And the high point of the whole movie is the duel between Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo.  The two deadliest pistoleros square off and settle the outcome of the war.  And of course, Kilmer’s dialog here is very amusing.

So, I’ll have to remain conflicted by this movie.  It is full of scenes and lines that I greatly enjoy.  My greatest criticism is that it should have been titled for and based on Doc Holliday.  He is the star and he provides all the thunder.  Poor Wyatt is completely eclipsed and left limping along once Holliday leaves the frame.

Next, I’ll look at the true story of Wyatt Earp.  That’ll be Kevin Costner’s film.

Ray Bradbury – An American Original – Part 2 – The Short Stories

In the first part of this post, I’ve given a little background on how I became introduced to Ray Bradbury’s stories.  After detailing Dandelion Wine, I feel talking about his shorter works is the next order of business.  I own a collection of these called “The Stories of Ray Bradbury” which includes what Bradbury considered his best 100 short stories.  I went through these today and picked out my favorites.  I feel it’s necessary to qualify that statement.  There are more than a few of Bradbury’s best stories that have become components of the longer work Dandelion Wine.  Since I’ve already reviewed that work I’ve left these short stories out of this selection process.

Here are my selections for the best of the best in the same order as they appear in the book:

  1. The Crowd
  2. The Scythe
  3. The City
  4. There Was an Old Woman
  5. There Will Come Soft Rains
  6. The Veldt
  7. A Sound of Thunder
  8. Invisible Boy
  9. The Fog Horn
  10. Hail and Farewell
  11. The Great Wide World Over There
  12. Skeleton
  13. The Man Upstairs
  14. The Jar
  15. Touched with Fire
  16. The Town Where No One Got Off
  17. Boys! Grow Giant Mushrooms in Your Cellar!
  18. The One Who Waits

Now here’s the thing.  I could easily have added double this number.  Almost all the stories are good.  But these are the ones I especially like.  So, this selection probably says more about me than it does about Bradbury’s best of the best.  But that can be said about any critic’s choices.

An interesting fact I discovered after making this list is that there are at least three stories in this list which I don’t think have any SF&F content in them whatsoever.  They are just studies in human nature.  And yet they appear on this list.  Which I take to mean that Bradbury finds people interesting and knows how to make them interesting to his readers.  Now, that may not seem remarkable, but look at the people writing at the same time as Bradbury.  Let’s take Isaac Asimov.  If you read Asimov’s long or short fiction what you will find is that he is a purveyor of ideas.  But his characters, even his protagonists are ciphers.  There isn’t any emotional content worth mentioning.  And that even counts the scenes where the action is dependent on an emotional response from one of his characters.  He could just as well have been describing billiard balls ricocheting around a pool table.  You might even see the psychological logic of the emotional response but you won’t experience empathy or interest in the character as a human being because of it.  It’s just a plot device.

This was why Bradbury was different back then.  He wrote people in SF&F stories as if they actually were people.  Better writers back then were also doing this to some extent.  Heinlein’s characters displayed more individuality than the average and this is one of the reasons why he is still enjoyed.  But Bradbury brought this to a much higher level.

What else can be definitely said about Bradbury’s stories?  I would say that he almost exclusively deals in the foreground of the picture.  By that I mean that his subjects are almost always face to face.  If Arthur C. Clarke were describing a nuclear holocaust you would see it from orbit.  You would see the ballistic paths of the ICBMs and you would be at the top of the parabola when one missile starts to descend.  And you would see the individual nuclear ignitions across the face of the globe like some fireworks display.  That’s not Bradbury.  With him you’ll see the aftermath of a suburban home on the edge of the kill zone.  You’ll see the toaster in the kitchen and you’ll see the shadows of the family imprinted onto the side of the house facing the gamma ray flash.

Even when Bradbury does write a story of aliens invading earth you are not going to get War of the Worlds.  You’ll get that same suburban neighborhood with husbands and housewives and little Jimmy working on his hobby in the basement.

So now I’ve said a bunch of words about Bradbury’s short fiction.  If you’re looking for hard-core technical sf or even just plain old amusing space opera do not stop at Bradbury.  Move right along.  There’s none of that here.  But if you want to delve into the mysterious world within a world that is the human soul take a trip with him.  It might strike a resonant chord.  Or it might not.  Either way you’ll learn something.

Justified – A TV Series Review – Part 4 – Season 3 & 4

Justified – Part 3

Camera Girl and I have polished off the first four seasons of Justified and only have seasons 5 and 6 left.  Although a sort of pattern has emerged vis-à-vis the season finale we remain extremely satisfied with the quality of the show and the progression of the story line.  Over the course of the first four seasons we’ve really gotten to know Raylin Givens and his friends and family and enemies and their families.  We’ve seen some major characters come and go (mostly to the great beyond courtesy of Raylin’s pistol) and we’ve seen Raylin’s personal life undergo several painful dislocations.

And we’ve watched Boyd and Ava Crowder move steadily to the dark side.  When I say this, I don’t mean that the shows have gotten a lot more more violent.  It’s already at intermittent gang war levels.  But what the show is doing is chronicling Boyd’s ascent from small-time gangster to Appalachian mob-boss.  Along the way his scruples and humanity are peeled away crime by crime.  At each step he’s only doing what he has to to avoid the law or his rivals but eventually you see that nothing good remains.  Now I think this is similar to what was done in the series “Breaking Bad.”  There a man was driven by circumstance to adopt crime to help his family and finds himself and those around him consumed.  The difference being Boyd’s family already was criminal and his only attempt at honest life is pretty much extinguished in season two.  The Good/Evil dynamic is more represented by Boyd’s earlier friendship with Raylin.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Raylin and Boyd are two sides of a coin flip.  Either might have ended as the other.  Probably the show itself is a meditation on why they’ve so far ended up on opposite sides of that very narrow line.

And I don’t want to claim any dramatic depth to the show.  It’s entertainment pure and simple.  But the characters are engaging and the mixture of action, drama, comedy and suspense is very nicely prepared.  What I’m not sure about is whether Raylin Givens will end the show better, worse or the same as he started.  He straddles a lot of lines and he seems to be willing to cross those lines when he thinks he has to.  I can see that may bring him to a bad end.  It’ll be interesting to see where the arc of this story lands him.

For my part I’m interested to see where the relationship between Art and Raylin heads.  Art is sort of a surrogate father figure for Raylin.  But whether he’ll end up a stern old testament type father who has to sacrifice his son on the altar of the law or the father of the prodigal who is able to welcome him back into the fold, I don’t know.  But either way I do hope he gets more time in front of the camera.  He’s been limited lately and I want to see him assert some order over the wild west atmosphere of the Harlan County Marshall’s office.

Oh, and for the record, although Raylin has an assortment of fine looking women jumping into bed with him, he certainly has no instinct for avoiding criminals.  Then again maybe he isn’t trying.  Maybe he thinks they’re more fun and he can always arrest or shoot them if he has to.

Currently we’ve received the first two DVDs for season five.  We usually restrict ourselves to two episodes at a sitting.  But we’ve been waiting for these disks for several days now and I suspect we’ll binge through both disks by Saturday.  Patience is definitely not a virtue when Justified is in your DVD player.