Hey! From what little I know of Asian (Chinese) culture, #88 should be double lucky, as eight is a very lucky number, from what I understand. So, please, wish me luck! This week we look at a couple of not-so-good videos and one pretty good one—and the good one is a Robert A. Heinlein story that’s never been put on film before! So thank our Aussie cousins, not only for reading Heinlein, one of our best-ever authors, but also for attempting to do him justice! (Figure 1, by Donato Giancolo, was painted for the William Patterson biography of Heinlein and is ©2014 by Donato. The full painting is visible on Tor.com.) Moving on to reviews.
CAPSULE REVIEW of JOHN WICK (2015) starring Keanu Reeves. I won’t go so far as to say I hated it, because Keanu makes a pretty good “angsty-tortured soul” face, but I didn’t like it. Why? Because the promos made it look a bit fantasy-like (reminiscent of 47 Ronin), but it was a straight “noir, killer” movie. Keanu plays a “retired” hitman for the Russian mob, whose wife dies of a disease and who has his ’69 Mustang stolen, his dog killed, by the son of the head Russian mobster. He goes on a revenge spree, leaving bodies left and right. It’s not really done with a lot of style, just bang-bang-bang and a couple of head shots to finish it off. There are fights and car chases; Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Michael Nyqvist, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan and Adrianne Palicki all lend a hand, but in the end there are no redeeming characters and no reason to really care about any of them. Lots of good actors, zillions of bullets and knives, but it left me cold, which is weird, because I love “action” movies. You want to know how to do a good “noir” movie? Try Sin City, the first one. Sorry I wasted $6 on an On-Demand movie. Pass.
CAPSULE REVIEW of ASCENSION (Part 1) with Tricia Helfer, Gil Bellows. According to the plot, President John F. Kennedy set up a secret project—similar to the real Project Orion (which proposed using nuclear bombs for propulsion) in the ‘60s to launch a “generation ship” to Proxima Centauri “because the human race was in danger from a nuclear holocaust.” Fifty years after launch, the ship and its 600 or so passengers are celebrating their first half-century in space. Someone has smuggled a gun aboard ship, and there’s a murder. Instead of space-based struggles, we get soap-opera NCIS (but nobody on board knows how to investigate a murder… horrors!), adultery and class struggles—not race-based, but based on upper-decks vs. lower decks. I found out there’s a twist coming, but it’s not enough—given the bad writing and worse science—to keep me interested. Thank Ghu this On-Demand series is free! Why couldn’t they have made RAH’s Universe instead? Pass.
CAPSULE REVIEW: PREDESTINATION (2014) starring Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor. It doesn’t happen often, but they’ve made a movie that’s ultimately very true to the story that inspired it! In this case, they added a “bomb” subplot—probably to pad it out to movie length—that essentially builds onto and doesn’t detract from the original story as presented in the film. The original story was “All You Zombies,” by Robert A. Heinlein (Figure 1); and the main parts are played by Ethan Hawke as The Bartender and Sarah Snook as The Unmarried Mother (that name is significant to the plot). We learn that there is a secret Time Service that seeks to protect humankind by preventing tragic actions by humans; one of the most egregious is the so-called “Fizzle Bomber”—not because his bombs fizzle, but because of the type of bomb it is; thousands of innocents are killed and the Temporal Agent seems unable to catch or stop him. Although this movie is nearly devoid of car crashes and CGI effects, it bids fair to be a top SF movie this year. Highly recommended—and once you’ve finished this movie you’ll understand why it was called what it was, so go read the story. (You can have it read to you—unsolicited plug—by Spider Robinson from Blackstone Audio for a pretty low price!)
PREDESTINATION Review, Continued. Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one: a guy walks into a bar and challenges the bartender to a contest–$20 against a bottle of booze that he can tell the strangest story the bartender’s ever heard; the bartender takes that challenge, because behind a bar, brother, you’ve heard it all. The guy starts his story with “Back when I was a little girl…”
If you’ve read Heinlein’s story, “All You Zombies,” you’ll be familiar with the plot of this film, which has nothing to do with zombies in today’s terms… which is why they changed the title, so as not to play on audiences’ expectations. (The line from the story, which is used in the movie is, “The Snake That Eats Its Own Tail, Forever and Ever. I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?”) If you haven’t read it, be prepared for the ultimate time-travel story—one that follows each thread to its logical and ultimate conclusion.
The man who walks into the bar (Figure 5) is played by Sarah Snook, in what amounts to a tour-de-force, but you won’t know that until you’ve figured out the entire plot—which doesn’t take long, I’m guessing. Because the guy who comes into the bar tells the Bartender (Ethan Hawke) his nickname came from what he always said when some nosy type asked him his line: “I’m an unmarried mother.” If he felt less than murderous he would add: “at four cents a word. I write confession stories.”
He tells The Bartender a sordid tale of being an abandoned baby named Jane, left on an orphanage’s stoop in Cleveland; he grows up in the orphanage—because nobody wants a “buck-toothed, flat-chested straight-haired teenager”— he adds that “people wanting to adopt pick little blue-eyed golden-haired moron[s]. Later on, the boys want bulging breasts, a cute face, and an ‘Oh-you-wonderful-male’ manner.” She grows up vowing that any child of hers will have two parents, which helps keep her free from the kinds of unwanted pregnancies that happen in those kinds of environments; when she sets out on her own she applies for work as a “comfort girl” for spacemen, as men sent out in space for months or years needed some kind of relief. “But most volunteers were old hookers, or neurotics who would crack up ten days off Earth. So I didn’t need looks; if they accepted me, they would fix my buck teeth, put a wave in my hair, teach me to walk and dance and how to listen to a man pleasingly, and everything else—plus training for the prime duties. They would even use plastic surgery if it would help—nothing too good for our Boys.”
But while waiting to hear she takes a job as a “mother’s helper,” and starts taking night charm courses at the local community college, until she meets a guy. Good looking, plenty of money, didn’t seem to want what most guys seem to be looking for. She drops out of night school and has a great time until she notices that her skirts start getting tight. She’s pregnant. The guy disappears, the family who hired her kick her out, and the orphanage doesn’t want her back. She ends up in a home for unwed mothers, has her baby and then learns an unpleasant fact. She’s a medical anomaly—an actual working hermaphrodite with both male and female (some parts undeveloped) parts; and because of post-natal hemorrhaging she has had a complete hysterectomy. But not to worry, because the doctors have switched her over; physically, she’s now a male. A few months of hormone therapy and some plastic surgery to remove her excess breast tissue, and bingo! She’s now a fully-functional male.
In the meantime, her baby, also named Jane, is stolen from the home, and Jane never sees her again. Well, here I’ll cease the play-by-play, for two reasons: a) I don’t give spoilers if I can help it for most movies and, b) you’re probably way ahead of me. But whatever you have imagined might fall a bit short of the actuality. I recommend this movie; I found it On Demand for $6; a reasonable price for a good SF movie.
Please, if you have the time, comment on this week’s column. Because it affects my weekly standings, I’d prefer you comment here, but you can comment on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. Whether I agree with your comments or not, they’re all welcome. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other bloggers. See you next week!