Saturday, May 15, 2021

Love, Death & Robots – Season 2

 


Image Credit: Netflix


Yep, I’m delivering the rare “riff” twofer. New posts in back to back days! Why the sudden prolificacy you might ask? Well my 2019 synopsis of Season 1 of Netflix’s sci-fi/horror animated series Love, Death & Robots is the most read post on my blog. Naturally I’m going to follow up on Season 2 as soon as possible. Released yesterday, I binged the season last night and enjoyed it almost as much as its predecessor. The bad news is that the latest season is only 8 episodes long verses the 18 episodes of Season 1. The good news is that all 8 are entertaining. Like Season 1, there’s plenty of graphic violence, vulgarity, and sexual content so it’s not exactly kid friendly, but if you’re an adult who enjoys animation, add this season to your watch list. Season 2 includes several episodes based on short stories by well-known authors including Paolo Bacigalupi, Harlan Ellison, John Scalzi, and Joe Lansdale.

Here are my brief descriptions of each episode, from my favorite to least favorite.

 

Snow in the Desert

At 18 minutes in length this is one of the two longest episodes of the season and it’s also the best of the bunch. It feels like a spin-off from The Mandalorian and that’s high praise from as a big fan as I am of that show.

Pop Squad

This might be the darkest episode of the season despite the cute-sounding name. Imagine Blade Runner retiring unauthorized children instead of replicants and you’ve got a pretty good idea how this one goes.

All Through the House

At 7 minutes in length, this is the shortest episode of the season, but it’s a good one. Animated in traditional holiday style, the creature delivering gifts this Christmas Eve is not what you expect. Extra points go to this one for its visual references to Alien 3 and Pan’s Labyrinth.

The Tall Grass

No matter how much man strives to control his environment, some strange and ancient things will always be beyond his power or understanding. A bored passenger confronts this truth when his train makes an unscheduled stop in the middle of the night.

The Drowned Giant

Quiet, somber, and philosophical, think of this episode as Season 2’s version of “Zima Blue”. It’s a fairy tale about just how shallow man can be when faced with the miraculous.

Life Hutch

After a near fatal crash of his starship, a fighter pilot find his self in an even deadlier situation when the remote habitat he seeks refuge in turns out to be guarded by a deadly, malfunctioning robot.

Ice

I love the animation and world-building in this story of modified humans and ice-breaking whales, but the characters and story feel half-baked. Chalk this one up to having tons of potential but wanting for better execution.

Automated Customer Service

Even my least favorite episode is fun. This tale is similar to some of the more comedic stories in Season 1. A resident of a futuristic retirement community must fight for her and her dog’s survival when her house cleaning robot goes haywire.


Friday, May 14, 2021

Casting Dune Part 2

 

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Director Denis Villeneuve’s new take on the classic sci-fi novel Dune won’t hit theaters until October but that doesn’t stop me from speculating about what might come next. Frank Herbert’s tale remains one of my all-time favorite books and while I enjoyed David Lynch’s film adaptation in 1984, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t admit that movie is deeply flawed. So as much as I tend to dislike remakes, I’m excited about this one. That brings us to this post. The new Dune only covers part of the novel and that novel is only one of a series of six. Which major characters from the first book won’t appear until Part 2? Based on currently released information, several.

Full disclosure, the idea for this post is as unoriginal as it gets. I recently read an article on this same topic at The Nerdist and I disagreed with the author’s picks so strenuously, I decided to make my own. Part of that author’s perspective was to advocate for diversity in the film’s casting which I whole-heartedly agree with, but if you look at the cast for the first film, I think Villeneuve has already done a good job of it. My focus here is to offer choices that more closely align with Herbert’s original vision. The Nerdist gets something approaching 5 million hits per year while this blog receives... less than that so hopefully they won’t be too bent out of shape with me stepping on their toes this go-round. So who’s the bigger Dune nerd, me or The Nerdist? Read on and decide for yourself.

 



Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV

The Emperor is a dangerous, rather petty ruler who kicks off the story by pitting the evil Harkonnens against the virtuous but threatening Atreides. While he’s in the background all along, he doesn’t really become a visible player until the story’s final act when Paul comes to the emperor’s court to exact his revenge.

Playing a man named “Shaddam” you’re going to need someone with a certain amount of flair. As the emperor of the known universe, the actor should be comfortable acting regal as well. Who has more flair than the actor who has played such powerful characters as Dracula, Winston Churchill, and Sirius Black? Gary Oldman would make a great Padishah Emperor.

If Oldman isn’t available, a nice back-up plan would be Vincent Cassel. Handsome, exotic, and no stranger to playing bad guys, Cassel could fill this role as nicely as he did playing antagonists in such films and shows as Ocean’s Twelve, Eastern Promises, and Westworld.

 



Princess Irulan

Irulan is the eldest daughter of the emperor and as such, whoever she marries is in line for the throne. This results in her being the target of Paul’s revenge, becoming his bride so that he can take control of the universe despite Shaddam’s objection. Irulan is meant to be a blonde, blue-eyed beauty that ultimately accepts her role as an unloved but politically advantageous bride to an unloving husband to become the narrator for much of the story.

Anyone who has watched the excellent Netflix series Ozark knows Julia Garner is a fantastic actress. In my opinion, she’s the best part of a show that includes quite a few good parts. While the role of Ruth Langmore is that of an uncouth, uneducated con woman, I think Garner has the talent and natural good looks to make Irulan shine.

If family resemblance is important, you’d be hard-pressed to find an actress to better match Cassel’s stand out blue eyes than Odeya Rush. Perhaps not as well-known as Garner, Rush is probably most recognized for her roles in the films Lady Bird, Goosebumps, and The Giver.  

 


Count Hasimir Fenring

Fenring is supposed to be diminutive in stature, weasly-faced but also a deadly assassin who has helped Shaddam achieve and consolidate power over the decades. He is the man in the shadows who understands every angle and plays them to his emperor’s advantage.

If you’ve watched his performances in films such as Watchmen, Shutter Island, or Dark Shadows, you know Jackie Earle Haley can nail this role. Haley knows how to play intense and creepy. Given that the character is supposed to be similar in age to Shaddam, Haley would be particularly well suited for this role if Oldman plays the emperor.

If someone like Cassel gets the role of Shaddam, a younger Fenring candidate is Eddie Marsan. My favorite of his performances is the overmatched Inspector Lestrade in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films, but you’ve seen Marsan in a ton of productions. Gangs of New York, V for Vendetta, The Illusionist, Atomic Blonde, Marsan is one of the best character actors working today.





Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen

And finally we have Feyd, the handsome but monstrous nephew of bad guy Baron Vladimir Harkonnen who is a product of the same breeding program as our young hero Paul and who engages in hand-to-hand combat with Paul for the hand of Irulan and control of the throne in the stories’ final confrontation. This part was famously played by the rock musician Sting in the 1984 version so while it’s a relatively small part, it’s a flashy one.  

You can accuse me of being too on-the-nose with this choice, but why not Bill Skarsgard? As the son of Stellan Skarsgard, the actor playing the Baron, you won’t find a better family likeness. Bill is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Pennywise in the latest version of It so he’s certainly proven himself capable of playing a menacing villain.

If you’d prefer someone a little less obvious, how about Dacre Montgomery? His resume might be a little light, but he was fun to hate as bad boy Billy Hargrove in Seasons 2 and 3 of the Netflix retro horror series Stranger Things. He's also got the leer and ripped abs if Villeneuve dares to do a new take on Sting's infamous steam bath scene.

 

With the upcoming film including such stellar actors as Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Charlotte Rampling, Timothee Chalamet, and Oscar Issac I have no doubt Villeneuve will make more great casting choices in the sequel. Here’s hoping that Dune is the rare remake that outshines the original.


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Here Come the Cereal Serials

 

Image Credit: Sporcle

With theaters still closed due to Corona, there is no doubt that premium cable and streamers like Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and HBO are the current kings of content and while they do make original movies, their bread and butter are series. The Mandalorian, Bridgerton, Cobra Kai, Castlevania, The Witcher, Westworld, and Jack Ryan are just a few of the examples of shows that are currently demanding eyeballs all around the country, reaping those big subscription dollars. Everyone knows Hollywood likes nothing better than exploiting recognizable titles, characters, and storylines. Why risk a multi-million dollar budget on something original that may or not appeal to an audience when you can just produce a spin-off from a popular film (The Mandalorian, Cobra Kai, and Westworld), adapt a video game (Castlevania), or adapt a book series (Bridgerton, The Witcher, and Jack Ryan)? With that in mind, I give you the next promised land – breakfast cereal characters!

Sure, go ahead and laugh but keep in mind the Transformers toy line has churned out six feature films and god knows how many cartoon series and Johnny Depp became one of the biggest stars in the world thanks to a series of pirate movies based on a theme park ride. Are the following ideas really that far-fetched?

 

Trix

Maybe it’s just a sign of the times when cereal mascots were popular, but it doesn’t take long to notice all the best ones were decidedly male so we’re going to gender swap this one. Suzy Rabbit, known as “Tricks” around the casinos, isn’t just one of the best gamblers on the 60s Las Vegas Strip. After getting busted reaching for that brass ring, she’s now a secret agent, working undercover with the FBI to bring down the crime bosses who have taken control of the town. Evan Rachel Wood stars in this live action drama that’s violent and sexy enough that it’s definitely not for kids.

Lucky Charms

Aidan Gillen killed it as Littlefinger in Game of Thrones and again as Aberama Gold in Peaky Blinders. Now he stars as Lucky, an Irish treasure hunter who travels the wilds of his homeland at the turn of the first millennium in search of his fortune while trying to avoid marauding Vikings in this exciting live-action spin-off from General Mills’ delicious toasted oats and multi-colored marshmallow cereal.

Froot Loops

Like the main character in my novel-in-progress, Sam Toucan is a private-eye. Sam is older and wiser than my protagonist though. He always follows his nose and it never steers him wrong. Beloved Hollywood icon Jeff Goldblum hasn’t played a detective this fun since 1980’s Tenspeed and Brown Shoe but he’s back on television and better than ever in this comedic crime drama.

Cap’n Crunch

If you didn’t get enough of Russell Crowe sailing the high seas in the 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World you’ll be thrilled to know Quaker Oats has cast him as the animated Cap’n Crunch along with the whole crew as they battle for the safety of Crunch Island against the Sogmaster and of course the captain’s arch-nemesis, the dastardly Jean LaFoote as voiced by Sasha Baron Cohen.

Honey Smacks

Kevin Hart stars in this live action comedy as Frank Diggem, a streetwise inner city high school teacher who will do anything he has to in order to protect his students from the dangers of life in one of the roughest neighborhoods in New York City while also trying to raise his own precocious young daughter Honey all while negotiating a sometimes less-than-friendly relationship with his ex-wife and her new husband.

Monster Cereals

Universal’s attempt at a Dark Universe may have failed miserably with the ill-advised 2017 remake of The Mummy, but that’s no reason a similar concept couldn’t work via an animated series. This time Count Chocula, Boo Berry, Franken Berry, Fruit Brute, and Yummy Mummy star in interconnected episodes of gothic horror ala Showtime’s Penny Dreadful.

Golden Crisp

Post Cereal’s lone entrant into this new era of entertainment features the voice of Will Smith as the always loveable Sugar Bear. This animated series will tell of the ongoing efforts of this mild-mannered hero as he fights to protect neighborhood kids from the eccentric and often dangerous plans of Granny Goodwitch, a local crank voiced by Jane Lynch.

Frosted Flakes

After Dominic Toretto finally drives off into the sunset of the Fast & Furious film series, Vin Diesel will star as Tony, a troubled former pro football star for the fictional Cincinnati Tigers, who now owns a gym in his hometown of Los Angeles. There the kerchief-wearing muscle man mentors up-and-coming athletes and tries to avoid reverting into old habits from his playing days.

Cocoa Puffs

Comedy veteran Chris Kattan is back and better than ever as Sonny the Cuckoo Bird. Watch the animated hijinx of Sonny and his pals as they practice their tricks at the skatepark then get into all sorts of trouble delivering groceries via their Uber Eats-like business.

Rice Krispies

And finally the Jonas Brothers star in this animated series about the brothers Snap, Crackle, and Pop who travel the world as a groovy boy band but solve mysteries everywhere they go. You won’t catch them eating any Scooby snacks, but they do enjoy a nice bowl of rice cereal in milk before every gig.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Where Does The Mandalorian Go From Here?


Photo Credit: Disney

There are a handful of television shows I would love to write for, perhaps none more than the Disney+ show, The Mandalorian. If you haven’t watched all 16 episodes released so far but plan to, you might not want to read further. Spoilers await!

 

Now that Grogu has gone off to train with Luke Skywalker, where does Season 3 take the story next? Boba Fett and Fennec Shand are leaving for their own show as is Ahsoka Tano so it’s doubtful any of those characters will play a large role. Greef Karga and Cara Dune have been major parts of the tale so far and both are still alive and hunting down bounties but Disney announced the firing of Gina Carano, the actress who plays Cara Dune, last night based on her "abhorrent" political posts on social media. Showrunners Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni could always recast the role, but a clean break might be best. Perhaps they’ll kill her off but continue Karga’s friendship and business arrangement with Din Djarin.

Moff Gideon seems set for a return as one of the primary antagonists, but who else is likely to play a large part and what is their objective?

Bo-Katan and Koska Reeves

It’s pretty clear that the Darksaber and the battle for control of the Mandalorian home planet will be one of if not the major storyline next season. Bo-Katan and Koska Reeves formed a mutually beneficial alliance with Din Djarin in Season 2, but now that our hero has possession of the weapon Katan needs in order to claim the throne and the only way to legitimately wield it is to win it via combat, it seems a fight between these allies is on the horizon. Katan and Reeves didn’t interest me as much as some of the other characters the show offered up in its first two seasons, but a visit to the heretofore unseen planet of Mandalore could prove interesting.

 

Migs Mayfeld

Of all the new characters introduced beyond Djarin and Grogu, none of them are more fun than Migs Mayfeld. Played by funnyman Bill Burr, this mercenary and sharpshooter is always good for comic relief. Marshall Cara Dune freed him from a long prison sentence after he helped with an assault on the Imperial refinery on Morak where he proved to be a valuable partner to Djarin. It isn’t out of the question that their paths might cross again someday soon.

 

Maz Kanata

One of the best characters to come from the final trilogy of the Skywalker saga holds a mystery that Season 3 could solve for us. How did the Pirate Queen of Takodana, Maz Kanata wind up with Anakin’s old lightsaber? She gifts it to Finn, but we never learn how she came to possess it. Adding Maz to the cast for Season 3 via a visit to her castle and showing us these events would tie a welcome knot in one of the series most frustrating loose ends.

 

Fan Service

The first two seasons brought us an ugnaught, the AT-ST, jawas, Tusken Raiders, banthas, the Krayt dragon, Twi’leks, the Mon Calamari, Bib Fortuna, a Gamorrean, and a host of other callbacks to the original film trilogy. Which additional old friends and enemies might make an appearance in Season 3?

I think one of the most likely things we’ll see is a return of one or more of the remaining six bounty hunters introduced in The Empire Strikes Back. Boba Fett of course played a major role in Season 2. The bandaged but human Dengar probably isn’t a good candidate since the role would need to be recast based on how long it’s been since his first appearance. Bossk was alien, but mouth articulation might prove difficult if the character were to have more than a few lines of dialogue based on the mask the actor would need to wear. IG-88 is the same type of assassin droid as seen in Season 1 with the IG-11 character so its return is unlikely as well. The two remaining hunters, the insect-like 4-Lom and Zuckuss however would be great callbacks. Din Djarin watched his ship get destroyed near the end of Season 2 so he’ll be in the market for a new one. Ships aren’t cheap. What better way to earn the credits to buy a replacement for the Razor Crest than to sign up for another big job with a crew of similar hard cases.

Speaking of shopping for a new spaceship, how about a visit to the Corellian shipyards? Han Solo’s home planet made its first film appearance in Solo: A Star Wars Story. A return visit might prove eventful, especially if Djarin runs across the nefarious bounty hunter Mercurial Swift, a character introduced in The Aftermath novels by author Chuck Wendig.

You don’t get much cooler than riding tauntauns across the snowy tundra or fighting giant AT-ATs in a snowspeeder. Episode 10 of The Mandalorian mostly took place on an icy planet named Maldo Kreis so another snow-filled adventure might be deemed repetitive, but if Djarin visits any more of the planets from the original trilogy, I’d love to see Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back as one of them.

And finally, what about the rancor? We saw Luke do battle with one of these giant monsters in the small confines of a pit below Jabba’s palace toward the beginning of Return of the Jedi. How about dropping Djarin into the middle of a pack of these things roaming free on their home planet of Dathomir? Even better, while stuck on the planet, The Mandalorian could give us our first live action peek at the Nightsisters, an order of female Dark side wielders who were introduced in Dave Wolverton’s novel The Courtship of Princess Leia and later appeared in an episode of the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series.

There is no shortage of places, characters, and creatures to visit in the Star Wars universe. We have at least another year to speculate just what Season 3 will bring!


Monday, January 11, 2021

From Novel to Screen – The Outsider

 

Photo Credit: Matt Handle

Warning, this post contains spoilers. If you haven’t read Stephen King’s novel The Outsider or seen the HBO mini-series based on the book, but plan to, read no further.

 


As a horror writer and reader, I’m a fan of Mr. King’s work. If you doubt it, check out one of my earliest posts (which I’ve updated multiple times) where I rank nearly every novel he’s written. While his books are almost always good, screen adaptations tend to be a mixed bag. For every The Shining or The Shawshank Redemption, we’ve also got Maximum Overdrive and The Dark Tower. Cerebral horror doesn’t always translate. I thought HBO’s take on The Outsider was one of the better television offerings of 2020 and unlike every other adaptation of his work, I actually saw the show before I read the book. Having just finished the novel, I took note of several key differences between the two versions and thought they might be worthy of some discussion here on my blog. Some of screenwriter Richard Price’s changes were for the better, others not so much.

The Character of Holly Gibney

One of the most striking differences between the novel and the series is the casting of Cynthia Erivo as the paranormal detective Holly Gibney. She’s a character who first appeared in King’s Bill Hodges trilogy so even though I saw this series before I read the book, I had a preconceived vision of this character having read all three of the previous books the character appeared in. Erivo delivers one of the series’ stronger performances, but I couldn’t shake the feeling she was someone other than Gibney. Gibney is described as pale, gray haired, and worryingly thin in the books. Erivo is none of those things. I don’t think the casting choice was necessarily good or bad, it was just a major departure from the author’s vision. Personally, I always pictured someone like Lili Taylor in the role. Both women are fine actors. It’s interesting to ponder whether more traditional casting might have made a major difference in how the character was perceived.

  

Anderson’s Son, Derek

My favorite change Price introduced is what he did with detective Ralph Anderson’s son. In the book, teenage Derek is off at camp. He’s a parallel of victim Frankie Peterson in that the detective relates to the horrific tragedy of the child’s murder because he has a son of his own, but Derek is never at risk or a real player in the novel’s events. The series presents Derek as deceased, a victim of cancer. This death is still fresh on Anderson’s mind, an open wound that haunts him and has scarred him badly. I thought this change made the detective a much more interesting character and made his questionable tactics against Terry Maitland at the start of the story more plausible. Actor Ben Mendelsohn always delivers, but this backstory really gave him something to work with.

 

Sex Sells?

While I liked Erivo’s portrayal of Holly Gibney, I didn’t see the purpose of adding a love affair between her character and Andy Katcavage, a former detective and current security guard who doesn’t exist in the novel. I suppose the idea was to help show another side of Gibney, but the affair (and Katcavage himself) felt unnecessary to the main storyline. Given Gibney’s peculiar nature and her savant-like focus on the case she’s working, why would she wind up in bed with a man she barely knows and doesn’t seem to have much in common with?

 

The Climactic Battle

The final battle between our heroes and the villain changes significantly from the book to the series as well. In the novel, Anderson and Gibney descend into El Cuco’s subterranean lair where they realize Anderson cannot shoot it because it will cause a cave-in. As a result, Gibney saves the day via using a handmade weapon that is a callback to her tutelage under Bill Hodges. In the series, Anderson shoots the monster which causes a cave-in but our heroes escape. The series also presents a post-battle tease that suggests Gibney might have been infected by the monster, hinting at a possible second season. Personally, I prefer the book’s finale. It’s conclusive; it’s unique, and ultimately more satisfying.

 

Bottom line, you can’t go wrong with either version of The Outsider. Both are solid horror fun, differences and all.


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Best Free Short Speculative Fiction of 2020

 

Photo Credit: Pixabay

It’s the end of the year so that means it’s time for my annual Best Free Short Speculative Fiction list. I sold three shorts in 2020 myself. My flash fiction piece “Tomorrow’s Dinosaurs” was published by Fabula Argentea, my short story “Sister of the Weald” was included in Run Rabbit Books’ Tiny Tales anthology, and another flash, “The Stony Gaze of Eternity” was sold to an anthology that hasn’t been released yet. Keeping in mind that my taste runs toward horror and darker/grittier sci-fi and fantasy, here is my list of the best free speculative short stories published in 2020.

 

The Little Witch

The longest story on my list, this spooky tale of a witch and her caretaker by author M. Rickert comes in at over 8000 words and was published in late October on Tor’s website as the perfect Halloween treat.

https://www.tor.com/2020/10/28/the-little-witch-m-rickert/

 

You Do What You’re Told

This nightmarish tale from J.A.W. McCarthy of what a woman endures from an unseen stalker builds anticipation until you might have trouble sitting still and it was published in October by Apparition Lit.

https://apparitionlit.com/you-do-what-youre-told/

 

The Tender, Searing Wind

Author Lora Gray made my list last year and they did it again in 2020. This dark fantasy published in the August issue of Dream of Shadows tells the tale of a doomed young woman who searches for her own version of salvation.

https://www.dreamofshadows.co.uk/post/the-tender-searing-wind

 

Dead Girls Have No Names

Author Claire Wrenwood’s Frankensteinian tale of a mother’s loss and a patchwork girl’s heartbreak in the August edition of Nightmare suggests the world’s real monsters still walk among us.

http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/dead-girls-have-no-names/

 

Where We Are Bound

Give me a forest full of ghosts and brave girls fighting for their village and I’m hooked. Author Kate Dollarhyde tells a spellbinding tale in the Summer issue of Kaleidotrope.

http://www.kaleidotrope.net/summer-2020/where-we-are-bound-by-kate-dollarhyde/

 

Georgie in the Sun

Don’t let the title fool you. There’s nothing cute about this sci-fi gothic tale of doomed love by author Natalia Theodoridou in the April issue of Uncanny Magazine.

https://uncannymagazine.com/article/georgie-in-the-sun/

 

The Breaking

This tale of a guilt-ridden sister and her younger brother facing an alien apocalypse is reminiscent of “The War of the Worlds”. Written by author Vanessa Fogg, this story was published in Issue 13 of Mithila Review.

https://mithilareview.com/fogg_03_20/

 

Out There

In the March 23rd issue of The New Yorker, the jaundiced eye of writer Kate Folk guides us through a near-future relationship that makes the travails of online dating today look easy by comparison.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/03/23/out-there

 

Beyond the Firs

Novel Noctule just hit the short story scene at the start of the year, but they’ve already published a dark jewel in this tale of a highly disturbing painting by Michael Balletti.

https://www.novelnoctule.com/post/beyond-the-firs-by-michael-balletti

 

Heart of Stone

Chris Cornetto’s tale of a sentient relic awakening to debate between searching for its former Master or serving a new purpose is my kind of dark fable and it was published in the February issue of Metaphorosis Magazine.

https://magazine.metaphorosis.com/story/2020/Heart-of-Stone-Chris-Cornetto/

 

 

If you enjoyed these stories and want to find more like them, check out these 20 websites. I bet you’ll find plenty to entertain you this holiday season.

 

https://www.apparitionlit.com/

http://arsenika.ink/

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/

https://dailysciencefiction.com/

http://thedarkmagazine.com/

https://www.dreamofshadows.co.uk/

http://escapepod.org/

https://fabulaargentea.com

https://flashfictionmagazine.com/

http://www.kaleidotrope.net/

http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/

https://magazine.metaphorosis.com/

https://mithilareview.com/

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/

http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/

https://www.novelnoctule.com/

http://pseudopod.org/

http://www.strangehorizons.com/

https://www.tor.com/

https://uncannymagazine.com/


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Ranking the Films of Christopher Nolan

 

Photo Credit: Matt Handle


It’s Christmas Eve and I finally got to watch Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Tenet, last night on DVD. I knew going in that many critics knocked it for being both confusing in plot as well as difficult to keep up with because of the level of noise drowning out the dialogue in certain scenes. The good news is neither of those things bothered me much. Yes, the plot is complex and yes, some of the dialogue is muffled, but neither of those complaints is why Tenet fails to rank up there with the best of Nolan’s films. For me, the movie’s failure is that Nolan just got too clever for his story’s own good. I kept finding myself chuckling over some nimble bit of science he throws at a scene, some inventive camera trick, or just pondering how he managed particular action sequences. I was much more interested in the how of the film rather than the what. I didn’t have much invested in any of the characters or if they would win their battle over opponents armed with “inversion”. I just marveled at the filmmaking logistics Nolan challenged his self with. Tenet is definitely an achievement, it just isn’t particularly good story-telling. So how does it stack up when compared to Nolan’s other 10 feature films? See below for his worst to best.

 

Following (1998)

Nolan’s debut only clocks in at 69 minutes and was made on the stringiest of shoestring budgets. It’s interesting and shows some of the promise he soon delivered in his bigger budget films, but it’s the least of his works in my opinion.

Dunkirk (2017)

Yes, yes, I know. This film was a critical darling that won all sort of awards including three Oscars, but there’s a reason it’s got one of Nolan’s lowest rankings on IMDB. For all its prestige, it’s kind of indulgent and for a war movie, it’s kind of boring.

Insomnia (2002)

This film boasts great performances by Al Pacino and Robin Williams and an intriguing setting in an Alaska town where the endless sunlight wears down a sleep-deprived detective who battles both a worthy opponent and his own guilt.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

This is the last and the weakest of Nolan’s three Batman films. Christian Bale is still great as the Caped Crusader and Tom Hardy makes a properly menacing Bane, but the movie is at least 20 minutes too long and nothing Nolan could do would match the villain and story of the trilogy’s second film.

Tenet (2020)

Interesting theme, big set pieces, incredible action sequences, but as stated above, the sum of this film doesn’t measure up to all its parts. This movie is perhaps the best release of a dismal year in cinema, but it isn’t nearly as good as the films that follow it on this list.

Batman Begins (2005)

Nolan reinvented superhero films with this one and the genre has been massive ever since. No longer campy with cringe-worthy dialogue and ridiculous spandex costumes, this Batman was dark, gritty, and the direct predecessor to what I believe is the best movie of its kind.

Memento (2000)

If Following showed Nolan’s promise as a storyteller and director, Memento delivered on that promise. This is his second film and it’s a knock-out. Utilizing the unique device of short-term memory loss, this movie tells the tale of a man determined to avenge his wife’s death despite a complete lack of recollection of anything that’s happened since she met her demise.

Interstellar (2014)

It’s been six years since I reviewed Interstellar on this blog and the film holds up just as well today as it did then. In fact, Nolan hasn’t made a film to match it since. Big, ambitious sci-fi like this one is always a treat when it’s done well and this one is exceptional. Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and crew must travel through a wormhole to save humanity at the risk of never seeing their loved ones again.

The Prestige (2006)

This film boasts Nolan’s best cast ever including Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, and maybe my favorite David Bowie acting performance of all time. The Prestige tells a tale about the cost of illusion and the miracles of science and it includes one of my favorite images ever captured on film, the forest of top hats.

The Dark Knight (2008)

This is the greatest superhero movie ever made, bar none. I’m not even a fan of the genre and I love this one. Christian Bale is superb as always, but it’s Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the Joker that steals the show.  How do you defeat an opponent who “can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with”? What if that opponent simply “wants to watch the world burn”?

Inception (2010)

And finally, my favorite of all Christopher Nolan’s films, his sci-fi masterpiece, Inception. Nolan put together another fantastic ensemble cast for this one that tells the story of a group of corporate spies who infiltrate the mind of a young industrialist in order to plant an idea that will dramatically alter his company and his memory of his recently deceased, unloving father. Nolan is known for his brilliant ideas, complex narratives, and massive set pieces. Inception nails all three of these trademarks.