Tag Archives: Robert Heinlein

“Predestination” — Best Films of 2015

by Gabriel Valdez

Robert Heinlein’s “–All You Zombies–” has long been considered one of the most impossible short stories to adapt into film. To reveal why would be to give the twist at the heart of the story away. Even to say that is to pretend its twist is a gimmick, instead of the very pulse that drives the film.

“–All You Zombies–” was the seminal time travel story in science fiction for decades. It was decked in controversy and a “who cares” attitude. It was the defining moment in Heinlein changing sci-fi from mere adventure tales into questions that uncomfortably probe the nature of how we’re built as a society, the judgments we adhere to simply through habit.

“Predestination” counts alongside “Gattaca” not just as the most important films Ethan Hawke has starred in during his career, but as films that exemplify what science-fiction is at its very best. And though Hawke’s performance is varied and exceptional, it’s Sarah Snook who stands out as remarkable. Again, to delve into it too deeply would be to ruin something special.

“Predestination” isn’t some small film that came out of nowhere either. The Australian Film Institute awards are the equivalent of the United States’ Oscars. “Predestination” was nominated for nine, winning four of them.

I’d highly recommend searching it out. It’s not hard to find via streaming or renting, and the film’s rhythm and mystery are second to none. This is the greatest mindbender of last year.

Predestination poster

Images are from Nerdist, Telegraph, and Coming Soon.

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Love Letter to the Human Race — “Interstellar”

Interstellar Anne Hathaway

by Gabriel Valdez

Interstellar is the best movie I have ever seen. As a critic, you’re expected never to say things like that, but that’s never how we watch movies. We invest our emotions, put ourselves into another world, develop faith in characters, we give our entire body over – our pulses race, we tremble, our mouths drop, we grip the armrests, our minds reel. We watch movies because that very next one might be the best we’ve ever seen.

We watch films as engrossing and challenging as Interstellar to find that awe and wonder we had as kids, when we looked up at the sky and dreamed that this very moment – as a people – caught us midstep in becoming something greater. We dreamed that as kids, and we never stopped dreaming it, even when we struggle.

When we struggle, we hope, or we wouldn’t struggle anymore – we’d just let things be. But when we hope, we fear, and Doctor Who tells us fear is a superpower. We rage, and Dylan Thomas tells us rage is the driving force of pioneers. We wonder, and Star Trek tells us wonder is the thing that can unite entire races in the midst of destroying themselves. We’re driven by love, and Robert Heinlein tells us love isn’t a wild, unpredictable emotion, but rather the mastery of our pettiest stresses and insecurities.

Science-fiction houses its what-ifs in scientific theory and social experimentation, but its curiosity is invariably driven by hope. Interstellar poses an Earth that’s lost hope, caught in a postapocalypse driven not by the violence of nuclear war or excitement of zombies, but by crop plagues and soil deterioration caused by overpopulation.

Interstellar Murphy and Cooper

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) was once a NASA pilot. Now, like everybody else, he’s a farmer. Corn is the only crop left. One can’t escape the feeling that his daughter Murphy’s generation will be the last on Earth.

But…Murphy has a ghost that keeps knocking books off the shelf in her bedroom. Cooper doesn’t believe her until he witnesses it during a ferocious dust storm. It’s not a ghost, it’s a gravitational anomaly, and it carries a message.

That message means Cooper will leave his family, discover the remnants of NASA and – being the last experienced pilot around – lead an expedition to find another planet for humanity’s migration. He’ll be joined by Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi), Doyle (Wes Bentley), and a sarcastic robot named TARS on a journey that will take them through wormholes, past black holes, and onto other planets.

The laws of relativity mean that, while their journey will take a few years, decades will pass on Earth. Murphy will grow up. Our pioneers don’t just need to make choices about fuel and food and air supply. Time is the resource they can’t afford to lose. On one potential planet, an hour on the surface equals 7 years back on earth. Every conversation, even about minutiae, carries the weight of the world. Our species hangs in the balance of philosophical debates.

There will be personal betrayals, nerve-wracking space maneuvers, haunting and inspiring sights of space in all its lonely glory. Pioneers will be heartbreakingly lost, the laws of physics will be bent, teary-eyed arguments will be had. Interstellar is an action movie, a tale of discovery, a crash course in both philosophy and astrophysics, but more than anything else it inspires awe in a way few pieces of art ever do.

Interstellar space

Interstellar is nothing short of a narrative masterpiece. Director Christopher Nolan’s past narrative contortions, like Memento, The Prestige, and Inception? Those seem like training runs for what Interstellar pulls off. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted science-fiction to be, and as the movie delves further into quantum mechanics, it isn’t just a science-fiction movie anymore; it becomes magical realism.

(The ending may throw some viewers – it’s heavily based in concepts like quantum consciousness. Interstellar will explain it to you fast, but it never stops too long to run down its more difficult concepts, favoring emotional reaction and more plot over understanding every little nuance. If you’ve got a basic understanding of quantum mechanics – say, you watch PBS or other science programming occasionally – you should be fine. If not, you’ll still have the film’s complete emotional journey, but you may lose out on some of the finer plot logic.)

Nolan favors an old-fashioned approach to narrative – the journey is told through simply presented story and excellent performances. Even the special effects are grounded in live action. CGI isn’t abused, but saved for exceptional moments, making their impact far greater. For my money, McConaughey delivers a performance that knocks his two last year (in Dallas Buyers Club and Mud) out of the park. There’s no trace of ego there, just a completely internalized character. Hathaway and our two Murphys, young Mackenzie Foy and adult Jessica Chastain, are nothing short of remarkable.

Interstellar Jessica Chastain

If hope contains fear and rage and wonder and love, it’s what gets us through our struggles. The single greatest gift a parent gives to a child…that’s hope. That’s practicing hope, learning hope, being disappointed in hope, and being surprised by it. It’s learning how to use it, how to make it bring out the best in us and – when all is at its worst – allowing it to master us despite all evidence to the contrary.

So you’ll understand when I tell you that, for a child raised on enough hope for himself and every other person he’s ever met, who’s been inspired by hope, betrayed because of hope, who’s been ruined by hope, achieved things he never thought he could but always suspected he would because of hope, who thinks the most important thing he can do after seeing a movie that inspires him is sit and write like a hurricane…you’ll understand when he comes away from a film like Interstellar and tells you: “This is the best movie I have ever seen.”

I don’t say that as a critic, I say that as someone who looks up at the stars every night and wonders why the hell we’re not up there in droves, who stayed up late to watch Star Trek and the really old, boring Doctor Who where every planet was the same old rock quarry, who read Asimov and Heinlein and Le Guin and Pullman until four in the morning, and who learned from them all that hope is the real superpower of the human race.

Interstellar is a movie that tells its story through impossibilities, that finds a way to treat emotion as a dimension through which you can move and marries this to complex, cutting-edge science that tells you why. It’s a rare film that reminds us “it’s hopeless” is not a state of being. It’s a challenge to do better, not just in the world’s eyes but in your own. That doesn’t mean we always will, but it does mean we should always try.

Interstellar was designed for the child who looked at the stars and wondered, and learned all he could about them, and grew up to still look at the stars and wonder. Is it the best movie ever made? Who knows, who cares? For that child, and I suspect I can’t possibly be the only one, it is the best film he or she may ever see.

Interstellar is an astonishing love letter to the human race. What else is science-fiction but exactly that?

Top 10 — The Books That Stay With Me — Gabriel Valdez

One thing we noticed when putting together these lists is that Vanessa’s had seven women writers. Mine only has two. Cleopatra’s and Eden’s lists had three. Now, we’re working with a small sample size, but looking at the rough draft I did – where I listed about 20 books, I still only had three women (Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife just missing my top 10).

I didn’t actively avoid women writers. I just didn’t give it a second thought when I grew up reading so many books written by men. It’s worth considering how this trained me at a young age to look at art – even the best male writer will include different perspectives and prioritize different themes than women writers.

It’s very easy to limit our viewpoints without ever realizing it, especially when we’re young and haven’t even had our own viewpoint challenged. That’s one reason why, as readers and viewers, it’s crucial to always be expanding, challenging, and communicating about the way we look at art.

Here’s my top 10:

Books Watership Down

Watership Down
by Richard Adams

Even today, if I see the cover, I’ll feel chills up my spine, the urge to go hide under blankets. There’s nothing else like reading this so young as I did. The tale of a group of rabbits who set out to find a new home after their old one is destroyed, Watership Down joined White Fang and The Secret of NIMH as challenging works that introduced me to political and philosophical strife. Rabbits and wolves and mice taught me about conquest and military industrialism and social experimentation, that it wasn’t always us vs. them but that it was very often us vs. our government, and them vs. their government, and that we’re often thrust in the middle of false wars to keep administrations running.

Book Congo

Congo/Sphere/Eaters of the Dead
by Michael Crichton

All right, this is cheating, but everything I learned about pulp genre fiction came in a compilation my parents got me for Christmas one year. I didn’t really look at Eaters of the Dead, but Congo – about an adventurous archaeological expedition in Africa – was an action movie in a book. It even found an inexplicable reason to have a gorilla go along for the ride, though for the life of me I can’t remember why.

Sphere, on the other hand, regarding the exploration of a mysterious alien artifact under the ocean, was the most complex science-fiction novel I’d read up to that point. They were gateway novels – Congo led me to Edgar Rice Burroughs and other pulp writers, while Sphere led me to start reading Golden Age science-fiction – the big idea stuff from the 60s and 70s.

Books Chronicles of a Death Foretold

Chronicles of a Death Foretold
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

At a point, I realized I should read something written by the author I was named after. To fully define the effect Gabriel Garcia Marquez has had on my life, I’d need a full article. Luckily, I already wrote one.

Books The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass
by Philip Pullman

The entire His Dark Materials trilogy is stunning, but it was the first – The Golden Compass – that captured me so completely. Known as Northern Lights outside North America, it was the beauty of Pullman’s prose, describing in all of its detail a Victorianesque fantasy world, that made me change the way I wrote. I realized it wasn’t just the words themselves, but some magical atmosphere that resulted from their rhythm, from the intersection of their sounds, that made the kind of writer I wanted to be.

Books Edgar Allan Poe

The Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

And so I sought out the master of that rhythm, the man who wrote about sacrificing accuracy in your description for the tone of the sentence as a whole, the one who came up with alliterative phrases that overpowered your senses. I read everything he wrote – his famous horror stories, his comedies, his detective stories, his poems, his essays on writing, and with this came an awareness of other writers of dark fantasy – Sharon Shinn, Clive Barker, Graham Joyce, Neil Gaiman – and how they’d used the lessons Poe taught in their own work.

Books Neuromancer

Neuromancer
by William Gibson

My introduction to cyberpunk, an 80s science-fiction genre that posed a world dominated by disturbing attachment to technology, racial divides, military-industrial oligarchies, and aristocratic corporation-states. The work of William Gibson has continued to pose an eerily accurate portrayal of the direction our world is taking, less in its action scenes but more in its mortifying concepts of corporate personhood and human inconsequence. Neuromancer is the definitive introduction to cyberpunk, an enigmatic head trip of mood, tone, and international corporate politics.

Books The Word for World is Forest

The Word for World is Forest
by Ursula K. Le Guin

The 1972 novel with which James Cameron’s Avatar holds a strange number of similarities. I’d read Le Guin before, but never had she written a tale so brutal, stark, and unforgiving. The tale of an indigenous race of aliens who are ghettoized and exterminated in order to retrieve a valuable resource, I would later find it was a direct response to America’s involvement in Vietnam. Even without that context, you could tell it was housed squarely in the United States’ historical genocide of indigenous Americans.

I hadn’t expected three of us this week to include an Ursula K. Le Guin novel on our lists, yet alone three different ones (Vanessa chose The Dispossessed, and Eden chose The Left Hand of Darkness). If you’re at all a fan of science-fiction, you owe it to yourself to pick up one of her novels and dive in.

Books Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
by Robert Heinlein

Heinlein wrote some good novels and Heinlein wrote some great novels. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is his best novel. The story of a penal colony on the moon that revolts against Earth and declares itself a nation, it forced me to look at how cultures develop alternative lifestyles to those typically found in Western nations, and why terrorism, revolution, and rebellion are sometimes interchangeable concepts.

Books Pedro Paramo

Pedro Paramo
by Juan Rulfo

During an independent study in college, I was directed toward Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo. This was the novel that inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez toward magical realism. I started with one translation, not liking it much, before I switched to my girlfriend’s translation, which maintained a more Spanish attitude of thought. It was yet another novel that communicated its messages more in tone than in finite detail.

Books Shock Doctrine

The Shock Doctrine
by Naomi Klein

I’m a little surprised that all four of us chose a Naomi Klein book. We didn’t communicate about it beforehand, but while Vanessa, Cleopatra, and Eden all went with her seminal expose on manufactured identity and brand loyalty No Logo, it was her history of how administrations use disaster and war to overhaul governments that most haunted me.

She compares these restructurings to torture – the idea of torture is not so much to punish or to elicit information. It is instead to force a reset in perceived reality on the part of the victim. You don’t change the victim, you just retrain them to look at the world the way you want them to see it. From early American experiment in torture MK-Ultra, she follows a line of conservative academic thought that posed that torture and overhauling the reality of victims can actually be performed not just on individual victims, but on nations.

She follows the journalist thread from how the CIA practiced social experiments in third-world countries to small-scale implementations up to the seizure of African-American property and the overhaul of New Orleans’ school system after Hurricane Katrina. She finally introduces the ultimate experiment in disaster capitalism – the Bush-Cheney administration and its wholesale overhaul of American government and military structures after 9/11.

The Shock Doctrine is the most revealing look at 21st Century Western government you’ll ever find, and Noami Klein is the single most important non-fiction writer working today. If you take nothing else away from our book lists this week, please remember her name, and look up what she’s written.

– Gabriel Valdez

Special Edition Trailers of the Week — Aussie Rules

by Gabriel Valdez

There were a few fantastic trailers from Australia and New Zealand this week that I didn’t want to get lost in our regular edition, especially because this next film just became my most anticipated:

PREDESTINATION
Trailer #2

Here’s the thing about Predestination. It’s based on a Robert Heinlein short story about a time traveler who descends from himself…by impregnating himself before a sex change.

The trailer doesn’t breathe a word of this, but if you know the material, you can see it strongly hinted. Perhaps the film just uses the Heinlein name and the time travel concept. Even if that’s true, it still looks like a visually arresting thriller.

BUT! And this might be the biggest “but” in film history – if it addresses Heinlein’s concept in any way (and I wouldn’t put it past Ethan Hawke to tackle it), we are in for a hell of an ambitious film.

Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies” is a stunning mindbender about a man who creates his entire lineage using temporal paradoxes. In the time it was written, it was an important and challenging metaphor for the struggles of the transgendered, and made readers feel real emotion for a character they might have ridiculed were he a real person standing before them.

Predestination might just be a time travel noir using the barest framework of Heinlein’s story. But if it’s not…oh boy, if it’s not, if it’s true to Heinlein, it’s one of the most difficult – and potentially most important – film adaptations ever tackled.

THE DEAD LANDS
Trailer #1

I’m a big fan of action films about indigenous peoples, because you know what? Indigenous peoples had action franchises, too. Occasionally, a film like this is exploitative, but a surprising amount of the time there’s a real passion and dedication that goes into presenting these societies in detail, and proudly.

The Dead Lands is being produced by the same group that financed Indonesia’s two The Raid movies – the best action franchise of the past decade – and they have a habit of trusting their talent and giving them the means to try out crazy ideas more traditional studios wouldn’t go near.

This means a lot in the countries of Oceania, where there isn’t exactly a lot of money for original filmmaking in the first place. Needless to say, I’m eagerly anticipating a stylish New Zealand action movie that – hopefully – is both respectful and revealing of Maori storytelling culture. After all, we get to hear stories from the perspectives of indigenous peoples far too rarely.

THE MULE
Trailer #1

A movie about how long it takes a man to go to the bathroom. Wait, wait! It’s more complicated. You see, he has drugs in his stomach, he’s being detained by the authorities led by Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Captain America), and he’s being stalked by the drug dealer he’s late in meeting, played by John Noble (Fringe, Sleepy Hollow). He’s cooped up in a small, Melbourne hotel room while a legal aide tries to get him free and his family turns increasingly dramatic.

It looks like a blistering, uncomfortable comedy with some truly intense moments to it, the kinds of comedies Australia does with a brutal sense of just how to make you laugh out of discomfort.

That’s our special Down Under roundup this week. By the way, if you’re looking for more news and reviews on Australian film, I highly recommend my own go-to source, Jordan and Eddie. They’re two young Australian critics who are fantastic reads.