Why Watch AD ASTRA? Five Reasons…

  1. Meaningful story that unfolds with a tense, creepy vibe
  2. More family friendly than a lot of current scifi
  3. If you happen to be a Brad Pitt fan, he’s pretty much in every scene of this film with a lot of closeups. Has to be on your bucket list.
  4. The science fiction fan will enjoy a number of zero gravity fist fights, a vehicle chase/ambush on the moon, raging space baboons, and a more gritty portrayal of space travel and space tech for the science geeks.
  5. Nuanced performance by Pitt. His character is non emotional with flat affect, but this film is about his growth toward engaging his emotions. I thought Pitt pulled it off.

Longer Review…

I recommend AD ASTRA for the whole family. It’s worthy of a watch party. AD ASTRA is rated PG-13, I’m guessing for its few gory scenes. I don’t think the gore will disturb most viewers. If you need warning, write to me via comments section and I can warn you when to walk out of the room.

There are no sexually explicit events in this film and very little offensive language. It’s a quiet film in portions, much of it narrated by Pitt in voice-over journal entries/reports…The vibe felt similar to Space Odyssey, monotone and spare. However, unlike Space Odyssey, AD ASTRA gives its audience a few exceptional action sequences.

AD ASTRA, directed by James Gray, written by Gray and Ethan Gross, follows one character’s odyssey into space to save the world. Major Roy McBride (Pitt) is contacted by SpaceComm, the military’s space command, for a special assignment.

Power surges are wreaking havoc on Earth. These surges seem to be coming from an old space station, the Lima Project, the station run by Roy’s father (Tommy Lee Jones). That station went as far as Neptune. In Roy’s youth, the station stopped communicating with SpaceComm and all its inhabitants were presumed dead. At least this has been the public’s assumption. Roy’s included.

Now, the military reveals they believe Roy’s father is still living on Lima. The want Roy to communicate with his father, but Roy can only do this from an underground Mars station. (For some reason it cannot take place on Earth). Thus begins his odyssey to Mars and beyond.

The audience knows Roy has more than a few daddy issues. He’s serious, non-emotional and disconnected from others. Roy describes himself as someone who compartmentalizes for the sake of survival. Roy does have a wife, Eve (Liv Tyler), but that relationship is failing. They have no children.

So, in saving the world, Roy McBride will journey to save himself and if possible, his father. The interior journey that parallels the exterior journey to salvation is not so subtle in the film, but it is still a fun ride.

 

 

 

Same comic, two versions of the cover art. I bought both.

SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN, written by Gene Luen Yang and drawn by Gurihiru was released exactly one week ago, Wednesday the 16th of October and understandably, it is moving off the shelves fast. I highly recommend this first installment in the three part series. I rate this series PG and would encourage parents to read it with children and discuss the many aspects of the story that are rooted in history.

Short Review: Five Reasons to Own and Read SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN:

  1. Be a collector! Only 3 installments to buy. Keep this historic series forever while using only an inch of space on your bookshelf!
  2. The drawings and colors are beautiful and stylized to deepen the reading experience.
  3. Learn history. There are historic truths woven into the story. Yang also adds autobiography relaying the story of how he has experienced racism and historical facts about the Ku Klux Klan at the end of the comic.
  4. The characters are well-drawn (literally and figuratively), avoiding cliches that sometimes populate comic book fiction
  5. The story is full of action, suspense, but doesn’t paint an overly simplified view of good vs. evil. This is one Gene Luen Yang’s strengths…the empathy he feels for all his characters, even the very broken ones.

Centerfold

To buy this book, Part 1 of 3, you’ll need to visit your local comic book store or click here. Also, if it’s been a while since you entered a well-stocked comics store, you owe yourself the treat. Go now and browse the shelves!

The art, rendered in fantastic color

Most science fiction fans love comics, but not all. I know a few who have avoided them in favor of novels, television and film, but the comic format has proven its heft in recent years with literary stories like American Born Chinese. Gene Luen Yang, the author of American Born Chinese, also wrote the much-acclaimed New Super-Man, in which an Asian American young man emerges as the Superman in the story. It is no surprise Yang was DC’s choice to bring SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN to life. The story is an adaptation of a 1946 smaller story arc within a radio series called The Adventures of Superman. In it, an Asian-American family is threatened by the Ku Klux Klan and Superman is inspired to protect the children of this family from racist terror.

 

A REVIEW OF THE 2019 FILM AND A FEW OTHER OBSERVATIONS

In the last ten years, the urging of audiences around the globe have pushed the film industry to re-think the way it portrays people of color and women, folks who might not have been featured in stories (especially superhero stories) as headliners.

A number of different types of heroes have emerged victorious: Wonder Woman hit the scene big in 2017, the Black Widow in the Marvel universe has taken an elevated seat (will not spoil, but she plays an essential roll in Avengers: End Game, released this past month), and Black Panther, another Marvel character and storyline that incorporates not only one African character, but an entire culture.

All those films/characters broke open that hunger into full fledged box office $ and now, CAPTAIN MARVEL enters the scene.

Captain Marvel. First of all…I have to say. What fun! I loved this film and I noticed after emerging from the fog of the fictional dream what the credits indicated. I noticed how many women worked on the writing. The WRITING. I cannot emphasize this enough. Women were put into positions of power, able to make decisions about the story.

  1. Directed by Anna Boden
  2. Screenplay written by Anna Boden and a dude named Ryan
  3. Story credits going to Anna Boden, Nicole Perlman, Geneva Roberson-Dworet, Meg Le Fauve, and yes…a dude named Ryan

Ms. Marvel

So…when there was a shouting match in the writer’s room about what the character is thinking and feeling and the actions she is about to take…Ryan might have been “out-shouted” by the women. That was a good thing for audiences everywhere.

Wonder Woman was an amazing film, but women were not in the writing credits. A woman was instrumental in the direction of the film, which is awesome, but women did not “create the character”…in fact…here are the names of the writers:

  1. Zach Snyder
  2. Alan Heinberg
  3. Jason Fuchs

I’m not saying these dudes were bad people, insensitive to female motivation and feminine issues of power and agency, but…they are three dudes and there are zero women in terms of the story creation.

What was it like to be in the writer’s room of CAPTAIN MARVEL versus Wonder Woman. I imagine there was a difference.

And for me, even before I saw the credits, CAPTAIN MARVEL struck a note about women differently than Wonder Woman did. I noticed how the character’s strengths and flaws made sense to me as a woman.

CAPTAIN MARVEL was not a perfect film and there are problems (as an author I foresee them) with how incredibly powerful the creators have made Carol “Captain Marvel”. What is to keep her from showing up every other day and solving the world’s issues? The implication from Avengers: End Game is that she is super dang busy with solving the universe’s issues with evil, so she can’t bail them out every time there is a problem.

A problem a lot of great woman face, I suppose.  They want to help people, but have too much to do and not enough time on their hands…CAPTAIN MARVEL sounds like any number of Saints in the Catholic Canon. “If there were just more of us…” said one lady saint to another…

Indeed…I hope there will be more female heroes portrayed in the superhero universe in the coming years.

By the way…for those interested…there is a weird subtext to the Wonder Woman mythology. Click here to read an article about the man who conceived of the character:  The Creepy Creator of Wonder Woman

But don’t discount this creator/writer too quickly. He is said to have written this in a letter to the publishers of DC Comics:

“Look, if you had a female superhero, her powers could all be about love and truth and beauty, and you could also sell your comic books better to girls,” he said. “And that would be really important and great because she could show girls that they (girls) could do anything.”

 

 

 

If you’re looking for an epic scifi graphic novel and vibrant reading experience overall, the DESCENDER series is for you. I will be reviewing each volume, 6 in 6 days, without spoilers.

Here’s the review of VOLUME 1: TIN STARS

First, my pure recommendation…YES! You ought to read TIN STARS. Here’s why:

  1. The Story is Fantastic (and volume 1 is a great set up for more drama)
  2. The Art is to Die For
  3. The Characters Feel True and Interesting
  4. The World is Fantastically Drawn (in the art and in the narrative)

Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen team up to create a science fiction epic, beautiful and gripping. Due to language and some graphic violence, I rate the comic PG-13.

If you hunger for A.I. and space and aliens of various types, shapes and forms, they all inhabit this place. Also, the graphic novel format feels like a window into the future. What the author does not describe in words, we see on the page, beautifully drawn and colored by Nguyen (what a talent!). The graphic novel genre lends itself well to the world of a future civilization, something beyond our imagination and fantastical. The author, Lemire, also knows how to build tension and keep his audience gripped and turning pages.

Speaking of turning pages, I found (after I had read the first volume) this handy reference page. The world imagined by Lemire is complex. physically and politically. Each planet has a unique character, so I can see why the author saw the value in adding it. It is called: Atlas of the Core Planets of the the United Galactic Council.

This page was not present in volume 5, perhaps Lemire assumes we know the world by then, but it is at the end of 1-4. It’s a helpful, especially if you’re the type who likes to know the world well before you read the story, flip to the back right away to orient yourself.

Don’t be surprised to see this series come to the screen sometime in the near future. When that happens, you can breathe on your fingertips, wipe them on your cuff and brag…Oh yes, I read the graphic novels, back in 2019.

To order your copy, click here: DESCENDER, Volume 1, Tin Stars

 

I recently watched ARRIVAL for a second time through Amazon Prime. In my first viewing, I was in a theater and I loved it. This second go-around, I was not disappointed. I watched with a group of my cousins who are all film/scifi nuts. The viewing was free for Prime members.

ARRIVAL is rated PG 13…it’s somewhat creepy and suspenseful, but a middle school child or a sensitive viewer could probably handle the production. I’m not sure why it did not receive the PG rating. It unfolds without graphic violence and there is no explicit sexual content. One might call ARRIVAL a quiet film, but the subject matter takes it from the quiet realm into the epic and deeply thoughtful.

ARRIVAL was released in theaters to much acclaim in 2016. The film is based on a short story by Ted Chiang. Eric Heisserer wrote the screenplay. I hope to read and review Chiang’s short story in a future post.

The film unfolds with slow intensity primarily around one character, Louise Banks, played wonderfully by Amy Adams. Banks is a linguist recruited by the US government to learn the language spoken by aliens who have alighted in giant oblong space ships in twelve locations around the globe.

The story is a linguist’s dream and as a science fiction fan, I recall a number of novels that view first contact in light of language and communication. China Miéville’s Embassy Town is a good example. In a story such as this, violence is often threatened, but not center stage. Mysteries and the push to understand the other dominate the narrative.

 

Five quotes from the screenplay to pique your interest:

  1. “If this is some sort of peaceful first contact, why send twelve? Why not just send one?”
  2. “Language is the first weapon drawn in a conflict…”
  3. “Are they scientists or tourists? If they’re scientist, they don’t seem to ask a lot of questions…”
  4. “If you could see your life from start to finish, would you change things?”
  5. “Meeting you…was more important that seeing the stars…”

Five reasons to watch this film.

  1. It’s free if you’re an Amazon Prime member.
  2. If your family is into science fiction, ARRIVAL is a crowd pleaser which you can show to your kids with a clear conscience.
  3. Potential discussion about language and linguistics, the puzzle and the importance of communication.
  4. Female hero with lots of brains and only a few characters to keep track of.
  5. Potentially leads to fruitful discussion about love, suffering, beauty, grace, even religion.

To buy this DVD, click here.

The art of a good question is always to draw out the thoughts and feelings of the one being questioned…(and for the most part…to avoid yes/no answers). 
Here are 20 questions to get your student chatting up a storm (of course the student must have read the book closely in order to answer them, so you’ll find that out too.)

To read a review of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, click here

To order THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, click here.

  1. What is Milo like in Chapter 1. How would you describe him?
  2. Would you want to be Milo’s friend, the Milo of Chapter 1? Why or Why not?
  3. When Milo sees the mysterious gift, he makes a pretty big effort to put it together (the tollbooth) and then decides to use it. Does this surprise you? Why or Why not? Would you go through all the trouble to put the tollbooth together and use it?
  4. In Milo’s initial travels, he gets stuck in the Doldrums. Who helps him get out? What does Milo have to do to get his car moving again?
  5. How would you describe Dictionopolis?
  6. In chapter 6, we learn about two Princesses. What are their names and how did they get banished?
  7. Milo starts thinking about the idea that he will rescue the Princesses. Where are the Princesses being held and what hardships will Milo face if he tries to rescue them?
  8. How would you describe the banquet in Dictionopolis? Did any of the foods make you laugh? Which one(s)?
  9. Chapter 9 introduces us to a boy called Alec and the idea of Point of View…How would you define “point of view” based on the discussion Alec and Milo have?
  10. In Chapter 10, the chapter that features Reality, Milo realizes “…the many times he’d done the very same thing; and, as hard as he tried, there were even things on his own street that he couldn’t remember…” What was Milo’s mistake? How has he made the same mistake people in Reality made long ago?
  11. Alec tells Milo in Chapter 11: There’s a lot to see everywhere, if only you keep your eyes open. What do you think Alec means when he says this to Milo? What is Milo supposed to see?
  12. Are noises and sounds important to you? Which ones and why? What do you think it would be like to live in a place where there was no sound?
  13. Milo steals a sound from the Soundkeeper…How does he do it and what are the results?
  14. Is the Island of Conclusions a good place to jump to? Why or why not?
  15. Who helps Milo reaches Digitopolis (see Chapter 14)?
  16. How does Milo outsmart the Mathemagician?
  17. What does the Demon of Petty Tasks and Worthless Jobs, Ogre of Wasted Effort and Monster of Habit ask Milo, Humbug and Tock to do?
  18. What are the demons that protect Ignorance? Come up with a list of the demons in this book, to the best of your ability (hint…end of Chapter 16 to middle of chapter 19)
  19. Which demon scares you the most and why?
  20. Look back to your Chapter 1 answer…How has Milo learned from his adventure? How would you describe him now? Would you want to be Milo’s friend, the Milo of Chapter 20?