Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Matrix”

In 1999, the science fiction film style of cyberpunk was turned upside down with a revolutionary film that would come to define the genre for decades. This film was The Matrix, written and directed by a sibling team collectively known as the Wachowskis.  The film is set in the dystopian future of a large city where people go about mundane and dogmatic lives. We are introduced to our protagonist, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), who works as a computer analyst by day and a jaded internet hacker by night with the alias of Neo. He begins to question the order of things in the world and is puzzled by the reappearance of the phrase “The Matrix” online in hacker chat rooms.

Neo agrees to meet with an infamous hacker know as Trinity, played by Carrie-Anne Moss. Trinity reassures him that the answers he seeks are held by a man named Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne), but he must be prepared for the consequences. Neo is soon caught by the authorities led by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). Smith warns Neo that Morpheus is a terrorist and the most dangerous man on the planet. Undeterred, Neo finally meets with Morpheus and his group of followers where he is giving a choice between two pills: one red and one blue. The red will answer his questions about the matrix, and the blue will make him forget and he can return to his normal life. Neo chooses the red pill, and the reality around him begins to distort. He then awakens in a nightmarish world but is soon rescued and brought aboard a hovering ship.

It is explained to Neo that his world is a simulation of the 21st century and, in reality, it’s closer to the 22nd century. Morpheus explains that, in the past, mankind went to war with an advanced form of artificial intelligence and lost the war. As a result, humans are now made to serve the machines as incubators for energy, and the Matrix was designed to give humans the appearance of a normal world to hide them from the fact that they are slaves to the machines. Morpheus and the few remaining humans unplugged from the Matrix believe that one day there will be a prophetic one who can defeat the machines and liberate humanity. Morpheus believes Neo is the one prophesied and begins training him for the conflict to come. Throughout his training, Neo questions Morpheus’s faith in him as he doesn’t feel special. But once disaster strikes, it falls to Neo and Trinity to attempt to save humanity from the machines.

The Matrix would go on to become a trilogy and spawn a multitude of spin-offs, graphic novels, and video games. The cinematic nature of the Matrix was ground-breaking for introducing cinema to a blend of high wire stunt chorography, Kung-Fu, and slow-motion cinematography aptly named “Bullet Time.” The themes expressed in The Matrix are as varied as they are transcending: the classic epic hero myth aspects of both Christianity and Buddhism, Platonic thought, and Utopianism.

The film review website Rotten Tomatoes still hold it at a solid 88% fresh. In 2012, it was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant. The Matrix is a detailed film that will continue to be studied for decades. If you would like to re-watch this masterpiece or watch it for the very first time, I encourage you to do so.  The Matrix is available at the Union University Library.  Please note it is rated R for violence and some language.

 

Book Review: “Neuromancer” by William Gibson

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Neuromancer is a classic science fiction novel written by William Gibson. The story follows Case, a cyberspace hacker, and his new assignment from a mysterious figure called Armitage. Eventually, a powerful AI comes into the mix, and Case is in for way more than he bargained for.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Neuromancer gets right: It’s a lot like The Matrix, and who doesn’t like The Matrix? (Technically I should say that The Matrix is like Neuromancer, since the book came first.) Case’s world is flashy, fake, and fun. Neuromancer was one of the forerunners of the cyberpunk genre when it was released in 1984, so it’s certainly interesting for historical value.

I also enjoyed the various villains and ambiguous characters in the book (particularly the AI ones). They kept the story fresh and were always adding to the suspense.

What Neuromancer does wrong: It’s hard to follow. I found myself rereading sentences, wondering what I’d missed and confused by the vocabulary that Gibson never explained. I wouldn’t mind if a few terms flew over my head (I’d rather read on than get mired in semantics) but I was lost for the first half of the book. Neuromancer demands your full attention, and even then you still might miss something.

Like Ender’s Game, Neuromancer was a book that, while intriguing, ended up falling flat for me. I felt like I was being kept in the dark about Case’s mission a little too much. Sure, Case himself barely knows what he’s getting in to, but when you’re reading about a completely unfamiliar setting with barely fleshed-out characters, you need something to understand and relate to.

One of the characters, Molly, does get more backstory and nuance toward the end, which I was grateful for. I also liked what I saw of the characters Wintermute and Hideo, and I wished we could have learned more about them.

Who should read Neuromancer: Fans of classic science fiction, Blade Runner, and The Matrix.

Who shouldn’t read Neuromancer: Readers who don’t enjoy technical descriptions, unfamiliar words, or lack of character development.

 

Neuromancer is available here at the library.

Content note: brief sexual scenes, language, violence, substance abuse.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Inception”

The topic of dreams and what our minds do or are capable of doing while we sleep utterly fascinates me. I dream regularly. In some dreams, I have super powers and can jump over buildings; in others, I am running from a reoccurring clown bent on eating me. Most dreams, however, I have little to no knowledge that I’m even dreaming: I’m at home doing a mundane task or packing for a vacation.  But it’s the moment when I realize that I’m in a dreaming a “lucid dream” that I either wake up or begin to be able to control it.

Acclaimed director Christopher Nolan brought this topic to the forefront with his film Inception. The film is set in the not too distant future in which mankind learns to access and master our minds to control our dreams and influence the minds of others who are also dreaming. Originally this was for pure scientific pursuits, but it soon becomes clear that certain individual’s minds hold valuable secrets that can be stolen by invading the dreams of high profile people. Economic trade plans or geopolitical undermining could be gained for a certain price.

Our main protagonist is a man that specializes in those very skills. Dominick Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a professional thief on the run who uses his skills of dream manipulation to steal secrets from his targets and sell them off to the highest bidder.  Reluctantly, Cobb agrees to take on a near impossible mission with the promise of clemency for his crimes and the ability to return to the U.S., where he was forced to flee and abandon his children. To help him on his mission, he recruits an ensemble group of fellow “Extractors” who include his friend Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Eames (Tom Hardy), a skilled conman with a knack for impersonation. Lastly they are joined by a brilliant young architect (Ellen Page) who will help them construct the dream spaces for their intended target.

The crew plan to do something very few have accomplished, a technique called inception. Inception is defined as planting an idea into someone’s mind to influence them into making or changing a decision. The target is Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) who recently inherited his dying father’s energy conglomerate. The group plans on traveling deep into Fischer’s mind to give him the idea that he should break up his father’s empire. Things go from bad to worse as Cobb and the others begin their heist and soon realize the dream sequence is quite unstable and openly hostile to their presence. While in the sequence, they are trapped, and there is no going back due to the complexity of the operation. They must succeed, as it’s the only way back home to reality.

This is a complex but deeply rewarding film. I had to view it at least three separate times to fully appreciate it. None of Christopher Nolan’s films can simply be described; in fact, most could have a whole film course dedicated to them.  The styles that Inception exhibits is a mix of a sci-fi, action, and suspense.

Inception was a financial success, earning $828 million of a $160 million budget. The popular website Rotten Tomatoes still rates this film 87% fresh, with an audience approval rate of 91%.  Inception would go on to win four Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects. This is a film made to be watched in IMAX. However, you can watch this masterpiece on a regular TV, however many times it takes to stick, and I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I do!

Inception is available at the Union University Library.

*Rated PG-13 for Violence and some language.*

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Blade Runner”

Director Ridley Scott has a long history of making epic and awe-inspiring films and Blade Runner has got to be at the top of that list. Its affect on the science fiction genre as a whole cannot be overstated. It has also heavily influenced both video games and anime for its style and futuristic prospects of what the world may evolve into in time.

The film is set in 2019 Los Angeles in a dark and dreary dystopia, where mankind has adapted to become a technocracy influenced by powerful corporations. Man has mastered interstellar flight and colonies are forming in space. The key to this success has been through the use of androids called “Replicants” who have become so life-like and self-aware that they are nearly indistinguishable from humans and as a result banned from Earth. If a Replicant manages to smuggle themselves to Earth, the police hire a “Blade Runner” to track down the android and kill it.

This brings us to our protagonist, Rick Deckard, a disillusioned former cop who was famous for his ability to eliminate Replicants. Deckard is played by Harrison Ford, who was just coming off the success of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Deckard is tasked to hunt down four Replicants who have committed several murders and illegally entered the city. They are led by Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer. Batty is a combat synthetic soldier with advanced tactical training and genius levels of intelligence.

Deckard travels to meet Eldon Tyrell of the Tyrell corporation, who is responsible for creation of the Replicants. While there, he learns there is a psychological test designed to trigger an emotional response in Replicants in order to distinguish them from humans. He also meets Dr. Tyrell’s daughter, Rachael (Sean Young), and soon becomes infatuated with her.

The next phase of the plot involves Deckard hunting the Replicants down one by one while also pursuing a relationship with Rachael.  The Replicant leader Roy Batty soon learns that he and the other Replicants have a built in half-life of a little more than three years. Realizing this, he seeks to meet his maker and acquire more time to live. In the final phase of the film we see Deckard battling the Replicants in a life and death struggle.

The themes expressed in this film are as numerous as they are profound.  In the end we are left questioning the very nature of humanity as the Replicants struggle to survive. They have hopes, dreams, memories, and the fear that all self-aware beings share: the fear of death.

Actor Rutger Hauer unfortunately passed away on July 19th of this year.  During filming, Hauer rewrote his character’s final lines in the film, and they have been praised ever since as one of the most moving speeches of all time in the sci-fi genre. In memory of the late great Rutger Hauer I’ll shall share it here:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

Blade Runner has left quite a mark on pop culture and cinema and I do believe we will continue to see its influence in novels and films for years to come.

Blade Runner is available at the Union University Library.

* Please note it is rated R for violence, brief nudity, and some language.*

 

 

 

 

Featured Author: Octavia E. Butler

The path to success is to take massive, determined action. (2)

 

On June 22nd, 1947, Octavia E. Butler was born in Pasadena California. Butler grew from being a shy child who escaped in books to a successful science fiction writer. In fact, in 1995, she became the first science fiction author to win a MacArthur Fellowship.

Butler wrote about time travel, slavery, African culture, telepathy, dystopias, and much more. Her stories stood out in the white-dominated field of 1980s science fiction. Butler enjoyed the science fiction genre particularly because it allowed her the freedom to write about anything she could imagine.

You can check out Octavia E. Butler’s bestelling novel Kindred from the library- look for it in our literature section!

 

 

 

 

Book Review: “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card


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*mild spoilers for Ender’s Game are in this review

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card was recommended to me by my husband and two of my student assistants. Unfortunately, as this review will reveal, I didn’t like it.

Here’s a brief, spoiler-free summary: Ender’s Game is about a young boy, Ender Wiggins, who is chosen to train at Battle School. His teachers hope that he will be the missing link in the fight between aliens and humans. Orson Scott Card wrote several books after Ender’s Game and has made different series that correspond with the Ender’s Game universe.

What Ender’s Game gets right: The beginning really pulls you in and sets the stage for the rest of the book. We witness a moment in Ender’s life that turns out to be an important test, and Ender remembers this moment throughout his training.

I find Ender easy to sympathize with. He seems like an Enneagram type 9 (“peacemaker”) in a world that is forcing him to act like an 8 (“boss”). (I could also see Ender as a 5- he enjoys games, strategies, and alone time to figure things out.) Ender is constantly trying to end conflict once and for all- he does not enjoy hurting others or commanding them, he simply wants everything to work out for the best of all involved.

What Ender’s Game does wrong: Where are all of the women? There are only three woman characters in the whole book, and only one of them gets a point of view narration.

Another qualm that I have with Ender’s Game is Card’s writing style. He switches between third person, third person omniscient, and first person narratives without much transition at all. It’s like he decided to have every kind of point of view possible in his story- which is fine, if it makes sense within the context (it doesn’t).

Who should read Ender’s Game: People who enjoy reading political commentaries, arguments on Facebook, and/or deterministic plots. Alternately, people who will read it for the science fiction aspects and won’t dig much deeper than that.

Who shouldn’t read Ender’s Game: Parents who are already worried about their children growing up in a scary world and don’t like reading about the abuse and manipulation of children. People who don’t enjoy constant social conflict (me). I can read about crazy, militant societies, but only if it’s clear that it’s a satire and that it’s not a good thing (like 1984 or Brave New World). Ender’s Game doesn’t convince me that the book is actually against the fanatical survival-of-the-fittest messages that are preached. Ender as a character certainly does not condone this kind of society (even though he enables it), but the book’s overall tone and destruction of free will points to total annihilation as the only means of human survival- and that’s not fun to read about.

Ender’s Game is available in the library’s Recreational Reading section.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “District 9”

In 2009, director Neill Blomkamp earned his claim to fame and established himself as an accomplished writer and director with his hit film District 9. What makes this sci-fi action film stand out from an overcrowded genre is its unique setting and thought-provoking real world themes of the dangers of xenophobia and the desperation of refugees.

District 9 begins as a quasi-found footage documentary that also shifts to standard narrative approach. The film describes the events of first contact between humans and an alien race. These aren’t the pretty and majestic Na’vi people from Avatar nor are they  like the enlightened Vulcan Captain Spock from Star Trek. The District 9 aliens are large, insectoid organisms that resemble a cross between a shrimp and a cockroach (the name “prawn” is used in the film as a slur). They arrive on earth in 1982 and end up in Johannesburg, South Africa. They are quickly rounded up and quarantined in a makeshift camp. The aliens appear to be quite dim-witted and unable to fix their broken ship. As the government struggles to find resources necessary for the housing for the ever-growing population of aliens, they turn to The MNU “Multinational United.”  The MNU is a powerful para-military defense corporation that has the ulterior motives of adapting and making use of the alien’s weapon technology (of which only the aliens themselves can use).

The film follows our main protagonist Wikus van de Merwe (played by Sharlto Copley).  Wikus works for the department of Alien Affairs and is charged with leading MNU security forces in relocating the Aliens. While serving an eviction notice on the alien known as Christopher Johnson, Wikus is unknowingly infected with an organic chemical substance that slowly begins to change him into one of the aliens. Christopher is unlike the other aliens as he possesses a high intelligence and is lperhaps the last of a higher cast order of his species. Christopher has hopes of restarting the mothership and saving his son and people. Wikus and Christopher team up with the promise of curing Wikus and fleeing Earth. The MNU begin hunting Wikus as he is the key to adapting alien technology for human use. The MNU sends a sadistic mercenary, Colonel Koobus Venter (played by David James), to capture Wikus. Then it’s a race against time with ever increasing stakes.

District 9 is an ambitious and awe-inspiring film. It is an allegory for the problems faced in the world from the plight of migrants and refugees to the dangers of unaccountable global corporations. It also hearkens back to the horrible aspects of apartheid in South Africa. District 9 would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture.

 

*This film is rated R for violence and language. It is available at the Union University Library.

 

**Written by Matthew Beyer.

 

Book Review: “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury

martian chronicles

 

Ray Bradbury is one of the most prolific, skillful writers of his generation and possibly of all time. His skill with science fiction is unparalleled by any other author and his stories survive the test of time as they hold true to humanity’s core values and the varied problems they face. This could not be more apparent in his classic work The Martian Chronicles.

The Martian Chronicles is a collection of loosely interconnected short stories published in 1950. Bradbury wrote many of the short stories for various sci-fi magazines before compiling them and publishing them as a collection. The Martian Chronicles span several decades of time as they tell the story of humans colonizing the planet Mars and their interactions with the Martians themselves. Almost every chapter in the story switches perspectives and includes tales about the following: a woman planning to meet her husband on Mars, a man who decides to open a hot dog stand on Mars, stories about the men to first land on the red planet, a tale about several priests who wish to convert the Martians to Christianity, and many others.

These tales are far from the science fiction one may normally consider when compared to the likes of Star Wars, Star Trek, or Ender’s Game. Though Bradbury does mention some large scale battles and wars that one associates with science fiction, he typically tells his stories from the perspective of one person or family usually far from what seems to be the major conflict. Because of this, the stories would not seem misplaced if they didn’t happen on Mars at all but perhaps during American Western Expansion instead. The themes of imperialism, corruptible capitalism, greed, self-righteousness, and manifest destiny all appear in his works. Many of his motifs from books like Fahrenheit 451 make an appearance. For example, one story depicts a man, bent on revenge and obsessed with horror writers, as he tries to kill several people who have shunned him for his love of books. His tactics echo ways that resemble the deaths of famous characters, such as the graphic death of Fortunato in The Cask of Amontillado. Bradbury writes stories that challenge and convict his readers to look at their own society in critical ways. He does this through all his stories, but The Martian Chronicles does so in a way that encapsulates large portions of American philosophy and turns it on its head.

The most intriguing part of Bradbury’s work is his ability to flawlessly perform dark twists. Almost every story has a dark or eerie turn that leaves the reader with an inescapable sense of loneliness. Aided by the idea of being millions of miles away from Earth on Mars, Bradbury uses his dark tales to draw the reader to a point of exclusion. He uses suspenseful and heart-pounding tension to draw his readers to a place of almost fear. And this is not only a fear of the unknown, like many writers use, but the fear of nothingness. Bradbury evokes the same emotion in his short stories as a person may experience driving alone in a car down abandoned roads in the Midwest. But this is not to say that the stories leave one unfulfilled. Bradbury draws his readers down the long, seemingly endless roads of his tales to a point, that once realized makes the journey worth the trouble.

Though each story leaves the reader with many questions, none of the questions feel as though they detract from the story. Each one merely adds to the aura that Bradbury is trying to produce. The end of each story leaves one hungry for the next one, and the next one, until one has finished the book before they had realized they had begun it. The Martian Chronicles are immensely rewarding and are a must read for anyone interested in science fiction. But The Martian Chronicles are not only for science-fiction fanatics; they offer much more than that. Any fans of suspense, thriller, and social commentary and satire, will find The Martian Chronicles both entertaining and interesting. Ray Bradbury shows why he is one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time through his expertly crafted and well written short stories in The Martian Chronicles.

   

*Written by Brennan Kress

* You can check out The Martian Chronicles at our library!

Read Before You Watch: A Wrinkle in Time

If you’re excited about the new Ava DuVernay film A Wrinkle in Time, take the “time” to read the original young adult classic by Madeleine L’Engle, which is available at the Library! This science fiction novel stars an awkward middle school girl and her genius little brother, who struggle against incomprehensible forces of cosmic evil and discover the triumph of love. Mrs. Who, Mrs. What, and Mrs. Which are more than happy to take you along on the mind-bending journey from the Murry family’s vegetable garden to the outer reaches of space.

If you’ve already read the novel, here are some other great titles to check out:

  • an excellent graphic novel adaptation by Hope Larson

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  • Becoming Madeleine, a new biography of L’Engle for young readers, written by her granddaughters!

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  • Walking on Water, Madeleine’s own reflections on faith and art

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  • A Wind in the Door & A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the next two volumes in the Wrinkle in Time Quintet

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