Friday, 18 October 2013

(What a) Rush: Best Movie of 2013?

With ticket prices so high, and funds so limited, I'm a lot pickier than I used to be when it comes to cinemagoing. Consequently, I tend to rely on filmmakers I trust, or if a film's received great notices and I kinda like the sound of it, I might give it a try.

Rush is directed by the versatile Ron Howard, who's been world-class for years now, and he's on top form here, generating propulsive energy from nearly every scene, whether on or off the racetrack. The film chronicles the famous rivalry between Formula One drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt.

It's a fascinating relationship. The two couldn't be more different, in life, in their approach to racing, and it's this constant friction that powers their individual--and combined--excellence. Without the other, neither would be as determined to excel. In their many brief scenes together, Hunt and Lauda seem able to instinctively pick each other's ego apart, as if they know what makes the other tick in ways that even their wives and friends do not. They're two sides of the same coin. Hunt can't stand his Austrian rival's stoicism, while Lauda despises his British opponent's flamboyant lifestyle; yet when they're behind the wheel, all that disappears, and it comes down to raw driving talent, of which both possess an equal amount, and moreover, they know it.

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl match each other acting-wise as well. They're brilliant as Hunt and Lauda. Not a false note in the entire film. Scriptwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) weaves the parallel stories cleverly and punctuates his scenes with dialogue exchanges that chip away at what makes these two characters tick. Terse, pungent interplay is frequent and memorable.

Finally, the races themselves are some of the best I've seen. They roar to life, and would be downright frightening if they weren't so thrilling to watch (and hear). Lauda's stance against the more dangerous aspects of Formula One was admirable; lives were lost when they needn't have been, and the other drivers should have backed him up.

I can't recommend Rush highly enough. It's a gripping character study, a sophisticated sports movie, and is impeccably made and acted by all. In short, it's the best film I've seen so far this year. See it the first chance you get.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Alien Safari

My new sci-fi adventure novel Alien Safari (read an excerpt there) is out now on Kindle! The print version is almost ready and will be available within the next few weeks--look for a giveaway contest on Goodreads. All other e-book formats, ETA January 2014. As ever, feel free to email me at with any questions, feedback, or just plain old interstellar banter. I always love hearing from my readers. Hope you enjoy the safari!


Saturday, 12 October 2013

Feeling Positive-G At Last?

With the spectacular reception of blockbuster 3D movie Gravity (opens here in the UK on November 8th), it feels like a missing piece of the SF moviegoing experience might finally have been brought to life. It's always irked me, why filmmakers have felt the need to embellish what's already the most extraordinary trip man has ever undertaken. Aliens, asteroids, black holes etc. are all fascinating, but to reach them, storytellers tend to take for granted the miraculous--and terrifying--achievement of man existing in space.

Existing. A lone man or woman floating out there in an EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) suit encapsulates so much--daring, fear, hope, humanity, technology--it's an experience I'm surprised Hollywood hasn't really tried to simulate in any meaningful way before now. Sure, we've had a handful of gripping scenes *featuring* that isolation, that sense of claustrophobia. 2001, 2010, Sunshine, Deep Impact, and others have touched on it. But we've never had a movie ABOUT that.

If it sounds like a boring subject for a film--and it clearly has until now--then we're lacking the very ingredient science fiction supplies in abundance: imagination. Only it needn't be science fiction. Astronauts have been braving mind-boggling perils for half a century now, yet we know precious little about what it feels like to be in space, the actual experience. All the drama and emotion is there, tightly wound inside those conditioned men and women. It's been waiting for a filmmaker with the imagination, tools, and storytelling brio to unleash it onscreen.

By all acounts, Alfonso Cuaron has done just that in Gravity.

Tom Hanks was involved in two brilliant projects in the 90s--Apollo 13 and Earth to the Moon--that successfully chronicled events in the Apollo Space Program. The former, a nail-biting thriller about the near-disastrous aborted moon mission, is one of the most realistic space-themed movies ever made. Three men in a confined space, running out of air, time, and hope: its hard to see how director Ron Howard could have improved on his recreation of the spacefarers' experience during that fateful voyage.

But the crew of Apollo 13 never left their ship(s). They were isolated, but they were inside, and they were together. There's something truly terrifying about being *alone*, outside in an EVA suit, and hanging by a single tether line. One slip and you will float away into eternity. Hanks's character, Jim Lovell, experiences that in a quick dream sequence.

But to recreate that dread tension, that sense of fragility, requires a prolonged simulation of EVA solitude. I've been waiting for a major filmmaker to attempt it. With today's effects tech, and 3D, it's an exciting prospect. I caught Magnificent Desolation 3D on an IMAX some years ago, and found it very immersive and impressive. That was a documentary.

Fingers crossed Gravity achieves that and much more. Nov 8 can't arrive soon enough!