Star Wars

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful

It seems that every classic is to have an entourage. The loneliness of such films as Alien, Star Wars, and King Kong is too much to bear for the hearts of movie execs, so companions are made for them. Sequels, prequels, remakes, and spinoffs are what Hollywood does most, though not necessarily best. At times, this proclivity has born sweet fruit. Though sequels are rarely as good as the original, if the original was any good at all, there have been some smashing successes. Even remakes have some achievements to be noted. I am, however, unaware of a prequel or a spinoff whose makers could hold their heads high and proud once their creation hit the silver screen. Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, is unable to break out of this trend and be the first.

Set some years before the events of Victor Fleming’s work, it tells the tale of the wizard himself, a travelling magician from Kansas making a meager, day-to-day living. A magician is a trickster, of sorts, and Oscar Diggs (James Franco) has a character well suited to it. Though one gets the sense that at his core he is not entirely amoral, he lies to friend and stranger alike. He lusts after money and women, whom he tricks for his own benefit.

It is this very duplicity in his nature that gets him running from trouble and sets him on course for Oz. After flirting with the wife of a circus strongman, he escapes the enraged husband in a hot air balloon just as a tornado begins to ravage the landscape. As happened in the original film to Dorothy, the tornado transports him to the magical Land of Oz. There, he meets Theodora, a witch played by Mila Kunis.

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Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas, a movie based on the novel of the same name, is a bundle of stories with interconnecting threads meant to form a greater pattern, a message to the viewer. We are all in this together, we conclude by the movie’s end. Sometimes we are nice to each other, and sometimes we are not, but either way our actions resonate into the future, even as they were partly shaped by actions from the past that resonated into the present. The filmmakers are successful in creating this pattern, but as a piece of entertainment and a storytelling vehicle, the movie itself achieves only limited success.

Each story of the larger tale is engaging by itself. That is, the scenario created is interesting enough and worthy of its own movie. The scenes are shot well, and thoughtfully, and the worlds, ranging from far in the past to far in the future, are imaginative conceptions where many other stories might take place. Given this format, it is difficult to summarize the film, which is just as well because watching it becomes more of an exercise in identifying themes and spotting parallels than in following a plot.

The cutting between stories is done in such a way as to prevent momentum from accruing. While I have read many good books that switched between multiple characters to good effect, these books had the characters as part of the same story, so that an advance in the plot of one character’s story had immediate and important ramifications for the other characters, wherever they were in their story arcs. Each chapter usually had a beginning, middle, and end, as if it were its own short story, and finished with some sort of hook to make you regret leaving that character.

In Cloud Atlas, a character in one tale might compose music that another character hears decades later, but the connection is only important for the theme; it has no bearing on the obstacles to be overcome in the endeavor to reach a goal. With only a handful of exceptions, the characters in later times are not even aware of the ones who anteceded them. Imagine taking scenes from Amistad, Blade Runner, Star Wars, Miller’s Crossing, and Three Days of the Condor and mixing them together into one film. As far as the plot goes, this is almost exactly how isolated each story is from the others, how little they have to do with one another.

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Higher Cause by John Hunt

This review is part of a series covering each installment of the serialized novel Higher Cause, written by John Hunt and published by Laissez Faire Books. To catch up, start with the announcement, the book’s link-rich table of contents, and the first review.

Higher Cause by John Hunt

The eighth part of Higher Cause is out. Three chapters this time, and a real sense that the main plot is truly underway. I have some suggestions for streamlining, slicing off what does not aid the book and leaving some succulent, lean meat behind.

The first chapter takes us to more new characters, two of them. This is starting to happen with some frequency in the novel, and I am growing a little impatient with it. There is quite an investment of words given to these two men, which comes at the expense of making us wait on the storylines we are invested in. In truth, the chapter does not feel like it ought to have been a chapter all by itself. I would counsel shortening it and tacking it on to the end of another chapter, giving us just the bare essentials. Give us the important points and move the plot.

The last part saw a character introduced and developed at some length only to have him perish before the chapter ended. If these two men are going to figure large in the book, perhaps a little time spent here is OK, but if they are never going to be more than secondary characters — and after such late introductions, one wonders how primary they could possibly be — I think much of this should be edited. Whether it turns out to be worth it will depend on what happens next.

We follow them around in some detail as they perform their task, but one wonders if all these details are necessary. Again, another character’s bio sheet was told to us, rather than giving us an opportunity to get to know him by his words and actions. Did we enter the scene as late as possible and leave it as soon as we could? I do not think so, and the surplus detail exacerbates the problem.

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Wĭthûr Wē by Matthew Bruce Alexander

This month we’ve been reading and discussing Matthew Alexander’s libertarian science fiction novel Wĭthûr Wē in our book club. Over the weekend, on Sunday, we held our first Lightmonthly Read Author Chat with Matthew. The turnout wasn’t quite what we’d hoped for, but it was our first event — a successful proof of concept that we will build on. Matthew read a couple of early chapters from the new novel he’s working on, The Preferred Observer, and then we had a nice, long conversation with Mike DiBaggio and Michel Santos. Thanks, guys, for joining us.

If you missed the Google+ Hangout for whatever reason, you can watch the YouTube recording below:
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