The Black Hole (1979) Written by Gerry Day & Jeb Rosebrook Directed by Gary Nelson
Who is Disney’s The Black Hole for? It’s too dark and metaphysical for kids to understand, yet it’s presented as a 1950s B-science fiction film unironically, which makes it less elevated than the material could be. The Black Hole is a film for no one, yet it has fascinated me years after first seeing it on a library VHS tape borrowed when I was eight years old. It is essential to understand the landscape The Black Hole was released in, and how out of touch with contemporary cinema is feels at moments. It’s also an exploitation flick in that it cribs from Star Wars, Alien, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but never in a good way.
Friday Black: Stories by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah Ever since I read Civilwarland in Bad Decline and Pastoralia, both by George Saunders, I have been searching for that sort of literary voice, and I think I’ve found it in Adjei-Brenyah. The most obvious connection is the short “Zimmer Land,” a theme park where people come to act out their aggressive fantasies while mostly ethnic minority employees (wearing high tech protective gear) become human punching bags. “The Finkelstein Five” continues that exploration of contemporary race conflict as the narrator becomes caught up in the reaction to the acquittal of a child murderer who took the lives of four black children with a chainsaw. There’s a duo of stories about the Thunderdome like conditions of a future shopping mall, where customers kill each other over insulated parkas. My favorite was the closing story, “Through the Flash” and it brought me to tears while reading it. That tale features a teenage girl caught in a dystopian time loop where she and her neighbors have lived the same days for thousands of years. It was an oddly hopeful and heartbreaking story. Of all the fiction I’ve read this year Friday Black gets my most enthusiastic recommendation.
Insurrections: Stories by Rion Amilcar I had heard a lot of hype about Amilcar after his latest collection, “The World Doesn’t Require You,” was published earlier this year. I went back and read his first anthology and was a little underwhelmed. When Scott is at his best, he channels the urgency of Flannery O’Connor. Most of the stories fell flat for me, and it did cause me to move his new book down my reading list in favor of other titles. My favorite story in this collection was “A Friendly Game,” which follows a high school student caught up in an incredibly toxic male friendship. This is paralleled with the story of a mentally ill homeless woman in their neighborhood who lost her son years earlier, which led to her breakdown. The antagonist in the story is great and really gets you inside of what the main character is having to deal with daily.
One of the best ways to bring people into a fantastical story, such as in the science fiction or horror genre, is to ground that narrative in human conflict and emotions. We can’t relate to being in the middle of a world-ending cosmic event or being chased by otherworldly monsters. However, the audience can connect to feelings like loss, guilt, the list goes on. Starfish, despite being a sometimes surreal movie, keeps its feet firmly planted in the realm of the human psyche. Now, if it succeeds in conveying a compelling narrative to the audience is another question entirely.
Star Trek: Generations (1994) Written by Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga Directed by David Carson
Star Trek: Generations is not a film that is going to bring new viewers into the franchise, it exists as something for fans of the series. That said, even if you don’t know who these characters are and the legacy bits are lost on you, the story is still comprehensible. It’s a story about regret, how time goes back so fast, and you find yourself thinking about the other life you could have had. Generations is the perfect companion piece to “All Good Things,” the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They both focus on Picard, his sense of aging, and confronting the life not lived.
Ad Astra (2019) Written by James Gray and Ethan Gross Directed by James Gray
Ad Astra is like Apocalypse Now mixed with 2001 and directed by Terrence Malick. That is a very loaded statement, but it’s the most accurate way I can sum up this film in a single line. Is it as good as those individual parts? No, but it is still one of the best science fiction films I’ve seen in years. The story is kept centered on the characters while allowing space for awe & wonder over the cosmic landscape. There are brief moments of action & peril that help to punctuate how empty and cold the solar system feels. This is an odyssey in a not too distant future that feels like the most likely bland extrapolation of what humanity would do with a conquered solar system.
12 Monkeys (1995) Written by David and Janet Peoples Directed by Terry Gilliam
Having recently re-watched Chris Marker’s short film La Jetee I decided it was time to watch the feature adaptation, 12 Monkeys again. I had only seen 12 Monkeys once before in college and enjoyed it a lot. It is what led me to Marker’s short, which has gone on to become one of my favorite pieces of film. I also developed a love for Terry Gilliam during my college years, with Brazil becoming one of my favorite pictures, even reading up on the complicated history of how it came to the screen. 12 Monkeys is expectedly a strange film, merging the underlying narrative of La Jetee with Gilliam’s own aesthetic sensibilities.