By Steve Guntli
In this column I tend to focus on things that are a little older and under the radar, but spring is a time of rejuvenation, a season for celebrating newness. So this month, I’m going to answer the age-old question: What’s new?
By Andy Weir
“The Martian” could easily have been a bleak, existential slog. The protagonist, Mark Watney, is an astronaut accidentally stranded on Mars during the first-ever manned voyage to the Red Planet. Most of the novel finds Mark hopelessly cut off from humanity, the lone living being on a hostile planet with limited resources and no hope for rescue. Most authors would use this premise as the opportunity for some serious pontificating and navel-gazing. Andy Weir turns it into a thrilling fight for survival, and a surprisingly funny comedy.
Mark, a trained botanist and engineer, is endlessly resourceful and doesn’t waste time whining about his situation when he’s got to figure out how to grow potatoes on Mars or produce water out of thin air. Even better, Mark is an irrepressible dork, who peppers his musings with witty references to “The Lord of the Rings” and ’70s sitcoms. In the meantime, a small but dedicated group back at NASA scramble to try to save Mark, but find they are running short of options.
“The Martian” is filled with an upbeat, goofy positivity that makes it a joy to read. Much of the novel is filled with the mind-bending real-science applications Mark uses to survive, and even if you aren’t a certified rocket scientist, you’ll marvel at Weir’s ingenuity.
David Robert Mitchell
Great horror movies are rare, but the truly transcendent ones capture our collective anxieties for posterity. For example, the best horror films of the 1950s reflected atomic-age paranoia about radiation and invasions from foreign entities; the ’70s were all about home invasions and satanic cults. “It Follows,” a contender for best horror film of the decade, comments on the fear that our mistakes can potentially haunt us forever.
Jay (Maika Monroe), a beautiful but listless 21-year-old woman living with her sister and mother in a Detroit suburb, is trapped in a nightmare scenario after she sleeps with a handsome local boy. The boy was being stalked by a mysterious, invisible creature, which can only be deflected by passing the curse on to another person through sexual contact. If the new recipient fails to pass the curse along in a timely fashion, they’ll be killed and the creature will work its way back down the line. Unable to escape the slow-moving but relentless creature, Jay has to find a way to pass the curse on, but can’t reconcile her guilt and fear of putting another person in harm’s way.
It’s early in the year, but I feel confident you won’t see a scarier movie in 2015 than the ingenious, low-key “It Follows.” Director David Robert Mitchell has a keen eye for place, and turns a benign suburb into a beautiful and quietly menacing wonderland.
The titular “it” takes many forms and remains unseen to everyone but Jay and the audience, but it isn’t a flashy, noisy movie monster as much as a constant threat, slowly but inexorably following its prey. To ramp up the tension, Mitchell fills the periphery of his frames with people who could be the creature, or could just be taking a walk. Pair that with the excellent, nerve-jangling synth pop score that recalls the best slasher films of the early ’80s and you have the makings of a modern classic.
By Matt & Kim
Brooklyn duo Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino have always succeeded as purveyors of pure, goofy fun. Their infectious keyboard-and-drums compositions don’t bear much philosophical weight or stand up to the harshest of scrutiny, but they so gleefully capture the sensation of being young that it’s hard to criticize them.
“New Glow,” the band’s fifth album, doesn’t deviate much from their winning formula, but the slightest tinge of maturity is creeping into their work, as the pair reflect on their real-life romance for the first time in their discography.
The album’s opening track, “Hey Now,” pairs buoyant beats with lyrics like, “You make me lose my mind/But if you died I’d die right by your side.” The heartfelt “World Is Ending” portrays the conflicting emotions that accompany a particularly vicious fight, and album closer “I See Ya” is the closest the band has ever done to a ballad, sadly commenting on how hard it can be to maintain relationships when you live on the road.
Just to keep things from getting too serious, though, there’s the hip-hop homage “Hoodie Up,” filled with goofy faux-swagger, and the punk rock anthem “Make A Mess,” proving that Matt & Kim will never fully grow up.
Each of these titles is available through the Blaine Library, except for “It Follows,” which is showing at the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham. Check for show times at pickfordfilmcenter.org, or reserve copies at wcls.org.