Robots and Empire

[Amazon Link] Cranking through the SF novels of the good Doctor Asimov. I think this one's my favorite, at least so far. The action/talk ratio is (for Asimov) pretty high; things actually happen, including a thrilling climax. And the characters seem (again, for Asimov) to be a little less one-dimensional.

The book is set a couple centuries after the events of The Robots of Dawn. The effort Elijah Baley set in motion in that book is in progress: after centuries of isolation, Earth is sending out "Settlers" to expand into the Galaxy. This is met with some resistance from the culprits in the previous book. They want to shut down Earth's expansion and leave the Galaxy for the "Spacers", the original colonists.

Worse, Elijah, being a Terran, has passed away. (He shows up in a flashback, though.) But the robots are still around: R. Daneel Olivaw and his de facto new partner, Giskard. Their task is to protect their mistress, Gladia, as she embarks on a mission to find out why all the humans have vanished from her old home world of Solaria. What they discover turns out to (of course) have galactic repercussions. Daneel and Giskard find themselves on dangerous ground, not only from human enemies, but also from the limitations of Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

Oh yeah: the book was written in 1985, and the closing scene is set up in such a way that it vitally depends on the hysterical reaction to (without spoilers) a notable event of the late 70s. Asimov clearly throught that event would have much more importance in the near future than it actually turned out to have. This doesn't ruin the book, fortunately, but Asimov was a far better storyteller than prognosticator.

Last Modified 2014-11-09 11:20 AM EST

Premium Rush

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

OK, so this is probably a silly, formulaic action flick. Still, I liked it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays "Wilee", one of Manhattan's anarchic horde of bicycle messengers. Once on trajectory to become a respectable lawyer, he prefers the risky, adrenaline-soaked career of dodging vehicles and pedestrians to get packages to their destinations.

That could have been the premise of a small character-study movie. The heck with that, because this is a chase movie, full of gimmicks and gags.

The MacGuffin is a small slip of paper that Wilee is hired to transport from Columbia down to Chinatown. Wilee immediately finds himself targeted by a dirty, violence-prone cop. (He's also targeted by a clean cop for his borderline-insane flouting of traffic law.) Flashbacks (eventually) uncover the motives behind everyone doing what they're doing; there's heavy involvement of the Chinese underworld. But what really matters is the chase and the stunts.

This worked for me because Joseph Gordon-Levitt manages to infuse his character with a likeable pluck. The dirty cop, played by Michael Shannon, is also quite watchable and gets some good lines. (Amusing to a onetime science fiction geek: when providing a fake name, he uses "Forrest J. Ackerman", a sainted figure in science-fiction fandom.)

This is one of the rare movies that I wouldn't have minded seeing one of those making-of documentaries, because (a) that really does appear to be Mr. Gordon-Levitt taking totally insane high-speed risks with only a bike helmet for protection; and (b) it's all played out in Manhattan traffic that also appears unstaged. How did they do that?