“Having Captain America around you all the time.  He just–the guy just brings out the absolute best in people.  You…want to be good when he’s around.”

 – Hawkeye #1, Matt Fraction

 

This is from the new run of Hawkeye that started a year or so ago, and I love it because it sums up so much of what’s great about Captain America.  (Mind you, I’ve taken this quote terribly out of context — in the next panel Clint reminds the bad guy he’s threatening to beat up that Captain America isn’t around right now and he’s therefore not entirely at his best.  But still.)

The first Captain America movie was about Steve Rogers and his story arc.  This movie is about Steve’s impact on the people around him.  How even Natasha Romanoff, presented as one of the most morally compromised characters in the Marvel universe, wants to be a better person around Steve.  And she succeeds.  The overall story is political/spy thriller, and terrible things happen, and our beloved world is falling apart.  The characters who come together to try to make it right do so because Steve is asking them to.  He’s the glue, the moral center, in a story about what is good, and what is right.  I love ensemble stories, everything from G.I. Joe to Aliens.  This is a good one.

I think Chris Evans deserves a ton of credit for selling these movies and this version of Captain America.  He plays it so straight, and my heart just melts.  An inch more earnest and the character would come off as cheesy.  An inch less earnest he would come off as sarcastic.  This…he just gets it.

I also love that the Marvel films, particularly the Avengers sequence, are confident enough to play with details.  This is a very rich universe — not just in depth and information, but in emotion.  Make sure you notice the necklace Natasha is wearing.  I love that Steve gets a friend in Sam who’s a modern war vet — maybe the first person in his new life he’s been able to really relate to.  More Falcon, please!  I got a Peggy scene. *SOB*

But what may be the movie’s greatest triumph is making me excited to see the next Agents of SHIELD episode, to see how the hell they carry on from here.

 

Noah

April 4, 2014

I decided I had to see this because all the press surrounding it was so damn hilarious.  I mean, this whole narrative about how the studio was upset because they thought they were getting a film they could market to conservative Christians and then it turns out the movie wasn’t, you know, at all Biblical, and I’m thinking, OF COURSE NOT, YOU IDIOTS, NOT WITH DARREN ARANOFSKY DIRECTING!!!!  This is the man who directed Pi, The Fountain, and Black Swan, for crying out loud.  This is a director known for cerebral, visually complex literary films.  What on God’s green Earth (no pun intended) made them think they were going to get a film evangelical audiences would flock to?  Then it started getting really decent reviews from the critical side of things, and I got even more curious.

So.  First off, there was no disclaimer assuring audiences that this isn’t a strict interpretation of the Bible, at least not on the version I saw.  Really, though, the thing was surprisingly faithful to the source material, in the way that most book-to-movie transitions are faithful.  I absolutely loved the first half of the movie, because it slotted cleanly into the category of Sword and Sorcery, with wizards and warlords and deep magic and pleading to long-vanished gods who may or may not be listening.  It reminded me, of all things, of the original Conan the Barbarian, and I mean that in the best possible way.  This is a genre we don’t see taken seriously very often in the movies, and this was a solid, gorgeous vision of different kind of Hyborian Age.  I believed the world, the despair and desperation.  I was there, I was sold.

And then it all fell apart.  They did that thing where they add a whole second movie on to the first one.

We got to the Deluge, and the aftermath, and I started checking my watch.  And checking.  And checking.  I thought, “Oh, here’s the start of the third act…. oh no, I guess this is the start of the third act….  No, maybe this is the start of the third act…  Or, maybe this movie has six acts.  Or maybe seven.  Oh dear…”

There’s actually a compelling storyline here where Noah has just gone completely stark raving crazy, which is understandable.  But it’s not very interesting, because he’s being crazy and threatening to kill babies, and everyone else is running around screaming and crying and not doing anything else, for like five hours (time dilation — it was only one but it felt like five).  What the story should have done is given all the other characters a spine.  So that the story then isn’t Noah Goes Crazy and Everybody Runs Around Crying.  The story is, Noah’s family points out that he isn’t the only one who gets to say what’s a miracle and what’s not.  Because that’s what killed the storyline for me:  the whole movie up to that point, miracles abound.  But this last miracle?  No, Noah isn’t buying it.  Made no damn sense.  My version? Would have taken fifteen minutes and everyone would be happy.

Anyway.  The last half went on too damn long, especially when the audience was already looking for the end of the movie when it all started.  Pacing, people.  And I fear it needs to be said that there wasn’t a single person of color in the entire film, not even in the swarming crowd mob scenes.

Oh, and what I think happened:  evangelicals weren’t upset that this movie wasn’t accurate to the Bible.  They were upset that there’s a beautiful surreal cinematic depiction of the formation of the universe and evolution in all its glory spread across billions of years.  It’s one of the really great things I loved about this movie, which has fallen firmly in my personal category of “I’d love to take a hatchet to this when the DVD comes out.”

quick post

April 2, 2014

I didn’t make a new outfit for Anomaly Con, but I put together many existing pieces I already had, which to my mind is one of the joys of steampunk costuming, and one of the benefits of having a costume closet I’ve been developing for as long as I have.  Here’s Friday’s outfit:

IMG_5284

I am quite pleased with it!  You can’t see the stripy socks and calf boots in the picture.  They really added to the ensemble, I think.

Also, I already have my tickets to see the new Captain America movie on Friday. I AM SO EXCITED.

A friend today expressed disbelief that Nick Fury had ever been portrayed by David Hasselhoff.  Oh yes, it’s true, and I saw that thing.  Her comment reminded me of the Dark Ages of comic book movies.  The days when comic book movies were released straight to video.  The days of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four and that early 90′s Captain America that was so bad it was never released at all.

Those were dark days indeed.  Let us pray we never return to them.

Muppets Most Wanted

March 24, 2014

I’m finding it really hard to talk about Muppets Most Wanted because I can’t actually talk about two of my very favorite bits, because part of what’s so good about them is the crazy out-of-left-fieldness of them, so even mentioning them will ruin the surprise.  But I really want to talk about them!  Gah!

Suffice to say, I really enjoyed the movie and the good solid Muppets fun.  If you’re a fan of musical theater at all, you really should see this because a couple of the musical numbers just nailed the aesthetic.  Not to mention that one spoof that wasn’t actually a spoof…gah!  I can’t talk about it.  And Miss Piggy finally gets her power ballad.  Weird seeing a Muppet thing where the only time the Henson name appeared was in a memorial for Jane Henson.

The Monuments Men

February 8, 2014

I believe in souls and life after death, but I don’t think they have anything to do with church and religion, and everything to do with art in all its forms.  That’s where we put our souls.

This is a movie with that exact philosophy, so I was inclined to like it very much.  Plus, it feeds in to my still-in-development ideas about how World War II is becoming America’s Middle Earth or Narnia — it’s where we go to have uncynical adventures, where heroes can be heroes without reservation, and where evil is very clearly identified by red armbands and sour expressions.

It’s a good, understated movie with an excellent cast (Bill Murray!  John Goodman!), less of a story and more of a slice of this bit of history.  (Much like another George Clooney movie, Good Night and Good Luck, which I also really liked.)  It has some nice moments (my favorite is probably the ecstatic little gasp of relief Matt Damon’s character lets out when he finds an entire castle filled with missing sculptures) and some really great art.  (My other favorite moment was when my friend leaned over to me and said, “It’s okay, that one makes it, I saw it when I was in Bruges.”)  So if you like any of these things — history, good actors enjoying their work, the European art world — you should probably see this.

This movie also reminded me of an old Disney movie, The Miracle of the White Stallions, which tells the story of how Colonel Podhajsky rescued the Lipizzan stallions of the Vienna Spanish Riding School from the German invasion and pretty much saved both the Lipizzan breed and the school.  It seems like we keep telling stories about World War II not just because of the opportunity to talk about heroism without cynicism, but because there are hundreds upon hundreds, if not thousands, of small stories about people saving things.  Other people, whole communities, art, institutions, horses.  Saving souls, really.

 

cyberpunk movies

January 22, 2014

I picked yesterday to get my working life set up on a brand new computer, which may not have been the smartest thing to do after recovering from a trip, but it was definitely necessary.  It’s kind of like the dentist trip, better to get it over with and it’s usually not as bad as you expect.  In fact, I had the thing mostly up and running and was getting some work done within about 2 hours — this included transferring over my Word files and photos and music and whatnot.  Excellent!  I hit a couple of glitches that will take some time to smooth out, but I can work.  I actually look forward to playing around with the new system and seeing what bells and whistles I can use.

So, I have a lot of commentary I could spout off about cyberpunk tropes in general, which ones have made it into the movies, and the ways in which cyberpunk has evolved — and in some ways, died out.  In grad school I took an upper-level seminar on the topic of. . .come to think of it, I’m not even sure what the topic ultimately was, I think the professor may have just been mining us for her own paper topics.  But we read Snow Crash. This was the second seminar in which I had read Snow Crash, because the novel has passed over the barrier and become “okay” for academia.  As the only SF geek in the department, I got to then go up to the professors teaching it and ask if they’d read Neuromancer.  In one case, yes, “Because Frederic Jameson made it okay to read science fiction,” to which I thought, “What the actual holy hell are you talking about?”  The other said, “No, because I’ve heard it’s very problematic in its treatment of women.”  And I said, “Well, yeah, probably, but if you haven’t read it you’re missing a big chunk of Snow Crash.  Seriously.”  (Like Snow Crash is all that better in its treatment of women than Neuromancer, sheesh…)

There’s a reason I didn’t go on for a PhD.

Anyway, I’ll never forget this seminar because in the middle of the discussion of Snow Crash, one of the other students, clearly baffled, said, “The story here is really kind of conservative.  I thought cyberpunk was supposed to be all radical and subversive, but I don’t see that at all.”  To which I, the only person in the room who had any experience with cyberpunk beyond Snow Crash, said, “Um no — this entire sub-genre exists to make nerdy computer guys feel better about themselves.”

Cyberpunk is heroic, conservative, and messianic.  It’s about a powerful elite — the computer programers who know the code, who know how to manipulate the system — being the center of attention, the objects of desire and admiration.

I think one of the reasons cyberpunk kind of died out as anything other than a set of adventure tropes is that once the Internet opened up to a wider audience, it turns out you don’t need a hacker elite — anyone with a smart phone can surf the web.  And it turns out we don’t really care about the code underneath.  (Although even I can do basic HTML, right?)

This doesn’t mean cyberpunk isn’t still fun.  It’s just not the literature of the future people thought it was in 1985.  Anyway, here’s my list of movies I was thinking of as cyberpunk movies, which I’m throwing open to discussion.  In rough order importance — or maybe it’s in rough order of my own preference:

Sneakers

Tron/Tron Legacy (let’s just mash them up, even though they’re thematically quite different)

The Matrix (I have a confession:  I don’t think this holds up all that well.  It’s stylized and kind of overwrought, and that scene where Neo and Trinity walk into the building and blast away absolutely everyone — and everyone they shoot is wearing a law-enforcement uniform — was kind of deeply upsetting the last time I watched the movie a few months ago.  The post 9/11, post public shooting epidemic world has changed how this movie goes over.)

WarGames

Strange Days

Electric Dreams (Anyone else remember this?  It’s a big reason I haven’t gone to see Her yet, because I saw the previews for Her and thought, wait, isn’t this like Electric Dreams?)

eXistenZ

S1m0ne

Akira

Ghost in the Shell

There are a couple of movies that I either haven’t watched or don’t remember well enough to comment on — someone want to help me out on Hackers and Swordfish?

Then there are a bunch of movies that are definitely cyberpunk, but just aren’t very good:  The Matrix sequels, Johnny Mnemonic, Elysium, Lawnmower Man, Nirvana.

Wikipedia has a much longer list of cyberpunk movies, but I don’t know that I’d class all these as cyberpunk.  They seem to be lumping a lot of post-apocalyptic in with cyberpunk, as well as anything with robots and cyborgs, but I’d say there needs to be a significant computer hacking element to really be cyberpunk.  Like Blade Runner — it has every cyberpunk trope but computer hacking, so how do you classify that?  Is it the AI that makes it cyberpunk, not the robots?  Then is 2001 also cyberpunk? Isn’t genre fun?

award recs

January 13, 2014

It’s award nomination season for the big genre awards!  Everyone’s posting about all kinds of stuff from last year!  I posted my own 2013 bibliography a week or so ago.  But now I’m going to talk about other stuff that I’m likely to nominate.

I didn’t read a whole lot of new stuff this year, unfortunately.  It’s just the way the cards fell.  Of what I did read and encounter, here’s what I’m likely to nominate.

Fiction:  My recommendations are heavily weighted to what’s online, because that’s what I read in the corners of my time.  But there are others.

  • “The Last Dignity of Man,” Marjorie Liu’s novelette from The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination is on my list.
  • Wild Cards stories “When We Were Heroes” by Daniel Abraham (novelette) and “The Button Man and the Murder Tree” by Cherie Priest (short story) weren’t just good Wild Cards stories, they were good stories.
  • “Sing” by Karin Tidbeck (short story) also really good.
  • YA novel The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (the follow up to Raven Boys) was excellent, as was middle grade novel Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi.  Oh, that twist at the end…
  • For the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, I think Max Gladstone is still eligible.  I still talk about his series, starting with Three Parts Dead, as demonstrating that genre boundaries are definitely made to be broken.

I was introduced to artist Aaron B. Miller’s work this year.  Kinuko Craft is an artist I nominate every year.  Galen Dara is up and coming and definitely someone to watch — she did the marvelous piece depicting Harry and Marlowe for Lightspeed.

Best related book:  Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook.  It’s such an astonishing accomplishment — a fully illustrated book on creativity.

I finally started reading webcomic Strong Female Protagonist this year, after many recommendations.  Like many of us these days, it’s picking apart superhero tropes and doing some pretty far-out things.  I described it to someone as Watchmen, but with a lawful good alignment instead of chaotic neutral.

Drama Short Form:

  • I’m still on the quest to keep Doctor Who out of this category, but if you must nominate Doctor Who, consider “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.”  Snark with love.
  • There’s astronaut Chris Hadfield’s cover of Space Oddity.
  • And then there’s the Marvel One Shot as found on the Iron Man 3 DVD:  “Agent Carter,” which broke my heart five different ways then built it back up again by the end.  I haven’t seen anyone talking about this, but I thought it was fantastic.  It’s a year after the war, and Carter is trying to make her way in a world that doesn’t want her anymore.

Drama Long Form: We have a plethora of movies to choose from this year.  Here are my choices (I only get 5 nominations on the Hugo ballot):

  • Frozen
  • Iron Man 3
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  • The World’s End
  • Pacific Rim

The movie category is going to be way interesting this year, given I left off Gravity (which I don’t think is really science fiction), Europa Report, Ender’s Game, and all those other movies I just didn’t go see.  Oh, and Hansel and Gretel: Witchhunters came out last year too!  Oh, for one more nominating slot. . .  Also the short form, what with Almost Human, Sleepy Hollow, Agents of SHIELD, and Orphan Black all starting up this year.  I don’t know where to start with those episodes.

Whew!  Meanwhile, I have a couple of weeks to catch up on some more reading.  We’ll see if anything else squeaks on to my list.

Frozen

January 8, 2014

The Short Review:  This is the movie I wanted Brave to be.

Now I have to unpack that a little bit.  I liked Brave, it was cute and Merida is a fun character.  But it wasn’t exactly subversive.  I mean, she ends up saving the day with sewing, not archery, which left more than a few of us feeling like the story was a bit incomplete and unambitious.

Frozen:  subversive and feminist.  It’s wonderful.  Spoilers follow.

When Anna meets and falls madly in love with Prince Charming in the space of a song, and everyone says, “You can’t marry someone you just met, that’s crazy!”  When everyone in the movie assumes that “an act of true love” is necessarily a kiss between the girl and the guy — because they’ve been trained to assume that, as we all have — and it turns out that no, there are lots and lots of different kinds of true love and they’re equally powerful.  I sat through the third act seeing that this was coming and hoping that they didn’t screw up the potential of this storyline — and they didn’t.  It isn’t anyone else’s love for Anna that saves her — it’s her own love for others that saves her.  A princess movie where the princess’s own agency is the key.  Oh my goodness, it’s breathtaking.

I read a thing written before the movie came out expressing fury that Disney changed the Hans Christian Anderson story so radically, that the Anderson story is wonderful because it’s one of the few fairy tales that features more female than male characters, and that has a girl saving the passive guy, and what did Disney do but throw in a bunch of guys to serve as love interests.  Here’s the thing:  the original Snow Queen story might have lots of female characters, it might have a girl saving a guy, but it’s also a story about the evils of female sexuality, and how the only thing that can defeat a rapacious powerful woman is a sweet and innocent (i.e. nonsexual) girl.  I’m so, so incredibly grateful that the movie changed everything.  Disney’s given us enough evil queens, how wonderful is it to have a good one?  And to have two women characters who aren’t at each others’ throats the whole movie?

And how does the film do with women and sexuality?  Well — Anna expresses herself and her desires, and she makes mistakes, and this is depicted as normal and healthy, and she’s a wonderfully driven and well rounded character.  And Elsa — turns out, she doesn’t need to fall in love and get married at all.  She can be whole and complete and powerful all by herself.

You guys, the more I think about this movie the happier I get.  This is upper level feminist stuff, but it’s important.  It explains why the Resident Evil movies are feminist but the Underworld movies are not, even though they both feature kick-ass women main characters.  It’s why a lot of urban fantasy frustrates me.  Because you need more than a kick-ass woman character to be subversive.  You need to tackle the whole status quo.

The short review:  Oh, dear.  On the other hand, I would like to nominate Lee Pace for the part of Elric of Melnibone.

The longer review: (SPOILERS AHOY, BUT YOU KNEW THAT, DIDN’T YOU?)

The bloat from the first Hobbit movie came from other bits of Tolkien.  It felt like other bits of Tolkien, so I was willing to go with it and quite enjoyed a bunch of it.  The bloat in this one was  pointless.  The one that really pushed me around the corner into aggravation rather than just annoyance:  My favorite, favorite bit of the film was Bilbo creeping into the treasure horde and talking to Smaug.  This is one of the most celebrated scenes in all of fantasy literature, and I was enthralled.  The massiveness of the treasure horde, the moment when the coins cascade down to reveal the great scaled eye, the glimpse of coins shifting all the way on the other side of the room because as huge as that room is, Smaug fills it.  It was wonderful!

And then we cut away to some bullshit subplot about politics in Laketown and the sequence my friends have taken to calling Elf Hospital.  The best part of the movie, and the pacing and atmosphere were chopped into pieces for no good reason at all.

And that’s not even the worst of it, because we all know what happens  next, because like I said, this is one of the most iconic scenes in all of fantasy literature:  Bilbo steals a bit of the horde, Smaug — even surrounded by all that gold — senses the theft, and in a fit of rage bursts from the mountain, attacks Laketown, and is killed by Bard’s perfectly place arrow.  So there I am, waiting for Smaug to finally burst out of the mountain in a fit of rage.  And it doesn’t happen, because instead we get forty minutes of the Dwarves playing Mazes and Monsters and rigging up some ridiculous Rube Goldberg scheme to kill Smaug — which we absolutely know isn’t going to work because Bard kills Smaug with an arrow, which we know is going to happen because they so carefully set that up back in Laketown.  That whole forty minutes might be clever and technically interesting, but the entire time I know it isn’t going to work.  In terms of building suspense, it fails, and is pointless.

Two more things:  1) So that bit when Bard and his son take the spear and run off, and Bard says, “You distract them and I’ll go load the ballista,” and then they don’t actually split up and a minute later Bard says, “You take the spear and guard it with your life, and I’m going to go get myself arrested so we can have another contrived obstacle that will hopefully force the audience to feel some kind of tension?”  That right there is what we call bad writing.

2)  Sometimes a token female character is worse than no female character at all.  I have a prediction:  Tauriel will die, probably saving Kili, and Legolas will blame all Dwarves forever, which explains why he’s so mean to Gimli in Lord of the Rings, because apparently “Elves and Dwarves don’t get along” wasn’t a good enough reason.  I sure hope I’m wrong about that.  (Wait a sec — is Kili one of the ones who dies in the Battle of the Five Armies?  Wiki says yes. I got nuthin’.)

There’s a reason I’m only talking about the last hour or so of the film:  I don’t remember enough of the first two hours to talk about them.  Oh, the herd of pinto draft horses was really pretty.

As frustrated as I am with this movie, I’m going to go see the third one when it comes out.  It feels like a pilgrimage where the path is wide and easy, so there’s no real danger in continuing on.  But there’s a cold drizzle raining the entire way that is sucking all the joy out of the experience.

cynic part 2

December 9, 2013

I’m not going to see the new Robocop movie — unless it somehow shockingly, amazingly, gets super-awesome-stellar reviews on the level of Schindler’s List — because I’ve learned my lesson.  I will not fall into the nostalgia trap this time.  I’m not even interested in it from an academic standpoint, to learn how Hollywood thinks this story needs to be updated and changed for a “modern” audience.  I have absolutely no desire to see how the filmmakers turned one of the most brilliant, damning satires ever into soporific, sentimental drivel.  I do not want to see why they decided to turn Officer Ann Lewis into Officer Jack Lewis.  Everything about the trailer gives me hives.  Hollywood, you do not get my money this time.

I’m just done.

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