October 30, 2013
So, River Phoenix died twenty years ago, tomorrow.
He was my favorite actor when I was a teenager. I think I still have that giant poster of him stashed away somewhere.
I found out…badly. A good friend of mine who was well known for spinning ridiculous but convincing tall tales told me he’d died. I didn’t believe her. She knew I adored him, but she just kept saying, “No really, I’m not joking.” Which was exactly what she said to convince you her lie was truth. I refused to listen to her until she found a newspaper and showed me.
This was during my junior year abroad in York. I spent the rest of my college years in Los Angeles, and there are two momentous things that happened in L.A. that year that I missed — the Northridge quake, and Phoenix’s death. I would have been one of the groupies lighting candles outside the Viper Room. So it’s just as well I wasn’t there.
I’m still pissed off at him, and still upset that he’s gone. I keep wondering about all the movies we never got to see. I know every generation has their tragic fatality, their young icon gone too soon. River Phoenix is mine.
If I had to name just one of his movies as the best? Well gosh, all of them, but if you could only watch one I’d say make it Running On Empty. Or My Own Private Idaho, or Stand By Me, or Sneakers…
October 25, 2013
How about that Captain America: The Winter Soldier trailer? Yeah, I’ll just be watching that a couple more times today.
Agents of SHIELD is still stumbling along. I really liked that bionic eye episode — good story there. My favorite thing is the relationship between May and Coulson and how she’s trying to protect him without looking like she’s protecting him, because she knows something’s wrong. But gosh, the rest of the cast, the rest of everything — still entirely milquetoast. So much potential, but the show can’t seem to bring itself to push beyond adequate.
Then I watched Sleepy Hollow because of all the buzz it was getting. And I was shocked, because I really like it. Interesting characters, different characters, Clancy Brown, cute scruffy men in period clothing, clever secret histories, actual horror (I think it was the second episode with the witch? Actually scary!). It’s another urban fantasy TV series and it’s doing things right. I’m engaged. Did I mention cute men in period clothing — speaking Middle English? (A for effort on including spoken Middle English in a prime-time TV show — especially not calling it “Old English,” which is actually Anglo Saxon. B minus for accuracy, since there were multiple distinct dialects of Middle English — none of which were spoken in 1590, when the community ostensibly existed, and which was well into the Early Modern period and would have been mostly understandable to modern English speakers. But hey, Middle English on prime time TV!) iO9 talks about how to make ridiculous stories great, in reference to Sleepy Hollow.
The time traveler episode of Castle was about my favorite episode in a long time. Arrow has also started up again, and I’m loving it as much as ever. Favorite quote so far: “Mom, will they shoot us if I try to hug you?”
I’ve finally started mainlining the third season of Lexx. Still loving it, especially because the “Fire and Water” storyline is so very steampunk. Actual airship pirates!
What I’m reading: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. Of all the YA books I read last year when I was on the Norton Award jury, many were “Book 1″ in a new series. The only “Book 1″ I read where I had any inclination to pick up the sequel was Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, which is one of the best examples of a multiple p.o.v. ensemble cast of characters I’ve ever read. I could learn, reading that book. After reading a bunch of non-fiction and slogging my way through several problematic novels, I really wanted to read something I could dive into and swim around in and play. The Dream Thieves is it. This time, I’m loving the language. She can really put a sentence together. Deep happy sigh.
I’m saving Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata for my vacation in a couple of weeks.
And that’s what’s on my mind lately.
October 14, 2013
I cleaned out the pockets of one of my jackets and found a stash of movie ticket stubs from years and years ago. I do this — I shove ticket stubs in jacket pockets and discover them years later.
What movies have I paid money to see over the last ten years? Here we go, in no particular order:
- Kate and Leopold (Many of my friends and I still swoon at the words “I made you toast with strawberries and mascarpone.”)
- Die Another Day
- Brotherhood of the Wolf
- Treasure Planet
- Star Trek: Nemesis
- Peter Pan (the live action one from ’04)
- Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (judging by the 12/17/2003 date on the ticket)
- The Triplets of Belleville
- House of Flying Daggers
- Robin Hood (the Russell Crowe one)
- The Interpreter (I have absolutely no memory of seeing this, which makes me think I got this ticket and actually went to see something else.)
- The Count of Monte Cristo
- Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings (3/27/2002 date on this ticket, so it just about has to be the first one.)
- Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings (12/19/2001 date on this one, which must have been opening weekend. I really need to clean my pockets out more often. In my defense, I don’t wear that jacket very often. And yes, I think I saw all the LotR movies in theaters twice.)
- Harry Potter 2.
So yes, I do need to clean out my pockets more often, obviously. But this does bring back memories.
October 7, 2013
So, yeah, I’m going to be that one person who’s a curmudgeon about this movie.
First off, Gravity is beautiful, mind-blowingly gorgeous, with lots of crunchy visual space detail (I will never forget those parachute cords flapping in zero-G). It should win every visual effects award in existence, and a few should probably be invented just for it. I loved that a woman scientist character carried the whole thing, and how well the movie locked in to her point of view.
I’m pretty sure the problem is with me and not with the movie. Plenty of people are raving, and I understand. But. My writer brain never shut off, and here’s why. After the first act, this was pretty clearly a “one damn thing after another” disaster story. Which is fine, but the whole thing became less scary, less gripping as a result. Especially when a debris field slamming into you at 50,000 miles an hour every 90 minutes is apparently not intense enough and the movie had to start throwing random shit at Stone.
Then we get to the bottom of the second act (see what I mean about not being able to turn my writer brain off?) and that one scene happened, and I thought, “Wait, you mean to tell me this whole frakking thing is a metaphor?” And the answer is yes. The whole thing is a metaphor. Which I guess is okay, but that’s not the movie I wanted to see.
We may not have gotten zombie taikonauts coming at us from the abandoned Chinese station, but Gravity once again shows us that Hollywood has a hard time trusting that space stories are interesting enough all by themselves to hold an audience. This time, instead of throwing monsters at us, we get angst. And not just angst, but *SPOILER* (a woman character angsting over her dead child). And it kind of lost me.
If I’m a curmudgeon about Gravity, it’s because it turned out not to be the movie I wanted to see. I wanted an Apollo 13 about a problem the space industry is seriously worried about right now. I want a movie of Downbelow Station and The Forever War and The Stars My Destination. I want a movie about living and working in space that’s actually about living and working in space. If I squint real hard, I can turn Gravity into that movie. But it’s not, quite, and that made me just a little bit sad.
Update, to clarify: To be entirely fair, I’m sure this is exactly the story Alfonso Cuaron wanted to tell. And that’s fine. But it’s a Hollywood story. And it turns out I’m a pretty hard core science fiction and space nut, who is cranky that C.J. Cherryh’s Merchanter series will never be a movie.
September 25, 2013
Wisdom teeth extraction recovery has gone very well indeed. In fact, we debated about whether I’m in such a good mood because of the drugs, or because I’m so relieved that this is finally over with. I’m even eating food that isn’t jello!
I spent a good deal of time on the sofa watching movies. Here’s the historical/costume drama film festival I inadvertently arranged:
- Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee/Emma Thompson version)
- Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
- Sherlock Holmes
And then I got back to work. Mostly, what watching all these movies in a row made me want to do is sew some costumes and go to parties.
September 11, 2013
I’m finishing up the revision of LOW MIDNIGHT today, I hope. This one’s been a slog. I added an extra step — outlining the whole thing after the initial revision and reading through it yet again, which was necessary to double check some of the pacing/structure issues. It also feels like this has taken a long time because I had to stop in the middle for all that traveling. I’ll be happy getting to work on something else.
Europa Report. This is an indie SF move that’s been getting great buzz because of its mostly-realistic depiction of space exploration, creative “found footage” approach, and mostly good acting/story. I finally saw it. It frustrated me. (Me, three minutes in: “It’s the f*cking Blair Witch Project? Are you kidding me?”) It frustrated me the same way Moon and Sunshine frustrated me. (“Hydrazine? Seriously?”) They all have the breathless self-importance of a literary novel about a science fictional topic by someone who’s never actually read any science fiction. The plot and angst and difficulties mostly happen because the characters are dumb. And yet, we are so desperate for this kind of near-future solar system science fiction that we will put up with it. It looks good. Now I want this kind of thing to be competent and interesting. (Please, Gravity, be good, please please please…) And now I really want to see 2010 again. (Me, halfway through Europa Report: “Europa: attempt no landings there, bitches!”)
And this week’s Heroes of Cosplay WTF moment: “I’m not too good at building things like this so I’m going to ask my dad for help.” (Dad is John Dykstra.) Me: “Oh good God, we are so done here.”
September 9, 2013
The World’s End
Good fun, a very Doctor Who-ish kind of story, alien robots taking over small town, etc. The movie treads a line: fun adventure comedy, and deeply poignant if not depressing story about getting older. It really hit home for me. I’m the same age as the main characters, and I think most of us have a Gary in our lives, and Andy’s “We’re angry because we care” rant was heart-wrenching.
Also, being the same age as the characters and filmmakers means all the music and all the 80′s jokes were there just for me. After the film I couldn’t help but ask, “Will anyone under 35 even think this is funny???”
Here’s the brief review I posted on Facebook, because I can’t think of a better way to put it: “So, yeah, it’s like one of those crazy gonzo sci-fi novels from the 70′s you borrowed off your weird Uncle Leroy’s bookshelf when you were a teenager, you know, the ones with the wild Frank Frazetta covers, and it kind of blew your mind and turned you on to science fiction forever, even though you sort of knew it was kind of deeply problematic in some ways, but it lead you to “Left Hand of Darkness” and “The Stars My Destination,” and you’ll always sort of secretly be in love with it even though you know you should probably never go back to it again. Yeah, it’s like that.”
If you have any love at all for big pulpy science fiction adventure, you should probably see this.
There’s some problematic handling of women characters, unfortunately. Katee Sackhoff did the best she could with the material she was given. But given how well the previous installments did with women characters (Fry from Pitch Black is still one of the most amazing women characters in all of science fiction film), it’s disappointing that they couldn’t think of anything else to do with her but have all the other characters fling rape jokes at her, pretty much constantly. At least she was uber-competent.
Both movies are still better than Elysium.
August 12, 2013
The Short Review: I was in a Cyberpunk RPG campaign in 1994 that went pretty much exactly like this.
The Long Review:
Oh dear lord. Neill Blomkamp’s previous effort, District 9, was a bit heavy handed, but at least it had a really slam-bang adventure story to go with it. This thing — we have a new measure of heavy handed. Elysium is more heavy handed than Soylent Green. You want allegory? I got your allegory. See, the Earth is Mexico and Elysium is Arizona, except they speak French there for some reason, and Jody Foster is Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Matt Damon is the only white guy left on Earth so of course he’s the hero, and it’s all about immigration reform and homeland security right up until it’s all about socialized medicine. And all of it set in a world that makes no damned sense at all.
I almost got through it by realizing the whole thing is basically vintage cyberpunk — dystopic wasteland, corporate overlords in a space-based paradise, and this was before they started actually jacking in with actual head ports and cords. But that’s when I realized the movie borrowed a big chunk of its plot from Johnny Mnemonic. (The movie, not the short story.) OMFG.
But you know what really pisses me off? When people look at something like Pacific Rim and accuse it of bad acting and bad dialog, when really, it has exactly the acting and dialog it needs. It’s simple, straightforward, perfect. There’s exactly one way to say “Kaiju, category three,” and they nailed it. Then you get to a movie like this that takes itself so damned seriously, and the acting is excessively over the top and the dialog is all ridiculous (“Tell Matilda I know why the hippopotamus did it…”). There was one character I liked, because the actor played him straight and not totally melodramatic and cliched like everyone else did. That would be Julio, played by Diego Luna, the only believable character in the entire movie. But because this is a “serious” movie, no one’s going to accuse it of having terrible dialog and say that both Jodie Foster and Matt Damon did awful jobs. And yet, somehow, Pacific Rim is the “dumb” movie. There’s no justice. (Well, Pacific Rim still has a higher rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Maybe there is justice.)
Writing 101 (spoilers)
And if that isn’t enough, the story is terrible, and I’ll you exactly why. The basic premise of the story: oppressed people in a horrible world want to get the promised land, Elysium, where all the rich happy people are. What the story should be: give main character a reason to bust out of his terrible life, give him a way to get there, present obstacles, he either succeeds or fails. Nice, straightforward, right?
Not content with giving Max one reason to get up the nerve to try to break into Elysium, the movie gives him about four. Any one of these four would have made for a fine story. Instead, we juggled them all, which made the whole thing a complicated mess. Max has a crap job building robots and gets caught in a blatantly telegraphed industrial accident involving radiation poisoning and he has five days to live, unless he can get to the magical medicine on Elysium. He goes to his fixer from his old car-jacking days who has a mission for him — they’re going to hack an Elysium executive for entry codes to take over the whole system. But because Max is so sick we also need to install an exoskeleton so he’ll be strong, because it turns out we didn’t think that radiation poisoning thing out well enough. The radiation story pretty much takes a back seat for the rest of the movie, but this way we get that rocking fight at the end, that no one will be able to see anyway because TOO MUCH SHAKY CAM DAMMIT. The entire story is now the classic cyberpunk corporate espionage fights in the street battling the system thing. But apparently even this isn’t enough for a story, because Max’s old girlfriend has a daughter who is dying of leukemia, unless she can get to Elysium. (If I ever do a “how to write book,” there will be a whole chapter about how if you have to add a small child with leukemia to motivate your characters, your plot has gone horribly, horribly wrong.) Okay, that’s just three, but I’m pretty sure there was something else in there I’m missing.
But it turns out none of these motivators is even important because the bad guy just up and loads them on his ship and takes them all to Elysium anyway. Getting to Elysium? Not actually a problem, it turns out! The heroes never have to get themselves to Elysium, which was the whole point of the story we were promised at the beginning. The story isn’t a story — it’s a series of MacGuffins, all of which stop being important just as soon as the next MacGuffin comes along. Writers — don’t do that.
Also, do you know that we have wireless information transfer to orbiting space stations right now, in 2013? Did I mention this thing makes no damned sense? Argh. I’m just so frustrated.
August 5, 2013
Red 2: What it says on the tin. I have to say, it’s really nice being able to laugh all the way through a mainstream comedy. I don’t know what it is about me, but I find machine guns so much more hilarious than, like, your typical scatological humor.
Justified, season 4: Still loving the writing — mostly. Still love that Raylan Givens is actually kind of an idiot, but he’s so damned charming everyone puts up with it. I love that he’s such a bad influence on Tim and Rachel and that drives Art nuts. It got to where I just busted out crying every time Arlo appeared on screen. But the show and the story took a serious misstep that has me intensely cranky, and that’s the Ava story.
Serious Spoilers Ahoy!
So. For four seasons now, we’ve had all kinds of horrible lowlifes blowing each other away with impunity, not worrying about witnesses or snitches or cops or anything. They just seem able to make the bodies vanish, and the authorities rarely get involved. This is just what happens in the nasty criminal underworld of Harlan County, the show tells us. And then Ava blows somebody away, for what was actually a good reason if I recall. Ellen May — another woman — sees it, and suddenly we spend an entire season worrying about cops, and Ellen May snitching, and Ava getting found out and going to jail, in a way that no other character has worried about any of these things during the entire run of the show. And yes, I think there’s a gendered attitude going on here. This leads to previously smart and savvy characters like Boyd doing all kinds of ridiculous, stupid, out-of-character things. I’m like, “So what if they find the body in the mineshaft? She used a freaking shotgun and there’s no physical evidence connecting Ava to the body! And any competent defense attorney is going to completely destroy Ellen May’s credibility as a witness in, oh, thirty seconds of testimony. What are they worried about?“
Well, it turns out the story wanted to hurt Boyd. Because it’s very clear by the end of the episode that the story is less interested in how all this affects Ava than it is in how Ava getting arrested is going to affect Boyd. The story here isn’t Ava getting arrested — it’s Boyd failing to protect Ava. Which means the show up and fridged Ava without actually killing her. Yeah, I’m kind of pissed off about that.
Doctor Who: So, how about that new Doctor? Very safe choice, isn’t it? (grumble)
July 15, 2013
Well, here it is, possibly the most anticipated geek film of the year. Even more than Star Trek, because with Star Trek we knew what we were getting. With this? All we could do was hope.
And I’m finding it really hard to talk about because I can’t separate the movie from my intense nostalgia for this kind of thing. I have no idea what this thing looks like to someone who hasn’t been waiting for a good-looking live-action mecha anime-style movie for pretty much her whole life. Because I have, and it’s beautiful.
The thing I really appreciated about Pacific Rim was the industrial weight of it. Water sheeting off steel as Gipsy Danger strides off into the rain. Sparks flying, gears turning, pistons pumping, being able to see it all work because the movie slows down enough to let us. Human beings clearly built these things, and you can see the bolts and welds. Jaegers require a small city of workers to maintain them. They take muscle to operate, a fleet of helicopters to transport. They are heavy and difficult, which makes it that much more impressive when one of them takes off at a run. The scale is consistent, and yet I was always surprised at how big they are, looking up at them, or across at them from the top of an industrial scaffold.
This is something the anime versions could never express. Anime mecha are beautiful, but they’re painted and weightless. Which means this movie is better than its source material. And part of me can’t believe I just wrote that.
Okay, time to shake it off and get serious. First off, the good: the 3D was fantastic — completely non-intrusive, if that makes sense. I forgot I was watching 3D, because it didn’t do any of that fakey “ooooh, you’re watching 3D” sight gag crap. The 3D added depth, and that was it — it helped increase the sense of scale and weight to the mecha and kaiju. This was a very deep world. Really, I loved the worldbuilding. The pilot culture, the world experiencing slow apocalypse. If I lived in this world (not that I want to live in a world being overrun by interdimensional kaiju) I would so be a Jaeger groupie. The film’s best action set pieces are not in in the trailers. There’s one in particular that made my Voltron fangirl heart soar. To say more would spoil it.
Second, this is a really good example of a story that’s filled with cliche characters and plot points — the grizzled veteran commander, the hero with a traumatic past, the untried rookie, the hotshot with the chip on his shoulder, the crazy scientist — and yet was done cleanly, competently, and engagingly. This is a really familiar, standard anime story — and that’s a good thing. Keep it simple so we have time for a story and to see beautiful mecha waging destruction on monsters. Well done. And some of it was very well done indeed: Mako Mori’s flashback, as observed by Raleigh, is probably one of the most striking, beautiful sequences I’ve ever seen in a genre film, ever. This was indeed a movie by the director of Pan’s Labyrinth.
Third, this is also a really good example of a movie that could have been made more inclusive by simply swapping out the gender of one of the existing characters. My pick would be the ops controller or the British mad scientist (if you think that’s crazy, picture this for a sec: an Amy Farrah Fowler type character in this kind of movie. Done swooning yet?). None of those secondary characters needed to be male for the story to work. Seriously, it isn’t about adding extra women characters — it’s about not automatically defaulting to male. (This was my same complaint with Inception.) Then maybe I wouldn’t be sitting there at the end thinking, “Wow, that was a very male movie.” At least we had a veteran woman pilot on the Russian team — that made me happy.
Before going into it, I thought this would either be brilliant, and I’d have nothing to say about it, or terrible, and I’d also have nothing to say. Clearly, I had something to say about it, so it might not have been absolutely perfect — but it really is the live-action anime I’ve been wanting pretty much my whole life and, I think I need to see it again.