cynic

December 6, 2013

My comics-guy friend Max and I went out for coffee.  Here’s what we talked about (roughly edited for dramatic effect).

Max:  Did you see they cast Wonder Woman for that Superman v. Batman movie?

Me:  Yes.  You know what the story’s going to be, right?  It’s going to be Superman and Batman duking it out for Wonder Woman’s affections.

Max:  No.  No.

Me:  Yes.

Max:  No, that’s just not right.

Me:  You know who’s directing, don’t you?

Max: ….  Zach Snyder?  Just no, he won’t do that.

Me:  I have two words for you.

Max: (winces)  What….

Me:  Frank.  Miller.

Max: (puts head in hands and repeats in a tone of despair)  No, no, no, no……..

(It’s like the DC movie franchise is utterly terrified of a solo Wonder Woman project.  And yet they desperately, desperately want a Justice League series than can compete with the Avengers.  But they can’t do Justice League without a strong solo Wonder Woman project.  I can see the producers curled up on the floor, hands wrapped around their heads, weeping…)

Another “Squee!” movie for me.  I like the books a whole lot and this was a good adaptation.  Just as nerve wracking as it needed to be, good off-the-rails science fiction fun.  My terrible confession:  I actually feel a little bit sorry for Effie Trinket.  She’s trying so hard.  She’s so trapped in the system.  She’s got a role, and even when she suspects it’s terribly wrong she can’t at all consider stepping outside that role.  I think her clothes get fluffier the more awful she’s feeling.

So, two “Squee!” movies in a row!  I am spoiled!  This got me thinking yet again about what I want out of my entertainment. As an entertainer myself, I’m very interested in this question, because it helps me figure out how to write my own books.  What should I put in?  What should I leave out?  How do you craft a narrative to evoke an emotional reaction?

You know how people say, “Well, it’s a pretty good movie if you just shut your brain off?”  You know how infuriated that makes me?  Because it means you’re doing exactly what corporate filmmakers expect you to do:  not care if a movie is dumb, as long as it has pretty CGI and explosions and crap.  WE DESERVE BETTER.

What I’ve realized:  I absolutely LOVE being able to shut my brain off during movies.  Because when it happens for me, it means it’s a really good, fun, entertaining movie.  Seriously, I want to be able to shut my brain off during movies.  I want to be entertained!  I write for a living, I don’t want to spend a movie — my fun time — figuring out how to fix something that’s broken!

So I love it when my writer brain (mostly) shuts off.  (It rarely entirely shuts off.  Thor Dark World and Catching Fire both have fairly rigid three-act structures and make use of escalation and so on.  I could track it.)  Bad movies are bad precisely because they will not let me shut my brain off.  I can’t ignore it when bad writing throws me out, when the plot is nonexistent or becomes too forced to bear, when it becomes clear that the filmmakers think I’m an idiot and won’t notice that their movie is dumb.

So yes, those people who say I should just shut my brain off are absolutely right.  Movies are better when I shut my brain off.  But it’s up to the movie to earn my trust so that I’m able to turn my brain off.  It’s not a gift.  They have to earn it.

 

Thor: The Dark World

November 18, 2013

I think I’m just going to stop reviewing these things because we pretty much know it’s gonna be all squee.  SQUEE.

I do want to talk a bit about what I’m calling the Avengers Sequence and how I continue to be impressed by the scope and genius of the thing.  We’re up to eight movies (I’ve decided to include the Ed Norton Hulk movie, because it has enough tie-ins to the rest that it works) and a TV series, all set in the same world and continuity, and with mostly good stories that build a cohesive saga.

But that’s not the real genius of it all, I’ve decided.  I went to see Thor: The Dark World with my mega comics geek friend, and some friends who know nothing of comics.  I’m right in the middle.  The first easter egg after the movie — the epilog, I suppose — was delightfully bizarre (to describe it without spoilers).  An entirely new setting and aesthetic from anything we’ve seen so far, but still clearly part of the story.  I know enough of the meta here to recognize this is probably something that showed up in the comics, and is probably our first lead-in to this.  I asked my comics friend, and sure enough, he gave me the rundown, right down to issue numbers.  But what did the non-comics friends make of the scene? Did the out-of-left-fieldness of it throw them off?  No.  The verdict:  “There’s a new story here and I want to know more.”

Bingo.  And that’s what these movies are doing right.  They’re working on enough levels that they appeal to everybody.  Sure, if you know the material you’re going to completely geek out and get all the easter eggs and dropped hints.  But if you don’t, you’re still going to be drawn into it all because these movies have earned our trust and they’re telling freaking good stories.  They’ve given us enough that a new setting intrigues rather than confuses.

I don’t know how it’s possible, but I may be even more excited about upcoming Avengers-related movies than I was a couple of years ago when the first Thor came out.

Ender’s Game

November 4, 2013

The Controversy:

I can’t say a word about the movie without first talking about the controversy:  Orson Scott Card, author of the novel this movie is based on, is a vicious homophobe, and there’ve been extensive calls to boycott the film, to express opposition to his views and deprive him of income.  As someone who once counted Card among my favorite authors, and who avidly read his “how to” book on writing science fiction when I was a wee thing, count me among the heartbroken to learn of his current radical, bigoted stances.

I’m just going to throw some links out. More pixels are burning on this film than just about any other over the last few years.  Lots of good reading out there:  Cory Doctorow on not boycotting the film; likewise, an editorial from The Advocate; and John Scalzi’s take.  Also, plenty of people aren’t seeing the film because rather than loving the book, they find it deeply problematic concerning issues of child abuse and preemptive violence. John Kessel’s famous essay on the problems of Ender’s Game is here.

The vitriol toward Card and his work is proportional to the degree that many of these same boycotters loved Ender’s Game.  It’s a book that many people discovered as teenagers, it brought them to science fiction, and it carries such a message of tolerance and peace, that to discover its creator essentially hates them and their loved ones is too much to bear.  It’s a betrayal as deep as what Ender feels at the end of the story.

Another link for you:  Nick Mamatas, discussing complex political aspects of boycotts.  Really, Card is currently making bucketfuls of money on book sales (this is how most writers make the bulk of money from adaptations of their work), and whether he makes money from this particular film is moot because its success or failure will determine his ability to make further deals in the future.  The best that can happen from all this is that more people are now aware of his truly lunatic views.

Rather than not see a movie I’ve been looking forward to seeing for a good long while, I’ve made a donation several times greater than what I paid to see it to the True Colors Fund, which helps homeless LBGT teens.  I like to think this will do more good in the long run than depriving Card of pennies or attention would.  It’s something positive, at least, amidst all the anger.

Why Did I Want to See This?

1) I want to support movies based on high-concept science fiction novels, in the hope of increasing the chances of seeing movies based on oh, let’s say Ringworld, The Stars My Destination, The Left Hand of Darkness, Cyteen, etc.  Also, selflishly, I have friends whose books-to-movie/TV projects might hang on whether Ender’s Game succeeds or fails.  James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series, for example.  I want them to succeed.

2)  My well-documented big spaceship fetish.  Pretty, pretty spaceships.  (It’s an illness, I know.)

THE MOVIE!

I really liked it.  Really.  It’s been twenty years since I’ve read the book but I remembered enough of it to be impressed at how much the movie covered in not a lot of time, and to spend the third act hoping they wouldn’t frak up the end.  There was a moment when I thought they might. (Spoiler:  they didn’t.)  The story is streamlined, but it’s all there, including Peter and Valentine, and Ender’s thematic journey is well-constructed.  I cried at the end, right when I was supposed to.  Battle School was stunning, as was Command School.  I really liked that Petra was bigger and beefier than Ender, who was so physically unassuming.  Nicely done. (I was surprised to find out that Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Petra, is only a year older than Asa Butterfield, who plays Ender.  They really are peers.)

But goddamn it, when are these movies going to figure out they don’t need that prolog and voice over, especially if they’re just going to repeat the exact same footage and information ten minutes later (and much more effectively!) in the story?!  STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP. IT.

Oh, and One More Thing:

When the book first came out in the mid-1980′s, video game culture was still new, and the book tackles issues that were being raised about the effects of virtual violence, and the distance between the player and the violence the player was inflicting.

I propose that in this era of unmanned drones and evidence of drone pilots suffering PTSD, this aspect of the story is as topical as ever.

 

a maudlin post

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

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.

movie ticket time capsule

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
  • Imposter
  • 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.

Gravity

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.

But.

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.

the recovery movie marathon

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:

  • Seabiscuit
  • Sense and Sensibility (Ang Lee/Emma Thompson version)
  • Tombstone
  • 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.

a few notes

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.”

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