May 5, 2014
I am so immensely pleased and proud of myself that I spent my money this weekend on this movie, and not on Amazing Spider-Man 2, which every instinct and fiber of my being screamed was going to be a white hot mess. Reviews have generally borne this out. I had to go all the way to the Mayan in Denver to vote with my dollars, but I did it, dammit.
The short review: Only Lovers Left Alive did not displace The Hunger as my favorite vampire movie of all time, but it did have lots of shirtless Tom Hiddleston, so it balances out.
The movie is slow and leisurely, which is fine. I loved the first half — it was a good, interesting urban fantasy set up. The second half dragged. It left a lot of guns on a lot of mantels (literally, in one case!) without firing them. I’m pretty sure the movie did that on purpose, which is also fine, but it made for a rather unsatisfying experience, ultimately.
Because here’s the thing. The movie raises the question that nearly every story about centuries-old vampires raises: Why now? What’s changed? These vampires have been trucking along, doing all right, for hundreds of years — and now, suddenly, something happens to change that, to change their attitudes, to make things more difficult than they were, to add crisis. But this story doesn’t really answer that question. A lot of vampire stories don’t, because it turns out that’s a really hard question to answer convincingly. Well, to be fair, this one vaguely answers it, something about human blood being super-contaminated now and it’s no longer possible to live on it without it being medically pure, which is very difficult to get, etc. etc. But I was unconvinced, because I have a hard time believing blood now is any more contaminated than it was a hundred years ago in the days of untreated syphilis and rampant lead poisoning. Probably doesn’t matter because the whole thing was probably just a metaphor.
It’s worth seeing, if you’re a particular connoisseur of vampire movies. It’s got some great moments, great acting, a really nice appearance by John Hurt, all those historical vampire inside jokes about Byron and so on. And some good lines: “Well, that was visual.”
Now I want to see Byzantium, another artsy vampire film that came out a couple of years ago that’s supposed to be excellent.
May 2, 2014
I’ll be at Starfest tomorrow! Just Saturday, this time around. I’ve got a couple of panels and a book signing. Should be a good day.
The table of contents of the June issue of Lightspeed — the “Women Destroy Science Fiction” issue (it’s a long story) — has been released, and I’ve got a story in it: “Salvage.”
Very longtime readers of this blog will remember one of the first movies I reviewed here was Sunshine, and I was very annoyed by it, because it’s another in a long line of spaceship movies that can’t seem to handle a plot without throwing a monster in the third act. Alien has a lot to answer for on that score.
At the end of that review, I joked that I was going to write a story wherein a spaceship crew docks with a mysterious derelict — and nothing happens. “Salvage” is that story. I can’t wait for folks to read it.
It’s been kind of a lull period around here lately — I’m writing a boatload of new work, some short stories and novellas, a couple of surprises, but it’s going to trickle out into the world slowly. My story “Roaring Twenties” will be out in the anthology Rogues, another of the big cross-genre anthologies edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. There’s another Harry and Marlowe story on the way. Stay tuned.
Oh, and I’m totally not planning to see Amazing Spider-Man 2 because I totally didn’t like the first one, and the trailers for this one fill me with existential dread. See, I’m learning! Conditioned response is a thing!
April 7, 2014
“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.
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.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.)
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?)
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?
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):
- 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.
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.