I liked a lot of this.  But I didn’t love it, and it took me a day of mulling it over to figure out why.  Most movies that are broken I can figure it out immediately.  This. . .it was subtle, and it took awhile, but here it is:  This movie doesn’t know who its main characters are.

So I’m going to ramble on about main characters for awhile, as if this is some kind of writing workshop and I’ve just gotten in a manuscript that is mostly very good but will probably never sell because of that subtle main character problem.

In the comics, Kitty Pryde is the one who goes back in time to warn her friends in the past.  At the time the books came out, she was the most engaging character in the series, and she makes the story great and heartfelt and charming, even with all the tragedy. (It’s right there on the cover:  EVERYBODY DIES!)  Here’s this middle aged woman suddenly returning to her teenage self, on what’s really her first day of being an X-Man, and the contrast is intriguing, and gives the reader a concrete emotional anchor.

I understand why the movie decided to send Wolverine back instead — he’s basically the main character of the entire X-Men series of movies, right from the start.  We’ve only seen glimpses of Kitty (though her battle with Juggernaut was the only good thing about the third film); audiences are already invested in Wolverine, so that’s fine.  But he’s near-ageless, and except for a few gray hairs, he’s basically the same in both times — so that arc has to change.  And that’s okay, because there’s another arc there:  Wolverine has to learn to be a mentor to this young man, Charles, who will eventually grow up to become his own most important mentor.  That’s a great story hook right there.

But Wolverine isn’t the main character of this story.  Charles, Eric, and to some extent Mystique, are. (Mystique is clearly the villain, but a sympathetic one, given what we know about her.  But she really only gets enough time to be the one-note crazy bad guy here. Unsatisfying.)  I rewatched First Class the night before going to see this, and it’s a great, great story — because it’s so solidly about the friendship between Charles and Eric.  I’m a little in awe of how awesome this is — a movie about friendship, that  happens to have superpowers.  That moment when Eric puts on the helmet, shuts Charles out, and Charles is screaming because he knows something important has just broken, shattered — the movie nails all the beats.  It’s powerful.

I kept looking for something like that in Days of Future Past, and the movie kept slipping past it.  Part of why it did:  it crammed in a bunch of things that had nothing to do with that arc, and Wolverine’s role in it.  It kept throwing in references to Stryker, flashbacks about Jean — all important to Wolverine’s story as depicted in the other movies.  In fact, this depended a whole lot on the audience having seen those other movies, to its detriment, I’m afraid.

For a story whose plot was essentially a big standoff — Mystique wants to kill Trask, Trask wants to kill all mutants, the Sentinels want to kill everyone, Eric wants to kill Mystique, Charles wants to stand in between them all shouting “No!” — this was a really complicated movie.  What it really needed to do was cut out everything that wasn’t about Charles and Eric trying to work together to stop Mystique.  Wolverine doesn’t have an arc in this story.  He should be something of a Greek Chorus, foretelling doom — and that’s totally okay.  He can have his realization about settling down and learning to be a mentor — and then get to the work of mentoring and observing.  Everything else muddies the story.

Three more general observations:

All the superhero action stuff was pretty much great.  The Quicksilver sequence in the kitchen was amazing.  I loved the future bits, and the way the movie cut back and forth during the climax.  The familiar characters, the fighting, the struggle against impossible odds.  Totally engaging.  My friends and I decided we really want to see a movie starring the second stringers — Kitty, Colossus, Iceman, etc.  That would be awesome.  One of the tricks of writing about superheroes, especially in something like the Wild Cards world, or X-Men, is finding creative ways to use your characters’ powers.  Unexpected ways.  Put your water-bender in a desert and let her figure out how she can still use her powers.  Let your metal-bender find ways of working around his limitations.  Rebar is Magneto’s favorite thing in the world, and I love that.

The Easter Egg:  was a failure, I think, because even my comics geek friend was like, “Wut?”  Clearly, it’s a teaser for whatever movie is coming next. But I’ve got nothing linking it to what came before, and no idea what’s coming next.  I kept thinking of the Guardians Easter Egg in Thor: Dark World, which was also completely out of left field — but we had the Asgardians there to tell us this is the same universe, and I knew Guardians was coming.  It’s a stepping stone.  This egg had me flailing in the deep end with nothing to hold on to.

Women characters:  Yes, I’m going to talk about this, because it bothered me.  I’m wondering why the scarcity of meaningful women characters bothered me more in this than it did in Godzilla, and I think it’s expectation.  Previously, this series has done a great job:  Jean, Rogue, Storm, Mystique, Emma Frost, Moira — I really missed Moira in this one.  This time we have. . .Mystique, the Macguffin.  Jennifer Lawrence did what she could with what she had, but it was really unsatisfying having a plot that was basically a bunch of guys trying to stop this one powerful crazy woman.  I walked out of the theater feeling this desperate, aching, heartbreaking desire for a Kitty Pryde movie with Emma Page.  Please, Marvel.  Please give me a movie focused on one of your amazing women characters.  Do it soon.  I’m dying here.

 

Godzilla (2014)

May 28, 2014

This was exactly the movie it needed to be, and I kinda loved it.  A lot of fun (and everyone who says there isn’t enough monster in this is delusional).  This is not to say it’s particularly good: it’s the kind of movie where the soundtrack adds taiko drums when the scene shifts to Japan, and where top-flight actors like David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, and Sally Hawkins (who played Anne Elliot in that great BBC production of Persuasion a few years ago) each get to do exactly one thing through the whole movie.  (Okay, Ken, in this scene I want you to look shell shocked.  And in this scene I want you to look astonished and shell shocked!)

There were some really, really great visuals:  the HALO scene, with Ligeti’s Requiem playing (I’m working on a whole essay about music as horror focused on this piece of music), is one of the most creative, best sequences I’ve seen in an action movie in a long time — this bit’s in the trailer, but in context it manages to be even more spectacular.  (Listen to Ford’s breathing, and how it slows down when he sees the monster — good stuff, here.)  I also really loved watching the entire Pacific fleet following Godzilla swimming to San Francisco.  People, I bounced in my seat, I was so happy with that.

If this movie succeeds, it does so because it’s a throwback:  it’s a perfectly simple, straightforward, classic disaster movie.  The kind where you wonder what the hell that one guy did in a past life to get stuck in one crappy situation after another.  The kind that spends a lot of time focusing on the faces of small children.  Cheesy, over the top — and strangely affecting.  Let me tell you a story.

I’ve talked quite a bit about my dad’s Air Force career and our time at Grand Forks Air Force Base.  One of the things he did there was pull alerts — he and his crew lived pretty much on the runway for a stretch of time, so they could get their plane in the air in a matter of minutes.  You know, when the bombs went off.  We could visit him — there was a big house with a playground, grills, pool table, and all the crews and their families would get together for an afternoon.  I played pool for the first time there.  There were also the alarms, and if they went off, all the dads had to go to the planes, and the rest of us would stay behind and likely get blown up when the nukes fell twenty minutes later or whatever.  It never happened, of course, but at the time, I’d imagine what would happen if it did.

There’s a scene early on in Godzilla where young Ford is in school, there’s a disaster in progress, and he looks out the window to see the nearby nuclear plant — where both his parents work — falling to pieces.  Those few seconds of film perfectly captured that old childhood fear of mine, of what it would be like to see the disaster in progress, and know my family was in the middle of it.  I started crying — just for a minute, but there it is.  It was a very strange feeling to have in a movie like this.  And it meant I was pretty much on the movie’s side, because as cheesy as it is, it got me, right where it intended to get me.

season finale season

May 23, 2014

I only have three to talk about — Game of Thrones is still a few episodes out, and I should just do a big ol’ GoT post.  And I’m behind on movies, because of all this traveling.  I probably won’t get to see X-Men: Days of Future Past until Monday, but I’m really looking forward to it.  And I’m planning on seeing Godzilla.  At some point, when I’m not running around like a chicken with my head off.  (Though the analyses that Godzilla is doing so much better at the box office than Pacific Rim because it has less plot and more dumb are making me sad.)

Anyway (spoilers ahead!):

Castle:  I’m so extremely, ridiculously happy they’ve finally wrapped up the whole conspiracy story with Kate’s mom’s murder and all the rest of it because that storyline had become a toll of doom for the episodes that covered it.  “Oh, the murder and that senator dude are here?  Must be season finale time.  Here comes the cliffhanger and characters being stupid!”  But they didn’t wrap the season up with that this time.  Hooray!  And seriously:  “Oh, Beckett, the clue to solve your mother’s murder was with you all along!  Now click your heels!”  That’s just funny.

The result of this quick little wrap up:  I immensely enjoyed all the wedding shenanigans of the finale.  And I am simultaneously intrigued and amused by the cliffhanger.

Arrow:  I haven’t been this excited about a TV show since the second season of Battlestar Galactica.  Any one of the last five episodes would have made a splendid season finale cliffhanger.  Too many “Holy shit!” moments to count.  But no, they gave us an actual season finale, with some stories tied up neatly, and others left hanging, some questions answered (Slade’s eyepatch, explained!), and others introduced.  Great, great stuff here.  This show is melodrama, for sure, but it’s very well written melodrama.  Both over the top and heartfelt.  And Felicity.  Oh, Felicity. I love her so much.

And the Flash preview:  OH. HELL. YES.  My summary:  Look, we’re a serious CW melodramatic show here.  Very serious.  Very, very serious–WOOOOHOOOOO SUPERPOWERS WOOOOOO!  Which is exactly what a comic book TV show ought to be.

Agents of SHIELD:  The show ultimately did the impossible:  it finally made me like Skye.  “Ward, you’re a Nazi!”  “What?!  No I’m not!”  “Yes, you are totally a Nazi, that’s page one of the Hydra book!”  (And that stark look on Ward’s face, where the true implications of his life come crashing down on him, because yes, he is a Nazi.)  It’s fascinating to me that Skye seems to be a much better character when she’s earnest and idealistic, than she was when she was scheming and conniving.  See, dark & gritty doesn’t always mean better.  Some bits of the Hollywood/comics world seem to slowly, slowly be realizing this.

Overall, this was probably my favorite episode of the whole season.  Lots of excitement, actual nail-biting, actual shouting at the screen.  Best Fury appearance ever, and the best banter ever.  “Hey, guys, I found it!”  The episode felt like it was written as if they didn’t know they were going to get renewed — it left some questions, but wasn’t a cliffhanger.  Much like the Arrow finale.  I think this is a fine, fine way to do a season finale.  I’m actually looking forward to next season.

And now, I’m off to enjoy this fine Memorial Day weekend.  Stay safe, y’all.  Excelsior.

So we got to talking about big explody science fiction movies, and overly self-important science fiction movies, and how rare it is to actually see good, solid, accurate science in any of them.  I find when describing these movies I use two phrases — bad science, and dumb science — and I realized those are two different things.  Here are my definitions:

Bad Science:  This is actually less bad than dumb science.  For me, this is the inaccurate, sloppy way that a lot of movies use scientific terms without really understanding them, like “quantum” or “nanotech.”  It’s when movies play fast and loose with scientific concepts to make their plots sound moderately smarter, or when they need a plot device that sounds clever.  An example of bad science is the bit in Europa Report where what’s-his-face can’t go back in the capsule because he’s gotten hydrazine spilled on his suit and hydrazine is poisonous.  And during that whole scene I’m thinking, “Well yeah, hydrazine is poisonous, but for heaven’s sake it’s not going to instantly kill everyone and I think there’s another solution to this before you go off and kill yourself.  Geez.”

Dumb Science:  This is so-called science or some kind of so-called scientific “principle” that is just so far off the wall and not at all credible, but the movie expects us to be dumb enough not to care.  The one that’s bugging us all now is the trailer for the upcoming movie Lucy, which trots out the old “we only use 10% of our brains” idea, which has been so thoroughly debunked as to be laughable, yet movies keep using it as a plot springboard.  And I can’t even take them seriously at this point.  (As much as I disliked Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and as idiotic as every single scientist character in that movie was, at least they came up with a semi-plausible explanation for increasing intelligence as a side-effect of research into Alzheimer’s treatments.)  Another example of really dumb science is the through the earth tunnel nonsense in the Total Recall remake.

Dumb science is when a movie expects its audience to be just that dumb to accept something like that without question.  Sorry, dumb science movie — I’m not buying it.

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.

Starfest!

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!

“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.

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