July 14, 2014
Given how much I hated Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there was no chance in hell I’d go see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, despite the good reviews it’s getting. Good thing there’s another limited release under-the-radar science fiction flick out for me to go see instead.
This is the kind of hype Snowpiercer is getting: on The Mary Sue: “Review: Run, Don’t Walk, to See Snowpiercer, The Best Sci-Fi Film of the Decade So Far.” My Facebook news feed has had people raving about this. I confess to feeling raised expectations. Well…
This movie is not that good.
Science fiction has a long and glorious tradition of using the trappings of the genre to build up metaphor and allegory and commentary. Such tales work best when a) the story is rock solid, and b) the metaphor is consistent. (Like Edge of Tomorrow, to the shock and wonder of us all!) I was willing to give Snowpiercer a pass on logic (seriously, the economy of this thing made no sense), if it could give me something else — cleverness, consistency, sense o’ wonder. Alas, it wasn’t quite there.
First, it starts really slow. The page six problem — skip the opening scroll, skip the long meandering opening, and start when Claude enters to take away the two children. Next scene, the movie totally lit up when Tilda Swinton’s character walked in — thank God for Tilda Swinton! She very nearly saved the thing herself just by chewing all the scenery. And the movie got a whole lot better for awhile and I had great hopes that it was going to keep getting better. But then we get to that last forty five minutes, and it kinda fell apart.
I loved the set up. A globe-circling train carrying the last of humanity through an artificial ice age? Sold! All we had to do was get from the back of the train to the front. The tension ought to be built in. But the movie pretty much offered the same solution to every obstacle, and that solution wasn’t clever, it was violent. It got old quick.
It has some nice moments. It has some clever (the cigarette scene was great). It has a great aesthetic — reminiscent of Terry Gilliam, as the aforementioned reviewer said. (One of the characters is even named Gilliam! Is that an accident? Probably not!) Those scenes were lovely. But. But but but. There wasn’t enough surreal/absurd — it needed more Gilliam-esque — in story beats as well as aesthetic — and it needed to be consistent. But when Snowpiercer didn’t do clever, it fell back on cliches. I kept thinking…Gilliam would have been able to pull this off. (Fortunately, we have a Gilliam movie coming out later this year! Huzzah!)
(I have a rant about how for being a 99% v. 1% metaphor the movie has no grasp of Marxist theory and it really should, but we’ll skip that one.)
I kept waiting for a clever twist that never happened. Why do I keep expecting movies to be clever, dammit?
This is also yet another movie that posits that in dire circumstances, everybody will be totally horrible to each other in really horrible ways. All the previews before this? Movies about how in dire circumstances, everybody will be totally horrible to each other in really horrible ways. I’ve about had enough of this bullshit, y’all. I’m going to go watch Big Fish, which is free On Demand right now.
July 11, 2014
So I was thinking about CA: The Winter Soldier and how really really nice it was to see a big tentpole action superhero flick with a man and woman lead, working together, with absolutely no romantic involvement, or hint of one, or suggestion that there ought to be one. Steve and Natasha are friends, or become friends, and are totally professional. I think that’s just great.
Then I remembered the Necklace. THAT NECKLACE.
The necklace was definitely supposed to remind us about Hawkeye, and that Black Widow and Hawkeye might be an item. Was the necklace there expressly to tell the audience that Steve and Natasha won’t be romantically involved because she’s already “taken?”
On the one hand, this is a nice, subtle bit of signalling — much nicer than some ham-handed on-the-nose conversation would have been. On the other hand — is that kind of signalling even necessary? Is the only way to keep the audience from thinking that Steve and Natasha won’t hook up is to tell them that she’s already taken? Like they can’t just be friends? Like Clint has to frakking mark his territory or something? Argh!
Or am I reading too much into the whole thing?
July 9, 2014
July 7, 2014
My brother and his family came to visit this weekend, as we all gathered to celebrate my grandparents’ 65th wedding anniversary (!!!). I got to do something pretty darned special: I took my niece riding. This was one of the things on my auntie bucket list — I’m the horse person in the family, and every little girl needs to ride a pony at least once, so I really wanted to make this happen. We were a bit worried that Emmy wouldn’t be into it — horses are big animals, and if she’d decided she didn’t want anything to do with them, well, that would have been fine.
But see, right now I have access to Thumbelina, who is 13.1 hh — very kid sized. Perfect opportunity. Emmy did great:
(Thumbelina did great, too.) Emmy even helped brush Thumbles’ tail. She didn’t want to get off. Her parents may be doomed, and my work here is done.
When we got home, I remembered that one of my Breyer horses is a little bay Shetland pony that looks very much like Thumbelina, so I gave it to Emmy. Niece’s first Breyer! She’s only two and a half, and doesn’t quite get that not all toys should be thrown around. I had to close my eyes a couple of times, lest I see one of my beloved ponies take damage. But hey, she has her first horse, and that’s important, at least to me.
We all spent the weekend in the mountains, and had some pretty cool wildlife encounters. Here’s the moose who visited us at the cabin where we stayed:
Isn’t he lovely?
July 4, 2014
Today is Independence Day in the U.S. I am away, making a weekend of it, and not working too hard (I hope).
Celebrate well. Celebrate safely.
*Raises a bottle of cider to you all*
July 2, 2014
Announcement: On July 16 at 7 pm, I’ll be at the Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, SC, hanging out and chatting and signing books and things. An east coast appearance, woot! This will be after my stint teaching at the Shared Worlds workshop for teens, so it should be a fun action-packed day.
The July issue of Lightspeed is now available! Including a new story by me, “Harry and Marlowe Versus the Haunted Locomotive of the Rockies.” The story goes live on the site on July 22, but you can buy the issue and read it early. This is the fifth Harry and Marlowe story, and yes I have plans to gather them all in a collection someday, but I have a couple more I want to write first before I tie them together.
I’m in the middle of revising the next Kitty book. Holy cow, I’ve got a lot of work to do on this one. Complicated by the fact I have also started writing a whole new novel. Almost ten thousand words in and building steam. I am suddenly very busy. Brain full! Gah!
June 30, 2014
Well, that turned out to be a lot of fun! Nicely done, everybody! There’s an interesting subtext here about war, futility, and gaming — this felt like a video game: dying, going back to start and playing forward with what you learned the last time. But Cage only really gets anywhere when he stops playing that part of the game.
The thing that really won me over: the main character, Cage, starts out being a complete asshole. What this means is this is a redemption story, very straightforward. But you know what I keep saying about the pleasures of a rote story, well told? You don’t need bells and whistles and head scratching plot twists. Tell me a solid story, tell it well, and the thing about this one is, Cage has to really work for his redemption. Really work for it, so by the end it’s very clear he’s grown and learned and come out of this a completely, believably changed person.
I love all this because Hollywood doesn’t often give us such flawed heroes (I’m not talking about the “bad boy with a heart of gold” kind of character that usually gets passed off as a flawed hero, I’m talking the “asshole who usually gets his head bit off first in a Jurassic Park movie” kind of character), with such difficult roads to redemption, and whatever else happens, whatever other nits I could pick with this thing, that makes the film worthwhile.
And is the kickass woman character (yay, Emily Blunt!) just a prize for the hero? No. (Or at least, it’s really ambiguous.) And isn’t that nice?
And now, a story that may or may not be relevant, but the movie reminded me of it so I’m going to tell you
Years ago — 1997 maybe? — Clancy Brown came to Starfest to promote Starship Troopers and I got see his talk. He showed the proof-of-concept clip Veerhoven had put together, sixty seconds of pure brilliant awesome that left the room silent (and to this day I still mourn that the final product couldn’t replicate that sixty seconds), and talked some. Then he opened the floor for questions, but he started by saying, very carefully and specifically, “Look, guys, I know you want to know about the power armor, but we weren’t able to do the power armor. They just couldn’t figure out how to do it. So please don’t ask me about the power armor.”
I think the very first question was asking how they were going to do the power armor.
Over the course of next half hour, four or so more people also asked about the power armor, and each time Clancy Brown patiently, but with obvious frustration, explained that no, there was no power armor, they couldn’t do the power armor, sorry. And yet, people kept asking.
And that was the moment I knew Starship Troopers was going to be a terrible disappointment to a lot of people.
But that first battle drop scene in Edge of Tomorrow? I kept thinking, that right there is the scene that all those people at that Clancy Brown talk really wanted to see.