March 9, 2015
First off, I decided not to go see Chappie. I should, because this is exactly the sort of meaty idea-driven SF I keep saying I like. But this is by the director of Elysium as well as District 9, and Elysium just drove me so bananas, and I find I don’t have the patience for that kind of bad anymore. I used to think it was really useful picking apart failed movies to see exactly what went wrong, but you know what? I’ve done that. I’m done.
I waited for the reviews on this one before I made my decision — and the reviews have not been good. Moreover, the reviews have indicated that the movie fails in many of the same ways Elysium failed: big ideas with a lack of focus and a plot going in five directions at once, with caricatures rather than characters. So yeah. Maybe if someone was paying me I’d go, and that’s the first time I’ve ever thought that while deciding whether to see a movie. Moving on…
I have to confess I bounced off this one a little bit. It might have been high expectations — everyone’s been raving about it, particularly the action and fight choreography. But you know, with the shaky cam it’s really hard to tell how good the action is. Down with shaky cam! **SPOILERS FOLLOW**
It’s nicely done with a competent plot that we’ve all seen before, part Harry Potter and part Luke Skywalker in a James Bond universe. So yeah, a mite predictable but I love Colin Firth so that’s okay. Except they jump out of the airplane and I know something’s going to go wrong with the parachutes because that’s what happens in these things.
It’s also a cartoon, with people getting cut in half but no guts falling out, and peoples’ heads exploding with actual animated mushroom clouds. Except I kept forgetting it was meant to be a cartoon because there’s some serious stuff in here too. The best way I can think to describe it is it keeps going back and forth between being a parody of James Bond movies, and an homage. Which some actual Bond movies do, granted. But I think it was trying to have it both ways, and I got confused.
Another confession: I thought the violence was too much. I would have been happy with PG-13 levels. This was R. But like I said, it’s a cartoon, so we’re supposed to laugh at it? Like, we’re allowed to laugh at Galahad murdering a church full of people because they were, you know, bigoted rednecks? And we can laugh at all the politicians heads exploding because a) politicians and b) anyone stupid enough to let an evil genius implant a chip in their head deserves what they get?
This movie has a weird, dubious morality to it, carefully mocking the people who die violently so we can enjoy the artistry of the violence. But then we’re left with Exy’s mother breaking down the bathroom door so she can murder her baby, and that’s not funny at all. Exy keeps saying he saved the world — but he didn’t, because the governments of every country on Earth have been destroyed and millions of people have presumably died or been injured in a global mind-control scheme. The story starts out with a traditional riff about how the lower class bloke is just as good if not better than the upper class kids and maybe this institution founded by a bunch of Victorian aristocrats who made their fortunes via global colonialism isn’t such a great thing after all, but that all goes away as these things always go away: it isn’t that we want to overturn the system; no, what we want is for our hero to earn his way to the top of the system.
Anyway, I’ve already spent way too much time thinking about this, so I’m going to stop, except for one more thing:
So there’s a joke about secret agent tryouts. The trainers hand the candidates guns and tell them to walk into a room and kill the person inside. The first comes out in tears. “It’s my mother, I can’t do it!” And the second walks into the room and comes back out crying, “It’s my brother, I can’t do it!” And then the third candidate goes into her room, and the trainers hear a gunshot. Then a lot of terrible noise. And the candidate walks out and says, “Yeah, so the gun was loaded with blanks so I had to beat my husband to death.”
I thought about that joke during the movie, and it made me wonder yet again what the point of that test is supposed to be. They obviously don’t want the candidates to actually kill their dogs. But they reward the one who pulls the trigger. So what quality are they advocating here? The hardness that will allow the candidates to kill their loved ones if they have to? Or the bitterness at knowing the institution they work for happily lies to them?
Or as one of my friends said: “They reward the candidate who actually checks to see if the gun is loaded and what with, which is what you should always do when someone hands you a gun.”
March 4, 2015
I’m not a big fan of cold, but I do like snow (which is one of the many reasons why I stay in Colorado). One of the things I like about snow: the way it sometimes partially melts and then re-freezes in really cool ways. Like, half-melting through the slats in the pergola over the back porch.
It’s like a giant snow fungus, isn’t it?
What can you do in the snowy season but stay in and watch movies?
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Nebbish middle-aged dude teams up with his flighty neighbor to a) find his lost love and b) get flighty neighbor back to England before the world is destroyed by a giant asteroid. This is the kind of movie you can sit around arguing about whether or not it’s science fiction. Either way, it was pretty well done.
SPOILERS! Because I am going to fix the ending for you.
I didn’t want to like this, dripping as it is with Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, but it got me. The scene where he puts her on the airplane? I sobbed like a freaking baby. He spends the whole movie saying he knows a guy with a plane to get her home, and when you realize who has the plane and the emotional hurdle Dodge had to clear to get to that point — oh, it’s just a great moment.
I would have ended the movie with Dodge lying on the floor of Penny’s apartment, listening to her records, smiling.
Instead, the movie goes the ultra cliche romantic route, and she comes back, which to my thinking completely undermines the power of the scene at the airplane. It may also completely undermine the emotional arc of the entire movie, during which both characters admit they don’t know how to be alone and have gotten into really bad relationships because they’re scared of being alone. And here they are doing it again, because the only reason this relationship isn’t going to go bad is that the frakking world is over. But anyway. Still not a fan of ultra cliche romance I guess.
The movie also got me thinking about what I would do if the world was ending in a week. And I realized: I would stop writing. (Now, if I got some kind of terminal diagnosis I would probably keep writing for as long as I could, because someone will still be there to read it. End of the world? Not so much.) I’d make a nice dinner for my friends. I would read The Blue Sword one more time, and watch Star Wars and Labyrinth one more time. I would go birdwatching at Walden Ponds for a day, and listen to a lot of music. I would go hug TinyHorse, and all the other horses too. I would buy a $100 bottle of wine and drink it very slowly. I would call my niece. And then I’d probably do whatever my mom wanted me to do, because, you know, mom.
February 23, 2015
Yup. I totally went to see this. Because SPACESHIPS. So, what’s the verdict?
“Wizard of Oz” meets “Dune” except the main characters are super boring, and did you notice how Jupiter doesn’t actually make any active decisions through the whole movie? She’s entirely reactive. I mean, sure, she decides to save Earth by not signing this thing, but really only when she realizes Wise is going to come rescue her after all. Again. Because this movie does the same plot like three times in a row because it has three villains. The action scenes were nonsensical and too long.
And the more I think about it, the more it’s thematically basically just like the Wachowskis’ best known film, The Matrix: Earth is not what it seems and human beings are Product. Fight the system! Ride your rocket boots into the camera!
But it does pass the Bechdel test quite handily, multiple times, so there’s that.
The Good Stuff, because there was some Good Stuff:
You know how I have this thing about big space ships? Ho-lee shit, people. There were some really gorgeous space ships in this thing. Go for the space ships. And space stations, and planets, and cultures, and people, and I basically loved all the secondary characters from the two Cyberpunk Bounty Hunters to the Dinosaur Gargoyle Guards to the Pretty Bureaucratic Androids. And Captain Tsing. Captain Tsing is my new favorite character. Give me a movie about the Adventures of Captain Tsing, please.
Basically, this whole thing is a proof-of-concept for making a movie based on Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels. SOMEBODY PLEASE DO THIS RIGHT NOW.
How The Movie Would Have Gone if I Were the Main Character:
Me: So wait. I’m a space princess?
Wise: Queen, Your Majesty, but yes.
Me: And how many worlds are there?
Wise: Millions, Your Majesty.
Me: And how rich am I?
Wise: Very, Your Majesty.
Me: I would like my own ship and a tour guide, please.
Wise: You do realize the economy of this culture is based on turning entire planets of people into Oil of Olay, right?
Me: And that is wrong, and I will fight to change it, I promise. But I still want my ship and tour guide.
February 20, 2015
Random nattering today. I had a really good day yesterday: started with a great ride on TinyHorse, I finally got to sit down and write something substantial, I made cashew chicken for dinner, and then I watched Guardians of the Galaxy. I was worried it wouldn’t be as good as I remember. Turns out, IT’S BETTER. Plus, Dancing Baby Groot still leaves me weeping with joy. I still really appreciate that the movie doesn’t have an opening scroll or voiceover, and this time I really noticed that all the pop music is actually playing in the course of action. As in, if the song is playing in the soundtrack, it’s because it’s playing on Peter’s tape deck. I love that. So many movies and TV shows use pop music in a soundtrack as some kind of emotional shorthand, but in Guardians it’s part of the action.
What I’m working on: I finished up two short stories this month, which was nice. Next, revisions on the YA space opera, and a secret project. I’m hoping to finish up both of those in March. Then. . .well, gosh, I’m not sure!
We’re supposed to get a big snowstorm this weekend. We’ll see if it actually happens. If it does, I may stay home and binge watch the Robotech DVD’s I got for my birthday.
January 14, 2015
Aside: Thanks for all the comments on Monday’s post. It’s been cool seeing everyone’s comments about the series as a whole and Kitty in particular. Now, I really hope people like the book!
Movie review time: Of the two Important British Scientists Biopics that came out this winter (I’m always fascinated when movies seem to happen in pairs like this), this was the one I was most interested in, because it’s WWII and because Turing is an overlooked, important, and ultimately tragic figure. I could kind of predict what kind of story The Theory of Everything would be, but I was curious how this one would shake out.
The truth is, I wasn’t sure about The Imitation Game while I was watching it. It’s quite scattered, jumping around in time and unsure if it’s a character study or a rousing war story. But then Turing turned on The Machine for the first time, and I started crying, and I thought, dang, the movie got to me, how did that happen?
This is a World War II movie of the Mythic WWII variety. It’s also a spy thriller, and a character study, and it was at its best as a character study. The very best parts were the interactions of the Hut 8 codebreakers, and Alan trying to figure out how human beings work, which the movie proposes was more complicated to him than the most ornate cryptography. There’s a climactic bit that takes place in the pub — Turing gets it, reacts, and then everyone else gets it a second later because they’re finally all on the same page — that the film sets up perfectly, and it made me wish the story had done without all the newsreel type footage of the actual war, because after all we’ve all seen that footage and we didn’t need to be reminded of what the stakes were.
A great deal of my uncertainty about the film also came from just being tired of the Socially Awkward Unpleasant Genius character, especially as played by Benedict Cumberbatch. I’m one of the few people who’s unhappy with his casting as Dr. Strange, because I worry we’re just going to get that same guy all over again. My vote was for Oded Fehr.
What I really wanted to do after the movie was find out more about Joan Clarke. She’s one of those examples that I love discovering, that prove that women were there, doing important work wherever there was important work to be done. They just never seem to get recognized for it. History forgets about them, and we must remember.
Next time, or soon: I have things to say about Penny Dreadful and Agent Carter. Maybe even at the same time, which’ll be fun.
January 5, 2015
The holiday movie extravaganza continues. I really wanted to see this because it’s Tim Burton not being Tim Burton, if you know what I mean. It’s a historical piece, like his Ed Wood, and an almost painfully human story, like Big Fish, and while it’s not as good as either of those I’m still glad I saw it. It’s the story of Margaret Keane, whose husband Walter built a pop culture empire based on her paintings of children with really big eyes, while taking credit for her work.
Burton has a really good eye for 1950’s and 60’s Americana, and this ended up being very much about that time. As much as it’s about the Big Eye art, it’s about a culture in which a priest can tell a woman that if her husband is pressuring her to lie to her daughter he must have a good reason for it and she should just go along with it. If a lot of us seem terrified at current conservative politics, it’s because there are more than a few people out there who would love for us to go back to that world, in which a woman can be asked in a job interview if her husband approves of her working.
This movie is also something of a mirror universe Ratatouille, in which the artist is completely unable to be true to herself, and the Anton Ego-ish art critic, a marvelous Terrance Stamp, is exactly right. Ratatouille filled me joy. This film filled me with existential sadness.
It made me sad, not just because of Margaret’s situation, but because there are Walter Keanes in publishing. There are people more in love with the idea of being writers than they are with the thought of writing. They take advantage of people, they promote themselves with only a house of cards as a foundation, and yes, they steal. There are entire scams built up around taking money from people who want to be writers. (The Writer Beware blog does the great work of tracking and exposing these scams.) There are people who genuinely can’t see the difference between their own dreck of a novel they churned out in a week and the bestsellers of someone like J.K. Rowling, and therefore they believe there must be some conspiracy or insider knowledge holding them back. There are fiction factories, in which writers produce work for a house name and are paid a pittance. None of these examples is as spectacular as what Walter Keane pulled off. But spend much time in this business, and you’ll see little examples of art and commerce colliding in terrible ways.
January 2, 2015
I brag about one thing I’ve done more than any other. More than being a bestselling author, more than hanging out with George R.R. Martin. The thing I brag about most: getting to see the original production of Into the Woods on Broadway with Bernadette Peters. This musical is becoming one of the great classics, and Peters’ basically owns the role of the Witch. I feel like, just by being an observer, I’m a participant in a classic moment of American theater. I imagine it being like seeing Ethel Merman play Annie Oakley or Robert Preston as Howard Hill. It was pure luck that I was there, but I’m incredibly happy about it nonetheless.
So you can imagine that I approached the movie with a great deal of trepidation. I had the perfect Into the Woods experience once. That would never happen again. Why was I even here?
Turns out, I didn’t need to be worried. The open song made me cry, just like it always does, because it’s perfect and beautiful and one of the most high-energy openings in any musical anywhere. The entire first act is just about perfect, really. Great singing, great story, great cast. Loved it. “Agony” is worth the price of admission all by itself. (And not just because for a split second you see Chris Pine singing it, and think, “Captain Kirk is singing this!” and it’s so very appropriate…)
Unfortunately, the bliss was not to last because the filmmakers took a bit of a machete to the second act, much to the detriment of the play’s very rich themes and meanings. I’m very curious — how did the movie go over for someone who doesn’t know the stage version like the back of their hand? Because yeah, I know this show, and I missed what was missing.
SPOILERS: Just a brief discussion of what was cut. I know everyone’s mourning the loss of “Agony (Reprise),” which is one of the cattiest, most brilliant bits of story ever, and I would have just adored seeing Pine and Magnussen chew the scenery with it. But the song I missed most was “So Happy.” This is the start of the second act, and it resets all the characters with their “new normal.” It lets us all catch our breaths after the manic energy at the end of act one. But more than that it shows us a) what our characters have to lose now, and b) that not everything is perfect after all. By skipping that, the second act arrives abruptly with the Giant’s Wife smashing everything, and it feels like it’s come out of left field. And then there’s Rapunzel, who actually apparently gets a happily ever after in this version when none of the other characters do, which doesn’t feel right at all. This made the whole second act kind of a big “WUT?”
Anyway. The singing and music and acting was all just fine. Go for the music. Go for “Agony.” And then go look up the PBS American Playhouse video of the original Broadway production. Because Bernadette Peters.