This is another set of reviews of movies I watched on airplanes, with bad sound and too many little bottles of wine.

Kong: Skull Island

This may be a perfect movie for bad sound and too many little bottles of wine because this doesn’t have a single original thing in it — but it knows it. Is there a reason this needs to exactly replicate the aesthetics of a 1980’s Vietnam War movie? Did Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” really get played on U.S. bases in Vietnam as much as it does in these movies? Why the hell did they bring a record player to Skull Island? I probably wasn’t supposed to laugh when that one guy handed over the pile of dog tags to Samuel L. Jackson but I totally did. “Sir, here are the tags of our fallen comrades, some of whom were swallowed whole by a giant gorilla. Please don’t ask.”

But really, this film is an object lesson in how very good actors can sell something ridiculous by sheer force of will.

The Accountant

This was really good. I mean, it wasn’t art, it was super trope-y, and had just about everything you expect from a one-man-army revenge thriller story. (We have twenty years of CSI to thank for those endless scenes of agents sitting in front of computer screens while whatever suspenseful information scrolls up ever so conveniently. Macguffin screens, lets call them.) But what sold me on this were the characters. Like five characters, all played by really solid actors, who all had interesting arcs that intersected in plausible ways and I liked them and liked that things ended well for most of them. Good work, movie!  And this is all before I even get to the part where it’s superheroes and accounting, which is kind of my thing. I’m telling you, it’s a great untapped genre.  I told my CPA mom to watch this one.

 

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I know some of you are eagerly awaiting what I have to say about this film. I’ve been really looking forward to it, since 1) I loved The Fifth Element and have wanted Luc Besson to return to the genre, and 2) Gonzo space opera is one of my favorite things.

It’s getting slammed in reviews, which doesn’t surprise me. Nobody liked The Fifth Element, either. I suspect they didn’t know what they were looking at and weren’t willing to learn. I wondered if Valerian was going to be the same.

So what’s the verdict?  Well.  What’s good in it is really really good. What’s bad is pretty terrible.  But there’s more good than bad. If you’re a fan of big gonzo science fiction — and especially if you want to support SF that isn’t sequels or remakes or reboots — I think this is worth seeing.

Here’s what I liked and what I didn’t:

This may be the closest we ever get to an adaptation of an Iain M. Banks novel. It’s quite Banksian, and I liked that. (In fact, I’m pretending the ship’s name, Alex, is actually short for Why Do I Even Listen To You People?)  It’s a huge world with a lot going on that is presented as being everyday and ordinary.  There’s a big sequence involving a tourist market that exists in another dimension, requiring operating on two different levels of reality, and the film makes it work and it’s super interesting. Stuff like that! Yes!

There’s a level at which this is a story of the heroism of ethical bureaucrats, and I liked that too.  The general who’s just trying to figure out what the hell is going on and who is lying to him and why, and then he fixes everything, is my favorite character in the whole thing. In most movies, he’d have been shot by the villain in act two, but not here.

The worst:  the two main characters are totally unconvincing and epically uninteresting. They’re stock characters, standard bantering action heroes, which would have been okay with engaging and charismatic actors playing them.  But these are woefully, dreadfully miscast.  They’re clearly attempting deadpan banter and it just comes off flat.  Both of them look way too young, especially when they’re supposed to be arguing authoratatively with Clive Owen, who is phoning it in and still acting circles around them.  I simply didn’t believe they were amazing galactic secret agents, and that was a huge problem.  The relationship between them is even more problematic, of the “If the guy harasses his beautiful coworker enough, eventually she’ll say yes!” variety.  I find myself recasting these two in my mind:  right now I’m on 1990 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, which I sort of think would have been amazing.

But back to the good, the first five minutes or so are some of my favorite five minutes I’ve ever seen in an SF movie. It’s a compressed history of the ISS from now to five hundred years in the future as it becomes a meeting place for different nationalities, and then for aliens, and it expands and expands right out of Earth orbit to become a galactic center for trade and diplomacy. It’s freaking gorgeous and so juicy and science fictional and beautiful and hopeful and I loved it.

I just wish, so much, that they’d gotten other actors for the leads. Actors with the charisma to match the setting. Alas.

 

 

Wednesday update

July 19, 2017

I’m still, slowly, unwinding and putting my brain back together from my week of A) new book release yay! and B) turning in new new book wah!  It’s taking a long time for my brain to clean itself out, but it’s happening. I’m even able to sort of start getting ready for the next round of travel. And do some relaxing. Finish up knitting projects, that sort of thing. I should probably clean house.

Last night’s event at Barnes and Noble went great! We even had a real Irish Wolfhound attend! So many people and so much fun!

Here’s my long review of Wonder Woman, with a couple of bouts of analysis of what historical settings mean and why it’s been so hard to get a viable superhero movie featuring a woman main character.

My take on the New Doctor announcement. Meh? I know it should be more than that, particularly with the casting of a woman, but I stopped watching Doctor Who regularly a few years ago. I’ve heard this last year, post-Clara, has been quite good, and maybe I’ll try to catch up and watch the new doctor. But I’ve got so much to watch right now. At any rate, I’m happy to see changes in the show and I’m happy that so many people are happy. I like Jodie Whittaker, and if you haven’t seen Attack the Block, which features both her and John Boyega, you totally should. Like, right now.

 

trailer talk

July 17, 2017

BANNERLESS has been out a week!  Remember, Kevin Hearne and I are appearing at the Barnes and Noble in Boulder tomorrow at 7 pm!

Movie trailers. Been thinking about them lately, again. I finally saw the trailer for Blade Runner 2049, the entirely unnecessary, 35 years after the original sequel. I avoided it when it was big on social media because I’m pretty much aghast that this even exists. So I saw it for the first time on the big screen, which is exactly the way to see it. It’s spectacular. Of course I want to see this movie.

I’m still suspicious of it, because I think the trailer is playing on nostalgia rather than story. It nails the aesthetic of the original, and we eat it up like candy. For me in particular, it’s the music — Vangelis’s Blade Runner score is one of the most iconic in movie history. Those resonate synthesizer chords — nothing else sounds like Blade Runner. So when those chords start in this new trailer, it’s a pure endorphin rush in the back of my brain.  For me at least, that visceral “holy shit this is awesome!” response to the trailer is a lizard-brain adoration of the aesthetic.  It depends on my nostalgia for the original. I discuss this in my review of Stranger Things as well — is it good, or are we just so happy to see something we love that we can’t tell the difference?

Then there’s the newly released trailer for A Wrinkle in Time, which is spectacular for a lot of reasons. SO MUCH COLOR. So much amazing cosplay to look forward to.  I’ve watched it multiple times and cried every time for a lot of reasons — it’s so rich. First, the trailer has the scene that almost everyone who reads the book remembers vividly as a knife cut — the clone suburban neighborhood with the balls bouncing in perfect unison. This wins so much good will just from that scene alone: “Yes, the filmmakers know what they’re doing.” Another part of this everyone is talking about is the epic cover of “Sweet Dreams” accompanying it. Another piece of familiarity to draw people in. Skewed, this time, which tells you something about the movie. This song is probably not going to be in the final cut of the film — it’s there to pique our interest.

So much psychology goes into these things. It’s just fascinating.

 

I spent this weekend at an SCA event that nearly got flooded out by an epic 2-hour mountain deluge and I got no sleep because I was freezing cold and I’m still dehydrated and BANNERLESS COMES OUT TOMORROW and BANNERLESS #2 IS DUE ON FRIDAY and I’m a little frazzled so here’s a quick post, with a few more thoughts on Spider-Man: Homecoming.

This one is CHOCK FULL OF SPOILERS.

Michael Keaton is a treasure, and his evolution from Bat to Bird to Vulture is tremendous fun.

A lot of comics geeks are bitching about young Aunt May, and first off it’s really wonderful to hear a 50 year old woman called young, but I really like young Aunt May, that she’s Peter’s aunt and not his great aunt, that she’s a regular harried middle aged woman, still vibrant, and she worries and has a million things going on, and there are all these implications — she’s lost her husband (as implied in the brief backstory given in Civil War), her sibling (Peter’s parent), and gosh darn it she’s not going to lose Peter, and that’s why she’s so flustered about him. I love it.

My comics geek friend is tremendously happy that this Spider-Man invented his own mechanical web-slingers, just like in the comics, rather than have it be biological because that never really worked, did it?

I’m scared to go back and watch the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man because while I loved it to pieces, I’m worried that it will now look as cheesy and dated as the first Tim Burton Batman.

I’ve been saying “I can be your guy in a chair” all weekend. I’m pretty sure that whole thing was a dig at the DC TV shows.

Just like the ferry scene was a dig at The Dark Knight.

And then when the door opened at Liz’s house, HOLY SHIT.

Those Captain America high school PSA’s were a riot.  “How many more of these are there?”

I loved the opening scene, all these real world implications of the alien invasion in Avengers, like yes there’s going to be contractors hired to clean up the city, and this is something I think the MCU is doing really well, following through some of these implications — and not in a big way. It’s part of the worldbuilding. It’s always there in the background. It’s lovely.

I loved Peter’s complete meltdown when Vulture dropped the ceiling on him. He’s still a kid. He panicked. Such a human moment.

And I loved that he fought the big last battle in his homemade sweat suit costume.

Okay that’s probably enough now…

I SHOULD BE WORKING.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 7, 2017

This was wonderful.

I’m having trouble figuring out what to say, because there’s so much I want to say, but I also don’t want to spoil a single thing because part of the joy of this is the ton of little easter eggs and jokes and just really nice moments through the whole thing. It’s clever, but doesn’t make a big deal about its own cleverness. It’s also really heartfelt. What is it like being a 15 year old kid with superpowers in the Marvel Universe? Here, this is what it’s like.  (In fact, the movie doesn’t stand alone. The plot’s deeply connected to what happens in Avengers and Civil War, and there are references to the whole MCU scattered around. But I have to say, at this point this is one of the things I love about the MCU:  they don’t spend any time trying to explain what happened before, they expect you to just know, and in the process have built up an entire world that doesn’t require any explanation, that acquires new layers with every outing.)

This is a superhero movie that’s also a nearly perfect teen comedy. That’s also an homage to teen comedies. But when the story of a teen comedy would go in one direction, this veers back into the superhero movie. So you think you know what’s going to happen, but then something else entirely happens.  We all stood outside the theater after asking each other, “Did you see THAT coming, at the start of the third act?”  “No I totally did not, did you?”  “Not even a little bit.”  We were all amazement.

And there’s the scene where Michelle is wearing a Sylvia Plath T-shirt.

Gah, I must stop now, before I start quoting lines. And stay all the way through the credits. Really really. I shouldn’t have to keep saying this…but just do it.

 

 

Wonder Woman

June 5, 2017

Yeah, that was just fine. I don’t think it was the best superhero movie ever the way some folks are saying, but it was good. I had some quibbles but nothing deal-breaking. I probably need to see it again without the weight of “OMG please don’t suck” hanging over it.

I’m writing a long review for Lightspeed, and will have a lot more to say there. For now, the biggest thing for me is how the movie proves what I’ve been talking about for years:  Women superheroes need to be designed as heroes, not pinups. When the primary design specification is “sexy” (for typical straight male definitions of sexy), she’s not going to be believable as ass-kickingly powerful.

Wonder Woman gets that.  The film could have easily decided that “well, the Amazons are immortal and magical so we can make them all supersexy model-pretty and young and that’ll be okay.” Except that amazing battle on the beach would have been completely unbelievable, the Amazons would not have been as astonishing as they are, and the whole idea would have fallen flat. As it is, the Amazons — including Diana — are so, so strong. There’s been a lot of press about how they’re portrayed by athletes and martial artists, they trained for months — and it really comes across. Moreover, they’re not young. You look at these women, and they have experience and wisdom, they’re comfortable in their skins. They haven’t just been training and fighting, they’ve been doing it for years.

On this foundation, the authenticity of the entire film is built.  I’ve been saying this for years. Women heroes, first and foremost, needed to be heroes. And this is one of the reasons why Wonder Woman succeeds.