Jupiter Ascending

February 23, 2015

Yup.  I totally went to see this.  Because SPACESHIPS.  So, what’s the verdict?

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.


state of the desk

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.

Happy Friday!


The Imitation Game

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.


Big Eyes

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.


Into the Woods (movie)

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.


Short review:  If at any point during a movie ostensibly called “The Hobbit,” the phrase “The spice must flow!” passes through one’s mind, something has gone quite definitely wrong.

Longer review:

I’ll get this out of the way up front:  all of the scenes with Bilbo Baggins in them were perfect.  Wonderful.  Martin Freeman lit up the screen, and I loved that thread of the movie to bits.  The thing is, I wager those scenes account for less than half of the whole movie.  This is a bit of a problem I think.

Really, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie filled with more extraneous b.s.  Irrelevant b.s.  Any sort of plot and character thread involving Bilbo and Thorin and the quest and the mountain became so diffuse in this installment, it was hard to pick out at all.  The more I think of it, the angrier I get, so I’m going to stop.

Except for just one more word about Tauriel, or as she is known among my friends, Extraniel, or sometimes Superfluel:  She didn’t even get to do anything.  If you’re going to build up this tragic romance between her and Kili, Sexiest of All the Dwarves (TM), at least give her the dignity of being able to destroy his killer, instead of having her fail and spending 15 more minutes of the movie watching Legolas almost kill him over and over and over again before finally killing him.  (I don’t want to be the person who bitches at how the movie isn’t like the book — but Legolas isn’t even in the frakking book!  Argh!)  I’ve said it before — sometimes, a token female character really is worse than no female character at all.

I’ll give the movie one more bit of credit, so I can leave on a positive note:  the ending was great.  I had fears of a patented Peter Jackson drawn out extravaganza with lots of singing and Dwarven funerals and Tauriel in the Grey Havens taking a ship into the West, and a “where are they now” of every single extraneous character we ever got a glimpse of, up to and including young Strider/Aragorn among the Dunedain, and we didn’t get any of that.  So, well done, movie.



mythical history

December 26, 2014

So I’ve finally started watching Penny Dreadful.  I’m only a couple of episodes in, but I’m already simultaneously amused and frustrated, because it’s such the standard Mythic Victorian London.  With a little more horror, maybe — but even then, it’s bouncing up against From Hell and various Wolfman and Jekyll and Hyde retellings.  Look, everybody:  Grubby slums!  Garish prostitutes!  Jack the Ripper!  Upperclass gents in cravats with deep dark secrets!  I’m going to keep going with the show, because this is an excellent take on the Frankenstein story so far.  I love Proteus.  He’s broken my heart three times in two episodes, and I want to see more.  (I’d been drinking the rest of the champagne from what was leftover after making cheese fondu — in other words, a lot of champagne — and I turned to my friends and said, “You know why this story’s going to break my heart?  Because in every version of Frankenstein, Victor’s always such a shit!”  Yeah, I got a bit emotional.)

But it’s got me thinking about mythic settings.  Especially mythic historical settings.  Because it seems to me at this point most of the shows/stories I see set in Victorian London have very little to do with Victorian London, and are instead amalgams of all the stories about Victorian London that have been handed down to us.  This setting got its start with Dickens and Conan Doyle, but it’s now taken entirely for granted that a story set in Victorian London will have grubby slums and garish prostitutes and upperclass gents with deep dark secrets.

World War II is another space where this is happening, and it’s really come to a head over the last few years.  We don’t see too many stories about Vietnam anymore, but darn it if we haven’t had half a dozen World War II stories — Monuments Men, Fury, Unbroken, Defiance, Enemy at the Gates — even Captain America counts.  Heroic men, impossible odds, triumph over evil and adversity, etc.  The mythologization of World War II really comes clear for me when I watch movies about that war that were made in the few years after — because the war in those stories isn’t the mythologized one we’ve grown familiar with.  Even the frame story in White Christmas (released 1954, I think) deals with issues we don’t see told about that particular war anymore — coming home, the way war experiences continue to affect the people who fought.  But since then, we don’t really tell stories about World War II — we tell stories set in this backdrop that’s been handed down, with a certain expected set of tropes, whole cloth.

Not sure where I’m going with all this.  Except maybe that it reinforces my feeling that if you’re going to write about a familiar historical setting, it’s very useful to research that setting, rather than to take for granted the familiar — perhaps overly familiar — tropes of that setting that have been packaged up and handed down to us over and over again.  This is not to say using those tropes is automatically bad, but it’s important to recognize which details are perhaps overused tropes, and which are details that will actually seem fresh and interesting.



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