July 13, 2016
A short post to let you know that my long-form review of Warcraft is now live at Lightspeed. I called it “A Mage, A Knight, and a Half-orc Walk into a Tavern–” because I just couldn’t not call it that. Verdict? It falls in the category of “A D&D style movie a million times better than the actual D&D movie.” Which is, granted, a very low bar…
I’ll be writing a long review of the new Ghostbusters for Lightspeed as well. Got my tickets to see it tomorrow. I can’t wait. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about it.
In other news, from the back, my dog looks like a cat.
June 10, 2016
Yes, summer is here! I know because I almost passed out after riding the Boy yesterday. That first really hot day always gets me. I’m better now. Now it’s time to go hiking and sit outside reading books and enjoying the hell out of it so next January I can remember what warm is like.
Reminder: Amaryllis and Other Stories is available for pre-order at Fairwood Press. It’ll be released in August — we’re debuting it at Worldcon in Kansas City!
OspreyCam: The surviving baby and parents are doing great. Little guy is growing fast. I love checking in with these guys. I’ve visited the nest in person, too, but it’s tough to see much from the ground so I love the camera.
I saw Warcraft. Because reasons. I’m writing a long review of it for Lightspeed and I’m having so much fun with it. Partway into the movie my friend leaned over and said, “Does this seem cumbersome to you?” “No,” I shot back. “It’s adorable.” Since I’m pretty sure “adorable” is not what the filmmakers were going for, make of that what you will.
The schedule for Denver Comic Con has been posted. I’ll post my own schedule next week, so you’ll know exactly where to find me.
And now, I’m deep in revision mode on the new novel and a new Wild Cards short story. Trying to finish before family visits next week. *girds loins and gets back to it*
June 6, 2016
Tally ho, Austenites! There is a new movie with beautiful drawing rooms and sumptuous gowns and men in frock coats and witty banter. Huzzah! This is an adaptation of Austen’s early novella, “Lady Susan,” which I have not read and now must because I want to see if Austen really wrote all those catty comments about Americans.
This was charming if not earth-shattering, and really embraces the witty and comic side of Austen. It’s meant to be ridiculous. Sir James now replaces Mr. Collins as the most ridiculous character in all of Austen.
Meta: I couldn’t stop thinking about how Kate Beckinsale — Lady Susan — and Chloe Sevigny — Mrs. Johnson — also play friends in another period movie, The Last Days of Disco, which I somehow can’t stop thinking about and seems to constantly be relevant to other situations. I can’t explain it.
Side note: So Osprey Cam. For awhile they had to put a viewer discretionary advisory on the site because three of the four chicks died. I wanted to share something happy and then it turned into Nature Death Cam. I feel awful.
But chick #4 and parents seem to be doing fine. I’ll be over here crossing all my fingers.
May 23, 2016
That probably should have been a 20 minute skit rather than a 100 minute movie.
Also: Not enough kitten. When you make a movie about a couple of nerds who get caught up in the middle of gangsters and drug dealers fighting over a kitten, there’d better be A LOT of kitten.
May 18, 2016
I want to talk about both because this is such an interesting example of how an adaptation can go horribly, horribly wrong.
The Big Year by Mark Obmascik is a great read, an example of what makes the general nonfiction category so interesting: he tells a story that reveals and illuminates a subculture that many people may not know about, and makes the topic and its players fascinating. This is the story of the 1998 Big Year, when three birders competed to ID the most bird species in North America in a year when El Nino and odd weather patterns brought an unusual number of odd migrants to the continent, pushing the possible number of sightings to record highs. The competition is entirely unofficial, and deeply obsessive, requiring tens of thousands of miles of travel. The three players here are interesting and quirky in their own rights, and the story is all about the intersection of their lives and shared obsession.
If you’re at all interested in birds and birding it’s a must-read. If you just like good stories about weird things that actually happened to interesting people, I recommend this one.
And then in 2011 they turned the book into a movie, starring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black. The movie is. . .frustrating.
The first sign we know that something has gone sideways is that even though the three characters in the movie correspond specifically to the real people from the book, the movie has changed their names and some important details about them, enough so that it’s no longer anything resembling biography.
This is because it turns out the movie is not really interested in birding at all. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have birds — it actually has a handful of sequences that illuminate exactly why birding is so cool, and how endlessly fascinating birds are. Like when they find a pair of bald eagles in the middle of their mating dance. They’ve all seen plenty of bald eagles, but they’ll watch this because it’s just cool.
But what the movie really wants to do is shoe-horn these characters and this situation into a really disgustingly bog-standard Hollywood story about “what’s really important in life.” The Wilson character’s wife is going through fertility treatments so they can have a kid but the marriage ends when he picks birding over her. Note: this isn’t in the book at all. Not even a little. The Martin character decides he’d rather spend more time with his new grandbaby than with birding. Also a plotline not in the book at all. The Black character finds romance on his Big Year and decides he likes her better than birds. ALSO NOT IN THE BOOK. Are we sensing a pattern here? The end of the movie: Wilson’s character “wins” the year, but is left feeling unfulfilled as he stares at a young family with a baby across a pond. Meanwhile, our other characters are the real “winners” because they’ve learned what’s really “important” in life. i.e. Not birding.
Basically, the message of the book is: Birding can get really obsessive but it’s also really awesome and attracts all kinds of interesting, driven people.
The message of the movie: Everything else is more important than birding.
What really frustrated me is the original story of The Big Year already has plenty of plot and obstacles that make for great drama without inventing all this “true meaning of life” bullshit. The person the Jack Black character is based on? Gets sick halfway through the year and is eventually diagnosed with cancer. (He lives. I guess Hollywood couldn’t figure out how to tell a story about someone with cancer who lives.)
The movie uses birding as a crutch to tell this really boring story. But it never explains why birding in the first place. What turned these people onto birding? How did they all get started and why have they all become so passionate about it? The movie never tells us. It could just as easily have been about golf or stamp collecting or curling. But I really wanted to know why birding, because then it would mean so much more when the characters start questioning their obsessions with birding.
I wish I had liked this movie better because the actors were actually pretty good — especially Black, who gets across the drive and exhaustion of someone financially struggling to make his Year happen (that is in the book) — and I enjoyed watching them interact and play out the story. But the story was just so weak. I wish the movie had trusted its subject and source material more.
May 10, 2016
The Short Review: I thought the shaky cam was gonna kill me.
You know what a good use of shaky cam would be? Shake the camera once when someone hits the ground, to get a sense of jarring. But that’s it. Shaking it the rest of the time to convey the idea that it’s being held by a person-on-the-scene found footage documentarian? When that’s not the kind of movie you’re making? That’s stupid. Stop it stop it stop it. Just stop. STOP.
A-hem. But what about the movie? All right. With spoilers.
First act was a little rough, I gotta tell you. MCU movies usually win me over in the first scene, but I was so angry at the shaky cam that I wasn’t there. And then we got a lot of contrived explanation that I’m not sure I buy. So wait, is Ross saying that we all would have been better off if the Avengers hadn’t been at the Battle of New York? If they hadn’t downed the Hydra-controlled helicarriers? Or hadn’t stopped Ultron? Is that what he’s saying? Because I don’t think that’s right, you know?
And let’s break it down: This is all about Tony Stark’s guilt. He became Iron Man because he’s guilty over arms dealing. He created Ultron because he’s guilty about New York. The Accords are about being guilty over Sokovia. And really, ultimately, he’s super-guilty about how he handled his parents before their death. Tony’s enough of a narcissist that he doesn’t want to be guilty alone — he’s going to spread it around. It can’t be his fault because it’s everyone’s fault, right? On the one hand, I’m totally happy psychoanalyzing characters in superhero movies, especially when the movies give me enough to psychoanalyze with. These movies are so good with character.
On the other hand, Steve is totally right and Secretary Ross is using Tony’s guilt to manipulate the entire team into a politically expedient situation, because it’s always a good idea to target the guy writing the checks. There, I’m calling it. (And yes, there’s something to be said about the existence of superheroes somehow creating a commensurate level of disaster — but generally we call that plot.)
So yeah, a little awkward getting the plot spun up. But it turns out it’s all a red herring anyway. Once the plates all got spinning, the film was great. Lots of good moments, good banter, great action (GIANT MAN OMG), strong emotional arcs. A+.
It’s really hard not comparing this to Batman v. Superman, especially when both films have this core issue of collateral damage and oversight of superpowered heroes. And when both films have a good guy v. good guy smackdown. Civil War has a 12 character battle that is interesting, full of banter and weight, and wasn’t set in motion by a contrived plot-hammer. This is how you do it.
I’m not going to break the whole movie down or I’ll be here all day. I liked it. I’ll see it again like I see all the MCU movies again and maybe the shaky cam and stumbling first act won’t bother me so much. It did what it had to do well. Black Panther was great — a hero who stops to examine evidence and can change his mind? Nice. I loved Peter Parker. I’m a fan of the Raimi/Tobey McGuire Spider-Man and I actually like this character better. I hope this means we can have a Spider-Man movie without the origin story, since the origin was subtly handled in about two sentences here. (Tony: “Does anyone else know?” Peter: “No. Nobody.” *HEART BREAKS*) I really liked that the villain wasn’t an alien or a monster or technology gone wrong or anything. Just an angry guy with a plan.
And Peggy. That text message destroyed me. My wonderful Peggy. I knew it was coming, and yet….and yet…. The film did a fantastic job handling that whole situation. And I love that the film gave Captain America’s famous “No, you move” speech from the comic to Peggy, via the eulogy. Love it. (I remember Jarvis’s line from the TV show: “It’s my understanding Captain Rogers had you.” Oh yes he did.) (And I’d like to point out that we lose Peggy and Howard Stark in the same film. Symmetry.)
And now I have to go cry again.
April 8, 2016
I had a bunch of things I was going to blog about, and wouldn’t you know it, I can’t remember them now. . . Well, I’ll come up with something!
Next month, May 6-8, I’m the author guest of honor at the Creative Ink Festival in Vancouver. It promises to be an excellent time full of writing and art and fun!
The April issue of Lightspeed Magazine is available to purchase and has a new story by me: “Origin Story.” Yes, it’s a superhero story — actually it’s a supervillain story. And yes, it takes place in Commerce City. It’s the backstory of a character in the third Golden Age book. The story goes live next week, but if you want to read it early, here’s your chance.
So, how about that Rogue One trailer? I’ve only seen it twice because, I confess, it reduced me to messy tears the first time, and the second wasn’t much better. Why am I having such an emotional to reaction to it? Well, I think it’s because it feels exactly like the year-long Star Wars RPG campaign I was part of back in college. We were a band of secret agents and rogues running missions for the Alliance, and it was fun and serious and gritty and everything Star Wars should be, and way back in 1993 thought we would never get in movie form ever again. And here we are with what looks like pretty much exactly the movie that would have happened if they’d pulled it straight out of my twenty-year old brain.
It’s a little overwhelming, when pop culture caters to one’s id so directly. Whew.