January 2, 2017
Happy New Year! You should know I made blood sacrifice to ensure a good year. i.e. I sliced my fingers cutting limes at the New Year’s Eve party. It’s fine, except sliced fingertips plus typing = ouch. I also successfully sabred a champagne bottle with my rapier. Not very well, mind you, but I did it.
Meanwhile, I’ve caught up on some viewing.
In this month’s Lightspeed, I briefly review Moana, Rogue One, and Passengers.
Here’s the short version of my review of Passengers: This film miserably fails its premise. It could have been a good middling Hollywood SF adventure romance. If they both woke up at the same time, and by accident. But he wakes up first, then purposefully sabotages her hibernation pod. So it turns into a movie about how this stalker and kidnapper really isn’t such a bad guy once you get to know him. Big side eye, there. I have a lot more to say, in the full review.
Legends of Tomorrow: I watched the first couple of episodes of this season to get the Justice Society glimpse, and my speculation was correct. My longed-for Starman reference appeared here. Well, not exactly. I mean, my Starman is Jack Knight and the mid-90’s run. This was Stargirl, a more recent incarnation. But I believe that is Jack’s cosmic rod she was using (or what will become Jack’s, in 50 years…) And it was kind of fun to get what is essentially her Bombshells version, sort of. (Bombshells: a graphic novel excuse to draw all the DC heroines and villains as 40’s pinups, but they have excellent adventures and it’s a lot of fun.)
And Rogue One was better on the second viewing. I liked seeing the setup, that we do get a pretty good introduction to each member of our gang before they finally all end up on a ship together, bonded by chance and circumstance. Classic gaming setup.
Those last five minutes are still a kick in the teeth. The whole last battle, really, (The hammerhead corvette, OMG. “Are they doing what I think they’re doing?” Yes, yes they are.) but once you understand what’s happening when that disk gets passed hand to hand and finally ends up on the blockade runner, and you know exactly what happens next — that’s how you do a prequel. A brilliant bit of fan service, there.
December 16, 2016
First, some shameless self promotion: the first chapter of Martians Abroad is up at Tor.com. Less than a month to go till release day!
And now, to a brief-ish review of Star Wars: Rogue One, the movie I have been waiting for for 25 years.
First off, I’m really annoyed at a handful of people who are insisting that spoilers don’t matter on this because we know what happens because Episode IV, yadda yadda. That’s not the point, and they know that’s not the point. Yes, we know how it turns out, much the same way we know how Titanic or Henry V are going to turn out. But this is also a story about individual people and their arcs and what they do, and those are the details we don’t want spoiled. I’m annoyed that I have to explain this to some people.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MOVIE, CARRIE.
Oh yes. I REALLY LIKED IT. I’m still processing. As you’ll recall, my rubric was “a rollicking adventure espousing the heroic ideals of Star Wars,” and I got that. And I also got what I’ve been wanting for since I started reading Rogue Squadron and playing the RPG, and that’s a Star Wars movie that breaks out of the strictures of the main saga and shows us some new characters and new corners of the universe and so on, and even uses a slightly different filmic language to do so. YES. This really opens up the world for even more storytelling possibilities.
So much more I could say. I will refrain.
And I really want to talk about the part that kicked my teeth in. (In a good way. A brilliant way, even.) But I won’t. Not yet.
December 14, 2016
My long review of Arrival is up at Lightspeed. I’ll say again, I really liked this and want to see it again to catch what I missed the first time. I hope between this, The Martian, Interstellar, and so on, we’re looking at a growing trend of smart, high-concept, problem-solving science fiction in the movies. It’s like I’ve always said: these stories don’t need monsters or explosions to make them riveting.
Yes, I have my Rogue One tickets for tomorrow night. I’ll report in, without spoilers, on Friday. I’m on review and spoiler lockdown myself right now. I have no idea what to expect. What I want is a rollicking adventure espousing the heroic ideals of Star Wars. Fingers crossed.
The annual viewing of White Christmas has happened. The annual viewing of The Muppet Christmas Carol is still on deck. And I may or may not have added Hogfather to the annual holiday movie viewing roster… This year may clinch it.
Holiday countdown continues. Packages arriving, presents coming together, decorations still going up. Maybe not as much to do as I feared. Maybe I can sit back and relax a little. Enjoy things. Except I haven’t started any baking yet…
December 12, 2016
I had a great busy weekend — my busiest of the holiday season, with an SCA event on Saturday, a play Sunday afternoon, and a really nice dinner I was able to take my friends to because I had a gift card. I’m so glad I’ve been feeling better so I could really enjoy it.
I’m also back to work. I got frustrated with some of my lingering projects, so I put them aside to start working in earnest on the next novel, the sequel to Bannerless. That feels great.
The play we saw: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I had forgotten that I love this story. I had it read to me almost every year in elementary school. But after that, it sort of vanished out of my life. So when I saw the Longmont Theater Company was putting it on this month, I did a big squee and then made my friends who’d never heard of it go see it with me. Turns out, I still love it. I’d missed it.
And I don’t think I mentioned that I saw Moana. I might be writing a longer review for Lightspeed so I’ll be brief: It’s gorgeous. One of the most beautiful animated films I’ve ever seen. Pacific Islander voyager culture, the scenes with their great ocean-going fleets — I want MORE. And Moana is a really wonderful self-rescuing princess character. Then there’s that chicken. OMG the chicken.
SCA: my local barony had its Midwinter feast. Roman-themed, so of course I dressed as an invading Visigoth but no one really noticed. Instead, the Baronesses created a new award and named it after me. I’ve received many honors in my years in the SCA, but this has to be about the highest. I’m floored. (The award is called St. Cecily with the Cup and is granted for bardic and heraldic feats. The premier recipient and I are already plotting miracles.)
And that’s my Monday. So many emails to catch up on…
November 28, 2016
Here’s basically how this went for me (WITH SPOILERS):
Me: Oh yes, please, I would like a whimsical movie about wizarding magic in Jazz Age New York!
Movie: Yeah, what we actually have is this dour gray thing with basically incompetent characters working in a system that has instant summary execution, apparently? and also MASSIVE CHILD ABUSE but the victim isn’t saved and doesn’t get a happy ending is instead horribly destroyed because it turns out he was just a plot device all along. How’s that?
Me: *weeps softly like Westley in the torture machine in The Princess Bride*
So yeah. I’m willing to consider that this was a case of my expectations and the actual movie not lining up at all, because plenty of people seem to like it just fine. I mean, the creatures were kind of cool, and I liked Queenie, who in many scenes was literally the only spot of color in the entire thing.
Except. Except. . . this movie has the wrong main character. The main character is Jacob, not Newt. The movie should have started with him and ended with him. The very best parts were about this hapless Muggle (or No-maj if you prefer, which I don’t) who stumbles into the wizarding world — and is completely charmed by it, and open to the possibilities of magic, and embraces it, and does his best to help. And then has to give it all up in order to protect that same world. But maybe there’s a hint that he doesn’t, after all. He’s an everyman, yeah, but there’s an actual story there.
Instead, the film piled on a couple of other plotlines that made the whole thing a crowded, chaotic mess. I would have completely done away with the entire plot line involving some evil wizard dude causing trouble while disguised as a trusted wizard authority figure BECAUSE IT’S NOT LIKE WE’VE EVER SEEN THAT TROPE BEFORE IN A HARRY POTTER-WORLD STORY. Seriously, you’d think they’d develop a “disguised evil wizard detector” and place it in every single doorway like we do with metal detectors, as often as this sort of thing happens.
I’m also just plain angry about the handling of Creedence’s storyline. The New Salem whatever was kind of interesting — until it just vanished, and really it had no real connection to the rest of the story. And Creedence could have been an amazing rescue/redemption arc there. (Maybe Jacob, unconstrained by the usual rules of the magical world, reaches out to him? Maybe the bakery needs an assistant?) But he really was just a Macguffin the entire time. Too bad, so sad.
Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be seeing the rest of these. (They’re planning how many? Good lord.)
November 14, 2016
I’m writing a long-form review of Arrival for Lightspeed next month and so will save the bulk of my thoughts for that. But if you love science fiction, you must see this film. It’s an heir to one of my favorite, favorite sub-genres of SF film: the intellectual, peaceful first-contact movie. The Day the Earth Stood Still (the original, naturally), Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact… and now this.
It successfully adapted the unadaptable short story, Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life.” Just go see it.
November 7, 2016
The latest episode of my favorite show was just fine and will make many people happy. I do have some things to say about it.
The thing I liked most about this was the envisioning of a fractal/clockwork universe that unfolds according to set patterns that express a great and surreal beauty, and that magic allows one to manipulate those patterns. (And I really love how Strange’s journey through these surreal backdrops resemble Ant Man’s journey through the sub-atomic in the climactic scene of his film. It’s all one universe.) And yes, I did see it in 3-D even though I’m mostly set against it these days. (In the preview for The Great Wall, the Matt Damon Chinese monster adventure flick, the 3-D was so awful and muddy I never did a get a good look at the monsters.) I had indication that the 3-D would be mostly worth it in this one, and it was, lending a great fractal depth to the folding, spiraling, and stacking effects that make up a big part of the set pieces. Very pretty.
As for the rest, I still wish Oded Fehr has played the lead role. Not that there’s anything wrong with Cumberbatch, except for the fact that he’s in everything. But it did make this clearly yet another movie about a really special white guy who’s just so special and when the mystical masters who’ve been working at this their whole lives fail, he’ll save us, even though he’s only been doing it for maybe a year or so. And the egotistic attitude — and the fast cars, and the belittling treatment of everyone — made him too much like Tony Stark. We’ve seen all this before.
This is going to sound weird, but this was too easy. I know this is an origin story and we want to get through it quickly to get the good stuff. But really, Strange should have been waiting on the temple’s doorstep for five months, not five hours. He should have been there with a begging bowl and a beard down to his knees before he was let in for training. That’s commitment. What’s so special about him that the Ancient One immediately shows him her powers and the secrets of the universe? I know we have to move the plot along, but still. I did like that Strange wasn’t immediately able to work magic. But once he could, and once he shaved that trademark goatee, after that he’s memorizing Sanskrit and sneaking into the library and stealing ancient artifacts and back to his old ego trip. The Ancient One kept reiterating that Strange needed to let go of his ego if he wanted to be a powerful sorcerer. He never did. Sure, he has a bad moment when he actually has to kill someone. He shouts something about breaking his oath to save lives. But what about all the patients he let suffer and die because he wouldn’t take their cases, because he didn’t want to fail? There’s a section of this character arc that’s missing, I think. Rather than letting go of ego, Strange’s ego — his willingness to use forbidden magic because he’s just that good — saves the world, and I’m not sure that’s the right message here.
(Unless, of course, that really is the message the movie intended, that surrendering the ego is bunk and overweening ego is actually a good thing. I mean, the Ancient One drawing on the Dark Dimension is an act of ego. No wonder Mordo, who has faithfully followed the Ancient One’s teachings and diligently subsumed his ego throughout, is pissed off at the end. I can’t blame him. Seriously which is it, let go of ego or not?)
What makes the movie are the supporting characters, the Ancient One and Mordo, played by Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor, both tremendous actors who am I big big fans of. I could watch them for hours and hours. Despite my dissatisfaction with Strange’s character’s arc — and the whole cliche trope of the white guy saves everybody — these two made the movie a lot of fun.
When Iron Man 3 featured the Mandarin, it handled a potentially racist stereotype beautifully by confronting it head-on: this character is a creation built to play on white fears about the “other.” And so the movie’s Mandarin was literally a construct, an act, built to play on people’s fears. It was great. The white man who travels to the Far East to gain mystic wisdom and then wields that mystic wisdom better than the people who originated it? That’s another problematic trope that we’ve been seeing since Victorian adventure stories. And I wish the movie had found a way to confront, or at least address it, the way Iron Man 3 did. One of the friends I went to see this with suggested that maybe Chiwetel Ejiofor should have played Doctor Strange and Cumberbatch could have been Mordo. Hmm, now there’s an intriguing thought.