March 5, 2016
The March 2016 issue of Lightspeed is now available to buy — this has my long review of Deadpool. And I do mean long. This thing where I get a couple of thousand words to talk about movies and culture and context and everything is pretty sweet.
I didn’t watch the Oscars this year. It’s gotten hard for me to watch when they cut off the speeches of people for whom this may be their only time on stage at a venue like this and they’re clearly nervous and trying to say a lot that’s really important to them. But the A-listers all seem to get as much time as they need. It makes me anxious.
That said, I did watch my Facebook feed fill up with people smack-talking Mad Max: Fury Road for winning as much as it did. I’ve watched the movie a couple more times since it was in theaters and I stand by everything I said about how brilliant and beautiful it is. Every frame is well-planned, well thought out, and artistically framed. The sound — Max’s point of view is expressed in the sound, if you’re paying attention. And the message is surprisingly hopeful and uplifting, given the setting. Because of the setting.
Seriously, a genre movie taking home more Oscars than any other film? I’m going to celebrate that. And it couldn’t happen to a nicer movie.
And over on the TV side of things with The Flash, my friends and I are collecting Jay Garrick conspiracy theories. Love that actor, and I hope it all gets crazier before it gets cleared up. My second favorite show after Agent Carter.
Oh, and I’ve finally delved into Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. And yes, it’s just as lovely as everyone said it was. Those clothes. That music. Hmmmm…
And now it is the weekend. Have a lovely time, everyone!
February 15, 2016
These two make for a strangely compelling double feature. Especially if you’re between the ages of about 38-50 and have an undying penchant for 30-year old pop culture references.
I’m reviewing Deadpool for Lightspeed next month, so I’ll save the bulk of my thoughts (and I do have them) for there. But I’ll say this much: it’s exactly what it says on the tin. Which given that the fans were worried they wouldn’t get what was on the tin — that is to say a raunchy, catty, chatty, fourth-wall-breaking, iconoclastic badass — is doing pretty well. I liked it.
Zoolander 2. I saw this because I love Zoolander, which is one of those movies I have to watch whenever it happens to be on and my friends and I all regard with awe and affection. The sequel doesn’t disappoint at all. SO FUNNY. The cameos are off the rails.
Basically, the Zoolander movies are alternate reality science fiction superhero movies. Of course I love them.
February 12, 2016
I’ve been noodling around with this idea for awhile. Especially two months after The Force Awakens, and watching how the fanfic, the memes, the theories, and the love show no sign of slowing down. Especially after grappling with my own difficulties in figuring out how to approach reviewing the movie. How can I possibly separate my love of the world and judge the movie simply as a movie? And now, there’s an amazing fever pitch surrounding the release of Deadpool. All the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies of the last couple of years have had this immense hype and love around them, and as I mentioned in my review of Ant-Man, I’ve pretty much given up approaching these movies with any kind of objective detachment. Moreover, the movies don’t actually care about being considered as movies. They don’t really stand alone. They’re chock full of inside jokes and easter eggs. They have a laser focus on their audience, and in giving that audience what it wants: a really good time in the worlds that they love.
Star Wars, the MCU, Harry Potter, maybe a couple of others but those are the ones that stand out for me: these aren’t really movies anymore. They’re communities. The movies have become the periodic rituals that these communities celebrate.
There are lots of media fandoms and fannish communities. The phenomenon’s been going on since at least the first Star Trek conventions in the early 70’s. And in most cases the communities persist even if no more movies or episodes are forthcoming. (Captain Power is 25+ years gone but there’s still a small group of us who can’t stop talking about it.)
But this is something else. Something different. Something spawned and fueled by the internet, huge and pervasive. These franchises seem to have reached a tipping point where these aren’t just movies that we’re excited to see. They’re events. The anticipation is part of the experience. We’re not just looking for entertainment, we’re looking for new information to add to what we know, to fuel more fan theories and musings that will go on long after the film is out of theaters. It helps that so far these movies have generally been good by most standards. But I’d argue: they don’t stand alone, really. They wouldn’t exist without the fervent devotion of these tremendous communities.
And it’s a feedback loop: the communities support the movies; the movies fuel the communities. That loop generates power.
There’s more thinking to be done with this idea, but for me it’s helping provide a framework for why my critical approaches to Star Wars and the MCU have been changing, becoming different than my approach to other movies. I love these worlds and characters, I consider myself part of the communities that are bound by them, and that changes my thinking about them.
Must ponder some more.
February 8, 2016
Are you the kind of person who flips to Turner Classic Movies just to see what’s on, happen to catch the middle of a Carmen Miranda number, and three hours later you’re still there because some obscure Oscar winner from 1948 came on and you might as well watch it, and then you keep watching because you want to see what Robert Osborne says about it, and then you see that the next movie showing is your favorite Fred and Ginger movie of all time, and then, and then. . .
I am that person. And I am here to tell you that the Coen Brothers made Hail, Caesar! for us.
The Coen Brothers are like Tarantino in that their movies don’t look like anything else out there, thank God, and I’ve always liked their absurdist movies like Oh Brother Where Art Thou and The Hudsucker Proxy much better than their serious fare. (Not a fan of The Big Lebowski though, for reasons having nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with the circumstances around which I saw it. I cannot speak of that here. Maybe if you ask me in person some time. After lots of drinks.)
Hail, Caesar! is an absurd, satirical look at Hollywood of the 1950’s, focused on the studio fixer who comes to believe he’s doing God’s work. It’s less a story than it is a mashup of, well, just about everything. No genre is safe. Also, the dancing sailor number starring Channing Tatum is worth the price of admission all by itself.
I had SO MUCH FUN. And if you’re that kind of old movie fan, you will too.
February 1, 2016
A couple of weeks ago I posted my award-eligible work from 2015. I like putting my annual publications in one place because it reminds me that, hey, I really have been busy and productive! Cool!
But this is the time of year I also like to think about the cool new stuff I’ve encountered.
I don’t think I’ve done enough reading — I never do enough reading. Especially short fiction. I used to try to read every anthology my work appeared in, but that got out of hand a few years ago and I’ve never been able to keep up. So, my reading is awfully scattered.
I did read some good novels, though: Uprooted by Naomi Novik is getting a lot of buzz, and rightfully so. Really excellent stand-alone traditional fantasy, in the same vein as the books I love so much by Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip, about a young heroine who discovers that she’s much stronger than she knows and sets about saving the world because someone has to do it.
Then there are some of my go-to favorites: James S.A. Corey and Paolo Bacigalupi both had new books out last year. Nemesis Games is the fifth Expanse novel and the one that left most of us fans going “Holy crap did they really just do that? OMG, they really just did that.” I cannot wait to see where they go from here.
Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife is near-future speculation about drought and water rights in the west — issues literally in my own backyard. Paolo really knows his stuff and this book combines thought-provoking SF with a cool thriller plot. Good stuff there.
I also encountered The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith, a rather strange and wonderful YA novel about some difficult subjects, but still with some funny bits and a weird Philip K. Dick worthy subplot holding it all together. The main character is a teen refugee from an unnamed war-torn country, who is sent to summer camp with his new foster brother. So, it’s like terrible refugee stuff combined with teen-boy summer camp comedy. And it kind of actually works. I don’t think this book is for everyone, but it’s one of the things I read last year that stood out for me.
The dramatic categories for the Hugo are going to be super-interesting this year. These short-run TV shows with only 8-10 episodes are almost mini-series covering one storyline — so do we nominate them as short-form by episode or long form for the whole thing? No idea. But some TV episodes that caught my attention are the season finale of The Flash, and Ep. 8 of Daredevil — the Fisk backstory. Agent Carter also gets my attention.
Long form — this is going to be an immensely interesting year, because we have an embarrassment of riches. Marvel movies, Hunger Games, Star Wars — but I have to say, I’d rather avoid the long-running franchise in favor of nominating Fury Road and The Martian — both really solid stand-alone stories that showcase what SF storytelling is capable of. (Marvel and Star Wars in particular have gone past basic storytelling and have become something else — communities, wherein the movies are rituals of celebration. I have an essay about that brewing.)
And now I have really got to catch up on some short fiction before I fill out my ballots…
January 18, 2016
By now, twenty-plus years into Tarantino’s career as a filmmaker, most people should know whether or not they like his movies. If you like his movies, you should absolutely go see The Hateful Eight. If you don’t, you should not. I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain this, but every time a new Tarantino movie comes out I see all this commentary about how grossly violent it is, how weirdly paced it is, and how retro it is — with an air of surprise, as if this has never happened before. Goodness, people, just stop it. Tarantino is never going to make a movie that looks like a normal movie, and thank God for that. (Although I admit I’m now suddenly deeply curious about what a Tarantino Transformers movie would look like.)
I really liked The Hateful Eight, even as I was frustrated by it. It’s long and leisurely — too long, really, but I don’t think I’d cut out a single second, because moment by moment it’s all so good. The whole middle section has the stately air of a classic stage play — it all takes place in one room, and does that thing where the narrative flow is all about the shifting dynamic among a group of people who are trying to suss out lies, truth, and secrets. Like in stage adaptations of Agatha Christie, of all things. It works and it’s riveting because the acting is so high caliber, you can’t look away.
And then the guns come out and heads start exploding, and part of the fun of a Tarantino movie is admiring the classic seriousness of it all while wondering anxiously when the bloodbath is going to start.
This is a spiritual sequel to Django Unchained, which I appreciated. It’s a Western — with a great Ennio Morricone score, even. The main characters are bounty hunters; one of them is black, and he forces the room full of white people — including a couple of former Confederate soldiers — to confront realities of race and bigotry. There is an arc. It’s very nearly a cliche arc, the one you expect with that kind of setup. But it’s also deeply satisfying because it’s so well done. I don’t mind that the whole movie felt long. It was worth it.
Also? Tim Roth is back in a Tarantino movie. Squee!
January 13, 2016
At long last, my long (2000 words!) review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is live at Lightspeed. Scroll down past the movie poster for the spoiler-filled version.
Reading over it again, three weeks after writing it and after seeing the movie twice more (including once with my brother in Oregon, which was a real treat), I think it’s a pretty good review. Emotional and fangirlish, with analysis that doesn’t have an ax to grind. I think that’s the problem I’ve been having with a lot of commentary about the movie: chips on shoulders and axes to grind. Stunt nitpicking. I’m finding I just want to bask in the glow. Enjoy being a fangirl again. (That said, apparently if I want to know more about Poe Dameron I should be reading a bunch of comics and the new Star Wars novels coming out, and I don’t have time for that! Argh!)
Related to this, some news: Starting with this review, I’m going to have a regular movie review column over at Lightspeed. That makes me a professional movie reviewer. Isn’t that cool?
My niece came to my signing in Salem. She and her mom had to leave early (bedtime!), and I was still talking when she came up to me and gave me a hug and a kiss before she left. I totally stopped to hug her back. Because dude. So freaking adorable.
I did actually go to a wildlife refuge in Oregon. The Ankeny refuge south of Salem. Saw a flock of 40+ tundra swans, which was spectacular. I also brought snacks, on principle.
And then I caught a wretched cold that I am still getting over. Much sadness. But, life is somehow getting back to normal, and I’m actually enjoying the post-holiday, post-travel normal.