Hail, Caesar!

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.


awards season recs

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…


The Hateful Eight

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!


tales from the road

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.


more Star Wars neepery

January 8, 2016

Right before going to see SW: The Force Awakens for the first time, I had a strange experience.

I had meant to do more fangirling prep for the movie — reading comics, watching movies, etc. — but I got busy.  Between working on some brand-new projects and getting ready for xmas, it just didn’t happen.  But literally just a few hours before going to see the new movie, I made time watch Star Wars.  The first one.  Just to get in the spirit.  To remind myself how it feels.  And it was so strange, so odd, so weird.  Because I was so in the mindset of watching a new Star Wars movie, that Episode IV was suddenly new.  I felt like I was watching it for the first time all over again.  I’m not sure how that happened, and the strangeness of it made me cry a little, in that “who knew this was possible” kind of disbelief.

Here’s what I think:  it’s been a long time since I just sat and watched Star Wars mindfully, not doing anything else, not putting it on in the background, but just watching it.  And my writer brain was on and noticing all kinds of things I hadn’t really thought of before, like how we don’t actually meet the hero until about fifteen minutes in.  Rather, it’s as if the world is the main character and we’re dropped into it to slowly immerse, learning about battles and droids and empires and the rest of it as it happens.  This movie has a magnificent straight line plot, and every scene is late in/early out, just like we’re taught in writing school.  Not a wasted second.  Moreover the tension in each sequence escalates in just the right way to keep the audience engaged.  This movie is really funny.  The prison break scene?  Never stops being funny, from the moment the trio is facing the wrong way when the elevator doors open to C-3PO thinking they’re dying in the trash compactor.  The three heroes are earnest and dorky and absolutely lovable, and I think that Han falls in love with Leia before she falls in love with him.  It happens right there after they’ve been fighting over money and he says, “I’m trying not to, kid,” after Luke asks what he thinks of her. Han’s got this look like, Holy shit my life is never going to be the same, and it scares him, but he may also be a little bit relieved, because it wasn’t like his life was going anywhere good before this.  And in weird bit of counter-intuitive pacing, the entire third act is the battle of Yavin.  Like, there’s nothing else that happens but guys in X-wings fighting the Death Star.  But even that is well modulated and escalates tension.  The whole thing is a sleek model of fast action pacing.

The other really amazing thing I noticed:  The heroes are all so young.  I’m well old enough now to be Luke and Leia’s mother. (But not quite Han’s, thank goodness.) Isn’t that crazy?  They’re babies.  But maybe it takes bright-eyed babies to save the universe.

And that’s when I just started bawling.  Because this movie that I have loved since I was five years old, that I have seen countless times and that I know so well, can still seem new to me, and it is still my favoritest movie ever.


various and sundry

December 30, 2015

Still trying to catch up, complicated by my developing some kind of low-grade respiratory ick.  I’m just coughing a lot.  Ugh.

I saw Suffragette, which was okay, the standard historical drama with political overtones kind of thing.  Well done but not shattering in the way something like Good Night and Good Luck or Belle was.  It got a bit relentless.  My favorite part was probably the intro, which showed women working in an industrial/commercial laundry, while the voice over was a stuffy man reading actual commentary about why women shouldn’t vote — because they’re weak, because they’re flighty, because they’re not responsible.  And I realized then that the Industrial Revolution was built on the backs of women working in factories, who never had a voice in how that revolution was managed.

TV:  Four episodes into the Expanse and I’m still loving it.  PRETTY SPACE SHIPS.  It’s so interesting, having read the books, and sort of knowing what’s coming.  Like, I never did bond with that one guy because he knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer.  And we’ve finally met the Rocinante!  Yay!

Books:  I’m in the middle of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel — I’m late to the party on this one but it’s just as good as everyone said it was.  Plus, it’s literary science fiction that doesn’t pretend like it’s just invented the wheel, which is really nice.

The Force Awakens:  Finally saw it a second time (last of all my friends to do so, and how did that happen?) and it very much rewards rewatching.  So many little details!  The emotional arc of Rey and Finn and their friendship is so satisfying!  And I think Kylo Ren knows who Rey is.  (“What.  Girl.”  he says, strangling a guy, and I’m like WUT.)

Anyway.  I should try to get some work done.  Argh!  Two more days in 2015!


Star Wars: The Force Awakens

December 21, 2015

For real this time.  Well, sort of.

As predicted, I got home from the movie around 5 am.  Instead of going straight to bed, I poured myself a finger of whiskey (Jameson, since someone will ask), sipped slowly, and filled two pages of paper, front and back, with my initial thoughts.  I’m not going to replicate those notes here.  That’ll come later.

I like it.  The more I think about it the more I like it, and I find myself unwilling to read any other commentary about it, because the kind of picking apart that’s going on seems to be missing the point.  Or at least missing the point I want to take from it.  Which is, if nothing else, I desperately want to find out what happens next to Rey, Finn, Poe, and even Kylo Ren, who at first I thought was kind of sad and laughable, but I’m coming to see him as this terribly tragic figure who wants to be evil but frankly doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, so he keeps flinging himself at bad idea after bad idea.  So yes, I even want to see what happens next to him.  I have ideas.  I have lots of ideas.  And this is the film’s real victory:  introducing a bunch of new characters, and making me fall in love with them.  Let the old guard retire, the torch is passed.

There’s a lot to talk about.  My summary is:  J.J. Abrams takes the Star Wars trope box and tries to make it go to 11, with varying levels of success.  I don’t want to go too much into that because I’ve got a longer review I’m writing.  And I’m still thinking about it.

Whatever else I can say, it’s definitely a Star Wars movie, and it has succeeded in making the prequels recede in memory (I’m close to vowing never to speak of the prequels again).  Weirdly, I think my favorite thing in The Force Awakens may be how much hugging there is.

There ought to be lots of hugging Star Wars, you know?



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