Black Panther

February 18, 2018

It’s good. It’s gorgeous. It’s an MCU movie, and ten years into this franchise I continue to be impressed by how well they’ve been able to take all these many pieces/parts and fit them into the same universe, the same continuity.  There’s a lot going on in the film thematically, about tradition and moving forward and what people’s responsibilities are to each other. I’m writing a long review for Lightspeed so I’ll get into more details over there.

Another thing this film does that all the MCU movies do is give us a whole cast of delightful supporting characters who all deserve their own comic book series. I love that everyone seems to have a different favorite character.

Mine is Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. Stole every scene she was in, and now I’m on the verge of writing fanfic about her, Tony Stark, and Rocket in some gadget-laden roadtrip adventure.

Like this:

(Tony and Rocket are arguing about some broken piece of machinery they can’t seem to figure out. Rolling her eyes, Shuri takes it away from them and just fixes it.)

Shuri:  You white boys.

Rocket:  Hey, I am not a boy.

Tony:  You’re not white, either.

Rocket (looking himself over in shock):  I’m not?!

**

Yeah, just that, for like two hours. I’m so there.

 

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It’s award nomination season time again (I’m eligible to nominate for both the Nebula and the Hugo, and I try really hard to do both). I’ve already posted my own work, and now in the interest of completion I want to post about other people’s work that I really liked.

As usual, I haven’t read nearly as much as I should, especially in the area of short fiction. One of my goals this week is to try to cram in some reading to find some gems. I have, however, managed to get in a few novels — mostly new entries by old favorites.

Tool of War, by Paolo Bacigalupi. This is set in the same world as his Shipbreaker and The Drowned Cities, and nicely wraps up the stories of characters from all those books.  These are some of the best action/thriller novels you’ll read, and all grounded in really solid and thought-provoking science fiction, mostly in the areas of climate change and bio-engineering. Good stuff.

Persepolis Rising, by James S.A. Corey. The latest in the Expanse, and this book does something I don’t think I’ve ever seen space opera of this kind do. Plenty of space opera deals with galactic empires and the fall of galactic empires. This one covers the start of one.  It’s great.

Best series:  The Hugos have a Best Series category with some pretty specific requirements, and I’m happy that once again Wild Cards qualifies. I know I’m totally biased on this one, but this is a series that’s been running for 30 years, with 20+ volumes, and has remained cohesive and consistent and is also some of the best superhero storytelling in the genre. It really deserves a nod.

Movies:  Always a fun category. I’m definitely going to nominate Colossal, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Downsizing (I gave it an A for effort if not execution).  I’ll probably also nominate Wonder Woman.

But TV is where things are really going to get tough this years. We’re at some kind of peak TV. It’s amazing how much good TV there is out there. Enough that so-so shows I would have put up with 10 years ago are just right out now. Who has time for so-so when there’s so much great?

I’ve got three shows I really want to push this year. The Expanse, of course. Probably episode 2.13, “Caliban’s War.” You know, the one where everything goes to hell. Again. Love it.

Legion. I can’t stop thinking about this show. My favorite episode is “Chapter 7,” the one that operates on three different levels of reality, where David talks to himself and figures out some of his past, and then becomes a true and honest-to-goodness superhero, much to everyone’s consternation.

And finally Star Wars: Rebels hasn’t just grown on me, it’s become one of my favorite things on TV, and I’m kind of dreading the show ending this year. It’s because of the prequel thing:  with the exception of a couple of cameos in Rogue One, most of these guys don’t show up later. I’m very worried. But never mind that for now. Last year included what may be my favorite episode of the show:  3.15, “Trials of the Darksaber,” in which Kanan Jarrus finally comes into his own as a mentor, and Sabine finally comes to terms with her past. And they do it at the same time, together, in a great piece of storytelling. (In looking up this episode #, I discovered the Kanan is voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr., which I somehow had not figured out before. The man who starred in Wing Commander, all grown up.)

 

So, I don’t rank the Star Wars movies. I mean, I probably could if someone threatened me or threw money at me. But really, I don’t see the point. Because apart from the first one, none of them really stands alone. All but the first depend on some kind of prior knowledge of the existence of the Star Wars universe and the saga of the Skywalker family. The recent ones have really depended on that knowledge, and audience expectation of what it means to watch a Star Wars movie. So now, much like the MCU, we don’t have individual movies that can be fairly graded as movies — we have chapters in a long-running thing that we haven’t really developed filmic language to discuss.  (Previous long-running film franchises, like the James Bond movies or even the Mickey Rooney Andy Hardy films, were a collection of stand-alone films, designed to be watched in any order. Not so much with Star Wars and the MCU.)

At some point in the late 80’s, my family got the VHS box set of the original trilogy, and we blocked out a whole evening to watch the whole thing back to back. This felt radical at the time, long before the age of the binge-watch. And the trilogy in one sitting was a revelation. It’s one story. It really is. Each film is three acts, but the trilogy as a whole is three acts also, with each film being an act. For a long time after that, I refused to watch each film individually.  If I was going to watch Star Wars, I was going to watch 6 hours of Star Wars. (This has changed. These days, I’ve been known to pop in the Return of the Jedi DVD and skip past all the Tatooine stuff to get straight to the Battle of Endor. Because big space ships FTW.)

I confess I haven’t watched the prequel and original trilogy all in one sitting — but I have watched the Machete Order. (And here’s my review of it.) And again, it really does all feel like one story. Story and imagery from each film calls back to the others. There are echoes all the way the through.

I could sit here and talk about how I like The Last Jedi better than The Force Awakens. It’s got more emotional complexity, it subverts our expectations rather than playing to them, which is ever so much fun. But TLJ doesn’t stand on its own. It needs to the setup in TFA to be able to do what it does. Part of its emotional impact comes from knowing what happens in TFA first.

I have favorite chapters in favorite books — I’ve been known to take Bujold’s A Civil Campaign off the shelf just to read the Council of Counts/proposal chapter over and over again.  But I can’t take that chapter out of that book and somehow say it’s better than the other chapters. Because it needs the rest of the book to be what it is.

Plus, no one ever lists the Ewok movies in their rankings of Star Wars films.

 

I’ve seen it twice now. I liked it even better the second time, mostly because now that the structure was familiar I could pay more attention to content. This film is 4 acts plus an epilogue. We’ve never had a four-act Star Wars movie. It’s unbalancing. There’s a lot crammed in here.

Here’s everything I’ve been thinking about, in bullet points:

  • As an old-school Rogue Squadron fan I keep trying to bond with the pilots. This is such a big mistake in this movie. TALLIE, NO!!!!
  • Does Paige use the Force to grab that detonator? Maybe.
  • Headcanon: That white-haired soldier who steps out of the trench on Crait? I think he was at Hoth. He was a young Rebel then, that was his first battle. By now, he’s seen it all, and he’s going to step up and face those walkers because he’s done it before. He’s a legend among Resistance ground troops, I’m sure of it.
  • Second time around, I realized Luke has his old lightsaber at the end. The blue one. This is another one of those really obvious clues that I nevertheless missed the first time. That scene is full of them.
  • Hux is a caricature of Tarkin, Snoke is a caricature of Palpatine, and Kylo is a caricature of Vader. They’re supposed to be. That’s the point.
  • Just like the Resistance is full of people who know how to be Rebels, and nothing else. As Leia says, it’s a movement full of dead heroes, that needs leaders if it’s actually going to turn into something stable. That’s also the point.
  • So it’s like Johnson took all that stuff that Abrams threw at the wall in TFA and actually made it mean something.
  • I love that Snoke is dead dead dead. Such a boring uninteresting character. Having him gone just clears the air. I love it.
  • That throne room scene. That whole thing. I could write an essay on it. Gah. Don’t focus on what’s the same as the scene in Return of the Jedi. Focus on what’s different. Snoke thinking he knows Kylo. Kylo proving otherwise.  Rey coming into the situation with ulterior motives — turn Kylo to save the Resistance — where Luke came into that situation with only love for his father. It starts the same as previous scene, and goes someplace completely different. THAT FIGHT OMG. I think Kylo did turn to the light, briefly. When he asks Rey to join him so they can abandon the past and clean up all this mess — I think he’s doing that from a place of light, however misguided. But when Rey rejects him — that’s when he turns to the dark. Not that she could have or should have done anything differently. Like I said, there’s really a lot going on here.
  • I love Rey. I was trying to explain to someone what I love about her, especially in this movie. She’s young, earnest, scared, and has this balance of idealistic and practical. That smile she gets when she feels the rain. That she cries all the time. That she starts out completely unsure of everything and ends up in a place of power and confidence.”Lifting rocks. Huh.” Yeah.
  • Rey spent two movies looking for a mentor. Han tried. Luke refused. And finally she comes to Leia. Rey is Leia’s heir. And she doesn’t have to be a princess to be that.
  • I bought a stuffed porg. I actually bought a frakking porg.

Okay I’ll stop now.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

December 18, 2017

I spent part of yesterday digging out and then reading part of the manuscript for my second trunk novel. I have some thoughts about that — like, the prose is actually pretty dang good, it’s the story and tropes and ideas that are weak, and at some point I want to talk about that and what it means about being a better writer and so on.  Anyway, the reason I was looking at it in the first place is that there’s this storyline in The Last Jedi that really got to me, like really, like my id was on fire and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Two days later I realized it’s because it’s very similar to a storyline in that old novel manuscript of mine. How weird is that?

Oh, and I’m now a Kylo – Rey shipper, and no one is more surprised by that than me.

What else to say that isn’t spoilers? Lots of commentary online already, some of it good and some of it off the mark, I think. Like The Force Awakens, there are scenes that harken back to the first trilogy, right down to the framing. But while in TFA those scenes had the feeling of fan service (“Look, it’s Star Wars! Turned to 11!”), The Last Jedi is doing something different.  A suggestion:  don’t look at how those scenes are similar to the earlier ones. Look at the differences, because unlike with TFA, TLJ is messing with us. It’s playing on our expectations, and then subverting them. Luke says to Rey early on, “This isn’t going to go the way you think.” He’s talking to us as much as to her.

I think this will either drive you bonkers, or you’ll love it.

I thought it was wonderful.

On a more technical level, it runs a bit long, there’s a lot crammed in and a couple of the plot lines are kind of a mess. There’s a lot going on, but it all looks like Star Wars, and the characters are just great.

Especially Kylo and Rey.

HEART.

 

The Shape of Water

December 15, 2017

So The Shape of Water finished up right around the same time as a showing of The Last Jedi right across the hall, and everyone came out of that looking so somber I’m actually kind of worried now.

I’m seeing that one tonight. Fingers crossed.

The Shape of Water was really nice. I mean, it’s Guillermo del Toro, it’s horror. But it’s also a really pointed deconstruction of the entire genre of 1950’s government scientist monster movie. The villain is basically toxic masculinity, which the movie demonstrates doesn’t mean that “men are toxic,” but rather it’s what happens when some men are so determined to appear powerful and so afraid of appearing weak that they won’t acknowledge when their own body parts are rotting away.  Like, that’s clearly some gangrene going on there.  Ew.

It’s also a romance.

I have more to say, but I’ll likely be reviewing this for Lightspeed and will save it for that.

And if you’ve already seen this and like lead actress Sally Hawkins, I highly recommend the 2007 BBC production of Persuasion, in which she plays Anne Elliot.

 

two weeks…

December 11, 2017

I thought I was doing okay but I just checked and there’s just two weeks until Christmas and there are still some people I need to get gifts for, but at least I think the post office run is ready to go, I’ll do that this week. (I try to only go to the post office once in December, ideally before that last week. And bring a book while I’m waiting in line…)

And all the movies. So many movies coming out over the next couple of weeks. Like, oh, Star Wars? Will Poe and Finn get their buddy caper story? What’s up with Rey and Ren? It still feels like such an embarrassment of riches, three new Star Wars movies three years in a row. Who would have thought? Who ever would have thought?

My niece called me last week to tell me all about Return of the Jedi, which she had just seen. So she’s now got the original trilogy under her belt. I asked, and yes, she likes Ewoks, so we’ll have to sit down and watch the Ewok movies soon. OH YES WE WILL. Yub nub!

And now I go back to work. A bunch of stuff I need to update on my website. Lots of events coming up. Barreling into the new year already, peeps…