Tag Archive | movies

A post about women science fiction writers… eventually.

Mary Shelley, arguably the first Science Fiction Writer. (This is relevant to this post.)

Mary Shelley, arguably the first Science Fiction Writer. (This is relevant to this post.)

I love when the premium channels like HBO and Showtime run free preview weekends, because it reassures me that I’m not missing much not subscribing to them. Even if it does mean I have to wait until the DVDs come out to catch up on Game of Thrones. Or read the series of books full of spoilers that bearded guy is writing. Whatever—

Cue record scratch thought derailment sound effect. That (above) was the start of  a Movie Monday post, because my mother has started reading blogs, which is a blog post in itself, and she has been nagging encouraging me to blog more often. It goes like this: “That other blog has a theme for every day of the week. Why don’t you do that? You’re so smart and funny, you should write that in your blog. You would have a lot more followers if you posted more often. This guy has way more followers than you, and he’s a monk.” (I am not even making that up.)

So I sit down to write a Movie Monday post. I’ll write about Ender’s Game, which I watched during the HBO free preview this weekend. Only I went looking for that faux article about George RR Martin writing spoilers for the GOT TV show, and then I found the picture below.

DirewolfandUnicorn

Photo taken (and tweeted) by the amazing artist/photographer Sarah Allegra (@sallegra). It is only tangentially related to this post.

Here follows my exact thought process from that moment until this:

1. Aw, that’s cute! GRRM has a little stuffed dire wolf.  Oh hey, that other guy has a little stuffed unicorn. Oh HEY, that’s Peter S. Beagle author of The Last Unicorn which is an amazing book (and an animated movie, so I guess this is still Movie Monday.) OMG The animals from their books are totally kissing noses! That’s so adorable!

2. Why is that funny? Two venerable old guys being dorks with toys from their books. That sort of makes them cooler. Authors! They’re just like us! Then I’m like, oh yeah, Ender’s Game.

3. Ender’s Game is kind of a venerable book itself, a military science fiction novel that explores the psychology of war and society, pretty much just like Starship Troopers (the novel) did, which also had giant bug-like aliens. I wonder why that is? Is it because the insectoid shape makes them seem true alien and icky, where a more mammalian thing might look like you could have it for a pet?

4. But Starship Troopers (the movie) was more action-y. It also had a lot more decapitations and impalements and also some brain sucking, if you like that sort of thing. Much more than the book.

5. This whole blog has become about venerable white guys who write science fiction and fantasy.  That’s just not right. I need to talk about some women science fiction writers.

6. Which women science fiction writers should I recommend? There’s Anne McCaffrey and Madeline L’Engle of course. Ursula L’Guin and Connie Willis. Would my blog readers be interested in them? I should go look up who are recent women science fiction writers (other than Suzanne Collins).

Literally the first line of A Wrinkle in Time. (This is the book that made me want to write books.)

Literally the first line of A Wrinkle in Time. (This is the book that made me want to write books.)

7. This first Google hit is a list of science fiction FOR girls, which is not the same thing, especially since half these books are by men.

8. THIS list starts with The Handmaiden’s Tale?  Ugh.  Well, there’s Willis and L’Guin. Oh yeah! Octavia Butler. A woman AND an African American. Yes, there’s Andre Norton, C.J. Cherryh, Lois McMaster Bujold. Also Elizabeth Moon. Well, there’s Kristine Kathryn Rusch, those are a little less dusty, more space opera-y. Tanya Huff!  I love her books.

9. These are great books, but kind of… old fashioned. Well, not all of them. I should still recommend them. They’re awesome, and my readers aren’t intimidated by big books.

10. But, still, I should look at YA science fiction and find some contemporary things to talk about, too. Oh, here’s Kirkus’s list of the Best Teen SFF books of 2013. Excellent!

11. Wow, these sound really good. I should put this on my Goodreads list so I remember them.

12. And maybe read a sample chapter…

13: Or two.

14. THREE HOURS LATER, I still haven’t written anything about Ender’s Game.

15. And it’s not even Monday any more.

Frozen Things

So. I finally saw Frozen. Now I know what all the fuss was about. My God, what a great movie. It had all the things. Elsa is so badass (this is my favorite word lately) and she just broke my heart, and then there was that song. So many feels. It was pretty much the exact same song as from Wicked, but I liked Frozen about a million times better, so that makes me happy. But I just fell in love with Anna.  I fell in love with both of them. I don’t know. It was just awesome to have a movie with two multifaceted female leads, and even though there was romance, it was turned on its head a little bit, and… I don’t know. I want to write books that are like that movie.

Frozen sisters

We are awesome.

 

Wait. I do, kind of. Or I try to. That’s what I’m going for. No wonder I liked the movie so much.

I also saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Also an awesome flick, in a totally different way. It might be my favorite of the stand alone Avenger movies. I don’t know. It’s a tough call.  Also, these two topics totally go together because Captain America was frozen in the 40s and thawed out to become an Avenger. See what I did there?

Captain America 2

This is my serious face.

Movie Monday: Pacific Rim

Here are the reasons you should go see Pacific Rim:

1) Giant Robots (Jaeger)  vs Giant Monsters (Kaiju).

pacific-rim-movie-banner-striker-eureka-jaeger-vs-kaiju

2) Idris Elba.  His character’s name is Stacker Pentecost. He’s canceling the apocalypse. This could be ridiculous, but he sells it like it’s Shakespeare.

idris-001

3) They order the evacuation of the city, and there are kaiju shelters, even, so I felt much less guilty enjoying the structural carnage (see item #1) imagining the people of Hong Kong weren’t getting squished right and left.

3) There’s a nice cast of character actors who flesh out the human story really nicely, with full commitment, whether as the nutty, nerdy science geek or the  last-man standing, get the job done hero.  Sure there were a few without enough screen time to avoid feeling a little stereotype (“In Soviet Russia, robot drive you.” and “Australians and Americans like to brawl!”) but it was surprising how many really nice character moments that kept the humans from being totally overshadowed by… well, giant robots and monsters.

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4) The girl–and yes, there was only one, but she’s awesome–was an actual character. She had a, you know, personality. And a backstory. And something really important to do. And here’s the kicker:  Relationships with the male characters that were not about romance.

Sure there’s an attraction between Mako and The Guy, because they’re both young and attractive. But the cool things is, they also challenge and respect each other, and they make a good fighting team because of it.  They are an even match. She’s not there just to worship him (I’m looking at you, Man of Steel), or take care of his kids (I’m looking at you, World War Z).   And Mako has a really cool dynamic with Pentecost. She’s both strong AND vulnerable, and smart and feminine. Also, her hairstyle is adorable, and I’m totally taking a picture of it to my stylist.

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So Hollywood blockbusters please take note. You can have a female in a movie and have her, you know, DO STUFF.

5) The storytelling.  Pacific Rim is not high art. And that’s okay. Because it’s damn good storytelling. (And here’s where, as a writer of books, I justify putting a long-ass post about a movie on my blog. Other than the fact I dig movies with giant fight-y things.)

The characters aren’t complex, but they all have a ‘hook’ and every point we know exactly what is at stake for them, and for the human race. We know what they have to do in a scene, and why it will be difficult, and what will happen if they don’t. When you’ve got THAT MUCH CGI going on, and that much destruction happening all the time, this can be difficult to accomplish (*ahem*Michael Bay*ahem*).

Pacific Rim hit every Man vs. Monsters beat, that’s a GOOD thing. Those beats are important, because they make a satisfying story. If you skip one (like the “all is lost” scene or the “hero pulls himself up by the bootstraps” moment) then it makes it less satisfying when the humans (spoiler) win the day.

SO, here’s a note to Hollywood. You CAN have a blockbuster movie that’s fresh, fun and tells a good story. You can have a female character who is an actual character, and not a cipher.

And also, don’t think I missed that if Idris Elba is the head of the Jaeger program, that makes him the Jaegermeister.

In summary:

Pacific Rim is damned enjoyable, loads of fun, intensely satisfying, and even though I HAVE seen this story before, all the elements: script, direction, characters, plus the particulars of the premise (Jaeger, Kaiju, etc.) make it feel like I haven’t seen it a million times.

Friday Faves – The Twisted, The Pretty, and the Yummy

Here’s what’s floating my boat this week. Why? Because “Friday Faves” sounds cool.

1. Gillian Flynn. This is not a YA author. (Not by any stretch of the imagination.) Banner for Gone Girl by Gillian FlynnShe writes books about grisly murders and really twisted up characters. Her book Gone Girl is a best seller, and deservedly so. Her books keep me riveted, not just with the plot twist, but because she’s got this astounding facility with voice.

Also, it is really hard to knock me to a place where I’m staring at the book going “Holy $%^&! I did NOT see that coming.”

[YA disclaimer: I'd rate her books almost an R, not for any graphic sex but for disturbing psychology... in both the killers and the protagonists.]

2. The Immaculate Baking Company.  Oh my GAWD these chocolate rolls are so good.  I literally reward myself for getting up early and going to mass by baking them when I get home. (Appropriate, given the name, I guess.)  Only today is Friday and I’m eating one just because. (They also promote Folk Artists and they have a blog with delicious start-with-our-products-and-make-them-even-more-awesome recipes.)

Yum.

Yum.

3. The cheerfulness of Vera Bradley’s Ribbons pattern… and their Pinterest board full of inspiration.

 

4. These floats, covered entirely in flowers (like the Tournament of Roses parade), from Holland’s Bloemencorso.

Look at that little guy on the bottom, helping out with the grooming. So. Cute.

Look at that little guy on the bottom, helping out with the grooming. So. Cute.

What a cutie.

Speaking of cute. This is. 

 

5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper. First off, I LOVED that movie. JGL did an incredible job playing young Bruce Willis. His mannerisms and line delivery were dead on.  But I feel like I just discovered this guy. I know he was in Inception (and really great in that, too). But when did he go from being “Wow, that kid from Third Rock From The Sun can really act!” to “Wow, he’s kinda hot as well. A little skinny, but… day-um.”

 

That’s it for this Friday. I guess I’ll have to pull my head out of my book long enough to find new things to be obsessed with next week. Please make suggestions in the comments. Seriously.

The Rest of September and Stuff

Since my last post was from Canada, I figured I’d better update the blog and let y’all know that I was back in Texas. Though some of you do, because some of you have seen me. Maybe even wearing a Steampunk Hat:

Rosemary modeling Steampunk fashion at FenCon in Dallas

What all the fashionable are wearing last year.

So here’s a recap of the rest my trip:

New York City! I love visiting NYC. I don’t know that I’d want to live there, mostly because I couldn’t afford to live in Meg Ryan’s apartment from You’ve Got Mail. But if I COULD…

Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail

This was a tiny computer in 1998. But she still used AOL. What gives, Meg Ryan?

(Trivia tangent: You’ve Got Mail is one of my favorite romantic comedies. (I was going to say “recent” then realized it’s 14 years old!) The characters manage to spat/spar without coming off as shrewish or horrible. (Well, Ryan is just a little bit, but quirky!shrew was her rom-com shtick and it’s the least grating in this movie.) Also, why is it so hard to write a 21st century romantic comedy heroine who is responsible and capable until she decides she Must Get Married and then she turns into an incompetent idiot?)

(New tangent:  I just watched The Decoy Bride with Kelly Macdonald and David Tennant. (So this is kind of a Tennant Tangent)  It’s a UK film and I thought it was charming. Ridiculous premise, and in looking up this picture, I found out it has an appalling Rotten Tomatoes score. But I thought it was fun.)

Tenant isn’t this mean looking in the movie. Neither is Macdonald’s skirt quite so short.

Where was I?  Oh yeah. NYC.  So I’m striding down Broadway to my appointment, as one does when one is close enough that a taxi would be silly, and I’m navigating around people who insist to stop right in the middle of the sidewalk to take pictures/ask for directions/look at their map.  And I’m like, Ugh. Tourists. (As I wheel along with my pink polka dot suitcase.)

Lunch with my fabulous editor then down to Penn station to grab the train to Philadelphia. The Philly train station is gorgeous. Then I had a taxi ride out to the suburbs with Lavender the Opera Signing Cabbie. I can’t make this stuff up, people. (He was very nice. And an impressive baritone.)

Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. Picture this with some people in it. But still this big and pretty and clean.

Then it was Smart Chicks Tour last stop. In a torrential downpour with tornado watches all around–considering all this, it was a nice turn out. Sarah Reese Brennan got to do a dramatic recitation from Wuthering Heights. Or was it Jane Eyre?  (This is what I get for taking so long to write a blog post, but it doesn’t really matter, because I was laughing too hard to really remember.)

Sarah Rees Brennan and friend. Sarah is the one on the right.

Thanks to all the Smart Chicks, especially the organizers and headliners Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr for a great time. The host bookstores were super, too!

So I was home for one day, then headed to FenCon, where many exciting things happened. I was on an Avengers panel where there was almost a fight. (Appropriate.)  Then a panel about writing and voice, where I had to rule a delightfully talkative panel with an iron fist.  But really, how do you top being on Hollywood Squares with a dalek?

Joe the Dalek gets ready for FenCon Squares. (Just like Hollywood Squares but with more questions about Star Trek.)

Since then it’s been work work work. And, of coruse, playing with my dog, who missed me terribly. See?

Here is Penny Dog. She is still because she is waiting on my cereal milk.

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

Here’s what is obvious about The Avengers:  It is an awesome thrill ride, absolutely jam packed with action, badassery, wit, and heart. It’s that truly rare thing: a movie that is both fun to watch and really, really well-crafted.

Here’s what is less obvious:  It’s a story about superheroes that is really about humanity.

So. Much. Awesome.

Wait. Maybe that’s obvious, too. Some part of superhero stories reflects our human condition. But a lot of times, the superhero is a larger than life Greek Tragedy figure who serves to Teach Us A Lesson. With great power comes great responsibility. The mutants in X-men represent the scary Other that must be controlled or killed. The X-men fight to save a society that hates them. Batman is… Well, Batman is just wackadoo.

(Which sort of brings me to the trend of “dark” in superheroes. There’s a certain breed of “super” that is watchable/readable because it IS so removed from what we are. Deadpool, Spawn, anything by Frank Miller. I feel like Nolan’s Batman, for all that I love the mind-twists that Nolan does with that, gets further away from his humanity, even as he makes sacrifices (or “sacrifices”) for the good of Gotham or whatever. )

But okay, back to the Avengers. With the notable exception of Thor, everyone on the Avengers team started off as an actual human. They were transformed by science or technology.  The team was assembled by a human. Contrast that with the X-men [geek warning], who exist in the same comic book universe. They are mutants, different at their genetic core. Magneto calls them homo-superior, the next wave in evolution. Whenever the Avengers and the X-men show up at the same comic book party, there’s a distinct difference: The Avengers are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The X-men are Earth’s outcasts, who fight for a world that hates and fears them.

Both of those are cool stories worth exploring, but they’re different. The X-men are mutants in search of humanity.  The Avengers, in all of their origin movies and to some extent here, are humans who need to find their inner superhero.

And what’s really cool about that is that the director (Joss Whedon, for those of you living under a rock) allows for  moments when the most non-superpowered people in the film find their inner hero.  Men and women on the street. People with no powers at all but the fact that they volunteered for a tough job. Dweebish SHIELD agents.

Those are just moments, light touches that flavor the movie but don’t detract from the central story. This band of humans (or Asgardians) has to find their inner superhero, and then they have to find (stumble and fight, really) their way to being a super-team.

The thing that really blows my mind in this movie is how Whedon gives every single member of the team a character arc that seamlessly fits into the whole picture. Managing to give every character their moment without dragging down the story or the pace (except one or two scenes, maybe) is pretty amazing feat.

Equally amazing is that you don’t notice the craftsmanship and the intricate framework of character story and overreaching theme while you’re watching. You’re just being blown away by the logarithmic awesome that’s on the screen.

Here’s something else I loved about it. Whedon holds nothing back for the sequel. He goes full out, how-could-you-ever-top-this spectacle. He shoots down EVERYTHING.

There were so many hero shots, so much something something ominous badass, so much heart-twisting sniffle, cheer out loud, laugh, snort, gasp and squee in this movie I cannot wait to go see it again for stuff I missed.

So… highly, highly recommend this movie, both for the craft, the intelligent script, and most of all for the not-holds-barred spectacle of awesome.

Movie Monday – John Carter [of Mars]


No spoilers, I promise. Not least because I think you should go see this movie. In the RCM rating scale, this rates “Full price ticket, worth the extra for 3D.” 


Here are the short review, before I wax all thinky about character and genre and stuff: This is a really entertaining movie, visually stunning, and damned fun to watch. 
  1. Exciting stuff happens right away. Airship battle within the first minute. Awesome. 
  2. The (important) characters are really likable. Some of the others aren’t really fleshed out, but who cares. (More on that in a minute.)
  3. The script was nicely written, turning a couple of expectations upside down now and then. For a story that basically set the formula for this sort of movie, that was nice. 
  4. There are beautiful people in this movie. And they’re not wearing much clothes. And weirdly, that wasn’t cheesy or skeevy. It makes perfect sense. 
  5. Beautiful includes the Tharks, the nine-foot tall, green, six-limbed race of desert dwellers. They were so expressive, they could have flown them here from Mars and I wouldn’t have been surprised. 
  6. Dejah Thores. She’s the precursor of Princess Leia in the books. In the movie she’s just the coolest heroine ever. 
Could you pick apart this movie? Probably, if you worked at it. But why would you do that? This isn’t a Serious Movie of Great Cultural significance. (Except maybe to SciFi nerd culture, of which I am a member.)  Personally, I’m glad it’s not. I would LOVE to see more movies of this type and less dark, angsty depressing things. 

Just go. It’s a terrifically fun movie. (More ramblings about character and genre and stuff below this picture of aforementioned beautiful people.)  

Now, the longer post that I wrote first, then decided it was a little thinky and long. But hey, maybe you’re trying to kill time until your coffee break. 
Okay, some of you know, I’ve been looking forward to the John Carter [of Mars] movie for a long time. Like, before it was even greenlit. (Greenlighted?) I think I covered some of the reasons in a previous post, but basically the John Carter of Mars books (along with the Danny Dunn Mysteries and A Wrinkle in Time) were my introduction to science fiction. 
Basically, they were pulp fiction, which meant they were highly creative and entertaining reads that required a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. There’s internal logic and consistency, but you have to go with the flow that this guy is transported to Mars without really understanding why. 
And that’s exactly how this movie is. Highly entertaining, with interesting people who do interesting stuff.
The characters are engaging, though some are given more dimension than others.  Likewise, the different cultures of Mars (their politics, sociologies, ideologies) are only touched on, not explored. But you do get a sense that there IS a culture there, except that we’re too busy action/adventuring to delve into it. 
Which is as it should be. John Carter has a lot to accomplish in this movie. He’s a cool character with a good backstory for his baggage, and his job is to do stuff. Manly stuff, wearing little clothes and wielding big weapons. (I’m not mocking. All the actors fully commit to this basic, intrinsic concept of the genre, which makes it come off as truly badass.) 
His other job is to be there to interact with the more interesting characters in the movie: the Tharks (a tall, green, six-limbed desert-dwelling race) including Tars Tarkas and Sola, his allies, and Dejah Thores, the most awesome awesome action hero I’ve seen in ages. 
Dejah Thores, in the books, is the ancestress of Princess Leia. Even though her plot function is to be rescued, she’s also an intelligent and competent woman in her own right.
In the movie… She’s just flat out awesome. She’s a brilliant scientist, as self-sacrificing princess, a fierce rebel and warrior, and a slyly intelligent operative–not in her own interest, but with the goal of saving her city, and the whole planet. John Carter is really likable with his aw-shucks genteelism and rebel spirit. But honestly… He’s not that complex. I don’t think that’s a flaw of the moviemakers. I think that’s just the character.
Maybe Im giving too much credit here, but I don’t think so. The screenwriters have an impressive pedigree (including Michael Chabon, Pulitzer prize winning novelist who gets SciFi’s pulp heritage).  I simply love that they inverted the pulp expectation. John Carter is a likable rogue who runs on emotion and muscle, and the “chick” is brilliant and complex. 
I know Disney dropped the “of Mars” from the title because they didn’t want to alienate (ha ha) people who think SciFi is for nerds. (Even though the same people who think that will go so see The Avengers and The Hunger Games which are both–wait for it–SciFi.)  And I think that it’s SciFi pedigree might be why it didn’t do so well on opening weekend. That and reviewers who can’t just enjoy a movie for what it is without trying to make it what it’s not. Not every genre movie has to be The Dark Knight. 
Anyway. Back to genre books and suspension of disbelief. 
In genre books (Mystery, Romance, Fantasy/Science Fiction novels… Basically everything segregated from the mainstream “Fiction” shelves in the bookstore) I think there is a contract between the reader and the writer. The writer asks the reader to believe one impossible thing, and in exchanges promises that everything else will make sense if you just go with that. 

And there’s the writer’s obligation no matter what the genre: Provide internal consistency and interesting people doing interesting things. 
This movie definitely does that. Go see it and give SciFi nerd history some love. 

Movie Monday: Blade Runner

A lot of my favorite movies are from the 80’s. Not just favorite movies, but movies that formed my cultural vocabulary. Ghostbusters, Terminator, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future, Aliens, Highlander, The Princess Bride, Ladyhawke…

Even movies I wasn’t old enough to see in the theater (without sneaking in or having my date buy my ticket, which of course I would never do) made a big impression, because those were the movies we watched on video in college. I could quote Aliens and Predator verbatim. And I believe I have mentioned on other blogs how Kyle Reese spoiled me for all other men.

The cheese factor was high in the eighties, but so was the awesome. Sci Fi movies wouldn’t be what they are today without a couple in particular. Alien, which actually came out in 1979, and Blade Runner.

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In Blade Runner, future Earth is sort of a pit. LA is made up of canyons between 40 story buildings, people crowded in, living under a constant twilight and fall of acid rain. Harrison Ford plays Dekker, a “blade runner” who’s job it is to hunt down and “retire” (i.e., kill) replicants–androids were were built as slave labor on the off world colonies. They aren’t allowed on Earth. Four replicants have rebelled and come to Earth looking to have a word with their creator. And that’s not going to go well for anyone.

While on the trail of the rogue androids, Dekker meets Rachel, an experimental replicant, who has had memories implanted so she doesn’t even realize she’s no human. Dekker falls in love with her, which is important, but rather less interesting than everything else going on in the movie.

This is detective noir tied up with a dystopian sci-fi ribbon. (I love how they use LA architecture like the Bradbury Building to ground the movie in the noir tradition.) Or maybe I have that backwards. But the point is, I didn’t appreciate this movie until I (a) I saw the director’s Final Cut, and (b) I was a grown up and saw pasted the dated hair and electronic score and brooding hero to the bigger themes of man (and robot’s) search for God, what happens when Man becomes God, and, wow, who are we really.

[When Blade Runner first came out Harrison Ford (who, according to Wikipedia so it must be true, clashed with the studio and the director) said this movie was about a man falling in love with a toaster. Which it's not, but funny, because Battlestar Galactic is so much the grandchild of this movie.]

This movie is definitely worth watching if you like sci-fi– In fact, it should be required watching as Sci-Fi movie history. But to enjoy it, here’s some things to keep in mind:

1) There’s some gross R rated violence, fairly tame by 21st century standards, but kind of gruesome. Also some sexual references, again, not much compared to today’s movies (and TV) but sort of creepy. Not for the kids.

2) Rent the “Final Cut” version, which is the movie director Ridley Scott wanted to make. (Proof how seemingly small changes in the editor room make a completely different movie.)

3) Get ready for some crazy ugly hairdos on the women. (Why does this always date a movie, whether it’s set in the past or the future? Aliens, on of my all time favorite movies, could have been made yesterday if not for Sigorney Weaver’s hair… Okay, and her mom jeans.)

4) The electronic Vangelis score (which is a cult classic, apparently) makes this feel thoroughly 80’s, in a way that movies like Alien(s), Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Princess Bride don’t.

Oh, and according to this movie, in 9 years, we will have flying cars, so I’m really excited about that. The constant acid rain? Much more likely, but not nearly so exciting.

Movie Monday: State of Play

So, I didn’t watch State of Play for the longest time, because I thought it was (Body of Lies. Okay, look, they came out the same year, they’re both vaguely political, both have Russell Crowe, both have prepositions in the title. But every time I tuned into Body of Lies, someone was getting tortured. So… no.

(I had difficult watching Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down as well. It was really well made, but even worse with the War Is Hell and There Is No Easy Solution Here because it was a true event. One of those movies that I appreciated but can’t say I enjoyed.)

So anyway, we’re talking about State of Play.

The movie is based on a BBC mini-series. It’s a political murder mystery/thriller, and even having to compress six hours of plot into two, it was satisfyingly twisty and engrossing. Three murders happen in Washington, which don’t appear to be linked at first, but of course they are, because it’s Washington. There’s political wrangling, and an Evil Corporation, and an adulterous congressman… Its the type of movie where you know the ingredients, but the fun is figuring out how they’re going to fit together.

It’s a newspaper mystery, where you suspend a certain amount of disbelief and go with the possibility that two reporters could uncover this Deep Dark Scandal that’s been lurking underneath the lobbyists and politicos for however long… And of course they can, because one of them is veteran Washington reporter Russell Crowe, and one is cub reporter/blogger, Rachel McAdams. (Who I’ve only ever seen in Sherlock Holmes. I like her better here.)

Brad Pitt was originally cast as MacAffery, who is played by Crowe here, and John Simms (The Master) in the BBC version. I can’t imagine how different–and very likely less interesting–the character would have been with a prettier actor*. Here I could see him as an entrenched reporter, someone who could solve this type of mystery with his brain and connections and his friendship with congressman Ben Affleck was much more interesting with the contrast between their characters: one smooth-faced and trim, nattily dressed and well coifed, and the other… not.
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Goes to show how much a character can make a movie work. Everything may have been tied up a little neatly at the end (likely due to the plot compression), but this was a puzzler that I really enjoyed watching unfold. Definitely worth catching on cable, or renting on a Saturday night.

*I don’t mean less handsome actor. Just being clear here. Also, I love how rumpled and scruffy Crowe looks here. I mean, he looks like someone who makes a living sitting on his rump in front of a computer, and obviously, this is very hot to someone who makes a living sitting on her rump in front of a computer.

iLesson: Don’t hammer the funny

Mosquitos Suck contest update. Thanks to your generosity, and helping me spread the word, we contributed hundreds of dollars to the efforts to end malaria. I have the winners of the drawing, and I’m contacting them via e-mail. I’ll post those that are cool with my putting their name on the blog (hey, not everyone is) when I’ve heard back from everyone.

Nothing but Nets continues their efforts to stop the spread of malaria and mosquito borne diseases in Africa. Click here for more information on this cause.

Ironically, mosquitos factor into the inspiration for today’s lesson. I couldn’t sleep the other night, and The Land of the Lost was on. The recent movie, I mean. (Don’t judge. It was 3 am.)

I must have been really tired or desperate for distraction, because I ended up watching the whole thing. Every time I reached for the remote, something juuuuust amusing enough to give me hope would stay my hand, until I got to the point that I figured I may as well watch to the end.

Funny bits? Grumpy the dinosaur, don’t trust anyone wearing a tunic, Matt Lauer’s deadpan self-portrayal.

Unfunny bits? Giant mosquito and other bloodsucking insects. *shudder* Not. Funny. Ever.

One of the problems with this movie (among many) was that the jokes weren’t allowed to stand by themselves. They had to be spotlit, underlined, italicized and beat to death.

This is something I notice with writers in my critique group who are good writers but haven’t learned to trust their own writing yet. They’ll write something funny or evocative, then immediately explain the joke or metaphor.

Going back to Land of the Lost. There was this bit with the T-Rex, where Will Farrell, et.al, had escaped over a ravine and the dinosaur couldn’t follow. He was turning away in resignation when “Dr. Marshall” goes, “Don’t worry about him, he has a brain the size of a walnut.” There’s a nice, full-stop beat of reaction from Grumpy, and he resumes the chase.

Then later, while the humans are hiding in a cave, there’s this thump of something heavy hitting the ground outside the entrance. They go outside, and there is a leaf-wrapped gift on the figurative doorstep. A walnut the size of a kitchen table. Cut to Grumpy, watching. Waiting to exact his revenge.

I laughed out loud, not just at the walnut, but the image behind it, of this dinosaur planning and executing this message/threat, grumbling to himself, “Walnut my scaled ass. There’s a day of reckoning coming, you human butthead.”

Then the actors had to open their mouths: “Wow, that’s a big walnut. Oh, we get it. You’re smart.”

They’d just show me Grumpy was smart. They didn’t have to tell me. Apparently they didn’t think *I* was smart enough to get it.

The lesson here is this:

  • Trust your writing.
  • Show it. Don’t show, then tell me what you’ve just shown.
  • Give your readers some credit, too.

It’s a balancing act, like everything else in writing. The only way to find that balance is to keep writing, and keep experimenting!