Tag Archive | movies

Thor vs. the White Whale (Movie Monday: seafaring edition)

I am a total geek for maritime history. I’m a total geek about a lot of things, but my love of all things Tall Ship related goes under the radar because it hasn’t come up in a book yet (which is about to change). There’s actually a long seafaring tradition on both sides of my family–with Dutch pirates privateers and East India Company merchant marines on one side and captains in the Texas Navy and WWII Gulf patrol boats on the other. CH Heart of the sea.jpg

I, on the other hand, get seasick at the IMAX and am sort of afraid of drowning. So much line my love of ballet and swordfighting, my love remains theoretical rather than practical.

Which is all to say that I was really geeked about The Heart of the Sea movie, directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth. It’s based on a book about the real life whaling ship Essex, and its bizarre encounter with a monster whale that attacked the ship and sank it like a son of a bitch (link). As the trailer points out, it’s “the true story that inspired Moby Dick.” Which is a terrible tagline, because I know how 99% of my English class felt about reading Moby Dick. They should have tagged it: “Chris Hemsworth fights a giant whale.”

01-heart-sea-lead-image.jpgIf only.  I mean, that happens, and it’s cool. And leading up to that is about 30-40 minutes of topgallants and capstans and fo’c’sles and gales and a whole mess of money shots of badass sailorific seatasticness.

Then the whale sinks the ship, leaving our crew adrift and marooned with no food or water in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which might as well be Mars. Only without Matt Damon to science the shit out of things. So it gets grim.*

And that’s the main flaw of this movie—not that things go to a dark, Donner party place. But that it happens about halfway in, and that’s a lot of movie time to spend with your characters literally adrift. Heart of the Sea Hemsworth.jpg

It’s a “man’s will to survive” story from there, and so the hardest decision they make to survive should be the climax of the movie. In the framing story where the last living crewman of the Essex relates this story, Brendan Gleeson sells this reveal in a fantastic bit of acting, one of those two minutes of a movie where the veteran basically gives a masterclass to rest of the cast. (See also, Peter O’Toole asking Brad Pitt’s Achilles for Hector’s body back in Troy. Also, Michelle Fairley plays Gleeson’s wife, which made my nerd heart so happy.)In-the-Heart-of-the-Sea-Brendan-Gleeson-Ben-Whishaw.jpgWhere was I?  Oh yeah. Basically, once you find out what’s haunting Gleeson’s character, the story should have wrapped up as quickly as possible.

So from a movie-watcher standpoint, the first hour or so was really satisfying to watch. The rest was a bit grueling, but Gleeson gives some payoff there. And I got knitting done.

On the other hand, I thought about the movie for a long time, because there were a lot of great ingredients that should have made a more delicious stew.**  How would I restructure this? Some deeper characterization would have been nice, and if the actual sinking were moved to the Act III break instead of the midpoint, that would allow for that plus more white whale action.***  Then recognize where the story really ends, and bring it home from there.

Or, we could just make a movie of Mad Eye Moody and Catelyn Stark play a married couple running a tumbledown boarding house full of eccentric characters who pay their rent in chickens and gillyweed.

So, this a wait for Netflix one, I’m sad to say. There’s some good stuff here, it’s just kind of out of balance. Everything aboard the Essex delighted and excited. When the story turns dark, it’s simply spread over too much screen time.But Gleeson gives some payoff there. And I got knitting done.

In the meantime, rent Master and Commander. That one has beat to quarters in the first three minutes, takes it’s lull in the middle, then gets all broadsides and boarding party again for the end.

 


*Here’s where I discovered that I have this ability–maybe it’s a talent, maybe it’s just a bad habit–of mentally glossing over the stuff I don’t like about a story, either ignoring it or completely rewriting it in my head. (Like the movie I talked about last week. Something happens to the little dog offscreen, and in my head, I’m like, oh, the dog totally got away, to the point where I convinced myself that actually happened, not just maybe happened if you’re in serious denial. So, sorry about that if anyone was traumatized. But it lead to my discover of the site Doesthedogdie.com. So that’s a plus.)

**This is kind of an unfortunate analogy for this movie.

***This is not a euphemism for anything dirty.

Recent-ish Science Fiction Movies That I Think Didn’t Suck

popcorn-1085072_640It’s just embarrassing how long it sometimes takes me to see a movie, even once it comes out of iTunes. Really Sad, becasue I don’t really have an excuse. Except, I guess for working all the time. (Pinterest and Tumblr are work, right?)

So among all the other things I’m catching up with in 2016 (The Year Where I Get Caught Up on S***) are movies. Maybe you are, too. Or maybe you don’t get that much time to watch movies, and you want an opinion so you don’t waste your limited iTunes budget/Netflix time on something lame. So I offer you this diffinitive guide:

Relatively Recent Science Fiction Movies That Didn’t Suck (in my humble opinion)

  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Just getting the obvious one out of the way. I freaking loved this movie. I was the absolute last of my friends to see it, and sometimes after a movie has been out for… oh, lets say a month… some of the bloom comes off of it.  Well, TFA is blooming awesome. I laughed, I cried, I squee’d. I had ALL THE FEELS. Then I had all the thoughts about my feels, then thoughts about storytelling, and this movie is actually probably worth it’s own post, maybe when the Blu-Ray comes out.
  2. The Martian. Another movie that my friends pretty much all liked or loved. I loved it. When I’m at home, I measure the engagement factor of a movie based a lot on how many rows of knitting I get done during the run time. The Martian scored a “1” which is about as good a score as you can get. The plot is that astronaut Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars and then he has to science a way to stay alive until they can figure out a way to rescue him. I was totally engrossed and invested in Watney’s survival. Matt Damon always makes me want his character to be all right (even sociopaths like Tom Ripley).  But with such a strong cast, I felt how invested their characters were in getting Watney home, so I wanted THEM to succeed. So, great actors and Ridley Scott to find the heart in this really sciency story. (I loved it, but I was exausted at the end.)
  3. Time Lapse is on Netflix right now, so it’s free to take a chance on it. The professional reviewers didn’t seem to like it as much as I did, but that’s not unusual. It’s got a very “indie” feel to it (all takes place on limited sets, lots of silences and slow, minimalist piano music), but that’s what I liked about it. The premise (Three friends discover a camera that takes pictures 24 hours into the future) isn’t totally original, but I liked watching how the paradoxes and inevitabilities played out. It’s a good Netflix movie—I was glad I watched it, because I wouldn’t have payed movie theater prices to see it. (Plus I got more knitting done in this one).

I also enjoyed the heck out of Jurassic World, but I couldn’t think of a fifth movie, and the lists look weird when they stop on four, like you’re not decisive enough to pick three, but you lack commitment to go to five.

So help me out. What should I download next in my quest to catch up with 2015?

All. The. Feels. — IF I STAY on Movie Monday

IF I STAY has been on my list to watch ever since it came out on video (it’s on Netflix right now) but I knew that was going to need the right mood and moment. Though I have not (to my shame) read the extremely well reviewed book by Gayle Foreman, I knew what I was getting into. (This is not a spoiler—Mia’s family was in a car crash, and she is in a coma deciding whether to stay or go. She relives the past that got her where she is, and watches the present as those she love gather around her.)

(source)

“Heartstrings” courtesy of Sean Molin on Flickr under Creative Commons license (source)

I knew I couldn’t watch this in a movie theater. I knew I couldn’t watch it when my Mom was around, or right before bed, or in the middle of the day when I’d have to go be productive after. But last night, I had the house to myself, the evening off, and a blog I needed to revive.

I expected to need Kleenex (see description above). I did not expect to completely lose my shit. I’m not just talking sobbing. I’m talking gasping, shaking, and the occasional un-stifle-able keening cry. If I hadn’t been alone, it would have been mortifying.

Before you say, “God, that sounds awful,” I should explain that it was emotional, and beautiful, and ultimately hopeful and up-lifting. But for me, it cracked open that shell I keep around the loss of my brother and father, and that that grief, love, and loss came pouring out as if I were there again in the hospital. It’s not just the loss, it was everything–the vigil at the hospital, the disbelief, the anger, and finally that moment when you have to say to the person you love, “It’s okay to go.”

Which is what this story is really about–staying or going. Keeping to the course you’re on, or taking a new direction. It’s a theme that happens over and over, by characters in the past and the present, in little decisions and big ones. It’s beautiful, and it’s elementally Young Adult in nature. It’s about change.

The thing I loved most (and what spoke to me most, as someone who has so much anxiety about change) was the idea that there are no right or wrong choices. There’s only option A or option B; both can be happy, and both will have a measure of pain.  I read and write mostly genre fiction, where there’s a strong element of fate, and destiny, and pulling the sword from the stone, and what not. So this idea that both options can be satisfying in a different way is what made this such a realistic story.

I like moves that give me lots of thinky thoughts, and IF I STAY. I really do recommend it. Not everyone will find it so painful, I just have certain triggers.  I thought several times about stopping the movie, but I had to watch to the end. My objective brain wanted to see how the creators ended the story. My subjective brain knew that Mia’s decision didn’t matter–she wins either way, and she loses something either way.

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.

rinko-001

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.