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I feel like I'm losing my fannish mojo

Why? Because it never occurred to me that there would be Clint/Natasha fanfic out there in the universe. What's more: It never occurred to me that people would be creating fantasy movie posters about Black Widow and Hawkeye's time in Budapest. I mean seriously. Look at this one. And this one. I mean, are these awesome, or what? Go google up "Clint Natasha Budapest." The fannish creative instinct is alive and well. How awesome is that?

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Last night, by the grace of my friend SA, I got to see a press preview of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Short version: It's terrific. If you're anything like me, you will enjoy the hell out of it.

Longer version: Age of Ultron is complex, action-packed, deeper than I would have expected, and just plain fun. At 2.5 hours, it's still a remarkably fast ride, mainly because it's so dense, so well-edited, and so completely engaging.

Whedon's span of control is impressive. He's telling one big story here, interwoven with more substories than I've seen in a film in a very long time. Almost every character gets a story arc, whether large or small, and every arc shows character change and growth in one way or another by the end of the movie. Some interesting questions get addressed, and a romance is added. (I should note that the Stark/Banner romance continues, albeit on a much more intellectual level. They don't flirt with each other like they did in the first film; they egg each other on as fellow braniacs and mad scientists--Stark even uses that term. It's fun to watch them work together.) There are moments when it's clear that this whole thing is a cartoon made by a superlative storyteller--and things blow up while you're busy being involved in an actual story.

James Spader is terrific as Ultron. I found myself sort of fascinated by the movement of the character's mouth, how it was articulated to look like muscle rather than metal; nice special effects design work there. [Spoiler (click to open)]Paul Bettany as The Vision is spectacular, and the character's realization on screen is just gorgeous. And Andy Serkis' appearance is brief but plummy. Whenever Serkis appears in a role, I feel like he's concentrated awesome--he must be doled out judiciously. He's like a rich dessert. I don't think he could ever carry a film by himself, but for those brief, rich character parts, he's like no one else in Hollywood--just delicious.

And every regular character is great. Watching Banner work through his issues as the Hulk, watching Stark deal with his greatest fears, watching Cap inhabit the role he's come to on the team, and watching Black Widow deal with her history and everything it's cost her--all wonderful stuff, and the actors really bring their game.

Can I also just say, on a purely prurient note, that these people are all just gorgeous? Eye candy everywhere. I've got gigantic crushes on almost all of them purely from an aesthetic perspective. They are delicious to my eyes.

So, yeah, if you haven't figured it out, I had a blast. Totally recommend the movie--if this sort of thing floats your boat.

PS--Almost forgot that after the movie was over, as I went back to my car, I noticed that Seattle's own superhero, Phoenix Jones (Picture | Wikipedia), was on site for the event. I had to do a doubletake, but it was him.

It was great when it all began

So we've all heard about this, right? Fox is planning to remake Rocky Horror Picture Show for TV, directed by the man who gave us the squeaky-clean Xanadu and High School Musical. The article goes on to say, "The film’s sexual content shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate with a few trims. Though full of innuendo, it’s unlikely Rocky Horror would receive its original R rating by today’s standards." (Emphasis mine.)

Wow. Talk about missing the point.


I've written about Rocky Horror here before. I'm pretty passionate about it. It was a turning point, an education, an awakening, a shaping for me in ways I never could have predicted. And it was a cultural touchstone at a time when barriers were being broken all over the place. Kids see it today and view it as a camp send-up--and while it is certainly that, it's so much more. I said it in 2011:

What was, for us, a transgressive experience that broke rules and social barriers that had been becoming more brittle in the wake of Stonewall (not yet 10 years in the past when Rocky broke out as a cultural phenomenon), the rebellion of the '60s, the women's movement of the 1970s and so forth, is something entirely different to a generation that grew up with gender identity awareness and women's equality. What's transgressive for them is entirely different than what was transgressive for us.

What I think these guys are going to miss is the grand transgression that Rocky represented at the time. By baldly stating that "The film’s sexual content shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate with a few trims," it's clear they're planning to cut off its balls and make it even more of a ball of cotton candy than the film (which I adore) did to material that can be presented as edgy and dangerous and still magnificently relevant. I don't get the impression, based on this little blurb from Entertainment Weekly anyway, that anything like this is in their plans, and it just, well, enrages me.

I remember being filled with fear when Tim Burton announced that he was adapting Sweeney Todd for the screen. My reaction to the Rocky Horror announcement is so much more than that. I don't think I'll be able to bear watching it when it airs. I fear castration of the material. I fear stunt casting. And I fear a complete and total missing of the point of the material, start to finish. Rocky Horror will, at its core, always be transgressive, dangerous, campy and awesome; it will survive what's sure to be a fiasco. But, well, like this year's Hugo Awards, we'll have to live through the fiasco first.


Count 'em: 10. Because apparently one movie needs to feature every single character on their own poster. Makes you wonder if it's in everyone's contract. At the same time, I understand the superhero thing: everyone's got their favorite and you want your guy center stage in that poster on your bedroom wall. You know. If you hang these things on your bed room wall. Which, if you're over 19, you might not want to do. (Unless it's RDJ, but that's just me. Then again, maybe not this poster because, well, no particular sex appeal in this poster. On the other hand, now all I want to do is pet Chris Hemsworth's biceps. Really, go look at that poster and tell me that that bicep doesn't demand significant fondling. Just sayin'.)


What I wanted to do was also make note of some other things about these posters.

1. It's not the women who get the "Look at my ass" pose--it's the robot villian.

2. Neither of the women are particularly sexualized--yay! Black Widow is appropriately bad-ass. If Scarlet Witch is going into battle, though, I hope to God she's going to pull her hair back. Seriously.

3. Look at the stitching and seaming on the costumes made of fabric. Seriously. These are not homemade concoctions. Who spends that much time making clothes so completely and perfectly tailored when you've got a world to save? Where did these people get these clothes? I mean, seriously: Look at Captain America's uniform. Look at Hawkeye's. Look at Black Widow's. That's some insane stitching.

4. Where's my Falcon poster? Where's my Loki poster? Where are my Peggy Carter and Heimdall posters, I ask you?

5. Samuel L. Jackson: Baddest ass of 'em all. Always and forever.


There's been reading and movie going lately. Here's what's up with that.

Our Lady of the Islands by Shannon Page and Jay Lake (that would be calendula_witch and jaylake) took me a long time to read. This is an observation, not a criticism, and partly the result of how busy and distracted I've been since the beginning of the year. Under ordinary circumstances, even given that the book is of a substantial length, I would have read it in the space of, oh, a couple of weeks, I think. That's because the narrative voice is smart and accessible.

Set in the archipelago city of Alizar, a place mentioned in Jay's previous works, it follows Sian Katte, a business woman of a certain age, and what happens when she is first beaten senseless in the street and then awakens to find herself with the power to heal anyone she touches, both physically and spiritually. Given that Alizar has political problems of major proportion as well as an heir who is languishing of a sickness that no one is able to cure, her gift comes at a key time. But for Sian, getting to that heir proves a major challenge. Reading this book was an interesting experience for me, knowing the authors, knowing their history, knowing their individual writings styles pretty well. Hearing Jay's voice so clearly in that first chapter was disconcerting to me as a personal matter; there he was, on the page, with his perspective and distinctive eye for detail--and then there was Shannon, with her emphasis on character and other kinds of details. Mostly what I enjoyed was reading a book about women who already knew their places in the world, had experiences that had shaped who they were, and were able to call all those skills into play when events took turns they weren't prepared for. So refreshing after years of reading male coming-of-age stories in the genre. I also liked this vision of a different kind of fantasy world--it's not your typical medieval high fantasy setting, but rather a tropical paradise with a strong nautical culture and a mysterious religious cult upending the status quo. There's a lot to like here: a delicious new world, smart, capable protagonists, and an adventure that transforms not just the people at its center, but the world as a whole.

I started reading Little Men by Louisa May Alcott within a week of finishing Our Lady. Given that Little Women is a comfort book for me, I've always wanted to read the sequel. I don't know if it was because of the juxtaposition against Our Lady or because I'm beyond a point in my life when this sort of thing would be appealing, but 60 pages in, I found it too sticky sweet and the characters far too perfect to be able to spend much time with them. It's a shame because the stories are post-Civil War era and I wanted detail and flavor of the era as a reference for something I'm working on, but I put it down within days of picking it up.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a lovely little movie. Like its prequel, it is sweet (in a good way), funny, and beautifully acted by a cast of veteran actors so wonderful to watch that I didn't care just how predictable the plot really was. It's by the numbers the whole way--an engaged couple whose engagement puts the relationship on the rocks, the young hotelier paranoid about business prospects. The only thing that was surprising to me is how, for a film that offers you more-or-less what you expect, producing a comforting kind of enjoyment, it was able to maintain that same perspective as the first film--that age doesn't change the experience of human relationships. We are such a culture of youth; it's refeshing--there's that word again--to see older people still struggling as younger people do, with the quest for love or the hard work of being honest with one another--because they do, and it's important that we as a culture recognize that.

Mr. Turner is Mike Leigh's interpretation of the second half of the artist JMW Turner's life. Timothy Spall plays Turner, and his performance is a masterwork of character and nuance. The cinematography is breathtaking, so many shots looking like they came right off of Turner's canvasses. I remember noticing, in particular, how the life all around Turner went on with its own little dramas: an unhappy couple on the deck of a ship, the expressions of a crowd listening to a singer at a party, the manner of the painters at the Academy gallery, women on the streets around Turner's homes. That's the hand of the director and it made it all so much richer. I enjoyed the film very much and recommend it.


Last night, I needed to detox from a really emotionally stressful week, so I stayed home and watched TV with the cats. I watched "Forrest Gump" and the SNL 40th anniversary special, switching back and forth between channels. Here are some of the random thoughts that occurred.

Thoughts on Forrest Gump, its actors and its historical contextCollapse )

Thoughts on the SNL 40th anniversary showCollapse )

And in the midst of all this rumination and observation, I found myself noticing that SNL premiered somewhere in the 1970s and that Forrest Gump probably never watched it. His Jenny almost certainly did.
This year, instead of attending the full festival, I attended the Sunday afternoon encore, which featured all the films from the festival the previous day that had won awards, been runners' up or were judge's choice. Here's what we saw--and let me note that people who are interested in awarding the Hugo to true short films really need to see some of these:

The Looking Planet (Dir.: Eric Law Anderson, USA, 17 min.) (link goes to the trailer and official website)
During the construction of the universe, one young engineer decides to alter the design of one particular planet. This beautiful little origin story is just a delight, told with humor, epic visuals, and great affection for its characters.

Caldera (Dir.: Evan Viera, USA, 11 min.) (link goes to full video)
A young woman puts aside the medications she takes regularly to experience the world in a whole new way. This film won the grand prize of the festival. While I think it's visually beautiful, it made limited sense to me.

The Nostalgist (Dir.: Giacomo Cimini, UK 18 min.) (link goes to the trailer and official website)
A man tries to protect his son from the outside world, but also from the fearsome truth about their lives together. I loved this beautiful, Kickstarter-funded, steampunk short film. It's stylishly produced, offering a contrast between its filigreed prettiness and its hard-edged, super-slick danger. And the actor who plays the father is not only kind of gorgeous, he's also very good indeed.

Time Travel Lover (Dir.: Ben Mirosseni, USA, 10 min.) (link goes to full video)
A first date goes awry when the couple receives a visit--well, several visits--from the young man's future self, with news of how their relationship turns out. Entertaining and occasionally sympathetic-wince-inducing, this short film is light fluff, but it also offers some real truth about how insecure we can all be, and about how badly 20-20 hindsight could be turned around by the invention of time travel.

Little Quentin (Dir.: Albert 't Hooft and Paco Vink, Netherlands, 9 min.) (link goes to full video)
Oswald Bunny gets help from his friends to cover up a terrible crime. Taking a twisted page from "Toy Story," this short film offers a dark, funny glimpse into the harrowing world of toy noir. You'll recognize analogs to beloved cartoon characters and childhood toys. The end offers a great twist.

Gumdrop (Dir.: Kerry Conran and Stephen Lawes, USA, 8 min.) (link goes to full video)
A robot auditions for a plum cinematic role. This short won the Douglas Trumbull Award for Best Visual Effects, and I suspect that more technically savvy eyes than mine will understand precisely why, though I thought there were more eye-popping visuals in other films we saw that afternoon. I found it to be another light bit of fluff, though when the robot starts spouting its assigned monolog, I admit that I kind of laughed my head off at the material chosen for her to read.

Wanderers (Dir.: Erik Wernquist, Sweden, 4 min.) (Link goes to full video)
Narrated by Carl Sagan, this short film offers a vision of the universe as imagined based on the most current science about interstellar environments. I sat there completely gobsmacked watching this film. Completely amazing.

In the Beginning (Dir.: Arthur Metcalf, USA, 3 min.) (Link goes to full video)
One little girl takes a key role in the creation of the universe. Ever wonder why bees are what they are? This delightful, giggle-inducing little film provides one marvelous theory. This film won the Audience Choice award at the festival and the reason will become obvious when you watch it.


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Elizabeth and I went to see The Hobbit last night. My goodness, what a lot of CGI! And the truth about the movie is that, at its heart, is IS about people, but Peter Jackson has become so enamored of relying upon special effects--and so sure that what worked for the Lord of the Rings films will work here--that the heart of the movie gets lost. Apparently, in every film, we need to see Legolas do something physics-defying and therefore elfish. We need to see crane shots of magnificent landscapes. We need to see overhead shots of people running across narrow bridges that span harrowing depths. We need to see hordes of barbarians massing for battle and the butchery that follows. We need flocks of sinister-looking flying creatures (in this case, bats) menacing our band of stout heroes from the sky. And we need hero shots of heroic men looking heroically across landscapes, their ropey locks blowing heroically in the wind. Yes, I could have predicted all of it.

From my perspective, the best things about the movie (besides the darkly handsome and talented Richard Armitage and the brilliant Martin Freeman) are its quietest moments--between Tauriel and Kili, between Bilbo and Thorin, between Thorin and Bard, between Legolas and Thranduil. In those moments, Jackson lets his actors actually, you know, act, and we see who these characters are and why any of this matters to them at all. But it's all so swallowed up by the CGI monsters and the padding over of aging that the truth gets kind of lost.

Glad the series is over. Glad to have seen it. Done with it now.


Movie commentary

Bless me, LJ, for I have sinned. It's been more than a week since my last blog post, mainly because there's been a lot of terrible stuff going on in my social circle and I've had a hard time figuring out how to say what I want to say about it. So instead, I'm going to make some notes on a bunch of pop culture stuff and repress the tougher stuff . . . or at least give it more time to percolate before I figure out how to say what I want to say.

Disney's Star Wars teaser trailer: It's out there, circulating around the internets like the viral video Disney knew it would be. I have to admit that, given how little is actually there, it looks pretty good. The one droid we see looks like it's built by magic because it doesn't make mechanical sense, but I'll try not to let that bother me too much. (It's just so Disney, though. I might feel better if this were a Pixar endeavor.) The sight of the Millennium Falcon soaring through space in ways it never did in the original films warmed my geeky heart. So there's that.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, part 1: Saw this the other night with varina8 and enjoyed it. I think it's a very faithful adaptation of the book and looks just terrific. Jennifer Lawrence is better than the material--and the material is pretty darn good. Watching Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the smart, observant, sardonic Plutarch Heavensbee is both wonderful and heartbreaking. Woody Harrelson steals virtually every scene he's in. Josh Hutcherson's--Peeta's--transformation is really something to see. And I think that Elizabeth Banks' performance as Effie Trinket has been completely overlooked; she gives heart to a character who, superficially, looks pretty heartless, and I love that Katniss sees through her carefully constructed facade. The satire on the media continues apace, well done without being too heavy-handed. I know the film has received criticism because it's part one of two and the end is obviously a "To be continued." There's some validity to this criticism; at the same time, we knew this criticism would come the moment it was announced that they'd break the last book into two parts. (Thank you Harry Potter series. :: sigh :: ) It is what it is. I'm looking forward to Part 2; I know it'll be a year before we get it. But, really, in the end, the movies have been better than their source material, and I think they've all been worth waiting for.

Interstellar: This year's big, momentous Science Fiction Film. It's hard for me to say I liked the movie. I enjoyed the experience; I thought it was well-made; I liked watching Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. I liked seeing real science being explained on the big screen as though the script trusted the audience to get difficult concepts. I liked seeing a story in which women made decisions that altered the course of the story in powerful ways. I liked seeing them solve problems that men screwed up. I'm not sure how I feel about scientists spending their time trying to get us off the planet and run away from the problem rather than staying here to try to solve the problem. I had some trouble with the timey-wimey stuff at the end; I feel like there was some magic injected into what was supposed to be science fiction, but I could chalk it up to the fiction side of the equation if I don't want to think about it too hard. The father/daughter stuff kind of nailed me. Did I like the film? For some reason, that's hard for me to say. Did I appreciate it? Yes, I did. And yeah, there's a gulf between those two distinctions.

Love, Actually: Rented this film on the recommendation of JB who posted an article about it on Facebook, saying we should all watch it with someone we love. At the most superficial level, I enjoyed it. Here are all these charming actors being charming. How can you not like Hugh Grant, Kira Knightley, Alan Rickman, Martin Freeman all being adorable? Here is a parade of romantic gestures that many of us would like to make. But I had these moments that really bothered me. I hated how thick girls were put down as a matter of course (sizeable ass, Miss Dunkin' Donut 2003); apparently you're only worthy of love if you're thin (though Natalie does get the Prime Minister in the end). I disliked how Emma Thompson was dressed so unstylishly--the middle-aged mother contrasted with the sexy, fashionable assistant, as if women give up any notion of their own attractiveness once they're parents. She's the only character who shows any, well, character in the film and she's badly wardrobed and treated like a doormat by her husband. I disliked how Laura Linney's character, being the good sister, sacrifices her own life and happiness for her mentally ill brother; at the same time, I disliked how the film punishes her for her selfless act of love by denying her the romantic love that is clearly the film's ultimate reward for behavior it deems acceptable. I mean, if the object of her desire doesn't have the character to see what she's doing and admire and support her for it, instead of feeling cockblocked by her dedication to family, then he's not worth her time anyway (it's unclear, though, if he feels cockblocked and walks away, or if she chooses not to pursue him given her commitment to her brother), but the film leaves her miserable about it. Her character is stuck in this lose-lose situation. Now, to be fair, she makes these choices, and there is power in that, but it's like she's being punished for having agency. I dislike how so much of the movie is from the male point-of-view, especially given that the two women whose POV we get are substantial people, worth further attention. I did like Liam Neeson's father-son storyline, but parent-child stories will always get me. I did like Bill Nighy's storyline--it was good to see the love between friends get some coverage here (though part of me wishes it had been friendship between women rather than men, but that's another post for another time). I did like Emma Thompson standing up to her husband when she discovers his deception. I admit that I'm wildly conflicted about the movie overall, mainly because its manipulation is so complete that I like the movie in spite of myself. Because I like the idea of the romantic gesture (though, having made them more than once, I know that they don't all end well). Because I like what the film is attempting to do, which is make quick observations about different kinds of love and how it's difficult and messy and scary, and how a romantic gesture can get you an answer about the person you're interested in--one way or the other. But does it make the argument that love is wonderful? Not really, because love doesn't seem to make many people very happy in this movie (except the friends and the kids). But there's more here. The film has lasted precisely because there's so much there to pick apart. I'm aware that critics have picked apart the film pretty thoroughly, but I wanted to write about it before I went and read commentary, because I'm curious about how my impressions align (or not) with what's already been written.


The weekend behind, the week ahead

It was a remarkably productive weekend in a number of ways. The fact that the weather was absolutely summer-like certainly helped. (Really, yesterday I could have gone to Golden Gardens and laid on the beach without a second thought. I did get some color when I took my walk yesterday.) I took a slew of books to the used bookstores for credit trade-in (instrumental to holiday gift planning). I got some writing done. I napped quite a bit. I got some walking in. I did a little decluttering.

I also saw Enter the Dragon for the first time, and on the big screen. It was shown as part of the film festival celebrating the reopening of Seattle's beloved Egyptian Theater by SIFF, as well as part of Bruce Lee Day, thrown by the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in honor of its new exhibit about Lee. oldmangrumpus treated me, astonished that I'd never seen the movie and determined to fill this hole in my cinematic education. I enjoyed it well enough and, having seen it, understand why it's such a landmark in a particular genre of film. It is by no means the greatest movie I've ever seen, but I understand a little more about Bruce Lee's legacy and appeal. And, of course, it was a good time spent with friends, so all in all it was a worthwhile evening.

The week ahead includes a davidlevine/kateyule level of mad travel, between a trip to Portland for a corporate off-site event and a trip to Northern California for a wedding both in the space of eight days. I depart for the first tomorrow morning. I keep looking around the house and wondering what I need to do to prepare for it all, and realizing that, beyond a certain point, there's little to do besides prepping the cats, packing, and actually going. Neither of my cat sitters cares particularly about the level of clutter in the house. I'm the only one who cares whether or not I do things like take out the garbage or make my bed. It's part of my process, apparently, to make myself a little crazy about things that don't matter before departure. ::sigh::

So I suppose I ought to get to it. It's going to be a big week. I need to make sure to get more sleep. I'm going to need it.



Good girls go to heaven.
Bad girls go everywhere.
--Mae West



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