Aug 242015
  August 24, 2015

Fans did their best to keep the second or so most prestigious science fiction award, the Hugos, from tail spinning into the mud (I like the Nebulas, and the Sturgeon awards more). When the winners were revealed, no reactionary puppies won—Guardians of the Galaxy did win for Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, but everyone agrees the pups shouldn’t be held against it. Five No Awards: for Short Story, Novella, Related Work, and both editor categories.

My predictions went pretty well, with twelve right. I missed on Fan Artist, Dramatic Presentation—Short Form, Editor-Long, Editor-Short, and Short Story. With the exception of Artist, where I knew nothing and just followed GRRM (damn you George RR Martin!) my misses all came from my mistaking the 2400 new voters (and many of the older ones). I saw things through my eyes, so I pictured Pups, Anti-pups, and Fandom-Defenders. These groups all have clear philosophies. The members wouldn’t be dwelling on what others did but rather vote motivated by their own philosophy. Pups would vote for pups, going for the most obnoxiously pure. And they did. Anti-pups, realizing the Hugos were a sham this year, and there was nothing to celebrate, would vote as much as possible to forget this year so we could move on to the next without the taint. I’m one of those folks. And Fandom Defenders would come to celebrate fandom, voting for all equally, though perhaps holding a grudge against a few of the most egregious pup nominations. That’s the Martin/Scalzi approach.

I forget people aren’t like that. They don’t all function with a philosophy. That’s probably for the best as philosophies make people dangerous (watch Videodrome). A majority of the fans fit in between my Anti-Pups and Fandom Defenders. They were “What the Hell! Those guys are dicks!” voters. They came to celebrate fandom, but also, to point at the dicks, and then give them the finger—just as those dicks, the puppies, had been giving fandom for the past three years. They came to the party, laughing and dancing and having fun, saw the party-asshole, sprouting his politics and claiming he was the victim, and yelling it loud enough to be heard over the music, and they said, “Screw that guy.” Continue reading »

Aug 202015
  August 20, 2015

When I started writing this I was going to name it “Handicapping the Hugos,” but then I saw that some unknown writer, who also swiped my idea for a book series focusing on a coming season (mine was Spring is Coming. Think that would sell?) had done his own handicapping, and with that title. So, a re-title, a bit of a re-write to go in his order if you want to compare, and away we go. (If you don’t like the whys, skip down 5 paragraphs)

The Hugos are usually hard to call, and this year the unknowns are too high. Those unknowns are the large number of new voters. There’s over 2000 more votes than last year. The winners will be determined by who those 2000+ are. One possibility is that they are “unaligned,” coming into the Hugos due to the added publicity, but not having any political views. I find that incredibly unlikely. I’ll give it a 1%. I think these new voters fall into one of three categories.

Puppy Supporters – And extreme ones. No one jumped into this because they have a mild interest in upsetting the apple cart. No, if they’re pups, they’re frothy, and will be voting for the party. Their only problem is since most of the candidates are from the party, sometimes their voting strength will be defuse. But in a few categories, a small number of people could rule. Chances are they haven’t read many of the works.

Anti-Pups – That’s me. The goal is to stop the pups from destroying the Hugos in the long term, knowing that this year is already a lost cause. The racism and sexism, not to mention the reactionary philosophy of the pups are what brought in these voters. They’ll use “No Award” often, and tend to vote against any pup. There will be some cross-overs (in dramatic presentation categories, and where the nominees made it clear they want nothing to do with the slate that got them there), but for the most part, slate candidates will get nothing from these folks.

Fandom Defenders – These are the folks who want to pretend that if we just act as we always have (except to vote this year) things will be OK and people will be happy. These people will be operating with the philosophy that each work should be considered on merit alone, so will cross over as they see fit. However, they will see the pups as attacking fandom, so they will be suspicious of pups, and no matter their general philosophy, they won’t vote for Vox Day or John C. Wright. If they are more informed, you can add Tom Kratman to that list. Chances are they’ve haven’t read all the works. Continue reading »

Aug 162015
 
three reels

Max, looking younger than last time we saw him (Tom Hardy taking over for Mel Gibson), is taken captive by a flamboyant cult, lead by the unimpressive named Joe and filled with worshiping, sickly, pale, “war boys.” Coincidently, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) chooses this time to betray the evil leader and sneak away his wives in an armored fuel truck. Fanatic war boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) takes off in pursuit, bringing Max as a source of transfusions. Max can’t stay a prisoner for long, and once free, teams up with Furiosa to fight off the cult’s diseased warriors and souped-up vehicles in a two-hour road chase.

Writer/Director George Miller returns to the series that made his career, and sticks exclamation points everywhere. Fury Road is bigger, louder, faster, more violent (if less gritty), and more beautiful than Mad Max has been before. This is The Road Warrior, turned up to 11, and then turned up some more. It is an epic, telling a mythic tale in a mythic fashion. And except for a few moments of stylized emoting (Furiosa dropping to her knees to cry out her misery), it is non-stop action. The story feels like it is ten thousand years old (and it might be) and everything is so grand that it left me thinking this should be a story of ancient gods, not mortals.

Sound pretty good? Well…it is…pretty good. But it’s not great. Two hours at 11 is a long time, and that epic story telling starts looking like a pile of clichĂ©s pretty quickly. That’s the thing about myth—we’ve seen it all before and it seems silly if examined too closely.

Fury Road is a film that suffers from its overstated reviews. It quickly gained a reputation as the best science fiction movie of recent years (it’s not), and certainly of this year (it’s not). As action done perfectly (nope). And, as meaningful feminist filmmaking (not at all). It’s a fun film, but lowering expectations is in order.

The non-stop action gets tiring, particularly as these scenes have been done before by Miller himself. It is a retread of the last third of The Road Warrior. When Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome came out, it was attacked by critics and the public for its climax being a repeat of the chase from the previous film. It is hard for me to figure why Fury Road is getting a pass on that when the entire film is a repeat. Perhaps the first three films are old enough that current audiences haven’t seen them—if so, that’s quite sad. The car chase, with its accompanying gun fire, circus acts, flaming electric guitar (yup, there’s one of those), giant drums, and constant explosions is done very well. Except for film speed changes (which was all the rage in 1926), I couldn’t ask for better. I could ask for some time between combats so that I could get to know the characters and what is at stake when generic evil dude pops up with a chinsaw. The villains were just Bad Guy #1, Bad Guy #2, Bad Guy #3. It’s pretty, but empty.

Character development suffers even in the few moments of non-fighting. Max barely speaks. He gets some PTSD visions, and that’s all the personality he has. Feriosa is the tough chick. That’s it. The most clearly defined character is the dying war boy, and that’s only because he has more than one character trait. This is part and parcel with larger-than-life storytelling, along with the actors either playing for the back rows (the earlier mentioned knee dropping despair) or not acting at all (Hardy seems to be on substantial mood suppressants). But Star Wars managed it, with its thinly clothed icons having some personality.

There isn’t much plot, but what’s there is drivel. Coincidences and really, really bad plans are what we’ve got. The story is just an excuse for machines with wheels to run into other machines with wheels, so its weakness is only a minor detriment. The world itself makes no sense, which again, is part of the whole mythic thing, but films need a bit more foundation than epic poems, at least films shot semi-realistically. The world has lost absolutely everything, except for replacement fuel injectors and gasoline. The Road Warrior was unlikely in its depiction of a gas-low world where everyone was constantly using tons of petrol. Fury Road is just nuts. I’d have never guessed how abundant chrome would be in the new world.

Much has been made of Fury Road being a feminist masterpiece. This was primarily started by a men’s rights advocate (and he didn’t use the world “masterpiece”) writing a paranoid review from seeing the trailer. Apparently having a strong female character was too much to bare, and others picked up the line. But like most things coming from men’s rights groups, it is misguided. The biggest failing in that narrative is that this is a Mad Max movie. It shouldn’t be. It should be Furiosa of the Future, as she is the protagonist. We should have started with her, learned more about her, gotten into her head. Furiosa, a female bad-ass, steals evil Joe’s harem girls. The only male needed in that story was the war boy Nux. But no one trusts a female-lead action film, so we have Max. It’s Max we start with. It’s Max we follow. He is in every way unnecessary, but yet, there he is. In a movie that, from the story, should be all about women, the lead is an inserted male. Unless you consider The Last Samurai an Asian rights film, Fury Road is no feminist movie.

For those of us who have seen the earlier entries, continuity is an issue. When is Fury Road supposed to take place? Online speculators suggested that this was a new Max, but Miller said otherwise. Since he still has his car, that places it before The Road Warrior, but that doesn’t work on many fronts. And age is an issue. Max had a family before the fall of civilization, and a job as a cop, placing the apocalypse no more than twenty years ago. Furiosa, who seems about Max’s age (and played by an actress two years older) was either a small child or not yet born when the collapse happened. Huh. Perhaps Miller should have hired Gibson again. At least an old-man-Max would have made sense. And who is the little girl in Max’s PTSD visions? The death of his wife and child no longer bother him, but the loss of some unknown girl does.

Fury Road is a fun, mindless, explosion-filled extravaganza, that would be more fun with a few less explosions. It is silly, inconsistent, and as socially relevant as a Transformers movie. Ask for little, and don’t worry about getting up in the middle for popcorn, and you’ll probably have a good time.

I place it third of the four Mad Max films, after its two immediate predecessors.

It follows Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

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Aug 082015
  August 8, 2015

JohnnyLet’s just start with the premise: “Heritage” is never the answer to anything. It is never a reason to do anything, or like anything. Heritage is a description of history. It is now your job to determine if the events of that history are good, or bad, or simply irrelevant, and act accordingly.

Recently, heritage has come up as a defense for the Confederate flag still flying over government buildings, or flying over a home. That the flag is a symbol of racism, that it was originally used as an icon for an army formed, and then fighting, to retain slaves, and that it was pulled out of mothballs by racist groups, and by racist legislators long after the Civil War as a way to protest civil rights is a matter of history. Or, if you will, that is its heritage. When someone says the flag is a symbol of heritage, that is the heritage of which they speak. I’m not going to argue that any more because chances are if you are reading my blog, you already know that and believe it.

Which brings us to heritage in geekdom. Just like for racist Southerners (and some Northerners), heritage is used in the geek community as an excuse for all kinds of sins. It is also used mindlessly. As I need a distinction, I divide those in the community into “fans” and “fan-boys.” (And yes, you can have a female fan-boy). Fans are people who like a work. Fan-boys are those who no longer care if something is good, or great, or even if it is horrible, as long as it is pure, and supports their egos. Fan-boys are ego connected to the things they clutch close to their breasts. They take their identity from those things. To Star Wars fan-boys, an insult to Star Wars is an insult to themselves. Someone laughing a Batman is laughing at them (the Batman fan-boy). It’s why they can’t stand camp. Continue reading »

Aug 052015
 
3,5 reels

Super scientist and ex-Ant-Man, Hank Pym, recruits down-on-his-luck cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to become the new Ant-Man. Hank’s ex-protĂ©gĂ© and stereotypically evil businessman, Darren Cross, is about to rediscover Pym’s shrinking technology and sell it to terrorists, and Hank needs a new Ant-Man to stop the evil plan and destroy all records of the technology. And Hank’s daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), she…she…um…well, she’s there too.

The least of the Marvel Cinematic Universe* movies is a good time, which is handy, as Ant-Man is a lesser one. It’s fun, with a few laughs and plenty of wiz-bang superhero combat moments. You’ll enjoy it at a matinee with some friends and a large tub of popcorn. I enjoyed it, just not as much as the other MCU films, and any time I thought about anything in the film, I enjoyed it a little less. Still, it’s a thumbs up, if not enthusiastically.

Oddly, they get right the most difficult bit, the concept: a shrinking man with ant friends. If Thor and Iron Man were B-listers in the Marvel comic universe (before their star-making films), Ant-Man is a D-lister. Shrinking is not an exciting power (hmmm, I could have mighty strength, control lightning, and have a miraculous hammer, or I can squeeze through an old-timey keyhole… which would I choose?) and having insect buddies is best suited to a child’s cartoon. But Ant-Man manages to make the concept of shrinking both powerful and frightening. It is believable that Pym particles, which can compress the distance between atoms) could tear apart civilization.  And ants make useful and fun sidekicks without being embarrassing. It is the concept of Ant-Man that was the problem the filmmakers had to solve. Once they beat that, and they did, the rest should have been easy.

But it wasn’t. Plot and character are beyond these filmmakers. The actors do their best. Paul Rudd is likable and a nice addition to the Avengers star roster, but he’s more along the lines of Anthony Mackie (Falcon) or Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) then a Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) or Tom Hiddleston (Loki). That is, he’s fine, but he doesn’t shine brightly enough to blind you to the flaws all around him. Michael Douglas does a bit better, bringing much needed weight (with still a sparkle in his eye), but he’s not given enough screen time to make his conflicted character really work. (Hey, Marvel—lost opportunity: you could have had Pym cameos in two or three earlier films so there was something existent to work with). As for Evangeline Lilly, she’s just wondering what she’s doing in the film, and why her wig-maker punked her.

Part of the problem is the sameness of it all. If Ant-Man came out before the recent wave of superhero films, it might feel less of a retread, though maybe it’d have to be moved to a time before light heist films, so, perhaps 1929. Lang is your generic criminal with a heart. His daughter is rolled out, dusted in saccharine, as his motivation. It’s not earned, it’s just dumped there. Scott gets his chance at redemption with the help of an aging mentor, and slips into a training montage. It all builds to a climax I could have predicted in 1985. The romance with Hope is shoehorned in because adventure-heist films have traditionally had a romance. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t fit. It’s part of the by-the-numbers script. Then there is the villain, Obadiah Stane. No, that’s the evil industrialist working with terrorists from IronMan. I mean Justin Hammer. No, that’s the evil industrialist working with a terrorist in Iron Man 2. I mean Aldrich Killian. Nope, that’s the evil industrialist working with terrorists from Iron Man 3. Well, you get the point.

But “I’ve seen it all before” isn’t the biggest problem. The problem, the huge, tidal-wave of swamp water sweeping away your brain, is the characters’ plans. On no level does anyone do anything that makes any sense. These are the stupidest plans I can recall in cinema (OK, there’s probably worse out there, but at the moment, I can’t recall them). There’s been a lot of dim plans in the MCU films, but they were either justified by severe psychological problems (Age of Ultron) or buried in a constant barrage of action and explosions (The Winter Soldier). But in Ant-Man, the plans are the plot. We have no choice put to focus on the plans as that’s what the characters are focusing on. And what are these plans? Cross’s plan is to develop the tech to shrink a human, because until then, he’s got nothing to sell his warmonger business partners.  Really? He can shrink anything. Anything. Bombs. Buildings. Walls. He can also shrink people, they just end up being tiny blobs of meat. He has a perfect assassin’s weapon. And he can’t sell that? Any of that?  Terrorists couldn’t use that for something? Huh. No, he needs the people shrinking part. Then there’s his concept of holding a meeting with those terrorists, and inviting all the people out to stop him.

But forget him. Let’s look at Hank. He needs a new Ant-Man. I’ll just skim over the bizarre lengths he goes to in order to get a thief, instead of anyone with combat skills. The obvious choice–the smack you over the head, stop the movie dead, scream in your face choice–is his daughter. The film knows this, so sticks in a reason Hank won’t choose her, a reason that just makes the flaw more visible and makes it clear this should have been The Wasp, not Ant-Man, but no one was ready to trust a superhero film to a female lead. There was a load a ridiculous complaints about Age of Ulton being anti-feminist. It wasn’t, and it is annoying that a small group of silly people wanted to yelp about that when they only had to wait a few months for this shining example. Ant-Man has a huge glowing arrow pointed at Hope the entire time, with the words “See, that’s a woman, and we’re not using her because she’s a woman.”

OK, so I’ll just sigh and accept he chose Lang. Should I also just ignore that they could have carried out all their plans in safety any time over the last ten years, without an Ant-Man. Hope has keys. She can just walk in and plant a miniature bomb which can be expanded by an ant as she leaves, and we’re all done. And Hank doesn’t use an ordinary bomb, but a shrinking bomb, which blows up big time and then sucks everything away. Cool.  It’s very effective. In which case, forget about keys. Just toss the bomb on the lawn by the Pym Tech building and we’re all done.  Well, except for all the people that bomb would murder but…oh, they did that anyway. Poor office workers.

OK, so I’ll sigh and accept that Hank and Hope have major procrastination issues, and bad pitching arms, so need Lang. Great. So the plan, without covering their tracks (they’re all going to jail when this is over), is to sneak in and short-out the servers and then blow up Cross’s tech and records. Right. So, no off-site backups? OK. And why do you short out servers before blowing them up or swipe a suit before blowing up everything? But lets let all that go and consider that they never talk about murdering Cross. He’s the one who re-developed the tech. So wouldn’t he just go make it again? I’m pretty sure that if an early Apple manufacturing plant burnt down, Steve Jobs would not have instantly forgotten what computers are.

These planning problems might not seem a big deal for those of you thinking, “I just want to see some cool fights and big booms.” But that’s Captain America. Ant-Man dwells on these ludicrous plans. The characters discuss them. The film is structured around them. You can’t ignore the stupidity.

All that does make the film sound pretty awful.  It’s not.  But wow, it could have been—should have been—better. Try not to think. Try not to dwell on what Hope’s purpose is or why anyone is doing what they are doing. Watch the cool shrink-grow-shrink-punch-grow battles. Smile at the three clown human sidekicks who exist only for comedy.  Laugh at the train (there’s a good train gag). And eat that popcorn.

At least it isn’t dark and whiny.

For MCU geeks, Ant-Man is the least tied-in movie to date. A few Avengers references are made, Falcon pops up, and Peggy Carter and Howard Stark appear briefly, but the over-arching arc is ignored. There are no infinity stone MacGuffins and Nick Fury doesn’t show up to discuss The Avengers Protocol. The second after-credits sequence (yup, there are two of them) points toward Captain America: Civil War, but it looks like you could skip Ant-Man and not feel you’ve missed anything in the ongoing saga.

 

*The MCU are the films made by Marvel and based on its comicbooks. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Captain America: Civil War. It does not include films made by other studios who bought rights to Marvel characters before Marvel realized they could do it better themselves. So the 5 Spider-Man movies, the soon to be 4 Fantastic Four movies, and the gaggle of X-Men movies are not part of the MCU.