Oct 122015
  October 12, 2015

Last night I was updating my web site (Amazon changed how they do links—not that anyone takes them, but it took out all my pictures—will take forever to fix) and ended up reading my reviews of Jane Austin films. I compare all the Emmas and all the Pride and Prejudices. I loved watching those. Well, I loved watching some of those. A few versions of Pride and Prejudice are fine to skip, but the best are wonderful.

I remember curling up on the couch with Eugie for the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth version of P&P. Five hours or so—we sipped wine and it was kind of perfect. Austin is quite clever and there’s a good deal of romance, but even more romance watching it.

As I mention in my reviews, these are not films/series for a single guy to watch alone. These are date movies. Close to the perfect date movies. And it occurred to me I’ll never watch these again. There would be no joy to them. They would also be painful, but I can handle the pain far better than the lack of joy.

This is nothing new, just something else gone.

Oct 082015
  October 8, 2015

doctors

The top 3rd feels like two groups. About half would fit comfortably with the last section, while the best of the best here really soar. Maybe I should have split this into 5 or 6 posts.

Ten dominates the list, but that is partly due to him being in more episodes than any other Doctor (though it is close with Eleven, and Eleven doesn’t do nearly as well). Nine had only one season and yet has a very good showing in the top, particularly when you look at that soaring section. Evaluating by season, I think season 1 would win, though it’s a tough call, as seasons 2 and 4 both have more episodes in the top 3rd. But then, season 2 also has more in the bottom 3rd.

Lowest 3rd
Middle 3rd

 

#46 The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky (S4-E4/E5)

whosontaranTen, Donna, Martha
The return of the classic villain, the Sontarans—another SF warrior & honor race that is horrible at war. A solid episode, but while the previous one, Planet of the Ood, felt like it was a two-parter, this one felt like a single-part ep when seen from a distance. Not enough happens. The genius kid was unnecessary, as was Donna remembering her previous episodes.
Funny that Martha didn’t come into her own until after she was done with the TARDIS.
Doctor: Shrill. Companions: Good. Villains: Good. Plot: Good.

 

#45 Twice Upon a Time (S10-E13)

WhoTwiceUponaTimeTwelve, One, Bill
It leans more on nostalgia than I’d like, but new Who has rarely done it so well, and if that’s the plan, going back to the first Doctor is nice. There really isn’t a plot, although for a while the two Doctors think there is one. This is about two dying Doctors thinking about their past and if they want to go forward. The play between the two of them is good, and the nods toward your racist uncle are funny and relevant. It’s very sentimental, but then the Xmas eps usually are, and this one isn’t cloying. I wouldn’t have tossed Bill in (her ending has been mangled enough), but this is her best appearance since her first, so it worked out.

This ep is usually placed in season 11, but I’m putting it in season 10 as it has the season 10 Doctor, companion, writer, and showrunner, all of which would be changed with season 11.
Doctors: Very Good. Companion: Good. Villain: none. Plot: none.

 

#44 Partners in Crime (S4-E1)

whopartnersTen, Donna
This is a lightweight ep. A good re-introduction to Donna. She is 50% less annoying than as a bride, which still leaves a good deal. Some humor and a desire for adventure counter the annoyance. It leans a bit too far on the juvenile, however, the first meeting between The Doctor and Donna in this ep makes me give a pass to everything else.
Doctor: Excellent. Companion: Good. Villain: OK. Plot: Weak.

 

#43 Hell Bent (S9-E12)

HellbentTwelve, Clara
Twelve goes crazy in an attempt to save Clara. I rather like that he flipped out. I wasn’t so fond of Gallifrey. The great civilization of the Time Lords has never been smaller. They could, and should, have done this ep without the Time Lord politics. It made them tiny and unimportant (well, not the first time that’s happened). Clara, however, got a good sendoff.
Doctor: Very Good. Companion: Very Good. Villain: Weak. Plot: Very Good.

 

#42 School Reunion (S2-E3)

dwschoolTen, Rose, Mickey, Sarah Jane, K9
This one is all about bringing back Sarah Jane Smith, and to a lesser extent (much, much lesser), K9. The story isn’t much, but the character interaction is first-rate. Acted as a pilot for the young kid’s show, The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Doctor: Excellent. Companions: Excellent. Villains: OK. Plot: OK.

 

#41 The Doctor’s Daughter (S4-E6)

whodoctorsdaughterTen, Donna, Martha
It gets a couple of points for its meta nature (David Tennant married the actress who played his daughter, who is in real life the daughter of Peter Davison, the 5th Doctor). The fish people are not the greatest creation, but more than made up for by Jenny as well as for the point about what it is to be a soldier. Budget limitations show up. This was an odd ep to bring back Martha as she’s stuck in a side plot that could have been cut.
Doctor: Good. Companions: Good. Villains: OK. Plot: Good.

 

#40 Gridlock (S3-E3)

whogridlockTen, Martha
A surreal episode that works amazingly well for its unreal premise. The people of New New York get on a freeway and just stay on it, forever, moving only yards each day in the dense traffic. It’s also a “save the companion” episode. The many secondary characters are well-drawn and we get the return of a few old ones, giving Whoviens something to dwell on.
Doctor: Excellent. Companion: fair to good. Villain: None. Plot: Good, if slight.

 

#39 Let’s Kill Hitler (S6-E8)

LetsKillHitlerEleven, Amy, Rory, River
A combination of a lot of fun and a lot of stupid. So, we have time travelers who just go around and torture people for “justice.” Hmmm. Shouldn’t another group of time travelers be The Doctor’s greatest concern? Ah well, why worry about the problems when you’ve got Rory punching Hitler, River’s numerous assassination attempts, River vs Nazis, and everything with Amy. This may not be the smartest Doctor Who episode, but it is one of the most fun.
Doctor: Good. Companions: Excellent. Villains: Hard to say. Plot: Best not think about it.

 

#38 The End of the World (S1-E2)

whoendofworldNine, Rose
After a first episode that said this show was not going to be like the past, the second episode of modern Who said the opposite. It felt like a kid’s show, a pretty good kid’s show, but a kid’s show. And Rose, who came off as strong and resourceful in the first seems weak, bitchy, and useless here. What’s her problem with aliens? She is the portal character, so who is her attitude supposed to appeal to? However, she does learn, and The Doctor is engaging, the tree woman is a nice addition, there’s a nice mix of humor and tension, there’s plenty of character development, and The Doctor and Rose’s relationship grows.
Doctor: Very Good. Companion: Disappointing. Villain: Comical. Plot: Fair.

 

#37 Human Nature / The Family of Blood (S3-E8/E9)

whofamilyTen, Martha
This two-parter, with The Doctor giving up his personality to avoid a family of hunters, is a favorite among many Who fans, but it doesn’t make my top quarter. Since Headmaster Smith must live an ordinary life, most of Human Nature is very ordinary. His developing relationship is a story, but not an exciting one. Well-acted and believable? Yes. Just not interesting. All of it drags on far too long—they had a 60-minute story and two 42 minute slots to fill. Perhaps if the focus had been the young boy who found the watch—instead of uncomfortably inserting him in so that something happens—the episode would have worked better. This was a chance for Martha to shine, but she doesn’t. She could have been a strong character. She wasn’t.

The Family of Blood improves greatly over Human Nature, and gives us a real sense that The Doctor can be scary.
Doctor: Mixed. Companion: Disappointing. Villain: Good. Plot: Good but slow.
Continue reading »

Oct 082015
  October 8, 2015

doctors

Part 2 of ranking all the Doctor Who episodes, and the main thing to take away from the middle 3rd was how close together they all are. The bottom 3rd had far greater range with some terrible eps and some pretty good ones. These are all good, and I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble swapping them about in the rankings. Yes, 90 is not a winner the way 47 might be, but there is nothing here not worth watching once, or twice, or maybe more. I sound a bit grumpy with these, but only because I’d rather, in reviewing, focus on what should have been better than what is already excellent. The excellent has no need to improve.

The middle section is ruled by Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi.

 

#94 Face the Raven (S9-E10)

facetheravenTwelve, Clara
A murder mystery, aliens playing at being Harry Potter hidden in London, two returning characters, and Twelve and Clara both in top form—it ought to be great, but it isn’t. The problem is that the mystery doesn’t matter, yet we spend most of 40 minutes focusing on it. The real story is Me and the cost of her actions on our heroes, but very little time is spent on that. Me’s character is so lightly developed that there’s no way to know if she’s supposed to be noble or a villain. The ep could have explored an interesting hidden society, but that was also left underdeveloped. And in general, stories where there is no justice are unsatisfying, so need to be written with great skill, and there’s just not enough skill on hand.
Doctor: Reasonable. Companion: Good. Villain: Uncertain. Plot: Not what it should be.

 

#93 Nightmare in Silver (S7-E12)

whonightmareEleven, Clara, Annoying children
Gaiman’s a good writer, but you wouldn’t know it from this, although if he was assigned the plot of children at an amusement park and the Doctor fighting himself, there isn’t much he could have done. Why would you write this and not kill the children? Clara doesn’t bring much, but she’s more amusing than the Doctor. The only time Clara worked with children was in The Snowmen, but they just kept trying, and failing.
Doctor: Weak. Companion: Weak. Villains: Weak. Plot: Middling.

 

#92 The Girl Who Died (S9-E5)

dwgirlwhodiedTwelve, Clara
They had a story to tell and didn’t care about sense and character. So, the doctor comes up with an unlikely plan to lead a bunch of villages to defeat an alien invading warrior race. The plan wouldn’t have worked so well if a single alien actually fired his weapon. Or if they bombed the village from space after. But they didn’t for no reason. And villagers will run from overwhelming force, even if they are Vikings. A bit more thought into the script would have done wonders. Maisie Williams was a nice guest star, even if the season ended up doing far less with her than they implied they would.
Doctor: Good. Companion: Dim. Villain: Really dim. Plot: OK if unlikely.

 

#91 The Rings of Akhaten (S7-E7)

whoringsEleven, Clara
The main things this ep establishes is that Clara is going to remain weaker and less fun than her two earlier incarnations. Bad space scooter FX, and the music gets cloying. Not surprising when, once again, love saves the day.
Doctor: OK.  Companion: OK.  Villain: OK.  Plot: OK.

 

#90 The Return of Doctor Mysterio (S10-E0)

WhoReturnofDoctorMysterioTwelve, Nardole
After a twelve-month drought following the spectacular The Husbands of River Song, this is one of the most disappointing moments in Who history. It isn’t a bad episode; it isn’t significant enough. It is emotionally empty. Since superheroes are all the rage, they added a costumed superhero to the Who universe, but they had no idea of what to do with one and nothing to say. There are some lackluster villains and a forgettable story. Twelve is in pretty good form but that’s not enough to make this memorable.
Doctor: OK. Companion: OK. Villain: Weak. Plot: Poor.

 

#89 Oxygen (S10-E5)

whooxygenTwelve, Bill, Nardole
One of the “a few people stuck on a spaceship about to die” eps that Doctor Who loves so much. This is weaker than a majority of the others but is strong for season 10 with an emphasis on theme. The look at capitalism is solid.
Doctor: Good. Companion: Good enough. Villain: Good. Plot: Good.

Continue reading »

Oct 082015
  October 8, 2015

doctors

We are squarely in Doctor Who season again (yes, that’s an official season of the year), which has not only focused my interest but focused the interest of others who then foolishly ranked all of the episodes. The problem with their rankings was that they were wrong–wrong in that they were not my rankngs. Yes, sometimes it is that simple. So it seemed necessary for me to rank them. This I have done, from worst to best, in three posts (because it is a lot to post). In general, I grouped multipart episodes together.

Naturally, I didn’t go at this as a blank slate since that would make it meaningless. Rather, I have a few positions that greatly determine my rankings. Those are:

  • Writing is the most important.
  • I’m good with Doctor Who being a family show–not so much with it being a kids show. If things get too silly or are directed only at children, my ratings go down.
  • I don’t expect the science to be good, but I do grade down when things completely lose internal consistency or when an episode takes pains to point out something egregiously stupid.
  • The season arcs matter. A bad arc hurts more than a good arc helps.
  • Yes, I think some Doctors were better than others. This is mainly due to versatility of the actor and versatility of the role, plus charisma.
  • Yes, I like some companions better than others. Some never worked (the “Fam”). Some should have worked but never jelled (Martha). Some started poorly but improved (Mickey, Donna). Some started great and fell apart (Clara). Some were perfect (Rose, Amy, Captain Jack). Some were great in so many ways, though scripts or arcs let them down (River). I universally hate all mothers on the show (I think someone had mother-in-law issues).
  • I started watching Doctor Who in 1978 and picked up the earlier ones later. I’ve watched every existent episode except a few from Doctor Seven, many of them multiple times. That makes me an old-time Doctor Who watcher. However, I do not have some of the qualities attributed to those earlier fans. I do not give a pass to horrible FX. I do not give points for the show merely referring to its past. And most importantly, I am not against romance and sexuality. (Original Who was famously asexual. People forget that the  biggest outcry against the 1996 movie was not the half-human line, but rather that The Doctor kissed a woman.)

For the most part, the modern Doctor Who has been very good, though the bottom quarter is skippable and contains a few stinkers. So, let’s start with the one that smells the worst. Luckily, it gets better. (And yes, I might seem a bit harsh here, but it is the bottom 3rd.) This section is ruled by Twelve and Thirteen, who have between twice and three-times the eps in it as Ten and Eleven (Nine is never in this section).

 

#142 Kill the Moon (S8-E7)

whokillthemoonTwelve, Clara
The most ill-prepared and dimwitted astronauts in history head to the moon to blow it up and Twelve, Clara, and one of her students (yes, a student) tag along. The moon is an egg for a giant alien and it is gaining mass (because that makes sense). None of the characters come out of this one looking good, but that doesn’t matter when the central point is this stupid. The only positive is that there is very little Clara and Danny faux-romance. Use this episode to argue over which character, The Doctor, Clara, the teenager, or the dim astronaut is the most annoying. If you watch Doctor Who and ask, “Oh, why can’t there be more pointless arguments?” this is your episode.
Doctor: Annoying. Companion: Annoying. Villain: Missing. Plot: Deeply stupid.

 

#141 The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (S11-E10)

battleofranThirteen, Ryan, Yaz, Graham
The problem with big eps that are supposed to prove a point is that sometimes they prove the opposite. This one plays down all the death and pain so as to claim that killing the big bad wasn’t and isn’t the best idea, but it clearly was and still is. And that big bad ends up being strangely wimpy.
Doctor: Weaker. Companions: Eh. Villain: Wimpy. Plot: Underwritten.

 

#140 In the Forest of the Night (S8-E10)

whoforestTwelve, Clara
So who thought it was a good idea to stick a group of school children with the Doctor and have Clara stuck in teacher mode? I suppose it was an attempt to pull in the kid audience, or maybe it was just stupid. The kid-filler was needed as the plot should only have filled about fifteen minutes. It isn’t a bad plot; there just isn’t much to it as there is no adversary or actual problem. So a brief story about intelligent foliage, a fair amount of wasted time, and plenty of bad character development. I didn’t think Danny could be any less interesting. The family ending is saccharine and comes out of nowhere and is just another piece of wrongness.
Doctor: Weak.  Companion: Weaker.  Villain: None.  Plot: OK, but brief.

 

#139 Revolution of the Daleks (S12-E11)

RevolutionThirteen, Ryan, Yaz, Graham, Captian Jack
The return of Captain Jack is wasted, and he’s the only good thing in this episode. The poor plot and poor use of the daleks don’t sink the ep, nor does setting up events and then ignoring them (The Doctor has been in jail for years, and…?), but there’s no getting around the whining. This is the worst appearance by Thirteen, but I hardly noticed how bad she is due to Ryan, Graham, and Yaz sucking the life out of the show. Well, at least two of them are leaving; that’s something.
Doctor: Whiny. Companions: Whiner. Villains: Weak. Plot: Weak.

 

#138 Flux (S13-E1 to E6)

Doctor-Who-Flux-SwarmThirteen, Yaz, Ben
Since two of the six parts of Flux can’t stand on their own, I’m counting it as a single episode, and as that, it doesn’t work. You have to stick the landing, and Flux falls on its face. Too much time is spend on things that don’t matter with the main plot being given far too little time. Characters are undeveloped, motivations are vague or missing, and nothing matters. Yaz finally seems like a character, but she still doesn’t do anything that counts. Major questions are left unanswered and unexplored whereas things of no consequence are explained in detail.
Doctor: OK.  Companions: A bit better.  Villain: Vague.  Plot: Nonsense.

Continue reading »

Sep 292015
  September 29, 2015

I’ve seen multiple rankings of all the Doctor Who episodes (or just all the modern ones) recently, and they all have been horribly wrong. I know this because they don’t match mine, and mine are correct. That’s just the way the universe is. Obviously I will have to fix this.

OK, if I’m going to rank all the modern Doctor Who episodes, let’s start with the minisodes. And there are a lot of them, and many of them are hardly stories. With that in mind, I’ll skip anything that was intended as an intro or break for a film, musical production, or non-Who TV show, or anything which is a game or part of a game show. I’ll also skip cut scenes (like Born Again) or episode prequels (there are a lot of them). Few of them are required viewing in any case (only the two Lady Vastra ones that act as prequels to The Snowmen really need to be searched for). Though in some cases, the “minisode” prequel is a bit more, in which case I’ve included it.

deathiis#17

Death is the Only Answer

The Doctor meets Albert Einstein in the TARDIS. Written by school children who won a competition. Well, hard to say mean things about something written by children.

#16

Good as Gold

Another episode written by children. Eleven and Amy want to go on an adventure and instead end up saving the spirit of the Olympics. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like it would be. Again, don’t want to say mean things about something written by children.

Continue reading »

Sep 252015
  September 25, 2015

It’s been one year since Eugie died. I knew it was going to happen that day, September 27, 2014. I decided it. The machines could have kept her going for longer—indefinitely I suppose. But there was no point. Her lungs were gone and cancer patients don’t get new ones. There was no point to waiting. Weeks earlier, when she was still able to fully wake, she’d told me, as best she could, that her dreams were now nightmares. She didn’t need any more nightmares.

I woke her. The doctors were not so keen on that, and had a lot of very good reasons not to do it. But I knew my wife. So I woke her. There is some question to how awake she was. She’d been drugged so very deeply, to keep her stats even so that those machines could keep her alive, and to keep away those nightmares. I’ll never know how successful they were at the second. The best I could expect on her waking was for her to be able to blink. I have my own reasons, which I will keep to myself, to believe that she did manage that. But she managed nothing more.

And then I let her go.

And a year passed.

Funny, I thought it would be such a slow year, a torturously slow year. But it has been fast. Faster than I could have imagined. Faster by far than any other year. For me, maybe a month has passed. I can’t really say. Timey wimey. There is nothing to mark the passage of time. The landmarks of life have to be important. They can be terrible or wonderful but they have to matter. And without Eugie, nothing matters. Nothing is important. So time passes without pause, without remembrance, without mattering.

Oh, there are little moments of semi-importance: her memorial; being able to talk about her at the Nebulas, and having Ursula saying Eugie should have won—thank you for that Ursula; getting together at Dragon Con in remembrance of her and picking up her fandom award. Those are as important as life is, and they are not important enough to mark the days, not without being able to tell her about them.

I don’t mind time going quickly. It isn’t something to like or dislike. It just is. Continue reading »

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.

Jul 312015
  July 31, 2015

The recent outpouring of anger over the slaughter of Cecil has brought to mind Eugie and a fundamental truth about her.

An aside: For anyone who’s somehow missed it, or is reading this three years from now when everyone has unfortunately forgotten all about it, Walter Palmer, an American and human pile of waste paid enough to support a family for a year, to travel to Africa, bribe some officials, and than murder, behead, and skin a lion. To do this, he lured the lion out of a nature preserve where it would be illegal to kill it, wounded it with an arrow, and then followed it about until finally killing it with a rifle much later. The vile slimeball made one mistake. He killed a collared and very friendly and popular lion. He’s stated that there was his error, as it is apparently just fine to kill less popular animals. It also turns out it wasn’t legal to kill lions on the land he lured it onto, and hopefully that will bite him in the ass before this is done.

There’s been a great deal of outrage on social media over this senseless act, but in my streams, it has been controlled—nearing on polite (except when someone wants to use it to point out some other issue). It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a more basic, savage, unrestrained response that I noticed what was missing: Eugie’s voice. Oh, not on the Internet where people go to howl at the wind, but to me. Eugie would have been livid. Her anger would have been fierce, her expression pure. Eugie was a creature of anger. Or as she would put it, she was on good terms with her malice.

This anger was not pointed at me. We hadn’t had a fight in well over a decade. Maybe two. Too long ago to remember. She would snap, when some external influence was ripping at her (cancer comes to mind), but immediately apologize and it would be gone. I was not the target. And her true targets would seldom know it. She was not much for useless displays. Though at home, she would lay in my arms and pull down the vengeance of the universe on the very deserving.

As I said, she was a creature of anger. That’s not a surprise. She had a difficult relationship with her mother, a woman who never understood this culture and why her daughter couldn’t be a good Chinese girl—and considering how I saw her mother reacting to those who shared her background, I don’t think being a good Chinese girl would have helped. Eugie went through foster homes, and once jail—unlawfully as was grudgingly admitted later. Growing up in a racist society was a factor as well: years of “slant-eyes,” the racial slur of choice for central Illinois children in the ’70s. Racism against Asian Americans is present everywhere, yet no one notices it, and it becomes funny, if you are capable of seeing the humor. I met Eugie in a college progressive organization. They were fighting racism on campus, and no one ever said anything about Asians. Apparently it only affects others. Ah, with allies like those…

Back in those years Eugie’s anger was less focused than it would later become. Not wild, not out of control, but not the laser it would one day be. Even then it served her well. It had protected her and gotten her away from home at age sixteen—an excellent age to leave home by the way. Everyone should get out at sixteen, but that’s a matter for another time.

You see, for her, rage was a shield. Nothing could harm her through it. Racist comments were burned away. The crassness and stupidity all around, and a past most couldn’t deal with, she walked through, secure and strong. She had no need for trigger warnings. No fear of uncomfortable realities. Where I face the discomforts of the world bolstered with pride, she did it with fury.

Anger was always her protection, though it was less necessary over time. It became her fuel. It would drive her to do more, learn more, become more. Be smarter, quicker.

People don’t understand anger, or perhaps I should say they fail to understand their own anger. They let it simmer inside, eating away at their mind, their humanity, their happiness, and then erupt, saying or doing something stupid, and then it fades away again. That’s the reaction of children, and children who never grew up. It controls them. Eugie controlled it, or better, focused it.

The internet is filled with angry rants, vicious diatribes. It’s taken anger to a performance art, with screaming and obscenities tossed about as if this has great meaning and will change the world. It doesn’t and it won’t. It’s children with keyboards, even if the children are thirty.

Eugie would use it to create. Have you read her horror stories? None of them are collected currently. I’ll have to do something about that. Each is bestial, harsh. They are heavy and merciless; exactly what horror should be, and almost never is. Each tale was born of rage. In later years, she wrote less horror, but the rage can still be found, in dark fantasies, such as The Bunny of Vengeance and the Bear of Death or light ones, like Trixie and the Pandas of Dread.

Anger is what got her through her cancer treatments, until it no longer mattered. It chased away pain and kept her spirits up. On her last visit to the hospital, she was particularly uncomfortable. She couldn’t breath, and pain was lancing through her. I called a nurse, who proceeded to tell Eugie how she had no say in her own treatment. Eugie’s eyes blazed and she snapped at the nurse to leave. She turned to me and smiled saying that now that she was angry, she no longer felt the pain.

She would joke about how people reacted to us, particularly to her. How often someone would say she was gentle and good natured and kind. She was kind, or could be. But not gentle. Never gentle. It was my job to be the voice of reason, of calm. I was the nice one. She was lightning. She was beauty and intensity. If she was a goddess, she would be vengeance. Because of those perceptions, when she did let the fire through, people would jump. No one expected to see that fire and didn’t want to see it again, except me, but then, I was immune.

She loved The Avengers. It was her favorite cancer viewing movie. There are many reasons for this, but one is Bruce Banner’s secret. When he said, “That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry,” Eugie cried out gleefully, “Yes!” Someone else understood her, someone besides me. Not that she’d like to be compared to The Hulk—too brutish. Now She-Hulk… maybe. The façade of calm over the seething power of anger, all tightly focused, that was her.

She subtitled for first collection of short stores, And Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and Malice. She was referring to herself. She was whimsy and malice. I’ll save the whimsy for another time. For today, it’s malice, and that is one of the ways Eugie was spectacular.