Friday, May 1, 2015
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
I saw Kingsman: The Secret Service Friday night.
It was an engaging spy story, with excellent, believable actors in all the roles. The soundtrack was fun, frenetic, and tight, but didn't interfere with the story. But, the movie was unnecessarily gory, featuring ridiculous amounts of blood and violence, and unapologetically evil characters.
So naturally, I loved it.
Before we go any further, let's get something over with.
No, I haven't read the comics .
I love a good story. I especially love it when a story opens with a solid action scene, establishes the world in which the story will be set, and features a guy getting sliced in half. What? I told you it was gory. But more than that, Kingsman opens with a scene that, for me, accomplished two things.
First, my butt was glued to the seat. I definitely wanted to know more about the characters, who they were, what they were doing, and why. That, in my ever so humble opinion, is the hallmark of a good opening. The second scene only heightens the need to know, and is just as disgustingly violent.
The second thing the opening scene did for me was rekindle my excitement about the new Star Wars movies.
Jeez, Katey, is everything about Star Wars for you?
Yes. Wait, no. Umm, what's the right answer?
Let me esplain. Despite being a relatively minor character, Mark Hamill lights up the screen. He reiterates for the record that he has solid chops, and can share the screen with anyone in the industry. Of course, many of you know that he's been doing voiceover work for lots of geeky things, and hopefully already realize that the man has skillz (besides whining about power converters).
I just want to pat his widdle head, don't you?
Right, so. Mark Hamill is a good actor. Cool. Shall we do Mickey Mouse roll call?
... is a badass, spy archetype.
Samuel L. Jackson...
... is a megalomaniacal genius bent on world domination. Well, sort of. I don't want to spoil it for you, but it's a bit more interesting than domination. Did I mention he has a lisp? I love this. Yes, it's sometimes comic relief (I know, I know, ablist assholes in Hollywood), but it also doesn't stop him one bit from being ridiculously successful in life. He has another flaw that's atypical of the major villain in these pieces, but I'd hate to spoil it for you.
"...Thon of a bitch..."
...is the prototypical Number One. Head of the spies, Leader of the pack, Yoda of the Jedi Order... you get the idea. Also, he's Michael Caine, as only Michael Caine can be. It's important to know your strengths, and Michael Caine can snobby-British-guy with the best of them. In fact, he's my first memory of snobby-British-guy, and I may have to go watch Dirty Rotten Scoundrels , because it's possible that I can't recite it from start to finish anymore.
.. who the hell is that? Well, you can click his name for his IMDB profile, but in short, he's the punk kid. The Will Smith to Firth's Tommy Lee Jones. (And now that you mention it, yes, their on screen chemistry is very similar to the MIB vibe, in more ways than one.)
... is a straight-up badass. Her character, the Gazelle, has prosthetic legs... with FREAKING KNIVES IN THEM. Imagine Kill Bill, but instead of beautiful Hattori Hanzo swords, she uses her feet. Yup. She's absolutely fantastic and believable in the fight scenes (and apparently a dancer, so that's not so surprising). She's essentially Jackson's muscle. I love everything about this concept. Spry little badass female is the muscle for the large black man. Take all your preconceptions, and defenestrate them.
"This ain't that kind of movie, bruv."
...is a Strong Female Character. Except, she's also three-dimensional. She has imperfections. She even has a fairly significant weakness, which could easily afflict a person of any gender. And, minor spoilers follow... she is not protected from her fear by the big strong men. It is presumed that she will overcome it when the need arises, and there is no fanfare or hand wringing, just a nod, an acknowledgement of the impending challenge... and then she does it anyway. To me, it felt like she was treated like a male action hero would be in the same situation. I like that.
... totally deserves a mention. He's awesome when he's on screen, does exactly what his character is intended to do, and does it well. He's kind of the Hardison of the Kingsman. And you know I'm a sucker for geeks.
Let's see, am I forgetting anyone? Oh... maybe just...
...directed this movie. If you are not the type to pay attention to director names, let me help you out. He directed X-Men: First Class and Stardust . He also has a producer credit on Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch .
Did I mention the soundtrack also rocks my socks off? You know the final scene in The Matrix, where Neo hangs up the phone, the music swells, and he bends his knees and shoots into the sky? (Youtube Link) It's like that. The music is there, being awesome, perfectly underlining the action without in any way detracting from it.
The story is also really well constructed. It has a lot of the classic elements of good story telling, and addresses a lot of the "little things" that many spy movies don't bother with. For example, it's established early on that the main character was a gymnast and a marine before he dropped out of life. Why does this matter? Well, later in the movie when he's parkour-ing across the rooftops of London, you don't doubt the validity of it. You don't have to suspend your disbelief quite as much. It's a small thing, but it shows a nice attention to detail.
So, geeks of my heart... if you like Tarantino, Spy movies, Samuel L. or Colin, get thee to a theater.
But if you're the squeamish type...
Be prepared to cover your eyes. Like, a lot.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
The Avengers: Compared and Contrasted
Last week I talked a little bit about the movie Oblivion, and how I found it ultimately disappointing and fairly sexist.
In contrast, I watched The Avengers (Here thar be spoilers. If you haven't seen this movie, get off my blog. No, seriously go watch it, then come back.), and was immediately struck by how beautifully and effortlessly Joss and the team smash not only the obvious gender roles (like having Black Widow nonchalantly kick serious ass in the first 10 minutes of the film), but also pay attention to the little details, that make me feel like maybe, just maybe, they consider women to be people, not set dressing. Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) could easily have been played by a male. To me, that's one way you can tell if a female character like that is well written. She gets the job done, she doesn't get hysterical, but she's just a person. Like Fury. You could easily swap the actors (aside from some fans freaking out about a female Fury and calling it a gimmick).
I love the power dynamic between Natasha and Bruce when she's recruiting him. She's so calm, and very clearly sure she can kick his ass at any point- provided he doesn't turn into a gigantic green monster. And when he makes her think that might be about to happen, does she cry and whine like Julia in the spacey-jet thing? No. She calmly pulls a gun. (This scene, by the way, is phenomenally acted by Scarlett Johansson. She cocks her gun, pulls her head back just a bit, and her eyes look like she's tearing up, but she doesn't cry. She's just waiting, gun cocked, head averted, to see what happens next.)
Even when The Hulk is chasing her, she's not screaming (here's where you want me to say, "like a little girl" but I'm not going to) hysterically, she's running away, hiding silently, climbing with purpose and a plan. Like a male character would in an action movie. Like, say, Tom Cruise's character in M:I, just to take a completely random example. (Maybe not that random.)
But all that aside. Sometimes the little details make a huge difference. Let me tell you about a little detail that impacted my enjoyment of these movies. In Oblivion, Vika walks around their
refrigerator condo in the sky in five inch heels and a tight little dress. She looks like a 1950s housewife, and acts like one as well.
I was going to post a picture of Vika here, but found the image too distressing.
In contrast, let's talk about Pepper Potts. She dresses up when she needs to, when she's going into the office or representing Stark industries. She is the picture of a professional woman. Feminine and powerful. (I don't personally agree with this picture as having completely evolved yet, but that's another blog post.)
BUT. But, but, but...
When Pepper is lounging around Tony's apartment at Stark tower, what is she wearing? Jeans shorts and a button down shirt (which looks like cotton to me, so, comfortable and serviceable). The shorts are short, but they're also loose, and her shirt is only half tucked in. She still looks fabulous (unless you're one of those nutjobs who thinks Gwyneth isn't pretty, and frankly that has nothing to do with what she's wearing). But she also looks comfortable, and casual. And. She's barefoot. Yep. No spiked heels for Pepper when she's chillin' out at home. Her hair is just down. She might have done nothing more than run a comb through it when she woke up that morning. (Believe me, I lived with a beautiful blonde with naturally straight hair for two years, it's possible.)
And then there's Black Widow's manipulation of Loki. She allows him to think he's broken through and made her cry like a girl, but in reality she is always in control of the questioning. She lets him think that he's exploiting her feminine side.
Oh, I promised I'd get back to Jack's name, didn't I? Jack Harper. Sounds an awful lot like Jack Harkness to me. Now, maybe the writers just aren't Whovians, maybe it's just a strong male name, and it's a coincidence. It could totally be a coincidence. Right?
Oblivion is not a very good movie. It is pretty though, I'll give it that. The Avengers is a freaking amazing movie. And also pretty. And funny. And clever.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Space Weapons and Future Warfare in the Real World
You'll be happy to know that Charles E. Gannon arrived safely. He was joined on this panel by James Daniel Ross (who was wearing a Serenity shirt... Sweet!), Jack (John) Campbell (Hemry) (no one could figure out what to call him), Myke Cole, and Walt Boyes.
I have to be honest with you, my dears. At this point I began to be a little dismayed. You see, last year at Balticon, one of the things that I found to be utterly fantastic and totally exciting was the number of women on the panels. I think there were women at nearly every session I went to last year, including some of the hard-science ones. And I was now two-for-two of panels peopled entirely by white males. Taken individually these guys are all interesting. I enjoyed both panels immensely. I just hope this is not a trend that holds out for the whole con.
This panel was everything I expect from hard science at Balticon. Some of the things they argued about went ... well maybe not COMPLETELY over my head, but certainly above the ear region. Chuck and Jack had a fascinating conversation about insulating spaceships with water, and how hard it would be to get that much water off the ground. There was discussion of how everything in space is a weapon (see: Gravity).
I learned that a M-16 puts gritty gas into the chamber, and therefore requires cleaning more often than an AK-47. (I hope I got those model numbers right... because Myke Cole is honestly a little scary in real life, and is approximately the last person on the planet I'd want to misquote.)
I see your biosphere and raise you a holocaust. -- Gannon
Marines with rocks are dangerous. There are lots of rocks in space.
Space warfare is a matter of seeing things coming from days away. -- Jack Campbell
Suggested ReadingI can pretty comfortably state that I will be needing to read all the books by all of these guys. They're all fascinating to listen to, and I can only imagine how interesting their fiction must be. Also, one of them recommended the book Kings Who Die, but a quick Google search is not coming up with it, and I didn't write down the author. So I'll have to do some digging later and see if I can figure it out.
As you may know, I'm at Balticon this weekend. In addition to hob-nobbing, elbow rubbing, idea getting, and swag grabbing, I try to attend a few panels. You know, for the look of the thing.
At 4 o'clock, I was planning to take a virtual tour of the universe with Chuck Gannon. I attended some of his panels last year, and I really enjoy listening to him wax scientific. He's a seriously smart dude, and I think I get smarter just being in the same room. It's also really awesome to listen to smart people geek out about the science of things that don't exist yet (that we know of). Unfortunately, at 3:55, he was stuck on the side of the road with a broken down car. Someone had been sent to get him, but he was not going to make that session. So, I decided to wander and see what else there was.
I ended up in...
Podcasting -- Where to Begin
It seemed like it might come in handy if and when The GXG resumes. Don't look at me like that, we all have busy lives. We'll start back up soon. Probably. Especially if you harangue us and tell us how much you love and miss us. We're geeks, we're suckers for attention. I digress. Contain your shock.
Dave Robison, when asked what one should podcast about, said, "Anything that changes the vector of thought..." I liked that turn of phrase, so I wrote it down. Thomas Gideon pointed out that Podcasting is peer media, so really it's okay to talk about anything, so long as you are interested in it. That the cool thing about listening to podcasts is hearing people bringing their passion about the subject... WHATEVER the subject is... into their assessment of it.
There was some talk about content versus polish, and what's important, and I liked Gideon's answer... that there's a baseline of quality that needs to be achieved in order to reduce listener fatigue. In other words, if the quality is so poor that it's hard to hear, or hard to listen to, you're not making it easy for your listeners to enjoy your content, even if it's incredible. That makes a lot of sense to me.
Unfortunately for me, none of them really had a lot of experience with using Hangouts On Air as podcasting tools, but they did point me towards someone who might.
I also took some notes about the gear they use for my later researching.
One more thing before I close up the Podcasting portion of this evening's rundown... I would be remiss in failing to mention Disasterpiece Theatre, whom I had the great pleasure of discovering at last year's Balticon. I fully intend to be at their "After Dark" session tonight. Possibly with drink in hand.Done, Done, on to the next one...
We will now take a brief break, and when we return...
Space Weapons and Future Warfare in the Real World!
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Oblivion: Movie Review
Jason and I recently watched the relatively new Tom Cruise movie, Oblivion. I can only assume the title refers to the writer's utter obliviousness to the necessity of putting agency into the hands of women. Many little things bothered me. Victoria (whose name was shortened to Vika) was absolutely nothing more than window dressing. Supposedly Vika and Jack (I'll get back to his name in a minute) are an "effective team," but in reality, Vika does nothing. Even her computer interface could be effectively operated by either of my two-year-old nephews. I am not exaggerating. It is all drag and drop, and appears to require very little thought. Ostensibly, Vika is the boss of where Jack goes, but in reality, he pretty much ignores her suggestions whenever he feels like it. Which is often. Spoilers follow. Not that I think this movie could stink much worse. Even Morgan Freeman couldn't save it.
I assume Julia was intended to be a Strong Female Character, but she's not. Jack saves her life on their very first encounter. Then we find out she's a pilot, and theoretically his equal. Yay, right? But if she's a pilot, why does she scream and freak out when he drives a little enthusiastically in the futuristic looking jet-ship thing? I mean... seriously. SERIOUSLY?! I can't even. Ugh. The WordNerd is driven to silence. Yes, it's that bad.
And then, Vika dies. She is killed by a drone. Her death is the event, (I think it's supposed to be the climax of the story) that tips Jack to the side of definitely believing that the Tet in the sky is bad, mmkay. That's basically the definition of the Women in Refrigerators trope. Except he never really loved her, even though he was living with her for three years, he was always dreaming of Julia, but that's totally okay because she's actually his wife. (Totally having Total Recall flashbacks here, are you? Except, despite the original being made TWENTY FOUR years ago -- do you feel old? I do-- the happy little wifey character turns out to be a badass agent who tracks down the man to whom she was assigned.)
Where was I? Oh right. So Vika dies. Five seconds later (I didn't count, but it felt like this), Julia gets Mortally Injured, (theoretically while saving Jack, but not really, because he's gonna save her much more impressively) and Jack has to save her AGAIN. Which he does, by finding out that ... umm... basically the world revolves around Tom Cruise and we're all just along for the ride, okay?
Tom, I say this with love. I have been a fan of your movies since Top Gun. Even in that your female co-star had more power and autonomy than the women in Oblivion, and I don't even want to LOOK UP how long ago that was, because it will make me sad. Why are you taking roles that move you backwards? I loved the Mission: Impossible movies. And that was in no small part due to your female co-stars possessing spines. Playing off of women who are just set pieces cheapens you. You can do better. Don't you have a little girl? Don't you want her to be an action star if she so chooses? Or do you want her to be relegated to the refrigerator?
This movie even manages to fail the Bechdel Test despite the fact that three out of four characters with significant speaking roles are women. When Vika talks to Sally (wonderfully portrayed by Melissa Leo, but still not enough to save the movie), all they talk about is Jack.
My husband pointed out as I was about to hit publish, that I had not finished watching the movie. I guess it was wishful thinking on my part that it was over. In an effort to be fair, I'm now going to watch the rest and give it a chance to redeem itself.
Let's see. Drones attack Rebels. Random gunner guy dies. Don't care. Never saw him before this shot. Morgan Freeman utters probably the must banal line he's ever uttered. Julia and a bunch of kids and people I'm supposed to care about but whose names I don't even know get targeted by shiny white lights from a drone. Its probably not about to shoot rainbows and butterflies. Don't worry, a man saves them. This time it's blonde-man-Jaime-Lannister-who-doesn't-believe-in-Jack-but-later-they'll-have-a-moment instead of Tom Cruise. I mean Jack. Why does Julia assigned to the "get the women and children below" job and the manly men get to defend the colony?
So. Morgan Freeman is maybe dying, tells them to send the drone with the Big Bomb up to the Bad Thing (Tek? Tesla? I don't care. I may have been mistaken about my ability to remain open-minded.) Jack says the drone is gone. But he'll deliver the bomb himself. Oh, so heroic! So selfless! But wait! Julia says she will go with him. Open minded. Julia MIGHT get to do something. Oh god, he just gently lowered her into her seat in the pod with both hands like she's a frakkin' china doll. I just puked popcorn all over my couch. Oh, my bad, it's her SLEEP POD. He tells her to "dream of us." And we get to watch her gasp her way to sleep. UGH. You guys... I kid you not... he is dragging her frelling sleep pod to his spacy-jet. Why couldn't she WALK to the jet and then go to sleep, if she's gonna go to sleep? Because women are dainty and walking is hard.
Oh boy, a flashback of a scene in a ship while we're in a ship. Real Vika is his co-pilot. In the world we have seen, Vika never even leaves their Condo. SO... MAYBE... the bad bad aliens are to blame for all the male chauvinism exhibited in this film, and Julia is about to take them out with a BFG. You see? The benefit of the doubt... I am generously bestowing it all over the place.
Oooh Oooh, Real Jack gave Real Vika an order and she DEFIED him, because they're a team.
Jack goes into the Tet. BUt wait! It's not Julia in the pod at all, it's Morgan Freeman. How sweet of Jack to do a switcheroo so that Julia doesn't have to die. I mean... sure, she said she wanted to come with him, so he put her to sleep and didn't take her. Am I... I mean, that is what happened, right?
Happy happy, little fragile Julia lives, and oh, what a shock, 3 years later there's a little girl hanging out with Julia at their house by the lake. Cool. Jack left her to be pregnant and raise an infant by herself in a cabin in the wilderness. AWESOME. I bet that ROCKED.
You know, I like happy endings. I do. I wanted that ending to be touching. But the whole movie has just left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Yes, I watched all the way to the end, but I'm not going to detail it because A)It's pretty predictable and B)there might be people who want to see this movie, so I've tried to dance around a couple of the major Darth-Vader-is-Luke's-Father type revelations. I'm not counting Julia being his wife as one of those, because it's also incredibly predictable.I will say this for Oblivion. It is pretty. The special effects are outstanding, and the scenery, both barren and lush, is fantastic. And maybe that's kind of my point. Vika and Julia just feel like more scenery for Jack to chew up and spit out.
And speaking of being chewed up and spit out... Oblivion was billed as being based on a graphic novel, assumedly to cash in on the recent successes of comic book movies as a genre, but it was never actually a graphic novel.
In contrast, I watched The Avengers this morning, and was immediately struck by how beautifully and effortlessly Joss and the team smash not only the Big Important gender roles but also pay attention to the little details. More on that tomorrow. I know you guys won't read more than this, your notifications are flashing, your phone is dinging, and you need to harvest your crops in Farmville. It's all good. Thanks for staying with me. See you tomorrow.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Worldcon (Lonestarcon 3) from behind the curtain
My friend Bob Lai said:
It's not just asking for help. It's asking for opportunities to learn.
I started as a intern/production assistant and taught myself Chyron by reading the manual (a daunting and thick binder), asked the techs installing the newsroom computer system how to resolve crashes/freezes, etc.
In contrast, I've seen interns/PA's who seem daunted by the challenge of asking to learn things.
This reminded me that I have been meaning to blog about many parts of Worldcon, not least my experience working for the tech team. You see, there is a whole sub-group of fandom, and they are the people who run the shows. The actual shows, not the metaphorical shows. They are the ones who make sure the panelists have working microphones, projectors, and whatever other technical gadgetry they may require for their presentations. In the case of Worldcon, they are also the people who produce the Masquerade and the Hugo Awards. They are the camera people, the script writers, the directors, the sound engineers, the graphics creators, and a bunch of other things you'd never think about that someone has to do for the show to run smoothly.
Informational Aside: the stage crew are called ninjas, and are a different entity (though of course the two groups work together).
Tell the story already, Katey
On Saturday morning, I picked up the update sheet. I don't know if there is a special name for it in con-lingo, but a few times a day, a piece of paper is produced that has schedule changes and general announcements. At Lonestarcon it was called, "La Estrella Solitaria," which I'm pretty sure is just Spanish for Lone Star. Lonestarcon 3 also had an excellent app, but my phone didn't always want to load it, so I liked having the hard copies. Call me a Luddite, I don't care.
Anyway, the Saturday morning La Estrella Solitaria had a "Volunteers Needed" section. In it, there was a request for people with experience handling cameras. Since I ran the camera for the news show produced by the Journalism school where I studied, I figured it couldn't hurt to poke my head in, just in case they were really desperate. After all, I haven't handled a professional camera in longer than I care to contemplate, but surely I'd be better than no camera person.
There began my Unexpected Journey, wherein I felt very much like I had to go north to Rivendell in order to go south to Gondor before I could finally divest myself of superfluous jewelry. Thankfully, I met no orcs along the way. I went first to Conference Room 11, as directed by La Estrella. A myriad of technical equipment lay arranged around the periphery of the room, in stacks and piles. There was a dry erase board with job descriptions in cryptic short hand, but I could see well enough that the "camera" positions all had names next to them. Still, I was there, so I pressed on. There was one person in the room. I don't remember if his name was Chuck, but I gamely informed him that I was there to volunteer.
He said, "Well, what do you know about tech?"
"Well..." I prevaricated. I didn't want to oversell myself and get stuck doing something I had no idea how to do, but I also didn't want to be immediately booted out. "I have a Master's in broadcast Journalism, so I kind of know how to use a camera."
"And, what are you doing with that now?"
"Now? I'm freelance editing and raising my children."
He nodded, seeming to think that that was a reasonable choice for a person to make, and told me that I should go to the Ballroom, where everyone was preparing for the Masquerade that night. Ballroom. Certainly I can find the Ballroom, right? I have no sense of direction, and that my saving grace is my ability to read a map. I was in desperate need of a good Ranger. Eventually I found the Ballroom, and walked in. Anyone who has ever been involved in any kind of show can tell you that bothering people on the day of is an even worse idea than four hobbits looking for a wizard in a bar.
I walked up to the people standing at the front of the stage (one of them had purple hair, a slightly different shade than mine, but still, it put me somewhat more at ease). I told them that the guy in Room 11 told me to come here, to volunteer. They looked distracted, but not overly annoyed, and pointed me towards someone sitting back at the sound engineer's station. I took a deep breath, and walked down the aisle to my next point of contact. It was not Hugo Weaving, though that would have been cool.
I went through my whole story again.
"Oh," he said, "You need to go talk to John. You see that door under the EXIT sign? Go through there, down the hall... just follow the cables... and back into the control room."
I raised an eyebrow. "And you're sure that if I manage to find this room, there will be someone in there who can tell me how I can help? You're not just sending me out the Exit to get me out of your hair?" I wasn't trying to be a smart ass, sometimes it just slips out. I mean, if you were going to make up a name on the spot, it would be John or Joe, right? Out the Exit? Come on, now... I really was starting to wonder if I'd ever see the black gates of Mordor. Er. I mean the control room.