Posts tagged Reviews
Julia at All Things Urban Fantasy has posted the first professional review of Geekomancy (as in not from a blurbing author, family, etc.)
Behold, NBC’s intended successor to LOST. It’s tightly-paced, unfolds in a mosaic narrative style, with interlocking character arcs, mysteries abounding, and a plane.
The plane is important. It increases the LOST resonance, and is important in the plot.
Only one episode has premiered, but sofar, I’m intrigued. Go below for Spoiler-ed discussion.
China Mieville has been one of my favorite authors for a number of years now. As the figurehead/poster boy for the New Weird, many writers have rallied around Mieville and followed in his footsteps or taken jabs at him. The New Weird was a big deal in the literary end of the SF/F community for several years, and is less popular now, but continues with bits here and there. I’m invested in the New Weird personally, given that I’m about to start shopping a New Weird novel to agents/publishers.
Mieville’s immediate previous novel (The City & The City) was less loudly New Weird and more urban fantasy/crime, but with Kraken, Mieville’s uncontainable imagination and penchant for the grotesque returns in full force.
Kraken starts with unsupecting Billy Harrow, an employee at the Darwin Centre in London who worked extensively with a deceased giant squid. Which means that when the squid (giant container and all) disappears without a trace, people come knocking on his door, including the Cult-crimes-response squad of the police as well as a pair of assassins. In keeping with the well-trod Urban Fantasy structure, Harrow gets pulled into the world of secret London, with all the knackers and movers and shakers behind the scenes.
Mieville’s secondary ideas are better than most any writer in the business, from the Chaos Nazis to Londonmancers (ala Jack Hawksmoor of The Authority) and police-esque ghost constructs summoned up by using tapes of old police procedurals. Mieville has a great facility with these details, great to small, that make the setting breathe and feel endlessly and messily lived-in.
Billy Harrow spends most of the novel on the run as warring factions, including an Animate Tattoo gang-boss, the eternally-neutral Londonmancers, and a Kraken-worshiping cult (which venerated Harrow’s specimen as a God, or at least, a Demi-God) forces move and converge to bring about/avert the apocalypse. Of course, anyone who wants an apocalypse works to make sure that it’s their apocalypse that comes about. No one wants to sideline in another group’s End Times.
The novel shifts easily between perspectives, bringing in other POV characters to convey the story and weave the weird tapestry that is Kraken‘s London. Mieville’s familiarity with/love of London and all its (weird) reality comes through clearly, helping contextualize the incredible craziness that he layers throughout the rest of the book.
Mieville’s language is very advanced, and sometimes challenging. It’s more accessible than in Perdido Street Station, but more obscure than in The City & The City. The baroque language is consistent, however, and usually well-contextualized. It’s just not a novel to hand to an average 15-year-old (an exceptional reader of a 15-year-old may be just fine, however) and it’s not the book to go to for a casual read. The book demands your attention, but if you give it, the book rewards you with unparalleled imagination, strong pacing, and chilling creepiness. (Goss and Subby are, for my buck, one of the creepiest henchmen duos ever).
Disclaimer: this review was written based on my experience reading an ARC, so keep that in mind in case the final version displays any differences.
This review is about the film, rather than the Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. comic.
Directed by Matthew “Layer Cake” Vaughn and co-written with Jane Goldman, this film elevates hyper-violence to the category of camp, in company with such films as Wanted and Shoot ‘Em Up. Roger Ebert called the film “morally reprehensible.”
Well, it is. And that’s the point. Kick-Ass is a parody by means of Reductio ad Absurdum. The violence and improbability of the premise is pushed so far that it falls into what I call the Moore Continuum, which condemns all superheroes as ultimately tending towards psychosis or fascism (or both). In this case, the superheroes fall by the side of Rorschach — sociopathic masochists guided only by their own moral code. The titular Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) is the most moderate of these figures, far outpaced in his sociopathy by Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz)and her father/trainer Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, channeling Adam West’s Batman). The super-hero cast is rounded out by Christopher Mintz-Please (aka McLovin) as Red Mist.
In particular, the 11-year old Hit Girl is shown as brainwashed/raised with a worldview that desensitizes her to violence by interpreting vigilante slaying within the context of a game. A sequence towards the climax of the film gives us the action from Hit Girl’s POV in a manner evocative of a 1st person shooter such as Doom or Halo, complete with reload animations.
Big Daddy and Hit Girl are easily seen as analogues of Batman and Robin, and Big Daddy also parallels the Punisher. Since no heroes have actual powers, they fall into the “street level” hero category, where the vigilante aspects of superheroes are drawn with a sharper focus. The bad guys in street-level superhero stories are customarily thugs and crime bosses, rather than invading aliens or armies of secret cyborg nazis.
Kick-Ass addresses the question “why hasn’t anyone become a superhero?”
In our world, the answer is “they already have. But not in the way you’d expect.” Individuals like Mr. Silent and Doktor DiscorD (both in Indianapolis) and across the world with groups such as the World Superhero Registry are stepping up and pursuing the spirit of superheroics without breaking the law. Heroes such as Mr. Silent patrol the city and act within the law while working to allay fears and help people feel protected.
Kick-Ass goes far, far beyond the level of Mr. Silent or any of the Real Life Superheroes. Comics geek David Leziwsky orders a scuba suit off of the internet and intervenes in a carjacking. Given that he’s an untrained average teenager, he gets the living daylights beaten out of him, then stabbed in the gut. Massive surgery leaves him with metal plates in his body and head and nerve damage which becomes his “super-power” — he can take a beating and keep going.
In his mis-adventures, he becomes a YouTube and Myspace phenomenon, leading to ubiquitous Kick-Ass memorabilia and increasing his popularity. He runs across Hit Girl and Big Daddy, who have the actual training to take on large numbers of armed opponents. It helps that they use lethal force without remorse, stabbing slicing and shooting at whim.
I’ll end my plot recollections here for now, as there are some notable twists.
Kick-Ass is not for anyone who isn’t a fan of hyperviolence or ridiculousness. It leaps a jet ski over the top, then trampolines over a shark and never looks back. But as campy as the action is, the emotional reality of the situation is powerful for the characters. Kick-Ass confronts the idiocy of his attempts to be a hero when he doesn’t have the training or the equipment to succeed, and the reality of loss and revenge are keenly felt by Big Daddy and Hit Girl, who reprise a Punisher/Batman-style origin story of tragedy and loss. By counter-example, David shares his own tragic past — but instead of being murdered by a criminal, his mother died from a brain aneurysm. His rage cannot be anchored to a guilty party, unlike Spider-Man, Batman, Daredevil.
An unexpected surprise was the 3-D John Romita Jr. art during the recollection of Big Daddy’s story of loss. The camera zooms across 2-D traditional comic-panels, but as it turns and moves, the panels come alive in 3-D, giving greater depth and texture to the art of Romita Jr. (standing in for Big Daddy’s paintings on his half serial-killer, half police officer target/crime board.) It was a deft artistic touch that acknowledged the film’s sequential art heritage as well as highlighting the art of Kick-Ass‘ co-creator.
I’m not a big Mark Millar friend in general. I love his Elseworlds Superman story Red Son, which tells the tale of a world where Kal-El’s escape shuttle lands in the middle of Russia instead of the American Heartland, leading him to become a gleaming example of the triumph of Socialism, positioned as national foes with American hero Lex Luthor rather than as rival claimants on the American Spirit. In Red Son, the critique of the superhero flows naturalistically and doesn’t take arrogant pleasure in itself. In other Millar works, I find the aggressive testosterone-filled action to be smug and self-important (evident in later arcs of The Ultimates and in Civil War. In the case of the Kick-Ass film, the overblown testosterone-y action draws attention to its own faults and invites critique, where I feel some of his other works lack the same self-awareness.
If you’re a superhero fan, Kick-Ass is certainly worth your time and money — more and more superhero films are being made, and it’s films like Kick-Ass that show another part of the genre conversation than films such as Iron Man or The Dark Knight. As a genre rises, parody comes with it. Parody is a way for the genre to show its self-awareness and show that it’s aware of its blind spots and its pock-marks. Parody and deconstruction doesn’t necessarily lead to re-construction or reform, but it maintains the conversation and keeps artists and fans from consuming and engaging with stories in the genre without reflecting on its motifs and assumptions.
I was too young to watch/remember the original V miniseries/ongoing series, but I learned the basic premise growing up as a geek. I’ll be talking about stuff that constitutes as spoilers, but not really, as ABC is foregrounding the ‘Big Sekrit!’ of the V’s identity even in the previews. Most of what I’ll talk about is the not-hard-to-find Vs = Obama reading.
The leader of the Vs is played by Morena Baccarin, a Brazillian woman whose looks are easily pushed past beauty to the edge of the uncanny valley, her mixed-ethnicity background easily positioned as ‘exotic’ from a US-American gaze. All of the Vs who are seen in the public eye would count as attractive, and even in the pilot, the Vs are leveraging attractiveness into manipulation (one sub-plot features the FBI-Agent lead’s son being attracted to a female V played by Laura “Supergirl” Vandervoort).
The Pilot episode gets all the way to the ‘Vs are actually Lizards and trying to take over the world’ stage, with Elizabeth “LOST Juliette” Mitchell and Joel “4400″ Gretsch as FBI Agent and Pastor who are witness to a V attack on a word-of-mouth group spreading word of the Vs’ real agenda.
A note — unless you go in looking for the Obama = V reading, it may be rather easy to miss/not think of it. It’s not that the show pounds you over with it. The show’s pacing is strong (stronger than the original miniseries in the equivalent section that I watched), and goes quickly to the ‘The Vs are tricking people, time to fight back!’ stage of the story, where our two adult leads will develop a resistance, with assistance from another lead — how quickly he’ll connect with the group is hard to tell. Interpersonal conflict will come from the FBI Agent’s son getting deeper in bed (literally) with the Vs and refusing to accept mom’s warnings/explanations of the V’s villainy. This is exacerbated by the fact that until the resistance can get a V corpse to show the lizard under-parts, they don’t have a very strong case.
It was great to see Alan Tudyk in the show, though I don’t think he’s listed as a full series regular. He brought a great balance of seriousness and levity to the show, remind us how awesome an actor he is (as if we needed any more reminding after “Briar Rose/Alpha” in Dollhouse.
The new version of V seems to be written and executed in a way that invites an anti-Obama reading. The rhetoric of the pilot episode includes mentions of Hope! Change! Universal Health Care! and features a charismatic leader of mixed ethnicity. There’s an interesting degree to which this version of V is a dream come true for the Fox News Opinion Show crew. Many of the most outrageous fears about Obama are made manifest in the series — The Vs come with a message of hope and change, with people flocking to them, clamoring to be saved. The Vs insinuate themselves into people’s hearts, but are secretly not who they say they are and will take over and destroy the world.
Basically, the premise reads like an unused script from the Glenn Beck show with space-lizards instead of Chairman Mao. The show’s basic premise is much as it was in the 80s series (as far as I know/have read), but it just goes to show that as times change, a story can remain more or less the same but be read very differently. It seems that the new ABC version of V is specifically written to highlight the Vs as Obama reading (the rhetoric about hope and change and universal health care),
Overall, the Pilot isn’t magnificent, but it is a solid start and I’m interested to see how this version continues and develops like or unlike the original.
Now I leave review-land and go into ‘I’m a writer-land’ — I realize that I’d be as interested or possibly more interested in a series where the aliens really were trying to improve humanity’s lot, with conflict coming from paranoia and quibbling over cultural differences/expectations between the Vs and various US cultures. Basically, if it were a script from Keith Olbermann/Rachel Maddow instead of Glenn Beck. A story that highlights the tension between a well-meaning group with technological advantage and an ambivalent community that doesn’t want to bow to cultural demands but does want those technologies. This presents a different metaphor, more analogous to western humanitarian campaigns in the 3rd world/Global South — where cultural imperialism comes part-and-parcel (intentional or unintentional) with humanitarian aid.
Sadly, this would probably not work as a TV show — it would lend itself much less to explosions and gunfights and the like.
This is going to be two reviews: The one without spoilers and the one with.
I first started seeing material for Pandorum late last year, where it looked like a film in the space horror tradition. The previews also suggested the possibility of a Big Action Movie element as well.
Pandorum is a German/American production directed by Christian Alvart and written by Travis Malloy. It stars Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster as crewmen on the Elysium, a long-term colony ship bound for Tanis, the only habitable planet identified by a humanity on the edge of annihilation — in the 24th century with a population of 24-ish billion people. Their memories return to them only in chunks after extended hyper-sleep, heightening the initial tension as they discover the power is comprimised and the proper rotation of crew is very very off.
The film maintains tension quite nicely, parceling out information in chunks. Though there is some “As You Know Bob,” it’s more like “As You Should Remember, Bob” with the two leads reminding one another about things drawing from their fuzzy memories. The title, Pandorum, comes from the term given to extended-space-travel sickness. Remember one of the theories about Reavers (from Firefly), how they were people who traveled too deep into the nothing and it consumed them? Kinda like that. There are creepy monster people doing creepy monster people stuff. There’s some fighting, but it stays as more of a horror/thriller than an action movie most of the time.
The film was very freaky, and notably original in several places. Yes, it seems apparent that Alvart and Malloy are familiar with films like the Alien Series, Event Horizon, and the like. Many critics whose reviews are collated at Rotten Tomatoes calls this being ‘derivative,’ but for me that just means Pandorum is a continuation of the discussion that is the Space SF-horror genre.
Go see this movie if you missed Event Horizon in the theatres and then discovered it years later to great enjoyment. Go see this if Alien took your breath away with Ridley sneaking through the corridors of the Nostromo hoping to never see that black-glossy carapace again. See it if the idea of a psycho-thriller-slash-horror-movie-with-some-action appeals to you. Chances are this is going to bomb in the box office and then sell well over several years in DVD/Blu-Ray, but if any of the above sounds appealing, do yourself a favor and see it in theatres.
And now the spoilers (as in stuff that’s farther than 15 minutes into the film and not given away by trailers).
Glee: I really like that the show is continuing to build an argument for its thesis, seen in the epitaph for Irene Adler in the Pilot. “Glee, by its very definition, is about opening yourself up to joy.” We’ve seen Glee/musical theatre/dancing help a variety of the primary and secondary characters express themselves, find unrecognized talent. In “Preggers,” we see Quinn’s pregnancy introduced, which will allow for the classic narrative technique of using two problems to resolve one another. Terri needs a baby (or thinks she needs one to keep Will), and Will doesn’t want to be a dad (and Quinn would probably rather not have to raise a child at this time). The questions now are when/if Will and Finn discover their respective partner’s lies.
Something to keep an eye on is that most of the antagonism in the show is being conducted by female characters — Terri’s lies, Rachel’s tantrums, Sue’s schemes, Quinn’s plots to reclaim her boyfriend. I hope that we don’t continue to see the women in the show as the ones causing the problems for the cast. However, we do have Sandy’s meddling, Ken acting as a obstacle standing between Will and Emma. Luckily, we also have Emma, who is probably the most unquestionably positive character in the show. The attraction between her and Will is antagonistic to Will and Terri’s marriage, but Terri is still marginally likeable at best, even if it is now easier to empathize with her.
The real winner of this episode, however, was Kurt and his story. After coming out to Mercedes last episode, Kurt comes out of the gates with the “Single ladies” dance in a unitard, rocking out in his fabulosity. He lands the kicker gig and then helps the football team break their losing streak. And why, how? Through the empowering force of dancing…to a music video from a female performer, talking about being a single lady. The best moment of the episode for me, and one of the best of the show so far — seeing the football team break out into the dance, and one of the opposing team’s players getting into it as well. The power of dance compels you!
Eastwick: Desperately Magical Housewives. A re-make/sequel to the Updike novel and/or the earlier TV series, this brings us three women of Eastwick who are stuck in their lives, wishing for a change. A powerful sexy dark man whisks into town to fulfill all their dreams — sex, control, power. The show didn’t really grab me despite some respectable performances. I’m clearly not the intended demographic, and it may appeal to hardcore fans of Housewives and/or Sex and the City, Lipstick Jungle, etc.
Accidentally on Purpose: This one is basically Knocked Up: The Series. Woman in her thirties has a one-night stand with boytoy. One-night stand becomes several week stand, and then she gets pregnant. Boy is homeless and Woman invites him to stay with her while he gets on his feet. Clearly, they will fall in love over a course of stumbling back and forth romantic comedy follies. The performances over the series will determine whether the show is worthwhile or just more execrable crap. How I Met Your Mother works as a romantic comedy series for two big reasons: The amazing work of the actors, and the ridiculousness of the stories involved. Time will tell if Accidentally on Purpose can achieve those reasons or find some of its own. This is also one of two ‘Cougar’ TV shows, along with “Cougar Town.” Cougars are bi now. I know because MTV told me so.
FastForward(preview): I’ve only seen the first 17 minutes of this, since the premiere is tonight on ABC. This adaptation of the Robert J. Sawyer novel has the whole world blacking out for two minutes and 17 seconds, with a vision of 6 months in the future. Our leads so far (from the preview) are two mae FBI agents, one agent’s wife (a doctor), one of the doctor’s colleagues, the doctor and agent’s daughter, and that family’s babysitter. We have John “Harold” Cho as one of the agents and Joseph Fiennes as the other. Sonya Walger (Penny from LOST) plays the female doctor.
ABC seems to be trying to make this the next LOST, but this show’s concept is actually far more contained, since there’s only so long you can go before hitting the six month mark and seeing how people’s futures have changed (or not). The larger question of “why” can provide the show with some longer-term legs, but as with any serial character-driven show, it comes down to the execution of the characters’ arcs.
Castle: This was one of my favorite new shows last year: Fillion is a fantastic comedic/dramatic lead, and the Castle/Beckett dynamic is dynamic and story-productive. I was happy to see the famous-writer poker game come back, and was appreciative of Beckett’s quick change to Russian Girlfriend Mode to get in to the underground game. Here we saw flashes of Beckett as taking a cue from What Would Nikki Heat Do? — It’ll be interesting to see if Nikki Heat as a character influences Kate Beckett as a character. I’m imagining that investigating Kate’s mother’s murder will be the arc-plot for the first season (if not longer), and we’ll continue to see Castle and Beckett become increasingly reliant on one another. Whether this leads to them connecting romantically remains to be seen, ala television convention.
Fall TV is here, and for a number of shows, they’re off to a great start. There are episode spoilers in each case, so be forwarned.
Fringe “A New Day in Old Town” — We meet Agent Amy Jessup as a replacement for Charlie (Oh my God, you killed Charlie! You Bastards!), also allowing 2×1 to serve as a second pilot to introduce new viewers to the concept of the show. Walter’s plans for custard are delightful, especially when juxtaposed with the gross ‘arm deep in guts’ autopsy stuff. We also see Peter lead the charge in moving to change the Fringe division into being pro-active instead of re-active, as well as being willing to hand over dangerous technology to keep the division going. I’m happy to see Peter continue to be a bit darker than the rules/conduct of the division would call for, since it creates more plot and reminds us that he’s not a Good Person in a way that reminds us that he is his father’s son. Even if he’s actually his Father’s Alternate Universe Version’s Son. I’m glad they didn’t extend the ‘Olivia can’t handle her gun’ arc past this one episode. I like that she’s a badass, but having her show (occasional) vulnerability makes her a more human character. It’ll be interesting to see how Jessup fits in with the team, and whether this season is better for Olivia/Peter shippers or for the new Amy/Peter shippers. Or possibly, Amy/Astrid shippers. I mean, after all, we are talking about shippers.
Big Bang Theory We see all the guys with beards (except Sheldon, who has the Evil Universe goatee), and then see Leonard spend the whole episode failing to catch a break until the very end, which then leads directly into the When Harry Met Sally Awkwardness of “We’re friends who just hooked up and now it’s confusing.” I hope as a viewer that they actually write a relationship for Penny and Leonard — they’ve already been laying the groundwork that Penny’s become more geeky/nerdy over the two years. It’ll also provide the opportunity for them to then try to set up Raj and/or Howard.
House: For me, this is the best season opener of the year (so far, and may continue to be so). They completely break format, don’t include anyone in the secondary cast for any substantial scenes (Wilson is as close as anyone gets). House’s arc over the 90-minute TV-movie-esque opener includes enough stubbornness, backslides, acting out and slow acceptance to be believable, and Laurie is fantastic. I’m glad Lydia didn’t turn out to be a hallucination, as it set House up to have a real human experience that he processes appropriately. Plus, Franka Potente is great. I really hope that they actually keep House along this healing arc, where we can see him trying to figure out how to live with his pain, learning how to not push away the people he cares about, and seeing what that does to his Diagnostic approach.
Heroes — I was >< close to dropping Heroes from my watch list. The overall quality has dropped, and the bad has gotten worse, even if the good is still great (Bryan Fuller's brief return at the end of last season was very welcome). The season opener shows some promise, depending on its execution. The Carnival group seems to be set up as a Brotherhood of Mutants-style group, antagonists without being necessarily outright evil. I hope they don't kill off Hero, because he is in fact the heart of the show. Claire seems to be set up to be Wolverina Mars, and one wonders if her friend Gretchen is going to turn out to be more than meets the eye. I was expecting the Nathan!Sylar plot to be drawn out a bit longer, but I do want that decision to come back to haunt people.
How I Met Your Mother — Again, I’m hoping this is the last season of the show. They’re running a little thin on the plot ideas (next episode — The gang finds a stripper who looks Just Like Lily! Hilarity!), but Barney/Robin make a fantastic couple, and will probably dominate the season with the story of their relationship, whatever form it ends up taking/not taking. I’m hoping that they crib a bit from Definately, Maybe and show us a few prospective mothers in Ted’s Architecture class, so we can learn about the Mother before Sagat!Ted clues us in on the mother’s identity. It’d be hard for me to satisfied if they get to the end and then just introduce the mother, identify her, and then not show us why she’s The One satisfactorily.
The 2009 series Defying Gravity is notable for several reasons, first among these being the fact that it is a multinational production, a collaboration between BBC, Fox Television Studios, SPACE, and others.
It’s also being simultaneously broadcast in first-run in Canada, the UK, Germany and Canada. In the US, it’s being broadcast by ABC, and is available on Hulu.com
The show is centered on a 6-year space exploration mission on board the Antares. The eight-person crew includes 4 men and 4 women. The primary POV character is Maddux Donner (Ron Livingston), who appears to be the primary POV character. Donner, along with antagonistic Mike Goss (Andrew Airlie) and Ted Shaw (Malik Yoba) were part of a Mars mission which lost two members.
Defying Gravity was originally pitched as “Grey’s Anatomy in space,” given a relationship-focus to ground (heh) the space exploration elements. In the first four episodes aired thusfar, the space plots tend to combine/resonate with the interpersonal stories, adding to each. The show also includes several elements reminiscent of LOST, with flashbacks to the crew throughout their training process and also to the Mars mission with Donner, Goss and Shaw, as well as a mystery that shows that the Antares mission may be more than originally advertised. It’s also easily compared to the backdoor pilot-turned-tv-movie Virtuality – though unlike Virtuality, by skipping the virtual reality element, I think Defying Gravity manages to not be conceptually over-stuffed. It’s showing a balance between ‘OMG something on the ship is broken!,’ ‘This person won’t sleep with me!’ and ‘What’s in pod 4?’ — There is a reality TV element to the show, as the crew is completely monitored, with the pilot also serving as the TV show producer/host, but that element has not been foregrounded as much in the first episodes.
So far, the show is not phenomenal, but it is promising, with indications of interpersonal plots unfolding over several years worth of stories. I’m excited to see more, though so far, its US ratings haven’t been terribly impressive. ABC may drop the series if the numbers don’t go up, but I can’t say if that would mean the show was entirely doomed, given its multi-national status.
Defying Gravity airs Sunday nights on ABC (with episodes appearing on Hulu.com the morning following).